It’s the second Friday of the month, so after dinner Derek heads to the McCall house. He’s not the first there, that honour would belong to Kira. If Derek was a gambling man, he’d say she’s been here for hours. This semester she only has a Friday morning class so it’s become a habit to drive home and spend the weekend in Beacon Hills. Derek would have thought they’d have broken up by now, but so far long distance is working for them.
He doesn’t see Malia’s car, but that doesn’t mean much. She runs around town more than she drives. It’s been years and she still hasn’t quite shaken all of the coyote’s traits. She probably never will. Hazard of growing up without the support of knowing family.
Sure enough, Malia’s already in the living room, setting up her laptop. Derek joins her plugging in his own cord. The multi-outlet is a mess, held together with two different colours of duct tape, but no one ever remembers that it should be replaced until they’re already setting up, and at that point no one’s going to leave to make a Walmart run.
Derek retreats to the kitchen for a glass of water. Kira’s sitting on the counter, legs lightly kicking the lower cupboards. Scott’s between her thighs. They’re not talking, or doing anything romantic. Derek assumes the wolf and the fox are reaffirming their trust. According to Mrs Yukimura, wolves and kitsunes have a bad history, and since kitsunes have a racial memory, testing the bond needs to happen after any extended time apart. Derek won’t interrupt. He’s got a ton of childhood memories of his mom respectfully reasserting dominance which say you don’t stop this sort of thing.
When Kira turns her head and says hi, he figures he can say it back. “Are John and Melissa coming?”
Scott shakes his head. “Mom’s on a date and the Sheriff doesn’t need to. There’s no problem, it’s just a touching base thing.”
Derek nods a bit awkwardly. One of Scott’s first decrees upon the majority of the Pack splitting for universities was to make Pack meetings mandatory. Derek doesn’t always feel sociable, but he has to admit it keeps the Pack strong to see each other every week, not just when there’s a crisis.
“Go back to the dining room, we’ll be there in a minute.”
As Derek leaves Scott buries his face in Kira’s neck and she puts her hand on his nape. Derek shakes his head at the subservient behaviour but doesn’t say anything. He knows better.
In the scant minute since he’s left, Hayden and Liam have joined Malia, depositing the last laptop needed on the table. It’s possible their joint presence means they’re back together, but he won’t ask. He doesn’t need to, not when there are far noisier members.
Derek’s expecting Cora to be last. She’s always late. Even as a kid she’d show up late to family dinner, or get home at five despite school letting out at three thirty. Surprisingly she isn’t. Lydia and Mason are both on webcam, in MIT and U of Michigan respectively, but Stiles hasn’t turned on his. Derek ignores the feeling in his gut, and absolutely does not label it longing. He doesn’t pine for Stiles. It’s not like he waits all week to see the sketchy kid, like there’s a constant countdown in the back of his head dropping down down down but not quickly enough until seven pm Friday when Stiles logs on. It’s not like he ever thinks about how stupid it is that Kira will make a three hour drive home from Shuston, but Stiles says his double major keeps him too busy to drive the hour and a half from Neptune.
“Where’s Stiles?” he demands, cutting Mason’s question off mid-sentence. He and Malia can talk about robots in a second, once the whole Pack is here.
Half of the room looks at him.
“He didn’t text you?”
“We don’t text.” Derek answers. He doesn’t know what the weird looks are for. He doesn’t text anyone in the room. He sees Malia when she sleeps at home, he sees the rest of them around town, and he sees Stiles -Lydia and Mason too- Friday evening. Why would he text?
“Dude, he’s not coming tonight,” Scott replies, like it’s obvious. Like it shouldn’t have been the first thing said, before everyone chit chatted about chinese vs pizza.
“Why not?” There are no good reasons for Stiles to be absent, in Derek’s opinion. He only gets to see him once a week, he can’t just skip.
“He’s busy moving his shit.”
“Why?” As far as Derek knows, Stiles likes his off campus situation. Derek had been dismissive of the concept at first. What was wrong with living at Hearst College in a dorm like a normal freshman? Apartment hunting off the internet seemed like a great way to meet serial killers and hunters in disguise. But then Braeden pointed out that within a decade Hearst had had two serial rapists, more than one professor arrested for violent crimes, and even a murdered Dean, so living there wasn’t the safest choice either. And then Scott and Liam helped Stiles move, scouting the area for supernatural beings as they did, and they came up empty. With those points proved, Derek grew to tolerate the idea. Also it didn’t take much convincing to get John to run the names. At this point Derek might not have seen Darrell Fennel’s or Ryan Mackenzie’s faces, but he knows all their habits.
Malia rolls her eyes. “His apartment burned down.”
Derek loses it. In the span of about ten seconds he completely loses it. He vaguely hears someone yelling Malia’s name reproachfully, and Lydia and Kira are both telling him Stiles is okay, but Derek’s no longer interpreting information, just taking everything in as his senses barrel him into hypervigilance. He feels his face changing, his teeth dropping, his claws extending.
“Derek!” someone shouts. It’s Cora. It’s Cora, the only family that didn’t burn, even Peter burned, even Laura burned, John wasn’t Pack yet and the deputies made her burn to white ash, all his family burned and now his Pack is burning too- why is Cora yelling at him they need to go they need to run they need to save the Pack he failed last time he can’t fail again Stiles can’t burn
Derek tastes soil as a huge weight hits his back and pushes him into the ground. Derek howls, barring his fangs to nothing but the mud. It’s answered from several directions, but nowhere louder than from the wolf flipping him and shoving his face close until they’re nose to nose.
“Derek! Stop! He’s not hurt!”
Of course he’s hurt, humans are always hurt. The human Hales died first, their lungs couldn’t repair mid-injury.
“Derek! I am your Alpha and I’m telling you to STOP.” The eyes flash red, Scott’s eyes flash red, and Derek goes limp against the cold mud. Just for a moment, then he’s throwing Scott off him because Alpha or not, he can still bench press double what McCall can. But the damage is done. Scott’s squashed that first ball of adrenaline, and Derek’s not running on instinct anymore.
“Stiles isn’t hurt. He’s not. I’m sorry he didn’t tell you himself. I’m sorry Malia scared you like that. But you gotta stop. You can’t hurt people just trying to get to him. You broke Liam’s arm. What if that had been Lydia?”
“Shit,” Derek pants. He doesn’t know what to do. Scott the Alpha wouldn’t lie to him, but Scott the person has. There’s a part of him that’s still terrified. His wolf is screaming to attack, to put Scott down so he can run to Stiles.
“Do you want to drive down?”
“What?” Derek asks, still not thinking clearly.
“To Neptune? I was gonna go tomorrow, but if you need to, we can go right now.”
It’s a wonder that Scott was ever an omega, sometimes. As far as Derek’s known, was taught from his family, Omegas are pathetic. Weak, alone, and incapable of social skills. Scott so often knows exactly the right thing to do. The past just doesn’t make sense with the lore he knows by heart.
Scott informs the members that ran with him to stop Derek’s out of control behaviour that they’re going and asks them to pass the message on to those not here. Right after that they leave, foot on the gas down the highway.
Stiles’ apartment block is at the bottom of a hill. On approach it’s easy to see that part of the roof looks caved in, no doubt weakened from the vertical ventilation the firefighters had to do. As they get closer though, Derek can start to see some of the details. It’s terrible, but it’s not as bad as Derek feared. Seeing it his stomach unknots just a little. The apartment block isn’t the ruined dry husk his childhood home became. The brick is burned in some places, but there are still patches of non-charred taupe. Nearly all the windows he can see are broken from the heat, but that’s to be expected. Where the real problem lies is in the roof. Even if there wasn’t water damage and dirty soot it’d still be unlivable, thanks to the gaping hole.
“Stiles is on the second floor, right?”
That’s good. Less water damage, at least.
Stiles is just coming out of the building, large Tupperware box in hand. Derek’s out of Kira’s borrowed car before Scott’s even stopped, and dashes the last few meters to Stiles, who’s just hefted the plastic container into the passenger seat. Derek shoves Stiles against the side of the Toyota and pins him there. He needs him to stop moving so he can check that everything’s okay, no evasions. Stiles is the kind of man who lies through distraction.
He smells like smoke, but not like fear or pain. Derek is so relieved that he can’t stop himself. He scoops Stiles into a hug. He’s pressing the smoke into himself, which is awful, but underneath that is mint and faux-woodsy deodorant and the bitterness of Stiles’ meds. That should be terrible too -might be on a stranger- but it’s Stiles’ scent, and Derek has missed it.
“Scooooott? Why is Derek rearranging my organs?”
“He found out about your fire the wrong way.”
“Shit. I told you not to tell him or Cora.”
Derek snarls in Stiles’ ear. “Don’t do that. You can’t not tell Pack things.”
“I thought it would freak you two out. And I was right, clearly.”
“Cora was fine,” Scott replies. “Derek went feral, practically, though. Thought he was going to run all the way here. He actually fought me before he calmed down.”
Pressed as close as they are, Derek can sense every minute change in Stiles’ emotions. The guy feels astounded at Scott’s explanation of events before he sounds so. “Shit, really?”
“Yes, really,” Derek answers. He takes a step back, so he’s far enough away to properly hit the idiot upside the head. “You’re Pack, moron.”
“Well, the soft and cuddly weirdness had already worn off. Halfway back to normal, at least,” Stiles snarks.
“Stiles, you need to come home with us. Reassure everyone you’re okay.”
The brunet is already shaking his head halfway through Scott’s request. “Class doesn’t care about my living situation, guys. I know that not everyone at home cares about further education, but I do. I’m double majoring, I can’t afford to come home.”
“Do you care about Pack?” Derek asks, heart in his throat.
“Don’t be stupid. ”
“Then come home. Just for a day or two. Not everyone was able to come to you, okay?” He wants to squeeze Stiles again, but he won’t. Not if Scott and Stiles both think it’s so weird that he did it in the first place. He might not be the man he was when they were sophomores, but Derek still has fragments of a reputation.
“Okay,” Stiles capitulates. “It’ll be nice to see Dad. And maybe mooch towels and clothes and cutlery and shit off current homeowners.”
Scott nods. “My mom can give you some towels for sure.”
Derek doesn’t know how frugal Stiles’ budget is, they don’t talk about that kind of thing. He has to imagine it’s tight though, with tuition and rent and let’s be honest, party money. There’s a chance he and Darrell and Ryan have nothing until payday. Before he leaves for Neptune again Derek will dump a week’s worth of groceries in his backseat.
With his composure regained Derek begins to notice a few things. Like how the cops are nowhere to be seen on this obvious crime scene of a property, and there are only a few strands of yellow Do Not Cross tape. Like how there’s a blonde woman taking in the scene and two black guys apart by least a decade in age standing to the side watching her. Derek’s had enough of fumbled arson scenes in his life. He storms over to the woman, leaving his friends confused behind him. Derek looms over her petite frame in the way that tends to make other people want to please him so he stops, and shouts “who the hell are you?”
About four seconds later a huge shar-pei is bounding at him. The woman shouts “down boy” and it stops, practically mid leap. Thank fuck. Dog bites don’t do much to werewolves but no wound is still better than rapidly healing wound. Not to mention that he’d probably wolf out instinctively, and that’s nothing someone somehow attached to Stiles’ living situation should see.
“You really named your dog ‘boy’?” Stiles quips, shambling up.
“Well his full name is ‘Backup Two, The Backening’, but that’s a mouthful when trying to call him off strangers. As for who the hell I am, I’m a private detective, and I’ve been hired to find out how this fire occurred.”
Derek doesn’t like it. He’s about to say so when Stiles interjects. “Oooh, yeah. I know this. You’re Veronica Mars, Darrell’s brother’s friend. You were always getting him into shit.”
“You’ve been hearing old stories, kid. Wallace doesn’t do that anymore. He’s a teacher, respectable and such.”
“No, no. I wasn’t criticizing. I drag my friends into shit all the time.”
Veronica looks at him pointedly. “The kind of shit that would lead to someone burning your house down?”
“No. And don’t tell me I’m your best lead. My dad’s a Sheriff and my ex’s dad is a big game hunter. I can take a lot of interrogation before I sweat.”
To Derek’s surprise, Veronica laughs. “I like you. If Wallace hadn’t hired me, I’d take you as a client.”
“Maybe I’ll hire you for something else. Got a card?” Veronica brandishes one. “Mars Investigations? I like it. So who do you think did it?”
“Could be PCHers, or the Fitzpatricks.” At Scott’s confused look she explains “Neptune’s two basic gangs. I’d like to say not PCH, I have contacts there I’d like to think better of, but it’s a possibility. Or it could be something completely different. This building has thirty units, which means probably fifty plus occupants. That’s a lot of people with petty grudges.”
“Well, based on secondhand accounts I’ll just let you do your thing. I would like to say though, you have no idea how much of a compliment that is. Derek can back that up. He thinks I’m a nosy annoying prying shit, don’t you?”
“I’d guess other feelings,” Ms Mars quips.
“What? Me? Nah. Derek’s straight.”
“Says who?” Derek blurts out. He doesn’t mean to, but doesn’t regret the words once they’re in the open.
“You’ve dated and slept with exclusively women since I’ve known you.”
“Ask Isaac if he has the same impression of my dating life.”
Stiles either cannot compute that, or genuinely doesn’t care about anyone’s sexuality, because his next comment switches the topic. “I know you think I’m a nosy bastard though.”
“You’ve never had a reason not to be. You’ve always had cause to know things.”
“Huh. Well, for now, no. I’m not going to long distance date, I need my person up close and personal. But in a few months we could have a summer fling.”
It’s a Friday night and Derek is at Scott’s, laptop plugged in and ready to go. Stiles has been in Neptune for three days and he was right. This is hard enough this way. It would be so much worse if he’d already touched his skin. Stiles and Lydia chat for a minute about professors with terrible orating voices with tenure. Then Kira interrupts. “So what is happening with the investigation? Is Mars as good as we are?”
Stiles grins. “I know the Pack is fishing for a compliment there, but actually, yes. She figured it out already. She had an internship at the FBI and interviews at the top lawyering firms in North America before she dropped all of it to prove Logan Echolls didn’t murder Bonnie DeVille. Remember when everyone thought that? And now they’re living in sin. If I was a girl, I’d be Veronica.”
“So what actually happened?”
“Yeah, so turns out Ryan’s older sister was switched at birth?”
“I know, right? Your mom would never make that mistake. Anyway, in Mac’s biofamily there’s a sister. She’s been playing Russian Roulette with her meds, and when she found out she could have had a supportive sister with her same interests instead of a garbage human being, she decided to get revenge on Ryan for having Mac instead.”
“Jesus,” Liam mutters.
“Yeah, crazy right? But we found a new place to stay already. We’re all sleeping in sleeping bags and sitting on the floor until the insurance money comes in, but the place is alright otherwise. Anyway, that’s my news. Someone tell me what’s up with them.”
As Josh starts to tell what will one day be a classic Finstock story, Derek leans back, content. No, more than that. He’s not just satisfied with how things are; everyone on the happy side of average, only minor nuisances in play. He’s optimistic. Things are good, but he really believes there’s a chance for greatness on the horizon. Crazy to think that that chance developed from a fire and a hot older woman, but it’s true.