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Rise Above

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Title: Rise Above
Author: Rabid1st
Rating: Mature
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Derek/Stiles
Warning(s): Unhappy stuff. Arguments, misunderstandings and pain.
Spoiler(s): AU S3b no spoilers in this part. Some in earlier parts.
Beta Babes: Birthsister & Elsecarlass
Word Count: 45000 total
Summary: After Derek is severely injured, Stiles can’t forgive himself. He finds a spell to break their bond. The spell has a nasty backlash and Derek is determined to put an end to it. But will Stiles resist his every attempt to reconnect? How far will Derek go to restore them both to sanity?
Disclaimer: Teen Wolf and these characters are not mine. This fic represents fair use for fan purposes.

In a time of treason, is there room for trust? Is there time for reason or has your heart had enough? Is it time to let go and rise above? And you say rise above, open your eyes on love.

 

The dreams returned. Did they ever. Night after night, restful sleep eluded Stiles. His nails were ragged stubs, chewed to the quick. His hands trembled. The world blurred around him. Voices hummed past, meaningless in his ears. The uneasy dead of Beacon Hills haunted him. His mom. Derek's sister, Laura. Erica and Boyd and Heather. Even Jennifer Blake put in an appearance or two. Every time he closed his eyes someone burned. He woke up sweating and shaking. But his lack of rest hardly mattered in the face of Derek's horrific injuries. Stiles pushed on through sleepless nights and droning lectures at school, while he prayed for Derek’s recovery and watched over him as he healed. Stiles could endure emotional pain. He'd done so most of his life. But, he couldn't reconcile himself to Derek’s scars or their cause. To lose a loved one was hard enough. To believe it was your fault? He'd already been through that once. Never again. Driven from home on the first night of the full moon cycle, he headed for the Argent’s determined to do whatever it took to break the Iron Bond.

Stiles stifled a yawn as he waved Allison and Isaac on their way. They’d opted for the woods and fresh air, because Isaac hated being indoors in wolf form. His claustrophobia sent him running as an animal. He was probably the best suited of the beta wolves to the wild call. Maybe that's why Derek thought they could live together. Allison hunted beside Isaac. They patrolled the borders of Beacon Hills, always expecting new trouble. If they'd noted the dark circles under Stiles' eyes, his twitching fingers, they didn't comment. People tended to dismiss his anxious moods. This time he had good reason to worry, but his anxiety didn't draw much attention.

His protective amulet no longer worked. It had malfunctioned when he'd killed the salamander. He'd drawn on the dark oak, hadn't hesitated, and the knowledge haunted him. If the salamander had been a shape-shifter, a person, Stiles would have murdered him, and yet, he didn't regret his act of vengeance. He still raged inside because Derek still burned in his mind’s eye. Covering his ears didn’t block the memory of Derek's screams. If he ever found the person responsible for setting that trap, Stiles just might flay him alive. He didn't know. And he didn't like not knowing how dark he could get.

Alone at the Argent’s apartment, he fidgeted and paced. He drew his keys out of a pocket and stroked his thumb over the smooth, inky stone on the key ring. The amulet responded. Blackness swirled under his touch. Hello, darkness, my old friend. The Iron Bond had driven him to this dark place, just as it had driven Derek into the fire. No matter how much Stiles wanted Derek, the bond was too dangerous. He yearned to be free of it. People shouldn't be forced into mating, dying for one another. He tossed his keys from hand to hand, enjoying the weight and jingle of them. Throwing them higher, he tried to hit a blade on the ceiling fan. When the keys connected and went flying toward a vase, he realized how stupidly reckless he was being. The last thing he needed was to destroy some priceless antique or family heirloom.

Boredom and anxiety had ganged up on him, making him more impulsive than usual. It felt like he might jitter out of his skin. He hadn't spent a full moon night alone in ages. The Nemeton heated up at this time of month and he generally stayed right in the middle of the action. Being benched for the night made him edgy. Once he learned that Scott had been called to his house to deal with Derek he could barely sit still. Their bond prodded him, insisting he return home because Derek needed him, wanted him. That was all it took to convince him to go. Coupled with his natural curiosity, the supernatural urges were enough to send him to the front door a dozen times. He had to keep overriding the impulse. But he managed it each time and return to his caged animal pacing. He stalked from the living room windows up the hallway to Chris Argent's study. At the closed door he turned and retraced his path.

Pace. Turn. Retrace. After thirty minutes of that, he resolutely sat at the dining table and opened his math homework. Numbers and symbols crawled across the page, making no sense to him. He thought about taking another Adderall, but he was already wound so tight it seemed like a bad idea. Throwing down his pencil, he muttered an oath and slammed his math text closed. Think of something else. Think. He was shaking apart. Derek. Moonrise. He raked his fingers through his hair then sat at the table, staring into space. His thoughts strayed to the study again and again. Books. Knowledge. Help. Fuck it. He groaned in frustration, pounding the side of a fist into the tabletop.

The answers he was seeking could be so close. But he was a guest. Left on his own. Trusted. He didn't want to betray that trust. He could call Allison and ask her permission to research his problem. But, what if she said no? Wasn't it better to seek forgiveness, later, if she found out? His teeth worried his thumbnail until it bled. The coppery taste brought him out of his reverie. He cursed and went to find a band-aid. Cold tap water soothed the sting and stopped the bleeding.

Inexpertly bandaged, he stomped back into the living room and turned on the TV. He took long, deep breaths through his nose, determined to slow his racing heart. His thumb kept hitting the remote. Nothing held his attention for long. After thirty minutes of channel surfing, he decided to play some WII tennis. Exercise calmed him a little. It generally took the edge off his ADHD. He needed to move, be out patrolling with Allison and Isaac. Stupid to stay behind. He’d never be able to relax. Not until he’d searched the Argent’s library. That's why he had agreed to this exile, really. He wanted to be able to get home quickly, too. He thought about phoning his dad to check on Derek. After rehearsing how that conversation might go, he tucked his phone back into his pocket.

Yes, Dad! He's like this for three days every month. Werewolf P.M.S. He usually has better control, but sure, he would probably like to bite me. Maybe not in a killing way, though, if you catch my drift. No! I don't know why I'm still alive. No, there is no chance I will stop hanging with werewolves. Sorry!

Stiles sighed and flopped belly down on the sofa. His stomach growled. Before she’d headed out, Allison had given him the tour. She’d showed him how to pull the sofa into a bed and where to find the basics in the kitchen. Encouraged to help himself to food, Stiles went to the fridge. He sniffed at a tub of potato salad and decided it wouldn’t kill him. He made a roast beef and pickle sandwich and ate it, along with the salad. Sleepless nights always stirred up his appetite. If it weren't for the Adderall, he'd probably weigh 300 pounds by now. His dad had dropped off an overnight case for him with two changes of underwear. Stiles unpacked his clothes, considered night sweats, and realized there was no sense in showering until morning. Might as well stay dressed to travel. He repacked and flossed. Finally, he did what he'd been planning to do from the start. He snooped.

The study door wasn't locked. Stiles took that as a positive sign. It was almost an invitation. He had a basic understanding of the Argent filing system, having watched them access information on several occasions. It reminded him of the old card catalog at his elementary school. They used a rolodex and actual hard copy books as well as scanned ones. It only took a couple of minutes to crack the password on Chris Argent's laptop and start accessing files. Stiles found a list of clues at the back of the desk calendar and simply translated into French. Some people didn't even try to secure their data. He ignored emails and personal photos and went straight for the lists of books, comparing the alphabetical entries to the titles on the shelves. There were a few volumes on binding spells and curses. Within a few minutes, he'd cracked open three dusty old tomes and loaded his translator app. He started transcribing passages into a spiral bound notebook.

A quick perusal of the lore on the Iron Bond gave him shivers. Hunters had been using it to polish off mated pairs for centuries. Derek's dash into flames was hardly unique. In fact, there was a good chance anyone who had read these books would find it remarkably easy to kill either of them. Stiles had no idea why Derek had never mentioned the danger they were both in. The more he read about the bond the more determined Stiles became to end it. But Derek appeared to be right about the lack of a cure. Many others had tried, all had failed.

It was nearly sunrise before Stiles stumbled across a spell that might work. The original text was in Greek, but the translation into French was Sang Pour Sang, which his app told him meant Blood for Blood. That made sense. Derek had said the bonding would endure as long as their blood flowed. So, breaking the bond would take a blood sacrifice. The page with the incantation was covered with handwritten scribbles. The spell had been used to break a blood bond, but...it was time sensitive. Oh, crap. It could only be cast at the full moon. Tomorrow. He glanced at the time read out on the laptop and corrected himself. Tonight. There was no way he could get everything he would need in time.

He squinted over the rest of the scrawled notes. They warned of a backlash. Some type of punishment dealt to the one casting the spell, but if it would keep Derek from frying again Stiles was willing to risk it. The main concern he had was timing. Even overnight delivery for online purchases would mean a whole month of waiting. He considered the list of ingredients. Deaton’s office would be the best place to procure a few of them. He definitely had elderflower and mountain ash and oak wood chips. But how would Stiles explain his need? The rest, especially the brass bowl and elk horn, would be problematic. There was a new herbalist shop downtown. Candles and, he was fairly certain, brass bowls in the window. He'd go there after school, try his luck.

Feeling better than he had in a week, Stiles cleared the history on Chris Argent’s computer and logged out. He didn’t bother converting the sofa into a bed, just curled up on the cushions and slept. When Allison woke him a few hours later, he didn’t remember his dreams. He phoned his father before breakfast. The house was still standing, but barely, and Derek was asleep. Yes, he did look much better. No, they wouldn’t forget to feed him. Stiles could tell that his dad was shaken by what he’d witnessed overnight. He asked if he should come home, but his dad wanted him to stay on at the Argents. The bond insisted Stiles go to Derek, making him nauseous as he hung up the phone. He fought off the compulsion. It was time to focus on breaking their connection. He couldn’t live with himself if Derek died trying to protect him.

********************************************************************

In the dream, Stiles ran a pole through Derek’s torso in the same way Kali had once done. A bitter sense of betrayal chased Derek into the waking world. He roared and surged to his feet, certain Stiles was lost to him even as he opened his eyes. Clutching at his chest, his fingers found firm, smooth flesh. He lifted an unblemished arm, and examined the healed skin. A breeze chilled his flanks. Glancing down, he discovered his nakedness, even as he noticed the gaping hole in the wall. Great. He'd exposed his assets to the neighbors. Not all day though. Someone had covered him with a blanket. He stooped to pluck it up and wrapped it around his waist.

He looked whole, completely recovered, but he felt like hell. Swallowing against bile, he tried to remember what had happened during his wolf phase. He quickly recalled Stiles leaving, before the moon rose. Good. He hadn’t hurt Stiles. They hadn’t fought. That part was only a nightmare. As Derek’s heart rate settled, he took in more of his surroundings. It was late afternoon. And the Stilinski guest room no longer existed. He’d thrown the bed through an outer wall, and shoved the dresser after it. The incidental furnishings had been reduced to kindling. A lone photo hung askew on one wall. Shards of glass littered the floor. He’d killed the alarm clock, beating it with a lamp, apparently. The tattered remains of linens and curtains and paintings festooned the room.

Vague images flickered behind a blood red haze in his head. He’d nearly broken free. Scott had contained him until Deaton could recast the ash circle. Derek could feel Scott’s Alpha signature overlaying his own energy. His sense of smell told him Scott was still close. And Deaton couldn't leave for long or the circle would degrade. Not many Emissaries had the juice to cast a mountain ash circle that lasted all night. Hearing helped him locate Deaton in the kitchen, talking to Scott. Through a sheet of plastic covering the hole in the house, Derek could see Chris Argent unloading lumber into the yard. The Sheriff was coming down the hall with coffee. It smelled delicious.

It had been seven years since Derek had lost control to this extent. He’d been a wild thing after the death of his family. Pain and grief pushed his kind, triggering instinctive aggression. A check would cover the damages to the house, but money would be small comfort to a father concerned for his son. Stiles. Stiles. Stiles. Where was he this afternoon? School was over. Scott was here. Why wasn’t Stiles? The dream flashed into Derek’s mind again. His throat constricted around the false memory. A stabbing pain choked him. It was only a dream, but the ache inside seemed genuine, like his heart was already broken.

“Awake at last, I see,” the Sheriff said. He held out one of the two mugs of coffee he carried, reaching across the mountain ash barrier. Must be nice, Derek thought, as the Sheriff said, “Feeling better?”

“Much,” Derek said, shuffling closer. He kept his makeshift robe closed with one hand as the other gripped the cup handle. He took a long sip and hummed in appreciation. Jamaican Blue again. Maybe Stilinski wasn’t that mad at him. “Sorry, about your house. I’ll fix it.”

“Scott tells me you are fully insured.”

Derek nodded, almost smiling. “One of the hard and fast rules of my family,” he said. “We tend to suffer a disproportionate number of accidental dismemberments,” he nodded at the wall, as he added, “And home owner tragedies. I'm, also, handy with a hammer.”

“Good to know. Any suggestion on how I explain this to the investigator?”

Derek considered, between gulps of coffee. “Looks like I had my car in the wrong gear,” he said. “You should write me a ticket. Attempting to drive under the influence of too much medication? Sleepwalking? Luckily, I didn't get out onto the road.”

“I'd rather avoid perjury, if you don't mind,” Stilinski said. “Let's say I waived the ticket. Where’s the car?”

“In the shop,” Derek said. “Lots of damage. Totally on me to repair it, right?”

He watched the Sheriff through narrowed eyes, assessing his lack of obvious emotions. It was interesting how guarded he was. He gave nothing away, while Stiles was an open book of twitches and shivers. Had Deaton and Scott settled Stilinski's nerves or was he simply very cool under pressure? Derek wasn't sure. But he knew very few people who didn't fear an adult werewolf, once they'd witnessed one in action.

“Has Stiles seen you like that?” the Sheriff said, reading Derek’s mind, just as easily as his son would.

“No,” Derek said. “He's seen me shift, fight, but loss of control is rare for me. He's seen my uncle. Survived my uncle.”

“Survived?”

“That's what it's about sometimes,” Derek said, keeping his gaze steady on the Sheriff's steely one. “What doesn't kill you....” He shrugged.

“Is there a chance...?” Stilinski couldn't bring himself to complete the sentence, but Derek understood his concern this time. He wanted to know if Derek might attack Stiles, mistake him for prey. An easy question to answer.

“None at all,” Derek said, shaking his head.

The bond came from his wolf mind. He would never turn on his bond-mate. But that didn't mean Stiles was safe. He was mostly human, fragile. He could be killed in so many ways, by others monsters, or by a lesser injury inflicted in the heat of sexual aggression. He might have died last year by Jennifer's hand. Or from the salamander fire.

“How can you be sure? You were like...an animal, unthinking.”

“Animals think,” Derek said. He caught the Sheriff’s gaze with a predatory stare and held it for a long, reticent, few seconds. But eventually, he, glanced away as he conceded, “But, I know what you mean. I'm the same person when I shift, just...primal. My mind expands to accommodate other senses. But, even if I become a wolf completely, like my mother could, the bond will still protect Stiles. I sent him away, because...he could be hurt, accidentally or emotionally, by the bond itself.”

“You can imagine how little comfort that is to me,” the Sheriff said, taking a moment to study the gaping hole in his wall. “What if I forbid him to see you?”

“You can try. But...”

Stilinski scowled, but nodded as he said, “There's this unbreakable bond?”

“Yes.”

“My buddy Deaton explained some of the ramifications. My son's not gay and he’s still a minor. But he's going to be with you no matter what else he wants to do with his life. And now, if I understand you correctly, you are saying you might turn into a wolf and still want to mate with him? Which, frankly, makes all of my other concerns…,” he drew a large circle in the air with his free hand. “…seem less pressing than my need for silver bullets. So...”

“So?”

“Actual full moon tonight. Will you be worse? Will I have a house tomorrow?”

“I should be better, stay in control. I'm healed. There's almost no pain.”

“Well...crap,” Stilinski said. He rubbed the back of his neck. “I could lock you up, but… My son trusts you. God knows why? You might as well come have some breakfast. Talk over precautions with Deaton and Scott. Then we'll call the insurance people and you can explain what happened.”

He used his boot toe to erase part of the mountain ash barrier. Derek took an easy breath, as the pressure on his spirit lifted a little. No wild animal enjoyed being cornered, trapped.

“Thanks. Do I have clothes?”

Stilinski pointed toward a leather bag on the floor near the bathroom. “In there. Stiles picked up clothes for you, yesterday. Your wallet. Keys.”

“Where is he?”

“He's staying with the Argents at least one more night.”

“Good. I should be more rational tonight. But no sense risking...tempting me. I’ll just dress or maybe…shower, first,” He pulled a credit card out and tossed it to Stilinski, who caught it with one hand. “Anything else you need. Put it on there.”

“Steak in 15 minutes?” Derek nodded and Stilinski started to leave, then turned back to say, “He's not sleeping.”

“I know,” Derek said. “He was in here with me.”

“When?”

“Every night, I think. How long have I been here?”

“Damn. That little....” The Sheriff broke off as he fisted fingers around Derek's credit card. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I told him to stay away from you.”

“He can't. There's a...”

“...bond. Right! Like you said.” Derek cocked a brow, seeing no need to repeat his earlier warning. The sheriff sighed. “You've been here nine days. It's been eleven since your accident.”

“That's not good. I need to see his amulet.”

********************************************************************************* 

A bell clanged as Stiles entered the new herbalist shop. Gold lettering on the window told him the shop was called The Oracle. It smelled like the woods after a rain with a heavy accent of floral potpourri. The woman behind the counter looked up and seeing him inhaled sharply. For a second Stiles thought he saw fear on her face, but her grimace was quickly replaced by a bright smile. She shuffled forward. One clawed hand held a shawl closed around her shoulders.

He squinted at the shopkeeper, trying to bring her into clear focus. Like the rest of the world, she seemed blurry to him, as if she were constantly shifting form. But this time, Stiles felt the effect was intentional. Maybe the musty, sweet odors in the shop masked some hallucinogen, but her indistinct outline seemed to be less his impairment and more her natural state. She had an ethnic air, without being identifiably African or Asian or Eastern European. Her skin was the color of milky coffee. Her teeth looked straight and very white. Her hair seemed blond, then brownish red with blond highlights. He put her age somewhere between 30 and 85. She spoke with a lilting accent, almost Jamaican, but again, not quite.

“Hello! Welcome, sweet boy. How can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a few things,” Stiles said, taking a moment to knuckle the corners of his eyes. He held out the list for her. “Brass bowl. Elder flower. Some elk horn.”

“Brass bowl, I have,” she said, waving a hand at a selection of stone, wood and brass containers.

“I saw one in the window,” Stiles said, pointing over his shoulder.

“Good choice. Yes. Easy. Elk horn?” She took a pair of spectacles out of her sweater pocket and, peering through them, examined his list with great solemnity. “Rutting Elk? Rare. But I will check my supplies. Skullcap. And whip grass. Casting a spell to repel someone,” she said and it wasn’t a question. She held out a gnarled hand to him. “I am Delphine. What’s your name, boy?”

“Stiles,” he said, ignoring her hand.

“The Stilinski boy. Yes,” she said, straightening out of her old lady hunch. “I heard of you. Everyone heard of you. Nobody heard your real name. Tell me. I keep it secret.” She flashed him a gleaming smile that Stiles could have sworn was full of sharp teeth.

“What?”

He rubbed his eyes again, squeezing them tightly closed as he pinched toward his nose with fingers and thumb. When he looked again, Delphine had become an ordinary woman of about forty, mousy brown hair shot with gray. Her teeth were a little crooked, but perfectly human. Her smile seemed tentative and endearing.

“Your name?” she prompted again, “I can place an order for items.”

“It’s just Stiles,” he said, snatching the paper away from her. “And I can’t wait for an order. I’ll look for the things myself.”

“You no find. Special orders only. All goes through me. You very tired, Mr. My Name Is Stiles,” she said. “Bad dreams, I think. I have a cure. Sure and certain.”

“No, just the elk horn and whip grass and a brass bowl.”

“Sure. Sure. Don't get the wind up.” She laughed. It was a grating noise with no levity to it. “They say you kill with the air,” she said, in a conversational tone, bustling about as she filled his order. “That salamander? Bad news for him. Poof goes his flame.”

“Who says? Who told you that?”

“Still finding your path. You use black walnut wood in this? Elderflower? Such a casting. Creative. But, I think the backlash come down on you.”

“You know this spell?”

“I use something like it once, long time ago. Desperate girl wants Nordic Blue Monk's Hood to keep the wolf at bay. Not Elderflower. Why you spare him pain?”

“I don't know what you are talking about. Spare who?”

“The Hale child. The blue-eyed boy. His name I have. You are the one. The name nobody says. No one knows to say. Yes? Like your Mama planned it so.”

“Look, I don't know who you are. Or what you think you know about my mother,” Stiles said, “but she isn't part of this. She's—gone. Dead.”

“The dead still part of us,” the woman said.

Stiles puffed a sigh and rolled his eyes. Just what he needed—a cryptic crone, prattling on about his mom and fate. Did anyone talk like this woman outside of fairy tales? Maybe Deucalion. Or Miss Morrell. He glanced at his watch. The spell needed to be cast between the setting sun and a rising full moon. That meant tonight was his one shot this month. He didn't have time to waste. He could still try the veterinary clinic, but there was no alternative source of elk horn.

“I'm kind of in a hurry,” he said.

“Of course, of course, the full moon tonight. How lucky are you? Me? I'm nobody. Just a gossipy old woman. But you? You lucky. And famous, in certain circles. You lead the Banshee and the Aikane and the wolf’s blood howls for you. Natural born wolf. Powerful creature.”

“Derek?”

“That one, yes,” she said, pleased with him and savoring the name. “His blood been howling for you since the day you spark up in your Mama’s womb. Not a new thing. Old, old plan. From the sacred grove. Conceived there. Like you. You born for him, sure and certain, mark my words. No way to stop the howling with elk horn. No way to stop it at all.”

“Are you saying this spell won’t work? Won’t break the Iron Bond?”

“Oh, sure. It work,” she nodded emphatically. She mimed snapping a twig in two. “Breaks the Bond. Crack. Just like that. Won’t stop the howling in the blood. Run. Hide. That Hale child? He will always find you.”

“Okay. Good to know,” Stiles said, hoping his sarcastic dismissal would chill the creepy out of her. He dug a wad of cash from his pocket. “Just ring this up and I'll be on my way, Cassandra.”

“Delphine,” she corrected him. “You come back any time, boy. Always a pleasure seeing you.”

Stiles had never been happier to pay cash. He'd decided in advance not to use a credit card for this particular transaction. The last thing he wanted was his father or Derek tracing his actions via their payment histories. But now he had an additional reason for caution. He didn't want this weird woman stalking him or his loved ones. Fighting an urge to glance back over his shoulder, he exited the shop with undue haste. As he climbed into the jeep, Delphine’s warning echoed in his head. Run. Hide. That Hale child? He will always find you. Stiles couldn’t help thinking she might be right, that breaking the bond was an exercise in futility.

He drove to the Beacon Hills Preserve and found a quiet spot on the river bank to wait for the sunset. The moon wouldn't rise for an hour. Plenty of time. But the woods were not safe on a full moon night. Stiles cast a mountain ash circle for protection. He drew it wide enough to enclose his jeep. It might interfere with the spell, but better safe than gutted. Once the guard rail was up, he assembled his ingredients. Brass bowl. Wood chips. Matches. Unfolding a piece of lined paper, he consulted his notes. Blood first. He pricked his finger and let a few drops fall into the bowl. He added a couple of Derek’s hairs, easily collected from the blanket they had used at the beach. It wasn’t the first time forgetting to wash something had paid off for Stiles.

The ritual went smoothly. Stiles felt a little ridiculous chanting the required incantations over the brass bowl. But he managed to stay focused as he mixed the ingredients and ignited them. A quick, bright flash followed a brief flame. A thin curl of smoke rose into the air. After that, nothing happened. Stiles waited for a few minutes. Still nothing. He sat down on a log, drew up his knees and considered the ashes in the bowl. Maybe he shouldn't have translated into English. But he didn't think he could pronounce French or Greek properly, even with the phonetic assistance from an app. Maybe he just wasn't much of a wizard or druid or whatever.

Maybe there wasn't a bond to break. What if he was simply hot for Derek? But that would mean Derek was hot for him, too. Could the Oracle woman be right? No! The Oracle woman was crazy, with all her rambling nonsense about his mother having a plan. His mom had been a legal secretary for heaven's sake. And Jennifer Blake had been an English teacher. Yeah. It was a little late to start denying magic bonds existed. But come on, his mom, a druid? No! He wasn't born for Derek. He was born to be someone's virgin sacrifice at the rate he was going. He’d just screwed up the spell somehow. Screwing things up seemed to come naturally to him. Unlike Derek, who had to work at failure every day. A laugh, his first in nearly two weeks, caught Stiles unaware. Apparently, it was never too late to mock Derek’s track record as an Alpha or give in to self deprecation.

It felt good to laugh again. He’d been making himself sick with worry. A slight lifting of his spirits brought renewed hope. Derek wasn't as concerned about the bond as he was. Maybe it would be okay. What a pair they were, trying to protect each other. If he could just relax, maybe he could enjoy the whole mating idea. Tonight the pure moon would put Derek's control to the test. At least, he'd made it through the first night, the leading moon, in one piece. The house hadn't been so lucky. Scott had filled Stiles in on the damage Derek had inflicted. Stiles didn't want to think about his dad's reaction.

His stomach soured. A slight pang burned under his breastbone. He rubbed his chest. Mosquitoes started biting him. He sighed and stood. After brushing flakes of log off his backside, he tossed the ashy remains of his spell into the river. He almost threw the brass bowl in, too. But it had cost him forty bucks and he might need it again, someday. Not that he planned on ever trying another spell. What a colossal waste of time! Do or do not. There is no try. Thanks, Yoda.

All his sympathies were with Vader at the moment. His movements turned sharp as he indulged in a small tantrum, stamping through fallen leaves to obliterate the ash circle. Yes, give in to your anger, your fear. The Dark Oak calls to you, young Stilinski. Inscrutable new age gurus might be fine in Star Wars, but he didn’t need them messing up his life. He definitely wasn’t Jedi material. But, he still carefully rinsed the bowl in a stir of current, the way Deaton had taught him. After a brief hesitation, he took his keys from his pocket, removed the amulet and tossed it out into the center of the river. The moving water should cleanse it.

The brass bowl, wrapped in the shopping bag with the remaining ingredients, was banged into the back of the jeep. Stiles climbed behind the wheel and backed and filed until he could exit the clearing. He headed for town, to the Argent's for another long night of pacing. He could snoop some more. Maybe he even ask Deaton about the spell, find out what had gone wrong. Stiles couldn’t help wondering if the ash ring or his amulet had impeded the energy currents. Stopped at a light on Jefferson, he gave the spell one last chance to fire.

Closing his eyes for a second, Stiles tried to vividly recreate what it felt like to kiss Derek. His heart skipped a little as he recalled the taste of Derek’s mouth. The texture of it, soft lips against the scratch of stubble. He imagined his fingers weaving through Derek’s hair, trailing across his shoulders. Hard muscle flexing under each caress. Little murmurs of encouragement greeting every exploration into new territory. He could almost feel Derek's hand edging into his back pocket, tugging him closer.

Imagining a swipe of tongue on tongue inspired a warm glow of satisfaction at the center of his chest. Stiles opened his eyes. The light was still red. He let his mind meander down a longer path of sweet fantasies. He brought forward a real memory, cuddling with Derek on their blanket at the beach. What a great day. Surfing and kissing and laughing. Stiles loved Derek’s full throated laugh. Thinking about it made his heart beat faster. He must be crazy wanting to give that up. Maybe the spell failed because he didn’t really want it to work. Maybe he’d subconsciously reversed the polarity somehow. He hoped whatever was supposed to be happening to him wasn’t affecting Derek instead.

The light changed. As he eased in the clutch, his mind turned to their upcoming reunion. He couldn’t wait to see Derek again. Lust burned along his veins. The familiar need to find Derek. Now. To be with him as soon as humanly possible. It went beyond affection or desire. It was hunger. And no sooner had the craving hit, than an agonizing slash of pain ripped across his back. A lash of fire flayed him open. He felt his skin peel away.

The pain only lasted a few seconds. But it had struck with such brutality that Stiles lost consciousness for a moment. The world went black, and then red. Someone screamed. A horn blared by his ear. Stiles came to, struggling to catch his breath. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The jeep bounced, slamming his body forward into the steering wheel. He’d have bruises. He hit the brake, when a plate glass window full of mannequins loomed in front of him. Bile rose into his mouth, burned the back of his throat. As his vision cleared, he retched. It was a moment or two before he realized he'd driven into the curb, narrowly avoiding another car and grazing a hydrant. He fumbled for the door handle, sure he would vomit.

“Son of a bitch!” he gasped, leaning half out of the car. “Backlash. Holy God!”

Don’t think about Derek. Don’t. His mind scrambled for some distraction in a feeble attempt to avoid the elephant in the room. The wolf waiting out the moon rise. Derek, his bond mate, needed him. All he wanted was to go to him. Be part of him. Under him. Inside him. The lash struck again. This time Stiles didn't black out, but he did throw up. Gagging on what little was left of his lunch, he shoved the jeep door wide and spewed into the street. The lash fell two more times, brutal and sickening. White hot agony pressure-washed his mind. It killed lust quicker than a plunge into an icy river mid-February.

Halfway out of the jeep, Stiles hung limp against his seatbelt’s restraint. He could not have formed another lustful thought. Not even if he’d found himself in a pool full of Playboy models having sex with each other and Johnny Depp. Okay, that didn’t hurt. Maybe he could still have sex. As long as he and Johnny Depp and Derek weren’t…No! Like Pavlov’s dogs Stiles shied away from the negative stimulus. No sexy thoughts for Stiles ever again. He trembled in fear of an expected punishment. And then, because it was his natural response to fear, he got very angry.

 

Derek heard the jeep engine grinding through second several blocks away. He gave the board in front of him a final pass with the sander and set his tools aside. He hadn't heard from Stiles in three days. Ten of Derek’s calls went to voicemail before he received notice his number had been blocked. News had come second hand after that, through Scott or Argent. The Sheriff remained mute on the subject of his son, only shrugging when Derek questioned him.

Used to dishing out the silent treatment rather than receiving it, Derek was thrown by this tactic. He’d looked for Stiles, even gone to the school. He’d lurked in the woods, hoping for a glimpse of his elusive target until a teacher asked him to leave. Apparently, his relentless pacing had alarmed some of the students. Stopping at the Argent’s, he’d learned Stiles had spent the previous night with Scott. Scott had neglected to mention this.

Derek glanced toward the horizon. The sun hung low in the sky. It was unseasonably hot, even this late in the day. The moon would be up in an hour. But it was past full and no threat to him. Stiles was his only worry now. He was very late coming home. Walking to the ice chest, Derek soaked his t-shirt in melt water and used it to clean sweat and sawdust from his bare neck and chest.

Chris Argent cocked an eyebrow at him. “Expecting someone?” he asked, in a way that told Derek he knew an emotional showdown loomed over them.

“Cooling off,” Derek said. “Want a beer?”

“Good idea.”

He lifted two bottles from the cooler and passed one to Argent. As Derek drained a portion of his, Adam’s apple bobbing, the jeep rounded the corner and roared into the drive. Stiles slammed the brakes down, skidding to a stop. Derek raised a brow at the recklessness. Too much medication, he thought, or not enough. He took another guzzle of beer, considering Stiles in profile. He looked tense, fingers strangling the steering wheel, nostrils flaring with each breath. On his way into work the Sheriff had asked Derek to clear out before Stiles came home. Derek had packed his meager belongings, but otherwise ignored the request. If Stiles was breaking up with him, they'd do it face to face.

Never mind how ridiculous it was to break up when they weren't even officially dating. Only, maybe they were dating. Derek couldn't tell. He'd dated a few times in college. But his limited experience involved girls and formality. He met Stiles casually, after pack gatherings. Sometimes Stiles slept in his bed. They investigated the supernatural together. They watched movies, went surfing, played word games and pick-up basketball. And they kissed a lot. Derek wanted so much more than kissing. He was still counting the hours until Stiles could be fully, legally, his. And then there was the Iron Bond of complete devotion. What about that? What about how Derek couldn't just walk away, even if he wanted to, because Stiles was his mate for life? Life, as in no possibility for parole.

Stiles let the jeep idle in park, but made no attempt to get out of it. He darted a glance in Derek’s direction, and then faced forward again. Bitterness flared in Derek’s chest and he almost hurled his beer bottle at the nearest wall. Or the jeep. Just to get things started because he couldn’t take this unresolved tension. Anger came more easily to him than any other emotion. But he smelled fear and traces of old blood and vomit. Stiles had been hurt, recently. When? How? Had there been some kind of accident? Derek’s anger evaporated as his senses processed data. Something was very wrong. He moved without thinking, wanting only to comfort and console.

Confused, he halted a few steps away from the jeep. Stiles had flung open the driver's side door and spilled out into the yard. His body jerked, like a marionette under a madman's control. He didn’t seem interested in confronting Derek at all. His attention appeared to be directed inward. He shuddered. A whimper reached Derek’s ears, a soft sound Stiles bit off before it carried far. One of his hands braced against the door frame, the other he pushed, palm flat, toward Derek's chest.

Eventually, he spoke. “Stay away from me,” he said, croaking the sentence passed a dry tongue. When Derek ignored him and moved to offer an arm, Stiles reeled away. “I said don't touch me.”

He looked pale, drawn. Pain contorted his features. “Are you okay?” Derek asked, sure that he wasn’t. He searched Stiles’ face for some clue to this inexplicable behavior. Something was hurting him. But what?

Stiles recovered enough dignity to lift his chin and glare. “I’m fine,” he said, between clenched teeth. “What are you doing here? I asked my dad to get rid of you.”

That pierced to the bone. Derek winced and stepped back, baffled. “I’m helping with the house. You break it you fix it, right?”

“Yeah, whatever,” Stiles said. He shrugged as if he didn’t have time for Derek’s excuses. Turning back to the jeep, he pulled his backpack out of it, but didn’t swing the load to his shoulder. He grunted as the heavy weight dragged on his arm. “Fix it while I’m at school.”

Derek studied him for a moment before responding, “You want me to go?”

“Am I speaking English? Yes!” Stiles shouted, hugging the backpack to his chest. “You've ruined my life. Scared the hell out of my father. Wrecked my house. And you have overstayed your welcome. I want you to leave. Go home!”

“What’s wrong with your back?”

“Nothing,” Stiles said. “None of your business. Just go.”

“You brought me here,” Derek reminded him.

“Yeah. Not so you could move in. You were dying. I had to do something. Again.” He stressed the last word with his tone and a lift of both brows. “I saved your worthless hide. Again. And look how you repay me.” Stiles jutted his chin toward the house.

“Whoa! Stiles? Buddy,” Argent said, joining the conversation. “Crossing a line. This was not his fault.”

Stiles dropped his pack to the ground and whirled away from the confusion on Derek’s face to direct a measure of ire at Argent.

“You’re defending him? You? Since when are you two buddies? I guess Isaac sleeping over is having an effect. Too bad Derek didn’t marry your whack-job sister. This could be your house. He could be your problem. What would you do? Chain him up in one of those underground fun dungeons?”

“Stiles,” Derek barked. “Settle down.”

“You’re obviously upset about something,” Argent began.

“You think?” Stiles said, cutting him off. “Look, I did what I had to do to protect Scott and my dad. What was I supposed to do with a pain-crazed werewolf? Let him rampage through the hospital, kill a dozen nurses and doctors? So, yeah, I brought him here. And it was a mistake.”

“A mistake?” Derek repeated, weighing the word on his tongue. Where else could he have gone, in his condition?

“He’s better now. It’s over. I’m done,” he said, directing the declaration straight at Derek. “I’m through cleaning up after your supernatural accidents, Derek. Go piss on someone else’s floor. I’m normal. My dad is normal. We just want to be left alone.”

“You want me to leave. I’ll leave,” Derek said, pinning Stiles with an icy stare. “But there was no mistake. I belong here with you. We can’t change what’s between us, Stiles. You know I can’t stay away. So, we are going to talk this out.”

“Inside,” Argent suggested, “not on the front lawn.”

“What’s between us?” Stiles said his voice rising until it cracked. “God, Derek! It’s not love. It’s a joke. A biological accident twisting fate. And we’re stuck with one another. Neither of us wanted it. And it’s over now. You can go.”

“Again, maybe not my place to speak up,” Argent said. “But, reading between the lines, here…. Are you two a Bonded Pair?”

Shit. Now a hunter knew, just what Derek needed to make his day complete. His mother would be rising from her grave to maul him for a slip of this magnitude. “It’s complicated,” he said, just as Stiles blurted a denial.

“No! We’re not!”

“I mean, I know Kate had a thing for men who liked men, but I always thought you were the exception to…” Derek whipped around to glare at him and he smoothly shifted gears. “Though, as I said, not my business. Stiles? Is it okay if I go get a few more nails from the garage?”

Stiles gave him a look that said he didn’t understand the question. Derek thought it was odd, too. Why would Argent ask permission to go into a house they had been in and out of all day? Maybe he just didn’t want to get caught in the middle of a lover’s spat. Domestic disputes had a way of turning violent and taking out bystanders.

Stiles waved a hand and said, “I guess.” Argent nodded and headed inside. Stiles stared after him for a blank moment, before shifting his attention back to Derek. “Great. Now he’s going to call Dad or Scott or somebody about this. Why couldn’t you just leave?”

“Are you kidding me?” Derek asked, putting Argent out of his mind. He took a threatening step forward, but checked himself when Stiles skittered to the side. “You expected me to leave, because your dad told me to?”

“Take the hint.”

“Oh, I got it. Message received,” he said. He spoke gruffly, but the gravely notes he cultivated disappeared as he became more animated. Once he gave up his Alpha status, he'd grown used to talking to Stiles in his natural, lighter register. “Now tell me why you sent it. I know it wasn’t anything I did, because I haven’t seen you in three days. The last time I saw you, we kissed in the kitchen. Think back. It was Tuesday. Before that we were in bed. Together. Do you remember any of this?”

“I remember,” Stiles said, very softly. “That was over a week ago.”

“Call it a week,” Derek said, waving a dismissive hand. “Whatever. Remember what you said? What you wanted? What you always want? I had to force you to leave every morning. Then, you just stop coming. You were angry about something in the kitchen. But we kissed and...you...”

“And I told you I hated you.”

“Yeah. But you don’t. I sent you to the Argents. You wanted to stay with me. I did that to protect you. The next day you block my calls? You disappear. You’re lucky I didn’t break into the school today.”

“There you go, right there,” Stile said, throwing his hands into the air, sweeping them in circles. “I’m lucky you don’t stalk me at school? Lucky you don’t wolf-rape me in the night?”

“What?” Derek yelped, his heart slamming into his ribs at the vulgarity, but Stiles was on a roll and unstoppable.

“Lucky for you that salamander wasn’t a better shot, right?” He slowed his speech for emphasis as he leveled his gaze at Derek and went on, “Because you’d be blind or dead. Do you get that? You nearly died. Your heart stopped beating twice. Your skin fell off in sheets. And you screamed. Non-stop. Can’t you see how wrong this is?”

“Something is wrong, alright,” Derek said. “This change in you. I know you’re not sleeping. Your amulet,” he said, holding out a hand, “give it to me.”

“The amulet has nothing to do with this, Derek. I found a way to break the bond,” Stiles said. “And I don’t want to see you any more.”

Those words. Like a hunter’s blade cutting him in half. They were breaking up. Derek tried to catch his breath. There was no air. Sound faded to a meaningless hum and he went numb all over. Stiles had broken the bond? That wasn’t possible. Derek had never heard of such a thing. Stiles was powerful. Clever. Resourceful. Derek knew that much. But the bond lasted forever. You couldn’t just break it. So, what had he done?

“No,” he said. “I can still feel it. It’s…”

“What Derek? What is it?” Stiles asked, sounding more weary than angry. He bent to lift his backpack, hugging it to him again, like a teddy bear. “Whatever it is, I don’t want it?”

“You wanted it the last time I saw you.”

“No, I didn’t. I wanted you, because of the bond. When you kissed me, I responded. You needed me, so I was there for you. I had no choice.” He exhaled audibly and lifted his line of sight to meet Derek's eye. “I'm only seventeen. I'm--I'm not ready for this.”

Derek’s gaze dropped. He felt sick inside, chilled and baffled. No choice. Compelled. Wolf raped. How could Stiles say something so vile? Unless...he was telling the truth. He wasn't ready. Seventeen. Little more than a child and bonded for life to a man he used to hate. Not even a man, a werewolf. The old shame reasserted itself, calling Derek a monster, inhuman. The bond wasn’t a gift for Stiles. It was a curse. If he truly felt trapped by it, held against his will, then everything between them was an illusion. And Derek was no better than any other night stalking beast pursuing an innocent boy. An abomination.

The last thing Derek wanted to do was force Stiles into anything. He only wanted to cherish and protect him. And he'd thought...well, it had seemed mutual. Stiles had always taken the lead in the relationship, pushing for more. Derek had been the one holding back, all this time. Stiles was only agreeing with Derek’s own arguments. Why fight something so reasonable? Stiles was too young for him, for any relationship like this one.

“Just go home, okay?”

“This is not okay,” Derek said, blocking his way.

He poured every ounce of his internal pleading into his eyes. Stiles looked away, but didn't push past. With no idea what else to do, Derek went on instinct. Every fiber of his being told him Stiles wasn’t sure about this break-up. If he was, if all of the things he'd said were true, then...okay...it was over. Derek didn't know how he was going to handle that. Could he let go? Rise above the call of their bond? Another chance at family couldn't just slip through his fingers like this. If it had? What then? He would slink back into the dark woods. Wait. Watch. Endure. Become the person he was before he'd let himself care about Stiles. Love Stiles. He loved Stiles. How was he supposed to go back to the woods alone? It would wreck him. And before he gave up on a future that had seemed entirely possible last week, he had to know it was only his delusion keeping hope alive.

He seized the backpack, tugged it from Stiles' grasp and tossed it aside. Stiles went ghost white and stumbled back a step. Derek reigned in his temper. This was no time for sudden or aggressive moves. He held his hands up, palms out, as if pacifying a skittish horse. And closed the space between them slowly. Very gently, he took Stiles by the shirt front and pulled him into a sweet kiss. No tongue. No pressure. Just a brush of the lips. Just a friendly reminder. Stiles went up on his toes, falling forward into the kiss, making it deeper and more urgent. Derek was just about to congratulated himself, when Stiles yelped into his mouth and tried to wrench away. He might have easily escaped, except that he simultaneously dragged Derek closer with both hands.

When that didn’t work, he shoved a fist against Derek’s chest. His fingers uncurled and slid up to cup Derek's cheek. What the hell? Derek shifted his grip, taking up more shirt and dropping a hand to the hips. He opened his mouth to an eager tongue. Stiles twitched and plucked at him. He wanted more. He wanted free. He wanted something. Or everything at once. The surging back and forth was enough to over balance them. They staggered and broke apart slightly. And then, Stiles groaned and took over from Derek, definitely after a kiss this time. His hands slid up Derek’s body until they wrapped around his neck, fingers weaving through his hair. Stiles ground into Derek, clearly wanting more contact. This wasn't the bond. It didn't force you to kiss against your will. It urged you to mate, yes. To find one another, protect one another.

Had Stiles simply lost his mind? His body language, scent and the erratic skipping of his pulse all spoke to Derek. He sent out a dozen conflicting signals. Yes and no. Go and stay. Impossible to sort through the subtext of his mercurial movements. Desire sizzled in the odor of his sweat, but so did alarm. Fear and ardor mingled. Derek could taste lust in the air between them. It was as clear to him as a neon sign on a dark night. Stiles still wanted him, wanted to take him upstairs to his bed. Which was good. But at the same time he resisted. He dug in his heels and twisted away. His words had been clear enough. No means no. But the scent of his desire was unmistakable. It seemed like Stiles was at war with himself. But why? Was he ashamed? Afraid? Was his father that upset about the house? All those things he’d said about being forced into this made Derek cautious.

“We should take this inside,” he said, a little husky and rough sounding as he broke away from the kissing.

Stiles scurried sideways so quickly that Derek was caught off guard. His hand tangled in the shirt front, pulled the loose cotton taut. Feet churned over each other and they both stumbled, falling against the jeep. The metal buckled, groaning in protest over their combined weight, and Derek’s arm shot around Stiles to keep him from tripping again. His fingers registered something very wrong with the skin on Stiles’ back. It had ridges and what felt like scabs. A question formed in Derek's mind, but didn't get voiced, because Stiles screamed in obvious agony. His eyes rolled back and his knees gave out. Derek was forced to make a grab for him as a spasm shook his body. The desperate shriek had set the flesh crawling along Derek’s arms. He smelled fresh blood as Stiles went limp, sagging toward the ground. Derek found he was holding him up by the elbows to prevent a complete collapse.

“What the--? Stiles? Your back…it’s--? I--what have you done?”

Stiles didn’t answer Derek's sputtering. Couldn’t answer. He weaved on his feet, nearly insensible. Derek tightened his grip and gently shook him, but Stiles remained dazed and unresponsive. Bracing him with a hip, Derek tugged his shirt collar to one side. He peered down at flesh crisscrossed with crusted welts and oozing red slashes. Stiles had been beaten with some kind of whip or cane. He came to and started flailing, but not before Derek had most of his questions answered. Stiles was being tortured by some invisible force.

“What have you done?” Derek asked, again. Giving ground, he gagged on the stench of blood.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?” Derek said, so softly the word nearly died in his mouth. His hands were trembling

“What's going on out here?” Argent said. As he ran toward them, he snatched up the nail gun beside the door. “Stiles are you okay? Your father is on his way home.”

“It’s a spell. Now will you go,” Stiles said, his eyes brimming over with tears. “Please.”

“This is what it cost you?” Derek asked, not sparing Argent more than a glance. “To be free of the bond? You’d rather have this, than…”

“It doesn’t happen as long as we don’t see each other,” Stiles said, playing his trump card.

“We haven’t seen each other,” Derek reminded him. “But your back is covered with…” His throat closed and his own eyes started stinging as he recalled the damage. He threw himself backward in a wolfish bound, furious and terrified. But he couldn't run from this. He had to stop it. “God, Stiles. Why? Do you hate me that much? Is it so wrong? I thought you were ready for more...I thought...”

“I just want it to be over,” Stiles said, tears glistening against the dam of his long lashes.

“What sort of spell was it? Tell me. There must be a way to end it.”

“I don’t want to end it. Can’t you understand that? I want to be a normal teenager.”

“You call this normal?”

“Live a normal life. Away from you. Go to prom. Date. Maybe get married some day. If you really do care about me, then…you’ll go.”

“Found the nail gun,” Argent said, with forced cheer, cutting his eyes to the side to indicate that he and Derek could do something other than bother Stiles. “So, we can go back to work.”

Derek broke eye contact with Stiles. He stared at Argent, noting the tool in his hand, gripped like a weapon. Derek wondered if he meant to look threatening. A nail gun? Seriously? Where was his Glock?

“Stiles wants me to leave,” he said, not fighting the tremor in his voice. “So, I’m leaving.”

“And I'm going inside,” Stiles said, ducking away from Derek. “To call my dad.”

He didn't look at either man, again. He kept his eyes hooded. Gaze downcast, he recovered his backpack, but didn’t lift it into his arms. Letting it bang along the ground behind him, he headed for the front door. Derek and Argent watched him trudge away. Neither of them spoke. Stiles went inside, closing the door behind him, and climbed the stairs. Derek listened, holding up a hand to keep Argent silent. He heard the room door slam, bounce open and be firmly shut again. After a moment, the squeak of bed springs told him Stiles was sitting on the mattress edge. Quiet little sobs followed the musical chimes of his cellphone waking up.

Derek didn’t know how he was he supposed to ignore this kind of pain. Every instinct he had urged him to go to Stiles. Hold him. Comfort him. Save him from this spell. He had to anchor himself with the jeep door handle to avoid lunging toward the house. As he stood, wrestling with raw impulse, he smelled something underneath the fresh blood and old vomit. An acrid scent lingered beyond the metallic, oily stink of jeep. He sniffed, following the pungent odor to the back of the vehicle. Argent put the nail gun down and trailed after him.

“He did a spell,” Derek said. He used an elbow to shatter the jeep's back window. Reaching in, he opened the hatch. “Maybe something he found at your place.”

“Clever kid, Stiles,” Argent said. “Left on his own with my library? He could get into serious shit.”

“Should have thought of that.”

“You were pretty far out of it. What’s it do?”

“According to him, it severs the bond.”

“So I was right. You are a bonded pair. Nasty for you, being vulnerable like that.”

“Hadn’t thought about it,” Derek said, dismissing the notion.

“Hmmm?” Argent looked genuinely surprised. “That’s interesting. I would have imagined you would be the one looking to break it… Can’t be comfortable being tied to a teenager. Well, let’s say we have different perspectives on these things.”

Derek bristled. He knew some hunters used the bond against mated pairs, forcing mutual suicide. His kind knew all of their tricks. “What? You think I worry about hunters? You aren’t that significant to us,” he said, leaning closer to make his point. “Besides, aren't you and I on the same team now? You could have killed me while I was helpless, but you didn’t.”

“I might kill you, yet, if you force yourself on that boy.”

“There was no forcing,” Derek said, his claws eager to come out. Lust like his needed a physical outlet. He could use a good brawl to clear his head. But none of this was Argent's fault. Derek pinched his eyes closed and counted to ten, before continuing in a more reasonable manner, “I sent him away. To your house. To be safe. That was my idea.”

“Look, Buddy, you’ve been through a lot. I’m not saying you would intentionally hurt him,” Argent said. “But you seemed a little out of control.”

“And you were thinking of stopping me with a nail gun?”

“It's like a porcupine, makes you reconsider things.”

Derek almost returned his flashing grin. But he couldn't bring himself to find the humor in any of this, yet. He went back to his search of the jeep, pulling out a crumpled plastic bag.

“So, if he's done a spell...?” he said, “Then, it's changed him.”

“Changed him how?”

“He was the one who wanted… He was the one who pushed for more.”

“Well, he seems to have stopped pushing,” Argent said. “He's a teenager. They change their minds more often than they change their clothes. Allison loved Scott. Now, she's dating Isaac. Next month it will be someone new.”

“Maybe,” Derek said, struggling to face this truth, even though it was his original reason for going slow. “But he could just tell me and I’d walk away.”

“Are you sure about that?” Argent asked. When Derek snorted at him, he held up a placating hand again. “Let’s say it is. Maybe Stiles couldn’t just walk away, but wanted to…so he looked for a spell.”

“Spells like this are dangerous. You didn’t see his back.” Derek sniffed the shopping bag. “Brass. Elder flower. Ashes. Elk. I can’t tell what else. A few days old. Something at the full moon?” He found a deep purple receipt, illegible from light exposure. No help there. “Any of this ringing a bell with you?”

Chris Argent shrugged. “I don’t recognize it.”

“Would you tell me if you did?”

“I don’t know. I'll do a little digging at home. See if I can figure out what spell he used. But, I suppose I am siding with Stiles on this one. He did this to break the bond. He seemed pretty sure of himself.”

“He’s not,” Derek said. “Trust me.”

“Is that the bond talking?”

“Instinct. But I can’t make him see reason without hurting him. So, I should go. Can you give me a lift home?”

“Sure. We’re about to lose our light anyway. Get your stuff and I’ll lock up.”

“I’d rather not go in the house,” Derek said. “Would you mind? It’s the satchel just inside the guest room door.”

“No problem. Maybe you should have another beer. Just to keep your hands busy.”

Derek nodded, but he didn’t move toward the cooler. He was already reaching for his phone. He dialed Scott first, and then Deaton. Both of them agreed to meet him later to discuss what to do about Stiles. After a brief moment of indecision, he also called the Sheriff.

 

“Let me get this straight,” Stilinski said, once Derek had explained everything fully. “My son found a way to break your unbreakable bond of inappropriate sexual tension and you,” he pointed a finger at Derek, “want me to help you undo whatever he’s done?”

“Excellent summing up,” Derek said with only a slight edge of sarcasm. Had it been anyone else, he would have rolled his eyes. But the Sheriff had only agreed to this meeting after a lengthy discussion.

“The spell suggested by Derek’s description is very dangerous,” Deaton added. “It is in your son's best interest to break its hold over him.”

Derek's gaze snap-locked to Deaton's. “You know what he's done? How we counter it?”

Just as Scott said, “It sounds like he’s in a lot of pain.”

“He is,” Derek and Deaton said at the same time.

Deaton went on to answer Derek’s question. “Judging by these ingredients and your vivid account of the change in young Mr. Stilinski, I believe it is a variant on Sang Pour Sang, the blood lash. If I’m correct, it doesn’t break the bond, so much as break the person.”

“That sounds ominous,” the Sheriff said.

“It is a very nasty business,” Deaton said, confirming Derek’s worst fears. “In order to avoid the lash, Stiles will need to avoid not only seeing Derek, but thinking about him. Unfortunately, the bond encourages him to think about Derek. The Iron Bond is designed to bring couples together. The compulsion will grow more and more intense the longer Derek stays away.”

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” the Sheriff said.

“But if they do see each other,” Scott said, “Won’t that make the cravings worse, too?”

“And there’s the danger of doing spellwork as a novice,” Deaton sighed. “I should have kept a closer watch on him. Should have realized how powerful he was.”

“That reminds me,” Derek said, addressing the Sheriff and Scott. “You need to get his keys. His amulet has malfunctioned. Bring it to me or Deaton and we can dispose of it.”

“Try not to touch it directly,” Deaton warned. He looked at Derek. “Can you get him the proper one? I don’t have a spare, of course. But I can ask around if you like.”

“No. I can find one. I’d rather not owe that kind of favor to someone, but…

“Yes,” Deaton nodded.

“What does the amulet have to do with anything?” Scott added, drawing his own from his pocket. He ran his thumb over the red swirling gem. “It stops bad dreams, right?”

“For you and Miss Argent, yes,” Deaton said. “It absorbs dark energy. But the younger Mr. Stilinski is too powerful for his own good. He’s interfering with the magic.”

“He needs a different kind of amulet,” Derek said. “One created for an Emissary.”

“Wait! Hold on,” the Sheriff said, making a T-sign with his hands. “My son is an Emissary?”

“Not yet, Sheriff,” Deaton said with a tiny, indulgent smile. “But he’s on his way. He’s a dream walker. And he’s working with the energies now, without supervision, casting air and blood spells. Directing that kind of power takes a toll on the psyche. That’s one of the reasons we don’t go around blasting monsters with our minds. Even the Darach had her limits and she let others pay her way. Stiles is funding his own accounts.”

“He’s sacrificing himself,” Scott said, having one of those epiphanies that took him from time to time. “Blood for blood.” He nodded, glancing at Derek as he pointed at him. “Because you nearly died.”

Everyone turned to stare at Scott. Derek lifted an inquiring brow. The pain around his heart eased a little. Could that be the reason Stiles had done this? Not because he found the bond distasteful, but because he wanted to make sure Derek wouldn’t be hurt again. Of all the idiotic notions. But, it sounded like something Stiles would do.

“What are you talking about, Scott?” the Sheriff asked.

“Don’t you see? Derek nearly died saving Stiles,” he said, as if he were reading from a text for first graders. The Sheriff waved a hand, still gaping at him, so he went on, “Stiles saves Derek with this spell. It keeps him safe.”

“He's protecting me?”

Derek struggled to reconcile Stiles protecting him with his own sense of identity. He defended other people. They didn’t rescue him. Though, to be fair, Stiles had always been the exception to this rule. He’d held him up for hours in that pool, pushing past the point of exhaustion. There had, in fact, been several occasions when he'd bristled on Derek's behalf or risked his own life for him.

“I've known Stiles forever. He’s my best friend. Trust me, Derek. He's always had a thing for you. I mean, it’s not super obvious. He rants about you sometimes. And, okay, wishes you were dead. You drive him a little crazy. But this is... he wouldn’t just stop liking you. It has to be a way to protect you.”

“Now that does sound like my son,” the Sheriff said, sighing. “He always blames himself when someone else is hurt.”

“Maybe I should stay away from him,” Derek said. “If this is my fault…”

“Well, at least we can’t say they don’t have anything in common,” the Sheriff said, rolling his eyes.

“It’s not your fault,” Scott said. “Stiles is just being Stiles, like you were being Derek when you ran into that fire. But what are we going to do about this spell?”

“I find it interesting, Scott, that you believe Stiles has genuine feelings for Derek,” Deaton said. “I concur. And perhaps those feelings are the key to breaking the spell’s hold on him.” The others turned to him, faces questioning. “I have a thought. Much depends on you, Derek. Setting aside the compulsions of the bond, do you have any true feelings for Stiles?”

“True feelings?”

“Do you, also, feel something deeper,” Deaton clarified, “Beyond or outside the bond?”

Derek bit his lower lip. He didn't know what to say. When they all continued to look at him, he said, “It doesn't matter. I accept the bond.”

“I think it matters,” the Sheriff said.

“It could matter a great deal to Stiles. While there is a standing mythology surrounding bonded pairs, we must remember this type of union serves a purpose among your kind. The bond exists to link ideal partners who would otherwise not mate voluntarily. Perhaps they are from warring packs or cultures. The Blood Bond is essentially an evolutionary tool. It creates genetic diversity. It transcends life's little complications—social roles, assumed sexual orientation, previous commitments and pack affiliations. It comes from your blood and infects your mate. Or, put another way, this is all your fault.”

“Thanks,” Derek said on a sigh. He stared out the window as Deaton went on explaining his ideas.

“I've had occasion, recently, to read up on this subject. Obviously, you and the younger Mr. Stilinski would never have gotten around to mating without the bond. You are predominantly heterosexual. He is still a minor. However, that doesn’t mean you are necessarily disinclined to mate.”

“Assuming sexual orientation is flexible,” Stilinski said. “I'll admit Stiles has got a man crush of some kind on Derek, but...”

“Exactly,” Deaton said, nodding. “Initially, his feelings for Derek might not have been, shall we say, carnal. But they have taken that turn with the bond. Perhaps Stiles is naturally bisexual. Or, like Derek, simply not opposed to the idea of loving a man. The point is Derek's blood called out and Stiles answered that summons. He is the best choice. They will be stronger people together. The bond knows. And it is worth noting that Stiles has already overridden the bond’s compulsion when he sought out and cast this spell. According to Scott, and you Sheriff, he's done this because of some feelings he has outside the bond.” Everyone looked at Derek again, as Deaton asked, “Do you feel the same way about him? Would you relinquish the bond for him? Take on the lash?”

A blush burned up Derek’s neck and across his cheeks. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about his feelings in this company. Or at all. He closed his eyes, dropping his chin to his chest and pressing his lips into a thin, white line. He tried to think past the bond. Instinct had always been enough for him. But what did he feel? Lust. Hunger. Need. Yes. All of those things. He thought of Stiles crying by his bedside. And experienced the urge to protect him at any cost. It was a savage desire to defend. He would take on the lash if he could. But that could be the bond or his protective nature. He dismissed those feelings, too. He considered smaller events, board games and study sessions, and smiled in spite of his inner turmoil. He loved spending time with Stiles. He recalled that perfect day at the beach. Both of them pleasantly exhausted from exercise, holding one another. Deep inside, right by his heart, an ember burned bright. He loved Stiles. He kept his eyes closed, but gave a terse nod.

“Very well then,” Deaton said, accepting this slight concession as enough. He knew his werewolves. “I purpose wooing.”

Derek’s eyelids popped open. His stomach felt like he'd just chugged a gallon of ice water. And, yet, his mouth was too dry to say more than, “Uh…?”

“Wooing!” Scott said on a whoop. “Derek’s going to woo?”

“Shut up, Scott,” the Sheriff said. He cast a quelling look at Deaton. “Are you seriously suggesting I let this fully grown man—wha--?” Words failed him for a moment. Derek empathized, indicating his agreement with an open palmed gesture of support. Unfortunately, the Sheriff went on, “Do, I don't know what...? With my son?”

That untangled Derek's tongue. “Help him?” He suggested, casting the Sheriff a significant quell of his own.

“So far our definitions of help haven't exactly run parallel,” Stilinski said.

Derek huffed. He put on his best glower. He reckoned he looked as offended as a set jaw and crossed arms could make him while simultaneously being scared silly. Why wasn’t anyone worried about saving him from the Stilinskis? Who knew being a smart ass was hereditary? If he ended up with Stilinski kids underfoot someday Derek would be completely outnumbered. He'd be mocked to his grave. He’d strayed pretty far down that imaginary road, before he thought to check himself, because the route to kids and a lifetime of mocking ran right through wooing, apparently.

“Sheriff, I believe this is the best chance we have to spare your son pain,” Deaton was explaining when Derek checked back into the conversation. “The spell was invoked to counter the bond. We must address the underlying emotions and compulsions.”

“What if I just shoot him?” Stilinski said, nodding at Derek.

“Considering this spell casting was most likely a reaction to Derek's injury, I would not advise hostile actions of any kind.”

“Ask the salamander,” Scott said. “Only he can't tell you, because his head was atomized.”

Derek bobbed his chin at Deaton. “What about that?”

“Let's tackle one issue at a time,” Deaton said. “I suggest we focus on breaking your bond.”

“But we can’t,” Derek said, on a sigh.

“Exactly,” Deaton said, looking so smug Derek wanted to lunge at his throat. “I should have said we must nullify the bond. Make it irrelevant to your interactions. Play on Stiles’ feelings for you by encouraging them.”

Scott snapped his fingers. “Because,” he said, once again catching on in that infuriating way he had. “If they are in love, then they don’t need the bond.”

“The bond would become redundant. Yes,” Deaton said.

“That’s just…” Derek didn’t know what he wanted to say. It was ridiculous. And brilliant. And completely out of the question. He just couldn't do it. He cast a mute appeal at the Sheriff. He wasn’t exactly on Derek’s side, but at least he seemed to be taking the proper outraged tone over this horrible plan. Werewolves did not woo.

“How would you go about it?” The Sheriff asked, pulling away Derek’s last safety line. “Assuming I agree to help you?”

“I have no idea,” Derek said as he sank into the nearest chair.

“Oh, Dude,” Scott said, “Everyone knows how to woo. Presents. Love notes. A picture of your…” he broke off, darting a glance at the Sheriff, and regrouped. “Uhm…car.”

“He likes video games for holidays,” the Sheriff said. “Halo. Dragon’s Age. And all things Star Wars.”

“He loves Star Wars,” Scott said, nodding. “Probably he would agree to marry you if you dressed up like a Wookie.”

“I’m not dressing up as anything,” Derek said.

“But you are doing this, right?” Scott asked. “For Stiles?”

Derek shook his head in a firm negative. Yet, his chin tipped in defeat as heard himself agreeing, “Yeah, I’m doing this. For Stiles.”

“What you need is a wooing posse,” Scott said. “I can so hook you up.”

Chapter Text

Title: Rise Above
Author: Rabid1st
Rating: Mature
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Derek/Stiles
Warning(s): Unhappy stuff. Arguments. Harsh Language. M/M sex.
Spoiler(s): AU S3b no spoilers in this part. Some in earlier parts.
Beta Babes: Birthsister & Elsecarlass
Word Count: 24629
Summary: After Derek is severely injured, Stiles can’t forgive himself. He finds a spell to break their bond. The spell has a nasty backlash and Derek is determined to put an end to it. But will Stiles resist his every attempt to reconnect? How far will Derek go to restore them both to sanity?
Disclaimer: Teen Wolf and these characters are not mine. This fic represents fair use for fan purposes.

In a time of treason, is there room for trust? Is there time for reason or has your heart had enough? Is it time to let go and rise above? And you say rise above, open your eyes on love.

PART TWO

 

Stiles made it through the weekend one hour at a time. Once or twice he took it minute by minute. After Derek and Argent left Friday night, he managed to check the waterworks. He hated blubbering. Men were allowed to weep, of course. His dad and mom never shamed him for showing genuine emotion, and he'd be the first person to defend anyone else who wanted a good cry. But he had never appreciated his vulnerable side, because ready tears plagued him. He wanted to show more self control. But he just couldn’t manage it today. The pain of the lash and Derek's woeful expression ham-stringed any stoicism he might have mustered.

God, he’d screwed this up so badly. He should have thought it through. Should have waited, consulted Deaton or researched more options. It hurt more than he could bear to think he would have to avoid Derek forever because of this damned spell. No more pack meetings. No more stolen kisses. He snuffled into a tissue and wiped his eyes. Time to consider a bath, he thought, nose wrinkling. It had been three days and he was starting to reek, but a shower was out of the question. A soapy soak might sooth his ravaged skin.

Not so much, as it turned out. His slashed back burned more than ever when it hit the lukewarm water. Unable to handle the scalding, Stiles knelt to finish rinsing off. The non-skid tub bottom abraded his knees and he winced and cursed his way through the ordeal. Feeling 80 years old, he lurched out of the tub to drip dry. He blotted his hair, arms and legs with a towel, but let everything else stay damp for an hour. Back in the bedroom, he slipped Phantom Menace into his laptop to kill the time. His injuries stopped throbbing during the epic Darth Maul lightsaber battle. By the end of the film, he was ready to try clothing again. He dressed in his oldest, softest t-shirt and boxers. Doing a bellyflop into bed, he pillowed his head on both arms, but sleep continued to elude him. He woke several times. Between the dreams and rolling over into agony, his night passed in torment.

His dad came home around midnight. When he popped in for a chat, Stiles feigned sleep, but first thing Saturday morning, his dad said, “Take off your shirt. Let me see.”

“Geez, Dad! And good morning to you.”

“Stiles!”

That meant don't test my patience. It was a tone Stiles heard several times a week. His dad waved an arm up and down to indicate stripping was required.

“I don't know what Derek told you, but...”

“He told me you were an idiot. I want to see it for myself.”

“It's not as bad as it looks,” Stiles said, finishing his thought. His beseeching eyes didn't sway his dad one bit. “The pain only lasts for a few seconds and then it goes away.”

His father made a little spinning motion with one finger. Stiles huffed, but turned his back, lifting his shirt. He moved slowly to avoid cracking open any scabs.

“Jesus Christ! Stiles?” His dad closed the distance between them. Stiles shrank away and his dad checked the impulse to latch on and shake him until his teeth rattled. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Stiles yanked his shirt back down. The angry gesture was a huge mistake. He hissed as the bunched fabric brushed his wounds. So much for the 'no pain' lie. He'd have to stop grimacing to sell that one to Scott. Features schooled, lips pressed so tight to his teeth they felt numb, Stiles did his best to model one of Derek's stone-faced expressions. He crossed his arms, set his jaw and turned around to stare blankly at his dad. He'd learned a lot about masking emotions from the Hales. Unfortunately, he didn't have the same control over his tongue.

“I was thinking about him, Dad. The fucking little werewolf tattletale. Dying. Screaming. Burned to the bone.”

His father cocked his head, squinting. Both hands reaching out, he grasped for some deeper reason. When he finally spoke, there was a note of resignation in his voice.

“So Scott was right?”

“Scott?”

“You did this for Derek. Do you love him that much?”

The question caught Stiles off-guard. “Do I—what?”

“You'd do this,” his dad said, again with the uncomprehending hand gestures, “to yourself, to spare him?”

“I did this to break the bond,” Stiles said. “Because I hate it. It forced him into that fire. It's evil.”

Confusion softened the lines on his dad's craggy face. But he wasn't buying that excuse. “No, I know you. You're a good kid. Brave. Loyal. But you aren't a saint.”

“I don't have to be a saint. You risk your life every day for complete strangers.”

“No. I would have done this for your mother. I'd do it for you. But, not for Deaton. I don't think you would do this for Scott.”

“I might.”

“You would run into a burning building to save him. But...this?”

“I didn't know this would happen,” Stiles said. “That's all it means. I'm an idiot, like you said. I thought it would be...quicker, a sacrifice.” He had been foolish, impulsive. If only he'd taken more time to think it through, but he hadn't. “I was stupid. Okay? I don't blame you for being mad at me. I could have lost you or my eyesight or anything.”

His dad shook his head again and turned away. His boots thudded on the tile floor as he paced to the refrigerator. He opened it and looked inside, but closed it without taking anything out. Stiles knew he was trying very hard not to explode. Their relationship had evolved past that. His dad was starting to pay attention to him, show him more respect. They'd grown closer in the last few months. But this new twist was testing them. Stiles watched his dad wrestle with his duties as a parent as he walk up and down the room. He paused once, opening his mouth to speak, but reconsidered and took another lap. A smile tugged at the corners of Stiles' mouth when his dad chewed on a knuckle, before taking another stab at conversation. Sometimes they were so much alike.

“I need your keys,” his dad said, holding out a hand.

“Why?” Stiles asked, but he was already digging them out of his pocket, because he knew the answer. Derek had spoken to his father, told him everything. Hadn’t Stiles suffered enough without having to deal with a distraught dad on top of everything else?

“You know why? If I don't take the amulet to Deaton today, Derek is coming here tonight. I'm assuming neither of us wants that.”

Okay. That was logical. And more reserved than Stiles had expected. “I got rid of it, already,” he said, jingling the keys to show his father the amulet was gone. “Threw it in the river. The current will cleanse it. I'll call Deaton and tell him.”

His dad took a deep breath. “Alright. That's one thing settled. Melissa is coming over to look at your...at those....” The lift of his chin indicated the lash marks he couldn't bring himself to name. His gaze flickered to the side, eyes straining to look around Stiles as if they could still see his covered injuries. “And you're going to see Dr. Price, again,” he said.

“What? That’s ridiculous. I can’t tell him anything about this. And I already see....”

“I know you work with Deaton’s sister, the guidance counselor, but I want you in normal human therapy.” He leveled a stern finger. “No arguments.”

“Fine. When he has me committed for self-injury you can feel bad about that decision.”

His father ground his teeth together, but didn’t respond to the jab. “What do you have planned today?”

Stiles shook his head. Surviving? Resting? Trying not to think about Derek. The skin on his back twitched. Oh, God, do not think about...that...thing. All of those things that you are not supposed to think about. Dad is on the ragged edge. If I take a hit now, he'll never recover. No. Okay. What would Obi-Wan do? Think about Obi-Wan. The lightsaber battle. Try to sound casual. What are your plans for today?

“I've got a ton of homework. Then, some research on the Kitsune. Might phone Scott. Play some Halo, I guess.”

His dad nodded. The tilt of his head told Stiles he wanted to say more, but he held his tongue. They paid an uneasy attention to breakfast. His dad set the table, made coffee and pretended to read the paper. Stiles fried eggs and turkey bacon in a nonstick pan. The smoky aroma made his mouth water. He was physically hungry, but didn’t have much appetite. He managed to wolf down an egg and some toast before the churning in his head and his twitching back made him queasy again. As he gathered the dirty dishes, his dad set the paper aside and raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“If I can refuse to answer it.”

“Fair enough,” his dad said. He gestured at a chair, inviting Stiles to sit down. Stiles sighed audibly and glanced at the clock, trying to suggest they didn't have time for a heart-to-heart chat. “This won't take long, I hope,” his dad said, reading his impatience. Stiles sat down. His dad took a deep breath and asked, “Why Derek Hale?”

“Excuse me?”

“I get that there's a bond of some kind,” his father said, holding up both hands to show that wasn't what he wanted to know about. “But there's something else, too. I can see there’s something… It's like you’re drawn to him.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“Okay. So, I'm biased, I know. But I can see what he gets out of this. Dumb ass moves like this one aside, you're shaping up to be a pretty great catch. Good looking, smart, brave, capable. There's this magic thing. Deaton tells me you are very talented.”

Stiles squirmed, uncomfortable with the praise. He chewed on his thumb nail and gave a little shrug.

“Of course, there's also the sarcasm and the recklessness and the constant chattering. How you never think things through, how you…”

“You had a question?” Stiles said, cutting him off and flashing him the stink eye for good measure.

“Right.” His father braced his elbows on the table. “Deaton said the bond means you two are...suited for one another. Compatible. But I don't see it. You're like night and day. He's athletic. You're a nerd gamer. He's almost mute. You can't stop talking. He's smart. I can see that. You're both smart. But he’s dangerous. And bad tempered. I get the feeling it would suit him just fine if everyone outside your little magic circle dropped dead.”

“He stepped between me and that fire, Dad. That’s a pretty big deal.”

“No. You're right. That was out of line. He obviously has some redeeming qualities, probably a lot more than I can see. That's why I'm asking.”

Eyes shut, Stiles sighed. He wiped a hand over his face; pinched the bridge of his nose. “You get that I'm trying to not think about him, right?”

“Yes. I do get that. But, this spell you did is serious business. I just need to know why you did it. How this bond works on you? Because I noticed you were talking about him a lot. At first, I thought you hated him. Then, this last year, I thought it was a crush. You've never even looked at another man that way, as far as I can tell. But maybe I missed it. You used to like Lydia Martin so much. What changed?”

“Seriously, Dad? You want to know about my sexuality?”

“It just confuses me. I want you to be happy. I want to know if Deaton is right about the bond. Is it forcing you into something you would never choose on your own? Or would you chose this anyway?”

Stiles shook his head. “I don't know what to tell you.”

Pushing away from the table, he stood and went to the sink. He washed the dishes, silently, while his dad pulled together lunch, jacket and keys. They feigned a hug. The sheriff ruffled his hair. Stiles used to hate that. It was one reason he'd opted for a buzz cut at fourteen. But it made him feel better now. Loved. He caught at his dad's sleeve as he turned to go.

“It's not the bond, Dad. It's him. He and I clicked, because,” Stiles spread his hands in helpless confusion, “because he's Derek. Maybe the bond makes it about sex. I don't know.”

“So, you don't know if you want to mate with him because of the bond? Or if you just like him?”

“When it comes to sex, I think I'm...flexible. I've always been a little fixated on Lydia. But, if you really want to know the truth, I noticed guys, too. Whatever I feel in here,” he said, putting a hand to the center of his chest, “it's about a person.”

“But Derek Hale? He’s ten years older than you. And have you taken a good look at our house lately? Or his house? He's a werewolf. A monster.”

Stiles felt his temper flare. It was funny how this one issue really irked him, when people missed Derek's humanity. He was broken and vulnerable more often than he was scary. But how could he make his dad see that? Stiles drew on logic instead of his emotions. Why Derek? Surely, he could answer that question honestly. Why would he be attracted to Derek? Why didn't he see him as a monster, too?

“I don't even get how you can say that,” Stiles said in a quiet tone. “You’ve seen him hurt and lost. To me, he's always been that kid from the fire. You remember? When he came to the station? I was there that day, when he and his sister signed the papers for the bodies.”

Stiles could tell by the look on his father's face that he'd forgotten that detail. “You shouldn't have been there.”

“Look, I get it. He’s an apex predator. I was scared, too, when I found out. I thought he was a killer. But he's not. I understand how you might worry about werewolves.”

“Maybe it’s the cop in me. All I see is domestic violence in this. He threw a bed through a wall. You’re covered in slashes. I've seen his teeth. There wasn't a trace of humanity in him the other night. Just rage.”

“Yeah, but...that's only the wolf.”

“Only?”

“He doesn't lose control like that. Ever. That's not him. He's too controlled sometimes.” Stiles sighed. “That's one of the reasons he's so angry. He can't let anyone close, because the people closest to him were hurt or hurt him. But he’s not a killer, Dad. He’s not a violent person.”

“The wolf doesn't scare you?”

“Hell, yes, it scares me. He could kill me like that,” Stiles said, snapping his fingers. “Rip out my throat with his teeth. Throttle me with one hand. One swipe of those claws and I'm a goner.”

“This is not reassuring me.”

“But, the thing is, dad, he doesn't. He blusters. But he let's me come close. He listens to me. We’re on the same side. I have to be careful, but that's okay.”

“I will never understand you,” his dad said. “Times like this, I wish your mother were here. She'd explain this to me.”

“I wish she were here, too, especially today. Just remember Derek's a good person. Don't blame him for this. None of this is his fault.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Now, I'm late. Call me at work, if you need anything. Anything at all.”

Stiles hugged his dad, tight, happy they'd talked even though it had been awkward for both of them. He felt like they’d cleared the air. His dad squeezed his upper arms in lieu of hugging back and left for work. Stiles sat staring at the wall for a while, but his thoughts turned to Derek and he had to distract himself quickly. To keep his mind busy, he focused on chores he could do. He stacked the dishes away, swept the kitchen floor and set the trash out. The kitchen looked neater than it had in weeks. What next?

He checked the clock and called Deaton's office to tell him what had happened to the amulet. Expecting to leave a message, he was surprised when Scott answered. Stiles was about to ask him why he was answering on a Saturday. But, instead of the usual happy greeting, Scott spoke in clipped sentences and seemed distracted. He said they were in the middle of an emergency, but Stiles knew he was lying. They never answered the phone during an emergency so why start on the weekend. He was getting the brush off from his best friend. What the hell? Scott said he had to go, but he would give Derek the message.

“Whatever, Scott,” Stiles said to the dial tone. “Guess you’re on Derek’s team, too.”

Melissa arrived around noon. She cooed over his back, but didn't ask him any questions. No doubt Mr. Tall Dark and Grumpy or one of his minions had filled her in on everything. What else could he expect of a species that howled to communicate? The motherly attention went down easy though. He couldn't help smiling as Melissa fussed over him. She treated his back with a cooling spray. It numbed as it healed and he could apply it himself. Once they'd dealt with his injuries, Melissa broke out her secret weapon, a cooler keeping a half gallon of ice cream cold—mint chocolate chip, his favorite.

To his surprise, three scoops went down without a trace of nausea. Only concern for his straining stomach stopped him from going back for seconds. Maybe it was the company, but he felt much better. He asked about Rafael, but they didn't talk about their exes. Melissa recalled the first time Stiles insisted on tasting this flavor of ice cream. He'd been a strictly vanilla child, until he'd turned six.

“You had the five food groups of Stiles,” she said, laughing. “Vanilla ice cream. Chicken nuggets. Cherrios. Peeled apple slices. And what was the other thing?”

“Plain Teddy Grahams,” Stiles said.

“Right. All beige foods. And then one day you asked for the bright green ice cream. I was sure you’d been replaced by a pod-child.”

They discussed family trips, especially the one they took to the Grand Canyon. It was the last time Stiles' mom had been well. The last time he'd been a real kid, in some ways. Melissa had been his worry on that trip. She'd turned her ankle during the Great Horny Toad Lizard hunt. And he'd tried to nurse her. There'd been a little arguing, too, between her and Mr. McCall, which later made him more aware of the divorce issues. Until that trip, Stiles had always assumed parents were eternal.

Melissa groaned and patted her belly. “I'd better get back to the house,” she said. “Scott will be home soon and I haven't even thought about dinner.”

“Pizza always works,” Stiles said.

“Once in a while, a mom has to provide vegetables or Child Services pays a visit.”

“Make it a veggie deluxe,” Stiles said, walking her to the door. “Scott will eat anything. Not me, I'm a purest.”

“Meat lovers, extra pepperoni, yeah,” she said, touching light fingertips to his cheek. “Maybe I'll bring that next time.”

He skipped school on Monday and nearly died of boredom. His back had healed to the point where it itched constantly. There was only one new slash, because he’d gotten very good at distracting himself. By Tuesday the house was immaculate and he couldn't take another day at home. To his surprise, it was a lot easier to avoid thinking at school. Or maybe that didn't surprise him so much. He enjoyed the routine drudgery, though, and that was a first. The teachers bored him in a droningly pleasant way.

The rest of the week went by smoothly. His dad made pancakes three out of five mornings and, despite having very little appetite, Stiles choked them down. True to her word, Melissa brought him a pizza on her next visit. And Derek ignored him. Weirdly, Scott and Lydia were, also, ignoring him. And they often had their heads together as if plotting something. Stiles hoped they weren't discussing him, but he didn’t care enough to intrude on them. If Scott had chosen this particular hour of need to bail as best friend, so be it. Lydia ignoring him was nothing new. It almost felt normal. By Friday’s lunch hour, Stiles had settled into a comfortable routine as a loner. Nobody asked him intrusive questions and he didn’t have to make small talk. He hummed “Radioactive” as he filled his tray with fries and baked beans.

His back was nearly healed and his appetite had returned with a vengeance that morning. Locating an open and relatively clean table, he sat down to enjoy a solitary lunch. He'd just taken a huge bite of fish sandwich when Scott dropped into the seat next to him. He asked how Stiles was doing, as if he hadn’t been avoiding him for a week. Stiles glared at him, but twiddled his fingers at Lydia as she sat down opposite them. She placed a small, flat box on the table by Stiles’ tray. It was deep violet, with a black and purple candy-cane striped ribbon tied in a bow around it. Very understated. Totally masculine. No gift tag. But there was no question in Stiles’ mind about who it was from. The wrapping screamed Derek Hale. It even smelled like him.

And there he is, Stiles thought, back in my head. The mingled aromas of fresh herbs and warm, furry animal wafted from the box. The smells weren’t just in the air. They were on Stiles, in his nose, all over his body. They bypassed his brain and headed straight for his groin. Derek. Fucking. Hale. His place. His bed. His pillows. Scott and Lydia might as well have transported Stiles directly into Derek's arms. He tried to swallow, but the food refused to go down, choking him as he grabbed for his water bottle. Before he could veer his thoughts away from the craving it leaped to the front of his mind. It pounced on him. And the lash fell, ripping down his back, slicing away flesh. He dropped his water. It fountained up soaking one leg of his jeans. He shoved his chair back. Hand to his mouth, he stumbled to the nearest trash can to spit out his food.

The sounds of laughter and chatter died away around him. He looked up. It seemed like everyone had turned to stare at him. One or two people tittered nervously. The mocking noise followed him as he stormed out the double doors into the hall. How could Scott and Lydia do this to him? A sneak attack? The traitors. Why would they do this?

“Stiles? Wait,” Scott called, running to catch up, because Stiles was moving fast.

“Get away from me, Scott,” he yelled. “Just...stay away.”

“Dude, you're bleeding. I can smell it. You have to take this.”

“I don't want it,” he said. “Take it back. Shove it down his throat.”

“I can't do that. It's your new amulet.”

“You're supposed to be my friend, Scott,” Stiles said, whirling to confront him as they reached the lockers. “Take my side. You can make him leave me alone. You’re the Alpha. You can do that.”

“And I would,” Scott said, “if I thought it would help you.” He held out the box, making Stiles groan and turn away. “This will help you.”

Lydia clattered up on her ridiculous heels. Stiles shook his head and turned away. He didn't dare look at them, united against him, or he would say something he’d regret. Breathing audibly, he pressed his lips into a moue and focused his attention on his lock, spinning the dial around too quickly. He missed a number in his combination and had to start over. Son of a bitch! Fuck it all! He slammed his palm against the locker door. That little son of an Alpha and his presents. Stiles was going to skin him alive. They'd see who had the last word in this throw down. What he'd done to that salamander would pale in comparison.

“Is it the box?” Lydia asked. “Have you seen the wrapping before? Does it smell like him or something?”

This time Stiles smacked the locker door with his forehead. It hurt, but he not as much as his injured back. Closing his eyes, he sent up a silent prayer of thanks for Lydia’s quick intellect. Maybe she’d take the hint and the box and leave. But she and Scott just hovered, murmuring to one another. From the gist of their conversation, Stiles could tell they were hoping to reconcile him with Derek. How thoughtful. And annoying. The fight abandoned him, draining away like someone had pulled a plug inside his chest. He sighed, resting his cheek against the cool metal of his locker door.

Who was he kidding? He was so full of crap. He might be fighting the idea of reconciliation, but he would never go after Derek with his rage. Any more than Derek could go after him with teeth and claws. No wonder people were meddling, trying to help them both deal with this mess. They were obviously still crazy about each other. Two inept losers trying to break up, it would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. He cast his gaze down and fiddled with the lock again, finally cracking it on his third attempt. Shifting backward, he opened the door, but didn’t try to remove anything from the locker. Just stood there, staring into it.

A second later he sneezed, because Lydia had saturated the air with her perfume. Derek would hate that, Stile thought, and endured another slash of pain. Come on. That wasn't even lust, was it? Maybe a little. Stop thinking about how he...anything. Stop thinking about anything.

“I can't. I just can't,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Maybe if we open it for him,” Scott said.

There was a ripping noise as they tore the wrapping, totally ignoring his fury and distress. This was what it meant to have friends. This was why being alone this week had been so relaxing.

“Wow! Can I get one?” Lydia said. “Not in black, obviously. Maybe a nice silver herringbone chain.”

“You're crazy. I can't even look at it,” Scott said. Sounding a little alarmed, he added, “Hey, we aren't supposed to touch it.”

“I'm holding the band. What is it going to do to me that's worse than a werewolf mauling?” Lydia asked, before addressing Stiles. “Hold out your arm.”

“I don't...”

“Just do it, before this thing gives me split ends or worse. It's making my teeth ache.”

Stiles sighed. Drawing on all of his courage, he turned around to look at his present. A black leather bracelet dangled from Lydia's pinched fingers. It didn't make his teeth ache. It sent a shot of adrenaline straight down his spine. And all sorts of sinful feelings swirled in his gut. One hand went to his mouth, fingers sliding along his lower lip. The bracelet mesmerized, arresting his attention. It was beautiful. He wanted it. Needed it.

“I'll take it,” he said and meekly offered his wrist.

As soon as Lydia buckled him into Derek's gift, Stiles felt his anxiety bleeding away. He slumped against the lockers as a shower of soothing energy rained down on him. He held his wrist up, turning it so they could all admire Derek's impeccable taste in tagging. A silver buckle clasped the braided leather bracelet closed. It wasn't a heavy piece, no more than a half inch wide, made from eight, thin, interwoven strips of black leather. The amulet, a sea-blue gem, had been worked into a complicated series of knots opposite the buckle. The leather was finished to a bunny softness. It caressed his skin and accented his wrist bones, making them look raw and masculine.

It was miraculous how quickly his head cleared. His back stopped throbbing, but the expected lethargy didn't buckle his knees. He felt invigorated, rather than half asleep. The reason for that became clear as he considered what Derek had already told him. Unlike the last one, this amulet was designed for an emissary. He wasn't completely human anymore. This amulet recognized that. It recognized him, when he stared into it. Stile could feel it surging into him as it consumed his inner darkness. It ebbed and flowed within his mind, elusive, there and gone, moving like surf. It seemed as vast and deep as the ocean and, yet, it did not overwhelm him. It quickly disposed of the burdens he'd been bearing for months. A brass bowl or icy bathtub would not stand against the tide of this cleansing.

The amulet spoke to Stiles. As soon as it touched his skin, it stirred the currents around him, focused them. When he closed his eyes, he could see them swirling with bright colors. Derek Hale owns you, the amulet told him. You can't escape him. As long as your blood flows you are bonded. Nobody else knows you like he does. Stiles nodded his agreement.

Yeah. I admit it. I’m his. Now everyone will know, because he's branded me. My power evident and his power over me, out there for all the world to see.

“Tell him I have it. And I'm fine,” Stiles said.

“You want to go finish lunch?” Lydia asked.

Stiles shook his head. “I’m late for…something.” He yanked his backpack from his locker, slammed the door and locking it closed, before he bolted away from them.

He did his best not to look at his wrist for the rest of the day. The amulet kept up a steady soothing murmur. It sorted him, stacking his emotions, shuffling his thoughts. By the end of the day he was feeling better than he had in weeks. He practically danced out of the building when the final bell rang. But he stopped cold when he reached his jeep. There was an envelope on his windshield, tucked under the wiper blade. He took one look at the handwriting before whipping it away from his car. Mouth pursed, he huffed a breath. No. He carried the missive to the nearest wastebasket and deposited it unread. No notes. No contact. Stiles felt steadier than he had since casting the spell, but that didn't mean he was ready to go back to Derek. He could do this. He didn't need a lash to break free of the bond.

His buoyant confidence lasted until he and his dad ran into Derek in the grocery store on Saturday. Stiles broke away from the cart and pretended to look for chips down another aisle. Derek didn’t try to follow him. Stiles sought out reflections in the security mirrors, watching Derek until he exited the store. He breathed a sigh of relief. But it was premature. Derek had left another envelope on their car. Before Stiles could stop him, his dad tore it open. A photo spilled into his dad's hand. It was the one Derek kept in his journal, or a copy of it. Stiles asleep.

“Someone’s stalking you,” the Sheriff said, handing the photo over. He didn’t sound very alarmed. Probably because it didn't take a degree in Forensic Detection to figure out who the stalker was.

“No,” Stiles said, flipping it over to look for identifying notes. There was nothing on the back. “Scott took this. He’s just—I don’t know…returning it?”

“Guess that’s what you do when you break up,” his dad said. “Jettison the reminders.”

“I guess.”

“You have anything of his?”

“A shirt,” Stiles said, remembering the day he'd gotten drenched by a sudden shower and Derek had offered him a dry layer. He had sort of forgotten to return the shirt, despite many opportunities. It was loose on him, long-sleeved, soft and purple. It smelled like the loft, like Derek. Not that Stiles sniffed it, because that would be weird. And he didn't wear it often. It was too big in the shoulders, stretched out by Derek's massive arms. But he liked the feel of it next to his skin sometimes after a bad dream. Or he used to like that. Now, the herbal smell would trigger pain. “I have a few books. And a couple of CD mixes. Susie Suh, Cowboy Junkies. Moping music.” He laughed as he added, “He’s got the worst taste. Emo all the way.”

One of the things Stiles enjoyed most about Derek was his determined moroseness. Teasing him could be so much fun, especially when he tried to stay stone-faced. He did his best to never offer Stiles a full smile in response to rapier wit, but sometimes he nearly doubled over fighting the urge to laugh. Stiles lived for those moments. He loved when a well-aimed barb cracked the facade, forcing Derek to smile. Sometimes there was tickling afterward. In pursuit of a break in the gloom, he'd started remixing Derek's CDs, shuffling peppy rap and pop songs between the mournful tracks. There was nothing quite like Derek's reaction to his speakers suddenly blaring “I'm Sexy and I Know It.”

“Scott could take the stuff back to him,” the Sheriff suggested, putting the car in gear and rolling out of their parking space.

“Yeah,” Stiles said, not quite agreeing with this plan.

He was in no particular rush to rid himself of the residue of their relationship. Derek’s small gifts weren’t acting as reminders, triggering the bond. There'd only been one lash this week. His dad had worked late and Stiles had taken advantage of the time alone. In the shower, soap sliding down his chest, he'd simply had to give in to his desire. Of course, his mind had gone to Derek. Despite making every effort not to recall that moment, his mind went there again as he fingered the edge of the photo. He wondered why Derek had felt the need to return it. Were the cravings worse for him? Stiles braced for a blow, but it didn’t come. Huh? He hadn’t thought this much about Derek since he’d cast the spell. And, yet, no pain. Maybe the new amulet really was countering the blood spell as well as the darkness pooled around his heart.

Late Sunday, after his father had gone to work, Stiles decided to push his luck. He stretched out on his bed and popped Derek's latest CD mix into his laptop. He let the music pour over him. Always before, intent on his joke, he'd never paid much attention to the lyrics. This time he noticed they followed a pattern, easily detected in the Susie Suh & Robot Koch song, “Here With Me.” Caught in the riptide, I was searching for the truth. There was a reason, I collided into you. It was a song about devotion. The singer was never quite separated from her love, even in their darkest hour, even when they were miles apart. Every song in the mix was like that. It was a love letter. How had he missed that? When he removed the CD from his laptop, he studied the label burned into it. It showed a silhouette of trees against a full moon with his name across its face. Stiles.

“God,” he said on a breath. “I'm such an idiot.”

Monday, after school, there was another envelope on his jeep. This one contained a picture of Derek sleeping. It wasn't a printout. It was a glossy wallet size photo, suitable for framing. It had been taken with Cora’s phone. Stiles recognized it as her screensaver shot. He’d snatched her phone once for a better look at it. And he'd thought of asking her for a copy, but hadn’t known how to start that conversation. Yes, I would like to stare at your sleeping brother for like...hours. She would have wanted to know more and what could he say? As it was, she'd given him a very long appraisal as he returned her phone. She was always doing that he realized, always cocking her head to the side or lifting an eyebrow whenever his conversation turned to Derek. Like she could smell it on them both. Maybe she could.

Stiles thought about throwing the picture away. But he'd wanted it so badly. And there was no twinge from his back, so he decided to ask Cora about it by text. She answered quickly, but didn't know what he was talking about. She hadn't sent the photo to him or anyone else. She and Derek had the only copies of that picture. Derek must have sent it to him. But she claimed to have no idea why he would do such a thing. Stiles didn't know either. Despite the gift of the amulet, he thought they were over. He'd certainly made his position clear. But this was the sort of picture you gave your lover as a reminder of your special connection. Imagine me sleeping next to you, it said. Unzipping the side pocket of his backpack, he tucked the picture inside and tried to put it out of his mind.

On Tuesday the envelope contained a card. He didn’t have to open it. Stiles could tell by the heft of it in his hand and the outline of flexible cardboard. He walked toward the trash can, but stopped short. Maybe he should, at least, look at the card. Curiosity got the better of him and he tore the envelope open. It was of those musical ones. The cover had a picture of a grinning orange tabby being prodded by a yellow duckling. Opening it, Stiles heard the first few bars of “I’m Walking on Sunshine.” He snapped the card closed quickly. What the hell? He looked at the envelope again. Definitely Derek’s writing, Stiles recognized the exaggerated loops and misplaced dot in his name. Using more caution than was warranted by Katrina and the Waves, he lifted the front of the card just enough to peek in and read the printed blurb. “You are my sunshine.”

“Seriously?” Stiles said, not caring that he sounded, and probably looked, crazy. His life path had just taken a turn into Bizarro world.

He started to rip the ridiculous gift in two, but, instead, thumbed it all the way open. It played that relentlessly cheerful tune again. Had Derek lost his mind? Had the break up sent him completely around the bend? Or was someone punking Stiles? He thought about Lydia and Scott with their heads together. He whipped around, hoping to surprise the prankster lurking. And saw Scott heading his way. Busted. Scott had forged Derek’s signature. He and Lydia had concocted some plan to play matchmaker. But why?

“Very funny, Scott,” Stiles yelled, brandishing the card.

“What?” Scott said, smiling in a bemused, rather than a knowing way.

“This card,” Stiles said, shaking it under Scott’s nose. “Why? Why would you do this to me?”

“Dude, I don’t know what you are talking about. Is it from Derek?”

“No, it is not from Derek. Derek would never send me a card with…sunshine inside.”

“Sunshine?” Scott said, snickering. “Like a happy card?” He made a quick grab for the envelope as he added, “Give it. This I have to see.”

Realizing his mistake, Stiles initiated a frantic game of keep away, but he was too slow or rather Scott was too nimble. Alpha wolves would always be stronger and quicker than him. Scott snatched the card and danced away. The merry melody played again, accompanied by Scott saying, “Oh, Dude? No!” before he burst into loud guffaws.

Stiles took advantage of Scott’s helpless mirth to sweep under his guard and retrieve the card.

“Yes, Scott. Very funny. My heartbreak is so amusing. If you didn't do this, who did?” He caught himself. “No! You know what? Never mind.”

His mouth twisted to the side, trying to contain his frustration. He ripped the card in two and threw it in the trash. The music played on as he stormed to his jeep. He opened the door to get in, but didn't. Katrina and the Waves sang the entire chorus while he stood there listening and puffing air through set, pursed lips. Son of a bitch. Son of a... Mumbling obscenities, he left the jeep open as he stomped back to the wastebasket. A brief rummage located the mutilated card. Stiles closed it and stuffed it back into its soiled envelope. Mercifully, that put an end to the relentless melody. Returning to his vehicle, he got in and roared off, determined get to the bottom of this before it escalated. He was halfway to Derek's place when he remembered it was no longer his place. Lips pulling back in a feral snarl, he wrenched the steering wheel over and parked on the side of the road.

Passing cars honked at him. He shot one of them a rude hand gesture. Then, he took out his phone and scrolled back through voicemails to the one that included the new address. Thankfully, he hadn't erased them. Fifteen minutes later he was pounding on Derek’s door at #15 Riverview Condos. Derek's car was parked out front, but Stiles double checked the address anyway. He just couldn't believe what his eyes were seeing. It was hard to imagine Derek, brooding creature of the night, living in the cute cottage-style condo. Where would he train his minions? Elsewhere, Stiles assumed.

That begged the questions: What would Derek be doing here? Besides taking his sweet time answering a knock? Waiting on the stoop, Stiles fidgeted, leaning back to admire the tasteful style of the new place. There was nothing uncomfortable or even slightly creepy about Number 15. The light blue stain on the wood exterior faked Cape Cod weathering. There were window boxes. The sort that would bloom with daisies or daffodils or tulips or something in the spring. Derek had window boxes. Through the glass above them Stiles could see a window seat. It had green upholstery with patchwork cushions. And beyond that he saw a home, cozy living room furniture, a TV and a number of open crates full of dishes and books. Not to say that Derek belonged in a burned out ruin or a loft with holes punched in the roof and walls, but here he had neighbors, close ones. What about spontaneous attacks? This place was open. There was a river view. A breeze stirred the leaves of sheltering trees around the porch. It had been designed to resemble a tiny veranda. The perfect place for a porch swing. Great! Now, he was redecorating.

Thank God Derek finally opened the door. He seemed younger and achingly human, that nice college kid next door. Stiles forgot to breathe for a second. He just stared at Derek. He was scruffy and barefoot, wearing checked, flannel pajama bottoms and a loose, dark blue t-shirt. He looked half asleep.

“Stiles? What?”

“You tell me,” Stiles said, handing him the remains of the card. “What the hell is this?”

“It’s a card.” Derek said, turning it over in his hands.

“Did you send it?”

“I suppose.”

“You suppose?” Stiles said, stretching out the verb, giving it a few extra syllables. “It plays music, Derek. Pop music. Katrina and the Waves. And there’s a duckling on the front. And what're you doing in your pajamas at this time of day? Are you sick?”

Derek chewed on his bottom lip. His nose wrinkled a little as he squinted down at the envelope. He looked confused. Shaking the card into his hand, he stared at it for a long minute as it sang for him. Self conscious at last, he silenced it by stuffing it back into the envelope.

“I can explain.”

“You can explain “Walking on Sunshine?” Stiles said. He crossed his arms. “Let’s hear you.”

“It’s…sunny. A sort of apology,” Derek said, obviously grasping at straws. Stiles prompted him with a one-handed, scooping motion that indicated he should keep going. “A peace offering. See? I’m the cat. Not grumpy anymore. And you are the duck. And, the song is a happy song. Everything is sunny. No hard feelings.”

“You,” Breath and reason ebbed and flowed for Stiles as he acted out his dismay with flailing. “You expect me to believe that you went into a store, walked down the card aisle, found that,” Stiles threw a gesture at the sad mess in Derek’s hands, “opened it, listened to the song, and thought, this will soften Stiles up?”

“Yeah?”

“No! No, you didn’t. You didn't do that. Was it Scott? Lydia? Isaac?” Stiles heard his voice break as he took a few wild stabs at who might have done this. “Why are you covering for them? Or signing envelopes when you have no idea what’s going to go inside? And why are you still in bed at 4:00 in the afternoon?”

“I was up late,” Derek said, still infuriatingly calm. “Shopping for cards. I’m sorry you don’t like it.”

“You are sticking to this story?”

“Yes,” Derek said. His sleepy gaze caressed Stiles' lips. Then, it floated away. Derek stared past Stiles toward his jeep as he asked, “Are you sticking to never seeing me again? Because you are seeing me right now.”

Stiles blinked and Derek glance at his lips again. “Oh, right!” That had been his plan.

“I don’t mind seeing you,” Derek said, soft and sexy. “Or being seen.”

“No, I guess that’s all me,” Stiles said. Caught off his stride, he forgot about his indignation. He turned to leave. “I need to get home.”

“You can come in, if you want,” Derek said, holding the door open wider. “We could talk. Are you sleeping okay? Are you healing?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, tempted to go inside. He rubbed at his neck. He'd been doing nothing but ogling Derek's scrumptious body for the last few minutes. The lack of painful lashes seemed curious. Because Derek looked like a potential boyfriend to Stiles. But no hunger sparked up between them, only some concern. “Actually, I’m good. Just tell whoever did this to stop. I don’t want any more cards or photos. Nothing left on, in or around my jeep. Okay?”

“The jeep is off limits,” Derek said.

“And my dad’s car,” Stiles added, narrowing his eyes because that was too easy. Derek was being way too nice, too cooperative.

He nodded his assent to these terms, yawning as he said, “Or your dad's car.”

“Seriously, Derek, are you sick or something? I mean, you look amazing, uh, healthy. But--?”

“I’m good,” Derek told him. He held out the envelope. “Want your card?”

“Sure…yeah,” Stiles said, taking it back. He hadn't wanted it before, but now, with Derek gazing placidly at him, it would feel rude to reject it. They stared at one another for longer than was comfortable. Something in Derek's lingering gaze told Stiles he also looked amazing, uh, healthy. Lust flared then and almost took control, but Stiles checked it in time. “Sorry to have bothered you.”

“It's okay,” Derek said. He stayed at the door, in his bare feet and pajamas, watching as Stiles walked back to his jeep. He lifted a hand as Stiles drove away.

There was nothing in, on or around his jeep the next day. Stiles ignored his twinge of disappointment and congratulated himself. His smug sense of accomplishment lasted until he arrived home to find a crated puppy on the porch. Not a picture of a puppy, but a living, breathing, squirming little ball of fur. It had puppy breath, sharp milk teeth and a blue bow around his neck. It started yipping as soon as it saw Stiles. Oh, my God! Derek wouldn't! Did he?

His hand went to his cellphone. Before he could stop to think it through, he'd punched in Derek's contact number. He paced along the porch as the call rang through.

“Have you lost your mind?” he said, when Derek answered.

“Maybe,” Derek said. “I got dumped so....”

“No, uh-uh, don't play with me, Derek. Just explain yourself. What is going on in that head of yours?”

“I'm wondering what this is about.”

“Did you get me a puppy?” There was a significant silence. “Derek?”

“Is there a bow?”

“A blue one. Yes.”

Derek sighed. “Then, I guess I did.”

“You guess? You are going to just...seriously, Derek? Oh, my God!”

“Lydia's dog had puppies.”

“This is one of Lydia's little bastard pups? How could you fall for her sales pitch? Prada breaks out and impregnates half the neighborhood twice a year. And she is always stuck with the litters.”

“It's a purebred poodle. Good blood lines. I thought you'd like a puppy.”

“You thought...? You? Prada's a Pomeranian, Derek. And from the look of this dust rag, its mother was a tribble. Did Lydia charge you for this thing? Are you on drugs of some kind?”

“If you don't like it, I can give it back.”

Stiles held the phone away from his face and glared at it. He mimed strangling someone. Then, he took a few mind cleansing huffs of air and spoke into the phone again.

“Oh, no, Derek, I love the puppy,” he snarled with exaggerated sweetness. “We are going to be best friends. In fact, I need someone to puppy sit while I'm at school. I hope you're available until I can find someone else.”

He heard Derek's sharp inhale and waited for the explosion. But, after another long pause, Derek said, “Sure. No problem. Shall I pick him up or do you wanna drop him by on your way to school?”

“You think I'm bluffing?”

“Why would I think that? Are you saying you don't need a puppy sitter?”

Stiles ground his teeth together. Somehow he'd ended up in the middle of a Monty Python sketch. Well, two could play the clueless game. He didn't have to be the straight man in this comedy act. “Oh, no, you are sitting on this puppy, Mister. You are taking little...uh...what's his face...? Fido or Spot or Rover for walkies in the dog park tomorrow. So, just get used to the idea.”

“Sebastian?” Derek said.

“What?”

“It's a nice name for a Pomeranian.”

“His name is Sparkles,” Stiles practically snarled. “See you at 6:30 am, sharp.”

“I'll be here.”

************************************************************

Derek sighed as the call ended. He fished in his pocket for his pill bottle. He had a headache. And it wasn't from the Stiles yelling at him. He looked across the room to his new kitchen bar. Scott, Lydia, Isaac and Allison sat watching him, all wearing assorted expressions ranging from pity to disdain. Weaving a little on his feet, he tried to focus on Lydia alone.

“You gave him the puppy? After I said, very clearly, no puppy.”

“He's just a tiny little thing. Sweet and quiet. A boy and his dog. It's wholesome. And Prada is a Papillon.”

“I don't care if he's a parsnip,” Derek said. “You are going to be here before noon tomorrow to take the little nuisance back to wherever he came from.”

“You can't give away your boyfriend's dog,” Allison said.

“Yeah, Dude, that's cold.”

“He's not my boyfriend. And it's barely his dog. He's had it for 45 minutes. And, here's the crucial point, I didn't give it to him. He doesn't want a dog. And I don't want him to have a dog, especially a Papillon.”

“I think someone is feeling a little territorial,” Lydia said, pinching her fingers down on the word 'little.'

“Tell me about it,” Isaac said. “You should see how manic he gets if you put your feet on his furniture.”

“Not feet,” Derek said. “Shoes. Muddy, greasy boots that have tramped, God knows where. Tracking scent all over the house. You left your underwear in the sink. You stirred your tea with my toothbrush.”

“Tea is food. It goes in the mouth,” Isaac said, obviously not seeing the problem. “The water had just boiled. How is that unsanitary?”

“Time out,” Scott said. “We're straying a little off topic here. We need to address the card. If Operation: Puppy Buddy fails how do we make up for Derek's tacky musical mistake?”

“You said pick out something sunny and bright,” Derek said. “So I did.”

Allison covered her mouth with her hand, but her smile leaked out as she cut her glance toward Isaac, who was bouncing in his seat with laughter.

Scott just shook his head and turned back to Derek. “How many of those happy pills are you taking?”

“Three a day.”

“Three? Dude, Deaton gave me one of those once and I was flat on my ass wasted. I'm surprised you can even stand up.

“What's he on?” Isaac asked. “And where do I score some?”

“Wolfnip,” Scott said. “It's a variant of wolfsbane. Makes us all mellow and neutered.”

“Does not neuter,” Derek grumbled. Though, come to think of it, he did sense a little space between his legs. He glanced down and his brain stopped working. The room got a slightly swimmy. Of course, the gang went babbling on about whatever it was they were on about, now.

“On second thought,” Isaac said, glancing at Allison. “Only, hang on, why don't the hunters just dose us with that at the full moon?”

That brought Derek back to the conversation. “Because, you idiot, the only thing worse than a 200-pound killing machine is a stoned 200-pound killing machine.”

“The mellowing properties only work during the waning moon,” Allison added. “The closer we get to the next full moon the less effective the pills become, eventually they'll start making him paranoid.”

That was depressingly true. In a few days, he'd have to come off the pills. Once he did it would only be a matter of time before he would need to get close to Stiles again. The Iron Bond's blood call would take over and they'd be back to pushing one another.

“We need to work fast,” Scott said. “Who has a new idea?”

“Right.” Turning all business, Lydia opened the file she'd brought and drew out a stack of papers. “Take one and pass it on,” she said, sliding the stack to Isaac on her left.

“What's this?” Isaac asked.

“I took the liberty of doing some online research. I wanted to find out what wooing techniques worked for other couples.”

Derek and Scott both nodded their approval. Lydia was no Stiles when it came to this stuff, Derek thought, but she was competent. Which is more than the rest of them were.

“So, what did you find?”

“I Googled the top 100 ideas for romantic dates. Some of them were questionable, in my opinion. I sorted the acceptable ones according to financial feasibility and, also, appropriateness for gender and age. Finally, I narrowed the list down to 87 suggestions. 'Give him a puppy' is number 33.”

“Is that because you put it in there?” Derek asked, snatching the paper from her hand. So much for her competence, he thought.

Lydia calmly took another sheet from her folder. “It might have said stuffed animal,” she admitted. “And is anyone else bothered by the fact that their couple name is Stale? That doesn't portend well.”

“I thought it was Diles,” Allison said. “First names, right? Brangelina?”

“Why are you looking at me?” Isaac asked. “I have no idea.”

“You guys would be Illison or Asaac,” Scott snorted. “Ass sac? Allsac? Largent?”

“Shut up, Scott.”

Derek stared down at the list in his hands. One of the ridiculous suggestions jumped out at him. “A hot air balloon ride? How am I supposed to get Stiles into a hot air balloon? Knock him out, first? Even if I could find a hot air balloon just sitting around somewhere.”

“I like number 28,” Isaac said, snickering. “A romantic moonlit walk.” He read from the page, “'Imagine a starry night and the full moon overhead.'”

“You have got to be kidding me?” Scott ran a fingertip down to the correct number and laughed.

“Nope,” Isaac said. “I can see it clearly. Your loved one screaming in terror as you chase him or her through the crunchy fall leaves, hoping to snack on a tasty liver.”

“I thought I edited that full moon part out,” Lydia said, peering down at her paper. “This is just...Oh, great! I printed the original copy. I can't believe I didn't notice the font. This is what happens when I have to squeeze your problems in between school, dating, and my Zumba class. It's rush, rush, rush. Moonlit walks can be romantic. But whatever, werewolves might not see it that way. How about horseback riding?”

“I'd scare the horses.”

“Ice skating?”

“Didn't you and Stiles already do that one?” Scott said. “That's a recycled date.”

“That wasn't a date?”

“Sure it was. You and Stiles. Me and Allison. Double dating. Peter was driving you crazy. Derek beat the crap out of me.”

“Good times,” Derek said in a monotone. “Moving on. All I've got so far is picnic and body painting.”

“Body painting?” Scott said, shooting Derek a ‘you dog’ wag of the eyebrows.

“Beats a pottery class for hands on.”

“Speaking of pottery,” Lydia said. “Does Stiles have any hobbies you could share?”

“His hobby is researching the supernatural,” Scott said. “They already share that. And he likes surfing and snowboarding and video games.”

“What about a sporting event?” Allison said. “Number 12. Stiles must like some team or other. Football? Hockey?”

“Basketball,” Scott said. “He likes basketball. The Trail Blazers.” He pointed at Derek as he recalled something vital about him. “And so do you. Something in common. You know, I bet that’s where all of this started. His dad used to take him to all of your home games.”

“You think he was crushing on Derek when he was six?” Isaac said.

Lydia wrinkled her nose. “That’s disturbing.”

“Basketball?” Derek nodded. “Not the worst idea. We shoot hoops at the park. I can get tickets to some game...somewhere...”

Isaac was already flipping through the search responses on his phone. “Portland Trail Blazers? Here we go. Playing next Wednesday at home.”

“You’re suggesting an eight hour drive on a school night?” Lydia asked, widening her eyes at Isaac, who blinked back at her. “And should Derek be driving at all in his current condition?”

Isaac turned his embarrassed squirm into a shrug and grumbled, “Why couldn’t Stiles be a fan of the Lakers? Who follows Portland?”

“They’re not a bad team,” Derek said. “Check Hill Valley College. The Rovers.”

Isaac’s fingers tapped out the request. “Yep. In town for a game on Saturday. Want tickets? I’ll need your credit card.” He held out a hand and made ‘gimme’ fingers.

Derek wasn’t stoned enough to fall for that one. Isaac might not hate him, exactly, but give him free access to a credit card and Lord knows what he'd do. He'd once signed Derek up for home deliveries from the Fruit of the Month Club. Eighteen bartlett pears and six tangerines a month for a year. This time it could be seven hundred magazine subscriptions. Derek lifted a knowing brow and crossed his arms.

“I can get tickets downtown, if he agrees to go,” he said.

“Suit yourself,” Isaac said, shrugging off his disappointment.

“Good. Progress is made. The sporting event is a definite maybe,” Scott said, he snickered again as he added, “Body painting and a picnic.”

“Speaking of hands on experiences,” Allison said, “What about number 75? Massage?”

“Oh, a spa day,” Lydia suggested. All three guys shook their head at her. “You don’t know what you're missing. It’s heavenly. And they have products for men.”

“Have you actually ever seen a man there?” Scott asked.

“Alfonzo, my masseur.”

“I’m not interested in Alfonzo getting his hands on,” Derek said.

“Or his hard on,” Scott added, high-fiving Isaac.

Derek squeezed the bridge of his nose as his headache spiked into the red zone. Why was he indulging these children? Oh, right! Because he sucked at dating and all of his relationships ended in painful tragedies.

“Sorry you let us in?” Allison asked him in a soft aside. Derek returned her little smile. He was a fan of the understated Argent humor.

“Well, this has been…no fun,” Derek said. He tipped his head at Lydia. “Thanks for the list. I think I can take it from here. Scott, go make your jokes somewhere else.”

“Come on, buddy, don’t be mad,” Scott said, reaching across the table to pat Derek’s arm. “We care about you. We just want you and Stiles to be happy.”

“I don't,” Isaac said, holding up a hand. “I'm just here for the laughs and free food. By the way,” he added, poking a bag of Doritos, “these chips are stale...like your couple name.”

“Get out,” Derek said, going to the sink for a water glass. He needed another pill.

He'd spoken softly, but everyone scrambled to gather up their things. Isaac tucked his phone into his pocket and headed for the door with Allison close behind him.

“Can you try not to be such a jerk all the time?” Allison hissed, elbowing Isaac in the ribs.

“He threw me out in the middle of the night,” Isaac said, “into a raging storm, without a change of underwear. And that was after he tried to smash my head open with a glass. And he made me a werewolf. He was my Alpha. Excuse me if I find this love sick puppy curse of his hilarious.”

Scott exchanged a look with Lydia, who was pointing at the retreating couple. She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes when he shook his head. Derek watched the exchange with limited interest. Lydia seemed to be urging Scott to some action, though Derek was too tired to care about teenagers and their drama. He had his hands full with Stiles. Privately, he agreed with Isaac. This whole situation was embarrassing. A grown man infatuated with a reluctant seventeen year old boy deserved to be humiliated, not indulged. And his chips were a month old.

He closed his eyes and leaned into the counter. Behind him he heard Lydia hesitate at the door and then sashay over to his side. He looked down at her when she placed a light hand on his arm. “What I said earlier about the portents,” she said. “I was just kidding. They're all good. He's coming back to you. I can feel it.”

“Thanks,” Derek told her, sincerely. And she patted him and followed her friends out into the cooling afternoon.

****************************************************************************** 

At 6:30 sharp the next morning, Stiles pounded on Derek’s door. It was cold and rainy out. Derek loved miserable weather, but he generally didn’t need to walk a dog every few hours. He hugged himself against a cutting wind, as he answered. Wishing he’d put on a robe, he squinted into the watery light. Stiles looked good. He wore Derek’s favorite shirt, the black one with lighter stripes and the v-neck. It was the only thing he owned that showed off his muscles. And it hinted at a light dusting of chest hair. Come to think of it, that shirt might be the only v-neck he owned. Over the shirt, he wore a grey hoodie and puffy red vest, because you couldn’t take the nerd out of Stiles. He was gazing into the middle distance as Derek opened the door, but he had his amulet on and seemed less exhausted.

He turned as the door squeaked and said, “Good morning, Sunshine. Ready to puppy sit.”

He offered Derek a pet carrier. It rocked like a ship at sea with the shifting weight of the skittering, yipping animal inside it. Derek took the burden. Their fingers brushed at the exchange and Derek felt his knees weaken. Damn, he had it bad. Even hopped up on wolfnip, he could get morning wood. He held the carrier at eye level so he could peer through the wire door. A mostly beige fur ball launched itself at his face, snarling and barking. I will kill you! the little shit screamed at him in canine-speak. I’ll rip off your eyebrows. And stuff them up your furless, fleshy nose. Derek curled his upper lip and growled a warning at it. Anything that size with an ounce of sense would have backed off with a subservient whimper. But Sparkles doubled down on savagery. His canine curses became incoherent, full of boasts and posturing. I am the Alpha. I will always be the Alpha. Touch my squeaky and die.

“Am I going to have to soak you two with a bucket of water to break this up?” Stiles asked.

Derek lowered the carrier and said, “Cute. Reminds me of Peter. We’ll be best friends by this afternoon.” He didn’t add, or I will have murdered the little monster, but Stiles seemed to hear it anyway.

“Don’t kill him, okay? He’s just a puppy. He doesn’t know any better.” He handed Derek a tote bag, which had been resting by his foot. “Here. His food, leash and squeak toys.”

“You bought toys?”

“They have a puppy starter kit at Petco.” Stiles nodded at the logo on the bag and Derek turned it so he could read the store name. “He’s not paper trained. So keep him in the crate, but he has to go for a walk every three hours or after he eats.”

“We’ll be fine. Go to school.”

“Uhm…okay. Thanks.” Stiles tapped the side of the cage and said, “Goodbye, Sparkles. Be good.”

He started down the porch steps, but stopped on the first step, twisting at the waist to look back at Derek.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked.

Derek flashed him the brightest smile he could manage while dealing with the idea that Stiles showed every intention of keeping the puppy. “Positive.” Stiles didn't move. Derek tried to think of something else to say, finally settling on, “How's your back?”

“Better.” Stiles held up his arm to flash the amulet. “This thing is great. Drains the darkness out of me. No more pain.”

Derek wanted to tell him to stop lying, but what he actually said was, “Do you want to go to the Rover's game on Saturday?” He couldn't believe it just popped out of his mouth like that, so easy.

Apparently, it shocked Stiles, too. He did a double take. “What?”

“I scored a couple of tickets. It's Sacramento. Should be a good game.”

“Like...a date?”

“Or two guys at a game. You can meet me there. Buy your own popcorn. I promise not to get handsy.”

“What part of 'I don't want to see you any more' do you fail to understand?”

“The part where you keep coming to my house.”

“I can find someone else to pet sit.”

“That's not what I meant.”

“I don't know, Derek,” Stiles said. “I don't think going to a game a good idea.” He shifted his shoulders. “I still get...side effects, sometimes. I can deal with it, but….”

“Just a thought,” Derek said, shrugging. He turned away to avoid any trace of disappointment showing on his face. “See you after school.”

*********************************************************************

“Yeah. Uhm,” Stiles said, feeling a little hurt by the dismissal, but he was talking to the door. “Don’t try to convince me or anything,” he muttered.

Though why Derek should bother trying to convince him, he couldn't imagine. He'd made his position very clear. They weren't going to date. Still, he waited, thinking Derek might open the door again. When he didn’t, Stiles puffed out a sigh. Faking nonchalance, he bounced down the sidewalk to his jeep. He hopped in, but didn’t key the ignition. Instead, he sat gripping the wheel and gazing down the road to the river.

“I know you didn't give me that dog, Derek,” he said, because werewolf ears would certainly still be tuned in to him. “I don't know why you're playing this game. Why you're acting so weird. I mean, sure, maybe I deserve to be jerked around a little. I was stupid, reckless. I should have talked to you about the spell. But you're driving me crazy with this meek and mousy act. Don't ask me to a game. Yell at me. Mock me. Let’s get this fight out in the open.”

There was no way for him to tell if Derek was moved or amused by this speech. There was no chance Stiles would hear him if he replied and he didn't come to the door or window. Stiles considered going back to the condo. He could set off a showdown. That's right, he thought, I could make you want me again. This spell doesn't cover you, does it? And then you'd do something. He watched the window for a minute or two longer, but the curtains didn't twitch. His eyes burned a bit and he brushed at them impatiently. His mouth contorted as he fought back more choice words. The silence stretched until he started feeling foolish.

With another curse, he punched his palms into the steering wheel. The pain cleared his head. He started the jeep, slammed it into gear and roared away from the curb. Throughout the day, he imagined what Derek might be doing. How he might be feeling. There was no pain when he thought about him, now, because his thoughts were more curious than obsessive. Sparkles acted as a buffer on lustful cravings. The picture of Derek walking the tiny pup on a leash or cleaning up his messes kept making Stiles smile, despite the turmoil in his heart.

When he picked up Sparkles that evening, he asked, “Are they good tickets?”

“Pretty good. Row six, just left of center.”

“Wow!” Stiles exclaimed, impressed. Those were good seats. Derek lifted an eyebrow of inquiry. Stiles studied him, trying to work out what his angle might be. Finally, he said, “Okay. I'll go to the game. No touching. None.”

“I'll stick to undressing you with my eyes,” Derek said, handing over the dog carrier and tote bag.

Stiles didn't know what to say to that. He glared at him, lips pressed together. He knew everything he was thinking was plain on his face. Derek's smart ass remarks were a blatant challenge. Stiles subtly worked his jaw back and forth, trying to relax the bunched muscles. He wanted to lash out, start a fight, but he honestly couldn’t justify it. So, he reigned in his temper. This blandly sarcastic Derek made him want to scream or smack him, or better yet kiss him. Kiss him until he broke and was begging for it. Anything to snap him out of this polite detachment he was cultivating.

Derek might be simmering on the inside, but from the outside he seemed to have no romantic interest in Stiles whatsoever. Where had all of his passion gone? He was like a neutered dog. It might be taking every ounce of his willpower not to break, but Stiles couldn't sense any anger in him. What he did feel was his own resolve melting away. He'd been expecting active resistance to the break up, an all out assault. And it hadn't developed. In fact, the walls Stiles had painstakingly erected to protect himself from Derek's attempts to reconnect seemed to have no foundation. Derek had not only behaved like a perfect gentleman, he'd secured a date. And left Stiles speechless. For the first time in their acquaintance, Derek wasn’t anchored by anger. He'd become hard to read and Stiles felt compelled to pursue him. He could never resist a mystery.

END THIS PART

Chapter Text

Title: Rise Above
Author: Rabid1st
Rating: Mature
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Derek/Stiles
Warning(s): Unhappy stuff. Arguments. Harsh Language. M/M sex.
Spoiler(s): AU S3b no spoilers in this part. Some in earlier parts.
Beta Babes: Birthsister & Elsecarlass
Word Count: 24629
Summary: After Derek is severely injured, Stiles can’t forgive himself. He finds a spell to break their bond. The spell has a nasty backlash and Derek is determined to put an end to it. But will Stiles resist his every attempt to reconnect? How far will Derek go to restore them both to sanity?
Disclaimer: Teen Wolf and these characters are not mine. This fic represents fair use for fan purposes.

In a time of treason, is there room for trust? Is there time for reason or has your heart had enough? Is it time to let go and rise above? And you say rise above, open your eyes on love.

PART THREE

The basketball game delivered equal parts excitement and frustration for Stiles. Derek met him there, said hello, and handed over a ticket. They sat together. That was the extent of their interaction. Stiles shot a couple of shy glances at Derek and asked a few questions. Derek responded in monosyllables and kept his hands in his lap. Only once, after a spectacular three-point basket propelled Stiles out of his seat to punch the air, did he find those green eyes on him. He sat down breathing heavily and, without thinking, turned to Derek to relive the moment. The rapacious stare Derek fixed on him liquefied his insides. Stiles couldn't imagine what he'd done to inspire such a hungry look, but whatever it was, he tried not to do it again.

Glimpsing that raw desire left Stiles reeling. When combined with a spontaneous picnic that evolved at the dog park, it all became too much for him to fathom. He felt poised on the brink of a complete meltdown. On the plus side, he wasn't the only one showing signs of cracking. Derek seemed a lot twitchier, too. Was that even a plus? With the full moon approaching, maybe having an edgy, possibly love sick...almost definitely insane...werewolf, on his hands wasn't something Stiles should be listing in the positives column. That's how much of his mind he'd lost, though. The temporary breaks in Derek's mellow façade were looking good to him. Because...because who even owns a picnic basket in this day and age? Yogi Bear? What the hell was Derek Hale playing at? Stiles longed for a direct attack. But he flashed from hot to cold and back again in Derek's presence. He couldn't shake his fascination. The cool, calm and ever present Derek Hale occupied every dark corner of his mind. And it was driving him crazy.

“Scott, I need you to help me come up with a way to get rid of Derek,” Stiles said, joining his friend at the lockers. “Short of throwing a stick off a cliff and yelling 'fetch,' I mean. Something less fatal, but just as permanent.”

“You could stop making him dog sit?”

“No! No way! He totally deserves that. Saddling me with a puppy.”

“The nerve,” Scott said.

“It was out of spite, Scott. He never thought I'd keep it. So, I'm keeping it, to spite him. Do you know what Sparky the wonder pup did, yesterday?”

“Peed on his shoes?” Isaac guessed, doing a drive-by on their conversation as he walked past them.

Stiles gaped after him and called out, “How did you know that?”

The beaming Isaac spun around, twisting his body with a corkscrew pivot from feet to head. He came back to join their huddle. “I taught him that,” he said with a smug grin.

“What? How?”

“You remember when I volunteered to paper train him?”

“Yeah? And he never misses at my house.”

“Well, I stole one of Derek's dirty socks, at the last pack meeting. Guess what the paper at your house smells like?”

“Dude, you are an evil genius,” Scott said, slapping Isaac a high-five.

But Stiles' mouth fell open. “Why does everyone act like this is a joke?” he said, yanking his locker open.

“Come on, Buddy,” Scott said, nudging his shoulder, “You've got to admit that's funny.”

Softening for a second, Stiles smiled. “Okay, yeah. But the situation is escalating. I'm beginning to think this Iron Bond thing is unstoppable. Derek is no longer interested in sex, but he's still asking me out. He's gone spacey, transformed. It's like...like...I'm living in a musical Oklahoma or Singing in the Rain. He keeps springing picnics on me. Any minute now I expect a surrey with some fringe on top. Why isn't he out of my life?”

“Why do you arrange to see him twice a day?” Isaac asked.

“And who says he's not interested in sex?” Scott added. “Sounds like he's putting the moves on you. Picnics are romantic.”

“You could just ignore him.”

Scott pointed at Isaac as if to say he had a point. “You even call to check on the puppy.”

“Once. I called once. And he was listless.”

“Derek or the dog?” Scott asked, chortling along with Isaac.

“So, you've noticed it, too,” Stiles said, ignoring the banter. When Scott looked confused, he rolled his eyes and said, “Derek's stoner lethargy? He's listless. There's no fight in him. But there's something else happening. The last few days, he's starting to get edgy, like he's not sleeping. I don't know...I'm thinking Deaton should check him out.”

“He's okay.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes, stepping closer to his friends. “That sounds suspiciously like insider knowledge, Scott. How do you know so much about this?”

“I'm not supposed to tell you,” Scott said, glancing up and down the school corridor like someone besides Isaac might be lurking near them.

But it was Isaac who blurted out the news. “Deaton gave him a wolfnip prescription.”

“Red wolfsbane?” Stiles exclaimed, straightening his stance and throwing both hands in the air. “Oh, my God! The moon is waxing. He'd going to start seeing Men in Black. Why would he...? How much is he taking?”

“He's probably cut back by now,” Scott said. “And good job with the herbal knowledge, Buddy. You're really getting the Druid stuff.”

“Don't butter me up, Scott. How much is he taking?”

“Three a day.”

“Three? Three—a—day? Oh, my—God,” Stile said. He favored both of his companions with an appalled glare, before slamming his locker closed and heading off at a pace that could have challenged an Olympic Speed Walker. His sneaker soles squeaked on the tile floor.

“Don't tell him, we told you,” Scott yelled after him.

“He's going to tell him,” Isaac said.

************************************************************************************************** 

Derek didn't answer his phone. And Deaton refused to discuss the health of his patients with anyone, even a concerned bond-mate. So, Stiles had to sweat his way through two more classes, before he was free to check on the medication issue. All through the forced wait, he kept up an internal dialogue that set his heart racing. No wonder. No damned wonder Derek was acting like he'd been neutered. No touching? Sure. Of course. The wolfnip had killed his passion. They could be two guys at the game. He didn't mind seeing Stiles. He didn't mind puppy sitting or pissed on shoes, because he wasn't interested in anything anymore.

It was all a drug-based illusion. Soon enough Derek's lack of passion would turn to paranoia. As the wolfnip built up in his system and interacted with moonlight, Derek would start to have waking nightmares. Stiles wanted to throttle him, scream at him. How could he do something so self-destructive? So stupid? Just because...well...because Stiles had done something equally self-destructive and stupid? They were like that idiotic Gift of the Magi couple. The wolfnip had kept Derek from figuratively humping Stiles' leg, which had made their interactions easier. But it couldn't be a long term solution. And the newly mellow Derek freaked him out. Stiles would take the rough handling and sarcasm over sleepy stares any day.

When the final bell rang, Stiles ditched practice and headed for his jeep. The forced cooling off period had helped him work through most of his anger before he knocked on Derek's door. It opened a crack, but Derek kept the chain in place as he peered out at Stiles.

“Oh, Stiles? Hey,” he said in a sleepy drawl. His gaze drifted toward the jeep. “You're here early? What’s going on?”

“I skipped practice. I needed to see you. Can I come in?”

“You want to come in? Why?”

Was the paranoia starting already? It was only the second day of the waxing moon. On the other hand, three pills a day was a lot.

“Because I want to talk to you. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“No,” Derek said, as if he wasn’t sure. His fixed stare pinned Stiles in place for at least ten seconds. Then, he shook his head, a sharp movement, like he was unclogging his ears, and said, “No, of course not. Hang on.” He shut the door and Stiles heard the chain slide, before the door opened wide again. “You never want to come in and I'm just a little surprised to see you.”

“You know why I don’t want to come in, Derek,” Stiles said, turning his body to avoid accidental contact as he entered the dim interior of the condo. “And I didn't know you were taking wolfnip until today.” He held out his hand. “Give me the bottle.”

“What? Who told you...? Was it Deaton?”

“Scott,” Stiles said. “He broke down under duress. Are you giving me the bottle or am I going to have to search?”

“It’s none of your business what I do. Just take your little dog and go home.”

“Where is he?” Stiles said, looking around the room. “Usually you shove him out the door at me.”

“You usually arrive at the right time,” Derek countered. “He’s sleeping.” He slid the chain home and bolted the deadlock. Sparkles yipped from the bathroom. “And now he’s awake.”

“Why is he locked in the bathroom?” Stiles asked with ready suspicion.

“More room than the carrier,” Derek said. “And tile is easy to clean.”

That made sense and it hit Stiles that he was acting more paranoid than Derek. In his mind, the mundane had taken on sinister overtones. The darkened apartment, guilt, and worry dominated his thoughts. Derek appeared to be on the cusp of another personality change, but it hadn't taken firm hold. His mellowness was fading. His hands shook slightly. And his usually precise grooming had become lackadaisical. His hair and beard both needed some attention. And his shirt had a stain on it, spilled food or coffee. Stiles looked toward the curtained windows. It seemed Derek was, also, developing concerns about people looking in at him. But he wasn't on the ragged edge, yet.

Sunlight filtered through the cracks in the tightly closed blinds, trying to dispel the gloom of the place. Stiles wondered how long basic housekeeping had been neglected. Clothing and papers and dirty dishes were scattered everywhere. Glancing through the bedroom door, Stiles could see the bed hadn’t been made. Unwashed pots littered the cupboard and bar. There was a pile of computer parts and wires on the floor near the bathroom, the remains of a laptop. A divot in the plaster of the wall above marked the point of impact. A series of sharp barks welcomed Derek when he let Sparkles out. The little dog ignored him and came bounding over to greet Stiles, who stooped to pick him up.

After having his chin throughly licked, Stiles pointed at the heap of computer components. “What's that?”

Derek glanced down. “I'm thinking of taking some classes online. For a teaching certificate,” he said, appearing to avoid the question.

“You? A teacher? You?”

“I have a BA in History.”

“And an arrest record,” Stiles intoned. “For murder. And then there are the half dozen teenagers you turned into werewolves, your little gang of delinquents. Isaac, the foster kid, who you threw out into the street. Your current drug use. Oh, and the fact that you pretty much terrify everyone with your leather clad hoodlum act. Don't they do background checks on teachers?”

“At Beacon Hills High? I doubt it.”

“You know,” Stiles said, nodding. “That would explain so much.”

Derek went into the bathroom. He opened the medicine cabinet, removed a bottle, and returned to Stiles.

“Here,” he said, giving him the pills. “Confiscating them is pointless, you know? I can always get more. I'm an adult under medical care. But if it makes you happy, I’ll stop taking them.”

“That would make me very happy,” Stiles said, tucking the bottle into his jacket pocket.

“You could just ask.”

‘I’m sorry, Derek, I’m not used to you doing anything because I ask.”

That was a wildly unfair statement and Stiles regretted it as soon as the words left his mouth. Derek would do almost anything he asked. He'd always gone out of his way to help. Stiles shook his head. What was wrong with him? Why was he being such a dick? And why was Derek letting him get away with being one? It had to be the drugs. Though, he seemed to be handling the large dose far better than Scott had handled a small one. Maybe Derek needed to be medicated, like a human depressive. No. Stiles would take the old Derek over this one any day. The old Derek would have lashed out in anger. But this one gave a sort of nod and shrug and leaned listlessly into the back of the sofa, chin lowered to his chest. There was just no fight in him. He looked worn out.

And with a painful twist in his chest, Stiles finally realized why. This wasn't just the wolfnip, working him over, this was spiritual exhaustion. Derek had been beaten down by the Alphas, his pack loss, leaving Cora behind to return here, dealing with Stiles. This lethargy was a manifestation of the cumulative toll the last month had taken on him. Nearly dying from those burns. The rejection. The pills. Maybe even the demands of the bond itself. He'd been fighting his instinctive urge to mate, because Stiles needed space and time. Stiles swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat.

He broke the awkward silence with a question. “How does signing up for an online course result in a pile of computer parts?” Derek kept his chin down, but lifted his gaze. He cocked an eyebrow at Stiles, apparently certain he didn't need to explain, and after a moment it clicked. “Was it a registration nightmare, Derek? Is that all that’s left of your new laptop?”

“My first new laptop. I bought another one.”

“So, you can still get angry? I thought the wolfnip...”

“I cut back on the dosage two days ago, when the moon started waxing.”

“How many today?”

“Just one. This morning. It's lingering, I guess, I'm a little edgy.”

“I noticed. This mope is all you?”

“I'm not moping, Stiles,” he snarled. But his head didn't lift and he sighed as if the effort had been too much for him. “Just thought I’d wait a few days before tackling software updates, again.”

“Computer set-up frustrates a lot of people,” Stiles said. “Is there anything you need to know?”

“How to connect to my network?”

“Do you have a service provider for your wireless? Cable or DSL?”

“Isn’t wireless everywhere?” Derek asked, so sweetly that Stiles almost fell for it. He caught the glint in Derek’s eyes a second before he reacted to the comment. Derek wrinkled his nose at him. Ha! So, there was a little fight left. “Despite what you think, I’m not completely useless, Stiles. I know I need a service provider. It’s the cable company.”

Stiles sighed and held out the dog. “Here, take Sparky for his walk and I’ll look things over for you. Try to get you online. Where’s the new laptop?”

“In the bedroom,” Derek nodded in that direction as he took the dog. “Still in the box.”

“Do you have all of your passwords written down somewhere? And the doodahs, papers and receipts for things?” He looked around. “Where’s your router?” Derek pointed at the hall closet.

“Still in the box?”

“No,” Derek said. “It makes noise. And there’s a plug in there.”

“Is there cable?”

“Crap,” Derek said, squeezing his eyes closed and curling the dog closer to his chest.

Just for a second, Stiles thought the shake of his shoulders was from sobbing. And it made Stiles feel heartsick and ashamed of himself. He'd taken a step forward, when he heard the first snicker. A swell of relief hit when Derek looked up and Stiles saw that his emotional release had taken a humorous turn. Laugh lines crinkled around those green eyes. He flashed a bright grin.

“I'm a complete stoner,” he said.

“You haven’t been thinking clearly,” Stiles agreed, resisting the urge to make a joke. “Don’t sweat it. I’ll take care of everything. Just go get some sun and fresh air. It'll clear your head.”

“Thanks,” Derek said his tone almost a soft caress. He fished Sparky's leash out of the tote bag and fastened it in place. “The passwords are on the side of the refrigerator,” he added, pointing. “There’s a list under the Cyclone’s magnet.”

Stiles followed the line of his point and nodded. Then, he made a little shooing motion with his hands.

“Go.”

As soon as the door clicked shut, Stiles got to work. He retrieved the newest laptop, unpacked it and started the long process of software checking. By the time Derek returned looking windblown, but refreshed and awake, Stiles had not only set up his network and debugged his computer, but also straightened up the condo. Fresh air blew back the curtains at open windows. He’d collected all the plates and cups, cleaned off the counter tops and started the dishwasher. Derek’s dirty clothes had been piled into a hamper. His router had been moved to a bookshelf and rebooted. When Derek came through the door, the first thing he saw was Stiles perched on a barstool tapping on keys and sipping a root beer. The second thing he noticed was the brightly lit condo.

Sparkles barked a greeting and squirmed for release. As soon as his paws hit the floor, he sprinted to the foot of the stool and danced around Stiles' feet.

“Yo, Derek. Sparky,” Stiles said, nudging the pup with a gentle toe. “Did you have a nice run?”

“Had a few issues with a Rottwieler on Eighty-Seventh, but Sparky threatened to turn him inside out and he backed off. You’ve been busy,” Derek said, sounding less than pleased.

“Yeah. Hope you don’t mind. I needed space to work. And you know how long it takes to load software and run virus programs and so on? I just picked up a few things.”

“Where did you put all of my stuff?”

“What stuff? Dirty dishes? Clothes? Papers?”

“All of my stuff,” Derek said, putting a lot of emphasis on ownership.

“Don’t get territorial. Geez. Dishes in the washer,” Stiles cocked a thumb over his shoulder. “Garbage in the trash. Clothes in the hamper in your bedroom closet. Papers on your desk. Books where you left them, still open to the same pages.”

Derek snorted in derision as his gaze swept the room, again. “Why are all the windows open?”

“Because your condo reeks of unwashed werewolf, puppy pee and dirty dishes. I needed to breathe.”

“Excuse me?”

“That’s how I know you aren’t doing well on the pills, Derek. You’ve gone from metrosexual fastidious to stoned frat boy slob in a matter of days.”

“It's cold out. And damp. And,” his voice went up an octave, as the central heat rumbled to life, “you have the heat on?”

“What?” Stiles blinked at him. “You’re worried about the electric bill? Like you’re going to go broke if I waste a little energy airing the place out. Where do you get the money for all of this anyway? I know you have quite an inheritance, but you’re burning through it buying TVs and SUVs. Do I even want to know how you make a living? Is that why you want to teach? Do you need to pay for your Kibble? Have you gone bankrupt replacing skylights and walls?”

“Are you almost done?”

“Not even close. But if you want me to leave...?” He let the sentence trail off into a question as he stood up and stretched. “This can finish up without me. When the updates are done updating, you just hit restart and pray.”

Derek walked over to peer down at the computer screen. It showed a number of open programs, all of them counting down processes. He sighed. The air came through his nose with a great heave of his shoulders, because his lips were pinched together. Stiles recognized the expression as one of his own and thought about how Miss Ellis, one of his teachers, had said couples would start to mirror one another. Derek cut his gaze to look at Stiles, then he reached into a pocket, drew out his wallet and removed a credit card.

“Order a pizza,” he said, clicking the card down beside the laptop, “or whatever you want. I’m going to take a shower.”

Before Stiles could react to the generosity, Derek had moved away, heading for the bathroom. As he walked away he was already stripping off his shirt. Stiles straightened on his stool. Hello, Cousin Miguel! My, God! The man had no modesty. Not that lack of modesty was a character flaw in this case, as far as Stiles was concerned. If Derek wanted to be half-naked most of the time, so be it. Stiles tongue dried out before he noticed his mouth was hanging open. There was something about watching Derek undress that always arrested his attention. Even before he’d entertained any sexual interest in him, Stiles had noticed how beautiful he looked stripping off clothing. Maybe it was the unconscious grace he exhibited, the bend and play of his muscles as he lifted his arms over his head. The lithe stretch from side to side as his shirt came off sent a swirl of something hot and sweet through Stiles. It tightened his abdominal muscles and raised the hairs on his arms. His cock stirred. But, to his amazement, there was no punishing slash across his back.

The lack of backlash left him mystified, because these feelings represented sexual desire, pure and simple. Stiles swallowed and sat down in a daze. Why hadn't he been punished? How did this mouthwatering desire differ from his earlier bond-inspired cravings? Lust was lust, as far as he knew, but something had confused the dark spell. He glanced at his amulet, wondering if it had finally won the battle, and noticed he was shaking. Because he had braced for the lash, every muscle in his body quivered with expectant tension. His breath came in little gasps as his racing heart dealt with a fear-based adrenaline spike. He was scared and horny and relieved at the same time. The absence of punishment read like a reward. Stiles wanted to press his luck. He nearly spilled off the stool to follow Derek, hoping to experience more of this new and apparently acceptable desire. But he didn’t dare.

Maybe the darkness had finally retreated. Maybe the Sang pour Sang was finished with him, but he couldn’t risk an attack, not here and now. It might destroy this fragile peace he’d found with Derek. The last thing he wanted was for either of them to start acting crazy again. Better to be mature about his longings. He was on the brink of manhood and men, unlike teenage boys, didn't always act on desire. They developed discretion, held off until the proper time and place. Holding onto this image of himself as a man, Stiles focused on his work and let the droning of the shower fade into background noise. Sure enough, the intense ardor receded to a pleasant glow in the pit of his stomach. When the shower stopped humming, Stiles placed the call for pizza. He was well occupied when Derek emerged wearing nothing but a towel. Both of them played it cool. They didn’t even exchange a glance. Derek went through to the bedroom, closing the door to dress.

When he came out twenty-minutes later, Stiles looked up and forgot all about maturity. He blinked rapidly. His thumb went straight to his mouth as his heart did a little jig. He nibbled on the nail edge. Derek looked beautiful. He had dressed in a rust-colored, long-sleeved henley and jeans. He was fastening his belt buckle, glancing down. His slightly damp hair curled around his ears. When he looked up, his smile made the breath catch in Stiles’ throat. It was all he could do not to squirm in his seat as his dick swelled. So much for mature detachment, he thought. I want to run my hands—no, my tongue, all over him. Please, baby, let me touch you, let me...oh, fuck.

He stopped biting his thumb nail and focused on the computer keyboard as he mumbled, “Feeling better?”

“Much,” Derek said. “I'm metabolizing. The fresh air helped. How long until dinner?”

“Thirty minutes or less,” Stiles said, daring a quick peek. He noted Derek's bare feet and dropped his gaze again. Damn. Fuck me. Please.

From the corner of his eye he saw Derek point at the television. “Will it bother you if I watch something?”

Curiosity overrode caution. Stiles lifted his chin and both eyebrows. “You watch TV? Since when?”

“Since, I bought a TV. I got it so I could learn to play video games. But there’s this one show, I really like.”

“Which video games?” Stile asked, intrigued. He hopped off the stool and came closer. “Halo?”

“Age of Empires,” Derek said, settling on the sofa. “And Portal.”

“Portal 2 or Helioplex?”

“Both.” Derek grabbed the remote and slouched back, propping his bare feet on the coffee table. “You'd always win if we played Halo.”

“You’re learning to play Portal 3 for…me?” Stiles said, flabbergasted by this. Derek shrugged, as if it was no big deal, and turned on the flat screen. “That’s really…” Stiles ran through adjectives, mentally discarding them all, until he finally decided to call it as he saw it. “That's adorable!” He perched on the arm of the sofa as far away from Derek as it was possible to get. “So, what’s this television show you love? Breaking Bad? Gossip Girls? Project Runway?”

Derek grinned and shook his head. “It's called Finding Bigfoot. It's hilarious.”

“You’re kidding,” Stiles said, bouncing closer to him. “Crappy reality TV is your thing? And not even Project Runway?”

“I don't know what that is. But this...? Have you seen it?”

“I’m proud to say I have never watched Finding Bigfoot.”

“You don't know what you're missing. These people tromp around in the woods at night chasing,” Derek paused to air quote, “Bigfoot,” then went on, “with no idea there are werewolves in the woods. I’m surprised no one’s been killed. They imitate location calls and set up infrared cameras. They catch blurry shots of Betas and Omegas on film. They find deer carcasses. But the best part..the absolute best part...is they are completely confused by the lack of daylight evidence. No bodies. No Bigfoot camp sites. Where did the monster go? Cracks me up. Last week, the Beta they were hunting was the one who called them. I don't know how he kept a straight face.”

“They get footage? Of werewolves?” Stiles said, intrigued despite his reservations. He shifted closer again, until he was next to Derek on the sofa. “How could you tell it was the same Beta?”

“Oh, it was easy to spot him. He was new and awkward. I can show you some tricks. How to spot us in human form. Sometimes it is harder to tell what is going on in the show, because these ‘Bigfoot hunters’ just bumble around like Miley Cyrus in the woods. The infrared shots are so bad and the photos are blurred by energy surges. But there's usually clear signs of werewolf activity at the locations they feature. Clan marks and so on. The humans will pick up a howl or something and go crazy. And they stage these town hall meetings, too. I love this show.”

Stiles couldn’t help smiling back at him. He’d never seen Derek this animated and enthusiastic. The years fell away and he seemed nineteen or twenty instead of thirty-five. Maybe that was what Peter and Cora had meant about werewolf ages. Maybe a happy Derek meant a younger Derek, too. Stress could certainly make you tired and old before your time. Did happy hormones reverse the process, making werewolves young again? Stiles resolved to encourage Derek to smile more often.

When the show started, Derek took on the role that Stiles usually filled, explaining the nuances of a fandom. Stiles listened attentively. By the time the pizza arrived they were both playing ‘spot the werewolf’ in the crowd shots.

“The blond woman in the second row, right?” Stiles said, as he went to answer the door. “The one in the green tank top? She's avoiding the camera for eye flare. She can't keep still. And check out the muscles in her shoulders.”

“She’s definitely a possibility,” Derek said, after hitting the rewind to take another look at the woman. “I’ll need her to speak or move more to be sure.” A loud guffaw burst from him as he hit play and then immediately hit pause. “They’re in the woods trying to mimic the howl again,” he called, “You have got to hear this.”

Stiles grinned as he handed the delivery guy a tip. Ever since he’d spent a summer getting stiffed on his own gratuities, he’d stopped trusting them to a credit card swipe. “Finding Bigfoot,” he said, winking as he took charge of the pizza box. “Hilarious.”

The pizza guy smiled back at him, but Stiles could tell it was a humoring the crazy customer smile, rather than anything genuine. Few people grasped the nuances of werewolf in-jokes. He kicked the door closed as the kid left. After throwing the dead-bolt, Stiles went back to the sofa. He placed the large pizza box in the center of the coffee table.

“Meat lovers, extra cheese, half with spinach, mushrooms and peppers, half with extra pepperoni,” he announced. “We are so predictable. You wanna beer?”

“Better not. Just water. And plates. And paper towels.”

Derek nabbed Sparky a second before the pup pounced on the pizza box. Sparkles growled and yipped and tried to bite, but Derek held him by the scruff, using his height and weight to advantage. He put the puppy in the bathroom and closed the door on him.

“No indigestion for you, Hairball.”

“There’s the Derek I know,” Stiles said.

“Pizza isn’t good for him. I don’t want him barfing on the carpet.”

“I meant the plates.”

“Pizza can be messy.”

“Right,” Stiles drawled, taking a moment to tap at the computer, shutting it down. “Shoes off at the door. No more crumbs in the carpet or grease stains on the couch. Gotcha. But you’ll need the cleaning lady in if you want the carpets done, because I’m not vacuuming.”

“I do my own cleaning,” Derek said, plopping onto the couch again and leaning back to watch him gather supplies from the kitchen. “It's how I avoid going bankrupt. And I invest. My family owns a lot of real estate. We've been here since the 1800's. Every place I've lived since you met me, I've owned.”

Stiles stilled with the plates his hand and the refrigerator door open. “You own...what? This condo or…all of them?”

“The complex. The property.” He waved a careless hand. “The entire riverside park development. And the block of warehouses at the last place. Peter's apartment building.”

“Holy Mother! Okay, I've just decided I will marry you,” Stiles said, grabbing another soda and the glass water bottle from the fridge. “If you can explain to me why the Hell you lived in that abandoned ruin in the woods for so long?”

“That ruin was my family home. As long as I lived there, worked on repairs, the county couldn't condemn it. My lawyers were stalling the bulldozers.”

“Oh, sorry,” Stiles said. Closing the distance between them, he placed plates and a full roll of paper towels down by the pizza box. “I'm sorry they did that.”

Derek shrugged. “I was clinging to something that was already gone. Better to rebuild.”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, returning with their drinks. “I did that with my mom, too. For about two years, I tried to keep everything the same way she had it.” He sat down and went for a slice of pizza. After he ate a few bites, he said, “I know it wasn't my fault, what happened to her. In my head, I know it. But...sometimes…I still feel guilty.”

“Why?”

He sighed and swiveled to face Derek, pointing a knee at him and placing an arm along the back of the sofa. “It’s really stupid. But right before she got sick, like a couple of months before, I got food poisoning. I was delirious, in and out of it. But I heard my mom telling my dad that I might die.” His voice cracked and he felt the sting of tears as he looked away. He inhaled deeply, the air grating through his clenched throat. “She said—she said she wanted to take my place in the hospital. Then, a couple months later, she started vomiting.”

“That was coincidence, Stiles. It had nothing to do with you.”

“I know.” He didn't sound sure of it though. Finally, he blurted out his fear. “How can we know for sure? In Beacon Hills? With what I can do...? If my power comes from her, then, maybe she died because of some spell she did to save me... Maybe it is my fault.”

Derek reached out a hesitant hand. When Stiles didn’t pull away, he stroked the backs of his fingers along a cheek. A delicious shiver started under the touch and raced all over Stiles. It made every part of him sit up and pay attention. His tears stopped and his breathing stuttered. When Derek broke contact, it took every ounce of resolve not to curl closer to him, kiss him. But Stiles checked the impulse. He put both feet on the floor and reached for a slice of pizza. He didn't want to push Derek away. The rare peace between them was too precious to break at the moment.

“You can't control what another person does or feels,” Derek said, also, grabbing a slice. “Or maybe you can, but you shouldn't. If your mom did a spell to save your life that was her choice. If I run into a fire, that's mine.”

“Your choice?” Stiles snorted. “What? You want to die? You have a death wish?”

“No,” Derek said. His light laugh defused the mounting tension. Shaking his head, he took a moment to scrape the toppings off a second slice of pizza onto his dish. After sucking sauce from his thumb, he said, “I want to live. Of course, I do. I want to grow old and gray and grumpier. Build a house in the woods and spend lazy days surrounded by my pack, kids and grandkids. But if I have to die...” He shrugged. “I can't think of a better way to go than saving someone I love.”

“Sucks for the person left behind,” Stiles said, studying his plate.

“It does,” Derek agreed. He brushed his hand against Stiles’ shoulder, the touch asking him to look up. Their eyes met squarely. “That was probably what I was thinking.”

The unguarded frankness in Derek's eyes sent an icy realization splashing over Stiles. For the first time he thought about Derek's point of view on the salamander attack. His plate clattered against the table as he put it down. He closed his eyes and sat back. Oh, God. Of course! All this time he'd been focused on his own fear. What he'd almost lost. But what had that moment been like for Derek? Seeing the salamander taking aim? Had he imagined Stiles burning? In that split second before he moved into the line of fire, Derek had surely thought of everyone he'd already lost. All of the family he couldn't save.

With this new viewpoint came insight. It hadn't necessarily been the bond, some evil compulsion, which moved Derek to intervene. It might have been logic. Or terror. To lose another loved one to fire would have been unbearable. Maybe taking the hit himself had been the best choice, the only alternative to Stiles burning in front of him, to reliving every other loss. Derek was a werewolf, able to recover from horrific injury. He had recovered. Stiles would have been nothing but dead.

“I haven’t handled this very well, have I?” Stiles said, forcing his eyes open and chin up to face Derek's judgement.

“No,” Derek said with a slight vibrato that showed he was trying not to laugh at the gross understatement.

His steady gaze held only love and good humor, as if he'd never been angry, only concerned. To cover his humiliation, Stiles lowered his eyes again. He scooted forward and toyed with his pizza. Derek didn't press him. A lesser person might have pointed out how childish and selfish Stiles had been. Derek could have held out for a better apology. But he seemed happy to let this foolishness fade. Stiles wished he could explain that to his dad. How much hostility and outright stupidity Derek had endured and forgiven from him over the years. And they were closer than ever. It was like some kind of miracle. Fate, maybe. Or the bond was right.

Stiles found he was able to relax again when Derek pushed play. The howling attempts were as funny as promised. Chuckling together, they finished watching the show as they ate. Any residual awkwardness bled away into a shared amazement at the clueless Bigfoot team. Near the end of the episode, a particularly pudgy werewolf gave Stiles new insight into the breed.

“I thought you were all buff, hardbodies. What happened to him?”

“Too many carbs. We metabolize quicker, turn over cells super fast. But we still have to eat right. Just like you do. Exercise. Why do you think I workout?”

“I thought it was nervous energy. Like the polar bears at SeaWorld, big predator, tiny cage.”

“That’s part of it, sure.” Derek bobbed his head, then wafted a hand to indicate the three wedges of crust he’d skinned. “But if I ate full slices I’d bloat up like a puffer fish. Grains are our downfall. And I love pasta. Baked ziti with alfredo sauce?” He bit his lower lip and gave a little orgasmic moan. “If you ever want to get on my good side, make me about a pound and a half of that and I’ll…,” He broke off with a blush, exhaling sharply as he ducked his head. “Never mind.”

“What? What will you do?” Stiles teased, smiling at this shyness.

“I was going to say,” Derek said, over a snicker, “that I would blow you. Then, it hit me…you probably don’t need to make me ziti.”

Stiles poked him. “Good thing, too, 'cause I'd burn the house down. I have no idea how to make anything recipe related. If you can’t fry it, boil it or pop it in the microwave, I’m out of my comfort zone.”

“I love to cook,” Derek said.

“What else do you love?” Stiles asked, over a yawn. He linked his fingers together and stretched both arms over his head, arching his back. When he finished stretching, he casually dropped an arm into position along the back of the sofa, neatly embracing Derek as he shifted to face him.

“Smooth,” Derek said, grinning.

“Thank you,” Stiles said, returning the mischievous smile. “And, you were saying?”

“Cold, wet, miserable autumn days.”

“I should have guessed.”

“Not because I’m naturally miserable,” Derek said. When Stiles huffed at him, he tilted his head from side to side and conceded the point. “Okay, maybe I’m a little gloomy.”

“Dude, you never smile.”

“I'm smiling right now,” Derek pointed out. “I like autumn days, because I love the cosy smells. The sweaters and blankets and hot cocoa. The brisk wind. Damp leaves don't crunch underfoot. The woods get quiet. The streets are empty. Everyone stays in and the windows are frosty. It’s like I’m alone in the world, whether I'm curled up with a good book or out running.”

Something his dad had said came back to Stiles. He searched Derek's face as asked, “Do you want to be alone in the world?”

“Not completely. But it would be quieter, safer, I think. I’d make a good hermit. But I’d have to keep a few people around. My hairstylist. Those Bigfoot guys.”

“Stiles? Only maybe not, if you want it quiet.”

“Stiles, yes. Scott. Maybe Isaac. Definitely Allison Argent.”

“Allison?”

“I like Allison. She’s still and serious. A good hunter. Not like her dad.”

“You think Chris Argent is a bad hunter?” This took Stiles by surprise.

“He knows his business. But he doesn’t enjoy it. His heart isn’t in the hunt. He’s a great shot, but he misses all the time. That’s psychological. Allison isn’t conflicted.”

“Nope. She’ll just gut you and be done with it.”

“It’s honest. I know what to expect from her.”

“I wish she was still dating Scott. They were good together. I don’t trust Kira,” Stiles shook his head, dislodging the worry for tonight. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just jealous. It’s all new.”

“You should trust your instincts about people.”

Stiles leaned close enough to whisper in Derek’s ear. “Good thing I didn’t do that with you,” he said, amazed at his boldness. There was just something about this new talkative, fan-boy Derek that enchanted him. “Is that it for the things you love? Pasta? Wet autumn days? And Allison?”

“You forgot cooking,” Derek said. His fingers curled around Stiles’ free hand, thumb stroking it, as he added, “And I love these hands.”

“You like my hands?” Stiles said. He spread his fingers so Derek's slip between them, intertwine with them.

“They’re beautiful. Capable. Amazing.”

“Yeah. Right. If by all that you mean bony, bumbling and sort of girly?”

“Manly,” Derek corrected.

“About as sexy as my hairy legs.”

“Don’t start me thinking about your body.”

Derek drew the hand he’d been holding across his belly to his hip. Settling it there turned Stiles toward him, making it easier for Derek to wrap both arms around his neck. The embrace brought them face to face. And put Derek in control. So, when he slouched back into the corner of the sofa, he carried Stiles with him. Stiles put up no resistance. He knew he was risking punishment. Any minute now he would be lashed. There was no way the dark spell would allow this much heat to envelope him. He was living on borrowed time. But he made his peace with the coming pain as he and Derek squirmed around, tangling their limbs. Derek splayed wide at the hips, so their bodies could slot together. He kept one foot on the floor and gave a little pelvic bounce to shift Stiles into a more comfortable position. Their zippers grated into one another and their belt buckles clicked.

“Fuck, Stiles,” Derek said, languidly drawing out both expletive and name. “What you do to me with just a little flick of your fingers. You have no idea.”

“Oh, I think I'm catching on,” Stiles said, shifting against the solidly massed muscle under him, while trying to find a safe haven for his knees and elbows.

There was no way to miss the effect he was having on Derek, not while their cocks kept nudging into one another. He didn’t want to think about cock. It was dangerous to think about cock. But, he couldn’t help it. Even though he was expecting the lash at any moment, his brain just kept saying cock. And every time it said cock, his cock twitched and reported back on Derek’s cock and the cycle started all over again. Thank god, Derek kissed him or it would have gone on like that all night.

As soon as their lips met, Stiles forgot about his innate shyness, the blood spell and his need to avoid Derek. He relaxed into the kiss, melted into it. A switch flipped in his brain and it stopped scrambling in circles. His stiff limbs became pliable, body molding to Derek’s. They both sighed. As if in some silent accord, they started touching, stroking one another. Stiles mouth flooded with saliva. He swallowed hastily to avoid drooling. Derek's hands felt so good, warm and sure. The little shift of his hips was driving Stiles out of his mind. All he wanted was to burrow into this man, go deep inside him. A hot flush left him shivering as it passed. Waves of hot and cold prickles flowed over him whenever Derek bucked under him. Stiles thrust against his arching body. He tugged Derek’s lip with his teeth, before licking into his mouth. He tasted garlic and tomato sauce. Derek took his face in both hands, tipping his head so that their tongues could slide deeper.

They ground into one another. Both hard and panting. Fucking with their clothes on. They took short breaths at the break of each kiss. Stiles wondered how he'd ever resisted this, even for an hour. It felt so good, so right. Fingers tangled in hair and delved under hems. Derek's nails scraped over sensitive skin, but caused no pain. He was gentle despite his obvious hunger. Thumbs circled slowly, teasing out little moans. At one point, between a shuddering inhale and a sharp exhale, Stiles had to open his eyes.

He couldn’t believe this was really happening, that it would be allowed. Why wasn't he being punished? Why wasn’t he pulling away? Maybe because this was the first time he and Derek had been in perfect accord. It didn't feel like the bond was forcing them into this. His breathless anticipation made this seem more like a dream. But Derek’s scent, his touches and his blissful expression were all too real. Stiles stared down at that beautiful face and felt grounded in his body. There was no way for him to drift off into fantasy, not when he was this close to perfection.

“Derek,” he said, choking on the name as his heart flooded with tenderness.

“Stiles,” Derek said, drawing him closer and trailing wet kisses along his jaw toward his ear. “Stiles. Stiles.”

“God.”

“Yeah.” It was little more than a sigh. Derek inhaled sharply and stiffened in his arms. And then, after a grunt into the shell of the ear, whispered, “I love you.”

The words cracked over Stiles like unexpected thunder. Loud and echoing, even though they'd been spoken softly and had caught in the husky break of Derek's exhale. Stiles couldn’t feel his toes, but he was sure they were curling. His heart banged into his ribcage. Heat surged in his veins and he almost came. Just from that. Just from Derek whispering three words in his ear. Well, not just any words. The words. Derek Hale loved him, maybe only for a second, but…Stiles scrambled backward, feeling ghostly and light headed, as if he’d been deprived of oxygen for several minutes. Burning all over, his elation like a wildfire, he fought to regain some composure.

Derek lifted his head, opening his eyes, startled by such an extreme reaction. Stiles glanced down at Derek's fly. A wet patch soaked through his jeans above the swell of his erection. Finding this too much to fathom, Stiles tried to scurry away from all of the emotions ballooning inside him. He stopped retreating when he reached the arm of the sofa. He'd been right at the precipice himself. One more thrust, one more, slow, wet kiss and he would have plunged over the edge, too.

Inside, he was already falling. Oh, God. He'd made Derek Hale come. Derek had come, while making love to him. And somehow that was allowed. Which meant…what? Maybe they could do this. Maybe they could touch one another. Go all the way...there. Stiles shook his head. He didn’t know how they’d gotten here. He’d been furious with Derek earlier in the day. And Derek had been acting like he didn’t care about anything for a week. The spell should have stopped them. His anger or Derek lack of interest should have stopped them.

Only Derek had been more than interested. He’d said those words. And now he looked shell-shocked and a little ashamed. Knowing he should say something, Stiles opened his mouth, but nothing came out of it. Before he could regroup, Derek’s feet hit the floor. He sprang away from the couch. Without a word or backward glance, he bolted for the front door. He was through it and gone before Stiles could stop him. Shit. Stiles mentally kicked his own ass. Being a virgin was no excuse for dickish behavior. Even he knew better than to break free of an embrace and stare dumbly at a person who had just confessed their love. Say something, you louse, he mentally chided. Say it back...or...tell him its okay to say it. Is it okay? It seemed to be okay.

Stiles stood, fighting for some stability on his wobbling legs, and followed Derek's retreat. He found him lurking in the shadows on the porch. At least he hadn't headed for the woods. Neither of them spoke for a couple of minutes. The cool night air cleared the cobwebs from Stiles' head, but left him shivering.

It was Derek who broke the silence. “Did I hurt you?” he asked. “Trigger the spell?”

“What? No,” Stiles couldn't help showing his surprise at this worry. “Absolutely, positively, no. I’m good and it’s okay. What you said. I was just...”

“Freaked out?”

“Yeah. No. God! I’m having trouble with my brain. And my tongue. I—I liked it, all of it. A lot. And then I got a little...overheated.”

Derek cocked his head, as if that wasn't what he'd expect to hear. When he stepped into the light, Stiles registered a slightly bemused expression on his face. “You, too?”

Stiles beamed at him. Pleased to see he wasn’t angry. They appeared to be on the same page, both just a little shocked at being so into one another. Sucking air through his teeth, Stile bounced up on his toes, and tightened everything. Hands jammed in his pockets, shoulders hunched, muscles tensed to the burning point, he shot Derek a squinty-eyed, apologetic grimace. Derek relaxed and leaned against the porch rail. They nodded in tandem and both chuckled a little nervously.

“That was really...great,” Stiles said.

“Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah! But, I don’t know how…why the spell didn’t stop us.”

“Deaton said…uh,” Derek looked down at Stiles’ feet. “We had to feel something real. Not the bond.”

“Oh,” Stiles said his pulse quickening.

That meant all of this was real. Everything they'd just done. What Derek had said? He wasn't in love with Stiles because of the Blood Bond. It wasn't some condition he had, like a disease. Like an impulse he couldn't control, manipulating him into doing things against his will.

“You should go home,” Derek said, “It’s late. And one of my neighbors works for your dad.”

“Who?”

“Molly Travers,” Derek cut a sidelong glance toward a building across the street. “She lives right over there.”

“The new dispatcher?” Stiles shrugged. “What’s she going to tell him?”

“Plenty, if she’s been watching. The curtains are still open.”

Stiles stepped into Derek's personal space, craning his neck more than was necessary to note the unobstructed view into the living room. The position exposed his throat and he could sense Derek eyeing it. Derek Hale wanted him, wanted to taste, to touch, to make love.

Casting a glance upward Stiles asked, “You wanna give a repeat performance?”

“Not tonight. You should talk to your dad.”

“My dad?” Stiles took a step back and shook his head. “I have this strict policy. I never to talk to my dad about sex or Dancing with the Stars. He gets too worked up.”

Derek sighed, tilting his chin down while maintaining eye contact. He looked like a pleading toddler when he did that. So cute. Just fucking irresistible. Must be a pack skill, learned at his mother's knee. Stiles bared his canine teeth in a wolfish snarl, but his resolve faded. He threw up his hands in defeat.

“Fine, okay! Enough with the puppy eyes. You win. I’ll talk to my dad. What do I say? Hey, Dad, I’m going to go bang Derek Hale, don’t wait up?”

“Do not say that. He’ll shoot me.”

“He’s not going to shoot you. My dad is a reasonable man. Why would you even thing that?”

“He told me he would.”

“Shoot you? He said that? Those were his exact words?”

“No. His exact words were ‘I have a .45 and a badge that says I can stop you from having sex with my son,'” Derek said. “I inferred.”

“Alright, I'll admit that does sound ominous, vaguely threatening, even,” Stiles made a sweeping pass with a hand. “Not exactly non-ambiguous. So, why am I going to talk to him, again?”

“I figure he won’t shoot you,” Derek said.

“I see. You want me to soften him up, huh?” Stiles grinned and nodded. He glanced over his shoulder. “I should get Sparky. Do you mind if I give him to my cousin Ruthie? She’s got kids and a big, fenced in back yard. He’s a little hard to manage while I’m still in school.”

“And I was just getting attached,” Derek said with a smirk.

“You liar. You hate him. And it’s mutual.”

“We just disagree on who the Alpha is.”

“It's me, right?” Stiles said. When Derek lifted both brows, he took an exaggerated step back. “Are you saying it's not me?”

Derek just shook his head and stepped around Stiles. He put a hand on the door knob, but didn’t open it. Face turned away and shadowed, he voiced an obvious worry.

“If you stop bring the mutt over, when will I see you? Next week? Tomorrow?”

“Friday?” Stiles said. “We could go out. See a movie? Eat somewhere that makes ziti?”

The suggestion brought Derek’s head up and sparked a smile. “Or stay in,” he said. “I could cook.”

“Oh, I see how it is. You have your way with me one time and no more dating. Typical.”

Grinning broadly, Derek snaked an arm out, hooking it around Stiles at the waist. He pulled him close and bent to place a soft kiss on his cheek. Stiles pushed the embrace to its limit. He wrapped his arms around Derek's neck, going for his retreating lips. They kissed for a long time, pressed against the door frame.

Finally, Derek broke free and spoke into his ear. “Pick you up at 7:30? We'll go to the Marina. Walk along the river. Get some dinner.”

“You know, I can't believe that worked,” Stiles said. “I should have asked for a car.” He leaned back so their hips ground together. It amazed him how safe and stable he felt in Derek's arms. “How should I set priorities for these things? I need to get some tips from Lydia.”

“Or aim somewhere between a nice dinner and a car,” Derek said, shifting his grip so he could open the door. Stiles staggered slightly as the full body hug became nothing more than a guiding hand at the small of his back.

"Ski vacation," Stiles said. "Check."

“Do you own anything that's not flannel or covered with slogans? They don't have a dress code at the Marina Grill, but it's a little upscale. I could lend you something.”

“Don't worry,” Stiles said, tugging on Derek's arm to recapture his attention. Their lips touched in a brief peck, before he added, “I'll wear something pretty for you.”

THE END THIS PART

Chapter Text

Title: Rise Above
Author: Rabid1st
Rating: Mature
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Derek/Stiles
Warning(s): Unhappy stuff. Arguments. Harsh Language. M/M sex.
Spoiler(s): AU S3b no spoilers in this part. Some in earlier parts.
Beta Babes: Birthsister & Elsecarlass
Word Count: 24629
Summary: After Derek is severely injured, Stiles can’t forgive himself. He finds a spell to break their bond. The spell has a nasty backlash and Derek is determined to put an end to it. But will Stiles resist his every attempt to reconnect? How far will Derek go to restore them both to sanity?
Disclaimer: Teen Wolf and these characters are not mine. This fic represents fair use for fan purposes.

In a time of treason, is there room for trust? Is there time for reason or has your heart had enough? Is it time to let go and rise above? And you say rise above, open your eyes on love.

PART FOUR

“Are you free after school?” Stiles asked in third period, leaning across the aisle toward Lydia.

“I have a date tonight. But I can spare you a few minutes. As long as there are no long walks in the woods or dead bodies involved?”

“I need more than a few minutes. I need a wingman at the mall.”

“Shopping?” Lydia lit up at the thought. “But I do, actually, have a date.”

“You say that like you would normally be lying to me. And so do I,” Stiles said. “Tomorrow night. That's why I need your help.”

“You have a date? With...?” Stiles rolled his eyes and Lydia clapped he hands together. “Derek?”

“Yes, Derek,” Stiles said on a huff. “Who else? And we don't need to pretend he was a hard sell, given there's a bond of unstoppable desire. But you can report in to Scott that Project Matchmaker has lift off. Just help me find something to wear.”

“He shouldn't try to change you. Well, someone should. But not a guy that dresses like roadie. Take it from me, you don't want to work too hard to please him at this stage. If he's asking you to change....”

“He's not. We're just going to the Marina Grill and I don't own anything fancy. Or, I do, I have a suit, but only the pants fit me. I've buffed up a little this year.”

“You have,” Lydia said, giving him an uncomfortably frank appraisal. Stiles squirmed, feeling like a prize winner at the local dog show staked out for her inspection. “I'll give you an hour. Meet me at Macy's at 4:00. The upstairs mall entrance. Don't be late.”

He found Lydia at the appointed place and hour and she took him in hand, steering him straight to a rack of shirts that could only be described as circus prints. He balked. She did her best to convince him that he would look great in canary yellow, but he declined to try it. They argued up and down the aisles. No plunging necklines. No suede. No satin. No cuff links. No tie. Understated became his watchword. After twenty minutes of heated debate over Tommy Hilfiger and what looked like a knitting accident, Lydia finally lost her temper. She told him his time with a personal shopper was up and asked him what he would wear. Stiles stepped back to survey the mannequins on display. He only saw one that looked even vaguely appealing. He focused on it and discovered a pile of t-shirts with dark, thorn and thistle lithographs. They were softer than anything he'd ever worn. When he picked one up it nearly evaporated in his hands. They came in assorted colors and styles—mostly v-necks, boat-necks. Of course, the material was so sheer it was almost see-through, but he felt he could live with that. He knew Derek would love the tactile experience.

“These,” he said. “I like these.”

“No t-shirts,” Lydia said.

“What if I layered it in?” he asked, holding up a creamy boat-necked tee with a bronze print of gears and brambles. “This is dressy.”

“With a jacket, maybe,” Lydia said, her eyes sliding by him to focus on a rack of leathery-shimmer over his shoulder.

He saw where she was looking and shook his head. “Oh, no, I don't think...”

“Trust me. This will work. Only...” She snatched the shirt away from him, put it back and grabbed another one. “Go with the snow white. The cream washes you out. You need pure colors. Like this,” she said, tugging a midnight blue, cardigan-style blazer from a nearby rack.

“A satin collar? I'm not dating Adam Lambert.”

“As if you could. It's a knitted blend, totally pedestrian. Warm, light. The trim is understated. And the color will make your eyes pop.” She waved him toward the dressing rooms. “Go. Try it on.”

The shirt covered him like mist. The blended fabric teased at his skin, both clingy and airy. He'd never experienced anything quite so sensual. His nipples peaked from the licking sensation. He could almost see them through the thin material. The boat-neck flared wide, exposing his collarbone, but was hardly risqué. It just dipped lower than anything else he owned. When he leaned forward the shirt slithered and he could see chest hair. Wearing it made him feel more naked than he did when he was actually naked. He couldn't help stroking a hand across his chest, before he put on the blazer. The tee's gray lithograph developed blue highlights when he layered it under the dark blue jacket. He liked the way the shirt's printed images shifted and defied the eye. It made him want to study himself in the mirror and he thought that might entice Derek, too.

To give Lydia her due, both shirt and jacket enhanced his natural coloring. His eyes did look brighter. The combination should looked pretty snazzy paired with his black dress slacks and family reunion loafers. And his amulet even matched the color scheme. But what sold him on the outfit was Lydia's gasp when he stepped out of the dressing room. The admiration in her eyes convinced him to buy both pieces, despite the cost. Short of slapping on a suit and tie it was as upscale as he could get and still feel like himself. He took Lydia's advice and purchased a gray on black, v-neck tee from the same collection.

“Just in case you have a second date,” she said, patting his elbow.

When he came down the stairs in his new clothes, his dad did a double take. Stiles glanced down, grimacing as he remembered the packet of lube in his pocket. Had it left a telltale outline? Nope. Everything seemed good.

“What?”

“You look…great,” his dad said. The wonder on his face and in his voice made it seem like a rare occurrence.

“Yeah, so...?” Stiles glanced at the clock. He had about thirty minutes to wait. “I might not—I might get back late. You shouldn't worry.”

“Sit down, Stiles,” his father said, indicating a chair with a tip of his head.

Stiles took a deep breath, but tried not to grimace or whine. It would ruin his image. He was a man. Be a man, Stiles. Men face things like this. He went to the indicated chair and perched on the very edge of the seat. Elbows braced on his thighs, hands clasped between his knees, he waited.

“I don't want you having sex.”

“I know,” Stiles said.

“What's that supposed to mean, young man? 'You know?'”

“I know that you wouldn't have chosen this for me. That Derek makes you uncomfortable and you don't trust him. I know you think I'm not ready.”

“You aren't ready. You're seventeen.”

“Didn't one of our ancestors die in the war at eighteen and still leave two children behind?”

“That was a different time.”

“No, Dad. This,” he said, waving his hand to indicate all of Beacon Hills, all of the crap he'd endured. “This is a different time. A different world. And werewolves exist. And I’m expected to be their friggin’ emissary.”

“That doesn't change the law.”

“The law?" Stiles laughed bitterly. "The last couple of years…? There was no law. I've been fighting a war. I had to grow up.” He paused to take a breath, regroup. “Derek's not going to hurt me or use me or do any of the things that make fathers worry.”

“He's going to take you into his world.”

“I'm already there,” Stiles said. “You know that, right? If Derek just left town tomorrow...” He had to pause and shake that idea out of his head. “Okay, I’d probably follow him. So, let’s say he didn’t exist. This whole bond thing never happened. Scott is still the Alpha. I’m his best friend. I’m in it.” He stabbed his fingers at his throat. “Up to my neck.”

“What if he bites you?”

“It will hurt. He’s a Beta. Only Alphas can make other werewolves. And, believe me when I tell you, I’ve pissed Derek off enough to know what he’s like when he’s angry. He's not going to hurt me. He protects me.”

“When? Besides the fire, which I’m not discounting.”

“Okay. Well. You remember when Isaac escaped from custody? He tried to attack me. Derek stopped him.” He ticked off rescues on his fingers. “He fought Peter. Stood between me and the Kanima. Sided with me against Miss Blake, so I could rescue you. Kept her busy while we rescued you. And he always checks to make sure I’m not cut off in a fight. He’s come back for me so many times, I've lost count. There's the amulets.”

“Alright. I get it. But you’re still ten years younger than him. What does he want from you besides…the obvious?”

“Besides the obviously smart, funny, charming person that I’ve become?” Stiles said, smirking.

“He wants to mate with you, Stiles. What else is this bonding thing about?”

“Good question.” Stiles looked down at his clasped hands, considering how to answer it. “I think it happened because he needs me. I sort of light his way.”

His father sat back, his mouth twisting in dismay. “Now you sound like a teenager,” he said. “Spare me the poetic drivel.”

“You asked. I’m telling you,” Stiles said, annoyed. “The bond happens because of something inside us. It’s like…I show him things he didn’t know existed. Actual solid things like the benefits of technology, how to make friends and influence people or where to put his router. But, also, stuff like hope. Alternative plans. New possibilities. But I guess that's just being a good emissary...” Stiles let his thoughts wander, staring into space for a few moments. “Derek has lost a lot. I give him something to look forward to, hold on to, again. I amuse him. And he trusts me. I take his mind off of all the crap he has to bear.”

“I can't help thinking about the spell you did. He's a wild thing, Stiles. He’s going to break your heart.”

Stiles hooted at that. “Well, yeah! He already has. About sixteen hundred times. He kicks it around and stomps on it. And we fall apart and find our way back. I break his heart, just to show him I can. But every time that happens we patch it all up, again. We forgive each other. We work. Didn't mom break your heart?”

His father closed his eyes and sighed. “All the time.”

There was a soft knock at the door. “Great, so he heard me writing a Hallmark commercial. Now I'm going have that hanging over me. The night is starting off well. Don’t threaten to shoot him, again, alright? It’s making him twitchier than he generally is. And he's already losing his mind between the bond and my spellcasting.”

“I only meant a flesh wound, in the leg or the arm.”

“Yo, Derek,” Stiles said, as he flung open the door. “I’m ready. We should go.”

“Sheriff,” Derek said, nodding.

“Derek,” the Sheriff said in an equally measured monotone. But he clapped Stiles on the back as he said, “You two have fun. I’m going to turn in early. See you in the morning.”

“Yeah, thanks. Tomorrow, Dad,” Stiles said, almost stumbling over his surprise.

He flashed a bright smile and returned his dad's pat, grimacing only as he turned away. That had been awkward. Glad it was over, he followed Derek down the steps toward his new SUV. He could feel his dad’s eyes fixed on his back as they walked to the curb. Derek opened the car door for him.

“Don’t do that,” Stiles told him. “It’s just insulting. I can get into a car on my own.”

“Not this one, ‘cause the lock is keyed to my thumb print,” Derek said. “Latest technology. And I didn’t even need you to explain it to me.”

“Eavesdropping is never attractive, Derek.”

“You do look pretty though, Stiles, I’ll give you that.”

A blush burned Stiles' cheeks as Derek shut the door. Of all the... Stiles ground his teeth down on the first few smart ass retorts that popped into his head. They were dating. This was a date. He didn't want it to start with an argument. Counting to ten between inhale and exhale, he released some of his tension with deep breathing. The plush interior of the car made it easy to relax. All he had to do was lean back and let go of his worries. Beige and butter soft, the leather seats enveloped him. The new car smell teased past his nose. As soon as Derek climbed in, wolf energy crowded the intimate space and Stiles tensed up again. He closed his eyes and tried to force his muscles to relax. Luckily, when Derek cranked the engine, one of his mellow songs started playing. This time, rather than moan or complain, Stiles tuned into the lyrics, looking for hidden messages. The reasoning behind this song choice leaped out at him, clear as a spoken confession.

Done so many things wrong; I don’t know if I can do right. Put your trust in me, hope I won’t let you down. Give me a chance, I’ll try.

It couldn’t be a coincidence. Derek’s soundtracks always spoke for him, saying things he would never put into words himself. Stiles knew he’d cued this song up on purpose. Maybe even created the perfect CD mix for tonight. It was like subliminal advertising. And it hit Stiles how this was one of those things that made them so well suited. He loved solving mysteries and Derek naturally created them. Stiles searched for the CD case, but didn't see one. He longed for a sneak peek at the rest of the titles. They might tell him what to expect from the evening. His palms were sweaty. And he knew Derek would sense that. To take his mind off of his nerves, he wondered how Derek had burned song mixes before he had a computer. He, also, wondered if his father knew this tune. It might be new, but it sounded old. Maybe it had been popular back in his dad's day. Some of the lyrics could have been aimed at his father. But it certainly fit well with the night Stiles imagined lay ahead of them.

Before we take this step, before we walk down that path. Before I make any promises, before you have regrets.

Stiles didn't plan on regretting what was coming. But, he wondered if Derek might. How did he really feel about the bond? He'd said those words, of course. But what did they mean to him?

At this point in my life, I want to live as if only love matters, as if redemption was in sight.

When the song ended, Stiles hit the replay button. He wanted to commit every line to memory. Derek stole a quick glance at him.

“I like this one,” Stiles said. “Do you mind?”

“No. I wanted you to hear it.”

It's been a hard road, this road I've traveled on. If I take your hand, might lead you down the path to ruin. I'm just saying so you'll understand. That right now, right now, I'm doing the best I can.

At the Marina Grill, Stiles scooted his chair around until he was just on Derek’s side of the table. He basked in the envious stares from their fellow dinners. He had no idea why some of the looks seemed to be directed at him. He wanted to point at Derek and waggle his eyebrows. Or tell those people they should get their eyes examined. It was the first time he could remember seeing Derek dressed up, other than the day he came to the station to identify the bodies. Was this an equally momentous occasion? That thought was enough to nearly ruin Stiles' appetite. Life changing stuff made him nervous.

The great thing was, when Derek wasn't running on emotion, he always put Stiles at ease. They ate steak and veggies and talked about basketball teams and Pokemon and the Battle of Gettysburg. They’d both had relatives in it, though the Hales had been drafted to the Confederacy, because of some werewolf pact. Werewolf history ran parallel to human events, intersecting at a few key places. It seemed medieval to Stiles, full of treaties and vendettas. He had just begun to appreciate how the supernatural shaped mundane existence. But the nuances of the relationship fascinated Derek. And he could relate the lessons of history to almost any subject.

He demonstrated this skill as they walked along the pier. It was quite impressive. Maybe he would make a good teacher, if Stiles could teach him some patience. They sat on a wooden bench, watching the river and keeping one another warm. They were the only couple braving the nippy air. After a time, they fell into a comfortable silence. Derek's teasing fingers told Stiles he loved the new shirt. His mouth just loved Stiles. Eventually, cold noses and propriety sent them to the car. On the drive to his place, Derek shared a story about Cora and their cousin Wendall from Tennessee.

“They nearly started another civil war.”

“Wait? She bit off his finger?”

“Yep. They taped it back on and it healed. But it was always a little crooked after that.”

“Oh, my God,” Stiles said, as they got out of the car. “I’m so glad we never dated.”

“You were planning on dating my sister?”

“No, not exactly planning,” Stiles said, blanching as Derek gave him the death glare. “But you had barely crossed my mind. And she does have that Hale sex appeal.”

“She’s never visiting,” Derek said. “Ever.”

“Just so I'm clear on this one,” Stiles said, “Are you mad because I’m not good enough for her or because you’re jealous?”

“She was always taking my things.”

“Excuse me? Are you objectifying me?” Stiles said, blocking his way at the door. “Not that I mind. I'm thinking of reliving it later, but it's probably not the best way to kick off a seduction.”

Derek seized his hips in both hands and pressed him backward, looming into him. Stiles grunted. It was just a breathy syllable, his body reacting to force and pressure. But his eyes, locked onto Derek’s and neither of them could look away.

“Seduction?” Derek asked, brows lifting. He examined Stiles, intently studying his face, letting his gaze linger way too long on the lips.

Well aware of Derek's fascination with kissing, Stiles let his mouth fall slightly open. Derek read that as an invitation and dove in, covering Stiles' lips with his own. Stiles seized his collar and did his best to make it crystal clear how happy he was with Derek’s interpretation. They got so close air molecules were squeezed between them. But it wasn’t close enough for Stiles. He wouldn’t have minded if, in those first heated seconds, they’d decided to chuck modesty and common sense to have sex right there on the porch.

His jacket slid from his shoulders to catch in his elbows. His shirt came untucked. Derek, however, seemed intent on moving things indoors. He maneuvered them around until he could fumble his key into the lock. The door gave way and they spilled into the foyer. They didn't stop kissing. Stiles kicked off his loafers, skidding in his stocking feet. Derek’s shoes proved stubborn and he had to given them some undivided attention.

They broke apart and used the breathing space to breathe, leaning against opposite walls.

“What are we doing, Stiles?”

“Anything. Everything.”

Derek shot him a side-eye glance and small smile. “Easiest seduction ever,” he said, “but…”

The qualification sobered Stiles. It hit his stomach like bad tuna salad. He became uncomfortably aware of his heavy breathing and tried to quiet it. Anything said after ‘but’ always trumped what came before it. At least, that's what his mother used to say. He couldn’t help feeling Derek was about to dismiss their initial passion.

“But,” Stiles said, blushing because of his earlier eagerness. He wanted to pull back a little into his protective shell, maybe throw out some sarcasm. Instead, he said, “You want to take it slow.”

“Want? No. Should?” Derek lowered his chin to gaze up at him, his eyes asking for this indulgence. “Maybe.”

“Right,” Stiles said, drawing on his limited reserves of maturity. He combed rigid fingers through his hair, knowing that would only leave it more mussed. He was shaking. “Neither of us wants to…rush. I mean…I haven’t even...ever.”

“It’s a big step,” Derek said. “One I know you feel ready to take.”

“But…?”

“Maybe I’m not ready.”

“Oh,” Stiles said on a puff of air. It felt like Derek had kicked him. “I just thought…you were. What I mean is…you keep insisting on it. And seemed kind of into it.”

Derek wet his lips with the tip of his tongue. His gaze crawled up Stiles from his fingertips to his eyes and held there. “Into you,” he said in a sandpapery drawl that made Stiles’ heart pound.

“Fuck,” Stiles said. He closed his eyes, leaning a shoulder into the wall. “Don’t do that. Don’t look at me like that when you’re telling me we should stop. That you're not ready.”

Derek’s body heat engulfed him. He was close, very close. But Stiles refused to open his eyes.

“Stiles?”

“What?”

“I didn’t say we should stop. Just slow down a little.” He drew two fingers along Stiles’ jaw and caressed his lips with a thumb. “Look at me.” Stiles forced his eyelids up to a squint and nearly drowned in that green gaze. Derek was right on top of him. “Do you know what it's like for me? The bond?”

Stiles swallowed. “Uh—no?”

“I lose control. I can't think. All I do is burn and crave. It's wild energy.”

“Oh.”

“But...I want to make love to you.”

Astonishment made Stiles jump. His heart stopped. His lungs emptied with a whoosh. The room tipped sideways. He was pretty sure he was about to pass out, because he’d completely left his body. His skin tingled as he passed through it. It felt like he was floating somewhere far away and his eyes refused to focus. He blinked rapidly. At least his tongue obeyed him. It darted out to moisten his lips. But his hands had their own agenda. They trembled and flitted like hummingbirds with nowhere to settle. Was he having a panic attack? It could be. Might be. Shit. Slow down, Stiles. Breathe. Speak. Don't screw this up.

“Okay,” he said, cold and shivering and full of something he’d never felt before, something he had no idea how to express. “I love you,” he blurted, sounding amazed by the realization, almost appalled. Since that seemed wrong, he repeated himself. He struggled with emphasis, grabbing Derek's arms, as if determined to convince him. “I love you. I—love,” he ran out of breath and had to gulp air to continue, “love you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. So, yeah,” Stiles said, eyes wide as he nodded his certainty. “There's that.”

It hadn’t been smooth. He was trembling all over. But it was exactly what he'd meant to say. He'd stand by it. He wasn't even embarrassed by how ridiculous he must look. Or how badly this attempt at losing his virginity had gone so far. Another romantic evening ruined. One more failure to launch. But, they could go slow and it would be fine. Because they would definitely get there some day. He blinked at Derek, who seemed amused. And, also, to be expecting further developments. What else was there to say? Stiles kicked his brain into gear and remembered.

“Slow is fine,” he said, sidling sideways to get away from their combined body heat. He was starting to sweat. “I want you to be ready, too.”

“Good to know,” Derek said with a teasing smirk. “Because I have no idea what to do.”

It was turning into a night of surprises. “But you've...already, you know? You’re the experienced one.”

“Not with guys. Not with you. It’s been a long time since my first time. And I’ve never been the first…for anyone else.”

“Worried about deflowering me?” Stiles said, almost controlling the tremor in his throat. He forced a small smile.

“Yeah. Or being deflowered. What is it you expect from tonight? Because…I’d never even watched gay porn until you set up my laptop. I had some general anatomy thoughts about it, of course, because I’m not an idiot, but...I don’t know, if…”

“You watched porn on that laptop?” Stiles said, outraged, because Derek was, in fact, an idiot. “Oh, my God! You have free virus protection. It can't handle porn sites. Do you have any idea how many viruses you could have now? It's like actually sleeping with the well-hung plumber and his handsome friend. There are safe sites and I can bookmark them if you want, but, don’t watch porn without me.”

“I don’t,” Derek barked, obviously frustrated. “That’s what I’m saying. It doesn’t do anything for me.”

Cocking his head, Stiles consider this admission for a moment. His burgeoning anger twisted into ready curiosity, creating a whirlpool of heady emotions in his gut. He stroked a hand across his belly, lifting his shirt slightly to expose a sliver of belly.

“What does do it for you?”

Derek’s smile turned devilish. “Let’s find out,” he growled.

His glance dipped tracing along the skin Stiles had bared and then went lower. He surged forward, cupping Stiles’ face with one hand as he kissed him hard. This time Stiles processed the wolf energy as it flare up around them. It was hard to imagine a simple gesture could ignite so much passion. But he was starting to realize part of the challenge for him as an emissary and bond-mate would be to control and manage Derek's intense desires.

“Bedroom,” he ordered. And was immediately obeyed.

************************************************************************************************** 

God damn it. So much for clear heads and waiting and working up to the main event. He was in for it now. No backing out. Stiles wanted sex. He was like some kind of runaway train. And Derek was pretty sure he was the one tied to the tracks. He towed Stiles along behind him as he headed for the bedroom. His ears still rang from those breathy confessions. I love—love you. Fucking little tremble in his voice, cutting through the gut. Every wolf learned about Omega rule, domination through submission. Yeah, emissaries knew all those tricks. Stiles would master him at this rate. His mouth. Not just the kissing. Those soft, full lips. The impatient tongue. But the layers of flavor and every word and noise that spilled from him.

Clothing came off. Socks. Slacks. But not that shirt. He loved that shirt. Stiles had lube in his pocket. Stiles had lube. Because he was expecting penetration of some kind. And he casually tossed the little package on the bed. Would he do that with a girl? Was that any way to behave? Derek was still worried about being naked together. Wondering if he'd changed the sheets recently. Had it been Wednesday or Sunday? Fuck it. They'd probably need changing afterward anyway. Underwear stayed on. He captured Stiles' hands before they could push down his Calvin Klein boxer-briefs. Because Derek wasn't ready for totally naked Stiles pressed against him. Or penetration. He wasn't ready for that. Time to make it clear who was in charge of the time table.

The bed springs protested as he tossed Stiles over his hip in a take-down move. Stiles didn’t seem to mind. He laughed, hooking a leg around Derek and yanking on an arm as he fell. Derek could have resisted the pull. But he gave in and toppled. He caught Stiles around the waist and rolled. They both liked wrestling apparently. And kissing. He liked the weight of Stiles on top of him, straddling his hips. Stiles seemed to like touching him, stroking his face and chest.

For someone who rarely worked out, Stiles was surprisingly symmetrical. A layer of baby fat smoothed the contours of delineated muscle. But there wasn't too much give in him. When he rose to his knees, the shirt clung to his torso. There was a visible line starting at the hollow of his throat and leading all the way down to where a trail of hair disappeared into his underwear. Derek traced his fingers up under the shirt and along the slight valley, starting low and ending with a detour to a nipple. He braced up on an elbow, pulled Stiles closer and used his tongue. He sucked through the shirt, turning the fabric translucent. Stiles loved that. He writhed against Derek, who indulged in all the Stiles-specific sensations—the masculine weight of him, the tang of his skin, his surprisingly broad chest, his moles, his scent. He'd bathed in something woodsy and natural.

The little fucker squirmed a lot, too, as his hands caressed Derek's back and shoulders. And he made noises. Stiles had a repertoire of tiny grunts and moans. God, those little sighing gasps turned Derek on, but so did textures and tastes. He licked, nuzzled, bit and petted. Stiles was like canvas or clay. Or, an instrument. Yes! An instrument.

Derek knew how to tease music out of a partner. How to play a pulse, feathering it back and pushing it to quicken. He'd made women wail. His heightened senses gave him so many advantages in bed. The right dirty word in an ear could ding every bell or cool ardor in a flash. Tickling could be as erotic as sucking. Desire had a particular scent and sound as it ratcheted up or down. But everything seemed like discovery with Stiles. He started with the volume up and just got louder and louder. The best porn paled in comparison as far as Derek was concerned, because porn wasn’t interactive. Werewolves weren't just about visuals. They craved full sensory immersion. Stiles delivered. Foreplay with Stiles was like being held under until you were ready to black out. He was kinetic. And that suited Derek to the bone because, when it came to sex, Derek loved enthusiasm.

Before tonight he thought he’d seen plenty of it. He considered himself well rounded in his experience. He'd certainly scored more often than other emotionally damaged loners. Women flocked to him for some inexplicable reason and, from time to time, he took them up on their offers. Early on, he'd taken Peter's advice about getting the lady off first and it had resulted in plenty of repeat business. Multiple orgasms pleased everyone. He'd bedded the best, easy lay in his college. An intercollegiate gymnast with a hormonal imbalance, she'd squirted and screamed so convincingly he'd come back to her nightly for two solid weeks. But, eventually, he'd discerned a pattern in her responses and moved on to less jaded partners. Except for that frat boy blow job, he’d never tried guys, but he found it hard to believe they were all like this.

He was a guy, after all. And not exactly stoic in the sheets. But he’d never imagined anything like Stiles. They were going to need soundproofing on the house. Most people kept something in reserve, even during the raunchiest sex, they wore masks to protect their fragile egos. Stiles lacked artifice and filters. Derek had always known this on some level, but he'd never considered what it would be like in bed. It left him reeling, physically and emotionally. Jennifer Blake had seemed easy and endearingly enthusiastic. Kate scratched and bit like a fetish-driven animal once she'd reeled him into her net. He’d needed handcuffs to control her. Stiles was a different kind of animal. The kind you would never restrain.

Derek finally tired of the shirt, peeled it off and cast is aside. Sucking on Stiles nipples produced a rolling undulation. He went boneless, collapsing to the bed. Derek stroked him with flat palms, as if he could sooth the ocean waves. As they kissed Stiles seemed to become double-jointed, his hips and shoulders and ribcage rocked in opposition to one another. Derek sucked along his ribs, savoring the pure reactions, unadulterated give and take. Stiles didn't say much, which surprised Derek. It was as if all of his brain cells were occupied with feeling and reacting. When Derek pleased him the feedback was instantaneous. He arched into Derek’s hands and mouth. He whimpered and twitched. Every stuttering breath and skipping heartbeat pierced Derek’s skin. And within a few minutes, he’d forgotten why he ever wanted to go slow. All he wanted was more of this, every day, every night.

They crawled over one another. Shoved at one another emotionally. Hitting hard, like sumo wrestlers. As if they both wanted to overbalance and fall. Maybe throw the match. Derek knew his own mask had crumbled. He could hear the pleading notes in his voice. Filthy words mixed with poetic ones. About to crack, he rolled away from savaging Stiles’ neck and thrusting into his hips. Stiles came at him like a hungry lion. Derek held him at bay with a firm hand.

“Whoa. No. Br-Breather. T-tah-tell me what you like,” he panted, slithering up the bed until he was sitting against the headboard. “What do you think about? When you’re alone and hot like this?”

“I'm never hot like this,” Stiles said, trying to duck around his guard.

“Turned on, I mean.”

“Lydia.”

There was a limit to how much honesty one man should dish out. Derek grimaced. “Lydia? For fuck’s sake.”

“Sorry,” Stiles said, realizing his mistake.

He settled back on his haunches, which carried Derek’s gaze straight down, gliding from his belly button to his boxers. He stared at the wet marks and the activity under them. The outline of Stiles’ dick looked alarmingly large. And ready. It looked ready. Derek forced his line of sight up, until he was focused on Stiles' curious face. Those eyes were like a double shot of whiskey. They gave Derek heartburn.

“I asked.”

“I think about you, too. Both of you, sometimes. Together.”

“Both of us? Me and—Lydia Martin?”

“Don't judge. I was practically raised on Internet porn.”

“It’s like that?”

Stiles shivered a little as if suddenly chilled. He hugged himself, rubbing his arms, and looked away. He didn't want to talk about this, Derek could smell the reluctance radiating from him. What could be so embarrassing about it? Maybe he was just shy.

“It's okay,” Derek said.

“Sometimes. Sometimes, I pretend I’m you. And sometimes I’m her,” he said, on a rushed breath, ducking his chin, obviously uncomfortable.

“Ah…”

Derek leaned forward to touch his elbow. When Stiles glanced his way, he held his arms open, inviting him to snuggle. Stiles pounced. They wrapped around one another, shifting until they found a comfortably spooned position. Stiles slouched between his legs, slightly turned on his side. He pillowed his cheek on Derek's chest.

“That's not weird, right?”

“I doubt anyone else would say it. But, no…I don’t think it’s weird.”

Derek let his fingers trace along Stiles' shoulder, and then dropped to the firm, rounded buttocks, not so different really from any he'd caressed before. Hairless men and women were similar from behind. He wondered if he could just pretend, too. But when he snuffled Stiles’ hair for a bit, he doubted fantasy would work for him. He wanted who he wanted.

“So, if you are pretending to be Lydia, in this fantasy,” he said, between peppering kisses on all the exposed skin he could reach. “…then I would, essentially, be fucking you?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, his palm skimming up and down Derek’s forearm. “But just to be crystal clear about this, I don't want to be a girl. I just wonder sometimes, you know? What it's like for them. What they think about. What they feel. Lately, mostly, all I think about is you.”

“Show me?”

“Wha-what?”

“Show me what you do when you’re alone.”

“No. God. That is kinky.”

“I’ll show you what I do… what I think about, when I look at your picture.”

“You want to watch me jerk off? It's not pretty.”

The evident pulse in Stiles' throat told Derek he was tempted as well as appalled. Derek decided to push him a little. He slid one hand down his belly, easing under the elastic of his boxers. He stopped short when Stiles’ dick moved toward his fingers. Damn thing was alive. A trait he appreciated in his own cock, but not so much when one was coming at him. If only Stiles weren't so irresistibly sexy, they could just be friends who kissed a lot. But damn it all, he loved him, wanted him. And there was nothing platonic in the way he wanted him. Nothing even remotely civil. So, he needed to get used to the idea of man on man.

“Men do this. It was in the porn.”

“Porn,” Stiles said, gritting his teeth. His head did that side to side movement he'd patented, as if to say he couldn’t believe they were back to the porn again. Then, he bucked his hips and, with a startling suddenness, shoved down his boxers. His feet kicked them away.

“Okay. I suppose I start by thinking about the girl…you know? How soft they are? Breasts, lips, hair, perfume. Any of that do it for you? If not Lydia, how about…uhm…? I don’t know. Who would you like?” He tilted his head back to look at Derek.

Derek knew he was expecting some response, but he couldn't speak or breathe. There was a fuzzy silence. A static in Derek's ears, through the buzzing he heard Stiles say his name.

“Derek? Derek…? You’re staring.”

He was. He closed his eyes. But he could still see it. Dark curly hair and that smooth shaft with the pink mushroom cap. Stiles was uncut, gorgeous. Was there nothing flat out ugly about him? Seriously? It was fraying Derek's nerves. The cock was beautiful and terrifying. It was tapered and about eight inches, which was way too long for Derek’s peace of mind. He’d choke on it. And his ass wasn’t designed for…taking anything, let alone something eight, maybe nine, inches to the balls. Balls. Fuck. Fucking. That would be fucking him, only...no, it would not. Because he could never relax enough. Not in a million years. No.

“Derek? Snap out of it. You look like you’re about to faint.”

“It won’t fit,” he said.

“What?” Stiles followed his glance. “Oh, please. You could take me, easy. It’s nothing. I mean, it’s not nothing. It's mine and I like it. But…I’ve been in the locker room showers. And you,” he sighed. “Oh, my God!”

Propping up on an elbow, he shifted his position until he was able to run his hand along Derek’s cotton-swathed length. Gah. There's a wake up call. Like splashing a glass of cold water in his face. The caress broke through Derek's preoccupation with impossible dimensions, allowing him to focus on how much he liked being touched by Stiles. Rubbed. They could do that, at least. Mutual masturbation was a thing, right?After a few seconds he realized Stiles was still talking.

Derek tuned in in time to hear him say, “...some pipe on him, but you're a lot thicker. And not much shorter. And what about your vibrator?”

“My…? My what?”

“I’m almost the same size as your sex toy, right?”

“Stiles, I don’t have…toys. What are you talking about?”

“Yes, you do. I looked in your special drawer and you had this vibrator that...”

“For ladies. For—really? Really? You thought that was for me? And what were you doing snooping in my stuff?”

“I was looking for an address book, while you were gone?” After shooting Derek a sheepish look, Stiles cracked up. He covered his face with one hand and doubled over giggling. He bent until his head touched Derek's chest, his hair tickling him. “Sorry. Sorry,” he managed to gasp. “It just went so well with my picture.”

“It's not funny.”

Stiles sat up again. “It is so funny. Look at you. Your face, right now.”

“I’m going to use that vibrator on you in a minute.”

“Like that’s a punishment,” Stiles said, still grinning broadly. “I've been looking forward to that.” He sank back into Derek’s lap, shoulders shaking. “Okay. Stupid mating bond, getting you in this mess.”

He patted Derek's flank. Then, he wiped at his own eyes and tried to regain some composure. “That's enough, Stiles. Focus.” His hands explored the bed, until he found the lube. He tore open the package with his teeth and slicked his fingers, before addressing Derek again, “Who do you like? Name someone we both find sexy…like…Jennifer Lawrence. Oh, how about Shakira?”

Derek started again and exclaimed, “The Columbian Alpha?”

“No. The singer and coach from The Voice,” Stile said, but he arched his back and slithered around again to stare at Derek. His self-assurance vanished. “Wait? She is from Columbia. Shakira’s a werewolf?”

“A pretty powerful one. Have you seen her videos? That one with the horses?”

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles said. “Whenever. Wherever. Where she's crawling through the mud?”

“Wolves turn you on,” Derek said, with a teasing smirk.

“I'm not ashamed of that. I own it.”

“So...Shakira and I...?”

“You and Shakira on your hands and knees...I'm so there!”

Stiles bared his teeth and snarled. Holy fuck, that was hot. Not menacing in the slightest, but the impertinence of it lit Derek's fuse. He slid his arms under Stiles, lifting and positioning him. He shifted their hips until his hard-on nestled into the crack of Stiles' ass. It fit perfectly. It felt really good, too, like coming home. Yeah, he could screw Stiles and like it. And Stiles knew it, too. He wriggled, reveling in his power, as confident as any high end lap dancer. Derek should just put him on his knees and... Oh, fuck. No. Well, yes, later. They could do that. He might just get into that. But, right now, it was too much stimulation. Derek had to move. He wasn't going to pop first again. He couldn't believe he'd come so easily last time. He wasn't the teenager with the hair trigger orgasm. But, he, also, wasn't going to be able to take ass friction for much longer. Not in combination with Stiles mewling and the scent of their mutual arousal so pungent it was a flavor on Derek's tongue.

He spilled Stiles into the crook of one arm and hovered over him. It was a good position. It left Derek a free hand. And offered a great view. He could watch Stiles stroke himself and try to memorize the rhythm. He could help with the pumping, cup his balls or roll a thumb over his nipples. Derek cuddled closer as Stiles started to buck and moan. He smelled better than fresh venison. Derek sniffed his neck. He brought their mouths together, savoring the hungry response to his kisses. Stiles slipped him tongue and sucked back on his. Derek had hoped for more verbalizing of the fantasy, but Stiles had fallen into a daydream, his eyes glazing over, his breath catching. His thrashing grew so violent Derek had to scoot back a little. Nothing cooled ardor like a knee to the groin. But oh, how he wanted to be at the center of this storm, riding it out.

He started helping with the hand job, fisting around Stiles to free his fingers, hoping they would return the favor. Stiles didn't take the hint. One of his hands strayed to Derek's inner thigh. The other stayed on task, guiding Derek through the motions, their fingers intertwining. Derek shrugged off his disappointment. Time enough for his turn later. He thought about going down, sucking on Stiles, making him cry out and come. Was it worth a black eye? If one of those knees clocked him, it would ruin the mood. Giving Stiles head was going to be like wrestling a giant squid into a row boat. Maybe they would have to restrain him, just a little. He liked a quicker pulse than Derek did, but the smooth slide of foreskin was familiar. Derek started to enjoy the process. He murmured wicked encouragements, promising to do so many things later, if Stiles would come for him now.

“You want me to blow you? Screw you? Fuck you 'til you come all over me?”

When Stiles broke, he grabbed Derek's wrist in a vice-like grip and gave voice to a peculiar noise. The high pitched, visceral cry stiffened the hair on Derek's arms. Like a dog whistle, it pierced him. His attention focused to a narrow beam on Stiles. Stiles climaxing with his entire being. His head slammed backward. His shoulders lifted off the bed. His heels dug in, but slid without purchase. His free hand clutched at anything and everything. Torso twisting, pelvis thumping, he flailed like an animal caught in a snare. One of his hands settled on Derek's shoulder, fingertips clawing into his skin. Every muscle in Stiles' body clenched as spurts of white laced across his belly.

Derek shivered. He had once heard a rabbit keen like that. His teeth had closed on its throat, aborting a long bound, and it had strained the boundary of its flesh as it tried to escape him. The rabbit's life force sprang free of his killing snap. And it seemed the same way now with Stiles. Holding on to him, Derek felt Stiles’ breech the confines of his flesh. His breathing stopped, his heart stilled and his soul left his quaking body. For a split second, it yanked at some invisible tether, before crashing back down into him. He sighed deeply as he went limp.

Eyes closed, mouth slack, Stiles lay boneless as death in Derek's arms. Finished. Spent. Only a slight shivering and his desperate gasps marked him as a living being. Reflexively, Derek put a hand on him, checking for a fluttering pulse. He wanted to feel the air bellowing in and out, even though he could clearly hear Stiles breathing. The rapid heartbeat seemed like a separate creature, frantically bouncing around inside Derek's head. They both gulped down air. Stiles curled his knees up, becoming smaller, sheltering in Derek's embrace. He panted spent breath into Derek's face. The room reeked of sex and Stiles. He'd taken over, so this was no longer Derek's place alone.

The room belonged to the hammering pulse and the keening release. Derek's ears still rang. His head swam, like he'd been drinking. He'd gotten drunk on Stiles. He coursed splayed fingers over Stiles' pliant stomach, gathering up gummy, slick fluid. His wolf self wanted to roll in it, wanted to rub it all over his body. He wiped the wet hand down his throat. Then, he shoved down his own boxers and wrapped the coated fingers around his cock. It wept in response as he pumped Stiles along it. Derek offered it his sympathies.

“Fuck,” he said on a soft groan. And then, because it could stand repeating, he repeated himself, “Fuck. I'm going to jail.”

Stiles cracked an eye open. He tried to speak, but only managed a gurgle. Noting Derek edging away from him Stiles flopped over to his side. He grunted with the effort. The pearl-chain of semen dripped down his belly and he absently rubbed it into his skin. The sexy fucker. A languid sigh and stretch proved almost too much for Derek. He scooted sideways, needing room. But, when Stiles spoke, it was obvious he had no idea what sort of riot he was causing.

“Was it really bad?”

Derek nodded, squeezing his eyes closed and biting down on his lip. He tried to think of anything beyond his next orgasm, but his mind kept defaulting back to sex. It refused to think about anything but Stiles naked beside him or under him. Inside him. He wanted to be fucked so badly, he didn't care how much it hurt. He was going to take Stiles down, any minute now. They weren't going to make it to his eighteenth birthday. There was no way they were going to dance around penetration for another six months. Or...six days. First, he'd use his vibrator. Then, his fingers and his tongue. And then he was going to bury his dick in Stiles, ride him hard. After that, he didn't care. He'd let Stiles do everything to him, anything he wanted to do.

For the first time, Derek reveled in the bond's demands. Hell, yes, he was ready. He might hate it. He shook his head. No. He absolutely wouldn't hate it. He'd love it, because it would involve Stiles having some kind of erotic fit. Stiles with no filter and no boundaries and no idea how much Derek wanted to fuck him.

“Bad!” he said. “So bad.” He put his hands over his face and immediately regretted it. The scent of Stiles was all over his fingers. He let them fall away into his lap.

“I know. I told you,” Stiles said. “It's so embarrassing. I think that's why I never felt comfortable...with anyone else. The noise. The spastic flail. My brain just shuts down. I can’t even jerk off in the shower when my father’s in the house. I used to go out into the woods.”

Oh, Fuck. No. He was in the woods doing that? When? Where? How often? I need details, baby. Were you near my house?

“I have to turn on loud music or the neighbors call the cops. It sucks.”

What if someone has already called the cops? Shit. There could be a knock on the door any minute and then Derek would have to kill a deputy.

“Your father is going to shoot me. He's going to shoot me and drag me to jail.”

“Are we back on this again? Look, Derek, maybe we shouldn't tell my dad everything about our sex life.”

Their sex life. They had a sex life. He and Stiles had a sex life. Imagine that. And it was going to be a raunchy, wild, no-holds barred one. Which was just amazing. Seeing Stiles fumbling for understanding, Derek gave him a pained little smile.

“He's going to know, Stiles. Because I'm going to do so many filthy, illegal things to you that you won't be able to crawl home.”

Stiles stiffened, edging away. Derek smiled and let his eyes flash blue as he bared his canines. The quirk of a brow confirmed his intent. He cracked the tension from his neck as Stiles' gaze dropped like a stone. When Derek's cock twitched, Stiles hissed in sudden comprehension and gave a little crinkly nosed wince. That's right, Stiles, be careful what you ask for.

“Right,” Stiles said, dragging the word out as if stalling for time. “He'll be able to tell...because...I'm gonna...feel it?” Tongue sampling the sharp points on his teeth, Derek nodded along with him. Stiles recoiled as if he’d just seen something gruesome. “We should get you a cold shower.”

“You should get me something,” Derek snarled, snatching him back by an arm.

Claws out, he dragged Stiles up his body, enjoying how the slack-muscles yielded to his demand. Stiles put up no resistance. He splayed over Derek, draping across his chest like a blanket. He smelled sinful. It was easy to imagine being buried balls deep in such pliable flesh. Derek knew he could fuck Stiles like this, without a qualm. His animal could take Stiles after he’d climaxed, while he was giddy on his own release, Derek could own him. Just fill him and come inside him and leave him sated again. Stiles steeped in his afterglow was no different than any other lover, though. He wasn't effeminate, but he was beautiful and fragrant. Warm. His. All his, every inch of him. Derek knew he had to be gentle with him. As if sensing the direction of Derek's thoughts, Stiles remained still. Neither of them dared move.

But, as soon as Derek's claws retracted, Stiles found some inner reserve of cocky. He lifted up on his elbows to stare down into Derek’s face. Derek tried to look harmless, even as his blood pressure spiked again. It must have worked, because Stiles became bolder. Biting his lower lip, he let his sight-line drift to Derek’s mouth.

“Jail’s not so bad,” he said. “We could arrange conjugal visits.”

“Pretty sure your dad won’t allow those.”

“Or, I could get a job on the inside,” Stile said, pushing to his knees as Derek's grip slackened. “Any prison guard fantasies, Derek? Handcuffs. Solitary. Put you in the hole.”

Derek lunged toward him and seized his upper arms. “Or you could suck me off with that smart mouth, before I screw you wide open.”

“Blow job? Sure,” Stiles said, heart banging in panic.

“It’s not multiple choice.”

Stiles placed a hand against his chest, a flat palm of restraint over his heart. It was all Derek needed, enough to stop himself from shifting. He leashed the beast. And managed to gather his composure a few millimeters short of a kiss that was sure to be the coup de gras. A blow job might take the edge off. He sighed and forced his fingers to relax. Leaning back, he nodded his agreement.

“Yeah? Yes.”

Stiles slithered down him. They both puffed out pent breath. Derek did his best to corral his darker impulses. He didn't want to throw down with Stiles. He loved Stiles and would never intentionally hurt him. It had to be the bond, making him this frantic. He’d never been like this with other partners. He’d been vocal, yes, but not violently passionate. The bond came from the wolf, but Derek didn’t want to rely on it. They didn’t need it, because they were building something real. There was no place for savage assault in a human relationship. He was going to have sex with Stiles some day, if not tonight. And, they would both be happy with each step they took forward.

The blow job took his mind off attacking, but it wasn’t good. It bordered on awful. Unlike that long ago frat-boy, Stiles obviously had no idea what he was doing. He gagged when he should have been sucking. He petted instead of tugged. Derek lifted his head to glare at him. He wasn’t sure he could take the tickling and tentative licks. Head like this was more distracting than thrilling. But that mouth was still on him, tongue eager, lips soft and wet. And the hands stroked evenly, except that Stiles kept clawing along Derek’s thigh and rubbing his belly.

“You've seen this done, right?” he finally asked. “In porn?”

Stiles lifted his head. He tried to speak and sputtered, sticking out his tongue. He clawed a finger down it. Drool trickled over Derek's balls. Stiles wiped them off and Derek closed his eyes, groaning.

“Sorry. Hair.”

“God, Stiles. You're killing me.”

With a little direction, he began to relate the process to a hand-job, something he’d obviously practiced.
When he gave his mouth a rest and fisted firmly up and down, Derek showered him with praise. Stiles took the hint. He added his mouth to the mix again, following the lead of his fingers. Derek focused on gently rocking his hips and cooing encouragement. In his mind he could hear the Sex and Candy song. This time it reminded him of the beach and sweet kisses and cuddling, Stiles on top of him. Stiles squirming and licking. Stiles sucking. Oh, yeah. He was going to come. He could feel the tension building, drawing his muscles taut.

“Oh, yes,” he breathed. “Stiles, you hot little… That mouth. Fuck. Just like that.”

So, of course, Stiles stopped sucking. That was wrong of him. He should be punished for that, swatted or spanked. Derek couldn't help how his dick throbbed when he thought about his palm smacking those elevated buttocks, not hard, just enough to let him know not to tease. Later, he'd teach him how to really get the job done. Stiles was going to be the best cocksucker. In a few months he'd be amazing.

“What, Derek? This?” Stiles said. He lapped slippery pre-cum from Derek's tip, and then dragged out a slow lick up his length. “Or this?” he said, enveloping him completely in a deep throated humming.

Derek curled up to hold his head steady. His fingers caught in thick hair. “You love it, don’t you? Driving me crazy?”

Tongue swirling over the head of his cock was his only answer. But he didn’t need anything more than that. That was enough. Derek flopped back into the pillows. Stiles fumbled across his chest, found and pinched a nipple, twisting it as he sucked in his cheeks. He groaned along Derek's length. The buzz and press of those full, wet lips shoved Derek over into blacked out bliss. He shot off like a rocket launch. His claws came out, again, tearing at the bedding. He thrust into that sweet mouth, his hips pumped up and down, came for a man. Came hard, draining into Stiles and choking him, heedless of his gag reflex. Far from being a horrible experience, Derek couldn’t wait to do it again. Stiles coughed, his eyes streaming. Derek caressed his shoulder. Stiles sputtered and struggled with the spurts into his throat. But he didn’t pull back. He swallowed.

“Don’t,” Derek said, but it was too late. “Oh, crap.”

Stiles came up for air, phlegm-husky as he said, “Gah-What?”

“Stiles…fuck! Sorry. I forgot...forgot to tell you. Not to swallow. Semen is like saliva.”

Why hadn’t he pulled out? He always pulled out. Or wore a condom. And he warned them not to swallow even a drop. Kate had spit his pre-cum out like poison, rinsing her mouth with a shot of whiskey. Had he been that sure he wouldn’t climax? Or had he just wanted Stiles linked to him, like a pack member? He’d never wanted anyone in his head before. He'd never longed to be known like that. It was too much, too intimate. But, now that it was happening, a part of him wanted to know Stiles, to share every feeling with him as he climaxed.

“Like the bite?”

“No, well, yeah,” Derek fought for air and coherency. “It’s not enough to turn you, not one shot. Even if I were an Alpha it would take a couple hits. But it links us for a few minutes. Let's us share feelings and memories.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m getting that,” Stiles said. “Wow! You liked the blow job, even though it was the worst ever.”

Derek laughed, despite his conflicted feelings. “I did.”

“MMmmm,” Stiles sighed, snuggling close. “This is great. I could get used to this. It’s cozy. I’m me and you. And you want to get all up inside of me. Can you feel me, too?”

“Yeah. I feel you, you smug bastard.”

“I got you off, Buddy. I deserve some confetti and champagne.”

“Yeah. But the sharing isn’t always pleasant. There's no off switch. And it might happen during sex, too.”

“One more reason to go bareback,” Stiles murmured and immediately picked up on Derek’s fears and insecurities. They created a twitchy feedback loop of mutual anxiety. “Oh, Derek! Shhhh! I always over share. We can take it slow.”

“Sorry, I just...I never share.”

“I promise you’re going to like everything, when you're ready.”

“I can't believe I let you in my head,” Derek said, though the link felt closer to his heart.

“You're going to let me in everywhere. Nothing off limits.”

Somehow, while linked to Stiles and soothed by his happy anticipation, that possibility didn’t seem as scary as it had before they were attuned. Maybe the link had some uses.

“I’ll start counting the hours,” Derek said, giving him a squeeze.

THE END