Derek's sixteen, sitting in the back of an ambulance with a blanket wrapped around him and watching as the firefighters try to put out the fire that's still burning, the skeleton of the house black among the red and orange flame. It's cold and the blanket doesn't do much, but he clutches it closer anyway. Someone is asking him questions, but he can't hear the words. Over the officer's shoulder, he can see Laura, wrapped in a blanket and talking to the Sheriff. He can see the moon from where he's sitting, hanging low over the treetops, nearly full.
Everything's flickering in the firelight and there's a rushing in Derek's ears, like he's next to some great river, and he's not sure if it's real or not.
Movement by the treeline catches his attention and for a second, Derek sees a young boy standing there. He blinks and the boy is gone. No one else seems to have noticed and then Laura's coming over, pulling his head down into her shoulder and one of them is trembling. Derek's not sure it's not him.
Their uncle is found a few hours later, wandering around the forest with severe burns. He dies in the hospital a week later due to complications. There are no other survivors of the fire.
Derek forgets about the boy.
Derek is twenty-two when he returns to Beacon Hills, summoned by a phone call that starts with, "Derek Hale? This is Deputy Masters of the Beacon Hills Police Department. I regret to inform you that this morning..."
He stops the car in front of the house and lets it idle. The house isn't on fire, anymore, but the burnt wreck of it is almost worse. There are faint images of memories overlaid on the charred skeleton, snatches of what that window had looked like, what color the porch swing had been painted.
It hurts, looking at it now, especially now, and he throws the car into reverse and doesn't look back as he drives to a motel he'd seen on the way into town.
Just before he reaches the paved road, there's a turn in the dirt track. Derek takes it perhaps a little too fast and he has to hit the brakes and concentrate on not spinning out as the tires skid. Just as the car settles, though, he catches a glimpse of a boy leaning on a tree and watching him.
Buzzed hair and dark eyes, hands shoved into the pockets of a large red hoodie.
The car evens out and Derek stops it short, twisting to look behind him where the boy had been.
There's no one there and after a moment, Derek starts driving again, confused and a bit weirded out. He catches himself looking in his mirrors more often than usual and forces himself to keep his eyes forward until he reaches the motel.
The funeral is a short, somber affair. Just Derek, the priest and the Sheriff, who looks tired and older than six years can account for. After the coffin has been lowered down and the first handful of dirt tossed onto the smooth wood, Derek leaves. Too many memories and none of them good.
As he's leaving the parking lot, though, he sees the boy again. Same haircut, same hooded sweatshirt, leaning against the sign for the Beacon Hills Memorial Garden and looking down at the phone in his hands. Derek idles there for a long moment, staring at the boy.
Then the boy looks up, right at Derek.
Derek's halfway back to the motel before he can (almost) convince himself that the flash of red had just been a reflection of the light, never mind that the sun had been behind the boy.
It's four days before Derek can get in to see the lawyer to deal with Laura's will and in that time, he sees the boy another three times. Once in the grocery store, staring down at the steaks like he's considering eating them raw; once at a bus stop as Derek drives past on his way to the laundromat; and once when Derek accepts an offer of dinner from the Sheriff, the boy standing across the street from the two-story house that Derek thinks is rather big for a man living alone.
The boy looks the same every time Derek sees him, but it's that last sighting that makes Derek curious enough to go looking for answers.
He starts with the local high school, looking up the website and tracking down the digital yearbook. The boy had been at least fifteen, so the high school is Derek's best bet on finding out who he is quickly.
Forty five minutes of clicking through pages of photos doesn't give him any answers, though, and he tries the year previous. When that also turns up nothing, he skips a few years and finds the middle school's website, clicking on the yearbook from five years ago. That one's a bust, too, but the next one yields results.
For a moment, Derek just stares at the screen, taken aback.
“In Our Memories: Stiles Stilinski” the heading reads and below it is a picture of the boy--Stiles. The kid's a good six years younger, with a gap-toothed smile and longer hair, but the eyes are the same. Derek leaves the page open as he looks up news from that time frame.
There are a number of articles from that year, but it doesn't take long for Derek to find the one he's looking for. He clicks on the headline--"Animal Attack Claims Life of Sheriff's Son"--and reads the short article, lingering for a moment on a picture of the Sheriff, who looks much like Derek remembers seeing him just hours ago.
The article tells him that the attack had happened just days after the Hale fire, that the coffin was buried empty, that no body had actually been found--just enough blood and bits of bone and flesh for the officials to declare the boy dead.
Derek thinks about that flash of red (the one he's starting to think might not have been reflected light in any way, shape or form) and opens a new tab.
After meeting with the lawyer the next day, Derek doesn't go back to the motel.
Halfway down the road to his--to the house, Derek stops the car and pulls out the key. He sits there for a moment, thinking about the stack of print-outs and books in the backseat. Then he sighs and gets out, stepping away from the road, but close enough to his car that he could potentially make a quick getaway.
The boy--Stiles, Derek reminds himself, the boy's name is Stiles--isn't there, but Derek's mostly sure that he'll turn up. It'd be really annoying if he didn't, after all the times Derek's seen him without actually looking for him. Yelling for him seems weird, though, so Derek just leans against a tree and waits.
It's maybe ten minutes before someone says, "What do you want?"
Derek flinches, twisting to look at Stiles, who's leaning against Derek's car like he's been there this whole time. Nothing's changed--same red hoodie, same ragged jeans and tattered sneakers, same hair and eyes--but somehow, everything's different.
"You're supposed to be dead," Derek blurts, which really wasn't what he'd planned to say. Stiles shrugs.
"Yeah, well. Life had other plans, I guess."
Derek takes a deep breath and thinks about the research he'd done. "What are you?" he asks slowly.
Stiles blinks, as if the question surprised him. "What do you--what?"
"Your eyes," Derek explains, waving a hand in the general direction of Stiles' face. "They flashed red once. And you were attacked by something that I'm willing to bet wasn't actually an animal."
He's not expecting the way Stiles laughs at that, shoulders shaking and mouth stretching in a wide grin. "And that made you think I wasn't human?" he asks once the laughter tapers off, still grinning at Derek. Derek's not sure if it's normal to be uneasy about a smile, even one that's showing a lot of tooth, but he is. It’s too…animalistic, for comfort. "Do you think everything he see in the movies is real? How about sparkly vampires?"
Derek scowls. "I'm not stupid," he snaps. "I don't know about vampires, but I'm mostly convinced you're a werewolf."
"Werewolf," Stiles echoes. "Right." He's laughing it off, but Derek can see the tension gathering in his shoulders and that gives him the conviction to dig into his pocket.
"Prove it, then," he says. He tosses it at Stiles, who fields it easily. Derek nods at it. "Go on, open it."
Stiles gives him a wary look, but he tugs at the drawstring. The pouch is only about halfway open when Stiles suddenly snarls and throws it away from himself violently, eyes flashing red.
"You trying to kill me?" he growls and wow, Derek really hadn't thought that one through. The wolfsbane had seemed like a good idea, a fool-proof way to figure out if his suspicions were correct, but now that he's faced with what's definitely a werewolf--and an angry one, at that--it doesn't seem so smart, anymore.
Stiles takes a deep breath and visibly calms down, leaning back against Derek' car. "Right. So, congratulations, Miss Drew, you've sniffed out the local supernatural element of Beacon Hills. Would you like an amnesia-inducing concussion or an induction into the wonderfully wacky world of werewolves as your consolation prize?"
Derek takes a moment to parse through that and get over the insult of having been referred to as Nancy Drew. "Is there an option three?"
"Yes," Stiles says, crossing his arms. "Third option is death. That's where you get d-e-d dead and are no longer capable of snitching to people who might believe you."
"Like your dad?" Derek asks and regrets it almost immediately when Stiles' shoulders hunch up around his ears before he forces them back down. "Sorry, I didn't mean--"
"No, it's fine," Stiles says. He takes a deep breath. "But yeah, like my dad."
He stares off into the wood for a few moments and Derek wonders if maybe he should offer condolences or something; social interaction hadn't exactly been his strong suit since the fire.
"Come on," Stiles says suddenly. "We might as well be comfortable while you ask your questions. We can go to my place."
He settles into the passenger side of Derek's car and Derek cautiously climbs into the driver's seat. "Where is that?"
"Further down this road," Stiles says and he grins at Derek again.
"The county bought it sometime last year," Stiles says as Derek pulls up to the burnt wreck. "It's been slated for condemnation, but the paperwork keeps going missing. Oops." He shrugs when Derek looks at him, then gets out of the car. "Come on, sunshine. It's nice enough that we can sit on the porch and I'll even go get us some cokes, how's that?"
Derek follows slowly. It's hard, walking up to the charred remains of his childhood, knowing that it's not his, that everything it had stood for is gone, too. Stiles comes back out of the house before Derek's even made it to the porch, carrying two cans of soda and dropping onto the top step. Carefully, Derek sits on the step below and takes the offered drink. It's warm and he doesn't open it, just rolls it between his hands.
"You live here," he says and it's not a question. Stiles takes a drink of his soda and nods.
"Yeah. It seemed fitting. I moved in after they finished getting rid of the obvious safety hazards, maybe a month or so after the fire. It's not a bad place, really, beyond the fact that it's open to the elements pretty much twenty-four-seven. And even that's not too hard to deal with, what with being a creature of the night and all."
"How did it happen?" Derek asks, wanting to think about something else.
"Signed a non-disclosure agreement and passed a lot of rigorous tests for the government," Stiles says promptly before rolling his eyes at Derek. "How do you think, dumbass? I was out wandering the woods after dark and got bit by a werewolf."
"Oh, right." Derek considers the can of coke he's holding, debates whether warm soda is worth the distraction. He thinks about the article he'd read, about the supposed animal attack and the way it had followed the burning of the Hale house so closely. "When?"
"What? Oh, uh, the night this place burned down, actually," Stiles tells him, waving at the house behind them. "I followed my dad when he got the call. Got bit on my way back."
"You were, what, twelve?"
"Eleven. I'm almost seventeen, now."
"That's pretty impressive," Derek says and Stiles looks a bit surprised and a bit pleased. "Do you, uh, do you know who bit you?"
At that, Stiles flushes and looks away. "Uh, yeah. I know."
He doesn't offer any further information and Derek considers asking, getting a name and seeing if it shakes loose a dusty memory. But Stiles is tense and staring at the can of coke in his hands like he could set it on fire with his eyes, so he doesn't.
"He or she still around?" he asks instead.
Stiles shakes his head, still not looking at Derek. "Nah. Killed the bastard a few days after I got bit. That's how I got the red eyes," he explains. "They used to flash gold."
Derek thinks that gold eyes would have looked good on Stiles. The red sort of creeps him out. "Huh. So, do you change into an actual wolf or do you just get really hairy every full moon?"
Stiles snorts. "Yeah, the shaving's a bitch," he says. "Nah, I don't fully shift, at least not like you're probably thinking. There are the eyes, like you saw, and I grow fangs and claws and, uh, actually, I'm not entirely sure what else changes. I never manage to be in front of a mirror when it happens."
"But you stay human-looking?" Derek says.
"Yeah, for the most part. Though, the running around on all fours and eating Bambi's mom kind of detracts from that," Stiles says, smiling. He shrugs. "It's not too bad. I wish....well, I wish a lot of things, but being a werewolf isn't all that bad. It's got its perks."
"It'd have to," Derek says, momentarily stuck on the mental image of Stiles crouched over a bloody deer.
Stiles glances over. "Hey, you gonna drink that?"
Derek looks down at the unopened coke in his hands and smiles. "Nah, you can have it."
The sun has sunk behind the trees by the time Derek leaves. After the initial conversation about Stiles being a werewolf, they had talked about other things. Normal things. No mention of the supernatural, just Derek filling Stiles in on who's won the World Cup and where the Olympics are being held this time, things like that.
Apparently, living in the woods and avoiding human interaction due to having been declared dead results in a disconnect with what's happening in the world at large. Go figure.
Finally, though, Stiles looks up and says, "Getting dark. You should go."
Derek stands and dusts off his pants. "So, not going to kill me to keep your secret?" he asks, halfway serious. Stiles leans back and palms one of the empty coke cans, almost casually flattening it with one hand.
"Nah," he says, smiling with too many teeth again. "I like you. You can live for a while longer. Tell anyone and all bets are off, though. Now go. You won't want to be out here in a few hours."
"What happens in a few hours?" Derek asks, curious.
"The full moon," Stiles tells him. "Now, shoo."
"I'm going," Derek says. He stops a few steps away, though, and looks back. Stiles is sprawled out, deceptively lean body a natural curve against the straight edges of the porch. The red sweatshirt seems painfully ironic, now, and Derek gets the sharp impression of a wolf in sheep's clothing, made surreal by the knowledge that Stiles is a wolf, of sorts.
"Yes?" Stiles asks, raising an eyebrow. Derek flushes.
"Nothing," Derek says.
"Right," Stiles says slowly, as if he could hear the way Derek's heart had tripped over the lie. He probably could. "Well, see you around, then."
"Yeah," Derek says, but he doesn't move.
Stiles' eyes glow red and Derek's nearly positive that when Stiles grins again, there's a flash of fang. "Derek. Go."
It's a full week before everything is settled with the law offices. In the end, Derek walks out with another life insurance check and full legal authority over Laura's affairs, including the apartment she'd apparently paid for through the next two months.
Derek spends two days going through his sister's stuff, packing up things to keep and things to donate to the local Goodwill. He doesn't want to stay in Beacon Hills, so he puts the apartment back up for rent and assures the landlord that he doesn't want a refund of the deposit. Getting everything back to New York will be interesting, considering his Camaro isn't equipped to haul a trailer, but that's where home is, now.
In all that time, though, he doesn't see Stiles again. Not even a glimpse of the werewolf as he's driving through town. It's a bit disappointing, but understandable. Derek tries not to scan his surroundings all the time, looking for a glimpse of red, but too often he finds himself staring off down the street or thinking about going back to the house.
He doesn't, though.
Instead, he makes arrangements for Laura's stuff to be shipped out by truck, following him by a few days, and double-checks that everything else has been switched over to his accounts. He prints out MapQuest directions for getting back to New York and draws up a loose budget. He stocks up on snacks just before he leaves town.
It's not until he's leaving the gas station, bag of snacks in one hand and keys in the other, that he sees Stiles again.
"Hey, so, where do you live?" Stiles asks over the roof of Derek's car. He's leaning on it like he's got a right to do so, the red fabric of his sweatshirt a sharp contrast to the sleek black of the Camaro.
"New York," Derek says, stopping a few feet away from the car opposite Stiles. "Saratoga Springs."
"Is it nice there?"
Derek shrugs. "I like it well enough. There's a state park," he adds, because it’s true and he’s got a suspicion about where this is going.
Stiles nods. "So, you don't like to listen to rap or weird hip hop stuff, right?"
"I like the classics," Derek admits. Stiles nods again.
"Good, good." He glances down at the bag Derek's holding. "Hope you got sour gummy worms," he adds before getting into the car.
Derek takes a deep breath, then gets in, too, tossing the snack bag into the back, on top of an old duffle bag that's clearly seen better days. Stiles is sprawled out in his seat and it should be odd, having that space filled, but somehow, it feels right.
"So, New York," Derek says, turning the key. Stiles grins at him as the car rumbles to life. The amount of teeth showing makes Derek's pulse trip into double-time, but there’s a distinct lack of fear, this time. Oh, Derek thinks.
"New York," Stiles says.