His pack was up to something. Derek could smell it. Since the night that he wasn't thinking or talking about, the pack had been keeping close around Stiles. They all leaned more into his personal space and Stiles now smelled faintly of all of them. Derek could still smell arousal on Stiles, combined with a familiar thread of fear – two facts that made Derek's wolf howl and demand to be closer. But there was also strength and resolve and pain like shards of glass. The wolf yearned to comfort Stiles too.
Derek shook his head abruptly. He should be pleased that the pack was rallying around one of their own, that they were keeping each other safe and strong. He wasn't.
Derek hefted the spade up to his shoulder. This wouldn't take long. He regularly tended Laura's grave. She deserved someplace peaceful and neat. Derek paused for a moment. Something was different today. An unexpected scent caught his attention near the plot. Stiles? It was faint, but definitely smelled like the younger pack member. But Stiles wasn't there. Derek frowned. So Stiles had visited Laura's grave recently. And he'd left something behind.
At the head of the grave was a small spiky clump of aloe, and a few pieces of rosemary. Derek stared. His Mom had loved fresh flowers. She'd talked about their meanings. Some of the books she'd bought on the subject had survived the fire. A smart code, she'd called it. If something needed to be covertly said, you could use nature.
Aloe for grief. Rosemary for remembrance.
Every part of Derek tensed. The flowers could be about Laura. It could be about Derek's still raw grief for her. It could also be about the space between Stiles and Derek now. Was Stiles mourning, and remembering, that?
Derek pulled up weeds with harsh vicious movements. Fucking Stiles. And that, Stiles' voice triumphantly reminded him in his head, was Derek's problem, wasn't it? Derek uprooted more unwanted plants and worked until he'd sweated through his shirt and his mind felt sharper and clear. But it wasn’t enough anymore.
Once evening hit, Derek silently visited the Stilinski house. He wanted to climb through Stiles' window. He wanted to breathe in the richness of Stiles' scent. He wanted to do a lot of things.
Instead, he was hit by the overwhelming odor of grief and sadness. Stiles and the Sheriff were sat together at the kitchen table, someone had been crying, and they were talking about Mrs Stilinksi. Stiles' expression was strained and sad and Derek's hands twitched. But the grief was too familiar and in a rush, it brought with it fire and smoke and Laura's body. Derek ran until all he could smell was wolfsbane and rosemary.
Lydia sneered at him more now. She reeked of contempt. Baring his teeth at her or even wolfing out had no effect at all. It was infuriating. She was still the strongest of the Betas, but she showed Derek no respect or deference. If anything, she looked down on him now. And no amount of discipline was changing her stance.
“You’re an idiot,” she told him one evening as she strode out of the door in a cloud of perfume and disdain.
She treated Derek with more derision than she’d ever shown towards Scott or Jackson.
Stiles treated him fine. He still smiled and babbled and got too much into people’s personal space. He was still Stiles, though when he looked at Derek, his smile was partly fake and there was a coolness and hurt under the friendliness and manic gestures. That was fine. That was what Derek needed – space between them.
Then one day apples showed up in his kitchen. There was a hint of Stiles’ scent with them, and a warm smudge of flour. It all became clear when Stiles showed up to that night’s pack meeting, his arms dusted with flour, and butter under his fingernails. He and Allison had been making apple pies together. Derek smirked at the wholesome cliché. Allison was genuinely cheerful and pleased with their afternoon’s work, as was Scott who’d apparently had to be locked out of the kitchen to prevent him from eating the pies. Stiles was using his share of the dessert to sneak more fruit into his Dad’s diet.
“You've got the leftovers,” he told Derek. “You need more variety in your diet too. More five-a-day, less woodland creatures.”
Derek did not feel an echo of warmth at the sensation of somebody looking after him. He viciously bit into an apple and did not think about Stiles.
The next week, he found marigolds beside Laura’s grave. A sharp ache blossomed in his chest. Marigolds for pain and grief. Laura had bought a potted marigold after the fire. She’d looked after it meticulously. The flowers were blazes of orange and yellow, like flames, like Laura’s hair when it was hit by sunlight.
Stiles left shells and seaweed in Derek’s bathroom sink one weekend night after a beach trip. The salt smell was extremely strong, but Derek could still smell Stiles’ fingerprints in there too. That didn’t explain why Stiles had done it though.
Derek texted him to find out. There was a pause before Stiles replied, like he was thinking about it hard. Then he briskly answered that his Dad hated finding seaweed and slime in the sink. That was all. Derek dragged his gaze from the phone to the sink and back again. That wasn’t an explanation.
The salt smell was strong but it cut through everything else like a breath of fresh air. It was something new and distracting. Derek could hone in on it when the deeply-embedded scent of ashes and burning or the memory of his parents’ laundry detergent and Laura’s favorite toffee candies became too much.
He slopped the seaweed and shells into a large empty jar and left it in the bathroom. He visited it often.
Allison looked at him with almost pity. That always raised Derek’s hackles – a human girl, a relative of Kate, a hunter-in-training, looking at him like she knew. What did she know?
She knew how to resist being with the one she loved, for him and for her and for her family. She knew about losing family in this fight and about continuing anyway. He glowered at her, but Allison just shook her head and almost smiled.
Derek preferred the seaweed’s company anyway.
On a Tuesday, there was a box of peonies. Flowers for prosperity and honor. Pink and white. Something pleased and more than fond rose unbidden in Derek. Somebody other than him was making an effort to regularly remember Laura. Did Stiles talk to Laura when he visited? He probably talked to his Mom.
It wasn’t difficult to find Mrs Stilinski’s grave. Derek made sure that Stiles was occupied by Scott before making the journey out. Derek stared down at the grave, discomfort making him tense and awkward. It wasn’t his place to be here. That hadn’t stopped Stiles from visiting Laura. Maybe Stiles was only one to visit his Mom. The Sheriff was still often swathed in sadness, frozen with his hand clenched around a whiskey glass when he was clearly thinking about his late wife.
It was a simple stone and the plot was well-kept. Stiles’ work definitely. Derek put down a handful of Canterbury Bells. He lingered there for only a moment. He hadn't known Stiles' Mom well. He remembered her easy kindness and genuine smile. He recalled her faintly smelling of baking powder and biro ink.
He only said “Thanks” before quickly walking away, because that was what Canterbury Bells meant. And because that said it all.
Scott, Jackson, and Stiles had started meeting for private lacrosse practices. Derek had secretly started watching them. All three were in uniform but mostly it was Scott and Jackson who clashed physically and hard. Stiles joined in but usually his hands were windmilling as he talked and directed and scolded. Somehow the practice only occasionally included snarling and wolfing out. Stiles rolled his eyes and yelled at them. The Betas were learning their boundaries, how far they could push each other, how strong and powerful they now were and what that actually meant for their team sport – the things that they couldn't work on at school lacrosse practices. It was a good idea.
The Betas weren't careful or gentle with Stiles and he threw himself into it, eager to play. He got knocked down, causing Derek's fists to clench and whiten. But surprisingly Jackson pulled Stiles to his feet, laughing and shoving him.
The pack was listening to Stiles, amid the insults. They were finally coming together and they were doing so around Stiles.
The sweetbriars stood out like snowflakes against the grassy grave. Derek glared at them, tension tightening his jaw and pain sweeping through him. But the flowers stayed where they were, accusing him and refusing to melt.
Sweetbriars, for a wound to be healed.
Derek used to watch crappy sci-fi films with Stiles. He used to spend a lot of time with the younger human. It had crept up on him. He'd often visited Stiles for research, for answers, to remind him that Scott was straying and that Stiles needed to be useful and help out. Then Derek had begun lingering for longer, because somehow he'd gotten more than used to Stiles' babble and going home to a silent house afterwards now felt wrong somehow.
Then he'd realized that it wasn't just the talking he missed. It was Stiles' smell and the way he'd flush and how his fear was now receding and how there was steel already there under the softness of youth. When Stiles grew into that strength, he was going to be formidable. Derek already liked what he saw.
One night they'd been talking and Stiles had leaned closer. His mouth had been so inviting and Derek had felt the pull to be nearer. He'd swayed in for a moment. But then he'd backed away sharply and hadn't visited Stiles' room since.
Stiles was young. And his father was the Sheriff, without a clue about werewolves. There were a million reasons why backing off had been the best idea. Derek only watched now, from outside Stiles' house.
Derek smelled the lavender before he saw it, the soft purple strands piled at the foot of the grave. Lavender for devotion. Stiles' devotion? Derek's? Or both?
Not for the first time, Derek was staring up at Stiles' window. The light was on and he could hear the familiar sounds of Stiles' working on his computer, eating snacks, and endlessly chatting to himself. The wolf growled, straining to get closer to Stiles. No matter what Derek did, the wolf wouldn't be deterred. His Mom had used to say that whilst you could temper a wolf, you couldn't ever make it see what you perceived to be reason. Human and wolf logic were completely different. The times that they were in agreement would be hugely important and should not be ignored.
Derek was trying to ignore it.
The wolf wanted Stiles. So did Derek's human side. And no matter what Derek did, how much time he didn't spend with Stiles, he still had the compulsion to be close to him. Like regularly spending hours staring at Stiles' house.
Stiles still always left his window unlocked.
There was a lot of paper in Derek's house, paper that didn't belong to him. Stiles insisted that some werewolf research had to be kept beyond his Dad's reach because his Dad was smart enough to realize what wasn't schoolwork and there were only so many times that Stiles could use a new interest in mythology as an excuse.
The paper smelled of Stiles. Sometimes it permeated every room in the house. A sheet of it ripped between Derek's claws. Later, he carefully gathered the papers together and left them in the lounge. He could take care of the papers.
The head of the grave was almost covered in pink and yellow. A mass of honeysuckle was draped there like a shawl. Like a gift, or a comfort, or a huge neon sign. Honeysuckle, for devoted affection, for possibly even bonds of love. A corner of Derek's mouth slid upwards. Laura would have loved those flowers. She'd have liked Stiles a lot too. And she would have called Derek a stubborn idiot. She and Stiles would have laughed at him together.
His wolf agreed. Derek closed his eyes.
Stiles' jeep unsurprisingly smelled of Stiles, of amusement and hope and love. It was heady and made Derek want to rub himself against the seats and leave his own mark there. Instead he made a noise under his breath. If less humans were around, it would have been a greedy triumphant howl.
He left a bundle of ragweed on the driver's seat. They weren't attractive plants. They were dull green with tiny bright yellow flowers. They were also known as bloodweed.
They meant love reciprocated.