“Detective Stilinski? We caught another one.”
Stiles looked up from his desk, torn between the delight of anything that distracted him from the paperwork Scott had stuck him with again and the slightly sick feeling he got from dealing with… this.
“Lahey, can’t you just… call his owner?” Stiles spat out, hating the words.
Isaac looked worried. At least he didn’t treat the wers like some of the officers did. “He’s collared, but…” Isaac leaned in, his voice dropping. “He’s not tagged. And I thought you would want to know before somebody called Services.”
“Yeah, no, I’ll handle it,” Stiles said, trying to give Isaac a grateful smile. They got strays in here from time to time, but usually it was simply a matter of checking the tag register and calling the owners to come pick them up. Those were always hard for Stiles to watch, since the wers didn’t just wander off from their owners without good reason, but supervising a transfer to State Werewolf Control Services was something else altogether. The first time he’d seen one, everything had started to go gray around the edges as the wer was dragged, howling for his life, into the van and Stiles had to run to the bathroom to have a quiet panic attack in one of the stalls. If the other officers had seen him, he never would have heard the end of it. Probably never would have made detective.
But after two years, he did, and he’d gotten his own office (well, he shared with Scott, but since the new baby had come along, Stiles had the office more and more to himself), though he hadn’t had a panic attack since. Thankfully, they’d only had to call Services while he was on shift a handful of times – four, precisely four – and while Stiles now knew how to prepare for it, that didn’t make the process any easier. He knew what happened to uncollared or untagged wers once they were taken in by Services. The wers themselves knew. None of them came back from the compound.
And the few that were both uncollared and untagged? If they were ever taken out of the woods, it was in a body bag.
Stiles looked longingly at the paperwork on his desk; it seemed so appealing now.
Isaac had put the wer in the farthest holding cell – possibly as a safety measure, but more likely because he didn’t want any of the officers to see the wer wasn’t tagged. It was extremely unusual to see a wer with a collar – silver alloy, kept them from shifting completely – but not a tattoo bearing its owner’s name, and there was a good chance none of the others had noticed the tag’s absence. That bought Stiles some time, at least.
He was prepared for the wer to be pretty filthy – the strays all hid in the woods until they were caught, and it looked like this one had been out there a long time. But even though his leather jacket was torn nearly to shreds, Stiles could tell it had once been good quality. Same with his shoes. It wasn’t a huge shock; usually the richer the master, the crueler they were. Entitlement issues on top of what was essentially slave ownership – great combination there.
But Stiles was completely unprepared for the way the wer’s gaze snapped straight to him, hard and angry. Most of the ones that got dragged into the station hadn’t gotten very far and were more broken than anything else. But not this one. This one wasn’t just defiant; he was powerful. No wonder he’d stayed hidden for so long.
Stiles’ heart shot into his throat, and he was well aware of the danger. Even unshifted, they were stronger than humans – Stiles had once seen a female wer who looked emaciated to the point of death throw one of the stockier officers ten feet in the air when she was threatened. God only knew what this one could do, especially while cornered.
Still, Stiles didn’t reach for his taser. The wer was shackled and he wasn’t moving to attack; he was merely staring Stiles down. Stiles took a few deep breaths, let his heart rate slow, and though the wer’s gaze certainly didn’t soften, nor did he display any further aggression.
“Hello,” Stiles said as calmly as he could. “I’m Detective Stilinski. You can call me Stiles.”
That threw the wer off. Stiles just barely bit back on a laugh at the way one of his thick dark eyebrows lifted in utter incredulity for just a second, before dropping back down in line with his scowl. Very few people, including their owners, were on a first name basis with wers.
Stiles relaxed a little; the wer was still staring him down, but now he looked distinctly… curious. “What’s your name?” Stiles’ hazarded.
That look went from curious to downright suspicious. Okay, so maybe it was a little odd to try to strike up chit-chat with an imprisoned wer, but Stiles had to start somewhere. He wanted to let the wer know that Stiles was on his side.
Stiles didn’t have to glance up to know where the video camera was located in the far corner of the cell. Since this wasn’t an interrogation room, it didn’t have audio, but Stiles knew very well that some of the detectives could get incriminating material off the tapes by lip-reading; Stiles was one of them. He shifted carefully around, trying to make it appear as though he was getting a better look at the wer while subtly turning his back to the camera.
“Listen,” Stiles whispered, knowing the wer would be able to hear him. “We’ve caught you and documented that you’re here, and you have no tag. Am I right?”
The wer slid the sleeve of his shirt up his left wrist, and even through the grime, Stiles could tell there was no tattoo. It didn’t make sense – he was collared and had, at one point, been decently dressed, yet his owner had never tagged him. All wers were supposed to be tagged, collared, and registered before their first shift, sometime around puberty.
“I’m assuming you know what that means could happen to you,” Stiles continued. “But since you’ve got a collar, only me and Officer Lahey, the one who brought you in, know you’re untagged. You following me?”
The wer glowered, and once again, Stiles found himself biting back a laugh. Despite the high stakes, something about this whole scene was objectively ridiculous, like Stiles was having an entire conversation with the wer’s eyebrows. “All right, smartass,” Stiles went on. “I have a friend who can help you. Get you to a sanctuary up north. But to do that, you’re going to have to come with me.”
The suspicion was back, fiercer than before, and Stiles didn’t blame him. Officially, the Alaskan sanctuary was just a rumor. It wasn’t until Stiles had actually sat down and had a serious conversation with Dr. Deaton that he’d found out it was real. It sure as hell wasn’t easy to get to, but it was real.
“Yeah, I know it sounds—” Stiles took a step forward and froze immediately, because the wer’s eyes had flashed red the second Stiles had tried to approach him and fuck, he wasn’t just dealing with an untagged wer. He was dealing with an untagged alpha.
If Services got a hold of him, they would put him down before they even got him to the compound. Stiles had no idea how Isaac had managed to take him into custody. He wasn’t even wearing an alpha collar, which was noticeably thicker and heavier to keep the stronger wers under control.
But the mysteries that were rapidly piling up would have to wait until later, because the longer this wer was in the station, the greater the danger that Services would get involved. Stiles didn’t move any closer, but he did stand his ground. “Okay, you really need to not do the eye thing in front of anyone else here. I’m not saying that as a threat, that’s just how it is. I definitely can’t get you out of here if anyone sees you’re an alpha.”
The wer’s eyes returned to normal – some shade of green, or brown, Stiles couldn’t quite tell, though it was a little alarming how much he wanted to keep looking. But Stiles could see the wer didn’t quite believe what he was saying. Hell, if their positions had been reversed, Stiles probably wouldn’t believe anything he was saying.
“I know you have no reason to trust me, but you also know that I’m risking a hell of a lot by doing this. Not just my job – I’ve heard alphas can get claws and fangs out even with that collar on, and I don’t have a whole lot of faith in those shackles either, all right? Believe me, I am not underestimating your capacity to tear my throat out.”
The wer’s lips pursed and Stiles would swear he looked almost amused for a second – but just for a second, and then the scowl was back. Logically, Stiles should have gotten the hell out of there as soon as he’d seen the wer’s eyes go red. The chances of him safely transporting a fugitive alpha, even with no owner looking for him, were practically zero anyway, and god only knew how feral this one was, having spent so long in the wild. But the whole reason Stiles was doing any of this was that the wers were at least half human, even if they were treated like animals so often that some of them started acting like animals. But Stiles had never known an animal to sort-of-almost-smirk at one of his lousy jokes.
“That’s the best I can offer you,” Stiles said. “You want to do this? Without, you know, the throat-ripping?”
Stiles was expecting a nod at most, so he almost jumped when the wer actually said, “Okay,” his voice rusty and uncertain like it hadn’t formed human words in a long time.
With a sigh of relief, Stiles checked his watch. “Okay, I go off shift in twenty anyway, so I’m going to play this like I’m escorting you back to your owner. Try to keep your eyes down and ignore what anyone says. They’re not all… friendly. But I figure you haven’t survived this long without learning how to adapt, so, y’know, suck up the alpha-ness for the next five minutes and let’s you and me try to get out of this building alive.”
This time the wer’s expression was a distinct mixture of amusement at war with the scowl, and Stiles found his eyes tracing the strong line of the wer’s jaw, the sharpness of his cheekbones. Underneath all the dirt and grit, he was… attractive. Really attractive. Stiles swallowed hard; he knew what the attractive ones were usually used for.
But Stiles kept his resolve. He offered a hand out to the wer – a simple human gesture, but also an indisputable show of trust, considering the possibility of claws – and the wer took it. Once he was standing, Stiles put a hand on the back of his neck. “I’m going to have to manhandle you a little to make this look convincing, so if you could please not maul me until we get out to the car, that would be terrific.”
Stiles was pretty sure the dry, cracked sound the wer made was an attempt at a laugh.
Stiles would have held his breath the entire way through the police station if that weren’t the most suspicious thing he could possibly do. Instead, he forced himself to speak to just about everyone he passed like he usually did, which meant asking Boyd how it was hanging, saying something extremely workplace-inappropriate to Reyes and listen to her come back with something twice as dirty, and loudly announcing to Lahey that the wer’s rich-bitch owner couldn’t be assed to come and get him, so Stiles was going to have to escort him back.
“You, uh, want some company?” Isaac asked nervously.
Isaac was sympathetic to the wers, and he had to know that this one was an alpha, but Stiles hadn’t told him or anyone else about Deaton’s connections, so Stiles had to play it off the best he could. “Nah, I got it. This one’s a good boy, aren’t you?”
He squeezed a little tighter around the wer’s neck, just for show, and it was risky as hell, but the wer went along with it and bowed his head even lower. Stiles prayed he wouldn’t pay for the “good boy” comment later. As it was, he was just happy to have avoided running into Chief Martin on the way out. She could sniff out Stiles’ bullshit like she was a wer herself.
Stiles led the wer, still in shackles, to the passenger side of his Jeep. He should really be putting the wer in the back of a squad car, but no one was around to see and he hated leaving his Jeep at the station overnight, and besides, if the wer was going to kill him, that pathetic metal grating wouldn’t do a damn thing to stop him.
But the wer went willingly into Stiles’ Jeep, even when Stiles acted unthinkingly on years of cop instinct and pressed his hand against the wer’s head so he wouldn’t knock it on the doorframe getting into the car. Even though his hair was as filthy as the rest of him, it was soft as silk and Stiles yanked his hand away before he could give into the urge to stroke it.
Don’t pet stray wers. It wasn’t the first rule in the police training manual, but it probably should be. Somewhere in the top ten, at least.
The tension kept Stiles’ spine ramrod straight until they were well away from the station. Not that he was out of danger – if anything, he was more likely to be slaughtered while alone with the wer – but he sensed that the wer was just as happy to get out of there as he was. Not that Stiles could tell by the expression on his face, which was still as sour as it had been the entire time.
The radio in the Jeep was busted again, so Stiles had to rely on himself to fill the silence. At least there was someone in the passenger seat this time. “So, uh, sorry about that ‘good boy’ thing. I know that probably pissed you off. Would’ve pissed me off. But thanks for going along with it. If you’d like to insult me later on, you get one freebie. No, no, don’t use it right now. Really think about it. Get to know me first, analyze my mockable qualities. If you’re having trouble coming up with anything, I can provide suggestions.”
Another possible-laugh. Encouraged, Stiles just kept talking. About the weather, about his job, about his mortifying crush on his boss (which, come to think of it, Stiles had only ever admitted to Scott), though she would probably not hesitate to simply shoot him in the kneecap if she ever found out. And he’d be lucky to get it in the kneecap.
Before Stiles knew it, they were pulling into his garage – and thank God he’d cleared out room in there for his actual car, because nosy Mrs. McClanahan next door would not miss him bringing a shackled, fugitive wer through the front door.
Once Stiles had closed the garage door behind them with the remote and shut off the engine, he let out the longest sigh in the history of sighs and dropped his head onto the steering wheel with an audible (and slightly painful) clunk. What the fuck had he gotten himself into? He’d talked about this with Deaton before, about the possibility of helping a stray get to the sanctuary, but he’d never actually done it. Much less brought a stray, untagged alpha into his home. Where he slept like a rock. He barely woke up for his alarm, let alone a wer that could creep into his room in the middle of the night to—
Stiles jumped so high the top of his head actually hit the ceiling of the Jeep. “W-what?”
“That’s my name,” the wer said slowly, as if he were testing what it felt like to make words again. “Derek Hale.”
Stiles knew his jaw was wide open, but damned if he could do anything about it. “Uh, hi, Derek,” he said after a very long, awkward moment. “Pleased to smuggle you. Want to come in?”
Stiles listened to the sound of the shower running as he pawed through his drawers for something that might fit Derek. The wer wasn’t much taller than Stiles, but even under the filthy clothes, which would have to be disposed of, he was obviously bigger in just about every other way.
Derek had seemed pleased at the prospect of taking a shower (though it was sort of hard to tell through the perma-scowl), but when Stiles had shown him the bathroom, Derek had just sort of stared at the faucet like he could will it to turn on with the sheer force of his rage. It had taken Stiles several babbling minutes to realize that Derek probably didn’t know how to turn it on. He’d been out in the woods so long… At least, Stiles hoped that was the reason. Because the other option was that he had never been allowed to use indoor plumbing, and that thought made Stiles ill.
He quickly set the towel down on the counter and reached for the tap. “This one’s kind of tricky,” he said, not quite meeting Derek’s eyes as he knelt to fiddle with the faucet. “You’ve got to pull this knob out first. It sticks, so you kind of have to put your weight into it. Well, you won’t, but I do. Then you can adjust the temperature with this lever. Got pretty good hot water here, so take as long as you want.” Stiles forced himself to look Derek in the eye as he stood. “I’ll try to find you something clean to wear.”
Derek looked like he might possibly try to say “thank you,” but the words wouldn’t quite form, so he just nodded instead.
“Okey-doke,” Stiles said stupidly. “I’ll just… leave you to it, then.”
Fifteen minutes later, Stiles finally dug up an old, oversized t-shirt and a baggy pair of sweatpants just as the shower shut off. Stiles was trying very hard to wait for Derek outside the bathroom without appearing to be hovering, but he had a low success rate when it came to looking casual. So when Derek opened the door, wearing nothing but a towel and backed by a cloud of warm, fragrant steam, Stiles jumped even higher than he had in the car.
“These…” he started, holding out the clothes. Until he got a good look at Derek in nothing but a towel, and the clothes nearly hit the floor. Stiles clearly needed to start a workout regimen that involved running through the woods, because Derek was ripped, muscle on top of muscle. And he didn’t seem the least bit self-conscious about being half naked in front of a stranger.
Make that half-naked and wet – there was a patch of skin on his right shoulder that he’d missed with the towel. A droplet of water ran down over his bicep and Stiles was struck by the sudden urge to lick it away. And there was no way he wasn’t blushing like a schoolgirl, so he looked down at the clothes in his hands again.
Stiles’ clothes, which Derek would be wearing. On his body. Nope, not helping.
“These are going to be too small. But, uh, can’t have you going around naked. No. That would be bad. Because of… reasons. So, sorry about the clothes. But here they are. And I’ll leave now. So you can put them on.”
Stiles glanced up as he shoved the clothes at Derek’s chest, blushing harder when he realized he hadn’t picked out any underwear for Derek. But he felt like it would be weird to mention now, plus did he really want to share his underwear with…?
In a frantic attempt to derail that train of thought, Stiles announced, a little too loudly, “Tomorrow! We will get you clothes. Or I will, since we probably shouldn’t have, like, a Girl’s Day Out at the mall. Not really my thing. And I’m guessing it’s not your thing, either.” Christ almighty, now he was babbling about Derek’s “thing,” abort, abort. “So, you just put those on and I’ll be in the kitchen, doing something that is not talking.”
He would swear that the little twitch of Derek’s lip was almost a smile. But it might well have been almost a sneer, so Stiles hightailed it out of the hallway to let Derek… put on Stiles’ clothes. Sans underwear. Oh fuck.
Once in the kitchen, which was entirely, blessedly devoid of Derek’s naked chest, Stiles could think again. Even if the clothes fit, they would still need to get Derek some of his own. Nothing he’d been wearing was salvageable, and Stiles didn’t know how long he’d need to stay before Deaton could get him north. Fuck, right, Stiles had to call Deaton first thing in the morning.
Stiles grabbed some leftover chili out of the fridge and wondered if he should heat any up for Derek. Would Derek even want to eat it? If he’d been living in the woods for so long, he’d probably been eating… well, whatever he could catch. And building a fire to cook it would only attract attention, if he even wanted to cook it. Okay, not something Stiles wanted to think about. So, grocery shopping, too. Probably in the meat department.
And of course he would be thinking “meat department” just as Derek walked into the kitchen. Clean and in Stiles’ clothes, he looked younger – he was actually probably about Stiles’ age. The sweatpants weren’t too bad, but the t-shirt stretched tight across Derek’s chest, prompting Stiles to prevent himself from saying something stupid by stuffing his mouth with chili. Scalding hot chili straight from the microwave.
Stiles’ eyes watered, but he managed to swallow it anyway, feeling it burn all the way down. He gulped down half his glass of water, fully aware that Derek was staring at him the whole time, before gesturing weakly at the chili. “Want some?” he squeaked. Probably not the best way to introduce Derek to his cooking.
But Derek just shook his head, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. “Not hungry.”
“Right, okay,” Stiles said. Derek was just standing there, staring at him and looking extremely uncomfortable. He was barely moving, but he gave the impression of wanting to fidget out of his own skin. “You alright?” Stiles asked, not quite knowing what else to do with an extremely uneasy-looking alpha in his kitchen.
Derek glanced down at the clothes, silent for a moment, and Stiles was about to interject that his old sweatpants and Green Lantern t-shirt weren’t that bad; in fact they had been with Stiles a long time and he was rather fond of them, when Derek muttered, “I’m not used to wearing clothes that smell like someone else.”
Huh, Stiles hadn’t even thought about that. The clothes were clean, but so old that even years of detergent probably couldn’t mask the scent of Stiles’ skin. Stiles hoped he didn’t stink too badly, but considering what Derek had been wearing in the station, Stiles’ smell couldn’t be all that rank.
Or maybe it was all relative and the smell of humans in general just made Derek uncomfortable. Stiles could hardly blame him. He’d liked to have asked, but that previous sentence was by far the most Derek had said to him in one go, and now that he was clean, Stiles could see just how exhausted Derek looked.
“Right, well, not much I can do about that tonight,” Stiles said. “But I’ll get you some new stuff tomorrow. Stuff that doesn’t smell like anyone. Except maybe Chinese sweatshop workers? Uh, I’ll try to avoid those. But, here, let me show you the guest room. I don’t remember the last time somebody slept on those sheets, so they shouldn’t be too bad.”
Derek nodded and followed Stiles into the bedroom across the hall from his own. Stiles kept the bed made up with clean sheets, though he wasn’t lying when he’d told Derek it was rarely used. Once again, Derek came to a dead halt about three feet into the room, staring blankly at the bed. Stiles bit his lip to keep from asking when the last time Derek had slept in an actual bed was. There was a very real chance that he hadn’t been allowed to wherever he was before he’d escaped into the woods.
Instead, Stiles edged his way around Derek and back to the door. “All right, I’ll leave you alone. I’ll probably be up for a while, so if you need anything, just yell. First thing tomorrow, I’ll work on getting… stuff… straightened out.”
Again, Derek nodded mutely, taking in the surroundings of the room slowly. Stiles had a brief moment of wondering whether there was anything in the room – or in the house – worth stealing, but even if Derek somehow managed to make off with Stiles’ TV and laptop, what would he do with them? They wouldn’t be of any use in the woods, and Derek couldn’t exactly walk into a pawn shop.
No, if Derek was going to do anything, he’d simply run away. Hopefully without feeling the need to slash Stiles’ throat on the way out. Stiles didn’t really get a violent vibe from Derek (not directed at him, anyway), but then again, he’d never had a wer in his house before, let alone a slightly-feral, untagged alpha.
With an awkward little “good night,” he left Derek sniffing the comforter and went back to the kitchen to finish the chili. After that, he cracked open his laptop, but he didn’t want to e-mail Deaton and leave a paper trail – even an electronic one – and it wasn’t as though Googling “werewolf underground railroad” would get him any reliable information. So he logged into the Beacon Hills PD record system and checked for any unsolved reports of missing wers. There were hundreds, going back years, but none that seemed to fit Derek’s description and definitely no reports of a missing alpha. Still, even without a tag, Derek must have had an owner at some point, and it was unlikely he’d traveled far from wherever he’d escaped without getting picked up by Services. Not without human help, anyway, and if there was one thing Stiles was sure of, it was that Derek hadn’t spent much time around humans in the recent past.
Stiles brewed himself some coffee (decaf) and spent a while making lists. He got the size of Derek’s clothes off their barely legible labels before stuffing the filthy things in a trash bag and taking them out to the curb. Not even Mrs. McClanahan had stooped to rifling through his garbage yet. So Stiles made a list of things Derek would probably need. That included food, but Stiles honestly didn’t know what to do about that without asking Derek, so he settled for writing “MEAT” and underlining it twice.
Fuck, he hoped Deaton hadn’t been blowing smoke about the sanctuary and his connections with people who could get Derek there. Stiles had no reason to doubt him, but Deaton had been closer with his parents than he ever had with Stiles, and with a stray wer in his guest bedroom, everything seemed a lot less certain.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose, wishing he had someone he could call. Scott was probably trying to sneak in a few hours sleep between feedings and diaper changes and Stiles wasn’t about to wake him up. Besides, despite being his partner and best friend, he’d never really talked to Scott about the wers. He and his wife didn’t own any themselves, but Allison’s family probably owned the largest number of wers in the county.
Stiles had a hard time imagining Allison fitting any of those rumors that were floating around about the Argent family, but there was no getting around the fact that she was raised in a completely different environment than Stiles had been. And Scott, bless his besotted head, would hear “stray wer” and think only that Allison and her family could help.
So there was no calling Scott, and Stiles had involved Isaac in this enough already. So far neither of them had done anything outright illegal, but there was a good chance their jobs would be in jeopardy if anyone figured out what had really happened at the station.
By the time Stiles’ coffee mug had run dry, it was past two in the morning and his eyeballs felt dry as sandpaper. He tucked his lists safely into his pockets and rinsed out the mug before heading to his bedroom. The door across the hall was open just a crack, and Stiles couldn’t help but peek inside.
He hadn’t been certain Derek would even be able to sleep here – if the clothes had been a problem, Stiles was sure there were probably issues with territory or something that he couldn’t even begin to guess at. Sure enough, the bed was empty. But Derek had just pulled the comforter off and made a small nest of blankets on the floor, where he was currently fast asleep.
It wasn’t as though Stiles had forgotten he was harboring a fugitive wer, or even that he didn’t expect said wer to wake up before he did – any being that lived in the woods probably rose with the sun, something Stiles did not do on his day off. He just wasn’t prepared to wander into the kitchen to see Derek scarfing down handfuls of hamburger meat.
Raw hamburger meat.
Derek’s head snapped up at the sound of Stiles’ less-than-stealthy footsteps, and his irises were ringed in red.
“Holy god!” Stiles yelped before he could stop himself, but he froze and put his hands up in the air. Belatedly, he hoped that wasn’t some kind of sign of aggression to wers, like Stiles was trying to make himself look bigger than he was, but Derek’s eyes had faded back to their normal not-quite-hazel. Apparently he had realized Stiles wasn’t trying to poach his kill. From the refrigerator.
Stiles was far too undercaffeinated for this. “Sorry, sorry, but you really shouldn’t— You’re going to get worms or something. Wait, can you even get worms?”
For someone who wasn’t used to communicating with humans, Derek was surprisingly adept at insulting Stiles using only his eyebrows.
“Right,” Stiles said, edging carefully around Derek, trying not to turn his back as he inched toward the coffeemaker. “So you just go ahead and enjoy that, then. Actually, you know, it’s kind of a relief, having a guest I don’t have to cook for.”
And yes, that was in fact a slightly-amused look he got from Derek, who finished off the meat at a much slower pace while Stiles brewed his coffee. And at least he’d eaten it over the sink, so he hadn’t made much of a mess. Made it much easier for Stiles to pretend there was absolutely nothing bizarre going on in his kitchen as he started scrambling up some eggs for breakfast.
He didn’t realize he was lost in his own little world until suddenly Derek was right there over his shoulder, and Stiles nearly sent the pan flying. Stiles spun around, about to tell Derek he needed to learn to use his words, when Derek actually… did.
“I like eggs, too,” he said. Then his eyes flicked briefly toward the pan and Stiles definitely wasn’t imagining the slight uptick at the corner of Derek’s mouth. “Cooked.”
“You want some now?” Stiles asked, trying to keep the incredulity out of his voice, because despite the recent obliteration of a pound of hamburger meat, Derek hadn’t eaten last night and Stiles didn’t know how much wers actually ate, anyway. Apparently quite a bit, because Derek nodded. He shook his head at the cheese, though, so Stiles waited until his half of the eggs were on his own plate before sprinkling on the cheddar.
Conversation over breakfast was limited to what Derek wanted from the grocery store. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all meat-based. Stiles figured Derek would have to ease back into eating human food, particularly the processed crap (though Stiles was a big fan of the processed crap), but without talking to Deaton, Stiles didn’t know how long it would be before Derek could be moved to the sanctuary. Or even what the sanctuary was like, whether it was more city or nature preserve. Most of the wers in the county lived essentially like humans – but it wasn’t as though they were given a choice. Stiles wondered whether, left to their own, they’d prefer to live like Derek had in the woods.
But it was hard enough to get Derek to ask for the food he wanted, let alone grill him on wer culture. Derek had been on his own so long that it was probably humiliating, relying on a human to do something as basic as procure food, so Stiles tried his best to be patient with Derek’s grumpiness. It was a work in progress, but Stiles was rewarded when, at the very end, Derek requested a peach. Unbelievably, his voice went almost shy, as though he were asking for something forbidden. Stiles made sure to underline “peaches” three times.
Stiles dressed and got ready to go out, all the while debating what to say to Derek. If he’d wanted to run, he’d probably have done it during the night, and if he could hide himself in a forest for months, he could probably manage to lay low in Stiles’ tiny house.
“Okay, I’m headed out for food and clothes,” Stiles said as he grabbed his lists and his wallet. “Just make yourself at home. You’re welcome to anything in the fridge. And you can—” First Stiles glanced at his Xbox, which… no, probably not Derek’s forte. Then his collection of DVDs, but somehow he didn’t see Derek negotiating the three remote controls it took to get them to play.
Derek surprised Stiles on several levels by asking, “Do you have books?”
“You know how to read?” Stiles asked, before clamping his hand over his stupid, stupid mouth. Stiles had practically invented his own strain of Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome over the years, but the scowl that met him had him flushing an obscene shade of red. Yes, many of the wers that came through the station were illiterate, but it was insulting to just assume.
But eventually Derek just rolled his eyes and said “Yes,” having apparently spent long enough in Stiles’ company already to perfect an exasperated tone of voice.
“Great!” Stiles exclaimed. “Feel free to raid the shelves in my room. Hope you’re a fan of old-school sci-fi.”
Derek just shrugged, but that was infinitely better than the scowl. “Great,” Stiles said again, not quite managing to conceal his relief. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Just don’t open the shades on the dining room window. Mrs. McClanahan will want to know why I haven’t introduced her to my new boyfriend yet.”
At that, Derek gave him an odd look, but Stiles was no stranger to odd looks, so it was his turn to shrug before he went out the door.
Clothes shopping for a grown man other than himself was a new and slightly surreal experience for Stiles. His own clothing was primarily selected for its functionality. He figured Derek would probably want the same, especially if he was literally going to be running soon – clothes that were comfortable, inconspicuous, and warm – but Stiles had difficulty imagining Derek in Stiles’ own selection of layers of plaid.
He grabbed several gray and black Henleys and t-shirts, as well as two pairs of dark blue jeans. Stiles regretted that he wouldn’t be able to replace Derek’s nice leather jacket – not on a small-town detective’s salary – but he was able to find a dark, lightweight coat that wasn’t too expensive. He knew wers were less susceptible than humans to extreme temperatures, but he wanted Derek to have something to protect him from the elements up north.
The clothes shopping turned out to be the easy part. Afterwards, Stiles sat in his car and called Dr. Deaton. It was a call he hadn’t especially wanted to make in front of Derek, and though he wasn’t sure exactly how sensitive wer hearing was, he figured Derek would probably be able to overhear them from anywhere in the house.
Stiles called Deaton on his cell rather than the office line and half-expected the call to go to voicemail, but Deaton picked up. He must have already had Stiles’ number, because he answered with “Detective Stilinski! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Stiles had planned this whole conversation out in his head – multiple times – but now that it was happening, it was hard to get even the preliminary words out. “Um, hi. You can call me Stiles if you want. Especially because this isn’t, uh, detective business.”
“I see,” Deaton said evenly.
“Do you have a few minutes? Alone?”
“As it would happen, I do.” Stiles could hear a door opening and closing – then the click of a lock. Deaton must have remembered their last conversation, even though it was months ago.
“I have a… stray. He was brought into the station last night, untagged. But he had a collar, so I was able to get him past the other officers and back to my house.”
Deaton was silent for a moment and Stiles could practically hear him frowning. “This isn’t something I can arrange on the fly, Stiles.”
“I know! Believe me, I know. But it’s not like I had any warning, and if I’d kept him in a holding cell, someone would find out he didn’t have a tag and report him to Services. And he’s been out in the woods for a long time – you can tell he hasn’t spoken to a human in months, maybe years.”
“You brought a feral werewolf into your house?”
“I told you, I didn’t have any choice. And he’s not feral, not exactly. He can speak just fine, it’s just that most of the time he… doesn’t. And he asked me if I had any books for him to read.”
Deaton sighed. “All right. But this is going to take a few days to arrange. Have you talked about this with him? Are you sure he’s not going to take off back into the woods? Because I’m not in the business of capturing anyone who doesn’t want to be captured.”
“Yes, I’ve talked with him, and if he was going to run, he would have done it last night. He just wants to get away from here.”
“Well, he’s your responsibility until I can secure transport. Don’t let him out of your house – in the woods, he could probably mask his scent, but if he was living in a home with other werewolves before he escaped, they’ll know his scent well enough to track him.”
“No, yeah, no leisurely evening strolls, got it,” Stiles said, sighing with relief before he realized he hadn’t told Deaton everything yet. “Um, sir?”
“Oh lord,” Deaton muttered. “You haven’t called me ‘sir’ since you were 13. This is going to be bad, isn’t it?”
“This wer,” Stiles said haltingly. “He’s collared and he hasn’t been aggressive. Not with me, not even with the officer who brought him in.”
“But he’s an alpha.”
There was dead silence over the line, and Stiles caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror and realized he was visibly cringing. Finally, Deaton groaned. “Only you, Stiles. Only you. That’s going to take longer than a few days.”
“But you can do it? Or find someone who can?”
“Probably, but it’s not going to be easy. Fuck.” Stiles had never heard Deaton swear before and it kind of ruined his victory fist pump. “Stiles?”
“Do me a favor and try not to piss him off. For some reason, I’m fond of you and I’d rather you didn’t get dismembered.”
“Yes sir. Play nice, stay fully membered.”
“And wait for me to call you. I don’t have any reason to believe I’m being monitored, but some of my contacts are… skittish.”
Stiles swallowed. Deaton was really the only one he could talk to about this, who had the most accurate information about wers. “What if it’s an emergency?”
Deaton laughed humorlessly. “If it’s an emergency involving an untagged alpha? I doubt there’s anything I can do to help.”
Stiles took his time at the grocery store, and then ran every errand he could think of to keep from going back home. Despite what he’d told Deaton, he was half-convinced Derek had already taken off. He had no reason to trust Stiles, and he’d obviously managed on his own just fine for quite a while. Even if he hadn’t run off, he wasn’t exactly the world’s best conversationalist, and despite popular opinion, there was only so much silence Stiles could fill. Plus, Stiles had so many questions, and there was no way Derek would answer them all. If he felt like he was being interrogated, he probably would run.
There was so much Stiles didn’t know about wers. His parents had told him some, but they’d never owned one or been close friends with anyone who did, so Stiles had never thought to ask. And now that he needed to, he couldn’t. He checked the bookstore, but all they had were Proper Care for Your Wer and Wers for Dummies – all stuff about how to keep them in line, keep them safe and “happy.” Stiles pictured Derek calling him “master” and felt ill.
Even the library wasn’t much better. There was some history on the discovery of the wers, how they’d been subdued and turned into “servants” in some books, “slaves” in others. But even the most sympathetic authors seemed like they’d never talked to an actual wer. The books on lore were worse, even less reliable than the crap Stiles had found online. Some of it was probably true, but he had no way of telling fact from fiction.
Everywhere he went, he was suddenly hyperaware of the wers, in their silver control collars, accompanying their human masters. There was so much Stiles had never seen before because he hadn’t been looking. Before, he would have noticed if someone was abusing a wer in public and tried to step in if he could, but, like domestic violence, most of that took place behind closed doors. Most people seemed to treat them like servants, and the wers silently obeyed the orders to get this or that off a shelf, keep an eye on an easily-distracted kid.
But Stiles had never really watched what happened when two wers with different owners passed each other. Most made fleeting, furtive eye contact. Some surreptitiously sniffed each other. And some played out an act of dominance and submission. In the bookstore, Stiles was pretty sure he saw an actual challenge between two female wers. There was glaring and posturing and baring of teeth, and action that wasn’t quite human, even without fangs. But it was over in the blink of an eye, one wer backing down and tilting her head to the side to bare her throat. Stiles hadn’t even had time to break out in a cold sweat before the “winner” was moving down the aisle with her owner.
Stiles glanced around, but no one else seemed to have noticed, and he wondered how many hundreds of times that had happened in his presence and he just hadn’t seen. Something in his chest burned with shame – it was his job to observe things, and he’d never even given the wers around him a second glance. But now it was all he could see. It was like hearing the barest strains of music in a loud, crowded room; Stiles couldn’t pay attention to anything else until he figured out what the song was.
Twice, Stiles came close enough to a wer that they immediately dropped their eyes and took a step back. It took until his trip to the library to realize that they could probably smell Derek on him. Stiles had no idea their noses were that sensitive – he hadn’t had any physical contact with Derek since leading him out of the station the previous night, and Stiles had showered since then.
Still, it seemed that if he got close enough, he must smell like an alpha – maybe their scents were particularly strong. He was going to have to remember that; the few people who owned alphas rarely took them out, especially for something as mundane as a shopping trip, but Stiles shuddered to think what would happen if he encountered one, smelling like a rival.