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Scott asked her once if the girl’s bathroom was weird, because people went in and they didn’t come out for ages. “No, man, that’s just girls.” Stiles shrugged. “Girls are weird. Trust me.” Then Scott snuck her into the boys bathroom and she changed her mind. Maybe girls took longer because they peed in the toilets instead of everywhere else. And washed their hands, usually.

So when she realizes that the entire Beacon County police department is out in the preserve looking for the other half of a dead body, she doesn’t call Scott. She doesn’t text him, or drive over to his house to sneak out and track down half a murder victim. Scott is part of the 49% of the population that can’t aim to pee in a toilet. Clearly this, like most other things, is a job for a woman, even if as far as Stiles can tell most other girls are freaking weird.

It doesn’t even take her very long to find the body. Maybe her dad should hire more women. All Stiles had to do was listen to the police scanner and park at the opposite end of the preserve on the side road no one likes using because it’s paved with gravel instead of asphalt and develops some seriously massive potholes every fall. She’s only been walking for ten minutes or so when she finds it. It, because it’s definitely no longer a person, not when it’s cut in half and empty, guts spilling out across the forest floor. Stiles almost pukes, but swallows it back down and grimaces at the acid burn in the back of her throat.

Behind her, someone lets out a deep, long-suffering sigh. “I should’ve never let you keep that police scanner,” her dad says, shuffling forward carefully to stand next to her, eyes on the ground to make sure he doesn’t disturb any evidence.

“As if it’d do any good,” Stiles says, shrugging, but she still feels queasy and wrong. She kind of wishes she hadn’t come out here at all.

The radio at her dad’s chest pocket squawks, and he thumbs the talk button, tilting his chin down towards it and calling for the rest of the crew to circle back around to his location, before scrubbing his hands through his hair.

“And I suppose it won’t do much good to send you home now, either.” In another universe, maybe one where Stiles didn’t look so much like her mom, maybe her dad would’ve been stricter, but instead he’d grown more lenient; simultaneously resigned and dedicated somehow. He’d drunk himself stupid for a month after her death until one day he seemed to sober up between drinks and finally, really see Stiles again, hauling a clear trash bag of empties to the curb for recycling. He’d gone cold turkey the next day.

“Look at it as an unpaid internship!” she says brightly. ”You could send me home and I could find another back road access point and stay out here anyway, or you could just give in already and let me help.”

He huffs a laugh out, softly, and pulls her to his side, wrapping her up in a one-armed hug and rubbing his cheek against the side of her head. Stiles makes a face, pretends to wriggle away, but she likes it, really.

“All right, all right,” he agrees, and sets down his toolbox, pulls out some flags. “Mark our footprints, will you? Can’t have my deputies trampling all over the evidence.”

Stiles salutes him sloppily and gets to work. By silent agreement they both keep a wide berth around the half a body. It’s face-down, thankfully, and probably female if the long hair flung left and covering the face is any indication, but there’s a dark pool of tacky blood spilling out across the leaves and dirt, glistening black on the rocks and sticks of the forest floor.

She looks away.

There’s a faint rustle from just up the hill, and Stiles and her dad both freeze. Could be a raccoon, she thinks. Could have distemper. Could just be a bunny rabbit.

Whatever it is spoils the illusion with a howl; it races forward, large and blurred, and before she can react all she can feel is her dad tackling her to the ground, the impact of the earth. She hears his pained grunt, her heart in her throat.

It all happens so fast she doesn’t even get a good look at whatever it was. “Dad! Dad, are you okay? Dad, you asshole!”

“Shut up for a second and I’ll tell you I’m okay,” he groans, rolling off her. “And don’t swear.” He presses a hand to his jacket, torn near the hip. There’s blood. “Fucker bit me,” he grimaces.

“Don’t swear,” she parrots back at him, and grabs the radio to report in. “You better not have rabies,” she jokes, but her pulse is pounding with fear and she’s got one hand pressed to the wound to staunch the blood. Score one for Mrs. McCall’s mandatory first aid lessons every summer since she and Scott were eight.

“Sheriff, are you okay? I’ve called in for an ambulance!” Deputy Laura jogs up the hill, hand at her holster and eyes scanning the trees for a moment before she seems satisfied.

She nods at Stiles. “Let me take a look,” she says, and gently pulls Stiles’ hands from the wound, tugs gently at the fabric to get a better look before she stills almost unnaturally. Her voice when she speaks again is too flat, too calm. It’s the voice all the officers seem to learn at the academy for when things are bad. “Did either of you see what bit him?”

Stiles swallows. “It was too fast. Big, dark. Maybe a dog? Too big to be a raccoon. I thought – for a second there–”

Laura meets her eyes steadily over her dad who is looking between the two of them, remarkably calm for someone who was just bitten by a wild animal. “Tell me,” Laura says quietly.

“I thought it had red eyes. That’s, I mean, it was so fast though. I probably imagined it.” Stiles doesn’t think she imagined it, but she’s also not crazy. She doesn’t know what to think.

If anything, Laura looks the opposite of reassured. Her mouth thins. “The rest of the deputies will be here soon. Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to tell them it was a bear cub. Must have gotten away from its mother. It ran off scared.”

Her dad tries to sit up at that, opens his mouth to protest at the same time that Stiles starts to say, “That’s definitely not what—” when Laura’s eyes turn a bright and unnatural red in the darkness.

“We don’t have time to argue,” she growls at them and her dad snaps his jaw shut. “I can get you through this, but you’re going to have to trust me.”

Against all reason, Stiles’ dad nods. Laura lifts her gaze back to Stiles. “Both of you.”

***

It’s unclear why either of them obey. None of the Stilinskis have ever been very obedient – just ask her babcia Stilinski and the old woman will talk about it at length. Stiles would like to chalk this uncharacteristic behavior up to insatiable curiosity, but a shiver trickles down her spine when she thinks about Laura’s eyes flaring red, or the way her voice made Stiles want to agree to anything, just to keep the peace.

She’s known Laura Hale her whole life, practically. She’s not a threat, has never been mean or cruel the way some people are. Laura Hale has always been easy going and effortlessly cool; someone Stiles lazily idolized with her long, dark hair usually up in a ponytail that somehow didn’t look out of place on an officer of the law, and a no-bullshit attitude that manages to command respect. When Stiles tries for no-bullshit she usually gets some side eye.

So it’s not fear, exactly, that motivates her and her dad in this instance, but it’s not not-fear, either. Something in Stiles’ gut tells her that even though Laura and whatever the thing in the woods was share the same supernatural eyes, Laura is still good people.

It had been too late to call off the ambulance, even though the wound on her dad’s side isn’t nearly as bad as she had originally thought. Stiles and Larry the paramedic help her dad climb into the back of the ambulance, but he walked there under his own power and seems fine, if a little stiff and sore.

“It’s a nasty bite, sheriff,” Larry says as they pull up to the hospital, “but I’m pretty sure it’s not a big deal. Bear cubs get spooked sometimes, you know that. Watch your head,” he adds, after opening the doors, but Stiles still manages to bang her forehead against the heavily padded head trimmer.

Larry chuckles and Stiles frowns, rubbing at her head. “Warned you,” he says, grinning. “Everybody does that.”

“Thanks for the warning anyway,” she replies dryly.

Mrs. McCall meets them just inside the ER with a clipboard and a frown. “Seriously, John, a bear cub and a murder all in one night?”

“Well you know, people love a good story and I love getting re-elected,” he replies with a shrug, and then winces when it pulls at his side.

Scott’s mom rolls her eyes at him. “Yeah, well, I love to shoot people up with antibiotics when they get bitten by bears, so get in exam room two.” She pauses and hands Stiles the clipboard. “You did good, kid. Can you fill this out for me? I’ll take good care of him, don’t worry.”

Stiles manages to nod and fumble her way into one of the hard plastic waiting-room chairs, and starts filling out the standard intake form. Name, birthday, allergies, reason for visit... bear attack, she prints carefully. It looks stupid, like there should be at least three exclamation marks after it. Bear attack!! The musical!

Her eyes sting, and she tugs the ragged sleeve of her hoodie down over her fingers to wipe at her eyes. It’s stupid and late and the ER is mostly empty, but she feels conspicuous and vaguely nauseated, like any one of the hospital staff and late night pukers could take one look at her and know she was lying on a medical form. But what else was she going to write, exactly?

She manages to fill out the rest of the sheet, front and back, and hand it in at the desk before slumping back into her chair. There is a low table beside her covered in old magazines: Country Living, Real Simple, and an issue of Cars and Trucks from 1991, five years before she’d even been born. She closes her eyes instead and tips her head back against the wall, tapping her feet against the chair legs and the floor in Morse code, not that anyone will appreciate it properly.

Last summer she spent a week trying to teach Scott some of the basics, but it flew right over his head. He was better with sign language, anyway. Maybe she’d try semaphore next but it didn’t seem sneaky enough. Hard to pass secret notes by flailing your arms around like you’re doing The Wave.

The chair next to her creaks as someone sits down. Stiles doesn’t have the heart to open her eyes. They’re probably already red and puffy. No reason to show off how bloodshot they are, too. “He’s going to be okay,” Laura murmurs. “I’m going to fix it.”

Fix what? Stiles wants to ask, but not in the middle of the ER where some of the nurses know her through Mrs. McCall and some from the time she’d accidentally caught herself in the ear with a fishing lure.

“I come here pretty regularly,” Laura continues, “to visit my uncle.”

Everyone in town knows Stiles because of her mom, but everyone in the county knows about the Hale fire, about Peter Hale hauling his niece and nephew from the flames only to suffer a heart attack shortly after. He’s been unresponsive and in the ICU ever since. It was front page news in the Beacon Hills Beacon.

“Can he hear you?” Stiles can’t help but ask, cracking one eye open.

Laura sighs. “No clue, but I come anyway. I figure he could use the company. He’s family.” The way she says family sounds almost like she wanted to say something else, but she also very clearly means it. Considering her family used to be eleven people sharing the same house, Stiles can’t imagine what it feels like to be down to two and a half – a brother who spends most of his time silent and scowling, and a catatonic uncle.

The hole Stiles’ mom left in their lives is nearly palpable: an extra chair at the breakfast table, her spot on the couch always empty, the good china collecting dust in the hutch and buffet. Stiles has a box of her old things tucked under her bed: a hairbrush, a worn pair of tango shoes, the first mix tape her dad had ever made for her back when they were first dating.

“Oh good, Laura, you’re here – can you drive these two home?” Mrs. McCall and her dad look worn around the edges but okay. “I doubt anyone else remembered that their cars are probably still out in the middle of nowhere.”

Laura doesn’t even wince, considering the ‘middle of nowhere’ is not that far from the empty plot of land where her childhood home used to stand. “No problem. Someone’s got to keep these two out of trouble,” she says brightly, and jangles her car keys. “Come on, Stilinskis.”

Outside the air is a sharp relief, cool against her cheeks. Her dad looks like he appreciates it, too. Stiles knows Laura has a sleek Camaro that she shares with her brother, but tonight she’s driving an old pickup, black or dark blue, Stiles can’t tell in the dim lighting of the parking lot.

Laura heads around to the passenger side first to unlock the door, toss some junk back behind the bench. “It’ll be a bit squished, sorry,” she says without looking sorry at all. “Littlest goes in the middle, Stiles. Hop up and keep your feet off the gear shift.”

Stiles manages to scramble up and into the truck and get herself buckled in before Laura and her dad climb in as well. It’s a tight fit, and her feet are pressed at a weird angle against her dad’s left calf. He’s already drifting off, face pressing against the window, eyes shuttering closed, and Stiles starts to zone out, too. That’s why it takes her awhile to notice they’re nowhere near her neighborhood.

“Hey,” she says suddenly, sitting upright and turning to Laura. “Where are we going?”

Laura doesn’t even blink, eyes steady on the road ahead. “You’re spending the night with me – with us. It’s safer.”

“Uh, well you’re going to need to at least stop at our house for my meds.” She scowls and crosses her arms. Ideally, she’d like to never talk about her Adderall with anyone, the same way she doesn’t want to talk with people about what brand of tampons she’s got in her messenger bag.

Glancing at Stiles out of the corner of her eye, Laura smiles before turning back to the road. “Nice try, but you’ve got some in your bag, Stiles.” She pauses just long enough for Stiles to gawp at her. “I’m not trying to be a dick,” she continues. “You both will be safer staying with Derek and me tonight, and we’ve got the room. I asked you to trust me. Do you trust me, Stiles?”

She slows to a stop at an empty intersection and turns completely to face Stiles, unconcerned with any potential traffic. Her gaze is steady and discomfiting.

Stiles thinks about it seriously. It occurs to her that if she really wanted, she and could probably swing the door open and jump out with her dad. But Laura Hale had never talked behind Stiles’ back, or treated her like a child when she came into the station to visit. She’d always been friendly but honest, and had never called the short hairstyle Stiles had tried for awhile when her mom was sick ‘cute’.

“Yeah,” she says finally. “Yeah, I trust you. Let’s go, hurry up, I’ve gotta pee.”

Laura laughs a little and takes the next left.

***

After the fire, Laura and Derek had haunted the hospital and police station, conked out in waiting room chairs or staring grim-faced and blank at their uncle, at an officer, at the small army of people who had to take their statements again and again.

Stiles had been ten at the time, and her mom was just finishing the first round of chemo treatments. Her prognosis had looked good, but she’d still had a lot of medical appointments that meant Stiles either went with her or was left to her own devices in a corner of the squad room. She’d had all the time in the world to watch Laura and Derek doing their best zombie impressions. It hadn’t been pretty.

Coming back from something like that took time, and some people handled it better than others. Laura had started classes at the local college and wound up applying to work with the police. Derek had buried himself in the stacks at the library, working part time and overflowing with angst the rest of it. They’d done okay though, if the house they had now was any indication.

The house is a solid two-story at the end of a cul-de-sac that backs onto the ravine, and isn’t that far, really, from the preserve and the old Hale land. Laura reverses into the driveway and cuts the engine as her dad blinks awake. “Why are we–”

“We’ll talk inside,” Laura cuts him off, and jerks her head towards the porch. The front door is unlocked, apparently. Inside Laura toes out of her shoes and flips on a few lights, padding into the living room. Stiles and her dad follow suit behind her. “I’ll be right back. Make yourselves at home.”

Stiles looks at her dad. “I’m going to find the bathroom,” she says, and heads down the hall. None of the doors seem to lead the right way so she heads upstairs in the same direction as Laura. She’s on the landing when she overhears some of the conversation and freezes.

“Derek, just tell me if you did it. I’ll understand. I know, okay? I figured it out a long time ago. You’re my brother. You’ll always be my brother. We can fix this.”

There’s a low growl, and it has to be Derek. Stiles would almost think they owned a dog if she hadn’t heard Laura make almost the same sound earlier in the woods.

“I didn’t do it.” He sounds frustrated. “It wouldn’t help and I wouldn’t do anything to– we have a treaty.”

Laura snorts. “Yeah, but we both know it doesn’t mean a lot.” She inhales deeply. “I’m sorry. You know I had to ask.”

“You said there was another alpha,” he says, and it sounds hurt. “You know it couldn’t have been me.”

Deciding a bathroom break can wait, Stiles steps back off the landing only for the step to creak loudly. “Bathroom’s at the end of the hall on your left, Stiles,” Laura calls out, too calm to have not known she was there the whole time. “We’ll meet you downstairs.”

She can feel her face heat, half embarrassed, half angry at herself for getting caught, but heads quickly back up onto the landing and down the hall. In the dark she can just make out the shape of Derek and Laura hugging each other tight.

***

When she gets back downstairs, Laura, Derek, and Stiles’ dad are sitting in awkwardly in the living room. Stiles flops down next to her dad on the loveseat.

“Stiles, you remember my brother, Derek, right?” Stiles nods and gives Derek a super awkward wave, waggling her fingers. Sometimes it’s like she can’t control her body at all.

Derek would be handsome if he didn’t also look sick to his stomach. He and Laura both share the same thick, dark hair and heterochromatic eyes.

The best way out of it that she can think of is to say, “Sure, he graduated the same year I started high school.” By the look on his face, Derek doesn’t remember that part, and is probably stuck on all the other places they’ve met. It’s probably bad that she feels grateful he doesn’t seem to know she got held back a year in elementary.

“You want to tell me what’s going on now, Laura?” Her dad has his Super Intense Sheriff face on, the one she’s seen scare all sorts of people in town into confessing, but Laura seems unaffected.

She slouches a little in her seat. “You were bitten by a rogue, alpha werewolf.”

Stiles shivers. Something supernatural had been on her short list, but it feels different to hear it said aloud.

“We can argue about this and you can pretend not to believe me,” she continues, “but the full moon is in a few days and you’re going to need our help if you don’t want to attack and probably kill your daughter.”

She and Derek both seem to consciously let their eyes flare, bright and unnatural. Unlike Laura, Derek’s eyes shine an almost electric blue in the dim lighting, and she can’t look away. Stiles can hear her dad’s breath catch the same as hers, their bodies tense with a fight or flight reaction.

It’s terrifying and strange, but part of her trusts that they would never hurt her. She’s seen them during the lowest point of their lives and watched them come out the other side.

Stiles presses her side against her dad in a show of support, and it seems to steady him. He swallows, leans forward to hang his hands between his knees. “Please,” he says.

***

The house that Derek and Laura share has a baffling five bedrooms, and Laura offers her the one between Laura and her dad. “I can lend you something to sleep in, if you want,” she says, after showing Stiles where everything is. “Unless you’d prefer something of Derek’s? It’s probably more your style.”

Something about the idea of wearing one of Derek’s shirts to bed, even if it’s clean, makes her face heat. “No, I’ll uh– whatever is fine,” Stiles stammers out, made awkward and uncharacteristically polite by the circumstances. And what do you even say to the werewolf who offered to keep your dad from becoming an uncontrollable killing machine?

“Stiles,” Laura says, gently, “When all of this is over, when the rogue is taken care of, I think – I hope that your dad will join our pack. He’s always treated Derek and me almost like family, and I’d like to return the favor if I can. It’s fine,” she asserts, then corrects, “I’m going to make sure it’s fine.”

Her eyes sting a little, and she just wants to be alone, or to have the illusion of privacy at least. “Thanks,” she mumbles, and Laura darts forward to give her an impulsive hug.

“I’ll bring you those clothes. Back in two shakes.”

Stiles sinks back onto the edge of the bed and rubs at the back of her neck before rooting around in her bag for an elastic to pull her long hair up into a loose doughnut at the back of her head.

Laura slips back in with a tank top and a pair of sleep shorts. “If you need anything, I’m right next door. Derek and I will be switching off tonight to make sure your dad is okay. Try to get some rest.”

***

Of course trying to sleep, even exhausted and worn down, means Stiles’ brain is wide awake instead. She lies on her side trying to slow her breathing, to keep calm but her brain runs in circles, keeps coming back around to the moment her dad pushed her out of the way.

She should have been bitten, instead. He could have died. Laura had talked circles around it, but it was pretty clear that what she and Derek hadn’t said was that it was a safer bet to bite someone young. If the bite either kills or changes a person...

Stiles tries to stay rational. The last thing she wants is to have a panic attack in a strange house full of werewolves, though thinking about that ratchets her pulse up another notch. Her dad would’ve been out there looking for the body no matter what, but then of course her brain starts imagining all the ways it could have gone even worse.

There’s nothing to be afraid of here, she tells herself firmly. I’m safe. It only helps a little bit. She digs her fingers into her scalp and rocks herself back and forth on the bed, trying to find a rhythm she can focus on, a distraction. Straining her ears, Stiles searches out the natural sounds of the house.

That’s when she hears it. From the wall she shares with her dad comes a low groan, almost a growl. Swinging her feet over the side of the bed, Stiles pads as quietly as possible to the door and slowly turns the knob. Derek stands in the hall in front of her father’s door, his eyes electric and dangerous. He should look ridiculous since he’s dressed in plaid pajama pants and a wife beater, but instead he looks every inch the predator.

“His Alpha is calling him,” Derek growls around a mouthful of fang. Stiles almost jumps when Laura rests a hand on her shoulder and gently pushes Stiles behind her.

“We’ll have to restrain him,” she agrees with a nod before turning back to Stiles. “Get back in your room and lock the door.”

Stiles bristles at that. “Are you shitting me? Not a chance. He’s my dad.”

“He might attack you,” Derek scowls.

“No,” she replies, steadfast, “he won’t.” They don’t get a chance to debate it further though, because her dad begins throwing himself violently against the door, rattling the wood in the frame. The sounds he makes are animalistic and frenzied, but Stiles stands firm only half a step behind Laura as Derek quickly twists the doorknob open.

It’s only half of her dad that lunges forward through the door. The frame is there, but his face is ridged and re-shaped in an unfamiliar landscape; more hairy, twisted into a snarl of fangs and bright yellow-gold eyes. Laura and Derek both shift to match and snarl at him, and grab hold of his arms with clawed hands. The thing in the doorway shares the rough outline of her father, but he wouldn’t struggle like this against people trying to help him, or leave long claw marks down the door frame and in the drywall.

“Dad!” Stiles yells after a frozen moment of shock. “They’re trying to help you!”

Laura growls fiercely and she and Derek throw her dad to the floor, each pinning a leg and arm as he thrashes between them. It doesn’t even look like he recognizes her at all, or understands a word she’s saying, he’s so caught up in the frenzy. “The Alpha is doing this to him,” Derek grits out. “Trying to cement his hold.”

His wedding ring catches the dim hall light, glinting where he’s trying to claw desperately for purchase and it just pisses Stiles off. “Well he’s going to have to get his shit together, because Mom would be furious if he let some shitty rogue alpha tell him what to do.”

Her dad freezes at that, and inhales sharply. Some of the tension in his limbs seems to recede, so Stiles continues. “I mean what kind of Stilinski are you, exactly? We’re supposed to be stubborn as fuck, not rolling over for whack job werewolves. You think mom would’ve let someone get in her head like this? Hell no.”

“Language,” he rasps, eyes fading back to the pale blue her mom said was half the reason she’d married him.

“Are you back with us, sheriff?” Laura asks, sitting back on her haunches. Stiles watches in rapt fascination as the hair recedes from his face and his eyebrows smooth out.

He rolls his head left and then right as if testing that it’s all back the way it should be, then nods. “I don’t know what happened,” he says finally. Derek and Laura both climb off him and he sits up. “One minute I’m falling asleep and the next–” he goes pale. “Stiles, I could have killed you.”

Stiles frowns. He wouldn’t even be in this situation if it weren’t for her. “It’s fine, Laura and Derek had it covered.”

Laura seems to disagree though, shaking her head. “No, that’s not it. Werewolves need anchors, something to keep them grounded. Looks like you found his.” She stands up and claps Stiles on the shoulder. “Thanks.”

Stiles swallows and forces a smile.

***

It’s early when Laura wakes her up again, tosses some clothes into the chair by the window and throws open the curtains. “Up and at’em, sunshine! It’s a school day!”

Stiles pulls the pillow over her head to block out the light and groans. “I’m calling in werewolf.”

“No can do.” Laura pulls at the duvet until Stiles is exposed to the cool morning air and has to curl into the fetal position to try and keep some of the residual warmth. “Derek is going to homeschool the sheriff this morning. You better hurry up and grab some breakfast before it’s all gone if you want to shower before we leave. If you’re not ready to go in thirty I’m hauling you to school no matter what you’re wearing.” She sweeps out of the room leaving Stiles to flop over onto her back, mercilessly awake and gritty eyed.

“And there’s bacon!” Laura calls over her shoulder.

That’s the last shove Stiles needs. She stumbles out of bed, hits the bathroom, and follows her nose downstairs and into the kitchen on autopilot just in time to see her dad polish off the last piece.

“Seriously?” she asks. The kitchen island serves as a table with bar stools scattered around it. Stiles clambers up on the one next to her dad and steals a bite of his omelette. “Pretty sure Mrs. McCall wouldn’t approve.”

Derek slides a plate in front of her and makes a weird face before starting on the dishes. “Thanks,” she says, because even if Derek is a socially awkward angst-bot she still has manners.

“What?” her dad answers defensively. “Apparently werewolves don’t have heart problems.”

Stiles takes a moment to study him. Lately he’s been looking tired, working more than his share of hours and mainlining a lot of coffee. Considering everything that’s happened in the last few days, including being attacked in the woods, and his frenzied escape attempt last night, he should look like a disaster but instead he looks better than he has in years. She hadn’t really noticed how much he had aged in the years since her mother died, but it’s almost as if some of those years have been erased.

“Probably,” Laura says carefully. “Werewolves probably don’t have heart problems. We’ll need to take you to the vet just to be sure.”

Stiles laughs, accidentally spitting some of her omelette back out before she realizes Laura is serious.

“For real? You’re taking my dad to the vet? To Doctor Deaton? What is he, a werewolf whisperer?”

Pulling her phone out of her pocket to check the time, Laura shrugs. “More like a shaman. Questions later unless you want to go to school in my pajamas. Hurry it up, sheriff-junior.”

Since Laura isn’t the kind of person to say something and not mean it, Stiles starts stuffing her face. It’s surprisingly good food. It makes sense, now that she thinks about it, because both of the Hales probably had to learn how to cook, after.

Derek actually grabs her plate almost as soon as she’s taken her last bite. “Go shower,” he says, “She really will drag you to school like that. Trust me.”

His expression is still dour. Neither she nor Scott have any siblings, so she doesn’t know what it’s like, but she can make some guesses based on that look alone.

“Thanks,” she says again, and takes the stairs two at a time.

***

“Are you serious with this right now?” She scowls, just managing to close the door on Laura’s police cruiser before she pulls out of the driveway. “I look like an extra from Grease.”

Laura laughs. The clothes she had left for Stiles fit okay but are clearly stolen from both her and Derek’s respective closets: the jeans are tighter than she’s used to, but the shirt is an old Beacon Hills Baseball jersey, clearly Derek’s from a few years ago, over a long-sleeved but thin women’s henley. She’s keeping the large leather jacket balled up in her lap. “I’ll stop at your place just long enough for you to grab your bag – don’t change,” Laura warns her, “or I’ll be late for work. We’re cutting it pretty close as it is.”

“Or you could just drop me off at home and I can drive my jeep to– oh.”

“Yeah,” Laura agrees, “Oh. Your Jeep is still out at the preserve. We’ll grab it later.”

Stiles huffs out a sigh of defeat. “Okay. Thanks,” she adds belatedly. “Even though I’d definitely rather stick around for werewolf training or whatever.”

“We’ll probably do more tonight, don’t worry. I’m a better teacher than Derek,” Laura explains, “but he’s better at dealing with, uh, internal conflict.”

The verbal stumble is out of character for Laura but Stiles lets it pass because they’re almost at her house. “Grab your meds and stuff, too,” Laura adds as she pulls into the driveway. “You’re going to have to stay with us awhile longer at least.”

“Yeah, I figured,” Stiles says and hops out of the car to head inside.

Her backpack is just inside the door where she left it, but she hauls it up over one shoulder and upstairs to her room to shove half her underwear drawer, her laptop, the power cord, her pills, some toiletries, and Scott’s old hoodie that she borrowed kind of permanently into the bag. Downstairs she steals a few twenties from the emergency pizza money stashed in a napkin holder and is back outside with the house locked behind her in record time.

***

Stiles manages to get her books and things out of her backpack without spilling underwear all over the hall before first period, so she counts it as a win. The bell rings barely seconds after she slides into her seat in front of Scott. Whatever sadist decided that anyone should have Harris for chemistry first period should be shot.

Scott kicks the back of her chair while Harris takes attendance. “What’s with the clothes?” he asks.

“Long story,” she mutters back. “I’ll tell you later.”

“McCall! Stilinski!” and Stiles really should’ve known better as she turns back to the front. “I’m sure whatever you’re talking about is incredibly important, but maybe you could try to keep your traps closed for a minute so I can introduce a new student to the class, Allison Argent.” Harris looks incredibly bored by the whole situation.

The girl standing awkwardly by the doorway is pretty; all curling chestnut hair and rosy cheeks. Stiles rolls her eyes. She looks like the kind of girl who will probably be friends with Lydia in no time. Stiles promptly tunes out.

It turns out that was a mistake. Allison winds up taking the empty seat behind Scott who promptly falls all over himself to lend her a pen. Well this is going to suck, Stiles thinks, and mentally prepares herself for Scott’s inevitable heartbreak when Allison winds up hanging out with people like Jackson Whittemore.

Thirty seconds later, Scott pokes her in the side. “What?” she whispers.

Scott gives her the puppy dog eyes. “I need to borrow a pen.” Stiles is sure she can hear new girl giggling into the back of her hand. It’s going to be a long week.

***

By the time lunch finally rolls around, Stiles is starving. Allison is in half of her classes and appears to have already made her way into Lydia’s good graces. “She’s amazing, isn’t she?” Scott pushes his fries across his plate again, so Stiles doesn’t feel guilty at all for stealing a handful.

“Slow down, bro. Remember when you had that thing for Amanda Pelfrey in fourth grade?” Scott flushes.

“That was totally different! And you promised to never bring it up again!” he whines.

He takes a sulky bite of his burger and Stiles kicks him under the table. “Dude, I’m doing this for your own good. Allison seems cool,” except that they didn’t actually know anything about her yet, “but seriously, look – she’s already sitting at the popular table,” she says, jerking her chin in the direction of Lydia’s clique.

Scott manages to tear his gaze away from Allison and back to Stiles. “Is this because of the Lydia thing? You know she’s not worth your time if she doesn’t think you’re awesome.”

Scott actually believes that, too, which is sweet and one of the reasons why they’re best bros, but not actually accurate or helpful. Lydia Martin is a goddess with an off the charts IQ, and also the reason Stiles knows that intelligence is one of her major turn ons, man or woman. Too bad Lydia likes to pretend to be a vapid Regina George instead of the force of nature she is.

“No, it’s not about–” Stiles sighs. “I– Same goes for you, okay? If Allison isn’t into you it’s her problem, not yours.”

The grin that takes over his face is practically supernova. “Thanks, Stiles!” That’s when Stiles knows he’s fucked.

***

Unfortunately, Stiles has AP Euro right after lunch with Allison, who recognizes her and waves shyly, tucking some hair behind her ear and taking the seat next to Stiles. “Hi,” she says, “you’re Stiles, right? Scott’s best friend?”

Stiles nods. “Yeah, what’s up?”

“Do you have notes from the first half of the unit? Scott said your notes are great and, you know, I just moved here and we were studying something completely different at my last school.”

Allison seems earnest enough, and nice, so Stiles relaxes a little. “Sure, yeah, I can probably email them to you. Here, write down your address.” Stiles slides her notebook across to Allison who starts jotting it down at the top of the page. Even her handwriting is cute. She’s just finishing the dot com when Mr. Billman comes in looking harried.

“Allison Argent? Grab your things and come with me,” he says, gesturing her over. “Everyone else take a look at page 177 and keep it down. I’ll be back shortly.” Stiles exchanges a glance with Allison, who looks confused as she leaves the class.

***

She doesn’t come back for the rest of the day. By the time school finally lets out, everyone knows: the dead body in halves in the woods was her aunt, Kate Argent. Stiles keeps her mouth shut and stuffs her books into her backpack to go wait for Laura.

The conversation she overheard between Laura and Derek the night before makes even less sense now. It feels like Laura knew it was Kate in the woods, and like there was bad blood between her and Derek, but bad enough to kill? And did Allison know anything about it?

A quick google search for Argent on her phone pulls up an old news story: Search continues for missing 64-year old grandfather, Gerard Argent. The story is from years ago, not that long after the Hale fire, and after Stiles’ mom had been hospitalized. No wonder she hadn’t remembered.

She’s still sitting on the school steps with the leather jacket pulled up high around her chin against the cold when Derek pulls up in the Camaro. If Stiles didn’t know he worked at the public library she’d probably be completely taken in by the bad boy look: mirror shades, dark stubble, and another of the tight fitting henleys both siblings seem to favor. If she’s honest with herself it still gets her pulse going. He smiles slowly, and it ratchets up another notch.

“You going to get in?” he asks, arching one eyebrow at her. Stiles can feel the eyes of half her classmates on them and laughs a little to herself, walking around the hood to duck in on the passenger side.

“Do you practice being cool, trying to impress teenagers?” she asks as they pull away with a squeal of the tires. “Do you watch a lot of old James Dean movies? Please tell me the shades are because you haven’t perfected the ultimate smolder yet.” Derek’s hand on the gear shift twitches and Stiles marks an imaginary point in her favor.

“Maybe it’s a werewolf thing,” he replies, clearly trying for a joke but Stiles thinks about it seriously for a minute.

“Maybe. I mean you and Laura both have, well–” she gestures, “all of that going on,” which for some reason makes Derek scowl. “Oh god,” she blurts out as it hits her, “do you think my Dad is going to be like that now?! Eugh, it’s like my worst nightmare.”

That actually makes him smile a little again. “Pretty sure he’s already got a fan club, according to Laura, anyway,” he says and she’d swear he says it just to see her squirm.

“Nope, nope, nope, not having it,” Stiles refuses adamantly and changes the subject. “Is Laura still working? I mean, I appreciate the ride and the overly dramatic pick-up, I just thought she’d be the one giving me a lift.”

Derek turns left into the parking lot of the Super Burger. “She and the sheriff are at work – they called him back in this afternoon,” he adds, pulling into the line for the drive through. “They’re going to meet us at Deaton’s. What do you want to eat?”

Stiles rattles off her standard order and they inch forward towards the first window. She absently drums her fingers on the door handle. “So you guys were serious about the vet being some kind of werewolf doctor? Because I have spent a lot of time there and the weirdest thing I saw was how you castrate a bull.”

“Shaman,” Derek corrects, but it’s not a disagreement. “He knows a lot about the supernatural community, more than we do, really.” He turns his face away from her, but Stiles can see the way his mouth turns down at the corners. “We didn’t get a lot of time to learn.”

It’s strange to think of Derek and Laura learning about not-so-mythical creatures the way Stiles had learned about gun safety and how to catch a fish and sorting laundry. She supposes they had to learn those things, too. Maybe it was something like the way that Stiles’ dad had taught her self defense and how to escape from the trunk of a car, or the way Scott’s mom had sat him down for what sounded like the most extensive talk about STIs, teen pregnancy, and what not to stick up your butt ever in the history of man.

Her mind skips ahead a few steps. “Is that why you work at the library?” she blurts out and Derek turns to look at her like she’s crazy. “I mean, uh, research?”

He rolls his eyes a little and inches the car forward again. They’re next in line. “I work at the library because I like it, and I like reading, and it pays pretty well,” he says flatly, but then smiles a little. “But it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got the best selection of rare edition fairy tales in the county.”

Even that little sliver of a smile does something wonderful to Derek’s face, and Stiles thinks with a pang that she wishes he’d do it more often. It’s a thought that occupies her all the way to Deaton’s.

***

The vet’s office normally closes at six on weekdays, Stiles knows, unless someone calls in with an emergency, but usually Scott or Doctor Deaton are around anyway, cleaning up dog pee and making sure all the animals are fed and watered. Tonight is no different, though Stiles supposes the vet is probably expecting them.

He meets them at the door and flips the sign to closed after they’re inside. “You’ll have to eat out here, I’m afraid,” he says, gesturing to the waiting room. “I wouldn’t want to get the animals in the back too excited.”

Stiles and Derek find two hard plastic chairs on either side of a low table and make quick work of pulling out their meals as Deaton sits down across from them. “I gather, Ms Stilinski, that you’ve finally had an encounter with the other half of the population,” he says just as she’s trying to swallow a fistful of curly fries. Stiles chokes and fumbles for her drink to clear her throat.

“What exactly do you mean ‘finally’?” she asks, half-hoarse and glares at him. He probably did that on purpose.

Deaton smiles enigmatically. “I’ve always known there was something quite special about you,” he continues, like that isn’t a totally creepy thing to say to a seventeen year old high school student. “Am I right that the rogue Alpha was attempting to attack you, not your father?”

Derek has stopped eating, burger halfway to his mouth somewhere in this exchange, but at that comment his eyes flare blue again. “What.” It’s clearly a question despite the audible lack of a question mark.

“He– my dad, he pushed me out of the way.” Stiles sets down her fries, suddenly no longer hungry. “Is it my fault? Did I– am I the reason he almost–” She can’t even bring herself to finish the thought aloud.

Reaching across the space, Deaton pats her knee gently. “I wouldn’t blame yourself,” he says softly. “Beacon Hills is something of a hot-spot for this kind of activity. At least this way he’ll have your strength to draw on.” He leans back and sits up straight. “In the meanwhile, there’s no sense wasting time waiting for Laura and your father. How about an experiment?”

***

Derek wolfs down the rest of his food when Stiles agrees to head into the back office. It’s almost as though he doesn’t entirely trust her or Deaton unsupervised, which is weird.

The back office is small with a heavy old metal desk and several filing cabinets taking up most of the space. Deaton lifts a chain out from under his shirt with a key attached and uses it to unlock the bottom drawer of one of the cabinets. Stiles can’t help but peer over his shoulder to peek inside. Instead of files or medicine Deaton has mason jar after mason jar of some kind of ash or dirt.

“If you suggest we put on war paint and head out into the woods to fight the Alpha alone I’m going to have to politely decline,” Stiles jokes but Deaton doesn’t react at all. He pulls out a half-sized mason jar and sets it on the desk before locking everything up again and leading them out to exam room three.

Stiles had once helped Scott put a cast on a golden retriever in there, but she’d drawn the line at cleaning up any bodily fluids with him. Even the bro code had limits. Judging by Derek’s wrinkled nose, he can smell exactly what this room has seen.

Deaton places the jar on the steel examination table, unopened. “We’ll start with belief.”

***

By the time her dad and Laura show up, Stiles has mastered the art of creating a small barrier of mountain ash that Derek can’t even touch, let alone cross. “I remain victorious!” she caws from the small fort she’s made of the examination table. Derek looks genuinely impressed.

“Stiles?” her dad calls as he makes his way into the exam room. “Derek? Want to tell me what’s going on?”

“I’m a wizard, ‘Arry.” Stiles can feel herself beaming even as her dad approaches only to be rebuffed by the line of mountain ash.

“A Spark is very different from a wizard, I’m afraid,” Deaton corrects her, seemingly amused, and Stiles rolls her eyes. “Though we don’t know how your abilities will change over time.”

“Unless you’re going to tell me wizards are real I don’t think it really matters,” she replies, and waves her dad closer. “Try grabbing my shoulder.”

Like Derek before him, her dad makes it as far as the edge of the mountain ash circle she’d drawn on the table before doing his best mime impression.

“We can discuss the particulars later,” Deaton says, ignoring Laura giving Stiles a thumbs up over her dad’s shoulder. “If you would be so kind as to break the circle, I can move on to examining your father. I’m sure you must be hungry again,” he adds almost as an afterthought.

It hadn’t occurred to Stiles but as soon as he mentions it her stomach growls loudly. “I guess magic makes me hungry,” she concedes, and breaks the circle to hop down and wrap her dad in a tight hug, face pressed to his shoulder.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she mumbles against his shirt, even though she’d seen him just that morning. Deaton’s comments earlier are still rattling around in her head. He strokes his hand down her hair a few times before they separate.

“I’m going to eat real quick,” she gestures back towards the reception area, “but I’ll be back. Don’t get to any of the good stuff without me!”

Her burger and fries are cold, and her coke is lukewarm, but Stiles downs it all like she hasn’t eaten since breakfast. She almost wipes her mouth on her sleeve before she remembers she’s wearing someone else’s clothes and manages to find a napkin instead.

When she returns to the exam room, her dad is just clipping his badge and radio back on while Deaton makes some notes. “Ah, Stiles, good. Just in time. Now, sheriff, I don’t know what your heart was like before, but this all looks healthy to me. I’d say you’re perfectly fine.”

Her dad smiles at her. “You hear that, Stiles? All the bacon I can eat.”

“That is totally not what he just said,” Stiles grumbles, but she’s glad. At least she doesn’t have to worry about his heart any more.

“Now,” Deaton carries on, “What are you planning on doing about the rogue in your territory?”

Laura has been leaning against the wall this whole time but now stands up and joins the rest of them. “I hate to say this, but we need to talk to the Argents.”

Derek scowls and Laura presses their sides together. “I know, I don’t like it either, but if there’s a rogue Alpha biting people in our territory that’s something they need to know. And they need to know it wasn’t us who killed Kate.”

Stiles opens her mouth to ask what their connection to Kate is and why Allison’s family is involved, but closes it again when she sees how hunched in on himself Derek is, the tension in Laura’s shoulders. Even Deaton, who basically has being inscrutable down to a science, seems to have a certain thinness about his mouth belying his true feelings.

“But not tonight,” Laura continues. “I’ll handle it tomorrow. Tonight we need to let the good doctor close shop. I don’t know about you, but I want to get home and take off my pants.”

“Ditto,” Stiles and her dad say at the same time, and that, at least, gets a small smile from Derek again.

***

They lock her dad in his room again that night even though no one looks happy about it. “It’s going to take more than half a day’s work to be able to fight his power over you,” Laura explains as they all head upstairs for the night.

“Rationally I know that,” her dad says, scrubbing at the back of his head in frustration, “but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’m supposed to lock people up, not the other way around.”

You did this to him, a little part of Stiles’ brain whispers. It’s your fault. Even if his heart is better and his cholesterol is in a better range, even if he’ll never have to eat another slice of soy bacon ever again, she’ll still have to remember these moments when he couldn’t be trusted to sleep with his door unlocked because of her.

Stiles shakes it off. “Guess you’re grounded,” she grins, but before her dad can reply, all three werewolves turn in the direction of the door with glowing bright eyes. Someone rings the bell.

“Argent,” Laura closes her eyes for a moment. “Stay up here, and don’t make a sound,” she says to all three of them. Derek and her dad don’t exactly look happy about it, but they move a little ways down the hall to stay out of the sightline from the door and front hall. Stiles follows only once Laura stares her down. Of course, as soon as she’s downstairs, Stiles gets on her belly and creeps forward along the floor until she can just barely see what’s happening.

The way Laura answers the door, shoulders back and chin level, you’d almost forget it’s eleven at night and she’s standing barefoot in the unlit hall wearing threadbare sleep shorts and a tank top. The man outside must be Allison’s dad. He’s handsome enough, and they share some of the same bone structure, but unlike Allison his expression is even-keeled and serious.

“Hale,” he greets Laura like there’s nothing strange about this situation.

“Argent,” she responds. “I was going to come talk to you in the morning. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Argent frowns. “I appreciate the thought, even if it’s a lie,” he says, and Stiles can feel her eyebrows crawling up her forehead. “I checked in on your uncle as soon as I heard.”

Chin lifting, Laura seems to take a more defensive stance. “He’s catatonic, barely out of the coma, the same as he has been since the fire. Your sister left him so weak his heart stopped, or did you forget? My pack doesn’t go around killing the people we have treaties with,” she adds, the unspoken unlike some people hanging in the air so even Stiles can fill in the blanks.

“You want me to believe there’s a rogue in your territory and you didn’t know about it?” he pushes instead of addressing her challenge. “Can’t you even manage one tiny town any more?”

At that, Laura snarls before getting hold of herself. “I was going to come to you and propose we hunt it down together, but I can see that your family can’t hold up their half of the treaty. What’s left of your family, anyway. I shouldn’t be surprised. Drive safely,” she finishes and slams the door in his face.

“Sooo....” Stiles breaks the silence. “I’m guessing Allison’s family isn’t exactly normal?”

“You know their daughter?” Laura turns, her eyes still bright red in the dark and Stiles’ breath catches in her throat before she swallows down the instinctual fear.

“She started at school today. Scott’s basically in love with her.”

Her dad groans and mutters, “Not again,” under his breath.

“He should stay away from her,” Derek says, scowling before storming off into his room. That escalated quickly, Stiles thinks.

***

Exhausted, Stiles sleeps soundly that night, but when she heads down to breakfast the next morning, her dad looks like he barely slept at all. “Are you okay?” she asks, as Derek slides a plate in front of her.

Laura raises her eyebrows at him over the rim of her coffee mug. “How did you sleep, sheriff?” she asks. Her dad rolls his shoulders a little as if they’re stiff, glances at Stiles and then back to his plate as if deciding what to say.

Just then the radio on his shoulder squawks, and Laura’s a half second later. “Sorry,” her dad says, clapping her on the shoulder and pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “I’ll see you tonight.”

“Be careful,” Stiles says to him, then catches Laura’s eye. Laura nods before they head out. “Crap,” she says out loud a half beat later. “I still haven’t picked up the Jeep.”

Derek slips the last pan into the dishwasher and pulls his phone out of his back pocket to check the time. “If you hurry I can drop you there and you can drive to school,” he suggests. “I don’t start work until ten today.”

“Thanks!” Stiles focuses on scarfing down her food instead of trying to figure out how Derek manages to find space in his jeans pockets. Those things are tight.

***

Betty is just where she left her, and Stiles runs her hands over the hood before hugging the front headlight as best she can. “I’m so sorry, baby, I promise I’ll never abandon you in the middle of nowhere again.”

“Are you going to keep having a moment, or are you going to make sure it still runs?” Derek asks sarcastically. He hasn’t even gotten out of the Camaro; he’s just leaning out the window.

Stiles sticks her tongue out at him. “We have a deep and meaningful relationship!” she says, but fumbles her keys out of the pocket of her hoodie and clambers up into the driver’s seat.

Betty purrs to life after only two false starts, which is pretty solid. Stiles grins and waves at Derek through the windshield before buckling in and turning on the radio to blast some obnoxious pop music. He makes a face at her before backing out to the road and taking off.

“Whatever, I bet he’s a secret Carly Rae Jepsen fan,” Stiles mutters to herself and makes it just to the turn before her phone chimes with a text message.

Am not, Derek has written and Stiles snickers to herself before tossing her phone onto the passenger seat. If she pushes it a little maybe she won’t even be late.

***

Stiles barely makes it to school on time, but it doesn’t matter. Half the school is standing around a big yellow school bus cordoned off with caution tape, and Stiles can see her dad and Laura among Beacon Hills’ finest looking grim-faced by the bus.

She doesn’t see Scott around, but there’s a kid nearby who’s in a bunch of her classes – all curly light-brown hair and a defensive hunch that keeps most of the kids away from him. Igor? Ishmael? Isaac! “Hey, Isaac,” she calls out and he jumps a little like he’s nervous. “What’s going on?”

Isaac’s not bad looking up close, now that she can actually see his face, but he’s got dark circles under his eyes and he seems to be looking at her eyebrows or her ear instead of meeting her gaze. “Someone murdered the bus driver,” he mutters. “It’s bad.” And that’s right, Stiles remembers, Isaac’s dad is the caretaker for the graveyard, so if he says it’s bad it’s gotta be messy.

“Thanks,” she says absently, and fights through the crowd until she can get up near the tape. She regrets it immediately. There’s blood splashed across the doors and the windshield, but she can see enough through it to know that the bus driver is missing most of his throat and a few parts of his face. Stiles swallows down some bile before Laura sees her.

“Hey, Stiles, you okay? You’re looking a little green,” she says, ducking under the tape and putting an arm around Stiles’ shoulders to not so subtly turn her away from the bus. “It was the rogue,” she says, ducking down to speak quietly into Stiles’ ear. It tickles. “Be careful today, okay? We’re on it, but you call us if you see anything weird.” She squeezes Stiles’ shoulder with one hand before giving her a push towards the school doors.

“Can we get these kids out of here?” Laura calls out to the other deputies, and soon enough they’re all being herded away from the crime scene.

***

She gets to class after Scott as their teacher yells for everyone to sit down and shut up, so Stiles kicks the back of Scott’s chair just because she can, but they don’t actually get a chance to talk until the gap before the next period. “Did you hear about Allison?” is the first thing he asks, because of course it is.

“Yeah, harsh on the first day,” she agrees distractedly, swapping out her English textbook for Calc.

“Maybe we should send her a card. Or a fruit basket,” he says slowly. “Do you think Allison likes fruit?”

“I think Allison has talked to you for under thirty minutes and is kind of busy with a death in the family,” Stiles says, rolling her eyes. “Maybe just play it cool and see if she wants to borrow your notes when she comes back to school.”

Scott visibly deflates. “Oh. Yeah, yeah, you’re probably right.” He perks right back up again though as she slams her locker closed and twists the lock. “Hey, since when are you dating Derek Hale?”

“Since what? I’m not – where would you even have heard that? I’m your only friend.”

Scott shrugs. “I talk to people!”

Stiles can wait. She stares him down and he breaks easily.

“Uh, Lydia asked about it? She said he picked you up yesterday. I think she’s having a party Saturday night. She said we should come, and you should bring Derek.”

So that’s how it was. Stiles snorts. “You know, a couple weeks ago I would’ve jumped at the chance, but I think I’ll pass. You should go, though.” She adjusts her books and gestures down the hall. “Gotta run. Aren’t you going to be late for Bio?”

“Crap!”

***

It’s not that Stiles craves Lydia’s attention (except she does), or that Lydia is a bad person (except when she is), but Stiles got over her thing for Lydia (mostly) almost a year ago. Sure, Lydia is smart and beautiful and popular, and Stiles would like to make out with her or just spend some time hanging out or even studying, but she also refuses to play school politics.

Stiles refuses to tone herself down to try and fit in better with assholes like Jackson Whittemore when she has a perfectly good best friend in Scott. She’s friendly with people like Danny, and even Erica sometimes, when she’s around. It took her awhile to figure out that the friendships a lot of the really popular kids had didn’t seem to amount to much.

The only reason Lydia even looked at Scott was probably because Allison said something, and the only reason Stiles was invited was because Lydia assumed Stiles was dating Derek. It would be funny if it weren’t so ridiculously shallow, and if Stiles wasn’t too busy dealing with her father becoming a werewolf.

She’s already two chapters ahead in calc, so Stiles takes the chance to download a moon phases app to her phone and sync it with her calendar. The full moon is Saturday, the same night as Lydia’s party. If Allison even shows up, considering her Aunt is in pieces in the county coroner’s office, Scott can try to make a good impression on her while Stiles stays home and tries to keep her dad from murdering people.

Good times.

***

“So, Stiles,” Lydia says, sliding into the seat across from her in the library during study hall. “How long have you known Derek Hale?” She flips her strawberry blonde hair over one shoulder and tilts her head to one side, the same move Stiles has seen her pull on Jackson when she wants him to think she’s dumb. It’s amazing it ever works.

“Pretty much none of your business,” Stiles says and turns back to her notes. She still needs another two sources for her report next Tuesday.

Lydia drums her nails on the table in a slow roll, twice. “Did Scott invite you to my party? Everyone’s going to be there,” she tries.

“I’m busy,” Stiles says sharply, then drops her pen and makes eye contact. “Okay, you know what? Even if I wasn’t busy I probably wouldn’t go. You’ve been a complete asshole to me since you found out I was bi and it shouldn’t bother me that much, but it does.”

On a roll, Stiles gets a bit too loud for the library, but she’s not going to stop now. “ So no, I don’t want to go to your party, and no I’m not dating Derek, but even if I were it’d be none of your business.”

Lydia looks shocked, face flushed with embarrassment and mouth half open.

Stiles shoves her things into her bag and storms out of the library, tripping once over the saddle where the carpet meets the linoleum, face burning with the feel of everyone’s eyes on her.

***

The worst part is she still has more than half the day left. She hasn’t even hit lunch yet, but she can hear people whispering furiously behind her back, going silent when she sits near them in class. It’s all over the school, and while it was a long time coming and Stiles should have said something years ago, she knows that partly she just wanted to yell at someone, anyone, and Lydia became a convenient target.

She’s been keeping it together pretty well, acting normal, but she got her dad bitten by a werewolf a few days ago, there’s a murdering rogue in town, some kind of war between the Hales and the Argents, and she can’t even talk to anyone about it. And even if she could, Scott’s been so wrapped up in Allison he hasn’t noticed that anything’s wrong.

Scott’s great, the best friend she could ever hope for, but when he falls he falls hard and loses most of his IQ and all of his common sense. All she can do is wait it out and deal with things on her own.

Frustrated and angry, Stiles skips fourth period and hides out in the little park around the corner from the school. It’s full of toddlers and parents at this time of day, so she can’t even use the swings.

At least she’s got some chips and gatorade in her bag, so she doesn’t have to go back in for lunch next period. She’s rooting around blindly for them when a shadow falls over her. Lydia stands awkwardly in her heels on the edge of the grass.

“I don’t care if you’re bisexual,” she says stiffly. “I never did.”

Stiles glares at her, rips open her chips and chews obnoxiously for a minute. “That’s not what it looked like,” she says. “The day after I told you I thought I was bi you pretended I didn’t even exist, or worse, like I was garbage. I thought we were friends, but I was definitely wrong.”

“That’s not why.” Lydia bites the inside of her cheek and looks up, away. “You scored higher than me on the NAEP tests.”

“Bullshit!” Stiles yells, and gets several dirty looks from the parents in the park before lowering her voice guiltily. “There’s no way I did, and we didn’t see each other’s grades. And we took those tests in elementary school! After I was held back for a year!”

Lydia pinks up. “I got Danny to help me access the records, okay? You scored higher than me in everything except math. I couldn’t stand the thought that you might be smarter than me so I... I just...”

“What, decided to punish me?” Stiles asks. It’s a stupid reason, but it’s the kind of thing that Lydia might actually do. She was smart, brilliant in so many ways that sometimes totally normal things tripped her up.

Lydia sighs. “Yeah.” She shifts back and forth a little on her heels, which are digging into the grass. “It didn’t occur to me that you’d think it was about the bisexual thing. I’ve never cared about that.”

“I thought you’d figured out I had a crush on you,” Stiles admits, and she can feel herself turning red.

Lydia laughs. “Stiles,” she says very seriously. “I’m stunning. Everyone has a crush on me.”

“God, no wonder you and Jackson make such a good pair. You’re both full of it,” Stiles gripes, but Lydia only laughs.

“Want to head back in for lunch? My shoes are just really not made for this,” Lydia frowns down at her feet.

Stiles hauls herself up off the grass and brushes the dirt off her legs. “As long as Scott can sit with us,” she stipulates and Lydia rolls her eyes.

“Duh.”

***

They get more than a few looks, eating together again after years and a major fight not two periods ago, but Stiles doesn’t really care. She’s not ready to hang out with Lydia all the time or anything – it was still a shitty way to treat someone, especially someone she considered a friend – but it’s nice having someone sharp to bounce things off.

Scott does pretty well in school, but he’s too nice for his own good, too willing to believe the best of people. And until he gets over Allison or something crazy happens, his head will be firmly in the clouds.

It’s strange sitting even in the same vicinity as Jackson, but Danny is cool and smiles at her across the table. “Is your dad doing okay?” he asked, and it’s the first time anyone at school has even seemed to care about the fact that her dad was supposedly bitten by a bear cub the other night.

Stiles shrugs. “Yeah, it’s not bad. I think Mrs. McCall mostly just laughed at him and put a bandage on it.”

Scott looks horrified. “I forgot to ask!”

She waves it off. “It’s really not a big deal,” she says. It’s stupid to feel hurt about that because as far as Scott and his mom, or almost anyone else in town, would know, it isn’t a big deal, not really. Or it wouldn’t be if it was anyone except Scott.

Danny makes a face like maybe he shouldn’t have brought it up but Stiles shakes her head at him behind Scott’s back. “Yeah,” he continues, “I figured he must be doing okay since he was there for the bus driver thing this morning. Garrison Myers, right? Didn’t he work for the insurance co-op, though?”

Scott looks up at that, puzzled. “Yeah, I think I met him once. He seemed okay.”

“Can we not talk about dead bodies?” Jackson whines. “I’m trying to eat here.”

“No one cares about your delicate constitution, Jackson,” Lydia huffs. “I saw you talking to Deputy Hale, Stiles,” she carries on as Jackson gags dramatically over his lunch. “Someone said it might be the same mountain lion that killed Allison’s aunt. Did she say anything to you?”

Oh, a mountain lion. Is that what we’re calling it now? Stiles thinks to herself but shrugs. “No, she just told me to be safe and get to class. If it is a mountain lion though,” or a rogue alpha werewolf, whatever, “they might put out a curfew or something. I mean, I would, if I knew a wild animal was running around town killing people.”

“Your dad is setting a curfew? God, Stilinski, could you be any more lame?” Jackson rolls his eyes before Danny looks at him like he’s an idiot.

“She said she doesn’t know, Jackson. We don’t even know if it is a mountain lion. But a curfew might not be a bad idea, all things considered,” he muses.

Lydia puts on her faux-vapid face, twirling some of her hair around one finger. “As long as it’s after my party I don’t care,” she says coolly before turning back to Stiles. “You’re sure you can’t come?”

“I really am busy that night,” Stiles says, and means it. “Family stuff.” And then, because she’s a good friend, “Is Allison going?” she asks. Scott immediately perks up. Of course he does.

“Maybe,” Lydia shrugs. “She said she’d try.”

The conversation turns to who’s going, who’s bringing who, and Stiles tunes out. She’s got more important things to think about.

***

By last period, she’s just anxious to go home, but Harris holds up his hand as the bell rings. “Stop, settle down, you can leave after my announcement,” he says, frowning. “Apparently the sheriff’s department,” he cuts Stiles a dirty look, “has instituted a mandatory city curfew in wake of the recent animal attacks. I’m supposed to remind everyone to remain indoors after eight pm. I’m sure the officers will be more than happy to hand out tickets to anyone trying to go about their business.”

Half the class groans, so he has to yell over them, “Dismissed!”

Scott meets her at her locker. “Hey, can you give me a ride to Deaton’s? I’ve got work tonight.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Stiles shrugs, and they head outside. “Saving up in case you get to ask Allison out for real?”

She unlocks the door and shoves the leather jacket off the passenger seat into the back, tossing her school bag in with it before going around the other side.

“Since when do you have a leather jacket?” Scott asks, fumbling his bag back with hers.

“I don’t,” she says absently, starting the Jeep up. It only takes two tries.

“So uh, whose is it?”

Stiles creeps forward to get into the line out of the school parking lot. Whoever decided there should be a four way stop connecting to one of the main roads was an asshole. “Maybe Laura’s, probably Derek’s. I don’t know. Are you going to need a ride home tonight?”

“What?” That derails him, briefly. “No, my mom’s picking me up after her shift. Since when do you hang out with Laura and Derek?”

Stiles sighs. “I don’t know, since recently, okay?”

“Oh my god,” Scott says, wide eyed, “Are you dating both of them?!”

She bursts into laughter, eyes watering because of it, and can’t stop. The people behind her in line for the turn actually start honking, so Stiles wipes her eyes on her sleeve, gives someone the finger out her window and makes the turn.

“Scott,” she says kindly, “You are the only person who would jump to that conclusion. Seriously, have you seen me?” She gestures with one hand. “I’m not exactly in the running for people who could date anyone as hot as they are, okay?”

He opens his mouth, probably to protest when she glances back at the road and slams on the breaks, skidding forward. Hunched aggressively in the middle of the road, in broad daylight, is a monster.

Stiles would recognize those feral red eyes anywhere. It’s body structure looks confused, like it’s stuck halfway between walking on two legs and running on four, but it’s no less terrifying because of it. Stiles has no doubt that this is the rogue alpha and that it could rip right through her jeep and then their bodies without fuss. She’s reminded, stupidly, of a knife infomercial she’d seen once.

Not breaking eye contact, Stiles fumbles for her phone and throws it at Scott. “Call Laura,” she says and the Alpha drops his lower jaw. She can see the saliva strings connecting two sets of fangs together. Scott is frozen. “Scott!” she snaps, and he jumps a little in his seat. “Call. Laura.”

“Okay, yeah,” Scott fumbles, and out of the corner of her eye she sees him almost drop it before he manages to hit Laura’s name on her short list of favorites. “What is that?” he asks while it rings.

“You know,” Stiles tries to sound calm, “probably a weird coyote.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Scott argues, “That’s definitely not a– Laura, hi, uh,” Stiles grabs the phone back out of his hand.

“Laura, he–” she pauses, remembering that Scott is with her. “It’s here.” Stiles rattles off the intersection before tossing the phone back to Scott blindly. “Stay on the line with her,” she says.

The Alpha turns and paces slowly in the direction of her jeep. Stiles saw a nature documentary like this once. It didn’t end well.

“Coyotes don’t look like that, and they don’t act like that and oh god, why is it coming closer,” Scott babbles into the phone and leans back against the seat like the extra half inch will save him somehow.

“Maybe it’s rabid.” She’s responding on auto-pilot, keeping her eyes locked with the rogue as it paces forward and curves around to the driver’s side door. She loses sight of him when he gets close to the wheel well.

A half beat of silence, and then both of it’s clawed front hands slam against the window with a thud that vibrates through the frame, and Stiles screams, heart jack-rabbiting before she slams her foot on the gas and then the break and they screech forward with a squeal of tires.

The Alpha growls and digs his claws in, scratching deep welts into the window. In her side mirror, she can see him crouch down like he’s about to charge when she hears the sirens. By the way he jerks back, so does the rogue. He bares his teeth at her one more time before bounding off the road and into the trees, disappearing from view faster than she would have thought possible.

Her dad and Laura pull up barely twenty seconds later, but Stiles is frozen, hands gripping white-knuckled on the wheel and Scott is frozen with her phone pressed to his chest. She can’t move, she can’t breathe, she’s shaking and cold and dizzy with fear, belatedly.

“Stiles!” her dad yells, jumping out of the cruiser and racing to the driver’s side. “Are you okay?” She can hear him but it’s foggy, she’s too scared, now that she has time to be. “I need you to relax, okay? We’re here – Scott, you need to open your door. Climb on out.”

She’s aware of Scott falling out of the Jeep and her dad climbing in, but it’s several long minutes before she can unclench her hands and start breathing normally. Her eyes are wet.

“Dad,” she manages to gasp out, and he reaches out to pull her into an awkward hug over the center console. It’s exactly what she needs, and she grabs on tight.

***

When she calms down enough to get out of the Jeep, Laura has talked Scott down and is seriously taking a statement from him. “Sounds like a mountain lion to me,” she says calmly. “We’ve been having a lot of reports of that lately.”

“I don’t know,” Scott wrinkles his nose. “It didn’t look right.”

Laura scratches the side of her face thoughtfully. “You work at the vet’s office, right?” Scott nods. “Do you think it might have had rabies?”

“That might be it,” Scott agrees, and Stiles lets out a sigh of relief. “It definitely didn’t look right, and it was slobbering a lot.”

“It’s good that you called us,” Laura says with a smile that is so patently false Stiles wonders how this werewolf business has been kept under wraps at all. “It was probably scared off by our sirens.”

“Thanks for coming,” Stiles speaks up, and she means it.

“Are you okay, Stiles?” Scott asks. “Sorry, I was completely useless. I had to use my inhaler, after,” he adds, and while he’s probably just trying to make her feel better about her panic attack, it’s also likely true.

“Yeah,” she nods, “I’m okay. Are you?”

Scott nods and holds his arms open. “Bro-hug?”

And who could say no to that? Stiles pulls him in tight. The McCalls and Stilinskis are both champion hugging families, and Scott and Stiles have never let a little thing like gender get between them and hugging it out.

“Do you still want to go to work?” she asks, pulling back. Scott blanches.

“Crap, I’m late!”

“I’m sure Dr. Deaton will understand,” her father says, but his mouth is a thin line and he looks to Laura. “How about we drop Scott off and arrange a tow for Betty here?”

“It’s just the window,” Stiles protests. “I can totally drive it to the shop to get it looked at.”

Laura shakes her head. “Better safe than sorry. We can’t know the real extent of the damage until a professional looks at it. Especially since it was from a wild animal,” she says, raising an eyebrow. How do both of them manage to do that and look cool? Stiles has tried it a few times in the mirror since that first night, but it just doesn’t work on her face for some reason.

“I guess you’re right,” Stiles agrees.

“Of course I am. Now grab your stuff and hop in the back – we’ll get Scott to work and I’ll call the accident in from the road.”

Stiles’ dad grabs their backpacks and the leather jacket out of the back seat and throws them into the cruiser while she and Scott grab their assorted detritus. “Come on, we’re wasting daylight,” he calls to them.

***

After they’ve dropped Scott off and explained to Deaton, in not so many words, what happened, and called a tow for Stiles’ Jeep, they head back to the Hale house. Stiles has barely made it out of the car before Laura pulls her into a tight hug, pressing her face to Stiles’ neck and inhaling once, deeply, before letting go.

“Sorry,” she says, not looking sorry at all. “Alpha werewolf thing. You had us scared for a minute there.”

“Just a parent thing for me,” her dad adds, and keeps close as they enter the house.

Stiles shrugs. “I know how you feel. If I could camp out next to Betty tonight at the garage, I would. I only had her back for half a day!”

He gives her a supremely unimpressed look. “It’s really not the same thing.”

“Betty and I share a deep bond, Dad,” she says earnestly and he snorts as they all ditch their shoes at the door.

Laura herds them both into the living room and onto the couch, shedding her coat and pulling up a footstool.

“And I’m sure the mechanics will take good care of her,” she says, “but right now we need to focus on what happened. Tell me everything.”

Stiles takes a deep breath and explains.

***

“It sounds like the alpha is fixated on you,” Laura says when she’s finished, and that doesn’t sound good. “Last night, when he killed the bus driver–”

“Laura,” her dad cuts in, then stops. He looks terrified.

“She needs to know,” Laura says firmly before turning back to Stiles. “An alpha can share things with his or her betas, even over distances. Last night your dad had a nightmare about killing you in the bus, the same way the Alpha killed Garrison Myers.”

Stiles sucks in a sharp breath, but lets it out slowly. “But Dad would never hurt me,” she says, and she means it, knows it’s true the same way she knows that he’ll probably never take off his wedding band.

“That’s right,” Laura agrees and Stiles can see her dad’s shoulders relax infinitesimally. She presses her shoulder to his in support. “But the Alpha will keep trying to manipulate him and work him into a frenzy, and it seems like you’re a part of his plan. You’ll have to be extra careful,” she continues. “We don’t know what he wants from you, whether he wants to kill you or try to turn you, or whether he cares at all.”

“What do you mean?” Stiles asks.

Laura frowns. “As far as we know the bite either turns a person or kills them.”

“And I’m guessing you don’t know which until it happens.”

“No. It’s a risk, and it’s why most werewolves are born, not bitten. Only a reckless or desperate Alpha would bite humans unless the circumstances called for it.”

“Or a crazy rogue on a murder spree,” her father adds before leaning back against the couch with a sigh. “We need to stop him before he hurts Stiles,” he says as if she’s not sitting right there.

“And we will,” Laura agrees, “but for now we’ll start with safety precautions. I need you to line your room with mountain ash tonight, Stiles. We won’t be able to get in, but neither will the Alpha.”

Stiles eyes her backpack on the floor, then thinks of the jar of mountain ash upstairs in her room, now slightly emptier than when she first brought it home. “Okay,” she agrees easily. “I’ll do it now.”

“Good.” Laura claps her hands on her knees and then stands up as Stiles heads for the stairs. “I think that means you and I are on dinner duty tonight, sheriff. Derek’s on shift until eight.”

He groans. “Can’t we just order pizza?”

“It might be safer!” Stiles agrees over her shoulder. Her dad is a terrible cook.

***

When Derek gets home he actually scents the air, like a dog, and Stiles holds back a laugh. “You let Laura cook?” he asks, looking betrayed.

“And my dad,” she agrees. “It was a,” she pauses to run a fake drum roll on the edge of her laptop, “recipe for disaster!”

Derek groans, but she can tell he secretly doesn’t mind the terrible pun that much. “Maybe I should just get back in the car and get take out.” He’s hovering, indecisive in the foyer, when Laura wanders out of the kitchen.

“Not a chance, Derek. I cooked, and you are definitely going to eat it.”

He makes a face at her but toes off his shoes and heads into the living room only to stop suddenly. “Oh, right,” Stiles says, remembering. “I had to mountain ash my room and it’s kind of above half the living room. Sorry.”

He suddenly looks very serious, eyes intent on her as if making sure she’s okay. “What happened?”

“We can talk about it over dinner,” Laura interrupts, edging her way around the invisible field around the seating area to dump a load of cutlery in his hands. “Set the table, will you?” she asks and wanders back into the kitchen.

Derek just stands there for a few seconds, tense, before saying only, “I’m glad you’re okay,” and then turning sharply to head into the dining room.

***

In the middle of dinner it occurs to her that the rogue could be after Scott, not her. “What about Scott?” she asks once they’ve caught Derek up on everything. “Shouldn’t we do something? He and his mom live alone!”

“With baseball bats,” her dad mutters. “Trust me, he’s made it pretty clear he’s not going after Scott. Or Melissa,” he adds after a brief pause. “But I’d bet Deaton is keeping an eye on him anyway.”

Stiles relaxes a little. “Right, okay, good. I forgot about Deaton.” She pokes at the food on her plate for a minute – some of the least appetizing spaghetti with hot dogs she’s ever had – before another thought occurs to her. “Then why did it kill Kate Argent first?”

Derek clenches his fist next to his plate but keeps his head down. “She was a hunter who didn’t follow the code,” he says quietly.

“Hunters are supposed to follow certain rules,” Laura says, picking up for him. “Kate didn’t care. She killed any werewolf she could, even if they had never hurt anyone. She killed humans just for associating with werewolves. As much as I dislike Victoria and Chris Argent, they play by the rules as far as I can tell. Kate didn’t even bother trying to hide it after awhile.”

“So she could have been chasing it,” Stiles says, and tries to think of a way to change the topic. Laura and Derek both look incredibly uncomfortable. “Did you find anything out about the bus driver?” she asks her dad.

He shrugs. “Not much.”

“Danny said he used to work for the insurance company,” she adds, pushing her empty plate away.

“We thought of that,” Laura agreed, “but unless the rogue used to live in Beacon County and had moved away it probably wouldn’t be relevant.”

“That’s all I’ve got, sorry.”

Her dad reaches over to ruffle her hair. “Don’t worry about it. You focus on staying safe, we’ll focus on tracking it down.”

Stay out of the investigation? Fat chance.

***

The only problem, Stiles reflects later that night, is that googling ‘how to kill a werewolf’ isn’t particularly effective. The first several pages of results are all speculative bullshit that’s half based on movies, and the other half just sounds ridiculous.

If Laura is right and most werewolves are born, not bitten, chances are that they’ve been around for centuries, millennia even. She’ll have to hit the library, though ideally not when Derek is working.

She switches over to Amazon and orders a few ebooks that look promising before closing her laptop and tucking it under the bed. She’s totally got this covered.

***

She has absolutely nothing covered. “Looks like it’s going to take a few days to get a replacement window in,” her dad tells her as he gulps down the last of his coffee before work. “Derek volunteered to get you to and from school in the meantime.”

Crap. “I can totally drive it without a window in the meantime,” she tries. “You’re always trying to get me to experience fresh air and... nature and stuff?”

Her dad sets down his mug and gives her a steady, interrogative look. She caves.

“Okay, fine it’s just, you know, I have stuff to do, and someone has to keep Scott in line, and Lydia and I just sort of became friends again, and, you know. Stuff!”

“Stiles,” Laura interjects calmly, “You’re a walking target right now. It’s safer if you’re with one of us when you’re not at school, and the sheriff and I have to make sure everyone focuses on the mountain lion theory while we track down the rogue, hopefully before it hurts anyone else.”

“I’m glad you’ve made up with Lydia,” her dad says, “but I can’t lose you. Please just try to stay out of this one.” He looks heartbroken and Stiles makes a face to keep her eyes from watering at the thought of leaving him alone. “Promise me you’ll try to stay out of trouble.”

Stiles sighs. “I always try.”

Stiles,” he says warningly.

“Yeah, okay, fine. I’ll do my best not to get eaten or bitten or whatever. But ten bucks says I’d make an awesome werewolf.”

Derek coughs, from the sink where he’s had his back to the whole discussion, and it sounds suspiciously like “sure you would” to Stiles. She glares at him half-heartedly until he turns around, looking resigned.

“Are you done arguing now? We should get going.”

Stiles flails one hand at him. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll grab my bag, hold your horses.” She’ll just have to find an alternate way to implement her plan.

***

There’s something to be said for having Derek Hale drive her to school. On the one hand, even Danny gives him (and his car) a long look, but on the other, she’ll probably have to answer more awkward questions about whether or not they’re dating. Stiles sits there for a minute when Derek pulls up the curb.

“Hey, are you working today?” she asks as she undoes her seat-belt.

Derek looks puzzled. “No. Why?”

“Just figuring out if I should double up at lunch in case dad and Laura are cooking again tonight. Thanks for the ride,” she adds, and slides out of the car and heads up the steps without looking back.

Lydia is standing near the doors pretending to look bored. “Still pretending you’re not dating Derek Hale?” she asks.

“Still definitely not dating any of the Hales,” Stiles replies, which, oops, gets her a raised eyebrow as they head inside. “Hey, do you have a free period today?” she asks.

“Third period, yes, why?”

Stiles tries her best impression of the Scott McCall puppy eyes, which doesn’t usually work but is worth a shot. “I need a ride to the library.” It’s technically against school rules to leave the building without a note or a parent, but Stiles figures as long as you don’t get caught it doesn’t count, and frankly, she’s going to the library. It’s not like she’s smoking pot in the woods with the stoners.

The assessing look Lydia gives her is almost an answer. “What, you didn’t get enough of him last night or this morning?”

She can’t help the flush that spreads over her face. “Seriously, I’m not–” Stiles huffs. “Can you give me a ride or not?”

“Of course I can,” Lydia agrees, pulling out a compact to ostensibly check her lipstick but probably actually using it to see if their classroom is open yet. “But I’ll want details,” she adds and Stiles groans.

“Seriously, it’s not that interesting. I just want to look at some books and my Jeep is in the shop.”

“Sure, let’s pretend that’s why for now. You can tell me the real reason on the way over.” She snaps her compact closed sharply. “Come on, I’m not going to be late for Spanish,” she says and turns to head to class. Stiles lifts her palms to the ceiling and rolls her eyes. She’ll never understand Lydia.

***

The rest of the morning is just a struggle to focus. Stiles finds herself tapping her foot against the leg of her desk, scribbling nonsense in the margins of her notebook, repeatedly checking if her phone is still on vibrate just in case. When third period finally rolls around she rushes to her locker to fidget and wait anxiously for Lydia.

What she’s not expecting is for Danny to show up first. “Hey, Stiles,” he greets her with a nod. Lydia is not far behind him.

“Oh good, you’re both here,” she says, and opens her locker to put her textbook away.

Danny shrugs. “I need to get some articles for my American Government paper and the school library doesn’t have what I’m looking for. Hope you don’t mind.” It’s hard to deny Danny anything, he’s so easy going and generally good-natured. Plus, anyone who can put up with Jackson on a daily basis is either a saint or whatever Lydia is. (Future world ruler, Stiles sometimes thinks to herself, which isn’t out of the question.)

“Yeah, no problem,” Stiles agrees and it occurs to her that if she’s lucky she can distract Lydia with Danny while she finds exactly what she’s looking for. “Let’s go.”

***

The library is pretty dead at this time of day, only a handful of retirees parked at tables or going through the holds shelf. True to his word, Derek thankfully isn’t working, so Stiles turns to Danny before Lydia can ask her anything. “What’s your paper on, anyway?” she asks.

Danny makes a self-deprecating face. “How the internet has changed the way we interact with the government on political issues. I mean, there are some interesting ideas at the state and national level. I’m really looking for some older news articles to compare situations ten years ago to now.”

“It’s weird, right?” Stiles forgets her actual mission for a minute, actually interested in Danny’s paper. “Even just the difference between now and when we were kids – it’s crazy.”

“Not really,” Lydia cuts in, rolling her eyes. “It’s fairly predictable but the results are still interesting.” She turns to Danny. “What level are you looking at? Hyper-local? State? National?”

He looks pleased. “All three if I can? Do you mind helping me out? If we split up I can help you find whatever you’re looking for after that,” he suggests, and Stiles nods in agreement.

“I’ll take local,” she says. “I remember some of the stuff my dad was working on back then, a little.”

Lydia is already honing in on the old microfiche machines. “I’ll take national,” she says. “Danny, you probably don’t even know how to use one of those.” The library hasn’t had the best funding in the last few years, so only some of the old newspapers have been converted to digital archives.

“Sounds good,” Danny says, laughing. “I really appreciate it.”

Stiles waves him off and heads to her own microfiche station. She dumps her bag at what looks like an old desktop computer from the 90s before heading over to the catalogue. The archive of cards is indexed pretty thoroughly, at least, so Stiles pulls up a bunch of entries about local political issues and elections before figuring why not kill two birds with one stone? There’s an archive of Beacon Hills Beacon issues going back several decades, and Stiles finds several promising sounding pieces about animal attacks and the development of the preserve.

Research is kind of Stiles’ thing. She does go through Danny’s articles first, and takes notes and writes down the article information so he can look up the ones she thinks are the most promising later. By the time she’s done, Danny and Lydia still look engrossed in their own machines, so she feels safe. She loads up one of the articles about the nature preserve back when it was first being declared a protected area by the state wildlife department and the Board of Supervisors. There’s a black and white photo alongside the article featuring some of the state representatives standing near the now entrance to the preserve.

One of them is a woman with dark hair, face turned to the side and laughing at something. Something about her features is familiar and Stiles skips down to the caption to find her name. Talia Hale.

So Laura and Derek’s mom – or Aunt, but her money is on mom – helped zone the preserve in the first place. Awfully convenient for a family of werewolves. Stiles makes note of the article for later and moves on. The next several articles are mostly useless, until she finds one written only a week after the fire that had consumed the Hale house.

She remembers it happening, of course, but her heart breaks a little all over again to see the photo of soot-stained Derek and Laura wrapped in trauma blankets and sitting pressed together on the back of an ambulance, surrounded by police officers. Her dad is just out of focus in the background talking to– to Garrison Myers, recently murdered bus driver.

There’s no zoom on the microfiche reader, and he’s just as blurry, grainy, and out of focus as her dad, but it’s definitely him. Stiles leans forward intently, looking for anything else from the photo but there’s nothing helpful. Just a lot of steam and smoke and fire fighters.

“Is this why you wanted to come here?” Lydia asks from right over her shoulder and Stiles nearly jumps out of her skin.

“Holy crap, you scared me!” she says, fumbling to pull the card out of the machine, but Lydia grabs her arm to stop her as Danny comes over, too. Fuck.

“You’re investigating the animal attacks, right?” It’s not really a question, and Lydia doesn’t wait for an answer, either. “Honestly, Stiles, you should’ve just said so. Your research is very good,” which is an outstanding compliment from Lydia, and Stiles feels the urge to preen a little, “but you’re lacking in some very specific areas. Just ask us for help next time. The sneaking around offends me.”

Stiles would protest, but Danny is nodding along with her. “Yeah, I mean, we’d be happy to help.”

She groans. “Listen, it’s not that I don’t want your help,” she tries to explain, “but it’s– not a good idea,” she says instead of dangerous. Dangerous would just incite Lydia’s curiosity further. “You know me, I fixate on things. I’m sure I’ll be totally distracted by something new tomorrow. No big deal.”

The look Lydia pins her with is scathing. “Really?” she says sarcastically. “So the reason you don’t have your Jeep today isn’t because you were attacked yesterday? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that whatever killed that bus driver wasn’t a mountain lion. Mountain lions don’t break into buses, and they don’t attack cars on the road. Not even if they’re rabid.”

“Stiles,” Danny says, softer and gentler, and she kind of hates him for pulling his charming nice guy act on her, “We get it. You have an insider view of what’s actually going on. Maybe the police don’t want us to panic if there’s a serial killer or someone loose in the area, but you know as well as I do that ignorance isn’t going to keep anyone safer.”

“And we’re smarter than most of the authorities put together,” Lydia continued, tossing her hair over one shoulder. “They probably won’t even be able to wrap this up without us. So spill.”

Stiles drops her head to the desk and thumps her forehead against the cool fiberboard a few times. She really should have known better.

***

Both Danny and Lydia are pretty good at being able to tell when Stiles is lying, so she has to stick to half truths or limiting the information she gives them. Not that most people would jump to the conclusion of werewolves right away, but better safe than sorry. Maybe they can at least help her find the human identity of the rogue.

“I think Kate Argent was involved in some way,” she explains on the way back to school. All three of them have class fourth period. “From what I hear she was into a lot of bad stuff, but I couldn’t find out what.”

“And what about Garrison Myers? What was that article about?” Danny asks.

“Remember how you said he worked for the insurance company?” Stiles asks. “I think he investigated the Hale fire when we were kids. He was in the photo, talking to my dad.”

Lydia nods as she pulls her car back into the school parking lot. “So we need to find out if they connect at all. There has to be a reason he killed both of them.”

“I might be able to do some digging tonight,” Danny volunteers. “But I need to get a draft of this paper done first.” Once they’ve parked, he hauls his bag over one shoulder. “Thanks for the help,” he says. “See you both in Chem?”

“See you there in five,” Lydia agrees. “Stiles and I have to powder our noses first.”

Danny makes a face. “Suuure,” he says sarcastically and heads off down the hall.

“I actually hit the restroom at the library, so you know, I’m good,” Stiles tries, “I’ll just–”

Lydia loops her arm through Stiles and pulls her along with a deceptive strength. “Not a chance, Stiles,” she says through one of her patented fake smiles.

She pushes into the bathroom and plants herself by the door, tapping one foot and waiting impatiently for a girl Stiles vaguely recognizes as a ninth grader to leave. Once they’re alone she frowns at Stiles.

“Look, I get that we didn’t talk for a few years and maybe you’re still mad at me, which, fine, but I’m not messing around. You know more than you’re letting on, and that’s not helpful. If you want Danny and me to be of any actual use, you’re going to have to level with us. I don’t care if you have to talk to your really not secret boyfriend about it first or what, but you need to get it figured out fast. Things like this escalate, and I don’t want to have to write about escaping a serial killer in my college applications.”

With that she sweeps out of the bathroom without a backward glance. Stiles tilts her head back against the wall for a minute. This is going to be awkward to explain to the werewolves in her life.

***

Derek is waiting for her after school again, and he starts the engine back up as she slides into the passenger seat and does up her seat belt. “How was the library?” is the first thing he asks.

“...what makes you think I went to the library?” she asks. He gives her a look as he pulls away from the school.

“You’re not exactly subtle. And I can smell it on you.”

“Crap, right,” Stiles makes a face. “You work there, of course you’d know it right away.” Derek doesn’t say anything, just waits her out and Stiles huffs out a sigh. “I was safe! I was with Lydia and Danny and– actually, I have to talk to dad and Laura about this, too. Can we save it for dinner? I’d really prefer to only get in trouble once.”

The corner of Derek’s mouth lifts just a little, just a hint of a smile, and she knows she’s won. “What are we eating, anyway?” she asks to change the topic.

“Not sure yet,” he responds, turning away from their neighborhood and onto the main road into town. “I have to go grocery shopping first. You’re helping,” he adds.

“Okay,” she agrees, “But I just want you to know this is really not going to help stop the rumor that I am dating you or Laura or both.”

One of his hands twitches a bit on the wheel, and she can see his ears turn a bit red. “Yeah, I heard.” Inexplicably, he frowns. “People will think what they want to think.”

Instead of replying, Stiles looks at his profile for a long minute, his shoulders strangely tense and his hands stiff at ten and two. “Okay,” she says finally, “I’ll let that pass. But you and Laura are the ones who have to deal with my dad when he finds out.”

That, at least, gets a small smile. “Let’s leave it to Laura. I’m not much of a talker.”

Talk about an understatement.

***

They hit the grocery store first, and it's hard for Stiles to remember that she doesn't have to fill the cart with lean ground turkey or low sodium soup for her dad. The only person who really has to eat (relatively) healthy is herself. While Derek peruses the bakery counter, Stiles darts into the next aisle to grab some Doritos and a bag of sour keys and throws them into the cart.

"So what are you thinking? Any ideas?" She asks.

Derek shrugs. "I figured we'd have some Vietnamese chicken and cabbage tonight. It's fast and easy, and pretty cheap to make a lot of it."

“Okay,” Stiles agrees even though cabbage isn’t exactly inspiring. Everything Derek has cooked so far this week has been really delicious, even things she didn’t expect to like. “What do we need?”

“Not much,” Derek says, and pulls out his phone for a minute. “I have to get food for the rest of the week - I’ve got the grocery list on here. Can you grab two big cabbages and eight chicken breasts and I’ll start on the rest of the list?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you in the aisles in a few,” she says and heads off to produce.

Ever since she got her license, Stiles has been doing most of the grocery shopping herself. Her dad works long hours at the station, and usually brings work home, too. He’s also not a great cook. Her mom had done the bulk of the cooking, with her dad mostly taking over for animal shaped pancakes for Saturday morning breakfast, and burgers on the grill during the summer months.

Stiles is a passable cook, but she’s nowhere near as good as her mom was, or as Derek clearly is. She misses her room and their house, and she wants to go back and have everything settled, but in the meantime at least she’s eating really, really well.

Cabbages are on sale, thank goodness, so she grabs an abandoned basket and hefts two of the biggest ones she can find into the bottom. Derek clearly forgot that she is exceedingly clumsy and that it’s awkward to haul two cabbages around and still grab more food. Maybe it’s easier with werewolf strength and reflexes. She’ll have to ask.

Stiles stares blankly at the display of chicken for a few minutes before throwing three packs in the basket. A week ago it would have seemed like too much, but she’s seen Laura and Derek eat now, and her dad’s appetite seems to have at least doubled.

She finds Derek staring intently at the milk not far away, and dumps the contents of her basket into the cart to vie for space with a huge container of peanuts, several gallons of milk, and a bunch of condiments. “We don’t know how long you’ll need to stay with us,” Derek says, seemingly apropos of nothing, “so you should grab anything you might need. We can stop back at your house again, too.”

Stiles checks that the aisle is clear before lowering her voice. “And we need a cover story – why dad and I aren’t at our house. My friends are seriously starting to ask questions.”

“We can talk about that tonight, too,” Derek agrees.

***

The rest of the shopping goes surprisingly smoothly. Stiles had tried shopping with Scott before, but he was too slow for her, and always took forever to decide between red and blue Doritos even though there is only one true flavor and it’s obviously Cool Ranch.

Derek is fast though, or – not fast, exactly, but he knows exactly what he’s looking for and just moves through each aisle with purpose. They’re in and out and have dropped the groceries back at the house all within an hour before heading back out to her house.

Some of the mail has built up, poking out of the box, and Stiles shoves it all under her arm before pushing inside. They’ve only been away for a few days, but the house definitely feels different somehow. She tosses the mail down on the kitchen table to sort out the bills from the junk while Derek hovers awkwardly in the doorway.

“Grab a drink or something, you’re making me nervous,” Stiles says, waving him towards the fridge. He opens the door and makes a face, quickly closing it again.

“Where do you keep your garbage bags?” he asks, opening the cupboard under the sink before she can answer.

“Right there. Why?”

He shakes open a bag before opening the fridge again. “Your milk is expired,” he explains. “Among other things.”

Stiles watches him for a minute, bent over and rooting through her fridge and examining a tub of sour cream. Now that he’s got something to do, Derek looks surprisingly comfortable, almost as if he’s forgotten this isn’t his house. She shrugs and leaves him to it. “Knock yourself out.”

“You could probably tell people you’re staying with us because of the smell,” he jokes.

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles replies. “Laugh it up. It’s more likely that he doesn’t want me to be alone with the whole ‘mountain lion’ loose in the town thing,” she adds, complete with air quotes. Derek actually looks away from the fridge, eyebrow raised.

“That’s good, actually,” he says. “Laura and your dad have to work more, and they’d both probably prefer that.” He pauses to fire off a text, presumably to Laura before continuing to empty out her fridge.

By the time she’s finished with the mail, Derek has moved on to her freezer, making increasingly aggravated sounds and chucking frozen mystery meat into the bag. Figuring it’s probably safest to leave him to it, she heads upstairs.

The room Laura gave her is nice, but clearly a guest room. It doesn’t have the pile of dirty socks at the end of the bed from when her feet get too hot about an hour after she gets home. There’s half a glass of water sitting stagnant on her dresser, so she dumps it in the bathroom sink.

All week she’s thought about the things in her room that she missed, but looking around there’s not really anything she can take with her. There’s no reason to grab her surfboard from the corner, and she already has her laptop, her meds, a bunch of clothes. And there are some things she definitely wouldn’t want to bring into a house full of werewolves.

Instead she winds up shoving more socks and underwear and a few more shirts and jeans into her bag. She’s just thinking about turning on a lamp and rooting around under her bed for another hoodie when her cell phone goes off.

“Yo,” she answers it, bending down to stick her head under the bed anyway.

“Stiles?” It’s Lydia, and she sounds awful, almost afraid. “I need your help.”

***

Derek, of course, heard everything, and he’s already waiting by the door with his shoes on when she stumble-races down the stairs with a couple connector cables and her netbook tucked into her messenger bag on top of the extra clothes.

“I called your dad,” he says just as she’s sliding into her shoes. She almost trips, but being a gentleman werewolf, he catches her by the elbow to keep her upright and keeps his hand there until she’s finished.

She frowns at him. “You timed that on purpose,” she accuses him but he just shifts his weight to the other foot.

“The rogue alpha could still be near her,” he counters. “Do you want to argue or do you want to get in the car?”

Obviously she chooses to lock up as quickly as possible and get in the car. She half expects burning rubber and for the tires of the Camaro to squeal, but apparently Derek is too competent a driver for that, even with his eyes and shoulders tight with stress.

“You know where the video place is, right?” she can’t help but ask and that at least gets him to look at her flatly during a brief pause at a stop sign.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, too, you know,” he says.

Stiles jiggles her right leg up and down and shrugs. “I don’t know, maybe werewolves don’t watch movies. Except black and white thrillers. You were totally allowed to watch those, right?”

“Yeah,” he says but his shoulders get tense again and Stiles drops it. They’re almost there, anyway.

The video rental place has been around so long that they still have a section for VHS in the back corner, and it’s small enough that Stiles is pretty sure everyone in town has seen the entire stock at least twice. She’s amazed that it hasn’t gone under with the rise of Netflix and iTunes, but there’s a retirement home in the south end of town so maybe that keeps it afloat.

That and Lydia and Jackson on date night, apparently. They’re both sitting on the step outside, Lydia tense and alternately rubbing her hands up and down her arms or grabbing for her phone and squeezing it while Jackson refuses to look directly at her.

Stiles clambers out of the Camaro and rushes over. “Are you okay?” Derek is close behind her, and as soon as he gets near the front he actually puts a hand on her shoulder and steps forward to keep a half step ahead of her.

He kicks Jackson in the leg. Actually kicks him, and Jackson yelps. “Watch it, asshole! I’m injured!” he whines. Derek is unimpressed.

“Your girlfriend is shivering. Give her your jacket, you jackass.” Jackson scowls but hauls off his jacket and hands it to Lydia who wraps it around her shoulders.

Her expression is slowly clearing, becoming more angry and less scared.

“The sheriff and my sister are on the way,” Derek says once he’s satisfied that Lydia is warming up. His eyes are entirely focused on the store in front of them, though Stiles isn’t completely sure why. The rogue should be gone by now, but his constant frown makes her think there’s still some kind of threat.

Lydia catches Stiles’ eye, but she’s out of practice reading her expression. It’s not easy like it is with Scott; she has no idea what Lydia is trying to tell her. Instead, all four of them wait in awkward silence for a few minutes. Every once in awhile Derek takes a step as though he wants to head inside and investigate before he seems to remember that there are three fragile, indefensible humans sitting around and he should stay put.

***

When her dad and Laura do finally arrive, Stiles breathes a sigh of relief. “Why don’t you come over here by the car and I’ll take your statements?” Laura asks when she hops out of the car, herding them away from the store, but it’s clearly not really a request. She tosses Derek a roll of caution tape. “Derek, do me a favor and cordon off the scene, will you?”

Stiles gives her dad a nod but sticks close to Lydia and Jackson, wanting to hear the full story.

“We came in to rent The Notebook,” Lydia starts, “and we didn’t see him at first, but in the back– the video clerk. Something tore his throat out.”

“And attacked me,” Jackson scowls. “That’s more important than some dead store worker.”

Laura flips the page on her notebook, but from where Stiles is sitting she can see that the notes are just slightly different than what the two are actually saying. When it comes time to sign their witness statements Jackson probably won’t notice but Lydia definitely will. Though it might be too late to put werewolves back in the bag.

“How did the perpetrator attack you? Are you injured?” Laura asks, but it’s perfunctory, professional.

“It knocked over a bunch of the shelves,” Lydia cuts in, “and he was pinned. I had to get him out.” Jackson scowls like the idea of being saved by Lydia is ridiculous. Maybe if all you saw was five-two and strawberry blonde that would be true, but Lydia is strong, and smart. Stiles would trust her life to Lydia’s hands over Jackson’s any day. “He’s just bruised.”

“Whatever, it scratched my neck,” Jackson whines, and Laura jerks her head up to look at him sharply.

“May I see?” She doesn’t wait for an answer, just circles around him to tug at the collar of his shirt, and Stiles follows. There are three scratches – claw marks, she realizes belatedly – across the back of his neck. “Hm, these look like they’re from the shelves to me,” Laura lies, sounding deceptively calm. “Sometimes in a stressful situation like that your mind will play tricks on you. Still, you’ll want to get them cleaned up.” She turns to tug the radio from her shoulder and call for a paramedic. “Better safe than sorry,” she adds, flipping her notebook shut.

Lydia tilts her head behind Jackson, and walks a few steps away towards the Camaro so Stiles follows while Laura painstakingly records Jackson’s contact information and reassures him that the paramedics are on their way. “Stiles,” she hisses, “Its not a person. I saw it. I got some video on my phone.”

“Show me,” Stiles says, and they huddle together over the small screen. Lydia has the best phone on the market, so of course the video is clear and clean, not fuzzy or pixelated at all.

Stiles watches intently as a dark blur, clearly the alpha, jumps over the fallen shelves inside the store to pin Jackson’s free arm and leg to the ground, pawing at his head almost clumsily. It stills and sniffs at him, then raises it’s head to look directly at Lydia, eyes a bright and intent red as it takes another whiff. That must be when it scratches Jackson, because he cries out as it jumps off him and disappears out the back of the store.

“That’s not a mountain lion,” Lydia says intently. “And it’s not a person. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not natural.” Stiles tries to look surprised and scared, even though she only feels grimly determined on the inside. It must not work though, because Lydia glares at her. “You knew!” she hisses. “You knew and you didn’t tell me?”

“Would you have believed me?” Stiles asks back, equally quiet. She glances over at Laura who catches her eye. “Don’t answer that, because we both know you wouldn’t. I can’t talk about it here. After. We’ll deal with this after. We have to get rid of Jackson first.”

Lydia takes a deep, steadying breath and stands up straight, shoulders back. “Fine, but this time you really are telling me everything.”

“I promise,” Stiles says, and she means it. “But uh, can I borrow your phone first? I need to make a copy.”

Lydia rolls her eyes but hands it over. “Don’t delete that,” she says and bites her lip. “I need to know I’m not crazy.”

Stiles stops, and grabs Lydia’s hand, squeezes it. She meets her gaze steadily. “I promise I won’t let that happen. Just trust me.”

Lydia still looks scared, but she’s also got the kind of intensity Stiles has seen on her face before exams. “I do.”

***

The paramedics basically disinfect and slap a bandage on Jackson’s neck and send him packing. Lydia pointedly turns down his offer for a ride and they wait until they can’t see his tail lights anymore before her dad and Derek duck under the crime scene tape to have a discussion.

“So Stiles, was there something you wanted to tell us?” Laura asks pointedly and Stiles sighs.

“I was doing some research and got some help from Lydia and Danny,” she explains, and sticks her tongue out at Derek when he scowls. “It was a good idea and I won’t apologize for it! Garrison Myers was the insurance investigator working–” she stumbles over her words, “working on the fire that burned down your home. I’m still looking for a connection between him and Kate Argent.”

Laura and Derek exchange a tense look before Laura turns back to them. “We already know the connection,” she says, voice flat. “She’s the one who burned down our house.”

What?!” Stiles, her dad, and Lydia all say at once.

Her dad cuts in. “Why didn’t you say anything? Laura, how long have you known?”

She sighs. “A few years. We can talk about it later, but suffice to say she knew about our family.”

“Knew what?” Stiles had forgotten for a moment that Lydia was there and didn’t know everything yet.

Derek sighs. “Look, can we– if you can call in the techs to process the scene, we could explain a lot of this on the way home. We can cover the rest over dinner,” he says, though he doesn’t look particularly happy about it, and Stiles is surprised to find she hadn’t noticed how close he was standing to her and Laura.

“Eat dinner with us,” Stiles offers to Lydia. “It’s going to take awhile to explain it all.”

Lydia smiles grimly. “I’m not leaving until I know everything.”

***

“...and that’s the story so far,” Stiles wraps up.

The look Lydia gives her is more than flat, but Stiles shrugs. “What? I thought that really tied it up nicely.”

Lydia had blanched several times over dinner as they explained about werewolves and Stiles’ mild magic ability, her dad being bitten. She was resilient though, and even now Stiles could see her squaring her shoulders and handling it with more grace than either Stiles or her dad had displayed.

Instead of deigning to respond, Lydia shoves the empty bowl at her. “Put this in the sink,” she orders, and then turns to Laura, all well-bred manners. “Is there anything else I can do to help?”

“I think we’ve got it,” Laura says, waving at the dishwasher. “The sheriff got the drinks, Derek cooked–”

“For a given value of ‘cooked’,” Derek cuts in but Stiles had taken a second helping and it had been delicious.

“I’ll load the dishwasher,” Stiles says, which leaves the others to head into the living room.

She barely gets two plates into the machine before her dad calls out, “Uh, Stiles? We’re going to need you to break that line if we’re going to sit down.”

And right, Stiles had forgotten that her mountain ash barrier was still fully lining her room upstairs and keeping all three werewolves from getting near the couch. “On it,” Stiles calls out, and abandons the dishes to dart upstairs and break the line.

When she comes back down, Derek is wiping his hands off on a tea towel in the kitchen doorway as Laura and her dad finally sit down. “I took care of the dishwasher,” he says with a nod, and Stiles smiles at him.

“Thanks, I owe you one.”

“Just remember to set the ash up again when you go to bed,” he replies, and flops down next to her on the couch with Lydia, who has been remarkably patient with them.

She huffs, and crosses her legs at the ankle. “So. Werewolves are real, there’s an alpha running around murdering people, and you’ve been keeping secrets,” she summarizes before meeting Laura’s gaze directly and steadily. “I think you owe Stiles and her dad, at least, the other half of the story.”

Laura looks to Derek, almost as if for permission before she speaks up. “Kate Argent used to live here in Beacon Hills for a few months, when we were in high school. She dated Derek, hiding the fact that she was a hunter in order to abuse his trust and burn our family alive.”

Stiles gasps, and she can see a horrified look cross her father’s face. “Son,” he says gently to Derek, “why didn’t you say anything?”

In his lap, Derek fists his hands on his knees, and Stiles can guess from the strain that his claws are out. She presses her leg against his in a show of support. “I was ashamed,” he says roughly. “It was my fault.”

“It was never your fault, Derek,” Laura says firmly, and her eyes burn, bright red. “She was a monster, and I’m glad she’s dead.”

His hands unclench slightly but stay fisted on his knees, so Stiles looks helplessly to Lydia. “That fire was ruled accidental, wasn’t it?” she asks and Stiles breathes a sigh of relief.

Her dad nods. “It was. I read the reports myself. But if you say it was arson–”

“–then it’s possible that Myers was complicit in covering it up,” Stiles finishes for him. “They probably knew each other.”

“Killing two people related to the fire is coincidence, though,” Lydia continues. “What do we know about the video clerk? And,” she pauses, “Jackson and I have nothing to do with it. Why would this rogue attack any of us? Why is he interested in Stiles?”

Derek grimaces. “It’s not acting like a normal alpha, or a normal werewolf. We’re predators,” he says like it’s a dirty word, “but we’re not killers. Not without a good reason. Nothing he does makes sense.”

“No, but Deaton did say that he’s been expecting something supernatural to happen around Stiles for years now. Maybe the alpha can sense something about her that we can’t. But there’s nothing more we can do tonight,” Laura finishes, frowning, and gestures between herself and Stiles’ dad. “We’ll go over the crime scene reports tomorrow and see if there’s anything new.”

“And Stiles and I will see what we can find out about the video clerk,” Lydia says with only a slight shiver. Stiles doesn’t envy her for having seen the body up close. What she saw of Garrison Myers was more than enough.

“I’ll give you a ride home,” her dad volunteers, and stands, helping Lydia up from the couch. “Stiles, make sure you fix the line before bed. But have Derek or Laura check that your room is safe first.” He fixes her with a steady look, clearly extra worried after Laura’s comments.

Stiles sighs. “Dad, I’ll be fine. The alpha isn’t going to attack me inside a house full of werewolves, and Laura and Derek are right there.”

“We don’t know that,” Derek cuts in. “I told you, he’s not acting like any alpha I’ve ever seen. He’s not just a murderer – there’s something wrong with him.” He turns then to her dad and adds, “I’ll make sure it’s safe.”

Stiles rolls her eyes at Lydia, but it seems like everyone is against her on this one. “Fiiiine,” she whines. “See you tomorrow, Lydia.”

***

Lydia is very polite with her goodbyes, almost formal. Once she leaves Laura starts checking all the windows, taking survey of the heart of her territory. Derek, meanwhile, turns and stares at Stiles until she caves. “Okay, okay, come on, you creeper. I cannot believe everyone at school thinks you’re cool.”

“I’m cool,” he protests.

“Sure, on the internet, right?”

As they climb the stairs she can hear Laura laughing.

She opens the door and gestures him inside. “Mi casa es literally su casa, dude, have at it.”

“Don’t call me dude,” he says absently before prowling to the window and sniffing at the air vents. He even looks under the bed, as if he couldn’t hear or smell someone hiding under there.

Stiles would be lying if she said she didn’t appreciate the view, but mostly it’s just amusing.

Finally satisfied, he sits on the end of her bed. “I’m doing laundry tomorrow. If you want anything washed, just leave it outside your room in the morning.”

“Okay. You’re not working?” Stiles toes her socks off and kicks them over to the dresser and hauls her backpack up onto the bed to pull out her chem homework. Derek turns to face her and shakes his head.

“I’ve got the day off. I can still drive you to school,” he adds after a second.

“Thanks,” she replies absently, pulling out her calculator and stuff, too. She looks up. “Sorry, it’s just, I’ve still got to finish a couple of exercises for chemistry or Harris will chew me out in front of the class. That guy hates me.”

“He hates anyone with a brain,” Derek replies, and taps her once on the forehead, before he stands to stretch, exposing a sliver of distractingly tan abs before heading to the door and waiting, pointedly until she looks up again. “You have to close the circle again. It’s important, Stiles.”

She sighs and grabs the jar off the nightstand, takes a pinch and moves to the doorway. “I know, I just don’t like feeling cooped up like this.”

Derek waits patiently just outside her door while she closes her eyes and pulls up all the memory of making it work the last two times in order to seal the circle again.

When she opens them, Derek lifts a hand to press against the invisible barrier across the doorway of her room. “You have the freedom to come and go as you please. We don’t.”

***

Stiles leaves her dirty clothes outside her room the next morning and only feels a little guilty about it. The weird part is still having Derek drop her off at school.

His whole demeanor changes from the guy who likes cooking for his sister and has a stack of actual paper books beside his bed blocking the nightstand. Instead he shifts in the front seat, sunglasses on and only one hand on the wheel once they’re actually in the parking lot.

She’s seen Derek drive a lot lately. He always has two hands on the wheel unless they’re in the school parking lot.

“Were you a nerd in high school?” she asks as he circles around to the front door. “Are you trying to make up for it now? You know no one cares if you secretly speak Elvish or something, right?”

“Shut up,” he growls, but his ears have pinked up again. “I’ll pick you up again later,” he says as she slides out of the car.

Stiles walks around the front of the car and bends down to look in the driver’s side window, resting one hand on the door. His face is closer than she expected. Thank goodness for his ridiculous mirrored shades. “I’m serious about the Elvish thing. I saw your copy of A Gateway to Sindarin.”

Derek scowls at her. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he says and Stiles delights in his embarrassment even as he revs the engine deliberately so she’ll stand up and step back again.

“You can be a scholar and still be badass, Derek!” she calls after him as he burns rubber pulling away. “I’ll still think you’re cool!”

When she turns around, Scott is gawping at her next to the bike post. “I knew you were dating him!” he screeches before breaking into a coughing fit and sliding down next to his bike. Stiles darts over and fishes his inhaler out of his backpack and presses it into his hand until he’s taken a good puff or two and is breathing normally again.

“Still not dating him,” Stiles corrects. “Dad didn’t want me home alone all the time with that mountain lion out there, so we’re staying with the Hales until it’s caught.” It’s not entirely untrue, really. “Is your asthma getting worse? Maybe you need a new prescription.”

She grabs the inhaler back and takes a puff just to be sure, but it still feels strong to her, burning cold in the back of her throat.

Scott grabs it back from her and shoves it into his bag. “It’s fine,” he says, and Stiles figures she can ask Mrs. McCall about it later. “I talked to Allison,” he says, and this time he’s only breathless with excitement. “She’s coming to Lydia’s party tomorrow night!”

“That’s great, bro,” Stiles says, hauling Scott up by one arm, “Just try to play it cool.”

“Allison doesn’t care if I’m cool or not. She’s not like that,” he says, expression serious.

“Whoa, that wasn’t an attack on her honor. That was some friendly advice from your best bro in the world,” she says as they head inside. “Sadly, your half of the species tends to get stupid around pretty girls. Just don’t fall all over yourself, okay? Allison seems nice,” except for the whole family of werewolf hunters thing, “I’m just looking out for you.”

Scott smiles sheepishly. “Sorry, I’m just... she’s so amazing, Stiles. I’ve never met anyone like her before. I think she’s the one, you know?” He’s incredibly earnest, eyes wide. Stiles does her best to sound supportive.

“Yeah? That’s really– wait, when did you talk to her? She wasn’t even at school yesterday.”

And seriously, if cartoon hearts and stars could actually appear in eyes in real life that would be Scott’s face right then. “She came into the vet last night! She hit a stray with her car and brought it in. She really cares about animals. She even helped bring it into the back and stayed while I bandaged it,” he continues. “Stiles, you don’t even know. We had a moment.”

“Over a bleeding dog that she hit with her car?” Stiles asks dubiously, and then backtracks, “Sorry! Sorry! I’m sure it was really romantic. Had to be there, right?”

Scott smiles beatifically. “Yeah. She’s really–”

“Right over there and heading into class, like we should be,” Stiles cuts him off. Once Scott gets started about a girl it’s almost impossible to stop him.

“Allison’s here?!” Scott straightens up just as the bell rings and Stiles bumps his shoulder.

“Go for it, dude. See you at lunch,” she calls before running to her own class.

***

Stiles has class with Allison right before her free period. Allison looks tired, but considering her aunt was just brutally murdered by a werewolf, not too bad. “Hey,” Stiles asks while everyone is still dicking around until class starts, “do you need the notes from while you were away? I’ve still got your email address.”

Her bright smile is grateful and relieved. “Yeah, thanks! It’s been a rough week. I’ll owe you one.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Stiles says, waving it off. “It’s not a big deal. Are you doing okay, though?”

Allison bites her lip. “I guess. We can’t have a funeral until the police release the body. They’re still investigating, I think.” Stiles doubts Allison knows yet that she’s the sheriff’s daughter.

“Yeah, that kind of thing can take awhile,” she says instead of explaining.

Allison shrugs. “I just kind of want it to be over. I mean, I loved my aunt – she was my favorite relative, really cool, you know? But she was always traveling, so I didn’t actually see her much. For a while she lived here with my grandfather and we would visit, but we’re always moving around for my dad’s work. He’s in sales.”

From the sound of it, there’s a chance that Allison doesn’t know about the family business, and Stiles isn’t sure where to go from there, so she settles for “That sucks,” just as the teacher finally calls the class to order. She shares a sympathetic smile with Allison before trying to focus on class.

***

She heads straight to the library for free period and snags some floor space near an outlet where she can plug in her laptop. She’s just trying to get it to connect to the school’s totally low-budget wifi when she gets a text from her dad.

Video clerk was a felon with a history of arson it reads, along with a name, and there’s a follow up message. I’ll bring the file home tonight. Stay safe. She texts back a thank you and starts googling.

There’s not much on him available online, but Stiles guesses she should have expected that. Thankfully he at least has– had, she amends – a Facebook page, and it’s not even locked down. Honestly, she kind of expected more from a convicted felon.

“Isn’t he a little old for you?” Danny asks, and Stiles jumps. She has no idea how long he’s been standing next to her. “And I think your boyfriend might object.”

“Holy crap, Danny, you scared me! And he’s not my boyfriend,” she adds. By now it’s almost reflexive.

Danny looks like he really, really doesn’t believe her. “Sure. Wish I had a not-boyfriend who looked like that.” He slides down the wall to sit next to her, pressed thigh to thigh. “You know, we told you to ask us for help. What are you looking at?”

Stiles sighs but frankly, Danny is the best at digging up information. She’d seen his juvie record once when her dad had fallen asleep on his desk. “You heard about Lydia and Jackson last night?”

“Yeah,” he says, getting his tablet out of his bag. “Jackson was pretty messed up when he got home.”

“This is the video clerk,” she explains. “I’m looking for a connection to Kate Argent. He’s got a record for arson, so–”

“Seems plausible,” Danny agrees, opening up Facebook. “If she’s got an account, too, I can figure out if they’ve got friends in common.”

“And I’ll trawl his photos.” They make a pretty good team, she and Danny. She knocks her knee against his in a silent thank you.

***

Kate Argent did not have a Facebook account, which is weird, because Allison definitely does, but Stiles finds her in the background of several photos, usually half turned away from camera. There are a bunch of other regulars there, too, mostly men in hunting gear, varying in age. “I’m pretty sure this is her,” she says, squinting and turning her head.

Danny turns his tablet to her, and he’s got an actual mug shot of her on screen. “Yeah, looks like,” he agrees.

“Uh, do I want to know how you found that?” Stiles asks. Danny rolls his eyes.

“There’s a website for mug shots,” he explains, “since it’s easy for criminals to cross state lines but hard for people to get information like that on someone from out of state. It’s totally legal,” he adds at her dubious look.

“Don’t get me wrong, man, I’m impressed either way,” she says, “I’m just not sure if we’re the kind of friends who talk about your criminal past yet or whatever.”

And, oops. Danny suddenly looks furious. “How do you know about that? It was sealed.”

Stiles holds up her hands. “Whoa, whoa, sorry! I might have, you know, accidentally stumbled across it at the station once. I’m not judging you!”

“It’s in the past,” Danny says angrily, putting the tablet to sleep. “And I want it to stay that way.”

“Danny,” she says quietly, “I’m sorry. I would never tell anyone, or try to use it against you.”

He sighs and tilts his head back against the wall for a second, eyes closed briefly. “Okay. I believe you.” He shoves his tablet back into his bag. “Let me know if you need more help with this. Legal help,” he re-iterates.

“I will. And thanks.”

He smiles back at her, but it’s tense around the edges. Score another one for Stiles and her big mouth.

***

She, Lydia, and Allison all have gym together last period. Stiles is hiking her gym shorts up her legs when Lydia sits down on the bench beside her stuff, ostensibly to tie her perfectly white gym shoes. She looks tired, somehow, but her gym uniform is spotless in a way that Stiles’ uniform never is.

“You and Danny did research without me? Does he know about ...Saturday?” she says after glancing casually around the locker room.

That cleared up whether or not Lydia had figured out that her party was on the same night as the full moon, but that hardly meant she was going to cancel it.

“About why I can’t come, you mean?” Stiles asks. “Nah, you know how it is. Girl stuff. He did help me out with some other stuff though. I’ll email you later.”

“Good.” Lydia stands up and gestures at Stiles’ still un-tied gym shoes. “Are you coming?”

Stiles looks down at her shoes, which, despite mostly having been worn indoors all year, are already dirty and smudged. She shrugs and double-ties them quickly. “Yeah, let’s go run in circles until we smell like ass.”

“Speak for yourself,” Lydia says, pulling her hair up into a high ponytail. “I always smell nice.”

***

“Alright, dweebs, we’re playing flag football,” Coach Finstock says when they get out on the field. He gestures two of the lacrosse team bench warmers forward to set down a bucket of flags each – red and blue. “Jackson, you’re captaining the blue team. Danny, you’re red. Try not to pick all the losers.”

“I’ll take Lydia,” Danny says immediately, and Jackson frowns at him. “Sorry – she’s scrappy.”

“You’re not sorry yet,” Jackson replies. “We’re going to decimate you,” he adds and picks one of the better players from the lacrosse team.

Stiles winds up with Danny and Lydia, and even that Isaac kid from the other day. Scott is one of the last to be picked, probably because of his asthma, along with Erica, a frizzy haired blonde from some of Stiles’ classes who she vaguely remembers misses a lot of classes because of her epilepsy.

“Remember, it’s flag football, not beat the snot out of each other football,” Finstock yells as they arrange themselves on either side of the field. “I don’t want to have to fill out paperwork because one of you stubbed a toe! That means you, Bilinski!”

Stiles rolls her eyes. “Got it, Coach!”

She broke a finger one time in gym class and he never let her forget it.

They’re winning 9 to 7 near the end of the period when Isaac gets the ball. Stiles wouldn’t have expected it, but he’s a fast runner, and pretty good at dodging. He weaves through the blue team while Danny and Erica run interference and Stiles tries to curve around and ahead in case Isaac needs to pass.

She forgot about Jackson though. Jackson dives forward while Lydia and Danny are occupied, and tackles Isaac to the ground, hard, one hand grasping his flag belt. Stiles hears the crack loud and clear, and she isn’t the only one. Half the players stumble to a stop before Finstock blows the whistle.

“Lahey!” he yells, jogging over. “Are you okay? Whittemore! I thought I said no tackling!”

Jackson groans and rolls off of Isaac, waving the flag in one hand. “Whatever, I got his flag. Get up, loser, blue team is going to win this thing.”

Isaac is white as a sheet, one hand clasped to his left forearm, football forgotten on the ground next to him. “I think I broke my arm,” he says, and his voice is completely, unusually steady. Stiles can already see the skin flushing and starting to swell slightly.

“It’s probably just sprained,” Jackson scoffs, “He’s doesn’t even look hurt,” but quiets down when Danny glares at him.

Finstock bends down and takes a closer look at his arm, and Isaac flinches back. “Yeah, that looks like a freaking shit show,” he scowls. “Greenberg, McCall, get him to the office. The rest of you get all the flags back in the buckets and clear the field. Danny, your team wins, but barely. Next time I want to see some real hustle!” He blows his whistle again for no apparent reason and Stiles winces.

***

It’s all anyone can talk about, after. Scott meets her by her locker just as the final bell rings, out of breath. He has to take a hit off his puffer before he can explain. “His arm’s definitely broken,” he says. “They’re sending him to the hospital now and calling his dad.”

“Oh man, that sucks,” Stiles says, shoving her homework into her bag. “At least he was handling it okay. I’d probably have been a wreck if Jackson broke my arm.”

Scott looks puzzled for a minute. “You know, that was the weird thing. He was totally calm, and he acted like it didn’t even hurt, but when they said they had to call his dad he got really freaked out.”

Stiles pauses with her locker door half closed. “Yeah,” she says slowly. “That is kind of weird.”

Unless Isaac’s a werewolf.

***

Stiles practically races to Derek’s car and flings herself inside. “I think there’s a secret werewolf in my class!” she blurts out and Derek looks at her like she’s crazy. “Smell me! No wait, I showered after gym class. Crap. Smell my gym clothes!”

“I’m not going to smell your gym clothes,” he says flatly. “I’d have noticed before if there were another werewolf around you. I mean,” he corrects, “we all would have.”

“But it’s the only thing that makes sense,” Stiles argues as they pull away from the school. “Isaac broke his arm and he acted like it was nothing. He only got freaked out when they called his dad! And he was acting shifty after that bus driver thing,” she adds. “Pun intended.”

That, at least, gets Derek to look at her, though it’s sharp. “Call your dad,” he says. “Tell him what happened.”

“Okay,” Stiles agrees, “But you just said he’s not a werewolf, and also you missed our turn.”

Derek does not look happy. “We’re not going home. They sent him to the hospital, right? Then that’s where we’re going.” Stiles doesn’t get it, but whatever. Derek is weird sometimes.

***

Even weirder is that Mrs. McCall is waiting for them when they get there, and Laura is loitering in the hallway outside one of the exam rooms and she looks pissed.

“You were right to have her call, Derek,” Laura says with a grimace. “They’ve taken him to get some scans – we let them know what to look out for – and we’ve got his dad filling out some extra paperwork in an office.”

“I don’t understand,” Stiles says. “What’s going on?”

Mrs. McCall wraps an arm around Stiles’ shoulder. “We’re not completely sure yet,” she says, “but Isaac might be in a bad situation.”

It’s stupid but the first thing that pops into Stiles’ head is how does Mrs. McCall know about werewolves??? It kind of swims around there for a few long seconds before her dad comes down the hall, grim faced and talking to one of the emergency doctors.

“Thank you for alerting us,” the doctor says to Stiles’ dad in a low voice. “We’re going to have to call child protective services.”

Suddenly it all clicks, and Stiles feels like an idiot. Isaac was being abused, probably by his dad.

His jumpiness at school makes sense, the way he always wore track pants and long sleeves to gym class, even his weird thing for scarves. He’d probably been hiding it for years and no one had noticed.

Laura, her dad, and Mrs. McCall are still talking to the emergency doctor, but Stiles feels disconnected somehow. Are there other kids in her class in similar situations? She tries to think through all the little things she mostly ignores during the day, but there are too many.

Derek reaches out and grabs hold of her hand, threads their fingers together, leans down. “He’ll be okay,” he says quietly. “They’ll make sure of it. And there’s no way you could have known.”

“I’m the sheriff’s daughter,” she says, looking up at him. “Poking around and figuring things out is what I do.”

Squeezing her hand, Derek shrugs. “You also have to remember that Isaac didn’t want anyone to know, not if he was hiding it. This kind of thing is hard. Just be glad that we know now, so we can do something about it.”

“I guess.” Stiles looks at her shoes, at the faded linoleum of the hospital hallway. “What can we do now?”

“Now we see if he needs someone to talk to,” Derek says, and leads her to Isaac’s room.

***

By the time they get home, Stiles feels exhausted and drained, muted almost. It’s been a long day, and the hospital is keeping Isaac at least overnight until he can be meet with an abuse counsellor the next day. He hadn’t wanted to talk much, and had seemed embarrassed and awkward, so Stiles had put her best skill to work and talked at him for an hour straight until Laura and her dad had sent them home.

Mr. Lahey was getting a free ride to the station while someone interrupted a judge at dinner time for a warrant to search his home. She probably isn’t going to see either her dad or Laura at breakfast the next day.

When she gets upstairs there’s a neat pile of folded laundry outside her door. Stiles nudges the door to her room open, chucks her backpack at the bed, and scoops up the fresh laundry to put away.

It’s weird, having drawers in someone else’s house, and she’s gotten almost too comfortable there over the week. That’s the other thing – it’s only been a week, and barely, but so much has changed.

Stiles starts putting the clothes away on auto-pilot, shoving socks and shirts into drawers when she comes across a shirt that is definitely not hers. It’s the baseball jersey Laura had loaned her that first night – Derek’s baseball jersey, with HALE across the back in block letters. She’d thought he would take it back when he did the laundry, but here it is again, freshly washed and folded and slipped in between the tank top she usually sleeps in and her favorite purple hoodie.

She rubs her thumb back and forth across the E in Hale. It’s worn soft with age and washing. This was probably his actual game jersey, she thinks after a minute. Must be too small for him now or something.

It’s been chilly all day. That seems like an okay reason to wear the jersey to bed instead of her usual tank top. It’s just... Stiles looks around the room that only temporarily belongs to her and sees the thin line of mountain ash snaking it’s way around the walls and into the bathroom and out again.

In theory she should feel safer in the Hale house than anywhere else in town, especially with her added layer of magical protection, but in Stiles’ experience things take a turn for the worse the second she feels satisfied that everything is going okay. Not that things are going okay but all things considered she feels pretty prepared for the full moon the next day.

And yeah, they haven’t caught the alpha yet, and he’s killed several people, but – and it sounds terrible, even in her own head – they weren’t good people. As far as she can tell he’s only killed people who burned a family alive.

She’s not saying killing is okay, but maybe she gets why he’s doing it, a little bit. And the more she thinks about it the more she thinks maybe someone else from the Hale family survived the fire and is out there taking revenge. She hasn’t brought it up because how do you say to the two people taking care of you and your recently werewolfitized father, ‘Hey, I think maybe one of your supposedly dead family members is on a crazed murder rampage’?

You don’t. So instead, Stiles keeps her thoughts to herself and figures she can do some more research tomorrow, maybe get her hands on the crime scene reports if her dad and Laura sleep in. They’re probably going to have a late night. In the meantime, something about wearing Derek’s old jersey feels a little bit safer somehow.

She tosses the rest of the clean clothes in the drawers haphazardly, shucks her jeans and socks and shirts and pulls the jersey over her head before pulling her hair up off her face. The jersey is a little broad in the shoulders, and long on her, of course, but it’s warm and soft and something in her settles as soon as she’s tugged it down.

Stiles crawls under the covers and sets her phone alarm. If his first night as a werewolf was an indication, the full moon is going to be rough for her dad, and she’d better be ready.

Just before she drifts off it occurs to her that Scott’s hoodie wasn’t in the pile, but she was sure she’d left it with the rest of the dirty laundry that morning.

***

When she wakes up her ponytail has come loose, spilling strands of hair all over her face, and her mouth tastes like ass, but she feels more well-rested than she has in days. Stiles hits the bathroom and re-ties her ponytail because it’s too early on a Saturday to fight her own hair for breakfast.

She still has a pair of Laura’s boxer shorts, so she hauls those on under the jersey and tip-toes downstairs to the kitchen. There’s a stack of case files on the kitchen table which she moves onto one of the chairs before anything else. The rule in the Stilinski family is no case files at the table during meal time. It had been her mom’s rule, and neither Stiles nor her dad was going to go breaking it now.

Prowling through the kitchen, Stiles finds everything she needs to make her dad’s famous (okay, famous to Stiles and Scott) pancakes, along with a package of chocolate chips and a couple of grapefruits that feel just about ripe enough to eat. There’s even an over-sized frying pan under the stove and a good, sturdy spatula in one of the drawers.

Making the batter barely takes any time at all. Stiles dumps some extra vanilla into the mix just because she can and waits impatiently for the pan to heat up. It takes long enough that she remembers to take her Adderall washed down with some juice.

The thing is that when her dad makes these pancakes on a Saturday morning he pours them in animal shapes, and because Saturday morning breakfast is his job, Stiles isn’t particularly good at it. She scratches the back of one leg with the opposite foot and stares blearily down at her first attempt: a hippo that looks more like a really confusing rorschach test.

She’s trying to decide whether it’s worth giving the hippo a chocolate chip eye when she feels the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. “Couldn’t figure out a circle?” Derek asks from right over her shoulder and Stiles nearly jumps out of her skin and hits him in the face with the spatula. He’s saved only by his own fast reflexes.

“Holy crap!” Stiles hisses. “Seriously, make some noise!”

Derek smirks at her, and it’s almost too much this early, with his hair disheveled from sleep. He’s dressed in only a threadbare pair of sweatpants and an old wife-beater and it’s distracting. ARMS!! her brain blares, ARMS!!

“Sorry,” he says, but he doesn’t look repentant at all.

“And that is a hippo, thank you,” she clarifies. “It’s animal pancake Saturday. It’s a thing.” She drops a chocolate chip in for the eye just to spite him and watches the batter slowly release air bubbles.

“It’s something all right,” Derek replies, but heads over to the fridge to pour himself a glass of milk. He leans against the closed fridge door, just watching her sleepily and Stiles turns quickly back to the pan because she can feel herself blushing.

There’s something unsettlingly domestic about sharing the kitchen with Derek alone on a weekend morning. He’s made breakfast for everyone all week, but they had all been rushing around trying to get to school and work, and she’d barely even thought about it. With her dad and Laura asleep upstairs this feels intimate and new.

Yeah, she knows Derek is attractive, but there’s a difference between knowing it and feeling it. This time he’s not even trying to act cool but he’s having a devastating effect on her and she’s not entirely sure she likes it.

She flips the hippo and tries to think of something she can say to break the silence. “Do you uh, want to cut up the grapefruit?” she asks desperately. Derek tilts his head back to drain the last of the milk from his glass and Stiles gets caught up again watching his throat work. “Sure,” he shrugs, setting the empty glass in the sink.

Stiles almost burns the hippo and definitely mis-pours a frog because she gets distracted watching him handle a knife. It probably shouldn’t be so hot, but it is, and frankly, she’s surprised that he decided to work at a library instead of raking in cash with a semi-fetishized Food Network show.

Who is she kidding? A lot fetishized. A lot.

Instead Stiles focuses in on making more animal pancakes as quickly as she can so that she has a solid stack of them tucked into the microwave to keep warm. By the time she’s done, Derek has set the table and poured them both drinks. He even sectioned the grapefruit, served in bowls complete with a small spoon to one side.

Turns out werewolves have better manners than the Stilinski family. It’s not terribly surprising.

“Do you have maple syrup?” Stiles asks, serving herself up three of the less successful animal pancakes before starting on Derek’s plate. Obviously he gets a puppy (sort of), a wolf (sort of), and her best attempt at paw print (mostly a misshapen blob that looks really awkward).

Derek nods and puts an actual tin of maple syrup down along with a pad of butter. The last time Stiles had seen maple syrup in a tin she’d been up at her great-uncle’s sugar shack in Canada, back when her mom was still alive. It’s weirdly charming even if it’s going to be a pain to pour.

Stiles manages, though, putting a bit of butter between each layer and then pouring enough syrup to really soak in the pancakes once the butter has melted a little. Bafflingly, Derek spreads jam on his pancakes and rolls them into tubes. “Whoa, whoa, what are you doing?” she asks before he can take a bite. “You know those aren’t crêpes, right? If you roll them like that they’ll break apart.”

He pauses for a second with his mouth open before taking a large bite and chewing thoroughly before swallowing. “No they won’t,” he says smugly, and takes another bite.

“You’re a heathen,” she accuses, cutting her own pancakes up. “I shouldn’t have let the fancy table settings fool me.”

“Says the girl who made ‘animal’ pancakes,” he says with actual air quotes.

“Clearly you just aren’t artistically inclined enough to understand my truly innovative interpretation of the way people have become too distanced from the journey our food takes from farm to plate.” She even manages to keep a straight face for all of half a minute before she cracks up at the look on Derek’s face: trying to keep from laughing with a mouthful of jammy pancake.

That’s how Laura finds them, laughing around half-chewed pancakes. Her hair is a mess and she’s dressed in threadbare pyjamas when she leans down, wraps her arms around Derek in a hug from behind and grins at Stiles. “You’d be surprised,” she says, “Derek has a deeply artistic soul,” though she sounds a little sarcastic. “He used to carry a camera around with him constantly. He was very serious about it.”

“Ooh, was it part of his plan to be cool, or...?” Stiles gestures broadly at Derek.

Laura’s smile grows almost in proportion to Derek’s frown. “Oh no, it was incredibly nerdy,” she explains gleefully. “The camera was almost as big as his head. But he was really good at it.”

“I was okay,” Derek says, stuffing his face with more pancake. There is clearly more to this story.

Laura claps him on both shoulders at the same time before standing upright and honing in unerringly on the microwave to pull out her own stack of pancakes before grabbing a jar of nutella out of the cupboard and a butter knife from the drawer and sitting down with them. “Obviously Derek’s specialty is nature photos,” she continues, smearing one pancake with nutella. “You know, kittens, puppies, werewolves in their natural habitat...”

Stiles feels like her face cannot contain this much glee. “Oh my god,” she presses both hands to her knees to still them, pancakes forgotten, “Did you stalk baby animals for your hobby? Could you be any more of a wolf?”

Derek throws his gaze up to the ceiling while he finishes chewing and swallowing. “I just really like–”

“Babies, cooking, and small animals,” Laura finishes for him and he scowls at her. “Don’t lie, we both know it’s true. You’ll be a beautiful bride one day.” She rests her chin in one hand, elbow propped on the table and grins at him, beatific and satisfied the way older siblings tend to be, Stiles thinks.

“Oh, so you want to take over the cooking and laundry?” Derek counters. “Because if you’d rather eat your own cooking from now on...” he trails off, raising one eyebrow.

Laura pauses in the act of rolling up one of her nutella pancakes – like brother like sister, apparently. “Uhhh...”

“Please put her out of her misery,” Stiles interjects. “I don’t think I can survive if she and dad do all the cooking from now on. Or me, for that matter.” She tries her best Scott McCall puppy eyes, even though they never work on anyone.

Except Derek, apparently. Interesting.

He immediately busies himself spreading jam on his next pancake. “Can’t have you starving,” he mutters, and Laura and Stiles both beam.

“Please tell me the pancake smell is real,” her dad says, stumbling into the kitchen and scrubbing at his hair. “I’m starving.”

Stiles points him to the free chair. “Eat your grapefruit and I’ll get you a plate,” she says. He sighs, long-sufferingly, but obligingly digs in.

***

They’re just cleaning up after they’ve all finished eating when the doorbell rings. “Who makes an unexpected house call at–” Stiles checks her phone, “–11 am on a Saturday?”

Laura tilts her head towards the front door and scowls. “Chris Argent,” she says flatly. “Stilinskis stay in the kitchen. You too, Derek. I’ve got this.”

She definitely has the alpha thing down pat. Stiles guesses she had to step into the role early with their unfortunate family situation, but she seems to be a natural at it.

Unlike last time, Stiles doesn’t even have to strain to hear what’s going on at the front door, since it’s not far from the kitchen. She leans against the wall just beside the doorway, out of the line of sight and listens carefully.

“Argent,” Laura greets him. “I’m beginning to think you’ve got a thing for my pyjamas. Or is there a real reason for this unexpected visit?”

“It’s the full moon tonight,” he replies but it sounds almost like a threat. “The rogue is still loose in town and we’ve had two more deaths. I’ve called in a few friends to patrol the town tonight, since you can’t be trusted to take care of your own territory.”

Laura full on growls, and Stiles just hopes that none of the neighbors on their street are watching this. “More hunters? Because both of those bodies belonged to hunters who worked outside the code,” she hisses at him, “killing humans and werewolves alike without cause.”

Allison’s dad doesn’t even have the grace to pause or think that over. “And that makes their deaths acceptable? Should we be keeping an eye on you tonight, too, Hale? Or are you in league with the rogue now? Maybe we’re hunting two alphas tonight.”

“I follow the rules,” she spits, “unlike most of the hunters I’ve met. You have no idea what I’d do to protect this town, so don’t pretend you have me figured out.” Then there’s a loud bang and Stiles peeks her head around the corner to see Laura has probably slammed the door in Chris Argent’s face again, her hands in fists at her sides.

She turns sharply. “We need to talk about tonight.”

***

Stiles spends most of the day alternately finishing up her homework and obsessively re-watching Lydia’s footage of the alpha. The closer it gets to moonrise though, the more antsy she becomes, and she winds up hovering near her dad for the last two hours. It’s not long after dinner and he’s trying to read over his case files again, and Stiles can’t sit still. She thumps her foot against the leg of her chair until he looks at her over his reading glasses.

“I don’t like it either, Stiles, but it’s to keep both of us safe,” he says finally, closing the file he’s been working on. “You know I’m not in control right now.”

She frowns and starts rubbing at the knuckles of one hand. “I know, but...” she shrugs, helplessly. “Doesn’t it seem a bit like overkill to you?”

The look he gives her is strangely sad. “Not if it means keeping you safe.”

Laura had shown them the chains in the basement, inside what Stiles had previously thought was some kind of wine cellar. It hadn’t occurred to her the one time she’d been down there that since they couldn’t get drunk it didn’t make a lot of sense for two werewolves to have one of those, and with no kids, there was no reason for the door to lock, either.

As if summoned, Laura comes in and leans against the doorway in her deputy’s uniform. “It’s getting close,” she says seriously. “You should get changed, Sheriff, and we’ll meet you downstairs.”

He sighs and nods, heading upstairs to his room. “This is the best we can do until we’ve taken care of his Alpha,” Laura explains again. “Their connection will be strongest on the full moon, and any bitten wolf’s first moon is hard enough as it is. All we can do is make sure he’s as comfortable as possible and as safe as possible,” she adds.

“I know, I just– I wish he didn’t have to go through this because of me,” Stiles replies. It’s the closest she’s come to talking about how it’s her fault in the first place, and even though she hasn’t said as much the look Laura pins her with says she knows.

“It’s not your fault, you know,” she says slowly. “We know the rogue isn’t in his right mind – he probably would have bitten someone no matter what that night. Maybe you, maybe a deputy. Maybe someone from your school. Your dad is handling it pretty well, though. Better than a lot of people would.”

Stiles swallows around the lump in her throat. “That doesn’t make it easier though,” she says quietly and Laura pulls her into a brief hug.

“I know,” she agrees. “But sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.”

Stiles tries out a wavery smile just as her dad comes down the stairs in a pair of sweats and a loose t-shirt. She almost never sees him dressed down that much, especially since he’s been working so much lately. It’s a little disconcerting.

“Come on, kid,” he says, pulling her close to his side. “Show me some more of this magic you’ve got kicking around.”

“You’re just jealous,” she manages, but it’s a bit weak.

He squeezes her shoulder on the way down to the basement.

The room isn’t big, but it’s big enough. There are several sets of chains hooked into the walls with heavy looking manacles hanging from them. Her dad hugs her again for a long minute. “I’ll be fine,” he says. “And you should stay upstairs. Derek’s going to keep an eye on me.”

“I know,” she says, and steps back so that Laura can lock him up.

The chains and manacles must be even heavier than she thought, because even Laura looks like they’re a bit hard to handle.

Once he’s secured, Laura steps back out of the room to where Derek is waiting in the hallway, and Stiles pulls out the smaller container of mountain ash she’s been keeping in her pocket half the day.

It doesn’t take much, just a short line stretching from one end of the room to the other, blocking the door. There are no windows for them to worry about, just thick cement walls. When she opens her eyes, it’s solid, thick, heavier than it should be for the amount she used, but that’s magic for you. Stiles steps over the line and back into the hall.

As if he can’t help himself, Derek reaches out with one hand, rebuffed by the mountain ash when he tries to poke through and into the room. “Good job,” he says quietly. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“Thanks,” she says, and she means it, but walking away from her dad and up the stairs is still one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do.

***

The most unsettling thing is that she expects to hear howls, screams, anything like that first night when the Alpha had tried to take control, but instead the house is eerily silent. With Laura out at work and Derek downstairs keeping an eye on her dad, Stiles is alone in her room. She tries and fails to do some reading, to play a few games on her phone, but she’s too distracted. She can’t even call Scott or anyone else, because pretty much everyone she knows is at Lydia’s party tonight.

She texts Laura. Is it supposed to be this quiet?

The reply comes back only a few seconds later. Really good sound-proofing. Neighborhood watch is a bitch. That actually startles half a laugh out of her.

Do you make Derek refer to it with menstruation euphemisms? Your monthly gift? Monthly visit from Aunt Flo? Moon Time?

I am now!! Laura replies instantly and Stiles grins outright. Poor Derek.

***

She dozes fitfully for awhile, until she gets five text notifications in a row. Rolling over, Stiles grabs her cell off the bedside table and blinks blearily at the screen.

Six bodies in the woods. More info later. is the first message from Laura – she must have not heard that one; the timestamp reads from 45 minutes ago. You didn’t think it was important to tell me Lydia Martin was having a party tonight?? is the follow up. Oops.

Of course, that means there’s a message from Lydia, too, reading Seriously, dead bodies out back of my house? Your mountain lion problem is ruining my social life. Stiles can read between the lines enough to know that Lydia is probably freaked out and trying to cover. And Scott had an asthma attack when the cops showed up, but he’s fine. Allison actually seems to be charmed by it. HOW.

She types out a quick reply, It’s a mystery to us all.

As if Stiles can figure it out. At least Scott is okay and will be happy. The last message is from Laura again. Derek says your dad is still safe. Don’t leave your room. We’ll talk tomorrow.

As if that’s not ominous. Okay. Sorry I forgot to tell you about Lydia’s thing, she texts back. Honestly, she’s had a lot on her mind.

Stiles stands and walks to the window, pulling the curtain back to peer out at the darkened street. She doesn’t know what she expected to see, but there’s nothing out there. The other houses have their lights off, and the streetlights cast a few bright puddles on the sidewalks but don’t illuminate much else.

Still, she feels antsy, unsettled, like her skin is too tight. Looking down she can see goosebumps forming along her arms. She peers back out into the dark and squints at the tree line. Of course Derek and Laura had to get a house near the preserve. Of course they did.

And there, tucked between two houses and mostly out of sight, she can see two glowing red eyes in the shadows.

“I’m not afraid of you,” she says steadily, and is surprised to find she means it. She knows he can hear her. “You should be afraid of me, because I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you never hurt anyone else again.”

The Alpha creeps out from between the two houses, down the thin strip of grass separating their driveways. He’s big, bigger than she remembered, like a misshapen, overly large wolf. Even his gait is strange and wrong, like his bones aren’t put together right. He steps brazenly right into the bright pool of light from a streetlamp and stares up at her intently. Now she can see that his fur is wet around his muzzle and paws. slick in the light and dark, matted.

That’s blood, she realizes suddenly, and her stomach gives a lurch. The Alpha drops his jaw in a broken mimic of a grin. Even his teeth are stained with red. She feels sick until she thinks of Derek and her father downstairs, one of them exposed outside of her mountain ash line, the other one probably raging inside a cell.

“Crawl back to wherever you came from,” Stiles spits, newly determined, “because I don’t care what it takes – I’ll take you down with my bare hands if I have to.”

He tilts his massive head to one side almost consideringly before turning and disappearing into the dark, completely calm as if it was his idea.

Her heart pounds in her chest, but she stands tall at the window and watches steadily for long minutes until she’s sure he’s gone.

***

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was the killer,” Laura says, bleary-eyed over breakfast the next morning. “We took prints – the bodies we found last night all had previous arrests for arson or weapons charges, and I could smell wolfsbane on most of them.”

Stiles keeps her eyes on her food, chewing methodically. That’s basically the last nail in the coffin – either it’s someone related to the Hales, or, she looks up, “What if someone’s trying to frame you?” she asks. “I mean, the Argents moved here at about the same time the attacks started. Could it be them?”

Her dad, tired but in one piece, looks concerned. “If you are being set up it’ll be hard to prove. Luckily, Laura and I have been on shift together for most of the attacks, but Derek, you’ll need an alibi.”

“He was with me for some of them,” Stiles points out, “so we should be okay.”

Laura frowns. “I dislike Chris Argent, and I don’t trust him, but he’s always been the sanest of that family. I’d be surprised if he were trying to frame us. Killing other hunters just doesn’t seem his style.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Derek scowls. “You can’t trust any of the Argents.” He looks tense and agitated, and Stiles can’t blame him.

“And I won’t,” Laura says, covering his hand with hers, “but I have to keep an open mind. Don’t worry. I won’t let them hurt us again, no matter what.”

***

Laura and her dad spend most of the day doing paperwork – apparently a bunch of dead bodies turning up outside a party late at night when there’s a curfew in place is kind of a big deal. But by the evening Stiles is antsy and bored, and nothing seems to be able to hold her attention.

“You know,” her dad says, “The Lahey boy is getting out of the hospital tonight. I think Melissa is taking him home. Maybe you and Derek could go visit him before he checks out, see how he’s doing.”

“Get out of your hair, you mean?” Stiles half-jokes and he smiles at her.

He gestures her over and pulls her into a hug. “I’ll never get tired of you,” he says, “but it looks like you’re going to climb right out of your skin. Go out, get some fresh air, talk to people.”

Derek walks into the room with his keys in hand. “I was actually planning to visit my uncle soon, anyway if you want to come along,” he offers.

Stiles grins, gives her dad a squeeze, and is up like a shot.

“Just give me five minutes to grab my stuff!”

***

When they get to Isaac’s hospital room, Scott is already there, awkwardly hanging out. “Hey, Stiles! ….Derek,” he adds after a beat.

Isaac doesn’t really look happy to see any of them, but to be fair, he’s been stuck in a hospital for two days after Stiles accidentally exposed his situation. “Hey,” he says quickly, and keeps his eyes downcast. It looks like someone at least brought him some of his things from home, if the backpack and clean clothes are anything to go by.

“Oh man, Isaac, you are in luck,” Stiles enthuses, wandering further into the room to poke at the uncomfortable looking pleather visitor’s chair. “Mrs. McCall is the best and she makes a wicked spaghetti and meatballs. Seriously, I could eat it for days.”

“You have eaten it for days,” Scott points out and Stiles shrugs.

“Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, and if it means living on your mom’s cooking during a weekend-long gaming marathon, so be it.”

“Better than the time we tried to only eat doritos and coke,” Scott agrees with a grin, “Oh,” and he shudders, “the mentos and coke day,” and Stiles realizes with a pang that she’s missed this, missed their easy rapport.

Isaac looks at her almost suspiciously, but it’s not like she can say ‘sorry for exposing your abusive father’ to him with Scott and Derek around, and even if they weren’t around she wouldn’t mean it.

“Which games do you play?” he asks, turning to Scott, and that starts at least twenty minutes of back and forth on which games are the best, which ones Scott is completely awful at, which ones they totally need to marathon play in the near future.

Mrs. McCall pops in after a bit. “Hey kids,” she says, “my shift is over in ten minutes, so be ready to go, okay?” Then she seems to notice Derek, leaning against the wall in the corner. “Oh, Derek. If you’re here to see your uncle, visiting hours end soon.”

“Thanks,” he says, stepping away from the wall, “I’ll go visit him now.”

“Do you want some company?” Stiles asks.

Derek smiles at her softly. “Yeah, that’d be great. You should meet him.”

She turns back to Isaac. “Hey, I know things suck right now,” she says, “but trust me, it’s going to be okay. Scott wouldn’t be my best friend if he were a jerkwad.”

“Hey!” Scott protests, but Stiles waves it off.

“And his mom is awesome, too. I’ll see you around, okay?”

Isaac looks unsure of her, almost sullen somehow, but he shrugs and she’s willing to take it as agreement.

“Wait, hey, hold on a sec,” Scott says as she and Derek are about to leave. He glances at Derek. “Uh, can we have some privacy?”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I’ll wait for you just over there,” he says and gestures towards the nurses’ station. That’s a bad idea on his part, but Derek can make his own decisions. Scott tugs on her sleeve until they’re away from Isaac’s room a bit, but still in sight of Derek.

“Listen, I know you keep saying you’re not dating this guy, but he looks seriously sketchy. Are you sure you’re going to be okay with him?”

Stiles sighs, and not just because Derek can hear every word. “Scott,” she says slowly. “He’s a librarian, and we’re going to visit his catatonic uncle and then we’re going to go home because my dad and Laura had a late night and Derek is the only one who can cook. And then,” she says when it looks like he’s going to cut in with another objection, “we’re going to sleep in separate rooms. On the same floor as my dad and his sister.”

Scott has the audacity to pout. “I still don’t like it,” he says. “There’s something fishy about this guy.”

She looks back over at Derek, who is frowning sulkily, staring right back at them. Yeah, not embarrassing at all.

“You don’t have to like it, but I appreciate that you’re just trying to look out for me, bro. I promise you, there’s nothing weird going on there. Seriously.”

Scott narrows his eyes at Derek again, which is doubly hilarious, because even if Derek had been human, Scott would still be about thirty less pounds of muscle, a full head shorter, and intensely asthmatic.

“If you say so,” he says, but he doesn’t really look like he means it.

“We can talk about this later,” she insists. “Just– take care of Isaac, okay? He probably needs someone to talk to, and I don’t think he likes me very much right now.”

Scott nods. “Yeah, okay. See you later?”

“See you later,” she agrees, even though later sounds suspiciously like ‘in about five minutes when I creepily check up on you’.

***

Peter Hale is in the long-term care ward at the other end of the wing, so they head out away from the nurses’ station. “We got him a private room,” Derek says quietly, “so if –when he wakes up it won’t be too overwhelming.”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine a hospital is easy on you guys,” Stiles says thoughtfully. “Too many sounds and smells, right?”

He nods and comes to a stop, gesturing to the open doorway. It’s dimly lit, but Stiles can see the back of Peter’s head, slumped but upright in a wheelchair, with a blanket across his lap. At least someone left him facing the window so he can see outside.

“Hi, Peter,” Derek says quietly as they enter the room and circle around to his side. “I brought Stiles with me.”

Stiles steps around to stand beside Derek, finally able to see Peter’s face. It’s lax and empty, his eyes not exactly fixed on the window, but almost like he can’t look away only because someone faced him that way. She can see the resemblance to Derek and Laura, though, even though all that. He’s handsome, like his niece and nephew.

“He was my favorite,” Derek says quietly. It must be hard for him to see him this way. “He was the best at pranks, and he always had time for us. I miss him.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, and reaches out to squeeze Derek’s hand, the way he had for her the last time they were at the hospital together.

Slowly, Peter turns his head to face them, and Stiles notices for the first time the burns down one side of his face, scarring it horribly. Derek’s jaw drops and he takes a step forward. “Uncle Peter?”

Behind them, the floor tiles squeak, and Stiles turns to see an old man standing in the doorway. He looks familiar but she can’t place him. Derek clenches his hand tight around hers, though, and when she turns to look up at him his eyes are electric blue. She looks back to the old man, and then, horrifically, his eyes glow a bright, menacing, familiar red as his expression changes completely and he darts forward to grab Stiles by her free wrist.

“I’m sorry, too,” he says, and his voice is cold and flat. “I always did have a certain admiration for your uncle’s persistence, Derek, but not enough to let either of you live. Look at all the time and effort I’ve put into eradicating your kind. I do enjoy that you’ve brought me such a lovely gift, though.”

Just then, Peter stands, wobbling, yanking Derek behind and beside him as Stiles stands, frozen with growing horror. “Gerard,” Peter rasps, “let the girl go.”

Stiles struggles to free herself from Gerard’s bruising grip, but it’s no use – he doesn’t even appear to notice. “I have to admit,” he says slowly with a cruel grin she can just see the corner of, “I was disappointed thinking I’d have to kill you without a fight. I much prefer it when you struggle. I feel like I should almost say thank you, but what point is there when you’re about to die anyway?”

Just then there’s a clatter in the hallway, and Stiles turns to see Scott grab a chair and throw it at Gerard, wheezing. Gerard bats it away as if it were nothing, and the chair clatters to the floor. “Let Stiles go, asshole!” Scott huffs in between great gulping breaths.

Derek takes the opportunity to lunge forward, but Gerard shoves back, tossing Derek into the bed with one hand, the metal frame screeching across the floor. “Derek!” Stiles yelps, only to be jerked forward by Gerard. He drags her through the door, towards Scott, and Stiles digs her heels in, skidding on the linoleum in an attempt to slow him down. It has no effect.

Scott backs up towards the far wall, eyes wide, chest heaving, hands scrabbling for something, anything. “And who do we have here?” Gerard sneers.

Glancing back, Stiles sees Peter slumped against the wall, panting, chest heaving, eyes locked on Derek.

At the end of the hall Stiles spots a nurse, standing still. “Call 911!” Stiles screams at her, but the nurse, far from appearing scared or frightened, marches forward and grabs Scott’s hand away from the internal-PA system phone on the wall.

“Hold still,” she hisses at him. “You should be grateful to have his attention.” Stiles’ heart is pounding. This, this mad-woman is clearly working with Gerard, helping him get around town. An accomplice.

“This moron?” Gerard sneers. “I suppose he’s brave, even if he is stupid.” He drops Stiles’ arm, but she’s frozen in place with panic, she can’t move, can’t even scream as Gerard lunges forward, mouth open and huge and horrible and hands clawed and bites down on Scott’s side with the slick sound of tearing flesh. Scott screams, sharp and short and Stiles squeezes shut her eyes. She can’t look. She’s probably just gotten her best friend killed.

When she manages to open them again, Scott is limp and bleeding against the wall, chest still heaving, but for how long?

“Gerard,” the nurse whines, wiping one bloodied hand on her pastel cardigan and dropping it to the floor, “You promised you’d bite me next. You promised me. Haven’t I been helpful to you all this time?”

He turns to her, lips and chin stained with blood and smiles, but it’s cold and wrong and Stiles can’t believe this woman can’t see it.

“That’s true,” he says slowly. “I did promise you that.” She offers him her wrist, but Gerard lunges forward and bites sharply on her neck, instead, slicing right through her jugular with what looks like a manic kind of glee until she drops to the floor, rapidly bleeding out, eyes dimming.

“She served a purpose, I suppose,” he says thoughtfully, looking down at her corpse, “but she grated on me.”

He turns back to Stiles, but her feet still seem to be rooted to the floor. “Now you, on the other hand, are quite interesting. What was it you said to me? Oh yes,” he practically purrs, slowly pacing forward. “You said you weren’t afraid of me. And it was true, at the time.”

He stops just in front of her, bloody and mad, and Stiles can’t control anything, not even her breath. It feels almost like she’s having an asthma attack, like she’s Scott. “Is it still true now, I wonder? I have plans to make use of you.”

Just then, Derek steps between them, shoves at Stiles hard. “Stiles, run!”

As if the shove was all she needed, her feet suddenly work, and Stiles stumble-runs to the nearest fire alarm and yanks it down hard. The alarm screams shrilly, and both werewolves visibly flinch before growling and striking at each other furiously again. For a long moment Stiles is startled – she’s never seen Derek shifted before, claws out and eyes flaring bright blue as his face changes dramatically.

Stiles has never been one to take direction well. She uses Gerard’s distraction to creep over to Scott, grab him by one shoe and start dragging him down the hall. He’s still wheezing, his breath shallow as he bleeds steadily, leaving a slick trail on the floor. “Stiles,” he says wetly, “what are– run, why aren’t you running?”

“And leave my best bro behind?” she grunts. He’s heavier than he looks. “Not a chance.”

They have only made it halfway down the hall when Gerard roars over the sound of the fire alarm and throws Derek to the ground with a sickening crunch. Derek lies still on the floor as Gerard turns to her. “Now that’s an admirable quality in a person,” he says. “Loyal to a fault. My own family could learn a lot from you.”

Stiles freezes and then redoubles her efforts to drag Scott with her. If she can make it to the elevator...

Derek twitches on the floor and groans; crawls forward and sinks his claws into Gerard’s calf. “Stiles, just run!” he yells again but Gerard turns with a growl, bends down and grabs Derek by the hair to smash his face into the floor repeatedly. She can only hope that Derek will be okay since he’s a werewolf – she has to get Scott to a doctor as soon as possible.

She makes it to the elevator and frantically presses the down button repeatedly. Scott manages to get his inhaler free from his pocket with a pained grunt and takes a few deep inhales. It doesn’t seem to help.

“It’ll be okay, Scott,” she says, pressing the down button again. “You’ll be okay.”

“It’s a fifty-fifty crap shoot, actually,” Gerard says from right behind her and she doesn’t even have time to flail before he grabs her by the shoulder, claws pricking through her shirt. “Now, Stiles, we’re practically family, you and I. I’m your father’s alpha, after all. Be good and we can leave without making any more pit stops. I’ve seen Scott’s mother around, you know. Lovely woman.”

Stiles freezes. “You wouldn’t,” she says.

“You touch my mom and I’ll kill you myself!” Scott yells but Gerard only clicks his tongue.

“I think Miss Stilinski knows very well what I am capable of,” he says coolly, “but please, feel free to test me. I’m feeling particularly energetic today.”

It’s like all of her strings have been cut. Stiles closes her eyes for a brief moment, going limp in his grip. “I’ll come with you,” she agrees. “Just please, don’t hurt anyone else.”

“A wise decision,” he says, grinning with dead eyes, “We might just make a decent hunter out of you yet.”

***

Gerard has the keys to a completely boring-looking Honda Civic sitting in staff parking. It probably belonged to the dead nurse, she realizes.

He drives just under the speed limit while Stiles tries to figure out if she should text someone for help or just hope Gerard doesn’t know about the recent advances in cell phone technology. He’s been missing for years, but doing what, and where? If Derek, Peter, and Scott live, they can hopefully get her dad and Laura to track her by GPS.

Though she’s not sure she wants anyone else getting anywhere near him. He’s proven he’s more than capable of taking out Derek with barely any effort, and she doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt.

“Where are we going?” she asks eventually. It almost looks like he’s headed to her house, but surely he can’t know where she lives – she’s been staying with the Hales since that first night.

“I’ll need a change of clothes,” he says, not taking his eyes off the road, “and your home is close to here.” He sees her start and smiles coldly. “Didn’t think I knew where you lived? It practically reeks of you and your father,” he says, taking the turn from the main road. “A lovely little house, if somewhat sad and empty lately. I can relate, you know,” he continues. “Much of my own family was taken from me much too soon.”

Stiles grits her teeth. “Right, you mean the daughter you murdered and the son and granddaughter you abandoned?”

He cuts a glare at her. “I’m finishing what she was too weak to handle. She turned on me - me, when I decided to use their own strengths against them! I taught her everything she knew but she wasn’t willing to sacrifice enough for the cause. We’ll have to see if your father is up to the task,” he muses, “though someone younger might be easier to mold.”

“If you mean Scott, you asshole, you probably killed him!” she yells at him. She’s shaking, her hands clenched in fists.

“Please,” Gerard scoffs, “If anything, you should be thanking me for the favor I did him. If he survives he won’t have to worry about falling over gasping every time he tries to do something more strenuous than walking and chewing gum at the same time.”

Stiles gapes at him and then snaps her jaw shut. “Keyword: if.”

Gerard curls his mouth in mimicry of a smile. “The bite is a gift that has been in the wrong hands for too long. I’m simply redistributing resources for the greater good. Some people are too weak to handle it. If he doesn’t make it, it’s hardly a loss.”

“Is that why you’ve been killing hunters?” Stiles asks, “Because they were weak?”

“They were weak,” he muses, “but more importantly they were too free with their words. If I’m going to change the way we hunt I can’t have anyone spreading nasty rumors about me while I do it.”

“You mean rumours like you’re a werewolf now, and kind of insane?”

He frowns, looking out at the dark road ahead. “Sacrifices must be made. The ends justify the means.”

He actually believes that. Stiles digs her nails into her thigh and keeps silent.

***

When they get to her house, Gerard heads unerringly up the stairs and right to her dad’s bedroom, throwing open the closet doors. Stiles follows him up and watches him suspiciously. “Rather bland, but beggars can’t be choosers,” he says, perusing what’s on offer.

“Shouldn’t you wash first?” she asks, rolling her eyes. “You know your face is covered in blood, right?”

Gerard hums. “It’s been awhile. Sometimes I forget these little niceties.” He turns towards the bathroom, reaches in and flicks on the lights. “Ladies first,” he gestures. “I really don’t think I can let you out of my sight.”

There goes her plan of locking him in with the pill bottle of mountain ash in her hoodie pocket. “If you insist,” she says sarcastically but it only seems to egg him on.

Stiles sits on the toilet lid while Gerard wets a towel and starts to deliberately wipe his jaw and neck clean. When he’s done he inspects his face smirks, finding one last spot of blood under his ear. “I always miss that spot.”

“Too bad you probably can’t bleed out from a freak shaving accident,” Stiles hisses, but it’s weak. Her brain is still scrambling, trying to find a way out of this, a way to put him down for good. So far she hasn’t come up with anything worthwhile.

He bares his teeth at her, eyes red again. “You don’t get to speak to me that way,” he hisses. “I’m your alpha.”

“You’re my nothing,” she spits back. “You’re the asshole who bit my dad, and my best friend, and hurt Derek, and kidnapped me. You’re just another obstacle for me to overcome.”

“Stiles, Stiles,” he chides her, “you’ve got the wrong impression entirely.” He creeps forward and she stands up, pressing her back against the glass door of the shower. “I’m bringing you closer together. I can feel so much from your father already, and if– when your friend turns, I’ll be able to feel him, too.”

Gerard leans right up into her space, uncomfortably close, his breath sour. “Just imagine,” he whispers, grasping her right hand and holding her wrist up between them, “if you accept the bite you’ll be closer to them all than ever before. You’ll share the kind of bond most people only dream about. I’m offering you a once in a lifetime opportunity here.”

He drags his nose across the thin skin over her pulse, eyes locked on hers. “You’ll be stronger and faster, more powerful than you could imagine. I could sense it on you immediately - an affinity for magic and the lycan gene. You could have the best of both worlds. And all you have to do is say yes. Join me.”

Her heart starts pounding again, and yeah, some of that sounds nice, but not from Gerard. Never from this monster. She jerks her hand back and rubs furiously at her wrist. “I don’t want it,” she says. “But nice try.”

He tilts his head, still only inches away from her and smiles, slowly. “Did you know I can tell when someone is lying, Stiles? I can hear it in a heartbeat, and yours sped up over the word ‘don’t’. I’ll leave it for now, but when you’re ready, I’ll be here.”

“Are we done, or what?” she snaps. “You’re not exactly an invited guest.”

“Manners,” he taunts her. “Let me just borrow a shirt or two and we can be on our way.”

But to where?

***

To the middle of the woods, it turns out, not that far from where Stiles discovered half of Kate Argent’s body that first night. “This used to be Hale property,” Gerard says, waving expansively at the trees and dirt. It’s finally completely dark out, and she can’t see much past the first few trees. “A blight on the map until Kate and I burned it to the ground. It was the best thing she ever did.”

Stiles refuses to comment. He’s sick, and mad, and it sounds like that isn’t a new thing. The trees look too old to have filled in the space where a house used to be, especially one big enough to hold such an extensive and close-knit family.

“The remains of their nest,” he hisses, like just thinking about their home makes him hungry to burn it down all over again, “is up this way.” He leads her deeper into the woods, and she follows, knowing that even old and mad, he is much faster than she is and would catch her easily if she tried to run.

They trudge uphill in the dark until they reach a large, open clearing with the vague outline of a house on the ground formed with cinder-blocks growing over with moss and grass and mushrooms.

“They tore it down and moved into town, closer to the very people we were protecting from them.” He sneers as he says it, bends down and scrapes the moss from one of the old blocks.

“Sounds like they were looking for safety,” Stiles says just to be contrary, walking around the foundation. “Kind of hard to get away with burning a house down on a quiet street full of nosy neighbors.”

Gerard turns his burning red eyes on her again and she looks away, walking the perimeter. She fumbles in her hoodie pocket for the pill bottle full of mountain ash and squeezes it.

“They’re monsters,” Gerard says flatly.

Look who's talking, she wants to say, but bites her tongue.

“Are you cold?” he asks, suddenly slick and on guard again.

Stiles shrugs. “Yeah, of course. You brought me out to the middle of the woods in the middle of the night. It’s a little chilly.”

“You’d feel warm if you accepted the bite,” he says, but it’s half-hearted at best.

Stiles sighs and sits down on some of the remaining foundation, the cold seeping into her butt through her jeans. She looks up at the sky. “I’m guessing you’re planning a grand showdown or something out here,” she says. “Very dramatic.”

“When I win, you really must join me, Stiles,” he agrees, pacing the foundation. “You’re much smarter than the rest of them.”

“That’s just because you haven’t met Lydia or Danny,” Stiles says absently and then slaps a hand over her mouth, too late.

“Oh?” He arches one eyebrow. He probably practiced that move. “Do tell.”

***

It’s hard not to fall asleep. Stiles manages to distract Gerard by getting him to talk about his days as a hunter with Kate. He’s unsurprisingly vain. It’s cold out though, and even though she’s not comfortable, or relaxed, she’s exhausted mentally and physically. She just wants this day to be over, but can’t risk falling asleep.

“You can sleep if you want, it won’t matter,” he says suddenly. “Though I think I’ve given them enough time to track your phone. I’m surprised the beasts haven’t shown up already. Really, I’m rather disappointed in them. I thought they’d be more of a challenge.”

She feels a chill run down her spine that has nothing to do with the weather. “You’ve known this whole time,” she says flatly. “You used me as bait.”

He gives her a condescending look. “I was missing, not dead.” Then he turns sharply to face the tree line. “Oh, I might have disparaged them too quickly,” he says almost cheerfully. “Looks like they’ve finally decided to show up after all.”

Laura, Derek, and her dad, she expected, but they’re accompanied by Chris Argent of all people and an apparently healed Peter. She waves a little at them but they’re all grim-faced and deathly serious.

“Are you okay, Stiles?” Laura calls out.

“Your dad is hella creepy, Mr. Argent, just FYI,” Stiles calls back, “but yeah, I’m okay.”

“We really will have to correct that attitude problem,” Gerard starts, gaze assessing, but a shot rings out.

Chris Argent stands with his gun cocked as Gerard hisses at the smoking bullet wound to his shoulder.

“I won’t miss next time,” Chris says flatly.

“There won’t be a next time,” Gerard growls. “I should have known. You always were even weaker than your sister.” He bares his teeth at them, bright and menacing. “Where is the lovely Victoria?” he says, apropos of nothing. “She at least doesn’t bother with warning shots.”

“Someone has to keep our daughter from having to find out her grandfather is a monster. She just lost her aunt,” Chris spits.

“Too bad,” Gerard says casually. “I had high hopes she’d turn out more like her mother.”

He hunches over, collapses onto all fours. She’d thought his half transformation in the hospital had been horrible, but this is worse. His bones crack and break and re-align, and for several seconds Stiles is frozen in horror watching his whole body break and re-shape itself before she realizes this is her chance.

Pulling the pill bottle out of her pocket she steps back and starts a slow arc behind him, working her way around. She doesn’t make it too far before he’s done, but it’s far enough. She keeps the mountain ash tucked tight into her clenched fist.

Gerard is huge now, hulking and hairy, clothes shredded on the mossy former floor of the Hale house. He’s more monster than man now, and Stiles thinks this shape is more honest.

Laura howls before she, Derek, Peter, and Stiles’ dad shift, nails lengthening into claws, features growing thick and muddied with cartilage and hair. It’s not pretty, but Stiles is glad they’re on her side. Chris Argent stands impatient.

“Gerard,” Laura says, warningly, “I don’t want to do this, but I’ll do anything to protect this town.” Unspoken, Stiles can hear please don’t make me do this. She might be an alpha, but like Derek said, they’re not killers.

Gerard growls, so low it’s nearly sub-vocal, and darts forward and out into the shadows, circling the werewolves and Chris Argent. Stiles takes the opportunity to move gradually, making a solid two-thirds of a circle with the mountain ash. With a snarl, Gerard breaks out of the under-brush to take another swipe at Chris. He fires again, but the shot must go wide because Gerard spins sharply to grapple again with Laura, to swipe at Derek, to snap at Peter and just miss connecting a sweeping blow aimed for her father’s head.

The fight brings them staggering closer to Stiles, as Gerard presses them back and back towards the remains of the house while Chris Argent tracks the action with his gun, unable to find a clear shot.

With a roar, Gerard swats her father down and he skids across the mossy floor, not far from Stiles’ half-circle. She darts to his side and rolls him over. “Dad! Dad, are you okay?”

When he rises up on all fours, his eyes are feverishly gold and bright, and he howls; takes a flying leap at Gerard’s back and is thrown back to the ground.

Laura keens and swipes at him, taking a chunk out of Gerard’s arm near the still smoking gunshot wound and he bares his teeth at her, rising up on his mal-formed hind legs.

Stiles takes the chance and darts, ducked down between them, mountain ash slipping between her fingers, belief strong in her gut, and closes the circle just as Lydia rushes forward out of the tree line and launches a molotov cocktail right at his head. It bursts into flames on contact, spreading quickly down his furred back and arms, catching on the hair of his face. The air reeks of charred flesh as Gerard hits the invisible wall and falls backwards, howling with rage.

“I told you to stay away from my dad, asshole!” Stiles taunts, chest heaving.

He collapses back into his human form, bones cracking. His skin flakes away in ashes, peeling and bloody in places where the burns start to half heal over the dirt of battle. It’s not a pretty sight, and when it’s done, he falls naked to the ground inside the circle, mostly dead and bleeding, burnt, eyes manic still. “You must be Lydia,” he says, almost sweetly. “I’ve been dying to meet you.”

“Nice word choice,” Lydia agrees. “Too bad about everything else.”

Chris Argent steps forward, gun cocked and aimed directly at Gerard’s head. “You should stay out of this, Miss Martin,” he says coolly, “for your own safety.”

Lydia cocks her head and assesses him briefly. “No offense, Mr. Argent, I get that you’ve got this whole badass DILF thing going on, but it’s a little too late for that, and nobody tells me what to do.”

“Gerard is my responsibility,” Laura argues, stepping between them. Her features have smoothed out, but her expression is strained. “He murdered our family, and he has haunted my territory for too long.”

“He’s my father,” Chris says, lowering his gun to his side, “my responsibility, and he needs to be put down for good.”

“I’m sorry to hear you feel that way,” Gerard says, and digs his clawed hands into the ground. “I did this all for our family, you know.”

Peter heaves himself upright, hoists Derek up with him, one arm supporting him around the shoulders. “You don’t have to do it, you know,” he says to Laura. “You can let Argent shoot him. Let him die the way he killed.”

Laura smiles at him but it’s sad and tired, weighed down with emotion. “You’re right,” she says instead and turns to Chris Argent. “You live by the code. Prove it.”

It’s strangely rude, all things considered, and Stiles feels unsettled.

Gerard stares up at his son, eyes fixed intently. “You’ll regret this,” he rasps and Chris stays still there for a moment.

“Listen carefully,” he says, “I want to be sure that you can hear my heartbeat for this: No. I really, really won’t.” And he means every word of it.

She’d almost feel bad for Gerard, except for well, everything.

He frowns, cocks his gun, and then fires swiftly three times.

Stiles looks away, gags a little. When she looks back, the last of the red is fading from Gerard’s dead eyes, and when Laura looks up at Chris, she smiles, bittersweet.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

***

She doesn’t go to school on Monday, but to be fair, she has to help her dad and Laura orchestrate a cover up, help acclimatize Scott to being a werewolf (which: uuugh, Scott is going to be either the worst werewolf of all time or the best, and she doesn’t know which yet but either way it’s going to suck), help Derek officially check Peter out of the hospital, and try to keep the Argents from freaking out because surprise! Your daughter is dating a werewolf.

“To be fair,” she tells Mrs. Argent, “he wasn’t a werewolf when they started dating.”

For some reason, they don’t take that part well.

The good news is that Scott is okay. “I’m sorry,” she tells him at the hospital the next day. “I thought I could keep you out of it but instead I made things worse.”

“Stiles, it’s okay,” he insists. “My asthma is gone! Gone! I can do like a hundred pull-ups now. Allison is going to be so impressed.” He’s practically starry-eyed and Stiles winces.

“Yeah, uh, about that. Don’t forget that she’s kind of from a long line of werewolf hunters, so uh, maybe try to take it slow, okay?” She leaves out the part about killing Allison’s grandpa because frankly, Scott’s brain on love can’t handle that much information at once.

That snaps him out of it. “Oh, right.” He bites his lip and seems to think very seriously for a minute. “Do you think that means she’s too cool for me now? That’s pretty amazing. Allison is amazing.”

Stiles groans and collapses face first by his knee on the hospital bed. “Oh my god,” she whines, “I don’t know why I thought I missed hanging out with you, you’re clearly the worst.”

“You love me, really,” he says with a shrug, and she tilts her face so she can see him again out of one eye and smile.

“Yeah,” she says. “I really do.” And obviously that means he deserves a noogie.

“Stiiiiiles!”

***

There’s also the small matter of moving back into their own house, which is weird. Weirder than it has any right to be. “Why is the fridge so clean?” her dad calls upstairs.

“Derek!” she yells back. “Apparently it offended him!”

“Okay, but now all we have is a jar of pickles and a box of those weird yogurt popsicles,” he yells back.

“So we’ll go grocery shopping!” She’s been standing in the doorway to her room, just staring at it for three solid minutes. It looks weird.

All her stuff is where it should be, and her posters are on the walls, and her surfboard in the corner. Her dirty laundry is even still in a pile over by her speakers right where she left it a week ago.

She throws her bag onto the bed and hauls out her laptop and is just plugging it in on the desk when she hears a thump and turns to see Derek crouched in her window. “Can I come in?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she says, surprised to see him so soon.

He swings his legs over the window ledge and slips into the room gracefully. Even if she had taken the bite, Stiles is sure she still wouldn’t be able to manage that.

Derek walks slowly around the room, picking up objects and setting them back down without saying anything, so she shrugs and finishes unpacking her bag.

There’s not much really, though she stumbles a little trying to hide the fact that she still has his old baseball jersey and leather jacket. She shoves them back in her bag and just hopes he doesn’t notice.

“I uh,” he pauses, uncharacteristically awkward, “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“You know you saw me like, two hours ago, right?” she asks, flopping back into her computer chair. “I packed up my stuff, visited Scott at the hospital and came right here. We haven’t even bought any food yet.”

Derek scrubs at the back of his head, clearly frustrated, but she’s not really sure why. “A lot happened yesterday,” he says finally.

“I know,” Stiles agrees. “I was there.” She pauses, realizing that was probably pretty insensitive. “I’m glad Peter is okay.”

He smiles faintly. “Yeah. He said to apologize for not being able to help more, in the hospital,” he says finally. “We never should have let Gerard take you.”

Stiles twists the chair seat left and then right and then left again. “It was mostly fine,” she says finally. “I mean, he was creepy, and kind of old-man-flirty in a join my evil league of evil way, but he didn’t actually hurt me.”

“He flirted with you?” Derek demands, suddenly very interested.

“People flirt with me!” she says, jerking her head back and sitting up straight. “Lots of people!”

“He kidnapped you, Stiles!” Derek hisses and then covers his face with one hand and groans. “Ugh, this is not how I wanted this to go.”

“Wanted what to go, exactly?” she asks.

Derek sighs and drops his hand, meets her gaze seriously. “I came here to ask you out,” he says finally.

Stiles just gapes at him.

“On a date,” he elaborates.

She’s silent, mouth open and eyes wide. She seriously did not see this coming.

“Okay, bad idea,” he says, sounding disappointed. He stands up and heads back over to the window. “Sorry.”

She actually tackles him to the carpet before he can get there, arms wrapped around him so she can feel his heart thudding in his chest. “Are you serious?” she says into the warm space between his shoulder blades. “Because I have spent an entire week telling everyone I know that they were super wrong, and while it will suck to have to apologize to them all I am absolutely, 100% willing to make that sacrifice,” she finishes fervently.

“Can I sit up?” he asks, muffled into the carpet. Stiles jumps backwards. Right: maybe a little weird to climb all over someone right after he asks you out. Or not. She doesn’t really have much experience in that field.

He rolls over on his back and sits up, staying close, one knee pressed against hers, then reaches out to enfold her right hand between both of his own. “I didn’t realize how much I liked having you around until you left today and I realized you wouldn’t be back, not unless we, I, invited you over, or took you out somewhere.”

He smiles, eyes tracing over her face, and looks satisfied, almost pleased with her even though she’s tired and wearing clothes that are too big and probably smell like hospital.

“Derek,” Stiles says softly, but he keeps going, turning her hand over in his own and drawing gentle loops along the base of her thumb, sending shivers up her spine.

“Please say yes,” he says, and just stays there, looking at her intently, warmly.

He looks almost like he thinks she’s going to say no, and it’s hard to reconcile the Derek that everyone else sees and the Derek she’s gotten to know better; the one who’s embarrassed about his secret love of photography and who probably has a really goofy Anne Geddes wall calendar tucked away somewhere. And just thinking about that makes her smile helplessly and lean forward to press her lips to his, just brushing gently across the corner and then groaning when he turns and presses into it.

His hand drifts up from her jaw to behind her ear; he threads his fingers into her hair as he bites gently at her lower lip and licks at the seam of her lips. Just as she parts her lips to let him in, he pulls back, pressing his forehead to hers and then inhaling deeply and leaning away from her, dropping her hand.

“Your dad’s coming,” he says but his smile is goofy and bright and she can’t even be bothered to care.

“And you’re seventeen!” her dad calls as he opens the door to her room without even knocking. “Which means next time you use the front door,” he continues, pointing at Derek, “and we’re going to have a long talk about rules.”

“Daaaaad,” Stiles whines. “Is this really the time?”

Her dad shrugs. “Absolutely. And Derek can start to try and get on my good side by coming grocery shopping and then cooking dinner tonight.”

Derek doesn’t even look bothered. “Sure thing, Sheriff,” he agrees, clambering to his feet and offering her a hand.

“Best call your sister and uncle, too,” her dad adds, “If it’s a family meal.”

“Uh, dad,” Stiles cuts in, “That means Scott, too. And Mrs. McCall. And Isaac. And probably Lydia.”

He frowns. “Crap. We’re going to need a bigger dining table.”

“Swear jar!” she yells at him as he heads down the stairs, but she reaches back and folds her hand into Derek’s and beams.