Hey, ducklings!

A couple of things:

This fic is only five chapters long. So far, I don't have any plans to continue this 'verse, but I'm not ruling it out. This was never meant to be an epic length, Hale-Pack-goes-to-war kind of fic. It's more about the events leading up to that bringing members of the pack closer together. I sort of have a thing about beginnings, I suppose.

I don't know how the page breaks will do in this - sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Hopefully the transitions will seem logical regardless of page break shenanigans. Besides, there aren't that many of them.

The songs for this chapter are Say Hi to Your Mom's The Fritz and Let's Talk About Spaceships in that order.

And now, on to chapter two!

Stiles places the dishes for the pack meeting into the backseat of his Jeep and then heads back inside to deal with the mountain ash. He measures out enough for a small circle, wanting to ration his supply until he can buy more, and siphons it off into a small sandwich bag. Rooting around in his closet, he finds an old messenger bag that is no longer big enough to contain the books and supplies he needs for school, and puts the bag of mountain ash in, hoping to at least slightly reduce the strength of the scent. He washes his hands twice before leaving the house for the evening, wondering if it will even make a bit of difference.

The thing about mountain ash is that it is primarily meant to be used as a form of protection. What happened with Gerard is not the norm. It takes a special sort of perspective, a specific understanding of the workings of the supernatural world, for someone to effectively use mountain ash, which is one of the reasons it is not more widely used among the hunter community, yet is preferred by people like Dr. Deaton, who ally with or advise the beings hunters are sworn to defend the rest of the world against. Still, the possession of a substance which can be used against werewolves is more than enough to set them on edge, especially in this climate which breeds the mentality of attacking first and asking questions later, and Stiles wonders more than once on the way to the Hale house if he shouldn't have handled this differently.

There is an instantly recognizable figure waiting for him outside the house when Stiles pulls up. His arms are crossed, and while someone else might mistake that as a sign of anger - especially since only a few short months ago, Stiles would have thought the same - at this point he knows that Derek is simply concerned. If anyone else arrived on the Hale property reeking of mountain ash the way that Stiles does right now, things would get ugly faster than the human mind can process, even with the burst of adrenaline which would no doubt coarse through one's system at the sight of a transformed alpha werewolf coming straight toward the intruder without any regard for his own safety, bent on protecting his pack and his territory. Isaac is nowhere in sight, and Stiles has a feeling Derek sent him out for a run with Peter as soon as the scent of the mountain ash wafted from the Jeep toward their sensitive noses.

Stiles takes his time parking and sliding the messenger bag containing the offending substance over one shoulder, not wanting to seem anxious or guilty and risk agitating Derek further. He takes the casserole and the muffins out of the backseat and heads for the door. Derek turns to accompany him when Stiles comes within five feet, and silently demands an explanation. Instead of answering straight away, Stiles goes toward the recently finished kitchen and sets his burdens down as Derek watches him from the entrance.

Bracing his hands on the white granite counter behind him, Stiles leans back, not out of insouciance, but as a sign that he has nothing to hide. "I've been talking to Dr. Deaton a lot, lately. We've been discussing some ideas for how I can to contribute to the pack." Derek nods, unsurprised and accepting, though there is still a hint of tension in the way he holds himself. Taking it all in, Stiles chews his bottom lip and then offers, "Look, the next time I decide to try something new, I'll call first." That makes the last of Derek's misgivings fade away, which in turn makes Stiles appreciate how far the two of them have come recently. He isn't sure if it boils down to the way Stiles showed up with Lydia on the night that everything came to a head with Gerard, or if it is a dozen similar actions on his part, or even the little things Stiles does now to take care of the pack, but he knows that if he and Derek ever wind up in a situation reminiscent of their time spent in the Beacon Hills High School pool again, there will be no talk of mistrust. They both know at this point that although he gets scared, although he often hates the things he has to do in order to keep the people he cares about safe, Stiles is committed to this path as surely as if he had accepted Peter's offer of the bite months ago, possibly more committed, even, since the bonds he feels with the people in this pack are strengthened by his own heart, rather than the indefinable and sometimes changeable connection between wolves bitten or born into a pack.

He wants to keep these people safe, and in the end, Stiles thinks that will make all the difference.

Derek comes forward, away from the kitchen entrance, his stride slow and steady and doubtlessly matching the increasing ease of his pulse in the steadily calming atmosphere. "What did you have in mind?"

"Really think about that before you go through with it, because if you steal one of those muffins right now, Jackson, you won't be getting any for dessert." There's a muffled curse from behind his back as Stiles continues pulling down more plates and cups from the cabinets above the kitchen counter. Of all the traits he inherited from his mother, Stiles thinks he appreciates having eyes in the back of his head the most, especially for moments such as this.

He has to be able to keep all of the werewolves in his life on their toes somehow.

"Seriously? You're not even a werewolf! And you're not supposed to play favorites, Stilinski. Don't think we can't smell the muffin you let Isaac have before the rest of us got here. Just because the two of you are screwing -"

Whirling around, Stiles nearly drops the cups in his hands, fumbling and saving them from meeting the floor, but stumbling a bit after taking his focus away from his own gangly limbs. Two steady hands help him regain his equilibrium and then remain, and Stiles spares Derek a glance in thanks before he sets about refuting the frankly ridiculous accusation which prompted his graceless maneuver in the first place. "Excuse me? Isaac and I are what?" He scoffs and goes on, glad that Isaac decided to wait for Scott on the edge of the Hale property after he and Peter finally came in from their run around the perimeter, when, yes, Stiles allowed him to have a muffin. He'd much rather dispel the rumors without subjecting Isaac to this mortification, too. "Dude, we're not sleeping with each other - well, we are, but not the way you apparently think we are. We're friends, and we're pack members. Shocking as this may seem to you, not every relationship is about sex."

Jackson tears his eyes away from the steadily pulsing carotid artery, his eyes wide. "You're serious. Then what the hell is he doing wearing McCall's clothes?" He swallows and glances at the other betas gathered in the kitchen, and Boyd and Erica look every bit as surprised by this as he is. "We thought he was wearing them to cover up the fact that you two have been all over each other lately."

"The fact that you all are even discussing our non-existent sex life is just - there are no words." He shakes his head, grimacing and mentally denouncing werewolves at large. When did privacy become a myth? "And what would be the point of covering my scent up with Scott's?"

"Well," Erica starts, looking first at Derek, and then at him, uncertainly (She's been uncertain about a lot of things lately, and it all stems from the fact that she convinced Boyd to abandon the pack and everything that happened to the two of them after, both at the hands of the hunters and the alpha pack. Stiles decides to pull her aside after the meeting tonight, because she can't keep feeling so guilty all the time for doing something so natural as fearing for her life, and the life of her mate, when the important thing is that they ultimately decided to come back.), "Scott is a werewolf."

And werewolves are incredibly tactile. Even in the early days, when Derek couldn't stand Stiles, and barely tolerated Scott, he had constantly gotten into their personal space, because whether he liked them or not, he had decided to take Scott - and by extension, Stiles - under his wing. Were Isaac and Stiles involved, using Scott as a replacement for fabric softener might not have been a terrible plan, since Stiles and Scott tend to smell significantly of each other no matter what they do at this point, after so many years of living out of each other's back pockets, and it wouldn't be weird for Scott to share enough contact with another werewolf in the pack that they would be covered in his scent - especially not Isaac, since Scott seems to touch him at every opportunity when the two of them are together, though Stiles is pretty sure Scott doesn't realize it.

All of the weird glances and supportive comments his best friend has given Stiles over the last few days are making a whole lot more sense now, and it kind of makes him want to bash his head against the counter. Except that he can't, because Derek still has his hands on him, and Stiles doesn't want to do anything to make him let go - which is a concept that bears further examination at a later date, when he isn't surrounded by beings capable of discerning his every physiological response. Instead, he stares down at the glasses in his hands as though they hold the secrets of the universe, and bites his lip.

He is saved from having to think of anything to say by the arrival of Lydia, whose presence fills up the kitchen as it does whatever room she chooses to occupy, and she comes over to help him finish gathering utensils, prompting Derek to finally take his hands back.

Mere minutes after, Isaac and Scott wander in, arms slung over each other's shoulders. There is a light in Isaac's eyes that isn't normally there, and it strengthens with every glance at his companion, who smiles that carefree, sunny smile Stiles has seen nearly every day since he and his mom came to Beacon Hills to get away from Jason McCall, seemingly oblivious to the effect he is having.

Then everyone crowds around, wanting their dinner, and Stiles has to shoo them all away until he has enough room to serve Derek up a plate. He doesn't miss the startled look the alpha sends him, but Stiles shrugs it off. So, he's been researching pack dynamics lately - it isn't a big deal. He has no plans to follow them to the letter, but he feels like acknowledging Derek's position in relation to the rest of the pack, at least, is something important. He calls Isaac forward next, and things carry on as usual from there, though he winds up fielding some odd looks for his continued preferential treatment. Derek doesn't seem bothered by it, and considering this is his pack, he is ultimately the only one who could convince Stiles to stop.

Once everyone has a plate, they get down to business. Scott talks about his most recent meetings with Chris Argent, and Lydia and Jackson talk about how things have been going in terms of strengthening his control. Derek and Peter share more of what they know about the alpha pack - which admittedly, is not much, nor is it at all encouraging. They are the boogeyman of the werewolf world, waiting to swoop in when an alpha is at his weakest. The werewolves in the pack's ranks constantly undergo change, with some leaving to start their own packs, others dying because of infighting, and even more dying in conflicts with other packs, because alphas may be stronger, but they are not immortal, and the risks the alpha pack takes with their own lives constantly put them in danger. According to Derek, they are the reason he and Laura fled the state after the fire.

"So, why isn't this place claimed in the name of their big bad alpha pack already?" He almost opts not to ask, but does it all the same. Stiles may not want to know the answer, but he does want to understand the way the alpha pack thinks. The more they know about the inner workings of this new threat, the better they will be able to handle it when they finally decide to stop toying with them and strike.

"Isn't it obvious? In order to claim Beacon Hills as their territory, they have to kill the alpha, and these werewolves are lazy. They have so much power that they aren't used to having to work for what they want; they simply waltz in and take it. Chasing after two frightened young werewolves would have been far too tedious for them." Stiles doesn't understand how everyone else can listen to Peter's voice and not feel the need to take a shower, but the only one aside from him who reacts to the former alpha at all is Lydia, and she hides it well. The only reason Stiles sees the slight stiffening of her shoulders is because he is looking for it.

Then, Stiles cannot think about his or anyone else's discomfort, because the implications behind Peter's words are starting to sink in. The alpha pack has set its sights on Beacon Hills. In order to claim Beacon Hills as part of the alpha pack's territory, the local alpha will have to die. His eyes snap to Derek, horrified. Derek catches him staring, and he nods, resigned to the fact that his uncle has once again done something to stir up trouble within the pack. "So, now you know."

"Know what?"

Before Stiles - or even Lydia, who also looks as though she is about to speak - can answer Isaac's question, Boyd tells him, in a soft voice that somehow still feels too loud in the terrifying stillness that has taken over the kitchen, "The alpha pack wants Derek dead."

Isaac lets out what, to Stiles' human ears, is a nearly inaudible whine, and Scott puts an arm around him automatically, bringing him close to his side. Everyone else is still frozen, trying to deal with this new understanding of the world. It is not the concept of one of them dying that has them paralyzed, not really. At one point or another this year, each one of them has been confronted by his or her own mortality. It is the fact that they have a name, a specific person to fear for now, and it is the fact that that person is their alpha, the one they look to for protection and guidance, even if they often do not like the forms his responses take and choose to find another way.

Stiles looks around at each of the others gathered in the kitchen, taking in the varying degrees of stress and uncertainty, and feels the overwhelming urge to do something. He made a promise to himself, sitting alone and aching in his room after his dad told him he was a hero, that he would never sit back and do nothing when the people he cares about are in distress. Setting his mostly-finished plate down, he walks over to the cabinet where he stashed his messenger bag earlier, slings it back over his shoulder, and then turns to catch Derek's gaze again, raising his eyebrows significantly. "Why don't we try this out now?"