Derek downshifts, biting his cheeks until they bleed to keep from snapping at his mother.
“And I mean, honestly, Derek - you’re almost thirty. I think this year, your luck will change.”
“Nine consecutive years, mom, and I’ve yet to be successful. I’ll never find a mate.”
“So what’s one more year?”
“And if I take part in the run this year,” Derek says through his teeth. “You’ll drop it?”
Talia Hale smiles at her son. “I know you’ll find your mate this time,” she says with an air of finality.
Derek decides the smart thing to do is stay silent. He’s already registered for the run, his mother dragging him down to city hall as soon as it had opened. The city’s sheriff had been near the door, welcoming all who were there to sign up.
Nine years. Nine long years of taking part in the mating run and coming back home empty-handed, without a mate, alone. Derek didn’t know if he could take it another time, the crushing defeat, another disappointment, but his mother wouldn't let up, insisted he participates at least once more. And, well, Talia Hale is a force to be reckoned with; once she decides something, it might as well be written into law. So, Derek resigned himself, dressed, and registered to participate in this year’s mating run. When he returns home empty-handed and mateless again, at least everyone will leave him alone for a while, even if it might only be out of pity.
At sundown, he drives himself to the edge of town, where the forest grows dense on the other side of the meadow. Within the clearing, a least a dozen tents have been pitched, and people are running in and out of them all over.
Laura, his older sister, waves him over to the tent that she’s overseeing. As he approaches, she hands him a clipboard so that he can sign in.
“I can’t believe you let mom talk you into coming again,” she tells him with a grimace. “Everyone knows your run of bad luck.”
“Mom’s one-hundred percent certain that I’ll find my mate this time. I’m mostly doing it because, for once, I’d like to rub her nose in it when she’s wrong.”
Laura throws her head back and genuinely laughs. “Wouldn’t that be something.”
Derek falters. “You think she’s right; you think I’ll find my mate, too, don’t you?”
His sister offers him a wink as she saunters away and returns to her duties.
Someone ushers Derek to the other side of the tent, where the mass of other alphas have gathered. The omegas have already been let loose into the woods hours ago; as is tradition, they always get a few hours head start.
The wind changes, and Derek catches the most alluring scent. It’s all honeysuckle and lilac, cinnamon and apples, and it makes Derek ache. He’s already taken a few steps forward before he realizes he’s even moved, and he digs his claws into his palms to snap himself back into the moment. Such a feeling has never overcome Derek before, the need to run, the need to howl, and he’s-
The pistol is shot, and he’s the first into the woods.
The cloying scent is pulling at him, filling his lungs, making his blood sing in his veins. He’s half transformed already, and he’s hardly past the tree line; when he turns to look behind him, the tents in the clearing are still visible. He snarls at an alpha that seems to be headed in the same direction, and the were snaps in return, but veers from his path and off in another direction.
The moon has risen, and the air has taken a slight chill. The forest is dark, but to Derek’s keen eyes, the stars light the forest through. He’s trailed the scent for what must be several miles, across streams, lost and found it a handful of times. It’s thick, now; the omega must be nearby. Derek pauses, inhales, pulls the scent into his lungs.
Derek is off, a streak of black in the already dark forest. He hears a tussle, the scratching of flesh under nails, a keen slap, before he sees movement. There, on the mossy forest floor, lies the omega, his omega, sprawled under another alpha, who is growling and snarling. Derek slams into the other alpha, sending them both careening over broken tree branches and piles of rotting leaves.
Theirs is a dance of teeth and claws, beat kept with snarls and growls and the snap of razor-sharp incisors. Derek feels absolutely feral as he swipes his claws at the other alpha, wanting nothing more than to draw blood to keep his mate safe.
One of his claws lands a blow, gouges the alpha’s neck. It’s not a fatal blow, but the other alpha will be out of commission for some time, at least long enough for Derek to claim his mate.
But when Derek turns around, the omega is scrambling away, crawling on his hands and knees.
Derek snarls, throws himself at the omega, wants to get the sweet scent under his hands, under his skin. Atop the omega, on his hands and knees, he lowers his head, opens his jaw to bite into tender flesh, to mark, to-
A fist clocks him square in the jaw, and Derek goes tumbling back more out of shock than anything. The omega is off again, scrambling and skittering across the forest floor, never making it to his feet, but putting distance between them all the same.
Derek howls. Oh, what a perfect little omega, tenacious and ferocious. It’s exactly what he wants, what he needs; not some demure, wispy thing to heed his beck and call, but a mate, a partner, someone who isn’t afraid to fight against him.
With a burst of speed, Derek is over the omega again, this time smart enough to pin his wrists. Derek takes stock of the creature below him; thin, but muscular, skin milky white with a smattering of freckles and moles across the entire expanse. The tunic the omega wears - as customary - has been shredded across one of his shoulders, leaving a sloping plain of creamy skin, dark flecks like stars decorating his skin. Derek’s mouth waters, wanting nothing more than to taste-
“Please, don’t,” the omega whimpers below him.
Derek freezes. His eyes move from the skin of the omega’s shoulder to his eyes, eyes that are a little unfocused, and looking anywhere but Derek.
“Please, please don’t,” a gentle, soft sob escapes the omega.
Derek sucks in a breath, trying desperately to regain himself. The omega below him is sucking in stuttering breaths, little bursts as he tries to swallow over the fear that Derek can now smell.
Off to one side, Derek hears the alpha he’d fought howl.
Below him, the pretty omega stills completely, breath frozen in his lungs.
It takes only a fraction of a second, but Derek devises a plan. “If I don’t claim you, that other alpha will.”
The omega shuts his eyes, bites his lips, his heart fluttering faster than the wings of a hummingbird.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay. I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t. But if you let me claim you, I’ll keep you safe from that other alpha, I’ll protect you.”
“You swear it? You swear you’ll keep him away from me?”
Derek’s heart aches. The little omega is so scared of this other alpha, so terrified that he shakes, even under Derek’s iron-like grip
“I swear, on my honor as an alpha, that I won’t let anything ever hurt you again.”
“Not even yourself?”
Derek wants to ask this little omega what the world has done to hurt him so, make him fearful and frightened.
“I swear it.”
The omega throws his head back, baring his neck.
Derek punctures skin, and through his teeth trickles blood as he howls against flesh. The omega tenses, then relaxes completely, blacking out due to the rush of mating endorphins, going completely limp in Derek’s grasp.
The other alpha isn’t pleased, and he roars and charges, having managed to get his footing back. They roll a few times across moss and dirt before they right themselves. It takes Derek a moment to realizes who, exactly, the other alpha is.
“I should kill you where you stand!” he roars, teeth flashing in the pale moonlight.
“He didn’t want you,” Derek challenges back, taking a step. “He bared his neck to me; I’ve given him my claiming bite. It’s against the law for you to interfere for the next twenty-four hours.”
Peter rages, roars, slashes a nearby tree. “You shouldn’t have interfered at all! The boy was mine !”
“The mark on his neck says otherwise. Now let me take him back to town, or I’ll lay you before the counsel.”
Peter roars again, his claws glittering with dirt and blood. For a moment, Derek worries Peter will attack again. But Peter looks to Derek, then to the boy asleep on the forest floor, before he leaps away.
It takes a few minutes for Derek to calm down enough to retract his claws. When he does, he scoops the boy up into his arms, burying his face in the omega’s neck and inhaling the calming scent.
When he’d woken up that morning, Derek had been adamant that he’d never find his mate. Now that he carries the omega that smells of lilac and honeysuckle in his arms, Derek’s whole world is tipping.
They are nearly to the clearing when the omega stirs against him.
“How do you feel?” Derek gently asks.
The omega stiffens, but he doesn’t fight to get out of Derek’s grasp.
After another few beats of silence, Derek tries another question. “Would you like me to put you down? Do you want to walk?”
The omega huffs, but doesn’t say anything else.
As they enter the clearing, Laura runs to meet them, smile plastered to her face. “Little brooother!” she sing-songs. “Looks like someone found his maaate~”
Derek snarls, and the omega jostles in his grip.
Laura just laughs. “I’ll find mom, tell her the news. You two head over to tent seven and finish up.”
When Derek looks down, the omega is still, his face stony. Derek doesn’t put him down, not yet. He likes the way the omega feels pressed against, safe in the scope of his arms. He would hold his mate like this close forever, if given the chance.
When they enter tent seven, Derek isn’t given a choice. The omega struggles in his arms, grumbles under his breath, until Derek relinquishes his hold and allows the omega to right himself. “Can you see the sheriff?” he asks, brushing the dirt from the tunic.
Derek’s blood runs cold. There could only be one reason for the omega to request the sheriff; to dissolve their bond. It’s well within his rights as an omega to refuse Derek’s claim, and given the nature of their bond - a decision made in the heat of the moment out of fear and biological drives - is it little wonder than the poor boy wants nothing to do with Derek?
Derek’s head snaps up at the familiar voice. His gaze meets none other than Beacon Hill’s sheriff, John Stilinski, the same man his mother had spoken with earlier that morning. The sheriff looks as surprised as Derek feels. “Stiles, are you - is this-”
The omega, Stiles, slips his hand into Derek’s. “Dad, this is, uh, this is my mate.” Through just the simple touch of their palms, Derek can feel his mate’s pulse thundering under his skin, like he’s anxious and afraid.
Derek offers his free hand forward. “Derek, sir. Though you know that already.”
John smiles, looking somewhat dumbfounded, but returns the handshake. “I have to say this is unexpected.”
Smiling, Derek gives Stiles’ hand a gentle squeeze. “For me, too, sir. But the wolf wants what the wolf wants.”
At that, John laughs, and the tension eases. At his side, his mate - Stiles - seems to relax a bit as well, but there’s a nagging feeling that Derek just can’t put away. Since his return, he hasn’t been able to scent his uncle Peter, and it’s put him slightly on edge. Not only that, but before, Stiles had been... well, standoffish isn’t the right word, but Derek isn’t sure what is. The omega had begged him not to bite him in the forest, was stiff in his grasp when he woke on their journey back, but now, next to his father, Stiles seems to be shy smiles and averted gazes. In fact, Stiles’ inability to look at someone above the waist is starting to bother Derek. Surely he isn’t mistreated-
Stiles tugs on his arm, and Derek bends slightly so their faces are close together. Stiles’ eyes are, oddly, closed. “Can we... can we go? Please?”
Derek lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. In a short while, the festivities would start; a buffet-style feast for the newly claimed, a chance for everyone to meet and greet the families of those claimed, but Derek had, honestly, forgotten about it. And, in truth, was absolutely dreading it; he’s not exactly a social butterfly.
“Anything for you,” he replies, his thumb rubbing little half circles against the back of his mate’s palm.
His mom will forgive him. If she wants to meet his mate so badly, she can come visit them at his house, before Stiles’ heat begins. They’ve got a few days to get to know one another, decide if they want to stay together. Additionally, Derek has no wish to be around when his uncle returns.
Stiles’ father produces a backpack from under one of the tables and helps his son sling it over one shoulder. Smart man - he knew, being the sheriff, he’d have to stick around until all of those signed up for the mating run returned; by keeping Stiles’ things with him, he insured that his son was able to take all that he packed as well as say goodbye without having to either return home, or stick around until well-past midnight, when the festivities ended.
Derek absent-mindedly waves to Laura on his way to the parking lot, Stiles still clinging to Derek’s hand with both of his own. He’s gone quiet again, a little stiffer now that they are out of the tents, but Derek hopes it’s more to due with the large amount of people around and not anything to do with him.
Like a gentleman, Derek opens the door for Stiles, helps him inside. He gets a small, muttered, ‘thanks,’ but it’s enough to make him smile.
Something inside him is shifting. He climbs into the driver’s seat of his Camaro, gently easing the car onto the road, feeling warm all the way down to his toes. He’s not sure if it’s Stiles, or merely the idea of having a mate, but something inside Derek eases, unclenches, and unravels.
In the seat next to him, Stiles shifts. “Were you serious?”
Derek glances at him for a moment. “What do you mean?”
“Before you claimed me, you promised to keep Peter Hale away from me, promised that you’d keep me safe. Were you serious?”
“Absolutely,” Derek finds himself saying, without even a moment of hesitation. “But can I ask why you’re so adamant on getting away from him?”
“You can ask,” the omega says, rubbing the tip of his nose with two of his fingers. “But I’m probably not going to answer.”
For a moment, Derek is silent. Then, the laughs. The sound must startle Stiles, who jumps slightly, but then lets a small smile press his lips upward.
“You always like this?” Derek asks, intrigued.
Stiles shrugs, turning his head away to face the passenger’s side window. “Honestly, it’s a miracle I’ve been this quiet.”
Derek’s laugh turns deeper, louder. “Good.”
“I mean it. By the end of the week you’re going to want to strangle me.”
“I highly doubt it.”
“Prepare to be proven wrong. Positively, absolutely, one-hundred percent wrong.”
“My wolf picked you for a reason; I trust my instincts.”
Almost dejectedly, Stiles sighs. “No good alpha wants a talkative, stubborn, bossy, messed up omega.”
“This alpha wants a partner, not someone to be subjected to his will. If I wanted a pretty face that would present on command, there are easier ways I could have gone about obtaining one.”
And oh, the boy blushes so beautifully. Stiles is quiet the rest of the drive, but it’s a comfortable silence.
Once the car rolls to a stop and Derek kills the engine, the tides change. Stiles’ heart-rate amps up, and Derek can his his throat clicking as he swallows.
“I want you to understand that this is as new to me as it is to you,” he begins. “I’ve participated in the mating run for nearly a decade now, and I never thought I’d find someone. I’m kind of a solitary guy, you know? I work from home, and I live outside of town. My pack is small, and mostly independent. But, I meant what I said about keeping you safe, not hurting you. If there is something that I’m doing that you don’t like, you tell me and I’ll stop.”
Stiles curls in on himself, hugs his shoulders inward. “Alphas don’t offer, they take.”
Derek sighs. This might be more difficult that he anticipated; Stiles obviously doesn’t trust him. He exits the car, walks around it, and opens Stiles’ door for him. He doesn’t make a sound when Stiles intertwines their fingers, merely lets his mate cling to him as they make their way into the house.
“Are you hungry?” Derek asks.
Stiles shakes his head. “I’m...”
“I’m tired, and I’d like a shower, if that’s okay.”
“Anything you want. Come on, I’ll show you your room.”
Stiles’ foot catches on the bottom step, but Derek easily rights him. “Careful; that bottom one is a little lower than the rest.”
“Warn a guy first next time, yeah?” Stiles scoffs.
Derek opens the door to Stiles’ room, flicks on the light for him, ushering him inside. “Bathroom’s next to the closet there; you’re welcome to use anything and everything. It’s my guest room, so don’t worry about using anything in the tub or on the counters; I’ve got my own supply of everything in my own bathroom.”
Stiles turns on his heel, faces Derek, but still won’t look in his eyes, won’t even turn his face up to meet him. Derek hopes he can change that, wants to change it. The boy fidgets for a moment, swallows. “Did you need to - to-”
“I would like to scent you, but I won’t if it makes you uncomfortable.”
After a long, quiet moment, Stiles raises a shaking hand upward.
Derek, as delicately and gently as he can manage, takes Stiles’ hand in his grip, brings Stiles’ wrist to his lips, and rubs them across the seam. He listens as Stiles’ breath hitches, feels his mate’s pulse quicken under them. Stiles’ skin is soft beneath his lips, and it makes Derek’s mouth water with the prospect of kissing every square inch of the boy, finding how soft his skin his everywhere. The boy smells like heaven this close, and Derek can’t help himself; his tongue sweeps out and he tastes warm skin under the roughness of his tongue.
But the spell is broken; he’s scared Stiles, who practically rips his hand away from Derek’s mouth, tight-lipped and wide-eyed.
Derek clears his throat. “I’m sorry. I got - I’m sorry.”
Stiles shakes his head, retreats a few paces backward into his room, and gropes the door for the knob a few times before finding it. He gently closes it, as though he’s somehow afraid Derek will put his foot in the way and stop him. Derek does no such thing, realizing he’s overstepped a line he was already toeing. After a moment, when he doesn’t hear anything from the other side of the door, he sighs.
“Goodnight, Stiles. Please don’t hesitate to find me if you need something.”
Stiles is quiet on the other side of the door.
Derek goes to bed that night, alone and aching.