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No Other Love

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In hindsight, Stiles doesn’t know what it is that drives him to Derek’s loft that day, especially when he knows that neither Derek nor Cora have been seen since Deucalion left for good a few days ago. A niggling itch in the back of his mind, maybe, an irritating bit of worry, until he gives up and hops in his jeep and makes the familiar drive.

To Stiles’ surprise, Derek actually does open the door to him, with burned fingers and a confused look on his face.

“What are you doing?” Stiles asks him, his bafflement at Derek even being in Beacon Hills immediately evaporating as he looks past Derek’s red, raw hands and into the living space of the loft, where the couch is hidden under heaps of purple flowers, “Have you actually lost your mind? That’s wolfsbane, you idiot!”

“Stiles,” Derek sighs, and holds the door open for him.

“Seriously,” Stiles pushes, because he can’t not, “What gives? Since when do you play with the most poisonous species of plant known to wolf-kind in your free time?”

“Since it’s my parent’s anniversary,” Derek says stiffly, like he begrudges Stiles the information. Which he probably does. “And I’m weaving wreathes for them.”

And that pretty much stops Stiles dead in his tracks, because he does have enough self-preservation to avoid making light of such a dark moment. Hell, anniversaries in his house usually involve a full bottle of whiskey, so he’s not really one to judge.

“For them,” Stiles stutters, “You mean for…”

“For their graves,” Derek says, “And for the rest of my family. It’s a traditional sign of respect and remembrance.” He sits back down on the couch, and resumes weaving the strings of purple flowers into the delicately twined bases of nine different wreathes, ignoring the way his fingers must be smarting. His eyes keep flickering blue, still a strange sight. Stiles had become so used to thinking of him as the Alpha.

“Like the one you buried Laura under,” Stiles says slowly, and tries not to picture Derek in the dark, burned-out shell of his own home nearly a year ago, weaving flowers into yards and yards of rope as his fingers blistered and bled, grieving for a sister that nobody else missed.

“All of them are under spirals, when they’re first buried.” Derek says, “But the wreaths are for… birthdays and anniversaries and other important dates. It’s so we never forget the sacrifices.” His voice is soft and sad.

And maybe it’s irony, or the universe at work, or maybe it’s just Derek Hale’s shitty luck, but that’s when, at that exact moment (as Stiles will swear later), there’s a knock on the door.

Derek takes a deep breath through his nose, as he always does to check for threats, and then suddenly, he’s deathly pale, and his face runs through a whole range of conflicting emotions before settling solidly on confused.

“Laura?” Derek breathes in disbelief, and then the door creaks back open as if of its own accord, and Stiles feels his own face fall into confused slackness.

Because the girl standing in the doorway? The last time Stiles had seen her—or, well, half of her—she’d been very naked, and very, very dead.

“Hey, baby bro,” she says with a grin.

To his credit, Derek recovers much more quickly than Stiles does. In the twenty or thirty seconds that Stiles spends gaping at the girl in the doorway, Derek has already unsheathed his claws.

“Who are you?” He half growls, face transforming in anger, “Laura has been dead for a year, how dare you—”

“Easy, Der,” the woman says, still propped up against the door frame, as she carefully unsheathes and examines one of her own claws, seemingly calm, “You’re talking to the girl who read your journal when you were twelve and still didn’t tell mom and dad about your crush on little Nathan McCarthy.”

And then, before Stiles can so much as process the fact that Derek apparently keeps a journal or maybe likes other boys, he’s crossed the room, wreath tossed carelessly aside, and swept his older sister into a hug that looks to be, quite frankly, suffocating.

But then, Laura is a werewolf, too, and her embrace looks to be equally desperate, though she’s laughing into his shoulder, and when he pulls back from her, Derek’s eyes look distinctly watery, a fact which Stiles graciously ignores.

Especially since he’s never seen Derek cry before. Especially since Derek still looks perfect doing it, which isn’t exactly a surprise, but is still a little disappointing to confirm.

“Woah,” Stiles finally says, when he’s finished rebooting and his mouth catches up with his brain.

“You’re new,” Laura remarks.

“Um, no, actually we’ve met,” Stiles stammers, “Or rather, I’ve met you, but you were, um…” Laura raises her eyebrows, in a particularly Derek-like manner.

“Stiles,” Derek hisses.

“Dead,” Stiles finishes weakly.

“Stiles?” Laura says, forehead wrinkling, “What’s a—”

“Me, okay,” Stiles interjects, because he’s been here before, “I’m a Stiles.”

“Is he part of our pack?” Laura asks, turning to Derek, who looks down at his hands.

“We don’t really have a pack,” Derek says reluctantly, “At the moment.”

“Well, should he be part of our pack?” Laura asks, without skipping a beat.

“That’s a little complicated,” Stiles hedges, because Scott’s not really an alpha—his eyes are still yellow, for the most part—but now Derek’s not either. “We don’t really have an alpha, for one.”

“Problem solved,” Laura says, all easy confidence, and her eyes flash red.

And then Stiles, for the second time in one afternoon, loses all abilities to string a series of words together into an actual sentence.

“Uhhh,” he says, and then abruptly bursts into semi-hysterical laughter that surprises even him.

Derek just blinks at him, eyebrows furrowed, and then turns back to his sister.

Laura cocks a hip, and raises an eyebrow. “I’m the alpha,” she says, and grins.

And that’s when Stiles finally finds his words. “Oh my God,” he says, “Again?”

It’s been a rough year, so Stiles thinks he can be excused for pulling Derek aside as soon as it seems polite—as soon as Laura is at least three feet away—and hissing, “Doesn’t this seem weird to you?”

Derek looks at his recently-deceased sister, who is currently opening cupboards in the kitchen and peering into them.

“Hey,” she calls over her shoulder. She probably heard Stiles, but he doesn’t care, and she doesn’t seem to either, because she follows it with, “Can I borrow some clothes?” She gestures to the clothes she’s currently wearing, which seem to have previously belonged to a teenage boy a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than she is. “I snatched these off a clothes line, but they smell horrible.”

“Of course,” Derek says, after blinking a few times, like his eyes still need time to readjust to her sudden reappearance, “They’re over—”

He doesn’t finish, because Laura touches the side of her nose and winks at Stiles before sauntering off.

“Of course this is weird,” Derek admits, once she’s disappeared from view. “But it’s definitely her. She the only one who ever knew about…” He actually blushes, and mumbles, “The journal thing. And she seems… normal. She’s not acting strange, she smells right.”

“Okay,” Stiles presses, because he even never knew Laura before, so he’ll have to take Derek’s word for it, “But we were literally just talking about your family, and she shows up in the doorway? And we need an alpha and she just happens to be one? Even though she wasn’t when she died?”

“I’m not kicking her out,” Derek says, with the Hale trifecta of dissatisfaction: rolled eyes, huffed breath, crossed arms.

“Well, you’ll forgive me if after the last year, I don’t really believe in coincidences. And if I especially don’t believe that something mysterious and spooky is going to turn out to be good for us.”

“What do you want me to do?” Derek hisses. “She’s my sister. Okay?”

He doesn’t say out loud that the last time a sister of his had returned from the dead, she disappeared just as quickly, back into her old life, with no room for Derek. But Stiles knows Derek, strange as that realization was to come by, and he knows that Derek’s hurting over Cora’s decision to return to South America, though of course Derek doesn’t blame her, and didn’t try to stop her.

“She’s my sister,” he just says again, and Stiles hears it all in his voice. She’s my alpha. The last family I had.

“Look,” Stiles sighs, “I really hope that this is a good thing. I really hope that she’s back, and it’s a miracle, and that you can have your sister again. But these things never start out looking sinister, okay? All I’m saying is that I think we should take her to see Deaton, and make sure that she’s not… possessed, or a zombie, or something.”

Derek looks at his feet, jaw clenched. He doesn’t say anything, but Stiles pretty much takes it as a grudging acknowledgement.

“So I think we should ask her some questions,” he pushes. “Like maybe how she came back to life.”

“Easy,” Laura says, from three inches behind him. Stiles jolts in surprise, and barely muffles a shriek.

“Holy shit,” he breathes.

Laura’s smile is easy and disarming, and even Stiles, who is growing daily more suspicious of pretty much everybody in the world, can’t detect anything but amusement in her eyes, which, up close, look just like Derek’s. The sleeves of one of his Henleys hang over her hands, far too long for her, and she shoves them back to cross her arms, popping one hip out.

“I have no fucking idea,” Laura says. “Anything else?”    

He’s not really sure what he expects Deaton’s reaction to be, but it’s probably something more than him raising his eyebrows in mild surprise and saying evenly, “Miss Hale,” as though she was a normal Thursday afternoon sort of client who had just dropped by an hour early to pick Fluffy up from the vet.

Although, in hindsight… okay, yeah, that was pretty much what he should have expected.

“Doctor,” she says coolly.

“What an unexpected surprise,” he says, equally chilly, which actually does surprise Stiles, because he’s pretty sure that Dr. Deaton used to be Laura’s emissary, or something like that, and he would have expected a warmer welcome from both of them.

“So,” Stiles says to diffuse the tension, because that’s pretty much what he does, now, “We’ve had another Code Peter. Although, to be fair, we’re much happier to see this one back.”

“Code Peter?” Laura asks Derek, who looks away and mutters, “I’ll tell you later.”

“Considering recent… events,” Stiles barrels on, “I thought it might not be a bad idea to check that all is present and accounted for?”

“Hmmm,” Deaton says, “Well, while everything looks normal, it may not be a bad idea. Come back with me, please.” He swings open the counter to let the werewolves through, but even Stiles can see that he’s projecting distaste with pretty much every molecule in his body. From the way Derek’s nose keeps twitching, he must stink of it.

Laura follows him, but only after a beat, like she’s used to being in front. Derek, on the other hand, obediently trails after his sister, still looking more relaxed than Stiles has ever seen him, despite the shock of the afternoon.

And Stiles, as he’s wont to do these days, follows Derek.

Laura scoffs when Deaton pulls Stiles and Derek aside, after his examination.

“I’m afraid I can’t offer any insights into the how of it,” he murmurs, and Stiles heart sinks, because that was pretty much his only idea, in terms of figuring it all out. “But that’s definitely Laura Hale. And as far as I can tell—of course, these things are hard to test, but she seems to be normal. Or, I should say, she seems to be herself.”

“So she’s not dangerous?” Derek asks.

“That’s a different question entirely, Mr. Hale. But besides being an Alpha werewolf, no. Not dangerous.”

“Good, then we’re going.” Derek says.

“So I passed whatever this little test was?” Laura asks, directing her question at Stiles as Derek waves her over.

“Um,” Stiles says, “It’s not that we didn’t trust you, it’s just… you’ll understand when we tell you about the year we’ve had. But yeah, I guess he thinks you’re normal.”

Laura chuckles. “I doubt that very much. Now can we go get a burger? I haven’t eaten in a year.”

Stiles goes back to Derek’s the next morning, mostly because he needs to double check that this is a real thing that’s happened, that she’s back for good and for real, and partly because, well, that’s kind of what he does now, apparently. Show up at Derek’s, unannounced.

He doesn’t see either of them when he shows up, but there is a mattress on the floor in the living room, covered in about ten blankets and too many pillows, and upon closer examination, black dog hair.

“Morning,” Laura says softly, right into his ear, and again, Stiles tries very hard to repress a shriek and flail, with little success. After all this time, he should be used to various Hales appearing out of thin air. He’s still not.

“Did you both sleep out here?” Stiles asks, when he catches his breath, and then, pointedly picking off dog hair from where it has already started clinging to his pant leg, says, “And was at least one of you a wolf?”

“We’re werewolves,” she says with a shrug, “it’s kind of our thing. And yes, I was shifted. Derek can’t yet.”

“Hey,” Derek says mildly, appearing from around the corner already wearing his leather jacket, car keys in hand.

“You’ll get there,” Laura tells him, patting his arm reassuringly, “You’re close.”

He looks all soft and warm in the sweater he’s wearing, and somehow so different that it takes Stiles a moment to realize that it’s because he looks happy. He’s smiling and everything. He’s got actual dimples. His heart suddenly makes a sick, painful thump, and judging from Laura’s curious glance, it’s not just a metaphorical one.

But maybe the universe has decided to take a break from shitting on his life, because Derek doesn’t seem to have noticed. Either that, or Derek’s so used to his weird, involuntary bodily antics that it just doesn’t faze him anymore. He doesn’t even look at Stiles when he says, “I’m going to run to the store, we don’t have enough food for the week. Do you need anything?”

“Shampoo,” Laura says, and Stiles says, “Pop tarts,” half-jokingly, in a wild attempt to act like himself and not whatever blushing, bumbling version of him has apparently shown up this morning instead, but Derek doesn’t even shoot him a glare, just nods along and then kisses Laura on the cheek.

A sight which inspires another thump. What the hell.

“I’ll be back soon,” Derek calls over his shoulder.

“He seems… cheerful,” Stiles says, hoping that he’s moved out of hearing range and that he sounds appropriately casual, but Laura’s face falls immediately as she turns to look him square in the eyes.

“What the fuck,” she says lowly, “What happened to him?”

“What do you mean?” Stiles asks, “This is the happiest I’ve seen him, like, maybe ever.”

“Yeah, exactly. All he smelled like last night was repressed anger and sadness. He hasn’t told me to shut up once. He has nightmares, Stiles, he woke himself up choking back tears, and yeah, okay, he wasn’t the happiest guy when I left him in New York, but he hasn’t been like this since the week after the fire. What gives?”

You died, for one, he thinks, as if that was her fault, but she looks so genuinely worried that he can’t bring himself to say it.

“It’s been a rough year,” he says, matching her conspiratorial tone, though Derek is almost certainly gone from the building by now. “He’s had a really rough go of it. I mean, I think he was trying the best he could, but…” Stiles lifts one shoulder. “It’s the sort of thing he should probably tell you himself. It’s just, a lot of people have hurt him, and used him, and killed because of him, and been killed because of him, so… You know. I imagine that messes a guy up.”

“Shit,” Laura says. She looks like she’s in genuine distress, and Stiles realizes that he already knows that look, because it’s the same one Derek wears when he’s blaming himself for anything and everything.

“If it helps,” he says lamely, because judging from her frown, not much he says could possibly help, “I think it’s a really good thing that you’re back.”

...

Derek is wary—understandably so, Stiles thinks, after the Peter incident and with regards to the overall suspicion of everything unexplained that’s currently happening in Beacon Hills—to tell Scott or the others about Laura’s return.

Stiles gives them two days before he puts his foot down. “Look, I really think we need to tell my dad,” he hisses to Derek one night.

“Oh, yeah? And how are we going to explain this?”

“Well, how are you going to explain this to anyone, ever if Laura can’t get a driver’s license because she’s dead?? Look, I told my dad about werewolves a while ago. Okay? He doesn’t like it, but he knows about the… unexplainable stuff like this. Plus, he’s a cop. This is totally his department. And it’s not like we’re going to some random dude off the street, okay? He’s my dad. I’ll come. It’ll be fine.”

“I don’t like it.” Derek says, setting his jaw, but Stiles can see it in his eyes, that he knows that Stiles is right.

“It’s time, Der,” Laura says gently, because of course she heard.  “Look, I know what you’re trying to do, and that you think keeping this hidden will protect me, and you’re probably not wrong. This is going to freak people out. But I can’t stay shut up in your apartment forever, and I’m never going to be able to go to school or get a job without paperwork. I need to do this.”

“I’m coming,” Derek says.

“Of course,” Stiles says. “We’ll all do it tomorrow. Together.”

There is a plan, initially. It basically consists of Stiles awkwardly asking his dad over dinner if he can come by the station to talk to him the next day, and then suddenly needing to go to bed right this instant—yes, even with half the plate full—when his dad asks why he doesn’t just want to talk about it then.

The next part of the plan is to sneak Laura into the station so that none of the deputies or other people who might remember her can sound the alarm before they get into the Sheriff’s office.

“I am not distracting the desk clerk again,” Derek glowers, when Stiles proposes this part of the plan, which makes Laura glance between them like she’s missing something, which, of course, she is.

“Let’s not distract anybody,” she finally says, “Let’s just walk with purpose and hope for the best.”

The rest of the plan is to think of something creative to tell his dad when he brings up the dead part of Laura Hale’s backstory.

That’s the part of the plan that doesn’t work.

Because his dad is not a stupid man, and he’s not a heartless one. He’s not a man who would forget the face of the girl he’s just wrapped in a blanket after her whole life's gone up in smoke; the face of the girl he finds in pieces in the woods. And this isn't exactly the sort of thing that can be explained away by a rogue mountain lion.

When Laura strides into his office, Derek and Stiles trailing her, he actually stands up, mouth falling open. Because he knows.

And Stiles can sympathize, because he had pretty much the same reaction, the first time.

“What the hell?” His dad says.

“Um, dad, this is what I wanted to talk to you about,” Stiles says hesitantly. He wishes that Derek didn’t look quite so murderous with his arms crossed like that, but then, it’s a tense moment.

“Laura Hale,” The woman herself announces, and reaches across the desk as if to shake the Sheriff’s hand. Perhaps understandably, he doesn’t take it.

“Why don’t you sit down, dad, and we’ll go through the whole thing. Which, actually isn’t much. But still.”

His dad nods, a little numbly, and then finally drops into his chair, while Derek pulls one across the desk out for his sister to fold into, and then goes back to pulling his bodyguard impression, standing against the closed door, arms folded. Stiles opts to lean on the end of his dad’s desk, between him and Laura. Neutral ground.

“Well, the gist is that I’m not dead anymore,” Laura finally starts, breaking the silence. “We don’t know how, exactly, but here I am. And we thought maybe you could help with that.”

 “I’m sorry, Miss Hale,” Stiles dad says, and his hand shakes when he lifts his mug to his lips, “I’ve seen a lot of things in my days. Especially when I found out about…” He glances at Derek, who shuffles uncomfortably. “But this takes the cake. The last time I saw you, you were—”

“In two pieces?” Laura offers.

“I was going to say in the morgue. But, yes, the point remains. And now you’re sitting in front of me, and it’s just. It’s a little hard to wrap my head around.”

“No offense, Sheriff,” she says with a wry smile, “But I think it’s probably weirder for me.”

“So what do you want from me,” he asks, a little hesitantly.

“Well, I’m imagining that it’s going to be a little hard to drive a car or get a job or a credit card after I’ve been legally declared dead.”

“That’s probably true.”

“Is there any way that can be… undone?”

The Sheriff sighs. “Well, I’m no lawyer, but from what I understand there’s not really a precedent for overturning that kind of thing. On the other hand, you’re obviously… alive, and whatever prints or DNA or what have you that’s on file is going to match your person. It’s not as if you’re an imposter.”

Stiles chews his bottom lip. “So… the girl found in the wood was… I don’t know, some random missing person. Or a distant cousin, if people are going to comment on the resemblance. Meanwhile, Laura was studying abroad, or something. I just mean… isn’t it going to be easier to go back and ‘discover’ that the body was somebody else, rather than giving Laura a brand new identity?”

The Sheriff sighs. “You might be right. I don’t know, kid, I’m going to have to make some calls, but I’ll see what I can do, okay?”

“Thank you.” It comes from Derek, and not Laura, and they all turn their heads to look. He glances at his feet. “I know you’re not comfortable with… us. But thank you.”

“Sure thing, son,” John says, and rises. “Well, I assume you’re sticking around. I’ll be in touch, alright? Clearly, you know where to find me.” He shoots Stiles a glance, but he doesn’t actually look angry. Considering, maybe. “Is it wrong to say welcome back?”

Laura laughs. “I’ll take it,” she says.

Derek still refuses to tell other people, until things are settled.

It turns out to be bad for Stiles, because he’s suddenly spending a lot of quality time with one of the coolest people he’s ever met, and her brother. The guy that he might be just a little in love with.

He’s not okay.

Because Stiles has met a lot of versions of Derek Hale in this lifetime. He’s met your-sister’s-dead-and-I-found-her-body-murder-suspect Derek, and he’s met actually-not-an-asshole-just-grieving Derek. He’s met I’m-the-alpha Derek and help-I’m-suddenly-an-alpha Derek and oh-shit-now-we-don’t-have-an-alpha Derek. He’s met traumatized Derek and re-traumatized Derek and re-re-traumatized Derek; he’s met fuck-I-forgot-how-hot-you-are Derek and are-these-real-feelings Derek, and just last week, he met wait-you-might-actually-be-the-love-of-my-life Derek.

But in all these years, Stiles has never seen the parts of him that Laura brings out.

And it’s… surprising. To say the least.

Stiles has to admit, if he’d ever really spent much time thinking about Laura Hale—alive Laura Hale, that is—he’d have pictured her pretty much exactly like this.

She’s all snark and beauty, is the cool older sister without the slightest bit of effort, even a year out of practice. Stiles is willing to bet his jeep that all of Derek’s friends in high school had massive crushes on her, went to Derek’s every day after school just for the slightest chance of a smile from her. She has all the easy confidence that Derek has never quite been able to simulate—but then, he wouldn’t need to, with her by his side.

It’s so easy to see them together; even their gentle teasing is without malice. It’s how it was always meant to be. Derek doesn’t have to posture anymore, doesn’t have to make the tough decisions because Laura would rather, and he slips into the skin of a person that Stiles has only ever seen glimpses of before, one that comes so naturally to him that Stiles knows that he’s suddenly seeing the true Derek Hale: quiet and surprisingly funny, loyal to a fault, even kind.

There are just those little moments.

Like when Derek teases her about some guy back in New York, and she playfully says, “You’re a monster,” and slings an arm around his neck in a gentle headlock, tousling his hair with her free hand.

And yeah, Stiles has seen people call Derek a monster before, in almost every context: with guns and arrows in their hands and with poison in their voices. Hell, Stiles has probably called him a monster himself, though he’s ashamed to admit it. But this is the first time that Stiles has seen him grin into it instead of flinching away, as Derek easily slips free and tumbles Laura to the ground, gently nipping at her fingertips.

They really do look like a pair of puppies, wrestling on the floor, and it’s so light-hearted—though, yeah, still really weird—that Stiles can’t help but smile at them. He feels like a proud parent, or something.

Or like when the Hales catch Stiles staring, blatantly, at Derek’s ass as he draws sweeping lines on a map with his finger to show Laura their property changes.

And Derek doesn’t even threaten him a little bit. He almost looks pleased about it, in a sort of bashful way.

And a week ago, pleased and bashful are never words that Stiles would have associated with Derek Hale.

But he doesn’t growl or anything. He just says, “Um,” and looks at his feet.

“Aw, come on, you can’t blame him. You grew up good, Der,” Laura says playfully, throwing an arm over his shoulder.

“Shut up, you were only gone for a year,” he says, shrugging it off, but he’s blushing a faint pink and when Laura looks away his lips quirk up into a tiny, satisfied smile.

Oh fuck, Stiles thinks, I’m so screwed.

The worst of it is that Derek dotes on her. Stiles can’t figure out whether he’s still getting over the fact that she’s back, or whether it’s how they always are, but…

The thing is, Stiles has always had a bit of a thing for Derek taking care of people. It’s just nice, to know that that’s what he’s actually best at, in some ways; that he’s total shit at keeping his own life together, but that he’s always the first one to step in the ring for someone else. It’s endearing, if totally worrying.

It’s one of the things that Stiles learned this past summer, when Scott was all wrapped up in summer school and Stiles wound up with Derek more often than not, searching endlessly and fruitlessly for Erica and Boyd. Derek’s frustration had spoken to a deeper sense of responsibility and caring, even in the way he had bandaged Stiles’ ankle once after he’d twisted it on one of their many excursions into the preserve, Derek hoping desperately to catch any helpful scent or trace.

His deepest fantasies don’t involve the very awesome sex that he and Derek should be having—well, okay, they obviously do, but  they more often usually involve Derek just making sure that Stiles is okay, and allowing Stiles to return the favor, because that is a man who seriously needs someone to take care of him, preferably Stiles, preferably forever.

It’s a weird thing, but it’s a thing. It’s almost as big of a thing as the one he has for seeing Derek happy.

And this Derek, fussing over Laura with too many blankets and ten kinds of tea

Yeah. It’s bad news for Stiles.

The more Stiles sees them together, the more ridiculous it seems that he ever even entertained the thought that Derek could have hurt her.

“You make a lot more sense with an older sister like that,” Stiles tells him, one afternoon.

He means it.

When Laura gets word from the Sheriff that her case status has been changed, she finally insists on meeting the pack.

It’s easier said than done, because currently, her pack is Derek, and currently, his pack is… well, nobody.

But despite the continuing rift between Scott and Derek, Stiles can admit that he still fosters hope, however futile, that they can all just join together again. Even Scott has to admit that Derek is useful, both as a source of Supernatural knowledge and as someone who has saved all of their asses time and time again. And Stiles loves Scott, he truly does, and Scott’s the closest thing to a brother that he’ll ever have, but he is nowhere near ready to be Alpha of his own pack. Hell, even Derek wasn’t, and he was long past struggling even to control his wolf.

Stiles would follow Scott—has followed Scott—into the very jaws of death, but he’s also not about to put himself and his friends needlessly in danger when there’s a solution.

And even if he is still a little wary that Laura’s reappearance seems to have conveniently solved their problems, he figures that the universe owes them a little something. He’s not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. And he may not know exactly how a pack is supposed to work, but Laura makes him feel like it could be really, really good.

So he wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Scott still stubbornly refuses another Alpha—and one who’s a Hale, to boot. He wouldn’t be surprised if Derek, or Laura, on Derek’s behalf, refuses to allow Scott in. It’s still his life, after all. He plans for the worst. But. He’s started trying optimism on for size.

At the very least, Scott and Allison and everybody else in the know should be told that Laura’s back and not evil, if only so Laura doesn’t suddenly find herself on the wrong end of an Argent arrow.

When he talks to Scott, he doesn’t open with the Laura part, because Scott would probably come in either adorably confused or claws blazing, which would end very badly for him. Laura may have been in the ground for a year, but Stiles is not under any sort of illusion that Scott would stand a chance against her. So he just gets a grudging acceptance from Derek that they can all use the loft and then sends a super casual message to Scott that says: Derek’s back in town with big news. All okay. Come to the loft tonight at 7, bring Isaac and the girls.

And then he just hopes and prays that nobody ends the night bleeding.

Stiles shouldn’t be surprised anymore at the way that Derek plants himself in front of Laura—powerful, Alpha Laura—when the doorbell rings. The way that his biceps bulge as he crosses his arms definitely shouldn’t give him heart palpations.

Both things still do.

“It’ll be okay, Der,” Laura says, stepping forward to lay a hand on his shoulder.

The way that Derek’s jaw clenches says, ‘It better be.’

So it’s up to Stiles to open the door and tell a wary-looking Scott, “Don’t freak out, okay?”

Scott steps in, Isaac almost literally on top of him, followed closely by Allison and Lydia. Stiles doesn’t miss the way that their eyes all flit over his shoulder, to where Derek’s standing sentry by his sister.

“Okay,” Stiles says, because there’s really no easy way to break the news, “Um, Scott, this is Laura Hale. You… remember her, right? Laura, um, this is Scott McCall and friends.

And okay, the way Scott’s mouth falls open is a little funny.

“Isaac, Allison, and Lydia,” Derek clarifies, when no one else speaks.

“You were…” Scott starts, and Laura just shrugs and says, “I’m not anymore.”

“Are you still a werewolf?” Allison asks her bluntly, and she flashes her eyes red in response.

“Well.” Lydia says, pursing her lips, “At least nobody brainwashed me this time.”

“Can someone bring me up to speed?” Isaac asks, pointing between Laura and Derek and Stiles.

So.

It could definitely have been worse.

Luckily, Laura is in the business of making better first impressions than her younger brother is.

After Scott blinks a few more times, and after Isaac wraps his head around the whole thing, it’s clear to Stiles that it’s going to be the girls who are the problem.

Because Allison is Allison, and an Argent to boot. And Lydia…

Is Lydia.

But in the end, Lydia takes an immediate shine to her, which is due almost entirely to the fact that Laura’s first order of business is clearly to eviscerate Peter.

“He’s shown his true character,” Laura said bluntly, “Killing me was bad enough, if I do say so myself. I’m more than justified, by the customs of our kind, to take my revenge, and Peter knows it, too. What he did after my death was even worse, as far as I’m concerned, to Derek, and to the rest of you. I’m going to approach him with a compromise to leave our lands—and us—alone forever. If he doesn’t accept, I’ll be forced to challenge him.”

It also may have something to do with the way that Laura hides her true nature—the claws and the fangs and the power—behind a smiling mask of girl-next-door-ness, as effortlessly as Lydia always hid her intelligence behind lip gloss and a short skirt.

They have a lot in common, it turns out.

Which doesn’t mean that Lydia doesn’t have approximately three-thousand questions.

“If Peter killed you, and then Derek killed him, and then he gave up the alpha power, shouldn’t you be… not an alpha?”

“Shouldn’t I be not dead?” Laura returns, which, okay, yeah. “Shouldn’t I be not in one piece? I woke up in a none-too-shallow grave and frankly, I decided to stop asking questions.”

Lydia eyes her as if the answer doesn’t satisfy her confusion—of course it doesn’t—but her eyes hold a grudging respect.

“I have a theory,” Lydia says, then. “Peter, may-his-soul-rot-for-all-eternity, was resurrected by drawing on Derek’s alpha power, correct? And right before Laura came back, Derek expelled a huge amount of power, correct? Enough to heal Cora, at least. And since she didn’t turn into an alpha, and he isn’t still an alpha, a reasonable assumption is that it had to go somewhere. And furthermore, the Nemeton had just been activated due to Jennifer’s meddling, not to mention that Peter claims to have killed her on that very spot, releasing not only her own inherent power but also all that she had stolen and stored from the previous sacrifices. So maybe between the combination of Derek’s alpha power and the boost from the Nemeton, it was enough to resurrect Laura. I haven’t figured out why it was her yet. Maybe it was the most recently deceased Hale, or one of Peter’s previous victims, or the most recently deceased Alpha in Beacon Hills, and it just happened to be Laura.”

Nobody answers, so Stiles shrugs. “It’s as good a thought as any.”

Allison takes more time.

“Can you win?” Allison asks Laura, as Derek stews over territorial maps in the corner and Scott and Isaac raid his kitchen. “Can you really beat Peter?”

“I can,” Laura says, “Especially with a pack behind me.”

Stiles clears his throat softly, hoping not to catch Derek’s attention. “Look, I don’t know if you and Derek have had this talk yet, or if you’ve figured it out, or whatever… we don’t really have a pack right now. It’s basically just Derek, on his own, and then the rest of us.”

“Are you trying to tell me you’re not with Derek?” Laura asks. On the surface, it could almost be threatening, but her voice is neutral and she looks genuinely curious. Probably because she’s not buying it, since she and Derek have hardly been rid of him for the past week.

“No,” Stiles says slowly, “Clearly, I’m… here for Derek. But I’m also here for Scott. It’s complicated. That’s what I’m telling you. And Lydia and Allison and I are barely in any pack, anyway.”

Allison nods.

“What if I talked to Scott?” Laura asks. “If he’s really an Alpha, we need to force a treaty, and if he’s not… would he listen to me, if I approached him? You two clearly know him best.”

Stiles and Allison glance at each other. “Maybe,” Stiles finally says, “But don’t make this about Derek.”

“Or Peter,” Allison adds.

Laura nods firmly. “Go help Derek prepare,” she tells Stiles, “He looks nervous.”

“The last time he fought Peter, he killed his last family member, gained a mysterious power, and then was quickly manipulated into reversing the first part of that,” Stiles explains, “I think we’re all nervous.”

“You’ve got a strategic mind,” Laura says soothingly, laying a hand on his shoulder, “And he knows what Peter’s capable of, and of what I am. I need you to work together on this one.”

Laura’s already herding Scott off to talk in private by the time that Stiles realizes what has happened, and he can see it by the careful look in Derek’s eye.

“She just acted like my Alpha, didn’t she,” he whispers to Derek, who just nods. Stiles breathes for a moment. “Well,” he says, “I guess that’s that, then, isn’t it?”

He nudges Derek over a step with his hip. “So where do we start?”

They start, it turns out, by inviting Peter to a formal parlay.

Stiles doesn’t know what transpires between Scott and Laura in the kitchen, but he does know that by the appointed time—the next night, nine o’clock, in a clearing which is evident to the Hales only—Scott has agreed to come, and with him Isaac and Allison. Lydia shows up, too, but Stiles doesn’t think that one is down to Scott, after seeing the grudging respect that Lydia shows Laura.

“Peter,” Laura calls out in a strong voice when the pack of them reach the appointed place. He’s already standing there, under the moonlight, dramatic as always. The surprise on his face is gratifying—Derek had invited him, with no mention of the subject matter. Laura was hoping for surprise on their side.

She kept calling herself their ‘secret weapon,’ while they were planning the attack—even Derek had rolled his eyes at that, though it had confirmed the apparent Hale propensity for the overly dramatic.

It takes only a second for Peter to plaster the smirk back on his face. “Niece,” he calls, as if delighted, “It’s been so long.”

Laura doesn’t answer. She stops walking three feet in front of him and regards him coldly, Derek close on her right shoulder, Stiles at her left. Scott, Lydia, and Isaac stand behind the three of them, Lydia armed with Molotov cocktails that make Peter’s eyebrows jump when he notices them.

“Too long,” Laura agrees frostily.

“Well?” Peter asks, when she doesn’t continue, “I was hoping to open a nice bottle of Scotch tonight, if you don’t mind getting on with it?”

“I have come here in accordance with our laws and customs,” Laura says formally, “To award you a fair choice as my former family and pack.”

“Former family?” Peter says, “I’m hurt, Laura.”

“Either agree to leave my territory, and break off all contact with current and future members of my pack forever,” Laura soldiers on, ignoring him, “Or be willing to face my pack with yours in a fight to the death.”

Stiles smirks at that, can’t help it. What once was Peter’s shabby pack is standing behind Laura. Stiles sees the muscle at Derek’s jaw jump, and knows they’re probably thinking the same thing.

“You know, my dear,” Peter says, shrugging, “The challenge is perfectly arranged but can only be given—unfortunately, of course—by an Alpha.”

Even Derek smiles, when Laura’s eyes flare.

“All this power,” Laura says softly, “Worth killing for, Peter? Again?”

Peter laughs, a little shakily. “You know that I can’t promise to leave my home, Laura. I grew up here, just like you. I’ve been here longer, even. My family was born and died here. You and Derek—and Cora, of course, I’m assuming you’ve been told about Cora—are my family, and you simply can’t ask me to forget you forever. It’s just too cruel.”

“So you reject my offer of mercy,” Laura says, and Peter laughs again.

“I do,” he says, and flicks out his claws.

His roar fills the woods.

Laura snarls.

But Peter knows the players of the game as well as Laura does, better perhaps. As Laura lunges at him, he dodges left, and Stiles sees his plan and curses himself for not anticipating it in the same moment: Peter ignores her almost entirely, reaches for Derek, instead, who is faithfully on her flank.

He doesn’t anticipate the arrow through his neck, though, followed by Allison stepping out of the dark trees, dressed all in black, and it buys Laura enough time to hamstring Peter, bringing him down hard onto the forest floor.

She’s barely winded when she brings Peter down; Isaac and Scott haven’t even gotten the chance to enter the fray.

Lydia’s still hovering behind with the volitale glass bottles in her hand, instructed not to throw them unless absolutely necessary owing to the close proximity of Laura to her target.

But Derek—Derek is gurgling on the ground, vicious slash marks in his shirt quickly being covered by sluggish, dark looking blood.

Stiles runs to him before he can consider.

“You have lost the fight,” Laura says, and raises a clawed hand to the moon. She smiles, a little madly. “Do unto others, Peter,” she says, and then brings her hand down across his throat.

Stiles gives her a moment—but only just—to savor her victory before he calls her name, already gathering Derek’s shirt up to expose his tattered chest, to get a better look at his wound.

Laura’s at their side in an instant, lifting Derek’s head gently into her lap. Stiles can see the veins of her hand running black where she buries it in his hair; wordlessly, Isaac kneels by Stiles and takes up one of Derek’s ankles, his veins matching Laura’s.

“This isn’t happening,” Laura says, her eyes wide and fearful, “Not right after I found you again. God, this is such bullshit!”

“It hurts, Lo,” Derek grits out, pressing his head further into her lap, eyes squeezed shut, and that, more than anything, makes Stiles’ breath come too fast. He’s seen Derek hurt before, too many times to count, but he’s never before heard him admit that he feels it.

Stiles pulls off his overshirt to stanch the flow of blood. “You’re going to be okay,” he tells Derek firmly, and then looks up to catch Scott’s eyes, “You’re going to be okay,” he says again.

It takes ten minutes, during which Allison and Lydia pull Peter’s body away for a proper—and inescapable—burial, Scott wordlessly trailing behind them to dig, for Laura to agree to move Derek to the car.

He passes out a few minutes in, head lolling in Laura’s lap and face deathly pale. Considering the circumstances, Stiles thinks that it’s probably a blessing that he does.

Between the two of them, Laura and Isaac carry him out of the woods fairly handily, and Stiles follows them out, feeling entirely unnecessary.

“Is he really going to be okay?” Isaac asks her, and Laura smiles at him and lays a gentle hand on his neck, slowly, like she knows he might want to pull away.

“He’ll be fine, after he takes some time to heal,” she tells him, and Stiles breathes a sigh of relief as well.

“Let’s take him home, then,” he says.

By the time that Stiles pulls into the parking lot in front of Derek’s loft, Derek is awake again, groggy and breathing harshly into Laura’s lap where they’re laid out in the back seat.

“You’ll feel better soon,” she says soothingly, though her voice has an edge like she’s probably still pulling some of the pain from him. “We’ll get you some water and then you can rest.”

It takes both Laura and Isaac to haul him up the stairs again, Stiles fluttering uselessly behind them. They deposit him on the couch and Isaac disappears into the kitchen. Stiles hears the clanking of glasses before the tap turns on.

Laura’s vanished, too, leaving Stiles to kneel in front of Derek, who’s breathing harshly but has at least stopped bleeding, by the looks of it.

“Hey, big guy,” he says softly, “How’re you feeling? Peter’s all dealt with, now. It’s all over.”

“Not because of me,” Derek grits out.

“Hey,” Stiles scolds, “Peter just carries a grudge because you killed him the last time. Besides, he’s smart. He knew he had to target Laura’s weaknesses if he had any chance of winning this one by himself. I’m guessing Laura’s weakness isn’t combat—it’s you.”

“He’s right,” Laura says as she comes back into the room, wearing pajama pants and a soft shirt of Derek’s and dragging the large mattress singlehandedly behind her.

Isaac pads back into the room and offers Derek the full glass of water, which he guzzles down in a few seconds.

“It’s not you, Der,” Laura continues, “Peter knew what he was doing. I’m sorry you got hurt.”

Derek shrugs, and closes his eyes again.

Laura darts out to grab a fluffy looking comforter and returns balancing about a hundred pillows.

“It’s what we do when a pack member is injured or sick,” she explains, probably because Stiles’ face looks like Isaac’s does, which is confused and a little frightened. “Lend them emotional comfort, but also physical. People actually heal faster when they’re being touched, you know. It’s supposed to be the whole pack, but I guess I’ll have to do for tonight.”

“I’ll stay,” Stiles says boldly, standing, and even Derek cracks open his eyes to look at him, shocked. “I mean, I’ll have to call my dad, but… I’ll stay.”

Isaac clears his throat. “Yeah, uh, I don’t have school tomorrow. I can stay too.”

“You don’t have to,” Derek tells both of them, breaking away from Stiles’ gaze. He looks… bashful, maybe. A little hesitant.

“I want to,” Stiles reassures, just as Scott knocks on the door and steps in, changed and freshly showered.

“Sorry, I had to stop at home to change,” he shrug in explanation. “I was covered in dirt and…”

He doesn’t finish the sentence. But knowing Lydia and Allison, they probably made sure Peter was… thoroughly disposed of, probably burned. His glance at Stiles tells him that Scott probably didn’t want to show up at Derek’s place reeking of burned flesh.

“That’s okay,” Laura says. “Thanks again for your help tonight. I really appreciate the show of support, Scott.”

“Yeah, no problem. I was thinking… Um… can I talk to you?” He says, shuffling his feet, and they step aside together, murmuring lowly.

Stiles can’t hear them, but judging from Isaac’s face, he can, and he looks… shocked, maybe, but somehow not surprised.

When they finally break apart, Laura pulling Scott in for a quick hug, Scott shuffles over to Stiles, looking pleased and a little flushed.

“Um, what was that?” Stiles asks him as he approaches. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Laura helping Derek settle on the mattress, can tell by his uncharacteristic clumsiness that he’s already drifting off.

“I just asked Laura if we—I mean, me and Isaac, and kind of the girls too, because we talked about it in the car—could be part of her pack.”

“The Hale pack?” Stiles asks incredulously.

“Look, I know we all had our issues at the beginning, but… Everything that’s happened, and then tonight… I don’t think I’m ready to be an alpha yet. I mean, I’m not one, my eyes are still yellow most of the time, but I’m definitely not ready. I wouldn’t have known any of that stuff Laura said tonight, about the culture of werewolves and stuff. When we talked earlier, she said that we could just share the territory, but I asked her about it and she said that she’d had years of training and then experience in New York, and I realized that I need that kind of stuff, too. So she offered earlier to take me on as a beta, maybe show me some stuff, and then we could revisit the whole ‘True Alpha’ thing Deaton was talking about in a few years, when I’m ready and have some territory of my own. I said yes.”

“Wow,” Stiles says, digesting, “That’s… that’s a really big step, dude. I thought you hated this whole werewolf pack thing.”

Scot shrugs. “Tonight… I guess I kind of saw how it’s supposed to be, you know? I saw how good it could be, all together.”

Stiles claps him on the back. “I think that’s a good call, man. Does that mean that I’m in the Hale pack, too?”

“Does that mean you weren’t already?” Scott returns with a knowing look.

Stiles colors. “Hey, we’re going to stay here tonight, me and Isaac. Laura says they usually do this thing after a fight, or when someone is hurt, where the whole pack kind of sticks together, so we’re going to stay here for Derek. If you want to.”

Scott agrees, and the two of them wander back over to the mattress in the middle of the room—Derek’s dead asleep already, curled loosely around himself in the middle of the mattress, one hand fisting the comforter tight up under his chin. Laura’s lying facing him, running a finger through his hair and looking at him fondly. Isaac’s already resumed his position from the forest, one hand lightly on Derek’s exposed ankle, lying across the foot of the bed.

Stiles takes a deep breath, and lays behind Derek, trying not to snuggle in too close. Puppy piles are one thing, but… spooning is quite another. Scott bridges the gap between him and Isaac.

He’s not touching Derek, directly, but Stiles smiles anyway.

It’s a start.

Stiles is the last one up in the morning, and Laura tells him that Scott and Isaac went back home an hour ago. She’s sipping coffee from a chipped NYU mug at the counter, while Derek—now perfectly healed and apparently feeling back to normal—scrambles eggs at the stove.

Stiles had woken once, in the night, to find himself plastered across Derek’s back, nose smashed into the crook of his neck, chest rising and falling in perfect sync with Derek’s breathing. He’d considered pulling back, again, but he was warm and sleepy and it felt so nice to have Derek in his arms.

Like something he’d never even dreamed of having.

And now, Derek is standing over the stove with his back to Stiles, wearing a worn-looking sweater, and Stiles pictures going to him, fitting himself behind Derek like he had last night, slinging arms around his trim waist and tucking the bridge of his nose back into the meeting point between Derek’s neck and shoulder, where he knows now that they fit perfectly together.

He breathes deeply.

“I should probably go home,” he says, a little too loudly. “I haven’t seen my dad in a few days.”

He ignores the look in Laura’s eyes.

The call comes three nights later, jolts Stiles from one of the first deep sleeps he’s had in ages. He’d seriously considered turning his phone off the night before, but Laura has recently instated a mandatory ‘reachable-at-all-times’ policy, which even Scott had to acknowledge was a pointed reaction to his unfortunate tendency to drop off the grid at the exact worst moments for it. Regardless, Stiles spends a few blissful seconds considering just not answering—his bed is so warm, and he’s so tired—but if somebody’s calling at 3AM, it’s probably important. At least, it’d better be.

“’lo?” He slurs without bothering to crack his eyes to look at the caller display.

So it probably says something important, the fact that when he hears Laura’s worried voice saying, “It’s Derek,” he’s wide awake and searching for shoes in about a second flat.

“What happened?” He says, sounding panicked even to his own ears, snatching a puddled hoodie off the floor and already on his way down the stairs. He’s still in pajamas, but he’s never heard Laura sound like this before. “Where are you?”

“The loft,” she says, as Stiles switches the phone to his left hand so he can start his jeep. “He’s not hurt, I don’t think he’s hurt, but something happened, he’s really freaked out. His heart started beating so loudly it woke me up, but nobody’s been here, nothing smells wrong, but he’s panicking, he won’t let me touch him, I’ve never seen him like this before. I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m in the car, I’ll be there in—” He glances at the dashboard clock and swears. “Five, maybe ten minutes?” There’s nobody on the roads this late, he’s tempted to speed, but the last thing he needs right now is to get pulled over. Especially since the deputies always give him a hard time, like to make him squirm.

“Okay,” Laura says, still sounding distracted and worried, “I’m sorry for calling so late, I’m… I…  I don’t know what to do,” she says again, and it sounds like the thought distresses her. It probably does—Laura always knows what to do. It’s her comfort zone.

“I’m glad you called,” Stiles says, “I’m almost there. I… I sometimes get panic attacks, so maybe I can help.”

“Okay,” Laura says softly. “I’ll see you soon, then.”

Laura’s pacing in the living room when he gets there, and even from the front door, Stiles can hear him gasping for breath. Laura shakes her head helplessly, pointing Stiles into the kitchen, where Derek’s braced over the sink, shirtless and covered in a sheen of sweat, back rising with every quick, uneven breath.

It looks like he’s having a panic attack, but Stiles can’t tell for certain, doesn’t know if werewolves even can have panic attacks.

“Derek?” He says softly from the doorway, stepping closer when Derek doesn’t turn his head, doesn’t even twitch with recognition.

“Hey, Derek, it’s Stiles,” he says, crossing to him slowly, focusing on keeping his heartbeat steady and his voice quiet and comforting.

“Hey, Derek,” he says again, “Everything’s okay. Everybody is fine. Laura’s fine, and Cora’s fine, and Isaac, and Scott… Everybody is okay. Is it okay if I touch you?”

Derek takes a second, and then nods, jerkily.

Stiles lays a hand cautiously on his shoulder—Derek flinches, hard, but doesn’t buck him off.

“Derek?” Stiles says again. It almost sounds like he’s saying something, in between his heaving gasps of breath, mumbling something over and over.

“Derek?”

His hands flex convulsively on the edge of the sink, and suddenly Stiles knows what he’s saying, remembers telling him just days ago…

“One,” Stiles says softly, holding up a finger where Derek can see it, “Two,” As he puts up another, “Three. Four. Five.” He removes his hand from where it still rests on Derek’s shoulder, holds it out as well, “Six. Seven. Eight.” He tries to keep his breathing calm, chanting the numbers in a slow, steady, rhythm, “Nine. Ten.”

He holds out both hands, fingers outspread, while his heart beats three times. He can see Derek’s breathing slow, infinitesimally, can hear Laura’s footsteps in the living room still.

“One,” Stiles says again, and does it, over and over, ten fingers again and again, until Derek’s caught his breath, until his elbows suddenly give and he collapses, head down in his arms.

“You’re okay,” Stiles says softly, moving to stroke a hand across Derek’s shoulder again, and then, because he knows what Derek actually cares about, “Everybody is okay. Laura’s here, and Cora’s safe. I’m right here. Everyone is okay.”

“Sometimes,” Derek says so softly that Stiles almost doesn’t hear it, “Sometimes I wake up and I can’t tell which is the dream and which is real life.”

“This is real,” Stiles says firmly, “You’re awake now.”

“And sometimes,” Derek whispers, “My dreams are better.”

Laura pulls out the mattress again, because Derek had slept soundly that night with all of them there together, and is clutching almost subconsciously at Stiles shirt now like he doesn’t want to be alone, and the two settle him down in the blankets and allow him to drift off between them.

Neither of them sleeps tonight.

“For the record,” Stiles tells her, Derek’s head in Laura’s lap and his knees nudging up against Stiles’, “I think someone needs to wrap your little brother up in a really fuzzy blanket and tell him nice things for about forty years.”

“Feel free,” Laura sighs, and strokes her brother’s hair, while Stiles feels his cheeks burn at the implication.

It’s silent, for a moment, and then Laura says softly, “You’re really good with him, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I used to have a lot of panic attacks. Not so much emphasis on the used to part.”

Laura examines him closely. “That’s not really what I meant, but… I’m sorry to hear that.”

Stiles shrugs. It’s old news to him, now.

“So is now when you tell me everything that’s happened the past year that I don’t know?” Laura says, after another long pause.

Stiles hesitates, and then sighs. “I don’t feel right telling you someone else’s business,” he says slowly.

“I understand. He’s just… so different from the brother I left in our shitty New York apartment. He seems so… small.”

“What was he like, then?” Stiles asks, because he’s only known Derek for a little more than a year, and he knows how much of the puzzle he must be missing.

“Oh, he was a sweet kid, when he was little,” Laura says fondly. “I mean, you know, a total dork. And kind of a jerk once he was on the basketball team, in that dumb, cocky, teenage boy way. At least, that’s what he wanted people to think. But he was still the kid who collected Star Wars action figures and snuck into Cora’s room during thunderstorms because she always cried, and helped mom make pancakes on Sunday mornings. He was kind of awkward growing up, his feet and hands and ears and eyebrows were all just too big for the rest of him. But he turned out okay, in the end.”

“Uh, yeah,” Stiles says, and he can feel his face go red, and Laura smirks at him.

“Anyway,” he coughs.

“Well, you know, that whole thing with Paige kind of messed him up. He just wanted to love somebody so badly, and then fucking Peter.” She spits his name out, and shakes her head. “It all went wrong. And he was totally devastated. That’s why when Kate came along,” she lifts one shoulder. “He was vulnerable. He was grieving and lonely and she gave him a shoulder to cry on.”

“You know about Kate?”

“Yeah, well, he obviously never told me. But he’s my baby brother, I know him. It wasn’t that hard to figure out afterwards.”

“Have you ever told him that you know?”

“No,” Laura shakes her head, and looks down at him. “Somehow I think that wouldn’t go over so well.”

“He thinks you blame him, for the fire,” Stiles says lowly. “He still blames himself.”

“What an idiot,” Laura whispers, but there are tears in her eyes.

“He really wants to make you happy,” Stiles says, though he knows that she knows.

“That’s funny,” she replies, though her voice is humorless, “I really want somebody to make him happy.”

Stiles clears his throat, and changes the subject. “Well, you know that Peter bit Scott. It was like, a year ago? I dragged him out into the woods. We were…” He glances up at her, head lowered in shame, “Looking for you.”

She shrugs. “Old news.”

So he tells her the rest. He tells her about Scott and Allison, about Kate and Derek and the kanima. He tells her about Erica and Boyd and what she doesn’t know about Isaac. About Lydia, about the Darach. And he tells her about himself.

When it’s all over, he stares at the wall, exhausted. It’s a long story, and it brings back visceral memories for him, even now. At some point, he realizes, he’s lowered a hand to grip at Derek’s calf, as if for strength.

Laura’s been silent through the whole tale, and when she speaks now, there are tears in her voice. “That explains a lot,” she says.

“Peter once told me that losing a pack member was like losing a limb,” Stiles says, low enough that he won’t wake Derek.

“Yeah,” Laura says, and swallows, with all the pain of experience in her eyes, “Yeah, I guess that’s one way of describing it.”

“How did Derek do it?” Stiles says in a rough whisper, “How did he do it, over and over? How did he survive?”

“I don’t know, Stiles,” She tells him truthfully, “I don’t know. But now all we need to do is try our best to make sure that it never happens again.”

Stiles’ fingers flex around Derek’s leg, and then Laura lets her fingers run through Stiles’ hair, too.

He finally lets himself rest.

Stiles goes home to shower and change, in the morning, and thanks everything holy that his dad’s already left for work so that he avoids the inevitable awkwardness of trying to explain where he went at three in the morning.

Laura’s scheduled a pack meeting for that night, had asked Stiles to come early to discuss something private, so he rolls up to the loft a full half hour before anyone else is due to arrive.

Stiles is greeted by a huge black wolf when he opens the door, and it says something about his life that it doesn’t even surprise him anymore.

“Hey, Laura,” He says, and then jumps about ten feet in the air when she says, “Hello, Stiles,” in a smug voice, and appears around the corner, entirely human.

Stiles blinks down at the wolf. “Derek?” He asks, and now that he’s looking closer, he can see it. Derek’s fur is fluffier than Laura’s, not quite as shiny, his muzzle slightly longer, ears just a bit pointier, and he’s broader through the chest and shoulders.

“Wow,” Stiles says, and drops to his knees, carefully exposing his throat. He’s not taking any chances. Derek has impeccable control, always has, but as far as Stiles knows, this is the first time he’s ever actually achieved his full shift, and he’s still not sure how much of Derek is pure animal instinct right now.

Derek sniffs at him carefully, and then buries his nose up under Stiles ear, breathing in ticklish little huffs, so he figures he’s probably okay.

“He managed it this morning,” Laura says conversationally, giving Derek’s fluffy head an affectionate pat as she crosses to the kitchen, “We just came back from a run together.”

“It’s amazing,” Stiles says honestly, and Derek huffs like he’s embarrassed, but his pink tongue suddenly gives Stiles a wet lick across the cheek. Carefully, Stiles takes one of his ears between his fingers and rubs. The fur is silkier than Stiles expected, and Derek gives a happy little shudder.

“You’ve got cute ears, even in this form,” Stiles tells him seriously, gratified when Derek gives that same embarrassed little huff and Laura laughs. Still, Derek doesn’t pull away, only butts his head into Stiles’ hands for more rubs, so he can’t mind too much.

Maybe it’s easier for him to show affection in this form, or maybe it’s just harder to hide it behind a naturally stern countenance with a tail that’s unmistakably wagging.

Without warning, Derek pulls away and pads over to the screened off portion of the loft that functions as his bedroom.

“He’s probably trying to shift back again,” Laura says, “It’s always the hardest part. It took me months to shift to full wolf the first time, even with my mom’s help, and then once I did, I couldn’t change back for years on my own without her roaring it out of me. Derek managed the shift remarkably quickly, considering that I’m probably the worst teacher ever.”

“No, you’re not,” Derek says, reemerging fully clothed and fully human.

“How do you shift back, on your own?” Stiles asks Laura as Derek grabs a mug from the counter to pour himself a cup of the coffee that Laura’s just finished brewing.

“It’s mostly a matter of having a strong enough anchor,” Laura says slowly, giving Stiles a contemplative look and then sliding her gaze back to her brother.

Derek gives the same embarrassed huff in his human form as in his wolf, it turns out, except this time, there’s no way to hide his blush under thick fur. Stiles isn’t sure what to make of the significant look he gives Laura, or her returning smirk.

“You really do have a beautiful wolf,” Stiles tells him instead of asking. He knows that Derek hates compliments, that they make him beautifully bashful, but he needs suddenly to tell Derek that his other form is as gorgeous as his human one is, that he admires both sides of him equally, that he acknowledges that they’re both important aspects of everything that Derek is.

Even if he can’t say all that in so many words. Yet.

And yes, Derek very studiously does not look at Stiles.

But he does mumble, “Thanks,” and he doesn’t run away, so he’ll take that as a win.

Laura, it turns out, wants Stiles to serve as her emissary.

For his part, Stiles thinks that it may possibly the worst idea she’s had in either of her lifetimes, and feels it his duty to tell her so.

“A good pack has a strong emissary,” she tells him calmly. “I know you have the spark, Stiles. You’re smart, and loyal, and an excellent addition to our pack, whether or not you accept my offer. But I think it would be beneficial for all of us if you would consider being trained.”

“Yeah, isn’t Dr. Deaton already working for you?” Stiles babbles, shooting Derek a look for betraying to Laura that their local vet had once thought he would make a good witch.

Seriously, what is his life?

“He was my mother’s emissary,” Laura explains, “But the two of us suffer from… differing opinions. Still, I think he would probably be willing to mentor you, if you were interested. I think you’re a perfect choice, but it’s up to you.”

“She’s right,” Derek says softly, instead of doing what he would normally do with his eyebrows when Stiles looked at him like that, “You’ve got talent, Stiles, and if you were trained you could become incredibly powerful.”

Stiles opens his mouth, and then closes it, and then sighs in defeat.

Laura grins. “Tomorrow afternoon,” she says, and winks at him.

Stiles picks Laura up for their appointment at the vet—the paperwork on her resurrection is working its way through the system, but slowly, and she still hasn’t gotten a drivers license.

“You don’t have to talk,” Laura assures him as she ushers him inside, and then spots the doctor, who greets them drily and opens the counter for her to push her way through to the back room.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” He asks.

“I’d like to discuss my emissary,” Laura says lightly, and Deaton raises an eyebrow.

“I wasn’t aware that there was a problem. If you’d like me to attend meetings with you or other members of your pack, of course, just let me know when they are and I’ll see if I’ll be able to accommodate them within my schedule.”

“Here’s the thing, Alan,” Laura says flatly, abruptly, “I respect that you have respect for our mother. And I think that whatever you’ve done for me and my brother has been because of that respect. But I have to say, that hasn’t been much. I had no idea who my Alpha’s emissary had been before the fire, but you didn’t reach out to me until nearly five years later. Even then, you were spectacularly unhelpful, and from what I’ve heard, you somehow outdid yourself with my brother. So I’m sure that you won’t be offended when I tell you that we’re considering other options.

“I see,” Deaton says stiffly, “I wasn’t aware that there was another option.”

“You know that’s not true,” Laura says, and Stiles actually feels it when Deaton turns his dark gaze on him.

“So do me one last favor, Alan, if only out of respect for my mother, because I seem to have lost yours somehow. Help teach Stiles all that he needs to know, and you’ll never have to see me again.”

There’s a long, tense, moment as his Alpha and her emissary lock eyes, and Stiles is honestly not sure who will look away first. Finally, Deaton shifts, and says, “I accept your offer, Miss Hale. I’ll admit, I have been looking forward to an early retirement from this lifestyle. I’ve always found it difficult to reconcile my duty to your mother’s heirs with my distaste in dealing with the young man who caused her death.”

Laura’s lips thin visibly, but before she can snap, Stiles does.

“Look, doc, I appreciate the training, but I will never talk about Derek with you. I don’t want to hear it. I’ll be here Wednesday after school.”

When he leaves without looking back, Laura drops a hand on his shoulder, warm and heavy with approval.

“That was intense,” he says, after they’re out of earshot.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Laura says and props herself up against the jeep, for the first time showing any sign of fatigue.

“Okay,” Stiles says slowly, “Then what would you like to talk about?”

“How about the fact that you’re disgustingly in love with my little brother,” Laura says, and Stiles doesn’t even have the energy to argue.

“Yeah,” he sighs, “How about that.”

And it kind of hits him then, and he can tell that Laura sees the exact moment it happens, because his blood starts pounding in his ears and his knees go a little weak. Because, yeah, he had kind of accepted that he was pretty deep into this thing. But suddenly it’s different, how it feels, like it’s suddenly real. Like he can suddenly think with utter clarity and assurance, I’m in love with Derek Hale.

“Oh shit,” he says weakly, and Laura, of course, laughs.

“It was not supposed to happen like this,” he says numbly, and he feels his head shake of its own accord. “I used to hate him.”

Laura shrugs. “I used to be dead. Things change.”

When they get back to the loft, Laura makes some vague excuse of dinner and saunters away to call for a pizza, winking at Stiles as she goes. It’s clear she thinks that everything has been worked out between Derek and him, that since he’s admitted how he feels all they need is twenty minutes alone together to work things out.

He doesn’t have the heart to tell her that it’s never going to be that simple, between the two of them. They have too much to work through first.

“I just got off the phone with Cora,” Derek explains, a little awkwardly, because Laura’s less than subtle departure has left the air feeling strangely charged. “She’s thinking that she might be able to come up for Christmas. She really wants to see Laura. Well, meet her, more like.”

Stiles hums. It’s become so normal to have Laura around, these past few weeks, that he sometimes forgets how strange the whole situation really is. She came back from the dead.

“Did I ever thank you for saving her life? Cora’s, I mean? In the ambulance?” Derek looks down at his feet. It’s not apropos of nothing, but it feels abrupt, nonetheless. “She told me what you did, Stiles, and I’m… I’m really glad that I left her with you. So. Thanks.”

“Yeah, it was totally not a problem. You should probably thank the CPR training team at the pool downtown because they taught me all I know. So.”

Derek makes a little sound that might be a laugh.

“And, um…” Stiles continues, after taking a deep breath, because if this is ever going to happen, if they’re ever going to clear the air… “Did I ever apologize for the things I said that night? About, you know… Ms. Blake?”

Derek shakes his head sharply. “No, don’t. I’m. I’m sorry for that. I am, it’s like…”

“Stop,” Stiles says, “It wasn’t your fault, you didn’t know about her, and you didn’t know about Kate, and none of the things that they did are your fault, and I shouldn’t have thrown that in your face. I was… I was scared for my dad and upset, and I took it out on you, and you just stood there and took it, and, by the way, the next time I start on like that, feel free to say something rude back, I won’t even care.”

“I—okay, I’ll work on some material.” His voice wavers, the half-joke falling flat, and he says carefully, “But I was going to say… God, this is going to sound so stupid.”

“What?” Stiles asks, trying to keep from sounding invasive, “I’ll believe pretty much anything, so…”

“It was like… a dream, or something,” Derek says slowly. “The time we were together, or, at least, when she said we were… This really is going to sound crazy. But I burned myself on the pan the morning after, making eggs, and all the sudden it was like I couldn’t remember a thing about the night before, like I’d just woken up from a strange dream, but she was there and she was naked and she said we’d…” He gestures, helplessly. “The last thing I remember of the day before, I was going to find you or Scott at the high school, I’d forgotten that you were on your trip. I guess I ran into her there.”

“That doesn’t sound stupid,” Stiles says, mind racing, “That doesn’t sound stupid at all, Derek. It sounds like exactly what was happening to Isaac and Boyd and Scott and all the other werewolves the exact same night at the motel. The Darach poisoned them and they were acting all sorts of crazy, I had to shove a road flare in Boyd’s face to break the trance or whatever it was. If she was with you, Derek, she could have easily done the same to you, with wolfsbane or with mistletoe or just with her crazy sacrifice magic.”

Derek’s silent for a moment, and the devastation on his face is painful to look at.

“I don’t know if that makes it better or worse,” Derek finally says, hollowly, “That she got me alone and vulnerable and she used me. Again. I guess you were right. It really was the second time.”

Stiles reaches for him, slowly. He wants so badly to touch him right now, just to take his hand, to give him a little comfort, but he’s unsure if it would be welcome. Finally, he allows one finger to brush the back of Derek’s hand; when he’s not pushed away, he settles his hand there, firmly.

“While we’re on the subject,” Stiles sighs, “This is going to be a very long day. I mean, I’m sorry for… pretty much everything, I guess. I’m really sorry for everything with Laura, at the beginning, up to and including accusing you of her murder. And I’m sorry that Scott and I got so wrapped up in everything happening with us that I forgot that you were alone and grieving.”

“Stiles,” Derek says softly, “I don’t…”

“Because I mean, you were a little harsh at times, but after my mom died, I spent a month straight having panic attacks daily and telling my dad—my dad—that I hated him whenever I got the chance, so I should have cut you a little slack.”

Derek looks at his hands, where Stiles covers his. “I have a lot to be sorry for, too,” he says, “I probably don’t have time to go through it all. And I don’t know if this helps, I’m not trying to make excuses, but… Everything that I did, I was honestly trying to keep you and Scott safe.”

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says, and then grimaces, “I wish I could say the same.”

They stay there for a moment, touching, processing, and then Laura comes back in the room and the moment is gone.

But Stiles stays, and eats, and it feels… lighter between them.

Better.

More possible.

Laura broaches the subject a few days later, when the electricity in the loft is on the fritz again and she nearly fries herself with a hair dryer.

Stiles is pouring over one of the books Deaton gave him in the corner of the couch, Derek absorbed in some thick book that Stiles is pretty sure is in French in the other, when Laura stomps out of the bathroom, hair still dripping wet.

“Okay,” she says tensely, like she doesn’t want to offend anybody  but is thoroughly finished with the whole situation, “I really appreciate you taking me in, Derek, but it’s time. I need to look for a house. The pack needs somewhere to spread out, with enough rooms and land for everybody. I need my own bathroom. We have the money, I think we should buy  a new place together, for ourselves and for the pack.”

Derek closes his book, softly.

“You want me to move?” he asks.

Laura sighs. “I’m not going to make you come anywhere,” she says, though she clearly doesn’t see why he would stay in this admittedly rundown loft. Stiles tries to think of a way to convey ‘he’s a martyr’ with just his eyes, and fails. Laura probably knows, anyway. “But I would love it if you would consider a new place. More like the old days. Regardless, I think you should look with me. I could use the company.”

Derek runs a finger down the leather spine of his book, and frowns. “Okay,” he says finally, “Okay, I’ll come look with you. The other thing… I’ll think about it. I’ll let you know.”

Laura smiles. “I’ll call the realtor.”

They bring him out to the house once their offer’s been accepted.

It’s perfect for them—light and airy, right on the outskirts of town with plenty of acreage and forest access. It doesn’t feel oversized for just the two of them, because Derek has decided to move into the new house, after all, but there are extra rooms for Isaac, Stiles, Scott, and even the girls.

“I want to show you your room,” Derek says, with an edge that sounds almost like excitement in his voice, leading Stiles down a long hall to the last door, “If you like it, obviously. There are others you could choose from, but this one made me think of you.”

It’s large, with a window seat and built in shelving and windows on two sides. If Stiles had built the house himself, he couldn’t have done better.

“It has space for all your books,” Derek explains, “And it’s far enough away that you could stay up late and practice your spells or something without waking anyone, and it gets the morning sun like your own room does.”

“Wow, this is… anyone would think you liked me,” Stiles says, half joking, heart racing, and turns to see a stricken look on Derek’s face.

“Derek?” He says hesitantly, “I was only… joking, really. I mean, I know you like me.”

“Right,” Derek says woodenly, “I like you, of course I do.”

It’s his discomfort that tips Stiles off—he takes a sharp breath in and says carefully, “Derek? Do you… like me?”

Derek swallows hard, and refuses to meet his eyes. “Since the pool,” Derek tells him, “Since you saved my life and then called the Kanima an abomination, like you thought that I wasn’t one.”

“You’re not,” Stiles says automatically, and Derek shakes his head.

He can’t help it—it’s all so bizarre, he laughs a little, almost hysterically, and then realizes his mistake when he catches the hurt on Derek’s face.

“Why do you find it so hard to believe that I might like you?” He whispers.

Stiles swallows. “Maybe because you’ve never even hinted at it.”

“Well.” Derek says, “Maybe I didn’t want anybody else to know. Even though you’re the only one who didn’t.”

“Great,” Stiles says, with a humorless laugh, heart sinking, “That’s really great. Very nice. Thank you.”

“No, Stiles,” Derek says, and takes his wrist as he tries to walk away, “I mean because… because people that I like, that I even associate with, usually end up... badly off. They’re targeted because of me. I… I didn’t want that to happen to you, especially with the alphas around. I didn’t want you to get hurt because of me, not again. And besides, I didn’t think—“

“What?” Stiles says impatiently, just wanting to get away now, because everything’s gone sideways and he can feel his eyes prickling, “What? That I was good enough? That I was strong enough?”

“No!” Derek says, more forcefully this time, “I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t think that I’d ever get any farther than being laughed at, if I’d told you. I didn’t want to ruin what we already had.”

“Well, I’m not laughing.” Stiles says. “I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been pretty much oblivious to your feelings, and that you’ve just completely blindsided me.” He’s doesn’t think he’s even fully processed yet. Is Derek saying… does he mean… His brain is racing, and he feels like he can’t pin down a solid thought, like he’s only getting flashes of fragments.

“Right,” Derek says softly. Stiles can feel his eyes on him, but he can’t bring himself to look over. “Well. I guess that settles that, then.”

His footfalls are so quiet that Stiles hardly realizes that he’s moved away until he’s almost gone. “This won’t have to change anything,” He says quietly, when he’s almost at the door, “You can still be in Laura’s pack, and be over here, and. Well. I’ll just work on this. I won’t make it awkward, I promise.”

“No, Derek, wait,” Stiles calls, and everything crystalizes in his head in an instant, and he’s suddenly afraid that it’s too late, that Derek’s gone, that he’s really done it, that he’s finally the one, after everything, after all those horrible people with their knives and guns and words, that he’s the one who’s finally driven Derek Hale away, but he catches him in the hall, and tries not to choke with the way that Derek flinches when Stiles gets a hand on his shoulder.

“Derek,” he says again, and then, just because he can, because the word feels right in his mouth, “Derek.”

“I promise,” Derek says again, and he won’t look at Stiles, red-eared and shying away.

“No, Derek,” Stiles says again, a bit desperately now, “I don’t think I caught on that early, but that summer, when we were looking… when we were together all the time, I think that’s when… I’ve felt this way for a while, I can’t tell you an exact moment, but I’m not going to laugh at you, Derek, because I feel it, too. And I thought, I thought that I was being like totally obvious and that you were just trying to be polite without actually shooting me down, so I’m sorry it took me a while to wrap my head around that fact that you might feel the same, because in my book, that’s a goddamn miracle.”

“Really?” Derek says hesitantly, half turning back to him, and Stiles nods earnestly.

“I’ve been a mess recently, Derek, just ask Laura—I’ve been so obnoxious and obvious to her and everybody else but I didn’t want to tell you and ruin everything that we were building but this… this is better than I ever thought it could be.”

Derek gives one of those precious little half smiles then.

He doesn’t kiss Stiles—maybe neither one of them are ready for that, yet, but Stiles contents himself with that smile.

It tells him everything that he needs to know.

Derek and Laura are moved in within the month, and Laura makes him come out on the last night to help them unpack the kitchen, though dinner is promised as his reward.

Between him and Derek, it’s… good. Slow. They’re both trigger-shy and wary, and it works for them.

Or so Stiles thinks, until he royally fucks it all up unloading the mixing bowls.

“You two seem to have been getting closer,” Laura says lightly, juggling an ungodly amount of glassware, and Stiles jokes right back, “Just like you wanted, huh?”

Derek leaves so quietly that Stiles is ashamed to say he doesn’t even notice until he sees the look on Laura’s face, and turns to find that the cabinet where Derek had been stacking plates is hanging ajar, the front door swinging shut.

Stiles pales, doesn’t even make his excuses before he’s running after Derek.

“Hey,” he calls, running out the front door, only to find that Derek hasn’t bolted into the forest like he was worried about, has instead just retreated to the far corner of the large porch, propped up on the railing, an arm around an upright post.

“Hey,” Stiles says softer, approaching.

Derek looks at him like he’s carrying the world. “If this is for Laura,” he says heavily, “You have to know that she’ll still want you here without this. You can still be in her pack, you can still be her emissary without taking pity on her poor kid brother.”

“This is not about Laura,” Stiles says firmly. “I liked you before any of this happened, okay? I just never thought I stood a chance before.”

“Before Laura came back,” Derek says flatly.

“But not because she came back,” he protests. “Maybe because she’s here now. I know that doesn’t sound like it makes any sense. But we’ve been spending so much more time together with her back. And I feel like I know the real you now, you know? You were always so focused on being a good Alpha, always asking yourself ‘What would Laura do?’ And now you don’t have to. You have space to be yourself. And I did like you before. But I lo—I like you even better now.”

Derek bows his head, looking unsure and scared, like he’s worried Stiles is upset with him.

“Derek,” Stiles says softly, stepping in. He knows Derek still struggles with touch, but it feels important right now, like what he has to say might be somehow more truthful, more reassuring, if Stiles can be close to him. He still moves slowly enough not to startle, so that Derek can stop him if need be, when he nudges Derek’s legs apart where he’s sitting on the porch railing to step in close enough to thread his arms around his neck. Derek’s face is still downturned, and Stiles rests the bridge of his nose on one of Derek’s high cheekbones so that he can speak softly into his ear. He smells earthy here, and subtly of laundry detergent and some probably very expensive cologne. And… okay, it’s obviously not all physical. But it’s still Derek Hale, and Stiles has never seen anyone quite like him, and sometimes he still needs a minute.

“Derek,” he repeats, “I’m so glad your sister is back. I’m so grateful that you have someone else in your corner. Besides me, obviously. And the rest of your pack. But this—us—is not because of her. I like Laura a lot. I even liked you when you were pretending to be like Laura, though I obviously didn’t figure that part out until like two days ago.”

“I wasn’t—” Derek protests, but Stiles holds a finger to his lips, and marvels in the fact that he’s allowed to do that, now.

“But I like you a lot better,” he continues. “And I like you a lot better now that you’re being yourself all the time, and not just when you think nobody’s looking. I mean, Laura’s cool. But I’m kind of in love with Derek.”

And this close, faces tipped together, Stiles can actually feel Derek blush. So he says it again, because he’s in love, and it’s difficult and wonderful and such a long time coming. “I love you.”

Derek doesn’t say anything back. But he does bring his arms up to wrap around Stiles’ back, to pull him in tight, and the sentiment is there.

“And look, I know this isn’t always going to be smooth sailing. I know I have all my issues, and this kind of thing is hard for you. Understandably. But I’m never going to be upset with you expressing doubts or having bad days or needing to go slow. All this stuff, and talking like this, it’s all good. We’ll always be okay if we can talk about it.” And now Stiles knows why words are so hard for Derek, especially after so much pain and betrayal. He feels vulnerable and silly and he knows his heart is going crazy because he can hear it in his own head.

Derek cups his face in two big, warm hands after a heart wrenching beat of uncertainty, moves him back just far enough to gaze into his eyes for a few intense moments, and then leans in to brush a gentle kiss over his forehead.

“I know,” he says, and then holds a hand out to lead Stiles back into the house.

And Laura doesn’t threaten him or invite him over for a formal dinner, but she smiles when she sees their fingers intertwined, and it’s enough.

It turns out words are much easier for Derek when he doesn’t have to fumble for them in the moment, doesn’t have to watch them land or worry about the immediate vulnerability they give him.

So when Stiles finds a note tucked onto his windshield the next morning, written in Derek’s precise hand, saying, I never thought I’d want any of this again. You make me want it all. With you, I think it might be worth it.

Well. Stiles thinks he can be excused for his uncontrollable grin the whole way to school. Even if Scott does ask him if he’s okay twice before the bell even rings.

Stiles doesn’t kiss him the next time he sees Derek, but it’s a near thing.

He just curls an arm around his waist and says, “Hey,” with more gushy romanticism than he would care to admit, and then makes Derek help him set up some furniture for his room at the Hale place—though it seems almost a waste, since he’s hoping to be staying with Derek when he’s there.

Don’t rush, he reminds himself. Don’t rush.

But when they’re brushing their teeth together that night, the house dark and quiet, Derek says almost shyly, “The last night I slept well was that night Laura called you to come over, remember?”

Stiles smiles at him with a mouth full of toothpaste, and then spits.

“Does that mean you want me to sleep with you tonight?” He asks, trying not to sound too coy, and definitely doesn’t suppress a shout of victory when Derek nods.

He keeps his shirt on.

Derek doesn’t.

Stiles expects it to be as easy as it was the first few times, but this is decidedly more intimate, just the two of them together, and they’re both too nervous to fall right asleep.

Derek’s breath seems ragged and uneasy in the dark, even once Stiles has mostly adjusted to the strange new thrill of sharing a bed with someone like this.

He turns on his stomach, turning his head to look at Stiles, and sighs deeply.

“You seem anxious,” Stiles murmurs, reaching a finger out tentatively to trace the muscle of his shoulder, feeling it rise and fall when he shrugs.

“Are you worried?” Stiles asks him. “About something… supernatural?”

“I’m not the Alpha anymore,” he says, shrugging again. “I feel like I don’t have to worry as much, at least not about that. I feel more free.”

“So you don’t miss it?” Stiles says, running a finger down the topmost spiral of his tattoo, “Not even a little?”

“It’s…” Derek sighs. “It’s hard to explain. Being the Alpha—becoming the Alpha—is a rush, especially at first. But it’s a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility. And I was never meant for it. I mean, Laura, she’s a born leader, besides the fact that she spent years training with my mother. But I never wanted to be Alpha, growing up.”

“That makes sense,” Stiles says, and despite his speech, Derek looks relieved when he rolls on his side to meet Stiles’ gaze.

“It does?” He asks quietly.

It still pains Stiles, how unsure Derek is with positive feedback, and how long he clearly went without it.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, intentionally injecting his tone with what he hopes are equal amounts of warmth and playful frustration at Derek’s obliviousness, “Your strengths—loyalty, protectiveness, fighting strength and supernatural knowledge, sacrifice and tenacity—I know I’m new to all the hierarchy stuff, but those seem really valuable for a beta. You’re an advisor, protector, a supporter in times of need. Just because you prefer not to lead doesn’t make you any less important to this pack, right?”

And Stiles doesn’t really expect him to agree, but he certainly doesn’t expect him to squeeze his eyes shut, to whisper harshly, “How could you possibly love someone like me?”

“What do you mean?” Stiles asks, hand stilling, and then squirms closer to rest his lips against Derek’s arm, hoping that in some small way Derek can feel the truth in his words, “I just told you. You’re loyal, you’re strong and good and fierce. Why do you love anyone? I just… do.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Derek says, eyes opening and shining jewel bright in the faint moonlight; shining, Stiles realizes, because they’re flooded with tears, “I hurt people, Stiles.”

He knows without asking who Derek’s talking about.

“They loved you,” Stiles tells him, “And I know that you loved them. And I know that you only bit them to make their lives better, no matter what happened. You saved Isaac from his father, and you saved Erica from her disease, and you saved Boyd from his loneliness.”

“And I killed them,” Derek whispers roughly, “I’m the reason that they died. That’s why I drove Isaac away, so he had a chance.”

“I was with Erica when she had that seizure in the library, remember that?” Stiles says, “Do you remember that day? Do you know what Erica kept saying? She refused to go to the hospital. She wanted you, she said it over and over, ‘Take me to Derek.’ She knew that you would keep her safe while she was weak. And Boyd? With his last breath, his very last, he forgave you. He did, Derek. Now you just have to listen to them. Listen to what they said to you, and you have to forgive yourself.”

Derek breathes harshly, and swallows.

“You do amazing things for people, Derek, you have such strength of character,” Stiles continues, suddenly desperate to make Derek see in himself what Stiles sees every day, “What about Cora, huh? “The sacrifice you made for Cora. Your powers. Do you ever regret it?”

“Not for a minute,” Derek says, without a pause. “To save Cora—and maybe Laura, too, if Lydia’s right, about my alpha powers helping to bring her back… I would have done a lot more.”

“See?” Stiles nods. He doesn’t know what being an alpha would have felt like, of course, what giving it up would have cost, but, “If I had that sort of chance, back when my mom was sick? I would have given anything. Literally anything.”

“I know,” Derek says. “That’s why you’re easier to be with sometimes than Scott or the others. You know. You get it.”

“I get it,” Stiles agrees, “Caring about people… it feels dangerous. But protecting them like you do, that’s what makes you good. That’s why, Derek. That’s how I love you.”

Derek blinks at him again, but he looks drowsy, and he pulls his shoulder under until he’s curled loosely on his side, facing Stiles. He reaches out to tug at the ends of Stiles’ hair, so gently that it feels like a caress.

“I should talk to Isaac, tomorrow,” Derek says, voice thick with sleep, now, “Tell him.”

“Sure,” Stiles agrees, taking Derek’s hand in his, “In the morning.”

Derek drifts off to sleep, fingers still tangled with Stiles’.

Derek does call Isaac, in the morning, tells him that he wants to show him his room and shuts the door quietly after them while Stiles and Laura linger in the kitchen, drinking coffee and carefully not listening.

Stiles hasn’t always been Isaac’s biggest fan, because Isaac can sometimes be a Grade A dick, but then, it’s not like Stiles really has any room to talk there. And he can grudgingly admit, on his good days, that most of Isaac’s issues stem from some really shitty circumstances and probably not from any actually irreparable personality defects.

He genuinely wants it to work out, for Derek’s sake.

Stiles doesn’t know what they talk about behind those closed doors—even Laura puts headphones in and turns her music up until Stiles can hear it across the room—but when they come out, they’re both smiling a little, and Derek’s got that same, bashful look on his face that means he’s both proud and a little embarrassed, while Isaac discreetly wipes his eyes and then shyly offers his throat to Laura.

“That room’s for you,  all of your old stuff has been moved into it,” she tells him gently, and then moves to embrace him in one of her hugs that Stiles knows from experience combines something of the maternal with all the confidence of the alpha, “It’s yours for as long as you want it.”

Derek’s still looking a little awkward (he always does, after he’s talked about his feelings), and he’s actually got the sleeves of his sweater pulled down into his fists, like a child. Still, Stiles reaches out until he untangles Derek’s fingers from the fabric, and tangles them with his instead.

Derek doesn’t pull his hand away. It means something, but Stiles can’t think about it yet.

“It’s all good,” he says, aiming for reassuring, and hoping he lands somewhere in the neighborhood, “You did good. It’s all going to be okay.”

Derek kisses him, that night, when they’re lying close to each other in bed again.

It’s quick, and soft, and then he pulls back like he’s done something wrong, much to Stiles’ dismay, as he reaches for Derek and wants more than anything to pull him back in.

But the look on his face…

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Derek says haltingly, “I’m not very good with physical affection, after Kate, and then Jennifer… and then with Gerard, and Boyd, I’m… I guess I’m always just afraid that my body’s going to be used against me again.”

“I trust you,” Stiles says lowly, reaching out to cup Derek’s cheeks slowly enough that Derek could stop him, if he needed to. He doesn’t, and Stiles tries not to smile too widely at that.

“And I trust you,” Derek says, without a moment of hesitation.

“Good,” Stiles says, “Then we’ll go as slow as we’re both comfortable with until you trust yourself. Because I know that you won’t hurt me. But I’ll wait as long as you want until you know that you won’t hurt me.”

Derek nods. “I know sex can be about… love and affection and intimacy. But I’ve never… it’s never been like that for me.”

“Tell me to stop and I will,” Stiles promises both of them, “No matter when, no matter where, no questions asked. There’s no pressure, and no hurry. I don’t care if it happens in months or years or never. Sex will never be worth you suffering.”

Derek bites his lower lip, and Stiles has to keep from grinning at the gesture, so young and unsure looking, strangely endearing.

“Can I kiss you again?” Derek whispers, and then Stiles does smile, can’t help it.

“Pretty sure that’s always going to be a yes,” he says, and then he shuts up.

Because he’s kissing his hot werewolf boyfriend.

Cora flies in the week before Christmas, and Laura calls a meeting for the next day, after the Hales have had some time to reconnect alone, to discuss holiday plans.

“What do you mean, ‘holiday plans?’” Scott asks. “Is there something happening that’s not Christmas? I mean, something… wolfy?”

“The last full moon of the year,” Laura explains, “Some call it the Cold Moon, or the Long Nights Moon. It’s a time to focus on family and pack, on those that you keep safe and warm around your hearth on the harshest nights of the year. It’s a time to celebrate the people that you love, and mourn the ones that you’ve lost. We usually gather as a pack, to run together and feast together. I’d like to continue that tradition, if your parents will let you come. It’s on Christmas this year, and I know that some families like to celebrate that day alone, but your parents are welcome to come if they’d wish. Anyone who doesn’t want to run is welcome to stay back at the house, but humans are always welcome along if they’d like. I’m making a cake, for Derek’s birthday.”

“Your birthday is on Christmas?” Scott says with a wrinkled nose, “Dude, that sucks.”

Derek shrugs.

“We always celebrated Christmas on the twenty-fourth,” Laura explains, “Mom always said that everybody deserves their own special day, so Christmas was on the twenty-fourth and Derek’s birthday was the twenty-fifth. No Christmas wrapping paper allowed.”

“I say we continue the tradition,” Stiles says, squeezing Derek’s hand. “We could even have this full moon feast the day before, if you want.”

“No,” Derek says, “Gathering with pack on the full moon is the best part of every month. I don’t mind it happening on my birthday.”

The morning of Derek’s birthday dawns clear and cold enough that it might actually snow in the evening, which is rare enough in Beacon Hills for the prospect to be exciting rather than depressing.

He knows that the Hales are finished with their Christmas celebrations by now—hell, he was over yesterday afternoon when they opened their presents—but he couldn’t convince his dad to follow suit, even with some seriously degrading whining.

In his dad’s defense, Christmas was always his mom’s favorite holiday, and celebrating it has always been a sort of memorial to her.

Still, even though Derek, in his true self-martyring fashion, insisted that he didn’t need Stiles to make any extra effort, yes, even on his birthday, Stiles managed to edge his father around to a compromise. It may or may not have been totally dependent on a little guilt tripping due to the fact that this is the first time in years that Derek can celebrate his birthday with people who care about him, rather than alone in the burned and rotting shell of his family home.

So with Christmas eggs eaten and presents opened, leaving his father to a food-induced nap, Stiles slips out around one and putters over to the Hale’s new house, Jeep loudly protesting the cold.

Laura had strictly forbidden Stiles from bringing a cake along, claiming the honor of baking it herself from an old family recipe, while Stiles in turn had demanded that he would take Derek to lunch. Derek had looked slightly stunned at the interchange, and the knowledge that Derek was still more used to fighting people than he was to having them fight over him only strengthens Stiles’ resolve to make Derek’s birthday as special as he can.

His plot is stunted by the fact that, despite Hale family tradition, everybody else in Beacon Hills is currently celebrating Christmas, and that the only restaurant open is the Chinese Buffet that Stiles has strictly forbidden his father from frequenting, due to his tendency to exclusively order deep-fried items.

But Derek has a not-so-secret weakness for orange chicken, so Stiles figures that he won’t mind too much.

Derek opens the door dressed in one of the soft looking sweaters that Cora had brought with her in one of the frighteningly large boxes she’d packed with Christmas gifts for her older siblings, and Stiles actually has to swallow, hard, once he gets a good look at him.

Sometimes, Stiles still forgets that he gets to—is, in fact, encouraged to—hug Derek Hale whenever he wants.

Remembering that is like Christmas all over again.

“Hi,” Stiles says happily, and means kiss me. “Happy Birthday,” he says, and thinks, I hope I get to spend all of them with you.

“Hey,” Derek says, as shyly as he always does when presented with the blatant want that Stiles must be broadcasting with every pheromone.

“Ugh, gross,” Cora says from somewhere out of sight, “Your feelings are getting all over everything.”

“Come on,” Laura says, appearing from around the corner and leaning against the wall in her own special fashion, hip popped and arms crossed, “At least kiss him hello.”

“Laura!” Derek says, eyes wide.

“No, don’t,” Cora calls, “Not in front of me, ever. Go far, far away.”

“Cora!” Derek says, and then grabs Stiles’ wrist and drags him out the front door, “We’re leaving. I’m really sorry about them.”

“No worries,” Stiles says, “That was nothing. You should have heard what my dad told me when I left.”

“I don’t want to know,” Derek says, as he climbs in the passenger seat of Stiles’ Jeep. “But now that we’re away from my incredibly annoying and invasive sisters…”

And then, Derek does kiss him, slow and sweet, with dragging, drugging, sweeps of the tongue… and okay, yeah, Cora might have a point. Stiles never wants to be kissed like that in front of any of Derek’s family.

“Hi,” Stiles says again, when Derek finally allows him to pull back, nipping instead at the skin on his neck, working on a quickly purpling mark where Stiles can feel his pulse beating.

“Happy Birthday,” he breathes. So what if they postpone lunch for a bit?

So Stiles changes his mind, and kisses Derek when he arrives with his dad for the Cold Moon run, shamelessly, in front of Laura and Cora and Scott and his dad and everyone else preparing for the run. He doesn’t mind Cora’s eye roll, or Laura’s smirk. It’s all worth it, for the way Derek’s ears go pink.

When the moon comes, Derek and Laura prepare to slip into their fur coats, and so does Stiles—or at least, the thick winter coat he’s borrowed from his dad, with the fur lined hood. It’s the closest he can come.

Stiles watches him change in Derek’s bedroom, away from prying eyes.

“I love you,” Stiles tells him as he’s stripping, suddenly shameless in his easy nudity, and Derek still may not say it back, but it’s there in his eyes and in his smile.

When he’s changed, Stiles bumps noses with him. “I love you,” he says again to the other aspect of Derek’s twin soul, rubbing his ears in the way that always makes him shudder in helpless pleasure.

They pad out of the house side by side, and watch as the moon casts its spell, as Scott and Cora and Isaac let it reveal the wildness in their hearts, as Lydia and Allison lace boots and pull hats over their curls.

Laura cocks an ear, cloaked in the legacy of her mother and her pack, and at some unknown signal, suddenly streaks for the trees, followed in turn by her betas. Derek noses Stiles’ hand once, in silent encouragement, and darts after them, all grace and power.

And Stiles runs.

He can’t feel the moon in the same way, can’t feel its tug in his bones and in his heart, but the moonlight makes him feel free regardless, lighting his way as he dashes recklessly through the woods, bounding over fallen logs and though small meadows, hearing Lydia and Allison laughing and following, all of them clumsy and slow on two legs as their pack members dart around them, circling back to collect the human stragglers.

The cold air is crisp and refreshing in his lungs, and when the first snowflake falls, Stiles laughs, loud and gleeful and free.

Laura leads them to a high bluff, overlooking her territory and her town, and they fall in behind her, this strange, patchwork assortment of people that Stiles knows only one word for: pack.

When Stiles reaches the top, panting and sweating, but still full of the gleeful energy that had propelled him after his Alpha, Derek circles his legs, sitting back on his haunches at Stiles’ side, right where he belongs. When Stiles settles a hand on the ruff of his neck, it feels like coming home.

Laura throws her graceful head back and howls, long and loud. It’s a mourning cry for her mother and father, for her aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings. It’s a mourning cry for Erica and for Boyd, and for every loss they’ve all felt so keenly.

And it’s a celebration, of the pack’s strength, of a family reunited, of all the hope that Stiles feels for the next year, and the next, and the next.

Derek raises his nose to the dark sky and sings with his sister, their voices twining in a harmony that’s haunting and familiar, a call that Stiles feels in his very bones.

And he, too, throws back his head, and howls at the moon.

 


 

 

“There’s no other love like the love for a brother. There’s no other love like the love from a brother.”

-Terri Guillemets