Stiles knows the Beacon Hills woods like the back of his hand. He knows exactly where he is, even though he’s alone and it’s pushing over an hour past dark and his best friend has abandoned him for working on an essay by Skype with Allison.
The muddy ground is sucking at his sneakers and the dead leaves are slippery and Stiles will never admit it out loud, but he figures this was maybe a bad idea. Even though he knows, unequivocally, that the Hale house is probably five hundred yards somewhere to his right, and his Jeep is to his left, and he is totally not lost.
He holds his cell phone up, the lit display making everything around him seem that much darker. He’s just pressed on Scott’s number – to yell at him for letting him do this alone; who in their right mind goes out looking for something that’s been savaging animals for a week straight, who in their right mind lets their best friend go out looking for that by himself? – when he steps wrong, trips over a root, slips off the somewhat beaten trail, takes a header down a slope and into a couple really solid oak saplings.
“Ow, fuck,” Stiles says, flat on his back, panting up at the murky sky. He’s got a death grip on his phone at least. He turns his head and—comes face-to-face with a deer carcass. “Oh, that is—” He dry heaves a little, then rolls to the side, away from it. “Foul,” he says. “That is foul, so gross.” Why did he want to come out here again?
And then he hears the growling.
Stiles has never actually seen a werewolf before. He’s talked to one on the phone - because Colby has a thing against texting all the time, he likes to hear that Stiles is okay from his own mouth – but there hasn’t been a werewolf loose in Beacon Hills since the Hale tragedy, since Laura left town, dug out a small spread of territory for herself in New York.
So, uh, this is why—why Stiles was following his dad’s police scanner for weird animal attacks for days, because he figured an omega might be out here, never mind the fact that Stiles’ dad said it was highly unlikely any rogue could make it past the Argent outpost alive.
It’s in wolf form, and it’s staring at him. Its eyes glow blue every time it growls.
“So this is great,” Stiles says. He slowly shifts until he’s sitting upright, the wolf tracking every twitch of his limbs.
He tries to remember everything he’s learned in school about omegas – how they’re unstable, unpredictable and vicious, probably fearful and doubly aggressive. This one just looks angry that he’s interrupted its dinner.
“Sorry,” Stiles says.
The wolf cocks its head at him.
“For, uh—” Stiles glances behind him and gags again, so gross. “You were eating,” he says. He waves a hand and the wolf snaps at him, and when Stiles automatically moves to scramble away it darts in and catches hold of his hoodie, snarling in the back of its throat.
Stiles freezes, heart pounding. He hadn’t really been afraid before, he figured if it was going to attack and eat him, it’d have done it already, probably before Stiles had even been aware of its presence. Now, though—he swallows hard and says, “There’s no need for violence, okay? I’m—”
The wolf shakes him, one sharp wrench, and then lets the material of Stiles’ jacket slip through its teeth before burying its nose into Stiles’ armpit.
“Whoa, okay.” Stiles moves, accidentally pushing on the ruff of its neck, but the wolf only snuffles closer, muzzle drifting up to lick at his throat. Stiles bares it without thinking, says, “Okay, okay, we’re being friendly now,” as his hand slips down to rest on the wolf’s side. “Awesome.”
Finally, the wolf backs up and sits on its haunches, and when Stiles tries to gain his feet, it doesn’t stop him. Stiles still moves slow and cautious, watching the wolf for any warning that it’ll lunge – it’s big, now that Stiles is paying full attention, but lean and rangy, unkempt, like it’s been traveling on four feet for a while, and Stiles figures if it didn’t come down through the Argent outpost, it’s most likely from one of the established packs further south. As far as Stiles knows – or his dad, really - there hasn’t been any report of a wolf leaving one of those, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Packs can be close-mouthed and protective, and seeing as how this one doesn’t act anything like a rogue, maybe they didn’t think it was any human’s business.
Stiles crosses his arms over his chest, eyes leaving the wolf to glance at his surroundings. He’s—oh yeah, he’s totally lost now. Great.
“Not that this hasn’t been super fun,” Stiles says, scratching at the side of his neck, “but now I have to figure out where I left my car.”
He feels a split-second of panic when the wolf gets all up in his business again, but then he realizes that—that the wolf is herding him, and he stumbles over his own feet before accidentally grabbing the wolf’s tail – “Sorry, sorry!” – and then he’s trudging through the woods, following its black ass, until they break out into the side of the road where Stiles’ Jeep is parked along the shoulder.
“Huh,” Stiles says. Cool.
The wolf sits by the driver’s side door, and when Stiles unlocks and opens it, it hops inside. Which is, uh, weird. “Are you really—I mean. Come on, out, you.”
The wolf growls, eyes flashing again.
Stiles only hesitates a moment before getting in. “Okay, fine.” He has no idea how he’s going to explain this to his dad.
“So say there’s a lone werewolf in Beacon Hills,” Stiles starts, and Colby says, “Stay away from it. I mean it, Stiles, do not go near it,” and Stiles makes a face at his phone.
He says, “What if it followed me home?”
There’s a long pause. Finally, Colby says, slow and careful, “What, like it’s howling outside your window?”
“Um. More like it’s sleeping on my bed. He, I think, but it’s not like I’m going to check.”
The wolf cracks an eyelid at him and huffs; Stiles is going to take that as both an affirmative and a warning not to go looking for his balls. Stiles is more than happy to accommodate.
“Stiles,” Colby says, a wealth of frustration and resignation in his tone.
“He might be stuck in a change or something, does that happen?” So far, the wolf has shown no interest in taking off his fur. Not that Stiles is complaining. Strangely, having a full-grown wolf in his bedroom is less intimidating than the thought of that wolf morphing into a full-grown man.
Colby sighs. “It can. Look, I’ll talk to Laura, but I’m flying out.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Stiles says. He’s watching the wolf, and the wolf is tense, ears forward, listening. “In fact, that’s probably a really bad idea.” The wolf bares his teeth at him.
“I could contact a more local pack, but I’m pretty sure Laura’ll want me to take care of this,” Colby says, a frown in his voice.
“No, I mean. You know he can hear you, right?”
“Yes, Stiles, I know he can hear me,” Colby says. “And I don’t care, I’m not leaving you alone with a rogue—”
“Pretty sure he’s not feral or anything,” Stiles says. The wolf is staring at him again, head up. He glances to the window, to Stiles, to the door and back again. Stiles covers the phone with his hand and says, “Oh, no you don’t, you wanted to be here, you’re staying now.”
Colby says, “Stiles—”
“No, I hear you, you’re coming, case closed, fine,” Stiles says, mouthing stay to the wolf when he gets to his feet on the mattress, “but it’s not my fault if he rips your face off.”
“Oh my god, Stiles, you see that this is my point, right?”
Stiles says, “He’s not going to hurt me,” because, for some reason, Stiles actually believes that. This wolf is not going to hurt Stiles, he’s absolutely sure. He has no such guarantees about Colby, or even other people, geez, he thinks maybe it’s like dogs and aggression and how Stiles has somehow made it into his circle of trust. Why did he take him out of the woods again?
Colby just curses, says, “I’ll call you when I get there,” and hangs up.
Scott keeps straining to look over Stiles’ shoulder through the computer screen, and finally he says, “Did you get a dog? When did you get a dog?” all confused puppy, scrunched up face, and Stiles sighs deeply, because there is no universe whatsoever that the wolf currently breathing heavy and hot down Stiles’ neck could be mistaken for a dog.
Oh, Scott. Scott, Scott, Scott.
“I found him in the woods,” Stiles says.
Scott says, “You found a dog in the woods?” and the wolf growls and Stiles says, “You should probably stop calling him a dog, I don’t think he likes it.”
Scott cocks his head. “What?”
“Just get over here, okay?” Stiles needs some support, here, because he’s fairly sure Laura is sending Colby all the way across the country to kill his wolf. Laura, for all that she hasn’t set foot in town since almost the entirety of the Hale family was slaughtered six years ago, still considers Beacon Hills her territory, and basically all the other packs in California consider it hers as well. Whether it’s from sympathy and respect for the dead or because Laura is one scary-ass lady wolf – tales of her near-rampage after the fire are still talked about in hushed, exaggerated whispers, they couldn’t even find any remnants of Kate Argent’s body - Stiles doesn’t know for sure. He just knows that it’s rare that they even get any werewolf traveling through, let alone hanging around in their woods for a few weeks, terrorizing their deer population.
It only takes about ten minutes for Scott to bike over from his house – he bursts in like he always does, shouts, “Hey, Stiles,” as he opens the front door, jogs the few steps it takes to get to the stairs, and he’s halfway up them before a vicious snarl rips out of the wolf and he literally throws himself off Stiles’ bed, landing on the floor with his body bunched, fangs flashing, claws cutting into the area rug lying five feet from the door.
Stiles jumps to his feet and yelps, “Circle of trust, circle of trust!” waving his hands around, and the wolf pauses mid-pounce to look at him, bristling fur slowly, slowly falling, ears still pricked, lips still pulled back over sharp, saliva-dripping teeth. “Yeah, that’s right,” Stiles says, and points at himself, then Scott. “Scott friend.”
He swears, swears the wolf rolls his eyes at him as he minutely relaxes his stance, and whatever, he nearly just went berserk on a sixteen-year-old kid for walking into a room, he has no legs to stand on here.
“Holy shit,” Scott says in a rasp, frozen in the hallway, eyes wide, with a white-knuckled grip on the hem of his t-shirt. He gasps for air, hands traveling up to his throat, fear turning to a sudden alarm, and Stiles rushes forward, manhandles him all the way into the room at the same time as he shoves a hand down Scott’s back pocket, yanking out his inhaler.
“Breathe, dude,” he says, stuffing it in Scott’s mouth, and Scott’s hands scramble to take it from him while Stiles just curls an arm around his back to keep him upright.
Color inches back into Scott’s face and he lowers his hands to clutch his inhaler against his chest. He says, “Holy shit,” again, and, “That isn’t a dog.”
“Uh, no,” Stiles says, because if he was a dog, he’d be some kind of Irish wolfhound on steroids, and Stiles is fairly sure that’s impossible outside of some kind of dubious lab.
Scott and the wolf have a stare-down, even though Stiles keeps telling him, loudly, that it’s a bad idea. Who has a stare-down with a werewolf? Dead people, that’s who. Especially considering he just went all mindless guard dog on his ass not even a half hour before.
Scott tentatively lifts a hand, like he’s going to actually touch the wolf, before a deep rumble, not quite a growl, makes him stop. His fingers curl into a fist and drop back to his lap. “Wow,” he says. He blinks first and looks away, which seems to satisfy the wolf – he snorts and moves to stand by Stiles, shoulder brushing his side.
Scott says, “What are you going to tell your dad?”
“Considering Colby’s flying in, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to tell him the truth.” Which is going to suck so hard, really. Stiles predicts a massive grounding in his future, it won’t be pleasant.
Scott makes a face and says, “Sucks.”
“Totally, dude.” Stiles flops back on his bed, sighing at the ceiling.
It’s silent for a few seconds, the wolf licks his chops, a weird, wet sound that makes Stiles grimace, and then Scott says, “So—Call of Duty?”
A heavy paw on his face wakes Stiles up, the wolf’s eyes glowing fiercely blue in the dark.
“What?” Stiles says.
The wolf hops down off the bed and pads over to the window, his back a straight, tense line, tail and ears alert. When Stiles doesn’t move to follow, he growls low and scratches at the pane of glass.
“Okay, okay,” Stiles says, throwing back the covers and stumbling over. He unlocks the window and pushes it up. “How are you even going to get—down,” he says, as the wolf leaps over the sill and fades into a shadow darting across the yard under the full moon.
“Awesome,” Stiles says through a yawn. “See you later, bye.” He closes the window again, falls into bed, wrapping the blankets even tighter around himself, already colder without the wolf curled up into his side.
In the small of the morning, Stiles wakes with a start, blinking up at the ceiling, heart pounding. He’s not even really sure what woke him up. The sun is weak, but his shades are open, and it’s bright enough that he doesn’t think he’ll be able to get back asleep, not to mention the spike of adrenaline still coursing through his body. He rolls his head, pressing the flat of his hand to his heart, and sees the wolf’s disgruntled face glaring at him from outside. Stiles doesn’t even know how he does that, is he hovering? Riding a broom? Do werewolves fly?
The wolf lets out a low woof, obviously not impressed with Stiles lack of movement.
“Fine, geez, hold your horses, dude,” Stiles says, checking the time as he climbs out of bed. Six thirty is way too early to be up on a Saturday.
The wolf has his front paws on the outside sill, stretched out with his back paws on the edge of the sloping roof of the garage below, and he nimbly jumps inside the room with an annoyed chuff. Seriously.
Seriously, he’s annoyed at Stiles.
“I hate you,” Stiles says.
The look the wolf throws him clearly states how much he knows that Stiles is lying. And Stiles is lying, because, hello, real live werewolf in his house. Kinda cool.
Stiles crawls back under his covers and the wolf follows, nudging him over with his nose until Stiles has rolled all the way up against the wall. The wolf is large and hot all along his back, and his breath smells like dead bunnies when he props his muzzle up on the side of Stiles’ neck, but it doesn’t take all that long for Stiles to fall back into a deep sleep.
Stuff Stiles doesn’t like to deal with first thing: hot, moist dog breath in his face, a cuddly werewolf creepifying his perfectly normal morning wood with shades of bestiality, and his dad holding his service revolver up against the skull of his bedmate, never mind the fact that his bedmate could possibly be a vicious unhinged rogue omega.
Props to Dad for remaining calm, cool and collected, though, that is one steady hand.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” Stiles says, even though it’s pretty much exactly what it looks like, Stiles’ dad makes that clear with the arch of his right eyebrow.
The wolf himself is tense, a growl in the base of his throat, but doesn’t seem close to the near-rage he’d shown toward Scott, so Stiles counts that as a win.
“Start explaining, son,” his dad says, gun unwavering.
“Yeah, okay,” Stiles says. “Dad, this is, uh—he followed me home? Can we keep him?”
His dad gives him a heavy sigh. “Stiles.”
“It’s totally fine, I’ve got this under control, you can put away your gun now,” Stiles says, and Stiles’ dad says, “A human body was found in the woods last night,” and narrows his eyes even more on the wolf.
Stiles immediately thinks of the wolf leaving, of him scratching at the window and coming back in the early morning with blood on his breath, but he also knows, is absolutely sure that his wolf didn’t kill any person. He couldn’t have.
“It wasn’t him,” Stiles says.
“You don’t know that.”
Stiles wants to move, wants to shift up onto his knees and plead, but he doesn’t want to jostle the wolf or startle his dad. “Dad, dad, I brought him home yesterday, it wasn’t him, okay?”
Stiles’ dad glances over at him. “He was here all night?”
Relief swims through Stiles, making his heart stutter. “Yeah, yes. He was here, he didn’t kill anybody.”
Stiles’ dad doesn’t look like he completely believes him, but he does pull up the revolver, sliding the safety back on, and Jesus Christ, his dad was really going to shoot the wolf right in Stiles’ bed, that’s so wrong.
“Well, that means either we have a rabid mountain lion on our hands, or another rogue’s out there,” Stiles’ dad says, and Stiles says, “This guy isn’t a rogue, Dad, he’s tame as a puppy.” Stiles ruffles his ears and the wolf lifts his lip in a silent snarl, but doesn’t growl. Stiles grins down at him cheerily and resists the urge to scrub a hand over his muzzle.
“Uh huh, right,” Stiles’ dad says, skeptical. He hooks the gun back into his holster and straightens up. “How about you talk to your puppy about sleeping on the floor, then.”
“Breakfast is in fifteen,” he says before giving the wolf one last long look and leaving the room.
Stiles feels bad about lying to his dad; he should be better than that, but he did what had to be done. He pushes the wolf out of his way and climbs out of bed, wagging a finger at him. “You better not make me regret this. If you’re chomping down on humans and using me as your patsy, I’ll be so pissed.”
The wolf just yawns big and wide and then stuffs his head under Stiles’ pillow.
The sheriff isn’t thrilled with having more werewolves in town, even perfectly civil ones like Colby, but he doesn’t threaten to call the Argents and agrees to let the Hale pack deal with Stiles’ wolf for now. The other, whoever it may be, is not so lucky.
The woods are crawling with hunters by mid-morning.
Stiles doesn’t really have anything against the Argents – Kate was a psychopathic anomaly, they freely admitted that, and Allison is a sweetheart – but that doesn’t mean they can’t be just as ruthless as any werewolf and totally creepy to boot.
So it’s a relief that the wolf stands stoically at the window that night and doesn’t seem inclined to leave: Stiles hadn’t been looking forward to trying to convince him to stay.
He swivels back and forth on his desk chair, talking at him. “Colby should be here tomorrow,” he says. And, “Look, do you think you could maybe not try to tear out his throat? He’s a good guy, I’m pretty sure Laura would do way worse to you than any Argent could if anything happened to him.”
The wolf barely glances over his shoulder at him.
“I’m serious,” Stiles says. “You can’t pull that shit you did with Scott, okay?” He doesn’t say that his concern is more for the wolf than for Colby. Colby can probably hold his own; any wolf with a pack, Stiles knows, is, like, ten times stronger than an omega. Plus his dad would go ape shit and break out the wolfsbane bullets.
The wolf sits, rests his head on the windowsill, ears up and alert, tail a slow sweep across the floor.
It occurs to Stiles that maybe he knows the other werewolf. Like maybe they were hunting together, or maybe Stiles’ wolf was hunting it, vigilante style.
“You know who it is, don’t you?” Stiles says, drumming his fingers on his thigh.
One ear flicks back and then forward again.
Stiles knows Colby purely by accident, because Stiles is nosy and persistent, and Colby moderates a werewolf forum that Stiles bribed Danny into hacking for him once. They’d been IMing for nearly a month before they figured out they both knew Laura Hale – Stiles vaguely, and mostly from hearsay, Colby because he’s Laura’s freaking Second – and after that they were enthusiastic cell phone buddies, Stiles keeping the Hale pack up-to-date on all the fascinating Beacon Hills news.
This is the first time Stiles has ever seen Colby in person. He doesn’t look exactly how he pictured him; he’s taller and ganglier, with long blonde hair pulled back in a tail – his face looks like maybe he smiles a lot, which Stiles thinks is nice, nice that Laura has that around her every day, but right now he looks tired, thin-lipped and tense, sharp blue eyes focused on the big black wolf beside Stiles.
The wolf growls a little in the back of his throat, but it doesn’t sound all that threatening. Good. Maybe some of what Stiles said had gotten through to him.
And then the wolf slinks forward and nudges Colby’s hand. He looks back at Stiles, like he’s confused, and whines.
Stiles shrugs and says, “I have no idea, buddy,” because whatever’s happening here is totally lost on Stiles, too.
Colby pulls back his hand and crosses his arms over his chest, staring down at the wolf. He looks more contemplative than mad now, though, and he rocks back on his heels before tilting his head and scenting the air. “This isn’t the only one,” he says.
“Well, no,” Stiles starts, because he hadn’t filled Colby in on that yet, but then Colby shakes his head and says, “No, here. This isn’t the only werewolf here, I can smell it all over your house,” and that makes Stiles go instantly cold and slightly nauseas.
Stiles says, “Shit,” and his wolf presses all up into his side, like he could curl all the way around him and keep him safe. It’s a nice sentiment, Stiles appreciates the support. He digs his hand into the wolf’s ruff and says, “Shit,” again.
“What didn’t you tell me, Stiles?” Colby says.
“Uh,” Stiles says, “there’s been a murder.”
The victim is an RN from the hospital. That’s all that Stiles can get out of his dad, but he eavesdrops on his dad and Colby and he finds out it’s a woman from the long term care unit, and that Peter Hale, Laura’s uncle, has gone missing. He’s the only family Laura has left in the entire world, even though she’s basically avoided him for six years, so Stiles figures chances are good that she’ll be heading back to town herself.
Colby confirms it, saying to Stiles, “We’ll get this sorted when Laura gets here,” and he eyes the wolf askance where he’s being, okay, yes, really strangely clingy with Stiles.
Stiles has only known him a few days, but he can tell this is weird.
“I talked to both the Weeder and Kant packs to the south. Weeder says this one,” Colby throws a hand out at the wolf, “had been hanging around for a few months, but didn’t cause any trouble. Kant, on the other hand.” He pauses, presses his lips together. “She doesn’t think he’s stuck in a shift, just stubborn, but he’d been with her pack for years and refused to change back, even under Alpha authority.”
“Isn’t that impossible?” Stiles is pretty sure an alpha can get anyone in their pack to do anything if they used the right tone.
“Not if you don’t fully accept the pack as your own.” Colby shrugged. “Normally outliers aren’t allowed, but Darcy had a soft spot for him. Never caused any trouble, kept to himself. I don’t know what made him travel this far north.”
“So you don’t think he killed the nurse,” Stiles says, and Colby gives him a sharp look.
“You told your dad he was here.”
“And he was here,” Stiles says, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. “And then maybe he wasn’t for a little while, and then he was again?” He tightens his grip on his wolf when Colby growls.
“God damn it, Stiles!”
“You said he never caused any trouble! He’s a peaceful werewolf, okay, who feeds on deer and bunnies and maybe the occasional water fowl.” Stiles is resolute in his belief of this, he just wants Colby to agree with him.
Colby rubs a hand over his face. “Fuck.”
“It’s fine,” Stiles says, and Colby says, “It’s not fine,” but he mostly sounds resigned, and a little like he wants to tear all his hair out and make Stiles eat it.
Stiles pats his shoulder and says, “It will be.”
Colby sleeps on the couch and insists that the wolf sleeps down there with him, which Stiles only agrees to because the wolf will do whatever he damn pleases, so, for once, he doesn’t waste his breath. He feels gratified when his door creaks open sometime in the middle of the night and the wolf ends up sprawled out on the foot of Stiles’ bed.
His dad is on the night shift, and he’s home by the time Stiles stumbles down the steps in the morning, eating scrambled eggs over the sink, half out of his rumpled uniform. His eyes are tired when he looks at Stiles, but he still smiles.
Stiles yawns, scratches his belly, and doesn’t even realize he has one hand on the wolf’s back until his dad jerks his head at it, eyebrows arched.
He says, “Don’t get too attached,” like the wolf is some kind of pet Stiles has to give back to his owner.
Just because he refuses to shift, everyone seems to think the wolf needs a keeper – Stiles is just secretly grateful the wolf likes him enough to stop for a little while.
He sits down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee warming his hands. His dad ruffles his hair as he walks past on his way up to bed, and the wolf slumps down on top of Stiles’ feet. He rubs his toes together, a rhythmic shush shush sound, and the wolf leans more weight on him to make him stop.
“Sorry,” Stiles murmurs.
He can see Colby pacing the porch through the back window, talking on his cell. He looks worried, shoulders hunched, one arm wrapped over his chest, and he keeps shooting little glances at Stiles.
Stiles sighs, because ultimately his dad is right, something is going to happen, and no matter what it is, Stiles isn’t going to get to—the wolf isn’t going to stay, he knows this.
His feet are warm and toasty. He’s totally going to miss this when it’s gone.
Laura Hale is a looker, all long legs and breasts and wavy dark hair. Stiles would appreciate this more if she wasn’t also scary beyond all belief. She smiles at Stiles like she wants to eat him, and then her face goes disturbingly blank and she says, “You smell weird.”
“Awesome,” Stiles says, and Colby shoots him a look, but whatever, those are her actual first words to Stiles – not hello, not You must be Colby’s super fantastic friend Stiles, not I’m Laura, I’m totally not going to have you for dinner. Nope, it’s You smell weird, like maybe she thinks Stiles ate a ton of tuna and garlic and breathed all over her face on purpose. Which did not happen, by the way, Stiles is not that rude. He discreetly tries to smell his breath anyway.
Laura says, “No, you—” and pushes her way past Stiles and into the house, sniffing the air.
Five seconds after Laura steps into the hall a long howl rolls over them out of Stiles’ room, heart-wrenching, and a cold shiver tears down Stiles’ spine. Laura freezes, head tipped back to stare at the ceiling.
When the wolf comes skittering down the stairs moments later, Laura pales, sways on her feet - then flushes bright pink all the way in from her ears.
“Derek?” she says.
Stiles says, “What?” looking between the wolf and Laura and then back again.
Laura opens and closes her mouth, says, “Oh my god,” pauses, then says, “Derek?” again, only this time small and a little hesitant, like she can’t quite believe it.
The wolf, Derek - Derek Hale, Stiles realizes, what the fuck - whines, flexing low to the ground before bouncing back up on all fours and barking.
It’s hard to read Laura’s expression, she sort of shuts down, even though her eyes are shining - she clenches her fists at her sides. “Change back.”
Derek stares at her, head cocked. He glances at Stiles, then back to Laura.
“Derek, change back. Change back now,” Laura says, and something catches in her throat, Stiles is pretty sure she’s this close to crying, and he’s totally not comfortable with that.
Derek growls and starts backing away.
Stiles says, “Maybe we should just—”
“Derek,” Laura says sternly, and Derek darts around and—hides behind Stiles. Seriously?
Derek has his head ducked low between Stiles’ legs, big furry body curved around him, like Stiles is any sort of barrier at all. “Um.”
“Change back,” Laura says, almost more growl than words, eyes glowing blood red, and for a few agonizingly long seconds Stiles has a naked, full-grown man clinging to his waist, grip vise-like on his hips, before Derek shifts back into his wolf and takes off.
Stiles finds him in his bedroom closet. The tip of his tail is peeking out from under his dirty laundry, and he can hear him panting, rapid, almost in a panic.
Stiles plops down on the floor and leans back against his bed and says, “So, uh. This is kind of cool, right?” He winces and knocks his forehead onto his up-drawn knees. Cool?
Stiles can’t even imagine what it’s been like for him, living alone as a wolf for, god, probably six freaking years, it’s crazy. He doesn’t know what he could possibly say to make that any different, to make that okay for anybody, let alone Derek.
So instead Stiles talks about everything and nothing, and then eventually he talks about his mom, and he talks about Scott’s dad and Scott and the sheriff and Colby, and they sit there a long time, Stiles doesn’t even know how long. Stiles hadn’t bothered with a light, and the sun is slowly fading from the room.
Every once and a while Derek whines, and finally Stiles swallows hard and starts again. He says, “Look, I get it. Or, obviously I don’t get it, I couldn’t ever—but I get that you’re scared. You’ve been—this,” he flaps a hand, “for so long, it’s probably freaking terrifying, I get that, but don’t you want to talk to her? Hug her? Or, like, she thought you were dead, man, I mean, you both thought that, I’m thinking, but—this is kind of a miracle. Don’t you want to give that to her? Like, if not for yourself, shouldn’t she have that?”
Stiles has been talking for so long that the sudden silence feels odd, unnatural, creepy. Stiles can hear his own breaths; he can hear the creak of the floorboards under his ass as he stretches his almost-numb legs out. The wolf is still, too quiet.
Then suddenly the tail slips away in a rustle, and a hoarse voice says, “Can I borrow some pants?”
Derek Hale is gorgeous. Like, phenomenally attractive, even with the mountain man beard. But then Laura makes him shave it off and it’s like—Stiles has no words. Stiles is struck dumb by how hot his wolf is. Only he isn’t his wolf, he’s Laura’s, and Stiles is only saved from having that depressing thought on a repetitive loop in his brain because Derek sort of refuses to be in any room without Stiles.
It’s flattering and alarming at the same time.
Stiles never thought who are you? at the wolf, because it didn’t matter – it still doesn’t. Stiles doesn’t know Derek Hale from Adam, but he knows the wolf liked to curl up as close to Stiles as possible, so intellectually—intellectually, he knows that this isn’t any different. But Derek as a human is bigger and broader and has hands and facial expressions – kind of – and there is a thigh touching Stiles’ arm. A man’s thigh, through threadbare sweats, and every time Stiles moves, his forearm saws across those heavy muscles and every single hair on Stiles’ neck stands straight up. After nearly an hour of this, Stiles is pretty much exhausted from sheer awareness.
Derek is sitting with his knees bent up on the couch next to Stiles, and Stiles doesn’t think he’s the only one who’s noticed that Derek is practically hiding his face in Stiles’ shoulder. Which is another thing – hot and moist guy breath across is neck is much more disconcerting than wolf breath, especially after Laura made him brush his teeth.
Seriously, Derek has been living as a wolf for years; he actually seemed much more socially functional in that form, too. This—this awkward, absurdly shy dude is only recognizable in the way that he’s wholly grumpy – that is plain every time Stiles dares to look at his face - and still likes to push Stiles around with his entire body.
It’s communication, Stiles gets that, but it’s still like—Stiles has to get a hold of himself here.
Stiles shifts on the sofa and Derek shifts with him and Laura is staring at them, equal parts starry-eyed and amused.
Colby still looks worried.
“You look like this is a bad thing, dude,” Stiles says, and Laura elbows Colby in the side and says, “It’s my baby brother,” like she still can’t believe it, and Colby’s frown gets deeper.
“I know,” Colby says, and he opens and closes his mouth like he wants to say more, except then the Argents burst in. Like, all of them, and a couple random hunters to boot.
Derek is a wolf again before Stiles can even blink, and he’s poised in front of Stiles, fangs out and growling.
Chris Argent doesn’t even look at them, though; he stares at Laura like he’s not totally surprised to see her – he probably isn’t, the Argents are total creepsters - and says, “It’s your uncle.”
Stiles’ dad says, “What about him?” and Stiles realizes he’s halfway down the steps, clad only in a t-shirt and boxers, gun in hand and aimed unerringly at the cluster of hunters.
Argent says, “We found him.”
Derek stays with Stiles, even though Laura wants him to go – she even lets him stay as a wolf, but then a good hour after they leave Derek turns up in Stiles’ sweats again, and this time he sprawls out on the couch with his head in Stiles’ lap.
“Okay?” Derek says, and his voice is still a surprise, like Stiles wasn’t sure he’d even remember how to talk, it’s a little mind boggling to hear him use words.
“Uh.” Stiles licks his lips. His fingers itch to pet Derek’s hair, but he thinks that might be too weird.
Derek scowls up at him. “I can move,” he says, even though he sounds like it would literally kill him to do it.
Stiles says, “No! I mean—it’s just—” His leg bounces, and Derek moves like he’s going to get up, and Stiles panics and presses down on his shoulder and head, and Derek slowly, slowly relaxes and Stiles doesn’t even pull back his hands, he just makes his wrists go limp until—yeah, he’s kind of petting Derek, and it’s totally weird. “I don’t know what to do with you like this,” he finally says.
Derek just hums under his breath and says, “You’re doing a pretty good job.”
Stiles learns later that they found Peter Hale wandering the woods, half-crazed and bloody, and that the only reason the Argents hadn’t put him down like a dog –Argent’s words, not anyone else’s – was that they’d been working with local law enforcement, and none of Stiles’ dad’s deputies would condone that without proper evidence, especially considering the fact that Peter was mainly docile and confused by the time they brought him in.
It’s pretty damning, Stiles knows. Laura’s face, when she trudges back to Stiles’ house, seems to say she knows it too. The only consolation is Derek. Watching your disfigured uncle go from comatose to crazed killer is harsh, but at least she isn’t alone anymore.
Derek looks like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands when Laura wraps her arms around him, and as far as Stiles knows, this is the first time they’ve touched in six years. Derek stands stock-still, panic rimming his eyes, until Laura clutches the back of his shirt and says, “Relax, god, you remember hugging, right, I’m not trying to gut you here,” and Stiles lets out an inappropriate giggle.
Derek pats her back awkwardly and then twists out of her hold.
Laura sighs, but lets him go.
Laura and Colby get rooms at a local motel, but they spend most of their time at Stiles’ house, mostly because Derek refuses to officially leave it. He uses Stiles’ window as a door when he’s a wolf, coming and going as he pleases, and he tends to follow Stiles from room to room, even the rare times he’s in human form, arms folded, gripping his biceps, rigid line of his body only easing with Stiles’ touch.
It’s nice in a way that Stiles feels a little guilty about, because it’s not healthy, probably for either of them. But the way Derek’s imprinted on him like a baby duckling is, if sometimes annoying – there’s really only so much Stiles feels comfortable doing in a bathroom with Derek and his werewolf super-senses standing on the other side of the door - just really, really—nice. Nice to be needed, nice to be the preferred company for once; especially since Allison has been taking up more and more of Scott’s time lately.
It can’t last, Stiles thinks, and it doesn’t.
At the next full moon, Derek disappears with Laura, and the next day it’s like they’ve rediscovered each other, and Derek looks comfortable in his human skin around Laura in a way he wasn’t really around Stiles. He stares at Laura like she’s familiar and precious, and Stiles feels something ache in his chest.
Stiles watches them, their dark heads tipped together, squished into the corner of the couch, and his throat gets so thick he barely gets out, “Going to Scott’s,” before he flees.
He makes it to the front stoop before he has to stop and breathe, covering his mouth so he doesn’t make any embarrassing sobbing sounds, because this is fucking ridiculous, he’s known Derek for a little over a month, and it’s not like he wanted to get stuck with Derek like that for forever, right?
It’s better this way. Honestly.
And he totally doesn’t cry all over the Jeep on his way to Scott’s.
“Dude, were you crying?” Scott says when Stiles makes his way up to his bedroom.
“Nope, no, no way,” Stiles says. He rubs at his cheeks with his palms and sniffles.
Scott’s eyes are wide and disbelieving. “Right,” he says. “How’s the werewolf horde?”
“Super fine and dandy.” He exhales noisily and drops down on the floor next to Scott and his pile of homework. “Chemistry?”
Scott makes a face.
Stiles isn’t the best student, he has so much trouble focusing, but he’s better than Scott. A bag of circus peanuts is arguably better than Scott. He pulls the notebook toward himself and snaps his fingers for a pen.
Derek, the wolf, noses up the window from where Stiles had been leaving it cracked open for him, and Stiles watches from his computer chair as he hops into the room, shimmies off the light rain that had been falling, and rubs his side into the comforter hanging off Stiles’ bed.
Stiles hasn’t seen him all day, in either of his forms, and he smiles a little at the way Derek sneezes into his paws with a shake of his head.
“What are you doing here?” Stiles asks, and Derek gives him a baleful look before jumping up onto his mattress. “Hey, no, you’re wet, Jesus, those sheets were clean!” Or, like, relatively clean; cleaner than the ones that had been on there up until three days ago, anyhow.
Derek rolls onto his back and wriggles around, kicking at the sheets with his back feet because he’s a jackass.
“Seriously,” Stiles says, “why are you here?”
Derek rolls over again, lifts his head and stares at him. There’s a sock Stiles had thought he’d lost hanging off one ear.
Stiles says, “You should go,” and if wolves could look hurt, wow, Stiles feels like he just stabbed all Derek’s babies by accident, how can he convey that with just his big hazel eyes? “I just mean—shouldn’t you be hanging out with your sister?”
Derek gives him an unimpressed snort and curls up in a big wet, muddy ball, nestling into his blankets.
Stiles feels a warm glow spread up and out of his chest, threatening to pull his lips into a smile, and he tries to smother it with a hand on his mouth – it doesn’t help, and it’s pathetic, that mud’s going to dry into dirt, and Stiles is going to be finding it all over his body for days, because there’s no way Stiles isn’t going to crawl into that bed after him.
Stiles wakes up with a kick to his heartbeat, overly-warm, staring into Derek’s very human eyes only inches from his own. “Uh. This isn’t awkward at all.”
Derek’s face does this sort of—emotional spasm, like he can’t figure out what he’s feeling, but he tightens the arm that’s flopped over Stiles’ waist, reeling him even closer.
“Morning,” he says, and that is an Eskimo kiss, Stiles is getting his nose rubbed, he’s sure he’s cross-eyed right now, trying to soak that absurdity in.
“You realize cuddling as a man is different than cuddling as a wolf, right?” Stiles’ thigh is awfully close to special naked parts of Derek, is all he’s saying.
Derek’s expression tells Stiles that his words are not making sense, and then he goes ahead and tucks his face into Stiles’ neck. Awesome.
Stiles’ voice squeaks unflatteringly high on, “Okay, we’re doing this, huh?” That is definitely a tongue on Stiles’ throat. Derek has licked him many times before as a wolf, Stiles is regretting letting him do that all the time, he’s clearly gotten the wrong idea. Or the right one, whatever, but—“I’m sixteen!”
Derek pulls back and Stiles would breathe a breath of relief if that didn’t just make their lips that much closer together. “So?” Derek says.
Stiles’ hands are totally not shaky when he presses them against Derek’s chest. “So you’re on the wrong side of twenty, dude, and my dad owns four different kinds of firearms that can kill werewolves.”
Derek lets Stiles push him away, rolling up to sit on the edge of the bed. He looks Stiles in the eye and says, “I was sixteen the last time I was human,” and Stiles knows that, he does, but it’s a little hard to know it.
“You were never really human,” Stiles says. Derek was always a wolf, either way.
Derek grins, slow and careful, and nods his head like Stiles understands something that he—well, honestly, something that he really, really doesn’t.
“We’ll need a house,” Stiles hears Laura say to Colby, but he can’t quite parse her meaning until she adds, “We can’t all live at the motel or the sheriff’s house indefinitely.”
“What, you’re staying?” Stiles says before he can help it; he thinks maybe he’s gaping, too, but why would they stay? What’s here for them except a big, burned out shell of a house right in the middle of Hale pack land. There’s ghosts aplenty for her in Beacon Hills, it doesn’t make any sense.
Laura blinks at him. “I’m not living anywhere without Derek,” she says. She looks like either she’s smelled something bad or she thinks Stiles is stupid. Both are possible.
Stiles doesn’t ask her why Derek would want to stay in Beacon Hills—if it hasn’t occurred to her yet, he’s not giving her any ideas. Derek is not Stiles’ pet, but he’s got a feeling that he’s been Derek’s since he bullied Stiles into taking him home.
Colby says, “It’s going to be a lot of trouble,” and Stiles doesn’t know why he thought Colby was the happy one, why is he such a downer?
Laura rolls her eyes. “It’s just us and the twins and Meatball, and he’ll be finished with college in May.”
There are things Stiles wants to ask – Meatball? – but he just sits on his hands and watches Colby and Laura snip at each other, and tries not to think too much about what all this implies.
“I don’t get it,” Stiles says. Derek stares up at him with wolf eyes, furry head resting on his knee, and then suddenly he’s a naked man again and Stiles is having problems with all that is happening below his waist. Or not problems, really, just—he has to stop doing that. “Give a guy some warning, crap.” He jerks his knee away, desk chair rolling toward his closet, but Derek stays on the floor.
He’s glaring at him now, though, eyebrows drawn together. “What?”
“The whole,” Stiles flails a hand, “staying in Beacon Hills thing, why would you want to?”
Derek gets this you’re a pain in my ass look on his face, and that’s been happening a lot lately, Stiles isn’t thrilled with this trend, even if it means Derek’s, like, acclimating well or whatever – everybody thinks Stiles is a pain in the ass, with the occasional exception of Scott and his dad.
Derek says, “You’re in high school and you live with your dad,” like that’s any sort of reason at all.
Which it isn’t. Just throwing that out there: it totally isn’t.
“What language are you speaking?” Stiles says.
Derek just stares at him blandly, like he can’t believe Stiles is this dumb; he looks like Laura when he does that, it’s really weird.
And Stiles is not dumb, honestly. He gets that this means Derek won’t leave without Stiles, and Laura won’t leave without Derek – this is what it adds up to, he gets that, it’s just a lot of pressure on a teenager, Stiles doesn’t have a care and feeding manual for werewolves. He could mess this up - mess Derek up, Derek is like a fragile flower here - a hundred different ways before he even turns eighteen.
“You don’t have to take care of me, Stiles,” Derek says, like he’s reading Stiles’ mind. His grin is a little worn around the edges, Stiles fingers itch to reach out and touch him, and then Derek shifts into the wolf again; Stiles’ mind watches it in slow motion, the rippling of fur, smooth snapping of bones, the way Derek keeps his mouth closed so Stiles can’t see his teeth.
When Stiles does stretch his hand out, Derek shies away. He doesn’t go far, though, just hops up on the bed – he curls up tight in a ball, high up on Stiles’ pillows.
Stiles shows up at the police station with dinner for his dad. He slumps down in the chair across his desk and says, “I think I got attached.”
“Yeah,” his dad says. He bites into his tofurkey sandwich, makes a face, but dutifully keeps on chewing.
“I’m too young to get attached.” Stiles wants to howl this at the moon, he is not equipped to deal with these emotions yet, he’d planned on being in love with Lydia for at least another two years.
“I’ll say.” His dad narrows his eyes. “How attached are we talking?”
“I’m not—” Stiles shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “You don’t have to murder him or anything, but it’s a pretty inappropriate attachment for a sixteen-year-old.”
“Yeah,” his dad says, only slow and drawn out. He looks a little gray, and he sets his sandwich down carefully on the desktop.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. He drums his fingers on the edge of the desk and looks anywhere but at his dad, deeply regretting starting this conversation. “So—good talk?”
Stiles jumps to his feet. “No, yeah, I get you—”
Stiles glances over at him. He’s not smiling, but he doesn’t look angry or anything either. Maybe a little disappointed, which is like—Stiles never wants to disappoint his dad, that’s the opposite of every intention he’s ever had. “Sorry.”
His dad sighs heavily. He says, “You never have to be sorry about the way you feel, son,” and Stiles feels ten times worse, because his dad is amazing and Stiles is a terrible son.
The sheriff picks up his sandwich again and says, “We’re locking your window now, though.”
Derek gets a cell phone and job at the mall and Stiles is blown away by the extreme normalcy of it all. It’s even more surreal when he shows up at Stiles’ house in a black Camaro.
“Are you wearing a leather jacket?” Stiles says when he opens the front door. “Did you buy a car?”
Derek frowns. “It’s Laura’s. The twins drove it down from New York.”
“Right.” The air is chilly and Stiles hugs his arms across his chest.
Derek frowns harder. “Are you going to invite me in?”
“Uh, yes? Yes, come on in.” Stiles flaps a magnanimous hand and steps aside, because he doesn’t know what else to do. This has never happened. Derek has never come a-visiting, he’s always, like, magically shown up as a wolf to follow Stiles around and trip him when he goes to get milk out of the fridge.
Stiles dad is at the kitchen table and Derek calls him sir, and Stiles has to sit down before he has a panic attack because this is happening. He knows what this is. “Oh my god,” Stiles says faintly as Derek asks his dad if he can take Stiles out, he asks his dad if he can date him, Stiles drops his forehead onto the table and pleads for a swift death.
He vaguely registers his dad interrogating Derek over the pounding in his skull, but he doesn’t recognize the words. Or any words, it’s possible his brain is breaking. But then Derek is helping him get a jacket on and his dad is escorting them to the door, and Stiles stumbles numbly down the stoop.
“Did that just happen? Tell me that didn’t just happen,” he says to no one and everyone as Derek ushers him down the walk. He latches onto the sleeve of Derek’s jacket and says, “Are you from the nineteen fifties? Am I a girl?”
“That’s sexist,” Derek says as he opens the car door for him and shoves him inside.
Stiles is too dazed to protest. “Wow,” he says, and, “Do you even know how to drive?”
Derek starts the car and shoots him a disgruntled look. “I have my license.”
“Do you? Because I’m pretty sure you were legally dead up until six weeks ago.” There’s probably other things he should be focusing on, like the fact that he has a date, that’s actually a nice development in the annals of his social life, but if he dwells too long on that he’ll probably start thinking about how Derek told his dad he’d have him home by ten and then he shook his hand.
Derek says, “Do you want to drive?” Buried under the irritation, he looks like he honestly wants to make Stiles as comfortable with this as possible, which is probably the only reason Stiles says, “No, that’s okay,” and grabs onto the oh-shit handle when Derek guns it and takes off.
“I take it back,” Stiles says, practically falling out of the car when they stop. “You are never allowed to drive again.” His entire life flashed before his eyes at least three times, he’s having trouble making his legs work.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Derek says.
“Holy shit, are you kidding me?” Stiles leans heavily against the passenger side door. “I mean—” he catches sight of Derek’s epic frowny face—“it wasn’t that bad?”
Derek rolls his eyes and grabs Stiles arm, tugging him up onto the curb. “It’s been a while.”
“Well, yeah,” Stiles says. He grins over at Derek and Derek sort of grins back at him, and Stiles can almost forget that his dad asked Derek his intentions not even a half hour ago. God. Stiles has no idea what is even going on anymore, his life is a shambles.
They happen to be at his favorite diner, the one with the fantastic pancakes and thirty flavors of milkshakes, and Stiles is not above being plied with good things and sugar, so he happily follows Derek inside and over to a seat by the large front window.
If possible, Derek looks even more awkward in a vinyl booth than he did the first time he shifted from the wolf. It’s a different sort of awkward, though, Stiles recognizes; more about the social interaction aspect of it all than being man-shaped instead of furry. He’s got a white-knuckled grip on the cheap plastic menu, and he’s staring at Stiles like he doesn’t know how he got there – which is bullshit, because Derek is the one who roped him into this, he’s not making this Stiles’ fault.
“You’re not blaming this on me,” Stiles says.
Derek eases his grip on the menu. “What?”
“I didn’t ask you to take me out. I didn’t say anything about my dad, and how I’d dearly love to have the safe sex talk with him for a second, horrifying time,” and he will, chances are his dad will corner him with blank stares and pamphlets the minute he gets home that night, “so you can be weird about not being a wolf, but you can’t be weird about being seen with me in public.”
Derek scowls at him. “I’m not weird about being seen with you.”
“You’re not.” Stiles is skeptical. Most people are weird about being seen with him – it’s an unpleasant fact of his adolescent life.
“I’m—would you stop being so—” Derek cuts off, clearly frustrated. He takes a deep breath and says, “If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here.”
Stiles doesn’t think that’s the whole story. He strongly suspects that Laura had something to do with this, but Stiles really does know—he knows that Derek likes him, they’ve established that, and it’s a bonus that he’s actively trying, and that he probably doesn’t really care about who sees them, Stiles admits to himself, if only because Derek doesn’t actually know anybody else.
“Okay,” Stiles says.
Tension seeps out of Derek’s shoulders. He’s not quite relaxed, but he’s better than before. “Okay.”
“So here’s what I’d like to know,” Stiles says, pushing aside his empty plate, because something has been bugging him. “Why did you come back now?” It can’t be just some amazing coincidence, right? That all this happens and the world conspires to bring Derek and Laura back together.
Derek says, “It wasn’t just now.” He looks oddly guilty as he takes a sip of his soda, eyes darting from Stiles to the window and back again.
“What, like you’d visit your uncle?” Stiles says, and the minute he says it he knows he’s right. Derek would come back to visit the only family he thought he had left, even as he hid himself as his wolf, and Stiles doesn’t want to think about exactly how different that makes Derek and Laura.
Derek slowly nods. “I figured out that his nurse would let him out on the full moons. I didn’t—I don’t know what happened, this time.”
“Hey, no.” Stiles reaches across the table and pats his hand. “You couldn’t.” It’s not Derek’s fault that his uncle is crazy-pants.
Derek twists his hand so Stiles’ fingers slot between his own. And now they’re holding hands - Stiles panics the entire time it takes for Derek to slowly squeeze and then let go, and Stiles’ hand is left hovering by itself in the middle of the table.
“Uh.” Brief handholding really shouldn’t make him that tingly; he can still feel the phantom press of Derek’s warm palm against his. He flexes his finger and says, “Uh,” again.
Derek smirks at him and says, “Want to share a milkshake?”
Stiles doesn’t get a kiss goodnight, but he figures this is more because his dad is flickering the porch light than because Derek doesn’t want to kiss him.
Surprisingly, though, when Stiles suffers through another weirdly intimate hand-squeeze – they are literally one step away from going steady, Stiles can’t wait to ask Derek if he’s going to get pinned before the big dance, he’s arming himself with a whole slew of ice cream social quips for a rainy day - and slips inside, his dad is nowhere to be found.
The hallway is dark, a single lamp left on in the living room. Stiles toes off his sneakers, hangs his jacket on the rack and pads into the kitchen, grabbing a soda before heading up to his room.
He flops into his desk chair and thinks about the fact that he’s basically dating a twenty-two-year-old werewolf who has less social acuity than your average teenager, works at FYE, and is only half convinced that he needs to get his GED. Which he does, Stiles will harp at him until they end up at the same college together, Stiles is stubborn enough to see a bigger picture, even when all the little details still seem so unreal, even when his insecurities threaten to get the better of him.
He thinks about the fact that Derek will probably always feel more comfortable as the wolf, that even his human side is not very human, and the fact that Stiles has never really minded.
He’s stupidly attached; it feels less and less scary, the more he admits it. And he never has to miss him, because Derek isn’t going anywhere. No matter what happens, Stiles believes that.
It’s eleven thirty at night, the moon is halfway to new – Stiles hears howls now, when it’s full, and it makes him grin, his dad doesn’t even roll his eyes anymore when it happens.
Derek scratches at the window, and Stiles lets him inside.