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The Firebird

Chapter Text

“Derek, come over here. I want you to meet someone,” Talia called.

Derek had gone into the kitchen for a drink, but followed his mother’s voice into the adjacent conservatory.

The conservatory doors were wide open, allowing the scent of flowers from Talia’s immaculately kept garden to permeate throughout the house. Sunlight streamed in through the windows and open doors, forcing Derek to shield his eyes as he approached. It was only when he was halfway across the room that he noticed why his mother had called him over.

“What is that?” Derek asked, taking no further steps forward and using the letter-strewn table as a makeshift shield.

Talia was standing at the threshold to the garden, her dark hair pulled back into a messy bun and clothes covered in dirt from working in the flowerbeds, enamoured with the creature perched on the back of her favourite wicker chair.

“This is a firebird. Isn’t he beautiful?” Talia said as her fingers glided over richly coloured red and yellow feathers that illuminated faintly under her touch. The bird-like creature resembled a peacock in aspects, although it redefined the meaning of regal with its crown-like crest and impressive plumage.

Despite being a werewolf, Derek was intimidated by the large bird with dark, emotive eyes that regarded him with equal care and curiosity.

“I’ve never heard of them before,” Derek said warily, unhappy with his lack of knowledge.

“They’ve always been rare, but nowadays there are hardly any left,” Talia said, sighing sadly as the bird whistled in seeming agreement.

“Why?” Derek asked, tone perhaps more hostile than he intended. Peter’s stories often involved monsters on the verge of extinction, hunted down because they were dangerous, and so he felt a creeping sense of unease. His mother was well-known for being a brave and forward-thinking leader, but it didn’t mean that Derek didn’t worry about her.

“Men will always want what is rare and beautiful. Greed has given firebirds a bad name over the years. Legends say they bring misfortune, but it just demonstrates what men will risk and lose to possess one,” Talia said before smiling fondly at the bird. “You’re not here to bring misfortune, are you?”

The bird whistled brightly in response, eliciting a small chuckle from Derek’s mother.

“Come closer,” Talia said to Derek.

“Is it safe?” Derek replied hesitantly.

“He has far more reason to be afraid of you. Don’t worry, I’m here,” Talia said. Derek hesitated for a moment longer before stepping forward. The firebird turned its head to watch him, no longer paying attention to Talia’s gentle ministrations.

“What is it doing here?” Derek asked.

“I’m not sure. This is the second time I’ve seen him. Perhaps Deaton will know,” Talia said.

Derek extends his hand, albeit a little too quickly in his haste to smother his nerves. The firebird startled at the motion, whistling in alarm, before lifting its great wings. Before Talia could try and reassure the creature, it had already turned and sailed back out the conservatory doors and across the garden. Talia and Derek watched until the bird had disappeared into the trees.

“He doesn’t like me,” stated Derek, disheartened.

“You just startled him. He’s sensitive, a bit like you,” Talia said, smiling at Derek’s scowl. “Let him come to you next time.”

“He won’t come back,” Derek grumbled.

“There’s always room for patience and hope,” Talia said, walking back towards the kitchen. Derek lingered for a while longer, watching the gap in the trees where the firebird had disappeared.

---

Derek sat under the wide branches of a tree at the end of the garden, history textbook in hand and a frown on his face.

“It’s not fair,” he growled out, anger brimming over as his grip tightened, pages groaning under the abuse.

A low whistle caught Derek’s attention, and he turned to find the firebird he had seen almost six months ago standing on a nearby root. Surprised, Derek instinctively froze, eyes drawn to its long talons and wondering whether it really was as harmless as his mother believed.

“Hello,” Derek eventually greeted when the bird showed no fear or aggression. In response, or so it appeared, the firebird dipped its head and whistled.

Finding courage, Derek tentatively extended his hand towards the bird. He made no further motion to approach, his back still resting against the trunk of the tree, as he kept his mother’s words in mind. After several minutes with no response and arm beginning to grown numb, Derek sighed and retracted his arm.

“Of course, why did I expect anything different?” Derek grumbled. “I can’t even make friends with people, why should a mythical bird be any better?”

Derek turned his attention back to the book, but he couldn’t focus on the words. It wasn’t as though he enjoyed being angry so often. He was doing his best, but by the disappointed expressions of his family and teachers it wasn’t good enough.

Derek only realised he had withdrawn deep into his thoughts when he suddenly noticed the firebird was scarcely a foot away from him, standing on the leaf-littered ground. Derek watched the bird out of the corner of his eyes, seeing what it would do next. It must not have been enough for the firebird because it whistled to ensure it had Derek’s full attention.

When Derek turned his head to look directly at the creature, it dipped its head, tilting slightly to the side so that it could still watch Derek. After a pause in which neither moved, the bird huffed and took half a step closer, bowing its head again. Guessing, Derek very slowly extended his hand and touched the top of the firebird’s head. The answering trill, as well as another bold step closer so that it could press itself more firmly into Derek’s hand, made it clear that Derek had made the correct choice.

Feeling more confident, Derek began to stroke the firebird, although still cautiously and only where the creature pressed itself against his fingers. He now understood why his mother had wanted him to experience this. Derek had never felt anything so soft, and there was something equally soothing in the way in which the feathers illuminated under his touch.

“Now you trust me,” Derek said with a small chuckle. “Or, are you taking pity on me?”

The bird whistled quietly, eyes closed as Derek’s finger glided along its neck. As he sat there, Derek felt his muscles relax, letting go of a tension he had not even realised was building.

A gasp broke the spell between them. They both turned, Laura was halfway across the garden and had her hands over her mouth, eyes wide, as she stared at the firebird. Before Derek could motion for her to remain calm, an unheard of role reversal, Laura had turned and was running back to the house. Derek could hear her calling for their mom, and for her to come and see what was in the garden. Interestingly, the bird did not take immediate offence to the commotion and remained where he was beside Derek.

Derek was strangely glad that his sister had not approached. He couldn’t explain it, not rationally, but it would have felt like an intrusion on a private moment. With everything he shared with his family, from thoughts to possessions, this was one thing he wanted for his own.

Derek jumped when the firebird nipped gently at his fingers. Seeing that Derek was now watching, the bird turned and started sifting through its feather with its beak. Once satisfied, with a small tug, the firebird pulled free a single feather and laid it on the floor by Derek’s leg.

Derek only glanced away for a moment, distracted by the sound of his mother’s voice answering Laura, but when he turned back the firebird had already spread its wings. In three powerful strokes, the firebird managed to gain lift, continuing to climb higher until it could sail back through the trees and out of sight. Again, the firebird had left without a farewell. Before Derek was joined by his mother and sister, listening to their approaching footsteps, he tucked the feather away safely under his shirt.

Chapter Text

Derek awoke with a groan, a dull ache radiating from the front of his head to the back. As soon as he realised that he had no recollection of having got where he was, he jerked upright, eyes wide and flickering to each corner of the dark room. He sighed with relief when he realised he was in his bedroom and on his bed, although that still didn’t explain how he got there.

Apart from the significant gap in his memory, that was not the only unusual thing Derek noticed. Impossible to ignore, the firebird was perched comfortably on the back of his desk chair, near to the open window.

“Hello,” Derek greeted, voice rough.

The bird whistled, a low and quiet sound, before spreading its wings to aid its leap from the chair to Derek’s bed. Derek jolted at the sudden movement, but stilled instantly as he did not want the firebird to take fright and leave.

“Do you know why I’m here?” Derek asked, not expecting a response, but finding comfort in talking.

The firebird took a slow and measure step towards Derek, the mattress dipping beneath its weight, and bowed its head. Derek paused only briefly before extending his hand to run his fingers over the bird’s crest. Whilst he couldn’t be certain, he was sure the firebird had grown since the first time he saw him.

“Where have you been all this time? I don’t see you for a year, and then you’re in my room. Not that I’m complaining, but I wouldn’t say no to you visiting more often,” Derek said, smile growing wider when the bird took another step towards him.

“I should go and find my mom, but I suppose I can stay with you for a little while longer,” Derek said. His headache had not abated, which was unusual, and he couldn’t shake the fatigue that had settled in his bones. He doubted he had the strength of willpower to move.

When Derek yawned, the firebird steadily lowered itself so that it was lying beside Derek’s legs. Of course, being a Hale, he couldn’t have something as common as a cat for a bedside companion.

“You know I can’t get up now,” Derek groused. He knew he could move the firebird if he really wanted to, but they both seemed to know that he wouldn’t, the firebird looking utterly at ease in the well-furnished bedroom.

Derek continued to stroke the firebird, but he steadily lowered himself so that his back was resting against the headboard. The bird began to whistle, although instead of its usual single note or quick trill it continued on in a sombre tune. Derek’s eyelids grew heavier, finding the bird’s song soothing, and slid a little lower so that his head lay on the pillow.

Derek did not know when he fell asleep, or how long the firebird had stayed, just that it was gone when he stirred the next morning. He thought about asking his mother about the gaps in his memory, but just as he was about to phrase his question he found he did not care to know the answer and instead wondered if and when the firebird would return.

---

The fire had destroyed everything, leaving only a burnt out and dilapidated shell of a house. Derek had been stuck between a state of numbness and overbearing sense of horror, unable to come to terms with the loss of so many members of his family at once.

There had been one survivor of the blaze, Derek’s uncle and closest confidant, Peter, but his injuries were extensive and he had been left in a catatonic state. Visiting Peter, body burnt beyond recognition, was a personal form of punishment for Derek, especially when he found out that he was responsible for what had befallen his family.

Laura did not blame Derek when she discovered that it had been his delusional girlfriend, Kate, who had orchestrated the fire. In fact, she had held him close, face pressed against Derek’s shoulder, and wept on his behalf.

Derek’s younger sister, Cora, had reacted differently. Cora wailed at Derek, cursing his self-centredness and blatant idiocy. She could not conceive what would possess Derek to reveal such important and confidential information that would have allowed Kate the opportunity to cause so much bloodshed. With their lycanthropic heritage, keeping secrets meant more to them than most. Derek knew she was grieving, her anger a crutch to pull her through, but he believed every word she threw at him.

Laura’s consoling words, her attempts to portray Derek as a victim of clever manipulation and to negate some of Cora’s venom, did not reach him. Regardless of what Kate had given him, how she had made him feel, he had known better.

Derek sat on an old, fallen log, elbows resting on his knees as he stared at the leaf-littered ground. Whilst still on Hale land, he could not see the house from where he was, and despite being upwind, the nauseating smell of the burnt property was inescapable.

“Why was I so stupid,” Derek bit out. “Mom, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do. I’m just so sorry.”

He may have taken Cora’s verbal lashings stoically, but with only himself as company his thick walls were revealed to be made of cardboard and they came down easily. As deep as his grief, with all of its sorrow and regret, was his anger. His vision bled red when he thought of Kate, the idea of killing her frequently on his mind. He could find no relief as Kate had disappeared the same day as the fire, escaping justice and preventing any form of closure.

A low whistle reached Derek in the well of his violent thoughts, and he jerked up in response.

Standing at the other end of the log, head bowed and twisted slightly to the side so that it could better observe Derek, was the firebird. It whistled again before taking a tentative step closer towards him.

“What do you want?” Derek said, voice gruff, almost bordering a snarl. The firebird paused in its approach, one foot held aloft as though it was unsure whether it wanted to take a step forward or back.

“What do you want from me?” Derek snapped when the bird moved closer, causing Derek to slide further away along the log. “I don’t have time for your rubbish.”

“No, just go away! Leave me alone!” Derek shouted when the bird tried to approach him again, his anger at Kate still at the forefront of his mind. He stood briskly and turned to face the firebird, nails lengthening to become claws.

“I don’t care that you’re here. I have better things to do than play around with some stupid pigeon,” he stated before turning on his heel and beginning his trek back towards the road.

Derek hadn’t even reached the edge of the small clearing when he heard the approaching crackle of leaves underfoot from behind. Turning, he saw the firebird skipping across to him, a peculiar sight considering the firebird’s usual careful motions and poise.

“I told you to go away!” Derek said with a bestial growl as his canine teeth elongated and his features were pulled into their more lupine counterpart. He moved before he was conscious of what he was doing and swiped at the bird that stood within arm’s reach. He felt the impact, his claws ripping through pristine feathers, which sent the bird hurtling across the clearing.

The firebird landed in a disorganised heap, its wings beating frantically out of panic and in an attempt to right itself. The firebird’s feathers were in disarray, and whilst Derek could just about detect the metallic tang of blood it did not appear too injured as it rose back onto its feet and regarded Derek with its large, dark eyes.

“If you’re so desperate for my attention, then where were you when I really needed you? Where were you when my family were being burned alive? You come at such convenient times, when you know I’m miserable or alone, and yet you’re never around when you could be of actual use! Now you’re here and what? Do you enjoy seeing me like this?!” Derek ranted at the firebird, claws still outstretched. Derek knew he was crying, not caring for what he looked like, but he did not know if his tears came predominantly out of anger or sorrow.

Derek felt a spasm of guilt the moment he had struck the firebird, but then he considered how poorly he had misjudged Kate, someone whom he had dearly trusted. As he looked at the firebird, which had always been a mysterious and elusive creature, he felt a sense of dread on what other horrors he might have unleashed upon those he loved.

“I love my mom, but maybe she wasn’t right about everything,” Derek began, his voice quieter and more subdued. He clenched his fists, his claws sinking into the palms of his hands and grounding him. “Maybe you really do bring misfortune, and it’s my fault again for letting you into my life. It’s my fault for letting you near my family.”

The firebird whistled in response, a low and melodious sound that was also inexplicably sorrowful.

“Get lost! Leave!” Derek yelled with as much force as he could muster, his anger continuing to beat against him. “If I ever see you again, I’ll kill you. Just leave me alone.”

Derek did not wait for the firebird to leave this time. Instead, Derek turned around without another word and ran back through the trees until he reached the road.

Derek did not tell Laura about his encounter with the firebird, in fact, he never spoke of it to anyone. Equally, the firebird never visited again.

Chapter Text

                “I’m sure I saw Derek with a tattoo. He should know what to do,” Scott said, strumming his fingers on his stomach as he lay on Stiles’ poorly made bed.

“I think he’s a little preoccupied at the moment, considering that both Erica and Boyd are missing,” Stiles replied curtly as he swivelled around on his desk chair to face Scott. Whilst he knew for certain that Derek had a tattoo, even to the point of its relevancy, he wasn’t overly keen on Scott’s choice in subject matter. Scott’s faith that their classmates were fine did not extend to Stiles, not when he could feel Derek’s nerves wrapping around his spine like a steel cord.

 “They’ll be fine,” Scott said dismissively. “Can you blame them for leaving?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles replied, shrugging noncommittedly. Other than Derek’s pervading unease, which he wasn’t about to discuss, he did not know what to make of their disappearance. Had Derek been such a poor leader as to make them runaway? They knew the risks that came with being a werewolf. Then again, how could they have really known what to expect? “I doubt he’ll like us dropping by to ask about making tattoos permanent.”

“He’s the best person to ask,” Scott stated.

Stiles’ picked at a loose thread on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. Scott had been understandably annoyed when his first tattoo vanished overnight, the one downside to a werewolf’s fast healing potential, but his frustrations were ill-timed. Stiles could barely focus, his thoughts jerking back and forth between his own concerns and Derek’s, and so Scott’s voice had intermittently faded into background noise.

It was at these times, when Derek was in a particularly sour frame of mind, that he missed his mother even more acutely. She would have known what to do about the barrage of emotions which were only partially his own.

“Are you listening?” Scott said, stretching out his arm and waving his hand in front of Stiles.

“Sorry, got distracted,” Stiles mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck to ease the tension there.

“Are you alright? You’ve been distracted all week,” Scott asked, moving to sit up, arms propped back to support him. “You’ve been almost quiet,” he added with a smirk that did not quite reach his eyes.

Stiles sighed as he made a deliberate show of rolling his eyes.

“Hilarious,” Stiles said. “I’m fine, though.”

Stiles had begun to notice the way in which Scott would sometimes regard him with a carefully neutral expression. There was only so much he could hide from a werewolf’s keen senses, but it helped that whilst Scott had some of the pieces he still did not have the whole picture. Scott’s sense of guilt was also a surprising asset, keeping him from prying too far into what should not have been his to know in the first place.

 “Sure, man. You know you can always talking to me, right?” Scott asked, although he was no longer looking at Stiles and had opted to stare at the pictures on Stile’s dresser.

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles replied.

                “I’ll take that as my cue to leave,” Stiles said as he eyed the sinister looking blowtorch in Derek’s hands.

To Stiles’ surprise, Derek had been remarkably pleasant when Scott told him about his tattoo dilemma. He had fully anticipated being chewed out, possibly literally, over such a trivial concern. Instead, some peculiar level of understanding was reached between Scott and Derek, one which eluded Stiles and equally frustrated him. Every encounter Stiles had with Derek was met with a firm frown.

“No, you’re going to help hold him down,” Derek replied simply, gripping Stiles’ upper arm without even looking at him.

"You sure you want to do this?" Stiles asked Scott.

"Yes," Scott answered without hesitation.

“Fine,” Stiles said, shrugging Derek's hand off before his tolerance reached its limits and moved to stand behind Scott. If Scott wanted to barbeque himself for the sake of a tattoo, that was his prerogative. With a firm hold on Scott’s shoulders, Stiles looked away when Derek turned on the blowtorch.

The moment Scott began to cry out from pain, Stiles struggled not to do the same. From Scott’s yells to the harsh roar of the blowtorch along with the smell of seared flesh, Stiles desperately fought his pounding heart and the fierce urge to react. Just as a moment of unrestrained fear or anger could bring Scott’s lycanthropy to the surface, so too could Stiles’ human image be peeled away.

He had promised his mother than no one would ever know of their heritage. He also didn’t dare risk Derek finding out that he was the very firebird he loathed. As Stiles, the awkward human with ADHD, he could exist on the periphery of Derek’s life. So, with gritted teeth, he held on and considered it a test of control. The second the blowtorch was turned off, Stiles released Scott and stumbled out of the room, taking large gulps of fresher air. There was no escaping the smell entirely.

“Are you all right?” Scott asked when he eventually followed Stiles out of the remote and dilapidated shed that Derek had chosen as their makeshift tattoo parlour. Stiles didn’t know how many minutes had passed, but it was enough to regain control.   

Stiles, hands braced on his knees and back partially supported by the shed’s sturdiest wall, sucked in a final deep breath before straightening up.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I should be asking you that,” Stiles said.

“It’s already healed. It doesn’t hurt anymore,” Scott replied.

“That’s good,” Stiles stated.

“Is that all you’re going to say?” Scott asked with a raised brow.

“No. The first is that I am never doing that again. The second is that I’m going vegetarian. That smell is going to haunt me,” Stiles said.

“Thank you,” Scott said. Before Stiles could bounce back a witty retort, Scott continued. “For what you did, I really appreciate it.”

“Anyone would hold down their best friend whilst they get their arm blowtorched. No big deal,” Stiles replied, waving his hand dismissively.

Scott scoffed, shaking his head. “Come on, let’s go,” he said.

“What about Derek?” Stiles asked without pause, immediately berating himself for his lack of tact.

“He already left. He wasn’t fond of the smell either,” Scott replied. Stiles wasn’t surprised, especially if it came with some unpleasant associations.

“Fair enough, oh, and we’re driving back with the windows open,” Stiles said.

                Stiles paced back and forth across the length of his room. The more Derek fretted over Erica and Boyd, the more agitated Stiles became. His skin was too tight and his thoughts turned more times than he did in the small room. He wanted the comforting familiarity that came with having nothing beneath his feet, the giddy rush up his back whenever he caught the perfect air current, and the addictive freedom that came with flight.

Sometimes, when Stiles was alone, he would glide from one piece of furniture in the house to another, although that only provided marginal relief and often ended up with something being broken. It also became far less rewarding as he grew older and larger, as short bursts of flight became wing assisted jumps.

It wasn’t that Stiles never thought about taking a short trip, perhaps above the reserve, in the dead of night. In fact, he thought about it so often that he dreamed of it. However, with pleasant thoughts came niggling doubts and a healthy dose of fear. He dared not risk being seen and followed. He remembered the Hale fire as well as everything that had resulted from it.

Nevertheless, Stiles found that he was incapable of settling down. Knowing his dad wouldn’t be home until the early hours of the morning, Stiles grabbed a jacket along with his mobile and keys. He didn’t even bother to turn off all the lights before leaving the house.

Climbing into his battered jeep, he had no plan or destination in mind, but the simple act of driving would keep him occupied and soothe some of the itch.

Stiles knew that with no specific aim he would naturally be drawn towards Derek. He reasoned that, so long as he deliberately kept away from the Hale property or any other incredibly remote location that was coincidentally occupied by Derek, he would not arouse suspicion. Ideally, Derek wouldn’t notice him at all.  

Despite all of Stiles’ arguments whilst he drove, that he wasn’t a prisoner and he was free to go where he pleased, he still started at the sight of Derek’s sleek Camaro parked at the back of Deaton’s veterinary clinic. Scrambling to regain some semblance of control, Stiles fixed both hands on the wheel and took a measure breath.

He was about to drive on, grumbling at the unfairness of his internal compass, when the backdoor to Deaton’s clinic was flung open. Derek stormed out, although he did not see Stiles as he was looking back over his shoulder. He appeared to be caught in an argument with the ever impassive Deaton, the lines of his body taut and his frustration clear enough to simmer down along to Stiles.

Flailing momentarily, Stiles drove off before Derek could notice him. He missed those fleeting moments before the fire when Derek had appeared to enjoy his company, but those times were long gone.

Stiles had scarcely gone two blocks before he sharply pulled up onto the curb and stopped the jeep. Derek was behind him, he had to be because Stiles had just seen him, and yet something not quite so distinct was pulling him forwards. If his mother had been alive, well, if she were alive he would be at home and not roaming the streets like some desperate stalker, but, ignoring that, he would have immediately called her. As he did not have that luxury, Stiles tried to remain calm and come to some reasonable explanation.

Truthfully, Stiles knew very little about his kind. His mother hadn’t taught him enough before she became ill because she had considered him too young to know. Now, he would give anything for that knowledge.

                In the end, ever curious, Stiles followed the thin thread that led away from Derek. He was tempted to ignore it, to turn the car around and head home. Whatever he was following, it wasn’t strong. A quiet humming in the back of his mind that was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. However, perhaps it was important. Doing nothing might be the more dangerous course of action.

After twenty five minutes of driving, Stiles stopped the car a short way up the road from the long abandoned First National Bank. Whatever was drawing his attention, it was coming from within. He was certain of it. He’d even driven around the perimeter in the hopes the trail would continue elsewhere, but it kept guiding him back to the same grey, foreboding building.

Stiles contemplated calling Scott, but then that would require a reasonable explanation for going inside that he simply didn’t have. He also did not know what to expect, how it related to him, or to what extent he was constrained by time. Even if he was able to convince Scott to go along with him, it would take too long for Scott to reach him. Then again, was there a time limit? Perhaps he could return in the morning when everything was less creepy. No, there was a reason he was here and he had to find out. He couldn’t risk another disaster on his head. He also did not want to involve Scott unless absolutely necessary, he still had his mother’s promise to keep.

Pulling out his phone, Stiles scheduled an email to be sent to Scott in two hours unless he logged back into his account and deleted it. The message simply included his location as well as a request for assistance as something bad had probably happened. It was better than nothing.

Sighing, Stiles tossed his phone under the driver’s seat and turned his gaze to the bank, looking for an inconspicuous point of entry. He had noticed, whilst driving past the building, the thick padlock and chains across the front entrance. Stiles entertained the notion of giving up if he couldn’t find a way in when he noticed one of the windows on the upper floors had not been boarded up. Looking more closely, unless he was mistaken as it was dark and he was a fair distance away, the window appeared to have even been left slightly open. He could land on the ledge and maybe wedge it open enough to squeeze through. It was worth investigating.

With no time better than the present, Stiles peeled off his clothes and left them on the passenger’s seat, but not without checking over his shoulder every few seconds to make sure he was completely alone.

With a deep breath, Stiles slipped from the car and out of his human form, landing lightly on the side walk. He picked up the fallen keys to his jeep and placed them discreetly under a nearby bush before giving a great stretch of his wings to make sure they were in full working order. Satisfied, he pushed off the ground and took flight, heading directly for the bank.

Chapter Text

                To his surprise, he was right. The window had been left open, the dust on its frame disturbed not too long ago. He wasn’t sure whether that was a warning sign, but it did give further support that there was a reason he was there. It wasn’t as easy as he had anticipated getting through, imagining himself to be much smaller than he really was, but he managed with some clever manoeuvring and a small amount of flailing.

As soon as he was inside, Stiles took advantage of the tall ceilings. He sailed from one suitable perch to the next, whether it be an upper floor railing or the tops of the circular chandeliers. He wasn’t an owl, his night vision nothing extraordinary, and so it was a steady process.

Stiles started at the sound of a voice from around the corner. He managed to quietly land on an old, sturdy bookshelf that gave him a clear view down the next corridor. Despite its neglected state, it was clear he was in a section of the building that contained more senior offices.

Down the end of the dark corridor light spilled from one open door. Straining his neck forward, as though it would help, he could just about discern two individuals speaking quietly to each other. He couldn’t make out much of the conversation, only the odd inconsequential word.

Stiles contemplated flying closer, only to a display case further down the hall, but fear held him back. He had no idea what to expect. He had as much an idea as to who was in the room as to what.

“What have we here?” a distinctly female voice asked.

Stiles turned his head to the side, feathers rising instinctively, as he regarded the woman who was standing less than an arm’s length away from the bookcase he was perched on. He hadn’t even heard her moving behind him.

She did not appear in the slightest bit amused by his presence, a sneer tugging at her lip. Despite having typically pleasant features and no immediate signs of abnormality, Stiles found her unnerving. It was when her eyes flashed red for an infinitesimal moment that Stiles realised his situation was not just bad but dire.

Stiles also discovered in that moment what it meant to be a deer caught in headlights. He wanted to escape, but he did not want to turn his back to her. He also doubted whether the height of the ceiling in this section of the building would put him out of her reach. Knowing she was an alpha werewolf, it was unlikely.

The woman moved a fraction of a step closer, causing Stiles to give an approximation of a hiss in warning. Whilst he thought of his next course of action he wanted her to keep her distance. However, their standoff had not gone unnoticed.

His attention was partially diverted by the approach of two men from the other end of the corridor, the same two he had overheard talking earlier. One was a goliath of a man, having the advantage of both height and muscle mass. Stiles wondered briefly and absurdly if his lack of hair was due to an overwhelming amount of testosterone. The other man wore black tinted glasses and walked using a guide cane, his demeanour relaxed and unassuming.

Stiles quickly realised that the blind man was the ringleader when the balding giant deferred to him, watching and waiting for instructions.

“What do we have here?” their leader asked as though he were quietly enquiring about menu options.

“A big, yellow and red goose,” the giant replied.

Stiles whistled in indignation, but remained where he was as he counted down his chances of escaping. The noise provoked a peculiar reaction in the blind man. He stood just as meekly as before, but he tilted his head in that way some people do when their curiosity has been peaked.

“Kali, what does it look like to you?” the blind man asked.

“What Ennis said. A big bird,” Kali stated. When there was no response, as though the blind man was still waiting for an answer, she continued. “It’s mostly red and yellow. Doesn’t look much like any long-necked bird I’ve ever seen. Long tail, sharp beak, claws and a crest on its head.”

“Interesting,” their leader replied. “It sounds as though this is no ordinary bird.”

“Want me to snap its neck?” Kali asked, clearly unmoved by the blind man’s note of intrigue.

“No, leave it be,” their leader said, a finality to his tone. Whilst Stiles felt as though he could finally breathe, the noose lifted from around his neck, he still stood on the hangman’s platform. There was something deeply unsettling about the blind man, especially considering his lackey was an alpha. If she was an alpha, what did that make him?

“Kali, can you go check on our guests?” their leader asked, although his tone made it apparent that there was only one answer.

Kali nodded, but before she departed down the hall she spared a sour glance at Stiles. The blind man then directed his attention at Ennis.

“Go and find Ethan and Aiden. I’d like a word with them,” the blind man continued.

“Yes, Deucalion,” was all the giant said before he also departed.

Stiles heart felt like a solid piece of lead in his chest, weighing him down to the spot. He anticipated the pleasantries to end the moment he and Deucalion were alone. He did not know what else to expect, whether he would be threatened or simply torn apart, but he knew this was on his list of top ten most terrifying moments.

“I hope this is not the last we have seen of you,” Deucalion said. With that, he walked back down the hall and into the same room he had been in previously.

Stiles was stumped. He swivelled his head, searching his surroundings for some hidden threat or cruel practical joke, but everything was as it had been before Kali found him. He was confused to a point of incompetence, unable to make any decision over what he ought to do next because he was stuck playing over what had just happened. Was that it?

Stiles didn’t let his disbelief that he was entirely unharmed hold him for long. Deciding not to count himself fortunate until he was safely back at home and in his own bed, he leapt from the edge of the bookshelf and flew back the way he had come. The window he had used as a point of entry was still open, so, not without checking that there was no one following him, he quickly squeezed back through the gap and almost immediately took flight again. He needed to put as much distance between himself and the bank as possible.

He seriously contemplated leaving his car. He just wanted to getaway. Perhaps the car wouldn’t be regarded as anything unusual, considering it wasn’t parked right by the bank and there were other cars around. Although, his light blue jeep was memorable. If Deucalion was here for either Derek or Scott, then it wasn’t too far of a stretch to assume that he would find out about Scott’s overly sarcastic best friend. Perhaps he already knew about him. Puzzle pieces would surely fit into place once they saw his jeep, the same jeep that was parked near to the bank on the same night the odd bird appeared. Stiles could only hope they hadn’t already noticed it.

 Yet, he still hesitated, continuing to circle the area. He had been spooked after the whole ordeal and he was paranoid that he was being followed. As he thought, he also did his best to ensure he really wasn’t being followed, scanning down below like the hawks he had seen on one of the many nature documentaries he had watched as a child.

It was a split-second decision, the nerves accompanied by his indecision driving him mad. He flew down, using buildings and trees as a makeshift screen so that he could fall completely out of any potential line of sight. Well, that was the intention.

He needed his car. More importantly, he needed his phone. It was due to send off a plea for help along with the location of the bank unless he deleted it in time. He could not risk it being sent.

As soon as his feet hit the ground he hopped behind the bush his keys were stashed under and changed back into his human skin. He had never moved so quickly in his life.

Stiles sprinted to the car, praying he hadn’t been seen. He grabbed his clothes from the passenger seat and slipped on his shirt. He then dropped his pants onto his lap before putting on his seatbelt. It would just be his luck if he was stopped by a patrolling cop, but he had to get out of there. So long as he looked dressed that would do.

                Stiles only stopped briefly on the side of the road, far from the bank, to delete the email and to properly pull on his pants before continuing his long detour home. He was still determined to make sure he wasn’t being followed and anyone attempting to would soon be lost. He had done some late-night reading on the topic, but there had been no articles on what to do if a psychotic alpha werewolf was your stalker.

He eventually arrived home in the early hours of the morning. Fortunately, although not by much, he made it back before the end of his dad’s shift. Even as he stripped off his shirt and exchanged his jeans for pyjamas pants, he couldn’t help replaying the entire night over in his head. Had he made the right decision? What if he had overlooked something? Perhaps his logic had been flawed or he had miscalculated.

Stiles also noticed, as he clambered into bed and pulled the quilt up to his chin, that he still felt himself being tugged back to the bank.

He contemplated calling Scott and warning him about his discovery, but he couldn’t see that conversation going well. There was a very real chance that Scott would rush in and get himself killed. He had to find out what they were dealing with. He was the brains of their duo. However, he didn’t want to keep Scott completely in the dark. By the same reason, he didn’t want to put Derek in danger. Perhaps Erica and Boyd had already encountered the mysterious group and that was why they were no longer around.

                Stiles didn’t remember falling asleep, but he knew he had needed it when he woke up the next morning. Waking up surprisingly refreshed, having been gifted a night of dreamless sleep, brought with it a new resolve. He was determined to find out more about the strange group as well as what was drawing him back to the bank. He would take precautions and keep Scott and Derek safe.

Whilst he spent most of the day anxiously waiting for night, Stiles did manage to be somewhat productive. He chewed through whatever articles he could find on anything that related to either werewolves or the bank. He also found a way to improve his previous failsafe. It took him longer than he cared to admit, unable to find the right words or put them in the right order, to write a more informative alternative to his mayday message for Scott in the case of an emergency.

His new backup plan included a concise email that outlined everything he knew about the group in the bank, excluding any information that related to his heritage. Still fearful that Scott would rush to his aid without pause, putting the safety of his friends above his own, he emphasised that any brash decisions could get Stiles killed. It was manipulative, but not an unfair statement. He also scheduled the email to be sent at dawn unless deleted, meaning that he had more time. It was slightly riskier, having longer to wait for any potential help, but he didn’t see a better alternative.

A few brief text messages, sent during Scott’s lunch break as he was working at Deaton’s clinic, further bolstered his courage. They talked about nothing important, but Stiles couldn’t imagine a world without it. By nightfall, Stiles was as determined as he was terrified.

It was almost midnight when his dad finally fell asleep. Not long after, Stiles shifted back into a bird and left the house from his bedroom window.