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Safety in Silence

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The laptop was picked up secondhand at a sketchy electronics store in Des Moines, from a shelf that also contained an old coffeemaker with a cracked pot and a tub full of old nokia flip phones. Derek and Laura bought it because everything else was gone, and spending the insurance money on some shiny, brand new number from a strip mall didn’t seem right. So their laptop’s hinge is wobbly, and barely has any memory, and every noise that comes out of the speakers is tinny, but the laptop –– “Old Bess,” Laura calls, or called it––is functional, in the most technical sense of the word. When Derek numbly clicks on a “trending now” link, the laptop gamely takes him to some local news website and a video with two cheery newscasters. After some grinding noises from deep inside the hard drive, the video heaves into life.

“And on the lighter side of the news,” chirrups the impeccably styled blonde behind the news desk, “Erin Brown and George Thomasson of Redding weren’t expecting to find their soul mates when they each went with a group of their friends to a karaoke competition at the Alibi Bar on Chestnut, but as we all know, the soul mate bond can strike at unexpected times. Ari DeNiri has more.”

The footage switches to another woman excitedly clutching a microphone. “Thanks Jessica. Now I’m standing in front of the Alibi Bar, where Erin Brown and George Thomasson met. Like any of us, they had no idea that they had the trait for soul mate compatibility, they only knew that they were both scheduled for round three of the Alibi’s Wednesday night karaoke competition. But when they were both called onstage for their round, they both felt that classic ‘jolt to the heart’ and a scene right out of a romance novel ensued. Bystanders report that the two karaoke aficionados decided not to sing Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, but instead improvised a duet in which they described their love for each other-”

Derek closes the laptop, pinching the bridge of his nose. He can just hear Laura complaining, draped over the bean bag in their tiny New York apartment, saying things like “these stories are so corny!” and “they’re totally not being inclusive to people with soul mate dysfunctions. They act like these stories are the norm, and never give time to people whose soulmate just doesn’t feel ‘the jolt,’ or already married, or have three way bonds.” and “You never see werewolf stories on tv either. I’d say they’re being racist, but then again, I’ve told you the statistics-”

“Yes Laura, you have,”

“An entire 40%––40%!––of werewolves have soul bonds, which is four times the human percentage-”

“But half of them are classified as dysfunctional,” Derek would recite, rolling his eyes.

“But half of them are classified as dysfunctional, and when they’re human/werwolf soul bonds, the number gets even-”

“Gets even worse, I feel like we’ve talked about this before.”

Then Laura would throw a pillow at him and return to drinking in every detail of whatever soul mates related news story was playing.

A small smile plays over Derek’s face before he remembers that he’s sitting on the floor of his burnt out house, and he was supposed to be emailing his landlord that he and Laura won’t be coming back to New York.

Just... the way she’d let loose with grim numbers and percentages, then look at him and say “but don’t let that discourage you. There was always mom and dad.”

Derek would always shake his head. He doesn’t have a soul mate. People like him don’t get soul mates, and Derek could accept that, find comfort in the knowledge that he’d always be alone, but Laura never could.

“Don’t be so sure, Der-Der. Don’t be so sure.”

Derek shakes head fondly. He can almost see her patronizing little finger wave. She was always so sure of herself, even if- especially if she was wrong.

XXXXX

There’s nothing like that terrible feeling when a full grown man realizes his big sister was right all along.

It’s just that he’s perfect.

Derek’s heart starts to beat faster and faster as he draws nearer and nearer to the two figures at the edge of the property. The one on the right. It’s the one on the right. The one on the right who screams nerdiness and whose hair is cut too short, the one that sent a jolt through Derek’s heart the second his eyes fell on him.

Nothing he’s ever seen on TV managed to fully describe this feeling coursing through him. There’s the sudden shock to his heart, but also utter terror at how, in one moment, a stranger marched into his life and filled in a space Derek didn’t even know existed. And exhilaration. Pure exhilaration that an adrenaline junkie could OD on. He’s standing, teetering, on a precipice, with his old life on one side, and an ocean of possibility on the other.

There was always mom and dad.

He could have that. Right here, right now, Derek could find a piece of forever. A miracle sent to him in the wake of Laura’s- Laura’s.

She would be so happy right now. So happy. Derek found him. Derek found him and it’s nothing like he thought it would be.

In the seconds he walks up to the pair of men, Derek falls in love with a dozen tiny things about his soul mate.

Derek’s soul mate shuffles his feet when meeting new people.

Derek’s soul mate has eyes that look almost yellow when the light hits them.

Derek’s soul mate has the tiniest patch of stubble underneath his jaw, like he was distracted this morning, half awake, toothpaste on his breath and sleep in his eyes, warm and relaxed, leaning against the sink with one hip, razor dangling from his fingers.

Does Soul Mate like what he sees? Derek shaved this morning too, but it was by the creek outside the house, and he knows he must have missed spots. Derek knows he’s conventionally attractive, but Soul Mate must see beyond that, and is what he sees good? Is he just as out of breath, as flustered, as ecstatic as Derek is?

This is Derek’s second chance. He’s going to get this right.

Derek’s soul mate shuffles his feet again, then opens his mouth. He’s going to speak, and Derek’s going to hear what his soul mate’s voice sounds like, and neither of their lives are going to be the same after this moment.

“Hello, um, sir. We were just looking for my friend’s inhaler.” Those yellow-brown eyes flick up to Derek’s, then easily flick away again. “So, uh, have you seen an inhaler or anything? He lost it somewhere around here.”

His soul mate’s friend nods enthusiastically. “They’re like seventy bucks.”

“Uh-huh,” says Derek’s soul mate, wriggling his hands in his pockets and glancing behind him as though he’s looking for an exit route.

Well.

Derek allows himself one second. One second to close his eyes, breathe in, readjust, curse Laura for being so spot on with her numbers and thank her for preparing him for this. One second to remember how to act like a normal person. Today is a normal day. He is talking to two people––boys, really. Teenagers. Of course he’d be creepily too old for his soul mate––he is talking to two people who are strangers to him. He is going to control himself.

“This is private property,” Derek’s mouth says.

Soul mate’s eyebrows pull together and his friend cocks his head. Too harsh.

“I just mean, well, no, it’s fine,” Derek adds quickly. He has to at least leave his soul mate with a good impression of him. When they pass each other at the supermarket, or have pumps near each other at the gas station, (because if Derek wasn’t sure he’d stay in Beacon Hills before, he certainly is now,) they’ll be able to smile like acquaintances do. Derek will be able to catch a whiff of that smell––laundry and dust, something warm and reassuring–– and carry on day by day, like he has since his world collapsed the first time.

He shoves his hands into his pockets and then almost smacks his head into a nearby tree out of frustration. The inhaler. The one he found last night and put in his pocket because he couldn’t just leave it lying on the forest floor. Derek pulls the inhaler out and awkwardly tosses it at his soul mate’s friend.

“I forgot I found it the other night, sorry,” Derek grinds out woodenly, doing his impression of the most awkward human being on the face of the planet.

The Friend catches the inhaler with no difficulty. “Thanks dude!” he chirps, any slight forgotten. “My mom would have killed me.”

“No problem.” Derek nods, his hands twisting in his pockets. They’re going to leave any minute. Derek’s usefulness has been used up.

His soul mate waves a hand, already turning around. “Well thanks. We’ll, uh, skedaddle. Then. Sorry for trespassing, I guess.”

“It’s fine!” Derek says quickly. “It was nice.”

They’re looking at him like he’s crazy. Probably because that was an incredibly creepy thing to say. He’s screwing this up. He should be able to control himself.

The Friend clears his throat. “Yup. Cool man.”

The two boys turn on their heels in unison, the way old friends do, with no need to speak. Derek thinks about those forums that always turn up online, where people share their “how I met my soul mate” stories. His will be two sentences long.

Leaves rustle overhead as the wind changes, and the two boys are suddenly upwind of Derek. What-there. That smell. Derek knows that smell, and the werewolf in him isn’t allowed to leave it be.

Derek races towards their retreating backs. As the fates would have it, he’s going to make a fool out of himself again today, but damn it, he really needs to find out who The Friend’s alpha is.

XXXXX

In the next five minutes, Derek learns nine facts:

1: His soul mate’s name is Stiles.
2: Stiles’ best friend’s name is Scott.
3: Scott never paid attention during the lycanthropy unit in Biology, and didn’t realize he was newly turned.
4: There’s a rogue Alpha running around Beacon Hills, biting unsuspecting teenagers.
5: His soul mate is sixteen years old, and his name is Stiles.
6: Laura.
7: Somebody needs to call in Supernatural Entity Enforcement Services for this rogue Alpha.
8: Scott has no idea how to control himself.
9: His soul mate is smart, and his name is Stiles.

Derek gives Scott his number and instructions to call him any time he needs information, (carefully ignoring the voice in the back of his head singing pack, pack, I want a pack) and enters it into Stiles’ phone as well, (ignoring the voice singing mate, mate, be my mate) since Stiles has made it clear that he’s going to have Scott’s back in this.

“I mean so what if he’ll get furry now?” Stiles had said, handing over his phone, “I don’t care, we’ll figure it out, right man?” he shot back at Scott, who still looks a little shell shocked.

10: His soul mate is a good friend, and his name is Stiles.

Derek nods. “That’s a good way to think about it.”

Stiles just shrugs, as though there aren’t thousands of families and friends across the country who reject people they’ve known their whole lives just because they start to grow claws and fangs. “Scott’s my bro. Right bro?” he tosses over his shoulder at Scott.

“Right,” Scott replies faintly.

Stiles is keeping Scott from panicking, Derek realizes. He’s being casual about it, but every offhand remark directed at Scott distracts him from freaking out about his new species designation. It’s clever.

Derek hands back Stiles’ phone, and Stiles fiddles with it for a second until Derek’s crappy plastic flip phone buzzes in his back pocket.

[Hi its Stiles] reads the screen. Derek punches in “Stiles” for the contact information. It surprises him, somehow, that it’s only six letters. Six letters glowing gently on the screen of his phone, and Derek’s life is changed forever.

“Is the ‘Derek’ for Derek Hale?” Stiles asks, glancing up from his phone.

“I- yes,” Derek replies. “How-”

“I remember you.” Stiles smiles ruefully. “My dad’s Sheriff Stilinski.”

Derek remembers that man’s kind eyes, warm and reassuring as he sat Derek and Laura down in plastic chairs at the Sheriff’s station. He’d radiated waves of “we’ll figure this out, everything will be fine.’ It doesn’t surprise Derek at all that Stiles is his son.

“He was kind. When, um- he was helpful.”

Stiles nods quickly. “It’s cool, you don’t have to talk about it. Just, uh, I know you. Small world. Alright,” he raises his voice, “come on Scott, I think it’s time for some CoD.”

Small world, Derek thinks, watching the two boys walk back towards the main road, Scott’s inhaler dangling loosely from his fingers. If he hadn’t been walking around the property at this time on this day, would he ever have known about Stiles? Would he ever have felt the this gut churning combination of hope and despair if he had just slept in today?

Derek rubs a thumb over the six letters lined up at the top of his phone screen. Whatever else could have happened, he’s glad to have met Stiles. It’s going to hurt, knowing him, but Derek would prefer this hurt to any other kind.

XXXXX

It’s less than 24 hours later that Stiles calls. Derek waits until the third ring to pick up because he’s trying not to be creepy.

“Alright, so me and Scott are going to do some control exercises,” Stiles says as soon as Derek picks up, “and while google has been pretty helpful, I think we could use an actual werewolf’s help on this one.”

“I’m not sure how useful I’d be,” Derek warns, “I learned control so young, I’m not sure I could tell Scott how to do it.”

“Well then just be there so he feels better. Werewolves like other werewolves being around, right? Pack bonds and stuff,” Stiles explains matter of factly.

Derek clenches and unclenches his hands, casting around for an explanation. Stiles is a bit of a bulldozer, it seems, when he has an idea. “But I’m not in Scott’s pack. We barely know each other.”

“Yeeesss,” Stiles allows, “but Beacon Hills doesn’t have any other werewolves except for the crazy one running around the forest––I had my dad call in Supernatural Entity Enforcement Services on them, by the way––so you’ve gotta give Scott a helping hand here. Think of it as like dating.”

“Dating? Dating Scott?”

“Hey, no need to sound so affronted, Scott is a catch! I just mean like, pack dating. Dating the pack. Getting to know the pack, see if there’s room for more commitment. Scott’s a pack of one, you’re a pack of one, it’s perfect!”

“It sounds like you’re in Scott’s pack,” Derek points out. “Humans can be in packs too.”

There’s a pause on Stiles’ end of the line. “Huh. Yeah, I guess so. Fine, see if you want to be in our pack of three. Scott, you, and me.”

“Alright,” Derek says before he can think about it. No amount of deliberation would have really changed his answer anyway.

“Great!” Stiles crows. “Meet us at the BHHS lacrosse field.”

Derek meets them at the BHHS lacrosse field. He very quickly learns that Stiles’ idea of teaching control is a little... unorthodox.

“Come on Scott!” Stiles shouts, gleefully flinging another lacrosse ball at him. “Get mad! Shift! Shiiiiiiift!”

Derek winces as another ball thwacks against Scott’s shoulder. “Try to find your inner wolf,” he offers.

Stiles snorts at that and throws another ball, slight shoulder muscles rippling under his shirt, his whole body shifting with each movement.

“Pack date” number two doesn’t even involve Stiles.

Scott shifts from foot to foot. “So, mom, this is Derek, he’s also a werewolf.”

Mrs. McCall holds out a hand, and Derek takes it hesitantly. She’s a part of Scott’s pack too. He wonders if she and his mother would have gotten along.

Two cups of hot chocolate later, he decides they would have.

Pack date number three is complicated.

Derek isn’t... quite. The... he’s. It hurts. It hurts His arm is on fire. It’s on fire and it has to get off- out. He has to get it out of him. He can’t- it hurts.

The telltale black lines are inching up his arms like snakes, like worms under his skin, it hurts. He doesn’t want to die, he doesn’t, he doesn’t, he doesn’t want to die alone.

He follows the smell of laundry and dust and warmth and reassurance for- a long way, it feels very long, but he can’t see much beyond the staggering of his feet and the radiating pain in his arm.

It hurts.

“Jesus, Derek! Are you oh- oh my god. Um, okay, werewolf emergency care for you, jeeesus.”

Derek sags against a plaid covered shoulder, rubbing his stubble against the soft fabric. He’s going to be okay. He isn’t going to die alone.

“What happened?”

“Got. Shot.”

“I can see that, wow, oh my god. Hang on, let me just call an ambulance-”

Derek shifts his head slightly on Stiles’ shoulder so he can poke his nose ever so slightly against Stiles’ neck, breathing in his scent. Whether Derek lives or not, he won’t have the chance to do this again, so he takes advantage of Stiles’ pity and concern, and stays resting against Stiles’ shoulder until the EMTs pull him away, set him on a gurney, and pop open their box of emergency wolfsbane.

He lives. He also has to explain more of his past than he wants to, and triggers an investigation into who shot him, which only adds to the number of unfamiliar people tramping through the woods, looking for rogue alphas and vigilante hunters.

But when the EMTs pronounce him stable, slap a bandage over the healing wound and let him stand on his own, Stiles pulls him into a reassuring hug. It’s brief, but Stiles wraps his arms around Derek’s shoulders and claps his broad hands against Derek’s shoulder blades. Derek bites the inside of his mouth to keep from saying something too emotional, something that would make Stiles pull back, look away awkwardly, deflect with a joke and run.

“Close one, man,” he says, and pulls away. Then he asks if Scott has to worry about wolfsbane bullets too, and they move on.

The fourth pack date is pizza. Derek hates it.

Not the pizza. Just-

Derek isn’t under any illusions concerning Stiles. Stiles is a straight teenage boy. He doesn’t think of Derek as anything other than Scott’s werewolf mentor. Derek didn’t need proof.

“Lydia. Martin.” Stiles pauses fully after each word, eyes closing and his hands reaching towards the ceiling as though he’s having a religious experience. “I can’t believe you’ve known me for this many weeks and haven’t heard me talk about Lydia Martin yet.”

“Here we go,” chuckles Scott, snagging the last slice of pepperoni.

“Goddess! Genius! Strawberry blonde enchantress of my dreams!” raves Stiles.

Derek thinks Stiles is perfect. Stiles thinks Lydia-period-Martin-period is perfect, and Derek now knows with 100% certainty that Stiles doesn’t think of him like that at all. Will never. Derek is nothing more than an acquaintance to Stiles. A friend of a friend, there because of Scott, and otherwise unremarkable. If Derek moved to the other side of the world today, Stiles wouldn’t be able to recall his name within a year.

“-and she does this thing with her hair, when you’ve really crossed her, where she sort of dismisses your whole existence by flicking her hair off of one shoulder,” Stiles sighs. “It’s magnificent.”

“So she’s your girlfriend?” Derek asks, trying to keep the numbness out of his voice.

Stiles laughs, one loud crack of mirth cutting through the room as he throws his head backs and honest-to-god slaps his knee. “No man. She thinks I’m a dork, and she’s dating the captain of the lacrosse team.”

Sudden fury rushes through Derek’s chest. This girl, this silly little high school girl with her makeup and her prom queen crown has no idea what she’s giving up, no idea of the gift she’s turning her nose up at. She might as well take a bat to a brand new mercedes or dump a $50 steak into a mud puddle in front of a starving child. If anyone could have the chance to be with Stiles and turns it down, they’re an idiot, no further questions.

So Derek says, “that’s stupid.”

And when Stiles says, “why?”

Derek says, “just. The lacrosse captain? It’s a cliche. It’s stupid.” And then Derek shuts his stupid mouth.

XXXXX

It feels like either a very long time or a very short time passes before Supernatural Entity Enforcement Services calls, Derek can’t figure out which. One minute he’s waiting for the next page of apartment listings to load on Old Bess’ screen, and the next he’s listening to someone named Agent Wilson ask, “is this Derek Hale speaking?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Hale, SEES was investigating reports of a rogue alpha in your area, were you aware of this?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. I’m calling to tell you that we have found and detained said alpha.”

Derek’s eyebrows furrow. “Alright. Why are you telling me this? I wasn’t the person who called in the complaint.”

A very dry half-chuckle comes down the line. “You’re getting ahead of me sir. I’m calling because we have a somewhat unusual situation here. The alpha we detained was identified as one Peter Hale.”

It takes a moment, two, three, before Derek’s throat starts working again. “Peter? He’s, no, he’s in a care home, he couldn’t possibly be-”

“It’s a complex situation, Mr. Hale. It would be best if you came down to the local sheriff’s station.”

One dazed drive later, Derek is standing on one side of a double reinforced cell with a trim, polished, government agent next to him, and the most twisted looking alpha he’s ever seen in front of him.

Agent Wilson is listing the casualties, deaths the town thought were from mountain lions but weren’t, definitely weren’t. We think he took down a hunting vigilante that was out there, he offers with a wan smile, like that will make Derek feel better. No more random wolfsbane bullets, isn’t that nice! Isn’t everything just dandy!

And then: has to be put down, he says, it’s the law. I don’t like it either, but there are rules for situations like this.

The judge signed the order, he says.

“I know it’s hard.” A hand, nails neatly trimmed, watch buckled on just so, lands on his shoulder at a perfectly impersonal angle. “You don’t have to be the one to do it, but it would save you and Mr. McCall a lot of trouble. You wouldn’t have to be registered as omegas.”

Agent Wilson gives Derek as much time as he needs to think it over.

Derek’s uncle is a murderer.

Derek’s uncle isn’t Derek’s uncle anymore.

Three hours later, Derek has signed the paperwork he’s supposed to, there are the requisite five witnesses, and P- the Alpha has been very carefully tied down.

This was never the way it was supposed to happen. Succession isn’t supposed to work this way, it’s supposed to be passed down at bedsides, or at least taken in the midst of righteous battle.

Instead, Derek pops the claws on his right hand and draws a line in red over his uncle’s throat. It’s too shallow at first, and they tell him he has to do it again, harder.

He does.

Peter makes... noises.

Afterwards, Derek has to sign more paperwork, and they put a blanket around him and a secretary hands him a cup of tea. Everyone in the station is perfectly polite and sympathetic and terrible.

Derek’s eyes won’t stop flickering red like a broken streetlight.

The sheriff rubs a warm hand over his shoulder, looks at him with worn, tired eyes.

“Where are you staying, kid?”

“A motel,” Derek lies.

The sheriff nods to himself. “Yeah, you’re staying with Stiles and I tonight. Scott too, I guess, seeing as how you’re probably pack now.”

Yesterday, Derek would have been thrilled. He probably will be again, but not today. Today is for Uncle Peter, who taught him to swear in spanish and told him “keep your thumb outside of your fist when you throw a punch. I know you’re a badass, kid, but how about you not be a badass with a broken thumb?”

XXXXX

It’s 2:30 in the morning, and Scott is asleep in an improbable position on one end of the couch, while Stiles, circles under his eyes, is propped up by the couch arm on Derek’s other side. The TV seems to be playing the same infomercial for a blender on a loop, but neither of them have the energy to grab the remote and turn it off.

“You should go to sleep,” Derek suggests, his voice hoarse from silence.

“So should you,” says Stiles, and doesn’t move.

“You have school.”

“Dad’ll let me skip tomorrow. Mental health day.”

“He’ll let you take a day off for my mental health?” The corner of Derek’s mouth twists up just a smidge at that.

Stiles shrugs. Rubs a hand under his nose. Watches the TV.

“My mom’s dead.”

Derek turns his tired, prickly eyes towards Stiles’ silhouette, illuminated by the blue light of the TV, wrapped around a pillow, one sock steadily sliding off of his left foot. “That- I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Lame, man,” Stiles mutters, eyebrows raising briefly. “You’ve gotta have something better to say than that.”

Derek hums in agreement. “You’d think that somebody somewhere would have come up with a better phrase.”

“Right? Like, hundreds of thousands of people must die every day, and nobody can come up with anything better than ‘I’m sorry for your loss?’” Stiles asks the ceiling. “Like really? No crowd sourcing could come up with anything better?”

“My whole family is dead and I’ve never figured out what the right thing to say is,” Derek blurts out.

Stiles turns to look at him. “Whoa, man.”

It’s so ridiculous Derek has to laugh. It’s scaring Stiles, whose heartbeat quickens as he twists around to look more closely at Derek, but Derek can’t stop.

“Sorry, sorry, I-” Derek wheezes between laughs.

“No it’s cool-”

“I just- my whole family is dead!” Derek exclaims, throwing his head back until it thunks against the back of the couch. “There used to be a dozen of us, and now I’m the only one left! The only one!”

“Are you-”

“In less than ten years! What are the odds! The statistics have got to be ridiculous on that one!”

“Der-Derek!”

“And they didn’t even all die in the same way! Three of us made it out, and then we all killed each other? What was that for? Why would we do that?” Derek pants, his smile finally starting to fall. “Why would we do that?”

“Hey,” murmurs Stiles, “hey, so you need some tissues or something?”

“What, why?”

“You’re crying,” Stiles says quietly, like the tears will stop falling if he’s stealthy about it. “You’re crying.”

“My...” Derek whispers. “They’re all dead.”

“Hey, heeeeyyy...”

“They’re all... they...”

“Shh, shhh, it’s alright...”

“Sorry, I know you don’t want to be-”

“It’s fine, Derek, don’t worry about it. Here, hug the pillow, alright?”

“Alright.”

XXXXX

Derek gets an apartment. He’s an alpha now, he can’t keep sleeping in his car and in his wreck of a house. The apartment isn’t large, although he could have afforded that, could have afforded that massive, one room loft he saw a listing for. Derek just saw the wide bay windows and open living room of this modest little place and got attached.

Laura would have called it “cozy.” She called everything that was small “cozy.” The living room with soft gray couches that match the blinds is cozy, the red-tiled kitchen tucked away in the corner is “cozy,” the two bedrooms, one for Derek, one just in case, are “cosy,” with big beds and little windows nestled just above the headboards.

Stiles calls it “dinky,” but he says it fondly and calls it the pack clubhouse on the rare occasion that he and Scott come over. Derek isn’t sure why Stiles coined the name if he and Scott mostly just hang out at each other’s houses, but the name stays, scrawled on a ripped out sheet of binder paper and taped to the back of the front door.

The apartment smelled like new paint and pine-sol when Derek moved in, but as the weeks and months pass by, it starts to acquire new scents. There was the microwave pizza incident, which meant waves of burnt-cheese smell for days, then Scott and Stiles rolled in after lacrosse practice and the entryway started smelling permanently like sweaty lacrosse gear, and then once winter started rolling in, the smell of rain started wafting through the apartment, fresh and clear and new.

Stiles’ smell has soaked into the third cushion to the left on the couch. It’s his favorite spot, where he’ll flop down with a slice of pizza in his hand when they have “pack movie nights” now and then, where he sits waiting for Scott and Derek to finish going over control exercises (Scott’s getting better- almost to the point where he can change one claw at a time,) and where he sat one Saturday night, bemoaning how Scott’s girlfriend took up all of his time lately.

“And she’s from one of those old hunting families!” Stiles exclaimed, “I mean, she and her dad are for sure not into that, but it still a weird date choice, you know what I mean? Like why couldn’t Scott pick the girl who doesn’t have family heirloom wolfsbane bullets in her basement?”

“They’re teenagers,” Derek had assured Stiles, very thoroughly blocking out the voice singing in the back of his head: He’s alone with you! He wanted to be with you on a Saturday night! Derek can’t imagine how many of Stiles’ other friends must have been busy for him to wind up at Derek’s.

“They’re teenagers,” Stiles mocked. “That doesn’t mean anything, teenagers can be serious! I’m serious about Lydia.”

Derek inhaled deeply through his nose before replying, “they’re young. They don’t know about permanency.”

“I know what permanency means!” Stiles protested.

“Not in practice,” Derek countered, “but that’s fine. Permanency is hard. You’re all young, you should have a chance to be silly and romantic. I’m sure Scott and Allison think they’re star-crossed or something. It’s probably very exciting.”

“Oh,” Stiles rolled his eyes. “It is. Lemme tell you, he has not shut up about their sex life for weeks! And I’m his bro, but bro. There’s a limit to how much I wanna know about where he puts his love cucumber.”

“At least you don’t have to smell it.”

Stiles winced. “Yikes. Wait, could you...” his eyes flicked downwards towards his own crotch.

Yes, Derek could. The faint smell of Stiles’ come always floats around him, and Derek tries his hardest not to be creepy and imagine that scent in his bed, Stiles flushed, limbs akimbo, an elbow hooked around Derek’s pillow, a foot dangling off the bed, but Stiles too distracted to do anything about it-

Stiles had looked at Derek oddly then, and Derek realized he was meant to reply. “Um, it’s polite to just ignore it.”

“Ah,” Stiles chuckled awkwardly. “Cool. No hard feelings then dude?”

Derek shook his head. “It’s fine. It’s all fine.”

XXXXX

“And don’t get me started on the dreams!” Laura used to say, “do you know what the ratio is between the amount of prophetic soul mate dreams you see on TV and the amount of people in real life who actually experience real chrono-dissonant dreams about their soul mates? It’s ridiculous, like a fraction of a fraction of people have real dreams about their future with their soul mate. Everything else is just random neural firings.”

The first dream about Stiles that Derek can remember came the first night Derek slept in a real bed in his apartment, Stiles’ smell ever so faintly in his nose from when he and Scott had come to take a look around that afternoon.

Stiles’ long hands are curved around the faint light of his phone, casting shadows on the sheets as he reads from it. “‘Out of lemon flowers/loosed/on the moonlight, love's/lashed and insatiable/essences,/sodden with fragrance,/the lemon tree's yellow/emerges,/the lemons/move down/from the tree's planetarium.’ Sexy, Mr. Neruda, sexyyy.” He looks up with a smirk, and his eyes are so full of mirth and so close, “I think I could write a better love poem than that.”

Derek laughs, and he’s never heard himself laugh like that before. He sounds like a giddy child, but he can’t make himself mind. “Let’s hear something.” Without hesitation, he brushes a hand through Stiles’ hair, which is longer, mussed from lying in bed.

Pressing himself further up against Derek’s side, Stiles hums in thought while he pulls another blanket over them. It’s winter, cold outside but warm in their bed. “There once was a man named Derek, who... was a were...ek?”

“You could do a haiku,” Derek suggests, raising his eyebrows.

“Fuck yeah I could do a haiku,” Stiles presses his lips together, and Derek can almost hear him counting syllables. “His eyes are blue-ish/or maybe green I don’t know...” Stiles trails off, tracing a finger slowly down Derek’s stomach. “‘Oh I love you so?’ I- oh my god, stop smiling like that, it’s so cheesy, I just wanted something that rhymed!”

It’s so purely Stiles that Derek wakes up with an ache between his legs and wetness on his cheeks. Derek wipes his face quickly, then gets up to make himself coffee. Black, one scoop of sugar, wipe the stray grounds off the counter afterwards, throw the filter in the compost, everything is going to be fine.

XXXXX

“Oh Alpha my alpha!” Stiles hammers on the door. “Open uuuuuuppppp!”

Derek swings the door open. “You could call,” he comments dryly, stepping aside to let Stiles into the apartment anyway.

“Stop by anytime,” Stiles mimics, drawing his eyebrows down and developing a scowl. “We’re pack, you’re both welcome whenever.”

“I should have known I’d regret those words,” Derek says like he doesn’t always keep the living room clean of clutter in case Scott or Stiles visit and need a place to sit or eat or talk.

“Mmm...” Stiles rifles through his backpack. “You know what other words you’re going to regret?”

“Dare I ask?”

Stiles assumes his Derek imitation face again. “I was halfway through a History degree at NYU before I came back to Beacon Hills. If you ever need homework help-”

Derek holds out a hand. “Let me see.”

Stiles pulls out a binder and slaps it into his hand. “Midterm. Help meeeeeeeeee.”

“With what?” Derek opens the binder and raises an eyebrow at the clutter inside.

“History. Just, you know, start with the first written records created by man and go on from there.” Stiles waves a hand vaguely as he throws a leg over the back of his couch and dangles a hand off of the other side.

Flipping to the back of the binder, Derek says, “how about we start with chapter one?”

Three hours later, Stiles looks up from the new set of notes he’s been writing. “Shit dude, how long have we been at this?”

Derek checks his watch. “It’s seven now-”

“Oh my god, why did you let me do that?” Stiles exclaims.

“Sor-”

“No,” Stiles shakes his head frenetically as he closes his binder, “I mean make you spend three hours on AP US History. I’m not a monster, you don’t have to spend all evening doing high school stuff all over again.”

Blinking, Derek asks, “What do you mean?”

“I mean...” Stiles tilts his head to the side and Derek realizes he’s said something stupid. “Nobody’s idea of a fun night is helping Stiles with his history homework.”

“Oh.” It hadn’t even occurred to him to pretend to be annoyed over helping Stiles. Last night, Derek watched two old episodes of Friends on his laptop while he ate a microwave chicken dinner and drank orange juice out of a mug. Tonight, Stiles’ long fingers dance over his couch cushions and his smell permeates the air. “This is fine. I like- I like history.”

Stiles eyes him skeptically.

“It keep me in practice,” Derek goes on. He has to justify, can’t be too creepy or he’ll push Stiles away. “You could, I could tutor you, even. If you wanted.”

“I think your mouth is writing checks that you can’t keep, or whatever that phrase is.”

“No, really. What are you learning about after your midterm?”

“Umm...” Stiles glances at the textbook. “The gilded age?”

“I love the gilded age,” Derek says quickly. Too quickly, but Stiles doesn’t seem to notice, because he says,

“I guess my dad would like it if I had some help with my grade in that class.”

The next thing Derek knows, Stiles is coming over to his apartment, all by himself, for two hours every Tuesday night.

XXXXX

On the fifth Tuesday night, Stiles asks if he can bring a kid from his class who seems to be struggling.

The kid’s name is Isaac Lahey, and by the tenth Tuesday, the Hale pack has officially registered a new beta, and Derek––Derek!––has legal custody over a seventeen year old.

Derek wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to add in a new beta when the pack was still so young, but between Isaac’s nightmare of a father and Scott’s instant connection with him, Derek thinks it worked out alright.

Four weeks later, when a girl named Erica Reyes knocks on his door, hands jammed in her sweatshirt, and says “I, um, I’m really sick. I’d like to not be,” it’s a little harder for the boy’s club of a pack to adjust around her, but Derek has -had- sisters, and he knows that sometimes you’re supposed to sympathize when they complain instead of offer advice, and just because they’re on their period doesn’t mean that their brains melt into a boiling hormone soup. They adjust.

Pack dinners on Thursday nights are Erica’s idea.

“We’re doing a Werewolves and Society unit in AP Psych,” she explains from his couch as she sends out a group text, “and maybe you like pretending that it’s hunky dory how the pack barely ever spends time together, but I know it’s weird for the alpha to be alone as often as you are.” She presses send, and the discussion is over.

Derek’s phone buzzes a second later. It reads: [Hey losers pack dinner at Derek’s thursday bring food and wash behind your ears]

Scott brings a fancy casserole courtesy of Mrs. McCall, Erica brings dessert and drinks ––“the easy stuff”–– and Stiles shows up with... something.

“It’s Kapusta!” Stiles announces proudly, holding a pot of greenish yellow mash. “Grandma Stilinski’s old recipe.”

Erica’s nose wrinkles up. “How much cabbage is in there exactly?”

“Oh it’s all cabbage, really.” Stiles, unconcerned by Scott and Erica’s varying looks of horror, walks into the kitchen to set the dish down. “Where’s Isaac?”

“Napping,” Derek answers. “Thanks for reminding me, Stiles.” He pounds on Isaac’s door until a groan answers him.

“I’m up, I’m up!”

“Come bond with us!” Erica hollers. “Stiles made cabbage!”

“Kapusta,” Stiles corrects her, blithely stabbing a serving ladle into the...material. “Have I mentioned it’s my grandmother’s old recipe and near and dear to my heart?”

Derek tries to subtly shake his head at Erica, call her off, but she’s already flouncing to the dining table, bottles of soda in hand, paying no attention to him.

“I brought chips,” Isaac says, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and holding out a single rumpled bag of Doritos.

The spread on most of the pack members’ plates ends up being mostly casserole and Doritos, with a sliver of kapusta on the side. When the mostly full of bowl of kapusta gets passed to Derek, he serves himself three heaping ladles full. Across the table, Stiles mouths “thank you.”

The kapusta tastes like boiled shoe, but it’s worth it for the way Stiles’ shoulders are loose and relaxed when he stretches plastic wrap over the mostly empty bowl of kapusta at the end of the night.

Stiles companionably bumps his shoulder against Derek’s when he leaves, and Derek’s shoulder tingles until he falls asleep.

XXXXX

Derek hears the smacking of feet against the forest floor, it would be a miracle if he didn’t, but he doesn’t turn around. The pounding feet draw nearer, and with a final crack of a snapping twig, 147 pounds of Stiles land on Derek’s back, and two long legs wrap around his waist.

“Found you!” Stiles croons into Derek’s ear.

Fighting a smile, Derek shifts his grip on Stiles’ thighs to hold him more securely. “It still took 30 minutes.”

Stiles snorts into Derek’s cheek. “30 minutes without werewolf senses. Trust me bro, it’s not easy. I almost thought I’d lost you, but then I found a snapped bit of juniper bush.” Stiles tsks in disapproval. “Shoddy work. Shoddy, shoddy work.”

“Maybe I couldn’t stand the idea of you never finding me,” Derek murmurs, twisting his neck so he can see Stiles’ face.

“Oh, cheeseball alert!” Stiles groans, digging the heels of his feet into Derek’s hips. “Did you soul also yearn for my loving presence? Did you pine, my love?”

Shifting one of his hands back to playfully squeeze Stiles’ ass, Derek replies, “it’s lonely in these woods. A man has needs.”

“Hmmm” Stiles hums, his mouth drifting to Derek’s neck. “Elaborate?”

“Stiles, you know I’m terrible at-” Stiles presses a series of light kisses up the tendon on Derek’s neck, just enough for Derek to get a feel of Stiles’ lips, and then gone. “-nnn, dirty talk. You know I’m bad at-ah!-” a bite to the base of his neck, “words. What are words.” Derek pants as Stiles sucks hickeys into his skin. “Mmm...”

“Subvocal in less than a minute,” Stiles comments, mouth pressed against the hinge of Derek’s jaw, “my timing’s good in one area at least.”

Hooking one hand around the back of Stiles’ neck, Derek turns to catch his mouth with his own, reveling in the feel of Stiles wrapped around him, warm and firm, heart beating against Derek’s shoulder blades.

Stiles pulls back, eyes half lidded, to bump his nose against Derek’s and shouts, “BANG BANG BANG OPEN UUUUUUPPPPP, I HAVE A QUIZ TOMORROW!”

Derek duly wakes up with an awkward grunt, sending the throw pillows Erica insisted on flying as he struggles up from the couch. He opens the door to Stiles’ knocking fists and gestures him inside.

“Sorry, I was napping.”

“Some nap,” Stiles upends his backpack over the coffee table, “didn’t you say that normally wolves are really light sleepers?”

“Normally yes, I was... I was having a really vivid dream.”

Stiles’ eyes flick downwards. “Oh yeah?”

Derek looks down as well, and swears, grabbing one of the stupid throw pillows and holding it over himself. “I. It’s-”

Snickering, Stiles directs his attention towards a textbook. “You don’t have to explain these things to me. I’m a teenage boy, it’s sort of my specialty.”

Thinking about Stiles’ “specialty” is not helping the bulge hiding behind the throw pillow. Derek is absurdly thankful that at least he fell asleep while still in his jeans, instead of stripping down into something looser.

“I’m just going to-” Derek gestures in the direction of his bathroom, his bedroom, the window leading to a three story drop onto a dumpster, whatever.

Stiles nods knowingly and flips pointedly to the next page of his textbook.

When Derek comes back, cheeks red and crotch in stinging pain from the cold water he splashed on it, Stiles has his phone out and is listing facts. He does this from time to time, and Derek is often astounded by the encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge stored away in Stiles’ huge brain.

“Did you know that you only dream about faces you see in real life?”

“Did you know that people who have been blind their whole life dream in sensations and sounds?”

“Did you know that you can try to count to ten in your dreams to figure out if you’re dreaming or not? If you can’t count to ten, you’re dreaming.”

That last one gets Derek’s attention. He’s had enough of waking up with emotional whiplash, deliriously happy for one shining second before he remembers he’s sleeping alone. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Stiles scrolls further down. “Apparently you can sort of pick anything, as long as it’s detail oriented. Dreams aren’t great with details.”

The precisely accurate pattern of Stiles’ moles in the dream Derek just woke up from would beg to differ, but Derek still files the information away for future use.

“The more you know,” Stiles muses. “Now,” he says, switching the phone off and twisting sideways on the couch to look Derek in the face, “to business. You’re old, right-”

“Not that old,” Derek objects. Only six years and three months older than you.

“-old enough to give advice. Right?” Stiles presses.

Derek shrugs. “Depends what it’s about.”

“Girls.” Before Derek can object that he’s not the person to ask, Stiles steamrolls on. When he wants to know something, he’s unstoppable. “Lydia, right? Girl of my dreams. I’m starting to think that my long-term plan to, you know, win her affections is sort of getting stalled. Thoughts?”

“Ah,” Derek flounders, “why do you think the plan is getting stalled?”

“She kind of acts like she hates me?” Stiles grimaces, tossing his phone from hand to hand. “Which, don’t get me wrong, is kind of hot, but I think she’s starting to actually mean it. Like, normally, she’s sort of... terrifying towards everyone, but I brought her flowers the other day- don’t give me that look, I know it was silly, it was supposed to be endearingly silly! Anyway, so she looked me right in the eyes, took the flowers, and tossed them in a trash can, then said, ‘don’t do that again, Stilinski,’ and then strutted off.” Stiles sags into the cushions, throat bared to the air as he tips his head back onto the headrest. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Stop trying to date her!” Derek does not understand Stiles’ taste in women. “Stiles, if she acts like this, you shouldn’t- you don’t need somebody stepping all over you. You find a nice girl who’s, I don’t know, nice to you?”

“I’m in love with her, though! I have been for like forever!” Stiles protests, young and naive, believing that true love prevails. Well, Derek thinks as he offers his soul mate girl advice, it doesn’t.

“Just,” Derek pinches the bridge of his nose. “You can’t hold out hope that she’ll magically change her mind about you. If you keep pursuing her even though she treats you like shit, she’ll treat you like shit. You- you don’t have to be her punching bag, Stiles. Take it from me.”

“What,” Stiles scoffs, “are you telling me you’ve been some girl’s punching bag? You, Abdominals McGee?”

“Maybe I am!” Derek is talking much louder than he should be. He can’t seem to stop.

Stiles shakes his head. “Sure Derek. Some girl played a little hard to get one time. I should’ve just asked Isaac or something. He seems like he would give good advice,” Stiles mutters, hunching defensively over his textbook.

“Stiles...” Derek sighs, “I’m not lying, alright? I, I’ve been there. It, well. It doesn’t end well.” Stiles’ story probably won’t end in him being responsible for the death of his entire family, but Derek can’t help but want to spare him from even a minuscule portion of the anguish Derek has gone through. Stiles should have all of the sweet, geeky girls of BHHS falling over themselves for him. He should have a good story.

“Didn’t end well,” Stiles repeats to himself. “But wasn’t it worth it at all? Even a little bit? You know, better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?”

“No.”

“But-”

“No.”

“But-”

No.”

“You have to give me more explanation than that, come on, I’m naturally curious.”

“Have you ever heard of Kate Argent, Stiles?” Derek bursts out, and then claps a hand over his mouth like he’s a bad actor in a sitcom.

Stiles’ eyebrows draw together in confusion, but he’s smart, he figures it out fast. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Silence falls in the living room while Derek watches Stiles’ cheeks turn redder and redder with mortification.

“Sorry,” Stiles mutters, eyes flicking towards Derek and back.

“It’s fine.”

“No, I shouldn’t,” Stiles rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably, “I shouldn’t have pressed.”

“You didn’t know.”

“Still, I’m sorry for bringing all of that... fire stuff up.” Stiles winces around the word ‘fire,’ as if he regrets saying ti the moment it comes out of his mouth. He looks so guilty, all curled up on himself, eyes flicking towards the door every few seconds, that Derek, just, he has to fix it.

“It’s fine,” he presses again. “I’m always thinking about the fire, you didn’t remind me of it any more than I already do. It was my fault, of course I think about it, whether Kate comes up or not.”

Stiles... looks angry. Derek doesn’t know what he’s done wrong.

“What do you mean it was your fault?” Stiles asks incredulously. “What the fuck? Kate Argent was responsible for the Hale House fire, that’s what it says in the police report, in the Supernatural Entity Enforcement Services files, in the newspapers, in... I don’t know, other places! Don’t- oh no, of course you blame yourself! That explains so much!” Stiles clutches his head and rocks backwards as though he’s reaching an epiphany. “Oh my god. Derek. It wasn’t your fault.”

Stiles is such a good person. He really does deserve everything good to happen to him. Which, Derek reminds himself with a pang to the chest, doesn’t include Derek.

“It was my fault, Stiles.”

“That’s ridiculous. She lit the match!”

“I let her into our lives. I was the idiot that let her get too close,” Derek tells Stiles matter-of-factly. He accepted this long ago.

“It wasn’t your fault!” Stiles protests, hands gesturing emphatically. “You’ve just got to forgive yourself,” he says, voice so hopeful, like it’s that simple, like Derek didn’t ruin everything the day he said “yeah, sure I’ll show you around the house!”

Stiles sounds so wide-eyed and open hearted when he repeats, “it wasn’t your fault!”

“Stiles!” Derek snaps, “Do you think nobody’s told me this before? It was. That’s all there is to say about it.”

Stiles shakes his head determinedly. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Stop trying to Good Will Hunting me!” Derek explodes, standing up, the blanket in his lap falling to the floor.

“I just-”

“Don’t.” Derek sheepishly sits back down, picks up the blanket, and he’s so tired. He wants to pull Stiles into his arms, wrap them together in the blanket, apologize for yelling and fall asleep with Stiles breathing next to him, but any chance of that flew out the window when Derek killed his family, when Stiles fell in love with the haughty red-headed girl in his class, when whatever higher power in charge of this bullshit decided that 50% of werewolves with soul bonds wouldn’t get their other half. “Sorry,” he sighs.

“I’m sorry.” Stiles hugs the textbook to his chest.

The clock that Derek now regrets buying ticks obnoxiously loudly over the stove.

“I kinda wanna watch Good Will Hunting now?” Stiles ventures.

Derek grabs the remote.

XXXXX

“This is Boyd.”

Derek blinks. “What.”

“This,” Erica pats the shoulders of the mammoth of a man standing next to her, “is Boyd.”

“Hello Boyd,” Derek says slowly. “What is Boyd doing here, Erica?”

“He’s going to be coming to pack dinners from now on,” Erica announces, striding past Derek and further into the apartment, dragging Boyd behind her.

Boyd catches Derek’s eye and shrugs. “Sorry man.”

“Just-” Derek looks beseechingly at Isaac, who holds his hands out, giving the universal signal of ‘I got nothing.’

All pack dinners,” Erica calls from the dining room. “No arguments.”

“I used to be the Alpha once,” Derek grumbles under his breath. Isaac snickers and absolutely no one pays attention to his authority.

Boyd is quiet at dinner, focusing more on finishing his plate than chatting. Derek takes to him immediately.

Boyd is low maintenance; all he asks for is companionship, which the pack is happy to provide. Derek will come home and see Isaac and Boyd working on their homework, Boyd methodically solving pre-calc problem after pre-calc problem, Isaac twisting his curls around a finger as he taps away at an essay. Boyd is simple.

What is not simple is the call Derek gets a few weeks after Boyd has been assimilated into the pack. It’s a Wednesday evening, Isaac is over at Erica’s, and Derek is in his pajamas, making some of the tea that Scott’s mother recommended, when the jarring blare of the landline breaks the silence.

Derek frowns to himself. Nobody who knows him ever calls the landline. Prepared to rebuff whatever telemarketer has gotten ahold of his number, Derek picks up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Alpha Hale?” asks the stern, vaguely accented voice on the other end of the line.

“Yes.”

“This is Agent Cortez with the International Supernaturals Bureau. We’ve found your sister.”

The lights in this room are so bright, have they always been this bright?

“My sister is dead,” Derek replies dumbly, one hand nervously fidgeting with the drawstring on his pajamas.

“Not this sister, Alpha Hale,” Agent Cortez says perfunctorily, like he has another ten calls like this to make tonight. “Cora Hale, beta of the Hale Pack, presumed dead. She is very much alive, and in Bogota.”

Derek should be feeling something right now. Relief, maybe, joy, but all he can do is look at his mug sitting on the countertop and think, that water must be getting cold.

“What?”

“Cora Hale, sir. She is here in South America, underage, and in need of registration under an established pack,” Agent Cortez sounds like he’s reading off of a file, “if you could send a representative to the Bureau’s Colombian headquarters-”

“I’ll be there,” Derek says immediately.

Agent Cortez waffles about how an Alpha shouldn’t abandon their territory, and mentions something about increased unidentified magical activity in the preserve that should be carefully monitored, but Derek doesn’t care because Cora, baby Cora who tried to teach him yellow belt moves from her karate class is alive, her heart is beating and her body intact, and Derek’s entire family isn’t dead.

Derek is going to Bogota.

XXXXX

“Stop hugging me, you’re being embarrassing,” she grumbles into his shoulder about five minutes after Derek collides into her in the lobby of the Colombian International Supernaturals Bureau building.

“I will not,” Derek whispers into her hair, hugging tighter. “You’re going to have to be embarrassed for a little longer.”

Cora slumps into him further. “Okay.”

Cora grew up to look so much like Laura. She’s seventeen, sharp edged and angry, with a biting sense of humor, and Derek is so happy to have her back.

She still smells like the her from before the fire, underneath the perfume and air fresheners in the room, underneath Colombia and all the years, it’s Cora. Heart beating, fingers clutching the back of his shirt, it’s his baby sister still alive.

It makes him jumpy, being away from his pack, but Cora has to wrap up her life in Bogota before she can come back with him to Beacon Hills. There are people to say goodbye to, people that have been part of Cora’s life but never Derek’s. Boxes to be packed up with clothes Derek has never seen her wear, books he didn’t know that she’d read. Pounds of paperwork to be signed at the ISB re-registering her as a beta under the Hale pack of Beacon Hills.

And then, “you can’t just go to Bogota without seeing Bogota,” Cora explains, rolling her eyes, so they have to go to restaurants, and she has to show him statues, and then there are souvenirs to be bought.

Derek tries to explain the new pack to her, and can only hope that she’ll like them. The novelty bracelet made out of tiny maaracas will go to Boyd, because he’s so quiet, Derek tells her. Erica gets a poster from the Botero Museum, because she loves art, but would never buy any for herself because she doesn’t think it fits with her new leather miniskirt personality. Scott gets a “genuine Colombian love charm” because he would actually believe it works, and from the sound of it, his roller coaster of a romance could use a little love magic. Meanwhile Isaac gets a cookbook of Colombian food because he’s the only one who ever tries to cook anything in their apartment- where will Cora live?

Cora twists her mouth to the side. “I dunno, bro, I’m kind of used to living on my own.”

Derek’s stomach plummets. “Cora-”

“I don’t wanna be far though,” she lays a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I’ll just get the apartment across from you or something,” her eyes flick towards the dusty cobblestones at their feet. “We do have the money.”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees. They’re going to make it work.

He gets Stiles the most vividly colored, obnoxious sombrero he can find.

“They’re not even Colombian!” Cora protests.

“But Stiles will love it.”

“How are you going to fit that in your luggage?”

“Stiles is going to love it though.”

“Derek, it’s a $75 sombrero. That’s absurd.”

“Stiles will love it.

Cora throws her hands up in the air. “Fine. Mom never spoiled us like this, just saying.”

Somehow, it ends up being two weeks before they can fly back to Beacon Hills. Derek is excited. Cora and Erica are going to get along famously, and she’ll love Stiles, of course. Derek passes the flight daydreaming about giving all of his betas their souvenirs. Erica will roll her eyes, but the poster will go on her wall; Boyd will never wear a rattling bracelet, but he will let loose one of his rare, thundering chuckles, while Isaac will wear the ink off of the pages of his cookbook as he ineptly yet enthusiastically tries his hand at colombian food.

Stiles’ face will split into one of his blinding grins, and he’ll jam the sombrero onto his head and try to salsa, or mamba, or tango. Some dance that he’ll stumble through, getting the footwork wrong but navigating the hip rolls perfectly.

Derek will probably even get to hug him. Just a quick hello, good to see you again, but then what if Stiles rested his cheek on Derek’s shoulder, his sweet little nose brushing just so against Derek’s neck, as though Stiles were scenting him. Then Stiles’ face would be right there, so it wouldn’t be too weird if Derek kissed him on the cheek really quickly. Stiles would smile, and Derek would kiss the dimple too, and then Stiles would whisper “I missed you,” and he’d lean in, sombrero dangling around his neck, forgotten-

“We are making our descent into SFO, please pull your seats in their full upright position and stow your belongings.”

Stiles will like the sombrero, is all. It’s good to be back home.

XXXXX

On the cab ride home, Derek switches his phone on for the first time in two weeks. It hadn’t been worth the roaming charges to keep it on in Colombia, so he just told the pack––the only people who ever call or text him––to email him if there was an emergency, while Derek kept his phone off.

Three new voicemails from an unknown number. Weird.

Cora raises an eyebrow when Derek holds his phone up to his ear, and Derek shrugs. He doesn’t know either.

“Hello Alpha Hale, this is Agent Wilson from your local Supernatural Entity Enforcement Services, I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m just calling to let you know that some of our on staff wiccans have been detecting odd power surges around the Beacon Hills preserve area, which falls within your territory, so if you learn about anything unusual, I encourage you to call me on my-”

“Here we are,” the cabbie says pointedly as they pull up to the apartment building.

Derek pays the cabbie, and grabs the bags out of the back of the car. Cora scoffs at his insistence on carrying her bags too, but he isn’t going to make her haul her own bags, he’s going to be a good brother now that he has a second chance to be one.

“Fine,” Cora sighs. “Well hell, if you’re going to be all old-fashioned, I’m going to take a quick jog around. It’s been a long time.”

Derek nods. He was in her place just a few months ago. “Take all the time you need.”

As Cora disappears down the street, Derek skips to the next voicemail.

“Hello Alpha Hale, this is Agent Wilson from your local Supernatural Entity Enforcement Services, just calling to let you know that our department has identified the power source in the Beacon Hills Preserve as a nemeton. Long story short,” Agent Wilson sighs, static and stress, “it’s an evil tree. I know, what will they think of next. We have the druid who was messing with it in custody, but the tree is still unpredictable, so I’m obligated to inform you, as Alpha of this region, that entry into the preserve is not recommended at this time.”

Derek frowns at his phone as he hauls the luggage into the elevator. The pack is probably fine. The sheriff would know about any Supernatural Alerts in the region and make sure the pack stayed safe. Derek clicks on the last voicemail, dated from yesterday night, around midnight.

“Hello Alpha Hale, this is Agent Wilson from your local Supernatural Entity Enforcement Services, just calling to-” the man sighs shakily. “Well, listen, we have a hell of a situation happening in this town, and it would be best if you could come into the office so we could debrief you. At least send a representative or something, because we’ve got––pardon my language, but––a clusterfuck on our hands and we’ve contacted the local school districts and sheriff stations, obviously, we aren’t idiots, but we’re required by law to communicate with local packs, and dammit Hale,” Agent Wilson’s voice cracks, “you’re making it hellishly difficult. Just come into the office, we have some shit to deal with,” the voicemail concludes as Derek pushes open the apartment door, dragging three suitcases and a sombrero inside with him.

Derek tosses his phone on the kitchen counter and stares at it for a moment, two. The empty apartment gives him no explanations. With a sudden twisting in his gut, Derek wonders where Isaac is. Whatever is going on, Derek should get ahold of his pack, make sure they’re alright. He’s- he should have been paying attention to the rest of the world. He’s an alpha now, he can’t just disappear to Colombia for weeks with no correspondence. His mother never would have stood for it.

Allowing himself one moment to draw in the silent air of the apartment, hold it, breathe it out into the quiet, Derek prepares to face whatever rising tide of crazy he’s about to wade into.

Then a body slams into his back.

It wraps wiry legs around his waist, and lithe arms around his shoulders, making Derek stagger back in shock. He heard nothing, he can’t even catch the scent of the stranger hanging onto his back- what is going on?

“Hey, it’s good to see you back, big guy,” a familiar voice exclaims into Derek’s ear. “Surprise! Welcome back!”

Derek’s supposed to be in love with that voice, but something is wrong with it. He shakes Stiles’ body off of his back and turns around.

“Woah,” Stiles’ body stumbles back a step, a perfect imitation of Stiles’ usual clumsiness, but it isn’t right. “Oh my god, you almost sent me flying there, sourwolf. Hey, you wanna go get some curly fries or something?” Stiles’ face smiles, muscles pulling his mouth wide and thin. “I love curly fries.”

Derek looks into what used to be Stiles’ eyes and his hands start to shake. That isn’t Stiles.

That isn’t Stiles.