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Carry You Home

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Title inspired by this Firefly quote : “When you can't run anymore, you crawl, and when you can't crawl, when you can't do that, you find someone to carry you”

 

For Melramizez’s prompt : Derek has accidentally chosen Stiles as a mate, but he doesn’t want him because he’s afraid that Stiles will get hurt and he just cannot stand to let that happen. He can’t stay away though, because the Wolf chose Stiles, but Derek will not yield, thinking he destroys everything and everyone he cares about.

 

**********************

 Derek lets himself fall on his back, breath short, heart beating fast. He can feel the Wolf in him, purring in satisfaction and contentment. Asking for more. It wants him to turn and touch, to never stop touching. Instead, Derek squeezes his hands into fists and closes his eyes, trying to push it back, this need, this instinct screaming for his mate. For Stiles.

 From the first time he had seen Stiles, he could feel that he was different, that he was something to him, important. He’d only recently figured out what it was exactly. Mate. With that revelation, the need became stronger, his Wolf’s instincts howling in his head every time Stiles was near. But Derek wouldn’t yield… that is, until now.

The moon was close to full and his Wolf had been getting more and more difficult to control. Then he ended up being paired with Stiles - searching the wood for a witch they suspected of malice. The Wolf had been relentless pushing his control to its limits. When they found this abandoned cabin, the witch had trapped them inside; even Derek’s strength couldn’t fight against the invisible barrier keeping them prisoners. He tried to use it, tried to use his anger against the witch to push down the Wolf, but it fought against his anchor, too glad for this moment with its mate to let Derek’s anger subdue him.

 Derek tried to avoid him, to keep Stiles away, afraid of hurting him, but the teenager was nothing if stubborn and he had wanted to understand what was happening to Derek, why he was rejecting him, why he had been avoiding him for weeks now, what he could possibly have done. The hurt the boy exuded had been what finally broke Derek’s resolve to stay away.

 

But it was a mistake.

 

Now, lying naked on the ground, air full of their mixed scent, Derek has no doubt of that. He can feel Stiles’ tension, feel the electricity between their skin, trying to pull him in. The Wolf wants to hold its mate, to reassure him as the smell of his nervousness and hesitation fills the room. He would hold him and everything would be fine, they would be together, finally.  

Minutes pass and Derek doesn’t move. Minutes pass until he’s not welcome anymore.

Stiles’ anxiety and disappointment is tainted with a touch of humiliation, the scent burning Derek’s throat with regrets. Stiles is shaking, the cold air of February drying his still sweaty skin. A particularly violent shudder makes their arms touch, and Stiles springs up, sitting up, rubbing his forearm like he has been burned. Maybe he can feel it too, that static electricity calling for the touch of more skin.

 “So…that happened,” Stiles says awkwardly, not daring to look toward the man lying next to him. Derek can practically smell the blood from where he’s biting his lip so hard, waiting for an answer, an affirmation, and a comfort that doesn’t come.

 Finally, Stiles gives up, nodding to himself in resignation and putting on his shirt.

Derek imitates him, not knowing what else to do. He wants to say that he’s sorry, but it wouldn’t feel like the whole truth. He’s sorry he let it happen, yes, but he also knew this would happen one day and he’s glad that it did now, wishes it will calm the Wolf.

 Stiles has been claimed.

The mark on his shoulder will soon disappear, but Derek’s scent never will now. Any werewolf looking to claim the boy will know that he is his. It won’t change anything in Stiles’ life; he will date humans who have no idea, couldn’t imagine the possibility of this bright boy being someone else’s. The Wolf roars just by Derek thinking about it, but it will be okay, Derek can take it. He couldn’t make Stiles happy himself, could never give him what he seeks, be the one he needs. Now the Wolf has laid its mark and it will have to be content with that. Now, Stiles is free of Derek’s desire, because Derek will never ask anything of him that he couldn’t give back, that he doesn’t deserve.  

Derek only realizes he’s staring at the bruised skin at the base of Stiles’ neck when the boy rubs it nervously, and he immediately diverts his gaze, focusing on zipping up his pants.

 “You think the spell is still active?” Stiles asks, approaching the door but not daring to touch it, afraid of the burns Derek got when he first tried it.

Derek sniffs the air, trying to put aside the smell of hormones, Stiles’ emotions, and their mixed scent to focus on the scent of magic. It’s still here, but barely, the spell dissipating a little more each second. He still tries the door himself, ignoring the speed with which Stiles jumps out of his way, like he doesn’t want to be too close to Derek. The door opens without difficulty and Derek gets out, scanning the horizon – using all his senses - to try to detect the presence of the witch. She’s long gone, and Derek sighs in relief. While he would like to take his anger out on someone, he also feels exhausted down to his bones and just wishes for the peace sleep will give him. He doesn’t wait for Stiles and starts walking in the direction of the cars, knowing the boy will follow.

Derek grunts and hurries his pace when he hears Scott coming their way. He knows how they smell and Stiles stinks of sorrow, too; Derek is not looking forward to the protective best friend act. Scott would never understand that Derek did what was best for Stiles, that he is doing what is best for him right now by being so rude, by denying him his attention. Derek has to accept that Scott will never be a part of his pack now. In fact, Derek will be lucky if Scott doesn’t start an open war against him.

He’s not sure a lot of his betas would fight on his side in this one.

Scott starts to run, his heart accelerating in his chest and a deep growl starting to resonate in his throat as soon as he’s close enough to smell them. Derek isn’t surprised when Scott barrels into him, catching him in his side, but he lets himself fall to the ground and closes his eyes to the punch that is coming.

The teen is shouting at him, radiating revulsion and rage, but Derek doesn’t need to listen. He gives the beta two more hits before he throws him off and gets up. Scott is immediately on his feet, ready to charge him again. Derek roars, letting his eyes go red. That roar would make any of his betas cower, but Scott is not his and his human rage is blinding his Wolf’s instinct to respond to the power of an alpha. Stiles’ voice holds him back though. The boy asks him to stop, and Scott’s defensive posture goes away, his face changes back to that of the sympathetic best friend he always was.

“He did nothing,” Stiles says, practically shouts, like it explains everything. It’s supposed to be a defense, but Derek takes it as the accusation it also is. To him.

 “But you smell like…” Scott says, confused.

“Can we just go home? Please.” The boy’s voice breaks on the last word, like he’s barely holding back anymore. Scott nods, understanding the urge to get away. He takes his friend by the arm, a protective gesture made clear by the glare he sends the alpha’s way. Derek doesn’t respond to the glare, choosing to turn away and go back into the woods.

 As he hears the car starting and driving away, he wonders if this is the last time he will see the two boys. Derek runs as fast and as long as he can, until he doesn’t have any breath left to let out the misery that the Wolf wants to howl at the moon.

 

********************************

 The next day, he starts to feel everything falling apart.

Erica screams at him for a good half hour, Isaac emits revulsion and won’t look him in the eyes, and Boyd doesn’t have to talk to express his disagreement with what he did. His Wolf is strangely silent.

Erica keeps cycling through emotions – from trying to make him explain his actions to insulting him. At one point, tired of being ignored, in a fit of pique she attacks him. When they end up on the ground, she’s so shocked that Derek didn’t put her down or reject her that she changes back to human. She stares at her bloody hand with round eyes, and Derek can feel the blood pouring from the wound on the side of his throat. Her expression transforms from anger to shock to sadness, like she was just hit in the face with a wave of misery. She stands up and doesn’t bother him again after that.

He doesn’t know how to explain that he wasn’t submitting or letting her hurt him because he thought he deserved it—he did—he genuinely didn’t see the attack coming. He feels like that should bother him, that his instincts failing him should be cause for concern, but he can’t bring himself to care. Maybe it was an unconscious self-punishing act. It wouldn’t be the first one, after all.

 

*****************************

He sleeps through the full moon. It was meant to be an afternoon nap, but he wakes up in the early morning and realizes nobody is here anymore.

When his betas come back, they reek of Scott, deer blood, and accusations. They lie in one of the train cars and go back to sleep without a word. Derek looks at them for a while, wondering why they even came back at all instead of going home. He thinks it’s supposed to have a meaning, maybe it’s a gesture.

He’s not sure he deserves it.

 

*****************************

“You’re not a horrible person, you know.” It’s the first time Isaac talks directly to him in a week, and Derek wasn’t expecting those words. “I’m sure you have your reasons, and maybe they are valid,” he adds while pulling his schoolbooks out of his bag. “But you’ll never know if you don’t talk about it.” It’s not an invitation; Isaac is already settling in the couch and focusing on his book. It’s not an invitation to talk to him, anyway. 

 

******************************

 Derek sees him at the Chinese place. Erica wanted spring rolls and wouldn’t shut up about it, so he decided to yield for once. He’s still grovelling—discreetly, so they don’t realize he’s actually doing it, but they end up forgiving him anyway—from his full moon fail, after all.

 He’s waiting for his change when Stiles enters with his dad.

His Wolf just has the time to wake up and whine miserably before Derek is taking his order and leaving, nodding politely to the Sheriff. He barely winces when Stiles mutters ‘asshole’ while glaring at his retreating back.

 It’s better this way, he repeats to himself all the way back to his den, burying the Wolf’s desire as far as he can.

 

*****************************

 Derek never was a big sleeper. Werewolves don’t need to sleep much; they always have excess energy, and his senses are always at their best at dawn. It’s one of his favorite things actually. Running in the crisp air of the woods, chasing sleepy animals and basking in the morning sun. He likes to wake up the forest, to make noise and stir it up before even the earliest risers are awake. It always invigorates him to hear nature coming to life around him, leaves moving, paws tapping the humid ground in panic, wings flapping and animals screeching indignantly in surprise.

 That’s one of the things he loves the most about his old house, he could just jump from his window and he was in the woods. It’s a twenty minute run from the train station to the woods, and most mornings, he doesn’t even bother anymore, forcing himself to go back to sleep instead. 

  

******************************

 “So, I’ve been thinking.”

Derek abruptly sits up. He’s lying in his train car, and Stiles is sitting on one of the remaining benches a few feet from him. He seems nervous but determined. Derek scolds himself for not having heard him coming, but his senses don’t recognize Stiles as a threat and he’s getting used to sleeping with the noises of other people in his living space.

He rubs at his eyes, wondering what hour it is. Last time he woke up, the sun had just risen up and it had smelled like corn cereal soaked in milk. He wasn’t feeling like breakfast with the pack and the accompanying small talk, so had gone back to sleep. 

 “That would make sense, right?” Stiles asks, anxiety barely hidden by false excitement. 

Derek blinks at him for a second, having no idea what he just said. His own heart is beating so loudly that he can barely hear what Stiles is saying. He concentrates on Stiles’ heart and realizes it’s sounding as panicked as his own.

 “I guess?” He tries, because it’s the first time he’s seen Stiles in nearly three weeks, and he doesn’t want to be the asshole that can’t even pay attention to him for ten seconds. Stiles squints at him like he knows he’s bullshitting him but isn’t sure he wants to call him on it.

 “Alright!” He finally exclaims, getting up and clapping his hands. “Where should we start?”

 It turns out that Stiles knew exactly where to start and has already done most of the work. For some reason, he’s decided to find the witch, even though there haven’t been any traces of her for weeks now. He’s determined though, and everyone seems pretty enthusiastic about the idea of the chase too. Scott is looking like he will cut Derek’s throat at the first opportunity he gets.

Derek soaks in Stiles’ scent, his voice, and can’t take his eyes off of him. He makes a weird noise when he notices the mark on his neck has faded, feeling the imperious need to touch the place it used to be, and it takes him a second to realize that the room is now silent and everyone is looking at him with various expressions on their face. Shock, suspicion, empathy, exasperation… He scowls in response, brusquely taking the map from the table and rolling it.  

 “Let’s go then,” he declares before walking determinedly toward the exit. To be honest, he has no idea where they are going or why, but he feels satisfied when everyone rushes to follow him anyway.

 

*************************

They are already closing in on the witch when he realizes what is happening. Stiles is only a few feet from him and yet, the Wolf is silent for the first time since it first recognized its mate. Derek tries to reach it, but where he can normally feel it, as a warm presence in the corner of his mind, there is nothing.

He’s still focused on searching for it deep inside when a force hits him from the side and he’s flying against a tree, crumbling to the ground with a groan of pain. He looks up, and the witch is there.

Her dark hair is full of knots, and she’s pale with a crazy glint in her eyes making her look dangerous despite her skinny form. Boyd goes to attack her only to be repelled before he has even taken two steps.

 Stiles is standing between them and the witch; he’s holding some kind of knife in front of him. The witch makes a gesture as if to send him flying too and the knife glows green, Stiles doesn’t budge.

 “Whatever you did, undo it,” Stiles orders firmly.

The witch seems disconcerted, and Derek himself is not entirely sure of what is happening. But Stiles is in danger, so he gets up and stands at his side, crutching menacingly.

His groan sounds weird though. He tries to bare his teeth but despite his summons, the Wolf won’t emerge, won’t show itself. He touches his mouth, his forehead, but his face is still human, his nails too short to even resemble claws. He looks at his hands with a frown, only looking up when the witch cackles.

 “Someone seems a little impotent tonight,” she mocks, realizing his problem.

 “Undo it!” Stiles rages.

 Derek looks at him. He suddenly realizes what this is, what Stiles thinks this is.

 A curse.

Before he can say anything though, Scott is jumping on the witch from behind, immobilizing her with an arm around her throat. Erica and Isaac appear by his side, grabbing one of her arms each before she can throw any more spells. Stiles advances toward her, ignoring Derek instinctively grabbing his arm to stop him.

 “The spell you cast on him, undo it and we will let you go.” Stiles proposes calmly, too close to the witch for Derek’s comfort.

 He can only look at the scene with wide eyes though because they are wrong. There is no spell he can hide behind. He wasn’t under the influence when he had sex with Stiles and no curse chased away his Wolf, he did.

 

 This isn’t the first time that it’s happened. The Wolf has eluded him before.

He remembers an age when all he wanted was to be human, to be a normal kid playing with his classmates without fear of hurting them. He remembers denying his Wolf, hating it for making him different until the Wolf became dormant. It took his parents nearly two weeks to realize what he did, when the next full moon arrived and Derek didn’t transform.

His dad had never looked as disappointed in him as he did that day.

At the time, it only took a long discussion about what he was and how he should be proud of it, before Derek realized that his dad was telling the truth. He was what he was, he was born a werewolf, and he was so scared that rejecting his Wolf would make him less of a member of the pack that he accepted it again. He spent the whole night concentrating on his Wolf, searching for his Wolf’s side, trying to cajole it out until it came back to him, made him feel whole again.

 

It happened again after the fire.

When Derek hated what he was so much that he started denying the Wolf, rejecting him, blaming him for the loss of his family. If they hadn’t been werewolves, then his family would still be alive. It was more than a childish vindication and need for normality this time.

He smothered that side of him so much and for so long that he started withering. His body wasn’t entirely human. It needed the Wolf to subsist, and the more he was crushing it, the weaker Derek became. His senses started decreasing so much that he wasn’t able to leave the house anymore, not knowing how to live without relying on smells and increased hearing.

At the time, Laura had gone away. She knew about Kate, had always known about their relationship, and as much as she said that he couldn’t have known, she couldn’t look him in the eyes either. She had disappeared for three months. She couldn’t live without her little brother though, without her pack and only loved one.

When Laura found him, she was as mad as she was feeling sad and guilty. She spent days trying to convince him to come back to himself. She pled for him to not abandon her; he was all she had left. But when she finally convinced him, when he was ready to do it for her, he couldn’t bring himself to. He tried for days, exhausted to the point of passing out, but the Wolf was nowhere to be found. He had pushed it so far away that he wasn’t sure he could ever find it again.

Only Laura’s alpha’s power was able to bring it out.

It came back suddenly, under its alpha’s order, and so violently that Derek had to spend weeks locked up with earplugs in his ears, unable to put up with the faintest smell without throwing up or getting migraines. Laura never left his side, helping him as much as she could. For two weeks, they lived in the woods, away from the city and all its noise and artificial smells. They healed together and never left each other’s side again for more than a few days after that.

 Until she decided to return to Beacon Hills and everything went downhill.

 

And now, he was doing it again. He denied the Wolf its mate, rejected it, and it was abandoning him.

 “I don’t know what you’re talking about, kid. Let me go!” The witch rages, fighting in vain against the hold of the werewolves around her.

 “Yes, you do,” Stiles answers with conviction. “In that cabin, you cast a spell on us, on Derek, undo it!” Stiles presses the knife against her collarbone. It doesn’t break the skin, but glows again, and the witch screams. “What was it?!” Stiles insists.

Derek cringes. He would like to pretend that Stiles is right, that this was a curse, but it isn’t the truth.

He wonders about it though.

This could be the solution to their problems, he ponders. He could pretend that it was all the curse’s doing, that what he did to Stiles wasn’t his fault. Stiles would probably feel better, maybe they could even be friends again, act like nothing happened.

Derek would lie to Stiles, but the Wolf would know. It would know that Stiles was marked as his… Except it wasn’t enough for it, was it? It should have been enough, but it wasn’t. The Wolf didn’t stop wanting Stiles once it claimed him. It wants him for itself; it wants to be with him, and Derek can’t give it that. He can’t do that to Stiles, he doesn’t deserve Stiles. As long as the Wolf doesn’t have him, it would hurt. The Wolf would howl and whine for its mate until Stiles loves him back. And Derek knows that is never going to happen.

Derek looks down at his hands, his human nails.

The Wolf isn’t here anymore though. Only Derek’s needs remain. What if that's the solution? Derek could deal with his own human desire for Stiles. He wants him, but he doesn’t need him as viscerally as the Wolf does. He could be near him; they could be friends even. It would hurt, but not as much as if he has to constantly push back the Wolf’s instincts. He could be… he could be a human guy with a crush. A normal unrequited love.

 That isn’t so bad now, is it?

 He could survive it. He could deal with it.

 He has no family anymore. He doesn’t have parents to disappoint, doesn’t have a heritage or bloodline to uphold, doesn’t have an alpha to make proud, to take care of.

 It’s just him.

 He looks up at his betas. They didn’t follow his orders here. They followed Scott’s. They like Scott, and he could be the alpha they deserve. They didn’t need Derek. Nobody needs him.

 “There was no curse!” The witch hollers, and Derek blinks back to reality.

 They have to believe it, they have to believe that he is cursed, that there is nothing they can do.

 This is his chance.

 Panic burns his stomach, and before he knows what he’s doing, he’s marching toward Stiles and taking the knife from his hand. He looks at the witch glaring defiantly at him.

 “What are you doing?” Stiles asks, somewhat worryingly. Derek can feel Boyd approaching at his back and his betas looking apprehensively at him.

 “I should have burned this cabin with you in it,” the witch spits and that makes the decision somewhat easier.

 She doesn’t have time to scream before the knife reaches her heart. In the next second, Boyd is grabbing him from behind, and Stiles is taking the bloody knife back. The betas jump back in surprise, letting the corpse of the witch fall to the ground.

 “Why did you do that?” Scott screams at him, looking from the knife, to the corpse, to him. Stiles seems to realize the knife is dirtying his hand and abruptly lets it fall to the ground, wiping his bloody hand on his jeans.

 “She was dangerous,” Derek responds simply. She had done some pretty gross experimentation with necromancy after all.

 Derek doesn’t struggle, and after some hesitation, Boyd lets him go. In the next second, Stiles is in front of him, patting frenetically at his face.

 “Is that it then? Show me your teeth. Did it cure you?” Stiles asks, trying to inspect his gums. Derek shakes his head to evade his hands.

 He doesn’t miss the worried look the others exchange and wonders how he could have missed the fact that his Wolf had been gone for so long when his betas have obviously known for some time.

All this time, he’s been isolating himself, wallowing in his misery so much that he didn’t realize how much they were worrying about him, observing him. He feels both guilty and proud of them at the same time.

 He takes a step back, scowling, when Stiles tries to put a finger in his mouth to force him to open his lips, but he lets him grab and inspect his hands.

 “I…I don’t think it changed anything,” he confesses. It’s not a lie. He has to avoid outward lies or his betas will know. They have closed up on him and are not discreet as they sniff him. Seeing their lack of subtlety, he wonders how he missed it all this time.

 “You still smell weird,” Erica notices with a frown.

 “Human,” Isaac adds.

 “Well, kind of,” Scott says with a grimace.

 “Oh god,” Stiles lets out before turning back and crouching beside the witch, checking the pulse in her wrist. “She’s dead! She’s dead and you’re still cursed!” He panics.

 “It’s okay,” Derek tries to reassure, because it really is.

 “Of course it’s not! How are we supposed to get you back to normal now?”

 Derek bites his lip. He can feel the worry coming from everyone around him, but he can’t tell them the truth, he can’t tell them he wants it. They wouldn’t understand. Bitten werewolves don’t have the same rapport with their Wolf that born werewolves do. The Wolf part is something that’s added to what they used to be. They can’t control it the same way Derek can because they don’t know it well enough to bury it, to erase it in every part its hidden. They never could. But to Derek, it’s always been there. And while his betas know how to control the Wolf, it doesn’t have the same influence on them as his Wolf has on Derek. He was born with it, grew up with it, it’s a part of him that he knows as well as he knows himself.

But he doesn’t want it anymore.

And he knows his betas would only react in two ways if they knew the truth: they would either worry that Derek wants to erase such a big part of himself, or they would want him to teach them how to become human again. Derek doesn’t want to be confronted by either of those situations. Because they can never be human again, and he never truly was.

 “We’ll find a way,” Derek says, resisting the urge to shrug. “We should bury that body,” he adds. “Isaac, Erica, go fetch a body bag and the shovels in the car,” he orders, throwing his keys at Isaac.

 “Of course you have the perfect kit for burying a corpse in your truck,” Stiles notes sarcastically.

 “Boyd, can you deal with it?” Derek asks, ignoring Stiles.

Boyd nods before going to find the perfect place to bury the body. He’s trained them well, Derek notes mentally, wondering if he should worry about the kind of things he’s teaching a bunch of teenagers. Scott looks after Boyd for a second before deciding to follow him. Derek cringes a little, sensing that he’s not  interested in digging a grave but is letting them be alone.

 “I’ll call Deaton,” Stiles announces. He looks like he’s thinking out loud. “He said he didn’t know much, but he always plays it mysterious and doesn’t tell us everything so we can learn by ourselves. I’m sure he will know what to do.”

 “Stiles…”

 “Or maybe we could find the witch’s lair. She must have books on spells and stuff, the solution is bound to be there, right?”

 I’m sorry. The words are there, ready to escape his lips, but he swallows them back, choosing to nod instead. “Yeah, right.”

 

*******************************

 The change doesn’t come all at once.

 At first, he’s only unable to transform his face, teeth, and claws.

 Then one day, he wants to flash his eyes while scorning Erica for piercing another punching bag with her claws and find out he can’t anymore. Erica feels so bad that she sews the punching back herself, throwing worried looks at him.

 

Then comes the temperature drop.

Werewolves have a higher body temperature than humans. While a human will run at 97°, werewolves rarely go lower than 104°.

He wakes up in the middle of the night shivering, and his skin is covered in goosebumps. He’s used to sleeping on a thin mattress on the ground of the train car; it’s only the beginning of February, but he has never had to worry about the cold before, never needed any blanket. Now he is freezing, and it doesn’t take him long to realize what that means.

He remembers spending the winter in New York, nearly human and shivering under a pile of blankets, the heat turned up as far as it could go. There isn’t any heater in his den though, there’s barely electricity. Even the showers from the old employee’s locker room have only cold water.

He looks around and it’s like he’s noticing his living situation for the first time.

While it represents no danger for a werewolf, this place wasn’t made for a human.

Soon, his immune system would start to be affected. He may never be as fragile as a human, he would retain some of his healing abilities and strength, but he would be susceptible to certain diseases. He can’t keep sleeping with his head three feet away from rat shit and the prospect of tetanus lurking on every sharp, rusty edge. Two months ago he shared a meal with a raccoon for god’s sake—in his defense, it was his leftover pizza that the raccoon had started eating and he wasn’t going to let it steal it.

 

Derek texts Isaac to bring him his computer and starts searching for a new apartment as the teen finishes his math homework.

Halfway through, he realizes two things: first, Isaac has finished the last of the milk (again), second, he should really look for at least a two bedroom apartment if his pack is going to crash there as often as they do here.

 He wonders though. Will they?

Soon, they won’t need him anymore. He can’t even use his alpha voice or flash his eyes at them anymore, how long before they realize that he’s not really their alpha anymore? How long before they go searching for another one?

He looks at the advanced search bar of the real estate website for a long time, not sure anymore about what information he should put in.

What will his life be like once he has totally lost the Wolf? What will he even do with his day?

He closes the real estate website and goes to Google instead, watching the search bar with a scowl.

 Derek has always been a werewolf, everyone who knows him sees him firstly as ‘the alpha’ or ‘that asshole werewolf’, if he loses that, what does he become?

 

**************************

 “So…”

 Derek growls in his pillow—yes, his pillow, he has that now, and a blanket too…okay, three blankets and pyjamas, it’s very cold in this damn place! —and doesn’t turn around, lounging on his belly.

 “I have received a lot of text messages recently. And calls. The words ‘existential crisis’ were mentioned at least seven times,” Stiles says. Derek feels the teen’s foot poking at his pile of blankets, but Stiles doesn’t dare to take them off him. “Erica wants your Camaro once you go and buy a flashy red convertible, by the way.”

 In answer, Derek pulls the blankets a little more over his head. It’s too early for this shit.

 “I’ll take the fact that you’re still in bed at 1 p.m. as proof that there is indeed some kind of crisis going on.” Stiles says, letting himself fall on his ass next to him. “You know we’re doing everything we can to find a solution, right?” He tries to reassure Derek, poking him in the shoulder, as if to test how many layers of blankets there are.

 “Yeah.” Derek mutters as he does every time someone talks about the ‘curse’.

 The thing is, they really are doing everything they can.

Last weekend, Stiles apparently went on a road trip to go find some spell book in San Francisco, and Scott had a fight with Deaton over him.

As for the betas, they are walking on eggs around him, observing and worrying and coddling him like he’s going to break. They all gaped in unison when Derek cut himself three days ago, and he swears Isaac already had his car keys in hand to drive him to the hospital, the other hand on Derek’s arm to drag him, when the cut healed itself as usual. He’s pretty sure Erica has hidden a first aid kit somewhere since then, and Boyd is always hovering during his morning exercise, like he’s scared Derek will fall from his pull-up bar and hurt himself. It’s sort of touching, but it’s also seriously driving him crazy.

 “So…you’re not okay?” Stiles asks more softly.

 Derek kinds of wants to grab him and pull him under his blanket cocoon with him, but he groans a non-committal answer instead.

 To be honest, he doesn’t know if he’s okay. It’s hard to change, but he doesn’t regret his decision. The Wolf would be insufferable right now, clawing at Derek’s metaphorical insides for him to touch Stiles. Instead, yeah sure, he still wants to touch him, but it’s more like…craving ice cream or sunlight in the middle of winter. It would be nice to have it, but it’s okay, it will pass.

 He’s going to be okay.

  

**************************

 The apartment he moves into doesn’t seem to impress anyone. They all look around like they’re searching for more of it, like that can’t be all there is.

 It’s enough for Derek though.

 It has two bedrooms, warm water, and a stove. Derek isn’t searching for more than that.

So, okay, he’ll have to choose between a dinner table and a couch, but it’s still better than where he lived for the last year. It’s even a little bigger than his first apartment in New York where he neither had the space for a couch nor a dinner table. The foot of his bed used to be against the fridge—which was awesome for midnight snacks but just highlighted the lack of room in his living space.

 He chooses to buy a couch.

 The pack deems it too small though, and they turn up a few days later with two armchairs. Derek doesn’t ask where they got them and is pretty sure he doesn’t want to know anyway.

 Isaac still comes after school most of the days. His foster family is nice enough, but they’re housing four kids under twelve years old and Isaac needs calm to concentrate. He sits at the kitchen counter in silence and does his homework—and empties Derek’s fridge—while Derek reads or does pull-ups.

 Cleaning, reading, and training aren’t enough to occupy a week though, and Derek finds himself pacing more and more, bored out of his mind.

He used to go and run in the woods, do two thousand pull-ups for the sake of it, or sit somewhere and just listen to what was going on around him. His breath is shorter these days though, and it just frustrates him the way he hurts the next day when he tries to outdo himself. His hearing is still pretty good, but he gets headaches if he concentrates on far away sounds for too long.

Isaac gets into the habit of leaving his computer at Derek’s, claiming that he doesn’t want to spend his day with his laptop in his backpack and that Derek can use it if he wants.

So Derek does.

He scrolls through tons of random Wikipedia pages, plays JavaScript games until his eyes hurt, and tests how much he can spy on Facebook without creating an account—because that is not happening, despite Stiles’ encouragements.

At some point, he gets bored enough to search his own name on Google and gets really depressed by the results, but he can’t help but read every single page on the fire, Kate, and his sister’s death.

He’s on page four when he clicks a link that sends him to The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY. His name is still listed under the list of undergraduates in Architecture. It was Laura’s idea to apply for him and she had to force him to go at first, but after a while, he started to like it—started to admit that he had the right to like it and go on with his life—and he was one year away from getting his bachelor’s, thinking about maybe getting his master’s before he came back to Beacon Hills.

 He had a life in New York, friends, but then all that disappeared as suddenly as Laura did.

  

*****************************

Sometimes Stiles and Scott come to his apartment, too. Sometimes, the best times, Stiles comes alone, and they spend the night watching shows from the 90’s that for some reason, Stiles still has the DVDs of.

 It doesn’t hurt as much as before. He can enjoy Stiles’ company without needing more from him than his presence at his side. It’s those times that he’s convinced he made the right choice. Derek can have his own life, Stiles can have his own, and sometimes, they can meet in the middle and spend some time together. Without the Wolf, Derek doesn’t think he needs more than that to be happy.

  

****************************

Derek rubs his hands in front of him, blowing on them to try and warm them up. Maybe he should buy gloves. And a hat. When did the world become so cold?

Rationally, he knows it must not be that cold, he heard people talking about how good it felt that Spring was finally here, but even with the lazy sun shining on him, he feels colder than he ever had before.

 He leans on his car and continues to watch the house in front of him.

 He feels weird.

Every time he used to look at it, the Wolf would be raging, howling in pain inside his head, wishing for revenge it had already gotten. His Wolf has been angry for six years, so angry that the only way Derek could control it was to get even angrier than it. But it’s gone now, and all Derek feels looking at his old family house is grief.

He sees all he has lost, what it used to be. His house was always so alive, always full of people buzzing around, kids running after each other, and delicious smells coming from the kitchen. Now it’s silent, smelling of smoke and rotting wood.

Derek hates seeing it like that, so he closes his eyes and tries to imagine what it was, what it could be like again.

 He stops in an art shop on the way home and buys a notebook.

 

*****************************

 It’s Spring break and surprisingly, Stiles hasn’t come by in more than a week.

 The pack is always here, watching TV, eating food, and lounging around.

They rarely speak about werewolf business, but Derek knows from the smell of sweat and the few tears in their clothes that they keep training. They sometimes mention Scott, always looking kind of guilty after, like they’re cheating on Derek somehow. They aren’t. There is nothing left of the alpha in him, only a feeling of possessiveness and affection over his pack that he’s not entirely sure comes from his werewolf side.

 He’s already in front of the Stilinski home when he looks up and realizes that it may not be as easy as it used to be to climb up to Stiles’ window. He still tries though, and while it takes him three times longer than usual, he still makes it without hurting himself.

 He looks in the window and frowns at the mess that is Stiles’ bedroom. The teen has never been very neat, but this is bordering on hoarding.

 Stiles is not in his room though, but his Jeep is in the driveway so Derek opens the window and gets in.

 He really wasn’t snooping, but when he goes to sit on the bed, a pile of papers fall on his lap and he can’t help but look at them to rearrange the pile.

A ball of dread grows in his stomach, guilt squeezing his throat as he looks at the pages. He takes a look around and notices that every single book and all the papers around are about the same thing.

 Stiles is looking for a way to break the curse.

 “Whoa!” Stiles exclaims, jumping as he comes back to his room with a can of coke. “Okay, still a creepy creeper then,” he says with a smile.

 He doesn’t look good though. He’s pale, like he hasn’t been out in the sun a lot recently, his eyes are bloodshot and there are bags under it.

Looking around him, Derek has no doubt as to why that is.

He’s been killing himself trying relentlessly to find a cure. To help Derek.

 “What are you doing, Stiles?” He knows his voice sounds accusatory and doesn’t miss the way Stiles tenses at it.

 “I’m close. There’s this shaman/wizard thing in Portland. I’ve contacted him, and he said he saw something like this before. He promised he would look into it an-”

 “No,” Derek says. It’s a simple word, but it’s a relief to be saying it already. “Did you ever wonder if I wanted to change back?” He adds as calmly as he can. He has no right to be angry with anyone but himself and he knows it.

 “Wha…What are you talking about, man? Of course, you want to change back!”

 Derek doesn’t respond, looking back at Stiles’ wide eyes. When the surprise turns into horror and realization, Derek can’t hold his gaze anymore. He looks down at his hands instead. He used to tense his fingers, make his claws grow as slowly as he could to calm and refocus himself.

 “But…you’re a werewolf! You’ve always been! You can’t…want…to stay like that.” Stiles rises up.

 “It’s not so bad,” Derek answers with another shrug. One of his nails is still a little blue from where it got stuck in his bathroom door. Who knew such ridiculous injuries could hurt so much and for so long? He pinches the nail until it hurts again.

 “I don’t get it,” Stiles confesses after a long silence.

 “I don’t expect you to. Just…let it go,” he says finally, getting up, wishing it would be the end of it.

 He’s already standing in front of the window, trying to determine how he will get down from here when Stiles’ voice stops him.

 “Was there even a curse?” His voice is hesitant, a little croaky and trembling, like he isn’t entirely sure he wants to know the answer. Derek turns toward him; he opens his mouth but doesn’t know what to say. “I did a lot of research. Like, a lot. And you know what I found most of the time? References to the self-buried Wolf. It’s rare, apparently. Appears only in the worst fucked-up, self-hating born-werewolves.”

 Derek can’t help but flinch at that.

 “Yeah. I guess that does qualify, huh? Didn’t want to believe it, you know. Because why would you let us think it was the witch? Why would you just give up, abandon…abandon your pack like that?”

 “It’s for everyone’s best interest.”

 “Fuck you!”

 Derek jumps, surprised by the insult. Stiles gets up from his desk chair, pacing to his bed before rubbing his shaved head.

 “And what was I then? A last fuck as a werewolf before you threw in the towel? Figure you were going to fuck everybody up so you could do me literally?”

 Derek shakes his head.

 “It wasn’t like that,” is all he can say, so low that he’s not even sure Stiles heard him until he shouts back.

 “Then how was it?! You treated me like shit, Derek! Like… like an itch you just scratched and don’t care about anymore. And still, I believed… I trusted you. I trusted that you couldn’t be such an asshole, that there must have been something…”

 Derek closes his eyes. The litany of ‘it’s better this way’ repeating itself in his head. It’s how he buried his Wolf. It’s how he buried his Wolf to protect Stiles, maybe he could bury this too. If he thinks it enough times, maybe he can convince himself it really is, that life will be better without Stiles, without the constant need of mate and affection and want.

 “Get the fuck out,” Stiles rages one last time, not even trying to hide the strangled sound of the sob stuck in his throat.

 It’s better this way, Derek chants in his head until he’s so exhausted he falls asleep on his couch, shivering against a cold he didn’t know existed.

 

***************************

 Boyd is sitting on the armchair, reading The Hobbit.

 It’s funny to think it, but Boyd reminds Derek of his grandmother. She used to be a reassuring presence, too, never spoke much. Contrarily to Boyd, she always wore flowery dresses and smelled like mothballs though, and the image of Boyd dressed as an old lady makes him smile a little.

She would sit in her armchair in the corner of the living room and watch them go about their life, sometimes she would make faces behind his dad’s back to make Derek and his siblings laugh.

She was also a big fan of fantasy books.

When he was little, Derek would nestle next to her on her chair as she read to him. Later on, he was the one doing the reading, while she kept a hand on his arm, squeezing it harder during the scary moments.

He had just finished reading the twelfth chapter to The Hobbit the day of the fire. He never read the end, and he avoids fantasy books now. It’s just not the same anymore without anyone to share them with.

 Derek is on the couch, watching TV on mute. His hearing is uncontrollable those days and sounds tend to get too loud all of a sudden and makes his head hurt so he tries to avoid them as much as he can.

That’s why he prefers Boyd’s company recently. He just sits and reads in silence, a companionable presence that doesn’t ask any effort from his part.

Isaac isn’t coming as much these days, and when he does, Derek doesn’t like the looks that he gets.

Erica tried to organize some kind of intervention, screaming at him loud and louder that he wasn’t as okay as he was pretending to be. He told her to go away. He isn’t sure she's ever going to come back.

 He’s not surprised when Boyd talks or by what he says because there has been this unusual tension in the air since Erica, and today it’s lingering, heavy in the silence between them.

 “You know you’re dying, right?”

 Derek can't help but scoff at that. He hates it when they try to pretend like they know what’s going on better than him. It’s his body, and he’s not an idiot.

He knows the flame burning inside of you is supposed to be a metaphor for passion or whatever, but he literally feels it sometimes. It’s withering. The warmth in his chest is slowly dying, and he keeps getting colder and colder.

He understood some time ago that it wasn’t normal, that humans weren’t this cold all the time and he should have adapted after all this time. But he’s constantly shivering now, despite the multiple sweaters he’s wearing and the constant presence of his blanket.

He really thought he could have that. He really thought he could stop the pain the Wolf was causing him and get better. Somehow, in the middle of all this, he really started to like the idea of being human. He even looked up a few community colleges to see if he could finish his diploma. He started thinking about the future, making projects.

 He likes the life this could offer him.

 He’s getting used to the headache, to the bruises and cuts he still gets because he never learned to be cautious. He’s ready to bear anything for a life without that rage and pain burning inside, even if that means he’s always cold.

 By the time he looks up, The Hobbit is lying on the table and Boyd is gone. He isn’t sure he's ever coming back either.

 

 *******************************

 Derek readjusts his beanie hat on his head. 

It’s June now and the breeze that seeps through the holes in the walls of his old house feel freezing against the skin of his face and his fingers. It’s the only parts of him that are exposed; he’s wearing a big coat that Boyd abandoned at his house at some point and fingerless gloves.

 He’s sitting, cross-legged, on the floor of what used to be his living room, his notebook on his lap. He looks around him and imagines the house how it was and how it could become. He lays it on the paper, watches his home be reborn in white and grey.

 He likes it here.

 Now that he’s no longer able to smell the decay, he can appreciate the silence of this place, only the sound of the wind disturbing the leaves and a few birds keeping him company.

It’s more companionable than in his own home in any case where no one has stepped foot in for a few weeks.

It’s okay, though, Derek was expecting it. He knew that they would understand he couldn’t bring anything positive to their life anymore. They got tired of worrying for him when Derek was not willing to listen to their advice.

It’s better like that, he knows, he doesn’t have to worry about them either now.

He still does sometimes, though. He wonders where they are and if they are safe. He goes on their Facebook accounts, checks that they’re still posting news about their school, their favorite music and teasing each other.

They’re okay and that’s enough for his peace of mind. He knew they didn’t need him in the end.

 A noise takes him out of his thoughts, and his body recognizes it before he’s even conscious of it, hair rising on his skin, heart accelerating in his chest.

There’s a growl coming from somewhere, it’s neither human nor animal, and Derek isn’t surprised when a pair of golden eyes appears in the dark of the foyer.

 It’s an Omega that Derek has never seen before. His first reflex is to growl back, but it doesn’t sound menacing in any way anymore. It sounds pathetic, and the Omega bares his canines, mocking him as he continues to advance on him.

 Derek stands up, letting his notebook fall closed on the floor. When the Omega charges him, Derek still has the instinct to dodge him, and the beast snarls in anger when his propulsion launches him into the wall. It attacks again, though, and Derek is not fast enough this time; they fall to the floor.

 He’s still stronger than a human, faster with a life of instincts that makes him a good fighter, but he’s no werewolf anymore and it doesn’t take long for the Omega to get the upper hand.

 Derek can practically see the smile on his face when the werewolf realizes he has won. He’s got Derek pinned down under him. He’ll just have to plant his teeth in his throat, tear it out, and it will have the power it’s always dreamed of. At least, in theory, Derek isn’t sure there is enough alpha left in him for the transfer, but the Omega sure believes there is and isn’t going to miss an opportunity to get it. It must be a pretty good day for him.

 Before the werewolf can finish off his prey, there is a force barrelling into him, making him roll on the ground next to Derek.

Scott is there, throwing the Omega against a far wall and roaring menacingly. His roar is getting better, sign of the power he’s achieving, making even Derek shiver from the authority of it. The Omega cowers. He obviously didn’t expect there would be anyone to protect Derek. Derek is as surprised as him, especially since it’s Scott, whom he hasn’t seen since he broke his best friend’s heart.

 The Omega runs away, and Scott takes the time to change back to his human face before he turns toward Derek. He looks at him with a weird expression that Derek doesn’t like, like a mix of pity and resentment. Derek sits up, but he doesn’t stand, looking at the tears in his coat instead. He liked that coat; it still smelled like Boyd—like pack—enough that even his weak senses could smell it.

 “I smelled him a few days ago, we’ve been tracking him ever since,” Scott explains unnecessarily. “There’ve been a few of them roaming around recently.”

 They both know what that means, what those omegas want. Somehow, the word that a defenseless alpha is living in Beacons Hills has gone around, and every werewolf with a thirst for power will come try their luck at taking his power.

 That’s a lot of werewolves to chase away.

 “You should do it yourself,” Derek proposes in earnest.

 Scott deserves the status. He would know how to handle the power, and there is no one Derek would rather bequeath his legacy to than him. They may never have really been friends, but Derek always knew Scott would make a valuable pack member, even though it won’t be his pack anymore now.

 The horror on Scott’s face makes him look down. Pity wins over on his face, however, and it angers Derek.

He doesn’t want to die, but he doesn’t particularly care if he lives. It’s still his choice though, and if he has to go, then he deserves to choose how.

He doesn’t want a random Omega to take his power and go around biting innocent people.

He doesn’t want his life to stop, but he doesn’t know how much more cold he can handle, how long before the flame dies out completely.

He doesn’t regret his choice; the cold still hurts him less than the Wolf used to.

Isaac called him mellow, and while Derek wanted to take offense at that word, he didn’t have the spite to. He isn’t angry anymore; he’s not exactly happy, but he doesn’t hate everything about his life.

When he looks back, he doesn’t see through the eyes of the Wolf any longer, sees more than loss and pain and rage.

He remembers his grandmother reading to him, his little brother cuddling to him because he was scared of thunderstorms, his mother gardening and his father trying to build her a shed that didn’t even hold up one month before it fell down like a house of cards. He sees his uncle Peter as he was before, teasing him and ruffling his hair, asking him about girls and trying to teach him a thing or two about wooing.

He sees Laura’s proud smile when he got his GED, when he started to make projects for the future. He sees her turning around and around and around and laughing with her arms stretched out, savoring the space of their new apartment, the first decent home they had in a long while. If he concentrates hard enough, he can still feel her arms around him and remembers what she smelled like.

His thinking isn’t limited to blood, revenge, pack, and mate like the Wolf anymore; for the first time in his life, he can look back and still be able to smile.

 Derek is the one to offer his life to Scott, and yet, he’s still shocked when Scott hits him so hard that he loses consciousness.

  

******************************

 When he wakes up, he’s lying in his own bed.

There are noises, muffled voices in the living room. His bedroom smells weird, like some kind of incense that burns his nose. His arm hurts, and when he looks down, there’s a long cut on his forearm. It’s clean and smells of alcohol, but it definitely wasn’t there before.

He gets up and hesitates for a second. He’s only wearing a t-shirt and his jeans and he knows he’s going to get cold, but curiosity makes him walk to the living room first.

As soon as he enters, everyone stops talking. He thinks ‘everyone’ because everyone is here. There’s Isaac, Boyd, and Erica, but also Scott and Stiles, and Deaton is standing in front of a pot on the stove.

The apartment hasn’t been this crowded in months, and it feels weird. He wants to look at Stiles, but doesn’t, rubbing his eyes instead, touching the bruise he seems to have on his forehead now, thanks to Scott.

 “Is this another intervention?” He asks with a sigh. He thought Erica would have gotten the message after his tantrum last time. He doesn’t know if he has the strength to scream that loud again.

 “Well, obviously that doesn’t work for you,” Erica answers, still resentful. He did throw her some pretty juicy truths last time, and he hadn’t seen her since. He should have trusted that she wouldn’t give up so easily.

 “Speaking isn’t really your thing. So we’re taking action instead,” Isaac declares, not meeting his eyes despite the firmness of his voice.

 “Boys.” Deaton calls, pouring the contents of the pot in a mug. It smells weird, like chlorophyll and some kind of herbs. Derek just has the time to grimace at the mixture before Boyd and Scott are suddenly grabbing his arms. Deaton approaches and Derek finally gets what is going on here.  

 He tries to fight their hold, gets a good kick right in Isaac’s stomach when he tries to approach to help them, and his elbow connects with someone’s nose with a loud crack and a gurgling sound.

It’s no use, though, because Erica is planting her manicured nails in his cheek, forcing him to open his mouth, and Deaton is pouring the mixture into it.

He tries to spit it, but a hand is already covering his lips - Scott’s, if the disgusted noise he makes when Derek still spits some of the liquid on his palm is any indication. In answer, two fingers pinch his nose until he doesn’t have any other choice but to swallow if he wants to breathe.

The mixture tastes even more horrible than it had smelled like, and he falls on his knees, gagging when he’s released.

 Deaton is murmuring in a strange language, and the smell of incense suddenly makes more sense. He wasn’t under a curse before, but they are definitely using magic on him now.

 He stays on his knees for a minute, his breath short and his muscles hurting from his struggle. Deaton gestures to Scott to go fetch him something in the kitchen, and Isaac goes with him. Boyd is still watching him, and Erica keeps looking anxiously from him to Deaton. Derek still won’t look in Stiles’ direction, wherever he is now.

 He knows it’s his chance, so he gets up as slowly as he can so as not to spook the werewolves. He silently counts to ten before sprinting toward the door. He knows he doesn’t have much of a chance of escaping, but he still tries and manages to avoid Boyd’s grabbing hands, pushing him into Erica, making the two werewolves stumble and fall on the coffee table, which breaks with a loud crack.

Derek stops two feet from the door though, because Stiles is standing in front of it, a determined look on his face. Derek swallows. He could probably push him away, Stiles is just a human after all, but he can’t bring himself to approach him, to touch him.

He only hesitates for a few seconds, but it’s enough and already Scott is grabbing him around the waist, lifting him and throwing him onto the couch. He sits up and Isaac is there, a hand on his shoulder to keep him from getting up. Derek can only glare at them all.

 “You have no right to do that,” he spits with a worried glance toward Deaton who has started to chant again. Derek is starting to feel weird, his stomach twisting, but he hopes it’s just the weird mixture not settling well. “This is my life,” he rages between his teeth.

 He feels the couch dip next to him, and he doesn’t need to look to know it’s Stiles, he can feel it.

It takes him a few seconds to realize why he can feel it again when he hasn’t been able to feel very much for the past few months. It’s still weak, but he can sense it, the Wolf is waking up and growing in him, filling the spaces of his mind it had left vacant.

 “No,” Derek gasps. “Don’t do that. Stop. Please, don’t do that,” he pleads.

 “It’s okay, Derek, it’s who you are,” Stiles tries to reassure. He touches his hand, but Derek violently recoils at the spark it ignites in him. He tries to get up, but Isaac forces him down again.

 “No, don’t. Don’t.” he repeats, shaking his head.

 He doesn’t want it; he doesn’t want the pain back. He may not have been happy like that, but it wasn’t hurting. For the first time, he wasn’t hurting so much.

 The flame burns in his chest; he presses on his torso, trying to make it go away, but it keeps burning more and more. He can feel every particle of skin grow back as the cut on his arm recedes.

 “I’ll never forgive you for that.” Derek knows his voice is broken by a sob, but he can’t help it, he can feel his control slip through his fingers. The Wolf is invading his mind slowly, and already he can feel anger starting to invade his heart.

 He trusted them. He trusted them all, and they betrayed him.

 The Wolf is angry with him, so angry, and the only way he can smother it is by being angrier. It has always been like that, and now, it will always have to be.

 Isaac’s scream makes him realize he just broke his arm, snapped it in two. He can feel his eyes flashing red, stopping his other betas with the force of one alpha glare when they try to approach.

 He can hear Stiles’ heart beating frantically next to him in response to the enraged growl that’s growing inside him.

 The Wolf roars, and when he blinks his hand is around Stiles’ throat.

He looks at the place where his mark used to be, where he can still feel it pulsing under the skin of the boy’s throat, calling to him. He wants to unbury it with his teeth, make it bleed, make it indelible. He feels his fangs growing in expectation as he caresses the thin skin with his thumb. The Wolf is purring with desire inside him.

 He is the Wolf. 

 They are one, they’ve always only been one, he was foolish to think he could be anything else. The Wolf’s instincts are good, they are what keeps him from this miserable life.

 His claws cut the pale skin of the boy, and Derek can’t help but bend down to lick the beads of blood that appear, ignoring the gasp of fear, the hands trying to push him away.

The boy is weak; he can’t do anything against him. The Wolf could have him, he could take him and nobody would be able to stop him.

 He’s the alpha, nobody would dare.

 The taste of the blood makes him moan; he wants more of it, he deserves more of it. That boy is his.

 “Mate.” he groans, sliding a finger along Stiles’ cheek.

 The boy’s eyes are round with terror, as golden as those of an omega, his plush mouth opened in a gasp. The alpha makes another cut along his collarbone, dipping his fingers into the blood before painting the boy’s lips red.

 “Beautiful. Mate.” He rasps before pushing his lips against Stiles’, licking the blood away.

 The Wolf howls in victory inside of him. Derek agrees. It’s better like that. The Wolf goes silent for a second in assent, so silent that Derek lets go of Stiles’ for a second, shocked and terrified at the idea that he’s lost it again. The Wolf is not abandoning him though, songs of never again burning in his mind as white invades his vision. It comes back fully, all of a sudden, and his skin is on fire and his senses so sharp that he screams under the power of it all.

 He screams until his voice is gone, and then his throat heals and he screams again.

 Everything is too intense. He can smell the perfume of the cashier at the mall down the road; hear the fluttering of thousands of flies at the same time, pounding into his skull. Flames are licking his skin from the inside, every inch burning in agony. A train passes somewhere, and his brain feels like it’s going to explode, like it’s squeezing and squeezing on itself, not enough space, not enough air to breathe.

He tries to remember Laura’s words, Laura’s soft touch, but all he can smell is the decay of her rotting corpse. He closes his eyes and sees her dead eyes looking at him in dismay as he was throwing soil on the entrails lifelessly pending from her mutilated body.

All he can see is blood, all he can smell is burnt flesh, all he can hear is the scream of his baby brother as he felt his own skin burn. He was the last to die, Derek remembers, their parents using their bodies as a shield over him, hoping someone would come and rescue their baby, but in the end, they only prolonged his agony. Derek could still hear him scream when he had arrived, weeping because the house was surrounded by mountain ash and he could do nothing except listen to him die slowly, hoping his baby brother was hearing the reassurance he tried to offer from outside. Vainly.

 The Wolf grows from those memories, warped by its hatred and regrets.

 At some point, Derek’s screams turn into whimpers because he didn’t want that. He didn’t want to be that werewolf, he didn’t want those memories anymore, but they will be his constant again now, his company as the Wolf avenges what Derek has done to it, throwing his misery at him as a punishment that hurt both of them.

  

******************************

It takes days before the Wolf is done, before it’s so exhausted that it allows Derek to come back to himself, retracts to a corner of his mind, plotting its later vengeance.

 Derek looks groggily around himself, blinking into the dark before he remembers that he can see better now. He’s not surprised to notice that his hands are chained to bolts on the wall. His wrist burns where the metal touches, magic eating at his skin, struggling against his healing capacities. He fights against it anyway until his flesh starts to melt around his wrist bone.

 Isaac enters the room, exuding worry, and Derek roars at him until his beta leaves, cowering in fear, neck exposed in submission. He doesn’t free him, just gets out with his metaphorical tail between his legs.

Derek knows he could have asked him, ordered him to let him go, and Isaac would have no choice but to do it. The anger is still burning so hot, the stink of betrayal making him scowl and fight harder against his bounds. But he’s still Derek. The Wolf has calmed, and Derek doesn’t want to hurt his pack. They betrayed him, yes, they will be punished for it, but not right now. Punishing them when the pain is still so fresh would equal their death. It’s there, the need to make them submit only to tear their throat out when they do, feel their blood pouring in his mouth and the life come out of their eyes. Derek is feeling betrayed, hurt, but the Wolf is angry, always, and the human part of him is too weak to equal it for now.

 Deaton comes into the room a few hours later. He doesn’t even flinch when Derek tries to bite his face off, applying a lotion to his mauled wrist before stepping away in silence.

 Derek keeps coming in and out of consciousness. It’s been days since he has eaten anything—refusing the food the betrayers bring him—and his body is still exhausted from the change.

 

 When he wakes up this time, the Wolf is purring, the contrast with its usual rage so violent that Derek jerks awake. Stiles jumps in surprise, nearly falling off the bed. He flails for a second, finding his equilibrium back before settling, legs crossed, and looking him in the eyes.

He’s exuding nervousness and uncertainty, but fear is surprisingly absent. He’s either a fool or he finally understands because he’s sitting so close to him, close enough that Derek could kill him before he even has the chance to gasp. He won’t though. The Wolf would never hurt his mate; instead, it’s pushing against his skin to try and make him reach, touch, caress. Derek doesn’t. He glares instead.

 “I think it’s finally time we have this conversation we’ve been putting off, don’t you?” Stiles says, forcing himself to hold his gaze despite the slight tremor in his voice.

 “You forced me; you went against my will.” Derek responds, voice cold.

 “To save your life!” Stiles exclaims.

 “I didn’t ask you to. I didn’t ask anything from any of you.”

 “Yeah, because you’re a self-hating jerk, doesn’t mean we’re going to let you die.”

 “I wasn’t going to die,” Derek rasps angrily.

 “Have you looked at yourself recently?” Stiles responds, gesturing the length of Derek’s body, his eyes burning every patch of skin he looks at, making the Wolf purr louder.

 Derek is only wearing sweat pants, torso bare, but he doesn’t need to look down to know what Stiles means. His body isn’t as it used to be. He couldn’t train as much as he used to, his muscles were hurting too much too fast every time he strained them. Despite all his efforts, he withered. His muscles were leaner now, and his stomach was flat instead of brawny. He lost weight and was too cold to stay outside for very long, always covering the majority of his skin so that he looks sickly pale now. It doesn’t worry him, now that the Wolf is back it will change soon enough, he will become strong again.

 “You’re far from being my favorite person in the world these days, but even I couldn’t let you continue on the path you were going.”

 “It’s my life; it wasn’t your decision to make,” Derek says, gritting his teeth, clenching his fist, and testing his bounds. It’s meant to be menacing, and from the way Stiles looks up, it is.

 Derek inhales when he sees the boy scratching nervously at the place where he bares his invisible mark. Stiles watches his reaction closely.

 “Yeah, about that,” he finally says, squinting at the werewolf. “You were unusually talkative in your big bad wolf frenzy.”

 Derek glares at the sheet next to Stiles’ right foot. The Wolf wants him to slide a little on the side, just a few inches and Stiles’ big toe will be against him. He shifts away instead, and the Wolf whines.

  “So, I’m like your… mate?” he asks, testing the last word on his tongue, like it’s the first time he pronounces it. “What does that mean exactly? Are we like werewolf-married or something? Do you want me to bear your cubs?” He adds the last one with a hint of nervous humor. Derek growls, and Stiles’ smile disappears. “Sorry. Just… I have the right to know.”

 “You’re nothing. Nothing special to me,” Derek lies, meaning to hurt. 

 “What about your Wolf then? What does it think?” Stiles asks, unperturbed.

 The Wolf howls with so much power inside him, wanting to be heard by his mate, that a whine escapes Derek’s throat. It’s like Stiles hears the call of despair because suddenly, his fingers are extending to touch the base of Derek’s throat. Derek jerks against his bonds, escaping the touch.

 “I’m not the Wolf,” he insists.

 “But you are. This isn’t a case of split personality, Derek. It’s part of yourself, and you can’t just decide you don’t want it anymore.”

 “You think you know everything because you’ve read a few books?”

 “A few? A few? I spent the last four months doing practically nothing else but read everything I could find on the subject, trying to understand it, to understand you. So yeah, I consider myself a fucking expert on the subject now.”

 Derek doesn’t respond. Stiles isn’t a werewolf; he can read as much as he wants, it’ll never be the same.

 Stiles ruffles his own hair—a mess of curls, way longer than the last time Derek saw him—watching the stubborn set of Derek’s jaw.

 “There are people who care about you, Derek. Erica, Isaac, Boyd, even Scott on most days. And god help me, I care about you. I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t because you’re an asshole most of the time, and you’ve hurt me. Physically. Mentally. More than anyone had ever hurt me before. And yet, I’m here, trying to help you because I care about you.”

 Stiles takes a deep breath, before leaning forward. He grabs Derek’s face, planting his fingers against the werewolf’s cheek and forcing him to look at him. His face is hovering just above Derek’s head and he can’t quite avoid his gaze.

 “So be moody all you want, but we’re not letting you go until the fact that you’re not alone pierces through that thick skull of yours and you stop with the self-punishing crap.”

 And they don’t. They really don’t.

 

 For weeks, they take turns staying with him, taking care of him.

They sit on the bed next to him, talk about their day or not talk at all, forcing him to eat, touching him casually every time they feel like they won’t get bitten for it. A hand on his shoulder, massaging the tired muscles of his bounded arms, or sometimes simply brushing their toes against him as they sit, sitting close enough that their hips are against his side.

 His Wolf’s indignation is being subdued by the feeling of a caring pack. They are his and they love him, the Wolf can feel it and revels in it. Derek is stubborn though, and he responds with glares and avoidance. He can’t forget that they took his freedom away, both physically and mentally.

 One day, Stiles looks him right in the eyes and unchains him, saying that he trusts him. Derek feels vindicated when he sees the look of betrayal on the boy’s face when his first reaction is to push him away and try to escape that room that he has come to hate. He can’t get out though, magic keeping him prisoner, and he scoffs at the idea of trust that Stiles is offering him.

He refuses to talk to anyone for a while after that. They’ve made him a prisoner in his own home, in his own body, and he resents them so much for that that sometimes he can’t even bring himself to look at them.

 He’s always hot now, but he keeps his blanket over himself as he sits on the bed.

 Boyd had tried to read The Hobbit to him—he’s still unable to control his vision that well, readapting slowly to his senses—and the memories it bring hurt so much that he had torn the book apart.

 His head always hurts. His senses are all messed up. Sometimes he hears a TV and thinks it’s Stiles’ watching one of his shows in the living room, but then he realizes it’s from an apartment on another street. He just can’t tell anymore, can’t control the range of his senses and he hates it.

He misses his cocoon of human senses. He misses only hearing what the person next to you is saying, misses not having to smell every damn person that came into contact with his mate, and he even misses the feeling of stubbing his toes into the coffee table in the middle of the night because he can’t see where he is going in the dark.

He used to love his pile of blankets, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, smelling nothing. Now he’s never in peace, and there is always stimuli distracting him.

 It’s too warm under his blanket now, but if he closes his eyes and puts in his earplugs, sometimes he can still pretend that he doesn’t have to deal with real life.

But that’s rare.

Most of the time, he’s surrounded by worry. He can hear them whispering in the next room, feel their heavy gaze, the stink of their compassion. But his pain is only their doing, and he knows that reminding them of that hurts them, so he does it often.

 He had punched Scott the other day, because he’s the easiest one to spite. He screams at Isaac because he knows that makes him uncomfortable. He’s spiteful and often mean, but he just can’t deal with it all.

 Only Laura knew how to deal with him when he was like that, but she’s not here anymore and he knows it’s his fault. If he hadn’t flirted with Kate, she wouldn’t have been able to do what she did, Peter wouldn’t have gone crazy, and he wouldn’t have taken his sister from him. He knows that it’s pathetic and that that way of thinking leads to madness, but he needs to be angry to control the Wolf.

The Wolf has forgiven his pack so the only one left to be angry at is Derek.

 Stiles had punched him after he had punched Scott, nearly broke his middle finger on Derek’s cheekbone. Derek laughed out loud as the Wolf whined at seeing his mate hurt. Stiles had looked at him like maybe he was starting to understand that he wasn’t worth saving.

 Today when he wakes up, nobody is sitting next to him. He tries to listen but there is no noise, no heartbeat in the apartment. It’s the first time they have left him alone and when he goes to the bathroom, he looks at the bedroom door and realizes there is no force keeping him away. He steps into the living room and everything is neat, like no one was ever there, even though the air is potent with the smell of his pack.

 He doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t even put on shoes. It’s his opportunity, and he’s taking it.

 He runs toward the woods.

 

 ****************************

 It feels good, better than he even remembered, to be running into the woods, senses alert to everything around him. There is life here, but it isn’t loud and it doesn’t smell bad.

 He runs for hours, after rabbits and foxes and deer, chasing them but never killing them, playing with them.

 The sun is still high in the sky when he lets himself fall in the grass of a clearing. He closes his eyes against the light and lets the sun touch his pale skin. His Wolf is happy, content, and Derek realizes he missed that, the simplicity of letting his instincts connect with nature.

 Derek spends three days in the woods, enjoying himself and letting the Wolf follow its instincts. Sometimes, he thinks he smells his pack, but he never hears them and they never try to approach him so he ignores them.

 It didn’t take him long to understand what they were doing, why they let him escape and why they’re not trying to take him back. They want him to reconnect with his Wolf. It’s working, and the more time passes, the more he appreciates it.

 

 When he sees the house, it’s by pure chance.

 He’s running after a fox, ceding himself completely to the Wolf and concentrating only on the chase. When he realizes where he is, Derek freezes. He hasn’t been back here since the day the Omega attacked him, and it has changed so much he feels like his heart is going to beat out of his chest or he’s going to puke from the shock of the unexpected vision.

 His old house doesn’t exist anymore. Only a few parts of its structure remains, and on it, a new house has grown.

He blinks for a few minutes because he knows this house. It’s the home he dreamt about. The house he depicted in white and gray in his notebook becoming a reality.

 He feels his eyes burning with emotion.

 This is the life he wanted, the life he thought he didn’t deserve anymore, and now it’s here. And he’s thinking, thinking, thinking, but he can’t find anything stopping him from grabbing it. It’s here. It’s his. He doesn’t deserve it in the least, but it’s still here for the taking. That’s the life he made for himself, and he just has to reach for it.

 He’s walking toward the house—his house—without even realizing it until he’s standing where the front door is going to stand. The house isn’t finished yet. Only the walls are standing, bare but solid, and everywhere he looks, his mind is imagining the details that are missing.

A cream paint on the wall, a side table here, an armchair right there—where his grandmother’s used to be—a bookcase next to it, a couch… no, they’ll need more seating space, two couches.

He frowns when he realizes the correction he just made, realizes he’s not only imagining furniture in here, he’s imagining life, pack.

 Scott and Stiles will want a giant TV and maybe a game console. Isaac will want throw pillows because he tends to always hug them to his chest when there are some, looking content. He will need to buy a new copy of The Hobbit for Boyd, and maybe he could find the same copy he had read to his grandmother. Erica will want a stereo in the corner because she may have the worst taste in music, but she always looks happy when she forces them to listen.

 He stands in the middle of the living room and closes his eyes. Next to him, Laura is turning around and around and around and laughing at all this space, because it’s theirs. Finally.  

 A real home.

 

*****************************

 When he comes back to the house the next evening, it smells like Scott and Stiles. In the middle of what is supposed to become the kitchen, there’s a backpack with some of his clothes, snacks, his wallet and water bottles. There’s also his favorite blanket. He’s not cold anymore, but it smells of pack and he smiles a little, imagining each of his friends sleeping in it for one night. Next to the backpack lays his notebook, and it smells so much like Stiles now that Derek can’t help but hold it against him for a moment, letting his Wolf enjoy the scent of their mate.

 No, not their.

 His mate.

 Derek spends the night sitting on his kitchen floor, imagining what this room could become. He leaves the notebook on the ground and takes the backpack with him when he returns into the forest at dawn.

 He doesn’t know if he’s ready to be with his pack again, to be the alpha they deserve, but he wants to work on it and for that he still needs to work on himself.

 He doesn’t come by the house for a week, but when he does, there is furniture in the kitchen, just like he imagined. He had painted it in white and grey because he didn’t want it to be only his home, and he recognizes Erica’s taste in the cherry red of the kitchen cabinets.

 The notebook is in the downstairs bathroom, and he goes to work, leaving it full of drawings at dawn, going back to his temporary den in the forest.

 For the next few weeks, the notebook travels silently around the house, transforming each room into Derek’s vision, with a touch of his pack’s taste in the colors of each room.

 The downstairs of the house is finished now, and Derek loves every single detail of it.

 When he finds the notebook in one of the five bedrooms upstairs, he’s stuck though. He can’t find it in himself to draw anything anymore. He spends two nights walking from one room to another, but while ideas come to him, it never really satisfies him.

 The next day, he goes into town for the first time in months.

He’s learned how to control his senses again, and while the contrast with the calm woods is a little violent, he manages it, taking deep breaths with his mouth and picking the sounds he wants to focus on.

 That night, he goes back to the house and leaves one thing in each of the three first empty bedrooms: a new laptop, a cherry red iPod, and an original hardback copy of The Hobbit.

 He leaves one of the rooms—his room—empty, and in the last one, he deposits a copy of the key of the house, as a gift and an invitation for something that has been true for a long time now.

 

***************************

 The next full moon passes, and he wishes so hard he was running next to his pack that he spends it howling for them. They don’t come though, and Derek knows exactly why.

 It’s his turn to go to them now.

 

***************************

 Derek walks through each bedroom with a slight smile on his face. The house isn’t lived in yet, but each bedroom reflects his betas so much now that he could have guessed without a doubt which was whose.

 He hesitates in front of the closed door of the room he left for Scott, not sure he can take another rejection after all this time.

When he opens it, it’s nothing like those of his other betas who decorate their new space in excess—even Boyd puts up some movie posters, and who knew he was such a big Harry Potter fan? —compared to the other rooms, it’s nearly bare. The walls are still white; there is no bed, only some kind of green monstrous couch and a beanbag.

 Derek frowns at it for a while, not sure if he should take it as a rejection or not.

 He’s about to get out, confused, when he sees the back of the door. It’s covered in pictures. Pictures of Scott and Allison, lots of pictures of Stiles, some with the Sheriff and Scott’s mom, but also tons of pictures of Erica, Isaac, and Boyd.

 In the middle of all those, there is a picture he recognizes.

 Erica had a barbecue for her birthday in May, and Derek had to go—literally had to. In the picture, he’s wearing his beanie hat and Boyd’s coat, in contrast to everyone else wearing light summer clothes. He looks pale, tired, and dishevelled. He frowns at it because he never realized he looked that bad before. Isaac is on his left side holding a barbecue fork with a big steak planted on it. He’s holding it proudly, a big smile on his face, eyes sparkling with happiness. On Derek’s left, Erica is making a wicked face at a hot dog, one of her hands is gripping Derek’s coat, as if to keep him from running away—which she had. Boyd is standing behind them, smiling brightly with one hand on the shoulders of the two betas, squishing them against Derek’s sides. Derek is giving Erica an accusatory look, as if blaming her for forcing him to endure that day—which she had.

 On the top of the door, above all the pictures, there’s a green banner where Scott wrote messily in a purple sharpie the word ‘family.’ 

 Derek spends the night on Scott’s couch, looking at the door until his eyelids droop.

  

*****************************

 The sunlight hitting his face wakes him the next morning, but he doesn’t open his eyes immediately. He’s aware of the familiar heartbeat a few feet from him. That heart always runs a little faster than the others. It always makes his own run a little faster, too.

Derek appreciates the echo of it for a few minutes before sitting up, rubbing at his eyes.

As expected, Stiles is straddling Scott’s lemon green bean bag.

 “You enjoyed our scrapbook then?”

 “Your crap what?”

 Stiles makes a gesture toward the door covered in pictures.

 “Oh… Yeah,” Derek answers stupidly, still a little sleepy.

 “Good. We thought… You know, Erica and Boyd aren’t really happy at their own home, and Isaac doesn’t really have one, so we understand they would want their own room here. But Scott and I have quite the happy home already, you know? So, yay, bachelor pad!” He finishes, making a weird gesture with his arms. It looks happy, even though it’s mostly random flailing.

 “I’m glad you’re happy,” is all Derek finds to say, a little too honest.

 Stiles doesn’t answer, a nervous tension invading the air, and Derek regrets it. He’s about to add something, he doesn’t know what yet, maybe an apology, maybe a thank you, but Stiles takes a deep breath and speaks first.

 “Have you seen it yet?” He sounds impatient, jittery, taping one of his hands against his thigh.

 “Seen what?”

 “Oh my god! You have to see it!” Stiles exclaims, standing up brusquely. “Come on!” He entices before practically running out of the room.

 Derek follows him, frowning at the boy’s excitement. They get downstairs and Derek recognizes the way to the veranda. He did draw the layout of this house, after all.

 The veranda isn’t very big, just a room with a glass wall providing light into the main room and a perfect view of the woods. If you look at the right angle at night, you can even see the lights of the town down the hill.

Derek stops when he sees the room though, because it looks nothing like he had planned. He was planning to put in a few chairs, maybe a small table out there, but instead, the space is already decorated.

 There is a three-legged stool in front of a high architect desk in dark wood. His notebook is sitting on the high desk, and his drawings are decorating the room. There’s also a desk, covered in pencils, measurers, and a laptop. A pile of pamphlets is on the closed lid of the laptop, and he recognizes the logos of some of the colleges he looked at on Isaac’s computer that offer online courses in architecture. 

 “We’ve already installed this, like, state of the art program on architecture on your laptop, and Isaac contacted some of your old professors who’ve accepted to write you letters of recommendation for the online courses. Unless you want to take actual classes of course, that would be cool, too, I guess, but Isaac said you mostly looked at the online ones,” Stiles finishes hesitantly, pointing at the pamphlet.

Derek turns toward him, not knowing what to say, and Stiles fills the silence with his babbling.

 “You could take a picture of the house; put it in your portfolio, too, I’m sure they would be impressed because the house is awesome. I mean the aubergine bathroom is weird, but Erica wouldn’t shut up about how in vogue it was, and you don’t have to actually send pictures of every room, you know?”

 Derek can’t help but laugh at that, and Stiles looks up at him. He knows his eyes are a little wet, but he doesn’t really care right now. Because they built him his dream house, offered him his dream life. They saved his life in so many ways, and Scott is right, this isn’t just pack, this is family. True family. And he never thought he would have that again, not in a billion years, but here it is. They never abandoned him. They had all the reasons to because he was a jerk and a lost cause, but they never gave up on him. They believed in him, and nobody had done that since Laura. He never thought anyone would do that but Laura.

 Stiles lets out a whoosh of air when Derek grabs his arm and pulls him against him. Derek’s never been good at hugs, and Stiles tenses for a second, probably wondering if the sudden squeezing is a sign of danger or affection. Derek slides a hand against his back until his fingers land on the back of the boy’s neck, his thumb just brushing that special spot, and Stiles relaxes, grabbing the back of Derek’s shirt and nesting his chin in the other man’s throat.

 They stay like that for a moment, savoring the presence of the other without any tension between them for the first time in nearly a year.

Derek knows that he hasn’t earned forgiveness yet, that it will take time, but Stiles cares about him and that’s a solid start.

 If he’s honest to himself, it’s more than he ever thought he would get.

 

****************************

 Derek spent his first night sleeping in his new home that day.

 When he wakes up the next morning, it’s too silent.

He used to seek silence, but now he doesn’t want it anymore. He wants the comfortable beat of his friends’ hearts to lull him to sleep. He wants to curse Isaac at breakfast because he drank all the milk again. He wants to be distracted from his book by the sounds of his pack’s heckling. He wants the reassuring scent of his mate, but he also wants to hear Stiles’ babble for hours and pretend it upsets him. He wants to see Scott’s goofy face and do everything to piss him off because Scott is hilarious when he’s outraged.

 So Derek goes out to shop.

He buys a phone first and sends texts messages to everyone to invite them to a barbeque. Then, he buys enough food to feed an army of ogres. Then, he goes back because he realizes he doesn’t actually have a barbeque and buys the most expensive monstrosity he finds because he knows that the boys will love it.

 

**************************

 The pack is here, loud and full of energy, stuffing their faces with meat as Derek looks at them with a small smile.

 They were all nervous at first, not knowing how to act towards him after everything that had happened. That is until he tries to offer them a reassuring smile and failed, and Erica mocked him for it before jumping into his arms, wrapping him in a hug. The others joined in, and it was the cheesiest group hug ever—there were even a few tears—but he enjoyed it, squeezing them against him as hard as they were squeezing him back.

 Now, they were sitting outside and Derek was feeling more content than he had in a long, long time.

 Stiles is a little too silent, sitting next to him and watching the pack’s tomfoolery rather than participating in it, as is his habit. Hell, he’s generally the instigator. Now he’s kind of tense, his hands clasped between his legs, and it takes Derek a few minutes to recognize what it is.

 Stiles is cold.

 Derek looks around, like he can somehow detect the temperature by sniffing the air and concentrating. He can’t. But it’s the end of September, and the sky has been grey all day.

For him, it was warm enough, but for a human? It must be freezing at this hour of the evening.

He gets up, and when he comes back, he only hesitates for a second before wrapping his blanket around Stiles. The boy jumps a little, surprised, before relaxing, nodding his thanks and burying his nose into the warm cloth.

 They’re sitting on a wood bench—and Derek may or may not have ‘borrowed’ that picnic table from a public place when he realized he didn’t have one yet. When Derek sits back, Stiles slides a little closer to him, their thighs against one another as they watch the pack play fight for the last burger.

 After a while, Stiles leans his head on his shoulder, and Derek wraps his arm around him.

 This is good, this makes him feel good.

 It only last for a few minutes though, before the teen tenses, and Derek realises his fingers have unconsciously travelled to touch his mark.

 Derek berates himself. He promised he wouldn’t push, that it would be enough to have his mate as pack, and he hates himself for making him uncomfortable by bringing up painful memories. He mumbles an apology and gets up. He thought he could, but he can’t. He can’t be so close to Stiles without wanting more, without needing more from him than friendship. Stiles has done so much for him, he doesn’t deserve to be made uncomfortable by that unwanted attention from Derek.

 Derek leans against the kitchen counter, breathing deep, disappointed in himself.

 “Serious conversation that we really need to have: take two,” Stiles announces from behind him, making him jump and turn around. Derek opens his mouth, ready to talk, and Stiles raises a hand to make him stop. “No, shut up. I’m sorry, buddy, but you’re the worst at this whole speaking thing. The actual worst. So, you listen, I talk, alright?”

 Derek is going to say something, a little put out, but Stiles squints at him a little threateningly and he decides to shut up indeed.

 “Okay. Thanks. Okay,” Stiles nods, rubbing nervously his hands against his jeans.

 The blanket is still around his shoulders, hanging like a cape behind him, floating in the air as he moves from side to side nervously. Stiles takes a deep breath.

 “Do you know how long I’ve liked you? Because…basically, the first time I saw you, I looked at you and thought ‘hell yeah, I want a piece of that!’ But, then I got to know you and you were an asshole, sure, but also kind of funny in a witty and sarcastic way, and kind of adorable in spite of yourself.” Stiles blushes a little at the admission, looking at Derek’s shoes. “And it was okay, you know, I thought this was just another crush, like Lydia, and that nothing would come of it because there was no way you liked me back. That you would even look at me twice. But then…” He marks a pause, licking his lips nervously.

 Stiles looks up, trying to meet Derek’s gaze, but they both know what he‘s going to bring up and they can’t quite look each other in the eyes.

 “Then the whole cabin in the woods thing happened. You kissed me and we… and it was my first time, but I was happy it was with you, you know. I was ecstatic and I thought that that was it, that I had gotten myself a hot boyfriend. That it was even better because it was you.”

 Stiles swallows audibly, before taking another deep breath and Derek can feel his eyes on him. He doesn’t dare look up to see the hurt the memory of what happened next evokes for his friend. He may believe it was the right choice at the time, but Derek will never forgive himself for hurting Stiles like that.

 “But it wasn’t like that. You… you ignored me, rejected me, and yeah, fuck, it hurt.”

 Stiles tries to rub his head, like he used to do when he still had a buzz-cut, but he has longer hair now and his fingers get stuck into his messy curls, making him sigh and drop his hands.

 “Mostly because I didn’t get it, because that night, it was… I won’t be a Disney princess and say magical, but… you said things, you acted like it mattered, like you cared about me, so it just didn’t made any sense that you would be such a jerk and act like you did after. And then your pack told me you were acting strange, told me they thought something had happened to you and hell, I jumped to think that was the reason. Better an evil spell than real rejection, I guess… but it wasn’t. It was you being a self-deprecating jerk, and I wanted to hate you… so damn much. And then you pushed the others away, too, and it wasn’t just about me anymore.”

 Stiles takes a deep breath, his hand flailing around him.

 “All this happened and now apparently I’m your mate.”

 Stiles says the word like it must be some kind of joke, like it was absurd, and Derek can’t help but flinch. Stiles notices and takes a few steps towards him until he’s just in front of him. Derek is trapped with his back against the kitchen cabinet, no way to escape this time, and Stiles must notice his tension because he drops the hand he was reaching toward him.

 “It’s not…” he hesitates, biting his lip. “Okay, maybe I’m as bad as talking as you are, after all, but it’s not… I don’t think it’s a bad thing is what I’m trying to say. I like you, Derek. I want you. Hell, there might even be another ‘L’ word in there, and I would really like it if you would want me too?”

 “You think I don’t?” Derek can’t help but ask, stunned. Stiles shrugs a little, eyes bright. “Stiles, you’re my mate, you’re what I want the most in the whole world.” He blushes as he says it, embarrassed, but he can’t let his mate, Stiles, think he’s unwanted.

 “So why do you keep pushing me away?” Stiles asks, voice a little weak.

 Derek turns his gaze away, but Stiles grabs him by the front of his shirt, not pulling, just fisting the shirt in his hand a little and calling for his attention, practically begging silently for an answer.  

 “Because you’re right,” Derek finally confesses. “I am a self-depreciating jerk, and I am an asshole. I’m… I’m damaged, Stiles. I hurt you, and I will do it again, because that’s what I…” he can’t finish his sentence though because Stiles slaps him in the face. Stunned, he blinks at the boy who looks furious.

 “New rule: you talk about yourself like that again, and I’ll slap you. Every time. So, shut up.”

 Stiles isn’t timid about looking Derek in the eyes anymore, his face set in determination and anger at hearing Derek speak of himself like that.

 “For god’s sake, you think that I’m, what, perfect?! We’re all damaged, Derek! I lost my mom, Derek. One night, I snuck into her bed and cuddled with her, and the next morning, she didn’t wake up,” he pauses, licking his lips and closing his eyes for a second. “Sometimes I still need to get up in the middle of night, just to check that my dad is still breathing…” His voice is softer and Derek guesses that he’s never told anyone that.

 He takes a deep breath though, squeezing Derek’s shirt harder in his fist, pulling a little until Derek looks him in the eyes before he continues.

 “Scott’s dad used to spend hours screaming at him, telling him how much of a slut his mom was and how Scott was the biggest mistake he ever made. Isaac’s dad used to lock him up in a fucking freezer, for god’s sake,” he says with more passion. “We’re all broken, and we’ve all been hurt. So yeah, maybe you got it worst than most, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to self-punishment road. That means you keep going and you grab any chance of happiness that comes your way because you know how it is to be miserable.”

 Stiles takes another step forward, he’s so close that their chests touch when they breathe in.

 “I know you think you’ll hurt me; I know you think you don’t deserve me, but that’s not up to you to decide if it’s still worth it. Because I’m ready to get hurt if it means I get to have you. I’m more than ready to take that chance, and I don’t pretend it’ll be easy because, man, we’re going to have some epic fights! But I still want you. I still want that,” Stiles finishes, grabbing Derek’s hand and bringing it to his neck, where the werewolf can feel the warmth of his mark under the skin. Derek swallows, caressing this little patch of skin. “Are you ready to take that chance, too?”

 Derek looks at Stiles’ hopeful look. He knows that if he says no, that he’s not ready yet, Stiles won’t push him. But he also knows how he is, that Stiles is ready to wait. He would wait for Derek even if Derek forbids him to because he’s Stiles’ mate as much as Stiles is his, and Derek doesn’t want anyone but him.

 He slips the tip of his fingers against the soft skin of his mark one last time, before trailing them higher and higher until he’s cupping the teen’s cheek. Stiles nuzzles into his palm, lips caressing his skin, and Derek takes the last step between them, aligning their bodies.

He noses at Stiles’ hair, his scent making his chest vibrate as he trails his lips toward his forehead, depositing a kiss there. His lips trail over Stiles’ eyelid, along his cheek, before depositing a tender kiss just on the corner of Stiles’ mouth, listening to the breath catch in Stiles’ throat.

 Stiles wants him as much as Derek wants him, and he can feel the flame in himself, blazing brighter than ever. But it doesn’t burn like it used to, it doesn’t hurt, it warms him from the middle of his chest to the tip of his fingers.

 Derek closes his eyes, pressing his forehead against that of his mate and breathing him in. One of Stiles’ hands goes into his hair, pulling until Derek bares his throat. His mate’s lips trail along his chin, the length of his throat, before coming to the juncture of his neck and shoulder. He rests his mouth against the skin there; the same place Derek marked him. His mate is scenting him, marking him, and making him his.

 He feels the teeth scrape the skin, a wet tongue soothing it immediately, and it’s like all the warmth in him is running toward this single point of contact. Stiles shivers against him before he gasps, and Derek knows he can feel it too now. He’s trembling himself, overwhelmed by the power of their bond, and it’s getting to be too much, not enough, until Derek grabs his mate’s face as delicately as he can and brings his lips to his.

 The warmth explodes inside of him, and Derek finally understands.

 That flame isn’t about passion and it isn’t about his Wolf. That flame is happiness, and it’s burning brighter than ever.