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The bed is levitating again and Stiles groans as he wakes up, nose nearly touching the ceiling.

He grabs his phone, which he’s taken to stuffing under his pillow rather than leaving on the nightstand for occasions just like this, and calls Scott.

It takes three tries, but Scott finally answers, sleepy and confused. “Stiles?”

“I’m getting really tired of this Paranormal Activity bullshit,” Stiles says. He’s eyeing the floor and thinking about jumping, but it seems pretty far.

“The bed again?” Scott asks, a little more awake now.

“Yeah. Are we any closer to finding out what the hell is happening?”

Stiles has his theories, but Scott keeps claiming that they’re all inspired by Halloween Fright Night movie marathons and not by reality. But seriously. Shit keeps moving on its own. He swears he hears footsteps and creepy giggles when he’s alone. Sometimes lights turn on and doors open for no reason. His computer has started playing music willy-nilly too, sometimes, and never anything Stiles would choose to listen to on his own. And worse, sometimes people around him get hurt, like they’re being shoved, or something falls on them, or something no one else can see punches them in the face.

Scott’s never going to get over Stiles’ poltergeist breaking his nose.

Sure, he was being a dick at the time and kind of deserved it, but it was scary all the same.

The only thing these weird paranormal things have in common was that Stiles always seems to be at the centre of them. That’s how he knows he’s the one being haunted. And so far the hauntings haven’t hurt him directly, but after any manifestation of them, Stiles is left feeling woozy, weak, and sick.

He’s just glad his dad has been working a lot lately, so he hasn’t been hurt by whatever’s going on. Stiles knows he probably ought to have mentioned that he seems to be the centre point for demonic activity, but he hasn’t quite gotten around to it.

Soon, though.

Especially if this keeps up.

The house starts rattling, windows shaking in their sills, and his eyes widen. “Scott,” he hisses into the phone. “It’s not over.”

There’s something on the roof suddenly, rattling the shingles, and the house shakes harder. Something crashes, doors start opening and slamming shut, and it sounds like a tornado is rushing through the halls.

“Scott,” he says again, panicking.

“I’m coming,” Scott says. “Hold on.”

But Stiles’ hands are suddenly wet with blood and he turns them over to stare at the backs of them. It looks like someone is scraping his skin back, leaving deep, bloody wounds, parallel lines of them. Blood wells up and runs over and then suddenly his skin splits open from the middle of the back of his palm up, all the way to the bend of his elbow, tearing apart like Velcro.

There is so, so much blood.

He screams, dropping the phone to the floor below and falls back on the bed, pinned there like a starfish. His feet and shins are bleeding too – he’s splitting apart, cracking open like a lobster dinner.

And then, just as suddenly, everything stops and the bed slams back down to the floor.

Stiles is unconscious before it lands.

*

Magic calls to animals, some more than others. Owls have always heard the call more than most.

This owl has always ignored that call.

But his forest is suddenly filled with the scent of blood and magic, and the owl goes still, staring, unblinking, at the moon. He does not have time for boys with magic. He does not have time for much more than finding tender mice to eat and dry places to sleep. He does not care for boys with magic, either. Truth be told, this owl does not care for many things. He is raggedy, and alone, and he likes it that way.

But the forest has filled with the scent of blood and the call of magic. And the owl prepares to spread his wings and fly as far from that call as he can get.

He takes flight, and as he flies, he catches sight of a pale boy who glows like moonlight in the darkness.

He does not have time for boys who glow, not like the moon, not like the sun, not like anything at all.

But he settles on a branch below the boy anyway, and watches him.

He’s still and looks little more than a child – a puppy of a man, all gangly limbs and smooth skin dotted with marks. He’s bleeding, because something has ripped open the secret space inside him where magic has pooled, and now that magic is tearing him apart. What had become a slow leak from his fingertips has become a hurricane, and a hurricane has never meant to be stored inside a bottle, especially one as fragile as the boy dying in the leaves below.

He’s hemorrhaging magic.

And the owl has no time for magic, nor boys who bleed it.

No one else is coming for this boy, and the forest has laid this boy at the owl’s feet, and from this close, the call of magic is particularly intoxicating and strong.

The owl rolls his eyes. “Fuck,” he says. “Fine.

*

Stiles wakes up far from home, on a bed of leaves, covered in his own blood.

But he’s going to take the fact that he woke up at all as a win.

He sits up gingerly, cataloguing his body for injuries. His arms are slashed up but the cuts have scabbed over pretty well and seem to be healing, especially considering they’re still encrusted with blood, dirt and leaves. The muscles over his entire body ache with a deep exhaustion he hasn’t felt in a very long time. His head feels fuzzy and disoriented, like he overslept.

But he feels more settled in his skin than he has felt in a very long time.

It’s quiet. Stiles glances around, trying to gauge his surroundings, but this patch of forest looks like any other patch of forest he’s ever woken up in.

This happens far too often.

For a moment, he thinks he’s alone. Then he spots the small owl staring at him from the low-hanging branch of a tree.

Stiles frowns and climbs carefully to his feet, staggering a little bit and reaching out to brace himself on the trunk of the owl’s tree. The owl blinks slowly at him but doesn’t fly away.

“I don’t suppose you know the way home,” Stiles says.

The owl stares and Stiles sighs. “Okay,” he says, and then squints up at the patch of sky he can see between the trees, trying to guess which way would lead home. Or to the road. Or anywhere at all, really.

He starts walking, but each movement sends small shockwaves through his muscles, like pins and needles.

He staggers from one tree to the next, grimacing and walking on stiff legs.

The owl follows, hopping from branch to branch.

Stiles doesn’t notice.

*

Stiles lurches along at an inefficient shamble, shaking at the idea of a warm shower and a hopefully-no-longer-floating bed. He finally makes it to the road, exhaling with relief, and continues his baby-deer walk alongside it. As best as he can tell, it’s mid-morning.

Part of him hopes he gets home without anyone seeing him like this. The other part of him is exhausted and just wants to be home, curled up in bed, asleep. So yeah, he’d probably take a ride, if anybody was so kind as to drive by and—

Of course it’s Derek Hale. Why else would it be anybody else who drives down this particular road at this particular time? Stiles’ life has been spectacularly shitty lately, so he’s not even surprised when Derek’s Camaro screeches to a stop in front of him and a particularly furious Derek Hale gets out.

“What the fuck, Stiles,” Derek snaps. “Where the fuck have you been?”

Stiles opens his mouth to explain but Derek talks right over him. “I had to hear from Scott, an entire day after you go missing that apparently you’re being haunted by something? You don’t think that’s something I should know about? That I could help with?”

Stiles blinks at him. “That’s… more words than I think you’ve ever spoken to me.”

Derek growls, but Stiles doesn’t care, because a wave of dizziness washes over him and he staggers a little.

The next thing he knows, Derek is shoving him into the passenger seat of his car, buckling his seatbelt, and climbing in himself. He does a quick u-turn to head back into town and says tersely, “Do you need the hospital?”

Stiles can barely support his own weight, leaning heavily against the window. He’s falling asleep – sleep would be the best thing in the world. “No,” he manages to say, slow and a little soft around the edges. Then he pauses. “A whole day?”

Derek shoots him a quick look. “Yeah. Because you’ve been gone three.”

Stiles groans, falling against the window. His dad totally knows he’s been gone.

*

Scott and his mother are just arriving when Derek pulls up in front of Stiles’ house, and his father is waiting on the porch. Derek had insisted Stiles text them on the way back, before finally letting him fall asleep against the window, if only for a few precious seconds.

It’s chaos when he carefully gets out of the car. His father crushes him against his chest, Scott demands to know what happened, where he’s been, is he safe, are they all safe, was it the haunting? Melissa wants to know if the blood is his, and her voice grows progressively more shrill while demanding he let her sponge bathe him to make sure he still wasn’t bleeding.

“Shower,” he mumbles. “Then bandaging. Then sleep.”

But Scott demands answers and he pushes through the crowd to get to Stiles’ side, growling. “I need to know if we’re safe,” he says, alpha bleeding from his voice.

Which is when a tiny, puffy little brown owl attacks out of nowhere, shrieking and dive-bombing Scott and trying to scratch at his eyes.

It was already chaotic and now it’s worse. Scott is shouting about possessed birds, sprouting claws and trying to kill it, the Sheriff is trying to get a good lock on the poor bird to shoot it, and Melissa is trying to drag Scott out of the bird’s warpath.

“Get inside,” Derek says, tugging Stiles towards the door.

“Uh, no? There’s a psycho owl out here, this is hilarious,” Stiles says. Then he frowns. “Is it rabid?”

“It’s not natural,” Derek snaps. “It stinks of magic. It’s probably possessed. Which means it’s after you.”

It seems pretty determined to scratch Scott’s eyes out, actually. But Stiles is tired and sore and really had no time for a possessed owl, so he lets Derek usher him inside. Melissa follows, dragging Scott, and the owl finally backs off, flying up into a nearby tree and perching on a branch, staring eerily through the window.

Definitely unnatural.

“Shower,” Melissa says sternly. “And then I’ll see if you need to be patched up.”

“And I’ll call Animal Control,” the Sheriff says. Then he points at Stiles. “And you’ll tell me everything.”

It sounds like a threat.

*

Stiles wants to stay in the shower for hours, but he knows someone will be sent to fetch him if he doesn’t hurry along, and with his luck, it’ll be Derek. So he washes the blood and dirt off his skin and out of his hair and then comes downstairs, wrapped up in a blanket and scowling.

“So you mean to tell me,” his father says, clearly furious. “That you’ve been experiencing paranormal activity for nearly a month and you didn’t think to tell me?”

Apparently Scott’s been filling them in.

“We didn’t want to worry you,” Scott says earnestly. Derek’s still there, leaning against the wall as close to the front door as he can get, like he needs to keep his possible escape route clear, and they all seem angry with Stiles. Except Scott.

“Uh,” Stiles lets Melissa sit him down on the couch and winces in apology at Scott. “Nearly three months, actually.

And now Scott looks angry too.

Stiles closes his eyes. Melissa is carefully inspecting the cuts on his hands but he’s pretty sure they’re practically healed by now.

“It started off so small,” he explains. “Tiny things, I barely noticed. Things wouldn’t be where I left them or people around me would be clumsier than usual. I scored that awesome goal in Lacrosse—”

“That was because you’ve been practicing!” Scott says, because he’s loyal and awesome.

“Maybe. But it felt off. The goalie tripped, remember? He should have been able to stop it and he just… didn’t.” Stiles shrugged. “I was losing things more than I should. Sometimes I’d trip for no reason, or things would just… fall and hit me? It could have been normal. But it just escalated. I began seeing things move when there was no reason they should be moving. Or… writing would appear on the bathroom mirror, in the steam after my shower, but it wasn’t anything I knew how to read. My bed started moving. Once, it seemed like blood was running down the wall, a river of blood in the hallway. It wasn’t real…” he trails off.

“It sounds like…” his father begins, but he can’t finish it.

“The Nogitsune,” Stiles says softly. “When the writing started appearing, on the mirror and sometimes on the walls or whatever, when it started feeling the way it had before, that’s when I told Scott.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Derek asks. His voice is deceptively soft.

Stiles looks up at him and then away quickly. “Scott and I thought… we thought it seemed like. Like a ghost.”

Derek lifts an eyebrow, still looking stony and angry.

Stiles closes his eyes again and says, “I thought, if it was a ghost, and they were trying to speak to me, then maybe it was mom.” He sounds about as defeated as he feels.

“Stiles,” his dad says, voice cracking.

“Or Allison,” Scott says with a shrug, and Stiles smiles weakly at him.

“Or Erika. Boyd. A friend we lost.”

“Or any number of enemies we’ve stopped,” Derek snaps.

“If it was your mother, she never, ever would have hurt you,” his dad says firmly. He sits beside Stiles, looking earnest, and Stiles knows. But hope is a dangerous thing to have.

“All the injuries could have been accidents,” he says quietly. “But then last night – or, I guess, three nights ago…” he shrugs. “I woke up and my bed was floating again, and then my skin started splitting open. Then I woke up in the woods.”

“You should have come to me,” Derek says.

“What would you have done?” Stiles asks, exhausted. “What could anyone have done?”

There is silence for a moment, and then Melissa says hesitantly, “Did you ask Lydia?”

Stiles looks at her blankly. No, he hadn’t bothered Lydia with his paranormal bullshit. She was kind of busy, what with it being their senior year and everything.

“It’s just, doesn’t she talk to the dead, or something? If it was a ghost… wouldn’t she know?”

Stiles is an idiot. He scowls. “Okay, I should have talked to Lydia.”

“Or Deaton,” Melissa suggests.

The Sheriff squeezes his hand. “Or me.”

Derek doesn’t say anything, but his, ‘or me’ is pretty eloquently stated in his glare.

Scott sounds small. “I’ll call Deaton. And Lydia. We’ll figure this out, before anyone else gets hurt.”

Stiles glances out the window and the owl is still there, watching him. He shudders.

*

His boy is fucking surrounded by predators. Wolves and men with guns. He has no self-preservation instincts. This is the worst. The owl has made a terrible decision.

He rolls his eyes and ruffles his feathers, ducking his head down into them for warmth, but keeps watch over the house.

*

“It’s not a ghost,” Lydia says, frowning. She’s already berated him soundly for failing to tell her what was happening from the beginning. “It’s not death. You’re – if I concentrate, there’s a light around you? Pulsing a little. But only if I try to see it. And it’s not associated with death, or I’d probably have been seeing it the whole time.” She shrugs delicately. “But I probably could have figured it out by now, if you’d told me.”

“Sorry,” Stiles says again.

Apparently, after arriving at Stiles’ bedroom the other night only to find his bed covered in blood, Scott had panicked and called Lydia, who had insisted he tell Stiles’ dad, who had called Melissa to panic. Scott and Derek had recruited Liam and Malia to help them search the Preserve, but they’d been unable to find a trail because apparently the entire forest had reeked of his blood.

While they wait for Deaton to return Scott’s call, Scott tells Stiles all about their three days combing every inch of the Preserve, stopping only for brief rests and quick meals. Derek, Scott tells him, hadn’t taken any breaks at all, and had been on his way to Satomi’s territory to negotiate for the right to search their side of the Preserve for Stiles when he’d found him on the side of the road.

Which explains why Derek looks a little haggard, but it still didn’t make much sense, and seriously. Stiles would so much rather be sleeping than dealing with this.

“Did Deaton call yet?” his dad asks impatiently.

Stiles had mentioned he was hungry and now Melissa is ‘throwing something together’ with Kira and Liam’s help, which will probably be something delicious, but Stiles isn’t sure he’ll still be awake to have any of it. He’s staring around the living room blearily, blinking slowly. His dad is pacing, Lydia is flipping through an ancient book she’d brought along once Scott had confessed the nature of his problem. Scott is trying to get Deaton on the phone again, and Malia staring at the owl outside with narrowed eyes. Derek was sitting on the couch awkwardly, mostly because Stiles’ dad had lost his temper with Derek’s cagey lurking and had snapped, ‘either take a seat or go home, son, I’m getting more anxious just looking at you.’

Derek had hovered uncertainly for a moment but then he’d kicked off his shoes and, much to Stiles’ shock and amusement, lowered himself awkwardly onto the couch near Stiles.

It’s cool, Stiles thinks now, blinking sleepily at Derek. He’s totally okay with this awkwardly protective Derek. Sure, it doesn’t mean Derek likes him – he’d be awkwardly protective with just about any of the pack, and angrily protective of Scott. But Stiles will take what he can get, at this point.

“Hey,” he says, and he feels nearly drunk with exhaustion. Derek looks at him and frowns.

“Are you okay?”

Stiles nods carefully. He’s already listing forward. “Just stay still. This won’t hurt a bit.”

“What are you – Stiles –”

But Stiles is already giving in, going boneless and melting until he’s sprawled on the couch, head cradled in Derek’s lap.

“Jesus, Stiles,” Derek says, but Stiles hears his dad say, “Just let him sleep. We can wake him when Deaton gets here.”

Stiles smiles smugly, and the last thing he’s aware of before slipping into sleep is Derek giving in with a sigh and then, a moment later, smoothing Stiles’ blankets up over his shoulders.

Stiles dreams that he’s flying.

*

The owl waits until his boy is sleeping and reasonably safe, protected, before he gives in and flares his wings, hissing at the coyote staring out the window.

She rears back with a snarl, eyes flashing, and calls for the others to come and see. By the time they get there, he’s complacently puffed up in his feathers, wings and beak tucked away, staring unblinking.

A faint rumble of smug amusement echoes in his chest.

*
The druid arrives after the sun sets, and the owl snorts delicately, watching him. It was a druid, of course, because druids always stick their noses where they oughtn’t.

The druid is halfway up the porch steps before he stops and turns, eyeing the owl silently.

It’s an old-fashioned stare-down and the owl has been winning these since he was a hatchling. He lets it stretch on until it’s awkward and then he hisses.

The druid smiles faintly and inclines his head in respect. “No one in this house would hurt him, or allow anyone else near enough to hurt him,” he says. “You can hunt. Stiles will be here when you return.

The owl snorts and the druid says, “Very well, then.”

He goes inside, and the owl watches as he joins the group just inside the window, where the boy is stretched out and unconscious, resting on the born wolf’s lap. He’s regenerating all the magic he lost, and the owl can feel it, a slowly rising tide. He won’t fly away when his boy is weak and fragile like a baby rabbit.

The thought of baby rabbits makes the owl’s stomach rumble and he grumbles to himself, nestling down in his ruffled feathers, watching.

*

“Stiles. Stiles, I need to know what you did.”

Stiles isn’t waking up for that, no way. He barely knows what he did or what he’s being blamed for now, but he damned well knows that he’d rather be sleeping than dealing with it.

“Stiles!”

“Let him sleep.”

Derek was always Stiles’ favourite. But don’t tell him that, he already has such a big head, and –

“Stiles.” Scott now. “You’re talking in your sleep.”

Stiles’ eyes fly open and he hopes to God he hadn’t been saying what he’d been thinking, because Derek had probably heard and – yeah, he’s definitely heard, considering that Stiles’ head is still in his lap and – holy crap – Derek’s fingers are in his hair, how had this happened?

He sits up far too fast and moans as the room tips sickeningly around him.

“Steady, Stiles,” Deaton says, crouching worriedly in front of him. “You haven’t recovered quite yet, and I won’t keep you for long. I just need to know what you’ve done, if you’re aware of what you’ve done.”

“Unaware,” Stiles croaks.

“I would have gotten here sooner, but I was in the Preserve,” Deaton says carefully. “Trying to track the epicentre of a massive magical disturbance. It was the equivalent of a nuclear bomb, Stiles. And I believe you were the epicentre.”

Stiles stares at him blankly, because he’s learned that it’s the best way to get any information out of Deaton, but Derek gets up, restless.

“He was attacked with magic?”

“No,” Deaton says, careful. “He is magic.”

“He’s not,” Derek says quickly, and the Sheriff says, “Or if he is, someone should have told me.”

“He’s just a Spark,” Scott adds. “You said.”

“A Spark is potential. And Stiles’ Spark has been torn open, has become realized potential. It’s basically torn straight through him, and that’s why you couldn’t track him. Somehow, I believe, his magical potential was forced open and began leaking – slowly, at first, and then more quickly. When the dam finally broke, three nights ago, it scattered pieces of Stiles’ magic – blood magic – all over the Preserve.”

“Basically,” Stiles says with a faintly hysterical, sleepy giggle. “My Spark became a wildfire.”

Derek drops back down beside him. “You need rest,” he orders. “If you bled all over the Preserve like Deaton says.”

“He did,” Deaton explains. “And he would have kept bleeding out until he died, but there are ways – natural ways – to balance magic. Familiars, or…”

And he kept droning on and on but it was all becoming a soft and soothing buzz. The adrenaline from having accidentally blurted out that Derek was his favourite is wearing off, and Stiles is crashing hard.

“It’s okay,” Derek says quietly. “You’re okay now. We’ll figure this out.”

He must be asleep and dreaming already, because Derek is never this nice to him.

He dreams he’s flying again, searching for rabbits in an endless field of mice and snakes.

*

He’s in bed when he wakes, and his bedroom window is open, letting in a nice breeze. It’s quiet and serene, his bed isn’t floating, and Stiles feels amazing. Nothing hurts and he stretches with a blissed out grin. Not even the stack of at least a week’s worth of homework stacked on his desk dims his mood as he starts whistling to himself, stripping off his grungy pajamas before heading for a shower.

He only notices that Derek’s in the tree outside of his window when he comes back, towel slung around his hips.

He pauses, squints to make sure he’s seeing correctly, but it seems to be reality. Derek Hale is straddling a tree branch outside his window, doing… something. He seems to be building a tiny tree house.

Stiles leans out the window. “Uhm, I know you were freaked out or whatever, but I’d say moving into my tree isn’t going to fix things.”

Derek grunts. He’s got a hammer in his mouth and he’s lashing some boards to the crook of the tree branches. When he gets the knot tight, he sets the hammer down and says, “You should be sleeping.”

“I am rested,” Stiles chirps. “I am so rested. I feel so good, seriously. I’ve never felt so good. Apparently a day’s sleep is all I needed.”

“Four days,” Derek says. “Your dad was worried you were going to starve but Deaton said your magic was regenerating or whatever, and nourishing you.”

“My magic,” Stiles echoes skeptically.

Derek seems to be finishing up in the tree, and he has literally built a big bird house, right by Stiles’ window, and nothing is making any sense.

“If I’ve been asleep for four days, I’m surprised no one’s like, hovering,” he says. “Is anybody else even here?”

“No.” Derek shrugs. He still hasn’t looked up at Stiles, and is now testing to make sure the house is tied down tightly enough. “Scott, Liam, Malia and Kira aren’t allowed in. Your dad’s at work but stops in every hour to check on you.”

“They aren’t allowed in? You can’t keep them out!”

Derek finally looks at him, glaring a little. “Your owl wouldn’t hunt if they were in the house. They’ll be here as soon as school’s done and your owl is back. Deaton worried he was starving. Apparently he couldn’t leave when you were surrounded by danger.”

Stiles blinks, filtering through that information. Then he blinks again and tips his head sideways and no. It still makes no sense. “My owl?” he says finally. “I don’t…” Then he remembers that small, squat, disgruntled little bird that followed him out of the woods and attacked Scott. “What?” he finishes finally.

Derek sighs and scoots closer, hopping from the tree to the roof. Stiles backs up to let him crawl through the window, and abruptly remembers he isn’t dressed. He starts rummaging frantically for some PJ pants, but Derek doesn’t seem to care, just stretches out in his computer chair.

He closes his eyes obligingly when Stiles clutches his pants to his chest and squeaks, and Stiles manages to wiggle into them without dropping his towel.

When he’s finally somewhat decent, he climbs onto his bed, clutches his pillow, and says, “Okay. Now, what?”

“You’re a witch, Stiles.”

Stiles smirks but Derek still looks solemn. “Okay, start again,” Stiles says, because apparently it isn’t a joke.

“You were a Spark, with magic potential, but it was pretty tightly locked up, I guess,” Derek says. “Deaton says it’s like a dam that sprang a leak – there was some sort of magical trauma – maybe the Nogitsune, maybe… any of the other shit that’s happened since. Hell, maybe dying and coming back. There’s no way to tell. But it basically cracked the barrier that kept all your magic locked away, and it started to leak. So the signs of possession, of haunting… That all came from you. And the leak got bigger and bigger, and then the dam burst, and your magic blew up.” He breaths out, rolling his shoulders, clearly not quite over Stiles’ near death. It’s like he’s forgotten how common near death experiences are around here.

“But I didn’t die,” Stiles reminds him.

“Witches usually have a coven that can help syphon the excess energy, or a familiar, who acts as a channel, or a valve, to control how much power you have access to, so that it doesn’t overwhelm you. You didn’t have either, so you were going to die. But instead, somehow… you got a familiar.”

Stiles frowned, glanced at the bird house, and said, “That angry little owl?”

Derek nods.

“Who won’t leave me alone if my friends are around. But somehow, you’re okay.”

Shrugging, Derek says, “Deaton’s not sure why. It could be that I’m a born wolf and they’re not. It could just be that he…” He’s fucking blushing a little, Stiles is so amused. “Likes me.” He clears his throat. “He hasn’t shit on my head yet, so there’s that.”

“Whose head has he shit on?” Stiles asks, eyes wide.

Derek winces. “Lydia. Malia. Scott. Liam managed to dodge.”

Stiles carefully buries his amusement, because if he laughs, Lydia will somehow know. “So it’s like, my pet?” he asks. “Like a pirate with a parrot?” He’s picturing himself walking around with an owl perched on his shoulder.

“More like a guardian,” Derek says. “I’m pretty sure he’ll bite your fingers off if you try to pet him.” He curls his fingers into self-conscious fists and Stiles’ eyes go wide.

“Did you try to pet it?”

Derek changes the subject swiftly. “Deaton says you’ve got to work on shoring up the leak because until then, you’ll be leaking magic, and it’ll act as a beacon for all the things that feed on magic. And none of them are good. Now, the owl is pretty much functioning as a valve, and he’s keeping your magic turned off as much as he can, but that’s unsustainable.”

“No, admit it,” Stiles says. “You tried to pet my owl.”

“Stiles,” he snaps. “This is serious. You could have died. You could still die.”

Stiles sighs. “Derek, one of us is nearly dying every month or so. It’s going to be fine. We’ll get rid of it and I’ll be fine.”

“You can’t get rid of it,” Derek says, more carefully now. “Stiles, you’re a witch. Witches don’t have packs, they have covens, safety in numbers, and you don’t have that. You’re vulnerable.”

“Are you – you can’t kick me out of the pack,” Stiles says, eyes wide. “It’s Scott’s pack now.”

“I’m not trying to kick you out,” Derek snaps. “But some types of magic are incompatible with others and witch magic…” He trails off.

“Doesn’t play well with others,” Stiles finishes, scowling. “But that’s not a decision you get to make. Besides, I haven’t even decided whether I want to be a witch. It looked a lot cooler in Harry Potter. No one’s even talked about going to Diagon Alley, and I don’t even have a wand.”

“It’s not a thing you get to choose,” Derek says quietly.

Stiles ignores him. “If Banshee magic can work with the pack, so can whatever’s happening with me,” he says. But he’s not feeling as good as he was before. What if Derek’s right? What if he can’t be part of the pack anymore? What if that’s why the owl won’t let the pack near him? What if he has to leave? Sure, he’s applied to universities out of state, but what if he can’t come back, not even for holidays?

“You should go,” he says quietly, because Stiles doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“I can’t. I promised I’d stay.”

“Owls don’t speak English,” Stiles snaps, but then he closes his eyes. “Whatever. Wait downstairs. Or outside. You’re right – I need more sleep.”

Derek hesitates but finally gives in with a nod, and he closes the bedroom door quietly as he leaves.

Stiles doesn’t sleep; he pulls up everything he can find on witches, familiars and magic in the collection of books he’s spent years gathering up.

When he finally looks up hours later, the owl is staring at him from the bird house and the sun has gone down.

“You’re not coming in,” Stiles tells the bird, slamming the window shut.

The owl just blinks and keeps staring.

*

Confession: Stiles is afraid of having magic.

The Spark had been cool. It had been small, manageable. He could do some funky stuff with Mountain Ash, all with the power of belief.

And now here he is, his Spark blown wide open, apparently coming down with a fatal case of magical overload, and all that stands between him and bleeding out is a grumpy owl that looks suspiciously like a feathered version of Derek Hale.

Stiles doesn’t know how good he’s gonna be at handling that level of responsibility, that’s all. What if he does something wrong? What if he hurts someone, or curses someone, or someone’s relying on him and he fails to come through because magic is hard and he has the attention span of a newt?

Stiles likes others to set their expectations low for him. He’s the soft, squishable human. What good’s he in a fight? He likes when they make their heroic plans without him, so then he can burst in at the last moment, driving his trusty Jeep or wielding his baseball bat and WHAM. He’s done something good. His tiny contribution has turned the tide of evil and now he and his friends might just survive.

But if people are relying on him to show up with his Jeep or his bat, he’s probably going to get lost on the way, or mess up his timing, or smash in the head of the wrong person, and then what? Mission fails and that failure lands squarely at Stiles’ feet.

So here he is with magic apparently leaking out of his pores, though the tide has been stemmed by that fucking bird. He’s got an ancient book Deaton dropped off on the Dark Arts of Witchcraft – Stiles doesn’t do dark arts! Stiles doesn’t do arts at all! He failed art in freshman year and those were just tempera and pastel arts, and now the world expects him to be a professional in the dark arts?

So Stiles is doing what he’s best at doing: procrastinating, and also ignoring his problems until they go away.

Stiles spends the rest of that day – and the next – doing homework and steadily ignoring the ridiculous owl, which seems to be napping now in the stupid house Derek built.

His dad gets home and he’s soundly lectured, again, on why exactly hiding his magical problem was the very worst decision he could have made, and apparently the only reason he isn’t grounded for the rest of his life is because the sheriff gets a kick out of it whenever Stiles’ friends try to visit.

Stiles doesn’t know what that means until the next evening, when Scott phone and says, “Dude, your owl won’t let me in.”

Stiles looks out the window, but the owl is gone. “Crap,” he says. “What’s it doing?”

“Shitting on my head! Again!” Scott cries, and Stiles goes downstairs to look out the door and stares. Scott is standing on the very edge of the front lawn, holding his phone to his ear and waving his arms desperately in the air, and the owl is hovering there, wings flapping, as if daring him to try to come closer.

Stiles opens the door. “Hey!” he shouts at the owl. The owl ignores him. Stiles shrugs helplessly at Scott. “Derek says it’s because you’re an unnatural wolf or something,” he says. “You’re a threat.”

“I could kill that thing with my teeth,” Scott agrees, and the owl hisses. “Can it hear me? Dude, does your owl speak English?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles says. “I haven’t been having conversations with it, have I?”

“This is ridiculous. Hold on. Keep the door open.”

And then Scott’s running, wolf-speed, across the yard and the owl is screeching and dive bombing him, trying to grab his hair or tear out his eyes or who knows what.

Stiles slams the door shut when Scott is safely inside, and then glares out the door at the owl. “You’re lucky no one’s called Animal Control,” he calls.

“Your dad did,” Scott grumbles. “Apparently it’s an endangered species and they’re not allowed to kill it.”

Stiles frowns. “Don’t I die if they kill it, anyway?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Scott rolls his eyes. “It’s in those books Deaton left you. Haven’t you looked that up?”

“You’re one to lecture me about studying,” Stiles says, deflecting masterfully. Scott rolls his eyes and follows him into the living room and they play Halo for hours.

And then Scott tosses his controller aside and says, “So. What can you do?” He looks like an eager kid at a magic show.

“Do?” Stiles echoes.

“You know.” Scott does jazz hands. “Magic!”

Stiles says, “I’m hungry. You hungry? Should we get some pizza? We totally should. Dad left money, and –”

Scott frowns. “Can you fly? On a broom? Have you even tried? Dude, we should try. That is amazing. Did you ward your house? I bet you could do that! Oh man, is that why the evil owl doesn’t come in?”

“The owl doesn’t come in because I keep the windows shut,” Stiles says slowly. “Scott. You saw me like two days ago. What sort of magical change were you expecting?”

“Bonnie Bennet could levitate feathers in like, episode one.”

Stiles hasn’t been measuring any of his personal landmarks up to the Vampire Diaries and doesn’t intend to start now.

*

He wakes up in the middle of the night and the bed is levitating again. His nose is touching the ceiling.

He yelps and the bed crashes to the floor, and when his heart stops pounding in his chest and he can breathe again, Stiles sits up, eyes wide, and stares out the window, which is open now, despite the fact that he clearly recalled slamming it shut before going to sleep.

The owl stares back, somehow judgemental.

“Okay,” Stiles croaks. “Okay. Calm down.”

He pulls Deaton’s massive, old book onto his lap and opens it slowly, as though he’s afraid it might bite him. It’s just a book, though, with cramped, carefully handwritten pages. He flips through the pages, past recipes and spells, diagrams and gruesome drawings, and an endless amount of text.

He turns back to the beginning, running his finger down a table of contents until he finds the section on familiars and then flips to that page. It seems a good place to start.

He begins to read, slowly and clumsily making his way through the unfamiliar prose at first, and then more quickly, and by dawn, he’s so engrossed in the book that he doesn’t even notice the sun coming up.

*

Lydia’s car is spotlessly clean and still has that new car smell. It was a gift for her 17th birthday, and the seats are leather and so much more comfortable than his jeep.

He had put up a token protest, of course, when she’d declared that not only are they skipping school to go on an important, magic-related road trip, but that she was driving. But the truth of the matter is, Stiles is more than happy to recline his seat a bit and let her take control.

He’s exhausted, his skin is growing tight and itchy with sensations he doesn’t quite recognize, and it’s nice to be able to tune out for a while.

Lydia doesn’t let him tune out for long.

“Scott says you’re afraid,” she announces, an hour out of Beacon Hills. Stiles is pretending to be sleeping, so she adds, “Of your magic.”

He sighs. “Scott doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Besides, I started reading that book, okay?”

She looks at him for a moment before turning back to the road. “I didn’t learn anything about being a banshee from a book.” There’s a beat of silence and then she adds, “And I was scared too. A little.”

He remembers it differently. He remembers her face, pale and bruised, eyes dark and terrified, standing naked just outside the treeline, demanding a coat. He remembers her panic disguised as rage as she kept finding her way to body after body. He remembers her nursing her torn up throat after so many people died that she screamed herself raw. He doesn’t call her on those times, or the nightmares, or the late night phone calls, or the times she worried that she wasn’t just feeling death, she was causing it.

But he’s suspicious now. “What sort of magical road trip is this?”

“I told you,” she says. “I didn’t learn anything about being a banshee from a book.”

“I know. But I’d rather not go through the trial and error process you went through.” He shrugs. “Besides, Deaton told me witch magic is different than pack magic, and –”

She shoots him a glare. “So is banshee magic and I fit in here just fine, so if that’s what you’re worried about, get over it.”

It wasn’t. Not really. Well, maybe a little. He sighs. “Where are we going?”

“There’s a little shop in Redding,” she says with a shrug. “It’s run by a pair of witches and they’ve helped me out with a few things and I thought maybe they’d know what to do with you.”

“Was this Derek’s idea?” Stiles grumbles, but he’s feeling a little reassured by the plan.

She laughs. “Like Derek would let you out of Beacon Hills without a bigger escort,” she says. “I don’t think he’s slept a full night since you were missing.”

Stiles frowns but doesn’t ask, and when they stop for gas a short while later, his owl collapses, exhausted and pissed off, on the roof of the car.

Lydia throws a fit but eventually unrolls the window and lets it flop into a box on the backseat.

*

Glitter Gems is exactly what Stiles expects of a new agey magic shop. It’s a cheery, bright store heavily perfumed with incense, selling all manner of crystals, chimes, dried sage, singing bowls and celtic art. There are tarot cards and fairy figurines, some Buddha statues, brand new books on ancient wisdom and palmistry, and the odd ‘spell in a box’ for love or luck. It’s on a main shopping street – one of those quaint ones with a plaza in the middle and a bunch of independent coffee shops battling Starbucks for supremacy.

In summary, it’s not going to be helpful. Not even a little. Stiles cannot believe he let Lydia convince him to skip school for this useless field trip.

“Stop judging,” she hisses, before leading him back to a small door tucked away behind a beaded curtain.

The cashier just watches blandly as she pushes the door open and leads him inside and down a narrow stairwell.

Apparently they keep the good stuff in the basement.

It’s warded, obviously – a fact that Stiles only realizes when they step off the final step and onto the basement floor and a wave of pulsing magical force washes over him and nearly shoves him off his feet. Suddenly what had seemed like a basement filled with molding file folders and spider webs is filled with rows upon rows of actual magical things, of every shape and size. Some of it glitters, a lot of it seems to be pulsing, and some of it is sucking the light out of the lamps that brightly shine everywhere else.

There are three people browsing here, and all of them look up to give both Lydia and Stiles a carefully measured stare.

One of them tips his head back to scent the air, a move so wolfy that Stiles immediately feels more at home here than he had upstairs with the hippies and their mediation CDs.

Lydia tips her nose back – not to scent the air, but to look snotty and confident – and glides over to the counter where a pretty young girl is counting cash.

“Excuse me,” Lydia says.

“Oh!” says the girl, who, Stiles realizes suddenly, has delicately pointed ears. She looks up. “How can I –” Her eyes flick from Lydia to Stiles and then she freezes and goes very pale. “You need to leave,” she says urgently. She glances around nervously. “Quickly.”

“But we were hoping to talk to someone about—”

“Pretty,” a woman breathes, far too close to Stiles. He yelps, jumping and spinning towards her. One of the other patrons has crept up behind him and he hadn’t noticed, and now she’s leaning closer, eyes big and shining. She flicks a pointed tongue over her lips, her fingers flexing, knuckles crunching. Stiles blinks because it looks like her crooked hands are glowing and why would they be –

It’s like she’s sucking the air from his lungs, and it burns. He can’t scream, he’s frozen solid, but she’s pulling something from him, leeching energy from his pores, and Stiles feels like he’s disintegrating, like she’s breathing him in, and he can’t focus on anything except how it burns.

And then he hears Lydia snap, “Ears,” like she’s expecting he can plug his ears right now. And then she’s screaming, putting force behind it. He imagines that’s what breaking the sound barrier feels like – that crack. Only he’s in the middle of it and he’s tumbling into the wall just the same as the woman who had hurt him.

There’s another crack – his head against cement, he thinks. He’s dizzy and sprawled on the ground among broken rubble and his head is spinning and beside him, the woman is still and crooked.

Lydia is shouting something but Stiles can’t hear it. His ears are ringing, his head is spinning, and he still feels like his energy is leaking out of every pore and he can’t – he can’t –

The wolf has attacked Lydia. The cashier is shrieking on the phone. Something somewhere is starting to smolder. And Stiles’ vision is growing black and charred around the edges.

And then that stupid owl is there, wings flapping, stinging the sides of Stiles’ face. It’s blocking out the chaos in the shop, it’s all Stiles can see, hovering there, a mess of tawny feathers and wide yellow eyes… and slowly, his lungs start moving along with the rhythm of the owl’s wings.

“Okay,” he says, as his hearing starts filtering back. He’s dried up – the leaks in his pores where the woman – the witch – had sucked his magic are stopped up now, but he knows it’s like bandaids for bullet holes. Just a temporary fix.

“Okay,” he says again, staggering to his feet. The howl looks pissed off, disheveled, and exhausted. Stiles isn’t sure what to do with it for a moment, but then he hesitantly holds out his hand and the owl drops into his palm like a bedraggled feather duster.

Lydia blasts the wolf again and he’s finally down for the count. The shop is a disaster, but Stiles can hear again, though he thinks his ears will be ringing for quite some time.

“You need to go,” the cashier says again, looking pinched and pale. “You shouldn’t have come here. Get back to your coven, and quickly, and maybe no one will follow you back.”

“I don’t have a—”

Lydia stomps on his foot and Stiles yelps but pretends the owl bit him. “Who would follow us?” she asks.

“Her coven?” snaps the cashier, jerking her chin at the witch, who is beginning to stir. “His pack? Any of the other thousands of magic-users who can smell him? He’s bleeding magic all over the place, you may as well post an open invitation!”

“For who?” Stiles asks.

“You have a lot of power,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Obviously. And right now, you’re leaving a trail, it’s basically like walking through rehab leaving a trail of cocaine behind you. Do you know how easy it is to steal magic from someone who doesn’t even know how to shield the fact that they’ve got it? They will rip you to pieces!”

“Okay,” Lydia says, because the wolf’s bones are starting to snap back into place. “Let’s go. Back to the coven, c’mon.”

Stiles isn’t stupid, so rather than remind her that he hasn’t got one, he lets her shove him up the stairs and through the store, where it’s business as usual, despite the chaos downstairs. He’s starting to tire, stumbling a little, and the owl grumbles in protest every time he does.

“Keep going,” she says grimly. “If you pass out here, I’ll leave you, Stiles.”

“You wouldn’t,” he argues, but he focuses on putting one foot in front of the other. “You would never.”

“Probably not,” she agrees. “But don’t make me have to choose.”

They get to her car and she opens the passenger seat for him, not even complaining when he crawls into it still cradling the owl.

It’s not cold outside, but Stiles is shivering, and Lydia turns on the heat before heading back towards Beacon Hills.

“Imma sleep,” Stiles mumbles.

“For the best,” she says. “I’m calling Derek, so you’re not going to want to be awake for that.”

He definitely, definitely didn’t want to be awake for that. And he opens his mouth to suggest Lydia call Scott instead, but Stiles is pretty sure that if an army of angry, hungry witches descends on Beacon Hills, Derek might have a better idea of what to do. No offense to Scott.

“’Kay,” he breathes, and then he’s sleeping and so is the owl.

*

Stiles’ dreams of flying are interrupted when his wings started cracking and breaking and he plummets towards the ground. He wakes up before he hits it, at least, which is nice.

He sits up and looks around, trying to gauge where he is, because he’s definitely not in Lydia’s car any longer, and also not at home. It takes a moment, and then he curses again, because of course he’s at Derek’s new place. It still smells like fresh paint and drywall.

It had taken nearly a year for Derek to design and build the new house out in the Preserve, where the old Hale house had once stood.

“I need to go home,” he calls, but the house is big and barely has any furniture in it, so it echoes. No one answers and he wonders if he’s alone.

Stiles’ skin is itching again, and he staggers to his feet and finds a bathroom. After using it, washing his hands, splashing cold water on his face, he goes in search of somebody – anybody – and finds Derek in the kitchen, sitting at the table, Stiles’ book on magic spread open before him.

The owl is perched on his shoulder like a disgruntled parrot.

“Deaton warded the house,” Derek says casually, turning a page. He doesn’t bother to look up. “So you can’t leave. He’s not going to drop the wards until you learn enough magic to break them yourself. Scott’s in charge of picking up your homework. Your dad’s on board with the plan and will call you tonight.”

A little off balance, it takes Stiles a moment to filter through all of that. “Why?” he asks finally, frowning.

Derek looks up, and Stiles has never actually seen him look that angry, which is saying a lot. “Because you thought it was a good idea to go on a road trip while bleeding magic, and left a trail all the way back for any hungry witch or who knows what else to follow you home,” he says mildly. “You wouldn’t wake up, so Lydia brought you here. It’s easier to defend, and there’s less risk of collateral damage when they come for you.”

“No one’s coming for me,” Stiles says desperately. “It was a stupid mistake and we handled it.”

“Do you think this is all a joke, Stiles?” Derek snaps, finally losing control over his temper. “This isn’t just going to go away if you ignore it. You need to learn control, you need to learn to shield your power, you need to learn to stop nearly getting yourself killed!”

“I don’t even know why you care,” Stiles says, deflecting. “I’m fine! I can handle it!”

Derek rolls his eyes. “Obviously you can’t,” he says. “So I’m handling it for you.”

“Why? You’re not my alpha,” Stiles snaps. He sounds like a child, he knows he does, but he can’t help it. Derek’s always been so good at getting under his skin, without even trying. “Scott can—”

“Scott isn’t your alpha anymore!” Derek stands up suddenly, kicking his chair back and spinning the book to face Stiles. The owl hoots in protest and flies up to perch on the fridge. “You don’t have one. Witches have no place in a pack. You’re alone now, like me, and I’m not going to let you fucking die just because you’re too stupid to have any sense of self preservation.” He jabs his finger on the book, pointing to a passage. “So start here.”

Stiles wants to tell Derek that he can’t tell him what to do, but the words are tangled up in his throat. He doesn’t know enough about packs or werewolves or anything at all, really, to argue that he still has a place in Scott’s pack, but Derek would know, wouldn’t he?

It’s scary, though. Stiles had always half thought maybe one day he’d become Scott’s Emissary, though he had no idea how that worked. But now he couldn’t even be a member of the pack because of his magic?

“How bad is it?” he asks, his voice shaking and quiet,

Derek’s eyebrows sink low and his eyes narrow. “How bad is what?”

“My magic.” Stiles swallows and looks away. “That’s the problem, right? It’s black magic. It’s evil. I’m – I mean, I knew I had the potential, the darkness, that’s what the nogitsune fed on, isn’t it? But now I—there’s nothing I can do. Right?” His voice wavers a little bit.

For a long moment, Derek doesn’t reply, and then he sighs. “Stiles,” he says, sounding tired. “It’s energy, like any other sort of energy. Some energy is inherently… kinder, I guess, than other energy. And some is inherently destructive, like lightning. But it’s the intent that makes all the difference. Do you want to become a powerful witch who eats children and sacrifices kittens?”

“No,” Stiles says quietly.

“Then you won’t. And who knows, Scott’s never done anything by the book with his pack. Maybe witch energy will work with them. Banshee energy seems to.” Derek shrugs. “But you need to start with control. It’s like a new wolf, Stiles. Ignoring that problem only makes things worse, I know you know that.”

Stiles closes his eyes. “Yeah,” he agrees, reluctantly. “Okay.”

“Good. Start here. It seems easy. I need to check the woods, we ran the perimeter earlier but I didn’t want you to wake up alone.”

Stiles sinks down in a chair in front of the book, nodding morosely. “Okay,” he says, already skimming the passage on meditation and control. Then, belatedly, he said, “Thanks.”

Derek just nods and slips out the back door.

*
Stiles can’t find his magic. He has been sitting on the couch in Derek’s living room for nearly an hour, holding himself as still as he can and meditating as best he can, drawing his consciousness over every inch of his body, agonizingly slowly, because the book says the essence of control lies in locating his magic, so he knows where it is and what it feels like, so he can begin to confine it, to call to it when he needs it and keep it from going all Paranormal Activity on him.

The problem is, all Stiles feels are his legs, which have pins and needles, and his stomach, which is starting to grumble.

There’s no spot inside him that’s been filled up with light or darkness or energy. He just feels the way he’s always been, and maybe that’s a problem too. If he’s always had this energy, then he’s probably used to feeling it, so it won’t feel any different.

He huffs a breath and opens his eyes and tries to think of the times when his magic has gone particularly wild. When did his bed levitate? When did things move or shatter? When were people pinched or pushed or tripped around him?

His cheeks begin to burn a bit as he mentally starts reviewing every time he woke up with his bed not firmly resting on the ground.

The only possible correlation he can think of is that he, uh, jerked off before falling asleep.

But he does that all the time! He’s a teenaged boy with teenaged hormones! Sometimes he’s lucky he manages to last until he’s alone and in bed and can take his time! There are plenty of times when he’s stuck dealing with unfortunate boners at unfortunate times, and on more than one occasion in which he’s had to sneak off to a bathroom for a quick –

He frowns. That’s one difference. In bed, he gets to take his time. Any other time, it’s a guilt-ridden, furtive, quick fumble in the bathroom, with the agonizing realization that any of his werewolf acquaintances may be listening.

And, to be honest, sometimes thinking of certain werewolf acquaintances listening causes those quickies to be even quicker, but Stiles is not thinking about that, nope, never.

So he grabs a notebook and a pen off Derek’s desk and starts scribbling down every magical occurrence he can recall, and then, underneath each one, a few quick notes on what was going on when those instances occurred.

There are the bed floating ones, yeah. But the other stuff doesn’t happen after jerking off, it happens after he gets upset, or angry, or frustrated, or sometimes giddily happy.

Basically, whenever his emotions get out of check, something around him tends to go haywire. And maybe the spike in adrenaline and fear after the first hint of strangeness just makes the strangeness even stranger?

How is he to know?

Stiles sighs. He’s going to have to experiment.

He shoots the owl a quick glare. It’s curled up now on an old pillow, eyes wide and watchful, and it hoots balefully.

“Don’t judge me,” Stiles says.

Because he’s totally going to go jerk off in Derek Hale’s bathroom.

Hell. It’s not like it’s the first time.

*

“What did you do?” Derek sounds horrified, and it’s probably warranted. He can probably smell what went down in the bathroom earlier, and if he can’t, the shattered picture frames littering the hallway are probably worth commenting on as well.

And he hasn’t even made it to the living room yet where Stiles is holding a burning candle to his open palm, eyes narrowed with concentration. He’s sweating, because it’s taken so much self-discipline to get the flame this close to his flesh, but it’s finally starting to burn like a bitch, and this is the last test, and then Stiles will have some conclusive evidence to prove that –

“Stiles,” Derek barks, coming around the corner. “What—”

He doesn’t even say anything else, and Stiles has no time to reply anyway. It’s happening, his magic is reacting, it’s welling up in his hands and his fingers and Stiles’ eyes go wide and he’s about to pull the candle away but instead, Derek tackles him and sends it flying. The flame blows out before it hits the ground and Stiles’ head slams back and he sees stars and the magic is already right there. It pours out of him in a flood, and Derek flies backwards and leaves a werewolf-sized dent in the wall when he hits it before sliding to the floor.

“Ow,” Stiles mumbles. Derek scrambles back to him, breathing hard.

“Are you okay?” he snaps. “What were you doing? You were burning – I could smell the burning –” and Derek is shaking, panicking, eyes wide and breathing rough and Stiles is such an idiot, of course burning would be a trigger for him. Of course it would.

“Hey, hey, shh,” Stiles says, trying to be soothing. He’s had so much practice trying to calm feral werewolves down that his voice slips to a softer timbre and his hand is running through Derek’s hair almost before he can think about it, and certainly before he remembers that he’s never actually calmed Derek before.

He freezes and blinks up at Derek and tries a small, uncertain smile before letting his hand fall back to the floor with a thump. His other hand is still throbbing and beginning to blister a little.

Derek doesn’t bite his face off though, which Stiles is half expecting. Instead, he buries his face in Stiles’ shoulder and breathes in raggedly and Stiles doesn’t really know what to do here.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, and he only hesitates for a moment before putting his hand on Derek’s back. “That was stupid and thoughtless. But I’m okay.”

Derek growls and he doesn’t lift his head, but he does slide one hand over to Stiles’ burned hand and touch it carefully. And then he leeches away the pain. It’s pretty nice of him, really.

“You idiot,” Derek says finally, shoving himself up. He’s back to glaring and Stiles is both relieved to see it and a little sad about it. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“I was finding my magic,” Stiles says, still apologetic. Derek’s still got him pinned to the floor and if that keeps up, Stiles might have to give it another go in the bathroom, and then who knows what will happen to the house. The first time, he’d come out of the bathroom to find his sneakers floating listlessly up by the ceiling.

“By hurting yourself,” Derek says skeptically.

“…Among other things.” Stiles resolutely doesn’t blush. But he does awkwardly suck his bottom lip into his mouth in an effort to look spectacularly innocent, and Derek’s eyes flicker down to his mouth for a split second before narrowing dangerously.

“You broke my picture frames,” he accuses.

“And your coffee mugs,” Stiles agrees, nodding once. “Sorry. I am sorry. I couldn’t find my magic, so I was trying to recreate situations where it came out and I think I figured it out! Look, watch, want to see?”

Derek backs off so Stiles can sit up and that’s cool, Stiles doesn’t spare a moment to mourn the end of their semi-snuggling on the floor. He’s long ago accepted that Derek likes to manhandle him and, more to the point, that Stiles likes to be manhandled. It’s part of their thing. Their mutual animosity and one-sided sexual attraction thing.

Stiles scoots up and holds his hands out and narrows his eyes in concentration, because he knows where his magic is now. It’s in the tremble, the itch, under his skin, that never lets him be still for very long. And if he coaxes and prods and pulls it just so, it runs down his arms and through his elbows and into the palms of his hands like water.

He can see it now, that he knows it’s there – a faint shimmer, tiny, tiny stars shooting from one finger to the next, like starlit crackles of static electricity.

But he still has absolutely no idea what to do with it now, and his magic is impatient, and Stiles looks away only for a moment, to flash an accomplished grin at Derek’s wide-eyed, startled face, and then his magic leaps out of his hands and into the television, which makes a sound like tearing Velcro as it cracks and starts to smoke.

“Oh crap,” Stiles gasps, shaking the faint, stinging burn out of his fingertips. “Shit, I am so, so, so sorry.”

Derek is staring blankly at his TV and he’s probably not really going to care, because the TV was never for him anyway. The pack, though… they are going to kill him.

*

It’s been two days and Stiles can light a candle flame if he focusses hard enough. He can slide a piece of paper a few inches across a table. He can make the few remaining pictures on the walls vibrate, but they only fall when he’s trying to do something else and loses control.

Deaton’s book has chants that are supposed to help him focus that magic into specific manifestations, like lighting candles and moving things, but he has trouble remembering the words, and he’s kind of realizing that relying on intention, the way he did with the Mountain Ash, is working better for him. But there are more complicated things in the book, things he’s barely looked at, complicated spells that rely on blood and herbs and sacrifice and Stiles isn’t quite ready for boiling cauldrons and frog eyes or whatever.

Whenever he tries to do anything at all, the owl hops onto the table to watch, and Stiles can feel the judgement. It’s driving him a little nuts.

And he’s still bleeding magic. He can see it now, trails of it, like snail slime, everywhere he’s been. Derek’s home looks like it’s been slimed by magical snails and Stiles isn’t sure how long those trails will last, but he’s just glad Derek can’t see it.

Pack members keep popping in with bags filled with the strangest things – bricks of coal and willow branches, dried sage and crystals. Basically anything they can get their hands on that they think will help.

Stiles still isn’t sure what exactly his blood magic needs but he’s pretty sure it isn’t bits of nature. That’s druid stuff. Maybe.

“We need to clean this up before Derek gets back,” Stiles says, and the owl snorts. Stiles shoots it a glare. He’d lost control again, and a bunch of glasses had somehow rolled off the counter, shattering on the kitchen floor. There is glass literally everywhere, shimmering with hints of magic, and Derek has been remarkably patient about Stiles’ accident-prone attempts to learn to control himself, but how long will that last? After that first day, he’d carefully removed most of the breakable things from the walls and shelves and stashed them somewhere safe, but they still needed to eat and drink, so the glasses and plates are still around.

Stiles sighs. He’s standing barefoot in a sea of broken glass, surrounded. He’s pretty sure he’ll only be allowed to drink out of plastic now.

He squats down carefully, picking up the remains of the bottom half of a glass. He starts carefully putting smaller pieces inside it, and the owl is watching silently from the counter, and Stiles could swear the fucker is amused but nothing is really funny here.

The owl suddenly shudders, shaking out its wings, and Stiles is startled. The glass he’s holding slips, and slices open his palm, from the spot where his index finger and middle finger meet, right down to the centre of his palm.

The bleeding is instantaneous. It’s welling up like a river, and it only takes three heartbeats until Stiles’ palm is full, he’s holding a handful of blood the way he usually holds a handful of magic. And then the blood spills over on all sides, streaming towards the floor, splattering among the shards of broken glass.

And suddenly the magic that has become an omnipresent itching beneath his skin is magnified a thousand times. It’s like that night his arms split open, the magic is shrieking as it leaves his body in a rush, and he realizes it’s the blood – of course it’s the blood, it’s blood magic.

The house starts to tremble, the kitchen floor starts to buckle downwards, folding like a piece of wet paper towel until it splits, pieces tumbling down into the basement below. Glass and blood fall too and Stiles stumbles back, not even feeling the glass shredding the soles of his feet.

He’s beginning to panic and the house is shaking hard now. Windows are cracking. He screams and somewhere in the distance, he hears Derek howl.

And then the owl is screaming, furious, hovering in the middle of the room and glaring daggers at Stiles, like Stiles is the stupidest, most ridiculous boy he’s ever known.

And Stiles doesn’t know what to do but the blood comes faster and faster and he begins to grow dizzy, staggering to get away from the growling hole in the middle of the kitchen floor.

*

His boy is the stupidest, most ridiculous boy the owl has ever heard of.

He’s standing there like an idiot, bleeding out all of his magic, shaking the house apart, screaming like that will fix it. And the magic is pouring out of him so fast that the owl can’t even get a grasp on it.

They’re both going to die.

So the owl does what the boy should have done days ago and grabs the book, which is nearly too heavy for him to lift. He drags the book into the living room, where the boy has managed to stumble, and tosses it at his stupid head. It falls to the floor and lands open on the very page the boy should have been looking at from the start, as soon as he learned to sense his magic.

Any moron with a properly working fucking brain would have thought “hey, here’s my magic, now I better make sure I know how to turn it off before I start figuring out how to use it.”

But no. Not his boy. His boy’s first thought was, “I wonder if I can light things on fire with my mind!”

And now they are both going to die.

*

The book hits Stiles in the head, which is rude. And he’s still trying to figure out how to force the window open so he can escape, but his hands are slick with blood.

And then he looks at the book, and it’s open to one of the first pages, which Stiles had skipped because it was fucking boring, okay? And the owl is shrieking at him and the floor is starting to crack and crumble everywhere drops of his blood have landed, so maybe Stiles should pay attention.

He falls to his knees beside the book, turning it to see better in the sunlight pouring through the window. His blood stains the pages, but only for a moment, before they get absorbed, and Stiles isn’t going to think about that.

There’s a crash at the front door and he’s startled, distracted, but only for a moment. It’s Derek and he’s shouting but he can’t get in.

So Stiles forces himself to focus on the book and the page marked Careful Containment.

He skims the page. There’s a paragraph urging calmness, meditation, focus. Pulling the magic back into the palms of his hands and then back inside, deep inside, where, apparently, he was supposed to have been working to construct a ‘place’ for it. Again, through meditation. A psychic place. It makes no sense, but he has to try.

It’s hard to focus and focus is just what he needs. Stiles is shaking, keeps darting terrified looks at the places where the floor is falling away, the cracks running up the drywall. Derek is going to kill him.

And then the owl lands pointedly in front of him, staring up at him with wide, golden eyes. And Stiles takes a deep breath and says, “Okay,” and pretends he knows what he’s doing.

He turns his hands so the palms face upwards and curls his fingers. He closes his eyes and ignores Derek’s panic, the trembling house, the noise, and everything else. He feels the magical vibration under his skin, and it’s muted now, because he’s lost so much. But then he reaches out and feels that same vibration, little epicentres of it wherever his blood has fallen.

And he doesn’t know how but he has to try, so he starts trying to yank it back. It slips away though, liquid. So he licks his lips and breathes again and coaxes instead, trying to breathe it back in, gently and slowly.

And it starts to work. The magic draws back to his hands, a growing ball of static electricity, tinged in his blood. And the ball grows and grows until it’s a pulsing mess of it. And the house stops trembling.

And this is the part that Stiles has never been good at. He can call it up but he doesn’t know what to do with it after. He’s supposed to put it away but he doesn’t know how.

But he does know how to get rid of it.

“I’m sorry,” he breathes to Derek, to the owl, to everyone who might be listening. And then he shoves the magic out of his hands as hard as he can, as far as he can.

All the remaining glass in the house shatters with the force of it, and Stiles’ hands do too.

It’s the worst pain he’s ever felt. His hands are shredded, torn to the bones, which crack and twist against the tide of magic. He’s screaming, staring at his ruined hands, and they’re bleeding again but he’s barely got any magic left, so the blood runs like blood, falls like blood, and the house stays still and quiet.

Derek’s shoving the door down and Stiles gets one quick look at his horrified face before his hands twist and crack once more, and then he gratefully lets himself pass out, collapsing over the book and the owl, that seems to be doing just as badly as he is.

It stops hurting, for a while, after that.

*
“Let him sleep.”

Stiles agrees, groaning a little, as awareness starts trickling back, and with it, so does the pain. It starts as a little tickle of discomfort, but with every passing breath, the pain gets louder and louder. He shifts against it, starting to pant and whimper.

“Deaton. You can’t – he needs to heal. He needs—”

“If we let him sleep, the bones will set this way. He’ll need skin grafts, and there is nothing left to stitch them to. Even if infection hasn’t set in, he’ll need a double amputation because there is nothing left to heal.” Deaton sounds far too fucking calm and Stiles takes a deep breath to tell him that. To tell him he needs a goddamned hospital.

The pain amps up to something around an 8.5 on the pain scale and all that comes out is a feverish, animalistic shriek.

“It’s true,” Melissa says, and she sounds shaken. “It’s too severe. He – his hands are shredded, Scott, you saw them. Even if the doctors could save his hands, he won’t be able to use them.”

Scott argues, growing louder, and Deaton asks Melissa to take him out of the house, because Stiles needs to concentrate, as if Stiles is aware of much else besides the pain.

But the voices are fading away, growing faint under a throbbing tide of agony. And then there’s a dry, warm hand touching his face and Derek says quietly, “Stiles. You need to wake up, Stiles.”

But it hurts too much, and he shakes his head, and he’s fucking crying, and he can’t stop. It’s too much.

He feels a feather light touch on both wrists and then, gently, the pain starts dimming, softly at first and barely noticeable. It’s draining away like water out of the bath and when he can finally breathe without screaming, Stiles opens his eyes.

“Thank you,” he says, voice breaking. He’s lying on his side on the floor, his face is wet with tears and they’re dripping off the tip of his nose. Derek just smiles a little, shrugging like it isn’t a big deal. He keeps his hands on Stiles’ wrists but doesn’t take away any more of the pain.

“Deaton says you need to feel it,” he says quietly, apologetic. “To stay awake.”

“How bad is it?” Stiles asks, and Derek looks away. That bad. His hands are wrapped in towels that are already soaked through with blood, and when he tries to move his fingers, the pain shrieks through him, bones grinding together.

“Stiles,” Deaton says, crouching beside Derek. “You need to heal your hands.”

Stiles sobs a little and says, “I don’t know how.”

Deaton has that book, though, that same fucking book that Stiles should have paid more attention to, and he’s got it open to a page. “There’s a regeneration spell and it will heal you, you just need your magic, and the incantation to focus it. Do you have any magic left, Stiles?”

He closes his eyes, breathing out once and reaching for the itch beneath his skin. It’s still there, faint, but he pulls together the tiny pieces he can find. When it starts pooling in his raw hands, Stiles sobs again, the spark of it singeing the shattered pieces of bone and muscle.

“Okay,” he croaks.

“Will it work?” Derek asks. He’s still skimming the top off the pain, and Stiles can see the worry on his face, in the tight lines around his eyes and his mouth.

Deaton doesn’t sound sure. “Maybe,” he says. “It would be better with a coven. It’s blood magic, and I’m not an expert in it, but witches band together to share strength. If he had a coven and he was this drained, they’d be bound by blood oath to offer some of their own strength, their own blood, for him to draw power from.”

“He’s too weak,” Derek says, and Stiles snorts weakly, because Derek has always thought that, but in this instance, maybe he’s right. “He’ll burn himself out.”

“There’s a strong possibility.”

“Please,” Stiles pants. “Can we just – I need the words.” He’s gritting his teeth, forcing the last remains of his magic to stay still and patient in his palms.

Before Deaton can tell him the incantation, Derek’s claws grow against Stiles’ wrists. He tugs the towels off Stiles’ mangled hands, and Stiles gasps and looks up at him to avoid seeing the twisted bone and tendon.

“He can have mine,” Derek says, running his claws across the palm of his other hand and his blood runs down onto Stiles’ hands.

It’s nearly instantaneous, and practically orgasmic. The rush of heat and power from Derek’s blood makes Stiles’ body arch like he’d been electrocuted, makes the tips of his hair and his wide eyes spark, until it seems like the room is filled with sparklers. His mouth falls open and he gasps and he can’t even feel the pain in his hands anymore.

But the damage is still there and he distantly hears Deaton telling him what to say. It’s only a few words, meant to be repeated over and over, and it sounds like Latin but feels somehow even more ancient on his tongue.

He echoes the words, over and over and over until they feel familiar in his mouth.

He says the words until all the magic in his hands and under his skin is gone and there’s nothing left but what feels like Pop Rocks on his tongue, and then he goes limp, falling onto his back and panting as the stars fade from his eyes.

There’s a thump and a dragging sound and Derek says softly, “Here. It’s okay.” And then he’s lifting a limp, bedraggled, and pissed off owl up and gently setting it onto Stiles’ chest. It growls and then nips Stiles’ chin with its sharp beak before collapsing in a warm, feathery lump against his throat and falling asleep.

Stiles holds his hands up in front of his eyes and makes sure they’re hole again, and then lets them fall to his stomach and says faintly, “I’m okay now?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, quiet. “You’re good. You’re probably going to sleep another three days.”

And then he carefully picks Stiles and the owl up off the floor and carries him towards the stairs. “And don’t worry,” he says, as if Stiles had enough energy to be worried about anything at all. “I don’t think you took out any load-bearing walls or…” he keeps talking about the structural integrity of the house, but Stiles is too tired to care.

The place is mostly still standing, and that’s enough.

*

They don’t let Stiles help with the repairs. His punishment, apparently, for nearly destroying Derek’s new home is having to try to study with all the hammering and sawing going on.

But Stiles has a newfound motivation – to keep from destroying himself.

Apparently his magical accident the other day was basically the equivalent of another nuclear magic bomb, and he’d likely alerted every magic-user in the western United States that there was an idiot of a witch over here just ready to be drained of all magical powers.

So he spends two entire days learning everything he could about not only being able to call up his magic, but also learning how to gently send it away again, without shredding his hands in the process. He practices with just hints of magic first, and then more and more and more, and when he can handle that, he starts adding bits of his blood to the mixture, pricking his finger, amping up the magic and practicing control.

The owl is always close now, glaring at him as if just waiting for him to fuck up again. Tired of his attitude (and the way his familiar seems to prefer Derek’s company to his own, the traitor), Stiles angrily decides to name the owl Steve, because it’s the least magical name he can think of.

The owl just snorts when Stiles tells him that, and pointedly snaps his beak.

*

On the third day, when the pack has most of the floor repaired and is working on the drywall, Stiles takes down Deaton’s wards and it’s easier than he thought it would be. His magic seems almost eager to do what he says now, and the incantations seem to burrow into his memory after he reads them once.

Stiles is grinning proudly, standing in the middle of the expansive back yard behind Derek’s house with his hands on his hips, breathing in the fresh air, when he feels Derek explode out of the house behind him. The pack is with him.

“What have you done?” Derek snaps.

“You said I couldn’t leave until I could take Deaton’s wards down,” Stiles says, smirking as he turns to face him. Steve perches on his shoulder, as if he’s actually proud, so Stiles ignores his pinching talons. “So I took them down.”

“Days after sending out a magical smoke signal inviting every magic-user in the country to come on down for a tasty snack, you decide to take down the wards that are keeping you safe?” Derek hisses.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m not stupid,” he says. “But seriously. Deaton’s wards are like cobwebs, once you know what to look for. They’re annoying and you’d rather go around, but they’re pretty fragile when it comes right down to it. I’m going to put up my own.”

He’s got five pieces of coal in his pocket and he pulls them out, already mapping out the shape of a pentagram in his mind. “Just give me like two minutes,” he says distractedly, counting out paces in his mind as he walks out to the tree line. He carefully places one piece of coal there before walking back across the clearing to the other side and placing another one, until there is a bit of coal at each point of the pentagram. Then he walks to the centre, pulls out the carving knife he’d liberated from Derek’s drawer three days before, and pricks his finger. He shakes a few drops of blood into the centre of the pentagram and says, “It needs all of your blood too, so it recognizes you as friends of mine and lets you through. Otherwise, it’ll just be keyed to me, and only keep out people meaning to do me harm, which doesn’t really help if they can still get in and hurt any of you.”

Scott uses his claws and cuts his finger with them, sprinkling his own blood without hesitation, and the others follow, looking a little more skeptical. Stiles doesn’t care; his magic is humming along happily and he knows he’s doing this right. He can feel it.

Derek goes last, and there’s a faint tingle when his blood touches the ground, and Stiles shivers. “Okay,” he says, clearing his throat and ignoring his flush. Then he quickly recites the required incantation three times and when he’s finished, that same rush of awareness runs through his veins only stronger now, and he gasps, head falling back.

“Oh, wow,” he mumbles, breathing heavily. He can feel the wards solidify in a circle around him, his magic branching out between each point of the pentagram, and it feels like someone’s running their fingernails gently, gently, against his skin. “Okay, done.”

He dusted his hands off and then turned to go back inside. Scott, Kira, Liam, Malia and Lydia are all staring, but Derek has turned to go inside, and his easy trust is something Stiles appreciates.

He’s feeling pretty good about things. He hasn’t blown anything up in a few days, his owl hasn’t bitten him very many times today, and maybe things will be okay. Nothing harmful can get to him here, anyway, and Derek didn’t even make him or his dad pay for the broken windows or floor.

The new glass should be ready for pick up to repair the windows tomorrow, even, which will be nice. They’re all patched up with 2x4s and cardboard now, and Stiles can’t wait to let the sunshine in again.

Things are going well. It’s a strange concept, but he’ll enjoy it as long as he can.

*

Stiles has had dreams of flying for days, ever since Steve came into his life, and he’s just accepted it as part of his bond with the owl. But that night, he doesn’t dream that he’s flying; instead, he’s running, on four legs, and faster than he’s ever run before. Trees pass in a blur as he runs somehow familiar trails, though he has never seen them before, never been this deep in the Preserve before.

There’s a strange smell on the air, a coppery smell of something rotting, and it feels like he’s been out here before, trying to track down the source without success.

He pauses at the foot of a tree that’s twisted and fragile, the living wood that once made up its trunk petrified now. It happened so recently that the tree is still weeping sticky trails of sap. It isn’t natural.

There have been other things, dead things, petrified and drained of life, in the Preserve, and the rusty, rotten smell grows stronger when he finds them, but then it fades away, brushed away on the nighttime breeze.

It’s frustrating, and Stiles throws back his head to owl.

He jerks awake, staring up at the ceiling, howl catching in his throat. It’s nearly 3 am, the owl is sleeping in a cat tree Derek brought home for him the day before, in the darkest corner of the room. The house is quiet, and he knows instinctively that Derek isn’t home. A moment later, he hears Derek howling from the Preserve, like he wants Stiles to know he’s nearby. Stiles is pretty sure someone else is sleeping in one of the other bedrooms, because Derek doesn’t dare leave him alone now.

He makes his way to the bathroom, peeking in the guest rooms as he passes, and sure enough, there’s Scott, starfishing on the bed and snoring softly.

Stiles needs to pee and then he needs more sleep. He yawns as he flushes the toilet, stares blankly in the mirror as he washes his hands, and he’s back in bed and falling back to sleep before he remembers the strange dream and the feeling of the forest floor pounding beneath his paws.

*

“Something’s wrong in the Preserve,” Lydia says, frowning. It’s Saturday morning and she, Scott, Malia, Liam and Kira are all at Derek’s early, sleepily cradling bowls of Lucky Charms and ready to help install the new windows.

“Something’s always wrong in the preserve,” Liam snorts.

“No, something else,” Lydia insists. “It’s like something’s dying. Everything’s dying, but slowly.”

“The trees are petrifying,” Stiles says quietly, staring out the window and not really paying attention. Steve hoots softly and Stiles rolls his eyes, patting the owl soothingly. “Derek’s on his way back,” he says. “Settle down.”

“Stiles,” Scott says, frowning. “How do you know?”

Stiles turns to face him, cocking his head and thinking about it. He’s not sure how he knows… Derek has been patrolling the Preserve all night, and Stiles knows he’s on his way back the same way he knows the Preserve is slowly petrifying.

“Magic,” he says, with jazz fingers. “I’ve practically got wolf-levels of super senses now, it’s awesome.”

“You spilled an entire box of Lucky Charms all over the kitchen floor because you were so startled after I sneaked up on you this morning,” Malia says dryly.

Which is true. “Ooh,” Stiles says. “We need to clean that up before Derek—”

Derek steps through the back door and Lucky Charms crunch beneath his bare feet. Stiles winces. “Too late.”

*

Stiles jerks awake late one night, terrified, and he’s not sure why.

The bed isn’t floating and his magic, as far as he tells, is sleeping kitten soft, curled up in his chest where he’s been learning to keep it. The house is silent and still, and so are the woods beyond it. Steve snores quietly from his cat tree.

But Stiles can barely breathe through the terror.

He crawls out of bed, jumping at every shadow and every creak in the floorboard, and hesitates in the hallway, but there’s no one there, and no lights on downstairs.

He rubs at his eyes and chews on his bottom lip before knocking quietly on Derek’s door. There’s no answer but he can feel a darkness emanating from inside, so he opens the door and slips inside.

Derek is having a nightmare.

And Stiles is so sleepy.

Derek looks different like that, shirtless and defenseless, twitching and breathing hard, his face twisting a little.

Stiles yawns and props one knee against the edge of Derek’s mattress and mumbles the incantation he read the other day that casts a brief, shimmering glow over the bed, banishing shadows. It banishes Derek’s bad dream too, and Derek calms with a sigh, a slight smile twitching at his lips as he gives in to sweeter dreams.

The rush of relief and sleepy contentment that follows takes Stiles’ breath away again and he gives up, crawling into the bed without a moment’s hesitation, because he is tired and Derek is warm and nothing in the world is scary at that particular moment, because all the shadows have been sent away.

Derek’s a bed hog and a cover stealer but Stiles doesn’t mind.

*

Stiles is surrounded by a soft haze of contentment and sugary sweet early morning happiness, and it isn’t his.

But he’s also got Derek’s hand curled around his hip and an unfortunate and uncomfortable situation growing in his pants, so he decides to deal with the second issue first, before trying to figure out the first.

He indicates his consciousness by stretching dramatically, complete with yawning and arching his back and popping his spine, and by the time he’s done that display, Derek’s awake too and he has snatched back all his offending limbs.

The kitten-sweet haze of contentment is gone, replaced by something icy and awkward. Derek feels much farther away than just on the other side of his bed, glaring murderously, like this is somehow Stiles’ fault.

He’s got a sinking feeling that all of this is his fault.

“Hey,” he says casually, all nonchalant as he rolls out of bed. “Morning. Waffles? I could do waffles.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, cold and careful. “What the fuck are you doing in here?”

“You had a bad dream,” Stiles says with an easy shrug. “It woke me. You look like you need a shower, dude. You go take care of all that…” He waves vaguely in the general direction of all of Derek, sprawled half naked on the bed and unbearably hot. “And I’ll go heat up the waffle iron. Deal?”

He scrambles out of the bedroom before Derek can actually murder him.

And he does turn the waffle iron on before grabbing his magic book, glancing at the table of contents, and flipping to the part on blood sharing.

“Oh,” Stiles breathes, eyes going wide as he skims the chapter. “Oh shit.”

Derek is definitely going to kill him.

*

Derek’s out running the perimeter again, because he’s probably still awkwarded out by that whole waking up spooning thing that happened, and if he isn’t, Stiles’ nervous jumpiness all morning probably finished up the job of freaking him the fuck out.

It’s for the best. Stiles had sent Scott an emergency text before making waffles that morning, and Scott had run right over to Derek’s, panting and panicking and maybe Stiles should have mentioned it wasn’t a life or death thing.

Well, not yet. But when Derek found out… Stiles was fucked.

He closes his eyes and concentrates for a moment and it’s fine. Derek’s still deep in the Preserve, running, following the trail of something coppery and dead.

“I did something,” he says to Scott, eyes wide. “Or, well, I mean. Derek did it, technically, but he didn’t know what it meant, and –”

“Please don’t tell me you guys hooked up,” Scott says, grimacing painfully. “Your dad has been cool, Stiles. He’s let you miss this much school in your senior year while we deal with this little magical issue, but it’s all sort of hinging on the fact that Derek swore to him there wouldn’t be any shenanigans before your dad would let you stay here!”

“What!” Stiles cries, shaking his head, but it still makes no sense. “What!” he says again.

“Dude, listen. Everyone knows you’ve got the biggest crush on Derek.”

“No,” Stiles says, gritting his teeth. “I don’t. I am unfortunately attracted to Derek. But I’m handling it. And no one knows, except for me and you. Right?”

Scott has his guilty face on, and he’s trying not to make eye contact. “It’s just, you’re bad at being subtle. And the pack, we can, like. We can sort of… just… tell.”

“Because you can smell my feelings,” Stiles realizes, horrified.

“Not… exactly. You just kind of… project?” Scott wrinkles his nose. “You also blush really easily.”

It’s true. Stiles is cursed with skin as pale as snow. “But Derek doesn’t know,” he says desperately.

Scott shrugs. “Maybe? It’s hard to tell.”

He closes his eyes. “This is a disaster.”

“So… you didn’t hook up, then?”

Stiles flops back on the couch with a groan. “No!” he said. “Of course not! We accidentally got… like. Witch married.”

Scott is silent, and Stiles doesn’t blame him. He sighs.

“Witches have covens,” he says. “Derek told me our magic doesn’t work with packs, like yours, and it’s because witches form a similar bond, with other witches. It becomes a coven. They share blood, since the magic is blood-based, and it means the leader of the coven can draw on the power of the other members. The problem is, if the lesser members die or get hurt or whatever, the leader is weakened and can die too. So it’s a trade off, see? They make one member super powerful in exchange for that member’s protection. And the more members in the coven, the more power the leader has, which means they can withstand more damage happening to the lesser members. But I’ve only got Derek.”

Scott’s frowning. “But how did Derek…”

“When I shredded my hands, Derek gave me his blood. I was out of magic and Deaton told him I needed blood, so he gave it to me, without realizing the repercussions.”

“And it saved your life,” Scott points out.

“Well, yes. But at what cost, Scott?” Stiles rubs at his eyes and says, “I can feel him, Scotty. All the time. I know where he is. And I can always tell what he’s feeling. And other times, he just fucking projects it.”

“Like you do, with us,” Scott realizes. “That’s not so bad. Right? It’s—”

“He’s a werewolf with no self-preservation instincts, and I’ve still got a mostly human and very fragile body. He’s got a thousand enemies who want him dead and torture him to get him that way. And he always heals. But I think, whatever happens to him, I’ll feel it. And I don’t heal, Scott. Not without blood and chanting and time. He’s going to get me killed.” He pauses, and adds reluctantly, “And it’s really hard to keep hating him when the whole room literally lights up for him when I walk into it. Like, what the fuck is that? He hates me.”

“He doesn’t hate you,” Scott says, but he’s distracted, probably realizing the terrible ramifications of breakable Stiles bonded to a werewolf with a death wish. “He watches you all the time.”

“Yeah, angrily.”

“Like he wants to eat you,” Scott says, wiggling his eyebrows. “Sexually.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles moans, and Scott laughs.

He turns serious a moment later and says, “Does Derek know? Is there a way to undo it?”

“I’m not going to tell him,” Stiles says, scandalized, and Scott doesn’t seem exactly on board with that plan, but he doesn’t argue wither.

“I’ll talk to Deaton about it,” he says, frowning. “We’ll fix it.”

Stiles doesn’t think it can be fixed.

*

Stiles needs to tell Derek. He’s distracted, though, by the quiet way Derek is reading the newspaper at the kitchen table, by the morning light filtering through the window, by the fresh blueberry muffin Derek had brought back from town for him, and mostly, by the happy glow of contentment that Derek is bathing the room in.

It makes him want to curl up inside it, like a cat in a sunspot.

Derek is happy. Derek is happier than Stiles ever knew he could be, and the source of that happiness is either the Sunday morning cartoons, the admittedly delicious muffins, or the fact that he and Stiles have fallen into some surreal and domestic version of Bewitched, without the nose wiggling.

And now that Stiles knows he can feel what Derek is feeling, it seems to be pretty much all he can feel.

Stiles isn’t sure what approach to take, so he tries to feel things out, saying almost casually, “So, if I ward my dad’s place, it should be safe enough to move back home soon, shouldn’t it?”

The sunshiny glow shudders and then is gone a few seconds later. Derek is closed off now, careful, and small. He still hasn’t actually moved, the newspaper up in front of his face like a shield. His voice is even and smooth when he says, “That’s probably for the best.”

It’s a lie. Stiles knows it’s a lie. He doesn’t even need to hear Derek’s heart skip a beat to know it’s a lie.

He slumps in his chair, at a loss. It’s not really making much sense. “And maybe go back to school.”

“You’re not safe in school,” Derek says, and now he’s worried, though he sounds just vaguely concerned. He sets the newspaper aside. “There’s still the situation in the Preserve, which is probably related to the magical smoke signals you’ve been sending off. Until we sort that out, you need protection—”

“My pack’s at school,” Stiles says gently.

There’s a flash of hurt, of something like envy, something Stiles doesn’t understand. And then, just when Stiles is waiting for Derek to lash out and remind him that witches don’t have packs, Derek says, “That’s true. Maybe. With an escort to and from school, it could be safe enough.”

Stiles smiles, feeling stupidly shy. “Would you – if you wanted to pick me up, that would be cool.”

The room lightens again, and Derek rolls his eyes. “I’ve got things to do, Stiles.”

But Stiles knows he’ll be there.

*

Stiles wards his dad’s house Monday morning and moves back home that evening. As he’s packing up his things and making sure he leaves Derek’s guest room more or less like he found it, he’s aware of a growing feeling of quiet despondency.

Derek doesn’t act any different. He’s as gruff and unaffected as ever. It’s just the house is a little less bright as Stiles gets ready to leave. The sun doesn’t come through the windows the same way. Little things. A creeping sort of loneliness that Stiles knows Derek would never admit to if Stiles brought it up.

So Stiles decides something must be done, without Derek’s knowledge, to help alleviate that loneliness. The pack needs to step it up. Even if Derek isn’t an actual member of Scott’s pack, he is a goddamned friend, and Stiles is not going to be able to sleep at night if he knows that Derek is out here, alone and lonely, in a massive and empty house that should be filled with family.

Derek drives him home, grim-faced and quiet as usual.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Stiles says, grabbing his homework and duffle bag filled with dirty clothes. Steve hoots sadly and shuffles out of the car, flying up onto the roof of Stiles’ house. “Right?”

Derek shrugs. “I’ll pick you up for school,” he says casually, like quiet loneliness isn’t dripping from his fingertips.

“Okay.” Stiles hesitates. “Maybe I can stay a little longer, or –”

Derek finally looks at him, rolling his eyes. “Go, Stiles. It’s fine. I’ll see you tomorrow. Call if you need anything.”

After another brief hesitation, Stiles nods. “Okay. Thanks.”

He closes the door and Derek doesn’t drive away until Stiles is safely inside. Steve follows, still hooting quietly as he flops into his cat tree by the window in Stiles’ room.

Scott comes over for dinner, keeping Stiles company (and also probably keeping an eye on him while the sheriff is at work), and they make spaghetti together, which helps keep Stiles’ mind off the lingering loneliness he can still feel, even this far from Derek.

“Deaton says coven bonds can’t be broken,” Scott tells him, as he sets the table. He winces, apologetic. “The only way to lessen the effects is to have more coven members. Apparently it’s rare for them not to be witches, though. Most magical creatures don’t willingly bond with a witch, since the source of their magic is – no offence – so dark. But the more coven members you have, as coven leader, the stronger you are, and also, the quieter Derek’s feelings will be.”

Stiles frowns, stirring the pasta. “I didn’t tell him yet,” he confesses.

“Are you going to?”

“He’ll feel awkward. You know how he is with his feelings.” He huffs a little. “It’s just… concerning. He’s so fucking lonely, Scott. When I was getting ready to come back home, it was suffocating.”

Scott smirks. “Are you sure he just wasn’t feeling that way because you were leaving?”

Stiles shakes his head. “It’s not that,” he says, because he’s thought about it – a lot – over the past few years, as his own ill-advised infatuation grew into something a bit scarier and harder to ignore. There was no way Derek could ever feel anything like that for him, it made absolutely no sense. Not in a billion years. There were no signs of any feelings at all, beyond a gradually developing and vaguely antagonistically tentative friendship.

“Seriously, Scott. He’s lonely. He’s desperate for companionship. I know he’s not pack—”

“He could be, if he wanted to,” Scott interrupts. “You know I’d let him.”

“Yeah. But just because he doesn’t think there’s a place for him in the pack doesn’t mean there’s not a place for him like, friendship-wise, you know?” Stiles shrugs, draining the pasta and refusing to look at Scott, because this was so awkward. Derek would be so angry if he knew that Stiles was basically begging Scott to send his betas over to hang out once and a while. “I just think we need to make an effort to include him and, like. Hang out with him more. He deserves that much, I think.”

He finally risks a quick look at Scott, who has been staring at him speculatively, apparently, though he looks away quickly when Stiles notices. “Sure,” he says, casual. “I’ll see if Liam can swing by tomorrow after school or something.”

Stiles feeds Steve a raw spaghetti noodle and forces himself to relax a little. “Okay,” he says. Maybe now he’ll be able to sleep without worrying about it.

*

At 10:19 that night, Stiles gives up and calls Derek, who answers on the second ring.

“What’s wrong?” Derek asks, without even a hello, and Stiles wonders when the last time Stiles randomly called him to chat was. Maybe never.

“Were you sleeping?”

Derek pauses and suddenly the background noise goes silent, like he’d muted the new TV he’d been forced to buy after Stiles blew up the old one. “No,” he says, more careful now that he knows it’s not an emergency. “Is something wrong?”

Stiles snuggles under his blankets and confesses, “No.”

There’s an awkward silence, and Stiles doesn’t know what to do with it. Derek’s feelings are faded, like they’ve grown quieter, like he’s not feeling much of anything at all, so Stiles can’t get a good grasp on what he’s feeling, but maybe it’s rude to try. All he feels is an echoing sort of quietness, it almost feels like he can taste it on the back of his tongue, and it’s cold and dark.

“You’re in my coven,” he blurts without meaning to.

“Okay,” Derek says slowly.

“When you gave me your blood for that magic. That’s how coven bonds are formed. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know, and you didn’t know, and I know you didn’t mean to, but Deaton says we can’t break it, unless I die, and –”

“Stiles,” Derek says, and he sounds amused. “It’s fine. I’d do it again. And you’re not going to die.”

“No, I know. It’s just.” Stiles closes his eyes. “You didn’t ask for it.”

“Neither did you. It’s fine.”

There’s another beat of silence, but it’s gentler now, less awkward. Now that he’s called and checked in, now that Derek’s feeling amused and soft rather than cold and echoing, Stiles is warmer, sleepier. His eyelids are growing heavier and he sighs quietly. The cold, dark taste on his tongue is gone now, replaced by something sweeter, like cotton candy.

“What were you watching?” he asks sleepily.

Derek’s voice is warm too, and Stiles likes it. “The Bachelor,” he confesses, and Stiles laughs.

“Seriously?”

“If I was going to lie, I’d have picked something cooler,” Derek says ruefully, and Stiles laughs again.

*

Stiles falls asleep with the phone still against his ear, and he wakes up a few hours later, his skin hot and feverish.

He gropes desperately for the edge of the mattress, rolling over as his phone falls to the floor, relieved to see that the floor is still where it should be. His room is still as it should be. It’s not his magic that’s making him feel like his skin is too small to hold him.

He goes very still, closing his eyes, heat rushing over him, and he moans a little, because – because it’s almost like –

Stiles’ eyes fly open and his mouth does too. He knows where the feelings are coming from now and – and they aren’t his.

It’s Derek, and Derek is… Derek is…

“Oh fuck,” Stiles mumbles, because it’s just like that night when he woke up because of Derek’s nightmare, only this time, Derek’s not afraid. He’s so turned on that it echoes through Stiles’ body and he’s achingly hard and moaning again before he even fully realizes how epically fucked up this is.

He closes his eyes and clenches his fists and tries to wrestle the feelings under control but his body can’t tell the difference between his sex dreams and Derek’s and as far as his dick is concerned, he is good to go and feeling great.

“No,” Stiles hisses between his gritted teeth. But it almost feels like Derek’s there, touching him – hands and mouth everywhere the way they can only be in dreams of this kind. It’s like dreaming while he’s awake only he can actually almost feel it and he can feel Derek’s arousal like an electric pulse through their bond and straight down to his crotch.

He can practically smell Derek, and taste him, Stiles’ hands twitch because he needs to touch himself but he can’t. And then another wave of heat washes over him and it feels like Derek’s mouth is on him, swallowing him down, and Stiles yelps and scrambles for his phone.

He rolls onto his stomach, so his traitorous hands can’t shove their way down his pants as easily, and he dials Derek’s number as quickly as he can. He’s panting and his efforts to avoid his hands have backfired because now, if he moves his hips, it’s just as good or maybe better, and he whines helplessly.

It rings far too many times, and voicemail picks up, so Stiles calls again.

Just as he dials for the third time, there’s a sudden sweet rush, and Stiles moans again, low, because – holy shit, he just felt Derek come, and he can’t breathe, he’s nearly crying with his desperation not to be a goddamned creep.

He’s about to hang up – because waking Derek up now won’t help, Stiles is going to need an epically cold shower to deal with this -- and Derek finally answers.

“Stiles?” he says, and he sounds sleepy and rough and kinda lazy, low and intimate, and Stiles is done.

He swears like a sailor and comes in his pants, biting his pillow to muffle his quiet whine.

He’s panting roughly when he finally clears his throat and spits out his pillow. “Derek,” he says, and shit, his voice sounds just as wrecked.

“You okay?” Derek asks.

“Perfect,” Stiles says. “Goodnight.”

He hangs up before Derek can say anything else, because Stiles is a fucking creep, and the less Derek knows, the better.

*

Derek calls three nights later. He sounds irritated. “Stop it,” he says.

Stiles frowns, looking around his kitchen. He’s not actually doing anything besides homework. He’s got to finish these math problems so he can work on more magical meditation stuff before trying to sleep. He’s found that the magical stuff can be pretty exhausting, so he always saves it for last. He hasn’t really talked to Derek since that night, but he’s pretty sure they’re both pretending nothing happened – and Derek probably doesn’t even know anything did happen. That’s one secret that Stiles is taking to the grave.

Steve is sleeping on the fridge.

“What?”

“If you don’t want to come over, that’s fine,” Derek says. “I don’t care. But stop whatever it is you’re doing.”

Stiles frowns harder. Derek has dropped him off each morning for school, and Scott’s come over afterwards, so Stiles is never alone unless he’s tucked up safe and sound in his safe and warded house. And during those early morning rides, Derek has been his normal, grumpy self. Stiles can’t think of a thing he’s done that could have led to this irritation.

“I’m doing homework,” he says.

“You know what I mean,” Derek snaps. “Liam suddenly wants to hang out and watch all the Star Wars movies in preparation for the new one on Tuesday? Kira stops by to practice swordsmanship after school on Wednesday? Scott just left after dropping off a box of frozen Tupperware containers full of everything his mom has cooked this week?”

Stiles slumps a little. “Oh,” he says. He’d kinda hoped they would be more subtle about it. “It’s not what you think – what do you think?”

“I don’t need to think,” Derek says. “Scott told me.”

His voice goes a little high and panicky. “What did he say?”

“That you’re staying away for your own mental health until I learn to…” Derek trails off. If Stiles closes his eyes and concentrates (which he does), he can feel a throb of embarrassment through the bond he shares with Derek. Stiles paces to the kitchen sink, staring out the window as he waits for Derek to finish that sentence, but he doesn’t.

“Look,” Derek says instead, tired. “If it makes you uncomfortable – I get it. You don’t need to – I don’t need the distraction. If you can’t handle it, or don’t want it, or…” he trails off again, practically seething with discomfort, and Stiles winces.

“Derek,” he says helplessly. “Did Scott tell you, did he explain the coven bond?”

“No,” Derek says, and Stiles’ flash of relief is short-lived. “He doesn’t need to. I know enough to understand how it works. I was a fucking alpha, Stiles. The bonds are similar, I could feel everything they felt.”

Stiles is trying his best not to panic. His thoughts are racing, almost too fast for him to really follow. He wants to know if Derek’s known the whole time, if he knew what it meant when he gave his blood, he wants to know how much he could feel of his pack – if he felt when Erika died, or Boyd, or when Isaac left him, if he can still feel him, even now. If Derek knew, about how Stiles totally got off to Derek’s stupid sex dream. Stiles opens his mouth and he doesn’t even know what’s going to come out.

“It’s okay,” he says, quiet. “To be lonely. I thought maybe, if the pack spent time with you, you’d realize that you could fit with them, if you wanted. There’s a place for you there, and you don’t need to be lonely anymore. It could fill up all that emptiness and—and then we’d both be able to sleep at night.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Derek snaps. “I’m not lonely.”

“But Derek, I can feel it.”

“I don’t know what exactly you’re feeling, but lonely isn’t it.”

“Every time I leave, I can feel it, this echoing sort of emptiness – if that isn’t loneliness, what is it?” Stiles challenges. He knows loneliness.

Derek growls. “Just because I don’t want you to leave, doesn’t mean I’m fucking lonely,” he says, careful emphasis on every word, like he’s talking to a child.

“Then what does it—” Stiles eyes go wide. He has been doing his best not to focus on Derek’s feelings as much as he can, to give him privacy, but there have been waves of emotion – changing tides – over the last three days. From wariness to reluctant acceptance to irritation and then relief each night. And nowhere in any of those tides of emotion has there been anything empty or echoing or lonely. In fact, if Stiles had to guess, the only thing Derek felt each time a pack member showed up was wariness, and when they left, relief.

Because Derek only feels that emptiness when Stiles leaves.

“Oh,” he says, faint. “It’s me.”

“I like being alone, you know that. So leave me alone,” Derek says, like Stiles hasn’t said anything at all. “I’m fine. You don’t need to do anything about it, or even fucking acknowledge it or anything, just ignore it. It’s fine. I’m fine. I don’t like people.”

“But you like me,” Stiles says, slow, like he’s testing out the idea. His eyes are wide and his mouth feels dry.

Derek sighs. “You’re irritating as fuck,” he says. “You can’t sit still, you can’t keep your mouth shut, you nearly split my house in half, and you broke pretty much everything I own. You can’t keep yourself out of trouble, you frequently talk yourself into trouble, and you aren’t half as funny as you think you are.”

“But you like me,” Stiles says again.

Derek is stubbornly silent, and then he finally says, quietly, “It’s nothing, Stiles. Just ignore it.”

“Of course it’s something,” Stiles says, and then he frowns, squinting out the back window. There is something there, just in the shadows of the fence, moving like it’s hurt. It looks like a child, and Stiles opens the back door, turning on the light to see better. The light doesn’t reach that far.

“You’re too young,” Derek says as Stiles steps out onto the deck, closing the door behind him.

“No,” says Stiles, but he’s a little distracted. He can smell blood. “Derek, there’s something in the back yard. A kid, maybe. It’s hurt and smells like blood.”

“Don’t leave the house,” Derek says. “I’ll come check it out.”

“I’m already outside,” Stiles says. “It’s fine. The wards cover most of the backyard and…” He steps off the bottom step of the deck and onto the grass, but it crunches strangely beneath his feet. Stiles frowns, looking down, and sees that all the grass is dead and colourless, drained. “The grass is dead.”

He can hear Steve suddenly, screaming inside the kitchen, beating against the window.

“Get inside,” Derek snaps. “Now, Stiles.”

But Stiles is so close – he can’t just leave the child. “Hello? Are you okay?” he calls, and Derek snarls at him.

But Stiles can just reach out and grab the kid and –

It’s not a kid. As soon as Stiles touches it, he realizes. It’s emanating cold and covered in blood, trembling but not with fear. The creature turns to look at him and Stiles realizes it’s a ghoulish, skeletal figure, and it’s laughing.

He tries to jerk his hand away but it’s too late. The creature grabs him by the wrist, leeching that burning chill into his skin and Stiles screams.

But the creature is crouched just on the other side of the wards, pressed up against them, and it grins as it jerks Stiles forward, out of the safety of his wards.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” the creature says, cackling. Stiles tries to pull away, to summon his magic, but the air is vibrating suddenly with a dozen voices, all chanting something that presses down on him, pushing his magic down with them.

He can’t find his magic and the lights are growing dim, he can’t even find his way back towards the safety of his wards, just steps away.

The last thing he’s aware of is Derek, cursing and calling him an idiot over the phone in the seconds before Stiles’ fingers go numb and the phone falls to the ground.

Consciousness drains away like the lights have, and Stiles falls, collapsing as the chanting witch coven closes in around him.

*

Stupid boy. Stupid, stupid boy. The owl’s boy is the stupidest boy. And if he isn’t dead before the owl finds him, he’ll be dead shortly after, because the owl will kill him.

But first he needs to get out and the windows are closed and so is the door and the owl’s wings and beak sting from beating against them both, trying to get out.

He can feel the boy, still living, heart still beating, magic dampened and held still, but twisting like a wild thing against the spell that holds it.

And then the door is flying open and the wolf is there, panicked and furious and the owl always did like him best.

He leaves the door open as he prowls through the house, calling for the owl’s boy. The owl is out the door and in the sky moments later, leaving the wolf behind and following the faint call of the boy’s furious magic.

There is a part of the owl, a very faint part, that has softened to his stupid boy in recent days, watching as the boy does his best to master his magic, and grows closer to the wolf almost accidentally. It’s possible the owl actually likes the boy, a little.

And whether he does or he doesn’t, if the boy dies, so does the owl, and he’s not ready to die just yet.

So when he hears the boy’s breathing falter and stop, he reaches out, tentatively, in a way he never has, and whispers, “Breathe.”

And flies even faster.

*

It’s a voice that wakes him – a soft, strange voice that whispers, that sounds almost like leaves rustling in the breeze or feathers ruffling.

Breathe.

Stiles sucks in a startled, burning breath and opens his eyes. His exhale gurgles in his throat, somewhere between a moan and a scream, because the creature from before is sewing up Stiles’ wrists in crooked, clumsy stitches and mumbling to itself.

There is blood, again. Stiles’ palms and his wrists have split open, along the same lines as before, and it hurts – the needle hurts, stabbing through his flesh and jerking the edges back together roughly. Stiles wants to puke.

He’s not bound, but he’s weak, barely able to move, and lying on his back in the forest, but the trees surrounding him are bone white, petrified. The witches have sucked the life from them.

A dozen figures, cloaked and hooded, stand in the shadows, chanting that same magic that shudders as it holds his own magic down, captive deep inside him.

And the head witch, the one he’d seen at the magic shop that day, is standing at Stiles’ feet watching the creature stitch him up. She’s twisting her crooked fingers together, joints snapping like dried twigs, mouth twitching hungrily.

“It won’t hurt for long,” she tells him, soothing.

He closes his eyes and breathes and pretends she isn’t there, that this isn’t happening, that he can’t feel the ghoulish creature’s breath on his face. Each drag and tug of the needle drags him right back here, though.

“We didn’t want you bleeding out,” says the witch, laughing a little. “Your skin breaks so easily. We could drain you and drink you in a matter of minutes if we wanted to.”

Which meant they didn’t. Stiles takes that as a good sign. He doesn’t know what she does want, but if it’s not to drain his power, maybe he can stall long enough for Derek or Scott to find him.

“We’ve been watching you,” says the witch, with a strange, slow smile. “And your coven.”

“Joke’s on you,” Stiles says, stalling for time, and mostly because he talks when he’s nervous. “I don’t have a coven.” His voice is weak and rough and he clears his throat. The ghoul has finished the stitches and mutters as it lurches backwards, coming to rest at the witch’s feet, leaning against her like a pet dog.

“You do,” says the witch. “A small one, but a curious one. Did you know that a wolf has never willingly given blood to a witch before you?”

Stiles blinks, going pale. Maybe stalling is just what they want. Maybe he’s luring Derek into a trap.

“I don’t know what you want, but you won’t get it,” he says, desperately trying to call up his magic, but the rest of the coven is still holding it still. He can feel it, rolling just under his skin, pooling there, but his tongue won’t form the words for any spells. “Derek won’t give you anything willingly, and it has to be willing.”

“He doesn’t have to,” says the witch, laughing. “We were going to drain you, you know. Your magic, it’s delicious. A spark blown wide open. Usually our magic develops slowly, carefully, when we are children, and we are surrounded by a coven that can teach us how to control it, to nurture it and shape it. But you, your magic blew you wide open – your edges are still bleeding where it tore through.”

Stiles is pretty sure the only places he’s bleeding are the places where the witches tore and stitched him up, but he doesn’t argue.

“It would be such a rush to suck you dry,” says the witch, flicking her tongue hungrily along her fingertips. “But even tastier to absorb your power into our coven. If you give to us willingly, you become one of us, and so does the rest of your coven.”

It takes a moment for Stiles to process – to be honest, he hasn’t even really been listening all that closely. He’s not sure, but he thinks his magic is responding a little, pooling in his palms, even though his tongue won’t form the words to cast a spell. The witches around him are still chanting, softly, dampening his magic, and Steve is hopping anxiously from tree to tree in the shadow of the forest.

And then Stiles realizes what she means and he jerks his head up to stare at her. “You can’t have him,” he says. “I’ll never let you have him.”

“We can be very persuasive,” she purrs, and then he hears a howl, distant but growing closer. Derek is coming for him. Stiles can feel his rage, his worry.

“Never,” Stiles says again, struggling desperately. He’s panicking – now is not a good time for a goddamned panic attack, but his body is still twitching and weak with blood loss and lethargy, his magic is still unable to respond, even if he knew any spells other than containment and basic shielding, which he doesn’t.

He can’t move and he can’t think and he can’t fucking breathe and Derek is walking right into a trap and Stiles will not be the reason that Derek accidentally becomes some sort of fucked up slave to a coven of power-hungry witches, that’s the worst idea. Especially when Derek’s only in this situation because Stiles is a moron who blew himself up and nearly died.

Breathe,” he hears again, that rustle in the back of his mind, and then his tiny, angry, exhausted owl drops out of the sky and lands on his chest. The warm weight helps him remember how to breathe, and he sucks in a shaking breath and inhales, fighting off panic.

The head witch coos and comes closer, looming over them, and Stiles manages to wrap a protective arm around the owl.

“Oh, what a precious familiar,” she purrs, running her twisted fingers through the ghoul’s hair. “This is mine. He used to be a man, you know.” She laughs.

Stiles has researched familiars. He knows they can talk to their bondmate, if they choose (he’s not surprised Steve has never chosen to speak to him until now, the owl is bitchy at the best of times). He knows they help balance magic, and they can help channel it. He also knows they’re animals. Not people.

“Not possible,” he says. Tentatively, he thinks, “Derek?”, to Steve, not really sure how to talk back. Steve blinks up at him, looking blank.

“With the proper sort of persuasion, it is,” says the witch. “Some of the blackest magic. You know, even if we drain you dry and your wolf refuses to co-operate, we could take him as a familiar. I bet the process would be similar.” She frowns thoughtfully. “We wouldn’t have access to his power, but he would be ours to command. Happy to obey. A tamed wolf.” She laughs. “Keep your owl, boy. You’ll need whatever strength you can find.”

Derek,” he says to Steve again inside his mind, more loudly.

Steve sighs and closes his eyes. “Yes,” he replies, sorrowfully.

Derek is coming. The witches will take him with or without Stiles. And it’s Stiles’ fault.

It all happens impossibly quickly. Derek explodes out of the tree-line, wolf-form and without a fucking plan, as usual, and the witches take him down with a few quick words. He screams and Stiles can smell the blood and a second later, he can feel it, lacerations as the magic tears through Derek, cutting him apart.

They’re bound, Stiles remembers. So anything done to Derek, Stiles can feel.

He’s screaming, bones echoing with agony as fractures crack along inside of them, in the same places magic has broken Derek’s body.

“Give to me your blood, your power,” says the witch. “Be of our coven willingly.”

“No,” Stiles rasps, and Derek’s bloodied, broken body lands on the ground beside him. Derek groans, but he’s already healing – Stiles doesn’t heal, though. His bones are still broken, his body is still bleeding.

“Then hold your breath, boy,” says the witch. “This is going to hurt.”

It does. She begins flaying the skin from Derek’s body, strips of it, tugging skin from muscle in quick jerks, and Stiles feels every one of them. He sucks in a breath to scream but it hurts too much and the breath lodges in his throat.

Breathe,” Steve whispers. “Breathe.”

And it goes on and on and Derek isn’t even awake for it, but they won’t let unconsciousness claim him, so Stiles feels every moment of it.

*

Stiles is incoherent. All he knows is pain and blood. He’s bloody and broken and he can’t take this anymore. He can’t even scream anymore. All that exists is agony.

“Give us your power, your blood,” whispers the witch. “Be of our coven willingly.”

Stiles opens his mouth to tell her to go fuck herself, but nothing comes out. He stares unseeing at the sky above. Steve is a warm pressure point on his chest, but other than that, it’s all cold, cold, cold.

And then Derek’s hand, twisted, broken and dirty, slips over Stiles’ on the ground, another point of warmth.

Stiles manages to turn his head, and Derek’s there, awake and watching him, though his face is painfully swollen.

Stiles closes his eyes and feels everything Derek is feeling – rage, yes, and worry, and guilt, so much guilt. But mostly a deep, cold sort of panic and desperation. There is pain, but also the knowledge that Derek could run. The witch’s magic is keeping him weak, unable to lash out at them, but he could run. And he’s staying, because of Stiles.

And underneath that, Stiles can feel his own magic, prowling beneath his skin, hissing wherever there’s blood – Stiles’ blood and Derek’s blood, a mess of it, amplifying Stiles’ power. The pressure is enormous, he feels like a volcano—he’s about to erupt, but the other witches are still chanting their dampening spell, paralyzing his magic so there is nowhere for the pressure to escape. He’ll explode if this keeps up – his magic will rip him open again.

And then Stiles wonders what would happen if he just… lets it go.

Or at least some of it. Enough to destroy the witches and their hold on him – on Derek.

He wonders how magic it would take to destroy them all.

Steve crawls up to Stiles’ throat, curling up there. His heartbeats weakly, his lungs struggle against the pain and weakness that Stiles feels too.

All,” says the owl, quiet and sorrowful.

But all will surely destroy Stiles too.

All,” Steve says again, and the witch is cutting into Derek again, blade sliding through freshly healed thigh, and Stiles closes his eyes against the pain.

All.

He turns his head back towards Derek, and Derek is ignoring the pain. “Run,” he breathes.

Derek just tightens his hand on Stiles’ hand and Stiles feels a rush of exasperated affection, a stubborn acceptance of whatever Stiles is about to do.

“No,” he says back.

And Stiles swallows hard and thinks maybe, maybe Derek will survive it. Maybe he’ll heal.

And then he yanks up every bit of magic he’s got into the palms of his hand, gritting his teeth against more and more pain from the witch’s blade.

And when all the magic is there, frustrated and beating against the magic that keeps Stiles from casting a fucking spell – he doesn’t cast a spell at all.

He just let’s go.

Getting rid of magic has always been what he’s best at.

The shockwave rips through him, tearing at the few places inside him that weren’t already broken. It explodes out from him, like a massive elastic band, snapping through Derek, and the circle of witches, the head witch, and the ghoulish creature.

And that’s one thing about witches. Maybe their magic makes them super powerful, able to take down a werewolf and keep him down, but their bodies are absurdly fragile.

And Stiles’ magic has always been rather like a living thing all on its own, a living thing that had not liked being confined against its will.

His magic tears through the witches and their fragile flesh, and the clearing is a mess of blood and witch parts and screams that still echo as their magic dies. But his magic had to tear through him first, and Stiles writhes against his body as his bones twist and crack, skin splitting and blood soaking the ground like tears.

He can’t scream – his throat is shot, his tongue is frozen, and he is literally being torn apart. His hands are gone, and then his wrists, his arms, his feet and his legs, twisted and unrecognizable.

When his magic is finally gone and the clearing falls silent, his heart is still working, faint and slower and slower with every beat. His lungs are drowning in blood, which bubbles from his lips with every shuddering breath. And Steve’s breaths echo his own. And beside them, Derek is still, shattered by Stiles’ magic.

But it doesn’t hurt anymore. Dying is like going to sleep, Stiles thinks feverishly, wishing he could see. His eyes aren’t working and he’s not sure why.

But it doesn’t matter.

It’s just like going to sleep.

*

There are footsteps. Shouts. Screams. Someone is swearing viciously. Someone else is puking.

Stiles wonders if he’s dead. Is this dead, or is he still dying? Hearing is the last sense to go, he knows. He feels very far away – the sounds are so distant, like he’s already left that world behind.

“Stiles.”

He breathes one last time and stops, letting go.

Stiles.”

“No, no, what do we –”

Someone’s screaming – Lydia is screaming. Lydia won’t fucking stop screaming.

“—Blood.”

There’s a flash of warmth, faint, but growing warmer. Embers sparking to life.

“Give him –”

“He’s dead, Derek, he’s—”

“Shut her up!”

“Here…”

His hearing fades out with Lydia’s scream, and then there is more warmth, drawing him back to consciousness, like rain, falling on his body. Each drop sparks a small fire that coaxes him closer and closer.

His lungs suck in oxygen instinctively, and it burns, it’s like drowning on his own blood all over again. He cries out against the pain, but the drops of fire are forcing life back into him.

He won’t breathe again, he won’t.

“Shh.” Someone’s touching his face, leaving streaks of fire, smoothing his hair back. “You’re okay, Stiles.”

How is he okay? There is only pain where most of his body should be.

But there is also magic, flickering to life where the flashes of fire dropped.

“Say the words, Stiles. The healing words. C’mon. Please, please…”

But he won’t, he won’t.

Breathe.” Steve is not fucking around.

Stiles breathes, and on the exhale, feverishly whispers the healing incantation. His flesh begins to knit back together, just a little.

He does it again, and his eyes begin to clear, a fog replacing the darkness. He whispers again, voice a tiny bit stronger, and he can see, he can see enough to know that Scott’s entire pack is there, kneeling around him, pale and streaked with tears and willingly sharing their blood with him, giving him the power to heal.

And Derek is cradling his head, his face still bruised and bloody. Steve, the fucking traitor, is curled up on Derek’s shoulder, pressed against the side of his neck.

And the bright spot where Stiles has gotten used to feeling what Derek is feeling is muddied now, as new, fragile bonds form with his new coven members, but Stiles doesn’t need to be able to feel what Derek feels. He can see it all over Derek’s face, and feel it in the careful way he’s brushing Stiles’ hair out of his eyes and coaxing him to breathe through the pain.

But it fucking hurts.

*

The bed is levitating again.

Stiles had been dreaming about falling from the sky again, an owl whose wings got twisted and broken, so it’s a shock to be floating in the air on his bed when his eyes suddenly fly open, and he can’t help shrieking a little even as he instinctively yanks his magic back from where it’s leaking out of his palms and tamps it down firmly back inside.

The bed falls to the ground with a crash that is echoed when the door flies open and slams against the wall.

“Stiles,” Derek says, eyes wide, claws and fangs at the ready. “Are you –”

Stiles is fine, is the thing. He’s disoriented and he’s frightened but the only vivid memory he has right now is of his dream, of his body twisting up and shredding and falling. And then Stiles is remembering everything else, including the way he’d shredded his body, the feeling of bleeding out on the forest floor, the cracking and twisting of his bones.

Stiles sucks in a ragged breath and shoves his covers off to make sure he still has all his limbs. He’s panicking, twisted in too many blankets and sheets, and Derek is beside him in an instant, grabbing his hands and trying to calm him.

“I need to see,” Stiles pants. “I need to see, let me—off, let me see.”

He finally kicks the blankets off and sees all his limbs, intact and mostly healed, though they feel tender. His skin is sensitive and pink, like new skin after a scab peels off.

“What happened?” he asks Derek, going still now beneath his hands and staring up at him, eyes wide. “How am I – why am I—”

Derek lets him go, careful, like he’s worried Stiles will start fighting his bed sheets again. When Stiles stays obediently still, he sinks down on the side of the bed and accuses, “You were trying to kill yourself.”

Steve, who has watched all this silently from his cat tree by the window, ruffles his feathers a little and glares.

“No,” Stiles says. Then he squeezes his eyes shut, trying to think. It’s all a haze of pain and blood. “It was the only way to save you.”

“You aren’t supposed to save me,” Derek snaps.

Stiles opens his eyes and looks at him beseechingly. His body is aching, he’s confused, he doesn’t even know what day it is, and he doesn’t have the energy for a fight. “Had to,” he says, shrugging. “Derek. I’d… yeah, I’d do it again.”

“You nearly blew yourself to pieces!” Derek hisses. “If Scott hadn’t got there, if the pack hadn’t – I couldn’t have saved you. I – I was supposed to save you.”

“Maybe… maybe we can save each other,” Stiles hums, still trying to sort through his hazy thoughts. “Maybe. I need – I need to pee.”

Derek rolls his eyes and helps Stiles out of bed. His legs feel weak and shaky.

“You’ve been sleeping for a week,” Derek says, softer now than before. “Deaton says your body is going to be weak for a while. You tapped out all your magical and physical energy and only survived because Scott and the rest of the pack gave you their blood, their energy. You’ve been recharging.”

They’re walking carefully to the bathroom, and by the time they get there, Stiles is already a little sweaty. If he closes his eyes and mentally prods at the place where only Derek’s bond had been before, he can feel different rays of lights, different energies in different shades. Bonds to all his new coven members. “I feel them,” he says. “And you. But quieter, now, with all the others.”

He wonders if he’ll ever feel the room light up again because he’s walked into it, as if Derek had been waiting for him. He wonders if he’ll miss it and knows he will.

“You’re stronger now,” Derek tells him, and Stiles doesn’t feel it. “Or you will be. You won’t feel it as badly, when the pack gets hurt. It will be balanced over all of us. You’ll still feel it, though.” He sounds apologetic. “But Deaton says you’ll have more magic, with a stronger coven, and it should help deflect any injuries, somewhat, or heal them faster.”

“As fast as you?” Stiles asks.

Derek laughs quietly. “We’ll see.”

Derek waits in the hall and pretends he can’t hear everything while Stiles goes to the bathroom, and then when Stiles tries running himself a bath, Derek comes back to huff at him judgementally.

“I’m gross,” Stiles says, and Derek rolls his eyes but fetches him a towel and new pajamas, and makes sure the water isn’t too hot.

He turns away while Stiles undresses but stays while he floats in the water, exhausted already though he’s only just woken up. He hopes the bubbles he added to the water are hiding his important bits, but is too tired to care.

“The pack’s at school,” Derek says quietly. Stiles cracks his eyes open to look at him and sees that Steve is there too, perched on Derek’s shoulder. They’re both studiously watching Stiles’ face, and Derek’s cheeks are pink. “Steve’s been shitting in their hair every time they visit, but they still come. They’re coming over after. Pack bonding. Liam’s picking the movie. The new Jurassic Park one, apparently.”

Stiles hums in acknowledgement.

It’s quiet for a moment but it isn’t awkward, and Stiles’ tongue is crowded with things he wants to say but he can’t find the words.

“Was it close?” he asks, soft.

“Your heart stopped beating, four times,” Derek says, just as quiet.

Stiles closes his eyes and floats and thinks about how fucking lucky he is.

And then Derek’s hand dips into the warm water and somehow finds Stiles’ squeezing it gently, and Derek adds, “You’re still here, though.” His voice is rough and he clears his throat.

Stupid boy,” says Steve, like the whole magical explosion thing hadn’t been his idea.

*
The movie is playing and Kira is studiously combing her wet hair, freshly washed after Steve crapped on her head. He seems to be holding a grudge about how close Scott’s pack had let Stiles get to death.

The whole pack is there, sprawled on the floor or curled up on the couch, and the raptor squad is dashing across the screen and Stiles is barely awake. He’s eaten his weight in popcorn and he’s doing his best to keep his eyes open, but it’s a losing battle.

“You can,” Derek says, with studied casualness.

Stiles turns and looks at him. No one had argued when Stiles had curled up against the arm of the couch and Derek had claimed the spot beside him without a word. Steve made himself at home on the couch behind their heads, sleeping deeply, still feeling the effects of Stiles’ wounds the way Stiles is.

“Lean on me, I mean,” Derek says. He’s staring at the TV, the blue light making it impossible to see if he was blushing. “If you’re tired.”

“Am I still too young?” Stiles asks.

Derek shrugs one shoulder. “Nearly out of high school,” he says, almost casual.

Stiles wrinkles his nose. “If I pass.”

“Oh, you will,” Lydia says, almost like a threat.

Stiles ignores her, and the rest of the pack, who are, he hopes, at least pretending to watch the movie.

“If—if it went two ways,” Stiles says quietly, “And you could feel what I feel, you’d see it was the same. It lights up when – when you come in the room, too. So, I could wait, I mean.” He makes a face, frustrated with himself. “For you.”

Derek rolls his eyes a little, and Stiles hopes it’s fondly, at least. “Let’s just start with this,” he says, and draws Stiles forward to rest his head on his shoulder, and Stiles is fine with that. Derek is warm and smells amazing and Stiles will totally take any and every opportunity to snuggle with him.

And then Derek’s hand is on Stiles’ jaw and he’s nudging his head up a little and saying, “Besides, I know you’re really shitty at waiting for things.”

“Especially things I really want,” Stiles agrees breathlessly, and Derek kisses him, sweet and soft and like the whole fucking pack isn’t there watching.

It feels like Stiles’ magic, little starbursts under his skin, and Stiles pushes forward for more.

His fingertips are sparking and he’s not paying quite enough attention to anything except Derek’s mouth and his tongue and how great he smells, so when the couch starts rocking a little, drifting up off the floor, he doesn’t even notice.

And then Scott is yelping and scrambling off it, falling to the floor.

“That’s awkward,” Lydia comments dryly, and Stiles breaks the kiss to look from Derek to the floor and back again.

“Oops,” he says, and Steve hoots sadly.

Stupid boy,” he chides, but Derek doesn’t seem to mind.