The first weeks with his new pack are exhilarating.
Sure, they fight him and his authority nearly every step of the way, making him prove himself again and again as the Alpha but still, he's creating a family around himself again and for the first time in years, some of his loneliness lifts.
The new kids take to being a wolf like ducks to water, learning to control the animal, hunting and running in the woods several night a week together as a pack. Their howls tear at the night.
They roll around together, sharing their scents and bonding and end up in a big pile of mostly human bodies in front of the TV at the end of the night, gobbling up the food Stiles has prepared for them. Stiles has become their den-mother at this point; he usually comes over whenever they go running, cleans up their mess and makes sure a meal and a warm home are waiting for them when they return. He rarely stays very long once they're home instead he leaves with soft goodbyes once they‘re all good and settled. Unlike the other, he never stays the night . It’s not as if he's not subdued in their presence, his mouth still has no filter and he's much too smart for his own damn good but there's something almost indefinably different about him now. His scent has changed somehow in a way Derek is struggling to identify, it's somewhat less green - the joy of smelling colors- there's a lot of grey in there now and it smells heavy like wet tin. Whatever it is, it makes his wolf unhappy and irritated leading to snappishness towards Stiles, who snarks back just as happily although Derek can see a flash of quickly hidden hurt in his face.
When Stiles turns away to flirt at Lydia, Derek cocks his head and inhales long and carefully, closing his eyes to concentrate solely on Stiles' annoying new scent.
Partly he can identify the grief that always seems to linger around the boy, but stronger now. Why? His father is okay? He bitched at Derek only yesterday about hanging around a bunch of teens.
There's sadness in the mix too, heavy and dark and then Derek realizes exactly what was troubling him and stops, shocked. He used to reek the same way of despair, hurt and howling loneliness, that's why the wolf is so unhappy to smell it.
He stares at Stiles with burning eyes. What the hell is going on here?
Once again, Stiles leaves long before the others do and this time Derek decides to follow him, unsettled and skin pricking with sweat.
He watches as Stiles gets out of the car and enters his dark house - the Sheriff obviously isn't home - and hears the boy go up the stairs to his room without turning on any lights. Derek rushes to the back of the house and takes position at the window. Stiles closes the bedroom door behind him and rests against it for a few moments, face blank and pale. He pushes away from the door and walks over to the bed where he sits down heavily, shoulders drooping and head hung low as if his entire body weighs too much. The stench of misery is thick in the air. Stiles slaps a hand over his mouth and trembles, shoulders heaving two or three times before he stills again
and Derek is sure that that is the shortest and most unsatisfying crying jag he's ever seen. He's about ready to go in and demand to know what's going on, when Stiles lays down on the bed to stare at the ceiling. There are tear tracks on his face, but his expression is eerily composed again and completely unlike Stiles.
A few minutes later, he drops away in sleep and Derek leaves.
He doesn't like any of this.
He touches base with the rest of the pack because someone must know what the hell's going on but even Scott seems oblivious to his friend's changed mood. Derek doesn't know whether to blame it on the fact they're all self-absorbed idiots who fall for whatever masks Stiles decides to wear or that their knowledge of scents is still too undeveloped and Oh! they're going to be training that right soon.
The only thing left to do is talk to Stiles if he can get the boy to stick around for longer than ten minutes next pack night.
Except, Stiles doesn't show up. Of course.
Derek sighs and turns to Scott.
The boy's eyes go round. "I, uh, well, we kinda had an argument so I didn't invite him."
"What invitation? It's pack night, it's mandatory. He's pack, he should be here."
Behind him Jackson lets out a short laugh that makes Derek's hackles rise.
"Stilinski's pack?! How? He's not a wolf."
Lydia chimes in also; "Come on, Derek. Stiles doesn't need to be included every time we hang out together. I realize he's a good cook and we’ll all be starving later on but we can order pizza for once."
Derek takes a deep breath to center himself and keep from ripping some cub-heads off.
"Let me get this right. You've got him convinced that the only reason he's 'invited' to pack night is because he cleans and cooks and helps with research when needed and when none of this is required, he can just stay home. Alone. Because God forbid, he disturb wolf bonding time when he's just a human?!"
He gets louder when he reaches the end but his rage is almost overwhelming. The others crowd back, visibly upset and confused.
"Do you think the humans in my family were not part of the pack, that they didn't matter just as much as the wolves? Pack is family, Stiles is family, therefore Stiles is pack, morons. How did you not sense that?! "
He's interrupted from further shouting by a hesitant knock at the door. When he slams the door open, it's only to see a terrified pizza delivery man hop in his car and careen away. He blinks at the pizza boxes on his doorstep. The bill resting op top of them clearly shows Stiles' phone number and a 'paid in advance' tab. Derek turns to the salivating gang of teens behind him.
The lights are on this time when he arrives at the Stilinski residence but the Sheriff is absent again. The trace of his scent is old around the house and Derek wonders just how much Stiles is left alone.
He decides to forego his normal window entry in favor of ringing the doorbell.
"Look, I told you to deliver at the Hale...Oh.", Stiles stops when he sees who's standing on his doorstep; "it's you."
Derek nods. "It's pack night."
Stiles nods back, lips pursed. "I know."
"I ordered you guys pizza, okay? I figured Scott would forget it and you'd probably starve to death even though you could hunt down something but Lydia would pitch a fit if she had to resort to eating raw bunny. So...voila, pizza."
Stiles looks tired and vaguely sad and Derek becomes aware that this look has been on the boy's face for far too long. He shoulders his way past Stiles into the house, ignoring the outraged yelp and heads up to the familiar bedroom. Stiles pads softly after him, strangely silent. Derek points at the bed.
"Woof? Yeah, never gonna happen, I hardly even listen to what my Dad tells me to do, no way I‘m listening to you."
Derek stares at Stiles’ defiant face and softens.
Grumbling, Stiles sits down on the bed, wrapping his arms around his middle.
"About the pack."
The air is suddenly permeated again with the stench of hurt and loneliness and he groans, closing his eyes.
"Look", Stiles begins; "Scott invited me. I didn't want to intrude but I get to spend so little time with him lately and okay, you all go howling at the moon most of the time and I try to leave as soon as you get back..."
"It wasn't Scott's invitation to make."
Stiles seems to crumble a little at that and folds in on himself. His misery smells yellow and acrid.
"I told Scott to check with you first every damn time.", he mumbles, defeat clear in his voice.
"You don't understand, Stiles." Derek sits down next to the boy and hesitantly, lays his hand on Stiles' shoulder. When it's not shrugged off at once, he dares to lean in closer looking Stiles in the face, trying to catch his eyes but Stiles stares stubbornly at the carpet.
"I just wanted pretend I was part of the pack.""It's your pack too.”,they speak in unison.
"What?", Stiles asks and Derek can't get over how young and vulnerable that one word makes the boy sound.
"You're pack, Stiles. Scott has no right to give or take away invitations because you're as much part of the family as he is." Derek bites his lip. "More even because you're human and fall under our protection."
Stiles sits completely still next to him - something Derek thought impossible considering the ADHD - eyes closed and skin so pale his freckles look like they've been drawn with ink. His breathing is hitched and the salty tang betrays the tears he's struggling with.
"Are you joshing with me right now, Derek, because if you are I swear I'll sedate you and have you neutered." His voice is choked and thick with tears.
"No joshing, Stiles, I swear. Humans can be pack, my family was pack, why wouldn't you be?"
Stiles shrugs once. He reeks of self-loathing and why didn't Derek ever notice this before?
Because you never looked under his masks. You accepted the image of the loudmouth borderline-insane geek he projects and didn't bother to sniff further than your own damn nose. too caught up in werewolf drama to notice your human quietly falling to pieces in the corner. Idiot.
He slides his arm all the ways across Stiles' shoulders and pulls the boy against him.
"You matter, okay. You save our asses over and over again, you kept Scott sane, you defied Peter over Lydia and so much more."
He sighs and rests his brow against the side of Stiles' head, nuzzling the dark hair.
"Even if you were only half as brave and half as smart, you'd still belong with us."
He shifts even closer and cups his hand around Stiles' cheek, turning his head towards him. Stiles' eyes are wide and uncertain but they meet his gaze without flinching.
"Is this pity?", he asks harshly.
"Never." Derek closes the distance between them and presses his lips against Stiles' own.