Derek and Stiles have been dating for almost three months. Derek is equal parts in love and in total exasperation with Stiles. Before Stiles, he wouldn’t have even known that was a thing. But it’s past midnight, it’s cold and raining, and Stiles currently has his arm stuck in a grate on Maple Street, and keeps having to lift his head to spit out water as it swirls down the gutter and into the grate.
And he won’t let Derek near him.
“No! Stay back! You’ll freak it out! I’ve seen what you do to cats, dude!”
Cats, generally speaking, do not like Derek. Which is okay. Generally speaking, Derek doesn’t like cats. His opinion of them isn’t likely to improve either, given that his boyfriend of almost three months is going to die of some disgusting gutter-borne disease because he’s trying to rescue a kitten. Is cholera still a thing?
“Stiles, let it go and pull you arm back before you drown.”
Derek isn’t even exaggerating, not really. The water in the gutter is flowing faster and faster with each passing minute, and rising.
From what Derek can tell—not see, since Stiles has ordered him into an exclusion zone—Stiles has the kitten in his right hand, and is holding it above the water rushing into the grate. If he lets go, it’ll get swept all the way into the sewer and drown. But he won’t. Simple decision, right? Except of course Stiles doesn’t see it like that.
“Then let me come and pull the grate off,” Derek growls, rubbing his palms on his damp jeans. The rain is picking up again. His fingertips are itching to transform into claws, that’s how crazy Stiles makes him.
“No! You’ll freak it out and it’ll shred me!”
“Then let it go!”
“No!” Stiles opens his mouth to say more, and cops a face full of filthy water. He coughs and splutters, and fuck it all, this is ridiculous.
Derek strides forward and kneels down beside him in the gutter. Stiles is still choking, and making retching sounds, but he still hasn’t pulled his arm free.
“Only you,” Derek tells him, unsure if he’s royally pissed or kind of proud. “Only you, Stiles, would stop your car in the middle of the night, in the middle of a storm, because you thought you saw a kitten get swept down a gutter.”
He curls his fingers around the grate on either side of Stiles’s arm, and wrenches it. It comes free with a squeal of metal. Stiles lurches back, rolling himself into a seated position. He’s still holding the damn kitten and, just like he said, it’s shredded the hell out of his hand and forearm trying to get away. Stiles reaches around the grate and grabs the kitten in his left hand, and tucks it under his shirt.
Great. More claws against more unprotected skin. Derek rolls his eyes.
Then Stiles finally pulls his right arm free from the grate and inspects his bleeding hand.
“You’re an idiot,” Derek tells him. It sounds harsher than he intended.
Stiles presses his bleeding hand to his stomach. “I feel sick.”
Derek isn’t surprised. He’s swallowed gallons and gallons of filthy stormwater and had the shit clawed out of him by a stray kitten. He’s probably got rabies. And cholera. And typhoid fever.
“Get in my car, Stiles. I’m taking you to the hospital.” He reaches a hand down toward him.
Stiles winces as, underneath his sodden shirt, the kitten spits and hisses and twists like a mangy tornado. “You’d better stay back.”
Derek stalks to his car.
His boyfriend is an idiot. An absolute idiot who is probably going to die of a horrible disease in a day or two. At least he had the presence of mind to call Derek when he was stuck in the drain. A call that had ended with “Oh, shit, my phone!” and then nothing but the sound of rushing water.
Derek glowers. “What?”
Stiles is cradling the lump under his shirt and not coming any closer. “I’m gonna take it to the animal clinic, okay? Deaton can patch me up too. And maybe hook me up with some antibiotics or something.”
“Animal antibiotics are just the same as people ones,” Stiles tells him. He wrinkles his nose and shakes off a droplet of rain. “So, um, I’d give you a hug for rescuing me and stuff, except I already look like a scratching post, so I’ll see you tomorrow?”
He turns and jogs away toward his Jeep.
Derek stares after him.
Muttering to himself, Derek gets into his car.
His boyfriend is an idiot. If he dies of a particularly virulent strain of yellow fever, Derek is going to spend a lot of hours standing in front of his gravestone telling him how stupid he was.
He’s soaking wet, and his leather jacket is making gross squelching sounds against his leather seat, but he follows Stiles’s jeep as far as the clinic to make sure he gets there okay. He’s rewarded by a quick, awkward wave from Stiles as he slips inside the back door.
Stiles is an idiot. He’s infuriating. He’s slowly driving Derek insane.
Sometimes, Derek doesn’t mind.
Tonight, he’s pissed, because Stiles doesn’t even realize how much danger he just put himself in for the sake of a damn kitten. What if he’d got his arm stuck? What if he hadn’t been able to call Derek for help? He could have actually drowned in a fucking gutter. And he does reckless shit all the time, and Derek loves that about him, he loves that he’s so brave, but he hates it too.
They’ve been dating for almost three months, and it’s the only thing they fight about.
Derek is pretty sure it’ll be the thing that eventually drives them apart.
The next morning Stiles ditches school and turns up at the loft. Derek lets him in and they curl up on his bed and Derek growls and huffs as he inspects the claw marks gouged in the fleshy part of Stiles’s right hand and all the way up to his elbow. One is deep enough that it’s been glued and taped.
“Orange,” Stiles mumbles into Derek’s comforter.
“The kitten,” Stiles says. “When Deaton cleaned it up, it was orange. I was going to take a photo of it, but…” He shrugs. “No phone.”
“Idiot,” Derek mutters, and swats him gently on the flank.
Stiles rolls over onto his back and stares up at Derek, amber eyes wide. His expression is serious. “You’re not the boss of me, Derek. I mean, you’re not my dad, and you’re not my alpha.”
“You’re a part of my pack, Stiles.”
“No.” Stiles frowns a little. “Well, yeah, I guess, but sort of an edge part. Like a periphery part. But I’m not a wolf, and you don’t intimidate me with your scary alpha growls.”
Derek cocks an eyebrow. “I don’t? Are you sure?”
“Not now,” Stiles says, his mouth curling into a wide grin. “Dude, you were like scary for a few months, until I realized that every time you got all rough and growly, I got a boner. Then you were just fucking hot.”
Derek huffs out a laugh at that. “Idiot.”
Derek put his hand on Stiles’s t-shirt and slides the fabric up over his pale skin. Stiles exhales slowly and his eyes half-close. There are more scratches on his abdomen. They’ve been painted in antiseptic, and Derek’s lip curls at the smell. His instinct is to lick the wounds clean, but that might be the sort of thing that would gross Stiles out. Stiles is both open-minded and incredibly tactile, but he’s still a human. He doesn’t feel the same need that Derek does to leave his scent, to lick and smell, to mark.
Derek doesn’t like when Stiles smells of injuries and antiseptic. It makes him unhappy, uneasy. It put his wolf on edge.
He presses the pads of his fingers lightly over the scratches on Stiles’s abdomen, hating the wounds but enjoying the way Stiles’s muscles jump at the contact. Then, sharper than the sour tang of antiseptic, Derek smells Stiles’s arousal. Sharper, but sweeter too. And that’s one thing that Stiles doesn’t mind if he licks.
Derek slides his hand to the fly of Stiles’s jeans and pops the button. Stiles watches him through half-closed eyes, squirming a little, because Stiles can never stay still. Derek tugs his zip down.
“Want me to blow you?”
“Oh my god. As if you even need to ask me that!”
These are the conversations that Derek is afraid he’ll one day be asked to recall in a court of law. Not that he really thinks Sheriff Stilinski would bother with an arrest and a trial when he carries a gun. And Derek might be a werewolf, but bullets fucking hurt.
Stiles is laughing by the time Derek kisses a path down his treasure trail, because he’s Stiles, and he thinks blowjobs are hilarious. Right up until the part when he’ll come so hard he won’t be able to stop shaking. Then he’ll be all gasping breath, wet eyes, and slack mouth, and Derek will be able to worship him for as long as he likes in the quiet.
In those moments there is nothing else that Derek wants in the world.
Derek knows it’s too good to last. And he’s right.
A week later Derek stops by the animal clinic to pick Stiles up. Stiles has been spending a lot of time with Deaton, reading up on magic and the paranormal. He’s a spark, Deaton says, with the potential to become an emissary. Derek doesn’t doubt it. He likes to imagine that one day Stiles will be the emissary of the Hale pack but, if he’s honest with himself, he knows Stiles’s loyalties are with Scott first. If Scott won’t commit to the pack, then Stiles won’t either. Derek’s doesn’t like that. His wolf likes it even less, but wolves aren’t great with ambiguity or nuance. Or sharing. His wolf wants him to claim Stiles, to make him submit, to force him to see that he’s a part of the pack. His wolf really doesn’t get that Stiles is most likely to respond to any attempt at dominance by smacking him over the snout with a rolled up newspaper.
“Derek,” Deaton says, and flips the counter up so that Derek can pass through. “He’s out the back.”
With the animals. Of course he is. Derek grits his teeth.
Dogs and puppies are fine. Dogs and puppies know exactly where they fit in on the hierarchy. A few might growl and yip and try and put up a brave front, but it doesn’t take long before they’re rolling over to show their bellies and it ends in lolling tongues and belly rubs and bodies wriggling for approval. Theirs, not Derek's, for the record.
Derek likes dogs. He gets dogs.
Cats hiss and fizz and explode like pop rocks whenever Derek gets close.
Cats shred the fuck out of his boyfriend’s arm because they’d rather try and take a suicidal plunge into a flooded sewer than get close to Derek.
Derek doesn’t do cats.
“Hey,” he says, trying to sound casual over the demonic yowling chorus he’s set off just by being there.
Stiles flashes him a quick smile. “Hey, let’s get out of here, okay?”
“The, um, the one you rescued. Is it in there?”
Stiles rubs the thin scabs on his forearm. “Those are the cats in for treatment. Strays go to the shelter.”
“Oh,” says Derek, and tries his best to look sorry about that.
Stiles elbows him. “Come on, big guy. Let’s go get a coffee, and I’ll tell you what house the Sorting Hat put me in. Spoiler alert: not Hufflepuff.”
“What?” Way too many of Stiles’s references go straight over Derek’s head.
Stiles just laughs, grabs his hand, and pulls him toward the exit.
Derek and Stiles have been dating for three and a half months when it happens.
Stiles lies to him.
Derek’s heart stutters too.
“So, yeah.” Stiles says, wrinkling his nose. “I told my dad I’d be home for dinner, and it’s been a while since we ate together, you know? So I’m gonna have to bail. Raincheck?”
Derek watches the color climbing up the side of Stiles’s throat, creeping onto his face. His heartbeat is still a little too fast and, like always, he’s using words as a distraction more than a way to engage. Usually Derek likes listening to him chatter about a million random things, and trying to pin down what’s going on underneath that chaotic surface—Stiles is a puzzle he loves to solve—but this is the first time Stiles has lied.
Derek doesn’t count sarcasm, irony or deflection as lies.
Because that way lies madness.
But this is an actual lie.
He watches as Stiles shrugs into his shirt. Their make out session—Jesus Christ, he really is dating a teenager—had gotten a little carried away, and Derek had ended up seeing how many marks he could suck up onto Stiles’s pale skin. Turns out a lot. But the rule, as always, was they had to stay under his shirt. Derek has no problem with the rule. He and Stiles are in total agreement that it would be a good thing if the sheriff never finds out that Derek is violating his underage son.
And while making out sounds so awkwardly teenage, Derek has come to the slow and wonderful realisation that just because it doesn’t always end in sex, he can make Stiles melt in a different way. He loves to map Stiles’s skin with his mouth and tease those urgent little moans out of him. This afternoon’s session hadn’t got any further than that. For a moment Derek had thought they’d end up tangled in his sheets together, but Stiles had sat up suddenly, checked his phone, and lied.
Stiles is pulling his shoes on now, bending over to lace them. The color has crept so high up the back of his neck that it’s disappearing under the prickles of his ludicrous buzz cut. When he looks up, his face is flushed. “So that was a yes on the raincheck, right?”
“Yeah, sure,” Derek says, dragging the words out and trying not let his lip curl.
Stiles’s grin is a little too wide for Derek to buy. It’s the grin he usually saves for curly fries and blowjobs, not rainchecks. “Okay, that’s awesome, dude. I’ll see you tomorrow then. Bye!”
And he’s out the door without even looking back.
Peter invites himself for dinner. Derek tells him no. Peter comes over anyway, bearing a gourmet pizza and a six-pack of imported European beer. Because there’s nothing Peter can’t be a snob about. Derek really isn’t in the mood, but fuck it. Pizza and beer.
“So, do you want to talk about it?” Peter asks as last, leaning back in Derek’s couch and looking like the smug asshole he is.
“About the fact you’re so unsettled at the moment that even I couldn’t ignore it. And, believe me, I tried.” Peter sighs and looks put upon. “Your skittish little teenage betas must be beside themselves.”
Peter shows him his palms. “All I’m saying, is you could try communicating for once in your life, instead of bottling everything up.”
Derek can’t help snorting at that.
“What?” Peter’s warm, understanding smile is at least sixty percent used car salesman. The remaining forty percent is television evangelist. “I can’t be concerned?”
“Shut up, Peter. This is none of your business.”
Peter raises his brows. “Ah, so it must be trouble in paradise.”
Derek wishes, and not for the first time, that his relationship with Stiles wasn’t common knowledge in the pack, but, hello, werewolves. All the scrubbing in the world wouldn’t get rid of the way Stiles’s scent is mingled with Derek’s now, lingering in the loft, on his bedding, his clothes, his skin. Most of the pack has the decency not to make a big thing out of it because Derek and Stiles don’t, but Peter’s always marched to the incredibly erratic beat of his own sociopathic drum. He enjoys making other people uncomfortable in exactly the same way that some little kids enjoy pulling the wings off insects.
“There’s no trouble,” Derek growls, and leaves the rest unspoken: And it’s not paradise.
“Oh well,” Peter says, his smile cranking up another few degrees. It lands, like always, just a fraction on the wrong side of charming. “The course of true love and all that.”
“He lied, okay?” Derek growls. “He lied to me. Said he was having dinner with his dad, but he’s not.” Derek shoves another piece of pizza in his mouth before it can spill any more of his secrets. He does not want to have this conversation with Peter. Peter is…complicated. Derek should probably hate him, but Peter’s the only family he’s got left. Peter’s also the reason he’s the only family Derek’s got left.
Complicated is a fucking understatement.
Peter regards him silently for a moment. Then he says, “That’s what humans do, Derek. They lie. It’s their evolutionary edge. Ours is that we can tell, and rip their throats out for it.” He takes a swig of his beer. “Which I’m not advocating in this case, of course. I like Stiles.”
Derek rolls his eyes.
“That thing about communicating?” Peter taps his fingertips on the arm of the couch. “You could try it with Stiles as well, you know.”
“What, just ask why he lied?”
Peter’s huff of laughter almost seems genuine. “Yes, Derek, you could just ask. Imagine that!”
“Shut up,” Derek growls.
Peter shakes his head and takes another slice of pizza.
Derek slumps further back into the couch. He’d throw Peter out but, credit where credit’s due, the pizza’s really good.
The next morning Stiles turns up at Derek’s loft with a box of cupcakes. Red velvet. The cream cheese frosting makes Derek’s mouth water before Stiles even knocks at the door.
“Cupcakes!” Stiles announces, holding the box up like an offering as he heads toward the kitchen. “I don’t want to panic you, but I went for one last night and I may have actually died and gone to heaven.”
Any warm affection that was flooding though Derek turns cold in a heartbeat. “Last night? When you had dinner with your dad?”
Stiles’s heartbeat stutters and his pulse spikes. “Yeah. Um, after dinner I went and got some.” He grins. “Because obviously I’d never go there with my dad. Not with the way he watches his diet.”
Or the way Stiles watches it for him.
As lies go, it’s almost plausible. He was caught out, and he seamlessly regrouped. Too bad for him that Derek can read his heartbeat. He can smell the lie as well: Stiles’s anxiety about it tastes a little sour on the air, like a squashed June bug.
“Hmm.” Derek wants to let it go. He wants to believe that whatever Stiles is lying about, it isn’t important. Except this is Stiles. Stiles overshares everything. With everyone. The lady at the coffee shop on Main still gets a slightly panicked look on her face when she sees him coming. If a thing wasn’t important, Derek would have heard about it the second Stiles thought of it, because this is Stiles. He has no filter. But still, Derek wants to let it go, because he doesn’t ever want to let Stiles go. “I don’t really feel like cake.”
“Oh.” Stiles slides the box onto the kitchen counter then turns back to face Derek. His face is face flushed as though he’s run up the stairs. His heartbeat is still elevated.
“I wasn’t sure I’d see you today,” Derek says.
Surprise lights up those gorgeous dark eyes. Derek could write poetry about those eyes, if he could only find a way to adequately describe them. Sometimes when the lights hits them right, they’re almost gold. But at night, or in the shade, they’re as dark as old oak. Derek knows that Stiles doesn’t know how beautiful he is. Okay, so he’s gangly, and he flails, and he’s all noise and motion, but when he’s not—when he’s quiet—Derek almost feels a physical ache to look at him, he’s so beautiful.
“I said I’d come by today,” Stiles says.
He said a lot of things.
Derek hooks a finger through the belt loop of Stiles’s jeans and tugs him closer. Stiles grins, and Derek almost feels guilty, because this isn’t affection. This is interrogation. Stiles might lie, but his scent can’t. He lowers his head to nuzzle against Stiles’s throat—and then pulls back again. Since when the hell has he started wearing aftershave? He smells like he’s drenched himself in it. “Is that patchouli?”
“Don’t you like it?”
“It’s…a little strong.” It makes him want to claw his own nose off.
“Noted.” Stiles’s smile hardly even wavers.
His aftershave isn’t the only new scent clinging to him. Derek can smell carbolic soap, and an undertone of bleach. Derek loves Stiles’s scent, usually. Today he smells like a chemical truck crashed into a hippie commune and there were no survivors. Derek can't help twisting his mouth in disgust.
“Oh.” Stiles’s face falls. “I’ll wear something else from now on.”
Derek pushes him gently away. “Just go.”
“Wh-what?” Stiles looks confused.
Stiles opens his mouth, closes it, and goes. He doesn’t even bother argue, which seals it. When the hell does Stiles not argue?
He leaves the cupcakes on the counter.
Derek listens to the squeak of Stiles’s trainers on the stairs, long after a human ear could track them. He stares at the cupcakes, and wonders how many Stiles had to buy to assuage his guilt.
Their relationship never should have happened, because Stiles has only just turned seventeen, and Derek must be the dumbest guy in the world to get tangled up with the underage son of the town sheriff, but Stiles is…Stiles is like a force of nature. Derek could only weather the storm for so long before it flattened him.
It was dumb, he knows, to think that any seventeen-year-old could make a commitment and stick to it, but Derek thought Stiles was different. Not necessarily more mature—he has Adventure Time sheets for fuck’s sake—but Derek had thought that he’d meant it when he said he wanted to be with Derek. Forever, he’d said, and hell, Derek would never hold a seventeen-year-old to a promise like that, but he’d thought it would take longer than three and a half months for the lies to start.
What the hell is forever to a seventeen-year-old anyway? A week? A month? Three and a half months, he supposes. Three and a half months until Stiles started lying, and trying to mask his scent.
It was three and a half months more than Derek had ever dared hope for.
He should be grateful he got that long, but he isn’t.
Isaac is the most watchful of Derek’s betas. A lifetime of anticipating the next blow will do that. It’s made him harder and sharper than Erica and Boyd, even though he doesn’t always seem that way. He’s quiet and cautious, but he has a cruel streak that’s been honed by years of violence. Isaac also has the capacity for great kindness, if he’ll trust it enough to let himself grow into it.
He sits on the kitchen counter, licking cream cheese frosting off his fingers as he demolishes his second red velvet cupcake. “Did Stiles bring these?”
Derek doesn’t answer. He glares at the coffee maker instead, willing it to hurry the hell up.
“Where is he?” Isaac asks. “He’s supposed to help me with my history paper.”
“He left.” Derek glances at his beta.
“He left without eating any of the cupcakes?”
“I’m not taking about this with you.”
Isaac is nothing like Peter. He can take a hint. He nods, slides off the countertop, and heads out toward the couch, where his homework is spread out on the floor.
Derek thinks they’re done.
A few moments later Isaac says, softly, but knowing full well Derek will hear it: “If I fail history, it’s your fault.”
Derek should break up with him, he supposes. Why delay the inevitable?
But every time he thinks of getting in his car and going over to Stiles’s house and actually doing it, he loses his nerve.
So maybe he’ll just let it die a slow and painful death.
At least that way he won’t be the one to have killed it.
Derek loves Stiles’s hands. He can watch them for hours. He’s watching them now, as Stiles fiddles with the straw of his milkshake, because it’s Friday night and they’re at the diner, and they’re having milkshakes and curly fries, and it’s like some sort of clichéd high school date from the 1950s. All they’re missing is a waitress on roller skates.
Derek hasn’t asked Stiles why he masked his scent the other day, and Stiles hasn’t offered an explanation. Maybe they’re both going to pretend it never happened. Maybe they’re just wondering if the other one will break first. If that’s the case, it won’t be Derek. Derek has this in the bag. Brooding silence is kind of his thing.
Stiles doesn’t do silence. He’s in the middle of some story about lacrosse practice, and how the funniest things happened—Derek figures they both know it’s not that funny, but that Stiles is desperate to pretend everything’s normal and they can joke around like the lie never happened—and his fingers are tapping up and down the straw like it’s a flute he’s trying to play. Then he dips a fingertip into the froth of his milkshake and raises it to his lips. Sucks it, then runs his tongue along his lower lip. It’s hotter than hell because Derek knows there’s no intent behind it. This isn’t Stiles flirting. This is just Stiles being Stiles.
His fingers, his mouth, the way some part of him is always in motion. Fuck. Derek could watch him for hours. He’s gorgeous.
Later, when they’re making out in Derek’s Camaro—there’s not a lot of room, so Stiles is straddling him—Derek wonders why he’s so afraid to lose Stiles. Is it just because he’s beautiful? Derek doesn’t want to believe he’s that shallow. He wants to believe that he’s grown too much since Kate to get manipulated by another pretty face, but how can he be sure?
He should end this.
He really should.
And then Stiles laughs, and sucks Derek’s fingers into his mouth, and he doesn’t smell of anything except Stiles and joy and heat and arousal, and Derek can’t do it.
He wants this to be real and right and true for as long as he can believe it.
The next time Stiles lies, he does it over the phone.
“Oh, hey,” he says when he calls, his voice lifting in a faux-casual tone that in no way disguises the way his heartbeat has just ratcheted up. Derek doesn’t need to see him to guess that his face is burning and his eyes are too-wide. “So, um, I won’t be able to make it this afternoon. I’ve got this… thing.”
Funny. Stiles thinks he can get around it on a technicality. Too bad that it doesn’t matter it’s not a technical lie—he’s broadcasting on all frequencies that this is a deception. Which actually isn’t funny at all, is it? It’s heartbreaking.
“Okay,” Derek says, his voice low and calm.
“Okay?” Stiles ends on an upward intonation, part surprise and part delight. He thinks he’s gotten away with it, then. The idiot. “Sweet. I’ll see you tomorrow then, big guy.”
“Fine.” Derek ends the call and stares down at the blank screen of his phone for a moment. Then he growls, and lobs the phone against the wall where it shatters into pieces.
It doesn’t make him feel any better at all.
Derek calls a pack meeting the next week, because he can’t avoid it any longer, and he knows the pack’s getting agitated. There’s too much shit going down in Beacon Hills for Derek to start neglecting their bonding, or training, or whatever these meetings have become. Isaac and Erica and Boyd turn up after school. Peter slinks in shortly after that. Even Scott McCall turns up, with Allison Argent in tow. It’s crazy what a common enemy can do to break down old barriers.
And not just a common enemy, Derek knows. A common friend. Stiles. Stiles is the thing holding their fledgling alliances together, keeping them from falling apart whenever the sands shift under their feet, and he probably doesn’t even realize it.
Stiles sits on the floor, long legs drawn up, and chews his lip and checks his phone and cracks a few jokes whenever things get tense.
This is his value. To the pack.
To Derek, it’s more than that.
Stiles is full of excess energy tonight, in constant motion—fingers tapping, mouth twisting, nose wrinkling, legs jiggling. Derek wants to hold him down, fingers curled around his wrists, and take him apart inch by inch until he’s wrung out and slack with pleasure. Until those bright eyes of his are half-closed, and his bottom lip is marked with the indentations of his teeth, and his skin is hot and flushed. Until he says Derek’s name in a hoarse rasp, and he sounds completely wrecked.
Derek watches Stiles as he laughs and jokes with the pack, and with Scott and Allison.
He wishes he didn’t feel the weight of Stiles’s lies between them. He wonders if Stiles does.
Peter leaves early and Derek isn’t even a little bit sorry. Peter’s been smirking at him all night, as though this whole situation is terribly amusing. Derek kind of wants to rip his throat out. Again.
“Okay. Bye!” Stiles calls as Peter leaves. “Drive safe back to your ice fortress, or volcano lair, or basement dungeon with exposed pipes and hanging chains. Good luck with building your weather machine!”
Peter only smirks again. “It was nice knowing you, Stiles.”
He pulls the door shut behind him.
“Holy shit! Was that a threat? Did your creepy uncle just threaten me?” Stiles is wide-eyed.
“It sounded like a threat,” Stiles says, looking around the others for support. They’re uneasy too.
“It wasn’t a threat.” Derek’s sure. Peter doesn’t waste time with vague threats. He likes to get specific, right down to which body parts he’ll enjoy tearing apart the most. What that was—nice knowing you, Stiles—was an acknowledgement of the inevitable collapse of Stiles and Derek’s relationship. Because when it ends, Stiles won’t be hanging around with the pack anymore.
That was Peter’s goodbye.
“He is super disturbing.” Stiles climbs to his feet. “I feel as though I should be sitting in a shower right now, crying as I scrub my skin off trying to get clean.”
Derek curls his hand around the back of Stiles’s neck. Stiles is spooked. He can feel it in his pulse, and taste it on his scent. Derek rubs his thumb over his jugular to soothe him.
“Super disturbing,” Stiles mutters, scowling, but the tension in him eases. “Hey, who wants ice cream? I brought ice cream.”
He heads out to the kitchen, with the pack, as docile as puppies, following at his heels.
Derek sinks down onto the couch, smiling slightly, and how unfair is that? Being close to Stiles, touching him, gives comfort to Derek, even when he knows that Stiles is going to rip his heart out any day now.
His gaze catches on Stiles’s new phone lying on the floor. It must’ve fallen out of his pocket while he was fidgeting. He leans down and picks it up. Slides his thumb across the screen. It’s not password protected. Stiles might be a liar, but he’s not a practiced one.
Derek opens his text messages.
Who the fuck is Jacinta?
He doesn’t want to know, but he has to.
Stiles had sent her a message a few hours ago: How’s my princess?
She’d replied, a few minutes later: Missing you like crazy.
So here is it.
This sound in Derek’s skull—the rush of blood, the pounding heartbeat, the silent, tortured howl of his wolf—this is what the end sounds like. It sounds like now, like voices in the kitchen, like the clatter of spoons into plates, and it feels like cold winding around him, squeezing him tight, and trying to crush his chest.
It feels like cold, like ice, like the dark.
He barely registers the sound of a smashing plate in the kitchen.
Barely sees his pack appearing beside him, pulled there by the distress coming off him in thick, rolling waves, too worried to leave him, too afraid to get any closer. And then Stiles appears, pale face drawn with worry. With guilt? “Derek, what’s—”
“Get him out of here, Scott.” His own voice sounds distant.
Scott grabs Stiles by the wrist.
“Wait! What? Der!”
“Get him the fuck out of here!” Derek thrusts the phone out toward Allison. She’s braver than he gives her credit for. He knows his eyes are red. He can feel how close he is to losing control, he can feel himself vibrating, the wolf is so close to the surface, but Allison doesn’t even flinch. She takes the phone.
“Scott, let go! Derek?”
Derek doesn’t look at Stiles. He can’t. He won’t.
But he can hear him, long after the door is shut behind him and Scott and Allison. Long after any human would be able to hear him. That familiar voice, cracking with tears as he’s pulled down the stairs by his friends.
“What did I do? Scott? What did I do?”
For two days he doesn’t hear a word from Stiles. Then the text messages start.
You went through my phone? That’s how much you trusted me?
Later: Fuck you.
An hour after that: Seriously. Fuck you.
There are several more like that overnight. Derek doesn’t reply to them. Then, just as dawn is starting to turn the edges of the night sky gray, Stiles sends:
So that’s it? We’re done?
And Derek sends back: We’re done.
“Your mother was the same,” Peter says idly, and Derek has no idea why Peter’s trying to engage with him, when clearly he wants to kill something, and hey, Peter’s been good enough in the past.
Derek grunts into his protein shake, and tries not to remember how much Stiles used to laugh at him for drinking protein shakes.
“Stubborn,” Peter elaborates, even though Derek didn’t ask him to. “She always had to be right. Of course, she usually was, which made the stubbornness less of a character flaw. She was a much better judge of people than you.”
Derek can’t even be bothered growl.
“You look like a mess,” Peter adds helpfully, and starts going through Derek’s kitchen cabinets. “Now where are you hiding the good coffee?”
Joke’s on him. Derek’s only got instant.
It takes a week of his own pack avoiding him—except for Peter who didn’t get the memo, and, if there had actually been a memo, would have ignored it anyway—for Derek to get his shit together. Just because he and Stiles have broken up doesn’t give him the excuse to neglect his duties as alpha.
He organizes a training session in the Preserve. Well, he lays a trail through the Preserve and then sends a text for his pack to come and track him. It takes an hour. Erica blunders straight past him once. Boyd gets pretty close. It’s Isaac who finds him first though. He’s fooled once by the false scent Derek laid, but he doubles back quickly when he realizes he’s been tricked, and finds Derek at the top of the steep bluff overlooking the creek.
Isaac’s smile is cautiously proud, but he doesn’t step any closer, and Derek feels the guilt crash over him. He’s neglected his pack because of his own shitty mood, and that’s wrong. He rewards Isaac with a hug, feeling the tension in his beta’s muscles ease immediately. Isaac rests his head on Derek’s shoulder and lets Derek scruff his hair. Derek makes sure he gets his scent on him, so that Isaac doesn’t feel as lost as he’s been looking for the past week.
He does the same for Boyd and Erica when they finally come racing up the steep track to the bluff.
Peter, who didn’t bother come on the training run, meets them back at the loft. Apparently pizza and beer is becoming his thing, except tonight it’s pizza and soda because even if the betas can’t get drunk on beer since becoming wolves, they’re still underage. Naturally it gives Peter great pleasure to remind Derek of that.
“I wouldn’t want to get into trouble with the law for corrupting a minor now, would I?”
That joke would have been a lot funnier a week ago. Or maybe not. Derek rolls his eyes anyway because, weirdly, this is Peter’s way of dealing with Derek’s unhappiness. By poking at it until it curls up and dies. He was always like that, even when Derek was a kid. The annoying uncle who thought he could tease someone out of a tantrum or a sulk. And okay, it worked, but only because it was the only way to shut him up.
Erica glares at Peter. She opens her mouth to say something—Derek’s sure it would have been interesting to say the least—then Boyd puts his hand on her forearm and she snaps her mouth shut. They both glance at Derek, and he sees the moment it clicks for Erica: Derek isn’t upset at Peter’s joke, so she doesn’t have to be either.
“I, um, I saw Stiles at school today,” Isaac volunteers. He’s trying to keep his voice steady, but his anxiety is rising.
“How is he?” Derek asks. He doesn’t want to talk about this, but he wants Isaac to know that they can talk about it. And he really does want to know if Stiles is okay.
“Um.” Isaac glances at Boyd and Erica, then back to Derek. “Sad. He smells sad.”
Something inside Derek twists to hear that, but he won’t have this turned into some sort of pity party for Stiles. His pack needs to know the truth.
“He lied to me,” Derek says. “To my face. And he was masking his scent and seeing someone else.”
The three teenage betas looked shocked.
Peter snorts with laughter. “Stiles? Seeing someone else? God, you really are perfect for each other, you know? You’re both ridiculous.”
“He masked his scent!”
“And did you ask him why, or did you just leap to the assumption that he was fucking around on you?”
Derek’s lip curls in a snarl.
“Put your fangs away, Derek,” Peter says mildly. “You don’t need to remind me you can tear my throat out. I remember the sensation quite clearly.”
Derek digs his nails into his palms, willing his claws to stay below his skin. “I read the messages on his phone. He was texting some girl called Jacinta, calling her his princess and asking how much she missed him.” He glares at Isaac and Boyd and Erica, waiting for some sort of confirmation.
Something like, Oh, there’s a Jacinta in our econ class. She’s a total skanky whore. Except they only shrug and look back at him blankly, but just because they don’t know this girl isn’t proof of anything. Maybe she goes to another school, or is from another town or something, even though Derek can’t imagine how Stiles might have met her if that’s the case. Because he spent every minute he could hanging out with Derek.
Making out with Derek.
Gasping Derek’s name as he came.
Derek folds his arms over his chest. “He masked his scent.”
“I used to do that,” Peter says quietly. “When I was in junior high, your mother was dating a boy whose parents owned the used bookstore on Oak. It’s not there anymore. Anyway, the break up was not an amicable one, and Talia made me swear never to go to his parents’ bookstore again. On pain of death.” He smiles, a little fondly. “So of course I swore, which wasn’t a lie at the time, but later, when I changed my mind and went, I had to douse myself in this disgusting cheap aftershave afterward.”
“So she wouldn’t know you’d broken your word,” Derek mutters.
“Partly.” Peter holds his gaze. “But mostly because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by reminding her of him.”
Derek doesn’t know how to respond to that. It seems selfish, too convenient to be anything but selfish, but he’s not certain.
“Lying is their evolutionary edge,” Peter says, “and we underestimate it. Not all deceit is harmful in intent.”
Boyd frowns at him.
Peter folds his napkin once, then twice. Then unfolds it and starts again. “In the basement, in the fire, Matty…”
Derek’s heart clenches.
“My youngest nephew,” Peter tells the other betas. “I was holding him. I was telling him we’d be okay, that his mom and dad would be okay, that everyone would be fine and we’d all get out of this. And do you know what he said to me, Derek?”
Derek shakes his head. He doesn’t trust himself to speak.
“He said, ‘You’re telling a lie, Uncle Peter.’” He crumples the napkin in his fist. “That was the last articulate thing my eight-year-old nephew ever said to me. I try very hard not to count the screaming.”
Derek’s throat aches.
The betas are still and shocked.
Finally, Peter stirs. “Well, I’ve ruined pizza night.” He tears his napkin in two and rises to his feet. “I’ll see myself out.”
He leaves silence behind.
That night Derek doesn’t sleep.
He thinks of Matty and the rest of the family in a way he’s tried so hard not to do. He thinks of their last moments, trapped and terrified, men and woman and children—humans as well as wolves—and wishes that Matty had been able to believe Peter’s lie.
Maybe Matty wouldn’t have been so scared.
Maybe Peter wouldn’t have been so completely fucked up.
And maybe it’s the most pointless thing in the world he can dwell on, because he can’t possibly ever know what difference, if any, it would have made. He doesn’t want to remember the way they died. He wants to remember the way they lived, but it’s not that easy.
A part of him wishes someone could lie to him too.
Derek, they didn’t feel any pain.
And he wishes he could believe it.
Two weeks after he ends things with Stiles, Derek texts him: Can we talk?
Stiles doesn’t answer.
Which Derek supposes is an answer in itself.
Two and a half weeks after he ends things with Stiles, Derek gets shot in the thigh by a hunter. Fucking wolfsbane. He stumbles into Deaton’s clinic with an arm slung around Peter’s shoulder. They’re physically closer than they’ve been in a long time. Peter might be pack, he might be family, but Derek rarely touches him. With Peter, it’s just easier not to deal.
Luckily there’s nobody in the waiting room when they stagger inside. Scott McCall is behind the counter. He flips it up so they can pass through to the surgery, eyes narrow. Derek isn’t sure if he’s worried or if he’s pissed. He’s in too much pain to care, frankly.
“What happened here?” Deaton asks as Peter helps Derek onto the examination table. The room smells of animals and antiseptic. And Derek’s blood.
“It was an arrow,” Peter says. “I pulled it out, but it’s not healing.” He digs into his pocket for the arrowhead and drops it into the table.
Derek hunches over. The poison is riding his veins, and it fucking hurts.
Deaton inspects it. “Dipped in wolfsbane, probably. Scott, get me a cotton pad.”
Derek grimaces as Deaton inspects the wound.
“In many ways,” Deaton says, his voice as calm as always, “a bullet would have been easier.”
Derek knows how to deal with a wolfsbane bullet. You get another one of the same batch, crack it open, set fire to the powder, then jam the resultant mess into the wound. Instant healing. Derek isn’t sure how to burn an arrowhead though.
Scott reappears with a cotton pad. Deaton takes it, and wipes the arrowhead clean. He drops the cotton pad into a kidney dish, takes a lighter from his pocket, and sets it alight. It doesn’t burn with any of the speed, or the flare, of gunpowder.
“But hopefully,” Deaton says, poking at the charred bits of cotton, “there’ll be enough residue on here to counteract the poison.”
Derek clenches his jaw as Deaton shoves the ashes into the wound on his thigh, pushing them in deep with his thumb. The pain is so intense that for a moment Derek only sees white, then his vision begins to clear, his heart rate slows, and with every breath he lets out it hurts a little less. It’s working. He’s healing.
In a few minutes he’ll be fine to walk out of here.
He bows his head and closes his eyes. He takes a few deep breaths.
Deaton pats him on the shoulder. “Good?”
“Scott, don’t forget to take the instruments out of the autoclave before you finish up.” Deaton drops the arrowhead in the kidney dish and carries them both over to the sink on the far side of the room. “And Jacinta will be in soon to pick up that formula.”
Derek’s eyes flash red as he lifts his chin. “Jacinta?”
Deaton looks at him curiously. “Jacinta Feldman. She runs the local cat shelter.”
Derek winces as he stands. He’s healing, but not as fast as he likes.
“Derek?” Peter asks as he heads for the door.
“I need to do something.”
Peter doesn’t ask. Only nods and lets him go.
It’s dark by the time Derek makes it to Stiles’s house, to the window of his bedroom.
Stiles is sitting on his bedroom floor, legs crossed. He’s got a textbook open on his lap, but he’s not reading it. He’s dragging a pencil across the page slowly, and laughing with delight whenever the orange kitten appears from behind the barricade of his thigh and leaps for the pencil.
Stiles looks happy, and for a moment Derek aches, he’s missed that so much. Stiles’s open-mouthed grin vanishes the moment Derek begins to slide the window up.
Derek steps inside and gestures. “I thought you might have covered the sill in mountain ash or something.”
Stiles’s face is shuttered. He cups a hand around the kitten, and bats it gently behind him. “Scott’s still my friend.”
Derek lets that stab him. He deserves it.
“What happened to your leg?”
Derek runs his fingers over the bloody hole in his jeans, and the healed wound underneath. “Arrow.”
“Oh.” Stiles shrugs, as though he doesn’t care either way, but Derek hears the way his pulse picks up. “What are you doing here, Derek?”
“Can I tell you what I thought was happening, and you’ll listen?”
Stiles doesn’t quite meet his gaze. He shrugs again.
“You lied to me,” Derek says, his voice hitching. “The night you said you were having dinner with your dad. I knew it was a lie.”
Stiles’s lips compress into a thin line. He curls his fingers around the edge of the textbook in his lap.
“Then you masked you scent, and you lied again.” Derek feels lower than low, listing every sin he thought Stiles had committed, but these aren’t for Stiles to atone. They’re for him. “And then at the pack meeting I saw your texts with Jacinta, and you called her your princess, and she said she was missing you.”
“I know that. I know that now.” He sits on the floor without being invited, because he’s scared that if he asks, Stiles will refuse. “I know she runs the cat shelter. I know that’s probably where you went when you lied. I know you masked your scent because you didn’t want me to find out you’d ditched me to hang out with a cat. And I’m guessing that the cat’s your princess, not Jacinta.”
“Jacinta is sixty-three,” Stiles says at last. He reaches around beside him and cups his hand around the orange ball of fuzz. “And this is Xena, Warrior Princess.”
“Can I?” Derek asks, holding out his hand.
“You hate cats,” Stiles says.
“Not all of them.”
“Cats hate you.”
Derek keeps his hand extended. “Maybe she’ll give me a chance.”
Stiles looks dubious. He picks the kitten up and holds her out to Derek. She’s spitting and fizzing before she even lands in his palm, then her claws are digging into his flesh and thank fuck for werewolf healing.
“Hey, Xena.” Derek tries his most soothing tone which, okay, isn’t exactly soothing to felines. Xena hisses again, her tiny body rigid, and Stiles huffs and reaches out and grabs her. He sets her down on the floor and she scuttles under his bed. Derek wipes his bloody palm on his jeans. The pinpricks are healed before he even lifts his hand away again. “You could have told me.”
“Der, you didn’t even ask me to explain. You just assumed the worst.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t even know what I did!” Tears glitter in his eyes before he abruptly pushes the book off his lap and clambers to his feet. He keeps his back turned to Derek. “Just go.”
Stiles snorts, the sound caught in some uncomfortable place between a laugh and a sob. “That day you told me to go, I thought it was because I smelled weird. But it wasn’t, was it? It’s because you thought I was cheating on you.”
“Yes.” Derek’s voice rasps. He wants to reach out and touch Stiles, to put his hand on the back of his neck, to feel his warmth and get close enough to scent him properly again. “You should have just told me.”
Stiles spins around. “You should have asked!”
“You ruined everything!” Stiles’s eyes are the color of dark amber, of molasses, of old oak, and Derek is suddenly afraid he’ll never get to stare into them again. “You didn’t trust me.”
Because you lied. But for every excuse he can make for Stiles lying—he’s human, he’s a teenager, this was his first relationship, he doesn’t always get wolves in general and Derek in particular—Derek can’t find any excuses for himself. Stiles is right. The only reason he didn’t ask what was going on was because he was already sure that Stiles was cheating.
“I know,” he says, because what the hell else is there to say? “It was my fault, and I’m sorry."
Stiles blinks. Tears clump in his lashes, but none spill down his face. “You need to go now, Der. I asked you to go.”
He wishes he hadn’t come at all. Stiles had looked happy before he’d arrived, and now he’s trying to hold back tears. All Derek has done is made him miserable all over again.
I’m sorry,” he says one last time, and climbs out the window again.
A little over four months after Derek and Stiles started dating, and almost exactly three weeks after they broke up, Stiles turns up at Derek’s door at two in the morning.
“Couldn’t sleep,” he says, his voice low, his heart racing. His anxiety tastes like unripe citrus in the air.
Derek doesn’t question this. He wants it, whatever it is. Whatever Stiles is willing to give, he’ll take it and be thankful for it. He steps aside to let Stiles in, and closes the door behind him.
Stiles heads to his bedroom. He doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t even look at him, and Derek thinks, wildly, that maybe Stiles is sleepwalking. Or maybe Derek is dreaming. It doesn’t matter, as long as neither of them wakes.
Stiles folds himself into Derek’s bed like he never left it, and Derek climbs in behind him. He put an arm over Stiles, and tugs him closer. Stiles doesn’t resist. The moment their bodies align—Stiles’s back pressed against Derek’s chest, and Derek’s hand on Stiles’s abdomen—his wolf huffs and settles properly for the first time in weeks. When Stiles sighs and curls his fingers around Derek’s, his wolf wants to whine like a pup.
“We’re not done,” Stiles murmurs.
Derek can’t speak. He presses his lips against the back of Stiles’s neck and hopes that is enough of an answer.
“But, when I thought we were, I went and picked Xena up from the shelter. She’s mine now, for good.”
Stiles twists his neck to look at him in the darkness. “Okay?”
“I’m not going to lose you over a kitten,” Derek says, and grunts when Stiles elbows him in the ribs. “Not twice.”
“That’d be pretty dumb,” Stiles agrees, his voice a little slurred now as sleep starts to claim him.
Derek nuzzles the back of his neck and breathes in his scent. Warm and safe and happy and sleepy and Stiles.
Derek never wants to let him go again, but, of course, he will. Tomorrow morning he will, and the next morning, but if every day brings a farewell that Derek is secretly afraid will be their last, then he also has to remember that every day brings a reunion as well. Every time Stiles walks back into his door is an affirmation that he wants to be there.
Derek never wants to lose Stiles. Not twice.
“I love you,” he whispers, but Stiles is already asleep.
It doesn’t matter.
Derek will tell him in the morning.