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Tiny Houses

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The wandering one, the inquisitive dreamer of dreams,
The eternal asker of answers, stands in the street,
And lifts his palms for the first cold ghost of rain.

 

 

 

The first thing Stiles does when he wakes is wince. Everything hurts, and he knows he says that a lot and often, but this isn’t hyperbole. From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, Stiles aches like nobody’s business. He thinks about pushing up to an elbow but immediately vetoes that. He decides instead to spend a few minutes kicking around inside his own head, trying to remember who or what the actual fuck did this to him and left him here, in some strange room.

He remembers going to school, but not doing anything specific. The last two weeks of high school are famously Just For Show, so Stiles had spent half his classes with his head on his desk, snoozing, and the other half filling up a piece of looseleaf with long, curvy lines, close together and following one another, covering it in ink from first a blue pen, and then when that had run out, a red one. At the end of the day, his piece of paper looked pretty freaking cool, like red and blue spaghetti and distracted adolescent apathy.

He remembers going home and eating a banana, a bag of chips, and a turkey sandwich, even though they were out of sliced cheese and he could only eat half of it.

He remembers checking his email and buying a new Bettlejuice shirt on Tee-Fury. He remembers calling Scott to tell him all about it, and to urge him to hurry up and buy one because Beetlejuice had been one of their favorite movies in fifth grade. He remembers Scott not answering, and he also remembers being disappointed for no good reason, because Scott so rarely answered these days.

Scott rarely did anything these days.

Scott wasn’t really working with a full deck anymore.

Then Stiles called his Dad to ask what to make for their weekly Stilinski-Saturday-Super-Supper (affectionately dubbed ‘S4’) the next day, but his dad had to take yet another late shift because someone on the force just had a baby or a wedding or something else Stiles couldn’t care less about, and his dad swore he’d make it up next week but Stiles doubts that too.

Despite all Stiles’ efforts of clutching at the tradition for dear life, they’re lucky to get in one Saturday dinner a month these days.

He remembers spending even more time on the internet, just dicking off, and finding these cool things called ‘Kit Homes’ where partially pre-fabricated houses and all the necessary materials could be shipped right to someone who could theoretically erect the house all by themselves—like an Ikea house, a little assembly required, but still costing less than thirty grand.

He remembers thinking something like that would be so perfect for…

Stiles barely has time to gasp in realization before large hands wrap around his neck, pressing against his windpipe. He can’t emit the pained gasp that’s lodged in his throat, but his hands shoot up to pull at the wrists pressing him into the bed.

Derek is hovering over him naked and coiled tight, eyes red like blood and lips curled back to expose long, sharp fangs. “What did you do to me!”  His roar hits Stiles’ face in a wave of hot breath and spittle.

Stiles’ lips move but he can’t talk, can only thrash his head from side to side and shove futilely at Derek’s shoulders, heart thundering in his chest. His vision goes blurry way sooner than he thinks is totally necessary, but he’s not passing out, just tearing up from the pressure in his head.

He only manages to push a weak “St…” through his teeth.

When Derek lets go of his throat, Stiles gasps air into his lungs, but not before Derek grabs his shoulders, shoving him into the mattress and holding him there, claws prickling against his already tender skin.

“You did something.” When Stiles shakes his head, quaking all over and still unable to find his voice, Derek rattles him in his grip. “Don’t lie to me!”

A tear finally spills over, tracks from the corner of Stiles’ eye to his temple, tickling his ear as he fights to get his breath back, fingers still digging into Derek’s wrists. “I didn’t,” he tries, but it comes out cracked and nearly inaudible. He inhales again, managing to croak out, “I didn’t do anything, Derek, I just came over to show you something and you were—and then we—I don’t know what happened, I fucking swear!”

Derek’s nostrils flare, but not like he’s smelling, more like he’s bracing himself or preparing to rip Stiles’ throat out. “I’m going to let you go, and when your heartbeat evens out, you’re going to answer me again. Do. You. Under. Stand.”

His fingers tighten with every growled word and Stiles gnashes his teeth at the pain.

He spits, “Yes.”

Derek doesn’t let him go so much as he uses Stiles to launch himself backward. Stiles cries out at the pain in his shoulders, but also the pain in his neck, the pain in his legs when he braces his feet against the mattress, the pain in his stomach and most of all—oh God, the worst of it—the deep, stinging ache of his ass.

“Oh, my God.” Stiles moans and manages to curl to his side, shaking and a little more fetal than he ever wants to be, especially when naked and bruised and crying (but only a little, and only on reflex).  “Oh, my God.”

After a suspended moment, Derek growls. “Your time’s running out.”

Stiles snaps, “Yeah, well sorry if waking up to being strangled makes it a little hard to regulate my heartbeat, you absolute asshole.”

When Derek comes into his line of sight, he’s dragging a pair of jeans up his legs, and geez, Stiles thinks, wouldn’t that be nice, to not be naked during this conversation.

“You gave me something,” Derek sneers. “Put something in my food or drink, I don’t know how, but you made me do this.”

“How would I have even—”

“I don’t know!” Derek lunges toward him, but then back and away, scrubbing a palm against his face, looking a little wild. “I know when I’m being controlled, I know when I’m being manipulated into” He doesn’t finish, just turns to the chair in the corner of the room, picks it up and sends it flying.

It hits the wall about three feet from where Stiles is lying, shattering into splinters that rain onto the floor.

Stiles only flinches a little, and considering that Derek both lunged away and intentionally missed him, Stiles figures he’s probably not going to die right away, that Derek is at least restraining himself a little, and forces his heart to slowly calm.

He closes his eyes and thinks happy thoughts, which is a rare commodity for him these days, but he manages with a memory of being nine years old and his mom and dad both helping him with a science project. It was about electricity and Stiles can still remember cutting up a strand of Christmas lights as his dad attached their wires to small five-volt batteries. His mom helped construct a little model house, decorative and tall like a couple of the kit homes he’d seen on the internet the night before, and slipped the wired lights through holes in the ceilings, illuminating the mini-rooms.

He didn’t realize until just then why he liked the little cottages so much, why he was stupid enough to print it out and come here, as if Derek would even care.

Gingerly swinging his legs off the bed, Stiles carefully sits up, nearly panting from just the exertion of it, palms cradling his throat. But his heartbeat is steady now, just an even strum against the tips of his fingers.

He meets Derek’s enraged stare and says in a grinding voice, “I didn’t manipulate you.” Then, at Derek’s expression, screwed up first in focus and then confusion, Stiles forces his legs to lift himself, to limp to the foot of the bed and get his jeans. It’s not pretty, bending over to snatch them up, but he swallows down a cry at the pain that shoots up his ass, cheeks clenching together.

“Then you did something else.”

“I didn’t drug you with anything!” He laughs, borderline hysterical and stepping into his shoes, because if he doesn’t laugh, he’ll cry. He doesn’t bother with his underwear or shirt. Just the bare minimum. “I didn’t do a spell, I didn’t control you, I didn’t even make a strong verbal suggestion, okay?” He turns to Derek, tucking his clothes under an arm, eyes still infuriatingly wet. “And if I had? If I had that kind of power or was the sort of psychotic soulless asshole who would even consider using it? Then forcing you into bending me over this bed to use me like a convenient hole would really be at the bottom of my list of fun ways to lose my virginity.”

The silence that follows is loaded and tense. Stiles has to shift his stance to relieve the stinging in his backside, and he’d just leave but he’s not sure if Derek will let him. More than pain or fear or shame, Stiles just feels really, epically pissed off. Stiles has never wished he could hit Derek and actually inflict damage as much as he does at that exact moment, and that.

That is saying a lot.

Derek’s face crumbles. “I couldn’t stop myself. I kept trying to just.” He drops right where he stands, folding himself to the floor, the wolf completely receded. He stares at the floor and looks lost. “I couldn’t stop.”

Stiles didn’t even try to stop. He remembers feeling it, the bone-deep need to have Derek inside of him. It had hit him like a freight train. One second he was unfolding a sheet a paper from his pocket, and the next he was climbing Derek like a tree, whining and ripping his clothes away, begging Derek to put it in, to fuck him, to go deeper and harder and faster, and he didn’t hurt then. It was all pleasure and lust-haze, Derek’s grunts against his skin, the slap of their flesh, Stiles burying his face into the sheets and raising his ass, mewling like a cat in heat.

Stiles wonders, “This is some kind of freaky werewolf sex thing, isn’t it?” There are obvious problems with this theory, mainly that Stiles isn’t a werewolf, but he doesn’t write anything off anymore. “Like you went into heat and infected me with some kind of pheromones!”

Derek raises his eyes in a slow crawl, nostrils flaring once again in anger. “Werewolves don’t go into heat, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Yeah, because you’ve never been surprised by the werewolf facts of life, at all! You knew all about the kanima and people being immune to the bite. Right, no, nothing has ever gotten past your veritable font of superior lupine knowledge.”

“My family never turned people,” he growls, “I had no experience with it, but living in a house of twelve werewolves, I think I’d know if there was ever an occurrence of pheromone-induced rape.”

The word hits him like a sledgehammer. Stiles has to squeeze his eyes shut, press his shaking fingers into them to distract himself with the sparks it causes, gathers himself up and binds the pieces into something resembling composed.

Because the thing is?

The thing is, aside from all the violence and glaring consent issues, Stiles would have done it willingly. He’s thought about it, for at least the last six months, about Derek’s muscles and his skin and the way he moves, the way he smiles at Isaac and Boyd, and before the Alphas, how he used to smile also at Erica (but never at Stiles or Scott). It’s not like he ever thought anything would happen because they’re only just this side of civil, but Stiles is an eighteen-year-old scrawny virgin who takes strolls up and down the Kinsey scale like it’s a strip mall, whereas Derek is a twenty five year old werewolf parading as an underwear model, so yeah. There for a while, it didn’t even occur to Stiles he was under any influence. Of course he’d do it.

Derek, though. 

He wouldn’t.

Derek sighs, ragged. “Fuck.”

“Can I go now?” Stiles asks, hand dropping to curl into a fist at his side. He feels dirty. Wrong. Sour at the pit of his stomach.

Derek props his forehead on his palm and growls down at the floor, “You’re hurt.”

 Stiles says, “Fuck you,” and leaves, because he doesn’t want to have a breakdown right there, in front of that bed that’s stained with his blood and his semen and saliva and tears.

Derek doesn’t stop him. Not even when he pauses beside his Jeep, curls at the waist and heaves, vomiting up yesterday’s dinner into the weeds.

*

He doesn’t bother with the showerhead, just turns on the tap and plugs the drain, strips out of his jeans and surveys the damage while the bathtub fills with water. He’s not thinking about what happened—not really. If he thinks about it, he’s going to lose his shit, so he catalogues his injuries instead, mechanical in his inspection of himself.

His throat’s already bruising, ten perfect fingerprints wrapping around to the base of his skull, but that’s honestly the least of it. There’s a bite on his shoulder blade and the skin’s not broken, but it’s a close thing. It’s a raised welt, almost black with blood pooled beneath the skin. His hips are wrecked, every color of the rainbow, and his shoulders aren’t much better.

His muscles ache like he both ran a marathon and lifted weights, all at the same time.

He scrubs the flaky, dried come from the inside of his thighs before he even gets in the tub. When he finally finds the courage to lower himself into the steaming water, Stiles decides it’s the most painful bath he can ever remember having. It even beats the battle with the Alpha pack, when he had rolled out of a moving car and had gotten gravel burn all along his left leg.

He shoves his fist into his mouth to stifle the sound he makes when his ass hits the water. It’s a little fuzzy, what happened the night before, but he knows neither of them were in the state of mind to prepare anything, least of all his asshole, for penetration.

It’s swollen and stinging and it’s a full on miracle that he isn’t bleeding out of it, because that’s what it feels like. Like the flesh has been torn and the muscle’s been split. He sits in the tub with his knees pulled up to his chin, listing to one side and adjusting to the temperature.

He tries to distract himself with the ripples in the water, but eventually the surface goes still and it’s like it’s not even there, just empty space between him and the bottom of the bathtub, a swath of hot, steaming vacancy.

He puts a hand over his eyes and cries. Not, like, loud sobbing cries. Stiles isn’t much of a crier. He’s probably cried more that morning than in all the months of the last two years combined, and things have happened. People have died—people who didn’t deserve it. People Stiles has known longer than most. He figures he’s entitled, and there’s no one he needs to be strong for anymore, so his nose screws up and tears spill onto his cheeks and then drip into the water. It’s silent, but not in his head where it’s a roar, not when he pulls in loud, greedy inhales, only to feel the air pushed through his teeth. 

He eventually drops his hand, regulates his breathing and takes a long, noisy sniffle.

The door flies open.

Stiles isn’t even thinking of his neck when he whips his head around, but his gasp is only half in surprise. He clutches at his neck as he gawks at Derek, Stiles’ mouth forming nothing but air.

“What the fuck!” he ultimately screeches, dropping a hand into his lap to cover his junk. Derek just stares and Stiles grabs a bottle of shampoo, flinging it at him. “Get out!”

Derek dodges the Head & Shoulders effortlessly. “You’re hurt,” he says again, stepping inside to shut the door.

“I’m also naked and taking a bath, and also someone who values privacy to what I assure you is a perfectly normal degree!”

Derek’s eyebrows drop low and he turns his back to Stiles, shoulders sagging with an exhale. “Give me your hand.” He makes a motion with his own, backing up until he’s within reach, fingers wiggling.

Stiles looks down at himself and lets out a huff, blindly grabbing his hand.

The pain recedes instantly. His muscles loosen and he feels a little high with it, hunching into his knees and feeling his eyelids droop. Scott does this for him constantly, all the time, just a walking, talking pain-management system throwing around his skills like it isn’t the biggest deal ever, the ability to ease someone’s pain.

He remembers how much his mother had suffered eight years ago, and Stiles is sorry for it, he is, but he’s bitter about werewolves more often than not these days.

Too bad Scott can’t take his own pain away.

“Better?” Derek turns enough for Stiles to see his profile, but doesn’t look. Stiles wishes he could bring Scott up, maybe beg Derek some more to do something. Anything.

It never works, anyway.

“Yeah.” He clears his throat and doesn’t thank him.

After a moment of nothing but breathing and the occasional drip of water, Derek says, “I reacted badly.” 

Stiles looks at him incredulously. “No, you think?”

“That’s not the first time I’ve been… tricked. Into doing that. Having sex.” The muscles in Derek’s jaw tick. “I don’t like it.” And if that doesn’t make Stiles sick, his first time having sex being compared to Kate Argent’s seduction-plot to murder Derek’s entire family, then what Derek says next does. “Look, I know that you…” Derek scratches at the back of his neck, shoulders rising with his puff of breath. “I know that you’re attracted to me. I smell it on you and I jumped to conclusions. I’m sorry.”

Stiles yanks his hand away, heat crawling up his chest all the way to the tips of his ears. “Any other part of my privacy you’d like to violate before the sun goes down? I think I still have my Lisa Frank diary from fourth grade if you want to give it an obligatory perusal.”

Derek’s abandoned hand curls into a fist. “I can’t help what I sense. It’s not like I want to smell most of the things I do.”

“So… that’s great!” Stiles smiles, a bit maniacal. “You knew I wanted to get all up on that, so naturally I’d be the one responsible for forcing you to have sex with me. Rape, I mean. Because that’s, like, the entire definition of it. So your first thought is that I’m a rapist. Thanks for that, by the way. Really helps with that whole arousal-smelling problem, because I’m pretty sure I’ll never get it up for you again.”

“Stiles.” Derek’s rubbing his forehead, and he sounds strained, tired, and a little bit broken. “I’m trying to apologize, and… And I don’t really know what to do.”

Stiles knows he’s not being entirely fair. He doesn’t want to be. He wants to hit something and actually make an impression, but he can’t, not physically. All Stiles has are words. He could use them. He could tell Derek how badly his ass is swollen, how disappointed he is that his first time will never be special, that he hurts more inside than out, that Derek is to blame, however tangentially, and that Stiles is scared all the time now. Of who’s going to leave next, who’s going to get hurt, who’s going to die, who’s going to turn him away, and he’s scared for Scott, scared of Scott. He could tell him how fucked up it is that the only time Stiles is happy anymore is after he’s been hurt, because that’s all he can be, all he can offer, and if it’s him hurting then at least someone else isn’t.

Only that doesn’t really apply here.

Stile’s grimaces at his knees, sniffling again. “Are you… are you, like, okay?”

“I’m fine,” Derek says shortly. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a pill bottle and rattles it in the air. ”There are still some painkillers left over from last year, if you want them.”

Stiles frowns but doesn’t know how to approach the topic. No one ever talks about Kate anymore and Stiles isn’t supposed to know about it.  It’s just that Allison had known, so Scott had known, and then, well, now Stiles knows. He knows too many things, Stiles thinks, that he doesn’t have a right to.

Kate’s just a vague cloud over the territory these days, distant yet constant. Stiles knows she has to haunt him, that this isn’t just a sore spot for Derek but a gaping, gushing wound that no one ever tends to, because it’s overshadowed by the other one, by the murder of his family, by what the Alpha pack did to Erica—to Jackson—as if what Kate did to Derek becomes inconsequential in comparison. As if it doesn’t matter.

But it does.

It does.

“Derek…”

“Let me,” he says, voice gruff. “Let me do… something.”

He can’t make it better, no more than Stiles could, no more than whatever’s responsible could, but Derek doesn’t talk about his wounds, Stiles has always known that much. He’s not a sayer, he’s a doer. He’s an Alpha. And he might not be terribly close to his pack, but he takes care of them when he is. He defends them, guides them, disciplines them, and tends to their wounds instead. When there aren’t wounds to heal, he listens to them. And when he’s too late to do anything at all, he buries them.

It’s probably, Stiles thinks, the only way he knows how to deal.

Stiles isn’t pack, never has been anything more than an inconvenient bystander in their periphery, but he gets it.

He whispers, “Yeah, okay.”

“I’m going to turn around.”

“Alright.”

Derek turns, sets the bottle of Vicodin on the edge of the tub and kneels, eyes raking over Stiles’ back. His nostrils expand when he sees the bite mark, but he doesn’t make a sound, just presses his palm to it and drains the pain away.

“What hurts most?”

Stile gnaws at his lip, picks at a cuticle of his toenail and lies, “My back, I guess.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Um.” Stiles lifts a hand to cradle his throat, but Derek’s is already there, heating the bruised skin with the barest touch.

There’s a sigh. “I wasn’t under any influence when I did this. I’m sorry, I should have better control.”

“I get it.” Stiles waves it off, however jerkily, because he can recognize the beginning stages of massive self-flagellation when he sees it, an activity which already occupies most of Derek’s schedule. When will he have time to do anything else? When will he have time to help Scott? “You were all Half Asleep PTSD Guy. You could have done worse.”

He can almost hear Derek’s low eyebrows. “That doesn’t make it better.” Derek reaches around him to the spigot, where a dark blue washcloth hangs from the shower knob. He dips it into the water near Stiles’ thigh and wrings it over his back.

Stiles shivers.

It’s really weird.

Weirder when he takes the bar of soap from the dish at the end of the tub and lathers it up, running the washcloth over Stiles’ back in soft, circular motions, bathing him.

Really, fundamentally, at the core weird.

“Did I hurt you badly,” Derek asks stiltedly, shifting on his knees and clearing his throat with a very manly and gruff, “Down there?”

Stiles flushes again, slapping a hand over his face. “Oh my God, please, can you just drown me? This is the most awkward moment of my life, and considering my affinity for danger boners, that’s really saying something, you know?”

“You can tell me,” Derek says, lowering the rag. “It’ll never leave this bathroom.”

“Well, obviously, but still.” Stiles whines into his hand, because it’s not every day that the object of one’s inconveniently hung affections is asking about the state of one’s abused anus. Stiles sighs, “It’s swollen. And yeah, it hurts. A lot. Stop looking at me with that face!

Derek looks away, eyes stricken, and Stiles has only seen him look like that one other time. Smaller. Sorry. Horrified. Muttering, “Sorry. Shit.”

“I truly hope I won’t be doing that for a while,” Stile grimaces, because honestly, what is wrong with his brain? “But you know, whatever? I’ll get better. I’m not bleeding. Spend the weekend in bed, chilling on my side, I’ll be good to go. It’s actually worse that I just related the issue to shitting, and I sort of want to stab myself in the eye right now, please shut me up.”

“Stiles.”

“You weren’t you,” he insists to Derek, already weary with the conversation. “You weren’t you, I wasn’t me. Can we just, like, not do this? This blamey circle of guilt thing? Let’s go back to our pseudo-violent and wit-driven repartee and just, you know, forget it happened. Ever.”

Derek makes a soft, dismissive sound, but doesn’t argue. He washes Stiles’ back, running down the knobs of his spine, and his shoulders, swiping at the ball of the joint while leaching the pain of it. He washes Stiles’ chest when he lowers his knees, because it’s not like Derek hasn’t seen it all, and it’s a little late for modesty. He washes the tops of his thighs and the curve of his knees, the long straight lines of his shins and the dip of his calves.

Derek washes Stiles’ feet.

By the end of it, Stiles isn’t carrying the same tension in his shoulders. Derek hands him the washcloth and wraps his fingers around the lip of the tub, stares at them.

“I’ll let you get the… other stuff,” he says, pushing himself to his feet.

Stiles finishes in a numb silence, but when he walks out of the bathroom, it’s to an empty hall. The window in his bedroom is open, the wind whipping his curtains like a duo of flags. The printout Stiles made for Derek is lying on his desk, face down and creased in eighths, a message scrawled onto the back.

I’ll find out what happened, it says, and take care of it myself. Stay away.

For the first time ever, Stiles doesn’t have to be told twice.

*

Stiles lives in a house. There’s nothing special about it. They moved here after his mother died, because their old house was just too hard to exist in. They’d come home from work or school and just leave to go elsewhere, to Scott’s or the park or out to eat, and Stiles would lie in bed at night and swear he heard her, walking up and down the hall.

It was a whole issue.

His dad sat him down one night when he was eleven and said, “This isn’t good for you, kiddo.”

Stiles agreed, “You either.”

So they packed up. It wasn’t easy to leave, but the necessary things in life so rarely are. It was better. The ache that settled into his chest as they packed their things into boxes was just a temporary, jagged pain, rather than feeling the throb of it every single day, every time they walked in the door. It was better than being terrified of the ghost of her.

*

“Her name is Sandy,” Scott says when he drops onto Stiles’ couch. He cracks his neck and gazes down at the printout. “She’s got nine betas and they have… well.” Scott looks at him and shrugs. “A territory’ish-type area?”

“This sounds not promising.” Stiles snatches the email, rolling his eyes. “Especially seeing as how all her betas are females? What the fuck? That’s a little sexist.”

“Well I don’t think it’s intentional. She seemed nice.”

Stiles gapes at him. “She ended the email with a paragraph on the importance of geldings. Do you know what that is?”

Scott frowns, knee jumping as he taps his heel. “No?”

Stiles pushes the email into his chest. “Google it.”

“She’s the last of the Alphas in that area,” Scott says, deflated. “I don’t… I don’t really know what else to do.”

Stiles bites his tongue, it’s really difficult to bite back his instinctual reply. There’s a solution to his problem right in front of Scott’s face, every single day. Stiles doesn’t know what to do, either. “Scott.

At the sound of his name, Scott explodes, “You promised you’d stop bringing that up!”

“I didn’t bring it up,” he argues, refusing to flinch at his yellow eyes. “But your psyche was expecting me to, which means that even you know this is getting out of hand, dude. It’s been out of hand for a long freaking time, actually.”

Scott fists the paper, effectively destroying it. “I don’t need him.”

He tries to duck his head, put it in his hands, but can’t. The neck brace he’s using to hide Derek’s bruises digs into his chin, limits his movement. He’d gotten it the previous year, the same time as the Alpha pack and the gravel burns and the pain killers. His neck still twinges from time to time, so it’s not suspicious that he’s wearing it.

If Scott found out…

It’s the same argument every month. Every week, every day, every hour that Scott goes without an alpha—an omega—he just fights it more and more. There was a time when Stiles thought this would pass, that Scott would eventually see he had no other choice. That yeah, Derek could be an asshole, he could be untrustworthy, he could even be cruel, but he was infinitely better than losing oneself to omegadom.

“You’re getting worse,” Stiles rasps out, head more hanging than anything. “You’re getting worse and there’s nothing I can do. Do you have any idea how—Do you realize how that feels? After everything we’ve done?”

Scott turns the wadded piece of paper over in his hands, expression softening. “I’m not doing this to hurt you, Stiles. I’m doing this for me. I’m trying to be smart here, this is my life.”

“It’s not a college you’re applying to,” he snaps. “You have no idea who these other alphas are. You don’t know, you haven’t seen them at their worst. You have ties here, Scott. This is just as much your territory as it is Hale’s.” He looks at Scott and carefully says, “He’s the devil you know,” because telling Scott that Derek isn’t the devil at all never goes over well.

The truth is, the longer Scott rejects Derek, and the more he distances himself from his pack, the more he sees them as the enemy. He’s grown paranoid and twitchy. It’s not all his fault. His wolf is wary and territorial, and the longer he goes un-Alpha’ed, the stronger those instincts get.

That’s why omegas are dangerous, why they slowly lose themselves. Without the sense of stability a territory and a pack would offer, Scott’s becoming less and less Scott, and more and more just a creature boiling under the surface of muscle and skin.

Stiles can see it now, when Scott lifts his chin and flexes his fists, white-knuckled. He can see it in his eyes, always jumping to the door, as if he’s about to be ambushed at any moment. It’s visible in his posture, in the stiff set of his shoulders and the rigid line of his back. Stiles can see him changing right before his eyes, can see him growing unpredictable. Trigger-happy.

Thank God they’re graduating next week.

“I won’t,” Scott insists, eyes skittering to the door, the window. “I’ll never join him, Stiles. You know what he did to me.”

Stiles scrubs a hand over his face, frustrated. There was a time when Stiles could have argued. Their junior year, he could talk logic at Scott until his lips went numb, and more often than not, Scott would eventually listen. It’s just not like that now.

Stiles wants to reiterate that Derek had actually, genuinely tried to get Scott a kill during the Alpha Invasion. He can still remember him killing the last, the way he looked at Stiles after, horrified and sorry, scared—small, the same look he gave Stiles after viciously assfucking him, if that tells you anything.

But the last alpha had killed Jackson, tried to kill Stiles and Lydia, and Scott was slow. He’s weak—so much weaker as an omega—and one by one, the alphas had to be killed before they killed someone else, and it was Derek—always Derek—who was there to stop them.

Even a year after the fact, Stiles still has twinges in his neck, can still feel the phantom sting of asphalt, he still wakes up to nightmares of hurdling out of moving cars, landing like a lump of limp meat, begging Derek not to do it, to let the alpha have him just so Scott could have time

Sometimes Stiles wonders if maybe Scott weren’t so set on getting an alpha kill, if Erica and Jackson would still be here. It’s a useless thought, he’ll never know. But it does bother him at night, remembering Boyd—one hundred and sixty pounds of solemn muscle and will—collapsing onto the forest floor in a heap, screaming for her, clawing at the ground Derek buried her in. He remembers Lydia’s emotionless face when they told her about Jackson—the way she didn’t even look surprised. Just numb.

And yet, in Scott’s mind, Derek did this to Scott.

“Right,” he grunts, readjusting his neck brace.

It’s funny, he thinks, how no one remembers things the same anymore.

*

They don’t see each other too much. Never did, really. The odd weekend when Stiles meets up with Boyd to play Call of Duty, stilted run-ins at the supermarket, at McDonald’s, idling at red lights, dips of chins and small waves, weak acknowledgments of grudging acquaintanceship that’s never vocalized.

The first time Stiles sees him, after, is at the garden. Its approximate location is some seven miles into the preserve, and was planted by himself and Lydia after the alphas came. It’s mostly wolfsbane. Monkshood. He was able to find seeds online and with Lydia’s surprising green thumb, they fostered one hundred square feet of what Stiles suspects to be some of the only wolfsbane in the entire region.

Stiles grinds to a halt when he sees him, startled enough that he drops the handle of the wagon he’s carted through the woods, sweating and out of breath. He crouches low to pluck a flowering bud, eying Derek warily through his peripheral vision. “What’s up?” Stiles says, thinking there could be quite a few reasons Derek might need wolfsbane , and none of them are good.

“Not sure.” He takes his jacket off, draping it over a low-hanging branch. It’s like he’s just arrived, the way Derek walks around the perimeter of the garden, shoving the sleeves of his henley to his elbows. “You been harvesting anything here?”

Stiles looks at the flowers, then at Derek, eyebrow raised. “What, like, taking stuff?”

He’s clearly tense. Being around wolfsbane , for werewolves, generally does that. Puts them on edge. There’s a strain of monkshood here that’s addictive—that makes werewolves hallucinate like a psychedelic substance. There’s another that’s almost completely innocuous, but there are a few that are harmful—and a couple that are downright deadly.

Stiles watches Derek’s claws extend and then contract, in a pulsating rhythm. “Yes, have you been picking anything.”

Stiles lifts the bud, shrugging. “Just this, just now. They aren’t even fully flowering yet, I was just…” Stiles shuffles, awkward, nodding at the wagon of water jugs. “Coming to water them? Lydia will probably eviscerate me if I can’t keep them alive.”

She’s on the east coast.

Indefinitely.

Stiles guesses he can’t really blame her. After Peter. After Jackson. It’s not running so much as retreating. A white flag. Resignation.

He hopes she can be happy again.

“Hm.” Derek bends into a crouch at one of the three non-wolfsbane flora they’ve planted so far. He reaches out, as if to touch the small shrubling, and Stiles startles.

“No!”

Derek jerks his hand back and Stiles chides, “You don’t come into a wolfsbane garden and start touching things, oh my god, you’re a terrible werewolf.”

Derek narrows his eyes, gesturing. “What is it.”

Stiles sort of wrings his hands together, unsure. On one hand, Derek. On the other, the garden he planted with Lydia. It’s important to him, and if Derek gets all mad and Alpha’y about it, what’s Stiles going to do? 

“Deadly nightshade?” he squeaks, and at Derek’s expression, “Or Belladonna! Way less, you know, like, menacing. When you’re saying it that way, I mean. Beautiful woman. What’s menacing about that? Heh.”

Derek’s grinding his teeth and hey, that can’t be good. “You mean to tell me,” he says, fluidly lifting from his crouch, “that you put arguably the most toxic plant in this hemisphere seven miles from the general public.”

“Um.” Stiles winces and, wringing his hands still, looks back at the plants. “I guess this is a bad time to tell you about the hemlock?”

Derek drops his head back, staring at the sky, like he’s asking some deity for the strength to even. “Do I need to begin to tell you how fucking stupid you are for planting these?”

Stiles puts his hands up, palms out. “It was Lydia’s idea, and to be honest, I don’t own this land. There’s nothing linking it back to me, and there are very few people, werewolves aside, who can get through that quarter-mile stretch of forest to here. I was as smart about it as possible.”

“The smart thing would have been to not.”

“I totally understand your reservations,” Stiles argues, “but you should know they’re used in a lot of rituals that could benefit the pack in the future. We’re not just harvesting deadly plants for shits and gigs, you know?”

Derek sets his jaw. “I should have been told. There are better ways of growing this. Safer ways.”

“Okay,” Stiles concedes. “Right, yes, I completely agree. Lydia wasn’t in the best state of mind and I was slightly distracted with the total mental deterioration of my best friend, so I admit, it could have been handled better.”

Derek looks away at the mention of Jackson and Scott, rubs idly at one of his bushy eyebrows. “Someone’s been here. Taking things.”

Stiles frowns, pivots around to look at the plants but can’t see anything noticeably out of place. “Who? What?”

“No one I know. The smell is foreign,” he answers, crouching again to inspect the nightshade. “But particularly here, and here.” He gestures at the hemlock and Stiles’ stomach sinks.

“Shit, do you think…?” But of course Derek thinks someone’s using them for badness. No one steals deadly nightshade and poisonous hemlock to summon rainbows. “Fuck. This is bad.” And his fault. Derek’s right, he’s been unforgivably negligent.

Stiles is getting an ulcer.

“There’s something else,” Derek says, standing and grabbing his jacket from the branch, clutching it in a fist. “Come with me.”

They walk for what feels like miles. It’s the end of May, so it’s hot as balls and Stiles is pouring sweat within the first twenty minutes, wishing he’d brought some of the water he left at the garden within ten more.

He wipes a hand over his top lip, catching the dampness and panting. “How far away did you say?”

Derek is completely dry. It’s disgusting. “We’ll be there soon.” He passes a vine and it snaps back, lashes Stiles right in the neck.

“Ugh!” He bats it away, catches his palm on some thorns and grinds his teeth. Stiles has always been super prone to heat stroke. His skin is sensitive—will break out into a splotchy mess if he uses the wrong kind of soap. He has three moles that his dermatologist has been keeping a close eye on since he was thirteen, and he’s lactose intolerant.

Stiles is such a delicate fucking flower compared to this asshole.

So when Derek whips around to ask impatiently, “You okay?” Stiles glares daggers. Worse than daggers. He glares, like, samurai swords.

“Peachy,” he answers, curt.

A little, annoyed puff of air escapes Derek’s nose. “We’re here.” When he parts the limb of two bushes, Stiles sees it, freezes and gapes.

“Oh,” he breathes. “Wow, that’s...”

It’s amazing, is what it is. Hundreds of thin, bare branches, weaved together like ironwork, shaped to form archways and skeletal structures. It’s painfully intricate, must have taken someone weeks—months—to construct. This wasn’t just thrown up willy-nilly. There’s care in the way branches join, held together with pale vines and bent from the ground, into the air, and then into the ground again. Arches. Four of them, in a circle, and connected above with latticework.

This was made with pride, creativity, love.

There are also approximately three dozen rotting deer corpses littering the forest floor, all laid out in a neat little row.

Stiles covers his nose, battling against a gag at the smell. “Nope, this isn’t foreboding or anything.”

“Witch,” Derek says, staring at the corpses. The flies buzzing around their bodies are loud. “Probably only one, unless they all smell the same, which… could be possible, I don’t know enough about them. I’m not ruling it out, though.”

“That’s what it was, wasn’t it?” Stiles turns to Derek, feeling his skin prickle and heat. “It was a spell. That night—what happened, with us.”

Derek lifts a shoulder. “Can’t be a coincidence.”

“But why?” Stiles inspects the structure. “Why would someone want us to… do that? What would they have to gain?” This has secretly been bothering him ever since he agreed to stay away, to not get involved in finding out what happened. “I could understand if the point was to, like, distract the Alpha. Come at you sideways when you were too… enthralled, or whatever, to notice or fight back. But nothing happened! I mean, aside from the bad sex and terrible morning after.” He regrets bringing it up instantly, even though they’ve essentially been talking about it for the last five minutes anyway. He scratches uncomfortably at the damp nape of his neck, where the bruises are only now starting to fade. “Unless there’s some random coven of witches out there who just enjoys making people’s lives as awkward as possible, which—” Stiles drops his hand, sighing, “You know, points for effectiveness.”

“I don’t know,” Derek says, and there’s a faint undercurrent of tension there. “I feel like… whatever their endgame was, it probably hasn’t happened yet.”

Stiles frowns at the ground, thinking.

“Has anything else happened to you?” Derek asks.

Stiles turns to him again, voice muffled through his fingers. “No, nothing. It’s actually… it’s been pretty quiet?” He doesn’t know about the pack, but he and Scott haven’t seen much action—aside from a fairly brief run in with another omega that winter—since the Alphas invaded.

Derek agrees, “Things have seemed settled lately. Aside from Scott, at least.”

Stiles sucks in a breath, remembering that, oh yeah. Scott is actually to Derek’s pack what the other omega was to them. A disturbance. An issue. Something to feel wary of and worried about.

Stiles clears his throat. “Well. I doubt one has anything to do with the other. Scott isn’t even in the right mind to coordinate colors, let alone archaic magical rituals involving the blood sacrifice of perfectly innocent deer.” Stiles looks closer, amending, “And a couple disemboweled goats? Jesus, dude.”

Derek shakes his head. “I wasn’t suggesting he was involved.”

“Well this doesn’t strike me as a hunter thing, either. Don’t they, like, abhor the craft?”

He’s nodding now. “No, you’re right. Witches, warlocks, practitioners… they’re usually aligned with were-kind. Attacks are rare, it’d be like…” Derek runs a hand through his hair, agitated. “It’d be like Deaton attacking us.”

Stiles deflates. “Nothing makes sense.”

“I’ll keep looking,” Derek concludes, shrugging, at a loss. “Just… keep your guard up. Let me know if anything strange happens and stop going to the garden on a set schedule. There’s no reason to make it easy.” Stiles nods but, after a beat, Derek adds, “Actually, don’t go at all. Take what you need today, and then… just leave it. Plants grow back,” he says, brushing past him. “Humans don’t.”

Stiles is pretty bummed on the walk back. He spent over three hundred dollars on the plants in that garden. Sold his PS3 and almost twenty games to raise the funds. He knows they’re not hardcore vital or anything, but it’s the idea of them. The sign that things were so settled—that the worst was over— they could put down roots, cultivate something and plan ahead instead of in the heat of battle. Something that Stiles and Lydia created, an endeavor that had been soothing, that had started them down separate roads of Getting Better. It’s what the garden represents, more than anything.

He takes a little of each plant, except the nightshade and hemlock, which Derek yanks from the ground. He uses his claws to dig deep into the soil, rips them into shreds, buries them, and covers their grave with earth and forest debris. It reminds Stiles a little too much of Derek burying other things—other people.

Stiles is never telling Lydia about this.

By the time it’s all done, Derek is actually sweating. Finally. He lifts the hem of his shirt to wipe over his face and exposes his belly, his abs and defined chest, and Stiles is helpless against staring.

Without wanting to—and he really, really doesn’t want to, things were going so normal—he remembers what it was like. That firm chest pressing into his back. The sinew of Derek’s arms in his periphery as they held him above him, Derek pushing inside of him, the fronts of his hard thighs flush against the backs of Stiles’. The way their skin clapped together. How Derek sounded, lips pressed against his neck, breath hot and wet, and the words he said.

Oh God, the words he said.

Take it… fill you up… your tight little ass… going to give it to you… you want it… tell me how much…

Stiles had. He told him exactly how much, and so much more. He begged, he sobbed, he came on Derek’s dick and it was so good he cried when it ended, angry, grief-stricken that he couldn’t have more of it, all night, every day.

He’s still staring, sort of slack-jawed, when Derek goes rigid, t-shirt still tugged up and covering his face. He lowers his hands and stretches it back over his abdomen, his mouth a hard, thin line.

Stiles jerks his gaze away, horrified. “Uh, sorry, I wasn’t—” But he was and Derek knows. No use lying about it. He exhales noisily, crouching, hoping the curl of his body hides his raging erection. He mutters under his breath, “I’m going to hell.”

Derek doesn’t respond, just gets a jug of water and pours it over his hands, flicking the soil out from beneath his nails.

“I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Stiles says, yanking buds from plants faster than really necessary. “Fixating on ridiculously attractive and unattainable people is pretty much my default setting. It’s not usually so angsty for the other involved party, I’m sorry.”

There’s a long bout of silence that follows and Stiles doesn’t bother trying to make eye contact. He’s embarrassed, whatever. It’s just as uncomfortable for him, if not more so. At least Derek is going to arrive at the other end of this tunnel with a shred of dignity intact.

Not Stiles, no.

Never Stiles.

Eventually, he hears Derek sigh, and then a shuffling sound from near the wagon. “I’m… flattered.” He says this very gravely, in much the same tone someone would confess to having genital herpes. “But I’m not really—It’s not that you’re—Not that—I’m sure you’d make someone—”

Stiles lurches to his feet, screeching, “Oh my god! What? Stop, please, time out. What are you doing!”

Derek glowers at him. “I was trying to be nice.”

Stiles gawks at him, flailing inelegantly. “In what sick twisted alternate universe does Derek Hale let me down gently?”

Derek’s flexing his fists at his sides, still damp, reflecting what’s left of the evening sun. “I don’t know what else to say,” he grits out.

Stiles shakes his head frantically. “Nothing! You say nothing! The whole point of crushing on someone ridiculously attractive and completely unattainable is that it’s, like, guaranteed not to ever happen. It’s a given, you don’t… And some words of wisdom from the perpetually friend-zoned? Never reject someone by giving them the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech. That’s such a line, dude. So unnecessary.”

“I never said it was me.” Derek smiles meanly.

“See!” Stiles beams, clapping him on the shoulder. “That’s the passive aggression I like to see from sour alphas.

Stiles falls asleep that night feeling better about it, about the way they parted, with no grins or platitudes. Just two guys thrown into the same heaping mound of horseshit, digging their ways out.

Just how he likes it.

*

When he wakes up the next morning, he just… knows.

He’s lying there gaping down at his stomach, shirt rucked up, and thinks he’s crazy. Obviously it’s not possible, and aside from knowing he doesn’t feel any different. Maybe he’s experiencing a psychotic break, or maybe he accidentally ingested some of that funky wolfsbane, or maybe he’s actually dreaming and this is all some Freudian reaction to being mounted like a bitch two weeks ago.

He gets out of bed and takes a piss, but it’s still there. Not his bladder, just being super full or anything. He brushes his teeth and yes, he can still feel it. He takes a shower and eats a bowl of fruity pebbles and checks the mail, and yep. There it is.

He watches Ellen and Price is Right, washes his bowl from breakfast and calls his dad, reads a few blogs and takes some ibuprofen, and no matter what Stiles does, he still feels totally, inexplicably, unbelievably pregnant.

He’s able to indulge in some good old fashioned denial for a few days. It’s not hard to deny, what with him not having a uterus and all, so he does that, and it’s nice, just believing he’s crazy instead of pregnant. It’s summer and Scott’s away meeting with one of the alphas they’d already ruled out months ago, so he really has nothing to do but sit inside the house all day and pretend he doesn’t feel it. When his dad comes home, he makes him dinner. He dicks off on the internet and eats Cheetos and doesn’t jerk off, but not because of the non-baby he’s carrying—nope, that’s not a thing that’s happening—but because he’ll think about Derek, and that’s related enough to kill any possible boners.

By Friday, however, it’s all he feels.

He gets out of bed that morning and he doesn’t feel cold and he doesn’t feel hot and he doesn’t feel hungry or thirsty or sleepy or bored.

Stiles feels pregnant.

Down to his toes, into the very core of him, he can feel it inside of his belly even though it’s not doing anything. It’s not moving, but his brain known it’s there, like an organ or a limb, and it sends messages to Stiles accordingly. Like, “Hey, you have a hand there, don’t put it on the stove,” only it’s more like, “Hey, you have a baby in there, protect your stomach from any random blunt force trauma.”

He has a full blown panic attack in the shower, sits in the bottom of the tub and extends his arms to either side, one flat against the wet tiles and the other flat against the sliding glass door, hyperventilating. He’s shaking all over and his vision goes black around the edges about two minutes into it.

He’s never been so happy to pass out before.

When he comes to, the water is only just going cold, so he wasn’t out for long. Just long enough to reset his brain, for him to gather some logic and think, Okay.

Okay, he thinks, he needs action. He needs to tell Derek, because this is what they’ve been waiting for, right? This is the effect they were looking for, the endgame. Only he can’t tell Derek. That’s a stupid and terrible idea. He needs proof, first.

Then, Derek.

He makes a list in his head as he gets dressed, shakily. Stiles loves lists. Lists are logical. Fixed. Rational. Planned.

Derek is number two on his list.

Melissa McCall is number one.

*

It’s a conversation made less awkward by Stiles’ crippling urgency. There’s no room for delicacy, so as soon as she answers the door, he comes out with it. “I had sex with a werewolf and I think I’m pregnant.”

He doesn’t say it was Derek.

Melissa blinks at him, still in her pajamas and hair sticking up all over the place. He feels instantly like shit for involving her in this. She has dark wells beneath her eyes and more lines etched into her forehead than she had even a year ago. Sometimes he thinks it’s nice, not being the only one stressed out and worrying like hell that Scott’s standing on the edge of a cliff, just toeing himself closer and closer.

It’s not nice really, though. It’s mostly just sad and infuriating.

“Stiles,” she says, and it’s exasperated, unsurprised, and maybe, underneath all the disbelief, is a little disappointment. That’s what makes him hurt worst of all. “Let me get dressed.”

When they leave the McCall house, Melissa still doesn’t believe him. That’s fine, to Stiles, and he tells her so. He doesn’t want to be believed. Disbelief grants further merit to his whole craziness theory, which is honestly a best case scenario here.

Her laughter when she parks at Beacon Hills Memorial holds an edge of hysteria. “I don’t even know how to find out, Stiles. I’d say I’m not an obstetrician, but one of those obviously wouldn’t do you any good.”

He thunk’s his head against the window and wonders, “What about an ultrasound?”

She shakes her head. “You said it’s only been four weeks? The chances of detection on a trans-vaginal ultrasound are even slim, and you… don’t have a vagina anyway.” She releases a sigh and massages at her temples, pensive. Then she yanks the keys from the ignition and nods, face determined. “Okay. Okay, I have an idea.”

She sneaks him into the OBGYN wing with a story about Stiles stupidly knocking up his girlfriend. He doesn’t even have it in him to be insulted, or worried that it might somehow get back to his dad. Melissa is pretty tight with the nursing staff, in any case, so it’s hardly any trouble at all for her to secret him away into an examination room she promises no one ever uses.

“It has a weird smell, patients hate it,” she insists before leaving him there.

The smell is easy to ignore, given the fact that he’s still shaking and freaked out and dangerously close to hyperventilating himself into unconsciousness, yet again. The walls have pictures of babies, of enormous, swollen bellies with hands resting softly upon them. There are pamphlets on a shelf, how to stay healthy, how to tell you’re in labor, how to ensure your fetus is being the very best fetus a fetus can possibly be.

By the time Melissa returns, Stiles isn’t pacing so much as he’s sprinting from one side of the room to the other.

“Pee in this,” she orders, shoving a specimen cup into his chest.

He has no idea how pregnancy tests work, but he’s pretty sure his face must convey his doubt. “I don’t think I’m going to have the kind of hormone it’s looking for.”

“I think you will, just in lower amounts.” She pushes him into the bathroom, demanding, “Just do it, you never know!”

When he gets back, warm specimen cup in hand, Melissa is tying her hair back. She slips into a pair of latex gloves and snaps at him for the cup, takes it and sets it on the counter, fiddles with a foil wrapper that, he discovers, holds a thin test strip.

She dips it in for a moment, takes it out, sets it flat, and waits.

Stiles flattens himself into the corner farthest away, gnawing on his thumbnail before he remembers he forgot to wash his hands after peeing, so he does that, just to distract himself.

When he comes out of the bathroom, Melissa turns to stare at him, pale, test strip pinched between thumb and forefinger. “Stiles, it’s…” she breathes, “It’s a really weak positive.”

He’s known for almost a week now, has felt it, so it’s no shock or anything, not to Stiles, not like it was that morning, but it still makes his stomach drop, makes his lungs constrict and his heart thunder wildly against his ribcage.

Melissa moves, dumps the pee in the toilet, flushes and removes her gloves, washes her hands, slow, methodical just like Stiles did, and then she breathes.

“We’re doing the ultrasound,” she decides, pulling the paper over the bed, but Stiles just stands there, motionless, owlish and silent.

He can’t say words.

She must sense this, because she herds him to the examination table with both hands, guiding him to lie down, pushes up his shirt and almost destroys the whole room yanking the ultrasound machine across it.

Her hands are shaking, too, when she squeezes out the weird goo onto his belly, when she fires up the machine and puts the wand to his stomach, presses it down, hard. It’s not as bad as Stiles, whose teeth are chattering at this point, but there’s a tremor in the way she moves, jerky and unsure.

Eventually her hand stills, stops seeking, as if it’s found its mark.

She’s quiet for a long while.

Stiles doesn’t care. He already knows what she’s about to say, knows it like he knew it was happening to begin with. Knows it like he knows he has organs and limbs, like he knows the sky is blue and the grass is green.

“Eight,” she says, grim. “Eight, maybe ten weeks along. Developmentally speaking.”

His voice comes out hoarse, scratchy. “It’s growing faster.”

After a pause, “Yes.”

“Twice as fast, at least.”

“Yes.”

“It’s not human.”

“I don’t...” Melissa shakes her head, sighing at the screen. “I don’t know, I can’t tell.”

“Get it out,” Stiles decides, pulse racing. He grabs her wrist and flings it away, clawing at his stomach. There’s a scream and she startles, throws a panicked glance at the door and shushes him, but Stiles vision narrows into a focused point on his stomach, fingernails frantically digging into the skin, and he hears a frenzied screech begging to cut him open, to get it out of him, but it doesn’t register that Stiles is the one doing it, the one screaming and begging and causing people to rap against the door in alarm.

The last thing he remembers before blacking out—again—is that print on the wall of the swollen belly, a woman’s soft hand resting on it, as if to hold her baby inside.

*

Scott’s lived in the same house his whole life. His mother’s fought for it like crazy, even when they were on the cusp of foreclosure and Scott was sure they’d need to move to some place smaller, some place with less rooms. The house was clearly purchased under the belief that Mr. and Mrs. McCall were going to have a huge family, but that doesn’t seem to matter to her anymore. She’s just white-knuckling the mere principle of the thing. It’s hers and Scott’s, and even if they’re dead broke and have nothing to put in it, they’ll still have that—shelter, sanctuary, home.

You can’t build a home, and you can’t buy one, either.

Stiles wakes up there two days later, still numb, in Scott’s bed. Melissa’s been trying to hunt down Dr. Deaton, to no avail. He’s moved away now, like Lydia. And Scott is still gone, too.

Stiles is packless.

Melissa won’t let him cut it out. He tried once, and Stiles doesn’t mean that scene at the hospital. When they came back, he went for the kitchen knives first thing, but Melissa knows a little Taekwondo and managed to restrain him, made him promise he’d wait for her to find a surgeon willing to take on something a little legally—and medically—sketchy.

He agreed, because she was right. He knows it’d be impulsive to slice himself open, but he can’t help it. He needs it out. It’s like finding a spider in your hair. You don’t just wait for someone to come and get it off, you react.

Stiles is reacting a lot.

And frequently.

(Melissa took all the knives out of the house, called his dad and told him Stiles was sick with the flu, that she’d take care of him since Scott was gone and keep Stiles hydrated and mother him, and if Stiles’ dad had any objections to this, then Stiles hasn’t heard them.)

So this is what Stiles does. He lies in Scott’s bed and waits for Melissa to say she’s found someone to get it out of him, to cure him of the wrongness and the bad, and he dreams.

God, he dreams.

He dreams of fire and swollen bellies and that scene in Alien, of giving birth to jackals through his urethra, the whole horrific nine yards. His head is a terrible place to be, he can’t imagine his stomach is much better, why anyone would want to put a thing inside of it.

His fingers twitch to claw at it, and he makes a fist, shoves it beneath Scott’s pillow and squeezes his eyes firmly shut. He researched a little, on that first day, but there was nothing to be found in the resources he has available to him, which is to say that Google has failed him.

Part of him doesn’t want to tell Derek at all. Telling Derek would make it real, would mean he’ll need to tell his pack, probably, and underneath all the horror and feel and wrong, there’s also an undercurrent of total mortification. But he knows better—he has to tell Derek. And he will. He’ll tell Derek just as soon as he has a plan to get this thing out of him.

He can’t even stand existing while it’s still there.

He has another three hour bout of sleep, and it’s a drawn out, vivid nightmare of him being chased through the forest, then of being electrocuted, sharp currents of pain sparking at his sides, arcing him, something biting into his wrists, the smell of singed flesh and sweet, cloying perfume.

He wakes up screaming, legs kicking out against the mattress, and Melissa holding down his wrists.

He yanks them away, panting, before rubbing the circumferences of them, soothing away the sensation of metal and stinging against the veins exposed on the soft underside of them.

Melissa says, “Sorry,” and, “Deaton,” and Stiles flies out of bed, searching for his shoes. “No, here,” she says, gentle and patient, and Stiles doesn’t think he’ll ever forget the way she’s looking at him; like she’s frightened, scared of moving the wrong way or saying the wrong thing. He wants to tell her he isn’t Scott.

She brings him a laptop.

Deaton is giving an empty smile from the screen. “Stiles.”

He falls onto the bed, arranging the laptop better, giving Deaton a view of both him and Melissa, positioned just behind his shoulder. “I need help,” Stiles says, voice scratchy.

“Melissa filled me in,” he says. He’s sitting against a wall and Stiles can’t tell anything about where he is, or what’s in the room. It’s making him nervous. “It’s a… unique case, Stiles. As I told her, this isn’t a werewolf phenomenon.”

“There were witches,” Stiles stumbles over his own words in his urgency. “We found some kind of altar out in the preserve, and there were all these dead deer and they were stealing our hemlock. And, and, and nightshade.”

Deaton’s eyebrows knit together. “Neither of those is prevalent in the kinds of rituals necessary to achieve this kind of outcome. Likely, they needed the plants for something else. They’re very coveted, difficult to find. If they stumbled across the plants, I imagine it’d be nearly impossible for a practitioner to resist. It’d be like you passing a twenty dollar bill in the street.”

Stiles nods, frantic. “Red herring, right. Okay. Witches did this, though. I’m sure of it.”

Deaton agrees, “It’d have to be a spell, a powerful one, to defy the course of nature like this. They’d have to prepare your body for carrying, create a suitable environment for gestation.”

“Can we break it?” Stiles asks. “Spells can always be broken, right? We just need to find another witch, or track this one down.”

Deaton smiles, but it looks… sad. “I’m afraid it’s not that cut and dry, Stiles. Spells like this can’t just be broken. I’d be too concerned about how it might harm you to even risk trying.” Stiles exhales in frustration, scrubbing a hand through his hair, and Deaton sighs. “This isn’t biology. This is creation. To create a life is… a tricky endeavor, you have to understand. To give life, one must take life.”

“The deer,” Stiles realizes.

Deaton nods. “The exchange has already been made, it’s a delicate balance.”

Stiles stares into the camera and thickly guesses, “You’re saying I can’t get rid of it.”

“I’m saying…” Deaton looks away from the camera briefly, face twisting into something pained. “To take this life would upset the balance. I think it would simply… grow back.”

Stiles gapes at the screen. “Grow back?!”

“You take life, you receive life. They cancel each other out.”

Melissa places her palm on the flat of Stiles’ back, rubbing soothingly as he drops his head, breathes harshly into his hands. He mutters, “Oh my god,” and he’d freak out if he had even a fraction of the energy necessary to do so. As it is, he’s just numb, his skin crawling. He wants out of it, wants to peel off the layers and step away from his body.

His stomach turns.

“How fast did you say it was gestating?” Deaton softly asks, and Melissa makes a sound—a sigh.

“Twice as fast as a human fetus, at least. I’m not—it’s been a while since I read an ultrasound.”

“Ah,” Deaton says brightly enough that Stiles lifts his head, watches him grin. “Typical werewolf gestation is five months.”

Stiles blinks at the screen.

Deaton’s smile wavers. “So we know what it is.”

“I don’t care what it is,” Stiles grinds out. “I don’t care why it was put there. I don’t even care who did it, at this point. I don’t want it. I was never given a choice. My body isn’t a fucking incubator!”

“I can’t even begin to imagine how violated you’re feeling,” he says, frowning. “And I understand the urge to get it out. I know it’s… tremendously unfair, and to ask you to carry it, even more so.”

Stiles senses a ‘but’.

It doesn’t come. “So let’s explore your options,” Deacon says instead, straightening. “If you deliver in Beacon Hills, we’ll need to hide you after the second month. You’ll be showing too far along to explain to humans. I also know a very small coven located in the mid-west. I know the high priestess personally. I’m not sure if they’ll have someone qualified to deliver, but I know dozens of covens, and I trust this particular one more than any other. They’ll be allied with packs, too.”

Stiles turns to stare out the window, watches a robin land on a branch, bouncing it with its weight. It tweets and lifts a wing, buries its beak into the feathers and ruffles them before lowering it, shaking its tail feathers out.

It leaps off and flies away.

Just like that.

“Have you told him?”

Stiles doesn’t even turn to the screen. “Not yet.”

“It’s a weak concession, but the choices from here on out, Stiles, they’re all your own. You decide how you want to move next. Who you want to tell, how you want it handled.”

Stiles snorts, bitter, seeing as how he only has one option: to have the thing. That’s not a choice. That’s a sentence. “Hooray.”

Long after Deaton’s disconnected from Skype, after Melissa’s left the room and the sun begins dropping on the horizon, Stiles stares out the window and watches the birds—envies them. Not only because they can fly away at their every whim, but because how convenient it must be, he thinks, to lay eggs instead of having them inside, attached, like a parasite you can’t run from.

He gives himself the night. He knows it’s not productive and he realizes he’s wasting time, that he isn’t helping matters at all by angsting away in Scott’s bedroom, but there it is.

Pity, party of one.

He finds half a bottle of Smirnoff in the basement freezer and stays up until three in the morning, burning his throat with it.

He pukes almost every drop of it right back up, but he’s no quitter.

He figures tomorrow he’ll be responsible and reasonable. Tomorrow, he’ll make lists and plans, do damage control, come to terms with the fact that his body’s become nothing more than an egg shell, a pile of muscles and skin and bones that this thing is going to shed in four months, and feels just as fragile.

He would have, too, if not for Scott.

*

Derek’s pack is spread all across town. Boyd lives with his parents and Isaac has his own little apartment near the police station. Derek—who even knows where Derek stays. He lives here and there. Derek doesn’t have a house, he has a method of housing himself, and that has been enough. Sometimes he stays in the rubble of his former house, sometimes he stays in warehouses, sometimes he stays with Isaac or Boyd, but he is a tree without roots. More often than not, the places Derek are meant to be occupying wind up empty, void of him.

Stiles thought… he thought maybe if Derek got his shit together a little more, rounded up his pack and started living like a civilized werewolf, started living in a house, that maybe Scott would be a little more inclined to warm up to the idea of it. It’d be just like with his mom, who puts the value of a home above a value of a house. That’s what Scott needs in an alpha—not some guy who randomly appears every other week to check up on his betas, like they’re something to be checked off a to-do list—like they’re chores.

Scott has his father for that.

Of course, Stiles never got to make this argument to Derek.

The printout of houses he made is buried at the bottom of his trashcan, a promise scrawled on the back.

Derek doesn’t have a home, doesn’t even have a house, which, turns out?

Super inconvenient.

*

Stiles runs so hard that he breaks a toe. He hears it snap, having caught on a root because he’s barefoot in the forest, but he doesn’t stop, just cries out at the pain and keeps pushing, feet pounding against the forest floor.

If he listens hard enough, he can hear the snaps of twigs beneath Scott’s feet as he gains on him.

Stiles pushes harder, faster, even when his empty stomach rolls and he curls at the waist with a dry heave. He dodges vines as best he can, but still ends up feeling a few whip against his face, thorns scraping through skin, little drops of blood beading to the surface.

He risks a glance over his shoulder—he doesn’t know why, this never works out well—and can see the blur of Scott in the distance, bent to all fours, wolfed out and utterly crazed.

Scott belts out a roar deep enough that it reverberates through Stiles’ bones. When it started, when Scott first began chasing Stiles, he talked to him, tried to reach his humanity, his anchor. But it didn’t work. Scott’s anchor was Allison, and she’s…

She’s just gone.

Stiles is short of air, his lungs aflame and chest cramping, and he couldn’t eke out a word if he tried, so he doesn’t bother now, just keeps running and prays he can make it there, and that for once Derek’s where Stiles intuits him to be.

He breaks through the trees into the clearing and can run faster. He aims for the shell of the old Hale house and screams incoherently, incapable of forming actual words, chest stinging with every exhale.

The universe must know that Stiles is due for a little freaking help, because Derek bursts from the second floor, lands on the ground and doesn’t even pause, just starts running toward Stiles, face and hands transforming, eyes aglow with red and set on the space just over Stiles’ shoulder, where he can hear Scott advancing.

When Derek passes him, Stiles collapses. He slides and rolls to his stomach, comes to a still facing them, panting, vision blurry at the edges.

The tackle rattles the ground against Stiles’ belly. 

Derek has him pinned to the ground, and even though Scott jostles him, teeth snapping, claws tearing at his hands, he’s stronger. He roars into Scott’s face, “Submit!” and Scott roars back, thrashing, eyes burning so yellow they’re almost white.

He almost manages to buck Derek off, but Derek slams him back into the dirt, demanding submission once again.

Derek means to end this, Stiles realizes, once and for all.

Stiles can see it in the red of his eyes, the set of his shoulders, the way he shoves Scott’s wrists into the dirt, snarling at him, ordering him.

Stiles is embarrassed to even think it, but even he’s feeling the instinct to obey, to bare his throat and go limp, shakes at the naked power in Derek’s voice—in his eyes. He has no idea how Scott resists, but he does. He screams back, feral, kicking his legs and clawing so wildly at Derek that he’s mostly just gouging into his own palms now.

Stiles holds his breath, willing Scott to give in with every fiber of his being. Begging him in his mind, Please, Scott, please.

He doesn’t realize he’s saying it aloud until Derek turns, glances at Stiles over his shoulder. Derek lurches to the side, grabs Scott in a hold, arms restrained at his back, and instructs him, “Look.” Scott doesn’t at first, still bucking against the hold, but Derek grabs a handful of his hair, forces his head up and back. “It’s Stiles. Scott. Scott! Look at him, look!”

He’s still rigid, tensed for a fight, but Scott does it. He meets Stiles eyes and pants at him. For a long moment, his face is still screwed up in that ugly grimace of fury. But then a flash of something twists his expression.

He looks lost.

“He’s your best friend,” Derek says, “and you’re going to kill him.”

Scott makes a sharp sound of refusal, but instantly stops fighting.

“You’re going to attack him,” Derek goes on, and even as cars begin rumbling up the drive, Stiles can’t break the gaze he has with Scott, can’t look away from the shocked wideness of Scott’s eyes as it hits him. “You’re going to make it slow. You’ll go for his throat first, right? You’ll—look!” He snarls when Scott shakes his head, tries to look away. Derek forces him to look forward. “You’ll go for his throat, rip into his flesh and claw out his viscera. You’ll leave him to die like that. You’ll taste him for weeks. Her, too.” He yanks Scott’s head to the side, where Melissa is climbing out of her sedan, pale and panicked. “You’ll kill your mother, your friends. You go crazy enough, you’ll track down Allison, too. You’ll kill her, if she’s very lucky.”

Stiles goes limp at the exact second Scott does. His cheek hits the dirt and he stares at shoes—Melissa’s, Isaac’s, Boyd’s. He realizes distantly that she must have called them, must have called Derek, but it doesn’t really register. All he can hear is the sound of Scott crying that he’s sorry, he didn’t mean to, didn’t want to.

All he can register is Derek asking, “Submit to me, Scott.”

Asking.

He turns his face enough to watch when Derek releases him. “I don’t want to control you. That’s not what pack is.” He grabs Scott’s bloodied, gashed hand, grips it with his own injured hand. His voice is perfectly even when he insists, “Your blood is my blood. You think I want you in my pack for the power, but you’re wrong. Your human is McCall, but your wolf will always be Hale.” Derek gruffly but decisively tells him, “You and me, Isaac, Boyd. We’re brothers.”

Derek stares at Scott, searching for acknowledgment, agreement, submission.

Stiles knows what’s coming before it happens, is already letting his eyelids fall closed, drunk with relief when Scott nods, baring his neck.

It’s not resignation.

It’s actual honest-to-god acceptance.

Stiles knows at that moment exactly what he needs to do.

He scrambles to his feet, Melissa catching his elbow. The pain in his toe is sharper now, undulled by adrenaline, and he hisses, hobbles himself toward her sedan. He tells her under his breath, dead serious, “You need to get me out of here, now.”

She gives him a questioning look, but he doesn’t have the time to explain. The pack is distracted with Scott, Isaac and Boyd circling him and Derek, tense and jittery, waiting for some weird werewolf-packmate acknowledgment from Scott that Stiles will never understand, and he needs to leave before they smell him. Before they smell werewolf on him—in him—like Scott had. Because he finally has a pack and it’s new, fragile like an egg shell.

Stiles won’t risk letting this thing shatter it.

Deaton said it was his choice, what to do, who to tell, and it isn’t much, but it’s enough to get him away from here until the threat of it is gone.

He takes it.