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Ethan

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“Ethan is back.”

Stiles pulls his phone away from his ear to check the time, which, yep, that is five-seventeen in the morning, why the fuck is Scott up this early. Then he sticks his phone back up to his ear. “Come again?”

“Ethan passed into the territory fifteen minutes ago.”

“Fuck me.” Stiles sits up, pulling the blankets up with him because Derek is in New York meeting with his publisher for his once-annual grumpy-Derek-doesn’t-want-to-be-social meeting and so Stiles is cold. “I thought he was in Missouri or some shit. And how do you know it’s him?”

Scott sighs. “Apparently he’s still tied enough on the net for me to know when he comes in-territory. He never official became un-pack, but it’s been so long he’s not part of the main net anymore.” Scott’s never liked any of the metaphysics stuff; that’s always been Stiles’s job. “He seems to be somewhere between pack and pack-affiliated, and it’s making my skin crawl.”

Fuck. “Has he gotten in contact with you? Do you know what he wants?”

“Not yet. I have Liam and Malia out looking for him, because I don’t know where in-territory he is, just that he’s here. And with so many of you gone and the territory so quiet we haven’t been running full patrols recently.”

Right. Of course they haven’t. And he quashes down the sliver of guilt lodged in his chest, because if Scott had needed him he would have said, and also it’s fantastic that they don’t need to run full patrols anymore because that was mostly for when Beacon Hills was a fulltime warzone or they were expecting it to get back to that way soon. And the fact that it’s more or less safe is more than Stiles had dreamed of for years.

“Do you need me up there? I can get there in a couple hours.”

Scott hesitates for a moment, then says, “I’ll let you know once we figure out why he’s here. If we can’t find him by tonight, I want you up here with Lydia.”

Stiles presses down on his eye with the heel of his palm. He’s not awake enough for this shit. “Have you let her know?”

“Not yet.”

“Need me to?”

“No, I’ll do it.” Scott sucks in a breath. “Alpha responsibility and all that.” He’s silent for a moment. “If he wants back into the pack—”

“You’re the Alpha; I’ll stand behind whatever decision you make.”

“You’re my second, and this is—I can’t be objective about this.”

None of them are objective about Ethan; Aiden’s death fucked them up even though they hadn’t known him that long, and they were all kids back then. He forget how young they were when they started, because you feel grown up at fifteen, at sixteen, at seventeen, but losing Aiden—

Objectivity doesn’t even factor in in this case.

Stiles rubs his hand across his mouth and asks something he doesn’t really want to but really has to. “If he’s a threat, how many people do we have in-territory to deal with it?”

Scott lets out a short laugh. “Liam, Kira, Malia, me. Isaac is in France and Allison is in, uh, Michigan, I think.”

“So Ethan managed to stumble into the territory when it’s the most vulnerable it’s been in months. Because they haven’t both been this far from territory at the same time—”

“Since we did that presentation for your class.”

Which, Stiles thinks now, was an amazingly ballsy move on their part. If something had happened in-territory, Liam would have been the only werewolf there to defend it. And Malia and Kira would have been there, and they can take care of themselves, but he actually doesn’t know what happens if someone tries to take a territory when the alpha isn’t there.

He must have made a noise—or been silent for too long—because Scott asks, “What’s wrong?”

“Just thinking that I need to look something up.”

“Something relevant?”

“No, I just—I don’t know what would happen if someone tried to take Beacon Hills while you were out of it.”

“When am I ever out of Beacon Hills?”

“Well, when I drag you down here for presentations. I mean, I know you don’t leave, but I just…I was wondering. Don’t worry about it.”

Scott is silent for a moment before saying, “I need to call Lydia. I’ll let you know in the next couple hours whether I need you up here.”

“Got it.” Stiles closes his eyes. “Don’t be an idiot. And if you need a sin-eater—”

“I won’t make you do that.”

Stiles knows that. “That’s why I’m volunteering. Don’t try to spare me.”

“I’ll let you know. He might be here for good reasons.”

Right. “Let me know.” He hangs up, then drops his phone down next to him and curls up in on himself. Ethan is in some ways the last vestige of their youth, especially now with the HFU gone from this territory. The bad part of their youth, the terror and the nightmares and learning to sleep with a knife under their pillow.

It’s a weird thing, he’s learned, teaching yourself to be cautious. The knife was the biggest thing, and he cut himself more than once before figuring out how not to fuck it up. But there was the buddy system and the check-ins and never keeping your back to empty air and he spent six months before he killed the rogue with a couple jars of mountain ash in his pocket and another few in his backpack.

But learning how to sleep lightly means waking up with a knife at the throat of your best friend, and teaching yourself to check shadows means learning to check the light, too, and somewhere along the way he became more comfortable with hypervigilance than he ever was without it.

They did a lot of damage to themselves, damage they’re still trying to unlearn—when they can, at least, when it isn’t what’s keeping them alive.

So he’ll kill Ethan if Scott needs him to. He’ll eat that sin. And even though, if it comes to that, he’ll need Derek to talk him down, he’s really goddamn glad Derek won’t be here to see that.

--

He gets the call just as his Werewolves 101 class is coming to an end, so he announces, “Okay, class dismissed,” and picks up the phone. “What’s up?”

“We found him.”

“And?”

Scott hesitates. “He’s in bad shape. Deaton’s treating him, but we’re not sure…”

Shit. “Did he say what happened?”

“Keep in mind, he was kind of incoherent by the time we found him.”

“But?”

“He said it was a druid.”

Stiles actually feels his heart skip a beat, and he grabs on to the edge of the desk to keep from falling over. “A Darach? Is there another Darach after us?”

“He said it was just a druid.”

That doesn’t make any sense. Druids can be violent sons of bitches (and daughters of bitches), but if Ethan hadn’t done anything catastrophically anti-balance (whatever the fuck counted as that), they shouldn’t have touched him. They don’t concern themselves with such lesser things. Other than Deaton, but Deaton is…

Deaton is motivated by guilt he shouldn’t still feel, and they take advantage of that because they need him. Stiles has had his moments of guilt over it, but they need him, and he will use what he can even if it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.

“I’ll be up there in a couple hours. Don’t let him out. I need to talk to him.”

Scott makes an unhappy noise. “Don’t let him out? He’s injured. We’re not—”

“Great.”

“It’s not great.”

Stiles digs his nails into his leg. “Scott, I need to talk to him. Preferably alone.” Definitely alone. He’ll have to do this before Lydia gets there.

Scott hesitates, then says, “Don’t hurt him.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Stiles—”

“If he is bringing a Darach into our territory I need to know. We need to know. And he is no longer pack, so I will do what I have to to keep our pack safe.” He’s biting off every word, because he can feel them burning his throat. The idea of hurting Ethan is abhorrent to him, but he is attached to the tree because of a Darach, and he won’t do that again. Not after all of this shit they just got through.

He’s not allowed to have morals when there’s danger at the gates. That’s Scott’s job. Scott will keep them moral. Stiles will keep them safe.

Stiles swallows down the vitriol and forces himself to sound calm before asking, “Has the tree done anything?”

“Shouldn’t you know that?”

“It’s not our monthly meeting time. Any fireflies?”

“No.”

“Okay, let me know if they show up before I get there; I might need to stop by the tree. I’ll see you soon.”

--

Stiles gets to Beacon Hills a couple hours later; he started packing a go-bag again when the shit with the HFU started, so he had everything he needed in his car. It’s maybe a little extreme—and it means he needs to wash his clothing more frequently—but if it helps him feel more secure, he’s not going to stop doing it. The passage out of his territory is less uncomfortable than usual, which either means he’s getting used to it or the tree wants him back in Beacon Hills.

Both are uncomfortable thoughts.

He’ll probably be crashing at Scott’s place, so he heads directly to Deaton’s. Liam’s car is there too next to Scott’s, and he’s only not sure if Kira’s is because she just got a new one after being attacked by a stationary tree.

The place is closed when he gets there, but Deaton somehow keyed the door so he can open it when locked without a key—he refuses to tell him how to do it, even though he taught him and Allison and Lydia how to break druid-keyed ash. Deaton is kind of fucking weird, sometimes, but he’s also powerful as hell and on their side (more or less, most of the time) so it’s okay.

The sound of screams of pain hits him as soon as he opens the door, and yep, okay, that’s why they’re keeping people out, because it genuinely sounds like someone’s being murdered. Stiles hops over the closed counter—or clambers clumsily over it, but there’s nobody around to see so it’s hopping—and heads to the back, keeping his breathing as steady as he can so he doesn’t freak the fuck out when he sees Ethan.

Liam greets him first, a slash of dried blood across his face, pale as anything. He looks like shit.

“Scott with him?”

Liam nods. “He and Deaton are trying to get him stable.” He winces as Ethan lets out another scream.

Stiles frowns at that. “Yeah, about that. I got the impression he was bad but not this bad.”

“Yeah, started seizing about an hour ago, reopened basically all of his wounds. Keeps freaking the fuck out.” He shakes his head. “Look, I don’t know this guy. He’s before my time. But nobody’s told me why we let him back in-territory or what the hell is going on.”

Stiles really doesn’t have time to explain this to him—and honestly isn’t sure how to. But he says, “Ethan was pack—ish—with his brother. He left when Aiden died, and we—that was a bad time. He’s not quite pack anymore, but he’s also not quite not.” Liam still doesn’t look satisfied, so Stiles says, “Once we figure out what’s going on, Scott or I will sit down and explain everything to you. Probably Scott; I’m clearly no good at this kind of shit. But right now I need to go.”

Liam nods. “Malia’s keeping watch in there, and I’m out here in case he gets out or someone tries to get in.”

“We have anyone running the territory?”

“No. Kira’s at work; she has a meeting, and Scott didn’t want to pull her out of it without knowing what’s going on.”

“Okay, I’m going to talk to him about that. We’re probably going to want at least one of you running the perimeter, but hold off on that until I’ve talked to him.”

“Will do.” Liam scrapes a hand against his mouth, and Stiles reaches out and ruffles his hair, cupping his cheek. Liam has always seemed more like a kid than the rest of them, even though he’s not that much younger; it’s probably because he joined them after the Nemeton. He’s softer, and Stiles doesn’t want to see that go away.

Liam huffs out a breath, and Stiles makes himself smile at him. “We’re going to figure this out.”

And then he steels himself and walks into the room.

Malia’s standing in the corner of the room, arms crossed across her chest as she watches Scott hold down a thrashing Ethan who Deaton is attempting to stitch back up.

Scott glances at him, nods once, then goes back to what he’s doing.

Stiles props himself up in the opposite corner, watching the scene.

Aiden was always their ultimate failure, the one they couldn’t keep alive, and Ethan was—Ethan was what Stiles would have been if Scott had died, except he left, so it was all in the abstract. It was like knowing about a tragedy somewhere else—you mourned, but it was detached. They got both, and they couldn’t even explain why they were mourning, because as far as anyone in the school knew, they weren’t friends.

But Stiles can’t think about Ethan like that right now, not until he knows for certain Ethan isn’t a threat to them. And if he needs to have Malia and Liam sit on Scott to let him doing it, that’s what he’ll do.

Maybe not Liam, though, actually. Liam responds the strongest to Scott in alpha mode, and is also the only other werewolf around. Malia and Kira can resist Scott a hell of a lot better, especially with Scott as pissed as he’s going to be.

Finally, Ethan calms down enough for Scott to break away and head over to Stiles, peeling off his blood-covered gloves as he goes. It’s a bit pointless, him wearing them, considering that he has blood up to his wrists.

He drops the gloves in the bio-waste container, rubbing at his wrist absently. He looks fucking terrible. Stiles reaches out and grabs the back of his neck, dragging his head forward to press their foreheads together. Scott leans into it, close enough for Stiles to hear how shallow his breathing is.

Finally, Scott pulls away, wiping half-dry blood absently from his wrist onto the side of his forehead. Stiles glances past him at where Deaton is leaning over Ethan. “How is he?”

Scott grimaces. “Not great, but he’ll live. We had to clean out his wounds after he reopened them, because they were festering.”

Cerbera odollam,” Deaton says from behind Scott, walking over towards them. “Poisonous to humans when ingested and even more so to werewolves. It’s less effective when entered into the bloodstream through a wound, but he would have died had we not cleaned out the wounds when we did.” He looks at Scott’s face and then his wrists. “Wash up, Mr. McCall. If you ingest that, it will kill you.”

“I don’t go licking blood off myself,” Scott says, but he heads over to the sink anyway.

Stiles looks at Deaton, who’s examining him. “Why didn’t you tell us about that before?”

“Because it grows primarily in India and South Asia. The suicide tree is not seen in Northern California.”

Okay, that’s fair enough. “Liam had some blood on his face, too.”

Deaton nods and turns towards the door, looking back just long enough to say, “Don’t hurt him anywhere I can’t heal.”

That’s permission Stiles honestly wasn’t expecting. At least it’ll make things easier.

He heads over to Malia first, though. She looks at him, arms crossed across her chest like she’s trying to emulate one of those movie bodyguards. One-on-one casual touch with her can be a little hit and miss, so he stops a bit in front of her, saying, “I need you to wait outside.”

“I need to make sure he doesn’t do anything.”

Stiles resists the urge to make a face, but it’s a close thing. “I can take care of myself.”

“He’s an injured werewolf.”

Okay, the subtle approach isn’t working. “Malia, I don’t want you to watch me do this. Wait outside unless Scott countermands my orders.”

She stares at him for a minute, then nods and heads out of the room, brushing past him as she goes. Unlike with humans, the touch is comforting rather than aggressive, her seeking comfort as much as giving it. He trumps her in terms of rank, and she’s strong but emotionally she’s never been the most stable.

Once she’s gone, the door closed behind her, Stiles heads over to Ethan.

He’s half-conscious, eyelids fluttering, breath coming out in audible pants. Stiles leads over him, noting a new scar at the corner of his lips, and touches his cheek. Ethan’s eyes open; they focus on Stiles’s face, cloudy but coherent. “Are you here to kill me?” he rasps.

Stiles sighs. “God, I hope not.”

Ethan looks like he’s trying to laugh, but it doesn’t work. “What do you want, Stilinski?”

“Who did this to you?”

“I don’t know.”

Stiles lets out a slow breath. “You told Scott it was a druid.”

His eyelids flutter again, pain-clouded. “I don’t know.”

Moving slowly, Stiles runs a finger down Ethan’s side until he finds the edge of a wound; he presses down, far enough away from the center for it to not open the wound back up but close enough to hurt. Ethan sucks in a breath, mouth hanging open. His hands twitch, nails elongating. “Did you lead a druid into our territory? Did you bring a Darach here with no warning, without asking Scott, without telling us what you are getting us into?”

Ethan lets out a low whine, breaking off sharply when Stiles presses harder. “I—” He licks his lips; Stiles can see his fangs, and his eyes are glowing blue. “Was a druid. Not a Darach. Not a Darach. Don’t think he followed me. Lost him in Kansas, think. Colorado, maybe. Bit blurry.” He lets out another whine, and Stiles eases up on the pressure. A few lines of tension ease in his temples. “He—wasn’t looking for him. Not many packs in Missouri. Lots of open space. Been running mostly rogue—werewolf rogue, not human rogue. Not killing.” His lip twitches in the way it used to when he was lying, or Aiden was. But Stiles won’t push that part yet. “Heard rumors of—heard about what happened where you were. Didn’t realize it was you for a long time. Haven’t been—haven’t been following you.”

“What were you hearing rumors of?” Ethan doesn’t answer for a moment, breathing harsh, and Stiles presses again. He hates doing this, but Ethan doesn’t have much loyalty to them anymore, or at least Stiles doesn’t know how much loyalty he has.

Ethan makes a noise, pain and panic and fear. “The HFU. I heard rumors of the HFU.”

Chapter Text

Stiles has blood on his hands.

Story of his fucking life.

He heads out of the room, and he feels disconnected from everything around him, like his head is floating somewhere above the rest of his body.

He’s walking, not really sure where he’s walking, and he only stops because Scott is in front of him, in the way, large hands reaching up to cup Stiles’s face.

“Are you okay?”

Stiles blinks at him, color shuttering with black and back to color. That’s the wrong question. It takes him a second to figure out why. “You didn’t ask about what I found out.”

“No, I didn’t. Are you okay?”

He shakes his head, Scott’s hands moving with him. “Not really.”

Scott’s fingers press against his temples. “Is Ethan alive?”

Stiles nods. “Unconscious.”

“Friend or enemy?”

He tries to smile, which doesn’t really work because his face is wrong. “More lines than that.”

Scott doesn’t smile back. “Is he a threat?”

“Don’t think so.” Stiles lets himself pitch forward, forehead landing on Scott’s collarbone, and Scott’s hand cups the back of his head. “Anyone running perimeter?”

“I sent Liam and Malia out. We’ll figure out rounds. But if he’s not a threat, why are we running perimeters?”

“It wasn’t a Darach.”

Scott lets out a slow breath that Stiles feels through his chest. “Okay. That’s good, right?”

Stiles shakes his head, making himself pull away so he can look Scott in the face. There’s blood on his hands. “It was a druid. It was a druid that was working with the HFU.” He looks at his hands. “They have a druid. How come every time it’s supposed to be over it gets worse? Why is it never over?” He tries to scrape the blood off of his hands onto his pants, but it’s already half-dry, and it’s not coming off, and he has Ethan’s blood on his hands, he tortured Ethan, he tortured Ethan, Aiden is dead and it’s all his fault and he just tortured Ethan and he has Ethan’s blood on his hands.

“Whoa, okay.” Scott grabs his face again, pressing him forward so he’s against Scott’s chest again, strong fingers pinning him there. “Take a breath and keep breathing. I forgive you for what you did for the good of the pack. It’s not on your shoulders, it’s on mine.”

Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis,” Stiles mumbles, then sucks in a sharp breath because Scott told him to breathe. “I’m your sin-eater. I own my guilt.”

“We can share.”

Stiles stands there for a minute, using the pressure to ground himself. He lets out a breath. “‘What if this cursed hand were thicker than itself with brother's blood. Is there not rain enough in the sweet heaves to wash it white as snow?’”

Scott lets out a low laugh. “I know you can’t be that bad if you’re quoting Shakespeare. Though I’m a little concerned about your choice of subject matter.”

“Hamlet.”

“Yeah. I want Deaton to check you out after you wash the blood off of your hands. And then I’m going to have you call Derek.”

Stiles flinches away from him, ducking out from underneath Scott’s hands. His heart rate kicks up in his chest. “No. I can’t—I can’t talk to him right now.”

Scott looks way too fucking frustratingly calm. “You can’t avoid him. I won’t let you.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Stiles throws up their hands, and they’re covered in Ethan’s fucking blood. “Because I just tortured someone for information? Someone who’s ostensibly more or less pack. I’ll talk to him. I just can’t—” Stiles twists away, heading towards the bathroom so he can start scrubbing the maybe-poisonous blood off of his hands.

A few minutes into Stiles scrubbing, the door to the bathroom swings open and Deaton walks in. He looks as calm as always, and Stiles ignores him to pump some more soap and go back to scraping out the last flecks of half-dried blood out from under his fingernails.

“You did very little damage to him.”

Stiles restrains himself from flinching, though the tightening of his shoulders probably gives him away. “I know how to make it hurt.”

“Did you receive the information you needed?”

Stiles licks his lips, scratching at what may or may not be blood under his thumbnail. “Do you have some sort of directory of druids? Like do you know all of the druids in the country, or have a list or something?”

Deaton is silent for a moment. “You believe the claim that he was attacked by a druid.”

Stiles shoves his hands back under the water. “The first attack on our campus, they used druid-keyed mountain ash to ward the burning of a wolfsbane-laced effigy. Without a druid—without someone who can key it—it is nearly impossible to get access to it. I assumed they found some on the black market, but I had more important issues, so I forgot about it. Ethan says that he tracked down a druid based on rumors that they were working with the HFU, and the attack and…other things seem to corroborate those rumors.” He looks at his hands, the faint scar from the burn from the bullet and his own memory of where he cut himself overlaying on top of each other for a second as his vision blurs.

Deaton makes an odd noise from behind him. “Lydia Martin.”

Stiles glances back at him, startled. “Excuse me?”

“You corrected yourself from saying a druid to saying somebody who can key druid-keyed mountain ash. You never received the training and showed little interest in independently researching the higher level magic, particularly after the events with the Darach and the Nemeton. So I assume Lydia Martin has figured out how to key mountain ash.”

Stiles spends a second considering how mysterious to play it then finally makes a face and says. “I never asked.”

Deaton nods. “Of course. Did he present a likelihood of the druid coming to the territory?”

“He thinks he lost him in Kansas or Colorado, but—Beacon Hills means something to the HFU, more than almost any other location in the world. If the druid is after him and if he knows who Ethan is, he might come here.” Stiles picks at a spot on his wrist. “Is there anything you can do to protect the territory from druids? Because mountain ash clearly doesn’t work.”

Deaton’s eyes narrow at him in the mirror. “Can you still pass across mountain ash?”

Stiles meets his eye in their reflections. “Your counter was closed.” Deaton’s eyebrow goes up, but he doesn’t say anything. “Yes, I can. I haven’t tried breaking druid-keyed as since, but—yes.”

Deaton nods. “I can ward the perimeter of the territory. I will ask your help and Lydia Martin’s in doing so.”

“Fine. You’re going to want to keep her out of the room with Ethan or she’s never going to want to leave him.”

Deaton nods again and walks out of the room, the door swinging shut behind him. It’s astonishing how quiet he can make that goddamn door, given that it usually squeaks. Fucking Deaton.

Stiles stares down at his hands, pruned and distorted from the water, then turns the sink off and walks out of the room.

--

They end up in Scott’s house with Deaton keeping an eye on Ethan and promising to call when he’s ready to ward the territory—he has to gather supplies or something—and Liam and Malia running the perimeter. He really fucking wishes Allison and Isaac were around because even though she’s human the two of them were pack first and he trusts them to run perimeters better than almost anyone else. Other than Scott, but Stiles also has the instinct to keep Scott the hell away from the perimeter until they have this figured out.

Lydia’ll be up in the next couple hours and Kira has some family emergency—her mom’s being weirder than usual—so for the moment it’s just Stiles and Scott.

Scott’s flopped down on the length of the couch, Stiles sitting on the floor with his head against Scott’s thigh. He needs the comfort, now more than ever.

Finally, Scott says, “I never planned to put you in that position again.”

Stiles lets out a slow breath, mostly to restrain himself from saying his initial thought, which is shut the fuck up. “Here’s how it works. You’re a good person. No question, full stop, shut up Scott I’m talking. You’re fundamentally good. If your eyes weren’t red, they’d be gold. I’m…grey. I put enough holes in a rogue werewolf to kill him. That’s hard. I didn’t talk about it—I won’t talk about it—but that’s really goddamn hard. And I’d do it again to keep you safe, or Lydia, or anyone else in this pack. I’m your second-in-command, your left hand. I have two jobs. The first is to keep the pack and the territory safe. The second is to take the blows you can’t. You shouldn’t have to put yourself in that position. Ethan reads as pack to you, or close enough. I’m human. I’m pack, but the things in my head are different from the things in your head. I can hurt him without hurting me, if necessary.”

“It shouldn’t be necessary.”

“But it is.”

Scott makes a hurt noise. “Did you ever think we would be here?”

“I didn’t think we would make it to eighteen, after the attack. But still fighting the HFU now, going back to running perimeters—no, I didn’t think we would still be doing this. I figured dead or with the truce holding, none of this half-hearted will-they won’t-they bullshit.” Stiles lets out a slow breath. “If he’s coming after us, I want someone on you. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stay in-territory the whole time, especially after all the shit that went down earlier, because I keep missing so much work. So get Allison back here or keep Malia on your six until we have this settled.”

“Stiles—”

Stiles turns to look at him. “If you’re dead, we’ve lost. If you’re dead, everything’s gone, and I don’t care anymore. I don’t think you understand how it works. You are this pack. You are what makes us functional. You are what keeps us human.”

Scott rolls his eyes. “I think that’s overstating things a little.”

Stiles shoves the collar of his shirt aside to show Scott the scar of the bite mark, in all its ridges. “I have a sentient tree in my head. You’re a good person, Scott. You make the rest of us better.” He sighs, then stands so he can turn and sit on the table across from Scott. “So. Let’s talk plan.”

Scott sits up, scrubbing a hand across his face. “I’ll call Allison and Isaac, see if they can get back here. It’s unlikely Isaac, at least, can get here within 24 hours, maybe 48. He’s in the middle of a show, and I don’t want to pull him away from that. Not sure when Allison will be able to get back.” He drags his hand through his hair. “We don’t know that the druid is coming. We don’t know that we’re not safe.”

“We don’t know that we are.” Stiles smooths his collar back down.

“You’re not going to argue we should go after Ethan’s attacker?”

“I considered it, if only just so we’d know he was gone. But that would require more of us leaving territory on a wild goose chase, and I’m not comfortable with that.”

Scott nods. “The other problem, then.”

“Ethan.”

“Ethan.” Stretching his arm out across the back of the couch, Scott sighs. He looks—he looks alpha, but tired. The weight of the crown is heavy sometimes. “He came here. Could argue that treating him constitutes counting him as part of pack.”

“Yeah, well, we would do that for Mason or my dad or your mom, and they’re pack affiliated.”

“So you don’t want him in the pack.”

It’s almost a statement, but there’s a question mark somewhere in his voice. He means it seriously. So Stiles takes it seriously, leaning back and thinking about it for a minute. Finally, Stiles says, “We’re stable now. More or less. You’re with Allison and Isaac, Derek is pack-affiliated, and we’re—we’re fine in a way we haven’t really been in a long time. Ethan—Lydia has gone through enough. Ethan will be a constant reminder of Aiden’s death to her.”

“To her?”

“All right, to all of us.” Stiles could barely look him in the face. “They’re fucking twins. I—what the fuck are we supposed to do with Ethan in the middle of our pack?”

“You’ve mentioned wanting to expand, before.”

“Not like that. Not with him. He—I don’t think I could keep coming back here if he was here permanently.”

“Okay, then.” Scott nods like that settles everything. “So once this is resolved, he’s gone.”

“Just like that?”

He nods. “I pick you over everyone else. Maybe not Allison or Isaac, but you wouldn’t make me choose, so it doesn’t matter. You say you couldn’t deal with it, that’s it. I know it took you a long time to learn this, but pack wins every time, and you win every time.”

“I thought hierarchy in pack didn’t actually denote personal importance. You have no favorite children, right?”

Scott makes a face. “None of you are my children. I’m not—ew. And yeah, no technically that’s not how it works, but—you’re my brother. Isaac and Allison might be the loves of my life and this pack may be my life, but you and my mom, you’re family.” He stands, pulling a phone out of his pocket and throwing it at Stiles; Stiles catches it, bobbling it a little before he manages to catch it. “Now call your goddamn boyfriend.”

“I—” Scott walks out of the room. “Have a phone. Okay. Never mind.” He puts Scott’s phone down next to him, then pulls his out of his pocket and dials Derek’s number.

It takes Derek a few rings to pick up, but that’s normal, normal, it’s fine, Stiles is fine, there is no blood on his hands, and then he picks up and the knot in Stiles’s stomach relaxes. “Stiles?”

“Hey.” Stiles swallows. “So, uh—I’m fine, first of all.” Derek makes an anxious noise. “Actually fine, so don’t worry.”

“But?”

“But I’m in Beacon Hills right now, and there’s some pack stuff going on. I can tell you about it, but I’d rather you not tell Laura unless she specifically asks. Is that okay?”

“I won’t tell her unless she asks.”

“And she and Peter aren’t listening now?”

Derek lets out a short laugh. “No, I’m alone. Unless you count my editor glaring at me through a glass wall while she argues with her boss and the publicist.”

“Okay.” Stiles sticks the pad of his thumb in his mouth, starts chewing. “So a while ago—back in high school, right about in the middle of things getting bad, these two guys showed up, alphas turned omegas from some sort of alpha pack. They said things had gotten bad, so they left. We weren’t sure about them, but—but then the shit with the tree happened, and they helped because the whole world was falling apart around us. I—it’s really hard to explain how bad it got, how much damage—there was something a thousand years old in my head. But that’s not—one of them died. Not by my hand, precisely, but…close enough. Aiden. Lydia’s—whatever he was. Ethan was the other one, was his twin, and he left after it was all over. Five o’clock this morning, he stumbled back in-territory, half-dead, saying a druid working with the HFU did it.”

Derek sucks in a complicated breath. “A druid working with the HFU?”

“Yeah.” Stiles thumbs his lip. “I had to hurt him to get him to talk.”

“Fuck.”

“I—not like I hurt Kate Argent.” Which, right, Derek hadn’t actually seen, and Stiles hadn’t been coherent enough to describe. “I didn’t injure him. I hurt him. But it’s—when you get back, things are a little fucked up in my head right now.”

Derek, bless him, doesn’t need to ask and doesn’t press on the morality of the issue. Sometimes they’re not good people, and Stiles is okay with that. “You going to need more than usual or less?”

“Probably depends on what’s going on when you get here.”

“I’ll come back as soon as I can.”

“No—Derek, stay there. Finish up what you’re doing there. We don’t know what’s going on here anyway, and if the HFU is coming after us I don’t want you in Beacon Hills.”

Derek lets out a low whine. “I’m pack-affiliated. I can help. I should help.”

Stiles grabs the back of his neck, squeezing as hard as he can so he has somewhere to put all of his anger and frustration. Finally, when he thinks he won’t sound too…anything, he says, “I don’t know how your pack works—and this isn’t an attack against Laura, please don’t take it that way—but we don’t make our pack-affiliated do things that would break them. I—you would keep me sane, but I—”

Scott stamps into the room, plucks Stiles’s phone from his hand, and puts it up to his own ear, ignoring Stiles’s protests. “Derek? It’s Scott. Do you think you would be able to handle facing someone working for the HFU, if it came to it?” He’s silent for a moment, presumably listening, and Stiles curses his lack of werewolf-hearing. “I’d really like you to tell me the truth. Because if I find out you’re lying to me—okay. You’re welcome in-territory whenever you want, as always, though I’d appreciate you letting me know before you pass in-territory so we can adjust our perimeters around your entrance. See you soon.”

He ends the call, handing the phone back to Stiles.

“You had no right to do that.”

Scott turns red eyes on Stiles, who feels his back straighten and shoulders drop down at the sight. “This is my pack, and he is my pack-affiliated.”

“Then why did you make me call him to begin with?”

“Because I didn’t think you’d be an idiot about it.”

“I don’t want him here.”

Scott grabs his chin, tilting it up so Stiles is forced to look him in the eye. The red glow looks like it intensifies the longer Stiles maintains eye contact. “I do. Do you intend to fight me on this?”

For one brief, insane second Stiles considers it, burnt sugar and velvet rising up in throat, and then he forces it down, dropping his eyes and baring his throat. “No. I won’t fight you on it.” He’s shaking a little, muscles trembling under skin.

“Good.” Scott holds his chin for another moment before letting go. “Good.”

Chapter Text

By the time Lydia shows up, Kira has freed up Malia from the perimeter and Malia is now shadowing Scott, much to his dismay. And one part of Stiles can’t blame him, because Malia is…a lot. But on the other hand, she’s the least likely to hesitate if someone attacks—other than Allison, but she’s not available at the moment—and can also take a hell of a lot of damage. It’s the only case where her being kind of crazy works to their advantage.

Lydia parks at Deaton’s, and Stiles greets her inside with a hug that lasts for almost a minute, more because he won’t let go than because she won’t.

Finally, she demands, “Let me see him.”

Stiles makes a face. “He’s pretty beat up.”

“All the more reason.”

“There is work I require you for before that,” Deaton says from the door to his office, and goddamn it he’s too quiet and Stiles is too tense, especially from the strain of disagreeing with a decision Scott made, even if it’s not one he’s going to protest. “Ms. Martin, am I to understand that you have figured out how to key mountain ash?”

Lydia turns to face him, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. Stiles sets a hand at the small of her back, just as a reminder. “Figured out is possibly a misnomer. I am able to use mountain ash in ways equivalent to druid-keyed mountain ash. Whether or not my process and end result are magically identical to druid-keyed mountain ash is unclear at this point in time.”

She must be really stressed, even more so than the tension in her back suggests, for her to fall into that level of formality. But Deaton just nods. “For this purpose, the specifics of the magical formulating are less important than the functionality, though I would like to discuss that with you later.”

“And, uh, what is this purpose, exactly?” Stiles asks.

“We will key the boundary of the territory to ourselves. We will, in essence, be binding the wards to our own selves.”

“So if we die, the wards fall?”

Lydia’s the one who says, “Only if we all die before there is time to either spread out this binding or replace someone. Is that correct?” Deaton inclines his head. “There must be other ways for the wards to fall.”

“Enough force may be able to punch a hole in the boundary, but it is unlikely that a single druid working alone would be able to do that, at least not without sacrifices.”

Oh, that’s reassuring. “Okay, two questions.”

Deaton’s eyebrows go up. “Only two, Mr. Stilinski?”

“For now. First, Lydia and I don’t live here and we can’t just stay in-territory until this all blows over. So how are we supposed to hold wards for a territory where we don’t live? And two, I can’t key mountain ash.”

“That’s not a question.”

“The question is implied.”

Deaton looks amused, damn him. “To answer your first question, as long as at least one of us remains in the territory, it will hold, though a sustained assault may require all three to counter. And to your second, you will be able to do this.”

Not fucking helpful, Deaton. But before he can press him on it, Lydia asks, “Will any attacker—or any druid who comes upon the wards—be able to tell who’s holding them?”

Deaton inclines his head. “To some degree of accuracy.”

“I’m a mathematician. Give me the degree.”

“A skilled druid would be able to track the bindings to your location but would not be able to pick you out of a crowd as the one holding the binding. Any other questions?”

--

Deaton sends them out to three points at the perimeter of the territory—Stiles is in the forest, because of-fucking-course he is—and Liam heads to Stiles’s location while Kira heads to Lydia’s. Apparently Deaton doesn’t need protection, and honestly, none of them are going to argue that assertion.

Stiles has the closest location, because the territory is weird shaped, so he has to just fiddle with his phone until notifications that the other two have arrived at their points. They’re supposed to synchronize what they’re doing because magic or something.

After Lydia’s check-in but before Deaton’s, Stiles hears a whistle and then sees Liam face appear in the gloom of the forest, bobbing towards him. When he’s close enough, Stiles calls, “Oh, Liam, my eternal savior. How good of you to come rescue me.”

Liam snorts. “Fuck off. You—” He appears in view, then goes sheet white, freezing. “You didn’t mention the tree was here.”

“What?” Stiles looks around, then turns to see—the tree two feet behind him, and how the hell did he not notice that before? “Fuck.”

“What are we doing to do?”

“You’re going to call Scott and tell him the tree might be in play. I’m…” Stiles chews on his lip. “I’m going to call Deaton and see—” His phone buzzes with Deaton’s check-in, which means that they’re supposed to start immediately. Which means he wouldn’t have time to call both of them before at least one starts, and he doesn’t really know what would happen if one of them tried to take the entire thing. “Fuck. Okay. Never mind.” He pulls out the paper Deaton gave him, crouching down to start drawing the concentric symbols in the dirt. There are about a dozen, and he has to be careful to keep them far enough apart that the lines don’t run into each other and that he doesn’t brush away part of one of them while drawing another. He’s not really sure what that would do, but he has a feeling it would be bad.

Finally that’s done and he pulls out a knife because he needs to get blood on the middle one. Because that doesn’t seem like a satanic ritual at all. Thumb is one of the easier places, if one has to slice themselves up, so Stiles slices his thumb against the blade then turns the cut over the symbol.

He doesn’t see the first drop fall.

--

need to get him to help. Plea

not taking him away from you. I just need

Please

--

stiles wakes up kicking, the taste of burnt sugar and icy rage crawling up his throat, and hands pin him to the bed as he thrashes, teeth pressed to his collarbone. Alpha. He has an alpha.

His head is gold, crystals fractured in a cellophane skull, sap leeched into the empty corners, and he can see the net before blind eyes, the net which he stands atop, and he owns the alpha, the alpha belongs to him because he is old enough to have seen cities rise and fall, civilizations crumble under the weight of heavier crowns and lighter ones, and he is the crown and the land and the divinity to grant the right of kings.

But there is softness, too, lips pressed against his, and he does not have softness, does not know softness, and Stiles surfaces with the image of orange and red and floral heels, and they are beside each other in the net, intertwined, two points of light against an endless sky, and he is no higher than her, no higher than the alpha who is pinning his legs and saying words, low quick frantic words, Stiles, Stiles can you hear me, Stiles come back to us, come back to us please Stiles, I need you Stiles, we need you Stiles, Stiles please, Stiles please.

Stiles reaches out, through the crystals and the sap, towards that voice, towards the alpha, and stiles contracts around him, jealously holding on, and Stiles turns in his head, offers a hand, reminds him that he already belongs to him, that this changes nothing, that this was their deal.

Sullenly, slowly, stiles retreats, though not far, not all the way.

Stiles surfaces.

His eyelids are heavy to pry open, but he manages to get them open and blink once, twice. Two faces solidify in front of him. “Scott. Lydia.”

Scott collapses on the bed next to him, letting out a breathless, “Thank fuck.”

Stiles keeps blinking up at the ceiling because he’s not sure his screaming muscles will let him move more than that. “What happened?”

“You tried to take the entire ward,” Lydia tells him, “or the tree did through you. And then the tree tried to take you.”

“Did the bastard know?”

“Deaton?” Lydia shakes her head. “I don’t think so, though he didn’t sound surprised. I think even he doesn’t know exactly how your connection to the tree works.”

Scott rolls over to flop on top of Stiles, who lets out a soft oof. “I don’t care how the tree works. You smelled wrong.”

“Like the way I smelled when I was the—” His throat closes around the word. “Before?”

Scott shakes his head, rubbing his nose against Stiles’s throat. “No, like decay and…” He shudders. “The pack smell was wrong.”

“The pack smell?”

“Everyone in the pack smells like pack.”

“So I smelled like a different pack?”

“No.” Scott picks his head up, sounding frustrated. “You know if you make chocolate chip cookies, they still smell like chocolate chip cookies even if they’re burnt, but you can still smell that they’re burnt?”

“So I smelled like pack, but burnt.”

Scott scowls at him. “Yes.” He flops back down on top of Stiles. “Liam saved you. Apparently he talked the tree into letting him take you. Got hit with backlash pretty hard.”

“Why aren’t you with him?”

Lydia snorts next to him. “Because your convulsing trumped his nosebleeds. He’s fine.” She brushes a sweat-soaked piece of hair out of Stiles’s face. “How are you feeling?”

Stiles makes a face. “Mostly like I just pulled everything.” The tree stirs in Stiles’s head, and he pushes down on it, gently because he doesn’t have the energy to be anything else. “Did the warding set properly?”

“Yeah. According to Deaton, at least.”

After a moment, Scott sighs. “I don’t want to leave you, but—”

“Go check on Liam. And tell him thanks.”

Scott nods, then flops off the bed and pads across the room towards the door. Stiles starts to sit up, but Lydia drops down on top of him, arms wrapped around his chest to keep him from moving. Stiles starts to struggle, but she doesn’t move, so he stops. “What are you, a cat?”

“I’m your friend.” She touches his cheek. “What happened?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific than that.”

Lydia gives him one of those looks that she’s so good at, like she’s amused but also willing to injure him. Or someone else, he supposes; he knows she would never hurt him. “You know what I’m talking about.”

Yeah, he does. “It’s like you said—the tree tried to take me.”

“We said that because it was swarming you and didn’t want Liam to take you. But it doesn’t explain your convulsing.”

Stiles lets out a breath. He doesn’t really want to think about it, because the more he thinks about it the dirtier he feels, and he spends enough of his life feeling like he’s swimming in mud to want any more of it. “You were more right than you think. The tree—I really don’t want to talk about the tree.”

“Tough.”

“Don’t—tell anyone else. Don’t talk about this. With anyone else.”

“Have you talked about it with Scott?”

He drops his head back on the pillow, closing his eyes. Everything feels so tense it’s like his whole body might snap if he moves wrong, and he knows she can feel it, because she’s tense, too, no matter that she’s pretending to be relaxed. “It’s…complicated.”

“So no.”

Stiles drops his arm over his face to cover his eyes. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“I’ll tell Scott if he asks me. You’re second, so your gag order trumps everyone else’s.”

Okay, he can live with that. “Do you remember when you heard my voice—when everyone heard my voice—in your head? Telling the HFU to get out of my—out of the tree’s territory?”

“Yes.” She sounds wary now, and he can’t blame her; he knows that scared the hell out of her.

“That was—well, it was me, but it was also the tree. The tree—the tree looks like me. When I see it.”

“The tree stump?”

No. No. It’s—when I’m touching it, what I see, or when it manifests. Like when I—” He never told them about the conversations with the tree, not really, and he’s not about to start now. “And sometimes it’s…well, the tree is inside me.”

“I know.”

“I mean it’s…it’s like another part of me, like the tree lives at the top of my spine, at the bottom of my brain, and most of the time it’s just sitting there, and it’s like wearing a necklace or a shirt where you don’t spend your entire like feeling it there, but then something happens and you can feel it. And sometimes the tree comes up, sometimes it makes up more of me. Sometimes it’s in control.”

Lydia stiffens. “What do you mean?”

“How did you think I tortured Kate Argent?”

“You’re entitled to your own secrets, and I wasn’t going to break you by making you tell me.”

“How did you think?”

She’s silent for a moment, and he can feel her breath, warm, against his chest. “I assumed you smuggled something past the guards and blocked the view of the camera. You are just stupid enough to bring a weapon into the same room as Kate Argent.”

Stiles laughs. “Not quite that stupid, apparently. No, the tree—the tree connects to telluric currents, and the territory—that territory—is a bastion of them. There aren’t any major nodes, but they’re everywhere. So I called on the tree, and the tree called on the currents, and I—”

“How do we know? That it’s you. Because if we can’t tell, then I need to tell Scott.”

A slow exhale later, Stiles can answer that. “The tree doesn’t want to be in charge, not all the time. It thinks I’m…fun, or something. And it’s hard, I think. This isn’t the body it’s supposed to be inhabiting. If I’m being violent—really violent, not me violent—then be careful.” He reaches down, pokes at stiles, and after a second he gets the impression of impatience, amusement, and something like rolling its eyes. “It tried to take me because I had an opening, because I basically threw the doors open and stuck a flat screen TV in the doorway. But—it’s not human. If you have to, ask Scott what I—it—was like in the hospital. And remember, it’s older than the nogitsune. It’s just a stump now, but it’s—it’s not human, Lydia, no matter what my body looks like. If I’m the tree, you’ll know.”

“Okay.” She taps on his collarbone with two long nails. “Can the tree hear this, right now? Our conversation?”

“No.” He doesn’t have the impression that it’s listening, though it can.

“Can you ask it to, then? Safely? I have something to say to it.”

Stiles doesn’t really want to, but they’ve come to an accord of sorts at the moment, and Stiles has won. It’s his body and the tree knows that. So he pokes at the tree again, gives it that part of the conversation, and he feels it rise in his consciousness a bit like an itch in that dip where his skull meets the top of his spine, but on the inside. “It’s listening.”

She sits up on him, straddling his ribs, and he opens his eyes to see her staring down at him. She looks cold, like porcelain and ice and a set of perfect curves and lines. “Good.” She splays one hand across his collarbone. “If you try to take his body again, I will ash everything you are into that small little space around the stump that you are now inhabiting and then I will set you on fire and watch you burn. And I will enjoy it. He is ours. And you may think that I can’t do that, but when properly motivated, I can do anything.” And then she smiles, pats his cheek once, and rolls off of him.

Stiles takes a second to lay there and breathe, as the amusement from the tree fights with the adrenaline running through his body. Finally, he manages, “That probably wasn’t a very good idea.”

“And yet,” she says, and pads to the doorway. “Come downstairs. I want to reassure Liam that he wasn’t too late.”

Stiles levers himself vaguely upright. “Before you go, I just want to say.”

One perfect eyebrow goes up. “Yes?”

“He’s not going to be pack. Ethan. No matter what happens, he’s not going to be pack.”

Emotions shift across her face, too fast for him to track, and he does her the courtesy of not trying. She has masks on masks, and he can’t blame her, but he also trusts her enough not to look when they slip. Finally, she says, “Okay,” turns, and walks away.

After a moment (and more struggle than he would be willing to admit), Stiles gets himself out of bed and hobbles out of the room and down the stairs to where Liam, Lydia, and Scott are cuddled on the couch. Malia is presumably out doing Malia things.

Liam sits up straighter when Stiles gets to the room, and Stiles spots dried blood edging his nostrils. “You’re okay. You’re okay?”

“I’m okay.” Stiles tries to give him a thumbs up, but his body isn’t super happy with his arm moving like that, so he settles for a nod. “How ‘bout you? Heard the backlash was pretty bad.”

Liam shrugs. “Nosebleed, mostly. The tree doesn’t mind me that much, I don’t think, not like Allison, so it was okay.”

That’s true. The tree has a bizarrely strong dislike for Allison, one that they’ve never quite figured out, but why doesn’t matter as much as knowing she should avoid it when possible. “Speaking of our favorite archer, have you called her back to the territory yet?”

Scott shakes his head. “I checked her itinerary, and it looks like she should be back in a few days. So until we know what’s going on, there’s not really any point in bring her back here.”

Fair enough, though Stiles doesn’t like it. If their territory is under threat, he wants everyone inside the gates, reading to defend them. But they all have lives, too, and they should have lives, because if the HFU makes them too scared to go outside, they’ve won. So he just nods. “Okay. Okay.” Then, with a short breath, Stiles pushes off from the stares and makes his way over to the couch, where he collapses onto it next to Scott, whose arm goes around him. “Ow. Note to self: convulsing hurts.”

Scott snorts. “Yeah, I’ll be sure to remind you of them next time you decide to do it.”

“You do that.” Stiles leans against him, and Scott’s arm tightens a little. And Stiles breathes.

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up to a hand stroking through his hair and Derek’s voice murmuring, “If you try to keep me away in some misguided attempt to keep me safe again, I’m going to tie you down and remind you that I can take care of myself.”

Stiles considers rolling over to look at Derek, but his whole body feels heavy, not quite aching but not particularly up for moving without particularly strong motivation. So instead he just mumbles into the pillow, “You could do that anyway.”

Derek laughs softly, curling hair around his fingers and tugging a little. “We should talk.”

“No.”

“Yes, Stiles.”

Nooo,” he whines, squishing his face a little harder into the pillow. “I just want to lay here with you, because yesterday I woke up at five and then had a tree-induced seizure, and I think my fingernails hurt.” Derek’s thumb brushes against the nape of Stiles’s neck. “Didn’t I fall asleep on the couch?”

“I figured you wouldn’t mind.”

“Are we still at Scott’s place?”

“Yeah.” Derek’s fingers trace Stiles’s ear. “Are you okay?”

Stiles finally turns his head so he can see Derek, or at least the side of Derek’s arm. “Funny enough, the tree-seizure seems to have trumped me having tortured a former packmate for information in regards to the whole traumatic incident thing.”

“Didn’t answer the question.”

Stiles sighs, closing his eyes. “Yeah, I’m fine. I mean, not really, but I’m—I’m functional. So I’m fine for right now. I’ll crash later. When I can.”

“Okay.” Derek shifts, and then he’s rolling Stiles over so Stiles can blink at him and the ceiling in a sort of soft detached surprised. “How quiet can you be?”

“Have you ever known me to be quiet?”

“With suitable motivation,” Derek says, and then provides him with suitable motivation.

Not that Stiles keeps particularly quiet.

Once they get out of the shower, Stiles absently fingering what will definitely be a hickey on his collarbone, Derek says, “I need to know what’s going on.”

Stiles sighs, grabbing Derek’s sweatshirt and pulling it on over his boxers. “You’re going to have to be more specific than that.”

“Who’s coming after you? Who is a threat to you right now?”

“Let’s go meet up with everyone else—this isn’t something I want to try to explain on my own.”

“First,” Derek says, and puts a hand on the back of Stiles’s neck. It only takes a second for all of the tension to drain out of him, his shoulders dropping. He closes his eyes. “You were in bad shape yesterday. I want you to tell me what the backlash is going to be.”

“Derek—”

Derek’s voice hardens a little. “I expect you to answer that, Stiles. I need to be able to help you, and to do that I need to know what’s going on.”

Right. Stiles takes in a breath and lets it out. “Ethan was pack. He was pack for a while, sort of in the middle of things being bad. He and his brother. Aiden.” Stiles presses the heels of his palm to his eyes. He hates this. He hates all of this. “Aiden is dead, and it’s my fault. And then Ethan left, and we thought we’d never see him again, but now he’s back, and he could have been a threat and we needed information so I made him hurt because I’m good at that and because Allison wasn’t around and because I do what Scott can’t because his hands should stay clean and mine are already dirty and that’s fine, it’s fine, it’s my choice, but it just fucks me up sometimes, and I haven’t had to do it in a long time, not counting—not counting Kate Argent—and I rarely had to do it back then because that’s, you know, frowned upon, and I literally had his blood on my hands, and do you know what that feels like?”

“Yes.”

Stiles squeezes his eyes further shut. “No, no you don’t, because you didn’t kill your family, you didn’t, you don’t have their blood on your hands, but the nogitsune wore my face when it killed him, and I can’t—”

He jerks away, opening his eyes so he can walk out of the room and down the stairs and to the little candle sitting in the corner that they light every day for Aiden because Stiles isn’t allowed to forget, he isn’t allowed to forget what he did, he isn’t allowed to forget what he wrought.

Lydia’s fingers touch the back of his neck, lightly, nails brushing against his skin. “I’ve wondered for a long time if we should get rid of this candle.”

Stiles jerks. “Why?”

“I adore you, but the easiest way to stop self-immolation is to take away the match.”

“What does that—”

“We all have our sins, Stiles. All of us. Scott isn’t innocent any more than the rest of us. And what you have done, you have done for us, in our name. What happened to Aiden wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes, it was.”

“No, Stiles, it wasn’t.” She traces something on the back of his neck, and after a second he realizes what it is. 己. Himself. “Scott wants all of us. We’re meeting.”

“All of us?”

“Everyone who’s in-territory.”

Stiles takes a moment, breathes, and then follows Lydia to where Scott is. Scott is on his phone, scrolling through what looks like Isaac’s Instagram. He looks up when Stiles and Lydia walk in. “Hey, you look  better.” He glances at Stiles’s legs. “Though I would recommend pants.”

That confirms something Stiles had been afraid of; Scott would never suggest pants if it was just going to be pack. “When Lydia said ‘all of us’, what did she mean by that?”

“She meant everyone.”

“Including pack-affiliated?”

“Yes.”

“Including the adults?”

Scott nods. “Yes.”

“Including your favorite archer’s least nutso relative?” Lydia makes a noise that says that she gets it, but Scott clearly doesn’t because he just nods. “Remember who else is now pack-affiliated, and upstairs right now?”

Scott freezes. “Shit.”

“Yeah, shit.”

Scott sighs. “I’ll talk to him, seeing if he wants me to brief him separately. Derek, I mean—I have no interest in being alone with Chris given the choice.” He sighs again. “I’ll go talk to him now, before everyone shows up. Your dad’ll be here too, so I suggest you either eat enough that you look more or less human or you figure out how to explain why you’re falling apart.”

“You planning on telling him?”

Scott’s lips press tight. “He’s not pack; I’m not going to tell him our sins. But he’s your dad, so you can tell him what you need to. I want you to tell him—I want you to get help. I want you to be okay, Stiles.”

“I’ll talk to him. After.”

“Okay.” Scott glances up. “I’ll go talk to Derek. Put some pants on.”

--

Derek ends up at the meeting.

They sit by order of hierarchy, but Derek—more or less—draws his hierarchy from Stiles for stuff like this, so he’s next to Stiles, which is good because Stiles doesn’t want him farther away than that. Allison and Isaac are both gone, so Lydia’s across from Stiles and Kira is next to her. Malia’s next to Derek, with Liam across from him. Mason is next to Liam and Stiles’s dad is across from him, with Scott’s mom next to him and Chris Argent across from her. As far away from Derek as they can get him.

Deaton’s not there because Deaton is complicated, and not technically pack or pack-affiliated. He’s their emissary. So Scott will talk to him later.

Stiles would go too, but he…doesn’t want to. Particularly. Because he doesn’t want to be where Ethan is.

And Parrish isn’t there because he’s only sort of pack-affiliated, and he’s on some training thing for the War on Drugs or whatever, and frankly Stiles is damn happy for that, because he doesn’t want Lydia to have to deal with Parrish while also dealing with Ethan.

Derek has one hand on Stiles’s leg, pressing hard enough Stiles will probably bruise. He doesn’t tell him. He doesn’t care.

Chris Argent isn’t looking at him, instead staring blankly at Scott’s seat without seeming to take in anything else.

Scott walks into the room, eyes on his phone, then sits down and says, “Hi, thanks for coming. This’ll be as quick as we can make it. At five yesterday morning, Ethan crossed back in-territory, heavily injured. We stabilized him, and he should make a full recovery. Stiles talked to him about what happened.”

Stiles nods. “He’s been living in Missouri for the past while. Mostly avoided getting involved, until he started hearing rumors of a druid being involved with the HFU. When he started looking into it, he put himself in danger, got himself injured, so he ran. Got to Beacon Hills before he crashed. We’re pretty sure the druid he was hearing about is the same druid who sold druid-keyed ash to the HFU, the stuff that was used on the NCU campus a few months ago.” Derek’s grip tightens. Stiles restrains a flinch. “While it’s not guaranteed, there is reason to believe that the druid could have tracked or could be tracking him here. While Ethan has been out of the pack for a while, anyone associated with the HFU could theoretically associate him with us. And the druid, if they got something of his, hair, blood, if they’re good enough, they could track him to us.”

Chris Argent looks at him at that. “Could Dr. Deaton do that?”

Lydia laughs. “I could do that,” she says. “It doesn’t take a lot of power, just some precision and a bit of determination.” She looks at Stiles. “You could do that too, if you wanted to learn.”

“I don’t.”

“You should. All that in your head, you’d be damn good druid trained.”

“I am druid trained.”

She rolls her eyes. “No, you’re not. Deaton taught us a couple things, but that’s not the same as being druid trained.”

“How did you learn all this, then?”

“We can discuss this later.” Scott taps on the table. “For now, let’s focus on the main problem. A druid working for the HFU may be coming for the territory. A ward is currently being held to protect the territory, but it may not hold, and either way, the territory may be under attack. Assuming no immediate attack, Stiles and Lydia will be going back to work. Allison and Isaac will be back soon, but currently, with so many people out-of-territory or soon to be, I need you to be vigilant, too.”

Liam makes a noise. “Do you think there’s going to be an attack?”

Scott frowns. “We don’t know right now. We’ll retrain you on how we run the perimeter. Mason too, if you want.”

“I know how to run the perimeter.”

“We’ll retrain you anyway.” Scott looks at Stiles. “I want you and Lydia talking to Deaton, finding out everything you can about these wards and about druids. I want to know who’s coming after us.”

“How about we make a deal—I’ll talk to the tree if Lydia talks to Deaton.”

“You’ll talk to the tree and both of you will talk to Deaton.” Scott looks at Derek. “I know you won’t be staying in-territory any longer than Stiles will, and I won’t expect you to. If you’re up for it, I want you to act as protection for Stiles. In times of attack we traditionally operate on a buddy system, so unless you have any problems or alternative plans, I’ll assume that you’re acting as his buddy. Does that work for you?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Do you need to consult your alpha about it?”

Derek shakes his head. “Laura knows what to expect.” His hand relaxes on Stiles’s knee, smooths down over it. “It’s unlikely that I’ll be able to shadow him during his classes.”

“Stiles and Lydia can be buddies while on campus.”

Lydia’s nail taps out a short rhythm on the table. “Bad idea, probably. We hold two out of the three ward nodes. Putting both of us as our only check for each other is a risky move, considering that if they took us both out you may not know for too long.”

“Shit.” Scott glances at his mom. “Shoot. Okay. We’ll figure that out later; that won’t take all of us.” He looks down at the other end of the table. “Obviously for the four of you it’s harder to use the buddy system, but generally try to check in.” He taps on the table. “We can work out the system later; that doesn’t need a full meeting to deal with. What else?”

“If the druid is working for the HFU,” Derek says, and they all look at him, “what’s the likelihood we’re going to bring the entire HFU down on us?”

“Unlikely,” Argent answers. “Beacon Hills is locus non grata, so to speak, according to HFU-main. Someone from a local jurisdiction might come here, but there won’t be any en masse attack on the territory. Legally and logistically, Beacon Hills is a nightmare.”

Derek nods, and his hand relaxes a little on Stiles’s leg, which in turn makes Stiles relax.

Scott looks at them for a second, then says, “Okay, that’s the main thing. Until Isaac and Allison come back, I’ll buddy with Malia and Kira will buddy with Liam. Mason, it’s probably easiest if you buddy with them, too. You don’t need to check in as much, and we’ll work out all of the specifics, but that’s basically how it’ll work. Any other questions?” When there’s no response, he nods, pushing up from the table. “Okay, great. Thanks for coming, everyone.” He glances at Stiles, who, yeah, gets the picture.

Stiles touches Derek’s arm. “You okay for a few minutes?” Derek nods. Everyone is getting up and heading out, so Stiles stands and hurries over to his dad. “Hey. Can we, uh, talk?”

His dad’s eyebrows go up, and yes, okay, maybe Stiles hasn’t always been super interested in talking about stuff—important stuff—with his dad, because he wants to keep his dad safe and because his dad doesn’t need to know all the terrible things he’s done. But Scott’s right—he really needs to talk to his dad, because he needs to talk to someone who’s in the periphery of his mess, but the middle of it, who knows what’s going on but isn’t directly involved.

“Of course, son.” They head into the kitchen, and his dad takes a seat at the table while Stiles leans against a counter and fidgets with his shirt. Scott knows what’s going on, so he’ll direct people away. “What’s up?”

“I just—” Stiles rubs the back of his hand across his eyebrow. “So you know Ethan’s back.”

“You told us that.”

“Right. Right, I told you that. So that’s not—I’m not—things are messy in my head right now. There’s a lot of—”

“Stiles.”

Stiles shoves his face in his hands. “I hurt him. To make him talk. Not—not permanently. Not—I’m really sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Son—”

“I’m sorry.” Stiles feels wetness against his hands and realizes that he’s crying, his shoulders shaking. “I’m sorry. I know I’m supposed to better than that. I know you’re better than that, you raised me to be better than that, and I’m sorry.”

Hands close over his shoulders, and Stiles flinches away, then falls into his dad’s arms. His dad lets him sob and apologize, hand stroking up and down his back.

Finally, once Stiles manages to stop getting apologies tumbling off his lips, his dad says, “I’m not happy that you did that.” Stiles flinches a little. “But I’m not going to yell at you for it.” His dad pushes him back just enough to look at him, and Stiles rubs his eyes and stares at the collar of his shirt so he doesn’t need to look him in the face. “I understand what’s going on here. I know what you’re doing this for. And I’m not happy about it, but the main thing I’m not happy about is the fact that you have to do this. This shouldn’t be on you.”

“It’s my job.”

“Yes, but Stiles, it shouldn’t be.” His dad pushes his some of his hair back. “I know you don’t think of yourself as young, but you are, and you were so young when you started this. I don’t think you understood what that felt like, what that looked like, seeing my sixteen-year-old son forced into doing that. I don’t like the idea of you hurting people, because yes, I believe in the law. But I also don’t want this on your shoulders.”

Stiles wipes his face off. “So you don’t hate me?”

“Oh, son. I don’t hate you. The thing I hate is what this is doing to you. And as much as I reserved judgment on your boyfriend, especially considering some of the things you said to me when you first came back after that attack, he’s been good for you. He makes you take care of yourself.”

Stiles lets out a wet little laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, he does.” He wipes at his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to keep apologizing. Just…try to keep this to a minimum. The whole…hurting people thing.”

“I’ll work on that.” Stiles turns and turns on the sink, wetting his hands and wiping off his face. “Shit. I hate crying.”

His dad pats his shoulder. “Get some sleep. You look like hell.”

“Thanks.”

It takes Stiles a bit to actually get himself out of the kitchen, mostly because everything still kind of feels like seizures and death, and he feels fucking old, older than he honestly thought he would ever reach.

The room where they had met is mostly empty, though Derek is still there, and Chris Argent, the two of them pointedly not looking at each other.

Stiles walks over and drops down in Derek’s lap, aggressively ignoring the awkwardness by patting Derek on the side of the neck and announcing, “Hello, sugarplum.”

He thinks Argent snorts from his seat where he’s playing with his phone.

Derek rolls his eyes. “How are you?”

“Stupendous.” Stiles looks over at Argent. “Why are you still here?”

Argent glances up at him. “I want to talk to you.”

“Oh?”

“I want to know if you’re planning on killing my sister.”

“Oh.” Stiles shifts so he’s facing Argent straight on. “Why?”

Argent’s lips tighten. “I know I’m not privy to everything going on down where you are, but I have eyes on the prison, and I heard about your visit. His eyes land on Derek for a second. “Your solo visit.”

Of course. Fucking Argents with their fucking spy networks, even if they can sometimes be useful. “Unless she plans on fucking around with my campus or trying to take control of the HFU again, she’s free to rot in jail for the rest of her life.”

Argent stares at him for a moment, then says, “I’d appreciate a heads-up, should circumstances change. Given the recent leak and the attention it’s put on Allison and me, a chance to brace ourselves would help.”

Stiles nods. “If things change, I’ll try to make sure Allison knows, and knows to pass it on to you.”

“Thanks.” Argent stands, nodding. “Hale.” Derek’s grip tightens on Stiles, but he doesn’t say anything. Argent nods again, turns, and walks out.

Once he’s gone, Derek twists to wrap his whole body around Stiles. Stiles pats his arm. “Are you okay?”

Derek growls a little, deep in his chest. “I’m fine.”

“I’m sorry that I left you alone with him.”

“You needed to talk to your dad.” Derek growls again. “I need to get out of here. It smells like Argent.”

“You want me with you?”

“Of course.” Derek stands, taking Stiles with him, and he doesn’t flail because he’s gotten more used to this, and that sends a bolt of terror through him, because if he loses him, he doesn’t know what he’ll do, and he never should have gotten this reliant on anybody, he knew that this was a bad idea. But then Derek says, “I always want you with me,” and Stiles can’t find it in him to regret his decision.

Chapter Text

Derek is in full-on herding mode by the time they get to the hotel, one arm wrapped around Stiles’s chest like a bar as he walks almost on his heels. Frankly the support isn’t particularly unwanted, given that Stiles is still a bit wobbly, though he’s not a huge fan of the way it makes him look like a high-class rent boy who never learned how to dress himself.

The third time the elevator stops at a floor and opens to reveal people who want to get in only for Derek to growl at them until the door closes with them still outside, Stiles turns a little to poke him in the side. “Nobody’s going to hurt me, Derek. I’m fine.”

“I don’t want them near you.”

“I’m not going to abscond with the nearest caffeine-addicted sleep-deprived businessman in an ill-fitting suit.”

Derek leans over to nip at the top of his ear. “You sound like you’ve put a lot of thought into this.”

Stiles laughs. “I adore you. You know that, right? You’re ridiculous, and I adore you.” Derek makes a noise from low in his chest, something close to what Stiles would call a purr if he was, you know, a cat. A werecat. Is that a thing? Stiles wants that to be a thing. “Are werecats a thing?”

“You’re mine.”

Stiles pats Derek’s arm. “Yes, yes, I am, but are werecats a thing? I want to know that now.”

Derek groans. “Shouldn’t you know this? Isn’t this your job?”

“I don’t actually know everything about supernatural stuff.” The elevator stops at their floor, and Derek herds him out and down the hallway. “I mean, I mostly know about werecoyotes because, you know, Malia. There’s actually a huge lack of academic literature on non-wolf weres, so it’s hard to actually track that kind of stuff. And I say that as someone who has read basically every piece of academic about this that exists. At all.” Derek reaches around him to unlock the door to the room. “It’s like trying to find academic research about, like, non-binary genders or something. And a lot of the shit is really inaccurate or half-assed, and are you seriously trying to undress me without me noticing?”

“I don’t care if you notice,” Derek says, finishing unbuttoning Stiles’s shirt so he can slide it off his shoulders. “I can stop if you want.” He leans down and presses his lips to the base of his neck. “Your collarbones are ridiculous.”

Stiles tips his head back to give Derek better access, mouth falling open. “You don’t need to stop. This might be more comfortable on the bed, though.”

Derek’s hand slides across the front of Stiles’s jeans. “You mean you don’t want me to take you right here on the floor?”

Stiles’s hips jerk into Derek’s hand, and Derek laughs. “I wouldn’t be, uh, opposed to that. I would rarely be opposed to having sex with you anywhere. Except in front of my dad. That would be weird.”

Derek laughs against his shoulder. “I love you.” He splays his hand across Stiles’s chest. “You okay with me in charge right now?”

His voice is a little tight, so Stiles turns a little to try to look at him. “Everything okay?”

“I’m fine. I just—want to be in charge. For right now.”

Stiles has no problem with that, so he nods. “Okay. Yeah. Green.”

Derek takes in a deep breath, his chest expanding against Stiles’s back, then lets it out against Stiles’s neck. Stiles can feel him relax. “Go lay down on the bed. Face down.”

“You want me to take anything else off?”

Derek pushes a little bit on his back. “If I had wanted you to take anything else off, I would have told you to. Go.”

“Okay, okay.” Stiles heads over and flops down on the bed, wriggling to get his whole body on the bed. He turns his face to the side so he can see Derek. “It’s going to be hard to fuck like this. Unless you want me to just rub off on the bed or something. Which I’m cool with.”

Derek laughs from where he’s rifling through his bag. “I’m going to give you a massage.”

That’s…not what Stiles was expecting him to say. “What happened to taking me on the floor?”

“You smell too much like pain. It’s bothering me.” He apparently finds what he’s looking for, because he stops looking through his bag. “I want you to relax.”

Stiles huffs out a breath. “If I relax, I’ll fall asleep.” Even now, he can feel exhaustion weighing down on him, fighting with the tension in his muscles.

“That’s okay with me.” Derek walks over to the bed, trailing a hand up Stiles’s back. “Stop talking unless you need something. I want you to relax.”

“Talking is relaxing.”

“Shush.” Derek opens the cap of something, pouring oil on the small of Stiles’s back. It’s cold but warms quickly as Derek starts sliding it across his skin. He digs his thumbs into the knots at the base of Stiles’s neck, and Stiles’s head flops down with a groan. “You’ve smelled like panic since I got there, and you were asleep. I want you to relax.” He drags his thumbs down the side of Stiles’s spine. “You’re safe here. No matter what else happens, no matter what else is out there, I will keep you safe.”

“You don’t know that,” Stiles mumbles into the pillow, and Derek’s hands pause.

“Is there a reason you won’t stay quiet tonight?”

“Not—” Stiles yawns. “Not good at quiet. There are too many things. There are all the things. The tree and the druid and Ethan, there’s Ethan—”

“Okay, okay, shh.” Derek’s hands start moving again. “What can you talk about without thinking about?”

“Call of Duty.”

“Then tell me about it.”

Stiles turns his head to try to look at Derek. “You know about Call of Duty.”

Derek’s hand move back to his shoulders. “Tell me about it anyway.”

Stiles finds that silly, but he starts explaining Call of Duty to Derek, face smushed far enough into the pillow that he’s not actually sure Derek can understand anything he’s saying.

He’s asleep before he gets to the Modern Warfare arc.

--

Stiles wakes up to Derek’s breath huffing against the back of his neck, his legs sweating in his jeans. Derek is splayed across his back, one arm having wormed its way around to under Stiles’s stomach where his hand is splayed.

Stiles takes a moment to appreciate the calm, before Derek’s breath catches and his hand slides down a little towards the front of Stiles’s jeans. “I love you,” Derek mumbles against his back, hand stopping just against Stiles’s crotch. He squirms a little, trying to get some friction, but Derek is too heavy, and he can’t move. “I love you. Sometimes I want to drag you away from this hellhole of a town, but I love you.”

“I can’t leave,” Stiles says.

“I know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know.” Derek hums against his skin, sounding warm and sleepy. Stiles wonders how much sleep he got the past couple of days, for him to be openly this tired. For all he’s opened up to Stiles, it’s not something he tends to show all that much. He’s seen Stiles bone-dead tired, but he’s rarely shown the same thing to Stiles.

And it’s not that that bothers him, because he knows as well as anyone that people have their thing, and he’s not going to take it personally. So every time Derek shows this, it just shows how much faith he has in Stiles.

Either that, or Stiles is thinking way too hard about it.

It’s been known to happen.

“I should probably go do things. The things. That I need to do.”

Derek mock-growls against the back of his neck, muttering, “It can wait.”

“Derek—”

“I hate New York.” Derek sniffs at Stiles’s hair. “Next time I’m sending you there instead. You know my books as well as I do.”

Fuck, Stiles had forgotten Derek had been with his editor in New York, because he’s a fuckup and also was busy torturing his almost-packmate. But he doesn’t want to say that, so instead he says, “I would if you would show me your manuscript.”

“It’s terrible.”

“It’s not terrible.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I would if you would show it to me.”

Derek groans, rolling over and taking Stiles with him so Stiles is on his back on top of him, which, no, that’s weird, so Stiles maneuvers himself around so he can actually look at Derek. Who has his eyes closed and is making a disgruntled face. “My editor wants me to go out and talk to people. Tell everyone who I am.”

“Haven’t they wanted you to do that for forever?”

“She’s getting pushier. Why does anyone care who writes it, anyway?”

“Because you’re awesome.”

Derek opens his eyes just wide enough to roll them at Stiles. “I write books. I haven’t cured cancer.”

Stiles pokes him in the chest. “But they’re awesome books. Just ask your boyfriend. He has good taste.”

One side of his lips twitches up into what could almost be called a smile. “How do you know he has good taste?”

“Well, he picked you, didn’t he?”

“I’d argue that just shows he has low standards.”

“Well then it’s a good thing nobody asked you.” Stiles snuggles down on his chest. “One of these days, when the world isn’t on the verge of ending, we’re going to work on your self-esteem.”

Derek shrugs one shoulder. “I know who I am.”

“You’re my gorgeous, amazing boyfriend who writes books that I was obsessed with before I ever met you.” Derek makes a face, and Stiles laughs. “See, now you know how it feels. I need to compliment you more. Anyway, as for what your editor wants—if you don’t want to, nobody’s going to make you tell the whole world. As far as I’m concerned, that’s your business. Yes, before I wanted to know who you were, who D. Hale was, but—I mean, this seems to stress you out. And it’s your choice, one way or another.”

“Do you want me to?”

“I want you to do what’ll make you happy. And if that’s telling your editor to go fuck off then go for it.” Tracing a line down Derek’s side, Stiles adds, “On the other hand, if that’s going out to the world and telling them that you’re D. Hale, I’d be happy to stand next to you while you do it. Or not. Whatever you want.”

“Okay.” Derek strokes Stiles’s back. “Okay.”

--

They finally get up a while later, showering quickly and then heading back to Beacon Hills. Beacon Hills proper, that is, because it’s all technically Scott’s territory. They go to Scott’s place, mostly because Stiles really doesn’t want to be at Deaton’s at the moment, and grumpy-looking Scott is there with a grumpy-looking Malia.

Stiles shoots him a sheepish smile. “Sorry about running out like that.”

Scott shakes his head, the grumpiness fading a little from his expression. “No, no, that was fine. I get it. If I’d needed you to stay, I would have told you so.” He looks at Derek. “You okay? I know the setup wasn’t ideal.”

Derek nods. “I’m fine.”

Stiles has a feeling that mostly depends on one’s definition of ‘fine’, but he’s not going to say anything. It’s not his place.

“Good.” Scott turns his attention back to Stiles. “I need you to go talk to Deaton, find out exactly what’s going on. Derek, you can go with him or not, your choice.”

“I’ll go.”

“Okay.” Scott reaches out and grabs Stiles’s chin, holding it so Stiles has to look him in the eye. “If you can’t deal—not if you don’t want to, but if you can’t—walk out. I’m serious, Stiles. I want you to do this, because you and Lydia will hear different things, and I don’t want something to be missed because you’re not there. But you will not tear yourself apart over this. This is not worth you. Do you understand?”

Stiles nods.

“Out loud. I need to hear that you’re not lying.”

“Yes, I understand.” He does. He’s not always good at implementing it, not fantastic at knowing his breaking point until he collides with it, but he does understand. “I don’t want to self-destruct, Scott. That’s not what I’m aiming for.”

“I know it’s not.” Scott moves his hand to the back of Stiles’s neck, pressing their foreheads together. “We have too many people out of territory, and you’re—you’re important.” He pulls in a snuffling breath that Stiles can hear. “I can feel Ethan in-territory,” he whispers, and Stiles can hear how much it bothers him. “I can feel him and he feels wrong and I hate it.”

“He doesn’t have to stay.”

“He won’t.” Scott sighs, leaning back a little. “But I’m not going to kick him out while he’s injured or while he’s still in danger.”

Stiles really doesn’t like that. “He might always be in danger. This may not be over any time soon.”

Scott lets go to shove his hair back out of his face. “We’ll see once he’s healed, or at least healed enough. If there’s a druid at the border, we’re not kicking him out.” He grimaces. “I don’t like that you’re holding this ward, and I don’t like that you and Lydia will be holding two of the three wards out of territory where I can’t protect you if necessary. Especially now, I’m not going to be able to leave the territory, and I don’t know who I’ll be able to spare. You’re going to be essentially on your own out there.” He looks increasingly stressed. “I have half a mind not to let you go back.”

“It’s my job. It’s both of our jobs.”

“I know that.” Scott doesn’t sound happy about it. “I know it, but I’m not going to be okay with any of this until Allison and Isaac are home and I can figure shit out.” He rubs his eyes, and Stiles wonders when he last slept. “Fuck. Go talk to Deaton.”

“Get some sleep.”

Scott scowls at him. “I’m fine.”

“As your second-in-command I’m telling you to get some sleep. As your friend, I’m telling you if you don’t go to sleep I’m going to tell Deaton to drug you.”

Scott rubs his face again. “Fine. Asshole. Wake me up before you go to the tree.”

“Yeah, okay.” Stiles reaches out and ruffles Scott’s hair. “Rest, my fluffy-haired alpha. We’ll still be here when you wake up.”

--

“The problem,” Stiles says once they’re in the car, “is that Scott thinks everything is his responsibility. Don’t make that face at me, it’s different.”

“How?”

“It’s just—it’s different. Ethan—nothing that happened to Ethan was Scott’s fault. And he was pack, but…everyone else who’s pack—pack proper, not pack affiliated—is from Beacon Hills. And they’re not, Ethan’s not, and I know that shouldn’t matter but it does. They were always on the outside.”

“That’s not how pack should work.”

Stiles leans his head back on the headrest, closing his eyes. “I know that. Look, I know we fucked up. But you have to understand—if you’re going to understand the pack, you have to understand this—Scott was turned at sixteen. We became a pack at sixteen, a pack that was always under siege from outsiders. But even ignoring the siege, ignoring that we had very good reasons to distrust every and all outsiders, we were teenagers. For better or for worse, there were no older members of our pack. We were literally all sixteen, seventeen. And teenagers are scared little shits who should never have that much power or that much responsibility. And we made some mistakes and we did a hell of a lot better than we could have because none of us killed each other, but we were ruled by hormones and teenage angst and blind panicked stumbling. So maybe that’s not how packs are supposed to work, but we didn’t know any better and that, at least, isn’t our fault.”

Derek makes a noise. “How did you not know better?”

“When did you start learning your family history?”

“What do you mean?”

“Family history. Werewolf history. Pack history. When did you start learning about it?”

He opens his eyes to see Derek looking at him, a pained look on his face. And Stiles wants to comfort him, but he needs Derek to get this. “When I was little. Mom—mom would tell us about it as bedtime stories.”

“Right.” Stiles touches his wrist to give him some physical comfort, even though he’s not going to drop this. “So by the time you were—” When he was sixteen, almost his whole family was killed. Stiles isn’t going to push that hard. “By the time you were a teenager, you knew how pack worked inside and out. Between the stories and just living in a pack, you had a really firm grasp of how pack functioned, intrinsically.”

“Yeah.”

“We didn’t have any of that. I learned from the internet. Your family was the pack in the town, so by the time this all happened, we had no pack to even look at to know how it was supposed to function, much less how internal politics and that all pack members are essentially equal in terms of identification of being pack. That’s part of the reason I got into what I got into, was to learn how pack was supposed to work, initially, and then at some point I decided the problem is that there are no resources for anyone who isn’t already in a multi-generation pack. Because what are you supposed to do when you’re turned at sixteen in a town with no pack by an alpha who should never have turned him in the first place? There’s nothing. Nobody knows anything. Because everyone has this expectation that once you’re a werewolf you just know, but you don’t, because you’re exactly the same person you were before you were a werewolf, except now you just have all of this extra shit. It’s like when you have weird weirdass symptoms of something and the only thing online is WebMD and it’s telling you you have cancer but not what kind or how to find a doctor or what to do, it just says, yep, you have cancer, do the cancer thing, you’re welcome. And some of it was instinctive. But a lot of it’s not.” He closes his eyes again. “We were children, Derek. We were children.”

Chapter Text

Lydia is in with Ethan when Stiles gets to Deaton’s, so Stiles drops down on the floor next to the door and waits. He’s not going in there, and he’s not bringing Derek in there, because Derek will be able to smell him, and he can’t--

Derek stands next to him, hand resting in Stiles’s hair, not saying anything. He hasn’t said anything since their conversation in the car. Stiles doesn’t know if he’s thinking about it or he’s pissed at Stiles, and he cares, but only distantly, somewhere between the layer of abject flailing panic and the thin veneer of calm he is clutching to himself like a woman with a nightgown in a Victorian romance novel who’s being confronted by the man she’ll fuck three chapters later against a wall in a library in someone else’s manor.

Okay, maybe that calm is slipping a bit.

The door opens, and Lydia walks out looking pale and drawn; she clearly doesn’t notice them, because she closes her eyes and drags her hand through her hair, messing it up beyond what she would ever intentionally do in front of them.

“Hey.”

Lydia stiffens, then drops her hands to her side. “Motherfucker.” She turns and looks at them, and Stiles can see her visibly struggle to pull herself together. “He still looks like Aiden,” she says, then smooths down her hair, tossing it over one shoulder. Her voice almost doesn’t shake.

“Yeah.” Stiles tries to sound normal through the sudden lump in his throat. “You okay?”

“I will be.” She looks at Derek. “I’m going to give you a hug,” she tells him, “unless you don’t want me to.”

Derek shrugs. “It’s fine.”

Lydia nods, then walks over until she collides with him, and he takes his hand off of Stiles’s head to wrap both arms around her. She’s not in heels, so she’s even shorter compared to him. Despite her words, she doesn’t actually hug back, just presses against Derek’s chest.

“I thought I was over Aiden’s death,” she says finally. “I hate him, Stiles. I hate him. I want to kill everything.”

Stiles lets out a breath. “What would Scott do?”

“Fuck Scott.” She twists in Derek’s arms to look at Stiles, her eyes a little wild. “Fuck Scott, and fuck all of this shit. Point me at the person who did this, and I will destroy them. I don’t care the cost to me. We have been through too many wars to live under another siege. So I won’t do this. I won’t. Fuck Scott.”

Stiles doesn’t have a good response to that, so he just closes his eyes. “As his second-in-command, it’s my responsibility to remind you he’s in charge.”

“I know that. I know better than Scott how precisely pack hierarchy and pack rules work. I know how far I can stretch them. I know what he’s forbidden us from doing and what he’s forbidden me from doing, namely going out and hunting our enemies before they can hunt us. We’re a moral pack, no matter how much it hurts us.”

“That’s why he’s our alpha.” Stiles reminds her. “He’s the moral compass the rest of us need.”

“Alas,” Lydia sighs, then pulls away from Derek. “Are you here for anything in particular, or can I go call Allison and yell at her about her boyfriend’s irritating need to be a good person?”

“We have orders to talk to Deaton.”

She sighs again. “Right.” She sighs again, fidgeting with her hair. “One of these days we’re going to have a nice long conversation about the training you should have gotten.”

“I don’t want any training.”

“And the fact that Scott has let you get away with that excuse is bullshit.”

Deaton,” Stiles reminds her, heaving himself upright. Derek stabilizes him with a hand.

As if summoned, Deaton appears at the end of the hallway. “Mr. Stilinski, Ms. Martin, I was expecting you. Shall we?”

They end up in his office, Derek standing silently by the door while the rest of them sit. Deaton doesn’t even seem to notice him, though that doesn’t mean much. He notices everything. Fucking druids.

“What can I do for you?” Deaton asks.

Stiles glances at Lydia, who says, “We need to know how precisely this ward works and who’s going to be coming after us.”

Deaton looks at Stiles, who shrugs. “Basically that.”

With a nod, Deaton pulls a map out of his desk and unfolds it. He’s one of those people who somehow magically never has things on his desk. Stiles has never been one of those people. He will never be one of those people. He will die drowning in his own paperwork.

The map is of Beacon Hills plus about ten miles in all directions, with the territory traced out in a thick line. Deaton pulls a sharpie out of his pencil cup and makes three marks on that line. “These are the three ward points that we set. The specific type of ward we set is a territory boundary ward; it requires, among other thing, all three of us to have a metaphysical connection to the pack that holds this territory. Three random people couldn’t set this ward, because it is essentially closing the ward in to the pack.”

“You’re not part of the pack,” Stiles says.

“As emissary, I have enough of a metaphysical tie that it works, one that can be stretched by the use of additional blood.”

“More importantly,” Lydia says, “why did we never do this before? We’ve been under siege before, and frankly this isn’t the most threatened the pack has been.”

Deaton taps the capped sharpie on the map. “Two reasons. The first is that this is the first time we have had clear warning before they are in-territory. The HFU is somewhat of an exception, but this type of ward won’t keep out humans, only those with a connection to magic. The second is that it requires at least three humans with a certain level of magical power. We didn’t have three before now.”

Stiles opens his mouth, can’t figure out how to make words come out, and then closes it again. But Deaton is looking at him, so he finally manages to ask, “How do we have three now?”

Lydia gives him a look, but he is not up for processing this shit without it being spelled out to him like he’s a fucking child, so he just looks back at her. She sighs. “I went through enough training at MIT that my blood tastes of magic. That’s how I could key the mountain ash. And you have more magic in you than the either of us.”

“I’m a druid-accredited ashbreaker, but that’s it.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Lydia reaches over to tap his chest. “You had magic in you before that tree ever touched you. There’s a spark inside of you. There’s a reason the tree picked you. And now you have the Nemeton, magic older than any of us can comprehend, inside of you. It isn’t you, but I can feel it in your blood. But like I said before you—you should have been trained years ago. Not just as an ashbreaker, but as more. And Scott has been remiss in not making you do it.”

Stiles scrubs his hand across his face. “Why are you doing this now? Why do you care now if I’m trained?”

“Because I looked in to your eyes when you were seizing, and when I was talking to the tree through you. I had been ignoring how much power was in you, because I was being selfish, but I—” She stands, pulling him out of the chair, and drags him out of room. She doesn’t stop until they’re all the way down the hallway. Voice low, she continues, “I may not have made this clear enough before, so I will say it again. I will not lose you. I will break laws—I will break Scott’s orders—to keep you safe. Because you think Scott keeps this pack together, but I know that you do.  And I know that you don’t want more power, but this isn’t just about power. It’s about control. Most importantly, you should be able to draw dividing lines between yourself and the tree.”

“If I have the power, I won’t be able to stop myself from using it.”

“You already have the power, Stiles. You just don’t know how to control it yet.” She must see the panic on his face, because she shakes her head. “We don’t need to do this right now. We need to do it, but I’m going to talk to Scott first, and you’re clearly not ready for it.”

“I just want to sleep, Lydia. I’m so tired.” He presses the heels of his palms against his closed eyes. “I want to lecture students and grade stupid papers and listen to them debate whether werewolf porn is a good thing. I want my life back. Don’t you want your life back?”

Lydia reaches up to thread her hand through his hair. “This has always been our life.”

“We were out, and yesterday I tortured someone who used to be part of our pack. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.”

She glances behind him. “Do you want me to get Derek?”

Stiles shakes his head. “I need to go not be here. I need to not be anywhere.” He’s overstimulated, everything a little too bright, a little too loud, his skin crawling under his clothes, and he knows being tied or held down would be basically the worst thing for him right now. “Can you tell him sorry, and tell Scott I’ll deal with the tree later?” I just can’t right now.”

“Yeah, of course. Take care of yourself.”

“I’m going to go run.”

“I’ll let them know.”

Stiles thinks he might thank her, but he’s not actually sure.

--

He runs for an hour. Maybe an hour. Certainly less than three. He’s drenched in sweat by the time he finishes, his heart going a million miles an hour in his ears and his throat and across his temples, and for the first time since he got that phone call from Scott his mind is blank.

He didn’t run through the forest, because he has no interest in running into the tree, and so his knees are throbbing from spending that long running on pavement. But there’s nothing in him except his heart and the pain and the sweat dripping down his back.

For the first time in a long time, Stiles can’t feel the tree.

He ends up at Scott’s, where he showers and steals someone’s (Isaac’s, maybe) sweatshirt and boxers and then collapses on the couch. He’s too tall to stretch out on it, and that feels too vulnerable anyway, so he pulls his knees up and curls up and just sort of lays there. He feels like a teenager again, the scared part of being a teenager, the part of being a teenager that isn’t supposed to be part of being a teenager, and he’s mourned the loss of that childhood he should have had, but he feels that loss acutely right now.

The tree prickles in the back of his neck, and he clasps his hands over it and briefly considers crying. He’s just. He’s not.

He can’t.

Now he wants to be tied down, which would be more helpful if he one, knew where Derek was and two, wasn’t at Scott’s place.

Scott’s knees appear in front of his face, and then Scott says, “You look like shit.”

“Thanks.”

Scott crouches down in front of him, brushing a piece of hair back out of Stiles’s face. “Lydia said you had to leave.”

“Yeah.” Stiles relaxes his grip from the back of his neck. “Anxiety attack. I went running.”

“Did it help?”

“Enough. How long did I run for?”

Scott’s eyebrows go up. “It’s been two and a half hours since Lydia called me.”

Stiles nods. “Okay.” That’s about what he thought. “Do you need me to go talk to the tree now?”

Crossing his legs underneath him, Scott sits down next to the couch. “Jesus, I don’t want you to. You can’t see your face, but you look…terrible.” He says the last word like he wanted to say something else and changed his mind at the last minute. “But yeah, I’d rather this happen sooner rather than later.”

Of course he would. “Remind me what you need to know from the tree.”

“The tree showed up when you were setting the ward, and then it tried to take the whole thing. We need to know why, and what it plans to do. We also need to know what it can do to defend the territory, if anything.”

Stiles groans. “I don’t want to talk to the tree.”

“I know.” Scott sighs. “I can try talking to it. I don’t know if it’ll go for it, but—”

“No, no.” He lurches upright, running a hand through his hair. “No, I’ll do it. Do you know where Derek is?”

“Lydia suggested he stay at Deaton’s. You want him with you?”

Stiles shakes his head about as vigorously as he can manage without his head falling off his neck. Fuck now, he doesn’t want Derek with him at the tree. “I’m probably going to need him after.” That’s a lie. “I’m definitely going to need him after. I’m disintegrating, Scott, I really am. We’ve had too much in too little time, and I honestly don’t know how much more I can take. Because I had trained myself out of a lot of the habits we had, because they’re bad habits to have in real life, but I don’t have them back yet. And I don’t want them back. But I feel like my hands never stop shaking anymore, and—and I need to be able to function in daily life. I have people relying on me. Kids. I can’t just fall apart.”

And he has so much work to do, so much he’s behind on, papers to grade and emails to read and shit to finish, and it’s not like high school where everyone knew things were falling apart, even if they didn’t know who was dealing with it. Everyone suffered there.

“I know.” Scott bites his lip, clearly thinking about it. “Do this and then go back to NCU. Deal with whatever you need to deal with on your life. Get yourself together. I’ll call you here if I need you, but what I need more is for you to take a breath and get everything screwed on straight.”

“I don’t like the idea of leaving you here alone.”

Scott stands. “Allison and Isaac will be back soon. I won’t be alone. And this isn’t just about right now. We fight the way we fight with the assumption we’ll have to live with ourselves after it.”

Stiles sighs. “Yeah, I know.”

“I’m going with you to the tree so I can carry you back if there’s backlash. Liam offered, but I don’t know what it’ll do to him to have that twice in as many days.”

“But you’re fine with me doing that?”

Scott scowls at him. “No, I’m damn well not. But I know the tree won’t kill you, and that’s about as much assurance as any of us have. Let’s go.”

--

The tree is ten feet from the entrance of the forest, which damn near gives Stiles a heart attack, and he really doesn’t like that it wants to be found, but on the other hand it’s better than it trying to avoid him. He thinks.

And okay, wow, his rationalizations sound bullshit even to him.

He waves Scott back a bit, then approaches the tree. It would be most comfortable to sit cross-legged on the ground in front of it, but the last time he tried that he had a flashback to those damn dreams and hyperventilated for over an hour. In the state he’s in, it would go even worse. So he kneels down, ignoring the discomfort in his knees, and touches the top of his tree.

He comes out of it with blood trailing down his lips but no other pain, and he’s still basically upright, so that’s a win for him. Though when he pries himself upright his legs buckle underneath him, and he almost falls.

Scott peers at him from behind a tree. “How did it go?”

“I’ll tell you in the car.” Stiles wipes away the blood with the back of his hand, which is actually kind of useless because his nose is still bleeding. “How long?”

“Ten minutes, more or less.” Stiles reaches Scott, who wraps an arm around him to support him as he walks. “Thanks.” He lets out a breath. “It wasn’t that bad. I think I came to an agreement with it, or something, when it tried to take me, and it’s eased the reins a little. I think it just—it’s not meant to connect to a human brain. In the end of the day, it’s a tree.”

“Okay.” They get to the car, and Scott helps him in, then walks around to the driver’s seat. After starting the car, Scott asks, “What did it say?”

Stiles leans his head back to try to stem the bleeding, which of course makes blood run down his throat, which is gross, so…partial success, maybe. Only a little bit of fail. Which is about as much as he can ask for. “Not much. Some cryptic chess shit, no more helpful than usual. It moved a pawn forward then backward, which told me precisely nothing, and then suddenly we were halfway through a game, so that was fun. Uh, I—me-I not it-I—lost a bishop. Uh, beyond that…it seems like trying to take the ward was an accident. The tree thought I was the only one and was trying to take the burden from me, but it doesn’t conceptualize the separation or lack thereof and so it trying to take the burden just dragged all of it onto me. Basically it just fucked up. In terms of the protection capabilities, It seems like we might run into the same issue as with the ward, but I’m honestly just not entirely sure about that. It’s not that it was trying to hide the information from me, but I think it’s like the chess thing—it can’t express it in terms that I understand. It’s a tree and I’m a person.”

“You sound sympathetic.”

“I’d say understanding more than sympathetic.” Stiles sighs, feeling the blood slide down his throat like liquid copper. “I wouldn’t count on it, you know. It might help, but we don’t know, so I’d just say…for the time being, pretend it’s just a tree. Because that’s about all it’s going to be for us.”

Chapter Text

Stiles goes home and doesn’t sleep for two days, because he can. He has shit to grade and classes to run, and he’s really damn lucky he’s used to working on autopilot because there’s no way he would be able to function otherwise.

He knows what he’s doing is freaking Derek out, and he doesn’t want to do that, but he also knows he wouldn’t be able to sleep well, so he just doesn’t sleep at all. He knows he’ll crash sooner or later, and honestly, he’s counting on it, because it’s the only way he’s going to get any sleep.

It does make for some pretty uncomfortable teaching, because he’s only sixty percent conscious at best, and he almost falls over at least twice. He really hopes he doesn’t look drunk, though he’s not really functional enough to worry about it at the moment. It’s a thing that he knows he’ll care about, but he just can’t make himself, because exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and that never-ending underpinning of panic that’s continually running through him, and none of those are conducive to caring.

When he finally crashes, it’s at home, when he walks in and drops his keys, and suddenly his eyelids feel like they weight a thousand pounds, and he stumbles and braces himself against the table so he doesn’t fall over.

“Stiles?”

“Hmm?” Stiles tilts his head up and realizes his eyes are closed, and that’s why he can’t see, it’s not because his head is down, his eyes are closed, and he thinks his hand is down on a table but he’s not entirely sure he can feel.

Hands touch his face, calluses, a thumb stroking his cheekbone, and then Derek says, “I’m taking you to bed. I don’t care what you want.”

“Bed sounds good,” he mumbles. But he needs to tell Derek, “I think I’m going to fall asleep.”

“Good.” The hands move, and suddenly Stiles is horizontal, and his hand isn’t on the table anymore, and he thinks he’s going to fall over if his hand isn’t on the table but then he thinks he’s already fallen over but he’s not on the ground. “I picked you up. I’m going to carry you to bed, and sit with you until you fall asleep.”

Stiles tries to open his eyes at look at him, but his eyelids aren’t cooperating. They’re just so heavy. “I think I’m already falling asleep.”

Derek’s chest rumbles. “Good.” He puts Stiles down on a cloud, and Stiles sinks down into it. “I wish you would sleep in between, and not just keep yourself up until you collapse. Why do you do this to yourself?”

“Wanted to sleep.”

“If you wanted to sleep, you should have slept.” Derek seems angry, so Stiles tries to wake up so he can actually participate. But then Derek seems to change his mind, because he says, “No, shh, I’m not going to yell at you right now. Go to sleep.”

“We can talk now.”

Derek laughs a little, the sound dripping through Stiles’s skull, and then he says, “I don’t think you can. Go to sleep, Stiles. I love you.”

“Love you too,” Stiles says, and then he’s gone.

--

He wakes up to Derek sucking a bruise on his collarbone, one hand closed bruisingly hard over his hip, and he moans, tilting his head back to give Derek better access. “I love you,” he moans, hands moving up to find Derek’s shoulders. “I love you, I love you, I love you, I’m sorry, I love you.”

“I don’t want to hear that you’re sorry,” Derek growls against his skin. “I want you to not do it again.”

“I know.” He digs his nails into Derek’s back. “Please. Please.”

“If you do that again when you don’t need to I’m tying you down, and you’re not getting up until you’ve slept. Do you understand me?”

A pulse of pain hits his collarbone, like Derek bit down a little, and he moans. “Yes.”

Derek lifts his head up, and there’s a spot of blood on his lips. Stiles’s blood. “You’re mine,” Derek tells him, eyes striking in their intensity. Stiles can’t look away, and he doesn’t want to. “You’re mine to protect. You’re mine to take care of. Don’t take that away from me.”

“I’m sorry.”

Derek growls, snatching up Stiles’s hands to pin them above his head; he arches into it, undulating up against Derek’s body. He needs this, needs the pressure and the weight and that feeling of something solid keeping him grounded to the earth. “Color?”

“Green. Please.”

Derek’s grip tightens almost to the point of pain, and he thinks he might have bruises later. “Stay still. I’m going to touch you, and you’re not going to move. Do you understand?”

Stiles nods.

“You can speak. You can say whatever you want. But don’t move.”

“And if I do?”

Derek straightens out on top of him, hands settling on Stiles’s chest. “I’ll tie your hands together, first, so you can’t get to anything else. Then I’ll start at your ankles and tie you up, inch by inch, until you can’t move it all. After that, I’ll tie you down to the bed so you can’t go anywhere. And only when I’m satisfied will I consider letting you go.”

Stiles finds himself breathless at that, fighting the urge to arch up into Derek’s hands. “Oh, God.”

“So are you going to be good?”

“Yeah.” Stiles clenches his fingers around each other so he remembers not to move his hands. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be good. Please.”

Derek’s eyebrow arches. “Please what?”

“Please. Fuck, please. Touch me, please, anything.” He needs in a way he hasn’t in days, his brain quiet of everything but Derek’s hands on his skin. “Please.”

Derek smiles before he leans down and takes Stiles apart.

--

Stiles’s hair is still wet from a shower when he grabs his phone from the table and calls Scott to check in. He knows if something had happened Scott would have called, but he still wants an update. He probably should have gotten one earlier, but he’d been a fucking mess, and not really equipped to deal with any of that shit.

A couple of rings in, there’s a click, and then Allison says, “My second-favorite human. What’s up?”

Stiles laughs. “Why am I your second favorite?”

“You’re not even your own favorite human.”

“Okay, fair enough.”

“So, you need Scott?”

Scott thinks about that for a second, then says, “Judging by the fact that you’re answering Scott’s phone, I’m assuming you’re home, so if you know what’s going on, you can brief me. This is just a check-in, not a Scott-specific call.”

“Okay.” She hums. “What do you want first?”

“Any sign of the druid? Do we have anything?”

“Nothing yet. My dad is putting feelers out and trying to see if anyone knows anything, but the leak of who we are burned some bridges.”

Shit. “Any additional danger to you?”

“No. Nobody is stupid enough to go after us, but it made us a lot more public, and people are more reluctant to talk to him now out of fear that it’ll draw attention to them.”

“Let me know if that changes.”

“Will do, though it’s not going to. They all talked to him because they knew who he was.” She lets out a breath. “The broader hunter world’s connection to the HFU has always been complicated, and some of them won’t talk to him because he used to be HFU, or because he left, but they all know who he is and what he can do, and they wouldn’t go after him.”

“And you?”

“I got out. I’m safe.” She laughs. “As safe as any of us are. Back to the territory, we haven’t had anything from the tree, and Deaton hasn’t made any weird pronouncements. It seems to just be a lot of hurry up and wait right now.”

Stiles scrubs a hand across his face. “That’s better than an all-out siege, I guess.”

Allison snorts. “No kidding. I don’t like you and Lydia out of territory right now, not when you made yourself targets.”

“I have Derek, and Lydia can take care of herself.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” A sound comes through like she’s sucking on her teeth. “I need to stay in-territory until this is sorted out.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Shit, I hate this.”

One-handed, Stiles rubs a towel through his hair before heading back into the bathroom to hang it over the shower rail. “I know. The world is shit and we keep getting fucked. How’s Ethan doing?”

“He woke up for a few hours yesterday. He was lucid, more or less. Knew his name, knew where he was, all that shit. Deaton thinks he’s going to be fine.”

Stiles can deal with that. “Any estimate for when he’ll be up?”

“Three, four days? It was a lot of damage, and the poison is slowing everything down.”

Stiles thumbs his bottom lip, thinking. This stuff with Ethan is such a fucking mess, and he’s not sure how to deal with someone who’s ex-pack. It’s a little like dealing with Parrish, except that’s 100% Lydia’s job, and different. Finally, he asks, “Has he said anything?”

“Not really. He was lucid when he was awake, but he wasn’t super…there.”

“You thinking brain damage?”

“I’m thinking pain.” She sighs. “It’s fucking weird, seeing him. It’s like we’re all in high school again, and that’s not something want to think about again. I mean, he’s aged, but he’s—he looks the same. And he looks like Aiden.”

“I know.”

Allison makes a noise. “I don’t—anything else?”

“When’s Isaac getting there?”

“Tomorrow.”

That’s good, though Stiles has always had a knee-jerk negative reaction to Isaac putting himself in danger, more so than for basically anyone else in the pack. He has the same training as the rest of them, but he’s been hurt so much, and Stiles just doesn’t want to see him hurt. But he’s also not going to take that agency away from him, because he spent so much of his childhood being controlled.

Stiles chews on his lip. “He doing okay?”

She hums. “He’s fine. He’s exhausted, but he always is after shows. The pack bond stretches, and it hurts him a lot more than it hurts you or me.”

“Right.”

“But it’s no worse than usual, and after he crashes and sleeps for a bit he’ll be fine. We’ll probably stick him on Scott once he’s back, at least for a day or two, so he can settle the pack bonds faster.”

That’s the call Stiles would have made, too, especially because they don’t put exhausted people on perimeter runs if they can help it. Which, finally, they can. “Sounds good. Can you let Scott know that I called, and tell him everything’s copacetic?”

“I don’t think he knows what that means.”

“Tell him everything’s fine. I freaked the fuck out before I came down here, so I just want to make sure he knows that I’m okay. Okay enough.”

“Yeah, I’ll let him know.”

When he’s about to say goodbye, she says, “While I have you, I have something to tell you.”

“Oh?”

“And I don’t want you to tell Scott—or anyone else—if you can help it.”

Stiles sits down, because this seems like a sitting-down type of conversation. “You know that I can’t guarantee that. If it’s a threat to the pack—”

“It’s not, and I’m not asking you to lie, only to not offer it up unless it becomes necessary. And it’s nothing bad. With everything going on, I just don’t want Scott to worry…because I’m pregnant.”

“Oh my god.”

“I know.”

“No, that’s—oh my god.”

Allison sounds like she’s smiling when she says, “Believe me, I know. Do you get now why I haven’t told Scott or Isaac yet?”

Given that Scott will probably try to wrap her in a blanket and then stuff her in a basement somewhere that she can’t put herself in any danger, yeah, he does. And then lose his already-limited objectivity freaking the fuck out. “Should he be able to smell it, then?”

“I was worried about that, but it’s been over a day and he hasn’t said anything yet. Even if he can smell the change, nobody in the pack has been around pregnant people enough to realize that’s what it is.”

That makes sense, though on the other hand Derek will almost definitely be able to tell. He’ll have to figure out how to deal with that. “You’ll have to tell them at some point.”

“I know. I just want to wait until this shit blows over, if possible. It’s not a secret, just…information I haven’t disclosed yet.”

Stiles flops back on the bed so he can stare up at the ceiling. Allison pregnant. Shit. “Do you know how far along you are?” He sits up. “Wait, are you sure you’re pregnant?”

Allison laughs. “Given the seven pregnancy tests I’ve taken, yeah, I’m pretty sure. And my guess is a month and a half, maybe two.”

Stiles hesitates, then asks, “You planning on keeping it?”

Allison hesitates. “I think so. I like kids, and I want the pack to grow, and if anyone’s going to have kids right now it’s me. And money isn’t really an issue, and neither is my career, because we’re a three-income family, and Isaac pulls in a frankly horrifying amount of money. And I can just transition more into coaching and then decide in a couple years if I want to go back into competing.” She hums quietly. “And can you imagine Isaac as a dad, and Scott? Scott would—Scott would be the best dad in the world.”

He really would be. “Do you know which one is the biological father?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not really, but I also know every teacher my father had through high school, so it matters in the sense that I like to know stuff, because I’m me.”

“You know—” She breaks off, and he can hear her deciding that she doesn’t care. “I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Because you know Isaac would dote on a little Scott, and Scott would die over a mini-Isaac.”

Stiles has a sudden image of Scott with a little girl that’s part Isaac and part Allison, and it’s possibly the cutest thing he can imagine. And she’s right—Scott and Isaac wouldn’t give a shit whose biological child it was. They’d be at least as happy to have a child from the other person to fuss over and adore. And Isaac is a little shit, but he’s amazingly fantastic with children, and they all love him.

God, he wants to see this kid now.

“Well, let me know if you need anything, and I’m always available to suggest names.”

Allison snorts. “I don’t think so.”

“You don’t want to name your kid Megatron?”

“Hilarious, but no.”

“Kal-El?”

“Goodbye, Stiles.”

They’re both laughing when she hangs up.

Chapter Text

“So.” Lydia claps her hands before pivoting on one heel and heading over towards a cabinet. “Let’s start.”

Stiles blinks at her. “Lydia. I love you, but why am I in your apartment at eight a.m. on a Saturday?”

“I’m going to teach you magic.”

Stiles’s breath catches, and he takes a step back. “No. Fuck no.”

Lydia turns to look at him. “I know you’re scared. I get that. But with the amount of power in your head, it would be negligent not to make you learn at least the bare minimum of control. Frankly, it was before, but we were all a mess, and things got missed.”

Stiles shakes his head. “I’m fine. I haven’t blown anything up or whatever.”

“You tortured Kate Argent.”

“That was on purpose.”

“How much of that was you, and how much of that was the Nemeton?” Stiles flinches at the sound of the name, and the fact that they both know the answer to that, and it’s not the one he wants. “You need to be able to do that without relying on the Nemeton—and if you do have the rely on it, without losing yourself to it. So I’m going to teach you.”

“Shouldn’t a druid be teaching me?” he asks a little desperately.

Lydia shrugs. “Probably, but we both know you don’t want Deaton teaching you this, and I was trained. I know enough.”

Stiles drops down onto her coach, laying his head back against it. “Okay. Fine.”

Lydia pulls something out of the cabinet, then sits down in one of her chairs. “For most people, magic comes from one of two places: themselves and the world around them. The Darach pulls her magic through other people’s sacrifice. Some people use magical artifacts; others connect to the earth. The other type is from the self. For most people, that comes in the form of concentration and training. Just like any other skill, some people are naturally better at it.”

“You mentioned magic being in our blood, back with Deaton.”

“With a strong enough connection to magic, it becomes part of you. It is in your blood in a fairly literal sense. For most people, that comes from training and practice, because the more you use it, the more it’s in you, the stronger it is. If you stop using it, it fades.”

Stiles sits up. “So if I just don’t use it—”

Lydia shakes her head. “You’re a little different. We both are, but you more so. You have the tree in your head, and the Nemeton is—it defies description, its level of power. And even if you didn’t, you’re a spark. You’ve always had magic in you. It’s literally part of who you are. It’s also what makes this a bit more complicated than it otherwise would be, because you’re starting with a strong connection and nearly limitless power, so instead of learning how to build up and then regulate back down, we have to start with the regulation.”

This sounds like a bad fucking idea. Stiles drops his head down into his hands, which actually, funny enough, doesn’t help. “In what world do you see this not ending in fire and flames and horrible gruesome dismemberment or death?”

“The one where I don’t start by teaching you offensive magic.”

“Anything is offensive if you use it right.”

Lydia smiles tightly at him, then says, “That’s why I’m going to teach you how to key mountain ash. Because the only people you have to use that against are people you care about. And it won’t explode if you fuck up.”

“You want to bet?”

“I’ve tried to make it, so sure.”

Stiles opens his mouth, then closes it, because of course. “Never mind. Okay. Keying mountain ash. That seems like a thing that I’m not actually capable of doing. Are you sure that this is how training is supposed to work? Shouldn’t there be like meditation and making potions and shit? And memorization? We had to memorize so much stuff about fucking druid-keyed mountain ash before our test that I wanted to chug the stuff to see if it was really as magical as they claimed.”

The accreditation test for being considered a druid-trained ashbreaker involved a written test about druid keying and mountain ash and a gazillion types of random plants, along with at least a ninety percent success rate at breaking druid-keyed mountain ash.

Lydia had broken all of them. Stiles had missed one, technically, but only because he had tried to force too much power into it and it had knocked him out. His dad hadn’t been thrilled, and neither had his scorched fingertips.

“There are books I can give you, and potions you can make, but those are to gain knowledge. What we’re doing right now isn’t about knowledge. This is not about teaching you how to be a good magic user. This is about teaching you how not to explode and take out everyone around you, and, hopefully, how to build a wall between you and the Nemeton. But yes, we’re going to start with meditation.”

While Lydia goes and gets candles and whatever else she’s getting, Stiles texts Allison, asking, Have you told Lydia/can I tell her?

Thirty seconds later, she calls.

“I haven’t said anything,” he starts with, “and I won’t if you don’t want me to. But she can keep a secret, and if something comes up before you tell Tweedle-dee and our glorious overlord it might be better for someone else to know.”

Allison hesitates, then asks, “Is this practicality or just because you don’t want to keep the secret alone?”

Stiles thinks about that for a second, because it’s a genuine question, then says, “A little bit of both. You know as well as anyone I can keep secrets from anyone, but I’d rather not have to. And I really do think having a backup is a good idea.”

“Do you think I’m being stupid by not telling them?”

“I think it’s your body and so you get to decide who know what about it. But I also think we might be under threat imminently, and even though you’ll never be a liability, it could put you at additional risk. Someone else knowing may mitigate some of that risk, even if it’s not them.”

After a second, Allison sighs. “Tell her. But make sure she knows—”

“I will.”

“Thank you.”

Stiles hangs up just as Lydia walks back in carrying a handful of candles and a frown on her face. “What was that all about? Tell me what?”

Stiles shoves his phone back in his pocket, then says, “This stays between us. No Scott, no Isaac, no Derek, nobody, not unless it becomes an issue.”

She puts the candles down. Her head cocks to the side. “Interesting. Go on.”

“Allison is pregnant.”

“Whose?”

“Not sure.”

“How far?”

“A couple months, maybe.”

She flicks a hand absently at one of the candles, and the wick ignites. “Interesting,” she repeats. “I assume she isn’t telling them to avoid their frankly insulting level of protectiveness.”

“It’s warranted,” Stiles says defensively, even though she’s not wrong.

“Your level of protectiveness is warranted, because you have a healthy respect for Allison’s abilities and understand that, of all of us, she is the one least likely to hesitate in a fight. Scott knows what Allison can do, and will use it when necessary, but he prefers to keep her out of fighting because of a desire to protect her, even though ultimately that desire is more likely to put all of us in danger because most of the time Allison will end shit before any of us.”

Stiles scrubs his hand through his hair. “I’m not getting into a discussion of Scott’s tactics with you right now, because he’s alpha and it’s not important right now.”

Her perfectly-mascara-ed eyes narrow, but then she nods. “Fair. I may insist on this discussion happening, but not right now.”

Stiles nods, because they do have a right to question their alpha’s decisions. He may not change based on their opinion, but they do have a right to express those opinions. To Stiles, if not directly to Scott.

Theirs is a complicated relationship, but it works, most of the time.

Lydia clicks her tongue. “Well, if we’re not going to have that chat, let’s get back to this. First things first, meditation. You know how to meditate; we’ve done it before.” They had attempted it when the tree first got bad, back in high school, in an effort to become a little less unfucked. It hadn’t worked. “The purpose of this meditation is to find quiet, and clarity. Broadly, it is meant to find the magic within you. For you that means seeing if you can separate out your magic from the Nemeton’s. I’m not sure if that’s possible, to be honest, but that’s where we’ll start.”

Stiles nods. “Do you know what it’s supposed to feel like?”

After a second, she shakes her head. “It’s different for me than for the usual. But for you—if you have some conceptualization of where the Nemeton resides in you, or how, or in what form, figure out if you can separate that out from your sense of self. Once you have that, see if you can find the magic there.”

“That sounds like the metaphysical bullshit you hate.”

“It is, but that doesn’t make it wrong.” Using the one lit candle, she lights the rest manually. “Get comfortable. We’re going to be here a while.”

--

The tree is in the back of Stiles’s head, at the base of his skull. He has known where it was since it appeared, can almost touch it when he holds his hands there, and when he closes his eyes he skirts around it as he pokes and prods in the inside of his head to try to find his spark or magic or whatever the hell Lydia thinks he has in him. He can’t feel the magic in his blood, can’t feel whatever Lydia seems to think exists.

But on the other hand, he’s never been in the habit of doubting Lydia, and he’s not planning to start now.

So he breathes, and breathes, and lets him fill himself up, become more than he is, and there is a fire burning in him, he thinks, but only in the periphery, like when he sees something in the corner of the eye that disappears when he turns his head to look at it.

And it’s hot, he thinks, but not warm; it could burn but gives no light or comfort.

But twined with it, or near it, or inside and around it, is the tree, or the magic of the tree, like a root system, and he wants to recoil from the whole thing.

When he opens his eyes, Lydia looks sad.

--

“Ooh,” a voice says next to Stiles, “I like this. Though it would be much easier for you to just use the telluric currents.”

stiles, eyes brighter than Stiles has ever seen them, moves his hand towards the mountain ash Stiles is supposed to be keying as though to do just that, and Stiles hisses, “That’s not the point.”

“No,” stiles says, and he sounds a little bit petulant, and what the fuck is Stiles’s life. “The point is to build a wall so you can keep me out. But there no need to build a wall. You can build a drawbridge, and raise it when you wish for separation.”

Stiles wants to know why the fucking tree wants to help him, but first he says, “Drawbridges can be lowered from both sides.”

“Well, yes,” stiles says, and starts stroking through Stiles’s hair, which is super fucking weird, particularly because stiles seems to be using his fingers more like they’re a fork in the Little Mermaid than like they’re actual fingers. “But I would only do it when necessary.”

Stiles gives him a suspicious look. “When would you consider it necessary?”

The fingers turn to claws against Stiles’s head, then soften back into fingers as stiles says, “When someone decides to point another gun at your head, or hurt you. You’re mine.”

Jesus fuck, Stiles doesn’t want to be having this conversation. “Why should I believe you, considering that you’ve taken me over before? Like with Kate Argent.”

The fingers trail down to Stiles’s shoulder now, then across his collarbone to the scar from the bite mark. It flares dully hot. “I took over because that was fun. Her fear felt like wildfires.”

“Why are you helping me, then? You seem to want me to be afraid, too.”

“I did want you to be afraid. Your fear felt like squirrels.” His expression turns nostalgic. “I miss squirrels.” stiles leans down to gnaw on Stiles’s shoulder through his shirt, which is possibly now the weirdest fucking thing he’s ever done, but who knows, the day is young. “But have you ever felt your happiness?” he asks around Stiles’s shoulder. “Your happiness feels like birds, and you’re less stupid when you’re happy, even though your spark is sometimes brighter when you’re scared.” His head moves away from Stiles. “I like her. She feels like ice and corpses. When you visit again, she can come.”

And then he’s gone, and Lydia is on her feet, knife in hand, heading over to Stiles. She crouches down in front of him, hand on her face, turning it from side to side. “What happened?” she demands.

Stiles makes a face but doesn’t pull away from her ministrations. “The tree says hi. I’m fine,” he adds when her expression hardens. “It was pretty weird, actually.” He shoves his collar out of the way, but there aren’t any marks from stiles chewing on him.

“What did it want?”

He shakes his head, standing. She stands with him before stalking away to check the wards around her apartment. “I don’t know. To talk me out of building a partition, I think. He—it—seems to be trying to…make friends, or something. It’s really hard to tell, because it’s a tree and I’m a person and there’s this—it’s not a language barrier, but an understanding barrier. It says things that just don’t mean anything.”

Focus on the ward she’s examining, she asks, “Like what?”

“Like that my happiness feels like birds.”

At that, she glances back at him. “What?”

“I know. It’s slightly easier than trying to interpret chess moves I half-remember, but not much.” He scrubs a hand across his face. “I think we need to take a break.”

“I think we need to figure out what the tree wants from you.”

No,” Stiles snaps, then sighs, shoving a hand through his hair. Fuck. Softening, his voice, he says, “Not right now. I just—I can’t. Not right now.”

Lydia nods. “Okay.”

Something twitches at the base of his skull, and he hunches his shoulders. “You don’t use your magic. Not in front of us, at least. Why not?”

Lydia taps on her wall, then walks over and sits down in one of her chairs, legs crossed. “Magic is loud, to me. Most people don’t experience it that way, at least not according to the person who taught me back at MIT. I started off with magic in me, like you, but using it is loud to the point of discomfort. And there’s a…hypothesis, I suppose, that if I use too much it will open up something in me. I have no desire to risk it, so I don’t use it. And it’s no loss to me. I’m not giving up anything.”

“Is there a risk to teaching me, or holding the wards?”

She shakes her head. “Even holding this ward, the level of magic I’m using hasn’t gotten near what I used in college. Wards are passive.”

“Does Scott know?” he asks then, before she can answer, demands, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Lydia sighs. “I didn’t tell you because it’s something you would try to fix, and it’s not something fixable.”

“You don’t—”

“I do know that, Stiles. I’m the smartest person I know, and I was working with someone who knows more about magic than either of us, and it’s not something that can be fixed. And it’s fine. I don’t need magic.”

“Jesus.” Stiles scrubs at his face, feeling like he wants to curl up on the floor and stop existing for a few hours. “Jesus, Lydia. You need to—we need to know if you’re in danger.”

“I’m not,” she snaps. “This has been under control for literally years, and there was never any particular risk. The person training me told me I had a limit, and I stuck under it. People have limits, Stiles, and they know how to pay attention to them.”

That feels pointed, but Stiles can’t really blame her for that, because, well, yeah. “I’m going home. I need to—I’m not okay with what’s in my head right now.”

She frowns. “You okay to drive? Derek’s welcome here if not.”

Stiles shakes his head. “No, I need out of here.”

“Okay.” She walks over to press a kiss to his cheek. “I love you. Don’t be an idiot.”

“I’m always an idiot.”

Chapter Text

Stiles finds Derek in his office working on his laptop; crouching down next to him, Stiles leans his head on Derek’s thigh and waits.

After a second, Derek’s hand settles in his hair. “You okay?”

Stiles hesitates then shakes his head. He doesn’t think, if he opens his mouth, he’ll be able to get words out. He doesn’t want to talk. He just wants to—

Derek’s hand slides down to cup the back of his neck, fingers curled around towards Stiles’s windpipe. “What do you need?”

Stiles shakes his head again. His legs are aching a little, but he doesn’t want to move.

Derek hesitates, then says, “Okay. We’re going to get up and head to the couch. You safeword out loud whenever you need to—say anything you need to, anything you want to—but if you need to safeword out and can’t talk, tap me three times. Do you understand?” Stiles nods. “Good.”

Derek stands, Stiles standing with him so Derek’s hand stays connected to the back of his neck. When they’re both upright, Stiles wobbling a little as the blood floods back into his legs, Derek tucks Stiles against his chest, Stiles’s face pressing against his shoulder. “I love you,” Derek murmurs into his ear. “Close your eyes and walk with me.”

It’s awkward walking backwards with his eyes closed, but with one of Derek’s hands cradling his neck and the other at the small of his back, he trusts that Derek won’t walk him into anything. If nothing else, it means Derek will run into that thing too.

Finally, Derek says, “The couch is behind you. I want you beneath me on it.”

Stiles sits down, stretching out across it. He opens his eyes just enough to see Derek stretch out on top of him, his weight settling across him so Stiles is pressed down into the corner between the bottom and side cushions. It feels good.

“Did something happen on your way back from Lydia’s?”

Stiles shakes his head.

Derek lets out a breath against the side of Stiles’s neck. “Does this have to do with what you were doing at Lydia’s?”

Stiles nods. He doesn’t want to think about it.

“Did either of you get hurt?”

Stiles shakes his head. He really doesn’t want to think about it. He doesn’t want to think about any of it, doesn’t want to think about the magic or the tree or the power that’s apparently running through his—

“It’s okay.” Derek’s hand slides under Stiles’s shirt to rest on his side. “It’s okay. Whatever happened, it’s okay. I love you. Whatever happened, I love you.”

Stiles swallows then opens his mouth. After an aborted try where the words stick in his throat like peanut butter and molasses and dust until he can’t breathe through them, he says, “Maybe you shouldn’t.”

“Bullshit.”

Stiles jerks in surprise, but Derek just holds on to him, keeping him from going anywhere. “I—”

“Do you want to hurt me?”

Stiles tries to jerk away from him. “What? No. No, of course not.”

“Does the thing in your head want to hurt me?”

Stiles shakes his head; he doesn’t even need to prod at it, because he knows. “No.”

“Does it want to hurt your pack, or your father, or Laura or Peter?”

Stiles hesitates, then says, “If Peter tries to kill me again, the tree will probably kill him.”

Derek huffs out a laugh that rumbles through his body and then Stiles’s. “If Peter tries to kill you again, I’ll probably kill him.” He sighs, his hand not on Stiles’s chest lifting up to cup Stiles’s cheek. It must be awkward, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. “I know who you are. I know what you’re like. And I know you love your family and your pack and me, and I know that you’re good.”

Stiles ducks his head into the point where Derek’s shoulder meets his neck, feeling his face burn a little. “I tortured Kate Argent.”

After a second, Derek lets out a breath. “Kate Argent burned my family alive. I’m not that upset about what you did to her in the name of keeping the rest of us safe. People—there are people in packs who do bad things in the name of keeping the pack safe. If she hadn’t been in jail, Peter would have killed Kate Argent.”

“So I’m like Peter?”

Derek laughs. “That wasn’t actually the point I was trying to make. My point is that violence for pack is okay.” He’s silent for a moment. “Can you tell me what happened?”

Stiles hesitates, then says what he’s been trying to avoid thinking about since he left Lydia’s. Since this whole mess started, really. “I don’t think it’s going away. The tree. I don’t think it’s going away.” And then he squeezes his eyes shut like he’s a kid who still thinks that makes him invisible.

Derek hums, rubbing his cheek against Stiles’s. “Okay.”

Stiles waits for him to say something else, but he doesn’t. “Okay?”

“I don’t like that it makes you unhappy, but it doesn’t make me independently unhappy. If you want to do something, I’ll support you on it. But if you’re afraid of me leaving because you think it’s going to scare me away, I won’t.”

“You say that now—”

Derek sits upright, cold air rushing between them, and Stiles shoves his face into the corner of the couch so Derek can’t see that he’s about to start crying. Because if Derek is leaving for this—

“Stiles, look at me, please.”

Stiles shakes his head, keeping it pressed against the side cushion. He can’t. He can’t.

“Shit.” Derek’s hand cups the side of his face. “Stiles, I’m not rejecting you. I just need to look you in the face to say this to you. Can you please look at me?”

Stiles can’t. He manages to croak out, “Yellow,” and Derek’s hand drops away from his face.

Derek sighs. “Okay. Okay, first, I’m not rejecting you. I just need you to understand that I’m not leaving. I’m not walking away from you. You’ve given me a pack, and a life, and something to look forward to.” Stiles feels tears starting to trickle down his face, because he’s putting this man who loves him through all this hell, and he still loves him. He shoves his face deeper into the cushion. “I didn’t care about anything before you showed up. Other than my writing, I had nothing. I just hid in my apartment and wrote and saw Laura a couple times a year. And I’ve seen evil, Stiles. I know what evil looks like, and it’s not you.”

“You don’t know what I can do.”

“I could rip your throat out right now. Most dedicated people can figure out how to kill someone else. Capability doesn’t make you evil.” Derek’s hand strokes Stiles’s shoulder. “I trust you, Stiles. I trust you to make the right to decision, and to go to your alpha, or to Lydia, when you don’t think you can.”

“Not you?”

Derek laughs a little, a low rasping noise. “I trust Lydia and Scott more than I trust myself. Shy of status gained by being mate to the alpha, Lydia is second to you, and is one of the smartest people I know. I am a distant third in my pack, and only because there are only three. I’m not ashamed of that; other than this, other than individually, where there are rules and restrictions and guidelines, I am not meant to lead. I am not meant to advise. That is not my role, and that is okay.”

Stiles’s head flops back on the couch, and he sighs. Most of the tension has run out of him, and now he just aches. “I’m tired. I just—I’m so tired, Derek. I’m so tired of all of this, of being under threat, of—of all of it. I lived under siege for years. What happened on the campus was hard, but—but Beacon Hills was under siege for literally years. I’m a certain type of person like that, and it’s not always a good person. I don’t like who I was. It kept me alive, but I tore out pieces of myself along the way. The me who tortured Kate Argent—the tree did that because of capability, not because of willingness. I left to rebuild myself. Who I am now, this is a construct. I put myself back together, as much as I could. I made myself human again. But the longer this goes on, the more this happens, the more I’m going to have to tear chunks out of myself to keep us alive.”

“You don’t—”

“I do.” Stiles buries his face in his hands. “Do you know when I regularly stopped sleeping with a knife under my pillow? When I moved in with you. I’m not—I’m tired, Derek.”

Derek touches his cheek. “Go to sleep, then. I’ll keep watch. I’ll keep you safe, for right now.”

Stiles makes a noise, then turns his face into the couch and squeezes his eyes shut.

Eventually, he sleeps.

--

“If I’m leaving California,” Derek begins, and Stiles jerks his head up from his grading to look at his somewhat uncomfortable expression, “would I need to get permission from Scott first? I know some alphas want that for their pack affiliated.”

Stiles blinks at him, then sets his pen down on the table; it rolls away and drops onto the floor, but they both ignore it. “Where are you going? And, I mean, no, just let him know, or I can let him know, whatever, and things are a little complicated particularly now, but I can buddy with Lydia while you’re gone. But—where?”

Derek glances away, then picks up the pen to hold it loosely in his hand. “New York.”

Stiles stands up. “Is this a pack thing? I get if you can’t tell me, but is everything okay with Laura?”

“Yeah.” Derek makes a face. “Yeah, no, Laura is fine, this isn’t a pack thing. I—I need to go talk to my editor again.”

“Okay.” Stiles makes a face at him. “That seems like not a big thing, so I guess I’m not really sure why you look so weird about it. I get the whole you’re grumpy and antisocial thing, but I mean then you usually just complain about it.”

Derek sighs, shaking his head. He twists the pencil in his hand. “I’m actually going there to talk to my editor about revealing my identity to the world. Coming out, so to speak.”

“Oh.” Stiles knows his mouth is hanging open, but he can’t help it. Derek, his privacy is everything to him. He’s kept the secret for so many years, and Stiles has mentioned it before, and he knows Laura has, but he never thought Derek would seriously consider it. “I hope you’re not—I hope you don’t feel like I’ve pushed you into it or anything. I’m not—I don’t really care what you do. I mean, if you’re—I love you either way, you know that, right.”

Derek’s expression softens. “I know. This isn’t—not that it’s not about you, but before you I didn’t have any reason to want the world to see me. This was the one thing that I had that was mine, that was untouched, and I didn’t want it to be tainted by…me.”

“There’s nothing about you to taint—”

“That’s why I’m willing to do it now.” Derek steps towards him, touching his palm to Stiles’s cheek. Stiles leans into it. “Laura is…biased.”

Stiles turns his head to kiss Derek’s palm. “I’m pretty biased, too.”

“But you’re—” Derek shakes his head. “I live with you, I love you, you love me, and you’re not—you’re still okay. I haven’t left some…stain on you. And maybe it’ll be touched by my history, but…” He presses his lips together, a dull red touching his cheeks. He’s blushing, and it’s adorable. “I’m proud of what I’ve done, now. Of myself. Because of you.”

To his horror, Stiles feels tears well up in his eyes, and he clasps his hand over his mouth. “You—”

Derek grins a little ruefully. “Of course, I still fucking hate people, and so I might regret this because then I’ll actually have to show up for things, but—”

Stiles darts forward to kiss him, a little too hard, his teeth pressing bruising-hard against his lips, hands sliding up into Derek’s hair. “I love you,” he says against Derek’s mouth. “I love you so much, and I’m so proud of you. I love you. I love you.”

Derek pulls away just enough to lean his forehead against Stiles’s. “I can wait,” he says softly, “if you and Scott need me to.”

“But you’d rather do it now,” Stiles guesses.

“I might lose my nerve,” he admits.

Stiles leans back so he can look at Derek, stroking his thumb against Derek’s temple. “I’ll let Scott know that I’ll be buddying with Lydia. When are you thinking of heading out?”

“Are you sure this won’t put you in more danger?”

“We’ll be fine.”

“Thank you.”

“Just one thing,” Stiles says, reaching out to pluck his pen from between Derek’s limp fingers. “I get to be at the party where you announce who you are to the world.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “There’s not going to be a party.”

“Okay, then two things. First, you have a party, and second, I get to be at it. If you want me there.”

“I don’t want a party.”

“Nope, those are the rules. All the cool people get parties.”

“I’m not—”

“Nope. Party. It’s happening. I will find your editor’s phone number on your totally unsecured cellphone and call her and tell her you’re having a party.”

“Okay.” Derek smiles at him, leaning in for a kiss. “There can be a party. I just won’t guarantee that I’ll be there.”

“Dick.”

“Love you too.”

Chapter Text

Stiles gets the call as he’s walking into the apartment; he fumbles his keys pulling his phone out of his pocket, then gives up and lets them fall so he can answer the call. “Stilinski.”

“It’s Scott.”

Stiles crouches down to pick up his keys, then turns and locks the door behind him. “My glorious overlord. What can I do for you on this fine, exceedingly rainy day?”

“I heard from Satomi Ito an hour ago.”

Stiles scrubs his hand against his face. “Did Liam and Brett get into another cat fight? Because I am officially not interested in mediating that shit again. Liam’s a real adult now—he can apologize for himself.”

Scott lets out a short laugh. “Not quite. Apparently Lorelei caught the scent of a druid at the edge of their territory last night. The part of their territory that’s close to ours.”

“Fuck.” Stiles drops his keys on the counter and then just keeps walking until he hits the end of the room, then pivots and paces back. He can’t have this conversation standing still. “Who do you have running the perimeter?”

“Liam, Malia, Isaac, Allison, and Kira are rotating shifts. And your dad, Parrish, and Chris Argent are keeping an eye out.”

“Have they found anything?”

“No. Not yet, at least. There’s a hint of something near the edge, just outside the wards, towards the South, but I went out there and I couldn’t pick it up. I think he has a way to mask his scent, the way Satomi does.”

Shit. “South? That’s not near Satomi’s territory.”

“I know. He could be heading down to where you are, then.”

Stiles presses his lips together, tight, and considers that for a second. “That doesn’t make sense, though. If he wants Ethan, there’s no reason to think that he’d be down here.”

Scott hesitates, then says, “You have become uncomfortably public, and if he’s tracking the wards—”

“Lydia and I are both down here. Fuck. Okay, I just dropped Derek off at the airport, so I’ll go buddy with Lydia.”

“If we don’t find anything in the next 24 hours, I want you up here. Both of you.”

Stiles rubs at the corner of his lip. “I don’t know if that’s possible.”

“Figure it out.”

“Okay.” Stiles pivots again, paces back towards the wall. “Fuck. Okay. What about Ethan? Does he remember anything about what the druid looks like, anything at all that might be helpful? Is he back on his feet yet, for that matter?”

Scott sighs. “He’s back on his feet, more or less. We have a general description—white, over six feet, smells like pine needles—but beyond that, he doesn’t remember. He’s staying until this is over or we decide he can protect himself. Or he wants to leave.”

“Does it seem like he wants to stay?”

“He hasn’t said one way or another.” Scott hesitates. “I’m thinking of having him run the perimeter.”

“Scott—”

“I know you don’t like the idea, but he’s strong and competent.”

“And not pack, or even pack aligned.”

“I wouldn’t have him run it alone.”

Stiles shoves a hand through his hair. “I don’t like this.”

“I know.”

“He could betray us.”

“I don’t think he will.”

“You trust people too easily.”

Scott is silent for a moment, during which Stiles transverses the entire length of the room and most of the way back, and then he says, “I’ll see.”

Which is not a no. Fantastic. “Pair him with Malia, if you insist on sending him out there. If he does fuck something up, she won’t hesitate to bash him over the head and leave him there.”

“Okay.”

That was too easy a capitulation, even for Scott, so Stiles presses, “I mean it. Stick him with Malia or don’t send him out there.”

“Who’s in charge here?”

“You are,” Stiles says without hesitation, “but you’re in charge because when I tell you something is stupid you listen to me. I’m your left hand, and it’s my job not to trust anyone. Don’t risk the pack. Stick him with Malia.”

Scott hesitates, then sighs. “Okay. I don’t think he’s going to betray us, but...okay.”

Stiles doesn’t really care if Scott believes it, just that he does it. He’ll never convince Scott to be as suspicious as people as he is, something he resigned himself to a long time ago. And it’s part of what makes Scott a good leader; you need to open up at least a little bit to lead, while Stiles and Lydia and Allison don’t trust fucking anybody.

“I’ll send you the perimeter schedule,” Scott says. “Go buddy up with Lydia, and watch out for yourselves.”

“Will do, bossman,” Stiles says, then hangs up.

Fuck.

--

Lydia takes a while to come to her door, which would be less worrying if it weren’t for the situation, but when she does show up it’s in what looks like just a man’s shirt half-buttoned over lingerie. Years ago Stiles might not have been able to look away, but now he just says, “Sorry, Scott’s orders.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “Scott ordered you to interrupt the best sex I’ve had in months?”

“The druid has been smelled near the territory, so orders are to buddy with you until we know whether we need to head up there. Safety trumps sex, so...yeah, I guess.”

Lydia mutters what sounds like, “It was so much better when you were afraid of me,” then steps back to let him in. “Just stay out of my bedroom. I’m going to go finish having sex.”

“Go get him, tiger,” Stiles says, and Lydia flips him off without bothering to look at him. “Make good choices.”

Lydia’s response is to slam the door to her bedroom behind her, so Stiles flops down on her couch, puts his headphones in, and starts working on grading papers. Might as well work on getting something done while he’s avoiding listening to Lydia having sex.

His focus cuts out halfway through a paper, so he starts going around her apartment checking its safety. It’s warded out the wazoo, including with stuff he has no idea how to do--and maybe she’s right, maybe he does need to learn this shit, no matter how much it scares him--but he needs to make it safe, anyway.

The guy wanders out sometime later, looking well-fucked and a little dazed; he startles when he sees Stiles. Stiles gives him a finger wave.

“Who the fuck are you?”

Stiles has the deep momentary desire to be a werewolf so he could flash glowing eyes at the guy, but instead he just says, “A friend.”

The guy blinks. “Are you and Lydia…?”

Stiles laughs. “Hardly. She’s far too good for me.”

The guy looks dubious, but he nonetheless gives a bro-nod and then wanders out of her apartment. Stiles locks the door behind him, setting the deadbolt, then walks back over to flop down on the couch.

Lydia comes out eventually, heading over to settle on the other end of the couch, legs stretched out across Stiles’s legs. Her hair is wet, twisted up into some sort of complicated knot, and for once her face is bare of makeup.

“Sorry about the, you know--” Stiles haves a hand to encompass interrupting her mid-coitus.

Lydia shrugs. “Eh, he’s into exhibitionism, apparently. The idea of someone coming to the door turned him on.”

“That is...not something I needed to know, actually.”

Lydia smirks at him, then stretches languorously, legs sliding over Stiles’s thighs. He puts a hand on her ankle, rubbing small circles into her skin. The touch-high isn’t as strong in human-human contact, but just being able to cuddle with someone from pack feels good. “How long are we buddying for, then?”

“He wants us up there if they don’t find anything in 24 hours.” Stiles closes his eyes. “It feels wrong, being out of territory when it’s territory that’s under attack.”

Lydia snorts. “You want to be running patrols until all hours of the night?”

“Want to? No. But I feel like I should be.” He pulls his legs up towards his chest; she pulls her feet away so they don’t get trapped. “I was the first one. You--I don’t know how much you remember about the beginning, the very beginning, when the--when Scott was turned. To some degree I don’t remember it; it’s a weird combination of razor-sharp memories and a total black hole, with a lot of being at school in between. But before Scott got his shit together, before anyone else was involved, it was me going out and trying to figure out what was going on. I organized the first patrols. I ran the first patrol, when Scott was busy with Allison. Being here, being--being out of territory--scares the fuck out of me.”

Lydia is silent for a moment, then says, “I do remember that. Not the parts that I didn’t know about, obviously, but I could tell something was going on. Scott wasn’t particularly subtle once he was turned, no matter that the school was oblivious. But you--there was a day when your eyes hardened, when you didn’t look like a child anymore. I had been watching Scott, but that was the day I started watching you.” She presses her toes against his ankle. “I know you’ve said this to Allison, to me, but you need to hear this too: you are not responsible for killing yourself to save us. We are a pack. You are not part of the pack so that you can protect us, you are not here to be an ashbreaker, you’re here because we love you, and we’re a pack.”

“I love you too.”

“So stop beating yourself up over not being able to do everything all the time. There are enough people to run patrols. We need you, but we don’t only need you for that.”

“I know.”

She nudges his ankle again. “Now stop angsting. You’re ruining my afterglow.”

Stiles laughs. “Yeah, okay, sorry. I wouldn’t want to do that.”

--

Stiles is the one who drives them up to Beacon Hills, because Lydia is lazy and doesn’t want to drive. And Stiles likes driving, no matter how much he wishes Lydia would stop bitching about his car. His car is not a death trap, thank you very much.

It has character.

Lydia is somehow managing to grade papers in the passenger’s seat; at a quick glance it looks like Greek nonsense, except Stiles can read Greek, and there are way more numbers there. Stiles can’t write in moving vehicles, not even trains, but Lydia seems like she’s having no problem. Though, of course, she’s Lydia, so he shouldn’t be surprised.

“How are you doing that?” he starts to ask, and then it hits.

Lydia’s red pen skitters across the paper, leaving a jagged line across it, as the car swerves into the next lane. Stiles can’t breathe, or can, mouth wide and gasping as something tears away at him, and he forces the car to the side of the road and off before the next wave of tearing gasping pulling pain hits.

Lydia is hyperventilating next to him, whimpering, eyes wide, and Stiles wants to help her, to comfort her, but all he can think is pain. It feels like something is tearing chunks out of him, the sensation so strong that Stiles looks down at his body to try to find what’s been pulled away.

“The wards,” Lydia gasps, and Stiles thinks, oh. Oh.

The knowledge doesn’t make the pain go away, but it allows him to compartmentalize it, push it over to one point in his skull so one part of his mind can process the pain and scream and scream and scream while the rest of him thinks.

His heartbeat slows, his breathing evening out.

“What do we do?”

Lydia closes her eyes, teeth dug into her lips so hard they’ll likely bruise, or bleed. “We can’t let him in.”

“Deaton said he shouldn’t be able to break through alone with brute force.”

Another wave of battering pain hits, and Stiles’s fingers dig bruising-hard into his thigh. “I don’t give a fuck what Deaton said,” Lydia gasps out, “because it doesn’t match our current fucking reality.”

That’s true, and Stiles would trust Lydia over Deaton any day, even without the added evidence of what he can feel. “How, then? Can we hold it from out of the territory?”

Lydia is silent, shivering through another push of pain. He wants to push, he wants to know what to do, but he knows it won’t help, so he keeps his mouth shut. “We need to get in-territory as soon as possible, and we need to hold the wards. Which means I need to drive, and you need to hold the wards.”

“You have the training, though. You shouldn’t you be the one to hold everyone together?”

“I have the training,” Lydia says, then takes a breath, and her body goes still and relaxed, “to compartmentalize enough for the pain to make me drive us into a tree. And you have the brute strength to hold these wards outside of the territory.”

They switch seats, Stiles bracing himself on the car to keep from falling over as pain rakes at his brain. He barely has the door closed when another wave hits, so much worse than before, and he jams his wrist in his mouth to keep from biting through his tongue. That fucking hurts , but it lets him swallow up his whimpers.

Lydia touches his temple, fingers cold and gentle. “Breathe, Stiles.” Her voice is strained, but she doesn’t sound like she’s in nearly as much pain as he is right now. Something’s clawing its way through his fucking brain, and he’s going to die.

Her hand closes over his eyes, pushing his eyelids down, and he lets them go. The darkness doesn’t help with the pain, but it doesn’t make it worse.

“Breathe,” she says in his ear, gently. “There’s a place in your head where the wards sit. You need to find that place and hold on to it. Keep it in your grasp, hold on to it with everything that you have, and keep breathing.”

He needs to find the wards, and he feels like he knows where they are, like knowing where a building is but not being able to get yourself there, and then it’s there , quivering and being pulled apart, and he pours himself into it, holding it together with gritted teeth and force of will and the knowledge that if it falls, Scott and the rest of the pack will die.

The tree surges up around him, adding pressure and the press of a too-hot hand against the back of his neck. Hot tears leak out from beneath Stiles’s eyelids.

Beside him, Lydia drives.

Chapter Text

The pressure eases the second they pass in territory, the easing of pain so great it feels almost like euphoria.

Stiles’s phone is ringing, he realizes, and he doesn’t know how long it’s been ringing, but with the arm not jammed firmly into his mouth he wrestles it out of his pocket and answers it, fumbling to put it on speaker phone with one hand.

“Why the hell haven’t you been picking up?” Scott demands.

“Stiles can’t talk right now,” Lydia says, and her voice sounds even in a way that only happens when you’re holding yourself together by sheer force of will, when you’re staying still for fear of pain of moving. “What?”

“The druid is trying to break through the wards.”

“We know that,” Lydia grits out, hand shaking from the strength of her grip on the steering wheel. “Stiles is keeping him out for the moment, but where is he getting the power from?”

Scott hesitates, then says, “Ethan.”

Son of a bitch, Ethan is helping him in some way. Stiles knew they never should have trusted him. He should have just killed the son of a bitch when he had the chance, morals be damned.

But before he can pry his teeth out of his arm to say that, Lydia says, “I need you to elucidate that statement for me.” When Scott doesn’t answer fast enough for her, she snaps, “Explain what you’re talking about.”

“Ethan is dead. The druid used the death as a sacrifice, like the Darach.”

For a moment, Stiles can’t breathe.

Lydia’s expression hardens, until her face looks like it was carved from marble and ice. “Where.”

“Zone 4. We’re across the wards from him. I’m sorry, Lydia.”

“He’s dead,” she says. “Hold the line. We’ll be there soon.”

--

When Stiles and Lydia reach the clearing, Stiles sees Allison, Scott, Liam, Isaac, and Malia standing on one side of the clearing, a man on the other side. His hands are in the air, not in supplication or submission but for attack, glowing a faint blue-purple. Allison has her bow trained on him.

“Ethan?” Lydia demands curtly.

Scott doesn’t take his eyes off the druid while he answers, “About five hundred feet to the south of here. We got the druid away from what looked like the worst of the rift, which seemed to slow his process. Kira is with him.”

“Is there some reason the soft of a bitch is still alive?”

“I’d prefer a peaceful resolution,” Scott says. Turning his attention back to the druid, Scott says, “You can still walk away.”

“Scott--”

“I don’t want a war in my territory or across my borders,” Scott snaps. “Just leave. Walk away. I’ll keep my pack from going after you.”

The druid laughs; his glowing magic hands get brighter, sending a shard of pain through Stiles’s head. He clenches his fists, grinding them against his thigh to keep his focus on the wards and not the pain. Liam shifts in his periphery, but Stiles pushes that away.

“Dissension amongst the ranks, is there?” The druid wiggles his fingers in Stiles’s direction. “Two magic users in your pack. What a surprise. Though, druid-trained, I’d have thought you’d know better.”

“Yeah, you can fuck all the way off,” Stiles responds. “And besides, you people are the ones who are supposed to be all about balance. What the fuck are you doing working with the HFA?”

“The HFA is providing order,” the druid sneers. “Culling the herd, keeping the predatory population from getting too large.”

“Nice mixed metaphor.” There’s another stab of pain through Stiles’s skull, and he refocuses his efforts on holding the ward in place. Something hot and wet slides down his lip.

The problem, Stiles realizes, is that both sides are at an impasse. They can pass through the wards to attack the druid, but then he can more easily kill them. And he can get through the wards without killing more of them than he can--Stiles guesses--manage from where he is now. Ethan must have gone out of territory, which allowed the druid to kill him and punch a hole through the ward.

Stiles turns away from the druid just enough to keep him from seeing Stiles’s mouth, pressing his mouth up to Lydia’s ear to ask, “Do you have anything long-range that can incapacitate him?”

Her eyes go flat and distant, and then she responds, “Not to incapacitate, no, no without dropping my focus on the wards.”

Fuck, that’s a problem. He and Lydia are probably the two most likely to be able to withstand his magic, but if either of them die, he’s almost certainly getting through the wards.

Stiles could use the tree, maybe, but if that goes wrong--or even if it goes right--it could leave him incapacitated for god knows how long.

“Not that this isn’t fun,” the druid drawls, “but I came for something a lot bigger than killing more of you idiots.”

“What--” Isaac breathes, and then he clearly gets it, and so does Stiles. The druid is here for the Nemeton. There’s nothing else it could be. Motherfucker.

“Now,” the druid says, and the pain in Stiles’s head fades, dims, and then the druids twists his hand and Allison drops his bow.

For one absurd moment Stiles thinks that’s it, and then she cries out, crumpling to the ground, hands clutching at her abdomen.

Isaac and Scott bolt over to her as Liam’s eyes flare gold and Malia lunges forward at the druid. “Stop her,” Stiles shouts, half-swallowing the last word as the pain redoubles into such agony his vision washes cold and white.

Lydia screams.

Liam lurches forward, wrapping both arms around a struggling Malia. “Let me go,” she screams, “he’s hurting Allison.”

“It’s what he wants,” Stiles grits out. “If you cross the wards, he’ll--” Another wave of agony punches the breath out of him, and he half-gags swallowing around a dry throat to get out, “Kill you.”

Malia lets out another scream, this one of wordless rage, as the smell of blood reaches Stiles. Blood, he thinks wildly. The fetus. He can’t kill a whole person through the wards, but he can do that much damage.

“Stop it,” Scott cries from where he’s cradling Allison, and Stiles can hear the pain in his voice.

But Stiles doesn’t know what he can do, what could fix this. He can’t cross the wards, and however much raw power he might have access to, he doesn’t have the training to do anything with it.

Guilt shudders through him, and he forces it down. Self-recriminations will only serve to distract him right now, and won’t solve anything. He needs solutions, and he needs to keep the goddamn wards up, and he needs them to get Allison to safety, and he doesn’t know how to do all of those things at once.

Isaac makes a harsh, hoarse noise, and Stiles has to fight the visceral urge to look at him.

“Please,” Scott whispers.

The pain in his head gets worse, twisting around his skill until he’s on his knees, digging his fingers into the ground in front of him. He thinks Lydia is still on her feet, and he forces himself to tilt his head up and check on her.

She’s standing, feet planted and steady, looking like a cloud of fire and power.

“Fuck this shit,” Lydia says, then pulls out a gun and shoots the druid in the face.

Chapter Text

The cessation of pain is immediate.

For one numb second, Stiles makes eye contact with Lydia, and he can see the same thought on her face that he knows is on his. And then he looks at Scott, who is cradling Allison against him and trying desperately to figure out where the blood is coming from.

“You need to get her to a hospital. Now.”

Scott’s head snaps up to look at him. “What’s going on?”

Stiles wrenches himself to a feet, wiping the blood off his face. “We don’t have time for this.”

“Stiles—”

“You need to get her to a hospital.”

Scott’s eyes flare alpha red. “Stiles, what the fuck is going on?”

Stiles grinds his teeth, then says, “She’s pregnant, and you need to get her to a fucking hospital right fucking now.”

Scott’s nostrils flare, and then he picks Allison and starts hurtling through the forest. Isaac and Lydia follow after him.

Stiles turns to Liam. “Call my dad, tell him the druid is dead and that he needs to bring Jordan Parrish. Malia, you stay with him. He’ll give you instructions when he gets here; until then, don’t do anything, don’t touch anything, and don’t contact anyone else.”

Liam turns sheet white. “Can’t you—I mean—”

“I need to go drive to the hospital, because I don’t trust Scott or Isaac behind the wheel like this. Do it .”

Stiles waits only long enough to see Liam starting to fumble his phone out of his pocket before taking off running after Lydia. He finds them at Scott’s car, Scott cradling Allison in the back seat with Isaac on the other side of her, Lydia pacing back and forth.

She looks up when she sees him, then holds out the keys. “We have to go, now.”

Stiles takes the keys, then says, “There are connections through the pack bond. Can you keep her alive without burning up your own magic?”

Lydia grimaces. Her makeup is smeared on one side, eyeliner pulling down from the bottom like she cried a single tear before getting herself together. “We’re both human—the pack bonds aren’t strong enough.”

Fuck. Stiles shoves a hand through his hair. “Okay, give me a second.”

“We have to—”

Give me a second.” Standing where he is, he closes his eyes and thinks, I need you to strengthen the pack bonds between Lydia and Allison temporarily.

The thing in the base of his skull rises up, blossoms like a night-blooming flower, and the thousands-of-years-old tree says, That may cost you.

Stiles grits his teeth, then thinks, I’ll pay it later. Please.

There is a breath, and then Lydia gasps. “I can feel her,” she whispers.

Stiles opens his eyes. “Get in the back seat. Isaac, I need you up front with me.” Isaac opens his mouth, thinks better of it, and then closes it, climbing out of the back seat and into the passenger’s seat. Lydia slips in where he was, laying one hand on Allison’s ankle.

Stiles gets in the car and drives.

They’re almost to the hospital when Stiles’s phone goes off in his pocket, and he fishes it out with one hand to shove it at Isaac and say, “Answer it. Put it on speaker.”

A moment later, his dad’s voice comes through the speaker, saying, “Please tell me you didn’t shoot this druid.”

“I didn’t shoot the druid.”

His dad is silent for a second, then asks, “Are you just saying that because I told you to?”

Isaac chokes out a laugh, then smothers it with his hand against his mouth.

“No,” Stiles tells him, taking a turn at possibly ten miles an hour faster than he should. Someone honks at him. “This time, it really wasn’t me.”

“Who was it, then? And where are you?”

“Allison Argent is currently at risk of bleeding to death, so I’m driving her to a hospital. I’ll answer any of your questions later, but right now my attention is much better served not wrapping everyone in this car around a telephone pole.”

“Go,” his dad says, “but I will be talking to you later.”

Isaac hangs up as Stiles takes another sharp turn, this one bringing them right up to the hospital parking lot. He parks in the closest spot to the hospital, barely managing to get the car in park before Scott is throwing himself out of it, Allison in his arms. Isaac tumbles after him, and Stiles yanks the keys out of the ignition and follows after.

Scott and Isaac beat them to the hospital doors, and Allison is already on the gurney when Stiles gets inside.

“How far along is she?” the doctor is demanding.

“I don’t know.” Scott is shaking his head. “I just found out--I don’t know. Isaac, do you--”

“Two months,” Stiles says around gasps, lungs burning a little from the run. His mouth tastes like blood. “Give or take.”

“Okay, get her to OR 2.”

“I’m going with her,” Scott says, following after the doctors as they start moving the gurney.

One of the nurses shakes her head. “You can stay outside.”

Scott’s eyes flash red. “I’m her alpha. I’m going with her.”

The nurse hesitates, still moving with the gurney, and then Allison arches and Lydia makes a hurt noise and the nurse snaps, “Okay, fine, let’s go.”

They disappear into the OR area, leaving the rest of them behind, and Lydia’s hand closes bruising-tight around Stiles’s.

Isaac, staring at the doorway to the OR, rasps out, “Allison’s pregnant?”

Stiles’s throat tightens. “Yeah.”

“Why didn’t she tell us?” He gasps in a breath. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“She asked me not to.” Stiles walks over, putting a hand on the back of Isaac’s neck. Isaac is rigid. “Isaac, it wasn’t because she didn’t trust you, or didn’t want you to know. But if you knew, if Scott knew, you would try to keep her safe, and that could have put all of us at more risk.”

“I just want her safe.”

“We all want her safe,” Stiles says. “I’m sorry, but it was her choice. It had to be her choice.”

“Okay.” Isaac’s jaw clenches, and he turns away, heading towards a nearby chair. “Okay.”

He sits, curling up on himself. Lydia sits next to him, but Stiles can’t make himself sit right now, so he starts pacing, four squares in one direction, pivot, four squares back, and pivot and again. He has to move. He has to do something , but there’s nothing for him to do, so he has to move.

It takes him a few minutes to realize that his phone is ringing, mostly because Isaac still has it, but Lydia answers it, then hands it over to him. Stiles puts it up to one ear, going back to pacing because he can’t not move right now.

“Stiles?”

“Yeah.” Stiles runs a hand through his hair. “Yeah.”

“I need you to--” His dad breaks off, and Stiles can practically hear his jaw clenching. “There’s a dead man in the forest, and I just sent Parrish off to see the other apparent dead man in the forest. So I need you to tell me, in small words, what happened.”

“It’s the druid. He killed Ethan and started killing her. Lydia shot him to save her.”

“Do you have any proof of that, because right now all I have is three of your people standing with two dead bodies?”

"Oh," Stiles hears Liam say in the background, and then there's a voice, the druid's voice , and he stiffens before realizing it's tinny and wrong, a recording.

A recording. Holy shit.

"Good boy, Liam," he breathes, because Liam recorded the whole damn thing. Something Stiles should have thought of.

Liam makes a pleased noise. "It seemed like a good idea."

"It was a brilliant idea. Look at you, thinking when none of the rest of us were."

"Okay," Stiles's dad says, and he sounds tired. "Just stay where you are, okay, until I get this sorted out. And tell me that's a registered firearm."

Stiles damn well hopes it is, for all their sake. "We'll be here, don't worry."

His dad is silent for a second, then asks, "Is Allison okay?"

Stiles closes his eyes. "I don't know."

--

It's over an hour later when the doctor comes out; Lydia and Isaac shoot to their feet, but Kira--who joined them a few minutes earlier--has her face buried in Stiles's stomach, so he doesn't move. Despite that, he's the one the doctor looks at.

"Your friend is alive," he says, and Stiles feels something dark and angry ease in his chest. "We need to keep watch for bleeding, but at the moment she's stable."

"And the baby?" Lydia asks. She has her hand clasped firmly around the nape of Isaac's neck, and Stiles isn't surprised he isn't talking at the moment.

The doctor hesitates, then says, "The baby was briefly in distress, but is also stable for the moment. That is less certain to remain, and you need to be prepared that she might lose the baby. She's young and healthy, though, and fetuses with at least one werewolf parent are generally more likely to survive trauma, likely due to the trauma endured in-uterus during the mother's transformation. I won't lie to you and say that their survival is guaranteed in this case, but the child has everything going for them that they can, and we'll do everything we can."

Stiles nods. "Thank you."

"Can I go in and see her?" Isaac blurts out, then ducks his head against Lydia's shoulder.

"Briefly, and only one of you at a time, with your alpha already in there. She's sedated, but you still need to not disturb her.”

Isaac hesitates, then turns wide, vulnerable eyes on Stiles. "Please," he whispers, "I need too."

It takes Stiles a second to realize Isaac is asking him, like he's the alpha--and he guesses in this situation he is, or as close as there is with Scott sequestered away. So he disentangles himself from Kira so he can stand up and head over to Isaac, wrapping his arms around him. Isaac is taller than Stiles, but he slumps enough to press his forehead to the hollow of Stiles's throat.

"Of course," Stiles says. "Of course."

It takes Isaac a second, and then he pulls away, heading to follow the doctor. Stiles waits until the doors close behind him before dropping down in the floor, right where he's standing, and burying his head in his hands.

He wants to cry. He wants to cry but can't, his chest hollow and aching and empty, nothing there at all. Allison might still not make it, the baby might die, and Stiles couldn't cry if his life depended on it.

"I need to know if your gun is registered," Stiles says.

Lydia is silent next to him, and then she says, "Yes, it is."

"Good."

She's silent again, and he sits there with his head in his hands and doesn't think of anything at all.

The pack won’t survive if Allison and the baby die. He knows it, and he thinks Lydia does too, or she should. Isaac and Scott might survive the death of one, but not both, and the rest of them do not a pack make, not with one werewolf. If they die, the pack loses everything. Stiles loses everything.

“I’m not sorry,” Lydia says.

“For what?”

“Shooting the druid. Fuck Scott’s orders. I’m not sorry.”

Stiles closes his eyes. “Okay.”

He sits there until he hears footsteps approaching, Liam and Malia and his dad, and then he stands and unfolds himself and wraps Liam in the tightest hug he can, pressing Liam’s face to his chest and telling him, “I’m so fucking proud of you, and Scott might forget to tell you that, but I’m really proud of you.”

Liam sniffles. “Thank you.”

Stiles pulls away, and Liam gives him a shaky smile, then freezes. “Stiles, you--” He touches Stiles’s face, just below his nose, and his fingers come away with blood.

“Come with me,” Melissa says, appearing out of fucking nowhere to put a hand under Stiles’s chin and tip his head back slightly. “Did you hit your head? Get hurt during the attack?”

“I’m fine,” Stiles says, or tries to, the words coming out garbled in his attempt to not swallow the blood sliding down his throat like pennies that are turning green. “Prob’ly backlash from the tree.”

“Yeah, how about I check that anyway,” Melissa says, then starts pulling him towards a room. Liam follows; Lydia looks like she wants to, but Stiles’s dad steps between them, and right, there’s still the whole shooting thing to deal with.

The room that they end up in is only a few rooms down the hall, but as soon as the door closes Stiles wants to go back. They need him, and he needs to make sure they’re safe. But Melissa is glaring at him, so he walks and hops up to sit on the examination table.

Melissa pulls on a pair of gloves, then grabs a wet wipe. “Is your nose still bleeding?”

Stiles sniffs, then shakes his head. “No, don’t think so.”

Holding his chin, she wipes the blood off his face with the wet wipe. “They told me Allison is pregnant.”

“Yeah.” Hopefully she’ll still be, by the end of the day.

"The fetus." Melissa's hands on gentle on Stiles's face as she continues to do nurse-y things. "Is it Scott's?"

"Biologically, we don't know. In every way that counts, yes."

Melissa is silent, then says, "That's fair." She pulls out a penlight and shines it in his eye; he recoils, and she catches the back of his head, holding it for just long enough to check his other eye. "Are you safe now?"

"The druid is dead."

"You didn't answer the question."

"No, I didn't." Stiles sighs, tilting his head back to stare up at the ceiling. "We should be safe for the moment, and I'll do everything I can to make sure we stay that way. I'll do everything I can to keep Scott and the pack and their child safe. But things keep happening. They never seem to end."

Melissa touches his chin, tipping it down to look him in the eye. "I'm not blaming you, Stiles."

"We need a show of strength, something that will convince anybody who would want to hurt us that we are not to be messed with. But I'm the one most suited to do that, and I don't have the training to, because I never wanted to. I will keep Beacon Hills safe."

Melissa smiles, pulling off a glove to ruffle his hair. "I'm proud of you."

Stiles feels his face burn, because even now he wants a mother's approval, and Melissa is the closest thing he has had to a mother in a long time. "I should go check on everyone. Am I good?"

"Tell me if you get any more nosebleeds, but otherwise you should be fine."

Stiles hops off the table, heading out of the room to where everyone else is waiting.

Lydia pushes off from the wall when she spots him, heading over towards him, and he gives her a brief hug, asking, "Anything new?"

"Nothing." She brushes a hand across his cheek. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Stiles walks over to the chairs where people are sitting, stopping in front of Liam to pull him up to his feet.

Liam gives him a worried look. "What is it?"

Stiles wraps an all around his shoulders, pulling him close. Liam goes easily, with a small huff of breath. "You did really well," Stiles tells him. "You didn't lose your cool, you helped keep everyone safe, and you thought ahead. You did really well. It's over."

Liam holds still for a second and then, just like Stiles has predicted, he breaks down, shuddering and crying against Stiles shoulder. That's how it works, sometimes--the adrenaline needs a release valve to let you let go, needs some reminder that you're safe before letting you process. Stiles will deal in other ways, as will Lydia, but Liam in particular doesn't remember the bad times, the times when this feeling was normal, when every day was lived on the edge of tipping into panic, held together by the fact that you needed to be or you would die.

Stiles wishes Liam hadn't had to feel it this time, either.

Lydia touches the back of Stiles's neck, thumb stroking across it, and Stiles presses his eyes closed. He will keep himself together until Allison is out of the woods. He will hold himself together if it takes duct tape and too much coffee, and when he disintegrates it won't be where any of the pack except maybe Lydia can see. They need him to be strong, because right now Scott can't be.

“Is everything sorted out?” Stiles asks her.

“Yeah.” Stiles glances at her, still holding on to Liam, and she makes a face. “Attempted murder or actual murder by magical means is particularly illegal, and so homicide in defense of another is extra justifiable. There are provisions for it. It won’t go to court.”

“Okay.” Stiles closes his eyes. “Okay.”

His separates himself from Liam, passing him off to Lydia, then starts walking down the hallway. He doesn’t stop until he finds a bathroom, where he shuts himself in, locks the door, and sinks down to the floor. It’s definitely unhygenic and probably gross, but he doesn’t care.

He closes his eyes, looks for that place in the back of his skull, and pulls up the tree.

It comes quickly, like it’s been waiting, and then stiles is beside him, sitting with one leg pulled up, curled up against the wall. He smiles. “Hello, there.”

“I want the baby to live,” Stiles says.

stiles examines him for a moment, teeth pressed gently into the side of Stiles’s arm like that’s a normal thing to do, then--somehow clearly despite being around an arm--says, “I cannot provide it with immortality.”

Stiles shakes his head. “No, not immortality. I just--I want the baby to be born alive and healthy. I want it to have a chance to live.”

Some more chewing, and then stiles says, “The child will be born, so long as your Fire lives.” Stiles isn’t sure what his Fire is--something to do with the magic inside of him, maybe--until stiles continues, “Bring her next time, your Fire. There is something I want to discuss with her.”

“Thank you.”

stiles smiles around his arm. “I am curious, and it is a curiosity. This will be accomplished. They will not die.”

Stiles closes his eyes. They’re dry. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

It’s not until after Allison wakes up that Lydia asks if he’s called Derek, and Stiles thinks, oh, shit.

He’s slept an hour in the past two days and has drunk about 45 cups of coffee, and his brain is so jittery his eyes hurt. He also hasn’t called Derek, and now that he’s not currently talking he can’t imagine opening his mouth and speaking for the life of him.

He doesn’t want to talk about what happened. He doesn’t want to talk about what’s happening. He doesn’t want to talk about Allison or the druid or Ethan’s fucking death, and if he starts talking he’s going to break, and he can’t afford to do that right now.

They need him to be strong. Scott is finally asleep and Isaac looks like he’s a sharp noise away from shattering apart, and Kira has done an awesome job stepping up and helping lead Liam and Malia and Mason in perimeter runs, but they need a touchstone and that has to be Stiles.

And Derek needs him, too, but Derek can wait, Derek can wait a day or two, and Stiles needs those days.

--

People talk about the sense of release and relief when something stressful is over, handing in an essay or finishing an exam. You can breathe, once things are over. Things are over .

Stiles has never felt that. He doesn’t trust that things are over. Call it PTSD, call it experience, call it him not trusting something is dead until he’s incinerated the fucking thing himself, but all he feels after the fact is jittery. Waiting. Like a storm is coming and he can feel it in the air, the shift in barometric pressure, the static in the atmosphere, except the storm has come and gone and he’s still waiting.

Isaac falls apart curled up around Scott, sobbing against his back, and Stiles stands watch.

Lydia locks herself in a room and turns a white noise generator on, and Stiles stands watch.

Stiles stands watch outside of Allison’s hospital room and Scott’s bedroom and the room where Kira and Malia and Liam and Mason discuss perimeter runs, and he sleeps a couple hours at a time, and he waits.

He’s going to break, he knows it, and it’s going to be catastrophic, and he just needs to go until Scott is stable, and then he can let the pieces fall and the holes gape and then piece himself back together.

--

On the third day, he gets a news alert (he’s watching, he’s always watching, call it paranoia but he calls it defensive driving of his own life) about Derek, announcing that D. Hale’s identity will soon be revealed, and Stiles smiles and says, “Good for him,” and then has to put his head between his knees and breathe because he’s holding the panic at bay with superglue and a distinct lack of thinking, and that is a crack in his shell that he can’t afford while he’s still in Beacon Hills.

And then he goes to Scott and says, “I need to go home.”

An hour later he’s on the road driving home, and the silence is deafening and his knuckles ache but if he hears someone speak he might scream.

He reaches his apartment faster than he should, particularly given that the hole in his head means he probably dissociated through at least some of it, and he’s going by his lack of hyperventilating that he wasn’t pulled over and he didn’t hit anything. Pieces of his armor are falling now, shattering, and he might scream, he might scream, he doesn’t know what he might do, but there might be blood, blood splattered across his walls, across his skin, and he doesn’t want to hurt himself but he doesn’t want not to hurt himself, and that is a bad place for him to be in and he knows it, recognizes his spirals and his tipping off a cliff, and if he hurts himself he will regret it but that won’t stop him from doing it.

Derek is inside the apartment when Stiles gets there, and Stiles shuts the door and locks it and in a voice that he distantly thinks is calmer than he had expected he could have managed says, “I need you to hold me down.”

He doesn’t know what Derek sees or doesn’t see on his face, but he doesn’t move until Stiles walks into the bedroom, and he doesn’t enter until Stiles has toed off his shoes and is contemplating whether he wants the softness of the bed at his back.

He doesn’t.

Stiles presses himself against the emptiest wall, and the pressure against his back helps, but not enough, and his armor is still falling.

Derek approaches, and Stiles doesn’t want him close and needs him closer.

“I might hurt you,” Stiles says.

“You won’t.”

“I might.”

“You won’t,” Derek says, and steps in close and pins Stiles to the wall with a hand against each wrist like manacles, and Stiles breaks.

He comes back to the taste of blood in his mouth along with the bulk of Derek’s forearm, both hands pinned above his head by one of Derek’s hands, and as the adrenaline fades, so does the fear and the panic, and he thinks, I could sleep.

He sags in Derek’s hold, and Derek pulls his forearm out of Stiles’s mouth to catch him, murmuring, “It’s okay, you’re okay.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says around the taste of blood.

“It’s okay,” Derek says again, releasing Stiles’s wrists to pull him in close, away from the wall. “Shh, Stiles, it’s okay. You’re safe now.”

Stiles’s eyelids droop, and he leans his head against Derek’s shoulder, letting himself go limp. He knows that Derek will hold him up. “I’m sorry.”

One of Derek’s hands settles on the back of Stiles’s head, carding through his hair. Stiles’s eyes close. “I love you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I love you. I love you. Go to sleep, love. You’re safe now, I promise.”

Stiles sleeps.

--

Stiles wakes with the abruptness of hard-earned vigilance, not from a sound or a light but the feeling of eyes on him, and he turns his head to see Derek watching him, head propped up on his hand so he can look his fill. Derek smiles at him, brushing his other hand across Stiles’s cheek.

It’s quiet now, quiet in the way of warm morning and muted sunlight rather than thinly veiled panic and duct-taped skin, and Stiles looks because he wants to look, not because he needs to watch.

Everything in his head is calm.

“Hey.” Derek’s hand settles on his chest, over his shirt, a steady pressure. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Stiles turns, curling up against Derek’s chest, pressing his ear to Derek’s bare skin. He can feel the thum-thump of Derek’s heart, slow and even and alive. “Yeah, I’m okay. Thank you.”

“Always.” Derek rests a hand against the back of Stiles’s neck, tightening his grip just enough for Stiles to feel it. “Always, Stiles. Whatever you need, always.”

“He’s dead,” Stiles says, and he’s not sure who he’s talking about. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Derek’s thumb smooths across the side of neck. “Okay.”

“I’m going to train my magic. I’m going to make sure they never go after us again.”

“Okay.”

Stiles closes his eyes. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

--

It’s almost three weeks later before Stiles finds himself tied down, Derek pressing kisses down his body as he works; it takes that long before Stiles stops feeling raw, before helplessness stops feeling like panic and orders stop feeling like restraint.

“Tell me about it again,” Stiles gasps out as Derek sucks a bruise against his hip bone. He’s hard as a fucking rock, Derek’s shoulder just barely brushing against his dick, but he has no give in his ropes to get himself any friction.

Derek pulls away to blow air against the new mark; Stiles’s hips buck. “Why?” he asks mildly, apparently engrossed by inspecting his accomplishment

“Because I want to know about the fucking ”--Derek’s teeth close over a new patch of skin, and Stiles nearly bites through his own tongue“--details and I need something to distract me so I don’t lose my mind.”

Derek laughs against Stiles’s skin. “I might want you to lose your mind.”

“Derek,” he whines.

Derek’s tongue drags up the front of Stiles’s thigh. “My publicist has set up a reveal party in San Francisco for the 30th.”

“Is J. K. Rowling invited?”

Derek laugh feels like fucking heaven against Stiles’s skin. “I doubt it.”

Stiles wants to reach out and grab Derek’s hair, pull his head to where Stiles wants it to be, but he can’t, and his body arches up without his brain telling it to, but there’s nowhere for him to go. “Damn.”

His breaths are coming more quickly now, and Derek pauses from a particularly pleasurable lick to ask, “Color?”

“Am I invited?”

Derek’s hands settle on Stiles’s hips, thumbs digging in. “Color, Stiles.”

“Green, fuck, am I invited to your party?”

“Of course,” Derek says, then presses Stiles’s hips into the bed and closes his mouth over Stiles’s dick, tongue swirling around the tip, and Stiles throws his head back and keens.

--

“Are you ready?”

Lydia’s lips curl into a small smile,and she kneels down in front of the tree, just far enough away to not accidentally touch it. “I’m willing to bleed a little.”

“Don’t underestimate it.” Stiles kneels down to, grabbing Lydia’s arm. “I’m serious. You’re good, but in there, the tree will always be better. I’ve you’re not ready--if you’re not actually ready--we need to walk away and come back when you’re prepared to face it as it is.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

“You might be smarter than me in everything else, but in this right here, I’m the expert.”

The smile finally drops from her face, and she examines him with actual seriousness. “I know. But this is long overdue.”

“Okay.” Stiles sighs, forcing himself to drop some of the tension he knows is putting him on edge. It won’t necessarily make things worse, getting into the tree like that, but it definitely won’t make things better. And then he grabs her hand and places both hands on the tree stump.

They’re on their backs in a white room, stiles standing over both of them. Crouching down, he is between the two of them, near both of their faces, so close that Stiles can see the bruised paleness around his eyes, his cracked lips. He smiles.

“You are the one who threatened me,” he says.

Lydia bares her teeth at him. “Yes, I did. And I’ll do it again, if I need to.”

stlies tsks, and then his face is over hers, so close their lips are nearly touching. “I have not decided if my indulgence extends to you, so watch your step. You might be Fire, but I am the land itself.” Without moving his body, he tilts his head to look at Stiles. “The child lives.”

“I mean, it’s still currently a fetus. Embryo? But yes, it and Allison are both...fine.”

Something flickers in stiles’s eyes. “I care little for the bearer, except in its necessity to allow the birth. It is from blood of destruction.”

“Allison is a she, not an it.” Something sparks in Stiles’s head. “And is that why you hate Allison? Because of what Kate Argent did?”

“Katherine Argent is weak,” stiles sneers, “playing at being a monster. The prior Argent, he was destruction. He made me unwhole, then fled, fearing my wrath should he return. Argent is destruction’s blood.”

Gerard Argent chopped down the fucking Nemeton. It’s almost shocking how not-shocked Stiles is by that revelation.

“Well, Gerard is dead,” Stiles says. “And Allison split from him years ago.”

“She lives,” stiles says dismissively, then turns his head back to face Lydia. “Why are you not as you should be?”

Lydia blinks at him. “I’m exactly what I should be.”

“You are smothering yourself, keeping oxygen from your own flame.” His head tilts. “I can make you as you should be.”

“No.”

“A waste, to repress it. The others did not.” He smiles. “The others burned.”

“My life is not a waste.”

stiles reaches between them to tap her sternum. “You hide.”

“I survive . I don’t need your offer, and I don’t want to be whatever it is you think I should be.”

stiles smiles, and then he is between them, sitting back on his heels. “You will return.” Stiles can’t tell if that’s an order or a promise, but right now he doesn’t want to ask.

Instead, he asks, “Why do you call her Fire?”

“What is Fire,” stiles says, “but death.”

And then Stiles and Lydia are on their knees, the forest around them, and Lydia gasps out, “Motherfucking shit,” before turning and throwing up.

Stiles doesn’t throw up, but his nose is definitely bleeding again, and he wipes the blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand. “What did he mean?” Stiles asks when Lydia’s retching has stopped. “About the others?”

Lydia rasps out a few loud breaths, then says, “My grandmother went batshit insane in Eichen House sometime after predicting her lover’s death. I will not be her, Stiles.”

“Okay.” Stiles shoves himself upright, holding out a hand to help Lydia up as well. She takes it, wiping at her mouth as she stands. “Okay. Let’s go home.”