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Derek is sixteen when he first does it. It’s like an addiction after that. He tells them all he’s of age, and Laura gets him a fake ID from a guy uptown because she thinks he wants it to get booze, and booze doesn’t work on wolves, so what’s the harm in it, right?

Except she has no idea, no fucking idea at all, what Derek uses that ID for.

He needs it. That’s all he knows. He finds a video on the Internet and he jacks off to it for a solid week, and then he hears it at school, a bunch of the senior-year boys talking about trying to get into a new club, and leather freaks and faggots, and Derek knows he needs to go there. He has no idea how sex works, and he has less of an idea how this sex works, but the club isn’t regulated, and once he’s in, he’s in.

Once he gets on his knees, no one asks how old he is. They like it—the guys and the women. They like telling him he’s babyfaced, that he needs to grow into his body, and that until he does, he can use it the way they want him to. See, he lets them do it. He lets them do anything. Any of them.

Because he needs it.

It’s pretty terrible. It’s a litany of shameful, horrible things, of people who call him slave and dog, of people who don’t respect him, but sometimes they hit him just right, and sometimes he kneels just long enough that he starts to float out from under his skin, and that . . . that makes taking all the humiliation they put him through better. That makes it worth it.

Then Laura finds out, and it never happens again.

Until he’s eighteen.

—-

When Derek is eighteen, he meets Kate. She goes by Silver in the club: silver-tongued, silver-tipped nails, silver boots that she makes Derek lick clean. She uses him like all the others have used him, but it’s different.

Derek lets himself think that it’s different.

It’s too much, one time. The stretch of his abused skin is distracting more than appealing, and he’s strapped too tightly into the wolf-proof cross, his wrists and ankles aching from the strain and his entire back bleeding from the wolfsbane-coated tails of Kate’s favorite metal flogger. The pain is so good, it should be so good, but Derek is abruptly claustrophobic, and when she says, “Come on, baby, let’s get you down so you can do me right,” he suddenly can’t stand the idea of his mouth between her legs, his tongue inside her.

“No,” he says, grunting it out, fogging up the steel his mouth is pressed to.

“No?” She hits him again, a scorching lash across his back, from shoulder to hip. He yowls, surprised. Feels his eyes twist yellow. Feels his fangs threaten. “What do you mean, no? We have rules about that word, slave.”

“No,” Derek snarls. He closes his eyes and concentrates, but he can’t break the cuffs.

She hits him again.

He starts, uncharacteristically, to panic.

For what feels like the longest stretch of time, he can’t remember it. He’s never used it before. He always wants to see how far these people can push him. Especially the humans. They push and push and break him over and over, but he always gets back up. He may be their slave, but in the end, it’s him taking from them, not they from him.

That’s . . . that’s the way it is. It is.

He can’t remember.

Then—

“Triskele,” he gasps. “Kate. Triskele.”

Her fingers twine into the sweat-soaked hair at the nape of his neck and she yanks his head back. She—she shouldn’t be strong enough to do that; his muscles should be two, three, ten times as powerful as hers, but she manipulates him without fail, the sharp ends of her fingernails digging into his scalp. “Derek,” she says, at his ear. Her voice is liquid soft and sharp, all at once. “I know you didn’t just say that word.”

“I—” Derek swallows. Why can’t he think? Why can’t he break these damn cuffs? What’s wrong with him? (What’s wrong with him? Why is he stopping it? Why can’t he just deal with it?) “I said it. Kate. Let me out.”

“You safeworded,” Kate says flatly. Mockingly, “Do you even know what safewording means?” She rocks his head, her grip tightening, then lets go and stalks away, heels clicking on the floor. Derek dizzily focuses on the pounding club music he can hear beyond the private room door. Kate likes this place because it’s unregulated.

She likes it because it’s dangerous.

She likes it because she can get away with things like this.

Derek has been so fucking irresponsible.

He’s never even known what he was into. He’s never known how to do this. He’s—he’s been so wrong. This whole time.

This is his fault.

All of it.

Even when Kate turns and the flogger whistles through the air, even when its ten thin chains stripe Derek’s back, flaying open marks that struggle to heal, coated in too much wolfsbane.

Even then, he knows it.

She doesn’t let him down until he’s nearly unconscious. He panicked himself dry, cycling in and out, hyperventilating until his lungs confused themselves trying to heal wounds that weren’t there, and he’s dozy when she undoes his cuffs and lets him drop to the cold floor.

“Baby,” she murmurs, trailing the flogger’s tips over his chest. “You’re not hard for me.”

Derek’s tongue is thick in his mouth. He thinks he might be shutting down. This happened before, when his dad died. He could go away whenever he wanted. And then—and then, when he couldn’t anymore, then he found other ways to go away.

This is all his fault.

Kate’s voice turns scornful. “You don’t know what safewording means,” she says. “We had something special, you and me. You know that, don’t you?” She bends down, and her blonde hair falls in waves, drifting her scent over Derek’s face. “We were so good, you and me. And you ruined it.” She tsks, tapping his cheek with the end of the flogger. When she straightens, she shrugs and chirps, “Sorry. Really, though.” Derek’s vision wavers as she clicks across to her bag and unzips it, putting the flogger away. “Really, Derek, I hate to tell you this, sweetie, but you weren’t the best I ever had, either, even with all my training.”

Stop.

“I mean, I know you were practically a virgin for ladies, but if you never saw any porn that taught you how to really eat pussy, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe you should have stuck with gloryholes.”

Derek used to love that cruel twist to her voice—the one that meant he was going to be shackled to the floor, or that she was going to make him lick his own come from her thighs in agonizingly slow swipes.

“Remember that? You remember where I found you?” She looms back over him, her jacket zipped, her bag on her shoulder. “Sorry, baby.” She doesn’t look sorry at all. “Guess we just weren’t meant to be. I need someone who doesn’t priss out when they don’t like it a hundred percent of the time.”

Is that what happened?

Shouldn’t Derek like it? Isn’t that the point?

Not—maybe not with the other people. That was getting off, getting out of his head. But with Kate . . .

No. He doesn’t deserve that.

His back hurts so fucking much. He’s naked on the floor, and she laughs at him and walks out. She leaves the door open, and Derek can’t move.

If before was a litany of shameful, horrible things, then this is . . . Derek doesn’t know what this is. He doesn’t know much, and he likes that: likes the bitter darkness swallowing him up, carrying him away.

Lets it.

—-

He wakes up in the hospital two days later. Laura is disappointed in him. His chart says overexertion and wolfsbane poisoning.

Derek tells her as few details as he can.

Laura tells him their mother made an executive decision.

He and Laura leave for New York City a week later. Derek doesn’t know how to tell them he doesn’t need an incentive to keep him from those clubs anymore. He doesn’t know how to tell them how wrong it went, and how he made it go wrong, and how he won’t go looking for it again, because he won’t be able to handle it.

If he maybe gets that sick burn in his veins every few days, well. No one else needs to know.

—-

When Derek is twenty-three, he comes back to Beacon Hills for Talia’s funeral.

There were a slew of turnings while Derek was gone—so many that Laura returned six months earlier to handle all of them. A rogue alpha, she told Derek. Biting whoever she could get her hands on. Most of the Hales had moved from Beacon Hills, and Talia tried to put the alpha down herself. In the end, she wasn’t strong enough to do it.

It’s amazing, what desperation can give a wolf.

Most of the town shows up to pay their respects. Derek hates it. Hates people. Hates seeing all of Beacon Hills looking sorry for him. All he wants to do is bare his fangs and tell them to get the fuck away from him. Laura has it worse; the news crews crowd in on her, demanding to know what the new Hale alpha’s plans are. She’s much more graceful about it than Derek is.

Her acquired pack stands thronged together like a band of orphans, close to the grave but not so close that they’re crowding the family. What’s left of Derek’s immediate: Peter, Talia’s younger brother, Nora, her older sister, Nora's husband Mick, their four kids, and Laura, and Cora, and John, Derek’s siblings. John is stiff, hands in his pockets. Cora won’t look at anyone. The new pack is all wolf save for two humans, and Derek is angry at them for no reason. Derek is angry at everyone for no reason.

Derek wishes he could stop existing.

—-

After, they go to the Unitarian church for the reception.

That’s where Derek smells her.

When he sees her, she’s already looking at him. Her eyebrows are raised; she’s appraising him. Her eyes graze up and down, raking his body—Derek can feel the kiss of her flogger. The bite of her nails.

She steps toward him.

No. Nonononono.

“Hey—you’re Derek, right?”

Derek whirls at the sudden, unexpected voice, his whole body tense, and the speaker withdraws, snatching his hand back. Derek stares at him until he realizes the kid was trying to shake hands.

It is a kid, right? One of the new ones. One of the humans. Derek inhales, scenting him, filling his nose with the smell of him to wash away the smell of Kate. Yes, definitely pack.

“Uh,” the kid says. He cautiously puts his hand out again. “You’re . . . ”

“Derek.”

Not Derek. Derek didn’t say that. It’s Kate.

Kate saying his name.

Derek is so dizzy. He can’t breathe.

Kate touches his shoulder. How did she even get there? How could this happen here? In front of everyone? Everyone has to be staring at him, everyone will know

“Hi,” the kid says, too loudly. “I’m Stiles. Hale pack. And you’re . . . ?”

“None of your business.” Kate’s fingers curve, hooking Derek in. He can’t move. He’s hypnotized, terrified, and all he wants to do is run. He could overpower her, just like he could have that day, but he can’t.

He just . . . can’t.

And it’s his fault. Again.

She starts to pull him away, whatever she's saying coming through muffled in Derek’s head.

Then something happens.

Stiles touches him and says, “Dude, are you okay?”

All Derek’s focus comes roaring back and he yanks his shoulder from Kate’s grip, turning on her with his shoulders thrown back and his chin up. His eyes are so yellow, burning, he can feel it, feel the hatred. “Leave,” he says. “Now. How the hell could you come here?”

Her lip curls. “I’m only paying my respects. After all, I have Talia to thank for a year of mediocre sex.”

Derek can’t breathe. He can’t breathe through the slick fury in his throat. How hot it is in his chest.

He’s going to kill her.

Eventually his hatred will melt away and all Derek will have will be cold emptiness, but he could fill that space with Kate’s blood. With flesh from her shredded throat.

Kate squares herself. Is she daring him to do it? Does she think he won’t?

Now everyone is staring at them.

“Baby,” Kate says, and Stiles steps between them.

Easy as that. Stiles is of even height with Derek, but he’s slimmer, human, fragile, so much more fragile than Derek is—should be. Should be.

But he steps right in.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but his mom just died.” His voice is a snarl, coiled up deep in his throat. Deeper and more commanding than Derek would have thought, coming from that body. “You think you can— Do you think that makes you, what? Cool? Better? For coming here and pulling this kind of crap? You— I can’t even— Your life,” he finishes, scraping the words together, “must be really fucking sad, if this is what you do to get your kicks. Fuck off.” She opens her mouth, and Stiles leans closer, into her space, and commands it: “Fuck off.”

He turns around, showing her his back, and Derek jerks with muscle memory before Stiles locks a hand around his wrist and pulls him away, leaving Kate standing alone. She looks lost. Derek feels guilty about that, then angry at himself for feeling guilty.

Stiles takes him all the way out in the entrance hall, then outside, on the church’s huge white porch. “Shit,” Stiles says. “Shit, I’m sorry.” He drags a hand back through his hair. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cause a fucking huge scene like that, you know? I just—wow, hair-trigger issue, sorry, man.” He looks at Derek with his big brown eyes, he has freckles on the bridge of his nose and moles on his cheeks. Derek is shaking, thinking of that voice coming from this boy. “You okay?” Stiles asks, close to him. “Seriously. I can, like—I mean, you look like you’re about to pass out on me here.”

Derek can’t think of anything to say except, “Do you ever stop talking?” because the wash of Stiles’s constant chatter is chasing everything else away. Even his shakes.

“Nope,” Stiles says. “Sorry, man. Not in my programming.”

He’s not sure yet, but Derek thinks . . .

He thinks that might be good.

—-

John goes back to San Diego almost immediately. Nora and Mick and the kids are gone, too, back to their lives in Minneapolis. Peter sticks around for a week or so, bothering the baby betas, until Laura shoos him out. Derek has an apartment to go back to in New York, and he has a job in a local park to go back to, his master’s in ecology to finish, but Laura’s drinking beer with him on the back porch one night and says, “Maybe you could stick around a while.”

She hasn’t mentioned what happened at the funeral. No one has.

Maybe Stiles will. Derek hasn’t gotten to talk to him since then. Stiles is only recently pack, Laura told Derek. The others, they came first: Scott and Isaac and Erica and Boyd and Lydia, and then Jackson. Danny is the other human, Jackson’s best friend. Allison Argent is human, too; she isn’t pack, but Derek keeps hearing her name. Derek saw her at the funeral, but not since then. Scott smells of her, usually.

Sometimes, faintly, of Kate.

Derek holds on to knowing that Kate doesn’t live in Beacon Hills anymore. He just has to wait it out.

“Maybe I will,” he tells Laura.

—-

Derek turns twenty-four on the day he sees Stiles next. A week and a half after the funeral, a rickety old Jeep trundles up the driveway, and Scott hops out ahead of Stiles. Derek glances out his bedroom window to see them. All the other betas are away, at school or work or home, and Laura is out. The house is quiet.

“Laura?” Scott calls downstairs.

Derek gets to the top of them, then slings himself over the railing and lands light on his feet behind Stiles.

Who shrieks.

Derek catches a flailing arm before it can hit him in the face and says, with a raised-brow calm he doesn’t feel, “Stop before you kill someone.”

“Kill someone like who, Man of Steel?” Stiles yanks his hand back. He’s grinning.

“Like yourself,” Derek says pointedly. He nods greeting to Scott. “Laura’s out.”

“Isaac?”

“Also out.”

Scott sighs. Stiles wraps an arm around his shoulders. “Come on, dude, your mancrush can wait a couple hours.” He looks to Derek. “Mind if we hang for a few?”

“It’s the pack house,” Derek says, shrugging. It isn’t his call to make, no matter how much he wants to be alone right now. Or forever.

“You sure?” Scott asks. Derek shrugs again.

“You could be an Olympic shrugger,” Stiles chimes. “Sure you don’t wanna try out? Regionals, at least?”

Derek rolls his eyes and shrugs again, both shoulders, over-exaggerated, just to watch Stiles laugh. “Don’t eat all the Cheetos,” he tells them, and goes upstairs.

—-

He thinks it’s a one-off. For three seconds he felt lighter, joking with Stiles and Scott. Then it’s Thursday, pack dinner night, and they crowd around the dining table with huge buckets of fried chicken and way too much gravy, and Stiles isn’t actually all that loud, sitting with so many people, but he sits next to Derek, and the small, sly comments he does make . . .

They get Derek to laugh. It’s easy, laughing with Stiles. Derek barely knows him, and it’s easy.

Laura watches him like a hawk all night, then puts him on dish duty with Stiles while the others fuck around in the living room.

“So, hey, uh,” Stiles says, handing Derek a plate to put in the dishwasher. “I heard it was your birthday last week.”

“Oh.” Laura got him a tiny cake and fuzzy pawprints for his Camaro. He didn’t expect anything more. “Yeah.”

“How old are you?” Stiles says it offhand, but Derek can hear the interest thrumming.

It sours his mood. The subversiveness. If Stiles wants him for something (for sex), he should say it to Derek’s face. “How old are you?” Derek parrots.

Stiles raises his eyebrows and puts both hands up briefly in surrender. Then, “Eighteen.”

“Yeah, right,” Derek snorts. He can hear it isn’t a lie. He doesn’t know why he reacts like that. His back hurts.

“‘Scuse me?” Stiles plants a hand on the counter and stares at him. “You have a problem with that?”

“No.”

“I have a driver’s license, if you want proof,” Stiles adds, peeved.

“No,” Derek snaps. The chatter lapses in the living room, and he rubs a hand across his forehead. Sighs. “Sorry.”

They go back to the dishes. Stiles is quiet; that aggravates Derek more, grinding on his raw nerves. “Happy birthday,” Stiles mutters some time later. His hands are pruned from the dishwater.

Derek wants to kiss him.

“Twenty-four,” he offers instead.

Stiles blinks at him, lips parting. He bites down on the bottom one, draws it between his teeth. Smells of arousal. Opens his mouth.

Derek starts to panic.

From the living room, Isaac calls, “Stiles! Bond preference!” and Stiles leans backward to shout Daniel Craig’s name at the top of his lungs.

It gives Derek the time to slip out the back door.

—-

Derek spends the night in the woods as a wolf, remembering the feeling of having paws. He ran himself into exhaustion when his father died. Ran himself into exhaustion. Forced himself out of his head. Went to that club.

There’s something wrong with him. He knows it. Some sort of fatal flaw. He never wanted it until after his father died; he can only imagine a giant switch in him being flipped by his grief, can imagine the good, normal parts of him pinned down by it, until all that’s left is this.

He runs to the edge of the preserve, and around the huge lake, and back, and then around again when there are still lights on in the house.

He’s afraid.

He’s afraid because—

—he wants Stiles to do things to him.
—he thinks he might trust Stiles to do those things to him. Already. Which makes him stupid.
—he is attracted to Stiles.
—he will fuck it up. Again.
—Stiles has no idea what he would be getting into, and Derek doesn’t know how to tell him.
—Derek would ruin it.
—Derek would ruin all of it.

Again.

On the run home, he decides to go back to New York.

—-

He has a dream about Stiles.

Well—at first it’s about Kate. It’s the standard nightmare: Derek bolted to the cross, his body opened for Kate to abuse. Kate pushes him and pushes him and Derek bites his own mouth bloody trying not to say it.

Don’t be a pussy, Derek.

Don’t say it.

Don’t say it, don’t say it, he thinks it in pulses over the racing of his heart, the pound of adrenaline in his veins so strong he can taste it on the back of his tongue. Don’t say it. Don’t ruin this.

She reaches around him to grab his cock, stroke him once, hard, and he collapses, body sagging, and says, “Triskele,” in such a weak, wounded voice that even he isn’t surprised when she laughs at him.

“You don’t mean that,” she tells him. Strokes him again. “You don’t have the right to that word.” His cock is dripping precome, too much of it, running wet and hot out of him like blood. Is it blood?

Derek closes his eyes and waits for it to be over.

Then, it is.

He jerks as the cuffs unlock, as they spill him to his knees on the ground. He waits again, waits to be shoved on his back, waits to be thrown down. Used. But it never happens. That never comes.

Long fingers smooth through his hair. The rustle of air in front of his face. He makes himself open his eyes.

Stiles is staring at him.

His fingers are in Derek’s hair. He pushes them back and forth, caressing Derek. “Triskele,” he says softly, with that pretty, pretty mouth. “Triskele,” he says again, and leans in for a kiss that consumes Derek’s whole mouth, for all neither of them open theirs. It’s slow and chaste, and when Stiles moves away, it’s only to get a blanket to drape over Derek’s shoulders.

It smells like both of them.

—-

Derek drove from New York, and his car is still packed with some of his stuff. Maps, extra chargers, a couple spare duffel bags. He packs the rest in his favorite duffel and sets it on the far side of his bed, where Laura won’t see that it’s full.

It’s Friday. He’ll leave Monday. That’s long enough to be customarily polite. To be a better packmate and brother than John, who is bitter over not being named next alpha. To assure Laura that he’ll be a functional person by himself now that she’s tied here for the near future.

He drives past the club and his heart thrashes so hard in his chest that he has to pull over in case he’s starting to have a panic attack.

Then he realizes what the thrashing was, and he does have one, right there on the side of the road, his fingers caving furrows in his steering wheel. It’s not panic. Not all the way. It’s a little bit panic, the way everything with sex is a little bit panic now. But it’s not all the way panic. It’s a little bit want, too.

As long as he doesn’t tempt himself, he’ll be fine. That’s what he’s been telling himself for these past years. As long as he doesn’t tempt himself.

He drove past this place. He knew it was here, and he drove here on autopilot.

For a second, he really considers going inside. He considers that Kate might be there. He considers that someone else might abuse him. He considers that he might want that.

He doesn’t know how else to get what he wants.

There’s this huge, gaping, sucking void in him where his father and his mother and his sense of young, arrogant self used to be. Derek doesn’t know what else he is now. He isn’t part of a pack, not quite. He’s here because he’s Laura’s brother, not because anyone likes him.

Screw customary politeness.

He whirls the Camaro around and heads for the house. It’s the middle of a school day, it should be empty, he should be able to go. He’ll call Laura on the way. He’ll tell her he’s sorry. He’ll spent a couple weeks driving back, maybe. Tell his boss at the park that he got hung up with health problems. Maybe he’ll get drunk in a lot of motel rooms. Maybe he’ll find a club on the way.

Yes. That’s what he wants.

(No, it isn’t. But what he wants is stupid.)

Stiles’s blue Jeep is in the drive.

Shit,” Derek says out loud. He jerks the Camaro to a halt, puts it in reverse, ready to go, but then Stiles steps out the front door, and he sees Derek right through the light tint on his windows. His mouth opens a sliver, only just like the way it did at the sink, when he was ready to do something Derek may never be ready for again.

Derek thinks of his dream. Of Stiles saying that word.

He’s grateful Stiles can’t smell it on him.

He parks and gets out stiffly, locking the doors behind him. “What are you doing here?” he asks, before Stiles can say anything.

Stiles holds up a small stack of DVD cases. “Left ‘em after dinner.” His voice is so neutral, empty of the wild expressiveness Derek has gotten used to. Already. Already he’s used to it.

It terrifies him to think that Stiles may be able to do good for him. He can’t consider it, not with Stiles standing lean and watching with dark eyes in his tight blue henley that shows off the way he’s surprisingly muscular. Not so fragile as Derek thought he was, in the first few seconds, when he put himself between Kate and Derek without thinking. Ready to defend Derek without knowing him.

Stiles moves, and it’s like he breaks the air. Derek has to say it. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry. For what happened.”

“No,” Stiles says after a long pause. “I shouldn’t have come on like that.”

Derek blinks. “So you were . . . ”

“Yeah.”

Derek’s whole body is frozen. He knows he’s hunched, unfriendly looking, but he can’t fix it. He can’t fix himself.

Stiles sets the DVD cases on the hood of his Jeep and comes closer to Derek. He smells like caramel today, sticky-sweet, but there’s an earthiness to him that reminds Derek of running. “Listen, I didn’t mean to freak you out. I’m sorry. Isaac said after that your heart was going really fast. I didn’t know. Like—you know that, right? I didn’t know.”

“I know you didn’t.” Derek’s voice is unfriendly, too.

“Isaac said you were having a panic attack,” Stiles presses.

Derek bares his teeth at him without meaning to. He is out of control. He is so out of control, and has been since he passed that horrible place. Stiles doesn’t flinch. Derek growls.

Don’t try for me.

“I’m sorry about your mom,” Stiles says, “and—about what happened? At the funeral. I didn’t—”

Stop apologizing,” Derek snarls. Ripping. Jagged. He wants his claws, and there they are, and his hands are shaking, and his breaths are shuddering out of him. “You don’t know anything,” he says. “You don’t know fucking anything, Stiles. You don’t even know me. So—so stop. Stop. I don’t want any of this from you.”

Stiles’s young, manic aura vanishes, leaving him a study in cool stillness that is in turn studying Derek. His eyes are so sharp. Here, in him, Derek sees the creature who confronted Kate.

“What do you want?” Stiles asks. “Huh? Tell me, Derek.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Why do you care?” Derek bites out. He shoves his hands in his pockets; his claws shred the leather and he swears, yanking them out again.

Stiles heaves out a long, long breath, and Derek mimics it unintentionally, letting everything flow out of him. Stiles says, quietly, “My mom died, too. I used to get panic attacks, afterward. All the time. I was in therapy for like eight months trying to get it figured out. I got agoraphobic, you know? But, like, not for me. I . . . ” He drags a hand back through his hair, twitchy again, all that hyper focus scattered. “Like, I kept my dad from going out. I would do anything. Lie on the floor, kick, scream. Anything. I was convinced that if he went out, he was gonna get sick just like she did. And if he died, too . . . ” His eyes, when he glances up at Derek, are glazed. “Well,” he says, and shrugs.

Well.

“And Allison told me.”

“What?”

“Allison,” Stiles repeats. “She told me. About the club.”

Ice slinks in Derek’s veins. Chokes up his spine. “How—no,” he says. “No, she—”

“She knows.” Stiles shakes his head. “I guess she asked, after the funeral, and Kate told her, about. You know. The sex stuff.”

“Told her how much,” Derek gasps. No. No, no, it was fucked when Laura knew. Now everyone knows what he did.

Stiles shakes his head again. “I dunno. Probably more than she told me. Kate’s an over-sharer, apparently. I just . . . she said you were at the . . . the BDSM club. With Kate.”

“At the dinner. You knew.”

“Yeah.” Stiles’s smile is rueful. “That’s kind of why I was saying sorry. So . . . sorry I didn’t tell you why I was saying sorry.”

Derek wants to be a wolf. He wants to go to the lake. He wants to maybe drown in the lake. “So you know,” he says.

Stiles reaches for him, ducks his head to catch Derek’s eyes. “Are you gonna pass out?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

Derek snarls and yanks his arm away. “If I say something, I mean it.”

“I know,” Stiles says, like it’s that easy for him.

“Fuck you.” Irrational. Irrational response. Irrational behavior. Stiles is concerned for him, and Derek would rather rip his throat out than take it. Because he doesn’t deserve it. But he doesn’t want to hurt Stiles. Not that much. Instead, he says, “Fuck you,” again, with more feeling.

Stiles says, “You can. If you want to.”

Derek laughs. It turns hysterical between one uptick and the next, and he drops back against the hood of his car and sits on the sun-warmed metal, his vision blurring out. He can smell the honesty on Stiles, hear his steady, steady heartbeat. “I’m not looking for a pity fuck,” he says. His voice isn’t half as vitriolic as he wants it to be. “You don’t even know me.”

Stiles sits next to him. “Am I going to give you a panic attack again? Or, like, am I going to make you Joker-laugh again, because no thanks, big guy.”

“You’re insane,” Derek murmurs. “Or not real.”

“That wasn’t an answer, Derek.”

Derek swallows hard. “I—no.”

“No?”

“No, I’m not going to have a panic attack.” He hopes.

Stiles’s fingers drum on the Camaro’s hood and Derek’s heart feels like it’s syncing up, tripling in pace to match any part of Stiles it can. He can hear Stiles’s speeding up, too, and it reminds him how stupid this is.

Stiles smells safe.

“I did it a few times,” Stiles says. “Not at a club. It was a guy I knew, we were dating a little, kind of, fuckbuddies mostly, and he brought me a collar and told me to put it on him.” Stiles rolls his shoulders, rubs his fingertips on the Camaro’s hood. “Did some spanking. He really wanted to, uh. Choke on my cock, kind of. So I did that. I liked it.”

“You don’t want to do it with me.” Derek ignores how tight his chest is. How he’s imagining all of that, with him at Stiles’s feet. “I can’t—I don’t do it right.”

Stiles tilts his head, quizzical. “What do you mean, ‘right’?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t.”

“There is no right, dude,” Stiles sighs. “Just if you like it. What you want. That’s all that matters. And you didn’t like it with Kate, right?”

Derek clenches his teeth, then shakes his head once, short and jerky. “I thought I did. I didn’t know how to do it. It’s not about what I want.”

“I overdosed on Adderall.”

“What?” Derek stares at him, whiplashed. What the hell does that have to do with . . . ?

“I OD’d,” Stiles says, his eyes on the forest. “I kept convincing myself I didn’t need it ‘cause it made me—I dunno. I had to take care of my dad. I still do. And I thought since I was on Adderall . . . I left it home once and had this big breakdown in the middle of school, like epic big, final-battle big, and Dad had to come get me, and I could tell that he was this close—” Stiles holds two fingers up “—this close to just losing it. And I convinced myself that I’d get off it, and then when I needed it I took too much. He cried over me at the hospital. He cried, dude. Then you know what happened?”

“No?”

“I started taking it again. ‘Cause I need it.”

Wow.

It’s so . . . it’s such a significant, awkward thing, to be told that, and this is the weirdest conversation with anyone he’s known for two weeks that he’s ever had. Stiles is weird. This is all weird. But Derek doesn’t feel like he’s about to have a panic attack, and he’s sitting here, knowing that Stiles has thought about sex with him, might be thinking about it now, and knowing that doesn’t make his skin crawl.

He squints at Stiles. “Did you just tell me a sob story about your dad in order to get me to have kinky sex with you?”

Stiles quirks his first real smile in too long. “Depends. Did it work?”

Derek rubs the heels of his hands into his eyes. He’s so drained. Drained of everything. If someone came around and flipped him sideways he’d probably just lie there, too heavy to move. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school right now?”

“I have study hall last bell.” Stiles crosses his arms. Uncrosses them. “That was a pretty insensitive response to my almost-death story, man.”

“Sorry,” Derek says.

“Nah, it’s okay. Emotional ravagery is a good excuse.” Stiles pats the hood of the Camaro and slides off it. “When’re you going back to New York?” he asks, like he didn’t just proposition Derek for sex and like Derek didn’t just sort of agree.

“Monday.”

“Mmkay.” Stiles pulls his phone from his pocket. “Gimme your number?” and there’s a real uncertainty there, in the way it’s said, which is what makes Derek give it to him. A moment later, Derek’s phone cheeps in his pocket.

and now you have mine --s

Stiles rubs his cheek on his shoulder. “So—I mean. I meant it. You know? If it doesn’t freak you out.”

“Your funeral,” Derek says, which isn’t funny.

“God, you’re not secretly Sam Winchester, are you?”

“What?”

“Pop culture,” Stiles sighs. “You’re cool with this?”

“Maybe. I’ll let you know.”

Stiles nods, bouncing on his heels. “I never told that to anyone,” he says suddenly. “Any of that. About my dad and the panic attacks and stuff.”

That tangles in Derek’s head, slightly uncomfortable; he knows Stiles isn’t bribing him for sex with information—that was a joke—but . . . “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Yeah, I know.” Stiles laughs. “This’s been really weird, huh?”

“Yeah,” Derek says. His shoulders relax.

“Sorry. It’s all good, I guess. I’m kind of fucked up. Maybe that’s why I liked you so fast. I don’t like people fast, usually.” Stiles looks like he wants to reach for Derek, and his heartbeat is fast again, and in that moment Derek sees something new of him. Not the high school boy who sits on Isaac’s lap and laughs about Bond villains. Not the one who forced Kate away. Something different, something darker, something cold and mournful and wounded.

Stiles clears his throat. “So. Call me. If you want.” He turns around, grabs the DVDs, waves over his shoulder. Gets in his Jeep. Drives away.

Derek puts his keys in the house and gets his paws on. Runs himself into exhaustion.

He never calls Stiles.

—-

He does text him, though.

A week after he gets back to New York, he sends: what do you like most about domming?

Hi. Taking care of someone.

hi.

Hello.

Derek sighs at his phone. i’m coming back to bh in a month or so for laura’s bday.

OK, cool. I’ll be here.

That’s that. Apparently. Derek thinks.

—-

Four days later, at three in the morning, he gets a text. i m very very dnruk, it says.

i can see that

dinf i sacare you? cscare* idd i scare youl in fron tf your hous

no

im really fwordid that i ca me off likke um what s the odwrd the worrd
forwarddf?
stlkaersishka

stiles. it’s fine.

if eel likenhou’re tryung to proftect my feeings
look i speflld a word wrighnt!!

no you didn’t. it’s fine.

you ebrver fcalled

i know.

srory

Derek almost calls him. stop apologizing, he texts instead. drink a glass of water and go to bed.

No response.

—-

Wow, so, sorry for drunk-texting all over you.

it’s fine.

You know, I’m starting to think that’s the only phrase in your texting vocab, big guy. Is it really all fine?

It’s a Wednesday night. Derek aches from the brush-clearing he did all day, deep down into his muscles. He has a beer. The Dodgers game is on, turned down low.

no, he texts.

Oh. Well OK. Good.

good it’s not fine . . . ?

Ahghkdslflsl that’s not what I meant. Not good that like, that you’re not lying to me.

Derek doesn’t really know what to say to that, so he says, do you watch baseball?

With Dad sometimes.

i’m watching the dodgers

There’s a five-minute lapse, then, That was a truly F- pitch. 0/10 would not watch again.

And that’s how it ends up. Derek camps out until the game is over and Stiles texts him witty, factually incorrect quips about the game, like that was a nice strike ball, and that faststop has hella legs on him, he must do calf crunches.

Derek falls asleep with his phone on his chest and wakes up in the morning to an individual text of every lyric from “You Are My Sunshine.”

i don’t have unlimited texting, you know.

Ouch. You should probably get it. Gotta go to class, ugh, text you later.

—-

At some point, Derek stops dreading going back to Beacon Hills. Stiles never mentions the sex. He never mentions their talk. For all Stiles touts being an insensitive bastard—and the more Derek gets to know him, the more he sees that front, that it is a front, which puts him at ease when it probably shouldn’t, maybe wouldn’t, if he was all there—he takes care to steer away from pushing Derek into anything sexual.

That’s why Derek texts him late on Friday, a week before he’s supposed to head back to Beacon Hills. Because for some reason, Stiles’s interest is still on him, and for some reason, it isn’t entirely sexual. Derek can tell without hearing Stiles’s heartbeat.

i want to try with you

The reply comes almost immediately. Are you sure?

yeah

Derek

yes.

Where are you?

home

Can I call you?

Heat sizzles low in Derek’s stomach. He knows something is about to happen, the same way he can tell two days before it rains.

yes.

The phone rings, but when Derek picks it up, Stiles doesn’t say anything. Derek can hear him breathing, a little too loudly, a little too quickly. “Stiles?” he says eventually.

“You need to be really, really, really sure.” Stiles’s voice is soft and serious. Derek has never felt the six-year age gap between them more than now, but it’s like it’s flipped. Like he’s sixteen again and Stiles is—and Stiles older, is Kate’s age. “If you try to do this like you did with Kate, I’ll—I won’t do that.”

“I won’t ruin it.”

“Ruin—? Dude, that’s not what I meant. You didn’t ruin anything. You—”

“No. I did.” Derek’s fingers tighten on the phone. “With Kate. I safeworded out.”

Stiles’s breathing hitches. “So?”

“I—”

“So?” Stiles demands, harsher. “I—she put you in the hospital, Derek.”

Derek grits his teeth. “It was my fault.”

Stiles inhales, exhales. Repeats. “She told you that.”

“It’s true.”

“Okay. Okay. Fine. What’s your safeword?”

Derek’s body raises with chills.

“Derek. Tell me.”

“I don’t have one,” Derek lies. He hasn’t said it in years. He can’t. He isn’t ready to.

Stiles is silent for a beat. Then he says, “I wanna try something different. If you’re okay, you tell me green. If something is started to weird you out, say yellow. If you need everything to stop, say red, and I will. Okay?”

“I—okay.”

“So . . . what’re you wearing?”

Derek huffs a half-laugh, some of the tension seeping from him. “Jeans and a t-shirt.”

“If I asked you to, would you take them off for me?”

“Isn’t that . . . kind of the point of this?”

“Being naked?”

“You telling me what to do.”

Stiles is quiet again. Derek realizes that, for the first time, he’s listening to Stiles be careful with what he’s about to say. “Why’d you go to the club?”

Derek curls sideways, folding a pillow in half and tucking it under his head. “I needed to. I needed it.”

“What was your favorite thing?”

Not a lot of it was good. Derek has to sift through memories for that. “I like . . . being pushed.”

“Pushed? Like, around?”

“No. Pushed to—to please someone. To do what they want.”

Having direction. Having purpose. Knowing, for a half hour or an hour or two, what he needed to do and what he needed to think.

“I can hear you thinking over there, big guy. What else?”

“That’s it. I let them do whatever.”

Stiles exhales, groans. Derek can hear him shifting, can hear material rustling. Sheets? “I’ve only done this a couple times, remember,” Stiles says, that uncertain flutter in his voice before he hardens up and says, “Get naked.”

Derek does, leaving the phone on his bed. He shuts his bedroom door, locks even though no one lives with him. It feels better, secure. He draws the shades, too, and comes back to bed when he’s nothing but skin. “Okay,” he murmurs, tucking the phone between his cheek and shoulder.

“You’re stripped?”

“I’m stripped. Master?”

Stiles makes a faint, choked noise. “Just—no, just, uh, just do Stiles for now.”

“I’m stripped, Stiles.”

“Okay.” Stiles swallows.

Derek holds back a smartass comment, anxiety rolling in his stomach. It gets to be too much, and, “Stiles,” he grits out. “Talk.”

“Okay.” Stiles swallows again, licks his lips. “Okay. Are you hard?”

“No.”

Stiles’s breath whooshes out. “What if I put a collar on you?”

“Are you going to reach through the phone?”

“Ha-ha, funny. Whaddayou think?”

“I’ve . . . never tried that.” Kate used to take her belt off and loop it around his neck, but that was more for jerking him around. A collar would be for . . . what? Ownership?

“Would it bother you? Like, with the whole wolf social niceties thing.”

“No.”

“I could get you one,” Stiles says, thoughtful. “Get my name . . . get, you know, I’ll get my name carved on the inside. They make those. The raised kind. So when you took it off, my name’d be raised on your skin.”

A brief wash of arousal brushes the anxiety away, and Derek clings to it. Kate never put him in a collar. “Stiles,” he says, remembering abruptly.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t call me baby.”

“Okay.”

“Ever.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. “I won’t. Green?”

“What?”

“Are you green?”

Derek frowns. Is he supposed to be checking in? “Was I supposed to tell you earlier?”

“Nah. I was just checking.” Stiles clears his throat. More fabric rustling. “Sorry. I guess I’m kinda nervous.”

“I trust you.” Derek says it in a rush. “Do what you think I’ll like.”

Stiles laughs. “This would be so much easier if I was there. This wasn’t my best plan, huh.” Maybe not, but Derek is hard now. He tells Stiles, and almost smiles at how he hears Stiles’s throat click. “For me?” Stiles asks.

“For you.”

“Collar,” Stiles murmurs. “I’d . . . put a collar on you. So you’d feel it even when I wasn’t touching you, that you’re mine.” Derek closes his eyes. Keeps his free hand at his side. Lets the sound of Stiles’s voice drive it all away. “I like sucking cock. A lot. I’m kind of a slut for it. I used to have this big gangbang fantasy back when I was in, like, sophomore year. Anyway, point is, I’d love to suck your cock, but the trick is, you gotta be telling me that you’re mine while I do it. Or I’ll stop.”

And he does stop. Talking.

Derek whines in his throat.

He can hear Stiles smile. “You touching yourself, big guy?”

“No, Stiles.”

“Good. You can now.”

Derek wraps a hand around his cock, slicks his thumb up and over the head, swipes away the building precome. He shakes, actually shakes. It’s not like he hasn’t felt his own hand before, fuck, but—but this is for Stiles. “I am,” he says.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I can hear it. Can you hear me?”

So wet.

“Mmngh.”

Derek.” The snap of Stiles’s voice goes straight down Derek’s spine. “Can you hear me?”

Sweetness sings in Derek’s veins, surging up with a rush of adrenaline he feels in his toes. There, there, the high he used to chase, already so close. “Yes, Stiles.”

“Tell me you’re mine.”

“I’m yours.” He really does feel it—he feels like he’s under the soft trap of Stiles’s thumb, pinned in place from across the whole damn wide country. With his eyes closed and how easy it is to remember Stiles’s scent, Stiles might as well be right here. Touching him.

God, yeah.

“What’s that noise for?” Stiles asks. “That’s new.”

“Thought about your hand.” Derek’s face burns. He would’ve thought he had no shame left, not after the things he’d done for her and for all the others, but this is— Well. Stiles said it. This is new. New and distanced from that place. “You. Here.”

Stiles hums. “I’d like to be there. Would you like it if I put my hand on your throat? Over your collar.”

Derek tries it on himself, cupping the warm, broad flat of his palm to the vulnerable front. “I’m not sure.”

“Green?”

“Green,” Derek confirms. “Just not sure.”

“Maybe I could just kiss the air out of you, then. Lick it out of your mouth.” Stiles’s heartbeat upticks. Embarrassment? “Make you beg to stop kissing me.”

“Don’t know if I would.” Derek’s hips stutter up into his hand at the image of Stiles sealing their lips together, of his tongue in Derek’s mouth, of Stiles’s hands in his hair, holding him down and making him gasp, dizzy, for breath. Making him—making him do anything. Anything Stiles wanted.

Maybe he would beg. If that was what Stiles wanted.

“Stop, Derek. No touching.”

Stiles’s voice cuts sharp through the haze, the imagining, and Derek freezes, then moves his hand off his cock and lays it, fingers spread, on his stomach. He can hear Stiles’s hand working, imagines smelling him, then has to bite practically through his own lip to keep from making more noise at that thought, quiet so Stiles won’t think he’s being disobedient.

Derek doesn’t know what he’d do right now, if Stiles pulled out of the scene. If he told Derek that he’d gone and ruined this, too, and that Stiles was as done with him as Kate had been.

Stiles will do that eventually. But not now.

Please not now.

“Derek?”

“Yes,” Derek says, strangled.

“Are you—green? Are you okay?” No more wet sounds from Stiles’s side; his voice is low with lust, but concerned. Derek takes a deep breath and his head clears. His heart is pounding. “Are you freaking out?”

He was . . . Was he? “No. I’m sorry,” he says immediately. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“Dude—Derek, it’s okay. Did you come? Is that what happened?”

“No,” Derek says, confused. “I was p—upset. I’m not going to safeword. I want to keep going.” For you.

He knows, though, by the way that Stiles sounds, that this is over. Derek wasn’t good enough.

Stiles sucks in a breath. Not in a sexy way. More like Derek has socked him in the stomach. “Okay,” he says slowly. “Okay. Red.”

“What?”

“I’m safewording,” Stiles says. “We can try again, but I’m—not. Not now.” Derek hears rustling fabric, a zipper, the tic-tic of a fingernail on a metal button. His cock softens in his hand, the pounding rush of high slipping from his grasp. He crashes hard, always has, but it’s worse now—not an orgasm crash, but knowing that he totally, utterly failed Stiles.

“I don’t understand,” he manages.

Do you even know what safewording means?

Derek hangs up before Stiles can answer. Turns his phone off when it rings.

He turns it back on in the morning. He expected a mass amount of voicemails, texts, but all he has is the one missed call and one text.

Sorry.

—-

Derek doesn’t answer Stiles’s (confusing) text message. Instead, he Googles BDSM new york city and does some scoping, finds some places that are not like the club where he found Kate. Finds some places where he can go and pay a few hundred dollars to do a scene where he’ll be able to control what happens. The application sheets for some of the dungeons are way more extensive than Derek would ever have thought.

It frustrates him.

After that, he tries to find clubs that are like the place he found Kate. If he can’t do it the way Stiles wanted, with safewords and greens and reds, with Stiles sounding like he cared, then—then maybe he has to do it like he did when he was younger. Maybe he can just go once a month and offer himself up to the first Dom who wants him. Say he doesn’t have any limits, like he used to.

He just wants to give it up. He just wants to give up control, just for a while. Back in Beacon Hills, he was consumed with it, going to the club as often as he could, indulging, but now he wants it different. He wants to be able to do his nine-to-five at the park and come home and not have to make every decision that living alone comes with. He doesn’t want a quick thing at a club.

Talking to Stiles . . . texting, watching Dodgers games, getting to know Stiles, who’s already part of Laura’s pack, who knows more about the right way to do this than Derek does . . .

Talking to Stiles, Derek caught glimpses of the life he could have. Where this thing isn’t a sickness. Where it’s part of his life. Where it’s okay.

Around three, Stiles texts him again.

Can you at least tell me what I did wrong?

Derek stares at his phone. What can he say? He didn’t know that Doms could safeword. He didn’t even know that Doms is supposed to be spelled with a capital D until his Googling session. Kate told him he ruined it all by safewording—so what does it mean, that Stiles safeworded?

He’s been carefully not thinking about it, but now he’s one text away from finding out.

why did you say red?

You were having a panic attack.

but

He means to erase it, but sends it accidentally. “Shit,” he mutters, and sends, but you’re the Dom

Exactly?? It’s my responsibility to make sure you’re OK when we’re doing something like that. You weren’t OK, so I stopped it.

Derek’s mind goes blank and his muscles all go soft at once. He slumps back in his chair, his thumb resting on his phone’s screen.

He doesn’t know what to say. It’s becoming an epidemic, hot and alive: him not knowing what to say to Stiles.

It’s okay, because Stiles fills the textual silence: You think it’s about someone doing whatever they want with you.

isn’t it?

No. You’re supposed to like it too.

i do
i did.

Do you want to try again?

do you want me to

Derek jfc. Tell me something here. Help me out some, dude. I want to try again.

Derek swipes his thumb back and forth, thinking of the previous night. It was almost so good. And Stiles is telling him he still wants him. in person, Derek sends finally.

OK. Still coming up Friday?

yeah

Cool.

dodgers on tuesday?

The reply is a long time coming. Can’t.

Derek frowns at his phone. Dread curdles in his stomach, settles hard.

It hangs around until Tuesday. Derek goes about work the whole day like normal, takes one of the horses out to check on a broken fence that not one, but six park guests complain about. He lingers for a while, doing some scouting, because Tron is smooth and good under him, and is giving his body the kind of workout that will make his thighs ache inside and out. It distracts him for a while.

Tuesday night, Stiles texts him.

Sorry if I freaked you out Saturday. It’s my mom’s birthday today. I was out with Scott, but I’m home now.

do you need something?

Derek realizes how that sounds and adds, we could watch a movie if you want

Sure. Yeah, great. You have Skype?

have what?

So Stiles walks him through downloading and signing up for Skype, and they watch Hocus Pocus together even though it’s the middle of September. Stiles’s face is grainy and lit weird from his bedroom lamp, but he laughs a lot, drinking from a bottle of Jack. They get to the part where Thackery, as a cat, curls up in bed with Dani, and Stiles slurs, “I was always so—so jealous of her as a kid, dude. Like, she gets a pet that talks? And sleeps with her just ‘cause he knows she likes it? I wanted a sense—senta—sentient. No, tha’s not right, either. Wanted a pet like that. To talk to.”

Maybe it should be humiliating, that image. Both images: Derek as Stiles’s pet and Derek sleeping curled up in the spoon of Stiles's body, Stiles's hands in his fur. Maybe it should be, but Derek says, “I’d sleep with you like that.”

“Dude,” Stiles says. “Dude. S’a wolf?”

“If you want me to.”

“Huh.” Stiles takes another swig and folds his arms to rest his cheek on them, his big, chunky headphones making his hair stick up at odd angles. His dad’s on shift, an all-nighter, and Derek can’t hear anything in his house but the sticky uneven static and Stiles’s breathing, occasionally, when it’s loud enough for his shitty laptop microphone to pick up.

Stiles drops off like that before the movie’s over. Derek watches the end of it by himself. Thinks it’s creepy as fuck not to end the call, but doesn’t end it.

The pixelated softness of Stiles’s face makes him look the eighteen Derek knows he is. He never looks eighteen when he’s awake.

Derek settles down, setting his laptop on one side of the bed and taking the other, his knees tucked up. It’s creepy to watch Stiles sleep, but he does it anyway.

Kate never wanted to see him as a wolf.

—-

Laura picks Derek up from the airport. She stops dead as he comes out the arrivals gate and says, “Holy mother of all Jesus, are you smiling?”

“Shut up,” he says, and hugs her.

She takes him out for lunch, the requisite double deckers and fries at their mutual favorite diner. She tells him all about the pack—how she thinks Scott has more power than he realizes, but how she knows he won’t challenge her for alpha. How she thought Erica and Isaac were going to be a couple, but it’s Erica and Boyd instead. How there’s something complicated going on with Lydia and Danny and Jackson.

She pauses there, picking at her fries, and says that Isaac keeps coming over smelling like hormones and the Argent house. Derek stiffens; she waves a hand.

“I just thought you’d want to know before you see him. It’s not Kate—she’s long gone. Allison told Chris . . . enough of what happened, and he told her to go. She’s been gone since you left. I think he’s living there,” she says in the same breath, rubbing at her chin.

“. . . Chris?”

“No, Isaac. Because of Chris, though.” Derek raises an eyebrow. “Chris stuck his nose into some shit with Isaac’s dad, helped Isaac out,” Laura explains. “Allison thinks Chris is lonely, since her mom left.”

Derek hums and finishes his sandwich; it’s all he can do, this out of the loop, when the pack and its acquaintances aren't much more than a collection of names to him.

“How’s work?” Laura asks. The conversation eases. They order sundaes and Laura drives him to the pack house, where he’s greeted by Isaac—who smells of the Argent house, like Laura said, but, stronger, of cologne that isn’t his—and Erica, and Scott and Cora.

They seem happy. The house is clean and bright. Their parents’ ashes are still on the mantle, candles between them, and nothing about the way his mother decorated the house has changed. Derek goes up to his old room with his duffel bag, breathing in. He wants to go for a run. He has to pick up Laura’s birthday cake for tomorrow.

He wants to see Stiles.

Scott gives him a knowing look when he asks about Stiles’s house and says, “I can drive you there.”

“No,” Derek says. “It’s fine.” He takes Scott’s directions and goes to paws. Runs the whole way there, leaping fences, breezing past dogs who cower at the sight of him. Familiar apprehension isn’t enough to hold back the pure, unrepentant joy that being the wolf gives him. If only this was always enough for him.

He checks Stiles’s driveway; his father’s cruiser is gone, as Stiles said it would be. Derek still goes around the back, rising up on two legs to paw at the door.

Stiles opens it and yelps, stumbling back before his expression clears. “Holy shit, Derek?”

Derek lets himself turn back, his bones shifting and grinding until he’s upright and suffocating in the confines of his clothes. “Hi,” he says.

“Yo,” Stiles says. It makes no sense, but he looks taller, more filled out. His hair is longer. His constellation of moles is still the same.

Derek kisses him, mostly without meaning to.

“Mmph.” Stiles’s hands come up, and he buries them in Derek’s hair, pulling him closer. The angle of it cocks Derek’s shoulders oddly, and he uses that as his excuse when he goes to his knees at Stiles’s feet. His heart is pounding, from the run or from the feel of the kitchen’s tile floor through his jeans or both.

He expects Stiles to say, What are you doing?

But he doesn’t. His hands loosen in Derek’s hair, slip down to caress Derek’s shoulders. Derek presses his face to Stiles’s stomach, inhaling the scent of him.

“Derek,” Stiles says.

“Mmm?”

“Derek.”

Derek turns his face. Rubs his cheek on the fly of Stiles’s jeans, stubble scraping the denim. “Yes, Stiles.”

Stiles swallows audibly. Takes a second to collect himself. Then, “Tell me your safeword.”

Kate never asked him before sessions. “Are you going to ask me before every session?” Derek asks. He winces. He isn’t supposed to ask questions.

“Yeah.” Stiles’s hands don’t turn cruel. He doesn’t slap Derek for asking. He runs his fingers through Derek’s hair again. “Is that okay?”

Derek shakes his head. “Please don’t ask me that.”

Stiles’s hand slows. “I need to know what you’re okay with, big guy.”

“Whatever you want to do with me,” Derek says. He feels Stiles tense, ready to say something, and shakes his head again, looking up at him. “I need to not set limits. I need you to do that.”

Stiles exhales, his cheek pinching when he bites down on the inside of it. “Tyler and I used to do a game plan.”

“I can’t. I can’t—” He chokes on his next breath, catches himself starting to panic. Curls his hands, claws biting into his palms.

“Hey. Derek.” Stiles crouches down, cups Derek’s jaw. “It’s okay. It’s okay, okay? I just, I don’t know how to do a lot of this, that’s all, okay? I’m not an expert here.” He slips a little, tipping, and braces one knee on the tile, then slots a thumb in the soft groove under Derek’s jaw, forcing him to meet Stiles’s gaze. “You need to not know what’s gonna happen? Or—”

“Yes.” Derek closes his eyes.

“No,” Stiles says. “Derek, look at me.” When Derek does, “Good boy,” Stiles murmurs. Derek weakens at the warmth of the praise. Stiles must see it, because he repeats himself: “Good boy, that’s right.”

And then Derek can’t help but give, all at once. “I should say ‘red’ if I want it to stop.” Triskele.

Stiles kisses him, off-center and clumsy. “Red. Okay. Let’s do this,” he says, like it’s the easiest thing. “We’re gonna try.”

He takes Derek off his knees and leads him upstairs, through the small, quiet house and to the last room at the end of the hallway. There are sports posters on the walls, uniform and impersonal, and bookshelves. Two computers. Stiles’s closet is open; Derek catches glimpses of plaid shirts, pairs of jeans hung haphazardly.

Stiles’s heartbeat stutters as he locks the door. He smells nervous; it puts Derek at ease. “Take your clothes off,” he says after a hard swallow. Derek obeys instantly, stripping himself while Stiles goes to his bedside table and riffles through it. By the time he turns around, Derek is completely naked, all of him bared for Stiles to look at.

Derek’s been naked in front of hundreds of people, but none of them have looked at him with the peculiar kind of hunger Stiles does.

“I got you this,” Stiles says, hefting it. A thick collar. Buttery leather. Black.

He comes closer, presumably to put it on, so Derek goes to his knees.

Stiles stops. “No. Stand up.” As soon as Derek’s on his feet, Stiles orders, “Kneel.” Confused, Derek sinks back down. “Cross your wrists behind your back.” He does, and Stiles sighs. “Do you get why I made you do that?”

“No.”

“‘Cause I don’t want you doing what you think I want.” Stiles stops in front of him and loops the collar around his neck to buckle it snugly. The heavy, cold buckle is a weight at the hollow of his throat, urging him to bend his head back, to give his submission. “I want you,” Stiles says, curling two fingers under the collar and bringing Derek’s face to rest against his stomach, “to do what I really want. Nothing else, okay?”

Derek nuzzles Stiles’s stomach through the fabric of his t-shirt. “Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“Okay, Stiles.”

Good boy.”

Derek isn’t sure, but he thinks his toes may actually curl with ecstasy. He could get addicted to that, those thick drops of praise in Stiles’s voice. He could get addicted to it the way he got addicted to Kate paying attention to him. To the way he got addicted to people driving him out of his own head.

Only this time, it won’t hurt him to need it.

Stiles tugs on his hair. “Don’t drift off,” he orders. “Keep your hands where they are.” His hands are shaking slightly as he goes for his belt. Derek stiffens, eyes locked on it, but when Stiles undoes it, he tosses it away. He doesn’t hit Derek with it. He doesn’t put it around Derek’s neck. “Green?” Stiles asks.

“Green, Stiles.”

“Perfect.” Stiles rubs his fingers under Derek’s chin and pops the button on his jeans, then drags the zipper down. His cock is pretty ordinary, definitely not the porn star monsters Derek saw occasionally at the clubs, and uncut. Derek shifts forward, almost taking it in his mouth, until he remembers Stiles telling him to wait. Not to think he knows what Stiles wants.

He shouldn’t think at all.

That’s it.

That’s all he wants.

“Green,” he mumbles, indulging in the word. He’ll repeat it mindlessly from now on, whenever Stiles says it. He knows that. Stiles can see it, when he panics. Stiles will stop if he has to.

“Green, Derek.” Stiles rubs him under the chin again, like a beloved pet, and slicks the head of his cock over Derek’s lips, smearing precome. “Open your mouth.”

Derek parts his lips. Stiles’s hand is still in his hair; he pulls, bowing Derek’s body. Making his back arch. Making him become concave at the small of his back. Making him open up his chest, his stomach, all his vulnerable parts.

Stiles breathes out shakily. “More. Open your mouth more.” He puts the head of his cock on Derek’s bottom lip when he obeys; it feels like a reward, but Stiles doesn’t tell him to do anything else. Dizzy with the taste, the smell, the feel, the distant ache of pain from being kept in position, Derek waits.

“God,” Stiles breathes. Derek doesn’t know how long it’s been. “God,” Stiles says again. “You’re . . . ” He strokes Derek’s cheek and pushes his hips forward, his cock sliding into Derek’s mouth. Derek stays perfectly still, a vessel, a way for Stiles to take his pleasure, until “Go on,” Stiles tells him.

Derek gags himself on the first thrust. Takes in more than he meant to. He keeps his hands in place at the small of his back and does it again, more careful this time. Stiles’s legs shake, and he braces his hand on Derek’s shoulder. Derek is a rock under his hand, is perfect for him. He swallows around Stiles’s cock, can feel himself getting messy with it, wet around his mouth and over his cheeks when it slips from his mouth. Stiles reaches for it, the first time, but Derek is already there, nosing at him until he can take Stiles back into his mouth.

Stiles lets him, after that. Lets Derek follow his order as absolutely as he can.

As soon as he begins to flail, losing the edge, missing Stiles’s voice, Stiles says, “Don’t you dare back off,” and tightens his hand in the hair at the back of Derek’s neck, guiding him. Derek relaxes in his grip, letting Stiles move him into being throatfucked. He doesn’t gag on every thrust, and when he does, it feels like Stiles is taking a small piece from him. Of him. Scooping it out. Taking him apart.

Derek doesn’t miss any of it.

He’s never been this wanting in all his life.

“Green,” Stiles gasps, pulling back. Derek’s mouth is suddenly empty, and he whines, straining forward. But Stiles holds him back, and Derek wouldn’t dare overpower him. “Green?”

“Green.” It comes out slurred and high-pitched. “Please, please,” Derek mumbles, turning his face in to Stiles’s wrist. “Please.”

Please don’t stop.

Stiles doesn’t ask him what he wants. Stiles is so good to him.

“Be quiet,” Stiles says. “Tell me what your safeword is.”

“It’s—it’s t—it’s red.”

“It’s red, what?”

Derek whimpers, eyes sliding out of focus. That tone, from Stiles, is as good as being hit in the best way. “It’s red, Stiles.”

“Good boy.” Stiles pushes back into his mouth, rocking his hips. His pacing is uneven, and he leaks so much precome that Derek’s mouth is tacky with it, and he makes noises that are wrenched from him, and he keeps telling Derek that he’s a good boy, and—

And Derek could fall in love with serving Stiles like this.

“Good boy, Derek, god, yeah, good boy, that’s my good boy,” Stiles babbles. Derek can taste how close he is, but he doesn’t change what he’s doing. Stiles will tell him to change, if he needs to.

When Stiles comes, he doesn’t warn Derek. He goes still and silent, his come spurting and sliding down Derek’s throat, and his fingers wrap around Derek’s collar. His skin is cool.

Derek’s head is fuzzy. Everything is fuzzy. Wrapped in cotton, or wrapped in nothing.

Just . . . nothing.

Stiles gets down on his knees, too. He’s shaking post-orgasm, skin blotchy red, lips bitten. “Tell me you’re mine,” he says.

“I’m yours,” Derek says, mindless, helpless. It’s so good.

“C’mere, Derek.” Stiles tugs him in by the collar, urging him to rest his forehead on Stiles’s shoulder. Derek inhales the smell of safety as Stiles caresses the back of Derek’s neck with his fingertips, running them in a constant line. Perpetual motion. Derek feels like he could collapse in on himself, but Stiles is here.

Stiles’s fingers counter the feeling of Stiles wrapping his other hand around Derek’s cock. Stroking him with rough twists of his wrist that don’t feel like punishment. They feel like Stiles is wringing Derek’s orgasm from him, making him come.

Not giving him a choice. Not letting him think.

Derek holds himself as a statue. Not thrusting. Not rocking. Nothing. He is nothing. Weightless, anchored only by the points of contact between them.

Stiles brings him to the edge. And stops. Takes his hand away.

Derek very nearly buckles. But he doesn’t. Because he’s good. He’s good.

“You’re, I can’t even with you.” Stiles wraps his free arm around Derek’s back, supporting him. “That’s right. You’re so good. Just . . . so good.” He licks his palm. “You’re so good, Derek. You’re my good boy, aren’t you. Tell me.”

“I’m your good boy.” His voice is hoarse. Marked from Stiles. He’s floating already, but in a way that feels like sinking.

“Are you green?”

“Green.”

“Good boy. That’s good.” Stiles cups his cock. Slicks his thumb over the head. Strokes him a few times, until Derek is back to riding the edge. Stops. Waits. “I bet you want to come,” he says, when he’s done this five times, and when Derek is distantly aware that he’ll probably start losing his erection soon. Either that or he’ll implode on himself. “I bet you do, Derek, but I’m not gonna ask if you do. ‘Cause I know better.”

Yes.

Yes, please.

Stiles presses his mouth to Derek’s ear. “You don’t know what you want,” he says. “Which means I gotta tell you, huh. I have to tell you what you want. Right now, you wanna come.” He tips his head and his mouth lights on Derek’s shoulder. “You get to, since you’ve been such a perfect boy for me." He twists his hand, squeezes, and bites down on Derek’s earlobe, his other hand fisting around the collar at the back of Derek’s neck and pulling it taut, cutting off Derek’s air.

His orgasm is one long, giving, stretching succumb of his body.

He goes limp and Stiles groans, getting an arm around him to lower him to the floor. “Hey,” Stiles says. Derek blinks blearily up at him; Stiles strokes his fingers over Derek’s mouth. Derek is still, letting him smear Derek’s come on his lips until Stiles exhales shakily and says, “Clean me up.” Then Derek opens his mouth and licks Stiles’s fingers clean, sucking them one by one into his mouth, all the way, until he can get at the webbing between with worshipful flicks of his tongue.

He’s still licking when he feels his heart rate begin to slow. Feels the adrenaline crash about to hit. He blinks, and the room swells in front of him, darkening, becoming that room in that club with Kate standing over him—that same drowning, that same knowing he’s going to be left here on his back on the cold ground, left because he’s used up and Stiles is done with him.

Weight settles on top of him.

Derek’s eyes fly open. Stiles is . . . Stiles is sitting on him, jean-clad thighs clamped to either side of his chest. When he sees Derek’s eyes, he bows down and presses their foreheads together.

Anchoring.

“You were really perfect,” he mutters. His breath is warm and wet on Derek’s mouth, and he shudders. “Woosh. Like . . . wow, Derek.”

Derek has to pry his fingers out of the floor, where his claws are sunk into the wood. He puts his newly human hands on Stiles’s thighs, then his hips, then they’re on his sides and Derek is pulling him the rest of the way down until Stiles is held to his chest. Stiles goes, relaxed, all his energy displaced for now, and lies with his cheek on Derek’s shoulder.

Stiles touches the collar. Panic shoots through Derek at the idea that he’ll take it off. “No, don’t.” His arms tighten around Stiles. He needs this. He needs the grounding. “Don’t, leave it.”

“I will.” Stiles kisses under his jaw. “It’s super attractive. Like, if you’re normally a ten of ten, which you are, the collar is a five-point booster, easy. So, yeah. It’s staying on, believe me.” His voice is friendly, normal. Like nothing they’ve done has changed how he sees Derek.

This boy. This boy.

“Do you ever stop talking?” Derek sighs, turning his face in to Stiles’s hair.

“When I come,” Stiles says.

Derek rides out the feeling of his dick trying pretty valiantly to get hard again. “Smartass.” He squeezes Stiles tighter than he should and shifts his weight. Stiles seems to get the idea, pushing up on his feet, and again, god, again, Derek is left lying on his back, the memory of that room and the last time this happened crashing down on him.

But when he opens his eyes, Stiles is standing there, holding a hand out to him with a face that says he knows exactly what’s happening.

“Thank you,” Derek mumbles. He takes Stiles’s hand. Lets Stiles pull him up to sit—not to stand. He waves Stiles off and loosens the collar a couple holes, then shifts, twisting to fur easily. All his parts back in place. All his self contained in whatever skin he chooses to wear.

He hops up on Stiles’s bed and curls up with his back to Stiles, his head craned around with his nose propped on his hip so he can look back to Stiles. Not watching for him. Just looking.

Stiles grins. “You gonna be my Thackery, big guy?” he says. Derek whuffs and rolls his eyes, regretting for a second that he can’t actually answer.

Maybe it’s best, though. He’s not sure what he’d say, since he feels like a knot inside him has been taken out. Like he had surgery and the doctor left a knife inside him, and he went around, for years and years, telling everyone it was there, but no one believed him until Stiles.

Maybe it’s best he can’t talk. He knows what he’d say, and it’s reckless and too soon and this boy is a beautiful thing, bent by the world but not broken the way Derek is.

Was?

Stiles has moles all over him: down his arms and on his back, big splotches of them over his spine. There’s one on his stomach, just under his ribcage, and a patch of red skin beneath it that might be a birthmark. He is pale and skinny and very much eighteen, and he can’t fix all of Derek’s problems with his unsteady hands. Not all of them. And Derek knows that he can’t come back to Beacon Hills to stay, because that will kill him. He needs to live on his own, without this, when he can’t have it.

“You look thinky,” Stiles says, pulling the shades. He scribbles something on a piece of paper and tapes it to the outside of his door, then locks it back up. “Or is that just how your wolf face is? One of those faces.” He buries his fingers in Derek’s ruff and climbs in behind him, scooping his body against Derek’s back. When he stretches an arm out along the pillows, Derek thumps his head down, holding it in place with his nose pressed to Stiles’s wrist, where he can smell the heady honesty of Stiles’s blood pulsing.

“Hey.” Stiles whispers it into the cup of Derek’s ear. Buries his nose there, behind it. Holds Derek’s collar. “For the record, I hate every single person who wasted having you. But I kind of . . . don’t, too. ‘Cause now I get to have you, which is not something in a million years I thought I’d get. Is that terrible? It’s terrible,” he decides, with no input from Derek. His voice grows heavier, sleepier, as he adds, “I’m not really a good person, D. But I feel good like this. Doing all this. With you.”

Stiles falls asleep fast and sudden. Derek turns in the circle of his arms to look at him with his wolf’s eyes, and Triskele, he thinks quietly. Triskele, because it’s the only word he knows to put a name to the safety net of Stiles’s affection and how much Derek feels, for this moment, that he’s been caught by it.

Stiles’s fingers tighten around Derek’s collar, like he heard. Like he’s been waiting all along to tell Derek it’s okay to have that word, that it won’t ruin anything. To tell him it’s okay to say it.

Even if, right now, Derek doesn’t need to.