He calls it an anchor because that’s what it is, an iron weight wrapped around his ankles, dragging him down deeper and deeper, because how could his wolf ever take over when he’s busy drowning in all the ways he’s fucked up? He focuses on everything he’s done wrong so that the red hot, acidic burn of anger in his chest thrums through him louder than the moon’s pushing and pulling at his blood like ocean tides. He thinks of Jackson and how the blood of all the people he’s killed is on Derek’s hands for giving him the bite in the first place. Of Laura and how she’d still be here if Derek had just told her the truth about the fire and kept her away from Beacon Hills. Of Peter and the rest of his family and how they’d never have suffered like that if it weren’t for Derek being 16 and so fucking stupid.
Anger is meaningful. It’s the only thing he has left.
At least it is until his pack starts shaping up into something more than a bunch of wounded children desperate for power and into what a pack really is. They’re not his family—his father’s smiles and Laura’s teasing were something he’d never be able to replace—but it’s better than the nothing he’s grown accustomed to.
The anger’s still there, it’s always there, flowing in his veins, ever present in a way that Derek doesn’t know who he’d be without it. It’s there, but it changes, from Derek only being frustrated with himself, to being frustrated with his pack as well.
Though, the more moons that pass, the more difficult it is to be angry. They still make mistakes—some more that others—but he’s gained an understanding of each of them that makes him less likely to snap when they do. It makes the pack stronger, but Derek weaker. His anchor is struggling to find purchase, and he has to try harder and harder to keep his wolf submerged each month.
Derek thumps his head against the drywall of his unfinished home, he tries to focus on something other than the claws digging into his palm, the fangs poking at his lips.
The last thing to really piss him off was a few weeks ago. They’d been cornered by some hunters that followed a different code than the Argents, one that allowed them to shove the barrel of a sawed-off in the faces of a couple of teenagers under the slightest bit of suspicion. They’d dealt with worse and with their luck they’d deal with something worse still in the future. The problem was, that as the pack had them cornered, the hunters fired off a shot at Isaac. The bullet wasn’t laced and Isaac would’ve healed but Stiles still felt the need to tackle him out of its way, receiving a graze on his arm for his efforts.
Deaton patched him up, they let the Argents handle the hunters and everything turned out ultimately fine, but that didn’t stop Derek from chewing out Stiles. He went off like hadn’t in a long time, Stiles was supposed to be the smart one, how could he do something so stupid?
Derek’s claws recede at the memory and he focuses on it. On Stiles, so desperate to run with wolves because he thinks monsters aren’t scary if they’re on your side. Stiles and his infuriating need to protect the pack despite being the least naturally equipped to protect himself. Always throwing himself into the line of fire, never bothering to consider the risks. He’s reckless, smart-mouthed, insolent, a know-it-all and he never shuts up.
He feels his canines grow blunt.
He keeps his mind there and makes it through the night without his control slipping again.
“This sucks.” Erica says the next month as they’re holed up in the cells under the Hale house. Some more hunters had been spotted and they need to keep a low profile.
“You want him to break out the bondage gear again? That was fun.” Isaac says from the corner he’s settled into, long legs tucked up to chest.
“Shut up.” Derek says with more venom than the situation requires because he can feel his wolf fighting against the waves of his control.
Boyd raises an eyebrow in his direction but doesn’t say anything.
Derek scrubs a hand across his face, “Sorry. Keep talking.” Hopefully one of them will say something annoying enough to keep him grounded.
“Are the humans ever gonna train with us?” Isaac asks.
“Why would they?” Derek responds.
“They’re pack.” The flutter of Isaac’s heart whenever he says the word never fails to spread warmth through Derek’s chest, “Plus Allison and Stiles can do target practice with us.”
“Stiles?” Derek repeats, his jaw clenching.
“Yeah, Allison gave him one of her dad’s guns.”
“What.” Derek says.
He hears Boyd mutter “Oh crap” under his breath.
“Why does Stiles have a gun?”
“Maybe because we’re always getting shot at?” Erica says rolling her eyes.
“The humans in my family were never this stupid.”
Erica scoffs, “Allison gets to run around all Xena, but Stiles can’t have a measly little glock to protect himself?”
“That’s not the point.” Derek says.
“Then what is?” Isaac asks.
“Allison’s been a hunter all her life, whether she knew it or not. Stiles shouldn’t need a gun. I—the pack should be able to protect him.”
“Maybe he wants to help protect the pack.” Boyd says.
“I still don’t trust him with firearms.”
“It would be a shame if he shot one of his pretty little eyes out.” Erica says.
Derek bares his teeth at her, but the fangs aren’t there.
Erica sprawls out on the floor, “I’m just saying.”
Derek doesn’t respond, apparently annoyed enough to relax against the hard stone wall, the pull of the moon a little less harsh than it was before.
There’s a pattern happening. Loose control, focus on his anger, regain control. There’s also a missing step in the pattern he knows he’s ignoring, but it’s for the best.
“I’m going to look back on my teenage years and cry.”
Derek doesn’t answer, doesn’t need to, he could be unconscious and Stiles would keep talking, he knows from experience.
“I could be out having the time of life like a normal person on a Friday night but, no, I’m on a stake out looking for a succubus. By the way, why are only shitty murderous monsters real? I’m gonna do a stake out for a fucking unicorn.”
“Good luck with that,” Derek says, not looking away from the car parked several yards in front of them. Teens tended to flock to this area, looking for a romantic hook up by the cliffs, making it the perfect place for a succubus to grab a meal.
“Why’d you even pick me? I’m not exactly packing claws to handle things if shit gets real.” Stiles says.
“Last I heard you were packing something.” Derek says, with a nod to Stiles’ torso, where he knows the gun is in a holster under his hoodie, “And everyone else was busy.”
“How’d you know I wasn’t busy?” Stiles asks.
“I didn’t, but I knew you’d be the least likely to whine about missing a date.”
“I could’ve had a date.”
Derek’s jaw tightens, “With who?”
“Well, I was speaking in a hypothetical sense that were I so inclined to want a date I could totally have one.”
“So why don’t you?” It was something that had crossed Derek’s mind, why out of a pack of hormonal teens Stiles was the only one not desperate to pair up with someone, at least not since he’d gotten over Lydia.
Stiles falters, “obviously because I’m always busy with werewolf stuff. I don’t have time to woo someone. I’m probably going to end up getting mauled by, like, a banshee and dying half a virgin.”
“Banshees aren’t real,” Derek says because he refuses to consider what constitutes being only half a virgin.
“Good to know,” Stiles says, “Are you sure succubi are real, because I’m pretty sure the only thing freaky going on in that Subaru involves anal.” When Derek doesn’t reply he continues, “Seriously can we bail before we earn our voyeurism merit badge?”
Derek huffs and peals out onto the dirt road leading to the highway, “Looks like that was a dead lead.” He glances over at Stiles, “Are you hungry?”
“Depends, are you paying?”
They end up at a hole in the wall diner Derek was fond of because it’s off the beaten path enough for hunters not bothering to have it monitored.
“Do you think I can marry this tuna melt?” Stiles asks, mouth full after they get their food, “because I wanna marry this tuna melt.”
“You’re repulsive.” Derek says.
“Yeah, ‘cause you’re my ideal dinner date.”
Derek frowns and sips his Coke.
He sees Stiles wince, “I mean, my ideas are usually really stupid though, so you’re probably way better. Like, you’re definitely a better than Jackson.”
“If you backpedal any harder I think you might hurt yourself.” Derek says and bites down on a fry with unnecessary force.
“I’m being serious, you’re a handsome, assertive… punctual guy. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with you on a Friday night?”
“It’s an admirable quality. Now come on, your turn. Give me some compliments, tell me how much you love me,” Stiles grins at him.
Derek freezes, sure he loves his pack. He knows just how fiercely they’d protect him and how he’d do the same. They’re not his family, but they are a family. Of course Stiles is pack too, but it’s different. Stiles is different.
“Is it that hard to say something nice about me?” Stiles jokes but Derek can sense his unease.
“You’re funny,” Derek blurts out, just to get that look off Stiles face.
Stiles lights up, “Really?”
“Usually. You’re smart, loyal, brave.” Derek says, surprised at his own honesty.
“Wait… do you actually like me?” Stiles asks.
“Of course.” Derek says, eating another fry.
“Am I your favorite?” Stiles leans across the table and waggles his eyebrows, “It sounds like I’m your favorite.”
“Second favorite.” Derek admits.
“What? Who can top this?” Stiles gestures at himself.
Stiles scoffs, “What’s he have that I don’t?” He frowns, “Besides the superpowers and the height and the muscles… and the extra muscles.”
Derek smirks, “He listens.”
“Well sure, if you like sort of thing.” Stiles takes another bite of his sandwich, “Who’s your least favorite? Is it Jackson? Mine’s Jackson.”
“Who’s your favorite?” Derek asks.
“It fluctuates daily, based on how stupid Scott’s being or how actively Erica’s tried to kill me.” Stiles shrugs.
“What about today?”
“Gonna have to go with the guy who finally admitted I’m hilarious and also introduced me to my future bride.” Stiles says, staring reverently at his sandwich, “It’ll be a spring wedding, you can be the best man.”
“I’ll get my speech ready.”
“You know,” Stiles says as Derek parks in the Stilinski’s driveway, “All that stuff you said about me? You too.”
“You’re loyal and smart and brave and stuff.” Stiles smiles, “not as funny as me, but you’re close.”
Derek offers Stiles a smile back because he has no clue what to say.
“See you later Sour Patch,” Stiles holds out his fist and Derek stares at it for a moment before bumping his own against it.
His hand is still floating there over the armrest when Stiles gets out and heads inside.
It’s a problem.
It’s a problem because the more he tries to ignore it, the more he thinks about it and if he really thinks about it, Stiles has always been different for him.
At first it was just that he was the only one in this situation by choice, but then it was more. He doesn’t trust Stiles like the rest of the pack. He trusts Isaac or Erica enough to know he doesn’t have to worry about them whenever shit hits the fan. Stiles makes him worry all the time, that he’s going to get caught or get hurt. That he’s going to leave.
Stiles has the ability to make him yell louder and laugh harder than other member of their pack and it’s dizzying. Stiles washes over him in a way that makes him feel raw. It’s like he’s suffocating and hyperventilating at the same time. And the more Stiles gets under his skin the less he’s sure he wants it to stop.
It’s like a floodgate’s been opened.
Derek starts spending all his time not already devoted to training the pack or running for his life either with Stiles or thinking about Stiles. The only problem is that being around Stiles wears away the stone-heavy pit of anger buried in his chest. His control is slipping and it takes every horrible memory he has not to maul Isaac on the full moon.
He grabs Scott’s arm after training one day, “We need to talk.” He can see the objection forming on Scott’s lips and stops him, “It’s important. I can drop you off at Allison’s after.”
“Actually I was going to Stiles’ place.” Scott says.
Stiles thumps Scott on the back, “It’s cool bro. Do your wolf bonding thing or whatever and stop by later.”
Scott frowns, “Okay.”
Derek claps a hand on Stiles’ shoulder and gives him a nod.
Stiles winks back and turns on his heel toward the door. “If he misbehaves, just hit him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.”
“So what did you want?” Scott asks.
Derek waits until he can hear the rest of the pack drive off, “How do you anchor yourself on the full moon?”
“Allison.” Scott says like it’s obvious, because it is.
“How? What do you focus on?”
Scott gets a dreamy smile, “Her voice mostly. I try to remember things she’s said to me. Sometimes thinking about her smell helps too.”
Derek gives him a considering nod.
“Why?” Scott asks.
“Just curious,” Derek says, leading him outside.
Derek unlocks the Camaro, “Yeah.”
“Why did you really wanna know?” Scott asks as they get in.
Derek sighs, “Just checking my options.”
“You have a girlfriend?” Scott says, disbelief evident.
Derek levels him with a glare that sends him into silence for the rest of the ride.
“Congratulations.” Stiles says as Derek climbs through his window a few days later with a bag of Chinese food.
Stiles grins, “Word on the street is you’re enamored, twitter-pated, dare I say—in love.”
“I’m going to rip Scott’s lungs out.” Derek says calmly, taking a seat in the chair by Stiles’ dresser.
Stiles wheels his computer chair towards Derek and reaches for the bag, “Why? Is it supposed to be a secret?”
Derek swats Stiles’ hands away and pulls out a container of beef and broccoli, “I’m not in love.”
“Then why’d you want to know how he uses his epic romance to keep from going all Larry Talbot?”
“Research. Seeing if there’s an easier way to control my wolf.”
“What do you use to control it now?” Stiles asks, shoving an eggroll in his mouth.
“That’s very Bruce Banner of you.” Stiles says and Derek can scent the sadness on him when he does.
“Except I’m not that angry anymore.” Derek says, wanting to reassure him.
“It has to be a big deal right?” Stiles asks, “Something you care about?”
Stiles shrugs, “so think about the pack. I mean, I assume you got some major papa wolf love happening there.”
“It’s a good idea,” Derek says, though he know he won’t use it.
He spends the next full moon down in the cells, just to be safe. He sits cross legged against a wall and uses a breathing technique Laura taught him when they were in New York. His claws bite into his knees at the thought of her. He straightens his back and tries to recall Stiles’ scent. Some terrible body spray, the same laundry detergent his mom used, Adderall, and cinnamon.
His nails turn dull and human.
He thinks of Stiles’ laugh, the quirk of his eyebrows, all the goddamn plaid he wears and the tension eases out of his muscles. He should be worried that just the thought of Stiles is enough to put his wolf at bay, that he’s sinking in a different and unfamiliar way now, but he’s too relieved to have control back.
There’s a text waiting for him when he collapses into his bed the next morning.
Stiles sent him a simple “Did it work?”
“You were a big help.” Derek replies.
“What’s up?” Boyd sits next to him on the steps after training while the rest of the pack lazes around the warehouse.
Derek raises an eyebrow, Boyd doesn’t usually come to him for conversation, only if he had a question or some problem had arisen. He gives Boyd a shrug, not about to turn his beta away even if he was being odd.
Boyd returns the shrug, "You just seem different lately."
Derek cocks his head.
"It's not a bad thing. Scott keeps saying you've got a girl now."
"Scott needs a muzzle." Derek says, "I don't have a girlfriend."
"No." Boyd smiles, "but there is something going on to mellow you out like this."
Derek nods, "Yeah."
Boyd bites his lip and Derek can tell he wants him to continue.
Derek surveys the rest of the pack talking amongst themselves. The familiar tilt of Erica's head looks too suspect for his liking, "Why don't you try listening to your own conversation Erica?" he sees her duck her head quickly, "Unless you'd rather see how well you can eavesdrop while running laps around the lot."
She grimaces at that, having already gone through an extensive training session. She kept favoring her right side so Derek had to break a few bones to get her to even out.
Boyd chuckles, "So?"
Derek makes sure Erica’s focused on Isaac before he nods to where Stiles is standing in the corner, on his cell trying to convince someone this was a safe neighborhood to deliver half a dozen pizzas to.
After a moment Boyd nods, "I can see that."
"It's not like that." Derek says before Boyd jumps to any conclusions that are painfully untrue.
"No." Boyd says, "but it could be."
Derek knows he isn't being lied to but he can't help the skeptical look that settles on his face.
"All I'm saying is it's worth a shot." Boyd bumps their shoulders together, "Unless you're scared. Very intimidating." he jerks a thumb to where Stiles is trying and failing to swat a fly buzzing around his head while giving a pizza order.
Derek gives him a halfhearted sneer.
Boyd just grins.
His words tug at the back of Derek’s mind in way that makes him think they won’t go away until he agrees with them.
"What's eating you?" Stiles asks as they sit in his room pouring over spell books, some animals had turned up missing from Deaton's clinic and they suspected a witch was involved.
"Nothing." Derek said, trying to figure out the difference between a charm and an enchantment.
"Really? Because you've been completely silent all night." Stiles thumps a pen against the book in his lap, "I mean you're not particularly loquacious by habit, but you usually give me something to work with. Did I piss you off or something?"
Derek's head jerks up, "No. I mean, you didn't do anything." He rubs the back of his neck, "I'm just distracted."
“Good distraction or bad, something’s-on-its way-to-kill-us distraction?”
“Good, but something is probably trying to kill us.”
Stiles scoffs, “Must be Thursday.”
Derek smirks, “I could never get the hang of Thursdays.”
“Did you just—oh my God, you did.” Stiles gapes, “You’re secretly a big wolfy nerd aren’t you?”
Derek turns the page of his book, “You can’t prove anything.”
“I could just spout off a bunch of incorrect Star Trek facts at the next pack meeting and watch you spasm with the urge to correct me.”
“How about you spout of a bunch of witch facts? I don’t understand any of this.”
“Nice segue.” Stiles says, he gets up from his desk and plops down next to Derek on the bed, looking over his shoulder, “What don’t you get?”
“Why do they need different names for everything? Aren’t they all just types of spells?”
“No, no, no,” Stiles taps the header of the page Derek’s on where ‘Charms’ is written is flowing script, “The different names are way important. It lets you know what kind of magic they’re working with. Like a blessing is way different than a hex.” Stiles goes on to explain the basics of witchcraft to him but Derek only takes in about half of it, too focused on the sound Stiles’ heartbeat so close.
“Yo, Earth to Cujo.” Derek realizes Stiles is poking him in the shoulder.
“You weren’t kidding about being distracted, huh?” Stiles gives him a concerned smile, “You wanna talk about it?”
Derek breathes in Stiles scent from across the short distance separating them, “Not really.”
Stiles mock pouts, “Come on, I thought I was your second favorite?”
Derek shakes head, “You beat out Boyd.”
Derek leans closer, “I don’t want to do this to Boyd,” he says and presses a kiss to Stiles lips.
“Oh.” Stiles says when he pulls away. “That makes sense.”
Derek’s brow furrows, “Was that okay?”
“Yeah, no, totally.” Stiles scratches his head rapidly, “I just—wow, like really, whoa.”
“Still processing that that just happened, sorry.” His eyes dart to Derek’s mouth, “maybe we should do it again.”
Derek rolls his eyes, but concedes, pushing the spell book to the floor and pulling Stiles into his lap.
“Yeah, this is good, definitely processing faster. Or slower, I’m not sure. I’m just gonna shut up so you can focus on whatever that is you’re doing to my neck, nice job on that by the way.
Derek can’t stop the laugh that escapes him as he trails his mouth along the juncture of Stiles’ neck.
“You know it’s rude to laugh at the person you’re feeling up,” Stiles says pushing him down on the bed, “If you’re going to mock me you could at least be topless while you do it.”
Derek keeps laughing as he works his way up Stiles’ neck and kisses along his jawline because Stiles feels like floating and Derek almost forgot what that’s like.