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Set Your Burdens Down

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Derek sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he listened to Erica squeal out of his driveway. He hated getting onto any of his betas. And not just because they were always upset afterwards. Being an alpha was hard. What made it even harder was not being a Dom, like most alphas. Derek was a sub - a sub who was very quickly losing his mind. He knew he needed help. But who? Oh, he knew who. The only person that wouldn't take advantage of this, that wouldn't just laugh him out of the building, and that wouldn't try to fight him for his title of alpha. Stiles. Derek swallowed hard, reaching out to grab Stiles’ arm as the others started to leave. "Need to talk to you," he muttered.

Stiles rolled his eyes. "What is it now?" he complained.

"Just don't leave yet." Derek frowned, waiting until the others were out of earshot before sighing a little, letting his shoulders slump, and finally, just about collapsing onto the couch. "I need your help," he admitted after a long moment..

Stiles stared. He had never - never - seen Derek like that. "Uh - what is it?" he asked after a minute.

Derek couldn't help the flush that fought to cover his face. He managed to force it down, leaning forward so he could rest his elbows on his knees, face in his hands. This put him even closer to Stiles, the scent of him making his chest rumble with what he called a growl, but his sister...his sister had always said it was a purr. "I'm - I'm a..." Come on, Derek, spit it out. "I'm a sub," he finally managed to force out, unconsciously trying to tuck his shoulders up, his eyes flashing even though they were covered. He was a sub. An alpha sub.

What. The fuck. Stiles bit his lip, hard, so he wouldn't say any of what he was thinking. Derek, a sub? With the shoving, and the growling, and the leather jackets? But even as he thought it, Stiles could think of all the times Derek had let him shove back. And the way Derek had let Peter lead him, just because Peter was his family. And how awkward a leader he had been at the start. "You're a sub?" Stiles asked quietly.

Derek just nodded, unable to say it again. God, it was hard enough to admit the first time. "I need help," he managed to say. "I can’t..." He trailed off, his hands shifting to clutch at his hair, his eyes flashing alpha red. He knew Stiles would pick it up. The constant emotional reactions, the temper issues. All because he wasn't able to stop dominating because of the alpha title. Fighting his own biology...

Well, shit. It's not like subs really needed to be submissive all the time, despite the societal bullshit that implied they did. But when stressed, Doms usually found it reassuring to be in control for a little while. And subs found it relaxing to not have to control anything. If Derek was a sub, with every stressful situation for the pack forcing him to take on more and more control... "When was the last time you subbed?" Stiles asked, worried.

Derek couldn't help his snort. "Last time I completely subbed? Or just answered to someone else?" he couldn't help but ask, his voice dry. Oh, he remembered the last time he'd been in subspace, alright.

"Either." Stiles was a switch, and he'd subbed platonically for Scott a few times when his anxiety was really bad. Not that he'd gone into his space or anything, but something like that could help ease things a bit.

"Last time in subspace was two hours before the fire," Derek forced out, fighting his shift at the memory. "Subbing in general was before Laura came here."

Fuck. "That's pretty shitty, dude," Stiles said, for lack of anything better to say. He wasn't going to speculate on whatever happened in the scene before the fire. Not now, anyway. "Tell me what you need."

"If I knew that I'd be a little more eloquent," Derek snarked, his voice weary. "I just. I need to submit. But it won't be easy, I can tell. I just...alpha." He groaned. "Instincts are going to fight, but I need to, I can't keep going like this, I'll end up doing something horrible without thinking."

"To the pack or to you?" Stiles asked, worried.

*

"Both." Derek fisted at his hair again, his claws slipping out and cutting at his scalp.

"Hey," Stiles said sharply. "Derek, don't do that. Don't hurt yourself."

Derek groaned, forcing himself to put his hands down, though he couldn't bring the claws back in.  He had to listen to Stiles, had to let him help. He only wanted Stiles.

Stiles came closer, reaching out tentatively. "Derek? Is it okay if I touch you?"

Derek's eyes flicked up to Stiles before managed to nod. "Safe," he grumbled softly. "I won't hurt you." He'd never hurt Stiles. Not on purpose, not again.

"That's not what I meant," Stiles muttered, coming over to sit next to Derek. He rested his hand on Derek's forearm. "It's okay, dude. Really."

"Oh," Derek murmured, for some reason a little calmer just from Stiles’ reassurance. Just enough so he could recognize things. "Yes, you can touch me," he confirmed, his hands still trembling.

"That's good, Derek, thank you," Stiles said quietly. "I'm going to hug you now, okay?"

Derek nodded, still fighting an internal battle, but a hug sounded nice. He hadn't had many of those lately.

Stiles wrapped one arm around Derek's shoulders, tugging him in. It wasn't a proper hug, not a real Stilinski Hug (TM), but it was a start. "I'm not going to try to put you down in your space right now," he murmured in Derek's ear. "I'm not going to try to Dom you at all. Right now, I just want to be your friend, someone you don't have to look after or watch out for. You don't have to be an alpha right now. You can relax."

Derek sucked in a breath, leaning into the embrace, the words loosening something in his chest. As much as he knew subspace would help, right this second trying to get there would cause more harm than good. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Stiles replied, his mind racing as he tried to think of the best thing to do. "Okay, so, I'm a switch, right? So sometimes I hypothetically would Dom and sometimes I'd sub. So maybe what we can do is that we can hang out, and whichever way you feel, I can go with that. Not that I'd actually, like, blindly follow you or anything, but it's not like it's gonna hurt my ego if you don't submit, yeah?"

Derek nodded, as usual, wanting to slow down the rambling that tended to pour from Stiles' mouth. This could help though. It'd be hard enough to work past his instincts to submit; this way it could be a bit more balanced.

"But dude, whenever you need to relax, you can come hang out with me, okay?" Stiles went on. "Well, not when I'm at school and stuff, obviously. But you can hang out with me when I'm at home. And if you wanna - if you want to try kneeling, at any point, then that's cool too."

Derek watched Stiles for a moment, his heart warming without his permission. Stiles really did care and was trying to make him comfortable. "That may work. Sooner or later it may come to the point you're going to have to force it though." he warned, wanting Stiles to know what he was getting into.

"Derek," Stiles said seriously. "When you want to try going down, I will be there, and I will help you as much as you want me to help you. Okay?"

Derek nodded. "It won't be that easy though,” he admitted. "Not with me being an alpha."

Stiles frowned. "It's more than that, isn't it," he said grimly. "It's like how hearing my name after Mom died would give me panic attacks."

*

Derek closed his eyes, nodding. "But I can't keep on like I have been," he forced himself to admit, his clawed hands going back into his hair.

"Derek, don't do that," Stiles said instantly, then softened it with a quiet, "Please." He reached up and took Derek's hand, drawing it gently down and away. "You shouldn't hurt yourself. Please don't."

Derek blinked at the sharp order, the quiet plea just making him look over in surprise. "You really can Dom, can't you?" he mused, letting his hand be led away from his hair.

"Being a switch is a real thing, you know," Stiles said wryly.

"Doesn't mean I could see you too much into an actual stern Dom." Derek snorted, his claws finally melting away.

"There's no point 'playing Dom' when everyone reads you as a sub," Stiles said, not too bitterly. "Easier to just not project,"

"I didn't read you as a sub," Derek offered, flushing and putting his face back into his hands. "And you're the only one I can trust with this."

Stiles had his own opinions about that, but he could see why he was the obvious candidate. "Hey, it's okay," he promised. "We'll work this out."

"I don't trust the others with this," Derek managed to say, trembling. "I wouldn't be asking for help if it wasn't so bad. God, why can't I keep myself under control!" he snarled.

"Hey," Stiles said firmly. "Derek. This isn't an easy thing you're trying to do. You're doing a good job. It's okay that it's hard."

"How is feeling like I'm constantly fighting myself a good job?" Derek stood, pacing back and forth across the living room rug.

"Are your betas doing a good job on the full moon?" Stiles pointed out. "They feel like they're fighting themselves."

*

Derek took a deep breath. "They're still learning," he murmured. He crossed his arms, his claws digging into his biceps as he slowed his pace.

"Okay, hang on a sec," Stiles said, getting up to rummage in his backpack. Bingo! He kept a stress ball with him usually, because having something to occupy his hands with helped keep him focused. He tossed it gently to Derek. "If you need to claw something, claw that."

Derek snatched it out of the air, raising his eyebrows at the stress ball before curling his first, claws digging into it, but not puncturing it or his hand. He sat down where he was, flexing and relaxing his hand, transfixed on the ball. "Where'd you get this? Never seen one this strong."

Stiles smiled, relieved to see Derek distracted from hurting himself. "The internet holds many marvels," he said.

Derek snorted in amusement, continuing to play with the stress ball, the holes in his henley already showing unblemished skin. "Thank you."

“You're welcome," Stiles said. "Keep it. I'd rather you had it, and weren't cutting yourself up all the time."

"I heal," Derek shrugged, looking up to Stiles. The simple height difference between Stiles on the couch and himself on the floor made his stomach swoop.

"It still hurts," Stiles countered. "It's the hurting I care about, not the scars."

Derek lowered his head back to watch his claws attempt to puncture the ball. "I hurt a lot," he murmured. "And not just me."

"You help, too," Stiles said quietly.

Derek just shook his head, his eyes flashing. "I have to stay in control," he insisted, more to himself than to Stiles. "I have to. All the time. I.." He took a deep breath. "I can't do it all the time. I can't continue on like this. But I have to. I'm the alpha."

"Not with me," Stiles replied firmly. "You're my packmate, but I don't need you to be my Alpha. You can just be my friend, Derek."

Derek's hold on the stress ball tightened. "And if you're in trouble?" He asked.

"Then I need you to be my badass werewolf friend," Stiles said with a shrug.

Derek relaxed, watching Stiles closely. "And if I need more?"

Stiles frowned, confused. "Like what?" he asked.

"What if being a friend isn't what I need at that point?" Derek asked, gripping the ball so hard his hand was trembling. "If I end up hurting someone or myself, if I lose control..."

Oh. "I'd stop you," Stiles promised, coming over and resting his hand on Derek's shoulder, crouching to meet his eyes. "I won't let you have that memory to live with."

"You sure you can?" Derek asked, not even meaning it rudely. He just wanted to make sure Stiles could. He was the alpha, after all.

Stiles pulled out from under his shirt the necklace he always wore these days - a vial of mountain ash on a silver chain. "I'll stop you," he promised again.

Derek's eyes locked onto that little vial, relaxing again, unable to keep from leaning forward, resting his forehead on Stiles' shoulder.

"I can control you if I need to," Stiles murmured, glad he'd found something that reassured Derek. "I can keep you safe."

"Thank you." Derek whispered, his hands still trembling. "It's going to end up going that route, I know it will."

"Maybe it won't," Stiles said hopefully. "Maybe we can get this sorted before it gets that bad."

"Hopefully. But Doubt it. " Derek was a pessimist, he knew this.

"I'll do my best to help you," Stiles promised. "And if it's not enough, I'll stop you. Okay?"

Derek listened closely to Stiles' heart, relaxing even more when it didn't skip. "Thank you."

 

"I'm really impressed by how well you've been handling this, you know," Stiles said quietly. "It can't be easy."

Derek unconsciously relaxed at the small bit of praise. "It drives me insane. Feels like two halves of me are constantly fighting."

"I can imagine," Stiles replied. "Well, I can't, not really. But still. It must suck,"

Derek nodded, taking a deep breath. "I'm sorry if my grabbing you like that caused you any pain." He didn't know how hard he gripped sometimes. "I just didn't know exactly how to get your attention when everyone was leaving..."

"Hey, no, you're good," Stiles promised, pushing his sleeve up so Derek could see pale, unmarked skin. "You're much better calibrated than the others with this stuff."

"Calibrated." Derek couldn’t help but snort, taking Stiles arm carefully, turning it this way and that, trying to sniff out any bruising.

"Do you have a better word?" Stiles pointed out. "I'm fine, Derek. And I'm glad you stopped me. You did good."

Derek let out a small sound, ducking his head and letting go of Stiles' arm. He had a tiny smile on his face, his chest tightening, even as part of him rejected it fiercely.

Shit. Was there a way to praise Derek that wouldn't make him tense up like that? "You're a good alpha," Stiles tried. "You do a good job looking after us."

Derek shook his head, smelling the way Stiles felt bad for a split second. "It's not that I don't like the praise," he murmured, forcing words out. "I just have one part of me screaming while the other purrs like a kitten."

"Well, Doms should get praise too," Stiles said, frowning. "And so should alphas. That part of you doesn't need to be screaming, so why is it? What's wrong with being praised?"

"Sometimes I don't know why it's screaming," Derek admitted. "Though I think this time it's because it knows what I need, and it's not happy with it. Demanding more control."

"Let's try something," Stiles suggested. "How about I stay down here and you get up, and you ask me things. You're in control then, right?"

"Ask you what?" Derek was a bit bewildered, to be honest.

"I dunno," Stiles said with a shrug. "What I think of you, I guess. Whatever you feel like you need to know."

Derek shook his head. "Don't think I would work." He stood up anyway. "I am curious on what you do think of me though."

 

Stiles settled, cross-legged on the floor and tilted his head back to look up at Derek. Being here would be kind of nice if Derek wasn't having these issues, but he was, so... "Well, I used to think you were kind of a dick," he admitted. "I know you better now, though. You have a guilt complex the size of the sun and it's freaking you out all the time."

Derek blinked, shifting from foot to foot. "What changed your mind?"

"Getting to know you, I guess," Stiles said. "I mean, I disagree with a lot of things about how you handled the kanima situation, but looking back, I can see you were just really worried, and you had this sense of urgency about it, you know? And it meant a lot to me, the way you saved Scott. He's never been supportive of you, and especially then he wasn't being anything but aggressive towards you, but you prioritised his well being over your own, and over your need to catch the kanima."

Derek shifted again. "You're very perceptive," he admitted. "Tell me, Stiles," he leaned over just a bit, "do you dream of me?"

Stiles' eyebrows flew upwards. "Oh, wow, that's, uh...what? I mean...what?"

Derek grinned toothily. "I hear you say my name an awful lot during my rounds." he admitted. "So it made me wonder. And you did say to ask anything I'd like."

"Can I call veto on this?" Stiles asked awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head. "Because, uh, I kinda want to call veto on this."

Derek nodded, going over to plop down on the couch. "Of course," he said. "I'm not going to make you do something you don't want to."

"Thanks," Stiles replied, drawing his knees up to his chest. "Just...my dreams are for me."

"Sorry," Derek murmured, feeling that he may have crossed a line he shouldn't have.

"It's...it's fine," Stiles muttered. "I told you to ask whatever."

"Stiles," Derek sighed, steepling his hands, his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward. "What, exactly, bothered you with that question?"

Stiles sighed. "Do you know how embarrassing it is, to look back on the last decade of my life and know that everyone who's known me in that time knows that I pined, constantly, pointlessly, and pathetically, for Lydia? I want to keep my private life private."

"Stiles, I wouldn't have told anyone, or made fun of you, or anything like that. And who cares if you wanted Lydia? Your feelings are your own." Derek reached out, running his fingers through Stiles hair, trying to soothe him. "And I'm sorry if I made you feel like you felt when you'd talk about how much you wanted Lydia."

Stiles looked up, trying to gauge Derek's sincerity. "I'm easy to make fun of," he said quietly. "I've gotten good at brushing it off, but that doesn't mean I like it."

"I would never make fun of you,” Derek promised. "Especially with who you care about."

Stiles made a face. "Sure."

"Stiles," Derek said softly. "What's the face for?"

"Just drop it, Derek," Stiles said wearily. "We don't need to talk about this."

"Fine." Derek leaned back into the couch. He watched Stiles for a moment, sucking in a deep breath to try and figure out why he seemed so weary.

 

Stiles shook his bad mood off as he often did, and said, "Enough about me. We were trying to help you with your problems."

"Doesn't mean we can't help yours." Derek shrugged, staying where he was, spread out on the couch, weary and exhausted. "I don't like fighting myself. It's exhausting, and it's taking it's toll on me."

"Is this gonna be a 'if you would have peace, prepare for war' situation, or do you think you might be able to reconcile them?" Stiles asked.

"What?" That got a startled chuckle from Derek, rolling his head to look over to the other man. "If you're asking if I'll be able to make both of them happy, I have no idea."

Stiles grinned, glad for the change of mood. "So let's be logical about this shit. Do some research. What do you, as an alpha, need?"

"Control over the pack, care for them, protect," Derek shrugged, keeping his body loose.

"Okay," Stiles said, thinking it through. "What happens if - hypothetically - I'm not pack?"

Derek sat up, his eyes widening. "Who said you weren't pack?" he growled.

"Woah, woah," Stiles said hurriedly, holding up his hands in surrender. "It's okay, dude, I'm pack, everyone knows I'm pack, it's all good. Question retracted."

Derek grumbled, shifting on the couch. "Sorry. But you are pack, Stiles. If you meant not a were. I'm not sure"

"It was just a thought experiment, dude," Stiles explained. "I was thinking that the recursion of you trying to control your pack, including me, and me trying to control you at the same time would probably not be the most helpful thing.”

"While that may be truem you're one of the only ones that can push past the instincts. And the only one I trust." Derek sighed, rubbing his face.

"Thanks," Stiles said quietly. "Okay. What about - what does it mean, to 'control your pack'?"

"Helping control their shifts. As well as making sure they don't do stupid shit," Derek shrugged.

"I don't shift," Stiles pointed out.

Derek nodded. "You're pack, but you aren't a beta. Does that make sense?"

"I guess," Stiles agreed. "What does 'controlling your pack' mean to me, then?"

"Like what I do to control you?" Derek raised an eyebrow. "Mainly to keep you safe. And to make sure you don't do something stupid."

 

"What would happen if I ordered you to do that?" Stiles wondered aloud.

"Ordered me to do what?" Derek asked, tilting his head to the side, curious.

"To keep us all safe, and stop me from doing something stupid," Stiles explained.

Derek shivered. "I'm not sure?" he offered. "I'm not sure if that would appease both sides or not. Or for how long."

"Well, keep it in mind, okay?" Stiles said. "If I was your Dom, I'd want you to keep your betas under control, and keep the pack safe."

Derek shivered, watching Stiles closely. "Are you giving me that order?" he asked softly.

"That depends," Stiles said, leaning forward. "Are you going to accept my orders?"

Derek looked up at where Stiles was leaning over him a bit, licking his lips. "I want to," he finally settled on.

"Okay," Stiles said, a little shakily. "Okay. Then these are your standing orders, for all the time. Control your betas. Protect our pack. Stop any of us, including me, from doing stupid things without thinking about them. Avoid getting hurt when there's another option. Tell me when you need me. Got that?"

Derek took a deep breath, closing his eyes and letting the orders sink in. Oddly enough, his alpha instincts were happy with it - he got the impression of an eyeroll from them more than anything else. "Yes sir."

Stiles wrestled with himself for a moment, then tentatively replied, "Good boy."

Derek sucked in a breath, all but turning into a puddle on the couch, his muscles loosening and his posture easing. He didn't think about it, but praise had always affected him nicely. And no amount of grumbling from his instincts would ruin the warmth growing in his chest.

Stiles smiled when he saw Derek relax. "That felt good?" he checked. "No conflict from your alpha side?"

"Nothing more than a snort," Derek murmured, his eyes closed. "And yeah, it felt good."

Stiles reached out to take Derek's hand, turning it over and exploring it with touch. "You're so good, Derek," he said quietly, searching for things Derek would find reassuring. "You're a good alpha, and you're caring, and you look after your pack..."

Derek let out a soft sound, hand completely relaxed as Stiles played with it, comfortable for the first time in a while. The praise falling from Stiles’ mouth even making his instincts calm, purring at the validation.

Stiles didn't think he'd ever seen Derek like this. Content. The expression was foreign, but so, so welcome on the other man's face.

 

Derek enjoyed the touch, the relaxation. That is, until he felt one of the pack bonds twang like a plucked cord. He breathed in sharply, shooting up. "Stay here," he said as another cord was yanked. "Something's wrong." His eyes were red, voice low and gravelly.

"What is it?" Stiles asked, clambering to his feet. "What's going on?"

"Something's wrong with Scott and Isaac. They're hurt. Stay here." Derek stretched, focusing on the bonds to see where his betas were.

"I want to help," Stiles objected. "What if you need me?"

"Then I will tell you I need you," Derek turned. "Please. Stay here. You'll be safe here. I'll bring them here too. If you want to help, get cleaning materials and the extra clothes. Please."

"I really, really don't like this," Stiles muttered. But if he challenged Derek now, right after establishing that he respected Derek as alpha...he could only hope that Scott and Isaac didn't need him to help more than Derek needed him to stay. "At least get someone else to help you? Boyd, maybe."

Derek could only nod. "I'll call him in on my way." He gave into the instant press in his chest, pulling Stiles into a tight hug. "I'll be back with the boys," he murmured. "Promise." He went ahead and shed his shirt, hooking it over Stiles' shoulder, trying to get his scent on the other man. He took a deep breath through his nose before bolting out of the door, following the pack bonds and calling Boyd at the same time.

 

"Good luck," Stiles called, wishing there was more he could do. Except maybe...he texted Lydia. There's weirdness in the pack bonds. Can you sense trouble?

Not currently. Don't feel like busting any eardrums either- LM

Thanks. That's reassuring - SS

After a moment's thought, he also contacted Allison. Derek says there's trouble. Any word on your end? - SS

Kinda busy. Shooting fairies. Fast little buggers - AA

Fairies. Okay. That was manageable. Fairies were mischief makers, and certainly no-one wanted to get elf-shot, but given a strong enough defense, they were likely to retreat, and they could be placated. Stiles finally relaxed.