Before he closes the deal on the log cabin Derek runs it by his alpha. "This isn't a cabin, Derek. This is a shack," Laura informs him somberly as she climbs out of her shiny black Camaro. "You're halfway up a mountain, what are you going to do in the winter when it snows? You'll be stuck out here!"
"It's a work in progress," he defends. "Half the attraction is the seclusion." He claps a hand on a support post holding up the roof above the porch and something creaks ominously; he lets his hand fall back to his side and makes a face at the judgmental eyebrow his sister is raising at him. "I'm going to fix it up," he reminds her. "Watch that step."
Laura hops carefully over the step, nods meaningfully at the way the entire porch slopes dramatically to the right and cringes as she almost pulls the screen door right off its hinges. She sighs. "This is more than a fixer-upper, Derek."
"You can't judge it because of that porch, it was a later addition to the place and poorly constructed. The rest of the cabin is solid."
"Shack," Laura corrects under her breath, but still loud enough that Derek can hear it perfectly. "I noticed you didn't say anything about how you plan to cope with winter out here. By yourself. Alone. Without your alpha or your pack."
He rolls his eyes behind his alpha's back. "I've got a truck, it can handle the snow. The main road down the mountain gets plowed regularly." He doesn't tell her that every so often, when there's an especially heavy snowfall, the road doesn't get cleared until the conditions improve. "I'll stock up on canned goods, and I can always hunt if things get rough."
He shows her the main living space, not furnished yet but the potential is evident. There's a working fireplace set into an intricate stonework chimney, the floors look shabby but he's certain that all the wood is still decent, it just hasn't been taken care of in a while. It's a bungalow-style house, has an eat-in kitchen with a breakfast bar, there's a main living room and one full bathroom that's only a little bit dingy. Two rooms, one of which Derek plans to use as an office.
"Well that won't do," Laura says. "Where am I supposed to sleep when I come out here to visit? You'll need to build an addition before you convert that second bedroom."
The comment makes Derek smile because it means his sister is coming around to the idea. He knows exactly what will convince her. "Come look at this."
The cabin might be small but it includes a significant stretch of land. He leads her outside and then round to the back where a jutting rock shelf offers the perfect lookout. "Everything the light touches is yours?" Laura teases.
The view is mostly of the crisp blue spring sky and the bright sun, the forests stretching along the side of the mountain and the road cutting through the trees like a scar. He points out the town below them, marked most notably by the white clapboard church perched on a little hill. There's a river that cuts through his land, "and I haven't even checked the whole property yet. Perfect for full moons."
"It sounds nice," his sister admits grudgingly. "But it's still isolated."
Derek huffs. "The town is only forty-five minutes away. That's not bad." Despite the picturesque surroundings this area isn't much of a tourist stop. He had gotten the sense that the people who lived in town weren't all that used to new faces. Derek isn't exactly the sort of person who finds it easy to make friends but he still feels confident when he assures his sister, "They're good people."
Laura doesn't seem convinced. "Derek, when I drove down the main street almost everyone I saw stopped to glare at me."
"Your car is a little flashy for the area."
"I like my car," she snips. "And those assholes better get used to it because I'm going to drive my car through their creepy little town just as often as I can because I intend to visit you, Derek. A lot. I hope you're ready for that." She sighs. "There are no werewolves out here."
"I'm your beta, Laura. I might be living in a different State, but that's still true. I won't go feral."
"I'm not talking about you going feral. You'll be running every full moon out here by yourself. What if something happens to you? What if you need help? The pack isn't exactly close by. I'm not exactly close by!"
"I'll be fine," he tells her. He's thought this out. "The State might not want to recognize them, but I heard howls the other night. There must be some wolves in the area. With my full-shift no one will have any reason to believe there's a werewolf around here. Hunters won't come looking for me."
"People hunt regular wolves too, you know," Laura points out doubtfully.
"This is what I need right now," Derek tells her. "I've already made some contacts with a few local shops, they said they'd be happy to sell any of my work. Between that and fixing up this place I'll be busy, and the peace and quiet … it will be good for me."
She eyes him skeptically. "There's such thing as too much isolation, Derek."
He doesn't believe her but he doesn't tell his sister that.
Laura stays in town until the deal goes through and Derek is officially a homeowner. "Keep me updated on every little detail of your progress," she orders him before she leaves. "I mean it. The moment you drop out of contact all bets are off here. I'll bring the whole pack and we'll storm your little fortress of solitude."
He doesn't bring much with him, just a bag filled with his clothes and his toiletry kit. There are a few photographs he's kept with him and had framed. He wants his cabin to be a real home but the practical side of him can't see the sense of buying furniture when there's so much work he has to do on the interior so he buys a sleeping bag instead of a bed.
After his first night by himself in his own place he sends his sister a photograph of his rumpled sleeping bag set in front of the empty soot-blackened fireplace, purposely leaves a pizza box and a few empty cans of beer in the frame.
Two minutes later his phone rings. "Are you kidding, Derek?" Laura greets when he answers. "I'm coming back there right now."
He laughs. "I'm starting on the floors today. Once I'm through kicking up dust I'll get around to buying a bed, I promise."
"Don't fucking test me on this." She's worried about him, has been worried since they left Beacon Hills seven years ago with nothing but one backpack between them filled with what few mementos they managed to salvage, and a hefty settlement payout, to say nothing of all of the life insurance policies. There's no use in telling her that he's all right, that he's actually feeling better than he has in a long while so instead he says, "I'll send you pictures."
He works through the day, makes himself a sandwich for dinner and then gets back to it. Before he turns in he sends her a picture of his floors, now sanded clean, "Tomorrow: staining and polish," he texts.
Laura texts back: "Keep up the good work."
The second picture Derek sends her is of the drawer he has filled with delivery fliers. His sister is less impressed with that.
That's how it is for a while. Derek runs high on the heady feeling of productivity. It's more than just having something to do, he feels like he's working on something meaningful. 'This is my home' he catches himself thinking, and there's a sense of pride every time it occurs to him. It helps him power through the frustrating bits of the renovations, keeps him to task.
He moved in at the tail end of winter and as he works the season starts to shift, the snow and ice giving way to mucky earth and new life. When he steps outside to take a break he breathes in deep until the sawdust clears and he can smell the start of spring in the air. It feels symbolic.
There's a footprint in the bare patch of dirt on his driveway. It looks almost like a human foot except for the scale of it. It's massive; almost three times the size of Derek's own footprint.
About an inch or two from where the indentations of toes end are five curving triangles that dig into the dirt: claws.
It's disconcerting to look at. Derek doesn't know of any alpha werewolves in the area that might leave a track like this. He doesn't know of any werewolves in the area at all. When he scents the air there isn't anything out of place, just the cold fresh smell of snow mingling with the melt and the dampened dirt. A werewolf would leave a scent trail.
A werewolf would also have left footprints in the snow as well as the muck but even though Derek looks there is only the single outline of a left foot pressed into the dirt between one snowdrift and the next.
His sister flies out in late spring after Derek has been living in his place for three months. "Now this is a cabin," she declares as she hops out of her rental. There's a new front porch complete with a swing that insists on creaking no matter what Derek does to it. Both the screen door and the front door have been replaced. "Show me the inside!"
"You've seen the inside," Derek says with badly hidden pride. "I've sent you pictures."
Laura hooks her arm through his, grinning. "Show me."
All of the windows have been replaced, his floors are practically gleaming and he has furniture. "Look at this place. It almost looks like someone could live here," his sister teases.
There are chairs and a sofa in the living room, new lights and bookshelves and a coffee table. The kitchen has been completely redone and there are brand new stainless-steel appliances. The bathroom has been gutted, everything in it is new. He has an actual bed in his bedroom. "It's got pillows and sheets and everything!" Laura says. She sounds almost exactly the way Gepetto sounded when he discovered Pinocchio had become a real boy. Derek would be insulted if he weren't busy preening.
"Where's my room?"
Derek rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. "Uh, about that."
The second room has been converted to an office. He's got floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that are well on their way to becoming filled, a desk with a computer, an overstuffed reading chair and a fold-out sofa. "That's fine," Laura says breezily. "I'll take your room while we work on the addition."
In May the whole pack comes out. Derek gets glares from the townsfolk when he goes in to shop for groceries but the motel owner, Bethanie, hasn't stopped grinning and Derek assumes business has never been better. The pack doesn't stay for long but by the time they go he has a garage and a workshop, as well as a three-room addition to his cabin with a guest room. "And by guest room, you mean my room," Laura teases with a smirking grin. Derek heaves a put-upon sigh and rolls his eyes, but he's privately delighted by these developments. His brand new roof does not leak and there are no longer any drafts.
There are other new additions to the cabin, such as the hallway closet filled with fresh linens and towels, the tablecloth draped over the hand-carved table Derek made for his kitchen, and throw pillows and art on the walls. "I'm feeling better about this," Laura declares when she finishes overseeing the hanging of the curtains she bought for him, they're plaid because she claimed his house was 'working the rustic chic look'. There are more books on his bookshelves, and when Derek looks he sees that Laura has framed a few more salvaged photographs and set them out.
She makes hot chocolate in the new matching dishware that now fills his cupboards and they curl up on either end of the couch in front of the fireplace. Derek has to admit that it feels like a home: warm and welcoming and familiar. "Thanks for this," he says.
"Of course." She pats at his leg idly as she sips from her mug. "Now all you need is a garden, and then this will be a proper home."
Back in Beacon Hills their mother had kept an elaborate and well-tended garden. It had looked professionally landscaped but she had done it all herself. She was never happier than when she was pruning or harvesting the plants she grew. For a split-second the memory is so vivid that Derek can't breathe.
He clears his throat. "I don't have much of a green thumb."
That should be the end of it, but the next day Laura drives off in Derek's truck and when she comes back she has a rug, a throw, a foot rest, and a seven foot tree strapped down in a trailer she's towing. "It's rented, the trailer, I have to get it back to Charlie before six o'clock so, chop-chop, let's get this baby planted."
"I told you I'm not good with plants," Derek grumbles later, halfway through digging a suitable hole for the tree.
"It's a Dolgo crabapple," Laura explains, as if she knows what she's talking about. "I went into the nursery and explained that my brother refused to plant any sort of garden but that he desperately needed something for the front of his house. Then I told him that your thumb is blacker than pitch and you're easily irritated. He told me this is your tree. It'll be flowering soon, and it has fruit, so if you get bored you can make some jelly or cider or something, but otherwise just think of it as giving back to all the wildlife that must be living in these woods." She shimmies the tree closer to the hole he's made and bumps his shoulder with a fist. "Come on, it'll be pretty."
When the tree is finally situated in the ground Laura observes it proudly, her hands on her hips. "That'll do." She bumps his shoulder again. "Don't lie to me. You like it. I can tell."
There are already light pink buds on it, and the tree is large enough that it casts a shadow over a sizeable stretch of grass. Derek can already smell the soft scent of it in the air, combining with the heavier smells of the pine, aspen and cottonwood trees. He imagines himself working in his workshop out back and then stretching out under the crabapple for a mid-afternoon nap in the summer warmth.
Laura grins. "I knew you would like it. It'll get bigger too, apparently. And they're pretty hardy, it shouldn't require much from you."
Before she heads out Laura tells him, "I've hired someone named Phil to plow your drive and make sure you're not dead. Please tell me you've stocked up on canned goods and shit in case you get buried alive under the snow."
"It's not even summer yet," Derek points out. She won't be dissuaded, so he has to promise her that he'll start hoarding canned goods for the wintertime straightaway."I want pictures," she tells him. "I want to see proof that you're suitably prepared."
The new addition included a laundry room with a suspicious amount of storage considering he's living alone. Now he realizes that Laura was making certain there was plenty of space for emergency supplies.
"I'm doing okay here," he tells his sister when she draws him into a crushing hug and then just can't seem to let him go again. "I can take care of myself."
"I'm your alpha and your big sister. Growl at me all you want but there's no way you can stop me from worrying about you."
Something is eating his crabapples.
Derek doesn't know why it's bothering him because it's not like he wants the crabapples for himself. He didn't even want the tree in the first place, but it's satisfying to think of the creatures dwelling in the woods he now owns surviving through winter because of something he's planted. There's not really any reason to suspect that this isn't what's already happening. True, it's only September but birds could be preparing for a migration, squirrels could already be hoarding.
Except that he's noticing the crabapples aren't being harvested sporadically. He goes to sleep one night and the tree is brimming with heavy dark fruit, and when he wakes up the next day there's a band running the entire circumference of the tree that has absolutely no fruit whatsoever.
"It's probably birds," Laura dismisses when he complains about it to her one night.
"No, you don't understand, it's not a few crabapples missing. This is an entire strip that's been harvested." He turns his porch light on, takes a picture of the tree and then sends it to her. "There aren't any lying on the grass. I checked."
"Huh. So, this is what you do now? You sit around your cabin and obsess about what's eating the fruit from the tree you planted? Yeah, this is healthy. Thanks for putting my mind at ease."
Derek refuses to be distracted. "It's strange, right? You saw the picture." He doesn't mention the footprint because he can only imagine what she'll come up with to tease him, but he wonders if this is somehow connected. It's nothing to worry about really because if the creature is stealing fruit that means it's unlikely to be carnivorous and therefore is probably not territorial or in any way inclined to pick a fight with a werewolf.
Still, his curiosity is peaked. Derek patrols his territory every night in his shifted form and he never smells anything foreign, or remotely out-of-place. His tree keeps growing more fruit and it keeps disappearing in significant quantities all at once, and he keeps wondering.
He's a wolf. He's territorial by nature, and after what happened back in Beacon Hills Derek doesn't think it's strange that he's also developed a (healthy) amount of paranoia. This is what he tells himself as he hunkers down by a window at the front of his house, all the lights switched off, settling in for a stakeout.
Everything's quiet for a long while and he starts to wonder if maybe Laura is right. Maybe he has a bit of cabin fever now that the constant renovations have been wrapped up. He's probably making a big deal out of nothing.
But then he notices that the quiet has become absolute: all the natural night sounds have dropped to nothing, the birds silent, the crickets hushed. Derek strains his ears but he doesn't hear a heartbeat out front of his cabin, can't smell anything strange.
Quietly, he shifts up to peer out the window. There's a dark figure hunkered by his tree. "Got you!" Derek hisses triumphantly, but when he throws his front door open whatever had been there only seconds before has disappeared.
A lone crabapple has fallen at the base of the tree.
Derek shifts into his wolf-shape and takes off into the woods. He's running blind because he can't smell anything except a curious scent, like newly fallen snow and cold winter nights. There's no heartbeat to give away whatever he's chasing but he's certain that there's something out here and he's closing in on it.
A loud crunch and the soft whisper of fur has Derek darting to the right, further up the mountain. He's getting closer, he can sense it. Another crunching sound almost directly to his right brings him up short.
Eyes stare out at him from the shadows, two glowing points of bright, pale blue. Derek drops his head low, widens his stance in preparation for a confrontation. The creature shifts, Derek can hear the rustle of fur and realizes the crunching sounds he's been following have been Derek's crabapples, all of which seem to have been stuffed into the thing's mouth.
They stare at each other, both frozen, cautious, waiting to see what the other will do. Whatever the creature is, the shadows are too dense for Derek to make it out with any clarity, there is only the vague impression of a shape hunkered down in an effort to appear small. Derek hears it when the thing starts chewing again on its impossible mouthful. There's just enough moonlight to make out the thing's face: wide eyes and too-large ears. Its mouth is puffed like a chipmunk's as it struggles to chew all the fruit it stole and then, as Derek stands there in his wolf-shape, staring, the thing widens its mouth in a grin and disappears further into the woods. Vanishes into the dark of the forest. Derek makes an effort to follow but he can't find any trace of it, just the barest whiff of snowfall and cold.
Whatever the creature is, Derek is almost certain it's gone on its way. Every morning he checks his tree but there are roughly the same number of crabapples as the day before, give or take a few on the ground that clearly the birds or the deer have gotten to.
It's difficult to keep his questions ambiguous but he makes inquiries about the local wildlife the next time he goes into town. Phil and Randall are both shop owners who had been happy enough with Derek's woodwork to agree to sell his wares. They direct a fare amount of work Derek's way, and Phil in particular has become a real friend. Phil's wife, Jodie, is a park ranger, and had insisted pretty early on that Derek join them for dinner once a week. It's been a standing Thursday night arrangement.
"We've got a little bit of everything out in those woods," Jodie tells him as she carries a covered dish filled with veggies to the table. "Ptarmigans and snowshoe hares and squirrels."
Derek unfolds his napkin onto his lap. "It's bigger than a squirrel."
"We got bighorn sheep," Phil tells him. "Elk, a couple different types of deer."
Momentarily distracted by the serving dishes circulating the table Derek fills his plate and takes a sip of wine before he clears his throat and says, cautiously, "It uh, it had teeth, and it moved on two feet."
"Sounds like you've got yourself a black bear or two up round your cabin," Jodie says with a smile. "Nothing to worry about. There aren't many hiking trails up your way so the wildlife knows to be leery of humans. You keep a respectful distance and they'll return the favor."
"That's probably it." He thinks back on the glimpse he got of the animal and can't help but frown. "It was dark when I saw it, and it was pretty late but … I don't know, it almost seemed as if its fur was white."
Jodie raises her eyebrows, shares a look with Phil. When she looks back to Derek the corner of her mouth is twitched upward, just a little. "I don't know what to tell you. Far as I know, polar bears don't live anywhere near this far south."
Phil laughs, a hard barking sound, and tips his head all the way back as he does it. "Fucking polar bears," he sniggers, clapping a hand on his thigh. "Can you imagine?"
Derek snorts, rolls his eyes as he shakes his head. "Right."
By the time autumn rolls in the people in town seem to have uniformly reconciled themselves to the fact that Derek has permanently joined their ranks. Instead of curious glances and suspicious glares he gets familiar greetings and, every so often, a genuine smile. Town life seems to operate on strict routine and Derek takes to it easily. His predictability probably goes a fair ways in helping people adjust to his presence, but he also has no illusions that his acceptance hasn't also been helped by whatever Phil and Jodie pass on about him.
"You must be Derek Hale," Ruthy greets when he stops by her restaurant for the first time. "Phil's told me all about you. I've got some raspberry pie that's just come out of the oven. You sit tight." Ruthy's restaurant serves home-style cooking and has a warm, welcoming atmosphere that's helped along by the fact that Ruthy mothers him like he's her long-lost son. She's probably closer to his grandmother's age but Derek doesn't let himself dwell on that.
The predictability of his schedule also means that everyone knows where to find him if they need to, and sometimes when Derek is standing in the frozen foods section debating between two different kinds of frozen dinners someone wanders up to see if he might have the time to craft a table and chairs for their kitchen, or some log benches for the fire pit they're building. Laura had worried that he'd be lonely, too isolated up on his mountain. That he'd miss his pack, his family.
Instead, he finds that he's socializing more than ever. The town isn't so small that he knows everyone, but there's a fair number of familiar faces, and most of those greet him like old friends. Some of them fuss worse than Laura.
Derek tells his sister this and she laughs at him and teases, but he knows it puts her mind at ease.
The seasons change again. Derek likes that each one, spring and summer, fall and winter have clear and distinct patterns. Unlike in California where one season tended to blur almost indistinguishably with another, here the autumn is marked with a riot of color and a crisping of the weather; summer is a slow plodding heat but no trace of the humidity and sweltering boil that he experienced in Beacon Hills. Winter is white snow twinkling under the sun and a bite in the air that makes Derek want to run run run. Run, not 'frolic', which is what Laura accuses him of doing. In turn, he accuses her of being jealous of all the space he has to run, "How's city life treating you?" he ribs her.
He leaves town for Thanksgiving, spends it with his pack taking up space on his sister's couch and glutting himself on turkey. When he gets back to his own house there are five bananas that have gone brown from cold, three sizeable rainbow trout that have frozen to the surface of his deck, and a trail of massive footprints that lead up to and then away from the bottom step, sunk two inches deep into the damp dirt.
"What the fuck," Derek wonders aloud but receives no answer. He opens the windows to air-out the cabin, hastily unpacks his clothes into the laundry room and starts a wash. Then he goes out, shifts to his wolf shape and patrols the entirety of his property searching for any sign of the creature that he suspects is responsible for the odd gifts. He finds nothing.
The next morning there are three carrots lying on his porch, the dirt still clinging to them and another dead fish. Derek tosses it all in the trash and continues on his way to his truck. "I can take care of myself!" he snaps in the general direction of the trees. He goes grocery shopping.
The town is grumbling about a bunch of tourists who apparently rode in over the weekend. "Looking for Bigfoot," Anne informs him wryly as she packs Derek's groceries into paper bags. "They're staying at the motel."
He grunts. "Does Bigfoot come around here often?"
Standing at the next cash, Jodie shakes her head. "Oh hon, according to these idiots, Bigfoot favors the type of terrain we've got in these parts." She purses her lips together, rolling her eyes. "Mostly they stomp around the woods with their cameras and their equipment and pepper all of us with ridiculous questions."
"The only people really inconvenienced by them are you, Jodie," Anne teases. "Trying to keep an eye on them and stop them destroying the real wildlife we've got."
Derek snorts in amusement but Jodie's glower only intensifies. "If I could have the Sheriff run 'em out of town, I would," she says in total honesty.
Anne shakes her head and then brushes the idiocy aside. "How's that greenhouse of yours coming, Jodie?"
Derek collects his groceries, bids everyone good-bye and heads back to his cabin, his head spinning. Paranoia makes him wonder if the tourists are actually hunters in town under a false pretense. Bigfoot is one of those legends that most people scoff at and roll their eyes at. Only a select few entertain the possibility. Tourists claiming to be searching it out would seem relatively benign, and carrying cases of camera and video equipment could easily conceal weapons and ammunition enough to take down one lone werewolf living on his own halfway up a mountain. The usually suspicious townspeople would probably endure their colorful guests with more patience; would perhaps be more willing to talk in order to tease and poke fun.
No one in town is aware of Derek's lycanthropy but what if Jodie lets something slip about the migration patterns of the local wolves, and how when the pack has supposedly wandered away the townspeople still hear howling?
As soon as he makes it back to the cabin he rushes inside and telephones his sister, who promptly tells him, "You're being paranoid, little bro." It's grounding to hear her voice. Soothing, even though it's laced with exasperation. "Look, you say you walk your territory every night."
"At least once," Derek confirms. There are times when he spends his entire day shifted and half the night, running around in the woods, tracking scents and mostly forgetting about the responsibilities and realities of his human life. He doesn't tell his alpha this.
"You would have smelled them if they had wandered anywhere near your place. And you will smell them if they do find their way out there." He knows it's true, on one level. But the thought doesn't ease him very much. Apparently Laura senses this over the phone because she sighs. "Look, I know what happened back in Beacon Hills has made you extra cautious, and I also know you won't want to hear this but the truth is, we got careless."
"Mom was never …"
"We did, Derek. Only one escape route out of the house, and everyone in the family knew about it? Including the little kids? Plus, we brought the whole family into town, everyone, the entire pack and it didn't occur to us to check out who else was in town? I mean, the Argents. They've been hunters since the beginning."
"But we didn't do anything. The Code…"
Laura huffs. "Too trusting," she says, darkly. "We trusted a bunch of hunters to honor their Code. They're human, and humans can go dark-side just as easily as wolves can." She pauses and lets him consider that for a moment before continuing, "The fact is, we didn't want to think about danger so we avoided thinking about it, to the extent that we got careless, didn't take even the most basic of precautions."
"That doesn't make it okay."
"No it doesn't," Laura agrees. "But what it does mean is that there are things that you can do, Derek, if you're really worried, to make sure you're safe. And it sounds like you're doing them."
His thoughts are caught up in memories of home. Happy memories of his dad making heaping stacks of pancakes, enough to feed a family of werewolves; his mom sitting out on the porch swing and reading; his uncle playing with his kids.
Horrifying memories: the smell of the fire and Derek's family burning, trapped inside their home, their den. Their escape route barred by mountain ash, the air poisoned with aconite, and Derek and Laura outside watching, incapable of doing anything to help.
"Do you want me to come out there?" Laura asks.
The way she sounds makes Derek think she's asked him more than once already. Carefully, he collects himself, pulls his thoughts out of dark recollections. "No, you're right. I should be okay."
"Alright." She does not sound entirely happy about it. "We're still on for Christmas, though?"
"Absolutely." They talk for a bit more, and then Derek remembers he has a truck full of groceries and says 'good-bye'. He unpacks everything, puts it all in its proper place, and then returns to the porch to toss the bananas into the trash and scrape the fish up off the deck. Then he shifts into his wolf shape and circles the entirety of his property. Nothing is out of place.
Derek meets his crabapple thief in the middle of the night after a fairly heavy snowfall. He shifted sometime after dinner and, elated by the crisp cool air, the wafting smells from the town of cozy fires burning in fireplaces and the tart scent of the cedar and pine trees, he runs and darts about like a pup. If Laura were with him Derek is certain she would accuse him of frolicking again, but he doesn't mind because he's certain she would be hard-pressed to behave any different under such pristine conditions.
Eventually he finds his way out to the lookout behind his cabin. That perfect jut of rock from which he can see the soft glow of the town and the brilliance of the moon and the trees and the road and everything else all around him for miles. Derek tips his head back and he howls, and directly behind him something goes, "Awoof," in mocking mimicry.
Derek startles because he heard nothing approaching and he smelled nothing strange anywhere in the woods, let alone creeping up on him, which is alarming; almost as alarming as the sight that greets him when he turns around.
The creature is easily seven feet tall. It looms over Derek's wolf shape even though it's hunkered low, defensive in its stance. Despite his keen vision Derek is hard-pressed to make out the shape of the thing, covered as it is in shaggy white fur that is almost unnaturally white, as bright and blinding as the newly fallen snow. He can see large ears shaped somewhat like a deer's, sticking out from either side of the creature's sizable head, and the swish of a tail. Two shadows at the top of the thing's head suggest dark stubby horns or antlers.
There is no mistaking the creature's eyes, however. They glow cold and pale and very blue. Derek is uncomfortably aware that whatever this thing may be it is far larger, with sharper teeth and bigger claws than his own, and he is cornered, standing as he is on the jut of his lookout.
Carefully he shifts left, wondering if it might be possible to dart passed this thing before it can manage a swipe at him. The creature jerks back hastily at the movement, as if it's startled and wary. Derek huffs because, of the two of them, it is positively absurd that this thing should be the one feeling intimidated.
The creature huffs and then raises a massive paw with dark claws like a bear's to scratch at the back of its neck, blue shining eyes moving away like the thing feels embarrassed. Derek cocks his head to the side, curious at the surprisingly human mannerism being demonstrated by this unquestionably non-human creature.
The thing mirrors Derek's movement, its round head tilting as it blinks.
Its startled retreat from a moment before has brought it into a beam of moonlight and Derek realizes that the dark little face is a curious shade of greyish lilac. It has thin lips creased by gleaming and worryingly sharp canines, top and bottom. There are in fact horns on the thing's head, short and dark purple-black spiraling up from either side of the floppy too-large ears.
Overall, Derek thinks the creature is at once intimidating and ridiculous.
"Awoof," the creature grunts and then cocks its head, like it’s asking a question or at least awaiting some sort of response.
Derek snorts at it. Not far off, in a stand of pine trees, several birds squawk and flutter into flight and Derek is momentarily distracted by the commotion. When he turns back to the creature the thing has disappeared as silently as it had come.
"Could you be more specific?" Laura pushes when Derek asks her what she thinks the thing living in his territory might be. "Like, what sort of 'big furry creature' exactly?"
"I don't know," Derek huffs. "If I knew more I'd give you more."
"Well, could you describe it, at least?"
That, Derek can do. He starts with the obvious things like the size of it, "About seven feet tall, and it has claws and horns and sharp teeth."
"It sounds friendly." She seems distracted, Derek thinks she's probably writing the details down, which at least makes him feel confident that she plans to follow this up. "I thought you said it was stealing the crabapples from your tree?"
"But it also has big pointy teeth?"
He remembers the way the canines had creased the flesh of the creature's strangely colored lips. To look at it he would never have guessed the creature was anything but a carnivore, but people assume the same of the black bears that roam the mountains and they eat berries and grubs as much as anything else. Derek tells his sister as much.
"Fine, whatever," she dismisses; he imagines her waving a hand as she says this and experiences a fleeting pang of homesickness. "What else have you got? Tell me about the horns."
He tries to remember the details that he was able to make-out. "They had sharp points but I don't know if there was much practical use for them. They seemed on the small side." He tells her about the absolute whiteness of the creature's fur, the strange greyish lilac color of its skin and the wide, glowing cool blueness of its eyes.
"Like your eyes?" Laura asks him. "That sort of blue?"
"No, not anything like that. Paler, deeper and …" he tries to think of a way to explain it, can only tell her about a photograph he remembers from their aunt's National Geographic coffee table book, a picture of the blue ice of a glacier. The creature's eyes had glowed the same way the ice had seemed to, even in that picture.
In the end, she reads back the description starting with the massive clawed feet, up to the bushy half-tail and ending with the curl of its horns. When Derek confirms that it's close enough, his sister sighs. "It sounds both adorable and terrifying. What the hell kind of wildlife is keeping you company on those mountains?"
Derek rolls his eyes. "That's what I'd like to know."
"You're absolutely sure it hasn't tried to do anything?"
"What exactly do imagine this thing would do?"
"I don't know!" his sister exclaims, exasperated. "Steal sheep? Break fences? Try to eat my brother with its massive chompy-bitey teeth?"
Derek can't help laughing. "It's stolen a bunch of apples from my tree and demonstrated a disturbing lack of dining etiquette. Beyond that it seems … sort of shy, maybe? Curious?" He thinks of the fish and the vegetables being left on his front porch but is hesitant to tell his sister about it. She'd have a field day.
It's not until that moment that it occurs to him to wonder where a creature living in the mountains and clearly lacking the ability to traverse through town without drawing all kinds of attention could possibly be getting carrots and vegetables in the middle of winter.
"Maybe I'll come out and visit before Christmas," Laura suggests.
Derek is immediately jolted from his thoughts. "Why? There's not much to do out here, it's not a big city like New York. Mostly we have snow and a skating rink. You'll go stir-crazy within three days."
"I could stalk the fluffy demon stealing from my tree," she argues.
"You gave it to me as a gift, which makes it mine. And now who's the one being paranoid?" It takes some effort to persuade her that she'd be more useful finding out what the creature is, and in the end she grumbles at him, asks him if he's still happy living alone in the middle of the woods at the top of a mountain, and finishes by telling him to check in more often. "You'd tell me to check-in more even if I phoned you every other minute of the day."
"Whatever," Laura says. "I'm your alpha, just do it."
He growls at her playfully and she cackles and hangs up.
There's another heavy snowfall but Derek's truck has top-of-the-line winter tires and the main roads are clear. Phil drives round first thing in the morning with the plow he'd bought for his pickup truck and clears the snow all the way up to Derek's bottom step. "Still coming to dinner at the house?" he asks, rolling down his window.
Derek rolls his eyes. "Have I missed a dinner yet?"
Chuckling, Phil shakes his head. "Pretty sure by this point if you ever pull a no-show Jodie'll be knocking down your front door with the whole Sheriff's department behind her ready to come to your rescue. Or haul your lazy ass off the couch." It's a familiar exchange. Just like how Phil always says he can't afford to visit because he has other driveways to plow but ends up chatting with his window rolled down, complaining about the cold until Derek points out that Phil's only got an hour left to finish plowing everyone's driveways before he's got to get back and open the shop for the day. Or how Phil never fails to hang around long enough for Derek to finish brewing a pot of coffee, which just so happens to perfectly coincide with Phil finishing off the coffee he's got in his thermos. "I'll come round and dig you out if it snows again," Phil says, like always and Derek waves him off.
Since it's a Tuesday, Derek drives into town to do a bit of shopping and swings by Ruthy's for lunch. He shows up to the usual fanfare: the regulars at the bar all craning around and raising their glasses in greeting, and Ruthy grinning and shooing him off, "Go sit down already, your table's clear."
There's a cluster of five new faces seated at the big circular table in the middle of the restaurant floor, the one no one really prefers since the new booths Ruthy had installed two years ago are so comfortable. "Those them?" Derek asks quietly when Ruthy hands him a menu and sets a warm cup of tea down on the table.
It's evident she knows exactly who he's talking about, but she makes a point of turning around and glaring at the customers anyway. "Lookin' for Bigfoot," she snorts. "We get these types in town more than anyone'd like."
He thinks of the giant creature lurking in his woods and wonders if maybe there's some truth to what these 'tourists' are in town for. He tries to ask a few roundabout questions but Ruthy is as irked as everyone else in town and would rather rant than offer any gossip about the strangers. "Bigfoot or no Bigfoot," she says, cocking her hip and glaring as she scribbles Derek's menu onto her pad. "No reason to be stomping through everyone's backyards and leaving garbage in the forests and pestering people with silly questions. If Bigfoot's up in those woods he's not bothering anyone, and we should return the favor."
It's a curious thing to say but Derek still feels too new to the town, worries sometimes that if he says the wrong thing the townsfolk will start to glare at him the way they did when he first arrived. Or worse, the way they're glaring at the tourists.
"Maybe it's a Bigfoot," Derek tells his sister when he calls her that night.
"Well, it definitely has big feet, but from the description you gave me that's not what's camping out in your woods."
He blinks. "You know what it is? Already?"
"Called in a few favors," Laura answers nonchalantly. "Spoke to Deaton, you remember him? Anyway, he says that from the sounds of it you've got a real live Meh-Teh, aka Yeti, aka Abominable Snowman living in your backyard. Congrats, baby bro."
"That sounds…." 'horrifying' is the word that comes to mind. He remembers watching 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' as a kid and freaking out every time that growly beast came on the screen threatening the deer. Every picture he has ever seen of abominable snowmen, and granted there haven't been all that many, were all evil-looking and unpleasant, usually the creature was depicted in the middle of menacing some humans or innocent looking wide-eyed herbivores.
He thinks about the fluffy thing he'd seen the other day, how it had shuffled around, awkward and shy, skittish and overcautious in front of Derek's wolf.
"According to the notes Deaton forwarded to me," Laura is explaining, "They've gotten an unwarranted bad rep. Apparently they're herding animals. Most of the sightings come from the Himalayan area because people keep trekking around into Snowman territory there most often, but they can live pretty much anywhere. Of course, they prefer the cold." There's the sound of a page turning, Derek thinks his sister is scanning through notes she's jotted down while she grilled Deaton for any potentially relevant details, ever the conscientious alpha.
But as she talks she sounds like she has all the information memorized, as if she's always had these facts floating around in her head just in case she might need them. She's just a little bit gleeful, the way she always sounds when she's learned something new. "The bad rep comes from the fact that humans hunt the Bharals and the Markhors and whatever the Snowmen are herding, and naturally the Snowmen retaliate to defend the flock. Otherwise, Deaton assured me that they're so reclusive and so good at hiding that most people could walk right by one and never even notice."
Derek thinks of how he never heard the creature's heartbeat or footsteps, how it left no trace of itself except it's footprints in the soggy mud. "So they're not dangerous?"
"They can be, you should still be careful. I mean if you piss one off it has all the necessary tools to fuck you up pretty good," Laura says, and then grudgingly adds, "Deaton says it should be fine, though. So long as you're respectful. Maybe stay away from hunting the local wildlife, too, in case you slaughter something it's herding."
Derek's nodding along when a thought occurs to him, "Could an Abominable Snowman ever be mistaken for a Bigfoot? Are they hunted like werewolves?"
Laura hesitates, seeming to mull that over. "I have no clue. I mean, I guess there are similarities in the stories, and I guess people who aren't in-the-know could go out chasing Bigfoot and get mixed up. I mean, there are some similarities. They both have big feet."
It makes Derek wonder if he should be worried about the tourists in town. Then another thought occurs to him. "Wait, are you telling me that Bigfoot is real?"
His sister starts laughing so hard that it takes her a while to be able to find her words. "Get off my phone, you idiot." She hangs up and he sits there for a while gritting his teeth. She never gave him an answer.
Derek isn't certain if the yeti-snowman-thing starts hanging around more or if it simply starts being less subtle about it. There are offerings every morning when Derek steps out onto his porch, anything from a recently caught rabbit to a collection of nuts and berries in a sealed Tupperware container. Not for the first time Derek wonders who in town is aware of the creature inhabiting the mountains.
He starts to eat his breakfast out on his porch swing, crunching his cereal loudly and pointedly as he glares at the trees.
At night when he shifts and runs the yeti always finds him. One moment Derek will be racing between the trees and leaping over snow mounds on his own following the scent of a rabbit or a squirrel just for something to chase, and the next there is a shaggy lump of fur keeping easy pace beside him. Sometimes Derek tries to race the yeti and the creature lets him break ahead and establish a good distance before streaking passed, making a hiccupping snort noise that sounds vaguely like laughter. For such a large and awkwardly shaped thing the yeti is fast and strangely graceful in motion. When it's standing still, however, it's all gawky limbs and shuffling twitchy movement.
After about a week of the yeti appearing suddenly and disappearing again just as unexpectedly, never staying for very long, the creature starts to grow bolder. It announces its presence by tackling Derek playfully and then bounding off again, or by tossing a snowball at him. Sometimes the snowball catches Derek, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the exchange evolves into a game where the yeti tries to pelt Derek with snowballs while Derek dodges and ducks and in turn snaps his teeth teasingly at the fluffy sweep of white tail that swishes about as the yeti moves.
Derek wonders at the creature's mannerisms, the way it scratches nervously at the back of its neck or shifts from foot to foot and pointedly looks away when Derek retakes his human shape so he can open his front door. The way it unsnaps the lid of the Tupperware when Derek offers it a snack, using only the tips of its claws and bending them carefully as if all too conscious of the damage they can do.
Apes are intelligent, Derek reminds himself, and he's heard theories that Bigfoot is some kind of ape-like hybrid and this creature could probably be a similar species to a Bigfoot. It's not strange, the obvious intelligence the yeti displays. Derek has heard of a gorilla learning sign language and repeatedly demonstrating remarkably human emotions.
Of course, that means that whoever in town has taken to feeding the yeti must also be spending time with it, talking and maybe even teaching it things. Maybe it's even more than one person, like a town project or something.
There are nights when the yeti follows Derek back to the cabin and stands close to the bottom step looking up at the house with a curiously wistful tilt to its head. As far as Derek knows, his is the only cabin located this high up the mountainside. There's a wildlife preserve with hiking trails that extends over the other two peaks nearby. Is there a house some place where the creature sometimes takes shelter? The old ranger station, maybe? "Where do you live?" Derek asks it.
The yeti glances back over its shoulder towards the trees, shuffles a bit and shrugs and then goes loping off with purpose into the woods. For a moment Derek wonders if he's supposed to follow but when he steps down, bare feet stinging with cold, he realizes that, as usual, there are no tracks in the snow, no lingering scent, nothing at all for Derek to follow. Sighing, he goes inside.
The smell of gunpowder isn't even that strong but Derek is sensitized to it. Hyper-aware, so even when his senses are locked down he can still scent when a local deputy is heading his way, no matter how long it's been since they last discharged their service weapon.
On his own land, so close to his home? Derek smells the strange blend of herbs he can't recognize blended with the smell of gunpowder and he races back to his cabin, to his clothes piled on the rug by the front door. He pulls his clothes on hastily, his shirt improperly buttoned but masked under his heavy coat. He grabs a flashlight even if he doesn't need one, but doesn't turn it on until he's almost right on top of the people creeping through the trees.
"This is private property," he growls, shining the beam of light purposely into the eyes of the people he's caught out. They're hunched and startled, caught reaching into their camera bags for the weapons that aren't supposed to be there but that Derek can clearly smell.
"Sorry," one of the women pipes up, smiling sheepishly. "These woods are confusing, we must have gotten turned around. There was no fence or anything, we didn't know."
"It's pretty late to be hiking." He works carefully to remind himself that this is his land and he has every right to be here. That he could pull out his cell phone and call Seamus, the local Sheriff, and there would be no dispute over what is happening here. Trespassing.
When he had bought the cabin Laura had sat him down and told him that for most people, the idea of werewolves actually existing was so preposterous that if a hunter ever showed up on his doorstep then Derek's first course of action should be to lie lie lie, act as human as possible, exploit every course of legal action he could because, odds were even if a deputy or someone on the force got caught-up believing the hunters no one would want to file the paperwork that read: in conclusion, werewolves. They'd be sent to a mad house.
Whatever blend of herbs these hunters are using isn't anything Derek recognizes, but it's not making his eyes water or his skin itch, which makes him suspect that it won't harm him. Not anymore than any normal sort of bullet ever could. It bolsters his confidence.
"Uh," one of the men stutters.
"We've been lost for a while," the woman speaks over him smoothly. "You got a place nearby where we could warm up?"
Derek raises his eyebrows. "I've got a place. You aren't welcome in it. Just like you're not welcome on my land. I'll point you into town, though."
The hunters clearly aren't happy but he doesn't give them any choice. Purposely, he takes them on a route to the road that doesn't bring them anywhere near his cabin. They grumble and bitch as they walk, not suspecting that he can hear every word. They're looking for something, and Derek thinks about how, more and more, he's been drawing comparisons between the yeti he's been crossing paths with and apes and Bigfoots, and thinks he knows why these people are really here.
"Here it is," Derek says, nodding to the road he's led them to. The hunters huddle together, rifling through backpacks like they're trying to get their bearings, figure out their way back to town. Really they're just waiting for him to leave, Derek thinks.
Rolling his shoulders back, Derek fixes them with a glare. "There are no hiking trails anywhere on this mountain," he tells them. All the buildings on this mountain are private homes; if they want to try and bullshit someone they really need a more plausible excuse. From the caught-out looks they're giving him it looks like they're realizing that. "If I catch any of you out here again I'll call the Sheriff."
He's shaking when he makes it back to his cabin. They're not here for him; he doesn't think they are, at least. He's safe. He's safe, he tells himself. Somehow that doesn't seem good enough.
Three nights later there is the ear-rending slam of a gunshot. The noise carries, echoing and building strength so Derek doesn't even need his werewolf hearing to know what has happened. Apparently the threat of a local small-town sheriff hadn't been enough to warn the hunters away. Derek takes off running, manages to wedge his feet into his boots but forgets his coat altogether in his haste to move.
There's a blur of white streaking through the woods but Derek is making so much noise, brittle twigs snapping under his booted feet and snow crunching, that by the time he's opening his mouth to call out the yeti is already changing direction, it runs right up to Derek and then picks him up, attempts to tuck him under its arm even though the difference between their height does not make that an easy task.
Laura had mentioned yetis can grow up to nine feet tall. This one is barely seven. Derek suspects it is not yet fully grown, or possibly it is simply a runt. "Put me down," he hisses.
The creature is in too much of a panic to listen, and the more Derek swats at the furry arms constricting him and half-dragging him through the trees, the more the thing tightens its hold. "I'm trying to help you, you idiot."
Finally, the yeti drops him, checking over its shoulder before it pokes forcefully at Derek's chest when he doesn't immediately start moving of his own accord. Derek almost topples over into the snow. "Stop it," he growls. For a brief moment there's a gleeful light in the cold blue eyes that makes him think the yeti would dearly love to poke him again, just to see what Derek will do.
It's not the time for games, however. Derek can already hear the hunters crunching along in the snow, whispering and fanning out in an effort to drive their prey. "Come on," he says to the yeti and though it hesitates, it obeys.
It follows him right up to the bottom step of his porch but no further. "There's no time for this, get inside!" Derek orders. The creature is unswayed. He tries to keep his voice down so as not to attract attention but his nerves are already frayed and the yeti is both stupid and stubborn. He coaxes, yells, insults and attempts to reason with the thing, but it blinks back at him stupidly and refuses to move. Finally, Derek throws his hands in the air, flashes his beta-blue eyes and snarls, "In! Now!"
The yeti slinks up the stairs like a guilty dog, shoulders hunched and head dropped low. It has to curl in on itself just to fit through the door and then it stands nervously in Derek's living room as he moves about his house checking locks and closing curtains.
He'd been sitting down to dinner when he heard the gunshot. His half eaten Hungry Man is still set out on the little TV tray he keeps for nights when he wants to stretch out with his food in front of a good movie. The fire he had built-up has died down a bit but hasn't gone out. He stares at the yeti, who stares back. Derek has no idea what to do now. "Make yourself at home," he offers, for want of anything better to say.
The yeti looks around before cautiously lowering itself onto the leather sofa. It hasn't even dropped its full weight down when the entire couch groans in displeasure and the yeti blinks shocked eyes, leaping quickly back to its feet and settling hastily onto the rug instead. Derek can't tell whether the situation is actually funny or if it's merely his nerves that are making him want to laugh. "You're safe here," he tells the creature, who merely stares at him with wide eyes.
With his appetite vanished, Derek busies himself clearing away the dishes and tidying the kitchen. He tries to settle down with a book, worried all the while that the hunters might stop by the cabin, but time stretches on and there's no sound. At some point the yeti drags down one of Derek's throw pillows and curls itself into an impossibly small ball in front of the fire. Periodically one of its large ears twitches and Derek knows the creature hasn't really fallen asleep.
It's awkward but truthfully it doesn't feel as strange as Derek thinks it probably should. He stays up for a while, senses straining to catch anything out of place, but eventually he concedes that the hunters don't seem brazen enough to come near the cabin. He goes out as the wolf just in case, moving in a widening spiral further and further out and even though there are traces of a distinctly human scent in the air and of gunpowder, he thinks it's been several hours since the hunters have been here.
The yeti is still in front of the dwindling fire when Derek gets back, feigning sleep. "They've gone," he tells it. "Stay as long as you need," he adds, surprising himself with how much he means it. He can't stand to think of another supernatural creature being hunted down and killed, especially when there is something Derek could have done to stop it.
The next morning Derek is somewhat surprised to find that he not only managed to fall asleep, but also feels remarkably well rested, considering. He wipes the lingering traces of sleep from his eyes as he pulls himself out of bed, pausing for a moment to strain his ears: there are rhythmic inhales and exhales accompanied by the steady drum of a heart, which tells him that the yeti is still in his living room.
He ducks into his washroom first before making his way out to greet the thing, wondering just where exactly to go from here. Does he let it go back outside when it's clearly still in danger? How is he supposed to keep a seven foot yeti secret when it's living in his cabin? To say nothing of keeping it entertained.
As it turns out the situation is both more and less complicated than he's been anticipating. When he makes his way to the living room there is a strange boy curled up in front of his fireplace. That the boy and the yeti are one in the same is not a difficult mental leap to make: the boy is naked, pale skin flecked with moles, hair mussed and brown, but the horns and the ears are still there, as is the tail that curls over his hips preserving his modesty as he sleeps. The boy's arms from just above his elbows and his legs beginning just beneath his knees are still heavily furred and he has sharp claws instead of fingers and toes.
The yeti-boy comes awake as Derek stands there gawking. It blinks cold blue eyes at him as it smacks its lips. The teeth are still there, sharp and menacing. Derek is still staring as the yeti-boy stretches and pushes himself up to sit, and then finally comes awake enough to realize his current state of undress. "Oh my –" his voice cracks and cuts out even though his mouth seems to keep forming words. He winces, scrambling to drag a nearby throw over himself.
"Right." Derek turns around and heads back into his room.
It's obviously some sort of beta shift, he thinks as he sits on his bed with his head in his hands. Not really all that surprising, foolish not to have considered it before, actually. He pulls some clothes out of his dresser, tosses them in the direction of the yeti-boy who seems to be debating whether he should sneak out while Derek has been distracted.
"Put those on," he tells the boy and goes into the kitchen.
When the boy joins him Derek is in the process of frying bacon but he glances over to see that everything is in order. The borrowed sweatpants are rucked-up awkwardly around the furry legs the yeti is sporting. There's a fresh rip in the T-shirt, probably from where one of the sizeable claws snagged the fabric. "You can talk," Derek says, eyeing the boy as he concentrates on the two pans he has on the element: eggs and bacon. Simple but adequate.
"I –" the boy's voice cracks and then cuts out again and he winces, looks both apologetic and incredibly frustrated. He flaps his paw around but Derek doesn't know what that's supposed to mean.
"Kettle is over there." Derek bobs his head toward the other counter. "Tea with honey would probably help your throat."
The boy glances at the kettle before he makes his way over. Derek turns back to the eggs but when the clattering sounds interspersed with frustrated puffs of air continue and the sound of water boiling does not start he glances over to find the boy struggling to handle the kitchen appliance with his furry clawed paws.
"Let me," Derek growls and the boy skips back, perching cautiously on a chair at the kitchen table. Derek sets the water to boil, tosses a teabag into a mug and puts out the honey before returning to the eggs and bacon. He's just taking the pans off the element, distributing the contents evenly between two plates when there is a knock at the door.
He'd only peripherally been aware of the car pulling up, distracted as he was by thoughts of what to do with the yeti, and whether the fact that he's a yeti-boy hybrid makes things easier or more difficult. The wheezy hiss of the vehicle was recognizable, the distinct sound of a sheriff's department cruiser, and so he hadn't been concerned, at least not until he's halfway to the door and realizing that he has no way of explaining his house-guest.
Hastily, Derek tosses the abandoned throw at the boy, raising his eyebrows pointedly and waiting until the boy begins to cocoon himself before opening the front door.
"Morning, Derek," deputy Hastings greets. "Mind if I come in for a sec? Cold as balls out here."
He doesn't smell anything off about the woman, she seems calm and relaxed as she stands on his porch, which does a lot to set him at ease. "Just sitting down to breakfast, Mary."
"Won't be long, just a couple of questions about last night's disturbance."
He steps aside to allow her through, and she wipes her boots carefully on the mat but doesn't move beyond it just in case. "Oh," she says, blinking and Derek knows what's caught the deputy's attention before he glances over her shoulder to where the yeti-boy is still sitting at the table, swaddled in the blanket. He's pulled it over his head in order to mask his horns, and only his pale eyes and the slope of his nose are visible. He's clutching the blanket closed in such a way that hides his claws. "I didn't know you had a guest, sorry to barge in on you like this," deputy Hastings says and introduces herself to the yeti-boy, who blinks at her.
His attempt to greet her properly results in a fit of dry, painful sounding coughs.
"He's a family friend, just visiting," Derek hastily intervenes. "He's sick."
"Well, it's the weather for it," Mary says with sympathy. She declines Derek's offer of coffee or tea, and says she's just making the rounds to make sure everyone is all right after people reported gunshots in the area. "Did you see anything? Hear anything strange around here?"
"We heard the shots. Hard not to. But we were both inside, and the shades were down. I'm sorry we can't be more help."
Mary shakes her head. "No, that's about the story I'm getting from everyone. And since the whole town is present and accounted for, that leaves our little 'harmless' tourists looking mighty suspicious about now."
Derek glances towards the yeti. "I didn't want to mention it before, because it seemed innocent enough at the time, but I caught the group of them trespassing on my property a few days ago. They said they'd gotten turned around on a hike."
"Where the hell were they hiking that they found their way up here?" Mary shakes her head. "You see them again, don't hesitate to call. We're gonna keep a closer eye on that bunch. We don't stand for this sort of nonsense around here. It's not hunting season, there's no call to be trekking around the woods shooting things. They do it again, I'll haul their asses in." She catches herself up and Derek can almost see her physically shake-off her anger. "I don't mean to disturb your breakfast more than I already have. You two have a good day."
"Thank-you for checking on us." That's sort of novel to Derek and it gives the wolf in him a happy feeling, like he's got a pack away from pack.
"Cute slippers," Mary says to the yeti.
"Thanks," the boy croaks, barely a word there at all, just a push of air and sound that only vaguely resembles anything sensible. He winces and raises his blanket-covered fist to his mouth as if to stifle a cough.
Mary looks disturbingly motherly as she smiles at the boy, and then gives a pointed look at Derek, half-threatening. "You're taking care of him, right?" Derek is so thrown by the question that his only response is to raise his eyebrows, but that seems a satisfactory response because Mary nods once, firmly, and then makes her way back to her cruiser.
He closes the door and just barely stops himself from wilting against it in relief. When he glances over the yeti's shoulders are shaking. "This isn't funny," Derek tells the thing. The yeti just shrugs the blanket off his shoulders and stretches, arms reaching up overhead and legs sticking out. He wiggles his claws.
The timer beeps and Derek heads back to the kitchen. "Your tea's ready."
It's like a scene out of an absurdist play: the yeti sits at Derek's table sipping tea from his mug, claws curling daintily in order to avoid shattering the ceramic. There's a moment where Derek thinks the boy is reacquainting himself with cutlery, experimenting with the best way to hold the utensils that look ridiculously small in his furry hands.
Despite drinking every last drop of tea with grim determination, and then having two spoonfuls of honey, the boy still has not recovered his voice and Derek thinks the problem has less to do with a sore throat so much as forming sounds that he strongly suspects the yeti has not made in at least a few years. He tries to imagine living in his wolf shape for that length of time. Right after the fire Derek had definitely spent a good deal of time in that shape, but never more than two days at utmost in a single stretch.
As he cleans the dishes he explains that the offer to stay still stands, but if the yeti prefers he's also welcome to leave whenever he chooses. There's no answer, not even a huff of air, and when he glances over his shoulder he finds the boy curled into one of the reading chairs with the blanket covering most of him, fast asleep.
Derek leaves him to it.
The next morning when Derek makes his way out to the living room he's following the sound of determined crunching. He finds the yeti in the chair he seems to have claimed for himself, eating potato chips. "Morning!" the boy greets with a wide grin around a mouthful of chips.
Derek blinks. "You got your voice back."
"Apparently," the boy agrees. "I'm Stiles, by the way. Thanks for taking me in, or whatever this is." There are crumbs on his lips. "Oh." He wipes his paw down the front of the borrowed sweatshirt he's wearing, sleeves rolled to just above his elbow where the white fur grows thick and full, before extending it to Derek. "Nice to meet you." Then he looks down at his hand and hastily draws it back, "Sorry." He gives an awkward wave instead, there are chip crumbs clinging to his fur.
"Derek," Derek says. He feels as if he has been transported to the twilight zone.
The boy, Stiles, is obviously still getting used to speaking. There's a cadence to his sentences that makes it sound like the he's not a native speaker of English, the emphasis falls in unusual places "You uh … you like potato chips?"
"So much!" Stiles stuffs another handful into his mouth. "I missed these. You got any curly fries? Ooh, ooh, how about pizza? God, you have no idea how long it's been since I've had real food."
Derek doesn't ask. Instead, he looks pointedly down to the furry clawed feet sticking out from the over-large sweatpants and says, "I'd offer to take you into town for a proper meal but I think you might attract too much attention like that."
"It's cool." Stiles waves a glossy pamphlet at Derek as he adds, "Happily, I found this in a drawer in your kitchen. I suggest delivery." He stops and blinks, looks sheepish. "I helped myself. I don't know if that's okay. I mean, you said to make myself at home, but sometimes that means like, 'have a seat' and sometimes it means, 'me casa es tu casa'. I took a chance."
"It's fine." It's a little overwhelming, how much the yeti – Stiles – talks.
"Sorry for surprising you the other day, too. I mean, my furry self is glorious and everything but it's not exactly built to move comfortably inside buildings, so I'm pretty sure having me here would have gotten old really fast – I mean, not that it still won't … I mean, not to assume that I'll be here long enough to … anyway, the point is, I didn't have any say in the matter."
Derek frowns. "What does that mean?"
Stiles shrugs. "It's just I have all that fur, right? And I guess as a protective measure I can't keep that shape in warm temperatures. I mean, even if I could I'm pretty sure I'd just overheat and then die."
"But now you're choosing to stay in your beta shift?"
Stiles blinks, his chin jerking to the side. "My what-what?"
Derek knows what werewolves call it, understands what happens for each of the different werewolf shapes, but for all that Laura tried to educate him about abominable snowmen, he really doesn't know a damned thing. "Your beta shift? That's what…" he makes a sweeping motion with his hand at himself, and then shrugs.
"Oh, like, because I have my ears and everything?" Stiles seems to mull that over. "Beta shape. Sure. No, I don't know why I'm like this, dude. I just am."
That's curious. He considers it as he puts some coffee on, automatically makes enough for two people because his mother raised him properly, even if a part of him is leery about giving Stiles caffeine. He already seems dangerously awake. "For werewolves, we get stuck in a beta shift if we lose touch with our anchor."
"Anchor," Stiles echoes.
Derek has no idea how to explain this properly, that's what his sister the alpha is for. Briefly he thinks about calling her and then putting her on speakerphone and running away. "An anchor is what ties us to our humanity…" he does his best to describe it while they drink coffee and breakfast on cereal and when he's finished Stiles considers all of it.
There's a second, just a hint of a moment, where Derek swears he sees Stiles' eyes flicker to a warm honey-brown but it's fleeting, gone between one blink and the next. "All my anchors are dead," Stiles says, his voice low and rough and Derek feels the loss and the grief rolling off him like a physical wave.
He lets the silence stretch long enough for the heaviness to ease, if only a little. "Hunters?"
Stiles snorts. "Isn't it always?" Then he rolls his shoulders and stretches his neck from side to side. "But you, you've got a pack and everything, Mr. Wolf. Beta, right? I mean I get the eyes mixed up, blue is for beta too. Or is blue like a special color? Personally," he barrels on. "I find blue a very special color. I might be biased because it's my favorite color but …"
"Blue means beta," Derek cuts in.
"You were eating my crabapples." Derek has no idea why this whole situation feels as strange as it does. Stiles seems to fit somehow, even though to look at him he is still the most strange and bizarre thing Derek thinks he's ever seen in his entire life. It's making him feel wrong-footed and also curiously at ease, which is just confusing. It's a horrible cycle.
"Yup." Stiles grins proudly. "Have you tried them? They're so good. I love that tree, man. You have no idea."
"So you're a … yeti? Or, an abominable snowman or …"
"I prefer the term 'yeti'. You know, 'abominable snowman' just has a lot of implied judgment that I feel is uncalled for."
Stiles goes on a meandering tirade about the history of yetis, which Derek only half listens to, and then segues into what he knows about werewolves, which apparently requires Derek's participation. Somewhere in there they stop for lunch, and Stiles catches that Derek has been estimating his age on the lower end of the spectrum, sixteen at most. "Dude," Stiles snorts. "I'm twenty three. How the fuck old are you?"
Derek is twenty-five. Stiles receives this information with cackling glee. "Oh my god," he gasps. "You're ancient! I am but a child in the summer of my life compared to you." His laughter turns to a snorting hiccupping sound and then to a choking cough. "Two years difference and he's calling me a 'kid'."
"Shut up," Derek growls, the yeti keeps laughing.
Derek feels vaguely satisfied when, by mid-afternoon, Stiles has once again lost his voice.
The arrangement is this: since Derek cannot in good conscience allow Stiles to go off when he is still at risk of being hunted, and Stiles seems happy enough to lounge on Derek's furniture and eat all of his food, he will continue to stay at the cabin with Derek until the hunters leave town.
"At which point," Stiles says. "We will renegotiate this deal."
"Right," Derek agrees. Then frowns. "What?"
Stiles tries to accompany him on his emergency trip into town. "Emergency trip makes it sound so dire," the yeti scolds. "Really you just need to pick up more cereal and frozen dinners. I mean, I'm not judging here, but I don't think you've considered how unhealthy eating cereal every morning and frozen dinners every night actually is."
Derek stares at the yeti. "That's you not judging?"
Stiles grins. "I'm maybe judging you. A little bit."
"I cook things," he argues, instead of what he means to say, which is some sort of witty comeback about the yeti leaving meat and vegetables literally stuck to his front porch.
Stiles crosses his arms over his chest. "Well I never saw that happen."
"Just how long have you been stalking me?"
"Please, don't go developing an ego," the yeti snorts. He shrugs. "I live in the woods, you have a cabin in the woods, we were bound to cross paths periodically, and I notice things. I'm a noticer."
"That's not a word, and you can't come into town with me." When the yeti demands to know the reason for this Derek merely waves his hand in an all-encompassing gesture that sweeps from Stiles' horns to his furry boot-like feet.
Stiles narrows his eyes. "That deputy thought I was wearing kickass slippers. I can put on a hoody with the hood up. People will think I have matching gloves."
"And your tail?"
The other man cranes around to look behind himself, as if he has completely forgotten about his own tail. "They make these sweaters with ears and tails and shit stuck on them. I've seen them for sale on the internet."
"Stay," Derek commands as he climbs into his truck.
"You're not the boss of me!" the yeti declares, his hands fisted and perched on his hips. His left ear twitches with irritation and he kicks at a snow bank. Derek watches him get smaller in the rearview mirror.
In town he sticks to his usual routine, unwilling to attract undue attention to himself considering who (or what) is currently hiding out at his cabin. He peruses the bookstore, engages in some distracted conversation as he makes his purchase and then heads across the street to pick up some clothes for Stiles. Derek's own wardrobe is barely enough to sustain one person let alone two.
He has lunch at Ruthy's in part to stick as closely to his usual schedule as possible, but also to check if Mary had gossiped at all about his house guest. Turns out she hasn't, which is lucky.
In the grocery store he sees the hunters and they share a long hostile stare across the potato stand. Derek tries to tell himself that he's buying the usual amount of fresh food but he's only partially able to convince himself.
Instead of frozen dinners he gets a few cans of soup and stocks up on meat. Though he isn't especially partial to fish he thinks maybe yetis are a bit like bears, and bears like fish. The man behind the counter asks him what sort of fish he wants; Derek has no idea how to answer.
Carefully he surveys the selection laid out behind the glass: there are several fish that look as if they've just been pulled out of the nearest expanse of water and tossed directly onto the ice, filmy sightless eyes staring. It reminds Derek of the fish he had to scrape off his deck but while he might not mind eating that sort of thing when he is in his wolf shape there is something vaguely disturbing to him about having a fish like that in his kitchen. He wouldn't, for instance, consume a freshly slaughtered rabbit even if he knows fresh fish and rabbit are something humans eat, too. It seems a little too animalistic for his taste.
"Whatever is freshest," is what he goes with, and crosses his fingers that it won't be any of the ones that still have their eyes in place.
"Seriously?" Stiles asks, brandishing a can of soup at Derek with a narrow-eyed glare as they unpack groceries later. "Do you know how much salt is in this?"
"I'm a werewolf, I don't care about salt intake."
Stiles is not listening. "Just because it says 'healthy' on the tin doesn't mean it's actually healthy, okay? It means it has less crap in it than other canned soups maybe, but that's still a lot of crap!"
Derek flashes a threatening little grin and asks, "So you're saying you don't want lunch?"
"God dammit!" Stiles hisses, and plops himself sullenly at the kitchen table as Derek heats the soup.
December is a series of snow squalls of varying intensity interspersed with crisp clear days that hold just long enough for things to begin to thaw and for Derek to get into town and replenish their depleted stocks before the snow sets in again and everything is once again a never-ending blur of white.
Stiles spends all of December in his beta form and Derek gets used to picking white hairs off his dark clothes. "You need to concentrate," he tells the yeti.
"What do you think I'm doing," Stiles snaps right back, frustrated with the entire process. Derek has been running through everything he remembers his parents ever teaching him about anchors, but so far nothing seems to be working. "It's no use," the yeti despairs. "I'm just going to live like this forever."
Rubbing a hand over his face and searching out the last bit of patience he has left, Derek says, "Try it one last time and then we'll call it a day. Think of something solid and good. A person, or a happy memory or something … something strong enough to pull you back into yourself."
Stiles closes his eyes and starts murmuring, "Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts." When he stops his mantra his whole face scrunches up and he says, "Expecto patronum!" When he opens his eyes again they are the same icy blue. "Did it work? I don't feel any different." He stretches his feet out in front of him and glares at his furry legs and dark claws. "Fuck."
It's not that Stiles is confined to the cabin. Derek goes on nightly patrols of his territory and Stiles, in his alpha-yeti shape, tromps alongside him. Every so often they hear the hunters or catch their scent but so far no one's come anywhere near the house.
Sometimes Stiles is gone before Derek even wakes up in the morning, and he doesn't come back until just before dinnertime. Derek doesn't know where the yeti goes and he doesn't ask. Eventually he stops worrying about whether or not the Stiles will return and trusts that, wherever he has gone, the yeti will be back in time for dinner.
Still, it's not like Stiles can accompany Derek into town when he goes to dine at Ruthy's or over to visit Jodie and Phil's. On those nights the werewolf always prepares a proper meal and leaves it warming in the oven for Stiles to eat whenever he wants. Usually it's fish, and Stiles always seems especially delighted by this.
"Fish and chicken," the yeti tells Derek. "Those are the very best, but out in the woods there aren't a lot of wild chickens. Actually, there aren't any wild chickens, and I always felt sort of bad hunting ducks, you know?"
Derek doesn't know, and he doesn't particularly care but there's something that sits heavy inside him when he thinks about Stiles, chattery, fidgety, annoying Stiles, out there in the woods on his own feeling bad about killing a duck for his own dinner. He tries not to think about it too much.
On one of his forays into town Derek picks up a hair dryer. When he unpacks it along with the groceries Stiles snatches it up and hugs it to his chest. "Oh my god, this is amazing! Thank-you!" He throws himself at Derek, who gets a mouthful of fur and is momentarily too startled to respond in any way.
"Wait." Stiles hops back, frowning, "This is for me, right? You didn't just get the sudden urge to start styling your hair?"
"It's for you," Derek confirms, rolling his eyes. "I've heard enough bitching about your fur."
"Hey now!" Stiles holds up a claw and narrows his cold blue eyes. "Do you have any idea how annoying it is when my fur starts going curly? It's really freaking annoying, okay? Look at this!" He kicks up a leg, propping his ankle on the countertop and gestures emphatically at where his soft white fur looks as bright and white as ever, but instead of lying fluffy and straight is now interspersed with waves and curls.
"I've heard all of this before," Derek points out calmly. "Hence the hairdryer." Stiles' bitching about how his fur has started drying curly is one of the things Derek's gotten used to, along with the white fur in his hairbrush, and on his clothes.
That night the cabin is filled with the whirring motor of the hairdryer, and the yeti's happy humming. "Hey! Derek!" Stiles shouts unnecessarily loud.
With an exasperated sigh Derek finds his way to the room Stiles has laid claim to where the yeti is sitting cross legged on the bed, his short tail whipping left and then right. "I can't reach." Stiles demonstrates his predicament by curling himself around awkwardly and trying to access the rest of his tail. He has managed to dry only about half of it, and the effect is ridiculous looking.
"Give it here." Derek accepts the hair dryer, rolling his eyes at the happy grin Stiles offers as he wriggles around, making it easier to access the rest of his tail. Derek had almost forgotten how soft the yeti's fur is, he cards his fingers through it as he dries it and feels most of his irritation ebb.
That's pretty much the status quo for December: Stiles fluffy and contented once more, bitching about how his sharp teeth make eating clementines inconvenient. "Don't eat clementines, then."
"I love clementines, okay?" Stiles retorts around a mouthful of said fruit. "I'm eating the goddamned clementines. I'm just not happy about it."
When Derek calls his sister to explain that the bad weather means he can't make it out to visit her for Christmas she's disappointed, "But," she says. "You sound good. Happy. You're still going to celebrate, right? You're not going to heat up a frozen dinner and wallow, are you?"
He promises her that he won't while privately thinking that it's not really a possibility any more, not with Stiles making such a fuss every time he heats up canned soup or microwaves a frozen dinner. To put his sister's mind at ease, Derek takes a picture of the inside of his fridge and sends it to her.
"Holy crap." She sounds awed. "There are vegetables in your fridge, Derek. Is that fruit? When did this happen?"
He still hasn't told her about his house guest.
On Christmas day, Stiles wanders into the kitchen with his eyes still half-closed. "What are you making me?" he asks, peering over Derek's shoulder. "It smells really good."
Near the beginning, Stiles had attempted to help out in the kitchen but they quickly discovered that this was dangerous. Stiles' paws and the long, non-retractable claws make it difficult for him to grip things. After the second time the yeti had managed to fling the chicken breast he had been simmering off the pan to slap against the window on the opposite wall Derek had banned the other man from any kitchen work that wasn't dicing vegetables.
"Family recipe," Derek grunts. Stiles starts sniffing, leaning closer to the simmering pan and the werewolf nudges him back. "Go read a book or something."
They have an actual Christmas tree that they've decorated mostly with strands of popcorn and cranberries and paper snowflakes that Stiles cut-out with his claws. There are two presents under the tree. Derek had to wrap both even if one is from Stiles to him. The presents Laura and the pack had sent him are still in Derek's closet. He hadn't felt right putting them under the tree to unwrap in front of the yeti, even though he's certain Stiles wouldn't have minded.
They sit down for Christmas dinner at the table and Derek purposefully waits until Stiles has cleaned about half of his plate and is rhapsodizing about the food before telling the yeti that, "It's duck. The bird I cooked."
"God dammit!" Stiles groans. "You – I – I can't even right now, Derek. I just … I can't even." He says the last of that around a mouthful of duck that he chews appreciatively. Derek feels strangely satisfied.
They open presents after the plates are cleared. Stiles has gifted him with a Tupperware container of fresh vegetables. Derek has given Stiles a pair of slippers that look like polar bear paws. "Oh ha ha," Stiles says. "Hilarious."
It's pretty much perfect.
In January the hunters leave. It takes Derek a while to believe the town gossip, everyone seems more than happy to see the back of them. Still in possession of a (healthy) amount of paranoia, Derek doesn't necessarily think that just because they have checked out of the motel and disappeared from town that the hunters are actually gone. But after a few weeks of running his territory and not picking up any strange scents at all he begins to believe it.
The conversation he has with Stiles over breakfast goes like this:
"So," Stiles begins, hesitant. "The hunters have gone, right? I mean, it's been a while and there's been no trace …"
"So…" the yeti says, turning his head down to the bowl of oatmeal he's poured and then glancing up from beneath his long lashes at Derek. He looks disturbingly like a puppy, considering his over-large ears are drooping down.
"Pass the brown sugar when you're done with it. And if there's anything else you want from town, add it to list. I'm doing the shopping this afternoon instead of tomorrow. There's supposed to be another storm moving in." Derek stares pointedly at the yeti with his eyebrows lifted until Stiles loses the hang-dog expression and perks up.
"Kay," he says, with a cautious grin.
His conversation with Laura is nowhere near as smooth. For one, his alpha has difficulty understanding why Derek never told her he was sheltering a yeti before. Part of her trouble might be caused by the fact that Derek's only response to her question had been a sort of helpless shrug that doesn't convey very well over telephone.
Subsequently, Laura has a lot of concerns relating to Derek's sanity and also his safety.
"Tell her I'm awesome," Stiles shouts from the other room, doing a horrible job at pretending not to eavesdrop. "No, no! Tell her I'm magnificent!"
"Honestly, he's sort of an asshole," Derek tells her.
"I resent that!" Stiles shouts.
"Can't be all that bad," Laura says, picking up on the sound of Stiles' voice as easily as Stiles has been picking up hers. "You've sounded different on the phone for the last while. Brighter, maybe? Happier." Laura says she's going to come out and visit just as soon as she can get the time off work.
When Derek hangs up he putters around his office for a while, mostly just to put off going out into the living room. In the end, though, hunger forces him out.
Stiles is sprawled on the couch in front of the fire with a book folded open across his chest. He fixes Derek with a smug little stare. "I'm the light of your freaking life, Derek," he says. "Your sister literally just said so." His blue eyes flicker honey-brown for a moment and then back to blue.
"My mom's anchor was happiness," Stiles tells him one night, after another unsuccessful attempt to shift out of his beta form. "My dad used to say that it was one of the best things, when I came along, because she was a happy person in general but I never failed to make her laugh."
Later, when Derek is warming Pillsbury cookies in the oven and Stiles is sitting at the kitchen island scooping out uncooked cookie-dough with a claw, Derek says, "My mom was the alpha but my dad used to say that in the kitchen he was alpha. He'd chase her out when she'd come in and try to help with dinner; he always said she was really horrible at cooking. But sometimes," he clears his throat. "Sometimes she'd sneak in, and she'd bake cookies. They weren't really anything … they'd be misshapen and … but she'd make them and then sneak them out to my sisters and I and my dad would pretend he didn't know even though the entire house would smell of baking."
Derek picks Laura up at the airport and they spend the drive back to the cabin catching up on the basic developments in each other's lives and the lives of their pack mates. When they pull up to the house Stiles is waiting for them on the porch swing nursing a hot chocolate. He hops up when Derek parks the truck.
"Hey, hi," he greets awkwardly, his claws wiggling in what Derek thinks would be a wave if he had fingers. "I'm Stiles. I'm …"
"Holy crap, you're adorable," Laura says, cutting him off. There's a sort of gleeful light in her eyes that Derek remembers from when they were kids and she was pathologically incapable of not squee'ing and going mental over stuffed animals. She once guilted their mother into buying her a massive pink unicorn because she claimed it looked lonely and sad because it needed a home.
"I'd shake your hand but …" Stiles holds up his paws to demonstrate why he is forgoing that social nicety.
She shrugs it off. "It's fine."
Stiles offers to help with the bags but Derek's already hefted them out of the trunk, so instead the yeti leads the ways inside. The moment Stiles disappears through the door Laura spins around and smacks Derek's chest. "Oh my god, oh my god. He's so fluffy I'm gonna die!"
"Don't quote that damned movie at me," Derek tells her.
"How can you stand not petting him? Do you pet him?" She eyes him critically. "You totally pet him, don't you?"
"He's a person, Laura, not a teddybear."
"But he's fluffy!"
"He can also hear you!" Stiles calls from inside the house.
She grins widely and dangerously. "I'm gonna steal him from you," she threatens.
Derek smirks. "You can try, but I don't think he likes cities."
"I really don't!" Stiles confirms.
These are the things that Laura finds unnerving about Stiles: he makes the inside of the house smell like winter; she can't hear him coming unless he's talking or in the process of tripping over something; and she can't hear his heartbeat.
"Really?" Derek asks her.
"Seriously. Why, can you hear it?"
He shrugs. "I mean, when he's shifted I still can't. I think it beats differently, maybe slower or at a different sound range. It's strange. But I hear it in his beta form just fine." It's quiet, true, but he hears it.
Laura's face scrunches up until it looks like she's passing gas. "Oh hey, there it is," she says. "That's so weird."
These are the things that Laura likes about Stiles: he's excellent with snark and banter; he takes her side when she teases Derek; his enthusiasm is apparently contagious; he is absurdly fluffy and adorable; he makes the inside of the house smell like winter.
"Make up your mind," Stiles grumbles.
"No," Laura sniffs. "Sometimes I feel like curling up with a nice hot chocolate and a blanket in front of a cozy fire and sometimes I just really don't want to be reminded that I have been snowed-in at my brother's log cabin halfway up a mountain."
"Well, I take offense."
"Ah, come here baby, let me pet you and make it better." She grins teasingly and Stiles rolls his eyes and grumbles some more and says that he refuses to ever allow himself to be pet, but somehow his legs end up kicked out onto the pillow that's in Laura's lap, and her fingers end up running through the thick white fur on his legs while she reads in front of the fire and Stiles naps.
These are the things that Derek finds unnerving about Stiles: everything.
The list of what Derek likes about Stiles reads about the same.
On the eighth day of her visit Laura glances up from her laptop and frowns. "For a house-guest he sure gives you a lot of space."
Derek has been putting together something for lunch since his sister refuses to cook in anyone's kitchen but her own, and quietly wondering if he should set something aside for Stiles or not. He grunts.
"Is it always like this? Or is he giving us space? Or is he shy? Or …"
"I don't know!" Derek snaps. But he does know.
Stiles goes out, sometimes for the whole day. When he'd asked about it, the yeti had explained that he had to keep tabs on the creatures he'd been protecting in the forest, which apparently included elk, some bighorn sheep and a few moose. Also, and Stiles had admitted this hesitantly, he visited Jodie.
Of course, now that Derek thinks about it, it makes perfect sense that the Ranger who keeps a greenhouse, is not easily startled and is as protective of any and all types of animals as a mother bear, would have adopted a yeti she'd come across in the wild, and taken to bringing it fresh produce from her greenhouse.
"If it hadn't been for her," Stiles had admitted softly. "I don't think I ever would have come near the cabin. I mean, when I realized you could shift into a wolf I was curious because I've heard about werewolves but don't really know any – didn't know any, I guess. But I had trust issues, sort of…" He had scratched at his ear and avoided Derek's eyes, and Derek had wanted right then to tell him about the fire, and how it had messed him up for so long afterwards. How he was still probably a little messed up about it.
The thing is, Stiles has been ducking out right after breakfast, sometimes before. He comes back later, too. At first, Derek had thought the yeti was simply feeling cooped up, but now he thinks about how Stiles gets a little quieter with each passing day. Derek had written it off as exhaustion after running about in the woods, but maybe it's something else.
"Do you think he's just pretending to like me?" Laura wonders, sounding more disturbed by the thought than any alpha normally would be.
Derek thinks that Stiles genuinely likes Laura, though. He can't figure out why the yeti would be pulling away like he is.
"Or…" Laura tilts her head, frowning. "Do you think we remind him of his family?"
On the ninth day Derek is woken up by the sound of gleeful cackling and shouting. He staggers out to the front of the house wearing his pajama pants and nothing else, more asleep than awake, and pulls open the front door in time to take a snowball right to the face. "Jesus Christ!" he shouts, shocked into wakefulness.
"Oh my god, right in the face," Stiles says, and rolls backwards laughing.
"What the hell are you doing?" Derek demands.
Laura pops up from behind a carefully molded wall of snow and wiggles her gloved hands at him. "Snowball fight?" she offers.
"What?" He turns an accusing glare over to Stiles.
The yeti raises his paws defensively. "Dude, it wasn't my idea. I was on my way out, totally innocent and trusting, and that demon over there was laying in wait behind a freaking snow-fort. She started pelting me with snowballs."
"I am but a poor, sweet, innocent woman," Laura calls from behind her fort, where Derek suspects she's hastily fashioning more snowballs. "Horribly outmatched against the seven foot tall menacing abominable snowman!"
"Do I look seven feet tall right now to you?" Stiles asks, at the same time Derek corrects, "'Yeti' is the PC term." Stiles turns a wide grin on him. "Yes, thank-you, Derek. Yeti is more PC."
Laura's response is to hit them both with snowballs.
Already freezing cold but unwilling to leave the brawl even for a moment, Derek shifts into his wolf and darts forward, intent on chasing Laura from her defensive position. Stiles, meanwhile, hops about shaking snow from his hair and bitching.
"Come on, Stiles!" Laura calls. "What sort of yeti doesn't like playing in snow?"
The answer, apparently, is no yeti. No yeti can resist a snow battle. At least, not for very long.
It's not until they've abandoned their snowball fight and are instead endeavoring to create an elaborate snowfort replica of Helm's Deep that Derek, out of his wolf-shape and appropriately garbed following a short break, glances over and blinks. "Stiles, your hands," he says, still trying to process what he's seeing.
Stiles blinks at him with wide brown eyes and then, in the very next second, destroys all of their progress by promptly shifting into his alpha form. Then he proceeds to sit there looking terribly sheepish and guilty.
"What the hell?" Laura demands to know from beneath the crumbled remains of their fort. It takes a second, but she wiggles her head up to the surface. "Woah. Stiles, what big teeth you have."
Stiles huffs in irritation, and then shuffles back from them, shy and awkward.
"It's an instinctive response," Derek tells his sister, though he's still staring at Stiles. The yeti shrugs in bashful agreement. "His temperature probably dropped," Derek continues slowly, and Stiles shrugs again, shuffling. "Because he shifted," Derek finishes.
Laura gapes. "He what?"
"He shifted," Derek repeats. "Out of his beta form."
"Stiles!" Laura wriggles out of the snow, launching herself at the yeti. "You did it! I'm so proud! You have no idea!"
Stiles stands there awkwardly holding Derek's sister who looks ridiculous and tiny half disappeared as she presses closer to all the soft white fur. After a moment, Stiles gives a great grunting snort and releases a very long, put-upon sigh.
"She's petting you, isn't she?" Derek asks.
Stiles rolls his eyes but doesn't push Laura away.
Although both he and Laura try to act as casual as possible, they're both struggling to control how hopeful they feel when they stomp the snow from their boots and head back into the cabin. Stiles trails after them, leaving no tracks in the snow, and shakes himself violently like a dog shaking off water. He shuffles inside only after checking that neither Laura nor Derek are watching him (they are, but they're trying to be subtle about it).
Laura sets a fire in the fireplace and then heads into the kitchen to make hot chocolate. Stiles hunkers down on the rug, just like he did on the first night he came indoors, but fixes Derek with cold-blue eyes.
There's something pleading in the gaze and a little anxious, so Derek picks up a book and kicks his feet up onto the sofa and starts talking to Laura about what he plans to do to his cabin over the summer. Most of the major things are finished but he's considering making a sunroom at the back, something with lots of windows to take in the view and maybe a fireplace so he can be comfortable there even in winter.
"And a garden, right?" Laura asks. "I still think this place needs some landscaping. All real homes have some sort of garden, even if it's just a few shrubs."
"I have a tree," Derek points out, and they bicker as Laura prepares the hot chocolate, and somewhere in there Derek feels the throw he's left on the couch get tugged out from where it's bunched under his feet, and when he glances over Stiles is staring at him with his warm brown eyes and cocooning himself under the blanket.
"I figured it out," he whispers, mostly to himself. "My anchor." Derek watches as the younger man holds out a hand to accept the steaming mug that Laura hands him. It's piled high with a swoop of whipped cream and there are marshmallows in it. "It's been four years since I've seen my hands." He sounds dazed, his gaze fixed on his mug and the pale, long fingers that are wrapped around it.
There's an unsteady silence after that where Stiles looks as if he wishes he'd never spoken, and Laura looks like she's dying just sitting there using all her willpower to hold back the urge to curl herself around Stiles and tell him it's alright, that it will be alright from now on. That she's going to make sure of it.
Derek clears his throat. "How come he gets marshmallows and I don't?"
Stiles chokes, and then laughs, and he flashes a desperately grateful look at Derek, and Derek feels warm and pleased and more settled than he has in a very long time.
Stiles accompanies them when Derek drives Laura to the airport. He refuses to go straight back to the cabin. "There's a bookstore!" he points out, his face plastered to the passenger window, palms pressed to the glass. "Oh my god, Derek, there's a yarn store. Should I take up knitting? I could knit you a hideous little hat and scarf and you'd have to wear it because I'm your sun and stars!"
"What?" Derek asks.
"Come on, let's go and explore!"
"It's just a town. There's not much to explore." But then he realizes that he's talking to someone who has spent at least four years living in the woods and primarily socializing with elk. He finds a place to park.
People in town love Stiles. Derek is a little jealous that it took him months before they started greeting him with anything other than suspicion on their faces, and yet Stiles insinuates himself with ease, until Derek can't go into town at all without people asking him where the younger man is and how he's doing. "Is he sick? Is that why he left all the grocery shopping to you?"
Stiles takes specific delight in Thursday night dinners with Phil and Jodie because although the woman is becoming increasingly suspicious, she has not yet realized that the man who sits down to dinner with her and her husband is also the yeti who sometimes accompanies her on her rounds through the forest and enjoys the vegetables from her greenhouse. "The cabbage is the best," Stiles always insists. "But the tomatoes are excellent as well."
It takes Derek a while to realize that everyone in town assumes that he and Stiles are together. As in, romantically together. Derek flushes cherry pink and Stiles points out that the tips of his ears turn color when he blushes, but Derek doesn’t correct anyone.
He tells himself it's just easier than concocting a fake background for the yeti.
In March, Stiles appears in Derek's bedroom doorway bundled in a blanket that's wrapped over his head and drawn closed under his nose. It reminds Derek sharply of that first day when Stiles had bundled himself the same way to hide from deputy Hastings.
"You're a yeti, cold is sort of your thing," Derek quotes. "Your words, not mine."
Stiles will not be deterred. He stands there and shivers exaggeratedly, and Derek relents, holding the blankets up so the yeti can dart beneath them. "Mm," Stiles sighs, budging himself up into Derek's space. "This is so much better."
Silently, Derek agrees.
Stiles doesn't have any living relatives, but apparently he has a friend back in Maryland who never stopped believing that he was still alive. "Lydia, come on," Stiles coaxes over the phone. "Don't cry. I'm okay."
"These are angry tears!" she declares over the line. "You should have called me ages ago!"
Stiles looks vaguely guilty about that but doesn't try to make excuses. He doesn't try to explain, either. "So," he says, awkwardly breaking the stretch of silence interspersed with her sniffles. "How are things?"
"Four years!" Lydia huffs. "And he asks 'how are things'!"
Derek steps out of the cabin and shifts, goes for a run in the woods to give Stiles some privacy. A selfish, greedy part of him had been hoping that Stiles was completely alone because the thought of staying in his cabin by himself after so many months of the talkative, insuppressible yeti taking up space is almost intolerable.
The bigger part of Derek, though, is happy that Stiles has someone.
"I'm not dead!" Stiles announces when Derek returns that evening. The yeti is cooking something on the stovetop and it smells delicious. "I figured after so long, I would have like, no identity and be declared legally dead, but Lydia has kept up everything. Like, actually everything. Except the house…" He seems a little disappointed about that, and also a little relieved. He shakes it off after a second. "Lydia's an actual genius. You're gonna love her."
"Am I …" Derek starts, and then cuts off the question, asks instead, "She's coming here?"
"Well no." Stiles cocks his head. "This is your place, I didn't feel right inviting people over to it without talking to you. But she's been keeping up my accounts and dealing with legal stuff and … I'm pretty sure she's forged my signature about a million times but whatever. I have money, is the thing, and an actual identity. Derek, I exist!" He seems incredibly relieved about this. "Anyway, I made plans to go out there and visit her. You wanna come?"
It takes a minute to sort through his conflicting emotions, but Derek shakes his head. "No. You should go. On your own."
That Stiles is both surprised and hurt by Derek's insistence on staying is evident in the lingering glances Derek catches the yeti giving him. Stiles tries coaxing and bribing and pleading, but Derek holds firm. "Can I …" Stiles asks four days later, standing on the sidewalk in front of the airport with a bag crammed full with his things. "Can I come back?"
"We'll talk later." Derek slams the trunk closed. "Safe flight."
"Derek, wait," Stiles calls as he starts to head round to the driver's side door.
Derek ends up with his back shoved against the cold metal of his truck as Stiles leans against his chest, cold fingers pressed against Derek's cheeks, not so much trapping him as framing his face. Derek suspects the yeti is merely trying to warm his fingers, but in the next moment Stiles' lips are hot against Derek's own.
"I'm coming back," he says, and Derek can't hear a lie.
He drives away, trying not to glance in the rearview mirror. It doesn't work.
Stiles is gone almost four whole months when Laura visits. She brings the pack, and Derek keeps himself busy in his workshop. In the spring, once everything has thawed, he starts work on the sunroom he had been thinking about over the winter. "It's probably better like this," Laura says one day. "Healthier, I mean. He's independent. This way when he comes back you know he's here because he wants to be. Because he chose to be."
Derek narrows his eyes at her. "Next you're gonna throw that stupid quote at me…"
Laura flashes a mischievous grin. "If you love something set it free…."
He tackles her backwards into a puddle of mud and she laughs as they roughhouse and, by the end of it, Derek is laughing too.
Stiles doesn't call but every few weeks Derek gets a care package: fruit baskets, assorted nuts and berries.
"Been getting a lot of these," Burt, the deliveryman, says after the third time he's hefted a package up Derek's front steps. "Somebody misses you."
"Yeah," Derek says, smiling. "You might be right." He signs for the box and heads inside.