It was a training session. Or it was supposed to be, before one pest by the name of Stilinski brought a midsize rubber ball, eyes shining as he proffered it.
"Don't even,” Derek said.
It was futile, of course. Should've known. Stiles just smiled wider. “C'mon, can't I play along with everyone? Just once?”
"You always can,” Derek said easily. “If you want yourself torn from limb to limb.”
Stiles just snorted and threw the ball. At Derek's face.
Erica must have caught it when it bounced off. Derek could hear her and the others, tossing the ball to one another and counting: sixteen, seventeen. He wasn't going to look, though, had his eyes trained firmly on Stiles, whom he had pinned to the ground.
Stiles – Stiles was laughing, the little shit, shaking under Derek's hands. “Okay,” he said, mouth staying open between words because it wasn't like Stiles ever shut his damned trap, “I should probably apologize, except that I am so not sorry, God, the look on your face--”
Derek grabbed him by the back of the neck and shook, just once, for good measure. He got up and dusted leaves off his forearms, sniffing the air surreptitiously. No hint of pain from Stiles, just amusement and sweat and a faint hint of arousal. Derek was used to that. Hard not to be, surrounded by teenagers as he was these days.
So he still had the knack of playing with humans, just playing, without hurting them. That was good to know. It'd been some years since he’d last tried.
The ball hit him in the face. Again. This time, it was Erica who’d thrown it, which meant it very nearly hurt on impact. “Yo, Derek!” she ducked as he jumped her, feinting and dodging him. “Lighten up, will you? For once in our lives, nothing is trying to kill us. Play catch.”
In the background, Stiles flailed like a psychotic windmill. “Do not say that! You know who says that? Dead people in horror movies, that's who!”
Derek threw the ball (which he’d caught this time, and had even managed not to deflate with his claws) at Stiles. Stiles caught it with his stomach and oof'd.
"You know I'm right!” he called out, indignant, as Scott picked up the ball and tossed it to Boyd. “The only purpose of nine days since last supernatural disaster posters is to have the number pushed back to zero! Using a bloody post-it note!”
Derek smirked at him, couldn't help it. “Lighten up.” He plucked the ball out of the air, this time waiting for Stiles to be ready before launching it at him. “Playing was your idea, remember?”
As Stiles groused that Derek didn't even keep up with the count, how is this proper playing, I ask you, Derek took a step back. Watched his pack play in the sunshine, laughing when Scott dropped the ball and starting the count again. It was a good afternoon.
Shame that Stiles ended up right after all, and in the most backwards way, as well.
The first hints were almost subtle enough not to notice. Hypersensitivity. Increased hunger, as though his body were stocking up for something. Almost like a full moon coming on, except that the moon was barely gibbous and Derek knew this, had felt this way before.
A long time ago, though. Years.
So he only realized what it was when he woke up with his sheets sticky, the smell of arousal and wet leaves still sharp in his nose.
It was no big deal. Erica was right; for once, nothing was actively trying to kill them. Not her fault that, apparently, Derek's body was listening.
Fucking heat. Derek had only been through it once, before – before. He couldn’t remember a lot of the related lore, but seemed to recall his mother mentioning that stress could delay a heat, sometimes indefinitely. Heat was for times of safety.
So in an odd way, this was a good sign, really.
He hauled the chains up from the basement to the nest of blankets he’d made himself under the staircase, where there was shelter. He started from the legs and moved upwards, awkward doing this to himself. He hadn't needed to be restrained during the full moon in so long. The chains pinched, foreign on his skin. That was just pain, though. Derek was okay with pain.
(Before, they’d had leather restraints, comfortable and padded, and his mother had stroked Derek's sweaty hair back from his forehead as she locked them in place. But leather burned, and there was nothing left of those now.)
He debated gagging himself. There wasn't anyone to hear him if he screamed. But he might howl and call his pack to him. Letting them see him, smell him while he was in heat.
Gag it was, then.
He had to contort himself to make the chains wrap around, reach with a carefully twisted hand to clamp the padlock shut. Getting out was going to be a bitch, even if he had the key within sight. Heat wasn't going to let him keep the clarity of mind – or the agility – to unlock himself. He shifted to his side, burrowing in the blankets and closing his eyes, feeling his muscles clench and sweat start to prickle along his back.
Laughter, the scent of wet leaves and arousal, and Stiles' breath hot on Derek's face. It was a good memory to carry, a good place to go while Derek's body contorted and shivered. Warm skin underneath a thin layer of cotton, warm sunlight on Derek's back, Stiles' soft open mouth right there.
So maybe he got lost in it a bit. Lost enough that it took him moments to separate reality from memory, to realize that Stiles' heartbeat wasn't coming from his thoughts but from the entrance.
"Derek?” Stiles' voice was hesitant, quieter. He must have called out earlier, when Derek wasn't paying attention. He would probably leave once he realized Derek wasn't answering.
Except of course Stiles' heartbeat came closer. Right. Who exactly did Derek think he was fooling?
Derek kept his eyes closed, because it was what he could do. Willed his own heartbeat to slow and quiet, as though Stiles could hear it. Controlled his breaths.
Next thing he knew, Stiles was yelling, "Dude!"
He was at Derek's chains before Derek could do anything. Stiles' breaths came fast and shallow, heart thumping quick, so alive. "I'm gonna get you out, just give me a second, who the fuck did this to you, huh?"
Derek was about to protest that actually, he did this to himself, but oh yeah – gag.
"Wait, I think I see the key, just give me a second," babbling like he always did, hands fluttering over Derek, maddening little brushes of body heat. "I'll have you out, you'll be fine, then you can tell me who did this and we can call the pack and go fuckin' medieval on their ass, okay?" He paused, moving away for the key. "I mean, the asses of whoever did this. Not the pack's asses. Because that would be counterproductive."
Stiles kept railing about the syntactical ambiguity of we while Derek frantically shook his head, trying to convey No, you have it wrong before Stiles could undo the chains. Of course, of fucking course Stiles wasn't even looking at him, didn't think to undo the gag before everything else, too busy getting the key and undoing Derek's work with a swift, triumphant turn of his fingers.
Maybe I can still control it, Derek thought, dizzy. Maybe I still can--
Then Derek's hands were free. Stiles ripped the gag away, his scent so thick it was a taste in Derek's mouth, and Derek knew his eyes glowed as he growled, "Come here."
The chains were in a pile on the floor when Derek woke up the following morning, naked and sticky. There was no hint of Stiles, except for his lingering scent.
Derek closed his eyes and opened his mouth, digging his fingers into the floor. Last night was a blur, but Derek knew how to handle those. Focus on the senses, and remember.
It struck Derek like an electric charge, a swelling of fright right in the middle of all those other scents, along with the memory of Stiles' eyes widening, his quiet whimpers, Wait, Derek, wait--
Derek got up, suddenly sick. He swallowed, gritted his teeth through it, and shifted. He needed to run. Right now.
Stiles was there, at the next pack meeting, but he wouldn't meet Derek's eyes. He was quiet, too, to the degree where everyone threw odd glances at him. Eventually Scott, master of subtlety that he was, elbowed Stiles in the ribs. "Dude," he stage-whispered. "What's wrong?"
"I have no idea what you are talking about, referring to, or otherwise mentioning," Stiles said, eyes fixed straight ahead to a point just slightly over Derek's shoulder.
Derek wasn't eavesdropping. It wasn't his fault Scott never learned to use his inside voice.
He cornered Stiles after the meeting. Then took a step backwards, because cornering probably wasn't the best idea at this point.
"You don't have to come to the meetings,” Derek said. Stiles was looking very firmly at his shoes. “Scott can fill you in on what you need to know.”
"Yeah, okay,” Stiles mumbled, and turned away so quickly that he stumbled over a fallen branch. Derek nearly offered him a hand up before he thought better of it.
Stiles stopped coming to pack meetings after that.
Derek was used to pain. Didn't enjoy it or anything, but pain was just... something that happened. It was usually brief, and he got over it. This pain was different.
It came at odd moments, for no reason Derek could discern. When it did, it occupied the world in a way Derek wasn't used to. It stayed for as long as it wanted, and Derek had no way to know when it would come next, or how to make it stop.
It felt like damage.
"Derek?” Boyd said, uncertainly. This was pretty reasonable, since Derek had just bowed over and Boyd hadn't even made contact yet.
Derek breathed shallowly. “I'm fine.” He swallowed. Forced himself upright. “Again.”
Boyd looked doubtful, but he charged Derek again. Derek got away just in time, and told himself he was going easy on the newbies.
Scott sticking around after everyone left was never a good sign. Today was no exception.
At least he didn't beat around the bush. "Could you tell Stiles to come back?”
Derek shrugs. “I never told him to leave.”
Scott got right in his face. It was... very nearly adorable, actually. “Bullshit. I don't know what you did to him, but he's gone all quiet and whenever this,” he waved a hand around wildly as if to indicate the forest, Derek, and the evidence of their earlier practice, “comes up? He disappears, man. I don't know what you did to him, but you two need to talk.”
All right. Fuck this conversation. Derek took off, leaving Scott blinking behind him, running off into the woods. If he was going to be sick again, he didn't want an audience for it.
Things had to be pretty bad if Scott noticed. Once Derek made the barest attempt to find out himself, it practically shouted out to him. A cursory visit to the school let him see Stiles hunched, looking away. Like he was afraid of something all the time.
Except he didn't smell like fear, when Derek got close, just for a moment. He smelled like guilt. In a way, that was worse.
So even though Derek meant to just go back once he's had a look, he found himself speaking. “You know you can come back to the pack meetings.”
"Gyah!” Stiles jumped around, dropping all his books in the process. “The fuck did you come from? No, never mind, how about the fact you told me to stay away in the first place?”
"I didn't.” Derek wanted to pinch the bridge of his nose pretty badly. “I told you you didn't have to come.”
"Uh, same difference?” Stiles made some impossible serpentine motion with his neck. “Anyway, I got the message loud and clear, why come now?” His expression cleared. “Scott. I will kill him. I will end him--”
"Don't.” Derek didn't know what he was going to say before the words left his mouth. “There may be some... instability coming up. The pack needs to be at full strength.” He picked one of Stiles' books off the ground, shoving it into Stiles' chest before he thought better of it. “That includes you.”
He turned to leave abruptly, just quick enough that Stiles' yells could be muffled background noise if Derek let them be. He stopped next to a tree, halfway back to his house, clinging and dry-heaving through the pain. It was getting worse.
Stiles was at the next meeting. Good. Derek needed to deal with this, and do it now.
"Scott.” Derek stood in front of the boy, pushing at his chest. Scott glared up at him. Good.
Derek gave this a lot of thought. There were better choices than Scott, he was sure. Boyd was steadier, Jackson was a better leader, nearly everyone in his pack was smarter. But Scott had the most experience, the most control, and – as much as Derek hated to admit – people genuinely liked Scott, tended to trust him. That was something Derek never got to be too good at.
In front of the entire pack, Derek said, "Challenge me.”
Scott's face screwed up in confusion. “What?”
"Challenge. Me.” Derek did not have a lot of patience left. There was a murmur rising from the rest of the pack, an awkward shuffling of feet that came from Isaac, Jackson growling, “If you think I'm going to take orders from him--”
Stiles was silent, though. Derek didn't know why he picked that silence out of all that noise, except that it was a novelty.
Time for desperate measures, before this turned into an argument. In his Alpha voice, Derek growled, “Challenge me!”
It wasn't much of a fight. Even when Derek's instincts kicked in, it was like they were muted, distracted.
Then that crippling pain struck in mid-battle, agonizing in the bottom of his stomach, and Derek dropped and bared his throat.
Scott was wolfed out, the glow in his eyes shifting into red. He rose up on two legs and roared.
Derek didn't stick around to see what happened after that. He shifted into full wolf form and got the hell away before Scott got over himself.
He had to. Had to cede control of the pack, had to leave before he became a liability. He didn't know what was wrong with him but it wasn't getting better and Derek couldn't deal with it.
Derek didn't know why he could still shift into the Alpha form. Maybe that was normal. He couldn't remember what the protocol was when the winning Alpha didn't kill the loser.
Couldn't remember much of anything, just now.
Time got jumbled. Sometimes he ran further. He drank when he was thirsty and could find water, hunted small animals when he could stomach them. Ran when the pain was bearable.
More often than not, he lay in whatever shade he could find with his muzzle between his paws and breathed, waiting it out, trying to sleep. Sometimes it worked.
He knew the wolf that passed him by in the night, couldn't attach a name to the scent but remembered the shape of her land, broad and beautiful. Further away than he thought he'd run.
She sniffed him and offered no challenge, backing a few steps to run away into the forest. He was left on his own, after that. He was not only pathetic enough to be left alone, but grateful for it.
The twigs under him were dry when the pain got worse.
It wouldn't stop at all, now, coursing through him in waves, twisting him until he could only whimper, weak.
So this is what it felt like, being ripped in two. It was the first verbal thought he'd had in... a while. Longer than he wanted to think. He'd been here for hours already, twisting on the forest floor… or at least felt like he had.
Pain was life, pain was healing and humanity, but not this pain. This was going to kill him.
He strained, and heaved, and with a strength he was sure he didn't have any more, Derek pushed. He felt himself tear but that didn't matter, he would heal.
He would heal.
Derek opened his eyes. Still felt blind. Didn't matter.
He kept pushing until it stopped hurting. Then there was something tiny and warm next to Derek's body, and Derek pulled the newborn closer and clumsily licked him clean.
The pup was so very small. He was making little whimpery noises there on the forest floor, too weak to even cry properly, and Derek scooped him into his arms before he realized he’d even shifted back into human form.
Whatever. He needed arms now.
There was a cabin that Derek remembered walking past a couple nights earlier. It was close. He wasn't in any shape to move fast at the time. He hid the evidence of the birth to the best of his abilities and set to walking, carefully cradling the pup.
The cabin was closed, but not locked. Empty. Yet, despite this, stocked with firewood. There had been someone here in the week prior.
Derek didn't think about it. There were blankets, so he wrapped the cub up tight. There was a pressure in his chest, so Derek brought the pup's mouth to his nipple. After a few false starts, the pup suckled.
Derek sat back in a chair, blinked up at the ceiling. For the first time in months, he felt... okay. He wasn't in pain. The cub was warm, and being fed. Derek didn't need anything else from the world right now except maybe a good night's sleep and--
And that was it. He didn't let himself think about the rest. Just sleep.
The sound of an approaching engine woke Derek up from fitful sleep. It had been a rough night. The pup had fed for hours, and then needed to be taken outside to do his business, then Derek had had to warm water over the fire to wash the baby. Who was then hungry all over again.
Derek was sore and so was the pup, his skin red and blotchy where Derek must have scrubbed too hard. It would have been better if the kid cried, Derek thought, but instead he just made sad little noises as if to say, Sorry to trouble you, but I'm in pain, could you do something about it? They made Derek ache.
Even so, Derek felt weirdly calm about the approaching car. Probably the fact that he recognized that defective engine had something to do with it. Those approaching footsteps sounded familiar too, and that heartbeat, and that voice muttering, “Okay, Stiles, you can do this. Be strong. Rise above yourself. You--”
Stiles opened the door, took one look at Derek and the pup, said, “--cannot do this,” in a faint voice, and shut the door again.
He came back in a second later, though. Closed the door behind him and leaned on it, eyeing Derek as if he were carrying a bomb rather than a discontent infant. “So.” He swallowed. “A baby.”
Then he blinked. “A baby! F-- freaking out. Yes. Okay. You stay here – do not move! Do you hear me? The moving, none of it. And I will be right back.”
He was still staring at Derek, though. So Derek said, “I'm not really in a moving position right now.”
Stiles nodded, dazed. “Because you have a baby on you. Right.”
"Yeah.” Derek flashed his teeth at Stiles. “Also there's the fact that I gave birth two days ago and stayed up last night with a hungry pup.”
"Right.” Stiles' eyes were comically huge. He kept nodding, like a bobble-head version of himself. “Magic man baby. Right. That you gave birth to. I'm just-- I'll go get some diapers, okay? And. Things. You stay put!” He tried to point a finger at Derek while leaving. That didn't go very well, but as he didn't seem to have an actual concussion, Derek was inclined to stay put.
Huh. Seemed like fatherhood was calming on him. Derek moved the pup to the other nipple and turned to poke the embers in the fireplace. Carefully. Safety first.
Stiles came back with diapers, a whole baby care kit that Derek found frankly intimidating, and a determined expression that was somehow even worse.
"Oh no you don't,” Stiles said before Derek even had the chance to say anything. “I had to call Scott's mom for baby care advice because of you. The least you could do is listen.”
I gave birth because of you, Derek didn't say, because if they were going for the big guns then Stiles had the ultimate argument, one thing Derek would never be able to one-up. Not that he wanted to. Fuck.
Stiles wrinkled his nose. “Okay, but first we are getting this baby washed and changed. Properly.”
"What's his name?” Stiles' voice was hushed. It had better be, since they’d finally got the pup to sleep, nestled between them because he wouldn't still otherwise.
Derek blinked once, slow.
"Wait. You mean to tell me you haven't named him yet?” Stiles blinked back at him, incredulous.
"Maybe I was waiting for your input,” Derek snapped. He regretted it the moment it left his mouth, winced at the unhappy curl of Stiles' mouth. In truth, Derek hadn't thought of the name thing at all. The pup was himself, and perfectly unique. What did he need a name for?
Stiles swallowed. “This is the sort of thing I wanted to talk to you about, actually.” He lowered his voice even further. “So I'm correct in assuming he's... mine?”
There was such hushed awe in that last word that Derek had to grit his teeth to keep from... something. He didn't even know. “Yeah,” he said.
"Wow. So that's... three months, that's how long werewolf pregnancy takes? Really? And how does it work, even, did you--?” Stiles made a number of incomprehensible (yet still terrifying) hand gestures, abruptly shaking his head. “But never mind. Look, the important thing is,” he sighed, straightening.
"The important thing is,” Stiles said, “you need to know that whatever your choice is, I respect and support it fully. You want me to co-parent this kid, I will. You want me to never again darken your doorstep, I will. You want me to have visitation once a week and pay child support, I will, although I gotta warn you, that will not be a lot of child support. Even if I drop out of school to work full time, which I will if you ask me, because that is my child and I will do anything in my ability to do right by him.”
Stiles looked at him so earnestly that Derek didn't have the first clue what to say.
Except, “Don't quit school,” he said. “You'll set a bad example for him.”
Stiles gave a surprised chuckle. But Derek, also surprised, found he wasn't done yet. “And it's not-- you didn't even have a choice in the first place. This is my fault.”
"How....” Stiles stared, then closed his eyes and rubbed at his temple. “Internalized victim blaming, right, I thought this might happen. Read about it on the internet. Look, Derek--”
"No, you look,” Derek snapped. “I know this is my fault, okay? You set me free and I, I made you, I remember how scared you were.”
He had to break off because the pup started not-crying again. Derek hoisted him up on his shoulder while glaring at Stiles. Who didn't look half as intimidated as he should be. In fact, Stiles was getting that look he always got just before he did something risky and stupid that saved their asses.
"Yeah, losing your virginity can do that to you,” Stiles said, matter of fact. “And I was, in fact, fully conscious and in control of my actions. Which I can actually still remember. Unlike some parties in this room.”
The pup settled down into fussing. Derek brought him back to his lap, putting Stiles' hand on the pup's stomach, moving it in gentle circles until Stiles got the hint and continued massaging by himself.
"You don't get to tell me that you raped me,” Derek said, voice steady. “That's not what happened.”
Stiles threw his free hand up. “Fine. Then you don't get to define my experiences, either. Okay?”
The pup was quieting down under Stiles' touch. Derek couldn't help his voice going soft. “Okay.”
They were quiet. For five seconds. Derek counted. Stiles was still pretty quiet when he spoke, though. “So what do we do now?”
"We sleep,” Derek said. “We get the hell out of this place in the morning, because we're in another pack's territory and there's only so long they'll tolerate us here.”
"Actually, Helen said to take as long as need.”
Derek narrowed his eyes. It took him a moment to place the name. “Helen. As in, Helen DiPietro.” The DiPietro clan wasn't known for its hospitality.
"The very same. She called us three days ago, telling us to come get your sorry ass. How did you think I knew where to find you?” Stiles looked pensive for a moment. “I mean, she must've known about the kid. But I don't get why she didn't tell us that. I could've come prepared.”
"As amazing as it must be to you,” Derek drawled, “Some people do believe in privacy.”
"Weird, huh?” Stiles rolled his eyes. “I know you don't. Creeperwolf.”
"Who was it, again, who decided to crawl around whose house uninvited?” Derek asked just for the sake of fairness.
Stiles bristled. “Okay, you so totally lose on the creeper fight, you don't have--”
Then the baby woke up again and they had better things to do than argue.
Dawn found them exhausted, Derek clutching the pup while Stiles loaded up his jeep.
"We're going to have to do some serious logistic thinking,” Stiles said when they were buckled in. He even bought a baby seat, so Derek was only half-listening to him, ears trained on the tiny heartbeat in the back. “I mean, you can't bring a baby to that burnt-out house, that's just not going to work, I don't care how much rewiring you did. That shit cannot be baby-proof. And we still haven't figured out what kind of arrangement--”
"Stiles,” Derek said. “Let's just get home in one piece first, okay? We can go to your place first. Then we can figure it out.”
"Yeah. I need to tell my dad!” Stiles slumped. “Oh. I need to tell my dad. Everything, probably.”
"Yeah.” Derek wasn't happy about that, but family was family.
Stiles tossed his phone at Derek. “You can start by answering the million frantic messages I have from, oh, everyone in the pack. Did I mention that Scott wanted to come? Aren't you glad Scott didn't come?”
"No,” Derek said automatically. “I mean, glad he didn't come. No to answering your messages.”
Shit. He was hanging out with Stiles way too much. Kid was starting to rub off on him. Derek glanced balefully at the backseat where, for once, the pup was blissfully quiet.
"What're we naming him, anyway?” Stiles sped as they left the dirt roads for the highway. “Can't just call him cub forever. We could call him Fido. Ooh! I know! Cujo!”
"No,” Derek growled.
Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. “You are forever banned from naming anything.”
Stiles went silent. For long enough that Derek opened his eyes to find Stiles extremely focused on the road.
"Just so long as I'm not banned from his life,” Stiles said softly, eventually. “I meant it when I said, anything you wanted. I did. But I think if I don't get to see him on a daily basis I may, like, pine to death. It's a possibility that needs to be acknowledged.”
It took a little while for Derek to be able to speak. “We can't have that.”
Stiles turned a brief look on him then, mouth parted in a yearning that made perfect, inexplicable sense to Derek.
They drove. The rest, Derek felt, would sort itself in time.