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A Simple Life

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Derek comes to Beacon Hills with as much as he can fit into a carry-on, a set of keys to a house that no longer has a door, and a pervasive sense of worry in his heart.

In Beacon Hills, he finds his house, doorless, his sister’s camaro, driverless, and his sister’s body, lifeless.

There’s no going back to New York after that. He lets his apartment there go to seed, lets the rent run out and the landlady do whatever she likes with what was in their apartment. Derek doesn’t need Laura’s things from their apartment to remind him of her. In Beacon Hills, everything reminds him of her. He sees his sister in the grocery store, fighting with him for the spot in the grocery cart. She was older than him, but never too old to want to be pushed around by Momma. He sees her walking down every street he passes. It haunts him, to know that her feet must have passed through everywhere he’s walked at least once. Most of all, he sees her in the burnt out shell of their childhood home. It’s why he stays there, ignoring safety codes and decent standards of living. He doesn’t care. He’s untouchable, and who is there to tell him not to sleep on a mattress in his old, ash-smelling room? There is no nagging voice pushing him out of the smoke-painted hallways, or off of the cracked tiles of the kitchen.

Besides, most days he spends out in the woods, running his pawed feet over old trails that need to be reworked into the ground. They’ve grown over in their absence, pine needles and years of leaves covering what used to be well-tramped ground.

He sees her here, too.

Derek thinks about what it would have been like, had they both returned to Beacon Hills at the same time. They’d have run in these woods at least once, and he would have followed his Alpha, his sister, through the same paths he once followed his Alpha, his mother.

Now his Alpha is the unknown someone who sliced his sister in half. Derek thinks the Alpha might be lurking somewhere in the woods, but can’t be bothered to find them. He’s happier being alone. Not happy, but happier. As long as no idiot hikers or teenagers go wandering in the woods, the Alpha isn’t anybody’s problem.

Derek sees two kids come near his property, gangly legged and curious, and is ready to scare them off, dig his leather jacket up from somewhere and put on his best scowl, when the one with the cheekbones pulls the one with the crooked jaw away, saying “it’s so creepy. No, come on, my dad wants me home.” Derek retreats back into the woods, slinking on silent paws.

He will go whole days without seeing another person. Once Derek thinks he made it a whole week. It’s simpler to just eat as a wolf than try going shopping, brave the questioning looks of a small town, try to cook something in a broken kitchen. As a wolf, he can take advantage of the population of the forest: small mammals that have never seen a wolf before, and subsequently never see their deaths coming.

He wonders if Laura saw her fate before it cut her down.

When he was younger, Derek always felt guilty about eating as a wolf. It seemed so much more cruel, plucking a squirrel from its hiding place and chowing down, than eating a nice sanitary packet of beef, cooked neatly by Momma. But at least in these woods, his prey has a chance of escaping, even if it’s a slim one.

Derek appreciates that now. It probably isn’t good to empathize with his food, but he still does.

So he eats woodland creatures during the day, and spends his nights fully, brutally, human, tucked up under a spare blanket or two on an old mattress in an old house. Under different circumstances, it could almost be called relaxing. Back to basics. Getting closer to nature. Derek calls it “hiding.”

The police find Laura. It was inevitable, but Derek had been hoping for a few more forevers to stay in his enclave of pines and fur.

The police also inevitably bring Derek in for questioning.

Sheriff Stilinski seems like a good man. World-weary and lonely maybe, but not the sort to immediately assume that Derek killed his sister just because he “looks like a bad boy.”

That said, the police ask awkward questions. Questions like “where do you live” and “what do you do” and “didn’t you wonder where she went?”

They let him go since being across the country at TOD is as good an alibi as any, but the police watch him go with suspicious eyes, and now Derek isn’t allowed to leave the county until the investigation is concluded, and a patrol car drives past his house every few hours.

At night, the house creaks and leaks. Derek pulls the blankets further over his head, but his hearing is good. It used to be that any creaks were from the scamper of little feet going to get glasses of water in the night, and any leaks were from faucets not properly shut after said glasses of water, but times have changed.

On one particularly dreary Tuesday night, Derek is woken by a chunk of plaster falling from the ceiling to break his leg. He sighs, waits for the bone to heal, then moves his things downstairs. The living room seems to have a slightly more secure ceiling.

Derek has trouble falling asleep in Beacon Hills. After New York, it’s hard to deal with the quiet here. It presses on his ears, makes him feels like cotton wool is being shoved down his throat. He tosses and turns and wonders what he’s doing with his hours. Sometimes he gives up, wolfs out, and runs through the woods for the second time in 24 hours.

That particular Tuesday night, Derek gives in and flits into the tree line. His coat is black and melds in with the landscape. If he were hunting, it would be perfect camouflage, but for now, he’s just out for a run. The night air is cool and crisp in his nose as he moves, and it rustles through his fur, brushing out the dust of the old house. Derek lets himself get sucked into the scenery, a silent observer.

An owl swoops overhead, silent and regal as it climbs towards its perch in one of the upper branches of a pine. A rodent of some kind scurries underfoot -rodents always scurry, they’re incapable of just walking- and nestles itself in a hollow underneath the roots of an old oak. A sleepy dear pokes its head up as Derek moves past it, and leaps off in the opposite direction. Deer are scared of everything in the woods except humans. In that respect, deer are more courageous than Derek is.

There’s an odd noise, like a dog barking with laryngitis, off to Derek’s left. The noise repeats itself, and Derek supposes he may as well see what’s making the fuss. He follows the scuffling and barking noises, expecting to find somebody’s lost dog, but instead finds a scrawny red fox gallivanting around in a clearing.

Foxes are rare around here, so Derek can’t help but watch as the fox jumps, long legs sticking out below it, tail undulating, then lands, slapping out one paw, then the other, then slapping both out rhythmically against the ground like it’s playing whack-a-mole. Derek hears a tiny, rapid heartbeat and realizes that the fox actually is playing whack-a-mole, or maybe whack-a-mouse. Having difficulty with it too, from what Derek can tell. The fox doesn’t look quite full grown. It -he, Derek realizes as the fox makes an especially acrobatic contortion in the air- is a bit too gangly for that. It looks like what it really needs is some guidance from an elder fox on how to properly hunt, since he seems to be outmatched by the mouse.

Derek watches the fox struggle with the small rodent for a few moments longer, then whuffs in amusement and continues down his path. Were he human in that moment, he might have thought of the youtube videos that such a scene would spawn, but Derek is not. Like this, Derek cares about the rustles of the forest, the murmurs of the stream a mile away, the distant hum of bugs in the night.

A tiny, rapid, heartbeat sounds below him, and Derek reflexively shoots out a paw, catching a mouse -the mouse- by its tail. It hadn’t been his plan to eat, but Derek’s wolf never says no to such freely offered sustenance. Winter is always coming, so it is always wise to eat when possible. That’s just logic. Derek snaps the mouse’s neck -quick, always be quick- and is ready to toss the mouse between his jaws when a low whine sounds behind him.

It’s the fox, of course, crouched low to the ground, tail wagging expectantly behind him.

Food. The wolf will have his food.

A whine.

It doesn’t matter what the fox wants. The fox is prey too. Maybe the fox is next.

Derek can see the fox’s ribs, visible through his red fur. Is the fur as thick as it should be? Autumn is just setting in, and the fox barely has enough for summer.

Derek tosses the mouse at the fox, who yips in delight and pounces. Derek is reminded of his younger brother Travis, who was such an excitable boy that anything new for him from the store, be it an ipod or be it socks, was the best thing to happen that day.

Letting the fox have its moment, Derek takes off again. The swiftness of his feet, rushing soundlessly over bracken, the texture of the bark on every tree crystal clear, rough scales of wood climbing upwards to the night sky, where every last star is visible-

A laryngitic bark sounds behind him. Derek wearily turns his head, ears flicking. Sure enough, there’s the fox, bounding over a tree root, tail wagging. Without a thought for the danger of approaching a strange wolf in the woods, the fox patters over to him and butts the underside of Derek’s chin with its head.

Derek gives a warning growl.

The fox doesn’t care, and flops onto its back, black-dipped paws flopping around above him.

Who does the fox think he is, a pup at play? Derek does not play pup’s games anymore. He hunts, then retreats to his den to sleep. No time for frolicking in the dirt, play fighting and romping.

Derek steps over the fox. He has better things to do, like... walking.

The fox whines beseechingly, tail flicking as he squirms on the ground.

The forest beckons, its cool, wooded embrace serene and reassuring.

The fox flips over, flicks an ear, than leaps up to run a circle around Derek’s paws like a furry tripwire, before settling himself down on top of one of Derek’s forepaws. Derek makes to lift his paw, and the fox catches him with big, helpless eyes.

No one ever said foxes weren’t cunning, Derek thinks as he ruefully settles himself onto the forest floor, with a bundle of red fur as a paw-warmer. The fox licks his face as he lays it onto the dirt.

Only his Momma had ever done that, groomed him even though he did it just fine himself in human form.

So Derek lets the fox lick across the long black fur of his cheek and forehead, and when the fox prances up again, Derek plays with him, gives chase around the massive trunks of the redwoods, lets the fox snap playfully at his tail when he flicks it. At one point the fox manages to wrap his two front paws around Derek’s tail, and gets taken for a ride when Derek flicks it back and forth. If Derek were human in that moment, he would be howling with laughter.

When the moon starts to set, Derek gives the fox a light push with his paw in the opposite direction, and walks back towards the house. He glances behind him to see the fox trotting off into the distance, apparently satisfied by his brief time with a wolf.

It seems that the encounter with the fox had tired him out well enough that he could finally fall asleep, and indeed, by the time he reaches the back door of his house, he’s ready to collapse onto his mattress and sleep for an age. Before sleep can entirely overtake him, Derek wonders what the fox is doing now. Probably gallivanting back to his den, and whatever family he has there.

The next morning, Derek catches a familiar smell wafting in from one of the many gashes in the side of the house, and goes to investigate. Sure enough, on the square of cement that makes up one of the back steps, there is a curl of red fur, nose tucked under a fluffy tail.

“Shoo,” Derek tells him, waving his hands, “go back to your family. Shoo.”

The fox’s eyes open, and he looks curiously at Derek. Leaning forward, he directs his narrow snout at Derek’s pant leg and sniffs. With a yip, he recognizes the scent and starts jumping up on Derek’s leg.

“What, do you want me to pick you up?” Derek grumbles.

One of the fox’s paws bats at his leg, and the fox yips. It’s absolutely adorable, and Derek is kidding himself if he thinks he can withstand it. He grips underneath the fox’s forelegs and heaves the fox up.

He’s heavier than he looks, but Derek can’t tell if that’s natural, or because he keeps shifting around, sniffing Derek’s hair, his neck. Derek yelps when the fox sticks his cold nose into the shell of his ear, but the fox carries on unperturbed, thin paws tugging on Derek’s shirt collar as he snuffles around Derek’s face, little tongue rasping across his stubble.

“Stop that,” Derek mutters, but it’s too late, it’s the “stop that” he would direct at his siblings when they got too frisky, or that someone says when their friend is flattering them. It means “you’re annoying but I don’t mind.”

Dammit all, Derek does not have time for a house pet. But, he rationalizes when the fox starts trying to groom his hair with little licks, he doesn’t really have a house anyway, so it’s not like the fox is really a pet. A good thing too, because if he were, Derek would be a terrible pet owner. It’s handy that the house is already wrecked, because if it weren’t, the fox would have it halfway there in a matter of minutes.

First, the fox goes for the bag of chips that Derek has stashed away in his pile of junk. The chips and the bag end up strewn across the entire ground floor, but the fox looks so satisfied with himself that Derek can’t bring himself to care. Next, the fox makes a beeline for Derek’s duffle bag.

“Is this why you followed me home?” he asks the fox as they play tug-of-war with one of his belts. He can get a new one. “For the food? Probably.”

Eventually, he strips and changes into the wolf form. The fox gets very excited watching the shift, barking and almost jumping onto Derek’s back before he’s done. They move out into the woods, and Derek gets the fox a squirrel. Watching him rip it apart, Derek wonders how often the fox eats, and thinks there might not be a family for him at all. Or if there is, they aren’t worth the fox’s time if they never taught him to hunt.

In his wolf form, Derek can be selfish. He can be happy that the fox is alone because it means that no one will be coming to take him away. He can have the fox in his den, eating food with him, huddling closer on cold nights. Derek would keep mountain lions away from his pack brother, maybe teach him to howl at the old moon when it grows full, like all of their ancestors did before.

Wolves are not meant to be alone, and now Derek doesn’t have to be, nor does he have to face the questions humans always ask of him.

This time, when the fox trots back from exploring a collection of fascinating dandelions, and licks Derek’s face, Derek licks the fox’s right back.

It’s easy, easy in a way that Derek never had before. His life is simple: their days are spent fattening up for the winter and wandering in the woods. Derek shows the fox how to pounce properly, how to predict the pattern that small animals will take as they try to escape, and the fox picks up on it immediately. Derek’s pack brother is smart. Derek sniffs along the ground to find grubs and worms for the fox, and while the fox digs at the ground there, Derek bounds off in search of larger prey.

Sometimes they sleep out in the woods at night, the fox tucked against the curve of Derek’s ribcage, but Derek is spoiled and used to sleeping under a roof, so sometimes the fox and him collapse onto the mattress back at the house, and the fox’s fur tickles the skin of Derek’s arm, and his scent leeches into every item of clothing Derek owns. Derek doesn’t mind. It’s reassuring.

In the mornings, Derek will do his stretches, rip open some package of food he has secreted away, and the fox will inevitably wake up and follow him, trailing the blanket behind him like a hooded cape under which a narrow nose and big eyes peek out. Derek would film it if he hadn’t lost his phone and his charger weeks ago and if he gave a damn where they had gone. He settles for chuckling, scratching the fox under the chin and letting him walk on the kitchen counter to nibble at whatever Derek is nibbling at.

The food is always some sort of processed crap, but Derek doesn’t stop the fox from taking what he wants. You don’t take away your pack brother’s food, you just don’t.

“I don’t understand why you like the sour cream and onion flavor,” Derek comments as the fox digs into his chips, “even I don’t really like it.”

As far as Derek is concerned, the fox’s name is You. Animals don’t give themselves names, so Derek won’t give the fox one, and besides, who else would he be talking to?

The fox snorts and tears the bag in half, then bats a paw at Derek’s bearded face. He hasn’t been shaving. Who is he trying to impress? The fox doesn’t care.

Derek lightly bats the fox back, and the fox takes to chewing on one of his fingers. There’s blood, but it heals, and the fox has one hell of an oral fixation that Derek would prefer he take out on his fingers and not the bedding.

The cop car still drives by occasionally, even if whatever it sees isn’t important enough to warrant any further investigation. The house still creaks, old and odd, in the night, and now and then Derek will be paralyzed by the question of what it is that he’s supposed to do next.

But then he’ll flinch at a cold nose nudging his feet, and lift the blanket so the fox can curl up next to him, and they look at the stars through a rent in the ceiling, and the future isn’t so scary when all Derek needs is the present.

It’s almost nine in the morning, and Derek is doing his morning stretches outside on the dewy grass, enjoying it while he can before the grass starts becoming crunchy with frost. The fox has developed a habit of sleeping in, which Derek thinks is ridiculous, but he only has himself to blame. He spoils the fox. He knows it.

Derek is just about to step back inside when the house groans, then screams as it collapses inwards on itself.

Rationally, Derek knows that it’s only a small section, that most of the house is still intact, but the rest of him is busy focusing on not wolfing out in panic like he’s a kid again, and moving through the dusty hallways of the house towards the living room, and calling out, “hey, hey!” like the fox could answer.

Everything is gray, from the burnt walls to the dust rising throughout the room. Derek can smell it, dry and choking, cutting out anything that could be the familiar smell of pine and muskiness that is his fox.

It quickly becomes clear that yes, the roof had caved in right over their old sleeping place, and no, the fox hadn’t escaped the rubble in time.

Derek throws himself onto the pile of plaster, timber, old electrical wiring and broken pipes, ripping and tearing at it, tossing chunks of it over his shoulder, searching through the gray for a flicker of red, for a hoarse bark. There’s nothing, nothing, just coughing and not again, not again-

A whine. Derek freezes, listening for it. Another whine, and he knows that noise from weeks of hearing it beg shamelessly at him.

He redirects his search towards the noise, and underneath a pile of the house’s bones, he finds the fox.

The mattress, it seems, saved him. The fox managed to make it to just over the edge of the mattress before the cave-in, so when a piece of timber fell, it landed on the mattress, then jutted out, making a roof that sheltered the fox from most of the debris.

Most. The fox is still trembling and whining, and there is the smell of blood in the air.

Gingerly, Derek removes the last few layers of crap from above the fox. He rolls a hunk of plaster off of the fox’s left hind leg, and yes, that’s where the smell of blood is coming from. A very loud part of him wants to whine in tandem with the fox, take him somewhere sheltered, and lick feverishly at the wound until it gets better, but Derek’s more rational side wins out, and he takes the fox to the vet.

Dr. Deaton is a man that seems to know more than he lets on. When Derek shows up, earlier than the clinic normally opens, looking like some sort of hermit or mountain man, a wild fox cradled in his arms, Deaton just raises an eyebrow and steps to the side so Derek can come in. Deaton never asks why Derek has befriended a wild forest animal, or why they were inside a building that should really be condemned, just sets the fox on one of the stainless steel tables and sets to work. Mild sedatives, X-ray, set the bone, clean the wound, cover the fox’s injured leg in a violently lime green cast, and dare Derek to make a fuss about it.

“He’s an adolescent red fox, mostly in good health,” Deaton says as they wait for the fox to wake up, “I’d say stop feeding him junk food, but most foxes subsist on a lot of human throwaways anyway. And most foxes only live 2-4 years, so the fox -does he have a name?”

“No,” Derek forces out.

“So the fox doesn’t really have any long term health effects to worry about.”

Derek nods dumbly, focusing on the “2-4 years” part. It should have occurred to him before, it really should have, but he hadn’t been thinking about the future.

“They can live longer, when kept as pets,” Deaton says, noting Derek’s discomfort.

“He isn’t my pet,” Derek mumbles back.

“No, I suppose not,” Deaton says to himself.

Derek would wonder more at that statement, but the fox is waking up. He’s bleary, and confused, so Derek reaches a hand out to pet lightly at the long fur on the fox’s head. The fox leans into the touch, then tries to stand up and stumbles, his bandaged leg slipping.

Deaton reaches out and sets the fox on the floor. Derek bristles slightly at someone touching his pack mate so easily, but forces himself to let it go. “Give him a few minutes to figure out how to walk with the cast,” Deaton instructs.

The fox wobbles around on the tiled floor, and Derek watches him out of the corner of his eye while answering Deaton’s questions.

“No, I found him on his own.”

“Interesting. But then again, red foxes generally aren’t found around here at all. Chances are that your fox here has been on his own for a long time. He could be someone’s escaped exotic pet, or a zoo runaway, or just a very exploratory fellow,” Deaton muses.

There’s a crash, and Derek’s head whips around to see the fox, a toppled urn -are those nordic runes on it?- and a healthy coating of sparkling pink dust on everything within a two foot radius.

Derek apologizes profusely as they clean the dust off of the floor and scoop it into a plastic container Deaton has on hand. “And I can wash the fox off myself,” Derek continues, “so don’t worry about... that,” he trails off as he realizes that the fox is completely clean. “I guess he shook the dust off.”

He glances behind him to see Deaton watching the fox with a calculating expression. “It really is fine, Derek. All I ask is that you bring your fox in for a checkup and a rabies vaccine in a few weeks. I want to see what happens to him.”

It’s an ominous sort of statement, but the fox has been attended to, Deaton has waived the bill -”not for a Hale,” he’d said enigmatically- and Derek didn’t want to wait for his luck to run out, so he leaves with other things on his mind than the pink dust.

Derek doesn’t notice at first, because it isn’t obvious.

They sleep out in the woods every night now, Derek fully shifted, curled up in a hollow somewhere. The house isn’t livable, Derek sees that now, and he won’t let the fox go near it anymore, but the woods aren’t the best place for a fox with a lime green cast on either. Most days, Derek leaves the fox to totter around near where they slept, munching on fungi, while he heads out to do the more strenuous hunting. He gets carried away at one point and drags a whole deer back to the rock overhang where they’re staying, and the fox glances disdainfully at the deer twice his size, then gives him a look like “what do you expect me to do with this?”

A few days later, the fox has developed a taste for deer, and Derek can’t help but feel self-satisfied.

But the nights are getting colder, and the fox still hasn’t grown his winter coat. Derek tries to get the fox to sleep in his car, but when he shuts the fox in, he immediately starts making a fuss.

“What?” Derek asks through the door, “I cracked the window, I’ll be right here.”

The fox whines again and keeps scraping at the window.

“I can’t fit in there, and I’ll be warm enough outside.”

The fox howls woefully. It’s a habit he picked up from Derek. Derek knows the fox uses it to mess with him, because his howl sounds just like a newborn pup begging for help and Derek can’t say no to that.

He steels himself. “Man up,” he instructs the fox, turning his back and leaning against the side of the car. “You’re sleeping with a roof over your head whether you like it or not.”

The car door opens, swinging forward. The fox’s paw is still caught in the door handle, but he looks very proud of himself. Derek picks the fox up before he falls and sighs, leaning back against the car. He doesn’t even know how the fox did it, the car door was locked and requires a twist of the wrist to open, which takes bones and tendons that the fox doesn’t have. It looks like the fox has some very particular desires when it comes to sleeping arrangements.

There’s a moment when a man realizes he’s over his head, and that moment for Derek is when he realizes he’s going to have to rebuild his house for his fox pack mate.

He calls an old contractor friend of his parents. The guy hisses through his teeth when he sees the damage done to the house, but after some careful surveying of the property, he declares that the foundations and some of the deeper workings of the plumbing are still usable.

The house will be small, more like a cottage than anything. A bedroom, bare bones bathroom and kitchenette, plus a living room clustered around the remains of the old fireplace.

It isn’t a palace, but the fire can be built up -safely, behind a grate and with a fire extinguisher nearby- it won’t be far from the woods, and Derek can keep a little piece of home, without pieces of his home literally falling on top of them.

For now, Derek makes fires in clearings in the woods, where the ground is as close to bare as it can be, with a bucket of water on hand. He gathers up dry leaves and twigs first, then arranges larger sticks and branches in a teepee above it. Derek may have spent a few years in the boy scouts. It’s a long process, and the fox seems to think so too, because when he returns from a trip to get matches, Derek finds the fox dragging the branches into a teepee himself.

Derek stops a few feet away and watches in awe as the fox paws through the pile of wood, picks up a well sized branch between his jaws, drags it to the pile of kindling, rests it over the pile, rolls a rock towards the pile, grabs another branch, braces it against the first branch, then pushes so the two rise up in an arc over the soon-to-be fire. The rock acts as an anchor for the first branch so it doesn’t slip, and as the fox holds the second branch, he digs a tiny hole with one paw that he sets the branch into in order to anchor it as well.

Whistling lowly, Derek steps further into the clearing and pats his pack mate on the head. He thinks about Jane Goodall and the basic use of tools, and wonders.

He sits with the fox in his lap one night, looking at the stars while the fox snores hot little exhales against his knee. What is his life, that he can be both half a man, traipsing in the forest with his animal friend, not a care but where his next meal is coming from, but also a man who is waiting for city hall to send a letter to his PO box approving the start of construction?

The fox stirs, and bats his knee. Stop that.

Derek looks down at the fox.

The fox looks back at him, blinking one eye lazily. He rubs his cheek against Derek’s thigh soothingly. It’ll be okay. I love you.

Oh. Derek’s going insane. That’s his life. He leans against the tree behind him, and squeezes his eyes as firmly shut as he can before opening them again. The fox has gone back to sleep, and Derek can’t tell if he’s still insane or not.

The next morning, Derek brings the fox a squirrel, and sets his prey down, nudging it with his nose to where the fox is lying. The fox’s cast is more of a leaf green than a lime green now, but it’s still clean. Derek checked.

The fox sniffs it, and notes derisively, what about the bigleafeaterfourlegs deer? I liked those.

The sentiment doesn’t quite come in words, more like an impression that Derek translates into sentences, but he still doesn’t know if he’s translating anything real. Derek believes in magic, he’s a werewolf for god’s sake, but he knows that there’s a difference between magic and wishful thinking. His great aunt Susan? Magic. Thinking he hears Laura calling for him in the woods? Wishful thinking.

None of this stops Derek from retorting, just for the hell of it, there are only so many deer I can find in a week.

But I liiiike them. You can’t back out on me now. Not after all we’ve been through!

Derek isn’t certain if he’s capable of making up that level of shameless melodrama.

Or the incessant chatter the fox spouts out when he chases Derek’s tail: Come here, no here, you think that’s funny, you ain’t seen nothing yet, I will catch you so hard, and when I do, you will rue the day you ever tried to escape me!

Or the way that when the fox curls up contentedly on his chest, he hums awwww yeah.

Derek figures that if it’s real, then excellent, and if he’s imagining it, there could be worse things to imagine. The fox isn’t harming anything other than the wildlife of the Beacon Hills Preserve, and most of his chatter is focused on giving Derek a hard time.

Beacon Hills City Hall doesn’t seem to care one way or the other if Derek Hale is off his rocker, because he gets approval for construction not long after he starts hearing the fox’s voice.

What do you mean I have to stay here? I don’t want to stay here, here is boring, do you want me to die of boredom, do you, because I will, so help me, I will!

You can’t be around all of the construction equipment. It’s dangerous.

I can handle danger! I’m a fox, remember? Sly? Quick? Savvy?

Stop it. Stop trying to follow me, you’ll hurt yourself.

Pick me up.

You’re staying here.

Pick me up. Pick me up.

There will be sledgehammers. Sledgehammers and axes flying everywhere, and you’re tiny.

So pick me up. That’ll keep me out of the way.

Stay here.

But I loooove youuuu. You won’t make me stay here all alone.

Derek tries walking away faster.

Everybody leaves me, the fox mumbles plaintively to himself.

Derek stops walking. He knows the fox is being emotionally manipulative. He does.

He goes back for the fox anyway.

The first frosts start materializing in mid November. Not even the power of California weather can hold them back forever, especially not up north where Beacon Hills is. The cottage isn’t done; Derek and the handful of handymen aren’t miracle workers, but there are the makings of a roof in place, so Derek and the fox take to curling up there for the night. It’s marginally warmer, even if there are tarps in place of doors.

So this is our new den, huh? the fox asks as he nibbles Derek’s index finger.

Derek shrugs. I guess so.

Humans. Such complicated dens. I don’t see the point. Give me a hole in the ground, I’m good. It’s not classy, but I’m good.

We humans have our quirks. They also involve wanting mattresses.

Oh. I remember the mattress. Mattresses are okay I guess. The fox pauses in chewing Derek’s finger. Do you have a name?

Derek blinks, startled by the change of topic. A name?

Yes, a name. Do you not hear me when I’m talking in your head?

I do, I just- whatever. It’s Derek.

Derrekkk.

I can tell you’re pronouncing it wrong and you aren’t even saying anything aloud.

Whatever, Derrek.

The fox takes to using Derek’s name like a duck takes to water.

Derek! We’re going to go to the place with all the clover now. Come on Derek.

Derek! I don’t know why I bother with you, if you’re going to hog all the best parts.

Derek! No! I don’t wanna go back to the vet, are you crazy? I don’t care, the cast can stay forever, it’s stylish. No. Nooo. Dammit why do you have to be bigger than me? Put me down! Derek. Derek!

Deaton runs a gentle finger down the fox’s left hind leg. “It looks like he healed perfectly. No going out for wild runs just yet though.”

Derek snorts, “you think I can control what he does?”

Deaton gives him an enigmatic look. Derek is quickly learning that most of what Deaton does is enigmatic, like he’s taking his cues from the wizards in old books, holding mystery around him like a floor length cloak.

“And how has your fox been doing... otherwise?”

“He isn’t my fox.”

“Noted. But how has he been doing?”

“Fine...” Derek hedges.

“He hasn’t been especially... communicative as of late?”

Derek stops and stares at Deaton. Does this mean that Derek is sane, or just that they’re both crazy? With Deaton, Derek doesn’t know what to think. He can’t bring himself to trust the man.

“What are you getting at?” Derek growls.

“So he has?”

“Yes.”

“No need to look so accusatory, Derek,” Deaton reassures, “I only wanted to know what the effects of the spelled quartzite would have on a nonhuman mammal.”

“So you’re just using my pa- the fox as your guinea pig?”

“I would have just used one of the guinea pigs if I wanted a guinea pig,” Deaton points out, gesturing in the direction of the animal cages.

“Stop being coy.”

Deaton raises an eyebrow. “I haven’t been called coy in some time. That’s refreshing.”

“What did you do to the fox?!” Derek demands, slamming the table.

Deaton raises his hands, palms out. “It... advances some of the abilities of a regular animal. Humanizes them, in a sense.”

“He was fine just the way he was!”

Are you saying I’m not now? The fox asks testily from his spot on the vet’s table.

You’re fine. Shut up, I’m making a point. Derek shoots back silently.

“I wasn’t expecting much in the way of results,” Deaton says, straightening a few of the tools on the counter, “certainly not to the extent of the telepathic conversations you seem to be having with the fox,” Derek startles. Was it that obvious? “because the animal in question would need to already have a sort of magical spark in order for the quartzite to work on them. But! What’s done is done. Your fox is now slightly more than a fox, and I have my four o’clock now, if you wouldn’t mind moving along.”

Derek lets himself get ushered out of the office dazedly, the fox in his arms.

Am I really that bad? The fox questions softly, I was enjoying talking to you, even if you weren’t, Mr. Grumpy.

Knocking his head against the fox’s, Derek replies, I was just startled. I guess you aren’t that bad.

The fox licks his cheek. You aren’t that bad either.

Now that the fox can use both of his hind legs, he starts walking on them occasionally, balancing on them to reach something Derek has tried to get out of his way. Derek swears that the fox copies him sometimes, snapping his jaw in a mimicry of speech and waving his forepaws around while standing on his back legs.

Stop that.

Why?

It’s creepy.

Oh I’m sorry, the fox rears up higher on his hind legs, is this making you uncomfortable? Is it? Is it, Derek?

Chuckling, Derek pushes the fox’s chest until he falls back onto the unpolished hardwood of the cottage floor. To mollify the fox’s outrage, he scratches his stomach until the fox is chittering in delight.

That is the spot, yes, right there. Ohhh yes. You should just do this all the time.

Derek doesn’t realize until later how long it had been since he laughed.

The cottage is finished just in time for the new year, and while it may be missing little things like furniture, Derek and the fox can finally curl up in front of the fireplace, and it feels so good to be truly warm, not just alright, for the first time in months.

Derek lets the warmth from the fire seep through his fur, into his bones, and stretches, letting his four legs and tail stick as far out as they can before returning to curl around the fox’s back.

Derek! The fire’s going down.

I’m exhausted. I’m not getting up.

Fine, I’ll do it, you big lazy pants.

Wait, hang on, wait!

Visions of the fox falling into the fire, of red fur getting engulfed by red flames, dance in front of Derek’s eyes, and he shifts back into human form, reaching out with his hands to pull the fox away from the fire.

Wait.

The fox is holding the poker, using it to delicately prod one of the pieces of wood into place, a safe distance away from the flames.

How are you doing that?

Aren’t I doing it right? No, I totally am, you’re making me all self-conscious. I’m using the pointy metal thing to move around the logs. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

Right. But you need opposable thumbs to pick the poker up. Derek shifts around on his ass until the fox’s back is no longer to him. He grips one of the fox’s wrists and pulls it closer to him, ignoring the little cry of outrage the fox barks out.

The fox’s arm is lithe and sinewy, covered in red fur that drifts into inky black paws. Derek knows this, the inky black paws like to spend their time walking up and down Derek’s torso while he’s trying to sleep.

So he knows that the fox’s arms do not normally end in tiny, black, five fingered hands, complete with round little nails at the end.

Derek stares at it. Then stares a little more.

The hand eventually reaches up to rub across his face with a velvety furred palm. Are you okay? Derek, I love you, you have to be okay, alright? Is it weird? I guess it’s a bit weird, maybe you like being the only one with hands. A little unfair, but I can work with that-

It’s okay. I’m alright. I was surprised. Although yes, Derek runs a thumb across the tiny palm, I’m a little weirded out. It’s sort of creepy looking.

Creepier than when I walk around on my back paws like you?

Yes.

Is this better? The fur on the fox’s hand retreats, melting into the skin, which turns peachy, like Derek’s own skin, until Derek is holding what looks like a toddler’s hand attached to a wild animal.

No, Derek replies bluntly.

Well then what am I supposed to- oh, I know!

Derek will wonder, after this, if things would have gone differently had they never had this conversation, if Derek had sucked it up and built the fire on his own, or never looked to see how the fox was holding the poker. Or maybe some events are inevitable, and on that January night in their cottage, the time came.

Either way, meant to be or not, the fox arches its back, stretches its legs, clenches its fists, sheds its fur, and transforms into a human.

Derek and the fox stare at each other for a moment. The fox’s eyes are the same shade of amber brown they were before, but now they’re set in a smooth, pale face, dotted with moles that surround an upturned nose and a wide, inviting mouth that looks designed for quirking up into mischievous smiles. The entirety of the fox’s body seems to be made of contrasts: a shock of dark hair wildly pulling away from a pale face, a narrow waist leading into wide shoulders, a teenager’s face, but, nestled between his legs, what is most definitely a man’s-

Jerking his eyes up, Derek focuses back on the fox’s eyes. It doesn’t help, because he can tell that the fox is doing some ogling of his own. Derek can see now why humans don’t generally introduce themselves to each other buck naked. It’s incredibly distracting.

“You,” says the fox, “are very pretty. I didn’t realize when I was a fox, but wow. Just-” he runs a hand down Derek’s torso, “muscles. Hi.”

Apparently the feeling is mutual. That doesn’t stop Derek from grabbing the fox’s wrist before it can venture any lower. He just. He can’t.

“Derek? Is this creepy too? You’re going to need to loosen your creepiness standards a little bit, I think.”

Derek sighs, wrapping his arms around the fox’s waist and pulling him in. So much for an uncomplicated existence. The fox -man- licks his cheek, and a shiver runs down Derek’s spine. There’s a moment when a man realizes he’s in over his head, and this is it.

The fox doesn’t spend all of his time as a human. He tells Derek it would be pointless if Derek is always running around as a wolf. So in a way, their days don’t change. They hunt and roughhouse and run through the woods like always. Only when they get home the fox will shift into his human form to grab food from the mini fridge, or take one of the showers he’s grown so fond of, or curl up into Derek in front of the fireplace.

The fox chews on Derek’s fingers in human form as well, but it’s a thousand times more distracting than when he does it with the sharper teeth of his fox form.

Sometimes Derek can convince the fox to put on one of his pairs of sweatpants, but sometimes the fox doesn’t want to, but lies against him anyway, like the most exquisite torture.

Life goes on. Derek finally gets furniture for the bedroom. Just one mattress. He asks the fox if he wants one of his own, and the fox looks at him like he’s an idiot. He starts getting mail delivered to the house. He pays water and electricity bills. It gets harder to live off of his three sets of clothing, so he buys some more. Derek gets simple things that he doesn’t mind getting dirty, but the fox comes shopping with him and gets a few brightly colored graphic tees of his own. Derek rolls his eyes, but he can’t see the fox in anything else.

The cop car only comes around once a week now.

Derek walks through the living room, tossing the mail onto the fold out dining table. The fox trots across the table to sniff the letters.

I’ve started to figure out this code, he mentions as he gnaws on a catalogue from Sears. Each letter corresponds to a different sound made by human vocal cords. It’s very clever, but I’m picking up on it.

What code? Derek asks, frowning as he glances at the catalogue the fox is chewing on. It’s just written in English. Are you talking about reading?

Is that what you call it? Humans and their fancy words.

You’re half human too now.

I know, I know. Let me feel superior, okay? What I’m trying to say is that I want a name.

The fox and his topic changes. Derek’s conversations with the fox are sometimes like being dragged behind a speedboat, getting whiplash with every sudden turn it makes.

A name, huh?

Yes. You’ve got one, don’t act like it’s all weird.

Where are you gonna get this name?

The fox changes into a human, and oh god, he’s sitting naked on the dining room table, limbs splayed everywhere like he’s been pushed onto it in the throes of passion- stop. Stop it.

Running nimble hands through the mail, the fox grabs an envelope at random and looks at the return address.

“My name will be Stilinck- Stylinsk- Stiles. Call me Stiles,” the fox says, proudly holding the letter to his chest.

Stiles. Derek could see that. What else would the fox be called? Joe? Robert? George? The fox doesn’t fit any normal names, they wouldn’t encompass everything he is. “Stiles” it is.

“Where did you get that from?” Derek asks the f- Stiles, holding his hand out for the letter.

The letter is from the office of Sheriff John Stilinski. Derek’s mind casts back to the brown haired man with the tired eyes that had asked him questions all those months ago. There are worse namesakes. Derek opens the letter.

Mr. Hale, we are informing you that the investigation of Laura Talia Hale’s death has been concluded, as evidence suggests that a large predator from the Beacon Hills preserve was...

His sister. His older sister, dead and gone, long since cremated by the coroner’s office and buried in the backyard under wolfsbane, never to be seen again. And here Derek’s been playing house with her replacement, laughing and joking and acting like the world didn’t end when she did. Derek’s always known that he’s a horrible person, but to let himself forget, for months-

There are hands on his face, holding his chin and cheeks, and a voice in his ear, whispering soothing somethings- shhh, shh, it’s okay, I love you, shh, shhh, breathe, you need to breathe, shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay-

He’s being moved into the bedroom, made to lie down on the forest green blankets that Stiles picked out, getting his ribs slowly crushed by two long arms winding their way around him.

It smells like him and Stiles here. Of long nights spent battling for the sheets when Stiles sleeps in human form. Of shed red hairs that get into everything. Of Stiles curling around Derek’s back for once, saying “I’m your size now. I can do this, no, hold still.”

Derek lowers his nose into Stiles’ hair, breathes in deep, and, since no one is watching, drops a tiny kiss onto the crown of his head.

“Are you feeling better now? I mean, obviously you aren’t perfect, but, you know, are you breathing? Are you still crying?” Stiles runs his hands down Derek’s cheeks. “No. Good. Okay. You had me worried.”

Stiles worries about him. Derek doesn’t think Stiles is lying, but the idea of it seems absurd. Derek worries about others, they don’t worry about him, that’s not how it works. He just doesn’t understand it.

Letting Stiles pet and soothe at him, Derek asks, “you said you loved me?”

“I say that all the time.”

Derek shakes his head. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“...explaaaiiin?”

He’s not sure how. He’s a mess of insecurities and complications, and he doesn’t know how to show that to anyone.

Derek tries starting at the beginning. “Do you know what love is?”

Stiles cocks his head. “I feel like I should be offended by that question. It’s one of the easier words, isn’t it?”

“Well, it all depends-”

“No, it’s like, it’s love. I knew that much even when I was just a fox, and didn’t care about anything but chasing mice. It’s caring about somebody else, and wanting them to be happy, and liking everything about them, or at least liking them enough that the bad parts of them don’t seem that bad. It’s a warm feeling sort of here,” Stiles pats his sternum, “like a full den and a full belly. So, obviously, I love you. Dunno why that’s confusing.”

Derek stares at the ceiling. “I don’t feel like I deserve it. That’s all.”

Suddenly, he’s looking into two angry brown eyes, mere inches from his face. “You listen here, Derek. I don’t care what angsty, grumpy trip you’re on right now, but I’ll tell you, whatever reason you don’t think you deserve it, even if it’s the same reason you were a wolf without a pack when I met you, it’s, it’s bullshit. Yeah. Like, like,” Stiles flails an arm out, waving it as he searches for a word, “you love me, right?”

Stiles is all arms and angry energy, flashing eyes and challenge. Derek can’t lie. “I... I... yes,” he chokes out, soft, his voice suddenly hoarse.

Stiles smiles, slow and warm like summer honey. “That’s how. That’s how I love you, and how anybody does. It’s just, really easy, you know?”

Derek knows, does he ever. That night, he tells Stiles why he was a wolf without a pack, and Stiles doesn’t run away, just licks at his cheek and sends shivers down Derek’s spine and stays. Derek knows.

Sometimes he wonders what happened to the Alpha. He refuses to call it his Alpha. Maybe it’s up to something, maybe it’s moved on. Either way, in his forest bubble with Stiles, he doesn’t have a clue what happened to it. To be honest, Derek doesn’t really want to know. His life is simple: breakfast with Stiles, running around in the woods until dusk, coming home, showering, trying not to stare at Stiles when he steps out of the shower -unabashedly naked, dripping, grinning- dinner -they have actual vegetables now, in the special drawer in the fridge- maybe pay some bills, check the mail, then sleep, splayed across their abused mattress.

It occurs to Derek that there was a time when his simple life was merely sleeping and eating and running. But definitions of simple stretch, and Derek thinks, as Stiles tucks an arm around Derek’s stomach in his sleep, that he doesn’t mind it.

They’re lying on their sides, panting and letting the deer get away when Derek asks, you ever want to try finding your family?

Stiles twists his head to look at Derek. My mom died when I was very little. My dad was shot by poachers.

Oh. I didn’t-

I know. You know, foxes are solitary. Not during mating season, but the rest of the time? They’re pretty much on their own. I was going to leave my parents when I was about seven months old anyway, I just... got a bit of a head start.

Derek tucks a paw over Stiles’ back. It’s their shorthand for reassurance, physical touch. It calms them both down, even if it simultaneously drives Derek a little crazy.

That’s still rough.

I know. Trust me I know.

Bumping his nose against Stiles’ ear, Derek asks hesitantly, you’re a solitary creature?

Stiles manages a shrug with his thin shoulders. His gestures are an amalgamation of fox and human now. Derek has seen Stiles raise a foot to scratch behind his ears, only to realize halfway through that he has fingers now, and he can use them.

Technically, yeah, he answers finally, but I’m also supposed to be looking for a mate right now, and the urge hasn’t hit me. I’ve always been a rule breaker, what can I say? A rebel, a bad boy.

Oh really?

Yes really. Now I know you’re jealous because you’re the one that has the leather jacket-

I barely even wear-

Fine, you’re the badass who walks around naked in the woods, but you’re just going to have to suck it up, because I’m the big kahuna around here now, buddy boy.

Derek doesn’t know where Stiles gets this stuff, he really doesn’t.

The next week, their isolated bubble gets cracked. The fissure comes in the form of the floppy haired boy with an uneven jaw, his friend with the cheekbones, and a steely-eyed girl with red hair that show up at his doorstep. Add these kids to Stiles, and Derek is starting to look like that creepy older guy that only hangs out with teenagers.

“Derek Hale?” the girl asks. She has a matter of fact way of speaking, like she’s checking items off of a list.

“Yes,” Derek answers gruffly, not opening the door further another inch. He’s willing to bet that there’s they’re on some sort of “let’s see what Crazy Old Man Hale in the woods is up to” expedition, and Derek isn’t a roadside attraction.

“Are you a werewolf?” the girl asks.

“Lydia,” uneven jaw boy hisses, “you can’t just ask-”

“I just did, Scott,” Lydia snaps back. “Direct approach. Well?”

Lydia looks like the type that’s used to getting answers. Well, Derek isn’t a lovesick teenage boy that needs her approval. He graduated high school years ago, and he has Stiles, thank you very much.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he grunts. “Go ask your survey questions to someone else.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “We think you might want to know about the Alpha running around Beacon Hills. Unless you actually think they’re mountain lion attacks. But if you do, you’re too stupid for me to deal with, so you’ll have to talk to Scott.”

Scott makes a noise of protest, but Derek is already letting them inside. He doesn’t know anything about mountain lion attacks, but then again, he hasn’t read a newspaper or watched a television in months.

The one with the cheekbones gives Derek a nod in thanks when he’s let through the door. He’s already Derek’s favorite, mostly because he doesn’t talk.

The three teenagers squeeze onto the almost-couch-more-like-a-love-seat-but-Derek-won’t-admit-it that makes up most of the furniture in the living room, when Stiles wanders in from the bedroom at the commotion. He’s naked, of course, since he treats pants like sunscreen -only to be used when absolutely necessary- and Derek gestures violently at him to go get dressed or something.

Since he’s behind the heads of the three newcomers, Stiles’ solution is to shift into a fox and trot into the living room casually as you please.

“Hey there little buddy,” Scott cooes, holding out a hand for Stiles to sniff. “It’s okay,” he assures Derek, “I work at a vet office. So does Isaac, actually,” he adds, gesturing at the blonde boy.

I like him, Stiles announces smugly as his chin gets scratched, he’s my new favorite, sorry Derek.

“If we’re done petting the wild animal,” Lydia says pointedly, shifting her stiletto heels so they’re farther away from Stiles, “we had some questions to ask you about the Alpha.”

Derek sighs, pulling a folding chair away from the dining room table so he isn’t towering over the three kids. “I don’t know anything about him. He... killed my sister, and now I guess he’s attacking others?” At this, Lydia nods, “but I don’t know anything beyond that.”

Scott and Isaac look vaguely put out, but Lydia forges on. “That may be, but we’re going in blind to the werewolf situation. It was only recently that I was able to put together what was going on, and even so, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction when your research is almost exclusively internet based. So, you’re here to be our data mine.”

Derek rubs his temples. “And what if I don’t want to be your data mine?” He’s aching to just go for a run right now, maybe dip his paws in the creek a few miles out and forget this happened.

“Then you’re aiding and abetting a murderer,” Lydia says primly, manicured hands resting on her crossed knees.

Sighing heavily again, Derek glances at Stiles, who walks over to hop onto his lap. You know you don’t really have a choice here, Derek.

I know... it’s just a pain in the ass.

Well, doing the right thing is a pain in the ass sometimes.

Derek looks at Stiles incredulously.

I know, I’m very zen, Stiles acknowledges, I leave pearls of wisdom behind me like breadcrumbs.

“Is he a werefox?” Scott asks eagerly.

“Scott...” Isaac mutters.

“There’s no such thing as werefoxes,” Derek snaps, unconsciously tugging Stiles a little closer. “But yes,” he tells Lydia wearily, “I can help you. What do you need to know?”

Derek gives them every last detail about werewolves and alphas that he can, and sends them on their way as quickly as possible. He hears Isaac murmur to Scott as they leave, “I still say things could have been simpler if you just listened to me and left all of this creepy stuff alone.”

Laughing ruefully in the back of his throat, Derek collapses back onto the loves- couch. A bunch of teenage supernatural sleuths. It’s like some kind of ridiculous fringe TV show, or a stupid made for TV movie.

Stiles curls up on his chest. Mountain lion attacks huh? Seems like something we should have known about. I’m not saying you’ve got to know about each and every news item to hit the... news places, but maybe keeping track of a little-

Fine, fine.

So Derek buys a laptop. It’s a far cry from the old desktop that he and Laura shared back in New York, with all sorts of exciting features! and wifi capabilities! and retina display! It takes him forever to set up, and then figure out how to get wifi connected to the damn thing, and while it’s a pain in the ass to sort through his old emails and debate whether or not to get a facebook -who is he kidding, it’s a quick and easy no- Stiles loves it. It’s common now for Derek to have to close the laptop lid on Stiles’ rapidly tapping fingers so they can both get some damn sleep, or for Stiles to make little noises as he reads something online, little “ooohhhs” and “no, that’s- huh. Weird.” Occasionally he’ll look up from the laptop and give Derek a long, searching look before tapping away at something else.

Derek will never admit to being jealous of a laptop. He just wonders if maybe it could use some parental controls.

But pack mates don’t exert parental controls on other pack mates, so Derek leaves it be. He’s pretty sure Stiles could find a way around them in a matter of minutes anyway.

There’s a click to Derek’s left, and he glances over the bed to see Stiles closing the laptop -voluntarily, for once- and setting it on the floor beside the bed.

“Read anything interes-”

Stiles’ lips are pressing, warm and dry, against Derek’s. They press against his for one, two, three seconds, and Derek doesn’t know if he should reciprocate or not. He wants to, god he does, has thought about what it would be like, imagined the scenarios that would play out, where his hands would go first -he usually decides on Stiles’ cheek, but will mix it up depending on his mood that day- but Stiles’ lips are still against his, and Derek doesn’t want to freak him out by shoving his tongue into Stiles’ mouth, as much as he wants to.

When Stiles pulls back, his expression is appraising, and he lightly touches a finger to his own lips, then to Derek’s, as if testing them.

“I was doing it wrong this whole time, apparently,” Stiles says, ruefully running a hand through his hair, “with the licking. I guess you weren’t really a fan of that. All saliva-y and stuff.”

“I didn’t mind,” Derek replies hoarsely. He’s still flat on his back, tucked under the blankets, and he feels like he’s supposed to be jumping, running, something, but he’s just stock still.

Stiles shrugs, leaning in to lick Derek’s temple like he’s done for almost a year. He has to brace his arms on either side of Derek’s head to do it, and all Derek can smell is Stiles, Stiles, Stiles. Then he ducks down and presses another chaste kiss to Derek’s lips, and Derek still doesn’t have the nerve to cup that soft cheek in the palm of his hand.

“Goodnight,” he murmurs, leaning down to rest his head on Derek’s shoulder. “I love you.”

Stiles falls asleep like he’s being hit over the head with something, almost violent in its suddenness, so Derek quickly finds himself alone in their dark bedroom, listening to the slow motion of Stiles’ heart. It’s a scene he’s seen before, a goodnight kiss, an I love you, falling asleep in each other’s arms. Derek loves Stiles and Stiles loves Derek.

But Derek wishes, in the quiet, in the concealing blackness, with this wild creature in his arms, that their definitions of it weren’t so different.

Cupping a hand over Stiles’ cheek briefly, Derek falls asleep too, and has dreams that are wishes.

“I’ve never read a book,” Stiles notes as they shift back into humans and tread back into the house, being careful to wipe their feet off at the door. “I mean, I’m not great at reading yet, but I wonder if it would be different, or at least less distracting, to read one of the paper ones. The internet is so distracting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s mana from the gods, but it is super hard to focus on anything when there’s wikipedia. Also, I call first shower.”

Derek flicks Stiles’ arm in irritation. “I’ll have to renew my library card. But now that I have a permanent address, it shouldn’t be too hard.”

Stiles grins, grabs Derek’s neck and gives him a kiss before flitting off to the bathroom, pulling twigs out of his hair.

Derek rubs at his chest. It’s incredibly cheesy to feel an ache there, he knows. That doesn’t stop it from happening. Stiles has been getting better at kissing, figuring out how to bend his head, how long to press and with what pressure. If Stiles ever figures out that he can open his mouth, and Derek’s too, then Derek just might have a heart attack.

He’d die happy though.

Stiles is singing in the shower, snippets of the Batman theme song. It’s clear he only half knows the words, and Stiles is ridiculously tone deaf, but Derek nods his head to the unsteady beat of the song anyway as he looks up how to renew his library card.

It’s a night like any other night when Derek wakes up, gasping, his eyes burning and his fingers aching like he’s going through puberty again, just figuring out how to deal with his claws. Stiles yowls in disapproval as he’s knocked off of Derek’s chest, but quickly changes into a human when he sees Derek’s distress.

“Woah,” he stutters as he holds the sides of Derek’s face. “Your eyes are red. They’re not supposed to do that, are they? They’re supposed to be blue. Is this like pinkeye for werewolves? Except that doesn’t make any sense...”

Derek grips Stiles’ hands and concentrates on them. Stiles has been his anchor for a while now, and he just needs to breathe, smell Stiles’ familiar forest scent, and try to let the feeling of sheer power rolling through his veins get tamped down.

“I’m... I’m the Alpha now,” Derek says in astonishment. The words are correct, he knows, but it feels so odd to say them. He was never meant to be the Alpha, and his eyes were never meant to glow anything but blue, and yet here he is. It follows a pattern, at least. Most of what happens to Derek he never expects.

Stiles asks the next question on Derek’s mind, which is “how?”

The Alpha must have been killed, Derek reasons, trying to follow the complex lines of Alpha lineage rules that his mother taught him years ago; when he was bored and stupid and sure that it would never matter beyond the fact that his lame older sister would be his Alpha one day. The Alpha must have been killed, and by a human, if the killer isn’t the one getting the Alpha power. So probably one of the intrepid teenagers that occasionally show up on his doorstep or send him a pestering email. But when Alphas are killed by humans, their betas become omegas, Derek knows this from countless horror stories about packs disintegrated by hunters. The only other option is that the Alpha power goes to the next werewolf of blood relation, so by that logic-

Peter.

His uncle, the one with the wicked grin and wry jokes that would give Derek books like “100 Dirty Words in Spanish,” and who gave Derek a hard time whenever he got him to confess his latest crush in school. His uncle who had been in the hospital for years, who Derek had visited once and only once, because Peter was as good as dead, so what was the point in watching his breathing corpse?

Apparently he should have been keeping a closer watch. His uncle, the one who played a third of a part in raising him, took a sharp left turn somewhere and started attacking people. Killing Laura. Ripping her apart and leaving her in the woods for someone to find, without even a wreath of wolfsbane around her neck.

And now he’s dead. Dead and gone and Derek officially has no family left at all, no blood linking him to another human being, just a sense of bereavement and Stiles.

Stiles.

Stiles who is straddling his lap, alternating between desperately looking into his eyes and licking his cheek in reassurance. Stiles is shaking, rubbing his hands down Derek’s arms, but stopping short of where massive claws sprout from his white-knuckled hands.

“Come back, where did you go, Derek...” Stiles is murmuring, licking along Derek’s cheek until he’s pressing kiss after kiss against Derek’s lips, hanging onto him and trying to get him to snap out of it.

Derek only has so much control. And this, Stiles’ knees pressing into Derek’s hips, his mouth pushing against Derek’s over and over, like he can’t get enough, just keeps going and going and shifting around naked in Derek’s lap so they occasionally press up against each other in a way that sends sparks flying up Derek’s spine- Derek doesn’t have the control for that.

Stiles falls silent. He looks down, shifting to see what he’s sitting on. Shit.

“Derek,” he says slowly, “do you want to mount me?”

At Derek’s silence, Stiles adds, “or fuck. I guess that’s a more human word for it. Fuck.”

Derek wants to do neither of those things. He wants to make love to Stiles like they’re in some stupid Nicholas Sparks movie, but Derek just nods, gulping. He shouldn’t be doing this, not when Stiles thinks it’s something other than it is: just for fun, or a base interaction of bodies, but Derek’s whole family is dead and he’s shaking apart, and can’t he just for once let himself go?

“Because there’s a way to do it,” Stiles says, making plans now, “I read about it, looked it up actually, but there were some... weird websites. Do you know how?”

Derek thinks about faceless people in grimy nightclubs in New York, grappling drunkenly in back alleys, backseats, and yes. He can show Stiles how.

So he does.

Afterwards, he keeps Stiles draped across him -sweaty and sated, a better blanket than anything made out of cotton- and feels guilty. He knows he won’t forget this, is filing away the faces Stiles made, even the silly ones, the way he gasped, then grinned and bounced up and down harder, energetic in everything he does. But that doesn’t change the fact that Derek has taken something from Stiles that Stiles didn’t mean to give. Stiles, who afterwards had pulled himself free, given Derek one of his customary pecks, and said cheerfully, “I enjoyed that. Ten out of ten,” and fallen asleep like it was just another game the two of them played. A roughhouse in the woods, the chasing of a tail.

Meanwhile a part of Derek is going off on a tangent without his permission, thinking about what it would be like. Going slow and soft in the evenings after a long day, or sleepy and laughing in the mornings, trying to avoid each other’s morning breath, but then giving up and not caring. Whispers of affection into ears, tempered by their teasing, the rapport they’ve built up.

The next morning Stiles straddles him again, intent in his eyes, and it’s good, it’s so good, but it’s just bodies.

Derek used to want to just be a body. No emotions, just run, hunt, sleep. He wonders when that changed.

Lydia shows up a few days later. “Are you the Alpha?” she asks. Just another mark on the checklist.

Derek nods.

“Just checking. If you start running around killing people-”

“I won’t.”

Lydia raises an eyebrow. “Alright. But I’m still warning you. I have suspicions that my best friend’s family are werewolf hunters, and I will call them on you if you put one toe out of line.”

“Understood.” The Alpha within Derek bristles at being ordered around so matter-of-factly, but it’s easier to suppress now.

The back door creaks as Stiles walks in, fresh from a run in the woods, a vole in hand. He’s covered in dirt, and not wearing a stitch of clothing.

Lydia takes it all in stride. “Put some clothes on,” she snaps, not bothering to blush.

Stiles hops to with a swiftness that Derek has seen only one other time, when Stiles got too friendly with a hornet’s nest. He grabs a blanket from the back of the loveseat and wraps it around his waist.

“Sorry,” he grimaces. “I’m a werefox though, does that give me any leeway?”

Lydia looks at Derek disapprovingly. “I guess somebody wasn’t telling us everything.”

“I told you everything about werewolves.”

“Cute,” Lydia mutters. “But I need to go do more important things. Goodbye. Oh,” she says before she leaves, “and Isaac wants to talk to you. He’s the blonde one.”

“I know,” Derek tells the closing door.

Stiles whistles lowly. “She is one hell of a girl.”

“I know.”

“No nonsense.”

“I know.”

“Smart.”

“I know.”

“Pretty.”

Stiles’ voice is awestruck, and Derek sees where Stiles is going with this, and he swallows once, twice, then agrees, “I know,” and leaves the room.

He wolfs out, his wolf form the size of a small horse now with the Alpha power. He’d expected his form to be more twisted, to match his psyche, but instead he just came out as a larger, red-eyed wolf. He has Stiles to thank for that, and a dozen other things.

Derek makes it a few yards past the tree line when a ball of orange fur races out in front of him and sits on his front paw. Derek is stronger now: he can still step forward with Stiles clinging to his paw. So he does.

Stiles yells in pain, and Derek stops walking, stooping to see what the matter is.

Stiles is fine, jaw cracked in a cocky grin. Looks like he figured out a way to stop Derek from moving. Nobody ever said foxes weren’t cunning. Shifting into human form, Stiles reaches up to loop his arms around Derek’s neck.

“Just hold your horses, buddy,” Stiles admonishes, patting a hand across Derek’s flank, “Now we are going to have a nice civilized conversation about what exactly is going on in here.” Stiles taps Derek’s skull with two knuckles. “I swear, you’ve been speaking English your entire life and I can still use it better than you. What is this world coming to, Derek?”

Not right now, Stiles.

“Nuh-uh, mister. Now you tell me, why are you so upset?”

Can we just leave this for a-

“No, because if we do, then you’ll start stewing, and it’ll just get worse and worse until you’re one big pot of boiling Derek angst.”

Leave me alone Stiles. Go talk to Lydia or something. It’s Derek’s petulance, the way he sounds like a broken hearted teenager, that gives him away.

“Wh-Lydia? Why are you upset about her?”

I’m not. It’s perfectly natural Stiles, you’re allowed to feel things about her.

Stiles’ face scrunches up in confusion. “I get the feeling that ‘things’ means something significant here, but I don’t know what, because it’s a veeeerrry ambiguous term, you know that right?”

Derek snorts in irritation, and it blows Stiles’ hair back. The miscommunication is more painful than anything else. If you want to go mate with Lydia. Go. Mate. With. Lydia. It’s fox mating season, isn’t it? Derek takes a step forward, but ends up dragging Stiles, still latched around his neck, along with him.

“I thought I was mating with you!” Stiles shouts in frustration, trying to twist around to see Derek’s face, “or, you know, fucking or whatever you want to call it.”

Stiles stumbles as Derek shifts back, suddenly getting shorter by a foot or two. “We were fucking-”

“Were?” Stiles cuts in indignantly.

“We were fucking,” Derek carries on doggedly, “but we aren’t... it’s, it’s like-” he throws up his hands in frustration, “it’s just sex. And that’s... not. All I want.”

Tilting his head, Stiles prompts testily, “go onnn...”

Huffing out a breath, Derek gives up on words. He cups Stiles’ cheek, and leans in close, looks into his amber brown eyes and touches their lips together. Lets himself give into the kiss for once, do it for all of the nights keeping each other warm, for the times Derek has looked at Stiles and thought, yes, this, for the way that Stiles dragged him into the real world and made him glad for it. He licks into Stiles’ mouth, and Stiles opens with a gasp, clutching at Derek’s shoulders. Derek clutches right back, revels in the way they cling to each other. Gravity has stopped working, and they only have each other to anchor themselves. When Derek pulls away, after who knows how long, they’re both panting, and Stiles goes “ohhhh,” like the sun has just come out from behind clouds, and he can finally see where the light has been coming from.

“You wanna...” Stiles pants, “show me that again?”

So he does.

The second time they pull apart, Stiles leans his forehead against Derek’s, and murmurs, “you want that? I can give you that.”

“I don’t think you know what I want,” Derek protests. Hell, he barely knows what he wants.

Stiles makes a scoffing noise. “I’m pretty sure we want the same thing. It’s simple.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, if you could just pull your pretty face out of your angst pile for one second! I want you,” Stiles bumps his nose against Derek’s in case it isn’t clear who he’s talking about, “and me, and for us to be together, and love each other and have lots of sex or whatever you want to call it and for us to live for a very long time, but especially you, and I want our little almost pack to stick together and I want our den to hold up and to sleep next to you in it and I want you to be happy, I want you to be really happy, because that makes me happy. Hell, Derek. I want that forever, and you, and I’d have kits with you if we could do that, and I would even do that human thing with the little gold rings if you asked me to. But yeah, so that’s what I want. Is that what you want?”

Derek tries to speak, but he can’t. He settles for nodding around the lump in his throat. Nodding and nodding and nodding.

“Sweet.” Stiles ducks in for a kiss, and he lets himself linger. “I think we’ve already got part of it anyway, we just couldn’t tell because I’m so bad at being human.”

“You... um, you aren’t too bad at it.”

Chortling, Stiles bumps Derek’s shoulder with his own. “I’m better than you. That’s not saying much.”

Isaac shows up a few days later, lanky and nervous on the minuscule front porch.

“Dereeeekk,” Stiles moans into Derek’s shoulder.

“What? You’re ready to go again? I can’t keep up with you if-”

“No, there’s someone at the door, didn’t you hear?”

Derek swears, then gets up to start rooting around for pants. “I was distracted.”

“Yeah you were,” Stiles crows smugly, digging himself into the blankets and smirking. “Now go,” he flaps a hand imperiously, “attend to the visitor.”

Isaac gets let in, and, refusing to stand, explains why he’s there while pacing around the living room, hands constantly twitching.

Derek calls Stiles into the living room.

Grumbling quietly to himself, Stiles emerges, wrapped in a toga of blankets. “...why I’m never dressed when people come over, I don’t...”

Isaac’s eyes bulge a little at the sight of Stiles, so Derek has to explain the werefox thing again. Stiles rolls his eyes the whole time because he’s decided that “werefox” is a “stupid and inaccurate term.”

After explaining why Isaac came to them, Derek asks, “so? What do you think?”

Tapping one long finger against his lips, Stiles says slowly, “I think we could do with another Beta. And I think he could do with us. Kind of a mutually beneficial relationship sort of thing.”

Isaac smiles. It’s a sudden thing, a brief explosion of joy that he quickly covers up again out of habit. It’s a habit Derek is planning on breaking.

Raising a hand, Stiles says, “but! We’re still calling the police on your dad. I like the sound of that Stilinski guy, plus, werewolf powers can only help you so much. I mean, look at this guy,” he teases, jerking his head towards Derek.

When Isaac gets the bite, and flashes glowing yellow eyes hesitantly for the first time, Derek finds himself thinking about the future for the first time in a long time. They could have a pack, him and Stiles. Maybe find a few other people who would benefit from the bite, take it as a gift, and grow a little family. They could expand on the cottage if they had to, add some rooms. Derek should probably get an actual job at some point, the insurance money would only go so far if it were supporting a pack. Then come the thoughts of what it would be like on full moons, a chorus of howls, accompanied by a laryngitic bark or two, or of all piling together in a mess of brown and grey and black and red fur.

He likes this plan.

So Derek’s life is simple: he and Stiles move forward.