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Liminal

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Cora ran across the lawn to the treehouse. ‘Quick like a bunny,’ they said. Very funny. Although her heart was pounding like a bunny. She knew it wasn’t a drill, no matter what her mother said. This was the real thing. She was ten years old going on eleven and she knew the difference between a drill, and being under attack by Hunters. She saw Uncle Robert waiting in the dark at the treeline before she even left the side door alcove. She knew how to run silent, she’d practiced with Uncle Peter, she was prepared like a Girl Scout, no, like a ‘Wolf Scout.

Her father had handed her a backpack, squeezed the nape of her neck and her mom scented her, before they sent her out the door. Cora pulled a blanket out of the built in seat when she made it into the treehouse, and sat on the rug on the floor to check out what kind of “emergency supplies” they thought would be useful to her. They thought she was such a child. They’d packed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which she’d already read 4 times and anyways couldn’t read because it was dark. She let her eyes shift gold to see if she could maybe read after all, but it was too dark inside the little shelter. There was a sandwich, a bottle of water, and a bag of skittles that she wouldn’t open because it would make noise. A hoodie and mittens, mittens! It was like these people didn’t know anything about defense.

Her mother also didn’t know about the hunting knife she’d hidden under the built in seat, even though she had her claws. Uncle Peter was teaching her knife skills because he was hardcore. Nobody knew about the 3 wolfsbane bullets or the lighter she had in the altoids box stuffed inside her Kaya doll. She paid attention to Uncle Peter, and if one of the Hunters shot her, she knew what to do. She could fight back, she wasn’t a little kid anymore, and she was ready to protect her pack. Unlike gross stupid Derek with his stupid top-secret girlfriend. He went into town with Laura, even though they had a visitor who smelled like Petrichor. Petrichor was one of her spelling challenge words. It meant the smell of earth and grass right after it rains for the first time after a dry spell. Cora didn’t just learn to spell them, like some kids did. She knew the definitions too. She hoped stupid Derek wouldn’t come back until they ran off the hunters. She wished Uncle Peter was up here with her.

+++

There was an opening between the boards, and Cora could see just into the edge of the woods. There was a hunter there. She saw her when she moved and the moonlight glinted off her crossbow. She knew there was another hunter nearby, because the woman kept looking over to the same spot. It was a poor battle tactic so Cora wasn’t worried at all. Her mother and uncles could take them out easily. Probably nobody else would even have to fight, not even her dad.

Cora wondered what they were waiting for, it was fully dark already. She crawled silently over to the other vantage point, and peeked through a crack. From this side of the treehouse, she could see the side alcove and part of the porch. Nothing was happening, except she could see people walking around inside the house. She was so bored, it was excruciating. She practiced flicking her fangs in and out, Uncle Robert said it would help her control. She wondered if they had already eaten the cake, and if anybody even remembered to save her any?

A flash of something caught her eye on the edge of the house, and she pressed her eye against the crack to try to see more. A few seconds later, fire burst up the side of the wall. Cora shifted, eyes flashing, fangs descending. She rocketed up to look out the window opening, her claws dug into the sill, and she squinted against the flare of firelight. She did not scream, she wouldn’t scream. They knew it wasn’t a drill, they had to know, even if they sent her out here with sandwiches, they had to have been ready in the house. Her mother would come out and kill the Hunters, she just had to not scream and give away her position.

There was a loud boom that sounded like a rifle, and Cora dropped to the floor away from the window. She gripped her knife and her altoid box and breathed in and out to control her heart rate. Uncle Robert taught her that too. She pressed her eye to the crack again, just in time to just barely see the visitor, Stiles, crouched down in the side door alcove, and a woman pointing a gun at him. All of a sudden, it was like one of them had cast a Flagrante Curse, except the fire was dark blue and then gone in a blink, and the woman was gone too. Cora stopped looking, and squeezed her eyes shut. She concentrated on her breathing, and hoped it was Stiles who cast that spell.

+++

Cora waited. She didn’t move again, not through the shouting, or the screams, or the smoke. She never twitched during the sirens, and the steam. Never opened her eyes, not once. Not until she heard somebody grab the board at the bottom of her tree, and she clutched her knife and extended her claws.

Seconds later her mother came through the door, crawling across the floor and crying her name, scenting her, rubbing her cheek on Cora’s hair, growling and rumbling and squeezing her so tight she couldn’t breathe in. Her mother smelled like smoke and blood and wolfsbane.

“I did good Mama. I knew it wasn’t a drill. I did good.”

“You did good, little wolf.”

Chapter Text

It was early, still dark, and he was laying in Scotty’s bed playing Mario on their Gameboy with the sound turned off. He and Scott had joint custody of the device. They were both wishing as hard as they could for a PSP for one of their birthdays. Scotty wanted Spider-man, but Stiles was holding out for Star Wars: Battlefront even though it was a shooter and they weren’t allowed to play them. They both agreed it was super unfair because both their dads wore a gun every day and both boys understood gun safety. Anyways it was just imaginary.

Scott was wheezing, but it was just the normal kind of sleep wheezing, not the inhaler kind. Scott was fine and Stiles would sit still with him this morning and help him do his nebulizer treatment, before his dad picked him up.

He didn’t sleep very much since his mom… since he had to start staying with Scott and Mrs. McCall while his dad did night shift. He didn’t really want his dad to know that he mostly played gameboy after Scott was sleeping. He was enough trouble as it was, with how much noise he made, and how many things he broke in the house, and how he kept growing out of all of his clothes…

Stiles heard knocking at the door so he paused his game. He sat up when the front door opened and he heard his dad’s voice. It was only just after 6, and his dad wasn’t due to pick him up until 7:30. Stiles checked Scott, who was still sleeping, now he was snoring a little bit. He climbed out of bed and crept to the landing where he could hear his dad and Mrs. McCall talking.

“Are you sure the boys okay? Are they still sleeping?”

“They’re fine, Noah. We never heard any of the sirens, and I kept the news off. They both went to sleep right away, and I never heard a peep out of them all night. You look like hell, you smell like campfire and melted plastic.”

“Sorry, should have cleaned up first, just needed to pick up my kid as soon as possible. Somebody tried to burn down the Hale house with the whole family inside.”

“Oh, Noah! They all made it out though? You seem pretty shook up for a ‘tried to…’”

“Christ, I need a drink.”

“Noah…”

“Jesus Melissa, it’s just a comment, get off my back.” Stiles startled, started to get up so he could escape back to Scott’s room, but his dad said, “Sorry, I’m just… that was uncalled for.”

“Noah, it’s not healthy, you have to take better care of yourself. Stiles worries about you, he’s too observant, just like you. He sees a lot more than you think even if he never talks about it.”

Stiles heard Mrs. McCall moving around the kitchen. The water turned on and off, then he heard them sit down at the little dining table.

“There was a boy there, not a Hale. Apparently Peter Hale’s something or other, I dunno. Young. He looked like, he looked just like…” His dad’s voice went weird, high and wiggly, and Stiles felt his heartbeat speed up. He really wanted to know what the boy looked like, and why it made his dad sound like that. Maybe that’s why his dad came early to pick him up.

He could hear Mrs McCall saying something to his dad, but not what she was saying, even though he held his breath and strained his ears.

“I just, I have to… I have to see my son. I have to see him. I know the boys are asleep but I have to see him…”

Stiles scrambled up from the top stair and ran back into Scott’s room. He could hear his dad coming up the stairs, and he didn’t want him to know he was listening or that he was even awake. He didn’t want him worrying, he knew he was enough work already. Stiles squirmed back under the covers, snuggled up and tucked his face into Scotty’s shoulder like he was sleeping. He squeezed his eyes closed and tried to breathe really slowly, like when he helped Scotty use his nebulizer.

His dad stopped on the landing before walking into Scott’s room. Stiles could hear his dad sigh, then he walked over to the bed and sat down on the floor next to it. Stiles felt the side of the bed dip when his dad leaned on it and put his hand on Stiles’ back. His dad sighed again, and he heard him whisper, “Son.”

Stiles kept pretending like he was asleep, he didn’t move, not even to wipe away the tears leaking from his eyes onto the shoulder of Scott’s spider-man pajamas.

Chapter Text

Cora spent the morning while the fire investigator and forensics people were at the house, inspecting her weapons and defense caches. She figured that Dr. Deaton would ward against fire in the future, but he might not remember to ward the treehouse, so she got the fire extinguisher from the garage and took it out to stash in the built in seat. Her other weapons cache was in a natural shelter between some rocks a little ways into the Preserve, but she didn’t have any spare weapons for it yet, only a flashlight, a space blanket, a critter-proof container of venison jerky, and a couple of bottles of water. So she borrowed a crowbar from the garage, until she could get another knife from Uncle Peter.

When she got back to the house from her Forest Cache, the investigators were gone, Laura and Uncle Robert were back, and her mother had wandered off into the Preserve with Stiles. She headed up to her room to finish inventorying defense supplies that she kept in the bottom drawer of her dresser. It contained one kitchen knife, one flashlight, the skittles from last night, and a maxi pad, even if she wasn’t sure what that was for, but she read in a survival guide that it was good to have those around. Laura wouldn’t miss it anyways. She was also going to ask for a Leather Gorget for her birthday. She probably didn’t need any defensive armor, it just looked completely Bad. Ass.

Derek was home finally. He’d taken off from the hotel room to lurk around the house all night like a lurkerwolf, then he ran off into the Preserve, the other direction from her Forest Cache, the minute they all got back from the hotel this morning. She kind of hoped with all the noise she was making, he’d come in to talk to her. She had some questions about Stiles and his time travel, which was unbelievably cool. Derek knew stuff about time travel. But he hadn’t come looking for her, even though she knew he was just in his room. She could hear his heartbeat and smell his stinky Derek smell. Well, he wasn’t that stinky, he smelled like loam and coniferous trees. Stinky loam. Cora smirked.

Tired of trying to lure him into her room with interesting noises, she padded over to his door and pushed it open. Derek was lying on his back on top of his bed, staring at the ceiling. He didn’t look at her.

“Derek? Der? Whatcha doing?”

Nothing. He was totally pouting, just glaring off into space. He smelled sort of sour and tired.

“Derry Berry? Der-elict? Der-igible? Deeeeeer-p?” She popped her ‘p,’ walked over to hover over his face, and poked him in the cheek. “Derek? C’mon, I wanna ask you something.”
Derek didn’t move, but he somehow managed to avoid her eyes, despite her being bent right over his face where he couldn’t miss her staring at him.

“Get the fuck outta my room, Cora.”

She fake gasped, “I’m gonna tell mom you dropped the f-bomb on me!”

“Goddammit Cora, my door was closed.”

Cora stood up and crossed her arms. She harrumphed a little. Derek finally looked at her and raised one of his caterpillar eyebrows, so she figured it was safe to ask questions.

“Der, do you think Stiles is The Doctor?”

Derek’s other caterpillar went to join the first one. She would have giggled, but this was a time to be serious, and she didn’t want him distracted before she could get some information. It wasn’t working out well, because Derek wasn’t talking. Both of his woolly bear eyebrows went back down, and he went back to staring at the ceiling.

“It’s just, Stiles, like, he traveled in time, right? To come see us and save us from having our house burned down, you know? I mean, I never heard anything that sounded like a TARDIS, but he just showed up in the nick of time and knew all of our names… do you think he has a companion? Maybe he’s traveling alone, oh em gee that would be so sad, do you think he’s traveling alone? Plus I saw him push that woman into the vortex, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was, because she just disappeared! She was evil I’m pretty sure!”

Derek turned back and stared at her, his mouth open. She could see his bunny teeth. Usually that was an opportunity, but she needed some answers, she was desperate.

He went back to staring at his stupid ceiling. “That might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Cora stomped her foot at him and glared. Her eyebrows weren’t as glare-y as Derek’s, but they were still pretty good. If only he’d look at her so she could bring the full effect.

“Why are you so mad?” Cora asked.

“Why are you in here?” Derek snapped.

“Geez Der, why don’t you go see your stupid top-secret girlfriend? You’re so cranky!”

Derek’s mouth turned down and his scent soured. It smelled kind of like boiled eggs and fury. She didn’t think she’d ever smelled a ‘wolf make that smell before, it sort of made her heart thump a little bit. He flopped over on his side facing away from Cora. “She’s not… I don’t have a girlfriend.” She hopped up on the bed and climbed over him so she could see his face, but his eyes were shut tight. It looked like his eyelashes were wet, and she could smell salt. His mouth was turned down so far it totally looked like a turtle shell. She waited because although he was stupid with his stupid girlfriend, he was her best friend, and she didn’t want him to be sad. Plus she still had things to tell him about last night, and how scary the fire was, and how brave she acted.

“What do you want, Cora?” Derek asked. His voice was a monotone.

“There was a fire, and I was alone in the treehouse, and I was so scared, and you weren’t here, Derek!” She slapped her hand on the quilt in frustration. Derek jumped like she slapped him instead of the quilt, then he sat up and grabbed at her, pinned her arms down. He buried his nose in her hair, she could feel his arms shaking, and his breath hitching where he was rubbing his face on her neck, and his whisper, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t know, I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault...” His heart sounded so loud.

She wasn’t sure what to do, he was gripping her so tightly, she couldn’t even move her arms. She wiggled her fingers to make sure they weren’t in danger of tissue damage. She would have patted his head if she could have reached it, but she settled for rubbing her cheek on top of his head while he squished her. She might have leaked out a couple of tears accidentally too, but she didn’t really know why.

Before she could figure out what to ask him, he let go and launched himself to the other side of the bed, back turned, and snarled at her, “Get out, Cora, I want to be by myself.”

She didn’t think he really wanted to be by himself, so she climbed off the bed, stood in front of him, growled, and gave him The Eyebrows again, which he couldn’t see, because now he was staring at the floor. Cora went back down the hall to her room to get some supplies. This was going to take awhile. She went back to Derek’s bedroom, he had laid back down and was staring at the ceiling again.

She set a book next to his arm, put the bag of skittles on top of it, then climbed over him one more time and laid down next to him with her own book. She patted his hand, opened her book and started reading to herself. They could talk about The Doctor later.

Chapter Text

The two boys rode fast in the cool afternoon sunshine. Their screams of excitement echoed off the houses as they rocketed down the street on one red and one silver bicycle. They dragged up on the handlebars to leave the ground over the bumps in the sidewalk, raised and broken over tree roots, the lanky sandy-haired boy giggled madly when he swerved to miss smashing into the little towheaded one. They raced to the end of the street, turned around and came fast and furious back the way they’d been, to jump and scream and giggle all over again.

“C’mon Isaac! I’m gonna win again! Gotta be faster!” Jackson’s cheeks were bright red rosy from the cold and speed, plumped up with his wide grin. Isaac screeched and stood up on the pedals, spinning madly to sail over the last sidewalk bump and catch up.

The two boys came careening into the turn-around driveway, threw their bicycles down onto the walk-up, and dashed through the kitchen door to beg the nanny for snacks, shedding their jackets and hanging them on hooks by the door when the nanny tutted and pointed. She laughed and tousled their hair, one hand to each child’s head, then grabbed a washcloth from the counter to try to wipe streaks of dirt from the sturdy little blonde’s face. He ducked and howled, “nooo! I’m not a baby!”

The nanny handed them juice-boxes and string cheese. “You’ll have dinner in a little while, that’s enough snacks for now,” she said. As they ran out of the kitchen and down the stairs to the game room, she shouted after them, “Say thank you!” Both boys mumbled something back at her around their juice straws.

Isaac threw himself down on the sofa and snagged the controller for the Xbox, while Jackson shuffled through the game cases until he found the one he wanted.

“I wanna play Tony Hawk.” Jackson said.

“Mkay,” Isaac answered. He clutched the controller in one hand, and bit off chunks of string cheese.

Jackson crash landed on the sofa next to his friend, put the game on 2-player mode. “You’re doing it wrong, you’re supposed to eat string cheese in strings!” Isaac grinned and shoved the rest of the cheese in his mouth in one bite. They elbowed each other back and forth while they selected their skaters on the split screen and started the first round. Isaac was mostly quiet, small giggles and grins and “okays” in response to Jackson switching screens and levels, talking his way through tricks and penalties.

“Hit the plant, bam! penalty!”
“Make the flip...”
“Hold it, hold it… oooh.”
“Rail, rail, kick something!”
“You got this, you got this, hey you don’t need that!”
“Aw you’re falling apart, oooomm, oh my god!”

They changed modes, chose different skaters, played again, started over, until Mr. Whittemore called down the stairs to tell Jackson the nanny was leaving and it was time for dinner. Reluctantly, they turned off the game and TV, and trudged upstairs.

“Wanna come play tomorrow? Danny’s coming over in the morning,” Jackson asked.

Isaac darted a glance over to Mr. Whittemore, who smiled pleasantly at him, so he ducked his head and toed the floor with one shoe, lifted one hand palm up, and told Jackson, “Maybe if my dad says yes. I might have chores.” Jackson flung one arm over his shoulders and jostled him around until both boys tipped over onto the floor, laughing and thumping against the cabinets.

“Okay, son,” Mr. Whittemore said, “time for Isaac to go home,” he reached out hands to the rough-housing boys, pulled them apart, and helped Isaac finish shrugging into his jacket. “See you tomorrow, Isaac.”

++++

Isaac left through the kitchen door, walked slowly around the side of the house and picked up his silver hand-me-down bicycle. He hunched his shoulders and looked across the street to his house, but was relieved to see that his dad’s pickup wasn’t in the drive. Isaac walked his bike across the street, through the side gate where he left it leaning up against the side of the house under the eaves, and let himself in through the mudroom door.

It was quiet in the house, but he knew Camden was home. Isaac walked into the kitchen, straightened the overturned dining chair, and took the broom that was lying on the floor and returned it to the utility closet. There was a pan of something in the sink that smelled burnt. He stared at it for a bit, frowning, worried that there was no other sign that anybody was there.

“Camden?” he called. There was no answer. Anxiety twisted his stomach, but he walked down the hall to Camden’s room, hoping he was in there with headphones in, doing homework. Camden’s backpack was there on the bed with his hoodie, several school books on the small desk, but he wasn’t in his room.

Isaac took several small breaths, motionless except for the opening and closing of his fists. Carefully, as if he were afraid of drawing attention to himself in the empty house, he made his way to the basement door. He stopped at the top of the stairs and waited until he heard a small noise.

“Camden?”

“Stay upstairs, Isaac. I’m fine. Do your homework before dad comes home.” Camden’s muffled voice came from the old chest freezer at the back of the basement.

Isaac came down the stairs, and walked over to the freezer. He pushed the lid up as far as the chain would allow, and put his fingers through the space. “Hey bro,” his voice, tiny and sad, caught on the inhale.

“It’s okay Isaac, I’m okay. Dad went to work. I burned dinner. You shouldn’t be down here. Go upstairs.” Camden reached up and touched Isaac’s fingers. “Go upstairs.”

“Why is he so mean to you, Cam? You should leave now, you shouldn’t have to wait.”

Both brothers were silent for a few breaths, holding each other by the fingertips, all they could reach through the box opening.

“Isaac, dad hasn’t ever… done anything to you, right?”

“No Cam, he just yells a lot.”

“I can’t leave yet, Army won’t take me until after my birthday. I can go then.” Camden said. “You’ll be fine, alright? Dad wouldn’t hurt you. But you should go upstairs. Do your homework.”

Isaac pulled his fingers away and let the top of the freezer fall closed. He made his way back up the stairs and into his room where he pulled a blanket from his bed and selected a book. He crept back down to the basement, where he pushed the box lid up once more, and placed a small block in the rim to keep it open. He sat down with the blanket, leaning up against the side of the freezer, opened his book and started to read aloud to his brother.

“Miyax pushed back the hood of her sealskin parka and looked at the Arctic sun. It was a yellow disc in a lime-green sky, the colors of six o’clock in the evening and the time when the wolves awoke. Quietly she put down her cooking pot and crept to the top of a dome-shaped frost heave, one of the many earth buckles that rise and fall in the crackling cold of the Arctic winter. Lying on her stomach, she looked across a vast lawn of grass and moss and focused her attention on the wolves she had come upon two sleeps ago. They were wagging their tails as they awoke and saw each other...”

Chapter Text

It was early and Cora was awake. Why she was awake was a mystery until she heard a quiet whimper coming from the floor next to her bed. She popped her head over the side. Derek was curled up on her fluffy sheepskin rug, hands tucked up near his chin, frowning in his sleep. She laid there for a few minutes frowning back, wondering if he was going to make more noises, maybe she should wake him up. He was kind of covered in sticks and little pieces of dirt. The ear she could see was looking a little pointy, and there was a tiny, disgusting slug in his hair that she hoped was dead, because gross. She flicked out a claw and tapped the slug. Seemed dead. She tapped Derek on the ear, which flicked, but he didn’t move.

Cora sat up, hopped off the bed and dragged her quilt behind her. She draped it over her sleeping brother, careful not to touch his slug hair with it, and tucked the satin binding into his hand. Derek snuffled a little, and relaxed his frown.

“Sleep tight, DerBear,” she whispered, and headed downstairs.

Stiles was in the library. Stiles was in the library pacing. Cora peeked around the doorframe. He was muttering to himself, it didn’t sound like English, at least no words she could make out even with her wolf hearing, it sounded kind of like her friend Nancy Park’s mom. He had a big book in one hand, and a small leather book in the other hand, and whichever one he wasn’t looking at, he was waving around in the air. The printer was running, and there were piles of paper and books on the study table. He tossed the big book down on the table and picked up a handful of paper that he started shuffling unsuccessfully into the leather book, some of them fell on the floor. Stiles bent down to pick them up, froze, lifted his head and locked eyes with Cora.

“Eeep!” Cora squeaked and ducked back into the hallway..

“Good morning, Cora, you’re up early.”

She walked slowly into the library and sidled around the table. “So are you… Stiles.”

“Nah, never went to sleep, research. Sleep is for the dead.”

Cora’s eyes widened, but she kept her lips zipped. She walked around the table, pushing papers around, opening and closing books, stealing little peeps at Stiles.

“Were you speaking Korean?” Cora asked, when it seemed like he wasn’t going to pay attention to her.

“Hmmm? No. Japanese, I guess. Maybe Mandarin? I think I know some Mandarin too, maybe Russian...” Stiles said.

Cora squinted at him. “Did you learn those on your travels?”

“Not really,” Stiles said. “They just sort of, you know, popped up in there.” He waved his handful of papers around his head. His hair was sticking up all over with crazy cowlicks.

“How come I can’t understand you, is your translation circuit fried?” Cora asked.

Stiles stared at her for a long time, long enough she started wondering if maybe he was evaluating her as a Companion. He shook his head, swiped at his face with the hand that was still holding all the papers, flinched like the paper was unexpected, and tossed them all on the table. “Something’s fried…”

Cora figured she wouldn’t get any other useful information out of ‘Stiles’ right now, but she could go see if Derek was interested in what she had just learned. It was all evidence.

She kept poking through the books on the table, which were a little bit of everything from mythology to physics to weapons. Stiles acted like he’d already forgotten she was there, and went back to his pacing and muttering. Cora heard the front door bang open, little babbling voices and chaos that usually accompanied small children. She wandered out into the hall where her Grandma and Auntie Leanne were coming in behind Leanne’s twins. The toddlers were nearly two, and the bane of Cora’s existence.

Fortunately, they seemed to prefer Derek, they barely noticed her as they tottered to the staircase and started climbing, squealing, “Der, Derrrr?” Cora was tempted to follow the little devil-children upstairs to see what her grumpy floor-sleeping brother would do when Elliott and Oliver found him and started climbing all over him. Maybe he’d feel better after he played whatever baby games he played with them.

After hugging her grandmother hello, she skipped out the front door to look for her grandpa. She found him out back at the treeline under her treehouse, with Uncle Peter and Dr. Deaton. Grandpa was circling the cluster of trees that supported it, and Uncle Peter was leaning up into Dr. Deaton’s face. He did not look happy.

“I don’t care that the wards were ‘sufficient’, Deaton,” Peter hissed, “I want them stronger. My brother has trained that child to be silent. I want to be able to hide a dozen howling children in that treehouse!”

“It’s an unnecessary expenditure,” Deaton protested.

Grandpa ended his circuit by stopping directly in front of Deaton, shoulder to shoulder with Peter.

“What my son means to say, Deaton, is we got lucky. They had a very powerful magic wielder with them, who absolutely overwhelmed your wards. It’s a complete mystery to me how we didn’t lose my granddaughter in the attack, the only reason we had to know she would be safe this time was Stiles’ knowledge. Now you will ward the fuck out of this structure.” Grandfather might not be the Alpha anymore, but he sure knew how to use the voice. It hit her right in the chest, she tilted her head to bare her throat, even though the command wasn’t directed at her. Cora saw Peter also show his throat a tiny bit, and Dr. Deaton bowed his head and turned his hands up in acknowledgement.

Grandfather pivoted to look directly at her, of course he knew she was there, she never could get the drop on him, even when she busted out every stealth trick Uncle Robert had taught her so far. “Cora, my little moon child,” he called and held his hand out to her, “come walk with me in the forest. Your Uncle has tasks to attend to, we’ll leave him and the good veterinarian each to their business.” Grandpa didn’t much like Dr. Deaton, who had become her mother’s Emissary after she received the alpha spark and he retired.

Cora took his hand and they headed out into the Preserve.

Chapter Text

Roxy was standing somewhat patiently by Stiles’ side, her curly little spaniel ears perked forward as she stared intently at the dumpster Scott had just climbed inside. Her leash was looped haphazardly over Stiles’ arm and he was holding an open shoebox in front of his stomach.

“... and then, he chose 111, which was crazy far away from the real number which was my number, Scott? Are you listening to me?”

“Uh huh, 111 that’s super cool?” Scott replied from inside the dumpster. There was a clanging noise, and the sound of paper crumpling.

Roxy was now practically vibrating out of her skin, her little cocker butt wiggling just above the ground where she was supposed to be sit-staying.

“No, Scott,” Stiles says indignantly, “111 was not super cool, I won! I chose 8 because that’s my lucky number and it was lucky because it was 8! That’s the cool part! And then you know what Stuart said?”

There’s squawk of discovery, followed by tiny squeaks and mewls, and Scott’s hand popped up over the side of the dumpster, followed by his shaggy head. “Found them! Here’s the first!”

“He said,” Stiles paused dramatically as he stepped up to the side of the dump box, “Scotty he said I could pick his table! That’s the other super cool part, there were so many cool parts!”

Roxy was wiggling so hard her back feet were doing a little dance. Scott gave her a stern look and said, “Roxy, sit!” Roxy sat, although she couldn’t help the high pitched whine that escaped in excitement. Stiles reached up and took a tiny kitten from Scott’s hand, and tried to put it in the shoebox. It immediately hooked itty bitty needle claws into the cuff of his sweatshirt.

“Ow, ow, ow, then you know what? Scott?” Stiles unhooked the kitten’s claws and carefully lowered the lid, while Scott disappeared back into the dumpster. His voice floated up from the inside of the box, “you found the one with the sunshine… there’s 3 more here, hang on.”

“Yeah, I found the one with the sunshine, you know, that one on the front where you can see the street out the window?” Scott’s arm appeared again, with another kitten. Stiles juggled the box and the leash, so he could take the second kitten from Scott, going through the same awkward process, including the claws and the ‘ow ow ow’ as with the first one. Roxy was still half-sitting, barely. She looked like she couldn’t decide which was more interesting, Scott scrabbling in the dumpster, or the box of mewing held a foot above her little shaggy brown head.

Aaaanyways, yesterday at the grocery store, Stuart said...” Stiles went on.

Scott’s head popped up over the side, interrupting him, “Wait, you didn’t say anything about seeing Stuart again!” He gave Roxy another stern look until she hover-butts her way into an almost sitting position again.

“Scotty! I’m telling you right now! At the grocery store, there was a guy in the parking lot, and he hit a lady! And my dad had to go subdue the perp.” Scott stared at him with his mouth open for a few seconds.

“Hold up Stiles, I’ve gotta get these last two,” he dipped back down into the box. There was a bit more scuffling, then a soft, “gross,” then both Scott’s hands appeared over the side, a kitten in each one. Stiles set the shoebox on the ground and Roxy, too tempted, started snuffling around it eagerly. Scott said, “Leave it, Roxy,” and handed both kittens over to Stiles, before climbing back out and taking the kittens back. He held them close to his chest, so little he can almost cover each one even with his small hands.

Stiles wrinkled his nose and took a hasty step back from Scott, who had mystery substances smeared down one arm and on both knees of his jeans, plus some goo in his unruly hair. Scott shot him a look and said, “Stiles you better not puke, I swear to you know who.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “You can say ‘god’. Nobody can hear you except me.”

“Dude,” Scott answered, and wagged his mop of hair at him like that could keep Stiles from offending deities.

“So then, Stuart said if the guy had a gun… here... “ Stiles picked up the kitten box and opened the lid. Both kittens bounced up and started trying to climb out. Scott poked them back into the box using the other kittens, and they clamped the lid shut. Stiles handed the shoebox over to Scott, who cradled it carefully in his arms. “He said, if the guy had a gun, he’d have to shoot Stuart first. Before my dad.”

Scott’s head jerked up. “Whoa,” he breathed.

“I know!” Stiles bounced on the balls of his feet. Roxy took that as her cue to start leaping around both boys, and Scott stepped on her leash before she could get too excited and zoom away.

“And then you know what else he said?” Stiles continued prattling without giving Scott a chance to respond, “he said he would do anything to keep my dad safe.” He finished with a flourish of his arms that ended with both fists on his hips.

“Wow, he’s kind of like a hero!”

“I know! Like maybe if my dad is Commissioner Gordon, then maybe he’s like Batman!”

Scott squinted at him skeptically, like he could have been taking it just a little bit too far. “Okay, maybe not Batman,” Stiles hedges, “but he’s like, something, right? Like a hero? Also he gave me a Kit Kat.”

“Jealous.” Stiles elbow bumped him, because Scott’s hands were too full of box ‘o kittens for a fist bump, and they headed down the block towards his house, Roxy hopping along at Scott’s side, never taking her eyes off the mewing package.

*****

Melissa got home from her errand, sighed at both of them and said, “I leave you two on your best honor behavior for one hour and you manage to find kittens? Again, son?”

Scott and Stiles looked up at her sheepishly from where all three of them, counting Roxy, were peering into a laundry basket at the little fuzzballs stumbling around on the bath towel they’ve lined it with.

Scott is in his spider-man underwear and nothing else, because he’d been too excited about his rescue to put clothes back on after stripping the ooze covered ones from before.

Melissa shook her head at both boys, and ruffled their hair, grimaced at the dried slime she could feel in Scott’s, and said, “Okay, Scotty, put on pants, and we’ll load up and take them to Dr. Deaton, see if we can borrow those supplies again.”

It wasn't the first time, and probably wouldn’t be the last, that Scott had brought home infant or wounded animals. Fortunately, the local vet seemed to be supportive of his well-supervised efforts to help all creatures great and small, and steered him safely away from caretaking the lost causes, quietly taking any animals that are too injured to rehabilitate.

In the car, Scott was completely absorbed in keeping the kittens from rolling around too much in their laundry basket, so Stiles took advantage of his distraction to tell Melissa more about his new friend.

“Mrs. McCall, Stuart said his dad used to be a cop, just like my dad! He’s like me! And my dad said he had good instincts, so maybe he wants to be a deputy, just like I want to be a deputy. Wouldn’t that be so super cool if we were both deputies?”

She’s always grateful for seatbelts, not only for obvious safety reasons, but because Stiles was bouncing around in his seat like a ping pong ball. At least the belt held him down. Melissa glanced at him in the rearview mirror, Stiles’ excited little face gazed back at her.

“Who is Stuart?”

“Oh my god!” Stiles started, and Melissa interrupted him, “Nope, we don’t say that.”

“Oh my goodness!” Stiles corrected, barely taking a breath, “he’s my new friend! And he’s a grown up and his dad was a cop like mine, and I saw him at the grocery store. He stayed with me while my dad took down a perp! He’s so awesome, Mrs. McCall!”

Melissa raised an eyebrow at him, not sure if this Stuart is another product of Stiles’ vivid imagination, it took her three months to realize Lydia Martin was a real girl at his school, especially since the summer before, he'd spun elaborate tales about a fairy boy who hung out in his backyard in the evenings, and the year before that, he insisted he kept seeing a giant dog with glow-in-the-dark eyes trotting along the edge of the Preserve. She made a mental note to ask Noah about it this evening. She’s saved from more superlatives by virtue of having arrived at the vet’s office. Both boys raced to get out of the car, and Scott very carefully slid the basket out of the back seat middle, and carried it up to the door by himself.

Dr. Deaton greeted them as they paraded in. “Another litter of kittens, young Mr. McCall, I might have to make you my assistant.”

“Mom!” Scott looked up with her with wide eyes, and her heart clenched just a little from pride. In spite of knowing they were both in for a couple of weeks of thrice nightly bottle feedings, her son’s huge heart made hers thump a loving rhythm in her chest.

Dr. Deaton, with Scott’s assistance, looked over each of the four kittens, and declared them fit and healthy, if a little bit dehydrated. He told Scott that they were about 7 - 10 days old, and their eyes would be starting to open over the next couple of days.

“Do you remember how to do this? I’ve written out all of the instructions for you, and you remember the formula and how to hold them and clean them, right Mr. McCall?” Scott nodded at the vet solemnly, still holding one of the kittens.

Stiles was puttering around the waiting area, poking at bags and cans, picking up cat toys from the “enrichment” bin and swishing them around, talking to himself non-stop. Melissa kept half an eye and ear on him, thanking Deaton as she took the large bag of items that the veterinarian handed over the counter.

She led her little parade of kids and fluff out the door, and Scott called back, “Thank you Dr. Deaton!”

“Thank you Mr. McCall, enjoy your project, it’s good practice for that assistant job that’s waiting for you.”

Scott’s crooked smile kills her every time. Stiles was doing pirouettes out the door on the way to the car, still chattering on about the adventures with Stuart. She grabbed his arm and steered him towards the car door before he could hurt himself tripping over his own feet. Scott was already thinking up names for the kittens, when Stiles piped up, “We can name one of them Stuart!”

Melissa barely managed to hold back her laughter. Oh this kid had a bad case of hero worship if this was a real person. She couldn’t wait to ask Noah about it.

*****

“So…” Melissa raised an eyebrow at Noah, one side of her mouth quirked up in a smirk, “who’s Stuart?”

Noah clapped his palm over his face, “Here too, huh? It’s been non-stop. Stuart this and Stuart that. He’s driving me bananas, Mel, I gotta tell you.”

Melissa twirled her hand in a get-on-with-it signal, and Noah sighed. “Kid from the fire.”

Melissa eyes went wide for a second, but she schooled her expression before Noah noticed. She knew he was referring to the kid that reminded him of Claudia, even if he never finished the thought, it was pretty clear he was shook up that morning and from more than just the arson attempt. She hadn’t realized there had been follow up encounters with the boy.

“Oh, I thought maybe he was an imaginary friend, Should I be worried?” Noah pursed his lips and looked at her sideways. “Nope,” he said, popping the ‘p’, “definitely not imaginary. Don’t know if you should be worried. I think he might be Peter Hale’s boyfriend? I mean, that might be worrisome for the kid, but not likely for ours...” Noah shrugged and reached down to give Roxy some ear scratches. She head bumped him appreciatively in return.

“You looking into him?”

“Mel, you know I would never use Sheriff Department resources to satisfy my questions about Stiles’ new friend!”

She grinned at him, she knew him way too well to be deceived that he was even a fraction less curious about anything and everything than his son.

“But there may be some… anomalies that would necessitate a bit of caution.” Noah winked. Stiles dashed into the room and threw his arms around his dad’s waist.

“Dad! What’s ‘anololies’? Are you talking about Stuart?” Noah scruffed up Stiles’ buzzcut head and replied, “‘Anomalies’ it means something that’s peculiar, and I’m just talking about my job, son.”

“Okay dad, you gotta come here and see the kittens, Scotty let me name one of them Stuart! Do you think we could get the human Stuart to come over here to see them?”

Noah rolled his eyes at Melissa, and mouthed “human stuart?” and this time she couldn’t hold back, she laughed until her sides hurt and she was clutching at the kitchen counter to hold herself up. Those boys were never dull, not any of them.