Derek couldn't think through the red haze in his mind, his eyes shining bright with it as his head pounded in the same rhythm that had been fixed in his mind since he'd looked up from ending his uncle's life and met wide brown eyes. He needed a pack, needed a beta, and he knew who the best choice would be. He'd even want it. He'd make Stiles want it.
If he was smart, he'd go back to the house, give himself time for the rush of power and the need for pack to die down. He'd avoid giving in to the way his teeth practically ached with the need to sink them into someone, anyone, because he was an alpha and he was alone and he needed to start a pack. But it would be smart to resist the urge, the drive, to show some self control and mastery over himself. He'd held himself together while Stiles had told them all about the pendant, while he'd thrown Peter into a hole under the floorboards without any finesse or ritual, while pretty, evil, rotten Kate had been carefully laid out by her brother and her weeping niece, a kiss bestowed as she'd placed the necklace carefully around her torn-out neck.
The police had come and gone, lights flashing, and he'd sat in a tree at a safe distance to watch, to see Kate finally removed from his life, and hopefully from his nightmares now that she was safely dead. He'd heard Stilinski muttering to himself about getting alibis from every wolf in the three neighboring states and grinned, because he was so close but he didn't see. It would be safe now. He should go into the house, get some sleep, make a plan.
Instead he was halfway up the side of the sheriff's house, listening to Stiles moving around and muttering to himself about whether he'd left fingerprints when he'd stolen the chemicals from the hospital and, bizarrely, metal fatigue. Slipping in through his bedroom window was so easy that it was like he was moving in a dream, with nothing capable of stopping him.
The way Stiles jumped when he saw him was gratifying, his back hitting the door as his heartrate spiked. "Derek! What the hell, man?"
"Stiles." He stepped closer, nostrils flaring as he took in the boy's scent, trying to find the right angle to hook his interest. "You did good tonight."
"Y-yeah." He looked down, face tilted just enough so he wouldn't have to look at Derek, and licked his lips. "I'm, um, I'm sorry about, you know..."
Derek leaned in, feeling a grin spreading on his lips as Stiles looked at him briefly and then looked back down at the floor as his pulse accelerated even further. Could it really be this easy? He would have been disappointed in Stiles for falling prey to a pretty face if it hadn't been so helpful. "I have some ideas how you can make it up to me."
That brought the kid's eyes flying to his, eyes wide and pupils so far dilated that the ring of amber brown was barely visible around them. Derek wondered idly if contributing to Peter's death would be enough to make them blue once he'd changed, or whether they'd just be a brighter version of the same golden color. "You... are you hitting on me?"
"Do you want me to?" Derek took a half step forward, reaching up to undo the tie hanging loosely around Stiles's neck. "What else do you want?"
"Oh my God." It was just a choked whisper as Stiles kept staring at him, enthralled and helpless. He wouldn't be prey for much longer; Derek would see to that. "This can not be happening."
Derek smiled again, amused by the way his voice squeaked. Dragging a hand along the front of his shirt, he tried to think of how to bring the subject around to becoming a beta without actually having to deliver what his flirtation was promising. "I owe you one. Why not let me... reward you?"
The tie slithered to the floor as Stiles squirmed, somewhere between wanting to get away and get closer. "Maybe some personal space? I'd really be appreciative of it right now."
"Is that really what you want?" Derek shifted to one side, giving Stiles an avenue for escape even as he pressed in closer.
Stiles closed his eyes and leaned back flat against the door, his hands splayed out at his sides. "So much I didn't know about myself."
Tracing his jaw with the tip of one finger, Derek watched him shiver and felt a pang of guilt. "You've had a long day. You're tired."
"Yes! Tired, so tired!" Stiles ducked past him, edging around as quickly as he could. Making a big show of stretching his arms and yawning, he said, "Yeah, I think, I think I'm just going to go to bed. Get some sleep."
Derek watched him with amusement as he scurried around, grabbing up what he could only assume were pajamas and scurrying into his bathroom with a slam of the door. He heard Stiles let out another weak "oh my God" before the water turned on, and Derek looked around the room briefly before shrugging his jacket off and dropping it on the desk chair with claw marks on the back. They'd been duct taped, but it didn't make them any less obvious, especially since the chair in Laura's room had had similar...
Pushing the thought out of his mind, Derek told himself to focus and pushed off his shoes and socks before stretching out on the bed, letting his tshirt ride up just enough to expose some skin. Maybe he'd sleep here, stick close to his new pack member while the bite healed. The sheriff would be out all night dealing with K-- with closing the case. It'd be safe.
"You're... still here." Stiles stopped in his tracks just outside the bathroom door, holding the clothes he'd just taken off. "Uh, I thought we established..."
He trailed off as Derek lazily scratched his stomach, pushing his shirt up farther. Turning his back quickly, Stiles blurted out, "I should put these to wash."
"Leave it for tomorrow." Derek got to his feet, moving to take the clothes from his hands and let them fall to the floor. "You're tired."
Stiles let himself be herded backwards until the back of his legs hit the bed and his knees folded. Derek pressed forward just a little more, watching as his chest started moving visibly with each ragged breath he pulled in. "Tired. Yeah. So tired. And, and I think I pulled a muscle. Might need to go to the doctor in the morning."
The boy was practically gift-wrapping himself. "Why would you want to do that?"
"It's a thing humans do," Stiles said, rolling his eyes but not backing away. "See, if you get treatment, you can avoid permanent damage."
"You've got another option." Derek put his hands on the bed on either side of Stiles, forcing him to lie back. "You'd never need to go to a doctor again."
Scooting up the bed, Stiles said, "Death is really not my preferred option."
"It's a risk, but you took a risk earlier," Derek said, running his nose along the line of Stiles's jugular. "And you're strong."
He opened his mouth, taking in the scent of fear and arousal before he closed his teeth gently on the point of his jaw. Stiles whimpered, pressing into it for the barest moment. "Derek..."
"Do you want it?" Derek slithered down, pushing up Stiles's loose shirt. The stomach on the left side was supposed to be the best place for a bite, close to the heart but somewhere soft and easy to hide. His fangs started to elongate as he felt the moment he could sink them in drawing closer, every breath full of the scent of his first beta. Stiles was going to make an excellent werewolf, and he'd be his. "You'll be stronger, so strong, and faster - you can play lacrosse, you can heal, you can keep up with Scott--"
Stiles had been gradually sinking into the bed, his eyes closing, but at that last his eyes flew open and he jackknifed up, hand fumbling to the nightstand and closing around a textbook which he swung through the air to slam into Derek's face. The crunch of his nose breaking made the fog in Derek's mind lift, enough to have him scrambling backward. "What the hell?"
"I don't want to be a werewolf." Stiles clutched the textbook, ignoring the blood on it that was now getting smeared on his hands and the sheets. With a giddy laugh, he said again, "I don't want to be a werewolf!"
Adjusting his nose until the cartilage clicked into place, Derek was torn between being annoyed and ashamed. "Fine."
"No, wait, where are you going?" Stiles flailed his hands in Derek's direction, as if that would hold him there.
Derek stepped back to avoid the risk of touching him. "I shouldn't have come here in the first place."
"But you did, and now that I've been through this twice, the least you could do is explain." Stiles folded his arms and stood in front of the window, not quite managing to actually look intimidating. "Come on, you owe me that much."
Twice? Derek felt slightly sick to his stomach at realizing that his uncle had also tried to get Stiles as a beta, which would have meant the night ended in an entirely different way... And that he'd lost himself so far in trying to make the boy pack that he'd acted like Peter, enough that it was easy to lump them together.
Taking his silence as consent, Stiles started with, "So am I, like, catnip for alphas? Is every werewolf I meet going to try to make me join their little wolfy club while giving me the bad touch?"
God, he was worse than Peter, he was Kate. "I'm... I'm sorry. I should never-- I didn't mean--"
"Yeah, I figured," Stiles looked almost like he was upset that Derek had apologized, but it was just for a flash of a moment and then he was back to talking. "Which brings us back to the question of why the hard sell from both you and your uncle? Is it just because I already know?
Shaking his head, Derek said, "You're stubborn, and you're smart enough to figure things out. Your loyalty to Scott means you understand what pack's about. You... you would make a good beta."
"And I'd bring Scott with me." Derek shrugged, because it was true enough. "So why ask? It's not like anyone asked Scott."
He could feel his own face twisting with repulsion. "You don't... you just don't do that. It's not right."
"Guess Uncle Crazy went way out of bounds in multiple ways." Stiles sat more comfortably on the bed, crossing his legs under him and letting the textbook he'd used on Derek's face fall into his lap. "So what happened before I got there tonight? Because I'm missing some key details. Like, everything."
The way out was open now - either the window or the door - but Derek found himself sitting down anyway, back to the wall in the chair he'd last occupied before Stiles pimped him out while they were trying to track the alpha. "How much did Scott tell you?"
"We haven't had time to talk." Derek's face must have expressed his skepticism, because Stiles grimaced. "He wanted to go check on Allison, so he took off right after Jackson dropped us off."
Werewolves couldn't get migraines. The throbbing he could feel in his forehead had to be entirely psychosomatic. "Are you serious?"
"Look, man, what can I tell you? It's true love." Stiles shrugged jerkily.
"She's a hunter," Derek snarled.
Squirming uncomfortably, Stiles said, "Okay, so her aunt was... But Allison is nice."
Derek shot to his feet. "Nice? She was Kate's little protege! She shot us, she was right there with--"
Eyes wide, Stiles said, "She... What? She shot you? Wait, she knew where you were? The whole time?"
"I don't know how long," Derek said, looking away. "I think so."
"Dude." The word was breathed out, Stiles's shock more obvious for being so quiet. "You... You were gone for a week."
With a jerky shrug, Derek said, "It's hard to keep track of time when you're being electrocuted."
Stiles was silent for long enough that Derek had to look at him, only to find that Stiles was now the one determinedly avoiding eye contact. Cutting his losses seemed like an excellent idea, and Derek had a hand on the window, ready to slip out, when Stiles cleared his throat and said, "I'm sorry."
"For what?" The only thing Derek could think of for Stiles to apologize about was not wanting to be his beta, and his heart jumped for a moment at the thought.
"I should've found you," Stiles muttered, rubbing a hand over his head. "It took, like, three seconds once your uncle... Anyway, I should've done it back when I realized you had Scott's phone."
Derek felt a certain dark amusement at realizing he'd somehow managed to get his hopes up despite everything logical and sane arguing against it. "And done what? They'd just have killed you and pretended they thought you were a werewolf, too."
"I would've come up with a plan," Stiles said defensively. "Hey, who wanted who to join their wolfy club, huh? It's not for my good looks and charm."
That wasn't worth dignifying with a response. "I already said you'd be a good addition to a pack."
"Do I have to be a wolf? Because, no on that part, but... I mean, we worked together okay, right?" Stiles sat up, locking his hands together.
"You really haven't talked to Scott." Derek looked at Stiles and his confused expression and realized he had to get out of there. "Ask him."
Stiles scrambled after him, but Derek had already jumped from the window and over the front door awning to land in the driveway. Derek was halfway across the lawn when Stiles called out, "We'll talk tomorrow! Call me!"
Derek just kept running. Scott would tell him all about how he'd expected to stop being a werewolf if he killed Peter, and what Derek had done would sink in. Stiles would go back to threatening to kill him, and now he'd have a reason. It was Derek's own fault, and he burned with humiliation to think of what he'd done that night. He didn't deserve a pack if that's how he went about trying to get one.
Calling Scott was going to be useless, and Stiles decided it really wasn't worth bothering. Instead he packed up his laptop and some snacks and headed over to Scott's house, setting up camp in his room to lie in wait. He had the pillows set up in a good approximation of Scott's sleeping position by the time Melissa came in to check on him during her break before heading back to the hospital, and he read through everything he could find on the internet about wolves, wolf packs, werewolves, and optimal leadership techniques. He'd speculated idly about sending Derek off to a conference for learning how to effectively manage a company, but his mind refused to make the picture form of Derek at a hotel conference center somewhere, surrounded by men in business suits.
He'd dozed off at some point, and woke up with a jerk when Scott gasped and jumped. "Stiles! What the hell, man, you scared me!"
"Dude. You are an utter failwolf," Stiles said, rubbing a hand over his face. "Even if you couldn't smell me or hear my heartbeat, my Jeep is in your driveway."
"I came in the window," Scott said sheepishly.
Shaking his head, Stiles made a mental note to research whether there was a known correlation between werewolves and a need for dramatic entrances. So far the evidence suggested yes. "And how is Allison this evening? I'm guessing you're back together, right?"
"Yeah." Scott smiled like sunshine, which would've been more reassuring if Stiles could've seen any hint of thinking going on in the background. "She's so amazing, you don't even know."
"So she didn't shoot you earlier?" Stiles wasn't sure what to think of Derek blatantly lying to him. He'd really seemed sincere.
"No!" Scott's smile fell away, replaced by a scowl. "Why would he even tell you that? What were you doing talking to Derek?"
Stiles hesitated, because something in the way he said it sounded off. "So, wait, why was Allison even there?"
The way Scott's jaw set made Stiles feel like a heavy weight had settled in his stomach. "Scott?"
"It was her aunt's fault," Scott said. "Kate convinced her that I'd turn into a killer, and Allison was so worried about Lydia that she wasn't thinking straight. She didn't mean to hurt either of us."
"She... Scott, she shot you." And if Derek had been truthful about that, then he'd probably been telling the truth about her knowing where he was all along.
Shrugging uncomfortably, Scott said, "She didn't shoot me, just Derek. And just with arrows, he healed quick from those."
Something of what he was thinking must have shown on his face, because Scott hurried to add, "He didn't even want to help! He was going to let Peter hurt her until I showed him the picture of the deer and told him about his sister, even though I asked him to help over and over again."
"What deer? What about his sister?" Stiles rubbed a hand over his head, wondering when exactly Scott had decided to cut him out of the loop, and what else he hadn't mentioned.
Pulling a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket, Scott handed it over and mumbled, "Deaton told me that Peter and his nurse sent this to Derek's sister and that's why she came back to town, so they could kill her."
"So, to recap, Derek was tortured in his own basement by the woman who burned his house down, incidentally murdering most of his family, then he finds out his sister's murder was premeditated, then he gets shot, then he kills his psycho unc--"
"He was supposed to let me do it!" Scott threw himself on the bed, sending a few pillows tumbling to the floor and making the bed creak alarmingly. "If I'd killed him, I could've been cured and all of this nightmare would've gone away!"
Stiles drew back at that one, taking a moment to think about it before he responded. "You think killing Peter would've cured you?"
"Derek said it would," Scott pulled a pillow over his face and yelled into it. "I hate him!"
Stiles stayed silent for a moment, respecting his bro's need to vent, before moving to the phase of correcting him. "You realize that wouldn't have worked, right? There's no way it could've."
The pillow raised enough for one of Scott's eyes to be visible, which Stiles took as an invitation to continue. "Alphas gain power by killing the old alpha, right? Like how Derek did? Except, how many alphas have pack members that they bit? If killing the alpha that bit you turned you back into a human, then the pack wouldn't have an alpha anymore. It fails the basic rules of biology even more than your magically appearing sideburns."
"Derek said it would." Scott was practically growling, and Stiles started looking around the room for something he could use to snap him out of it if he had a rage attack. Maybe if he shook one of the soda bottles? "He lied just so he could use me to find his uncle!"
"What a dick," Stiles said, trying to be stealthy in reaching for a bottle while also pushing his laptop to a more protected spot on Scott's desk. "It's not like we wouldn't have helped if he'd just asked."
Scott went quiet, but since he wasn't turning into a feral rage beast and coming after him, Stiles took it as a win and started getting his things together. Now really didn't seem like the best time to talk to Scott about the benefits of pack versus omega, let alone what their options might be in terms of recruitment. "Can you imagine if you'd become the alpha?"
That brought the pillow all the way down as Scott stared at him in horror. "As if her parents don't already hate me enough?"
If this was what love did to the brain, Stiles was beginning to think it was just as well it never seemed likely to happen for him.
Derek had run after he'd left Stiles, run as hard as he could for as long as he could, and even if he couldn't escape his own thoughts at least he'd managed to exhaust himself enough to fall asleep curled up under a tree, dry leaves crackling every time he moved. It didn't solve anything, and his thoughts just ran in circles as he trudged back the next day, carrying his leather jacket and trying to figure out exactly where he'd ended up.
His phone rang at some point close to noon, and he debated whether to answer for so long that Stiles's name disappeared from the screen before reappearing a few seconds later. He let it go again, but when Stiles didn't give up the third time, he answered the phone with a terse, "What?"
"There's a diner that's only like a mile or so away from where you were the last time I looked at the GPS," Stiles said. "You want to meet me there or have me pick you up? Only Roscoe's not that great for offroading, so if you could get to a road, that would be good."
"What do you want?" Just thinking about the night before made acid churn in his stomach, and hearing Stiles's cheery voice just made it worse. How could he just act like nothing had happened?
After a long pause, Stiles said, "Well, Derek, frequently at places called 'diners' they have this thing called 'food,' which gets consumed by humans for energy, whether or not they've gotten the werewolf upgrade package."
Derek hung up, because it seemed appropriate. Lifting his head, he scented the wind and shifted direction to move towards the smell of asphalt. Once he'd found a road, he could figure out where he was, and whether he was going to meet up with Stiles. He didn't really want to, but he'd have to see him at some point and it might be better to have that first meeting happen privately.
Not inside the Jeep, though. Derek brought out his phone again to check the map and sent a text to Stiles, giving him an ETA for when Derek would reach the only diner anywhere in the vicinity. He set off at a light jog, and stashed his jacket in the front seat of the Jeep before joining Stiles inside.
There was a laptop on the table, along with a stack of papers, and a cup of coffee that was already half empty. Stiles didn't look up when Derek sat down on the other side of the booth, just continued to type furiously until he looked up and jumped. "Holy-- This sudden mysterious appearance thing you do sucks, just fyi."
"I sat down," Derek said. "It really wasn't even a little mysterious."
"Whatever, just order," Stiles said. "They've got breakfast all day, so I am having all the waffles, and bacon."
Derek glanced over the menu and put in his own order while Stiles went back to typing, then listened with half an ear as Stiles talked about wolves and pack behavior in captivity versus in the wild and research trends and analogues with anthropological theories about human behavior in pre-agricultural societies. It lasted until the food arrived and Stiles trailed off to stuff the laptop back in his bag and stack the papers on the seat next to him.
Before he could start again, Derek said, "Why are we here?"
"To eat? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, dude," Stiles said, looking a bit confused. "I figured you wouldn't want my dad hearing all this, so I came out here instead of having you meet me in town."
Raising his eyebrows, Derek waited for more of an explanation, but it wasn't forthcoming. Instead Stiles shrugged and started pouring syrup over his waffles. Derek turned his attention to his burger, prepared to wait him out.
It took a surprisingly long time for Stiles to finally crack, but when Derek was halfway through his food Stiles came out with, "So, like, I wanted to touch base about what the entry criteria should be for our pack."
Derek froze, his mouth closed around the bite he'd just taken and his burger in mid-air. Slowly, he lowered it to the plate and chewed what was in his mouth to buy himself time as he tried to process what Stiles had said. "We don't have a pack."
"So two isn't enough?" Stiles frowned. "I'll work on Scott, but he is so not ready. How soon do we need to recruit somebody to be a pack?"
"Two people can make a pack," Derek said. "Laura and I were a pack."
Nodding, Stiles said, "Okay, so we've got something to start with, and we're back to the original question. Like, does age make a difference? And just how likely are the odds on death versus superpowers?"
"I don't know," Derek said. "Nobody knows why someone accepts the bite or rejects it. Usually teenagers are supposed to have the best survival rate, but..." He thought of Paige, shaking with pain and too weak to scream. "It can still go wrong."
"And you were just going to bite me," Stiles said. "Thanks for that."
Looking down, Derek said, "I'm sorry."
"Were you drunk? Can werewolves get drunk? Because it... it really wasn't you." Stiles moved his fork around his plate, pushing food around. In a low voice, so low that Derek almost didn't hear it, he muttered, "Wouldn't have chosen me if it was."
"It wasn't... I could feel it, that I needed a beta," Derek said. "I couldn't think about anything else, just about how I could get you to agree, because I didn't want to bite just anyone, I wanted you."
Stiles swallowed hard, his eyes flickering with a thousand thoughts behind them, too fast for Derek to catch any of them on his face. Finally, Stiles said, "Okay, so that fits what this one book said, that a new alpha's primary drive is to reproduce, whether by bite or, well, you know."
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Derek wondered if he really wanted to know and decided that he didn't. "Are we done?"
"We've barely started!" Stiles shoved his plate to one side and pulled up the stack of papers. "First off, we have to go to the hospital and see Lydia, like, ASAP."
"No one's stopping you." Should he know who this Lydia was? The name was vaguely familiar.
Rolling his eyes, Stiles said, "Considering she might be your first beta, I think you really need to be there. I was going to get Scott to come with me to check on her last night but he was busy, and then I slept through my alarm this morning and you were all the way out here, so yeah."
"Peter bit her?" Derek dug in his pocket for his wallet before raising his hand to call for the check. "She can't stay in the hospital, not if she's turning."
Scrambling to his feet, Stiles said, "And if she's not? What's going to happen?"
"Let's just see how she is," Derek said, handing his card to the waitress as Stiles frantically packed everything he'd just gotten back out.
Stiles was already in the car by the time Derek had finished paying, and he'd barely closed the door before they were speeding down the highway. "She's going to be okay. She's Lydia, she has to be okay."
"She's special to you?" Derek didn't know what he thought about that, especially given that it was possible for things to end so badly.
"Dude, I've been in love with Lydia Martin since we were in third grade," Stiles said. "She's just, she's so fucking brilliant - she knows so much about, like, everything - and she's so tough that I think she could murder people if she had to, and it's, she's, she's going to be okay."
Derek just nodded, keeping his eyes on the road as Stiles pushed the Jeep to its limits. They weren't that far out of town, and Stiles kept the car well under control. Derek wondered what he'd do with a decent car to drive, but it wasn't as if he was going to suggest Stiles try out the Camaro. "Don't forget the speed trap on Old Mill Road."
"I won't." Stiles turned in time to avoid it, and slowed down to the speed limit as he crossed over a county road. "There's a backup one by the bridge sometimes, to catch the people zooming as they go around. I clocked somebody going 90 around that corner once. Dad let me hit the lights when we went after him."
Derek sat back to watch him, trying to work out what he thought about all this. Driving around with Stiles Stilinski hadn't been anywhere near his list of possible activities for the day. "I'll do everything I can for your girlfriend."
"She's not my girlfriend." Stiles flicked his eyes over to him and, okay, maybe Derek should have realized that, given the events of the night before. "But I've got a ten year plan."
At Derek's snort, Stiles cried, "Hey! Not all of us can get everything we want just by smiling at people, okay? Some of us are starting out without faces chiseled from marble and ridiculous bodies, so just shut it."
"You're ridiculous," Derek said, because it was completely true.
Grimacing, Stiles said, "Yeah, thanks. Rub some salt into my gaping wounds, why don't you?"
They pulled up to the hospital before Derek could do more than roll his eyes, waving a keycard at the gate for the employee parking lot and zipping into a spot left bumpy by tree roots under the asphalt. Derek raised an eyebrow and Stiles shrugged. "No one wants to park there anyway. It's fine."
That hadn't been the point, but Derek wasn't sure he had the fortitude to hear whatever explanation Stiles had for having an access card for the parking lot. And, as it turned out, the employee entrance. And yet, for all the illegal shortcuts he took, his idea of stealth was to throw his back against the wall, palms flat, when he saw someone coming. Derek just kept walking, leaving Stiles to scramble to catch up.
Stiles tried to duck when they entered the room, the door creaking as he slowly pushed it closed, which Derek would've found hysterical if he wasn't about to get caught in a teenage girl's hospital room. "Knock it off. No one will come in if you don't draw attention."
"Fine, just..." Stiles flailed in the general direction of the bed. "Is she turning into a werewolf?"
"With our luck, she'd turn into a fox or a kanima," Derek muttered, moving closer to the bed to inhale deeply, trying to filter out the hospital smells of air freshener and disinfectant and blood. He frowned and leaned closer, pushing the girl's gown to the side and exposing her bandaged side.
Alarmed, Stiles said, "Hey, whoa, we talked about bad touch--"
"It's not healed," Derek said, looking at the stitches holding her together.
"Wait, does that mean she's..." He trailed off and swallowed hard, obviously unwilling to even think the word.
With a shake of his head, Derek said, "She's not dying, either. It's just like if she'd been bitten by a regular wolf."
Stiles looked equally fascinated and repelled by the wound on her side. "Isn't that impossible?"
"It should be." Derek vaguely remembered reading something about an exception once, but it'd been just after Paige died, when he was desperate to find out any way he could have saved her, but guiltily relieved when he hadn't found anything. Hopefully the books would still be in the vault, where his mother had put them to stop him obsessing.
Carefully pulling the sheet back over the girl, Stiles said, "I might have known she'd be impossible this way, too."
"Call me as soon as she wakes up," Derek said. "We need to know what she saw and whether we need to find a way to explain it."
"She got bitten by a werewolf," Stiles said. "That's the explanation."
He must have read the irritation on Derek's face, because Stiles set his jaw. "Look, I already covered it up once when she saw the alpha at the video store. Peter attacked her, just loomed over her and tore her up. I'm telling her the truth, whether you like it or not. She deserves it."
"We'll talk about it later." Someone was coming, and Derek shoved Stiles into the bathroom.
"If by talk you mean you'll agree with me, yeah," Stiles said in a fierce whisper. "This is not negotiable."
Holding his finger up to his mouth, Derek glared and hoped to convey the need for secrecy both immediately and in the long term. He didn't have much hope for either.
The nurse that came in was chattering away as she worked, narrating her actions as she checked on Lydia's vitals and how her wound was healing. It was when she said something about getting some fresh water for her flowers that Derek exchanged a single look with Stiles and then climbed out of the window. It might not have been a nice thing to do, but it would be significantly easier to explain Stiles creeping around than why Derek was locked into a hospital bathroom with a teenager, in another teenager's hospital room.
You are an asshole was the text that Derek received about an hour later, making him smile slightly. He'd made it back to the house, but the creepy feeling of being watched wouldn't go away. Staying in the place where his family had died, where he'd buried Laura and Peter, where he'd been captured and tortured by Kate... He could almost hear Stiles declaiming on the subject, and the monologue heavily featured the word 'creepy.' Derek stuffed the few things he'd kept there into a duffel bag and headed for his car.
Before starting it, he took one last look at the house, staring until his phone chirped again. The nurses seem undecided about whether I'm romantic or creepy. I blame you for this.
Derek felt a little bit lighter looking down at his phone and imagining how Stiles would've explained being in Lydia's bathroom when the nurse opened the door. It probably hadn't even occurred to him to just say he'd gone in there to wash his hands. Creepy. Definitely creepy.
Like you have any room to talk about creepy. Lurking in bedrooms and locker rooms much? Derek huffed a laugh before throwing the phone onto the passenger seat and putting the car in gear. He had no idea where to go and was half tempted to show up in Stiles's bedroom again - the air mattress he'd slept on while hiding from the police hadn't been too bad - but the thought of reliving what he'd done the last time he'd been there was painful.
Instead he kept driving, letting the night wrap around him as the lights of town gradually blinked out and he felt separated from the rest of the world, alone but also not required to care about anything or anyone. It was peaceful, a strange break from the loneliness that crept on him at odd times to remind him that he was without a pack, without even a friend. An alpha and an omega, all at the same time, but right now he was just someone awake when everyone else was asleep.
The text alert noise interrupted his thoughts, and then it happened again and again. He pulled over in the parking lot of what had been supposed to be a train station if the light rail project had ever gotten off the ground, only to see a series from texts from Stiles, asking random questions.
What the hell is a knot? he typed out, but then deleted. It was probably safer not to ask. Get some sleep.
Look who's talking. Anyway, it's too loud to sleep. After a brief pause, Stiles added, How can you stand to be in a hospital with all the smells? The disinfectant always gives me a headache.
You learn to filter things out. Derek got out of the car and stuffed the phone in his pocket so he'd have his hands free to wrench open the doors. Dust flew through the air and there was a faint smell of mildew, but it was still more appealing as a place to crash than any given motel room.
There was a derelict train car, and the space inside was still relatively clear and clean. It would do well enough, and he got his things from the car before pulling the door shut again. He threw down his sleeping bag and folded his jacket up to serve as a pillow, only looking at his phone again once he was laying down and fairly comfortable. Stiles kept making observations and asking random questions, and Derek felt himself smiling as he answered, especially when he answered once with fuck you, next question and Stiles had replied with an emoji sticking its tongue out before asking another question.
He fell asleep at some point, only to wake up and find his phone had run out of charge. There was no particular rush to fix that, but he was hungry anyway. Plugging it into his car charger let him see the text history, ending with three messages from Stiles. Hospitals make me think of my mom. I guess you're asleep. Sorry for bothering you so much, but thanks for the company.
Derek started the engine, fully intending to go check on Scott, or scout out the Argents, or make sure no one was at his house. Anything that made more sense than spending time in the hospital, drawing suspicion by hanging around with no visible reason.
Trouble was coming his way, and there was no way to avoid it. "Heeeey, Derek. Hey, Dad. Fancy meeting you both here. Together. At the same time."
"Mr. Hale." The sheriff held his hand out, his face serious. "I'm sorry for your loss."
Derek shrugged uncomfortably, not sure what to say. The sheriff's grip was uncomfortably tight, lasting just a shade too long to be casual, and Stiles was twitching in the background. Derek took a moment to try to think of an appropriate platitude to say in response, which unfortunately left enough time for Stiles to blurt out, "I told you we knew each other."
Derek dropped the sheriff's hand to glare at Stiles, who licked his lips and babbled, "We're friends! Who do friendly things. In a friendly way."
"Stiles..." The sheriff was rubbing the bridge of his nose, and at least the tension had ratcheted down enough that Derek didn't feel the need to keep an eye on the man's gun.
Raising his hands in exaggerated surrender, Stiles said, "Seriously! Friends! He's here to keep me company waiting for the light of my life to wake up."
"Lydia's not awake yet?" The sheriff frowned, then shook his head. "Go home, Stiles. Take a shower, change your clothes, and then go down to the station. Tara needs to take your statement about what happened last night."
"I already typed it out." Pulling the printed copy out of his pocket, Stiles handed it to his dad. "And I changed clothes last night, I'm still good for a while."
The sheriff started to say something, then paused. "Mr. Hale, could you give me a minute to talk to my son? I'll have some questions for you after, if you don't mind."
Derek nodded, pointing to a vending machine just down the hallway. "I'll be right down there." More than close enough to hear.
The sheriff barely waited for Derek to be out of human earshot before he grabbed Stiles by the back of the neck and pulled him in. "Give me one good reason not to connect my telling you about that damn pendant and the woman wearing it turning up dead because, Stiles--"
"Whoa, Dad, no!" Stiles held up his hands, somewhere between placating and trying to escape. "She's dead? But Derek didn't do it, he was with me most of the night!"
That made the sheriff's eyebrows shoot up, and his hand move almost involuntarily toward his gun. "Are you telling me you and Hale are... Stiles, that's child abuse, you can't--"
"Whoa, whoa, no, so much no," Stiles said hastily, even as Derek felt his stomach knot. "Derek totally sees me as a kid, there is very much a whole lot of nothing, anything like that happening, oh my God."
Slightly calmer now, the sheriff said, "Explain. And this better be good."
"Look, I was shaken up because of Lydia, and Scott was busy with Allison," Stiles said, hunched over and . "I just needed someone to talk to, and Derek was there."
"How did you even go from accusing him of murder to calling him before you even call me?" The look on the sheriff's face at that made Derek look away, ashamed of seeing something so personal as that raw hurt there.
Stiles, still looking down, hadn't seen it at all. "I apologized about that and, I don't know, we just started hanging out. He's pretty cool, under the eyebrows and the glares."
"Was this the first or the second time you accused him?" The sheriff's voice was so dry that it seemed to turn the air around them arid. "What do you two even have to talk about?"
"Stuff!" Stiles flailed a bit and said, "We talk about books and the weird stuff that happens in town and mythology and cars and where the best places to eat are."
All of which was true enough, even if they'd only had two conversations that didn't deal with immediate threats, the night Derek had been hiding in his room and the night before. The sheriff must have heard the sincerity, though, because he sighed like all the breath had gone out of him. "You still have to talk to Tara, but I'll send her here. And at some point I'd like an explanation of why I didn't hear that you were going to this dance with the Lydia Martin."
Stiles looked furtively at Derek, who took a further step away and contemplated not listening for approximately a second before his curiosity overcame him. In a low voice, almost inaudible, Stiles said, "Because I wasn't sure that it wasn't a joke and she'd end up standing me up."
There was no hint of a lie in his heartbeat, and Derek wondered what kind of courage or stupidity it took to deal with the expectation that life would be that shitty, that people would be that shitty to you, and still get up and try, to reach for what you wanted. It was unfathomable.
The sheriff had pulled his son into a hug, and Derek had dropped more change into the vending machine to get a second package of peanut butter cups while they clung to each other and then parted. The sheriff cleared his throat and said, "Don't get in the way of the nurses, and don't think that Melissa won't call me the instant you're being a pain, got it?"
"Got it. No shenanigans whatsoever," Stiles said, sitting down in one of the chairs in the hallway and folding his hands in his lap. "They won't even know I'm here."
Derek rolled his eyes at the sheer impossibility of that, then felt a bit sheepish when he realized the sheriff had done the same thing, and caught him at it. It made the lightness that had crept over his face disappear and he was once again faced with the same stone-faced cop that had interrogated him about his sister's body.
Straightening as the man approached, Derek braced himself for confrontation, managing only a stiff nod when the sheriff asked him to step into a private room. If the man thought that Stiles wasn't pressing his ear to the door, he was very much mistaken, but it wasn't as if Derek minded. "Am I going to be arrested again?"
Tone neutral, the sheriff said, "Do I have a reason to arrest you?"
"Not that I'm aware of." Derek shrugged. "Then again, given what happened before..."
The sheriff didn't flinch. "How do you know my son?"
"He apologized for getting me arrested." Derek dug in his pocket for his wallet, pulling out a small card and handing it to the sheriff. "Gave me this, told me to stop looking like a creeper."
The sheriff took the card, a guide for what to do if detained by the police with a lawyer's phone number scribbled on the bottom, and groaned. "Of course he did."
Derek stuffed his hands in his pockets and said, "I think I'm supposed to ask if I'm free to leave."
"You are." Handing him back the card, the sheriff said, "I just thought I'd tell you personally that Kate Argent was found dead at your old house. Looks like another animal attack, even if it's the damndest thing that all the people the animal attacked were connected to the fire."
Staying silent seemed the best course, and after a moment the sheriff sighed. "Look, I don't understand what's going on, but... If you ever feel like letting us know why Kate Argent would want to target your family, it would help."
He could hear Stiles sucking in a breath outside the door, and felt his insides freeze at the thought that he might have guessed. "No," Derek said sharply, and the sheriff's eyes softened. It was clear where Stiles got his deductive skills from, but Derek was writhing internally, desperate for escape. "Can I go?"
"Of course, son." The sheriff stepped away from the door, leaving the way clear. "Just let me know if you change your mind."
He left, barely acknowledging Stiles as he stood next to the door in an exaggerated show of innocence that would've been spotted as fake by people in space. Derek tensed, waiting for Stiles to say something, anything, about what his father had said, but instead Stiles said, "Come on, big guy, I need you to shake this vending machine and get it to give up my Reese's."
"You're ridiculous," Derek said, but followed anyway.
The chairs were moderately torturous to sit in, but they were better than the ground in the abandoned train station. Stiles looked horrified when Derek said as much, sometime so late into the night that it was probably morning. "Dude. No. As pack manager, I veto any locations where I could get tetanus."
That sentence was a lot to take in. He understood all the individual words, but somehow they failed to add up. "As what?"
"Pack manager. I decided I needed an official title for when we start recruiting - I've got a couple of candidates in mind, but obviously interviews will have to wait." He looked so pleased with himself, Derek had a moment of wondering if maybe he was the one who wasn't making any sense. "Usually there's, like, a first beta, right? Except I can't be that since, you know, human, but without a title people might not realize how far up the hierarchy I am."
Derek was starting to understand and sympathize with the sheriff's habit of rubbing his forehead. "I'm the alpha."
"Wasn't arguing that, dude." Stiles poked his side and said, "In any case, we got away from the point, which is that we need decent and sanitary living conditions. Maybe I could talk my dad into letting you stay with us - we just need to come with a way to sell it. And you'd have to get a job so you could work towards getting a place of your own."
"Or I could just get a place." It probably wasn't a bad idea. The lawyers had called a few times to ask him about coming in to sign papers for the family trust, and they could get him a list of the current properties so he could scout out a good location.
Stiles gave him a dubious look. "Not sure potential landlords are going to dig the leather and stubble thing. Not to mention the wanted posters still scattered around town."
Baring his teeth in a parody of a smile, Derek said, "Just as well I don't need to deal with landlords."
"Oh my God, seriously? What's your plan, you're just going to walk in somewhere and stay? Without ever talking to anyone?" Stiles shook his head. "Like that's going to work."
"It works when you own it," Derek pointed out.
Stiles stared at him, his mouth hanging open, and finally sputtered, "You... You... Your car! And, and, and the house, the house was huge!"
The journey of revelation didn't seem to require Derek to participate, so he just raised both eyebrows and waited it out. Finally, Stiles closed his mouth and brought himself under control, until another thought occurred to him and he said indignantly, "Why the hell did I pay for the air mattress and all your food while you stayed with me if you're so rich?"
"You owed me," Derek said with a shrug, fighting the urge to grin when Stiles puffed up like a wet chicken. "And it's not like you could use my debit card."
"Okay, fair point," Stiles said grudgingly. "But you are totally going down to the gift shop with me when it opens and underwriting a seriously expensive get well gift for Lydia."
Mouth quirking up, Derek said, "Does the pack manager say so?"
"He does," Stiles said firmly, then yawned so widely his back teeth were visible. "Hopefully it'll help buy us time to explain before she kicks us out."
Waiting outside of Lydia's room was nervewracking, but doing it while Derek was away was worse. And, of course, he was also conveniently absent when her dad showed up, scowling at Stiles and his tasteful arrangement of flowers and balloons. "Who are you? Why are you outside my daughter's room?"
"I'm Stiles," he blurted out, then winced. "Not that you would know who I am, why would you, but, yeah, I'm Stiles, Stilinksi, and I'm, I go to school with your daughter?"
The look as if Stiles was something nasty on the sidewalk was familiar, although Mr. Martin did not have Lydia's talent at looking beautiful while sneering. "Why are you here?"
"I'm just... waiting to wish her well." Stiles wiggled one of the balloons emblazoned with a cheerful message to underscore the point, which did not seem to impress Mr. Martin in the slightest.
"Well, Stiles, my daughter has been through a very trying time and--"
"Mr. Martin?" Derek's voice sounded completely different from normal, and when Stiles looked up he didn't even know what to make of his relaxed smile and friendly expression. A raid of the hospital pharmacy or alien possession were the top two contenders for what the hell was going on. "I'm sorry I haven't been able to return your calls yet, things have been hectic and then Stiles and I have been here to offer as much support to Lydia as we can."
Stiles felt his jaw drop slightly at Derek's managing to look sad, rueful, and charming all at once. Seriously, what the hell? And Mr. Martin was practically melting in the face of it, his "stepped in dog poo" face just completely wiped away. "Mr. Hale?"
"Derek, please." Derek held out his hand to shake, and smiled some more. Stiles looked around to check that he was still in the same reality that he'd been in five minutes before. "After all, your firm has been helping my family for decades."
"Martin and Greenberg has always been happy to be of service to the Hales." After letting go of the clasp, Mr. Martin looked around and then gave a little half jump, probably from realizing he wasn't in one of the usual schmoozing locations. "You said the two of you were here for Lydia?"
Nodding, Stiles said, "See, Derek here, he's my friend. My bro, even. We're bros. That's why he came with me."
Derek shot him a side-eye that was really uncalled for, then turned his attention back to Mr. Martin. "Stiles got separated from Lydia during the dance, and when he heard that Jackson had found her and brought her to the hospital he felt terrible about leaving without her."
"I should've stayed," Stiles said, looking down and letting his shoulders droop. It wasn't as if it was hard to fake feeling guilty, since he did. Leaving her lying bloody on that field had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done. "I thought she was safe with Jackson."
"Of course." Mr. Martin's face softened towards him, just a fraction. "Well, you boys are certainly welcome to stay - I'm sure she'll appreciate the thought."
They followed him in, exchanging looks behind his back which Stiles thought clearly communicated his own request for explanations to come later of the alien charm, and Derek's highly expressive 'shut up' conveyed mostly via eyebrow. After giving Lydia a kiss on the cheek and consulting the nurse about what was being done for her, Mr. Martin moved right into talking at Derek about trusts and investments and debentures and probate. It was giving Stiles a headache, but Derek was nodding and making comments that must have been appropriate, given the way Mr. Martin was responding.
Stiles just watched Lydia, until at one point he could have sworn she twitched. His eyes flew to Derek, who barely flicked a glance at him before saying, "Actually, would you be willing to go get the papers I need to sign? I'd be more comfortable dealing with you than either of the senior partners."
"Oh, but..." Mr. Martin trailed off with a look at Lydia's still form, then gathered himself and said, "You boys will be here, right? I'll only be gone a few minutes."
He'd barely closed the door behind him when Stiles flailed, not even sure where to start the question. Derek shrugged. "His grandfather put other people in charge, so this one's always desperate to feel important. Pete--"
Derek's voice cracked and he broke off, then took a deep breath and started again. "My uncle always made up things for him to do, just to see if he'd do it. He always did."
In all of the drive to defeat the alpha and save everybody, Stiles had kind of lost track of the fact that it had been a member of Derek's family doing all of that, the only member of Derek's family left alive - and he'd had to kill him. Stiles couldn't imagine having the strength; if it had been his dad...
The silence stretched out so long that Stiles couldn't bear it, and he blurted out, "I'm sorry your uncle turned into a supervillain."
With a huff from Derek, the tension in the room broke and dissipated. Stiles tried a tentative smile, and he thought he was getting one in return when Lydia shot upright and opened her mouth to scream.
Stiles scrambled to do something, but Derek just put a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet until she shook him off with a glare. "Who the hell are you?"
"We came to tell you what's going on," Stiles said hurriedly, not sure how soon the nurses would come in. "Derek's a friend."
"Not my friend," she snapped, wincing as she settled back down. "There was a monster. I saw it, and then last night a man... a monster... I'm not crazy, I'm not."
Looking at Derek, Stiles scrunched his face and bared his teeth. Derek widened his eyes and gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, at which point Stiles had no choice but to narrow his eyes and growl. Derek rolled his eyes and his neck at the same time, until he was standing at Lydia's bedside with his eyes glowing and his cheeks covered with hair. He ducked his head forward and raised his brow ridges, clearly asking if Stiles was happy now. Stiles nodded and smirked.
Then jumped and almost fell backward when Lydia dug her nails into his arm and hissed, "You are going to tell me everything."
"Yes! Absolutely!" It might not be attractive to yelp, but Stiles was pretty sure that's what he was doing. Lydia gave him a long, hard look before nodding and letting go. Derek, the traitor, was doing his repressed laugh face, completely sans extra toothiness but once again double plus on eyebrows. "Oh, shut up. No one asked you."
"Entertaining as this is," Lydia said sharply, "I need a shower. Take these things off me."
Derek shook his head. "Stiles. Get a nurse."
After a look between Derek and Lydia, he said, "Okay, fine. But no deep conversations without me!"
Stiles ran to get Mrs. McCall and ran back, but all he succeeded in doing was getting all involved to look at him as if he was crazy. As predicted, Lydia wasn't allowed to get in the shower with her side still gaping open, and luckily Derek was there to elbow Stiles hard in the ribs and cut off what was about to become an offer to give Lydia a sponge bath. It was even more lucky he was there when Lydia stopped talking in the middle of a demand for answers and stared blankly ahead before running to the window.
"Holy shit, is she trying to climb out?" Stiles watched Derek struggle to hold Lydia, who was fighting his hold with a strength her small frame shouldn't have held.
Gritting his teeth, Derek said, "Call the nurse again and then come help me, you idiot!"
In a mad scramble, Stiles dove for the bed and fumbled with cables until he came to the right one, mashing the button down. "What's going on? Is it some kind of werewolf trance? Is she going to be okay? How can he be controlling her, isn't he dead?"
"Not now!" Derek almost dropped Lydia as she let her weight go slack, only to land in a crouch and drive the top of her skull into his jaw. Her nails dragged down his face just as Scott's mom came in and then called back out for help as she tried to take the struggling Lydia from him. "Stiles!"
He let go as Mrs. McCall got her hands around Lydia's wrists, not even a little bit interested in being arrested for kidnapping a teenaged girl. Thankfully Stiles had clued in and was blocking the window, even if it looked for one horrible moment as if it just meant that Lydia would take him with her. Derek had just enough time to grab the back of her hospital gown, pulling her back and sending her spinning, snarling and jumping for the door.
Mrs. McCall dove in her way that time, barking orders behind her for someone to prepare an injection. Her voice broke off as she looked at Derek's arm, and he looked down as well to see his skin knitting together where Lydia had scratched him before. He couldn't even move his arms away to cover it up, since that would mean letting go.
"I can explain!" Stiles winced as Mrs. McCall turned to look at him. "Just, maybe, it's safer for Scott if no one finds out about... Any of that."
Mrs. McCall gave him a hard look, but someone else was coming in and she started snapping orders, grabbing one of Lydia's hands and having Stiles take the other as two other nurses grabbed her feet and a third one stabbed a hypodermic into Lydia's thigh. Her struggles started fading almost immediately and the others gradually let go until Derek was left to place her on the bed and hurriedly move back to pick up his jacket and slip it on.
If he'd hoped it would distract Mrs. McCall from her questions, her narrowed eyes were enough to disabuse him of the notion. "Why don't you boys wait for me outside? I'll buy you a cup of coffee on my break to thank you for your help."
"Sounds great!" Stiles hoped the expression on his face was chipper, but maniacal was probably a better descriptor. "So, yeah, I know where the breakroom is and we'll just go, and we'll wait! We're good at waiting!"
He gripped Derek's shoulder and tried to pull him along, only to stumble and fall over when Derek didn't actually move. Instead he said, "She should be restrained. In case she tries to go for the window again."
"Believe it or not, she isn't my first patient," Mrs. McCall said. "Now go. And don't even think about sneaking out."
Stiles winked and pointed at Mrs. McCall with finger guns. Derek felt embarrassed to be in the same galaxy. "Wouldn't dream of it! We'll be right there, waiting! Do you want us to get you some coffee or anything? A pastry? Do they still have that really good potato soup, because--"
Dragging Stiles out by the collar seemed like the only way to make it stop, so Derek put the thought into practice and ended the excruciating moment of Stiles pretending anyone believed he hadn't intended to flee.
Neither of them spoke again until Derek had dropped Stiles into one of the breakroom chairs, and Stiles rubbed his hands over his face. "So, to recap, crazy uncle Peter is dead but Lydia's going through the same kind of mind control mojo that he used on Scott, crazy psycho Kate is dead and my dad is investigating, we still need more werewolves for our pack, and now we're going to have to explain everything to my best friend's mom, who may or may not kill me for getting her son turned into a creature of the night... who is going to kill me for outing him to his mom."
"You're explaining," Derek said firmly. "I'll give you your privacy."
"Derek Sorensen Hale." Stiles gave him a look of such evil intensity that Derek's shoulders tightened with the urge to fight or flee. "If you even think about leaving me alone with this, I will make you suffer."
Rolling his eyes, Derek threw himself down into one of the chairs and crossed his arms. This promised to be a little slice of hell, but at least Stiles only had that version of his middle name and not the real one.
Derek had drifted off at some point, but snapped awake when he heard the sheriff just outside the door, telling Scott's mom that Stiles would never let Scott get hurt, let alone threaten him. "Your dad's here."
Flailing so hard that he almost fell out of his chair, Stiles managed to yell in a whisper, "What?"
There wasn't time to answer before Mrs. McCall flung the door open, leaving the sheriff to lock it behind them. "You boys are going to explain, and you're going to explain now."
"So, you know, funny story--"
The sheriff stopped Stiles with a hard look. "Stop lying. Stiles, you... Just stop."
Derek held still, not wanting to be part of the storm of emotions in the room and hoping against hope that they would just ignore him. Stiles swallowed hard, but nodded. "It's... There's been a lot going on, and its, I just wanted to keep you safe."
"I'm the dad! I'm the one supposed to be keeping you safe, not to mention all the people in the county!" The sheriff's hands curled into fists and then opened again. "People like that girl currently doped out of her mind after a violent episode you just happened to be there for, just like you just happened to take her to the dance!"
Stiles was folding in on himself, as if his dad's anger was making him try to shrink and disappear. Derek found that he was speaking before he'd quite intended to. "None of it is his fault, he was only trying to help."
The sheriff's eyes turned and Derek felt like he was being pinned to his chair by the hard gaze. "That's another question, why are you so involved in my sixteen year old's life?"
He couldn't think of a single thing to say, but apparently the brief reprieve had been enough for Stiles to get himself together. In a colder voice than Derek was used to hearing from him, Stiles said, "He's my friend, Dad. I'm allowed to have those, right?"
"Friends aren't usually people you accused of murder!" The sheriff looked beyond exasperated, ready to start pacing or shaking Stiles by the scruff of the neck.
Mrs. McCall held up her hand and said, "None of this explains what Scott has to do with this guy's cuts closing up instantly."
One look at Stiles was enough to let him see the thousand thoughts running behind the boy's eyes, trying to come up with an explanation other than the truth. Derek shook his head slightly, then lowered his brows in response to Stiles tightening his mouth. Stiles threw up his hands and said, "All right, fine! Scott's a werewolf, just like Derek! Happy now?"
Stiles looked shocked at his own words, then a mixture of defiance and defeat as the parents looked at him with disbelief, impatience, and a bit of resignation. Even as Stiles puffed himself up to argue, Derek shifted his face and hands, letting the light hit his claws and fangs. It went against every tenet of secrecy he'd ever been taught, but he couldn't wait through all of the inevitable arguing. And if it kept Stiles from hunching his shoulders and looking like he was alone in fighting off the entire world, well, that was just a bonus.
"The animal attacks." The sheriff's eyes went hard and he reached for his gun. "Your sister, who had wolf hair and claw marks that predated the sword cut."
"Hey, hey, that was a big misunderstanding." Stiles edged in front of Derek, holding his hands up. "Derek just buried her like a big creeper but, you know, trauma and..." He stopped and swallowed hard, his voice softer and shaky as he continued. "Sometimes people do stupid things when they lose someone important."
There was obviously a lot behind that statement, since it made Mrs. McCall's eyes soften and it took the sheriff a long moment before he said gruffly, "And the janitor?"
"It was all Scott's idea to blame it on Derek," Stiles said. "We thought he was dead at the time. Derek, not the janitor. Although also the janitor, it's not like we didn't know he was dead, kinda hard to miss--"
"Werewolves heal fast," Derek said, cutting off the flow before Stiles elaborated any more on his intimate knowledge of murder and murder victims. "If you shot me with a regular bullet, I'd be fine a few minutes later."
"You know, I always wondered, does where you get shot matter? I mean, your lungs were hamburger and you healed, but what if you got shot in, like, the forehead? Neuroplasticity, yeah, but the prefrontal cortex is kind of important, not to mention the autonomic functions. And does the bullet get pushed out, or do you guys just heal around it?" Stiles looked at him expectantly, completely oblivious to the way the sheriff and Mrs. McCall were looking at the two of them.
Thankfully, the sheriff cut in before Derek could even begin to untangle where to start responding. "So you're saying Derek had nothing to do with any of these deaths, even though they all connect back to the fire that killed his family?"
"It was his uncle," Stiles said. "But he's dead now. No more murders, yay?"
"His uncle - the one in a coma?" The sheriff dragged a hand over his face. "I've got a missing persons report out on him from the hospital."
Sinking in on himself, Stiles said, "We had to. He killed his nurse, he attacked Lydia... He's the one that bit Scott."
"He wouldn't have stopped," Derek said. "He would have killed all the Argents, and Stiles and Scott when they got in his way."
Nodding so quickly that his neck looked like a spring, Stiles said, "He'd already tried to get Scott to kill me a couple of times, even before the creepy pedophile kidnapping and bite recruitment speech."
"Kidnapping?" The sheriff looked completely done. "You kidnapped someone?"
"He got kidnapped," Derek bit out. "By my uncle."
Neither of the Stilinskis spoke, Stiles looking down at the floor and completely missing the way his dad reflexively reached for him, heartbreak obvious in his eyes. The silence dragged until Mrs. McCall said, "This is why I haven't had to buy a new inhaler in months, isn't it? It doesn't just heal lacerations and gunshots, it cured his asthma."
"It did," Stiles said, making finger guns and pointing them at her. "Totally cured of a potentially life-threatening disease, total bonus, right?"
His manic enthusiasm at least broke the tension, even if it made his father bring a hand up to scrub a palm over his face. "Stiles, you... I don't even know where to start."
"The girl might turn," Derek said. "We should know by tomorrow, one way or another."
"Then I suggest my son spends some time at home," the sheriff said firmly. "Mr. Hale. Where can I find you if I need to talk to you?"
Shrugging, Derek said, "Here, until I'm sure the girl won't hurt herself or anyone else."
"Dad! Come on, we need to get home so I can really think about my actions." Stiles looked sideways at Derek, incredibly obvious in his attempt at sparing Derek's feelings. He almost felt like he could appreciate it. "Mrs. McCall, just--"
"Go home, Stiles." Her eyes flicked between him and Derek, but she was much better than Stiles at keeping her feelings to herself.
After the sheriff had dragged Stiles away, she looked at Derek more fully and sighed. "Just... go somewhere I don't have to see you."
With a nod, Derek slipped out of the room and made his way to the roof. He could still keep an ear on Lydia without having to be around anyone. And if, while he was there, he let himself think about the years his uncle had spent in that same building, let himself mourn that he was completely alone again, the last of the Hales, it was no one else's business.
School was about the least fun Stiles could think of at the moment; even a root canal would've had the benefits of drugs and being over quickly. As it was, the only saving grace was that it got him away from his dad constantly coming up to his door, looking at him, then shaking his head and walking away. Having someone shove him as they walked by was the last straw.
"Hey, asshole!" Stiles shoved back, knocking down a blond guy he thought might be on the lacrosse team. "The hallway doesn't-- Whoa, are you okay?" The look on the guy's face and the way he flinched and started to curl into a ball said the answer was clearly no.
The guy just muttered something as he pulled himself slowly to his feet, ignoring the attempts Stiles made to help and shrugging away as quickly as possible. Scott drifted up to join him, giving him a wide-eyed look. "What? Look, he shoved me first! That was totally not my fault!"
Shaking his head, Scott dismissed the blond's existence in order to fall in step with Stiles. "Mom said you were helping Lydia, but then she said you were grounded. What happened?"
"Is that, uh, is that all she said?" In all his preoccupation with his own dad's reaction, he'd completely forgotten that he and Derek had sort of outed Scott to his mom. The thought made guilt churn in his stomach.
"Yeah, she picked up an extra shift so I only saw her for, like, five minutes." Scott obviously had no earthly idea why he would ask, and Stiles was really, really tempted to leave it that way and let Mrs. McCall be the one to deal with telling Scott she knew about his werewolfiness.
That would such a beyond epic violation of the bro code, though, that Stiles discarded the thought quickly. "So. Funny story. You know how Lydia got bitten?"
Scott's brow furrowed. "Yeah, didn't you want to go check on her? You never called."
"Derek went with me," Stiles said with a shrug. "I figured I'd give you as much Allison-time as possible, and it's not like he was busy."
"Oh. Cool." Scott sounded a bit weird, but maybe it was because he clearly knew Stiles was avoiding the subject. "So what happened?"
Waving an arm, Stiles said, "Dude, she went nuts. Like, remember how you said that you'd be asleep and then you'd be in the forest? She was totally possessed or sleepwalking or something, but Derek had to hold her down until your mom could knock her out!"
"Dude!" Scott's jaw was hanging open as he looked at Stiles. "Do you think that means Peter's still alive?"
"I don't know, but I'm tempted to salt and burn the body." Stiles shrugged his bag higher on his shoulder. "I'll bring it up with Derek, just float the idea. But, yeah, your mom saw Derek healing and we had to tell her and my dad everything."
Stiles made his escape, dropping into his seat in the classroom and digging for his notebook, pens, lint from the bottom of the bag - anything to avoid looking at Scott, who had taken the seat next to him. "What do you mean, everything?"
Sinking into his chair, Stiles muttered, "Everything."
"Stiles!" The teacher shot them a look and Stiles sat up straight, looking forward. Scott looked torn, but subsided when the teacher pulled down her glasses to look at him over the frames.
The instant class was over, Scott turned to Stiles, who was scrambling to get his things put away. "Can't talk, you know how Señora Diaz gets, oh look, there's Allison!"
Scott looked up just long enough to let Stiles grab his bag and shoot out of his seat, only to actually run into Allison just outside the door. "Holy-- No, this is good, hi, hey, Allison, you may need to keep Scott from getting really violent in a minute, okay? Okay, good. Maybe let's go somewhere no one will notice sudden grrr. That might be helpful."
"Okay?" Allison looked confused but was still smiling, so Stiles was willing to count it as a win. "What's going on?"
"I may have sort of told Scott's mom - and my dad - about the furry thing." Stiles felt his face twisted. "That sounded so much worse than just saying werewolves."
Scrubbing his hands over his face, Scott moaned, "I can't believe you told my mom. Do you think that's why she left the house so quickly?"
"Dude, my dad will barely look at me," Stiles said. "At least your mom spoke to you."
"Maybe it's better this way." Allison laid a hand on Scott's elbow and looked at him intently. "You don't have to keep secrets. I can't imagine hiding anything that big from my parents."
Scott looked at her soulfully and Stiles was torn between feeling vaguely nauseous at the sheer amount of sap in the air and being grateful for Allison's existence. "So. Yeah. Also, Lydia might be possessed."
"What?" Allison turned to Stiles, her eyes hard, and Stiles jumped. "My mom said she'd be fine, that she wouldn't turn if she hadn't already."
"Yeah, Derek said the same thing, but then she woke up and tried to climb out the window with this dead look on her face, like Scott gets in math class."
Scott's protest was lost as Allison's jaw got tight. "We need to go see her. Right now."
"It's okay, Derek's watching her." Both of them turned to Stiles, who put up his hands defensively. "What?"
Crossing her arms, Allison said, "He's a murderer."
"Only the one time, and that was a group effort." Waving an arm to emphasize the point, he added, "Hands up, anyone who wouldn't have done the same thing?"
"He helped his uncle, right up until he saw his chance to take power." Allison looked grim, her mouth pressed into a thin line. "My mom said he's going to be dangerously out of control now, but we can't put him down until he hurts someone."
Drawing back, Stiles said, "Put him down?"
Scott looked between them uncertainly. "You just said we all would have done it with Peter. I mean, if he hurts people--"
"Seriously? You don't see a difference there? At all?" Stiles threw his hands up in disgust. "I don't even know what to say here. I'm speechless, literally speechless."
"Stiles, he already tried to kill Jackson," Scott said gravely.
Holding up a hand in front of Scott's face, Stiles said, "Weren't you the one who said he wasn't going to kill anyone? Right around when I wanted to let him die and you wanted to save him so he would help you protect Allison? Remember that, Scotty?"
"They can't help it," Allison said softly. "He's going to bite people and it's all going to start all over again."
"Why, is there another conspiracy that killed his entire family just for existing?" Allison reared back like he'd slapped her. "I'm going to class. Because of all the things we have to worry about, Derek Hale is about number two hundred and nine."
He stomped off, leaving Allison to turn to Scott and hide her face against his shoulder. He could feel Scott's accusatory glare behind him and he had a pang of regret for making Allison so upset. It hadn't been that long ago that he'd thought about Derek the same way, as dangerous and crazy and not to be trusted. He wasn't sure when that had changed, if it was just because Derek had wanted him to be in his pack. Maybe it had been when he realized that, the whole time he'd been telling himself it didn't matter what happened to Derek, the sadistic bitch that had killed his family had been torturing him. And, through it all, Derek hadn't said anything about Scott.
The same kid who'd knocked into him earlier went by, his scarf slipping down to show a hell of a bruise on his neck before he quickly brought it back up. Stiles jogged a bit to try to catch up to him, only to be pulled up short when someone grabbed the back of his shirt. "Where's Derek?"
"Are you kidding me?" Stiles yanked his shirt out of Jackson's grasp, almost falling over from the force of it.
"You know where he is," Jackson said, getting close enough that Stiles could have counted his eyelashes. "Tell me."
Stiles just glared. "Why should I tell you anything? We're not exactly friends, douchebag. Have you even been to see Lydia?"
"Why would I bother?" Jackson's sneer was approaching epic levels. "Just tell me where Derek is. He owes me."
Rearing back, Stiles looked at him in disbelief. "Are you for real right now? Have you suffered any head trauma lately? You know, steroids have been shown to have a negative effect on academic and--"
He was cut off by the slam of his back against a set of lockers. "Think you're funny? You're not."
"I'm hilarious." Stiles could feel his heart pounding, but he refused to cower. "And you're a jackass who is never going to be part of my pack."
"Your pack?" Jackson laughed nastily.
Pushing off Jackson's hands, Stiles said, "Damn straight it's my pack. And you're not invited."
Still sneering, even if Stiles thought he saw a hint of a crack in the facade, Jackson said, "You're not a werewolf. He wouldn't have bitten you."
"He would've, but he didn't." Stiles leaned forward, speaking softly but in deadly earnest. "Bet that burns you up, doesn't it? You, running around begging for something I turned down. But guess what? I don't need superpowers to be better than you."
Jackson took a step back, smirking and giving a scoffing huff. "There's no world in which you're better than me."
Shrugging, Stiles said, "Guess that's why I'm the pack manager and you got cut from the roster before the first round of tryouts."
If Jackson had a response, Stiles didn't bother listening, just walked past him and straight into class. He'd have to remember to text Derek later and make absolutely sure that he knew to never, ever, under no circumstances should he ever consider laying a fang on Jackson.
Derek has spent time in the hospital before, both visiting Peter and as part of the community service requirement in high school. The smell took a while to get used to, and it had taken some concentration to filter out the beeps and whirrs of the endless machinery, but it was an old habit and easy to relearn. The main problem was finding a place to monitor what was going on while being inconspicuous.
He thought he'd finally found a good spot in the stairwell, but then the door swung open and he just barely caught a set of scrubs before they hit his face. "Come on. If you're going to stay, you're going to work."
"Seriously?" He looked at the powder blue scrubs and then at Scott's mom.
"You need a reason for being here and I need floors mopped," she said with a shrug. "If you stop freaking out the other nurses, you might get upgraded to reading to people after the shift changes."
Derek just looked between her and the scrubs again while she gave him a hard look, then the wind seemed to go out of her and she sighed. "Whether I like it or not - and I really don't by the way - you're the only source I've got for what's going on with my son."
Lowering his head, Derek murmured, "The bite is supposed to be a gift."
"A return policy might be nice," she said drily.
"You don't return family members." Derek's lips quirked for a moment as he remembered his mom telling him that when he'd wanted to send Cora back where she came from after the first night she'd been home from the hospital and screaming her head off. Now he'd give anything to have her back.
There was a long moment of quiet until Derek nodded and bunched the scrubs in his hand. "I'll just go change."
She stood back to let him go past, steering him to the locker room just off the lounge where they'd told her and the sheriff everything. It wasn't like it would be a bad thing to be busy while he waited to see what happened with Lydia.
The worst wasn't the monotony or the drudgery, or even the grossness of having to clean puke off the floor. All those were just part of illness and recovery, and he could deal with them easily. The constant stream of people coming to look at him, and the few that gathered up the courage to flirt, were the real trial. It was a struggle to be polite, especially when he could hear them talking about him like his body was something they could just use and throw away.
He couldn't just block things out because he had to keep an ear out for Lydia, who kept cycling through between a drugged sedation and violent attempts at escape. The few brief moments of lucidity were either spent snapping out sarcastic comments or tearfully asking what was wrong with her. Neither was enough to get the restraints removed, especially after one nurse had loosened them and then been knocked flat as Lydia fought free and almost made it to the window. Derek had caught her in time, leaving his mop and bucket in the middle of the hall as he ran in and hauled her off her feet.
It wasn't until late in the afternoon that Stiles came by, but he was promptly and firmly herded out by Tyshawna, who just crossed her arms and waited out his arguments before pointing to the door. Stiles went. Derek kept mopping.
Melissa - who had gotten tired of being addressed as Mrs. McCall about an hour into what had now been a nine hour shift, watched Stiles go with an odd mix of anger and sadness in on her face and in her scent. Softly, Derek said, "He's just trying to help."
"I know," Melissa said, arms held tightly around her middle. "But if he hadn't dragged my son out in the middle of the night, my son wouldn't be a monster."
He didn't know what his face did that made her start stumbling over her own words, but he couldn't talk about it right then, couldn't make his tongue move to respond. All he wanted to do was leave, but he had to deal with the mop and then someone was calling him and at least it let him walk away from Melissa trying to work out a way to say that she didn't mean him.
"Jesus Christ!" Derek raised his eyebrows as Melissa's arms flew up and she jumped backwards, banging her elbow against the door. "What the hell are you doing up here?"
Not really sure how to answer, Derek stayed quiet while she got her heartbeat under control. Finally, she said, "I thought you'd left."
"I wasn't sure they'd keep her under once you went home." Derek settled back down to sit with his back to the edge of the roof now that he knew she wasn't coming up to have him mop some more.
She hesitated for a moment before sitting next to him and pulling out a packet of cigarettes, the lighter tucked inside. "Don't tell Scott about this."
"He'll be able to smell it." She gave him a disbelieving look and he nodded. "Our senses are enhanced. Better hearing, better sight, better sense of smell."
"Guess now I know why he finally started taking the garbage out on a regular basis." She lit the cigarette and took a deep drag, tilting her head back to blow the smoke upward. "I quit, you know. When I got pregnant."
Derek glanced at her sideways. "I've heard those things will kill you."
"Yeah, that's the rumor." She leaned back, her legs bent and her wrists dangling from her knees. "Then again, I've also heard that werewolves don't exist."
She was almost through with the cigarette when he said, "The first time I saw a movie with a werewolf in it, I hid under my bed until my mom came home."
Her lips curled up, just slightly. "How old were you?"
"I was five. Laura, my older sister, she snuck it into the house and was watching it while my uncle, Peter, was supposed to be babysitting us." Derek closed his eyes, trying to picture the living room in his mind. "I was terrified that I was going to lose control like the movie werewolf and then someone would have to kill me."
He stayed silent for a moment, just remembering how Laura had been torn between laughing and comforting him, and how his mom had tried to crawl under the bed with him despite her heavily pregnant belly after he'd refused to come out for fear of hurting her and the baby. "She told me that we were predators, but we didn't have to be killers. That any human could be a monster, and that just because we have teeth and claws sometimes doesn't mean we stop being humans. We just need to learn control."
"Scott was terrified of the stork song in Dumbo when he was a toddler. Still have no idea why." Melissa took a last puff and stubbed the cigarette out on the asphalt floor next to her. "But the train was his favorite, so I had to get it down to a science, exactly when to stop rewinding so that we'd hit the sweet spot."
Derek looked at her quizzically and she shrugged. "He could be a weird kid sometimes."
They sat in silence and she pulled out another cigarette but didn't light it, just sat and stared at it as if it had the answer to a question she didn't know how to ask. Derek just closed his eyes and leaned his head back, trying to will away the tiredness that seemed like it would overwhelm him.
"Come on." Melissa stood, and he opened his eyes to see her holding a hand out to him. "You can catch a nap in the break room. I've got two more hours, and then I'll be back ten hours after that so you can get some real sleep and then figure out a better solution than keeping that poor girl drugged to the gills."
Standing up stiffly, he cleared his throat. "Scott's boss... You could call him. He won't help me, but he might help you."
"The vet?" She looked at him in disbelief. "Sure, okay, why not. I'll tell Scott to ask him if they included violent fugue states in vet school."
"Sure, Derek, come on in," Stiles said as Derek pulled open his window from the outside. "Nice to see you again. Thanks for returning all my messages. Let me just check my phone, because I must have missed your replies while I was just sitting here, waiting, going slowly out of my mind."
"I didn't have a charger with me," Derek said with a shrug. "Was it anything important?"
Sputtering, Stiles tried to think of a way to say yes and be completely honest. It wasn't coming to him. "Whatever, how's Lydia?"
"Melissa's keeping her under so that I can get some rest." Derek looked towards the closet and Stiles sighed, waving a hand.
As Derek dragged out the air mattress, Stiles pulled out one of his spare chargers. "So, any thoughts as to what's actually causing this? Or how to fix it?"
"No idea," Derek said. "There's some books... I can take you to look through them, but I don't know what's there. Peter was always the one who kept up with the library."
"Great." Shoving the charger at Derek, Stiles pushed him out of the way to take over setting up the air pump. "Just let me, you're doing it all wrong. Did you seriously never go camping as a kid?"
Rolling his eyes, Derek said, "We didn't take mattresses. The point of camping is to get away from civilization, not to bring it with you."
"Mankind has spent thousands of years creating conveniences like a place to sleep without rocks or hay poking into your back." With a twist of his hand, Stiles finally got the air flowing the right way to fill the mattress. "Why would we turn our back on centuries of progress just to sleep a few inches closer to spiders and dirt?"
"If you're just going to sleep on a mattress, why not stay home?" Derek shrugged his jacket off and laid it over the desk chair, where it would be out of sight if the sheriff came in. It probably wasn't necessary anymore, but the habits of discretion were deeply ingrained by now.
Stiles rolled his eyes and left the pump working as he dug in the closet and came up with a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, both of which still smelled like Derek. "Sorry I didn't get to wash these. There's been a lot going on."
"It's not like laundry has ever been one of your priorities," Derek said with a pointed look at the piles of clothes at the bottom of the closet.
"Shut up, at least I wash dishes instead of leaving them for magic fairies to take care of." Stiles froze as he reached to switch the pump off. "Oh my God, there aren't, are there?"
Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. "How can you be as old as you are and believe in fairies?"
Shooting him a look as he put the pump away, Stiles said, "Dude. Werewolves are real."
It was a valid point, but since Derek didn't want to acknowledge it, he just turned away to start changing into the sleep clothes Stiles had pulled out. Stiles kept talking, babbling about the placebo effect and Occam's Razor and the untapped potential of the human mind, all while moving around to drop sheets on the air mattress and change into his own pajamas before turning the light off and crawling into bed.
"I used to play baseball," Derek said, laying back on the air mattress with his hands folded behind his head on the one pillow Stiles deigned to give him.
"Okay?" Stiles leaned over the side of the bed to peer at him through the dim light coming from the window. "So you weren't listening to me, and you were a jock in high school. Was there more to glean from that pearl of knowledge?"
Extending his arm was all that was needed to flick Stiles on the forehead and send him scrambling back onto his bed. "You were talking about The Secret. It wasn't worth listening to."
Stiles tossed a book at him, but it went so far off course that Derek didn't even have to dodge. "You're a jerk."
"Our team manager couldn't throw for shit, either," Derek said. "But if he wasn't there the stats were screwed up and we didn't have anything to drink."
Throwing himself back on the bed, Stiles huffed, "Still not seeing your point, big guy."
"Maybe my pack could use a manager." Derek closed his eyes and pretended he hadn't heard Stiles catch his breath. "Someone has to buy the Gatorade."
After a long moment of silence, Stiles said, "Glad you finally accepted you need someone to do the thinking for you. I accept."
Derek rolled his eyes, but settled in against the pillow and took comfort in the scent of pack. It might not be a traditional arrangement, and part of him was still desperate to have betas who could run with him under the moon, but it was there and it was solid. Everything else could wait until morning.