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Being a tutor placed him in an unusual – and lonely – position. He wasn’t the equal of the family, nor was he a regular servant. He didn’t fit in anywhere. Of course, that had always been his problem. At home, at university, no one knew what quite to make of Mr. “Stiles” Stilinski. The household staff kept their distance due to their respective stations, whilst his employer hadn’t even deigned to be present upon his arrival.

Speaking of his employer, sometimes Stiles wondered if Mr. Hale had been desperate considering the isolated nature of his family home. His ward, Master Isaac Lahey, occasionally made reference to other tutors who had come and gone quickly. Isaac was… a quiet boy. Something unpleasant had occurred in his past, judging from the way he flinched when Stiles leaned over him to read his writing. On the other hand, the boy was obedient, eager to please and always willing to listen. Given his guarded yet guileless disposition, Stiles dreaded what might happen to Isaac when his guardian deemed him ready for public school. He was close enough to his own days at school to remember the unrelenting taunting of the older boys. But overall, they got along famously, which left Stiles wondering what had caused the hasty departure of Isaac’s erstwhile tutors.

Which brought Stiles right back around to Mr. Hale. Again.

He'd arrived late one winter's afternoon, the wind coming straight from the tundra, or so it felt. The hills were steel grey, the grass burnt with cold. Stiles had cold blue fingers under his woolen gloves and a burning curiosity in his gut. He'd applied to the advert, almost half-heartedly, out of a need for a job and a need to get out of his own small town. His father and he were not exactly at odds. That was too strong a term for the spikes of animosity that seemed to spark up now and again. He wondered what his father would make of this house. He’d always valued his father’s opinion, for all that it had been just him and his mother for much of his youth. His father had always been traveling, on mysterious business. It was only after his mother’s death that Stiles really began to know the man.

Perhaps it was the summer trips Stiles had taken with his father that had led to his employment here. Since graduating University, he'd been much in demand to ensure that the local gentry's sons (and occasional daughters) were reluctantly versed in their Latin, Greek and Arithmetic and he had thought that he’d be able to maintain himself that way. However, his father and he had argued about too much, two men under the same roof, both too alike and still feeling the ghost of his mother walking its rooms. This position offered the sanctity of his own space and a chance to make a name for himself away from the county where everyone knew him, his father and their business. He could walk here without whispers of poor motherless boy following him, after all.

The house had loomed. That was the only word for it. There were a few fitful candles flickering in the windows beside the door, but the edges of Beacon Hall were swallowed by the deepening shadows. Stiles had climbed off his Betty and made his way up the enormous moss-covered steps. He half wondered if he’d come to the wrong place. But the welcome inside, once he got past the awkwardness of presuming the head butler to be Mr. Hale, had made up for the chilly appearance of its exterior.

Stiles hadn’t met his supposed master for three whole days after Mr. Hale had returned home from the latest of his frequent sojourns. He’d heard him – a brusque voice booming through the cavernous halls, asking for hot water. He’d seen him – muddy boot prints in the kitchen from when he’d trotted down there to beg a mid-morning snack for himself. He knew Mr. Hale might not deem it necessary to actually speak to the man tutoring his ward, but instead of quieting his curiosity, it only renewed Stiles’ desire to meet his mysterious employer. Left to his own devices, he’d concocted a whole narrative – a backstory of a tragically ugly, but rich man who’d finally made his way back to his ancestral home only to hide himself away from the prying eyes of society.

Of course, all that had been dashed the minute Stiles finally laid eyes on the elusive Mr. Hale.

He was embarrassed to admit it, but their first meeting had set so fierce a fire burning low in Stiles’ belly that any attempt to redirect his thoughts, his will, or his darkest desires had proven in vain. He had thought, hoped, he had long since grown out of these boyish perversions and weaknesses of the flesh.

Stiles had taken advantage of the bright January sunshine to walk to the local village. He had inevitably forgotten items of a more personal nature in his haste to reach Beacon Hall. he also needed to visit the post office with a letter for his father. In some ways, he was also escaping the grounds for some much needed breathing space. Not only did he enjoy the crispness of the air, but he also needed time to settle his mind from the constant buzzing of thoughts from the past few days.

It had been later than he’d thought when he set off back to the house. The villagers had been pleasant enough, curious and detached all at once. They did not want to talk about the Hall, preferring instead to question Stiles about his origins, his news of the outside world that was already out of date. He felt fairly confident that he could remember the way back and set out, striding rapidly to avoid becoming too chilled in the winter darkness.

The shadows lingered for a while until Stiles stepped into the woods that hemmed in the house almost completely. This was no grand park. Instead it was wild and old and seemed to stand guard against any threats to the Hall. Stiles kept his eyes on the lighter earth of the churned up path, trusting it and the flicker of starlight to guide him back to the house. He wished the moon was closer to full, but it looked like another fortnight before that became a possibility. He lost track of time, lost track of distance, as he put one foot in front of the other, trying to walk quickly still but not so fast as to lose his footing on the occasional patch of iced up puddle.

He became aware that he’d been hearing the sound of hoof beats, their methodic rhythm finally penetrating his concentration. The rider was pushing the mount quickly, obviously confident that the horse knew the road. Stiles made his way to the side of the track, not wanting to startle the animal lest he be trampled himself. He kept on walking, the cold preventing him from stopping completely. The horse galloped past him, the rider not even slowing to enquire after Stiles, and he railed bitterly against the insouciant figure he could barely see in the dark for a long moment. Then he heard a crash, a terrified whinny and a cry. Stiles abandoned any thought of care for himself and rush to his aid.

He rounded the bend in the track to see the horse struggling back to its feet. It was snuffling at a figure on the ground, lying in a crumpled heap. Stiles immediately ran to the rider, a man he confirmed as he came closer. He felt for a pulse, gladdened to feel the regular beat under his fingertips where he pressed them into the neck of the man. Then Stiles shifted to gently stroke the man’s hairline, checking for blood. Stiles had to rely on touch – it was too dark to see much after all – or so he told himself. Once he was satisfied that there were no wounds on the man’s head, he gingerly ran his hands down the man’s arms and legs, checking for broken bones. Stiles was aware of the dreadful liberty he was taking, putting his hands all over a stranger’s body. But the need to help, to take care of this man overrode all thoughts of propriety, even as his traitorous body began to respond to the tactile intimacy.

He was skimming his hand over the front of the man’s coat, fastened closed against the cold as it was, when he became aware of a pair of eyes staring up at him. Stiles patted awkwardly at the man’s chest, waiting for some sign to stop. When the man said nothing, Stiles continued his carefully check of injuries, noting the awkward bend of the man’s leg. Then the figure under his hands jerked, shifted upright. Stiles stared, startled into uncharacteristic reticence, as the man rearranged his apparently not-broken leg into a more comfortable position. Stiles would have sworn an oath that the man should not have been able to move at all, let alone push himself upright.

“I…fell. Ice.” The man grunted out, breaking the silence. “My horse?”

“Right there. Seems to have been just as lucky as you.” Stiles clambered back to his feet, offering an innocent hand to help the man up. The man took it and levered himself to his feet, holding on for a moment too long as he looked Stiles over. The clouds cleared and moonlight filtered through the trees, enabling Stiles to finally observe his new acquaintance. A puzzled frown marred his otherwise distractingly handsome face; his scowl only easing a little when the horse made its way over to press its nose against his shoulder.

The man turned to grab at the horse’s reins, nodded curtly at Stiles, mounted swiftly and was on his way before Stiles even had time to draw his gloves back on.

“No need to thank me,” Stiles muttered to himself as the hoof beats faded into the distance. He tried to put all thoughts of the ungracious gentleman out of his head as he continued along the path, but found it difficult to stop thinking about the softness of the skin under his hands, the rough brush of stubble , the firm muscle evident even through all those layers – indicative of the strength, power, and every ideal of manhood Stiles so far had failed to achieve.

A familiar horse stood by the stables, lit by the lanterns by the back door as Stiles rounded Beacon Hall, glad to be back. The man – the rider – must be his employer. It must have been none other than Mr. Hale that he had laid his hands on. An unsettled lurch started in his belly, but the master of the house was nowhere to be found when Stiles entered through the kitchens, grateful for the heat.

His next dalliance with Mr. Hale did nothing to diminish the thoughts Stiles had of peeling away those layers of clothing, of once more running his hands over the man, with less chance of injury and more chance of reciprocity, his own skin being caressed in return. He’d awoken in the middle of the night out of half-remembered dreams, hot and stiff, and let the guilt take him after he’d finished what the idea of Mr. Hale had started, under the cover of darkness and too many blankets, Stiles had allowed himself to find pleasure in the remembrance, the thought of all that perfect skin laid bare and available to him, to his wandering hands, his willing mouth. He had thought he was beyond these… proclivities. All those years of careful training to school his unnatural reactions only to be undone by one look, and a churlish glare at that, from the inscrutable Mr. Hale.

It was a wet afternoon and Isaac had finished his work early, settling down with a book. Stiles had been creeping rather unstealthily around the Hall, still attempting to find his way around the wandering pile, when he rounded a corner, nearly running into possibly the most exquisite specimen of manhood he’d ever seen outside of the statues in the British Museum. Mr. Hale must have been outside and had been caught in the sudden rain. He smelled fresh and wild, dark hair standing on end from where he was scrubbing at it with a cloth. His white shirt was made of such a fine linen that it was practically translucent, clinging to his skin, his torso. His muscular, perfectly formed body.

There was a long moment of mutual staring before Mr. Hale nodded curtly and walked past Stiles, breeches clinging wetly to his legs, outlining the flex and bunch of his backside. Stiles had not been strong enough to refrain from watching as Mr. Hale made his way to his private chambers. As soon as he regained control of his limbs, Stiles fled to safety to his own rooms, immediately locking the door and leaning against it. He tried to calm his labored breathing that was now more out of panic than arousal. The fear, at least, had quelled the sudden tightness in his trousers. It had been years since he had an attack such as this. He dragged his hands through his too-long hair, trying to concentrate on anything but Hale, even as his knees gave out, forcing him into crouch. When he finally could breathe again, he fought against the foreboding knowledge that Hale would be his undoing.

Winter gave way to Spring, and then to Summer. Stiles managed to find his own way around the house, seeing as Mr. Hale never volunteered to give him the grand tour and most of the servants gave him a wide berth, never knowing quite what to do with overly friendly tutor who talked to them like they were his equals. And Mr. Hale came and went on whatever his mysterious business was, but always returning like clockwork at a certain time of the month. In time, Stiles came to believe his initial fixation with Hale dampened, mostly due to the lull of routine and benign –or more accurately, sullen– neglect from his so-called master. Fortunately, Isaac proved to be a much more rewarding object of affection as he slowly blossomed under Stiles’ capable tutelage.

Isaac spent the morning reciting off his perfectly learned Latin verbs, checking from under his eyelashes that Stiles was still listening and approving. It was easy to let Isaac see how proud he was, making use of his overly expressive face, but Isaac still needed the reassurance, the earned smiles and the extra words of praise that left no doubt as to Stiles’ approval. In some ways, it made Stiles wonder exactly why Mr. Hale had adopted Master Lahey in the first place, if he had such little interest in the boy.

It was then that Stiles became aware of Mr. Hale lurking - there was no other word for it - outside the open door. Stiles had opened all of the windows and the door to encourage faint hints of a draft. The day had started warm and only seemed to be getting warmer and warmer as it neared noon. Isaac's concentration didn't falter though, as he worked his way steadily through the declensions. Mr. Hale wasn't smiling but he looked less... intense than normal. His face was almost soft without the scowl that seemed permanently affixed to his visage. He looked younger, too, closer to Stiles in age than he had originally thought.

Stiles kept one eye on him and one eye on Isaac, nodding approvingly as the boy sat back down on his chair and released whatever tension he was holding upon the discovery of his new audience.

"Do you want to take a book into the gardens? We could read out there, today." Stiles was aware of Mr. Hale shifting in the hallway, but he hadn't left yet.

"Can we, Mr. Stiles?" Isaac beamed, already reaching for the book he was currently enthralled with. Stiles hadn't quite realized how eager to learn Isaac would be. He was accustomed to small boys who would rather be climbing trees and falling into streams rather than this quiet, intense studious child. Not that he was complaining.

 

Isaac settled under the willow tree’s drooping branches and Stiles settled on the grass between two roots. There was a seat built around the trunk but on such a day - glorious, warm, sunny – Stiles wanted to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. He asked Isaac to read aloud, occasionally correcting his pronunciation and testing his vocabulary. It was relaxing – no other word to describe the soft whisper of leaves in the gentle breeze, the hum of birds and insects. It was a perfect summer’s day.

“Isn’t the student supposed to be the one idling on the grass?” Stiles opened his eyes and tilted his head back to see Mr. Hale glaring down at him from the back of his horse. A big black beast of a horse, dark like Hale’s hair. Indeed, the steed looked just as angry as Mr. Hale and was probably more likely to stomp on him.

“Come down and use Mother Nature’s mattress for yourself before you pass judgment,” Stiles responded. Isaac had stopped reading and was clutching his book tightly as he looked between them. Stiles expected some kind of response, but instead Mr. Hale wheeled the horse around and took off down the lane at a fast canter, clods of dirt spraying behind him.

Stiles turned to look at Isaac who was slowly regaining his composure, grip easing on the pages. Stiles bit his tongue. He wanted to ask Isaac all about Mr. Hale, about the circumstances of Isaac's own appearance at Beacon Hall, and why Hale was the way he was. His distemper went beyond gruff and taciturn, and into something bordering a more disturbed frame of mind, a problem that remained unsolved.

But Stiles refrained, not wanting to put the boy on the spot. Instead he stretched out his hand. "Shall I read for a bit? Let you rest and your imagination wander?" Isaac handed over the book with a shy, soft smile. At least he had regained enough equilibrium to do that.

 

Another Hale-filled surprise awaited Stiles that evening. He had taken to dining with Isaac once he realized that the boy had been eating supper on his own. Stiles had crept into that aspect of Isaac's life as well, insisting he needed the time to help Isaac practice his French, speaking only that language over the very English dishes of meat and gravy. Isaac seemed to be more au fait with conversation in French, which he spoke with what was a most mellifluous accent to Stiles's ears. Despite the recurring animosity between their two nations, Isaac's facility with the language would help him one day, perhaps when he traveled. Stiles spent some time talking about the sights of Rome and Paris, places he'd visited alongside his father. Isaac hung on his every word, face alight with pleasure as they ploughed their way through the lamb manfully.

The door flew open as Stiles was describing the way Roman ruins stood side by side - and sometimes were part of - great Renaissance buildings in the Eternal City. He startled in shock as Mr. Hale strode in.

Any other time Stiles had seen him, Mr. Hale had been dressed for riding. But now he was dressed for dinner. His coat still emphasized his broad shoulders, his trim waist. The crisp white of his stiff collar made his skin seem unfashionably tanned, his stubble especially stark. The deep, bottle green of the coat darkened his eyes with something Stiles hesitated to call menace. He wasn't scared of his employer, merely wary. And he most certainly did not squeak at his unexpected arrival.

Mr. Hale pulled out the chair opposite Isaac and sat down, looking between them as if contemplating which one to perhaps murder first. As if on cue, Mrs. Harris trotted into the room and spared them both. She was the opposite of her husband, plump where he was near emaciated, and kind where he was malicious. She nodded pleasantly at Stiles as she perfunctorily set a place for Mr. Hale and served him, pouring him a glass of a dark red wine.

"Bon soir," Stiles muttered, as he took in the strange scene. Indeed, in lieu of speaking, Mr. Hale merely started shoveling food into his mouth most impolitely.

Mr. Hale grunted around a mouthful of vegetables. Isaac's shoulders slumped as he did his best to appear smaller, actually sliding down in his seat. Almost devilishly, Stiles began to talk again, still in French, to Isaac alone. He couldn’t stop his eyes from sliding to Mr. Hale now and again to assess whether he understood or cared, or whether he gave any sign of why he had chosen to show up at the dining table despite showing no desire to interact with either Isaac or himself.

A cold anger settled into Stiles’s gut despite the warmth of the meal. How dare Hale ignore Isaac like this? Master Lahey was his ward, after all. And instead of sending Isaac off to a public school like most boys his age, Mr. Hale had chosen to engage Stiles as a tutor, which suggested that he at least cared about the boy to some degree. But, opposed to all human nature, Mr. Hale seemed to regard the boy as nothing more than an annoyance, something to be taken notice of only when it suited his fancy.

While Stiles stabbed at the remains of the vegetables on his plate, Isaac bolted the rest of his dinner, setting his utensils on the plate with a clatter that made Mr. Hale wince. He didn’t say anything, just looked between the two men with wide eyes.

“You may be excused, Isaac,” Stiles said, keeping his voice kind and tamping down his anger.

Isaac nodded and slipped out the door, ghostlike, leaving Stiles to wonder again what had happened in the child’s past to make him so practiced at being invisible.

Stiles didn't care to hang about, finishing his meal in silence, not bothering to hide his distaste for his dining partner now. Mr. Hale didn't even bother to attempt conversation, continuing to scowl down at his plate. When he'd managed to scrape the china quite often enough, Stiles pushed his chair back.

He was almost to the door when he turned around. He couldn't keep his temper down anymore, no longer able to hold his tongue. "Why don't you talk to the boy?"

"Isaac?" Mr. Hale's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. He looked younger all of a sudden, caught out in surprise. "I talk to him."

"Asking him to pass the salt does not count, Mr. Hale." Stiles clamped his mouth tight, determined not to say anymore.

Hale glared at Stiles for a beat before his face softened. "I am somewhat out of practice, Mr. Stilinski." He nodded at Stiles before striding out of the room leaving Stiles standing there, mouth agape. He wasn't even aware that Mr. Hale knew his name, his full name. Most of the household had taken to calling him Mr. Stiles, as it proved easier on the English tongue. Plus, Stiles preferred it anyway, having been subjected to more than enough butchery of his Polish surname.

Following his outburst, Stiles began to see Mr. Hale lurking in corridor outside the schoolroom more frequently. He tried to wave him in, but soon became aware of the fact that if he let on to having seen him, Mr. Hale would be gone next time Stiles looked. Isaac didn't notice, not really, as he was always focused on his schoolwork with an intensity that continually surprised Stiles. It pleased him, though. He rewarded Isaac with smiles and words of praise, and the occasional sweets he'd bought in the village.

The way that Isaac reacted –half as if expected the treat to be taken away, and half grateful incredulous and grateful–made Stiles even more determined to push Mr. Hale (forcibly, if needs must) into acting like a proper guardian. Isaac was hardly a difficult child to like, especially with his desperation to please. It was this vulnerability that made Stiles seek out Derek after another dinner where he described to Isaac more wonders of the world.

Mr. Hale was sprawled in front of the fireplace in the library. Despite the lateness of the hour, the fire was unlit. The summer heat was pleasant enough during the day, but the evenings were still on the brisk side, leaving Stiles glad of his coat. Mr. Hale did have a lamp lit and he was reading, dark wire-framed spectacles perched on his nose. Being as Stiles had only ever seen Hale engaged in less intellectual pursuits, the incongruity of him reading for pleasure made Stiles stutter to a stop inside the doorway. The desire that had been carefully blanketed for weeks suddenly returned ten-fold upon seeing his usually gruff employer in such an approachable and charmingly domestic scene.

 

"Yes, Mr. Stilinski?" he drawled out, turning a page slowly.

"Mr. Stiles," he blurted out. "Or Stiles, really."

"Stiles?" Mr. Hale peered over the top of his spectacles and raised and lowered his eyebrows like he was attempting to get them to convey the unspoken ‘explain yourself’ to Stiles.

"A nickname from school. My father adopted it too, in fairness." Stiles recovered his equilibrium and came fully into the room, ignoring the glare Mr. Hale gave him as he did. He hadn't been in here before, not properly, and the book-lined walls made his fingers itch with the need to touch, to find out what treasures lay within. Stiles was astonished to see a smattering of travelogues - Isaac would love to read those - neatly arrayed underneath a glass topped shelf, containing maps and some items that could only have come from ancient sources.

"Stiles, then." He jerked around as Mr. Hale spoke. "Why are you here?" He sounded weary.

"You employed me," Stiles pointed out.

"A decision I am currently regretting." Mr. Hale finally put down his book and stood up, stretched to ease his back. Stiles couldn't help but admire the way the material in his coat pulled taut across Hale's biceps. Stiles jerked his eyes away while the other man poured two glasses of deep blood red wine, handing one to Stiles as he settled into his chair again. "Have a seat."

Stiles slid into the comfortable chair on the other side of the fireplace, the pair to the one Mr. Hale was occupying. He took a sip of his wine, enjoying the smooth richness. It was port, he reckoned.

"Why are you here tonight?" Mr. Hale asked, still watching Stiles closely.

"Isaac. He's..." Stiles tried to think of a word to describe it.

"I hope he's not a bother." Mr Hale's eyebrows drew together alarmingly.

"Oh no," Stiles immediately interrupted. "He's charming. Delightful. The perfect student. He's just... the best word for it is lonely. He does well enough with me and the servants. But it would be good for him, beneficial, even, to have some more conversation." Stiles took a drink to stop himself saying more.

"Should I ask some boys from the village? The parson has a son of a suitable age." Mr. Hale looked decidedly uncomfortable even as the suggestion left his mouth. "I don't know that they would wish to come visit us here, however."

"Not other boys," Stiles explained. He paused to let Hale draw the links himself, but his impatience overrode his ability to let Mr Hale come to the correct conclusion. "You. You are his guardian after all."

Mr. Hale looked flummoxed and bewildered. He gazed intently at the glass in his hand as if he didn't know what it was before, finally looking up at Stiles. "When Isaac first came to stay here, I rapidly came to the conclusion that I was making him... worse."

"Worse? But there's nothing wrong with Isaac." Stiles scrutinized Mr. Hale closely but the man said nothing more, instead focusing on his glass again.

Stiles was just about ready to push himself out of his seat and head to his chambers when Mr. Hale spoke again. "Isaac's late father was a friend of my father's. He did not... treat Isaac well." Mr. Hale's eyes were fierce with old rage when he finally made eye contact. "You understand that this is not to be spoken of."

Stiles nodded, settling back and taking another mouthful of port.

"Isaac was always a quiet and timid child. And when his father suffered his accident, I was glad to offer him a home here." Hale sighed, before continuing, "but Isaac did not react well to male figures, particularly ones with power over him. He became increasingly withdrawn, refused food." Stiles could tell that Mr. Hale was leaving words out, leaving out important details that he deemed unfit for Stiles’ ears, making him want to pick apart his tale and ask questions until he uncovered whatever Hale’s secret was. "You have been most beneficial for him."

Stiles could feel his cheeks heating as he comprehended the level of respect in Mr. Hale's voice. He resisted the urge to clap his hand over his traitorous face and nodded instead. "Thank you, Mr. Hale."

"Hale. Or..." He looked closely at Stiles again, his mouth caught in an unreadable expression. "Derek. If I am to call you Stiles, I would like you to call me Derek… in private."

There was an undercurrent in his voice that made Stiles nod his assent quickly, unable to disagree. There was also a thrill he thought he had taken control of, urges that he'd finally managed to banish except in the very darkness of night. He would need to be most careful with controlling his mouth now, lest he utter Derek's name in an unseemly fashion.

"Stiles." He knew it was just his imagination the way Mr. Hale - Hale - Derek's mouth seemed to linger over his name. "If I am to be more present with Isaac, may I request something in return?"

Hard put not to answer ‘anything’, Stiles swallowed another mouthful of port before replying, "Of course."

"Talk to me. I fear I have been without polite company for too long and am in need of more practice.” Stiles nodded, his mouth unattractively agape. “For Isaac’s sake,” Derek added after a beat, quashing the fledgling hope that Derek might seek out more of his company for less altruistic reasons.

“You seem to have traveled widely and experienced much for one so young." Derek's eyes were bright with curiosity under his spectacles. "I would like to hear some of your tales first hand, as it were."

Stiles smiled at that reminder of Derek's propensity to lurk outside the schoolroom and he wondered if Derek also tended to perhaps walk past the dining room in the evening. "It would seem a fair trade."

"A bargain then, Mr. Stilinski… Stiles." Derek stretched out his palm and Stiles shook it, ignoring the pleasure he took in the touch of the oddly smooth skin, ignoring the way his imagination immediately provided an image of that hand stroking across his naked skin. He dropped Derek's hand, too abruptly to cover it up, if Derek's sudden shuttered look was an indication.

"I shall see you tomorrow," Stiles said, trying desperately to conceal his discomfort and ease Derek. "I have some personal correspondence to attend to and must beg your leave."

Derek’s nostrils flared and he shut his eyes, presumably in disgust at seeing the stretch of Stiles' trousers as he shuffled out of the library and made his way hurriedly to his own rooms, thankful of meeting no other soul on the way. The lock had barely turned behind him before Stiles had his palm down his trousers, his hand still warm from Derek's grip.

He knew he'd called Derek's name as he came, hoping the distance would be enough to hide the evidence of his shameful desires.

 

That set the stage for the days to come. Stiles would see Derek in the hallway outside the schoolroom but he wouldn’t call attention to it. Then dinner would be an affair that wandered from awkward to uncomfortable to something approaching agreeable. And after Isaac headed off to enjoy his own company, Derek and Stiles would repair to the library.

Stiles was glad of the company, he had to admit. It was more than the fact that an increasing number of his idle thoughts were taken up by colorful imaginings wherein one Mr. Derek Hale played a most substantial role. He had given up hope of vanquishing those fantasies as failing to acknowledge them only made them more pernicious. Stiles was rather content in his surrender, relishing in their time together as a means for gathering more fodder to fuel his growing infatuation with Hale.

Derek rarely divulged much, if any, personal information. In fact, their after dinner society consisted mostly of Stiles rambling about himself, his travels, while Derek nodded along politely; but Stiles always had an investigative mind, putting together a picture of the real Mr. Hale from the few bones thrown his way. He liked finding out about Derek and his love of books, and discovering his fierce loyalty to the land his estate consisted of. But the fact that he was determined to see Isaac happy, secure, and confident more than anything, cinched it for Stiles. It made him relax, slip and perhaps reveal too much.

“Tell me more about him,” Derek prompted one evening.

“My father? He…” Stiles looked up to see Derek regarding him intently over the rim of his glass. “It’s difficult to explain. My father was always traveling for work so whenever school was out, I’d join him, should circumstances allow.” Stiles wasn’t trying to be cryptic, but talk of his father always remained a somewhat delicate subject. Even at school, where he’d none of the other boys quite accepted him, seeing no reasons why someone with no connections, no family and very little money should be treated as their equal. He longed to tell them of his father’s bravery, the fact he’d saved the Duke of Wellington’s life and that he was abroad right now on business of Her Majesty. He had been admonished to hold his tongue about this all too often, however, and the reward for his tight-lipped behavior was long summers abroad in Italy, in France and Spain where he saw a different side to his father.

“My father served… the Queen’s interests, I would say. More than his own.” Stiles could remember a night when the shadows in the streets of Rome held dangers other than the usual cut-purses and drunken aristocrats out for trouble. “But that didn’t mean he neglected mine. I might have been a solitary child, but I never went without. I know it was through his doing that I somehow managed to matriculate at Cambridge.”

“Don’t sell your academic facility short. You have talent for languages, and are a most capable tutor to Isaac.”

Stiles not knowing how to take a proper compliment, especially one from Mr. Derek Hale, answered in self-deprecation: “I do all right with the Latin. And my father is a Polish émigré, which accounts for the barely respectable Polish. Whilst my mother is... was French. She died when I was little and I guess I kept up with the language as a way to remember her by.” Stiles had never told that last part to anyone, and the admission brought with it an unbidden introspection.

Derek, seeming to notice the change, offered simply: “I know what it is to lose family.”

Neither man attempt to fill the following silence; Derek merely met Stiles’ gaze with a knowing stare that a few months ago he would’ve found unnerving, but now left Stiles feeling flushed under the intense scrutiny.

The summer weather had to break at some point – it was almost unseasonable already, August slowly, heavily, giving way to September without the mercury dropping substantially. Berries were on the trees months too early, startling with the need to adopt shirtsleeves almost constantly. Even the birds seemed to sound wearier, the heat driving the insects to lazy constancy. The grass had long since turned from the green vibrancy of spring to a weary washed out brown. The fireplace in the library remained unlit, the grate polished to a high shine. It looked like it was never used, in fact, almost pristine.

Stiles, most unfortunately, couldn’t entirely blame the weather for the hot pulse of his blood, the sweat constantly gathering at his hairline, the small of his back. In fact he had long since discarded his coat, his cravat, and his vest in order to try and relieve the unremitting warmth that refused to vanish with the sun. He wondered at his audacity, the way he wanted to be in a state of undress around Derek. And Derek had slowly given in to the urge to remove his excess layers as well. Stiles still wanted more. He wanted to strip off that offending white shirt, pull the breeches down and take Derek down to the root.

“When did he stop traveling?” Derek’s question interrupted his licentious reverie, pulling Stiles back to the present.

“After I went up to Cambridge. It was a wound, I think. His letters were vague. He spent a long time in a monastery in the Alps before returning first to London and then home to the coast. I spent time there when I went home, but the work was not entirely satisfactory.” Whispers about his mother, his father were not the only stories that followed Stiles around after all – stories he did not want his father to hear. “I am glad I came here, came north.”

“To escape?” Derek was taking a very long time to place his glass carefully on the table beside his elbow. He wasn’t meeting Stiles’s eyes any more.

“Maybe at first, but lately I have other cause for happiness.” He knew there had been a sort of admission in his words, especially by way Derek’s eyebrows shot up. Stiles’ winced at his own foolishness, but Derek wasn’t angry. Hale’s face spasmed with an unreadable emotion before settling back to a forced impassiveness

Stiles stared into the silence, not trusting himself to speak. “It is…” Derek started, then pushed himself to his feet with that annoyingly perfect grace of his. “It is late and you have been drinking and it would not be– We should say goodnight.“

Stiles fumbled his way out of his chair, unsure what Derek was saying. He found himself toe to toe with the man, swaying closer, due to drink and a complete lack of self-preservation. Derek’s arm reached out for Stiles’s shoulder to steady him, fingertips brushing the hair at the nape of his neck. The touch was so near to intimate that Stiles reflexively shuddered even as Derek stepped back.

“Goodnight, Mr. Stilinski.” And then Derek was gone from the library, leaving Stiles as confused as ever. The lamp on the table guttered to nothingness, out of oil, as Stiles stood immobile. But he wasn’t left in complete darkness. Outside the open window, a huge full moon, belly full of harvest, rode low in the sky. It filled the library with a golden light, magical, perhaps, if Stiles was the sort to believe in such things.

Stiles yawned. He, no doubt, had another sleepless night ahead of him, but he did have duties to attend to in the morning. He headed to his own rooms, pausing at the foot of the stairs. There was a strange noise, somewhere between a laugh and a howl, floating on the air. Shivers crept up Stiles’s spine. It was a soft, unearthly noise, barely registering on the very fringes of his hearing. But he had heard it, right enough. And he couldn’t marry the animal noises to the very human tone of the voice.

 

The night was black dark when Stiles woke. He wasn’t sure what it was that had awakened him – the hoot of an owl perhaps. Suddenly, he felt the need for a little supper. He’d been much too warm and unsettled to eat much at dinner. Stiles made his way through the old house, laughing at himself for flinching at shadows.

There was a light shining under the door of Derek’s library. Derek never lit the library fire, not in all the time that Stiles had known him. And the hour was so late that Derek should have been abed long ago. In fact, he’d yawned quite pointedly as Stiles sat opposite him, happy enough to carry on their discussion of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, sending Stiles up to seek his own company. Stiles then heard a dull roar and a familiar crackling, and had no choice but to investigate.

It wasn’t the library fire that was alight.

Orange flames licked up one of the heavy drapes near the door at the far end that led through to Derek’s own suite of rooms. It might have started small but it now roared quite freely, burning fingers of fire already stretching out to grab onto anything it could. With all of Derek’s precious books neatly arrayed, it would be a fine feast for the flames.

Stiles leapt into action. First he stripped the curtain down, pulling at it until it tumbled to the floor. Then he grabbed the other one, singed and smoking around the edges and pummeled at them, rolling the drapes together until the flames were extinguished. Only then did he notice two things: his hands were raw and sore, blistering, and Derek was sprawled insensate in the chair beside the fire. He was more disheveled than earlier and no longer in his trousers. His long thin nightshirt clung to his skin, something which Stiles staunchly tried to ignore as he stamped on the still smoldering curtains.

Derek still hadn’t stirred and Stiles worried he was insensate because of the strange-smelling smoke. He was leaning over Derek, tugging at him, determined to get a response when the door was flung open and the housekeeper bustled in. Stiles stumbled back from Derek, pointing at the drapes. “They were ablaze.”

She looked between the drapes and Stiles and Derek for a long moment, twitching her nose at the smell. “I’ll open the windows. You get the master out of here.”

“Where…?” Stiles was already moving to lift Derek out of his chair. He could see Derek’s eyelids starting to twitch which gave him hope.

“His bedchamber is right across the hall.” She pointed and Stiles started stumbling towards the doorway. Derek was heavy, a solid weight of muscle and heat against his side. Somehow he maneuvered them both through the doorway and into the chilly room opposite, even with his own hands burning and rasping rough against Derek’s clothes. Despite the darkness, Stiles could make out the bed and he worked towards it, half carrying and half dragging Derek. Finally he tipped Derek onto the bed, lifted up his legs, and leaned over to check his breathing.

Stiles startled to find that at some point during the transport Derek had regained consciousness. However his eyes were still unfocused, murky, covered with some kind of film. Derek blinked rapidly, as if trying to clear them. He coughed, a wet, ugly sound. And Stiles could do naught but hover above him, unable to look away. Slowly Derek’s eyes unclouded, returning to their usual unearthly mix of green and brown and blue. Stiles found himself being drawn into the colors, his mind racing to categorize, to capture impossibly in words exactly what shade Derek’s eyes actually were.

Then suddenly Derek’s hand was on the back of Stiles’ neck, wrenching him close until his face was buried in the join of Stiles’ shoulder and nape. Derek took in harsh, panting breaths, clearly panicked and disoriented. Stiles being no stranger to such attacks, immediately relaxed into the other man’s hold. He waited for Hale’s breathing to calm, offering soothing sounds and adjusting their positions into what could only be described as an embrace.

Derek eventually quieted and Stiles was just about to carefully extricate himself when he felt Derek nosing his neck. At first Stiles thought it must surely be an accidental, half-sleeping touch, but Derek continued to nuzzle, even leaving a trail of wetness across his skin. Blazes, had Derek Hale just licked him? Stiles should not have found that arousing as he did, but didn’t have time to properly process the action before Derek released him abruptly.

Stiles was the one breathing heavily when they separated.

“I’m sorry,” Derek said, his voice hard, face mortified. He rolled his head to the side, refusing to meet Stiles’s eyes. Stiles shuffled back off the bed, suddenly very aware of the open door, the noise of servants in the hallway.

“No- Don’t be.” Stiles turned away, trying to hide his disappointment and calm his damnable ardor. Curling his nails into his raw palms distracted him enough to allow him to make excuses for anything his face might reveal. Derek was stirring on the bed now, pushing himself up to lie against the pillows. Stiles continued, “You were out of sorts. Otherwise, you would never have…”

The words died on Stiles’s tongue as he caught a glimpse of naked, raw pain spasm across Derek’s face. An old pain, full of rejection and suffering. Derek almost immediately schooled his expression to his usual scowl, but Stiles could not shake the intense pity he felt. He still felt hurt at the repudiation. Was the thought of touching Stiles, even in innocent comfort, so repugnant to Derek? The other night in the library, he had thought… hoped that perchance Derek liked him in more than a strictly professional capacity, but clearly he was mistaken.

Derek let out a low, hacking cough, disturbing the charged silence. “I’ll have someone fetch you water,” Stiles finally managed to get out with forced detachment before turning to make his hasty retreat from the room.

 

Luckily, Isaac seemed unaware of the chaos during the night. He was ridiculously bright eyed, eager to get on with whatever delights of knowledge Stiles had to offer that day. Stiles managed to draw up enough energy from reserves buried deep within himself to attempt a translation of the Aenid, but by the end of the morning, he was definitely flagging. His hands ached and had done all through the night, the slightest brush of cloth shocking Stiles awake. Stiles needed long hours of rest and he’d spent the rest of the night not sleeping in the slightest with memories of the embrace warring with memories of Derek’s retreat.

There was the usual flicker of movement outside the schoolroom that signaled Derek’s presence. But instead of remaining outside, in the shadows, Derek pushed the door wide open and finally stepped into Stiles’s sanctuary.

“Hello, Isaac.” Derek shuffled on his heels, looking uncomfortable. He didn’t appear tired or like he’d lain awake all night long, Stiles thought sourly. Derek slid his eyes sideways to look at Stiles while Isaac stumbled to his feet, folding his ink-stained hands into his palm. “I thought we could go for a ride this afternoon. Give Mr. Stilinski some time to himself. If that is agreeable, Mr. Stilinski?”

It took a moment for Stiles to realize Derek was addressing him. He had grown so very accustomed to the more familiar ‘Stiles’ coming from Derek’s mouth that the formality was like fresh salt to his wounds. Then it registered that some response was probably required. “Yes. If Isaac is amenable. He’s still making excellent progress, so an afternoon off wouldn’t hurt.”

Derek nodded, his mouth twitching into its trademark downward pull. Isaac nodded too, a little confused mostly likely sensing the overwhelming awkwardness between the two men. “Isaac, would you go ask Mrs. Clark for a picnic. We could take our lunch out on the moor.” Isaac scrambled from the room, eager all over again, slamming the door behind him. Stiles listened to him scrambling down the stairs, boots clacking against the bare wood. Then even that noise trailed off into nothingness until all he was left was the sound of Derek’s soft breathing.

It was difficult to move. In fact, Stiles felt like all his limbs were bound in ice. But he made himself slump back, rest on his desk, pose in some position of ease. He didn’t believe he was that convincing as Derek watched him shift with a certain degree of incredulity. Stiles always felt like his body was ungainly, uncoordinated, like nothing worked the way it was meant it. The feeling only intensified as Derek moved closer.

“I wanted to thank you,” Derek said, his eyes once more intent on Stiles’ face. “And apologize.”

“There’s no-“ Stiles had to stop and swallow. “No need. I would do it again.” Whether it was save Derek’s life or comfort him, Stiles wasn’t sure. But whatever the case, Derek had liked its meaning, the crinkle in his brow easing at Stiles’ words. His heart thundered in his ears as Derek closed the space between them, intent.

“You would?” Derek asked with a tentative hope that was answered by Stiles’ equally tentative nod. They were alone and the door was closed and there was no noise of movement outside. It seemed to make every other sound louder – the brush of cloth as Derek shifted closer again, the rasp of his tongue as he wet his lips. Stiles focused on the sight, tilting his head and leaning forward almost unconsciously.

Their lips met in a heady rush, a deep and thorough kiss. Stiles had been kissed before – the light peck of a girl, the rushed brush of mouths as he and his school friend had experimented. More that he now regretted while at University. This was different. Derek opened his mouth and Stiles echoed him, eager to taste more, to feel more: Derek’s too sharp teeth, his red, red lips, the burning brush of stubble. Stiles brought his hands up to clasp Derek tightly. Derek seemed equally eager, one of his hands sliding to the small of Stiles’s back to hold him in place, hold him close. Stiles could feel the tremor in Derek’s body as he pressed Stiles back against the desk. It made him want. There was no other way to describe it. He might have thought his fascination, his desire for Derek had been intense before, but it was nothing compared to this overwhelming need now that Stiles was finally allowed to touch. He slid his hand over the back of Derek’s coat, feeling the shift of muscle under the material and wishing the cloth far, far away.

Derek pulled back at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. “We will continue this... discussion.” Derek’s voice was softer than Stiles had ever heard it, and his face bore a matching coy smile. It sent a rush of affectionate warmth through Stiles. “Rest now. I’ll call upon you this evening.”

Stiles nodded dumbly as Derek stepped away, straightening his jacket before opening the door to Isaac who was red cheeked from running up and down the stairs. Derek stepped out of the room, asking Isaac with aggravating calm, “Which horse would you like to ride today?”

Stiles needed a moment to compose himself enough to make his way back to his own rooms.

 

Stiles’s earlier fatigue was all but forgotten as he spent the entire remainder of the day replaying the events of the afternoon in his head, eventually extending his fantasies forward to the upcoming night. At one point he even pictured himself stripping off his constricting clothes and lying prostrate on the bed ready for Derek to claim him. That last thought made him squirm uncomfortably in his clothes, but alas, he was not that bold, not some wanton catamite. For all he knew Derek might have actually meant it literally when he said he wanted to continue their talk.

Derek knocked when Stiles was once more on the verge of sleep, drooping over his book. His hands were still red, although less painful, so Stiles attempted to hide them behind his back after he opened the door to let Derek into the antechamber. Derek wore his shirt loose, as if he'd stopped in the midst of readying himself for bed and come straight here. He was also in his stocking feet - his stalking feet, Stiles mused. Derek was preternaturally quiet even in his riding boots, and here he was whispering across the floorboards straight towards Stiles.

Stiles could feel his heart starting to beat its way out of his chest again as Derek neared; his warmth hitting Stiles a moment before he laid hands on Stiles's shoulders, drawing him close.

"There’s something..." Derek spoke almost guiltily, eyes intent on Stiles. "I’m sorry. I should have told you-"

"It doesn’t matter now," Stiles interrupted. His patience having eroded after months of this dance, Stiles decided it was finally time to take the lead. A wild thrill ran through his body as he led Derek through the small doorway to his bedroom. Derek wasn't even looking where he was walking as if in a daze. He was fully focused on Stiles, eyes wide, nostrils flaring like some mad bull, tempted by a red rag. A shudder passed through Stiles, his body unable to cope with the need, the want, the very thought that someone desired him so completely that he was apologizing for it. Any lingering guilt or doubts Stiles might have entertained once upon a time were banished by this last thought: Derek was just as undone by this illicit congress, an equal companion on the road to damnation.

Stiles led Derek to his bed, pushing him to sit. Derek looked up, his - Stiles admitted it to himself - his long, curling eyelashes framing his impossibly luminous eyes. Stiles allowed himself to look his fill, long and slow, drawing the moment out for as long as he could. Then the tension finally snapped and they reached for each other, Stiles tumbling onto the bed alongside Derek, mouth already parting for Derek's invading tongue; his lips were plush and warm, and oddly soft in contrast to the harsh rasp of his stubble against Stiles's skin was nothing more than a tease, a precursor to what it would feel like brushing against the more vulnerable parts of Stiles's body.

Stiles had a thought that he could die right here in Derek’s arms and be taken straight to heaven, because, blasphemously, he'd never felt such a state of grace; nothing so perfect, so sublime, could ever be sin. As if in agreement, Derek’s let out an answering moan as his lips worked their way down Stiles's neck to the open collar of his shirt. Stiles merely tipped his head back to allow access, already full and hard and pushing painfully against the fastenings of his trousers. Derek rolled his hips, allowing Stiles to feel his answering length.

Derek let out a small moue of protest as Stiles pushed him back upright, and simply looked at him. Derek's eyebrows started to draw together as Stiles sucked in a deep breath, needing a moment to appreciate this was actually happening. He wanted Derek - all of him - and Stiles knew there would be no going back from this. He tugged his shirt over his head, not bothering with buttons and tangling himself in its sleeves for a moment. Derek helped pull him free before divesting himself of his own shirt, his face mildly wicked as he discarded the white linen to the floor and immediately returned his hands and his mouth to Stiles.

Stiles’s hands wandered over all the revealed skin, marveling anew at the way Derek's muscles were taut and strong, his skin smooth and creamy. Stiles felt ashamed of his more boyish body, thin and pale, dotted with dark moles; but the noises of appreciation Derek was making as he drew his mouth over Stiles's form made the shame turn to something eager and wanton, especially when Derek left a dark mark on Stiles's shoulder, drawing the blood to the surface.

Derek looked satisfied as he looked up. "I would leave marks all over you," he remarked, almost casually. "To show you belong to me." It was a statement, not a question.

"Do you belong to me as well?" Stiles returned, bold and insouciant. He wanted some confirmation that he was not the only one overwhelmed by all of this, that his body wasn't about to be used and discarded as others had done before.

Derek paused as if he didn’t think that was ever in question. " I would not be here if I did not-" Derek laughed mirthlessly at himself. "I pride myself on my control, my iron will. My ability not to be swayed. And you make me lose all that." The last was almost plaintive, in a soft confessional whisper.

Stiles answered with renewed ardor, his palms spanning the broad sweep of Derek's shoulders before sliding down his back, fingertips dipping below the waistband of Derek's trousers. Derek shuddered against him, burying his face against Stiles's neck.

"Should I stop?" Stiles asked a bit breathlessly. In many ways, he would be quite satisfied were they to continue the way they were –bare-chested, , shirts gone, rolling hips seeking friction– even if he was not quite ready to explain matching stains to the house-maid.

Derek growled as he slid off Stiles to finish disrobing in answer. His clothes landed in an unheeded crumpled pile leaving Derek completely bare. Stiles allowed himself a moment of fascinated admiration before shaking off his paralysis to shove at his remaining garments. Then came another surprise in a night of surprises as Derek knelt over him and took Stiles into his mouth, suckling and smelling and groaning around him. The warm, wet heat of Derek's mouth was overwhelming and Stiles had to push at Derek's shoulder in fear of spending himself too soon. This wasn't the way Stiles wanted to spill his seed and he told Derek as much.

"Demanding," Derek huffed, his hand trailing along the top of Stiles's thigh, along the cut of his hip, his thumb dipping under Stiles's balls in a most suggestive manner. Stiles parted his thighs as much as he could in response. Derek’s hand took the hint, the pad of his thumb finally pressing into the vulnerable spot below.

Stiles allowed Derek time to pet and press and even to dip low to run his tongue across the wildly sensitive place. He arched off the bed when Derek worked the tip of one finger in, the sensation wild and new all over again. There was something Stiles didn’t want to examine about the fact he considered it new with Derek, as if there was something about the way Derek had boldly declared Stiles to be his that would ruin him for anyone else. His heart skipped a beat that he couldn’t entirely put down to the feeling of Derek working his tongue in beside the finger.

“Let me up,“ Stiles said, finally, the pressure of Derek’s mouth already making him leak onto his belly. “I’ve got-“ Derek pulled free watching Stiles closely as Stiles made his way to the tiny water closet and returned with an oil he’d traded from a friend. Derek’s eyebrows betrayed his confusion for a moment until Stiles cracked it open and he held it out. “Use this. It’ll ready me for you.”

Derek took the bottle, eyes wide for a long minute before he bent to kiss Stiles, who ignored where Derek’s mouth had just been to try and convey all his willingness and permission into this simple press of lips. “Turn over,” Derek asked, simply.

Stiles wriggled around on the bed, arranging himself with his head pillowed on his forearm. He waited, trying to relax, as Derek did nothing. Eventually he looked over his shoulder to see Derek wide eyed and staring, mouth agape. “Derek?”

The sound of his name seemed to shake Derek out of whatever trance he’d fallen into. There was no more hesitation as he slicked both Stiles and himself up, the head of his cock spearing into Stiles. The familiar pain was all the more pleasurable for the whispers of his name spilling from Derek’s lips as he pressed in, draping himself over Stiles’s back as he settled home and waited for Stiles to adjust to his girth. In the end, it was Stiles who rolled his hips impatiently, ready for much, much more.

Derek thrust harder and harder, making Stiles shake under him. It felt so good it was almost too much. In the end, Stiles could do naught but brace himself and allow Derek to use him, ravage him. There was little of the care, the affection. It was as if a wild beast had taken control of Derek and Stiles found himself offered up for propitiatory sacrifice. The thought filled him with illicit desire almost as much as the feel of Derek splitting him open, Derek’s warm wet breath panting against his sweat-slicked shoulder.

“Touch yourself.” Derek’s voice growled in his ear. He sounded deeper, harsher, and rougher as he drove into Stiles in a similar fashion. Stiles’s fanciful mind attributed this to the animal that had taken possession of Derek, but he did as he was bid, his mind suddenly subsumed by his need to come. He stripped his cock with brutal impatience as Derek continued to drive into him, grinding more than thrusting now. Stiles could no longer hold back and spilled all over himself, the sheets. Derek rooted himself impossibly deeper in Stiles and slammed his hand on the pillow beside Stiles as he came.

Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles could have sworn he saw Derek’s palm shift and waver, resembling more beast than man, covered in dark hair and topped with wickedly sharp claws. Stiles blinked and the vision was gone, Hale’s hand nothing more than that. He could feel Derek’s chest heaving above him and then Derek was gently pulling out, turning Stiles over and kissing him until any breath he’d caught had vanished. Stiles was not going to harden again so soon, but he wanted to. He wanted nothing more than to find his release over and over again, until he was nothing but a dried up husk utterly spent from pleasure. The idea made him laugh. He and Derek could do this again and again. There was nothing stopping them here, not in Derek’s own house. Less than a day ago, he was certain Hale hated him and now….

He belonged to Derek, the same Derek that was leaving the bed and grabbing for his discarded clothing. Stiles tried and failed to stave off his panic as each piece covered another part of Derek’s flawless, beautiful skin. Why was Derek leaving? Did he regret - “Calm yourself, Stiles. I can hear you from here,” Derek chided affectionately as he leaned back over the bed to kiss him.

“I wish you would stay,” Stiles whispered, no longer caring how desperate he sounded. It was too intimate a confession to speak any louder, but Derek seemed to hear his plea clearly. He lowered his mouth to Stiles’s ear.

“I want nothing more than to stay… but it is not safe.” Not safe from what? Surely the servants would be discreet. Stiles could not but help but feel there was another meaning behind Derek’s words, and opened his mouth to protest only to find Hale already gone as quietly as he had entered.

 

The pattern of the days started to change after that, settling into a new and welcome rhythm. The weather also changed, but the unseasonal heat continued on, despite the leaves turning and berries growing in blood red clusters. Morning lessons remained much the same, but lunch often turned into a festive meal with Derek. Afternoons, Derek and Isaac rode off together into the surrounding park , to the village. Sometimes Stiles joined them, but more often he concentrated on finding new lessons for Isaac, who was rapidly swallowing down any learning Stiles had to impart. But the evenings, after dinner, remained private with just the two of them sitting in the library on either side of the unlit fireplace. They talked or read in the soft lamplight as before, but now each word, gesture was charged with meaning as they listened to the household go to bed.

It was nights that demonstrated the greatest shift in behavior. Stiles would bid good night to Derek, sometimes check in on Isaac when a glimmer of lamplight shone under his door, before finally retreating to his room to wait. Derek would join him, eager and wanton. Over the past few weeks he and Stiles had explored every inch of the other’s body, hands and mouths drinking their fill. Derek still had to take his leave, reluctantly redressing after each encounter. Stiles knew he was wrong to resent this. He wanted to be with Derek, for certain, but he also wanted more, for all he knew his unnatural desires prevented it. He wanted to sleep next to Derek, legs wrapped around him. He wanted to wake up with Derek and kiss him, sour morning breath and all. He wanted to reach over when they were out riding, in front of Isaac, open to the sky and the trees and not care who was witness to his impropriety. Instead he took to heart every unspoken word, aborted gesture and hungry look Derek bestowed on him that said he would like just the same.

 

Another month rolled around, bringing with it a new letter from his father. He seemed in a good humor. He read out some of the correspondence to Isaac, recounting the discovery of an old stone tomb in the fields below the village. His father had taken on the burden of supervising the excavation and sent him sketches of the strange and perfect arrangement of stone without mortar. Isaac was so inspired he spent some time out in the garden beside the kitchen, getting muddy while attempting his own construction.

Stiles had tried to look angry as he took in the small, mud-spattered boy but the sight was too comical. The dairy maid had shrieked, shocked by finding Isaac in such a state and Stiles had rushed out of the kitchen to see what had happened. Isaac’s free laughter was infectious as he realized what a ruin he had made of his own clothing. Derek had come running from somewhere deep in the house, from a meeting with a local landowner. He’d taken the bucket of water from the gawping groom, ready to water the horses, and upturned it over Isaac’s head, making the mess worse. Isaac had shook himself, like a small dog might, spattering Derek’s clean clothes. Stiles had ducked behind the kitchen door and saved himself.

That afternoon, Derek took his revenge, stalking Stiles to his hiding place in his own room and messing him up, for the first time, in the clear light of day.

 

The fine weather could not last forever. The last days of September started with an enormous thunderstorm that began mid-morning, plunging the schoolroom into a midnight gloom occasionally split by fierce bolts of lightning. The rain battered at the windows, making the glass rattle whilst the thunder rolled, low and ominous. Isaac had managed quite well to begin with, reading with only the slightest hesitation. But as the storm drew nearer, he started jumping at every crash of thunder, flinching at every flash of lightning. Stiles stopped Isaac’s recitation, choosing to pick up where he’d left off, getting louder and louder as if he could cover the noise of the storm.

During one particularly loud bellow, the door to the schoolroom burst open and Derek rushed through, his shirt half untucked and his hair wild. He held his arms open and Isaac immediately buried himself against Derek’s body. They rocked together and Stiles could hear them talking softly to each other.

Derek met his eyes, watching Stiles with more caution than he had in a long time. He seemed to come to some kind of decision. “Isaac and I are going to the cellars. He’s not going to be…”

“Well enough to complete his lesson today.” Stiles finished Derek’s sentence quickly. Isaac looked well enough, but Stiles couldn’t argue with his extreme reaction to the storm. “Is there anything I can do?”

Derek shook his head and then helped Isaac to stand. Stiles listened to the sound of their footsteps fading away as he tidied away the odd book. The storm seemed intent on staying for a while, winds whipping the trees from side to side violently. It was discomfiting, even though Stiles felt completely safe in the house.

He settled in the library, without Derek, and was wondering if he could ask the housekeeper to light the fire. The room was cold, getting even colder as the storm eased, leaving persistent rain in its wake. There was no diminishing in the thick covering of cloud. Stiles eyed the unused grate and picked at the rug that covered the back of his chair. He was working towards boredom, his book not keeping his attention like it normally did. Stiles wondered if he should make his way down to the cellars, maybe take Isaac some fruit. Then he became aware that the shadow he’d been absentmindedly staring at wasn’t a shadow at all.

The shadow was a huge, misshapen creature, a devil or demon from the worst kind of religious painting. It hadn’t moved much. Instead it was breathing and looking at Stiles from the corner of the room. Stiles had no idea how long the creature had been in there with him – he couldn’t swear it hadn’t been present when he’d first stepped into the room. But the creature seemed to realize Stiles had noticed it. It climbed to its feet, slowly and intently, before stepping into the wane light, giving Stiles a better look at its blood red eyes and very, very sharp teeth.

Stiles bolted for the door. The hallway outside was dark as he pelted along it, ignoring the sliding rugs, grabbing at the walls to steady himself. Stiles had no idea where he was going. He just knew he had to get away. He ran down the main staircase, down into the entrance hall –a vestige from the original medieval manor house. It was then he lost his balance and scrambled backwards as the creature leapt from the stairs, landing lightly, before stalking towards him.

Stiles kept trying to move, trying to get away. His throat felt raw and he realized with a start he’d been screaming this whole time. His cries finally silenced when the creature leaned forward, cool and collected, and sniffed at him before baring its teeth. Stiles now had an up close and personal view of its gaping maw and dripping fangs.

There was a roar, definitely animal, from somewhere else in the house. The creature sprang back from Stiles and answered it. Stiles winced as the sound echoed off the bare stone walls, but he used the reprieve to back himself into a corner and curl up, presenting as little of a target as possible. Another creature, black and massive, this one wearing the remnants of clothing, barreled into the room.

They fought, claws and teeth employed to do as much destruction as possible. Stiles watched with morbid fascination and stupefied horror as the beasts tore shreds of sinew from each other until finally, the shadow creature lay limp on the floor. It seemed to shrink and shimmer, transforming itself into a man. It was that shock – that final supernatural act – that made Stiles stumble out of his corner and approach the remaining beast. Upon closer examination, this one was more lupine but with the same red eyes, burning like coals. Stiles’s fear was long spent, his trepidation vanquished as he reached out his hand to run it along the soft fur. He could not account for his feeling of safety, of familiarity with this mystical beast whose scrapes and gashes were healing already.

Not long after laying hands on the creature, it started to shift, passing through some intermediate incorporeal phase until Derek stood before him, clothes in bloodstained tatters hanging loosely off his body. He was breathing heavily and gaping at Stiles wide eyed and fearful. It was that incongruity that finally broke Stiles. He started to laugh, huge heaving gulps that turned into sobs. He knelt down, ignoring the unperturbed servants coming to and fro, picking up the disfigured man – he looked like he’d been burned – off the floor and carrying him up the stairs. Derek vanished and Isaac came out of the cellar – or wherever he’d been – to stare nervously at Stiles, biting at his thumb.

Eventually the emotional onslaught faded and Stiles picked himself up and headed for his rooms. He closed the door firmly behind him, realized what a pitiful barrier it made, and picked up his coat. The rain still fell outside and it was now near dark. But Stiles knew the roads, the paths, and he was determined now. He picked up some mementos, some money. He could ask Derek to send the rest of his things on later. But right now there was only one path of action.

Derek had discarded his ruined garments and was lingering in the entrance way when Stiles came down, hat already set on his head.

“A werewolf? That was what you wished to tell me before we… What you wished to keep me safe from?”

Derek nodded, his hands clenched in tight fists.

“You couldn’t have been secretly betrothed?” Stiles could feel his lip curling. He spoke in a way he’d not spoken since the last time he’d fought with his father, each word a blade, intent on pain. And, just as then, the words, once they started would not stop their bitter advance. “Did you enjoy making sport of the feeble human? Did you think just because I am weak, twisted, that I lie with men… that I would willingly lie with a beast like you?”

Derek winced against the onslaught of Stiles’ words. Stiles felt the fizz of anger intensify under his skin. He was almost pleased he was causing pain. And yet, in that moment, there was something within him that said it was right that he be punished like this, hurt like this. He deserved it.

“There’s so much I wanted to tell you, but I–” Derek’s face was open and honest, clear in a way it had never been before. That made Stiles want to lash out even more.

“Yes, you’ve been so forthcoming. You know practically the entirety of my life story, and yet I know next to nothing about–“ Stiles’s throat closed up with anger.

“My uncle,” Derek interjected. “The man. He was my uncle, Peter. There was a fire and most of my family perished.” Stiles nodded, mutely urging Derek to continue, his mouth a tight line. “He barely survived himself. He went mad… feral over the loss of kin. We kept him confined to his chambers, Miss Morell performing watch. But the full moon always affects us.” Some of the tension in Derek’s shoulders eased.

Stiles’s brain started calculating. It surprised him that, even in his shock, he was able to be so cold and calm. All the clues, everything he’d ignored, started to slot into place. “That’s why you always returned from your travels at a certain time of the month, for your uncle?”

“And for Isaac. To help him learn control.” Derek came closer, snatching back his outstretched arm when Stiles turned away from him.

“So he’s–“ The thought of Isaac turning into one of those… creatures. It appalled Stiles. Derek nodded in reply, his eyes never leaving Stiles. The fury from before rose up tenfold. “Derek, you realize that you’ve said more of import than all the other things you’ve ever told me?”

Derek shrank back. He looked…wounded. He lowered his head and when he raised it, the first flickers of anger were clear. Stiles realized with a sickening lurch that his needling words had found their target. “I thought I was protecting you. Keeping you safe. You must know that I would give – would do anything to keep you safe. You belong to me, Stiles.”

Derek’s eyes flashed red for the briefest of moments upon those last words, causing Stiles to flinch instinctively, but even as he did so, he did not fear Derek, despite everything. It wasn’t fear that overtook Stiles, but anger – a swift and stubborn rage – that gave him the strength to do what he must do.

“I don’t belong to anyone.” Stiles swallowed the rest of his words and forced himself to ignore the naked pain on Derek’s face. “Goodbye, Mr. Hale. Say my farewells to Isaac.”

Derek didn’t try to stop him leaving this time.

 

Stiles didn't realize how badly he'd misjudged the darkness and the landscape until he was well and truly lost. He'd been so caught up in his own whirling thoughts that he'd completely lost track of where he was. He just continued to put one foot in front of the other, his legs beginning to ache. That made him think of other aches – the sweet stretch, the bite of Derek’s teeth upon his neck.

Stiles angrily banished thoughts of Hale from his mind, stamping along the road. He only noticed the upward climb when the road took him through the tree line. Stiles stumbled off to the side where one wall met another, wrapped himself in his coat and lay down. He was soaked to the bone, exhausted and, worse of all, utterly heart sick. For once his initial fury dampened, Stiles could admit to himself that Derek had spoken the truth. He was Derek’s as surely as Derek was his.

Stiles slowly became aware, by degrees, that he was no longer cold. Nor was he wet or crouched against unforgiving stone. He was in bed. The sheets wrapped around him were soft with wear and the smell of something cooking lingered in the air. It was this last that made him open his eyes. The fire burned merrily in a small, well-tended grate, warming the room. A soft, hazy light filled the room. It was late evening or early morning, perhaps. The day hovering on the edge of beginning or ending. Stiles rolled his head to look around. A young woman sat in a chair, a book resting on her swollen stomach as she dozed.

She awoke when Stiles attempted to push himself upright. "Scott!" she called, working her way out of the chair and coming to settle on the edge of the bed. She rested her hand on his forehead as Stiles stared at her. His mouth was parched and dry, and for a long moment, he couldn't trust himself to speak.

"Your fever seems to have broken," she said. "We had to cut off your hair to help keep your temperature from rising. I'm sorry." Her voice stayed low and slow, for all she threw an irritated glance at the door.

"Thank you," Stiles replied. His own voice sounded foreign to his ears. It almost sounded like it was coming from very far away, echoing from inside a cave.

The door opened and a man, around Stiles's own age stepped through. He was dressed in neat but worn clothes, as if he'd been ready to step out onto the fields.

“Our guest is awake,” the woman said, the dryness of her voice cut through with apparent affection. The man smiled at her, his eyes soft, before turning a welcoming grin to Stiles.

“You were half dead,” he said, rather bluntly. “I’m glad you didn’t die.” His warmth and open honesty were a thousand miles from anything Stiles had experienced at the Hale house. He, a little more hesitantly than had been his wont, returned Scott’s smile. “This is Allison. Mrs. McCall.” The besotted look was back, as if Scott still could not believe this woman had ever agreed to marry him. They could not have been long wed, but the fact he still regarded her with such love spoke well for him and their match.

“Stiles Stilinski,” Stiles said. He thought about revealing his real name but was satisfied, in the end, when Scott looked confused for an instant before breaking into a broad grin once again. He shook Stiles’s hand with a carelessly powerful grip before Allison clambered to her feet and tugged him through the door. Stiles heard clattering and was trying to push himself out of the bed when Scott came back through carrying a tray. Stiles sank back against the pillows, a wave of exhaustion sweeping over him.

“Don’t move yet, Mr. Stilinski. Allison says you have to eat and build up your strength.” Another one of those adoring gazes was aimed next door and Stiles relaxed again. Anyone who loved his wife that much was an honest and rather special individual. Stiles wondered about his willingness to even think about trusting someone again.

 

In the end, it was Scott’s tendency to ramble about whatever was on his mind that finally endeared him to Stiles. Allison spent a lot of time at his bedside, talking quietly and working at needlework, much too fine for a farmer’s wife. It took a few days for Stiles to stay awake long enough to focus on and unpick the thread of their life story. Allison had married for love – that much had been obvious from the start – and to one far below her social standing. They were the epitome of ‘poor but happy’.

When Stiles became less bed ridden and more ambulatory, he followed Scott outside as he tended the rounds of his tiny farm. He watched as Scott milked and fed cattle, tended sheep, was pecked by angry chickens. It was a world away from both the traveling he’d done with his father or the tense academic world of Cambridge. It was also work that was very different from his past scholarly employment. Stiles liked it, took to it more as his strength returned until he got to the point where he thought he could manage this on a grander scale. He developed muscles he was most unaccustomed to using and began to creep towards happiness, a feeling greatly encouraged by Allison’s sweetness and Scott’s stout-hearted friendship.

It was with surprise that Stiles came in from grooming the old shire horse, Jessica, only to be met with a stern-faced Allison, sitting with the newspaper open in front of her.

She addressed him by his real name.

Stiles couldn’t school his reaction fast enough for one as sharp-eyed as Allison. She motioned for him to sit; Stiles pulled up a chair at the kitchen table, hands running over the rough wood that had been worn smooth by time and hard work. Allison eyed him steadily. “There’s a notice in the paper. And I thought, ‘I know a Stiles Stilinski’.”

Stiles felt a wild leap in his heart. “Der- Mr. Hale. Is he looking for me?”

Allison was startled at the name, her eyes flashing with something unreadable and dark, just for an instant. Then she settled. “No. A solicitor has placed a notice asking for information regarding someone of that name.” She handed the newspaper over and Stiles read the notice over and over again. He didn’t recognize the name of the lawyer.

“I’m-“ He swallowed. “It’s my real name. I don’t use it, much. Not since my mother passed.” Stiles looked helplessly at the notice until Allison slid the paperunder his nose.

She held up a pen. “Write to them.”

 

In some ways, the thought of Derek searching for him made Stiles start to examine all that they had done. He was so preoccupied with thoughts of the man, the wolf and his secrets, that Scott had to yell at him to get on with the milking of the old dairy cow. Stiles chuckled at the inept milkmaid he made before returning his full attention to the task.

Nighttime, where he was alone and in the dark, provided no distraction from his overactive mind. Stiles wondered at the affection, the warmth that had flooded through him when he mistakenly thought Derek had been looking for him. That suggested that perhaps he was finally over the whole shock of the werewolf revelation. He should perhaps write to Derek and Isaac. Isaac would certainly appreciate a letter. The boy would have been upset by Stiles’s precipitous departure. It was this determination that drove him to seek out Allison after the early morning chores were squared away. He would ask for more paper, write letters, explain himself, and beg for news. Maybe he could, one day, return to the Hale household, to Beacon Hall.

Allison handed him a letter instead. Stiles’s father had been in Italy and it was with sad regret that… Stiles couldn’t read on. He handed the letter, wordlessly to Allison, and sat beside the roaring fire, feeling its heat but remaining entirely frozen inside. His father-

“Stiles?” Scott was there now too. He looked to Allison who read out the pertinent parts of the letter.

“It is with sad regret and deepest sympathy that I inform you that your father will not return from Florence. He passed away quietly, in his sleep. We must now ensure the legal proprieties are followed. As his sole heir, your father left a substantial inheritance to you, including a healthy pension for his years of faithful service in Her Majesty’s government. There is also the matter of his personal effects and the matter of the cottage. Yours etc.” Allison’s voice faded out, not bothering to read out the rest of the details.

 

Stiles returned to the farm. It might only have taken a month to wrap up everything, but he felt as if he had been away for years. His father had left him money (and a surprising amount of it at that) but Stiles would have traded back every penny for another moment, another conversation with his father.

When he’d returned to the cottage, he found that Derek had forwarded all his belongings. He spent time picking through the pieces of his life, writing letters, arranging for a local widow to look after the modest house. He was tempted to sell it, to take all the money and begin a new life. There had been articles about emigration, perhaps Australia or America and even India. The wilds of Africa, perhaps, where he would meet beasts that would rival the strangeness of Derek and his uncle.

It was with this on his mind that he came to call upon Scott and Allison once more.

They had visitors. Around Allison’s rough and welcoming table sat three people: a blonde woman with hard blue eyes, an older gentlemen with white hair, and a man with a stare so keen it could rival Allison‘s. “My family,” she said, introducing them individually as her aunt, her grandfather and her father.

Stiles took tea with them, making polite conversation. Maybe they were here to help Allison – her child was almost due, after all – but their fine clothing, their haughty airs suggested they would find such work beneath them. Scott appeared late, his face scrubbed in the stable. He sat gingerly on the edge of the chair, eyes constantly on the move. Allison’s Aunt Kate even sneered at him when Allison wasn’t looking.

Stiles kept his peace until they left. They took their leave slowly, with only Allison’s father displaying any genuine emotion as they embraced. It dawned on Stiles why, perhaps, in addition to Scott’s adoration, she’d turned her back on that life of privilege and comfort to be a poor farmer’s wife. Stiles smiled at them, more certain of his plan than ever.

“I have an idea – an offer. I can never repay you both for your kindness and care, I know, but I hope this might go some way towards it.” Scott leaned forward, eagerly, and Allison felt for his hand, holding it tight as Stiles explained. “My father left me a substantial sum. I have no more ties here and I know that you might be amenable to this. I am planning to settle abroad, somewhere warm, where land is plentiful and cheap, and carve out a life for myself. Would you both like to come with me? I would much-“ Stiles couldn’t get out the rest of the words because both Allison and Scott had leapt to their feet in unison, pulling and hugging him close between them.

Allison placed a kiss on his cheek. “It’s actually something we’ve talked about.” Stiles smirked. Trust Allison to guess his decision before he had made it for himself.

“You won’t miss your family?” Stiles asked carefully, unsure of where he stood.

Allison didn’t hesitate before she shook her head. Then the thought of their exciting future plans drove all sadness from his mind. Later, however, in his lonely bed, Stiles thought about his father. He would be glad for them all, for the new family Stiles had found, a brother to Scott and Allison, an uncle to their child. It would be the closest he could come to happiness, perhaps. It was all the happiness he deserved,

 

Late that night, he dreamed of Derek. In his dreams, he heard Hale’s voice, vulnerable and soft. He pleaded with Stiles to return, his usual gruff demeanor gone. He sounded desperate, entreating Stiles to come back to him, to forgive him. While it might have been wishful thinking of his subconscious, Stiles woke with a fresh resolution. He had one more piece of business to attend to before he headed off to fresh shores and new adventures.

Before he had the opportunity to arise the next morning, there was a knock on the door and Allison entered. She sat in the seat she’d occupied so often when Stiles had been ill and wrung her hands. For someone who was usually an ocean of calm, this was certainly unusual behavior.

Stiles tucked his blankets closely around himself while he sat up.

“I haven’t said to Scott, but I surmise that you and Derek Hale were more than strictly employer and employee.” Her lips were pursed, but more with concern about Stiles’s reaction than with disgust or distaste.

“We-“ Then Stiles thought over what Allison had said, how she had spoken. She had said Derek’s name with familiarity. “Do you know him?”

“I know him. Our families are acquainted. I-“ Allison shifted closer. “I have news. Beacon Hall suffered a terrible fire. The house nearly burnt to the ground.”

Stiles thought about his dream, his resolution now seeming in perfect clarity. “I have to go there. I have to -”

“Kate brought the news. She-“ Allison took a deep shuddering breath, and Stiles realized she was very close to tears. “She was gleeful.”

Stiles felt a cold chill envelope him. He had to- He needed to return to the Hale house immediately.

 

Stiles promised he’d return to the McCalls – in fact he would have promised just about anything in his haste to depart– and he left within the hour. Being as he’d made the first journey across the moors on foot in the rain, the short horse ride didn’t seem nearly as challenging. As he trotted through the forest, the fog closed in, reminding him of the dark night he’d first met Mr. Hale. He knew now that his lack of injury was due to the fact that Derek was a werewolf. Stiles spurred his horse faster. He wanted, no, needed to know what had happened, trusting in Derek’s healing abilities to have kept him alive.

The once imposing Beacon Hall rose out of the fog. It was a bitter burnt ruin, the corners of the walls perilously holding up a few charred roof beams. Stiles walked through the tumble of stones that had been the front door. The house was only recognizable through his memories – Derek’s library, his own rooms, the grand sweeping staircase. Stiles spun on his heel and let his memories wash over him.

A cough from the doorway shook him out of his reverie. “I thought it might be you.” The old housekeeper was there, looking none the worse for her lack of employment. Stiles lifted a hand in greeting.

“What happened?” He set aside his memories and steeled himself, ready to hear the truth.

“They don’t know how the fire began. It could have been Peter, but more likely it was that woman, Argent, who visited Mr. Hale.” The housekeeper’s voice hardened. “She never got over Mr. Hale dashing her marriage hopes.”

Stiles shrugged, uncaring, until he disciphered who Miss Morrell must mean. Allison’s aunt. Allison’s hints made much more sense now. “Isaac wasn’t…?”

“Young Master Isaac has been safe at school these past months. Now he can control his shifts, Mr. Hale felt it best to send him off. He was heartsick at the idea of another tutor.” Miss Morrell turned her knowing eyes to him, giving him a wink. Stiles squirmed as he realized she knew the exact nature of his and Derek’s relationship, but his relief at Isaac’s safety soon overcame his personal discomfort.

“Peter died.”

Stiles nodded. He wasn’t exactly sorry about that. But the notable absence of any reference to Derek’s own passing made an uncontrollable and untamable hope spring forth. “And Mr. Hale?”

She smiled at him and started walking away. Stiles could do nothing but follow her. The morning light was burning off the mist and Stiles caught up the reins of his horse as she walked into the woods, towards a cottage at the edge of the park. She refused to say anything more until they neared the stream.

Under a familiar willow tree, seated on a bench Stiles remembered well, an unshaven, long-haired and silent Derek sat. Stiles froze as Miss Morrell patted him on his shoulder and headed off. She was soon out of sight as Stiles took a stuttering step forward.

Derek’s head came up. “Deaton?” He was as imperious as ever. Then he took in a deep breath. Now Stiles could see his face clearly, he could see the bandage bound over Derek’s eyes. “Is that…? No. It is my but my memories tormenting me.”

Stiles couldn’t stop himself then. “Who do you think I am?” He took another few steps forward, ending up between the sprawl of Derek’s legs.

“Stiles?” His name slipped past Derek’s lips, full of hope and wonder. “Is it really you?”

Stiles pressed his hand to Derek’s rough stubble, as much to reassure himself that Derek was real as to persuade Derek of the truth of his presence. Derek was solid and warm, defiantly not a ghost. Stiles couldn’t stop touching. “Yes, yes.” He wasn’t even sure what he was saying yes to. It mattered not, for he had Derek, and that was enough.

 

He helped Derek shave first. He sat Derek on a stool in the kitchen of the cottage, the razor steady and Derek equally steady as Stiles drew the blade over Derek’s cheeks, his throat. Stiles found himself reacting to the vulnerability of the position – the reversal of roles. That final sliver of doubt banished from Stiles’ mind. Now Stiles knew with certainty that Derek had truly meant it, since their very first union, that he belonged to Stiles just as much as Stiles belonged to him. Stiles could accept all of Derek – his blindness, his supernatural nature. It was all inconsequential compared to the way his heart seemed to beat stronger and keener now Derek was near.

 

Later, splayed out on the narrow bed Derek now called his in the small cottage at the edge of the estate, Derek told him the whole story. The fire had begun in the library, he was sure. Peter was locked upstairs and Derek had tried to batter through and rescue him. He’d made it out onto the roof but refused to come when Derek called. The roof had collapsed taking them both with it. Derek had taken an unnaturally long, long time to heal this far.

“The blindness may not be permanent,” he finished up. Stiles had pulled the sheets over them and they lay together, closer than they’d ever allowed each other before. “But it may. After you left–”

Stiles’ shushed Derek with his mouth, pressing a chaste kiss to quiet his fears. “I will never leave your side again.”

Stiles traced the muscles in Derek’s arm while he thought about his next words. “You must miss your books. Reading.”

Derek let out a startled laugh. “You never say what I expect you to, Stiles.” He cupped his hand around Stiles’s cheek and drew him into another soft kiss. Derek definitely didn’t need eyes for that.

“Are you going to rebuild the house?” Stiles blurted out, the moment the kiss broke. Derek’s unseeing eyes seemed fixed on him as he shrugged. “Because-“

Stiles spilled his story then. His father. The inheritance. Scott and Allison, their unborn child, and the farm. Derek listened, his face set in a neutral expression, his hand not stopping its caress of Stiles’s skin, as if Derek were addicted to it like opium, afraid to sever the tactile reassurance of Stiles’ presence. “What I’m- I don’t want to break my promise. But. Would you…?”

“Would I what?” Derek answered but the slight upturn of his lips made Stiles grin readily. Derek would say yes, too. He’d follow Stiles across the ocean, across the entire globe if that was what it took, and just as Stiles would do the same for Derek.

“Belong to me?” That was all Stiles wanted, needed and all that it would take to make certain of his future.

Derek’s passionate growl and flash of red, seeing eyes was the best answer he could have hoped for.