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Tangled Webs

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Stiles wakes up with a jolt as he hears a car door open and shut. For a few moments, he’s flailing, disoriented. His head hurts. A lot of things hurt, actually, but his head is the worst. It throbs, and his vision fades in and out with the point of his pulse. He’s not sure where he is or even what woke him at first.

Gradually, bits and pieces of memory return. Running for Lydia on the field, being dragged away by Peter, using the computer to find Scott’s phone. Peter asked if he wanted the bite, and he said, “I don’t want to be like you.” Peter told him that he was lying to himself. That’s the last thing he remembers. Everything after that is fuzzy and then black.

Stiles takes a deep breath to try to reorient himself and looks around. He’s slumped in the backseat of a car, not belted in. He raises a hand to his face and feels some swelling in his cheek where Peter had slammed him against the trunk. There’s another lump higher up, this one more tender. He presumes that’s the blow that knocked him out.

Since nobody is hovering over him to watch his progress, he assumes that he wasn’t rescued. He sits up cautiously, and then holds back waves of nausea as his head pounds. There’s a noise to his left, and he looks over to see Peter, standing there in his black leather jacket, just as impeccable as always, putting the nozzle of the gas pump into the tank.

He doesn’t know where he is or exactly what’s going on, but he’s sure of one thing: he isn’t sticking around. He carefully slides backwards across the seat and eases the car door open, keeping his gaze glued to Peter. The alpha doesn’t look up as he inches out of the car. He shuts the door most of the way behind him, but doesn’t let it latch. He doesn’t want Peter to hear it.

Cold hits him immediately. He can see his breath. It’s dark, and the gas station is deserted except for them. But the convenience store attached is still open. Stiles cautiously backs across the station, slides between the pumps, and goes inside.

Behind the counter is a man who isn’t much older than Stiles, dressed in a shirt with the company logo, thumbing through a battered paperback. He glances up as Stiles comes in, but doesn’t show much interest in him. Stiles darts another gaze over his shoulder. Peter is still at the car, so he goes up to the counter. “Call 911,” he says, keeping his voice low. “I – I’ve been kidnapped.”

“You – what?” the clerk blinks at him. He sees the bruise and his eyes narrow. “Dude – ”

“Don’t ask questions, just do it,” Stiles says fiercely. “He thinks I’m asleep in the back of his car and the instant he realizes I’m gone – just call, or if you don’t want to call, let me use your phone.”

“Uh, yeah, okay,” the clerk says, and reaches for his phone. But before he can get all the way to it, the door opens with a cheerful jingle.

“Here you are, Stiles,” Peter says, and Stiles freezes in place. “Do you want a drink? We’ll be on the road another hour or two.”

Stiles forces himself to squeeze out, “Coffee.” If Peter doesn’t realize he had a chance to say anything to the clerk, they can leave and then the clerk can call 911. The store probably has surveillance in case of drive-offs. The police will be able to track down the car and someone, anyone, will get him away from this psychopath.

Peter makes a ‘tsk’ noise. “It’s late,” he says. “You shouldn’t be having caffeine.”

“Sprite then,” Stiles says, as Peter heads for the drink cooler. He looks back at the clerk, desperation in his eyes, and mouths the word ‘please’.

The fear and panic on his face must be genuine, because the clerk just gives a little nod. He doesn’t say anything else about it. Peter comes up to the counter with a twenty ounce bottle of Sprite for Stiles and a Pepsi for himself. The clerk rings them up in silence. “Oh, you know what else would be good,” Peter says, his eyes scanning the things behind the counter. “One of those packs of cigarettes.”

“Which ones, the – ” the clerk turns slightly to see what Peter is pointing at. Peter reaches out with both hands, seizes the man’s head between them, and gives it a brutal twist. His neck breaks with a crack and he falls to the floor like a marionette whose strings have been cut.

Stiles lets out a hollow little cry, stumbling backwards and into a shelf, knocking over a display of chips. “You – ”

“I don’t actually smoke,” Peter says, picking up the drinks. “But thanks anyway.” He turns back to Stiles. “Come on.”

“Why did you do that?” Stiles stammers.

“You didn’t leave me much choice, did you?” Peter asks, his eyebrows going up. “I couldn’t allow him to report us to the police.” He shakes his head a little and then reaches out with his free hand, caressing the bruise on Stiles’ cheek. Stiles flinches away. “I don’t enjoy hurting people, you know. Well, not people who haven’t hurt me. So don’t make me, Stiles. Okay?”

Stiles nods, feeling numb. “Okay.”

He tries not to look at the body of the clerk on the way out.

“You can sit in the front, if you like,” Peter says, as they head back to the car. “Make sure to close the door you left through.”

Stiles does as he’s told. He sits in the front not because he really wants to, but because he suspects it was more of an order than a suggestion. “Where are we going?” he asks, as Peter pulls back onto the road. There’s still hope. Someone else will stop for gas sometime, and find the body of the clerk. They’ll still be able to use the surveillance footage to get a look at Peter, at his car. By tomorrow, every cop in the state – whatever state they’re in – will be looking for them.

“You’ll find out,” Peter says.

Stiles swallows hard and tries to take a sip of his Sprite. His throat is tight and aching, and he has to choke it down. “Why . . . why am I here?”

Peter gives a little shrug. “I like you. I think with time we could be great friends. And I am going to need to build a new pack, after all.”

“What about Scott?” Panic seizes Stiles. “Is he okay, did you hurt him? What happened while I was unconscious?”

Peter glances at him sideways, looking more amused than anything else. “Scott’s fine, except for the fact that he’s as useless a beta as I’ve ever met. I don’t want him. He can stay in Beacon Hills and play Romeo and Juliet with the Argent girl all he likes. And before you ask, I don’t want Derek, either. I needed his help with Kate, but after that he’s on his own. He would never accept me as his alpha after I killed Laura.”

“Is Kate dead, then?” Stiles just wants to keep him talking, gather some information, figure out who will be looking for him.

“Oh yes,” Peter says, with a happy little sigh. “I tore her throat out with my bare hands. All those people who say revenge isn’t healthy? I think they’re wrong. I found it extremely liberating. Everyone who helped kill my family is dead. And now I can move on.” He takes a turn and gets on the highway. “We’re going to need to change cars soon,” he says, as if reading Stiles’ thoughts. “They’d be looking for this one even if you hadn’t pulled your little stunt at the gas station.”

Stiles glances around and realizes that they’re in the nurse’s car. He wonders if her body is still in the trunk, and gives a completely unfeigned little shudder. “Look,” he says, “I’m not going to be a good werewolf. Really. Wouldn’t it be easier to just start fresh somewhere? Rather than trying to, I don’t know, convince me to be in your pack after everything you did?”

“A man has to have a hobby,” Peter says, smiling at him. “I think you’ll make an excellent one.”

Stiles goes quiet then. There’s no reasoning with Peter; he should have known that from the start. He’ll just have to wait for a better chance to escape. So he says nothing, watching the darkness outside the window, sipping his Sprite, until they pull off the highway and into a little seaside town. He can’t see the ocean, but he can smell it as they get out of the car. There are half a dozen little motels along the strip of road. Peter parks at the second one in, but then makes Stiles walk with him to the last one in the row.

“We’ll have time to get a few hours of sleep before they issue a . . . what is it called, Stiles?”

“BOLO,” Stiles says automatically. “Be on lookout.”

Peter nods. “It will take some time for them to find the car.” He walks up to the night window of the hotel. “You, stay there,” he says, pointing to a spot that will leave Stiles out of sight of the hotel clerk but still close enough to Peter that he doesn’t dare try anything. “You know you can’t run.”

Stiles nods. “I know.”

Peter turns back to the window and rings the bell. A sleepy looking middle-aged woman gives them a room. He pays in cash, and she takes a copy of his ID. “My nurse has been doing me many favors lately,” Peter says, as they head to the back of the hotel. “One of which was to get me some good fake identities. I knew that after I killed Kate, I would be leaving Beacon Hills for good.”

“Sounds like you two had a great relationship,” Stiles says. “Up until you killed her, anyway.”

Peter gives a shrug. “She knew my plans. I couldn’t allow anyone to question her about it.”

Stiles has to take another breath to steady himself as Peter lets them into the motel room. “No, really, dude, you don’t want me. I’m not going to just roll over for you, you know, I’m going to make your life miserable. I make my dad’s life miserable. I’m kind of a little shit. You should really just let me go, because kidnapping a cop’s son is a terrible idea in all sorts of ways.”

“Noted,” Peter says. He points to the bed. “It’s time to sleep.”

Stiles grits his teeth in frustration and sits down on the edge of the bed to toe off his shoes. He’s about to just get under the blankets when Peter says, “Don’t sleep in your good clothes. You’ll wrinkle them.”

“Seriously?” Stiles says, looking down at the dress shirt and slacks he’s wearing. It’s difficult to believe that less than six hours ago, his biggest worry about the evening was what Lydia would think of his tie. “What do you care?”

“I don’t,” Peter says. “But you’re going to have to learn to do as I say, now aren’t you.”

Stiles swallows and begins to unbutton the shirt. He strips to the T-shirt and boxers he was wearing underneath the dress clothes and then folds them neatly, setting them down on the table. Then he crawls underneath the blankets. Not that there’s any way he’s going to sleep. No, he’s going to lie here and stare at the ceiling until Peter is asleep, and if Peter thinks being undressed is going to make Stiles less likely to slip out of the motel room and go for help, he’s going to be disappointed.

He rolls over and faces the wall in sullen silence, listening to the rustling noises of Peter getting undressed or changing into pajamas or whatever he’s doing. Stiles doesn’t know and he doesn’t want to know. He didn’t see Peter carrying any luggage, so he can’t have much with him.

The room is a double, with two beds, so he’s surprised a moment later when Peter lifts the blankets up and slides into the bed next to him. “Dude, what – ” he begins, rolling onto his back so he can – he’s not sure what, actually, but he isn’t just going to lie there and accept this.

Peter gives him those raised eyebrows again and drops an arm over Stiles’ chest. He, too, has undressed, and is wearing only underwear. They’re almost the exact same height, so he’s staring right at Stiles, which is intensely unnerving. “Problem?” he asks.

Stiles feels his stomach squirming and twisting. He tries to say something nonchalant like ‘no, I cuddle with psychopaths all the time’, but what comes out is a thin, reedy whisper. “Are you going to rape me?”

“Do you think it’s going to be necessary?” Peter asks, still giving him that steady look.

Stiles’ voice wavers a little. “No.”

“Well, then,” Peter says. “There’s your answer. But I don’t want you sneaking off as soon as you think I’m asleep, and this is the most efficient way of making sure you don’t. You’ll just have to deal with it.” He wraps his arm more firmly around Stiles and closes his eyes. “You’re not my type. I had a wife, you know. She died in the fire. I watched her die. I could probably muster up the required physical reactions, though, if I thought it might convince you to behave.”

Stiles lets out a breath, some of the tension draining out of him. It’s a threat, but he thinks it’s one he can avoid, and he can handle that as long as it isn’t inevitable. He tries to think of what he should say. He needs Peter to trust him, if he’s ever going to get a chance to escape. “What was her name?”

“Olivia,” Peter says.

“Pretty name.”

“Well, it certainly beats ‘Stiles’.”

Stiles doesn’t know what to say to that. “I’m going to roll over, okay? I sleep on my side.”

“Sure,” Peter says, loosening up on his grip until Stiles has managed to get as comfortable as he’s going to when he’s in bed with the crazy asshole who’s kidnapped him. Then he reaches over and turns off the lamp, leaving them in darkness.

Stiles is sure he won’t sleep. He lies stiff as a board, staring at the wall, feeling the rise and fall of Peter’s chest behind him. Peter seems to fall asleep right away. The deep sleep of the avenged. The motion of his breath is almost soothing. Gradually, exhaustion sets in. He’s not going anywhere. He might as well get some sleep while he can.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Sheriff Stilinski has had some exciting nights in his tenure as the Beacon Hills county sheriff, but he knows that the night of the winter formal is one he’s never going to forget. After Lydia is hurt on the lacrosse field, he calls Stiles twice, trying to locate him to see if he knows anything about who did it. But Stiles doesn’t answer his phone.

He’s about to go down to the school to see if he can find him, despite two of his deputies having come up empty-handed, when he gets a call from Chris Argent. His sister has been murdered, he says in a dry voice that cracks when he talks, and he needs to talk to the police.

Stilinski doesn’t know what to think of the body of Kate Argent, which looks like just another animal attack, and although Chris doesn’t tell him very much, it’s enough for him to start putting the pieces together. He’s just getting to the heart of the story when Scott bursts in. The secretary is behind him, saying, “I’m so sorry, Sheriff, I tried to tell him you were – ”

“It’s okay, Sue,” Stilinski says, waving her off. “Scott. What is it?”

Scott is looking at Chris Argent, and now he begins to squirm. “I, uh, I can wait – ”

“No. Sit. Have you seen Stiles? I’ve been trying to reach him.”

“What? I, no. He was at the dance with Lydia – ”

“Lydia’s at the hospital. She was attacked.”

Horror dawns in Scott’s eyes. “Peter,” he says.

Now they’re getting somewhere. “Peter Hale,” Stilinski says, his voice tight. He looks between Scott and Chris. “Would someone here like to tell me the entire damned story?”

Scott does. Chris snaps at him to stop, to be quiet, but Scott doesn’t even seem to hear him. He babbles out a wild story about werewolves and magic bullets and the Hale house fire. It’s completely, truly insane. Sheriff Stilinski believes every word, even before Scott shifts forms to prove it.

“What would Peter want with Stiles?” he asks, trying to stay calm, trying not to think about the fact that his son could have been abducted by a madman. They don’t know that’s what happened yet. Stiles vanished before the showdown at the Hale house. Where had he been while that was happening? If he had gotten away, he might just not have resurfaced yet.

Chris clears his throat. “Peter was at the dance. He probably intended to find Scott there, but . . . he left early. Maybe he thought Stiles could help him find Scott.”

“And what happened at the Hale house after Peter killed Kate?”

“This is off the record?” Chris asks, and Stilinski nods. “He went after my daughter. Scott . . . intervened and saved her life.” He throws Scott a look that’s altogether too nasty given the words that accompanied it. “There was a fight, and he took off. Derek followed him. Scott stayed with Allison, but when I approached her . . .”

“I ran,” Scott admits, looking somewhat ashamed of himself. “I just . . . didn’t want to stick around.”

“Do you have Derek’s number?” Sheriff Stilinski asks Scott.

“No,” he says. “Stiles does, though. It’s in his phone.”

“Well, Derek can’t help us find Stiles if we need Stiles’ phone to help us find Derek,” Chris says, somewhat sarcastically.

Sheriff Stilinski has to bite his tongue. After the third try, he manages to moderate his language. “Sir, I appreciate that your daughter was in danger tonight and you’re obviously tense, and that you came here of your own volition. But your attitude is not helping the situation.”

Before Chris can explode, Sheriff Stilinski’s radio crackles. “Go ahead,” he says into it.

“Sheriff, it’s Officer Burrell. We found your son’s Jeep. It’s in a parking garage downtown. Nowhere near the dance.”

“Shit,” Stilinski says, despite himself. “Give me the address.” He jots it down. “Stay with the car, I’ll be right there.”

“Can I come with you?” Scott asks, and he looks too puppyish to say no, so Sheriff Stilinski is about to agree when his radio goes off again. Another officer, down at the dance. The kids are leaving now, it’s almost ten o’clock and the dance is over. A jacket left draped over the chair turned out to be Stiles’. His phone is in his pocket.

“Do you have a car?” Stilinski says, and Scott shakes his head. “Okay. You come with me, then, and I’ll have one of my officers bring the phone to us.”

Scott nods and trots after him. The ride to the parking garage passes in tense silence. Sheriff Stilinski keeps thinking that there’s something he should say, something that will make Scott feel better about all this, but nothing comes. Scott did the best he could, and he’s clearly drowning in guilt over Stiles’ disappearance. But Stilinski won’t be able to make either of them feel better until he’s got some solid evidence that Stiles is okay.

As soon as the exit the car, Scott immediately sniffs the air and says, “He was here. Peter was. I can smell him.”

It’s weird, but it’s confirmation, and that’s what they need. “Stiles, too?” he says, just in case Peter just took Stiles’ car. Scott gives a little nod. “Can you tell where they went?”

“I don’t . . .” Scott ranges around the parking garage for a minute while Sheriff Stilinski talks to his officers. He comes back a minute later and shakes his head, frustrated. “I can’t tell. I guess that means Peter probably had a car here, right? He had Stiles drive him here and then they left in Peter’s car.”

Sheriff Stilinski nods. It makes sense, except for the part where Peter Hale has been a catatonic invalid for the past ten years. He gets back on his radio and asks one of his deputies to check and see if there are any vehicles registered to Peter Hale. There aren’t. He turns back to Scott. “Is there anything you might be able to tell me about where he might have gone, what car he might have used. Did you ever see him in a car? See him drive anywhere?”

“No,” Scott says helplessly. Then his eyes light up. “But his nurse, his nurse was helping him. Stiles said that after he met Peter the first time. Maybe he’s using her car.”

“Okay.” He gets back on his radio. He’s making this official. Technically a missing persons report can’t be filed so quickly, but when his sixteen year old son was last seen in the company of a known psychopath, he’s pretty sure he’s allowed to bend the rules. Then he looks at Scott, who’s drooping with weariness and distress. “I’m going to have one of my guys take you home.”

“But – ” Scott protests.

“No buts. It’s going to be a long night, and your mother is wondering where you are by now, I’m sure. I’ll call you if anything happens.”

Scott agrees, but grudgingly, and Stilinski suspects that as soon as his back is turned, Scott is going to be out conducting his own, werewolf-oriented, investigations. He can’t do anything about that. He just hopes that Scott will be careful.

The nurse did have a car, and it isn’t at her house, and neither is she. With nothing to go on for Peter, he digs into her life, her financial records. She’s made some odd withdrawals lately. Large chunks of cash. He presumes that she was planning to go on the run with Peter – a Florence Nightingale thing – and was preparing to go off the grid.

“Damn it,” he says, “they were prepared for this. But why Stiles? It doesn’t make any sense . . .”

“Sir?” Officer Burrell is standing in his doorway. He looks stricken. Sheriff Stilinski’s stomach drops all the way into his shoes. “I thought you should know – I mean, it doesn’t prove anything but – the – the dogs got a hit. At the garage.”

Sheriff Stilinski blinks at him for a moment, a mixture of confusion and denial. “The dogs.”

“The – cadaver dogs, sir.”

It takes a moment for it to sink in. “I – I see,” he says. “Well. That. That’s discouraging, certainly, but. It doesn’t mean.”

“Of course not,” Burrell says hastily. “We’re still doing work at the scene. We’ll, uh, we’ll keep you posted.”

Sheriff Stilinski nods and Burrell backs out of his office. Then he just sits there with his head in his hands. There had been no blood at the garage. He reminds himself of that. Peter has a very specific MO for his murders, and they’re always bloody. Of course, he could have killed Stiles somewhere else –

He stops that train of thought as hard as he can. He still has work to do. Find the nurse, and they’ll find the killer.

Using Stiles’ phone, he contacts Derek Hale. The other man is taciturn and wary. Sheriff Stilinski merely tells him that he’s investigating Kate Argent’s murder, that he’s taken a statement from Chris Argent, and that Chris says when Peter took off, Derek followed him. “Did you catch up with him?”

“No,” Derek says. “He outdistanced me quickly.”

“Was he alone?”

“What? Yeah, of course,” Derek says, clearly puzzled by this question, wondering who else might have been with him.

“I need you to point me in the direction he went. I’ll be out at the Hale house in twenty minutes. Can you meet me there?”

“I’ll be there,” Derek says.

But the meeting is fruitless. Derek followed Peter about half a mile before losing him in the forest. They’re nowhere near any roads, and he has no idea where he might have gone after that. “He’d gotten his revenge,” Derek says, “so I assume he probably left town.”

Sheriff Stilinski nods. “He had a relationship with his nurse, right?” he says. “She’s been making large cash withdrawals lately. They were preparing to go on the run.”

Derek looks at him for a long moment, then says, “He didn’t bring her.”

Stilinski frowns. “How do you know?”

“I just know. I know Peter. He wouldn’t . . . make a connection like that with a stranger.”

“She wasn’t a stranger, she had been his nurse for years – ”

“She wasn’t pack. That makes her a stranger.”

“Well, she’s not at her house or her work, and her car is missing.”

“Then she’s dead,” Derek says. He shakes his head and walks away.

Sheriff Stilinski frowns thoughtfully after him for a minute, then radios Burrell. “Have the dogs check the nurse’s house.”

They get a hit there, too.

It’s near dawn, and he’s exhausted, and there have been no signs of his son, when another officer, Mark Thorne, finds him in the break room, drinking coffee and trying desperately to keep himself together. “Sheriff?” he says, cautiously. “There’s been a murder. In Redding.”

Sheriff Stilinski groans and resists the urge to ask ‘what else can go wrong tonight’ before the important part of the statement sets in. Redding is two hours away. It’s not in his county, and therefore not his jurisdiction. “That’s terrible, but why are you telling me?”

“Because it looks like Peter Hale was the murderer,” Thorne says. “And – well, you’d better watch the tape.” He ushers Sheriff Stilinski back into the rest of the station, hovering near him like he’s afraid he might just collapse. Burrell is setting up the television with the surveillance footage. “This video was taken at about eleven PM,” he says. “The precinct over there sent it over.”

Stilinski nods and takes another gulp of his coffee, eyes trained on the screen, and then the cup falls from nerveless fingers as Stiles pushes his way into the store. “Stiles,” he whispers. His son. Alive and whole, at least as of eleven PM. The cadaver dogs must have been smelling the nurse’s body, not his.

He’s clearly nervous, glancing repeatedly at the door while he exchanges a few quick words with the clerk.

“No sound?” Stilinski asks.

Thorne shakes his head. “Video only. What do you think they’re talking about?”

“If I know Stiles – and I usually do – he’s asking to use the phone.” On the screen, Stiles’ head jerks around as Peter comes in. “Jesus, he’s not even burned,” Stilinski mumbles. He thinks Scott had mentioned that, but it hadn’t sunk in. He tries not to look at Stiles’ face. It hurts to see that trapped, desperate look. But he sees just as clearly as the clerk does when Stiles mouths ‘please’, just before Peter comes up to the counter.

Moments later, the clerk is dead.

“Christ,” Thorne says. “I watched it once already, but . . .”

Stilinski’s jaw sets as Peter caresses the bruise on Stiles’ cheek, then gestures for Stiles to follow him out of the store, which he does.

“Why did he kill the clerk?” Thorne asks, staring at the screen.

“I guess to keep him from calling the cops,” Burrell says.

“But why? He had to know we would find the body, use the surveillance footage to identify him, identify the car, put out a BOLO – killing the clerk didn’t really gain him anything. Maybe a little time, that’s all.”

Stilinski shakes his head, thinking of the fear, the despair, on Stiles’ face in that moment. “It had nothing to do with that. He did it to show Stiles that he was willing to kill. To discourage further escape attempts.” He takes a deep breath. “That’s actually a good thing. It means he wants Stiles alive. I have no idea why, but now all we have to do is find him.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles wakes abruptly to Peter shaking him. The alpha is up and dressed, and dim light is coming around the edges of the curtain. “Time to go,” he says.

Stiles rubs a hand over his face. “I need to piss,” he says.

Peter just points to the bathroom. Stiles crawls out of bed and goes to do his business. When he gets back into the room, his stomach growls. He starts to dress and tries not to think about it, wondering if Peter intends to feed him. Probably, since he seems to want to keep him long-term. A quick glance at the clock reveals that it’s about six in the morning. He wonders how long he slept.

“Hungry?” Peter says, and smiles. “The human body is miraculously oblivious to its surroundings sometimes. Let’s go get some breakfast.”

“Sure,” Stiles says. “Sounds awesome.”

They walk two blocks to a McDonald’s. Peter gets him two Egg McMuffins and a large black coffee. Without his Adderall, he’s going to need all the caffeine he can get. A few doors down is a Hertz car rental. Peter goes in and gets a car with his shiny new fake identity. Stiles trails along behind him, feeling like a lost puppy. Every time he thinks about making a break for it, he sees Peter snapping the neck of the convenience store clerk.

“We won’t be able to keep this car very long either,” Peter says conversationally, as they head out of town, as if telling Stiles all about his plans makes any sense at all. “They’ll get on to this identity. That’s fine. I have more than one. But after your little stunt last night, my face is going to be all over the news, at least locally. We’re going to have a long day in the car today.”

“We should play I Spy,” Stiles says.

Peter makes an amused noise, but doesn’t respond. Stiles stares out the window and tries not to fidget. The caffeine can only make up for the lack of Adderall so much. He doesn’t even have anything to do with his hands. After the first few hours, he feels like he wants to crawl out of his own skin. It’s almost worse than pain.

Peter turns the radio on to a news station, and before long Stiles is indeed hearing about himself on the news. He’s pleased to find that they’ve gotten most of their facts correct. That’s good. “They make me sound so horrible,” Peter says.

“Well, you are a serial killer,” Stiles says. “Tough to make that play well on the news.” He thinks about opening the car and just jumping out. No. They’re going too fast. All he’ll do is injure himself, and then Peter will catch him. He has to wait. Has to be patient. It’s something that’s not really in his skill set.

“They don’t mention that those murders were completely justified,” Peter says.

“Right up until you got to the nurse and the store clerk, sure,” Stiles says.

Peter just shrugs. “People are a means to an end, that’s all.”

“Spoken like a true sociopath. Can we stop?”

Peter glances at the clock. “Not for another hour.”

“No, I don’t mean stop the car, I mean, stop, stop this.” He gestures between the two of them. “This friendly banter. I want no part of it. I want nothing to do with you. I’ll do what you say because I don’t want to die, and that’s it.”

“You know,” Peter says, “you don’t seem very grateful that I let you live.”

“I’ll be grateful for that when I figure out why you did it,” Stiles replies.

It’s a horrible day, probably the worst of his life. They drive and drive endlessly, stopping every four hours or so to get gas and take a bathroom break. Peter doesn’t let him out of his sight. They get fast food. And they drive, and drive, and drive. He’s keenly aware that every minute they get further away from Beacon Hills, the lower his chances are of being found. He’s going to have to take care of himself.

By the time they stop for the night, he’s sitting on his hands and practically going out of his mind with boredom. “I want a shower.”

“I’m continually fascinated by the way you seem to think you’re in a bargaining position,” Peter says. “Get into bed.”

Stiles takes a deep breath. Be patient, be patient, he repeats to himself over and over again. Taunting Peter won’t do any good, although he supposes it might make him feel better. He’ll wait. A chance will come. So it’s another long, restless night of being aggressively spooned by a psychopathic werewolf. No problem. This is just his life now. He’s so blasé and nonchalant about it that he’s surprised when he wakes up and finds that he’s been crying in his sleep.

They get off to an early start the next morning. Peter heads to the Starbucks next to the hotel for sustenance. A middle-aged woman gives Stiles and his bruises a somewhat concerned look while she sips her latte in the corner. Stiles edges over to the bar with all the different kinds of sugar while Peter is perusing the pastries. Someone has left a pen there. He snatches it up and starts scribbling on a napkin.

Moments later, Peter’s hand is on his, gripping down like a vise. Stiles makes a strangled noise. “No, don’t scream,” Peter says, right in his ear. “We wouldn’t want anyone to realize something was wrong, would we?” He pries Stiles’ hand open and takes the note he was writing. He makes a tsk noise with his tongue. “It’s going to take some time to reinforce this lesson, I see.”

“You won’t kill anyone here,” Stiles says, trying to put confidence in his voice. “You’re trying to switch identities. You don’t want any chaos associated with the new identity.”

“No, I don’t,” Peter says, “but I will kill the people here, if you make me.” He lets Stiles’ hand go. “We’re leaving.”

Stiles follows. They get in a taxi and take it to the other side of the city. The Starbucks was good for one thing, at least; he was able to look at the newspaper and ascertain they’ve made it as far as Salt Lake City. The murder of a convenience store clerk and the kidnapping of a local sheriff’s son is two states behind them. No one will be looking for them here.

The taxi takes them to a long-term parking garage. Peter takes the elevator up to the third floor and heads straight for a car there. “You’ve been here before,” Stiles says.

“No,” Peter says. “Connie set it all up for me. My nurse,” he clarifies. “She bought the car months ago. Paid cash. No record. In a Los Angeles suburb. Nobody will connect it with me.” He gestures. “Get in.”

“So you knew you’d be on the run,” Stiles says, getting into the car.

“Yes, although I was more worried about hunters than law enforcement,” Peter says. “Still am, for that matter.”

“Well, my dad will find us,” Stiles says.

Peter gives him a crooked smile. “I thought you said you made his life miserable.”

 Stiles looks out the window. “Doesn’t matter. He’ll find us.”

“I had a son, too,” Peter says. “He’d be about your age, now.” He backs out of the parking space. “He was a lot like you. Kind of a smartass. Even as a little kid.”

“Is that why you’re trying to keep me?” Stiles asks.

“I suppose maybe it is,” Peter says.

It’s another long drive, although not as long as the day before, and at least the scenery is better. They stop in a Denver suburb. It’s late afternoon. The part of town they stop in is kind of seedy. The kind of ‘wrong side of the tracks’ area where everyone minded their own business and wouldn’t answer their doors if a kidnapped boy came knocking at night. Perfect.

The apartment is furnished, albeit sparsely, clean and bare. Peter looks around and nods in approval. “You wanted a shower?” he asks.

“Yeah. I feel grimy.”

“Go ahead, then.”

Stiles finds the bathroom. The water takes some time to heat up, but it works. There’s no soap or washcloth, but he scrubs himself off with his bare hands and regular water as he can. Of course, there’s no towel, either, and when he gets out of the shower he finds that Peter has taken his clothes. He pokes his head out of the bathroom and looks around. He doesn’t see anybody. “Peter?” he calls out, although not very loudly. Does Peter think he won’t leave naked? Hell, that would be a great way to attract attention. He could get arrested. He would love to get arrested right now.

So he creeps out of the bathroom, sliding his feet across the floor to avoid making the floorboards creak. He moves slow, looking around every corner. He’s just reached the door when Peter says, “Going somewhere?”

“Jesus!” Stiles says, and swears. “You fuckin’ suck, with your wolf ears and, and your ability to sneak up on people.”

Peter just looks amused. “Come in here and sit down.”

“Sure. Why not.” Stiles goes into the living room and is a little distressed to find that Peter has taken the time he’s been in the shower to tear his shirt and slacks to shreds. “What the hell, dude, now I have no clothes.”

“You barely had any, anyway,” Peter says. “I have to run some errands, and I don’t want you getting into trouble while I’m gone.” He gestures to the chair again, and Stiles reluctantly sits down. Peter ties him up thoroughly, using what’s left of his clothes. Then he stands back to admire his work. “Open wide,” he says, and gags Stiles with his own tie. “You just sit tight. I’ll be back in a few hours.” He pauses, then says, “Maybe if you’re good while I’m gone, I’ll bring something back for you.”

Stiles flips him off as best he can. Peter chuckles as he leaves the room.

He struggles valiantly against the bonds. It’s only cloth. He’ll be able to get free. It’s tied so tightly that he can’t really feel his hands. The knots are digging into his skin. But he’s got hours. He can do this.

When it becomes clear he can’t, he starts scooting the chair towards the door, one inch at a time. It’s a lot of work, strangely exhausting. But gradually, he manages to get the chair out of the living room and down the hall. Then he remembers the stairs. Even if he can get the door open – doubtful, given the way he’s tied up – he’ll never get down the stairs without falling.

If he falls, the chair might break.

Of course, so might a lot of his bones.

Frustrated to the point of screaming, he just stares at the door in an agony of indecision. It’s not his chance. He thought it was, but it wasn’t. And if he can get the chair back to the living room before Peter gets back, Peter will think he was good and didn’t move. The more Peter trusts him not to try to escape, the better his chances will become.

Slowly, he starts inching the chair back to where he started.

When Peter gets back, he’s laden with bags. He has to make more than one trip in and out of the apartment to grab it all. Stiles eyes the open door and thinks about shouting for help, but decides against it. In this neighborhood, nobody will show up. And if someone calls the cops, by the time they get here, he’ll be stashed in a closet somewhere. There’s just no point.

“You’ve been crying,” Peter says, stopping to look at Stiles.

“No, I haven’t,” Stiles says automatically.

Peter kneels down in front of him and thumbs the tear tracks on his cheeks. “Stiles, you don’t seem to understand what’s happening here,” he says. “This is a good thing. I’m not going to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you. I want to make you part of my pack. It’s a gift. You should feel honored that I chose you.”

Stiles rears back involuntarily. “Don’t touch me,” he spits out. “And don’t think I’m fucking stupid. Do you think I don’t know how this shit works? The way you’re going to try to get inside my head? How about you ‘honor’ me by untying me and giving me some fucking clothes?”

Peter grabs the chair before Stiles can knock himself over. He sighs and gives a little shake of his head. “I can see this is going to take some time,” he says. “Yes, you’re smart enough to know that I’m trying to manipulate you. But that doesn’t make what I’m saying untrue, does it?”

“You tell me,” Stiles says. Peter just gives another shake of his head in what looks like disappointment. Stiles thinks back to the paper he wrote on Stockholm Syndrome in the eighth grade. They’re settling into patterns. Learning the rules. Now Peter’s going to untie him, give him something to wear, give him something to eat. Make him feel like he’s not a prisoner. But he is. And he vows he will never, ever forget that.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

At first, things don’t look hopeless. A woman who works at a motel in Eureka recognizes Peter’s face on the news and calls the police. He stayed there last night, she says, and gives the police the ID he used. It was also used at a car rental place not half a mile away. The clerk there identifies Peter as well, and even better, says he had a teenaged boy with him.

So they have Peter’s identity and his vehicle information. Highway patrol in four states is looking for him. But he slips through their fingers. The identity isn’t used again. He must be using cash to buy gas and food. It’s not used again until a hotel in Salt Lake City, but since he pays with cash and not with a credit card, it doesn’t get flagged by the system. The clerk just makes a copy of it and moves on with her life. Sheriff Stilinski probably wouldn’t have found out about it at all if not for the fact that the car is found two blocks from the hotel, and a canvass finds the clerk, who recognizes Peter. He checked out first thing in the morning. No, she didn’t see anyone with him. But Stiles’ fingerprints are found inside the hotel room and in the car.

And then, nothing. Radio silence.

Nothing for days.

Sheriff Stilinski works around the clock, napping at his desk occasionally. He can’t go home. His home is too quiet. It feels all wrong without Stiles there. When he finally walked through the front door on the evening of the third day, he had a meltdown so complete that he doesn’t even remember it. He just remembers waking up on the floor hours later, face stiff with dried tears, clothing rumpled. After that, he doesn’t go home at all. The only thing that comforts him is the knowledge that Peter wanted Stiles alive. And as long as Stiles is alive, he’ll be thinking, planning, finding a way to escape or at least send a message.

It’s late, almost ten o’clock on the fourth day, and Sheriff Stilinski is staring vacantly at the piles of paper that traced Peter’s movements across Utah. He jumps almost a mile in the air when Stiles’ phone starts to blare a song. Not just any song. “I’m Too Sexy”, by . . . he can’t remember. It’s been a long day. He reaches out and sees that the phone has identified the caller as Derek, so he picks up. “Hello?”

There’s a pause. “I think I must have dialed wrong,” Derek’s voice says. He sounds faintly confused.

“No. This is Sheriff Stilinski. You were trying to reach Stiles?”

“Yeah.” Derek hesitates. “Why are you answering his phone?”

Stilinski realizes that in all the chaos, although he’d met Derek and talked about Kate’s murder and Peter’s disappearance, nowhere in there had he mentioned that Peter had taken Stiles with him. It just didn’t seem to be relevant. Now he realizes that it is. Stiles has a sum total of half a dozen contacts in his phone. If he had bothered to save Derek’s, they must have at least been friends. But there’s no way to break this news gently. “Derek . . . Stiles is missing. Peter took him when he left.”

The silence that follows that statement seems very loud.

“You still there?” Stilinski asks.

“Yes, I . . .” Derek’s voice breaks off. “I heard you.”

“I should have asked you this sooner, but I’ve been busy with a lot of things,” Stilinski says. “You’re the person who knows Peter better than anyone. Do you have any idea why he might have done that?”

“No,” Derek says. “No, it . . . it doesn’t seem like him. I have no idea.”

“Look, I’m new to all this werewolf stuff,” Stilinski says. “Is he trying to build a pack? Would he have brought Stiles with him for that reason?”

“It’s a possibility,” Derek says, “but it seems like it would have been easier for him to recruit locally from wherever he winds up. It doesn’t make sense that he would bring Stiles with him. Except . . .”

Derek falls silent. “Except?” Sheriff Stilinski prompts.

“He . . . would like Stiles. Because . . . just because of the way Stiles is. He’s intelligent, and quick, and . . . hard to intimidate. Peter would like Stiles for the same reason that I . . .” His voice trails off again. “Do you have any idea where they’ve gone?”

“We traced the identity that Peter was using to Salt Lake City,” Stilinski says, “but then he just drops off the grid. He must have prepared two identities – one to get him to his destination, and one to assume once he got there. Do you have any idea if Salt Lake City has any significance to him? Did he go to college there, have a girlfriend there, anything?”

“No,” Derek says. “As far as I know, he’s never been there in his life. But he would do that on purpose. He wouldn’t go anywhere significant. He knows people will be looking for him – and not just to arrest him. He killed the princess of the Argent family. There will be hunters after him, and he knows it. He would have prepared meticulously for this moment. Back-ups, redundancies, fail-safes for his fail-safes. Peter . . . was like that.”

Stilinski thinks this over. “A wolf is stronger with a pack, right?” he asks, and Derek confirms. “Then maybe that’s why he took Stiles. He wouldn’t want to recruit where he went, because he knows that hunters are looking for him. They must have their ways of identifying new packs. So maybe that’s why.”

“You need three betas to form a pack,” Derek says. “Just taking Stiles wouldn’t help.”

“Damn it,” Stilinski swears. “There must be something we’re not seeing. Think, damn it!”

“I’m thinking!” Derek growls. “But I don’t – I don’t know Peter anymore. If I ever did. The Peter I knew would never have killed Laura. He killed his alpha. We don’t – we don’t do that, not in families. He’s lost all touch with reality. Who the hell knows what he’s thinking!”

Stilinski has to stop and take a breath. “I didn’t mean to yell at you,” he says. “I just . . . damn it.” A thought occurs to him. “Why were you calling Stiles, anyway?”

“Because I – ” Derek stops. He sounds like he’s fighting for composure. “He hadn’t called me in days. He was – he liked to call and annoy me. Or at least that’s what he said. He would just call and say ‘how’s the werewolf business?’ or ‘done any quality brooding lately?’ and sometimes I would snarl at him or sometimes I would just hang up. But he hadn’t called me since what happened. I thought – maybe he was angry at me for some reason. I just – wanted to hear his voice.”

Stilinski rubs a hand over his face, tries not to hear the heartbreak in Derek’s voice. “We’ll find him,” he says, but the words sound hollow, even to himself.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

A few days pass. Stiles starts to remember what life was like before Adderall, and gradually gets used to wanting to crawl out of his own skin all the time. For the most part, Peter leaves him to his own devices, but whenever he even looks in the direction of the front door, Peter’s there.

Peter can’t cook, and Stiles needs something to do, so he makes food for both of them. The first dinner, Peter compliments his cooking, and Stiles throws an entire plate of food in his face. Peter takes the plate and hits him across the face with it so hard that it shatters. He doesn’t remember the next several hours.

When Peter leaves the apartment, which he does periodically, he leaves Stiles tied up. Sometimes to a chair. Sometimes hog-tied and left in the tub. Once with the water dripping on his face. Always gagged so he can’t call for help. The message is clear. Peter knows what he’s doing. And the torture will stop as soon as Stiles stops trying to escape.

There are books, and a television, but Stiles refuses to go near either. Even though he knows intellectually that the sooner he starts acting like a house guest rather than a hostage, the sooner his chance to get away will come, he’s too angry to make himself do it. Besides, if he falls into line too quickly, it will only make Peter suspicious.

At night, Peter gives him the choice. Tied up and gagged, or sharing a bed. Stiles opts to be tied up. Peter seems to find this amusing. Stiles doesn’t give a shit what he thinks of it. Either way, his chance to escape isn’t going to be at night, and he wants to stay as far away from Peter as he can.

When they sit together at the dinner table, or sometimes while Stiles is just staring sullenly into space, Peter will strike up conversations with him, and Stiles goes along with it because it’s something to do. He asks stupid questions like what Stiles’ favorite subject in school is, and if he’s ever had a girlfriend. But sometimes he asks more telling questions, like how Stiles figured out who was behind the Hale house fire, or why he thinks that he makes his father’s life miserable. Sometimes Stiles answers him, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he asks his own questions, like what Peter did for a living before his career as a serial killer, or whether he liked his nurse or just used her. They trade bits of information back and forth, learning about each other.

Quietly, carefully, Stiles conceives of a plan. He starts watching television in the evenings, huddled up in the corner. Every day, he turns the volume up one single, solitary notch. Peter doesn’t seem to notice the gradual change. Then he waits for his chance. It’s the eighth day since arriving in Denver and he’s watching an episode of some cop show that he can’t identify. There’s a scene with a lot of gunshots, sirens, loud music. Peter is in the kitchen, typing on his laptop. Stiles doesn’t know what he’s typing and he doesn’t care. He gets up, gives the hallway a casual glance, and just walks out of the apartment.

His heart is pounding in his chest as he goes down the staircase and out the building’s front door. It’s late evening, after dinner. He doesn’t see anyone around. Knocking on doors won’t get him anywhere. He would steal a car if he knew how, but he doesn’t. He has no idea where the closest police officer might be.

Then he sees his salvation: a pay phone on the corner. He looks over his shoulder, sees nothing, and bolts for it. He’s out of breath by the time he arrives. “Please still be in order, I know it’s 2013, but please still be in order,” he says under his breath, picking up the phone with shaking hands. There’s a dial tone. He punches 911. He’ll call his dad afterwards. He can call collect. But right now he needs help that’s closer than California.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“I need police,” Stiles says. He knows how to talk to operators, what information they need and how quickly. “I’ve been kidnapped. My name is Genim Stilinski. I’m at a payphone on the corner of Lexington and ninth. Please send – ”

He gets that far before the phone is ripped out of his hands. The receiver is ripped out of the phone altogether, in fact, and he sees a brief glimpse of Peter’s face before the alpha slams the piece of plastic into his face. The blow is hard enough that he winds up on his back, seeing stars. He’s still partially stunned when Peter grabs him by the elbow and yanks him to his feet.

“That wasn’t very nice, Stiles,” he says, pushing him up against a telephone pole. “Now we’re going to have to leave. I put a great deal of effort into obtaining this place.”

“Sucks to be you,” Stiles says, through his rapidly closing throat. Peter just takes hold of him by the collar and drags him back across the street, into the parking lot next to the apartment building.

They leave everything behind. Peter just shoves him into the car, gets behind the wheel, and drives. Ten minutes later, they’ve left town.

Stiles isn’t one hundred percent sure that leaving is actually necessary, but Peter obviously plans to err on the side of caution. There could be security cameras on the corner. If police canvass the area, they might find the apartment. Neighbors might say something about the new people who just moved in.

If the police can locate the apartment, they’ll get the name of the person who rented it. Peter obviously knows that, so he won’t be able to use that name anymore.

Stiles stares at him through a haze of pain as they travel down the highway. Just keep going, asshole, he thinks. If I have to escape enough times to force you through all your identities, I will. What will you do then?

“You know,” Peter says, “you might have actually been able to get away from me, if you’d let me give you the bite.”

“Do you think I just fell off the turnip truck?” Stiles snaps. “Did you forget that I was there when you were calling Scott out against his will and trying to force him to kill his friends? Oh, sure, maybe I could outrun you – probably not, since you’re an alpha, but I did have a headstart, so okay – up until the moment you realized I was gone and snapped your alpha fingers and said ‘come on back now Stiles’ and I did. I am never going to let you do that to me. If you want to give me the bite, you’ll have to hold me down and give it to me against my will. Chew on that, asshole.”

He refuses to speak for the rest of the drive.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The news of Stiles’ 911 call hits the Beacon Hills precinct like a bomb. People scatter in all directions, yammering into radios, demanding more information. Within an hour, Sheriff Stilinski is on a flight to Denver. He thinks about calling Scott, changes his mind, and calls Derek instead. He has the same werewolf senses, he knows his uncle, and he’s not still a child.

Derek sits on the flight in tense, rigid silence, and Sheriff Stilinski doesn’t pester him for conversation beyond the brief greetings, ‘thanks for coming, Mr. Hale’, ‘call me Derek’, ‘okay, and you can call me Tom’. He can barely keep himself together. Stiles is still alive. Peter hasn’t killed him. He’s still trying to escape. The abrupt end to the phone call doesn’t bode well, of course, but an investigation of the pay phone found no blood. Peter might have dragged him away, but he didn’t kill him.

The remains of the receiver are lying on the ground with a little evidence card next to them when Sheriff Stilinski gets there, in the wee hours of the morning. It’s not a good neighborhood, and nobody seems bothered by the police activity. They uniformed officers have spread out, trying to figure out where Stiles had come from.

Derek takes one look at the scene, turns into a slow circle, and heads purposefully towards one of the nearby apartment buildings. Tom follows him without comment. “The trail is a little old now,” Derek says, hesitating at the door. But then he goes into the building and then up the stairs. “He won’t still be here,” he adds.

“I know,” Tom says, rubbing a hand over his face. Peter obviously found Stiles while he was making the call, and he won’t stick around. Derek goes up to a door on the second floor and cautiously tries the knob. It turns easily under his palm, unlocked, and he walks inside.

“We’ll need to find a way to definitively link this to Peter and Stiles before we can call this a crime scene,” Tom says, looking around the neat, Spartan apartment.

“I don’t know that there will be anything.”

They find some clothes, some books, a few DVDs, all of it brand new. The refrigerator is half-full. There are take-out containers in the trash from a Chinese restaurant. The bathroom has a scattered assortment of toiletries. But there’s nothing that stands out. Nothing that will help them find Stiles.

“Damn it,” Sheriff Stilinski says, and slams his hand into the bathroom wall. “Damn it!”

Derek just stares at the two toothbrushes in their little cup with a stone face.

“I – I thought – I knew they’d be gone but I thought – ” Tom can’t finish his sentence. He sags against the wall, trying not to break down. “I thought for sure he would have left some, some message, some clue – oh, Jesus – ”

Derek approaches him awkwardly. It’s clear from his body language that he has no idea what to do. He reaches out, but then pulls his hand back and folds his arms over his chest, tucking his hands away. Tom slides down the wall until he’s sitting, taking deep, shuddering breaths.

Finally, he’s regained his composure. Derek watches him for another moment and then says, “Come on, let’s go.” He reaches over and flips the two switches on the wall, one for the light and one for the fan.

Sheriff Stilinski stops abruptly. “Why did you do that?”

“What?” Derek asks, puzzled. “Conservation, I guess. We’re leaving.”

“But why was the fan on? We didn’t turn it on.” Sheriff Stilinski starts to get excited. He moves over to the shower and cranks the hot water tap as far as it will go. “Stiles and I used to do this,” he says. “Leave messages for each other in the steam. Sometimes . . . there were things we couldn’t say to each other’s face. You know . . . being a single dad is hard. He would screw up and we’d get in a fight and then one of us would write ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’ the next day. And we wouldn’t have to talk about it.”

“So you think he left the fan on – ”

“To stop Peter from generating enough steam to see what he was writing, yeah,” Stilinski says. He holds his breath as steam starts to fill the room. It seems to take forever. But within a minute or two, he can see that there is indeed writing on the mirror. He keeps his fists clenched until the message is laid bare.

‘Hi Dad – he’s driving a dark blue Toyota Camry bought used in LA by nurse, older model. Eats lots of takeout. Always pays cash. Many identities prepared. Not hurting me (much). Tell Scott it’s not his fault. I love you. See you soon.’

Sheriff Stilinski stares at that message for a long time. Then he carefully takes out his phone and takes a picture of it. “We’d better go tell the officer in charge of the scene,” he says, and carefully walks out of the apartment, like he’s afraid he might shatter any second if he takes the wrong step.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

They drive up into the mountains. Peter makes a brief stop at a grocery store and buys some sandwich material and some fruit. Enough to last them several days. It’s a popular area with tourists, but almost completely deserted in the winter. They find an empty cabin at a remote lake, and Peter breaks in.

Once they’re inside, he turns to Stiles. He’s calm, in control. There’s no anger in his face as he reaches out and strikes Stiles exactly where he hit him with the phone, hard enough to knock him down. “Is this how you want things to be?” he asks. “Do you want to be my captive forever? Because we can do that, Stiles.”

Stiles is on his back, one hand pressed to his face, and says, “Even if you buy me clothes and compliment my cooking, I’ll still be your captive.”

Peter looks down at him. He steps on Stiles’ hand with his other foot, putting just enough pressure on it to hurt. “I thought I saw something in you,” he says, “but maybe I was wrong.”

“Yes,” Stiles says, “yes, you were wrong. Just like I tried to tell you from the beginning. I’ll make a terrible werewolf and an even worse hostage. You’d better just let me go.”

“You want to leave?” Peter asks. “We’re a hundred miles from the nearest pay phone. It’s fifteen degrees out and you don’t even have shoes, let alone a jacket.”

“You could let me take the car,” Stiles suggests.

Peter’s foot slams down on his hand. “Is this a joke to you, Joshua?”

Stiles blinks at him, feeling like all the air has been knocked out of his lungs. “Joshua?” he asks, his voice wavering. “Was that . . . was that your son’s name?”

Rage crosses over Peter’s face. For a minute Stiles is sure he’s in for the beating of his life, but then Peter abruptly turns and walks away.

Stiles lays on the floor for a long time. He just doesn’t know what to do, what to think. He starts to get cold. The house was closed down for the winter; there’s no electricity and no heat. The cold seeps up out of the floor and into his bones. He doesn’t hear anything, and doesn’t know where Peter’s gone. He thinks about leaving. The front door is right there, three feet away. But Peter’s right about his likely chance of survival. Even if the weather remained good, he’d never make it back to civilization.

So instead he gets up and goes into the kitchen. The groceries are still laid out on the counter. His hands shake as he starts to put together some sandwiches. Then he goes looking for Peter.

He finds him in the cabin’s living room. He’s starting a fire. Stiles had figured Peter wouldn’t like fire, wouldn’t want to be near it, but his movements are smooth and confident as he makes a little teepee out of the kindling and sets it alight. He glances up as Stiles comes in.

Stiles holds out the plate and whispers, “I made you a sandwich.”

Peter studies him for a moment, then replies, “Come over here where it’s warm.”

Stiles walks over and hands him the sandwich. Then he sits down by the fireplace, hugging his knees to his chest. “I miss my dad,” he says.

“Of course you do,” Peter says gently. “That’s okay, Stiles. I know there’s an entire life you left behind and that can’t be easy. But if you’ll stop treating me like an enemy, things are going to get better. I swear.”

Stiles just nods and wipes the back of his hand over his eyes.

“It’s late,” Peter says. “We should get some sleep.”

“Okay.” Stiles looks at the fire, feels the chill as soon as he moves away from it. “I’ll sleep with you tonight.”

“Wise decision,” Peter says. “Werewolves run a higher temperature than humans on average, did you know that?” he asks, and Stiles shakes his head. “Usually about a hundred on the nose. And of course, the fur helps keep us warm.”

“I don’t want to be a werewolf,” Stiles says. “I . . . I’m scared. I saw what happened to Scott. He lost . . . himself. I don’t want that to happen to me.”

“But it won’t,” Peter says. “Because I’ll be right here with you, every step of the way, teaching you how to control it.”

“I’ll think about it,” Stiles finally says.

There are some blankets and pillows in the closet. Once the fire is built up, they make a nest in front of it. Stiles curls up with Peter wrapped around him and watches the flames until he finally falls asleep.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

They can’t stay at the cabin long, and Stiles knows it. He knows that Peter knows it, too. It’s an hour drive just to get more food. They’ll run out of firewood within a week, and all the wood outside is wet from the snow. But they don’t talk about it. They do talk about some other things, like school and sports and whether Stiles has ever been to Colorado before.

Stiles talks with him now, and talks a little more openly about life with his dad after his mom died, and how he’s never really had many friends, how much he’s had a crush on Lydia. He lets himself be open because he wants Peter to think he’s done trying to escape. Peter knows he doesn’t dare try anyway, not while they’re this far from civilization.

With no electricity, there’s no television, but there are some books and a deck of cards, so Stiles passes the time as best he can. He explores the house while Peter is in the shower. He finds a coat that fits him, and boots that are good enough if he wears several pairs of thick socks, which, hell, he’ll want anyway. He finds an emergency kit with matches and flares and a reflective silver blanket. He packs all of this away into a backpack that he finds.

Then, on the third night, it starts to snow, hard and fast.

Snow is cold and wet and unpleasant, but it will also cover his tracks. He hopes it might interfere with Peter’s sense of smell, too, although he doesn’t know for sure. It’s now or never. Peter’s asleep by the fire. The days of solitude and conversation, connection, have made him lower his guard, so when Stiles said he wanted to finish the book he was reading before he went to sleep, Peter didn’t insist otherwise.

I hope this whole place burns down after I’m gone, Stiles says. He’d try to set it on fire himself if he thought he could do it without waking the alpha.

He waits until he’s outside, so the noise doesn’t disturb him, before putting on the socks, the boots, the coat, the hat. He’s gotten himself pretty well decked out, all things considered. He hefts the backpack, into which he’s put the rest of the food and a few bottles of water. He can melt snow if he needs more. The land up here is pristine.

Peter will expect him to follow the road, of course, but Stiles has a better idea. There are other cabins around the lake. Most of them are probably unoccupied, but if he can find someone home – or better yet, find one where the electricity and the cable are still on – he can try to call for help. Worst comes to worst, at least it will give him a road to follow that Peter won’t be looking on.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. The landscape isn’t easy to navigate. The snow is knee-high in places already, and still coming down hard. At least he isn’t cold. The hard work keeps his blood pumping, keeps him warm. Hunger is his biggest concern. There wasn’t much food left. Hunger and Peter.

He’s been walking almost two hours when he hears a wolf howl.

All the hair on the back of his neck immediately stands up. His head whips around. It’s not close, but that doesn’t matter. He knows, somehow, that it’s Peter. That Peter has woken up and found that he’s gone.

He forces himself not to panic. If he starts to run, he’ll make noise, or possibly slip and hurt himself. Keep hiking, he tells himself. Just keep hiking. You can’t be too far from the next house by now. If nothing else, you can hide there for a while. Just keep moving.

But it can’t have been more than ten minutes later when he hears something crashing through the woods behind him. It sounds large enough to be a bear. His self-control breaks and he just starts running. The cold air seems to stab his lungs with every breath, and the ground shifts under his feet. He falls twice. The first time he scrambles back to his feet. The second time, he’s just made it there, when he’s tackled to the ground.

He rolls over to find Peter looking down at him, trying to maintain that cold passivity, but there’s rage beneath it. “Give it up, Stiles,” he says. “You can’t escape me.”

Stiles tries to squirm backwards, but Peter has him too well pinned. “Let me go!” he shouts, and then starts screaming for help, not knowing how far the next house is, not knowing whether or not there’s anyone in a hundred miles that can hear him. Peter slaps a hand over his mouth.

“You don’t want to do that, Stiles,” he says. “Don’t keep making me hurt people.”

Stiles stops struggling. He’s caught and he knows it. It had been a good plan, but it hadn’t worked.

As soon as he’s motionless, Peter lifts the hand away from his mouth. He nods in approval when Stiles doesn’t immediately begin shouting again, then gets up and pulls him to his feet. He surveys Stiles up and down. “Where did you get those things?”

“My fairy godmother,” Stiles says. “Though she had a little help from these crazy singing mice.”

Peter just smiles at him. “Take them off.”

“What?” Stiles says. “C’mon, dude. We’re still going to have to walk all the way back to the cabin. It took me hours to get this far.”

“Yes, well, you should have thought of that before you tried to escape in the middle of a blizzard,” Peter says, and gestures. “Off.”

“Blow it out your ass, Peter.”

The next thing he knows, he’s on the ground, moaning in pain and tasting blood in his mouth. “You know,” Peter says, as he efficiently strips Stiles out of the winter clothes, “I’ve read that repeated head trauma can have lasting effects. You see it in boxers and football players. You really ought to think about that, Stiles.”

Stiles hears a splash, then another. Peter is throwing his boots in the lake. He tries to make it to his feet, but Peter just shoves him back down. When he’s finally done, Stiles is left in nothing but the T-shirt and jeans he left Denver in, and one pair of socks. He shivers, rubbing his hands over his bare arms. Peter shoves him in the direction of the cabin. “Walk.”

The walk back to the cabin seems to take a lot longer than when he was going the other direction. His feet lose feeling almost immediately. His hands are blue, even purple in places. He can barely feel anything. His entire body is shivering, teeth chattering, when they finally get back to the house. He looks down at himself and sees blood in several places, cuts from branches or stones that he can’t even feel because his entire body is numb.

Now, he knows, Peter will be kind to him. The punishment has been dished out. Now he’ll get a blanket and something warm to drink. And he’ll accept it. Because he wants Peter to think he regrets what he did. He wonders if Peter realizes how they’re both trying to manipulate the other. Undoubtedly, he does. So far, Stiles has come out on top. But in the long-term, if he can’t get away, Peter will win the game.

So when Peter wraps him in a blanket and peels off his wet socks to tsk over his bruised and battered feet, Stiles whispers, “Peter, I’m s-s-so cold.”

“You’ll be all right,” Peter says. He dries Stiles’ feet off, puts some anti-bacterial ointment on the cuts, then gets dry socks on them. He sits back and says, “I wish you wouldn’t make me do things like that to you. You’re only hurting yourself, you know.”

“I-I know,” Stiles says, his teeth still chattering. He leans against Peter, too exhausted and desperate for warmth to resist. Peter wraps his arms around him, pressing him against his chest, and Stiles closes his eyes and lets the warmth seep into him. It takes a long time for his body to stop shivering.

Finally, Peter says, “We’re leaving tomorrow.”

Stiles hides his face in Peter’s chest and mumbles, “Let’s go somewhere warm.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

If nothing else has changed, Peter has clearly decided that Stiles is too clever for his own good. So when they leave the next day, driving that winding road down the mountains, Peter blindfolds him so he can’t see where they’re going. When they stop for gas or food, he takes it off, but he always keeps a keen eye on him, never letting him out of his sight for the briefest of moments.

They stop at a little diner in a small town that has railroad tracks going through it. Stiles sees an Amtrak passenger train going through as they get out of the car. He tries to remember where the train tracks go. He had done a project on the diminishing capacity of passenger rail a while back, but the details are lost to his memory.

The waitress is a perky brunette who calls him ‘hon’. Stiles wonders what would happen if he just said, “Excuse me, I’ve been kidnapped, please call 911.” There are at least twenty people in the diner. Surely Peter couldn’t kill all of them. Not before someone managed to call 911 or pull a gun or do something useful.

The fact that he’s thinking about it must be clear, because Peter’s hand is suddenly on his knee like a vise, making him gasp in pain halfway through his order.

“You okay, hon?” the waitress asks.

“Yeah, I just . . . I have a leg cramp,” he says. “Long day in the car. Uh, right, my food.” He manages to finish ordering. The waitress takes Peter’s order and leaves for the kitchen.

“Don’t think I won’t,” Peter says. “Don’t ever think I won’t.”

Stiles nods and says nothing.

Peter smiles at him. “So. You were telling me about that economics paper that turned into a report on circumcision?”

And just like that, Peter is human again, not a monster. Stiles takes a drink of his water and embarks on the story. The waitress brings their food. He can barely eat any of it, but forces it down. It’s hard to say the next time he’ll get anything besides crappy fast food.

“Do you want some dessert?” the waitress asks, when they’re done eating. “We make great pie!”

“I’m really not in the mood for pie,” Stiles says.

“Oh, come on, what teenaged boy isn’t in the mood for pie?” he asks.

Peter’s hand is on his knee again, not gripping tightly enough to be painful, but making its presence known. “I’ll have apple,” he says. “And a cup of coffee.”

Stiles swallows. “Ch-Cherry,” he manages.

“Sure thing,” she chirps, and leaves the table.

They sit in silence until she comes back with two little plates and Peter’s cup of coffee. Stiles picks up his fork and puts a bite in his mouth. It’s too thick, too sweet. The red filling oozes out, and it looks like his fork is covered in blood. His stomach twists. He looks up at Peter and gasps out, “I’m going to be sick,” before he bolts from the table. He doesn’t care if he draws attention. He doesn’t care if Peter follows him or not. He runs into the bathroom and just barely makes it into the stall, skidding on his knees in front of the toilet before he throws up everything he just ate. His stomach rejects the meal so violently that he doesn’t stop retching until long after it’s all gone.

He realizes slowly that Peter is kneeling beside him, rubbing his back in slow, comforting circles. “I’m sorry, Stiles,” he murmurs. “I shouldn’t have tried to make you eat. That was unfair of me.” He offers Stiles a wad of tissues. Stiles takes them and blows his nose. His entire body is trembling, involuntary tears streaming down his face. “Can you stand?”

Stiles nods, and allows Peter to help him to his feet. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to run.”

“No, no, I know that,” Peter says. “It was my fault. Let’s go get you some water.”

The waitress shows a great deal of concern for them when they come back out. “You okay?” she asks.

“He had some motion sickness earlier,” Peter says. “I guess the pie was a little too much.”

“Oh, well, let me get it taken off your bill . . .”

“No, that’s quite all right,” Peter says. “If we could just get him a glass of water.”

Stiles lets these people fuss over him like it matters, like it’s not all meaningless because he’s stranded in some small town in Colorado with a psychopath and he can taste the bile in his mouth, his throat is burning and his feet still ache from his trek through the forest the night before and he suddenly misses his father so much that he could scream. He’s starting to believe Peter, believe that he’ll never escape, and he knows he can’t allow himself to think that way.

Peter knows that just as he tries to manipulate Stiles, Stiles is trying to manipulate him. But the key, Stiles thinks, isn’t to make Peter believe him. The trick is to make Peter believe himself. Peter believes that he will win. That he is intellectually and emotionally superior. So Stiles needs to give him want he wants. Stiles needs to convince him that he’s won, to use his own ego against him.

That’s the only way he’ll ever escape.

They get back to the car and Peter reaches out to put the blindfold on him. Stiles flinches away. Peter observes him for a moment, then hands it to him and says, “Put it on yourself, then.”

“Can I ride in the back?” Stiles asks. “I want to lie down. I still don’t feel very good.”

“Sure.”

So Stiles gets into the back of the car and ties the blindfold on before wrapping himself in the blanket that’s draped over the seat and lying down. He feels the car roll into motion, and before long, feels the smooth asphalt of a highway beneath them. He drifts off into a doze.

When he wakes sometime later, it’s abrupt. He hears a car door open and shut. A gas station, he thinks, and starts to slide the blindfold up. Then Peter is leaning over the back and saying, “Roll into the gap between the seats. Put the blanket over yourself and don’t. Say. A word.”

“What . . .?” Stiles asks sleepily. Then he sees the reflection of the blue flashing lights in Peter’s eyes. “Did we get pulled over?”

“Do as I say,” Peter snarls, and Stiles obeys. A few moments later, Peter is rolling his window down and saying in a friendly tone, “Is there a problem, officer?”

“Can I see your license and registration, sir?” the police officer asks, and Peter hands both these things over. “I’ll be back in a second,” the man says, heading back to his own car.

Peter turns around and says, slowly, coldly, “What did you do?”

“Nothing!” Stiles says frantically. “Nothing, I didn’t do anything! I-I swear, Peter, please, I swear, please don’t hurt him, he’s just doing his job!”

“You stay under that blanket and keep your mouth shut,” Peter says, “and maybe I won’t have to. But if you so much as breathe too loudly, I will tear his throat out. Do you understand me?”

“Y-Yes,” Stiles says. “Yes, I understand.”

The officer comes back a few moments later and hands Peter back his papers. “Were you aware your left tail light is out?”

The brief moment of silence is telling. Peter is honestly surprised that it is just a traffic stop. “Er, no,” he says. “I bought the car used not long ago. I don’t remember if I checked the tail lights.”

The police officer is just nodding along. “Make sure you get it looked at,” he says.

Peter smiles at him, relaxing. “I was just wondering if I had been speeding.”

“No, you’re pretty much the only car I’ve seen all night that hasn’t been,” the officer says, laughing a little. “I’m not going to bother with a written warning. Just get that light fixed.”

“Will do,” Peter says. “Have a good night, officer.”

A few minutes later, the blue lights are gone and they’ve pulled back onto the road. Stiles peeks out from underneath the blanket cautiously.

“Tell me the truth,” Peter says. “Did you kick out my tail light?”

“No,” Stiles says. “No, I swear.”

He can see Peter’s face in the rearview mirror. He looks thoughtful. “I believe you,” he says.

Stiles collapses against the floor of the car, limp with relief. But having come out of this scrape makes him upset for a different reason. The cop had not been on the look-out for their car. Had his father not gotten his message? He had been so sure that he would think to check the mirror. Why hadn’t the officer recognized Peter? Had word just not circulated to the small town stations yet?

“Dad,” he mumbles. “Dad, please come find me.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Sheriff Stilinski looks up from his desk at about seven PM when there’s a gentle knock on his door, and sees Melissa McCall standing there. “Oh, Tom,” she says, seeing the dark circles under his eyes, the lines on his face. “When was the last time you slept?”

Tom rubs a hand over his face. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”

Melissa sighs. “Come on. Why don’t you come over to our place tonight? You need to get some rest, eat some real food.” When he hesitates, she says, “You know as well as I do that Stiles would have a fit if he knew what you were doing to yourself,” and points to the stack of fast food wrappers in his trash can. He looks at her, then at the wrappers. He knows damned well that she’s right.

“Okay,” he says, and pushes back from his desk. “A few hours probably can’t hurt, anyway.”

Melissa doesn’t argue with ‘a few hours’. She’s fairly sure that if she can actually get him to sleep, he won’t be getting up any time soon. Tom says good night to the people who are still on shift. He’s lucky, he knows, to have the crew he does. They’ve been working tirelessly, not only to help him find Stiles, but also to handle everything else he normally handles so he can devote his efforts to this. The powers that be had even offered to give him some paid leave. Official or unofficial, they said, whichever way he preferred. He could keep coming to the station and using his credentials to try to find his son, while someone else took on his duties. He had refused, but only so far.

“Melissa,” he says, as they drive back towards the McCall house, “how long has it been?”

She gives him a sidelong glance and says, quietly, “Two weeks and three days.”

Tom rubs a hand over his face. “Christmas is next week, then,” he says, and she just nods in response. Tom stares out the window. “They’ll celebrate it,” he says. “Peter will give him something. He doesn’t want Stiles to feel like his hostage.”

“Well,” Melissa says, with reserve, “when we get him back, we’ll have Christmas ourselves. Even if it’s in July.”

He just nods. “It just doesn’t make any sense,” he says.

“I think it will . . . once you’ve seen Scott.”

Tom isn’t sure what to say to that, but as soon as they get to the McCall house, he realizes what Melissa means. Scott looks terrible. Tom didn’t think it was possible to find somebody who looks even worse than he does, but there’s Scott, eyes red-rimmed and sagging, hair disheveled, face gaunt like he’s dropped twenty pounds in the last two weeks. And now, finally, he thinks he might understand.

Scott was a beta. He was supposed to be a pushover. Turning him was supposed to give Peter power, but instead it weakened him, even crippled him, because Scott was a thorn in his side, fighting against him at every turn. Scott had come close to ruining all his plans through his resistance. So Peter had taken away the person Scott depended on most, the person who had supported him through everything and helped him learn the control that Scott had used to defeat him. Not only had Scott lost his best friend, but it was clear that the guilt was eating him alive.

“Do you want me to talk to him?” he asks, as he helps Melissa chop vegetables for a salad.

“I have talked to him,” she says. “He’s just . . . heartbroken. I don’t know what to say that can possibly help.”

“I think maybe I do,” Tom says. He takes the plate of baked chicken out to the table. He had held off on telling Scott about Stiles’ message. Honestly, he had simply had too much else to do. And if Scott wasn’t already feeling guilty, he didn’t want to put the thought in his head. “Scott,” he says, gesturing, and Scott looks up from where he’s setting the table, eyes blank and dull. “Come here. I want to show you something.”

“Okay.” Scott sets down the stack of plates and heads over.

“Your mom told you about what we found in Denver, right?” Tom says.

Scott nods, head bobbing mechanically. “That . . . Stiles had left you a message. Telling you what kind of car Peter’s driving.”

“Right. I think you should read the whole message.” Tom takes out his phone and pulls up the picture he snapped of the mirror.

Scott leans over his shoulder and reads it. Tom knows when he’s gotten to the pertinent sentence because all the breath leaves him in a rush, as if he’s been punched in the gut, and he lets out a little wolf whine. He looks up at Tom. “I left him at the dance,” he says. “Him and Lydia both. He got taken because of me.”

“No,” Tom says. “He got taken because of Peter.” He shakes his head a little. “You heard about the store clerk in Redding?” he asks, and Scott nods. “Do you think that happened because Stiles tried to escape?”

“No, of course not, I mean, it happened because . . .” Scott wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. “Because Peter wouldn’t let him go.”

“That’s right,” Tom says. “But we had some lip readers come in and tell us what Peter said afterwards. Stiles asked him ‘why did you do that’ and Peter told him ‘you didn’t leave me much choice’. Peter wanted Stiles to blame himself for the death of that clerk so he wouldn’t try to escape again. But Stiles did try to escape again. And he’ll try again. And again. Until we find him. Because Stiles knows that it’s not his fault. That Peter is the one who killed him, and Peter alone is responsible for that man’s death. Just like he wants you to know that Peter alone is responsible for what’s happening to him right now. And if you let Peter break you, you’re letting him win. And I don’t think that’s what Stiles would want. Do you?”

Scott swallows hard. When he looks up, there’s life in his eyes again, and his shoulders are straight. “No,” he says. “No, he wouldn’t want that.”

“Good,” Tom says, squeezing his shoulder. “We are going to find him, Scott. One way or another.”

“Please – there must be something I can do,” Scott says, practically begging.

Tom hesitates. “Right now? No. But I’ll make a deal with you. Next time I get a lead on Stiles’ location, next time he manages to make a 911 call or leave me a message, I’ll bring you along. Okay?”

Scott nods with relief. “Okay. I – okay. Yes. Thank you.”

Melissa comes out of the kitchen then, sees the way Scott is standing, and gives Tom a look of painful, naked gratitude. He manages a smile for her in return. Peter isn’t going to break Scott. Peter isn’t going to break any of them. Not if he has anything to say about it. “So how are things with you and Allison?” Tom asks, as they sit down to eat.

“Her dad told me I couldn’t see her anymore,” Scott says glumly.

“And you’ve been moping too much to fight him on it?” Tom presumes, and Scott nods, turning a little pink. “I think you should. Some things are worth fighting for.”

“He’s . . . scary,” Scott says.

“How so?” Tom asks, sipping his iced tea.

Scott studies his plate. “Nothing, it’s nothing.”

Tom narrows his eyes. “Did he threaten you?” he asks. Scott’s silence is answer enough, but Tom pushes anyway. “Scott. Tell me what he said.”

“He, uhm . . .” Scott studies his plate. “He might possibly have put his gun in my face and told me he’d kill me if he ever saw me with his daughter again.”

Melissa drops her glass. Water goes everywhere. It takes a minute to both clean everything up and get her calmed down. She has gone into full Mama Bear mode, and for a minute, Tom almost feels sorry for Chris Argent. Scott is trying, vainly, to protest that it’s not as big a deal because he’s a werewolf now and the bullets wouldn’t kill him. He only makes things worse. Melissa says maybe they should try shooting Chris Argent in some non-vital places and see how he likes bullets that don’t kill him.

“Look,” Tom says, “can I wait until after dinner to arrest him? This is pretty good grub.”

“Oh my God, don’t arrest him, Allison will never speak to me again!” Scott protests.

“You, you had better bet your buns that Tom is going to arrest him,” Melissa snaps at him. Then she snaps at Tom. “We are pressing charges, we are pressing all the charges – ”

Tom lifts his hands and says, “How about a compromise? I’ll go warn him against putting guns in teenaged boys faces and tells him if he does anything like that again, he’ll be arrested. But I don’t want him in jail, Melissa, because . . .” He breaks off the sentence. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, it’s confidential police information, but, well . . . we’re monitoring his finances and his phone records. He’s got connections that we don’t, and finding werewolves is what he does. It’s a long shot, but if there’s any sort of remote chance he can help us find Stiles, will he or nil he . . . I’m taking it.”

Melissa scowls but nods. “Fine.” She stabs her chicken with her fork. “But you had better make it eminently clear to him that his behavior is not tolerable.”

“Done and done,” Tom says, and goes back to his dinner. Not ten minutes have gone by before the next bombshell hits. His phone rings. He glances down at the screen, thinking he’ll let it go to voicemail, when he sees that it’s Derek. Derek has been running errands for him. Specifically, he’s been in Los Angeles.

There are hundreds, possibly even thousands, of used car lots in the greater Los Angeles area. Tom doesn’t have time to do the leg work and visit every single one, but Derek does, and he was desperate for some way to help. He’s been methodically going to all of them, showing the nurse’s picture to the salesmen, and seeing if anyone remembers selling her a blue Toyota. It’s a long-shot, probably one of the longest they’ve taken, but if they can get the car’s information, the VIN, they can get the registration, presuming that Peter bothered to register it. That will get them both a plate number and one of Peter’s identities. Without a plate number, telling highway patrol ‘be on the lookout for a blue Camry’ is virtually useless. The Camry is one of the most popular family vehicles. He put a BOLO out on it anyway, and hopes that somebody may spot it, but he doubts there’s much chance.

“Hang on, I have to take this,” he says, and picks up. “What’s the news?”

“I’ve got it.” Derek actually sounds excited. “The salesman actually remembered her right away because he said she seemed really squirrelly about the whole thing. Which he says isn’t that uncommon, really, but she didn’t seem the type. But he won’t give me the VIN because I’m not an actual cop.”

“Text me the car lot information,” Tom says, already on his feet. “I’ll call the local precinct and have them send somebody down.”

“Okay. I’ll just – wait here.”

“You can come on back to Beacon Hills. They’ll handle it. And Derek. Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me,” Derek says, and hangs up.

Tom pockets his phone. “I have to go,” he says. “There’s a lead on the car. I’ll keep you posted,” he adds, and jogs out the door without saying goodbye.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles knows they’re in Albuquerque because Peter lets him watch TV, and the weather channel always does local on the 8’s. The phone book in the room of the extended-stay hotel where they’ve settled is an Albuquerque phone book. So he knows approximately where they are, for all the good it does him.

Days have dragged on, unrelenting. Peter is more reluctant to leave him alone, even tied up and gagged, in a hotel room than he was in their apartment. It’s unlikely that anyone would come in and find him, but not impossible. So until he finds a more permanent housing situation, they’re stuck with each other.

In a move of desperation designed to both a) keep himself occupied, and b) make Peter incredibly sick of him, he’s started telling Peter all about the Marvel multiverse. When that runs dry, he starts in on all the connections between the Stephen King novels. Then the expanded Star Wars world. He just talks and talks and talks. It takes three days for Peter to finally lose his temper and threaten to duct tape his mouth shut.

“It’s not my fault,” Stiles says, his tone somewhat plaintive. “I’m bored.”

“If you would just agree to be a werewolf, I could turn you, and then we would have plenty to do,” Peter tells him.

“Like chasing coyotes through the desert? Thanks but no thanks. If you want me to shut up, get me some Adderall.”

Peter glances over at this. “You have ADD?”

“Yeah. No shit, Sherlock.”

“You know that being a werewolf would probably fix that, right?”

“Yeah, so would my fucking medication,” Stiles retorts. “What do you want to hear about next? Babylon 5 or Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”

Peter duct tapes his mouth shut.

But the next day, after an hour long excursion, he comes back to the hotel with a Zip-Lock bag with five pills in it. “Harder to acquire than one might think,” he muses. “There’s a real profit to be made with this.”

“Oh my God,” Stiles says, grabbing at the baggie. “Are you fucking kidding me.”

Peter holds it out of reach. “No more science fiction babble,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah, you got it,” Stiles says, snatching it out of his hands. He doesn’t even care that Peter got it on the street and it could be laced with who-knew-what. He doesn’t have any medication allergies. He’s willing to try just about anything at this point. He takes double his normal dose and then collapses on the bed. Peter just shakes his head at him.

An hour later, Stiles is staring at the television, mesmerized. “What are you watching?” Peter asks.

“Tennis,” Stiles says. “The ball just . . . goes back and forth over and over again. It’s hypnotic.”

Peter shakes his head and leaves him to his own devices.

Their brief stretch of idyll is broken the next day. Stiles is making origami frogs out of pages from the phone book, while Peter does whatever Peter does on his laptop. Stiles would love to get a look at that someday, but it’s one of the things that Peter never lets out of his sight, like his wallet and the keys to the car.

“I’m thirsty,” he says.

“Drink some water,” Peter replies.

“I want caffeine,” Stiles whines. His short-term goal is to make himself as obnoxious as possible in the hopes that Peter will get sick of him.

“There’s a six-pack of Pepsi over there,” Peter says, waving vaguely.

“It’s warm,” Stiles says.

Peter slaps his laptop shut. “Joshua, for the love of – ” He catches himself abruptly. He and Stiles stare at each other for a long stretch, before Peter carefully says, “I’ll go get some ice. I will be gone approximately forty-five seconds. Can you get away from me in forty-five seconds?”

“No,” Stiles says, sulking.

“Are you going to try anyway, like the idiot you are sometimes? Keeping in mind that if you try to find someone whose phone you can use, I’ll kill them?”

“No.” Stiles stares sullenly at the door to the bathroom, wondering how much of Peter’s computer information he can get a look at in forty-five seconds. If they’re hooked up to wi-fi, he could even send an e-mail to his father.

“Good. I’ll be right back.”

But Peter is only gone a few moments. He opens the door, takes a step out, but then comes back in, carefully swinging it closed behind him. “Stiles,” he says, in that calm, pleasant voice which always means trouble. “Look out the window and tell me what you see.”

Stiles gives him an uncertain look, but comes out of his corner and looks out the window. His heart immediately begins to pound in his chest, and he knows that Peter can hear it. “I . . . I see a police car and two uniformed officers inspecting your car.”

“Hm,” Peter says. “That’s what I thought I saw. Put your shoes on. We’re leaving.” He slides his laptop into its bag. “Now, why would the police be inspecting my car, do you think?”

“Maybe they’re checking up on your tail light,” Stiles says weakly.

Peter gives him a look that’s icy in its lack of amusement. “Here’s what we are going to do,” he says, and tosses Stiles a hooded sweatshirt, one of the spoils from the cabin in the woods. “Put that on and put the hood up,” he says, and Stiles does. “If we try to sneak out, there’s a very good likelihood that they will notice us. So. We are going to leave this room. You are going to go first by about five paces. Then you’re going to say something along the lines of ‘hurry up, Dad, we’re going to be late’. Then you’re going to walk that way – ” He points to the right – “and go down the stairs. By which point I will have caught up with you and I will take it from there. Do you realize what will happen if you don’t follow these instructions to the letter?”

Stiles nods, but debates his options for a long minute. Peter against a convenience store clerk is one thing. Peter against two armed police officers – well, they would lose, that’s a certainty, but they might create enough confusion and chaos that he could slip away.

But no. Peter would only follow him, and his punishment would be all the worse. It’s not his moment. Not this time. But it’s heartening. His dad got his message after all. It just took them some time to track down the car. He wishes he had realized it was going to happen. He could have tried to leave some sort of message with the origami. But there’s no time now.

So he leaves the hotel room, takes his five steps, and complains, “Come on, Dad, we’re gonna be late!” One of the officers glances up at him, but takes no real notice. They can’t see anything beyond the tip of his nose, and obviously, a hostage and a kidnapper would not be drawing such attention to themselves. Peter comes out of the room a moment later, and by then the cops have already gone back to what they’re doing. Stiles has to breathe carefully as they go down the stairs and around the corner of the building.

Once they call it in, every cop in Albuquerque is going to be looking for them. He’ll get his chance. He has to believe that. Peter hadn’t believed him when he had tried to point out that kidnapping a sheriff’s son was a bad idea. Too bad for him.

But there’s a window, and Peter makes it. They take a taxi to a car rental place near the airport. Stiles just watches as he goes through his bag for a driver’s license.

One identity for the hotel in California the first night, the car rental the next morning. The transport identification he had prepared. One that the apartment in Denver was under, that his father had obviously found. One for the car’s registration, which again, his father has found. What identity had he used for the hotel in Albuquerque? It could have been the same one as the car, or a new one. Either way, he had lost that one now, too, because the cops would go into the lobby, get the clerk to identify Peter, and find out what room he was in and what name it had been registered under. That was either three or four identities blown. And now he’s taking out a fifth. How many did he have?

It doesn’t matter. It can’t be endless. Peter was meticulous. He had back-ups for his back-ups. He was prepared for anything.

Except for Stiles.

“You know,” Peter says, as they’re leaving Albuquerque behind them, “I have half a mind to drive out into the middle of the desert and leave you there to die of dehydration.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says. “How can I convince the other half?”

Peter gives him a sharp look. “How did they know about the car, Stiles?” he asks. “You passed a message to your father, obviously. But how?”

Stiles says nothing.

“Okay,” Peter says. “What direction are we heading?”

Stiles gives him a wary look, then looks up to see where the sun is, glances at the car’s clock. “West.”

“Yes,” Peter says. “And what is west of New Mexico?”

“Arizona,” Stiles says, still guarded.

“And then?”

“California.”

“Exactly,” Peter says. “So here is something to keep in mind, Stiles. I didn’t want to have to go this far. But if you don’t stop playing around, things are going to get serious. I will drive back to Beacon Hills, a city which I swore a solemn oath never to set foot in again. The police are helping look for you, obviously, but it’s your father who’s driving the search. He’s the one who you’re getting through to, because he knows what to look for, where you’ll hide your little codes. So if you do not behave, I will go back to Beacon Hills, I will find your father, and I will rip him limb from limb. I’ll make you watch. And then, for good measure, I’ll get rid of your friend Scott. His mother. That pretty little redhead you talk about. I’ll kill them all, Stiles. And then we will be right back where we started, only they’ll be dead and no one will be looking for you anymore. Am I making myself absolutely clear?”

Stiles stares straight ahead, his jaw set to keep it from trembling. “Yes.”

“Do you believe that I will do that?”

“Yes,” Stiles says again.

“Then are you going to behave?”

“No,” Stiles says.

Peter jerks the wheel to one side and slams on the brakes. The car skids to a halt. “And why not?”

“Because fuck you, that’s why.”

They stare each other down for a long moment. Stiles can feel his heart racing in his chest, but right now he’s only feeling anger, not fear. If Peter kills him, so be it. It’ll be worth it not to have to put up with the asshole and his manipulative bullshit anymore. Then, surprising him, Peter starts to chuckle. “You really are going to make an amazing werewolf,” he says.

Stiles gets out of the car and slams the door behind him. To hell with the fact that he’s in the middle of the desert and they’re at least twenty miles outside of Albuquerque. He just turns and starts walking. He doesn’t bother running, because he knows Peter will catch him. There’s no point in wasting his breath.

Peter has him in a headlock moments later, and drags him back to the car. Stiles kicks and screams and struggles, all to no avail. He keeps struggling even as Peter’s getting the zip-ties around his wrists and ankles, the plastic cutting into the skin, the more he fights back. Then Peter dumps him in the well between the seats, puts the blindfold on him, duct tapes his mouth shut, and drops the blanket over him to hide him from view.

Stiles is still kicking and thrashing as Peter puts the car into gear and pulls back onto the road. He turns on the radio. It’s playing Christmas carols.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

“Yes,” Tom says into the phone, while Derek paces around his office. “Yes, I understand. Yes. Thanks for the update. Keep in touch.”

He sets his phone into its cradle. Derek watches him, not even breathing. Then, abruptly, he shoves the phone off his desk. It lands with a clatter, followed by several stacks of paper. “God damn it!” Tom shouts. He stands with his fists clenched at his sides, his entire body trembling as he struggles for control.

“What happened?” Derek finally asks.

“They found the car in a motel parking lot in Albuquerque,” Tom says. “But Peter must have seen them. By the time they stopped standing around holding their dicks and got around to asking the hotel clerk to figure out which room they were in, they were long gone. They set up some road blocks, but it was too late.”

“So they could be anywhere,” Derek says wearily. “And now we have no vehicle information.”

Tom nods. “They’re keeping the hotel room in Albuquerque the way it was, and I’ll go down there, but I already told them to check the mirror. Nothing.”

“Then what do we do?” Derek asks.

Tom pushes both his hands through his hair. He doesn’t know, and he doesn’t want to say that to Derek. Stiles obviously risked everything to get them that information about the car. Odds are very good he won’t have a chance like that again. But Stiles is smart, he’s resourceful. He’ll create a chance for himself, if he has to. “We’ll circulate their photos to everywhere in a hundred mile radius of Albuquerque,” Tom says, “and we’ll pray.” He stands up. “I’ve got a flight to Albuquerque in a few hours, but I have a few quick errands to run first. There’s probably no point in you coming with me this time. Stay here and keep an eye on Scott and his mother.”

It’s a sign of how upset Derek is by the whole thing that he doesn’t argue. He just nods. Tom gets his things together and leaves the office.

He’s in a terrible mood and he wants to take it out on somebody, so he heads to the Argent house. There are Christmas lights up there. He resists the extremely immature urge to take one of the strings and just yank it down. That would be petty. Instead, he rings the bell like a civilized person. Victoria answers it and backs away to let him in, looking wary.

Chris comes up from the basement a few moments later. “What can I do for you, Sheriff?” he asks. Like his wife, he clearly isn’t thrilled with Tom’s presence.

“I need to have a little chat with you about something that happened a week or so ago,” Tom says, folding his arms across his chest. “Apparently you threatened a teenaged boy with your pistol.”

Chris’ face closes off. “That’s not true.”

Tom gives a snort. “Scott McCall is many things, but a liar isn’t one of them. I’ve known the kid since he was in diapers. I understand you don’t like him dating your daughter, but I’m pretty sure threatening him with a firearm is just a wee bit of an overreaction. Don’t you think?”

“Am I being arrested?” Chris asks. “Because I’m fairly sure that you can’t prove anything. It’s his word against mine.”

“I heard Allison was there, too,” Tom says. “Do you really want to find out who she’ll side with, if you push her?”

From the way Chris’ jaw tightens, Tom knows he’s scored a valuable point. “What do you want, Sheriff?”

“I want your help finding my son,” Tom says. “You have contacts, connections, that I don’t. The people you consort with can do things that aren’t exactly legal – and they’re better prepared to take on someone like Peter Hale. I’ll make a deal with you. If you’ll agree to pool information with me, then when I have a bead on Peter Hale, I’ll let you come along and take him out. I know there’s no point in arresting him. But by God once I get my son back I want to be sure that Peter will never come after him again.”

Chris studies Tom for a few long minutes. Then he nods. “Agreed. But I don’t know how much I’ll be able to tell you. He knew exactly who he needed to hide from.”

“Well, with Stiles trying to wriggle free at every opportunity, he’s been forced to give up several of the identities he prepared,” Tom says. “I don’t know how many he got ready, but he’s blown through four already, not counting his real name. I’m going to give you the four identities we have. If he uses any of them, and you find out about it, you let me know.”

“Okay,” Chris says. He hesitates, then shakes his head. “It may have been a little bit of an overreaction.”

“Just a little,” Tom says dryly.

“You have any daughters?”

“No. Just Stiles. And before you ask, I’ve never understood the societal convention that a father is supposed to high-five his son when he gets laid but freak out if his daughter even thinks about sex. So don’t give me any of that ‘he deflowered my precious little princess’ garbage. You hold onto her too tight, Argent, and she’s going to slip through your fingers.”

Chris glares at him as he turns and leaves the house. He feels pretty good about the whole thing. Letting off some steam helped. And he would team up with Satan himself if it helped him get Stiles back.

It’s an off-handed thought that crosses his mind, that upon second glance, remains absolutely true. He would make a deal with the devil.

Unfortunately, the devil is who he needs to find.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles loses track of time. There’s no more Adderall, no more coffee, no more Egg McMuffins. He doesn’t even know what city they’re in, although it’s cold there, because Peter wrapped him in a damned tarp before carrying him into what looks like an abandoned, boarded up office building. If it bothers him that they’re now living in a place without running water, he doesn’t give any sign of it.

He reminds Stiles frequently that the torment can stop any time. All Stiles has to do is agree to be turned. “You could just turn me without permission,” Stiles says at one point.

“Where would the fun in that be?” Peter asks, and Stiles doesn’t bring it up again.

He spends his days miserable, tied up even when Peter is home. But he refuses to give in. Anger keeps him going.

They live in the office building for two weeks. Then Peter moves them, abruptly and without explanation. Stiles wonders if he was getting edgy, or if he could smell or hear or somehow detect that somebody was onto them. Either way, it’s another long afternoon in the car, blindfolded and under a blanket. He thinks they’re going downhill a lot of the way. He tries to remember his geography. Are there mountains in New Mexico? It was cold in Albuquerque. There was even some snow on the ground in places.

The next time he gets a glimpse of the outside, it’s much warmer, so that confirms they were going downhill. He closes his eyes and tries to picture a map of the United States. They had driven west out of Albuquerque several hours, but not a full day. And then downhill, but the drive was only a few hours. Phoenix, he thinks. They’re somewhere in Phoenix.

They’re set up in a rundown tenement. Peter is avoiding using his identities. He wants to stay places where he won’t have to check in, won’t have to show ID. It’s a very encouraging sign. He must only have one or two left, and he wants to make sure that if Stiles attracts attention, he won’t lose one. On the downside, that means that if Stiles does manage to attract attention . . . he won’t lose one.

Stiles sleeps while still tied up, eats while tied up, when he eats at all. He thinks he’s losing weight. He wakes up one morning, his entire body aching from sleeping on the concrete, when he sees something small and brown only an inch from his face. It looks back curiously. About an inch long, tiny pincers, a bulbous tail curved upwards.

“Peter?” Stiles calls, his voice wavering and cracking. His throat is dry. The air is so much dryer here than anywhere he’s ever been before. But there’s no response from the alpha, and Stiles finds himself holding absolutely still, staring at the scorpion in fascination. He doesn’t know much about scorpions, beyond that the smaller they are, the more venomous they are. And this one is not very big at all. “Peter!”

“What is it?” Peter asks, walking out from another part of the building.

“S-S-Scorpion,” Stiles manages.

Peter looks down. “Oh, so it is,” he says. He crouches down to examine the creature. “Probably a bark scorpion. I’ve heard they’re common out here. Really only dangerous to infants or the elderly, although their venom is said to be quite excruciating.”

He turns and walks away.

“Peter, wait!” Stiles shouts after him. “I don’t like stinging bugs,” he whines. “Once a wasp stung me on the lip. It swelled up like a balloon. Or, or what if I’m allergic? You’d have to take me to the ER. They’d want ID or something. C’mon, Peter . . .”

“Say please,” Peter says, smiling down at him.

“Sure, please, absolutely, please,” Stiles says, and Peter’s boot comes down an inch from his face, squishing the scorpion into oblivion. Stiles feels himself relax. “Are there more?” he asks.

“Probably,” Peter says, “but we’re moving tomorrow.”

Stiles doesn’t sleep a wink that night.

Wherever they move, they don’t go far. He’s only in the car for twenty minutes. He’s still blindfolded on the way in, but they seem to end up in a reasonably decent living space. There’s no furniture there, but at least there’s a bathroom and a kitchen. Peter has all the shades and curtains drawn. “Open the blinds,” Stiles says.

“And have you ferreting out where we are? Thank you, but no thank you. You are far too clever for your own good.”

“We’re in some Phoenix suburb,” Stiles says impatiently. Peter arches his eyebrows. “The last place we stayed was probably Flagstaff. C’mon, Peter, I’m not stupid. I know geography. It’s too warm for us to still be in the mountains. And the radio stations you were flipping past in the car had a lot of Spanish on them.”

“Far too clever,” Peter says dryly, but he opens the blinds. Stiles blinks out at the bright sunlight, the first time he’s seen the sun in – how long? A month? Even longer? – and the desert landscaping, the cacti. This is a house, not an apartment. He wonders how Peter got it. Maybe he just found one in foreclosure and made himself at home. “So is this a sign that you’re going to start being reasonable again?”

“Oh my God,” Stiles says, his voice wavering. “If it gets me out of this place without being wrapped in a tarp, I’ll do anything you want. Short of being turned into a werewolf.”

Peter smiles. “Then let’s go get dinner, and we’ll see if you’re learning how to behave yourself.”

Stiles behaves impeccably. His last escape plan had been a good one, and he means for the next one to be just as good. And if that means going out to dinner with Peter and acting like a human being and not trying to escape for a week or three, he can do that. What’s another week at this point? “Did I miss Christmas?” he asks, once they have their food.

“You were wrapped in a tarp,” Peter says, smiling at him. “I didn’t get a chance to give you your present.”

Stiles pushes the rice and beans on his plate around with his fork. “If it was your dick in a box, I didn’t want it anyway.”

Peter shakes his head. “You know, there are some people who would consider your smartassery to be borderline suicidal.”

“Give me a break. It’s been a long week. Month. Jesus. How long has it been?” Stiles asks, and Peter just shrugs. Stiles hates him for that, for not even giving him that. He wants to reach across the table and just stab Peter with his fork.

He missed Christmas. That hurts. Christmas had always been hard for him and his dad, after his mom died. After Scott’s dad left, they had usually celebrated it jointly with the McCall family. Stiles stares at his plate of bona fide Mexican food and wonders how they’re all doing. Are they worried about him? Do they know he’s alive? Are they still looking? His dad, he knows, will never give up. Not ever. But what about the others? Has Lydia even noticed that he’s gone? Who is Harris tormenting in chemistry class? Who’s helping Finstock remember everyone’s name?

“Stiles? Earth to Stiles,” Peter says, and Stiles jolts back to the present.

He looks up at Peter, aware that there’s tears on his face that he just can’t stop, not even trying to hide the grief on his face. “I want to go home,” he says.

“You are home,” Peter replies. “Get used to that.”

Stiles puts his fork down. He can’t eat another bite, and Peter doesn’t try to make him.

They settle back into the routine they briefly had in Denver. He’s only tied up when he’s alone in the house. Peter spends a lot of time on his computer. “Investments, stocks, that sort of thing,” he says, when Stiles asks what he’s doing. “The money has to come from somewhere.”

Yes, it does, Stiles thinks. And if he can find out where and get that information to his father, Peter’s assets will find themselves frozen. That would be nice. But Peter never lets him get near the laptop.

He’s not allowed to watch television by himself anymore. Peter doesn’t want a repeat of Denver. He doesn’t give Stiles anything to do at all. Stiles is left to entertain himself with nothing more than four walls and his imagination. Sometimes he gets Adderall, but more often he doesn’t. Peter finds him one day sitting in the middle of the empty bedroom systematically pulling the hairs off his arms and legs. He’s made a little pile of them. The pain keeps him grounded. Little specks of blood dot his hands.

“You need to find a more productive way to channel your energy,” Peter tells him.

Stiles just shrugs listlessly.

But it gets the result he wanted, even if he hadn’t been doing it consciously. Peter starts letting him out of the house more often. Always accompanied, and never for very long. But they’ll take a brief walk around the neighborhood. Or go to the Starbucks three blocks away. He’ll let Stiles go to the grocery store with him, and even encourages him to show some interest in what they’re going to cook and eat.

It is, strangely enough, at a grocery store that Stiles conceives of his next escape plan. And it’s a complete coincidence. He’s standing at the deli counter while Peter is looking at the different meats and cheeses offered, and he sees a cell phone sitting on a display next to dishes of olives and Greek delicacies. Someone clearly put it down there while dishing up their food and then forgot to pick it back up. Stiles stares at it for a moment that’s altogether too long. Then he just sidles over to it and picks it up.

Slide to unlock. He does, and is immediately greeted with the face of a smiling child. It’s not password protected. It has a battery at sixty-eight percent.

He turns the phone off and slides it into his pocket.

Peter never notices, because he’s giving their order to the deli clerk. When he glances over at Stiles again, Stiles is standing at his elbow, right where Peter left him.

Their nightly routine is fairly well set in stone by this point. Peter prefers to shower in the morning, but Stiles sleeps better after a shower, so he takes his at night. Then Peter ties him up in a location of his choosing and leaves him there. Stiles thinks long and hard about the best way to get help. The house is only one story, but the kitchen is a straight shot from the front door. The bedrooms are down the hall. The timing is going to be difficult, almost impossible.

He allows himself to sink down into a miasma of depression that’s really not all feigned. He refuses to eat. When Peter offers to let him accompany him on one of his trips out instead of being tied up, he just shrugs and mumbles, “What’s the point.” He draws the curtains in the bedroom that’s ostensibly his and just lies there a lot. He stops pestering Peter for Adderall. And he gradually lets his showers in the evening get longer and longer. Once he purposefully lets Peter find him there, sitting on the floor and just letting the water run over him to hide his tears. Peter just rolls his eyes, says something snippy about him being dramatic, and leaves. Peter likes to read in bed at night, and it annoys him that Stiles’ bedtime is drifting later and later.

Stiles lets it go on for days. The phone is as hidden as he can keep it, turned off and tucked underneath his mattress. Whenever he has a chance, he turns it on to make sure it’s still functioning. It is, although it has a number of missed calls and annoyed texts asking for it to be returned at this point. If the user knew how to remotely lock it or cut off the service, they’re not doing so. But he doesn’t dare drag it out too long.

Six days after finding the phone, it’s nearly eleven o’clock at night when Peter says tartly, “If you want your customary wallow in the bathroom, you’d better do it now before I lose my patience with you. Come get me when you get out. If you take more than thirty minutes, I’m coming in for you. I’d like to get to bed some time this century.”

Stiles just keeps his eyes downcast and murmurs acquiescence. He goes into his bedroom to grab a set of pajamas, and keeps the phone tucked inside them until he gets into the bathroom. He’s been working a lot on controlling his heart beat lately. If it speeds up with fear or excitement, Peter doesn’t seem to notice, so he must be doing at least a halfway decent job at it.

He turns the water on, lets the bathroom steam up. He approaches the mirror, then shakes his head. He doesn’t need archaic methods like that now. He has a cell phone. But he waits. He hears Peter moving around in the house. He ducks into the shower quickly so he’ll be damp, dries himself off, and dresses in his pajamas. Then he hears what he was waiting for. The hinges of Peter’s door opening. He keeps it shut during the day – it stays cooler that way because of the way the sun hits the windows in the main part of the house. And the hinges squeak quite loudly.

They don’t squeak again, which means Peter has left his door open. That’s fine. Stiles figured he would. He turns on the phone. It still works. He dials 911.

“911 Emergency Response,” the professional voice on the end of the line says.

Stiles keeps his voice pitched as low as he possibly can. The noise of the running water should keep Peter from hearing him. He hopes. “I need police. I’ve been kidnapped.” It’s only the second time he’s said it, but for some reason he feels like he’s been reciting the same story over and over. He gives his name and as much of the address as he’s been able to glean. He doesn’t know what city he’s in, but he’s seen the house number and the street sign. That’ll be enough for them to work it out. They can track the cell phone, too. “My dad is the sheriff in Beacon Hills, California,” he adds. “I’ve been missing since early December. I . . . don’t know how long ago that was.”

“Are you alone in the house or is your captor with you?” the woman asks.

“He’s here, he never leaves me alone,” Stiles says. “And he’s armed and dangerous. Really. I’m the son of a cop, take me seriously when I say that.”

“We’re sending units now,” the woman says. “They’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“No lights, no sirens,” Stiles says. “Please. My life depends on this, seriously. He’ll hear you coming a mile away if there are sirens.”

“I’ve notified dispatch,” the woman replies. “No lights, no sirens. Sit tight. Do you need me to stay on the line with you?”

“No. I want to call my dad. He’s been looking for me.” Stiles nearly chokes. “Thank you.”

He hangs up. He changes his mind as he’s dialing and decides to text his father instead. The more he talks, the more he risks Peter hearing him. Texting is silent. He takes a deep breath and tries to focus on what he can possibly say. If he’s lucky, in five minutes this will be over. When the cops show up, he’s just going to throw himself at them. He can only pray that Peter will prefer losing Stiles over a firefight. He prays that the police are sending every unit they’ve got.

Finally, he begins to type.

‘Dad, it’s me. Must be quick. On stolen phone. Am okay. In Phoenix suburb. Not sure which one. 2310 W. Coronado St. Called 911 already. Cops on the way. Hopefully will come loaded for bear. If you don’t hear from me in 10 minutes, it didn’t work. Don’t freak. Plans don’t work all the time when Peter’s around. Will find another chance. Promise. Driving new car. Silver Legacy. Haven’t seen plate. Rented in ABQ under whatever identity he’s using now. Running out of them. Staying in dodgy places now, no more hotels.’ He glances up. Each of these sentences has been sent one at a time, and there hasn’t been any response from his father. It’s late, he’s probably asleep and might not see any of them until morning. ‘Love you, miss you, love you, will be in touch.’

He snaps the phone shut and sticks it into the pocket of his flannel pants. Then he turns the water off. He waits a beat, a few minutes, to indicate that he’s drying himself off. Then he opens the door and creeps out. “P-Peter?” he calls out, his voice wavering. Buy time, buy time, buy time. “I d-don’t feel good. I may be in here a few minutes, okay? Please don’t come get me out. My stomach feels weird.”

Peter heaves a sigh that is pure exasperation. “Fine,” he snaps.

Stiles shuts the bathroom door, but stays in the hallway. He waits, concentrating on keeping his heart beat steady. He doesn’t move. He just stands there, counting the seconds. Once two full minutes have gone by, he starts to edge towards the door. He does it slowly. Then, out the front window of the living room, he sees a car pull up outside. He struggles with his pulse. This might actually work. He might actually get free.

He never knows what tips Peter off. The sound of the car door? Maybe police car doors sound different from regular cars. Maybe he hears the crackle or squawk of a police radio. Maybe Stiles’ pulse just gets too fast, or too loud, and he realizes he’s not still in the bathroom. But he comes out of the bedroom just as Stiles is swinging the front door open and the first officer is stepping inside, holding up a flashlight.

Stiles catches just a glimpse of him out of the corner of one eye and holds one hand out as if he can stop him, shouting, “Peter, no!” But it’s too late. He’s shifting as he lunges forward, and he tears the man’s throat out with a single, brutal blow. Blood goes everywhere and Stiles screams, then gags, tasting it in his mouth.

The man staggers backwards and into his partner, who’s been trying to get his gun up, knocking his arm wide. Peter grabs the dying man by the shirt and throws him across the room, then his other hand swipes out with wickedly sharp claws, gouging deep furrows in the other officer’s abdomen. He goes down, holding up his hands as if to protect himself, and Peter slams a foot down on his throat. Stiles can hear the crunch of breaking bone.

Then, just as suddenly as it started, it’s over. Peter slams the front door shut and looks at Stiles, his body melting back into its human form, his gaze empty. “How many people are going to have to die before you figure out that you’ll never escape me?” he asks Stiles. Stiles’ mouth moves in response, but he feels like all the air has been kicked out of him.

He leans over the man in front of him, with the broken windpipe. He’s still alive, albeit barely. Stiles presses his hands down onto the wounds in his abdomen, not even knowing what he’s trying to do. Stopping the bleeding won’t help. The officer is going to suffocate in a minute. Stiles sees him mouthing a word. He stares at him, vision blurry from unshed tears. ‘Run’, the officer is trying to say, and incredibly, he’s reaching for his gun.

Peter kicks it across the room and then grabs the man’s radio. “What’s the code for a false alarm?” he asks Stiles.

“I – I don’t – ”

“Don’t tell me you don’t know!” Peter snarls.

Stiles flinches away as Peter’s claws rake down the side of his face. “I don’t know!” he gasps out. “I’m sorry, I can’t remember, I’m sorry . . . please, please, you can save him, if you turn him, you can save him . . . please . . .” It’s too late for the man with the torn out throat, but the other, he might survive. “You can turn me too, I’ll let you, I’ll be part of your pack, I’ll – I’ll do whatever you want – ”

“Oh, it’s too late for that now, Stiles,” Peter says. “You’re going to sit right there and watch this man die and know that it didn’t have to be that way.” He gets to his feet and walks over to his laptop, shoving it down into his bag. He puts on his shoes and glances out the front, looking to see if any other police cars have arrived. “We’ll go out the back,” he says, and then pauses, a malicious glint in his eyes. “Wait. One more thing first.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Sheriff Stilinski wakes up when the phone on his desk rings. He rubs a hand over his face and wonders how long he’s been sleeping. There’s drool on the reports he was ostensibly looking through. He reaches over and picks up the phone. “Stilinski.”

It’s a police chief from Tempe, Arizona, with grim news. Tom listens to all of it and says he’ll be on the next flight out. He picks up his cell phone to call Derek and, after some thought, Scott. He had promised the teenager he would let him come along, the next time there was a lead. It was unfortunate that it was one with bodies, but he won’t break the promise.

Then he sees the texts from Stiles. Knowing what he knows now – that two police officers were killed and Stiles and Peter vanished into the wind – he nearly breaks down completely when he reads them. Only Derek’s timely arrival keeps him from losing it. They pick up Scott on the way to the airport. Scott and Derek give each other wary looks, but neither of them want to argue. Tom hands his phone to Derek, who reads Stiles’ texts out loud. His voice cracks when he gets to ‘will find another chance’, but for the most part, he keeps his composure.

While they wait to board, Tom texts the new car information and the house information to several of his contacts at the sheriff’s station to see if they can find out what identity Peter was using. He also texts the information to Chris Argent and says he will keep him updated. The flight passes in tense, edgy silence. Someone from the Tempe police has sent a car to pick them up.

“It’s bad,” the detective in charge of the scene says. There’s caution tape everywhere. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He hesitates and says, “The kid is your son, right?”

Tom nods. “Yeah.”

“You . . . won’t like what you see in there.”

Tom’s jaw sets. “I have to see it,” he says, and goes inside without another word. The bodies have been removed at this point, leaving only the meager belongings that Stiles and Peter had accrued during their stay. Aside from the blood, which has Scott looking pale and shaky, Tom isn’t sure what the detective meant. Then he hears Derek swear in a quiet voice and looks where he’s looking. A low moan escapes him, and Derek and Scott grab him, brace him before he can fall.

The walls are white, except for spatters of crimson. On one of them, shaky letters have been written in the blood of the dead police officers.

‘I’m sorry I got these two men killed. I won’t try to escape again. I promise.’

Next to it is a bloody handprint.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Three days pass before Stiles finally speaks again. He’s not tied up for any of it. He doesn’t move, doesn’t eat, only drinks when Peter holds a cup of water to his mouth and forces him to. The cuts on his cheek burn, and he’s peripherally aware of Peter tending to them. He has no idea where they are and he frankly could not care less. But finally, he emerges from the shell of the boy he once was and finds Peter in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hurt anyone else. I’m so sorry, Peter.” He goes to his knees and buries his face in Peter’s lap. “I’m so sorry.”

Peter shushes him and smoothes his hair, and murmurs to him soothingly, things like, “I wish you hadn’t made me do that” and “Don’t make me hurt anyone else”.

Finally, Stiles regains his composure and climbs to his feet, wobbly, but making an effort. “Are you hungry?” he asks Peter, choking out the words. “I could make us pancakes. My mom used to make me pancakes if I was having a bad day.”

“Pancakes would be nice,” Peter says.

Stiles finds flour, milk, eggs. There’s no beater, so he does it by hand, with a fork. He cries the whole time, tears silently sliding down his cheeks and into the batter. He wonders if Peter will be able to taste them.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Everything at the police station in Tempe goes fine for about the first half hour. Then Tom hears the tape of the 911 call that Stiles made and absolutely loses his shit. “He said ‘armed and dangerous’!” he shouts at the hapless lieutenant. “And you sent, what? A squad car with two guys? Where was their back-up?”

The lieutenant thins his lips and says, “A civilian’s definition of armed and dangerous isn’t – ”

“My son is not just a civilian!” Tom rails. “He’s the son of a sheriff! He tells you that right here on the God damned phone! He’s had all the police codes memorized since he was nine! He knows damned well what ‘armed and dangerous’ means! Do you?”

There’s a pause while the police officer fights for some sort of composure. “Back-up was on the way – ”

“Oh, yeah, I can see that!” Tom shouts. “Back-up was so close by that this lunatic had time to force my son to write an apology in the blood of the men he had just killed before they took off! Back-up must have been just around the corner!”

None of the police officers there dare get too close. He’s the father of a kidnapping victim, and he’s obviously distraught, so nobody tries to shut him up. It’s Derek and Scott who have to force him into a chair. Derek makes him put his head between his knees and take deep breaths. Scott, who’s obviously desperately uncomfortable watching a man he’s always known to be calm and collected have a complete meltdown, goes to get him a cup of water.

Things get blurry after that for a while. He sits in the police station for hours. At one point a woman comes and sits down with him. Some sort of psychologist, a grief counselor, he thinks. He talks to her because that’s the easiest way to get rid of her. He doesn’t need a counselor. He needs his son.

Finally, he’s calmed down enough to focus on the situation at hand. He looks at Scott and frowns vaguely. “We should get you home,” he says. “Do you have school tomorrow?”

Scott looks away, somewhat shifty. “I, uh . . . I haven’t really been going to school.”

“Scott . . .”

“It’s okay, my mom knows,” he says. “She’s talking about withdrawing me for the semester. I just . . . everything there . . . reminds me of him. You know?”

“It can’t be good for you to just sit around brooding over it,” Tom says, aware that he’s displaying an immense amount of hypocrisy.

“I haven’t been. Well, I mean, I have been, but . . . I’ve been going to the clinic and working with Dr. Deaton most days. He helps keep me occupied.”

That’s better than nothing. And if Melissa is aware and allows it, then there isn’t a heck of a lot that Tom can say about it. Besides, it’s helpful to have Scott around. Scott helps keep him grounded, helps remind him that he’s not the only one who lost something. For Scott, he can keep himself from flying off the handle.

Because he is, in general, unimpressed with the police work in Tempe, he doesn’t tell the officers there about the texts that Stiles sent him. He’ll follow up on those leads himself. He calls the powers that be in Beacon Hills and tells them that he’s going to go ahead and take that unofficial leave. They’ve obviously heard about what happened in Arizona, because they tell him not to worry about anything, they’ll take care of it.

He gets on a plane to Albuquerque and sits down with a list of all the car rental places. Starting with those closest to the hotel that Peter and Stiles had been staying at, they visit each one, trying to find someone who remembers renting a silver Legacy to Peter. He and Derek split up so they can accomplish this faster. Tom keeps Scott with him.

It takes about three hours to locate the correct rental place and get the car’s information.

“He’ll ditch it,” he says immediately, when he sees it.

“Why?” Scott asks, leaning over his shoulder. They’re sitting around a table in a nearby Denny’s. He’s eating everything in sight. Tom is just drinking coffee.

“Because it’s associated with an identity that we now have, and he’ll know it,” Tom says. “The house they were staying in was rented under the same name, and he’ll know we have that information. He also knows, probably, that Stiles got hold of a phone somehow. He won’t take a chance that Stiles passed us the car’s information, given that he’s already done it once.”

“So what was the point of even coming here?” Derek asks, trying not to snarl out of frustration.

Tom forces himself to take a deep breath. Derek’s upset, they’re all upset. “Because we didn’t know for sure if the car was under the same identity. It could have been under a different one. One that we could track.”

Derek looks away. After a moment, he gives a jerky nod. “At least Stiles forced him to give another one of them up.”

“That seems to be his play, yes,” Tom says, but he can’t help but think back to the message on the wall. Peter had forced him to write it, obviously, but he knows that his son will take the death of the two officers hard. Stiles grew up around cops. He wants to be one when he grows up. Getting those two men killed – if he thinks of it that way – will weigh on him heavily.

The text. ‘Will find another chance. Promise.’

The message on the wall. ‘I won’t try to escape again. I promise.’

Two promises written by his son. Tom doesn’t know which one will win out. But only one of them was written in blood.

“What now?” Scott asks.

Tom lets out a breath. “Let’s start at the beginning.”

They construct a map and a timeline, tracing Peter’s route through Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. Stiles had disappeared on December third. The call from Denver had been on December twelfth. There’s radio silence after that for what feels like a long time. The Toyota Camry had been spotted on December twenty-third in Albuquerque, and the new car, the Legacy, had been rented the same day, less than an hour later.

Chris’ contacts had gotten a hit in Flagstaff a couple weeks later. Nothing specific, but Chris said that area has a shaman who had felt ‘an influx of dark energy’. Tom has no idea what that means, and in the long-run, nothing was found. So it could be bullshit. But Flagstaff is between Albuquerque and Tempe, the next stop, so Tom is inclined to think that it was legitimate, but as usual, they got there too late.

Then there’s nothing for several weeks. Dark weeks that stretch out interminably in Tom’s memory. And then the 911 call from Tempe.

“Every time he tries to escape, it takes him a little bit longer,” Derek says.

Tom shakes his head a little. “You can’t count what happened in Albuquerque as an escape attempt. We’re the ones who timed that, not him. It happened when we found the car, that’s all. It could have happened any time. Stiles’ only two escape attempts are the one in Denver and the one in Tempe. December twelfth and February nineteenth.”

“That we know of,” Scott says. Tom glances at him. “Well, what he said in the text about how plans don’t work out when Peter’s around. That makes it sound like there’ve been other attempts, maybe even a lot of them, and we just don’t know about them because he didn’t get far enough.”

Derek nods a little. “Stiles is a stubborn SOB. He won’t give up.” He sounds like he’s trying to convince himself as much as them.

“But he’s also being cautious. He arranged this so carefully.” Tom shakes his head. “The woman who owns the phone he used says she lost it February thirteenth. He kept that phone, waiting for his chance, orchestrating his chance, for six days. He can be patient when he needs to be. Damn it, I . . .” His voice trails off.

“Don’t . . .” Derek hesitates awkwardly. “Don’t be too pissed at the cops in Tempe. Even if they had sent a SWAT team, it wouldn’t have made a difference.”

Scott nods. “I fought with Peter. I’ll back Derek up on this. More cops just would have meant more bodies.”

The silver Legacy is indeed found several days later. It’s actually even returned to a car rental agency, although Peter doesn’t check it in. He just leaves it in their parking lot. That’s in Glendale, another Phoenix suburb, so he didn’t take it far.

“What worries me,” Derek says, “is the way he’s heading back towards California. If I were him, I would want to get as far away as possible. I can see why he aimed for Denver. It’s a large city, but kind of out of the way, and near the mountains. He would want to have somewhere to run, to hunt. But now he’s heading back.”

“It’s a threat,” Tom says wearily. “He wants to make it clear to Stiles that if he keeps misbehaving, eventually they’ll circle all the way back to Beacon Hills and he can start the bloodbath here again.”

“But . . . Stiles won’t give up,” Scott says, in a hesitant voice. “Right?”

“Right,” Tom says, but he thinks of the message in blood, and he realizes that he doesn’t really believe it.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Days pass and gradually slide into weeks. Stiles does everything Peter asks him to, without question or complaint. If Peter wants to watch television, Stiles sits down and watches it with him. If Peter compliments his cooking, Stiles thanks him. If Peter wants to talk about things, like what it was like after his mother died or how difficult he made his father’s life, the latter being a particular favorite of Peter’s, Stiles tells him whatever he wants to know. He does the dishes, does the laundry, keeps the house they’ve landed in spotless. He has no idea where they are and shows no interest in finding out. When Peter hasn’t asked him to do anything specific, he sits in his room and stares at the wall.

He doesn’t ask to leave, but if Peter tells him that they’re going out, he stands up and goes with him without a word. They eat at restaurants. Stiles smiles and chats with the waitress. He’s just a normal teenager. Nothing to see here. They go to the grocery store. Stiles tells Peter they need more butter. And can he get green onions and sesame seeds. He’s going to make teriyaki. They go to the park, just to get some fresh air. Stiles sits in the grass and says nothing, does nothing, unless Peter tells him to.

He cries a lot. It makes him feel weak, but he can’t help it. Every time he thinks he’s pulled himself together, he sees the face of the police officer, dying on the floor but still telling him to run. It sends him into hysterical sobs that can last for hours. Peter comforts him through these spells without any harsh words at all.

Every night, at ten thirty sharp, he asks Peter, “Do you want to tie me up or do you want me to sleep with you?” It’s no longer his choice, and he doesn’t try to make it. Increasingly often, Peter opts to have him in the bed. Stiles wakes up almost every night, two to three times per night, screaming from nightmares. Having him tied to a chair only makes it worse. Peter comforts him through that, too.

The topic of being a werewolf, being in Peter’s pack, never comes up.

He loses track of time. Days turn into weeks turn into months, but it doesn’t really matter to him. Every day is just like another. So he really has no idea how long it’s been when Peter says, “I’m going to run to the store to pick up a few things, all right?”

Stiles nods and wordlessly leaves the corner he’s been huddled in, sitting in the wooden chair he frequents when Peter is gone and putting his hands behind his back, waiting to be tied up.

Peter smiles at him. “I really don’t think that’s necessary anymore, do you?” he asks, and leaves the house without another word.

Stiles knows he isn’t going far. He’s probably just sitting out on the front porch. If the house has a front porch. If it’s even a house, rather than an apartment. It could be. He really doesn’t know. He knows it’s a test. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not moving from the chair. Not an inch. Not a millimeter. It doesn’t matter if Peter is gone for minutes or days. He will sit in the chair until he can’t hold himself up any longer. There’s nothing else he can do. Not a single cell in his body that’s willing to disobey.

Peter’s broken him, and he knows it. They both know it.

Over the next few weeks, Peter comes and goes. Every time he announces that he’s going out, Stiles goes over to the chair and assumes the position. Peter never ties him up. And Stiles is increasingly sure that some of these times, Peter is actually gone gone. He’ll come back with groceries, or a rented movie. He’ll be gone for hours at a time. But it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore. He promised two dead men that he wouldn’t try to get away again.

“I’m going to be a while this time,” Peter says one day. “Don’t sit in the chair the whole time I’m gone, okay? Why don’t you clean up in the kitchen?”

“Okay,” Stiles says, and as soon as Peter leaves, he goes into the kitchen. It’s already spotless. He cleans it once or sometimes even twice a day. But he cleans it again. Top to bottom. When he finishes, Peter’s still gone, so he starts at the top again. When Peter finally returns four hours later, the skin of hands is red and raw from the repeated scrubbing. Peter puts some ointment on them.

The next time he leaves, he doesn’t make a suggestion. So Stiles stays in the chair. The time after that, he says, “Go ahead and get started on dinner while I’m gone,” so Stiles does.

Pleasing Peter becomes vitally important, because Peter is all he has now, and is all he will ever have again.

Sometimes Peter slips and calls him Joshua, but Stiles doesn’t point it out. In his mind, he develops Joshua into an entirely different person. Joshua is Peter’s son. The boy that Peter loves and treats well. Stiles is the bad boy, the stupid, selfish, thoughtless boy who got people killed because he couldn’t accept his fate. Stiles deserved to be punished, and he was. But Joshua doesn’t need to be punished. Joshua can laugh at Peter’s jokes and enjoy the chocolate chip cookies that Peter brings home from the store. Joshua can be happy, even if Stiles will never be happy again. And Joshua locks Stiles down so far that he hardly ever comes out. Except when the memories grow too strong, and then Stiles falls apart and can’t be Joshua anymore for a little while.

But even with that, being cooped up inside the house with nothing to do most of the time drives him insane even though he doesn’t say anything about it. He hurts himself more often than he would like to admit. He breaks Peter’s razor and slices thin cuts along his arms. He burns himself on the stove. He continues to pull his own hair out. Peter tries to get him to stop, and he always agrees, but then finds himself doing it again. It’s something he does in a haze. Sometimes he’ll look down at himself and see blood or welts and not even remember doing it.

He knows he’s losing weight. He hardly ever eats. When he tries to get down more than half a dozen bites of anything, he just throws up. Peter expresses gentle concern about this, and he cries and says he’ll try to do better, but he never does. He starts to get sick a lot, mild colds or coughs that linger, headaches that never quite go away. Peter stops bringing him out to restaurants and stores, both because his appearance might draw attention and because he’s getting too weak to stay on his feet for more than half an hour at a time.

Through all of this, Peter is unfailingly kind, and Stiles soaks that kindness up like it’s the only thing that can keep him alive.

“We should open some windows,” Peter says one day. “It’ll be too hot to have them open during the day soon.”

Stiles looks up. “Is it summer?”

“Mm. Well, it’s late April, which is really when summer starts out here.” Peter checks his watch. “I’ve got an appointment. I’ll probably be back around five. Go ahead and start dinner if you like.”

Stiles nods. He watches Peter while he puts on his shoes, then whispers, “Peter.”

“Mm?” Peter half-turns.

“Will you . . . get me something to read?” Stiles wipes tears off his cheeks. “I think I might not hurt myself so much if I had something to occupy me. You don’t have to buy me anything. Just get me some books from the library. Or some puzzle books. Anything’s fine. I know you don’t like it when I hurt myself. I want to do better.”

Peter smiles at him. “That’s the first time you’ve asked me for anything,” he says.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles replies immediately.

“It’s fine,” Peter says. “Joshua always liked those . . . what are they called? The logic puzzles with the grid.” He gives Stiles another smile. “I’m glad you asked me, Stiles. It means you’re starting to trust me. We can build off this, right?”

Stiles nods eagerly. Yes, they can build off this. They can build whatever Peter wants.

While Peter’s gone, he cleans up in the kitchen and starts making spaghetti. Peter likes spaghetti. Joshua liked spaghetti. The new Joshua likes spaghetti, as much of it as he can choke down before vengeful, spiteful Stiles sends it all churning back up.

Peter comes back with a stack of books. Science-fiction and fantasy, mostly. He really had been listening all those months ago, when Stiles had told him about Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Some of them are things he’s read before. Some of them aren’t. He throws himself into them with abandon. The books come from the Yuma Public Library. Yuma’s a city in Arizona somewhere. He doesn’t know exactly where, and doesn’t care to find out. Peter’s library trips become a weekly ritual. He also brings Stiles books of puzzles, sudoku or crosswords or word searches. But he’ll only let Stiles do them while he’s watching. He doesn’t want Stiles to use the pencil to hurt himself. Sometimes he’ll lean over Stiles’ shoulder and try to help him with it. He’s good at the crosswords but abysmal at sudoku, and laughs at himself whenever he tries. Joshua likes it when Peter does that. It makes him feel like they’re close. Sometimes he’ll curl up on the sofa with Peter while he watches television and do his word searches, which require minimal brainpower.

Stiles is able to count the days now, by the library trips. If he runs out of reading material before the next one, he just starts re-reading what he’s got. And it helps. His brain stops chasing itself in circles as much. He stops hurting himself while in a haze, although sometimes he still does it on purpose. He still has a lot of trouble eating, but the perpetual headaches start to recede.

And as Joshua becomes content, Stiles starts to emerge again. It’s brief at first – a snarky comment here, slight resistance to an instruction here. As soon as he realizes it’s happening, he shuts it all down. Forces Stiles underwater until he stops struggling. He can’t be Stiles right now. Stiles doesn’t know how to survive with Peter. Stiles was too stupid to realize that survival is what this is about.

When he stops hurting himself, Peter lets him do the crosswords in his own room if the television is too loud or his back aches from sitting on the floor, or if Peter has phone calls to make that he doesn’t want Stiles privy to. His room has a desk. It’s cheap and rickety, but it’s there.

One Friday, the day before library day, he zones out for a while. He’s just twirling the pencil between his fingers, over and over again. Finally, he puts it down and starts to write.

He comes back to himself ten minutes later to find he’s been writing on the title page of one of his library books. The text is shaky, but clear.

‘If you read this, I need help. I have been abducted. This is not a joke. Google my name: Genim Stilinski. I have been missing since December. The man who checked this library book out for me is my captor. Please call the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s department at 916-555-3211. THIS IS NOT A JOKE. I NEED HELP.’

He stares at the text for a very long time. Then he slowly closes the book and slides it into the pile of returns with the others.

When he gets into bed that night, he’s crying. “What’s wrong?” Peter asks, thumbing the tears away.

“I’m scared,” Stiles sobs. “I’m so scared and I don’t know why.”

“Shhh,” Peter says, pulling him into a hug. “Shhh, you’re safe here. I’ve got you. I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

Stiles leans into Peter’s embrace and gradually drifts off into a doze. But he doesn’t really sleep, and he can’t eat the next morning. Not even a bite. His throat is tight and aching; his stomach roils. He sits at the breakfast table and absently makes furrows in his arm with his fork.

“Cut that out,” Peter says reprovingly, and the fork clatters to the table.

After breakfast, he checks his watch, gathers his things, picks up the stack of books. Stiles sits in his customary chair and stares at him as he gets his shoes on. He thinks he might throw up, or even pass out. He’s dizzy, light-headed. There’s a panicky bird trapped in his chest, fluttering around. Peter clearly senses something is amiss. “Are you all right?” he asks.

“I just . . . didn’t sleep well,” Stiles whispers in response. “I’m sorry to worry you,” he adds hastily.

“Maybe I’ll pick up some ice cream while I’m out,” Peter says. “Flavor preference?”

“Mint chocolate chip,” Stiles says. Joshua likes mint chocolate chip.

“Mint chocolate chip it is,” Peter says. He takes two steps towards the door.

His hand is on the knob when Stiles breaks. “Peter. Peter. Don’t go. Please. I can’t.” He presses his hands against his face. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I wrote a message in one of the books. You can’t return it. I’m so sorry. Please don’t hurt anyone. I don’t know why I did it.”

There’s a moment of silence. Peter looks through the books, finds the one with the message. Then he carefully leafs through the others to make sure it’s the only one. He sets the stack down and walks over to where Stiles has slumped out of the chair and is curled up on the floor, his entire body shaking. Peter takes him by the shoulders and makes him sit up. “I am so proud of you,” he says quietly, gently touching Stiles’ cheek. “You’ve finally realized that you’re better off here, with me. That’s wonderful, Stiles. I know why you did it. You’re conflicted. You miss your family. It’s okay, Stiles. But you know why you have to stay here. If your father came here looking for you, I would have to hurt him. You don’t want me to hurt your father, right?”

Stiles nods. “I’m sorry,” he says again.

Peter smoothes his hair and presses a kiss into his forehead. “I’m going to go return the other books,” he says. “You’ll be all right here on your own?”

Stiles nods again. “I’ll . . . I’ll clean the bathroom,” he says.

“Okay. I won’t be gone long.”

But before he goes, Peter takes that one book, with the message, and puts it on Stiles’ desk. Rather than throwing it out or burning it, he leaves it there, to remind him of how deeply he’s broken.

He comes back with new word search books and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Stiles eats two and a half spoonfuls of the ice cream and spends the rest of the day in bed, exhausted beyond bearing.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The word search books are piling up. Stiles learns new ways to pass the time, card games and trivia games. He becomes a very passable cook. Peter even buys him a cheap guitar to learn to play on. “Music helps heal the soul,” he says. Stiles has never been into music that much, but it’s something to do.

Peter goes out a lot now, conducting business with men in suits who sometimes come by the house. Stiles is starting to suspect that a lot of the money he has doesn’t have much to do with house insurance after the Hale house fire. He’s not sure exactly what illegal activities Peter is involved in, and frankly doesn’t care. Whatever they are, they’re full-time enough now that they’ve settled down that he gets a phone. Like his laptop and his keys, it’s never out of his sight.

But late one night, Stiles gets to it anyway. Peter’s asleep. He stirs but doesn’t wake when Stiles slides out of his grip. Stiles hesitates, then leans over and gives him a gentle shake. “Peter,” he whispers. “Peter. Can I get up for a while?”

Peter blinks at him, then yawns, displaying his impressive canines. “Mm. What for?”

“I can’t sleep. I – I keep seeing – ” Stiles’ voice breaks. “I’m going to go do some of my puzzles.”

“Okay.” Peter yawns and closes his eyes again. “Come get me if you need me.”

“I will.” He ducks his head. “Thank you.”

Stiles goes back out into the rest of the house. He sits down at his desk with his word search books for a long time. Almost an hour goes by as he flips from page to page and makes little circles. He’s aware of Peter watching him for a little while, and murmurs an “I’m okay, thanks for checking on me”, and then about ten minutes later, Peter returns to bed. Gradually, Stiles works up the nerve. Peter must be sound asleep by now. Even if he’s not, it doesn’t matter. He finds the phone on the nightstand and takes it into the kitchen.

He dials his father’s cell phone number.

It rings four times before his father picks it up. Not surprising, that. It’s nearly two o’clock in the morning. He picks up with a muddled, “Sherf Stilnsk.”

“Dad?” Stiles whispers.

He can practically picture his father sitting bolt upright in bed as he recognizes Stiles’ voice. “Stiles, where are you?” he demands.

Stiles feels the tears start. That’s great, just great, turn on the waterworks. “Dad, I’m sorry,” he says, choking the words out. “I can’t tell you where I am. I can’t tell you anything. I just . . . had to call and tell you goodbye. I can’t send you any more clues or codes or messages. I have to stay with Peter now. I don’t want him to hurt anyone else.”

“Stiles, no,” Tom says, desperate. “Don’t say that, don’t talk like that. I’m going to get you out of there.”

“He – he’s not so bad, really,” Stiles says. “He lost his son. He just wants a family again. I can give him that. And as long as I give him that, he doesn’t hurt people. It . . . it’s better this way, okay? I just couldn’t sit here knowing you were still looking for me. I need you to give up, okay?”

“I won’t,” Tom says. “I will never give up looking for you, do you hear me?”

Stiles chokes back another sob. “I’m sorry, Dad,” he says. “I’m really sorry. Please tell Scott and Derek and all the others that I’m sorry and that I said goodbye.”

“Don’t, don’t you hang up this phone, Stiles, don’t you dare – ”

He pushes the end button on the phone. Carefully sets it on the table. Goes to his knees. He hurts so badly that he feels like he’s breaking in half.

Behind him, there’s a sigh. “I suppose that was necessary,” Peter says gently.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles sobs. “I had to. I had to say goodbye and hear his voice one last time.”

Peter reaches out and rubs a hand over his hair. “We have to go now, Stiles,” he says. “Your father will trace the phone call. The local police will be here in a few minutes. Is there anything you want to take?”

Stiles shakes his head. Then nods. “Y-Yes. The book. The book I wrote the message in. I need to keep it to remind me . . . of who I need to be.”

“Okay. You go grab that.”

Stiles darts into his room. His hand lingers on the stack of word search puzzles for a moment before he grabs the book with the message and joins Peter in the living room. Peter has dressed and put on shoes and packed up his laptop and a few other things.

“How do you feel about San Diego?” Peter says, as they get into the car. “I hear it’s nice there.”

Stiles nods. “They say the Pacific has no memory,” he murmurs. He closes his eyes and cries himself to sleep.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

The cell phone call is traced within minutes, and less than five minutes after Stiles hangs up, police are at the house that Peter and Stiles have been living in. But it’s too late. They’re already gone.

Tom gets on a plane with Derek. He feels numb, shocked. He hasn’t told Scott about what Stiles said to him. He’s afraid that he wouldn’t be able to handle it. That’s fair. Tom doesn’t think he can handle it himself. He’s never heard Stiles’ voice like that. Never known Stiles to give up. He wants to believe it was just another ruse, but he can’t. Not after hearing Stiles’ voice.

He stands in the middle of the half-empty, half-lived in house, looking around desperately for a clue. But there’s nothing.

Stiles had said goodbye for real, for the last time.

Tom sits down at the desk that his son had been doing word searches at and rests his head on his arms. The despair is so strong that he can’t even cry. Derek stands there in awkward silence, knowing there’s nothing he can say or do that will make any difference at all.

Every minute of the last three months suddenly seems worthless. They haven’t been idle. Tom has been sifting through every aspect of Peter’s life from both before and after the fire, looking for any sort of clue that might tell them where Peter might have gone, what sort of escapes he might have prepared. Derek has been going through the contents of every hideout they’ve discovered, in Denver, Albuquerque, Tempe. Seeing what Peter has bought, the books, groceries, looking for receipts, finding what kind of places he likes. He buys his books used and is fond of Chinese take-out. Then he and Scott do the legwork, going to every city within a two hundred mile radius of Phoenix, distributing Peter’s photo, going to the sort of places he likes to go and asking people to keep an eye out for him. They don’t want to hang signs because they don’t want Peter to see them, so instead they’ve literally been going door-to-door at both homes and businesses. They had even gone to Yuma, twice, but apparently had never hit the right places. It’s a city of almost a hundred thousand people; adages about needles and haystacks leap to mind.

They can keep doing it, certainly, and this house will probably contain even more information about Peter’s tastes and preferences and what he’s been filling his days with. Plus now they know for sure he was headed west, which means his next stop is almost certainly California. But after Stiles’ phone call, it all seems incredibly pointless. Even the fact that another one of Peter’s identities has been blown by this doesn’t make him feel any better. Peter still had at least one . . . and Stiles had made it clear that there would be no more chances.

“He’s not so bad, he says,” Tom says. The bitterness in his own voice stuns even him. “Well, he’s not your father, kid.” He shoves at the stack of word search puzzle books and sends them scattering all over the floor. “If he was, he’d know you think these things are boring as shit.”

“As good a way to pass the time as any, I guess,” Derek says. He picks up a few of the books absently, leafing through one of them before dropping it onto the desk. “He wasn’t even doing them. Just circling random letters.”

Tom jerks to attention. “What?”

“He just – ” Derek begins, but Tom has already yanked it out of his hands. He flips back to the very beginning and sees immediately that the first puzzle only has seven letters circled. They spell out ‘DEAR DAD’.

“Oh, Stiles,” Tom whispers. “You devious, manipulative little son of a – get a piece of paper and a pencil!”

Derek has to go through the book and write down the letters, because the sheriff’s hands are shaking too badly to hold the pencil. The message isn’t exactly short, either. It takes up nearly half of the puzzle book. “You ready?” Derek asks, and Tom nods, bracing himself for it.

“Dear Dad,” Derek reads. “By now I’ve broken your heart, and I’m really sorry I had to do that. It was the last thing I had to do to make Peter trust me. Otherwise he would have looked through my things to make sure I wasn’t leaving you a message. He thinks he broke me. He did break me. But somehow I’m still here, underneath it all, and I want to go home.

“He’s only got one identity left. He’s been getting careless in the last month or so. He thinks I don’t care anymore. I was able to look through his papers. His only remaining identity is Daniel Card. Look at the back cover, I’ve written his driver’s license number there. This is the ID all his finances are under. I don’t think he wanted to use it. That’s why I had to make him believe I hadn’t ruined his current identity on purpose.

“He’s driving a Black Prius these days. Trendy. Plate number in the back with the DL number. We’ve been heading steadily west. I think he has business contacts here he doesn’t want to lose. Drug or human smuggling from Mexico, maybe. Whatever it is, it’s as illegal as hell.

“I didn’t mean anything I said on the phone. Please come find me. I’m tired and I want to come home.”

Derek clears his throat and says, “The rest of the book, he’s just . . . circled the letters to spell out ‘I love you’, over and over again.”

Tom has to stop and take several deep breaths. Tears are burning at his eyes, but he’s determined not to let them fall. His son has been stronger than anyone could have ever imagined. He’s not going to give in. “We’re going to have to be careful to track him down without him knowing. This is going to be our last shot. So no freezing the finances, no putting a BOLO out on the car. This is you and me and Chris Argent. We’re going to go get my son back from this asshole.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“I haven’t been to the ocean in ages,” Peter says, glancing up at the road signs as they drive into the densely populated San Diego suburbs. The sun is just beginning to rise behind them. “I don’t suppose you’d like to go?”

Stiles stirs for the first time since he had woken up, about twenty minutes previous. “Sure,” he says, because he knows that’s what’s expected of him. His head aches, a little. It’s not too bad. Nothing he isn’t used to. “Peter, I’m thirsty.”

“If you twist around a little, there are some sodas in the back,” Peter says. “I stopped for gas while you were sleeping, figured you would want something when you woke up.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says. He comes back to life a little as he sips the Mountain Dew that Peter got for him. He has to drink slowly, or risk being sick, and it’s not exactly the best drink for breakfast, but the sugar and the caffeine revive him a little. “I haven’t been to the ocean since . . . since my mom was alive. She and Mrs. McCall used to take me and Scott. But after she died, I didn’t really want to go anymore.”

“Mm,” Peter says. “I’ve heard the beaches in San Diego are particularly nice.”

As they follow I-8 through the suburbs, things become even more busy. They start to hit traffic, even though it’s still quite early in the morning. Then, eventually, they reach the junction with I-5 and the sign even says ‘I-8: Beaches’. Peter laughs a little at this, and so does Stiles. He takes a turn off and eventually they find themselves at Mission Bay. “Do you like roller coasters, Stiles?” Peter asks, as he parks in the little lot by the beachfront amusement park.

“I used to,” Stiles says, “but I don’t really think I would anymore.”

“Oh, come on,” Peter says, with a toothy grin. “It’s like riding a bike.”

“No, Peter, I, I’d be sick. Please don’t make me go on it.”

Peter thins his lips for a few moments, then reaches out and rubs Stiles’ back. “I’m sorry. I do sympathize, you know. I had a lot of trouble putting myself back together after the fire. That’s why I’m always pushing you. Because I know that you can put yourself back together.”

“And be someone entirely new,” Stiles murmurs.

Peter doesn’t respond besides saying, “The park probably isn’t open this early anyway.” He keeps his hand on Stiles’ back, steering him over to the beach itself. They stand and stare out at the ocean for a few minutes. Then Peter says, “Come on. There are some people I need to see.”

Stiles obediently follows him back to the car and continues to nurse his soda while they head south on I-5. They drive for about fifteen miles, through the heart of San Diego. Peter talks about all the things to see there, how San Diego is a city with a lot of culture and history to it, and the places he’ll take Stiles ‘once you’re feeling a little better’. Stiles murmurs an agreement here and there, but mostly stays quiet, tying his hands into knots in his lap.

“You seem a little anxious,” Peter finally says, as they get off the highway and he checks the car’s GPS. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t like being in California,” Stiles blurts out. “You, you said, back then. That you’d come back to California and kill people. I don’t want you to kill anyone. Peter, please, I’m begging you, please don’t hurt anyone here. You don’t need to anymore. I promise. I promise.”

“Shh, shh,” Peter says, reaching over and smoothing down his hair. “It’s okay, Stiles.” He pulls over so he can turn and face Stiles. “As long as no one tries to take you away from me, I won’t have to hurt anyone. You want to stay with me, right?”

“Yes,” Stiles says.

“And you know what will happen if anybody tries to take you away, right?”

“Yes,” Stiles says again, with a nod.

“Say it,” Peter commands gently.

“You’ll kill them.”

“And if it’s your father?”

Stiles’ voice hitches. “You’ll tear out his throat.”

“But he’s not going to find us here, right?”

Another nod. “Right.”

“So I won’t have to hurt him.”

Stiles relaxes. Peter is right. His father will never find them here. He leans against Peter, pressing his cheek into Peter’s shoulder, letting the alpha wrap an arm around his shoulders.

He feels like he’s forgetting something. Something that happened before they left. He can’t remember all of it. He had gotten up to do some puzzles, then decided to call and say goodbye to his father. Something had happened before that. But he can’t remember what. It feels important. He pushes at it, pushes hard. But then a little voice inside quiets him. It’s better not to know, the voice says. He has to survive. He has to be Joshua. He can’t be Stiles right now, and he doesn’t want to know what Stiles is planning.

Peter pulls back into traffic, and Stiles zones out a little, staring out the window. He’s done fighting, done thinking.

They drive around for a little while. Occasionally Peter pulls up outside a house or a business and goes inside. Stiles doesn’t know what he’s doing, and doesn’t particularly care. He stays in the car. The weather is nice and he has the windows rolled down. He dozes in and out. Once Peter comes out with a briefcase. Once he’s shaking hands with a burly, dark-skinned man.

Gradually, it occurs to Stiles that Peter is setting up his network in the new city, and probably finding them a place to stay. He’s never seen Peter do this before because he’s always been blindfolded and underneath a blanket. Now that he’s thinking about it, he does recall a day in Phoenix that had been a lot of stopping and starting. He’s not sure about Yuma. The days after the police officers had been killed are almost entirely blank.

A few hours have passed, and they’re at a mechanic’s shop. Peter is standing outside the garage, talking to a group of four or five Hispanic men. They’re talking in Spanish. Stiles took two years of Spanish in high school, so he’s not exactly fluent, but he can catch the gist of it here and there. He hears talk about coyotes, and shipments, payments, jobs. He vaguely wonders what it’s about, but doesn’t really care.

What he does care about is the coffee shop across the street and down a few businesses. He can smell the coffee, and he’s got a craving. At first, he thinks about asking Peter to stop when he’s done his business, but it appears he might be a while. So Stiles gets out of the car and heads over to the group of men. “Peter?”

Peter turns about halfway to face him. Then one of the men says something and the others break into laughter. Stiles doesn’t catch all of it, but he can tell that it was rude and suggestive, and the laughter of the other men is mocking.

Before he can react or even flinch, Peter reaches out and grabs the wrist of the man who had made the comment. He twists him around and forces him to the ground, placing his foot on the back of his neck and grinding his face into the pavement. In a calm, quiet voice, he says, “I’ll thank you not to talk about my son that way.”

The laughter stops. One of the men starts forward in a threatening manner, but his friends grab him. They look frightened.

Peter turns to Stiles and says, “Did you need something?”

Stiles swallows convulsively. “There’s a, uhm, a coffee shop right across the street. I thought – I might get us something? I know you were up most of the night driving.”

“Good idea.” Peter takes out his wallet, keeping the man pressed into the pavement with ease, despite his struggles. He pulls out a twenty dollar bill and hands it over. “See if they have anything to eat,” he says, then says something in rapid, staccato Spanish to the others.

“Okay. I’ll be right back.” Stiles turns and heads across the street. He’s peripherally aware of one of the men following him. Peter wants to keep him safe, obviously. They’re in a rough neighborhood where anything could happen. The fact that Peter is watching out for him makes him smile a little as he enters the shop. “Do you want anything?” he asks his shadow.

The man looks at him and then laughs. In accented, but passable English, he says, “Yeah, sure, get me a coffee.”

Stiles nods and turns back to the counter. He hopes the coffee is terrible. He misses black, bitter coffee. Police station coffee. Peter has – or had, in Yuma – some high-tech cappuccino maker or something like that. It made coffee smooth as silk. Stiles had never really liked it. He gets a cappuccino for Peter and a plain coffee for himself and the man he’s standing with. There are donuts, too, so he gets a dozen of those. They won’t eat them before they all go stale, but they can give it a try.

“What did that man say about me?” he asks his new friend while they’re waiting for the coffee.

This gets him an amused look. “That you look like shit,” he says, “and he must be keeping you up real late, eh?”

Stiles frowns. “Peter isn’t like that.”

“Pff.” The man waves this aside. “You know what they call him? The snake. Because he’s so fast and slippery, no one ever catch him. And he changes his skin all the time.”

Stiles takes the coffee from the woman behind the counter and pockets his change. With the bag of donuts over his wrist, he heads back out of the shop, holding Peter’s coffee in one hand and his own in the other. He cautiously sips it, then winces. It’s too hot to drink. “He only does that because he has to.”

“Hah! He likes it. He’s a stone cold killer, that one. Some people call him Janus. Because he’s two-faced. Everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie.”

“Don’t talk about him like that,” Stiles says, his voice thin and tight. “He only hurts people when he has to. He doesn’t enjoy it.”

“He nothing but a liar and a killer. Just look in a mirror for proof, niño. You see the way he’s killing you – ”

“Shut up!” Stiles is too weak to throw a punch and he knows it, so he throws his coffee in the man’s face. It’s hot enough to make the man cry in pain as he reels backwards. But he recovers quickly, grabbing Stiles by the elbow as he starts to run across the road, twisting him around. He lets out a little noise, losing his footing. But before he can fall, Peter is there, between the two of them. He grabs Stiles’ shoulder in one hand and has the other against his assailant’s chest.

Stiles expects Peter to snarl at him, so he’s a little surprise when Peter turns to the man and demands, “What did you say to him?”

“Nothing, man, he crazy, that kid – ”

“He said you were nothing but a liar and a killer!” Stiles says, the words coming out hot and angry. “I wasn’t going to let him talk about you like that!”

There’s a brief flash of amusement on Peter’s face, there and gone before Stiles can really process it. “Okay,” he says. “Why don’t you go wait in the car for me? I’ll take care of this.”

Stiles wipes the back of his hand over his eyes. Then he nods and says, “Oh, uh. Here.” He holds out the cappuccino. About half of it spilled out when the other man jerked him around, but Peter doesn’t say anything about it. He just thanks Stiles and then gives him a gentle push back towards the car. Stiles gets back in and sits in the passenger seat, staring off into space.

About ten minutes pass. When Peter comes back, he’s gotten both of them a new coffee. He hands one of them over to Stiles. “Careful, it’s hot,” he says, but then smiles. “Though I guess you know that.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just lost my shit.”

“It’s fine,” Peter says. “They’re not the easiest people to get along with,” he adds, with a quirk of his lips. “But they did give me a place that we can park ourselves for now.” He starts down the street, eating a donut with one hand while he drives. “Besides, I’m glad that you defended me.”

Stiles stares into his coffee. “He shouldn’t say shit like that. You . . . you do what you have to do, that’s all.”

They drive to a cheap hotel that doesn’t require ID. Peter pays cash and leads Stiles to a dingy little room that has a little pile of dead crickets in one corner. He tsks and scoops them up to flush down the toilet. Stiles sinks down onto one of the beds, which creaks underneath him, and starts nibbling at one of the donuts. “Peter, I . . . I’m really sorry we had to leave Yuma.”

Peter’s mouth is already full. He chews and swallows. Stiles tries not to watch as he wipes a trickle of jelly off his lip. “S’all right,” he says. “To be fair I wasn’t that fond of Yuma anyway. It was always a pit stop on the way to San Diego, really. Phoenix was better, but . . .” He gives a little shrug and says, philosophically, “we can’t always get what we want.”

“Story of our lives, I guess,” Stiles says. Peter arches his eyebrows, and Stiles shrinks into himself. “I – I didn’t mean – ”

“Forget it,” Peter says, waving this off. “In any case, I’ll get us a better place sometime soon. I could definitely do without the wildlife,” he adds dryly, casting a glance at another dead cricket. “I think you’ll like San Diego, Stiles. I think this is a good place for us to start over.”

Stiles nods, picking at his donut. “Thank you . . . for not being mad.”

“I understand why you did it,” Peter says. “I think my son would have done the same.”

Stiles doesn’t want to hear any more about Joshua for the day. He puts the donut down. “I’m going to get better,” he says. “Then I, I can go out more. And you can take me to those places you talked about. Like the zoo, and Casa Balboa. Maybe I, I can help out with what you’re doing. The business you do. I want to help.”

“Better start by eating your breakfast,” Peter says.

“Right.” Stiles picks the donut up. He eats the entire thing in three bites. Peter laughs and offers him another, but Stiles’ stomach already feels uneasy. He flops back against the pillows and turns the television on. Peter stretches out on the other bed. It’s the first time they’ve been somewhere with two beds since Tempe. They hadn’t asked for a double, but the woman at the counter had seen the two of them and assumed that was what they wanted.

A few minutes later, Peter is asleep. It’s not surprising, given that he had only gotten a few hours of sleep before Stiles had made his phone call. Stiles decides he’ll take a nap as well. He makes sure their hotel room is locked and draws the curtains. Then he walks over and pulls Peter’s shoes off. Peter doesn’t flinch, and the rhythm of his breathing doesn’t change, but Stiles knows he’s awake now, waiting to see what Stiles is up to. It’s okay. Peter shouldn’t sleep with his shoes on.

Getting the blankets out from underneath him would be too difficult, so Stiles just pulls the top blanket off the second bed and lays it down on top of Peter. He crawls underneath it, curling up next to Peter, arms pulled in towards his body, knees tucked up, head bent down so his forehead is pressed against Peter’s chest. It’s strangely comfortable, and his body relaxes.

He wonders what he’s forgetting.

His father.

He left a message for his father.

His heartbeat starts to ramp up, and Peter stirs a little but doesn’t wake again.

Relax, that little voice inside says. Calm down. I’ve taken care of everything. Just go to sleep.

Stiles closes his eyes and slowly fades away.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s agonizing to wait, but Daniel Card doesn’t show up in any system for days after the incident in Yuma. But that makes sense, Tom thinks. He’s looked over the records from the previous identities. Whenever Peter arrives in a new place, he squats somewhere abandoned and works on getting something more long-term. That means they’ll have to wait, probably about a week or so, before he pops up in the system again.

“What are we going to do when we find him?” Derek asks. They’re standing around the kitchen table in the Stilinski house. Derek and Chris Argent are eyeing each other warily, but so far have not objected to being in the same room.

“I have a few ideas,” Chris says.

Derek glowers at him. “It won’t be that easy. He’s an alpha. You do know what an alpha is, right? Being such a famous hunter and all?”

Tom shuts them both down. “What we’re going to do is snipe the son of a bitch,” he says. “Chris, you can handle that?”

Chris nods. “Even if I get a headshot, it won’t kill him immediately.”

“Silver bullet?” Tom says.

“Myth. Silver’s too soft. You can’t make bullets out of it. We use bullets laced with wolfsbane, but . . .”

“That’s more of a slow, agonizing death by poison,” Derek chips in helpfully, still glaring. But then he says, “But if Chris can take him down most of the way, I can finish it.”

“Lydia knows how to make self-igniting Molotov cocktails,” Scott says. “I can get the recipe from her.”

Derek nods abruptly. “Good.”

“You’re okay with that?” Chris asks. “Using fire?”

“Is that any of your fucking business?” Derek snarls.

“It’ll be all of our business if you lose your nerve,” Chris retorts.

Derek’s jaw sets and he looks away. “As far as I’m concerned, fire is exactly what my uncle deserves. Don’t forget. He killed my sister. My alpha. My stake in this isn’t only about Stiles. I will do what I need to do.”

Tom nods. “Scott, you’re staying here,” he says, and Scott lets out a wordless protest.

“No buts,” Derek tells him. “Whether you ever accepted Peter as your alpha or not, he still turned you. He’ll know the instant you get anywhere near him. He’ll be able to feel it. If you show up, all bets are off, and we only have one shot at this.”

“But he won’t be able to detect you?” Tom asks.

“No. He may be the alpha of my pack, technically, but he’s not the one who turned me. The connection isn’t the same.”

“Good,” Tom says.

Then it’s just a waiting game.

Eight days later, Daniel Card pops up in Chula Vista, California. It’s a San Diego suburb, only ten miles or so from the Mexico border. He makes a deposit and pays a month of rent on a house there.

Tom forces himself to take deep breaths, move slowly, not lose his mind with excitement. If he rushes, he’ll make mistakes, and a mistake now will be fatal. So he doesn’t contact the local authorities. Chris says he knows a good hunter around there who can scope out the neighborhood, and Tom accepts. He decides to drive down while they’re waiting to hear back. If they find Stiles – and they will find Stiles – he doesn’t think he’ll want to take a plane trip back.

He drives down with Derek. They get a cheap double room at a motel. Derek doesn’t talk much, but his presence is comforting anyway. Chris’ contact reports that the neighborhood is one of the older ones, rundown and predominantly Hispanic. The kind of neighborhood where “nobody ever sees or hears or remembers anything”. Which is fine by Tom. They are, after all, planning to commit a murder. He feels surprisingly little about this. He’s only ever killed once before, during a robbery where a man pulled a gun. That had racked him with guilt for weeks, even knowing that his actions had saved lives. But this time, he feels nothing. Peter can’t be arrested. He’s an alpha werewolf. Jail wouldn’t hold him for an hour. And he’s proven that he’s not willing to let Stiles go. That means he has to die. To protect his son, Tom would kill Peter Hale fifteen times over, without a shred of remorse.

“Are you going to be okay?” he asks Derek. “Seeing your uncle again?”

Derek looks away. “He’s not my uncle,” he says. “My uncle died in the fire ten years ago. What he is now, is a monster.”

Tom lets it go. Derek doesn’t want to talk about it, and really, he can’t blame him.

Chris meets them there that evening, having flown down separately. “If you want to use me as a sniper,” he says, “we’re going to have to kill him at the house where he’s staying. It takes time and planning to set up a sniper shot. We could follow him when he leaves the house, but I wouldn’t necessarily be able to get a good shot.”

Tom agrees. “What we’ll do,” he says, “is wait for him to leave. Go in and get Stiles. And deal with him when he gets back.”

“Why don’t we just shoot him as he comes out?” Derek asks.

Tom shakes his head. “We can’t risk the possibility, remote as it is, that Stiles won’t be there.”

He doesn’t sleep a wink that night.

Chris is up at dawn, dressed in denim and leather and toting a very impressive looking rifle with a scope almost as long as his forearm. He says something about being glad it’s not particularly windy. Tom rouses Derek out of bed. The werewolf snarls but gets up and puts on obscene amounts of cheap cologne. Tom gags a little, but Chris is nodding approval. He’s familiar with how to hide from a werewolf.

By seven AM, he’s in a beat-up old station wagon that Chris’ hunter friend supplied, which blends in perfectly with the neighborhood, parked down the street from the house that Peter rented. The weather is gorgeous, so he’s fine sitting there with the windows down. Derek is just around the corner, and Chris is in an empty apartment on the fourth floor of a building down the street. Everything’s ready. Now all they need is Peter Hale.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

They’ve each brought rations, water and protein bars or granola bars. Tom is too jumpy to eat. They stay in touch via text. Everyone is required to check in every half hour, lest something happen. Derek says he’s sure they’re in the right place. He can smell Peter from his comings and goings. But he doesn’t smell Stiles. That doesn’t mean Stiles isn’t here – just that if he is, he isn’t leaving the house very much, which would make sense.

They sit there all day. At one point, two men show up and go inside for about an hour, and then leave. But Peter doesn’t make an appearance.

‘What if he never leaves the house?’ Derek texts, around four PM.

‘We’ll set up shifts for sleeping and stay here as long as we have to,’ Chris replies. ‘That’s how a hunt works.’

Not fifteen minutes later, the front door of the house opens and Peter emerges. Tom’s breath catches in his throat, as he finally gets a look at the man who has been torturing his son, at his leather jacket and his swagger and the faint smile on his face. His fists clench and relax in his lap. Peter closes the front door and starts down the street.

Chris has asked a few of his hunter friends to tail Peter and make sure he doesn’t circle back around. Derek is the look-out. There’s only one street that leads to this particular neighborhood, so Derek will wait at that corner until Peter returns.

They had agreed to wait until Peter was at least ten minutes away. Then, if all goes well, Tom will go in, get Stiles, and they’ll be fifty miles north by the time Peter returns for Chris and Derek to take care of him.

Knowing his son is there, just inside that house, after not having seen him for so many months, makes the wait extremely difficult. Every second that passes drags by like an hour. He alternates between staring at his watch and staring at the house.

Finally, he gets a text from Chris that says ‘ten by my watch’. His own has nine and a half, but he won’t quibble. He wonders if Chris thinks he’s losing his nerve for some reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. He gets out of the car and walks down the street and up the little walkway that leads to the house. He tries the knob, and it’s locked. No big deal. He has a key. He and his sheriff’s badge had visited the rental company the day before. He had impressed upon them not to mention his request to anyone. Most people were ignorant enough of the law that they wouldn’t think twice.

So he unlocks the front door and edges inside. He can hear a television somewhere in the interior of the house. He’s facing a staircase and a hallway, and a narrow archway on one side. He heads for the archway, because that’s where the noise is coming from. And there he is. Stiles. He’s sitting on the sofa, watching the television, so his profile is clearly visible. His gaze is glued on the TV and he’s holding a bowl of cereal, stirring it constantly but not eating any of it.

He looks terrible. He’s always been skinny, but now he’s practically skeletal. His cheekbones could cut glass and there are dark circles under his eyes. His skin has the sallow, waxy look of someone who’s suffering from extreme malnutrition. He’s wearing a T-shirt, and Tom can see the scars on his arms, cuts and burns. They’re covered with them. He’s pulled out so much of his hair that he has actual bald patches, and what’s left is limp and lank.

To Tom Stilinski, he’s the most beautiful sight in the world.

It takes him a minute to catch his breath and say, “Stiles.”

Stiles’ gaze snaps up to him. His eyes go wide. Tom honestly isn’t sure what response to expect. He half expects Stiles to be all nonchalant about it and just say, ‘hey, Dad, took you long enough’. The other half of him expects Stiles to throw himself at him.

But neither happens. In fact, Stiles drops the cereal bowl, milk splashing everywhere, and bolts. But he doesn’t bolt towards his father. He runs away. He rounds the corner of the room, through another door, and vanishes. It takes Tom a moment to catch up with what just happened and dive after him. “Stiles, Stiles!” he shouts.

By the time he catches up with Stiles, they’re in the kitchen, and Stiles has wedged himself into the tiny space between the refrigerator and the wall. His knees are pulled up to his chest and he’s holding his hands up to his face, like if he can’t see his father, he won’t have to acknowledge his presence. “Stiles,” Tom says again, kneeling down in front of him.

“You can’t be here,” Stiles manages, in a broken little voice. “You can’t be here. He’ll hurt you. I don’t want him to hurt you. You, you have to go, you – ”

“I am not going anywhere,” Tom says firmly. “Not without my son.”

Stiles shakes his head. “I couldn’t be him anymore,” he says. “I had to be Peter’s son. I had to be Joshua. I, I let him put Stiles away.”

“That’s okay,” Tom says. “That’s okay. You can be Stiles again. I’m here now. We’re going to get you out of here.”

“But he’ll hurt you,” Stiles protests, curling into a tighter ball.

“No one is going to hurt me,” Tom says. His voice cracks as he continues, “You’ve been so brave and so strong, but I’m here now. You don’t have to be brave anymore. I’m going to take care of everything. I got your message and I came to take you home, and nobody, nobody, is going to stop me. Not even you.”

Stiles peeks out at him. “You . . . it’s really you?” he asks.

“It’s me,” Tom says.

“It’s not . . . one of his traps?”

“No, Stiles,” Tom says. “I came to take you home.”

There’s a long moment of silence. Then Stiles’ hand comes out, an inch at a time. It’s trembling. Tom gets a hold of it and pulls Stiles out of the little niche he’s hiding in, pulls him all the way out and then into an embrace. Stiles buries his face in his father’s shoulder and lets his arms drop to his side. He’s too weak to hug back, but he doesn’t seem to mind the way Tom is clutching at him, rocking them both back and forth. He just relaxes into it, all the tension going out of him so abruptly that Tom thinks for a moment he’s passed out. But then he can hear Stiles’ voice, just a little whisper. “I knew you would come for me.”

Tom hugs him tighter for a moment, but then forces himself to loosen his grip. He’s afraid he’ll actually break Stiles, he seems so fragile. He wants to apologize for taking so long, but he knows it’s not his fault, and he doesn’t want Stiles trying to blame himself, either. “Damn right,” he says instead, and takes a breath to steady himself. He’s about to say something else when his phone chimes. He snatches it up to see a text from Derek that just says ‘on his way back’.

They won’t get out of the house before Peter gets back, and he doesn’t want Stiles to see what happens to him. Maybe it would be good for him, but it also might upset him. So he texts Derek, and Chris, to say, ‘I’ve got him. We’ll wait to come out until after you’re done.’ Then he just wraps his arm back around Stiles and keeps rocking him back and forth. He thinks it’s going to be a long time before he’s willing to let go. Stiles doesn’t seem like he’s in any hurry to leave, or maybe he’s just too weak to move on his own.

That’s what Tom thinks until about forty-five seconds later, when there’s the unmistakable sound of a gunshot. Stiles’ head whips around. “Peter,” he says.

“Stiles, you – ”

“Peter!” Stiles wrenches himself out of his father’s embrace with strength that Tom never would have expected, and stumbles towards the door. He nearly trips over his own feet, but he manages to stagger down the hallway and out the front door just in time to see Peter go up in flames. The alpha lets out a terrible scream of rage and pain. “Peter!”

Tom grabs him before he can get any closer, afraid that he’ll hurt himself. Peter collapses to the ground, and the flames gutter out. Derek is standing a few feet away, breathing hard, tears streaming down his face that Tom knows he doesn’t even realize he’s crying.

“Peter . . .” Stiles lets out a harsh sob and sinks to his knees. Tom helps ease him down, and then he starts crawling forward. Tom hesitates, but then lets him go. He doesn’t know what Stiles wants, but he’s willing to let him have whatever it is. Stiles leans over the charred, blackened body and starts shaking him gently. “Peter. Peter, wake up. I, I was going to make pancakes for when you got back. I was being good. I swear, I was being good. Please don’t be mad at me.”

Peter’s eyes open. They’re glazed, foggy with pain and poison. One hand reaches out, fingers gently caressing Stiles’ cheek. Stiles just stares down at him, making choked little noises.

Then Peter’s hand curls in Stiles’ hair and yanks him downward. Stiles lets out a startled cry as he sees a flash of teeth heading right for his throat. Tom lunges forward, but he’s too far away, he knows he’ll never make it in time. Time seems to stop; everything seems to stop.

But then Derek is there, pushing his way in between them. He lets out a howl of pain as Peter’s teeth sink into forearm. Then his other hand comes around and he sinks his claws into what’s left of Peter’s throat. Blood goes everywhere, splashing onto the ground and up onto Stiles’ face. Stiles lets out a little whine and lurches backwards. Tom catches him before he can hit the ground.

Chris comes running up, just as Derek turns to Tom and Stiles, his eyes flaring crimson red. “Is he – ”

“He’s okay,” Tom chokes out. “You made it in time.”

Stiles reaches up with one hand and shakily knuckles at the blood just below his eye. “He was going to kill me,” he says.

Tom isn’t sure what to say to that. “Yeah,” he finally says.

“What is this, some, some ‘if I can’t have you, no one can’ thing?” Stiles stammers, and Tom nearly cries because he sounds like Stiles again. “This isn’t Shakespeare, you asshole. You . . . you asshole,” he repeats, and then he breaks down again.

Tom holds him, rocks him, but he’s increasingly aware that they need to go. Response time in this neighborhood won’t be great, but things will get extremely awkward if police show up. “Stiles,” he says quietly, “we have to get moving. Okay?”

Stiles continues letting out choked little sobs, but lets Tom help him to his feet.

“Is there anything you want from the house?” Tom asks.

“Oh Jesus fuck no,” Stiles says, biting the words out.

He’s too weak to walk. Running for Peter used up the last of his strength. Derek carries him. Stiles leans his face into Derek’s chest, eyes fluttering closed, and he murmurs, “You saved my life.”

Derek scowls at him. “So what?”

“Nothing,” Stiles says, and leans against him more comfortably. “I missed you, too.”

Derek scowls deeper and hugs him tighter.

Stiles rides in the front, staring out the window in a vacant fog. Tom doesn’t push him. He doesn’t know what to say, if he can say anything that’ll help. Stiles’ silence is unnerving, but he doesn’t know how to break it. They go back to the hotel. Chris has called his hunter friends, who will smooth down any problems with the local law.

It’s late afternoon now, but Tom wants to at least start back to Beacon Hills. It’s an eight, maybe a nine hour drive. Easy enough starting fresh, but he hasn’t been fresh for a long time. He doubts Stiles will be in any condition to help. But if he and Derek take shifts, they can make it. Worse comes to worst, they’ll stop halfway and spend the night in a hotel. But he’s worried about Stiles’ ability to stay cooped up that long.

“You want me to give him something?” Chris asks, when Tom quietly expresses his concern about this. “My first aid kit has a few things that would probably knock him out pretty well.”

Tom hesitates. Then he turns to Stiles and says, “Do you want to take something to help you sleep? It’s going to be a long ride home.”

Stiles stares at him for so long that Tom starts to repeat the question. Then he says, “I never knew where we were going. He would blindfold me and put me under a blanket whenever we went somewhere new.” His breath hitches in his throat. “Please don’t make me sleep.”

“Okay,” Tom says, shoving down the rage that rises in his chest. It has no place in this discussion. He rubs Stiles’ hair and says, “Okay, we won’t make you sleep.”

Chris departs for the airport. Derek takes the first shift driving, since he at least got a few hours of sleep the night before. Tom sits in the back with Stiles, who’s still just staring, like he’s waiting for the world to start again. Despite Tom’s best efforts, he dozes, his head drooping into Stiles’ shoulder.

He wakes up when Stiles speaks for the first time since they got in the car. “What’s the date?” Stiles asks.

“July,” Derek replies. “July fourteenth.”

Stiles is quiet for a minute. “I’m seventeen now.”

“Yeah,” Tom says. “You missed your birthday.”

“And Christmas,” Stiles says.

“We’ll have Christmas and your birthday anyway,” Tom says.

Stiles closes his eyes and leans against his father, going silent again.

About an hour later, Derek pulls into a Circle K. He says he’s going to go in and use the bathroom. Tom agrees to pump the gas. Stiles just sits, not moving. “You want to go in and use the john, maybe get yourself something to drink?” Tom asks him.

“Okay,” Stiles says, but he still just sits.

Tom clears his throat. “Are you going or aren’t you?”

Stiles slowly looks up at him, then says, “I . . . I think I was waiting for Peter. To go with me.”

Tom hesitates. “Do you want me to go with you?”

“Yes, please,” Stiles says.

So Tom pumps the gas and then they go into the gas station together. Stiles uses the restroom and draws an odd look from the clerk. Tom resists the urge to tell him to mind his own business. “Are you hungry?” Tom asks.

“Not really,” Stiles says.

Tom frowns. “You look like a few square meals would do you some good. How about something sweet?” Sweet foods always help settle his stomach after a long period without food.

Stiles stirs again. “Reese’s?”

“Sure.” Tom grabs two packages of them, a coffee for himself, and a soda for Stiles. He wonders suddenly when the last time he had his medication was. It’s too late to give it to him now. “Shit,” he says, as they head back to the car. Derek’s waiting, washing the windows. “We should call Scott and Melissa.”

Stiles perks up, just a little, but Tom can see it. “Scott. How’s Scott?”

“He’s had a rough time of it,” Tom says. “But I’m sure he’d like to hear your voice.” They reach the car, and he says, “Derek, can you get Stiles settled?” Derek nods silently and opens the back door. Tom takes a few steps away, dialing his phone. Melissa picks up on the second ring. Tom had told her that it might be a few days before she heard anything, because they would need to scope the situation out carefully and wait for an opportune moment. “Melissa. We’ve got him, he’s safe.”

“Oh my God!” Melissa gasps out. “Scott? Scott!”

Bare moments later, Scott is on the phone. “He’s okay? He’s safe?”

“Yeah,” Tom says. “He’s with me. We’re okay.”

“What about Peter?”

“Peter will no longer be giving us any trouble,” Tom says.

“That means he’s dead, right?” Scott says. “Jesus, tell me he’s dead.”

“Yeah,” Tom says. He understands that Scott needs to hear the words in plain English. “He’s dead.”

Scott lets out a breath. “Can I . . . talk to Stiles?”

“Sure,” Tom says. “But Scott . . . he’s really fragile right now. Don’t push him. Okay?” he says. Scott readily agrees to this. Tom climbs into the driver’s seat and puts the phone on speaker. “Okay, he’s here.”

“Stiles?” Scott says, almost cautiously.

Stiles stirs a little. “Scott,” he says. “Scott?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s me,” Scott says. “Dude, I am so fucking happy to hear your voice, it’s been so weird without you, without you talking all the time, and I . . .” He chokes a little. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“I’m . . . not okay,” Stiles says.

“Oh.” Scott hesitates. “Well, that, that’s okay. You don’t have to be okay.”

Stiles is quiet for a minute. “I wanna watch Lord of the Rings,” he says. “All three. The extended editions. In a row. Peter didn’t like them. We tried to watch them once and he fell asleep an hour into Fellowship. I want popcorn. You’re going to come over tomorrow and we’re going to watch them and eat popcorn.”

“Okay,” Scott says. “Yeah. That sounds awesome. We’re totally gonna do that. And Oreos. I want Oreos.”

“Oreos are good,” Stiles says.

Tom interjects here. “Scott, we’re going to go now, okay? We’ve still got at least four or five hours on the road.”

“Okay,” Scott says. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Right?”

“Right,” Stiles says. Tom hangs up the phone and tucks it away before turning the car on. “Dad?” Stiles says.

“What is it?”

“I’m tired.”

Tom has to swallow hard before he can speak. “Then get some rest, son. We’ll be home before you know it.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

They roll back into Beacon Hills at around two in the morning. Stiles has fallen into a sleep so deep that he doesn’t even twitch when the car stops. He’s slumped against Derek’s chest, and the new alpha has an arm wrapped around his shoulders. His eyes are open, though, and he looks up when Tom stops the car. “Do you need my help to get him inside?”

“Let’s find out.” Tom gets out of the car and comes back to the rear door. Derek passes Stiles’ limp body out to him, and Stiles still doesn’t wake as Tom hoists him into a princess carry. He shouldn’t be able to do it. Stiles had probably weighed at least a hundred fifty pounds, maybe more, before Peter had taken him. Now Tom would be surprised if he’s in the triple digits. “I think I’ve got him. Could use your help with the door, though.”

Derek nods silently and follows Tom up to the house, fishes the keys out of his jacket pocket, and lets them in. Tom gets the light switch by the front door with his shoulder.

“I’m going to get going, then,” Derek says.

“It’s late,” Tom says. “You could crash here if you wanted.”

Derek just shakes his head and goes back out the door without another word. Tom lets it go. The last few days can’t have been easy for Derek, and he has no idea what sort of changes becoming an alpha would cause. Maybe he just needs to let off some steam. He nudges the door closed with his foot and then manages to lock the dead bolt without jostling Stiles too much. The teenager still doesn’t so much as twitch. After months of sleeplessness and nightmares, he’s finally relaxed enough to fall into a deep sleep.

Tom carries him upstairs and lays him on his bed. Dust actually rises up off the bedspread, and he has to take a minute to wipe tears out of his eyes. His own will likely be no better. He manages to move Stiles around enough to get the comforter stripped off, revealing the non-dusty sheet and blanket underneath. Then he pulls Stiles’ shoes off.

It doesn’t seem worth trying to get him undressed. They’ll worry about that tomorrow. But he shakes the dust off the comforter. He can see goosebumps on Stiles’ arms. He thinks underweight people get cold more easily. Not as much padding. He tucks the comforter around his shoulders and then sits on the edge of the bed.

He’s exhausted, and he knows that he should get some rest. But the thought of leaving Stiles alone in this room makes his stomach squirm. He’s desperately, irrationally afraid that Stiles wouldn’t be there when he came back. He also has no idea how Stiles would react to finding his father asleep on the bed next to him. It had not escaped Tom that some of the places where Peter and Stiles had stayed only had one bed, or at least only one bed that seemed to be in use. That’s something that he has put out of his mind as much as possible over the previous few months.

The obvious solution is that he’ll stay up all night. This having been decided, he pulls a chair up next to Stiles’ bed, leans his head against the wall, and promptly falls asleep.

He wakes up with a stiff back and a crick in his neck when his phone rings. It’s so startling that he nearly falls out of his chair. His gaze immediately snaps to Stiles, to check to make sure that he’s there. He is, and he stirs slightly at the noise. One of his arms is hanging off the bed now. Without a time crunch, Tom can take a better look at the scars. Thin cuts and burns. Some of them were obviously serious. But they all look like they’ve been well-treated.

He fumbles for his phone and glances at the time before the caller ID. It’s about half past ten, and Scott’s on the line. It’s hard to believe he slept sitting up for almost eight hours. He clears his throat before answering. “Hey, Scott.”

“Hey, uhm, hi,” Scott says. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know if I should call Stiles’ phone or yours. But I, uh, he didn’t say what time I should come over, but a Lord of the Rings marathon will take like nine hours, so I thought maybe I should call and find out.”

“He’s still sleeping,” Tom says, glancing at his son. He’s restless now, so Tom decides to take the conversation out to the hallway. He doesn’t want to disturb him. “But why don’t you come on over? That way you can get started whenever he wakes up.”

“Okay,” Scott says eagerly. “I’ll be right over.”

Tom shakes his head a little but doesn’t discourage him. He takes another long look at Stiles but then forces himself away. He can’t stand there and watch him sleep all day, as much as he might like to. He goes downstairs and starts going through the cupboards to see if there’s anything to eat. Starting the coffee maker is a priority. By the time a pot is ready, Scott is knocking on the front door and he’s found a box of Pop-Tarts, which will serve as breakfast. He’s not sure what to do about all the weight Stiles has lost, and thinks he might have to ask Melissa for advice.

“Where is he?” Scott asks, clearly ready to burst from excitement.

“He’s in bed, still,” Tom says.

“Can I – ”

Tom sighs, but then nods. He understands Scott’s impulse to see his friend, the need to verify Stiles’ return with his own eyes. But he suspects that Stiles’ appearance is going to upset Scott. Then again, it might be better for Stiles if he doesn’t have to see Scott’s reaction to it. So all he does is nod and say, “He’s had a hard time of it. He doesn’t look very good.”

Scott is already on the stairs before he can finish the first sentence. Tom gives another sigh and puts his Pop-Tarts in the toaster. He hears Scott’s footsteps in the hallway. Then silence for a long minute. The bathroom door upstairs opens and shuts, and he hears Scott crying inside. Just as well that Stiles isn’t awake to see that.

About ten minutes later, Scott comes downstairs. His eyes are red, but he’s regained his composure. “I’ll just, uh, I’ll just wait,” he says. He sits on the sofa and starts playing with his phone.

“Scott,” Tom says, and waits for Scott to look at him. “He’s going to be okay.”

Scott swallows and then nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Of course he is.”

The people coming in and out has clearly had some effect on the depth of Stiles’ slumber. Not ten more minutes have passed before Tom starts to hear noise from upstairs. Not crying, or screaming, just small, almost animal noises of fear and pain. “You wait down here,” he says to Scott, and heads upstairs, bracing himself.

Stiles has twisted the blanket around himself, and he’s thrashing in his sleep, trying to fight his way free. Tom carefully starts to free him, hoping he can soothe him back into sleep without disturbing him too much. But no sooner has he reached for Stiles does the teenager sit bolt upright, gasping for breath, eyes open so wide that Tom can see the whites all around. He draws in air, and Tom knows that he’s about to start screaming. He puts a hand over Stiles’ mouth before he can let it out. “Stiles,” he says, trying to be firm, but not shout. “Stiles, it’s me. You’re safe.”

The scream comes out as a strangled whimper. Tom reaches out and puts his hand against Stiles’ cheek. “You’re safe now,” he says. “You’re home. You’re home safe.”

The repeated words start to get through. Stiles’ breathing eases down, although his body still trembles. When Tom takes his hand away, he whispers, “Dad?”

“Yeah,” Tom says, drawing him into an embrace. “You’re safe now. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

Stiles relaxes against him, then draws a hand over his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Tom says. “Okay?”

Stiles hiccups and nods. “Okay.”

“Do you want to get up? Scott’s waiting downstairs.”

“Yeah, I . . .” Stiles wipes his eyes again. “I don’t want him to see me like this.”

Tom doesn’t bother to point out that Scott already has. That just won’t help anything. “That’s okay. He won’t mind waiting. You want a shower?”

“Yeah, and I . . . I need your help with my hair. I d-don’t think my hands will be steady enough to do it myself.”

“Okay.” Stiles has been buzzing his own hair since he was twelve, but Tom can see the problem. He probably won’t do a great job at it either, but then again it would be hard for Stiles’ hair to look worse than it does at the moment. So he just pulls the blankets back and helps Stiles out of bed. Then he calls downstairs, “Scott, I’m going to help Stiles get cleaned up. We’ll be down in a little bit, okay?”

“Yeah, okay, sure,” Scott says, clearly not about to argue with anything that Tom thinks is necessary.

Tom ascertains that Stiles feels steady enough to shower on his own, though he stays in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet, because Stiles starts to hyperventilate any time Tom leaves his sight. While he’s showering, Tom walks over to the mirror and writes, ‘I love you, and I’m so glad you’re home.’ When Stiles gets out of the shower, he glances at the words, and for the first time, a wobbly smile touches his face. He doesn’t say anything about it, and neither does his father, because that, of course, would defeat the purpose of the message being written in the steam.

Tom helps him get dressed, trying not to look at his protruding ribs or the scars that mar the rest of his body. He wants to talk about them, but he doesn’t know how to bring it up. Stiles wants a long-sleeved shirt so Scott won’t see them, and Tom takes one out of his closet. It looks like a tent on him, but masks the worst of his weight loss. Then they get his hair done. It’s a little uneven, and Tom laughs, but it looks better. The missing hair isn’t as obvious once it’s all cut so short.

He’s worried that the reunion between Stiles and Scott will be awkward, but it’s not. Stiles walks right over and they embrace for upwards of five minutes. Neither of them says anything. They just hug it out. Finally, Stiles lets go. “You look like crap,” he says.

“Yeah,” Scott says, “I’m a piping hot mess.”

Stiles gives that almost-smile again. “Right there with you. I think . . . I’d better sit down, in fact.” Just the ten minutes in the shower and the act of getting dressed has clearly exhausted him. Scott helps him over to the sofa. They put a blanket over his legs.

Tom brings over a plate that has a single piece of white bread with a thin layer of peanut butter on it. That seems simple enough that it won’t give Stiles trouble. He sets a glass of milk down with it, and then a little pill bottle. Stiles’ eyes go wide when he sees the bottle. “Oh holy fuck,” he says, grabbing at it. “It’s got my name on it. Peter would bring me Adderall sometimes. But it was always in a little baggie.” He pops the top off and downs two of the little pills.

Tom doesn’t comment that he’s taking double his usual dose. He also has to take a moment and try not to have a complete fit about Peter having fed his kid street drugs. It takes him a minute to regain his composure before he finally says, “Eat all of that, okay?”

“I . . . I’ll try,” Stiles says, looking at the meager meal with some obvious uncertainty. “Come on, put the movie on. I swear to God, if I don’t see some quality TV, I’ll lose my mind. Peter liked all this drama and depressing stuff, like, if it hadn’t won a major award, he wasn’t interested in it. I’m over here like, ‘give me something with a car chase in it’.”

“Did you two . . . watch a lot of TV?” Scott asks, hesitant.

“Yeah, I guess,” Stiles says. His gaze is trained on his lap. “He watched TV. And if he wanted to watch it, I watched it with him. I just . . . did whatever he wanted.”

Tom opens his mouth to intervene, seeing the look of faint confusion on Scott’s face and thinking things might go downhill. But then what Scott says is, “Uh . . . of course you did what he wanted. You were a hostage, right? What else were you gonna do?”

His confusion is genuine, and it seems to break something open inside Stiles. He looks up at his friends, tears spilling over, and then he leans against Scott, pressing his face into Scott’s shoulder. “Thank you,” he whispers.

“Yeah,” Scott says, giving him another hug. He obviously has no idea what just happened.

Stiles pulls away after another minute. “Hey, how are things with you and Allison?”

Scott rubs a hand over the back of his head. “We, uh, we took a break,” he says.

“Not again,” Stiles groans.

“No, it wasn’t her this time, it was me,” Scott says. “I just . . . couldn’t focus on being the boyfriend she deserved. I . . . maybe it was fucked up, but every time I found myself enjoying a date, I just got pissed off, because I shouldn’t have been doing that stuff. Not while you were gone. Don’t argue with me, okay? I won’t apologize because you told me not to blame myself, but . . . I was pretty messed up for a while, y’know? So I told her that I just . . . couldn’t. While you were gone. And she said that she would wait for me. And that when you got back, we would pick up where we left off.”

“What if I never came home?” Stiles asks.

Scott frowns at him. “I didn’t go into that. And neither did she. That’s how I knew . . . she’s the right girl for me. Because she didn’t say ‘what if he never comes home’.”

Stiles nods slowly. “So then . . . why are you over here, instead of over at her place?”

“Because we’re watching Lord of the Rings, remember?” Scott says.

Stiles purses his lips. “Call her,” he says.

“What, right now?”

“Yeah, right now, call her. She should know that I’m back, her dad was helping out, call her and tell her you’re taking her out somewhere tomorrow night. Somewhere nice. You’re gonna buy her flowers and shit. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay.” Scott is smiling, a little uncertain, but definitely smiling.

“On that note,” Tom says, “Scott, I’d like you to do me a favor.” He sits down on the sofa next to Stiles and takes out his phone. “Take our picture.”

“Aw, c’mon, Dad, I look like something Satan chewed up and spit out,” Stiles complains.

Tom decides against commenting that this is very close to what happened. He just pulls Stiles against him and says, “Smile for the camera.” He hears Stiles huff out a sigh, but then his son puts up a hand with two fingers splayed out in the classic V-for-victory sign. Scott snaps the photo and hands the phone back. Stiles isn’t exactly smiling in the photo, but it seems to be as close as he can get for now.

“I need to run an errand or two,” he says. “Stiles, will you be okay here with Scott?”

Stiles nods slowly. “Yeah. I, I think so.”

“Just call me if you need me. Do you promise?”

“I promise,” Stiles says, so Tom puts on his shoes and heads out the door.

He’s nervous about it, obviously, but there are things he needs to do. Primarily, he needs to go down to the station. But a quick stop at the grocery store wouldn’t hurt either. He gives Melissa a call before he backs out of the driveway. “Can you come over and take a look at Stiles later?” he asks. “I don’t want to drag him to a doctor if I don’t have to, but . . .”

“Sure,” Melissa says. “I get off shift at three. I was planning on coming over after that anyway. Wild horses couldn’t stop me, et cetera.”

“Okay. Thanks.” He puts the car in reverse and goes on his way. The station is quiet today, which is good. Sue greets him as he walks in with her usual sympathetic smile.

“How are you doing?” she asks, as he walks up to the desk. He thinks that maybe he should have taken the time to get himself cleaned up, while Stiles was getting cleaned up. He hasn’t shaved in weeks and he doesn’t think the thin beard does much for him. “We haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Yeah,” Tom says. “Actually I just stopped by to show you something.” He takes out his phone and pulls up the picture Scott took. “It’s a picture that a friend of mine took this morning,” he says, and holds the phone out to her.

Sue takes the phone and looks at the picture. Her eyes go wide and then snap up to Tom. “You – you found him?” she asks, wanting to be sure. Tom just nods and grins, and the grin is even more proof than the photograph, because he knows he hasn’t smiled like that in months. Sue actually screams and then throws her arms around Tom, hugging him tightly. “They found Stiles!” she shouts, drawing the attention of everyone in the station. “They found Stiles!”

Within moments, Tom is being mobbed, and the phone is being passed around so everyone can see the picture. There are hugs and back slaps and demands for details. Eventually, Tom manages to get across the pertinent information: Stiles had managed to get a hold of his captor’s phone in Yuma, left him a message there, and Tom had tracked him to San Diego.

“What happened to Peter Hale?” Thorne asks.

“Killed resisting arrest,” Tom says.

“I didn’t see anything in the news,” Thorne says, with a little frown.

Tom clears his throat. “Yes. Well.” He thinks for a moment about how to phrase this, with these people he loves and trusts, who love his son, but are still officers of the law. “It wasn’t exactly an official action.”

There’s a minute while everyone present analyzes this, and he knows that the conclusion they’re coming to is that he got a lead on Stiles’ location, and rather than involving the local law, he went down there himself, found Stiles, and then shot his captor until he was dead. He hasn’t exactly admitted it, but then again, he’s not exactly denying it.

Then Burrell lets out a snort and says, “After the disaster in Arizona, I can’t blame you for that.”

“No shit, right?” Thorne echoes, and Tom relaxes. If he’s going to find condemnation for his vigilante justice, it isn’t going to be here.

“Listen, guys,” he says, “I can’t even begin to thank you enough for the way you’ve supported me during all of this. Not just helping me look for him, but keeping a handle on everything else to free up my schedule. You are the best that any sheriff could ask for.” He cuts off their protests with a wave of his hand. “My unofficial leave is going to be official for a while. Stiles . . . is going to need me around. I think I’ll probably be gone for at least a couple weeks, maybe a month. It’ll depend a lot on him. He held up remarkably well, given the circumstances, but . . . he’s still in pretty rough shape. If you guys need me, don’t hesitate to call me. Okay?”

Everyone agrees to this. There are more hugs and even a few tears, and then he gets his phone back and heads to the grocery store. Then he changes his mind and instead goes to Chase’s Diner, one of Stiles’ favorite restaurants ever since he was a little kid. The woman behind the counter knows him. Like Sue, she greets him with the same cautious sympathy, but squeals when she sees the picture and gets the news. She packs up some of their chicken noodle soup into some to-go containers for him, and refuses to let him pay for it.

He’s been gone for about two hours, and when he gets home, the television is displaying the ‘please insert disc two’ screen. Stiles and Scott are both sound asleep on the sofa. Scott is propped up against the arm rest and Stiles is just curled against his chest. The glass of milk is still half full, but he ate most of the half sandwich. He left the crusts, which makes Tom smile, because he remembers all the times he had to cut the crusts off Stiles’ sandwiches when he was a little kid. He turns the television off and takes a quick photo of the two of them, then sends it to Melissa.

Scott wakes up about an hour later, but doesn’t try to get up. He entertains himself texting with Allison. Tom asks if he wants him to put the second disc on, but he says no, he’ll wait until Stiles is awake to watch. Stiles just snoozes on. Tom thinks about being worried, but he knows that Stiles is exhausted from his ordeal, and there’s no point in pushing him.

When Melissa shows up at around three thirty, Tom gently shakes Stiles awake. He’s confused and disoriented, upset at first, but gradually recognizes his surroundings. He leans against his father, trembling, until he’s calmed down. “I’m home, I’m home, I’m home,” he mumbles under his breath, over and over again.

“Melissa’s just going to check you out, okay?” Tom says, and Stiles gives a shaky nod.

“Sure you can handle it?” he asks Melissa.

“Bucko, I used to baby-sit you and change your diapers,” she says in response. “Pretty sure I’ll manage.”

Tom lets out a breath as she steers Stiles into the downstairs bathroom. They’re in there for about twenty minutes. He’s not sure what to expect when they come out, but Melissa is calm and composed, professional, and Stiles just says, “Let’s put that second disc in,” so Scott does. Tom waits until they’re both settled, and then Melissa waves him back into the kitchen.

“Given everything he’s been through, he’s held up remarkably well,” she says. “Obviously, it’s going to take some work to put the weight back on him. It’s not as simple as letting him eat whatever he wants. I have a friend who’s a certified nutritionist. I’m going to e-mail her and have her work up a meal plan. I know she’s done some work with people recovering from bulimia in the past.”

Tom hesitates. “How do you . . .”

“Because of his teeth,” she says, giving his hand a sympathetic squeeze. “Not that I think you should drag him to a dentist right away, but he’ll need one. Bulimia wreaks havoc on the teeth, because of all the acid in vomit.”

Tom looks away. “I figured Peter just wasn’t feeding him.”

Melissa shakes her head. “No, he says he was allowed to eat whatever he wanted, but he had a lot of trouble keeping it down. I think subconsciously, he was doing it to spite Peter, prove that he couldn’t be controlled. Obviously, he’s going to need a therapist. I’ll recommend some.”

“Yeah,” Tom says. “I feel like I could use one, too. Those scars . . . Jesus. What was Peter doing to him?”

Melissa gives his hand another squeeze. “He says the vast majority of them were self-inflicted. It’s . . . a coping mechanism he used. And it’s not an unusual one. Self-harm is actually pretty common in trauma victims.”

Tom lets out a breath. “Okay. I . . . I’ll keep an eye on that. One more thing. I . . .” He has to fight to keep his voice steady. “A lot of the places they were staying . . . only had one bed. Did you ask him . . .”

“I did,” she says. “He says Peter never sexually abused him.” Melissa reaches out to put a hand on his arm when it looks like he might fall over. “It’s possible that he just doesn’t want to talk about it, but he talked pretty openly about everything else, so I think it’s the truth. He says Peter made him sleep in the same bed because he didn’t want him trying to escape while Peter was sleeping, that’s all.”

“I . . . I had hoped,” Tom says, his voice cracking, “because he talked about their relationship like a father-son relationship. I guess Peter had a son who died, and he . . . was using Stiles as a substitute. Or maybe Stiles decided to try to be a substitute, so Peter wouldn’t hurt him. I’m not sure.”

“It’s a lot to work through,” Melissa says. “But I think he’ll be okay, Tom. He’s been through a lot, and he’s obviously pretty shaken, but he never gave up. That’s a really encouraging sign.”

Tom nods. “I got some soup for dinner. Do you think . . .”

“That’s fine for tonight,” she says. “Just don’t push him to eat more than he’s comfortable with.”

“Thanks.” Tom reaches out and embraces her. “Thanks for everything.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Scott and Stiles get through the first two movies, but Stiles reluctantly agrees to stop after that because he doesn’t think he could stay awake for the third. He ate two kernels of popcorn and stopped after that. Scott ate the rest without prompting. For dinner, he tries his best, but most of what he gets down is broth. Melissa tells him that’s completely all right and not to worry about it.

It’s around nine o’clock when Scott and Melissa leave. Tom yawns and stretches, and Stiles looks at him and says, “Do you want to go to bed?”

This completely uncharacteristic question takes Tom off guard, but he realizes quickly that Stiles isn’t asking him. He’s asking Peter. And he has no idea what his response should be. Should he remind Stiles that he doesn’t need to ask that question? That he can set his own schedule now? Would doing that just upset him more? After a moment, he says, “I’m ready for some shut-eye, yeah. You?”

Stiles gives a wordless nod and gets off the sofa. Tom decides to let him take things at his own pace. He heads upstairs and Stiles follows. But he hesitates at the door to his room and says, “Will you stay with me? I don’t think . . . I’ll be able to sleep alone.”

“Sure,” Tom says, glad that he asked, that he was capable of expressing something he needed. “Think I’ll take a shower first.”

“You should shave,” Stiles says.

Tom rubs a hand over his chin. “Grizzly Adams, I’m not,” he agrees.

Stiles hesitates, then says, all in a rush, “Will you do something for me?”

Tom decides not to say what he’s thinking, which is, ‘Kid, there is nothing I would not do for you right now.’ “Sure. What do you need?”

“Will you, like, put on lots of aftershave?” Stiles’ voice hitches. “So if I . . . start to forget it’s you, I’ll have something to remind me?”

That sounds completely reasonable to Tom, so he nods and says, “Sure. You’ll be okay for fifteen or twenty minutes?”

“Yeah, I . . . what should I do?” Stiles looks up at his dad, hands flexing and relaxing.

Tom is pretty sure that now is not the time to try ‘whatever you want’ or anything that might start re-introducing autonomy into Stiles’ life. His son looks downright desperate. So he glances around the room quickly and picks up one of Stiles’ books. “Why don’t you read until I get back?”

All the tension leaves Stiles’ shoulders. “Sure, yeah, okay,” he says, and sits down on the edge of the bed, one hand rubbing at his hair. Tom sees him trying to pull at the short, wiry strands at the back of his neck. He reaches out and carefully uncurls Stiles’ hand before he can start trying to pull it out. Stiles lets out a breath and gives him a nod of acknowledgment.

Tom has some deep misgivings about leaving his son like this. He even thinks about asking him if he wants to come sit in the bathroom while he showers. But Stiles seems to be okay asking for things he needs, so he just rushes through it as best he can. He cuts himself shaving twice, and the aftershave stings.

Stiles is still sitting on the edge of the bed when he gets back, immersed in the book. Tom has to remind him to change into pajamas. “Are you cold?” he asks, and Stiles shakes his head. Tom gets under the blankets, and Stiles curls up right next to him, pressing his face into the crook of his father’s neck so he can smell the aftershave. He lets out a shuddery breath and then closes his eyes. He’s asleep a few minutes later.

He wakes up twice during the night, once crying and begging Peter not to hurt people, the second time crying and begging Derek not to hurt Peter. The second dream is worse. It takes almost an hour to talk him back to coherency afterwards. Then he starts apologizing. He mumbles half-formed sentences, stray thoughts, a jumble of stream of consciousness until he finally passes out again.

The next morning, he’s still trying to apologize. “I’m sorry to be like this,” he says, sitting on the edge of the bed, hugging his arms to his chest as his father picks out something for him to wear.

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Tom says.

Stiles just studies the floor. “I’m sorry you had to see me cry for him. And, and that when you came in, it looked like I wasn’t trying to escape. God. That kills me that you saw me like that. Just sitting on his sofa, eating Fruit Loops. I wish I had been tied up or something. He – ”

“Stiles,” Tom says, sitting down next to him. “I’m serious. There is nothing you need to apologize for. I don’t want to hear you apologizing for eating Fruit Loops, or for eating any of his food, or for not eating his food. I don’t want you to apologize for being Joshua instead of Stiles or for crying for Peter or for having trouble transitioning back to the way you were. Everything you did, you did to survive, and you did survive, and now you’re home. So no more apologies. The next time I hear you say you’re sorry, you’re sentenced to fifteen minutes of continuous cuddling.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says.

Tom gives a sigh of exasperation. “Stiles, what did I just say,” he begins, but then he sees that Stiles is actually smiling. It’s a wan, sickly sort of smile, but it’s there, and it’s genuine, and he realizes that Stiles is giving him a hard time. “You know, if you want to cuddle, you can just say so.”

“I would love to cuddle,” Stiles says, nestling into his father’s arms. They stay like that for nearly an hour.

When he gets downstairs, he has an e-mail from Melissa with the diet plan from the nutritionist. Most of what’s on it is things that aren’t in the house. He makes a cup of coffee for himself. Stiles creeps over and eyes it avidly, so he pours a cup for his son, with plenty of cream and sugar. Any nutrition is good nutrition. “Stiles, I’m going to need some things from the store. Do you want to come with me?”

Stiles seems to shrink into himself. “I don’t want people to see me like this.”

Tom thinks about reminding him that he has nothing to be ashamed of, but doesn’t think he would feel any differently in Stiles’ shoes. “I’ll call Scott to stay with you. You two can watch that third movie.”

Stiles nods and relaxes. An hour later, they’re partly through the movie and his father puts down a plate with some cottage cheese, applesauce, and a piece of wheat toast, lightly buttered. Stiles manages to get it all down, but then fights against nausea for the next hour.

Things settle into patterns. For the first couple days, Tom lets Stiles do whatever he’s doing. They watch television, or he’ll sit down with a book and make Stiles get one of his own. Then he starts giving Stiles choices. Rather than just ‘what do you want to do’, he’ll say, ‘do you want to read a book or play on your computer?’ and see what Stiles decides. It never lasts long before Stiles comes seeking reassurance that he can continue what he’s doing, that he shouldn’t be doing anything else, but he starts to get more comfortable making his own choices. But it’s difficult for Tom to leave the house. Once Stiles gets settled in and realizes that he’s really home to stay, he starts to have panic attacks any time Tom leaves his sight for more than a few minutes. He seems utterly convinced that Peter will hurt his father, even though he saw Peter die with his own eyes. They talk about it, Stiles knows it’s not rational, but the fear is just too raw to stop with simple logic. So Tom stays home most of the time, and starts bringing Stiles with him on trips to the grocery or the movie rental store; wherever he goes, Stiles trails along like a lost duckling even though he hates people staring at him. That is an annoyance, which doesn’t compare to the fear of letting his father leave his sight, so he gets over it quickly. It helps that the people of Beacon Hills are a tight-knit community, and word quickly spreads that Stiles is out and about and should be treated just like he always was, to avoid awkwardness and help him heal.

There are almost always people over in the evening. Scott and Melissa, sometimes with Allison, or neighbors, or people from the station. Stiles shows no problem with eating dinner with the others, sitting there with his carefully weighed portions of plain food like pasta and grilled chicken, while the others eat whatever somebody brought over.

Physically, he starts to show rapid improvement, first in his pallor, then in the steadiness in his hands, the way he doesn’t get exhausted just from climbing a flight of stairs. By the end of the first week, he’s no longer sleeping twelve to fourteen hours a day.

He still has a lot of trouble with nausea. The doctor gives him an anti-nausea medication, but it makes no difference, proving that it’s entirely psychological, which surprises no one. The first few times it happens, Tom tries to let him deal with it on his own, but it’s torture to watch his son kneel by the toilet, hand over his mouth, trying desperately not to gag.

The first time Tom tries to help, he sits down next to him and rubs his back in what’s supposed to be a comforting manner. Stiles immediately loses his lunch all over the floor and spends the next hour apologizing hysterically. Gradually, Tom works out that rubbing his back is something Peter always used to do when he was upset.

Peter, he thinks, was always very gentle with Stiles. Like he was something fragile, easily broken. Everything he said or did was designed to reinforce that idea in Stiles.

So the next time Stiles is feeling sick, Tom sits down across from him and takes both of Stiles’ hands in his, squeezing them hard. After a pause, Stiles squeezes back just as hard. Because he’s not weak. He’s not fragile. They sit there for a long time, with Stiles just clenching and relaxing his fists, until the nausea passes. After that, Tom feels free to push a little harder. To ask him what he wants to do instead of giving him choices. To make Stiles leave the house more frequently, and see people he used to associate with. Anything to remind Stiles that he survived, that he was strong, and that he can be strong again.

It’s all totally worth it for the first time Stiles sinks into Wikipedia trance and every effort Tom makes to get him to leave the computer is met with an absent, “Yeah, later.”

At the end of the second week, Stiles asks his dad if they can go to Arizona. He wants to bring flowers to the men who were killed trying to save him, and meet their families, if it’s possible. Tom isn’t sure this will help, but the therapist he’s seeing encourages it. She thinks it will help bring closure. Tom doesn’t want to risk him having a panic attack or a nightmare on a plane, so they drive. Stiles doesn’t want to stay in a hotel room. The idea of it gives him shudders. Tom finally talks him into it for lack of any better options.

As it turns out, the first officer through the door had no family beyond a sister who lives in New York. Tom encourages Stiles to write a letter to the sister, since they won’t be visiting her any time soon. The second officer, however, was married and had two sons. With the help of the Tempe police department, Tom sets up a meeting.

He’s not sure how this will go, even though at this point almost six months have passed since the death of the two officers. But they go to a little house in a suburb called Chandler, and are greeted by a woman named Amie with a cute blonde bob and two little boys clinging to her skirt. She hugs Stiles, and cries, and keeps interrupting him when he tries to apologize.

“When . . .” Stiles has to swallow hard as they sit there in her living room, watching the two little boys play with Spongebob toys. “After Peter hurt him, your . . . your husband still tried to save me. He tried to tell me to run.” He wipes his eyes quickly. “He was still trying to save me, even though he knew he was dying.”

“I’m so glad you came here,” Amie says. “Knowing he had died doing his duty, that . . . that helped, but . . . actually meeting the person he was trying to save . . . that means so much more.” She reaches out and squeezes his hands. “Thank you for coming here. I know it can’t have been easy.”

They go visit the graves together. Stiles puts a bouquet down on each of them. Exhausted, he sleeps most of the drive back to California.

It’s a bad week after that, relapsing into old behaviors, more trouble with food. But he starts getting better again, rebuilding from the ashes. Tom is actually hopeful that he might be able to start school in September. He had figured they would have to home school him, but maybe not. Stiles is depressed that all his friends are going to be a year ahead of him now. Then he finds out that Scott got held back. He verbally castigates his best friend for this and then hugs him for ten minutes.

The one person who has been conspicuously absent during all of Stiles’ recovery has been Derek. Tom calls him a few times, and leaves him messages asking him to come over, but he never does. Scott says he’s busy building a new pack. There are some kids at Beacon Hills High that he’s turned. He’s nervous about being an alpha without a pack, Scott explains, and he wants to stabilize his power base. Tom isn’t sure he approves, but he doesn’t know enough about werewolves in general to say anything. He suspects that Derek thinks Stiles might not want to see him, after he killed Peter.

It’s a fair assumption. He still finds Stiles crying at odd moments, and when he asks why, he’ll say, “Joshua misses Peter.” It’s all he has to say. There’s nothing that Tom can say in return, nothing that will help, besides time.

Eventually, though, Stiles gets sick of Derek being Derek. Without saying anything to his father about his plans, he picks up his phone, dials Derek, and says, “Are you coming over for dinner tonight or what?” There’s a brief pause, and then Stiles hangs up and says, “He hung up on me. So I’d expect him around six.”

Tom just laughs and shakes his head. Then he calls Melissa and invites her and Scott, so it won’t just be Derek, which will hopefully offset some of the awkwardness.

Derek does indeed show up around six, and he brings some obviously store-bought cupcakes, and scowls dramatically when Tom accepts them. Stiles greets him with a shoulder bump and a sarcastic comment, and they all sit down to dinner together. While they eat – Stiles has recovered enough now that he can eat the same meal as everyone else, although his portions are still strictly controlled – they keep the conversation to lighter topics. Sports. The new Iron Man movie. What classes they’re going to have to retake.

It’s only after dinner, while Stiles is pensively licking the frosting off his cupcake, when he finally says, “Hey, Derek . . . can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Derek says guardedly.

“What was Peter’s son like?”

Derek blinks at him for a moment. The look on his face is sheer, utter blankness. It’s not even confusion. Tom sees the answer coming, and he starts to say ‘Derek, don’t,’ but he doesn’t get far enough before Derek is already saying the words that Tom knows might destroy Stiles for good. “Peter didn’t have a son.”

There’s a brief silence. Then Stiles lets out a disbelieving little wheeze. He drops the cupcake and doubles over, folding his arms over his stomach. “It was all a lie,” he says. “None of it was real. None of it. Joshua was a lie.”

“Stiles – ” Tom scoots his chair over so he can grab him if he starts to fall.

“Dad, I – ” Stiles looks up, and tears are starting down his cheeks, but then he chokes out, “I’m so fucking happy. I don’t, don’t have to cry for him anymore. I don’t have to try to keep Joshua alive inside me anymore. It was all just a lie. Just a way for him to, to get inside my head.” He lets out a strangled sob. “All he wanted to do was hurt me. It was just a way for him to hurt me. All the time when he was pretending to be worried about me, that bastard was enjoying every second of it. I, I can finally let it go. I can hate him as much as I want. I don’t have to cry for his son anymore. I can just be Stiles now. I can be Stiles again.”

Tom doesn’t know what to say, so he grabs Stiles and just hugs him hard. Stiles clings to him with all the strength he’s built back into his thin frame. It’s enough to squeeze the air out of him, and he doesn’t mind a bit.

After a long moment, Derek asks awkwardly, “Are you going to be okay?”

“No,” Stiles says, pulling away, wiping his eyes. He grabs Derek by the hand and gives him a squeeze, too. “I am okay. I, I know I’ve got a long way to go and I’m still pretty fucked up, and I can’t say I’m healthy or I’m great or even that I’m good, but, but I am okay. Right now, in this moment, I’m okay.”

Tom reaches out and tousles his hair, then gives him a kiss on the forehead. “Welcome home, Stiles.”

Stiles rests his head on his father’s shoulder and replies, “It’s good to be back.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“But why did Derek have to move during August, ugh,” Scott whines, draping himself over the sofa like some sort of beached whale. He’s spent the better part of the last half hour complaining about helping Derek move into his loft. Isaac had talked him into it, somehow, because he’s not really a member of Derek’s pack, but they had reluctantly bonded during Stiles’ absence, and such bonds aren’t easy to sever.

In any case, Scott apparently finds it some sort of mortal sin that Derek actually bought furniture for the loft, and didn’t get it delivered, so they had to go pick it up and put it together and the loft doesn’t have air conditioning and is Derek some sort of Neanderthal. Stiles listens to his bitching and thinks that it’s almost affectionate bitching, which puts them several steps above where they were.

Finally, once Scott has finished complaining about how life is unfair, he takes off to have a date with Allison and Stiles shakes his head a little and thinks about baking something. Cooking has become a sort of therapy for him. He had been forced to do it for Peter, and had become good at it. Now he’s choosing to do it, because he’s good at it, and because he likes to have healthy food available for his father to eat.

It’s still difficult for him to accept compliments on the food, but the act of cooking itself isn’t difficult anymore. At least the smell of food no longer makes him nauseous, except spaghetti and Fruit Loops and certain flavors of ice cream.

But he knows the way Derek eats, which usually involves things that come out of cans or freezers or fast food restaurant bags. So he decides to make something for him, since he probably doesn’t have anything in his new place. A casserole is too clichéd. He thinks back to what he’s seen Derek eating, on those occasions that Stiles has wheedled until he’s shown his face in the last two months. He decides to make chicken pot pie.

Tom has taken to making sure the kitchen is well stocked with almost anything Stiles will need. He lets Stiles make the grocery list, and complains fondly about every vegetable and vitamin-packed mouthful. Stiles loves it when he complains about the food, because it’s so different from the way things were with Peter.

They don’t have any refrigerated pie crust, but that’s okay, he can make it from scratch. He chops vegetables and listens to loud music because he can’t stand quiet anymore. Peter hadn’t been much of a person for music. If he wasn’t watching television, their apartment or house or hotel room would be silent. Stiles had never been a fan of quiet to begin with, but now he hates it even more, especially when every tiny noise of the house shifting or his father moving around upstairs has him looking over his shoulder.

Tom’s working half days now, and Stiles is okay alone in the house as long as he has things to distract him and a schedule to adhere to. He’s still not good at having free time. Not having anything to do, even if the schedule just reads ’30 minutes reading’ or ’45 minutes on Wikipedia’, gives him panic attacks. It’s a weight on his chest that never goes away. If he gets too antsy, he’ll text or skype Scott, and since it’s still summer, he’s almost always available to come over if things get too bad. School will be starting in a week, and Stiles isn’t ready. They all know it. It’s been less than six weeks since his rescue. Sheriff Stilinski has gotten a waiver from the district and enrolled him in an online high school. He thinks the structure will be good for Stiles, and to be fair, Stiles was never a huge fan of the more traditional type of school anyway. Once school is in session, Tom will go back to full days.

In any case, today is Saturday, so Tom isn’t working, and once the pie is in the oven, Stiles goes to find his father. He’s out back, watering the flowers. “Hey, Dad? I . . . I want to go to Derek’s loft. He just moved in yesterday. I’m making a chicken pot pie to bring him.”

“Okay,” Tom says, wiping the sweat off his forehead and leaving a smear of dirt. “Let me know when you’re ready to go.”

Stiles nods, then twists his hands in the bottom of his shirt and says, “I mean, I want to go. By myself. I don’t . . . need you to drive me. I just . . . want to go over to Derek’s. Scott gave me the address.”

Tom is a little surprised, but not very. He’s been pushing Stiles to go out on his own, but thus far, Stiles has resisted. He’s gone to Scott’s a few times, but that doesn’t really count because he lives right down the street, and he’s made Tom stand outside in the driveway and watch to make sure he gets there. Tom’s tried to get him to go to the grocery store by letting them run out of groceries once or twice, but the only result that has is Stiles freaking out because they don’t have the things he needs to cook and cooking is on his schedule and going to the grocery store is not.

“Okay,” Tom finally says, and then he has to ask, damn it. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I . . .” Stiles huffs out a breath. “I can’t hide here forever. It’s only ten minutes by car. He’ll . . . oh God, I’m terrified, why am I terrified, you know what, never mind, you can drive me – ”

“No,” Tom says firmly, gripping Stiles by both shoulders, doing it firmly, a reminder that he’s strong. “You said you wanted to. I think you should. Why don’t you give Derek a call?”

Stiles swallows and nods. His breath leaves him in a rush. “Okay,” he says. “Okay, I can do this.” He turns into the house and looks around for his phone. It has more contacts in it than it used to. Melissa’s cell phone is in it now, as well as Thorne and Burrell, just in case he ever needs anything and for some reason can’t get in touch with his father. His therapist is there as well. But Derek is still near the top.

He picks up sounding grumpy, like he always does. “What.”

“Gonna bring you some nutrition,” Stiles says brightly. “You gonna be home in an hour? Scott gave me your new address.”

“Of course he did,” Derek says. Then he sighs. “Yeah. I’m not going anywhere. Just getting settled in.”

“Okay. I . . . I’m gonna drive over, okay? I’ll call you before I leave.”

“Okay.” Derek doesn’t seem to understand the significance at first. Then he says, “Wait. Is your dad at work?”

“No, he’s home, but I . . . I’m just gonna drive over.”

Derek seems to sense that making a big deal out of this will only embarrass Stiles. “Call me before you leave,” he says, as if Stiles hasn’t just said he was going to do exactly that.

“Yeah, I will,” Stiles says, and hangs up. He goes back into the kitchen. The pot pie will be another twenty minutes or so in the oven. He hadn’t made anything for dessert. It’s obvious that Derek will need dessert. He loves sweet things, even if he won’t admit it. Stiles roots around in the cupboards and comes out with some baking chocolate, flour, sugar, the things he needs to make a good chocolate torte.

It’s an extensive process which is still ongoing when the pot pie comes out of the oven, and it goes on for so long that his father eventually comes into the kitchen to find out what’s going on. “I’m making a dessert,” Stiles says.

Tom gives him a considering look, then nods and says, “Okay,” and quietly texts Derek to let him know that it may be a little while, Stiles is scraping up the nerve. The torte goes into the oven and then Stiles says that he can’t just bring a pot pie, obviously, what if Derek doesn’t like it, he should make something else like a beef casserole just in case.

“You’re stalling,” Tom tells him.

“No, I, I’m not stalling, I just want to be prepared – ”

“Stiles,” Tom says, “go get ready to leave.”

“Oh, geez,” Stiles says, but then takes another deep breath. “Yeah, okay, yes.” He goes to find his sneakers and pulls them on, lacing them and then tying double knots because what if someone chases him and his shoelaces come undone and he trips or his shoe falls off? That would be a really stupid way to get abducted. Which is not going to happen, he reminds himself firmly, both because Peter Hale is dead and because no one will bother to carjack an old Jeep.

The death of ‘Daniel Card’ barely made a ripple, even in the town where he was killed. Of course the police had been called, but none of what was in the house led back to the identity Peter Hale. If the police noticed that a teenaged boy had been living there, they never made any mention of it in the papers. Legally, Daniel Card had no family. From the contents of his computer and some other things in the house, it was clear that he was involved with the Mexican cartels and a variety of illegal enterprises, so really, nobody thought much of his grisly fate. There was some superficial clucking over how bold the cartels were getting, that they would assassinate a man on the street in broad daylight, but nobody wrote letters to the editor about it. Daniel Card’s passing went unmourned and basically unnoticed.

It’s too hot to wear a sweatshirt but he grabs one anyway, because he hates people seeing the scars on his arms. He hates having to look at them himself. Everyone has reassured him repeatedly that he has nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not shame, though. It’s just the reminder. The scars bring back memories he’s trying to forget, like when Peter came in and found him holding a knife in the flame of the gas stove and gently took it out of his hands, or the time Peter saw him picking at his scabs and admonished him because they had just finished healing, or the time Peter actually wept while he bandaged up a new set of injuries.

All a lie. All of it. Inside, Peter had been loving every wound that Stiles inflicted upon himself. He wonders sometimes what would have eventually happened to him. He knows from a few comments Melissa has accidentally let slip that he was actually close to starvation. If he had been five pounds thinner when they had found him, she would have put him in the hospital. Would Peter have brought him to the hospital? He had already gotten to the point where he was too weak to stand for more than a few minutes. How far would Peter have let it go?

These things wander across Stiles’ mind as he sits there on the sofa, waiting for the torte to finish in the oven, and he realizes that he’s just running his fingers over some of the scars on his forearm, over and over again. He breaks out of it with a shudder when the timer on the oven goes off. His hands are shaking as he takes the cake out of the oven and sets it down to cool.

“You’re not going to wear that, are you?” his father interrupts his reverie to ask.

Stiles’ hands tighten on the bundle of cloth he’s holding. “Why not?” he asks.

“Because it’s ninety-two degrees out. You’ll sweat like a pig. C’mon, give it here.”

“No, Dad, I don’t – ” Stiles’ voice cracks. “I’m wearing it.”

“Stiles,” Tom says, “Derek’s seen your scars. Derek saw you looking a hell of a lot worse than you do now. Remember? He’s the one who carried you to the car that day. Who helped me get you inside when we got home.”

Stiles looks away. “I’m supposed to be better now,” he says, aware that it’s a pathetic argument.

“You are better now,” his father says. “And that’s why you don’t need this sweatshirt.”

Stiles thinks about this. “I’m pretty sure there’s a logical fallacy in there somewhere, but I haven’t quite found it yet so, okay, I guess.” He huffs out another breath as he packs away the chicken pot pie and the chocolate torte (‘yes, Dad, I’m taking the entire thing to Derek’s, you don’t get any, it’s full of butter and grease and things that aren’t good for you’). Then he calls Derek and says he’s leaving. Derek just says okay. Stiles gets behind the wheel of the Jeep while his father stands in the drive. He can do this. He outsmarted, outwaited, and outmaneuvered Peter Hale. He can drive three and a half miles from one perfectly safe place to another.

“Call me when you get there,” Tom says, and Stiles can tell from the lines in his father’s forehead that he’s anxious, too. He won’t say it, never will at times like this, because he’s always pushing Stiles. Which Stiles appreciates . . . usually. So he nods and backs out of the driveway and watches his father in the rearview mirror until he turns a corner and he’s out of sight.

Panic seizes him, instant and intense, and he almost breaks right then, almost turns around and drives back home. But he grits his teeth and forges onwards, thinking of the look on his father’s face if he gave up.

He’s hyperventilating a little, but he makes it to Derek’s without issue. The alpha is standing outside the building, and his face changes from its usual glower to one of relief and even happiness as he sees the Jeep. “You look happy to see me,” Stiles says. He feels a little dizzy. He doesn’t even hear Derek’s surly reply because the world is fading in and out with the beat of his pulse. “Oh God I think I might pass out,” he says.

Derek gets him around the waist and makes him sit down right there on the pavement, has him put his head down and talks him through taking deep breaths. The world steadies out a few minutes later. “Okay, wow, embarrassing,” he says.

Derek just gives him a look and says, “Do you need me to get a paper bag for you to breathe into?”

“How about a paper bag to put over your face, jerk?” Stiles asks, and it’s not one of his better comebacks, but at least it is a comeback.

“You’d better call your dad,” Derek says. “He’s probably climbing the walls.”

Stiles nods and swallows, then takes out his phone and dials his dad, who picks up before the first ring has even finished. “Hey, it’s me, I made it here. Whole and undamaged, even.”

“Derek’s there with you?” Tom asks, unable to help it.

Derek leans over so the sheriff will hear his voice, just so Tom will know Stiles isn’t somehow being forced to make the phone call. “I’m here. He’s fine.”

Tom’s voice is a few notches higher than normal, and Stiles feels unjustly gratified that he’s not the only one having a freakout. “Okay, good. Call me before you leave for home, okay?”

“I’ll call and check in,” Stiles says, “like, every hour.”

“Stiles, you don’t have to – you know, every half hour would be better.”

“Every half hour it is,” Stiles says. “Later,” he adds, and hangs up before he can start saying things like ‘I love you’ or anything else that would sound like a ‘goodbye just in case’. He tucks the phone away, takes another deep breath for good measure, and says, “So are you gonna show me your loft or what?”

Derek just gives another huff, and then waves for him to follow him up the stairs. The loft is gorgeous, a lot of exposed brick, large windows, and a spiral staircase. The light floods in, giving the entire place a warm glow which is completely at odds with Derek’s set scowl. “Well?” he asks.

“It’s amazing,” Stiles says, and Derek’s face melts into that charming smile he has. “I’d say I want to come live here, but, uh, the umbilical cord to home is a little tight at the moment. But still. Nice.” He realizes suddenly that while fending off the panic attack, he had left the food in the Jeep. “Shit. The food is still downstairs.”

“I’ll go get it. Make yourself at home.” Derek ducks out of the loft and heads down the stairs. Stiles has no idea what that would actually entail, so he just stands there and watches out the window for a few minutes. The loft has a good view of the city. He can see traffic snaking through downtown. It’s strangely soothing. When Derek returns a few minutes later, he’s still just standing there watching it. “Is this that flourless chocolate torte you make?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, jolting a little. “So I hope you have milk. Or whipped cream. Or . . .” He can’t bring himself to suggest ice cream.

“Milk, yeah,” Derek says, setting the dishes down. He shifts back and forth and the uncomfortable silence sits for a long minute as each of them realizes that this is the first time they’ve been alone in a room together since Stiles’ return. “Look, Stiles, I – ”

“Derek, I don’t – ” Stiles says simultaneously. They both break off. Derek gives a nervous laugh. Stiles tries to force his fists to unclench. “You first.”

Derek clears his throat. For a minute it looks like he might argue, but then he gives in. “I don’t want you to . . . force yourself,” he says stiffly. “To be here. Or to see me. If you don’t want to.”

Stiles blinks at him, forehead creasing into a frown. “Uh . . . wait, what?”

Derek looks away. “I know that it can’t be easy for you, remembering what I did – ”

“What you did?” Stiles asks. “Are you talking about the part where you saved my life, or the part where you killed the psycho who had kidnapped me and threatened everyone I love and made my life hell?”

“Uh . . .” Now it’s Derek who’s frowning faintly. “Yes?”

Stiles laughs a little. It’s a weak sound, but it’s there. “Okay, look,” he says. “What I was going to say was that I don’t want to keep feeling awkward around you, so I need to . . . I’m not angry at you for killing Peter, okay? Peter was horrible. I wanted to get away from him so bad, even when he had brainwashed me into not realizing it. And I’m really sorry you saw me cry for him. Because I . . . fuck, I don’t know. I wasn’t sane. There was just . . . it was too much. But I’m not angry or anything. So please stop this, this avoiding me thing you’re doing. I mean, I know, it’s not like we were best buddies before or anything, but . . . I’m glad you killed Peter and I’m going to shut up now.”

“Oh.” Derek relaxes a little. “Okay.”

“And more than that, my dad has told me about how much you helped while he was gone.” Stiles holds up a hand as Derek automatically starts to deflect. “Nope, don’t even try. You were visiting car places in Los Angeles for three days trying to figure out where the nurse had bought that car. That, that is an impressive amount of leg work. And . . . I’m glad my dad wasn’t in it alone.” Stiles folds his arms over his stomach, hugging himself slightly. “He doesn’t talk about it, which is very hypocritical of him by the way, but I know it was really hard for him while I was gone. I’m glad you were there to help out and just . . . I’m glad you were there.” Stiles wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. “Aw, Christ. I feel like a leaky faucet these days.”

“Can I – ” Derek moves forward a little awkwardly. He’s seen both Tom and Scott offer hugs when Stiles gets weepy, but he’s not sure that the gesture would be welcome from him. But Stiles leans into the circle of his arms, letting out hitching little breaths while he struggles to regain his composure. Derek pats him on the back, and it’s so clumsy and uncomfortable that it doesn’t remind Stiles of Peter at all.

He pulls away a minute later, still wiping at his eyes. “Kleenex?” he asks.

Derek shakes his head. “Werewolves don’t get sick, so . . .”

“Or jerk off, I guess.” Stiles heads into the kitchen and finds a paper towel instead, listening to Derek sputter behind him. “Can I get something to drink?”

“Go ahead,” Derek says, so Stiles opens the refrigerator and comes out with a can of soda.

“So what’s upstairs?” Stiles asks.

“Nothing, yet,” Derek says with a shrug. “I think that’s where we’re probably going to spend the full moons. Anything I put up there would get ruined.”

“Right, ‘cause, you have a pack now,” Stiles says, taking a gulp of the soda. “Anyone I know? Scott says they’re from Beacon Hills High. Which, what the hell, dude. Didn’t anyone ever tell you to pick on someone your own size?”

“Isaac and Boyd are both taller than me.”

“Isaac . . .?”

“Lahey. And Vernon Boyd.” Derek waits to see if this makes an impact, but there’s nothing beyond vague recognition. This doesn’t surprise him. By their own admission, Isaac and Boyd were both loners. “And Erica Reyes.”

“Oh, the epileptic girl,” Stiles says.

“She hates that, you know,” Derek says. “That whenever anyone hears her name, they immediately go ‘oh, the epileptic girl’.”

“Well, you can tell her that I know how she feels, since from now on I’m going to be known as ‘oh, the kidnapping victim’,” Stiles says dryly. “But okay. And hey, she’s probably not epileptic anymore, right?” He twists the soda can in his hand as Derek nods to confirm this. “Hey, would . . . would being turned . . . would that fix my ADD?”

Derek frowns a little. “I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s ever really come up.”

“Peter said it would. That . . . that’s why I ask. I mean, not that it made me want to say yes. I just . . . sometimes I want to write down everything he ever said and go through and mark it all down as lies or truth, just . . . just so I can draw the lines and I know . . . I’m sorry. I don’t think I’m making much sense.”

Now Derek glowers at him. “Shit. Do you realize what you just did?”

“No . . .?” Stiles asks nervously.

“Every time you apologize, you’re supposed to get fifteen minutes of continuous cuddling,” Derek reminds him.

“What! Shit, no, that was my dad, you don’t have to – ”

“Shut up, we’re snuggling,” Derek says, dragging him over to the sofa. He plunks down in the center and pulls Stiles down onto his lap. Stiles protests, but he’s laughing, a real laugh, without even realizing it. Derek wraps an arm around his waist and presses his cheek into Stiles’ hair. Then he checks his watch and says, ostentatiously, “Let the record show it is three seventeen.”

“You know, some people might think it’s not a good idea to aggressively snuggle the kidnapping victim – ”

“Do you want me to let you go?” Derek asks.

“That’s not what I said, shut up.” Stiles shakes his head. “You know, I remember when I first met you, and the only facial expressions you had were ‘dour’ and ‘terrifyingly dour’. Who’s this dude showing up all of a sudden?”

Derek’s quiet for a minute. Then he says, “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Oh, okay. That explains everything.” Another pause. “No, wait. I’m still confused.”

Derek sighs. “Are you going to make me spell it out for you?”

“Yes,” Stiles says. “Yes, I am.” He sounds almost smug.

“I missed you. Okay?” Derek sounds disgruntled. “You know that you’re the first actual friend I’d had in years, right? I wasn’t exactly looking around for people to hang out with while running from hunters after my entire family was killed. I couldn’t get close to people who didn’t know my secrets, because I had to keep quiet. And most people who did know wanted nothing to do with me, because they were terrified of me. You’re the first person I’ve ever met to admit that you were afraid of me but then still treat me like a person. Jesus, Stiles. Do you know how many other people would have dared try that little stunt you did, making me change my shirt for that gay kid? Or the, the way you straightened my jacket after you threatened to call your dad to shoot me? Uh, zero. That’s how many. And then, three days later, you were just – gone. You just vanished into the wind and I was alone again.”

Stiles is sitting with his jaw slightly ajar. “Wow, I, uhm,” he says. “I didn’t . . . think of it that way. I’m sor – fuck! No! I’m not fucking sorry, everything is Peter’s fault.”

Derek lets out a startled huff of laughter. “Yeah,” he says. Then he shakes his head a little, sobering. “Yeah,” he says again, quieter.

Stiles leans against him. “What was he like? I mean . . . he wasn’t always . . .”

“Peter was never really . . . squishy-friendly,” Derek says. “He was my uncle and I loved him, but he was always a little on the quiet side. Smart as hell, which . . . you know. He had kind of a dark sense of humor. Sometimes he would tell a joke or make a comment, and my dad would laugh but my mom would get mad and say ‘not in front of the kids’ or something like that. I usually didn’t get it. But no. He wasn’t . . . he wasn’t horrible. If that makes sense.”

“None of it makes sense,” Stiles says. “That’s the problem. I just . . . keep trying to work out why. And my brain just runs itself in circles because I can’t get any traction.”

“I wish I could help there.” Derek shakes his head a little. His hand idly rubs at Stiles’ back between his shoulder blades. “I think – ”

“Sorry, I just – could you not?” Stiles asks, trying not to squirm out from underneath Derek’s touch. “I just, don’t . . . touch me like that.”

Derek blinks at him, and then there’s a momentary flash of comprehension on his face, followed by grief, before he carefully counsels his expression back into neutrality. “Yeah. Okay.” He wraps his arm around Stiles’ waist instead. “Okay?”

“Yeah. I – ” Stiles winces and cuts off the apology. “It’s not just the stuff he did to me, though. I mean, I think we can both agree that if he had just hunted down the people responsible for the fire and killed them, we both could’ve maybe been on board with that a little. Or at least we could have understood it. But then, afterwards – Dad’s theory is that he was paying back me and Scott for messing up his plans. But why the fuck would he have cared? He got what he wanted. Okay, maybe everything didn’t go exactly to the letter, but the people he wanted dead were dead. He won. Why . . .” Stiles is struggling now, his composure dissolving. “I don’t understand what he did to me. And I can’t stop trying to understand. I pick at it, like I used to pick at the scabs from where I hurt myself.”

“It wasn’t just you, though,” Derek says quietly. “It’s the other things he was doing. Dealing with the cartels, drugs and human trafficking, it wasn’t . . . it wasn’t Peter. It wasn’t my uncle. But I wonder if maybe he just wanted to hurt the world as badly as it had hurt him. If any target would have been acceptable, and you were just . . . there.”

“Maybe,” Stiles says. “And I, I know I need to let it go, that dwelling on it doesn’t help and I’ll probably never have the answers. But it’s like, if I knew why, I could stop . . . justifying. Stop that part of me inside that keeps trying to find a way to blame myself.”

“Well,” Derek says, “when I . . . when I work out why Kate Argent did what she did . . . maybe I can help you work out why Peter did what he did.”

“Yeah.” Stiles leans against him more heavily, suddenly exhausted. “Did Peter have a wife?”

“Yeah. He’d been married about two years at the time of the fire.”

“What was her name?”

“Olivia. We all called her Aunt Livvy.”

“That . . . that was true, then.” Stiles gives a little hitching breath. “I guess I’ll work under the assumption that he only lied when he had to.”

“Reasonable enough.”

“It’s just I . . .” Stiles trails off. “Hey, can I tell you something that . . . I can’t tell anyone else? I want to tell my dad, but I can’t.”

Derek frowns slightly, but says, “Sure.”

“I don’t . . . I don’t remember a lot. Like, every time I start to freak out, my dad is always talking about how strong I was, how I never gave up, how I was always trying to get away from him. But I wasn’t. There are these . . . these huge blank patches in my memory. After those two cops were killed in Arizona. The phone call to my dad, the message I left for him in Yuma . . . I remember doing it, but I don’t remember planning it. I must have, right? Because if I had done it on the fly, it wouldn’t have worked. I did those stupid word search books for months, letting Peter look over my shoulder and ‘help’ me find words, in preparation for the day he would no longer care about what I was doing with them. I put the plate number and his driver’s license number in that book and I don’t even remember how I got them, without him seeing what I was doing.

“It’s like, Dad thinks I let Peter think he had broken me so he would gradually let his guard down. But Peter did break me. I . . . I didn’t even want to try to escape for a long time after what happened to those cops. I really, really tried to be his son, because I . . . that was how I could survive. And I guess there was this subconscious part of me that was waiting for my moment, but I feel weird taking credit for that because . . . it feels like it wasn’t me. Jesus. I think I’m not making sense again.”

“Well . . . you’re making sense,” Derek says, though he sounds a little dubious, “but I think you’re over-thinking it. I think maybe that subconscious part of you knew you were broken . . . and just let it be that way. Because you knew that was how you could get away.”

“I just wish I could remember,” Stiles says.

“Maybe it’s better that you don’t,” Derek replies quietly.

“Ugh. Now you sound like my therapist.”

“Sorry,” Derek says. “I can see why it would bother you.”

“It’s like I was two people, right? And the person I want to be, that’s the person I can’t remember anymore. Like, he was there, under the surface, doing all this amazing shit, and the person I feel like I am can’t even remember it.”

“That’s because the amazing person let that other guy be in charge for a while,” Derek says, “because he knew the other guy would make Peter think what Peter needed to think.”

Stiles purses his lips. “Yeah,” he finally says. “I guess so.”

Derek glances at his watch. “Your fifteen minutes are up. Just so you know.”

“I’d rather stay here.”

“Me too.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Stiles spends about two hours at Derek’s loft. They eat chicken pot pie and watch a movie. When it’s time to go home, Stiles feels anxious and fidgety. “I know, I know I’m supposed to be like a badass today, going out on my own and shit, but, but will you drive home with me? I just . . . feel like I’ve done enough for today. You know?”

Derek hesitates. “How about I follow you in my car?”

It’s a compromise, and Stiles isn’t in love with it or anything, but it’ll work. He goes downstairs and gets in his Jeep.

Derek leans against the window. “Do you . . . want to come over Saturday? The pack is going to be here. You could hang out.”

“Yeah, I . . . I could do that. Okay.”

“Okay.” Derek gives him that smile again, and then heads for his Camaro. His headlights are in Stiles’ rearview the entire way, but he doesn’t get out of his car once they’re back at the Stilinski house. He just watches from the window as Stiles meets his father at the door.

It’s going to be a bad night, and Stiles isn’t looking forward to it. It had taken over a month before he’d been able to sleep without his father in the same bed. The therapist had suggested a gradual shift, so they had put his double bed in the garage and moved in two twin beds instead, so Tom could sleep in the same room without being in the same bed. That way, he was right there when the nightmares started.

On bad nights, he often crawls into bed with his father anyway, and nobody says a word about it in the morning. Stiles wants to apologize, sometimes he begs his father to let him apologize, but all Tom will ever say at times like that is, “Nothing about this is your fault.” He won’t give an inch on it. Stiles thinks he should be stronger, he wants to be stronger, but wishing it won’t make it so. So he just curls up with his father and then writes ‘I’m sorry’ in the steam the next day and accepts whatever ‘punishment’ his father decides to dish out for the apology.

He hates it when he wakes up and can’t get back to sleep, because he feels compelled to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. When that happened with Peter, he sometimes asked to get up – in preparation for the time he needed to, he thinks, although it’s not like he planned it consciously – and work on his puzzles. But he hates the puzzles now, hates them with a passion. If he never sees another word search as long as he lives, he’ll be happy. But getting up on his own with nothing to do is terrifying in another way, so he lies there and stares and wishes his father was awake. Undoubtedly, Tom would kick his ass if he knew, which is why Stiles doesn’t tell him.

If it’s after a nightmare, and Tom’s awake, they’ll go downstairs and eat a midnight snack or watch some television. But lately what Stiles has taken to doing in the middle of the night is reading and re-reading a worn notebook titled ‘True Facts for Stiles’. Allison and Lydia had made it for him. There’s one piece of random trivia entered for every day that he was missing.

Allison had started it, since she knows Stiles likes that kind of stuff, and later had shared it with Lydia. It had been their way of remembering him while he was gone, and the mere fact that it exists had touched him so deeply that he had nearly cried when they had given it to him. Sometimes the fact are things they knew he was interested in – February has a run of lacrosse statistics – or things that they thought would find interesting – March has a lot of Allison’s handwriting as she had been learning more about werewolves from her father. Sometimes Lydia writes quiet, private observations about herself, sharing little bits of herself with Stiles that nobody else knows, like, ‘I was born smart so it never seemed like a big deal. I wanted to be popular because that’s something that took effort.’ or ‘I’m glad Jackson broke up with me. Looking back on it, I can see that we were never good for each other.’ Sometimes they’re about his absence. ‘The lacrosse team dedicated their last victory to you. Or, well, to ‘Bilinski’,’ is Lydia’s entry at the end of the season. ‘Scott wanted to correct Finstock but then he realized that it wouldn’t be Finstock if he was getting your name right, so he let it go.’ ‘Scott says today is your seventeenth birthday, so I knew he would be upset all day,’ Allison’s written in April. ‘But the school held a vigil for you. There were candles and stuff. Even Jackson went. Lydia sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and it was really pretty. Everyone here really wants you to come home.’

Two hundred and twenty-three facts. One for every day he was missing.

He has the entire thing memorized by now, but he loves to read it, to sit there in the dim light and hold this evidence in his hands that even while Stiles was being Joshua, there were still people keeping his memory alive.

Of course, it’s not always him that has trouble sleeping. He knows that his father has bad dreams, too. He doesn’t flail or wake up screaming the way Stiles does. But sometimes, when he’s lying there awake in the middle of the night, he’ll see his father get restless, shift uncomfortably, make little noises in his sleep. He knows that sometimes, when he’s asleep, his father will get up just to make sure he’s still there. Sometimes it wakes him up. Once he woke to his father crying by his bed, just watching him sleep.

He never knows what to say at times like that. As the days have turned into weeks and he starts to put himself back together, he’s starting to recognize that the length of his captivity, if nothing else, was not his fault. Would it have been possible to get free sooner? Maybe. He doesn’t know. Things are blurry so he can’t be sure of the timing, can’t remember how long he spent in that quiet, desperate compliance. But he thinks there was some part of him – that buried, deep-down part that never stopped trying to get away – that had the right instinct. Some part of him recognized when the time was right, when Peter would believe he was really saying goodbye to his father, not just trying to set up another message.

So he stops apologizing for being gone so long, but he hates seeing the way his father missed him, the way he blames himself for what happened to Stiles. He lays there in the night and listens to his father mumble broken apologies for not having found him sooner.

Stiles doesn’t say anything, doesn’t let on that he’s awake. But the next day he writes in the steam, ‘If I can’t say sorry, neither can you. I always knew you would find me.’

For the first time since his rescue, then, Tom cries where Stiles can see him, knowing that he’s awake and watching, and Stiles wraps his arms around his father’s shoulder and just holds him as tight as he can, like he’s never going to let go.

He’s glad that his father is back at work now, that his father is recovering in his own way, and so during that last week before school starts he gets Scott to go down to the station with him a few times to bring his father lunch. He’s been making him lunches anyway, but Tom sometimes ‘forgets’ them and then has to eat pizza or cheeseburgers instead.

The first time Stiles shows up at the station, Scott actually has to get between him and several of the officers, who are trying to swarm him with hugs. Stiles freaks out a little and nearly trips over his own feet trying to back up. Fortunately, the employees quickly realize how they’re frightening him, and back off. Stiles presents his father with the lunch he brought – a sandwich made with low-sodium ham, whole grain bread, and several layers of vegetables – and gets an annoyed look, then a fierce hug.

After school starts, Scott can’t bring him anymore. It takes him several false starts, but finally, he manages to go on his own. The station, of course, is only a few miles from home. It’s no worse than going to Derek’s. He gets there okay, but then has a panic attack in the lobby, and the worst part is that Tom isn’t even there; he’s out investigating a robbery. Sue sits with him for a while, letting him shake and gasp and try to put himself back together, until Tom shows up and takes him home. But it does get better.

It’s nearly a month later before he actually manages to meet Derek’s pack, and it’s not entirely his fault. The intended Saturday night pack meeting is interrupted by a rival pack showing up in town, and absolutely nobody is interested in Stiles being in any sort of danger. Stiles is somewhat surprised that people don’t actively lock him in a bunker. As it is, Derek just tells him that ‘something’s come up’, and although he suspects werewolf shenanigans are the culprit, he shows a completely un-Stiles-like lack of interest in what’s going on.

By the time the pack gets together again, Stiles has talked himself out of meeting them. It’s funny, because intellectually he thinks the people he wouldn’t want to see were the ones he had known before the kidnapping, who would see how he had changed. But he has no problem hanging out with Scott and Allison, Lydia, Derek, his father’s friends. He just doesn’t want to meet someone new. Doesn’t want to introduce this person he is now into the world like it’s him, like people should meet him and get used to him. People he knew beforehand will know that this is just temporary, just until he gets himself put back together.

When he finally breaks down and admits this to Derek, the alpha just gives him a look and then an amused snort. “Like they didn’t know who you were beforehand,” he says. “They may have been the quiet type, but you weren’t. Everyone in Beacon Hills knew you.”

“Yeah, but I,” Stiles says, squirming.

Derek just gives him an unimpressed look. “Either you come to my loft tomorrow at seven,” he says, “or I’ll just bring them all over to your place. Take your pick.”

“Asshole,” Stiles says, without venom.

So he goes, and he has his father drive him over, because he only needs so much excitement in one day, and besides, if he has his Jeep, there’s too good a chance he’ll decide to escape. He brings pecan cookies, because those are always a good way to introduce oneself. At least he looks better, now, almost back to normal, although he’s still working on putting the weight back on. His hair is growing back; with the buzz cut, it’s almost impossible to see the places where he pulled so much of it out. He’s wearing one of his long-sleeved plaid shirts because he doesn’t care what his father thinks, he doesn’t need people meeting him for the first time to see his scars.

Derek shows him into the loft and the others are already there. Boyd and Isaac are arm-wrestling while Erica lounges on the sofa with her feet up, reading a fashion magazine. “This is Stiles,” Derek says. “The general idea for tonight is to treat him like a kitten. So gently. But not too gently.”

“Are you fucking serious, asshole,” Stiles says, giving Derek a look.

“Do I get to rub his tummy?” Erica asks, tossing the magazine and getting off a the couch in a move that is nothing but sensual.

Without even thinking, Stiles replies, “Honey, you can rub any part of me that strikes your fancy.”

Erica smirks at him. “I like him. Do we get to keep him?”

Stiles flinches despite himself. Derek’s hand on his shoulder keeps him from retreating altogether, and he says firmly, “Nobody will be keeping Stiles.”

“I, uh, I did bring cookies, though,” Stiles says, setting them down on the table. “Have at.” Boyd and Isaac immediately abandon what they’re doing to come check out the offering. Stiles cautiously says hello to them, and they say hello back. He’s feeling like he’s handling this, really. “So do you guys just hang out? Or what? Are there, like, wolf exercises I should be preparing for?”

“Sometimes Derek makes us work out or spar or whatever,” Boyd says, “but a lot of the time we just hang. Watch movies and shit.”

“Okay.” Stiles relaxes a little. He thinks he can handle that. He gets himself a soda and then Erica asks how he likes the online high school because to her it sounds like a cake walk and maybe she can get her parents to enroll her, too. They order pizza and Isaac is talking with Boyd about handling the wolfing out, something about anchors, and a few of the things he says make Stiles quirk an internal eyebrow and think maybe he should mention them to his father. It sounds as though Isaac’s father is not very nice to Isaac, and a casual inspection by child protective services might be in order.

Derek sits quietly, watching them interact but not saying much. Then they start talking about tattoos because Erica’s always wanted one, and Derek tells them how he got his. “What, how does that even work,” Stiles says, startled out of the submissive personality he’s been settling into.

“I don’t know,” Derek says, giving him that don’t-question-the-alpha glare. “It just does.”

“But that’s not what burns do, they don’t make black lines on your skin – ”

“Stiles,” Derek says with a sigh, “maybe not to people, but – ”

“Uh, not to werewolves either, it’s not like Peter was a walking tattoo, no, he was like a crispy critter, and I – ” Stiles feels the pizza rise in his throat. He has to take a minute to hold it down and not think about Peter. “Besides, how would you get fine detail with a frickin’ blowtorch, man, nothing about that makes sense.”

“Did I make this up?” Derek asks.

Stiles considers. “Well, you could be making it up, it’s not like we’ve had a demonstration. Is this like some alpha thing? Like you tell us crazy werewolf shit and see what we’ll believe? Hey, did you know that if you say the word ‘gullible’ really slowly, it sounds like ‘oranges’?”

Derek just gives one of those epic eyerolls and then turns back to the others and continues telling them about it. Stiles doesn’t say anything else, but adds another note in his ‘glad I’m not a werewolf’ column, although it’s not like he’s ever wanted a tattoo. The idea of it has always made him a little queasy, to be honest.

“Forget all this, Star Trek is on,” Isaac says.

“Bleeearrrgh,” is Erica’s opinion, but she doesn’t argue as Isaac turns the television on, flopping across Boyd’s lap instead. Stiles laughs a little, and then forty-five seconds later both he and Isaac have identified the episode and gotten into a heated debate over which is better, original or next generation, and Isaac admits a soft spot for Deep Space 9, which Stiles says is fair because Janeway is his favorite captain, so clearly they both have their issues. Erica looks like she can’t believe she’s hearing this, and Derek is just shaking his head at all of them and eating Stiles’ cookies.

Stiles is basically relaxed although he keeps his phone in his lap so he can periodically text his father, who still gets antsy about him going out on his own, even if he’s going to be with Derek or Scott. He finishes his soda and gets up to refill his glass. Erica immediately sprawls across the space he just left, cozying up to Derek, who Stiles had been leaning against.

“I’m borrrrrrred,” she complains.

“The episode will be over in like five minutes, deal with it,” Derek says.

Erica makes a face at him, then leans up to give his ear a quick nip. He snarls at her, eyes flaring crimson although he doesn’t really shift. It’s done without real anger, just a natural response to her playful teasing, a reminder of who the alpha is. Across the room, Derek hears the crash of shattering glass. He looks over to see Stiles standing in the doorway of the kitchen, having dropped the glass of soda he was holding.

“Shit,” Derek says, getting off the sofa. “Stiles, are you – ”

“No, don’t!” Stiles cries out, flinching away. He turns and runs right through the broken glass, heading towards the spiral staircase as the quickest method of escape, since the pack is between him and the door out of the apartment.

“Fuck,” Derek bites out. He turns to the three teenagers and snaps, “Out, all of you. It’s not your fault and I’m not angry, but out. We’ll talk later.”

By the time he’s done that, Stiles is up the stairs and out of sight. Derek sniffs and smells blood, and swears again. He climbs the stairs slowly, cautiously, and then looks around the empty upper floor. There aren’t many walls in the loft; it’s basically one large room. He spots Stiles instantly, huddled in a corner where part of the wall has exposed, pressed into a little niche like Derek might not be able to see him there. He’s hugging his knees to his chest, face pressed into his thighs, rocking himself back and forth.

“Stiles?” Derek says, not approaching. When Stiles doesn’t respond, doesn’t even look up, he says, “Stiles, we need to clean up your feet. I think you stepped in the broken glass.”

“Oh, God, I’m sorry,” Stiles blurts out. “I, I’ll clean it up, I’m so sorry.” He gets to his hands and knees and starts crawling back towards the staircase.

“Stiles!” Derek isn’t sure what to do, but he doesn’t want Stiles trying to get up and walk on his injured feet, so he intercepts him, grabbing him by the shoulders. “Stiles, you don’t need to do that. It’s not – it’s me, it’s Derek. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have shifted in front of you, I should have known that – it’s me. You’re safe here, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Stiles looks up at Derek, his entire body shaking, breath coming fast and sharp. “D-Derek?” he says, in a voice a few notes higher than usual.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Derek says, not sure what else he can say.

“I – I thought – I thought I saw – ”

“I know, I know, but it was just me,” Derek says. “I’m an alpha now, remember?”

Stiles collapses in on himself, curling up on the floor and letting out a quiet sob of relief. Derek kneels down next to him and takes his hands, lets Stiles squeeze them so hard that it hurts. He cries until Derek is exhausted just from watching him.

“Every . . . every day, I live with it,” Stiles finally chokes out. “That fear that this is all one more lie. That he’s letting me have a few months of peace before he comes back for me. I know he’s dead, I watched him die. But I wake up with it every fucking night. Dreams where he comes back for me. I can’t – I just fucking can’t sometimes. It, it gets better, in the beginning I could barely even let my dad out of my sight for thirty seconds because I was so afraid of what Peter would do to him. He used to tell me about it. In detail. Graphic fucking detail. The things he would do to my father if he came to get me. And then I sent him a message anyway. Jesus fucking Christ, what kind of selfish bastard am I, anyway?”

“You are exactly the kind of selfish bastard that knew your father would rather risk everything than lose you,” Derek says, giving his hands another squeeze. “I watched him while you were gone. I know what he went through. You two are so much alike. You knew that.”

Stiles pulls a hand free to wipe at his eyes. “Everyone tells me it’ll get better. That I just have to give it time. I, my therapist has put me in touch with some other people who went through similar stuff. They say the same things, and I guess I have to believe them, since they’ve been there. I just . . . sometimes I’m just so tired of having to keep myself pulled together all the time.”

“You can fall apart whenever you need to,” Derek tells him. He looks away and says, “Laura used to tell me that. That if I didn’t feel like I could be strong all the time, it was okay to just . . . fall apart and put myself back together each time. It’s okay to let the people around you see that you’re hurting.”

“Yeah. I guess.” Stiles finally manages to sit up, wiping his eyes again with a trembling hand. “I . . . I want you to shift, okay? So I can see it. Now that I’m, you know, braced for it.”

Derek hesitates. “You sure?”

“Yeah. I can’t . . . expect you to never shift when I’m around, you know?” He huffs out a breath. “I’m good, I’m ready, do it.”

Derek nods. He’s always had good control over the shift, ever since he was a boy, and so he takes care to do it slowly, letting the red bleed into his eyes instead of a sudden flare, letting the claws extend a millimeter at a time. He can hear Stiles’ heart thumping in his chest, and it’s fast, but not panic-fast like it was earlier. It takes him almost thirty seconds to shift entirely, and then his gaze flickers up to Stiles to gauge his reaction.

Stiles reaches out with a hand that trembles minutely and presses it against Derek’s cheek, running his fingers over his brow and then down one of the pointed ears. “Oh my God, I forgot how ridiculous the sideburns were.”

Derek lets out a snort of laughter despite himself. “Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of them.”

After a moment, Stiles lets his hands drop. “Thanks,” he says.

“Yeah,” Derek replies. “No problem.”

For a moment it looks like Stiles might say something else, but then he looks down and says, “Shit. My feet.”

“Yeah, they’re still bleeding some,” Derek says, carefully not betraying how badly the smell of Stiles’ blood and pain has been driving him to distraction while he forced himself to wait until Stiles had pulled himself together. “I’ve got some stuff downstairs.” He stands up and scoops Stiles up without asking, carrying him down the spiral staircase while he grumbles protests. He sets him down on the sofa and has him put his feet on the coffee table, then goes in search of disinfectant, gauze, and tweezers.

“Okay, explain this to me,” Stiles says. “Last time I was here, you didn’t even have tissues. Now all of a sudden you have a first aid kit?”

Derek glances at him. “Remember a few weeks ago, when you were going to come over but then stuff came up? Wasn’t a big deal, rival pack in town,” he adds, waving this aside, “but Allison’s leg got hurt and Scott, well, he was annoyed that I didn’t have the kind of stuff we needed, so. He left a bunch of shit here just in case.”

“Sounds like Sco – ow ow motherfucker ow!” Stiles protests as Derek uses the tweezers to remove a shard of glass. “Warn me next time, you jerk.”

“Three to go,” Derek says, without remorse.

“Ugh, you are the literal worst,” Stiles says, hands flexing into one of the sofa’s pillows as Derek pulls out the rest of the glass and then swabs each of the wounds with antiseptic. By the time he’s done and the wounds are bandaged, Stiles is looking a little dazed, almost mellow. “Wowwwww,” he says. “I forgot how nice the endorphin rush was.” He lets out a content little sigh and lets his head flop back into the cushions. “I should walk through glass more often.”

Derek looks at the pieces of bloody glass. “You . . . you shouldn’t,” he says awkwardly. “I mean, you shouldn’t hurt yourself.”

“Ffffff,” Stiles replies, blowing air at the ceiling. “Yeah, I know. I don’t. I mean, usually, I don’t. It upsets my dad. Sometimes I still do. But I’ve been working on it. With my therapist. I have all these coping mechanisms. Like, a list of them that I have to go through when I’m upset, instead of hurting myself. But still. Might as well enjoy it when it happens by accident, am I right?”

Derek shakes his head a little. He makes a mental note to maybe mention this to Tom, but he doesn’t think he’ll get anywhere with Stiles on the subject, and it’s not like he knows what to say. “I just wish there was more I could do to help,” he finally says. “I mean, if . . . if it would make you feel better, I would offer you a place in the pack, but I can’t help but think, after what Peter did, that you wouldn’t want anything to do with all of this.”

Stiles goes still. “You . . . you would do that?”

Derek glances up at him, a little surprised by the response. Then he nods. “Yeah. The bigger the pack, the stronger the pack. Safety in numbers.” Since Stiles hasn’t run screaming, he adds, “You wouldn’t have to be a wolf. Lots of packs have human members. I know that Peter . . . threatened to turn you, but. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Peter never actually threatened to turn me,” Stiles says. “He offered to turn me.” His mouth twists on the words. “He called the bite a gift. Said his choosing me was an honor. But he made it clear that he wouldn’t do it until I said I wanted it. He wanted . . . he wanted control over me. That was the one thing I managed to . . . to keep pure. I never let him turn me.”

Derek lets out a breath, forces back the familiar rage. “You . . . should take some time to think about this. Talk to your father. Hell, talk to Scott – you know he’ll be pissed if you don’t. But, I just. If you were in my pack, I would protect you. Always. I wouldn’t let anyone touch you. I mean, I wouldn’t anyway, but the pack – it would give you a connection to me that couldn’t be severed.”

Stiles gives a little nod, then says, “Thanks, though. I mean, even if I decide not to. The offer. It . . . it means a lot to me.”

At this, Derek looks away, his face flushing a little with embarrassment. He stands up abruptly and says, “C’mon, I’ll take you home.”

“Yeah, okay.” Stiles lets Derek carry him even though he thinks he would be able to walk, because it’s easier and he knows Derek will bitch if he tries to stop him. He even waits in the car so Derek can carry him inside.

“What the hell?” Tom asks, looking up from the baseball game he’s watching as they come inside. “You okay?”

“Stepped in some glass, I’m totally cool, I’ve got Tall, Dark, and Broody to chauffer me around,” Stiles says. “Uh, apparently he plans on taking me directly up to my room, g’night Dad,” he adds over his shoulder, as Derek heads up the stairs. “Dude, do you even know how many inappropriate comments I want to make right now, seriously, you are carrying me to my bed.”

Derek just scowls on him. “You shouldn’t be walking on those,” he says, and dumps Stiles onto his bed without ceremony. “Anyway, it’s late.”

“And you want to tell my father about my endorphin habit without me dropping any eaves? Sure, okay,” Stiles says. “You just go do that.”

Derek hesitates. “Do you not want me to talk to him?”

“No. You should talk to him. You two have bonded. It’s all good.” Stiles closes his eyes. “I’m just gonna sleep. Long day. Tell the others I’ll come by and hang out again soon, okay?”

“Okay.” Derek turns out the light, but leaves the door open. “Good night, Stiles.”

Stiles lays there and stares at the ceiling. He can hear the low rumble of his father and Derek talking on the first floor. Then his father shouts, “Oh, nice!” and he realizes they’re not even talking about him; they’re watching the game. It makes him smile a little. He rolls onto his side and drifts into a doze.

Some time later, he wakes up when his father comes into the room. He’s already showered and is wearing a T-shirt and flannel pants. Rather than getting into bed, he sits on the edge of Stiles’ bed, smoothing a hand over his hair, just watching him for a minute. Stiles opens his eyes and says, “Hey.”

“Hey, yourself,” Tom says. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Stiles tugs on his father’s wrist, the usual way he signifies that he wants his father to sleep in the same bed with him.

Since Tom knows he had a long day, and had gone way outside his comfort zone, he gets under the blankets without argument. “You did good today, kid.”

“Mm.” Stiles closes his eyes. “I feel good. I feel . . . very brave right now.”

“You’re very brave every day,” Tom tells him.

“I know,” Stiles says, and lets out a content sigh. “I just usually don’t feel it. Tonight I feel it. You stay right here with me, okay? Then maybe it won’t be ruined by bad dreams.”

“Always,” Tom says, giving him a squeeze, and a few minutes later, they’re both asleep.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Tom hasn’t been looking forward to October, not because he doesn’t like the month in general, but because October fifth is the anniversary of his wife’s death, as well as her birthday. They’re actually the same day. Sometimes he wonders if she did that on purpose, knowing that both days would be difficult for her family – why not just combine them? That way they would only suffer one terrible day a year rather than two. It’s the kind of thing he can see her doing, even if he can’t see how she would have had any control over it. But she had been dying for weeks, months, holding on by the skin of her teeth – this, he thinks, might have been the reason why.

In any case, he’s not sure exactly how to handle it. For the last nine years, he and Stiles have done the same thing on October fifth, every year. They bring flowers to her grave – a different kind every year – and then they sit by her grave and drink milkshakes from Chase’s Diner, because she always loved them.

He knows that Stiles is fragile, even though he comes out of his shell more every day, and he doesn’t want to push him. He’s still having trouble keeping track of the passage of time, and Tom isn’t sure that he even knows what month it is. Everyone tells him that he should just handle it like normal, that that’s the best way to keep Stiles from freaking out about it, but he just doesn’t know how to bring it up. He never had to remind Stiles before. Stiles just always knew. No matter what else was going on in his son’s life, every morning on October fifth, Stiles would open up the conversation at breakfast with, “I think we should get gladiolas this year,” and then talk about flower symbolism or the gardens his mother kept or some memory of her.

How is he supposed to say, “So, do you feel up to visiting your mother’s grave today?”

He’s still hedging on the topic, wishing vaguely it was a school day so he could have more time to think about it, when Stiles emerges from his bedroom. He pours himself a cup of coffee and then grabs a loaf of bread to make himself toast. Without further ado, he says, “I think we should bring orchids this year. Really go all out, you know? It’s a banner year in Stilinski history.”

Tom lets out a breath that’s pure relief before he says, “Orchids would be nice,” which is what he always says, no matter what Stiles suggests.

“I read somewhere that orchids are the only flowers that can have green petals,” Stiles continues, digging around in the refrigerator to find the marmalade. “I think it must have something to do with chlorophyll. Obviously I’m going to have to do some research on this subject.”

“Obviously,” Tom says, amused.

“Oh, which reminds me,” Stiles says, “I got a ninety-six on my science test. So I expect accolades for this.”

Tom thinks privately to himself that he should have tried enrolling Stiles in an online school a lot sooner. It works so much better with his ADD, not being forced to sit in a classroom and listen to a boring lecture, able to learn at his own pace, jump around, choose his own topics. Still, something has to be said. “Accolades, huh? Has Scott been sending you those ‘word of the day’ things he likes so much?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, “but I haven’t learned any new words yet.” He takes out the orange juice and starts drinking straight from the bottle.

“If you think I’m going to let you get away with that,” Tom says, “because for a time there I was enjoying it when you misbehaved because it meant you felt safe again, you are incorrect, mister.”

Stiles goes for a glass. “Again with the lack of contractions. I think an intervention is in order.”

His toast pops and he jumps a little, but recovers quickly, diving for a butter knife so he can heap way too much jam on. Moments later, his mouth is full. “Ms. Pierson said I could do my book report on World War Z,” he says, through the toast. “She’s my new favorite person ever.” He continues to talk about his classes, and Tom lets him talk with his mouth full with only half-hearted admonishments. Half an hour later, they’re in the car. He’s called ahead to the florist, who always knows to be ready for their request, who presents them with a beautiful bouquet. Then a quick stop at Chase’s. Stiles forgoes his usual strawberry milkshake because he can’t stomach strawberry ice cream anymore, and gets chocolate instead. (“Nothing can ruin chocolate,” he told his father the first time he was asked.)

They have the same routine as always. Tom lets Stiles carry the bouquet while he carries the milkshakes. They walk over together and Stiles puts the bouquet down. Then they each take a few minutes alone. Tom has never asked Stiles what he says to his mother’s grave. It’s none of his business, really. It’s not like he says anything exciting himself. It’s usually just some variation of ‘I miss you so much every day, I wish you were here’. But he’s almost glad his wife was spared the agony of the previous year.

Afterwards, they sit down in the grass and drink their milkshakes, like they always do.

“Hey, Dad?” Stiles asks. “Do I make your life difficult?”

Tom arches an eyebrow at his son. He knows why he’s asking, and has to resist the urge to come back with some sort of platitude. The truth will be better, if he knows his son, and he does. “Of course you do,” he says. “Just like Scott makes his mother’s life difficult. And Allison makes her parents’ lives difficult. You can’t have another human being dependent on you without making your life difficult. Everyone who chooses to be a parent knows that. If you’re asking ‘do you make my life difficult more than average’, I guess maybe a little. I have to admit I’ve never really stopped and thought about it. Never looked at another parent and envied them for having a kid who didn’t give them shit. That’s what having a kid is all about. They’re not life-sized dolls or clones; they’re people, and people aren’t perfect. Sometimes they have ADD or asthma. Sometimes they lie or tell half-truths or outright keep secrets. That’s the way life is. If what you’re really asking is ‘would I change you if I could’ . . . well, aside from the fact that I think life would be easier for you if you didn’t have ADD . . . no. I wouldn’t change you and I wouldn’t trade you in. Those things that sometimes drive me nuts, those are the things that make you my son. Those are the things that I love most about you. Your stubbornness, your drive, your ability to keep secrets . . . all of those are things that saved your life this year. You are exactly as you should be, so don’t ever let anyone tell you anything different.”

“I don’t. I didn’t.” Stiles leans against him. “It’s just nice to hear you say it.”

Tom lets out a snort of laughter despite himself. “Just fishing for compliments, eh?”

“Maybe a little.” Now Stiles laughs, but he sobers quickly. “He just . . . used to talk about it. About how you were better off without me. How you would realize that and stop looking for me soon enough. But I never believed him. I think that made him angry sometimes. That I refused to believe you would give up on me. I didn’t say it – I didn’t have to. He just knew.”

Tom shakes his head a little and says, “That’s one thing that makes it abundantly clear that Peter didn’t have a son. Because if he had, he would have known different.”

“I think he did know different,” Stiles says. “He just wanted to convince me that you would give up because it would make me more vulnerable. And in the end . . . I guess I turned that against him. By using it as an excuse to call you.”

“Well,” Tom says, tousling his hair, “you are a genius, after all.”

“And on my better days, I actually believe that,” Stiles says.

“You should believe it every day,” Tom says. “Because I know that you know that I spent every minute you were gone looking for you, and I would have done that for the rest of my life, if I had needed to. Peter was smart and he was cunning, but he was never going to win because he didn’t have the conviction that we did.”

Stiles finishes off his milkshake with a hollow rattle in the straw, then licks his lips. “Hey, you know, we should . . . do you think we could put some sort of memorial at the site of the Hale house fire? For Derek’s family? I think . . . maybe it would help him, if he had a place he could go, like we do, to remember them. Even Peter . . . Peter as he was, before the fire. I think it would be nice.”

“It would be nice,” Tom agrees. “I’ll talk to him about it.”

“I’m glad you two are buddies now,” Stiles says. “He needs more friends.”

Tom just lets out another snort of laughter. “Well, it’s nice of you to think of something like that,” he says. “I’m sure Derek will appreciate it.” He finishes off his own milkshake, and wraps an arm around Stiles’ shoulder, pulling him in for a hard half-hug. “C’mon, kid,” he says. “Let’s go home.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~