Derek becomes the alpha.
Turns out that maybe wasn't the best decision he's ever made.
It's raw power and strength like he's never known. He feels like he's buzzing constantly, like he can see and hear everything, feel everything, taste everything. In the first few moments he can hear Scott's fury, taste Stiles' shock, breathes in the fear and sadness of the living Argents. Jackson's need is like a flame licking up his spine.
It's also terrifying.
Derek doesn't notice something's wrong at first. He bites Jackson and throws him into the lake and thinks that's normal behaviour. Or, rather, he doesn't think anything of it. Jackson needs and he gives Jackson what he wants and he really doesn't care what happens next. The burning hum in his veins is telling him to run and howl and fight and mate. One little human doesn't mean anything to him.
(He acknowledges later, much later, that he well and truly fucked up on the Jackson situation. To date it's the stupidest thing he's done in a list of truly epic bad decisions.)
He begins to realise something's wrong when he sees what happens to Jackson, the black ichor seeping out of Jackson like blood, but it's like there's a fight going on inside him – between who he was and who he's becoming – and worrying about Jackson falls into the few lucid moments where he's not dizzy with power.
He builds a pack. Again, he realises this wasn't the greatest decision he's ever made. That he should've let himself settle first, understand the power fizzing just under the surface, Laura never had time to prepare him for this because she never had time either.
The one thing he knows in that time is that he has the ability to make the ache where his family used to be, the deep hole inside himself that echoes with loss, go away. Finally. Isaac is lonely and terrified and Derek remembers being that once, thinks of what he would have given for the power to make that feeling go away.
He offers. Isaac accepts.
Scott and Stiles are not happy when they find out, Scott's righteous fury and later Stiles' under-the-surface rage, and he drowns under the sensation. The new Derek fights to the surface and is cruel and off-hand, he can already feel Isaac augmenting his power, he doesn't think for a minute about pushing them away.
Scott will come round. Derek's the alpha now. Scott has to.
Scott saves the life of a girl called Erica. Derek hears about it from the edges of the school, hears when Stiles gives in and exclaims 'how Batman was that?', and drives to the hospital when he sees the ambulance.
She's pretty, though she probably doesn't think she is, and Derek can see that she hates her disease, thinks that it traps her, holds her back. He plays on it, plays on her vulnerability, hates himself a little for doing it even as he reels her in.
Her heartbeat quickens under his focus and there's a moment where he wonders if he's the only person to ever pay attention to her.
That's going to change.
Boyd is different. He's still lonely and troubled but it's not like Erica and Isaac, he doesn't wear it in his face and his body. He is alone, though, and quiet, ignored. He's already strong but nobody can see that, nobody sees him.
Derek wonders what it is that Boyd holds inside him, what he's hiding away from the rest of the world. He doesn't ask when he offers, he doesn't really want to know, he just wants Boyd in his pack.
There's a pounding in his head, afterwards, a literal splitting headache but he doesn't have time to think about it. Not when Scott challenges him and proves the perfect test for his new pack.
He's not disappointed when he has to step in. He's proud.
His new betas are...new. Isaac and Erica bleed confidence and sex but they don't know what they're doing, really. Boyd is different, as Derek always knew he was, moving with a determination that Derek understands, even if he doesn't know the reason for it.
Scott is still fighting him, he can feel it every moment of his waking hours, but he doesn't have time for thinking about it. The new pack – he refuses to think of them as pups, he can't afford to – needs training and fast. There's something in Beacon Hills that Derek didn't bring with him and it needs to be stopped.
Word spreads fast in Beacon Hills so everyone knows about the mechanic's death. Fewer people know about Stiles being a witness.
Erica has an uncanny ability to track Stiles. He'd probably stop to think about that more if there wasn't still a pounding in his head.
The longer Stiles treads water, holding Derek up and keeping him alive, the better Derek starts to feel. It makes no sense. He only ever has two feelings around Stiles; the obvious, deep irritation, and the hidden, grudging admiration.
It's like – Derek's been underwater (he has water on the brain, leave him alone) since becoming the alpha, everything except his instincts have been dull and deadened, and now he's breaking the surface. Stiles talks for nearly two hours straight, about anything he can think of, and Derek doesn't know whose benefit it's for.
Derek now knows more than he ever needed to know about Lydia Martin (he makes a note to check on her after this, there's something going on there), Stiles' grades, his inability to make it onto the lacrosse field and Scott from age 5 to 15.
He almost misses it when he thinks Stiles has left him to drown.
Derek's head is clear. He knows the creature is a kanima. Scott is here, Stiles is here and he knows it's a kanima. Erica keeps giving him strange looks but he doesn't care – the pounding in his head is dull, barely there.
“Abomination,” Stiles says and Derek wants to know what that tone of voice means, is Stiles still thinking about Lydia? She's a possibility, her and Jackson, the only two people who've been bitten other than his pack. He knows Lydia went missing and he never followed up with Jackson for reasons that seem wrong now.
He wants to share his theories, wants to ask if Stiles can learn anything from the bestiary and if Scott has any ideas about approaching Jackson and Lydia. Scott -
Scott makes demands on Derek's trust but doesn't say anything about joining the pack and Derek – Derek's not listening if Scott's not offering anything other than his brand of shouted emotion. He's the alpha, a roaring rush of noise in his head tells him, no-one has a right to demand things of him.
He can feel Stiles' eyes on his back as he leaves.
He never thanked him.
Snakes can't be poisoned by their own venom. Derek's sure of this, he read it somewhere or maybe Laura told him, he can't remember. Jackson reeks of something when the pack brings him in. It's fear and something else, something Derek doesn't know.
He has one other idea, thanks to Stiles' babbling, and sends Isaac and Erica to hunt Lydia down. It's amusing, watching Scott and his friends scramble to protect Lydia – even though they know what she might be.
Derek doesn't want to kill a teenager. He wants to kill the kanima. He wants to protect his pack, his territory, and he thinks he might have to kill a teenager to do it.
He calls them what he sees. Scott's pack, even though the pounding in his head is back, and there's Jackson fleeing over rooftops.
Now he knows.
The kanima attacks an entire club full of people. It looks like Danny Mahealani is the target but Derek has no idea why, as far as he can tell everyone loves Danny. Derek lashes out but he can tell he didn't kill it – it's stronger than he expected.
The pack avoids him. He snaps and Isaac and Erica, desperately wants them to stop acting the way they do, glowers at Boyd. Boyd is the one to drag the others away, even though Isaac doesn't really have anywhere to go, and Derek dismantles one end of the train in blind fury.
He wanders. Finds himself outside Scott's home but can't smell him. Follows his feet to the Stilinski's and can't smell Stiles either.
He genuinely doesn't know what to do.
Derek's been missing something for so long that he almost doesn't realise it was Scott until Scott says “I'm going to help you stop him, as part of your pack.” He disguises it, stares flatly, but it's a hot rush of something in his chest, like the closing of a circuit.
Shit, he's been a bastard. Treating his pack as disposable one moment and teaching them part of what he knows but not enough to really help them survive. He's let Isaac and Erica lose themselves, ignored whatever is weighing on Boyd's mind.
Stiles comes out of the train after Derek hears Erica's breathing slow to sleep. He looks at Derek for a long time, like he's trying to figure something out, but doesn't say anything – just drags Scott away.
Derek has a lot to do. He has to start fixing his mistakes. Starting with Jackson. His head is truly clear for the first time in nearly two months, no distant pounding at all, and Derek knows where to begin.
When Derek knows Scott is safe he means to go back to the train car, to sleep until what's left of the wolfsbane he'd inhaled is out of his system, but instead he finds himself parking the Camaro around the corner from Stiles' house. He flexes his hands on the steering wheel for a moment before making a noise at his own indecision and getting out.
He can only hear Stiles when he's crouched at the rear of the house and he frowns at that, he knows the Sheriff's schedule by necessity and the man should be home. He climbs up to Stiles' window and lets himself in quietly, sitting heavily in Stiles' computer chair. He doesn't know why he's here, just knows that there's a feeling like something crushing in his chest and he doesn't understand why, so he leans his elbows on his thighs and props head on his hands, waiting.
Stiles' footsteps are laboured as he comes up the stairs and Derek can smell the strange scent of sadness, distant rain and cold metal, before Stiles makes it to his bedroom door. Stiles shouldn't smell like that, should smell like the triumph he wore so proudly at the rave, and it has Derek raising his head and moving to his feet as Stiles comes in.
Stiles starts when he switches the lights on but it's nowhere near as dramatic as it usually is, as if he doesn't have the energy to windmill his arms and clutch at his chest, which confirms to Derek that Stiles exaggerates everything he does. Lies with his whole body.
“Did Scott get home okay?” Stiles asks, sitting heavily on his bed and stuffing half the sandwich he was carrying into his mouth. Derek watches him for a moment before retaking his seat.
“Fine,” Derek says, thinking of how it had felt to carry Scott, to feel the life coming back to his brother. Brother. “His Mom didn't notice.”
“Good,” Stiles nods, his movements small. “God knows Mrs McCall doesn't need to see that on top of everything else we've put her through lately.”
Derek makes fists on his knees and kneads at his thighs with them. Stiles' lack of energy is confusing him, putting him off, and he can feel the urge to move on Stiles' behalf building at his back.
“What's wrong?” Derek asks, surprising himself as much as Stiles if the look on Stiles' face means anything. Stiles stares, open-mouthed, and Derek forges on. “You smell sad. And your Dad's not here when he should be.”
Stiles' mouth snaps shut and his eyes flash through a sudden rush of emotions, his body chemistry going so haywire for a moment that it nearly overloads Derek's senses. It looks for a moment like Stiles' usual energy is about to come back in full force but then he slumps, making himself look even smaller than he usual does, and the sadness settles over him like a cloud.
“My Dad got fired,” Stiles says, staring at the carpet. His voice is so quiet, so still, that Derek's almost convinced he didn't hear it at all. “He got fired and it's my fault for lying to him all the time.”
“Stealing that transport probably didn't help,” Derek says without meaning to. Stiles' eyes snap up to his with shock writ large on his face and Derek feels his shoulders lift defensively. Stiles laughs, though, a horrible broken noise which is nothing like Derek's ever heard from him before.
He hates it.
He shouldn't. But there it is, apparently. What the hell is going on in his head?
“He says it's not permanent but -” Stiles waves a hand and Derek knows that it's taking in everything that's happened in the past few months. He flinches and manages to cover it by moving the chair closer to Stiles. He flinches because this is his fault too.
Stiles isn't looking at him again, instead focused on his sandwich, and Derek's an idiot for not seeing this sooner. Because Stiles – Stiles is a part of Scott and you don't get one without the other so that makes Stiles pack too, someone to be protected and cared for. Derek's instincts have taken care of the protection, and he rubs a hand over the back of his neck in memory, but the caring -
He adds this to his list of mistakes. It's a long fucking list.
Derek can't fix it with platitudes – Stiles still doesn't fully trust him, he can feel it, and Derek doubts Stiles would listen to him anyway if he did. Derek can maybe distract him, though, if only to get the overpowering smell of sadness as far away from Stiles as possible.
“I don't know what I'm doing,” Derek says. It's not what he meant to start with but it's true. Stiles looks up at him, eyebrows lifted in surprise. “I was never taught anything about this – bitten wolves and being an alpha – they were things I was never meant for.”
“Are you – are you sure you're Derek Hale?” Stiles asks, looking around the room. “Because I think you just admitted you don't what you're doing. To me.”
If not you, who else? Derek doesn't say, as true as it is. Scott is...Scott and he can't let the rest of the pack see him as anything less than infallible, not after Erica seized again when he promised her she wouldn't.
“It's like there's been two of me,” Derek says, running his hands through his hair. “Sometimes I'm cruel and sharp -” he ignores Stiles' muttered 'sometimes?' “- others I'm who I was, who I am, I can't really explain it.”
Stiles stares at him and when he doesn't continue, waves a hand. Go on.
“There's been this constant pounding in my head,” Derek says, eyes fixed on the way Stiles' sneakers rub restlessly at the carpet. “Since I became the alpha and I thought it just – I thought it was the power, the instincts. Laura said she felt something like it, but that it was okay when she had me, but I don't know how she could have put up with this.”
Derek pauses, lets his eyes drift up to Stiles' as he clasps his hands together in front of him. Stiles watches him carefully, head turned slightly to one side.
“It got better in the pool,” Derek admits, mouth reluctant to form the words. “It's been fading in and out since Scott joined the pack. I don't know what it means. What it meant.”
Stiles waits for a moment, as if he thinks Derek's going to say something else, then swallows the last bite of the sandwich with an excessive gulp. He leans over and raps four notes on the headboard of his bed, his mouth twisting up into a grin.
“The sound of drums?” he asks with half a laugh. It's the part of him Derek doesn't like that reacts badly to the humour, he's up and has Stiles pushed against the frame of his own window in seconds. Stiles' laughter stays in place.
“That was unfair,” Stiles says, relaxing against the frame. “You probably haven't watched TV in years.”
This is new, Stiles being unafraid of him. His heart is beating easily in his chest and he hasn't slouched to hide his height, he's leaning there casually, as if he gets pushed around by werewolves everyday. On reflection that's a fair point.
“We're really going to have to do something about your pop cultural knowledge,” Stiles says, shifting as if scratching an itch against the frame. “Otherwise you are just not going to get half of the things anyone says to you.”
“I don't really talk to people,” Derek says, which is less true than he wants it to be.
“Are you telling me you spent that whole time in New York not interacting with anyone?” Stiles asks, rolling his eyes. “Come on, man, grief doesn't shut anyone up forever. Not even grumpy bastards like you.”
It should feel like an attack, Stiles throwing his grief in his face like that, but there's a enough self-deprecation in the words that Derek stops himself from doing anything but stare. Stiles lost his Mom, he remembers, it was before the fire and Derek remembers his Mom sending a card to the Sheriff, remembers her talking about the 'poor boy' Mrs Stilinski was leaving behind.
“I had friends,” Derek admits, he lets go of Stiles' hoodie but doesn't move away, watching his hand smooth the fabric down. “I haven't spoken to them since I came back.”
“Well, where would you start?” Stiles asks, huffing out another laugh. “Went home and found out my apparently comatose uncle killed my sister before going on a killing spree to take out everyone he considered responsible for the death of our family. How are you?”
Derek's lip twitches without his input. Stiles smiles at that and the sadness is starting to slip away from him, finally. Derek feels like he can breathe again.
“You want to know what's happening to you?” Stiles asks softly, making no move to get away. Derek meets his eyes and nods. Stiles claps his hands to Derek's shoulders and squeezes before speaking. “You're becoming a real boy, sour wolf.”
“Stiles,” Derek puts a bit of growl into it and even that isn't enough to make Stiles shrink away from him.
“Oh, come on,” Stiles says ducking away from the window and throwing himself back onto the bed. “Think about it – think about all that shit your creepy as hell uncle said, about being instinct and raw whatever after he became the alpha. Someone becoming the alpha who was never supposed to be – that's got to fuck your balance up, Derek, up here.” Stiles taps his forehead.
“You think the alpha took over?” Derek asks, sitting on the edge of the still open window. Stiles waves a hand.
“Something like that,” Stiles says. “Because, dude, would you really have turned so many people so quickly if you were thinking properly? I know you're Bad Decision guy but that's pretty bad even for you. Scott bad.”
Derek feels his lips twitch again and fights down the smile. He has a reputation.
“But that doesn't explain why I've felt better -” Derek stops and Stiles smiles, nodding and bouncing in place. Scott.
“There it is,” Stiles says. “Scott was the hold out, right? You said that Peter was trying to convince Scott to join with him all that time. You picked up right where Peter left off – the difference is that you succeeded.”
“No more loose ends,” Derek says, mostly to himself. “But Jackson -”
“Oh, who knows what the hell's going on there,” Stiles says, slumping slightly for reasons Derek can't detect. “But it can wait, I'm exhausted.”
“I've got to prepare for the full moon,” Derek says, nodding to himself. “Can you – do you think you could get Scott -”
“You want me to get Scott to help?” Stiles asks and Derek shakes head. “Oh, wait, no, you want me to get Scott to hang out with you again, don't you?”
“I feel better,” Derek says, feeling the same weariness that's rolling off of Stiles in waves. “When he's around I feel better. Clearer. I don't want to go back to what I was.”
“I don't want you to go back to what you were,” Stiles says, faking a shudder. “Seductive is creepy on you. I'll see what I can do, no promises.”
“Good,” Derek says. He shifts and sits sideways on the ledge, one leg hanging out the window, before stopping himself. “Stiles?”
“Yeah?” Stiles looks at him, his eyes unreadable.
“You don't have to -” Stiles' eyes go wide and he makes abortive gestures with his hands.
“Thanks for not letting me drown,” Derek speaks over the top of him. “Thanks for this. Thank you for being a part of my pack.”
“I -” the look on Stiles' face is hilarious, like he's swallowed his own tongue from surprise, and that's the image Derek takes with him as he slips out the window, landing gently on the ground.
On the edge of his hearing, just before he hears the window snap back into place, he hears Stiles: “Thank you for saving Scott's life. And mine. So we're even, really. Thanks.”
Things become easier and harder, after that night. The kanima business ends bloody and horrifying and nobody comes out of it unscarred; some people physically, some mentally, all for life. The strength of the pack is in Derek and Derek is the strength of the pack.
It's an addictive feeling, heady, but looking at Stiles, remembering their conversation, brings Derek down to earth. Grounds him.
In the days, weeks, months that follow the pack continues to be strong together and weak apart. They fight, sometimes, and not everyone is happy with Derek's lessons (Scott fights him every step of the way, it's exhausting and perfect, pushing them both to their best). The human pack members they gather up, partners and friends, strengthen the pack too.
Derek's never been a purist. Even if he had been he thinks he would've made an exception for Stiles.
Two years after Derek made himself into the alpha of Beacon Hills he wakes up to find Stiles in his bedroom. (He repaired the old house, at last, because of insistent urging from Scott and Boyd. Stiles said he had to stop pretending he was going to move on. Stiles is too smart for his own good.)
“God, Stiles,” Derek says, startled for only the fourth time in their friendship. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Can you get up and meet me downstairs?” Stiles asks, rocking from one foot to the other. Derek's clock reads just after seven and he didn't even think Stiles knew seven am existed (unless he came at it from the other side).
“Is something wrong?” Derek asks, snapping to full wakefulness as he listens to the unsteady beating of Stiles' heart (Stiles' heart is always a little unsteady and Derek's never been able to figure out why).
“No, no,” Stiles waves his hands, wide gestures drifting through the air. Every time he sees it Derek's reminded of the times Stiles has been small and his heart aches. He tries to not to examine what that means.
“Give me five minutes,” Derek says, pushing the covers back. Stiles nods and practically spins out of the room. Derek rubs a hand over his hair and tries to figure out what the hell is going on.
He can hear Stiles moving about restlessly as he dresses and brushes his teeth. Isaac is dead to the world in his room, soft snores leaking through the seams of his door, and the rest of the pack aren't due to much later in the morning. There's going to be a party, later, and Erica is in charge of it. Even after two years they still think it's best to leave Derek out of these things but he stopped 'disapproving of fun', as Stiles put it, a long time ago.
“What do you want?” Derek asks when he finds Stiles in the kitchen. He knows something weird's going on when Stiles doesn't complain about the rudeness of the question.
“You have to promise me something,” Stiles says, his fingers curling into the sleeves of his shirt. He's nervous, twitchy, and Derek really wants to know why.
“What?” he asks, hitching a hip against the counter. Stiles paces.
“You have to promise that, no matter what, you won't kill me for this,” Stiles says, not looking at Derek. Derek's heart flips in his chest because he hasn't threatened Stiles in over a year, hasn't subjected him to physical anger in longer.
“Stiles -” Derek starts but Stiles holds up a hand to stop him, finally focusing his eyes on Derek's.
“Promise me,” Stiles says, determination lining the words. Derek nods, at a loss for what else to do.
Stiles nods to himself and stands there for a long moment, staring at Derek. Derek's about to prompt him, having gotten used to the possibility that sometimes Stiles won't always start things, when Stiles takes several determined step forward. Into Derek's personal space.
Derek tilts his head so he can still see Stiles' eyes and so he's looking when they flutter shut, when Stiles slides a hand along Derek's jaw to the nape of his neck and tugs him down, when Stiles presses his lips to Derek's in a firm, uncomplicated kiss.
Derek blows a breath of surprise out through his nose because this – he should've known this, he should've seen this – but then he's hit by an overwhelming sensation of right and his hands are coming to rest on Stiles' hips and Stiles is letting him lick his way into his mouth and -
That's what that ache was. The indefinable tugging in his chest even after his pack was made whole. It was this. Stiles.
“Happy birthday to me,” Stiles mumbles against Derek's lips when they pull apart to breathe.
Derek breathes in sharply and Stiles' fingers tighten on the back of his neck and that's all Derek needs to know what Stiles has been doing for two years, why he never saw this coming, and he's so thankful for it that he kisses Stiles again, a little harder this time, putting everything he can into it.
(Stiles knows about Kate. He's one of the few packmembers who does.)
“Happy birthday,” Derek says when they break again, his fingers digging into Stiles' hips when Stiles tries to back up. He hesitates briefly before shifting to put his arms around Stiles and draw him in. Stiles' head falls to rest on his shoulder and they fit together too well, terrifyingly well.
Stiles taps a four beat on the counter behind them and Derek laughs, long used to not hiding the feeling away, and he shakes he head so that Stiles can feel.
“Not anymore,” he says, his head and heart clear. “Not anymore.”
He's not a wooden boy anymore.