Things aren’t normal now-Stiles is pretty sure that ‘normal’ has never been a word anyone could associate with Derek Hale. But they’re easier. Isaac and Boyd accept Stiles as one of them with the same calm neutrality they showed when they were beating him senseless every day in the basement cells. Erica, though-doesn’t. She’ll acknowledge Stiles if Derek’s in the room, but that’s it. It’s consistent, at least: she’s never liked Stiles, hasn’t ever done a good job of hiding it.
“It’s Derek’s call, man,” Boyd says when Stiles gets up the nerve to ask him about it one day. “He says you’re okay, you’re okay. If he doesn’t-” He stops, shrugs. “Well, you know.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says ruefully, and hesitates. “So if that’s true, if what Derek says goes, what about Erica? Why won’t she talk to me?”
Boyd looks away, suddenly unwilling to meet Stiles’ eyes. “Derek was with Erica, for a little while. Just before you came,” he explains, voice heavy with reluctance. “She wasn’t happy when he started paying attention to you instead.”
Of course they were together. Stiles sucks in a painful breath: it’s so fucking obvious. He can picture it too easily: Derek ducking down to kiss Erica, hands dark and capable on her white skin, stroking through her honey-blonde hair. They’d make a gorgeous couple, he thinks, and can’t ignore the ugly jealousy that twists through him at that thought.
Stiles spends an awful week after that watching Erica covertly, wondering. She’s aggressively beautiful, all sleek leather over soft curves. Why would Derek pick Stiles over that?
He’s still spinning on it when Derek decides to tell him a few days later-in the middle of making out with Stiles-that the three of them are going on a trip. Which is actually pretty smart on Derek’s part, because Stiles is thoroughly distracted at the time. He’s perched on the kitchen counter trying desperately to keep his balance. Derek’s being pretty much the opposite of helpful on that score; he put Stiles there a few minutes ago, so Stiles isn’t sure why he’s so focused on getting him off it now.
“We’re going on a trip tomorrow,” Derek says, hands warm on Stiles’ thighs, thumbs tracing up the inseam of his jeans. “You and Erica and I.”
It takes Stiles a good thirty seconds to process the sentence, and another thirty to formulate a response to it.
“Does Erica know?” he asks-moans, really. Derek’s decided to multitask and is simultaneously yanking Stiles almost completely off the counter and grinding against him, hips rolling into Stiles at an angle that’s apparently calculated to erase Stiles’ upper brain function. He gives up on balance and just goes with it, lets Derek hold him up and bite kisses down his throat and up his jaw.
“She knows,” Derek says absently, hands busy on Stiles’ fly, and Stiles forgets about everything but Derek after that.
Stiles wakes up slowly the next morning, dread pulling hard at the edges of his thoughts. He manages to ignore it for most of the morning, puts it off with chores, but it comes back with a vengeance when he finally finds himself waiting alone in the mansion’s library. It rises up in him, then, bitter and inevitable. He looks up when the door opens, hoping for Derek, and feels his face fall a little when Erica saunters into the room instead and drops into the leather armchair next to Stiles.
“So we’re going where, exactly?” Stiles asks a little later, mostly to break the silence. He’s not really surprised when Erica leans forward in the chair instead of answering, face inches from his, and grabs his arm.
“He was mine first,” she hisses into his ear, fingernails digging viciously into his skin. “You’re a distraction-a pretty mouth, a different hole, that’s all. He’ll always come back to me. Remember that.”
Stiles holds very still and nods-a bare acknowledgment that she’s talking, nothing more. There’s no reason to give her anything else. She studies his face and nods, satisfied by whatever she sees in it.
The door opens, and Derek leans in. “Ready to go?” he asks, pleasantly. “We’ve got a long drive ahead of us.”
“All set,” Stiles says, and manages to not look at Erica once on the way to the car.
The drive’s only an hour or two, technically, but it feels much longer. They speed through endless miles of drab gold California desert without stopping or talking. The silence isn’t awkward, exactly; it’s just that everything is charged, expectant, like something big is waiting at the end of this road and Stiles is the only person in the car who doesn’t know what it is. He stares out the window and tries to ignore it.
Derek gets off the freeway a few miles in, turning onto increasingly narrow and badly-paved back roads. Stiles doesn’t know where they are, can’t even begin to guess-his knowledge of Beacon Hills ends at Hale House.
When they do finally stop, it’s in an empty field that’s about five miles from any kind of civilization. There’s nothing special about it, as far as Stiles can tell; nothing to distinguish it from any other stretch of open land they passed today. He gets out of the car after Erica and looks up at the flat blue sky, lifeless and stripped even of clouds. It’s almost beautiful- everything is still, waiting, cast in the gold of old photographs by the late afternoon sun.
“Hurry up, Stiles,” Derek says from behind him. “We don’t have much time.”
“Yes,” Erica says sweetly, eyes intent on Stiles. “We have to hurry, don’t we, Derek?” She moves forward with a dancer’s grace, quick and purposeful, but her face-oh, god, her face, it’s wrong.
Stiles watches Erica contort, her bones twisting and reshaping themselves underneath her skin, with a sort of sick fascination. He’s seen bits and pieces of the change before-Derek’s claws down his back, his sharp fangs on Stiles’ neck-but not like this, never like this.
He starts to back up but doesn’t get the chance to; before he can, Derek’s in front of him, shoving him out of the way and snarling viciously at Erica. She jerks back, her expression blurring from anger to fear to blind confusion.
It happens fast, almost too fast for comprehension. Stiles watches Derek’s face shift from human to beast, both lit with unimaginable rage. Derek lifts a hand, clawed and brutal now, and brings it down smoothly across Erica’s throat, trailing bloody ruin in its wake. She collapses jerkily, falling sharp and sudden to the packed earth at Stiles’ feet, face blank even of betrayal, somehow still horribly alive. He stares down at her numbly, watches her try to breathe through the gaping hole Derek ripped through her.
“We don’t die that easy,” Derek says from beside him, human again. “She has to be killed soon, before she heals.” When Stiles turns unsteadily to him, he meets his eyes, gaze unwavering and calm. “You knew what this was when you came here,” Derek reminds him.
“No,” Stiles says, horrified, and then, “You told me pack meant love, protection, family. Not-” He gestures at the gasping thing on the ground before them. “Not this.”
“Did you think there wasn’t a cost attached to that?” Derek asks, tone halfway between mockery and curiosity. “That’s what protection is, Stiles. Sacrificing whatever you have to in order to keep what matters safe.”
“And Erica?” Stiles asks incredulously, close to anger. “Didn’t she matter?”
Derek stares him down. “Erica,” he says contemptuously. “Erica thought she was coming here to help me kill you. She jumped at the chance to betray you. Do you still want to defend her? To leave her alive, after what she’s done to you?”
“No,” Stiles says, because he wants to-has to-believe Derek. He shivers a little at the hatred that blazes up in Erica’s eyes at that. “But I don’t want to kill her, Derek.”
“But you will,” Derek says. How is he always so sure? “For me. I know you can.”
The last time anyone said anything like that to Stiles he was nine, trembling on the diving board above the neighborhood pool. The water can’t have been that deep-eleven, twelve feet at most-but it had seemed fathomless to him at the time.
He tries to remember who had been behind him to encourage him-his mother? his father?-but the memory’s gone, blurred by time. All he remembers is coming up from the water afterwards, breathless and proud.
“I can,” he says, the words jagged in his mouth. “For you.”
Derek’s eyes soften at that, and he wraps an arm around Stiles, pulling him in, warm and possessive, to press a kiss against his temple. “It has to be like this,” he says, softly, and pulls away, nodding at the car. “I need to get something. Wait here. Watch her,” he yells over his shoulder as he jogs away, as if Erica’s in any shape to go anywhere.
Once they’re alone, she and Stiles stare at each other across the bare few feet that separate them. “What the hell did I do to you?” Stiles asks, hopeless with fury, even though he knows she can’t give him an answer he’d want to hear. Or any answer at all; her body’s trying to heal, the red angry edges of the wound pulling together around her ruined throat, but that’s not going to be enough. Stiles is pretty sure that even werewolves have their limits when it comes to healing.
Her eyes aren’t bright anymore; they’re the color of dying embers, the end of something wild and beautiful. Her hands, still sharpened into claws, scrabble weakly at the blood-soaked ground around her. Stiles looks away. He doesn’t want to have to feel bad for her, not now.
Stiles startles when Derek strides into view, holding something-an axe, he realizes, icy dread filtering through him. He holds out shaking hands to take it. “Let’s get it over with, then,” he says, and barely recognizes his own voice.
Derek nods, satisfied, as if Stiles is doing the right thing. And he must be. It has to be, if Derek says it is.
It takes twenty minutes, all told, to finish the job. Erica stares up at him the whole time.
“I should report this, you know,” Stiles murmurs afterwards, axe dangling limply from his hand. It’s an empty threat, and they both know it.
“You won’t,” Derek says calmly. Not ‘can’t’, or ‘shouldn’t’, but ‘won’t’. He knows Stiles won’t, thinks he knows Stiles better than Stiles knows himself. And maybe he does. It wouldn’t be a shock to Stiles if he did.
“No,” Stiles admits, and lets the axe drop to the ground. He’s struggling to stay on his feet, now: exhaustion has made its home in him, curling around his bones and pulling him down. “What now?”
Derek studies him closely, then smiles. He doesn’t smile often, and Stiles thought he knew all of them. This one is unfamiliar: it’s sweet and sunny, changes Derek into just-a guy. Someone Stiles might have worked with or lived next to, someone who likes the Mets and who calls his mom every week. “I’ll take care of it,” he says kindly, and nods towards the car. “You rest.”
Stiles folds himself into the passenger seat and stares blankly out the window. Sleep falls on him like a stone, heavy and sudden.
When he wakes up they’re moving, the car’s headlights the only light Stiles can see for miles. His leg’s cramped up, and he stretches it out gingerly, wincing at the pull.
“Feeling better?” Derek asks, glancing over.
“Yeah, I’m back in the land of the living. More or less.”
“I’m going to stop soon, then. We need gas.” Derek sounds totally normal, like they’re driving back from a hiking trip, not a murder.
The gas station Derek pulls into is tiny and only half-lit. Stiles can see a kid sleeping at the counter, and he’s pretty sure the three of them are the only people around for at least five miles.
There’s a little pavilion nearby, the kind state parks rent out for birthday parties and peewee softball fundraisers. Derek ignores the gas pumps entirely in favor of pulling Stiles out of the car and over to one of the pavilion’s pillars, kissing him breathless.
“What did you and Erica talk about, in the library?” Derek asks afterwards, hands petting idly through Stiles’ hair to scratch at the nape of his neck. He hasn’t let Stiles buzz it for weeks now, and it’s longer now than it’s been in years. Stiles shivers, leaning into the touch, and almost lets himself forget to answer. “Stiles,” Derek prompts after a moment, hand stilling.
Stiles winces. Erica’s dead; what possible good will this do? “About-us,” he says vaguely, praying that Derek won’t call him on it. “You and me.”
“What exactly,” Derek says, his grip on Stiles’ hair tightening. Shit.
“That I was a distraction for you. A pretty mouth, a-tight hole,” Stiles says slowly, reluctantly. “A toy.”
“A toy,” Derek repeats, tone unreadable. “Anything else?”
“No,” Stiles says, and then, correcting himself, “She said that you were hers first. That’s all.”
“She always did get things backwards,” Derek says wryly. He drops his hand and steps back from Stiles, face gone distant. “Did you believe her?”
There’s no right answer to this, Stiles can tell, so he shrugs, says, “I didn’t want to believe her,” because that, at least, is true.
“And if she was telling the truth?” Derek presses, moving a little closer now, his eyes cold and remote. “What if you were just a pretty distraction for me? A sweet mouth, a tight hole-what then, Stiles?”
“You wouldn’t have put this much time into me, if that’s all I was,” Stiles says, shocked by his boldness. “That’s a lot of effort just for sex.”
“Not just sex,” Derek corrects. “Winning you had all kinds of...legal fringe benefits. And you were easy, Stiles.” His eyes flicker dismissively over Stiles before resting, disdainfully, on his mouth. “You wanted to give it up so badly.” Derek’s said that before-almost the same words, even-but then it was an endearment: a filthy, encouraging whisper in Stiles’ ear, a low murmur into his open mouth. Now it’s a taunt.
Stiles remembers reading somewhere-a Reader’s Digest at the doctor’s office, maybe-that a small pain distracts the mind from a large one. He bites his lip hard, pressing down until he’s focused again. Until he can trust himself to talk.
“You’re right,” he says after a while, careful to keep his tone level. “I did. So what are you saying, exactly?” He meets Derek’s eyes and doesn’t look away: that seems important. Something is happening, some kind of test. Derek wouldn’t do this just for fun.
“I’m saying,” Derek says, tone measured, “that I’m having second thoughts about this. I’m thinking that maybe I backed the wrong horse. You’re weak, Stiles, physically and mentally. You almost couldn’t bring yourself to finish Erica off, and there’s no way you could take anyone else down in a fight. I could snap your neck with one hand right now, bury you out here, and drive back knowing that nobody would ever care enough to look for you.”
Stiles draws in a sharp breath. He’s bitten his lip close to bleeding, by now. “Then do it,” he grits out. “Kill me, stuff me, display me on your dining room table-whatever. Just quit talking about it and do it.”
Derek steps forward again. They’re close enough now that Stiles’ eyelashes brush Derek’s cheeks when he blinks, and he can feel Derek’s breath hot on his cheek.
“Erica was strong,” Derek says deliberately, bringing his hands up to circle around Stiles’ neck. “And smart,” he continues, tracing a pulse point with a thumb. “And beautiful.” He tightens his hands for a second-for just long enough, with just enough pressure-before he releases Stiles, sliding his hands up to cup Stiles’ face.
Stiles holds his breath, waiting.
“But she wasn’t loyal, she wasn’t the right kind of brave.” Derek rests his forehead against Stiles’, voice low and tender now. Like he’s sharing a secret. “She wasn’t you, Stiles. And she was a threat. To you.”
Something uncoils in Stiles, and he sags a little against the post. He feels washed clean, somehow. Redeemed. “Oh,” he says quietly, and, “Jesus, Derek, I thought-” He doesn’t finish the thought; doesn’t want to.
“I had to,” Derek says. “I had to make you understand, one last time, what all this meant.” He cups Stiles’ jaw, brushes a kiss against his mouth. “Do you?”
“Belonging,” Stiles says quietly. “It means belonging,” and something in him soars at the look Derek gives him in response to that.
The air feels charged with something that Stiles can’t put a name to, just yet, and it buzzes under his skin. He’s shaking when Derek finally-finally breaks it, surges against him and bites into his mouth, hard and hungry, like it’s been years since they did this instead of hours. Stiles moans into the kiss, rocking into Derek, tugging him closer with needy hands and groaning with disappointment when Derek pulls away.
“The cashier,” Stiles hisses, daring to hold Derek’s hands still. “He’ll see us, he’ll-” Derek barely glances back at the store before he bats Stiles’ hands off and pulls him close again, mouth wet and persuasive. Stiles decides not to argue the point. There could be a church picnic beside them and he’d still be aching for this. He lets out a low, stuttering moan when Derek undoes his fly, hands dragging teasingly over his cock. Derek looks up, mouth curving.
“I said quiet,” he says, and drags Stiles over to the pavilion’s solitary picnic table and sitting down on one of its benches, back against the table, undoing his jeans as he goes. Stiles stares dazedly at him. It takes him a second to understand what he’s supposed to do, and the realization leaves him flushed, breath coming fast. He puts his hands on Derek’s shoulders, runs his palms from the cool leather of Derek’s jacket to the worn cotton of the t-shirt he’s wearing underneath.
“Facing me, legs spread,” Derek says, pulling Stiles down so he’s sprawling in his lap. “Want to see you.” He noses at Stiles’ jaw, his voice low and intimate against his ear. “Comfortable?” He growls approvingly when Stiles nods wordlessly, and brings a hand up hard against Stiles’ mouth, muzzling him.
Derek stops for a long moment, then, his free hand sweeping from Stiles’ chest to his hip in long, mindless strokes. He starts a little when Stiles rocks into him pleadingly, bites at Stiles’ shoulder before sliding his hand down to Stiles’ cock, hard and straining against his boxers.
Stiles pushes up, helpless, at the first touch of Derek’s hand on his cock, slick with pre-come. Derek rocks up underneath him, fucking against Stiles in rhythm with his strokes. Stiles tries to swallow a moan and fails, muffling it instead against Derek’s palm. “You’re such a slut for me,” Derek whispers, his voice gone ragged and dark. “Jesus, you’re a mess, you’re fucking beautiful. Wanna get you home and fuck you through the mattress, make you scream.” He tightens his grip, and Stiles whimpers, hips rocking into it desperately.
Derek’s hard against Stiles, hips rolling up into him smoothly, and it’s unbearable, it’s too much. Stiles gasps, breath coming harsh and fast against Derek’s palm, and shoves down blindly.
Derek comes first, snarling, his hand sliding from Stiles’ mouth to his throat. He digs his fingers in, jolts up hard and fast and that’s it, Stiles is gone too.
He collapses against Derek’s shoulder afterwards, shaking a little with the effort of even keeping himself upright. Everything is hushed around them, humid and still. “Can we go home?” he asks, nuzzling hopefully against Derek’s jaw.
“Soon,” Derek murmurs, his hand sweeping lazily down to Stiles’ hip. “Soon.”