Derek waits until 3AM on the new moon, when it’s as dark as physically possible, to approach the building. He’s just barely gotten people in town to forget that they used to think he was terrifying, if not a killer, someone who committed sororicide, of all things. The last thing he wants now is for someone to catch him shuffling around outside the dingy face of this palm reader and start rumors that he’s involved in the supernatural.
Not that he isn’t. He’s a werewolf after all. He just really doesn’t want to deal with the rumors, or the way he knows Ira at the grocery store will eye him, all judgement and... judgement.
So it’s the middle of the night, dark as the devil’s asshole, so dark the glaring magenta-blue neon palm at the window makes Derek wince as he darts past it and the distinctly dark OPEN sign and pushes through the front door.
From the outside, he’s expecting a long, narrow room, and he’s not entirely wrong. Well, it’s narrow, but it’s in no way long. Stepping through the dirt crusted glass door, he finds himself in the smallest of waiting areas, so cramped he feels his shoulders tensing and hunching in as though making himself smaller will make the room feel larger. It’s barely wider than a holding cell—he, unfortunately, knows that from experience—and not any deeper. After the harsh cut of the neon signs, the space is dim, almost uncomfortably so. Five plastic chairs that may have been used in a doctor’s reception space thirty years ago sit with their backs to the black-painted wall of windows, which explains why the space is pitch black from the outside, each looking more uncomfortable than the last.
At the other end of the space is a blank wall with a single door laid into it. A sign on the door—a piece of binder paper with scraggly letters scrawled across it in permanent marker—reads: Seat self and wait. There’s nothing else. No side tables, no out of date magazines, no radio or TV, no security cameras, no sun-bleached posters of Buddha or palms or chakras, no strings of beads hanging from the ceiling or crystals adorning shelves on the wall.
Five painful looking plastic chairs, a door, a sign, and the stagnant smell of air that hasn’t been stirred in months, maybe years.
Derek kind of wants to march across town to the vet clinic and punch Deaton in the face. Instead, he takes a not quite enraged breath, storms all of five steps across the musty space, grabs the glass knob of the door telling him to wait, and wrenches it open.
Or tries to.
The glass creaks ominously under the pressure of his grip, his bicep bulges, but the door doesn’t budge.
He puts some werewolf strength into it and stumbles back, nearly losing his balance enough to land on his ass, when the door suddenly gives, seconds later than it should.
A low groan filters through the space as the door pushes open and a young man steps through. His hair is a shaggy mess, swept to one side in an bad case of bedhead, creases from a pillow streak the left side of his face from temple to defined jaw, which cracks as it opens in a wide stretch and he yawns. Long fingers, the ones not wrapped around the glass doorknob, scratch at the base of his stomach, blunt nails scraping along the trail of hair that starts at his naval and streaks past the loosely tied band of navy sweatpants that are barely winning the battle against gravity. The hand stops scratching—thank fuck—and then splays flat and slides up his well defined chest, rubbing at his ribs that make an appearance as he lifts a shoulder, stretching one side and then the next. Finally, he settles, rubs the pads of his fingers over his heart, where a tattoo of an intricate clock face lays, taps his forefinger, and waits.
Wrestling for control over his own eyes, Derek drags them from the clock, the second hand of which looks to be moving—which he assures himself is a trick of the dim light and his general distraction—past soft lips, over a slightly up-turned nose, to sleep-dim brown eyes. Only then do the ends of the man’s lips twitch into a soft smirk.
“So,” the man says, voice rough with sleep. He rubs his throat, swallows, and starts again, more clear and awake. “What emergency did you break in for?”
“I didn’t—” Derek starts, cutting off to follow the long-fingered gesture to something behind him.
The OPEN sign.
Which is turned off.
“Oh,” he man echoes, humor tinting the word. “Anyway, you have me awake now, so—” he sighs, is shrugging his shoulders in a ‘what can you do about it’ kind of way when Derek turns back. “Come on in, I guess. This is—” He glances around the little room, as though looking for something even though there’s nothing to find. Finally, his eyes land on the glass doorknob he’s still holding. “Beacon Hills,” sighs out of him with a surprising amount of emotion, though what emotion, Derek can’t place.
Derek can’t help the quirk of his eyebrows. “Where else would it be?”
Bright brown eyes flicker up from the knob and the fading smirk returns with force, becoming a shadowed smile as though the man’s in on a joke that’s gone over Derek’s head. “Of course. Where else would it be?” Releasing the glass doorknob, he turns, and retreats into the lit room beyond.
Derek stares, frozen in place at the sight of the man’s back, covered in an complicated network of gears and pulleys of various sizes, all of which are moving, turning and pulling at a slow methodical pace that... is familiar somehow.
The stranger twists, hiding the tattoo from sight, waves a hand where Derek’s gaze lingers, and is still grinning when he grabs Derek’s attention. “You coming in or not?”
With a stiff nod, Derek steps forward, following the man through the door, transfixed by the moving tattoo on his back. It’s fascinating and chilling in a way Derek’s never experienced before, and it takes far longer than it should for him to notice the pace of the network matches that of the heartbeat of the man they’re affixed to. He’s so focused he nearly runs into the man’s back when it suddenly stops in front of him.
“Go ahead and take a seat. You want some coffee?”
Blinking, Derek tears his eyes away from the gears that wander away to look up, startled to find himself in a kitchen. Metal cabinets painted a warm cream, the upper with windows of wavy glass that look in on storage containers of food and dishes, dark charcoal counters that almost look like chalkboards but can’t be because—how stupid would that be. The laminate floor is patterned, somewhat complex, black and white, and not-quite checkered; and the rounded curves of the bubble-like fridge make him think 50′s diner.
The man lights the stove under a baby blue teapot and pulls out an hourglass shaped piece of glass that he proceeds to place an overly large coffee filter into. As he spoons grounds into the top with one hand, he waves the other over his shoulder, directing Derek’s attention to the warm wood of the eat-in kitchen table. He steps over and takes a seat in one of the oddly comfortable metal chairs, too stunned not to.
He doesn’t manage to say, “Coffee would be good,” until the man has already reaffixed the lid of the coffee container and is putting it back in a cabinet.
The water’s not yet boiling when he steps away from the counter and takes a seat across the table from Derek.
“So, what’s the hurry?”
“Hurry?” Derek wonders back. It wasn’t a trick of light before, the second hand is definitely ticking away over the man’s heart.
“Um, you barged into my closed store. So, I’m really hoping there’s some kind of emergency and you’re not—” he cuts off with an amused huff, running fingers through his wild hair. “You’re just an asshole, aren’t you?”
Derek stiffens, opens his mouth, but can’t bring himself to deny the accusation.
The man chuckles. “Fantastic. Well, you’re here. I guess—I’m Stiles, by the way.” He holds a long-fingered hand out across the table.
Derek takes it, startled by the heat radiating from Stiles’ palm. He wonders what kind of name ‘Stiles’ is, but says, “Derek,” instead.
“Right. Derek the werewolf.”
Unkindly surprised by the matter-of-factual knowing of the statement, Derek jerks his hand back. Or tries to. Stiles’ fingers clench around his knuckles, hard lines of muscle flexing along his forearm and bicep as he holds Derek’s hand in place over the table. A growl rumbles from Derek, unbidden, at the confusion and sense of threat that itches over him.
“Relax, asshat,” Stiles huffs, bringing his other hand up to run warm fingers over the back of Derek’s, fingertips tapping over his nails, which have elongated into sharp claws. “I’m gonna need to see your hand at some point. I mean, if you want to explain everything, go for it, or I can just take a peak for myself. That’s why you’re here, isn't it?”
Derek takes a breath, forces himself neutral, if not calm. His muscles remain tense, the space between his shoulders taut with unease. Deaton hadn’t given him any information about what to expect, had just pointed him in the direction and told him, “Good luck,” which he’d thought was a statement regarding finding his answers. Something hard bundles in the base of his stomach, a dragging weight in his gut with the realization that maybe it was directed toward him.
With a deep breath, he relaxes his hand, lets is fingers unfurl, lets Stiles stroke at his palm and pull it toward himself.
Derek’s never been to a palm reader, has always assumed they are full of shit and fake. Still, he has some kind of expectations, from what he’s seen in movies and TV and hears in too-loud conversations that he’s not a part of. He’s expecting to feel Stiles’ unnaturally warm fingers follow the dips and curves of his palm, to follow the lines and tell Derek what they mean. He expects something about a life line and a love line and maybe something vague about hardship and obstacles.
Instead, Stiles grips Derek’s hand hard in his left, while he takes a breath and digs his right thumb hard and deep into Derek’s flesh until the blunt crescent of his nail bites through the skin and blood pools into the shallow cup of his palm. Derek’s ears fill with the pounding rush of his own blood as the warm yellow lights of the kitchen flicker. Between one blink and the next tattoos appear on Stiles’ right hand, dark, thick rings of black ink encasing his fingers. A dozen on his index, seven on his middle, one on his ring, nine on his pinky, which has no space left. A dark line of black starts at the nail bed of his thumb, runs down the knuckle and curves into the center of the back of his hand where dark, thin veins of ink run toward his other knuckles.
The vein leading to his ring finger pulses, as his thumb continues to dig into Derek’s flesh, not allowing him to heal, and blood continues to throb the surface.
Derek watches, mesmerized, and not bothered by the pain, as the vein of black reaches over Stiles’ skin, wiggling over the knuckle of his ring finger, crosses the black ring already there to form another. When the second ring forms, the veins disappear, the pressure of Stiles’ thumb lightens. As it dissipates, so does the deafening rush in his ears, making him privy to the wheezing pants dragging in and out of Stiles’ parted lips.
His pupils are blown so wide the brown of his irises have disappeared. With a kind of possessed focus, Stiles releases Derek’s hand and places his other thumb in the pool of blood before shifting his weight, rocking forward and stepping up, out of his chair to reach across the table.
Derek feels heavy, like he’s just woken up and sleep hasn’t quite let go of him. Heavy enough that he don’t move in time to stop Stiles from grabbing him by the face, thumbs pressing against his eyebrows and then running down, dragging his eyelids shut, leaving twin thick strips of wet blood in their wake.
When he opens his eyes again, Stiles is running the pads of all four fingers of his right hand through the remaining blood in his palm, is reaching forward again, this time dragging up Derek’s shirt to his chin before painting on his chest. The first curling swoop makes Derek shudder, and by the next he’s snarling, startled and confused by the sensation of the familiar symbol being painted on his skin. The triskele Stiles is painting over his heart in blood.
He’s still snarling when Stiles swings away, releasing his shirt to drop over his chest, before he collapses back into his chair with force that has it rocking back, threatening to tip over for a precarious moment before slamming back forward, bringing Stiles’ limp form crashing into the table, forehead cracking into the wood before Derek’s stiff limbs can move to catch him.
Lifting a hand, reaching across the table, moving, shakes the stiffness out of him as though displacing a fine cover of sand. He’s still confused, has no idea what Stiles has done to leave him boneless, back shuddering from heaving breaths, but he’s not in pain and nothing seems to have changed, which is better than some of the alternatives. Fingers hovering above Stiles’ shoulder, he freezes when the sharp scream of the kettle splits through the kitchen, eliciting a low groan from Stiles, who drags his hands up to the table’s surface. They brace on either side of his shoulders before he shoves himself up.
Derek opens his mouth, finds he doesn’t know what he wants to say, and shuts it as Stiles shambles across the kitchen toward the kettle and shakily pours steaming water into the pour over he prepared earlier. After long seconds, Derek asks, “What did you do?”
“Fixed your problem,” Stiles says, not bothering to turn around. His voice is rough, scratchy, like his throat is too dry or he’s been screaming.
That... Derek blinks, curls his fingers into his palms, flexes the muscles in his arms. “I don’t feel any different.”
“I mean, someone was keeping you from your alpha powers, right?” Stiles muses, a hint of tease slithering under the scratch of his voice.
Derek nods, realizes Stiles has his back to him, wonders if he doesn’t see it anyway. “They stole it.”
Stiles snorts. Trembling hands open a cupboard and pull out two mugs. “Now that’s something I’d like to see someone try.”
“They didn’t try,” Derek growls, offended that someone—something, clearly not werewolf, would question him on this.
He doesn’t receive an answer. Silence permeates the kitchen, interrupted only by the soft trickle of liquid as Stiles pours two coffees before shuffling to the table. He places the mugs by Derek’s elbow before staggering to the fridge, pulling out a carton of milk, swiping a sugar bowl off the counter, and returning to spill into his chair. After a moment of catching his breath, he shoves both across to Derek before pawing in the direction of a just-out-of-reach mug, sighing in gratitude when Derek nudges it into his fingers.
“They didn’t steal it,” Stiles says, eventually, once his long fingers are wrapped around the white ceramic of his mug, chin resting on the edge, nose almost in the steaming coffee. “Anyone can only take an alpha’s power by killing them. But they can block an alpha from their power, essentially making them a beta—or going so far as making them human, if they’re really pissed, or fucked up, or just—” His forearm twitches and his fingers tap against the table, as though he wants to make a vague gesture but can’t dredge up the energy to do it. “Anyway, you were just blocked off.”
“I don’t feel any different,” Derek explains. Then, harsher, “You didn’t fix it.”
Stiles snorts. Coffee explodes out of the mug, splattering across the table and splashing up into Stiles’ face. He doesn’t flinch, just closes his eyes and opens them again when it’s safe.
Despite the pomp and circumstance of earlier, the working gears on Stiles’ back and the ticking clock on his heart, he finds himself less and less impressed with the half-clothed figure across from him.
“I definitely did. You just need to give it a little time to work. Besides, I like my kitchen.”
Unsure what that has to do with anything, Derek raises an eyebrow. “So?”
Stiles tilts his head back so he can meet Derek’s eyes instead of stare at the grain of his table. “I would assume you did not go quietly into the alpha-less night?”
Derek grits his teeth and does not twitch.
“Right. Well, you have a metaphorical ass-load of power resurfacing, and it’s not going to be very pretty,” Stiles explains. His eyes narrow, features pinching in a slow-formed wince. “Less pretty than when you first got it. And,” he manages to lift two fingers and twirl them in a gesture that encompasses the room around them, “I like my kitchen. I prefer to keep pretty much everything out of it, normal werewolves included. So, it’s gonna take some time, because that’s the way it is, and because I don’t want you wolfing out and doing... whatever it is you’re going to do, when it all comes crashing back on you.”
That makes sense, and Derek should ask more questions—should ask how Stiles knew what the problem was, exactly what he did to fix it, what Stiles is—but instead he says, “Why am in your kitchen now then?”
The smile that pulls at Stiles’ lips is sharp. “You woke me up,” he reminds. “I just rolled out of bed,” he gestures at himself. “I wasn’t going to go to the office and open up from there.” He mutters, “Jesus” and leans forward so his nose dips in his coffee and laps at the steaming contents like a cat.
“So,” Derek breathes, trying not to stare at Stiles’ tongue, not wonder if it’s abnormally hot, like his fingers, not imagine what the pushing and curling of it dipping in the coffee would feel like if he pressed his lips to Stiles’ and opened his mouth to him. Shoving himself from the seat, he shivers, attempting to physically dislodge the thoughts spiraling through his head. “I can go?”
Stiles hums tonelessly into his coffee. It sounds maybe like a confirmation.
With a nod, Derek turns, steps away, and stops. “What do I owe you?” he asks, turning back to face Stiles, who pauses in his odd coffee consumption, and, for the first time since his pupils retracted and his brown eyes returned, sits up.
“Um...” His brow is pinched, as though confused.
“Money. Compensation,” Derek clarifies, giving Stiles the benefit of the doubt. If he looked sleepy when he first opened the door, he looks wrecked now, ready to let his head fall back onto the table and pass out right here.
“That’s—” Stiles starts, stops, and starts again with something new. “How did you find me?”
A moment passes, discomfort unfurling in the pit of Derek’s stomach. He says, “Deaton,” carefully, unsure what to expect.
Stiles hums again, opens his mouth to say something and, quite obviously, again readjusts. He shakes his head. “You don’t owe me anything.”
Derek frowns, stepping back to the table. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how this works. How do you even make a living? You can’t—wouldn’t—shouldn’t,” he breathes, “There’s no way you do this for free.” He motions to Stiles, trying to indicate him and everything that just happened, the dark bags that have suddenly appeared until his eyes, the unhealthy scratch of his voice, the weakness of his muscles that his still trembling limbs betrays.
“We’re good,” Stiles replies with a loose shrug. “Consider it a favor.”
Derek frowns harder, brow furrowing. Laying his hands on the table, he leans forward, close enough to brush into the space common courtesy tells people to stay out of. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Looking utterly unperturbed, Stiles gives him another shrug. “Magic normally doesn’t. But, here we are. Even Steven.” Then, heaving a breath, he shoves himself up. “I’ll walk you out.”
“I can find my own way out,” Derek huffs, pushing off the table and straightening.
Stiles chuckles out, “That’s adorable,” and walks him out the kitchen, through a living room as retro as his kitchen, a living room Derek has no recollection of walking through but that, now, even the painfully slow churn of Stiles’ gears don’t distract from, and to the front door.
They pass a console table in the foyer, home to a large, bright red plastic blow filled to the brim with doorknobs, and then Stiles is pulling open the front door.
Derek stutters to a halt. He doesn’t know what he expected, maybe a lawn, or a front porch. As strange as that would be, what’s stranger is finding the small holding-cell sized space of the dimly lit and dingy waiting area he’d broken into, waiting beyond the door. He can’t quite help but turn, look back over his shoulder at the very large space of an obvious home, and then back at the dark store front.
A too-warm hand pats his shoulder, sending sparks of heat through him. “Don’t think about it too hard. You’re going to have a rough enough night... morning? as it is,” Stiles says before his fingers curl into the leather of Derek’s jacket and he pulls him forward, past him, and then not unkindly shoving him out the door.
Derek doesn’t gather the wits to respond before Stiles waves, smile still tugging at his lips, and shuts the door in his face.
Nothing happens when he steps out into the parking lot. Nothing continues to happen as he drives through town, heading back to the loft. A little less of nothing is happening when he finds himself heading home instead. What’s left of home. The burnt out remains of an old house that is and isn’t his.
There’s a twinge in his chest when he crosses the property line, an itching under his skin that has him putting the car in park and stumbling out, tearing off his leather jacket to relieve himself of the confining strain of it, pulling off his shoes because his body feels too big for his clothes. And then it hits him, the chaotic, coursing, crushing power of an alpha that makes his veins burn like someone’s injected him with lava.
He roars, ripping out of his clothes seconds before the transformation hits him, unbidden, and he’s on all fours, fang gnashing with the need to run, to hunt, to give into the wild nature of the wolf and be utterly free. He can’t not give into it. Finds himself running through the woods, cashing the scent of a rabbit, a fox, and finally a deer. He kills and gorges himself with blood and flesh of something inhuman, which settles the beast inside of him, and finds the primitive and wild bringing him back to himself like few things have.
Later, after the sun has risen and he’s standing under the hot spray of his shower, washing deer’s blood and dirt from his body, his own blood from his chest and eyes, he allows himself to think about Stiles’ too warm hands and curling tongue, and grimly hopes he’ll have another reason to visit sometime soon.