It’s raining. Has been for three days and nights, and with such a ferocity it feels like Noah should start pairing off species again and brush up on his carpentry skills. The rain pours in heavy sheets, causing rivers to swell and break their banks, and making visibility on the roads treacherous. There’s already been one accident on Main Street in Beacon Hills and the local highway authorities have shut down a section of the I5 after their third casualty. The weatherman had sounded baffled on the radio that evening as he warned of more flash floods and no end in sight.
Stiles kind of thinks this might be the apocalypse, but nobody is listening to him which is different from, oh, never.
The sound the rain makes on the tin roofing of the backwater gas station is like a troop of dancers have hauled themselves up there to Riverdance. The owner says something he clearly thinks is wise and learned about monsoon season and el Niño, which is totally bogus but Stiles pretends to be interested by humming noncommittally. He bounces on the balls of his feet as he browses the chocolate bars and gum, wondering if his system can take any more stimuli.
“Gotta be careful,” the guy is saying, drawing out the words in such a way that each sounds like it has five more syllables than normal. “Dangerous weather, this is. Saw a pickup slide into a tree just this morning. Truck was all bent up to Hell, driver was damn lucky to walk away from that one.”
Stiles nabs a pack of peanut butter cups because he’s already wired on caffeine and a bit of refined sugar isn’t going make a difference at this stage. He tosses it onto the counter.
“Pump two,” he says to the owner -- the name tag reads HANK.
“Never seen rain like this, no sir.” This Hank guy is still talking at Stiles like he’s been holding all this in for days, dying to give someone his two cents worth. Given how dead this area is, a good forty minutes outside of Beacon Hills, Stiles doesn’t doubt it’s been awhile since the guy saw another human. Or at least one who wasn’t in shock from sliding fender first into a tree. “I blame all that global warming. Aerosol cans, you know? Most people my age think it’s a load of hooey, but I’ve read all the articles and watch all those documentaries on Discovery. Polar caps melting? I know what’s what. I follow Al Gore on Twitter, you see.”
The last is said with a measure of pride that Stiles doesn’t quite understand.
It occurs to him that this guy is talking as much Stiles does normally, albeit he hopes he himself is a little more interesting to listen to. It’s disconcerting, like looking into his future. A really boring future where he’s a proprietor of a crappy gas station and desperate for someone to talk to because he’s a alone. All alone.
The cash register finally displays the total for the half tank of gas and the peanut butter cups. Stiles fishes out some crumpled bills from his back pocket.
Hank says something else to him that Stiles misses because he’s not really listening. He murmurs a word that could be either a yes or a no, depending on how you hear it.
There’s a heavy beat of silence – silence in as much as nobody says anything but the rain continues to pound deafeningly at the roof. Oops. Looks like he was waiting for answer or possibly for Stiles to agree that Al Gore is awesome. Stiles breaks the whole lot of awkward with a winning smile and the guy finally hands over a quarter and nickel with the air of someone offended and trying not to show it.
“Rad!” Stiles enthuses, because seriously this word needs to come back into fashion and it’s the first thing to fall out of his mouth. He slips the peanut butter cups and change into the front pocket of his hoodie. “Enjoy the weather!”
Flipping up his hood, Stiles opens the door and dashes across the forecourt. He’s soaked before he’s even taken two steps. It’s cold and his fingers are a little numb, so it takes way longer than Stiles would like for him to unlock the Jeep and clamber in. But it’s all good, it’s okay, because he has fucking peanut butter cups.
Stiles doesn’t move, just breathes heavily, hands on the wheel at ten and two. He’s shaking a little, can see the light tremors in his hands and grips them tighter to the steering wheel. He isn’t really sure what he’s doing but he knows he has to do something. Anything.
God, though. If his dad knew he was out in this weather cruising the back roads like a creeper. Grounded wouldn’t even begin to cover the potential repercussions. He really – really, really – hates lying to his dad yet again, but this has to be done. It’s all his fault and he needs to fix it.
He left them. Gerard had let him go and he... left. Went home, tail between his legs.
Stiles had already searched the woods near the old Hale place with Scott and, on several occasions, Isaac. They tried a bit north and a bit west and Stiles spent ages kicking twigs about and calling out Erica and Boyd’s names over the bluff, trying not to get vertigo by looking over. Werewolves are superhuman creatures. They wouldn’t just... fall over the edge. And once they’d even been joined by Derek, who was silent the entire time and freaked Stiles out more than he’d like to admit. It’d all been totally fruitless. No one found any real trace of Erica or Boyd. When the rain started the werewolves had become morose, muttering about the scent trail washing away. Isaac had looked lost, Scott had looked resigned, and Derek... Derek brooded. A pretty regular state of affairs for him, except Stiles rather thought the guy had something to genuinely brood about this time, what with the appearance of Uncle Undead.
Stiles didn’t like Peter being back. Forgive him for being old fashioned, but he’d always believed that when someone died you pretty much stayed dead forever.
Well. Unless you were Jesus.
But, since Peter Hale didn't strike Stiles as the Second Coming, he should have done everyone a favor and stayed dead. It just. It sucked. Peter had nearly killed Lydia. And Lydia... Well.
There’s a sudden loud thump at his window. Stiles reels back in shock, gearshift digging into his back as he scrabbles away. A hand is pressing flat against the window.
“Holy shit!” Stiles shouts, heart thudding in his chest.
The face that follows the hand to glare into the window is both a relief and a disappointment. No zombies then. Just Derek looking like a drowned animal. It brings back disappointing memories of a swimming pool.
Stiles lets out an exasperated raspberry breath, cranking down the window manually.
“You know,” he shouts above the sound of the pouring rain. “You could totally be an extra in a horror movie. Skulking across a gas station forecourt, banging against the window of the only vehicle in a three mile radius. Scaring the ever loving crap out of the dashing hero...” Derek raises an eyebrow. “Okay, okay, scaring the ever loving crap out of the lovable comedy relief character who, let’s face it, everyone likes best in these kinds of movies anyways. They always die though, so that blows.”
“Stiles,” Derek interjects in a quelling sort of voice. “What are you doing here?”
“Would you let me get away with saying something like filling up my tank and buying peanut butter cups? Because that is actually what I’m doing here. Specifically.”
“Try generally.” Derek’s just standing there, letting the rain pound at him and Stiles doesn’t know quite what to make of it. He wants to ask Derek what he’s doing here but glances away instead.
“I’m... look, I’m just trying to... they can’t have just disappeared.”
“Erica and Boyd.” It’s not a question. Stiles thinks maybe he already knows why Derek is out here, so far from Beacon Hills, in the rain.
There is a long pause between them. Derek wipes some of the rain from his face, dragging his sodden hair away from his forehead and looking grim.
“It’s late, Stiles. Go home. “
“I... Yeah, okay.” Stiles doesn’t move right away though, just stares out the windscreen for a time. Eventually he shrugs awkwardly. “Hey, you need a ride back or something?”
Derek shakes his head in a definitive ‘no’ before stepping back from the Jeep, all jerky-like. Whatever. Stiles can take a hint.
“Enjoy the rain and the skulking, then.” Stiles cranks the window back up and rattles out of the gas station, turning towards Beacon Hills. He drives the whole way back at ten miles an hour. It takes an hour and fifteen minutes.
You know what Stiles thinks is weird? Like, really super strange? How okay Scott is with everything. It’s like he’s finally settled into his skin. He’s not panicked about being a newly minted werewolf, he’s not loopy and frantic over Allison, he’s patient, and calm, and he’s even (mostly) okay with the summer school classes that Coach has made him sign up for. Scott’s no longer worried about lying to his mom because Ms McCall knows everything and still loves him, something he’d been not so secretly worried about ever since the bite.
Scott might have said nothing had changed from where they’d been a few months ago, but that’s all just superficial. In reality Scott has grown up.
Stiles feels a little left behind.
He parks the Jeep at the curb outside Scott’s mostly dark house. He runs through the rain, slipping on the slick lawn but saving himself a muddy butt with some strategic windmilling of arms, before finding shelter under the McCall’s porch. Stiles considers ringing the doorbell but thinks better of it. It’s eleven thirty at night and well past Ms McCall’s mandated visiting hours and she’d taken back the key he’d had made when Scott got grounded. He hasn’t had the chance to have a new one cut.
Stiles takes a leaf out of the Werewolf Comes A-Callin’ etiquette book and climbs on top of the carport roof and raps on Scott’s illuminated bedroom window.
“Dude!” Scott looks happy and, in a way that Stiles finds a little insulting, impressed. Like climbing up the side of a house is hard or something.
“Didn’t want to wake your mom,” he says to explain his sudden Spiderman skills. Stiles drips rain and mud across the hardwood floor on the way to the bathroom. “How’s she doing?”
“Oh, okay, I guess. Not freaking out quite so much.”
“Cool. Did she figure out the cost/benefit analysis of having a son who can heal himself?” Stiles toes off his shoes and begins to peel away his sodden clothes, dropping them with a heavy squelch to the bathroom floor. “As a child of a single parent myself, I know for a fact that this is the kind of thing they would love. All their Christmases come at once. Imagine never having to pay for another inhaler or x-ray? Remember what you were like before the bite? You were one wheezy klutz, my man. You’re saving her a fortune in medical bills. ”
“Uh, yeah, she knows.” There’s a pause. “Not that I mind or anything, but why are you here? I don’t remember you saying you were coming over?”
Stiles walks back into the room in his boxers and opens one of Scott’s dresser drawers. “Told my dad I was spending the night here. He’s a little freaky still about the whole...” Stiles waves at his face, “rearranged face thing. When he works nights he prefers to hear that I’m snug as a bug in a rug over here, rather than alone in our house."
"Stiles, you really --"
"Scott, dude, don’t you have a single clean shirt? You really need to learn how to use the washing machine. It’s not that hard.”
“You know what Tide is, right?”
He turns around to face Scott who is wearing a knowing face. Full of understanding. Stiles did not know he had that face in his arsenal of faces. It really isn’t fair.
“I don’t mind you staying over, but you don’t need to lie about it. Not to me.”
“We’ve had words about you using your werewolfie powers for evil,” Stiles grouses.
Scott shrugs and bounces off the bed towards the closet, totally unrepentant. “Can’t help it. Wouldn’t be a problem at all if you just told me the truth.” A black shirt hits Stiles in the face.
“Fine. I told my dad I was coming over here because I’d rather not be alone in the house. It’s not a big deal. I like company is all.”
“You still, uh...” Scott pauses and flaps a hand about in the universal gesture for ‘please fill in the blanks because I refuse to say this out loud’, “...about what Gerard Argent did to you and, uh, the others?”
Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Scott and his amazing ability to talk about feelings.
Stiles pulls on the t-shirt, making a point of sniffing the pits. Scott rolls his eyes but looks expectantly at him, waiting for an answer Stiles doesn’t want to give.
“You can say their names you know.” He shrugs like it’s no biggie. “I’m not going to go ape-shit on you or whatever.”
“I know, Stiles. It’s just last time I said --”
“I feel like a movie with gratuitous explosions and witty one-liners. I’m thinking one of the Die Hards. The one where John McClane still has hair.”
Scott stares at him all squinty for a moment before giving up. It’s really easy to bulldoze right through Scott, always has been, especially when it gets them out of talking about Things Which Are Awkward.
Scott finds the DVD hiding under some magazines and sticks it in his beat-up laptop. They don’t talk the rest of the night except to repeat the best lines, having seen Die Hard a billion times.
Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.
Stiles squints at the graffiti spray painted on the front door of the Hale house. This is new. The symbol looks kind of like Derek’s tattoo, but different. The arms of the spiral are sharp, angular and, rather than curving in on each other, they spike out. It looks disjointed and wrong; inharmonious. The exact opposite of what Derek’s tattoo symbolizes.
Stiles is standing rather redundantly under a bright red umbrella he stole (but not really) from the lost-and-found storeroom at the police station. The wind and the rain make a mockery of the umbrella, his entire right hoodie sleeve soaked through and uncomfortably heavy. Stiles isn’t so sure what made him come out this way. He got up after Scott, who’d stumbled around his room like a blind man at ass-o’clock to get ready for summer school. Without Scott and his Misadventures in Teenage Lycanthropy, Stiles hasn’t actually got much to do. Which is a depressing realization, if he’s honest. So he’d just flopped into his Jeep and started driving. Without making any conscious decision he’d found himself trundling up the narrow track to the Hale house.
Derek doesn’t even stay here much anymore -- he swapped gloomy and emotionally crippling ex-house for gloomy abandoned train depot of the rust and tetanus shot variety. Stiles thinks Derek needs to re-examine his definition of what makes a comfy werewolf den.
Clamping the umbrella stem between his neck and his shoulder in an attempt to keep it over him and leave his hands free, he awkwardly slips a little notebook and a ballpoint from his hoodie He’d taken to carrying them around with him like a homicide detective in those tv shows his dad pretends he doesn’t enjoy watching. It’s something of a running To-Do List: what crazy shit to research next.
Walking up to the front door, Stiles quickly sketches the symbol into his notebook, planning on maybe stopping by the public library later and looking into it.
“It’s a triskelion,” a voice says behind him.
Stiles doesn’t freak out.
Okay. Maybe he does, but people should really stop sneaking up on him like this.
Letting out a sound which might be interpreted as a shriek, he whips around to find Dr Deaton, in a black leather jacket of all things, standing at the bottom of the porch steps.
“You scared the crap out of me, Doc!” He’d dropped the umbrella and has a hand on his heart like some spooked little old lady. Stiles has never seen Deaton outside of the vet’s clinic and it’s weird, like spying a teacher at the grocery store buying, like, broccoli and Kleenex. He never would have figured Deaton for a fan of leather anything, either, half expecting all vets to be vegan.
“Didn’t mean to frighten you,” Deaton says, looking anything but sorry. “But you really shouldn’t be here, Stiles. It’s not safe.”
“Oh, sure, the structural integrity of this place is pretty sketchy. Half afraid the floor is going to literally swallow me if I look at it wrong. Didn’t have any breakfast, though, so I’m punching at flyweight right now. I only wanted to check out this, uh, weird graffiti. A triskelion you called it?”
“I wasn’t actually talking about whether the house was structurally sound,” the doc says pointedly. “I’m not sure how much Derek has told you --”
“Dude, try nothing,” Stiles interrupts, picking up his umbrella. “Zip. Zilch. Nada.”
“He’s sort of busy with summer school at the moment, digging himself out of an academic hole. But he did, maybe, mention something about a pack of alphas. Derek told him and Jackson.”
“Do you know what an Alpha pack is?” Deaton is giving him this real intense stare and Stiles can feel the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, just like books say in times of extreme creepiness.
“Not really? Sounds a bit... oxymoronic?”
Deaton lets out a huff of a laugh. It doesn’t sound very humorous. “They’re here to challenge Derek.”
“I’m assuming the challenge isn’t for a bake-off.”
“Derek is a new alpha with no family, his pack is made up of newly turned betas and is very unsettled without Erica, Boyd, or even Scott at his back. It puts him at a disadvantage and other alphas know it, they sense a weakness. They want to fight him for the right to call Beacon Hills their territory.”
“But I thought Beacon Hills always belonged to the Hales?”
“For many years, yes, it’s been in the domain and jurisdiction of the Hale family. But things change. Derek is young with no family to back his claim. No sister, no Peter. That’s why he needed to establish a pack so quickly.”
“I, uh, hate to be the bearer of crazy news, but Peter isn’t dead.”
“I know.” Deaton pauses for a beat before saying, “but he isn’t exactly alive, either.”
What the actual fuck does that mean?
“It’s complicated,” Deaton supplies at the incredulous look Stiles is throwing him. “And it’s a story for another time. For now, I need you to be aware of what’s going on. The Alphas are here, they’re waiting, closer than you think, and are extremely dangerous. Stiles, your role this summer will be important, humans aren’t just --” he searches around for the right word.
“Meals?” Stiles supplies with a pointed look. Deaton doesn’t seem that impressed.
“Not just meals. Humans are rarely ever meals, though sometimes an Omega who’s been on his own too long will let the wild call to him in unnatural ways.”
“Unnatural? You’re kidding, right? Have you met Peter? He was terrifying.” Stiles illustrated his point by making claws of his fingers and tearing at the air. “Doc, it is in their nature, right? To kill? They’re werewolves!”
Deaton tilts his head in a gesture of kindness, like he understands Stiles even if he doesn’t agree and believes him to be missing some key facts. It’s kind of irritating.
“The relationship between human and werewolf is an old one and little understood in today’s pop culture. They are dangerous and can, and have of course, killed people. But never underestimate how important a human is to a pack’s harmony. I’m telling you this because you’re a smart boy, Stiles. You need to be careful and Scott and Derek are going to need you before the summer is out. They all are.”
At this grim proclamation there is a deafening clap of thunder. It’s like God thinks he’s Alfred Hitchcock or something. Stiles shivers, glancing up at the heavy grey sky.
“Why are the Alphas waiting?”
Deaton gives him an inscrutable look. “For fun.”
Stiles spends several hours in the Beacon Hills Public Library hitting the reference books and scouring the internet for information on the triskelion symbol. Since Derek isn’t talking to him -- big shocker -- and Scott and Derek are going through an alpha posturing standoff -- another shocker -- it looks like Stiles is going to have to figure out what’s going on for himself.
The symbol itself is often represented by three bent legs with a head in the middle, but the basic structure is similar enough to what he sketched from the Hale house. The sicilian triskelion is a three-sided symbol supposedly meant to represent the triangular shape of Sicily, but sources vary. The head is that of the Greek mythological gorgon, Medusa. Medusa is a fascinating creature from Greek mythology with a head-full of serpents and a look that turns people to stone. Considering Beacon Hill’s track record the past year for mythical creature spotting, Stiles really doesn’t like the chances that an actual gorgon is roaming around. However unlikely it seems, Stiles isn’t ready to rule anything out.
Yet, none of this really makes any sense in the context of a pack of North American alpha werewolves. Sometimes research is a frustrating process which just leads to dead ends and more questions. Perhaps he’s reading too much into the symbol; perhaps the Alphas are saying something so simple Stiles is missing it for the details.
Stiles spends five dollars in change making black and white photocopies of everything he can find. He avoids the scowl of Ms Landry the sour-faced librarian who has never liked him, ever since that one time he accidentally opened a can of soda that exploded everywhere. It had stained the carpet and then left the books in post-colonial literature smelling like too-sweet oranges even to this day. He hadn’t meant to do it, but he wasn’t supposed to have food or drink in the library in the first place, so... Ms Landry always keeps a beady eye on him, like he might be packing soda pop in his backpack.
It’s still raining. Of course it is. Stupid crazy weather.
He stashes the still-warm photocopies under his hoodie to stop them getting wet and hustles out to his Jeep.
He turns to see Lydia across the library parking lot, standing under a polka-dot umbrella. Stiles doesn’t really know what to do, he never has around Lydia, so lifts a hand and waves dorkily.
“Hey! Great weather we’re having, eh?” he calls and, since that is the sum total of what he can think to say, he turns back to his Jeep.
He hears the sound of hard-heeled shoes rushing across the asphalt. Seems Lydia won’t let him go without a chat. Awesome. If she had done this even a month ago, Stiles would have been on cloud nine. Now though...
“You know, this time last year I had no idea who you were,” Lydia says in a tone of voice Stiles can’t quite identify. He nods. It’s true. “Like, seriously, you were nobody.”
“Uh, wow, okay. Thanks for clarifying.”
Her eyes narrow in a way that he’s seen her do with stupid people -- basically everyone not Lydia Martin.
“Stiles, I’m just trying to give you a foundation for what I’m about to say. What I felt then isn’t what I feel now.”
He can tell his eyebrows are raising in question. He might even waggle them. Just a little. “And what do you feel now?”
Lydia shakes her head at him and he thinks it might even be fondly. People generally aren’t fond of him, so this is new.
“Want to get coffee?”
“What?” And speaking of new.
“Coffee. Me. You. Cafe. Over there.” She points across the street to Cafe Kendal with its green and white awning. “Out of the rain.”
“Sure. I’d like that.”
“I know,” Lydia says with a smirk and Stiles can’t help but smile back.
Stiles chucks the photocopies into the Jeep and they rush through the rain into Cafe Kendal, the light jingle of a bell chiming as they enter. Lydia goes to find a seat for them on the lower level of the cafe after telling Stiles what she’d like to drink -- he insisted on buying because, hey, Stilinskis are total gentlemen.
“Your quad venti half-caf breve no foam with whip two splenda stirred skinny three pump peppermint mocha,” Stiles says dryly, setting the odd concoction down on the little wooden table. Lydia had grabbed them a pair of large leather armchairs in a corner. “I got a pretty dirty look from Isabel for that one.”
“It was a test,” Lydia says seriously, looking up at Stiles with wide eyes. He falters for a moment before she blinds him with one of her megawatt smiles. “You passed. If there’s anyone who can actually give me a run for my money on becoming valedictorian, it’ll be you.”
“Dunno about that,” Stiles prevaricates.
“I said you’d test me, not that you’d beat me.”
“Well now you’ve just ruined my aw shucks, ma’am routine.” Stiles takes a careful sip of his simple cappuccino.
“You’re a smart boy, you’ll get over it.” It’s said quietly and kindly so Stiles knows she’s not talking about anything other than his heartbreak.
They don’t speak for a time, just sit in a silence that isn’t awkward, surprisingly. Lydia keeps throwing him thoughtful glances, small fingers wrapped around her cup. It’s a little disconcerting but not awful. Stiles just goes with it, trying not to drum his fingers impatiently against the armrests as he waits for something he knows is coming. Sitting still isn’t his thing.
“I know you wanted more from me,” Lydia says at last. “And I’m sorry I can’t be that person for you. Jackson and I, we --”
“You really don’t have to talk to me about your relationship with Jackson. I’d be totally okay with you keeping that private, behind closed doors forever and eternity.”
“Relax, this isn’t the slumber party gossip version of our relationship. I’m not about to paint your nails and tell you about my sex life.”
“I’m just trying to tell you that I know Jackson isn’t as good a person as you are. Not yet, but I have faith.”
“You think I’m a good person?”
“Stop fishing, Stilinski. You know you are. Everyone knows it. I don’t deserve you,” she says it easily, like it’s nothing amazing or surprising. Just truth. Stiles thinks he may have to book an appointment with an audiologist and see if he doesn’t need his ears cleaned of wax build-up because, hello, when has anyone ever thought he deserved more than someone like Lydia Martin? “That’s why Jackson and I work. Both beautiful, high-maintenance, bitches. We’re both broken and our edges just... fit.”
“I don’t understand. Can I phone a friend?” Stiles really doesn’t get it. He can’t imagine Lydia broken, she’s so self-assured, she’s Lydia oh-my-god-she’s-looking-at-me-I-can’t-breathe Martin. She kicks butts and takes names while maintaining perfect strawberry-blond hair and straight-As. And how, come to that, would Jackson the douchebag be the right kind of broken? No sense is being made.
“You will. When you find the person that fits your edges. I’m not her.”
“It’s not you, it’s me?” Stiles cringes. “God, this is like a break-up speech but without the fun memories of having actually been your boyfriend at any point.”
Lydia rolls her eyes so hard it must hurt. “Go use your goodness to save someone who really needs it. That’s what I wanted to tell you.”
Stiles still doesn’t understand, but he nods like he does. He doubts he fools Lydia, but she doesn’t bring it up again. Instead she talks about lacrosse and asks if he’s going on the week’s training session in August. The whole team is supposed to head out to Laurel Lake College for a summer camp of lacrosse training, so Stiles is pretty sure he’s invited. Coach seemed kinda psyched about the whole thing, particularly keen to remind Stiles about it every chance he got.
Lydia’s phone bleeps with a text message and she says she has to run and thanks him for the coffee.
“And not just for the coffee. For everything; getting me to Jackson, crashing into the warehouse. You did that for me even though you don’t like him, you did it because you knew I did.” She pauses for a moment before she leaves, standing over him with an intense look on her face. After a moment she leans down determinedly and kisses him on the cheek.
“Mmm. See you around, Stilinski.” And she sweeps up the stairs without a backwards glance.
The sheriff is having another late night keeping Beacon Hills safe from crime -- more paperwork and less spandex than Hollywood might have people believe. Stiles doesn't go to Scott's again because he feels a bit weird after last night and possibly, maybe, needs some alone-time with his awkward mood. It’s not Scott’s fault that Stiles is feeling so adrift and restless. It’s odd, but he feels like he’s a supporting character in his own life. Everyone else is moving forward and Stiles is standing still.
He spends the quiet hours of the night reading through some of the research he photocopied from the library, but he’s not really concentrating. When he realises he’s read the same sentence about five times, he gives up. None of it seems to be leading anywhere, frustratingly. Instead he watches some crap on TV that involves a lot of swearing, tears and snot. It’s kind of voyeuristic and makes Stiles feel weird to watch it, but doesn’t switch over or turn it off.
During the million commercial breaks, his mind drifts dangerously towards Erica and Boyd with no provocation. One minute he’s watching a sparkly toothed model grinning at the screen in an attempt to make him buy a certain kind of mouthwash, when BAM! he’s thinking about Erica’s freakishly white teeth. And then he wonders where she is and if she’s with Boyd and they’re keeping each other safe. And whether Boyd wishes he were still that kid who drove the Zamboni who nobody really talked to much or sat with in the cafeteria.
Stiles didn’t look for them today -- it’s the first time he’s not searched in the weeks they’ve been missing. It sits hard in the bottom of his stomach like he’s eaten a bowl-full of lead for dinner instead of Cheerios. Stiles remembers what Deaton said about the Alpha pack that morning in front the Hale house, that they’re here and have subtly announced themselves but are sitting back, waiting. He has a horrible moment of wondering what an alpha pack would do to two lost and weakened betas.
“Fuck.” Stiles rolls off the sofa and scrubs a hand across his buzzed hair, feeling the soft flex of the bristles and wondering idly if he’s due a trip to the barbers.
In his room Stiles does the only thing which takes his mind off the constant re-run of how much life sucks: he unzips himself from his jeans and watches some porn.
He’s a teenage boy, okay? He has needs. And perhaps these needs can’t quite be fulfilled by only his hand and some lube but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
Stiles has a ton of videos saved in his bookmarks and a few films stashed in an anonymous folder on his computer -- magazines were so last decade. And while Stiles doesn’t like the idea of his dad seeing his porn stash, he also doesn’t really care if his dad knows its there. Stiles has never tried to hide it with any real effort. Not like the supernaturally creepy-insane things he’s been researching the past year: werewolves and kanimas and hunters, oh my!
Stiles takes a moment to really wallow in this realization. How bizarre is his life now? What kind of sixteen year old is more worried his dad will find the file with the Argents’ bestiary in it, over the possibility of coming across that orgasm denial video. Life really took a turn for the strange ever since the night he dragged Scott out to see half a dead body.
With a wild shake of his head to rid himself of memories he doesn’t want bothering him while he’s beating off, Stiles clicks through to his failsafe porn stash. It’s a folder entitled: Feminist Porn wherein people look normal. Stiles likes feminist porn because at first he’d always sort of worried that Lydia, always his girlfriend in these scenarios, might one day find his stash and judge him for being a typical sexist man, and if that was going to happen he might as well show he’s totally cool with girl power. That’s how it’d started. Now he actually likes girls who seem completely capable of snapping him in half, a bit mean-looking but hot with their grouchiness and their tattoos and their unshaven pussies. That, and the lighting is aces.
This folder houses his favourites, the videos that always get him off quick and dirty. Sometimes he likes to take his time (as much as his sixteen-year-old teenager’s stamina will allow) and sometimes he just wants to get off.
He selects one video where this fierce woman with cropped hair and a celtic knot tattoo on her ribs gets eaten out by a narrow-shouldered dude. He loves this one because her face is so expressive, with these micro-expressions of pleasure that Stiles just can’t look away from. It’s beyond hot and feels really real. She never looks at the camera in that weird sexy pout that runs rampant on sites like RedTube.
Stiles spreads his knees, slouching in the desk chair for better accessibility to his dick. He strokes it a few times, perfunctory. It doesn’t seem all that keen on getting involved in the proceedings. Normally his dick is way excited about seeing some hand action, but today...? Stiles guesses he’s just going to have to try harder.
He clicks the video away to a different one; a dark-haired man with crazy amounts of leg-hair having his brains sucked out of his dick by a small breasted woman. She’s got these amazing lips and Stiles feels the stirrings of interest in his nether regions at long last. A few pulses of cautious arousal. Her cheeks hollow as she crouches over the man who is laying prone on the bed. He’s got an arm flung over his eyes, as if he can’t bear to watch her beautiful mouth take him in.
Stiles enlarges the screen to better see the details. Carefully he watches the slide of her lips on the dick, watches the veined thickness disappear and reappear, glistening in spit. Like most of the porn Stiles watches, the stars don’t do excessive amounts of hair eliminating. The guy in this video has a healthy bush around the base of his dick. Stiles kinda likes people au-natural and it makes him feel safe about his own body; hair, moles, and all.
His own dick is finally waking up properly, so Stiles stands and shimmies out of his jeans, kicking them into a corner of his room followed by his boxers. He doesn’t sit back down, but repositions the laptop screen so that when he crouches before the desk, knees wide, he can still see what’s going on. He likes this position, being at a lower level to the action, so to speak, and having easier access to both his dick and his butt hole. When Stiles is feeling a bit risky, he likes to suck his fingers, really wet them good, and finger himself back there. He’s not done it often but it’s swiftly becoming one of his favourite things.
For now, though, he rests a forearm on the desk edge and concentrates solely on his dick.
Stiles thinks he has a nice dick, if he does say so himself. It’s not very long or very thick but the head flares quite wide in a pleasing sort of way. He’s not a narcissist, and he kinda hopes one day he won’t be the only person to admire it. Otherwise it’d just be weird.
He squeezes himself some lube, stashed in his desk drawer, and grits his teeth at the cold first touch. Long strokes. Smooth and steady with a little twist at the head. Just to get him breathing a little harder. Stiles glances at the porno. The woman has a hand pressed flat against the man’s belly, like she’s reminding him to stay still, not to fuck her mouth so hard that she chokes. She’s not deep-throating him, but she’s still taking him down pretty far. He groans and Stiles groans with him.
Slide in, slide out.
Stiles keeps pace with the steady rhythm, his wrist cramping a bit but whatever. No pain no gain, right?
Now the man is shaking his head a bit. He appears from under the crook of his elbow, blue eyes looking a little dazed. Stiles isn't sure why he’s watching that instead of the actual porn, but he doesn’t stop touching himself as he does.
It’s like noticing that particular little detail has opened him to watching this favourite porn video in a completely different light. While he still likes the slight wobble to the woman’s small breasts and the slide of her fingers against her clit, he’s more interested in the twitch of muscles in the man’s stomach, fascinated by the dark pit-hair and straining neck muscles. It’s odd how Stiles never noticed these things before. The guy’s got nice shoulders too.
Since when did Stiles notice a person’s shoulders?
His eyes watch as those amazing lips slip off the guy’s dick entirely with a small, wet pop. The erection springs free, flushed and straining. Just likes Stiles’. The guy places his dick up against the woman’s collarbone, rutting for a moment there, trailing pre-come across her pale, freckled skin. Stiles whines, hips stuttering forward towards nothing but the empty space under his desk. The man on the screen is making these soft wuffling noises, almost easy to miss under the heavy breathing of the woman.
Stiles spits messily onto his fingers, mixing his saliva with the slick lube. He wiggles a bit, trying to find a good position to finger himself. He’s on his knees now, one hand gripping his dick and the other circling the ring of muscle back there. It’s hard to keep his eyes open, but he blinks up at the monitor for a moment, long enough to see the guy dump his load across the woman’s breasts. The dick visibly pulses and Stiles is a goner.
The orgasm hits him with the force of train wreck. Messy and shocking.
When Stiles can think again, barely, he leadenly cleans up, switches off his laptop and manages to find some clean underwear before tumbling into bed. There’s a niggling inside somewhere dark, a strange feeling that he’d done something different, something new and unexpected and something that needs thinking about. But before he can analyse any of it, exhaustion takes him.
He’s been asleep for what feels like moments only -- and perhaps it has only been a minute -- when he’s suddenly wide awake and knows without a shadow of a doubt that there’s someone in the room with him.
Stiles explodes from the bed. He trips and tumbles over his bedspread, which is skewed half off the mattress, and reaches for the baseball bat that he now keeps under his bed at all times. Lurching around he holds the bat like he’s Derek Jetter about to hit a homer.
“What the hell are you?!” he shouts into the dark. He’s quite proud that his voice doesn’t shake much. He’s got visions of mean-ass alphas and gorgons in his head. When the latter thought catches up with him, Stiles clamps his eyes shut.
“Jesus, Stiles. Put the bat down. It’s me.”
“Yes. The person you cohabit with and have done for the past sixteen years. Who did you think it was?” There’s a pause. “And why are your eyes closed?”
“Thought you were an intruder?” Stiles says, choosing to ignore the last question. He’s still holding the bat like he’s ready to hit a fastball out of the park, and has to consciously tell his body to chill the hell out. After a moment Stiles lets his arms relax and drops the bat to the floor with an indelicate thump.
“Sorry I scared you, son.”
“No problem. We can treat it like a burglar drill – like a fire drill but with less hi-vis clothing involved. At least we know what my reaction time is like, now. Pretty good I might add, not that I was timing it or anything,” Stiles rambles tiredly. He falls face first back into his bed, exhausted from the adrenaline rush. Flailing around a bit he manages to right the bedspread and punches his pillow a few times before settling down.
There’s a dip on the side of the bed and Stiles sees his dad perched on the edge, looking down at him with that concerned face that reminds Stiles of the horrible months after his mom died. He doesn’t like the look and tries to talk over it, asking his dad how his shift was, whether he caught any bad-guys or rescued any pretty – single – women, but the Sheriff just ignores the deluge. Practice, probably.
“You ever going to tell me what really happened to your face?”
“I told you,” Stiles says hating the lie. Reclining horizontally, ha. “Please, don’t worry. It isn’t like I’ve secretly joined Fight Club to express my deep biological need to punch the shit out of things because I’m a dude.”
His dad sighs. “First rule of fight club: don’t talk about Fight Club. Second rule of Fight Club: don’t swear.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re quoting it wrong, but points for trying.”
“Stiles.” His father’s voice has that warning edge to it. The kind he always uses when Stiles is flirting with that thin line between being disrespectful and having a joke with his dad.
“Sorry.” Stiles pauses, watching his dad’s profile in the dark room. “Just tired.” Eventually his dad nods to himself, like he’s come to some decision, and pats Stiles on the shoulder.
Stiles spends another week searching for Erica and Boyd. It’s futile; he’s not sure what he’s trying to prove, trudging out in the rain, driving in concentric circles out from Beacon Hills. It’s just… if he tries hard enough maybe he won’t feel like he abandoned them. Maybe he won’t feel like he forgot his principles in the Argent’s basement that night. The worse thing about it is that Stiles isn’t even sure he’s doing it for them anymore. Searching makes his guilt take a hike. Just more selfishness.
He consumes more peanut butter cups in that week than he has on any post-Halloween binge.
Scott notices his elevated levels of hyperactivity and tells him he’s not being healthy, that Scott is a little worried about him in all honesty.
“Don’t even pretend like you don’t have a pack of your own stashed away in your backpack. And in your lacrosse bag and your desk drawer and probably two packs in your locker at school. Besides, I’ve not ballooned into a whale yet, which I count as a win. I’ll do some Derek-inspired crunches later, if it makes you feel better. Though judging by Derek’s permanent scowl, it doesn’t make anyone feel better.”
Scott looks at him with a hint of exasperation. Well, a bit more than a hint. He’s actually making these weird growly sounds – very not-human.
“I’m not talking about the damn peanut butter cups, Stiles,” Scott says, hands curling in frustration. “I’m talking about your unhealthy fixation on finding Erica and Boyd. I’ve said it before: it’s not your fault they’re missing. Do I need to say it again? ‘Cause I will. It’s. Not. Your. Fault.”
“Scott, I left them there. In that freaky little homage to Guantanamo in the Argent’s basement. I have to do something.”
“There’s nothing else you can do!” Scott practically explodes. “We all hate that they’re missing, Stiles. We’ve looked, honest we have, but they’re gone. You need to come to terms with that.”
“Gee, thanks Dr Phil.” Stiles can feel the bile rising in his stomach. He hates fighting with Scott, but he doesn’t think Scott gets it, and that really fucking hurts. “I bet it was the Alpha pack that took them. If we could just... find the Alphas maybe we would could find Erica and Boyd! It must have occurred to you that it was them, Scott.”
Scott’s face slackens in surprise, mouth hanging open in that way he has when he doesn’t know what to do or say or think.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Scott says quietly. “What would they want with two betas? But if it is them, there’s nothing you can do about it – whatever is going on is between them and Derek. You really shouldn’t be wandering around at night, especially out of our territory.”
Scott looks shifty. “Well, technically, Derek’s territory, I guess.”
“God, the two of you need to hug it out or something. It’s getting ridiculous the way you’re avoiding each other.”
“I’m not avoiding him,” Scott protests. “I’ve been in summer school!”
The argument, such as it is, dissolves into rough-housing and giggles. Stiles flings an arm around Scott’s neck and attempts to give him a noogie. It takes no effort whatsoever for Scott to push Stiles off but by then Scott is already laughing like a hyena and Stiles feels okay again. Making people laugh, making them happy is what he knows how to do best.
Stiles doesn’t give up, not just yet. As much as he loves Scott like a brother and would like to give the guy some peace of mind by playing it safe indoors with his Xbox and an entire plate-full of curly fries, Stiles can’t stop what he knows is the right thing to do.
It’s a Thursday in late June and he’s about half an hour outside of Beacon Hills, though where exactly he’s not sure. A massive map of Northern California is spread across the steering wheel and wrinkling and folding in all the wrong places. It makes Beacon Hills look like it’s been seismically shifted next to Mount Shasta. Stiles hates maps and wishes he could afford a GPS for his Jeep. (He totally has his eye on one that reads out directions in the voice of Samuel L Jackson. What could be better than that? ‘Just what the fuck do you think you're doing? You're going the wrong way! TURN THE CAR AROUND MOTHERFUCKER!’ It speaks to Stiles on a cellular level. It’s a guy thing.)
But he has to make do with a good old-fashioned paper map. Stiles shifts the map around a little, trying to find River Landings Lane.
He now has a ripped map. Wonderful.
Stiles is ready to wind down his window and pitch the damn thing out into the drizzle and let it die a pulpy death while he drives away in any direction he pleases. The only thing stopping him is that he really is hideously lost.
The road he’s on, a single lane each way, is pretty much deserted. He’s got his hazard lights on, blinking as he sits in the Jeep on the hard shoulder. The last thing he expects is to look up from the map to see Chris Argent standing at the hood of his Jeep.
“Holy hunters, Batman,” Stiles grumbles under his breath after a moment of manly flailing. Chris Argent walks round to the passengers’ side door and raps his knuckles on the window. Stiles huffs and leans over to open the door for him.
“By all means,” Stiles bitches as Mr Argent snaps the door closed behind him, spattering Stiles’ goddamn map with rain water. “Appear out of nowhere and join me for a pow-wow. I love when people do that. You and Derek have more in common that you’d like to think. You’re both lurkers and slightly worryingly fond of the colour black. What is that? Hunter chic?”
“What are you doing here, Stiles?” Mr Agent says in that voice of steel, ignoring Stiles’ outburst like a pro.
“Free country?” It’s kind of fourth-grade of him, but whatever. The thing with the map and the being lost (and then found by a hunter) has really put him in a mood.
“I’m serious, Stiles.” When is he not?
“Not that it’s really any or your business,” Stiles begins before hastily adding ‘sir’ at the tight-lipped look he gets from Mr Argent. “But uh, I’m looking for Erica and Boyd. They’re still missing.”
There’s a long, awkward silence. Chris Argent makes a face like he’s chewing on glass before saying, “I’m sorry about… your friends. Gerard was out of line.”
Stiles snorts because, whoa, ‘out of line’ might be the biggest understatement he’s ever heard. No lie. Mr Argent side-eyes him but keeps talking.
“I let them go. Your two friends.”
“Yeah, Allison told Scott and Scott told me. So. I know. And, uh, thanks for that.”
“Any luck finding them?” It doesn’t sound particularly genuine, but at least Chris Argent is trying.
“Any luck finding Gerard?” Stiles rejoinders. He gets a tight lipped looked which tells him everything he needs to know. This summer is a good summer for getting lost.
“You really shouldn’t be out here on your own,” Mr Argent segues back to his first line of questioning. Stiles is tired of this. Why do people think he’s incapable of looking after himself? Is he really so pathetic? Just because he’s not a werewolf or a hunter doesn’t mean he can’t do things, helpful things.
Mr Argent must see some of what Stiles is thinking – Stiles is kind of the textbook definition of someone who wears his heart on his sleeve – because he shakes his head and says, “It’s nothing to do with you personally, Stiles. We’ve had reports, from other hunters north-east of here, of a strong pack, very powerful, headed our way. There have been some kills in their wake – clever and disturbing from what I understand. I’m pretty sure they’re here now and it has something to do with Hale. It isn’t safe to be so isolated right now. Go home or… hang out with Scott.”
And shit, it must have physically hurt Mr Argent to say that. He hates Scott. A whole lot.
On a more serious note, it seems Stiles is being warned about the Alpha pack. He wonders if Chris Argent knows it’s an alpha pack and just doesn’t want to tell him the details, or whether he genuinely doesn’t know what’s descended on Beacon Hills. Either way, dangerous things are afoot if the Argents are on the scent.
Stiles (for once) decides to keep his mouth closed, not willing to let on he knows about the shadowy alphas. It feels a bit too much like he’s let the enemy behind his defences already. The sooner Chris Argent is out his Jeep the better, frankly.
“You’re a good kid,” Mr Argent says darkly and not at all like he might have just paid Stiles a compliment. “But you need to stay out of the way. If you think things have been dangerous recently, you’ve seen nothing yet.”
Holy shit. That sounded kinda threatening. Stiles isn’t sure what to make of it. What could be more scary and all-out weirder than Peter Hale being alive? Or Jackson as a kanima? While Stiles is pondering the maybe-threat, Mr Argent is opening the door and slipping out of the Jeep. He pauses with his hand on the door, turns towards Stiles and looks at him through the incessant drizzle.
“A word of warning Stiles: you trust Derek Hale too much.” And then he’s slamming the door closed. Stiles watches, mouth hanging slightly ajar, as Chris Argent flicks up the collar on his coat and strides back to his own car.
Stiles hasn’t actually seen Derek since that meeting in the gas station forecourt a couple of weeks back. It’s not like he’s missed Derek, it’s hard to miss someone who likes slamming him against unforgiving surfaces and who uses a scowl like a handgun, but it’s odd not to see him lurking around in the background of Stiles’ life. For the past few months he’s always just been there – sometimes more noticeably than others, sure, but always there and up in Stiles’ business.
The warning from Chris Argent about trusting Derek too much sort of has the opposite effect to what was probably intended. Instead of backing away like a good little boy, Stiles suddenly becomes obsessed with tracking Derek down and making sure he’s… well not okay, Derek is never okay, his life is pretty unenviably crap, but Stiles does sort of have the nagging desire to check for vital signs.
The last thing he expects when finally tracking the Sourwolf down is interrupting a manly bonding moment between him and Jackson. Jackson.
It was Isaac who’d tipped him off. Isaac who’d been at Scott’s house the other night, just chilling. With some soda and some Cheetos like he always hangs around with Scott on a Tuesday night. Stiles had given Scott a look which tried to convey how weird it was and did Scott have an explanation for all this fuckery, but Scott didn’t seem to notice. When Stiles had brought up the subject of Derek, Isaac had shrugged and said,
“He’s at the Whittemore place.”
“Whittemore? As in Jackson?”
“Jackson needs the training and has, like, his own weight room in the pool-house. We’ve been sort of hanging there these days because his parents went to Tahiti for the summer. Plus, without Erica and Boyd around the depot just felt weird, you know?”
“I think it was weird before Erica and Boyd disappeared,” Stiles mutters, but gets a sharp jab from Scott’s elbow. They drop the subject and concentrate on beating each other at FIFA on the Xbox.
There’s no answer when he rings the bell at Jackson’s place the next morning. With some trepidation, because he wouldn’t put it past Jackson or his freakishly high-achieving parents to have set actual booby-traps, Stiles finds his way around the side of the house into the pristine backyard. He sees the pool house and makes a beeline for it.
“Oh my god what the hell are you doing?!” Stiles shrieks. Just past the pool house doors and into the beige-carpeted space that has no furniture, just gym equipment, he sees Derek lying head to toe over a squirming and grunting Jackson. Stiles clamps his eyes shut because, ew.
“Stiles,” Derek growls.
“Why the fuck are you in my house, asswipe?” Jackson says angrily, talking right over anything Derek was about to say. There’s a muffled thump and Jackson grunts again, indigent.
“I rang the bell,” Stiles insists, eyes still resolutely closed.
“And what? When nobody answered you thought you’d break and enter? This is private property, Stilinski.”
Stiles frowns. “I can totally see what Lydia was talking about when she told me she there was some good in you. Your time as Beacon Hills’ resident kanima has completely eliminated your innate douchiness. Anyway, who still uses ‘asswipe’ as an insult anymore?”
“Stiles,” Derek says again, voice a dangerous octave. “Open your eyes.”
“I dunno,” Stiles prevaricates, more to piss them off than because he seriously thinks they were up to anything sexy. “It was all looking a bit homoerotic in here. I don’t think—” A large, strong hand grips his shirt and shakes him a little. Stiles opens his eyes because, seriously? “Fine. Jeez. Take a joke.”
“Why are you here?” Derek asks, face all intense and a little too close for comfort. If Stiles was in the mood he could have counted Derek’s eyelashes, he was that close. As it is, Stiles is more annoyed than anything. Why are you here? Isn’t this like the fifth time someone has asked him that recently? Like no matter where he is, he’s unwelcome. It’s enough to give a guy a complex.
Stiles doesn’t say anything in reply to Derek’s question because he’d not thought of what he’d do when he actually found Derek, and he’s not keen on letting the guy know he was worried about him. Worried the way his dad worries over Ms Carmichael, the ninety-two year old widow down the road, terrified the reason he’s not seen her for twenty four hours is because she’s fallen and broken her hip, or worse, died and is being eaten by her scary menagerie of cats.
“I saw Deaton the other week. And Chris Argent yesterday,” Stiles say eventually. Derek lets him go, but doesn’t attempt to give him some personal space. Socially awkward werewolves are the worst.
“They told me about the Alpha pack, or Deaton did. Chris Argent just implied. So I just… wanted to know what’s going on?”
“You’re not a part of this,” Jackson says nastily. He’s standing by the treadmill, viciously stabbing at the settings. “You’re not one of us.”
Stiles feels his stomach drop, like sudden vertigo. He looks up at Derek but he’s got his eyes narrowed on Jackson. It’s an impassive kind of stare.
“Since when did you consider yourself to be part of the werewolf collective?” Stiles asks, ignoring the feeling of once again being on the sidelines looking in. Last he checked Jackson was all about being his own person and he didn’t need anyone else, yadda yadda.
“No man’s an island,” Jackson snaps back, face a little red. “You don’t belong with us so stay out of it.”
Stiles wants to shout something embarrassing like I matter and does everyone really think I’m that worthless? Oddly his brain to mouth filter is working and he stops himself before the words tumble out.
“Stiles stays,” Derek pronounces, stepping away from him at last. “Lydia isn’t technically one of us,” he points out. Jackson looks constipated but doesn’t argue. Stiles isn’t sure what just happened but feels ridiculously pleased that Derek isn’t brushing him off.
“So… the Alpha pack?”
“I’m dealing with it,” Derek says tightly.
“I’ve been doing some research into them and the origins of that symbol painted onto your house,” Stiles says anyway. “And I’m getting a lot of conflicting data. I just wanted to uh, crosscheck my findings with what you already know?”
Derek does that thing with his eyebrows where they frown so hard they meet in the middle. It’s disturbing to notice how much he looks like Frida Kahlo right now. Derek grabs Stiles’ arm and hauls him out of the pool house, away from the sound of Jackson’s feet on the treadmill.
“Go home, Stiles.”
“What? But I thought you just said I could stay!”
“Jackson needs to learn to cooperate and learn that what I says goes.”
“So I was, what, an example you didn’t really want to follow through on? Please, stop, I feel so loved.” Stiles looks down at his shoes, staring really hard at the wet laces that got dragged through a puddle before he could tie them properly that morning. He can also see the tops of Derek’s black sneakers nearly brushing the tips of his. My, what big feet you have…
Oh crap. He didn’t say that last bit out loud, did he?
A heavy beat of silence. Then another.
“What did Deaton tell you?” Derek asks. It’s less of a question and more a demand, but it’s said quietly and without the usual menacing edge.
“Not much. Just that they’re here, that they’re waiting, that they want to challenge you for Beacon Hills. And…” he pauses. “And that you’re likely to need my help before the summer is out. So. Here I am. Offering my help.”
Derek actually sighs. The tired, slightly exasperated kind, not the wistful, dreamy kind.
“Honestly Stiles, I don’t know what Deaton meant when he said that. I’m not sure how you can help – these alphas are strong, stronger than me. My only hope is having Jackson, Isaac and Scott on my side. Even then…” He shakes his head and rests his hands on his hips. “Scott doesn’t recognise me as his Alpha, Isaac hasn’t been the same since Erica went missing and Jackson… Jackson isn’t ready. I don’t –” Derek breaks off suddenly, as though realising he’s perhaps sharing too much.
“What about Peter?” Derek bites out. Clearly Stiles touched a nerve there.
“I mean, is he on board with this whole Sharks versus Jets thing? On our side?” A thought occurs to him then. “Dude, Deaton totally implied that Peter’s not entirely alive. Doesn’t that freak you out?”
“I don’t want him involved,” Derek says shortly. “He can’t be trusted.”
“Amen to that. Never trust a dead guy I always say. Where is he, anyway?” Stiles asks, looking around him as though Peter will suddenly appear from behind one of the Whittemore’s perfectly pruned box hedges.
“I’ve made him stay at the Super-8 off of McCarthy.”
“Wow. You must really hate him.”
Derek doesn’t answer, just glowers in Stiles’ general direction. Stiles has this sudden urge to close the gap between them and give Derek an awkward bro-hug. He just looks so frowny and, in his own menacing way, out of options. He’s almost dejected. But Stiles likes his insides, you know, on the inside, so stamps down on the weirdly intimate impulse.
“I might not be strong enough for an alpha gang-war, but I’m smart. Wiley, even. Just… Deaton seems to be creepily in the know and if he thinks I can help then let’s pretend I can, okay? There’s gotta be a way for our rag-tag team to win; we’re the good-guys after all. I’ll look into it. Promise.”
It’s a moment before Derek nods his head. There’s something cautious about it, like he can’t quite believe what Stiles is saying but will give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s not looking at Stiles, but down and away, his freakishly thick eyelashes obscuring his eyes. Stiles thinks maybe he’s dropped his manhood somewhere along the line in this conversation because, eyelashes? Really?
Stiles almost misses the quiet gratitude while he silently freaks out about noticing Derek’s damn eyelashes, but is startled at how genuine the thanks is.
The minutes that follow feel weird but not in a bad way. They’re standing close and breathing in time, sharing a moment. Stiles is about to do something stupid, he just knows it, can feel his body moving forward without any prior consent, when the pool house door slams open behind them and blessedly stops anything embarrassing from happening.
Jackson is looking a little sweaty but isn’t even breathing hard after his jog on the treadmill, the bastard. He rolls his eyes when he sees them.
“God. I didn’t realize joining the pack meant watching you two make cow-eyes at each other.”
Stiles refuses to blush because Jackson’s just being an asshole and doesn’t really believe what he’s saying. Stiles is pretty sure Jackson’s well aware of the Lydia-shaped hole in his heart. Derek, however, isn’t pleased and growls a warning at Jackson who flinches.
“More training. Inside, now!” He grabs Jackson by the back of the neck like a dog taking hold of a puppy by the scruff and frog marches him back into the pool house.
Stiles blames Derek’s eyelashes.
But mostly the internet.
The thing is, Stiles doesn’t think he’d have ever been brave enough to actually go into a gay bar by himself. At least, not without some supernaturally fueled ulterior motive. (He’d quite enjoyed himself last time. The queens had been fabulous, after the initial oh-my-god-are-they-petting-me?! freak-out, but the kanima had sort of ruined the evening, what with the mass paralysis and his dad showing up in a police cruiser.) But going by himself? Nope. Never even occurred to him to try before this summer. With Lydia well and truly a non-starter, after years of unrequited love and genuine hope on Stiles’ part, there’s a large gap where all these feelings used to go. He feels a little anchorless.
And what do Derek’s eyelashes have to do with anything? Well, Stiles would like to keep that as quiet as possible for all of forever but it was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s not really Derek per se, it’s just that Stiles has been starting to notice dudes more. Differently. In a way that makes him go home and watch his old stash of porn and spend the entire time focused on the men in the videos.
Stiles is a smart guy, he keeps telling people this and he’s not about to ignore his own advice. So he realises what’s going on... ish. It’s just that now he’s come to that point where he requires further proof. Going to the gay bar is like a science experiment. You can’t make any firm conclusions about your hypothesis without extensive testing and research.
It’s the same gay bar as last time; The Jungle. It’s not like there are very many for Stiles to choose from in his neck of the woods. Jungle is playing similar pulsing music and, just like before, nobody buys him a drink. He doesn’t mind. Scott has that sweet puppy-dog thing about him which makes him an obvious target of lusty dudes. They probably think he’s a bottom, hilariously, because he’s so sweet and boyishly laidback. If only they knew his alpha male tendencies.
Uck. No more thoughts about dominance and submissiveness in the bedroom when thinking of his best friend. This is a new house rule for Stiles’ brain.
Stiles slurps at his soda distractedly, looking around. Some of the guys are wearing clothes that make him choke on his drink like a spaz, there are the same group of flamboyantly dressed queens laughing in a bustling corner of the club, but mostly the guys look average. They look like Stiles, though maybe with a little less plaid. It makes him feel better to know that he isn’t expected to be some fashionista, or wear leather that looks like it would chafe his unmentionables. He can do this.
Figuring there’s no time like the present, Stiles abandons his half finished soda on the bar and slips into the crowd on the dancefloor. Normally one to overthink everything (his brain is very bad at shutting off) Stiles keeps his mind as blank as possible. Its the only way to stop any embarrassment. He slotts himself into a small slice of dancefloor real estate near the DJ. He lets the pulse of the music, bone shuddering this close to a speaker, travel up from his feet to his hips and chest. Stiles bounces and sways, arms raised. It’s more than loud; the thunder of the music becomes less something he hears and rather something he feels in every joint, like standing next to a pneumatic drill that can do drum and bass.
Stiles lets go. He’s never been a dancer and never will be, but there’s something exhilarating and freeing about closing his eyes, letting the bass dictate his movements and enjoying the flare behind his eyelids whenever a red or blue or green strobe light swirls across his face.
He doesn’t know how long he’s been dancing before he feels one of his fellow dancers getting close. Well. Everyone is close on the dancefloor, there’s barely room to move, but none of them have really done more than brush by or bump a hip against his leg. No, whoever this is sliding up against his back, is touching Stiles with purpose.
Stiles’ eyes pop open and he tries to turn to get a good look at the guy grinding against his back. He briefly becomes aware of blonde hair and murky (possibly green) eyes, but then his attention becomes diverted again. There’s now somebody slipping large hands against Stiles’ waist, possessive. Stiles yanks his head around to see more blonde hair and, yes, green eyes, standing directly in front of him. A long aquiline nose, flawless cream-coloured skin and thick golden eyelashes. He’s possibly the most beautiful person Stiles has ever seen. That is, until he chances a look behind him again and sees the same impossible features.
The twin behind -- because the guys are definitely twins, freakishly beautiful twins -- grins at Stiles, canines slipping over his full bottom lip.
“Uh, hi?” Smooth Stiles. They should change your name to Casanova, buddy.
As if he can hear Stiles’ thoughts, the smile widens to show impossibly perfect teeth.
“Hello.” It’s said in unison and Stiles is surprised he can hear it at all above the bass. But its like the words were spoken directly into his ear.
Together the three of them are dancing together in a way that might be more adequately described as writhing, and Stiles feels like the blushing virgin he is. Twin Behind his grinding his crotch into Stiles’ ass in time with the rapid pulse of the music. Twin in Front is gyrating his own hips with the ease and rhythm of a Latin dancer. He’s leaning forward to bring his face parallel to Stiles’ neck, nose occasionally brushing gently against him, or sometimes his lips make brief contact, like he wants to kiss him there, or lick him, or bite. He does none of the above.
After a bit more dancing, Twin in Front puts a hand to Stiles’ jaw and tries to move his head to the side for better access to his neck. What is he? A vampire? Stiles isn’t so sure he’s okay with reenacting a scene from True Blood, thanks. Another part of him wants to let this guy just go for it and see what happens, that’s why he’s here afterall. His heart is pounding frantically from adrenaline and lust and apprehension. He closes his eyes against the onslaught of emotions and makes a decision.
Stiles moves the twin’s hand from his face, not letting him kiss him there. Maybe it’s stupid, but spend enough time with werewolves and you pick up a few things instinctively. Stiles is not okay with feeling that vulnerable or submissive. Well, not with just anyone and certainly not some random dude on the dancefloor, no matter how much he looks like a Tommy Hilfiger model. Stiles firmly shakes his head to make his meaning clear. Not there.
He’s so caught up in his own world that Stiles almost misses the pause from both Twins. They’ve both stilled, that strange all-out alertness of the kind you see in deer when they’ve heard a predator. It’s weird. Stiles doesn’t do well with tension.
Without really thinking about it he darts forward to capture Twin in Front’s lips in a clumsy kiss. He’s not really sure what to do next.
Stiles: master of thinking things through.
With split second decision making, Stiles takes charge of the kiss while the guy is surprised and pliant. He’s showing his intent. It’s not bad, even if Stiles does say so himself. Finally there’s a response in the way the Twin opens his mouth for Stiles and suddenly there are tongues. Then it gets really good. Super awesome. Stiles isn’t even that weirded out about it being with a guy.
He pulls away, breathing heavily and grinning like a total dork. The fingers at his waist from Twin in Front tighten briefly, making Stiles heartbeat ratchet up a notch, before the guy moves forward to press another kiss to his lips. It’s easy and doesn’t last long. A moment later both brothers seem to have relaxed completely and start dancing again. They crowd in tighter, curling around him possessively, like a strange group hug.
Stiles turns his head a little to take in the sight of the Twin Behind. This guy’s eyes are heavy lidded and keep glancing down at Stiles’ lips, like he too wants to have a go. Stiles is completely cool with that. He’ll just lean back and kiss the second twin and it’ll be just as amazing as the previous one.
He’s about to do just that. His body is already in motion, tipping forward like he’s being pulled in by a black hole, when suddenly a strong hand is yanking him sideways and out of the Stiles Sandwich.
“Sorry guys,” says a bright voice Stiles recognises. “But I was promised the next dance.”
“Danny!” Stiles shouts as Danny tows him away from the Heavenly Twins and off the dance floor. Danny lets him go when they reach the bar, turning angry troubled eyes toward him.
“You don’t want them,” Danny says with a serious look. Stiles doesn’t need to ask who Danny means.
“Why? Do you know them?”
“So what’s the problem?” Stiles flails his arms about, physically punctuating his incomprehension. They’d been hot guys. Stiles had noticed they were hot guys. More to the point, the hot guys had noticed him.
“You’re new to this, Stiles,” Danny says with a weird I-can’t-believe-I’m-having-this-conversation face. “So let me break this down for you. Gay Clubbing 101. Those guys you were dancing with? They’re predators. They seek out the young and newly uncloseted homos and play with them and then throw them away.”
“I can play,” Stiles says but can tell he isn’t all that convincing. Danny frowns.
“It’s a game for them, not for you. I can guarantee you wouldn’t have had any fun, Stiles. They think pain and humiliation are fun.”
“But... this isn’t some kind of BDSM club, right?” Stiles says, sneaking a look at everyone around him, as though he might have missed collars and handcuffs.
“Exactly. Those kind of guys don’t care about informed consent.”
Stiles frowns, glancing irritatedly down at his shoes. If that's all true, that they were just typical assholes who wanted to hurt Stiles, then it's awful and Danny is a better person than Stiles has ever given him credit for. But, there’s always a chance that Danny’s being too dramatic and just took Stiles away from the first chance he’s ever had at feeling attractive to someone -- two someones!
“God, if this is you being an overprotective douche...” Stiles begins angrily. Danny looks a little shamed.
“Look, if it were me I would have been out of there. I just don’t want to see you hurt, man.”
“Hurt? They were hot and they wanted me.” It is absurdly nice to know, even for a brief minute, what that feels like. Danny must see some of this on Stiles face because raises an eyebrow.
“Is this about...” Danny pauses for a moment, “Miguel?” He makes sarcastic air-quotes.
“The guy who isn’t your cousin? Amazing abs? Epic Scowl of a Thousand Deaths?”
“O-oh.” Derek. “That Miguel. What about him?”
“This whole questioning your sexuality thing. Is it because of … that guy in your room that time?”
He gets an incredulous look.
“Fine. Yes, sort of, but not in the way you think. It’s actually more to do with Lydia.”
Danny makes a face of sudden understanding. “You’ve have a crush on her for years. And now, well.”
He doesn’t move or say anything for a long while. Danny must take pity on him because Stiles is suddenly being led out of the club with a hand clasped almost protectively in his. A few of Danny’s friends wolf whistle, getting the wrong idea. Stiles glances down at their hands; this feels so much like a parent leading a child out of danger that Stiles isn’t sure how the others can’t see the closeness for what it actually is. Friendship. Kindness. Cock-blocking. Nobody getting lucky over here.
Stiles isn’t really the lucky sort.
Two days later on his way out to buy some cornflakes and instant coffee, Stiles spots something odd on the front porch. He almost misses it, its so small and the colours subdued. It doesn’t stand out much in this crazy grey summer of gloom and he nearly walked right over it.
Bending down, Stiles takes the stem of the flower between thumb and forefinger. It’s an iris. Deep purple.
Like a bruise, he thinks and then shudders at the unpleasant association.
It’s so unusual, so out of place and deliberate that there’s no doubt that the flower was left there purposefully, it didn’t fall or get blown here by accident. Stiles shivers, eyes shifting across his front lawn fretfully, before he throws the iris away from him and into the bushes.
He can’t shake the feeling of being watched.
The summer passes and so does the rain.
At long last the sun begins to emerge from behind the surly grey clouds and the air warms, feeling like it ought to this time of year. Soon Stiles doesn’t have to wear any more hoodies or carry around the lost-and-found umbrella from the police station. He and Scott spend their time, when Scott isn’t in summer school or working for Dr Deaton, watching re-runs of South Park and practicing lacrosse. Often Isaac is there and Stiles can’t help but feel like his limited time with Scott is being encroached on. It isn’t a particularly kind thought, not when you took into account all that Isaac had been through in his life. The guy deserved a break -- he deserves a friend like Scott, patient and non-judgmental. Besides, Stiles can live without being joined to Scott’s hip like a conjoined twin.
Stiles has been cutting grass around town for extra cash and likes having something physical to do to use some of his pent up frustration over Erica and Boyd. Two weeks back on the last really bad day of early summer, when the wind was biting and the rain poured in sheets, they’d found a teenage girl-sized leather jacket. Isaac had found it, washed up into the banks of a nearby river which had swollen from the rain. The water had washed away any scent but everyone knew it was Erica’s.
Stiles still remembers Derek’s face, how pale he’d looked, how tense. Stiles can’t be sure, but he thinks Derek has lost weight this summer. Every time he sees him now, which admittedly isn’t often, he looks almost haggard. Sharp cheekbones even more prominent, almost skeletal.
“Looking good,” someone yells above the sound of the lawnmower. Stiles looks up at the owner of the voice that broke into his worried thoughts. It’s Mr Kent - no relation to Clark! - the owner of the lawn. Stiles smiles and finishes the last patch of grass and kills the engine. Mr Kent is a nice middle-aged guy who owns the local bookstore; Novel Idea. He’s a fantastic tipper and always gives Stiles a ten per cent discount on books in his store.
“You’ve got grass all over your face,” Mr Kent says with a laugh and hands over the money Stiles is owed. He shrugs and wipes a bit of the sweat and clippings from his face, but probably without much success. The money goes in his back pocket and he wheels the mower onto the sidewalk.
“See you later, Mr no-relation-to-Clark Kent.” The man laughs loudly and Stiles waves a little before making for home.
Stiles doesn’t walk fast, he’s in no real hurry though he’d really like a long cold shower. He’s tired, but in a satisfying way, the kind that physical labour could always induce. Maybe he’ll take his half finished copy of Lord of the Flies into the backyard after his shower and read in the shade for a while. There is nothing else to do until dinner. He’s cooking tonight because his dad is working late, so Stiles will likely make something easy to reheat in the microwave.
He turns down Bainbridge, the street where Lydia lives, and is stopped short by the sight of two little girls sitting behind a table at the curb. According to a sign written entirely in pink and purple glitter pens they’re selling lemonade for a quarter.
That is not the amazing part, in fact, it’s a grand old American tradition to have a lemonade stand in the summer. But what is amazing (and flat out weird) is their customer: none other than Beacon Hill’s resident sourwolf. The girls aren’t scared at all, in fact they are beaming at him as he keeps handing over quarters, downing cups of lemonade like they’re shots of whiskey, and claiming that he’s still really really thirsty. Another!
Okay. So. Derek is good with kids. Huh. It’s strange to think that a guy who has very bad people skills and scared the shit out pretty much everyone, including Stiles about forty per cent of the time, can appear so unthreatening and easy with miniature people. If Stiles had ever thought about it, he’d have assumed Derek would suck at talking to kids about as much as he sucked at talking to teenagers and adults. Which was a lot.
Stiles becomes aware that he’s standing in the middle of the sidewalk, jaw hanging like it’s been unhinged, when suddenly Derek glances up sharply looking him right in the eye. The downright charming smile that had been teasing at his lips, smooths into a blank line. Stiles feels something turn painfully in his gut.
Derek stands up from where he’d been crouching in front of the table, eyes never leaving Stiles. The little girls begin to protest, wanting Derek to stay and keep buying their lemonade.
“By all means,” Stiles says walking up to the table, “don’t stop on my account. You’re still looking a bit parched there, bud.” He slaps a hand companionably on Derek’s shoulder. The meanie just glares at him pointedly until he lets go.
“Are you thirsty, Stiles?” It’s Julie who asks, the daughter of one of Sheriff Stilinski’s deputies. She’s cute and seven and is missing one of her front teeth. Stiles doesn’t recognise the other girl, but she nods with hopeful enthusiasm. She’s got straight dark hair to her chin, with thick bangs that need a cut. Stiles can see why Derek couldn’t possibly resist these two. He says as much and they giggle.
“It’s really good lemonade,” Julie’s friend pleads, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“Well, I am very sweaty and gross and could do with some cold lemonade,” Stiles begins. “But a whole quarter? Hmm...”
“Really good lemonade,” Julie wheedles. “Ask Derek!”
Stiles turns to look at Derek who, now that he knows someone is watching his behaviour with the little girls, shuffles awkwardly and clears his throat.
“The best around,” he says kindly but without much conviction.
Stiles rolls his eyes where the girls can’t see. Great. Apparently Stiles is a total buzz-kill in Derek’s book. He turns back to the lemonade stand, hands on hips, and puts on an exaggerated thinky-face. He copied this face from Scott’s actual thinking face.
“Ok,” he says and the girls squeal. “I’ll take two. One for me and my friend, please!”
Julie’s friend pours - her name is Anna, Stiles learns - while Julie takes his dollar.
“Keep the change,” he tells them and they beam. He and Derek drink their lemonade, hand back their plastic cups and say bye to the girls.
It’s an awkward walk back to the Stilinski residence. Stiles isn’t sure why Derek is even walking with him but decides not to ask. It’s not like he minds.
“You were really great with them,” Stiles says instead. Derek tenses. Avoid one elephant in the room and walk face-first into another. Oh well.
“Children are... important,” Derek says in an undertone, totally enigmatic. Stiles doesn’t really speak fluent Derek, so isn’t entirely sure what that means. It must be obvious on his face, as usual, because Derek scowls. “Children are important to packs. They’re treasured.”
“Oh, but uh, does it not matter that those girls were, you know, human?”
“How do you know they weren’t werewolves?” Derek asks pointedly. Stiles blinks in surprise.
“Well, okay, you got me there. Cutest damn werewolves I’ve ever seen...”
“Look.” Derek stops walking in order to stick a finger in Stiles’ face. He looks frustrated, like Stiles isn’t getting it. “Packs aren’t just made up of werewolves. We’re rare, endangered even, and most packs have a few humans in them. In fact, I’ve never met a pack that didn’t have at least two. It’s about family, Stiles, not... species.”
Derek resumes walking and Stiles decides to drop the topic. He’ll mull it over later when he’s in the privacy of his own bedroom and there’s no Derek around to look like a bear with a sore tooth. For now he just takes it as a matter of course and tells Derek a funny anecdote involving himself, a lawnmower and a garden gnome. By the time the story is over and they’ve reached Stiles’ house, the tension seems to have bled from Derek. The guy is never chill but he’s heading in the right direction.
“This is me!” Stiles says brightly. Derek raises an eyebrow which clearly says why yes, I did know that, thanks for stating the obvious, moron. They stand at the foot of the Stilinski’s walk, saying nothing. Stiles rolls the lawnmower back and forth a little, just to have something to do with his hands. “So uh, thanks for walking me home?”
Stiles turns with a shrug. He guesses there was no particular reason why Derek had kept him company, maybe he was headed this way when he’d been waylaid by cute lemonade sellers. On an impulsive afterthought, Stiles turns back and blurts,
“You’ll make a great pack-dad one day. They way you were with Julie and Anna... you’ve got a nack. I’ve babysat for neighbours before, so I should know. Kids are difficult man, but you had them eating out of your palm. Sun shining out of your ass kind of stuff there.”
A strange expression crosses Derek’s face, he looks a little shocked and a little angry. Shit. How did Stiles stick his foot in it this time? Can this dude not take a compliment when he’s given one? Jeeze. He’s about to say something, probably a stupid something, to try and back-pedal from whatever had caused that look on Derek’s face, but, much to his surprise, Derek beats him to it.
Face blank and unreadable, he says, “I won’t ever have kids.” And then he’s gone in a blink.
Stiles doesn’t really expect to see Derek again that night.
In the woods.
While Stiles is spending some quality time with his dad’s whiskey.
He’d left the engine running despite knowing it would use up his Jeep’s battery life quicker. He just wanted to play the radio and since his iPod is broken again, he left the keys in the ignition and the radio blared out songs from an oldies station. Eighties power ballads are his kryptonite, okay? And really, Heart’s Alone is the perfect dramatic song to get drunk to. Plenty of drums and electric guitars.
He’s sprawled on the ground looking up at the sky and doing an epic air-drum solo, when suddenly Derek’s face is obscuring the Big Dipper. Stiles shrieks.
“Why are you here?” Stiles asks really loudly, like Derek’s deaf. Like he didn’t fist meet Derek in the woods. Like the Big Bad Wolf. Stiles giggles.
“You called me,” Derek says stiffly, hands shoved deep in his pockets and eyebrows doing this weird angry thing they do.
“The Bat Signal,” Stiles says with drunken wonder. He grins up at Derek sleepily before a thought occurs to him. “The Wolf Signal? Doesn’t have the same ring to it...”
“You called me, Stiles. On your cell.”
“Did not,” Stiles insists from the ground. “Called Scott. Good-old Scotty boy. Scott who should be here aaaaany minute ‘cos I’m totally shit-faced. Not s’posed to drive when you’ve got shit-face. I mean, did that sound weird? What was I saying? Oh, dude. You’re blocking the Big Diaper. Dipper?”
Derek doesn’t move.
“Why you here?” Stiles asks again. “I called Scott, Scott should be coming ‘cos you’re not allowed to drive while --”
“Stiles,” Derek interrupts with feeling. Stiles shuts up and just lies there smiling up at Derek expectantly. “You didn’t call Scott. You called me.” He says every word real slow.
“Did I? That was stupid.”
Derek purses his lips like a little old woman and grabs at Stiles, lifting him like he weighs no more than a pillow full of feathers. With an arm like a freaking rock around his waist, Derek helps Stiles to the passenger seat of the Jeep.
Stiles grins into space for a while before deciding that the music needs to be louder.
“Come on, lets turn this off,” Derek says calmly from the drivers’ seat. Stiles whines and in the end Derek only turns the music down, not off.
“Ever notice how Toni Braxton’s Unbreak My Heart makes you want to do interp... uh, interpretive dance? Arms and hugging the air and pointing?” Stiles takes it upon himself to give Derek a practical demonstration.
Derek drives like a grandpa the entire way back into Beacon Hills. Stiles tells him this but only gets a grunt. The winding roads out of the woods are sort of starting to make Stiles feel nauseous and it’s totally not fun. It never is when you’re stomach decides to make a break for it by coming out of your mouth. He goes quiet.
“It was stupid to get drunk in the woods by yourself,” Derek says eventually when they’re stopped at a red light.
“Wasn’t s’posed to be alone,” Stiles whispers sleepily. “Scott bailed ‘cos he sucks. Isaac prefers Scott to me, so they decided to do... whatever it is they do. Mmm. Never anything stupid about whiskey. Whiskey is amazing. I feel bad for you and Scott and all the wolf-people of the world. ”
Derek just shakes his head and says no more.
The Stilinski house is dark when they reach it a few minutes later. Stiles’ dad is working tonight. Again. It’s a sad sight, the little empty house. It’s his home, but it doesn’t look it.
Stiles still isn’t that steady on his feet and Derek must take pity on him or something because he grunts and grabs at Stiles’ arm with an iron grip, keeping him upright. Stiles fumbles with the front door key for so long that Derek snatches it from him and opens the door himself.
Instead of leaving him to it, Derek practically carries Stiles up the stairs and into his bed. Stiles is only half aware of having his shoes unlaced and pulled off. He’s already mostly asleep by the time Derek pushes him down on the mattress and pulls the covers up over him. If Stiles was even remotely sober he would have found it weird, but he’s not sober and so he won’t remember squeezing Derek’s hand and thanking him; he won’t remember the way Derek’s face looked so sad in the dark shadows of his room.
Hangovers are things that should only happen to other people, Stiles decides. Mean horrible no-good people. People like Jackson. Jackson is allowed to feel like shit, have a headache like a herd of stampeding wildebeest are enacting that scene from The Lion King in his head, like a skunk took a dislike to the inside of his mouth.
Stiles spends most of the late morning shuffling around the house groaning. Sunlight is so mean. How did he never realise this before?
It’s about two in the afternoon, and Stiles is wrapped up a bed sheet and watching tennis on mute, and contemplating the origin of the word ‘love’ in this sport, when there’s an insistent tap at his window.
Oh for fuck’s sake.
“We have this thing called the front door. Which is what people use when they have this other thing called manners,” Stiles bitches without much feeling as he lets Derek into his room. The guy doesn’t look fazed by this and immediately stalks to the desk chair and claims it for himself. “Can I help you?”
“Are you hungover?” Derek asks with a piercing stare.
“Urg, don’t remind me.” Stiles flops into the bed.
“Asshole.” He pauses and when Derek doesn’t say anything, Stiles takes his face out of the covers and looks over at him. “Um, thanks though. For picking me up. Could have sworn I called Scott..”
“Yeah, I figured that when you kept calling me ‘Scott’ and ‘bro’.”
Stiles laughs weakly. “Oops?”
“Guess I should go.” It’s said awkwardly, like Derek is embarrassed about caring, that he came over clearly to make sure Stiles hadn’t died of choking on his own vomit or something equally gruesome.
“Might I recommend the front door? I can show you where it is!” Despite Derek’s glare and continued assurance that he actually knew where the hell it was, thanks, Stiles showed him out anyway.
“Be careful, okay?” Derek says as he leaves the house. “I don’t know where this Alpha pack are. The woods probably aren’t a safe place to go, especially alone.”
“Aww, you do care!” Stiles teases.
“Yeah, okay, I got ya. No more drunk funtimes in the woods. Check.” It probably sounds disingenuous but whatever. And though Derek doesn’t seem that keen to take Stiles’ word for it, he doesn’t push the matter.
“Why were you out drinking alone?” Derek asks instead. His eyes are narrowed and Stiles immediately feels uncomfortable, his guard slamming up.
“I’m a teenager, we all like to test our boundaries. Underage drinking is a rite of passage, dude.”
Stiles knows immediately that Derek doesn’t buy this for a moment. He must reek of lies and half-truths.
“I know what you’re going through. With Lydia,” Derek says with a frown, eyes downcast. And the thing is, Stiles finds that really hard to believe. The embarrassment of having to be driven home at ass-o’clock by Derek because his own best friend bailed on him, and the general feeling of being thwarted this entire summer suddenly comes to a head, building up in Stiles a mighty wall of frustration.
“Oh?” he asks, voice flirting heavily with sarcasm. “So you know how it feels to be so hung-up on an idea, of being popular and smart and with a girl like Lydia that you completely ignored how you feel for guys? Hmm? And now that that little fantasy bubble has been well and truly popped, you’re realising just how stupid and unself-aware you are and totally fucking freaking out because, hello! Bisexual? Gay? What does it all mean? And there’s supernatural creatures? Supernatural creatures that like trying to kill you because being human sucks and must seriously have the lowest points score in Species Top Trumps. And everything with your family sucks? Okay, I’ll give you the last one, Derek, but all the other ones? I call bullshit.”
Derek looks furious. Big damn surprise. What is a surprise is that he doesn’t tell Stiles to shut up, not exactly.
“Yeah, well,” Derek begins in a dangerously low tone of voice. “My last girlfriend used me in order to burn most of my family alive. Swore me off women for life. You’re not the only one who’s ever had a sexual identity crisis when he realised he liked dick.” He glares at Stiles and seems to change the subject at random, saying darkly, “Fuck. Do you have any idea what you smell like?”
“Um...?” Stiles can’t seem to stop gaping long enough to find a way to say something meaningful. The only things that spring to mind are: ouch -- he totally wears deodorant and shouldn’t smell that bad, and did Derek say he likes dick? and yes, Derek totally implied he liked dick. Derek is a dick-liker. Which sounds like dick licker. And BOOM. Now Stiles is thinking of blow jobs because he’s a teenage boy and it’s a hormone thing. Awesome. Oh shit. Now Stiles’ dick wants to get involved and he’s pretty sure Derek can smell all this. Words! Enough words can solve any manner of awkward.
“I didn’t... you’ve had a sexual identity crisis? Since when? Aren’t you like cro magnon man of 100% heterosexuality? Me Derek. Me like tits. Et cetera?”
“I’m not talking about my sexuality with you, Stiles,” Derek says tightly.
“Dude, you’re the one who brought it up first.” He’s really grumpy now. “I find it totally unfair that you drop that bisexual bomb on me and not expect it to be part of the conversation. And while we’re at it, what’s wrong with how I smell? I mean, Scott’s never said anything about me smelling weird. ”
“Shut up, Stiles.” Classic Derek. He’s turning, about to walk away from this entire conversation and Stiles wants to say something really spiteful about cowardice.
“Derek, you -”
“- can’t just -”
“Stiles,” Derek interrupts again, voice sharp. “What is that?”
“That.” Derek points. It takes a moment for Stiles’ eyes to focus. He follows the line from the end of Derek’s finger to whatever he’s pointing at on the porch steps. It’s small and dark and delicate. Stiles knows what it is instantly.
“It’s an iris,” Stiles says with a shiver. Derek eyes him sharpley.
“This isn’t the first.” And that isn’t a question.
“Ah, nope, no. Not exactly.”
“How many have you received, Stiles?”
“Why does it matter? They’re just flowers.”
“It’s not just a flower,” Derek growls. “It’s a symbol.”
“A symbol that I have... a secret admirer?”
If Stiles’ life was a Looney Toons cartoon, steam might literally be pouring out from Derek’s nostrils, raging bull style, he’s so obviously riled about this.
“Or maybe you mean how the three petals represent faith, wisdom and valour?” Stiles asks without thinking and winces at the furrowed eyebrows of anger Derek throws his way. “Yeah, fine so I did some research on the flower, so what? It’s my thing. Internet wizard, hello. Did you know that irises have been symbols of royalty and divine protection for centuries? It’s the national flower of France. The Fleur-de-Lis is a stylised iris.”
“Divine protection. Representation of royalty.” There’s a pause. “Does that ring any bells with you, Stiles? Any at all?”
“The three-pronged flower?”
“It yeah, it did remind me of the triskelion left on your door. But a lot of things have three points! Symbolism loves the power of three. Just look at the Christian Holy Trinity. The list is endless: the Irish shamrock, the Celtic triquetra, the germanic trefot. I could write an essay on --”
“Stiles!” Derek snaps. Stiles clamps his mouth shut. “How many flowers have you received?”
“About... fourteen or so?”
Stiles heart rate picks up at the sight of Derek going pale. His face looks ashen and no longer angry but stunned. And a little scared.
“You’ve met them.” Again, not a question.
“Who? I don’t... I really don’t understand what’s going on? Are you trying to tell me that my secret admirer is... the Alpha pack? I haven’t met them, Derek, pretty sure I’d remember that.”
“They’ve got their eyes on you,” Derek says to himself, completely ignoring Stiles’ questions. “They’ve got your scent.”
“Can you please tell me what all this means?” There’s a note of hysteria in Stiles’ voice which, given the circumstances, he thinks is understandable.
“The Alphas are coming out of hiding at last,” Derek pauses. “For you.”
“Dead man walking,” Stiles whispers under his breath as Peter Hale swans into the back room of Dr Deaton’s vet practice. For a man who is no longer an alpha, and should be pushing up the daisies, he’s remarkably self-assured. Scott is standing beside Stiles, arms crossed defensively. He huffs a laugh at Stiles’ lame joke, but it sounds bitter. He’s deeply unhappy at being dragged here to take part in these talks. Not that anything is going to happen, the veterinary hospital is basically Beacon Hill’s answer to Switzerland.
Everyone is here: Peter, Derek, Isaac, and even a haughty-looking Jackson. Lydia stands beside her douchebag boyfriend with a bored expression on her face, glancing down at her phone every few minutes as if hoping the outside world will save her from the tedium. (Though Stiles can see that she’s positioned herself as far away from Peter as possible.) Deaton is standing quietly to one side, watching everyone with knowing eyes.
It gets really hostile the moment Chris Argent enters the room, a blank-faced Allison only a pace behind him. Stiles can feel the tension like electricity, everything suddenly over-charged and crackling. Scott has gone rigid, all his senses trained on Allison. Stiles places a hand on Scott’s arm, not that he could stop him if Scott really put his mind to doing something, but an anchoring nonetheless.
Deaton steps forward into the tense tableau, radiating calm.
“Ground rules,” he begins firmly. “All weapons have been left outside the room and will remain so -”
“I don’t appreciate that, Deaton,” Chris Argent interrupts. “Some of us can’t shift into our weapons.” His eyes flick to Derek who, knuckle-headed wolf that he is, growls. Chris gives him a dangerous look, but seems to take this overt display of animosity as a vindication of his worries.
“No we can’t,” Scott says, interrupting the staring contest. “This room is made entirely of mountain ash.”
“It’s like putting radioactive isotopes in a container lined with lead,” Stiles explains. Lydia rolls her eyes, everyone else looks at him blankly. “The werewolves are the radioactive isotopes in this scenario. Just to, uh, clarify.”
“Why is he even here?” Jackson bitches into the silence. Derek glares at him and Lydia pinches his arm without looking up from her phone.
“I’d have to agree.” Chris’s agreement comes with an expression of distaste. Sucks to find common ground with a werewolf. Or maybe it just sucks to find yourself agreeing with Jackson. “I really wished you’d listened to me Stiles, when I told you to say out of this. It’s dangerous.”
“Thanks man, but I already have a dad,” Stiles shoots back, annoyed.
“And does the good Sheriff know what you’ve been up to?”
Stiles feels his face flush with anger and self-recrimination. He doesn’t want his dad brought up, especially not in this context. Without consciously making the decision he’s moving forward in a way that can’t be construed as anything but threatening. Scott’s now the one to place a steadying hand on him, stopping Stiles from doing something stupid.
Almost as if a switch has been flicked, everyone in the room starts speaking at once, talking over each other in loud, harsh voices. Deaton doesn’t look amused.
“Quiet!” he shouts in a surprisingly authoritative voice. Even Derek shuts up. “Stiles is a part of this, so he will be staying.”
“Hell yeah I will,” Stiles agrees under his breath. Isaac across the room grins at him, half goofy, half predator.
“Why?” Jackson pipes up. Stiles is about to let loose a tirade of epic proportions because, seriously, couldn’t this asshole let it go already? Stiles had been a part of this whole debacle from the very beginning and Stiles doesn’t do things by halves, he’ll see this to the bitter end. But when he turns to look at Jackson his expression is one of mild curiosity rather than disdain. And then Stiles hears words that make the ground fall away from him.
“Because,” Peter says lackadaisically. “The Alpha pack have selected him for the sacrifice.”
“The whatnow?” Stiles shouts, jaw dropping.
“Peter,” Deaton says in a warning tone. Peter looks anything but cowed, shrugging like it’s no biggie.
“A sacrifice?” Scott sounds utterly confused. He’s even torn his eyes away from Allison for long enough to glance over at Deaton. “What does that mean?”
“Yeah, enquiring minds would like to know,” Stiles puts in. “I really don’t like the sound of being a sacrifice. Please, please, tell me that the dead guy is, like, exaggerating for dramatic effect. He’s real good at being a drama llama. He came back from the freaking dead! So can we please define sacrifice? Are we talking jumping into the nearest volcano?"
"Virgin sacrifice," Jackson snickers meanly. Stiles manfully ignores him.
"I'm not letting Stiles get sacrificed to anyone," says Scott mulishly, which is why he's Stiles' favourite.
“It’s not that kind of sacrifice, they’re not expecting a death,” Deaton explains calmly, like he’s the werewolf whisperer.
“Well as long as I’m not going to die,” Stiles says sarcastically, arms thrown up in the air.
“If not Stiles’ death then what do they expect?” asks Lydia, suddenly interested in the proceedings. Her beautiful eyes are cold and focused.
“They want him,” Derek mutters into the silence. He and Deaton stare at each other with an intensity that puts Stiles on edge. Finally, Derek shakes his head almost imperceptibly.
“The Alpha pack have initiated an old ritual known as the Accordance,” Deaton explains. “As most of you now know, an Alpha pack is bad news for any werewolf pack, let alone one as new and fractured as this one.” From across the room Stiles can see Derek flush with shame. It’s vulnerable and human. “They don’t take prisoners, they’re ruthless and hungry and very clever. However, there are rare occasions when they are willing to negotiate.”
“Negotiate? For what?” Allison asks suspiciously. It’s the first time she’s spoken since she entered the room. “What do we have that they want?”
“Stiles, obviously,” Lydia answers immediately. “Peter already said he’s the sacrifice, so as I understand it, they’re ready to parley for a truce so that they can... have Stiles?”
“Essentially correct,” Deaton says. “The sacrifice is an archaic way of describing it and doesn’t mean Stiles will be hurt, quite the opposite. The sacrifice is what the pack would be doing if you give up Stiles. The ultimate sign of submission.”
Everyone is silent, digesting this new information. Stiles is impatient and flails his arms around, like he’s searching for the right words. “Okay, at the risk of sounding like Jackson, why me? Isn’t this an Alpha pack? Why would they want a human?”
“Humans are important,” Derek says quietly, but Stiles hears him anyway. Beside Derek Jackson’s eyebrows pull together in a frown and Isaac looks worried. “I told you before, Stiles. Humans are just as much pack as werewolves, they keep the human side of a pack anchored. Even Alphas need to safeguard against totally giving up to the beast inside. It’s what makes us better than wolves. Our humanity.”
“In your own way,” Deaton says gently, turning to Stiles with a somber face. “You are just as much an Alpha as Derek. They’ve been observing the pack and have located it’s most important member - you.”
“That really doesn’t make sense.” Stiles is at a loss.
“Sure it does,” Lydia says briskly. “It’s obvious.”
“Not to some of us,” Jackson puts in.
“If they wanted an Alpha-like human to join their merry men, why didn’t they ask Lydia?” Stiles protests. “I mean, she’s much more intelligent and, uh, forceful than I am.”
“While all of that is true,” Lydia says without a trace of irony, “my loyalties lie with Jackson and thus, by extension, Derek. You on the other hand answer to neither faction.”
“It’s true,” Deaton says with an appreciative look in Lydia’s direction. “In a fragmented pack, the most important member is the one who bridges the divide, the one who holds the frayed edges together.”
The room goes quiet. It’s totally surreal to Stiles that somehow he’s at the apex of this drama. Him! Until recently a second string lacrosse player with better than average grades and a lower than average attention span -- he’s not worth all this, surely?
“What happens if Stiles goes with the Alphas?” Isaac asks.
“A ceasefire,” Deaton answer promptly. “They get the most important pack member for their own and in return they leave without harming anyone.”
Everyone looks uncomfortable. The offer is either lose Stiles to the Alphas or potentially lose all of them. It’s easy when put like that.
“We are not giving up Stiles!” cries a new voice from the back of the room. Stiles is surprised to see Ms McCall, he hadn’t noticed her sneak in. She looks furious and incredulous, hands on hips as she stares around the room. “Why is this even an issue? Are you all crazy? Stiles belongs here, with us.” her voice breaks a little over the last word and Stiles sort of wants to cry with gratitude and love.
“All of you should be ashamed of yourselves, standing around discussing this like it’s an option. It’s just awful. I won’t allow it.”
“We weren’t going to give him up, Mom,” Scott soothes. And maybe they weren’t but it took Ms McCall to say it out loud and Stiles feels a little odd about that, like he can’t meet anyone’s eye.
“Well,” Ms McCall frowns. “Good!”
“We’ll have to tell the Alphas he’s not for sale,” Derek says, eyes trained on the floor, jaw tight. “We’ll do it tomorrow.”
And with that, the meeting is over.
It’s a little disconcerting to know how accurately the Alpha pack anticipates their moves. No more than a half day has passed since the meeting at Dr Deaton’s clinic when Stiles receives an incoming call from Derek of all people. Stiles accepts the call and before he can say even a half-hearted hello, Derek beats him to it.
“Stiles, it’s Derek.” Succinct as ever.
“No kidding. Caller ID, it’s this thing we have now --”
“Shut up,” Derek barks down the phone. Stiles clamps his mouth shut. On the other end of the line he thinks he can hear background mutterings and, shit, someone crying. What the hell? “You need to get to the train depot right now. Erica and Boyd were returned.”
There really aren’t words for how relieved Stiles feels when he hears that they’re back, that they’re alive. The crying doesn’t bode well for the in one piece Stiles would have hoped for, but for now he’s just going to be glad that they’re back.
“Oh thank God,” Stiles whispers.
“Don’t thank Him yet,” Derek says with a hint of some emotion Stiles can’t put his finger on. It sounds angry but unimaginably sad. “Get your ass down here.” And then the line goes dead.
Stiles breaks several traffic laws in order to get to the depot as soon as possible. He’s incredibly lucky his dad hadn’t put one of the deputies on speed gun duty this side of town. As it is, Stiles finds it hard not to drive right through every fourway stop when the roads are totally deserted. When he reaches his destination Stiles screeches the Jeep to a halt, apologising quietly to his baby for the abuse of her break pads, and hops out quickly.
To his surprise it’s Lydia waiting for him. She’s wearing inappropriate shoes for a derelict train depot and she’s looking grim, which makes the hairs on his forearms stand on end. Lydia rarely cares enough to give a shit about things.
“Finally,” she snaps, grabbing on to the sleeve of his t-shirt with her sharp, agile fingers. “They need you in there. They need a human, according to Derek.”
“But, you’re human?” Stiles doesn’t mean it to sound like a question. She huffs in distaste.
“Of course I am, but I’m not the right kind. Whatever it is that makes me immune to a werewolf bite, makes me useless for what Erica and Boyd need.”
Lydia doesn’t really need to keep a hold of him, he’s keeping up just fine and isn’t planning on running away -- he just got here -- but she doesn’t let go. Her knuckles are bloodless white. Stiles decides to leave his questions unasked until he sees Derek. Lydia is clearly agitated and giving off major not in the mood vibes.
A moment later they’re emerging into the open space where the old train carriage is housed, the whole place a creepy homage to concrete and iron and rust. It smells damp and ugly; Stiles has always hated it here. He’s not allowed to think on this for more than a fleeting moment before he’s being pushed down the stairs and towards the carriage.
Stumbling through the door, Stiles is immediately confronted with the sight of a knot of human-shaped limbs tangled together on a mattress. It’s Issac and Scott and Jackson and Derek, curled around a pinched-faced Boyd and a shaking Erica.
The whole thing is disturbing and Stiles stops in his tracks, mouth gaping.
“Come on, dude,” Scott says from where he’s got his head pillowed on Erica’s stomach. He looks a little confused, like he doesn't know exactly how he got dragged into a puppy pile with some of his least favourite people, but isn’t overly concerned.
Stiles doesn’t hesitate at the invitation. If Scott is here, actually willingly helping out, then this must be some serious cuddles going on. He steps forward, body awkward but willing.
“Take your shoes off,” Lydia advises and Stiles does so quickly, stepping on the heels of his sneakers to get out of them.
Derek, in the centre of the pack, eyes him with slightly red-rimmed irises, face stoic and lips thin with something scarily close to distress. Without saying anything Stiles steps forward onto the mattress making sure to avoid fingers and legs. There isn’t really room for him, not at first, but after a small pause there’s a shift from someone then another and finally Derek is grabbing his wrist and pulling Stiles down. With a really inconvenient blush, Stiles finds himself slumped back to chest with Derek, cradled between his legs. Before he can protest or move somewhere that doesn’t make him think of Derek’s junk pressed up against his ass, Erica and Boyd scoot in and cling to him like scared children.
“Relax,” Derek says quietly, directly into Stiles’ ear. His breath is warm and it tickles.
“Sure, okay, I can do that.” Stiles isn't sure he actually can but he makes a conscious effort to sling an arm around Boyd’s wide shoulders and run his fingers through Erica’s tangled, unwashed hair. There isn’t any talking for a while after that. Lydia slips out of her heels, nose creasing in distaste as her bare toes touch the floor, and slides in beside Jackson. Stiles takes the opportunity to have a good look at the returned werewolves in his arms.
Both look thin though not emaciated at all. Stiles isn’t sure if this is due to their werewolf physiology keeping them looking relatively healthy, or that stress is the only thing that’s kept them from eating, rather than a lack of food. Boyd, never one to be much of a talker, has his eyes closed and looks troubled but otherwise okay, much to Stiles’ relief. Erica on the other hand is obviously dealing badly. She’d clearly been the one crying earlier when Derek had called, her eyes swollen and face blotchy. Her shivering hasn’t stopped yet but it’s not as violent as it had been a moment before -- Stiles wonders if he did that. This thought both worries him and makes him feel important, needed.
“You’re doing good,” Derek whispers again. Stiles isn’t sure who he’s talking to, his betas or Stiles.
“So, would someone like to tell me what’s been happening around here?” Stiles ventures, now that the silence has been broken. “Seriously, I’ve been worried about you two.” He punctuates the sentiment by squeezing Erica and Boyd a little tighter. Erica snuffles, nose burrowing into Stiles’ side.
“The Alphas returned them,” Isaac says, glancing up the mattress to meet Stiles’ eyes. “Scott and I found them near the house.” Stiles doesn’t need to ask which house.
“Yeah,” Scott agrees. “They looked in a bad way so Isaac called Derek and we brought them here. Derek said they needed to feel their pack around them, to help with the stress. So, uh, hence the group hug.”
“And you needed me?”
Scott frowns in a hurt sort of way. “Weren’t you listening yesterday at Deaton’s? You’re pack.”
Stiles rolls his eyes and pokes Scott in the stomach with his toes. “No, I know that. Can’t really miss it with the whole most important pack member yadda yadda. I’m happy to be a security blanket. That is what’s going on here, right?”
“You make them feel better,” Isaac agrees simply.
“Right,” Stiles ponders this a moment. “Humans balance packs, so if the Alphas want me, then I think it’s pretty safe to assume they don’t have a human in their pack at present?”
“I doubt it,” Derek says, following Stiles’ thoughts seamlessly. “Which means Boyd and Erica have been around Alphas in their alpha form for too long. Weeks without human contact. They’re finding it hard to remember their human shape. Your humanness, your smell and how you sound and feel, is helping them to remember.”
“I’m an anchor, then,” Stiles concludes. It makes a kind of bizarre sense, this dual need to placate both the animal and human nature of a werewolf. Finding their inner zen. He’ll never quite get over that, at the centre of this whole debacle, is Stiles himself. A sixteen year old boy who was, prior to this drama, going through a perfectly normal sexual identity crisis.
“Not doing this because you’re cuddly, Stilinski,” says a rough voice to Stiles’ right, breaking Stiles out of his downward trending thoughts. He turns to see Boyd looking up at him with a tired, slightly sarcastic expression. From somewhere within the pile Stiles hears Jackson mutter, ain’t that the truth. Stiles grins wryly at Boyd.
“Fair point, fair point.” There’s a comfortable silence before a thought occurs to Stiles. “Holy crap! I’m actually a Guide! Like in The Sentinel? You know?” But nobody seems to be listening -- or they don’t care, which is more likely.
Derek shifts a little behind him, and suddenly an arm emerges and Derek’s hand settles on Stiles’ head. The fingers run restlessly over the bristles of Stiles’ hair. Part of him wants to shrug Derek off because, hello, the boundary line of personal space? Look behind you. But something stops him and Stiles thinks about being an anchor and how maybe Derek needs one too. It can’t be easy to see his betas so badly shaken, hurting emotionally, and maybe he’s also having trouble staying human for them. It’s strangely uplifting to be the strong one out of himself and Derek. Derek with his muscles and his superpowers is actually taking strength from Stiles.
Besides, after a moment of adjustment, Stiles actually enjoys the feeling of Derek petting him. Not that he has to tell anyone this little factoid.
“Stiles?” Its the first time Erica has spoken and he immediately focuses all his attention on her. She looks wan and so close to the waifish epileptic Stiles remembers shuffling apologetically down the school hallways, that Stiles feels himself catch a shocked breath. After a moment Stiles gives her his best smile, hating that it’s taken this long for him to offer her that much. “The... the Alphas wanted us to give you a message.”
Derek stiffens and his fingers stop moving over Stiles’ head, but he doesn’t intervene. Stiles nods to Erica, prompting her to keep going. She sniffs.
“They said they were letting me and Boyd go because... because they want, they need...” she trails off looking lost, eyebrows furrowed.
“They were talking about a truce,” Boyd says, picking up from Erica. “They said letting us go was a goodwill gesture, so that you and Derek and Scott will know that they’re serious.”
“Shit,” Scott says, looking winded and bewildered.
He can get in fucking line, Stiles thinks.
“You’re not going, are you Stiles?” Erica sounds genuinely stressed, fingers clutching at his shirt.
“No!” Scott shouts at the same time as Derek says,
“Of course he’s not.”
Stiles feels a glow of happiness and belonging settling in the bottom of his stomach. This, this is exactly what family feels like. His moment of euphoria lasts a whole half a minute before Jackson's voice brings reality crashing down.
“But if he doesn’t go, won’t the Alphas want Erica and Boyd back?”
There’s an uncomfortable silence.
“Probably,” Lydia murmurs. “But they’re going to kick up a fuss no matter what because we’re always going to say no, which means we were always going to have to fight them.”
“We’re not ready,” Isaac says unhappily. “We can’t possibly be ready to fight them off, right Derek?”
“Let’s not worry about that now,” Derek says with quiet authority, stopping the conversation from spiraling further into the depths of gloom and despair. Boyd and certainly Erica probably wouldn’t appreciate the anxiety-thick atmosphere suffocating their much-needed zen.
Stiles agrees out loud before shifting back to get more comfortable against Derek’s hard-as-a-rock chest, wiggling a little until Derek’s legs open a bit wider. A moment later the fingers on Stiles’ head resume their petting. Stiles sighs. There’s time enough to worry later.
According to Boyd, the Alpha pack are going to give them a week. A measly week for the pack to decide whether they want to keep Stiles and fight the Alphas for the rights to Beacon Hills, or give him up and accept the truce. They’re not really talking about this giant-ass elephant in the room because, according to Derek, there’s nothing to talk about. They’re not giving Stiles up.
And Scott agrees wholeheartedly. He shouts a lot, spending all his time verbally defending Stiles, using the word ‘no’ and ‘complete bullshit’ a lot more than Stiles has ever heard from him before. Erica becomes so agitated by the turbulent emotions that Stiles bans Scott from the train depot. It’s not really his place to do that, but Derek backs him up with a flash of red eyes.
Stiles finds himself spending all his spare time at the depot. Erica and Boyd don’t need him so much as they did on that first day they were returned but Stiles thinks just being near stabilizes their environment. Every now and then Erica will sidle over with a huge mug of tea and plop next to him on the ratty blue sofa Derek had found and dragged into the depot like enormous, battered chew toy (Stiles hasn’t shared this analogy with Derek for obvious reasons). She’ll pout in a way that is familiar from before she went missing and say something which is one part surly and one part anxious. On one of these occasions when she asks what he’s reading, and Stiles hands over a stack of books he took out from the library and lets Erica choose one.
Stiles has a lot of reading to do over the summer, they all do actually. He finished Lord of the Flies the other night, which he thinks is a good thing, as it was harrowing and didn’t really strike the right tone considering what Erica has been through recently. Instead she flicks through several and eventually pulls out the thinnest of the lot. Stiles kind of regrets letting her choose when he sees the title. It was at the bottom for a reason. It’s a book called Tuesdays With Morrie.
If Erica can deal with a book about a dying guy, Stiles can suck it up too. So he starts reading aloud to her. It’s become a thing they do. She seems to like it.
Without talking about it with anyone, Storytime (as Stiles has taken to calling it in his head) begins at the same time every day. At first it’s just Erica but then it’s Isaac and Boyd too. Lydia flounces in and makes some comment about having finished all the required reading but there’s no harm in getting a refresher; and where Lydia goes, Jackson follows. It’s quite a little crowd. And though Stiles can’t be certain, he thinks that Derek lurks around the depot within hearing distance like a child who thinks he’s too old to listen to stories but secretly still loves it.
But Stiles isn’t wrong about it being a tough book to read. Difficult for more than one reason. Erica cries quietly through a lot of it, but seems to find it cathartic. Stiles doesn’t cry but it’s a close thing.
“It’s hard on you,” Derek observes quietly one evening as Stiles packs up his bag to go home. It’s four days after the Alphas returned Erica and Boyd and everyone has settled into this new routine with startling ease. It’s strange to think there’s bad things lurking in the woods, waiting for them.
Stiles shrugs, swinging his backpack onto one shoulder. “What? Reading aloud? Nah man, it’s cool.”
Derek’s brow furrows. “No, Stiles. It’s what you’re reading -- I can tell. Can smell it on you. Can hear it in your voice. It affects you.”
“You’ve been listening in at Storytime?” Stiles says teasingly, evasively.
“Werewolf hearing,” Derek retorts then waits. Stiles sticks out his jaw stubbornly -- he’s going to wait a long wait.
As so it goes, for several long, awkward seconds, neither willing to give ground and entirely too pig-headed to concede defeat. Eventually, because the staring contest can’t last forever, Derek says, voice so low Stiles almost can’t hear it at all, “It’s hard. Being the one left behind.”
Stiles’ smile fades, stunned. He’s not sure why this revelation floors him but it does. He nods, flexing his jaw but says nothing. He doesn’t look directly at Derek, eyes skittering over the depot but landing on nothing in particular.
Stiles isn’t sure how Derek knows what’s been bothering him. It’s not like Derek’s friendly with Scott (fat chance with those two boneheads) and found out about Stiles’ mom and how she died. Maybe Derek really could hear something in the way Stiles read the book, something that told him all he needed to know. It was unsettling to realize that even now the death of his mom still clung to him in measurable ways.
He’s been quiet so long that Derek looks ready to leave, body already turning, but suddenly Stiles doesn’t want that, not even a little.
“My mom –” Stiles pauses taking a breath to steady his voice. Derek hesitates. “She died of ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s what Morrie has in the book? It was awful. Morrie says that ALS is like a lit candle – it melts your nerves and leaves your body a pile of wax. It’s not pretty to watch. She was so brave. I wasn’t.”
What he means is, I’m still not.
“You were how old? Seven? Eight?” Derek guesses with a tilt of the head. “You were a little kid, Stiles.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Stiles stares hard at the concrete floor. “My heart has always overridden my head on this issue, go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200. Makes no sense, but there it is, festering away. Survivors’ guilt or something. But yeah, that’s why you’ve been able to notice a difference.”
“You don’t have to read it,” Derek points out. “Erica would never make you if she knew. Or the others.”
“Don’t tell them!” Stiles says in a panic, stepping forward into Derek’s personal space without any say so. He’s got a hand out, splayed flat and beseeching on Derek’s chest before he can think better of it. Luckily Derek isn’t in a flesh-tearing Alpha mood and doesn’t even blink at the sudden intrusion. “I... sorry, sorry. Just, please don’t.”
“I wasn’t going to. I wouldn’t.”
“Okay. Thanks, uh, for understanding.”
Derek shrugs. “Would it be so bad if they knew?”
“That my mom died of ALS? No, that wouldn’t be bad in and of itself. I’m not ashamed or trying to keep her a secret, or even keep her memory all to myself. No. It’s more that I can’t take the way people look at me when they know, like they want to say something but can’t so just give you these sad-eyes and it’s fucking annoying as hell. Because they mean well but are totally constipated with feelings which inevitably results in me comforting them. And I really don’t want to comfort anyone else, besides my dad, about my mom being dead.”
And that? That Derek definitely understands. His jaw is set and he looks angry, but not at Stiles, more in a general, long-standing anger at the universe as a whole way. Derek has more right than most to be pissed off at the world. His whole family, with the exception of Psychopathic Uncle Peter, are gone. It strikes Stiles, out of nowhere, that there’s literally nobody left in the world who truly loves Derek unconditionally. Or perhaps at all.
This is such a cold thought, so arctic and lonely, that Stiles rejects it immediately because nobody deserves that. Derek is a difficult, multi-faceted angsty guy and surely someone will love him, given a little time to see past these obvious flaws. A lot of it’s just surface bluster. He’s certainly beautiful enough for lusting after. Even Stiles sees that. It’s damn hard not to, especially now that Stiles notices guys and since Derek announced he was maybe a little homo-happy.
Stiles sighs. “We make a pair, don’t we?”
Derek raises an eyebrow at that, likely not understanding the deeper significance of the words. Stiles is glad of that. It takes him a moment to realise that he still has a hand on Derek’s chest, comfortable and warm and... completely inappropriate. He snatches it away and covers up the embarrassment by his favorite means: blathering.
“I’d say we should start a bereavement club but that just sounds harrowing and self-flagellating to an unnecessary degree. But maybe the club thing deserves another look? Like, Bros that Bake? I bake literally the best brownies your furry ass has ever tasted, no lie. Besides, everyone likes joining things and belonging. You could be the club captain, obviously, and I could be treasurer.”
“You really need a pause setting,” Derek says with a grudgingly amused roll of the eyes. “Or come with a manual.”
“Are you kidding me?” Stiles makes his eyes round with fake innocence. “You read the instruction manuals?”
“Fuck off, Stiles.” Derek gives him – miracle of miracles – a gentle shove towards the depot’s stairs. “Go home and get some sleep.”
“Yeah.” Stiles glances back at Derek. “See you tomorrow?”
Derek nods and disappears into the shadows.
On a Thursday when the Sheriff is working the night shift, Stiles invites the pack, Scott and Ms McCall included, to his house for spaghetti and meatballs. Because the depot doesn’t have a damn kitchen and if Stiles has to smell any more greasy beef lo mein and meat feast pizza at the same time he’s going to pitch a hissy fit. The werewolf genes might be keeping them healthy, helping to unclog those arteries, but Stiles doesn’t think that’s an excuse not to eat some proper home cooking every now and then.
“We need to talk about the truce,” is the first thing Scott says when Stiles opens the front door. Stiles rolls his eyes.
“Hi to you too. And hi Ms McCall, come on in.” Stiles steps back opening the door wider. Scott looks like he’s in the throes of some serious distress.
“I’m not kidding, Stiles! We need ---”
“I know,” Stiles sooths. “I do know, Scott. This is my life we’re talking about here. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that the Alphas want to, like, teach me their secret handshake and join their tree fort of craziness. I haven’t. I just don’t want to discuss it on my front porch. Or before we get some meatballs in our stomachs. Okay?”
Scott looks mulish, but nods a surly assent. Ms McCall raises her eyebrows at Stiles from behind her son’s back as if to say, well done.
Everyone else comes shortly after the McCalls. Isaac looks excited by the giant bubbling pot of spaghetti sauce, so Stiles makes him useful by handing him a wooden spoon. Jackson and Boyd are on table setting duty. Lydia pours everyone a drink of soda. Stiles fries the meatballs. Ms McCall chats with Erica about her cured epilepsy and Derek doesn’t so much lurk as look super awkward standing in the kitchen doorway.
It feels normal and good. The only way it could have been better was if his dad could share this moment with them. Stiles thinks his dad would actually get a kick out of all of them, each of with their unique foibles and unique reasons to love them. And Stiles does kind of love them all, his rag tag band. Except maybe Jackson: you can take the snake out the dick but you can’t the dick out of... Jackson. Or something. (Stiles is really glad he didn’t share this with anyone out loud.) By and large they’re good people and, given the chance, might be just the kind of big, dysfunctional family the Sheriff always wanted. Dad may even take a shine to Derek -- weirder things have happened. Literally.
As predicted the wolves pile away the mountain of meatballs like they’ve never actually seen food before, very little manners and lots red pasta sauce going everywhere. Stiles is glad he thought to buy the plastic easy-wipe tablecloth. Ms McCall looks about five seconds away from rolling her eyes at the sight, but Stiles knows she’s actually pretty happy.
There’s talk but nothing too heavy. Nothing of what they’re going to do once their week of grace comes to an end. Stiles knows that Scott is antsy about it, wants to prove that he can protect Stiles from everything bad. He’s a good best friend like that. But this is something all of them need to discuss together, because if he’s staying then they need to stand united against the consequences. Stiles kind of hopes evenings like this will ram it home to both Scott and Derek. They’re all better together, strength in numbers.
Stiles is sandwiched between Erica, who keeps laying her head on his shoulder, and Derek on his other side. Every now and then a knee will brush against his and Stiles doesn’t move away, lets it come and go and eventually come to rest warm against him. It’s alarming in the nicest way possible. Stiles kind of hopes he’s not blushing.
Boyd and Jackson get into a staring contest over the right to the last meatball, tight little growls rumbling in their throats. Blue and gold eyes flash at each other, the tension in the dining room growing tense. But before Stiles can think of how to defuse the pissing contest, Derek does it for him.
Moving faster than Stiles can follow with his human eyes, Derek snaps up the last meatball and stuffs it in his mouth. Stiles blinks as Derek’s smile grows bigger and bigger around the meatball, a genuine shit-eating grin of ultimate douchiness. With supreme satisfaction, Derek leans back in his chair, sliding down a little and slinging his arms across the backs of the two chairs beside him. He raises one of his eyebrows as if to say, yeah, I ate the last meatball, what of it?
Stiles glances around the table. Everyone’s mouths are hanging open. The look of complete shock on both Boyd and Jackson’s faces finally causes Stiles to crack. He laughs loud, doesn’t even care when he snorts.
“I really wanted that,” Jackson mutters, which only makes Stiles laugh harder. Everyone joins in after a second, the tension and anxiety breaking – at least for a little while. Stiles hasn’t seen everyone so happy for a long time. It’s perfect.
He turns his grin to Derek only to find Derek already staring back, watching him. The smile dims but Stiles is aware enough to know that it’s not because Derek is unhappy. His heart starts to beat faster. Neither looks away, sitting close and blocking out the loud, gleeful chatter of the pack around them. Stiles’ wants to slide his gaze to Derek’s lips, but can’t look away from his eyes. Under the table their knees are still pressed close.
“– help Stiles?”
Stiles jerks around at the sound of his name as if electrocuted. It takes him an embarrassingly long time to realise that it’s Erica talking to him. Now he knows he’s blushing. Erica has one of her perfectly plucked eyebrows raised in a knowing sort of way. She looks so much like her happy bad-girl self that Stiels can’t help but grin at her.
“Uh, sorry. Say again?”
“Just wanted to know if you needed help cleaning everything up. But I think you’ve got it all covered,” Erica offers with a knowing smirk, eyes glancing over Stiles’ shoulder to where Derek sits. Stiles can feel the back of his neck tingling.
“I could totally use the help!” Stiles insists, jumping up. He begins to stack plates. “I mean, could you guys be any messier? I’m going to need an industrial cleaning crew to clear all this up. it’s just as well that the majority of you are superpowered werewolves.”
In only a few minutes Stiles has given everyone a task, setting up a little production line of stackers, washers, driers and put-away-ers. Ms McCall laughs at the sight, sitting with her feet up on one of the kitchen chairs, enjoying watching the teenagers doing housework for a change.
“This is great, Stiles. Thanks for tonight,” she says to him, squeezing his arm in a way that feels like a hug. “I’m glad Scott has you. You helped him through all this, probably when I couldn’t have.” She looks away.
“He’s my best friend,” Stiles says, shrugging. It’s the most obvious thing to say.
“I don’t really understand all this pack dynamics stuff Scott’s been trying to fill me in on, but... I can see why the Alphas think you’re important,” Ms McCall says, quiet and sincere.
“Speaking of the Alphas,” Scott interrupts from the other side of the kitchen. Stiles groans. “We should all really talk about this. We’ve only got two days left.”
“What’s there to talk about?” Boyd asks. “They can’t have him. End of discussion.”
“No, Scott’s right,” Derek agrees, wiping his hands off on a kitchen towel. Scott looks surprised and not a little suspicious of Derek’s agreement. Derek completely ignores him. “We won’t allow the Alphas to have him, obviously, but we need to talk strategy because saying no is going to open us up to a world of trouble.”
“With a capital ‘T’ that rhymes with ‘P’ that stands for pool!” Stiles shouts in frustration, arms waving. Everyone looks at him in confusion. God, it’s like they’ve never seen a movie made before 1995. “Can we do it tomorrow? We were having a great time tonight and I’d rather not ruin it with arguments and name calling and wolfing out in the presence of breakable things. My dad would be so pissed if anything happened to his baseball signed by Clemente.”
“Tomorrow then,” Scott insists. “At the depot.” Scott sends a questioning look in Derek’s direction.
“At the depot.” Derek nods. “We’ll meet at noon.”
“Scott has summer school,” Ms McCall announces right over Scott, who’d looked ready to agree to the time without hesitation. His face flushes and he whines a plaintive mom, but it falls on deaf ears. Derek turns to Ms McCall and they stare at each other a long moment before Derek nods.
“Fine. After Scott is finished with his classes. We all agreed?”
This seems to be the cue for everyone to leave. Ms McCall, dragging Scott behind her, talking about someone needing to get a good night’s sleep before school in the morning, no arguing young man. Everyone else follows. Lydia pushes up on her tiptoes to kiss Stiles on the cheek and thank him for dinner. Jackson thanks him too, which is a first. Then Isaac slinks off into the night, followed shortly after by Boyd and Erica holding hands. Finally it’s just Stiles and Derek.
“I had a good time,” Derek says, all polite and stiff.
Stiles grins lopsided. He walks Derek out of the house and across the lawn in his bare feet. “So did I. I like when everyone gets along.”
“You do that.”
Stiles doesn’t know what to say to that, instead he blurts, “Okay, so please don’t, like wolf-out and eat my face off for for asking you a personal question, but --”
“You’re going to ask about what I said the other day, right? About me?”
“Uh, yeah. When you said you questioned your sexuality.” That you like dick. God help him.
“What about it, Stiles?” Derek sounds tired, but not like he’s going to punch Stiles in the face for bringing this up again and ruining the new camaraderie they were sharing. He looks tense, hands shoved deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched and defensive. Stiles is just going to take a leap and hope for the best.
“Is it difficult? I mean, how many gay werewolves are there anyway? Being gay must really get in the way of, like, the wolfie mating call. Right?”
Derek huffs a sigh. “It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t say it’s any harder being gay and a werewolf than if I’d been gay and completely human. Some people are assholes. Some people understand.”
Stiles digests that for a moment. It makes sense, after everything he’s learned about how werewolves behave and how they prize their human side just as much as the wolf. The wolf might be instinct and danger and nature, but the human is empathy and diversity and choice.
“What do you see when you look at me?” Stiles isn’t sure what he’s expecting, asking a question like that. Derek smiles a little, playful.
“A lot of plaid for one person.”
“Ha ha. Hilarious. I should take a photo of this moment and stick it in a frame that says, baby’s first joke. Such a proud moment.”
“Shut up, Stiles.” The smile has turned into an embarrassed grin. It’s charming and completely disarming. Stiles kind of likes it a whole lot, thinks it looks good on Derek. When he smiles it occurs to Stiles that Derek was made for smiling. He wasn’t supposed to be this short-tempered, morose person. Derek actually has laugh lines now that Stiles is looking properly and now that Derek actually has something to smile about. The lines are deep and make Stiles think Derek must have been a happy child, can imagine him playing with his siblings and laughing with his parents. The smile has just been in storage for a while, there’s dust on it, but he’s getting the hang of it all over again.
Derek is smiling now and Stiles did that. Him.
Maybe the reason God made him funny wasn’t because sarcasm was his only defence, maybe he was funny because one day someone who’d had terrible things happen to them would need something to smile at again.
“Hm?” Derek doesn’t look up as he pulls the keys to his Camaro out of a pocket.
“You’re not an abomination.”
Derek’s neck must hurt after turning to Stiles so quickly. Stiles has never seen the true definition of ‘whipping your head around’ until just now. This random thought gets derailed by the thunderstruck look Derek is giving him. It’s like Stiles has somehow just ducked past all of Derek’s defenses. Without realizing it Stiles is staring at Derek from inside, no longer confronted with the impenetrable wall Derek had built up over the years. It’s a scary place, but Stiles kind of doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
Derek sucks in a breath, quick and shocked. His eyes, hazel and entirely human, are huge and searching Stiles’ face. He’s frozen in place.
Stiles starts to reach forward, fingers meaning to grab at Derek’s henley and... well, Stiles doesn't really have a plan after that. He’s half way to doing something when Derek jerks back a step. Then another. With a flare of nostrils and a trapped look, Derek turns and leaves. Stiles tries not to take it personally, but it’s really fucking hard not to.
It’s ten in the morning and the last person Stiles wants to run into is Peter Hale. (Okay, not quite true, the for-real last people he’d hate to run into are any of the Alpha pack. But as of yet they’ve not come out to play from their HQ in the shadows and Stiles hopes that’s where they’ll stay. At any rate, Peter is definitely a high second on Stiles’ Shit List.) But there he is, hanging out in the frozen food section of the grocery store. There’s a lasagna for one in his wire basket.
Stiles tries to doubleback before Peter can spot him, but...
“If it isn’t the little boy who cried werewolf,” Peter greets with a smirk that makes Stiles want to kick him in the nuts.
“Ha. Hilarious,” Stiels deadpans. “Now that you’ve got that funny out of your system, I’m just going to –” he points over Peter’s shoulder towards the end of the aisle and tries to slip past. Peter sidesteps into Stiles’ path. Of course it wasn’t going to be that easy.
“You’re just the person I was hoping to see,” Peter continues, totally unrepentant and uncaring of the evil daggers stare Stiles is aiming at him. A man who came back from the dead has very little to fear, it would seem.
“How long have you been staring at frozen fish sticks hoping to casually bump into me? As a plan, I have to say the statistical likelihood was pretty low.”
“I meant generally.” Peter smiles some more. It’s creepy. The world is round. All is normal.
“Well, make it quick Lazarus, because, shocker, you’re not really my favourite person ever. And sharing breathing space with you is kind of nauseating.”
“Still mad over the Lydia Martin incident, hm?”
Peter calls it an ‘incident’ like it was nothing, a mistake, like Lydia hadn’t nearly bled out on the lacrosse field in her prom dress, like she hadn’t been this close to losing her shit for real. Fuck. And that’s just the last straw, really. Stiles doesn’t have to stand here, shivering in the arctic blast of the freezer section, and listen to this bullshit.
Stiles spins around and leaves.
But. Not really, because the grocery cart is made of fail and meanness and the castors refuse to swivel properly and Stiles is going exactly nowhere fast. The wheels haven’t been greased in a while and the noise they make at every adjustment to the twelve – count it! twelve! – point turn causes a squeak. As an exit, Stiles has done better. It’s all too easy for Peter to sidestep the little display of man versus cart and come up beside him again.
“Aw,” Peter mocks. “Don’t be like that, Stiles. I was actually going to give you some advice.”
“Why would I want advice from you, exactly?”
“Because you’ll need it to deal with the Alphas. And Derek won’t give it.”
“What?” Stiles snaps his head up to stare Peter in the eye. He doesn’t seem smug, which is an unusual state for Undead (or Alive) Peter to be in, but nor does he seem completely serious. It’s clear he’s going to say something truthful, but that he’s not above taking some pleasure from it. This knowledge puts Stiles on edge.
“Have your attention, do I? Good. Now. Where’s the cereal aisle?”
“What?” Oh, hello broken record.
“I need some Wheaties.”
“Breakfast of champions,” Peter intones. “Walk with me.”
They move together to the back end of store and walk in silence – if you don’t count the squeak of Stiles’ cart – four aisles down to where the cereals are displayed. Peter makes a great show deciding if he wants a normal sized box of Wheaties or a family sized one. Stiles is grinding his teeth, something he hasn’t done since he was kid and he’d had to wear that blue rubber mouth-guard to bed at night.
“Look, if this is so important, why wouldn’t Derek mention it? Or for that matter, why wouldn’t Deaton? That guy knows a lot of freaky things for a small town vet with a penchant for leather.”
“Deaton probably doesn’t think the option’s on the table,” Peter begins in a distracted voice, finger sliding down the nutritional values list on the back of a Lucky Charms box. “As for Derek, my poor baby nephew is a champion at denial and it would never occur to him to offer. Even if he wouldn’t be averse.”
“You make about as much sense as... a thing that doesn’t make sense.”
Peter’s blue eyes slide to Stiles. “I thought you were supposed to be the smart one, Stiles. The Alphas want you, you don’t want them. So you need to think. What is it that makes an Alpha? And I don’t just mean physically. Think of pack behaviour.”
“You’re trying to give me a way out of this.” It’s a statement, not a question, steeped in quite a bit of wonder, because Stiles doesn’t know what Peter’s deal is but he never figured Peter would care all that much about what happens to Stiles, not if it meant compromising the safety of his own plans. Keeping Beacon Hills in semi-safe and familiar hands is surely better than letting the Alphas have it. But of course, Peter doesn’t care about Stiles, and just because he can’t see Peter’s ulterior motive doesn’t mean he ain’t got one. For whatever reason, Peter feels what best benefits his nefarious and enigmatic endgame is to help Stiles through this.
Peter is pursing his lips, nose wrinkling like he just smelled something unpleasant. He’s not saying anything but he doesn’t really need to because suddenly his earlier words are slotting into place. Stiles’ mind is working on overdrive, so fast he almost feels he’s getting whiplash from his own brain. It’s a crazy plan that’s coming to him now, fully formed and completely insane and possibly his only option. It answers the age-old question of how to kill two birds with a single stone. It’s simple, but all the best ideas are.
“Good boy,” Peter murmurs, grinning wickedly.
“It’ll only work,” Stiles beings slowly, enunciated each word with purpose, “if Derek gets it.”
“My nephew is many things, but he’s not completely stupid. He’s a born wolf; it’s instinct and he’ll know. I’d say you can trust him but something already tells me you do.”
Stiles hates that he can feel himself blushing. After all, Peter isn’t wrong.
Stiles doesn’t tell anyone what he’s going to do. He’s a little afraid it won’t work and then he’ll be stuck – there is no plan B. This could be awful. It will be awful.
The morning of the eighth day, the end of their grace period, dawns purple-blue. Stiles didn’t really sleep the night before and doesn’t see any point in delaying getting up. So he throws on some clothes and slips down stairs to stand on the back porch. He’s not wearing any socks.
The pack meeting to discuss what would happen once they told the Alphas to take a hike hadn’t gone great. Derek had demanded in full alpha mode that Stiles stay behind when the rest of the pack meet up with the Alphas. Stiles didn’t like that plan one bit. He made that clear to every single one of them. He needs to be there for his plan to work, not that they knew this, but Derek was an unyielding force on the topic. Surprisingly, so was Scott. Typical that the two would only agree when it came to thwarting Stiles.
“Stiles,” Scott had said, pleading. “We can’t protect you if you’re there under their noses. It’d be like dangling an irresistible treat in front of their noses and saying they can’t have it.”
Derek’s look had been blank and stoney. “Scott’s right. We’re not strong enough to both fight the Alphas and keep you protected. We can’t be divided, we can’t fight on two fronts.”
“This isn’t a fucking game of Risk. I’m not the Russian front, asshole!” Stiles protested, genuinely angry. But it was a lost cause. He’s been outvoted by everyone. Even Erica went against him. He had conceded defeat , though not very gracefully. They spent the rest of the meeting talking battle strategy.
He’ll just have to find another way of getting to the rendezvous unnoticed by the pack. Easy.
Except not. Fucking werewolves.
Stiles curls his toes over the top step of the back porch, flexing them and enjoying the silence. The calm before the storm, Stiles thinks. He takes a deep breath of the warm summer morning. It feels muggy, too much moisture in the air and it sticks in his throat. Unpleasant and oppressive. Stiles’ heart is beating too hard in anticipation of what’s to come and his palms are sweaty.
He steps back into the dark air-conditioned house and slides bare feet into sneakers. He checks his watch. The meeting between the pack and the Alphas is taking place in an hour. Stiles takes note of the wind direction on the internet before he leaves the house. He doesn’t take his Jeep though it would get him there quicker, because he knows it’s too conspicuous. Scott is always saying how the Jeep’s engine has become synonymous with Stiles, like a heartbeat.
Even leaving with over an hour to spare, Stiles only just makes it in time to see the two packs face off in the clearing. He’s standing in a dense patch of woods high up on an overhang and placed west, downwind of both groups of werewolves. He left the bike a mile back. Werewolves may have naturally amazing senses but Stiles thinks that even supernatural creatures need to filter, there’s only so much background static from the world that they can concentrate on and not go crazy. Right? Stiles prays he’s right.
There are fourteen in the Alpha pack, at least that’s all he can count from his vantage point. It’s more than enough. It matches the number of irises he received and that makes a creepy kind of sense. He shivers even in the humid air. The Beacon Hill posse looks pathetic in comparison, young and inexperienced.
“Alpha Hale,” a female alpha says, a tiny smile playing on her lips. Her eyes are red, making her look like a demon extra in Supernatural. But way scarier because she’s all real. She’s petite and curvaceous with curly dark hair. Stiles thinks he sees a purple blotch tied tucked behind her ear and he’s pretty sure it’s another iris. She doesn’t look much older than Derek. “I am Alpha Mae. I have been voted as spokesperson for the Alpha pack today.” The werewolves at her back all flash their red eyes, one or two crack their necks in a really pants-wetting display of limbering up.
Derek’s nods curtly. “Welcome, Alpha Mae.” It sounds like he’s actually asking her to go die in a fire. Her smile broadens as if she knows exactly what’s running through Derek’s mind.
“I take it that neither yourself, nor Beta McCall, liked our generous offer. Your sacrifice is missing, Hale. Lose him somewhere? You should take better care of your things.”
Derek takes half a step forward, looking ready to maul her.
“His name is Stiles,” Scott sasses back, moving the attention away from Derek. Stiles kind of wants to hug him and hit him upside the head at the same time. Way to lay low, bro.
“We know,” comes the sound of two voices as one. Stiles cranes over the bluff even further to see identical twins with shining blonde hair.
Oh shit. It’s the twins from The Jungle. His first God-damned gay kiss was with one of these freaks?! Excellent judge of character; looks like Danny had been right about the predator label.
“We had the pleasure of meeting him once, not long ago. Intimately.” One of the brothers says with a leer. Oh no he did not.
Derek growls, body tense, obvious even from a distance.
“Ethan,” Mae reprimands lightly to one of the twins. “There are rules to follow for an Accordance. We have to play by the book and it’s time to negotiate.”
“There’s nothing to negotiate,” Derek says, voice sharp as broken glass “We won’t be giving Stiles to your pack. He belongs here, with his family.”
“How sweet,” Mae coos in a saccharine voice. “Sweet but stupid. This was your get out of jail free card and you’re blowing it.”
“This isn’t a game,” Derek bites out, nostrils flaring.
“I know, honey. We never play with this kind of thing. We’re deadly serious.” And God she looks it. Mae’s playful tone completely disappears to reveal a core of steel and ice. Her smile slides into a snarl, chin tucking down to narrow a poisonous look right at Derek. Derek, to his credit, looks unfazed.
“You ready to bring it, Hale?” This is said by the other twin. They need fucking name tags. His claws slide out, gleaming dangerously.
“Aiden,” warns another of the Alphas, a guy built like a left-tackle, one of his thighs thicker than Stiles’ torso. “You and Ethan leave this to Mae. We all agreed this would be her show.”
The twin called Aiden shrugs in a lazy show of acquiescence. He steps back and his claws retract.
“It’s fine, Benjamin,” Mae says to her pack-mate while never taking her eyes from Derek. “Aiden is right. You better bring it, Alpha Hale because saying no to us is opening up your life to a world of pain.”
Stiles blinks. The air before her shimmers a little, or maybe she’s the one who shimmers, like a bad hologram. She’s flitting between her human form and her Alpha form and it’s subtle and fast and hard to track with the naked eye. It sets Stiles’ teeth on edge. He knows it’s designed to freak them out. Erica steps behind Isaac.
Derek actually laughs, it’s dark and bitter but still surprising to hear. Mae scowls.
“I’ve been through a lot of pain,” Derek says with a fuck-you tilt of his head, “and I’m not broken yet. What makes you so special?”
Stiles can’t quite believe that Derek just said that. He can believe Derek has the balls. The guy can be stupid and rash, and plenty brave. This, however, is something else entirely. The breath catches in his throat at the honesty and the gall.
“Just watch me.” Mae moves minutely, muscles bunching in her legs, ready to leap. Scott and Isaac and Jackson all open their mouths to reveal sharp, white teeth, growling dangerously. Derek takes a bracing position, holding his ground. Stiles has seen enough.
He slides down the overhang, rolling gracelessly through the dirt and the leaves and the undergrowth. He’d meant to yell something, get them all the stop what the hell they were about to get into, but it turns more into a muffled squawk. He doesn’t have to worry about being noticed though, because he’s now the centre of attention. Everyone has stopped to turn towards him and it looks as though someone has hit pause on the world. Nobody is moving a muscle. Derek looks murderous, Mae looks surprised, the twins look smug as fuck.
“Um. Hey.” Stiles gives them all a half-hearted wave with one hand and uses the other to wipe dried leaves from his butt.
“Stiles,” Mae practically purrs, getting over her shock commendably fast. “Good of you to join us. I take it you are joining us...?”
Stiles sucks in a breath and clenches his hands into fists a few times, trying to stop them trembling. He takes a step towards the Alphas. It’s now or never.
“What the hell are you doing?” Scott shouts, voice just this side of frantic. They can all probably hear how fast Stiles’ heart is beating, how scared he is, but he doesn’t stop walking forward. Mae purses her lips in a half-smile, eyes slits of red.
“Stiles!” barks Derek. Stiles almost pauses at the sound of it, but doesn’t. He doesn’t look back, knows that if he does he won’t be brave enough to keep moving forward.
“Do you choose us, Stiles? Will you leave one family to join another? Will you become a member of our Pack?” Mae sounds formal, like she’s using old words spoken before. “You do not have the consent of your current pack, I gather.”
“Is that a problem?”
“It’s a big fucking problem!” Scott yells, furious. Isaac hand is gripping Scott’s arm, straining to hold him back.
“If I say yes, will you leave Beacon Hills? I mean, that is part of this Accordance, right? I didn’t get that wrong?”
“We’d leave, no harming anyone. Your old pack and your father” – Stiles shivers at the mention of his dad – “will be safe. You have our word.”
“Okay. I’m... in. What do I need to do?” Stiles has horrible visions of bloodletting and walking across hot coals and freaky, supernatural trust exercises.
“Nothing.” Mae smiles, canines slipping over her full lips. “You’ve already said yes.”
Stiles startles. “That’s it? I’m in? I’m a member of your Pack?”
The twin called Aiden (Stiles thinks – again with the need for name tags) says, “This isn’t a frat house, Stiles. We’re not going to haze you.”
“Okay. Awesome. That was a lot easier than I expected, less ritual and answer me these questions three.”
“We could spit-shake on it if you would prefer,” Ethan says in amusement.
“I’m cool with the spitless version,” Stiles assures with a nervous laugh.
“I can’t believe you,” says Scott from behind Stiles. He sounds broken, breathless and unhappy. Stiles chances a look behind him and sees his friends with a range of expressions, from betrayal and anger to sadness. Before he can stop himself Stiles meets Derek’s eyes. It’s like coming up against a brick wall, hard, unyielding and blank.
“I know what I’m doing,” he croaks, trying to plead with his eyes for them to trust him, before turning back to the Alphas. “I need to say goodbye.” Stiles demands it, knows he has to show this bravado to belong to this ultimate of all popular crowds.
Mae tilts her head as if weighing his words carefully. The left-tackle, Benjamin, puts out a hand to touch Mae’s elbow. She doesn’t look back at him but nods at whatever the touch meant. Stiles’ heart is still beating too quickly but he hopes they don’t know why, aren’t suspicious.
“We’re not kidnapping you, Stiles.”
“I don’t like your track record.”
She ignores the barb. “Say your goodbyes to them here and you can have time to pick up some clothes and belongings from your father’s house. Say goodbye to him too.”
“We all had families before the Alphas,” says a male werewolf, one Stiles hasn’t heard speak yet. He’s got hazel eyes and dreadlocks. A few of the other Alphas nod. “We get it.”
Stiles just nods curtly. He turns to his friends carefully. He doesn’t know what to say.
He moves forward a step. He needs to reach Derek but does so slowly, unsure of his welcome. Another step. His heart is about to burst out of his chest like that scene from Alien. Stiles stops just in front of Derek and looks him right in the eye. They’re narrowed and red.
Please go with this Derek. For once, trust me.
“Stiles –” Scott begins, stepping forward to intervene and probably try to talk sense into Stiles.
“No,” Stiles interrupts forcefully, hand up in the universal sign to stop right the fuck now.“Give me a minute, Scott.” Wonder of wonders, Scott actually pulls up. His mouth is hanging open in shock but he doesn’t say anything.
“I’m an alpha now,” Stiles says to Derek, voice low.
“You’re not my alpha,” Derek retorts stonily.
“Yeah.” A swallow. “I know." Stiles holds Derek's eye for a dangerous second, trying to convey the seriousness of the moment that is about to come.
With a deep breath Stiles lowers his eyes and bares his throat to Derek. Stiles slides to his knees, heart racing. He's not sure if he needs to go this far, this deferential, but figures underlining what he's doing can't hurt.
“The fuck?” One of the twins swears, realisation hitting.
The world stops for a moment as he waits on his knees. Stiles can hear his heart, can see Derek’s abdomen jump as he takes in a sharp, shocked breath, can smell the heat of the morning sun warming the forest floor. He feels so exposed and Derek isn’t doing anything. Does he know what’s going on? Surely, as a born werewolf he’s got to have some knowledge, if not instincts, about what’s happening. God, maybe this was a mistake. Maybe Peter fucking Hale had put this stupid, crazy-ass idea into his head and was secretly laughing behind a tree and waiting for Stiles’ imminent demise.
Stiles is just about to start hyperventilating, because oh my God what have I done, oh shit!, when Derek finally does move. It’s so fast Stiles is taken by surprise. He’s being pushed to the ground, breath literally slammed out of him as he finds himself looking up into canopy of branches, legs akimbo. Derek is manhandling Stiles, holding his arms above his head with a single hand, keeping Stiles pinned to the ground with his not inconsiderable weight. His nose is tucked into the crook of Stiles’ neck and he’s sniffing gently, the tip of his nose tickling the sensitive skin.
“You little shit –” an Alpha, Stiles can’t see which one, moves forward but Derek looks up immediately and growls. The sound makes Stiles shiver.
“So I see,” Mae says stiffly, unamused.
"He submitted to me," Derek says, breath hot against Stiles neck.
"What happens when one of your alphas submits?" It's Isaac asking. Stiles can't see him from his position of the ground – Derek isn't shifting, so Stiles figures its not yet safe to move from this display. He’ll just... hang out on the ground some more.
"Their allegiance reverts to their chosen alpha," Benjamin is explaining, voice a monotone.
"They planned this!" whined a female alpha. "We should rip their throats out and –"
"No!" Mae's voice booms across the forest clearing. "We can't; the rules are clear."
"How can the rules count for someone who was a member of our pack for less than five minutes?" Ethan growls.
"The only way a pack of Alphas works is if we stick to our rules, no exceptions," Mae says.
"Can someone explain please? I'm so confused right now!" That plaintive voice is definitely Scott, Stiles would know it anywhere. Derek's nose moves back a little from Stiles' throat. Stiles begins to move too, thinking to follow Derek's lead. But Derek doesn’t let go, keeping him pinned to the forest floor.
"No moving," Derek whispers into Stiles' ear, making him shiver at the closeness. Now is really an inappropriate time for a boner. But being sixteen unfortunately means that inappropriate boners are a given. Why does Derek have to be so God damned hot?
Mae is speaking again..
"Your boy is a smart one," she says with something close to wistfulness, but is likely just Stiles' fevered imagination. Derek's body is so heavy and warm... Think of kittens, Stiles, kittens and boiled spinach and knitting patterns.
"Stiles figured out that as a member of our pack he would be given certain privileges," Mae continues. "You may have noticed that we're all relatively young in the Alpha pack, we don't have mates or children. This is because the Alpha pack is in constant genesis. We do not submit to each other because it goes against our ethos, but not everyone can resist the pull of a mate, or the call to reproduce. If you wish for children, or find another werewolf to love, you must leave our pack."
"Stiles? You knew that?" Scott sounds awed. Mae laughs a little.
"I believe it was more an educated guess. Am I right, Stiles?"
Stiles opens his mouth to retort something sarcastic and triumphant, but suddenly Derek's teeth – his long, werewolf gnashers – were at Stiles' jugular. Stiles snaps his mouth shut.
"Derek, what's wrong with you?" Scott is clearly indignant. Stiles can see his friend's feet out of the corner of his eye move towards him. Derek growls again, a warning.
"Shut up, Scott," says Jackson.
"Whilst Stiles submits, Derek, as his alpha, will not allow him to speak to us," Benjamin says solemnly.
"An alpha dominating another alpha from another pack is a delicate business."
"Doesn't look delicate," Scott bitches.
"Not physically delicate," Aiden says with distaste.
"What happens now?" It's Erica. Her voice quavers a little, still not recovered from spending weeks with the Alphas as their captive. Stiles can't help but feel a little surge of pride that she's getting back on her feet.
"We leave," answers Benjamin.
Stiles kind of wants to do a victory dance, but Derek's fingers tighten on Stiles' wrists. God, give Derek an inch and he takes a mile.
"You won't fight us?" Jackson sounds incredulous, like he put in a lot of gym time and combat training in preparation and can’t believe he is getting through the whole experience without throwing a single punch. Stiles snorted softly. Derek noses at him softly, lips brushing but not kissing.
"It is our rule. Every member who leaves our pack for another is given immunity. Once family, always family, if you will. At least,” Mae continues with ice in her voice, “until they die and sever the link once shared."
Without warning, because Derek is the king of pulling shit like this, Stiles is yanked to his feet and shoved roughly behind Derek's back. He hasn't let go of Stiles' hands and brings them round to circle his waist. Stiles hides his blush by dipping his face between Derek's shoulder blades.
"I have your word you'll leave my pack alone? Leave Stiles alone?"
"You do, Alpha Hale." Mae says formally. "We concede Beacon Hills to you. And we concede Stiles." She pauses for a moment, locking eyes with Derek. "A word of advice: I suggest you keep that one close, he's a unique human. Cunning. Your pack is lucky to have him."
Derek's hands tighten on Stiles', causing Stiles to hug in closer to Derek's back. He's glad he's hiding his face from all onlookers and prays Derek will be understanding and compassionate about the stiffy he can no doubt feel pushed against his ass. It's mortifying, and really not Stiles’ fault. He can't even take a second to revel in the fact that he outsmarted the Alphas and has been called both unique and sneaky. He should be celebrating.
"I know." Derek's voice is low and sincere. "I don't plan on letting him go."
And, well, perhaps he can celebrate.
Stiles can't help the grin that takes over his face. He can feel it lighting him up from the inside out. It feels fucking amazing.
There’s a lot of hugging when the Alphas leave. Scott sort of clings like a limpet. Derek doesn’t say much. Even when they’ve finally let go of each other, Derek stays close to Stiles and Stiles is very okay with this. It’s hard to tell with Derek, his face looks kind of grumpy but he’s not rough with Stiles, so the expression could mean nothing. Derek eventually snaps at everyone to go home but snags the hem of Stiles’ shirt before he can move.
“Not you,” he growls.
“Shut up.” And Stiles does because, wow, that voice means it. Derek drags him through the forest, seemingly turning left and right at random, headed nowhere in particular. Stiles wouldn’t be Stiles if he didn’t say anything about how it feels like Derek is trying to take him where nobody can hear him scream, or find his body. As far as jokes go, it’s not his best and all Derek does is hold on tighter and tell him to shut up again.
They eventually come to a halt beside a quick running river, probably a tributary of the Kemper River in town. It’s gotten hot and even more humid as the day progressed and the impromptu hike across the forest has made Stiles rather sweaty. The river looks good.
Stiles is contemplating taking his shoes off and wading around in the shallows to cool off, when Derek is suddenly up in his face. Derek no longer looks grumpy but full-on apocalyptic.
“What the fuck was all that, Stiles?” he shouts. Stiles flails and leans back sharply.
“Not deaf, man. Can we turn down the volume?” Stiles asks snottily, too surprised to think before he speaks. He takes a step back but Derek moves in again, filling the space with his muscles and his rage.
“I’ll not take orders from –”
Stiles cuts Derek off, furious himself now. It’s not even noon and it’s been a long damn day. “Are you kidding me? I come up with a plan that not only saved our asses but did so without any bloodshed. And do I get a thanks from the Grand Alpha? Of course I don’t! I get shit. Are you going to be like this now that I’ve publically submitted to you? I did that in trust, Derek. I don’t expect you to suddenly think you can bully me into –”
“Bully?” Derek flairs. “This isn’t me bullying! This is me shouting at you for rational and very human reasons – you put your life in danger, Stiles! How could you do that? You didn’t know for sure how the Alphas would react to your stunt. That it turned out this way was luck, pure and simple. I don't like leaving anyones’ life to the chances of dumb luck!”
“But it did go well,” Stiles says, exasperated and ready to pull out his hair – it’s long enough to do that now. “Why are you still mad? Jesus! Stop shouting at me and chill.“
“Have you ever noticed how telling someone to chill tends to work in the opposite way? God, Stiles. When people have the shit scared out of them, they tend to shout!” He’s proving his point by refusing to quiet down.
“Look, I’m sorry you were scared of losing the pack and your territory and the possibility of getting dead – I can totally sympathise with that vibe. But stop making me your punching bag. It worked Derek, it’s over. Please let yourself be happy for once.”
A muscle in Derek’s jaw twitches and he’s breathing hard, anger and adrenaline pumping his werewolf blood more than any workout ever seems to. His eyes are bright and completely human, staring back at Stiles with the strangest expression.
“For someone so smart, you’re real stupid,” Derek says at last. He continues before Stiles can say anything in retaliation. “When you do something stupid and dangerous, does your dad get mad at you?” The switch throws Stiles for a loop. Surprised, he answers truthfully.
“And why does he do it? Why does he get mad and shout at you?”
“Because he’s my dad,” Stiles says slowly, a hint of ‘duh’ hanging unsaid in the air. “You’re not going to tell him about this are you? God, please don’t. Derek, he’s afraid of losing me like he lost my mom – when I pull shit like this he’s reminded of how we’re all we’ve got now. You can’t tell –”
“Stiles,” Derek interrupts with a frustrated shake of the head. “I’m not going to tell your dad. I was using him to make a point. A point you don’t seem to be getting.” Derek’s head lowers, like it’s too heavy for him to keep up any longer, his nose almost in the crook of Stiles’ neck. Stiles feels himself go still. They’d so recently been in a similar position, one Stiles hadn't quite recovered from and secretly kind of wants to lean into.
“God, you smell awful,” is really the last thing Stiles expects to hear from Derek. Because, rude much? He’s about to point out that someone had him take a hike through the forest in the summer and sweat was bound to happen, when Derek’s hands slam into Stiles’ chest and he goes sprawling into the river. It’s entirely a fluke that Stiles convulsively grabs at Derek’s shirt and pulls him in after, momentum and surprise doing what sheer strength could never do.
Stiles has enough presence of mind to hold his breath before going under. The water feels shockingly cold. The sound of the rushing river roars all around him and is deafening. He flings out an arm trying to propel himself upwards but hit something hard but yielding enough to be a person, not rock.
He gasps as he breaks the surface. Derek comes up a moment after him, sucking in air with just as much vigour.
“The hell, Derek?” Stiles wheezes. He tries to punch the were-douche in the chest, but attempting to hit anyone in water is difficult with the resistance and Derek sees it coming. He fends off a few of Stiles’ flailing punches. “I don’t smell that bad!”
“You smelled of Axe, you were drowning in it – stinks,” explains Derek, which really isn’t an explanation for anything. This is not something normal people do, throw each other in rivers because they don’t like your choice of grooming products.
“So what? You thought you’d drown me in water instead? I’ll make a note to run my deodorant choices by you before buying them.”
“You shouldn’t wear them at all. They mask you.”
“For the love of – I distinctly remember you yelling at me on my porch a few days ago about how weird I smell!” This is probably the strangest conversation Stiles has ever had, and that includes the one from this morning. “I bought that stupid Axe Dark Temptation crap for you, so I wouldn’t offend –”
“Stupid,” Derek growls, voice low and tight, before slamming their mouths together.
There’s an uncomfortable clack of teeth and Derek’s hands slip a little as he cups them squarely around Stiles’ face, taking charge of the kiss like his life depends on it. It’s desperate. It’s hard and heavy and hot. If Stiles had ever thought about it (and who’s he kidding? of course he’s thought about it) he wouldn’t have pegged Derek as gentle, that really isn’t Derek’s MO, but nor did Stiles ever expect such franticness. This feels just as much about need as want. Like Derek is asking for something.
Derek slides his tongue into Stiles’ mouth and touches the tip to Stiles’ tongue. Stiles moans and Derek sucks the noise right out of him, the fingers of one hand moving into Stiles’ hair and holding on.
Scratch that last; not asking for something. Derek is asking for everything.
“You’re kissing me,” Stiles breaths, eyes half-closed.
“Yeah.” A slide of tongue on skin. “Shouldn’t be doing this,” Derek mumbles against Stiles’ lips.
“But we are and it’s awesome. Don’t even pretend otherwise. Why didn’t we do this sooner?”
Derek touches their foreheads together. “You’re only sixteen, Stiles.”
“And we’re only kissing, no law breaking going on here, no sir.” Stiles moves in to steal a kiss from Derek, who growls, a gentle vibration against Stiles’ lips more than an actual sound. “I’m the Sheriff’s son, I know the law pretty well, dude. Especially when I’m breaking it. This isn’t that. Memorised the police scanner code by the time I was ten. Pretty sure we’re displaying a 288: lewd behaviour.” He wiggles his eyebrows suggestively.
Derek moves in again and they’re kissing, slower now but no less heated. To Stiles this is even better than kissing the Alpha twin, because this is Derek fucking Hale, best looking guy for a several hundred miles, probably more, and he’s kissing Stiles like he’s hungry just for him. Derek’s stubble burns uncomfortably but Stiles doesn’t pull away, nothing would make him stop this. He feels dizzy with the rightness of kissing Derek, of Derek kissing him back. He’s where he’s meant to be.
Except for the bit where they’re in a river.
Maybe it’s their thing, being soaking wet and sharing a moment. Only last time it had been chlorine and danger and treading water for hours. Listening to Derek tell him definitively that he did not trust Stiles. Not even a little.
Now thought, Derek’s hands are wondering deliciously. They slide down Stiles’ back, hot against the wet t-shirt, and cup him just below his ass. Even in the cool water Stiles is getting hard. When Derek tugs him closer, Stiles feels his legs part unconsciously accommodating Derek’s body between his, and gasps when Derek actually lifts him up. Stiles clamps his legs around Derek’s waist, dick heavy and hard in his jeans, pressing against Derek’s abs. The arms holding him up don’t tremble in the slightest, the showoff.
“Oh my god,” Stiles groans, throwing arms around Derek’s neck and clinging like an octopus. (But hopefully a sexy one.) Derek mouths at his neck, tongue paying a lot of attention to Stiles’ Adam’s apple, sucking and making approving noises every time Stiles makes noises of his own.
“You smell --”
“If you say I stink again I’m going to bite you,” Stiles breaths between kissing a line across Derek’s brow.
“Biting’s good,” Derek murmurs and then nips at Stiles with blunt, human teeth just to prove that, yes, biting is definitely good. “Your scent drives me to distraction. You can’t know what it’s like. At first, I didn’t notice it much, but it’s like it’s been getting stronger recently. It’s good, Stiles, really good. That’s what I was trying to tell you. Don’t hide it.”
“Okay, Derek. Promise.”
Derek nods several times. His pupils have dilated wide and black and Stiles can’t look away. Those eyelashes, those eyebrows and that nose and, damn, that mouth. Stiles groans softly and cants his hips forward, rubbing his clothed dick erratically against Derek. He can’t help it, not with the way Derek looks. Not with the way Derek is looking at him.
“You hard?” Perhaps it’s stupid and unromantic to ask, but Stiles can’t feel anything of Derek below the belt, not from where he’s plastered against Derek’s upper body. He needs to know he’s not the only one turned on by this.
Derek honest to God blushes. It’s unreal. With only a small glare, for old times sake, or Stiles might forget who he’s dealing with, Derek slides Stiles down his body, lowering his hold until suddenly Stiles can feel something large and stiff butting bluntly against his ass. Derek gives him a daring eyebrow.
Thing is, Stiles never turns away a dare.
He shifts his balance, arms braced against Derek’s shoulders, and rolls his hips down against the bulge in Derek’s jeans. Derek lets out a gasp-growl. There’s too much material in the way to feel any kind of definition, but Stiles can tell where Derek’s dick is and that it’s larger than his. Just the thought of it, hard for Stiles, has him him sliding out of Derek’s hold, making sure they remain in contact the entire time. Being almost the same height is awesome.
“What’re you doing?” Derek’s breath is heavy, strained.
“We need our hands free,” Stiles explains and wastes no time thinking – because over analysing any of this would result in embarrassment and doubt – he just yanks his shirt off and throws it to the riverbank. He blushes for a moment under the heavy gaze of Derek’s eyes, suddenly self-conscious of how skinny he is and all the moles. The blush doesn’t last long, not after Derek reaches out to rub a thumb across one of Stiles’ puckered nipples.
“Your turn,” Stiles says, tugging suggestively at Derek’s black henley. And Derek does as he’s told. Man, that is one hot bod.
Feeling bold, Stiles pops open the top button of Derek’s jeans and slides the zipper down. Derek is watching his every move, body still but not tense.
Stiles slips a hand between warm skin and cool boxer fabric to find Derek’s dick. It’s furnace hot. His fingers brush the sticky slit and Derek’s head falls back with a huff of breath, baring his neck to Stiles. Perhaps it’s unconscious, but Stiles knows the significance. Derek really does trust him, finally, after everything.
“Stiles. You don’t –” Derek chokes on his words as Stiles takes a firm grip and pulls him out. It’s difficult to see exactly what Derek looks like thanks to the strange morphing and magnetising qualities of running water, but shit he’s big. He’s uncut, like Stiles, and the foreskin has already pulled back. His dick is swaying a little in the river, heavy and tight against his stomach and the dark thatch of hair surrounding the base.
“Really, really want to.”
While blowing someone underwater sounds kind of sexy to imagine, Stiles doesn’t really think he’d like to give it a go. Certainly not for his first time. So he sticks with what he knows – handjobs. It’s still awkward with the different angle and the not being able to feel for himself what’s good and what’s bad, but Stiles is nothing if not a quick study. Derek goes a little crazy when Stiles is rough, pulling firmly on his dick and rubbing a finger over the thick vein. Stiles can feel Derek’s quickened pulse there and likes how erratic it is. His own pulse must sound deafening to Derek’s sensitive ears.
“Might be getting close to that line between lawful and unlawful,” Derek says even as he thrusts into the circle of Stiles’ fingers. Stiles just laughs, a little manic at the sight of Derek losing control in a way that doesn’t mean sharp teeth, anger and hurt feelings. Derek sinks his face once again into the crook of Stiles’ neck and sucks and bites hard enough that it’ll leave marks.
Stiles doesn’t even care that he’s got his other hand kneading at his own dick in time to his strokes on Derek, that it looks desperate and juvenile. Stiles just needs to relieve the pressure somehow, anyway, whatever. Derek takes issue with this and slaps Stiles’ hands away and suddenly Derek is reciprocating, Stiles’ dick in his fist.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” Stiles chants as his cock springs free into the water and Derek’s rough hands are pumping him. He keeps whispering this as his hips stutter forward, looking for even more friction and contact with Derek. As if understanding this need, perhaps feeling it himself, Derek moves closer and wraps a hand around both their dicks and strokes them together, burning, sensitive skin sliding against one another.
And that’s that. Stiles is a gonner. Over the fence, out of the ballpark and see ya later alligator. The orgasm hits him with a swoop of his stomach and he’s squirting and coming, his jizz milky in the clear water. He thinks he yells Derek’s name, but he’s not sure and is a little too embarrassed to try and recall exactly.
He goes limp and languid, draping himself unhelpfully over Derek’s body, who is still hard and panting. Derek is now really letting loose and rubbing himself against Stiles’ hip and stomach and over-sensitive cock. Stiles isn’t sure he can watch this, it’s making his dick hurt from wanting to join in even though he’s got nothing left.
Ha. Of course he watches.
The very tip of Derek’s dick slips out of the water and Stiles can’t help but grin and swipe a thumb across the head. He’s a curious guy, and though he’s never wanted to taste any guy’s man juice before, and didn’t much like the taste of his own that time he tried it, Stiles pops the finger into his mouth and licks it clean. For science.
“Fuck, Stiles, fuck,” Derek says and whines in the back of his throat as he comes. He’s flushed and Stiles can see the hint of sharp canines emerging, just the hint of white over the fleshy pink of his lips. It’s seriously the hottest thing Stiles has ever seen.
Stiles isn’t expecting a lot from Derek afterwards, maybe some smirking or not looking directly at him or general disbelief at what they did together. He’s thought of a lot of scenarios, mostly awkward and negative, because he's a masochist like that, but not a single one of them has Derek gilding forward through the water and hugging Stiles. It’s tight and comforting and safe. He’s not saying anything and his breath tickles the hair above Stiles’ right ear. It feels as though Derek thinks he’s worth holding on to. And, well...
Stiles doesn’t hesitate hold him back.
There aren’t any declarations of the ‘L’ word because, whoa, that’s a little fast for everyone involved, thanks. Not ready for that conversation yet, not by a long shot. But they don’t pretend it never happened or that they feel nothing, because that’s clearly not true.
Even if they wanted to, Erica won’t leave it alone after the first time she smells what they’ve done. She bitches and whines about the scent of them mingled in such an obvious and intimate way and how, oh my god, it’s completely vomitous. She tells Stiles that he better be appreciating his human nose at times like these and Scott, when he finds, out, emphatically agrees. But Scott is another kettle of fish for another time. He doesn’t get it, not really, which hurts. They’ve talked about it sort of and Scott seems to feel like Stiles has picked sides. It’s a bit of a mess, really. Stiles doesn’t like to prod that bruise too much.
Mostly everything is happy, though, and that’s the way Stiles likes it. He’s pretty sure Derek is enjoying happy too, but still distrusts the feeling, expecting it to bite him in the ass. When Stiles thinks about all Derek’s been through, he’s not surprised and tries not to push too hard when Derek’s having a backwards-looking emo day. Times when he won’t talk and just scowls at walls and into the distance. People are complicated, as his dad would say. And trying to uniform someone into a single type would be impossible.
Stiles has thought a lot about what Derek was trying to tell him just before dumping him in the river, about being scared and mentioning the Sheriff as a means to explain himself. Outside of the immediate situation it's stupidly easy to work out what he couldn’t fathom then. Derek hadn’t been scared just for his pack or loss of territory, but of losing Stiles specifically. Just like Stiles’ dad, Derek yelled and thundered because he cared. And in a lot of little ways that still surprise Stiles over the entire summer, Derek continues to show how much he does care.
So no, not ready for the ‘L’ word, but hey, Stiles doesn’t believe in words like ‘never’ and ‘impossible’ anymore. After all, he’s dating a fucking fairytale.
Stiles walks home from Scott’s on a balmy August evening in late summer. School’s going to be starting again soon and they’re getting ready for their week away at lacrosse boot-camp. It’s a chance for them to bond as friends again, take a breath and start over. They’re both looking forward to it.
Stiles has spent a whole afternoon with just Scott, laughing and battling each other on Xbox. Ms McCall had brought up a plate of corn dogs and plastic cups with grape Kool-Aid, just like when they were six. She’s been mothering Stiles a lot since the whole Alpha pack situation was handled, treating him to comfort food and hugging him a lot. He’ not complaining. It’s been a surprisingly good end to a surprisingly shit summer.
Stiles walks into the house to find his dad watching TV in a darkened living room. He’s got it turned to the Food Network and is watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with an expression of utter longing. Stiles can’t help grinning as his dad stares in complete concentration as a waitress divvies out plastic baskets lined with greaseproof paper and filled with sticky, red barbeque. On the coffee table, half-eaten and forgotten, is a small tub of what Stiles guesses to be the last of the greek yogurt.
The Sheriff startles and looks around like he’s been caught in front of the refrigerator looking for a midnight snack. This is actually something which happens with startling regularity, so Stiles knows that face pretty well.
“Hey. I thought you were staying with Scott tonight?” His dad’s eyes shift to the barbeque on the screen and winces slightly.
“Nah, left early. Scott’s off being Scott with Allison.”
“Sorry about that. Scott really like’s that girl, huh?”
“Yep. So do I.”
His dad's eyebrows raise sharply and that and Stiles flails in hands in an expression of absolute rejection.
“Not like that! I like her like a friend. She’s good for Scott.”
“Glad to hear it, Scott’s a good kid.”
The Sheriff picks up the forgotten tub of Greek yogurt and begins to doggedly shovel the last of into his mouth. It’s nice that sometimes he caters to Stiles’ need to actually see his dad eating healthily, even when he’d rather be eating plasterboard. Stiles grins at the surly expression Dad is giving the final dregs of the yogurt, like it’s personally offended him and he kind of wishes he could arrest it and throw away the key. It strikes Stiles then, just how much he loves his dad and how much he owes him. And how much he’s been hiding. He can’t tell him everything, most of what he wants to say isn’t his secret to tell. But there is one thing Stiles can do.
Stiles takes a deep breath. “You know when you made that funny about how I couldn’t be gay at all because of the way I dressed? Well, I think that was taking the stereotypes of gay men a little too much to heart. I mean, surely not all gay guys know how to dress themselves or be sassy –”
“Just go with it. I’m trying for some father-son sharing, here.”
“Stiles, are you trying to tell me you are gay?”
“Well, not exactly?”
“I just figured, clothes and sassiness aside, that your crush on the Martin girl sort of gave you away on the heterosexuality front.”
“I did like her like that. For a long time, but,” Stiles pauses, glancing down at where his fingers are showing up his nervousness, playing with the frayed hem of his shirt, loose thread twining around a finger and back again. He forces his hands to relax. “I figured out rather recently that I like guys too. I’m an equal opportunities kind of dude, you see? Nobody’s safe from the Stiles Love.”
His dad narrows his eyes for a moment, a look of concentration crossing his face. This is another of his father’s faces, not usually aimed at Stiles but a stack of police investigation folders. It made Stiles nervous and he fidgets with the hem again, unable to keep entirely still. At last his dad seems to come to a decision and says simply, “Okay.”
“Well, do you want me to give you the safe-sex talk again? Because I can and I will. It’s just as important to use protection with guys as with girls, Stiles, just because you can’t get a boy pregnant doesn’t mean –”
“You can totally stop now!” Stiles cries, waving him off with a hint of panic. “God, once was enough, never again. Please.”
“Stiles, I don’t mind what gender you prefer to love, just that you do find love. You’ve got a big heart, you fall really easy and you’re loyal almost to a fault. Be careful, okay?”
“I’m always careful.”
His dad snorts in a really insulting way. “Son, you’re not. And not always on purpose either. Take Lydia Martin – you decided from the age of six that you were going to grow up and marry her. You held onto that dream for a long time.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not any more. I’m over that particular car-crash.“
“I’m glad you’re feeling better about it; you’ve certainly seemed happier recently. Navigating relationships is hard and sometimes you lose. Nobody is good at it. Just be upfront and kind and you should do okay. And while we’re on the topic of girlfriends and boyfriends,” his father pauses to make sure Stiles is giving him his full attention. “I don’t want any sneaking around, you hear?”
“I don’t know what you –”
“Save it, kiddo. I’m not a moron. If you get in a relationship – boy or girl – and you think it’s serious, bring them home to meet me. We’ll make a dinner of it. I promise to leave my shotguns locked in the rack.”
Stiles laughs weakly. “Uh, sure, if you like. But why?”
A look of pain crosses his dad’s face for a brief moment, all traces of the teasing gone, before he glances away. “I would like to be involved in your life, Stiles. No shame, no sneaking. That’s all I’m asking.”
Stiles feels like an asshole and without thinking moves forward to kiss the top of his dad’s head. He was always an affectionate kid but it’s been awhile since he initiated this kind of father/son bonding moment. He’s glad he’s done it when he sees the Sheriff smile. Dad pats Stiles on the arm gently.
“I love you,” he says easily.
“Yeah, love you back.”
“Although,” his dad adds, glancing bitterly at the TV, “I might love you more if you let me have some barbeque every now and then.”
“Suck it up, old man.”
“Who you calling old, junior?“
Stiles grins. He musses up his dad’s hair before bolting up the stairs, running from the mock sounds of indignation. He knows then that everything is going to be okay. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there.
Sprawled across his bed later that night, the conversation with his dad at the forefront of his mind, Stiles scrolls through the contacts on his cell. He stares at Derek’s name and phone number for a long time. There’s isn’t a photo for Derek in the profile spot, the idiot avoids cameras like he truly believes they can steal his soul, so it’s just an anonymous person-shaped silhouette in blue. Stiles is still working out a way to surprise photograph Derek; it involves alarm clocks and bed-hair.
His heart is beating loud in his chest when he makes the decision, not sure of Derek’s reaction, or his father’s for the that matter. Hitting the number with his thumb, Stiles stares up at the ceiling as the phone rings in his ear.
“Stiles,” Derek answers in his typically brusque manner. Something about the familiarity of it has Stiles smiling. It suddenly isn’t difficult to say what he wants.
“Hey Sourwolf. You busy tomorrow night?”
There’s a suspicious pause. Derek and his trust issues. Stiles kind of wants to kill Kate all over again. Finally, apparently unable to see the ulterior motive, Derek says, “No.”
“You are now!”
“You’re invited to dinner. To meet my dad.”
Derek doesn’t say anything about having already met Sheriff Stilinski before, or being arrested by him and considered a ‘person of interest’, much to Stiles’ relief. Instead there’s a quiet sigh from the other end of the line, a small sound that makes Stiles want to kiss Derek until they’re both breathless, makes him want to grab on to Derek forever and keep him near.
“Okay,” Derek says softly. “I’d like that.”