So, uh, it's over now.

And we can all go home.

dws eta: sequel now posted! "let the wild rumpus begin," posted through profile page.

i want you to be king forever

Part III

Stiles feels his muscles locking up and knows—remembers—what's coming. It's like his whole body becomes liquid before hardening into glass, and it hurts when he slams down onto Derek. He hears the older man grunt a little as the top of Stiles' head rams into his chin.

Jezebel would love this, he thinks to himself, somewhat hysterically. Jezebel would have some very specific advice of how to take advantage of this situation.

"Get. him. off. me," Derek snarls, and Stiles can feel every word as it hums through their bodies, bouncing back and forth between Derek's throat and Stiles' temple.

He closes his eyes. Listens to everything but Matt. Tries not to have a panic attack. He can absolutely do this. It's absolutely possible. He tries to sync his breathing with Derek's, in one-two, out one-two, in one-two, out.

"Why don't you come down here and see how helpless I am," Derek says, and his whole body thrums, every inch that Stiles is plastered against, and God, is this what it's like to be a werewolf, to feel everything all the way down to your toes?

"Yeah, bitch," says Stiles, and Derek doesn't say shut up but Stiles feels him think it.

He thinks that maybe he actually understands Derek, right now, can actually read him, knows a little of what he's thinking. Is Stiles himself this obvious, all the time? With all his scents and his nervous flailing and blabbermouth?

You can know what Stiles is thinking by looking at him, but you have to press yourself up against as much of Derek as you can get your hands on just to know if he's being sarcastic.

And even then, Stiles thinks dizzily, even then it's a crapshoot, even now he could be reading all of this totally wrong—

Because Derek is afraid, maybe? Afraid of—no, not afraid of, afraid for, Stiles can feel the werewolf's muscles trying to curl up around him like—

—protection? Except that can't be right—

He tries to focus, he has a job to do, he has to protect Scott, his Dad is here, and, "don't trust him," he says, because Scott's such a fucking potato sometimes, he needs to be reminded. Derek tenses beneath him, tries to curl in. Stiles can feel the panic coursing through them, can feel Derek's body shouting that he's an idiot and to keep his mouth shut but he can't because Scott and his Dad and this is Stiles' fault, and—

Matt grabs Stiles and drags him off Derek's chest and Stiles thinks, incredibly, no, wait, no, put me back—

.x.

"Stop," Scott begs, and Derek can smell the fear and panic spilling out of every pore. Stiles coughs and chokes beside him and Derek can't do anything, can't move a fucking muscle.

Scott yells stop because Derek can't or won't and mercifully, mercifully, Matt lifts his foot and Derek can hear the air flooding into Stiles' lungs, filling him up.

"You're a fucking idiot," he snarls once Matt and Scott leave. "What were you thinking, why can't you just keep your mouth shut?"

And Stiles doesn't answer at first, just lies there breathing. Stiles' arm is still pressed against his head and Derek thinks maybe he feels Stiles twitch. "Why are you freaking out?" Stiles asks, instead of answering. "You're freaking out right now and it's freaking me out and neither of us is going to be any use to anybody if we're both freaking out. So we need to just, uh, breathe, and, and stop. Uh, freaking out."

"I am not freaking out," Derek says through gritted teeth.

Stiles' fingers definitely twitch this time. Is he—is he trying to touch—?

"What are you doing," he asks flatly, and Stiles says, "understand you!" like it's the most obvious thing in the world.

.x.

"Hey," Stiles whispers after a long pause, because Derek hadn't said anything and Stiles can't read his emotions anymore, "do you know what's happening to Matt?"

This feels like safe territory, territory that isn't going to get him eaten later.

For a second, he's afraid that Derek has gone into full lock down mode, but then he says, "Well, the book's not going to help him. You can't just break the rules." There's a pause, Stiles knows there's a pause, just one moment where he thinks that Derek is going to say something—something about . . . whatever it is that he's doing when he counts Stiles' heartbeats, but instead he just says, "Not like this."

Stiles tries to look at Derek, but he can't really move his head. "What do you mean?"

By which he means: how can you break the rules?

By which he means: do you break the rules for me?

"The universe balances things out," Derek says. He nudges into Stiles' arm. "It always does."

And Stiles thinks that maybe they're having two conversations, but God, he doesn't know, he's so far away from Derek now that he can't tell what's going on in that head, and Derek never tells him. Maybe they really are just talking about Matt and kanimas and maybe Stiles is making all this up and counting heartbeats is just a wolf thing, and maybe Derek wants to protect him just because he's human and breakable.

"So if Matt breaks the rules of the kanima, he becomes the kanima," Stiles says out loud, instead of anything else.

"Balance," says Derek, and doesn't look at him.

.x.

As the shooting starts, Derek can feel his muscles unlocking, can feel his blood start flowing again the way it's supposed to. And Scott—bless fucking Scott, for once—comes out of the shadows and Derek doesn't think, just shoves Stiles towards him and says, "Take him!"

And that's not that best use of Scott, not right now, but Stiles can't move and leaving him here would be—

Impossible. Leaving him here would be impossible. There is no universe in which Derek can do that, in which Scott could probably do that, so he snarls, "Go!" and tries to trust that Scott will get this right.

He closes his eyes. When he opens them, they burn with red, and Derek goes on the fucking hunt.

.x.

Scott leaves him—and Stiles knows that he has to, knows that there isn't anything that useless fucking Stiles Stilinski can do when he can't even bend his knees—but Stiles' Dad is somewhere in this police station. Stiles' Dad is here, and Stiles brought him here.

So Stiles tips himself over onto the ground and starts to crawl, dragging all 147 pounds along the station floor, because he can't be the reason his Dad dies, he can't, he can't, he can't.

And it seems impossibly long, the distance between him and the holding cells, it seems like it should take a thousand years. Stiles crawls it anyway. It's his Dad.

"I'm sorry," he hears himself choke out as he moves, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and he is, he is, he's sorry for everything, for his Mom and for Scott and his Dad's job.

"I'm sorry," he says again, "I'm sorry—"

He grabs the wall and pulls himself around it just as Derek suddenly emerges from the other door, his eyes bright and burning red, his teeth longer than Stiles has ever seen them.

And Derek is—

Derek is protecting them, is throwing himself at the kanima like he has some stake in all this instead of just getting dragged into Scott's and Stiles' mistakes.

This is what pack means, Stiles realizes, pushing himself backwards, out of the way. His Dad is safe. His Dad is going to be safe.

This is what pack means, he thinks again, and finds that he can almost stand.

.x.

Derek goes back to his house, not the den. He doesn't want to see his pack right now, doesn't want to make them suffer for Scott being an absolute asshole.

He punches a hole through the kitchen wall. He thinks it might be load bearing.

At this moment, he doesn't give a shit, not a single fucking one.

All around him smells like his family and like failure and Laura's locket is heavy in his jeans and all he wants is for this all to just be fucking over.

There's the low crunch of gravel outside and his claws come all the way out as he leaps onto the porch. Yes—he hopes one of the hunters followed him home. He is itching for a fight.

But it's not one of the hunters. It's a blue Jeep with Stiles fucking Stilinski inside.

"My Dad's at home," Stiles says before Derek can yell at him. "Ms. McCall was freaking out, so I—so I had her focus on my Dad, and um, it seemed to help, I don't know. But I left them at my house. And then I—I got in the car because I couldn't just sit around, you know, ADD and stuff, ha ha."

"Stiles," snaps Derek.

"Right, yes, right, get to the point, I get it. Okay."

Derek waits, but Stiles doesn't say anything else. He raises an eyebrow. Stiles opens his mouth, then closes it, making a sort of whining sound as he throws his hands into the air.

"I don't—I don't know why I'm here, okay? I got in the car to—to look for Scott or Jackson or something and I just—I don't know, when I started paying attention again, I was here, and you were all"—he flails in Derek's general direction—"you, and I . . . my brain just died, I don't know, I'll go home."

He opens the door to his Jeep. Derek doesn't move to stop him, to keep him. He thinks of Dr. Deaton telling him that the one person he needed to trust him didn't, and he'd assumed it was Scott.

(Only . . .)

Stiles closes the Jeep door, still on the outside of it.

(. . . Maybe it wasn't.)

.x.

"Okay, you know what, no," Stiles hears himself say, and oh God, what is he doing? "I came here for a reason. I did. I didn't mean to come here, but I came here, so here I, uh. Am here now. And I wanted to say thanks. For my Dad, and Ms. McCall. And for saving Scott's and my stupid asses all the time. And—"

He doesn't turn to look, but he knows that Derek is still on the porch, waiting, not saying anything. This would all be so much easier if Stiles could just touch him, could be able to listen to him like he had when they were stacked like dominoes on the station floor.

"And I'm glad Scott's in your pack, okay."

The words come out in a rush, all jammed together, and Derek doesn't answer. Stiles is tempted to leap into his Jeep and drive away, but he doesn't. He turns around and makes himself look at Derek's feet and sets his jaw.

Because it's not right, it's not exactly what Stiles wants to say. It's close but it isn't—it isn't.

The silence is killing him. He babbles to fill it.

"Okay just," Stiles crosses and uncrosses his arms, nerves and anxiety and frantic adrenaline tumbling off his shoulders, "I'm just going to say this, and then it's out there and you can—"

Derek cuts him off by slamming him up against the Jeep. "Shut up," he snarls, desperate, because this fucking kid, this kid is killing him and he can smell everything, the fear and hope and Derek can have this, maybe.

Except that he can't. It's wrong, it's Kate Argent all over again. Derek feels like every asshole on To Catch A Predator. They say that you become the darkness that you look into, and maybe they are right.

"I like you," says Stiles, squeezing his eyes shut. "And I think you like me too, so."

And then Stiles opens his eyes and just looks at him, and Derek knows exactly what it is Stiles wants—what it is he thinks he wants—but he's so young, and so young, and so young.

"I don't," Derek says, pressing Stiles up harder against the car to make his point.

And Stiles nods, leans his head forward, catches Derek's mouth with his own and mumbles, "okay," against his lips.

.x.

Holy shit what is he doing what is he this is kissing right Stiles is pretty sure this is kissing but like very very light kissing and he's still about ninety percent sure that Derek is at any moment going to actually kill him but for right now yes, yes, this is definitely kissing.

Derek hasn't moved much, letting Stiles kiss him but not exactly kissing back—although not exactly not kissing back, either, and leave it to Derek to find some impossible third plane of making out in which he both is and is not an active participant.

"Okay?" Stiles says again, this time a question, pulling back a little. "I'm sorry about all the times I said I wanted to let you die. But for the record, I probably wouldn't have. I mean, at the moment of truth."

Derek is close enough that Stiles can feel him humming with emotions, though none of them make it to his face. He can feel the panic and the indecision and the—and the want, and it breaks something very small in Stiles so he leans forward and presses their mouths together again.

"I'm sorry," he mumbles, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and he doesn't know what it is he keeps apologizing for, but he goes on saying it any way.

.x.

Derek closes his eyes and lets Stiles kiss him, doesn't know what to do with his hands, with his feet, with—

He needs to back up, needs to back right the fuck up, right now, needs to get as far away from this as possible because it's wrong, it's wrong, he's taking advantage of a fucking kid for God's sake, and what would Laura—what would his mother say?

"I'm sorry," breathes Stiles, and clutches at Derek's shirt, and no, what? Why is he apologizing?

"This isn't," he manages, pushing Stiles away and holding him there, "no, this isn't—we can't, I can't. This isn't. No."

"But you want this," Stiles says, and sounds—God, so genuinely bewildered. "I know you do, for once in my goddamn life I actually know that someone is 100% on-board with the making out thing, you can't tell me you aren't." His voice is high-pitched and panicky, and Derek takes another step back.

"It's not that," he says, trying—for once—to let his words land somewhere in the realm of 'honesty.'

"Then what is it?"

Derek doesn't say, "when I was your age I fell in love with a woman my age and she burned my entire life to the ground," doesn't say, "you are so tiny and breakable and everything about us is like a backhoe in a glass house," doesn't say, "I don't deserve this and you deserve better."

Derek doesn't say, "I'm fucking terrified."

"Go home, Stiles," he says, and leaves him there, alone, while the Jeep engine idles with a sound like a whine.

.x.

When he gets back to his house, his whole body is shaking. He can't get his brain to wind down or focus, can't get the weight of Derek's mouth off his lips, can't do anything but blink stupidly as his porch light flickers.

What just happened?

He's pretty sure he hadn't gone over to Derek's with the intention of kissing him, is pretty sure that until that moment he hadn't even wanted to, or hadn't been aware of wanting to, or—or whatever it is that your brain does when you realize that you want to put your face on a werewolf's face.

Scott is pacing back and forth in on the front steps and as Stiles pulls into the driveway, he sprints to the Jeep and yanks Stiles out of it.

"Allison," Scott babbles, and then, "Your Dad—and my Mom, and she—and is everyone—Stiles holy shit, holy shit, you were just gone, I thought that they had, are you—?"

"I'm fine," Stiles hears himself say, and wants to laugh, because oh sweet God no he is not.

Scott nods, and lets him go, jamming his hands into his pockets and then yanking them out again, over and over. "My Mom," he says again. "She—is she? I didn't go in. I was afraid that she would . . ." his voice tightens. "When she saw me, Stiles. When she saw me, she . . . I've never seen her look so—" He stops, swallowing. Stiles can see his eyes bright and wet in the moonlight and he doesn't know what to do so he yanks him forward into a hug.

Scott clings to his back like he has to if he wants to keep breathing and who knows, maybe he does. His heart is racing like he's going to have another panic attack.

"You're Mom's fine," Stiles says as soothingly as he can manage. "She just needs time, dude. It's kind of a lot."

In a tiny voice, Scott mumbles, "you didn't need time."

"There wasn't time for me to need time," Stiles says, and gets a grin for his trouble.

Scott lets out a shaky breath. "Yeah," he says, "okay."

They turn together and go into the house.

.x.

Derek runs to the den. Dr. Deacon was wrong about Scott—if he had been talking about Scott—but he was right about something else.

You can't have a pack without trust.

Erica and Isaac are sitting on the couch, Erica cross-legged and Isaac with his ankles tucked underneath the cushions. Boyd leans up against the front of the sofa. All three of them are focused on whatever Xbox thing they are doing, unaware that anything remarkable has happened tonight.

"My uncle is back," Derek says without preamble, and Boyd wordlessly turns off the video game.

Erica twists so that she's on her knees facing Derek, hands on the sofa back. Isaac pushes himself up to sit on the armrest. And Boyd stands behind them, arms crossed over his chest.

They look good, Derek thinks, throat tightening. They look like they belong, if not here then together, and that's what matters.

"Okay," says Isaac. "So . . . what's that mean?"

Erica rolls her eyes and punches his shoulder. "It means we have to kill him, dumbass."

Derek nods. "He's smarter than me," he says, wincing as he does it. "He's older. More experienced. But right now he's weak, physically. We have to—that's our only advantage at the moment." He takes a deep breath, stepping closer. "He'll try everything, do you understand? He's smart, brilliant, a tactician. He is going to tell you that he knows what he's doing, that he'll be a better Alpha than I am. He's not going to be wrong."

His betas don't answer, watching him wordlessly.

"I haven't handled things the way I should have," he admits. "I've made a lot of mistakes, bad ones. And I need you to know that if you decide to work with Peter, I know that it's my own damn fault." He makes himself meet each of his betas eyes, one after the other, before he says, "But even that being the case, I'll still hunt you down and kill you, because Peter is a psychopathic murderer and I won't let you become like him. I won't."

There's a long silence. Erica glances at Isaac and Isaac looks over to Boyd. Boyd nods once and Erica grins, but it's Isaac that says, "I dunno, I kind of like our particular brand of shit show."

Derek blows out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and runs a shaky hand through his hair. "Good," he says, trying to stifle his emotions. "That's . . . good. That's good."

He takes a step toward the couch, but Erica is already leaping over the back of it, pressing a kiss to his cheek. She drags him around to the only armchair and leans against it as he sits. Isaac presses close enough that their legs are touching and Boyd meets his eyes, giving a solemn nod.

"I am going to tell you everything," Derek says, and thinks of the way that Stiles' dry lips had pressed against his own.

Almost everything, he amends silently.

.x.

His Dad is sitting on the sofa, head clutched in his hands. Scott's Mom moves around in the kitchen. When the boys enter, Stiles' Dad looks up, not blinking, not turning away. He keeps his eyes pinned to Stiles and his hands on his knees.

Stiles says, "So, okay, maybe there are some things I haven't told you?"

"That depends on how you define 'some things,'" his Dad agrees after a long beat. He stands.

Stiles clutches at Scott's sleeve because he's pretty sure that this is it, this is when his Dad says things like you killed your mother and now you're killing me.

But he deserves to hear that, because it's true, so Stiles forces the words out: "I define it as, Scott is a werewolf and Jackson is a giant lizard mind slave of a serial killer that we are try to track down and kill or maybe save, and Allison's family hunts people like Scott because of Reasons or whatever, and I'm . . . I'm sorry, Dad." He tries to find his voice. "How do you define it?"

He closes his eyes, waiting, ready for what's coming, but he feels himself getting dragged away from Scott and into his Dad's arms. His Dad's breath is hot on his shoulder, his fingers digging into Stiles' shirt. "Jesus, Stiles," his Dad whispers, "Jesus, why didn't you tell me? You've been—you've been dealing with this all by yourself, why didn't you—I could have helped, I could have—you might have died and I would never have known why you were—"

And Stiles thinks he might be crying? But he isn't sure.

"I wanted to," he says, "I wanted to, Dad, so bad, but I was afraid, I thought—I don't know what I thought except maybe you'd be in danger or something and I didn't—I didn't know how to say it or when or—or anything, I just. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"Stop it, stop, it's not your fault," his Dad is saying, and yes, now they're both definitely crying, and Stiles wants to believe him so bad.

And then Ms. McCall is standing in the doorway, her hands hovering in the air like she wants to reach out but she doesn't know how. Scott asks in the quietest voice Stiles has ever heard, ". . . Mom?"

Stiles pulls away from his Dad and they both look at Ms. McCall, who is just standing there.

"I don't," she begins, and then stops. "I don't know what to—to say, or—to do, I don't . . . are you sick, Scott? Can we cure you? Is this—how long has this—"

And Scott doesn't say anything, just stands there, just keeps looking at her. "I don't know," he mumbles at last. "I don't know, not about any of it, I don't know anything."

And then, brokenly, like a little kid, "Mom, please. Please don't . . . don't . . . please don't leave," and Stiles thinks of Scott's Dad and the beer run that lasted forever.

"Oh, Scott," Ms. McCall says, and opens her arms until Scott is in them.

Stiles' Dad's grip tightens around his shoulders. They stand in pairs, but a foursome, too, and Stiles thinks: maybe? Maybe, after all.

.x.

"You're wrong about the Stiles thing," Dream-Laura says, and Derek says, "Go away."

She shrugs her haunches, coming to brush up against him. They are both in full Alpha form, in the woods behind the house. He can smell ashes (he can always smell ashes). She sits and rubs her nose into her side, itching with her teeth.

"Oh, sure," she agree dryly. "Blame your psyche's conjured manifestation of your dead sister for voicing your own thoughts."

"You aren't real," he tells her, and closes his eyes.

"That's kind of my point," Dream-Laura answers sadly, and when he wills himself to wake up, he does.

.x.

And the thing is: they go to school the next day. His Dad wakes him and Scott up and Ms. McCall has made pancakes, and they all sit around the table talking about fucking lizard people and werewolves like this is just . . . something that they do, something normal.

Scott starts talking about Derek Hale and Stiles nearly says, "Oh, him, right, yes, I think I made out with him last night," but doesn't, because: brain-to-mouth filter. It occasionally works.

His Dad offers to let them stay home, but Stiles is full of nervous energy and the idea of just sitting around the house freaking out is not at all appetizing. So instead he and Scott pile into his Jeep and pull into the parking lot as the bell for homeroom rings.

"Allison was working with her Dad," Scott says for the billionth time as they go inside.

Stiles works hard not to roll his eyes. "I'm sorry," he says.

And he means it. He likes Allison.

But also, her Mom is dead? And he's not all that surprised that she wants to kill the person she thinks is responsible. Not that she's right or anything, and Stiles will totally take her out if he has to—that is, if he even can, because Allison is a Grade A badass when she wants to be—but. He understands.

Scott stops outside of homeroom. His eyes flash yellow for a second. "She's in there," he says. "How do I . . . how am I supposed to be in the same room with her like this?"

Stiles claps a hand on his shoulder. "You just do it," he says.

"And Jackson?"

That one throws him for a bit of a loop.

"You just do it," he says again, at last.

.x.

He has Isaac, Erica, and Boyd skip school. They clear out the den and move into an empty storage unit next to the ice skating rink. Boyd says that nobody has used it in years, but Derek suspects at least part of his reasoning is a desire to be close to the zamboni.

Derek tells them all about Peter, about Lydia, about what Dr. Deaton had said.

He tells them about Scott. That had been a hard one to decide—because he knows Erica and her vicious streak, knows Isaac's brand of justice, knows the set of Boyd's jaw that says he never forgets.

But trust is a fragile thing, and he can't break it before he's even managed to form it completely.

"Fucking Scott," Erica spits. "Jesus, why we are so hot on his dick anyway? What does that guy even bring to the fucking table?"

"Stiles," Derek answers without thinking.

His betas look at him.

Isaac frowns. "And why do we want Stiles?"

"He's . . ." Derek trails off. "There is something special about him. His mother was in with my parents—I think she might have known about us. There's more to him than meets the eye, and until we know what it is, we have to keep him close."

"Also you like him, kinda," Erica supplies.

He opens his mouth to protest, then shuts it and shrugs.

"Well," says Boyd after a moment of silence. "That's cool. We could use a little of his brain on this team. It's definitely the only reason McCall is still alive."

Derek sends him a grateful look, and the one that Boyd returns is 100% amused.

Boyd is the worst, Derek thinks darkly as he ducks his head over the maps they've drawn up.

.x.

Stiles sits with Lydia at lunch.

Scott won't go into the cafeteria, choosing instead to go to the gym and take out his grief and rage on the punching bags there. Stiles offers to go with him, but there isn't anything he can do. Allison has chosen her side and Scott's not on it, and there is not a thing that Stiles can say that will change that.

Allison buries herself in a group of people Stiles is pretty sure she's never spoken to before, but he doesn't look at her much. He doesn't know what he's supposed to say.

"Why am I looking at you," Lydia asks flatly. She leans to the side, glancing over his shoulder to where Jackson is sitting across from Danny, laughing at something.

Stiles raises an eyebrow. "Doin' the creep?" he asks.

She makes a face, pulling a nail file out of her bag. "Please. I could have Jackson back any time I wanted. If I wanted. But I don't."

"No?"

"No. I am an independent woman, Stilinski. Playing dumb was getting boring, anyway. Did you know that Jackson still does his nine multiples on his hands? I mean, God. It's just embarrassing."

Stiles feels a genuine laugh bubble out of him and he is grateful, suddenly, obscenely grateful that whatever else has changed, Lydia Martin is still Lydia. Fucking. Martin.

"So you're . . . so you're doing okay?" he asks. "I know things have been crazy."

She levels him with a glare that would curdle cheese. "Stiles," she says, drawling his name, "I was attacked by a man who—among other things—bit me. I spent three days running around in the woods naked. I got so drunk at my party that I don't even remember it. But am I still class president, and do I still look hot as shit in this dress? Yes, and yes. Now go away from me before I catch your special brand of lame."

He laughs again, and obeys. His spot is filled seconds after he's emptied it as people pool back around the Queen of Beacon Hills. He supposed that her party—as poorly as the night had gone for him—put her back on her throne.

He sends a text. A few seconds later, his phone vibrates.

Inbox (1)

from: JEZEBEL

you're welcome. they say jezebel means "party don't start till i walk in" in latin.

.x.

"It isn't Scott, is it."

Dr. Deaton doesn't turn around. He is splinting a dog's leg. Derek stays on the far side of the kennel, not getting any closer.

"What isn't Scott?" Dr. Deaton asks, tone light.

"The one I need to trust me. It isn't Scott."

Dr. Deaton's shoulders unbunch. He turns only once he's finished the animal's splint, leaning against the operating table with his arms folded.

"You do need Scott," he answers.

"But not for his own sake," Derek supplies, raising an eyebrow. He doesn't know why the vet is so into the Mysterious Mentor thing, but whatever. Now that he knows his game, he can work around it. "I need Scott because Scott brings Stiles."

Dr. Deaton smiles. "Friendship is a beautiful thing," he agrees. "Malo nachala pozhara, his mother used to call them. It's Russian for—"

"Little fire starters," Derek says.

"It's an apt metaphor with those two, you have to admit."

"Why do I need Stiles?" Derek asks impatiently, waving the vet's flippant words away.

Dr. Deaton raises his eyebrows, a smile hovering on the edges of his mouth. "I'm sure that's none of my business," he dissembles, voice smooth.

Derek grits his teeth. "Why does my pack need Stiles," he amends, growling.

Dr. Deaton walks forward, leaning in close enough that Derek is tempted to take a step back. "Ah, but that's the lesson," he says softly.

"The lesson? What lesson?"

"There is only one," says Dr. Deaton, and turns back to his work. Derek knows without asking that the conversation is over.

But something natters at him as he lets himself out. Something about what Dr. Deaton had said. He can't place it, doesn't know why red flags are going up all over his brain.

That's the lesson . . . there is only one.

Where has he heard that before?

.x.

Stiles does research. It's the easiest way for him to focus, to keep his mind centered on something that isn't the way his life is falling apart.

His Dad isn't home, because after seven police officers had ended up dead at the station less than a week after his removal from office, the town had reinstated him as Sherriff. There had been a piece of paper on the kitchen counter when Stiles got home with their Official Story about what the Stilinskis and the McCalls had been up to last night, with instructions on the bottom to burn it when Stiles was finished reading.

He visits some of his usual websites, flips back through the books that are like a billion years overdue at the library, and orders a book on Amazon that has nothing to do with his life problems but is supposed to have a super dirty sex scene.

He reads back over what Lydia had translated from the bestiary. The kanima seeks a master, is born from its own tragedy, blah blah blah. It becomes a wolf only after its maladjusted soul has been mended. There's nothing anywhere about how to kill it or if you even can. If you kill its master, it will seek out a new one.

Well, they can't kill Matt until they find Matt, and he's been MIA since last night's shit storm. In retrospect, going to school was probably a bad plan, given that there was a serial killer with a bone to pick with them, though Stiles supposes his house isn't all that much safer.

Which: awesome, he's going to sleep super well tonight.

He flops back against his pillows, looking up at his ceiling. He can hear the TV playing in the next room where his Dad forgot to turn it off. The local news is talking about a body in the river.

There are little constellations that he had stuck there as a kid, though they've lost a lot of their glow. Orion's Belt and Andromeda, a studded Little Dipper and—

Stiles sits up, tuning sharply into what's being said on the TV in the next room.

"Holy shit," he says, and calls Scott.

.x.

Derek wishes he were more surprised when he hears the news that Matt's body had turned up in the river. It would make his life way too easy if this whole thing could be boiled down to a psychotic high schooler's hissy fit.

Now Matt is dead, and the master of the kanima is a mystery again. But Derek can't focus too much of his energy on that right now—his priority has to be Peter. Peter is the bigger threat.

They are sitting in a circle on the floor, ten or so boxes of Chinese take-out spread between them.

"So basically we have to seduce Stiles," Erica says around a mouthful of chicken.

The three other wolves stop chewing to stare at her.

She rolls her eyes. "Not like that, I'm not suggesting like an orgy or something. Although," she raises her eyebrows, "on second thought."

"We are not," Derek says as calmly as he can, "having an orgy, Erica."

She heaves a sigh like he is the worst Alpha ever, and he is, but actually? He's pretty sure that this is like, the single example of him doing something right.

"If we're focusing on Stiles, then really what we have to do is seduce Scott," Isaac pitches in, and Derek fights the urge to groan.

"Nobody is seducing anybody!" he cries. "We just have to convince them."

"You say poh-tay-toe," Erica replies with an exaggerated shrug. "Boyd, pass the fried rice."

Boyd obliges, chewing thoughtfully. "You know," he says after a few minutes, "my dad used to say that in order to get trust, you have to give it."

"My dad used to say 'do you want to take this argument downstairs,'" says Isaac dryly, but when Derek shoots him a surprised look, Isaac just shrugs.

He's come a long way, Derek thinks, and it has almost nothing to do with me.

Isaac is where Isaac is because he finally, finally decided to be there.

Erica snorts. "Except that we know that Scott McAsshole is feeding information to the Argents. How are we supposed to trust him when we know he's betraying us?"

Boyd snatches the fried rice back out of her hands. "By telling him we know what he's done," he says, like this should be obvious. "Tell him that we know that he's been informing on us, and then tell him our intel anyway. I'm not saying we teach him the handshake or anything, but he should know if the Alpha that turned him is back."

Derek shakes his head, breathing a tiny laugh of out his nose. Fucking Boyd, seriously.

After dinner, he and Boyd take out the trash to one of the dumpsters left over from construction.

As they walk back, Derek puts his hand on Boyd's shoulder. "I want you to do something for me," he says quietly, wishing he'd thought this through more so he would know how to say it. Wishing he had more time to think it through.

Boyd cocks his head to the side, waiting.

"In a pack," Derek explains, or tries to explain, "there is a . . . hierarchy, of sorts."

"Alpha, beta, omega," Boyd says instantly.

Derek shakes his head. "No. I mean, yes, but—within that, there is structure. There is the Alpha, and then the Alpha's Second, and then the rest of the pack. I want . . . I am asking you to be my Second."

Boyd stops walking.

His eyes are wide, mouth hanging slightly open. Derek forgets, sometimes, that Boyd is the same age as Erica and Isaac. He acts so much older, but he's as young as any of them.

"Really?" he asks. "But—why? You turned Isaac first."

Derek speaks slowly, trying not to say the wrong thing. "Yes, and Isaac is—in some ways—better at being a werewolf, in the strictly instinctual sense. He can already control himself during the full moon. But all of that will come with time. Different skills are required of a Second. Things like a cool head, a willingness to follow orders, and—above all—patience. You can see where I might think you the most qualified."

Boyd's face breaks out into a wide grin. "So I'm the babysitter, then," he says dryly, but Derek knows that what he means is I accept.

"Welcome to my world," he says, and gives Boyd's shoulder a squeeze.

.x.

"Matt's dead," Stiles says into the phone, and Scott splutters, "What?"

"It's all over the TV!" Stiles cries. "He was found in the river next to the station. Nobody's focusing too much on it because of the whole massacre at the police station thing."

"Do you think he fell in?"

Stiles is silent for a long time. He tries to let the sound of judgment seep into the phone.

"Okay," Scott concedes after a minute. "Stupid question. But who killed him?"

"Well, it wasn't me," says Stiles. "Did you do it?"

"No!"

"Dude, just checking. So it must have been one of the Argents."

"What about Derek?"

"It wasn't Derek."

"How do you know?"

Stiles hesitates. "I just do," he says. "Now the question is: if Matt's dead, who's controlling Jackson?"

"Is it too much to hope for that he's a free agent?"

"You know, Scott, I have always appreciated your optimism."

Scott sighs.

.x.

A few hours after he sends his betas home, Derek hears a car pull into the driveway of his old house. He knows the sound of that engine whining, would recognize it anywhere.

He places himself on the far side of the couch when Stiles comes in, keeping as much furniture between them as he can.

"Um, hey," says Stiles. "I know I should probably stop showing up unannounced like this. It'll be awkward if I catch you in a weird position, like, doing yoga or something. Not that I think you do yoga? But it would be hilarious if you did, for the record."

Derek takes a deep breath, and a mouthful of Stiles' scent comes with it. Half of him wants to throw Stiles against the wall and order him out, and the other half wants to throw Stiles against the wall and do something else entirely.

"What do you want?" he asks, and his voice sounds tired to his own ears.

"Just for my own sake," Stiles says quickly, "you didn't kill Matt, right?"

Derek raises an eyebrow. "No."

"Right." Stiles sounds relieved. "Right, I thought not. But it's always silly not to ask."

They stand in silence. Stiles' eyes cast around the skeleton of Derek's home in mild interest and not a little desperation, clearly searching for something to say.

Derek wants to know how Stiles knew he'd be here, but he doesn't ask.

"Was there anything else?" Derek prompts, eager for the kid to be gone. Now is not the time to be nursing an inappropriate crush. Now is not the time to be having these kinds of problems. And Derek doesn't—

It has been a long time since Derek was interested in another person in any way that wasn't need-based. He's not sure he wants to deal with the flood that's sure to come with it.

Stiles opens his mouth. He wants to say something; Derek can smell it on him. The younger boy's eyes dart down to Derek's lips and then away again, and Derek closes his eyes.

"No, Stiles," he says, answering without having to be asked.

Stiles slumps a little. "Okay," he agrees. "That's fine, yeah. That's—that's fine. I just thought you'd want to know that Matt was dead and Jackson would be seeking a new master. Got any vendettas you want to bond with a kanima to avenge?"

Derek raises an eyebrow, and Stiles has the good grace to blush.

"Er, right," he says. "Stupid question." Stiles clears his throat. He takes a few steps forward, then jerks to a stop. He opens and closes his mouth several times. Derek can hear all the questions he's not asking, and doesn't move forward.

"Stiles," he growls, a warning.

"But you were into it, though!" the younger boy cries, hurling his hands into the air like he thinks they're going to fly away. "I know you were!"

"That is not," Derek grinds out, hating that he can't deny it, "the point."

"So what's the point? I'm rad, you're rad, let's make out." Laughter bubbles out of Stiles, a little hysteric on the edges. "Oh God, Jezebel is going to murder me for that."

Derek focuses on breathing through his nose. Why can't Stiles just drop it? Why does he have to be so fucking persistent in everything? Why can't he just keep his nose out of all this and stay safe?

"You are sixteen," Derek says, snapping finally. He points at the door in the universal gesture for get out. "And I am twenty-three. That's many things, one of which is illegal."

Stiles snorts, predictably, ignores the gesture and stays put. "Yeah, and I can see by the fact that you're currently trying to figure out how to kill a sixteen-year-old lizard person that you have a deep and abiding respect for the law," he drawls, folding his arms over his chest.

Derek rolls his eyes. Of all the sixteen-year-olds in all the fucking world, seriously. "For certain laws, I do."

"Oh yeah? Like what—besides, apparently, age of consent?"

He thinks about it. "Drunk driving," he decides after a minute. "Defamation of property. Illegal downloading."

"Oh please," says Stiles, and then, "wait—illegal downloading? Seriously?"

"Stealing is wrong," Derek answers with a straight face. "Now get out."

Stiles shoots him a look that says I See What You Did There, but he obeys, and that's what counts.

.x.

Two days later, Scott and Stiles get sidelined at lunch by Derek's pack and dragged out to the lacrosse field. Stiles complains, loudly and bitterly, but the truth is: he's not too upset to have an excuse to avoid the cafeteria. If Scott gets any more miserable being near Allison, his skin is going to melt off and Stiles is going to be covered in Misery Goo for the rest of his life.

And Stiles is mad, too.

His Dad was in that station when Allison and her little army burst in with guns blazing. Scott's Mom was. Presumably they didn't know that all the police officers were already dead, which means that they had known the possible casualties and decided it was an acceptable loss.

Acceptable fucking loss? How is that even a thing?

Derek is waiting out by the goal like the creeper he is. Erica's hand keeps slipping down to Stiles' butt and he keeps batting it away, glaring. She winks.

"Did you see The Dark Night Rises?" she asks under her breath as Derek approaches. "Catwoman: totally hot, right?"

"I want my mother's pearls back," Stiles answers, and Erica lets out a laugh like a shout.

"No chance in hell," she tells him, and then moves with her packmates to stand behind Derek.

"Okay, we're here," Scott says, sounding mad. "What is it?"

"Someone's grumpy," snipes Isaac.

There's a particularly bitter taint to his words, and Stiles looks a little closer at the four werewolves in front of him. They seem tense, packed tighter together than usual. Derek has broadened his shoulder like he's trying to block his betas from Scott's and Stiles' view.

"What's going on?" Stiles asks in a nicer tone. "Did something happen?"

Erica and Isaac exchange glances. Boyd shifts closer to Derek, but his expression doesn't change.

"Yes," Derek says flatly. He is looking directly at Scott, not blinking. Stiles frowns as Scott shifts, uncomfortable, like—like he's in trouble, like he knows he's done something wrong. "We know what you did, Scott," Derek tells them emotionlessly. "You wanted to know why I didn't tell you everything? That's why."

Scott's jaw drops a little, and he squirms. "You don't understand," he says plaintively. "I didn't want to. He threatened my Mom, he—I had to, he made me!"

Stiles doesn't understand. What did Scott do? Are they talking about Matt, because—because Derek had been there, he had seen that Matt was crushing Stiles' windpipe with his boot, he . . . he'd been panicking too, Stiles had felt it.

"What are you talking about?" he asks.

Predictably, everyone ignores him.

"Protecting her is what pack is for," Erica snarls, looking like she wants to leap out from behind Derek. Boyd stills her with a hand on her arm. "He betrayed us, Boyd," she growls in a low voice, and Stiles is—

Stiles is actually afraid of her, right now.

"We would have done everything to keep her safe," Isaac says, only he's worse because he sounds—wounded, somehow, like they've—like they've hurt him somehow, and Stiles is so confused. "And by selling us out, you put all of our families in danger—Erica's, Boyd's. Luckily for me, my Dad already got murdered." There is a terrible twist to his voice and Stiles winces.

"I have a mother, too," Boyd says mildly. "And a little sister. Her name is Jessica. You'd like her, probably. Everyone does."

Scott makes a small, whining sound in the back of his throat.

Derek's claws come out, but he doesn't move otherwise. "You wanted to be an Omega, Scott," he says quietly. "Well, congratulations. You've gotten your wish."

"Derek," Scott begins, and even Stiles can sense the misery and fear and frustration rolling off him, "I'm sorry. I am. I didn't know what else to do."

The older werewolf shrugs. "I have no family left to worry for," he says. "It's not my loved ones whose lives you thought were worth less than your mother's." He sighs. "Scott . . . I get that you didn't want any of this. But it's your reality now. Do better."

He turns to walk away. Erica and Isaac go with him, but Boyd clears his throat. "The other thing," he says, like a reminder.

Derek pauses. "Oh, right. Omega or not, you deserve to know. Lydia resurrected my uncle. I don't know what he's doing or where he's doing it, so I can't give you or the Argents any relevant information. But watch your back, Scott."

He turns around then, eyes falling onto Stiles. "We'll keep watching yours, if you want," he says, and Stiles knows that he's being offered something, but he doesn't exactly know what.

"I, um," he says, and then, "okay."

Derek nods once. "Don't be late for class," he says, before heading back into the woods, hands stuffed into his pockets and head pointed towards the ground.

The three betas head in the opposite direction, toward school. They pass Scott and Stiles on Stiles' side, carefully not looking at Scott. Isaac and Boyd both give Stiles a deliberate nod, and Erica bumps his shoulder as she passes. "See you in Gotham," she says, and she still sounds angry, but like she's trying.

And that means something, too, but Stiles just doesn't know what.

Scott falls to the ground, burying his head in his hands. Stiles stays on his feet.

He looks at the woods, where he can still see Derek's retreating form. His shoulder tingles where Erica bumped it.

And Scott is . . .

"You didn't," he accuses softly. "Scott. Tell me you didn't."

Scott looks up. "He threatened my Mom, Stiles," he says, like this should mean something, like it's an excuse. "What was I supposed to do?"

"Anything else," Stiles answers faintly. "You were supposed to do literally anything else, Scott, anything but—Jesus, what were you thinking?"

Scott doesn't answer. He lowers his head again and tugs wretchedly at handfuls of grass. Stiles wants to kick him. He wants to kick the shit out of him. He wants to yell at him and tear holes in his lacrosse stick and say every horrible thing he can think of until Scott feels awful, until Scott wants to lay down and die somewhere because how can he not see that he was betraying all of them, including Stiles?

But of course he doesn't do any of that, because Scott didn't see it, because Scott's mind doesn't work that way. Stiles knows this, has always known it. Scott doesn't think far ahead, barely thinks through what he's doing at any given moment. He sees the best in people—but not their best, only what he thinks their best should be, and he treats them like they'll live up to it.

Of course he had panicked, of course he had informed to the Argents—how could he not? He doesn't understand that someone might use that information to murder high schoolers. It just doesn't compute with him.

Stiles lets a long breath out of his nose. "I don't want to talk to you right now," he says, instead of anything else. "I'm so mad I can't even think of words to explain why I'm mad and all the ways I'm mad and I want to beat the shit out of you but you'd just fucking heal, anyway."

"Stiles," says Scott, sounding broken, "I didn't tell him anything about you. Not ever. I wouldn't."

And Stiles wants to cry, genuinely wants to lie down and just sob his fucking eyes out, because Scott is his best friend and he wants that to matter right now, so, so badly.

"That's just," Stiles manages, "that's just so far from the point right now."

"Do you hate me?" Scott asks, not looking at him. What he's really saying is: don't hate me.

Stiles sighs, resisting the temptation to turn away from Scott's slumped figure. "No," he says. "But I—your girlfriend tried to kill all of us and you're selling all our secrets and the worst part is, you didn't even mean for any of that to happen!"

"Exactly!" cries Scott. He finally meets Stiles' eyes. "Exactly! I didn't mean it!"

"But that's my point!" Stiles yells back. "If you had meant it all then at least I could have known that I could trust you to have basic agency, but you didn't, you're responsible for some really awful shit and you're not even trying!"

Scott just looks at him and Stiles wants to hug him and punch him in equal measure, so instead he makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and storms off the field.

He doesn't know if Scott follows.

.x.

Derek half-expects Stiles to come find him, to remind him that Scott is an idiot and that, as a group, they have to work to remember this. But Derek doesn't care. Scott didn't make a tiny, forgivable mistake when he sold out Derek's pack—when he sold out his own pack.

Derek knows what it means to be the reason your pack is dead, and actually, despite how it might seem, he doesn't want that for Scott. He doesn't want it for anybody, isn't sure he himself could survive it twice, but Derek has killed one pack already. He doesn't want to think that someone else is living with the consequences of being sixteen and ruled by hormones.

But Stiles doesn't come. Actually, he doesn't see Stiles for almost two weeks. He knows that Stiles is still going to school, because Erica talks about being his partner in Chemistry and Isaac has been intimidating him into eating lunch with Derek's betas, but otherwise Derek is more Stiles-less than he's been since . . . well, since the idiot kid had been traipsing around his property with Scott like he had any right to.

It's not until the reports start coming in—wolves dead in the surrounding counties. Wolves dead, and witches, and people with no obvious connection to the supernatural world, but Derek would be surprised if they were just better at hiding it.

That's when Stiles shows up at the ice rink, magically knowing where to find Derek as always, and hovers in the doorway.

"Can I, uh . . . can I come in?"

Derek is sitting on top of the Zamboni. He hasn't yet admitted to Boyd that it is awesome, but everyone knows it.

He nods, hopping down and making sure to keep a good distance between them. Things get confused when Stiles gets close.

"I wasn't sure if I'd be allowed," Stiles says. He smells nervous. "After what happened with—after what Scott did."

Derek raises an eyebrow. "Are you Scott?" he asks.

". . . Nooo," Stiles answers slowly, almost like a question, and Derek says, "Then that's that, then."

The relief gathers up around Stiles like a spring, and Derek takes a few cautious steps back, half-ready for Stiles to launch at him. Instead, Stiles just stands there staring, his jaw slack.

"Was there something else that you wanted?" Stiles blinks at him like he hasn't understood the question. "Stiles?" Derek prompts, and—

And that's when Stiles pounces, flinging his hands out to grab Derek's jacket and yanking him down to press his mouth to the closest approximation of Derek's mouth as he can get without help. Derek makes a sort of yelping sound and tries to push Stiles away but Stiles' grip tightens in his jacket and doesn't let go. He manages at least to pull their face apart, but Stiles is still—too close.

"Stop doing that!" Derek cries, and wishes he didn't sound quite so frayed around the edges of his words.

Stiles lets go suddenly, taking a few steps back. He shakes his head like he's clearing it. "Yeah, no, yes, I'm sorry, I will," he babbles. "I didn't mean—I was just—I guess I'd taken for granted that your pack only ever wanted me because of—because of Scott, but you don't, do you? You don't, you want me. You want me."

"Of course I want," Derek starts, and then stops. "Of course the pack wants"—but even then it sounds like a confession when he finishes, "you."

And Stiles is grinning, mouth stretched wide across his face. They're not touching anymore but Derek has a feeling that Stiles knows what he's thinking anyway. "Yes, the pack does, yes," he agrees. "It's good to know you all love me for my mind."

"Oh, for God's sake," Derek grumbles, rolling his eyes, "if that's all, get out."

"Going, going," Stiles says, putting his hands up in surrender. "I'm glad we had this talk."

"I hate you," Derek calls helplessly after him as he slips out the door, and the sound of it shutting just barely muffles Stiles' calling back, "no, you really don't."

.x.

When he gets home, Scott is sitting on his front steps. Stiles hesitates before getting out of the Jeep. But he can't avoid Scott forever—and doesn't want to—so he takes a seat beside his best friend and waits.

"I don't know what to say except I'm sorry," Scott mumbles wretchedly. "I can't . . . it's awful when you're mad at me, I hate it."

Stiles sighs. "You really messed up, Scott."

"I know."

"I mean, really messed up."

"I know."

"Have you talked to Derek? Or . . . any of the others?"

Scott shakes his head, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "What would I even say?"

Stiles shrugs. "I dunno, dude. I'd definitely night-before the shit out of the particular speech."

Scott looks up at him, his expression hopeful. His hands bunch up on his knees like he's fighting to keep them there. "You forgive me," he says, not a question but always a question, with Scott.

"You're such a fucking potato sometimes," Stiles answers, and laughs when Scott tackles him onto the grass. "Dude! Get off!"

"You're the best, you're the best at being the best," Scott babbles. "I'm going to be better. I promise, Stiles. I promise. I'm—I'm cutting off Allison and I'm not feeding Gerard anything anymore and . . . I'm going to be better. I am."

"Okay," says Stiles, ruffling his hair like he would a dog. "Fine, okay. Jesus, get up before you suffocate me."

But he's grinning and Scott is grinning and it feels so good to be back that Stiles doesn't notice when Peter Hale comes out of the woods.

.x.

The text from Scott just reads: peter stiles help.

Derek calls her four times but she doesn't pick up, Isaac doesn't pick up and Boyd doesn't pick up, and he doesn't know what to do then except call Scott, but Scott doesn't pick up.

In the end, he sends in a group message to his betas that reads to stiles, be careful.

Then he runs.

.x.

Scott has his phone pressed and hidden between them, but Stiles is pretty sure that Peter can hear him typing anyway. For whatever reason Peter Hale has, he lets them send the text.

"So, there's been a lot of deaths lately," the werewolf says, almost conversationally as he circles the boys. "What do you think about it?"

"Nothing," says Scott while Stiles says, "The crime rate in this country is atrocious."

Peter levels them both with a flat look, and Stiles thinks back to the parking garage when he had asked: his username is Allison? His password is also Allison?

"All right, Scott, you can go," Peter says, and makes a gesture towards the woods.

Scott stiffens. "I'm okay where I am," he says, and loops his fingers into—Jesus, into Stiles' belt loop, like that's going to do anything.

"Go ahead, Scott," Stiles tells him without turning his head, keeping his eyes on Peter.

Scott startles. "What? No! I'm not leaving you alone with him!"

"He isn't going to hurt me," Stiles says, and he is sure of this, though he doesn't know why. There is something inherently against hurting Stiles in Peter Hale's blood—he had felt it the night that they had gone on their little buddy-cop caper. He isn't sure why this is, and doesn't particularly care to find out.

But he wants Scott to go, to find Derek, to find the betas, to find somebody to bring back.

He nudges Scott with his shoulder and tries to telepathically emit the message. "Go, Scott. See if you can't get Boyd to lend you the Zamboni. I might want to skate later."

And he feels Scott get it before darting off, sprinting as fast as he can go. Peter chuckles. "Clever," he says. "Whatever code that was, it's clever. But of course you know that you don't need backup, don't you?"

Stiles shrugs. "Better safe than sorry."

Peter hums. "So, these deaths," he prompts. "Let's talk about them. I've been so lonely, without anyone to talk to since Lydia stopped returning my calls. And you're such good conversation."

"Okay," says Stiles carefully. "But I don't know anything."

Peter makes a clucking sound with his tongue, shaking his head. "Oh, come now," he chides, "that's not true. You know more than you think you do. For instance, what do all the victims have in common?"

Stiles frowns. "Are they all supernatural?"

A wide smile stretches across Peter's mouth. "Well, you see? You're already a mile ahead of the police department."

But Stiles isn't paying attention to him anymore. He's thinking.

"They're all outside Beacon Hills," he says, mostly to himself. "So far they don't look particularly connected from the outside, but once you know that they were all supernatural, it makes more sense. Except—not really a lot more sense? Because ostensibly, besides all having that one thing in common, they didn't know each other, wouldn't have run in the same circles."

"No," agrees Peter. "Maybe just the one circle."

"Our circle," says Stiles. "Our circle, that's the only connection, so—" he takes a deep breath. "So it has to be, right? I didn't put it together because they were farther away, but it—there's no other explanation that makes sense, it has to be Jackson. Which means—"

"He's found a master," Peter agrees, looking pleased. "Yes."

Stiles gets up and starts pacing, not paying any attention to Peter anymore. He's not going to get hurt. Peter wants—for whatever reason—for Stiles to work this out, so he's going to. He'll think about what comes next when it's on the doorstep.

"Right. So that means that everything we learned while Matt was in control is useless—I mean, everything about the 'why' of the murders. So who is connecting them, besides somebody that—"

Stiles breaks off. His eyes go wide. "Oh," he says.

Peter tips toward. "Oh what?"

"Oh," says Stiles again, and Peter reaches out to cup his cheek.

"There you are, dear boy," he says, and sounds—sounds proud, which is all kinds of wrong. Stiles flinches away from him, because he can feel the pride and affection in Peter's touch and that's wrong, it's confusing and it's wrong.

"Why are you telling me this?" he asks, taking another step back. "What do you possibly have to gain by giving me this?"

Instead of answering, Peter combs a hand through his hair and brushes dirt off Stiles' shoulder. "You look so much like your mother," he says, calmly as if they were talking about the weather. "She always thought you looked like your Dad, but that was just wishful thinking. You have her eyes, and that funny little quirk of your mouth. Iskrit'sya, she called you, didn't she? Russian was so useful for us. We could talk about anything and nobody knew but us."

Stiles goes cold. He feels his blood turning to sludge in his veins and his vision tunnels out until all he can see is Peter. "What are you talking about, how do you know that," he spills out, the words like frogs leaping out of his mouth.

"We were dear friends, your mother and I," Peter says, and Stiles wants not to believe him, but he does, because it's the truth. His own father had said it was the truth. "I used to go to her with all sorts of questions—Baba Yaga, I called her, sometimes. It just tickled her. Baba Yaga in her house built on chicken legs." He leans in, grabbing Stiles' chin between his thumb and pointer finger. "I was devastated when she died, Stiles. You believe that, don't you?"

"Yes," Stiles hears himself answer, feeling dizzy.

"You can't kill a Baba Yaga," Peter says then, and sounds—what is that? Frustrated? "They can die, but you can't kill them."

"Okay," says Stiles, "that's great, that's cool, except I still don't know what you—"

But Peter lets him go, and before Stiles has time to blink, he's gone.

.x.

Scott runs smack into him on his way to Stiles'. The younger werewolf grabs Derek's hand and literally begins dragging him, like Derek wasn't already on his way.

"Derek, please, I'm sorry for what I did but Stiles has nothing to do with it please you have to help him please—"

"Where is he," Derek snarls, ripping his hand away.

Desperate relief spills out of Scott and he doesn't answer, just starts to run in the direction of the Stilinski house. Derek follows. They don't speak on the way and Derek doesn't want to, but he can smell Scott's terror and frantic worry, can smell his relief that Derek is there, can sense his confidence that everything is going to be okay now.

And that's . . .

That's a lot, that's something Derek hadn't expected, from Scott. So he files it away for later, when Stiles isn't—

When Stiles isn't—

They burst out of the woods.

Stiles is sitting on the lawn, head in his hands. Derek blows past Scott and yanks Stiles to his feet, running his hands over his body, shoving his nose into his neck and smelling for pain, for injury, for anything out of the ordinary.

"I'm okay I'm okay I'm okay," he hears finally, coming out of whatever episode had overtaken him. Stiles has his hands on Derek's shoulders. "Derek. I'm okay. He didn't hurt me."

Derek's grip tightens for a minute and Stiles' fingers curl into his shoulders, blunt nails dragging against his skin, and Derek shivers. "I'm okay," Stiles says again, quieter, and Derek nods. Puts him down. Steps away and shoves his hands as deep into his pockets as he can get them.

"What did he want?" he asks as Scott crowds into Stiles' space, looking him over despite Stiles repeatedly shoving him away.

Stiles snaps to attention suddenly. "The kanima," he says. "He wanted me to know that the kanima has a new master."

Derek frowns. "We already knew that," he says.

"No," Stiles answers, and reaches out to put his hand on Scott's arm. "He wanted me to know that the kanima's new master is Gerard Argent."

Scott goes completely still. Derek's eyes snap to Stiles'.

"Shit," he says, "fuck," as his betas come roaring up on Isaac's new motorbike.

"Oh, so we're speaking to Traitor McCall again?" Erica asks as she hops out of the sidecar. But Stiles can hear the anxiety in her voice, doesn't miss the way her eyes slide over him, checking for wounds.

He feels . . . kind of warm, actually, because they're all here, because Derek's panic had been plain and because he can still feel the way the Alpha keeps looking at him.

"Where's Peter?" Isaac asks as they come up behind Derek. "You okay, Stilinski?"

"Fine," says Stiles.

"Gettin' real tired of your uncle's shit, Derek," drawls Boyd. "What did he want?"

"To tell us that Gerard Argent is controlling Jackson," Scott says.

Boyd frowns. "Why would he want us to know that?"

Scott shrugs. He looks from Stiles to Derek and back again. "Maybe . . . maybe he wants to use us to lure the Argents somewhere? Or something? I don't know."

"So Gerard has been behind all the murders lately," surmises Erica. "I'm really shocked about that, hold on a second while I gather my thoughts."

Isaac lets out a breathy laugh. "Sometimes I think that you sit around thinking these one-liners up," he tells her, and she says, "sorry, my razor-wit comes naturally sharp."

Stiles opens his mouth to say something useful like, 'Let's kill Gerard Argent,' but what he hears spill out is, "So, uh, are you guys hungry?"

And just like that, they are all going inside and crowding around his tiny ass dining room table, Erica stacked on Isaac's lap and Boyd leaving his shoes by the door like his mother taught him. Scott sprawls across two chairs like an asshole and Derek takes the head of the table because of course he does.

Stiles just kind of stares at them for a minute and then mechanically starts putting out plates and collecting a week's worth of leftovers from the fridge, heating one after the other in the microwave as the werewolves in his diningroom try to determine what was behind this month's episode of Peter Hale, Crazypants.

He takes the seat next to Derek and resigns himself to being ignored all evening, but twenty-five minutes into hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, he feels Derek's leg bump gently against his own and stay there.

He looks up sharply, startled, but Derek's eyes are trained carefully on his food. He can feel gratitude and annoyance and affection in the press of their legs beneath the table and he grins hard down at his lap.

"The problem is, we still don't know how to kill the damn thing," Isaac says, and sounds personally offended.

"We could always try saving him instead," Scott offers (because of course he does). There's a lot of collective eye rolling, but Scott protests, "No, listen. I know it didn't work when we tried it last time—"

"So we should try it again?" Isaac asks. "Good sales pitch—"

"No, we should try it different," Scott replies, gripping his fork. "Clearly telling Jackson that he is a giant lizard that kills people isn't going to do the trick. So . . . what makes a kanima?"

"Personal tragedy," Boyd supplies. He leans forward, looking interested in Scott's plan, as if it might actually be a viable one.

Which is a sentence that Stiles can guarantee he has never said or thought before.

"Right," agrees Scott. "Right, personal tragedy. So we can't resolve the whole 'you're adopted/your parents are dead thing'—"

"Oh, nicely put, asshole," Erica grumbles.

"BUT," Scott continues, speaking over her, "but we can maybe do something about whatever fears have been keeping Jackson in this spiral of douchebaggery and overachievement, I mean, right? Can't we?"

Isaac makes a face. "What do you want to do, give him a hug?" he asks snidely, but there's an undercurrent of genuine curiosity there, too.

"Obviously not," Scott answers, but then looks at Stiles for an alternative, and Stiles suspects that actually, that had maybe been part of the plan's execution.

Stiles makes a face. The thought of putting his body close to Jackson's creepy lizard one does not entice. Still, Scott isn't crazy for thinking that this may actually be easier than killing a rapid-healing murder machine. "Hmm," he murmurs. "Well . . . the kanima seeks a master, right? So—so clearly there's a longing for, I don't know, company of some kind, a loneliness there."

"Gosh," says Boyd in perfect deadpan, "I wonder what that's like."

They all look at him, startled by the joke, and then Stiles breaks out into laughter. He stretches across the table to offer a high-five and Boyd accepts it, clapping their hands together.

"So basically we have to prove to Jackson that he's got people that love him?" Scott half-says, half-asks.

Erica snorts. "Sure, except he's a total douchenozzle and doesn't have people that love him," she points out.

"That's not exactly true," Derek says, and raises his eyebrows at Stiles. "Me and Stiles' cousin Miguel can both think of at least one."

"Stiles' cousin Miguel and I," Stiles corrects, but he's grinning.

.x.

They all sleep at Stiles'. The Sherriff comes home as they are finishing dinner, takes a long look at the five teenagers plus Derek, and shakes his head with a sigh, stealing Stiles' plate and piling the last of the macaroni onto it.

"Be glad I'm letting you get away with that tonight," Stiles advises him. "Tomorrow we're having sautéed vegetables with a desert of strawberries. I might make you eat yogurt."

"Why do you hate me, son?" the Sherriff asks, shaking his head with a wounded sound.

Derek sits back against his chair, carefully keeping his leg against Stiles', and shakes his head. He wants to be wary of this, of all of them together, of the easy way it feels to be . . . not family, but something. Something close.

Isaac, Boyd and Scott all sleep on Stiles' floor, and Erica gets the guest bedroom because she's the only girl. Derek takes the couch. He lies still and listens to the sounds of his pack getting ready for bed, Erica hogging the bathroom and the boys whining that Stiles' bedroom is too small. He can hear Isaac and Scott kicking at one another under a shared blanket. At one point, Stiles hisses, "will both of you stop moving!" and the boys go still.

Then Erica shouts out, "Goodnight, boys," and the call back in terrible, badly synced unison, "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Sherriff Stilinski," she adds.

". . . Goodnight," the Sherriff replies after a minute.

He waits, eyes starting to fall closed, until the teenagers shout all at once, clearly unplanned, "Goodnight, Derek."

He holds his breath, something tightening painfully in his chest, and doesn't answer. Then Erica says again, pointedly, "Goodnight, Derek."

He lets himself exhale. "Go to bed," he shouts, instead of answering, and listens to them all roll over as they obey.

He dreams that Laura sits at the foot of the couch, his feet in her lap as he sleeps.

She doesn't say anything, and neither does he.

.x.

They all go to school in Stiles' Jeep, with the boys in back and Erica up front. The werewolves spend the drive bickering over when the best time is to stage the Danny-vention, and Stiles tries to focus on not running them all off the road.

"Okay," he orders before anyone gets out of the car, "we'll do it at lunch. Now act normal." They all look at him like he's crazy, and he amends, "or, you know, just act like you always do."

Erica smirks. "Okay, Mom," she snarks before hopping out, her skirt riding up her thighs. She doesn't bother to tug it down.

"She's going to kill me with those clothes," Isaac says from beside him in a strangled voice. "Seriously, I think she's doing it on purpose."

Stiles claps him on the shoulder. "She's definitely doing it on purpose," he agrees, and they head inside.

He makes it through his morning periods by drawing comics of the wolves in his notebook. He's especially proud of the one where he sends them all to their rooms and they feel terrible for being pains in his ass.

At lunch, Boyd and Scott grab Danny and drag him to the locker room. Stiles kind of wishes they would be gentler, but—well, werewolves. You can't exactly as the moon of them (ha, ha).

"Umm, hey guys?" Danny asks once they're all situated. "Er, and girl? What's going on?"

"Okay, so, I know this looks bad," Stiles begins, and then Danny's eyes get wide. "Dude, you aren't planning to chain me up like you did with Jackson, are you, because seriously, someone needs to re-teach you what a 'prank' is."

"No!" Stiles half-shouts, then calms. "Ha. Ha. No. No, we're not going to do that. We're . . . we wanted to talk to you. About Jackson."

Danny sighs. "He's not getting rid of the restraining order," he says flatly. "I'm good but I'm not that good."

Scott makes a face.

"Actually, we were just wondering, uh . . . how he was," Stiles says. "You know. Maybe see if you guys had had any heart-to-hearts lately? About, uh, how much you love him? And how great he is?"

Danny gives him an absolutely unreadable look, but Stiles thinks it might mean You Are A Crazy Person, just based off previous experience with Danny's feelings towards Stiles' general existence.

"No," Danny answers slowly. "We have not recently talked about how great he is and how much I love him."

"Oh my God," Erica growls, pushing her way to the front of the group. "Listen, Mahealani. Jackson's going totally apeshit, and we're pretty sure that what he needs is some sweet loving from people who can, you know, actually stand him. Naturally, we thought of you. And no one else. Because Jackson sucks."

"Jackson doesn't suck," Danny says defensively. "He's just—he's got issues, all right."

"Cool," agrees Erica, "so fix the issues, or we'll fix your face to look like one of Floop's Fooglies. Okay? Okay."

Scott visibly jolts, turning to look at her. "Dude, was that a Spy Kids reference?"

Erica looks embarrassed for a moment, and then squares her shoulders and snarls, "So what if it was?"

"Dude," breathes Scott, "I love Spy Kids!"

"Not the time, Scott," says Boyd without turning his head.

"Okay," Scott mutters, "but Spy Kids are awesome."

Danny is looking at all of them like they are built out of crazy and a lack of impulse control, and he isn't wrong. Stiles is pretty sure this is the least competent kidnapping ever. It's probably the least competent Danny-vention ever, and it's the only one of its kind.

Danny puts his hands on his knees and tries to stand. Isaac lets out a little growl and shoves him back down. "Okay, your way isn't working," he tells Stiles. His teeth are just the wrong side of inhuman. "Now we're trying it our way."

Stiles sighs. "I want you to know that I really tried to avoid this," he tells Danny, as Isaac hauls him to his feet.

.x.

everything is totally fine, reads the text from Isaac. Which would be reassuring, if Boyd's didn't say, we're probably going to get arrested for this. Erica doesn't send a text at all.

Derek sighs.

He is in his house, using the bottom tunnels as a gym because he's angry when he's down there, and he works harder.

Mostly what he's trying to do is not think about last night, and the easy way that they had all fallen together. He tries not to think about the comfortable flicker of the lights and five voices saying goodnight. He tries not to think of the way that Dream Laura had sat with his feet in her lap and played piano scales on his ankle.

He tries not to think about the way Stiles' leg had felt, pressed up against his, easy. So fucking easy. Nothing should be that easy. Nothing that easy than be—can be good, can be both shoes. The other one has to fall some time, right?

He drops down for push-ups when he hears the footsteps.

Peter.

He tenses, getting to his feet, and waits.

"Hello, nephew," Peter greets, sounding cheerful. He leans against the doorframe. "Working on your bod? Good thinking. Nothing scares enemies away like a tightly toned buttocks."

Derek sets his jaw, crossing his arms over his chest. He doesn't answer, tries not to give anything away.

"Oh, come now. No need to be grouchy. I'm just here for a casual conversation. I am not the enemy, Derek. Can't you see that?"

"You killed my sister," he says flatly. "Excuse me if I don't send you a Christmas card."

"Ahhhh," hums Peter, "ah, ah, but I didn't really kill, Laura, did I? Well," he makes a nod of recognition. "Maybe I was the final straw. But really, I am only the way I am because of the fire, we both know that." He takes a step closer, and Derek holds his ground, wanting to back away but not letting himself, not giving in.

"You remember what I was like before the fire, don't you?" Peter asks gently, reaching out to tug on Derek's ear. It's a familiar gesture. "You, me, a little bit of Russian lit on the couch? Come on. You remember."

Derek doesn't answer, because of course he does. He has a degree to prove it.

"The fire burned all that out of me, Derek. It just . . . burned it away, like dust in the wind. What is it that Dostoevsky said? 'Nothing is so easy as to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.' I think you understand a little of what happened to me, don't you, Derek?"

Peter grabs Derek's face and forces him to meet his eyes. And Derek knows, can see it in his uncle's gaze: Peter knows about Kate, about Derek, about whose clothes she was wearing when she set the fire. Peter knows whose fault it was—whose fault it still is.

"I didn't kill Laura, did I, Derek?" Peter asks. "I was just the latest in a chain reaction set off by—what did Baba Yaga used to say?—a single spark."

Derek's eyes flash red and he feels his claws come out. "Get out," he snarls, "and next time, I'm going to kill you."

"Like you killed everyone else?" Peter asks, and Derek lets his eyes burn as red as he knows how when he answers, "yes."

.x.

"What are you doing?"

Stiles freezes.

"Heeeey, Lydia," he says.

"They're kidnapping me," Danny asks, and sounds more bewildered than concerned. "It has something to do with Jackson."

Lydia frowns. Her heels click against the asphalt as she approaches, circling the group like a snake around a mouse. "What's wrong with Jackson, besides everything?" She purses her lips when Stiles opens his mouth. "Not you," she says. She nods at Erica. "You, Reyes. Spill."

Erica glances at Stiles, who sighs and gives a little shrug. "Jackson's got issues," Erica says. "Danny is going to help us fix them."

"Werewolf issues?" Lydia asks sharply, and Stiles' jaw drops.

Nobody says anything. Danny asks, "Uhhh, what?"

Lydia rolls her eyes. "Please. If anyone had paid two seconds of attention to me after I was, you know, brutally attacked by a werewolf, they would have noticed that I went through a brief mental breakdown in which I was possessed by the spirit of a dead psychopath and forced to resurrect him. I'm going to pretend that you were all deeply concerned for my welfare and were trying to be delicate by not bringing it up." She levels Stiles with a glare. "Allison gets a freebie because her Mom committed suicide or whatever. You two? Not so much."

"O-kay," says Scott slowly, pitching his voice higher than usual. "Well, uh, cool. You're taking this really well. Want to, um, help?"

Lydia makes a sound like a purr. "In fact I do," she answers. "So, Jackson's the kanima thing Allison had me reading about?"

"Yes," says Stiles.

"Um?" says Danny.

"And that's why he went all crazy and broke up with me?"

Stiles and Scott exchange a look. Lydia tips a dangerous eyebrow at them. "Yes, definitely," Scott says, covering up Stiles' attempt to maybe point out that their relationship had been kind of a shipwreck. Which, okay, fair: Stiles does not exactly have room to point relationship fingers.

Which is to say that Stiles does not actually have relationship fingers, having never been in an actual, you know, relationship.

"Well," says Lydia, "if you think staging an intervention like this is going to save him, you're all a bunch of morons. Seriously, did you even read the translations I did?"

Stiles gapes at her. "What? Yes! I've read and re-read them!"

"And what does the kanima look for?" Lydia asks in a drawl, cocking her head to the side as she thrusts a hip out. She twists one of her fingers into her hair.

"A master," Boyd provides. Stiles notes the way his gaze follows the trace of Lydia's hand as it untangles from her strawberry-blonde locks.

"Exactly," Lydia agrees, and smiles, smug. "He doesn't need a hug, Jesus. Who thought of that plan? Was it you, McCall?"

Scott has the good grace to look embarrassed.

"So, someone bring me the kanima, and I will give you Jackson Whittemore," Lydia tells them, spins on her heels, and leaves.

Danny asks, "So . . . werewolves, huh?"

.x.

It's not the worst plan Derek has ever heard, he thinks as the pack surround the Argent house. It's just . . . not a particularly good plan, either.

"Are you sure about this, Scott?" he asks.

Scott takes a deep breath. Derek can tell from his scent that no, he's not sure. No, he doesn't want to do this. But Scott looks over at the pack they brought with them, and his resolve steels. Derek can tell by the way his shoulders stiffen.

"Yes," he says tonelessly. "I'm sure."

But Derek knows what it looks like when teenage boys think they can outwit their hormones, so he pushes: "You know this probably means the end of your relationship with Allison."

The look Scott gives him is surprisingly open. "I'm pretty sure I'm already at the end of my relationship with Allison," he says.

Derek nods. "I'm sorry," he says, and means it. He hesitates before adding, "I fell in love with a hunter once. It . . . didn't go well. So."

Scott's eyes widen in surprise and he opens his mouth as if to ask a question, but then Erica gives the signal and they step out of the shadows and into the porch light.

"Hey, Gerard," Derek calls, Scott and Erica finishing a triangle behind him, "what does it take to kill a hunter's wife?"

Nobody answers, but Derek hears someone notch an arrow into a crossbow on the other side of the door.

"Just one set of teeth," he says, and then bares his.

.x.

When Jackson sits up, eyes turning yellow, Stiles has to stifle a yelp. He, Boyd, Isaac, and Lydia have been crouched outside his window for the past half-hour, waiting.

Lydia wastes no time, using some long-ago perfected technique of shimmying his window open and slipping through. It takes Stiles a bit more time—and a lot less grace—to do the same. He can practically hear the werewolves rolling their eyes behind him.

They're really only here in case something goes terribly wrong, though Stiles isn't sure how much help he's going to be. Maybe just an extra body to be in the way. It's 100% possible that he is here as kanima bait.

Lydia stands at the foot of Jackson's bed as his skin is swallowed by the slow crawl of scales and teeth. She waits until he is fully transformed, watching it with solemn eyes, before saying in a loud, clear voice: "Jackson."

The kanima pauses, swishing its tail out behind him.

Lydia's twirling of the mirror behind her back is the only indication that she is in any way nervous. Her expression doesn't change.

"What are you doing?" she asks calmly, taking a step closer. The lizard doesn't move, just keeps looking at her with a cocked head.

"I said, what are you doing?" she repeats, and bends down until she is at eye level with the kanima. It still hasn't moved.

Lydia reaches out. Stiles thinks she is going to try to touch it, but she just smoothens out the bedclothes. "You are better than this," she tells the kanima, her tone laced with disdain. "A lizard? Really? I mean, come on, Jackson. You're going to let some old guy in a Macy's suit boss you around? Absolutely not. That is not the guy I fell in love with, and I won't allow it, do you hear me?"

The kanima cocks its head at her, and Stiles thinks he sees—is that—hesitation?

Lydia puts the mirror down. She turns her back on the lizard and walks toward the dresser. "I have stolen, like, fifty thousand of your t-shirts," she says blandly, as if she wasn't speaking to a murderous ragemonster. "I'm not giving them back. Though I suppose a lizard has no use for them, anyway."

The kanima hops off the bed, stalking toward her. She doesn't turn around as it rears onto its back feet and slices its claw against the back of her neck.

Lydia brings a slow hand up to the wound and touches her fingers to it. She looks at the blood on her fingers and the white paralytic and makes a face.

"Gross," she says. "Don't do that again."

The kanima drops back to all fours. Lydia bends down and grabs it firmly on either side of its head.

"Stop this now, Jackson," she demands, her voice low and—feral, somehow. "I will not watch you become some useless old man's puppet, got it? I am better than that, and you are better than that, and if you are anybody's then you are mine, do you understand me? You can break up with me all you want but you and I both know that I make you better than you are. You play lacrosse better when I am watching, you get better grades when I am in class, and you can't dance worth a shit unless I'm letting you lead. Now stop being such a total baby about your parents being dead and come back to me."

She yanks the lizard forward and slams her mouth against his, apparently not caring about the rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth digging into hers. When she pulls away, her mouth is bleeding, and the kanima stands stunned.

The scales start receding, the teeth sinking back into pink gums, and all that's left is a Jackson with a werewolf's mouth and long sideburns.

Stiles sinks back against the wall, legs weak with relief.

"Lydia?" Jackson asks, "OhmyGod, Lydia, did I do that to you?"

She laughs, but Stiles hears tears in the sound as she throws her arms around Jackson's neck and squeezes.

.x.

The text comes fifteen minutes into the assault on the Argent house. Derek is surprised it took Gerard so little time to decide to use the kanima; but then, perhaps he has been waiting for this moment the whole time.

operation save the douchebag is complete, Isaac has texted him. on our way.

Derek throws his head back and howls, long and low. He hears Erica lope off into the woods and Scott comes up behind him.

"I want to try," Scott says, and looks at Derek. "But I won't, if you say not to."

It's a display of trust he hadn't expected from the beta, and it takes Derek a minute to answer. He looks up at the Argent house, curtains covering every window. Behind one of them is Allison. Behind the other is the brother of the woman who burned his life away.

"The hunter you fell in love with," Scott says quietly. "It was Kate, wasn't it?"

Derek doesn't answer. He doesn't think he has to.

"Allison's not like that now," Scott murmurs, "but she could become that way, if we let her. If we don't try something now, she'll never come back."

"Go," Derek says. "I'm right behind you."

They walk out of the cover of trees into the driveway. Derek takes the first arrow, Scott the second, and they both go down onto their knees. Derek smells Erica come back out of the trees, confused, and hears her howl.

"If we don't make it out," Derek says to his only girl beta without raising his voice as Chris and Allison spills out of the house and run toward them, "tell them it was a choice." He hesitates. Then, before he can talk himself out of it, he adds, "and tell Stiles he was right about—what I wanted."

Erica howls again and Derek howls back, this time to say go. He's not sure if she obeys as he and Scott are dragged inside.

.x.

"Guysguysguysguysguys," Erica babbles over speakerphone, her breathing heavy, "get here quick, Jesus, get here, get here, it's Derek and Scott, they went in—"

"What do you mean they went in," Stiles screeches, flailing so hard that he falls off Jackson's bed. "They weren't supposed to go in, they were supposed to make them think the threat was big enough for Gerard to use the kanima! Why did they go in?!"

Lydia perks up from her place beside Jackson, who is growing and retracting his claws in fascination.

"I don't know," Erica whines, sounding like panic is going to swallow her whole. Stiles thinks she might be crying. "I don't know, everything was fine and then they were having some side conversation Derek didn't let me here and then they just—went up the front like they wanted to get caught and Derek said—Derek said to tell you that if they don't come back out then it was a choice and—" she breaks off. "And something else."

"What else?" Boyd asks. His voice is calm, but Stiles can see the way his fists are tightening into balls.

"It's not—it's not for everyone," Erica mutters. "Look, it's not important right now, okay? Just. Get here. Please."

Isaac and Boyd look ready to run, but Stiles puts himself in front of the door.

"We're taking the Jeep," he says flatly, "and we're going to formulate a plan on the way over. Boyd, you're Derek's Second. Back me up on this."

Boyd grinds his teeth together, but nods.

"Okay," says Stiles, exhaling, "okay. Let's go."

At the door, Jackson speaks. "Wait," he says. He sounds almost hesitant. "I'm coming."

Isaac lets out a low whine. "Fine," Boyd says, "then come. But you'll do as we tell you to, do you understand?"

"Yes," Jackson says through a stiff jaw.

"Let's go then," says Lydia, and no one bothers to try and tell her she can't come.

.x.

When he comes to, he and Scott are shackled in the basement. Allison is sitting on the stairs, grip loose and nervous around her crossbow, and her father and grandfather are standing behind some sort of wood table. It smells like Derek's property.

Scott is already awake beside him, but his breathing is even and he is clearly pretending not to be. Derek raises his head and Scott, sensing the movement, follows suit.

"You assaulted my home," Chris Argent says, his voice a snarl. "Unprovoked, you assaulted my home."

"I wouldn't say it was entirely unprovoked," Derek answers, keeping his voice smooth. "After all, your family did murder the entirety of mine, so. You can see where I might have a little bit of a bone to pick with you and yours."

Gerard clicks his teeth. "And what a spectacular job of avenging them you've done so far," he says smoothly. "They would be very proud."

Derek growls.

"Allison," Scott says, sounding worn, "can we talk?"

Chris releases a sound like a laugh. "Scott, I really don't think that right now is the time to compare notes from English class."

"No," agrees Scott, and Derek feels a bolt of pride flash through him, "but it seems like a great time to discuss why her mother is dead."

Allison's grip tightens on her crossbow. "Shut up, Scott," she whispers in a low, furious voice. "You don't get to talk about that, you don't—"

"Allison," Scott murmurs, and doesn't look away from her as she raises the crossbow to aim between his eyes. "Please. I'm not—just give me five minutes. Five minutes, and then you can shoot me between the eyes and you won't even have to feel guilty about it later. Please. Allison. Please."

She hesitates, finger tightening around the trigger.

"Don't give him the time of day," Gerard says distastefully, popping a pill into his mouth. "Put him down like the dog he is, Allison. Do it for your mother. Do it for your aunt Kate."

Allison doesn't move. Scott keeps his eyes trained on her, not blinking.

After a moment, she lowers the crossbow. "Get out," she tells the two men. They both look like they want to argue, and she steps down off the stairs and throws her crossbow onto the table. "You said you raised me to be a leader. Fine: I'm leading. Get out. I want to hear his flimsy, pathetic excuses. I want to hear him say it was an accident, that she had it coming. I want to hear him say that he loves me and he's sorry, and then I want to put an arrow into his brain and watch the moonlight bleed out of him."

She points at the door. "Now get out," she snarls.

They go. When the door is closed, Allison folds her arms over his chest and hoists herself up to sit on the table.

"Um, okay," she says, her voice soft, nastiness bleeding out of it and something akin to desperation coming in its place. "So talk."

Scott looks over at Derek, eyes wide, and Derek shrugs.

"Your plan, your girlfriend," he says.

Scott takes a deep breath.

"It's true that Derek bit your mother," he says, and Derek can hear the tenderness in his voice, the desperate want to not hurt her, and it kills him because Allison looks—Jesus, she looks just like

"But he did it to save me. The night of the rave, when you went out with Matt, I . . . I wish I could explain it, but I—I panicked. When I yelled at you, I was just so scared, because Jackson was going to be there and I knew he was the kanima and you were going to be trapped in with him, and I just . . . I panicked. So I went outside and your—your Mom was there, and she hit me with her car."

"No," murmurs Allison, but Derek can smell the hesitation in the word.

"Yes," Scott says, sounding wretched, "yes, she did. And she put me in this room with wolfsbane smoke and I was dying, Allison, I was dying. And she thought I was alone, that I was an omega, but I howled for Derek and he came. He came to get me. But she fought—she fought him, so hard, and there wasn't . . . he didn't mean to, he was just trying to save me, don't you understand? She put herself there, she—"

"You're lying," Allison spits, jumping off the table and surging toward Scott, hitting him hard in the stomach. The air left him with a low gasp. "You're lying! I read the letter she wrote! I read it!"

"Who gave it to you, Allison?" Derek asks, trying to keep his voice gentle and understanding and failing miserably.

"I—"

She steps away from Scott. "My grandfather."

"Consider . . . the source," Scott manages, collecting air back into his lungs. "Allison, I've never lied to you. I haven't always told you what was happening, but I've never lied."

Her lip trembles.

"I'm sorry your mother is dead," Derek says. "I'm not sorry I bit her. But I'm sorry she's dead. I would have let her into the pack, if she'd accepted the change."

That last part might have been a lie, but it might not have been. Derek can't say for sure what would have happened if Victoria Argent had turned and wanted a place in his pack.

Allison turns her back. She walks to the other side of the room. She is still for a long time, fingering an arrow.

After what seems like unending silence, she spins back to face them. "Do you love me?" she asks Scott, nearly glaring at him. She strides over to their side of the room and pushes her face next to his. "Tell me. I'll know if you're lying."

"Yes," he says instantly, straining toward her, against his shackles. "Yes. Allison. Yes."

"And you trust him?" She nods at Derek.

Scott doesn't hesitate. "Yes," he tells her.

She blows a long breath out of her mouth. "I'm not your girlfriend," she tells Scott. "Just to be clear."

She reaches into her back pocket and pulls out a key.

.x.

The plan, basically, is to storm the house. It's a terrible plan, and Stiles has said over and over again that it's a terrible plan, but he doesn't have a better one. He puts his Dad on call, waiting for the moment when calling the cops is the safest way to clean up any messes.

"Okay, everyone," Stiles says as they gather outside the Jeep two blocks away from the Argent house. "I know I'm not, like, pack or whatever, but—Scott's my best friend, okay?" His voice breaks. "And, um. Just. Please don't any of you get killed, because—because I like all of you, and Derek needs you, and . . . let's just, let's all live through this. All right? All right."

"Great pep talk, Stilinski," Jackson drawls.

"All in favor of the former lizard person never speaking again, say aye," Stiles snaps back.

"Aye," say Erica and Isaac, and Stiles decides that they are his favorite.

"Stay in pairs," Boyd directs. "Isaac, with Erica; Jackson, you come with me. Lydia, Stiles . . . you don't have to come in."

"Shut up," they say together, and Boyd chuckles low.

"All right. Stay together, then. And don't get shot."

"Go team break," says Stiles, and the werewolves are gone before he can add anything else. Lydia kicks off her high heels.

"C'mon, dance partner," she says, linking their fingers together. "Let's do this."

.x.

Ten seconds after she lets them out of their chains, the shouting starts. Allison grabs her crossbow and Scott follows Derek up the steps, taking them three at a time.

Upstairs, Chris and Gerard are pinned against the wall. Isaac and Erica are snarling, feral, while Boyd and Jackson stand behind them with their arms crossed.

Stiles and Lydia are sitting on the couch. Stiles is holding a glass of water.

"Oh, hey guys," he says.

"Why do you have water?" Scott asks.

Stiles sounds defensive. "It was already here. Somebody forgot to use a coaster. I didn't want the wood to stain."

Derek rolls his eyes.

"Jackson," says Gerard, and though his voice doesn't betray emotion, Derek suspects he is surprised. "You look . . . particularly hairy."

"No thanks to you," the teen growls.

Stiles hops off the couch. "Do you mind?" he asks Isaac, who shrugs and shifts slightly to the side, giving him room to access Gerard. Derek takes an unconscious step forward, wanting to block the motion, to keep Stiles as far away from that poison as possible.

Stiles seems to sense the motion, because he looks back and gives an exaggerated eye roll. "Calm down. I just want to check something." He yanks up Gerard's shirt and makes a small noise.

When he steps away, the scales crawling along Gerard's stomach are plain as day. Isaac takes a step back, releasing him as their speed quickens and his fingers erupt into smooth claws.

Derek darts forward and drags Stiles back, tossing him behind Scott. Chris Argent shouts Allisons name and she readies her bow, aiming it at her grandfather as he contorts and folds into the kanima.

Erica doesn't let Chris go, and her eyes don't move to the lizard. Derek can see Chris straining against her, but she looks to Derek, waiting.

He nods. She releases the hunter and steps back into formation with the pack.

The kanima stares at them, flicking its tail. Nobody moves. Then, Allison drops her bow to her side and steps forward.

The kanima keeps its eyes pinned to Allison and she stares back. She lowers herself to her knees and places the crossbow on the ground.

"Grandfather," she says in a low, sweet voice. The kanima steps closer. "There will be blood," she promises. "But I'll need your help."

She holds up a hand. The kanima presses a claw to it.

.x.

Stiles doesn't know what Scott said to Allison. He doesn't particularly care. He drops off Lydia and Jackson and Isaac finally collects his motorbike from Stiles' driveway. As he, Erica and Boyd climb in, Erica beckons to him.

"It was for you," she tells him. "The other thing Derek wanted me to say."

He frowns. "What was it?"

"He said you were right, about what he wanted. Whatever that means."

Then they're gone, and Stiles is alone in his driveway. He goes inside, dropping his keys onto the counter and half-crawling up the steps to his room. He is going to sleep forever, and then he is going to think about what the hell Derek was talking about. He flings himself onto his bed and relaxes against the pillows with a deep sigh, eyes closed.

A voice says, "hey."

Stiles lets out a shriek and flails hard enough to fall to the floor. "What the actual—don't fucking do that!" he shouts, using the bed frame to pull himself back up into a seated position. He rubs at his elbow where it struck the floor. "God, what is wrong with you?"

Derek shrugs. "I need a favor."

"Of course you do," Stiles says with a sigh. "I just totally helped save your ass from the Argents and got you a shiny new murder slave to fight Peter with. Of course you need something else."

He wonders if they're just . . . not ever going to talk about the kissing thing. He opens his mouth to say something, but Derek has leveled him with that glare that Stiles is so familiar with, so he just sighs and asks, "Well? What's the favor?"

"I need to see your mother's book."

Stiles stiffens. He crosses his arms over his chest. "Why?"

"Because."

"Well, if you need it 'because,' then of course. I'll do anything because."

Derek blows a breath out of his nose. Normally by this point in the conversation Stiles would be pressed up against the wall afraid for his life, but Derek is staying on the other side of the room, hands in his pockets.

He's been doing that a lot lately.

"Stiles," he grits out, "may I please see your mother's book? It is important."

Stiles stands and moves over to the bookshelf, but doesn't hand the book over. "Why?" he asks again.

"Can't you trust me this once?" Derek asks, and he sounds so exasperated and so fond that Stiles almost complies on instinct. But he holds himself still and waits. Derek growls, low in his throat, and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Jesus, fine. Dr. Deaton said something to me."

Stiles wants that not to be enough, because it's barely anything at all, really, but it feels like Derek is at least telling the truth. If nothing else, they are on the right track. A little positive reinforcement couldn't hurt.

He holds out the book, but if he's expecting Derek to leaf through it, he's surprised. Instead, Derek opens to the first page and reads over the inscription there. He bites at his lower lip and then hands the book back.

"What?" Stiles asks, curious. "What is it?"

He plants himself in front of his window as preemptive strive against Derek escaping without giving an answer. Derek totally notices what he's doing, because he raises an eyebrow and Stiles thinks there might be a slight twitch to his lips. But he doesn't answer.

Stiles folds his arms across his chest. "I looked up Baba Yaga," he says, partly to fill the silence and partly to get a reaction. "You were right that she ate kids and had a serious anger management problem, but some of the websites called her a Wise Woman, too. They said she was like a reluctant guide for lost souls. But she never gave answers, just laid out tasks so the stories' heroes could figure it out for themselves. They're kinder when there are more of them. The solo artists tend to be grumpy."

Derek nods. Stiles thinks that he's sporting a bit more scruff than usual, and he doesn't exactly want to touch it so much as he wants to feel it pressed against the top of his head.

He sighs, stepping out of the way of the window, because Derek is clearly playing the part of Stonewall Jackson in today's performance of Stiles Stilinski's Terrible Life.

But Derek surprises him, adding quietly, "She was something else, too. They say she represented one of the elements."

Stiles frowns. "Which one?"

And Derek says, "Fire."

.x.

Stiles stares at him. Derek stays on his side of the room and doesn't move, waiting for Stiles to get it.

He hadn't realized until halfway back to the ice rink what has been bothering him about what Dr. Deaton had said, all those weeks ago. That's the lesson . . . there is only one. It was nearly equivalent to what was written in Stiles' book.

The inscription had been signed "your Baba Yaga." Derek doesn't know what sort of relationship his parents—or even his sister—had with Dr. Deaton, but he's certain it isn't the same as the relationship that Derek has with the good doctor. Dr. Deaton does not belong to Derek and his pack, not by a long shot.

"My uncle called your mother Baba Yaga," he says softly. "I think she was his advisor, the way Dr. Deaton was my parents' and my sister's."

Stiles fingers the edges of the book. "So," he says, "who is yours?"

"You," he says without thinking, and then closes his eyes briefly, swallowing.

No, he thinks, no, this is wrong, I can't—

Stiles looks up sharply. "Erica said that you wanted her to tell me that I was right," he says, and Derek closes his eyes. What part of 'if we don't make it out' had his beta not understood?

"She misheard me," he lies, but even as the words leave his mouth he knows that Stiles doesn't believe them.

The younger boy is moving across the room, tossing the blue book onto his bed. Derek holds his ground and reaches out to stop Stiles at arms' length.

"I can feel you lying," Stiles murmurs. "When you touch me—when Peter touched me—any of the wolves, I can feel what you're thinking. That's how I know."

He makes himself ask: "Know what?"

And Stiles twists out of his grip, pushing up against his chest and kissing him, seriously this time, not like he had all those weeks ago outside Derek's house. This time he means it.

Derek tries to push him away but Stiles doesn't let him, holds on. "You like me," Stiles says, keeping their faces close enough that their noses touch. "I know you do. You have to stay on the other side of the room to keep from touching me. That's it, isn't it? You're scared to let yourself get too close because you're afraid of losing control."

"No," Derek answers, surprising them both with the truth of it. "No, Stiles. I have zero problem controlling myself around you, because you are so fucking breakable. You are so breakable, and you don't—you act like you don't—"

Stiles kisses him again. Derek closes his eyes before pushing the younger boy away. "Stop it," he says, and he knows how wrecked he sounds, he knows that the desperation is obvious, he knows but he can't—he can't hold it back anymore, not when Stiles is this close, when he is pushing his head under Derek's chin and holding on like he has to, like he doesn't want to ever let go.

"Be the spark, my mother used to say," Stiles murmurs. "I didn't put it together for a long time."

"If you want anything badly enough," Derek says, trying to speak around the lump in his throat and knowing that he is giving something away with every syllable, "you can make it real. But only you can, Stiles. The rest of us aren't . . ."

"Baba Yaga?" Stiles supplies with a little snort. "Cool. So my superpower is the real life equivalent of 'I think I can'. You guys get to be the Wayne family and I am the little engine that could. Awesome."

Derek tucks his arms around Stiles' shoulders and drags him a little closer, chuckling. He buries his face in the buzz of Stiles' hair, inhaling. Stiles doesn't smell like fire. He smells like Axe and sweat and grass and like Derek, too, a little.

Stiles buries deeper into Derek's neck and tries to shut everything else out, to reach in and feel what it is that is keeping them from making out. It is very important to Stiles, in this moment, that he gets kissed.

He does not know how to make himself clearer. He doesn't know why this thing with Derek is this thing with Derek, but there is a book on his bed that says that they are bound together. There is a book on his bed that says that Derek needs him, and he can't get to the end without him, and Stiles isn't going to let Derek's legion trust issues get in the way.

Derek is warm, his muscles happy to be wrapped around Stiles' shoulders, but he's stiff, too, holding himself in such tight control that Stiles is afraid he's going to get a body-wide Charlie horse. He breathes deeply, tries to match it with Derek's.

"Does the age of consent freak you out this badly?" he asks against the material of Derek's t-shirt, and some of the warmth bleeds out of the body beneath him.

"Yes," Derek says flatly.

Stiles nods. "Okay," he says. "Why?"

There is a long silence, and Stiles can feel Derek warring within himself, pulling between want and shouldn't.

"Kate Argent," Derek says at last.

Stiles looks up.

Derek doesn't say anything else, just looks down at him with the worst expression Stiles has ever seen, an expression that says I loved her and I killed them, and he can feel the guilt and the grief coursing through every muscle and vein and he doesn't think, he just steps back, giving Derek space.

But he keeps his hand on Derek's arm, not willing to lose the connection.

"I'm sorry," he says. "Derek. I'm sorry."

He doesn't say it's not your fault, even though it isn't. Stiles knows what it means to be—or to feel—responsible for the death of someone you love, so he doesn't say let it go or even tell me.

He just meets Derek's eyes and says with as much emotion as he can, "Derek. I'm sorry."

For a moment, Derek looks like he is trying to swallow his own words, but then he bursts out, "No, stop apologize—damnit, Stiles," and Stiles is being dragged back and flipped against the wall as Derek wedges his knee between Stiles' legs and kisses him.

Kisses him.

Holy fuck, Stiles thinks distantly, I am awesome at this relationship stuff.

.x.

Every inch of him is screaming that this is wrong, that Stiles is too young, but those same inches shout themselves down as he kisses Stiles, as he slides his fingers behind Stiles' neck and pulls him closer, dragging his tongue across Stiles' lips and pushing into his mouth, hand slipping to his back and sliding up beneath his t-shirt.

Stiles makes a sound like a whine and flails against him for a second before curling his fingers into Derek's jacket's collar and yanking himself up and against Derek's chest, feet scrambling for purchase.

Derek chuckles, pulling back slowly.

"No wait no no wait wait come back why are you stopping wait," babbles Stiles, "wait are you freaking out don't freak out wait don't stop come here wait—"

Derek nudges Stiles' nose with his own and laughs again, their breath mingling. "Stiles," he says, impossibly fond, impossibly fond of this spastic kid, Jesus, "calm down."

Stiles pulls back slightly. "Me?" he asks. "Me calm down? I am calm, okay, I am super calm, I am Ghandi calm, you're the one with the—admittedly understandable—hang-ups. I am just trying to get as much of your mouth as I possibly can before you take it away again." He makes a face. "I think I just said I was trying to take advantage of you? Which, um, oops. I'm not. I don't think."

Derek groans, looking towards the ceiling. "Stiles," he says, "shut up," and kisses him again.

This time, Stiles pulls back. "So is there, like, a line somewhere," he asks breathlessly. "Because I really really really don't want to cross it and have you running away. I just barely got you to the kissing stage, I don't want to scare you off before we even get to—"

Derek claps a hand over his mouth.

"Your Dad's home," he lies, because he isn't quite ready to hear what the hell kind of plans Stiles has for them.

Stiles cocks his head. "How do you know?"

"I can hear him coming."

Stiles slumps. "Okay," he says. "Okay, but just so you know, this is not over, we are not done. There's going to be a lot of this in the future." He gestures frantically between them. "And you can't pretend you don't like it because I know you do and Erica knows you do and basically everyone in the world knows you do, so just, I don't know, just stop, okay. We'll deal with—with the rest of it, but you can't . . . you can't pretend you don't want it anymore, all right?"

Derek takes a deep breath.

"All right," he agrees. Then, dryly, "Can I go now?"

"Yes," says Stiles.

He gets as far as the window before he hears, "Wait!" When he turns around, Stiles' mouth is waiting for him and he laughs into it, letting Stiles' kiss him, kissing back.

"Okay, now you can go," Stiles allows. "Just—you know. Proving a point. Or whatever. Shut up."

Derek rolls his eyes, but he's grinning as he slips out of the window.

.x.

"Right," says Stiles, dropping himself into his computer chair and flipping open his laptop, "learning Russian can't be that hard."

(end)