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John Stilinski has been a deputy for one month when he finds the girl, sleeping in a briar patch in the forest.

Everyone says that the forest is dangerous – creatures of shadow lurk there, things that can’t quite be explained. But John is 21 and doesn’t yet believe in fairy tales. Young, headstrong and desperate to prove himself among a class of similarly young and headstrong law enforcement recruits, he barely hesitates at all to accept the dare to spend the night patrolling the forest.

He arms himself with a flashlight, his newly-issued gun, and all the false bravado he can muster, and wanders the woods, jumping at every hoot of an owl, every crack of a twig somewhere in the darkness.

And then, as the clock slips past midnight, he finds the pale, moon-spun girl curled up in a thicket of brambles, fast asleep.

She’s naked, her skin nearly glowing in the moonlight, her hair pale and tangled around her, and John has his jacket off and draped over her before he can even finish registering the graceful beauty in her curves and edges, the way the light plays over her skin, the way she is simply the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.

After all, he is a deputy and naked girls sleeping in the woods are at risk of so many things – death by exposure, being eaten by bears, hypothermia, catching a chill.

So he wraps her up in his coat, radios for help, and scoops her up to carry her to the nearest road before she wakes.

She murmurs against his chest, her hair seems to tangle around him like spider’s web, the leaves and thistles whisper and gossip as they hurry through the darkness, but John doesn’t notice.

And then her eyes open – bright and so green – and she says, “Oh. Ohhhh, no.”

“It’s fine,” John tells her. “I’ve got you. You’re safe now. I’ve got you.”

And she looks back over his shoulder, eyes wide, and says, “Ohhhh shit.”

*

John doesn’t fall in love with the girl at first, no matter how beautiful she is. There is an other-worldliness about her that charms the doctors and the nurses, the other deputies, who fall over each other to soothe her, to fetch her things, to reassure her that she will be okay. She never seems to doubt that she will be.

While the doctors fuss over her and check her for wounds (none), lowered body temperature (quite a bit, but it seems normal for her), family (none come forward), or even a name, the girl just stares at the window, carefully curtained against the bright sunlight. She seems wistful at times, and at others, worried. But every time she makes a move to get out of her hospital bed, someone is up and running to fetch her water that she doesn’t drink, or food that she won’t eat, or more pillows or blankets or doctors.

As for John, he does his best to stay away. He fills out his paperwork. He investigates missing cats and makes welfare checks on lonely senior ladies who flirt with him and make him dinner. And then, three days later, he comes back to check on her.

She is still pale, but it is a sickly pale now, not glowing as she had been. Her hair is limp and has lost its shine. Her eyes are dull and her chest barely moves as she labors to breathe. She’s fading away.

John frowns in the doorway because she is supposed to look better, not worse.

“You aren’t eating,” he says, and she turns slowly, carefully, to blink at him without a word. “Or speaking. But you spoke, in the forest, so I know that you can. The doctors can’t release you if you have no one to help with your recovery and can’t function on your own.” He tries to keep his voice gentle.

She licks her dry lips and turns back to the window without a word.

It’s dark and dreary in here, and John doesn’t like it. She’s too quiet, too faded, almost smaller than she was in the forest and he feels a niggling bit of guilt and unease. So to hide it, he goes to the window, carefully opening the curtains to let in a bit of bright sunlight.

He hears the girl suck in a breath, like she’d been slowly suffocating and now finally, finally, here’s some oxygen, and he turns to look at her.

The sunlight is spilling across her face, her head has fallen back, eyes closed, and as he watches, her pallid skin seems to warm. Her dull hair starts to shine. Her chest starts to rise and fall like breathing comes naturally again.

The unease in his chest grows, just a little, and John firmly reminds himself that the urban legends about the forest are just stories and this is just a woman who somehow got lost in the woods, naked, and fell asleep.

She certainly does not feed off sunlight.

Her eyes flutter open and they are vibrant and green again. “Water?” she asks, and her voice is husky and sweet, accented in a way he didn’t notice before.

He gets her a glass of water and she drinks it all.

When she sets the glass aside, she struggles to get out of bed and John’s there to help, though he’s not sure she should be up and about just yet. She looks nearly the same as she did before – healthy and glowing again.

She makes it two steps towards the window before her legs give out and she falls in a heap of tangled golden hair and hospital gown. John scoops her up and tucks her back into bed before the doctors come back and get him into trouble.

“I’m hungry,” she says plaintively, and John looks pointedly at the dried out turkey sandwich and jello waiting for her on the bedside table. She closes her eyes, but not before he sees her frustrated tears.

He clears his throat. “Is there… something else you need to… I mean, you’d prefer to eat?”

She looks at him, nervous, and then says quietly, “Honey.”

And John goes to find some.

It’s fine, it’s fine. There are plenty of human girls who love to eat straight honey and look blissfully bright and glowing when bathed in sunlight. It’s fine.

*

He brings her a bear-shaped jar of honey and a plastic spoon and he can’t quite leave her yet, looking so helpless. She’s anxiously eating as much honey as she can, with frantic glances at the door like she’s worried she’ll be caught doing it.

So he sits in the chair at her bedside to keep her company, cracking open a book he’d been carrying around in his car to pass the time on stakeouts, and reading to her.

Her eyes get wider and wider with every page of Harry Potter.

*

The girl’s name is Claudia and she won’t tell anybody where she’s from or how she came to be lost in the forest, but as the days pass, John stops caring about all that, because it doesn’t matter. Just like it doesn’t matter that she withers away without daily exposure to sunlight, that all she seems to eat is honey and water, that gardens brighten up when she walks through them.

How can John blame gardens for that when he brightens up when she’s near as well?

She leaves the hospital and has nowhere to go, but John’s got a friend at the station who has an extra bedroom, so Claudia stays there, just until she finds her family again. John checks on her every day, makes sure the cupboard is stocked with honey, makes sure she’s getting enough sunlight, and takes her for walks outside, because nothing seems to make her happier than kicking her shoes off and walking barefoot in the grass.

And nothing makes John happier than walking beside her.

And days become weeks and weeks become months and Claudia stops staying at his friend’s place because she’s staying at John’s and he’s never been so happy or so determined to do everything he can to keep her bright and glowing, to keep her smiling.

And then she goes missing. For a week. The longest week of John’s life – but she left a note about going to clear things up with her family, so he has no grounds to launch a missing persons case.

It’s a terrible week. He doesn’t know if she’s coming back, if she even wants to come back, and doesn’t know what he’ll do if she doesn’t. He doesn’t eat and barely sleeps. He does his best to do his job because without Claudia, his job is all he’s got.

And then she comes back – on a rainy night, so the rain on her face nearly disguises her tears. She shows up at his door and she’s not glowing anymore, not with that otherworldliness he remembered, but with something else – love, maybe.

“I did it,” she tells him, her voice muffled against his shoulder because he’s holding her so tight. “I did it, I’m free, I’m here. It’s okay. I’ve got you, now, I’ve got you.”

And she tells him of her mother, the fairy queen, and she tells him that she traded in her immortal life for a life here, with him, and she tells him that she loves him and loves him and loves him and that he’s going to be a father and they’re going to be so, so happy, and for the first time since he found her sleeping in a briar patch, John starts to believe in fairy tales, and even in happy endings.

And for a little while, they have one.

*

The Jeep’s transmission has begun to falter and Stiles doesn’t have the money for that shit right now. He’s done his best to fix it up with duct tape and prayers, but the thing still insists on slipping out of gear at the worst possible moment, and Stiles has found that it’s best just to avoid any possible situation that involves braking, shifting, or giving the transmission anything to bitch about.

That’s why he’s driving the long way home from work, even though it means taking the road that winds through the forest. His dad would not be pleased.

But this road, winding as it is, has no intersections, no stop signs, no need for sudden gear shifts, so Stiles feels the risk is worth the reward. He’ll brave the scary, scary forest in order to get his ailing Jeep home in one piece.

And his dad never has to know.

Sheriff Stilinski, despite his many, many warnings to stay away from the woods, had never actually explained what he was afraid of, but Stiles has heard the legends of weird shit happening out there. He just feels that as long as he avoids the Preserve in the middle of the night, he should be fine. Right?

Besides, it’s the middle of the afternoon on a sunny autumn day. The leaves are beautiful. It’s peaceful and serene. What’s the worst that could happen?

He’s about five minutes from home when the engine falters, lights and radio flickering on and off, and then the Jeep dies. He doesn’t even have time to pull over – one minute everything is fine, the next, his jeep coasts to a slow stop in the middle of the road and falls silent.

It’s not the transmission.

“What the fuck,” Stiles says, trying to start the Jeep, to no avail. His dad is going to kill him. And he definitely can’t afford to fix whatever is going wrong now.

He gets out of the Jeep, pops the hood, but as near as he can tell, the wiring is fine. Nothing is smoking. Nothing looks broken. There’s nowhere to put the duct tape. The Jeep is just dead.

Grumbling, Stiles grabs his cell to call his dad, or a tow truck, or someone to come pick him up, and then he frowns. The battery is dead, though he could have sworn it was at least half way charged when he left work.

Stiles sighs. He pops the Jeep into neutral, shoves it off the road and haphazardly onto the shoulder, and then locks it.

And then, after a brief hesitation, he crosses the road and heads into the Preserve.

It’s a short cut – it’ll cut his walk in half. And his dad never has to know.

The wind picks up as he steps into the forest, red and yellow leaves swirling around his feet.

*

Stiles has only ever been in these woods once before – in the hours immediately following his mother’s death.

His dad, still shaky and pale, stark around the edges, with empty eyes and shadows under them, had driven out along the same road Stiles had just abandoned his Jeep on, and parked. And then he’d taken Stiles’ little hand in his big one and led him into the forest, until all Stiles could hear was the rustle of leaves and the calls of birds he couldn’t see.

And then, just as Stiles’ legs had gotten too tired to take another step, his dad had stopped, looked around, and said, “She’s gone.” He paused then, waiting for a response that didn’t come. “Claudia. She died. Today. I thought you would come, but you didn’t, but maybe you’ll come now. I don’t know. I don’t – I don’t know anything anymore.”

And Stiles had squeezed his daddy’s hand and said, “There’s no one here, dad. It’s just you and me.” Because his mom was gone now and she had been fading away for quite a while, and all along Stiles’ footsteps into the woods, pale little sprouts were growing, too weak to turn towards the sun.

Stiles was used to that by now. It had been happening since his mom got sick.

His dad had waited, holding his breath, and then finally, his shoulders sunk and he picked Stiles up, hugging him tight.

“I guess you’re right,” his father had said, voice muffled against Stiles’ hair. “Just me and you now.”

And Stiles hadn’t been allowed in the forest again.

He’s not stupid, though, is the thing. Stiles knows that the legends about the things that live in the Preserve aren’t strictly legends, that there are truths living out there too. Truths like his mother, who needed sunlight daily or she’d start fading away, who lived in a diet of honey or honeycomb cereal or tea and honey and yet never got sick from it. Truths like how clover and wild wheat and beansprouts would start to grow around Stiles’ feet whenever he was overwhelmed by emotions, ever since he’d first learned to walk.

His mother hadn’t been human and Stiles was a little less human because of it.

So he knew that his father had reasons for keeping him from the woods, though he didn’t know the whole story. He knew how his mother and father met. He knew that his mother wasn’t human – probably fae. He knows how to use the internet, and once he’d realized that his family secrets weren’t quite the same as other family secrets, he’d Googled that shit pretty quickly.

So he knows that he should probably stick to the road and get out of here as soon as he can. But at the same time, he knows his dad will worry if he isn’t home as soon as possible, and cutting through the forest will cut his travel time by half. And he won’t get lost; Stiles has always had the best sense of direction.

Except within moments of leaving his Jeep behind, he is lost, which shouldn’t be possible. He knows he has walked in a straight line – he kept the sun directly at his back. But after walking for an hour and passing the same copse of trees at least a dozen times (or at least, very similar copses of trees, with identical birch trees and brambles in them, and an identical diamond-shaped stone protruding from the dirt at the roots of one – yeah. Probably the same copse of trees), Stiles is starting to panic.

His footsteps are sprouting into twisted, anxious little vines, which is involuntary but relatively common when it comes to anxiety for him.

“Not helping,” he hisses at the dark little vines he leaves as a trail. But his heartrate is picking up, his breathing is getting choppy, and he’s starting to get dizzy.

What if he never finds his way out?

So he turns abruptly to the left, determined to break whatever strange cycle he’s caught himself in, and heads towards what he hopes is Beacon Hills. The trees get thicker, darker, the birds stop singing, and he’s definitely heading away from town. He’s never going to find his way out of here.

And then, just as he’s about to give up and turn around to go back, he smells something sickly sweet and irresistible, just past the trees up ahead. He keeps walking, curious and helpless to resist, because something about the smell reminds him of his mother and her honeyed pastries that she’d make him when he was young.

And his heartrate starts to slow and he doesn’t notice. His breathing gets deeper and he doesn’t care.

By the time he steps through those trees and into the meadow filled with honeysuckle, he’s half asleep already, drifting off into the sweetest dream.

He falls forward almost bonelessly, asleep before he hits the ground, sprawling there with flowers all around him, and a gentle breeze ruffles his hair.

“Oh,” a sweet, sharp voice says, disappointed. It’s the last thing he hears. “I suppose he’ll have to do.”

And then he’s lost to hazy dreams of his mother and Stiles doesn’t care about anything at all.

*

Stiles wakes up in a strange, rounded room that seems carved from soft, sun-bleached wood, painted in gold leaf, with trailing ivy and living wood blended right into the walls. Everything glows with a faint, sweet light that reminds him of his mother’s hair in the sun, and he groans.

His father is going to kill him. If he ever gets to see his father again.

To be fair, his mother never really told them what she was or why she disappeared for that week before Stiles was born and came back nearly human. She never explained where her family was from or why they never came to visit. But Stiles has his theories and none of them were good.

“Hey, so,” someone says, opening the door with a hip check. She’s a tiny, dark haired girl carrying an arm-load of fluffy fabrics, which she dumps on the foot of the bed Stiles is laying on.

“You should probably get dressed.” Her cheeks are pink and she’s carefully looking away.

Because Stiles is naked. And the sheet draped over him is pretty much transparent.

He yelps and looks around for his clothes but they aren’t there, so instead, he digs through the pile she left for him, finds loose, silken pants and some sort of drapy, gauzy shirt. He scrambles into them, the pants drifting down over his legs, the shirt hanging off his shoulders, but naked beggars can’t be choosers, and they’re better than nudity.

“I’m Kira,” the girl says, once he’s dressed. “Are you hungry? You’re probably hungry. Mother says human boys are always hungry.”

He points an accusing finger at her and says, “I’m not eating your food, I know how this works! I eat your food and you own me or whatever.”

She frowns. “Stiles. You’re half fae – we already own you. We can’t own you any more than we already do, so you may as well eat. C’mon. The kitchen is this way.”

Kira leads him through a warren of halls and staircases, around rounded corners and through countless rooms, and through it all, Stiles doesn’t see another person, human or otherwise. They finally arrive at the kitchen, which is also deserted, though someone has left a suspiciously delicious-looking plate of fruit and bread on the table. Kira tugs the chair out for him before sitting at the chair across the table, her chin cupped in her hands, eyes studying his face.

After an awkward moment, Stiles gives into his grumbly stomach and cautiously starts eating. Everything tastes sweet, which isn’t a surprise.

“So,” Stiles says, between bites. “So, I’m half fairy.”

“Fae,” she corrects. “But basically, yeah.”

“And you and I are… family?”

She laughs. “I’m a kitsune, Stiles,” she says, like that means something to him. He looks at her blankly and she sighs. “You really don’t know anything about us, do you? There are many types of fae, and I’m not actually one of them. A fox spirit. Related to fae, in some ways, but also not related at all. Also, Japanese. I’m just… visiting the court.” She wrinkles her nose. “Reluctantly.”

“Fox spirit,” he echoes. “Okay. And I’m…”

“Fae. The same kind as your mother. Only diluted. Obviously.” She winces. “Sorry. It’s probably rude of me to bring it up.”

Stiles frowns and picks at the unfamiliar fruit on his plate. “So… why am I here? If I’m diluted. And they’ve never wanted anything to do with me before.”

“You weren’t useful before,” she says, apologetic. “They’ve found a use for you now.”

“And if I tell them to fuck off?” he asks.

“People don’t really get to tell the Queen to fuck off,” she tells him. “She’ll find a way to make your co-operation in your best interest. That’s why I’m here – because if I didn’t agree to 200 years of indentured servitude, she’d have waged war against my people.” Kira shrugs. “It’s not so bad, though. Two hundred years isn’t too long – I’m nearly halfway done.”

“Two hundred?” he echoes, stunned.

Before she can elaborate, a willowy, pale, cold looking man – clearly some sort of fae – steps into the kitchen and says, “The Queen is ready to see you.”

“You can tell the Queen to f—”

Kira cuts him off with a sweet smile and says, “We’re on our way.”

*

The Queen has blood under her long, pointed fingernails, and it distracts Stiles from her otherwise ethereal and cold beauty.

She’s tall, willowy, her hair is golden and falls down her back in a twisting, rippling wave. Her eyes are green – the same green as Stiles’ mother’s had been. Her smile is sharp and her teeth are sharper.

They’re standing in what seems to be a strange sort of garden, and the Queen is twisting shredded remains of flesh off bones Stiles doesn’t recognize, and carefully feeding it to the carnivorous plants growing there.

“There he is,” she says, sugar sweet, and she twists her nails in his shirt and tugs him closer, studying him in his new fae clothing. “Why, he could nearly pass as one of us.” Her nose wrinkles delicately. “If he weren’t so… muddied.”

“A regular mudblood,” Stiles agrees. “It must be so uncomfortable for you. So just point me to the door and I’ll be out of your hair.”

She laughs; it sounds like breaking glass. “And funny,” she says. “Spirits know, you didn’t inherit that trait from your mother.” She smirks. “Or anything else, really. Poor mouse.”

“Listen,” he says. “You never wanted anything to do with me or with my mother before, so I don’t understand –”

Her fingernails dig into the fragile skin at the back of his neck when she grabs him there, yanking him closer. Her features twist, become sharper, darker, shadows under her eyes, and she hisses, “Don’t presume to know what I wanted or did not want from my daughter. You know not of what you speak, child, so keep your mouth shut before I remove your tongue.”

Stiles tries to pull away, trying to keep his anxiety under control, but he can’t take a step until she decides to let him. When she does, he stumbles back, trying to keep his breathing level. Panicking won’t help, but maybe mouthing off won’t either.

He rubs at the back of his neck, glances around for help, but Kira is staring carefully at the floor and no one else is there.

“Your daughter,” he echoes, keeping his tone careful. Blood is drying at the back of his neck. “So you’re my… grandmother.”

She sneers. “My daughter gave up whatever link she had to this family when she elected to trade her immortal life for a mortal one, all for the love of a human man.”

“Okay,” he says, swallowing hard. “If you don’t want anything to do with me, that’s fine. I’m fine with it. But why am I here?”

“Because I’ve found a use for you,” she says, shrugging gracefully, as if she’d never lost her temper. “I’ve brokered a deal with an enemy of my court and offered them the heir to my kingdom in trade as a gesture to seal the peace.” She goes back to tearing at the scraps of flesh, plants snapping hungrily at her ankles.

“You can’t just –”

She gives him a sharp look over her shoulder and he snaps his mouth shut, re-evaluates, and says, “The heir to your kingdom?”

“Yes. And technically, that’s you.”

Maybe it’s time to panic.

She’s back to speaking sweetly, as if they were discussing the weather. “I never would have recognized the blood bond, of course, it if hadn’t served me, but I find myself disinclined to send my granddaughter to live among beasts simply to recognize a peace treaty that will barely make a difference to our defenses.” She shudders delicately. “It was irritating to keep the beasts in their place, of course, but not an undue hardship. And after losing my daughter, I hardly find myself relishing the idea of trading away another of my bloodline to satisfy a lesser race than ours.” She smiles coldly at him. “But then, I don’t have to. I can send you.”

“You can’t trade me,” he says, desperately backing away. “You don’t own me!”

The Queen turns to him, pouting prettily. Her fingers are stained with blood and chunks of flesh. “You won’t go willingly?” She asks. “Pity. But no matter. Your mother traded her life for John Stilinski; I’m pretty sure you’ll do the same.”

And before Stiles can demand to know what she means, she waves her hand and two guards step in, with Stiles’ father struggling between them. He’s pale, lines stark on his face, eyes wide with fear, but some of his anxiety leaves his shoulders when he sees Stiles standing there, safe.

The guards shove him to the ground at the Queen’s feet. “Stiles,” he says in a rush, an exhale of relief. His voice cracks. “You’re okay.”

Stiles is on his knees beside his dad and wrapping his arms around him, holding him tightly before he can even catch his breath. “Of course I am,” he says. “What are you doing here?”

“You didn’t come home,” Sheriff Stilinski says, hugging him tightly. “And your Jeep was in the Preserve. I knew – I knew where to look.” And then he turns back to the Queen and says, “Let him go.”

The Queen laughs. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. I’ve made a bargain and I need him to seal it. And if he refuses, you’ll die. It’s a pretty simple transaction, I think. And fair, as well.”

“As fair as when you agreed to give your daughter a human life?” The sheriff hisses. “And then only gave her ten years?”

The Queen blinks, all innocence, and says, “You should know better than most, John, that human lives can be brutally short. I did try to warn her.”

Stiles flinches, holding onto his father and trying to think. But it’s not like he’s got many options here. Not when it comes to his dad’s life.

“Dad,” he says quietly.

“No. You’re not doing it. You’re going home, Stiles.”

Stiles looks up at the Queen. He’s shaking, his hands clenched in his dad’s shirt, the material familiar under his fingertips. “Dad,” he says again.

“No.”

“Don’t forget about the – the vegetables. The doctor says, Dad. For your heart. Don’t let Rita sneak you anymore sweets at the office – maybe once a month. That might be okay. There are at least two weeks of frozen meals in the freezer, and after that, if you sweet talk Mrs. Flemming, she might teach you how to make some more. Tell Mr. Talbot that I won’t be able to work for him anymore and I’m sorry.”

Stiles.”

Stiles closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and gets to his feet. “If I do this, you let him go,” he says. “You don’t fuck around, you don’t find a loophole, you don’t hurt him. He gets to go home and live his life – his natural, human life – and you never get to fuck with him again.”

The Queen smiles serenely and says, “I’m hurt that you’d think it would happen any other way.”

“Promise me.”

She nods once and waves her hand at the guards, who drag Stiles’ dad to his feet and out of the room. Stiles wants to look away, but he can’t, and even as he starts to cry, he doesn’t close his eyes.

“Love you,” he says instead, as his dad shouts his name, curses, twists against the guards who don’t seem to struggle to hold him. “I love you, I’m sorry. I should have stayed out of the woods.”

And then Stiles’ dad is gone and Stiles can’t hear him anymore and something in his chest is cracking open and starting to bleed.

He turns back to the Queen. “Is it a forever trade?” he asks shakily, because Kira only got traded for 200 years, right?

“Oh, mouse,” she says sweetly. “Marriage is forever. That’s the whole point.”

And then she laughs, that shrieking, cracking, sharp laugh of something breaking, and everything goes suddenly black.

*

Stiles is getting really sick of waking up in strange places, and this time, he wakes up feeling motion-sick.

“Sorry,” Kira says, voice hushed, as she hands him a cup filled with some faintly glowing liquid. “This will help.”

Stiles drinks it, because aside from sending him to an early death, it’s not like whatever it is can make this day much worse.

And then he sits up and looks around. “Are we seriously in a carriage right now?” he asks. “Pulled by horses?” He can’t see any horses, but he can hear hooves hitting the ground, so it seems a pretty safe assumption to make. “This is some Cinderella-level stuff.”

Kira offers a small smile. “The Queen sent you in her favourite carriage,” she says. “We’re being carried by centaurs – no horses. She couldn’t very well deliver you to your betrothed on the back of a donkey. They’d think she wasn’t taking this seriously.”

“She’s not,” Stiles says. “She’s sending me because she doesn’t give a crap about me, it’s like this is all a big joke to her.”

“It is,” Kira says. “And she doesn’t want to spoil the punchline too soon.” She settles back against the seat. “We’re nearly there. Are you… okay?”

Stiles looks at her and then away quickly. “Well,” he says sarcastically, because sarcasm has never failed him. “I wasn’t exactly aware that I was agreeing to a marriage when I said okay to all this.”

“Would it have made a difference?”

For his dad? No. Stiles closes his eyes. “So. So who, exactly – she kept calling them beasts. Does that mean, like, arrogant asshole princes cursed to live as hairy goat creatures until they learn to fall in love before the last petal falls?”

When he glances at Kira, she’s staring at him like he’s the crazy one. “Werewolves,” she says. “Obviously. The fae kingdom keeps… over-spilling its boundaries and the Hale pack is pretty territorial. They started hunting down the Queen’s favoured creatures as payment, and she wasn’t pleased. They warred for a few hundred years, but eventually, the Queen got bored and they negotiated a peace treaty, sealed in the traditional way. Marriage. A combining of bloodlines. Nothing matters more to the fae than blood.”

Stiles snorts softly and she winced, apologetic.

“So which wolf am I…” he swallows back a hysterical giggle. “Marrying.” Fae, kitsune, centaurs, werewolves, and it’s the whole arranged marriage part he’s struggling with?

“I don’t know,” Kira tells him. “But I am to accompany you – help you prepare. Witness the ceremony to ensure it proceeds as agreed. Report back to the Queen. All you have to do is whatever I tell you to do, and your father will continue to live out his life free of her interference.” She sighs. “I am sorry about that – there wasn’t anything I can do to help him. He stumbled blindly through the forest, calling for you, until the Queen got tired of his shouts and took him.”

Stiles doesn’t want to talk about it, so he retreats to sullen silence, and a few minutes later, the carriage – or whatever it is – stutters to a stop and is gently settled on the ground. The door swings open and Stiles scrambles out before Kira, desperate to have his feet on solid ground.

They’re standing beside a highway, and there’s an ancient van held together with rust and duct tape waiting there, engine idling. A young guy with dark hair and an earnest face hops over the ditch and waves enthusiastically. The sun is beginning to rise.

“Hey!” he says. “Hi! I’m Scott. I’ve been waiting for like an hour! “

Kira is pulling bags out of the wheel-less carriage, the centaurs are standing around looking bored, and Stiles has never met a werewolf before, but this one seems decidedly unimpressive.

Kira hands him their things, tucks her hair behind one ear, and says, “This is Stiles Stilinski, first grandchild and blood heir to her Royal Majesty Queen Isadora of the House of Eolande.” She bows gracefully, indicating Stiles with a wave of one arm, and Scott stares.

“Oh,” he says, blinking at Stiles. “Oh. I thought –” He blinks again and then smiles again. “Totally above my pay grade, someone else can figure it out, it’s all good, c’mon.”

He carries Kira’s luggage to the van, shoves the sliding door open, and tosses it in before gesturing to Stiles and Kira. “Hurry, if we get on the road now, we can make it home by lunch!”

He sounds far too chipper about this, and Stiles looks back longingly at the litter that the centaurs are already packing up, lifting onto their broad shoulders. They disappear into the woods without a backwards glance.

“C’mon,” Kira says grimly, and Stiles follows her to the van in silence.

*

Scott likes to talk.

In the hours it takes to make it to wherever the hell they’re going, Scott tells Stiles and Kira about the current pack dynamics, a brief overview of pack history, some keynotes on the royal family, including their allergies and GPAs. He’s halfway into talking about his tragic break up with his first love three years previous when they pull up at a tall, sprawling home tucked away in an idyllic glade in the forest, part of a little compound of family homes, all ranged around a large fire pit in the middle of the clearing.

The biggest house looks like a normal family home – wrap around porch, three storeys, a chimney with smoke winding out of it, a tree with a tire swing in the front yard, and half a dozen kids’ bikes tangled up on the driveway.

But it’s dead silent, as if the entire house is holding its breath.

Scott studies the house with his hands on his hips and then says, “Well. Here we are. The pack’s out in the woods – getting ready for the ceremony. You know. Wolf stuff.” He waves his hands like that should mean something. “You’ll probably want to get ready, you’ve got a few hours to freshen up, do whatever you need to do. Talia figured we’d just get the ceremony over with tonight – you know. Before moonrise. Full moon tonight. So. Come inside, come inside, I’ll show you around. Then I’ve got to head out to meet the pack.” He shrugs. “You know how it is.”

Stiles doesn’t know how it is. He has no fucking idea how it is. But he and Kira follow Scott inside, anxious little bean sprouts popping up everywhere his feet land on the gravel driveway.

Scott leaves them in a little attic bedroom that looks like it’s been hastily cleaned up for his use. It’s got a narrow bed shoved up below the tiny window, sloping ceilings, and an odd assortment of storage shoved up against one wall.

Stiles doesn’t mind. There are skylights in the sloped ceiling, and the room is bright with sunlight, and that’s really all he needs.

After Scott leaves, Kira gives him a few minutes to explore the room, to open the window, to fluff the pillow, and then she says, “Let’s get this over with.”

She sounds grim. Stiles feels grim. It’s not really how he imagined his wedding.

*

She dresses him in flowing fae clothing like before, but softer now, more sheer, and layered so that it shifts with every breath of a breeze or hint of movement. Each layer is a different shade of blue, so it falls over him like water. And she drapes a light, semi-transparent silken veil over his head and his shoulders, holding it in place with a wreath of woven ivy.

He looks in the mirror, and even through the haze of delicate silk, he can see how silly he looks.

“I look like a cheap Halloween ghost,” he says. “You know. A sheet with the eyes cut out.”

“It’s ceremonial,” she tells him. “The wolves are coming back. Are you ready?”

No. But he doesn’t think he ever will be.

*

Someone has started a massive bonfire in the fire pit in the middle of the clearing, and Stiles can smell the wood burning, can hear the shrieks and growls of children. The sky is glowing indigo and orange and his stomach is in knots.

He’s due to get married in five minutes and no one has seen fit to introduce him to the girl he’s marrying.

“Everything’s fine,” Kira keeps saying under her breath, like a mantra. They’re standing on the wrap around porch, the people gathered around the fire are just silhouettes, and Stiles wants to run as far and as fast as he can.

Almost like he senses it, Scott hops up into the porch a moment later. “Hey,” he says. “You look great! We’re almost ready go to, just waiting for Peter to get his damned bagpipes going and –”

The bagpipes start playing, a mournful sound that cuts through the good-natured calls of everyone gathered around the fire. They fall silent, shuffling until they’ve cleared the way from the house to the fire, where Stiles can see a few shadows waiting for him.

“The royal family,” Scott tells him quietly. “Are you ready?”

“No,” Stiles says.

Kira squeezes his arm. “It’s fine,” she tells him. “You’re fine.”

But he’s going to have a panic attack.

Scott steps in front of him then, blocking the fire, the gathered werewolves, the royal family, and says quietly, firmly, “Listen to me, Stiles. No one here will hurt you. Not ever. No matter what. Not even Derek. No matter how much anybody growls and snaps, after tonight, you – you’re pack. You don’t need to be afraid of us. I promise.”

And Stiles believes him.

He takes a deep breath and thinks of his father, and his mother, and how much she gave up for their family, and how much he’s willing to give up for the same.

“Okay,” he says. And Scott nods and steps aside and Stiles walks forward like his entire body isn’t shaking.

He fixes his eyes on the silhouettes of the royal family and walks towards them, keeping his head held high, ignoring the curious whispers of the people he passes. Slowly, slowly he can see more and more of the royal family – the man with the bagpipes, the tall, cold woman beside him with the long, dark hair, a woven gold circlet in it, the man beside her, his jawline and his shoulders tight, his eyes staring furiously into the middle distance. Beside him, there are two girls, one a little older, and the other about Stiles’ age – maybe 20, staring at him with wide, curious eyes, and that must be it – that must be the girl he’s being forced to marry. She doesn’t look so scary.

Beside her, there are two identical children, barely holding it together. They are shaking with giggles, jabbing each other with their elbows, and Stiles gives it about thirty seconds before their best efforts for good behaviour crumble like the best of intentions.

So Stiles fixes his eyes on the girl his own age and prays he doesn’t throw up.

And then, just when he’s about to call the whole thing a success, his foot catches on the hem of his flowy pants and he stumbles, crashing headlong into – into the furious-looking older guy who looks like he wants to eat Stiles’ face.

The guy catches him, at least. Stiles spares himself a moment to thank God for small favours – he’s not currently sprawled in the dirt at their feet – and then the woman in the middle of it all, the one with the gold in her hair, says, “There are worst ways to meet your intended, I suppose, Derek.”

There’s a thread of cool amusement in her tone and it takes a moment for her words to register and then he realizes that he’s sprawled against the broad, muscular chest of a member of the alpha family – Derek? – whose hands are currently shackled around Stiles’ wrists, pinning him there – and that the woman had called this guy his intended.

Stiles jerks away, startled, and as he does, the woven crown slides off his head, taking the veil with it.

There is an audible hush, a shocked intake of breath from everybody, the bagpipes stop playing with a discordant bleat, and Stiles just stares at Derek and wonders if this was the Queen’s punchline. Not only did she send a grandchild she didn’t even acknowledge to fulfill her end of the bargain – she sent a guy. Wasn’t the whole point to combine the bloodlines or whatever? How was Stiles going to help with that?

“Is this a joke?” Derek growls, and Stiles flinches away from him as his eyes flash bright blue. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Derek,” the woman beside him says, a quiet warning. Her eyes are flashing red, though, so Stiles doesn’t think she’s as calm as she wants to appear. She turns to Kira, who is standing stiffly at the edge of the crowd. “Your Queen was to send her heir,” she says. “Does she not wish to fulfill the treaty she struck?”

Kira tips her chin up and says, “Alpha Talia, allow me to present Stiles Stilinski, first grandchild to her Royal Majesty Queen Isadora of the House of Eolande, and –” she hesitates for just a moment – “Technically, the heir to her throne.” She sounds the tiniest bit apologetic, and she won’t meet Stiles’ eyes.

“She’s breaking the agreement,” Derek snarls. “She said she’d send Raisa.”

“She implied it,” Kira says helplessly. “But if you read the agreement carefully, she never specified—”

“Who – who’s Raisa?” Stiles asks, his voice very small.

Derek turns back to him and his eyes are still blazing and blue, his face rippling as if he is barely keeping whatever animal lurked beneath at bay. “Your cousin.”

“I—I didn’t know,” Stiles says. “I—my father—”

“She may not have broken the word of the treaty,” Talia says coldly. “But she broke the spirit of it.”

Kira shrugs. “That’s what the fae do.”

Talia looks at Stiles for a long moment, and then at Derek, and she says, “You don’t have to go through with it, Derek. You know you don’t – you never had to do this.”

“If I don’t do this,” Derek tells her, reaching out for Stiles’ wrist, his grip so tight, Stiles worries he’ll have bruises. “It violates the treaty. And she’ll destroy us all. Let’s finish it.”

Talia nods and Stiles can’t breathe – this is the perfect time for a panic attack, right before marrying the hottest and yet most terrifying guy he’d ever met. Against his will. Who needs to breathe for that?

He’d half hoped that maybe he could make this work. Maybe he could take these weird ass circumstances and build some sort of semi-satisfied life out of them. Werewolves sounded okay – better than centaurs or vampires or whatever else. He could belong somewhere, maybe – he’d never really belonged in Beacon Hills.

And he is an equal opportunity kind of guy. No problem with the theoretical idea of hooking up with another dude.

A willing dude would be nice, though.

What if Derek is straight? Forced to marry a guy to save his pack.

Stiles hiccups and closes his eyes, swaying on his feet. Talia is speaking but he can’t hear the words. He’s imagining all sorts of bloody ways this could end – torn apart by a homophobic, furious werewolf, tormented all of his life, sent away and forgotten so the fae get angry and go after his dad.

He can’t imagine a way in which this works out for him.

And he’s going to cry or pass out and it will be so fucking embarrassing.

And then Talia and Derek are staring at him pointedly, and Derek shakes him a little, and Stiles repeats the words he’s supposed to repeat and everyone around them is howling up at the darkening sky.

They don’t kiss or anything. The end of the ceremony is marked by Derek finally releasing his crushing hold on Stiles’ wrist.

And he’s not sure what to do now, but before he can decide, Derek says to Scott, “Take him downstairs. Lock the door. I’ll deal with him later.”

“But—” Scott starts to say, but Derek snaps his sharpening teeth at him.

“I’ll make sure he regrets this for the rest of his life,” Derek says, scornful, and then he turns and walks away, his family going with him.

They don’t look back, and the rest of the pack filters after them. Stiles can see their shadows shifting, twisting in the darkness, and then they’re gone, human form replaced by wolves, disappearing into the forest with a chorus of howls.

“Usually the newlywed couple runs together, the first moon after the wedding,” Scott says softly, watching them go. “Derek planned to spend this moon here, with his new bride – he spent the day cooking a feast of sweets and pastries, things he guessed the fae like, to feed her…” He trails off. “I’m really sorry.”

Kira is already gone when Scott leads Stiles into the house and down the stairs, into the basement. There’s a cell there, stone walls and heavy, reinforced door, for out of control wolves, Scott tells him. He brings as many blankets and pillows as he can find and piles them up in the little cell for Stiles, before apologetically closing the door and locking it. There is a little sink and a toilet in the corner.

There aren’t any windows in here, and the darkness is suffocating.

“Oh god,” Stiles whispers. His voice sounds muffled in the dark, and he makes a nest out of blankets, burrowing under them. “Oh god.”

He can’t even hear the wolves howling from down here. The silence presses down on him, feeling so much like anxiety that he starts to panic.

It’s a very long night, and when it ends, Stiles can’t even tell. There aren’t any windows to let the sunlight in.

*

Stiles is trembling when the door opens so, so many hours later. His skin feels parchment-thin and his throat is thick from panic attack after panic attack.

It’s Scott, holding fleece pjs and a plate piled high with eggs and toast. He’s also got a massive bottle of water and a flashlight.

“Breakfast,” he says, voice bright, though it trembles around the edges. “Kira headed home, but I talked to her before she left. She said you’re half human? So you’re probably cold. And hungry. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you.”

He sets down nearly everything he’s carrying, and Stiles just sits there, curled up and shaking in the corner. The edges of him feel like they’re screaming out, desperate and turning to dust – like he’s drying out in the sun.

Scott flicks the flashlight on and bounces the beam around the little cell. “I know it’s awful down here, and I swear, it’s just temporary, just until Derek calms down. And – and comes home. He didn’t come back this morning. But I’ll take care of you until he gets here, okay? And then, when he’s not mad anymore, he’ll let you out, and – and everything will be fine.”

Stiles’ teeth click together and he shudders.

Scott gives up and leaves everything, including the flashlight, right by the door.

Hours later, the light flickers, flickers, flickers and dies, and when the darkness crushes back down on him, Stiles starts to cry.

Everywhere a tear drops, a little vine sprouts up, brushing their tiny, anemic leaves against his cheeks before withering away, because there is no sunlight here, not even a drop, and Stiles is withering away too.

*

He doesn’t know how long passes, but he knows there isn’t much of him left when he becomes distantly aware of Scott bursting into the room with another plate and more forced cheer.

He can’t really move, though, or open his eyes. Breathing is hard enough, and every breath rattles in his lungs and hisses out of his throat. He’d tried sipping the water, eating the food Scott had left, but it just churned in his stomach.

“Great news! Derek’s back, and he says — Stiles?” Scott says, voice shaking. “Hey. Hey.”

And then he touches Stiles’ cheek and Stiles flinches because it hurts.

“Ohhhhh shit,” Scott breathes, and then he’s up and running. He doesn’t even close the door behind him, and Stiles forces his eyes open, just enough to see, but it’s dark out there – no sunlight – so he gives into darkness with a soft whine.

It doesn’t last long. He wakes moments later when he’s shaken, hard. He opens his eyes just enough to see Derek – still livid – bending over him, hands on his shoulders, shaking him, and it hurts – everything hurts – and he’d throw up if he had the strength. As it is, all he can manage is a faint whimper, and then his eyelids flutter shut and he can hear, but responding would take too much energy.

“What’s wrong with him?” Derek snaps.

“I don’t know,” Scott says. “I gave him food and water like you said, and blankets, and warm pajamas – I don’t know, he was just like this, I don’t know!”

“He looks like he’s fading away,” Derek says.

There are footsteps in the room outside of the cell, and another voice – cool, male, vaguely amused, says, “Oh, Derek, is your little fairy mate – your little sunshine child – not taking well to being locked up in the dark for three days?”

Fuck.”

Apparently Stiles has enough energy left to scream – faintly, but it’s there – as he is scooped up roughly, in his nest of blankets, and carried out of the basement.

People are shouting worried questions as Derek carries him through the house, and Scott is pacing alongside them, but Stiles barely has the energy to sort one voice from another. He twists one fist in Derek’s shirt and holds on as tight as he can and then they’re outside and for the first time in three days, Stiles can breathe.

There is sunlight on his face and fresh air in his lungs and he starts to cry, broken, shuddering sobs.

Derek leaves him at the top of the stairs on the porch, orders Scott to fetch him something clean to wear, says something about honey, and then Stiles is alone.

It takes a few moments for him to muster up the strength to drag himself down the wooden steps, into the grass and dandelion-strewn lawn, over-grown and lush. He curls up there, his fingers tangled in clover and honeysuckle, vines sprouting from his tears.

By the time Derek gets back with the honey, Stiles’ skin is flushed with life again, there are vines tangling their way through his hair, and he’s fast asleep in the grass. His lungs barely rattle anymore and he’s finally stopped shaking.

Derek sits down on the stairs to watch over him, head in his hands, cursing under his breath, but Stiles doesn’t hear him.

*

When Stiles wakes, he’s curled up in an armchair, carefully tucked in, in the middle of the lawn, bathed in sunlight. Trailing vines of ivy have wound their way up the legs of the chair, burrowed into the cushions, and bright bursts of violets are clustered in the grass around the chair’s legs.

He moans a little, because the warmth of the sun on his face is so perfect after those days without it, and stretches as he wakes, feeling the life and vitality that’s returned to every fingertip and toe.

And then he opens his eyes and yelps because Derek is sitting in the grass a few feet away, his bright eyes trained on Stiles’ face. He looks like he’s been there a long time, and the violets gradually turn to thistles the closer they get to Derek. He’s surrounded by vicious little thorny plants.

He probably deserves it.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” Stiles says quickly, sitting up so fast, his head spins. He breathes for a moment and then adds, “Please, please don’t lock me back up down there, please. It hurts.”

Derek looks away. “I didn’t know,” he said, voice rough. He clears his throat. “I didn’t realize that would happen. I apologize.”

Stiles stares at him, not really trusting him or knowing what to do with an apology. “Okay,” he says finally. It sounds more like a question.

“Is there anything else I have to do to keep you alive?”

“I didn’t think you cared one way or the other,” Stiles says, when really, he should keep his mouth shut and accept it as a gift that his reluctant werewolf husband (what the fuck) apparently wanted him alive.

“I’d prefer not to give your Queen a reason to come after my pack,” Derek says, quiet. “Your untimely death due to neglect would probably not go over well.”

Stiles looks away, processing quickly. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, had sort of just been stumbling along blindly so far, desperate to keep his father alive, but in taking stock of his current situation, he doesn’t like his odds of survival. The fact that he’s still alive is a miracle, to be frank. And apparently the only reason he is still alive is that Derek and his pack are afraid of the fae Queen’s reaction if they accidentally kill off her beloved heir.

He’s not going to be the one to tell them that she wouldn’t give a shit if they did.

“It would probably be for the best if you didn’t lock me in the dark, then,” he says coolly, shivering a little. Fae clothes are terrible for keeping delicate human bodies warm. “I can’t even imagine what her reaction would be.”

Derek’s jaw flexes and he looks away. “We have no intention of harming you,” he says. “But I can’t trust you. If your Queen isn’t following the rules of our treaty, we need to ensure the damage is contained. I won’t let you hurt my family.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m a threat to you,” he says. Right. “You’re the one with fangs and claws.” But Derek doesn’t seem to read the sarcasm in his tone. “Besides,” Stiles adds. “I am your family. Remember? We got married. I was there.”

“I remember,” Derek says, jaw still tight, and then he gets up and walks away.

Stiles watches him go, crossing his arms over his chest. He totally gets why Derek doesn’t seem to be all that excited to have been forced to marry Stiles. Stiles has never found anybody willing to date him. And Derek is entirely out of his league, appearance-wise.

Stiles totally has a better personality, though. He’s pretty sure about that.

*

On the plus side, they don’t lock him back in the basement. They lock him in the attic instead.

It’s not so bad. The skylights and window fill the room with sunlight, and it’s much more comfortable. Scott escorts him on regular trips to the bathroom and brings food up for him and the first morning there, the tray even included a bear-shaped jar of honey, as if someone finally decided to do some research into the care and feeding of the fae. Stiles doesn’t need it, but he’s always had a sweet tooth, so he stashes it away for emergencies.

As soon as he’s fully recovered, he gets to work on his escape plans, sorting through the junk that’s been stored up in the attic and looking for anything useful. A ladder would be nice.

Instead, he finds photo albums filled with candid shots where no one seems to ever look at the camera. Stiles wonders if that’s a werewolf thing – the flash would probably reflect off their eyes or something. But he still gets to see Derek and his siblings as little kids, Derek with a perpetual scowl on his face, his sisters fierce and usually muddy, bloody, or grinning triumphantly in the midst of some sort of shenanigans.

There are also boxes of baby shoes, little baby outfits carefully preserved, and the family clearly values passing things on to the next generations. Stiles is uncomfortable with that, because it’s probably a big part of why Derek is so angry that Stiles is a guy – how is he going to have a family now, when family is obviously the most important thing to werewolves?

It’s really not his problem, though, since his current plan is to get the fuck out of here as soon as he can, find a phone or a charger or something and call his dad, and escape with him as far away from the woods as he possibly can, so the werewolves and fae can sort their own border issues out.

He shoves those sentimental things aside, keeps the box of linens that might make a decent sheet rope, as well as a few old candle sticks and a lighter that miraculously still has a bit of gas in it, and a heavy paperweight that might come in handy for bashing someone over the head. He’d prefer not to, but beggars (and hostages) can’t be choosers and all that.

And then he finds a treasure trove of an old school Nintendo, with plenty of game cartridges, and a tiny TV.

Almost not daring to hope, Stiles sets it all up, turns it on, and miracle of miracle, it works.

He spends the afternoon playing Super Mario Brothers, and when Scott comes in with his dinner, his eyes go wide.

“Dude,” he says. “Can I play?”

And Stiles doesn’t see why not. Sure, Scott’s the enemy, but he seems to be more the ‘following orders’ sort and maybe, if Stiles befriends him, Scott can help with his epic escape plan.

So they play until the early hours of the morning and Stiles is surprised that he actually enjoys it. Stiles had been desperately lonely back home – not many kids at school wanted to befriend the weird kid with the plant issue. In the year since graduating high school, it hadn’t got much better.

And Scott, for all that he was a werewolf who was pathologically loyal to the royal family who seemed to be dicks, was a decent enough guy when he wasn’t following orders. He’d also apologized a million times for the whole near-death thing.

It’s not the worst way to spend a day.

*

The next morning, far too early, Scott shows up with a bag of regular clothes, so Stiles can finally change out of the weird fae stuff, a heavy chain with a cuff on the end and an apologetic grimace.

“Good news is you get to go outside,” he says. “Bad news is that means no Mario this morning – and also, Derek says you have to wear this.”

“What the fuck is that?”

“Uhm. We use it when a pack member is struggling with control and needs to be restrained,” Scott says awkwardly. He drops his voice to a whisper. “We aren’t sure about fae. Can you break something like this? It’ll hold you, right? Because the other alternative has a spike inside and –”

“It’ll hold,” Stiles yelps, and after Stiles changes, Scott carefully shackles it around his ankle.

Dragging the cuff sucks. It’s heavy and cold and Stiles isn’t sure how up-to-date his Tetanus shot is. But Scott leads him outside into the sunshine, which is warm and sweet and almost worth putting up with the heavy cuff and the rattle of the chain. Almost.

They shove a stake into the ground – like one used to tie up dogs – and attach the chain to it. It’s appalling. But he’s situated near a big oak tree for shade, and someone has shoved the armchair underneath it, which is nice, at least. There is also a little table with a pitcher of lemonade on it, and a plastic cup, in case he gets thirsty.

And the best part is that Scott leaves him alone there, in the silence, with the shade and the whispering breeze through the trees and the sun. Sure, he’s tied up like a dog, but he’s outside and unsupervised and it’s the perfect time to escape.

Twenty minutes later, laying on his back in the sun and panting, blood welling up under the cuff, Stiles gives up. The stake won’t budge, even when he throws his whole weight against it. The cuff won’t open despite shredding his nails trying to pry it off. He’s exhausted and his ankle is throbbing and it looks like escape won’t be happening right this minute.

A few seconds later, Derek snarls, “What the fuck did you do?”

Stiles tips his head back, looking at him, upside down. “Uhm. Nothing?”

“You’re bleeding. I could smell it across the field.”

“Oh.” Stiles shrugs. “It’s, uh. Iron,” he says, because admitting that he’s trying to escape seems a terrible idea, and he’s already determined not to let the werewolves know that he’s not the mysteriously powerful fae they seem to think he is. Plus, maybe if he plays this up enough, they’ll give up on the cuff and use something more malleable. Like rope. “Fae are allergic to iron. It burns their skin.”

He’s pretty sure he read that somewhere.

Derek’s eyes burn bright blue. “Scott!” he roars. “What the fuck have you done?”

“Dude. I’m like 99 per cent sure you told him to put it on me,” Stiles says mildly, as Scott comes running.

“You burned his skin,” Derek snaps at him. “He’s bleeding. I can smell it.”

Stiles obligingly holds the cuffed ankle up for inspection, because perhaps seeing the blood and torn flesh will help make his case. “It hurts like a bitch,” he says, because it does.

“Oh god,” Scott gasps, throwing himself to his knees and fumbling with the cuff. As soon as it falls off, Stiles lets out a small, relieved sigh – it was actually pretty painful, after all the damage he’d done to his skin.

And then he tenses up again because Derek is crouching by his ankle, pushing his pant leg up a little to get a better look, and hissing through his teeth at whatever he sees. “You aren’t healing,” he says, gruff.

Stiles blinks at him, because Derek is too close and Stiles knows his hands aren’t safe – they can turn to claws and rip him apart so easily, and he’s got vivid memories of Derek losing his temper, yanking him around, at the marriage ceremony.

His heart is pounding rabbit-fast.

And Derek is staring at his face now, eyes narrow, hand still carefully cradling Stiles’ ankle. “Why are you afraid of me?” he asks, voice quiet. His hands don’t turn to claws at all – he’s so gentle, like he’s holding something entirely too breakable, and though he’s being that careful, all it reinforces to Stiles is how easily breakable he is in Derek’s hands.

Stiles can’t take it – fight or flight kicks in. Derek is a predator and he is too close, so Stiles kicks out of his grip and scrambles back, panting a little, until he’s crouching defensively on his feet, weight gingerly supported on his injured ankle.

“I’m not,” he says.

“I can hear it when you lie.”

Good to know.

“You don’t heal,” Derek says. “I thought fae could heal.”

“I told you,” Stiles snaps. “It’s iron. It burns. It… it inhibits healing.” He’s pretty sure that’s true, at least. And Derek doesn’t look like he suspects Stiles is lying. Maybe if he treads carefully around the truth, Derek and his pack will never realize that Stiles is far more human than they seem to think he is. If he can keep them afraid of him, maybe he won’t be entirely powerless here.

“Scott, get Isaac. Go into town. We need…” he hesitates. “Bandaids. And…” He looks at a loss.

“Antiseptic ointment,” Stiles says helpfully. “Maybe some gauze. Some Tylenol would be good. Dude, just get a whole first aid kit. I’m pretty clumsy.”

“And you don’t heal,” Derek says.

Stiles stares at him defiantly and doesn’t confirm or deny it, and Derek finally gives up with a sigh. “A first aid kit. And Tylenol.”

Scott runs off to find Isaac and Derek sits down carefully, holding his hands up to look harmless. “I can help with the pain,” he says.

“By what?” Stiles asks. “Amputating my foot?”

“You don’t need to be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you.”

Stiles’ eyes narrow. “I don’t need to be able to hear you lying to know you are. You’ve already hurt me.”

Derek flinches, and he looks away, hands dropping to his sides. “Not on purpose,” he says. “I’d never…” He trails off, and he looks helpless, and Stiles doesn’t know why that matters.

Maybe it’s how different it is from the angry Derek he’s used to.

He creeps closer, because his ankle is hurting, and maybe if he can convince Derek he trusts him, maybe Derek will start to trust Stiles too.

“What are you going to do?” Stiles asks, watching him carefully.

“I just need to touch you,” Derek says. “Give me your foot.”

Stiles hesitates, eyes fixed on Derek’s face, looking for any hint of the wolf lurking in his eyes, but there’s nothing there, just an earnestness that Stiles finds it difficult not to believe.

He drops back onto his ass, leans back on his hands, and gingerly lifts his throbbing, burning ankle up so Derek can cradle it in both of his hands.

“You might get a little dizzy,” Derek warns, and Stiles doesn’t even have time to brace himself before all the pain in his ankle bleeds away in a hot, sugary rush.

He falls flat on his back, moaning, and he swears he hears Derek laugh a little as he does.

*

That night, Stiles breaks an old mirror he finds, carefully concealing the shards and keeping one wrapped up in the sweater Scott had given him earlier. He feels seven years bad luck is a small price to pay in hopes that tomorrow, he gets bound with some nice, old fashioned rope.

He does, and it’s amazing. Unfortunately, though Derek disappears soon after binding him to the tree, those young kids are playing in the yard, under the careful watch of the guy who’d played the bagpipes at Stiles’ ridiculous wedding, so he doesn’t have time to make his escape.

The rope is tied tightly around his uninjured ankle, a sock tugged up carefully to keep it from chafing. Derek had firmly warned him against picking the complicated knot and making a run for it, but who does he think Stiles is? He’s clearly not going to pick at the knot. He’s going to saw the rope – much faster.

But he’s going to do it when no one is watching.

So for now, he carefully slides the shard of glass out of his sleeve, digs a shallow trench in the soft soil at the base of the tree, and covers it. Then he sits down heavily, leans against the tree, and looks around, feeling sullen.

With every day that passes, his dad has more and more time to wrap himself up in anxiety over Stiles’ wellbeing. It can’t be good for his heart. Stiles needs to get out of here, to get word to his dad, to make a break for it before the werewolves realize that as far as political prisoners go, he’s a pretty worthless one.

If cutting the rope and making a break for it doesn’t work, he’s got other plans – more dangerous plans – but he’s really hoping he can pull this off.

He’s contemplating his more dangerous options when he feels a small, pinching little nibble on his fingers.

He yelps, turning to look, and sees a tiny, relatively adorable carnivorous plant nipping at his finger, almost affectionately.

Stiles stares at it, carefully pulling his finger out of harm's way, and the plant nestles down amongst the clover and grass and goes still, its bulb-shaped flower – with spiky teeth around the edges – gaping wide open, waiting, Stiles imagines, for an insect to wander by and become dinner.

“What the fuck,” Stiles whispers, and then he realizes why this plant looks so familiar. He’d seen others just like it – in the Queen’s garden, snapping as she fed them bloodied bits of flesh.

Sucking in a startled breath, Stiles suspiciously looks around, but there are no fae lurking nearby with nefarious grins at having sent their carnivorous little plants after him. Besides. This one seemed almost happy to see him. Kind of like the vines and the sprouts – he’d always had a bit of trouble, little plants blooming around him when he gets emotional or upset. But none of them had ever bit him before.

“I know a little about fae.”

Stiles’ head snaps up and he blinks up at Peter, silhouetted by the sun. “You do?”

“Some types of fae,” Peter says with a slight smile. “There are so many types. I’ve been trying to figure out which sort you are. Affinity for plants. No healing. Allergy to iron. No luck yet. But I do know what that is.” He jerks his chin at the little snapping plant. “If you care to know, that is.”

“You’re assuming I don’t already know.”

“You look pretty shocked for a little fae who’s been bitten by his own sprouts before,” Peter says, amused. “It’s a blood-born sprout. You bled here yesterday – just as your tears summon sprouts, so does your blood.”

Stiles wrinkles his nose, looking down at the plant. “I’m not going to keep feeding it,” he says.

“That’s fine. Their size depends on how much blood they consume, but after they sprout, they can live off insects well enough – or larger creatures, if they’re bigger. Fascinating, though, that you don’t know this.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I didn’t do much bleeding at home,” he says, which isn’t really a lie – he didn’t do much bleeding outside. Inside was much less conducive to sprout germination.

Peter laughs. “I like you,” he says, already walking away. “You’ve got as slippery a grasp on truth as I do.”

Stiles glares at him until he’s gone, and then inches carefully away from the carnivorous plant.

He waits all morning and afternoon, but there are always pack members around, so he doesn’t have an opportunity to escape.

*

The next morning dawns overcast, a storm brewing, but Stiles is still marched outdoors, despite the lack of sunlight. He’s bound to his tree, Derek speaking in irritated monosyllables despite Stiles’ best efforts to get an actual response out of him.

And then, before he leaves, Derek says gruffly, “I’m going into town with Boyd, Jackson and Cora. Scott and Erika are going to be around, so don’t do anything stupid.”

“I never do anything stupid,” Stiles tells him with a wide grin.

Derek hesitates, but he mustn’t detect a lie in Stiles’ words, because he nods and steps away reluctantly.

After Derek’s gone, Stiles wonders if Scott and Erika are the only ones around. He walks to the edge of his rope and cranes his neck to get a good view of the driveway, but the pickup truck and the van are both gone – so it’s possible that he’s alone with only two guards to keep him there.

His heart starts beating faster. This is perfect. He just has to distract Scott and Erika long enough to disappear.

Scott comes by a little while later, waving happily. “How’s it going? Comfortable?” he asks.

Stiles is curled up in the armchair, flipping through a worn copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that Scott had given him a few days before.

“I might have a nap here,” Stiles tells him, stretching grandly. “What are your plans?”

Scott wrinkles his nose. “Erika’s sleeping off a hangover – too much wolfsbane brew with Boyd last night. So my plan is to work as far as I can away from her.” He gestures to the far end of the clearing. “We’ve got a woodworking shop back there and I’ve got some lumber to measure out for Derek and Boyd, so. Call if you need anything, okay?”

Stiles nods and tries to calm his racing heart.

He waits until he hears the faint sound of a table saw starting up, and then he digs up his shard of glass.

It only takes a moment or two to saw through the rope around his ankle, and Stiles stands up slowly, carefully, once he’s free, waiting for someone to appear to stop him.

No one does.

He keeps his steps slow and measured as he walks around the house, to the driveway, and then, with only a vague idea of where he is and where he needs to go, he slips into the woods, only picking up speed when he figures the werewolves wouldn’t hear his footsteps.

He runs until his lungs start burning and his heart feels like it’s going to pound right out of his chest, and then, as it starts to rain, thunder rumbling in the distance, he runs faster.

*

Stiles runs up a creek, hoping the water will make him harder to track. The rain should help with that too – it’s coming down in sheets, making the ground slick and muddy.

He does his best to keep moving in an eastern direction, because as long as he doesn’t get turned around, he’s got to come to a road eventually.

Thunder crashes, lightning leaving the scent of sulphur in the air, and Stiles slows as the ground becomes more treacherous. The hours pass, and all too soon, the sun is behind him, starting to set. He had hoped to be out of the woods by nightfall, but he hasn’t heard any werewolves approaching, so he’s feeling pretty good about his chances now.

Maybe he’ll get to see his dad by nightfall.

All he needs is a town or a highway or a kind stranger with a cell phone.

All he needs is his dad.

*
It’s dusk when he hears the first howl, though it sounds very far away. Still, Stiles starts going even faster, desperate to reach a road. The howling is faint, muffled, lost beneath the thunder and the rain.

And then, suddenly, it’s silent. Just the storm and Stiles’ frantic breathing.

Stiles hesitates, looking around with wide eyes.

“Shit,” he says, quiet, and then starts walking as quickly as he can. He scrambles over fallen trees and around rocks and embankments. He ducks through a clearing and beneath a low-hanging branch –

And then something shadowy dashes through the trees and he sees it. He goes very, very still.

He’s being hunted.

An anxious sprout pops up at his feet.

Fae? Werewolf? Something worse?

He gives up and starts running headlong into the woods, not caring where he’s going, just needing to get away.

Tree branches scratch at him, tugging at his clothes and his hair, scraping along his face and his arms. He keeps running.

And then someone steps out of the trees, right in front of him.

He yelps, startled, but it’s only Kira, and his breath catches again. “You can’t be here,” he gasps, looking around wildly for the Queen.

“It’s just me,” she says, soft. “I came alone. What are you doing?”

“I’m going home,” he snaps. “I’m going to get my dad and we’re going to move across the country and as far from these fucking woods as we can, so I can forget that I’m somehow married to a werewolf who borderline hates me, and having a panic attack in the woods, worrying that my psychotic grandmother is probably lurking, waiting to fuck my life up even more. I want to go home.”

She frowns a little. “She isn’t lurking,” she says. “But she’s got people lurking, reporting back. She said you nearly died.”

“She cared?” Stiles sounds about as skeptical as he feels.

Kira winces. “She thought it was funny, and also, if you’d died, an excellent excuse to rally her forces and destroy the Hale pack without bringing their allies down on us. We’d be perfectly justified. So… so you should try to stay alive. Unless you want us to destroy them, I mean.”

“I just want to go home!”

“Listen. I shouldn’t even be here.” She glances over her shoulder quickly. “I can’t stay long. I just wanted to warn you – it’s not over, not yet. She’s still watching, waiting for an opportunity to prove the weres did not enter into this agreement in good faith. Don’t give her that opportunity – stay alive, and for God’s sake, stay out of the woods, Stiles. Okay? You’re safer with them than you are with her. Your father is safer when you’re with them instead of with her. I have to go, before she notices I’m gone. Her spies are everywhere. Don’t give her anything she can use. I have to go – the wolves –”

She pauses, and Stiles can hear why a moment later. He can almost feel the vibrations of the low warning growl coming from the shadows behind him, and he knows without looking that it’s Derek – probably fully shifted.

Stiles isn’t sure he’s ready to see a fully shifted werewolf, and he freezes, eyes going wide as Kira starts flickering with golden light, electricity cracking at her fingertips.

“This isn’t a battle you can win,” she says to Derek, and Derek just growls more loudly. “I mean him no harm.”

The growling intensifies, and Kira pulls a sword out of a sheath she kept strapped to her back. The blade crackles with electricity too, and nearby, lighting snaps against the ground.

“Get out of the way, Stiles,” Kira says. “I won’t hurt you – but I have no problem dealing with a mongrel.”

Stiles finally forces his feet to move, turning to the werewolf at his back and saying, “Derek, don’t! She’s just a friend – don’t hurt her.” Because Kira’s sword looks awfully small next to Derek’s fangs, his claws, his furious blue eyes. Stiles holds up his hands, trying to calm him. “I’ll come back with you. I’m sorry. Please.”

But Derek doesn’t even look at him, his hackles raising farther, his lips curling back to reveal more of his fangs.

“Stiles,” Kira snaps, and Derek’s muscles tense like he’s about to leap at her.

Stiles just can’t stand the idea of Kira being torn apart for trying to warn him, and he had lied before – he always does stupid things. He moves without thinking, throwing himself between Kira and Derek’s teeth and claws, just as Derek pushes off of the ground with his powerful paws.

Derek slams into Stiles’ shoulder, knocking him off his feet and dragging lines of red hot heat across his skin where his claws cut through so easily. Stiles screams, a quick, startled sound that’s choked off just as quickly when he hits the ground hard, the breath knocked from his lungs.

Derek lands on top of him and Stiles struggles against him, a strangled, terrified sound lodging in his throat as he fights, twisting and trying to get away.

“Stiles!” Derek shouts, fighting to hold onto him, and he’s suddenly skin and muscle instead of fur. “Stiles, stop!”

Derek catches both of Stiles’ fists and pins them up over his head, forcing him to stop thrashing, and he says firmly, “Breathe. C’mon. Inhale. It’s easy.” And Stiles does. It burns and sounds like a sob when it comes rushing out of his lungs again, but at least Derek looks human again.

“You’re bleeding,” Derek snaps. “Shit. You’re so goddamned fragile, Stiles. Why would you get in the way like that?”

“K-Kira,” he says, teeth chattering. He’s soaked to the bone and his shoulder feels like it’s been torn open. “You’re – you’re really scary as a wolf.”

Derek shoots him a quick glare. He’s tearing Stiles’ shirt off with his teeth. It’s not hot. Stiles is terrified, and twenty seconds ago, Derek was a giant wolf. Nothing about this is hot.

Later though, Stiles might fondly remember the teeth-ripping-shirt thing as objectively hot.

For now, though, he cranes his head to find Kira, to make sure she’s okay. She shakes her head in disgust at Derek and says, “Keep on like this, mongrel, and you’ll lose the war before it’s ever actually begun.”

And then she’s gone in a wink of golden light.

“You idiot,” Derek says, like he hadn’t even heard her. “You said you weren’t going to do anything stupid. Scott’s frantic – the whole pack is out looking for you. You’re nearly impossible to track in rain like this.” He’s using his claws to turn Stiles’ poor shirt into strips of cloth – bandages, probably.

“You’re the one who – you’re the one who tore my shoulder open,” Stiles reminds him. “That was pretty stupid.”

Derek’s wrapping strips of fabric around Stiles’ shoulder, and he ties one into a knot with an angry jerk of his fist. “They’re barely scratches,” he snaps. “Fuck. You weren’t supposed to do that.”

“She’s a friend.” He closes his eyes against the rain. “Sort of. Got to keep friends from being torn apart by monsters.”

“Monsters,” Derek echoes, voice quieter now. “That’s what you think of us?”

Stiles glares up at him. “You locked me in a dungeon until I nearly turned to dust,” he says. “And now look. There are going to be so many carnivorous sprouts here.”

Derek shoots him a look like he’s beginning to wonder if Stiles might have a head injury.

“I’m going to carry you to the road,” Derek tells him. “Someone’ll meet us there with a car.” And then he throws back his head and howls and that’s not attractive either even if Derek is apparently entirely naked when he does it.

It’s possible Stiles is catching a fever from all this rain and running and injury to his person.

Derek picks him up – much more gently than Stiles expects. He’s not even tossed over Derek’s shoulder and carted off like a sack of potatoes.

He’s carried bridal style. Stiles smothers a giggle at the irony, and it makes his shoulder aches, so his laughter becomes something strangled and painful.

“Sorry,” Derek growls, still sounding pissed. “Fuck.”

And then there’s that dizzying, sweet sensation, and all the pain slowly drains away. Stiles goes limp, boneless, in Derek’s arms, and mumbles, “I like when you do that.”

Derek says quietly, “Stop—stop trying to run. I can always find you.”

They’re at the road five minutes later and Stiles has never felt more betrayed by his sense of direction.

*

The next morning, Stiles wakes up with an aching, sore arm, a bandage that he’s bled through, and the news that he doesn’t get to go outside today.

He supposes that’s fair.

It’s Talia, though, who comes to change his bandage, and that is unexpected. The pack alpha hadn’t really sought him out at all, seeming content to leave his care (or lack thereof) to Derek. This morning, however, she carefully unwraps his bandage and cleans the three cuts there.

“You don’t need stitches,” she tells him, voice measured, professional, but kind, as well. “That’s good news.”

“How do you know anything about bandaging and stitching?” he asks her, staring down at his hands as she inspects his shoulder.

“My mate was human,” she tells him, already beginning to wrap the wound again. “And I would have done just about anything to ensure he was safe, happy and healthy. Including take a human first aid course. It’s instinct, for us, when it comes to our mates.”

“Mates,” Stiles echoes, the word unfamiliar on his tongue.

She hums in agreement. “What you need to understand, Stiles, is that despite what his mind tells him, in Derek’s heart, you’re already his. You completed the bonding ceremony with him, which means it is his instinct to protect you.”

“But wolves mate for life,” Stiles says. “Do werewolves –”

She speaks right over him. “That includes protecting a mate who seems to have a rather low estimation of the value of his own well-being.”

She finishes wrapping his shoulder and then cups his face in her hands, forcing him to meet her gaze. “Derek will never hurt you deliberately, Stiles, and if he should accidentally injure you in any way, he will regret it until the day he dies. Even if he doesn’t know how to express that.” She smiles fondly. “Derek’s comfort level with words is rather limited.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, dismissing the scratches on his shoulder. “That was just an accident. Don’t worry – I’m not planning to get revenge or anything with my super powerful fae abilities. It’s fine. I mean, he even apologized, sort of, which was unexpected. I’m not here to hurt anybody, you know.”

She smiles. “I know. You’re here because I brokered a deal with the fae Queen to end aggressions between our people. The result -- you, however, were not the mate I’d envisioned for my son.”

Stiles crosses his arms over his chest, winces as it tugs at the scratches, and uncrosses them. “Because I’m a guy?”

“Jackson’s mate is male,” she tells him. “It makes no difference. He’s still pack. What I don’t understand about you, though, is why, if you possess – what was it? Super powerful fae abilities?” She smirks a little. “If that’s true, why haven’t you used them? Why do you smell of fear all the time? Your heart pounds like prey, Stiles. And you run instead of fight. None of that is fae-like.”

“I do have fae abilities!” Stiles says quickly. “Obviously. Have you seen that snapping plant I grew, out by the tree?”

“My youngest grandson, Cole, who is only six, transplanted that little sprout into a flower pot and feeds it insects every day,” she says serenely. “I hear the plant is quite affectionate. Almost sweet.”

Stiles scowls. “I’m not afraid,” he lies.

She just smiles gently. “Derek doesn’t know what to do with you,” she says. “He doesn’t trust easily, and neither, it seems, do you. But werewolf mates chase each other – it’s part of the bonding ceremony, usually. The farther you get, the harder it is for him to find you, the more it appeals to his instincts and impresses him. You’re smarter than he expected, for a fae, and braver too, standing up to werewolves when your entire body is trembling with fear. He likes it – likes you. And that’s something that I did not expect, when I made the treaty agreement, though I had hoped for it.”

“Derek doesn’t like me,” Stiles tells her, uncomfortable. “And it doesn’t matter how impressive he finds my super fae skills of escape. I’m not going to stay here, I’m not—”

She pretends she can’t hear him, again. “Next time,” she says, heading for the door, “Just make sure you don’t get hurt. He doesn’t like that.”

Fuck what Derek Hale likes or doesn’t like. Though Stiles isn’t a fan of the getting hurt thing either, so he grudgingly concedes that he should probably try to avoid that in the future.

*

“I can find you wherever you go,” Derek says, voice tight. “So stop running.”

Bored out of his mind, Stiles leaps off his little bed at the intrusion, beaming at Derek. “My arm hurts,” he says brightly. “Come in, come in, do that pain sucking thing, and then maybe we can play Nintendo.”

Stiles is pretty sure Derek has never looked so skeptical. But the idea of going back to isolation in the attic is too much for Stiles, who has never done well in captivity, so he makes a show of trying to move his arm and wincing dramatically when it pulls at his shoulder.

“Ow,” he says, pitifully, and Derek is crowding him onto the bed a moment later, scowling.

“Sit down,” he snaps. “Let me see it.”

Derek prods at the bandages, declares the ‘mere scratches’ to be ‘practically healed,’ and then sucks Stiles’ mild aches away anyway. It’s lovely. Stiles could definitely get used to this.

He lets his head fall back, humming in pleasure, and when he turns to look at Derek, he can see a slight flush on Derek’s cheeks, his eyes locked on Stiles’ neck. Derek looks away quickly when he catches Stiles looking back.

“Dude,” Stiles says, smirking. “That was a total vampire move. I thought you were a werewolf.”

Derek huffs, dropping his hands away from Stiles’ shoulder. “If you’re feeling better, I have things I need to be doing.”

He stands, but before he can leave the room, Stiles scrambles up and leaps in front of him. “Wait,” he says. “Just wait. I thought we could play some Mario. I’ll even let you be Mario.”

“I don’t have time for—”

Eyes wide, Stiles says, “Please? Don’t leave me up here all alone, okay, I’m going crazy, I’m talking to myself. And the walls. I can’t—I get anxious, in small places, and with no one to talk to. I’ve got ADHD, and I haven’t had my medication, and I’m sort of coming apart at the seams here, and I just need –”

“Okay,” Derek says abruptly. “Fine.”

“Really? I mean, awesome! Cool! Let me set it up. Don’t leave. Here, sit down, sit down.” Stiles turns the tv on quickly, starting up the game before Derek can change his mind.

They play together in awkward silence for a while, and Derek is terrible at it. The awkwardness eases a little when Stiles can’t help but laugh at him after falling prey to the same Goomba seven times in a row.

Derek looks startled when Stiles laughs, but he smiles a little, cheeks flushing again.

Later, he says, “I didn’t know the fae could get ADHD.”

Stiles clears his throat and starts up another water world level and doesn’t reply.

 

*
Stiles is outside again, finally, after an entire day of exile in the attic. He’s not even tied up. No ropes, no chains – apparently Derek has decided that the only way to keep him from running is constant supervision.

It’s annoying. And Stiles does not enjoy Derek’s company.

Stiles is curled up in the armchair under the oak tree again, watching suspiciously as Derek paces the area, on the lookout, it seems, for any sort of shenanigans that might lead to Stiles escaping.

He’d already marched a contrite and sheepish Scott by earlier for an earnest apology for letting Stiles escape and put himself in harm’s way. Stiles had felt a little guilty about it. Now, Derek seems determined to keep him from escaping again.

Apparently satisfied that there were no fae allies lurking to spirit Stiles away, Derek sits down, leans against the tree, and pulls out a knife.

Stiles tenses up. “What the fuck,” he says. “Are you going to stab me if I try to run? I thought you didn’t intend to hurt me!”

Derek lifts one sardonic eyebrow before pulling a partially carved bit of wood out of his other pocket. He starts whittling.

It’s ridiculous.

He also refuses to respond to any of Stiles’ needling, annoying questions, despite Stiles’ best efforts.

Derek is the worst company.

*

It’s three days before there is any shift in Stiles’ circumstances, and even then, it isn’t a good shift, necessarily – not the kind that will facilitate an escape, anyway.

He’s pacing around the yard, about as far as Derek will let him go before the sub-vocal growls start up again, when there’s a sudden shriek that has Stiles nearly jumping out of his skin.

He spins around, looking for the threat, and instead sees a tiny, blond, ragamuffin kid – one of those little twins, he remembers – barrelling around the shed, shrieking a tiny war cry, and slamming into Derek’s side.

Derek, for his part, ooofs and falls over, like the kid’s actually strong enough to knock him off his feet.

“Uncle Derek!” the kid cries, laughing as he pins Derek to the ground. “Got you again! Didn’t hear me coming, did you? I’ve been practising my stealth.”

Stiles braces himself for Derek to coldly inform the kid that the first step towards being stealthy is probably to cut the war cries out of the picture.

Instead, Derek says solemnly, “Totally sneaked up on me that time, Cole. Where’s Laura?”

Cole pouts, skinny arms crossing over his chest. “Mom’s having a talk with Decklin because Uncle Peter’s favourite cookies went missing again, but I didn’t do it. No. I would never, specially after Uncle Peter threatened to curse me with frog warts after last time.”

“Ah,” Derek says, sitting up. Cole laughs as he’s sent tumbling into the grass. “Makes sense. Uncle Peter’s pretty good with frog wart curses.”

Sprawling in the grass, Cole says, suddenly solemn, “D’you think people will be able to tell us apart, when Decklin’s all warty?”

“It’ll probably help.”

Stiles snorts, amused, and Cole cranes his neck back, looking at Stiles. “Oh!” he says. “You’re the fairy!”

“Fae,” Derek corrects quickly, a wary look at Stiles, like the fae are so sensitive about being called fairies that they’d punish a kid for getting mixed up.

“I’m not going to curse him with frog warts for calling me a fairy,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes at Derek.

“Be careful,” Derek says, ignoring Stiles’ words, as Cole rolls to his hands and knees and scrambles closer to Stiles. “He’s dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Cole scoffs. “He’s the one who made Gargamel!”

“Gargamel?” Stiles echoes.

“My plant.” Cole’s grin is fiendish, his teeth just the wrong side of pointy. “He eats bugs.”

“Oh!” Stiles grins. “You’re the one who transplanted my blood sprout!”

“And it’s awesome,” Cole agrees. “Decklin is so jealous. He dug up a dandelion and tried to tell me it was just as cool.”

“Not as cool,” Stiles says. “They only eat sunshine.”

“You eat sunshine,” Derek reminds him, hovering nearby, looking like he’s fully prepared to snatch the tiny werewolf out of Stiles’ fiendish clutches should the situation demand it.

“I absorb it,” Stiles corrects. “I need it. I don’t consume it. It’s totally different.”

Cole is frowning now, his little brow furrowed, studying Stiles and looking for all the world like he’s screwing up just about all the courage he’s got. “Could you make another blood sprout?” he asks in a rush.

“Cole,” Derek begins to scold.

“It’s only that frog warts have to be the worst and I was thinking that maybe, after he’s all warty, Decklin will feel better if I can give him his very own blood sprout to feed and take care of and love and then he wouldn’t be so sad about not looking the same as me anymore.”

Stiles is reluctantly charmed – by Cole’s dedication to his twin, by his dedication to that evil little biting plant, and maybe, by how worried Derek looks, like he thinks Stiles is going to hurt a baby werewolf. Like Stiles is the scary one here.

“Sure I can,” Stiles says, before hesitating. “Well, I can try.” He looks at Derek. “Lend me your knife for a second.”

Derek looks at him like he’s lost his mind. “I’m not giving you a weapon,” he hisses, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“I’m not going to hurt him, he’s just a kid! I’m going to grow him a blood sprout – and blood sprouts, you know, need blood. Just a little. I’ll just prick my finger –” he holds up his hand to demonstrate. “Sprinkle a little blood. And presto, psychotic little plant for the kid’s brother.”

“That is never going to happen,” Derek tells him, just as Cole brightens and says, “Okay, let me help.” He flashes his baby claws a moment later and, with one quick swipe, cuts open the tip of Stiles’ pointer finger.

Derek and Stiles suck in startled breaths at the same time. It stings a little, but not too bad, and, even as Derek starts hollering for Laura, Stiles grins at Cole and says, “Sweet. That’s perfect. Here, we’ll just –”

And he starts shaking little drops of blood onto the ground – just a few. He doesn’t want a giant blood sprout, or an army of them. Just a little—

And then Derek scoops Cole away, deposits him a safe distance out of Stiles’ reach, and says, “He didn’t mean it, he’s just a kid, are you okay, Laura, where the fuck are you!” And then he grabs Stiles’ hand and puts the bloodied finger in his mouth.

Stiles blinks at him, a half-finished syllable dying in on his tongue. He swallows hard, breath coming out in a faint squeak. The thing is, Stiles hasn’t even actually kissed anybody before. As a social outcast in Beacon Hills, he’d never really gotten around to having much of a social life, let alone a dating life, so this is, as embarrassing as it is to admit, as far as he’d ever gone with anybody.

But it doesn’t feel as pathetic as maybe it should. Because Stiles can’t look away from Derek’s mouth, his lips, his jaw flexing as licks at the tiny, superficial wound on Stiles’ finger. He doesn’t know if this is a wolf thing, or a mate thing, or something else. All he knows is that he can feel Derek’s tongue, rough and wet against the tip of his finger, and heating up his cheeks, making it hard to stay on his feet, affecting his breathing.

If Derek’s mouth has this effect on him for something this innocent, what would his mouth feel like on Stiles’ mouth? Or his neck? Or anywhere at all, really?

Not that it matters. Stiles is leaving – he’s totally leaving, as soon as he can. So he’ll never get to find out, even if Derek was inclined to show him.

Derek’s eyes flash up to Stiles’ face suddenly, and Stiles sees when they widen, when Derek’s pupils expand as he takes in Stiles’ flushed face, the way his mouth is hanging open the tiniest bit, his lips still wet from Stiles’ tongue. Derek takes a deep breath through his nose, and god knows what his werewolf senses are picking up, but whatever it is, Stiles knows it’s pretty embarrassing.

“This—this is totally what bandaids are for,” Stiles says shakily, and the tips of Derek’s ears turn pink as he pulls Stiles’ finger from his mouth.

Derek inspects it for damage. “It hurts,” he says, sounding unbalanced, a little raw. “I can smell the pain. He’s just a kid – you keep getting hurt. You’re so easy to hurt. It’s not healing.”

Stiles tugs his hand back and says, a little unsteadily, “Bandaids, Derek. Seriously. It’s fine.”

“Sweet!” Cole cries, and Stiles glances over to see him crawling towards the newly sprouted carnivorous plant. It clamps onto his finger and he laughs.

Laura’s running towards them, Derek calls for Scott to get the bandaids, Cole tries to coax the plant to let go of his finger and it takes a long moment for Stiles to realize that this kind of chaos would be the perfect distraction for an escape attempt.

By the time he realizes it, however, Derek is already carefully putting a bandaid around his finger, his face tight with concentration, and Stiles has missed his chance.

When Derek brings him back to his attic room that night, he lingers in the doorway, like there’s something he’d like to say, but before Stiles can ask, Derek just shakes his head and walks away, locking the door behind him.

*

The next morning, Stiles is dropped unceremoniously into the armchair under the tree with strict instructions not to move, lest he hurt himself again.

It’s fiendishly boring.

Just before lunch, however, Cole and an identical twin with no warts to speak of come tumbling out of a nearby house, both carefully holding hand-painted flower pots. The paint is still drying, displaying various scenes of bloody carnage at the hands of tiny carnivorous plants.

Cole and Decklin set their plants down in patches of sunlight, and Cole announces, “Uncle Peter is teaching us the care and feeding of house plants! They need sunlight. Just like you.” He beams at Stiles.

“And water, too,” Decklin adds. “And bone meal.” He says it with a vicious grin. “Uncle Derek, what’s bone meal?”

“Ground up animal bones,” Derek says, frowning at them. “Don’t you two have lessons? Games to play? Somewhere else to be?”

He’s diligently working on his whittling.

“Nope,” Cole says. “We’re just takin’ care of our plants. Uncle Peter said Stiles might know some cool stuff about them.”

He looks unbearably hopeful, and Stiles says, “Well. I do know a bit…”

“Sweet,” Cole breaths, and Decklin nods along, and next thing Stiles knows, they’ve climbed onto his chair, curling up with him, demanding he tell them everything.

Derek looks appalled, which makes it even better.

“Well,” Stiles says, drawing out the anticipation. “I once saw an entire garden of blood sprouts, and guess what the fae Queen was feeding them.”

He waited until the twins’ wide eyed look of anticipation was nearly too much to bear and then said, “Chunks of flesh torn right off the bone.”

“Stiles,” Derek scolds, but Cole and Decklin look fascinated and a little blood thirsty. The next thing Stiles knows, he’s making up a long, involved, bloody story about an army of blood sprouts that goes to battle against a rebel faction of fae that get their kicks on forcing innocent boys to marry other innocent (and grumpy) boys for no reason at all.

Derek looks progressively more uncomfortable, especially the bloodier it gets, but the twins are fascinated, and gradually, throughout the afternoon, other werewolves wander over, super casual, and find reasons to stay.

Soon enough, Cora, Isaac, Scott, Boyd, Erika, Jackson, Aiden and Ethan all forget to pretend they aren’t listening, just as enthralled in the story as Cole and Decklin.

It’s hilarious. And not at all endearing. Especially not when Derek looks concerned as the innocent boy in the story fends off a raging horde of feral beasts and blood thirsty plants in a desperate attempt to get home to his family.

No. It’s a pleasant way to pass an afternoon while waiting for the perfect moment to escape, that’s all.

*

“I know what you’re doing,” Derek says quietly that night, as he walks Stiles back to his room.

Stiles instantly worries that Derek knows about his stash of broken glass, his paperweight, his lighter, his ever-growing knot rope.

“You do?”

“Luring us into a false sense of security by being nice to the children, by being sweet.”

“I spent the day telling them a gory story that’ll probably give them nightmares for the rest of their life,” Stiles says. “How is that sweet?” He steps into his room, and usually Derek just locks the door and goes away, but this time, he hesitates.

“The children trust you,” he says. “They trust easily – they haven’t learned not to, yet. Please, please don’t be the reason they learn to fear strangers.”

Stiles huffs. “What do you think I’m going to do?” he asks. “I wouldn’t hurt them – they’re kids! And let’s tally up the list of hurts here. If I do the math right, I think you and your family have gotten off hurt-free.”

Derek is quiet for a long moment, and then he confesses, “It hurts me, every time you try to run. It shouldn’t – I know it shouldn’t.” He presses a fist to his chest. “But here, it hurts. I wasn’t sure what it would be like, after the bonding ceremony. When I agreed to this whole thing, this isn’t what I had in mind. I thought – I thought it would be hard, but that I could make it work, with whoever it was the Queen sent to me.”

“You thought it would be someone else,” Stiles reminds him.

“But I didn’t care who it was, not really. That it was you, not her… that the Queen wasn’t following her own rules, I thought I wouldn’t get a chance to make it work. That it was just another one of her tricks.” Derek looks away, rubs at the back of his neck, closes his eyes, and then says carefully, “But you’re still here. And you’re braver than you should be. And you’re stronger. And you’re more clever. And you’re funny. And… and you’re good with the children.” He looks at Stiles, uncertain and more vulnerable than Stiles has ever seen him. His gaze lingers on Stiles’ mouth, and he looks away quickly when Stiles’ breathing hitches, just a little, and licks his lips, “And maybe we still have a chance to make this work.”

Stiles stares at him, at a loss for words.

“Just – just don’t hurt the children. Don’t hurt… the pack. Don’t hurt…” He trails off, like he can’t say it, like ‘don’t hurt me’ isn’t something Derek Hale thinks he gets to say. Instead, he says carefully, “You could stay. With us. You could be family.”

“Derek,” Stiles says. “I – I already have a family.” He swallows hard. “I have to go home.”

There’s a long moment. Derek studies him with dark, unreadable eyes, his broad shoulders taking up the whole doorway. Stiles does his best to keep his breathing steady, though his heart is beating so, so fast. And then finally, Derek nods once, steps out of the room, and locks the door behind him.

The sound of the bolt sliding shut is very loud in the quiet, and very final.

*

Stiles can’t sleep. It’s early evening, someone has started up a fire in the fire pit outside, and the werewolves are gathering, laughing and shouting, chasing each other around, having fun, and Stiles is not jealous or lonely or anything at all. He just wants to go home.

He sits on the bed and closes his eyes and breathes and hopes his dad is okay.

Eventually, the pack starts howling, shifting, chasing each other off into the woods, and Stiles sighs, falling back onto his bed.

A little while later, there’s a soft scratch scratch scratch at the door.

Stiles frowns at it – and then the lock clicks, the door swings open, and Cole beams at him. He’s holding a twisted piece of metal, a stack of flower pots, and a small shovel. There’s a bucket of dirt on the floor at his feet.

“Picked the lock,” he says easily. “Wanna make a deal?”

Stiles glances out the window. The werewolves are all still roasting marshmallows or whatever – no one has noticed Cole is missing.

“Sure,” he says. “What are you offering?”

“I got school tomorrow,” Cole says. “And all my friends are gonna wanna buy blood sprouts of their own, I just know it. I’ll sell ‘em for a dollar each and split the profits with you.” He bounces hopefully on his feet.

Stiles laughs, he can’t help it. “What if they don’t take good care of them, though?” he asks. “How will you make sure the sprouts go to a good home?”

Cole is already setting out flower pots on every available surface. He frowns. “Maybe Decklin and I can quiz them,” he says. “Make sure they’re good plant parents, they’ll feed ‘em plenty of bugs.”

“That’s a good idea.”

Cole carefully measures out soil into all 20 flower pots, pats it down, and then flicks out his baby wolf claws. “Need blood,” he says.

“Now just a minute,” Stiles cautions. “How are you going to transport these sprouts to school? And where are you going to keep them until then? Derek’ll get suspicious if you leave them here.”

“I’ll bring one to school!” he says. “And everyone who wants one’ll sign up and bring their dollar the next day and we’ll give ‘em a sprout. Decklin and I’ll put ‘em in our backpack. And they can live in the shed.” He gestures at the small shed out back.

“Okay, it’s a clever plan,” Stiles allows. “But if you scratch me again, Derek’ll probably get mad. Do you think he could smell the blood from this far?”

Cole hums, considering it for a moment. “No,” he says, but the prospect of getting into trouble has cooled some of his enthusiasm. “It’ll just be a little, and Derek and the other grown-ups won’t be back til morning.”

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll do the cutting part,” Stiles reassures him, shoving a box aside and pulling out his stash of escape supplies. At least helping this kid with his plan to get rich would distract him from all of his anxieties. “That way, Derek can’t get mad at you.”

He pulls out the lighter fluid, the old candles, the twists of linen that never really materialized into a proper escape route, and selected a suitable shard of glass.

While he carefully pricks his finger, sprinkling a drop of blood into the first few flower pots, Cole says, “What’s this for?”

Stiles glances over his shoulder. “Don’t touch that,” he says. “Lighters are dangerous.”

“Danger’s my middle name,” Cole murmurs.

Stiles focusses on sprinkling blood into each pot. The sprouts already start unfurling, snapping their little jaws. It’s unnerving, but he can see why little boys would love them.

Afterwards, Cole makes a dozen trips in and out of the room, carrying two pots at a time down to the shed while Stiles stashes his linen twists, his candles, his shards of glass back into their hiding spot.

When Cole leaves with the last two pots, he doesn’t lock the door behind him.

*

Stiles remembers Kira’s warning to stay out of the woods, but this time, he’s got a better plan, and more time on his side. So he searches the little desk in the entry way until he finds a set of keys that have to belong to the truck or the van, before creeping outside.

It’s so quiet and so dark. Stiles tries to move silently, sure that at any moment, a fully shifted werewolf is going to spring out of the shadows and drag him to the ground. That this is only a test.

He unlocks the door to the truck, silently, silently, and then pulls it open. He closes it softly behind him, inserts the key in the lock. He pauses then, taking a deep, steadying breath, and adjusts the rear view mirror. He can see his own wide, anxious eyes, his own pale face reflected back in the windshield.

He turns the ignition on, breaking the silence of the night with the crack of the engine.

And then someone screams – a quick, high-pitched, terrified shriek.

Stiles jumps, his heart in his throat, expecting werewolves or fae or something worse, but there is only silence and darkness… and then darkness that is broken by the flickering of flames behind him.

Stiles turns slowly to look over his shoulder. Usually, the wolves douse the bonfire before they shift and head out for a run. Why would it still be burning?

But it isn’t. It’s the shed.

And Stiles doesn’t care. Stiles has to go home. He has to take care of his dad. He has to –

But it’s the shed. The shed where, forty minutes before, Cole trudged off with potted blood sprouts and capitalistic ideas, after declaring that danger was his middle name.

He’d taken the lighter, the fluid, and Stiles hadn’t even noticed.

“Oh shit,” he breathed, as the fire spread, engulfing the roof of the shed.

But it isn’t his problem.

Cole is a werewolf. He’ll be fine. Even if Cole is inside a burning shed filled with carnivorous plants, even if somehow, he stole Stiles’ lighter fluid and lighter and set the goddamned shed on fire, even then. He is a werewolf. He can heal.

And Stiles needs to get home to his dad.

He glances over his shoulder one last time. Cole might not even be in there.

But that scream…

It’s worryingly silent now, though.

Stiles closes his eyes. He has to go. He has to—

A door slams shut and he looks up, just as Decklin streaks across the yard, wearing fleece pyjamas, his hair a mess, head thrown back. He’s howling – a trembling, high-pitched attempt at a howl, with a ring of desperation in it. And somewhere deep in the woods, there’s an answering howl.

But it’s too far away and the kid is running straight for the burning shed.

“Fuck,” Stiles hisses, slamming his way out of the truck.

He’s still cursing as he runs towards the shed, making it there just in time to scoop up Decklin before he throws himself at the smoldering door.

“Stay here,” He snaps, setting him down out of harm’s way.

“Cole’s in there,” Decklin says, voice cracking. “And he can’t even howl anymore.”

“Okay.”

Stiles is so angry — at himself, at Cole, at Derek and the fae Queen, at circumstances which were so perfectly set up for him to escape, at his inability to walk away from a baby werewolf trapped in a burning shed.

But of course he couldn’t. His dad wouldn’t want him to come back if it meant leaving a kid behind this way.

But it still makes him so angry, angry enough to slam his foot against the door and send it splintering inwards.

He ducks into the burning shed, most of the smoke and flames confined to the roof above his head. Support beams are smoldering, though, and he’s pretty sure it’s just a matter of time before the whole thing falls down.

He ducks low to the ground, pulling his shirt up over his mouth, squinting into the blazing heat.

It’s not a big shed, and it only takes a moment for him to see Cole, sprawled unconscious at the back of the shed. His head is bleeding, there’s a heavy metal shelf on its side beside him, probably what knocked him out, but he’s still breathing, so Stiles will take it as a win.

He picks Cole up carefully, holding him close, and the shed starts creaking alarmingly all around him as he ducks for the door.

He stumbles outside into blessedly clean, cool air only seconds before the shed gives in with a shriek of metal and wood, collapsing in a smoldering heap behind him.

“Is he dead?” Decklin wails, as Stiles sets Cole down in the grass. “Your shirt’s on fire!”

It is, and Stiles tugs it off quickly, tossing it aside. He’s coughing, his lungs burning, but he’s pretty sure he’s fine.

“Go get some water, okay? And maybe a cloth,” he says to Decklin with a quick smile, trying to keep the kid from having a panic attack. “Cole’s okay. Just a bump on the head. Water will help.”

Decklin hurries off to get some and Stiles inspects the gash on Cole’s head. It should probably have been stitched up if he were human, but it’s already closing. When Decklin comes back, Stiles enlists his aid in gently washing away the soot and ash from his face.

The frantic howling in the woods is getting closer.

Cole’s eyes fly open and he sucks in a startled gasp all at once, and then starts hacking for air as his lungs continue to heal from smoke inhalation.

“You’re okay,” Stiles tells him, over and over, because Decklin, he suspects, needs to hear it as much as Cole does.

Stiles chest hurts. And so does his heart. He feels his last hope of escape drifting away, and he blinks back tears, even as he holds tight to Cole and Decklin, who cling to him for reassurance. They’re both shaking, and he suspects he is too.

And that’s how the pack finds them moments later.

It’s chaos. Laura frantically clutches her children. Talia orders pack members to deal with the flames before they spread. Erika snarls that Jackson – apparently babysitter for the night, who is suspiciously absent – is going to be in so much trouble. And Cole and Decklin cry and cling to their mother.

And Stiles just sits there by himself, numb, his lungs burning, stained black with soot and ash.

“Derek,” Talia says, once the children are ushered off to their home, and everyone else is busy fighting the fire. Her voice is soft and very gentle. “Stiles probably needs you, Derek.”

Derek is shaking and pale when he drops to the ground beside Stiles. He takes in Stiles’ blackened face, his singed shirt, the truck keys clutched in his trembling hand, and whispers hoarsely, “What did you do?”

Stiles blinks at him. “What did I do?” He swallows hard. “I didn’t – I didn’t start the fire, if that’s what you mean. But it was my fault. He took my lighter, I should have realized. But I was so busy trying to escape that I—I didn’t even think, until I saw the flames, and I…” he trails off, numbly dropping the keys in Derek’s hand.

“No. No, I mean. What were you thinking, going into a burning building to pull him out? You’re – you don’t heal.”

“It’s only a shed,” Stiles says, voice cracking. “And he’s just a kid.”

“You didn’t leave,” Derek says, still sounding stunned, like he’s the one in shock here. “You didn’t –”

Of course Stiles didn’t leave. It was his perfect opportunity, and he didn’t leave, and now, if he never gets to see his dad again, it’s his own damned fault, and his heart is breaking.

“Hey,” Derek says, soft, his hand coming up to cradle Stiles’ jaw, his thumb brushing at the ash on Stiles’ face. Stiles realizes he’s wiping away tears and Stiles can’t remember when he started to cry. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re okay.”

Stiles flinches, eyes closing, and his voice breaks when he whispers, “I need to go home, Derek.”

Derek’s quiet for a moment, his hand still on Stiles’ jaw, and then he says quietly, “I just don’t understand why you’d be so desperate to get home if you were sent here to do us harm, especially after saving my nephew’s life.”

Stiles looks at him, eyes wide and burning with tears. “I wouldn’t ever hurt him, or let him be hurt,” he says, broken. “I wouldn’t hurt you or your family or your pack. And I’m sorry if it hurts when I leave but I need to go – I need to take care of my family, please, you have to understand that. Please. I need to go home.”

Derek’s hands are still cradling his face, his thumb brushing Stiles’ bottom lip, eyes shining in the light of the flames nearby. He studies Stiles’ eyes for a moment, like he can read the truth in them, but Stiles thought it was his heartbeat which would give away a lie.

And then Derek looks down at his mouth, almost like he can’t help it, and Stiles doesn’t know what Derek’s hearing in his heartbeat now, because it feels like it’s going to pound right out of his chest.

“Derek,” Stiles whispers, and he doesn’t even know what he’s going to say.

It doesn’t matter. Before he can say anything, Derek kisses him. It’s achingly gentle, Derek’s mouth lingering for a moment against his, and Stiles doesn’t know what to do. He’s a mess of pain, hopelessness and helplessness mixing deep inside his chest into a heavy weight that pulls at him, but Derek has always been so good at easing his pain. Stiles can’t help but kiss him back, breathing into Derek’s mouth as he gives in and Derek licks his way past Stiles’ teeth.

Even as Derek deepens the kiss, it stays gentle, careful, and then Derek pulls away.

“Okay,” Derek breathes, voice shaking. “Okay, Stiles. It was never my intention to keep you here against your will.”

Stiles opens his eyes, staring at Derek in the flickering light of the fire, and says, voice small, “I can go home?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, looking away. “Yes. Of course you can.”

*

They send Scott with him to bring the truck back. At first, Stiles wonders why Derek doesn’t come, but then he remembers everything Talia told him about the mate bond, and thinks maybe letting Stiles go would be too hard for him.

Either way, Derek stands on the porch and watches them drive away, and doesn’t return Stiles’ wave.

“Are you sure – you have my phone number, right?” Scott asks, nervously checking the rear view. “So if you want, you can come back. Any time. Okay?”

“I’ve got it,” Stiles tells him, slumping in the passenger seat. He’s going home. He’ll get to see his dad. He’ll figure out the rest after that.

“And you won’t let them come after us?” Scott shoots him a quick look. “The fae?”

“The agreement was that we’d marry. No one ever said we had to live together,” Stiles tells him, praying that it’s true. Sure, he wasn’t a fan of being held against his will by a pack of werewolves, but he’d come to realize that they weren’t exactly the monsters he thought they were.

And they are letting him go.

That’s all that matters. So he doesn’t think about Derek, watching him drive away. He doesn’t wonder what this does to the bond Derek formed during the ceremony. He doesn’t think about that kiss.

“So, where are we driving?” Scott asks him. “Can’t you just walk into the woods and find an entrance to the fae kingdom or something?”

“Just drop me off in town,” he says, distracted. There’s something in the woods – a shadow – following them. For a moment, he thinks it’s Derek. “I can make it from there.” He’s pretty sure the sheriff station can help.

And then Scott yelps,” What the fuck is that!”

A creature has stepped out of the woods – a huge, equine creature, made mostly of bone and sinew, with dark shadows for eyes. It looks unsettling and distinctly fae, and Stiles can’t believe he was stupid enough to think it would be this easy.

Scott stomps on the brakes and they skid to a stop.

“Wait,” Stiles says, beginning to panic. He clutches Scott’s arm, digging his nails in. “Wait, don’t stop.”

“What’s happening?” Scott asks, shrill. “Is that – is it your family?”

Three fae step out of the trees – tall, cold, terrifying. Queen’s guards.

“Scott,” Stiles breathes. “Scott, Scott, don’t let them take me.”

“They’re your family,” Scott says, looking panicked. “Aren’t they your family?”

“No! Please!”

The guards come closer, cold metal blades in their hands, and Scott finally starts to shift, his fingers becoming claws, his teeth lengthening into fangs. He throws back his head, howls, but it’s too late. A guard wrenches open the passenger door, tearing it right off its hinges, and Stiles tries to scramble farther into the car, but the guard grabs him by the ankle.

Stiles screams, and Scott grabs for him. “No, no. Don’t let them take me,” Stiles begs. “Please, Scott. Please!”

And Scott does his best, roaring, slashing at the hands holding him, but there are too many of them and it’s over too fast. Stiles is torn from the truck, and before he hits the ground, everything tips and spins sickeningly, and then the road, the truck, the forest, everything – all of it is gone, and so is Stiles.

*

One minute, Stiles is drifting in aimless dreams about fields of sprouts and sweet sunshine, his mother’s voice, her laughter, echoing on the breeze, and the next, his eyes are flying open, he’s gasping for breath, and he’s freezing cold.

He’s lying on his back in the middle of the Queen’s garden. Her blood sprouts are shifting restlessly nearby, the bone white cobblestones are cold against his back, and the sunlight burns his eyes as it filters down through swirling columns carved from living trees.

“If you had lived up to my relatively low expectations of you, we wouldn’t be in this mess, you know,” his grandmother says, and Stiles sits up gingerly, his head spinning. She’s standing there, tall, pale, too willowy to be human, and dressed in translucent layers of deep red.

She’s filing her nails and pouting a little.

Stiles gets to his feet, careful not to make any sudden movements, and says, “I did what you wanted me to. I fulfilled your treaty.”

She looks at him, her eyes dark, an amused smile flirting with the corners of her lips. “You did fulfill the treaty,” she agrees, with a regal nod. “Better than I had wanted you to, even. Unfortunately, I had rather hoped that they’d have torn you apart by now.”

“Why would you – that wasn’t the deal.”

“But it’s such a better outcome than another useless peace treaty, wouldn’t you say?” she asks him, hands on her narrow hips. “Just think of it, Stiles. I fulfill my end of the treaty as promised, and deliver unto the werewolves a precious heir to my kingdom to be joined with their family line, so our royal houses are united forevermore. And what do they do? They tear my precious gift to pieces and soak the forest floor with his blood.” She shakes her head, sorrow in her eyes, and says, “It would give me every right to descend upon them with all the force at my disposal and destroy them, every man, woman and child, every beast, until my territory is cleansed of the lycanthrope disease once and for all.”

“If that’s what you want, why sign a treaty at all?” Stiles asks her, voice shaking with anger, doing his best not to think of the Hales and their pack, dead at his grandmother’s hand.

She wrinkles her nose. “We must adhere to the laws of the land, and in this land, unfortunately, there is a governing body who oversees and mediates inter-race relations. The Hunters ensure any race who oversteps their lengthy… code—” she spits the word in disgust –“Pay a steep price for their transgression. It is a price I am currently unwilling to pay.”

“But you’d send me to my death instead.”

She looks at Stiles patiently. “Of course I would,” she says. “Why shouldn’t I? You have nothing of value, you are nothing of value. All you are is the child of the human filth who stole my daughter and took her life.”

“That’s not—”

She waves a hand, cutting him off, losing patience. “It doesn’t matter that the weres somehow came to feel…” she scowls, “Affection for you. Everyone knows they value their pack, their family, their blood, over all else, and they would never accept a halfbreed child of the fae into their family.” She laughs. “Besides. Even I know that Derek Hale has a ferocious temper, and didn’t you just try to burn his little nephew to death?”

“That’s not what happened,” Stiles tells her, backing away. Maybe he can make a run for it. Maybe he can scream for Derek, and Derek will come for him.

“It doesn’t matter what happened,” the Queen says, voice sinking low, silky. “All that matters is what it looks like. And I’m sure I can easily make it look like they tore you apart.”

And she lifts one hand, and Stiles can see her nails, sharpened to deadly claws, as her face twists into something fierce, terrifying. Before he can move, she swipes at him, claws raking across his face, and Stiles screams as he feels them rip down to the bone.

The blow is strong enough to send him sprawling, blood running down his neck, soaking into his shirt, but there’s no time to try to slow it. She’s stalking closer, laughing, and Stiles needs to run.

He scrambles to his feet and dashes down the path deeper into the garden, and behind him, she calls, “Run faster, Stiles. They like the hunt; it’ll make this more realistic.”

She catches him moments later, claws digging into his back, throwing him forward, digging through skin, muscle and bone. He shoves her off and keeps trying to get away, but his blood runs in rivers through the cobblestones, he can’t get away, his body slowly, slowly gives up, until all he can do is lay there as he’s torn apart, screaming. And then finally, he can’t even scream anymore. In the silence, he can hear her blood sprouts snapping hungrily at his blood.

And his grandmother clucks her tongue and says, “Oh, Stiles. Don’t die here. That would ruin everything.”

But he’s not really sure he has a choice in the matter.

*

Stiles is in and out – but mostly out. He’s back in that sun sweet field, chasing his mother’s voice, only now he can hear his father, too. No matter how hard he runs, though, they always stay just out of sight.

And then he’s dizzy and distantly aware of the ground quaking beneath him – the soft, soft soil and the smell of sprouts and vines, twisting up out of the ground, snapping their teeth and stroking him with velvet-soft leaves. They start twining around his wrists, crawling up his arms, and then someone, somewhere is screaming.

“What did you do? What did you do??”

But Stiles didn’t do anything, so he drifts away again, even as he’s torn roughly out of the embrace of his sweet little sprouts and vines.

He drifts and he drifts and there are alternating moments of heat and cold, voices that come and go, some of them angry, others soft, pleading.

And then there is his mother’s voice again, and she’s singing, soft. “If you go out in the woods today, you better go in disguise…

He calls out to her until his throat is hoarse, but he cannot find her, and her voice fades out again, replaced by cool hands on his brow, his cheek, and a woman’s voice he’s never heard.

“I can’t fix this,” she says, and she’s not his mother, so he starts to thrash against her hold, fighting her off.

Someone else holds him down, whispers, “Shh, shh, I’ve got you, shh, Stiles.”

And then the woman says, “If he’s fae, maybe the fae can help him. He needs his family…”

And he starts to scream and scream and scream until he falls away, back to that field, but now, the only voice is his own, calling for his mom, his dad, somebody, anybody to come and find him.

No one comes and the sunlight fades to gray.

*

Stiles wakes slowly, carefully, to sunshine on his face, the distant sound of birds singing, and his father kneeling beside him.

“There you go,” the sheriff says quietly. He’s holding both of Stiles’ hands in his. “That’s it. Breathe, Stiles. Breathe. You’re okay.”

Stiles feels hazy, soft at the edges, and he murmurs, “Did I die, Dad? Is this heaven? If it’s heaven, where’s mom?”

The sheriff laughs, but it cracks in the middle. “You didn’t die, son,” he says. “You just tried real hard.”

He tries to sit up but he can’t, and Stiles starts to panic, struggling against whatever it is holding him down.

“Hey,” his dad says, soothing. “It’s fine, Stiles. Be careful. You lost a lot of blood.”

Stiles falls back, breathing heavily, turning his head. He’s covered in twisted vines, surrounded by angry, snapping blood sprouts.

“What?” he mumbles.

His dad smooths his hair back and says, “Do you remember when your mother was very sick, near the end, when the doctors told us there was nothing more they could do?”

Stiles nods, clinging to his father’s hands. He’s starting to shiver, cold and scared, fighting off vivid and gruesome memories of what had happened with the fae Queen. He didn’t want to think about that. Not here, safe with his dad, in the sunshine and the forest.

“We went out into the forest with her, and she knelt on the ground, at the foot of that big oak tree, and closed her eyes, and her plants came, same as yours – hills of them, hills and towers, twisting all the way up that tree, arching over her, covering her. But it was too late for her – there was nothing that could be done. Not even fae magic.”

“I remember,” Stiles whispers, because that cascade of flowers and vines had been so beautiful, so perfect – like his mother. Stiles had only ever managed bean sprouts, ivies, and blood sprouts.

“When Derek showed up on my doorstep and said you were dying, I thought – they said there was nothing they could do. So I thought, maybe it wasn’t too late for you, and we brought you out here. And I made them leave. And I waited. And now, here you are.”

Stiles is starting to shiver, his teeth chattering. “But how did he find you?”

“I don’t know,” the sheriff says. “When a crazy-eyed stranger shows up and tells me that my son is dying, I don’t ask many questions.”

“You’re the sheriff,” Stiles argues. “You always ask questions.”

He tries to sit up again, and this time, he gets a little farther, like the vines have begun to loosen their hold. He starts untangling them, keeping his fingers gentle, and his dad helps, until Stiles can shakily get to his feet.

His shirt is soaked with blood, and not the shirt he was wearing when he was with the Queen. His skin itches with dried blood, and it tugs and stings when he tries to move.

His dad wraps an arm around his shoulders, supporting him, but the pressure on his skin blooms with pain, and Stiles stumbles with a strangled whimper.

“Hurts,” he says.

“We’ll just get you inside the house. Can you make it that far? I can—”

And then Derek is standing in front of them, looking pissed off or worried or uncomfortable, it’s hard to tell. He’s breathing hard and there are lines of strain around his mouth.

“I can help,” he says, the words clipped. Stiles wants to shrink away, but he’s too tired and sore, and he’s pretty sure he hasn’t done anything to piss Derek off.

“We’re fine,” the sheriff says, but the thing is, Derek can help.

“He can lean on me,” Derek says, already coming to Stiles’ other side. “I can take the pain. I can – fuck it.”

And then he’s scooping Stiles up, one arm bracing his shoulders, the other arm under his knees, bridal style. Stiles tenses for it to hurt, but before any pain can register, Derek’s taking it all, and Stiles falls against his chest with a relieved sigh, closing his eyes and going boneless in his arms.

He twists the fingers of one hand in the neckline of Derek’s shirt, so he can feel the heat of his skin, and, as Derek kicks the door open and carries him over the threshold, says faintly, “This is the most weddingly thing we’ve ever done.”

“Weddingly?” The sheriff echoes, trailing along behind them. “Weddingly?”

“Shut up,” Derek mumbles, but when Stiles laughs a little and accidentally-on-purpose nuzzles the side of his neck, Derek’s arms automatically tighten around him.

The bed Derek carefully puts him in is blissfully soft, piled high with pillows, and it’s definitely not his little bed in the attic.

“I’ll go get Melissa,” his dad says begrudgingly. “And then we’ll talk about this… this weddingly stuff.”

He leaves the room and Derek hovers beside the bed anxiously, but every time he tries to withdraw, to go skulk in the shadows or whatever it is he feels the need to do, Stiles clings to his hand and says, “Don’t – just don’t let go.”

So Derek keeps taking his pain with one hand, and smoothing blankets over him with the other, and by the time Melissa gets there, Stiles is buried beneath a mountain of blankets and he’s still shivering.

Melissa – Scott’s mother, apparently, and a nurse – swiftly unburies him and then has Derek help him carefully cut the stained shirt off him.

“There’s still so much blood,” she murmurs, gently touching his chest. “But the wounds are scabbed over, nearly healed. It shouldn’t be possible. You were bleeding out a few hours ago.”

“M-magic,” Stiles shudders.

“I don’t know what else to do to help you,” she confesses.

“Honey,” Stiles’ dad says. “Sugar water. Anything sweet. He’s lost a lot of blood.”

“In the kitchen,” Derek says. He tries to go get it himself, but Stiles won’t let go of his hand. “In the cupboard by the fridge. There are half a dozen bottles – we bought them when we first signed the treaty.”

The sheriff leaves and returns a few minutes later, two bear-shaped bottles of honey in his hands.

“Okay,” Melissa says, standing up. “Stiles, do whatever you need to do with the honey. Derek, stay with him. Keep him warm. I’ll get a cloth and some warm water – try to wash away some of the blood. It can’t be comfortable.”

“I’ll stay with him,” the sheriff says, eyeing Derek warily.

Melissa shakes her head. “Derek can handle it. He needs to. They need to talk, anyway. And maybe it’ll help.” She hesitates, watching them both for a moment, and then adding, “Besides. Derek runs hot. All werewolves do. And you and I need to talk, John. And probably Talia too.”

The sheriff leaves, reluctant, after making Stiles promise half a dozen times that he’ll call for him if he needs him, and Melissa brings up a bowl of warm water and a soft cloth.

When they’re alone, Stiles lets his eyes close, shivering a little, still clinging to Derek’s hand. Derek starts carefully rinsing the blood away with his other hand, and the water is warm, at least, which helps with the chill.

“This isn’t my room,” Stiles mumbles, as Derek sits on the edge of the bed.

“It’s mine,” he says, drawing the cloth down his chest. “It’s more comfortable – and not up as many stairs. And. And it helps me, having you here.”

“Helps you?” Stiles echoes. Derek is carefully washing the blood off each of Stiles’ fingers.

He clears his throat, and when he speaks, his voice is still rough. “It was… bad. When Scott came back and told us what happened. We couldn’t find you – we all searched, but we couldn’t. I—I didn’t know what to do, or what was happening, but Scott said you were afraid. And you weren’t supposed to be afraid of your family.”

Drawn towards the heat he can feel radiating off Derek’s body, Stiles nuzzles against his thigh, still drifting on the sweet, hazy high of Derek taking his pain. “Not my family,” he hummed. “Just my dad.”

“You should have told me. Roll over, let me do your back.”

Stiles does, grimacing a little, and there’s a brief hint of pain before Derek gets his hands back on him, taking it again. The cloth runs down his spine, up over his shoulder blades. “I thought you were fae. I thought – I thought you were here for the Queen.”

“I’m here so the Queen doesn’t hurt my dad,” Stiles murmurs, eyes closing again. “And I am fae. Partly. A little.”

“Stiles,” Derek says. “If I knew about your dad, that you were worried about your dad — you could have called him. Skyped him. We would have protected him. You’re pack, Stiles. And he is too, now. He’s family. You should have told me.”

Stiles sighs, opening his eyes and looking up at Derek. “If you knew I wasn’t valuable to her, you’d have had no reason to keep me alive,” he said.

Derek just stares at him, horrified. “I’d have every reason,” he says. “Stiles, you’re my mate. We’re married. You’re… You’re pack. That is reason enough.”

Derek sets the bowl of bloody water and the cloth aside, and makes as if he’s going to get up. He looks restless, strained, and uncomfortable, but he’s so warm, and without him, Stiles will feel all the pain again.

“Stay with me,” he says, eyes wide, as he curls up on his side, still holding Derek’s hand. “Please. I’m so, so cold, and it hurts without you.”

Derek hesitates, but then, with a frown, he sits back on the edge of the bed and says, “You need some honey.”

“Sure,” Stiles says. “If you stay.”

Derek rolls his eyes but grabs one of the bottles of honey, popping open the cap before looking uncertain, so Stiles takes it from him. He puts a daub on his finger and licks it off, and the sweet rush on his tongue feels like sunshine after days in the dark. He closes his eyes, humming a little, and licks some more off his finger, swallowing and feeling the soft, warm rush of it soothing him from the inside. He can feel it sweeping through him, gently soothing all the places that still hurt.

It’s headier and stronger, even, than Derek’s ability to take his pain.

He’s never needed very much to make a difference. His mother had needed it as much as she’d needed sunshine, but Stiles only needed the occasional boost when he started feeling run down, depressed, or when his body ached.

It works wonders for him now, and he falls back against the pillows with a dreamy sigh, letting go of Derek’s hand, ready to slip back into the sweetest sleep.

Derek stands up to leave and Stiles’ eyes fly open.

“You said you’d stay,” he says.

“You don’t need me anymore.”

Stiles just looks at him, eyes wide, and Derek gives in a moment later, growling, as he climbs into bed with him.

He’s so warm and Stiles is so soft and hazy. He doesn’t even hesitate to burrow up against Derek’s side, nuzzle up onto his shoulder, twist his hand up under Derek’s shirt.

“Remember when you kissed me?” Stiles murmurs, eyes closing.

Derek hesitates for a moment before saying softly, “Yes, Stiles.”

Stiles just smiles and rubs his cheek against Derek’s warm shoulder. The last thing he feels is Derek tucking a blanket up over his shoulder and curling protectively around him, ducking his head against Stiles’ temple and breathing him in with a shaky inhale.

*

Still feeling like he’d been hit by a bus, Stiles insists on meeting the others in the dining room like a properly functioning adult rather than letting them cluster around his bedside now that they’ve decided that he’s well enough for an interrogation.

His dad is there, and Talia, Peter, Derek and Laura, and Stiles gingerly sits in the seat between Derek and his father. He explains everything – his mother, her death, his ill-advised shortcut through the woods, how he’d agreed to the Queen’s demands to save his father. He even gives a carefully redacted accounting of his time with the werewolves for his father’s benefit, softening some of it, because the last thing he needs now is for his father to be angry with the werewolves, who are pretty much their best bet at making it out of this whole fiasco alive.

“And then there was the fire – one of the kids started it,” he says, staring at his hands on the table. “I dragged the kid out and – and Derek let me go. Scott was driving me into town, and the fae stopped us. They dragged me from the car.” His voice gets small, uncertain. “The Queen wanted to make it look like the Hales had broken the… the Code?” he hesitates, glancing up at Derek uncertainly, because he doesn’t know if he has the terminology right. Derek nods a little, with a small, encouraging smile, and Stiles takes a deep breath. “And then she’d be allowed to destroy the pack. She wanted to make it look like Derek lost his temper after the fire and tore me apart.”

Beside him, Derek starts to growl, and Stiles reflexively flinches. He looks at Talia quickly, and her eyes are blazing red, her jaw clenched. “What else?” she asks, a bit of a growl in her voice.

Stiles closes his eyes and says, “I tried to run. She chased me down and she had claws and – and she…” he trails off, swallowing hard. “You saw.”

“Well,” Talia says, after a moment of strained silence. “She clearly underestimated you, Stiles, and that’s enough to save our pack from whatever scheme she comes up with next. We’ll keep you safe – you have my word. And your father, too.”

“I can keep Stiles safe,” the sheriff says. “As long as he stays out of the forest –”

“It’s gone too far for that,” Talia says quietly. “Your deputies can’t stand against her. We’ve got to call the Hunters ourselves.”

“We certainly don’t,” Peter snaps. “We’ve never needed the assistance of the Hunters before, we don’t need them now.”

Startled by his vehemence, Stiles stares, but he’s distracted a moment later when he realizes that Laura is staring at Derek, concern written all over her face. He turns to look and sees that Derek has gone starkly pale, eyes dark and staring at his mother.

“Derek,” Stiles says, quiet. Derek doesn’t seem to have heard him, and Stiles takes his hand under the table. “Are you—”

Before he can finish the question, Derek gets up and walks away, slipping quietly out of the room. No one gets up to follow, and after a moment, Stiles realizes it’s probably his job now.

*

Stiles finds Derek outside, agitated and pacing in the darkness, near the treeline. He turns to face him when Stiles steps off the porch.

“Go back inside,” Derek says. There’s a rough undercurrent in his voice, like a growl.

“Are you okay?”

“I need – I’m fine. I just need to be alone. In the Preserve. I need –”

“But why?”

Derek’s eyes flash blue as Stiles comes closer, nervous because he can see Derek’s fingers flexing, claws he can’t seem to control. Stiles hesitates, uncertain.

“I can’t breathe,” Derek snaps. “I can’t – I still had the ash and smoke burned into my lungs, still couldn’t catch my breath, and then you were gone and I didn’t think I’d see you again, and then you were hurt, and all I could smell was your blood, so much fucking blood. I can’t keep you safe. And now – and now the hunters – I just need a minute to clear my head, to breathe, so go back into the fucking house, Stiles. I need to get away from here and if you follow me into the fucking woods and the fae come near you again, I swear to God–”

Stiles has had panic attacks before, and he knows what this is. His panic attacks had never involved claws, though, or teeth elongating into fangs. Derek’s face is shifting, bones rearranging, like he’s struggling not to change, and his breathing is quick, like a caged animal.

“Derek,” Stiles says, wary. He takes a deliberate step forward, gritting his teeth when Derek snarls at him. But Talia said Derek wouldn’t ever hurt him, not on purpose, so he doesn’t back away. He clears his throat, takes another step, and says softly, “It’s okay, Derek. Just breathe with me,” like Stiles’ mom and his dad had always said to him.

“Get away from me,” Derek says, voice cracking around the fangs he can’t hide anymore. “I’m not in control. I’ll hurt you.”

“You won’t hurt me,” Stiles tells him, and he hopes his heart rate doesn’t betray the sliver of doubt he feels, even as he reaches forward, ignoring the snapping of bones shifting into new and strange positions. Derek’s body shudders, his shoulders hunching up higher, his face becoming nearly unrecognizable, but his eyes are still the same.

“Stiles,” Derek pants. “Please.”

“You won’t hurt me,” Stiles says again, more certain than he was before, even as Derek begins to look more wolfish.

He presses the palm of one hand against Derek’s chest, above his heart, and says soothingly, “I’m okay, Derek. Breathe with me. The blood’s all gone. I’m fine now. You saved me. You brought me my dad.”

Derek makes a strange sound, low in his throat, almost a whimper, and his clawed hands come up to Stiles’ shoulders, clutching him there. His claws dig in, enough to tear Stiles’ shirt, but not leaving a mark. He’s still panting, his eyes still wide and desperate and shining blue.

Stiles touches Derek’s face with his free hand, brushing his fingertips over the ridge of his brow, the strange alignment of his jaw, his lips. “The fire’s out now,” he says, quiet.

“Can still smell it,” Derek whispers. His voice breaks. “The ash. The smoke.”

Stiles slides his hand around to the back of Derek’s neck. He keeps his voice soft, soothing. “Okay, Derek. But the blood is gone – you can’t smell that. I’m better now. Breathe, you’ll see. Breathe me in.”

He tips his head to the side and bares his throat, because isn’t that something wolves do, when trying to calm an agitated wolf?

He’s working on pure instinct here, from what he knows of wolves and what he’s been told of werewolves and their mates; maybe Derek can’t fight his way through this panic attack without physical proof that Stiles is okay, that he no longer smells of blood and death. And they can work on the other issues once Derek’s breathing is calm, once he’s in control again.

For a moment, he thinks he got it wrong. This won’t help. Derek struggles against his hold, tries to pull away, whines a little, in the back of his throat, but when he gives in, it’s like he goes boneless, melting against Stiles and pressing his face, his nose, to Stiles’ throat. He breathes in deeply, shuddering, his arms sliding around Stiles and clutching him close to his chest. Stiles holds on just as tightly, losing his balance a little, and they tumble to the ground.

Stiles lands on his back. Derek is heavy, pinning him to the ground, still breathing him in in deep inhalations, nuzzling against his throat, his neck, the underside of his jaw. Stiles just holds on, letting him shake, running his fingers soothingly through Derek’s hair. He can feel when the delicate points of Derek’s wolfy ears smooth back down, when his shoulders settle back into human form.

And even after the shaking stops and Derek’s heart and breathing are back to something approaching normal, Stiles keeps stroking his hair and staring up at the stars over his shoulder.

He wonders if this will be awkward. If Derek is hiding his face trying to think of the best way to pretend this never happened. If Derek intends to just get up and walk away. He wonders if Derek intends to just lay there forever, slowly crushing the life out of Stiles’ pale and fragile body.

He wraps his arms around Derek’s shoulders, hugging him tight, and says thoughtfully – casually – “I don’t know much about werewolves.”

Derek grunts softly in reply.

“I didn’t get to see if you have a tail.”

Derek lifts up off of Stiles, propped up on his forearms, and scowls down at him. His hair is a mess, his face is flushed – Stiles finds it reluctantly adorable.

It doesn’t keep him from flashing a giant, smirky grin up at him.

“I hate you,” Derek grumbles, but there’s a quirk of amusement on his lips.

“No you don’t,” Stiles says, still grinning. “I’m your mate.”

He expects more grumbling. Maybe eye rolling. Instead Derek softens, hesitates, shoves a ruffled lock of hair off his forehead, and says, like maybe he’s only just starting to believe it himself, “Yeah. Yeah you are.”

And then he kisses Stiles, and it’s a wholly different kiss than the goodbye kiss he’d given him before. If that first kiss had felt like basking in sunlight after too long in the dark, this one was what Stiles imagined Derek may have felt like, when breathing Stiles in was the only way to stop himself from losing control of the animal inside him. It’s like Derek is channelling all that pent up animal aggression, that agitation, into this kiss and it’s hard, fast, all teeth and tongue and desperate, animalistic whimpers that it takes a startlingly long time for Stiles to realize aren’t coming from Derek at all.

“Oh god,” Stiles pants into Derek’s mouth, when he can finally catch his breath. He can feel Derek smile before he scrapes his teeth across Stiles’ bottom lip. “Ohmygod.”

Derek nuzzles Stiles’ jaw, scratches his scruff against Stiles’ throat. He moves lower, biting a little, sucking a little – Stiles’ dad will not be pleased.

But all he can do is let his head fall back with a moan and close his eyes and shake.

*

The hunters have been summoned and the entire pack is on edge, even the children. Stiles has seen more flares of temper this morning than he has the entire time he’s been with the Hale pack, and those outbursts are usually accompanied by flashing claws and snarls before Talia snaps and gets her pack back under control.

Stiles and Derek spend their time together, outside, sitting in the grass. Derek is quiet, watching Stiles, who channels his anxiety into tender vines that twist up out of the ground and around his spread fingers, and then spiralling slowly, carefully, up his wrists and forearms.

“I’ve never really had much control over the sprouts before,” he confesses, as the little vines twist around his elbow.

“Being so close to the forest probably feeds your abilities,” Derek tells him, and Stiles looks up, smiling.

“Maybe I can grow a tree,” he says, eyes bright.

Derek smiles a little and says, “Maybe. Maybe we could start a garden. Or I could build you a greenhouse…” He looks away, suddenly shy.

Stiles ducks his head, back to his vines, and says, soft, “Maybe.”

It’s quiet again. The sheriff is inside, trying to learn as much about the hunters’ Code and werewolf and fae laws as he can before the hunters arrive. Somewhere, Cole and Decklin are practising their howls, coached by Scott and Isaac. Talia, Peter, Laura are all inside with the sheriff, and the other betas are all pacing the perimeter of the forest, growling at each other. The anxiety is making Stiles itch.

Or maybe that’s the poison ivy crawling up his arm.

“Oops,” he says, and carefully starts untangling himself.

Derek sighs when Stiles reveals his red, bumpy arm. “First aid kit?” he asks, and Stiles sheepishly nods.

The rash is pretty minimal, and Stiles is sure it won’t last long. His plants wouldn’t hurt him, not on purpose. But still, he sits quietly and lets Derek carefully rub calamine lotion into the faint pink marks, instantly soothing the itching.

Derek takes much longer than he needs to, and he’s still cradling Stiles’ wrist in his hand when he says, “When I was younger, there was a fire. That’s why – the smell still gets to me. It was… we nearly lost everything. I nearly lost all of my family, and it was my fault.”

“It was probably an accident,” Stiles says, because he knows Derek would never have started a fire on purpose, not at the risk of his family.

Derek looks up at him quickly and then back down at his hand. He traces Stiles’ fingers with his own, like he’s trying to memorize the shape of Stiles’ hand. “I fell in love when I was 15. Kate. She was beautiful. Older. I thought she was my mate.” Derek shrugs a little. “Mates trust each other. 1000 per cent. And I trusted her. She said she loved me, and I told her everything. Where we lived, where we were vulnerable, how many of us there were and where we’d be, how to get past the traps in the woods, how to sneak past whoever was on guard. She already knew how to disguise her scent, how to move silently. How to incapacitate an entire compound of sleeping werewolves, and how to make a fire look like an accident.”

“She started a fire?” Stiles asks, eyes wide.

Derek is quiet for a moment, and then continues, as if Stiles hadn’t spoken. “She didn’t count on my dad being human.” His voice cracks and he breathes for a moment before saying, “He shot her, but she was still able to kill him, and his death – his pain – roused my mother. The pain of losing a mate, though – there’s nothing like it. It’s like losing a limb. Losing an essential piece of you. She roared to rouse us all, we put out the flames, Kate fled, the house burned. I can still smell it – and the blood. My father’s blood. And it was my fault.”

“Why would she do that?” Stiles asks, keeping his voice low, because Derek still won’t look at him. “Who would do that?”

“Hunters.” Derek lifts his head, eyes dark. “She was a hunter. They’re supposed to follow a Code, supposed to keep the peace, but she thought keeping the peace meant executing monsters. Families. Children.” He shudders.

“Hunters?” Stiles hisses. “And we invited them here?”

“Her brother,” Derek says. “Her niece. But she… she died. Soon after the fire. When the hunters realized what she had done, she was executed. They do take the Code pretty seriously.”

“So… so what are they going to do here?”

“They’re going to hear our complaint, speak to the fae, learn all they can, and decide who is in the right,” he shrugs. “It should be simple enough. They tried to kill you and make it look like we did it. But the Queen is tricky… so there’s a chance she could swing the investigation. It’s impossible to say.”

Stiles pulls his hand away, gently, and when he rests it on the ground again, harmless, sweet ivy twines around his fingers. He looks up and sees that they’re creeping up around Derek’s shoes at the same time, tugging at his laces, twisting between them, and Stiles can’t help but smile, just a little.

“So she wasn’t your mate, then,” Stiles says, as Derek holds out one hand, fascinated as tiny vines start twisting up around his fingers.

“I thought she could be,” Derek confesses. “I thought the world was a fucked up enough place that my mate – the only mate I would ever have – was a crazy woman who hated me for what I am, who died because she was so determined to burn my family alive. I thought that was it for me. I couldn’t get the scent of our burning house out of my mind… I thought I deserved it, to be alone with just her memory - and that smell, and the knowledge that I don’t deserve anything better because I nearly got them all killed. So when my mother told me the fae Queen’s plan, that, as her eldest unmarried child, I had to marry the heir to the fae kingdom… I had met the princess before. She seemed nice enough. Pretty. Quiet. Not as psychotic as her mother.” He looks up at Stiles and shrugs. “I thought maybe that could be something. Not love.. But I thought… maybe something…” He trails off.

Stiles swallows hard. Both of his hands are covered in vines now. “And instead, you got me. Nothing, with me.” He starts gently tugging at his hands, and the vines start to loosen, falling away.

Derek looks at Stiles, quiet, the silence stretching between them, and then he blinks and looks away, into the forest. “And then I got you,” he agrees, soft and apologetic. “I don’t trust easily, Stiles.”

And why should he, after Kate?

Stiles lets out a shaky breath and runs his fingers gently through the tangled mess of ivy beside him. He doesn’t know what to say, and Derek reaches out for his hand, but before he makes contact, he goes still, eyes narrowing.

“The hunters are nearly here,” he says. “I can hear their cars on the road. We better go inside.”

Stiles follows Derek inside, feeling miserable.

*

The actual meeting with the hunters isn’t as formal or as intimidating as Stiles expects.

Sure, the hunters themselves scare him shitless. They’re standing in Talia’s formal living room, looking like heavily armed soldiers. Chris Argent’s cold blue eyes will haunt his nightmares, and for all that Scott seems intent to moon over Allison, Stiles is pretty sure she knows at least 37 ways to kill a person. The other hunters are just as scary, just as heavily armed, just as cold, and Stiles doesn’t know why any sane person would willingly summon these people.

But he can definitely believe that one of them went nuts and tried to burn an entire family alive.

Talia explains the situation – the ongoing territory dispute, the fae’s claim, which had been undefended and unverified for centuries, the attempts at peace, the marriage treaty, and Stiles. She explains the attack on Stiles, and Stiles dutifully reports what had happened, what she had said, why he had gone along with any of this at all, before going back to sit beside his father, Derek hovering anxiously at his other side.

Chris nods once when the story wraps up. “We’ll review the contract,” he says curtly. “If it reads as you say, it sounds like a legitimate complaint. We’ll let you know.”

Talia nods stiffly in reply and rises from her seat, leaving the room. Stiles trails along after her, but Scott hesitates, waving once to Allison, who turns a little pink but doesn’t wave back.

“We used to date,” Scott says mournfully, wandering out of the house. “I think she’s still mad.”

Stiles watches him go and then hesitates, unsure of what to do next. He was expecting more drama, more shooting or shouting, at least, but he supposes there’s enough time for that later.

His father squeezes his shoulder. “I just want you to remember, Stiles, that no matter what the hunters decide, you don’t owe anybody anything here. All I want is for you to come home.”

Stiles looks up at him and smiles shakily, and then sees Derek hovering in the doorway. As soon as Stiles spots him, Derek turns and walks away.

*

There are a lot of stairs to get to his attic bedroom, and Stiles is just mustering up the courage to tackle them when Derek says quietly from behind him, “The hunters finished with the contract and have gone to talk to the fae, to hear their side. They won’t be back until tomorrow.”

Stiles nods and says, “What do you think is going to happen?”

“It’s hard to tell,” Derek says. “But my mother thinks we have a good chance of coming out on top.”

Stiles nods again and then takes a step, wincing. His body is mostly healed, but it still tugs and pulls in strange places, where the muscles were torn before.

“Stiles,” Derek says, after watching him take another careful step. He sounds uncertain. “Could you…” Stiles looks at him silently and Derek closes his eyes. “The house smells of hunters,” Derek says in a rush. “And Wolfsbane.”

Frowning, Stiles turns to face him. “Are you okay?” he asks, because Derek is trembling, just a little.

Derek looks away. “It’s just… hard. Not to let the wolf instinct take over.”

He looks like he’s on the verge of another panic attack. “Well, what does the wolf instinct want to do?” Stiles asks.

Derek takes a deep breath. “Protect you. Stay close to you. Keep you safe until I can breathe again.”

Stiles looks back up the stairs leading to his attic room. “Well,” he says slowly. “I was going to go to sleep. I’m so tired, Derek. But your room… there are way less stairs to get to your room. If you want. If that’ll help.”

Derek’s eyes brighten and he comes closer, hopeful. “You’ll stay with me?” he asks.

Stiles shrugs and says, “Just promise to wake me if I have a nightmare.” He’s been trying all day to forget the fear and terror of being cut up at the Queen’s court.

“Yeah,” Derek says, hopping up on the stairs behind him. “Of course. I’ll keep you safe, from everything.”

“And do not think you’re gonna carry me,” Stiles tells him, taking another achy, exhausted step. “There’s been far too much of that.”

Derek agrees, though far less enthusiastically, and it takes longer than it would have otherwise for Stiles to manage the single staircase leading to Derek’s bedroom. Once he’s there, though, he changes into loose-fitting pajamas – he’s pretty sure they’re Derek’s, but if Derek needs Stiles to smell like him to keep from wolfing out again, Stiles doesn’t care – and crawls into bed.

It’s warm and soft and perfect and the only thing that would make it better would be if Derek wasn’t anxiously patrolling the perimeter of the room, on the lookout for rogue hunters.

“C’mere,” Stiles says sleepily, throwing the blankets back. “I’m cold.”

“I can hear when you lie,” Derek tells him, but a moment later, the bed dips and Derek crowds against his back, pressing his face to Stiles’ shoulder.

The warmth is intoxicating and sweet and Stiles slips into a deep, dreamless sleep.

*

Stiles wakes up to birdsong and early morning sunlight. He stretches, yawns, shifts a little, and his elbow smacks into a warm body beside him. It takes a moment for him to remember where he is and why, and then he rolls over carefully.

Derek doesn’t wake, and it gives Stiles a moment to study his unguarded face in the light spilling through the window. He looks different like this – softer, less intimidating, but still just about the hottest guy Stiles has ever seen.

Everything has been happening so fast since he first got taken in the woods, since he was first brought here, and this is the first time Stiles feels like he really has a chance to evaluate, to catch his breath, to figure out the mess his life has become.

His old life seems so far away – working and saving to go to college, taking care of his father. Now, here he is, married to a freaking werewolf, living in some sort of wolfy commune, with an entire court of fae wanting him dead.

It’s definitely a more interesting life than Stiles had ever hoped to live. But at the same time… does he want to stay here? He’d never fit in and it would always be lonely.

The idea of giving up his own future, the freedom of college and travel and independence, hurts like a physical thing, coiling low and heavy in his stomach. It’s a lot to sacrifice, and if given the choice, he never would have agreed to this.

But then, neither would Derek, who was still mourning a psychotic mate who tried to kill his family. And apparently werewolves are like wolves – mating for life or whatever.

So what kind of lonely life is he dooming Derek to here? Probably the same kind Stiles is going to have.

But maybe being lonely together isn’t the worst thing.

He flushes a little, toes curling, as he thinks of the ways Derek has kissed him, and reaches out with careful fingers to trace Derek’s bottom lip with his thumb.

Derek smiles under his touch hums a little as he wakes– Stiles can feel the vibrations of it in his own chest – and then Derek turns his head, blinking sleepily at him.

“Hi,” Derek says, voice sleep-rough, and Stiles smiles back slowly.

“Hey,” he replies.

Being lonely with Derek wouldn’t be the worst thing at all.

*

The hunters return just before lunch, and this time, they bring the fae Queen and a half a dozen members of her court with them. Kira is there too, carrying the Queen’s bags.

She looks too smug and Allison looks too apologetic for it to be good news.

Chris disappears with Talia and the sheriff to talk about the details and the rest of the pack surrounds the main house, the children safely hidden inside, while the fae set up camp in the middle of the clearing. It mostly consists of laying out ridiculously ornate carpets, covering them with velvet cushions and an imposing throne for the Queen, and then lounging about making disparaging remarks about the betas watching them and sharpening their claws.

Derek doesn’t leave Stiles’ side.

Silence falls over the clearing when the hunters return with Stiles’ dad and the alpha. Stiles shifts closer to Derek, nervous, and Derek just squeezes when Stiles takes his hand.

“After consulting with the fae Queen and reviewing the contract, it’s obvious that the Hale pack failed to fulfil their obligations as laid out in the treaty,” Chris says, cold. “As this is the case, the fae are in the right and have demanded blood in recompense.”

“That’s – that makes no sense,” Stiles says, pulling away from Derek, who had gone cold and still in shock. “How does that make sense? I did everything – we did everything – I came here. I got married. I—”

“The wedding was never completed,” Allison says quietly. “According to fae law, it was never finalized.”

Stiles’ mouth gapes open but he can’t think of anything to say. He’d come here, terrified and afraid that he’d never see his father again, married Derek, lived in fear, nearly died – and for nothing?

His father wraps am arm around his shoulder, squeezing, helping to hold him up, and Chris continues as if Stiles hadn’t spoken. “The fae are entitled to this land, and to their blood price in exchange for the broken treaty.”

“You’ve had your blood,” Talia says, cold. “Stiles has spilt more than enough to satisfy you.”

“You can’t expect me to accept the fact that whatever ceremonial loophole they’ve found trumps the fact that the fae Queen attempted to kill my son and frame the Hale pack for it,” Stiles’ father snaps. “There isn’t a lawyer in the world who—”

“We aren’t lawyers, Mr. Stilinski,” Chris says calmly. “We’re enforcers of the law, we don’t interpret it. And our jurisdiction is interspecies conflict. How the fae Queen chooses to rule her own kingdom and her own people is her business, and not something we can pass judgement on. Had the wedding ceremony been completed and Stiles actually become bonded to the Hale pack, than the Queen’s deliberate breaking of the treaty would be a matter we could deal with. As it stands, without a completed marriage bond, there is nothing we can do except enforce the broken treaty on the Hale side.”

“But afterwards -- Stiles would be free to return home with his father with the contract, and the binding ceremony, void,” Allison says, apologetic.

There is tense silence among the wolves and his father – the fae are watching, smug and bloodthirsty, waiting. It’s too much to take in; Stiles needs to think, he needs to figure this out. There has to be a way.

Derek steps forward before Stiles has a chance to say anything at all and says quietly, “I’ll pay it. I’ll pay the blood price.”

The Queen laughs. “You assume your blood is enough to satisfy a broken accord with the fae?” she says. “We want the alpha.”

“Wait,” Stiles says. “Just – just wait. No one’s paying any blood price. Why wasn’t it completed? What did we do wrong?”

No one answers. The wolves are snarling, shifting, the fae are lazily getting to their feet, ready for a fight. And Kira says softly, “The chalice, Stiles. He had to drink from the chalice. Remember?That’s how a fae binding is sealed.”

Stiles frowns, thinking back. That whole night is a blur, but he remembers Kira, pressing that golden cup into his hands, and carrying it out as he walked towards the bonfire, and then Derek had pulled him… and the cup had slipped from his grasp. He hadn’t even noticed.

Things are rapidly getting out of hand. Talia has a fragile control over her betas, but the threat to their alpha has all of them out for blood, and not even the hunters’ wolfsbane or iron is enough to keep them from the fae throats. Tensions are too high – a brawl will break out any second.

“Wait!” Stiles shouts, voice shrill, rising above the growls. “Wait. Just. Just, wait.” He turns to Chris and Allison. “There wasn’t a timeline on the contract. There wasn’t a deadline. Was there?”

Chris’s eyes narrow but Allison says, “No…”

They both stare at him, and the werewolves too, falling silent.

Stiles can barely breathe – all he knows is that he can’t let the Hales attack the fae. The wolves wouldn’t last five minutes against them.

“So we could still finish it. We could complete the binding ceremony, do the fae half, and it would be done,” he says desperately.

“Yes,” Allison says. “That should satisfy the contract.”

Chris shakes his head, bemused. “You would trade your freedom for life with a wolf?” he asks. “A rabid one, at that?”

Stiles glances at Derek, who is staring at him, pale. “Well. He’s not so bad, once you get to know him.”

“You mortal fool,” hisses the Queen, eyes narrowing and burning. “You would betray your kind this way? Your blood? Your family.”

Stiles looks at his father, standing tall beside Talia, and his dad nods at him once, because not even his father would expect Stiles to trade away a family of innocent men, women and children to the fae for his own freedom.

“You aren’t my family,” Stiles tells the Queen. “You’ll never be my family. And I’d much rather have a family of werewolves than be related to a creature like you. I’ll do it. Now.”

“It would be recognized by the law, by the code,” Chris says, eyes narrowed, looking at the Queen. “It would satisfy the contract, and enforce peace between the fae court and the Hale pack. You know that by being in this realm, you are bound to follow our laws, or you will be punished accordingly. Will you follow the treaty if it is completed this way?”

For a moment, Stiles is pretty sure she’s going to tell them all to go to hell. She’s going to start spilling blood. But after a long, tense pause, she slowly nods her head. “We will, of course, be happy to comply with the law of the land,” she says, voice sugary sweet.

“Stiles,” Derek says, quiet. “Are you sure—”

“There’s just one thing.” Kira steps forward, holding the golden chalice Stiles remembers from his first night here. “It’s – it’s this. You should know, before you take this step, Stiles.”

The Queen starts hissing, lunging forward, reaching for Kira and snarling in a language Stiles doesn’t speak, but she’s held at bay by the hunters’ iron weapons.

Kira ignores the Queen, though she looks pale, shaky.

“It’s enchanted,” she says, her mouth twisting apologetically. “Fae use it to enthrall and enslave non-fae victims. Those who drink it, unless they are protected, become helpless to the commands and desires of the fae who gives it to them. I don’t know if your fae blood is enough to make it effective, but… I couldn’t let you choose this without a warning.”

“You told me when you brought me here that it wouldn’t hurt him,” Stiles says, voice cracking.

“He’d be bound to you,” Kira tells him, handing Argent the chalice when he impatiently holds out a hand for it. “He wouldn’t be harmed.”

The Queen is enraged. The wolves are shouting, arguing about the risk, the sacrifice. The hunters grimly talk amongst themselves, discussing folklore and bestiaries. Stiles and Derek stand still, silent. Stiles is trying to think and he can’t with all this noise.

Derek turns to him, taking his hand, and saying quietly, “You don’t need to do this, Stiles. This isn’t your price to pay.”

Stiles laughs, slightly hysterical. “It sounds like I’m not the one who’ll be paying,” he says.

“Listen to me. It isn’t your fight. You—the wedding was never completed. You’re free. Don’t worry about us, we’ll figure this out. We always do.”

“If I don’t – if we don’t – than the hunters will have to follow protocol, you know that. Your pack would have broken the accord, you’d owe the fae Queen blood, Derek. I can’t – I can’t let any of you pay that. But I can’t ask you to drink from that cup. I – I would never…”

Talia joins them then, looking solemn. “Argent tells me they can’t guarantee one way or another what would happen if Derek drank from that chalice,” she says, looking at Stiles, thoughtful. “Stiles. You have saved my pack more than once, and we are forever in your debt. But if you chose not to proceed with this – if you took your freedom – we would respect it. We would understand. It is a lot to ask someone to give up.”

Stiles closes his eyes, breathing, and says, “She already took my mother from me. I’m not going to let her take Derek’s mother too. But can we – I just, I need a minute. With Derek. Please, I just need to talk to Derek. It’s his choice too.”

He opens his eyes, stares beseechingly at Talia, and she nods once, with a small smile. “Go. My study. No one will hear you in there, not even werewolf ears.”

Stiles thanks her and takes Derek by the wrist, dragging him into the house.

His father catches him before he goes into the study. “Stiles,” he says, quiet. He glances quickly up at Derek, and then back at his son. “I drank from a chalice like that, when I married your mother, Stiles.” He smiles, and it trembles at the edges. “And nothing changed for me. I loved her before and I loved her after.”

Stiles doesn’t know what to do with that, but he’s pretty sure that whatever magical power of love protected his father from the power of the fae magic isn’t going to protect Derek.

*

Stiles paces the study and Derek watches him, eyes dark, worried.

“It’s too much,” he says, throwing his hands up, still pacing.

“You don’t have to do it,” Derek reminds him gently.

“Not for me. For you. You’d be helpless – you’d give up your freedom, to me. That’s just… it’s ridiculous, Derek. I can’t ask that of you. I can’t. You don’t even – you don’t even like me. You barely tolerate me. I drive you nuts most of the time.”

Derek steps in front of Stiles, causing him to stumble to a stop, staring beseechingly at Derek. “I like you just fine,” Derek tells him. He’s smiling a little, and Stiles doesn’t think Derek is taking this seriously enough at all.

“You shouldn’t have to do this with me,” Stiles says, sitting down heavily in Talia’s leather desk chair. He buries his face in his hands. “It’s too much. You lost your mate and got married off to me – I’m not even – I know you couldn’t ever care for me, I know that, it’s a bit much to ask, and I know that you only get one mate and you lost yours and you’re just trying to salvage whatever you can with what’s left, and I know that if you do this, with me, you won’t have a chance—”

Derek kneels down between Stiles’ legs, tugs his hands away from his face, and says, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Stiles just shakes his head.

“Stiles,” Derek says. “You are my mate. I’ve told you that. I’ve told you that so many times. Why would you think you weren’t?”

“Because you said it was Kate,” he mumbles, looking away. “And she went nuts and she died and you tried to have something – anything – but instead you got stuck with me.”

Derek frowns. “That’s not how it works,” he says. “We get to choose, Stiles. It isn’t some universally fated thing, where there’s one mate out there for us and if we find them, we get a happily ever after, and if we don’t, we languish in misery, missing half of our souls or whatever. It’s – we choose. We become mates when we speak the binding ritual, the way you and I did the night we met. That’s when we became mates. Kate doesn’t matter – she stopped mattering years ago. You’re – you’re mine, Stiles. I thought you knew.”

“But I… I can’t,” Stiles starts, apologetic. “I’m not – you’re, you know. Gorgeous. And I’m… pretty boney, actually, and clumsy. I’m awkward, and I talk too much, and I’m way too sarcastic for my own good, and I, and I want to go to school, Derek. I want travel the world, I want to find a place where… where I can belong. You know? And you… deserve… someone better. Someone you can have a family with. I haven’t even got any friends. No one really wants to be friends with weirdos who make plants sprout out of the ground when they get turned on, or angry, or sad, I’m not sure you knew that.”

“I like your sprouts,” Derek says, serious. “And I like you. And if you want to go to school, or travel the world, then I want to go with you. And if you want somewhere to belong, you will always, always belong here. When I spoke the ritual, I already bound myself to you, body and soul. You are my mate – this cup, this fae magic, whatever it is, can’t change what’s already been written in stone.”

“But what does it mean? I don’t get what that means? Being mates.”

“It means I am yours and you are mine. You are it for me, Stiles – no matter what happens. I only get one and you’re mine.”

“But you don’t even know me,” Stiles says, desperate. “You didn’t choose me.”

“I know enough. I know you saved Cole. You saved my pack. You saved me. I know you’re clever and brave, I know you make me laugh.”

“But what if the magic makes it so you have to do what I say? You have to go where I say and come when I call?”

“Stiles… I’m already yours. You call me, I’m there.”

“Derek.”

“Stiles. I trust you. Okay? I trust you.”

And maybe they don’t love each other, not yet, but trust seems, at this point, a much more fragile and hard-earned thing.

So Stiles closes his eyes and breathes for a moment and says, “Okay. Okay, let’s do it.”

Derek kisses his mouth, barely a brush of his lips, and pulls him to his feet. “Everything’s going to be okay,” Derek says, calm and confident.

Stiles is shaking too hard to argue.

*

It’s a strange feeling of déjà vu. He’s standing there while Kira fusses over the veils that fall over his face, adjusting the antler crown, making sure his flowy pants fall just so, his stomach a ball of nerves, his hands shaking. The only difference this time is that it’s broad daylight, and his dad’s gonna be there to see it.

“Doing okay?” Kira asks, keeping her voice soft and soothing.

“I’m not sure whose side you’re on,” Stiles confesses.

“I’m not much for pointless slaughter,” she tells him. “I’m just serving my time at the Queen’s court, earning my freedom. I never promised to be loyal.”

“Do you know what’ll happen when Derek drinks from the cup?”

“He’ll be enchanted,” she says, stepping back to survey her work. “Or he won’t. It’s hard to say. But intent matters, Stiles. It always does, with magic, even fae magic. If you go into this with good intentions, then the chance of harm is much less.”

Stiles breathes. “I guess that has to be good enough.”

Kira picks up the chalice, which holds faintly shimmering liquid, and says, “I knew your mother, you know. When she was a child, growing up in the Queen’s court. “

“How old are you?”

She smiles. “Old enough. It doesn’t matter. Your mother was never like the Queen, never… never had a stomach for the plotting, the violence, the blood. Spent her time growing her own garden, all made up of daffodils and daisies. Sunlight flowers. Not all fae need sunlight the way she does.” Kira hands him the chalice, smooths the veil again, and says, “When she said she fell in love with a human man, the Queen was livid, but I was so happy she found a way to escape. And when they were to be wed…” Kira shrugs a little. “I stole the chalice for them. It didn’t hurt your father because she would never, ever have hurt him. So don’t worry too much, Stiles. If you don’t wish him changed, he won’t change.”

Stiles tightens his grip around the golden chalice, staring down at it, wondering if his mother had been nervous when she’d handed it to his father, if his father had even hesitated.

“I’m ready,” he says, just as Uncle Peter starts in with the bagpipes outside.

*

“You know,” Derek says, casual and conversational as Stiles makes his way carefully through the grass, to the same place he and Derek had stood the first time they’d met. There’s no fire burning this time, though. It’s a bright, sweet sunny day.

“That whole veil thing freaked me out the first time you wore it too.”

“It’s ceremonial,” Stiles tells him loftily, like staying casual would make this all less terrifying. Would make the hunters staring at them coldly, armed to the teeth, less of a threat. Would make the stony, furious face of the fae Queen less nightmare-worthy.

“And I’m surprised that antler thing is staying on your head at all, with how clumsy you are.”

Stiles manages a laugh, which causes it to tip alarmingly sideways. Derek catches it before it falls, at least.

A strange fae is standing there beside Talia and Peter, who finally gives it a rest with the bagpipes, and Stiles’ father is standing there too, at Stiles’ request. He’s frowning, and before fae man can begin the ceremony, the sheriff looks at Stiles and says, “Are you sure, kid?”

“You’ll like them once you get to know them,” Stiles promises him, and then the fae priest – or whatever he is – launches into the ceremony, speaking a language Stiles has never heard.

He glances at Kira, figuring she’d let him know if this was some sort of trick – some sort of death ceremony or something. She smiles reassuringly, but still looks a little nervous.

“And now,” says the fae, in accented English. “Repeat after me.”

The vows are, unfortunately, in that strange language again, which twists Stiles’ tongue up, but he does his best. It’s a stammery, terrible mess – Derek, of course, sounds like fae language is his mother tongue, rattling it off flawlessly.

And then it’s time for the chalice, and Stiles hesitates for a long time, staring at Derek through the shifting haze of the veils. Derek smiles at him, reassuring, and Stiles takes a deep breath. Trust, he reminds himself. And intention.

So he focusses as hard as he can on positive intentions, on nothing changing, on being harmless, and holds the cup out for Derek to take.

He can feel the tension ratchet up around him, all of Derek’s pack shifting and growling faintly, reacting to the possibility that a pack member might be harmed.

Derek takes a long, slow drink, never looking away from Stiles, and when he’s done, he grimaces a little. Kira takes the cup.

Stiles isn’t sure if it’s his imagination or not, but for a moment, it looks like his eyes sparkle with a golden shimmer.

He plunges into an anxiety attack, his heart pounding, his breathing a ragged mess. The clearing fades in and out, and so do the fae priest’s final words. Beside him, Derek just holds his hands in a firm grip, keeping him grounded.

And then it’s over and Derek knocks the antler crown from his head and shoves the veils off as well, both hands on Stiles’ shoulders, bracingly.

“Keep breathing,” Derek says, soft, like only Stiles is meant to hear it, though Stiles is sure every werewolf in the pack is listening. “It’s almost over.”

Stiles’ breathing hitches, he searches Derek’s eyes for fae magic, and Derek kisses him, sweet and warm, like honey.

Stiles melts into it, just a little – remembering and forgetting how to breathe all at the same time. And then the pack is cheering, celebrating, an edge to their voices, marking the victory over the fae as much as Derek and Stiles solidifying their bond.

*

It’s a rush, after that. Everything moves so quickly – his father is at his side, trying to ask if he’s okay. The Hale pack is rallying around them, protective, against the fae court, who hasn’t so much as moved. Chris is trying to talk, but drowned out by the cheers, the growls. Scott keeps shaking his hand and saying, “That’s Allison, over there, my ex-girlfriend, remember, I told you? She’s amazing, isn’t she amazing?”

Stiles just wants everything to slow down for a minute so he can see if the fae magic had any effect on Derek, but the fae seem to be the only ones content to wait quietly until the chaos dies down.

Anxious weeds sprout and tangle around Stiles’ shoes every time he takes a step.

Chris finally fires a wolfsbane round into the sky, and a shocked silence falls over the pack. Cole and Decklin whimper at the unfamiliar smell, and Talia starts to growl softly.

Stiles just shrinks against his father’s side. He’s lost Derek in the crowd.

“If I can have your attention,” Chris says sarcastically, and he definitely has everyone’s attention now. “With the completion of the binding ceremony, the Hale pack and the Queen’s court are officially joined, and, as laid out in the treaty, at peace. No blood will be spilled between them, and if anyone should break the treaty, they will forfeit their right to share this territory.”

Talia nods stiffly in acceptance, and the Queen does as well, getting to her feet. “Well,” she says, still syrupy sweet. “We had best pack up and return to the forest, then. I’m glad it all worked out peacefully, of course.”

Stiles doesn’t believe her. Not even a little.

The fae servants pack up her carpets, her pillows, her throne, and they start drifting towards the trees, the fae Queen leading the way.

She stops when she gets close to Stiles’ father, and slowly turns to face him, still smiling sharply. “John,” she coos, leaning closer. Stiles wants to shrink away from her, but refuses to leave his father’s side.

“I’d hurry back to your woods,” the sheriff tells her. “I didn’t sign any treaty with you.” He cocks his gun. There’s a commotion nearby, and Stiles looks up, over her shoulder, and sees Derek shouldering his way through the crowd towards them, his face shifting, eyes flashing blue.

The Queen laughs and it sounds like wind chimes. “Oh John,” she says. “You really think I’d let you keep your child, when you took mine from me?”

It all happens so quickly, Stiles barely sees the knife she’s hiding until she lashes out, quick like a snake. He barely has time to register the blade before Derek is shoving him out of the way, snarling.

It’s chaos, instantly. Stiles trips over the hem of his flowy pants, falling and landing hard on his back. There are gun shots, snarling wolves, screams.

Stiles does his best to duck, cover his head so he doesn’t get stepped on, and a few seconds later Derek is crouching over him.

“Stay down,” he says, sounding remarkably jovial. “I’ve got you.”

Stiles peeks up at him. “You sound way too pleased – you’re bleeding! There’s a knife in you!”

He can see the bone white handle of the Queen’s blade sticking out of Derek’s chest, right below the shoulder.

Derek’s nose crinkles – it would be adorable if not for the death, destruction and blood. “Yeah,” he says. “Pull it out, I’ll heal.”

“Pull it – Derek! It’s a knife! In your chest! And we’re in the middle of a rumble! Why are you smiling? This is because of the fae magic, isn’t it? You’ve lost all concept of self-preservation, you’re—”

“I’m smiling because you chose me,” Derek says, rolling his eyes, still smiling. He reaches up with one hand and wrenches the knife out of his chest. A wave of blood follows, and Stiles is worried he’s going to pass out. “I’m smiling because you chose my pack – you saved my pack – and you saved me. I’m feeling pretty good about things. I didn’t think, after Kate, that I deserved anything good, but then… but then somehow, there’s you. And now, my alpha is going to tear the Queen to pieces for harming you, and the hunters are going to help. It’s a good day.”

“A good day,” Stiles echoes, feeling even more faint. “Ohmygod.”

Cole and Decklin come tumbling out of the battle, looking bloody and rabid but still so tiny. Derek reaches out and grabs them both by the scruff of their necks and tucks them next to Stiles, shielded by his body.

Stiles reaches up to put pressure on Derek’s wound, his hands trembling, but he can already feel it healing beneath his palm, which is quickly sticky with blood.

“How can I be sure you aren’t affected by the fae magic?” Stiles asks, voice trembling.

Derek smiles down at him. “Tell me to do something,” he says.

“Sing me something,” Stiles says. Cole and Decklin snicker.

Derek laughs. “I don’t sing, Stiles. Not even for you.”

“I heard him sing once,” Cole says. “In the shower. Mom told him it made her ears bleed, so he stopped.”

Derek playfully snaps his teeth at them and Cole and Decklin giggle.

Smiling hesitantly, Stiles thinks maybe it is okay. Maybe Derek is okay. “Is my dad –”

Derek looks up for a moment. “He’s okay. Cora’s got his back, don’t worry.” When he looks back down, he smiles again, more gently, brushing Stiles’ hair back off his forehead. “Close your eyes,” he says. “It’s almost over. You don’t want to see.”

Stiles can’t see anyway, not with Derek looming over him, but he closes his eyes, Derek’s hands warm on his face. There’s a flurry of gunshots, of snarls, and then a long, furious scream that ends in a strange, watery gasp, and then silence.

“Safe now,” Derek tells him. “You shouldn’t look.”

He gets up, and Stiles looks, because he can’t help it. The Queen is dead, her body torn up, blood still soaking into the ground all around her. Her servants are bloodied, hurt, but otherwise untouched. Peter’s nursing a nasty looking wound that’s already healing, but the other Hales are unharmed, and Stiles’ father is pale but otherwise seems to be okay.

Chris holsters his gun and says grimly, “The treaty was broken, justice was served. The fae have given up their right to this land and have until nightfall to leave.”

The remaining fae servants wrap the Queen’s body in her silk carpets and lift her, drifting away into the forest. Kira hesitates, searching for Stiles in the crowd. She smiles. “Raisa’s Queen now,” she says. “She’s nothing like her grandmother. And she hates it here. You’ve nothing to fear from her.”

And then she follows the fae into the forest.

There’s so much blood.

“Come inside,” Derek says, quiet. “Leave the others to clean this up.”

“There’s so much blood,” Stiles says, staring at the place the Queen’s body had fallen. He giggles anxiously. “There are going to be so many blood sprouts here.”

Behind him, Cole and Decklin start making plans to relaunch their blood sprout business at school.

*

“What now?” Stiles asks, freshly showered, standing nervously beside Derek’s bed, like he’s never spent the night there before.

Derek looks up at him, puzzled. “Now? We go to sleep.”

It’s late. It had taken hours to clean up after the battle, to get the hunters off their land, to feed the triumphant and starving pack.

“I know, but – do we need to—”

Derek blinks at him and then turns a little pink. “We don’t need to, uh. Do anything you don’t want to do. That’s not necessary for the binding – I mean, some day, I’d love to – but we don’t have to – uhm. I was thinking maybe we could try something else first?”

Made a little more comfortable by Derek’s awkwardness, Stiles climbs into bed. “Yeah? What’s that?”

“Dinner?” Derek asks, clearing his throat. “Or coffee? Or a movie?”

Stiles grins. “A date?”

“Yeah.”

He laughs. “It’s a little late for dating, Derek. We’re already married. Twice. Don’t you think—”

“I think you deserve some dating,” Derek says, scowling. “Don’t make it weird.”

“This isn’t fae magic, right? You aren’t—”

“Tell me what to do.”

Stiles grins wickedly. “Tell me more about those things you’d love to do with me some day. Those sexual things.”

Derek’s eyes go wide. “Uhm, no. No.”

Snuggling into his pillows and blankets, Stiles smiles with satisfaction. “Good,” he says. “Well, I still want to hear. But some day. When you want to tell me. Or show me! I’m totally up for showing. After our dates. We can get to know each other better. I’m excited. And then – maybe, in the fall, we can – I want to go to school. Is that okay?”

“You can go anywhere you want,” Derek says, inching closer. Stiles obligingly rolls over into optimal snuggling position without making it weird. It’s a sacrifice – on one hand, he’d love to call him out for it and make him blush and stammer some more. On the other hand, snuggling. He’ll take the snuggling.

“And you can come with me,” Stiles says, snuggling back against Derek’s chest, sleepy. “You can be my hot older roommate/husband. Everyone’ll be jealous.”

Derek laughs and kisses his shoulder. “Go to sleep, Stiles.”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” Stiles tells him, hazy and sleepy, still smiling. “Fae magic, remember. I own you.”

And maybe because of fae magic, Stiles does own Derek, a little. But it’s a choice which seems the most important part – just like Derek chose Stiles. So maybe they both own each other, a little, and maybe that’s what being mates is all about. Choosing to belong to one another.

And if that’s true, than that means that Stiles finally has found somewhere he belongs. Which is just what he wanted all along.

Derek nips his earlobe. “Sleep,” he says firmly. “You’re thinking too much.”

Stiles snickers a little but it’s warm and he’s sleepy and maybe he’ll listen, just this once.

He falls asleep thinking that maybe, somehow, they both got lucky, and that this isn’t nothing after all.

It already feels like something.