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A Suitable Gift

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

"You are afraid he will leave you," the Queen said, all luminous curiosity and delicate bones.  

Stiles’ breath stuttered, his scattered world folding into the single point of her clarion voice.  

"I will give you a gift," she smiled, sharp, white and gleaming, "suitable to your desire. Something to tie your mortal lives as one."

 

 

***

 

 


You’ve reached the personal phone of Sheriff John Stilinski. If you have an emergency please hang up and call 911. If not, please leave your name, your number and your reason for calling. I will return your call as soon as possible. 

Beeeeep.

"Hi Dad. Uh, this is Stiles. But I guess that was obvious. I mean, who else calls you ‘Dad’? Unless you’ve got a secret family you’re not telling me about. I just - 

"You’ve probably noticed I’m gone by now. You should really listen to your messages on this phone more often. I know things haven’t been good between us, for a long time. And, that’s on me. That’s my fault. But this? This isn’t your fault. I’m not leaving because of anything you’ve done. Or didn’t do. You need to know that. This isn’t because of you.

"Um, this is probably going to sound weird to you right now, but I know you’re going to do some investigating, and when it comes up; this isn’t Derek’s fault either. That’s important. This isn’t Derek’s fault. 

"I just, I have responsibilities now. Responsibilities I can’t just ignore. God, there’s so much I can’t tell you. I want to. You have no idea how much I’ve wanted to just tell you. But they’re not my secrets. They’re not my secrets and I can’t

 

Message limit will be reached in ten seconds.

 

"Shit. Shit, okay. I’m sorry, Dad. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I’m not a better son, I’m sorry I’m leaving you alone. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sor-"

Message ended.

 

 

***

 

 

Stiles bought the peppermint oil first.

He went into the one, small new-agey book store in Beacon Hills where, alongside the most truly awful collection of spell books Stiles had ever had the misfortune to flip through, they sold incense and dream-catchers with multi-colored crystals carefully knotted into them, vegan lotions and, more relevant to Stiles’ interests, essential oils. 

He paid the dreadlocked cashier and thanked all the marijuana gods that he didn’t have to answer any awkward questions about why he needed twelve bottles of concentrated peppermint. 

Two days after that, he slipped the one and only credit card from his dad’s wallet and drew five thousand dollars against it. Previous reconnaissance lead Stiles to an ATM two towns over with a broken security camera. He parked six blocks away and walked casually up to it a few minutes after noon. Stiles stowed the cash in the bottom of his backpack and cut the card into the smallest pieces he could manage before tossing them in a dumpster.  

The guilt for that nearly broke him. They weren't wealthy. But they weren't poor, either; a five thousand dollar debt could probably be shouldered without too much difficulty. Stiles needed the money. The plan wouldn’t work without the money. Still, he almost caved; almost called his dad and told him everything. All the secrets he’d been keeping. It was a long drive home.

That evening, while Stiles was biting his tongue and dodging concerned glances, the credit card company alerted his dad to suspicious activity on his account. Mr. Stilinski checked his wallet, confirmed his card was missing, and, through carefully applied use of the Sheriff Voice, convinced the customer service representative to release him from the clearly fraudulent charges. 

Stiles felt some of the guilt fall from his shoulders as his dad hung up and ran a tired hand through his hair. 

Two weeks after the credit card, Stiles did all the laundry, even the backed up piles that hadn’t been touched in years. He cleaned the house from the attic down and stocked the cupboards and the fridge with the healthiest food he thought his dad would actually eat without Stiles there to nag him. He packed the most nondescript clothing he owned into a hiker’s pack that had been sitting, forgotten, at the back of a closet.

Last, Stiles took the picture beside the bed from its frame. His mom smiled up at him, a smaller Stiles held on her lap, as his dad lounged beside them on the grass, bursting with pride as sunlight poured over his family. Stiles folded the photograph carefully and tucked it into his wallet. 

He didn’t leave a note.

 

 

***

 

 

The jeep was the hardest. He washed her, carefully detailed every inch, then left her twenty miles north of Beacon Hills, keys in the glove box. He caught a ride south with a family from Oregon who had thought road-tripping to Disneyland with a toddler was a good idea. Stiles got the vibe that they'd picked him up as a desperate distraction and were a little sad to see him climb out of their mini van on the other side of town at the bus station. He forgot his phone and its GPS locator in their van, shoved under the seat. They would probably make it out of town before he did.

The Beacon Hill bus station didn't see a lot of traffic, definitely not enough to effectively confuse a scent trail. At the door, Stiles twisted the cap from the bottle of peppermint oil in his pocket and poured it out  as discreetly as possible. It wasn't very. But the transient lounging on the bench was too busy having a conversation with the air and the security guard simply didn't seem to care. Hat pulled down low, Stiles bought a ticket to the first bus leaving, paid in cash, and spent the hour he still had to wait further spreading peppermint oil around the station. He wandered outside and marked every bus he could and just before leaving he went into the restroom and doused himself with the stuff. The smell was sharp and astringent, enough to make his eyes water. 

He settled into the only open seat on a bus up from San Francisco, smushed up next to a girl with a septum piercing and an orchid tattooed behind her ear. He recognized the tinny music leaking from her headphones as she offered him a not unfriendly smirk. Stiles slunk lower in his seat and didn't make conversation.

The bus pulled out without the blaring of sirens or snarls. Stiles didn't feel relieved, exactly. He had expected a panic attack, sudden fear and awkward explanations to strangers. Instead, his heart beat steady in his chest, and his breath came slow and even. If he looked at it the right way, this was almost like a vacation. Almost. A heavy weight settled across his back, but he bore up and found himself able to shoulder it.

Stiles shuddered. If this wasn't his breaking point, he was afraid of what was.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

7 Years Later

Bitterroot Mountains,

Southern Montana

 

 

 Stiles crouched in the snow and lightly prodded the lacerations with a gloved hand. The cold was acting as a wonderful preservative, making the five marks definitive and clear. Four ran parallel, the rightmost one slightly smaller and shallower, the fifth, leftmost one just off to the side and deep. He chewed on the inside of his lip as he stood.

"Welp, looks like an animal attack to me." Stiles just barely kept a straight face. 

Ranger Fitzwilliam scratched his beard, apparently impervious to the cold. "Strangest fucking animal I've ever seen. A wolf would have dragged it off somewhere. Any predator would have." He shook his head.  "I'll send out an alert through the forest service. We called the sheriff’s department because this is a little too close to town for comfort."

"Thanks for the heads up."

Fitzwilliam turned away to talk into his radio, presumably about whatever he was going to do with the gigantic dead stag on the ground. Stiles ignored him in favor of staring up at the leafless oak, towering above the stag, heavy with mistletoe. He discreetly cut a small branch off and stowed it in his pocket. Waving a more obvious farewell to Fitzwilliam, Stiles hiked back to his car. 

The small SUV stuttered in the cold but started reliably. Stiles patted the dash companionably as he started toward the Meadow Vale police station. Fitzwilliam was right, of course. No wild predator would have left an entire stag just lying there. Not to mention that those were the marks a human hand might make if it just happened to have claws. And mistletoe. Stiles reached into his pocket and pulled out the sprig with one hand still on the wheel. He twisted it in his fingers. Nothing good ever came of mistletoe.

Stiles shoved the mistletoe back into his pocket, swearing under his breath. He'd have to talk to the pack. The Meadow Vale pack was large, well established, and well past the kind of problems that led to mysterious 'animal attacks'. And they definitely would have noticed a rogue omega in their territory. Stiles winced because Alpha Schwartz always claimed he never came to see her unless something was wrong. Oh well. He'd stop by the station, at least get a start on his report, then pick up a gingerbread latte on his way to the den. For a badass were-lady who ruled over fifty wolves and still whooped all six of her grandchildren in training, Alpha Schwartz had a ridiculous sweet tooth. Gingerbread lattes were a weakness Stiles was more than happy to exploit.

 Waving to Gloria at the desk, Stiles unbuttoned his coat began pulling off his gloves to stretch his fingers in the beautiful, artificially heated air of the station. He tossed his gloves on his desk and cracked his knuckles.

"That's disgusting, Stilinski."

Stiles clutched his chest. "Espinoza, you're breaking my heart."

Espinoza, tiny, curvy, and terrifying, grinned. Once upon a time Stiles was pretty sure he would have been in love with her. She patted his cheek just this side of too hard. "Poor baby. You couldn't handle me anyway."

Stiles laughed. "I really couldn't."

"I like a man who knows his place. Now come make up some intimidating bullshit to throw at the two macho assholes in lockup."

"Which two macho assholes are we talking about?" Stiles asked, leering exaggeratedly as he followed Espinoza.

"No idea. They're new." 

Stiles' eyebrows rose. Meadow Vale was tiny, even by his small town standards. If they had someone in lockup, they pretty generally knew who they were, or at least who they belonged to. 

“New? What were they doing?”

Espinoza tensed a little as she walked and didn’t look back over her shoulder as she answered. “Lurking.”

“Espinoza,” Stiles sighed, “we’ve talked about this. The captain’s talked to you about this. You can’t book people for ‘lurking’.”

“Fuck you, I have great instincts.” Stiles noticed she didn’t offer to fuck the captain. “And these two? They don’t come more suspicious.”

Stiles ran a hand through his hair and then, because at his core he had way more respect for Espinoza’s instincts than some arbitrary laws, he asked, “Where were they lurking?”

“Around the morgue.”

Stiles grimaced, okay, so yeah. That was kind of suspicious. “What did they say when you arrested them?”

Espinoza scoffed. “They said they were lost.

“That’s not so farfetched if they’re new here,” Stiles said. It was true. People in Meadow Vale were so used to everyone being locals that they didn’t invest much in signage.

The officer on duty at the cells waved them through and Espinoza didn’t pause as she lead him to the second one back. They couldn’t have been too offensive, whoever they were, since Espinoza had declined to dump them in with Old Joe. Joe was in his customary spot in the first cell, passed out on the bench, reeking of old booze and urine to even Stiles’ purely human nose.

Stiles set his hand on his sidearm and arranged his face into what he had privately dubbed ‘Intimidating Detective of Badassery No. 1’. It was great expression. It had levels.

“All right you two,” said Espinoza, banging on the bars of the cell as Stiles walked up behind her. “The detective here is going to ask you a few questions.

Stiles looked into the cell and stopped cold. His hand spasmed on his holstered gun as the blood rushed from his face, leaving him lightheaded and pale. He swallowed. Beside him, Espinoza was still scowling gamely and waiting for him to take her cue. Silence roared between his ears, and he couldn’t move.

Stiles?

Isaac. Isaac Lahey was looking at him from behind the bars of the cell, standing next to Derek Hale.

Derek slamming against the bars of the cell, eyes gleaming red, broke Stiles from his paralysis. He inhaled sharply through his nose, once, before turning on his heel and walking out. Heartbeat kicking up, Stiles made sure he was out of range of werewolf hearing before he ducked into an empty interrogation room and pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. He was not having a panic attack. He was not—He wasn't fucking seventeen anymore! He was a goddamn adult and if his life here wasn't as free from supernatural bullshit as he'd promised himself it would be, well it was still a good life. And it was his—

Sense memory interrupted his thoughts, speeding his breath and pushing him toward the edge of panic.

Tree bark scrapes at his belly where he's bent over a fallen log, leaving him bruised and abraded and possibly with splinters in inconvenient places. He gasps, breathing in damp earth, ambient rot, green growing things and blood. Always blood because Derek is always doing his level best to kill something. Claw tipped hands trace down his sides, leaving delicate, pink lines that will fade within a day. Stiles writhes and moans because it's good. He laughs because adrenaline is still pumping through him and Derek—who'd just had his hands wrist deep in some monster's chest—won't even do him the courtesy of digging his claws in and giving Stiles a mark that will remind him that he's alive tomorrow. 


No!

Stiles dropped his hands from his eyes and forced himself to breathe deep and slow and even. He wasn't that kid anymore. He no longer needed to go chasing after wolves in the forest to prove himself. It had been seven years and Derek Hale sure as hell hadn't shown up in Meadow Vale for him.

Stiles pretended that thought didn't hurt, pushed down his bitterness and straightened himself up. It wouldn't fool anyone, but he could at least try to look like he hadn't been on the verge of a panic attack. He walked back to the cells where Espinoza was demanding answers and Hale and Lahey were ignoring her, eyes fixed on Stiles from the moment he walked into view, like the unsubtle creepers they were.

"It's fine Espinoza," said Stiles, hating how tired he sounded, even to himself. "I just forgot something."

Espinoza subjected him to a narrow-eyed, dubious glare. "Forgot what?"

"I needed to tell Jamie's sitters that I'd be late." He smiled as Espinoza's face instantly softened. "Especially since a couple old acquaintances just rolled into town."

 "Acquaintances." Espinoza sounded like she didn't believe him.

"Yup. You're right though; they are suspicious as fuck. Never could get them properly socialized." He smirked, but she was still eyeing him doubtfully. He rolled his eyes. "Open the cell, Espinoza, Old Joe's giving me a headache with his stench. I promise I won't let them kick any puppies while they're here."

 Espinoza unlocked the cell and with a parting "I'm watching you," left the three of them alone.

Derek moved as soon as she was gone, pressing Stiles into the cinderblock wall with clearly inhuman strength, growling and letting his eyes flash. Stiles ruthlessly quashed any other memories that might try to resurface and scowled right back at him. “Nice to see you too, Derek.”

“Where have you been.” Stiles watched in distant fascination as sideburns began to creep down the side of Derek’s face.

“That was more snarl than words, and definitely not a question. But points for verbalizing. Kudos on the personal growth,” Stiles snarked, and was pressed harder into the wall for his efforts.

“Stiles!”

“I’ve been lots of places,” said Stiles, flippantly. Mostly Meadow Vale, but he had wandered a lot before he landed here. Derek growled and Stiles' feet left the ground. “Hey! Cut the ‘I’m the alpha’ werewolf, physical intimidation shit. I work here. Unless you two want to be spending the foreseeable future in the cells alongside Old Joe you will put me down right now.”

Derek lowered Stiles and took a deliberate step back. “We’re going to have a conversation about this.”

Stiles scoffed at the idea of Derek Hale ever willingly pursuing a conversation about anything, but only said, “Not right now.”

Stiles stared at the werewolves. The werewolves stared back. 

The silence stretched. Isaac was doing nothing to hide how bewildered he was. It reminded Stiles of Scott. But that was a thought that hurt, so Stiles ignored it. Because some things never change, Derek wore a look of constipated anger, eyes flickering red. His hands were clenched at his sides, like he was this close to strangling Stiles. It said something about his life choices that even after seven years, Stiles was still on familiar terms with the look of someone wanting to strangle him. They both still wore leather.

Snorting at how ridiculous that was, Stiles turned and walked out of the cells again, having no doubt they would follow. He swung by his desk to grab his gloves and lead them straight out to the parking lot and his battered SUV. Derek planted himself in the passenger seat and glared like he was daring Stiles to say something about it. Isaac settled meekly into the back. Stiles drove to the one and only dedicated coffee shop in Meadow Vale. He killed the engine and told his passengers, "Stay in the car."

They didn't listen of course, but crowded up behind him in line as Stiles ordered a gingerbread latte for Alpha Schwartz and a caramel mocha with an extra shot and extra drizzle for himself because he fucking deserved it. Stiles added half a dozen red currant scones for good measure, since he was going to have to vouch for a strange alpha in the pack territory.  He even waited graciously as they ordered their own drinks. 

Back on the road, Isaac once more settled into the back, clutching his hot chocolate to him, caught Stile's eye in the rearview mirror. "Where are we going?"

"I'm taking you to the pack, since I'm assuming you didn't bother letting the alpha know you'd be on her land."

Isaac winced. "There's a pack here?"

"No, there is a large, well-established pack here, headed by a strong alpha."

If Stiles noted the aborted growl to his right, he didn't say anything about it.

 

***

 

The Den (as Stiles called it), or the Manor (as Alpha Schwartz called it) sat on the western edge of Meadow Vale, its back to a hundred acres of forested land owned by the Schwartz family for the past century or so. It was, of necessity, large and sprawling, with steeply peaked roofs, second floor entrances for the deepest part of winter and cheerfully bright paint. It was supported by three outbuildings, only one of which Stiles knew the purpose of.

In the front yard two groups of teenagers fought a battle of attrition via snowballs, Barett Hirsch—called ‘Bear’ by just about everyone—leaned against the porch railing, supervising. As Stiles parked in the over-long driveway, one of the teens lost it and wolfed out. Bear laughed and signaled him out of the game. The teen sulked off to the porch to join the other young wolves with poor control. As Siles, Isaac and Derek slipped out of the car Bear’s casual stance stiffened. He called a halt to the game and met Stiles as they were walking up to the house.

Bear sniffed ostentatiously. “Scones and a latte? Someone’s trying to get on the Alpha’s good side.” He smiled easily as he took the bag from Stiles hands, leaving him with the two drinks. The tension across Bear’s shoulders belied his smile, despite his show of ignoring Stiles’ companions. Bear was blonde, tall and massive, even among the unfairly muscular werewolf population. Not much phased him, but something was obviously off here.

Stiles snorted. “I believe in the judicious application of bribery. Is she busy now?”

Bear grinned. “I’ll take you in. She’s baking a pie.”

Stiles choked off a laugh as they started walking. Bear walked next to Stiles and asked, faux casual, “Who’re your guests, Stiles?”

“The one that looks like a kicked puppy is Isaac Lahey. The other one is Derek Hale.” Stiles thought he had kept his voice neutral, but Bear stopped walking for the barest second and tension fairly radiated off of him. Stiles glanced up in concern, but Bear’s face was carefully expressionless and then they were walking up the porch steps and through to the kitchen.

Alpha Schwartz was alone in the mammoth kitchen, staring in consternation at what Stiles thought was the remains of a berry compote, but he couldn’t be sure beyond the fact that it was black and lumpy and in a pan.

“You’d better give me those scones before you introduce your friends, Stiles,” said Alpha Schwartz, leaning against a counter and folding her arms across her chest. She was a slight woman, with hair gone completely silver, and eyes that were a light, light blue.

“Alpha Schwartz,” said Stiles in greeting, handing over the latte as Bear plopped the bag of scones on the counter next to her.

“Amelia, dear,” she corrected.

“Amelia,” he smiled. “I introduce Alpha Derek Hale and his beta, Isaac Lahey. They would like to petition you to stay in your territory on a temporary basis.”

She turned her cool stare on Derek and Isaac. Isaac looked away immediatly. Derek met her gaze, before bowing his head in acknowledgement.

“Very well. Alpha Hale, we will discuss your petition in private. First, Stiles I think you’d better tell me what prompted you to come all the way out here with a bribe.” She took a luxuriant sip of her latte while she waited for him to respond.

“We got a call from the forest service today. They found a dead stag with five slashes down its flank. It was left, intact, under a leafless oak, hung with mistletoe. No visible tracks around it.”

“Who showed you?” asked Bear, who was a ranger with the forest service as well.

“Fitzwilliam.”

Bear nodded. “Good man, not known to the pack.” Which was a way of saying he was one of people in Meadow Vale not in the werewolf loop.

“Your conclusion?” asked Amelia.

Stiles shrugged. “Officially, it’s an animal attack.” Behind him, Isaac coughed unsubtly.

“You think it was a werewolf.”

 “Or something with clawed hands. The placement of the corpse is too odd to be coincidental, but I’d like to talk to Magda before I go any further with that.”

Amelia nodded but watched Stiles impassively. “There is a suspicious attack, most likely perpetrated by a werewolf, and you ask me to welcome the two strangers on my land? Can you vouch for their good intentions?”

Stiles was a petty man. He knew and accepted that about himself. While part of him would have loved to see Amelia literally kick Derek off her land, he still nodded. “I can.”

“Very well. Stiles, you may go. Take a scone.”

Bear followed Stiles from the kitchen and caught him before he could leave. Stiles leaned against his car and waited for him to speak.

Bear’s face was clean shaven, symmetrical, and friendly. He was watching Stiles with concern, leaning slightly over him like he wanted to physically shield him. “Are you sure about this, Stiles?”

Stiles watched his foot scuff lines in the snow. “Derek isn’t my favorite person.” Stiles’ lips twisted. “But I don’t think he’s behind whatever happened to that stag.”

“You have a history with him.”

Stiles jerked his eyes back up. “How did you know that?”

“When you first came here, when you were delirious. You uh, you used to say his name.” Bear sounded as if he were embarrassed on Stiles’ behalf.

“Shit. I didn’t know that.” Stiles ground his teeth and refused to look up at Bear’s ridiculous, earnest face.

“You should talk to him.”

“What!” Stiles was not proud of how shrill his voice was.

“You’re not happy here, Stiles,” said Bear, and continued over Stiles’ protests. “You have Jamie, and you have your job, and you have the pack, but this still isn’t home. Maybe it could be, if you got some closure. Over whatever it is that happened between you and Derek Hale.”

“I’m not pack,” muttered Stiles, rebelliously.

Bear smiled. “Pack adjacent, then. Just, think about it, will you? You deserve to be happy.”

Stiles gave him back a tired grin. “You really need to stop watching Oprah re-runs. It’s obviously rotting your brain.”

Bear clapped him on the shoulder, then stepped back so Stiles could get in his car. Stiles checked the time on the dash as he started it and genuinely smiled. He had just enough time to get across town and pick Jamie up from school. He was thinking it was time for some father-son curly fries and milkshakes bonding time. 

Chapter Text

He’s running through the forest. It’s day, for once, not quite noon. Which means he still has a few minutes left. He’s grown so used to the supernatural shenanigans going down by moonlight that he’s thrown by the full visibility and the heat of late summer. No, the newest asshats trying to carve out a piece of Beacon Hills work best when the sun is strongest.

He skids into the clearing—the circle of oaks—panting, his heart rabbiting in his chest. The man is already standing in the center, the grass and moss, and forest detritus is dry and withering beneath his bare feet; a seeping blackness spreading out from him. He’s not a druid or a darach. Not a witch or a shaman or an emissary. He’s a leech.

Stiles kicks off his own shoes, socks already abandoned, and curls his toes into the earth. He pulls the hastily pilfered kitchen knife from his belt. It slides across his right hand. His blood falls.

 

Stiles bolted upright, the blaring of his alarm was loud in his ears and momentarily confusing. He blinked sleep away and groaned as he slapped his alarm clock into submission. He allowed himself to sit on the edge of his bed and attempt to rub away his headache and lingering memories. Fucking Derek Hale. He hadn’t thought of any of it for years. At first, he couldn’t not think of it. There had been days when the longing to go home was a physical ache, a horrible stabbing burn. But Bear had been right; he had Jamie, and he had his job. He had the pack. Maybe. He was good here. Everything was good here. And Jamie was safe, the pack protected him. That was the most important thing. Stiles rolled his shoulders and stood, heading for a shower. He needed to find out what Derek and Isaac were doing here, and how long it would be before they left. But not today. Jesus Christ, not today.

Showered, dressed and fortified with his first cup of coffee, Stiles let himself into his son’s room. Jamie was sprawled diagonally across his bed, inhabiting way more space than any six year old should be able to. His face scrunched at the light from the hall, and he rolled over, shoving his head right up under his pillow. Stiles snorted, an amused smile playing about his lips. He walked over to the window and twitched the curtains open to let in the morning sunlight and chirped, “Good morning, sleepywolf!”

Jamie literally growled. Stiles laughed. This was why he had to get up so early. Trying to drag tiny werewolf from his bed was a long process, and he refused to send his kid to school without breakfast. He might be a single parent but he was going to be the best damn parent to ever parent singly. “Up and at ‘em, kiddo.”

Eventually, Jamie was sitting at the table, grouchily eating an omelet, hair hilariously tousled, eyebrows beetled in discontent as his feet swung back and forth. He snuffled periodically, taking in the familiar scents of home and family. It was a daily ritual that Stiles found at once comforting, endearing, and terrifying. It struck him, every single time, that this little person was entirely reliant on him, of all people. Jamie looked up at him, eyes wide and still not entirely awake.

“Dad?”

“Yeah, kiddo?”

“You smell different.”

“Good different, or bad different?”

“Different different.”

“Is that okay?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh. Well, tell me when you do?” Jamie nodded sleepily. “All right, go get ready for school.”

Jamie nodded again and hopped off his chair, heading for the stairs. Stiles cleared the table, trying to keep his heartbeat steady for his son upstairs.

 

***

 

Magda was the Meadow Vale pack  emissary. She didn’t quite top five feet, had skin like tree bark, and was aggressively practical. She was the sole reason Stiles had stayed in Meadow Vale, which was only fair, since she had saved his life. More importantly, she had saved Jamie’s.

His first Christmas in Meadow Vale, Magda had already strong armed him into apprenticing under her, and Stiles had expected her to be the sort to eschew all things Santa and Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman in favor of the midwinter solstice. Her collection of holiday sweaters and obsession with tinsel had come as a shock. Stiles opened the door to her cottage without knocking and breathed in, the aroma of herbs and baked goods instantly comforting and strangely harmonious. An oversized Christmas tree stood in front of the window, colored lights blinking and dripping tinsel. In the background Nat King Cole was telling him to have a merry little Christmas.

“In the workroom,” she called once he had a moment to let some of the tension loose from his shoulders.

Magda’s workroom was somewhere between a medieval still room and a chemistry lab. Stiles’ own workspace was decidedly lower maintenance, but each Spark was different. Magda sat at the long wooden table running the length of the back wall, an iron bowl filled with raw salt and spring earth already in front of her.

“I thought you didn’t like to jump to conclusions,” said Stiles, ducking under hanging bunches of herbs to stand behind her.

Magda held out a hand, and Stiles dropped the sprig of mistletoe into it. “Don’t sass me, boy. I’m not ‘jumping to conclusions’, I’m drawing on a lifetime of experience.” She tossed the mistletoe into the bowl and nodded as it immediately curled into itself. “Fae-touched.”

Stiles slumped into a chair and bent forward running his hands through his hair. Derek Hale and the Fae. Fucking perfect. He couldn’t figure out if they were connected or if he had the shittiest luck in the world. “Which Court are we talking about?”

“Too early to tell. Mistletoe and oak aren’t definitively aligned. Same with the stag.” She contemplated the mistletoe and tapped a nail on the table.

“Talking with Alpha Schwartz, I see.” Stiles leaned his elbows on his knees. “I thought oaks and stags were all nobility and purity.”

Magda gave a derisive nonsense. “Stags are only noble when it suits people to think that way. Oaks are less pure and more…solid. They have a strong sense of self.”

“So, wait and see.”

“Wait and see. The shape of the working will become clear enough in time.” Magda didn’t often remind Stiles of Deaton, but occasionally she channeled the same placid acceptance that made Stiles itch.

“Fucking fae. Can’t we skip to the end and just get rid of them?” Stiles hated the fae, he truly did.

Magda turned to look at him, eyes dark in her wizened face. Stiles was caught under her gaze, he fidgeted and pulled at his shirt cuffs, but couldn’t look away. “You can’t get rid of the fae, boy. Not any more than you can get rid of the land itself.”

Every Spark was different, and Magda’s ran to a strong affinity with the land that was marked by an intuitive connection with it. In some ways, Meadow Vale was more Magda’s territory than it was the pack’s. Stiles had never felt what she had described, and he did not entirely understand it. Magda assured him  he would when he found his own territory. Stiles privately thought he didn’t have one.

“Jamie said I smell different this morning,” Stiles blurted.

Magda stood and put a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s get some cocoa.”

 

Settled in one of Magda’s deep armchairs, hands wrapped around a bright red and green mug, Stiles waited for Magda to speak. Unfortunately, she was older and worlds more patient than Stiles would ever be. “Derek Hale is in town.” Stiles took a gulp of cocoa to keep from blurting out anything else.

“Your old alpha.”

“He’s not my alpha!” Stiles took a deep breath and tried to moderate his tone. “He wasn’t ever my alpha. I wasn’t pack.” Magda looked skeptical but didn’t argue. Stiles shrugged and avoided her by staring at his mug.

“What’s he doing in Meadow Vale? We’re a long way from Beacon Hills.” Stiles look up at her sharply. “Hush, boy. You didn’t want to talk about it, so we didn’t talk about it. I think you’ve come to the end of that luxury.”

Stiles set his mug down on her doily covered coffee table. “It doesn’t matter.”

Magda watched him with compassion. “We both know that isn’t true.” After a pause, she added, “Despite how much time you spend with the pack, Amelia insists you don’t smell like hers. Your scent may be changing in proximity to another alpha.”

Stiles let his hands twist in his lap as Magda sipped at her own cocoa. The quiet spiraled out and grew comfortable, if melancholy. “Want me to poison him for you?”

Stiles snorted a laugh. “What?

“Just a little bit. I won’t kill him.”

Stiles laughed and picked his mug back up. “I thought you emissary types were supposed to remain unbiased.”

Magda took a prim bite of a madeleine. “I’m an old woman. I’m allowed my eccentricities.”

“Like poisoning people.”

“Poisoning people a little.” She smiled as Stiles relaxed into his chair. “Drink your cocoa.”

 

 

Chapter Text

December 3rd

 

 

The morning was a pleasant haze of the sort of small errands that constitute most of police work in a small town. Stiles stopped by the community center at the request at Mr. Lehrer—who learned to darn socks in the army and now headed the local Stitch ‘n Bitch—to examine his knitting needles. Lehrer suspected Mrs. Germaine of sabotage. Apparently, they had ‘Artistic Differences’. Stiles couldn’t see anything wrong with the needles, but he didn’t know the first thing about knitting, either. He assured Mr. Lehrer he would keep the case open. While he was there, Jenny Cappaldi wanted to talk to him about measures Meadow Vale PD could be taking against the environmental plague known as poaching and Mrs. McGarrick—ninety-eight last spring—politely asked him to keep an eye out for Oswald, her Great Pyrenees. The dog had apparently gone missing overnight, and she was worried.

After having to watch Mrs. McGarrick’s sincere, wrinkled little face talk about her missing dog—her only companion since poor old Mr. McGarrick died, Jesus Christ—Stiles strolled down Main Street toward the coffee shop. The air was crisp and the sun was bright overhead, though they were scheduled to get another storm in a day or so. He was enjoying himself (heart-wrenching dog stories aside) and looking forward to a cup of something hot, sugary, and caffeinated. Of course, half a block away Stiles glanced in the window of the shop just in time to see Derek Hale and Isaac Lahey at the counter. Stiles could have acted like an adult, walked in, had a polite discussion in neutral territory. It would have been the sane, responsible thing to do. Instead, he turned around and walked in the opposite direction.

 

***

 

“Derek…Derek we should talk.” Stiles is gasping. A snarl greets his words. “No, Derek, seriously…” He’s pushing at the hands on him half-heartedly, but still making the effort.

Derek stops. Snarls again. “Stiles. Shut up.”

Those hands start moving again. There’s a scrape of stubble and a searing mouth. Stiles shuts up. Because, occasionally—just occasionally—Derek has good ideas.

 

***

 

Espinoza looks up as Stiles flops into his desk chair. “Any leads from the mean streets of Meadow Vale?”

“Yeah, we’re a real hotbed of criminal activity. Mrs. McGarrick’s dog is missing.”

Oswald?

Stiles sat up. “You’re on a first name basis with Mrs. McGarrick’s dog? Espinoza, you softy.”

Espinoza blushed. “They live on my street,” she muttered. “What are you doing back here anyway?”

“I have work. Important detective work. Detecting.”

Espinoza snorted. “Right. Detecting. I’m heading out for lunch. You want anything?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

Stiles waved distractedly, booting up his computer. He did have work. Some of it was probably important. It didn’t count as avoiding the problem if he was working. Right. It certainly wasn’t hiding.

The rest of the afternoon Stiles spent tracking down animal deaths, animal attacks, or, when the results were too sparse, anything the least bit out of place. It was the type of research he hadn’t missed and was made only slightly easier by access to official databases. Narrow search parameters provided too little. Wider searches yielded a useless glut of information. At the end of the day, all Stiles had to show for his work was a headache, sore eyes, and a few notes in the system about a suspiciously well-armed group of hunters headed toward the general vicinity of Meadow Vale. Of course they were probably werewolf hunters, but they would most likely give Meadow Vale a pass anyway. The pack was too well entrenched to be an easy target.

Stiles was later picking up Jamie from the school’s day care than he wanted. He was ready to go down as the worst parent in history, but the handful of kids scrambling around the playground assuaged his guilt somewhat. But then he realized his kid wasn’t bouncing around like a ping pong ball with the others. Stiles spotted Jamie on the sitting by himself on the steps of the school, holding a book that was nearly as big as he was. Stiles loved his son more than anything in the world, he never wanted Jamie to feel like there was something wrong with him, like he wasn’t perfect just the way he was. But it was hard to escape the crushing fear that maybe Stiles was doing something wrong, that maybe he was the one ruining Jamie in some indefinable way he wouldn’t notice until later. When Stiles was six, he would have been running around the playground like a crazed beast, no sitting still and reading for him. But then, Stiles had grown up into the sort of teenager that looked for dead bodies in the woods and had a relationship with Adderall that, in hindsight, flirted with addiction.

“Whatcha reading, kiddo?” Stiles asked, sitting down next to him on the steps.

“Ms. Verrence brought me a knight book," said Jamie, turning the text toward Stiles. It looked a bit heavy for a first-grader but the blocks of text were offset by bright illustrations of knights, castles, and banners. “Can we read it tonight?”

Stiles was about to suggest that they pick something a little lighter for bedtime reading, but Jamie was looking up at Stiles with his wide gray-green eyes, his ridiculously-thick-for-a-little boy eyebrows, and adorable little up-turned nose and Stiles melted. “Sure, we can read it. Let’s go home and cook dinner, okay?”

“’kay.” Jamie closed the book carefully stood up, clutching it to his chest with both arms.

Jamie loved knights with a passion Stiles didn’t quite understand. He’d always preferred the Dark Knight to King Arthur, but he was more than willing to indulge Jamie. He’d gone a little crazy scouring the internet for knight-themed comforter and sheet sets and finally wound up being that douche that bought his kid designer linens from Pottery Barn. But Jamie’s delight at the castle quilt and crest patterned sheets had more than made up for it. Stiles thought that maybe Jamie’s preoccupation had something to do with the idea that might did not make right, and that the strong should protect the weak; ideals that Stiles, as the human parent of a werewolf child,  was very intent on instilling in Jamie. Come to think of it, that might have something to do with Jamie’s reluctance to run around at school. Friday afternoons he spent at the Den with the pack, where he could run around and roughhouse to his heart’s content, but at school, there was always the chance that he could forget and hurt someone weaker than him. Which, of course, was something a good knight never did. Stiles dreaded the day when Jamie learned  that not all knights were noble and not all endings were happy.

At home, Stiles sent Jamie off to do his homework as Stiles threw together some spaghetti with a meat heavy sauce—with were metabolism being what it was, protein was Stiles’ friend—and a vegetable. Stiles and Jamie lived in a small, two story, three bedroom, two bath, house that he never would have been able to afford if he hadn’t been buying it from someone in the pack. It had been renovated before they moved in so the bottom floor was open concept, save for the small bathroom and bedroom that Stiles had claimed as his office. The kitchen flowed into the small dining area, flowed into the living room with the oversized fireplace Stiles had learned to be grateful for. The upstairs was half the size of the first floor and contained Stiles’ and Jamie’s rooms, connected by the second bathroom. Stiles loved everything about his house, and if he had spent the first month after they had moved in wrapping it around with a palpable layer of wards, well that was his and his paranoia’s business.

Stiles felt himself relax over dinner as he and Jamie told each other about their day. He would talk to Alpha Schwartz when he picked Jamie up from the Den tomorrow and let her know that there was a small chance they might have a visit from some hunters. He’d find out why Derek was here and if he happened to run into Derek…well, they were both adults now. Maybe they could even act like it. 

Chapter Text

 

Work was miserable. Stiles usually enjoyed his job, even in a small town with an appropriately low crime rate, Stiles still liked the excuse to be nosy, the access to official databases (even if they weren’t has helpful as he’d thought they would be) and the nearly unimpeded access to wherever he wanted to go in town. He liked that people trusted him. But Stiles wasn’t optimistic enough to believe that whatever was going on with the stag was over and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it until he had more to go on. A familiar foreboding was sending his blood fizzing through his veins and making it impossible to be still. He tapped his pen, jigged his leg up and down beneath his desk, and bit viciously at his nails. Espinoza looked about ready to murder him – though that may have actually been last ditch plan to avoid her own paperwork.

At two o’clock Stiles conceded that enough was enough and shut down his computer, putting aside the truly scintillating rash of missing pets for another day. Derek was still in town, and Stiles still didn’t know why. Time to stop being a coward. The sooner Stiles found out why Derek was here, the sooner he could get Derek to leave, and the sooner Derek left…well. Stiles would figure out what that meant.

Driving through town, he took pity on himself and bought another caramel mocha entirely so he would have something to do with his hands when he got to the Den. When he arrived, Stiles didn’t bother to knock. Sure enough, one of Alpha Schwartz’s grandchildren popped up out of nowhere. Verity was tall for her age, thin, pale, and disturbingly quiet. Of course, you could hardly expect anything different when her parents had named her Verity. Her sister’s name was Wilhelmina. Cruel parents.

True to nature, she pointed silently towards Alpha Schwartz’s study. Stiles grinned and ruffled her stick-straight hair as he passed. “Thanks, Very!”

He caught her small, quiet smile out of the corner of his eye.

In the study, Stiles was obviously interrupting something. Alpha Schwartz, Bear, Isaac, and Derek were gathered there, which was convenient for Stiles. They were all standing, radiating tension at each other, despite Alpha Schwartz’s very comfortable chairs. Stiles flopped into one such chair and forced his hands to stay closed around his cardboard cup of caffeine and sugar.

Alpha Schwartz sauntered over and plucked it out of his grasp only to hand it immediately back, grimacing around her stolen mouthful. Stiles took a long, smug sip. Alpha Schwartz leaned against the edge of her desk, folding her arms across her chest.

“Nice of you to join us, Stiles,” she drawled.

Bear claimed the seat next to him. Derek, typically, moved to stand menacingly behind Stiles’ chair, and Isaac hovered over a third chair, obviously unsure of whether or not he should be sitting or standing in this display of posturing the other wolves were indulging in.

“Sit down, Isaac,” said Stiles. “We’ll probably be here awhile.” Isaac sat, sheepishly.

“So, what are we talking about?” Stiles asked with false cheer, his leg already starting its jigging again.

“We need to make a search of the surrounding forest,” said Derek, as abrupt as Stiles remembered.

“As I said, we already have –” started Bear, annoyance cracking his usual patience.

“What, five wolves in the forestry service? With how many humans? You don’t even know what you’re looking for.” Derek wasn’t bothering to try and turn his scorn into something more polite. Stiles sighed. He really should have come by yesterday, if only to play referee.

“This is our land,” Bear was saying. “We would know if –”

“Isaac and I have been tracking these deaths for over a thousand miles –”

“Those were human deaths!” Stiles sat up as Bear continued. “We’ve only had one dead stag.”

“So far,” said Derek, and Stiles couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment. And of course. Of course Derek’s sudden appearance and the stag were somehow related. His half entertained dreams of quick solutions to both problems popped like soap bubbles.

“What do you mean you’ve been tracking deaths for a thousand miles?” asked Stiles into the tiny pause before Bear started speaking again.

“Alpha Hale has been following a series of deaths –”

“Murders.”

“–that he believes to be murders perpetrated by the Fae,” finished Alpha Schwartz, ignoring Derek’s interruption.

Stiles slumped again, muttering “I fucking hate the Fae,” under his breath. “I’m going to need the details of those deaths,” he said, louder. He absently began shredding the sleeve on his coffee cup. He could feel Derek’s eyes itching at the back of his head.

Alpha Schwartz was watching him as well. “You believe there is merit to Alpha Hale’s claims? Very well.” She turned her regard on Derek. “If you will advise us as to what we should be looking for, I will have my pack sweep our lands.”

Stiles shook his head. “With all due respect, Alpha Schwartz—”

“–Amelia.”

“Amelia. Meadow Vale is beautiful and secluded and peaceful. You’re not used to dealing with anything more menacing than a few stray hunters. You need Derek–and Isaac–on this.”

“Why?”

“Because Beacon Hills isconstant danger, and fear, and betrayal. It’s a warzone, and if this is the Fae, you need wolves who know what that means.”

“Is that why you left?”

Stiles froze. Bear was looking at him, solemn and sympathetic and waiting for his answer.

Stiles swallowed and said quietly, “No.”

If anything, he had missed it.

Alpha Schwartz cleared her throat and turned away from the expression on her Second’s face. “Well, I suggest the four of you get a move on, then. There’s a storm rolling in tomorrow, so you’ll need to cover as much ground as quick as you can.”

“Wait, what do you mean ‘the four of you’?” asked Stiles, suspicious.

Alpha Schwartz huffed. “You may have vouched for them, but I am not giving another alpha and his beta unlimited access to my territory without sending members of my pack to accompany them.”

Stiles scowled. “I ’m not pack .”

Alpha Schwartz rolled her eyes, as unimpressed with the argument as ever. “But you are an allied magic practitioner.”

“So’s Magda.”

“Magda is seventy-five years old.”

Stiles snorted. Magda might be seventy-five, but she was hardly the frail, doddering old woman she pretended to be when it suited her. Stiles had no doubt that she would weather a winter hike through the forest just fine.

Alpha Schwartz grinned ruefully at whatever Stile’s face was doing. “Besides, she already refused. Now, there are boots and gear for you in the foyer, and Jamie can stay here for the evening.”

Stiles folded his arms and refused to budge from his seat. “If you were sure enough about this little expedition to ask Magda about it and get gear for me, why is everyone still here?”

“I keep gear for everyone in the pack here—”

“I’m not—”

“Pack. Yes, you said that already.” She showed her teeth in an approximation of a smile. “We were waiting on you getting your head out of your ass. It still seems to be firmly lodged, but we’ll take what we can get. Jamie’s out on the front lawn with the other kids if you want to speak with him before you leave.”

Resigning himself to defeat, Stiles rose just as Isaac, silent until then, seemed to catch up with what Alpha Schwartz had said. “’Jamie’ is your kid? How the hell do you have a kid?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “How do people usually have kids, Isaac? Who did you think Jamie was?”

Isaac flushed and muttered, “I thought she was your dog or something.”

He is my son. Jamie is short for James.” Stiles very carefully didn’t look to where Derek was standing close to him as he made that last soft admission. He escaped before anything else could be said and let himself out onto the porch.

Stiles leaned his elbows on the railing and let his coffee dangle loosely from one hand. The cold snapped at his bare hands, but he left his gloves in his pocket. Meadow Vale Elementary let out early on Fridays, some quirk of scheduling Stiles didn’t pretend to understand. A couple of the moms rounded up all the kids that belonged to the Pack and ferried them to the Den for an end of the week melee.

Jamie was at the far edge of the lawn where it faded into the tree line, stalking a pre-teen who was too busy lobbing snowballs at his friends to notice Jamie. Some of Stiles’ sour mood lifted as he watched Jamie crouch in the shadows, preparing to pounce on the older kid’s back.

 

 

A shock of sound interrupted, terrifying and familiar.

 

A scream.

 

Stiles whited out.

 

Then he was across the lawn, a warm weight in his arms; tiny claws digging into his shoulders, leaving holes in another suit and pinpricks of blood on his shirt. His overcoat came off and Stiles draped it over and around Jamie; a borrowed instinct to envelop him inscent and hide him from sight.

Stiles raised his face from where he’d pressed it into Jamie’s hair to get a look at the group of smirking, somewhat grubby, men. He was vaguely aware of the pack arranging itself at his back, pushing the children toward the house as the claws and fangs made an appearance. Even so, Stiles stood in his own clear island at their forefront.

“Okay, puppies. Here’s how this is going to go,” started the shortest of the hunters. There were only three of them, each carrying a rifle and not much else.

Amateurs, Stiles’ mind sneered.

“Shut up,” said Stiles, voice cracking out across the snow. He was calm now, perfectly still. No jigging leg, no twitching fingers, no restless gaze. No babbling. All that fizzing energy was incandescent in him now. Every Spark was different. And Stiles’ had always been a force of sheer will and imagination. It was pulsing now, in the still heart of his rage.

The hunter frowned. “That was a courtesy, in case you missed it. The next round will be laced with wolfsbane, if you don’t mind your manners.”

“A courtesy,” Stiles repeated. “So far, you have trespassed, recklessly endangered the lives of children, and issued an unprovoked threat. I think you ladies need to go back to finishing school.”

“Look, just get the fuck out of the way. You’re not what we want, but truth to tell we ain’t going to have much problem getting rid of another goddamn monster fucker.”

Stiles shook his head. “You assume I’m human just because I haven’t flashed any fang at you? I’m gonna do you a favor, since you’re clearly all too stupid to live.” He shifted Jamie’s weight and fished out his badge with his freed hand. “Detective Stilinski, MVPD. Consider this an official warning: you have twelve hours to get the hell off these lands before I arrest you.”

The hunters shifted, apparently bewildered to be losing ground. “You arrest us, and we’ll tell them everything. All about your secret little cult up here in the woods. We won’t even have to mention werewolves. I’d wager you don’t want a bunch of humans up here, poking their noses into things.”

Stiles laughed. He almost missed the Argents.

“The Schwartz family founded this town. They help run the church bake sale. They donate to the library. They’re pillars of the community. The only people in Meadow Vale who don’t know the big bad werewolf secret are the ones who don’t want to.”

The short hunter turned red with more than cold. He snarled. “You talk big, but I don’t think you can back it up.” His friends shuffled nervously, obviously no longer completely on board with their spokesman. “What if we decide we want to settle this here?” He cocked his rifle. “You gonna let your pets off their leash to fight?”

Stiles took half a step forward. The air warped around him, leaving a strange, rippling almost-wake. Potential surged under his skin. “You shot my son. I wouldn’t let anyone else touch you.”

One of the hunters fumbled his rifle and dropped it in the snow. Stiles grinned at him, felt the feral stretch of it.

The other two hunters closed ranks in front of their weaponless comrade. Stiles’ opinion of them rose fractionally. “You have twelve hours.”

The hunters left without much more than a few parting hateful glares. Once they were out of sight and far enough out of earshot, Stiles dropped to his knees, running his hands frantically over Jamie.

“Let me see, let me see,” he muttered as Jamie stood still, eyes reddened, sniffling periodically. Two of the pack glided past him into the trees. No doubt on their way to make sure the hunters found their way off Pack land.

Stiles found a tear in Jamie’s shirt high up on his right arm, dried blood flaking away from the unmarred skin. Stiles knew, he knew, that Jamie had, of course, healed. It didn’t stop him from staring at it, feeling his heart settle in its rhythm.

“Can we go home, now?”

“Yeah.” Stiles laughed breathlessly, leaning his forehead against Jamie’s. “Yeah, kiddo. Whatever you want.”

He gathered Jamie to him, replacing his coat around him. “Even peanut butter cookies?”

Stiles swallowed. “Of course.” Jamie could have as many cookies as he wanted. Stiles started across the lawn toward his car.

Bear, Isaac, and Derek caught up to him halfway. Bear was saying something about pack, the safety of the manor, and hiking. Stiles kept walking.

“Stiles!” Bear sounded exasperated. “Stiles, where are you going?”

“To make peanut butter cookies.”

Bear’s face folded into his ‘placate the human’ expression. All born werewolves had one, and Stiles was not a fan. “Stiles, I know this was upsetting, but Jamie’s fine, and he’ll be safe with the pack. We still have work to do.”

Stiles stopped. Turned. “My son just had a close encounter with a bullet and learned that there are people out there who want to kill him just for existing. We are going home and making peanut butter cookies.”

“With extra chocolate chips,” chimed in a hopeful voice.

Stiles smiled and it almost felt normal. “With extra chocolate chips.”

 

***

 

Stiles is realizing just how little fun being the sober friend is, but he pours Scott another drink anyway. Lydia’s grand, werewolf-inclusive Halloween party is just a week away and the sedative laced Everclear isn’t going to test itself.

The stuff is noxious. It smells like industrial grade solvent and Stiles is convinced that so much as a thimbleful will kill him. Scott’s polished off half the bottle. But the latest Beacon Hills Special has ended in more blood than tears and everyone is coping differently. Lydia is throwing herself into this party. And Scott has volunteered to try Stiles’ latest experiment.

Scott lists sideways, bumps into Stiles and curls a warm arm around him. “… an’ ‘slike we’re all monsters, y’know?” Stiles has been largely tuning out Scott’s maudlin rant, but now it’s being slurred directly into his ear. “We’re all monsters, even Alls’n. I love’r, but we’re all monsters, man.” Scott shifts his lolling head on Stiles’ shoulder and gazes intently at the side of Stiles’ face. “’cept you, St’ls. You’re th’real good guy.”

Stiles frowns and has to lean away a little to see Scott’s face, because what?

“Alright, buddy. You’ve definitely had enough.” He caps the Everclear.

Scott lurches to grab his shoulders, nearly tumbling them to the damp forest floor in the process. He stares into Stiles’ face with intoxicated ardor. “No, Stiles. You’re a good guy.” He says it like it’s the most important thing in the world. “You’re Batman.”

Stiles cracks up. “Dude, I appreciate it, but literally everyone knows that I am not the Dark Knight in this dynamic duo.”

Scott’s face scrunches briefly in confusion but clears almost immediately. “You, like, always have a plan, and you’re smart, and you don’ kill people…”

Stiles’ heart breaks a little. “Oh, hey, no. Scott…”

No, listen!” He gives Stiles an imperative shake that rattles his teeth. “You don’ kill people, an' you save everyone. You save everyone, even Jackson. An’ Derek! You hate Derek and you’ve saved him like five times.” Scott abruptly bursts into laughter and falls backward, hauling Stiles with him. “Derek’s Catwoman!”

Stiles has to laugh at that absurdity. “What?

“Yeah! No. Wait.” Scott is frowning again. “Derek is def’ntly the girl. ‘sthe girl Batman always has t’save.”

Stiles snorts at that, still chuckling. “Yeah, okay. Maybe I’m Batman.”

They lie there together quietly, Scott’s stupid werewolf metabolism pushing him toward sobriety now that he’s no longer drinking.

Stiles catches a gleam of red between the trees.

 

***

 

Stiles opened his door and fought the urge to shut it again. The sun had gone down and the snow had started falling sooner than predicted. Bear stood on the step, smiling hopefully, snow melting slowly in his hair as Derek and Isaac shifted doubtfully behind him.

“No,” said Stiles.

Bear, damn him, pulled out the face that clearly said Stiles might as well have gone and kicked all of the puppies in the world. “You aren’t going to make us spend the night out in this, are you?”

Stiles looked past them at the snowfall. It wasn’t quite a storm yet, though that could change quick enough. “There is nothing out there that is going to kill the three of you before you can make it back to the Den.”

“You don’t know that,” said Isaac, adding his own wide eyes to Bear’s. Derek seemed to be the only one not on board with the plan to prey on Stiles’ obvious weakness for sad, pathetic things.  

Stiles thought about the stag, about a trail of death over a thousand miles long, about the cold and the dark and the snow. Then he thought about Jamie in the kitchen, undoubtedly listening to every word that was said.

Stiles sighed and stepped back, opening the door wider. “Fine.”

Bear beamed and stepped across the threshold after knocking the worst of the snow from his boots. Isaac attempted to follow suit but was repulsed by a crackle of purple-blue energy.

Stiles admitted to a mean little thrill as Derek lunged for the threshold and met with more of the same. “Stiles!”

He rapped a knuckle on the doorframe. “Mountain Ash.”

Twin glares were turned on Bear, who shrugged. “I forgot. Stiles added me to his wards years ago.”

“That’s possible?” asked Isaac as Derek pressed a hand against the barrier, apparently checking for weaknesses.

“Of course it’s possible. My son is a werewolf, why would I put up wards around our house that he couldn’t get through?” said Stiles. “Stop that. If Magda can’t get through my wards if I don’t want her to, I doubt you can.”

“The old woman,” said Derek, voice flat and neglecting to pull his hand back.

“The practitioner who taught me and to whom this territory belongs.”

Derek grimaced but pulled his hand back. “Let us in Stiles.”

There had to be lessons on how to pack the maximum amount of entitled annoyance in a single phrase that all alphas took. Graduate courses on how to get the same effect in a single word.

Stiles shook his head. “House rules first.” Derek rolled his eyes. Stiles ignored his face and continued. “In here? I’m the alpha. I don’t care who’s a werewolf and who’s not. I don’t care about pack status. I’m Jamie’s dad. No one else gets to make decisions for or about him.” And all the gods that were and are and will be help whoever thought any different.

Derek and Isaac glanced at each other. Isaac shrugged. “Anything else?”

Stiles thought. “No complaining about the food. And pick up after yourself.”

“Is that it?” asked Derek in the tones of someone waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Stiles frowned. “Is there something else I should be worried about?”

“No?” tried Isaac.

“Okay then.” He reached up and pulled a small section of wood from the frame, breaking the circle of Mountain Ash. A temporary measure, but Stiles remembered werewolves in and out of his window, bleeding in his car, sleeping in his bed. He remembered being constantly on call, on alert. Stiles wasn’t ready to give them permanent access to his home again. He didn’t trust them that much. Not anymore.

Hurt flashed across Derek’s face like he couldn’t understand why Stiles was being so harsh. Which, typical. Like Stiles was the asshole here.

The door shut and Stiles headed back toward the kitchen, the wolves trailing after him. Jamie was standing on a chair at the counter, reaching for the platter of cookies. He froze, as though Stiles was somehow going to miss a three foot and change werewolf covered head to foot in flour attempting to unfairly pilfer more cookies. As Stiles raised his eyebrows, Jamie looked back over his shoulder, slowly. “Just one more?”

“No, you still have to eat dinner.”

“I haven’t had that many,” said Jamie, pouting as he hopped off the chair.

“You’ve had ten.”

Sensing a lost battle Jamie turned his attention to the men behind his dad. “Hi Mr. Bear. Who’re you?”

Derek looked mildly terrified at being addressed by a child. Isaac, however, crouched down and smiled at Jamie. “We’re friends of your dad.”

Jamie leaned forward and sniffed at Isaac. “You don’t smell like him.”

“That’s because we haven’t seen him in a long time. We’re still his friends though.” Isaac looked up at Stiles as he said it, like he was trying to impart some sort of deeper meaning than a simple explanation for a small child.

Before Stiles could come up with some sort of response to that, Jamie moved on to Derek. He did the whole sniffing routine again while Derek stood there looking uncomfortable. 

“You’re an alpha,” said Jamie, staring up at Derek. “I’ve never met another alpha besides Alpha Amelia before. Is it fun?”

Derek gave this some thought. “Sometimes. Mostly it’s a lot of responsibility.”

Jamie nodded, like this made perfect sense to his six year old brain. “Like a king.”

“A king,” said Derek, with a total lack of inflection.

“Yeah. And the betas are like your knights. ‘Cause knights have to do what the king says.” Derek stared at Jamie, at a loss of what to say to that reasoning.

“I have knights too,” continued Jamie proudly. “Come on, I’ll show you.” He took Derek’s lax hand and led him, unresisting, from the kitchen.

Stiles watched them go, bemused. A not so small part of him wanted to run after them and snatch Jamie away, hide him from sight. Double his wards and forget even the idea of being fair and responsible.

“He’s not going to hurt him,” said Isaac, breaking into Stiles’ thoughts. Isaac kept his voice low, but it was laced with its own hurt and disgust.

“What? I know that, I’m just…” Stiles cast around for a word that wasn’t too incriminating.

“Overprotective?” said Bear with a hint of humor.

Stiles grimaced. “Yeah.” He straightened himself from the slump he had fallen into. “you’re helping me with dinner.”

He’d been in the middle of making lasagna, but with three extra wolves to feed that wasn’t going to cut it unless he doubled the recipe. Which he did not have the supplies for. Luckily, what he did have was a larder and pack of werewolves that either thought he was incapable of feeing himself and his son or were attempting to woo him with gifts of meat.

Dinner wound up being a strange hodge-podge. Jamie, who tended to be shy pretty much anywhere else was more than willing to bask in the attention of the adults in his own territory. He sat between Stiles and Bear and lectured Isaac and Derek on the importance of crests. (How else are the other knights gonna know who you are?) Afterward, Stiles relented and let him have another cookie. He reasoned that trauma cookies were not governed by regular cookie rules. Then it was time for bed, which meant and bath, and then a book, and then a song because Jamie was strangely wound up. Perhaps allowing Jamie to eat eleven cookies, even in the face of traumatic events, was not the best idea. Anyway, he refused to be embarrassed over the fact that there was literally no way anyone downstairs had missed his impromptu rendition of Blackbird.

Stiles made his way back downstairs and dropped onto the sofa. He raised his hand when Derek opened his mouth to speak. “No shop talk until Jamie is actually asleep.”

Derek nodded and leaned back. They all sat there in awkward silence.

Bear stood abruptly. “Who wants a fire?”

Bear did not do well with awkward silence. He operated well under pressure, but at his core he just wanted everyone to get along and hated being around those who didn’t. Which was something he should have thought of before dragging Isaac and Derek over in a misguided and painfully obvious attempt at forcing Stiles down the road to closure.

“So, this is a nice place,” said Isaac as Bear fussed around the fireplace.

“Thanks. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it, especially when I was just starting, but I bought it from someone in the pack.”

“But I thought you weren’t pack?” Stiles couldn’t tell if Isaac was being disingenuous.

“I’m not. But Magda, their emissary, is my teacher. And it’s good for Jamie to be around other werewolves.”

Bear looked up from where he was arranging kindling. “The only reason you’re not pack is because you choose not to be.”

“We lowly human types usually have to marry into a pack. Last time I checked I did not see a ring on this finger.” Stiles looked down at his hands. Turned them both ways. “Nope. Still single.”

“Usually. Not always.” Bear smiled, sitting back on his heals. “Anyway, even if you did have to marry in, there are plenty of pack members who’d more than willing.”

“Name one.”

“Gertrude thinks you’re ‘scrumptious’. Her word, not mine.”

“She’s eighty-six!”

“And very spry for her age.”

“She baked me a pie,” moaned Stiles piteously.

Bear nodded solemnly. “It’s a well known fact that wolves court potential mates with food.”

Stiles snorted. Now that was ridiculous. They were werewolves, not actual animals. Besides, Bear brought him food all the time.

“So I’m a hit with the geriatric werewolf community. Awesome.”

Bear chuckled, standing up from the burgeoning fire. “I’m getting the cookies.”

Stiles waved a hand. “Go ahead. I think we made like four dozen. Hey, make some coffee while you’re in there.”

Bear wandered toward the kitchen, leaving Stiles alone with Isaac and Derek. Which, again. Awkward.

Isaac fidgeted, looked around, stared at the fire. “Why aren’t you pack?”

“Oh. Uh, I’m just not sure I could do the whole pack…thing.”

Isaac’s nose scrunched up in confusion. “Why not? You did before.”

“What do you mean I did before? I did not. I think I would remember joining a werewolf pack.”

“Apparently you don’t, because you were definitely a part of ours.”

“What? No I wasn’t.”

Yes, you were. What did you think all that life saving and training and enforced togetherness was?”

“Well, I mean, obviously you guys were—are a pack, but–“

“But what? Stiles, what else would you have been?”

“Scott’s pet human?”

“Stiles.” Derek spoke softly, yet firmly. “You were pack.”

“Yeah,” Isaac added. “Technically, you were pack before Scott was.”

“How do you figure that?”

“Well, you know Scott was always talking about how he didn’t need a pack and the bite being a curse and whatever. But you always just got on with researching and coming up with some bizarre plan. You were definitely pack before Scott.”

“But Erica hit me over the head with a piece of my own car! I got a concussion.”

Isaac shrugged. “Erica had anger issues. She’s much better now. She does yoga.”

“Yoga.”

Isaac nodded earnestly. “Anyway, that was before the whole pack thing happened.”

Stiles…didn’t really know what to do with any of that. He felt like his entire worldview had just taken a major hit. What the hell?

“Jamie’s asleep,” said Derek. Stiles closed his mouth and nodded. He levered himself up and headed into his office.

It was a small room, his desk, gun safe, bookshelves, and an apothecary cabinet all crammed inside. It really wasn’t anything like Magda’s workroom. Barren in comparison, and unscented. The only plants he kept on hand were various strains of wolfsbane and mountain ash. He did, however, have significantly more books. He rubbed a hand across the worn spines, greeting them like old friends.

When he got back to the sofa, laptop under one arm, Bear handed him a mug of coffee – dash of milk, three sugars – as he sat. He grabbed a cookie from the platter, waiting for his programs to open. He looked up at Derek.

“Start at the beginning.”

The good thing about interviewing Derek was he knew to go slow, be thorough and exact. There were no softening euphemisms, or pauses to collect himself. Just Derek’s steady voice laying down the facts in gruesome detail. It was like being in high school all over again.

The first murders, of course, took place in Beacon Hills. On a chilly February night five year old twins had been vivisected and left on the porch of the pack house for Derek to find first thing in the morning. Luckily for him the entire pack had been over providing an alibi that the police investigation was ultimately unable to break. It also meant that six werewolves had sat watching a movie while two children were brutally murdered not fifty feet away. Stiles shuddered. Last February Jamie had been five as well. Including the twins, there were fifty-two deaths Derek could account for. Each out of the way, bloody and marked by a complete lack of physical evidence. There was no followable victimology, no pattern, no timeline.

When Derek finally stopped speaking Stiles sat back, pinching the bridge of his nose. His eyes felt hot and gritty. He glanced at the time in the corner of his screen. He shut his laptop and stood, stretching. They’d been sitting there for three and a half hours. His head was stuffed full of gory detail and Derek’s emotionless voice, brief glimpses of Isaac’s haunted face.

“It’s past midnight, I’m going to bed.” Stiles gestured at Bear, who was pale and drawn. “You know where the extra blankets and pillows are.”