Derek’s chest hurt. Not the sort of hurt that came from a workout that truly stretched his limits and his muscles. No, that hurt would have been not only acceptable but preferable. This hurt came from deeper, that same electric place where he could feel Stiles. Only now, it wasn’t really that familiar tingle so much as it was a throbbing ache. An hour prior, he’d felt a bright flare of pain followed by the throbbing he could feel now. That ache hadn’t let up at all, and at this point, Derek could see red haze at the edges of his vision, and knew he was barely keeping his shit together.
He slammed through the door to the emergency room and nearly ran into the front desk in his rush to get to Stiles. “Stilinski-Hale,” he growled through gritted teeth. When the person in front of him didn’t say anything, only squeaked in fright, he snarled. Why wouldn’t they let him get to his mate? “Stiles Stilinski-Hale, now.”
“Easy now, big guy. No fair terrorizing my staff. If you’ve frightened them to speechlessness, how are they supposed to get you to Stiles?” Derek heard the familiar voice coming from his left, and turned toward it. “That’s right, focus on me.”
“Stiles,” he growled, flexing his hands carefully to keep his claws sheathed. He didn’t need to hurt Melissa McCall. Scott and Stiles would be really mad if he hurt Melissa.
“I wondered where you were,” Melissa said, reaching out one hand slowly to hover over his shoulder. She didn’t touch him, though, which Derek appreciated dimly, somewhere in the back of his head. “I didn’t think it would be long after Stiles and Peter came in that you’d be here. What took so long?”
Derek growled in his chest at the implication that he wasn’t taking care of his mate. And growled again when he realized she hadn’t moved and they were no closer to Stiles. “Far away. Had to get back. Where’s. Stiles.” He was inches from losing control of himself and ripping apart anyone who stood in his way, no matter who they were.
“He’s back here. I’ll take you back to him, if you can promise me you’ll keep control of yourself.” Melissa drew her hand back. “If you can’t promise me, then you’ll have to stay put until you get control of yourself.”
Derek snarled at her. How dare she keep him away from his mate?
“You’re not convincing me,” Melissa said flatly. “He doesn’t need you all riled up, Derek, he needs you as calm as you can manage. I need you to give him that, if you’re going to make this work.”
In the part of his brain that wasn’t consumed with getting to his mate, he recognized what she said as smart, and also hopeful. The burn of pain was tinged with his own anger at not being able to protect--or get to--Stiles, but also frustration and shame, and he honestly wasn’t sure how much was his and how much was Stiles. He was pretty sure it was both of theirs. “I’ll calm down if you take me to him,” he ground out.
“A full sentence, I’m proud of you,” Melissa quipped, but she did turn and head toward the area of the ER where patients were kept. “His hand is broken, we’re fairly sure. He still needs x-rays to confirm the extent of the damage, which should be happening shortly, but he’ll probably be in a cast for at least six weeks. Be gentle with him.”*
“Always,” Derek said, gritting his teeth a little to try and help him hold onto his control. He was on a knife’s edge, and none of what Melissa was saying was really helping. Getting closer to Stiles was, but it was scant comfort at the moment.
“Knock knock,” Melissa said, tapping her knuckles against the door and pushing the door open slowly. Derek, who would have preferred just charging in, was irritated until he saw that the room was exceptionally crowded with three bodies and a large piece of machinery. “Oh, good! X-rays will help figure out what we’re looking at.”
“Yes,” Peter drawled. “I was skeptical at first. I was unaware that they came to you for x-rays these days…?” His voice trailed off, leaving it an open ended question for Melissa to answer.
Melissa smirked at him, skirting around the tech to peer at the screen. “It’s a fairly recent thing our hospital has gotten. Probably in the last six months or so, to be honest. It’s immensely helpful, keeps our waiting times down, and provides digital read outs of the x-ray for us to look at.” She pointed at the screen and murmured something to the tech who nodded his head and very gently repositioned Stiles’ hand on the plate.
Derek’s eyes flared red--he knew they did because his vision clouded for a moment--at Stiles’ stifled whimper and spike of pain. “Careful,” he growled.
The tech froze and snatched his hands back. “Sorry,” he mumbled, and moved back to click another picture.
“Derek,” Melissa said sternly. “Behave.”
“I’m okay,” Stiles whispered. “Don’t eat the tech.”
“I wouldn’t eat him,” Derek protested, but he stopped after that, moving over to stand next to Stiles. He saw now why Peter was standing so close to him; he had a hand on Stiles’ shoulder, one finger touching his neck and was carefully draining away the edges of Stiles’ pain.
“All done,” said the tech. He waited for Stiles to lift his hand and pull it back, before pushing the machine out of the room as fast as he clearly could. Derek could hear his heartbeat pounding as he hurried down the hall.
Melissa shook her head. “he’s going to tell stories about how the alpha nearly took his head off,” she predicted. “Play nice. I’ve got other things to do, but someone will be in to put a cast on your hand soon, Stiles. I’ll try to make sure it’s me.”
Stiles looked up at Derek once she was out of the room. “Are you okay?” he asked carefully.
Derek could hear the pain still in his voice, and wondered why Peter wasn’t taking more of it. “I’ll be fine,” he said, being as honest as possible. “What happened?”
Stiles looked down at his noticeably swollen hand and wrist and winced. “I. Uh. I punched a wall?” When he looked back up, his expression was such an interesting combination of sheepish chagrin, concern, and shame that Derek found himself moving toward Stiles a half a step without even realizing it.
“Why did you punch the wall?” he asked.
“Peter,” Stiles blurted out.
“PETER?!” Derek all but roared, turning on his uncle. He was going to rip Peter to shreds, leave pieces of him all over the hospital for everyone to find, all the way down to the individual joints of his fingers and toes.
“No!” Stiles slapped his good hand against Derek’s chest, right over his heart, before Derek could take a step toward Peter. “No, not like that. Peter and I were talking about something Scott said and I got mad and I stupidly punched the wall. It’s all my fault. Seriously. All me. I was dumb and I punched the wall because I got mad and I broke my hand and it was dumb.” He flexed his fingers slightly, pressing them into Derek’s chest. “Please.”
Derek growled a little more. “If Scott and Peter upset you enough that you punched the wall, it’s their fault,” he said, not sure why Stiles would take the blame on himself.
“Trust me, it’s all on me.” Stiles looked away, his voice quiet.
The flare of shame in Derek’s chest wasn’t his, either. “I do trust you,” he told Stiles, surprised to realize he wasn’t just talking about right now. Somewhere over the past few months, even with Stiles doing his hiding thing, he’d come to trust his mate. He wondered when that happened. He reached up and touched the back of the hand on his chest, sliding his own hand over to cover it completely.
Stiles jerked, yelped when the movement jarred his injury, and then started to purr. “Are you doing that...drainy thingy?” he asked, eyes closing.
“Yes. You’re in pain.” Derek glared at Peter.
“He needed to be able to describe exactly where the pain was,” Peter said unrepentantly, removing his hand from Stiles’ shoulder. “I took enough that he didn’t need the narcotic painkillers they would have offered him.”
“I broke my hand,” Stiles said. “My hand hurts. That’s not hard to tell them. I’m lucky I didn’t shatter it.” He purred again. “Whoa.”
“Better?” Derek refused to admit that he was petting Stiles’ hands lightly.
Stiles nodded. “Yeah. Spinny head, whoa. Don’t take any more, I need to be coherent. We need to talk.”
Derek knew they did. They’d needed to talk for months. Still… “We can talk later. When you feel better.”
“But…” Stiles opened his eyes and looked up at Derek. The slightly out of focus look he was getting decided him.
“Later. Let me go see if I can find the doc, hurry this up so we can get you home.” He squeezed Stiles’ hand just a little, and then turned and left. It was safer for all of them if he did. He didn’t want to have a break down in the middle of the hospital examination room.
He paused outside the door of the room, trying to control his suddenly pounding heart. It took him a moment recognize the adrenaline crash for what it was. Stiles was okay, if still in pain. Some pain was going to be necessary until he could get Stiles home, in bed, and drain it all away.
He needed to make that happen. For both of them. He wondered if Stiles would be willing to do that… Derek pushed himself away from the wall and stalked away in search of Melissa. She would help him, if only to get them out of her ER where he could scare people.
Half an hour later, Derek found Melissa, who helped him find the doctor. The doctor had, when confronted with the glaring Hale Alpha, immediately pulled up Stiles’ films on the nearest workstation, pointed out the fractures, and described the problems. “Do you want to be in the room while we set his fractures and wrap them?”
“Yes. I will be in the room. You will be, too, quickly,” Derek ordered, and stalked back to Stiles. He could hear Melissa comforting the doctor behind him, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He was still on edge from Stiles’ pain and his own reaction to his mate’s injury. He was being as nice as possible.
He slipped back into the room, eyeing Stiles who was now laying back on the bed with his eyes closed. “He okay?” he murmured to Peter, seated in the chair against the wall.
“Tired. In pain. I’d say this is about as normal a reaction as one could expect, given the circumstances,” Peter said. “If you’ve got this, I’m going to head out. I don’t think I’m needed here any longer. Or wanted.”
Derek just nodded his head, crossing the small room to stand next to Stiles. “Thank you,” he told his uncle after a moment. He didn’t look at Peter when he said it, though. he couldn’t. “Thank you for being there for him when I wasn’t.”
“Of course,” Peter said. “Fix this, though, Derek. For both your sakes.” And then he was gone.
“I’d love to,” Derek murmured very quietly, looking down at Stiles’ pale face. And he did. He’d wanted to fix it since it was a problem, but he didn’t know how. He’d tried a few times to get Stiles to talk to him, but his mate had been evading him for...well, pretty much since the day he’d moved into his room. Three months of silence, brief glimpses when they passed during their daily routines. This was the longest amount of time he’d spent in Stiles’ presence since the tortuous half hour at Stiles’ graduation party. Now, this was torture of an entirely different kind.
“You think loud,” Stiles mumbled. “What’d doc say?”
Derek started; he thought Stiles was asleep, his breathing and heart rate were so low and even. “You broke three little bones in your fingers, one each in your index, middle, and ring fingers, and fractured a few more lower down in your hand. They’ll be here in a minute to set it and splint it. You’re going to be in a cast for 8 weeks.”
Stiles whined. “Gonna start college in a cast?”
“Sorry,” Derek said sincerely. “My healing factor won’t transfer for this.” And for that, he was sorry, because he didn’t want Stiles to hurt any more, to have to suffer, any of that. There wasn’t much he could do, though, short of biting and turning Stiles, and that wouldn’t ever be something he’d do to Stiles without permission.
Stiles whined again, and opened his eyes. “I guess so,” he mumbled, watching Derek’s face. “You’re gonna stay while they set it, right? Gonna hurt.”
Derek nodded, not trusting his voice.
Stiles opened his mouth and inhaled like he was going to say something else, but he didn’t. He just bit his lower lip and stared up at Derek. Derek couldn’t help but stare back, arrested by the look in Stiles’ eyes. It was...unfamiliar, and clouded by pain, but it...it almost looked like there was forgiveness there? Chagrin, maybe… Could it be that Stiles would finally talk to him about this?
The moment was broken by a knock on the door. Melissa stuck her head in, and Derek could have punched her for it. Finally alone with Stiles, finally a hope of making progress, and…
“Hey, M’lissa,” Stiles said, struggling to sit up. Derek slid an arm behind him and lifted him gently. “Thanks. You here to set my hand?”
“Gonna wrap it up when the doc’s done. Derek, can you pull away swelling as well as pain?” Melissa asked.
Derek frowned. “Not usually,” he said. “Why?”
Melissa tilted her head. “Because we can’t put the cast on Stiles until tomorrow if there’s a chance his hand will swell up more. Too much swelling, and it may mean we have to cut the cast off until the swelling goes down, and reapply a new one. If you can pull away some of the swelling once we set his hand, we should be able to avoid that step, apply the cast now, and save you two some effort.”
Stiles looked up at Derek. “I’m willing to try it if you are?”
Derek didn’t move for a moment, trying to remember something his mother had once told him. “Let me hold your hand, Stiles,” he said, reaching for the injured hand. He very, very carefully wrapped his hands around Stiles’ wrist, grimacing when Stiles made a choked sound of pain. “I’m sorry. Just…” he focused on the spark in his chest, feeling around for what he knew was Stiles inside of him, and trying to focus on what it felt like when he healed from a small injury.
“...whoa,” Stiles said, sounding dazed. “That’s...that’s like the pain suck on crack,” he murmured.
Derek grunted his agreement. He wasn’t entirely sure what he’d just done, but he could see that a little bit of the swelling had gone down in Stiles’ fingers.
“That’s interesting,” Melissa said, peering at Stiles’ hand. “Can you do that with anyone?” she asked Derek.
“No,” Derek said. “No, I think it’s only...it’s only because of the mate bond. I can’t heal him, but I can...I can take some of it in to me? And I know I can’t do it with anyone else.”
“Take it in to you?” Stiles said, squinting down at Derek’s hand. “Did you--you did. Your hand is puffy. How did--wait, now it’s gone. The hell?”
Derek shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t know how he’d just done that; thought he was sharing his healing ability. He was going to have to get into the library later. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I really don’t.”
Melissa stared at his face for a long moment. “Well. As long as you’re willing to do that again in a few minutes, I think we can safely apply the cast today and send you two on your way.”
Derek nodded, and Melissa went to go drag the doctor in. It didn’t take very long to set Stiles’ hand, once they had his fingers suspended in a wicked looking machine, though Stiles’ face did go white as the bones shifted back into place. Derek was immediately there, pulling away pain and trying to pull the swelling away again. Once again, it worked, though not how he thought it should, and in short order a cast-- “Neon green, Melissa!”--was curing on Stiles’ hand.
“This sucks,” Stiles observed, looking at his hand encased in bright green plaster from the tips of his fingers to his elbow. “This really, really sucks.”
“Yup,” Melissa said. “I’ll give you the name of a place where you can order sleeves to cover the cast while bathing so it doesn’t get wet. You know the rules for broken bones, Stiles, right?”
“Yeah. No running, jumping, hiding under beds, or otherwise making it hard to get out of anywhere,” Stiles said.
“Well, the rules from when you were eight still apply. Only this time, make sure you don’t use those fingertips for a while, all right? Not that I think you’ll want to. Here’s a scrip for some tramadol. Stronger than the Tylenol 3 he wanted to give you, but not so strong that it’ll knock you for a nasty loop. Though if Derek keeps pulling your pain, you’ll be fine without it.”
“I’ll take it anyway. Thanks, Melissa.” Stiles took the slip of paper from her. “I think this is the fastest I’ve ever gotten through the ER.”
“Well, we’ve done what we could to streamline the process,” Melissa said, opening the door for them. “Plus, this is the first time you’ve come through as mate to the alpha. No one wanted to deal with a pissed off alpha werewolf if they waited too long.”
“He wouldn’t eat anybody,” Stiles said. “He promised.”
“Thanks,” Stiles said, and pushed himself carefully out of the car. “I can walk,” he pointed out, when Derek hovered.
Derek resisted the urge to whine. Grant him patience, please, whatever god there might be. “I know you can,” he said as gently as possible. “But you also have an extra three pounds of weight on a limb that hurts like hell, I’ve pulled a lot of pain, and you’re woozy from it. And tired from the adrenaline crash. Let me make sure you don’t fall down the stairs?”
“...yeah. Yeah, okay,” Stiles said after a moment, and slowly walked up the front steps. “I really need to go...go lay down,” he said once they were in the front entry. He shifted from one foot to the other, not looking at Derek.
He wasn’t looking at Derek, but Derek could feel something odd through their bond. Funny how it was more pronounced today than it had been in the past. More pronounced or maybe he was just paying more attention to it than he had been. Stiles’ shifting was odd, but maybe… “I could lay down with you,” he offered quietly. “Pull the rest of the pain, make sure it stays away.”
Stiles stop shifting and looked up at him. “You...you wouldn’t mind?”
That was a fair question, Derek supposed. “No, I wouldn’t mind,” he said, his voice still quiet. “We could stay on the couch, if you’d like?”
Stiles looked toward the den, where the big, squishy couch was. It was comfy, Derek knew, but probably not what was really needed. Stiles seemed to agree. “No, I...I think a bed is best.”
Derek was glad that Peter wasn’t home yet and Stiles didn’t have augmented hearing. His heartbeat was deafening to him, and he didn’t really think Stiles would appreciate hearing it. He was proud of himself when his voice came out steady and even. “Your room or mine, then?”
Stiles’ voice wasn’t as steady, and Derek didn’t know how he felt about that. He also couldn’t read the flare of emotion that sparked warm in his chest. “Yours, please,” Stiles said. “It’s...yours.”
“I’ll follow you up,” Derek said, and turned toward the stairs. He was trying very hard to control the flare of hope he could feel building in his chest. Just because a hurting Stiles wanted him near didn’t mean anything special. He needed to control the desperate hope he hadn't realized was so strong. They needed to talk first.
Stiles managed to get about three steps up the staircase before he paused, wobbling slightly. “I’m dizzy,” he said, left hand splayed against the wall. His face was grey, and that was all Derek needed before he was scooping Stiles gently up. He cradled his mate carefully against his chest.
“I’ve got you,” Derek whispered, and carried Stiles the rest of the way up the stairs and into the bedroom they’d spent the night together in, the first night all this had started. He carefully laid his mate down on the bed, toed off his shoes, and settled down on the bed next to Stiles. “How do you...how do you want to do this?” There was no non-awkward way to say that, was there?
Stiles rolled, his cast thunking down onto Derek’s chest awkwardly. “Ow,” he hissed, but it didn’t stop him from burrowing against Derek’s side, tucking his head down into the hollow of Derek’s shoulder. “This. This works...I...fuck, my hand really hurts now.”
Derek immediately tugged up Stiles’ shirt enough that he could press a finger against Stiles’ skin, and started to draw away the pain. He couldn’t stand the throbbing in his chest that was his mate’s pain. It made him want to hurt someone. Maybe the wall. Or even better, his uncle, whom he felt completely comfortable blaming Stiles’ injury on. “Shhh,” he hummed quietly, hoping the rumble through his chest would help distract Stiles away from the pain. He pulled it away as fast as he dared, until there wasn’t anything left throbbing in his chest, and Stiles was back to the same purring he’d been doing in the hospital.
“Oh, tha’s nice,” Stiles slurred into Derek’s chest. “Tha’s rully nice.” In between one breath and the next, he fell asleep, snoring lightly.
Derek closed his eyes and soaked up the feel of Stiles against him. Stiles trusting him enough to sleep like this would have been a ridiculous dream just this morning, if anyone had asked Derek. He’d wanted to fix things with Stiles since they went sour, but rejection after rejection had taken their toll on him.
Stiles shifted a little bit closer to him, and threw one leg over Derek’s. Derek had to stifle a groan when the shift tilted Stiles’ head so that warm breath was now gusting over Derek’s throat with every exhalation.
The warm weight and rhythmic breathing of his mate was enough to lull him to sleep, victim of his own adrenaline crash. His last conscious thought was that he hoped Stiles wouldn’t regret this when he woke up.
“...stronger when fully bonded to a mate. These take some time to fully settle in and take hold, though bonds are technically complete upon biting during consummation. The fledgling bond needs to be nurtured and cared for, or the alpha pair will never achieve its full potential. They will be stronger than they would alone, but no where near the potential strength achievable.”
He registered the words slowly, pulling himself out of the mental spiral of confusion that the sight of his mother invoked. This was...familiar. Like a memory, almost. It was odd. He almost expected to see Laura sprawled on the carpet, her feet propped up on the hearth. “Mom,” he breathed out, sitting up.
Talia Hale looked up at him and raised her eyebrow. The look was so familiar, so profoundly missed, that it sent a stab through his heart. Derek wasn’t sure he could breathe. She didn’t say anything, though, just watched him.
He forced himself to inhale and think about what she’d just said. If a bond needed to be nurtured and cared for, then his bond with Stiles wasn’t anything like it should be. He grimaced. “Are you saying that, without caring for the bond with Stiles, I’ve put us both in danger?” The thought that he could be putting not himself but Stiles in danger was almost as painful as seeing his mother. Stiles meant the world to him, he was rapidly realizing. He wasn’t sure why, since he’d basically been ignored since the first full day of their marriage, but Derek realized that he’d fallen in love with Stiles. And, without meaning to, he’d put him in jeopardy.
Talia didn’t do anything, just continued to watch him with her eyebrow raised.
Derek opened his mouth to ask another question, but something in her look made him mumble an apology for interrupting instead.
“Nurtured bonds will be strongest if the pair cares for them and if there is genuine feeling between the two. This does not need to be love, but it should be respect at the very least.
“One of the strongest mating bonds an alpha can form is with a human. There are many reasons for this seemingly ridiculous claim. The most important reason is because all the power from the bond naturally goes to the werewolf of the pair. The human does not require any of the power to sustain themselves in any way, so their share is not needed and goes to their mate. Additionally, there is a bridge formed between two worlds when an alpha mates with a human. Packs with were/human pairs in charge will often be stronger, tighter knit, and better integrated than those with were only pairings. The strength of the pack feeds the alpha, as always, and makes them stronger. Finally, of the biggest reasons for such a match, while a much rarer combination, there are some humans who have an amplifying effect on the bond with their mate. The humans that create this effect will always have were blood in their past, at least two generations back. At this time, it is not known why the effect exists, or why the remove from were blood must be no less than two. There is, however, unmistakably an exponentially larger power increase for the alpha half of the mated pairing.”
Derek was getting used to feeling like he’d had the wind knocked out of him. “That’s why Stiles,” he said, staring at his mother. “That’s why you betrothed Stiles to Laura when he was so young.” He watched Talia nod slowly. “Does he know he amplifies? Does he amplify?” Derek corrected himself, since it sounded like there was no way of knowing, but since Talia was dead...she’d know, right?
Talia raised her eyebrow at him again.
He was no longer nostalgic for that look. “He would if we had a proper bond?” Derek guessed, collapsing back onto the couch. That didn’t seem quite right either, though. Amplification sounded like the sort of thing that would kick in once there was something to amplify. If that was the case, there was should already be some kind of sign that Stiles could expand and multiply Derek’s power.
Derek realized that there was; the reduction of swelling back in the hospital shouldn’t have been possible. It wasn’t possible, except for how he’d done it. The only logical explanation that Derek could come up with was that Stiles was an amplifier and boosted the ability in Derek. “You picked out Stiles for Laura because you’d hoped he’d be an amplifier and boost her power.”
Talia sighed. “That is not the only reason Stiles was chosen, but it is a major one. One of the other major reasons was his mother and I working toward integration and equality. There were others, but they’re inconsequential in this.”
“Was any of this ever going to be anyone’s choice?” Derek was irritated on Stiles’ behalf. He never really thought about it before, but his mate’s life had been decided for him before he even started puberty. He never had a chance to get anywhere with anyone or anything except Laura, and maybe his own future career, but even that was steered in one particular direction, and Laura… Damn.
“Laura knew,” Talia said very quietly. “She knew all of it. Stiles knew...some of it. He knew about the equality part, but Claudia and I both died before we could tell him the rest, and Laura...well, Laura did, too. No one who knew all of the reasons remained to tell Stiles.”
Derek winced a little at the mention of equality. That was still a very tender spot, especially because he really didn’t know yet what he was supposed to be doing. He felt awful about it. “Mom…”
“No, Derek. You really need to stop being so hard on yourself. You were never meant for the place in which you find yourself. You weren’t groomed for it the way your sister was. The way you’ve coped with what’s been thrown at you has been amazing.” Talia got up from the chair and crossed to crouch next to Derek.
“I’ve messed up.”
“Less than you think, sweetheart. Less than Stiles thinks, though I think he’s beginning to realize that with some help from Scott, Peter, and a broken hand.” * Talia snorted softly. “That was quite a sight.”
Derek was momentarily distracted by the comment. “You mean you saw it? Are you...a ghost?” The thought of his mother haunting him was simultaneously reassuring and deeply unsettling.
Talia chuckled. “No, not like that, dearheart. I check in from time to time, to see how you’re doing, but I’m certainly not hanging around, watching you live your life. Part of being a parent is knowing when to let go. I had to let you go a long time ago, but I can’t help but watch on occasion. Claudia feels the same way, so sometimes, we trade off and I’ll keep an eye on Stiles while she checks in with you. It happened to be one such switch this morning, and I saw the whole thing.”
Derek was dazed. “That’s...a lot to absorb,” he said slowly.
“I know, and I didn’t exactly mean to tell you,” Talia admitted. “My point was, Stiles is, I believe, coming to realize that the one in the wrong here was not really you. Yes, you made a mistake, but not one you were in any way prepared to avoid, and he was incredibly unfair to you about it.”
“Mom…” he trailed off. There was something gnawing at him. There had been for a long time. “Mom, this isn’t right. I’m not Laura. I can never be Laura. I can’t be that kind of alpha, be a good mate to Stiles…. hell, I can’t even keep my pack from wanting to kill each other half the time.”
“You’re right,” Talia said.
Derek flinched and looked away from her. He’d said it, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard to hear his mother agree with him.
“Stop,” Talia said sharply. “You’re right that you aren’t Laura. You’re Derek. You’re very wrong about the rest, however. Your pack is very young and going through the normal turmoil a pack goes through when they get a new alpha. None of this is abnormal, and none of it is a reflection on you personally. You’re a good alpha, if very young and untried. You’ll be a better one once you fix things with Stiles and you present a united front. Truth be told, Derek, and for whatever it’s worth, I think you’re a far better match for Stiles than your sister was.”
“What?” Talia’s statement startled Derek. How could that be possible when they had barely spoken for months? When he didn’t know his mate, not even the slightest bit?
Talia sighed and shook her head. “Look, Derek, at where the two of you were coming from. You had a rough start, yes, but look at where you two were coming from. Aside from the loss of your mothers, you both lost Laura a short time before you were forced to honor an agreement made ages before either of you were thinking of anything even remotely like it, and in your case, completely foreign to what you expected your life to be. You’ve had it incredibly, stupidly difficult, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to cope half as well as you have.”
Derek processed all of that for a moment. His mother was right, if he was willing to accept that there were factors of this that were beyond his control. Which...well. There were. Really, there were. “All right, then...why do you think we’re a better match for each other than Laura and Stiles were?”
“Well, for one thing, you may be the only person in the world capable of out-stubborning Stiles Stilinski,” Talia said with a wry smile. Your sister would have just run him over, which is effective in order to get things done, but not the best way of dealing with a mate. You’ll work well with him and get him to do the things that he needs to do without removing his agency. Once you remember that he’s a fully functioning adult,” she added, poking Derek’s knee.
Derek rolled his eyes at her. “I know that. It’s thinking of him as more than ‘just’ a human that was the problem.”
Talia patted the knee she’d just poked. “See? Already an improvement. You’re also both intelligent enough to keep up with each other, you’re both proactive and protective, determined, and you have a lot of the same goals and dreams.”
Hearing that he a lot of the same dreams and goals as his mate startled Derek. He wasn’t sure why, honestly, other than he had certainly never thought of it. Why would he? He had spent the past several months trying (and admittedly failing) to not think about Stiles at all. To discover that they had so many things in common would have made things more difficult. Hearing it now was hard enough. “Do you think he’s made the right decision regarding his future?” he asked carefully.
Talia arched her eyebrow. “Which part, sweetheart? The part about honoring the betrothal agreement and marrying you? Yes.”
Derek flushed and looked toward the fire. It was easier than looking at her. “About his degree. I can’t help but think…”
“He’s wasting so much potential,” Derek said with a sigh. “I feel like he’d be better suited doing something else.”
“Interesting you would say that,” his mother said. “I happen to think he’d be better off getting a political science degree to go with all of that supernatural and paranormal history. I think that, given his position as your mate, he’d be very uniquely suited to making the efforts to do things that are needed. He’d have leverage that wouldn’t necessarily exist otherwise. Teaching isn’t a bad choice, and he certainly would be very good at it. I just think he’d be--”
“Better doing the work more publically?” Derek offered. “Yeah. It’s occurred to me, with everything Scott has told me about him.”
Talia patted Derek’s knee again and stood. “You’ve been doing what you could to learn about him, haven’t you?”
“I’ve tried,” he said quietly, looking up at her. “He’s my mate. We’re bound together for life, no matter what else happens. It was the smart thing to do.”
Talia pulled him to his feet. “If the two of you could learn how to pull together, I think you could accomplish a great deal more than any of us ever considered,” she said. “Try, Derek. For both of your sake’s.”
“I plan on it,” Derek said. His breath caught in his chest then, and he was swamped with sadness. “I...I miss you so much, Mom.”
Talia’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she pulled Derek into her arms for a long hug. “I miss you, too, baby. Talk to your mate. I raised you better than this. Talk to him and love him and let him love you, and be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.”
Derek clung to his mother for as long as he could. “I love you, too, Mom. I’ll try.” he closed his eyes, trying to savor the feel of her in his arms, the scent of her hair as it tickled his nose, all of it.
When he opened his eyes again, it wasn’t to the library of his youth, but to the bedroom of his adulthood and a pair of brown eyes watching him warily.
“...hi,” he managed to stammer out. Aside from the jar of the setting shift, he hadn’t expected to be that close to Stiles’ face. Derek was more than a little startled.
“Hi,” Stiles responded.
Derek waited for him to say something else, but he didn’t. He just looked at Derek. “Uh...how’s your hand? Are you in any pain?”
Stiles shook his head, and carefully laid back down with his head snuggled into Derek’s shoulder. “No. You’re still drawing off the pain. I mean, I definitely know it’s broken, and there’s a dull ache that I don’t think even you could take away, but it doesn’t hurt.”
“Good.” Somehow, it’s easier when Derek isn’t looking straight at him. It wasn’t that the direct gaze felt accusing or anything, but...well, somehow it’s just easier.
There was silence for a long moment, the two of them laying there comfortably if not entirely companionably. And then, “I’m sorry.”
Derek frowned. “What?”
Stiles took a deep breath. “I”m sorry. I’m sorry for being an asshole, for treating you like the pile of shit I’ve been treating you like since the day we went to the council. It wasn’t fair. I’ve been an asshole in the worst possible ways, and I’m sorry for it.”
“I…” Derek didn’t really know what to say to that. He wasn’t about to argue; Stiles had been an asshole. A profound asshole in some respects, if Derek was willing to be completely honest. The thing was, when it came to Stiles… As much as the behavior had hurt and bewildered him, he didn’t exactly...mind. “I can’t exactly say that it’s okay,” he said slowly, “because that...would be a lie.”
“Scott came to see me,” Stiles said. He seemed determined to say this, and Derek subsided to let him. “He came over here and he called me a little prick, and told me that you were being really hard on the pack and it was my fault. He wanted to know if I was done being a little prick, and I got...I got really mad at him, and said a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have. He left, and I went to talk to Peter. Peter was...I hesitate to say helpful, because I feel that implies something about Peter that he really isn’t, but he said, and so did Scott, that you aren’t Laura. And that pissed me off even more, you know? because I know you’re not Laura. You may look like her, in the creepy sibling way, and you’re related to her, but you aren’t her. I couldn’t figure out why everyone kept telling me that, and it’s just been making me...so angry.”
Derek could hear the emotional pain creeping into Stiles’ voice. He wanted to take it away, fix it, do anything to banish it from his mate’s life, but he was learning that there were a lot of things he wouldn’t ever be able to fix. He started to very gently stroke Stiles’ side in small circles.
Stiles swallowed and took another deep breath. “What I realized while I was sitting in that ER was that they weren’t trying to tell me that you weren’t Laura, but I was expecting you to act like her anyway. I kept trying to push you into this mold of what she’d constructed for me, but you didn’t fit, because you’re you. You don’t act like her, because...well. Because you’re not Laura.” He swiped at his face, and Derek could smell the salt of tears.
This wasn’t a pain Derek could take away the same way he was drawing off the physical pain. He could feel the throbbing ache of loss and loneliness throbbing in his chest, through the bond that he was currently very, very aware of. He thought about what his mother said, and hoped he was about to do this right.
“You’re right,” he said quietly. “I’m not Laura. But Stiles...you’re not Laura, either.”
Stiles sniffled hard. “What?
“You’re you, Stiles, just like I’m me. You’ve got your own strengths and weaknesses and quirks and faults and places where you’re really good. You don’t have to be both yourself and Laura. You don’t have to do everything all by yourself.” Derek wondered if what he was saying made sense and got his point across. “Take your degree, for example. You told me that you’re going for teaching supernatural history so that you can make a difference. I know I don’t have that completely right, but that’s the general idea behind what you told me, right?” He waited for Stiles slow nod. “Is that what you really want to do?”
“Well, yeah!” Stiles said, sounding somewhat confused and a little irritated.
“What do you mean, why? If we give kids the tools to make the decisions, then everything will work better.” Stiles propped himself up on his uninjured arm and looked down at Derek with a frown. “If they aren’t taught they have choices, then how are they supposed to know?”
Derek met his eyes. “Where were you taught you had those choices, Stiles? At home or at school?”
“At home, by my mother. Oh.” Stiles deflated. “Nothing at school even gives a hint that humans are just as good as werewolves, does it?”
Derek shook his head. “Not really.”
“Well, fuck.” He looked like he was thinking hard about it, a line forming as his eyebrows drew together. “It was...it was always going to be something we worked on together,” Stiles said slowly. “Laura was going to do stuff, and I was going to teach, and together, we were going to work on changing things.”
The stab of pain made Derek’s own heart clench. Stiles’ grief was still very real and palpable, and the fact that Derek hadn’t noticed while locked in his own grief and turmoil made him a bit angry at himself. “You would have caught on to that, eventually, and then tried to both teach and get things changed so you could teach, am I right?” He knew he was; that was Stiles’ entire personality.
“What about what you really want to do? You’re not really a behind the scenes kind of guy in that respect. Yes, you like to work and build and research things, but when it comes down to it, you’re right there, in the thick of things, in front of whomever you want to protect if you can manage it.” Derek realized he’d never stopped petting Stiles, and that Stiles hadn’t stopped him. It warmed him.
Stiles tilted his head, and Derek tried very hard not to find it adorable. “Where did you hear all of that?”
Derek raised an eyebrow. “Scott.”
Stiles paused for a moment, and then let out a laughing groan. “Of course. He didn’t just come here to yell at me, did he. He’s been yelling at you all along.”
Derek shrugged one shoulder. “I wouldn’t say yelling so much as… telling me about you. Teaching me who you are. He was determined that I would know as much as he could possibly tell me.”
Derek wondered why Stiles sounded so genuinely confused. Could it be such a foreign idea to Stiles that people cared about him and wanted him to be happy? “Yes, really,” he said gently. “I thank him for it, because it gives me some insight into who you are and how you tick. It also helps me be honest when I say that I’m not entirely sure you should go for teaching.”
Stiles stared at him. “What do you think I should do, then?” he asked. His tone was a bit short, like he was trying to control a surge of irritation or anger. Derek wasn’t sure which, and didn’t particularly want to find out, so he continued quickly.
“A political science degree will give you the tools to be in the position Laura would have been in. I have no talent for the things she did. I cannot manipulate people in the same way, and to try would be to put everyone through a lot of misery. You, though, have that talent. And you like to be on the front line, working to make the changes. To do that, you’ll need stuff to back you up.”
Stiles eyes flickered, and Derek wondered if he’d gone too far. “You think so?” was all he said, though.
“I don’t generally say things I don’t mean,” Derek said softly. “Sometimes, I have it very, very wrong, but I try.”
Stiles nodded slowly. “I’ve learned that. I’ll think hard about that political science degree, though. I won’t lie, I’ve been wondering if a teaching degree was right for me. I know what I want to do with it, and I know it would be a good thing, but I wondered if it would do what we wanted. I didn’t think of it in the terms you just…” He waved his hand in the air, and then whined in pain, when the hand he waved was the broken one. “It’s fully immobilized, why does that hurt?”
“Because the muscles in your arm still flex and move, whether everything is held in one place or not,” Derek said, focusing briefly on the pain draw to try and bring down the spike of hurt. “The muscles are sore and swollen, and they press on the injured nerves, and you get the pain flare.”
Stiles blinked at him. “...that was kind of hot,” he murmured.
Derek frowned in confusion. “What was?”
“That knowledge bomb,” Stiles answered. He took a breath. “Derek…”
“Can we try again?”
Derek’s heart stuttered once, and then slammed hard in his chest. “Try again?”
It was Stiles’ turn to shrug one shoulder. “Yeah. I mean...we didn’t get the best start the morning after. I...think maybe we should pick up where we left off.”
Derek took a deep breath. “It depends on where you want to pick up?” he answered.
Stiles hesitated for only a moment. “From the morning after we got married. Before we went to the council meeting.” He didn’t give Derek any time to answer before he was up the rest of the way and shifting until he straddled Derek’s hips.
Derek was shocked. “Are you sure?” he asked, not quite willing to believe that this was actually happening. He could still be dreaming, after all. “I want--” he stopped himself and licked his lips, trying to focus all of his thoughts in a straight line. “I would very much like to start again from that morning, but only if you are absolutely positive you want to.”
Stiles looked down at him soberly. “I did a stupid thing, Derek. A really god damned stupid thing, and I nearly destroyed what we could have before we ever had it. I want to backtrack, and go back to that morning. I want the thing I really wanted when I woke up that morning, which was a repeat performance of the night before.”
“We can’t erase the last three months,” was all Derek could thing to say. As much as he wanted to start anew, there was no such thing as a complete re-do. If Stiles thought they could, this probably wouldn’t work.
“I know we can’t,” *Stiles said quietly. “I don’t expect us to erase them. We can start fresh, though, in the sense that we acknowledge we’ve both been buttheads and we need to remember that we’re functionally adults who can do things like actually talk instead of expecting our mate to read our minds, or even worse, know about conversations had years before.”
Derek raised an eyebrow at him. He recognized that the latter part of that statement was directed more at Stiles’ own self than at Derek, but it wouldn’t hurt to share the dream he’d just had with Stiles. He opened his mouth, intending to do just that.
He was surprised with a kiss, though. Stiles apparently decided he was going to coax Derek, and went in for a deep, thorough kiss that had them both moaning with pleasure after just a moment. “Stiles,” he mumbled between kisses. “Stiles, are you sure?”
Stiles pushed himself up awkwardly with one hand and huffed. “Yes. Yes, I’m sure. Why is this hard to believe?”
Derek cringed inwardly at the hurt tone. “I do believe you, but I don’t want to push you. You did tell me that to touch you would be to assault you.” He didn’t really want to bring that awful day up, but he needed Stiles to understand why he was reticent, and understand it wasn’t from a lack of desire.
Stiles sat up the rest of the way and looked down at him soberly. “Of all the things I said that day, that may be the one I regret the most,” he said quietly. “You didn’t deserve that. You never gave me any sort of clue that you’d ever try to take what I wasn’t willing to give. You...even when you weren’t treating me the way I thought I should be treated, you were still respectful and careful of me. I’m so sorry, Derek.”
Derek could smell the tang of tears starting to build, and the ache of sorrow and repentance in his chest that wasn’t his at all. “No,” he murmured, carefully sitting up so that he didn’t dislodge Stiles, but so they could be fully face to face. “No, please don’t apologize for that. Like I said, neither of us acted the way we usually would, and it’s…” He paused, trying to find the right words.
“We’re both being dumb,” Stiles finished, and Derek figured that was close enough. “So...try again? Recognizing our history and what mistakes we made so we don’t make them again?”
“That is definitely what we should do,” Derek agreed. “It’s recognizing those mistakes and staying aware of them that will help us in the future. There’s...a lot we’re going to need to talk about, Stiles. And we should probably talk about them before we jump back into the physical.” And then he added quickly, because Stiles looked so damned deflated he couldn’t help himself, “It’s sure as hell not that I don’t want you, Stiles. It’s, uh. It’s probably a good thing you don’t have the same sense of smell that I do, or that the pack does.” He felt his cheeks heating, and looked at a spot somewhere over Stiles’ shoulder for a moment, unable to look him full in the face.
Stiles’ eyes went wide enough that it drew Derek’s eyes back to his face. “That explains Scott a little better,” he muttered. “You’re. You’re probably right about not jumping back into the physical right away.” His shoulders slumped, and he looked down at the cast on his arm. “Not that I’m sure I could anyway.”
Derek was struck by an intense desire to make that disappointment go away. Stiles and been so hopeful...
“...can we anyway?” Stiles asked, looking up at Derek through his lashes.
Derek laughed at that. He couldn’t help himself, either. It had been so long since he’d even jacked off in the shower. It seemed...wrong, with Stiles down the hall, and Stiles being the only thing Derek could think of. “After you get some food and painkillers in you, I think,” he said, watching Stiles’ sway ever so slightly. “Have you eaten today?”
“...I think so. I honestly don’t remember at this point.” Stiles gave him a lopsided smile. “Food, painkillers, probably some sleep, and...then something? Maybe?”
“Yeah,” Derek said, reaching out to cup the back of Stiles’ neck with one hand. “Yeah, we can, but only if you do it my way.”
Stiles frowned, and opened his mouth to protest. Derek hurried to explain. “You broke your arm, Stiles. You’re not up to anything strenuous. How you feel right now is the result of the pain draw, not actually feeling good. Let me take care of you is all I mean. Don’t fight me to try and make this more...energetic, okay?”
Stiles nodded. “Okay.”