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Unbroken

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Every Friday morning since the Nemeton woke the darkness in his heart, Stiles bought himself a coffee to celebrate surviving another week. Usually he waited until daylight, but with Scott’s broken leg still knitting together in the backseat and Derek’s stomach wound still bleeding through his t-shirt, Stiles felt especially proud of being alive right now. At 1:30 in the morning it was, technically, Friday, and the coffee stand behind the grocery store was open 24-7. Besides, the caffeine might calm Stiles down long enough to let him sleep tonight. It might finally ease the jittery, broken feeling that had crashed through him when Derek went down with a fucking scythe in his gut. That feeling had only gotten worse when Scott raced to help him, only to get plowed down by the hunters’ SUV.

Stiles’s heart had stopped, only to start beating again when Scott dragged himself out from beneath the huge wheels, and Derek pushed himself to his elbows a second later, gasping for breath. His relief had given Stiles the strength to lift the pistol his dad had been teaching how to use, shooting the man whose scythe still dripped with Derek’s blood. He would have shot the driver, too, if Allison hadn’t beaten him to it. Now Ethan and Aiden were taking care of the bodies, and Chris was chewing out the surviving hunters for making a move on Argent-protected land. The fight was over, but Stiles’s hands were still shaking. He couldn’t stop bouncing his left knee up and down when he wasn’t working the clutch. If Derek hadn’t been so out of it, he probably would have smacked Stiles for fidgeting. So yeah. Coffee.

As he pulled up to the drive-through window, Stiles hoped it was dark enough that the barista wouldn’t notice the bloodstains on their clothes. But the curly-haired girl behind the window showed no sign of alarm, only mild curiosity as she folded her ragged copy of The Fault In our Stars and let her gaze flicker over them. Even without the bloodstains visible, Derek looked half-dead slumped against the passenger window, and Scott was stretched out across Stiles’s backseat with his leg elevated on a folded blanket. A painful bruise was forming on Stiles’s cheek where one of the hunters had clocked him. Dried blood still caked his split lip.

“Rough night?” the barista asked.

“You have no idea,” Stiles said fervently. On days like today, he could practically feel the darkness inside him, drawing him further and further towards it in a series of ever narrowing circles. He ran a hand through his hair, sighing as it came away with leaves and twigs.

“I’ll take a tall shot in the dark,” he told the barista. Then, since he was feeling generous, he added, “Do you guys want anything?”

“Stiles, we don’t all have your weird relationship with caffeine,” Scott said. “It’s late! I want to get some sleep tonight.”

“Caffeine shouldn’t affect you at all,” Stiles pointed out, curling his fingers into claws to make his point. But Scott just made a face at him in the rearview mirror, so he turned his attention to Derek instead. “What about you?” Stiles asked, nudging Derek with his elbow.

Derek shook his head, clutching his abdomen even tighter. His face was tight with pain, eyes suspiciously bright as they stared straight ahead. Stiles’s own gut spasmed in sympathy. He patted Derek’s knee, trying to ignore how his jeans were tacky with drying blood.

“And a tall hazelnut latte with almond milk,” he added because Derek had a sweet tooth and a bizarre hatred of dairy products.

The paper cups the barista handed to him filled the Jeep with a heavenly scent even Stiles’s human nose could appreciate. He savored the smell as he pulled out of the coffee stand. At the next red light, he reached for the cup, inhaling deeply before taking a sip.

A second later, he scrambled for the door, barely opening it in time to stick out his head and retch onto the concrete.

“Dude, are you okay?” Scott asked, leaning forward to grip Stiles’s shoulder.

Even Derek pulled himself out of his misery long enough to snap, “Stiles!” in a voice rough with pain and worry.

“I’m fine,” Stiles gasped, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “It just tastes weird, that’s all.” He glanced back at Scott. “Does it smell funny?”

Scott made a face. “It smells like it always does. That stuff is like battery acid, Stiles!”

“But I like it,” Stiles protested weakly. He’d started drinking coffee when his mom was in the hospital, filling and refilling his Styrofoam cup with the weak, burned-tasting brew from the carafes in the family waiting area. Foul as it was, the coffee had calmed Stiles down, had given him enough focus to sit quietly in the hard, plastic chairs instead of tearing through the halls and driving the nurses and his dad crazy. Later that year, when Stiles got his ADHD diagnosis, his doctor had explained to him that he didn’t react to stimulants the same way most people did. From hospital coffee, he went on to the pots of sludge Tara made at the sheriff’s office. She’d liked her coffee black and strong, and she’d taught Stiles to drink it the same way. A shot of espresso in a cup of black coffee was one of Stiles’s favorite things.

Cautiously, Stiles brought the cup to his nose and sniffed again. The rich scent that had comforted him only minutes before now smelled acrid. His stomach seized at the memory of the taste. Grimacing, Stiles dashed the rest of the coffee onto the road, breathing in through his mouth so he wouldn’t be sick again.

“I think I’m officially too stressed out for coffee,” he lamented. “What is my life coming to?” He wondered if he was developing an ulcer. Wasn’t coffee supposed to hurt ulcers?

When they pulled up in front of the McCall house, Stiles clambered out of the driver’s seat so Derek wouldn’t have to move. He folded the seat up and helped Scott out, though he probably needn’t have bothered. Scott bounced onto the sidewalk, as good as new. He gave Stiles a crooked grin, then leaned back into the seat to grip Derek’s shoulder.

“Hey, you were great today,” Scott said, in the calm, quiet voice he always used when he was channeling his inner alpha. Stiles always thought it was cheesy as hell, but Derek actually managed a weak smile in response to it. His eyes glowed blue for a second as he ducked his head, lowering his gaze from Scott’s. “Heal up soon, okay?” Scott said, patting Derek’s shoulder before letting him go.

Pulling out of the Jeep, Scott wrapped an arm around Stiles in a brief bro hug. “You’ll look after Derek?” he asked, ignoring the quiet noise of protest Derek made from the passenger seat.

“Yeah, I’ve got him,” Stiles said, thumping Scott on the shoulder. “You’re off alpha duty for the night.”

The wry look Scott shot Stiles said that he was never off alpha duty. Given that Scott didn’t exactly have a stellar leadership history before he’d been bitten, he was actually handling it better than Stiles would have expected. Mostly Scott’s leadership style as alpha involved a lot of delegating. And pep talks. Scott was great at pep talks.

“Have a good night, guys,” Scott said, starting towards the house. “Stay safe.”

Somehow, “stay safe” had become their “goodbye.”

“Yeah, you too,” Stiles said, climbing back into the Jeep. Derek’s eyes were closed again. He might have been asleep, slumped against the window, one arm still curled protectively around his gut. But when Stiles turned towards his own house and not the loft, Derek stirred, sitting up in the seat like he was preparing to argue.

“Dude, do yourself a favor and just don’t,” Stiles said, without taking his eyes from the road. “You’re in no position to defend yourself right now. “You know it. I know it. The hunters who got away tonight sure as hell know it. I texted my dad while you and Scott were posturing with their leader. He’s got the couch made up, and if anyone so much as sets foot on our property, he’ll haul their asses into jail before you can blink. Just let us take care of you tonight, okay?”

Derek gave him a sidelong look before jerking his chin down in a nod. Stiles reached over the divide between their seats to touch the back of Derek’s wrist.

“That’s my favorite beta,” he said. If the tone came out a shade too serious for teasing, Derek, at least, was in no position to call him on it.

No sooner had Stiles pulled into the driveway than his dad was hurrying out of the house to meet them. Together, they got Derek up the steps and onto the couch, which was, as Stiles had promised, fitted with clean sheets and an old Batman comforter.

Leaving his dad to get Derek settled, Stiles ran to the bathroom. The size and variety of the Stilinski first aid kits had grown exponentially since werewolves entered Stiles's life. The enormous plastic chest under the sink was designed to hold fishing tackle, but it worked just as well for gauze strips and antiseptic creams. Beside it was a stack of towels, threadbare and stained, but clean, and a box of room-temperature bottled water from Costco.

"I can do that," his dad offered, when Stiles returned, his arms full of first aid supplies.

His dad had managed to get Derek’s shirt off while Stiles was in the bathroom. Derek lay on the couch in his jeans and boots, his hands curled protectively over his stomach. His eyes were closed and his breathing came in short, shallow gasps. Even through Derek’s fingers, Stiles could tell that the wound was still raw and angry, which meant his injury must have been even worse than Stiles imagined. Werewolf healing always took care of internal injuries before moving on to the relatively minor issues of torn flesh. Just looking at the wound made Stiles a little squeamish, especially with his stomach still rolling from the coffee. He was tempted to take his dad up on his offer. But he shook his head regretfully. Stiles knew that, even half conscious, Derek wouldn’t hurt him if he accidentally grazed the wound or bumped him in a sensitive spot. He wasn't about to take a chance with his dad, though.

So Stiles steeled himself and popped open the bottle of water, using it to rinse out the worst of the dirt before patting the intact skin dry. He murmured a quiet apology as he ran an antiseptic pad over the wound, but Derek only grunted. Stiles patted his hip reassuringly, reaching for the gauze. His stomach settled a bit once the torn, angry flesh disappeared beneath white padding. He taped the gauze to Derek’s stomach with a quick efficiency born of too much practice. Derek lay still. Stiles thought he might have passed out. But as Stiles dropped the first aid tape back into the plastic kit, Derek's eyes fluttered open. His hand landed weakly on Stiles's knee, giving it a gentle squeeze. Stiles let his own hand fall over Derek’s, just for a second.

"You'll be okay,” Stiles murmured. “Get some rest."

Derek nodded into the pillow, his breathing already deepening into sleep. Stiles pulled the comforter up over Derek’s shoulders, eased off his boots. Setting them on the ground beside the couch, he glanced up to see his dad looking at him.

“What?” he asked.

His dad only shook his head, smiling sadly. “You’re a good friend,” he said. “Your mom would be proud of you.”

Stiles’s hand spasmed on the comforter near Derek’s ankle, and he took a deep breath, forced his fingers to relax. His mom had told him that the day she died. She’d gripped Stiles’s hand, told him she loved him, that she’d always be proud of him, no matter what. But even as she spoke, her eyes had kept flicking behind Stiles to the empty door. The nurses had rushed in and bustled Stiles out when the line on her heart monitor went flat, but not before he’d seen the disappointment creasing his mom’s brow. He always wondered, afterwards, if his dad could have made it there on time if only Stiles had known to call for the nurses before her heart stopped beating.

“Thanks,” Stiles muttered. He couldn’t bear to look at his dad’s sad face, so he looked at Derek instead. Even in sleep, pain crinkled the skin around Derek’s eyes. For a second, Stiles wished he were a werewolf so he could take some of it away. He gently carded his fingers through Derek’s hair, unsure which of them he was trying to comfort. Derek only sighed, burrowing his face down into the pillow. His hair was crunchy from the product he used in it.

“Have you told his sister, yet?” his dad asked.

“No,” Stiles admitted. “I should probably text her.” He reached for his phone, but it wasn’t in his pocket. It turned out to be on the floor of his Jeep, where he must have dropped it after the fight. Slumping back in the driver’s seat, Stiles shot off a quick text to Cora.

Derek got hurt pretty bad tonight. He’s healing, but you should call him tomorrow. He’d written so many of those texts he could probably do it in his head. Stiles didn’t blame Cora, exactly, for staying in New Mexico and letting Derek return to Beacon Hills alone, but he didn’t understand it. If Stiles found out there had been some mistake, that his mom hadn’t died, he wouldn’t let her out of his sight. But Cora and Derek seemed okay with the distance.

“We don’t know each other anymore,” Derek had said, when Stiles asked him about it. “We get along better with a few hundred miles between us.”

That was bullshit. How could they get to know each other if they only spent time in person a few weeks out of the year? But of all the mistakes Derek had made, that was the one Stiles had the least right to stick his nose in.

So he’d just said, “I’d like you better from a few hundred miles away, too.”

Derek had caught him in a headlock, but he hadn’t called Stiles on the lie. Sometimes the two of them understood each other perfectly.

As he put his phone away, Stiles noticed that the coffee he’d got for Derek still sat untouched in the cup holder. He sniffed it cautiously as he walked back toward the house, breathing in the scent of hazelnut and espresso, so much sweeter than his shot in the dark. Stiles wasn’t a big fan of almond milk, but he supposed it might smooth the coffee a little. And he wanted the coffee. He needed to calm himself down. Tentatively, he took a sip. At first, all he could taste was the syrupy sweetness of the hazelnut syrup. Stiles never got the point of flavored coffee. The coffee was the flavor. But then he picked up the darker note of espresso beneath the sweetness. No sooner had the taste hit his tongue than he was doubled over, vomiting onto the icy, dead grass of the front lawn.

“Are you all right?” his dad asked, stepping out onto the porch.

Stiles gave him a shaky thumbs up and poured Derek’s coffee into the dead leaves covering the yard.

* * *

Since Scott had become alpha, the pack met every Saturday morning at the nature preserve. Stiles and Lydia usually spent that time training with Deaton while the wolves and Allison sparred, occasionally under Chris’s direction. Sometimes Stiles’s dad dropped by unannounced, as if to make sure Stiles and his friends really were playing in the woods, not ripping people’s throats out or shooting up werewolf heroin. His dad hadn’t checked up on him that way in years, not since Stiles had started high school. It was annoying and a little embarrassing, but after everything that had happened, Stiles supposed he couldn’t really blame his dad for wanting to make sure Stiles and his friends were safe.

Typically, his dad only stayed for a few minutes, anyway. Stiles supposed it wasn’t particularly exciting to watch him doing yoga or meditating while his friends threw each to the ground or back flipped off tree branches. It must have been about as thrilling as watching Stiles sit on the bench during lacrosse matches. That was probably why his dad usually only stayed for a few minutes. But one day, his dad swung by as Stiles was dipping his fingers into a bag of mountain ash, and he got out of his car to watch.

He wasn’t sure why his dad was even bothering looking at him. On the other side of the clearing, Derek had the giant wolf the twins merged into caught up in a choke-hold, dangling from his (their?) neck like a child, while Isaac circled them in beta form, growling. Nearby, Allison fired arrow after arrow at Scott, who kept plucking them out of thin air like a badass. At the edge of the clearing, Lydia sat cross-legged under the trees, chanting very intently over a dead bird, while Deaton watched. But, no, of all the spectacles playing out in the clearing, his dad was focused on him.

Swallowing, Stiles reached into the bag of mountain ash, letting it sift through his fingers. At first, the magic flickered away from his touch, almost as self conscious as Stiles himself was. This felt like the first time his dad had watched him play lacrosse. Forcing himself to forget his dad, forget Lydia and Deaton, forget even the wolves crashing through the forest around him, Stiles closed his eyes and focused. He found the spark inside of him and sheltered it. As he walked in a slow circle, the ash falling through his fingers, he imagined every footstep was fanning it higher, into a steady flame.

He knew it had worked the second he sealed the circle. He could feel it in his bones. But since his dad was watching, he beckoned Scott over all the same. Sure enough, the air shimmered against the insistent press of Scott’s body. Scott broke through in about thirty seconds, but his dad clapped all the same.

“That’s fantastic!” he laughed, pounding Stiles on the shoulder like he used to when Stiles brought home a good report card.

Stiles ducked his head, pleased. Without giving himself time to examine the impulse, he thrust the bag of mountain ash at his dad. “You try.”

His dad’s eyebrows rose up to his hairline. “I don’t know — “ he started.

But Scott was nodding. “It’s a good idea,” he said. “What happens if you need to arrest a werewolf? You could keep them in a holding cell with this.”

At both of their urging, his dad relented. Deaton leaned against a tree and watched as Stiles talked his dad through it, trying to explain the spark as best he could. It took three tries for his dad to make it work, but when Isaac finally stepped up to his dad’s mountain ash line and froze, Stiles felt almost more proud than he had when he’d managed his first circle at the rave. He threw his arms into the air and whooped, clapping his dad on the shoulder. Afterwards, his face hurt from grinning so hard. Maybe this was what growing up was like — getting to feel proud of your parents.

His dad left with a smile on his face and a bag of mountain ash in his pocket. Stiles climbed onto a stump, his arms thrown wide for balance, and watched him drive away. The woods behind him were thick with werewolves and the gravel road ahead was shrouded with the dust the cruiser had kicked up. Stiles stood balanced between the two. He would mediate between the pack and the human world, making sure that Scott and his dad both had the tools they needed to protect Beacon Hills. And later on, when Deaton retired, Stiles would become an emissary after him. Stiles wasn’t psychic, not even a little bit, but in that moment, he could almost see the future spiraling around him, vivid as a photograph.

* * *

His dad had to work on Thanksgiving, which sucked, but was hardly surprising. A lot of domestic disturbances happened over the holidays. So Stiles found himself at Scott’s house, where he usually ended up when his dad’s job orphaned him. Melissa had to work too, but not until later, so they were having an early dinner. Stiles sat on the couch, artfully arranging crudités on a platter while Scott, Isaac, and Melissa banged away in the kitchen.

Stiles had been banned from holiday food preparation in the McCall kitchen since the great pie-burning incident of 2008, quite unfairly, in his opinion. The McCall’s stove had a different knob configuration than the Stilinski’s, that was all. Anyone could accidentally turn on the wrong burner. And who thought it was a good idea to cool a pie on one of the unused burners, anyway? Besides, there hadn’t been any actual flames involved, no matter how much Scott and Melissa said otherwise.

When the doorbell rang, Stiles dumped the rest of the carrots onto the platter and stood to answer it. Derek stood on the other side, gripping a casserole dish before him like a shield.

“Derek!” Stiles exclaimed, unable to keep the surprised happiness from creeping into his voice. He’d been bored and kind of lonely hanging out in the living room, listening to Scott and Isaac bicker as they cooked. Now that Derek was here, Stiles would have somebody to talk to. Besides, Derek wore a green sweater beneath his leather jacket, and it brought out the color of his eyes. Dimly, Stiles became aware that an idiotic grin was spreading across his face.

“Stiles,” Derek acknowledged. His lips quirked in the corner, like he was trying not to grin. The hesitant, almost shy expression he’d worn when first Stiles opened the door was completely gone. “Are you going to let me in?”

That’s when Stiles realized he was still clinging to the doorframe, his body positioned smack in the center of it. Blushing hard, he stepped aside, making room for Derek to enter.

“You made it!” Scott said, emerging from the kitchen with a dish towel flung over his shoulder and a potato peeler in one hand. He took the casserole from Derek, leading him into the kitchen. Stiles followed them, unable to suppress his curiosity. In the kitchen, Isaac was frantically stirring a pot of gravy, and Melissa was taking a steaming pan of rolls from the oven. She was already dressed in her scrubs, and her face looked tired and harried, but the smile she gave Derek seemed genuine.

“I’m glad you were able to join us,” she said. “Scott, take his jacket. And you!” she snapped, catching sight of Stiles behind Derek as he set the wine bottle on the counter and stripped off the leather jacket. “Out of my kitchen!” She lifted her oven mitt threateningly.

Stiles scurried out, accepting the jacket that Scott thrust at him as he went. At the closet hallway, he paused for a moment, holding Derek’s jacket close and breathing in the scent of it, leather, pine and musk. It sent an odd thrill down his spine to realize that he’d spent enough time in close proximity to Derek that he knew how the guy smelled. He hung Derek’s jacket beside his own corduroy sports coat. When he closed the closet door and turned around, Derek was standing behind him, watching.

Heat flamed in Stiles’s ears and neck, and he ducked his head, hoping like hell that Derek hadn’t noticed that little jacket sniffing moment. Of course, Derek was a werewolf, so he might not think it was weird even if he did.

“Banned from the kitchen, huh?” Derek asked, smirking at Stiles.

“Lies!” Stiles insisted, leading Derek away from the closet and into the relative safety of the living room. They sat together on the couch, munching on the vegetables Stiles had arranged and booing at every bad play. Well, Stiles booed. Derek scowled.

When Melissa called them into the dining room, Stiles learned that Scott and Isaac had managed to talk her into letting them each have a glass of wine, on the grounds that they were werewolves and couldn’t get drunk, anyway. Stiles had to protest loudly that she was discriminating against the non-lyncanthropic teenagers at the table before she gave in and poured him one, too.

“But someone else has to drive you home,” she said firmly, setting the glass in front of his plate.

“One glass of wine won’t get me drunk!” Stiles protested.

“And you know this, how?” she asked, lifting her eyebrows.

“From . . . hearsay not at all related to personal experience?” he tried.

She shook her head. “I’m serious, Stiles. We have too many people come through the ER after driving drunk. You are not going to be one of them.”

“I’ll take him home,” Derek said, ignoring Stiles’s betrayed look.

Like every year, Melissa insisted they all hold hands and say one thing they were grateful for. Stiles had ended up between Melissa and Derek. He took their hands, trying to ignore the traitorous flutter in his heart at the touch of Derek’s warm fingers.

“I’m grateful for my pack,” Scott said, beaming at them all.

“For my dad,” Stiles said, like he always did.

“I’m grateful for Scott and Melissa giving me a home here,” Isaac said, ducking his head to avoid Derek’s eyes.

Derek stiffened beside him. Stiles tightened his grip on him, half afraid Derek was going to launch himself at Isaac or storm away in offense. He hoped Scott was doing the same thing on Derek’s other side. It would probably take an alpha to stop Derek from doing whatever the hell he wanted to do.

But Melissa saved the day, saying, “Well, I’m grateful for these boys who are going to clean the kitchen for me while I’m at work.” Everybody laughed, and Stiles and Scott groaned. Some of the tension eased out of Derek’s shoulders.

“Cora,” Derek said quietly. Stiles squeezed Derek’s hand tightly for a second, running his thumb up and down the back of Derek’s hand before letting him go. When he glanced up, Derek was staring at him.

Their thanks given, Melissa let them all dig in. Stiles piled his plate high out of habit, snagging an extra roll and liberally spooning gravy onto his mashed potatoes. But when Scott and Isaac headed into the kitchen for second helpings, Stiles was still pushing his food around the plate.

Melissa looked at Stiles with worried eyes. "Are you all right kiddo?"

"Not hungry, I guess," he answered. The truth was, Stiles hadn't been hungry for a while now. Since he’d started puberty, he hadn't been able to shovel food into his mouth fast enough. He’d been constantly hungry. Now, he had to remind himself to eat. He figured he was just done growing. But Melissa was frowning at him.

She stood up, walking across the table and pressing the back of her hand to his forehead. It reminded him so much of something his own mother would do that tears came to his eyes. He swallowed nervously. Derek was staring at him, his brow creased with concern.

"You don't have a fever," Melissa said, pulling back. "But there’s a nasty stomach bug going around. Three people ended up in the ER with it last week.” She patted Stiles on the shoulder. "Get lots of rest, okay?"

Stiles brightened. "Does that mean I don't need to do the dishes?”

"Fat chance,” Melissa said, and swatted him across the back of the head.

* * *
Stiles never got the stomach bug Melissa had warned him about, but his appetite didn’t return, either. He still liked food, he just didn’t want it anymore. Sometimes his stomach hurt after eating, a burning pain that radiated out from his upper abdomen. The smell of coffee still made him sick. Stiles was starting to think he really did have an ulcer.

It wasn’t just his appetite. He was exhausted all the time now. It took more and more effort to get himself out of bed in the morning. It was a relief when Christmas break came, and he was able to sleep in until noon every day. On the deepest level, Stiles’s body just felt wrong. He was more aware than ever of the darkness inside him, drawing him in towards its center. Sometimes, for no reason, he thought of his mom’s face after she’d gotten sick, how pale and drawn she’d been. He knew it was just the Nemeton messing with him, but every time he woke up after dreaming again of her face, he wondered if something really was wrong with him.

The pack would be scattering over the holidays — Derek to spend Christmas with Cora, Lydia and her mother to Switzerland, the twins to visit family in the Midwest. The weekend before everyone left town, Scott decided to hold a slumber party in the name of pack unity.

The werewolf element aside, it actually reminded Stiles of the slumber parties they’d had back in grade school. He and Scott knocked elbows as they brushed their teeth, the same way they’d used to. When they went to the living room, the rest of the pack was already down there, sleeping bags spread out across the living room. They were all in their pajamas aside from Derek. Allison, looking decidedly less dangerous in sleep shorts and a tank top, was painting a giggling Isaac’s toenails bright purple. Beside them, Lydia lounged on her sleeping bag, a glass of eggnog in one hand. She wore a lacy blue nightgown that made her skin look even creamier than usual, and Stiles had to fight back the momentary pang of jealousy he felt when Aiden, shirtless (of course) and wearing a pair of flannel sleep pants, leaned over and kissed the tip of her shoulder. On his other side, Ethan, also shirtless, leaned back against the sofa, deeply engrossed in his texting conversation with Danny.

Only Derek lay apart from everyone else. He lay on his sleeping bag in the far corner of the room, still fully clothed, his hands folded over his chest as he gazed up at the ceiling. He looked wistful. Stiles thought of the Christmas he and his dad had spent without his mom, how hollow everything felt without her, even though they’d tried to carry on their old traditions. This must be like that for Derek, he thought, except for a hundred times worse.

Without letting himself examine the impulse too much, Stiles picked up his sleeping bag from where he’d absently tossed it beside Scott’s earlier in the evening. Crossing the room, he spread it out next to Derek’s instead. Derek’s head rolled to the side to watch him, but he didn’t say anything, and neither did Stiles. For a long time, they just watched each other. Stiles wanted to ask Derek about his family, about their traditions, about everything he’d lost. He wanted to ask what Cora’s place was like down in New Mexico, whether it was better or worse to spend Christmas there than in Beacon Hills. But Stiles didn’t ask any of that. Instead, he smiled weakly and patted Derek’s arm, shaking his head to convey how deeply fucked up this whole situation was. Derek exhaled slowly, managed a stilted shrug in return. Giving his arm a final squeeze, Stiles pulled away, rolling onto his side. He fell asleep, leaving Derek to his memories.

Sometime after midnight, Stiles woke feeling like his gut was on fire. Pain burned through his upper abdomen, curling around his torso to lick his back. A whimper escaped him before he remembered he was sleeping in a room full of werewolves.

"Stiles?" Scott murmured sleepily, not lifting his face from his pillow. From his other side, next to Allison, Isaac was blinking up at Stiles with confused, wide eyes. Across the room, the twins were stirring in their sleep. Wrapping his arms around himself, he exhaled slowly, trying to calm the rabbit-quick racing of his heart. "What is it?" Scott asked.

"Stomach ache," Stiles grunted, clutching his abdomen.

"It's probably gas," Isaac said darkly. He rubbed his eyes, dropping back down to the pillow. "If you fart," he told the ceiling, "I guarantee someone will maul you. We have enhanced senses. It's practically self defense."

"It's not gas!" Stiles said, and Aiden twitched in his sleep, claws flicking out, then in again.

"Shut up!" Ethan groaned from beside him. "Some of us are trying to sleep.

Scott lifted himself up onto one elbow. His hair was going every direction. He looked ridiculous. "Dude," he said around a big yawn rubbing a hand over his face. "We've got Tums in the medicine cabinet. Do you need me to --?" he gave a half-hearted wave of his hand towards the door.

"No," Stiles said. "I got it. Go back to sleep."

Not having to be told twice, Scott rolled over, snores quietly drifting over the room. Isaac blinked at Stiles, then dropped his head back to the pillow. Gingerly, Stiles picked himself up out of his sleeping bag. It was only when he stepped over the empty sleeping bag beside him that he realized Derek was gone.

Half asleep and feeling fuzzy with pain, Stiles made his way to the bathroom. He found the Tums where Scott had said they would be, and poured himself a glass of water from the kitchen sink. He hated the chalky taste in his mouth. As he was putting his glass in the sink, he noticed the back door was unlocked.

At first, Stiles reached for the handle intending to lock it. Melissa hated having the door unlocked, even though the werewolves sleeping in the living room were more than a match for any burglar. But then Stiles remembered Derek's empty sleeping bag, and instead of locking the door, he opened it. Shoving his bare feet into the pair of sneakers Scott had left near the door, he padded out into the dewy grass. In the moonlight, it was easy to make out Derek sitting on the old swing set Mrs. McCall had never bothered to take down. He wasn’t swinging, just rocking himself back and forth slightly, his feet firmly planted on the ground as he stared up at the sky with a helpless, lost expression. Snowflakes were falling gently around him, tiny, anemic things that melted as soon as they hit the grass.

Wordlessly, Stiles took the other swing. The chains groaned alarmingly with his weight, but didn’t collapse, so he figured it was okay. Stiles pushed off with his feet, sending himself swinging backwards a little. He was too tall to swing anymore. He had to pull his knees up to his chest to keep them from hitting the ground. But the motion reminded him of being young and safe. He felt old all of a sudden, bitter and jaded and worn out.

"Are you okay?” Derek asked after a second. “You smell . . . off."

"Just a stomach ache," he said, not meeting Derek’s eyes. "I probably ate too much."

"You barely ate at all," Derek said, watching him suspiciously. “You haven’t been eating much for awhile now.”

“It’s fine,” Stiles said.

His feet hit the ground, and he propelled himself forward, trying to swing as high as he remembered managing when he was younger, back when his mom was alive and werewolves were only in scary movies. But maybe he was too heavy for the swing set after all. The entire swing set lurched alarmingly. Derek shot to his feet, catching hold of the aluminum legs like he was going to anchor it himself. Stiles saved him the trouble and jumped, arms flailing wildly.

He landed on his feet. For a brief second of optimism, he thought he might actually manage to stay there. But his borrowed sneakers slipped on the wet grass, and Stiles fell backwards onto his ass, laughing with surprise and embarrassment.

When he sat up, Derek stood in front of him, one hand extended in silent invitation. Stiles took it, and Derek hauled him back to his feet. “I don’t think the frame is bolted down right,” Derek said.

Stiles grinned sheepishly. “Noted.” Then he frowned, realizing Derek was still holding his hand. “Um,” he said, scratching the back of his neck.

Derek didn’t say anything, but he didn’t let go of Stiles’s hand, either. Instead his brow furrowed in concentration. A second later, the veins in his hands and arms darkened, and Stiles wanted to cry at the sudden, shocking, absence of pain.

“That’s bad,” Derek said, frowning. “Are stomach aches supposed to feel like that?”

Stiles tugged his hand away, and Derek let him. Until that moment, Stiles hadn’t realized werewolves felt the pain they took. “What would you know about it, wolf boy?” he muttered, stomping back to his swing.

He took his seat more cautiously this time, and Derek settled into the swing beside him. Stiles’s brain tried to make sense of the fact that he was hanging out on Scott’s old swing set with Derek Hale. He almost wondered if he were drunk, although he’d only had a few glasses of Lydia’s eggnog. Or maybe it was Derek’s pain-leeching mojo that was giving this night the oddly surreal edge.

"When I was ten," Stiles said, mostly to distract himself, "I convinced Scott to jump off this swing and he broke his leg. Melissa was pissed at me for months."

To his surprise, Derek actually chuckled, shaking his head ruefully “We used to have a swing set, too, when we were kids,” Derek said. “Laura tried to convince me that if I ever swung all the way around, I'd end up in a different world."

"Did you believe her?"

"I did it just to prove her wrong," Derek said, staring up at the top of the swing set above their heads. "It's not hard when you're a werewolf. Then she tried to convince me that she didn't know who I was, and she somehow got Peter to go along with it. Mom found me crying in the basement and yelled at both of them.” He shrugged awkwardly. "I was kind of a sensitive kid."

He was a sensitive adult, too, Stiles knew, except the painful, vulnerable heart of him was layered beneath scar tissue and anger. He wished he knew something to say to make things better. But things never got better, not really, and Stiles knew that better than anyone. So instead, he swung sideways, bumping gently into Derek and sending him swinging, too.

When they crept back into the house, pink tendrils of dawn light were just beginning to color the sky. They climbed into their sleeping bags, and with the worst of the pain siphoned off, Stiles was actually able to catch a few hours of blissfully dreamless sleep until Melissa woke them all for breakfast the next morning.

Stiles dropped into his seat feeling bleary-eyed and exhausted, but when Melissa offered him coffee, he shook his head. "I don't drink coffee anymore."

"Since when?" Scott demanded.

Stiles gave him an unimpressed look. "Dude, you were there the night coffee decided to break up with me."

Beside him, Derek straightened, giving him an odd look. "That was months ago."

Stiles shrugged. "So, it took."

Melissa was frowning. “You don’t like coffee anymore?”

“It makes me sick every time I drink it,” Stiles said, shrugging. “It’s no big deal. Tastes change, right?”

“Sure,” Melissa said. “But usually not overnight.” For a long moment, she studied Stiles, and then she sighed and shook her head. “You’re a strange one, kiddo.”

“Tell me about it,” Derek muttered, and everybody laughed.

* * *

Stiles remembered when Christmas Eve meant caroling, sometimes just Stiles and his parents, sometimes a group of their friends. No matter the group, Stiles always begged to be the one who rang the doorbell. He’d loved the game of running to the door, ringing to the bell, and scrambling back to the group by the time the door opened and they launched into their song, his mom’s strong, sure voice rising over all of theirs, her cold-reddened fingers strumming her guitar. She’d been a folk musician when she was younger. Nobody famous, she always demurred — she just played in coffee houses and the occasional festival. But she’d made a demo CD that Stiles loved to show off to his friends, and she still had her guitar. Christmas Eve meant music, then coming home to cookies and hot chocolate, to his parents warning him to go to bed early so Santa would come.

Now, Christmas Eve meant pizza and bad movies, Stiles and his dad camped out on the couch, refusing to look at the guitar gathering dust in the corner. Stiles had texted Derek earlier that afternoon, nothing much, just a Merry Christmas. Derek hadn’t texted back, and Stiles had almost forgotten about it by the time his phone chirped during Earnest Saves Christmas.

Thanks, Derek replied, and a second later, You too.

Stiles couldn’t help the grin on his face. Setting his barely nibbled-on pizza back on the bright poinsettia plates his mom had insisted on buying, he asked,Do you hate the holidays as much as I do?

More, Derek responded at once, and Stiles chuckled.

“Who are you texting?” his dad asked.

“Derek,” Stiles replied, already typing his reply. Wish you were here. Misery loves company.

His heart raced a little when he hit the send button, though he couldn’t say why. He waited through the rest of the movie, half-heartedly gnawing at his pizza crust. The phone finally chirped as the credits were rolling, and his dad laughed at how quickly Stiles dove for it.

Me too, Derek had replied.

Feeling suddenly warm, though the room was slightly chilly, Stiles set the phone back in his pocket. Stretching, he stood, helping his dad clear away their plates and the pizza boxes.

As they cleaned up, his dad frowned at the amount of pizza left in the box. “Didn’t you eat, son?”

“I ate,” Stiles lied, laying the remaining slices out on aluminum foil and carefully wrapping them for the fridge. “But I filled up on chips at Scott’s house earlier.”

His dad frowned, clearly unconvinced, and Stiles escaped to the bathroom. When he got out of the shower, he stood for a long time in front of the bathroom mirror, studying his reflection. He was losing weight. He’d always been slim, but Stiles could see his ribs now, and the sharp bones of his hips. Fortunately, it was winter, and Stiles always wore so many layers that he doubted anyone else had noticed.

Of course, he always forgot just how good of a detective his dad actually was.

He cornered Stiles the day after Christmas, setting a slice of leftover pecan pie in front of him and asking, “Are you all right, son?”

“Fine,” Stiles answered, forcing himself to take a bite. His dad did not look convinced. If anything, he looked more worried.

“It’s just that you’re not eating,” his dad said.

“I’m eating!” Stiles protested.

His dad glanced pointedly down at Stiles’s mostly untouched pie. “Normally, you’d have had that polished off before noon,” he said. “You haven’t even touched it.”

“I’m pacing myself,” Stiles said, trying to sound casual.

“You’re not eating,” his dad repeated. “You’re losing weight. And don’t think I haven’t noticed that you’ve been sleeping more than usual.”

Stiles shifted uncomfortably. “What are you saying?”

His dad’s face looked equal parts nervous and determined. “Stiles, are you depressed?”

Stiles froze, another forkful of pie held halfway to his mouth. “How would you define depressed?" he hedged.

His dad fixed him with a look that said he wasn’t going to let himself get distracted. “I would define it as not eating, sleeping all the time, and waking up every night with nightmares."

Stiles let the fork fall onto his plate. "That's funny," he said. "Because I would define it as having permanent darkness in your heart because you sacrificed yourself to a goddamn tree. But I really don't think they make a pill for that, Dad.”

“You don't know that!" his dad said. “Look, I was on antidepressants for three years after your mom died. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I know that!” Stiles said. “But this . . .” He shook his head, trying to figure out how to explain it. “It’s not a chemical imbalance, Dad. It’s magic. A doctor isn’t going to understand it.”

“Then go to Deaton!”

“What’s he supposed to do about it?” Stiles countered. “If there was a way to help me, don’t you think he would have done it already?”

“I don’t know!” his dad said. “I don’t know anything about this supernatural mess you kids have gotten yourselves into!”

And this was why Stiles had spent so long trying to keep his dad from finding out about werewolves in the first place. Part of him wanted to point that out, to argue like he might have a year ago, but he knew that would upset his dad anymore. Stiles was tired and heartsick, and the food he’d eaten was sitting in his stomach like a brick. He didn’t want to fight. Mostly, he wanted to go upstairs and go to bed.

But his dad was still talking. “I don’t understand it,” he said. “And I don’t like it. You know I’m not happy about what you did to find me. Goddamnit, Stiles, if I’d known this was the price you’d pay to save me, I’d have rather you just let me die.”

“I couldn’t do that,” Stiles said. His voice broke a little, and his dad shook his head, pulling him in for a rough hug.

“I know,” he said after a second. “I know you couldn’t.” He sighed, holding Stiles at arm’s length and forcing him to meet his gaze. “Look,” he said. “I couldn’t stop you from climbing into that tub to save me. But there’s no way in hell I am going to just sit there and watch you fade away because of it. We are talking to your doctor as soon as her office opens next week, you got that? She might not be able to do anything about the cause, but she can damn well treat the symptoms.”

Stiles sighed and nodded, knowing from his dad’s expression that there was no point in arguing.

Next week, as promised, he went to the doctor’s office after school. After that, a bottle of Lexipro joined the Adderall on his desk. The pills didn’t touch his new awareness of the darkness inside of him. They didn’t touch his stomach aches, either, but then, Stiles hadn’t expected them to. But they did give him a little more energy, enough that he could pretend that everything was okay. For a little while, anyway.

* * *

The first time Stiles had knocked on Lydia’s door, her mom had stared at him like something she’d scraped off the bottom of her shoe, demanding to know who Stiles was and how he knew Lydia, before she’d deigned to let him visit her daughter. Now, she gave him a smile that looked genuine as she opened the door.

“Lydia,” she called. “Stiles is here.” To Stiles, she asked, “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?”

It was cold day, so Stiles said, “Tea sounds great.” In response, Lydia’s mom shepherded him into the kitchen, opening an entire cupboard full of brightly colored tea boxes and glass containers filled with leaves.

“Go ahead and pick one out,” she said, filling the kettle.

For a second, Stiles could only boggle at the variety. He and his dad had one half-empty box of Red Rose at home, and that was probably a good five years old. He dithered over the tea for a few minutes, reading the backs of boxes and hesitantly sniffing at the leaves. Lydia appeared in the kitchen doorway just as he was choosing a blueberry flavor.

“Green tea?” Lydia asked him, reaching around Stiles to snag her own teabag — green pomegranate, he noticed.

"I wanted to try something new,” Stiles said, unwrapping his teabag and putting it into the mug Lydia’s mom had given him.

Lydia nodded her approval. “It's high in antioxidants," she said. “You should do yoga with me sometime.”

He shrugged. "Maybe.”

“What are you two working on today?” Lydia’s mom asked, pouring boiling water over their tea bags.

“Banshee stuff,” Lydia said, lifting her tea bag by the little string and bobbing it up and down in her cup. Stiles followed her lead, feeling silly. “I might scream,” Lydia warned her mother. “But don’t come in.”

Her mom smiled, smoothing Lydia’s already-perfect hair. “I’ll run a few errands,” she said.

As Lydia led him up to her room, Stiles said, “Your mom is taking this really well.”

“She’s just happy I’m not crazy,” Lydia said, dropping gracefully onto the edge of her bed. “And she likes to know what’s happening in my life. Doesn’t your dad?”

“I guess,” Stiles said, taking the desk chair across from her. “He’s glad I’m not lying about the werewolves anymore. He’s still upset about the Nemeton thing, though.”

“Wouldn’t you be upset if he sacrificed himself for you?” Lydia asked, taking a sip of her tea.

“Well, yeah,” Stiles said. “But that’s different!” He took a sip of his own tea, then made a face, setting the mug on Lydia’s desk. He missed coffee.

“Your dad probably doesn’t see it that way,” Lydia pointed out.

“We should get started,” Stiles said.

Lydia gave him a smile that said she wasn’t abandoning the topic, only setting it aside for later. Setting her own mug on the nightstand, she crossed her legs into perfect lotus, laying her hands on her thighs, palms up.

“Did Deaton run through the exercise with you?” Lydia asked.

“I’ve been practicing guided meditation all week,” Stiles assured her. “He had me record myself on my phone and play it back for him. I think I’ve got this.”

“You’d better,” Lydia said, but her voice was warm. After everything that had happened with Peter, she’d flat out refused to let Deaton guide her in meditation, saying she would only do it with somebody she trusted. When Lydia had suggested Stiles as an alternative, the surprised happiness he’d felt had warmed him to the bone. “How do I start?” she asked.

“Close your eyes,” Stiles said. She did, and he continued, trying to make his voice calm and soothing. “Imagine yourself in a field. You’ve never been here before, but somehow, you recognize it. Know that you’re completely safe here. Go ahead and explore it a little. Notice how the air smells. Notice the sounds you hear.”

As he spoke, the tension in her shoulders eased, and she sat up a little straighter on the bed.

“If you listen closely,” Stiles continued, “you’ll hear the sound of running water. You follow that sound, and soon, you find yourself on the bank of a massive river. You kneel beside it, and dip your hand in the water. It’s cold against your hand. You can feel how strong the current is.”

She shivered.

“Know that you’re safe,” Stiles said. “The river is strong, but it can’t take you. Step into it, and feel yourself connected to the riverbed, even though the water is moving by. The water is cold and it’s fast, but you’re rooted in place. Kneel down, and feel the water all around you.”

She was nodding slightly, biting at her lower lip.

Stiles took a deep breath, hoping his voice didn’t betray his nervousness. “When you're drawn to the bodies, what do you feel?"

“It's like . . . a tugging,” Lydia said, her voice sounding far away. “In my heart."

"Focus on that feeling,” Stiles said.

She shuddered.

He said, “Now reach out your hands, and feel the fish that occasionally bump against you as they swim downstream. Each fish is a person who is going to die. You can feel them in the water. You could almost catch one of them if you moved fast enough. Be still and patient, and when you find one that's nearby, grab ahold of it."

"Is that your great Emissary speech?" she asked him, opening one eye and flipping her ponytail over her shoulder.

"Lydia, will you just try it?" Stiles said, in a tone that was decidedly not soothing and calm. But Lydia’s shoulders relaxed in response to it.

“Fine," she said, frowning in concentration. Her lips pursed and the fingers on her right hand made a little, abortive gesture, as though trying to close around something unseen. "I've got one.”

"Are you sure?" he asked dubiously. Deaton had said this would probably take about half an hour for her to manage.

"Positive,” Lydia said, in a voice that brooked no room for argument.

"Okay," Stiles said, hoping he didn’t sound as unsure as he felt. "We're going to try to find what it is you're sensing. Go ahead and stand up.”

Moving like a sleepwalker, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, standing unsteadily.

Stiles swallowed. “You’re going to lead me to whatever it is you’re sensing,” he said. “When you’re ready, point towards it.”

In a smooth, creepy motion, one hand swung up from her side, pointing in Stiles's direction. He glanced behind himself at the quiet street outside the window. "That way?" he asked, reaching for the jacket he’d placed on the back of her desk chair. "Okay, let's go."

When he glanced back at her, she had frozen in place, lips moving silently, her head shaking in little jerks.

"Lydia?" Stiles asked. "Come on. We're going to try to find it before something happens, okay?" He lay a hand on her shoulder, and she jerked as if burned. When her eyes flew open, Stiles was startled to see tears brimming in them.

"Lydia?”

"Oh God," she whispered.

"Lydia, what's wrong? What is it?"

"It's you," she choked, bringing her hands up over her mouth, but not before the scream bubbled out of her. It echoed through the house. Stiles thought it might be echoing inside his bones. He was suddenly glad he’d thought to text the pack beforehand and warn them to ignore any screams they heard.

When the scream echoed into silence, Lydia stared at him, tears streaming freely down her face. “Stiles,” she said, in a frantic, terrified whisper, “there's darkness in you and it's killing you. I can see it."

He forced a smile. "You were there when I went in the ice bath," he said. "There's a shadow around my heart. You know that. But I'm dealing with it."

She shook her head. Her breath was coming in tiny, gasping hitches. “No," she whispered. "It's not in your heart." She stumbled towards him, resting one hand on his upper abdomen, where the pain had been driving him crazy for weeks now. “It's here," she whispered, her eyes still glazed, too bright. “It started here, but it’s spreading out. It’s radiating outward.” Her face crumpled, and she choked out, “It’s metastasizing.”

"Oh my God," Stiles whispered, sinking back into the desk chair.

* * *

Stiles knew fear. He knew the blinding terror of fleeing from something stronger, faster, and 100% more deadly than he was. He knew the paralyzing dread of being helpless to stop Scott from shifting during a lacrosse game, to free Erica and Boyd from Gerard, to stop Jennifer from killing his dad. By now, Stiles was probably Beacon Hill’s resident expert on fear. But he’d never felt anything like this — fear with wings beating his chest and throat from inside, talons raking his guts. This wasn’t something he could fight. This was his body rebelling against him. Lydia gripped his hand too tightly as they drove to the animal clinic, her nails biting red crescents into his palm.

On the drive to the clinic, Lydia had called Deaton, asking him to meet them there, even though it was a Friday night. When Stiles pulled into the parking lot, Deaton’s Prius was already there and the door to the clinic was unlocked.

Lydia described what she’d seen in clipped, rapid sentences, like she might manage to stay ahead of the rising undercurrent of panic in her voice if she could only get the words out quickly enough. Stiles barely heard a word she said. He sat in one of Deaton’s uncomfortable plastic chairs with his arms wrapped around his stomach, eyes flicking over the posters on the walls: Understanding Feline Leukemia, Your Dog and Diabetes, Canine and Feline Skeletal Anatomy.

“Lydia, you’re not a medical intuitive,” Deaton said, when she finally fell silent. “There’s no reason to think that anything is wrong with Stiles.”

“He’s dying!” Lydia protested. “I can feel it!”

“It’s pancreatic cancer,” Stiles said dully.

“You can’t know that,” Deaton said, but Stiles barely heard him.

God, he’d been such an idiot. All of the symptoms were right there. The stomach aches. The weight loss. The lack of appetite. Even the sudden aversion to an acquired taste. He’d watched his mom go through the exact same things. But then, she’d gotten yellow right before she went into the hospital — jaundice, his dad had explained. That had certainly never happened to Stiles. A new thought occurred to him, and for a second, hope overpowered the frantic terror. “But . . . The werewolves would have smelled cancer on me, right? Scott smelled it on Gerard. So maybe it’s something else.”

Deaton hesitated. “Not necessarily,” he said. “What Scott smelled wasn’t the cancer itself. It was the medication he was taking for it. Cancer is a mutation of the body’s own cells. It’s difficult for even experienced werewolves to detect, unless they’re looking for it specifically.”

Stiles slumped back into his seat.

In a gentle voice, Deaton said, “Stiles, go to your doctor. Tell her your concerns.”

"If I go to a doctor, my dad will find out!” Stiles protested, surging to his feet. “He can't know about this."

"He's your father," Deaton said.

"Exactly," Stiles snapped. "And pancreatic cancer killed my mom!" He glared at Deaton, who only frowned. Stiles sighed, some of the wind going out of him. “Look," he said, “Can you help me or not?"

Deaton sighed. “I can give you an ultrasound if it will make you feel better,” Deaton said. “But I think you're overreacting."

"For what it's worth, I hope you're right," Stiles said.

At Deaton’s direction, Stiles took off his shirt and lay on the examination table. At any other time, he would have been embarrassed to show his scrawny chest to Lydia. But he was so nervous and heartsick that he stripped his shirt without a second’s thought, handing it to her for safekeeping. He climbed onto the examination table, drumming his heels against the side as Deaton busied himself in the back. A few minutes later, Deaton came back with a machine that looked like it had sidelined as an 80’s home computer, huge and blocky with a tiny screen and a fold-out keyboard with an enormous turquoise mouse ball and green, blue and yellow buttons. A little pocket on the side of the contraption held what seemed to be the love child of a microphone and a vacuum attachment.

“Is that the ultrasound?” Lydia asked, dropping Stiles’s shirt onto the chair and crowding up beside Deaton.

“It is,” Deaton said, setting the machine on a rolling steel table and pushing it closer to Stiles.. He was pulling on a pair of latex gloves. “I’m going to rub this on your stomach,” he told Stiles, holding up a tube. “It might be cold.”

A number of Stiles’s favorite fantasies had started off with a latex glove and a bottle of lube, although none of them had involved Deaton. God, he’d made a fisting joke with a pair of those gloves in this very office not six months ago. It felt like it a different lifetime. He stared up at the ceiling, breathing in and out through his nose, and tried not to flinch when Deaton spread the gel on his stomach. He hadn’t lied — it was cold.

Stiles tried to ignore what Deaton was doing with the machine until the veterinarian stood, holding the white plastic wand over Stiles’s stomach. He slid it across Stiles’s abdomen slowly, keeping his eyes on the screen. Stiles tried to look, too, but it was all a mass of gray lines. He couldn’t even begin to make sense of it. Deaton’s face was impassive as he worked, but Stiles heard the small intake in his breath.

“What is it?” Stiles asked, though he already knew the answer.

Deaton only hesitated a second before he said, “There is a mass on your pancreas.”

Stiles’s head dropped back to the table. He felt like all of the air had been leeched out of his body.

“This isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm,” Deaton was saying. “You’ll need to have it biopsied. I suggest you set up an appointment with your doctor immediately. You’ll — Stiles?”

Stiles was already on his feet, pulling his shirt back over his head, mindless of the gel still coating his skin. “I have to go,” he said, unable to look at Deaton. He stumbled out of the clinic in a daze. He didn’t realize he was running until he heard the click of Lydia’s heels on the concrete as she raced to catch up with him. At the edge of the parking lot, Stiles fell to his knees. Leaning forward, he vomited into the tall grass between the parking lot and the road.

A small hand landed on his back, rubbing gentle circles. “Breathe,” Lydia was saying. “Breathe, Stiles.”

He choked out a laugh. “Will you kiss me if I don’t?”

“Not unless you brush your teeth.” She sounded nearly as hysterical as Stiles felt. He leaned back against her, pressing his head to her thighs in their flowered skirt. Her fingers petted his hair, like he was a little boy.

“There’s no point in getting a biopsy,” he said. “It’s cancerous. You sensed it in me.”

“I could be wrong,” Lydia said in a small voice.

Stiles shook his head. “You’re never wrong.”

Her arms wrapped around him, suddenly, fierce and strong. “I wish I were this time,” she whispered into his hair.

“Me too.” Stiles drew in a shuddery breath, staring out at the road, at the forest beyond.

“What are you going to do?” Lydia asked.

“I don’t know,” Stiles said. But deep in his heart, he thought maybe he did.

* * *

That night, Stiles dreamed that Scott, Derek, the whole pack turned on him, nipping on his heels with slobbery fangs and creepy, glowing eyes. He tore off through the forest with the wolves on his heels, but he wasn't fast enough, he couldn't move fast enough, his arms and legs weren't following his commands. Someone’s teeth closed around his ankle, and it hurt like hell. He fell, landing on his face against the forest floor, screaming. The last thing he saw was Scott's faced twisted into an expression of rage and grotesque hunger, mouth spread wide to show his fangs. Then Scott lowered his head and pain exploded through his belly as the fangs sank in.

Stiles woke gasping for breath, cold sweat beading at his temples.

For a few minutes, he could only lay in bed, still shaking, clutching the pillow to his chest. The ache had started up in his stomach again. That had been real, not just part of the dream. He spread his fingers over where it hurt, thinking again of the tumor he'd seen in the ultrasound. Even now, the cancer was spreading through his body. Lydia had said it looked like a dark shadow slowly working its way out from his center. Now that he knew it was there, he could almost feel it, poisoning him slowly from the inside out. He’d thought it was bad enough when the darkness was weighing on his soul, trying to drag him down towards it, but now his entire body had rebelled against him. If you couldn’t even trust your own body not to turn against you, what could you trust?

When Stiles dragged himself downstairs at a quarter to eight, his dad glanced up from his newspaper, clearly surprised.

"You're up early."

"Nightmares," Stiles said shortly, reaching for the Cap'n Crunch. Fortunately, nightmares were such a commonplace occurrence after the Nemeton that his dad didn't even look surprised. He just made a sympathetic face at Stiles, offering the coffee. His dad had his own cup in front of him, steaming hot and fragrant. Stiles considered saying fuck it and pouring one for himself -- he was dying, goddamnit? Couldn't he at least have a cup of coffee? But when he imagined the taste of it on his tongue, his stomach rolled. Regretfully shaking his head, Stiles made himself a packet of instant cocoa instead.

"What are your plans for the day?" his dad asked, as Stiles sat across from him.

Stiles hesitated, sipping his cocoa. Usually, he spent Saturday mornings training with Deaton, and the afternoons hanging out with the pack. But after yesterday, Deaton was the last person in the world he wanted to see. He didn't really feel up to facing the pack, either. Not because of the dream, although he still shivered at the look in dream!Scott's eyes. No, he didn't want to face Lydia’s worry. Didn't want to try to fool Scott and Derek into thinking something wasn't wrong.

Cautiously, he glanced at his dad. "I was thinking about maybe hanging out with you," he said, trying to keep his voice casual. "If you're not working or anything."

The pleased and startled expression on his dad's face made Stiles feel like the worst son ever. How long had it been since he'd hung out with his dad?

“We can head out to the range and fire a few rounds,” his dad offered. They’d done that a lot, when Stiles was younger.

But Stiles shook his head. “No guns," he said firmly. "I need a break from that shit. We could go to the park, though," he offered. "Maybe shoot some hoops?" His dad had played basketball in school, possibly with Peter Hale, now that Stiles thought about it. When Stiles was a kid, his dad had often taken him to the basketball court on their way home from school, probably to try to burn off some of Stiles’s energy.

“As long as you promise to go easy on your old man,” his dad said, the grin on his face almost infectious. “Speaking of basketball, there’s a game on this evening. I could make nachos. What do you think?”

“That sounds great!” Stiles said. He didn't have to fake the enthusiasm in his voice. His dad's nachos were the best.

Stiles sent off one group message to the pack, telling him he was hanging out with his dad and not to expect him today. Then he turned his phone off and set it on the table.

His dad frowned. “Is everything okay?” he asked. “You seem off, kid.”

"I just need some space from the pack," Stiles said, which was true enough. He forced a smile. “Come on. Are you ready to have your ass handed to you?”

“You wish,” his dad laughed, dropping the subject.

As it turned out, his dad did win their little game of one-on-one. Stiles wasn’t as quick as he usually was. That would be the cancer, he thought, trying not to let the bitterness show on his face. Still, he insisted loudly that he’d only let his dad win, keeping the protests going the entire walk home. They spent the afternoon in front of the TV, a platter of Nachos before them. The Kings were getting the shit beat out of them, which suited Stiles just fine. He didn't have to pretend to be happy, not when he was trash-talking the referees and booing the Lakers.

When he went up to his room that evening, Stiles went straight for his closet. He kept a cardboard box in the very black, safely hidden by sports equipment and piles of dirty laundry. This wasn't stuff he was trying to hide from his dad. No, Stiles kept his weed at Scott's house and his porn neatly sorted into the homework folder on his desktop. The things in the box were there because they hurt too much for Stiles to look at them.

Steeling himself, he pulled the box from his closet, setting it on his bed. On top was a small photo album. He took that out without giving into the masochistic urge to flip through it, setting it on the bedspread. Next came the stuffed elephant his mom given him to keep him company when she first went to the hospital. He’d slept with it every night until she died. After that, he couldn’t bear to look at it anymore, though he couldn’t handle the thought of getting rid of it, either. The elephant joined the photo album on the cover. He pulled out the chipped coffee mug she always used in the morning. It had a picture of Garfield on it and the words, “I don’t do mornings.” Stiles had rescued that from the Goodwill box when his dad started purging the house of her stuff. Below that was a denim jacket, neatly folded. His mom had loved that jacket, worn it almost every day. Once upon a time, it had smelled faintly of her perfume, but now it smelled like dust. Swallowing, he unfolded it, slipping his arms into the sleeves. It had fit him once. Now it was too tight in the shoulders, and the sleeves barely covered his wrists. Stiles slipped it off again, setting it, too, on the bedspread.

He found the CD at the very bottom of the box.

The woman on the cover was thinner than the mom Stiles remembered, at least until the cancer had stripped her down to skin and bones. She dressed differently, too -- a long, flowered skirt and Doc Martens, a choker around her neck. But her eyes were the same ones Stiles saw in the mirror every morning, though hers were ringed in dark liner. She sat in front of a rain-streaked window with her knees clasped to her chest, dark hair spilling over her shoulders.

Claudia Nowak, the cover read. The Widening Gyre.

Stiles had never burned the CD. The last thing he needed was for one of her songs to ambush him on shuffle. But he listened to it sometimes, when he wanted to remember her. Carrying his MacBook over to the bed, Stiles double-checked that his headphones were in. If his dad heard her voice coming from Stiles’s room, he’d know something was wrong. Holding the MacBook on his lap, Stiles slid in the CD. When iTunes popped up, he went straight for the last track, the one he usually skipped.

His mother’s voice rolled into his headphones, a cappella, every bit as deep and rich and beautiful as Stiles remembered. “I was standing by my window on a cold and cloudy day, when I saw the hearse come rolling to take my mother away.” He’d hated that line even when she was still alive, could barely stand to listen to it now. His mom had recorded this the year after her own parents died in a car crash. Stiles had never met his grandparents, but he’d always hated this song. His mom had loved it, though, had sung it to herself while doing dishes or pulling weeds out in the garden.

“Why do you sing it?” he always asked. “It’s so sad!”

“Life is sad,” she’d answered, smiling wistfully. “But music helps to make it better.”

When the chorus came, her guitar joined her voice, turning the song from a dirge to a prayer. Stiles whispered the familiar words with her, as the tears stung his face.

May the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by

They’d played that song at her funeral. Stiles hadn't been able to listen to it since. Once the Johnny Cash version had started playing during one of those late-night infomercials trying to sell boxed CD collections to old people, and Stiles and his dad had practically collided as they dived for the remote.

He remembered Peter gripping his wrist in the parking lot, casually asking if Stiles wanted to give up his humanity. Even now that Peter was dead, his ashes scattered to the wind, Stiles shuddered at the memory of hot breath across his wrist. Part of him had wanted, desperately, to accept Peter’s offer, and that had scared him even more than chaining his best friend to a radiator had. Since his mom had died, anger had burned inside him like a low-banked coal, hot and flickering in the depths of his heart. That anger had carried him through the empty days after her death, had given him the strength to get out of bed and go to school the Monday after her funeral, the strength to talk his dad into drinking Coke instead of whiskey at dinner, to smile and laugh when he felt like slamming his fists into the wall. It had given him the strength to pull away from Peter.

If friendly, easy-going Scott could turn brutal when the wolf took hold of him, Stiles didn’t want to know what would happen to him. Arming his anger with fangs and claws seemed like a fundamentally bad idea. He was too angry, too broken, too sarcastic and cynical. Even submerging himself in ice water hadn’t managed to quench that flame — if anything, it flared brighter in the darkness the Nemeton had left in him. Stiles barely trusted himself as a human. How could he trust himself as a werewolf? He’d sworn to himself that he would stay human, even if it meant being the weakest of his friends.

But with his dead mother’s voice in his ears, Stiles’s resolve weakened. He knew what pancreatic cancer meant. Even if it didn’t kill him, there would be hospital stays and medication that made him sick to his stomach. The pain-lines around his mom’s eyes had been constant for most of that last year. She’d been so weak, so fragile, so wracked with pain in those last few months. Stiles had seen her crying, shaking with it, despite the drugs slipping through her IV. The thought of that happening to him, of his dad watching it happen, made Stiles feel even sicker.

If he died, who would try to get his dad to smile? Who would keep him from drinking too much? Who would keep him from eating the crap Stiles always took out of their shopping cart? Would his death leave his dad as hollow and broken as his mom’s had?

He imagined his dad picking out the music to play at his funeral.

Stiles wrenched the headphones off and threw them to the mattress. His mother’s voice still echoing faintly from them, like a ghost’s, until he pushed the eject button, putting the CD back in the case without looking at his mother’s face. Carefully, he packed everything back into the box. His mom’s CD. Her jacket. Her mug. His stuffed elephant. The photo album. Then, standing, he walked to his dresser, gathered up the tools Deaton had been teaching him how to use. The baggie of mountain ash. The wand of yew. The curved, silver knife. The tiny bottle of mistletoe. The blackthorn branch, tied with bells. Each of these he packed carefully into the box. Overlapping the cardboard ends to close it, he lifted the box and carried it back to his closet, thrusting it back into the darkest corner and setting his snowboard in front of it.

Then he grabbed his jacket and ran down to the stairs.

“Where are you going?” his dad asked, as Stiles exploded out the front door.

“To Scott’s!” he yelled, letting the door slam shut behind him.

* * *

He wasn’t in the mood to deal with Melissa or Isaac, so he parked the Jeep a block away from Scott’s house and cut through his backyard. Even for a clumsy human like Stiles, climbing the apple tree up to Scott’s window had never been much of a challenge. Before he’d even reached the top, Scott was opening the window, reaching out to grab Stiles by the arm and help him inside.

“Why didn’t you use the front door?” Scott asked.

Stiles shrugged, dropping onto Scott’s bed. He’d prepared a whole speech on the drive over, but now that he was here, looking at Scott, all of the words he’d prepared deserted him. Leaning over, he snagged the lacrosse stick from Scott’s floor and ripped the net free. As Scott watched, he started restringing it, just to have something to do with his hands.

“Is Isaac here?” he asked. This really wasn’t a conversation that needed to be overheard.

Scott’s face darkened. “He’s out on a date.” He didn’t need to add the “with Allison” part. The tightness in his voice made that loud and clear.

For a second, Stiles wondered if he should save this for tomorrow. This conversation was going to be hard enough without Scott silently stewing about Isaac and Allison, all the while trying to pretend he was totally fine with it. But tomorrow, Isaac might be home, and besides, Stiles had spent the drive here gearing himself up for this. He wanted to get it over with before he could change his mind.

As Stiles silently debated with himself, Scott’s expression morphed from frustrated to worried. “Stiles, what’s wrong?” he asked. “You’re shaking.”

Stiles glanced down at his own hands, and realized the nylon string between his fingers was trembling. Dropping it, he ran his hands through his hair, letting out a shuddering breath.

“I need a favor,” he said.

“Sure,” Scott said immediately.

“No,” Stiles said. “Like, a really big favor. You’re not gonna want to do it. But Scott, just hear me out.”

Scott pulled his desk chair closer to the bed and sat facing Stiles. “Whatever it is, just say it,” he said. “You’re scaring me, man.”

“I want you to bite me,” Stiles blurted, getting the words all at once, like ripping off a Band Aid.

“What? No!” Scott sounded exactly as outraged and offended as Stiles thought he would.

“You don’t understand,” Stiles said. “I need this, Scott. Like really, really need it.”

“But you don’t need it!” Scott said. “You’re great the way you are.”

Stiles twisted the lacrosse stick around and around in his hands. “Thanks,” he said. “I mean it, Scott, that’s great that you think so. But you’re wrong. I’m not great. I’m fucking falling apart here, and I need you to do this for me!” His voice was rising, and he took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.

“Is this about lacrosse try-outs next week?” Scott asked.

Stiles glanced up, startled. “What? No!”

In response, Scott looked at the lacrosse stick in Stiles’s hand.

“Believe me,” Stiles said, tossing the stick away and letting it clatter to the floor. “Lacrosse is the last thing on my mind.”

“Then why?” Scott asked.

This was his cue, Stiles knew. This was where he explained about the cancer. But his throat was already tight and the last thing he wanted was to start crying again. So instead, he said, “Can’t you just trust me?”

"No!" Scott exploded. "Not on something this big! Stiles, this will change your entire life!"

For a second, Stiles was so stunned he could only stare at him. “Really?” he said. “That’s what you’re going with? In case you haven’t noticed Scott, my life has already changed!”

“That’s why you shouldn’t make it even worse!” Scott said. “You saw what happened to me!”

“Because the superpowers and the popularity really seem to be weighing you down.” Stiles said, his voice sharp with sarcasm

Betrayal flashed across Scott’s face, followed fast by anger. “Don’t say that! Not you! Damnit, Stiles, you know how hard everything has been!”

Stiles felt bad, but he held his ground, looking Scott straight in the eye. “If you could wake up tomorrow and be human again, would you?” he asked. “Would you really go back to the asthma attacks and sitting on the bench all the time?”

“I didn’t have a choice!” Scott cried, his gaze sliding away from Stiles’s. His hands had clenched into fists at his side and his chest was rising and falling with his breath. Stiles noticed he hadn’t actually answered the question.

“Yeah, well I do,” Stiles said. “I want the bite, Scott.”

“No!” Scott said, his face sliding into its mulish expression. “I won’t do it, Stiles! You can’t make me!”

"What, like you made Derek give it to Gerard?" Stiles sneered.

Scott’s eyes flashed red before he got control of itself. “That was different!” he protested.

“Yeah, I’m sure Derek thought so,” Stiles said, just to watch Scott squirm. “I wish Derek was still the alpha,” he added petulantly. “I bet he would have bitten me."

"Then why didn't he?" Scott demanded. "He bit everyone else. Why not you too."

“That's . . . a good question," Stiles said, ducking his head. "I'll ask him sometime. But right now, I'm talking about you."

“Well, I’m done talking!” Scott said. “The answer is no!”

Boys!” Melissa yelled from the doorway. They both turned to stare at her. “What the hell is going on?” she asked. “Stiles, when did you even get here?”

“Don’t worry,” Stiles said. “I was just leaving.” He glared at Scott, then started towards the doorway.

Melissa stopped him with a hand on his elbow, searching his face. “Stiles, are you okay?” she asked, in a much gentler voice.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. His whole body was shaking with anger, and he could feel the tears stinging his eyes. She frowned, but stepped aside, giving him room to pass. Stiles thundered down the stairs and out the front door. Part of him hoped Scott would follow, but he didn’t.

* * *

His rage carried Stiles across town, to the sullen building that housed Derek's loft.

"Why didn't you ever offer me the bite?" he asked as he stepped out of the elevator. The hard edge of anger in his voice was sharper than he’d meant it to be. It wasn't that he was angry with Derek. He was angry with the world, and that just happened to include Derek.

"What?" Derek asked, taking a step forward. His brows knit in confusion. "Stiles, I don't --"

"When you were an alpha," Stiles interrupted, stepping up so they were staring at each other. "What, I was good enough for Peter, but not for you?"

"Peter offered you the bite?" Derek said, his voice going cold and steely, though Peter was dead for real now and far from any revenge Derek could manage. "When did this happen? Stiles, did he hurt you?"

Stiles ignored him. He pulled backwards, away from the hand Derek was reaching towards his shoulder. "What is it about me?" he asked, voice rough. "Was I just not good enough for your pack?" To his horror, his voice broke. He turned away, glaring at the floor. Derek's hand settled on his shoulder, squeezing hard.

"You were in Scott's pack," Derek said. His voice was surprisingly gentle, like the hand on Stiles's shoulder, gently stroking the muscle through the flannel.

Stiles roughly wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "So if I wasn't in Scott's pack, you would have offered?" he asked, turning again to face Derek.

Derek hesitated, just long enough for Stiles to read the answer in his face.

"Oh," he said, feeling his stomach sink. "Okay." He swallowed thickly. "I'm sorry for bugging you," he said. "I'll let you get on with . . ." he waved his hand at the couch and the book Derek had left open on it. Turning, he started towards the door.

He’d barely managed a step before Derek's hand slid from his shoulder to his wrist, tugging him back.

"Stiles," Derek said. "That's not -- I didn't." He sighed loudly, running a hand through his hair. "Do you want a drink?" he asked. "I have beer."

"I thought werewolves couldn't get drunk," Stiles said, glancing at Derek suspiciously.

"We can't," Derek said. "But I like the taste." He started towards the kitchen, still gripping Stiles's wrist, as if afraid he'd make a break for it. The prospect of alcohol led Stiles to follow him complacently. Derek only dared to release him when hey were within a few feet of the fridge. Stiles leaned against the wall, watched curiously as Derek pulled two bottles out, opening each with a quick flick of his thumb claw.

"That's useful," Stiles said, amusement briefly breaking through the anger and sadness.

One corner of Derek's mouth quirked up into a smile as he led Stiles back to the living room. "There are perks to being a werewolf," he said, then froze as Stiles's face fell. "Stiles . . ." he started, but Stiles just shook his head.

He sat on the couch, and Derek sat beside him, handing Stiles one of the bottles. Stiles took a long swig. The taste of pumpkin surprised him. He glanced down at the label, which had a picture of an owl on it. In a better mood, Stiles would have made a joke about werewolves and Halloween. Derek reached between them, picking up the book he’d left spread open on the couch and carefully dog-earring his page. As he set it on the coffee table, Stiles snuck a glance at the title, not surprised to see it was about World War I. Derek was kind of a history geek.

Sipping his beer again, Stiles said, “So you wouldn't have offered me the bite?”

Derek gave a tiny shake of his head.

"Do you think I'd make a bad werewolf?" Stiles asked in a small voice, picking at the label of his beer.

Derek’s fingers touched the back of Stiles’s wrist, stilling the motion. "You'd make a great wolf, Stiles.”

"Then why didn’t you ask me?” Stiles asked. To his horror, his voice broke a little.

Derek pulled away, clasping his hands around his own beer bottle. For a second, he stared pensively out the rain-streaked window. When he finally spoke, he said the last thing Stiles had expected. “Cora said Peter told you about Paige.”

Stiles ducked his head. "Yeah," he admitted. "You kind of disappeared after Boyd, and I was just . . . worried, I guess." He glanced sidelong at Derek. "Does that bother you?"

Derek gave a little shrug. "If you know about Paige," he said, not answering the question. "Then you know why I only offered the bite to strangers."

It took a second for the words to sink in. Then Stiles eyes widened and he explained, "You like me!"

"I didn't say that," Derek said quickly.

“No, you totally do!” Stiles said, grinning. “You don’t want me to die!”

“You have too much to lose,” Derek said. "You have a father who loves you. You have your friends. You have a life, Stiles. You didn't need . . ." He broke off, staring with horror at Stiles.

Tears were welling in Stiles eyes, and he jerked his head away from Derek's, wiping his face on his sleeve. The last time he'd cried in front of Derek, he'd been so worried about his dad that he'd barely registered the embarrassment of it. Now, humiliation burned through him like a flare. Derek took the bottle out of his hand, setting it gently on the coffee table.

"Stiles," Derek said, sounding lost. "What . . . ?"

Stiles shook his head, trying to stem the rising flow of tears that he'd been threatening to escape since he got the diagnosis. "I asked Scott,” he sobbed. "I tried . . . but he won't . . ." His breath was coming harder now, sharp and ragged. He buried his face in his hands, shaking.

After a second, Derek awkwardly settled his hand on Stiles's shoulder, the same way Stiles had touched Derek when Boyd died. It was comforting, the heat of Derek's large hand seeping through his flannel shirt. But it wasn't enough. Turning on the couch, Stiles threw himself against Derek with a sob, burying his face in the crook of Derek's neck. Derek froze for a second, before his hands lifted, tentatively wrapping around Stiles's shoulders.

A fresh wave of sobs emerged from that. Derek's body felt strong and solid. His arms were warm, safe. "I didn’t want to go to the doctor,” Stiles murmured against Derek's neck. “So I asked Deaton to do an ultrasound. He said . . ." Stiles shook his head, unable to force the words past the lump in his throat.

Derek's body stilled against his, though the arms wrapped around Stiles didn't lessen their hold. Then, to his surprise, Derek leaned in, pressing his nose behind Stiles's ear and just breathing. For a second, he hesitated there, his hair tickling Stiles's cheek. Stiles sniffled, pressed his face into Derek's shoulder. Then Derek's arms were tightening around him, and one of his hands was rising to curl protectively around the back of Stiles's neck.

"Shit," Derek murmured against Stiles's ear. His voice sounded rough. Helpless. "I smell it now. Damnit, I didn’t even think to check before! I knew something was wrong, and I didn’t even check!”

“It’s not your fault!” Stiles said. He pulled back far enough to look into Derek’s face, needing him to believe that. “I mean, my mom died of pancreatic cancer. I know what the symptoms look like, but I didn’t . . .” He shook his head. “I guess I didn’t want to know,” he said, scrubbing his eyes with the back of one hand. “It took Lydia to make me figure it out. She could sense it in me.”

“I’m calling Scott,” Derek said, reaching for his phone. “I don’t care if I have to force him to do it!”

From the hard edge in Derek’s voice, Stiles knew he was serious. Part of him wanted nothing more than to sink down into Derek’s couch and let Derek deal with all of this. But common sense kicked in, and he shook his head, catching Derek’s wrist before he could dial.

“Don’t,” he said. “I said some kind of shitty things to him. He needs to cool down first.”

“Ethan or Aiden then,” Derek said, his face going determined. “I’m not letting you die!”

“I’m not dying tonight,” Stiles told him. He sighed, taking another sip of his beer. “This needs to be something I do myself. I’ll talk to Scott again on Monday.”

“Are you sure?” Derek asked, thumb still hesitating over his phone.

Stiles nodded.

Derek shrugged and set the phone down. “If you need me to talk to him, I will,” he promised.

“I know.” Stiles lay his head against the back of the couch, smiling at Derek. Crying had calmed him down some. Now, he just felt tired. “Can I crash on your couch?” Stiles asked. If his dad saw him, he’d know right away that something was wrong.

“Of course,” Derek said immediately.

* * *

Usually, Stiles met Scott at his locker before third period, and they walked to class together, sliding into their seats a moment before the bell rang. But when Stiles stopped by Scott’s locker on Monday, his friend was nowhere in sight. Stiles wasn’t surprised to find him already sitting at his desk. Scott glanced up from the homework he’d been finishing, eyeing Stiles warily as he stepped into the classroom.

“Hey,” Stiles said, sliding into his own seat. Scott’s eyes narrowed and he stared straight ahead, as though Stiles hadn’t spoken. Slamming his binder onto the desk, Stiles made a big show of searching for his own homework, inwardly fuming. Usually he was the one who pulled the silent treatment. He wasn’t used to getting it, especially not from Scott. He found his vocabulary sentences on the back of a page of math notes, and ripped the page from his spiral notebook, tearing it a little in the process.

“Fuck,” he muttered, and stood, snagging some tape from the teacher’s desk. When he sat down again, Scott was very deliberately not looking at him.

“Look,” Stiles said under his breath, risking a sideways glance at Scott. “I said some things I shouldn’t have on Friday.”

“You think?” Scott muttered. Shifting his glare from his textbook to his half-completed homework, he scrawled out an answer, pressing so hard that his pencil broke. Holding the broken pieces in his hands, Scott stared down at them, distraught. When Stiles offered his own pen as a peace offering, Scott shook his head. “I’ve got another one,” he said, digging into his backpack.

Stiles sighed, resting his chin on his desk. He could already tell that it was going to be a long lesson.

As Mr. Anderson droned on about Yeats's “The Second Coming,” Stiles snuck his phone out of his pocket, sending a hasty text to Scott.

Im sorry

The phone buzzed in Scott’s pocket, but he didn’t take it out. Keeping his hands folded on his textbook, Scott stared up at the whiteboard, nodding intently at the teacher’s words.

Stiles glared at him sideways. “Scott!” he hissed, quiet enough that only a werewolf could hear him. Well, maybe not that quiet. On his other side, Angelica Martinez rolled her eyes.

“Lover’s quarrel?” she muttered.

Stiles flipped her off beneath his desk. Turning his English notes to the side, he started a new piece of paper, scribbling a quick note to Scott.

I really am sorry. There’s a lot going on with me right now that you don’t know about.. I was really upset on Friday. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you, though. Can you please come to my house after school? I need to talk to you.

Folding the note, Stiles dropped it onto Scott’s desk, beneath the open cover of his English book.

“Mr. Stilinski!” Mr. Anderson snapped.

Stiles jerked his hand back so quickly that he banged his elbow on his desk. “Yeah?” he asked, rubbing it surreptitiously.

Mr. Anderson glanced skyward, as though asking for strength. “The center cannot hold,” he said. “Your interpretation?”

All of the eyes in the room turned towards him, except for Scott’s. Stiles twirled his pen in his hand. “I think it means that we all have things that define us,” he said. “Our beliefs. Our identities. Our families. Our friends.”

Scott did glance towards him, then, but Stiles kept talking.

“Those things, they’re like fixed points in our lives, you know? We kind of rotate around them, like the moon orbiting the earth.” He lifted a fist into the air to demonstrate, his other hand circling his pen slowly around it. “But the thing is, life is never stable,” Stiles said, slowly moving his fist away from the pen’s orbit. “The things and the people we depend on, they change. Life is always changing. Sometimes, they don’t even have a choice. And sometimes, we’re so mad at them for throwing us out of orbit that we forget that. But either way, if we can’t change with them, or if those fixed points move so far that we can’t find them anymore, then the center of that orbit just falls apart. And then . . .” Making a dramatic whooshing sound, he let the pen fall to the desk, miming an explosion upon impact.

Surprised laughter welled up through the classroom. Even Mr. Anderson was smiling. “Very insightful, Mr. Stilinski,” he said. “Mr. Dagdagan, what would you add?”

As the other student started to talk, Stiles’s phone buzzed loudly where he’d left it on his desk. He hurried to scoop it up, hoping the teacher hadn’t heard. When he dared to glance down at it, he saw a text from Scott.

After school, it promised

* * *

“Cancer!” Scott cried.

Stiles nodded grimly. “Derek could smell it on me, once he knew what to look for. You probably can, too.”

Frowning, Scott leaned close, nostrils flaring as he inhaled. Stiles squirmed, relieved that Scott wasn’t actually nuzzling behind his ear like Derek had. Derek was so intense about everything that Stiles hadn’t minded from him, but he thought it might be weird if Scott did it.

Scott’s entire body stiffened, and he pulled away, eyes wide and horrified. “Why didn’t I notice earlier?” he asked.

“Deaton said it’s too subtle to notice unless you’re looking for it,” Stiles said. “It’s not your fault. Besides, I’ve probably had it for a long time. Pancreatic cancer is kind of a silent killer. The symptoms are so vague that it’s almost impossible to diagnose until it's too late. I’ve probably had it since before you even turned, Scott. Lydia said it had already spread through my body.”

“What are you going to do?” Scott asked.

Stiles looked at him steadily. “You know what I’m going to do, Scott.”

“No,” Scott said, his voice trembling. He shook his head frantically, catching Stiles by the wrist. “There’s got to be another way!” he said. “You haven’t even seen a real doctor yet!”

“What’s the point?” Stiles asked. “I already know what they’ll say. Ninety-four percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within five years of diagnosis, Scott! Seventy-five percent die within the first year! That’s what happened to my mom!”

“That means six percent get better!” Scott said. “You can’t just give up!”

Stiles waved his hands in the air. “Look at our lives, Scott!” he said. “When have I ever been lucky?” He sighed, dropping his forehead against his knees. "The way I see it, I've got a choice," he said. "I can start chemo. I can put my body through hell trying to heal this. I can fucking kill my dad watching me go through the exact same thing my mom went through. And after all of that, I’ll probably be dead in five years anyway. Five years, dude! I’d only be 22!” He lifted his chin, looking Scott square in the eye. “Or I can get the bite,” he said.

“No,” Scott said, lifting his hands. “I can’t . . . Stiles, you don’t know what it will do to you!”

“Don’t I, Scott? Haven’t I seen you going through it? I may not be a wolf, but I’ve seen what I’m getting into. I’m not an idiot.”

Scott just shook his head, mouth hanging open, like he was trying to form words, but couldn’t quite manage them.

“I already made up my mind,” Stiles said, trying to pour every last ounce of conviction into his words and hoping like hell that his heartbeat matched it. “You’re my best friend, Scott. You’re a good alpha. I want you to do it.” Stiles bit his lower lip, then added, “But if you won’t, I’ll find someone else,” he said, spreading his hands. “I’ll ask Ethan or Aiden. Maybe the people Cora is staying with. Hell, I’ll track down Deucalion if I have to!

“Stiles,” Scott said, but he was already sounding defeated.

“Please,” Stiles gripped his shoulder. “I don’t want to spend senior year in the hospital, Scott.”

“Have you at least asked your dad?” Scott said.

“No,” Stiles said firmly. “And I’m not going to. The last thing I want is for my dad to find out about this."

"Don't you think he'll notice when he finds out you turned into a werewolf?" Scott said. “Your dad’s not an idiot Stiles, and he knows about us now.”

Stiles shrugged. “I’ll deal with that when it happens,” he said. “He'll be pissed, but he'll get over it. Your mom did.”

“Yeah, but I shouldn’t have kept it from her,” Scott said. He turned away from Stiles, bracing his weight against the footboard as he stared out the window. “I think the lying bothered her even more than the wolf thing,” he said sadly.

“I know,” Stiles said. “But Scott, come on! You saw what my dad was like after my mom died. I thought he was going to drink himself to death that first year.”

Scott sighed. Dropping his head, he rolled it from side to side, cracking his neck. When he turned to face Stiles, he’d shifted to beta form, eyes glowing red.

“Best. Friend. Ever!” Stiles exclaimed, unable to stop the relieved smile from spreading across his face.

Scott just shook his head. “For the record,” he said, lifting Stiles’s shirt and shoving his jeans an inch lower down his hips, “I still think this is a really dumb idea.”

“Noted,” Stiles said, and gasped as Scott’s fangs sank into his skin.

* * *

Later that evening, Stiles tried not to pick at the cotton gauze covering his hip. Scott had insisted on spreading Neosporin over the bite, despite Stiles’s protests that it wasn’t going to get infected. Afterwards, he’d wrapped the wound in gauze, efficiently fastening it in place with neatly-torn strips of first aid tape.

"So," Stiles had asked before Scott left. "How long does it take to . . . you know?"

Scott hadn’t known, not exactly. He had turned during the night, but it’s not like he’d known that anything was happening to him, so he hadn’t exactly been paying attention to the timeline. Derek, when Stiles texted him, was more helpful. It could be anywhere from six to twelve hours, he wrote back, cautioning that it might take longer for Stiles because of the cancer. Apparently, Erica’s epilepsy made her transformation go slower than Isaac’s and Boyd’s.

Resigned to a long night ahead of him, Stiles settled in front of the computer, pulling up World of Warcraft to distract him from the lingering pain in his hip. He was just trying to decide whether or not to go on a quest when something warm and wet splashed onto the back of his hand. Stiles stared down at it. The black drop swam dizzily against his pale skin.

“No,” he whispered, shoving himself back from the computer desk. He stumbled for the stairs, grabbing his keys from the hook near the door.

A truck’s horn blared at him, and Stiles blinked at the road before him, where he’d drifted into the other lane, forcing the truck nearly off the road. Panicked, he steered hard to the right, nearly overcompensating and spilling the Jeep into a ditch.

How long had he been driving? This was the road to Derek’s house, he must have been in the Jeep for nearly ten minutes now, and he couldn’t remember a second of it, couldn’t remember anything past the splash of black blood on his hand. God, had he hit somebody? He could have caused a million accidents, and he wouldn't even know. It felt like the last time he'd gotten really trashed at a party, bright moments of starry consciousness against the total blackness of a vacuum. One second he was at his computer, watching the black blood splash onto his hand. The next minute, he was driving, and there were wads of tissue shoved up his nose.

Panting for breath, he gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles tightened, willing himself to stay alert. How had he not crashed the Jeep by now? The safest thing, Stiles knew, would have been to pull over. But now that he was back in the present, his entire body reverberated with pain. Deep inside him, there was a war going on, the bite struggling to turn him, to take control of his genes, and Stiles’s stupid, stupid, sick, human body was fighting him every step of the way. If he pulled over, he would curl up into a fetal position and he wouldn’t be able to get himself back on the road.

Besides, he was almost to Derek’s.

Ten minutes later, he sagged against the elevator wall, barely able to keep on his feet. “Derek,” he gasped, before the elevator doors barely had a chance to spring open. Then Derek was there, catching him by the arms.

“Stiles?” He gripped Stiles tight by the biceps, holding him up. His eyes searched Stiles’s face, lingering on the black blood that had soaked through the tissues Stiles had wadded in his nostrils, and was now dripping steadily down his mouth and chin. Derek’s entire face went pale. “No,” he said, his voice breaking on the word. “Stiles!”

All Stiles could do was shake his head, fighting to stay conscious. Pain rang through his entire body in deep, sonorous tones that shook him to his very core. His whole body was vibrating from it. He’d thought the abdominal pain was bad, but that was nothing. He hadn’t known pain like this even existed. Maybe it couldn’t, for a human. Maybe his nerves had already gone werewolf, sharpening every last moment of agony before his body eventually surrendered against the onslaught.

“Is this supposed to happen?” he asked, voice slurred.

Derek shook his head, mouth working as though he were trying to speak. Tears brightened his eyes, making him look younger. Giving up on words, Derek lowered them both to the floor, his arms wrapping around Stiles, cradling him against his strong, solid chest. Stiles pressed his face into the worn cotton of Derek’s thermal shirt, some scared, grasping part of him soothed by the touch.

Half delirious from pain, Stiles thought it made perfect sense that he had come to Derek. Who else would he go to when everything was shuddering apart? In life and death situations, they always seemed to find each other.

Black veins surged against Derek’s pale skin, and the sharp, echoing pain eased, dying down to a dull thrum. Stiles clung to Derek’s wrist in gratitude, resting his head against Derek’s chest. Time dissolved around him. He might have spent an hour in Derek’s arms like that, drifting in and out of consciousness. It might have been ten minutes. When something hot and wet splashed against Stiles’s neck, he blinked until the room swam back into focus.

Derek’s eyes and cheeks were red, raw from the salty tears streaming down his face. He’d only seen Derek cry like this once, when Kali forced him to kill Boyd. Then, as now, he’d trembled, his expression helpless, and lost, and just wrecked. Stiles heart seized. All at once he felt selfish for coming here, for burdening Derek with his death, too, when he’s been burdened so much already.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles rasped.

Derek choked out a laugh that sounded like a sob. “Don’t be sorry,” he said. “What do you possibly have to be sorry for?” A new thought seemed to occur to him, and his face went stricken. “I told you to ask Scott for the bite,” he said, sounding sick. “This is my fault.”

“No!” Stiles protested. “Derek, it’s mine. I asked Scott for it even before I talked to you.” Weakly, he brushed his fingers against Derek’s wet cheek. “Listen,” he said. “Maybe some things are just meant to be. I would have died from the cancer anyway, probably.” He forced a smile. “You can’t blame yourself for this. You blame yourself for too much already.”

“No,” Derek whispered, shaking his head. He held Stiles close, like he was precious, murmuring, “No, no, no,” into his hair. Then his entire body tensed. His arms tightened around Stiles. In a firmer voice, he said, “No. You’re not going to die.”

“I don’ think you can save me,” Stiles said, trying to keep his voice gentle.

Derek’s face had taken on that stubborn expression he always wore before he did something fundamentally stupid. “I can save you, Stiles,” Derek insisted, staring into his eyes.

“What?”

Derek said, “You know how Paige died.”

Stiles nodded, and Derek echoed the movement.

“If I'd been smarter, I could have saved her, helped her with the change. I didn't know how to do it then, but I do now." His voice was insistent, his eyes eager, practically begging, as he said, "Stiles, let me help you!"

"How?" Stiles asked.

"I can form a bond between us,” Derek said. “You can draw on my strength.”

Stiles shook his head. “I’m not gonna hurt you,” he managed, barely hearing the words, his voice was so weak.

But Derek gripped him tighter, shaking him a little. “You won’t!” he said. “Not permanently! I’m strong enough for this, Stiles! I can help you!” He swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing. Stiles could practically see the conviction draining out of him. “But you might not like it,” Derek said.

Stiles made a low, questioning noise in his throat.

Derek’s gaze shifted inward. He looked so sad in that moment that Stiles could barely stand it. Weakly, he reached up, caught his fingers in Derek’s sleeve, hoping only to distract him a little, to pull him out of the morass of his own thoughts. Derek shuddered at the touch, his gaze catching Stiles’s again. He wet his lips, then murmured. “It’s intimate.”

Confused, Stiles could only shake his head. Thanks to the pain, this conversation had been hard enough to follow before Derek started getting cryptic. Every beat of Stiles’s heart sent fresh waves of torment echoing through his body. All he wanted to do was curl into a fetal position and wait for it to be over. The velvet edge of the blackness was creeping close again.

Derek sighed, burying his face against Stiles’s shoulder. “Stiles,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “I’d have to fuck you."

Incredulity forced Stiles to struggle against the blackness closing in on him, holding it at bay. “You’re joking,” he said. But he could tell from Derek’s face that he wasn’t.

“I’m so sorry,” Derek breathed. “I know you don’t want . . . That you’re not.”

“Derek!” Stiles interrupted, feeling the sharpness in his voice and latching onto it. Sarcasm is my only defense, he thought, half giddy from pain and fear. “Do you honestly think sex with you is worse than dying?” Hysterical laughter bubbled out of him. “Dude, come on! You cannot possibly be that bad of a lay.”

Derek drew back, eyes flaring with indignation, and Stiles managed a weak smile in response. That was better. He liked Derek with the fire in him. That was the Derek he knew.

“Whatever you need to do,” he said, squeezing Derek’s hand. “I trust you.”

For once in his life, Stiles didn't think he'd be able to get an erection. That was a shame -- never in his life had Stiles glimpsed a more boner-worthy sight than Derek Hale stripping off both their clothes and carrying Stiles to bed. For years, he'd been daydreaming about Derek's pecs and abs, and now they were here, spread in front of him, all naked and inviting skin, and all Stiles could do was lie back against the covers, shaking with the pain coursing through him. At Derek's urging, he spread his legs, feeling vulnerable and exposed. Derek slicked his fingers up quickly, unable to look Stiles in the eye. His other hand rested on Stiles’s hip, veins still stained black. The initial discomfort of Derek’s fingers barely registered against the waves of pain crashing through his body. Stiles lay on the bed, eyes shut, blacking in and out as Derek worked him open. When Derek’s’ fingers jolted against something that made sparks crackle through the darkening agony of his body, Stiles gasped in surprise.

“Did that hurt?” Derek asked, voice shaky and rough.

Stiles shook his head. “Again,” he murmured. Derek repeated the motion, pushing hard and deep. Again, pleasure brightened the pain, and Stiles groaned. His dick gave a little, interested twitch.

The emptiness he felt when Derek’s fingers slid out momentarily distracted him from the dull waves of torment throbbing through his veins. Derek shucked his own clothes, never lifting his hand from Stiles’s skin. Weakly, Stiles tried to lift his head from the mattress, wanting to take Derek in, but he couldn’t manage it. A second later, Derek was climbing over him, and Stiles forgot about trying to watch him, too distracted by the warm press of skin against skin, comforting even through the pain. Derek knelt over Stiles, straddling his hips. His broad palm slid up Stiles’s torso, coming to rest above Stiles’s heart.

Derek’s cheeks were still red from crying and his eyes had this horrible, haunted look in them.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles whispered.

Derek’s mouth trembled. Stiles honestly didn’t know if he was going to laugh or cry. He didn’t do either, though, just closed his eyes and leaned forward. For a second, Stiles thought Derek was going to kiss him, and he held his breath, waiting. But Derek only pressed their foreheads together.

“It’s okay,” he murmured, gripping Stiles’s shoulder, hard, before he slid down Stiles’s body. “It’s going to be okay, Stiles.”

Strong hands settled below Stiles’s thighs, guiding his legs up and around Derek’s waist. “Are you ready?” Derek asked, and Stiles managed a small nod. The first, blunt pressure of Derek’s cock was minor compared to fire consuming him from the inside out. Still, it was almost too much when Derek began to slide inside him. Stiles gasped, shaky, gripping Derek’s arms. He felt weak. Lightheaded. Derek felt impossibly huge as he slid inside him, inch by painstaking inch. The intimacy of the moment startled him. His body opening for Derek. Warm skin against his own. Derek’s thumb lightly caressing his hipbone. Stiles wanted to cry because he could see how, in another situation, this would have been perfect.

“You’re doing great,” Derek murmured, drawing his lips down Stiles’s throat. The praise punched through Stiles. Derek never gave out compliments. “We’re almost there.”

By the time Derek’s balls bounced against his ass, tears had gathered in Stiles’s eyes. He wasn’t sure why, whether from the pain of Derek’s cock, the razor-sharp heat tearing through him, or the startling intimacy of having all of Derek’s attention, hell, his entire body, focused on Stiles. The veins on his hands and arms were still corded black, skimming away the leading edge of pain. Stiles thought this might almost be bearable, dying here, in Derek’s arms. At least he wouldn’t die a virgin.

“Is this all right?” Derek asked. Fine tremors were running through his body with the effort of holding back.

Stiles managed a nod. “Do it.”

It hurt when Derek started to move. It felt strange and uncomfortable, too full, too raw, too everything. Stiles’s burgeoning erection had wilted right back to nothing as Derek started sliding inside, and without it, this felt dirty, almost wrong. Stiles gritted his teeth, gripping Derek’s hips hard enough to bruise. He didn’t think he’d be able to stand it if he let go, lost that solid connection to Derek.

Derek was murmuring in his ear, quiet words of reassurance that felt almost ridiculous under the circumstances. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you, Stiles.”

Stiles wanted to laugh or maybe cry. But then Derek changed his angle, knocking back into that spot that he’d found earlier, and a bolt of pleasure shot through the cloudy pain, illuminating all of Stiles’s nerve endings and curling his toes.

“Oh!” he gasped, unable to help himself.

Determination glinted in Derek’s eyes, and he repeated the motion, more surely. Stiles cried out again, and Derek grinned, teeth sharp and bright in the dark.

“That’s it,” he said, and Stiles could only nod beneath him, shuddering.

And then, Derek dove into the fucking with abandon. It was amazing. Derek was so aware of his body, so keenly sure of his strength, his grace. Stiles had never had that attention focused on him before. Now that he had it, he was almost grateful he would probably die because he didn’t want to ever live without it. Derek fucked like he was born to it, all glowing, sweaty skin and soft palms and strong, sure dick. This time, the heat in his gut had nothing to do with the failed bite, everything to do with Derek, with the sure press of his cock, the scrape of his stubble along Stiles’s neck and jaw. He became aware of his renewed erection as from a great distance. His cock was hard, weeping against his stomach. It was all too much — the pain, the pleasure, Derek. Stiles felt paralyzed. Overwhelmed. All he could do was lie on the mattress, panting, yielding himself up to Derek. Stiles lifted a hand to wrap around it, but Derek caught his wrist, moving it back to his hip.

“Derek,” he gasped. “Please.”

“I’ve got you,” Derek repeated, wrapping a hand around Stiles. His hand smoothed over Stiles’s cock once, languidly, as if he were admiring a piece of art.

“Derek!” Stiles protested, bucking up futilely into the too-loose grip.

“Shh,” Derek soothed. “Stiles, I can’t let you come yet. We’ve got to come together. While I’m knotting you.”

The words didn’t make any sense, at first. But then Stiles felt the base of Derek’s cock begin to swell. “You have got to be kidding me,” he gritted out, wincing as the pressure against his inner walls grew.

Derek shook his head. His hair was sweaty, plastered to his forehead. “I’m sorry,” he gasped. “It’s the only way.”

The pressure was becoming almost unbearable now. He gasped, tossing his head against the mattress, unable to stop the tears from rising in his eyes. His entire body was already one great sea of pain, and now the fire in his ass made him want to pass out or cry. Instead, he gripped Derek’s thighs to give his shaky body more leverage, instinctively bearing down against the pressure. The knot slid another inch inside him. It was more comfortable there, away from the ring of muscle around his entrance.

“Do you do this with everyone you fuck?” Stiles gasped.

Derek shook his head, eyes wild. “No,” he groaned, grasping Stiles’s hips and driving in even deeper. Stiles felt like he was being split apart. “Only you.”

The knot was impossibly huge inside of Stiles. It pressed against his prostrate, constant pressure, nothing at all like the sudden, piercing-hot jabs of Derek’s cock against it. Stiles gasped, throwing his head back against the pillow.

He opened his eyes to see Derek staring at his neck. His eyes had gone electric blue. His tongue darted out to lick his lips, leaving them soft and wet. “Stiles,” he said, “I’ve got to . . . “

Stiles stared at him. “What the fuck?” he gasped, voice reedy with mingled pleasure and pain. “There’s something else?”

Derek shook his head, swallowing. “I need to bite you,” he said. “Can I?” His thumb was circling the little circle of skin between Stiles's throat and shoulder almost reverently.

Stiles nodded. Derek opened his mouth wide, showing his fangs. For a second, Stiles had an uncomfortable memory of Scott doing the same thing before he’d bitten Stiles’s hip, then Derek was lowering his head, and all thought fled as Derek’s teeth punched through his skin. The pain was fast, sharp and swift. Derek pulled away with a red-rimmed mouth. Then, in a vertigo-inducing move that shouldn't have been possible with Stiles so weak, and knotted on Derek's cock besides, they were flipping. A second later, Derek lay spread beneath him. Stiles swayed, dizzily, still impaled on Derek's cock.

Derek tossed his head back, exposing the pale line of his throat. “Bite me,” he urged. “You have to do it, too. We need to finish the connection.”

Hesitantly, Stiles leaned forward, fitting his mouth over Derek’s skin. It tasted salty as he dragged his tongue over it, feeling Derek shudder beneath him.

“Do it!” Derek urged.

Stiles bit, but Derek shook his head. His hips were still moving up in Stiles, tiny, impotent little thrusts, bound by the knot. “Harder!”

Stiles’s teeth clamped down hard around Derek’s neck until the skin broke. Blood filled his mouth, coppery hot. He choked, trying to swallow it before he got sick.

Derek cried out, bucking up into Stiles. The hand that was still on Stiles’s hip spasmed, claws pricking into the skin, and Derek's entire body went rigid below him. The pressure inside of Stiles increased minutely, and he realized, dimly, that Derek was coming inside him. Dropping his head to Stiles's shoulder, Derek started jacking him off, hard and efficiently.

"Fuck," Stiles groaned, shuddering as the touch sent him sprawling over the edge between pain and pleasure. He shuddered in Derek's arms, pressing open-mouthed, clumsy kisses to the bite-swollen skin of Derek's throat and shoulder.

Then he felt it.

It was as if, deep in his chest, the sea of pain crashed into a sea of cool, deep water. Stiles grasped for it greedily, drawing it into his veins. This was nothing like Derek drawing the pain away. That had been siphoning, merely skimming the hottest layer away from the top. Now all of his calm, dependable strength was seeping into Stiles, cooling him from within. The solid pressure of Derek’s knot inside him was like an anchor.

The last thing Stiles sensed before he passed out was deep, overwhelming relief.

* * *

He woke to the absence of pain. His body ached lightly, like it did after a hard workout, but it was nothing at all compared to the agony of having his body fighting itself. Even the months-old ache in his gut was gone, washed away like letters in the sand. Stiles’s limbs felt heavy and calm. His entire body felt at peace.

That’s when he noticed the smell. Rich and smoky, like leather and cedar and sex and old books. Stiles wanted to bury himself in it. He was, in fact, burying himself in it. Stiles blinked open to find himself sprawled over Derek, his face pressed into Derek’s neck. He dragged his nose through the hair behind Derek’s ear, gaining another deep inhalation of the scent.

Holy fuck.

Blinking, Stiles rolled away from him. Although they’d gone to sleep with Derek’s cock still pumping inside Stiles, they’d separated during the night. Derek’s cock was limp now, nestled in the dark hair between his thighs. Stiles found himself fascinated by the foreskin, so much more obvious when Derek was soft. He wanted to reach, to touch, to cradle Derek’s soft cock in his hands and kiss it to life.

Regret coursed through Stiles, not because of what they’d done — he didn’t think he’d ever regret having sex with Derek — but because he knew they’d never get to do again. Biting his lip, he tore his face away from Derek’s cock. Glancing at his face was enough to convince Stiles to slip out of bed without touching him. Derek slept like the dead, his breath heavy and even. His skin was pale against the pillow, dark circles heavy under his eyes. For the first time, Stiles let himself think of the danger Derek had put himself in while helping Stiles. He’d drained his alpha powers away healing Cora’s pain. Stiles shuddered to think what healing Stiles might have done.

It was hard to think with the smell of sex on his body, so he showered. The hot water sluiced away the last, dried remnants of the black blood clinging to his face and chest, and the dried come crusted on his belly and thighs. From the fullness he'd felt when Derek's knotted him, Stiles thought his ass should be on fire right now, but it felt fine. Stiles lathered up his hands, blushing a little as he slicked his finger into himself -- for cleanliness, he told himself. He could smell Derek's come washing away from him, Stiles realized, as the scent in the shower changed, became a little less complex. It almost made him sad to get clean. He squeezed a dollop of Derek's fancy, organic shampoo into his palm. It smelled spicy, kind of herbal and oddly familiar. It took Stiles a second to realize that was because the shampoo made up part of Derek's scent. He took careful note of the brand name as he worked it into his hair. He might not be able to carry Derek's scent on him anymore, but at least he could smell like his shampoo.

Afterwards, with a towel slung around his hips, Stiles stared at his own reflection in the mirror. Instead, he got distracted by the bright red mark of Derek's teeth against his collarbone. It stood out against his pale skin, announcing to the world, Hey, Stiles Stilinski got laid last night!

He was going to have to wear a scarf to school, Stiles realized with mingled pride and mortification. Curiously, he lowered the towel, glancing at the spot on his hip where Scott had bitten him. It was healed, just the faintest hint of white scar tissue beneath his fingers. Was it because Derek's bite was fresher? Stiles shrugged, deciding it probably didn't matter, and dropped the towel, taking in his reflection as a whole.

Truth be told, Stiles had kind of been hoping for a werewolf makeover, kind of like Erica's or Boyd's. He'd been hoping for more muscles, a hotter face, anything, really. But the reflection that greeted him was disappointingly the same as ever. Scott hadn't changed either, Stiles thought, but then, he thought loyally, Scott was kind of a hottie beforehand. In a nerdy way. Stiles supposed he should be thankful just to be alive.

He opened his mouth, poking at his flat, human teeth and wondering how to get in on the fang action. Closing his eyes, he tried to work up his inner rage, get good and mad, summon the wolf. But he was too wrung-out to feel anything but relief at being alive.

When he crept back into the bedroom, Derek was still asleep. Stiles pulled his jeans on commando, tucking yesterday's boxers into the pocket because it seemed kind of tacky to leave them on Derek's floor. His t-shirt was too bloodstained to be salvageable, so he borrowed one of Derek's instead, unable to dampen the little thrill of excitement as he slid it over his head. The cotton smelled like Derek, beneath the clean scent of detergent.

Derek stirred a little when Stiles sat on the edge of the bed to slip his shoes on. He stretched, naked muscles glowing against the blue sheets, and rolled onto his side to watch Stiles. The sleepy smile that brightened his face was breathtaking.

"It worked," Derek murmured, voice thick and rough with exhaustion.

"Yeah," Stiles said, blushing hard. Tentatively, he settled his hand on Derek's naked shoulder, remembering the way he'd clutched them last night. The bruises from his fingers were gone, of course, but the bite mark on his neck still looked as bright and vivid as Stiles’s, and that worried him. Derek usually healed faster than that. "Are you all right?"

Derek nodded into the pillow, his eyes drifting shut again. "Jus' need sleep," he murmured. Stiles trailed his hand down Derek’s arm, reluctantly breaking contact.

"Thank you for everything," Stiles told him, but Derek was already asleep.

It was still early, so Stiles drove back to his house before school, changing into fresh underwear and finding a scarf in the closet. By the time his dad woke up, coffee was brewing. Stiles had thought coffee tasted good as a human, but now it smelled amazing, almost better than Derek had smelled.

His dad shuffled into the kitchen in his bathrobe. "Nightmares again?" he asked around a yawn.

"Yeah," Stiles said.

His dad patted his shoulder. "You're gonna be okay. It sometimes takes awhile for antidepressants to kick in."

"I know," Stiles said. He poured his dad a cup of coffee, then, hesitantly, poured one for himself, as well.

"I thought you didn't drink coffee anymore," his dad said.

Stiles shrugged. "I missed it," he said truthfully. "Life is short and all, you know?"

"Exactly," his dad said, taking a sip. "So when I stop for donuts on the way to work this morning --"

"That doesn't mean you need to make it any shorter!" Stiles protested, and his dad laughed. Stiles smiled, realizing he'd missed the sound of his dad's laughter. He took a sip of coffee, and moaned. It tasted exactly like it smelled – deep and dark and rich and delicious, like everything that was perfect in the world.

“Are you crying?” his dad asked, putting down the coffee cup and staring at Stiles with real concern.

“It’s just really good,” Stiles sniffed, cradling the cup in his hands.