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The Wolf That Heard Crying

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There was someone in Derek's house. He was on his way back from a hunt, licking blood from his muzzle when he heard the sound of smashing wood coming from inside. Derek snarled quietly, leaping up onto the back deck without a sound. He was sick of chasing teenagers away from the house, sick of finding them breaking the rotten furniture, sick of finding them fucking on the dirty floor. That was the worst, because it took hours for the scent of hormones to fade from the house, leaving him horny and on edge. He hated when they left the condoms behind and he had to move them while trying not to touch them at the same time, the taste of latex and spunk sour in his mouth. He knew the house was in bad shape and it was conveniently located far outside of town, but really? Wasn't there somewhere better to have sex than a half-burned, mildewy shell of a house?

Derek paused in the doorway to the living room, eyes burning red in the dim light. The boy whacking the wall with a moldy piece of timber was different than the ones who had come before. He wasn't laughing, wasn't enjoying himself as pieces of rotten flew from both the wall and the wood in his hands. He smelled of sadness and desperation and anger, and when the piece of wood in his hands finally splintered the boy sank to his knees and cried.

Derek backed away quietly. It might have been years since he was human, but he recognized the grief pouring off the boy, the need to hurt and rage and feel. He'd felt it for months after Laura died. He wouldn't drive the boy away. Not today.

In the days following, Derek picked up the boy's scent several times all over the preserve. He followed his scent trails, which meandered without purpose, reeking of unhappiness. He found the boy once or twice, followed him through the woods at a distance, strangely worried about this sad outsider. Sometimes the boy stopped for a while, sitting under a tree and staring off into the middle distance, his mouth set in a thin, miserable line. Sometimes he cried. Derek lay in the underbrush and watched him, wondering if it would be safe to approach. He felt the weirdest need to comfort the kid. It had been a long time since he'd been in a human's presence and he missed people sometimes. He missed talking, laughing, touching. He missed his family, their loss a gaping hole in his heart, and maybe that was why he wanted to comfort the boy, because he could feel the same sense of loss radiating from him. He knew, far too well, the pain of being alone.

One day Derek was patrolling the edge of the property when he picked up the scent of the boy and, almost in the same breath, the scent of another werewolf. Derek's hackles rose; the were smelled sour, unwashed, unhealthy, and dangerous, and the boy's scent was heading right in the other wolf's direction.

Derek burst into a sprint, dashing through the trees to find the boy before the other wolf did. He found him before too long, jumping from rock to rock in a shallow stream bed. The boy heard him coming, whipped his head around to see Derek come crashing through the bushes on the bank. He yelped at the sight of him, a massive black-brown wolf bursting through the bracken, and overbalanced, landing in the stream with a splash. Derek ignored his splutter of surprise, craning his head around, looking for the other were. There were noises off in the distance; the unfamiliar werewolf had heard the boy fall and was headed in their direction. Derek huffed urgently at the boy, sliding down the embankment to join him in the stream.

"Whoa, whoa," the boy said frantically, scuttling backward like a crab. "Holy shit, you're huge! Stay where you are, that's a good boy."

Derek huffed again, ears flickering around as he listened to the other wolf approach. It wasn't moving cautiously at all, which made him worry that it was rabid, and that meant double trouble. He approached the boy, smelling fear spike through his misery and bumped his head against the kid's shoulder, trying to make himself as small as possible, unthreatening.

The boy breathed out shakily. "Okay," he muttered, bringing one hand up to touch Derek's back. Derek twisted his head to watch the embankment worriedly. He wasn't going to be able to get the kid up in time; the other werewolf was upon them.

The boy lifted his head, catching the noise of the approaching creature. He scrambled to his feet. Derek tried to push him backward, leaning heavily against his legs but the boy pushed back, distracted by the sound of the were crashing through the trees.

"Hello?" the boy called. He tried to climb up the embankment but it was slick with mud and his feet slid back into the stream. "Hey, is this your dog?"

The werewolf appeared at the top of the slope with a snarl, face already shifted, eyes burning blue. An omega, hungry and ignorant that this was Hale territory. The boy froze, his mouth falling open, his scent suddenly overwhelmingly strong with terror. Derek growled loudly, leaping up the embankment, paws scrabbling for purchase on the muddy ground, eyes burning red.

“Alpha!” the omega howled in terror, scrambling backward at the sight of him, scent changing from aggression to fear. Derek chased him through the woods, snapping at his heels. He could have killed the omega, but was worried about the boy in the stream. He stopped at the edge of the forest, tilting his head back and letting out a howl that would keep the omega running until he was a long, long way from the Hale territory.

When Derek returned to the stream the boy was still there, sitting on a rock looking pale. He smelled like sweat and panic and confusion and Derek slid down the bank carefully, not wanting to scare him further.

The boy looked up when Derek's paws splashed into the water. "What was that thing?" he whispered, and Derek could hear his heart hammering in his chest. "It kind of looked like a vampire from Buffy, but a lot hairier. Oh my god. I always thought it'd be kind of cool if Beacon Hills was a Hellmouth, but I take that back completely."

Derek stepped closer, tail wagging faintly. The boy held out a hand and Derek sniffed his fingers delicately. Under the scent of terror and mud, the boy smelled like cotton and sugar. The smell tugged oddly at Derek's heart and he nosed along the boy's arm, digging his face into his armpit. The boy laughed, and Derek relaxed at the way relief came pouring off him.

"Did you scare that thing away for me?" the boy asked, rubbing his long fingers behind Derek's ears. Derek sighed, resting his chin on the boy's thigh. "Thanks for watching out for me."

The boy sat quietly for a while, scratching at Derek's neck. Derek listened to the boy's heartbeat steady and sat calmly, even though the water of the stream was cold enough to numb his ass. He liked this boy, felt pulled to him for some reason. He didn't want him to leave. Derek sighed again.

"So you've got no collar," the boy mused. "Who do you belong to, huh? You're way too handsome to be running around on your own." Derek gave a pleased wriggle at that and the boy laughed again. "You already know that, don't you? Well, I guess I should probably try to find your owner. Will you come with me?"

The boy got to his feet and Derek backed away, suddenly conflicted. He was a werewolf - a person, not a dog. He didn't belong to anyone. Yet...he wanted to go with this boy desperately, and he didn't know why. The boy's hurt hurt him, for some reason. And he'd been alone for so long. Surely a little human companionship wouldn't hurt.

So Derek followed the boy obligingly, padding through the forest at his side. The boy had a car, an old sky blue Jeep, and Derek stared at it, certain he'd seen it before. He probably had, and the boy too, back when he had a human life – he looked vaguely familiar. The boy opened the back door and made an encouraging noise. It took no effort on Derek's part to hop in.

"Very nice," the boy said approvingly, shutting the door behind him. Derek laid down as the boy drove off down the road, listening to him make a phone call.

“I know you’re at work, that’s why I called! I found a dog in the woods and I wanted you to see if it’s got a chip or whatever. Maybe Deaton will recognize it?”

Derek’s ears pricked forward at Deaton’s name. He’d completely forgotten about the vet, an old friend of his father’s. Deaton probably could have helped him years ago. God, he was an idiot sometimes.

“Oh, he’s not?” the boy asked. “Well, you know what you’re doing, right? Theoretically? Okay, no, shut up before I lose all faith in you. Listen to what I saw.”

Derek listened to the boy describe the other werewolf and thought it was kind of endearing how honest he was. Some people might have tried to embellish the experience, but not this boy.

“I thought I was going to shit myself, I swear to god. I—Oh, we’re here. See you in a sec.”

Stiles whipped into the parking lot of the veterinary office, yanking the Jeep into park with a lurch. He jumped out and came around to the back to open the door for Derek, who hopped out and obediently followed him inside. The smell of disinfectant burned Derek’s nose and he sneezed, making the boy giggle. Somewhere out back, dogs set up a cacophony of barking and Derek hunched his shoulders. They knew what he was. The tanned boy waiting in the lobby did too.

“Stiles!” he cried. “That’s a wolf!”

Derek’s boy – Stiles, he thought – made a disbelieving noise. “Yeah right, Scott,” he said scornfully. “You think a wolf would just follow me like this?”

“So it’s a hybrid, maybe,” the other boy said. “They’re still illegal!”

Stiles looked down at Derek, who sat down politely and leaned his weight against Stiles’ legs. Look at me, he tried to exude. I’m a perfectly harmless dog that maybe kind of looks like a wolf. Stiles stabbed a finger down at him and said, “You think this is a wolf.”

Scott gave up with an exasperated sigh. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s a mutt. Come on.”

Derek snorted scornfully, but followed Stiles and the other boy into an examining room. He leapt up on the examining table before anyone asked, giving Stiles’ friend a smug look. The boy scowled and picked up a scanner and passed it over Derek’s shoulders and neck. He shook his head. “I’m not picking up anything.”

Stiles reached out absently and scratched at Derek’s ears. “You think I could keep him?”

Scott shrugged. “He’s not in the system. But your dad—” He cut himself off hurriedly, a look of horror crossing his face. “I mean, obviously—”

Derek lifted his head at the sudden unhappiness rushing from Stiles, but the boy smiled a brittle, fake smile and said, “He liked dogs – he was always sneaking treats to the K9s at the station.” Stiles looked down at Derek, the scent of his misery suffocating. Derek whined. “Ms. Morrell said it would be good for me to have someone else in the house.”

“I’m not sure she meant a dog,” Scott said, then quickly added, “but I think it’d be nice. Really nice. Awesome.”

Stiles nodded, but he’d lost the good cheer he’d had in the car. Derek could see the sad slump of his shoulders, the unhappy tuck in the corner of his mouth. He licked at Stiles’ wrist gently, tongue scraping over his pulse point.

“I’m sorry, dude,” Scott said softly. “I really didn’t – look, I’m out of here soon. Do you want to come over and play Mass Effect?”

“No,” Stiles replied shortly. “I’m just going to go home. I got stuff to do.”

Derek heard the lie in his voice, and maybe Scott could too, because he said, “Stiles, come on.”

Stiles shook his head and forced a small smile. “Tomorrow, okay? Thanks for looking at him,” he added, gesturing at Derek. Derek took his cue and jumped down to the floor.

“Yeah, sure,” Scott said helplessly. “Text me if you change your mind, okay?”

Stiles lifted a shoulder, already turning toward the door. Outside, he leaned his forehead against the steering wheel, taking a few deep breaths before sitting up. Derek watched him worriedly, head hanging over the back seat. Stiles drove quite sedately to a house in the suburbs and let Derek range around the front yard for a few minutes, sniffing out the boundaries of the property. The boy sat on the front steps watching him, sadness radiating from him. Derek trotted over to him and slammed his head against his chest, sending him sprawling back against the steps.

“Hey!” Stiles protested, a smile breaking out onto his face. “Easy, dude!”

Derek panted at him, grabbing his shirt in his teeth and pulling until Stiles was forced to his feet. Once he was standing, Derek banged his head against his knees until Stiles lunged at him. Derek bounded away and Stiles chased, laughing. They ran around the house in circles, Stiles pursuing Derek one direction, Derek chasing him back the other. Eventually Stiles collapsed in the deep grass in the backyard. Derek stood over him protectively, panting contentedly. He felt good – better than he had in a while. It felt nice to spend time with someone, to feel like he could change someone’s day for the better. The misery had settled back inside Stiles, faint now, covered by the scent of exhilaration and healthy sweat and Derek was proud, because he had done that.

Stiles, laying on his back, reached a hand up to scratch Derek on the chin. “What am I going to call you?” he mused. “Should I even call you anything? I guess I should make some found posters, but I don’t really want to. Is that selfish? That’s probably selfish. You’ve got someone sitting at home missing you and here I am trying to steal you.” Stiles rolled onto his stomach with a groan and got to his feet. “C’mon inside; I’ll give you the grand tour.”

Stiles’ house was very quiet. It felt almost empty, abandoned. The living room seemed the most lived-in; a nest of blankets and pillows on the couch seemed to suggest that Stiles slept down here most nights, rather than his bedroom on the second floor, which smelled like Stiles and dust. There was another bedroom down the hall that Stiles didn’t show him, but Derek sniffed at the door as they passed. The room smelled like an older version of Stiles, more worn and smelling strongly of spices.

They ended up back in the kitchen, where Stiles got him a bowl of water and he did his best to drink it without slopping water all over the floor. Stiles watched him bemusedly.

“We’ll have to get you some stuff tomorrow,” he said. “I forgot about dog food. You good with hamburger for tonight?”

Derek put his head on Stiles’ knee, breathing warm against his hand. Stiles sighed softly. “I really hope you don’t belong to anyone.”

While Derek inhaled a bowl of raw hamburger mixed with some rice Stiles had added in for good measure, the doorbell rang. Derek picked up his head, abandoning his food to follow Stiles down the front hall, ready to protect him if necessary. He could feel the human on the other side of the door, though, radiating concern as Stiles opened the front door. It was a middle-aged woman holding a casserole dish in her arms.

“Oh,” Stiles said. “Hi, Mrs. Mahealani.”

“Stiles,” she said kindly, offering him the dish. “We had extras and I thought – you might be hungry.”

“Thanks,” Stiles said politely. “I really appreciate it. I’ll give the dish back to Danny when I see him?”

“All right,” the woman agreed, and her eyes fell on Derek. “Oh! What a beautiful dog!”

“Thanks,” Stiles said again, a little more enthusiastically. “I got him today. From the pound. He’s not a wolf,” he added convincingly.

“He looks like he’ll be a good friend,” the woman said, giving Derek a soft smile. “Well, I’ll be going. Good night, Stiles.”

“Night,” Stiles echoed, closing the door. He gave the dish in his hands a weary look. “I wish they’d stop,” he told Derek, heading for the kitchen. “I’m running out of room.”

When he opened the fridge, Derek saw this was true; the space was crammed with covered dishes, bowls, tureens of food. He wondered why Stiles had so much food, and why he didn’t look pleased to have any of it. Stiles ate some of it anyway, a weird mix-match from every container – roast chicken, asparagus, beans, beef, potatoes. He ate quickly and without relish, only smiling when he offered a piece of chicken to Derek, who took it delicately between his front teeth, careful not to catch Stiles’ fingers.

Derek could feel the misery building in Stiles again as they settled into the living room later, the boy nestling himself into his fort of blankets. He patted the couch beside him, offering space to Derek. Derek spread himself out on top of Stiles’ legs, head resting on the boy’s stomach. Stiles kept a hand on him as they watched television, fingers scratching aimlessly. Derek felt the pressure build in the room as Stiles’ emotions swelled and he braced himself for the crest of the wave, but it never came – Stiles fell asleep before his misery could hit full-force.

Derek watched his face relax in slumber and wondered what the hell he was doing. He told himself not to get attached to the boy and then he asked why not? It wasn’t like he had anywhere to go, anything he needed to be doing. He knew that there was something missing in Stiles’ life that brought him an immense amount of grief, and Derek could give him all the support and love he could, just as he knew that Stiles could do the same. Laura always said his heart was too big, but he couldn’t stand to see people in pain. He and Stiles could help each other; he was sure of it.

-

The next day, Stiles woke up around ten and went for a run with Derek, who'd been awake for hours. Derek enjoyed himself, and he could tell Stiles enjoyed himself as well, smelled the health and good spirits rolling off of him. When they got home Stiles took a shower and ate breakfast and then created the vaguest found poster in existence. It just said "found dog," in barely legible handwriting, and Stiles' phone number. Derek approved.

"I'm a bad person," Stiles said, scribbling out a few more copies. "I'm going to get run out of town for being a dog thief. You think?" he said to Derek, who laid his head on Stiles' knee. Derek licked at Stiles' hands, still tasting faintly of maple syrup from the toaster waffles he'd been eating. Stiles sighed a little sadly and rubbed at his ears before getting to his feet.

They left the house again, driving into town this time. Derek sat in the car, watching Stiles haphazardly staple posters onto telephone poles. Then they went to the pet store, which Derek disliked greatly; it smelled of too many other animals and people, and all the animals in their cages went mad when he came in. The people who worked there loved him, though, and he sat patiently while they crowded around petting him, watching Stiles wander in and out of the aisles, arms laden. He spent far too much money, but he seemed happy.

In the afternoon, Stiles brought him to Scott's house and Derek sprawled on Scott's bed - with a dark look from him - while the boys sat on the floor and played video games until it got dark out. Scott talked a lot - a lot more than Stiles, anyway - mostly about his girlfriend, to which Stiles made a lot of noncommittal noises. He smelled content, though, and Derek relaxed, drifting in and out of sleep. Laura would have laughed at him for "going native," but he didn't care. It wasn't like there was much of a life in his burned out house.

The boys ate pizza and Stiles got a bag of dog food out of the Jeep to feed Derek. They took a walk around the neighborhood in the dimming light and Derek enjoyed himself greatly by slinking off when they weren’t looking, then springing out of the shadows at them. Scott screamed once and Stiles nearly peed himself laughing. If Derek could have laughed, he would have.

When it was well and truly dark, they went back to Scott’s house and the boys played video games late into the night. Derek fell asleep with his head in Stiles’ lap. He woke briefly when the boys gave up and went to bed, stretching out on the hardwood floor with a groan before falling back asleep.

He woke later in the night, the sound of Stiles’ heartbeat cutting through his dreams like a battering ram. Derek picked his head off the floor, ears turning to catch the sound. Stiles was still asleep but he was dreaming, heart hammering, scent beginning to smell of sour fear and sweat. Derek got to his feet and put his head over the side of the bed, nosing at Stiles’ arm until the boy woke with a gasp. Derek licked at his skin, huffing quietly.

“Shit,” Stiles muttered, sitting up in bed. Derek backed away as he swung his feet to the floor and stumbled into the bathroom. Derek sat down and waited, listening to the sound of water running and Stiles’ heartbeat beginning to slow. The boy reemerged a few minutes later and he paused before going back to bed, getting down on one knee before Derek.

“Thanks, buddy,” he said softly, reaching out gently and rubbing at Derek’s ears. “That was a bad one.”

Derek watched him climb back into bed, careful not to disturb Scott. He watched Stiles until he fell asleep, and for a long time after that, until he was sure the boy was sleeping soundly and peacefully.

-

The week wore on. No one called to claim Derek, which made Stiles happy. He called Derek “Beast,” which wasn’t as stupid as some of the names he and Scott sat around dreaming up. Stiles gave him a bath, which Derek pretended to resist but secretly enjoyed – he hadn’t felt truly clean since before the fire.

Stiles seemed to have found him during the tail end of some sort of vacation, because a few days after he brought Derek home, he started going back to school. The first day back, Stiles stood in the bathroom for a long time, watching himself in the mirror. Derek sat outside the bathroom door and smelled the sorrow rolling off him, but he reemerged eventually, stroking Derek on the head before heading out the door.

Derek spent the days poking around the house, learning about his boy. He could open drawers and turn knobs if he was careful enough. It didn’t take him more than a day to figure out that Stiles’ father was dead – it was his bedroom sitting empty at the end of the hall. He was the source of all of Stiles’ misery, the reason why people brought Stiles food in the evenings, the reason why he cried at night. Sometimes he got so upset that he didn’t eat; he’d crawl into his father’s bed and sob himself to sleep. Sometimes he took too much Adderall and crashed when he came home from school, curling up on the couch and sleeping through the entire evening.

It hurt Derek. He’d been seventeen when the fire killed his family. He knew the burning pain of loss. Stiles’ sadness reminded him of his own, and some nights it was all he could do not to howl out his sorrow. He tried to comfort Stiles instead, trying to get him to play to distract him and, failing that, pushing up against him as close as he could, letting Stiles cry into his fur. He wished that he could put his arms around the boy, press their foreheads together and whisper, “I’m here for you.”

Derek didn’t think that he’d be able to find out what happened to Stiles’ father, but there was a newspaper sitting on the desk in the office downstairs and he hopped into the chair to read the headline. Beacon Country sheriff killed in home invasion. Derek sighed softly and tilted his head, reading the article. Stiles hadn’t been home when it happened – only a few weeks ago – but he’d been the one to find the sheriff, and just the thought of the kid discovering his father’s body made Derek’s heart ache in sympathetic pain. The paper said there were no suspects and he wondered – hoped – that had changed.

Derek left the office and went upstairs, sniffing around with a new focus. He caught the scent of blood on the stairs and followed it down the hall to the bedroom. The hardwood floor smelled of cleaning products but he could still smell the blood there where it had seeped between the floor boards. No wonder Stiles avoided the room most of the time.

Derek learned that Stiles was kind and patient and a much better friend to Scott than Scott was to him. Several times that week, Stiles made plans to hang out with Scott only to have his friend cancel them in order to spend time with his girlfriend. Stiles never complained, though Derek could smell the faint hurt and feeling of abandonment on him. Derek made sure he bit Scott on the leg the next time he came over.

Scott brought the fabled Allison with him. She smelled strangely, unnervingly familiar to Derek, a scent he remembered but couldn’t place, which made him uneasy. He let her stroke his ears, though, because he could sense that for all of Scott’s ignorance, Allison cared about Stiles’ wellbeing. She gave him a gentle hug when she came in and made cookies in the kitchen while the boys played video games in the living room. Derek sat in the doorway of the kitchen, watching her and trying to place her scent. She snuck him a lump of cookie dough with a hesitant smile, which Derek took from her gently, licking the taste of flour and salt from her fingers. He still couldn’t place her smell.

When the cookies came out of the oven the boys flew into the kitchen and Stiles threw an arm around Allison’s shoulder. Derek suspected that he loved her as a sister, just as he loved Scott as a brother. Stiles didn’t resent her for stealing Scott from him – he resented Scott for not seeing that his selfishness hurt Stiles.

Stiles took him running almost every day after school. Derek enjoyed the time out of the house. He liked it when people complimented Stiles on how well-behaved Derek was, because it made Stiles grin like he was actually responsible. Sometimes they went down to the fields behind the school and Stiles used his lacrosse stick to fling tennis balls as far as he could for Derek to chase.

Derek noticed though, the way Stiles’ heartbeat skipped every time they passed the cemetery and one evening Stiles stopped before the gates, his heart pounding. “Okay,” Derek heard him mutter. “Okay. You can do this.” Derek nosed against his hand, which seemed to give Stiles courage. He swallowed and pushed through the gate, holding it open so Derek could follow.

His heart got worse as they walked down the silent rows of gravestones. It was a nice graveyard, dense with arborvitaes, which deadened the noise from the road. Derek’s family was buried here, except for Laura, whom he’d buried in the forest. He used to visit their graves at night, especially after Laura died, sleeping with his back against the stones.

Stiles’ father wasn’t much further from Derek’s family, a couple of plots down the row. A pale granite tombstone sat at the head of the grave, Stilinski engraved across the top. There were two names carved into the stone – John Lawrence, May 23rd 1966 – April 17th, 2013, and Emily Ava, September 8th, 1971 – June 29th, 2004. Derek tilted his head wonderingly. Stiles’ mom, too?

Derek realized that Stiles had stopped walking and turned, worrying when he heard the way Stiles' heart beat out of control, his breathing rattling in and out of him. Derek pushed his head against Stiles’ legs – not hard, but Stiles stumbled and fell onto his knees. Derek could feel him panicking, sucking in air that didn’t fill his lungs and he whined, bumping his body against Stiles’, trying to get him to focus. It took a long time for his breathing to calm, and he wiped a hand over his face, clearing the wet tracks of tears from his cheeks.

“Sorry,” Stiles whispered. “I’m sorry, Dad. I shouldn’t have left the window open. I’m sorry!” he wailed, startling a couple of crows out of a nearby pine. “It’s all my fault!”

Derek watched him cry brokenly, his heart aching. He pushed his way into the space between Stiles’ legs and Stiles threw his arms around Derek’s neck, howling into the thick ruff of fur there.

Dusk had fallen before Stiles collected himself, letting go of Derek and getting to his feet, brushing the dirt off his jeans. He touched the headstone, fingers tracing the cold stone.

“I’m going to fix it,” Stiles said softly. “I’ll figure out who did this. I promise, Dad.” He hiccupped, swiping a hand across his face. The boy stood still for a long moment before turning and heading back toward the road.

“It’s my fault,” he told Derek quietly, walking along the quiet road back to the house. “Dad grounded me and I snuck out the window to go to Scott’s and – that’s where they came in. Through my window.” Stiles sniffled. “If I hadn’t left it open, they wouldn’t have been able to get in.”

It’s not your fault, Derek thought fiercely. If they wanted to get into the house, a closed window wouldn’t have stopped them.

Stiles slept in his dad’s bed that night, curled up around Derek. The next day, Scott came over with his mom, a friendly, curly-haired woman, and Derek sat on the couch between Stiles and Scott while Scott’s mom bustled around, doing his laundry and cleaning the kitchen. Stiles tried to protest, saying loudly, “I’ve done all this since I was a kid!”

But Scott’s mom shook her finger at him and said, “You let me worry about this. You’ve got enough to deal with.”

Stiles sighed, frustrated. Derek could tell that he was sick of people pitying him. Scott said, his voice low, “Do they have any suspects yet?”

“No,” Stiles replied discontentedly. “And Jenny says I’m not allowed to call the station more than once a week.” Derek had heard these calls; Stiles called the sheriff’s office at least once a day, trying to get any information he could out of the secretary, who told him over and over that he knew she couldn’t tell him anything about an open investigation. That didn’t stop Stiles from trying, though, and the woman slipped sometimes, offering information that sent Stiles’ mind whirring. “Dude,” Stiles added quietly, “I’ve been thinking. I’m beginning to think that maybe he was targeted.”

“Why?” Scott asked, bewildered.

“His cruiser was right out front!” Stiles hissed. “They would have had to walk around it to get onto the garage roof! Who breaks into a house with cop car sitting outside it?” He ran a hand through his hair. “He was working on an old case, interviewing new people. I don’t know what it was – they took his files after they searched the house – but maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe someone didn’t like what he was digging up.”

“Have you told anyone about this?” Scott asked uncertainly, eyes darting toward the kitchen, where his mom was washing dishes.

Stiles shrugged. “It’s just a theory.”

Scott gave Stiles a suspicious look. "Why do I get the feeling that this 'theory' of yours is going to get me in trouble?"

"Only if we fuck up," Stiles replied innocently. "I just need to get into the station and take a look at what my dad was working on."

"There are people there all the time!" Scott protested. "It's not like you can sneak in while they're closed!"

"I just need you to make a distraction," Stiles said soothingly. "I've still got a key for the back door. You distract them, I'll sneak in, grab what I need, and get out!"

"Don't they have cameras?" Scott asked skeptically.

"They haven't worked in years," Stiles replied. "Dad could never find money in the budget to fix them. Don't worry about it!"

"I am worrying about it," Scott hissed back. “Just what are you thinking?”

Stiles grinned.

-

Two nights later, the boys and Derek sat in Scott’s rusty Honda a few streets over from the police station. Derek sat with his head on the center console, listening to the two friends argue, trying not to breathe in too deeply; the back seat smelled depressingly strong of sex and Scott and Allison.

“You’re sure the cameras aren’t working?” Scott asked for probably the fifth time since he’d put the car in park. Derek rolled his eyes.

“Oh my god, yes,” Stiles said impatiently. Derek tilted his head to look at the boy. He hadn’t felt any sadness from him since the day in the cemetery. Since then, it had just been fierce determination. Derek was proud of him.

“Fine,” Scott grumbled. “I don’t think much of your plan.”

“It’s a brilliant plan,” Stiles argued. “Isn’t it, Beast?” He picked up Derek’s head, making him nod. Derek groaned indignantly. “See? He agrees.”

Scott made a skeptical noise, but climbed out of the car. They kept to the shadows, circling around to the front of the sheriff’s department, crouching in the bushes.

“Okay,” Stiles whispered. “There’s only one car in the lot. That’s good. Give me two minutes to get around the back and then start, okay? There’s a culvert over there—” He pointed toward the end of the parking lot, which abutted a grove of trees. “—that you can hide in until I come find you.”

“What if we get caught?” Scott groaned.

“Pranks,” Stiles said cheerfully, reaching into his backpack and passing Scott an armful of smoke bombs. “Teenagers. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that’s Deputy Kendrick’s car and he’s a fat motherfucker. He won’t be able to catch you.”

“Thanks,” Scott said sourly. Stiles snorted and slunk off around the building, Derek at his heels like a shadow. They reached the back door and Stiles unlocked it quietly, waiting to slip inside until he heard Scott whooping and a dull whumph as a smoke bomb hit the front of the building. It was quiet inside the building, lights buzzing faintly overhead, and Stiles moved with purpose, treading quickly and quietly down the hall to a door labeled Evidence Room.

“Stay,” Stiles instructed Derek in a whisper. “You keep watch.” Derek sat obediently, watching Stiles disappear into the room. He could hear yelling outside – someone was haranguing Scott, but the station was quiet inside except for a dispatcher sitting in a room a few doors down. Just as the front door swung open, someone muttering about asshole teenagers, Stiles slipped back out of the evidence room, backpack slung over one shoulder. “Good boy,” he hissed, jerking his head toward the back door. “Let’s go.”

They found Scott crouched in a drainage ditch, his jeans soaked through with brackish water. “I’m going to kill you,” he muttered. “Did you get what you need?”

“I think so,” Stiles said, patting him on the shoulder. “Come on, buddy. Let’s go home.”

-

After Scott dropped Stiles and Derek back at the house, Stiles sat down in the living room and pulled a thick bundle of folders and loose papers out of his backpack.

“I got these out of the evidence from Dad’s—” Stiles stopped, unable to say murder. He shrugged. “Some clerk’s going to get his ass kicked when they realize it’s missing.”

Derek laid down on the floor with a sigh, shoving his head under Stiles’ arm. He wished he could be useful somehow. Stiles shuffled through the stack of paper, hmming to himself.

“Jesus,” he muttered, holding a photo up to the light. Derek glanced up – and froze. His mother’s charred face stared back at him, blackened and lifeless. “Gross,” said Stiles, putting the photo back into the pile, unaware of what he’d just done to Derek. Derek looked down at the papers spread on the floor, panic surging in him. There were coroner's reports, witness statements, photographs of a house on fire - his house, flames shooting from the roof. He struggled backward, stomach rolling. Stiles cast him a concerned look.

"What's up, dude? You need to go out?"

Derek whined, his skin crawling. That was exactly what he needed - to get out of the house, which suddenly felt far too small. He needed fresh air, needed to run until his body ached. He followed Stiles to the back door and bolted as soon as Stiles swung the door open.

"Hey!" the boy hollered after him. "Beast, wait!"

Derek couldn't stop; he sprinted into the trees, heart pounding, pulse roaring in his ears. He hadn’t forgotten about the fire, but it had faded from his mind with no one around to remind him. It was a dim, hurting memory that only came to the forefront of his mind with a bad dream or particular scent. The house was there, a reminder, but it had been there for so long he’d gotten used to not thinking about it. How, if he breathed in too deeply, he could smell scorched flesh and burnt hair. Seeing the picture of his mother's charred body, though - that brought all the guilt surging back through him, singing through his veins like acid.

Derek climbed a rise in the trees and stopped at the top, tilting his head back and howling mournfully. There was no answering call - never would be - and his heart ached. He missed his parents and his siblings and aunts and cousins and uncles. He knew Stiles hurt, but he'd never know the pain of hearing your family die and being powerless to help them.

When Derek finally wandered back to the house a few hours later, the windows were dark. He scratched at the back door, whining miserably, but Stiles didn't appear. Derek sat on his haunches, listening. He couldn't hear Stiles' heart beating inside and realized, shoulders hunching guiltily, that Stiles was probably looking for him. He'd never run like that before. He'd probably scared Stiles.

Tail low, Derek trotted back into the woods, picking up Stiles' scent and following it into the trees. He found the boy a couple miles from the house, sniffling unhappily as he shone a flashlight around the trees. Derek barked softly as he approached, not wanting to scare him. Stiles twisted around, equal parts of anger and relief surging off him.

"You stupid dog!" he said furiously, smacking Derek across the head. It didn't hurt - Stiles couldn't have hurt him if he tried - but Derek reacted reflexively, snarling and snapping at Stiles' hand. Stiles gasped and stumbled back against a tree. Derek backed away from him, tail between his legs, horrified at what he'd just done.

"Sorry," Stiles whispered, his eyes swimming with tears. "Beast, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have - I'm sorry." He crouched down, holding out his hand. "Come here, please? I'm sorry."

Derek approached him cautiously. He wasn't afraid of Stiles - he was afraid of what he'd almost done. It was close to the full moon, but that was no excuse for nearly biting Stiles. He’d never forgive himself if he hurt him. The boy reached out for him and Derek stepped into his embrace, letting Stiles pull him to his chest, burying his face in his fur.

"Sorry," Stiles mumbled against his fur. Derek could smell the sharp salt scent of his tears. "I'm sorry. I got scared - I thought - I don't want to be alone again."

Derek huffed understandingly and licked at Stiles' ear. Stiles gave a watery sob and pushed himself to his feet, fingers curling around Derek's collar. They walked back the house, Derek pulling Stiles in the right direction when he hesitated. Inside, Stiles abandoned the case work and climbed onto the couch to sleep. Derek slumbered with his head tucked against Stiles' ribs so he wouldn't accidentally catch sight of any more dead family members’ faces spread out on the floor.

-

After that, Derek avoided the living room during the day; Stiles kept the papers spread out over the floor, sorted into vague piles and he didn’t want to see anything else. After their evening runs, Stiles sat on the carpet with his head bent over the papers, poring over the comments his father had left on sticky notes. Scott spent a lot of time at the house, disgruntled – apparently Allison’s aunt was in town and they were spending a lot of time together, leaving Scott on the fringe. Derek didn’t feel any sympathy for him, since Scott usually did the same thing to Stiles.

Derek usually laid with his back up against Stiles’, close, but facing away from the evidence. It wasn’t like he didn’t want to know who set the fire, but the way it had suddenly been thrust back into his life had left him feeling extremely guilty – he should have spent the last five years trying to solve his family’s murders, not fucking around in the forest.

Derek dreamed of the house. He and Laura hadn’t been inside when it burned; they’d been down by the creek, guiltily drinking a bottle of tequila tainted with wolfsbane. They smelled the smoke, though, and they were halfway home when Laura fell to her knees with a scream, eyes burning red as the alpha power flowed into her. They never talked about it later, but they both knew that had been the moment their mother died and it was the worst feeling in the world to know that they’d been out getting drunk while their family burned alive.

Six months later, the hunters came back into town, Kate Argent smiling at their helm. They set traps all over the woods and pursued Derek and Laura relentlessly, pushing them to exhaustion. Laura ran into razor wire strung between the trees, slicing her face open, blinding her. Derek had stood over her, snarling as hunters came out of the trees. They’d shot him with arrows from all sides and he’d staggered against a tree, felt the head of one snap off inside him. The silver on the tip sent him convulsing, body forced to shift before he could reach between his shoulder blades to dig it out. He’d been too tired to do anything when Kate leaned over and shot Laura in the head, too exhausted to do anything but howl out his sorrow.

Kate had caught him by the muzzle as he lay panting in the loam next to Laura’s body, his eyes glowing red in the dim light of the forest. She kissed him on the nose and smiled when she said, “Too slow as always, Der.”

They hadn’t killed him then. Kate said something about letting him “stew this one over,” before coming back to finish him.

Derek whimpered in his sleep, the memories overpowering. He woke when Stiles reached behind his back, patting Derek’s chest. “Look at this,” Stiles said to Scott, hand absently moving over Derek’s fur. “Dad interviewed Mr. Harris.”

“The chemistry teacher?” Scott asked. “Why?”

Stiles picked up a piece of paper and read, “’H admits he met a woman at a bar several days before the fire and told her how to mix chemicals for the ‘perfect’ fire accelerant. H does not remember her name but might be able to pick her out of a line-up. H says he did not tell the police because he did not want to be fingered as a suspect.’ And there’s a sticky-note on here that just says, ‘Asshole.’” Stiles snorted softly, a little sadly.

"Did your dad have any female suspects?" Scott asked, shuffling through the papers. Stiles batted his hands away before he could mess up the vague order he’d put them in.

"I don't think so," Stiles replied. "The original report looked at the two family members that survived the fire - Derek and Laura."

A strange shiver ran through Derek's body at the sound of Stiles saying his name. He remembered those long days sitting the sheriff's department while Stiles' father, the newly elected sheriff, tried to figure out what to do with them. That was where he he’d seen Stiles before, he realized. He'd seen him hanging around the station, waiting for his dad to get out of work.

"So maybe it was Laura," Scott said. That's what the hunters had thought too. They thought Laura had set the fire to steal the alpha power from their mother, and that Derek had helped her. The accusation hurt.

"Maybe," Stiles said, not sounding convinced. "I think - yeah, here." He pulled out a sheet of paper with a sticky note on it. "Dad wanted to interview them again, but no one's seen them since a few months after the fire."

"That sounds suspicious," Scott pointed out and, Derek realized, his heart dropping, it really did. There had been time, before the hunters arrived, to settle their affairs and collect on the insurance money. It probably looked like they'd taken the money and run. Fuck.

"Yeah," Stiles agreed. "Okay. Maybe I'll ask around and see if anyone's heard from them. Dad's got some of their contacts listed here."

"You sure you want to go to school for teaching?" Scott asked skeptically. "I think you might be better off following in your dad's footsteps."

"I'm only doing this for him," Stiles replied firmly, pushing away the stacks of papers and picking up an Xbox controller. "After this is over, I'm going to school."

"Are you going to sell the house?" Scott asked hesitantly.

Stiles remained silent for a moment, leaning over to turn on the tv. "I don't know," he said finally. "Dad's life insurance is coming in in a few weeks, and I was thinking about paying off the mortgage. But…I don't know if I want to stay. It kind of hurts, staying here."

"Oh," Scott said, clearly unsure of what to say.

"Don't worry about it, dude," Stiles said, his eyes focused on the tv. "Nothing's going to change for a while, at least." Derek shifted around him, laying his head on the boy's thigh. He could feel the sadness and bewilderment swirling off him. It wasn't fair for him to have to be thinking about these things; he was eighteen but still in high school, too young to be worrying about houses and mortgages. He remembered too well sitting with Laura and an attorney as they read through the will, signed forms, talked to the sheriff, chose caskets. It had been overwhelming, too much for a seventeen-year-old to handle. Stiles leaned down and planted a noisy kiss between Derek's ears. "You're the best," he muttered, and Derek's heart swelled.

He was going to stay here, he decided. He'd stay forever if Stiles wanted him. Fuck being human, and fuck the eternal ache between his shoulder blades where the broken arrowhead was constantly cutting through his muscle. He could deal with it because Stiles loved him and Derek…Derek kind of loved him back.

-

Derek spent the next few days listening to Stiles call people he and Laura used to know, their voices achingly familiar over the speaker. Stiles told each of them the same story; he told them he was a reporter for the Beacon Hills Tribune writing an anniversary piece on the Hale fire, and did they happen to know where Derek or Laura were? Right here, Derek thought, listening to his best friend from high school tell Stiles he hadn’t seen Derek in five years – that he’d just stopped coming to school one day a few months after the fire. I’m right here.

Stiles called his sister’s best friend from college and when he asked, “Is Laura still in Beacon Hills?” the girl paused and said, “I thought so. Laura told me she was talking to contractors about rebuilding the house.” Derek picked up his head, ears pricking forward. Laura had never said anything to him about rebuilding the house. They lived at a motel after the fire, and he was always finding ads cut out of newspapers for apartments in Sacramento, Los Angeles, New York – never any clue that she’d had any intention of staying after he graduated high school. Maybe she’d wanted to surprise him. Laura was like that. Had been like that.

“But you haven’t heard from her in a while?” Stiles asked.

“Not in a long time,” the girl replied. “The fire was in the summer and she didn’t come back to school in the fall. We fell out of touch after a few months. I figured she had a lot to deal with.”

“Did she ever talk to you about who she thought might have done it?”

“Mmm,” the girl mused. “She was worried about her brother – not that she thought he did it, but she thought he might be seeing someone who was dangerous.” Derek froze. Laura had known – or suspected – about Kate? He’d been stupid, so stupid, to see her, and even stupider to think that she loved him, but he thought he’d been careful.

Derek hadn’t known, at first, that Kate was a hunter. He’d thought he was lucky to have an older, beautiful woman interested in him. She’d known he was a were, though; the Hales were an old pack, familiar to the hunters. She’d forced the shift on him one day, pressing that ugly silver necklace she had against his bare skin, forcing his features to rearrange. She’d laughed and pulled at his ears and said, “Fuck me, you monster,” and he had. He thought that was love, but two days later she’d disappeared and two weeks later his house burned down and he realized he was just an idiot.

Derek groaned softly. He’d thought about it before, wondered if Kate had set the fire, but the hunters had a code. They weren’t supposed to kill werewolves that hadn’t hurt humans, and there were humans in the house when it burned. That went against everything the hunters stood for.

“You okay, buddy?” Stiles asked, his call finished. He scratched at Derek’s neck, fingers catching under his collar, and Derek groaned again, rolling his weight against Stiles’ leg. Stiles laughed and Derek pushed his thoughts away from Kate and onto his boy.

It had only been a week and a half since their trip into the cemetery but Stiles hadn’t cried again, except once in his sleep, trapped in a nightmare that took a sharp bite from Derek to wake him from. His body pulsed with determined energy and hope. He seemed sure he could solve his father’s murder, and Derek was pretty certain he was going to do it – his confidence was catching.

Stiles hummed to himself, leafing through the papers idly, then paused, pulling out a small square of paper with a rough drawing on it. “What’s this supposed to be?” He flipped it several ways. “Looks like a wolf? I – ohhhh!” He scrambled through the pile, pulling out the interview his father had had with Mr. Harris, the chemistry teacher. He read out loud, “‘H says the woman wore a very distinct necklace with a wolf on it (see attached drawing).’”

Derek picked his head up to look at the drawing and his heart sank. It was a poor representation, but it was definitely the necklace that Kate had always worn, the one she’d pressed against him to force him to shift. She’d said it was some kind of family heirloom. It had been her. She’d started the fire that killed his family, and he’d led her right to them. He’d as good as killed them himself.

-

Stiles and Derek took a walk around town the following weekend. Stiles had Derek leashed, which was rare, but there were leash-laws in the blocks around city center, so it was more a formality than anything. Their stroll progressed slowly; Stiles seemed to enjoy using Derek to impress girls, which did not impress the alpha in the slightest. They smiled and bent over him, exclaiming at how cute he was – he was not cute – while Stiles grinned foolishly behind him. All it took was the slightest curl of his lip to get most of the girls backing away, smiles gone tepid.

“You asshole,” Stiles muttered, as another long-legged girl gave him an uneasy smile and disappeared back into the crowd. “Be nice.”

Derek didn’t want to be nice. Stiles was his.

He heard Stiles’ heartbeat tick up slightly and looked around worriedly. Stiles looked down the street and Derek spotted a pretty redheaded girl heading in their direction, talking on her phone.

“Aw jeeze,” Stiles mumbled, running his hand through his hair. “Uh – hey. Hey, Lydia—”

The girl gave him a sideways glance, lips tightening in a way that, if you were desperate, might be construed as a smile, and kept walking. Stiles stared after her dejectedly, his shoulders slumping. Derek glared after the girl; he might not want girls interested in Stiles, but this girl was rude.

“Had a crush on her since second grade,” Stiles told Derek gloomily. “I don’t know why I keep trying. She probably only smiled because of Dad. Usually she ignores me.”

Derek’s look darkened further.

“Oh well,” Stiles sighed, tugging lightly at the leash. “Shall we continue?”

They continued their leisurely stroll around the block and while Stiles stared through a window at a display of comic books, Derek sat next to him patiently, watching the street. The sound of bells jingling as a door opened a few shops down made him turn and he froze.

There was Allison and he suddenly realized why her scent seemed so familiar to him, because there was Kate walking at her side, smiling that cold smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Derek yelped and bolted around Stiles’ legs, jerking him forward so that his face smacked against the display window. Stiles squawked in pain and stumbled after him, pulling valiantly on his lease. Derek pulled back, digging into his considerable strength to keep them going.

“Beast, stop!” Stiles exclaimed, trying to brace his feet against the pavement. “Stop!”

Derek glanced over his shoulder. Allison and Kate were a few yards back. Allison was calling out at Stiles, half laughing, but Kate was looking directly at Derek, a triumphant grin quirking one side of her mouth. Derek pulled harder, forcing Stiles into a sprint, and he didn’t give up until they’d left the bustle of the city center behind. He found refuge in a park under a tree, finally coming to a halt. Stiles leaned against the tree, panting, swearing and gasping all in one breath.

“What is wrong with you?” he complained. “Jesus, I know you hate the leash, but seriously! You have to wear it in the city!”

Derek whined softly and pressed himself against Stiles’ legs. He was ashamed to find himself shaking. Stiles’ face softened and he knelt.

“What’s wrong, dude? What freaked you out? Are you hurt?” Stiles picked up Derek’s paws, checking to make sure he hadn’t stepped on glass or something. He rubbed Derek’s back. “It’s okay. Let’s go home.”

They did go home, but it was pretty hot for the end of April, so Stiles got changed and they headed into the woods instead, ending up at a small creek deep enough to swim in. Stiles sunk down into the water with a sigh and Derek splashed after him, forcing Kate from his mind. For the afternoon they were just a boy and his dog. Stiles laughed, watching Derek try to catch minnows, laughing even harder when Derek actually caught one, which startled him so greatly he spit it out. Stiles lay down in the water, arms crossed over a rock, staying still until his skin pebbled with goosebumps. Derek settled down in the water next to him, chin up on the rock next to Stiles’ arm. Stiles smiled at him.

“I’m so glad you found me,” he said. “I was in a bad place and you really helped me.”

Derek bumped his nose against Stiles’ arm, trying to say You’ve helped me too. Stiles chuckled quietly and pushed his fingers through Derek’s damp fur.

I love you, Derek thought, staring up into Stiles’ amber eyes earnestly. God, I fucking love you.

Stiles smiled like he’d heard Derek and pressed their foreheads together. “Man,” he said softly, “I love you.”

It was simultaneously the worst and best thing that had ever happened to Derek. Best because Stiles loved him, loved him, but worst because Derek knew that Stiles loved Derek the dog, not Derek the person. Still, love was love. Derek leapt to his feet, sending water splashing over Stiles, who cackled with laughter and splashed him back. This was love.

-

Back at the house, Stiles went digging through his father’s desk, making a triumphant noise when he found a thin sheaf of papers related to the fire that the deputies had missed.

“Let’s see,” he said, spreading them out on the desk. Derek noticed how he flipped the newspaper with the Beacon County sheriff killed in home invasion headline on its side, carefully avoiding looking at the picture of his dad on the front. “Okay. ‘Several people left town around time of fire, all…Argents?’” Stiles lifted his head, frowning at the wall. “Argent? Like Allison’s family?” He read off a list of names. “Chris Argent, Victoria Argent, Gerard Argent, Kate Argent.”

Derek growled softly, propping his feet up on the desk to look. Kate’s name had been circled, a phone number scrawled next to it.

“Hey, hey, get down,” Stiles said idly, pushing him back to the floor. He turned away from the desk. “You hungry, buddy?”

He didn’t seem to understand what the names on the paper meant, or why Kate’s name had been circled, but Derek understood. The sheriff had started to figure it out but the question was…how far had he gotten before he’d been murdered?

-

Kate’s rough voice cut through Derek’s dreams that night and he didn’t move for a moment, thinking it was another, worse dream, but her voice kept going and he lifted his head from Stiles’ chest, body going very still.

“—sure he’s home this time or I swear to God, Miles, I will gut you myself.”

“Wasn’t my fault,” protested a second voice. Derek slipped off the couch, ear flat against his head, hackles raised. He lifted his head to stare out the front window and he could see a car parked a couple hundred yards down the road, headlights off. Kate and a tall man were just getting out, bickering in low voices.

“The window was open and the light was on in his bedroom,” the man said. “He should have been there.”

“We’re not messing this up again,” Kate hissed. “Derek might not know, but the sheriff figured it out. He might have told him – we can’t chance it.”

“How do you know he knew? Why didn’t he arrest you?”

“He called me,” Kate said ominously. “Said he wanted to talk.”

Derek snarled and whipped around, pressing his nose against Stiles’ cheek until he woke, blinking sleepily.

“Go away, Beast,” he groaned, flipping onto his stomach.

Derek rumbled, low in his chest, and grabbed Stiles by the sleeve, yanking his upper body off the couch. Stiles smacked his forehead against the floor and groaned, struggling to pick himself up. “Fucker! What the hell—” Both Derek and Stiles lifted their heads at the noise from the front hall. Someone was trying the doorknob.

“Oh my god,” Stiles whispered, his heartbeat picking up. “Oh my god, Beast.” He scrambled off the couch, cramming the blankets behind it. He grabbed Derek by the collar and scurried down the hall and into the kitchen. Derek could hear Kate arguing with her companion in hushed tones.

“Just break it!”

“Fine, fine,” the man muttered, and there was a splintering noise from the front hall. Stiles let out a panicked whimper and slipped into the basement, dragging Derek behind him. Derek resisted, torn between wanting to stay with Stiles and ripping Kate’s throat out, but Stiles frantically hissed, “Beast, please!” and he stopped pulling, following Stiles down the steps and into a small space under the stairs. Stiles moved like he had a plan, which he probably did – the earlier break-in had probably left him thinking over and over about what he would have done, had he been home. The space filled momentarily with the soft glow of Stiles’ cell phone. Derek watched him hammer out a message to Scott – sum1 in house, call 911 – and then he slipped the phone into his pocket and wrapped his arms around Derek.

Derek listened to Stiles’ heart hammer in his chest, his breathing quick and panicked. He could hear Kate and her companion moving silently around the house, checking every room. The man went up to the second floor and came back down, whispering, “He’s not up there. Doesn’t look like the bed’s been slept in.”

“Shit,” Kate hissed. “I know I saw him with Derek today.” She made a frustrated noise. “Check the basement.”

Derek pressed back against Stiles as the basement lights flickered on. Stiles curled his fingers in Derek’s fur, bordering on a panic attack. Derek listened to the male hunter come stomping down the steps and pushing healing power into Stiles, fighting against the deadening power of the silver in his shoulder blades. The power forced Stiles to relax, his breath evening out, and they both watched through the gaps in the steps as the man stopped on the bottom stair, looking around at the messy basement. There was a gun in his hand, lethal and shining in the light and Derek pulled his lips back from his teeth in a silent snarl, knowing it was probably loaded with wolfsbane bullets.

“Anything?” Kate called from the top of the stairs.

“Nothing,” the man replied. Just as he turned, Stiles’ phone beeped with a new text message. Stiles made a low, horrified noise and the man said, “Hey!” and lifted his gun. Derek snarled and threw himself out of Stiles’ grip, bursting out from under the stairs. He launched himself at the man, jaw crushing his windpipe, teeth tearing through vein and sinew, mouth filling with the warm, coppery taste of blood. Kate cursed and fired her shotgun at him. Derek roared in pain as the bullet ripped into his side.

“Beast!” Stiles wailed and Derek wavered for a second, but Kate raised her gun again and he threw himself up the stairs at her, eyes burning red. She fired, but Derek dodged the bullet and leapt at the hunter. She scrambled backward, running for the front hall, and Derek chased, the thrill of the hunt pulsing in his veins. He could hear Stiles behind him, yelling, but he didn’t stop. He launched himself off the top of the porch steps as Kate ran across the lawn, landing heavily on her back and sending her tumbling to the grass. She slammed her gun into the side of his face but he caught her wrist in his teeth and clamped his jaw until he heard bones break. Kate screamed. Derek snarled triumphantly, blood and saliva dripping from his teeth onto her face.

Suddenly he was being hauled backward, hands pulling him by his collar. He growled furiously, trying to twist around, attack his attacker, but then he realized it was Stiles, who panted, “Beast, stop, you have to stop!” There were sirens in the distance, growing closer by the second.

Kate struggled to sit up, laughing sarcastically though her face was pale with pain. “‘Beast’?” she echoed. “Are you a fucking idiot, kid?”

Stiles gave her a bewildered, furious look. “What the hell were you doing in my house?”

“Finishing what we started a month ago,” Kate hissed, and Stiles’ eyes went wide.

“You,” he whispered. “My dad—” He breathed in sharply. Kate’s jacket had fallen open and the necklace lay in plain sight on her breast. “That necklace. You – you started the Hale fire!”

Kate cackled. “Congrats, sweetheart.” She nodded her head at Derek. “I’m surprised Derek didn’t tell you.” Derek snarled weakly. Now that the adrenaline was leaving him, he could feel the hot pain of the bullet wound in his side; it was laced with wolfsbane, and the silver in his back was slowing the healing process badly.

“What?” Stiles asked, bewildered. “What are you talking about?”

Kate smiled but didn’t answer. Sheriff’s deputies roared up the house, spilling onto the lawn. They pulled Stiles back, surrounding Kate and swarming into the house. Derek laid down on the cool grass, feeling blood seeping from his side as he listened to Stiles try to explain what had happened. He was tired, but this was it. Kate would probably die from the bite but even if she didn’t, Stiles knew the truth. She’d killed his family and Stiles’ dad and she wouldn’t be getting away.

“Hey!” Derek heard Stiles’ voice rise frantically over the sound of the deputies and sirens. He turned his head, watching Stiles push toward him, dropping to his knees on the grass next to him. “Please, I’ve got to get Beast help! He got shot – she shot him, please, I have to—”

“Someone call Deaton,” one of the deputies said. “Stiles, son, you’ve got to stay here and talk to us, but we’ll get him to the vet.”

“I can’t lose him too,” Stiles said weakly, curling his fingers in Derek’s fur. Derek could see the tears in his eyes and he wagged his tail encouragingly. A deputy knelt in front of him and gently said, “C’mon, boy, on your feet. Let’s get you to the doctor.”

It took a bit of effort, but Derek pushed himself to his feet and climbed in the back of a cruiser. He could feel Stiles’ worried eyes on him, watching them pull off down the street. Derek lay quietly with his head on the seat, watching houses flash by, more of his life seeping out of him. Deaton was waiting outside the veterinarian’s office when they arrived, and he waved the deputy away when Derek crawled out of the back seat.

“I can handle this,” the vet said firmly, and Derek didn’t resist when he picked him up and carried him into the clinic.

“When Scott told me Mr. Stilinski found a wolf in the woods, I thought he was exaggerating,” Deaton said conversationally, setting Derek down on the examining table. “I have to confess – I thought you were dead, Derek.”

Derek made a quiet noise as Deaton touched the wound in his side. “Relax,” the veterinarian said gently. “You’ll heal soon enough.”

No, I won’t, Derek thought hazily, black spots beginning to drift in his vision. Not like this.

-

Derek woke up some time later with a groan. He rubbed a hand across his face before freezing, his eyes flickering open to stare. He had a hand again, not a paw. He flexed his fingers, staring at his blunt fingernails. Somewhere beyond his feet, a door clicked open and he lowered his eyes to see Deaton enter the examining room.

“How?” Derek asked, his voice slurring. His tongue felt strange in his mouth – even getting the one syllable out was difficult.

Deaton gave him a soft smile. “You weren’t healing properly, even after I gave you a wolfsbane antidote,” he said, “and you remained a wolf the entire time. I suspected there was a reason, so I did a quick x-ray and found the silver arrow in your back. Am I correct in assuming it was keeping you in that form?”

Derek nodded dazedly, getting an elbow underneath himself and trying to sit up. Deaton stepped forward to help him, hands steady on his arms.

“You’re still healing,” the veterinarian told him. “You’ll be weak for a while.”

“Where,” Derek tried, and swallowed, his mouth dry as sandpaper. Deaton seemed to understand and turned to the sink, pouring him a glass of water. Derek drank it gratefully and tried again. “Where’s Stiles?”

“I’m not sure,” Deaton admitted. “To be honest, I’m kind of out of the loop here. All I know is that I got a call early this morning from a sheriff’s deputy asking me to come here as quickly as possible. Do you remember what happened?”

Derek closed his eyes, thinking. He remembered Kate and hearing the satisfying crunch of her bones between his teeth. “Kate Argent,” he said heavily. “Set the fire. Killed the sheriff. Came back tonight for Stiles.”

“Oh my,” Deaton said quietly. “And Mr. Stilinski? Is he all right?”

Worry settled around Derek like a blanket. “I thought so,” he said, pulse quickening. He glanced toward the windows; they were grey with early morning light. Where was Stiles?

“Derek,” Deaton said, sounding a little worried himself, “where’s Laura?”

“Dead,” Derek muttered, fingers tightening around the glass in his hands. “Hunters killed her after the fire.”

“So you’re alpha now.”

Derek nodded, lips tightening.

“And you’ve been living as a wolf since then?”

Derek nodded again.

“Why didn’t you come find me?” Deaton asked gently. “I could have helped you a long time ago.”

Derek shrugged. “Grieving,” he mumbled. “Forgot.”

Deaton patted him on the shoulder encouragingly. “And how did you end up with Mr. Stilinski?”

“He was grieving too,” Derek replied, closing his eyes. “Felt right.” His eyes shot open again. “He can’t see me – like this – I have to – the wolf—”

“Derek,” Deaton said softly, “you can’t stay as a wolf forever. What’s he going to think ten years down the road when you’re not aging like a normal dog? You have a human lifespan.”

Derek glared at him. “So I’m an exception.”

“You think that’s enough?” Deaton raised his eyebrows. “I can tell you care about him deeply. What happens when he falls in love and wants to get married? Can you let him be happy? You have to tell him, Derek. There’s never going to be a good time, but do it sooner rather than later, before things go too far.”

Derek snarled at the vet, eyes flashing red. Then his head came up, ears picking up the tell-tale rumble of Stiles’ Jeep flying down the road. “He’s here,” Derek said frantically. “He’s here. I—” He tried to force the change but his body resisted, powers slow to come. Sweat prickled on his skin, beading on his temple.

“Don’t do it,” Deaton said warningly. “He’ll never—”

“Shut up!” Derek barked. He could feel his claws lengthening, but it wasn’t quick enough; he’d only made it to the beta shift before Stiles came pelting into the room, his heart banging. Derek could smell the tears on him, overlaid on the stronger scent of him, Stiles. It was so much stronger in his human form, sending Derek’s mind reeling.

“Dr. Deaton,” Stiles panted, “where—”

Derek felt the moment Stiles noticed him sitting on the examination table, because that was the moment he lost him. Stiles’ heart turned frantic, his scent changing from anxiety to terror. Derek watched him miserably, stung by the fear on his features.

“Oh my god,” Stiles whispered. “What is—”

“Easy, Mr. Stilinski,” Deaton said calmly. “He’s been waiting for you.”

“What?” Stiles hissed hysterically.

Derek sensed Deaton’s intentions and snarled, “Don’t!”

Deaton gave him a weary look and said to Stiles, very carefully, “This is Derek.”

“Derek?” Stiles repeated, backing up against the door. “Derek – Derek Hale? But you—” His eyes went wide, heart skipping. “She said Derek, and she was looking at Beast—” Stiles groaned. He sounded like he was on the edge of a panic attack and Derek ached to comfort him, but he didn’t dare move. “Fuck no.”

“Stiles,” Derek tried hesitantly, hating how his fangs made his voice muffled. He tried to push them back, but just as they had been slow to appear, they were slow to leave.

“No,” Stiles said, tears filling his eyes. “No!” And he turned and ran - out of the room, out of the clinic. Derek heard his Jeep start a moment later, peeling out of the parking lot with a squeal of tires. He groaned unhappily and turned his eyes on Deaton.

“Fuck you,” he snarled.

“It’s for the best,” Deaton sighed. “I know you don’t want to hear it, Derek, but it really is.”

“How can you say that?” Derek asked, all the anger rushing out of him, quickly replaced by defeat. His features slid back to their human state, a minute too late. “I think he’s my mate.”

Deaton went very still. “Why do you say that?” he asked quietly.

Derek hesitated. He’d barely dared admit it to himself, couldn’t even think it in his head. He didn’t even know if mates were an actual thing – all he had were hazy memories from childhood, things his parents had mentioned in passing. “The first time I saw him,” he said quietly, tongue working more easily now, “it was like he got into my head and he’s been there ever since. I never liked being around other people, but Stiles – I want to be with him. I want to protect him.”

“Hmm,” Deaton said quietly. “Give it some time, Derek. He’s got a lot to think about.”

“Yeah,” Derek said miserably. “I know.”

-

Dr. Deaton found Derek clothes and got him checked into a hotel. Derek crawled into the big empty bed and slept for nearly two days straight. When he woke, he dressed in the clothes Deaton had given him, shaved for the first time in five years (for the first time in his life, maybe – he’d been seventeen and still growing the last time he was human). He resisted the urge to go to Stiles’ house and went to get a new driver’s license instead. He bought new clothes, ate food, took care of everything that had been dropped five years ago, but he did it all automatically, his thoughts consumed by Stiles.

A couple days later, Deaton called him and told him that Kate had died in the hospital. Derek couldn’t even find it in himself to be happy about it. He wondered how Stiles was doing.

A week after that long night, Derek sat on the end of his bed, listlessly watching tv, when there came a knock on the door. His head came up sharply. He recognized that heartbeat, the smell of sweet sugar and gentle cotton. Derek approached the door cautiously and he had to pause to steel himself before pulling it open.

Stiles stood there, his hand raised like he’d been about to knock again. He dropped it quickly, his cheeks flushing red. “Oh,” he said. “Your face.”

“I’m not like that all the time,” Derek said evenly, leaning against the doorframe. He watched Stiles lick his lips nervously and resisted the urge to do the same.

“Dr. Deaton told me where you were,” Stiles said. “I hope – that’s okay?”

Derek nodded and stepped back. “You want to come in?”

“Okay,” Stiles said tentatively, inching past him into the hotel room. Derek sat on the edge of the bed and watched Stiles move cautiously around the room, peering out the window before settling into the chair by the tv. “I’m sorry I freaked out,” he said abruptly, not looking at Derek. He kept his hands in his lap, twisting his long fingers together. “I talked to Dr. Deaton. He explained about – about you and your family. What you are.”

Derek watched him, his expression neutral, though his heart was pounding in his chest. He could hear Stiles’ doing the same. “And?”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles repeated. “It was a lot to take in. But…why did you come with me? Deaton said you were stuck like that so it’s not like you could have said something, but isn’t that – doesn’t it seem kind of creepy to you? You slept on top of me!”

Derek dropped his eyes. Stiles had a point. He thought about lying and saying something about how he didn’t think like a human when he was in the wolf’s form, but decided it would be a bad idea to start their human relationship by lying. “Sorry,” he said softly. “In my family, with the pack – there were no personal boundaries. I wasn’t thinking. It just felt nice to have someone else around.”

“Okay,” Stiles said hesitantly, “but why? You just jumped right into my car. You didn’t have to do that.”

“I don’t know,” Derek sighed. “I just thought you…you looked as lonely as I felt, and it would be nice to have someone else’s support.”

“I don’t need your pity,” Stiles snapped.

“I don’t pity you,” Derek replied, sharper than he meant to be, and he gentled his tone before continuing, “but I understand how much it hurts.”

Stiles turned his head to look out the window. Derek watched his jaw clench and unclench. “Can I see it?” he asked suddenly and Derek blinked, startled.

“See what?”

“The…” Stiles hesitated before gesturing at his face. “The werewolf thing.”

Derek stared at him. “You’re sure?”

Stiles nodded. Derek watched him swallow and he tilted his face away, closing his eyes and concentrating. Stiles gasped softly when his face shifted, his heart rate picking up, but he made no attempt to escape. Derek could smell his fear, but there was curiosity there too. Stiles watched him for a long moment before asking, “Can I…touch it – you? Can I touch you?”

Derek nodded and Stiles shuffled over, sitting down next to him. He raised his hand hesitantly, pausing a moment before touching his fingers to the hard line of Derek’s brow. He licked his lips. “So…Deaton said you’re an alpha? That’s the leader of the pack?”

“I don’t have a pack,” Derek told him. Only you.

“Oh.” Stiles brushed his fingers through the hair on Derek’s cheeks. He made a soft noise, eyes closing, and Stiles laughed nervously. “Oh my god,” he said quietly. “You’re like a big puppy, aren’t you?”

Stiles’ fingers stilled against his skin. Derek listened to his heartbeat pound like a drum. He wondered if Stiles could hear his beating just as loud.

“Derek?” Stiles asked quietly. Derek lifted his eyes to Stiles’, shifting back to his human features. Stiles swallowed, dropping his hand to fist his fingers in the front of Derek’s shirt. “Please don’t leave me alone again.” He sounded desperate but then, so was Derek.

He exhaled shakily. “I won’t,” Derek promised, dropping his forehead against Stiles’. “I’ll stay as long as you want me.”

Stiles relaxed, a noise somewhere in-between a sigh and sob escaping him. Derek lifted his arms, pulling Stiles into a tentative embrace. Stiles hugged him back tightly and Derek closed his eyes, breathing in deeply.

“I miss my dad,” Stiles muttered against Derek’s shoulder.

“I know you do,” Derek said quietly. “It won’t stop, but it’ll get easier.” He let go of Stiles, resisting the urge to brush his lips against his temple and said, “I was going to order food, if you want to stay?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, surreptitiously brushing at his eyes. “I’d like that.”

Derek ordered pizza and they sprawled across the bed to eat. Stiles told him about the hours he’d spent talking to deputies, and how they’d matched the bullets from the gun of the man Derek had killed to the bullets that had killed his father. He said that before she died, Kate confessed to starting the fire and planning his father’s murder. He sounded a little stunned by the whole deal. He said that Deaton had told the sheriff’s department that “Beast” had died from his wounds, and they were going to give the dog a medal for his bravery. Derek snorted.

He told Stiles about his family and what had happened to Laura. He talked until his voice was hoarse and maybe he cried too, a little, but it felt good to have someone know and understand. Stiles was a good listener; he stilled while Derek talked, his fidgety body gone motionless. Now that he had gotten over the shock of their existence a little, Stiles asked question after question about werewolves, which Derek answered to the best of his ability.

Eventually they both fell in a comfortable silence, idly watching a late-night talk show. Derek watched Stiles scoot under the covers without being invited, yawning as he kicked off his jeans.

“Are you afraid of me?” Derek asked suddenly.

Stiles pulled his hoodie up around his head and gave Derek a contemplative look. “A little,” he said. “I should be freaking out. I did freak out. But…I trust you. I think.”

“Why?”

Stiles shrugged, blinking heavily. “You saved me,” he said sleepily. “More than once. You stuck around when even Scott didn’t. I missed you this week,” he added in a near mumble, yawning again. “The house was too quiet.”

Derek stayed silent, watching him fall into sleep. He stayed up a bit longer before giving up, shutting off the television and slipping under the sheets. He lay there stiffly for a while, hyperaware of Stiles sleeping next to him. Derek froze when Stiles turned in his sleep, curling his body against Derek’s.

“Missed you,” he breathed again, though Derek didn’t think he was actually awake.

“Hey,” Derek said quietly, jabbing a finger into Stiles' collarbone. “Do I need to wake you up in the morning? Do you have school?”

“’S Friday,” Stiles mumbled. “Leave me ‘lone.”

“It’s Tuesday, you idiot,” Derek muttered, heaving a sigh. He forced himself to relax, though it wasn’t actually that hard with Stiles’ warmth next to him, his breath soft against Derek’s neck. He closed his eyes, breathing in Stiles' scent. He was pretty sure they were going to be okay.

-

A little less than a month later found them sitting at the kitchen table at Stiles’ house, a pile of papers spread out before them. It had been a strange few weeks; Stiles had asked Derek to stay and he did without second thought. It seemed harder for Stiles to adjust to having another person in the house than a dog, which was understandable. Derek slept upstairs in Stiles’ bedroom because the boy asked him to, but he didn’t like being so far from Stiles. Apparently Stiles didn’t either, because after a few nights he appeared upstairs and slipped into bed with Derek. They didn’t discuss it; Derek just lifted his arm to let Stiles in, and they both felt better for it. Derek was glad Stiles wasn’t sleeping on the couch anymore; he slept more soundly on a real mattress, got through the night with fewer nightmares.

It was strange, though, because after the first few day of initial unease and learning each other’s habits, Stiles and Derek settled into each other’s space like they’d always been there. Derek smiled faintly at the thought.

“So, I think I’m going to sell the house,” Stiles said abruptly.

Derek looked up from the papers on the table, raising an eyebrow at Stiles. “Why?”

“Two people have died here now – three if you count Kate,” Stiles said uncomfortably. “I’d just rather not stay.”

“Okay,” Derek said easily. “Can you hold off for a year, though?”

Stiles eyed him suspiciously. “Why?”

“I’m going to rebuild the house,” Derek told him. “Like Laura was planning. Once it’s done…you can move in, if you want.”

Stiles gave him a slow smile. “So that’s how you’re going to keep yourself occupied while I’m at school?”

Derek hadn’t said anything to him about being mates. It was too much too soon, and the last thing he wanted to do was overwhelm Stiles with more serious emotional stuff. Every day, though, every minute he spent in Stiles’ presence, he felt the bond between them strengthening and – here was the thing – Stiles felt it too. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. Derek knew it, and so did Stiles. It was mindboggling. Stiles accepted it so easily – it was almost terrifying. Sometimes Derek worried Stiles felt so lonely that he’d take attention from anyone, but then he’d look at Derek, like how he was now, and Derek just knew that that look was only for him.

“Yeah,” Derek said, when he realized he hadn’t responded.

“All right,” Stiles replied, accepting this news just as easily as Derek had accepted the fact that Stiles wanted to sell the house. “So, the choices.” He tapped on the table. Six college acceptance letters lay before them and he and Derek spent the better part of the afternoon arguing about where he should go, making lists of pros and cons. Stiles said he wanted to stay close to home, but Derek said it didn’t matter if he was going to sell the house anyway; he could leave the building to the contractors and get an apartment near wherever Stiles chose to go. Stiles agreed cheerfully and Derek wondered if he really knew what he was agreeing to – if he knew how utterly devoted Derek was to him. If he did understand, he didn’t seem bothered in the slightest.

By the time the light outside began to turn gold with the sunset, it had been decided; Stiles was going to NYU. Derek would go with him and get an apartment in the city, but he insisted that Stiles live in the dorms for at least his freshman year. Derek wanted Stiles to himself – he wasn’t going to deny that – but he also wanted Stiles to live a normal life, and the whole college experience was part of that. Stiles agreed, grudgingly, but only if Derek gave him a spare key to the apartment.

“All right,” Stiles sighed, stacking the papers into a neat pile, the acceptance letter from NYU on top. He scooted out of his chair, stretching so Derek could hear the bones popping in his back. “Scott invited me over. D’you want to come?”

“That’s all right,” Derek said. Scott didn’t quite know what to make of him, and Derek and Stiles hadn’t really been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation as to why Derek had suddenly reappeared in Beacon Hills and was living at Stiles’ house, so the situation was best avoided entirely.

Derek followed Stiles to the front hall and watched him pull on his sneakers. “Hey,” he said, as Stiles picked up his keys, and the boy turned to him, one side of his mouth quirking up in a soft grin.

Derek hooked his fingers through the loops of Stiles' jeans and pulled their hips close, smiling faintly as he bent his head to press their lips together. This was something new; they'd only kissed for the first time a couple days previous and it had been, to Derek's surprise, Stiles who initiated it. Derek had been very careful not to rush Stiles into anything, unsure if Stiles was even interested in him the way Derek was interested in Stiles, but apparently he'd been moving too slowly because one day Stiles leaned across the kitchen counter and kissed him without any warning at all. Derek hadn't minded in the slightest.

Stiles pulled back slowly, his bottom lip catching on Derek's he dropped his weight back onto his heels. "You're dangerous," he breathed, grinning.

"Werewolf," Derek reminded him helpfully.

Stiles laughed before stretching up for one last kiss and then he was out the door, keys jangling in his fingers. Derek watched him back out of the driveway, lifting one hand in farewell as he sped off down the street. He stood in the doorway for a while before turning into their house, happier than he'd ever been.

-

A year later found them in Beacon Hills again, tired after a five day drive across the country. The Jeep had suffered a fatal breakdown somewhere in Kansas, much to Stiles' sorrow, so Derek had to buy an older truck to haul the U-Haul, and it ran with a strange, untraceable rattling whine that was slowly driving them both insane. It felt good to be back though, Derek thought, glancing over at Stiles, who smiled and squeezed his hand as they pulled up in front of the new house.

It hadn't taken them long to realize that New York City wasn't the place for them. There were too many people and not enough privacy, too much noise, and weird pack treaties Derek had to navigate his way through before he could find an apartment. Stiles hated his roommate and, despite both their best intentions, spent most of his nights at Derek's apartment. They fought about stupid things, like who had left dishes in the sink, and whose turn it was to do the laundry, and whether the grocery list had said "ham” or “jam.” (“Does that look like an h to you?” Derek remembered hissing, waving the list in Stiles’ face.) Stiles had panic attacks in his sleep that Derek had to coax him through, and Derek had dark dreams where all he could breathe was smoke and the thick scent of Kate’s perfume and he’d wake up with his claws extended, blankets soaked through with sweat.

It wasn't all bad, though. Derek found a job working in construction and he enjoyed the hard work, shoveling and hammering and lifting until his body couldn't keep up with the blisters. He'd come home feeling raw and Stiles would sit on his back and dig his fingers into the muscle until Derek was a puddle beneath him. Stiles would drag him out to clubs and Derek would never admit he liked going, but they'd dance until their legs burned. In the winter, Derek's small apartment was drafty and cold, but Derek's body blazed heat, and Stiles would wrap his body around him like a living blanket and they'd lay on the bed and watch old movies until they both fell asleep.

And now they were back in Beacon Hills. After the year in New York, Stiles decided to transfer to Stanford, so they packed up the apartment and drove back across the country. Derek came back to Beacon Hills every few weeks to check on the progress of the house, but Stiles had been back only once over spring break, to talk with a realtor and get his dad's house on the market. He hadn't seen the new house though; Derek refused to show him pictures, wanting the first time he saw it to be in person, whole and complete. He'd flown back the week before they'd driven across the country and roped Scott - who had remained in Beacon Hills to go to a community college - into helping him move everything from Stiles' house into the new house and spent a few days trying to make it look like home. Now Derek and Stiles sat in the truck, looking up at the cream-colored facade.

"It looks great," Stiles said, beaming. "Decided not to go with the gothic look the old house had? I thought it was kind of charming."

Derek snorted. “I’d rather not have a house that looks as though it belongs in a horror movie, thanks. You ready to go in?”

“I’ve been ready for months,” Stiles said eagerly, shoving open the door and flinging himself out of the truck. He didn’t run for the house, though; he waited for Derek to come around from the other side and they walked up the stone path together. Derek was a little nervous as he unlocked the front door. He knew Stiles wouldn’t leave if he didn’t like it; they’d spent the last year in a one-room efficiency apartment over Greek restaurant with one window that looked right at a brick wall. This was important, though. He might have built it and paid for it, but this was their house, and he needed, desperately, for Stiles to like it.

“You going to let us in?” Stiles asked gently, touching his back.

“Door’s a little stiff,” Derek said, the back of his neck flushing red, and he shoved the door open, stepping aside so Stiles could go in first.

“Derek!” Stiles’ voice came floating back out to him, high-pitched with excitement. “This is awesome!”

Derek took a deep breath and followed him inside. He hadn’t designed the house – Laura had. He’d discovered the plans when he went to the town hall to get a building permit and they told him Laura had already submitted her plan for the lot. She’d gone to school for architecture and there was no way he couldn’t build what she’d already drawn. The downstairs was wide and open, raw beams and dark wood floors. Huge windows let the late afternoon sunlight stream in over the furniture. Stiles snorted when he spotted the sagging mustard-yellow couch from his dad’s house.

“We have got to get new furniture,” he said.

“I didn’t know,” Derek said hesitantly, “what you wanted to keep. So I brought everything.”

Stiles turned to look at him, his face softening. “It’s perfect, Der,” he said softly, holding out his hand so they could link their fingers together. “I love it.”

Derek gave him a relieved smile and let Stiles pull him through the rest of the house, exclaiming over the big kitchen and the office-slash-sunroom. Upstairs there were three bedrooms and Stiles stood in the middle of theirs, hand still clasped in Derek’s. The room smelled like paint and sawdust, and there were boxes of their things piled against the wall, but it was cool and airy, dappled with the sunlight that pushed through the trees outside. Derek had taken time to set up the bed the week before, knowing that the last thing they’d want to do after so much driving would be searching for blankets and making up the bed. With the sunlight making patterns on the covers, it looked like home.

“If you had asked me, last spring,” Stiles said suddenly, “where I thought I’d be in a year, I never would have expected this. I would have said – you know – college, fucking around with Scott in the woods, a summer job, maybe. It’s funny how things can change so fast.” He looked at Derek, face firm, the light in his eyes bright. He smelled of a strange mix of sadness and content. “I’m not saying that I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t. If I said that about my dad, that – that’s fucked up. But if one good thing came out of him dying, it was meeting you.”

“I could say the same about Laura’s death,” Derek replied, his throat tightening. “There’s no one I want here more than you.”

Stiles smiled faintly. “I love you,” he said simply. It wasn’t the first time he’d said it – no, Derek remembered the first time, walking somewhere in Brooklyn in December when Stiles slipped on an icy patch of sidewalk, his legs skittering out from under him like a fawn. Derek caught him easily and Stiles had laughed a muffled laugh into the sleeve of his coat and murmured, “I love you,” like it was no big deal at all. Derek, who had been saying the words in his head for months, wishing Stiles was ready to hear them out loud, was caught off guard and didn’t speak all the way home. Back in the apartment, Stiles turned and said, “Look, sorry if that—” and Derek pushed him down on the floor and fucked him open and when they’d both come, Derek kissed the tips of his fingers and said, “I love you too.”

But he’d never grow tired of hearing the words fall from Stiles’ lips, never tire of the warm sparks that went flying up his spine at the sound. He smiled when Stiles grinned, always awed by the young man’s ability to switch his mood around like a light. From sad to happy in zero to sixty.

“Come on,” Stiles said, tugging him forward. “Let’s break this bed in, huh?”

“This is the bed from your room,” Derek pointed out dryly, allowing himself to be pulled down onto the mattress. He crawled after Stiles, caging him with his knees while the young man tugged his shirt off.

“Breaking in the house, then,” Stiles said agreeably. “Our house.”

“Our house,” Derek echoed.

Stiles dropped back against the pillows, grinning as he pulled Derek down with him. Derek tilted his head to brush his lips against Stiles’, listening to the steady sound of his breathing, the slight uptick in his heartbeat when Derek slid his hand across his chest, thumbing a nipple. Stiles twisted his chin up so their lips met completely, impatient as ever, and Derek opened his mouth to him, welcoming him in. Stiles sighed against his mouth, fingers digging into his shoulders, one hand gripping the back of his head like he was afraid Derek might disappear. They shifted slowly against each other, hips moving without rhythm – it wasn’t necessary when they were only half hard.

Derek tilted his head back when Stiles’ mouth found his neck, biting and sucking a hickey into existence that bloomed and faded away just as quickly.

“It’s not fair,” Stiles murmured petulantly. “I want to mark you up.”

Derek chuckled, bending his head to return the favor. Stiles squirmed underneath him.

“Not my neck!” he squeaked. “We’re having dinner at Scott’s house tomorrow! His mom will kill you.”

Derek breathed out impatiently. “She does know we’re living together, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah, but she’s basically my mom,” Stiles argued. “Just spare me the embarrassment…please?”

“Fine,” Derek growled, bending his head and biting into the skin above Stiles’ nipple, hard enough to make him hiss. He sucked at the skin until it was red and raw and Stiles gasped under him, shifting around impatiently, his hands sliding down Derek’s back to dig into his ass. Derek rumbled approvingly, laving his tongue across the patch of red skin before latching his mouth over Stiles’ nipple. Stiles moaned loudly, fingernails scraping Derek’s skin.

“I am so glad we don’t have to worry about neighbors!” he panted.

“Like you ever keep your mouth shut anyway,” Derek grinned, bringing his hips up against Stiles’ in a way that made Stiles’ back arch.

“Like you ever try and stop me,” Stiles retorted, his head falling back against the pillow as Derek moved down his body, fingers unbuckling his belt and sliding his pants down to his ankles. He very delicately scraped his teeth along the bulge in Stiles’ underwear, enjoying the way the young man shuddered and cursed underneath him.

“I – I hope you planned for this,” Stiles gasped. “If there is no lube, I’m going to kill you.”

“You’re the one who said ‘let’s break in the bed,’” Derek reminded him. He grinned sharply. “Check the nightstand. I did plan.”

“You’re the best!” Stiles sang, rolling onto his side to reach for the nightstand. “Oh hey, you did plan. There are candy bars in here!”

“Those are for afterward,” Derek snorted, adding pointedly, “If you stop to eat right now, I’m going to kill you.”

“Mm, sassy,” Stiles replied, rolling onto his back and tossing Derek the bottle of lube. “I like you like this.”

Derek snorted again, shoving out of his pants before slicking up his fingers. He pulled Stiles forward, up onto his thighs, keeping his knee down with one hand while the other circled his entrance. He watched Stiles’ eyes flutter closed, his mouth gaping open like it always did. Derek worked him open slowly, listening to him breathe, reveling in how slick Stiles felt against his fingers. He could finger Stiles for hours, bringing him close to orgasm by grazing his prostate, smelling his arousal swell until it shrouded him like a blanket. Stiles was shaking under his hands, fingers digging into the sheets and it was strange how, when he needed it, he went silent, letting his body show his want.

“You’re perfect,” Derek murmured, slicking his cock with lube and pushing into Stiles. Stiles made a low, aching noise that rattled through Derek’s bones. It bewildered him, sometimes, when he tried to think about how this had happened – how he’d ended up with such an amazing person. Sometimes he had to stop mid-thrust, rest his head against Stiles' body for a long moment, afraid he’d wake up and everything would be a dream and he’d be out in the woods still, stuck in a wolf’s body.

He thought about their first time together. It had been a first for both of them – Derek had fucked Kate, but he’d never touched a guy, and Stiles hadn’t even kissed anyone before he’d met Derek. They’d both been unsure, moving carefully, afraid of hurting each other. It had been awkward and not entirely enjoyable, but afterward Stiles laid on top of Derek and said, “Let’s do that again,” and they had, eventually, and it got better every time. Now they knew each other’s bodies better than anything, better than a priest knew the Bible, better than the president knew the Pledge of Allegiance, and Derek couldn’t believe it was real.

“Der,” Stiles said softly, like he always did in these moments, and Derek lifted his head to see Stiles with his hands raised, reaching out to him. He sighed gladly and bent in close to kiss him, beginning to thrust into him with an easy, unceasing roll of his hips. Stiles wrapped his arms around his neck, keeping him close, murmuring an endless litany of encouragement into Derek’s ear.

“—yes, yes, fuck, Der, you’re good, so fucking good, fuck—”

Derek could hear when Stiles was getting close, listened to his breathing come in short bursts from between his teeth like gunfire. He slid a hand between them, sucking on the line of Stiles’ jaw as he jerked him to completion. Stiles came with a cry, his head jerking up and smacking into Derek’s face. Derek swore sharply, clasping a hand to his nose.

“Oh my god,” Stiles sobbed, giggling helplessly. “Oh my god, I’m sorry.”

“You’re going to pay for that,” Derek muttered, slipping out of Stiles and sitting up to wipe at his nose. “Am I bleeding?”

“Just a little?” Stiles laughed. “I’m so sorry.”

Derek wiped blood onto the back of his hand and nudged Stiles with his knee. “Roll over.” Stiles obliged, even though he kept snorting into the pillow. Derek allowed himself a smile and spread Stiles’ legs apart, pushing him back down when he tried to rise onto his elbows. He slid his knees over Stiles' thighs, rubbing his erection against the line of Stiles’ ass. “Can I knot you?” he asked carefully.

“Oohhh,” Stiles replied, twisting his head so he could give Derek a roguish grin. “I guess I deserve that. Go ahead; make me pay.”

Derek licked his lips and slid back into Stiles, sighing at the tighter position. He began thrusting again, shorter and sharper, almost laying across Stiles’ back. He’d been close before but now he let the bulge at the base of his dick grow, panting harshly as he slid in and out of Stiles. Stiles groaned under him as the knot caught on his rim before sliding inside. Derek moaned through a mouthful of fangs, coming inside of Stiles in a long, pulsing wave. He thrust into Stiles a few more times, fingers tingling, chest heaving. He paused to catch his breath before lowering himself, gently pulling them onto their sides so he didn’t crush Stiles while they waiting for the knot to recede.

“Thanks,” Derek murmured, pushing his nose into Stiles’ damp hair. He dragged his fingers up and down Stiles’ side.

“My pleasure,” Stiles purred. “And for that, you get to unload the U-Haul. My ass is not going to be ready for heavy lifting for a couple of days.”

“Pussy,” Derek breathed into his hair.

“You fucked it.” Stiles stretched luxuriously. “You know, we have had some pretty decent motel sex in the past few days, but this topped everything. It’s hard to be completely comfortable in a bed other people have slept in, I think.”

“Mmm,” Derek agreed, dragging his fingers down Stiles’ arms. He hated staying in motels; there were too many smells, too many remnants of other people for him to ever truly relax. “This was much better.”

“So much better,” Stiles confirmed, yawning. Derek curled his arm around Stiles’ chest and Stiles brought up his hand to tangle with Derek’s. “Hey,” he said. “Love you.”

Derek closed his eyes, breathing in deep. “Love you too.”