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On Anchors and Rudders

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+ + +

Derek is at the back of the line in the post office. The clock’s filigree arrows grab the four and the 10, respectively. So near to five, the room is packed and it makes Derek wish he weren’t a werewolf and that he wasn’t stuck in this particular hell.

The nurse in front of him is wearing orange scrubs and a burnished locket that’s tangled with her stethoscope. With her driver’s license flapping in her hand, Derek reads that she’s forty-two. As she smells of Lunchables, peanut butter cookies, and anxiety, Derek gathers she’s late to pick up her kid and pissed about it. He wishes he could ignore it, but as always, Derek’s own back tightens in reaction. Just chill, he wants to say. The line is moving at a decent speed, especially for a federal post office. If anything, the clerks’ smiles and friendly small talk are what’s slowing the pace—not their work ethic.

In front of the nurse, the waiting customers are typical small town California: there’s an older banker who is itching to have a good junk scratch. A secretary with carpal tunnel and a head cold. A still-drunk sorority chick applying for a passport. A stay-at-home dad relieved his toddler is drooling on his shoulder (and not ripping customs forms off the shelf). At the front are two teenage boys staring at a cracked iPhone screen and arguing in hushed voices about lacrosse.

“You see that. They won’t let me play anymore—not that I ever really left the bench but—.”

“It’s just a lab test thingama-whatever. Until you manifest—”

At the word—manifest—Derek pays closer attention. Fucking Sentinels. For him, it’s not the stereotype: werewolves and sentinels, too similar to be friendly. With Derek’s nasty history, he has every reason to hate. He leans to the side to get a glimpse of the kid: gerbil haircut, eyes like cognac, narrow shoulders drowned in an oversized button down. It takes Derek a moment to place him as the Sheriff’s son—which makes Derek’s ire abate. Because, to be fair, Sheriff Stilinski is downright decent. His wife and Derek’s mom were old friends. Plus the Sheriff’s kid, hilariously, is the scrawniest sentinel-apparent that Derek has ever seen.

“Scott, I’m almost eighteen. I’m like past-due past due, you know? Just pathetic. Sad. Like the Little Engine that Couldn’t.”

“My dad said if the test says it’ll show then it always shows,” the darker-haired boy—McCall? Yes, Scott McCall, the federal agent’s son. Unlike the Sheriff, that man is a royal douchebag.

The younger McCall is right, though, about the sentinel gene. It always “manifests.” And normally the later it shows up, the stronger. Con-coordinate gene sequencing. It was something she had explained. She had been a four-sense sentinel (didn’t manifest until sixteen, she bragged). And Derek had been such a fool.

He tunes out the boys, looking down at the box in his arms. It's a birthday present for Cora: a stupid Hallmark card, boxing gloves, and her favorite jerky. He hates that his little sister is in boarding school, but he also couldn’t imagine her in Beacon Hills. These days she insists she’s forgiven him, but Derek knows it’s more that she wants to forgive him. Cora used to love puppies and dancing. Now she loves fighting and more fighting.

The woman in front of him whips around to glare, as if he bumped her. Except that when she recognizes his face, she dissolves into a flustered grimace and turns right back around.

Taking a breath, Derek reminds himself that Fedex Overnight is not cheap. It’s just so annoying. This happens all the time. People stare at that Derek Hale who yes, is the werewolf whose family burned.

Derek’s skin is itching; he feels another gaze. It’s not the woman’s. Looking up, his eyes meet the Stilinski boy’s, whose cheeks paint at the same moment his pupils drop like anvils. This time Derek isn’t annoyed. Besides Stiles’s stammered heartbeat (lub-dub-a-dub-dubba), there is the butterfly fragrance of interest. It’s kind of adorable, actually. The baby sentinel thinks he’s hot.

When the clerk calls, Stiles charges up to the desk, elbow-dragging his friend.

Derek makes himself focus on the cracks in the linoleum. He traces them, some perpendicular and others an electric zigzag. He draws in a breath and pushes past the odors of tar-and-nicotine, bleached paper, ammonia, and dog piss on the front steps until he’s catching a drift of the breeze off Main Street. The breeze always soothes. If he concentrates, he could detect zinnia or ice cream cone or diesel fuel, but now as he breaths in and out and holds Cora’s square box (the cardboard a comfortable crackle under his fingers) it’s a sweet chorus brushing over his cheeks, his eyelids—the tip of his nose.

Until it turns to clanging, shaking, pounding.

Darkness—solar flare—the lights are back on.

Screaming.

In the first off-balanced seconds, he worries it’s PTSD but no. It takes a solid moment as the nurse trips over the rope divider and her license goes flying for Derek to realize:

It’s an earthquake. Not a tremor.

As he founders, Cora’s box acts as a crude ballast and Derek knows this quake is over 6.0—maybe a 7.0 on the Richter scale. And then he realizes: people are going to die.

For a moment, Derek is glad they’re in the post office. These older buildings are sturdy, but then overhead, he watches as a beam shakes-bends-creaks in a way that is not proper geometry. There are no tables or strong furniture to shelter under. And the roof…

Derek will heal. These humans will not. There are no immediate trees or power lines in the street. If they can get outside…

“This way!” he yells, and grabbing the nurse’s hand, he covers her as much as he can so they can stumble to the doorway.

And thankfully the next two after the nurse are the dad with the baby—who is shrieking in different pitches as he squirms in his gray-faced father’s cage of arms. Above them the lamp shatters and glass comes crashing down. The secretary screams covering her eyes, but the sorority student next to her is hushing, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Overhead the beam groans again, and Derek yells, “Everyone out!”

And almost everyone squeezes out—except the boys.

Derek yells. “Out!”

The air is chalk and reverberation but McCall is without a doubt shaking his head. He coughs-yells, “My—my friend is zoned! His hand—he won't let go.” He points to where Stilinski’s fist is dead-locked on metal leg of the counter. And since the sentinel is zoned, there’s no way of getting his fingers off without snapping or sawing them.

Derek fucking hates his life. He runs toward the two, grabbing McCall by the shoulder to say, “You, duck and run.”

“I can’t leave Stiles!”

“I’ve got him.” When McCall looks incredulous, Derek points a finger at his own chest. “Wolf.”

Scott’s eyes widen as he finally recognizes that yes, he’s speaking to the local deranged werewolf.

“I’ll cover him,” Derek promises. “Now that beam is going to go—so out.”

Above them there’s a groan—the masonry curves into a smile—right and left they go—the building keels like a ship on the verge of capsizing. A grey rubber bin careens past the counter door and envelopes fly like frisbees. Credit card panels break and flop about uselessly like unstrung yo-yos.

“Go,” Derek repeats, and this time McCall clambers to his feet and crawls-stumbles-skeddadles for the door.

Derek is left alone with a zoned-out teenage sentinel. It’s all Derek can do to cover Stiles as much as he can. When the beam gives that final, splintering crack, its girders unzipping with pops, Derek buries his face into Stiles’s neck and for a single, long second lets himself be drawn in by oh, juniper, storm wet, river salt and a press of flaxen fur—peace, his mind sings. And then the dark crashes.

+ + +

Derek is out for at most ten seconds. Except that when he comes out of the euphoria, it’s to saucer-sized brown eyes and a noise that is unmistakably a whimper.

“Are you hurt?” Derek begs, but after checking over Stiles, the kid is fine. Though when Derek looks at his own body, there’s a splintered stave propped against his knee that looks like it could have gone just as easily through his leg. An open crack in the ceiling lets the sun peek in on the chaos. Packing nuts mix with Priority Mail tape that sticks to bubble wrap and cardboard; the box with Cora’s present is split open, the boxing gloves looking like Christmas ornaments against a backdrop of paper snow.

“Ettamrrrrphfffft.” Stiles's fingers press four points on Derek’s shoulder. The thumb kneads as if massaging.

Derek thinks about knocking the hand away but for some reason, doesn’t. “I’m not leaving you here. There will be aftershocks after a mother like that. I need to get you out.”

“Guide,” Stiles murmurs.

Without thinking, Derek snarls, “Werewolf.”

“Guiding me.” Stiles’s face says he hasn’t heard a word. He’s not fully out of the zone.

And maybe he’s no longer self-chained to the counter leg, but Derek cannot risk Stiles not being at full awares as they spelunk their way of this collapsed Legoland. “Stiles,” Derek whispers, and when Stiles looks around, unfocused, Derek grabs his cheeks (they are soft) and says, “Stiles.”

Stiles’s eyes seem to focus on his.

“That’s right,” Derek says softly. “I’m Derek. Look at my eyes. Listen to my heartbeat. This is your first zone—and it’s late, right? That’s what you were saying to your friend. And we just went through an earthquake with shit falling and terrible decibel levels and a fast change in the light. This dust is probably irritating you, am I right?”

“Warm,” Stiles says. His expression is clearing; the pupils are no longer such endless black space.

Derek stares down at Stiles’s hands on either one of his thighs. “Werewolves tend to run hot.”

“Hot.”

“I did say that.” Derek frowns.

“I zoned.” And this time Stiles winces, like the pain is finally coming back.

“Yeah, it’s okay. If you need me to help with it, I can…” He cossets his arms around Stiles’s neck, drawing him in, and this close, Stiles has porcelain skin. Eyelashes like black thorns. A plump, plucky mouth. He’s charming, Derek thinks, especially when Stiles smiles at him. And yeah that smile is nice until—Derek almost can’t believe it—the fucker tries to chomp on Derek’s neck.

Just no. Never.

Derek shoves him—which, given their tight space, means he pushes Stiles up against the counter. Foam peanuts avalanche. One bounces off Stiles’s nose. Stiles sits as if in the electrocution chair, like even he can’t believe his crime.

Yes, Derek wants to say, you tried to claim a werewolf and you’re a moron, but no, instead, Derek says, “So you’re out of the zone.”

“I’m—um.” Stiles’s teeth snap shut like a jail door, like the orifice is not in his control and he’s worried what its next barbaric attempt on Derek will be.

“We need to get out of here.”

As if in response, the earth coughs.

+ + +

The rubble blocks the front exit so they have to take the back way. Derek is helping Stiles to avoid the glass by knocking it out with a brick. He’s only just gotten Stiles out into the open when they see McCall skirt around a postal truck, give a shout of relief, and dash toward them. There are many statements of “oh shit!” and “thank you, man,” but Derek more or less shoves Stiles at McCall so he can extricate himself and get a fucking move on. With each step, Derek feels Stiles’s gaze, and Derek doesn’t like it. He hates that clinking chain, the one that says: turn around.

He’s across the street, standing next to the seemingly unaffected doughnut shop (whose owners are now distributing free Boston creams to their less fortunate neighbors) when the ambulance passes behind him—and he knows—can feel it when Stiles’s heartbeat stutters, the pain hitting his all five senses: scratching, blinding, whistling, acid-bitter burn.

Derek is running as Stiles staggers backward in the parking lot. Scott seizes his friend’s hands but is unprepared for the weight. Stiles’s head is three feet from the concrete when Derek rolls under him, taking the oomph in his lungs and grabbing Stiles’s waist so that he doesn’t roll off.

This time it only takes a few minutes to get Stiles out of the zone.

Thankfully, Stiles is cuddly rather than claiming, pushing his head into Derek’s hand like a cat. In the back of his mind, Derek fears that the rumble emanating from the back of the sentinel’s throat might be a purr... but then Derek doesn’t stop with the murmuring or stroking. It’s like his fingers can’t really get over the silken field they’re raking through—or maybe it’s that hint of sweet pine. Derek’s whole being loses itself to the ritual of whispers and grooming.

Still, they’re both mortified when they look up and discover they’re surrounded. Besides the sheriff, there’s a deputy and a paramedic—and oh shit—Morrell from the Sentinel liaison office. She’s talking on her phone, and Derek doesn’t miss the simper when she drawls into the receiver. “Deats, you’ve been hiding something from me. You didn’t tell me your local werewolf also had the guide gene.”

Just fuck.

+ + +

Until 4:07 pm the next day, Derek shrouds himself in a harbor of sheets, only once rousing to piss and forage a log of sausage. At 4:05 pm, the quake’s tenth aftershock forces him to forget he has a migraine (and the little fact that normal werewolves don’t get migraines) because Derek is worrying after Stiles.

Stiles might zone.

But if he does, it’s okay. The Sentinel Office will have legions of guides at the ready. Guides that aren’t Derek, since Derek isn’t a guide. “Werewolf,” he huffs aloud.

That Derek’s phone is entombed in his microwave means nothing.

At the latest jack in pain, Derek nose-dives into the feathered pillow, bunching it up around his ears and wishing the dizziness would stop and his eyes would stop spinning like world globes.

At 4:37 pm, Derek gives up, snatching his Giants cap off the nightstand and wrestling his jeans from the dirty laundry monster under his bed. He’s pulling open the door to his apartment when he nearly trips on a salamander mound of black sleeping bag.

Derek has to peel back the layers of fabric but in the end, Stiles’s face emerges like a cabbage patch doll.

“Good… afternoon.” Stiles stares confusedly at the position of the sun overhead.

Sighing, Derek grabs the tail-end of the sleeping bag and drags it inside.

With each second, his migraine abates.

+ + +

Stiles is seated on Derek’s couch, holding a cup of ginger tea like it’s Ming porcelain. He takes a sip (hates it, Derek knows) but smiles at Derek with a face that pleads, please like me.

Derek fears he does… against his better judgment.

“I think I might have, um, zoned again.”

Derek assumed as much. “Where were you?”

“At the sentinel office.”

“They let you waltz out?” Derek doesn’t believe that.

Stiles laughs nervously, wiping his nose as he shifts in the cushions. “Actually I remember being in a padded, soundproofed room with super dim light and some pretty awesome fiber counts covering every surface… There was a guide sitting in there with me. He gave me the standard tests. I’m pretty sure I did well, because the guy threw out compliments like a tennis ball machine as if I’d worked really hard my whole life at this, even though this just happened to me and I was on the verge of zoning the whole time. Anyway, they brought in this guy my age, Isaac—he used to go to high school with me until he got shipped off to guide boot camp or whatever. They said they thought I’d be more comfortable with him, but I don’t know, he kept giving me these pained blue eyes, like Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, you know, after he’s lost his hand, and I was like The Force is with you and Isaac laughed but it sounded… abused? Kind of like someone laughing with a python around their throat. And so, I think I zoned again, and then there was this scary bald sentinel who started asking me questions about you, and I think I started to zone yet again because told him to stop farting—I know—and he got pissed and said werewolves were evil and um, I think I tried to stick my pinkies in his ears. I think I might have licked them first, too.”

“Oh.” Derek has the urge to pat Stiles.

“Right, so I was by my lonesome in the room alone and my palms brushed this one spot and it was really subtle—but I could feel the notches in the fabric. Someone before had scratched there. 8741. I traced the code a few times to make sure, and then I went to the door and it opened right up. Then I pretty much high-tailed it out of there and over here. I think. It’s a little fuzzy.”

“Where did the sleeping bag come from?”

“Your neighbor. She was walking her Chihuahua and said I looked cold.”

“Great.” Derek is sure to get a note from the subdivision committee.

“It’s okay.” Stiles smiles serenely. “I told her werewolves were steeped in sacred ritual.”

If she bought it that meant… “This was Miss Castorel?”

“Salt and pepper braids? Spangle dress?” Stiles’s hands shape out a ball gown.

Castorel is the New Ager who lives two doors down and likes to throw flower petals on Derek whenever he walks past, cheerily proclaiming “May the day greet the moon.” Her Chihuahua Qi is the calmest pooch in Beacon Hills. He likes to sit on top of the slide on the rusty swing set in Castorel’s flower garden to wag his tail at passerby. Derek feeds him spare jerky. “She’s not so bad,” Derek agrees.

“Um, so I know you’re a werewolf. And that your family died—due to an unhinged sentinel—and so maybe that has something to do with the whole I-am-not-a-guide thing, which—” Stiles’ hands flew up. “—I’m not saying all sentinels are auto-bros—but like the Big Sentinel Babysitting Bureau is saying I have to have a guide because I have five senses—yay, I’m special—and I’m going to zone in and out like a metronome if I don’t have someone playing the piano for me so to speak—and ohmygod-I-know-I-sound-pathetic—” Stiles finally took a breath. “—but I have this feeling way deep down—kind of in my soul-place, if you believe in that sort of thing—that says you’re safe—and that everyone else would suck so hard I’d hate myself but when I’m around you I feel this spark, this relief, like someone touched lemon on my tongue and shone my shoes afresh and I know you probably are hating all of the gobble spilling out of my mouth right now. And yeah, I am aware that you’re a few years older and somehow able to wear a leather jacket like it’s an extension of your own skin—and I should shut up—but fuck—and oh my holy jesus fucking cracker shit would you say something?”

Derek takes a sip of his own tea. He swallows and contemplates his next words carefully. To reject Stiles feels… untenable. And not just because of the implications of the non-werewolf migraine. Yet bonding means… it means a kind of servitude. When he imagines it, the mere idea of being called a “guide” makes Derek’s mouth sour with grass. And yet Stiles is beaming at him like Derek holds the map to rainbows.

Fuck and fuck. Derek doesn’t want to lose that smile. It’s the closest thing he’s had to a… That’s when he realizes the solution. “You can be pack,” he declares.

Stiles brightens before just as quickly, his mouth tightens in an o-shape. “That’s a werewolf thing?”

“You may come over here. Whenever you want. Closeness is normal among pack members. If you need help, I’ll help you. Just don’t eat my food. Bring your own.”

As if commanded, Stiles springs from his couch to Derek’s old loveseat whereupon he flops his head right into Derek’s lap. “Like this? I mean, this is okay, right?”

“It’s fine,” Derek says, subtly repositioning Stiles away from his crotch. “Um, and no sex.”

Despite his blush, Stiles pretends he didn’t hear. “I know I feel better when I’m around you—but they say guides are supposed to—do you feel betterish around me?”

Derek thinks: salt and cypress cones, storm and moonlit shore, a breeze that carries only fresh air. But he says, “You talk a lot.”

“It’s not like you couldn’t say more,” Stiles grumbles but his tone is a lie. His shut eyelids look like happy potatoes.

Derek allows himself to slip his fingers against Stiles’s hair. “People say a lot of things.” Words that they don’t mean. Secrets they don’t keep. Lies.

“I like your hands. They smell nice.” Stiles’s nose is itchy as it sniffs the creases of Derek’s fingers.

Derek doesn’t withdraw his hands. “I ate some sausage earlier. Before I got the door.”

“Maple. Salt. Red meat.” Stiles’s bottom lip is a poor dam for his strawberry tongue.

“You can have some.”

“And I smell almonds.”

“Did you zone out when I said the single house-rule? I’m not a grocery store.”

“Uh, right. I should order take-out. You like pizza? Or fried chicken? Or Chinese. The place on Tarvel is sketch but closer to Scott’s there’s Emperor’s Delight with the awesome Crab Rangoon and General Tsao’s. Yeah, we should order. We can order, right? I’m buying.”

Derek is disturbed how his every instinct is to nod. “Does your dad know you’re here?”

“I can text him.”

“Text him,” Derek says.

“And then we’re ordering Chinese, right? I’m kind of insanely hungry. I had zero appetite before—but now I feel like a Hungry Hippo.”

Derek nods.

+ + +

When the doorbell rings, Derek moves to stand, but Stiles grabs his wrist. The first time his words come out garbled as Stiles has a mouth full of chorizo, but then he swallows and manages, “It’s not just the delivery guy. It’s my dad and Dr. Deaton.”

Derek listens, and as Stiles said, there are three heartbeats, although the latter two are standing by the mailbox. “You’re already good with the hearing,” Derek says, prying Stiles fingers loose.

“Did you not hear what I said? Deaton—my dad—at the door.”

“Better to not keep them waiting.”

Derek opens the door to see the delivery guy nervously glancing back at the sheriff. He knows the sheriff is a sentinel, and yeah, his jacket still reeks of the weed from last night. Rolling his eyes, Derek waves a hello to the Sheriff and Deaton, and says, “He’s here.” Then he pulls out his wallet.

Stiles pushes past him, though. “I said I’d pay. And hi, Dad.”

“You’re still my bratty kid. I’ll pay,” the Sheriff grumbles, striding forward.

“I’ve got it Sir,” Derek says.

But the Sheriff waves him off. “No, you don’t. I can only imagine the number he’s already done on your fridge.”

Not that Derek was taking an inventory, but Stiles did eat all of the chorizo, the bag of Marcona almonds, a half of stick of herb butter smeared on a bagel, and then crunched through three apples. As always, Derek can’t help but think the Sheriff is a good man.

Deaton is another story. “We should go inside,” he says. “Sit at the table so Stiles can eat?” He makes it sound like a suggestion, but that’s how Deaton always is. Soft ease—all the time. It’s how they all are. Guides. And probably, it’s how they have to be. Even if Deaton’s been on his side up until now, Derek can’t trust him.

+ + +

Derek feels like things are going well. Stiles is fully alert and popping Crab Rangoon with delighted crunching. The Sheriff is grateful that Derek saved Stiles’s life back in the post office and so far no one has said the word “guide.”

“We need you to sign this,” Deaton says, pushing the page across the table cloth.

Or not, Derek thinks, as he sees the g-word printed in ink at least twenty times.

“It’s not binding, Derek,” the Sheriff cuts in. “If anything, it’s a way to keep Stiles… unbound.”

“Wait—what exactly is it?” Stiles reaches for the paper.

His father snatches it back. “Stiles, wipe your hands before fingering legal documents.”

So Stiles leans forward on his elbows to read. “Training… legal gobble. Stabilizing, disclaimer, under eighteen, official bonding reserved, contingencies, blah, blah, blah.” Stiles looks up at his dad. “So this is to get the Sentinel Office off my back but what about Derek’s back?”

“As Derek has already agreed to assist—” Deaton starts.

“Derek can say no,” Stiles’s dad interrupts.

Derek is staring down at the paper. “I’d have to train with him.”

“I can work with you here. You won’t have to go to the Office,” Deaton says.

“And if I don't sign?”

Deaton frowns. Stiles looks horrified. The Sheriff nods and says, “That’s fine. Legally, given that you’re a werewolf, there’s no precedent for the Office to use the mandate against you. The Other Species Act is at odds with the Guide laws so unless you officially bond,” Stiles’s face pains like he’s bitten down on his tongue, “there’s nothing the Office can do to you. They’d just assign Stiles another guide.”

Derek’s head pangs. Another guide sounds more horrible than guide by itself. He twists his chopsticks before letting them sink into his rice. And then he picks up the pen and signs.

Deaton’s eyes raise in surprise while Stiles’s bottom lip pops out before he’s just as quickly biting it; his eyes peer at Derek, twin magnifying glasses.

“Thank you,” the Sheriff says sincerely.

+ + +

Chapter Text

+ + +

Stiles has a full schedule. He has an extra hour of Sentinel class at the end of each school day. Course topics include guide ethics, the basics of aromatic chemistry, the physics of sound, meditation, etc. His gym class is with other sentinels. On the weekends, Deaton spends two hours at Derek’s kitchen table, walking the two of them through standard empathic technique as well as giving Derek a more intense primer on guides. And even though Deaton is smart enough not to go on about it, Derek is pretty sure he’s impressed with their progress. “Hole in one,” Deaton likes to say, and his surprise projects the feeling of velcro ripping loose with the undertone of and that rarely happens.

Derek doesn’t need Deaton’s flashlight-pointing to know that his and Stiles’s nascent connection is remarkable. When Stiles collapses on his couch in the evenings, Derek can smell the pickled disgust: an argument with Jackson earlier in the day. Or when Stiles’s eyelids slump like weathered boards, Derek sits beside him in the shadow theater. For Stiles, the death is always his mother evanescing into white. For Derek, the walls alight in blood-orange flickering; screams pour through the window grille. It’s not normal for a sentinel to grab their guide’s hand to say, “It’s okay.” But Stiles isn’t normal.

Because Stiles spends so much time inside during the day, Derek takes him out on walks. There’s the trail that hugs the creek from Del Norte. Derek’s had it memorized since boyhood. Gray boulders nose out from leather earth; endless fern forests fill the fire-opened meadows. In the old coves, primordial redwoods stretch to Mars, their leaves so distant that they dance like green gowns a’swirl. At least to Derek. Besides night vision, his sight isn’t anything to call home about. Stiles, though, can see the veins in the leaves.

This morning Sequoia roots make for slick handholds down the dew-slime slopes. The creases in Derek’s boots have lost traction as a paste of clay and limestone has hardened in between the ridges. It’s all been because Stiles caught a trail: they’ve tracked a Humboldt marten to its den.

“Look at its fur. So minky and cute. Way cuter than a squirrel.” Stiles’s voice is all coo.

The animal has a tawny coat that perfectly matches its tree species of choice. With big ears like a fox but a body like a cat’s, Derek does acknowledge that its appearance is somewhat heartwarming. Except that Stiles is stepping way too close to a feral animal. Derek grabs his shoulder to hold him back. “If given the opportunity, they eat squirrels.”

Stiles leans forward to flash a smile at the spitting animal. “Like a teddy-bear bobcat.”

“And bobcats eat martens.”

Stiles casts a glare at him. “Would you stop it with the circle of life?”

From its latest perch in the tanoak boughs, the marten growls, fur fully puffed as it attempts to defend and intimidate.

“That’s right, Cubby. You are so ferocious,” Stiles compliments, before turning back to Derek with a pout. “I want to pet him.”

“Rabies.”

A gasp. “Cubby doesn’t have rabies.”

“Would you stop naming the forest.”

“I pick out good names!”

“You named the Northern Spotted Owl ‘Spotty.’”

“Well,” Stiles thinks hard, “he was.”

“And the migrant bat, Dracula.”

Stiles’s chin juts out. “He couldn’t be Batman. Obviously.”

“Then there was that vole…” Stewart Little.

Stiles gnashes his teeth. “Fine. Next time we see anything remotely canine, I’m naming it Derek.”

“There are coyotes a few miles north.”

Stiles’s right arm swings out like a compass needle, before he spins back. “None here?”

“I’m here. They won’t come here if I am.”

“That’s so annoying.”

“You do realize coyotes are predators that attack infants and small animals.”

Stiles frowns. “Like Qi.” In his few months of visiting Derek’s house, Stiles has developed an intense attachment to Miss Cantorel’s Chihuahua. Derek secretly suspects the rat dog of magic.

“Yep.”

“Would Cubby eat Qi?” Despite the fact that they’re matched in height, Stiles’s comes out of his crouch to stare at Derek with a child’s eyes.

Cubby would regard Qi as a mid-morning morsel but Derek shrugs and says, “Nah.”

The flare in Stiles’s nostrils says he knows Derek is lying, but the smile playing on his mouth says he’s half-glad for it. “So right, time to leave Cubby alone and practice, right?”

Staring down the marten, Derek gives a short growl, which results in a squeak, and then the ball of fur is rocketing up the vertical gnarls until it vanishes into the needle canopy. Brushing aside cones and copper leaves, Derek seats himself on a mattress of baked moss. Stiles joins him in a flop. His sappy fingers net into Derek’s, and he asks, “So apparently I’m supposed to be focusing on smell because my instructors say I lean on my hearing and sight too much.”

“You do.”

“You’re not supposed to agree.”

Derek squeezes Stiles's fingers reminding him of their purpose. “Close your eyes. What’s the first thing you smell?”

“Peat. Bark. You.”

“In that order?”

Stiles’s hands go lax in Derek’s. “You had a cheeseburger for lunch. You brushed your teeth afterward. That anise-flavored crap. Why not mint?” His right eye is peeking at Derek’s expression.

“I buy that brand because it’s fluoride-free. Close it.”

The eye snaps shut. “And you were in your basement. Detergent. You did laundry, though you’ve worn your jeans at least four times—orange peel from two days ago, that prosciutto I finished and you never got more of, gas from the Shell station. And why the mint gum but not mint toothpaste?”

“I said…”

“And dude, seriously, do you ever jack off? Because I never—uh, wait, I guess that’s pretty personal. I, um—“

Derek doesn’t want to talk about this. Ever. “Just because you do it four times a day...”

“See—you smell it on me. You could probably smell if I was constipated, couldn’t you? I just don’t get it. Do you have some special cleanser?”

Derek squeezes Stiles’s hands. “What do you smell on the wind—besides me?”

“Planty things like pollen, maybe some beetle skunk, and,” Stiles pauses, “campfire.”

“Campfire or forest fire?”

“It’s tinged with s’more and lighter fluid so it’s a campfire.”

“What else?”

“Bud Light and Hebrew National dogs. Do you have a grill? Why have we never grilled at your place?”

“How many people?” When Stiles starts to turn his head, Derek checks him. “No, using smell.”

Stiles nods and draws in a long breath. “There’s a man: blood pressure medication—not the same as my dad’s but similar. He’s drinking the Bud. Gillette deodorant. Crumbs from a tuna sandwich on his flannel. Gun oil on his fingers—he’s got a hunting rifle. Then there’s the woman. Banana for breakfast. Hair smells like vanilla shampoo. She’s um in the middle of her period. She’s younger.”

“How do you know?”

“Maybe because she’s wearing Bubblegum lip gloss and listening to Taylor Swift.”

“That last one was sound.”

“It’s not just that. She smells… fresher. The man smells of age.”

“Is she his daughter?”

“Probably.”

“Concentrate. Do you smell pack or mating?”

“Ew. Ew. Need a bath. Pack.” Stiles’s weight shifts. “Can we hold off for a second?” Stiles shakes his hands loose from Derek’s. For a second, Derek wants to grab them back, but then Stiles asks, “What about you? What do you smell?”

Derek pushes his free hand into the moss. An ant skitters out; a crumb of pollen is a boulder on its back. Derek sniffs to follow the bug’s trail. It takes him up the hill and… “There’s a wasp nest. 6 o’clock. Like bees and ants, they release pheromones. The hive has larva—that gummy scent—and then prey freshly delivered—that ripe oil-iron odor. The sulfurous fumes of decay.”

Stiles’s nose is tipped at an angle. His eyes are flint as the lashes flutter.

Derek points to the east where the creek rides the mountain. “A hawk’s nest at the top of the falls. You couldn’t hear it because of the water. But the raptor caught a bunny this morning and fed it to its brood. That blood-liver smell. Also, baby bird poop is distinctive.”

“Circle of life,” Stiles mutters again but nods.

The light changes, side-winding from the west. Stiles’s cheeks reflect the rays’ gilt and Derek’s attention is ripped back to the juniper potion stewing right under his nose. How it roils from Stiles’s pores. Perhaps Derek should let it be, but Stiles is his pack—pack—so he says it, “And you—you argued with your dad this morning.”

Stiles’s eyes gape and blink in the sunset glare. “You can’t smell that.”

Derek has been smelling it all morning. It only went away when “Cubby” came into the picture. “Worry has a scent. Sour perspiration. Adrenaline. Poor digestion, like you said. And your sleeve has envelope glue and bleach, paper fibers. Therefore, the mail arrived this morning. You didn’t eat breakfast before coming to my place. The letter or whatever got in the way.”

Stiles’s shoulders fold inward. “It’s the normal crap. I’m starting to get academy letters.”

Armed forces. Private security services. Applied science institutes. Sentinels have loads of career options. It’s different than for werewolves. Derek still remembers the day his guidance counselor asked whether he wanted to be a Dog Walker or a Park Ranger. The things was, she’d meant it as a compliment. She was telling him he was one of the good ones. Because in movies, that’s what the “nice werewolves” did—unlike all those criminals involved with the mob or drug cartels or blood sport.

Derek had gotten an accounting degree instead. Freelance bookkeeping paid decently and allowed him to work mostly from home. As long as he didn’t screw up, Derek kept his business going. Still, he’d had clients ask him, “Will the full moon be a problem during tax season?”

“But why the argument with your dad?” Derek asks.

“He’s pushing me to make decisions.” Stiles slumps down on his side. His forehead presses into Derek’s knee. His hand twines in the single sorrel stem next to Derek’s ankle. “He said it’s better to decide earlier rather than later.”

The tension coming off Stiles makes the backs of Derek’s eyes water; his arms move like rubber bands, and yet all he manages to say is, “Probably.”

“Have you ever thought about fighting crime?” Stiles asks.

It’s so unexpected; it’s so honest—so Stiles—that Derek laughs.

“I’m serious.”

“I know.”

“You do accounting stuff. But like the boring kind. Wouldn’t fraud be more fun? Track down cooked books. Show those pompous CEO’s who’s boss.”

“You wouldn’t want to do fraud. You’d get bored with all the spreadsheets.”

“Hey, I like research. Or maybe we could do internal affairs,” Stiles’s voice becomes careful, “investigate bad cops.”

“Or maybe you should do what you want to do,” Derek corrects, not bothering to add, without factoring me in.

Stiles’s chin bunches and he’s shaking his head. “No.”

“Stiles,” Derek whispers. Up until now, they haven’t discussed it. Avoiding the topic has been easier. Because at this point Derek’s holding a wishbone with nightmares on each side. To the right, he loses Stiles. To the left, he loses his freedom. He becomes another one of the Sentinel Office’s viscid slaves. Derek likes it best where he is now: in the middle with Stiles growing roots through his fingers. It makes him feel like he matters. He thinks sometimes that he might be happy.

Stiles swallows and pushes up on his elbow, face turned away. “My birthday is on Sunday. We should do something.”

“Okay.

“Maybe go to a movie with Scott.”

Scott and Derek haven’t exactly been fast friends, but for Stiles’s sake, they tolerate one another. “Whatever you want.”

When Stiles turns back to look at Derek, his eyes are bright, stubborn quartz.

And they say guides are manipulative.

But then Derek squelches the thought. Stiles is so guileless, so tender and forthright. He’s just the sort of person who would befriend a three-legged dog like Derek. Still, like the marten, Derek is no pet.

“Let’s head back,” Derek says.

+ + +

When Derek’s pulls out his keys to open his front door, Qi is sitting on the front step. And it takes a minute for Derek to identify the sound because he’s never heard it before: Qi is barking.

“What’s up bud—?” Stiles starts but then Qi shoots right between his legs, bounding up the street.

Derek and Stiles follow at a trot. They’re at Miss Cantorel’s garden gate when Stiles’s grabs his hand. Above the scarlet fever Dahlias and the wine of climbing roses, iron blood rusts the air.

“Miss Cantorel!” Derek yells, running into the house. Stiles is at his heels and Derek’s instinct is to not let him follow because the smell's concentration is too great for it to be a mere injury. The air weeps red.

Derek commands Qi to stay and then he takes the steps two at a time.

Miss Cantorel is in the sewing room. Her eyes are wide, blue, and dead. Her crucible is a nursery bed. A picture of Lila, Miss Cantorel’s daughter hangs directly over. Lila died when she was eleven in a riding accident. Miss Cantorel is wearing a linen romper—the one printed with bluebells and ruffled with lace. The murder weapon, an ax, sits in the corner braced against the rocking chair like its always been there. Miss Cantorel, without a doubt, bled to death. Her arms and legs have been hacked so that…

“It’s like they made her fit the rectangle,” Stiles chokes.

There is a plain white quilting square bobby-pinned to her chest. Cross-stitched in blue is the quote: Tradition is a guide and not a jailer. It’s by that author, M-something. The one who wrote Of Human Bondage.

For a minute, they just shake-stare-suffocate because they can’t-won’t breathe, but then Stiles twists covering his mouth. Derek rushes him to the bathroom.

Stiles is sobbing into the toilet but he isn’t zoning. Just heaving tears and puke in a storm.

“Listen to my heartbeat, Stiles.”

Stiles daubs snot with a fist of toilet paper. “Just—why would someone—how could—?”

Derek brushes the smear off his cheek. “You saw the quote.”

“That crap about tradition?”

“Yeah,” Derek breathes. Downstairs Qi is barking. They need to call the police. Stiles’s dad.

Stiles collapses back on his haunches. His cheek rests against the tangerine tiles as he rubs at his eyes. “She was a witch or whatever—so what?”

“And she used to be a guide,” Derek says, thinking back to one afternoon in which Miss Cantorel served him a double-strength mint julep and salty almond-date balls. She’d mostly wanted to talk to him about Stiles. Instead, she ended up recounting her own unhappy ending. “A long time ago.”

+ + +

“Call me Maple. It’s my first name,” Miss Cantorel says. She caught Derek feeding Qi jerky again and somehow managed to cajole him onto her porch for a snack and chat. “And you know it’s bad for him. They add sweeteners to almost all jerky. I’m sure yours is one of the good brands with just a little bit of syrup or honey, but Qi is on the verge of diabetes as it is. Just like his Mommy. Have a nut ball.” She pushes a china bowl encircled in peonies at him.

Derek takes one of the almond and date roll-ups, and he thinks one more—maybe two. They might be the most delicious sweets he’s ever tasted, especially since Derek’s not even a sweets sort of person.

“And one of these too.” Miss Cantorel athletically works a cocktail shaker. Her polyester shift begins to hold her sweat.

“You know that werewolves…”

“Doesn’t affect you a lick. Oh, I know, but I hate drinking alone, and I figured you wouldn't mind the flavor. Here.” She pours the drink into a mason jar filled with spearmint leaves. Then she takes something that looks like a letter opener to stir it up. “So I knew your mother. Then, I suppose, everyone did.”

Derek isn’t sure whether he’s supposed to respond to this.

Miss Cantorel starts in on making her own julep. She gives herself half the simple syrup but double the bourbon. “I was born north of the Savannah river but in the dung ditch of South Carolina. Didn’t stay long enough to get a real accent, though my mother, she made me learn her ways.”

“Cooking?” Derek offers lightly.

Miss Cantorel takes a sip around her spearmint leaf. “Well, that too, but I was talking about the reason why my roses are the most beautiful on the block. Or why no one on this street has ever been robbed.”

“Magic.”

“My people like to call it our ‘harmony.’ We just feel things, and they touch us back. Some more than others. Do you know how rare five-sense sentinels are?”

Derek is not appreciating the ambush. “Rare.”

“Drink up.” Miss Cantorel frowns and takes another draw of her own julep. “About as rare as a werewolf with the guide gene—or better yet, a witch with one.”

“Miss Cantorel—” Derek does not want to be here.

“Maple, I said. And I guess you can infer that I was a guide. Married the sonuvabitch, too. We had a daughter who looked just like her daddy. Only had me in her eyes. She died in a riding accident. Freak thing.” Now Miss Cantorel has nothing but a sad smile and arbors of heirloom roses. Well, and Qi, Derek supposes.

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh, I don't need you to tell me. You’re a regular hailstorm sitting there in that chair. Walls like wind. Thoughts like lightning bolts in your noggin. It’s better now with the Stilinski boy, though, isn’t it?”

Derek could be coy. He could tell her to mind her own business, but now that he’s able to put a name to it, Miss Cantorel’s empathy is wooing his own. He can’t help but wonder what tonic she slipped into those date balls. “Stiles is pack.”

“I used to call Jimmy my black cat. Sort of like your Stiles, he didn’t mind so much. Just wanted my fingers on his tail.”

A bit of almond goes down the wrong pipe, and Derek hacks into a gingham napkin.

Miss Cantorel chuckles. “What’s the worth of getting old and fat if you can’t make a bad joke?”

Derek pounds a fist into his own chest. “It’s not like that with Stiles.”

Miss Cantorel’s expression is one cackling MmmmHmmm?

“So this chat is about me becoming his guide?”

Miss Cantorel swishes the ice in her drink. “Just so you know, I hate the Sentinel Office about as much as you do. The idea that a guide is his or her sentinel’s is a heap of cockamamie. It wasn’t always that way. Among magic users, in fact, it was generally thoughts to be the other way around. Shamans had their ‘scopes.’ Even you wolves talk about anchors. Well, let me tell you. There is nothing stronger than a sentinel to ground a hangdog alpha like yourself.”

Derek freezes. He hasn’t told anyone. He hasn’t even shifted in front of anyone. Even Stiles.

“Oh, hold your tater. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who knows.”

Derek can’t help his wince. “It’s the magic. You can sense it?”

Miss Cantorel’s fingers tent and she leans forward. “Not to brag but this old girl is an alpha in her own coven. Not that I do it anymore but…”

“But what?”

“Well, it’s just that every gift comes with a price tag. For werewolves, it's the damn lunar cycle. For sentinels its instability without a guide. For me, it’s keeping up with the harmony. Whatever I do for my own good has got to be balanced with good for someone else.” She slides bejeweled fingers over Derek’s hand. Her finger tips are still cool from the ice. “So know this, neighbor, that woman who lured you in was evil. She tried to steal your light, and when she didn’t get it, she tried to bury it six feet down.”

“My family is six feet under,” Derek says.

“Your mother would have gutted the bitch and then gone to the store to plan that night’s dessert—banana cream pie or fruit stew. Try and tell me I’m wrong.”

She’s not wrong. It’s just that Derek isn’t like her. He’s not even a sketch of the great Talia Hale. He’s simply the reason his own mom is dead.

“The best revenge is living well. Your mother knew that. Somehow you forgot it—and you know what that means—it means that Argent girl, the Sentinel office, they’re still winning.”

Derek glares.

Miss Cantorel’s eyes are white-blue right back and yet her voice caresses. “Cast off those cave rags and take the hand that the light is offering to you.”

“You mean Stiles.”

“Hell yes. Oh, and this too.” She stands to pluck a magenta bloom, a hollyhock, off the huge shrub to her right. “A little color always helps.” Snipping a long thorn from a cactus she pricks her finger on it before stabbing it onto the backside of the flower. A cherry-sized bud is added to the top and then she plops the flower effigy down right in front of Derek. “A hollyhock doll. My Lila used to love them.”

“Magic.” Derek is staring at the bead of blood on her middle finger.

Miss Cantorel flicks the very same finger at him. “The fun sort. Hollyhocks are joyful—and free. Set it in a southern window with some good light. It’ll slump and dry in a few weeks but it’ll guard the important bits until it dusts.” Miss Cantorel pushes the “doll” into his palm before placing his other hand over the top. The petals are powder-soft.

“Thanks,” Derek says. He’s not sure what else to say.

Miss Cantorel pats his cheek. “You should come over more. And bring that kitty with you. Because my oh my, how the sunshine just suits.”

+ + +

On Derek’s south windowsill, the hollyhock doll is sun-bleached and slumped. Derek traces a finger over a frayed strand and wonders what this all means. It’s just that Miss Cantorel lived all alone with a little dog. Besides weekly bingo night, she kept to herself. A buried grudge? A crime of prejudice? It wasn’t a human, of that Derek is sure. No common cat burglar could have entered the witch’s house and left without a trace. But whoever—whatever—killed her was strong and fast.

There’s also the niggling worry that it somehow has to do with him.

The kitchen door bangs open and there’s the patter of four-legs combined with the quick strides of two. Stiles is talking before he’s even got the door open, “You have got to see—” Stiles’s jumps over the couch with a dusty book open-winged. “—what I found.” Qi gives an approving bark as Stiles open the page to show a photograph of a Greek urn. The page header reads, “Procrustes and Theseus.”

[Theseus] killed […] Procrustes, by compelling him to make his own body fit his bed, as he had been wont to do with those of strangers. And he did this in imitation of Heracles. For that hero punished those who offered him violence in the manner in which they had plotted to serve him.

Derek meets Stiles’s gaze. “You think someone sicced an ancient god on Miss Cantorel.”

“Well, lookie here.” This time Stiles holds up his phone. There are accounts of a monster—similar murders to what he and Stiles witnessed.

“You show this to your dad?”

“Sure—but he was all ‘what am I going to do about a monster myth?’” Stiles huffs.

Derek gently pushes Stiles’s phone down. “And what do you think we should do about it?”

“It’s just what you said… about her being a guide. And I liked her. She made those cookies.”

“You probably liked her because she was a guide.”

Stiles drops his chin. “I don’t really like Deaton. I mean, he’s relaxing, but in a Xanax kind of way.”

Derek nods. “I wouldn’t have called Cantorel relaxing.”

“Is that hers?” Stiles eyes the flower doll on the shelf.

“She gave it to me when we had that first talk. Said it would make me ‘more free.’”

Stiles laughs and turns to regard him with a smile. “If she wanted to do that, she should have given you some of the special leaves she grew in her ‘radish field.’ My dad said he’d never smelled such a clean cover up. The flowers completely masked the sight and odor—even for a sentinel.”

Derek can’t help but wonder what else she covered up. He looks at Stiles, a crumple of warm dreams and tight muscles (no matter how much weight he lifts in gym class) and feels absolute wrath at the idea of any monster threatening him. Stiles senses his apprehension and casually leans into him, pulling Derek’s arm over his head.

“It sounds a little silly after the past few days, but are you still up for going out tonight?” Stiles asks.

Derek’s jaw clenches. “Your birthday.”

“I’m eighteen. Woo-hoo.” Stiles is grinning. “I can sign legal documents. Tar my lungs in nicotine. Vote. Have kinky sex in—”

With an eye roll, Derek jabs him between the ribs.

“Ow.”

“Happy birthday.” Derek feels a sudden pressure in his chest. There’s the affection, the mark of pride that he feels for Stiles, and then the feeling of impotence. Derek is twenty-five years old and time runs faster than a fox. Derek holds Stiles’s chin, looking at his face, and deciding for a second that he wants to harden the memory in amber. Stiles is a blanket of looped arms and bony kneecaps, snug against him and smiling.

“What?” Stiles’s eyes move to Derek’s mouth.

Oh, Stiles.

“What movie do you want to see?” Derek crushes the hollyhock doll in his fist.

+ + +

“The moon is full. Like a big round cantaloupe. I didn’t even know it was full. You should have told me that. Why didn’t you tell me that?” Stiles points up at the frothy night. Through the cloud layer, the moon flits in and out with her attentions.

They’re sitting on the front porch at Stiles’s house. Inside on the couch, Scott is passed out in cupcake coma. Upstairs the sheriff is finger-typing on his laptop.

“I didn’t really notice.” Derek stares up at the moon, which like Stiles said, is on the orange side. Normally, Derek would be craving a shift but this cycle he hasn’t felt the desire to yield. Stiles has a smear of chocolate frosting still on his chin, and he’s happy from having his closest friends and family so corralled. Like pack, Derek thinks.

“You suck at this whole werewolf thing. If we climbed the hill, we could see it better?”

“Less light pollution.”

“Then lets go.” Stiles pulls his hand.

+ + +

They’re up the sierra, Derek with his back against an orange tree when Stiles asks, “If you bit me, would I turn into a wolf?”

Derek growls—only to cut it off at Stiles’s flinch. “I would never risk you. And I don’t think—with your genetics… It could go badly. You could die.”

Stiles leans his neck to the side and Derek sucks in a breath when Stiles traces a circle that goes from his collar bone to his Adam’s apple and says, “Here?”

Saliva thickens in Derek’s mouth. He swallows and stares at the dirt—the dirt that reflects the moonlight—Derek closes his eyes. “Stiles,” he says.

A hand presses down on his knee. Stiles’s voice is quiet, careful. “Do you know what you smell like? Like sage and cream and morels—you remember when you cooked me morels?”

They’d foraged spongy mushrooms in peaty glades in the south. The morels had sprayed their orange dust across Derek’s porch until he got around to cooking them. “With scrambled eggs,” Derek answers.

“Massive epiphany and not just because morel scramble is the most delicious dish on the whole planet—it’s because they reminded me of you. I was like, oh, bam, that’s Derek-scent.” Stiles’s fingers scratch across Derek’s denim. “What do I smell like?”

“Right now, cypress, rain.” Salty skin. Arousal.

And it’s like Stiles knows. Somehow he’s decoded Derek’s between-the-lines. “I smell better than that.”

Derek casts his mind up the low mountain where the heat has yet to melt away the blossoms. To the north a field of saplings are spliced with fresh scions growing inside. Derek thinks they’ll be Valencia oranges. As good for juicing as for eating right off the branch. In front of him, Stiles smells much the same. Derek’s spit is thick, and when he takes a breath, it filters through a coated throat.

Stiles tugs on the front flap of Derek’s shirt. Just a short little “hey” of a tug. “Do you even think of thinking of me?”

Derek opens his eyes. Through the cloud storm overhead, the moon weaves her silver needles down the slope. Stiles’s features are painted in monochrome. His lashes flap, raven wings; his cheeks are milk, and when he finally looks up, his whole expression begs, want me.

Derek wants to tell him: I don’t know how. I made myself forget. But the moon is seeping into his veins; she’s laughing and the wind picks up. There’s a crackle in the sky. The shifting light twists the clouds, sways and dips them, like wild dancers. A ghost ball, Derek thinks and, hollyhock.

Stiles says, “I’ve never even seen your wolf.”

“No.”

“I want to.” Stiles is looking at his mouth again. He inches closer. With a quirked smile, his hand touches Derek’s upper lip. “Come on. Just show me a canine.”

Derek considers snapping at him. Turn it into a joke. But Stiles is serious. Derek hears the heavy chug of heartbeat constricted by slow breaths, and so he says, “Don’t move.”

He looks up and the moon is a mirror in a mirror in a mirror. In his own brain, a tuning fork hums. Heat hits the back of his eyelids and ice picks at his vertebrae.

Then he waits for Stiles to comment, an oh, how red your eyes are, or a joke about a trip to a barber. Maybe Stiles will ask to see his fangs again.

Stiles kisses him.

Salt meets wave meets soft hands sailing up and down his back. Overhead the tree shivers and Derek can hear the last few blossoms sweeping loose to freefall. Juniper licks its way in, and Derek shakes only to steady as weight presses him down. The carapaces of last seasons oranges crunch beneath his shoulders. His fingers dig into silt and then the wet sound of his own gasps seems far away.

“Shhh, I’ve got you,” Stiles is saying, and Derek thinks, but I’ll break you.

Stiles kisses Derek’s closed eyes, each press a low drum. He noses his way into the crease of Derek’s neck, and then Stiles licks at the sides of his face, cleaning him. It’s so canine. “Why are you crying?” Stiles whispers.

Sitting up, Derek opens his eyes. He doesn’t know if they’re red or empty, but Stiles’s hands frame his face, and his expression isn’t a mask of horror or even a cackle of victory. It’s urgent and open and…

Derek places stone upon stone until he admits it to himself: he would give Stiles anything.

“Come here,” Derek commands.

Stiles hesitates before he crawls-scoots back into Derek’s space. He’s a mess of trembles; his eyes have that maze of fog that means he’s on the edge of the zone.

Derek pushes him into the orchard grass. Stiles's skin is steam beneath his fingers; his arms are thin branches, and yet when they wrap around Derek—when they roll and push—Derek doesn’t feel caged. It’s not like before.

No, as Derek tastes sweat and his fingers scratch across soft scalp, he thinks: it’s like leaving a zone.

+ + +

Derek is at home wondering if Stiles’s spirit animal is a fox. Whatever it is, it’s something furry. Some sylvan creature with a tendency to climb and scurry. When the kettle begins to flute, Derek puts two bags of honey rooibos in a cup and makes himself say the word aloud. “Guide.”

“Guide,” he says again, and he wonders if this is forgiveness or giving in.

He’s walking into the living room when he hears the sizzle and smells the smoke. On his front window ledge the potpourri remains of Miss Cantorel’s gift are burning.

The doorbell dings and Derek’s front door crashes open. The monster is shellacked black with ivory, pupil-less eyes. In its hands, it wields a blood-rusted ax.

Chapter Text

Beneath its clam shell shoulders, the monster has at least five upper appendages. Two bowling ball biceps slope to fists on its sides while a pale and slender arm, iced with a diamond solitaire on the finger, wields the axe. The last two, long and leather-covered, are crossed like swords on its back. Bracing the creature from behind is a tail that looks more like a leg as it alternates between kicks and thwacks on Derek's carpet. "No fit," the monster gurgles, and its breath is acid and yogurt.

"You killed Maple Cantorel." Derek is speaking around his fangs. He tastes the trickle of his own blood from his sudden shift, and the wolf's red eyes target the throat of its prey.

The monster's mouth splits to reveal a trio of molars. That would be disturbing enough except that its face blurs-shifts. For a second, Derek sees long brown hair and her dangerous smile then the mirror spins and it's hoary wrinkles and crystal eyes on the severe face of a man. "No fit," it repeats.

"Who sent you?" Derek demands—even as he thinks he knows.

Its tail-leg stomps twice. Its words splash in a foreign tongue. "Προσπάθησε να με σταματήσει. Η μάγισσα. Δεν τα κατάφερε." And then the monster charges.

It is unprepared for his speed. Derek dodges the axe with ease. Only one of the arms so much as touches him: a scratch down his cheek.

Derek pays the wound back triple fold when he slices at the tail-leg.

Violet blood erupts onto Derek's couch and the beast's roar is seconded by an octopus eruption of swinging, clawing blows.

It's a blur but Derek shields himself with a rocking chair. The axe splinters the wood, but Derek lands a kick dead center. The creature stumbles and not having its tail for balance, careens into the fireplace.

Spitting ash, the monster stands again. Its boulder smile filters seething breaths. It points at Derek, jeering. "Κουτάβι, δεν έπρεπε να το κάνεις αυτό. Κουτάβι, θα χάσες την ουρά σου." It crouches low, the ax looping in slow figure eights.

This time it is Derek who charges. The axe swings like a clock but Derek twists faster and then, despite the fists pummeling his solar plexus, he has the axe in his talons.

But then the monster lands a kick in his shin and he's thrown back. The axe shatters the window. Glass shaves his back. The monster throws itself at him.

Derek bites down and rips at an arm—but there are three other arms—and the chokehold is iron.

"No fit," the monster is trying to both keep him pinned and reach for the axe behind him.

The weapon's blade glints in the moonlight. Behind Derek on the sill, the hollyhock embers begin to glow.

With each breath, the manacle fist tightens about his neck like a python.

Derek's arms are trapped but he looses a leg and knees it right into the monster's chin.

The first blow gives him an inch but the second—in which his claws pierce into its abdomen and heave up—shoves the monster off of him.

It's as Derek has the axe raised—ready to swing—that the wind picks up. At once the room is alive with glimmers and Derek thinks how eerily beautiful before he brings down the axe.

As the cold metal severs the throat, the monster screams-gurgles. The creature's exoskeleton clacks as it rows and rocks, and Derek suddenly can't stop coughing. Despite the dark, the dust is alive and it glitters right past Derek to coat the corpse on the floor. As his sinuses burn with the scent of smelter, Derek watches window shards and embers adhere to every the black inch.

On its chest, sapphire lines kindle. They brand script:

Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay.

Then beneath the elegant script, harsher letters spell-out:

Especially tradition.

It's at this moment that Stiles's heartbeat flies up his driveway.

"Derek! Derek!"

"I'm here," Derek whispers.

Stiles's mouth is open as his steps crunch on Derek's accordioned front door; Qi is at his heels. "I heard your heartbeat. Across town. It woke me up and I saw the moon—and I—" Stiles grinds to a halt as he finally takes in Derek's ransacked living room—and the fact Derek is wolfed out over a monster and holding an axe oiled with fluid that is definitely not ink.

"It's dead. I killed it." Derek points down. Then, to demonstrate, he chops another arm off.

He regrets it almost immediately as Qi whimpers, slotting himself between Stiles' legs. Stiles is nodding dumbly. "It's not the hydra—you don't have to cut off all of its arms."

"I think it takes its..." Derek points at the remaining arms. "...from its victims."

"Oh. Actually, from that research, I'd say it's a Procrustes-like creature and I guess Heracles did cut off all of his arms so if you want to stick with the formula..." Eyes turned away, Stiles squats down to pet Qi.

Derek chops three more times before he throws down the axe, wiping at his brow. His wolf finally begins to fade, and they're both just standing there. Heavy breaths. Qi's pitter-patter panting. Even in a world of werewolves and witches and banshees, the nightmarish corpse at his feet seems a creature of myth.

"Are you okay?" Derek asks and looking at the room, he realizes he's going to have to afford new carpet.

Stiles flinches as if struck and then he's crossing the room. His hand grazes across the already fading bruise on Derek's neck. "Yeah, I mean—you're alive. I saw the window—and heard that roar down the street—I'm shocked your neighbors aren't swarming. And then I heard your chokes but it—it didn't get you."

"I'm fine." Derek's scratches are healed, and then he thinks of the hollyhock strands burning on his sill and the wind dusting the creature with the dust as if flouring a chicken for the fryer. "Cantorel's magic helped." Derek points at the message now branded into the monster's chest.

Stiles squats down to read. "Um, that's not creepy. Wrathful message from the dead and stuff."

Derek wipes at the black juice on his shirt and forces himself to speak. "When it first burst in—its face kept shifting. For a moment I thought I saw… her. Kate. But then it changed. I saw the face of an older white man. Piercing eyes. Sharp jaw but sagging skin."

Stiles looks up at him. "Can you touch the back of my neck?" he asks. After Derek nods, Stiles leans in. His fingers trace the still-warm edges of the script. He examines the arms, whispering under his breath, "That was the woman in Georgia—and those were from that guy in Canada." And Derek realizes he's probably talking about the cases that he researched. When Stiles lifts the front chest plate, Derek expects squeamishness, but Stiles puts his nose right in there. He sniffs as he peers—and Derek smells it at the same time Stiles announces it. "There's something under there."

Derek has the words Be careful on his lips when Stiles starts to tweeze items out from under the shell. The first is a sodden picture. Stiles takes one quick glance before pointedly looking away. He pushes it Derek.

It's a picture of him and Kate—taken from a great distance. So many years ago. Before. They lay sprawled in the forest and even though the black stain blurs it, Kate's hand traces the back of his neck. Her eyes are a hawk's.

It's Stiles gasp that makes him look up. In his right hands, Stiles holds a sprig of flowered wolfsbane. But in his left palm… it takes Derek a minute to put together what he's looking at. It's the shards of a dried-out orange. And it smells of... them.

Last night.

On the sierra.

Beneath the orange tree.

This time Derek feels sick.

Stiles's hand cup his cheeks."Your bad ass wolf-self beat it. It's okay. We're okay."

But Derek's eyes are locked on his window. His eyes sieve the shadows. His ears hunt even the slithers. It yields nothing. Snoring neighbors, a cat scaling a fence, trees blustering with the night's sweeping breeze. Though, Derek notices, there are no birds. There should be birds.

"I think we should call the police," Stiles says.

"The police." Derek's hackles rise.

"Uh, yeah. Some Greek thing just tried to make chops out of you. My dad can only help."

Stiles's dad. The sheriff. Right. Derek finds himself nodding.

+ + +

Once again, Derek finds himself seated in the kitchen with Stiles, the Sheriff, and Deaton.

"Anyone you can think of who might have a personal reason to come after you?" the Sheriff asks.

"Anyone who hates werewolves."

"Right." The Sheriff pinches between his brows. "How long have you known Cantorel?"

Derek has already said this—after they found her body, but he repeats it anyway. "Just this summer—but she knew my mother."

"Do you think there's any connection with the attacks and Stiles?" The Sheriff's eyes have a certain wry look to them, like he knows that his son came home the night of his birthday with a grin to light the stars and an orange blossom mashed on the back of his jacket. While smell might not be one of the Sheriff's manifested senses, Derek watched his frown as he put the dried-out orange in an evidence bag. It's no stretch that he would put two and two together.

"Only if someone didn't want us to bond," Derek says.

"Which is the opposite of our problem," Deaton mutters.

"What about the Argents?" Stiles crosses his arms.

"Kate Argent is dead," Deaton says, "and her family has had a long history—"

"Of loving on Others, right?" Stiles cuts in.

Deaton hesitates. "They wouldn't—"

"Argent is that senior guide' at the Office who freaked me out," Stiles says to his father before turning back to Deaton. "And Derek saw a face on the monster."

"A face?" The Sheriff is squinting out of one eye.

"An old man's." Stiles is swiping at his phone. "Isn't there a ‘who's who?' page for the Sentinel Office?"

"If you want to see a picture of Gerard Argent, I have it." With a weighed upon sigh, Deaton finds the picture on his phone and holds it up for Derek. "He is, in fact, Kate Argent's father."

White wrinkled skin. Piercing eyes. Jaw line that used to be sharp and has sunk.

Derek turns to Stiles and gives the slightest dip of his chin.

Stiles bites his bottom lip but he's nodding too. "He was the guy in the Office that first day. I said I thought I zoned but I remember this crushing cranial pressure—no wonder I tried to wet Willy his ear, you know?"

Deaton's face blanks. "You did what?"

The sheriff throws up his hands. "There's such a thing as evidence. A floating face mask is not going to convince a jury."

"If he sent that thing," Stiles says, "he's not going to just give up."

"Probably not," the sheriff agrees.

"And he's going to come back with something even stronger." Stiles's pupils are over-dilated. Close to a zone. His asthmatic breaths are one sign but the other is the way his fingers press into the wood, like he'll pick Braille out of the fibers.

"Stiles." Under the table, Derek slides a hand onto his thigh. He can feel the ligaments vibrating like piano chords in the quadriceps.

"You know I'm right," Stiles snaps.

"I have another solution," Derek says and he tells himself, It is my decision. Our decision.

"Ripping his head off will get us arrested. My dad would arrest us for that. Evidence and all."

Derek ignores Stiles for a moment to speak to Deaton and the sheriff. He's never really used it before, but he puts alpha into his voice as he says, "Can you give us a moment alone? I need to discuss something with Stiles."

For a stunned minute both the sheriff and Deaton stay seated. Then Deaton's mouth falls open like someone pressed a button while the sheriff's right nostril curls up. As it dawns on him what's going on, Stiles ducks his eyes; his cheeks blossom.

"I need to check in with the deputies," the sheriff says, rising.

Deaton says nothing but gives Derek a look before following after the sheriff.

"You're not bait," Stiles says, chin atop crossed arms. Yet the blush is still high in his cheeks and his mouth is battling a smile.

Derek's brushes his thumb along Stiles's jaw. "I already decided to be your guide—the other night. This would just finish it."

Stiles looks over his shoulder, no doubt frowning at whoever is listening in. "Can we talk outside?"

+ + +

They take the sidewalk to its natural end, hop a field fence and cross Wilson's lot until they arrive at edge of Beacon lake, named after the same man who founded the town. At their approach, a heron flaps its long wings and squawks begrudgingly as it departs. Overhead the moon is waning and the blue algae that banks the cove is an exact match to the crescent shape. With the lash of wavering white in its black center, Derek thinks the cove looks like a giant eyeball. He can't help but feel spied upon.

Yet when he tunes his ears, the birdsong is a maroon opera. A mosquito's buzz is drowned in a swoop and snap of a beak. To the east, a spider web shivers with a fresh catch. The lake, a bastion of birth and decay, stinks of everything. And yet Derek pushes it all away. The only sound that matters is Stiles's settling down beside him.

"Did you mean it?" Stiles asks.

"Are we alone?" Derek whispers.

Stiles rolls his eyes and then he's half-grinning as he throws a leg over Derek's lap. The boldness falters, replaced by shyness, when Derek slides his hands down his torso.

"Is this okay?" Derek asks.

"Keep your hand on my skin," Stiles says and then he listens. With Derek helping, Stiles amps his hearing to the max.

To the west, an owl has hooted four times before Stiles eyes open and he says, "Just us."

"Okay," Derek agrees.

"Are we?" Stiles asks. He's not asking if they're okay. He's asking if they're going to…

Yes. Definitely yes.

Stiles's bottom lip is a berry waiting to be picked. As an answer, Derek's draws it in with a lick, and at Stiles's gasp, he catches it with his teeth. When Stiles lets him in, the soup is both salty and bright, and Derek drinks him in with his thumbs scoring his ribs, his hips moving with purpose. Derek might have washed the monster's blood from his body, but the buzz from the fight streams fast and hot beneath his pulse points.

This time it's not even a giving in—no, Derek thinks, he wants Stiles and he can have him.

Around them cattails shiver. Their lungs are pressed hard, open like sails as they pant hard breaths, drag slow tongues and suck the blood to the surface on each other's skin. A lily pad tips for a wind-wrought ripple. Stiles's fingers sneak between skin and fabric, and then night air is gusting across the bumps of Derek's spine.

When Stiles lays a flat palm on the side of Derek's neck, Derek leans into it. He turns his chin to kiss the knuckles and says, "You'll have to bite hard."

"I'm not a vampire," Stiles says and yet he's wiping at Derek's neck with such a hunger.

"But I'm a werewolf."

When Stiles doesn't move, Derek cuffs the back of his neck and pulls him in.

There is a soft moan. A hiss of "sorry." Roaring out of the gentlest soul that Derek has ever known, comes the animal.

The pain knocks him right out.

+ + +

There's the sound of soft splashes as a dark shape slinks across a log at the water's edge. Derek's first impression is that it's fluffy, and then he sees the black tufts, like tiny antennas atop its pointed ears. Derek groans.

Not a lynx. Stiles.

Sitting across his feet, Derek's wolf gives a more interested huff.

It gets the lynx's attention. The cat crouches so low that its bearded ruff is brushing its paws. Caramel eyes narrow before just as quickly radiating open. The cat's mouth drops open in something like a smile, and with a dipped head it marches right up to the wolf to give an affectionate head-butt.

The wolf plops right onto his belly and rolls over. A pink tongue falls over the canines and a paw playfully bats at the lynx. The lynx works right around it, long tongue intent on cleaning every inch of the wolf's snout.

Derek isn't particularly impressed with his spirit animal.

But then Derek feels something else—a pull—an itch on the back of his neck and when he rubs the spot, his fingers press into thick fur. His vision shifts to soft grey and the familiar smells of heavy rain, brine, and juniper roll up his snout.

And then he's not looking at the wolf, Derek is the wolf. Human flesh is a costume. The dirt beneath his back and the steady press of four legs are his only truth. Smiling above him with silver fur and sun-gold eyes is Stiles.

Derek has never loved anyone more in his entire life.

"Can I?" Stiles whispers-whines.

And Derek shucks his fur for skin and says "yes" and yes and yes

They're back beside the dark tides of the lake. For fleeting seconds, they fumble with unsure hands. Pain spikes before ebbing, and then Stiles is stretched like a sphinx above Derek. Sweat makes their stomachs stick and each hard push goes deeper. Stiles's heart boom-booms and Derek's fingers claw into soft mud.

It's such a mismatch: the lust so savage, and yet how Stiles floats with delicate angel wings above him.

He'll grow into himself, Derek thinks. Derek will make sure of it.

But in the meantime, he flexes his thighs and smears grit and mud down ribs and hipbones until he all together forgets he is human. In the distance, a crackle splits the sky as a storm front chases the moon. An eagle plucks a fish from a lake and evening primrose fertilizes the breezes with its eau de noix.

Later as they cool, Derek feels it. In his heart, in his mind, a seal is permanently broken.

+ + +

Stacks of documents sit like marble columns around them. Ink peppers Stiles's fingers and blues the underside of his wrist. They're in the Sentinel Office, and Deaton keeps rolling in the wheelbarrows full of contracts. As he signs yet another tabbed line, Derek supposes he's in the process of building his own jail cell out of paperwork.

But then Derek looks at Stiles and remembers why it's worth it. For all intents and purposes, these are marriage documents. Not technically but in a court of law, Stiles will now be Derek's family.

"The lion is in the den," Stiles mouths.

Derek cocks his head to listen and hears the target. As Deaton turns left, another heartbeat rides the curve of the hallway. As planned, Derek hits the Record button on his phone and angles his body so that he's between Stiles and the door.

Resenting the protection, Stiles flicks him in the shoulder blade.

But Derek doesn't react—he's too focused. There's something wrong. His stomach twists and his diaphragm loses all air. "Stiles," he starts to whisper.

The door is pushed open by Gerard Argent. No matter his skin's ruddy cast, Argent's carved face looks twice aged from Deaton's picture. His thin mouth bares brittle dentures. A dented silver locket hangs from a cord around his neck. From its cracks Derek detects no smell and yet the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

"And here we have our newest recruit," Argent says, eyes fixed on Derek. "Freshly bonded. That one was a kick in the balls. I didn't think an alpha werewolf would be so ready to rollover take the leash."

Stiles is protesting, "It's not a leash," but Argent's simper is cast upon Derek. Because there's only one way that he could know Derek is an alpha.

And there's no denying that this is the face that Derek saw melt over the Procrustes.

"Is tradition really that important to you?" Derek asks. At his side, Stiles freezes. It wasn't in the plans for Derek launch a direct interrogation. They were simply supposed to "poke."

"Do you know what sentinels did before the last soft century?" Argent spits. "We hunted you. We kept your moon lust away from innocent humans. We battled hidden monsters until—" He pivots toward Stiles. "—our best and brightest betrayed us. Instead of choosing guides, they were lured in by witches and beasts. I did warn you, boy."

"You are kind of nuts," Stiles says earnestly.

Argent's veneer crashes and his hands pop the clutch on his locket. "This is for my daughter." Argent squeezes the metal locket—and searing gray light blasts the room.

At his side, Stiles's looses a shrill groan as he smashes to his knees, fingers stabbing into his temples. It's not from the light. It's something else.

Then Argent says ancient words and Derek tries to shift but some powder chokes the air. Wolfsbane. Derek's skin is burning but through the spatters of pain, Derek's finger weave into Stiles'.

"I will split you," Argent says, and Derek feels his vision jerk.

And then he's not in the Sentinel Office but on a wind-stripped mountain. Pitted red rocks form a sloping stair around him, and a hundred yards down, Derek sees the precipice to the misted valley below.

It's the searing hiss that reminds him where he is.

Derek clamors around a boulder, stooping under the steppe and there he sees the lynx saber-toothed and crouched before the behemoth looming over it.

As he charges, Derek's sole impression is that this creature was once a bear. Something that once upon a time might have been noble, but now as it wrenches the lynx up by the neck, Derek sees the stitched lines in its flesh. Its muscle bulge and sag like tumors. A chimera, Derek thinks, a perversion of spirit.

Stiles claws at its thigh and as the beast roars, Derek thinks he sees faces shifting beneath its skin.

Derek aims his fangs for its throat.

And is batted away like a pup.

"My sentinel. My wife. She only had one sense," Argent—a blur of beast and human—says. "She had hearing like a mouse—but I," Argent thumps his pumping chest, "I was there when the wolf bit her. In the real world I could do nothing, but in this realm—I can take everything. I ripped the whiskers out of its snout and hung its skin across my shoulders like a mantle. And I will do the same to you. I will take your healing and your perfect vision and I will have it all." Argents' teeth look like garden tools as they aim a chomp for Derek's neck.

Derek leaps and rolls. He runs for Stiles.

In the true dimension, he knows they're clasping hands, but his instinct says he needs that in the spirit world too.

The beast at his heels, Derek more or less throws himself at Stiles. They tumble out of reach, and yet with each second, Derek gains clarity. He says, "We're leaving this place."

Derek slashes at a rock to his right. It cracks open—a way out.

Except a huge paw stomps down to block their path. Argent's skin is scaling over. It's not even covered in fur anymore. Armored shells arch off his spine and Derek thinks they look like hands with the fingers spread.

Derek does the one thing he can think of: he squeezes his eyes shut and throws every ounce of his empathy at the beast.

Argent pauses. Then he laughs. He rears both large arms in the air, and Derek grabs Stiles, ready to die.

Derek almost misses the small shape that leaps out of the portal. It barks and they all turn.

It's only when Stiles sputters, "Qi! Wait, Qi?" that Derek realizes that Miss Cantorel's Chihuahua shouldn't be capable of jumping dimensions.

The little dog barks—sharp defiant little sounds that are bigger than its body—and the behemoth sneers. But when it swipes at the pet, it misses. It's like its talons tickle a cloud.

And then Qi takes on a new shape.

At first it's a blur. Derek wraps Stiles into him as Argent squeals like a hog being butchered. And it is like that—except that as the phantom cleaves at Argent like a scythe, the cuts aren't mere wounds. Through the holes in the beast's hide, silhouettes emerge, some animal, some human. The watery shapes take unsteady steps before they sense freedom and dash, phosphorescing into halos that skip with the wind.

It continues until Argent seems to rupture. From a hole in his chest, trapped sunlight arrows at the sky.

What remains is an old mean cuss of a black bear. The creature flees for the crack in the rocks.

Around them, the world shifts and Derek and Stiles are back in a forest glade.

"It's your world now," a voice says.

Derek and Stiles turn to see the ghostly shape of Miss Cantorel. Qi is at her side, tail wagging. "I don't have much time," her spirit says, and the voice is not warm and familiar. It's distant, like a recorded message. "Derek, I told you about the harmony. What I didn't tell you is what I wanted in exchange. My quest. Many years ago my husband and I received threats insisting we separate. When we did not, the Argents went after our daughter first. After they murdered my Jimmy, I knew of only one person who could help me: Talia Hale.

"You blame yourself for what happened to your family that night, but it has never, not in a thousand winters, been your fault. If your mother wasn't helping me, I'm not sure that sentinel girl would have searched you out in the first place. I'm not even sure she expected to be so drawn in by you. I suspect her own father killed her for even asking you to take her bite—no matter your rejection. No matter that she lit your house on fire.

"It is by guiding you to your happiness that I can appease the harmony and have my peace. My sacrifice is an easy one. I have no future. No prospect for happiness. When mornings wake me, revenge is the only word that tastes sweet. It is my truest hope that I have given you something better."

Cantorel then turns to Stiles, and in a voice that is infinitely more like her mortal self, she says, "And sorry about the earthquake, dear. I know it's a terrible way to manifest, but then I suppose I have always been a rather impatient cook.

The current flips and Derek and Stiles are back in the room with Argent, who, though dazed, is trying to crawl to the door.

Stiles is the one who clubs him.

+ + +

"So Argent was a Classics professor, right? I mean it fits with him keeping a bestiary and stuff, but anyway when his wife died—he was battling a werewolf on the spiritual plane because that was his thing and so when the connection was cut he went crazy and stole the werewolf's soul so to speak—but then the madness really seeped in him and gave him powers too." Stiles's hands make scary fingers.

Scott looks in confusion at Derek. "But what happened to Qi?"

"Qi was Cantorel's spirit animal made flesh," Derek says.

"How'd she do that?" Scott looks deeply skeptical.

"Well, Qi never barked until after she died—right? So she was a really powerful witch—hey, don't make that face. Witches are badass. Anyway, and so…"

Derek leaves Stiles to explain and goes into the kitchen to pour himself a drink. The past couple of weeks have been insane. There were police and FBI debriefings and a general shitstorm with lots of media and reporters. Derek was very annoyed at the number of times "orphaned" and "travesty" and "darkly beautiful" were mentioned alongside his name. Though it angered him much more when they described Stiles.

Taking a gulp of water, Derek decides to focus on something else. On the counter there's a messy spread of brochures that have been pouring in. A glossy army academy booklet. An FBI flyer. Then there's the folded page that came hand-delivered by a man in a penguin suit that simply reads: "Paranormal Investigation Division: Sub-section Z." That's the one that makes Stiles's voice get quivery. All of the sentinels are full-five and nearly all of their guides are Others.

Derek, against his better judgment, might be considering it.

He's reading the page again when Stiles sticks his head in the doorway. "Scott left. And you know I can hear you reading it. The bond paper is a dead giveaway."

Derek rolls his eyes. "I'm still processing."

Stiles nods and slides his arm through Derek's. His nose is tilted toward the counter but his gaze is unfocused as he asks, "Are you mad at her? Maybe because she involved your family?"

There's no doubt about who the her is. Derek shakes his head. He's not mad that Cantorel asked his mother for help. His mother was always helping people, mostly other packs, but a witch who had lost her husband and child to prejudice… There's no doubt she would have dropped everything.

He does wonder if his mom knew he had the guide gene. He does think Cantorel might have known—might have told her. But then, as Derek looks over at Stiles, he asks himself, Does it matter?

"I wish she could have lived," Derek says at last. He wishes, too, that her Lila and her Jimmy were with her. Derek wishes that his family was alive and teasing him about Stiles. Laura would have been intolerable. His mom would have probing. His horrible uncle would be shamelessly flirting. So, no, Derek realizes. He's not mad at Cantorel. He's not even mad at himself. What he is, is broken and furious at people who know nothing but hate.

Derek stares down at the sheet again.

Against him, Stiles's worried face breaks into a smile. "And I can't believe she caused a freaking earthquake! In Beacon Hills. All the seismology dudes on the news said it—" Stiles's tone dips in imitation. "‘—was a tectonic anomaly.' There was that secretary in line, slumped over so you couldn't see her face. You think it was…?"

"She did physically incarnate her spirit animal."

"I miss Qi—and wouldn't it be fun to meet more magic users? So you'll think about it? We can take down evil assholes." Stiles stabs the paper again.

Derek glares at him.

Stiles's bold smile says that Derek is going to say yes.

Derek foresees sex in the next ten minutes. "I'm warming to the idea," he allows.