"I'm going to lose Erica," Derek says to Laura's gravestone, "so come back."

The cemetery is quiet. No one rises. Not even ghosts stick around for Derek Hale.

"You left," Derek says before he can think not to. The words spill out again: "I needed you, and you left."

He can feel her locket in his hand.

.x.

interlude

She doesn't stop this time.

GET OUT, GET OUT, the voice shouts, and Lydia's whole body is trembling but she says: "No."

The house is dead like leaves and burnt like charcoal, it smells like flesh and like lilacs, she had been kissed by a dead man in this room. The wolfsbane had felt real. The wolfsbane still feelsreal.

Her hands are shaky and pale when she curls them around the handles of the dresser, but she doesn't let that matter as she rips the doors open.

Lydia's eyes are closed. She is still standing here, but she is standing in the protective conclave of her own eyelids.

"Get out," the voice says, weaker this time, a whisper.

And Lydia says, "No."

Lydia opens her eyes . . .

. . . and finds Jackson's face pressed into her neck, his hands encircling her waist. He has sneaked over to her house every night since That One.

She won't play his mother forever, but she's willing to let it slide for now. His grip tightens in his sleep. Lydia rolls over, facing him, and traces the lines of his face as he rides out the nightmare.

She never wakes him. He might wish that she would, but she won't, because Lydia Martin knows all about nightmares, knows that the only thing you can do is have them and then claw your way out.

Speaking of, she thinks, frowning at the memory of the dresser in the Hale house. If she could just stay asleep long enough.

"Do you still," he asks with his eyes closed as he comes awake, his voice ragged, "do you still—?"

She presses a kiss to his forehead. "Yes," she whispers back. "Yes, I do still love you. Yes."

He relaxes, withdrawing his arms and twisting his mouth into a smirk. "Of course you do," he tells her, familiar, slick smugness coating the word, and Lydia smiles, rolling her eyes.

She loves Jackson, but 99% of the time she also wants to punch him in the throat.

"Don't be an asshole," she scolds, and throws the covers back, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. When she shifts her weight forward to stand, Jackson's arms dart out and drag her back. She breathes out a laugh of surprise as he stamps kisses along the back of her neck, nuzzling at her with his nose and inhaling deep. "Oh my God," she says, pushing lightly at him, "are you smelling me, you total freak?"

"You smell good," he replies unrepentantly. "I can smell, like, everything now. I can smell me all over you. You should always wear my clothes, always."

She snorts. "Okay," she agrees, and the easy response startles him so badly that he pulls back. She laughs. "So long as you start wearing hot little mini dresses and stockings."

He makes a face. "Yeah, no," he tells her flatly, "not happening."

"Well, there's your answer then," she says, and untangles his arms from around her. She gets out of bed and tosses him his discarded shirt from the floor. It's almost ten, so her parents will be gone. The maid doesn't get here until noon—they have time, if they want, to lounge around.

Jackson looks petulant as he slips the shirt over his head. "I don't want you smelling like everybody else," he mutters, sliding his feet over the edge of the bed and onto the floor.

"Too damn bad," Lydia answers, peeling open her closet door and shuffling around for an easy dress. "I live in a world that has other people in it. I'm not catering to your magical wolf powers. Get over it."

Jackson scowls, but doesn't argue. He looks like a spoilt three-year-old denied a toy, and she wants to roll her eyes. Instead she can feel herself smiling.

She loves him best like this, pouting and terrible. She loves him when he walks through the halls of school with his head high and his back straight, hating everyone, daring them all to fucking touch him. She loves him when he is an asshole.

Lydia frames Jackson's thighs with her knees, settling on his lap. They are nothing but vicious pieces of a puzzle they have no picture for, but the ugly bits are what makes the image interesting.

"You can be such a bitch sometimes," Jackson says, nudging her with his nose, curling his blunt nails into the skin on her back.

"I know," Lydia answers, delighted, and grinds into his lap. He breathes out a groan, arching up involuntarily, and she loves that she does this to him, that she can do this. She rolls her hips, once, twice, just enough to feel him get hard beneath her and then—

She climbs off. "Let's have breakfast," she says, snatching last night's dress off the floor and pulling it over her head.

"Oh my God," moans Jackson. "You are such a fucking tease, Lydia, what the actual fuck. Why do you do shit like that?"

Lydia doesn't say, "control," because Jackson is asking a question he already knows the answer to.

She thinks of Peter crawling inside of her brain and planting worms, rotting pieces of her away until she was buried with him. She had tried to say something, all those weeks ago in Allison's bedroom, had tried to say help me and please, but no one had answered, and no one had come.

Allison's problems are bigger, Lydia, we don't have time for you, Lydia, there are bigger things at stake.

Well, fuck you, she thinks as Jackson rises, tugging painfully at his shorts. Jackson, who's a douchebag to her friends and won't tell her he loves her in public, pushes her against the wall with one hand and takes her mouth like he's not planning to give it back.

She doesn't fight, leans into it with both her hands scraping against his buzz cut, nails sharp. He kisses her until she thinks dizzily that she's going to be able to lick the back of his throat, and when she arches up to try, he pulls away.

He holds the door open, preening. He pulls away when she tries to kiss him again. "Breakfast?" he asks.

"Bastard," she calls him, but when he pulls off his shirt and hands it to her, she puts it on, and grins.

.x.

Derek wakes from a dream not about Laura. He can't remember fully what it entailed, something innocuous, something not-a-nightmare, something about clouds.

That in itself is enough to worry him.

Isaac snores, starting lightly from where he had fallen asleep against the couch. Derek doesn't really think about it, just puts his hand on the crown of Isaac's head to settle him. Isaac shifts under the gesture and then sighs, grinning a little.

"I always suspected you were jealous of my hair," he mumbles with his eyes still closed.

Derek snatches his hand back, horrified. He curls his lip into a sneer. "You were shaking the couch every time it moved," he says by way of explanation, and gets to his feet. "I'm going to clean off."

As he walks toward the door, Isaac stands and follows him. "Yeah, um, about that," he says. "I know you feel weird about the living-with-a-minor thing, and I can appreciate that."

Derek casts him a look over his shoulder. "Good." He switches on the hose and shudders under how cold the water is as it washed over him.

"But," continues Isaac, "I had this thought."

Derek pauses.

"I thought that maybe we could wrangle it so that, um—" Isaac breaks off. Derek looks up from the spigot and frowns at the apprehension that is spilling out across the back lot.

"You thought . . . ?" he prompts, not ungently.

"I thought that maybe we could—" Isaac swallows. The rest comes out all in one breath: "I thought that maybeyoucouldassumecustodyof me?"

Derek stares.

And stares.

Isaac is glaring hard at the ground in perfect stillness, not fidgeting or blushing but keeping his gaze determinedly on the cement. "It's just," he goes on, sounding tired, "Lately I've been getting all these calls from Social Services, you know. They want to put me in foster care. I keep telling them that I'm staying with friends, but—I mean, I'm not? So they don't have any way to confirm it. And I can't keep fielding them forever. Eventually they're just going to show up at school and take me away. The uh, laws are pretty strict about minors."

"They're not taking you anywhere," Derek says instinctively, and Isaac at last looks up, relief spread wide across his face.

"But they could, though," he says. "That's why I have to be tied to you in some sort of legal way. Otherwise—otherwise, I don't know, there's not much anyone can—"

"We'll figure it out," Derek cuts him off, firmly, confidently, like he has no doubts, and Isaac caves to the Alpha and nods, reassured.

Jesus, Laura, Derek thinks. What the hell do I do now?

.x.

"The thing is," says Scott, "the thing is, I know she still loves me. I think she's just, you know, going through a lot right now. She needs time."

Stiles shoves his book bag into his locker. "You know, Scott, there is a point where your optimism becomes both inspiring and sad, all at the same time."

Scott shoots him a look. On anyone else it would be a glare, but Scott's never been good at putting real venom behind anything he does. "I'm serious, Stiles."

"I do not doubt it, dude. That's kind of my point."

Scott adjusts his backpack and shoulders Stiles' locker closed. Stiles spins the lock. "I can't believe we have to keep going to school," Scott mutters. "I mean, we're trying to save the town, here. You'd think they'd give us a reprieve."

"How do you know the word 'reprieve?"

"Dude. I can read."

"Scott, you haven't voluntarily read something without pictures in it since the second grade."

They pause outside the Chemistry lab. Scott waits as Stiles peers through the slotted window. Allison is already there, sitting by the window next to someone Stiles has spoken to twice in his entire career at Beacon Hills High. Jackson and Danny are a few stations back, and Lydia beside them with an empty seat.

"Is she there?" Scott asks, hopeful and despondent in the way that only Scott McCall can be. "Is she alone? Can I sit next to her?"

Stiles claps his shoulder. "Yeah, buddy. She's there. But she's next to someone already. And we talked about her needing time, remember?"

Scott blows a breath out of his nose. "Oh. Right."

As they shuffle inside, Allison casts a casual glance over her shoulder. When her eyes meet Stiles', she turns away quickly, letting her dark hair fall over her shoulder in a wall. She taps her pencil against her notebook and looks hard out of the window. Stiles follows her gaze. White liquid drips down from a branch outside and lands on the pane.

Stiles' jaw drops. "Hey buddy, why don't you go sit by Lydia," he suggests distantly, shouldering his way to the front of the classroom. He puts his hand on the arm of the guy whose name he can't even remember. "Hey man, I'll do your homework for two weeks if you give me this seat."

The guy's eyebrows rise, but he shrugs and shoves his books into his bag. "Whatever, sounds good," he says, looking pleased and bewildered as he hops off the stool.

Allison opens her mouth to protest, but Stiles is already talking. "You brought the kanima to school?!" he hisses. "Are you crazy?!"

Allison pulls in on herself, rounding out her shoulders. "He followed me here," she whispers back. "Look, it's Gerard, what do you expect me to do? Leave him without any guidance at home? You think that's the better alternative?"

". . . Well," he mutters. "Okay. Maybe not. But bringing him here can't possibly be the best solution, either!"

Allison is opening her mouth to respond when the bell rings for class to begin. They're doing an experiment that Stiles only half pays attention to, distracted as he is by the fact that Gerard, in lizard form, is hanging out just above their heads. He does a mental count of supernatural beings in the room: Jackson, Scott, Lydia(?). Who even knows with Danny, since no one that perfect has any place being human.

Stiles takes a few deep breaths as Allison begins wordlessly partitioning out the supplies. "When the hell did this become the Wayside School," he wonders out loud, and is surprised when Allison giggles.

She looks like she wants to clap her hand to her mouth and gather the sound back up afterwards, but she meets his eyes and doesn't. Stiles cracks a little grin.

"You totally read the stories, didn't you," he accuses.

"I liked Miss Nogard best," she answers, and he forgets, in the way her smile flashes at him, that they are standing on opposite side of a battle line.

"No way. It was all about Miss Zarves."

"Stiles, there was no Miss Zarves."

"That's the point! Best teacher ever!"

Allison laughs, and Stiles laughs with her. "You'd have liked my Aunt Kate. She used to read my those stories all the time," Allison says without thinking, and in the way their eyes meet and their smiles fall from their faces, Stiles knows that they've both remembered where loyalties lie.

"Um," he says, trying to be delicate, "I mean, I'm kind of—dating her arch enemy? Or like, victim, or. Whatever."

Allison's hand stills on the pencil she had been fidgeting with. She keeps her eyes focused on the way the table meets the lip of her notebook's edge as she says, "Well, you'd have liked her the way I knew her," and then reaches over to turn the hot plate on, never meeting his eyes.

It's not until after class, when he's listening to Scott rattle on at him about what did she say and did she ask about me and why were you laughing that he realizes he'd told her he was dating Derek.

"Shit," he says, out loud.

.x.

Derek makes a point not to mention the Isaac situation to Peter, no matter how badly he's tempted. The truth is that he wants to trust him at least as badly as he wants to kill him, and it's a dangerous line to be walking.

"I brought you a latte," Peter announces, showing up at the ice rink at the exact moment that Derek is thinking of him. It would freak Derek out more if Peter hadn't had a knack for doing it even before the fire.

Derek frowns at the liquid being held out to him. "What the hell am I supposed to do with a latte?" he asks.

Peter blinks at him as if he is too stupid to live. " . . . Well, most people drink them, but hey, it's up to you, big guy. Don't let me tell you how to run your life. Be the special-est snowflake you can be."

"Fuck you," Derek grits out, and balances the offending drink on top of the TV. "What do you want?"

Peter pulls a face. "What, I can't hang out? Aren't I a part of Pack Adolescence? Come on. Let's play Mortal Kombat and talk about how hard high school is."

"High school is hard," Derek hears himself mutter defensively, though he's pretty sure he had meant to say get out. "We weren't all basketball MVP and captain of the track team."

"No," Peter agrees, and his smile is just soft enough to be cruel. "Some of us were swimmers."

Derek goes still. He doesn't let himself close his eyes against the memory of Kate in a red bathing suit, sitting in the lifeguard chair. Her handwriting had been perfect when she'd written Ms. Kate Argent on the chalkboard. He'd thought his luck was unbelievable, that she should work at the pool, too. That he could see her twice a day.

"What do you want?" he asks again.

Peter sighs. "Look, as charming as it is to be ever-so-grudgingly accepted into the new Pack Hale, I'd like to remind you that there is a group of angry Alphas out there gunning for our blood, and all you seem to be able to do is have family breakfasts in shitty diners and make out with the Stilinski kid. Which, by the way, at some point we should probably talk about, because I didn't know the Bad Touch was a thing you were into. Maybe it's a result of some sort of, I don't know, trauma as a child. Were you ever touched inappropriately by someone old than you, because that can—ohhhh, wait."

Derek runs a hand over his face. "You just can't help yourself, can you?" he asks dully.

Peter shrugs smoothly. "It's a gift and a curse. But I'm serious about the Alphas."

Derek lowers himself onto the sofa, kicking his feet onto the armrest at the other end so that Peter doesn't feel invited to sit down. "Look, as long as they aren't actively aggressive, there isn't much I can do."

"They're marking your territory, Derek."

"They're graffiti-ing my territory. It's not the same." He raises an eyebrow. "You just want a fight."

For a second, Peter looks like he's going to deny it. Then he raises his hands in a gesture of amused defeat. "Guilty. I love the smell of Alpha blood in the morning."

"Ironic," Derek points out, "since you were one."

"Yes, thank you, until you set me on fire and slit my throat."

"Technically, I just slit your throat. The fire was not my doing."

"No," Peter agrees. "It was your boyfriend's."

Derek stiffens. "He's not my boyfriend," he says instantly, and hopes his voice is cold enough to imply detachment, to imply the kind of sick desire for control that Peter had suggested he wanted from Stiles. Yes, he demands silently, assume that.

It's better for Peter to think that Stiles is some kind of . . . whatever, than that he matters.

Which, okay, Derek doesn't even want to go poking around in that mess for a solid answer for what Stiles actually is, what he actually means.

"Whoa, testy," says Peter, grinning. "Is the Boy Wonder getting a little clingy? They always do, those teenagers. Always wanting to talk about their feelings. It's so hard dealing with hormones, isn't it?"

Derek stands. "Let's be done now," he says flatly. "Thanks for the latte."

Peter follows his lead, walking towards the door, but he pouts. "You didn't even drink it. You're probably going to throw it away."

"Probably," Derek agrees.

"One tries and tries to be nice," Peter sighs. "Do svidanya."

"One does a shitty job of it. Ukhodi," Derek says, and pushes him out, closing the door behind him.

.x.

"So, werewolves," Danny says at lunch. "I thought maybe we could use this opportunity to talk about it."

The table goes quiet. Lydia says, "Wow, that was smooth."

Danny shrugs. "Look, guys. You don't have to let me into the Super Secret Clubhouse or whatever. Just, maybe could I have the basics so that I don't get dead by graduation?"

"Run away from pointy teeth," Stiles says helpfully. "Stay inside on the full moon. Jackson is still an asshole. That about sums it up."

"I'm not an asshole," Jackson says while Lydia snaps, "Shut up, Stiles."

Stiles shrugs. "Jackson, your assholery is an objective fact."

Jackson reaches across the table and flicks Stiles' Adam's apple. "Just because Lydia won't touch your penis—"

"Rude," Lydia interjects mildly. "Can we not talk about—"

"It's not even about Lydia, dude, you're like the poster boy for—"

Of course it's Scott who adds, "Hey, I think even Jackson deserves—"

"Even Jackson, what does that mean, I'm not some—"

"Hey," interjects Danny suddenly, "what's Stiles' cousin Miguel doing here?"

Everybody turns around to look out the window, except Scott, who turns to look at Stiles. "Dude," he says, sounding wounded, "you have a cousin named Miguel that I don't know about?"

Instead of answering, Stiles points at the window, where Derek can be seen leaning against the door of his Camaro as Boyd, Isaac and Erica stand and head toward the cafeteria's exit.

"Dude," breathes Scott, "Derek's real name is Miguel and he's your cousin?!"

Stiles drops his head onto the table, and Lydia throws her head back as she laughs.

.x.

Erica doesn't smell right.

Derek keeps the red out of his eyes as she approaches, her hips with their familiar swing, her eyes a narrow gold. Isaac and Boyd bracket her shoulders so that her fingers brush up against their legs as they walk. He knows that sometimes she sleeps curled up between them, hands all linked in the dark, but until now he hasn't paid much attention. It is, after all, high school.

But now she doesn't smell like Boyd and Isaac and the ice rink; she smells like mud and dirt and someone else. Someone Derek doesn't know. Someone who has no right to her.

"What's up, doc?" Erica drawls lazily, but she doesn't meet his eyes, choosing instead to buff her nails on the hems of her leather jacket.

Derek frowns. "Where are the others?"

She shrugs. "Scott's little Posse of Friendship and Rainbows should be right behind us."

"Stiles' feet always move a little faster than everyone else's," Isaac adds with a fond little twist of his mouth. "He's like a little poodle in a herd of greyhounds."

"Dogs don't have herds, dumbass," Erica tells him, rolling her eyes.

"A pigeon in a murder of crows, then," Boyd supplies, and Isaac laughs.

"Carrier pigeon," he agrees.

"Homing pigeon," Erica decides, and the three of them grin at one another like family, but Erica. smells. wrong.

The front doors swing open again as Scott, Stiles, Jackson and Lydia spill out. Derek can feel Stiles' eyes on him, though he's still talking a mile-a-minute at Jackson, who aggressively ignores him in favor of sucking a spot on Lydia's neck.

The group comes to a rest in front of the Camaro, and Lydia extricates herself from Jackson's grip. "I'd like to make it clear that I'm here because I don't trust you to look after these idiots," she tells Derek, meeting his eyes with a kind of ferocity that reminds him of his sister. "I'm not part of your pack and I want nothing to do with your crazy uncle and I don't have to do what you tell me, but I'm part of this anyway so you might as well deal with it."

Derek studies her for a moment. Her hair is red, too light to be like Laura's, and she's shorter—Laura was always an inch taller than everybody else. But in the set of her jaw and narrow of her eye he can see his sister saying you're the Alpha now.

"Okay," he tells her. "Fine."

Stiles startles. "Wait, what? How come she gets to do whatever she wants and I have to be the glorified chauffer all the time?"

Derek pretends not to have heard him. "Right. Listen. With the Alphas circling, we can't afford to be as sloppy as we have been. We're stepping up training. You'll be at the ice rink every day after school. We don't know what they want, but we have to assume they're hostile. We can't afford to be caught unawares."

"I won't be going to those," Lydia interjects primly. "I'm here in a consulting position only."

"Fine," says Derek.

"Me too," Jackson adds. Derek just looks at him. He lets his eyes deepen into amber, then orange, then red, lets the weight and drag of Alpha run through him and out of him, lets it wrap around Jackson's wrist. You belong here, he lets his body say, and Jackson straightens a little. "All right," he agrees quietly, after a minute of struggle. "All right."

"Good," Derek says sharply. "We start today."

His pack turns to go, but he feels Stiles lingering behind. "You couldn't send a text about this?" the younger boy asks as Derek gets into the car. Stiles leans on the open window, his elbows bumping up against the frame.

"In person is more effective," Derek answers. Trying to corral teenagers is like trying to juggle chainsaws. "Be there tonight."

Stiles salutes. "Roger." He begins to pull away before wincing. "Wait, shit. I forgot. I have super secret training with Deacon and Ms. Morrell tonight. I don't know how long it will go."

Derek starts the engine. "Postpone it," he orders. "Be at training. All the magic in the world won't help you if you get eaten before you can use it."

Stiles gulps. "Uh. Right. Okay."

He steps away from the Camaro. Derek pulls out of the parking lot and only glances in the rearview once. Stiles has already turned away and is taking the stairs into the building by twos.

.x.

"What did Derek want?" Scott asks, and Stiles says, "To make out," just to torture him.

Scott wrinkles his mouth. "Dude," he moans.

"What, it's okay for you to talk about how perfect Allison's boobs are for like seventeen hours but I can use the words 'make out' and 'Derek' in the same sentence?"

Scott's expression falls. He shifts his backpack guiltily on his shoulder. "I didn't . . . it's not 'cause he's a dude," he says quickly. "It's just that it's Derek. I kind of feel like you're making out with my brother."

Stiles stops walking. He presses one hand to his heart and uses the other to grab Scott's arm. "Dude," he says. "Dude, that's beautiful. That's really beautiful. I'm choking up."

"Shut up," Scott mutters. "You're an asshole."

Stiles grins. "Yeah," he says, "but you like it. I think the reason the Derek thing freaks you out so bad is because you're actually kind of in love with me."

"I'm not freaked out about the Derek thing," Scott reminds him, looking suddenly serious. "I respect your life choices, Stiles. You have the right to put it wherever you want to put it."

"Oh my God," says Stiles. "Oh my God, you did not just say that."

"Jezebel says—"

"Jezebel says? You've been talking to Jezebel? Without me? On your own? What has she been saying? Is she peer pressuring you to go out, because trust me Scotty, you can't handle life with her as a wingowoman."

Scott shrugs. "She thinks I'd look good as a lady," he says without a trace of irony in his voice.

Stiles buries his face in his hands. "I've created a monster," he moans.

.x.

The Sherriff is in his office when Derek shows up. Nobody really talks to him, though the woman behind the counter smiles twice. He doesn't want to smile back, in part because he doesn't want to encourage conversation and in part because he's sort of seeing the Sherriff's son and flirting with one of his deputies is probably not the best way to get in his good graces.

Which, oh God, that's something Derek actually cares about.

"Mr. Hale," the Sherriff greets, smiling through a bewildered expression. "What can I do for you, son?"

Derek takes the Sherriff's hand when it's offered and shoves the other one into his pocket. He twists his mouth and wishes suddenly that he'd thought this through a bit more thoroughly.

"It's, uh . . . " he coughs into his free hand. "Do you think we could go to your office?"

The Sherriff frowns, but nods, gesturing down the hall. As Derek follows, he keeps his eyes on the floor in an attempt to draw as little attention to himself as possible. Of course, given the fact that barely a year ago he was being paraded through here on charges of first-degree murder, that's really only possible by degrees.

Derek takes a seat as the Sherriff relaxes into his chair. There's a photograph of Stiles on the desk, but it's a terrible one—the teen's hands are folded on top of one another, resting on his knee. He's smiling awkwardly at the camera, his collar buttoned all the way. It must be a school photo.

The background is lasers, though, which makes Derek laugh in spite himself. The Sherriff follows his line of vision and grins. "I know, I couldn't believe it either. His first year of high school and he wants lasers? I told him to get gray. I think he did it in protest of school photos in general."

"Sounds like Stiles," Derek agrees thoughtlessly, and then coughs into his hand at the Sherriff's look. "I mean, you know. From what I know of him."

"Son," the Sherriff says, not unkindly, "it's been a long time since I've believed my son when he said he was spending the night studying at Scott's. And with . . . everything . . . that's been going on with Scott, well—I'm just saying, there's not an abyss in this world my boy wouldn't follow his best friend into, so."

It occurs to Derek, maybe too late, that he doesn't know exactly what Stiles has told his father. It occurs to him that maybe the Sherriff knows only that Scott is a werewolf and has no idea about the rest of it.

You have to start trusting people, Deacon says in his head. You trust too easily, says Laura.

Derek takes a breath. "A long time ago you picked me up at school and said that I could trust you," he says, looking hard at the floor. "Is that still true?"

The Sherriff steeples his fingers and leans forward. He waits until Derek looks at him and then waits some more, his eyes on Derek's face, searching for something. "Yes," he says.

Derek nods. "Then I need your help," he confesses. "It's about Isaac Lahey."

.x.

After school, Stiles gives Scott his keys and sits on the front steps. Lydia perches next to him, playing a vicious game of Words with Friends against some poor sucker that won't know what's hit him after she's finished. Erica and Isaac are stacked in Isaac's motorbike's sidecar, and Boyd has stretched himself out on the warm cement. Jackson is playing wall-ball against the side of the school with Danny. Stiles still isn't sure what role Danny plays in all of this, but he knows about werewolves, so he guesses there's no reason he shouldn't hang around.

"Aren't we supposed to be at the ice rink by now?" Boyd asks without opening his eyes. "I'm not saying I need the extra training, but Derek isn't a big fan of fashionable tardiness."

"Derek's not a big fan of anything," Erica mumbles from the sidecar. She tucks her head under Isaac's chin and strokes her hand idly through the shaggy hair around his ears. He hums his agreement.

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Look, you guys can go. Tell Derek I'm sorry, but Mr. Morrell got that crazy Buffy the Vampire Slayer look in her eyes when I told her we had to postpone, and as I'm significantly more afraid of her than I am of him these days, I couldn't leave."

"Dude, I'm not leaving you," Scott says firmly. "I don't trust her."

"You're not leaving him alone," Lydia reminds the group. "I'm going with. Whatever magic voodoo powers Stiles has, I'll bet I'm better at them. Anyway, there's no one better to tutor me in Werewolf Consulting than an actual Werewolf Consultant, is there?"

Scott frowns. "He's my best friend," he reminds her, not exactly frosty but not exactly warm and fuzzy either.

Stiles raises his eyebrows. "Down boy," he says, but he grins, reaching over to tug sharply on a lock of Scott's ridiculous hair. "There's enough of Stiles to go around. We can share."

"Tell that to Derek," Isaac calls from the sidecar.

Erica and Jackson snicker. Stiles flushes red and stoutly ignores them. "Who wants to talk about what an asshole Jackson is?" he offers hopefully.

"At least I'm consistent," Jackson says dryly, to Stiles' surprise.

"Consistently an asshole," Stiles agrees.

"Jackson donates all monetary Christmas gifts to charity," Danny says suddenly, flicking the lacrosse ball out of his stick. It bounces back and Jackson jumps up to sweep it out of the air.

Jackson growls. "Dude," he hisses. "Shut up. No I don't."

"You definitely do," Danny replies serenely. "Last year the BHCC sent him a thank-you card with glitter on it."

"It's just easier than spending it," Jackson snaps. "Whatever. I don't even choose, I give it to Danny and he donates it."

Lydia is the only one who seems unperturbed. She leans back against the steps and lets the sun drip onto her. "Well, that's true. He does make Danny choose the organization."

"I'm an organization," says Stiles immediately. "I'm poor. I need it. Donate it to me. Pack Fund Twenty-Twelve."

"Wow," says Erica, sarcasm dripping off her words, "even when you're being nice, you're an asshole. Congratulations, you still suck."

Jackson drops his stick. "What is your problem?" he snaps, taking a step forward. Erica hoists herself out of Isaac's lap and kicks her boots off, letting her nails get long.

"What's my problem?" she hisses. "This from Lord of the Douchecanoes."

Jackson opens his mouth to respond when a smooth voice cuts in: "Well, it's good to see that Derek has been doing good work towards some really solid pack unity."

Ms. Morrell leans against the open double doors of the school, her green silk shirt rolled up to the elbows. "You're all free to go," she adds before anyone can respond. "I'll take Stiles and Lydia with me. Scott, come back to pick them up any time after six."

"That's three hours from now!" Stiles cries, and Ms. Morrell raises an eyebrow.

"You have a lot to learn," she tells him serenely, and then turns on her heel and walks back inside.

Scott shrugs apologetically. "Have fun, dude," he says. "See you at six."

"Don't scratch my car," Stiles warns as Lydia loops her arm through his, practically dragging him back up the path.

.x.

Derek's first words are: "Where's Stiles?" followed quickly by, "And who are you?"

In fact he knows who Danny is. He's pretty sure it's the kid who had watched him trade out various too-small shirts in Stiles' bedroom. The harsh question is really more for effect.

"Hey, Miguel," answers Danny, unperturbed. "Since Beacon Hills is apparently a death trap of weird shit, I figured I'd learn to protect myself." He winks at Jackson. "Plus, I promised Lyds I'd keep Erica from accidentally-on-purpose murdering Jackson."

Erica looks pleased and insulted at the same time. "I'm not going to kill him accidentally," she says in what she might even think is a reassuring tone.

"Or at all," Scott prompts her gently. "Right? Erica?"

She shrugs. She doesn't smell as wrong now, having been in school all day, but she's not back to normal, either. And there is something in the way she moves, something jagged and confused, a movement she picked up somewhere that Derek has never been.

He sighs. "Fine," he says in Danny's general direction. "And Stiles?"

Erica makes a face. Isaac awkwardly avoids making eye contact. Scott shoves his hands into his pockets and shrugs.

Finally, Jackson makes a huffing sound and rolls his eyes. "Ugh, whatever," he snaps. "Stilinski got bullied by the guidance counselor into staying after school. He's not coming. Who cares? Can we get started, please?"

Derek frowns. "I told him to postpone it," he tells the room at large, as if holding them responsible.

Jackson shrugs. "Well, he didn't."

"To be fair," Boyd interjects before Derek can respond, "Ms. Morrell looks like she can take care of herself. She can probably teach Stiles more about being a defensible human than you can."

Derek really hates that Boyd is probably the best werewolf in the room, given that he's also technically the youngest.

"Fine," he says again. "Then let's get started."

He's not sure, at first, what to do with Danny—his instinct is to make him watch, or to tag him as bait, but the first idea is pointless and the second sets a dangerous precedent. Though there might be some value in teaching the humans how to act when they're being hunted—how to mislead trackers, how to hide their scent, how to move in ways that wolves won't expect.

Though he's not entirely sure he wants to consider the implications of teaching his humans that they're pretty much always going to be on the run.

As it turns out, though, Danny doesn't need to be sidelined. He doesn't have a werewolf's strength, but he's smart, and fast, and intuitive; he manages to trick Jackson into punching Boyd, and does some weird hip wiggle thing just as Isaac is about to tackle him that distracts all parties involved.

Derek rolls his eyes at the sharp scent of Isaac suddenly getting very interested in the curve Danny's waist. Teenagers, seriously.

"Duuuuude," whines Scott, wrinkling his nose, "am I like, the only one in at this party still clinging to my sexuality?"

Erica releases a shout of laughter. She reaches around Boyd to high-five Scott. "Maybe I should try making out with Lydia," she muses. "Just to see what the big deal is."

Jackson growls, low in the back of his throat, and Boyd rolls his shoulders back with a sigh, stepping behind Erica and running a hand down the side of her arms. "Don't bait the newbie," he scolds. She relaxes against him in a pout.

"Fine," she mutters. "I'll make out with Allison instead."

"Hey!" cries Scott, "If anyone's getting murdered for touching Allison's boobs, it's going to be me."

"It's going to be nobody," Derek corrects, desperately trying to get a handle back on the situation. "Nobody is getting murdered, and more importantly, nobody is touching Allison."

Isaac raises an eyebrow. "That's 'more important'?" he asks, sounding amused. "Priorities, boss."

Derek glares. "Can we focus please," he grinds out. "I'm glad you're all discovering the joys of fluid sexuality, but might I remind you that there is a pack of Alphas that want to eat you."

"Sounds sexy," says Danny, and Derek buries his face in his hands.

"Get out," he orders them. "All of you. I want you to race to preserve boundary and back. Last one in spars with Boyd and has to clean up the blood after."

"Ugh, I hate cleaning," says Erica, and takes off, the boys trailing right behind her.

Boyd raises his eyebrows. "How come they've gotta fight me, and not you?"

Derek cuffs him on the shoulder. "Second-in-command," he reminds him. "You get all the boring jobs."

Boyd hums. "Okay," he says, agreeably enough. He lowers himself to a crouch, stretching his neck from side to side. "And the real reason you wanted me to stay behind?"

Derek huffs a tiny laugh. He hasn't done a lot right since becoming Alpha, but this, this is he knows was the right decision. He takes a seat beside his Second. "You're not going to like it," he warns.

"I usually don't," Boyd agrees.

"It's about Erica."

Boyd frowns. "If you're worried about her killing Jackson, she probably won't actually do it," he says. "I know she said after we dealt with the Alphas that we'd have to choose, but I think that if you give her time—"

"It's not about Jackson," Derek interrupts. "She's . . . she doesn't smell right. She's . . . been somewhere. Doing something."

His Second raises a dry eyebrow that has all the judgment a seventeen-year-old can muster in its curve. "Yeah," he agrees slowly, "that happens, generally. To animate beings."

"No," Derek explains with a roll of his eyes, "I mean that she's been somewhere new, doing something different, with people whose scent I don't recognize." He hesitates, thinking of the way Boyd's fingers had trailed with such familiarity up Erica's arms. "The truth is, I'm not sure it's people at all."

It takes Boyd a minute to catch on, but when he does, Derek sees a darkly furious light spark in his eyes. "You think she's working with the Alphas," he guesses flatly.

Derek shakes his head, denying the thought to himself as much as he is to Boyd. "Not . . . exactly," he says, keeping his words careful as Boyd's eyes flash gold. Derek flashes red back at him. Boyd's always had pretty exceptional control, but this is different. This is Erica. "But I think that there's something she isn't telling us. Maybe can't tell us. Maybe she's being blackmailed, or manipulated, or threatened. But we can't take that chance."

Boyd stands. "So what do you want me to do about it?" he asks, not bothering to hide the bitterness in his tone. "Spy on her?"

Derek doesn't answer. He just watches Boyd pace back and forth until his Second's eyes fade from gold back to brown.

"I trust whatever method you decide on," Derek says, not without difficulty. "If you want to take a more direct approach, fine."

Boyd sighs, rubbing a hand over his head. "This is wrong," he says quietly, as the footsteps of four werewolves and, more distantly, one human come pounding toward them. "Erica isn't—Erica wouldn't."

"Not on purpose," Derek agrees, thinking of Kate, of the way her mouth had curved around the words I love you.

"What does that—" Boyd begins, but shuts up as Erica and Jackson tumble through the door.

Erica punches the air. "Ha!" she crows. "I totally win!"

"No way," Jackson argues as he collapses onto the ground, one hand on his chest as he breathes. "I totally had you."

"That's so . . . whatever," Erica tells him dismissively, and stretches out with his feet at her head and vice versa. The exchange doesn't have any bite behind it. Both wolves are breathing too hard to put any energy into bickering.

Scott and Isaac aren't too far behind, squeezing themselves through the door at the same time. Isaac drops promptly into Erica's stomach and Scott stretches out on the far side of Jackson. Derek watches them breathe. They look like puzzle pieces laid out on the dining room table, waiting to be assembled. They look like they belong together.

Danny slips in through the door and grins. "Cool," he says. "You ready, Boyd?"

"Uhh—" Boyd begins, glancing at Derek. Derek shrugs.

"Danny came in last," he says. "Hunters and Alphas won't cut him a break just because he's human."

"But," Boyd begins, and goes down laughing as Danny leaps at him, brandishing a lacrosse stick.

Derek wants to scold them as they wrestle, clearly neither one trying very hard, but the other wolves are sitting up and hurling harassment and encouragement, placing bets on who'll come out on top; even Scott "Not In Your Pack" McCall has scooted closer to the group and is brandishing a five-dollar bill in the air.

Derek lets them be. He likes the way the echoes sound.

.x.

"You're doing it wrong," Ms. Morrell says, for what seems like the thousandth time in the past hour.

Stiles blows a frustrated breath out of his nose. "Yeah," he grinds out, "I've noticed, thank you."

Lydia snickers. She's been sitting on top of the monkey bars, watching him work and listening to every word Ms. Morrell says. Sparks are born, not made, but damn if Lydia Martin won't find a way to bend the universe to her will.

"We're not witches," Ms. Morrell tells him smoothly, coming to stand beside him. "Our work is not that specific. Don't try to focus on one thing—focus on your willpower. Use it. Don't tell the universe what you want it to do; tell the universe what you want, and let it figure out how to make that want a reality."

Stiles huffs. "You realize that you're talking about the universe as if it's a sentient being," he tells her, and she raises an eyebrow.

"What makes you think it's not?"

Stiles stares at her. She has that crazy mysterious Dr. Deaton thing going on for her, but like, hotter and more badass. It's Buffy 2.0: bigger and badder and ten times as terrifying. "O-kaaaay," he says slowly, "can we leave the life-changing revelations about the cosmos to a later date? Right now I need to figure out how to set this fucking notebook on fire."

Behind him, he hears a faint scratch. As he turns, Lydia drops a lit match off the monkey bars directly onto the notebook in front of him. It smolders on the cover and then catches in a slow fire, munching from the middle outward in kind of slow contentment.

He groans. "Lydiaaaa, now I have to get a new one."

"Maybe not," Ms. Morrell tells him thoughtfully. "You wanted it to be on fire. It's on fire."

"Yeah, but only because Lydia is an asshole." Lydia kicks a leg out and catches him on the shoulder. "Ow! What the hell!"

The guidance counselor sighs like Stiles is the worst. "You're thinking too specifically again. Did you want the paper to be on fire? Yes. Now it's on fire. Who's to say the universe didn't bend to your will?"

Because that's ridiculous, Stiles doesn't say.

What he says is, "When you came to my house, you opened your palm and there was a flame burning in it. I want to do that."

"You can't," Ms. Morrell informs him flatly. "You're only half of what I am." At his look, she rolls her eyes. "It's not a value judgment, Stiles. Your father is a human."

Lydia drops off the monkey bars. "I'm bored," she declares flatly. "Stiles sucks at the spark thing. Can we do something else now?"

"Hey," Stiles says suddenly when his stomach twists at the familiar bounce of Lydia's hair, "wait. If all I have to do is want things badly enough, how come Lydia never fell in love with me? I wanted that as badly as I ever wanted anything else, and for a long-ass time, too."

Lydia pulls a face. "What is it with supernatural creatures trying to control my brain? Stop it."

Ms. Morrell shrugs off her jacket. Stiles wishes he was more surprised to see a gun holster hooked over her shoulders. "You can't force people to want things," she tells him serenely. "And arguably, you got what you asked for. You wanted Lydia to notice you—well, she noticed you. The fact that she's not in love with you is probably because she doesn't find you—"

"Okay," Stiles interrupts quickly. "I'd be good with skipping today's Lydia Martin ego decimation special."

The girl in question reaches over to pinch his cheek cheerfully. "Aww, cute. It has a name."

Ms. Morrell sighs.

.x.

interlude

Allison sits alone at the picnic table as she waits for her father to pick her up. Less than a month ago she had sat across from Stiles and joked about her eyebrow complex, but now she's surrounded by strangers and her grandfather is perched in a tree outside, dripping venom.

Her thumb hovers over her cellphone, wanting to punch in apologetic regrets that she's not entirely sure she even feels. There are monsters in the world, she reminds herself; one of them sleeps at the foot of her bed every night and keeps paralyzing squirrels.

"Lydia," she says out loud, and isn't quite sure why. Lydia what? She's dating Jackson. She's chosen her side.

Her Dad's truck pulls up and he rolls the window down. "You ready, sweetheart?"

There has been no more training, no more breaking out of handcuffs or target practice in the yard. Allison rides shotgun on weekends when they drive outside of Beacon Hills to find the monsters under other peoples' beds. Allison is tired of looking under her own. She'd rather let them settle there. The fear that one day one of her monsters will reach out and drag her under by an ankle is . . . oddly comforting.

She can see her crossbow in the back seat. There's blood on the tip of it that she hasn't been able to clean off; it's brown and rusty now.

"Ready," she says as she gets into the car. She slings her backback behind her.

Her dad flicks off the radio. "I've been in contact with a family friend upstate about this Alpha thing. Apparently they've been making the rounds lately."

Allison feels cold. "Hunting?" she asks.

Her dad shrugs. "Collecting," he says. "But there's been . . . a lot of collateral damage."

"Human or werewolf?"

"Both—but in case of humans, it's usually pack-adjacent."

Allison's fingers go suddenly numb. "So if they're here," she says softly, realizing, "they'll go after Stiles and Lydia."

Her Dad shoots her a look. "You're not thinking of—"

"Of course not," Allison says, but in her jacket pocket, she fingers her phone.

.x.

Derek lets himself into Stiles' room. The teenager is passed out on his bed, a piece of paper resting on his stomach. It's blank. It looks like it's been ripped out of a notebook.

He grabs Stiles' mother's book off the shelf and pens through it as Stiles sleeps, waiting. He can tell the difference between a nap and a committed Stiles sleep coma, and this is definitely not the latter.

There is a message left on his cell phone that he hasn't listen to yet. He'd been surprised to see Allison Argent's phone number in his missed calls, but whatever her news is, it can't be good. Derek is tired. He had an okay day. He doesn't want to ruin it.

He kicks his feet up on the bed. His phone vibrates.

It's Allison again.

Derek. Call me.

He sighs. Stiles is still asleep. His eyelashes are dark on pale skin. He looks tired. He has a dark bruise on his arm.

Derek hesitates. Then, "fuck it," he mutters and presses his hand to Stiles' arm, letting his veins run dark as he drains the pain out of the mark.

"Wharmaglrdn?" Stiles mutters, blinking awake. "What are you?"

"Werewolf trick," Derek answers vaguely.

His phone vibrates.

It's important.

"I'm sorry about skipping the meeting," Stiles says before Derek can scold him. "Ms. Morrell is terrifying. And anyway, Lydia and I did some crazy Vampire Slayer shit with her, so it's not like I didn't get any physical training. Though apparently I can't magically summon fire except via Lydia's assholery, so that's kind of bullshit."

Derek chuckles. "We'll schedule around it," he hears himself say. He's pretty sure he had meant to tell him not to skip again.

Then again, when had anything ever gone to plan when it came to Stiles?

His phone.

Please.

"I have to go," he says.

Stiles frowns. "Why? I am your entire social life."

Derek flicks him off. "Fuck you," he says without venom.

"I've tried," Stiles returned with a cheeky grin. "You won't."

Derek runs his hands over his face. He wants to laugh, and he wants to punch Stiles in the throat. Never say that Derek Hale doesn't do mixed emotions.

"I'll see you later, Stiles," he says firmly.

Stiles kicks out a foot, and Derek catches it by reflex. He frowns when Stiles breaks into a beaming smile before realizing that he's touching the bare skin of Stiles' ankle.

"It will never cease to crack me up what a secret softy you are," Stiles informs him. Derek drops the ankle. He rolls his eyes as he pushes the window open. "Hey," Stiles says suddenly, "wait."

He stands, moving over towards Derek at the window, and then presses a kiss to his mouth. "Just. I feel like we haven't. I don't know. Things are okay, right?"

Derek doesn't understand. "There's an Alpha pack circling and Gerard is the kanima," he reminds Stiles slowly. "'Okay' is kind of relative."

Stiles hits him in the arm. "That's not what I mean, asshole. I mean—you know. Our thing is okay."

Derek takes Stiles' hands and presses them onto his own palms. He can almost feel the force of Stiles' smile. "Yeah," Derek says as his phone vibrates again. "Our thing is okay. Can I go now?"

Stiles grins. "Yeah," he grumbles. "Get out of here before my dad gets home and sees you exiting via window like a creeper."

Derek goes.

The text on his phone reads: It's about Stiles.