There was no safe haven, no place that hadn't been tainted, no place to keep him. The thought circled Derek's mind as him ran through the woods, stopped, stared, listened. He expected pursuit. He expected the smell of gun powder and the sound of engines. Neither were awaiting him when he slowed down. He turned a circle, almost in a daze, before pressing his spine against a tree and catching his labored breath.
The heavy moon above was brighter than it should have been, and he realized with a start that it was because it was no longer a moon but a rising sun brightening the treetops. Dawn already, perhaps the only reason his heart no longer felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. The pull of the full moon had retreated, leaving his teeth and nails blunt, his body wearier than it should have been.
So, it was dawn and where was he? Fleeing the scene of multiple murders, his meager pack on its own, his homicidal uncle resurrected and on the loose, and the sheriff's son in his arms, covered in a pint of his own blood. Somehow, the cherry on top had been the Argents, watching him run away, too shocked to even fire at him. They'd seen the blood on his lips, the body in his arms. Derek had felt a bizarre sense of shame over it: for the second time in less than forty-eight hours, he'd bitten without permission, something his mother would have not easily forgiven. Yes, he had his reasons, and he almost wanted to scream them at the hunters, but he knew it wouldn't make a difference.
Stiles hadn't so much as shifted yet, and already the hunters knew he was pack. Derek had already failed him. So much for paying back debts.
Everything about this moon had been a nightmare. No, worse, because he wouldn't be waking from this.
Growling low at himself, Derek rolled his shoulder, pushing Stiles' head up off of his chest. In his wild run, Derek had at least had the state of mind to shift the young man's body so that he was more upright, his damaged neck not so easily jostled. A cursory glance told him that Stiles wasn't remotely conscious, pale lips parted to let out shallow, wheezing breaths. It worried Derek, that Stiles still seemed to be struggling, but when he peeled back the tacky shirt, Derek could see the bite had already closed, pink, tender flesh where his teeth had ripped and tore. No sign of black blood, no sign of resistance or of Lydia's bizarre immunity, but Stiles' closed eyes worried Derek nevertheless.
The bite could perform miracles, but Derek had no clue if it would save Stiles from any brain damage the strangulation might have caused. All Derek knew for certain was that he needed to find somewhere to sit him down, let his new beta heal.
A glance at his surroundings told him he knew where he was, on the edge of the preserve. His state of panic had left him close to his family home, but he'd known better than to return to those ruins, the scent of decay, the sound of Peter's voice still too fresh. It wasn't safe there, and as tempting as it was to try his luck with Deaton, Derek had a duty to his other betas too. If they couldn't find safety in a place itself, perhaps they'd find safety in numbers.
He pushed himself up off the tree and took off, back toward the town.
Erica tried to hide it somewhere deep, that terror she felt, hadn't stopped feeling since the first time she saw the kanima. The full moon had helped, overlapping all that doubt and fear with a sense of feral power, but as she'd come back to herself, it seeped back in, the knowledge that Derek's meager warnings were all too accurate. Hunters, creatures who could paralyze with their venom. The bad parts of becoming a werewolf were beginning to outweigh the good.
Not that she regretted taking the bite. That sense of constant dread her epilepsy left her with was something she would never want back, no matter the consequence. And if she'd been a human who'd had the misfortune of running into the scaly monster, the head meets wall situation she'd found herself in next to the school pool would have had a fatal conclusion. So, yes, healing from actual brain damage was a perk. But that didn't mean she wanted to trade one doomed life for another.
Erica glanced over her shoulder, checking her six before she made a sharp turn out of the alley and toward the old warehouse where they'd made their lair. Derek would have kittens if anyone spotted her around here, so she'd gone out of her way three blocks to a bagel shop that served sloppy, overfilled stuffed creations. The mingling fragrance of grease and warm bread coming from the hefty paper sack in her hand left her stomach rumbling. She was tempted to down one of the sandwiches before she brought the others back to the boys since she'd ordered extra, but her nerves were too on edge for her to slow down.
She sensed Derek before she reached for the side door's handle and forced a grin onto her face. Despite the conversations she and Boyd had been having lately, about maybe finding a way to take a backseat to this action movie, she still instinctively wanted to please her Alpha, show him the change had made her a new, better Erica.
"Good thing I ordered extra," she called, sliding the door back behind her.
She could hear Isaac biting off some comment, and her cheek twitched because she could almost envision the glare Derek used to shut up her pack mate. She couldn't see them right away, rounding the hulking figure of the grounded train car, AKA the Lunar Dungeon, on her way in, but she suddenly caught on to something she hadn't noticed earlier, the scent of fresh blood, lots of it.
Erica slowed down, almost to a stop, as soon as the second realization hit her: there was an extra heartbeat in the room. She glanced around the corner to see Boyd and Isaac facing her direction and Derek's back to her, the three of them in a makeshift circle around a fourth person. The massive metal desk from the warehouse's abandoned office had been pulled out to the middle of the room to serve as a table and the guys were standing around it. She could see what they were looking at, or who, judging from the legs hanging off one end of the desk.
Isaac and Boyd looked up at the same time, both wearing frowns as they caught her expression.
"Stiles?" she asked, quietly and already knowing the answer.
If her pack had asked her to sniff Stiles out earlier she would have rolled her eyes at the task, so she was surprised at how quickly she knew the body Derek was blocking from sight.
She expected an answer from Derek, and when one didn't come, she dropped the bag of food and stomped forward, elbowing Isaac so she could see better. Isaac grimaced at her.
"Matt Daehler was controlling the kanima. They attacked the sheriff's department. Scott and Stiles were there," Isaac filled in.
Erica sucked in a shallow breath. She didn't even have time to process the part about Matt, her eyes widening as she realized the implications. The kanima had attacked a public place. Maybe it wasn't daylight, but there had to have been deputies there, right?
"Jeeze, spare me the details," she said, sarcastically, when he stopped there. She had a feeling, though, that Derek hadn't been very forthcoming with those, judging from the tightness of his shoulders.
She forced herself to look at Stiles. The blood, the bruises. The odd whistle that came with every shallow breath he took. Something had happened here.
"Derek gave him the bite," Boyd supplied.
"I didn't have a choice," Derek said. His voice was low, as if he were talking to someone else, but his tone was defensive.
Erica frowned, confused. She reached out, touching Stiles' ankle softly, but he didn't so much as twitch.
"He didn't ask for it?" She already knew the answer to her question.
Derek took a quick step back, straightening. "I didn't have a choice," he said, a bit louder. He shot her a sharp look, eyes tinged red for a moment before he seemed to regain himself. He shook his head, jaw twitching as he bit off another comment, settling on something new. "It's already done. I need you three to stay with him, in case he wakes up."
"Where are you going?" Isaac asked.
Erica raised a brow, surprised by the edge of panic in her packmate's voice. She wondered what Derek had told the guys before she'd arrived.
"I need to find out what happened after I left and get some of Stiles things from his house, to make him more comfortable. He can't go home right now. He's still healing." Derek hesitated a moment, frowning to himself. "And his home will be the first place the Argents look for him."
"The hunters already know he's bitten?" Erica spat. "How?"
"They were there. They saw." Derek reached out, grabbing Erica's shoulder gently. "They know, but Stiles doesn't. He hasn't been awake since…" He trailed off with a short shake of his head, letting her go. When his voice returned, it was an Alpha giving a command. "If Stiles tries to run, you restrain him. Use the cuffs if you need to. I don't know how he's going to react, but he'll be confused."
"If he reacts," Boyd muttered. "He's barely moved since he got here. What if he stops breathing? Call 911?"
"He won't," Derek snapped, turning to leave. "Just watch out for him. He's one of us now."
"Whether he wants to be or not," Erica replied.
She saw the Alpha's head dip slightly, him obviously catching her comment, but he didn't respond, disappearing out the back a second later.
Noah Stilinski wasn't sure how much more of Beacon Hills he could take. He loved this place, this county, this town. He'd been happy here once, met Claudia here, made his family here. His career, the one that teetered on the edge of disaster currently, was rooted in this spot, but he'd also lost the love of his life in Beacon Hills. He'd gotten to know the hospital and the local liquor store too well. He'd had the town take his badge from him. This place was haunted by terrible memories, some of which were made tonight.
It still felt a bit like it wasn't real, and he was sure that was the slight concussion talking, because when his foggy thoughts slipped aside, he was bombarded by clarity. Too much to comprehend. The bodies of his deputies were bright, vivid images he couldn't shake. The dead teenager, freshly pulled from the stream, the very kid who'd been threatening to kill him, was still all too real as well. Then there was what wasn't there, who wasn't there.
Stiles. Where the Hell was his son?
He couldn't find an answer to that question that made any damn sense. Noah's fingers wrapped a bit too tightly, a steady ache up his forearms from the strain. One of the deputies fortunate enough not to have been at work that night, Bragwell, was trying to speak to him. Repeating the conclusions that they'd reached earlier, after they'd realized Stiles' body wasn't one of the ones in the station, that he wasn't floating down the stream next to his homicidal classmate: "He ran. Stiles must have run off during the confusion. He'll turn up."
Those words didn't really make sense. Noah concentrated on them, turned them over. His head had been pounding when he'd heard them, but now he could understand the way the men had said it, like they were treading softly because everything about that statement was wrong.
Stiles wouldn't run.
No, Noah amended, Stiles would run, if he needed to, but he wouldn't leave them behind. He'd run to the nearest weapon and recklessly toss it at whoever was a threat, because Stiles had little to no survival instinct when it actually mattered. He wouldn't leave his father or his best friend or a woman who'd been a surrogate mother to him for years with a crazed killer.
But Noah hoped to God he was wrong. He hoped Stiles had run when he had the chance. Because Noah had no other explanation that left Stiles unharmed.
"They'll find him, Sheriff."
Noah didn't argue about the title. Didn't say he wasn't the sheriff anymore. Didn't bring up the fact that he'd ignored the star held his way tonight, after he realized his son wasn't beside Scott.
"Maybe you're right," Bragwell said. "Maybe he's at home."
Sure. Because he probably jogged here.
Noah couldn't remember being the one to suggest that as a possibility, but it would explain why the cruiser was currently pulling into his driveway. Noah exited the passenger's side without a word, trying not to see the dark windows. The morning sun was up, a reminder that time was passing. Time he could spend out searching instead of being driven around like an invalid.
Scott, he suddenly recalled, had been the one to tell them to check home, mostly, Noah guessed, as a way of stopping the EMT who was trying to argue that both of them needed a visit to the hospital. That the usually protective Melissa had still been too deep into her own shocked state to make her opinion on the subject was worrying, but Noah had been too caught up in the moment to not take Scott's suggestion.
Noah blamed the foggy thoughts. And the fact that every investigator there wanted him away from the crime scene for a bit. Just in case.
In case they found blood that belonged to his son.
In case they found evidence his son had fled.
In case they found a body hidden in a storage room.
Noah wanted to vomit. The head wound, he reminded himself, that was the reason for the nausea, not the mental image of his son face first in the dirt somewhere while he checked on an empty house. He unlocked the front door nevertheless, a bit more frantic speed in his gait as he entered, flipping the light switch.
He shouted the name, the pit in his stomach gaping when there wasn't so much as an echo. He could hear Bragwell hesitating at the door, muttering something about checking in with the department. Even his deputy already knew there was nothing to find here.
"Where did you go, Stiles?" Noah asked, more quietly, then moved on, toward the stairs.
What happened while I was out? That was the question he wanted answered. There had been so much confusion when he'd awoken. Scott had been shot, they'd thought, but it had been barely a graze. Melissa had fallen into a state of quiet shock from her place in the cell. The villain of the piece, he was gone. He had ended the show by his own hand… Or someone had helped him along.
Not Stiles, Noah assured himself, but he almost preferred that narrative. What if there had been a struggle? What if Stiles had defended himself? What if seeing Matt Daelher die had sent Stiles running, afraid, ashamed? It would have at least made some sort of sense. But Scott had shut down the idea so quickly. Like he knew something.
Noah had always trusted Scott, more than his own son on some occasions, and he felt a sudden stab of betrayal, that both the boys were hiding things from him lately.
A noise cut through his thoughts, and Noah's head jerked in its direction. Stiles' bedroom. Noah let out a shaky breath and broke into a run down the hall, slamming himself into the door so hard, he was certain he'd bent a hinge. But the room was empty, not so much as a lamp turned on.
He glanced at the mess. The closet door was open, as was the window. Noah ran a hand down his face, trying to remember if he'd looked in his son's room, if he'd even seen it over the past day to notice if the window had been opened. He stepped closer to the closet, reaching out to touch the door. It squeaked slightly when it opened. That had been it, the noise he'd heard.
Noah rushed to the window, staring out in hopes of seeing movement down below. Nothing. Had someone been in here, then? Or had his jarring footsteps rattled the door open a few more inches? Noah stumbled back until the backs of his legs hit the bed and then collapsed down onto the mattress, holding his head in his hands.
The fog was back, the clarity receding. He felt as if his thoughts were fluid and slipping through a sieve before he had a chance catch them.
"Come home, Stiles," he breathed. He didn't care why at this point. He didn't care about what had happened. He just wanted his kid beside him. "Just come home."