The first thing Stiles says when he sits down at the negotiation table--Stiles himself, not Lydia, who's taken to being his agent like she was born to it, not David Whittemore, who Lydia somehow convinced to serve as Stiles' lawyer--the first thing he says is, "Listen. I'm way honored you drafted me, and I want to be worthy of the faith you placed in me. I get that I'm an unknown quantity here, and I don't want you to regret taking the chance.
"Thing is, I'm bisexual. I fought a lot of shit to get out of the closet, and I'm not going back in for anyone or anything, no matter how much money you offer. I'm in a committed relationship with a guy who is, literally, the center of my world, so you won't have to worry about me, like, being slutty at a gay bar or picking up rent boys or that kind of shit, so that's good, right? On the other hand, our level of commitment means you will handle Danny like you handle any other wife or girlfriend of a team member--not at all, basically. No gag orders on what I can say about him in interviews. No restrictions about what he can say to the press. Anything you do for a wife or girlfriend, you do for him, and anything you wouldn't do to one of them, you don't do to him. If that's a problem, well, that's a shame, but at least I got to see your fancy conference room."
The owners laugh uncertainly, but he's not kidding. At all. The more conservative owners try to sneak some insidious shit into the contract. Every time, Stiles and Lydia walk away. Stand up and walk away from the table. After three repetitions of this--and always with extra money tacked on, like some kind of fucking test, they realize Stiles doesn't care. He'll walk away from a five-year, fifteen-million-dollar contract with the San Francisco Giants in a heartbeat, rather than give up Danny or spend a single second lying about their relationship.
Which is how Stiles Stilinski, at age 18, becomes the first player in the history of major league baseball to be openly queer and in a same-sex relationship at the time of signing. The press writes tens of thousands of words about it and devotes hour upon hour of broadcast time to commentary and analysis. The San Francisco Board of Governors renames a couple blocks of a street in the Castro "Stilinski Way." It's a historic moment. Stiles doesn't give a shit.
Stiles has difficulty giving a shit about most things these days. He'd worry about that--if he could find it in himself to give a shit. You see the difficulty.
At least he swings a mean baseball bat.
* * *
About a month after they defeated the Darach and Derek and Cora skipped town, Stiles started taking Danny to the batting cages at the park to blow off steam. Well, he said it was to blow off steam, and it was. But he also wanted to keep his arm and his aim strong in case another threat presented itself. Given that Beacon Hills was, once again, a fucking beacon, it seemed like a safe bet. He may not have had the best luck with the bat as a weapon, but he turned out to be pretty awesome at hitting baseballs with it.
They'd been at it for an hour, one day a couple months in, when Stiles realized they were being watched. Not at the same level or intensity of creepiness as any of their usual lurker acquaintances (they needed better friends), but more than casual interest. Stiles tapped his bat against the ground as he looked at the guy. Early 40s, he guessed, white, with brown eyes and sandy brown hair graying at the temples. "Help you with something, dude?" Stiles asked.
The guy walked right up to Stiles' cage. In his cage, Danny tensed, ready to spring at the first sign of trouble. "Please tell me you're on the BHHS baseball team," the guy begged.
Stiles narrowed his eyes. Danny took a step closer. "Who's asking?" Stiles asked.
"Aaron Frankmont. The new baseball coach. What position you play?"
Stiles blinked at him. The pitching/catching joke was on the tip of his tongue, but he wasn't sure enough of his relationship with Danny (wasn't sure what kind of relationship it was) for that level of innuendo, so he said only,"I've never played an organized game of baseball in my life."
Frankmont stared at him. "Are you fucking kidding me? Where the fuck did that swing come from?"
Stiles appreciated the guy's profanity. He shrugged and said, "Necessity is the mother of baseball." Danny snickered.
Frankmont pulled a creased business card from his jacket pocket. "Tryouts in early March. Stop by at the end of February; I'll find you a position and show you the ropes. You'll save my career."
Stiles took the card. "Maybe," was all the answer he would give.
"Think you'll do it?" Danny asked him later, as they walked through the park toward the Yaris.
Stiles shrugged. "Maybe? I mean, it might..." He shook his head.
"I know you're thinking about quitting lacrosse," Danny said softly. Their toes scuffed through the grass and their shoulders bumped, but they didn't look at each other. "We'll miss you, but I get it."
"You'll miss me, and Scott and Isaac will, but the game won't. And I--" He rubbed the back of his neck. "Do you know the reason I went out for lacrosse in the first place? I shouldn't tell you this. I'd heard Jackson was trying out, and I knew he'd make the team. I thought, if I made it, too, Lydia would come to the games to watch Jackson--"
"And end up blown away by your hotness and talent." Danny laughed and nudged him. "I remember that phase of the Lydia Martin ten-year plan."
Stiles laughed ruefully and shot Danny a side-eyed glance. "Have I apologized lately for my decade of idiocy?"
A smile curled the corners of Danny's lips, small and private, like maybe Stiles wasn't supposed to see. "I'm always willing to hear it again."
Stiles didn't know what was going on between them. Danny's relationship with Ethan had seemed solid after the big werewolf reveal but hadn't been able to survive Danny coming to fully understand Ethan's role in everything. And Derek's departure had smashed a fragile hope that had been building for him and Stiles. When everyone retreated to their corners to lick wounds literal and metaphorical after the big showdown, Stiles and Danny retreated together. Neither of them knew why, or where this was going. If they sometimes wondered whether they were using each other out of loneliness, their tacit agreement was so fucking what if we are? There were worse coping mechanisms.
"I'm sorry I spent eight years pining over the unattainable Lydia Martin instead of unattainable you."
With a soft laugh, Danny stopped walking and caught Stiles' hand, pulling Stiles around to face him. "I'm not unattainable," he murmured. "Not for you." He tugged, and Stiles bridged the last inches between them, his lips soft and surprisingly gentle against Danny's.
When they separated, Stiles sighed and rested his forehead against Danny's, bringing his free hand to the nape of Danny's neck, fingers twisting in his hair. "It feels stupid, you know? After everything that's happened, everyone we've lost, and who the fuck knows what's coming next--worrying about baseball seems--"
"Hey," Danny said softly. "Whatever we've been through, we're 16. We're allowed to think about things normal 16-year-olds think about."
"I don't know what things those are," Stiles admitted with a snuffle.
Danny smiled. "Grades. Sports. Boyfriends."
Stiles smiled back hesitantly. "Boyfriends, huh?" He shuffled closer.
"Maybe just one boyfriend," Danny conceded, wrapping an arm around Stiles' waist. "Wouldn't want you overwhelmed."
Stiles laughed against Danny's lips as they kissed again. Shit, when was the last time I laughed? Stiles closed his eyes and threw himself into the kiss, and he refused to think about it.
* * *
In the WAG section behind home plate (Stiles says they can't call it that anymore, as Danny is neither wife nor girlfriend, but one guy isn't going to change decades of tradition), everyone loves Danny, and he loves being part of a group of people who welcome him completely without needing him and Stiles to save them from supernatural death threats. There's just one sticky point: he knows people are looking at him and wondering what the hell he's doing with Stiles.
Everyone respects Stiles, because his RBI is off the fucking charts, he's the Giants' best catcher in a decade, and he's almost certain to be Rookie of the Year. But no one likes him. They're too busy being fucking terrified of him for that.
Journalists call Stiles "aloof". The other players and their families tend to go with "icy". He's pretty sure Stiles has even been called psychotic, once or twice. Danny isn't about to tell anyone how hard Stiles has to fight to keep that from beingtrue.
On the upside, anyone with an antigay opinion keeps it to themselves. Stiles' second week on the team, one of the reserve pitchers made a slur about taking it up the ass, and Stiles slammed him into a locker. In a way that ended the guy's season.
Everyone keeps their mouths shut now.
Danny's sick of the pitying looks. He knows a lot of the wives suspect Stiles of abusing him. He can't reassure them without explaining the way Stiles shakes himself to sleep each night in Danny's arms; quarterly rituals, bloody and draining, that are supposed to hold the darkness at bay but don't do much these days beyond leave everyone involved too exhausted to move for three days; a power that can heedlessly demand a hideous sacrifice from three teenagers and leave madness and death in its wake.
Things the average American does not want to know are lurking in their backyards.
* * *
"You need to stop seeing Danny."
Stiles' pencil, which had been floating in the air, clattered to the table with a clang. "No," Stiles said flatly. He pushed against the rising tide of panic inside. "And fuck you for suggesting it."
"I met him yesterday," Deaton said, giving Stiles one of his patented creepy blank stares. "At your game. You were quite good, by the way."
"Of course I was," he snapped. "I'm fucking awesome at it." Coach Frankmont had wanted Stiles for his batting, but it turned out he was a fucking gifted catcher. He recognized patterns, memorized and retained information on the strengths and weaknesses of a hundred batters, saw not just to the end of the inning but to the end of the game. And, unlike in pack matters, the other players listened to him. They didn't mind that most of them had called the diamond home since little league t-ball and he was brand new to the whole thing; they appreciated someone who knew what he was doing. "What's that got to do with Danny?"
Deaton's eyes softened, and he did that weird hand-folding thing that meant he wanted to touch Stiles' hand. Stiles wished he would. Skin contact helped push back the darkness. "He's a witch, Stiles."
Stiles' vision swarmed with spots for a second, but he pushed it down. "I don't care."
"A dormant, untrained witch can be a significant danger to a spark," Deaton said implacably.
"Then wake up his power and train him," Stiles shot back, voice heavy with menace. He understood that his level of attachment to Danny was unhealthy. He'd told himself, a time or two, that he should back off. Need Danny less. Give the guy room to breathe. But someone threatening to separate them shot icy bolts of fear through Stiles' heart, showing his big talk of independence for the lie it was. "Do you have any fucking idea what it's like in here?" He waved at his head and his heart. "Most days, Danny and the baseball team are the only things standing between me and either a killing spree or a psychotic break. If you think I'm giving him up after he's saved my life every day for the past five months--"
"Bring him to me," Deaton said, and Stiles felt smug that his skin looked ashen. Like he hadn't realized how bad things had gotten for Stiles. "I can't make any promises."
"We're staying together," Stiles said. "That's my promise."
Deaton kept his expression blank as he came around the desk toward Danny the next day, hand outstretched. Stiles was used to the guy's mysteriousness, but he could tell it was freaking Danny out. "Mr. Mahealani," he said.
"Dr. Deaton," Danny said. Took the offered hand.
And was on the floor, screaming in agony, in an instant.
"What the fuck!" Stiles tried to launch himself at them, but he slammed against a barrier that stopped him as utterly as mountain ash stopped a werewolf. "Danny!"
"Find your power, Mr. Mahealani," Deaton said, expression never faltering. "Unlock it, and the pain will be gone."
"Danny!" Stiles said again, brokenly, hands scrabbling against the invisible barrier as though he could rip it down. "God damn it, Deaton, he doesn't know this shit. You can't tell him to--"
With a gasping sob that took ten years off Stiles' life, Danny pushed his hand hard against Deaton's, bending the asshole's elbow at a severely unnatural angle. Deaton winced, and his eyes watered, but he looked impressed. Danny shouted in some non-English language that Stiles didn't recognize. The air around his arm glowed blue-green for an instant. Stiles' ears filled with a sound like the roar of a typhoon. Deaton flew across the room and hit the wall with a muted thud.
Everything fell silent.
The second Stiles could move, could hear, he was on his knees at Danny's side, running his hands over his arms, his chest, anywhere he could reach, spewing nonsense questions and useless apologies. Danny looked up at him, his eyes flaring the blue-green he'd seen before, like the power of the entire fucking ocean was in them. Then Danny gasped and clutched at Stiles, burying his face in Stiles' chest, and Stiles felt a rush of fury so intense he scared himself. This was not who Danny was. Danny Mahealani didn't tremble. Didn't fucking hide.
As gently as he could, he got them to their feet and disentangled Danny from around him. Then he turned on Deaton, stalking across the office with a grace born of protective rage. "What. did. you. do?"
Deaton brushed himself off easily, as if people used magic to throw him across his office every day. Stiles wouldn't be surprised if they did. If he did something to deserve it every goddamn day. "What had to be done."
Stiles opened his mouth to call bullshit, but Danny beat him to it. "Lie," he spit out, so unlike the Danny Stiles knew, the one he was falling in love with, was maybe in love with already. The darkness took another bite of Stiles' heart. "I now know three other ways you could've done that. Nicer ways." He cocked his head like he was reading the air. "I think I know a lot of things now that you didn't mean me to. So, thanks for that."
Deaton's eyelids fluttered, his only tell, but more than enough for Stiles. "I couldn't use those on you. Not with you bound to a spark." Danny and Stiles stared at each other, eyes wide. Deaton sat behind his desk and motioned them toward the chairs across from him.
They looked at each other for a second, Stiles trying to convey that he'd leave in a heartbeat if Danny wanted. Danny smiled in gratitude but slid into a chair. Stiles dropped less gracefully beside him and reached for his hand. They twined their fingers together and stared at Deaton. "Talk," Stiles said tersely.
"What's the difference between a witch and a spark?" Deaton asked.
"A witch has magic within but needs a vessel to put their magic into to use it," Stiles recited. "Sparks have no magic of their own but can pull it from anywhere it exists and use it."
"You can imagine, then, why it's dangerous for a witch and a spark to be heart-bound to each other."
"It sounds perfect," Danny retorted. "Like we'd make each other safer."
Deaton steepled his fingers. "Say more."
"I...I don't know," Danny said, slumping. "It sounded right."
"Unfortunately," Deaton said, "it's not. The closer you two are, the easier it becomes for you to abuse your knowledge of each other. You could pour so much magic into Stiles that he goes into complete system failure, ending in a permanent vegetative state or death. Stiles, you could drain so much magic from Danny that he loses it all--not just his ability to use it, but his actual source of it, which would kill him."
"Holy shit," Stiles muttered, scrubbing his hand over his face.
"Could," Danny repeated.
Deaton raised an eyebrow at him. "I beg your pardon?"
"I could overload Stiles. He could drain my source. Not will. We can handle it."
"Maybe two adults with their powers under control," Deaton said. "You're teenagers. Your abilities haven't settled. Danny, you're not even trained."
"Then train him, for God's sake!" Stiles flapped his free hand around.
"Not him," Danny said. He rubbed his hand where he'd touched Deaton's, and Stiles saw the new pattern of silvery swirls, looking like old scars, that now ran up the side from the base of his palm to the tip of his pinkie. Danny glared at Deaton. "I don't trust you." He never had; Danny held Deaton largely responsible for Stiles' struggle against the darkness, for not warning him that, because of his spark, it would be harder for him than for Allison and Scott. For not admitting it would keep getting worse for Stiles.
Deaton shrugged, unoffended. "Marin could do it."
"I'm not sure that's better," Stiles said.
"She's Mr. Mahealani's only alternative."
Stiles looked at Danny. "It's your choice," he said. "She's his sister, and she was Deucalion's emissary. Keep that in mind when you decide how much you want to trust her."
"I must also point out, Stiles, that the training for this role is incompatible with emissary training."
Stiles snorted. "I'm not going to be an emissary. There's no real pack anymore. Nobody to emissary for. Scott won't--he's my bro, but he doesn't listen."
"To you?" Deaton asked.
"What happens if I decide not to be trained at all?" Danny asked.
Deaton folded his hands on the desktop. "If you lived anywhere else and were dating anyone else, your magic would atrophy and fade from lack of use. Given conditions in Beacon Hills of late, and your connection to Stiles, that is unsafe for everyone."
"Fine," Danny said, "call your sister."
(Two weeks later, after his first lesson with Marin, Danny walked into the Stilinskis' living room, dropped his backpack on the couch beside Stiles, and straddled Stiles' lap. "Deaton's full of crap," he announced as he slid his hands up Stiles' chest. "Witches and sparks have been pairing up for centuries."
Stiles tossed his anatomy notebook aside. His eyes sparkled, and he rested his hands on Danny's hips. "I knew he made up most of the crap that came out of his mouth."
"Usually they're just working partnerships, but a coven with a member who's heart-bound to a spark considers itself extra lucky." They shuddered at 'heart-bound,' a ridiculous phrase they weren't ready to apply to themselves. "I was right: working together will keep us safer--protects our magic from unprincipled assholes. Marin gave me this--" He leaned over to his backpack with a lot of unnecessary hip wriggle, grinning at Stiles' moan. "It's a grimoire for sparks and witches who work together. There's a whole chapter for couples."
"Yeah?" Stiles danced nimble fingers over the worn leather cover, over Danny's hands where they rested on it.
"Some of them are really useful. The rest are an excuse for kinky magic sex."
Stiles rolled his hips. "Let's do those first.")
* * *
"Are you sure you don't need me to stay?" Scott asks for what feels like the hundredth time.
"Scott," Danny says, crossing his arms, "it's fine." They wince, because of course it's not fine; it's as far from fine as can be, but Scott can't do anything about it. "Go home; give my love to Isaac and Allison; get some sleep." 'My' love. Never 'ours', anymore.
They have this huge house, Stiles and Danny, because they have an embarrassing amount of money and can only spend so much on magical supplies before dangerous people get curious about why. They paid off their parents' mortgages, bought Danny a Tesla Model S and put so much work into the Jeep that Danny's not sure it counts as the same car anymore. Then they bought a three-bedroom condo in Beacon Hills and an eight-bedroom house in San Mateo, which has become the pack-house-away-from-home. Insomuch as the pack exists these days. Scott, Allison, and Isaac form the core of what's left. Danny and Stiles technically belong, though between Danny's class schedule and Stiles' game schedule, their membership's mostly honorary. Lydia's shocked them by turning her back on the supernatural and pretending she's an ordinary major league agent whose perfectly ordinary client doesn't disappear a few times a season to chase folkloric beasties and keep an ancient darkness from consuming his soul, and who isn't herself preternaturally predisposed to know when death was coming. It's not working well.
And Jackson. Jackson had been doing well in the Mayfair pack, adjusting to being an American werewolf in a British pack, flirting with the Alpha's granddaughter and taking a lot of parasol blows to the shoulder for his efforts. But one of London's rogue vampires took a disliking to him, and in the heat of the moment Jackson let his old arrogance overcome his hard-won new control. Stiles took Danny to visit the grave last winter, during the off-season. It was the swan song of Stiles' empathy.
The twins slunk off to parts unknown after their dual dumpings by Danny and Lydia; Derek and Cora stayed in New York; and Peter, well. Placing the man's death in the hands of someone struggling with soul-crushing darkness wasn't their finest hour, but when the time came, only Stiles was available to put the knife in. And flip the switch. And burn the body.
Scott visits once a month like clockwork. He refuses to give up on Stiles, though sometimes Danny wishes he would. Stiles used to be able to keep a lid on his resentment toward Scott and Allison's ability to combat the darkness. Over the past few months, his control's slipped, and Scott's visits have degraded into passive-aggressive sniping. Allison stopped coming three months ago, unable to handle Stiles' vitriol. Tonight, Stiles locked himself in the bedroom when Scott arrived, his stony silence more terrifying than the vilest of his insults.
Scott looks at Danny with deep concern in his dark eyes. "He's worse, isn't he?"
Danny stares at him. Scott McCall, ladies and gentlemen: true alpha, concerned best friend, oblivious human being, "Of course he's worse," Danny says. "He's worse every time you see him."
"I didn't think it was--"
"Allison stopped coming, Scott. The woman whose family disowned her because she was too kind to be a hunter."
Scott doesn't flash his red eyes, but he stands straighter, feet apart. "What are you doing about it?"
Oh, Danny is done. One thousand percent done with this conversation. He raises the silencing wards without thinking. He doesn't shout--he never shouts--but the growing roar of magic around them conveys his ire well. "I'm doing what I've been doing every day for the last two years. I'm learning a fifth dead language so I can read another ancient grimoire that might give me some shred of hope. I'm conducting quarterly rituals where I touch Stiles' beating heart with my bare fucking hands. I'm holding him every night while he loses to an enemy I can't see, let alone fight." Danny's magic swirls around him, channeling out through his focusing necklace and concentrated by fury; he doesn't try to rein it in. "What are you doing, Scott? You're here once a month, talking about how wonderful your life is, and you never ask how he's doing. Never offer to help us."
"He told me not to meddle!" Scott shouts to be heard above the crackling magic.
Everything looks watery. Danny wonders what color his eyes are. "Your best friend is dying." He points a shaking finger at the closed bedroom door. "The man I love is dying. Either do something useful or get the fuck out of my house."
And it rains. Right there in the foyer of Stiles and Danny's five-million-dollar house, every droplet of water within the property lines condenses and falls on Alpha McCall's head. Danny flings a hand toward the door so it stands open. He turns on his heel and stalks away, leaving Scott bewildered and bedraggled beneath his rain cloud.
After Scott leaves, Danny undoes the water damage in the foyer and slips into the bedroom. He leans against the door, studying Stiles where he lays curled in on himself on the bed. He's awake, and the tense lines of his body make Danny ache for him. Danny sags, hand flexing around the doorknob. He's made a lot of promises to Stiles, mostly in the silence of his mind, but he's tired. They both are.
"Danny?" Stiles murmurs.
"I'm here," he answers, uselessly, making his way to the bed.
"Is Scott gone?"
"Just left." He climbs onto the bed and lays facing Stiles.
"I'm sorry," Stiles says brokenly. "I should've--"
"Shh," Danny says, wrapping his hand around Stiles' where they clench against his chest. "He understands, Stiles." Which of course he doesn't, but Stiles needs to believe he does.
"Thank you," Stiles says. "I wouldn't have made it through any of this without you. Thank you for staying. Thank you for never--" He can't finish, but Danny knows he's thinking of Derek and Scott and even the sheriff, of trusts shattered in a thousand unintentional, irrevocable ways.
Danny kisses the top of Stiles' head. "No place I'd rather be," he says. "I love you." They don't say it often, but Stiles needs to hear it right now. Danny needs to say it right now.
"God, how can you?" Stiles asks. "How can you stand to?" The wave crashes over Danny, helpless frustration that Stiles considers himself too broken to be worth loving, that Danny can say nothing to convince him otherwise anymore.
Danny's not surprised when Stiles steals a searing kiss that turns into two, into five, into hands sweeping down his sides, cupping his ass, into Stiles whispering, "Danny," and "Please," and "Need you."
And, god, he can't remember the last time he was this gentle with Stiles, this slow. Peeling him out of his clothes, stroking along pale, freckled skin, stretching Stiles with slicked fingers, arranging their bodies to press together along every available inch. Stiles' nails rake over Danny's thigh, Danny's hands where they rest over the tattoos on Stiles' chest and hip; Stiles' fingers touch and move on, never settling, an uncertainty Danny hasn't felt from him in years. Stiles comes with a sound more grief than pleasure, and Danny makes quiet shushing noises in his ear as he reaches his own release, gentling his hands across Stiles' chest and sides.
Danny cleans them up, and Stiles turns to face him, kissing him with a quiet desperation that steals Danny's breath in the worst possible way before tucking his head under Danny's chin. Danny pulls Stiles closer, listening to his breath even out in sleep, and doesn't think about how it felt like Stiles was saying good-bye.
In the morning, Danny ducks into the bedroom in search of his watch as Stiles is finishing his shower. He's standing next to the dresser, naked, gaze unfocused, and Danny's breath catches. Stiles startles, looks over at him, and smiles.
Then he holds out the necklace, and Danny's breath's gone again. For all the bad reasons. "Why do I feel," he asks as he clasps the necklace around Stiles' neck with trembling fingers, "like I should be telling you to come home with your shield or on it?"
Stiles grabs his hands, kisses his fingertips. "I love you," he says, and it's the most terrifying thing Danny's ever heard.
* * *
Danny scowled at the ocean like it'd personally offended him. Today was Christmas, he was a hundred yards from the Pacific, and he was sulking like a 12-year-old girl. Three weeks, he scolded himself. He'd barely seen his last boyfriend more than once a month; why did the prospect of three weeks away from Beacon Hills feel like a lifetime in exile?
"If I'd known the book would make you angry, I wouldn't have given it to you."
Danny jumped, knocking his glass off the arm of the chair. The iced tea beaded on the deck, looking nothing like blood but making Danny think of it anyway. He pressed his palm to his chest like he did to Stiles' during panic attacks and focused on slowing his breathing. How had she snuck up on him? She shouldn't have been able to pass his wards. When his heartbeat was under control, he smiled and said, "No, the book's perfect, Tutu, thank you. I'm just." He tapped at the screen of his phone where it sat on the other arm of his chair. He scowled at the ocean again.
Tutu chuckled and settled into the chair next to his. She never seemed to age. He could see that his parents were getting older, grayer, though he tried not to think about it, but his grandmother was ageless. Changeless. He'd always thought it was just something cool about her, but given everything that'd happened in the past few months, he had to consider other explanations. "Your sisters tell me your young man's a bit odd."
Danny snorted. "My young man's completely odd," he said. "He's not...Stiles isn't like anyone else I know. But he--" Danny smiled. "He knows me. And I--" Realizing his hand was still over his heart, he raised his fingers and sort of patted his chest with them. "He's in here. And he's not here. I'm with my family, in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and it's not--" He flung a hand toward the water. Christ, he even sounded like Stiles now, starts and stops and sentences half-finished, points made as much with his hands as his voice. He stared at his hand, at the pattern of wavelike silver swirls that had never faded. "I think I love him. But I don't want to be." He swallowed. "Dependent."
"It doesn't sound dependent," Tutu said carefully. "It sounds...magical."
Danny jerked up in his chair. The book started sliding off his lap, and he scrabbled to grab it before it fell. He stared at his grandmother, who looked back, unblinking, breath held. Danny licked his lips, felt his pulse pound. "There's...a spark to it."
Her breath left her in a whoosh, and a look of fierce relief crossed her face as she leaned toward him. "Now you listen to me, Daniel," she said, and Danny was transfixed, couldn't have looked away if he'd tried. "I know high school romances don't always last, and I'm not saying marry the boy tomorrow. But it's been a hundred years since someone in our family has bonded to a spark in any way, so whatever you and Stiles have, fight for it. And if you break up, make sure you can still work together somehow."
Danny nodded, dumbfounded. "Yeah. Yeah, of course I will. But it's--" He fixed his gaze on the book of Hawaiian folk tales in his lap. "Something happened to him last year. He's having problems."
She smiled. "We all have problems. The price of the gift. That's part of what you're there for." She considered him as though seeing him for the first time. "You know that, don't you?"
Danny shrugged. "Kind of? My teacher gave me this one book, but Stiles' teacher won't even talk about it."
"Druids?" Tutu asked. When Danny nodded, she snorted. "Too obsessed with control for my tastes." She looked at the waves crashing against the beach. "Harder to give yourself that illusion when you live with this every day." She glanced at him. "Sit by me after dinner tonight; I'll tell you a thing or two."
It would carry him away if he let it, his love for this amazing woman, for the secret they shared now, for Stiles, if he thought about it. He took a deep breath, smelling the salt tang of the inexorable ocean, and said, "Thank you."
"Now," she said, and Danny felt the snap in the conversation, the clean break back to normal things, "I believe there's a young man who'd like a call from you."
His fingers were inching toward his phone, but for form's sake he protested, "But, Tutu, this is family time."
She nodded. "Exactly."
"Thank you," he said again. He grabbed the phone, raced down the stairs and onto the beach, and refused to contemplate everything she meant by that.
"Danny?!" Stiles answered on a breathless laugh before the first ring even finished.
"Merry Christmas," Danny said.
"Oh my god!" Stiles shrieked, because he was an actual junior-high girl, "you said your grandmother wouldn't let you call!"
"She kind of ordered me to?"
"Oh my god, you're--hang on!" The phone was muffled, but Danny heard Stiles' excited yelp of, "It's Danny!" and the sheriff hollering "Merry Christmas, Danny!" in the background, followed by the heavy thumps of Stiles' footsteps on the stairs as he thundered to his room. "Hi!" Stiles said, punctuated by the slamming of his door behind him.
Danny beamed at the waves. "Hey. I love you." And, shit, that was not how he'd meant to say it the first time, abrupt and matter-of-fact and thousands of miles apart. But Tutu told him to fight, and one thing he'd learned from dealing with supernatural bullshit was that when someone said that, you didn't wait.
At the other end of the line, Stiles' breath hitched. "Yeah," he said, his voice so crammed with happiness it overflowed, crashed over Danny like the tide. "Yeah, I love you, too." They paused, giddy, soaking it in. Danny's magic purred under his skin, settled like a smug cat. "God, it's good to hear your voice," Stiles sighed, "but it's--shit, you've only been gone a week, is it weird to miss you so much?"
Ten minutes ago, Danny would've said yes. Now he said, "Not as much as you'd think. My grandmother's been--I'll tell you later. How's everything?"
Stiles caught Danny up on the current Beacon Hills drama (normal high school drama this time, nothing supernatural, which Danny was jealous of), and Danny told Stiles about Hawaii, and being with his family, and he didn't worry about how much better the sound of Stiles' voice made him feel. He felt good about it. Like he had a right to that connection.
Twenty minutes into the call, at the tail end of Stiles' insane story of the epic catastrophe that was the Stilinski-McCall Christmas Eve gathering ("Half the werewolves; double the disaster!"), both of them laughing so hard it hurt to breathe, Danny poked his toes into the wet sand above the tide line and uncovered a perfect sand dollar, pale and smooth, without a single blemish. His lower lip caught between his teeth, and he swooped to pick up the sand dollar. He envisioned it as a necklace, nestled in the hollow of Stiles' throat. "God, the things I would do to you if you were here," he whispered.
A startled laugh burst from Stiles. "Seriously, dude, a story about me and Isaac blowing up Lydia's rice-maker gets you going?"
"No!" Danny said, returning the laugh. "No, just--" He cleared his throat. "It blew up? I thought you were being figurative."
"Noooo. Definitely blown up. Enough about the rice cooker. Tell me about these things you'd do to me."
Danny looked around. The beach seemed deserted, but his grandmother's neighbors treated the beach the way his treated the sidewalk. He shouldn't risk it. He looked at the sand dollar in his hand and dropped onto a drier patch of sand. "Get on the bed."
The day after Danny got back to Beacon Hills, he showed up on the Stilinskis' doorstep with his backpack and a hopeful expression. Sheriff Stilinski opened the door and smiled. "You don't know how glad I am to see you. Good trip?"
Danny smiled as he ducked around the sheriff into the house. "Yes, sir."
"Good. Never leave again." Danny's eyes widened. "I mean it," John insisted. "The moping..." He sighed and waved at the stairs. "He's in his room. You remember the rules?"
"Yes, Sheriff," Danny said and forced himself not to laugh. The 'rules' of Danny's visits to the Stilinski house had degenerated from 'bedroom door stays open at all times' to 'please do that thing with your magic so I can't hear you having sex.' He took the stairs two at a time and leaned against the frame of Stiles' open door, drinking in the view. Stiles slouched in his desk chair, body bobbing and jerking to the beat of whatever was playing in his earbuds. His attention flickered between his laptop, his phone, a book on the desk, and a notebook in his lap, whose pages his long fingers flipped through violently. He was manic but focused, and he seemed relaxed enough. Not trouble, then, just a normal afternoon in the mind of Stiles Stilinski.
A year and a half ago, Danny was a normal teenager whose primary concerns included exams, the quality of his fake ID, and which preening, muscle-bound jock would be his next lay. Now he was an honest-to-god witch with no friends who weren't involved with the supernatural, seriously contemplating spending the rest of his life with Stiles. The fact that none of these things worried him was the most disturbing realization of all.
Danny leaned down and scooped up a pair of Stiles' clean socks that'd probably fallen out of his laundry basket, then stood and lobbed them at Stiles' head. Stiles caught them with an unconscious grace that set Danny's blood humming. Those weren't supernatural werewolf reflexes, and it had got nothing to do with magic. It was pure human skill, developed over hundreds of hours on the diamond, and this proof of how Stiles had grown into his body and become comfortable in his skin made Danny's fingers itch with the desire to touch.
Not turning or taking out his earbuds, Stiles grumbled, "Really, Isaac? After everything I've done for you, you're resorting to violence? Feeling nostalgic for Derek's brand of TLC?"
Danny snorted. "Should I worry that you thought Isaac was at your bedroom door?"
Stiles flailed, ripping out the earbuds and spinning his chair so violently it made a complete revolution before coming to rest facing Danny. "Should I worry that your reaction to seeing me for the first time in three weeks was throwing something at my head?"
They grinned at each other like madmen. Danny huffed and pushed off the doorframe. "Idiot," he muttered, "what are you doing all the way over there?"
Taking the invitation, Stiles flung himself out of his chair and across the room, engulfing Danny in a trademark Stilinski hug. "Oh my god, you're here," he murmured into Danny's hair. "You're actually here."
Eyes widening, Danny pulled back, scanning Stiles' face. "Stiles. Are you--"
"Oh! No, no," Stiles said hurriedly, squeezing his arms. "Not, like, hallucinations. Just, like, when you go to say something to someone, and then you remember they're not there. Like when--" He broke off, amber gaze dropping to the floor, and Danny pulled him back into the hug.
Stiles kind of snuffled against Danny's chest for a minute, then lifted his face so the snuffle became a nuzzle into his neck. "Were you raised by wolves?" Danny grumbled, even as his pulse picked up.
"Kinda, yeah," Stiles said, laying a trail of kisses to Danny's neck, his jaw, the corner of his mouth. Danny turned his head and brought their lips together, sighing as everything tensed inside him uncoiled. His hands slid up to curl around the back of Stiles' neck, cradling him like something breakable. Stiles' hands dropped to Danny's hips, resting at first, but yanking when Danny's thumbs swept forward to find the sensitive spots at the hinges of Stiles' jaw. They gasped into the kiss, at the desperate heat of their erections meeting, even through layers of denim. Stiles' tongue darted out to slide against Danny's, and his fingers dipped beneath Danny's waistband, fingers shaking as they brushed the top to Danny's ass. Danny bucked; his weeks of fevered imaginings hadn't come close to remembering the warmth of Stiles' skin, this fast-flying human who burned werewolf-hot.
Danny felt the slight sizzle under his skin that meant Stiles was siphoning his magic. "Christ," Stiles groaned, pulling out of the kiss and sucking at the pulse-point in Danny's neck, "so good, Danny. I've been drawing off houseplants and neighborhood cats and nothing felt right."
They got it now, why Deaton had worried about this partnership. It felt like a drug that always lived in their bloodstreams and came when they called. Pouring Danny's power into Stiles, letting Stiles draw it from him, made Danny's blood sing and turned Stiles' eyes fever-bright, and they understood why that would scare the fuck out of Deaton, because it did the same to them, at first.
But what Danny'd said from the beginning was true: they kept each other safe. Made each other safe, physically as well as metaphysically. It wasn't coincidence they used the same safeword for magic as for sex. They'd never used it for magic. He felt it even now, beneath the haze of arousal and power: a failsafe, a boundary neither would let the other cross, a limit they were intimate enough to sense in each other and themselves.
Stiles flung a hand at the door to set the privacy wards, and Danny wrenched his neck away from Stiles' searching lips. "Okay," Danny gasped, "before we get to the part where we throw our clothes all over the place, I have something for you."
Stiles' other hand jerked around Danny's ass, and he stared with a sliver of petulance breaking through his lust. "We weren't gonna get each other anything!"
Danny smiled and traced Stiles' pout with his thumb. "I didn't. I promise." He dug into the pocket of his jeans, hissing when the motion snugged the denim against his dick, still half-hard, and pulled out the packet of green tissue paper. "Here."
Stiles grabbed the present with a child's glee, tearing the wrapping in his haste. When the sand dollar lay exposed on the paper, Stiles stared at it, face uncharacteristically still. Danny bit his lip, strangely nervous. "Danny," Stiles breathed, running his fingertip over it gently, "it's perfect. Where did you--"
"I found it," he said, ignoring the relief that washed over him. "On the beach outside my grandmother's place. While we were on the phone Christmas day. I thought..." He brushed a thumb over the hollow of Stiles' throat.
Stiles' breath caught, and he looked at Danny from under lowered lashes. "So that's why--" He surged forward and pressed Danny into a graceless, toothy kiss. Danny let his laugh bubble out, let Stiles steal it into his own mouth, because of course Stiles would remember, would make the connection. "Okay," Stiles said as he broke away, all but dancing backward, "now yours."
Danny laughed louder, crossing his arms. "We weren't getting each other anything."
"I didn't," Stiles said, eyes twinkling. "Not really." He knelt on the bed and rummaged in the shelves of the headboard, making sure to wave his ass in the air a lot as he did. Danny groaned and leaned against the desk. Stiles gave a yip of triumph and wriggled off the bed, clutching a small muslin bag. "Merry Christmas, Danny."
Danny teased the bag open and tipped it over his hand. Then he just...gaped for a minute. In his palm lay the most perfect piece of obsidian he'd ever see, roughly rhomboid and jagged-edged, like some giant's hand had ripped it from a larger mass. He tilted his palm back and forth, mesmerized by the way the light bounced off the flat black surface. "Holy shit," he murmured, "it's beautiful."
"Right?!?" Stiles enthused, jumping into Danny's personal space, one hand resting on Danny's hip while the other flailed around. "Marin was sort of using me as a Danny-proxy while you were gone, and she hauled me to that weird gem and rock show she's always threatening you with--apparently I'm more biddable than you; who knew?--And I fell in love with this piece, and she mentioned that you've been needing a whatchamacallit--"
"Focus," Danny said, a little numbly.
"I am," Stiles protested.
Danny laughed. "It's called a focus. One point to channel magic from, rather than having it leak out all over the place."
"Oh. Right. Well, it seemed right. And I've been learning wire-wrapping, so I could help, if you wanted?" He looked almost shy at that, and Danny had to catch him around the waist with his free arm, kissing him until they both ran out of air.
"Yes, please," Danny said when they pulled apart.
Stiles set the sand dollar carefully on his desk, then took the obsidian from Danny and did the same to it. His eyes glowed; Danny couldn't tell if it was magic, a trick of the light, or a fact of who Stiles was, his sheer delight at being alive in a world full of wonders. "Now are we at the part with the clothes-throwing?"
They'd gotten so good at this that their clothes were off by the time they hit the bed, flushed and laughing, but it never felt mundane to Danny, never rote. For a second he had to stop, kneeling on the bed, and stare at Stiles, slithering his way toward the headboard in a way that shouldn't be as sexy as it was. He'd grown into his body, baseball and running with the pack filling in the muscles of his arms and shoulders, dark hair dusting his body. A host of overwhelming and mutually exclusive desires swarmed over Danny. He wanted everything, all at once: Stiles' cock in his ass; his tongue against Stiles' hole; Stiles coming hot and salty down his throat. He froze, breathless, overcome.
"Hey," Stiles called softly, bringing him back. He slumped and let himself be led where Stiles moved him, stretching out to cover Stiles' body with his own, his magic rolling under his skin, reaching out to Stiles like a second set of hands. Stiles was a bit taller, Danny a bit broader, and they fit along every line and plane, even where they shouldn't.
Danny struggled not to hiss at the first contact of skin against hot, smooth skin, trembled at the dance of Stiles' fingers sweeping up his sides and down his back, gasped as Stiles ground up at the same time he grabbed Danny's ass to grind him down. Their cocks slid against each other with electrifying friction, already slicking with precome, and when Stiles' long fingers wrapped around them both, Danny clutched at his shoulders and shivered with a tremor that was almost a supplication.
Stiles kept the pace maddeningly slow, refused to let the torrent carry them away like Danny wanted, like he knew Stiles wanted, too. He soothed over Danny's frustration with a steady babble of words and sounds, of "yes," and "there," and "beautiful," like the babble of a stream Danny dove into again and again, desperate for anything that could cool the burning in his core.
But Stiles was kidding himself if he thought they'd last long, with three weeks of absence between them. Stiles wrapped one long, obscenely flexible leg around the back of Danny's thigh and brushed his toes over the lower curve of Danny's ass, and Danny seized up, coming over Stiles' hand and swearing in every language he knew.
He fell to the side and threw his leg over Stiles', adding his own hand to the frantic blur that was Stiles' fingers against his straining cock. "Come on, Stiles," he panted, wrecked, in Stiles' ear. "Show me. I wanna see." Stiles gave a strangled moan and arched off the bed, but his eyes stayed open--both their eyes stayed open--to watch his come shoot across his stomach.
In the lassitude that followed, they traded slow kisses and small touches, relearning the feel of each other. Eventually, Stiles herded them into the shower. Standing under the spray made Danny think of the ocean, but he couldn't bring himself to miss it when he had Stiles to drown in.
(With parental blessings, Danny spent the rest of the day, the night, and most of the next day at the Stilinski house. In between epic make-outs, CoD, frantic sex, frozen pizzas, and slow sex, they loafed on the living room couch with a ball of black leather cording and a coil of gold jewelry wire, making their necklaces. They passed the work back and forth repeatedly, imbuing both of their magics into the intricate knot and wirework.
At one point, John paused on his way to the kitchen and watched them for a few seconds before asking, "What are you doing?"
Danny snickered when Stiles made jazz hands and said, "Magic!" in his best Bob Fosse voice.
John crooked an eyebrow at them. "Really? 'Cause it looks like a junior high slumber party."
Stiles put a finger over his lips. "Adolescent girls are the world's largest untapped magical source."
John looked at Danny, who shrugged and said, "Don't tell my sisters." John glared at Danny as though he'd betrayed their entire relationship and huffed out of the room. Stiles laughed so hard he fell off the couch.)
* * *
Over the years, those necklaces have been covered in blood, used against them as both weapons and traps, and, once, temporarily shoved them into another dimension. But Danny and Stiles only voluntarily take them off for showering, sleeping, or restringing. Fingering the cool obsidian as he enters the stadium to watch the Giants face the Cardinals, Danny can't keep his mind off the fine tremors in Stiles' neck as Danny clasped the cord around it, the weary determination in Stiles' eyes as he kissed Danny's fingers.
And the fact that their wills stipulate they're to be buried in those necklaces.
* * *
Stiles pointed his bat at the bleachers, toward a dark-skinned guy around Peter's age in skinny jeans and what looked like a hand-tailored suit jacket over a faded Astros t-shirt. "Who's that asshole?"
Kade gave him a horrified look. "That's a scout, Stilinski."
"Let's see him rub two sticks together," Stiles said.
"A baseball scout!" Ordinary horror morphed into 'I can't believe I'm forced to inhabit the same planet as you.' "From the Astros?"
"Okay, let's see him rub two baseballs together."
Kade walked away, muttering about crazy-fuckin-catchers, a baseball truism hardly up to his usual standards for comebacks. Stiles pouted; nobody got his jokes.
"He's jealous," Justin said, walking out of the dugout.
"Jealous?" Stiles scratched the back of his neck with the knob of his bat. He didn't get the intricacies of major league scouting. Lydia swore Jackson would've gone pro if he hadn't developed his 'furry condition,' but lacrosse mattered far less to the general American populace than it did to Beacon Hillians (that was a word, right?). Jackson 'going pro' wasn't that impressive a prospect.
Baseball, though. The national pastime. Getting scouted was a big fucking deal. Stiles didn't understand how most of it worked, but he figured he didn't need to. "Who's he scouting?"
Justin leveled Stiles with a look like Kade's. "You're joking, right?"
Stiles shrugged and gnawed his thumbnail. "Maybe? Not a thing I do much anymore, have you noticed? No, but you wouldn't, 'cause we weren't friends before. I used to be really funny. Now I mostly think the world's funny, but more like 'Isn't it funny we're going to die here?' and less like, 'A banshee, a witch, and a werewolf walk into a bar'--which, awesome joke, by the way. Hilarious. Danny tells it great; ask him sometime." He took a breath and looked around, noting with a quiet thrill that Justin was still there. Other than Scott, no one had ever come to so quick an acceptance of his ADHD-fueled ramblings as the baseball team. "Uh, who?"
Justin slapped Stiles' arm with his pitcher's mitt. "You, asshole.
Stiles stared at him, gape-mouthed. "What?"
"Stilinski." Justin searched his face for a tell that Stiles was joking. "You're, like, one of the best catchers Beacon Hills's had in, like, ever, and I don't even wanna talk about your batting average. You're gonna get scouted, man." His eyes narrowed with frightening perspicacity. "Better decide how you feel about that." He slapped his mitt against his other hand and walked away whistling.
Stiles stared at Justin's retreating back for a minute. Then he looked at the scout. He fumbled his phone from the pocket of his track pants and opened the message screen.
Apparently I'm being scouted?
He watched Danny jump when his phone buzzed, like always. A small smile crept onto Stiles' face. Danny looked from the text to the dugout where Stiles waited for their practice game to start, then around the relatively empty bleachers until he spotted the scout. His fingers flew over his phone, and Stiles' buzzed a second later.
SexyBoyfriend: Duh. What team?
SexyBoyfriend: Hold out. U can do better than texas.
SexyBoyfriend: U know how good u r at this, don't u?
Stiles stared at his phone. What the hell could he say to that? People told him he was good at this. Coach Frankmont had practically fallen to his knees and wept when Stiles showed up in his office the February after they first met. The team had a winning season last year and was on its way to another, a new trend for them. But that wasn't down to him. He was just one guy who knew how to swing a bat and read a field. He licked his lips and did what he did best: evaded.
Wish Finstock could c. MLB scouts lacrosse LVP.
When Danny read that message, his lips took a painfully familiar pinched shape. He looked at Stiles, eyes unreadable from this distance, and slid his phone into his backpack. Huh.
By the time Stiles had showered and changed after his team's 5-3 loss in the practice game (two of the runs his own), he'd forgotten the scout. He went to the bleachers so he and Danny could walk to the parking lot together, like always. The guy in the hipsterwear looming up in front of him made him flinch, and he was pretty proud that he didn't go for his weapons or weaponized tattoos.
"Uh, yeaaaah," Stiles said, looking the guy over. Up close, he looked closer to Derek's age. "That's a sure way to get yourself kneed in the junk, dude." Though he hadn't done a half-bad job with the pronunciation. "People call me Stiles."
"Sure, right," the guy said, holding out his hand. "Lucas Albin, Houston Astros. Great game today."
"Well, my side lost, so." Stiles shrugged.
"But you were great."
Stiles cocked his head. "It's a team sport. How well I do doesn't matter if the team dynamic's off." One damned important lesson he'd learned from the pack was that a chain really was only as strong as its weakest link--but that everyone was the weakest link in some aspect of life. Peter couldn't turn on the charm without also turning on the creepy. On a scale of 1-10, Jackson's empathy scored a -2. Stiles himself had the impulse control of a squirrel. A strong team should function as one dynamic unit, each member honing strengths, shoring up weaknesses, and helping each other be better at everything. As soon as he'd joined the team, Stiles had developed a startling level of passion for baseball, and he wanted the team--the whole team--to be its absolute best. If this guy didn't get that, Stiles didn't want to be in Houston.
Albin stared like he didn't understand the words coming out of Stiles' mouth. Stiles' Danny-tattoo tingled, and he turned to find Danny hovering at the conversation's edge. Stiles absently tapped the sand dollar at his throat and then grinned, holding out his hand. "Hey, babe," he said, which was pushing it, because they were not into pet names. Danny frowned like he knew what Stiles was up to and disapproved, but he stepped forward and linked their fingers.
"Hey, so, this is Lucas Albin," Stiles said. "He's a scout from the Astros. Lucas, this is my boyfriend Danny. He's not sold on Houston."
"Stiles," Danny hissed.
The look on Albin's face was priceless. It was like he'd stepped in dog shit while talking to Queen Elizabeth and couldn't make a fuss about it. He plastered on a smile that didn't come into the same area code as his eyes. "I'm sure we can convince you," he said, gaze locked on Stiles.
"Not me you have to convince," he said, and it was true. Stiles wasn't Scott, wasn't naïve enough to assume he and Danny were a sure thing forever, but he trusted Danny's judgment more than his own these days, and if he signed with a major league franchise (holy shit, that was a thing that might legitimately happen), it would be one Danny approved of, whether they were together or not. Plus, this was Danny, the nicest human being on the planet. Stiles couldn't associate with anyone who would be mean to Danny based on who he granted access to his junk. And whether Danny married Stiles or dumped him tomorrow, Stiles was still bisexual. Given that his coming-out experience involved a literal fight to the death (goddamned fucking ifrit), no way was he going back in just to hit baseballs around. Any team that couldn't handle that could handle his ass walking out the door.
"Well," Albin said, still sporting a grimace, "it was nice to meet you both. Good luck with the rest of your season, Stilinski." He touched the brim of his cap and all but ran off.
Stiles chuckled but fell silent when he felt Danny's glare. "What the hell was that?" Danny demanded.
"Hey," Stiles said instead of answering, "c'mere." He used their joined hands to drag Danny into the small, free-standing outbuilding the baseball and softball teams used for post-game and post-practice showers.
"What are we doing?" The suspicious note in Danny's voice would've been insulting if it weren't completely justified.
Stiles hustled them into the small building and, before Danny had time to protest, crowded him against the wall, kissed him fiercely, and dropped to his knees.
"Stiles," Danny gasped as Stiles undid buttons and zippers and shoved Danny's jeans and underwear down his thighs, "oh, no. No, you can't--we have to talk about this."
"Danny, don't--" Stiles' fingers dug into Danny's quads. "Tell me you don't want this now, and I'll stop. But don't ask me to talk."
Danny threaded his fingers into Stiles' hair, and his groan sounded more like resignation than acquiescence when his head thudded against the concrete wall. "Fine," he ground out, and Stiles wrapped his hand around Danny's cock, stroking him to hardness. Just before Stiles swallowed him down and stole his capacity for speech, he added a gasped but determined, "After."
(They didn't talk after. Not after Lucas Albin of the Houston Astros, not after any of the scouts who appeared in the BHHS bleachers that season. But Danny was gifted at translating the messages Stiles couldn't speak aloud. He had to notice that, the nicer the scout was to him, and the nicer they continued to be to Stiles after introductions, the gentler Stiles was about the sex afterward. He had to hear Stiles promise he'd never choose baseball over this part of himself, never choose it over them.
At least, Stiles hoped Danny got all that. If he didn't, Stiles was fucked.)
* * *
There's a demon. The Giants trail the Cards 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, with two out and one on; Dominguez has just shaken off a second pitch signal from Stiles; and there's a demon in AT&T Stadium, heading straight for Stiles. Danny's out of his seat and moving before the pitch clears the plate, vaulting the low wall and racing toward Stiles. He hears confused roaring from the stands, and a few players and coaches try to stop him, but he holds them off with tiny arcs of magic.
He's too slow anyway. He feels the instant the demon slams into Stiles; it's a split second before Stiles' body arches up like a parenthesis and collapses to the ground. Danny drops to his knees at Stiles' side, one arm curling under Stiles' back to lift his motionless form, the other cradling his jaw. "Stiles," he whispers.
Stiles' eyes fly open, and Danny reels back, nearly dropping the man in his arms. The eyes are glowing, a sick greenish yellow that makes Danny think of nuclear disaster. "Witch," Stiles says, and Danny chokes on bile. It's Stiles' voice--of course it is, coming out of Stiles' mouth and using his vocal chords--but it's other, too, his usual tone overlaid with a slick, buzzing rasp.
Danny shifts Stiles' body into his lap and slides his arm up to cup the back of Stiles' head. He uses his other hand to cover Stiles' eyes and leans close, lips against Stiles' ear. His tongue stumbles, because he fucking sucks at Aramaic, but he grits out the spell without incident. Stiles jerks once.
For a frozen moment, Danny is nowhere.
Then he blinks awake in the Limn.
He calls up his magic, and it hurts. Even in the everyday world, he struggles with this type of working without Stiles to ground him. Everything's worse in the Limn, and he doesn't understand the rules, but he has to try. He'll die trying, if need be.
Danny's never found the words to describe the Limn. It does not, technically speaking, exist. If every living being in the Universe died tomorrow, the Universe would still exist, but the Limn would not. But he can go there--has gone there, several times during metaphysical emergencies--as truly, if not as easily, as he can go from home to campus. It is without shape or form and can therefore be whatever anyone needs it to be.
Right now, it's not much of anything. Impenetrable gray fog rolls over and around him. He looks down; Stiles lays at his feet, as unmoving as he is in the physical world. Stiles looks younger; that's his projection of himself when he comes here, a version of himself just before his sacrifice to the Nemeton, just before the darkness.
Danny checks his colors. He'd been beyond astonished to discover that his image here is a Danny-shaped amalgam of ever-shifting color swirls, like a late-period Monet. Here is turquoise for his magic, brown for his physical body, silver for his pain, red--so much red--for his love for Stiles. He feels strong today. Whatever the demon's done to Stiles isn't spilling into Danny.
Danny raises his eyes, and there, on the other side of Stiles' still form, crouches the demon. A small thing, gray and fuzzy, with a small, bat-like head and leathery black wings that seem disproportionately large. Its eyes flare pink, and monstrous curved fangs protrude from its death-grin of a mouth--which hovers above Stiles' heart.
"Stop." Danny throws the magic he's gathered (not enough, never enough) at the demon, and it skitters back on thick black claws.
"Witch," it hisses, its voice now the buzzing rasp Danny heard in the stadium without Stiles' familiar tones underneath, "you dare oppose me here?"
Danny lifts rage-black arms. "You dare inhabit my spark." He throws another spell; the demon shakes it off like a dog running through a sprinkler. Danny drops to his knees, unable to hold himself up a second longer. Though every movement is pain, he reaches deep inside and searches for that one more sliver of magic that might make the difference.
"A heart bond!" the demon cackles with maniacal delight, dancing out of Danny's reach. (For the record, Danny still hates that phrase and its implications, though there's no longer any denying its truth.) "And you can't save him! Your misery is delicious." Pink eyes gleam. "When I'm done with him, I'll take yours, too."
Danny stares up at the demon. He's drawn the magic to his fingers, but he holds it, lets it roll around his palm. "Tristivori," he murmurs.
"At your service!" Hovering a foot in the air, the demon sketches a mocking bow.
"Your kind don't usually possess."
"Ah, but there's so much here." The demon sounds gleeful. "I thought I'd better settle in."
What's that sensation trapped behind Danny's sternum? Hope? Frustration? Fear? Or is he finally, finally losing his mind, here in the Limn where he'll never get it back? He presses the backs of his fingers to his lips. "You've come to eat the darkness? From the Nemeton?"
"Ohhhh," the demon purrs, staring down at Stiles, fascinated. "Is that where it comes from? Oh, you poor things. Did no one tells you what a Nemeton does to a spark?"
Danny's eyes close. "Not in time."
The demon tsks. "You're lucky I've come along." It stretches to its full height (not that impressive, honestly) and unfurls its dark wings (okay, much more--terrifyingly--impressive). And the fangs. God, the size of the fangs. Danny's heart--inasmuch as it exists in this place--hammers fear-yellow.
"What's the catch?" he asks.
The demon blinks at him. "Catch?"
"There's always a catch with you guys."
"Ah." The demon hunkers back down and tilts its head, studying Stiles. It mutters to itself in Latin, reaching out a claw to trace patterns in the air that Danny looks away from lest the mere sight of their magic drive him mad. The demon looks from Stiles to Danny and says, "The catch, dear witch, is that this is a darkness of the heart, not the soul. Do you understand the difference?" Danny nods. "If I take it, there is a chance that with it goes any emotional attachment he formed after his sacrifice."
Danny doubles over. He fists his hands on his thighs and struggles to pull air into his lungs. It won't be amnesia--it'll be worse. Stiles will know he's a catcher for the San Francisco Giants, that he lives with Danny in a house in San Mateo. But the reasons he does those things, the emotions that go with them, will be gone.
Danny shakes his head. Those emotions are nearly gone anyway, swallowed more every day by the darkness around Stiles' heart. Danny swallows and stares at his hands for a second. He shifts to face Stiles, motionless on something that's not the ground. He presses careful kisses to Stiles' forehead, to each eye, each cheek, each palm. Then he nods once and slides aside, no longer blocking the demon's access to Stiles. "Do it," he says.
Danny can't watch it, the demon eating away the darkness and who knows what else. The sounds are sickening enough. But he clasps Stiles' nearest hand in both of his, squeezing it for all he's worth, and whispers, "I'm here, Stiles. To the end." It feels like enough.
When the demon lets out the loudest, most obscene belch Danny's ever heard, his head snaps up, eyes blazing. "You fuck--"
"Can't help it!" the demon cackles. Wisps of greenish smoke curl around his mouth, which looks red and burned. Danny's stomach roils. "My compliments to the chef."
"You got what you came for," Danny snarls. "Get out."
The demon side-eyes him. "Know the way home, do you?"
"Yes," Danny snaps. Magic curls inside him, condensing, readying itself to unleash the instant he needs it.
The demon hums skeptically. "Are you sure I couldn't--your distress would make a lovely palate cleanser--"
”Go." Danny lifts a hand and pushes, power rolling like a wave that knocks the demon back. The demon huffs, muttering about Danny not needing to be rude, and vanishes with a pop.
Danny lowers his hand, and his head drops forward. What has he done? He let a demon feed on Stiles, stood aside and issued the invitation himself. What right did he have? It should've been Stiles' choice. And since Stiles had been in no condition to make that choice, Danny should've fought the demon with everything he had, to the death, even, rather than give it access.
And the consequences. The thought makes the lukewarm stadium beer in Danny's stomach churn--even in this place where his stomach actually isn't. If Stiles wakes up and doesn't love Danny anymore--Danny wonders if he would have the strength to rebuild that, if Stiles would want it.
All Danny's energy seeps out of him, leaving him heavy and shaking. He feels like he hasn't slept in years. Which is to his advantage because, so far as he knows, there's only one way for a human to leave the Limn. He lays on the not-a-floor, stretching out to press the length of his body against Stiles'. He props one arm under his head and drapes the other over Stiles' chest, hand over his heart. "That," Danny announces around a yawn, "fucking sucked." He tucks his face against Stiles' shoulder, closes his eyes, and waits for sleep.
Danny wakes in a hospital room. He keeps his eyes closed for a minute, taking in the antiseptic smell and the beeping of monitors. Two, he thinks, monitoring two sets of vitals at two different speeds.
Danny opens his eyes slowly. He's in a double room, Stiles unconscious in the next bed. Whether it's regular sleep, a coma, or some magical trance that no doctor could ever figure out, Danny can't tell.
Two chairs and a small table sit between the beds. The table's a disaster, every inch covered in empty coffee cups, water bottles, chip bags, and salad containers. In the chair further from Danny, Sheriff Stilinski slumps against Stiles' bed, Stiles' hand held loosely in his own. Lydia's in the other chair, facing Danny. Not a wrinkle mars her black pant-suit and bright red blouse, but the redness around her eyes and the downturn of her mouth says it's been more than 24 hours since she slept and less than one since she cried. Danny takes a minute debating whether he's happy or upset about her presence, ultimately concluding that he doesn't care. "Hey," he rasps.
"Danny!" Lydia rockets out of her chair and rushes to the side of the bed. She looks off, and when Danny looks down he realizes she's not wearing shoes. Lydia Martin is not wearing shoes. Maybe this demon business took longer than he realized. She picks a cup off the stand between the beds and holds it out to Danny, who takes a grateful sip. Lukewarm water's never been a delicacy before, but it's the only thing in the world worth consuming right now. "I knew it!" Lydia crows, shooting John a smug look over her shoulder. "You owe me a hundred."
John snorts. "No, I didn't take that bet, because I never make bets I can't win." He disentangles his hand from Stiles' and stands, and Danny winces in sympathy at the pops and creaks in his spine and knees as he does. John maneuvers around the table and stands at the head of the bed, running a soothing hand over Danny's hair. "Welcome back, son."
Danny loves John, but in that moment he desperately wants his parents, wants their warm hands and concerned gazes on him. He's sure they're on their way, or that they've been trying to get in contact with someone; they watch Stiles' games, too. But after all these years they still don't know about the supernatural side of their son's life, so he'll have to face another round of lies and evasions next time he sees them. He's too tired to handle that. Maybe it's better this way. "Knew what?" he asks, and his voice cracks and scratches. He takes another drink.
"That you were about to wake up." Lydia points at the machine monitoring his brainwaves. "Five minutes ago, your EEG went from 'guy in a magical coma' to 'guy who's finished his business in the Limn.'"
"I hate the Limn," he grouses, and Lydia makes a sound of agreement in the back of her throat. Danny cranes his neck toward Stiles' bed. "Stiles?" he asks.
"Still out," John says. "What the hell happened?"
Danny doesn't want to answer. Never wants to answer. Never wants to relive those moments. And he learned how to evade John's questions from the master. "Were you watching?"
John kind of explodes, but quietly. "Of course I was watching, Danny, but we couldn't see anything. Just you running across the field like a crazy person, and then Stiles collapsing. You caught him before he hit the ground! Then you passed out, too. For two days."
Two days. Shit. Danny stretches, frowning at the resistance in his back and legs. What the hell did his body do while he was out of it? "Tristivori."
Lydia's eyes widen. "Oh," she says.
"Clue in the normal human," John says.
Danny sighs. "A class of demon that feeds on human suffering."
"But it's--" Lydia pauses, like she realizes this might not be the best thing to tell Stiles' father. Then she sighs. "They like disaster on a large scale. For it to be drawn to one person..."
"He was..." Danny swallows and looks out the window for a second. "Last night--or, I guess, the night before the game--was bad." He thinks of clasping Stiles' necklace and wonders how bad. Should he send Lydia to the stadium to check Stiles' locker for pills, send John to their house to count the knives?
Lydia rests a hand on his ankle. "What did the demon do?" she asks, so soft and gentle that Danny wants to scream, because Lydia Martin being gentle with you means you're fucked.
Still looking out the window, Danny says, "It ate the darkness."
Twinned sharp exhales sound from Danny's left, and he half-smiles. "That's...that's good, isn't it?" John asks hesitantly.
"Generally, yes," Lydia says. "Isn't it? Danny?"
Danny dredges up a small smile. "Mostly. There may be side effects." He fixes a hard look on Lydia. "You understand?" he asks and waits til she nods. "This is where the before shit hits the now shit. If you still want to stay out of it--"
"Fuck that," she declares, squeezing his ankle. "It wasn't working, and I hated being out of the loop. I'm back in!"
"Yay," Danny says wanly, giving his arms a half-raise.
"Oh, sweetie," she says, "leave the awkward cynicism to Stiles."
"Can we go back to these side effects?" John asks.
"You'll be fine," Danny starts, which, okay, may not be the most reassuring thing he could've said, but it's important. "Stiles has loved you all his life. That won't change." He goes on, in a voice that doesn't shake, honest, to explain about the things that might change. He keeps his eyes on Lydia because he can't handle the look of horrified, sympathetic understanding dawning on John's face.
The water cup is empty. Danny's been awake less than ten minutes and he feels like he's just finished a triathlon. His head thumps against the pillow, and he blinks at the fluorescent light buzzing above his head.
"I'm going home," Lydia announces without an ounce of subtlety, squeezing Danny's ankle again before withdrawing her hand. "I need an hour in my Jacuzzi and a lot of wine. See you in the morning?" Danny nods, and Lydia slips on her shoes and clips out of the room.
John sighs after her. "She wants me to leave, too. You do too, I'm sure. But I have to stay."
Danny lowers his gaze to meet John's. "I'd love you to stay, but I won't be good company. Even to myself."
There are crinkles beside John's eyes when he smiles. "You're alive, Danny. That's the best kind of company you can be."
Danny drifts in an out of sleep until a harsh whimper wakes him. He's halfway upright before he remembers he's laying in a hospital bed, attached to needles and leads. "Stiles?" he whispers.
In the chair between the beds, John leans forward. "Stiles," he says firmly, and though he's facing the wrong way, Danny senses the searching look he's giving his son.
"Fuck," Stiles yelps, more asleep than awake. "Light! Noise! Feelings! What the fuck?" And passes out.
John turns stunned eyes on Danny. "What just happened?"
"I don't know," Danny says slowly, "but I think, maybe, it was a good sign."
Stiles sleeps for another ten hours, by which point Danny is unhooked from most of his machines. A couple of nurses and doctors have poked and prodded them a couple times, but Mandy (Melissa's opposite number in San Mateo; her daughter was a selkie--tragic story, actually) keeps uninformed medical personnel mostly out of their hair.
Stiles stirs, and John and Danny go on high alert. "John," Danny hisses, remembering Stiles' frantic mumblings from earlier, "get the lights."
Danny turns on a small lamp on the table between the beds while John switches off the overheads and goes back to hovering over his son. After two minutes that feel like days, Stiles' scratchy voice says, "Dad?"
Danny hears the tears in John's voice as he leans over the bed, kissing Stiles' forehead or cheek, Danny can't see which. "Welcome back, son," he says. Stiles winces, and John lowers his voice as he hands over a cup of water. "How're you feeling?"
Stiles sips the water. "Everything hurts," he grouses. "Did I get hit by a truck?"
Now Danny's fighting his own tears. Because that? That was genuine irritation. While the loss of the major emotions--fear, joy, anger, love--had been Danny's clues that Stiles' disintegration was entering its final phases, what he's missed for ages are the smaller emotions, the tiny fluctuations of everyday existence that Stiles lost first, turning him into a flat, affectless caricature of the man Danny first knew.
"Oh my god," Stiles breathes, voice full of wonder. "Dad. I hurt."
Shock crashes over Danny. Stiles hasn't been feeling pain? He'd thought he'd known how bad things had gotten, but he's been as blind as Scott--and worse, because he's the one who's supposed to know better.
"What happened?" Stiles asks.
John grimaces. "Demon," he says. "Trista-something."
Stiles inhales sharply. "Tristivori. It ate the darkness, didn't it?"
"So I'm told." John shrugs. "I'm kind of confused."
"God," Stiles says, chuckling weakly, "everything's so much, you know? I feel like I've been wrapped in cotton gauze for the last couple years, and now it's been ripped away and it's...a lot." And then he fucking rips Danny's heart in half when he says, "I love you, Dad."
"I love you, too," John says gently.
"No, Dad, I mean I love you. I can feel it." John's still blocking Danny's view of Stiles' face, but he hears the amazement building, the revelation Stiles is having. Danny doesn't want to be too optimistic, but it feels like sunlight peeking through clouds. "It's like--okay, say you're looking at a gun in a glass case. You remember you've shot a gun before, and you know how it works, but you can't get at it. Everything's been like that. I knew I loved you, but I couldn't feel it. But now...shit." He takes a deep breath. "I love you so much, Dad," he says. "You and--"
"Danny?" Stiles whispers. "Where is he? Dad, where's Danny?"
"I'm here, Stiles." Danny clenches his hands in the worn, white cotton sheets and waits. This is the moment he's dreamed of and the moment he's dreaded. "I'm right here."
"Danny," Stiles gasps, broken. Then he's pushing at John, shoving him out of the way. "Move, Dad, ya gotta--" John steps to the side, and they're looking at each other for the first time since before the demon. Stiles gives a tear-damp, hysterical laugh. "Hi."
Danny laughs, too, feeling just as unhinged. "Hey, Stiles."
"What are you doing over there?"
"Funny thing," Danny says, watching his fingers twist the sheets, "when you pass out on national television, the team ambulance takes you the hospital."
"You were in the Limn," Stiles says softly, not a question at all. Danny nods. "You...you came after me."
Danny dares lift his gaze to Stiles' again. "Do you remember?"
The look Stiles is giving him--it splits Danny open, because he can't read it. Those amber eyes he used to read as well as any grimoire in his library are suddenly a closed book to him. "Not a thing. But I can guess. Danny, you had to know--"
"Of course I knew." Danny teeters between a laugh and a sob. This is the Stiles he knew before. This is the idiot who leaps without looking and assumes everyone else does the same. Christ, he's missed that asshole. "I also knew it would save your life. I'd make that choice again, as many times as I had to."
"I--" Stiles' tongue darts over his lower lip, his gaze flickering around the room. "I need you over here. God, Danny, I need you here."
It takes forever, and John has to help, but they ultimately situate Danny in the chair beside Stiles' bed. John crosses the room and pretends to read a poster about preventing infection to give them an illusion of privacy. Danny folds his hands in his lap, but Stiles makes grabby hands until he tentatively lifts the one not attached to the banana bag. Stiles grasps it and stares at Danny's face. Danny can't read everything happening in Stiles' expression, but it looks like Danny feels, a mix of hope, terror, amazement, skepticism, nausea, confusion, and love. So fucking much love it hurts to breathe. Stiles' other hand traces, trembling, down Danny's face, and Danny leans into it, eyes fluttering shut.
"Danny," Stiles says, voice shaking, "I have never loved you as much as I do at this moment." He pauses, laughing softly. "I've never been able to love you as much as I do at this moment. You've kept me alive the past couple years. You know that, right?"
"I'd guessed," Danny admits. He circles his thumb over the back of Stiles' hand, a simple touch to say everything he can't yet. I'm glad I could be there. I'm sorry I couldn't do more. Please let me help fix it.
Stiles' hand clenches almost painfully against Danny's. "You've been in a glass case, too."
Stiles shakes his head, but it's not negation or rejection. It's wonder and shock and joy, more than one already overwhelmed man can hold. "Now it's so much, Danny. More than I can process right now. I just know I want it. Want you. Want us to grow more amazing every day." He grins at Danny, and Danny's heart skips at a glimmer of the old mischief in his eyes. "Whaddya say? Wanna get better with me?"
Danny smirks. "What do you have in mind?"
"Romance!" Stiles says gleefully, flinging a hand in the air. "So much romance, you won't know what hit you. The whole Hallmark deal, my man--candlelit dinners, long walks on beaches, hot air balloon rides--"
"Stiles." Danny laughs, because what else can he do when he feels like his heart's going to explode? "Still afraid of heights."
"Right. Sorry! I forgot. No worries. Um, tandem bike rides. Yes. That will be awesome, right?"
"Stiles," John huffs, coming back toward the bed.
"I haven't forgotten about you, father-mine!" It's part threat, part promise. "I'm gonna father-son bonding time you so hard. We'll toss the pigskin!"
"You play baseball."
Stiles scoffs. "Doesn't mean I don't know how to throw a football."
"Can't wait," John grumps, but he can't hide his smile.
"Oh." Stiles frowns. "I play baseball."
"How do you...feel about that?" John asks.
Stiles nibbles his lower lip; Danny watches the motion hungrily, Stiles' every action suddenly imbued with absurd levels of significance. "It's weird," Stiles says. "I'm excited about getting on the field, and I feel kinda…passionate about it, but I don't love it." He grins. "I will, though."
Danny grins back. "Yeah, you will."
"Hey, what happened to the game?" Stiles asks John, and Danny blinks because he hasn't even thought of it.
John shrugs. "Montenegro went in for you and they subbed Balfour for Dominguez--"
"Thank fuck," Stiles says, "Montenegro and Dominguez are awful together."
"But the Cards still won, 3-1."
"Ugh." Stiles' nose scrunches adorably. "That goes in my loss column, assholes." Danny waves goodbye to any lingering worries about Stiles' love of the game. "Danny!" Stiles' eyes dance, and he sort of swings the hand of Danny's that he's holding. "Let's nest."
Danny's eyebrow lifts, as much at the sudden change of direction as at the sentiment. "Nest?"
"We'll make Martha Stewart weep. Homey color schemes and throw pillows. And a dog. Holy shit, can we get a dog?"
Danny laughs and squeezes Stiles' hands. The manic energy is starting to unnerve him, but he senses that it's a necessary part of Stiles' healing process, a cosmic rebalancing against the years of darkness. "Yes, Stiles, we can get a dog." Like Danny would say no to that. Like Danny would to say no to anything Stiles wants to bring color and light back into their lives.
"I'm exhausted," Stiles says, predictably. "This has been a long fucking day." Danny and John nod fervent agreement. "I want to sleep now, if that's okay."
And that--holy shit, even after everything, this is what catches Danny, what breaks him. He can't remember the last time Stiles wanted to sleep, the last time he didn't distract himself with game strategy and graphic novels and trolling his page on the Giants fan forums until his body forced itself into hibernation mode. Pushing tears away, Danny leans in and presses a gentle kiss to Stiles' lips. "Yes, sleep," he murmurs. "I'll be here. I'm not going anywhere." Stiles whimpers against Danny's mouth, and the kiss grows frantic, Stiles' tongue demanding at the seam of Danny's lips, Danny's fingers flexing around Stiles' hand. In the hallway, something bursts into flames, and the sprinklers drench everything.
"Break it up," John barks. They pull apart flushed and pleased. "Danny, you have about one minute to get back to your bed before someone responds to that."
Danny retreats, and he and Stiles let Mandy and the other nurses manhandle them. Mandy shoos everyone out the door before the questions get too difficult to evade, and their little family's alone again.
Danny and John argue about the second bed for five minutes before Stiles grumbles, "For god's sake, Danny, get up here so Dad can take the other bed."
Hospital beds aren't meant for two grown men, especially when one's still hooked to so many machines. Danny doesn't give an ounce of fuck. Nothing's fixed; four years in the grip of darkness doesn't reverse themselves instantly, and they'll have to deal with the consequences of everything Stiles did under its influence. But they shift around on the uncomfortable mattress to make space for each other, like they always have, and Stiles clings to him with a fierceness he hasn't shown since--shit, since ever. Their entire relationship, Danny realizes, has been conducted under the thrall of that darkness.
He's looking forward to the light.