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Hunting the Snark

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Derek never saw it coming.

It started on the first weekend of the summer. Most of the pack were gearing up for senior year, with the notable exception—Lydia (who had geared up the year before and probably would have already graduated if she'd wanted to) and Boyd (who never deliberately prepared but always came through fine anyway). Derek had expected a long, slow summer. There wasn't an Alpha pack, no kanima, no hunters other than the local ones. Even Peter had taken to spending most of his spare time in his apartment, rather than on his usual hobby of being a pain in Derek's ass.

It should have been a quiet summer, or at the very least one without distractions. There was no excuse for him to not have noticed what was happening right under his nose. He wasn't far enough out of being a teenager that he should have forgotten what a mess of urges and bad ideas it was. But he'd been careless, and had forgotten that just because his pack was sometimes dependable didn't mean they didn't screw up. A lot. In increasingly unique and improbable ways.

Fucking puppies.

Derek edged through the underbrush, head cocked to listen for intruders. Sunshine streamed down through the leaves, just warm enough to be comfortable without having hit the scorching highs that it would later in the year. Underneath his feet, the leaves and needles from last year were soft with age, letting him glide noiselessly along the trail. There weren't any animal noises; birds and small furry creatures knew better than to make a sound when a werewolf was nearby. Even if that werewolf had better things to do than to hunt any of them. It made every trip through the forest quiet, peaceful. Isaac complained that it was creepy, but that was just because he used to be human. Birds and animals didn't worry much about humans, with their heavy feet and loud breathing and painfully obvious whispers.

Walking the edges of his territory wasn't something Derek had to do every day, but he did it anyway. And it wasn't to mark the trees, no matter what Stiles claimed. It was just a good way to get out of the house and remind himself that things were different. He had a new pack, new territory that wasn't just limited to his family's property, new responsibilities. Sometimes he needed the reminder, especially on days when he'd woken in a cold sweat with the taste of ash and betrayal thick on his tongue.

He hadn't been there for the fire. That didn't seem to make a difference to his subconscious.

The old house still stood at the far edge of the property, shored up just enough that it wasn't too much of an accident waiting to happen. The city had been pestering him to have it torn down as an eyesore, but it was far enough beyond the edges of town that they didn't complain too loudly. Derek did his usual walk-through, fingers trailing along the kitchen counter the way they always had when he was a kid, feet shuffling lines in dust and old leaves.

Even after eight years, it still smelled like home. Pack-scent was everywhere, underneath the smell of dust and wood and life that the fire had never managed to burn out. The new house wasn't there yet. It still smelled like sawdust, human construction workers and paint. There weren't enough memories, happy or otherwise, to fill it up.

There also weren't necking teenagers stinking it up, which he had to admit was a definite point in the new house's favor.

Pausing by the banister, Derek rubbed his hand over his face tiredly and listened to the little gasps and groans coming from overhead. It seemed like ever since the weather had gotten better, he had to chase one or two couples out a month. Going by the angle, they were probably in his old bedroom, which was better than the time he'd found people in his parents bedroom.

He didn't get it. The woods were full of better places to explore the amazing things under each other's clothing. Places that weren't deathtraps. Places where a whole family hadn't burned to death. It was never the same pair twice, but that just meant there was probably a freaking waiting list.

It happened so often that it didn't even make him feel angry or embarrassed anymore. Just old.

Staying light on his feet, he made his way up the rickety old stairs. Habit let him avoid the places where they creaked too loud, but the fire had made sure there weren't any actual silent places to step. Not that it mattered. Going by the faint scent of arousal and latex, the intruders probably were far enough along that the whole house could fall down without them noticing.

The top landing had a hole that he stepped over, dodging left before cutting right for his room. Upstairs the sounds were louder, but still muffled. They'd actually closed what was left of the bedroom door, even though sunlight was coming in through the roof. Cute.

Leaning outside the door, Derek listened for a second, making sure that whatever he was about to interrupt was reasonably safe. There wasn't going to be another trip to the hospital because two little idiots thought half-rotted wood was good support for wall-sex. Melissa McCall still smirked when she saw him.

But no, there were sounds of old, tired bedsprings, the walls weren't vibrating much, and the floor wasn't making any threatening noises. It was probably as close to safe as anything could be.

Counting the seconds patiently, Derek grabbed the first pause in the noises and pounded on one of the firmer portions of the wall. Hard. "Alright, that's enough!" he yelled, in his loudest, meanest Old Man voice.

The noises stopped. There was a definite air of guilty, horrified silence.

Derek grinned to himself and slammed his hand against the wall again. "Pull up your pants and get out! And I'd better not find any trash in there!"

More silence, and for a second Derek almost thought he might have to threaten to open the door. But then there came the sound of feet on old wood, and clothes being hurried into. No whispers, no last kisses, just dressing and a smell of barely controlled panic.

When the floorboards near the door shifted, Derek stepped back and leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. The guilty parties hesitated until he cleared his throat pointedly. Then the door creaked open and Scott shuffled out, face red and hunched down, not meeting Derek's eyes. Allison followed, just as red but with her head held high and her shirt on inside out.

Stiles was right behind her.

Well, then.

Without a door between them, he could smell them all over each other, thick, musky arousal and the green-earth-spice of pack that made his mouth go dry. Derek had been under the impression that Scott and Allison were on the outs again, going by the way Scott seemed to spend half of his time moping on someone's lap, usually Derek's. The constant expression of frustration and overlay of confused arousal had been another big clue. But apparently there'd been more cause for confusion than having forgotten what his right hand was for.

The three of them didn't meet his eyes as they lined up in front of him, huddled together like puppies expecting the rolled up newspaper. It could have been adorable, if his eyes didn't keep tracking to the bright red hickeys littering Stiles' neck, or the way Allison's dark hair was clearly recovering from having been mauled. Even Scott managed to look like sex on two legs, lightly sheened with sweat and bitten lips. That should have been impossible for someone who frustrated Derek as much as he did.

It had been way too long since he'd gotten laid if some idiot teenagers were enough to get to him. He had to stop himself from rearranging his dick uncomfortably; that would just draw attention to it.

"So," Derek said, as casually as he could manage. "Backseat doesn't fit three?"

They glanced at each other, eyebrows and expressions speaking volumes. Derek waited them out, face carefully blank. Going by how comfortable they seemed to be sticking close, it probably wasn't their first time together. By the way they were freaking out, it was their first time trying to come up with an explanation.

Stiles ended up losing the silent argument. He clutched Allison's hand even as he grinned like a completely believable and honest lunatic. "It's a funny story. See, we were jogging through the trail around back, and Allison tripped—"

Groaning, Derek held up his hand before the second-hand embarrassment could get any worse. "And fell on both your dicks?" Stiles opened his mouth again, probably to continue his explanation of how a hiking accident could sound and smell suspiciously like sex in Derek's old bed. "Can it. I'm not interested in your excuses."

To his credit, Stiles took the hint and shut up.

"Now, I don't care what you're doing or who you're doing it with, but not here, understand?" One by one, he met their eyes. Scott's face set in an oddly rebellious expression, as if it were inconceivable that Derek might not appreciate people fucking where his family died. The other two at least looked contrite, which was a start. "There's a hundred and fifty acres to do whatever you want in, and if you're really desperate there another three hundred about ten miles south. I think there's even an old cabin back there somewhere. Knock yourselves out."

Another round of silent communication went by, but it was Scott who asked, "You're not going to tell our parents, are you?"

Derek raised his eyebrows. "What, tell them that an eighteen year old girl is taking advantage of her two seventeen year old boyfriends?" Right on cue, Allison flushed a deep and pretty red. "No, I'm not telling them. We just got your father to agree not to kill us, Stiles' father is the Sheriff and I'd rather not have Melissa coming after me with a baseball bat for corrupting her baby. Again. Just stay safe and stay away from here."

In unison, they nodded. And kept nodding. It was a little pathetic, a reminder of how stupidly young they all really were.

He gave them a full, embarrassing thirty seconds before pointing at the stairs. "Out."

Not letting go of each others' hands, they trailed down the steps. Scott paused as he passed Derek, brushing their shoulders together with a questioning look. Sighing, Derek bumped back and ran a hand through Scott's hair fondly, ruffling the sweaty curls. "Just find somewhere else," he ordered, more gently than before.

Scott grinned and leaned his weight even harder into Derek before continuing the Walk of Shame Conga Line. Allison and Stiles their share of attention as they passed, too, presenting a cheek for a kiss and getting a quick hug, respectively.

Derek watched as they went, keeping his eyes well above waistlines, though Scott had a good set of shoulders on him. Which turned out to be a good thing, when Allison turned on the third step and winked.

He waited until he heard three voices on the path outside before giving in to the urge to collapse back against the wall. Wood creaked dangerously, but nothing broke when he put his weight against it. The house still smelled like sex, and it made his dick throb a little, half-hard in his jeans. If he tried, he could picture what they'd been up to. The smells were still clear enough, a sharp hint of supposedly-strawberry lubricant running through things, a very faint thread of pain probably caused by carelessness. The Stiles-scent was on more of the mattress, but there was one spot where Allison had somehow ended up on the floor, a bright smell of laughter and arousal mixed into the dust.

When he caught himself wondering exactly what they'd been doing that had resulted in a fall to the floor, he shut that line of thought down. They were kids, he was their Alpha, and that was that. He wasn't going to take advantage of them like that. One pack ruined because of him was one too many.

Maybe if he told himself that enough times, he'd stop wanting to.

In theory, most of the younger pack had somewhere to stay that wasn't Derek's. Isaac had been emancipated, and Erica's parents didn't care where she was as long as it wasn't racking up hospital bills, but the others had homes. Families. People to ask where they'd been and tell them when to be home for the night.

In practice, most of them spent nine-tenths of their free time at Derek's. Maybe it would be different when senior year hit and they had to be up and gone by eight, but in the long summer they were nearly always there. Which wasn't too bad. Derek had the space, even if the contractor had looked at him sideways when he'd insisted on twelve bedrooms, six bathrooms and a basement-slash-bomb-shelter twice the length of the rest of the house. It was worth the expense not to have to listen to arguments about who got the top bunk. And he had the money—five different life insurance payouts and the house insurance combined with extensive family holdings wasn't anything to sneeze at.

Neither was the amount of food eight teenagers could go through, especially when five of them were werewolves. He hadn't remembered eating nearly that much when he was that age. It got to the point where Derek just had an extra large game freezer installed and prayed for the best.

It was almost comforting how, like some piece of cosmic clockwork, his prayers weren't answered.

Derek strolled down the aisles at the grocery store, loading up on everything that seemed like it might be edible to someone in the pack. There wasn't much that didn't qualify. The only allergy in the bunch was Lydia's deathly aversion to peanuts, so he essentially bought everything with a Peanut Free! sticker, along with about three hundred dollars of meat and slightly less than that in fresh vegetables. Pasta got tossed in too, mostly in the vague hopes that someone would remember how to boil water enough to use it. Scott's history with the stove was the worst, but Lydia was a menace too, and Jackson somehow had never used a microwave in his life. Sometimes the results were hilarious, but he was seriously thinking of getting Allison to help with an emergency Home Ec course.

He was standing by a display of canned ravioli when he heard it: a growl. Freezing, Derek made a small show of checking the ingredients list. His whole body was tense, listening for the next hint of danger. The butcher was slicing meat, and some tacky 90s pop was playing over the speakers, making it hard to pick out actual sounds.

Just when he thought he might have imagined things, he heard it again. A low, deep rumble, coming from somewhere behind the building, beyond the thwack of the slicer and the thick brick walls. No answering growl came, so it probably wasn't a fight.

Just in case, Derek parked his half-full cart by the butcher's with some half-hearted excuse about having left his lights on. As soon as he was out of sight of the counter, he picked up the pace, speeding out the sliding glass doors almost faster than they could open, and then faster once outside. The bright white sunlight hit his eyes painfully, but he followed his nose, cutting left into the alley on the side of the store, and then left again into the cool dark behind it, where a malformed, over-sized thing was leaning against the wall, panting and whining like it was in pain.

Three steps into the shadows, Derek's eyes finally adjusted enough to see what he was approaching. His feet skidded to a stop, almost slipping on a piece of abandoned paper.

There was no way. Of all the places in town, they had to pick there at the one time he was shopping. "Really?"

Allison and Lydia looked up guiltily from where they had Jackson sandwiched between them and the grimy alley wall. Jackson's pants were mostly up, but only the angle of Lydia's hips saved Derek from an eyeful. Wolf-blue eyes glowed in the shadows, long teeth gleaming white in Jackson's face. Derek resigned himself to a long talk with Jackson if a hand job was going to be enough to make him lose control.

Gesturing sharply, Derek waited while Jackson was zipped up and his fangs put away. Luckily, neither of the girls seemed to have anything to put back on, but there was a smear of lipstick on Allison's otherwise makeup-free face, and he was pretty sure Lydia wasn't smoothing down Allison's skirt because of wrinkles. At least he could only barely smell them under the scent of all the food and dumpsters just feet away. Forget sex, any sort of animal only had one priority, and Derek would happily embrace it if it kept him from having to deal with poorly timed erections.

Putting his hands on his hips, Derek waited while the usual awkward glances and elbows were exchanged. Jackson's eyes were down, but the girls seemed more than willing to handle most of the arguing.

Finally, Allison looked at him and smiled just a little too brightly. "You said not at the old house."

He didn't even have to think to come up with a response to that. "So you thought behind a grocery store was a good alternative?"

Lydia, incorrigible, irrepressible Lydia, pushed to the front, hooking her arms through Allison's and Jackson's. "As a matter of fact, yes, we did. And now we'll just be going to finish up, if you don't mind. Or if you'd like to come with?" Her chin was up, green eyes bright with challenge, and Derek would never tell anyone that he was grateful she'd turned out to be immune to the bite. If anyone was going to have a chance at taking the alpha position from him, it would have been her.

Jerking his chin, Derek stepped aside, watching as Lydia strode past, dragging Allison and Jackson behind her. Turning on his heel, Derek watched her hips swing. If she'd been a cat, her tail would have been straight in the air.

But he wasn't quite done yet. "Allison!"

The whole group paused, doing an odd half-circle when Lydia refused to let go long enough for Allison to turn around. "Yes?" Allison asked, voice much too innocent for someone he'd caught with four different people inside a week. She even batted her eyes and produced dimples. That should have been illegal.

Derek tried to scowl. "Whatever game you're all playing, don't let it affect the pack."

It was Jackson who nodded, finally looking straight at him, a little of the cocky asshole he used to be leaking through. "Don't worry. We've got this."

That was what he was afraid of.

Two hours later, loaded down with six canvas grocery bags on each arm, Derek walked through the front door.

The four—four—people on the couch in the den didn't seem to notice. Allison was recognizable only by the long, dark curls that spread out behind her head, since most of her face was hidden by Erica sitting on it. Jackson and Boyd seemed torn between the show going on next to them and their tongues in each other's mouths.

Derek got exactly one step into the room before turning around and walking right back out, shutting the door behind him.

The groceries ended up having to be smuggled in through the back patio door, even though it took twice the number of trips and about half-way through the process it started raining. His bright, airy kitchen with its sunshiny colors of yellow and white seemed incongruous with the moans and wet, slick sounds coming from the other side of the house. Soft pit-pats of rain didn't mask anything. The cartoon flowers on the curtains especially seemed to enjoy his pain every time he came through with another load of frozen meat.

Afterward, he sat down at the kitchen table with a laptop open to a furniture store, a pair of headphones and a plate of crushed garlic.

About a half hour later, with the new sofa already marked for delivery, the worst of it seemed to be over. The sounds had died down to the occasional murmur, and then to less than that, just four soft heartbeats falling into sync. He finished his third game of solitaire before closing the laptop.

"Allison!"

All four of the heartbeats jumped.

"Kitchen!"

A few minutes later, Allison edged her way in. She was dressed again—thank God—but he could smell the sex on her even over the garlic. Bite marks littered her shoulders where they were visible under the straps of her top, and there were stains on her skirt that hadn't been scrubbed enough. The lipstick mark from Lydia still wasn't entirely gone, it had just been turned into a faintly pink smear across her cheek. Deeper red from Erica had joined it, and Derek winced on Allison's behalf; red lipstick stains were a pain in the ass to get off.

Fighting not to adjust himself in his jeans, Derek gestured her over to one of the other chairs. She took it over, sitting back into the chair with a casualness that was only partly forced. She'd come a long way since the girl who'd lost it after her mother had died. "Yes?"

He matched her posture, resting his ankle on his knee and hooking an elbow over the back of the chair. It was the best he could do for open and approachable. "You think you're in trouble."

Her eyebrows lifted. "Am I?"

"I hope not." Approachable: not working. Also uncomfortable. The backs of kitchen chairs were not designed for casual lounging. Leaning forward, Derek rested his forearms on the table, feeling something in his shoulder pop back into place after the awkward position he'd tried to force it into. "Does Scott know? And Stiles?" he added after a moment of thought.

"Of course they do! We're in this together." The look she gave him should have, by rights, shot straight through his ribs, into the wall, and broken the furniture in the next room over. Her mouth set into a stubborn line, one that was really too much like Chris for Derek to want to see after having caught her naked on his floor. "We're pack."

Derek blinked, slowly, as if his eyeballs somehow affected his ears. But no, she was still looking at him, like what she had said made any sense. "Pack doesn't work like that," he said slowly. "Pack is family."

Pack was his family. His parents, and sister, and cousins, and Peter, and dear God he really did not want to think of Peter just then. It was like a splash of ice water applied directly to his dick. He didn't think he even needed the garlic after that. He might never get an erection again.

Derek must have looked even more disapproving than usual, because Allison's expression got even more stubborn. She crossed her arms to match him, and it pulled her shirt just enough that he could see she hadn't bothered with a bra. "There's all sorts of different kinds of families."

"Okay. Fine. Whatever." Not arguing. It wasn't worth arguing when they'd clearly made up their minds. If anyone knew how impossible teenagers could be when it came to sex and bad ideas, it was him. The fallout would be hell, but he'd deal with it when it happened.

There was probably something else he should say. He was, supposedly, the responsible adult of the pack. Digging back in his memories, he tried to remember how his mother had handled things. Mostly he remembered being mortified and obnoxious, but a few things stuck out. "I just need to know, are you being safe?"

Allison half-laughed, tilting her head to give him a look he couldn't decipher. "Excuse me?"

"Is your father going to be coming after me with a round of wolfsbane bullets for letting his daughter get knocked up with a litter of puppies?" Holding her eyes, he leaned forward, letting his expression speak for itself. "There's a clinic in town, they're discreet and low cost. If you're going to—"

She cut him off with a laugh. Reaching into her skirt pocket, Allison pulled out a strip of condoms and slapped them down on the table with a smirk like a card sharp playing an ace. The blue foil glinted in the florescent light like an accusation. "And Erica, Lydia and I are on birth control."

For the second time that day, Derek was left blinking. "I... see."

So much for the adult thing. He could hear his mother laughing at him.

"Do you? Standing up, Allison kept her hand pressed against the displayed condoms. It forced her to lean forward, putting her bare breasts right on display under her low neckline. One of them had a lipstick smear.

Derek did his best to keep his eyes on her face. "Yeah, I do."

She snorted, clearly not believing him. "We're not dumb kids, Derek. We thought this through, we talked it out, and we know exactly what we're doing." Allison's gaze slipped down to his mouth, then back up. She leaned more, until her whole forearm was flat against the table and they were nearly nose to nose. "So you can dump the concerned adult act. If we can spend the last two years fighting for our lives, we can have this."

He nodded, muscles tense. It felt like a challenge, but not the usual sort. Violence wasn't scenting the air. His instincts couldn't make heads or tails of it. "Just be careful and I won't say anything else about it."

"That's a shame." Flashing her teeth in a feral grin, she pushed off from the table and walked the long way around. As she passed, her hip brushed deliberately again his shoulder. It wasn't the same as their usual touches; his skin prickled from it. "We talked about that too. You know where to find us if you need us."

The kitchen door had barely closed before Derek closed his eyes and leaned forward to rest his forehead against the table. Teenagers, he reminded himself. Kids. Puppies. Brats. He'd thought he knew what he was doing once, too, and look where that had gotten him.

In the living room, he could hear the sound of Allison settling back in, the faint crunch of couch cushions and slide of sweat-sticky skin. He wanted to be in there, to curl around Boyd's back and let Erica and Allison use him as pillows, the way they always did. To fight over one of the too-thin cushions and listen to Jackson grumble as he settled in. He wanted—

Before that thought could finish, Derek abandoned the table and bolted for the back porch, where the rain had gone from a cold drizzle to a late-spring misting. It stuck his shirt to is skin as soon as he stepped out, making it feel like he'd been sweating all day rather than walking around an air conditioned store. Picking a direction at random, he broke into a jog, clearing the privacy fence in a single bound and taking off into the woods.

A nice, cold rain was the least he deserved.

Derek made it about fifteen minutes out before the clouds that had been so threatening rolled off, revealing robin's egg skies and bright sunshine. By then he'd already crossed most of the Hale property twice at a run, and had accidentally terrified a nest of squirrels. Everything had the bright, new feeling that came after a rain, when the plants were shining with water droplets. Clean, fresh air filled his lungs, and the sun was just warm enough for comfort.

Even the weather was against him.

Finding a familiar knotted tree, he dug in the scattered leaves around the base until he found a rusted iron ring. With a heave, he rolled the grate out of the way and dropped down into the dark, musty tunnels. Dirty water splashed up around his legs, getting as high as his knee, leaving muck behind. The system was still working enough that it didn't reach over shoes, but it only slowly oozed its way to the drain. After an actual storm, his jeans and shoes would have been soaked.

The tunnels under the Hale property had always been extensive, and not necessarily connected. When you were a family of werewolves, you never knew when you might need a safe place. The ones under the main house were just part of it. He'd had half-formed plans to link the nearest set to the basement of the new place, but now he was glad he never had. The rest of the pack didn't know how far the network went, and wouldn't think to look for him there.

Lifting his head, Derek scented the air. Finding a familiar smell of hardwood and lemon oil, he closed his eyes and followed it.

It only took a couple of steps and a turn for the tunnels to fall to total darkness. Even wolves needed some light, but there was none of it to be found. They'd used to be wired, but no one had been looking after them since the fire. Even if Derek could find the switches, he wouldn't have trusted them. But that was fine; he didn't need light. Tunnels were perfect for childhood games, and he'd spent a couple of years doing nothing but chasing his littler cousins and sisters around in the dark. He knew the slightly sharper smell of mildew there where the water never quite dried up, the loose rock he'd used to hide things behind, a sudden dip in the gentle slope of the dirt path.

If he strained hard, Derek could imagine the echoes of laughter, shrieks as the memories of children scrambled through the dark.

Can't catch me, Sam!

Laura, come look at this! I think it's an armadillo!

Derek, get back here or I'm going to tell Mom!

He kept going after the smell of fresh air from the world above was faded, the ventilation pipes long since clogged with animals nests and leaves, after the tunnels curled in around themselves so tight that he would have needed a compass to know which way he was walking. Mud worked its way into his shoes no matter how carefully he stepped, leaving his socks disgusting and the spaces between his toes gritty. Musty, damp air clung to his skin. When he eventually resurfaced he was going to need to take a shower.

Time and distance lost meaning down in the dark, memories slipping in to take their place. Still, Derek knew when he'd reached it by the way the path turned up and the air changed.

At the very end of the trail, a space opened out, a warm hollow dug deep into the earth. It smelled like mold and grime, just like everything else. It was a little drier, the floor saved from mud by the extra elevation, even though the damp air would do its damage anyway.

But under that was the sharp scent of wood polish, heavy with lemon and wax, a bite of cinnamon candy that had gotten lost and never found. And, even more distant, eight years faded, fur and people and pack. Enough time had passed that he couldn't pick out individual scents anymore, and maybe that was for the best. He didn't know if he could take being able to smell his mother, or Laura, or anyone of the other people he'd betrayed because he'd been sixteen, and stupid, and thought he was in love.

And that was the heart of things. He'd been there, and he wouldn't wish it on anyone else, not even Gerard fucking Argent. Probably no one in the pack was going to turn out to be like Kate—they'd been a pack long enough that he thought he would have noticed it by now. But there were still things that could go horribly wrong. That would go horribly wrong, if he got involved. It would be taking advantage of his position, his age. He couldn't do that.

One hand pressed low against the unevenly curving wall, Derek paced around the little den in short, shuffling steps. The remains of an old armchair knocked against his knee, its upholstery falling apart at even the gentle touch. An abandoned toy skittered away when he kicked it—he thought it might have been a car, but maybe a robot or a doll. Eventually his hand bumped the edge of a headboard, an old daybed that had been installed back before he'd been born. Patting around, he felt an old, heavy duvet, the mattress that was sagging with age and pillows that were thick with dust.

Sighing, he crawled into the nest of pillows and sank down, letting the scent of dust and age and family swallow him.

It was full dark when Derek finally lifted himself out of the tunnels. A quarter moon shone through the treetops, already on its way to setting, and the sky was a trail of stars. Compared to the tunnels, it might as well have been full daylight. Other predators slunk off in the distance, their prey startled away by the sudden appearance of a wolf in their midst.

Derek took his time walking back, letting the sensation of living things pull him back from the memories of below. The crunch of grass and leaves was good, healthy, and the fresh air cleared the old scents from his nose.

By the time he reached the house, all the lights were off and Jackson's car was no longer in its spot in the garage. Which meant absolutely nothing. It was, at best, ten o'clock, but he could hear at least six different hearts beating out in the steady, slow thrum of exhaustion. The last time he'd seen a teenager voluntarily go to bed that early when there wasn't school had been the time Stiles had the flu.

Rather than risk being seen, he let himself in through his bedroom window, leaving his muddy shoes on the window sill and his t-shirt beside it. The master was the only room with a full ensuite bath. It had been an indulgence when he'd had it built in, and now it was something Derek was pathetically grateful for. He was able to strip out of his wet, dirty clothes and get into the shower without having to risk running into someone in the hall and smelling everything they'd done.

At least the stink of cleaning solutions and air fresheners drowned out the sex smell; sleeping outside in a tree was technically beneath his dignity as alpha, but not unthinkable.

The soapy wash cloth felt good, running over his skin, scrubbing away the last traces of mud. As the heat sank into his muscles he finally felt himself start to relax, enough that when the cloth brushed over his nipples and his breath caught, he only hesitated a second before doing it again. A soft rub, a scratch, soap-slick fingers trailing down to his slowly hardening dick.

Whenever his focus wandered, he squeezed and held, waiting for it to pass before starting again. Instead he kept his attention on the slickness of skin on skin, how his calluses dragged across his cock, the sharp slap of cold when his shoulder blades touched the tile. He wasn't going to think about how Erica's breasts had looked as she rode Allison, or the way Boyd's hand had fit around the back of Jackson's neck. He had more control than that.

They deserved better than that.

It seemed like it took him forever to come, a slow build of stops and starts before he was finally choking back a groan and coming all over his hand. The spray washed away the worst of it, and the wash cloth got the rest. Once clean, he spent a few moments just leaning against the wall and letting the water sluice over him before finally shutting the shower off and reaching for a towel.

Steam escaped the bathroom door when he opened it, blurring everything. He hadn't turned on the light when he'd gotten in, and the moon wasn't at a decent angle to provide any. Still, the shadowed lump tenting his blanket was hard to miss.

Making a face, Derek padded over to the wardrobe, exchanging his towel for a pair of shorts. The wet towel he tossed back into the bathroom, to be dealt with later. Then he sat on the edge of the bed, poking the lump. When that didn't work, he ran his hand across it, stroking what he thought was probably a shoulder.

"Move over."

One big blue eye peeked at him over the covers. He heard Isaac take a deep breath before he shuffled over, marginally relaxing from his tight huddle.

Grabbing the pillows, Derek shifted them around until they were at a forty-five degree angle to where they normally were. As he always did when one of them showed up needing reassurance, Derek slipped under the blankets and curled around him, chin resting atop his head. The angle put his back to the window and door both, keeping Isaac tucked safe between him and the headboard. One arm rested loosely on Isaacs hip, not doing anything more than being there.

It didn't happen often, or Derek would have been more worried, but sometimes one of the pack just needed someone there. Alpha or not, he wasn't really sure how he'd ended up being the one they defaulted to; he wasn't exactly the gentlest of people, he knew. But inevitably once, maybe twice a month, one of the pack would land in his bed for a night or two. Then they'd drift off, and things would be normal again for a while.

He wished he could do more than just be a warm bed to share. There had to be something; therapy wasn't an option for werewolves, though, and he had too much trouble dealing with his own problems. Doing more seemed like risking too much.

After a few minutes, Isaac slowly unwound, legs stretching out, heart beating a little slower. His nose pressed into Derek's shoulder, breath brushing over his collarbone. Derek stroked his back, waiting until Isaac was fully settled in before letting himself drift off.

No one said anything about it when Derek and Isaac went down to breakfast the next day. They eyed him from around the dining room table, but all of them had done the same thing too often to try and make anything of it. By way of returning the courtesy, Derek didn't point out that Allison's hickeys were still on full display and Boyd smelled like Lydia and Jackson.

That was how it went for the next month: Derek ignoring it and the rest of the pack making halfhearted attempts at not rubbing his nose in it. He only caught them at it once, a glimpse of Isaac's bare back and Scott's feet before the door was quickly slammed shut.

The house never stopped smelling "pine fresh", creating a mass wave of low-grade headaches that Derek considered only justice in action.

Isaac kept crawling into bed with him.

On the third night, Erica joined in, wearing a set of Hello Kitty night clothes and a hopeful expression. Derek came a single breath from telling her to get out—one of them at a time was enough. Then Isaac sniffed against his neck, and Erica's eyes got dewy, and it was all downhill to weak-ass pushover town.

He did invest in a few sets of pajamas, rather than just his usual shorts, reasoning that full armor would just be irrational. Sleeves were uncomfortable, his pant legs always ended up rucked up to his knees, and socks were just bizarre. Still, he made do.

The sullen glares he got the first night he'd worn it was worth every second of missed sleep.

A week after Erica, Stiles hopped into the fray. He didn't even try to pretend he was there for comfort, just spread himself out over the three wolves until combined elbows and knees forced him to wedge in between Derek and Erica or face the consequences.

One by one, the rest wandered in. By the time Jackson insinuated himself into the pile, Derek had given up trying to rationalize it. He knew when he was being played, but damned if he had any chance of stopping it. There were too many of them, and he'd let most of them share his bed at one point or another. Pack had crawled into bed with his parents some nights, especially after a hard full moon; it was comforting, having them there. Relaxing in a way that really wasn't relaxing at all. As soon as he thought about it too much, it turned downright stressful.

So he tried not to think about it

Two weeks after the last packmate had crawled into bed, Derek was almost used to it, almost able to sleep without worrying about waking up with his head pillowed on someone's breasts, or Stiles' morning wood grinding against his thigh.

It was comfortable, safe. And if occasionally his nostrils flared and he breathed them in, if sometimes his thoughts in the shower drifted to the people curled up in his bed, that was between him and the wall.

Derek bent under the kitchen faucet, letting the cool water run over the back of his neck, soaking his hair and scalp. It was a hot, stormy day in mid-July, the kind of day that drained the energy out of even the hardiest of wolves. He'd spent most of it in the garage, where there was only a fan and no windows, and stripping down only meant no cloth sticking to him rather than any sort of relief. Any other time, he would have been sprawled out on the new sofa in the den in the spot where the air from the vent hit, but the Camaro had started making an odd clacking noise. The last thing he needed was for it to break down in the middle of an emergency.

There hadn't been any emergencies in months, not since the incident with the high-powered omega back in December, but if his car was going to break down, there would be.

"Hey, are you okay?" A familiar hand touched his shoulder, fingers pressing just a little too hard, the kind of touch that happened when someone didn't know their own strength just yet. Stiles' face appeared in the corner of his eye, eyebrows drawn together in a frown. "You look kind of flushed."

"Just overheated." Reaching up, Derek turned off the faucet and then stood up straight. Cool water trickled down his bare spine, then under the waistband of his jeans. "Where's everyone else?"

"Movies, I think." One of Stiles' shoulders rolled in a loose shrug, retrieving his hand and shoving it into his pockets. He watched Derek with those wide, liquid eyes that never failed to look a hundred times more innocent than he actually was. "They said something about seeing that zombie thing that just came out, and I already promised I'd see it with my dad. They would have asked you, but we know how you get. Stale popcorn and bright lights don't do it for you."

Derek eyed him, but Stiles' heart hadn't skipped. The others really were at a movie without him, strange as it was. Usually the rest of the pack was either all together or split off into their own little groups. Leaving one, or even two behind was odd. Rather than waste words, he grunted, and reached for a kitchen towel to stop the steady drip of water down his back.

"I told them you'd say that." Stiles stayed too close, rocking back in his heels to watch from less than a foot away. The only change he'd made for the weather was to trade out his terrible plaid flannel for a plain blue t-shirt. Sweat had gathered under his arms and around his collar, not enough to be visible, but clear to Derek's nose. "But, you know. Zombies."

"Zombies aren't real." Dead things didn't come back to life, Peter being the exception that proved the rule, since he'd come back fully living. Derek just hadn't killed him hard enough.

Stiles cocked his shoulders expressively, elbows flailing out wider than they needed to. "Yeah, well, neither are giant temples filled with giant rolling death traps and mystic Aztec treasure, but you still like Indiana Jones."

That was different, in ways Derek couldn't articulate but nonetheless knew. Rather than trying to explain, he grunted, bowed his head, and shook.

Exactly according to plan, Stiles yelled in suitably dramatic horror, stepping back to escape the spray of water from Derek's wet hair. "Dude!"

Derek gave it one last shake before standing up straight again. It hadn't been that much water, just enough to leave a couple of arcs of darkened spots across Stiles' shirt and some droplets on his cheeks and eyelashes. The expression on Stiles' face was the best part, though, half-laughing and half-scandalized.

"Oh, that is—" Shoving Derek aside, Stiles grabbed for the sink hose. Derek had just enough time to duck, but Stiles saw it coming. The spray hit him right in the face, surprise knocking him back on his ass more than the force of it. "Ha!" Stiles crowed, waving the hose back and forth to cover as much of Derek as possible. "So much for werewolf super powers!"

Growling playfully, Derek launched himself at Stiles to tackle him at the knees. They went down together in a pile of snarling werewolf and windmilling arms. Stiles hit the tile hard, breath rushing out of him on impact. Somehow, he still managed to keep the spray turned on Derek the whole way down.

What he couldn't do was keep Derek from snatching it up and turning it on him. Stiles scrambled back, long limbs sliding across the slick floor. Grinning in triumph, Derek followed. The length of the hose kept him from going far, but the spray was strong enough to make up the difference. One of Isaac's cookbooks toppled off the shelf as Stiles' back thudded into the wall, splashing into the growing puddle. His arms came up to protect his face as he curled in on himself, laughing as much as anything else.

"Okay, okay, I give! Uncle!"

Turning off the hose, Derek lowered it a few inches, not letting go entirely in case it was a trick. He'd been fooled by that innocent face before, enough to have learned his lesson: Stiles played dirty, and he played to win. "Surrender?"

"I surrender! Have mercy!" Stiles unfolded from his huddle, red-faced and grinning. His shirt was plastered to him, puddles forming all around him on the tile. Water beaded in his hair, ran down his arms and shins. Even his socks were drenched, sliding down his ankles with sad little squelches. "You started it, though."

"And I finished it." Derek let go of the hose, allowing it to reel itself back into the sink. "Go get a towel."

"Help me up?" Stiles held out both hands, grasping helplessly at the air. The entire wall behind him didn't seem to factor into his helplessness equations. Derek stared flatly at him, but all Stiles did was grab the air some more. "What, do I have cooties or something?"

Rolling his eyes, Derek grabbed Stiles' wrists and tugged. He meant to give it only a light pull, but Stiles leaped up, wrapping arms and legs around Derek's waist like an octopus. Derek flailed backward, bare feet slipping on wet tile. Stiles let out a war cry as they went, splashing down hard in the middle of one of the biggest puddles. Pain shot through his chest and back on landing, taking his breath with it.

"I win!" Stiles perched above him, straddling Derek's chest. "I can't believe you fell for that. I thought for sure I'd have to get you later." With a grin, he picked up his shirt's hem and twisted it, squeezing a good cup of body-warm water out directly onto Derek's face.

Sputtering, Derek wiped his face and shoved up on his elbows, fully prepared to chew Stiles out for such a dangerous stunt, even if it had been against a werewolf, hypocrisy be damned. Then he froze, mouth open and eyes locked on the little trail of dark hair that led the way down from Stiles' belly button to vanish under the waistline of his water-heavy shorts. Their positions meant that Derek was nearly nose-to-skin with it, close enough that to smell the faint remnants of the soap Stiles used.

Swallowing hard, Derek's eyes slid up. The shirt stretched across his shoulders wasn't helping. It was too wet, clinging in all the right and wrong places. By the time Derek reached his eyes, his heartbeat had gotten loud enough to drown out just about everything else.

Stiles' smile faded away, flush deepening to one made by something other than laughter. His calves were pressed along Derek's sides, firm muscles squeezing, warm where the air conditioning was playing havoc with wet skin.

Derek felt it when Stiles started to lean down, felt the shift of weight backwards to his stomach, saw the tilt of his head. Wet blue cotton slapped down against pale skin as Stiles let it go, pressing his palm flat to Derek's chest, fingers splayed over his heartbeat. He felt it coming and was helpless to stop it before Stiles' breath was against his mouth.

The first kiss, when it happened, was barely worth calling it that, just Stiles' chapped lips catching against Derek's.

The second one was better. Derek slid his fingers through the short, damp stubble of Stiles' hair to grip the back of his head. Stiles groaned, brown eyes slipping closed as his lips parted. Their tongues touched, a glancing thing before Derek's teeth sank into Stiles' lip, tugging it gently before taking advantage of the opening he'd made.

Twisting, Derek rolled them, coming up on his knees between Stiles' thighs without breaking the kiss. The hand on Derek's chest migrated easily to his back, callused palms sliding across his ribs, nails scratching lines that healed almost before they were finished turning red. Their hips pressed together, the slow heat building between them chasing away the lingering chill of the water. Derek's lips drifted from Stiles' mouth to his neck, finding a place just under his jaw to kiss. Stiles' arched into it, head going back to bare his throat in blatant invitation.

Derek took it, sinking flat human teeth into the crook of Stiles' neck, where it smelled of grass and soap and pack, like warm summer days and laughter. Stiles' hips ground upward, hands clenching and a surprised noise wrenching from his chest as Derek sucked a bruise into the spot. When he finished, it had already turned bright red, well on its way to purpling.

Pulling away to admire his handiwork, Derek made the mistake of looking up. Stiles' eyes were half-lidded, mouth shiny with saliva and just a little plump from kisses, the scent of arousal thick on his skin. His dick was already hard with the never-ending readiness of youth.

Stiles smiled, reaching up to brush a wet tendril of hair off of Derek's forehead. "That was a pleasant surprise. We thought you'd take months—"

Good reason came rushing back. Scrambling back, Derek was on his feet and out the door before Stiles even finished speaking. Rain had him soaked through again in a couple of steps; the humidity was so high it felt like he was breathing steam. He heard yelling behind him, Stiles calling his name, but the rain swallowed the sound as he leaped the privacy fence and vanished into the woods.

"Sitting out in the rain. Can you get any more predictable?"

Rolling his eyes upward without moving anything else, Derek glared at his uncle from his place on the rotting porch. The old house was a sodden wreck around him, audibly straining under the weight of the water flowing through it. It was only six in the afternoon, but the sky had eaten the sun, leaving it almost nighttime dark. "What do you want?"

Peter shrugged, strolling forward across the soggy mess of leaves and mud like they weren't slippery minefields. He was, of course, impeccably dressed, and he'd brought one of those giant golf umbrellas that were the only kind worth having. It was, inexplicably, covered in rainbow polka dots. When he stepped up to Derek's knees, the hard downpour stopped, replaced by the sound of droplets thudding against the umbrella overhead.

Pointedly, Derek slid away, back into the rain.

"With a can-do attitude like that, you'll never be prom queen." Crouching down to eye-level, Peter cocked his mouth to the side thoughtfully, not quite a smile. "I suppose you were always happier as a wallflower, anyway."

"How did you find me?" The rain should have covered most of his scent trail, and Peter had approached from the road, not from the woods.

"I was just visiting the other house and Stiles seemed to think you'd run off in a sulk. And so I asked myself, if I were my dear nephew looking for a place to wallow in my own not-inconsiderable angst, where would I go?" Peter waved his free hand around, as if there'd only been one choice. "Would you like to talk about it?"

A cold drip of water from the roof splashed down Derek's unclothed back. He barely kept from flinching. "There's nothing to talk about."

"There's always something to talk about." But Peter didn't press, just stayed squatted down in the muck like there was nothing he'd rather be doing than watching Derek watch him. The two years he'd been back had aged him in little ways—gray was touching his temples, and the hollow places behind his eyes were more obvious. Time took its toll, and left only pennies behind.

Since the new place had been built, Peter had been happy to split off by himself for the most part. He still answered to Derek, but he wasn't as strong as even the lowest beta, and he could only change with effort. They met up at full moons and for meetings where Lydia and Stiles weren't going to attend. Kate was dead and he wasn't, which was enough to content him; if Peter had a long game in play, Derek had never found any evidence of it.

But being separate didn't mean Peter didn't stick his nose in. Inveterate busybodies seldom lost the habit, and he was no exception. Him being quiet was eerie, like a portent of something worse to happen.

In spite of his better instincts, Derek caught his mouth opening, and then closing again, fighting back words he really didn't want to say. If he said them, that made them more real, and he didn't think he could stand being judged by the only blood family he had left.

Eventually, the words won. Derek looked away, watching over the western horizon where the setting sun was turning the clouds to orange. "You were at the house. You must have smelled it."

"Eau d'teenager? That delightful melange of sweaty socks, stale pizza and desperation?" He paused to flick out one of his cuffs, inspecting a few drops of rain that had somehow gotten by the umbrella's coverage. Just as Derek's lip started to curl in annoyance at the theatrics, Peter continued. "Or do you mean the orgies that have been happening on your den floor?"

Orgy. That really wasn't the word Derek wanted to apply. It sounded sordid, somehow. Like more of a failure than just... whatever it had been. Group sex. An eightsome. Two threesomes and a pair. Something that didn't sound too much like capital-t Trouble.

Without any way to express his disagreement without explaining why he disagreed, Derek just nodded once, sharply.

Peter sighed, one of those world-weary noises that he must have learned somewhere, because they weren't natural. "And you're bent out of shape because... they didn't invite you." Derek flinched involuntarily, and Peter chuckled. "Now, I might a little old and worn for those sorts of games, but you! You're a handsome young man, Derek. If you asked nicely, I'm sure they'd let you play with them."

"I don't want them to invite me, " Derek hissed, teeth bared and claws flexing into the wood. It didn't even splinter so much as rip, damp and old and soft as it was. "They're kids, and they're going to get themselves into trouble."

And then Peter just looked at him, clicking his tongue like a disappointed teacher about to hand back a test with a note that said meet me after class. "Remember who taught you to listen to heartbeats, and then let's try that again."

Damn it. Red eyes faded away as Derek looked away again, further out. Rain or no, animals were starting to come out for the night. He could smell them on the breeze, far in the distance. They were good smells, fur and food and the hunt. Uncomplicated. Safe. "This isn't just about what I want," he finally said, which was at least the truth, if a wishy-washy form of it. "I'm worried about them. About the pack. They're... pushing me on this. They're going to fuck up."

Two, or even three couples, he could manage. If they fought, it would be containable, and there'd only be a few heads that needed knocking together to keep things from falling apart. When this new thing, whatever it was, fell apart, it was going to be everyone at once, with all the teenage drama of a breakup and all the violence of a pack of wolves. One or two might keep a cool head, but the rest would be chaos, and then he'd lose them.

He wasn't alpha enough for that, but he was enough to admit it.

And now, the new thing with Stiles, seeing him on his back on the kitchen floor. Derek didn't think he had it in him to resist if they kept pushing him. He wasn't that good of a person, wasn't that strong.

Water kept the time for a few more minutes. Then Peter, knees creaking just a little from combined age and weakness, moved from his crouch to sit on the porch. In deference to Derek's mood, he didn't sit close enough to share the umbrella. "They're teenagers. 'Fucking up' is what they do."

"And as an adult—as their alpha, it's my job to stop them."

As their alpha, he shouldn't want to join them, shouldn't want to sink into them like they belonged to him. Shouldn't want to take advantage of their innocence, their inability to be as smart as they thought they were. Couldn't risk burning that house down, too.

"If it were that easy, the world would be a different place. Maybe better. Certainly less interesting." Peter rested his elbows on his knees, sighing so quietly that it was almost lost to the rain. "You do know that some new packs do this, right? Human bonds, human families, human nature."

Derek's teeth ground, and his eyebrows pulled together so hard he could feel himself developing a headache from it. "The Hale pack isn't new."

"It wasn't new."

There really wasn't much Derek could say to that. With Laura gone, and Peter as far at the edges of things as he could manage without being an actual omega, Derek really was the only member of the Hale pack left. And no matter how he tried to make it work, an eclectic mix of oddball humans and bitten wolves weren't the same as a family, as parents and siblings, extended wings going out for three generations. Most of the pack had normal families to turn to, which was probably why it had taken them so long to start settling.

But it had happened, and Derek was going to have to deal with it. "How long?"

Peter blinked, eyes coming into focus after having been staring into middle distance. "Beg pardon?"

Growling, Derek leveled a hard look at him. "How long until things are back to normal?" How long until it's like it was before the fire? That was the question he wanted to ask, and knew better than to try. It would never be like it was back then. Even thinking it was stupid enough that he wanted to cringe.

Not saying it aloud didn't stop Peter from glancing at him out of the corner of his eye. I wasn't reborn yesterday, his expression stated, clearly as a billboard. And you're an idiot. What his mouth said was, "Oh, it shouldn't be very long. When the kids are off to college, maybe."

"A few years." Derek could manage that. They were coming up on senior year. Even if everyone took the gap year they'd been discussing, college wouldn't be put off forever. The space would force them to grow. They'd come back adults, individuals, not needing to rely on each other so much. He could last two, maybe even three years without breaking, if he kept his distance and installed a lock on his bedroom door. "That's not too bad."

"I mean their kids," Peter corrected casually, like he wasn't taking a hammer to Derek's half-formed relief. "The next generation. By then, they'll all be interrelated and won't have much choice but to find outside partners. At the very least, new generations usually find ways to break with the old. It'll be fine."

A generation.

A generation. Of children. Tiny people who might have almost any mix of parents, if what Peter was saying was even half true. They could end up with a pack of brats sired entirely by Scott. Or worse, birthed by Lydia.

Or both.

Derek leaned forward with a groan of deep, abiding pain, resting his head in his hands. Peter patted his shoulder in reassuring commiseration. Or it would have been reassuring, if Derek had any faith that Peter felt anything other than malicious glee at the mess that was about to be dropped in Derek's lap.

"Don't be that way," his uncle said, voice somehow entirely free of laughter. "They're yours too. If you want them."

"I hate you."

"I know."

By the time Derek trudged his way back to the house for the second time, the rest of the pack had already returned home, judging by the cars in the driveway. The first floor windows were lit up like Christmas, but only a faint light shone in the rest. The rain had cleared enough that he'd been able to mostly dry off on the way back, though his jeans were going to need hours before they were dry again.

Leaning against a tree in the backyard, Derek stared at their home and considered his options. If Peter was right (a not insignificant if), then there wasn't any going back. The pack might break apart or stick together, but there wasn't going to be any slide back into the way things were. If they survived the inevitable moment when Chris Argent found out, there might be a wedding. Maybe even two; Lydia seemed like the kind of girl who would make it work even if she had to wrestle someone into presiding. But there wouldn't be any pairing off, no watching the pack form little families of their own.

All of which he didn't actually mind. Weddings just meant bow ties and tuxedos, and while he'd never been comfortable dressing up like that, it wasn't something that he couldn't do. And if the pack wanted to use his house as a collective den, that was what he'd built it for. But the alternative to some collective bliss was outright hell. It was fighting and jealousy and people splitting off for good rather than just for space.

In his experience, when hell was one of the options on the table, the other choices might as well not bother showing up.

And that was if he didn't get involved, if he somehow managed to keep from introducing power dynamics and authority into the fragile thing they'd built. Allison might have been right that after everything they'd been through they weren't children, but that didn't make them adults. There were a thousand ways it could all go horribly, horribly wrong. One mistake would bring it all tumbling down.

Sinking into the shadow of the tree, he watched as a light turned on, as Scott tumbled laughing into the kitchen. Someone threw a towel at him, smacking him in the center of his old jersey's number. He looked happy, at ease. The tension of having to hide his relationship with Allison had melted away, and Derek wasn't even sure when that had happened. The others had been less on-edge, too. Being part of something larger looked good on them.

It hit Derek just after Scott ducked down to do something that he was about in the right place to be working with the oven.

Derek was running for the door before the recognition could finish hitting him fully. He skidded barefoot across the brick patio, almost smacking into the glass door before he managed to wrench it open. "Step away from the stove, Sco—"

He trailed off, blinking.

Scott grinned at him from where he was squatting down next to the oven. The very definitely not powered on oven. Derek's private alarms started going off about half a second before he was tackled from three sides and dragged down to the floor. His back hit the tiles with a painful thump, shoulder blades and hips taking the worst of it. Stiles, Allison and Erica piled onto him, each one sprawled over as much of his body as they could reach to keep him down. Derek made one attempt, but unless he wanted to throw them, he was trapped.

"I thought that might get you to stop lurking around outside." Lydia was leaning against the kitchen door, grinning. "Like anyone would let Scott cook anything. We all remember the Ramen Noodle Fiasco of Twenty Three March."

Like puzzles pieces sliding into place, Boyd and Jackson bracketed her as she spoke. Normally, that wouldn't have been suspect, but their positioning blocked the door in a way Lydia's small frame couldn't. He didn't need to hear the sliding door shut to know where Isaac was stationed. They'd cut off all exits.

Once again, Derek was glad that Lydia was immune. So very glad.

"I keep telling you," Scott protested, brushing off his palms as he stood. "I fell asleep."

"It takes three minutes to cook ramen," Boyd put in, expression flat as only someone who had seen Scott destroying a green bean casserole could make it. "Three. You couldn't stay awake for that long?"

"Let me up." Derek put his best growl into his voice, flexing his arms and stomach enough that Allison and Stiles were lifted a few inches off the ground. Around his hips, Erica grunted when one of his knees pressed into her ribs. "Whatever you're planning, it's a bad idea."

"No, what we're planning is a great idea." Somehow, Stiles managed to to wriggle enough to get his nose against Derek's cheek. The hickey on his neck was just visible in the corner of Derek's eye, purpled and accusatory. "You're just a pessimist. A glass half-full of poison kind of guy."

"Just get off of me!" Dumb as it was, Derek could feel his body fighting to relax into them. It knew who his pack was, and that they belonged right like they were, curled up around him. Instinct didn't make much difference between friendly tussles and involuntary trapping when there wasn't real fear involved.

Erica's cheek rubbed against Derek's side, just above the waistline of his jeans. Her hair spread across his stomach, sending little tickling sensations through him every time she moved. "Do you promise not to run?"

Derek kept silent. If he could have seen her through Allison and Stiles, he would have glowered.

Huffing, Erica settled back down. "Didn't think so."

"Derek, Derek, Derek. Our beloved Alpha." Hips swinging, Lydia crossed the kitchen to lower herself down by his head. "You know, it's rude to kiss and run. One might even say uncouth."

The angle she'd chosen was just enough that anything short of staring down at the humans on his chest resulted in a clear view of her long legs, eventually ending in a pair of purple silk panties that had clearly been chosen for their fit. Going by Allison and Stiles' appreciative looks, they had the same view.

Knowing Lydia, she'd done it deliberately, even down to the knee that was just close enough to his cheek to touch. If he turned his head, he could have bitten it.

"You didn't exactly give me a chance to apologize to Stiles before tackling me." Twisting his head, he did his best to look past her legs to her eyes. It wasn't easy—Lydia had great legs. "So if you'll just tell your minions to let me up, I can talk to Stiles and we can pretend all of this never happened."

"Why would we want that?" Of course it was Stiles, who was still close enough that his lips brushed Derek's jaw when he spoke. He nuzzled Derek's cheek, making himself comfortable against it. "Okay, I could have done without the running off into the rain to sulk thing, but other than that it was great."

Stiles, Derek was in a position to glare at, and so he did. For all the good it did him. "You're not going to object to the minion part?"

"If the shoe fits."

There was probably something in there to be said about pride, or how Lydia was going to lead them all to world conquest, but all Derek could do was sigh. He glanced around the room, meeting Scott's eyes, then Jackson's and Boyd's. Isaac shrugged sympathetically at him, but didn't make a move to clear an escape route. The three that had him trapped against the floor were definitely out as potential help. Possibly potential hostages, but not help.

Some pack. He was pretty sure they were supposed to respect him somehow, or at least pretend to.

All he'd had to do was maintain his dignity and distance and everything would have been fine. And it had worked out so well. Derek would just have to settle for letting them down gently and then sleeping in a tree if things got to be too much. "Okay. You have me where you want me. What do you have to say?"

"You won't run?" Lydia's fingers combed through his hair, twisting it into little ringlets and then letting them unwind again. It was oddly intimate, for all that she'd done it a hundred times before without meaning anything by it. "Promise?"

Closing his eyes, Derek nodded. "Let me sit up, this is damned uncomfortable."

Stiles and Allison shifted sideways, staying close enough that he could feel the heat of their skin. Erica was a little harder to convince; it took Lydia sitting down and patting her lap before Erica let go of Derek in favor of curling up against Lydia, head pillowed on her shoulder.

Gratefully, Derek sat up, rolling his neck and shoulders. They cracked painfully, making Isaac wince at the sound.

"Sorry," he muttered quietly.

"Don't be. You're not the one who keeps landing me on the kitchen floor." Popping a few other sore spots, Derek finally settled back on the heels of his hands. Apparently taking him at his word, the others abandoned their posts, gathering around. Derek felt a little bit like the celebrated result of a long, hard hunt back in the caveman days. If he were lucky and careful, no one would end the night on a spit.

He looked around at his pack. Young faces, all of them. Young, and so damned sure that they knew best. And he knew that that went. It hadn't been that long since he'd been sixteen and thought he'd known everything.

Hadn't been that long since he'd been sixteen and he'd lost everything.

"You realize what you're doing, right?" he heard himself ask, unintentionally, but at least honest. "There's no safety net here."

"We know what the risks are." Isaac settled on the floor between Allison and Stiles. As soon as he did, they leaned into him, completely natural, unaware of what they were doing. "We know we're a bachelor pack."

"Bachelorette pack," Allison and Lydia corrected simultaneously, in the tired tone of a long-standing argument.

As if on cue, Jackson scowled. "But we're mostly guys," he argued, with that confused lilt in his voice that said it had been explained a thousand times and he still didn't get it.

"That's just Derek's fault," Allison grumbled, rubbing her cheek fondly against Isaac's shoulder when he nodded in agreement.

"Can we stay on topic here?" Derek asked, privately admitting that the question had a heavy overtone of whining. "I'd like to get out of these wet jeans sometime this year."

Collectively, they leered. It was a freaking comedy sketch.

"Don't even start," he growled. Scott and Jackson looked away awkwardly, but no one else was even affected. Boyd actually smiled. He missed the days he used to be able to intimidate them.

"As I was saying," Lydia jumped back into the verbal fray. "We know what we are, and we know that we're never going to be a normal pack." Her plucked eyebrows lifted meaningfully. "Unless you're going to find a partner and start popping out babies for all of us to be aunties and uncles to sometime soon?"

Derek growled.

"Then my point stands." Lydia's fingers ran along Erica's arm, playing little circles and long wavy lines across her shoulder. It was almost hypnotic. "You're only hurting yourself by wallowing in denial, you know. Some of us have noses. It's not like no one can smell when you want one of us."

Of course he'd been that obvious, of course they would know. The only person he'd been fooling for the past month and a half had been himself.

He didn't say that. What he said was, "I'm twenty-three." And they just nodded, checking off the fact from some private list like it didn't mean anything. "I'm the alpha."

Lydia smiled and ran her fingers through Erica's hair. "We're aware of that, yes."

Derek had to fight a strong urge to flop backwards and throw a tantrum. "Does none of that seem like a bad idea to any of you?"

"Not really." Sitting on his ass between Derek and the glass door, Scott stretched out a foot to tap Derek's calf. "We love you. Seems easy enough." Scott scrambled to his feet, hesitating before dropping a kiss to the top of Derek's head. Then he bolted for the den, as if there were a real risk of Derek ripping his throat out.

"Just think about it." Lydia and Erica stood together, with a smoothness that spoke of practice.

Boyd nodded, touching Jackson's shoulder casually as he turned to follow Scott. "I'm going to order pizza, since we had leftovers last night. Anyone want something special, you've got five minutes."

That ended the little meeting. Everyone followed Boyd, already clamoring for their favorite toppings. Most of them went out of their way to touch Derek as they went, from Stiles' kiss to his cheek to Isaac patting his shoulder.

And then he was left alone, with wet jeans, cold tile and too many thoughts to sift through.

Derek succeeded in stealing an entire meat lover's pizza for himself and sneaking off without being noticed. Probably he'd been allowed to do it, because sneaking anything in a pack was hard even on a good day. Still, he was grateful to be left to eat in peace. After the little drama in the kitchen, he needed some space.

The sky outside was still cloudy enough to hide the stars, but the porch light at his back was more than enough. He sat on the still-new picnic table, watching the wind in the branches and munching on his pizza. Thinking should have been happening, but every time he started his attention drifted to Lydia's legs and Boyd's expression, the way Stiles nuzzled his cheek.

We love you.

Three little words that threw all of his reasons out the window, and didn't even give them time to scream before hitting the ground.

About halfway through his pizza, Stiles settled down on the bench by his feet, munching on a thick slice of pepperoni. His shoulder wormed its way under Derek's knee so he could hook his arm around the calf, but he didn't make any other attempt to get his attention, so Derek felt safe in just leaning into the touch.

Of course, being Stiles, he wasn't good with letting things rest. He finished chewing his last bite of pizza, then tilted his head back. One hand snaked out to grab at the stack of paper towels Derek had brought along with him. "You owe me an apology. It kind of sucks, being kissed and abandoned like that. Rude."

"I know."

"Yeah, I guess you do." Stiles nestled his cheek against the side of Derek's knee, rubbing like an over-affectionate cat. Derek patted the top of his head with his free hand. Little prickles tickled his palm, maybe stiffer than the last time since they weren't wet.

"You here as an ambassador of change?"

"Nah, just making sure you're not thinking of sleeping in a tree tonight. Isaac's worried that we pushed you too far."

Derek flushed and took a big bite of his pizza. Stiles' laugh was probably something he deserved, but he still bristled.

"Shut up."

"No, no, it's cute." One of Stiles' hands ran up his shin, rubbing his jeans vigorously until the fabric felt heated against his skin. "The way you sleep in freakish and uncomfortable places as an avoidance strategy. Thumbs up on adulthood. Very nice work."

"It works."

Stiles huffed an objection, and Derek bumped his ribs with his knee gently. That was the end of that for a while, and Stiles seemed content to let the silence be for the moment. No one came out to bother them; apparently Stiles was the chosen ambassador, whether he admitted it or not. He smelled like soap still, but fresher; he'd showered since they'd rolled around on the kitchen floor. There was a hint of flowers to it, so probably he'd used one of the girls' body washes. It was topped off with a heady mix of pack, a strange Allison-Boyd-Isaac-Erica-Scott-Jackson-Lydia-Derek mix that didn't have a human equivalent he could name. It just was.

It wasn't a bad choice. The memory of Stiles' dripping wet, straddling his chest was still fresh. Derek had good physical memory, enough that if he closed his eyes he could still taste salt-sweat and skin on his tongue.

Making excuses to have what you wanted was practically human nature. It was easy to tell himself that if he was careful, it would all be okay. He didn't want to admit it, but Lydia had a point. He wasn't fooling anyone but himself. Even that was half-assed; if he'd gotten any traction on denial, he wouldn't have spent the afternoon out in the rain.

And he did owe Stiles.

Taking a deep breath of the pack scent, Derek nudged Stiles with his knee again. "Would a kiss be a good apology?"

The silence didn't break right away. Slowly, Stiles' head tipped back again, big brown eyes staring at Derek, unblinking. Before Derek could seriously consider flicking his forehead to make sure he was still conscious, Stiles jerked himself away, shaking his head like he was getting water out of his ears.

"Excuse me, can you repeat that?" he asked. "Because I could swear I just heard you ask if you can kiss me."

Derek flattened his lips. Maybe that had been a bad idea. "I did."

"But say it again." Gripping a fold of Derek's jeans between his thumb and index finger, Stiles tugged hopefully. "One more time."

Sighing, Derek rolled his eyes and leaned down, elbows on his knees. "May I kiss you?"

Stiles nodded enthusiastically. He leaned back against the table, chin up and elbows propped back in a way that stuck his chest out. "Lay one on me."

"Not like that." Grabbing Stiles under the arms, he lifted, getting his ass off the bench and on to the table in one heave. When Stiles nearly pitched over backwards, Derek caught him with an arm across his back. "I'm not folding myself in half for you."

"You'd be the cutest little weretaco ever, though." Stiles grinned and bumped over closer. "Well? My apology?"

Warmth was already soaking through Derek's side where Stiles pressed against his shoulder and thigh. His heartbeat was up, nervous but not afraid, and the hint of arousal that was a near-constant presence in his scent had spiked. He fidgeted, sneakered feet brushing over the wooden bench, hands twitching. Derek grabbed the hand that was between them, pinning it down to the table. It gave him a good place to balance against when he leaned over and brushed their lips together.

As soon as they touched, Stiles' heart went from fast to rabbiting. He leaned into it, easier than before, breath sighing over Derek's skin. Kissing Stiles was a little like taking a breath after coming up from a deep dive, natural but still a shock to the system. Stubble from the end of the day scraped Stiles' cheeks, enough to make him gasp softly.

If the kiss was the first breath, breaking apart was the second. Stiles grinned and touched the tips of their noses together. "Good apology."

"I don't know," Derek breathed, licking off the taste of marinara and pepperoni. "I think I can do better."

Stiles met him halfway, lips already parted. His arms curled around Derek's neck as he fell back onto the table, dragging Derek down with him. Their tongues slid together, wet and easy, with a bump of noses and a startled laugh that Derek swallowed down.

The crunch of fresh grass brought Derek's head up as Allison's hand slipped between them, her chest plastering against his back. "Jackson said you went quiet," she murmured, hooking her chin over his shoulder. Her cheek brushed Stiles' forearm with a soft brush of skin on skin.

"I was getting my apology." Stiles' head fell back to the table. His eyes darted from Derek to Allison before he licked his lips, nerves and hope coming off him like a new cologne. "Want one?"

Allison rubbed her cheek against Stiles' arm again, her chin brushing against Derek's shoulder as she did so. The loose pile she'd drawn her hair up into bumped the side of his head as she moved, one curl tickling his ear. "Does Derek owe me an apology?"

Point of no return. Pushing up off of Stiles a little, Derek twisted enough to be looking at Allison eye to eye. "I think I owe all of you one."

She tilted her head and leaned into him, breasts touching his arm. Someone had already gotten lipstick on her again. It wasn't like Erica or Lydia went around smeared in other people's makeup, so he had to assume that she just didn't wipe it off.

"Okay," she said, like it was the simplest thing in the world.

Allison's lips were softer than Stiles', less chapped. She didn't lean into it the same way, or tilt her head quite as much. Derek cataloged the little differences, the soft curves and sharp teeth, how her pizza had only been cheese. He felt Stiles sit up and slide in behind him, already hard against his ass, fingers light and fragile as they barely held on to his hips.

They touched him like he might break, hands soft, fluttering over skin and muscle. Which was ridiculous on so many levels; he was the alpha. If anything, they were the ones in more danger, two humans with nothing to protect them from him. It made his heart twist a little, but Stiles' hand pressed against his stomach and Allison's back arched, and the moment passed.

Derek settled back into Stiles, snaking an arm around Allison's waist to keep her close. She didn't object, just put one knee on the table as she straddled his thighs. The skin just under the hem of her shirt was warm and soft, and as Derek ducked his head to kiss her collarbone he recognized the scent of the body wash Stiles had used. He scraped his teeth, drawing a surprised sound from Allison's throat.

He found a spot on her neck in roughly the same place as where he bitten Stiles and nipped at it. He didn't dare leave deep marks—Chris was going to kill them all for this as it was—but he sucked a soft red spot that probably wouldn't bruise. She pulled away for a second, and four hands were suddenly tugging her shirt over her head as Stiles gave an assist. Then she was back against him, cotton-clad breasts pressed against his chest as she leaned over to drag Stiles into a kiss. Her other knee touched the table, dropping her weight full-on into Derek's lap.

Cupping her ass under her skirt, Derek pulled her down closer against him, leaning back to watch. She was rougher with Stiles, teeth and tongues making an appearance, groans harsher, more guttural. Her floral skirt rode up, flashing pale thighs as she settled directly over his dick, hips rocking down, nipples peaked under the thin cloth of her sports bra. In contrast, Stiles was hard bone and lean muscle, his shirt a bundle of folds against the small of Derek's back. The three of them rocked together for a moment, all pressure and heat and the slick sounds of the kiss right by Derek's ear.

Stiles' hands ran up Allison's side, sliding under her bra and pulling it up. She arched away, arms lifting, bare breasts thrust forward. Then the fabric stretched unexpectedly, catching somewhere under her elbows and Allison let out an unholy squawk as the bra tangled around her. Stiles flailed forward as she flailed backwards, and Derek had to grab them both to keep all three from falling off the table.

"A little help here?" Allison asked, voice muffled by the cloth against her lips. She rolled her shoulders, struggling with the bra. "I think it's caught in my hair."

Derek's nose wrinkled in laughter as he grabbed the lower hem and started peeling it upwards. He worked the bra around her hairsticks until he was able to grab them and slide them from her bun. "Stop wiggling."

"I told you to wear the one with the front hooks," Stiles grumbled, pressing his over-heated face into Derek's shoulder blades.

"I didn't think we'd be doing this!" Allison sputtered as Derek finally freed her mouth. Dark hair was spread over her face in a curtain, wet where she'd talked around it. Derek finished sliding the bra up around her elbows and then off. She shook her head, curls tumbling all around her shoulders. "You're not allowed to take off bras ever again."

"Not all of us can be bra-tamers." The flat of Stiles' hand smacked into Derek's side. "Way to show me up, pal."

"Learn how to take a bra off, pal." Tilting his head back, Derek let himself kiss the corner of Stiles' mouth, quick and casual but still enough to make his heart jump. He cupped Allison's breasts, squeezing lightly. It had been ages since he'd touched breasts—there'd been a girl in South Dakota two years before, who'd smiled like an angel and hadn't minded spending a night with a guy who was just passing through on his way to California. Allison's were small, fitting right in the palms of his hands, and then perfectly against his lips when he pulled her up to them.

Stiles' hips rutted against Derek's ass, grinding hard, matching the damp slide of Allison's lace panties against Derek's stomach. Clever fingers tugged at the button on Derek's fly, and suddenly a hand was wrapped around his dick. His breath stuttered, teeth scraping across Allison's nipple.

Without thinking he pressed his weight back against Stiles, fingers digging into Allison's thighs to help her balance, then higher, dragging a knuckle across the wet heat of her cunt. The cotton was already soaked, smelling of musk and sex and Allison. He peeled them aside, slipping a finger up into her. She cried out, rocking down against his chest again with a breathy moan that carried in the still night air.

Another zipper went down, and Derek felt hard, hot flesh against his back where Stiles pressed against him. Flesh slid against flesh, Stiles' hand rough and quick as he jerked Derek off in time with his hips. Allison kept her own time, riding Derek's hands and mouth. Her nails dug into his shoulders with a biting, sweet pain as she came, arching forward to kiss Stiles again over his shoulder.

Derek let go of her breasts, which already had red spots from his lips, hopefully low enough they'd be hidden. His head lolled back as he panted, vision narrowing. Stiles' fist around his dick twisted, thumb rubbing just under the head, and that was it. He cried out, come splashing across his stomach and the back of Allison's thighs. A kiss landed on either side of his neck, soft bites that wouldn't even leave a ghost of a mark.

Allison slid down to his lap, cheeks still bright from her own orgasm. He met her eyes as they panted together, Stiles still hard against his back. His eyebrows lifted with a quick glance behind him, and the corner of her mouth quirked.

Moving quickly, she slid to the side, giving Derek enough space to flip around. He knelt on the bench between Stiles' legs, leaning down to lick a long stripe up his dick from balls to tip. Allison's mouth met his, tongues tangling as they kissed around Stiles' dick. They took turns at the head, one sliding down while the other bobbed, then meeting in the middle for a kiss. Grabbing a tendril of Allison's hair, Derek wrapped it loosely around the base of Stiles' dick, under his balls, then slowly dragged it off again.

Stiles fell backwards with a long moan, hands clenching the edge of the table as he came, his chest shuddering with little gasps for air. Allison's throat worked once before she pulled away to let his shirt catch the rest. Derek rested his forehead against Stiles hip, taking deep breaths through his nose. The scent of sex was so heavy, he wouldn't have been surprised if a human could sniff out what they'd done.

On the other side, Allison rested her chin on Stiles' thigh and smiled. Some of her hair had come in it, and there was a little smear at the corner of her mouth. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

Derek laughed ruefully; he probably deserved that. "Better than a bullet to the head."

"Urgh, don't say that." Stiles slid his fingers through their hair. "I don't want to know how you know what that feels like."

"It's just a saying," Derek felt the need to explain, rolling his eyes up. Stiles' head was hanging off the edge of the table, which looked uncomfortable, but Stiles didn't make a move to shift positions. All Derek could see was the bottom of his chin, and a little spot where Stiles had missed shaving. "I haven't actually been shot in the head."

"Yeah, so you say now. You've probably—" The fingers in their hair tightened, just a little. "Don't move too suddenly, but look back at the house."

Derek tensed instinctively, but Stiles' tone wasn't worried. It was much closer to laughter. Acting like he was rubbing his cheek against Stiles' hip, he tilted his head so he could glance behind them.

The living room windows were still lit up brightly, shining like beacons in the dark. Across the bottom of the main picture window, the tops of five heads were visible. As he watched, one of them—brown curls, Isaac—popped up, then dropped back down in a rush.

Just under the creak of trees overhead, there was a low argument. "Paper beats rock, rock beats scissors, and scissors beats paper," Erica hissed. "That is definitely paper. Which means I get to go next."

"I don't believe this," he said, blank faced, not quite able to believe it. "They're playing rock-paper-scissors. They're actually..."

Allison giggled, hiding her face in Stiles' thigh.

"Your own fault for holding out this long," Stiles said, whole body flexing as he lifted up onto his elbows. "If you weren't such hot stuff, you wouldn't be in this mess."

Shoulders still shaking a little, Allison glanced up from where she'd buried her face. "Want to go in and face your adoring pack?"

He thought about it, cocking his head to listen as the argument about paper versus Spock—Spock?—got louder. "Nah," he decided. "Let's let them work it out. It'll be good for them."

Something in the living room crashed. A second later, Lydia screeched like a banshee bent on murder. All three of them winced.

"Or maybe we should go get that," Derek corrected himself, already zipping his fly as he made for the door.

"We have your back!" Stiles yelled, struggling to pull up his pants and he and Allison followed hot on Derek's heels.

"You're staring at my ass, aren't you?"

"Details!"

Allison laughed, and somewhere in the house Boyd growled. Even as Derek prepared to burst in and break up the fight, he was grinning. It might not have been the usual sort of pack, but maybe things wouldn't turn out so bad after all.