It’s a long drive. It’s a long drive and they have many miles to go before they sleep and Stiles wants to see the cliffside houses of the Ancient Pueblo peoples.
“Ancient Pueblo peoples?” Derek asks, staring at the road because maybe, just maybe, if he asks, he can distract Stiles into talking his own way out of this. If he starts talking, he might find all the little byways in his brain that lead him away from stopping for historical tourism.
Sure enough, Stiles starts talking, hands going, close to hitting the dash of the car, but he doesn’t let it go and he’s pointing at signs because now that they’re here, they might as well see the Four Corners and stand at the middle where they meet, “I want to lay myself down and dominate four states with my awesome,” Stiles says.
At the ancient stone houses, Derek loses Stiles through a doorway he can’t fit through and Stiles is talking in the dark, voice echoing. It makes Derek shiver; who knows what lives on these cliffs cut through with blood and death and Stiles says, “I’m sorry.”
He thinks the apology is for him until he feels cold in a band of sunlight and there’s the faint sound of whispers, drums, a smell of burning sage. In a dark corner, he sees a pair of eyes flickering.
Stiles says, “I’m so sorry.”
A gas station strewn with state flags, yellow with the red lines of the sun, and a wooden sign declaring Land of Enchantment. There are beads in the window, a gourd rattle, feathers set as a chest piece.
It’s the strangest gas station they’ve been in and Stiles’s eyes shine.
Car repair noises from the tiny attached garage and an old man rolling dominos in his fingers while he smokes.
The girl behind the counter smiles, long black hair damp at the temples, and she’s pretty, Derek can smell her blood, the ancestors like ghosts in her cheekbones. Stiles squints at her and she says, “Anything else.”
“Oh yeah, lemme get some food.” Stiles dashes off amongst the little shelves of the little store, and there’s a dreamcatcher staring Derek in the face.
“Get real food,” he calls as Stiles ducks and weaves and then waves a hand in acknowledgement, a kind of go the fuck away shut the fuck up.
He’s got a package of cupcakes dangling from his mouth when a voice yells, “Medina! Medi! ¿Quién está aquí?”
“Customers, abuela!” Then she screams it. “CUSTOMERS.”
“I want to see them.”
Stiles is headed towards the counter, junk food cradled in his arms, as a tiny ancient woman appears from a doorway in the back. Her hair is white, long and braided, her skin the color of the desert, and Derek can smell the age on her, salt and sage and burning mesquite. Her eyes are green.
She smiles, holds out a hand, and Stiles instinctively takes it, he’s like that, tactile and open, sometimes so much it makes Derek (confused) angry at the kid’s sheer grasp of life.
She looks at Derek and says, “¿Sí?”
He says, “Yes.” He doesn’t know why.
Gently, her knuckles swollen, she turns Stiles’s head this way and that, then presses at his throat until he swallows. She nods. “Yes, you are good, good heart, good warrior, smart. You are made to run, so run. Your heart will keep up. Yes, claro, you have big heart, like two hearts. You will…cómo se llame…shine in the dark. You call the monstruos to you, but you will defeat them. Siempre.”
Stiles gapes at her, but she’s busy reaching for Derek and his instincts tell him to pull away, fight if he has to, she can’t touch him, she can’t, then she’s there, palms on his face, fingertips soft on his cheekbones, and he stands his ground, teeth tight together.
“You have two shadows, one man, one wolf. They disappear together at night. You are good, good heart, mighty warrior, lost, so lost. You have to find tu corazón. You lost it long ago, you fed it to the fire and let it burn.” Her eyes suddenly fill with tears. “Debes encontrar tu corazón o morir.”
With her fingers, she closes his eyes where he stands, so he stays in the dark, breathing, her scent on his skin and he can smell Stiles’s fascination and fear.
He hears the ding of the cash register and the crinkle of all of Stiles’s food and the girl saying, “I am so sorry, she does that occasionally. She’s an old woman with nothing to do except watch telenovelas.”
“¿Bruja?” Derek asks, as he blinks and the yellow flag is in his eyeline, the red lines making the sun over and over.
“Sí.” Glancing at Stiles, the girl makes a hidden motion at Derek, wait, and Derek spins the postcard rack until Stiles says, “Just pick one, crazy man, and let’s vamoose.” The bell jingles over the door and Stiles is outside.
The girl says, “Did you understand what she said to you?”
Derek shakes his head.
“You must find your heart or die.” Her expression is cynical and hard and Derek nods.
The old man waves, dominos still clicking in his hands. They wave back.
Back on the road, Stiles sings under his breath with the radio, changing the station any time a song comes on he doesn’t like, rather frantic and schizophrenic. He eats, peeling the chocolate icing off his cupcakes to save for last.
It’s almost night when Stiles murmurs, “Dude, I have two hearts. Maybe I’m immortal.”
At the Four Corners, Stiles makes Derek kiss a quarter, “you’re the supernatural being here, not me,” though sometimes Derek wonders, maybe Stiles as human is the supernatural one; he says, “That thing is filthy, what is wrong with you,” and Stiles glares, “Just kiss it, asshole, supernatural being won’t get germs.” So he kisses the quarter with a roll of his eyes and Stiles flips the coin.
But Stiles walks away before he can see where it lands. Derek watches and shrugs and keeps it to himself.
At the far edge of Colorado, Stiles demands pie. The hotel manager overhears as Derek flicks through the tourist brochures and says, “Trudy’s. Get yourselves over to Trudy’s and have a slice of blueberry on me.”
So they get themselves over to Trudy’s, which turns out to be squashed between a coffee house and a ski store. There’s a shiny white sign, TRUDY’S painted in checkerboard red and black. Metallic sounds of spatula hitting griddle, someone “slinging hash,” as Sheriff Stilinski calls it to Stiles endless horrified amusement, 'oh my God, Dad, were you a trucker in your past life?' and though the odor of grease is everywhere, the place is spotless and clean and the table squeaks under their hands when they sit.
Derek’s clutching a brochure, SEE OUR HAUNTED MINE, because honestly, those brochures are a helluva lot closer to the truth sometimes than anything a historical society can tell you about a town. He’s reading it, thinking it over, Stiles chattering to the waitress about Colorado and skiing and oh yeah, pie, we came here for the pie, Jolene, thanks, I’ll take a slice of blueberry and this pile of grumpy-pants-laundry here will take a slice of strawberry.
He’s about to grunt that he doesn’t want fucking strawberry, he likes it, but he’s kind of self-conscious about eating it, especially after he was hunting with Lydia and she laughed at him, 'the big bad wolf decimated that poor defenseless piece of pie, kill it, wolfy, kill it,' him glaring with red staining his mouth. (Cherry is even worse. Especially when Stiles and Scott throw arms around each other’s shoulders and sing Warrant.)
It’s possible that’s one reason why Stilinski sends him out with Stiles now, even though Stiles would most likely rather be out with Lydia.
That girl scares the monsters away, holy shit. Derek has no doubt she’ll research and shoot her way into becoming queen, the Mother of All, and she’ll take over the unholy lands and dominions to keep as her summer home.
“That waitress looks like Lydia,” Stiles says to the back of the brochure because Derek’s holding it up to not watch Stiles’s mouth fish around for his straw, the kid has two hands and a brain, he can find the damn straw, BACK IN THE GOLD RUSH ERA, MANY MINERS WENT DOWN INTO THE SILVER GALAXY MINE AND NEVER RETURNED.
“Shoulda used more canaries,” Stiles says, “and less dy-no-mite. It’s kinda their own fault, ‘cause when a man comes across a mountain, of course the intelligent thing to do is chip away at tons of solid rock until you can find something shiny.”
“Stiles, I’m gonna shut you, Lydia, and the waitress that looks like Lydia in this mine and leave you there if you don’t shut up.”
He’s tired, he knows it and he can’t help it, and any threat of his isn’t going to stop Stiles, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t try. And Stiles’s lips curl, his eyes going squinty, before he snatches the brochure out of Derek’s hands. “You don’t deserve pie.”
“You need a nap and a time-out.”
Derek can feel his teeth lengthening, he’s tired and he can’t help it, Stiles always riles him even when he knows it’s coming.
“I see a fang,” Stiles whispers, sing-song in a you’re in trouble tune, leaning across the table, “you keep those fangs to yourself, mister.”
“And here you go!” the waitress chirps, two plates of pie in her hands, then two cups of coffee and she chirps a smile at Stiles before she disappears in a flash of gingham.
Pointing at Stiles’s cup, Derek says, “That better be decaf.”
“Oh hell no, it’s full-leaded coffee, my man, I need it since I’m driving.”
“You’re not driving.”
“Yes, I am.” Stiles stabs blueberries like they might escape and Derek remembers he has food in front of him.
“No, you’re not.”
Their phones buzz at the same time.
“Ha, looks like we got us a hunt, big guy. You ready to do some tracking?” Stiles says with a small clap, he forgets he’s holding his fork and almost sprays Derek with pastry and blueberry sauce. “Who’s the best sniffing wolf? Who’s the best sniffing wolf? YOU ARE.”
“Stiles, I will kill you.”
“You are dead.”
“A dead man eating pie. And driving.”
Derek wins because he still has the keys though Stiles makes some noise about getting copies made, “just sayin’, it’d be a good idea, who knows when we’ll need to make a quick getaway and the keys you’ll be in your pocket and you’ll be indisposed ‘cause some ghoul is trying to gnaw on your neck.”
They head out of town, Stiles pulling up the coordinates for the hunt and Derek ignores that Stiles’s mouth is blue.
“We’ll have to come back for the mine, I ‘spose.” Stiles peers over his shoulder as they pass the cripplingly touristy sign SILVER GALAXY MINE, NEXT RIGHT, TWO MILES.
“Eventually, maybe. Could be a hoax.”
“If it’s some asshole dressed up as a zombie miner, I’ll be real disappointed.”
Derek snorts. “Stiles, you’re dying to see a zombie miner.”
Stiles flips him off. “Screw you.”
The hunt is oppressive and depressing and Derek is crawling out of his skin. He’s shifted, picking his way through glass and dust, rusted bars.
Stiles says, “Tetanus,” snatching his hands to his chest.
They’re in the ruins of an elementary school. Stiles peers into classroom windows and Derek presses his muzzle to the door, scenting death and abandonment and crayons. They have to go room by room, sadly, because they don’t have the whole story. The sheriff was told ghosts and hauntings and fire, but that’s it, the history of the tragedy is muddled in the town’s willingness to forget.
(When they went to the school district’s administrative offices, as junior reporters searching town history, everyone shut down on the topic and Stiles stared at them, stunned; as soon as they were back outside in the heat and sunshine, he said, ‘How can people just wipe things from their memory so easily? Just obliterate it.’ He made a little explosion near his temple, like his mind went poof.
Derek shrugged. ‘It’s possible.’ He’s tried it. ‘Doesn’t make it right.’ He’s still tried it. He doesn’t point out that Beacon Hills has done the same with their tragedies.)
The school is a husk, it’s not even spray painted, no beer bottles and cigarettes butts anywhere like other haunted places they’ve been to where the teenagers stupidly gather to pretend to be brave and forget their frustration at spinning their wheels. No, Derek can smell it, he can sense it, hear it beyond the regular beat of Stiles’s heart: this place doesn’t exist.
Like those pictures of Pripyat Allison showed him once, a whole ghost city left still and silent.
Except there are cubbies with kids’ names painted on them in primary colors, toys, a papier maché volcano that’s fallen in on itself, dog and cat and fox and box and socks written in smeared chalk on a chalkboard. Dirty gold stars and classroom reading records and Zachariah had the best attendance last month.
He can’t smell fire. He whuffs, a push of breath.
“Doesn’t look like a fire,” Stiles says, shotgun in his hands and normal people are scared when they see Stiles with a firearm: at best, he appears to be a hyperactive, hyper-energized foal not used to controlling his limbs; at worst, he appears to be a hyperactive, hyper-energized teenager not used to controlling any part of his person. But he’s the sheriff’s son and he knows guns better than anyone, besides maybe Chris Argent.
(Stiles is more controlled than most people, he hides it well, but Derek can see it in his eyes, in the way his hands cut through space.)
Derek isn’t scared as Stiles swings to face him, gun hefted on his shoulder. “You can’t find it, can you.”
He glances up at Stiles and Stiles holds out a hand, as if he’s about to pet Derek, he doesn’t do it often, not because Derek doesn’t allow it, but because in the past, Stiles has said, ‘Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, me, that’s who. I like my fingers, I love them, I would marry them if I could, and my limbs, and my throat, and my organs. He might eat me.’
Sometimes, in these situations, with a dead suffocated school all around them, he forgets and puts out his hand. Nosing at his palm, Derek centers himself in Stiles’s scent, then sneezes.
“Yeah, I think I saw a dust bunny big enough to swallow me whole. If they start to mobilize, we’re in deep shit.”
As soon as they had the school in sight, Derek’s hackles had risen, even as a human, and after he shifted, it only got worse. He’s crawling out of his skin, the air empty and tense, as if they’re drowning in an invisible pool, and Stiles pushes his hood back off his head.
“Left or right.”
They choose a hallway, past the teachers’ lounge and a classroom full of finger paintings. Old water fountains and drooping posters, the library is a mausoleum (‘Reading is the road to magic!’) and Stiles almost cries right then and there.
“The books, Derek, the books.”
Derek barks, short and sharp, the end trailing into a whine.
Then he smells a child, but there isn’t a heartbeat and Stiles freezes.
No, Miss Duncan, I don’t wanna. I said I DON’T WANNA.
A little girl is suddenly there, talking, her whole tiny body distressed, her face screwed up as if she’s crying, and she has little barrettes clipped to the ends of her braids.
No, Miss Duncan, no, I wanna go home, let go let go, I wanna go home!
A boy appears at Derek’s flank and he snaps out, edging back towards Stiles.
Miss Duncan said we have to drink this, Joey, but it smells funny.
Two more kids, hand in hand, almost close enough to touch.
Miss Duncan said we had to or she’d send us to the principal’s office.
Another kid, and another, and another, seven in total, the temperature dropping until Derek’s breath is smoking around his muzzle.
Stiles’s hand slides into the fur at his neck and he squeezes hard.
Seven little kids, all talking at once about Miss Duncan, Miss Duncan wants us to drink the punch, it’s fruit punch, she said we had to or we’d get in trouble, we’d miss recess, we wouldn’t get to go on the field trip. Miss Duncan, this smells weird, this tastes funny, Miss Duncan, my tummy hurts, it hurts, make it stop, Miss Duncan, hurts.
The kids huddle around Stiles because the old woman was right, Derek’s seen it too many times to feel safe, supernatural things are drawn to Stiles, like a firefly in a dark room, they crawl, run, fly, scream, drag themselves by their nails to Stiles and he’s staring at the kids, heartbreak in his eyes.
Derek howls and Stiles says, “Death echoes. Of a sort.” He sits down, shoulder pushed into Derek’s chest, so he’s level with the kids and he takes a deep breath. “Okay, tell me about Miss Duncan.”
They talk. Stiles doesn’t cry, hand fisted in Derek’s fur. Derek listens to his heartbeat, fast but steady, with a tremor around it; Stiles is scared out of his mind, but he won’t let on, he never will.
They start repeating themselves, the loop continuing and Stiles says, “Okay, all right, show me where. Where’d Miss Duncan take you.”
And they don’t make any noise as they run off down the hallway, vanishing into dust.
A maintenance stairwell and Derek smells bones down in the dark, he smells old death and bones and chemicals. He growls. Stiles’s breathes once, twice, then Derek picks up wave of shock and disgust and anger. Fear.
“They left the bodies?” Stiles picks up on Derek’s fury, sniffing as if he can find the bones too, and he practically trips down the stairs, carting shotgun and flashlight, backpack jiggling on his shoulder. “They left the bodies. Unbelievable. Fuck.”
In a lost corner stashed under debris, a careful row of seven little skeletons. Rotting clothes. Sneakers with velcro and cartoon characters. Barrettes in the grime. Kool-Aid and rat poison.
A larger skeleton sits at a nearby desk, collapsed.
“Pardon my French, but fuck you, Miss Duncan,” Stiles says. “Did you just not wanna let them go? I hope you’ve made new friends in hell.”
Derek sneezes at the spray of salt over dry bones, at the sharp strike of burning matches, and he leans against Stiles’s leg as Stiles throws the matchbook.
Stiles is covered in pure grief, his hand rubbing the scratchy scent of phosphorus into Derek’s fur.
They’re headed back to Beacon Hills, Derek ratcheting the passenger seat all the way back, the better to watch you drive, my dear, because he only halfway trusts Stiles behind the wheel of the Camaro.
Sleepily, he watches the needle circle higher as Stiles “Lead-Foot” Stilinski gets them away from the corpse of the school, away from everything, and Derek still has chalk on his hands. He rubs it into his jeans.
It’s a strange tradition, but one he knows well: Stiles has to take something with him from every hunt. It’s not a trophy, he’s not a psychopath, it’s just a reminder, a memento mori to help them remember what they do and why.
“I just need it,” Stiles says. “It helps me sleep. Sometimes.”
He has a lunchbox he carries, Empire Strikes Back, and smaller items fit inside: a stamped gold button; a turquoise ring; a sparkly unicorn sticker; a photograph of a brother and sister, twins, hugging so tightly, their smiles are squished. Occasionally, he snags something too large for the lunchbox and he nestles whatever it is carefully in the trunk with the rags Derek keeps back there. This time, it’s a painted name from a cubby, and Derek had shifted to human as Stiles ran his fingers over the letters, ‘this one, definitely.’
There’s a room at Chez Stilinski, more like a closet, where he keeps his mementos with a sloppy ever-expanding 3-ring binder cataloging each item, date, and the nature of the hunt. Who he hunted with. The outcome. Any new scars. Any new nightmares.
Derek says, “You’re insane.”
“No, I’m highly intelligent and wired for action.”
Some of those mementos, Derek has logged into the notebook himself when Stiles was passed out with exhaustion or too high on painkillers or busy staring out the window, talking in halting phrases about nothing, absofuckinglutely nothing.
When Derek can’t sleep, he thinks of the ones he’s printed on the lines of paper, his handwriting a cribbed scrabble, more like small animals running away into the margins.
Stiles’s writing is chickenscratch, wandering all over the page; more than once, he’s looped it back on itself so the information comes out in a strange flat spiral. He doodles in the free spaces, triskeles and runes, alchemy symbols and storm words, and the first time he sees Derek’s tattoo (after an emergency dip in a fucking cold lake), he mock screams, “WITCH.”
Now, Stiles is driving them back to Beacon Hills; they’ve been gone a month, a full five hunts, and he was texting Scott like a cocaine fiend until Derek took the phone away, pointed menacingly at the road, and said, ‘Drive.’
They’re headed back and it’s always strange to Derek, a readjustment to be in Beacon Hills, the place where he was born, grew up, and died, then died again, and is waiting to die one last time. He’s spilled blood there, had his blood spilled, been cursed and hunted and unleashed; he met the Sheriff and Stiles there, the rest of the kids, his pack; a whole brave new world after a demon walked into town, thumbs hooked in her belt loops, and a whistle on her red lips (Kate the demon, Kate the living dead girl who made a deal with the devil, the demon smiling on the inside as Kate smiled on the outside, because hunting wasn’t enough for her, she needed to feel as she hunted, and the demon behind her eyes said, Oh, honey, I can help you with that).
Beacon Hills, the triangle town: there are the Argents, human, hunters, a world of black and white; there is the Sheriff, human, the authority helping the town stay blind, helping the other hunters (werewolves, vetted witches, humans who’ve seen too much to stand quietly aside); and the sleepy populace, ignorant of all except fairy tales.
Stiles hums, something that requires pops for drum beats and weird reeern sounds for guitar riffs. The needle inches higher. Derek stares out at the turn of the landscape.
He falls asleep and dreams of a gaping hole in his chest, his ribs cracked wide and pulled back, and there’s no blood.
“Derek. Derek. Derek, you glowering fuzzball,” Stiles is talking at him when Derek wakes, knee jerking and it hits the dash, “ow, what the hell, Stiles, what.”
He blinks and sure enough, they’re passing through trees, Stiles cornering around and down a hill like they’re on roller skates, and the air is so familiar Derek chokes.
Beacon Hills, he’ll go to the ramshackle fire-stained house he owns (he’s rebuilding, it’s a slow process) and Stiles will go home to his dad and they’ll get a breather from the hunt, from each other.
Which is depressing, he doesn’t want to admit it, but it’s true: Stiles colors the world in a way Derek never expected, the earth and sky have actual color when he’s around Stiles, as if the boy yanks the dusty curtain away to reveal the actual magic.
On pain of pain and death (as Stiles would say), Derek will never tell him, he’ll bite through his tongue first. He unfolds himself from where he’s slouched in the shotgun seat and they’re quiet as Stiles maneuvers them around to the Hale house.
(And if he’s lost his heart, Derek thinks he’d find it here, like a burnt balloon, covered in soot and ash, because it didn’t break, it just stopped.)
Stiles throws the car into park and pops out to gather up duffels and he coos as he spots his Jeep, leaves gathered on the hood, a chunk of blue left smudged by the black-gray of Derek’s home. He’s murmuring to it, I missed you, baby, did you make any friends out here, I bet there were some nice squirrels, and Derek doesn’t bother him, simply grabs his gear and tosses it on the porch.
He lifts the school memento out of the trunk, cradling it until Stiles notices him standing there.
“Hey, thanks.” Stiles takes it, drags a hand down his face. “We made good time, it’s only 4:30, thereabouts, so stop on by for supper. Dad’ll want an update and you know he’ll only listen to me for so long before he goes crazy. Siren song of my voice or something.”
“Or something,” Derek agrees with a half-smile and Stiles half-smiles back, then he’s in the jeep, door slamming behind him, and the tires spray leaves as he drives away.
Derek stretches, feels cool air on his stomach and he yanks on his shirt. The house smells the same, just older, like usual when he’s gone for a while, and he steps back to survey it better. It’s half whole, half destroyed; the kitchen, living room, dining room, and a downstairs bathroom are cleaned, structurally sound, just waiting for the rest of the house to knit itself back together. It’s the basement and a back den and the entire upstairs that need fixing.
He sleeps on a pull-out couch. Stiles scowls at it every time he’s over, kicking at one of the spindly metal legs, “you’re gonna break your back on that thing or pinch a nerve and then who am I gonna get to sniff out evil mutant ghost spiders in people’s houses, huh.”
When Derek goes inside, he kicks at one of the metal legs of the bed he left unfolded, sheets messy, and the house suddenly feels so heavy and quiet, as if it might collapse in on him (again, like it did so long ago).
He showers, digs out fresh laundry, sorts out dirty laundry, strips the sheets. He goes to the fridge and gets rid of the expired stuff; sadly, it’s a game to Scott to rifle through Derek’s fridge and see what’s molded and what’s not and then challenge Stiles or Isaac or Boyd or whomever is in unfortunate close proximity to eat said disgusting item, for prize money, of course. (Derek notices Scott never asks the girls, probably because Allison is Allison is Allison, Erica would shove the mess down Scott’s throat, and Lydia would pay him a higher cash reward to eat it himself, which defeats the whole purpose.)
He slams the fridge shut. He paces. He waits until six on the dot, then he heads over to the Stilinski house. He’s an adult, he has the option of not going to the open invitation of dinner and hunting information exchange (‘where everyday is like Shitty Career Day,’ Stiles said six months ago, ‘or the Final Frontier, our continuing mission to explore strange new ways to scare the shit outta people, to seek out new dead and new supernatural civilizations, to boldly go into the fuckery where no one has gone before!’ and then there was an unfortunate a cappella rendition of the Star Trek theme and the sheriff put his head in his hands), the short of it is he can simply not go.
But Stiles will text him every ten minutes, then call him every ten minutes, then he’ll send Scott over, and the kid didn’t need to learn intimidation tactics, they come naturally, so Derek gets in his car and goes.
The sheriff meets him at the door with a beer and he claps Derek on the shoulder. “Sounds like it was just a barrel full of monkeys.”
“So much fun,” Derek replies and the sheriff nods.
“Yeah, that happens.”
The food is lasagna and Scott’s at the table trying to steal garlic bread and Stiles is wearing a Ghostbusters apron that says I AIN’T AFRAID OF NO GHOSTS. Derek washes his hands to help with the salad and realizes he grabbed the wrong pair of jeans, these have streaks of chalk on them, but no one else seems to notice.
They play poker afterwards and Derek drinks too much and sleeps on the Stilinski couch because when the sheriff tells you you aren’t driving anywhere, you aren’t driving anywhere.
In the morning, Stiles wakes him, warbling about breakfast casserole. Derek swipes out at him in lieu of an alarm clock and Stiles sidesteps, then trips on the rug before heading back into the kitchen. He caterwauls for a while, then a cup of coffee appears on the floor near Derek and the worst part is Derek is getting used to this.
It’s a four-man job.
“Hey, Isaac,” Stiles whispers.
Isaac stares at the house. “Yeah.”
“Would you hunt Cthulhu?”
Derek snorts from where he’s hunkered down and Scott tilts his head.
Stiles shifts his weight, he’s kneeling beside the tree. “Would you hunt Cthulhu. It’s a fair question.”
“It’s a geeky question,” Derek says, just to rile Stiles because it’s actually a fucking fascinating question, but he’d rather have this discussion in a warm diner over a plate of steak and eggs than out in the dark behind a ruined mansion suspected of housing a cult of demon summoners.
(It’s a four-man job, very gender neutral, rendered such because Lydia put her foot down and said, ‘Nope, we’re going on a spa weekend, evil can take a break for at least four days,’ and the sheriff looked envious before shooing the girls off with a sigh. Erica laughed, head out the window of the car, her laughter streaming like her hair until they turned a corner and Scott yelled, ‘HASTA LA VISTA!’ Boyd voted to help with paperwork. ‘Paperwork?’ Stiles said, aghast; ‘Paperwork?’ the sheriff said; ‘Paperwork,’ Boyd agreed.)
The house is quiet, a few flickering lights in the windows and Stiles is making annoyed huffy noises under his breath, so Derek says, “I would hunt Cthulhu.”
Scott rolls his eyes and Isaac says, “How do you survive real life,” and Stiles says, “BZZT, wrong answer. When faced with Cthulhu, you run or become a gibbering mess, either one, but I guess it’s your choice, big guy.”
“Derek’s a manly man,” Scott says. Derek glares and Scott grins, no self-preservation, even with the night vision shine to his eyes, he manages to pat Derek with an it’s okay, buddy condescension.
“A manly geek man fighting a fictional monster from deep space,” Isaac says, wry, “that’s pretty damn manly, if you ask me.” He sniffs the air, moves two feet left.
“Your sarcasm is noted and appreciated,” Stiles allows, then kicks out at Isaac or where Isaac had been.
Rubbing at his chin, Isaac says, “At least someone appreciates me.”
Scott squawks, “I appreciate you!” and Derek is about to clock him for making noise and being weird when the house blazes to life, every light on in every room, and Stiles says, “Oh my God, who’da thunk it, this place has electricity!”
“Shut up,” Derek hisses. They all hunker a few inches shorter, the hedge wall is overgrown, but barely tall enough to cover the four of them. There’s no movement besides them, no paranoid demon summoning cult rushing out to find the intruders and honestly, a demon summoning cult, Derek thinks this is pretty ridiculous, downright cartoonish, but a hunt is a hunt is an episode of Scooby Doo, so.
Then the lights go dark, a few bobbing circles like candles and Isaac whispers, “I smell three.”
“Four,” Scott contributes.
“Three,” Derek decides and Stiles shrugs, “I smell copious amounts of smoke in my future.”
Stone-faced, Derek grabs Scott’s sleeve, “C’mon, Scooby,” tugging him past the hedges, the plan they came up with fifteen minutes ago was two people per exit and somehow, he got stuck with Scott (mostly because he didn’t rock-paper-scissors for it since he’s a mature adult) and Stiles is frantically whispering, “Wait, what does that make me?” and Isaac sighs as if it’s his job.
It’s a piece of cake, once they get in the front door, then test the air for occupants and possible magic, then find the basement door as Isaac and Stiles double-check the upstairs, then go down into the dimly-lit basement to find three teenagers wearing sneakers and hooded Halloween robes and acne, surrounding a serious business chalked magic circle, a tome, and a pillar of green fire.
That is the easy part. The hard part is whatever they’ve just summoned (it doesn’t look right) is staring at them like it’s starved for red meat, and in the tense crackling silence, one of the kids says the wrong ancient name. The demon-beast takes offense, eyes burning like copper, it decides to eviscerate everyone in the room, including the two werewolves no one else saw coming.
The kids shriek in cracked pitches that hurt Derek’s ears. Scott shifts immediately, chasing the kids to a corner and Derek catches the ringleader, yells if he knows how to banish it, reverse the summon, fucking anything, and the boy shakes under Derek’s grip, eyes wide and huge and scared as if he’s looked past the abyss and Derek thinks, Gibbering mess.
As the boy’s trying to talk, the demon-beast puts hooked nails to Derek’s back and the pain pushes Derek to his knees, his teeth lengthening, he tastes blood, but then Stiles is there, grabbing the kids, asking them the important questions, what did you do, how did you do it, where’s the book, help me draw this, so Derek lets himself go.
He’s teeth and claws, and Isaac’s shifted too, protecting the humans. It’s all survival, messy and chaotic, but Derek and Scott have trained enough, fought enough together and against each other to know how and when to attack.
The demon-beast fights in a smoke storm, throws broken teeth at them like bullets and bone shards like daggers and his weapons smell as if they were human once.
It’s brutal and Derek’s going to have nightmares.
Stiles yells something in Latin, the chalk glows, and the demon-beast explodes with an inhuman scream.
“I don’t think that was a demon,” Stiles says calmly.
Derek doesn’t give a fuck, he’s drawn his wolf back into his body, his bones re-crafted into human and he still tastes blood, smells it over the strange scent of copper and sulfur, then his eyes sting, shit, there’s blood in his eyes, he’s covered in it. Gashes all over his skin, some deep into the muscle, a few he feels down to the bone, and he’s suddenly exhausted, the green smoke is fading, he’s just so fucking tired.
Scott’s still a wolf, padding around the basement, muzzle down to the concrete, checking the signs and symbols of the fight, and he whines, sneezes, something isn’t right.
Derek’s going to sit down, right here, his legs have gone numb, right here is fine, maybe he’ll sleep here too, and out of the corner of his eye, he sees Isaac ease down on his belly, like a large sheepdog, still barricading the teenagers.
He’s fine, just needs some sleep and in the dimness, Stiles is talking, Hey, uh, guys, guys, what in the green hell is—
Derek wakes on a gulping breath, he needs air now, and someone’s pushing him to sit up, “Oh my God, you’re aliiiiiiiiiive,” Stiles marvels loudly. “Welcome back.”
“Don’t tell me I died.” Derek knows death and that wasn’t it, he doesn’t want to be so disappointed.
“No, no, you didn’t, but it was close,” Isaac says from somewhere behind them. “You bled out a nice pretty puddle.”
Stiles points and it’s a fucking lake from what Derek can see, “Your healing, well, all three of you, it went to shit. That stupid smoke or whatever. Maybe that beastie thing had poisoned claws.” Then he takes a breath and spits, “I don’t fucking know,” as if he’s frustrated, downright pissed off because he doesn’t know what went wrong.
“Okay, I won’t ask what happened,” Derek says, slowly, because Stiles’s hand is prodding at his chest, for a moment, he panics, what if his chest is cut open, he doesn’t have a heart, only a big gaping hole and what if—
“Easy, easy.” Holding him still, Stiles whispers against his temple, Derek can feel each finger pressed against him and he sighs. “Easy.”
Scott and Isaac are unfolding clean clothes from the bag they carry on hunts, tossing Derek’s at his feet, a roll of socks, boxers, jeans, t-shirt, it’s all familiar and it smells like the Stilinskis’ laundry detergent and Derek calms, lets his heartbeat catch Stiles’s rhythm.
“We talked to the dangerous ‘demon cult’” – Stiles’s sarcastic air quotes are an efficient science – “Isaac took notes while Scott and I played good cop-bad cop. Once we get back, I’ll get Lydia’s opinion. Probably run it past Deaton. I’ve never seen anything like that. You three just rolled over and played dead like trained puppies. It was fucking weird.”
“And that thing they summoned wasn’t fucking weird?”
“Shut up, only one of us gets to be sarcastic and aware.” The way Stiles is moving his hand, it’s like he’s petting Derek and great, another dog pun in there, somehow the puns transcend into the physical, but Derek doesn’t have the energy to move. Not yet.
So they sit there in an oddly configured heap until Stiles’s heartbeat skips, picks up, and he says, “Uh, dude, you’re still naked.”
“That’s what happens when stupid people do stupid things.”
“Are you referring to yourself in some way because—“
“I meant the dumb kids in their Halloween costumes trying to trick-or-treat like this is—” He doesn’t even have a metaphor or a reference, he’s getting irritated at himself (‘cranky’ is what Stiles calls it, but he needs a new thesaurus) and Stiles sighs, reaches around him to grab at the clothes and a towel, piling them in his lap.
“It’s all fun and games until the werewolves pass out from the special gas. Here, get cleaned up and then I’ll take you for ice cream.” Long fingers in Derek’s hair, Stiles rubs a bit (like he does when Derek’s a wolf and something’s just tried to eat Stiles feet first, arms locked around Derek’s ruff, deep in his fur), then he stands and pulls out his phone, taking pictures of the remnants of the circle scrawled on the basement floor.
It’s a struggle to put on clothes (and that’s just shitty and pathetic), so once dressed, Derek props himself against a wall, the smell of mold and mildew and magic demon smoke everywhere, he closes his eyes and listens instead, sometimes it’s quieter that way.
When he looks up, Isaac’s gingerly putting the spell book into a metal box, Derek recognizes it from Stiles’s jeep, it’s his toolbox/first aid kit/artifact box and he hopes Stiles doesn’t want a souvenir from this hunt, it was fucking stupid all around. Scott’s propped in a corner and he looks as exhausted as Derek feels, they took the brunt of the fight (‘my beautiful fighting tanks,’ Stiles said once after they were attacked by a wendigo, ‘really, I think I’ll just stand over here and cheerlead and throw band-aids at you’), it’s understandable.
The odor of soap and water, Stiles mopping the basement floor, one of the teenagers chewing watermelon gum, the amalgam of sweat and blood and laundry detergent and chalk, Derek breathes it in and lets it settle him.
On the way back to Beacon Hills, he falls asleep, head against the window as Scott slurs out how much he’d rather be getting a massage right now.
Erica waves blood-orange fingernails at Derek. “Did we have a nice trip?”
“Fantastic, relaxing, the accommodations were five-star and so was the service,” Stiles replies, stepping around her in a wide arc, “though I didn’t care much for the entertainment after dark. The souvenir options were horrible. It left much to be desired. Do not recommend.”
“Oh, poor babies, all that strenuous manual labor,” Lydia coos and Derek stretches to take up more of his couch before anyone can sit down.
He aches still, which is embarrassing, the hunt was a day ago and they all came back in one piece and Stiles got to speed to whole way home (‘WE’RE TRAVELING AT THE SPEED OF VICTORY!’) because no one cared. Sheriff Stilinski said, ‘Let’s count it a win,’ and gave the book to Deaton.
Derek slept through Stiles’s memento ceremony and he hasn’t asked what it is yet. He wants to sleep for another day, but Allison hmms, says, “So what’re we watching.”
The whole pack is piled in Derek’s slow-expanding house and there’s a chorus of movie titles until Stiles says, “Whoa whoa whoa, here now, don’t everyone get excitable. I’ve got a hat and I’ve got little slips of paper and I think we all know where this is going. The queen of the world gets to pick.”
Lydia, of course, and Derek pushes his face into a couch cushion because he wants them to stay, but he wants them all to go away, and he remembers that haunted mine, he should’ve thrown Stiles, Lydia, and the waitress that looked like Lydia into its depths.
But Erica shifts away, squealing as Stiles holds the hat out to her with a giant grin.
Derek’s asleep before the title card.
There’s someone in the woods. He scents the air; the movie’s long over, everyone’s gone home, it’s closing in on midnight.
Hands in his pockets, he steps out onto the porch, waiting, listening, the scent is familiar but there’s something off about it. His entire right side twinges, he ignores it to track down the source.
Up the road a ways and turn left into the trees. Fallen logs, dead leaves, a raccoon, and Stiles.
Flat on his back, hoodie spread out underneath him like wings, Stiles stares at the sky and Derek can tell he wasn’t alone, Scott and Allison were here, but—
“They left,” Stiles slurs, “they left me here all by my lonesome. Horrors, I might get eaten.”
“Stiles, what’re you doing here.”
“Shhhhhh. Shhh shhh shhhh. You’ll frighten the wildlife. Oh my God, dude, what am I saying, you are the wildlife.”
A bottle of Jack near his hand and that’s the sharp chemical bent of alcohol, Stiles and liquor and he still stares up when Derek crouches next to him.
“Why the hell are you out here. And drinking,” he says, he sounds older than he wants to, reminded of the age gap, he isn’t Stiles’s father, he’s – well, Derek doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what to do with this boy with the big heart and the light that calls to all the dangerous things they hunt. (He’s lost count of how many things ignore the wolves completely and go for the human. Allison smells of swift death; Lydia smells of fiery destruction; Stiles smells like a battle.)
“I’m out here to drink and I’m drinking because I’m out here to drink. It all makes perfect logical sense.” Stiles sits up, leaning on his hands. “Keep up, grumpyshorts, I’m explaining things to you, it’s not rocket science or brain surgery. I’m drinking.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” Carefully, Derek sits across from him, watches as Stiles focuses in his direction. “You got a flashlight?”
Sighing, Stiles reaches for the bottle. “You wanna tell spooky stories?” He finds it and takes a swig. “Once upon a time, this really shitty thing happened to this kid in this town. And it kinda ruined his childhood. And fairy tales are real, with with with the gore and toothiness and eating – there’s a shit-ton of eating, and, and the moral of the story is kill all the bad monsters with all the things—“
“Stiles—“ Derek’s always thought Mrs. Stilinski’s death was supernatural-related, but he’s never asked, he’s seen the sheriff stare out the kitchen window at nothing, seen Stiles sit on the edge of his bed like he might collapse at any moment. They both avoid mirrors.
“Shush, I’ve got the flashlight, I’m talking—“
“That’s a bottle – never mind—“
“Then this kid’s best pal, his ol’ buddy, gets bit by a thing that goes grrr in the night. Now the kid has to put up with all manner of fuckery ‘cause who knew that that one shitty thing was really a whole world of shitty things and then he meets Tall, Dark, and Exceedingly Crabby who decides to almost die over and over ‘cause a really shitty thing happened to him too, a long time ago in a house far, far away.”
Derek holds his breath, lets Stiles keep smearing his syllables into their brand of true crime story.
“Then this werewolf asshole, who’s a good guy, I know, you wouldn’t believe it, don’t tell Derek, he doesn’t like to be a good guy, anyway, this werewolf sonuvabitch asshole almost bleeds out in some dirty basement in the middle of nowhere ‘cause a bunch of kids decided to go all X-Files and shit and it makes me really mad, y’know? I’m just so pissed, I wanna – I wanna – oh, I learned a spell, wanna see.”
Before Derek can move, Stiles throws out a hand and a broken branch bursts into flames.
Stiles crows, “WOOOHOOO! THANK YOU, LYDIA, YOU FIERY-HAIRED TEMPTRESS!” and goes for a celebration dance, but topples over and Derek claws the branch off the tree, snaps it under his boot, smaller and smaller, extinguishing the fire, “What the shit, Stiles!”
“I’m angry,” comes the petulant response. “You, you asshole, you think you don’t have a heart ‘cause of what that woman said, but I’ve got two, you don’t think I’d give you one? You don’t get to fucking bleed out on some disgusting concrete—“ Scrambling to his feet, Stiles sways at him, hand out, and Derek really really really doesn’t want to catch fire. He grabs Stiles by the wrists, pushes his palms together, and they look like they’re praying, after midnight in the dark of the woods.
“Easy, easy,” he says it before he remembers, Stiles in that basement holding him up, naked and covered in blood as if he’d died and literally been reborn, Stiles nosing at his hair, whispering, so he says it again, “Easy, it’s okay, you’re okay.”
“I’ve got two hearts, like that show, y’know that one show with the blue thing and the noise,” Stiles whispers back, putting his forehead against Derek’s, “I’m immortal but you can have one but you don’t need it, you’ve got one already, dude, dude, a gross basement is not where you wanna die, that’s an absolutely shitty thing to do. Just shitty, man, not cool at all.”
Pressing closer, Derek feels it when he accidentally kicks the bottle over, alcohol sharp in the air, and if Stiles summons fire again, they might go up in flames, and Derek thinks it’d be worth it. “No one’s going to die.”
“Yes, eventually,” he agrees and Stiles interrupts, “But not now. Not tomorrow. Not in two weeks.”
“Not before I get to hunt Cthulhu.”
And Stiles laughs, body sagging against Derek, he gets a hold of him, enough to get Stiles pointed towards the edge of the trees. “Where’s your car.”
“It’s by the road.”
He lets go long enough for Stiles to pull up his hood, shivering, “I’m cold now, you made me move,” then Derek’s guiding him towards the scent of gas and oil and rubber. Stiles is surprisingly obedient, talking about what makes for real horror, his hands moving in complicated patterns like strange migratory flight paths, then there’s the jeep and Stiles makes a noise of relief, “my baby, oh sweetums, did you miss me.”
Then he falls quiet in the passenger seat, humming under his breath.
When Derek unlocks the front door, the sheriff is awake, in uniform, and he doesn’t say a word from his newspaper until after Derek gets Stiles up the stairs, into bed (Stiles just tilts over and there he is, facedown in a pillow), and then comes back down.
They watch each other for a moment, then Sheriff Stilinski sighs, drags a hand down his face.
Derek feels so young in this moment, nervous in front of authority as if he’s twelve and trying to steal fireworks, so he shrugs, he doesn’t know what else to do. “I’m returning this.”
“You got a receipt?”
“Nope, sorry.” He shrugs again. “I didn’t—“
“Oh, I know, I know. I’ll punish him later. After his hangover.” The sheriff smiles, tired, and Derek smiles too. He wants to apologize, Stiles drunk in the woods with his hands and gaze so much older than the rest of him; none of this should’ve happened to them, they have pictures on the walls with big smiles and the future in their eyes, nothing but sunshine. He wants to apologize, but he isn’t sure if it’s welcome and he doesn’t know how.
He smiles, shrugs a third time, then gives a wave, headed out the door.
“I owe you a box of donuts,” the sheriff calls. “Thank you.”
The hunt is a long drive away and daylight’s burning, they need to be on their way. Everyone’s scattered this week: Scott, Allison, and Isaac are in Yosemite; Stiles and Boyd are five hours south, and Derek’s partnered with Lydia, headed into Oregon. Well, they will be once Lydia makes an appearance. Derek’s already packed, double-checked everything, and stopped himself from drinking more coffee. He’s already measured for the new bathroom upstairs and made a rough sketch of what will go where. He poured coffee into a thermos.
He goes out on his porch and sits on the step. He’ll give her ten more minutes.
Ten minutes on the dot, she arrives in big sunglasses, hair twisted up in a scarf, and she smiles when she sees him.
“Alright, Mr. Big Bad, let’s go.”
She’s a force to travel with, she’s got a Trivial Pursuit box of cards, they quiz each other, mile after mile, and she beats his ass into the ground with a little smile and a twist of her wrist, ho-hum. She likes to flick the cards with a fwip that’s terrifyingly predatory.
Her binder informs them the hunt is airtight magic problems, an angry witch gone insane, marking runes all over a town to control and destroy, utterly twisted and broken. “Oh, I like this girl already. She’d be stunning if she wasn’t completely psychotic,” Lydia assesses, “I mean, her rune work is advanced, and she’s set up perimeters in a spiral, like a golden spiral of death. Fibonacci would be pleased.”
“Are you psychotic.” Derek feels honor-bound to ask.
Lydia pouts. “I’m not.”
The next question is science and Derek does want to ask her someday how she reconciles magic and science, but trapped in a small square of metal and glass hurtling down the road at high speeds is not the best place for it.
As they cross the city limits, she licks her lips and laughs.
“Oh, relax, this’ll be an absolute dream. I’ve had calculus homework that’s taken longer.”
It takes two days and Lydia is royally angry by the end of it, one hand pressed to Derek’s chest, the other out creating a shield, she’s drawing on the inherent supernatural in Derek’s blood to crack the witch’s spell, an eldritch horror if Derek’s ever seen one (and his brain says in Stiles’s voice, Tentacles, we all know where that’s headed). The witch snarls, her palms flat at them, power pouring off her in vapor waves and Derek grits his teeth because it feels like Lydia’s pulling his joints open, inch by inch. She pulls so deep, he feels it in his vertebrae. She screams in Latin, her fingers curling into fists and the power yanks through him into her into the air like a taut rope cut. Power surges like an arrow, lightning blue and slicing.
He feels his heart stop.
Then he’s a wolf and Lydia’s kneeling, staring at the fallen witch across from them, lying on the ground. He growls and Lydia laughs out something, vae victae, and he strikes. He can feel his heart beat again when he tastes blood. With a snap of Lydia’s fingers, the witch’s body burns.
In the smoke, Lydia smiles. “I haven’t had a challenge like that in a long time. It’s so refreshing.”
He sneezes at the smell.
Later, she hands him a shirt over her shoulder and says, “Stiles was right about you.”
“What.” He’s sure they have daily gossip sessions, Stiles cannot be texting only Scott at the rate he does, and he shouldn’t have asked, but too late.
“You jump into a fight like – well, like you aren’t scared.”
“Okay, however, I know you aren’t stupid. Don’t you think about what could go wrong.”
“No.” He doesn’t really have that luxury, hasn’t since he found Laura’s body in two pieces.
“I can see why he worries.” Lydia tosses her hair back and throws a bag into the trunk. She snatches a leaf off the asphalt, twirls it. “Oak. This town should’ve been better protected.”
Derek’s not distracted by the facts of the hunt, he can see she’s writing the report in her head. “Stiles worries. About his next meal?”
“No, about you. He thinks you don’t care enough to live. He said something about a gas station or something. Maybe I should carve in some new runes. At the corners. This is a cute little town.”
She blows the leaf off her palm, red lips pursed like a dream, and Derek shakes his head.
pizza. pick your toppings.
Derek squints at his phone. “Uh, what.” He types, what.
p-i-z-z-a. an italian delicacy. crust, sauce, meat of various types, cheese so much cheese, veggies might be included if the argument is just.
Lydia changes the radio station and presses on the gas. “Tell ‘em we’ll be there in ninety minutes. I want pepperoni.”
It’s a conspiracy, Derek’s always suspected as much, there’s an odd telepathy emerging in his pack and he feels left out as if the only thing he can hear is static.
just get a supreme, he types back and almost immediately comes a reply, the red queen wants pepperoni, i know, what do you think of jalapenos.
Maybe if he waits long enough, Stiles will stop texting. It’s not possible, but Derek is delusional on occasion (his sister used to say so).
did you get me a present. erica wanted a teddy bear. scott wants pineapple on the pizza, we’re not going to ask permission to beat him up, we’re just going to do it. your betas are very badly behaved. suggest disciplinary action.
The texts keep coming up on the screen and Derek drops his phone in the cup holder and closes his eyes as it continues to whistle at him, new text, new text, new text, new text.
“Can you imagine what Stiles would be like if he broke his thumbs?” Lydia asks sweetly from behind the steering wheel. Derek glances at her sideways.
“How soon are you going to take over the world,” he asks.
She laughs as a speed limit sign flies by. “Soon.”
When he was little, his father told him once not to be afraid of the woods. ‘You just have to find home. You’re not lost, there’s nothing to be scared of. Just find your stars and find your bearings and you’ll be home in no time.’
He never picked a constellation, never picked a star to follow. He should have.
He has leftover pizza in his fridge and a sledgehammer waiting upstairs to knock down a bathroom wall.
On Wednesday, he’ll have dinner at the Stilinski house after an appointment with Deaton to discuss the demon-beast incident.
He has the quarter from the Four Corners, the one he kissed for Stiles to flip in the air, silver turning over and over and over.
He wakes when his phone rings and somehow, that’s his life.
“Derek, hey, hey, Derek, hey, dude, Derek, dude, hey—“
“Guess what.” Stiles is awake and chipper and sing-songing at Derek; he fumbles for the clock. 9:43 a.m.
“I said ‘guess what’.”
“No, man, you’re supposed to guess. That’s why I didn’t say, ‘Hey, say what,’ and you’re like, ‘What.’ I said guess and that’s normally taken as typical verbal direction to actually guess—“
“Scott’s stuck in a tree trying to save a kitten.” He untangles from the sheets and should be surprised he’s having this conversation, well, not having a conversation, more like surviving through one, but he’s not surprised. He refuses to be surprised.
Stiles is laughing on the other end. “No, but that’s a good one. Nice try. Guess again.”
“Stiles, I haven’t had coffee yet.”
“You can’t disembowel me over the phone.”
“Once they invent that, I will.”
“If and when they do, but until then, you’ll just make faces, I know, you’re making that face.”
Derek schools his expression, rubs at his chin. “No. What. Why’re you calling me.”
“Maybe I wanted to hear your dulcet tones.” There’s shuffling on Stiles’s end, like fabric or something, then a crackling noise. “I’m making breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit salad, toast, there might be hash browns and/or gravy involved, it’s a scandal in the Stilinski household—“
For a minute, Stiles is silent, the air on the line cold, and Derek wonders what’s gone wrong. It stretches until he’s about to check if they’re disconnected, then Stiles says, “Never mind, I thought you might want a nice, warm breakfast cooked by a chef of amazing prowess and impossible good-looks, but never mind, it’s cool.”
He finds his socks, decides he needs a shower, says “Yeah, okay, I didn’t mean to – I’ll be over in twenty minutes.”
“Make it fifteen. Dad’s here and I’m going to have to do knife-and-fork battle over the traditional breakfast meats, not to mention the unsuspecting hash browns. There might actually be bloodshed, I need a protector, so hurry forth, o brave knight, come to rescue me and my delicate eggs over-easy.”
“What. I. What.” He hangs up and he refuses to be surprised, but he is anyway.
At the Stilinski dinner table, the sheriff has a generous pile of hash browns and a new file, the folder’s still shiny from the package. “I think you two were in the area not too long ago.”
“Where is it—“
“Oh my God, Derek, it’s our mine, our beloved long-lost haunted mine.”
BACK IN THE GOLD RUSH ERA, MANY MINERS WENT DOWN INTO THE SILVER GALAXY MINE AND NEVER RETURNED.
The brochure’s as garish as Derek remembers. “Oh my God.”
“I know, isn’t it magnificent?”
The sheriff grabs Derek’s plate out of the way in the nick of time as Derek drops his head on the table, thunk.
“Who knew breakfast could be a trap,” he mumbles against the old wood and Stiles huffs, “I’ll have you know it wasn’t a trap. It’s a nice breakfast on top of exciting mine news, c’mon, it’s a celebration!”
Mines are enclosed shafts deep in the earth, sometimes twining like a maze and there’s no light and only one way out and the only things keeping a mountain from falling in on you are beams and sloppy physics. Derek’s a werewolf, he doesn’t exactly prefer tight spaces, they remind him of cages, and he’s been in cages before. They aren’t vacation homes.
Stiles’s eyes are shining, wildfire in an eighteen-year-old boy, and Derek stabs his eggs with his fork.
“Don’t say it.”
“Adventure,” Stiles whispers with jazz hands.
They don’t talk much on the drive there, they’re in the Camaro again, everything comes full circle, Derek supposes, like an ouroboros (Stiles wants one as a tattoo across his shoulder blades and it’s not Derek’s job to talk him out of it, he can’t, not with his triskelion burning on his back every time he shifts to wolf to human to wolf to human). The snake eating its tale. There is an awful lot of eating.
The file was pretty vague about what exactly they’re hunting in the mine, but Derek hopes whatever it is, it isn’t of a mind to eat them.
Someone decided to take the actual “haunting” of the mine seriously and word came through that underground ghost radio of the hunting world (sometimes proper ghosts in the waves), so here they are, pulling into the parking lot like a pair of tourists.
There’s no cover story really, friends on a road trip, “out to see the tourist spots of our grand ol’ country, need I say more,” Stiles says to the bored clerk selling tickets, “hell yes, we want the entire tour package.”
Derek rubs at his eyes until he sees stars.
The tour isn’t much because it’s a mine and no one can wander off very far, lots of fences painted black and spooky signs warding away curious people trying to look off the path. There’s a man dressed in gray clothes, gray makeup, gray wig, and Stiles mourns, “We are in an episode of Scooby Doo, we live the Scooby Doo life.” Close next to Derek, he suddenly stiffens, heart rate a little off kilter, then before Derek can ask, he says, “At least there’s not a laugh track.”
The tour guide talks about the history of the area and the mine, talks about the brave souls who built it and dug to plumb its depths and Stiles mutters something under his breath about dwarves, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill until the tour guide says that the mine isn’t haunted by the ghosts, well, not only the ghosts of the dead miners, but the thing that killed them lurks in the maw of the mine, just waiting to snatch up more unlucky passers-by.
The miners weren’t killed by cave-ins (though that happened) or poor working conditions (that happened) or general overall abysmal medical knowledge (that happened too): they were devoured by the hungry mouth they discovered down at the end of Tunnel 33. An enormous beast of unimaginable fury, the bloodthirsty spirit of the mountain—
Derek whispers, “Balrogs?” before he can stop himself and Stiles grabs his arm, face smashed into Derek’s shoulder, he laughs so hard Derek’s shaking and about to burst out laughing too.
“Shhh, shut up, shut up, he didn’t say it was wreathed in flame or some shit,” Derek’s whispering frantically, maybe because it’ll shut Stiles up, maybe because it’ll make him laugh even harder, “you’re gonna get us sent back to the bus.”
“Worst field trip ever,” Stiles intones.
If it weren’t for the amateur lighting, the hokey signs, and the hasty posters printed in Comic sans, Derek would enjoy this hunt, yeah, he’s not excited about the mine, but it’s an interesting period of history, and—
Stiles is leaning over a barricade, hand reaching toward the shadows, and it should be nothing, there’s a fake miner’s lamp near his feet, casting enough light to make the shadows move like fucking snakes.
Thank fuck they’re at the back of the tour group, he’s sprinting over to yank Stiles back by the shirt, the shadows are slithering and rearranging themselves in sinuous patterns, but Derek doesn’t see any eyes, no heads or tails, just a mass of writhing darkness and Stiles has a fistful of his shirt too, staring, breath coming fast.
“I thought I saw something—“
“Yeah, it’s like—“
“No, Stiles, fucking move.”
They shove each other backwards and the darkness hisses, like multiple voices at once, layers upon layers, spitting at them with pure menace. The shadows show teeth and it’s a primeval challenge, the wolf in Derek sees it, two creatures of the otherworld marking a line for dominance. Teeth in the darkness, morphing sharp.
“Please tell me those aren’t the miners.”
“I think those are the miners.”
The mine isn’t simply haunted, it’s been corrupted, whatever happened here was many levels of hell bad.
Stiles says, “Did we switch to Buffy. This isn’t a Hellmouth.”
“No, the only gate I know of is in Wyoming.”
The shadows slide and hiss, but won’t come past the barricade and the miner’s lamp.
“Why do this now, how many tourists come through this place every day, I mean, the big bad gets stirred up now?” Stiles is watching the shadows like this is a safari, he has all the curiosity and some of the self-preservation, most of it luck, and Derek can feel his claws coming out when he finds Stiles’s wrist in the half-dark, nails brushing skin.
“Get back,” he demands, wolf close to the surface, it’s struggling, wanting to shift, the shadows are calling to it, “it’s me, maybe it hasn’t seen another supernatural in awhile.”
“Or maybe it’s killed a few along with a steady diet of civilians. They don’t call this mine ‘haunted’ for nothing.”
“It’s not haunted, it’s alive.”
“Okay, now you sound like this is the Twilight Zone.”
The deflection doesn’t work, there’s a tremor in Stiles’s voice, a little crack in the middle.
They can only retreat, for the moment, who knows what the shadows really are. Stiles has already pulled out his phone, searching for bars.
In the parking lot of the motel, they sit on the trunk of the Camaro in sunshine, the phone held between them on speaker. Derek holds it like all people do, up and to the sky like it’s a beacon, and maybe it is for them because Deaton’s telling them what they need to know to stay alive on this hunt.
“It’s a haunting,” Deaton says.
“No, dude, this is not a ghost or a death echo or even a death rattle. This was black fucking shadows all squirmy and slithery and—“ Stiles runs out of descriptions, hands moving to sketch bizarre curving shapes. “This was not Old Man McGillicutty who died back in 1876 because a rock fell and hit him in the head.”
“I agree, this is not Scooby Doo, there are no pot fields some yahoo in a costume is protecting from the authorities,” Deaton says sharp over the line, Derek snorts and Deaton keeps going, “this is a haunting. You’ve got tens, maybe hundreds of ghosts bundled up into one mean motherfucker.”
Smirking, Derek leans against the Camaro’s back window. “Like a union.”
The expression on Stiles’s face clearly states that he is not putting up with this shit. “Oh, fantastic, the ghosts unionized. Look at them being all organized and proactive. Shorter workdays, better benefits, vacations even! Will no one stop their insane demands?”
Deaton chuckles and it crackles out of the speakers. “Did it attack anyone today?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been. Stiles tried offering himself as a living sacrifice, but that didn’t work either—“
“’Cause you dragged me away! I was simply conducting a scientific inquiry which could have netted me some serious data points—“
“Along with death and/or dismemberment. I don’t think your union rep would be happy.”
“You, as my Alpha or Dad, as my dad?”
Derek feels shaken, it’s not often Stiles refers to him as the Alpha, his Alpha, because Stiles is pack and in an ass-backwards maneuver, Stiles adopted him, they keep a growing tally of who saved whose ass (it’s currently 48 to 43 after the Gruesome Debacle at Eugene which put them both back to zero; Stiles gave him a wolf sweater once when Derek reclaimed 30), and the way Stiles says it in the same breath as the sheriff, as if the two of them are the sole caretakers of Stiles, he’s shaken, he almost drops the phone.
Through the tinny rustling of the phone, Deaton’s talking about collective hatred and unfinished business, the entire obsession that pulled those men into the hole in the mountain, it’s probably an entire city of blank skeletons, and Derek interrupts him, “That’s great, but this isn’t a salt and burn, we can’t find every skeleton and burn it. It’s a mine with a lot of dead guys and I don’t think the current inhabitants will be very happy.”
“They aren’t happy now,” Stiles points out, watching Derek, gaze clear as if he’s learning something about Derek, so Derek hops off the car, leaves the phone on the lid of the trunk next to Stiles. He kicks rocks as Deaton says, “Well, there has to be a source.”
“But we can’t just throw salt and gas into it and toss in a few matches,” Derek insists as a rock flies sideways. He scowls. “We could—“
Stiles shrugs. “Blow it up.”
In California, Deaton sighs. “You could blow it up.”
“Are you insane. We’re not firebombing a mine.”
Silence and the motel is off the main drag a few blocks, there’s quiet traffic, the shush-shush of tires and the mountains rise behind them hard and irrevocable. Their shadows are inching across the parking lot and Derek is pacing, he walks into the shade of a tree and shivers at the sudden loss of heat. Sprawled on the bright slick black of the trunk, Stiles has his eyes closed, his throat bared to the sunlight and if this were another day, Derek might climb up the bumper and put sharp teeth to soft skin (he now owns a fucking sweater with a fucking wolf on it), but then Stiles draws his knees up, almost defensive, as he says, “There has to be a way to kill it.”
“You said it was a single entity,” Deaton replies, clearing his throat, “did it have mass.”
“It looked solid enough,” Stiles says, “I thought I could touch it. It looked thick enough to have weight.”
“Like every other thing we hunt.” There’s an idea, Derek’s got the tail of it. “Can we shoot it full of salt, light it afterwards? Or would the bones keep it alive, per se.”
A clanking from Deaton, Derek can picture him setting a book on his metal exam table, “Sounds like the ghost is held together by sheer obsession and rage, so it’s possible shooting it might be enough. Of course, fire is always an option…”
“Of course it is. See, Derek, Deaton understands. Fire is good, fire is fun, the liberal application of fire is sometimes a delightfully entertaining but necessary evil.” Stiles still has his eyes closed, except now he’s smiling. “Oh, one more thing: the ghostie really doesn’t like Derek.”
“Not many things in the supernatural world like werewolves.”
“Standing right here, guys,” this tends to happen, Derek feels the need to point out his presence as a person not a zoo animal to these dickish joksters (Stiles occasionally calls him a gargoyle, which isn’t an animal and Stiles argues they’re based on mythological creatures, still not an animal), though it doesn’t help when he threatens to kill them in a rather animalistic manner, whatever, it makes him happy, those moments are fleeting, life is short, etc. etc. “I don’t care if it likes me, I’m going to kill it.”
“That’s the spirit. Ha, puns.”
Come nightfall, they load up. Shotgun for Stiles with his usual hunting backpack full of salt cartridges and “all the fun stuff,” which Derek knows are matches, knives, Stiles’s personal lucky charms that turn out to be random things like the TMNT action figure he’s had since he was six or a buffalo nickel or a piece of stained glass taken from a church, a spell book made by Lydia (she told Derek over carefully manicured sandwiches, ‘I give him all the truly dangerous ones, he’s like Einstein, don’t give him the easy spells, the easy ones are too easy, they’ll confuse him, no, give him the complicated ones and he’ll be as happy as – well, I don’t know what baby animal to compare him to, but y’know, a baby animal,’ and Derek said, ‘One with teeth?’), a tiny scorpion suspended in glass that Scott bought him after a hunt in Arizona, a set of vampire teeth Erica gave him one Halloween.
They load up and drive out towards the mine, leave the car down the road and it’s not even sneaking, Stiles is very upset about the not sneaking, there’s no reason to sneak because this town is bucolic (besides the mine) and quiet and the only things that go bump in the night are dead branches in the trees and the occasional teenage prank. Unless people graduate up to robbery, heavens; Derek thinks this mine fiasco is going to a) be a fiasco and b) really push the town police department to the limits of its training and preparedness.
He hopes they have a good fire department at least.
Stiles says, “I’ve got room in the bag for your clothes, so shift,” and it’s never been odd stripping down in front of Stiles, except for the spike in heart rate Stiles suffers, just a blip on the radar, it’s become so familiar, a sort of pre-hunt ritual, Derek catches himself listening for it as he slips off his shirt, steps out of his jeans.
It’s there again, always, and this time, there’s a skipping chaser to it, Stiles is nervous, afraid, and Derek stops.
“What.” Stiles pushes a leaf on the asphalt with the toe of his sneaker. “What?”
Derek shakes his head, then shifts, and when Stiles mutters, “Don’t do this like the last one, asshole,” he remembers: Stiles drunk off his ass in the woods, furious at Derek almost dying in that dingy basement; Stiles lit with alcohol and righteous indignation like he might burn down a sizable piece of forest; Stiles about to set them both on fire.
He pads up close and presses his nose into Stiles’s palm, licks at his knuckles and fingers.
“What’re you – oh, you gotta have emotions while you’re a wolf, huh, can’t do it while you’re human. I get it. Screw you, Derek.” Hefting the shotgun on his shoulder, Stiles stalks off. “Let’s get this over with.”
Stiles’s sweat on his tongue, Stiles is afraid, he can taste it; he just licked over Stiles’s lifeline, it’s long and unbroken, but Stiles is still afraid. The darkness might’ve awoken again because of Derek, become overly aggressive and antagonistic because of Derek, but the monsters are always distracted by Stiles, foxfire in human form, they’re drawn to him relentlessly. He stores the sound of Stiles’s heartbeat in his head, like a metronome, he’ll keep it steady, long and unbroken.
By the time he reaches the gate, Stiles has already climbed over, so Derek finds the plank kicked out for him and squeezes through, holding his breath. Stiles is kneeling by the mine entrance, picking the lock (‘sheriff’s kid, learn all kinds of things, it’s a wealth of knowledge’) and Derek sits back a few paces. This hunt is already going sour, Stiles smells of fear and anger and salt, it’s making Derek growl low in his throat reflexively.
Snagging a miner’s lamp, Stiles gets them inside and they’re careful to stay inside the circle of light as it sways with each step. Derek sticks close. Stiles doesn’t touch him, doesn’t acknowledge him except to say, “Great, we’re hunting shadows at night in a dark mine with a lamp that casts shadows because science!, so we must be really, really smart, or just ridiculously good-looking. Right now, I’m hoping for the former.”
Trotting ahead, Derek stops him: don’t get too far from the entrance, this could go very bad very quickly and it’s not as if the tunnels lead to paradise, they need to stop here and wait. Stiles rings a few barricades, “circling the wagons,” and Deaton’s surmise was that they used old beams for the barricades, for authenticity; the beams have withstood gravity, the mountain, and death for so long, they’re made from the local trees, old and strong, they can withstand the seething darkness.
And it doesn’t take long. The shadows around them suddenly have weight and substance, changing, a subtle presence in space, no eyes no mouths no hands, just a moving mass, beyond the darkness of the mine.
“Hello,” Stiles says with a dorky wave. “My name is Stiles and this pain-in-the-ass is Derek and we are here to pump you full of salt. Or put you to rest. Whichever sounds nicer. I’m not exactly in a giving mood, at the moment, so I don’t feel like being polite. You’ve been down here a long time and that sucks. Really. But no more ‘haunting,’ no more eating people or whatever the hell you’ve been doing, to be honest, we don’t know, we just know that you’re a hissing bundle of hatred and folks don’t take kindly to that. It ruins their mine tours and scares the fake ghosts. And there’s nothing sadder than a scared fake ghost. Except maybe burnt waffles.”
The shadows bend, stretch out towards Stiles, as if to touch him, reaching (you call the monstruos to you) and Derek snaps his jaws, teeth flashing because nothing is going to get to Stiles without going through him first (but you will defeat them), that’s how Derek works.
“Beautiful, absolutely stunning,” echoes a voice, cold and drawling. A human, except the scent’s twisted, something underneath it, something grossly familiar.
The tour guide steps into the light, wearing his uniform with the Silver Galaxy name stitched on in silver thread. He gives a wave, mimicking Stiles, then his eyes blacken over completely.
(Kate with her black eyes and blonde hair and the fire of the house behind her, it smelled like smoke and she already smelled like brimstone and Hell had come to earth.)
“These are my forefathers,” the demon says here and now, palm up to caress the darkness, as if he’s holding empty air, black oozing over his skin, between his fingers. “Or rather, I should say, they’re the forefathers of luckless young Saul here.” He makes a face. “I usually don’t wear ‘em so young, but it’s coming on summer. Bikini season.”
“You’re keeping the ghosts here,” Stiles says, fingers resting on Derek’s head and like the hunt with Lydia, Derek feels a thread of power start to flow into Stiles, subconsciously or not, so he lets it go, they’ll both need the strength.
The darkness makes a noise, as if it can tell, and it shows its teeth as Saul says, “Oh, yes, I am. They’re not ghosts anymore, they’ve evolved, which, I have to say, it just completely delicious. It’s not every day you see ghosts get off their lazy emo asses and do something with their afterlives. Their hatred of this mine, their anguish at such a wasted life, dying down here like worthless pieces of dirt, it’s just. It’s done something Hell could only hope to achieve, and I’m here to tell you, fellas, Hell doesn’t like to hope.” Saul’s eyes glitter, following the flame of the miner’s lamp. “They’ve almost become demons by sheer will alone.”
Right now, this isn’t the plan. The plan was to distract with werewolfliness and shoot as fast as Stiles can without actually shooting Derek in the process, then there’d be fire, Stiles would be happy, Derek could get dressed, they could go home because Stiles has this new casserole recipe he wants to try, just trust me, idiot, I know how to read a recipe, you won’t die of poisoning unless I poison you, y’know, accidentally on purpose.
Instead, Stiles taps behind Derek’s ears, a warning, “So you keep them happy and well-fed, is that it. Feed them the odd tourist now and then, so they’ll, what, help you take over this overgrown tourist trap? Make enough money to get to L.A. I dunno what you’re doing here, Saul, and hey, nice name, you always choose humans based on their apostolic names?”
“He wasn’t an apostle when he was named Saul, young human. Go home and read your Bible.”
“Oh, silly demon, I think I’ve read enough. Should I start the exorcism now or are we gonna keep talking, see if you invite me over for tea.”
“Yes, you stink of hunter. You and your little werewolf. He is a pretty thing, isn’t he. He shifts nicely, yes, I bet he hunts just as well. Clean teeth, powerful stance, strong haunches, he is an excellent specimen.”
Derek growls, chest rumbling with it, and Stiles presses against the back of his head, power still trickling. The shadows have crept forwards, pushing at the barricades, and one of them slides with a scraping sound against the floor of the mine.
“He is quite the terror,” Stiles agrees. “Now, Westminster Dog Show bullshit aside, see, the thing is, I don’t really give a fuck—“
“Blasphemy,” the demon clucks and Stiles laughs, “I don’t give a flying circus trapeze fuck why you’re here, I get it, it’s your jollies, congratulations to you. However we can’t let you keep eating people. It’s kinda rude.”
Saul smiles, wide and slick, and he licks his lips in an exaggerated gesture. “Your werewolf. If I stopped, if I gave up my addiction to this fiend here, would you give him to me. I am a collector of the…unnatural things in the world.”
“I would say ‘over my dead body’,” Stiles starts and Saul groans, “So cliché,” and Stiles continues, “But you’d probably take that as a bourgeois challenge, so I’ll just say no.”
“Fine, very well, should we fight to the death.” With a bored gesture, Saul kicks a barricade away, wood splintering into the black of the mine and he hums as he kicks another one, edging close to the lamp.
This isn’t right. There’s a coldness stealing over Derek, he feels his heart seize and it isn’t the buzz in his blood of what Stiles is taking, it’s a realization: this could turn very bloody very fast and they will lose complete control of the situation.
This could be a tragedy.
He bites Stiles’s leg through his jeans, teeth pressing points into muscle, and Stiles doesn’t flinch. Stiles is staring at Saul as if he’s seen a knife floating in mid-air.
“You’re keeping them here. As a pet. Why. How.”
“The same reasons you keep a werewolf, perhaps,” Saul says.
Immediately, Stiles lets go of Derek and it feels like a break, clean into the body.
“Boredom. Loneliness,” Saul shrugs, then he grins again, demon mouth big and unsettling. “Or maybe it’s about leaving something behind. I feed them and feed them and feed them until they’re dependent on me. Then, if I deny them long enough, they’ll turn feral and eat this town whole. Raw and bloody. And when that’s done, they’ll move on to the next. It’ll be like a pack of wild dogs, roaming and eating, like the Father’s rain of locusts, stripping everything bare. It will be awful and dreadful, almost angelic. It will be the way we were raised.” He takes a step and the mouths in the darkness open, hungry. “It’s a legacy. I told you, these are my forefathers. Saul’s great-great-great-I lose count-grandfathers died in this mine.”
Just like that, the cold takes Derek’s throat.
“Their bodies have long rotted away.” Saul tilts his head, tut-tuts. “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The shadows coil, predators, ready to strike. Derek bares his own teeth. He feels it when Stiles shifts his weight, shotgun swinging heavy, and the demon continues talking. “But Saul was their child. He has them bones, them bones.”
Stiles shoots salt into the shadows and Derek attacks. He hits Saul with a snarl, his jaws close down on flesh, so he tears as the shadows shriek and rear back, retreating and twisting to surround him, trying to blind him. Saul kicks him in the side, back into the shadows and he hears Saul laugh, high and lilting. Stiles reloads, shoots Saul the chest at close range, bits of blood and bone flying.
“Them bones, them bones,” Stiles says, “you’re still in a human body, you stupid asshole.”
The shadows want to smother Derek and he’s fighting, ripping, he’ll bite his way out because this is the distraction, their plan fucking flipped on its head; he sees Saul wrap hands around the barrel of the shotgun, roaring, “And you know just how fragile a human body is, don’t you, boy?”
The stock of the gun slams into Stiles’s chest, then Saul cracks him across the face with it and Stiles goes to his knees. Hunching down, Saul looks him in the eye. “You still want to talk? We can talk this out, make a deal of some sort. I’ve got friends who will help out.”
Spitting blood at him, Stiles breaks a salt cartridge in his hand. “You’ve got friends? Color me surprised.” He throws the salt at the shadows and Derek bites and kicks his way free, running to stand over Stiles, caging him in. The darkness surges in and suddenly, there are hundreds of teeth sinking into his back legs, tugging at him, clawing, he’s fighting to keep ground, howling and gnashing at what he can reach, hundreds of teeth and hundreds of black snakeheads pulling him away.
Saul leans down, hand around Stiles throat, saying, “Last time, human, let’s make a deal,” and it’s too late, Derek can smell Stiles’s blood rising and flooding out, Saul opening a line in the skin on Stiles’s neck with a pocket knife, and it’s too late, Stiles is choking out an exorcism, words crackling like electricity in water.
“Shut the fuck up, shut the fuck up!” Grabbing his head, Saul scrambles away, collapsing to the mine floor, then Derek can’t see anymore, can’t smell or taste, he’s pure fighting instinct as the shadows open their mouths, hatred as deep as the mine, and try to swallow him whole.
He hears Stiles say, “Amen,” and there’s screaming, so much screaming, so loud and high-pitched, Derek howls in response, it’s breaking into his skull, breaking it into fragments, all he can see are cracks of light—
Derek. Derek. Wake up. Look at me, you dumbass, look at me.
Derek, c’mon, man, this isn’t funny, don’t play dead, you’re not a dog, you’re a fucking wolf, dude, wake up. This is so shitty, don’t do this to me, don’t act like—
When he opens his eyes, he isn’t a wolf. He’s naked and cold and he shivers hard, tongue catching between his teeth. Something smells like it’s burning, he hopes it isn’t him, he’s too cold to be on fire, maybe that’s what it feels like, except he remembers heat, he remembers overwhelming driving heat and flame, everything was burning because Hell had come to earth—
“Derek.” Stiles. Stiles is here, Stiles is still here, why, Derek should’ve been left behind, it’s about leaving something behind, it’s about a legacy, how Stiles and his dad are all that’s left, how Derek is the only Hale of his line walking alive, how Stiles has a grave to protect and Derek has a house in the ashes and Stiles should be choosing his freshman semester college classes instead of picking which weapon is best for what hunt and knowing why you should never look a dybbuk in the eye, it’s about a legacy of death and the underworld and never asking Stiles if he thought about bringing his mother back, it’s a fucking legacy.
“Derek, I told you to look at me.” Long fingers in his hair, warm palms on his face, and Derek is so tired; he does what the voice commands, looks up and Stiles smiles, eyes lit golden by the fire. “I just have to sound badass enough for you to do what I say? Derek, fetch me breakfast. Derek, bring me the remote. Derek, massage my feet.”
“I’ll massage your feet later when we don’t smell like burnt hot dogs.”
Stiles’s eyebrows go up at the small concession, his expression says he can’t tell if it’s sarcasm or not. “Yeah, that’s good ol’ Saul there. All salted and burned. Yes, we kicked ass and we took names, or at least one. So. There’s that.” The cut on his neck isn’t deep, Derek touches it, ignoring Stiles’s indignant noise, the blood is slow and thick. There’s a huge bruise on the left side of Stiles’s face, across his cheekbone, down to his jaw; his face is already swelling and Derek feels remorse, he wasn’t fast enough and Stiles was pistolwhipped, with a shotgun, no less.
“How can you talk with all that—“ he gestures to the bruise and Stiles laughs, clutches at his chest, hand flat on his sternum. “Dude, don’t make me laugh right now, that shotgun did double duty, so just take it easy on the jokes. Of course I can talk, you think one little smack to the face is gonna slow me down?”
“Yeah, I dunno what I was thinking.”
“You weren’t. Obviously. Typical.”
It’s déjà vu, they sit there in a comfortable heap until Stiles’s heartbeat skips, picks up, and he says, “You’re naked.”
“You’re surrounded by werewolves, you’re pack, and you’re still concerned about nudity?”
“There is a lot of it.”
Derek smirks as he tries to sit up, his legs aching. “Your eyes haven’t fallen out of your head.”
“No, they’re brave or stupid, depending on how you look at it, pun or whatever.” Stiles pushes him to sitting, then scoots after him, like a wall, so they lean together. “Lucky for you, I’d seen Scott naked before.”
“Do I wanna know. I don’t think I wanna know.”
“You’re making a face, what is that face, did you get possessed.”
He’s shivering again, as if he can’t control his body, and Stiles wraps long limbs around him, murmuring, “You’re in shock.”
“Werewolves don’t go into shock.”
“Sure, they do. And to keep your mind off it, I’ll tell you the grand story of How I Saw Scott Naked for the Very First Time.”
Derek sighs loudly, the sound shaking out of him and Stiles skips over it, “Once upon a time, there were two boys who decided to climb a tree…”
It takes thirty minutes for the shaking to stop. Stiles tries to talk the entire time, one hand on Derek’s belly, the other on his chest, before his jaw starts to clack, face so bruised he has a hard time moving it, so Derek tells him to shut up. For once, it works, they sit in silence as Derek’s body shivers, and by the end, they’re swaying in place.
“You’re better than a heating pad,” Stiles murmurs, “my entire ribcage feels a lot better.”
It’s slow-going, they clean what they can, gather up their supplies, and get out of the mine, across the parking lot, down to the car, Derek putting on clothes as they walk. It’s slow-going, but they can do it, they’ve done this before and they’ll do it again, they’re survivors (it’s about a legacy).
There’s exhaustion in the line of Stiles’s spine, along his shoulders; his face is dark bruised, his neck has a trail of dried blood going down into his shirt, and he walks hunched in on himself.
And Derek smells every injury, keeps it to himself, carrying them with his aching legs and body, with the blood drying on healed skin.
It isn’t fair. Stiles is the best of them and he’s human, he’ll break harder and longer than they will. Derek helps him into the car, slides behind the wheel, and heads for the motel.
Stiles strokes at his throat like it’s hard for him to swallow, says, “Did you know exorcisms taste like sugar.”
Derek texts the sheriff, says they’ll be back home in a day or so, then he fetches ice, wraps it in towels and holds it Stiles’s face. He winds bandages around Stiles, doesn’t think about how he’s holding in the ribs, locking in the heart (I have two hearts, maybe I’m immortal).
Stiles says, “Hand me my bag,” then after he’s rooted around in it, he passes over a pen and the brochure for the mine. “Autograph it.”
His signature scrawls across the sunshine picture of the front of the mine, his name black over the Silver Galaxy sign and as Stiles stares glassy-eyed at the TV, he doodles a balrog at the top of the mountain, standing in the blue sky.
A few painkillers and two infomercials later, Stiles is asleep on his back with all the pillows, Batman and Superman band-aids on his neck (‘it’s okay, seriously, those two are crazy into each other, they won’t fight, there’s no fighting, honest,’ loopy Stiles was adamant), so Derek strips down, shifts, and climbs onto the couch. He does not turn three times before settling, just faces the door, and closes his eyes.
They sleep through the whole next day.
Since this is his life, the buzzing of a phone wakes Derek. Low laughter from the bed where Stiles is propped up against the pillows, texting madly, and there’s nothing to be done about it.
Stretching, Derek goes from wolf to human in one movement; he hears Stiles say, “Holy God.”
“What. Did Scott send you a picture of a pizza.”
“No. What, no, in fact, Scott said my face looks like a baboon’s ass. No, it’s just you and your fancy naked calisthenics. Makes my chest hurt,” Stiles mutters, fingers fumbling on the phone and he hisses at it before Derek can make sense of what he said. “Just put on some clothes.” His heartbeat is spiking, little jabs of sound, walls of muscle contracting to push-pull blood through his body and Derek feels a bit dizzy, he’s never thought of it that way, he watches the Superman band-aid pulse in time over Stiles’s artery.
“Stiles,” he says, but he doesn’t really have a follow-up, now he has his attention, Stiles staring at him from the bed, loose-limbed and bandaged. “Stiles, you okay.”
“Yeah, of course I’m okay, we Stilinskis are a hardy people, good stock and all that. Why. You okay?”
He’s realizing it, remembers Stiles saying he’d give him a heart if he had to, almost as they were set on fire in a mixture of bad alcohol, poor magic judgment, and reduced motor control, he remembers and Stiles is staring at him as if he’s holding his breath. He feels so young again, feverish and off-balance, he knows why, he knows what it means, there’s a word for it, a particular place for Stiles in the pack, how he backed Derek against the wall once with a furious look on his face and said, ‘You aren’t so mysterious, I fucking know who you are.’ Stiles shifts a little, dislodging a pillow and Derek shakes his head, shrugs.
“Yeah, fine. Are you up for a drive home.”
“Sure, it’d be nice to be an invalid in my own bed.”
“I’ll pack the car.”
He tugs on clothes and grabs their things, tosses them in the trunk, and makes the passenger seat as comfortable as possible. They’re on the road in thirty and Stiles is watching him. He thinks he knows why, maybe, he isn’t sure. He leaves it alone.
They have to stop for gas. Another gas station, the country is nothing but an endless string of gas stations.
It’s clean and impersonal, signs for coffee and breakfast burritos, the smell of salt and beef jerky. Stiles walks down the tiny aisles slowly, pointing, and Derek raises an eyebrow, sighs, then takes the Funyuns, the can of Pringles, the bag of Lemonheads, Skittles, somehow he’s become the shopping cart. The attendant doesn’t look at them twice, takes their money, bags their stuff, mumbles out have a nice day, and they’re back at the car.
Stiles leans against the side for a moment, hand on his chest to help him sit up straight, and he stares out at the countryside. They watch a few cars drive by, reading bumper stickers. Stiles’s phone buzzes in his pocket and Derek’s surprised when he ignores it, just lets it buzz a few more times as he crinkles the Skittles bag between his hands before tossing it into the front seat. Quiet, and there’s traffic elsewhere on the highway, shush-shush-shush, and it feels like a moment of silence before they jump into another chasm, a pause before they do something stupidly dangerous again.
“We didn’t die,” Derek finally says and Stiles fires right up, “Of course we didn’t die. I told you not to die, I told you not to pull a stunt like that basement thing last time, I told you—“
Then Stiles kisses him, light and somewhat chaste, and it’s not proof of life, it’s not proof of anything except Derek can hear Stiles’s heart, hear where it matches his own, and he has one, he does, he does. He pulls back fast. “I, uh, I’m.”
“You’re shutting up, you’re shutting up and you’re coming back over here to—“
He does, he kisses Stiles, sways in and puts his mouth where he wants, Stiles talking, his teeth catching Derek’s lips, “we didn’t die and I’m taking this, it’s mine,” so Derek kisses him deeper, sometimes he has to work to get Stiles to focus, then Stiles pushes him against the car, kissing open-mouthed, dark and hard.
“This is – do you have any idea – this has been ours for so long, are you fucking blind –this is why we don’t die,” Stiles says, and Derek pulls them together, stroking along Stiles’s side to settle him. They breathe in sync, the car’s engine ticking, the sounds of the highway in time with their breath, shush-shush-shush. “This. You and me.”
Derek says, “You’re immortal,” and Stiles laughs, kisses him again, hand holding him tight in place.
At home, the bruises are fading on Stiles’s face when he finds the quarter under Derek’s pillow. He flips it and Derek calls tails and it lands tails, so they pull the blankets up and go back to sleep before they get a text telling them where they’re headed next.