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Honey, Can't you See (The Bloodstains on my Teeth)

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Sterek

 

Pebbles of shattered glass lay heaped on the cracked asphalt, glinting almost prettily under the flickering neon signs and sickly orange street lamps. Stiles finds it hard to believe some dumb fuck actually left a car out here to be broken into. Nowhere in Beacon Hills is truly safe, but this neighborhood in particular is one of the worst. There are people who call the world out here a new Wild West, as if the lawlessness was exciting and the good guys were assured to win. Most people just call it what it is: the apocalypse.

Stiles shoves his hands deeper in his jeans pockets and strides past a dark alley, hyperalert to the stillness around him. He’s got a switchblade and a bit of spark magic, but neither will guarantee safety if he’s jumped by someone. Or some thing. Night is when the really awful stuff comes out, monsters Scott’s pack can’t keep away. Stiles’ fingers twitch with the need to text his Alpha where he is, for the psychological safety net as much as anything. If the worst happens and he just disappears, it would be better if… but no. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t drag anyone else into this. What he’s doing tonight is between him and his spark.

And Deaton, he supposes.

He turns down an alley to find the unmarked door leading to the druid’s sanctuary. It’s a small, run-down affair, the grey stuccoed brick abutting a tattoo parlor on one side and a minimart on the other. Unlike most of the shops clinging to existence here, though, it hasn’t got preemptively barred windows or any obscene message spray-painted on the walls. Once upon a time, it was a vet’s office. Now, everyone knows what goes on in the back room, and it’s the kind of thing that keeps common thugs far away.

Stiles presses in close to the heavy door, glancing around. He knocks twice, pauses and raps another two times, slow and distinct. There’s the light click of a latch unlocking and he slips in, quickly shutting the door behind him against assessing eyes or worse.

“Mr Stilinski.” Deaton’s usually impassive face betrays a hint of surprise today, maybe even disappointment. “You haven’t changed your mind.”

Stiles tips his chin up, smiling against his irritation. “Nope,” he confirms, so cheerily it bites. They had arranged this weeks ago, yet Deaton was apparently betting Stiles wouldn’t go through with it in the end. Well, fuck that. He doesn’t know what it’s like out there, not really. He can afford to hold himself aloof and uninvolved, knowing his druid power is enough to keep him safe in this little office. Stiles can’t. Scott’s pack has got to protect this whole town, and Stiles’ spark isn’t enough to protect all of them while they do it.

The thing is, magic isn’t like the fairy tales. It isn’t pretty wands or glittery potions, it isn’t any guarantee of miracles for hardworking seventh sons just because their intentions are pure. It’s blood and risk and sacrifice. Nothing comes without a price, and anyone who tries to say different is baiting a hook to gut you on. Stiles knows that, has known it since he was a kid and his mother started training him for the inevitable day when he’d need to fight for his life.

That day had come four years ago when she died, and it hasn’t stopped yet.

The McCall pack still keeps order in Beacon Hills, but only by the skin of their teeth. It’s harder with Rafael gone - even though it was good riddance, in Stiles’ opinion. He’d taken off with all his men and guns after Scott was bitten by a rogue Alpha last year, and Melissa had refused to put their son down. However despicable his character, Rafael’s small militia had been their best asset after Stiles’ mother died, taking with her all the spells they'd relied on to keep the worst of the world at bay. Without either, they're just a handful of kids, a nurse, and one aging ex-sheriff up against monsters that should stay trapped in nightmares.

Still, Scott’s lost humanity had bought him super senses, super healing, and super strength. That helps. He’s wrangled control over his wolf side now, mostly, and with that and his small pack he's maintaining some sort of safety for the civilians here. Though he's only sixteen, same as Stiles, he gives his pack strength against enemies and despair both.

But while Scott was becoming a superhuman leader, what was Stiles doing? Not enough. He didn’t take the bite, and he sure as hell isn’t anyone’s idea of an inspiring leader. The only thing he’s got to offer is a spark like his dead mom (he swallows that pain down, it’s a wound years old now and nobody can afford the weakness of regret) and he needs to step up, keep stepping up, get strong enough to replace her. It’s unacceptable how he’s already hitting the limits of his powers. His dad is enough of a liability, still reeling from the loss of his soulmate (but he’ll get better, is getting better, doesn't drink as much these days), and one concerted attack could lose them the town. Scott isn’t willing to make the kind of compromises with the neighboring warlords that would buy them extra muscle. That leaves Stiles to come up with something better. This is better. It is.

Deaton pins him with a coolly assessing look, as if he can see right through the act to the fear. Stiles lets his smile fall away. He tries to look certain, firm, grown up. Yes, he’s afraid, but he has to do this anyway. Deaton has to let him.

“Very well,” Deaton says after a moment. His eyes slide off of Stiles, mask back in place. He opens the door to the back room and gestures inside.

Relieved, Stiles follows him. It’s not that the choice is an easy one, but he knows it’s right despite that. Everything has a price, and weighed against what he’s buying in exchange, this sacrifice will be almost painless.

 


 

Five years later

 

“Hey, I'm back!” Stiles shouts, hefting the spoils of his successful run over one shoulder so he has a hand free to set the three locks on the metal door behind him and re-engage the alarm. Before the conflicts, this hotel might have been an inviting place to come home to, but it seems just as likely that this square cement monstrosity overlooking the main drag of the town has never been beautiful.

It’s certainly not in it’s repurposed state, with the windows all sealed with mismatched boards or metal siding to prevent attacks, and the facade discolored with splotches of fresher paint covering graffiti and the ashy marks where people had burned trash piles against the walls to keep warm. Its main purpose is keeping the pack secure, and that shows.

Melissa pops into the hall from the industrial kitchen they now use to cook for themselves and to store the town's provisions. The households of Beacon Hills mostly function independently, but if anyone is desperate enough to ask, Scott will supplement their bartered supplies to keep anyone from starving.  She gives Stiles a quick, warm hug that doubles as a subtle check for any wounds he might be hiding. “Hey, honey. Welcome home.”

He’s twenty-one now, and taller than her by a good four inches, but sometimes she still thinks of him as a kid. He drops a reassuring kiss on her temple, and murmurs, “I’m fine. There was practically enough food to go around, this time, now the Andover crops are coming in.”

Melissa beams, and he lets her grab one of his packs before trailing after her to the kitchen. Once the laden bags are set down on the counter, he fishes through one for a bit of produce to eat while it’s fresh. “Where’s Dad?”

“Out on patrol,” she says, tallying the dry goods in their record book as she unpacks them. Winter’s over for this year, but they need to start planning ahead if they want to keep themselves fed when the inevitable hard times come again. “I'll manage all of this, you go take a break.”

Stiles nods, but keeps unloading the pack until Melissa hip checks him out of the way, pointing her patented “no nonsense” finger right between his eyes. “Rest!”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, heading back to the hall. He spots their resident technologist Danny across the hall in the repurposed manager’s office, which is as close to a central base of operations as they have. Danny is hunched over the desk, which is strewn with bits of tech salvage at the moment. Officially, the room should be Scott’s territory, but their Alpha tends to keep to his own room, and it's not unusual for others to use the office when they have free time.

And the pack does, occasionally, have free time. Life in Beacon Hills is… maybe not good, and certainly not easy, but it isn’t as touch-and-go as when they’d been teens. Scott’s werewolf instincts are fully under control these days, partly because of his soulmate, Allison. They’d found each other through the bond a couple years ago, and she’d joined the pack - bolstering them not just in her effect on Scott, but with own deadly skills and hunter’s knowledge. Chris, her widowed father, had been part of the package, along with their inherited armory. Which, Stiles noted smugly at the time, is loads better than Rafael’s had been.

On top of the Argents’ weapons and skills, the pack’s assets now include Jackson’s money, Lydia’s banshee intuition, and Danny’s knack with technology, along with what they had before: Melissa's medical knowledge and the sheriff’s expertise in keeping the peace. But most of all, they have Stiles. He’s a living legend, the most powerful spark this side of the Rockies, if you believe the rumors.

Which you should.

The apple he lifted from the food supplies is crisp and fresh, a relief after a winter of questionable canned goods bartered from looters. Stiles savors the tart flavor as he wanders over to where Danny is working on something small with lots of wires. “Dan-my-man!”

“Don’t ever call me that again,” Danny deadpans, using tweezers to connect one of the wires to another and a small heat gun to solder it in place. “And to answer your inevitable question, I’m working on getting us functional cable TV.”

Stiles’ eyebrows twitch up in involuntary disbelief. The fact that most of the town has electricity and running water marks them as unusually lucky. They’ve managed to tap into the cell networks still maintained farther south in the Silicon Valley Collective, but Danny getting cable television running would be a fucking dream. “Good luck,” Stiles says, and means it.

Danny doesn’t even do him the courtesy of nodding, too wrapped up in his task.

Stiles rolls his eyes and bites through the apple core, spitting out a couple seeds and flipping them along with the stem into the trash. He licks juice off his fingers as he takes the stairs up to the second floor and walks down the hall to the room that belongs to his almost-stepbrother.

“Stiles!” Scott grins up at him from his desk, less fresh-faced after five more years of hard-won survival, but still honest and kind and all the things Stiles wants to preserve in him. He abandons the maps he'd been studying to do the same hug-and-check his mother had. “How'd it go, was there enough food? Didja get cookies?”

“Yep,” Stiles answers, plopping down on the bed and kicking off his sneakers by the heels. “Had to shank a kid for ‘em, but you’ve got your Oreos!”

Scott snorts, sitting next to him on the mattress. “I’d find that joke funnier if I was more sure it was a joke.” He settles his back against the wall and starts flicking his claws out, one by one.

Stiles watches the exercise. It clearly takes a good deal of focus, and he's well aware that Scott tends to play with his control like this when he’s avoiding thoughts of something else. “Anything happen while I was out?”

“Jackson asked for the bite, again,” Scott admits glumly.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Just give it to him, then. We could use the extra manpower. Wolf-power, whatever. I mean, what’s the worst that happens? He dies?”

“Exactly,” Scott says, brows furrowing at Stiles’ nonchalance. “You know it’s risky for a bitten wolf to make betas, especially if they’re already past puberty. Besides, Lydia says no.”

“Fair,” Stiles admits. Lydia is five-foot-four on a good day, strawberry blonde, and pretty much a force of nature. It’s partially that she’s a banshee, and partially just who she is. If it wasn't for their bond, Jackson and his perfect, rich-boy bone structure might have gone east with his parents years ago; they’d been one of the few families who had the money to make the trip. Word has it that the national government - a quaint history lesson on this coast - maintains a secure police state over there for humans who are willing to trade personal freedom for safety from supernatural danger.

Jackson would probably be happier somewhere like that, but Lydia’s kind is no more accepted in human strongholds that Scott’s. She won't leave Beacon Hills any time soon, so there’s no chance of Jackson leaving, either. Unfortunately.

For himself, Stiles wouldn’t want a life in the controlled territories. He feels claustrophobic just thinking about curfews and checkpoints and food rations, even such restrictions would buy him a measure of safety. He doesn’t remember a time before the conflicts, a time of peace; he'd only been three when the supernatural had been revealed to everyone and the old world had fallen apart. Beacon Hills is the life he knows, in all its imperfections.

It’s a moot point, besides. As a spark, he'd be killed on sight in the territories the second his powers were discovered.

He knows it wasn’t always like this. His mother had told him bedtime stories about before, when it was easy to hide because nobody believed. There had been cities with thousands of people, giant stores where you could just go in and touch and nobody looted or killed because there was enough for everyone. There had been Internet .

Of course, she’d also told him stories about the conflicts that had come on suddenly with violence, terror, and confusion. There was so much new: shape shifters, banshees, sparks and druids. And worse things. The old institutions crumbled in the face of that human fear. Better to stick to what you could personally confirm, to keep allegiances local. City-states run by warlords kept order in the west now, and rather than expelling people like Lydia and Stiles, most are happy enough to use the unique skills of people like them to bolster their own authority. When, of course, the people in charge aren’t supernatural themselves, like Deucalion’s Alpha pack up in Nevada. Not all of the societies are particularly humane, but the pockets of true wild in between are worse.

Stiles tries to think of something cheerier to distract Scott with, but luckily he doesn’t have to. His friend perks up, nostrils flaring, and announces, “Allison’s back!”

“Knock, knock,” the woman herself says, poking her head into the bedroom and dimpling adorably when she sees her soulmate waiting. She brushes her dark hair shyly over her ear, looking for all the world like a teenager with a crush, even though they’ve been bonded for years now.

Stiles kind of loves that she looks so cute despite the fact that she could dismember any of them in two minutes flat. “Ally-A!” he crows, beckoning her in.

“Oh, we’re still doing nicknames,” she says, her grin fixed in place and looking slightly less than delighted.

Stiles beams - his nicknames are great - but Scott is frowning in concern. He stands and touches Allison just under her left collarbone, where her soulmark is. “You’re worried. What is it?”

Allison sighs in tacit agreement. Stiles is never sure how much of Scott’s intuition about her moods is werewolf senses versus intensely focused attention versus the soulmate bond itself, but he’s a reliable barometer either way. Stiles never would have guessed there was something on her mind under that smile.

“Something happen on patrol?” he checks, getting to his feet and crossing his arms. Playtime, it seems, is over.

“You know the black beast I’ve been tracking?” Allison asks. Stiles grits his teeth, and Scott lets out a heavy sigh. They'd hoped that the hulking, red-eyed shifter she’d claimed to see had been a trick of the light, or if it was a feral Alpha after all, they'd hoped it was only passing through to bother some other town. As usual, no luck. “When I was patrolling near the preserve earlier, I found a wolfsbane spiral planted near the old Hale house. It was fresh.”

All of them know what that means; not just a body, but a murder. First a deranged shifter, now a dead wolf… Talia's oldest child, Laura, has been Alpha of the preserve ever since her mother was killed in the fire that decimated the Hale pack, but she’s never consolidated power after that tragedy. There are rumors of a power struggle between her and Talia's brother, Peter. It sounds like somebody finally lost.

Stiles has a bad feeling that Allison’s black beast is involved, and that it isn’t the black beast who’s under that wolfsbane.

“We need to get in contact with the Hales,” Scott says grimly.

 


 

 

“I don’t like this,” Jackson says, but then he’s always been a whiner. It’s true that the burned-out house in front of them, ominously dark and too far into the preserve for any possible help, looks very much like a trap, but Stiles is sure there’s no ambush planned. Probably. If it is an ambush, it’s almost definitely one they can handle. What do the Hales have going for them, anyways? They’re three young betas on the run from their crazed Alpha. Nothing to brag about, there.

Still, everyone is on high alert as they approach the building. Allison’s visibly scoping out the shadowy corners for hidden assailants, and Lydia’s got the far off look in her eyes that means she’s listening to her “special” frequencies. As routine as this meeting should be, nobody is taking safety for granted. Maybe that’s the real reason Scott’s pack is a force to be reckoned with: they’re always at least a little afraid.

Scott is the first into the building, his steps creaking on the ruined porch. Allison is close behind. They’re flanked by Lydia and Jackson, while Stiles brings up the rear, wary as always. Alpha and hunter, banshee and spark… they’re all threatening in their own way. Except for Jackson, Stiles corrects himself with a smirk, who wouldn’t do a lick of good in a fight yet insists on going everywhere with Lydia just because they’re soulmates.

The wolf pack waiting from them in the remains of a family living room looks desperate enough to be dangerous, though they’re the ones who’d asked for a meeting and specified the place. Their leader is a male wolf in beta shift, a choice that would read as a threat except that his crossed arms and settled stance indicate a habit rather than a statement. This must be Derek, the eldest remaining Hale. He’s got dark hair and pale skin, like all of those in Talia’s line, and while he’s muscular, he shows the strain of weeks on the run. Stiles wonders what he’d look like under the animal features; Scott says it’s an effort to maintain the shift, but maybe the opposite is true for a born wolf. Or maybe after weeks of resisting his Alpha’s pull, Derek’s simply forgotten how to let go.

Beside him are two girls just about Stiles’ age, neither shifted. One is dark haired - Cora, it must be, the sister who isn’t in pieces under the wolfsbane spiral outside - and one is a bleached blonde with the same hardness in her eyes that Stiles sees when he looks in the mirror. Malia, he thinks, a cousin. Even unshifted, she seems more feral than Derek, holds her body in a way that screams animal . Rumors about her have reached him before; the youngest full shifter to ever come out of the Hale line, a half-breed coyote as dangerous as two wolves put together. Who knows? Maybe it’s exaggeration. And maybe the rumors about her are as true as the ones about Stiles.

But while she’s the least domesticated, the Hales are all wild. Wild from fighting the urge to submit to their crazed Alpha, wild with tragedy, wild with the same desperation that marks everyone in this fractured world. It's a bit of a shame. Their pack was always a good neighbor to have. The ancient wood can harbor many things, and it crawls right up to the city border. Beacon Hills has relied on nothing coming out of that tree line for years, and the McCall pack doesn’t have the knowledge or manpower to keep the sprawling acres of it under command the way the Hales have. These desperate remnants might be a good investment to keep afloat, even now, if they’ll keep that old agreement.

Stiles makes these assessments within two long steps, sauntering into the circle of negotiators while his Alpha rattles through the usual greeting and introductions. “And this is Stiles, our emissary,” Scott finishes.

Stiles grins at the strangers. He knows he looks as powerful as he is, ropy muscles giving definition to the long limbs he’s finally grown into, a bat slung across his shoulders for his wrists to drape over on either side.

Derek’s eyes flick to the weapon. “An emissary with a bat?” he sneers. “I thought you were supposed to be some hotshot spark, not a common thug.”

The dismissal prickles, coming from something so underfed. “What bat? This is my magic fuckin’ wand.” He takes the weapon in hand and gives it a lazy spin, intimately familiar with its heft. He’s smashed in plenty of teeth with this weapon, some of them as pointy as the ones the wolf in front of him wears.

“It’s not even wood,” the wolf snaps. He sounds almost offended at the bad joke.

“Whoa there, buddy,” Stiles simpers, letting his eyes go wide and fluttery. “Isn’t it a little early to be asking about my wood? Buy me dinner first.”

Derek snarls, and Stiles bares his teeth in return, leaning into the conflict because all his instincts say step back. The ill-controlled rage animating the beast in front of him sets Stiles’ heart racing - if it's excitement or fear is a distinction Stiles has long given up on making.

Scott slaps a hand on his chest to keep him away from the beta, while Lydia pointedly widens her eyes over their Alpha’s shoulder. Behind her, Jackson just looks amused. He likes Stiles well enough when they have a common enemy, at least.

“This isn’t a joke,” Derek spits through his fangs. “My sister is dead.”

“We know,” Allison says evenly, handily cutting off whatever Stiles would have blurted out to make the situation worse. “And her power has warped your uncle. What he’s turned into isn’t right, we understand that he needs to be taken care of.”

The three wolves turn to her as one, six inhuman eyes sizing her up. Her gloved hands are held out in an unmistakably placating gesture, but the Argents are hunters, and her ancestors have bad blood with the Hales from far before the conflicts. Rumor is her aunt set the fire that claimed this house herself, though she turned up with her throat ripped out before anyone could confirm.

Derek’s lip curls. Hunters had been the greatest threat to werewolves in the times before, times he’s old enough to personally remember from his childhood. Asking one to help take down a family member must rankle. Stiles doesn’t have much sympathy for that, though. Power is power, and anyone who wants to survive in this lawless world can't afford to stand on prejudice or spurn aid in whatever form it comes.

“Allison’s right,” Scott decides, redirecting attention to himself and diffusing the simmering tension by instinct. “Nobody wants a rogue Alpha on the loose. He’s in your territory, for now, but our people are the ones at risk once he decides to start growing his pack. We’ll help you take him down.”

“Just so to be clear: not as a favor,” Stiles points out for the Hales’ benefit. They’d been sorry to learn that Laura had been killed, but mainly because it promised chaos. If Peter was sane enough to keep by the old agreements, they’d never be here putting their noses into pack business. Whether the preserve is kept orderly by a murdering dictator or a respected leader like Talia had been, it’s all the same to the innocents of Beacon Hills.

“Obviously,” Cora says, apparently sharing her brother’s temper if not his penchant for staying shifted. “And our asking isn’t trust. We just happen to need you to stay alive.”

“Glad that’s cleared up,” Lydia says wryly. “We should try to take advantage of our numbers before he knows you have allies. Do you know where he’s making his den? The sooner we have a plan, the sooner we can finish this.” Like always, she’s clinical and to the point.

Derek growls low, eyes flashing unnatural blue. “Finish it? You're here for back up . Peter’s Alpha power is mine. I'll be the one finishing this.”

 


 

 

For the first week, though, nobody is finishing anything.

It’s in Peter’s interest to wait his betas out, as his power over them will just become harder to resist - especially as the full moon approaches. For a half-crazed feral, Peter is wily. He’s also good at hiding his scent, at living off the land without giving them clues to track him by. Malia posits that he’s eating the bones and entrails of his kills to disguise his movements, which is a delightful thought.

“It's what I would do,” she explains with a shrug. “Intestines are gross, but fresh liver is delicious. Especially if it’s still warm.” Stiles looks at his half-eaten ham sandwich, sighs, and puts it back into his hiking bag.

They patrol the woods as regularly as they can afford, trying to catch the monster out or at least find his tracks. Those with human stamina switch off while the Hales maintain an absurd schedule, all of them on every rotation. Stiles can’t imagine tramping through all the remote bits of the forest for twelve-hour stretches, but the three of them seem entirely in their element.

The patrols are not Stiles’ element. They’re both terrifying - every snapping twig could be a giant murder beast leaping in for the kill - and boring , a combo that might literally drive Stiles insane. And if he’s going insane, he’s not gonna do it alone.

“Were you an Eagle Scout?” he asks Derek between huffing breaths. “Seems like maybe you’re confused, so I just gotta point out... this forced march thing isn't going to earn you any merit badges.”

Derek doesn’t react beyond a withering glance. Pity, he was supposed to say something about stamina that Stiles could work into innuendo, the one thing that infallibly gets a rise out of him.

Stiles opens his mouth to speculate about other badges Derek might deserve for the impressive amount of stick he’s managed to wedge up his tight ass, but Scott gives him a look. He closes his mouth with a huff. So, yes, he’s been harassing the Alpha-to-be a little more frequently than is perhaps wise. It's just that Derek walks around shifted literally all the time, with his tightly wound muscles and barked orders and a grimace so deep it’s probably stuck like that. It's natural to want to needle anyone who takes himself that seriously. Besides, despite this little group project currently tying them together, it’s not like they're friends with the Hales. Who cares if the guy likes him or not?

He manages to hike in silence for a few more meters. Then, “Allison, hey, bet you can’t bullseye that leaf over there.”

“Save us,” Cora mutters.

That’s the moment Peter chooses to burst out of the woods, appearing in the midst of their group like a perverse magic trick.

He's huge, larger than a man and as thickly muscled as a wrestler on steroids, except he’s covered in wiry black fur and has the face of a wolf. They'd let themselves get strung out along the path and forgot to be watchful; rookie mistake.

Slavering teeth flash towards Cora, the closest, and tear into her arm. Derek pulls her back out of reach, but the limb Peter caught is mangled bad enough that Stiles can't look away from the glint of bone for a second. Cora drops to her knees behind Derek; though the wound is healing, it’s from her Alpha and will be slow; she’s dead weight for the next fifteen minutes and this fight will be over before then.

Scott roars, shifted himself into an Alpha form much smaller than Peter’s twisted bestiality. He leaps against the monster, rolling them both into the undergrowth.

At first, no one claims the upper hand. Peter’s an older wolf, though, born into his power and impervious with rage. He possesses a viciousness the younger Alpha can't match. Amid the flying fur and blood, the pitch of yips and snarls indicates that Scott is on the losing end of the fight.

Allison tracks the pair with her bow, but she can't risk shooting potent wolfsbane into her soulmate, and she hasn’t gotten a clear bead on his attacker, with the way the pair are tumbling about.

Scott howls in pain. Cursing, Allison tosses the bow away in favor of her fighting daggers, throwing one and then two at the back of the monster instead.

The second blade hits deep, and it's enough to startle Peter - but only that. He rolls off of Scott and braces to leap at his new assailant. Allison tenses, looking all too human in the face of his warped bulk.

Malia slams into him right as he leaps. She’s shifted into her beta form, and despite her small size, she chose her angle well. Peter is knocked to his side, has to scramble for footing. Derek joins his cousin in attacking before he regroups, slashing at the beast from the other side with his claws, the two of them fighting for their lives against their uncle.

For a moment Stiles thinks they’ve overpowered him. But then Peter catches Malia’s next kick, sends her bowling into Derek. He neatly sidesteps when the two betas charge him again, and slams a huge paw into Derek’s back before the beta can regroup.

Peter knows their fighting styles, Stiles realizes with a sinking feeling. They’re good individually, but that’s how they’re fighting, as individuals. They haven’t trained to use their advantage in numbers and they need it, now.

Derek stumbles and takes a knee, stunned by the blow that nearly disemboweled him. It’s only Malia diving into Peter from behind that saves him from being finished off, and she gets a deep bite to her torso in return. She spins to face Peter from beside Derek, but then the Alpha roars. The sound resonates with all his stolen authority. His eyes burn red, and all three of his betas falter and cringe back, even Cora on the ground. Even Derek.

It’s the opening Stiles had been waiting for. While the wolves had been fighting, he’d been running glowing fingers through his pack of imitation mountain ash, activating its potency with focused power. The stuff’s harder to work with, but real mountain ash is worth its weight in gold these days and they have little to spare. It’ll do in a pinch.

Now that Peter’s under the impression he’s won and not dashing around so quickly, Stiles can cast the spell. The dust flies from his hand and snaps into a circle centered around the Alpha before dropping to the earth and sealing him in. Peter’s head snaps towards Stiles, and he charges at the latest threat... only to slap up against the invisible wall of a spell. Startled, he scrambles backwards only to hit the other side of the barrier behind him. He spins, realizing that he’s been trapped.

Allison’s recovered her bow and she aims it now. The wolfsbane on the tip of the arrowhead should be enough to kill the Alpha, but slowly enough Stiles will have time to break the circle and let Derek in to finish the job, first. They’re taking no chances with the transition of power.

Peter seems to sense his precarious situation. Snarling, he rushes the barrier a second time. But now he expects the resistance; he pushes against it, claws sparking at the points of contact, keeps pushing until the straining magic snaps and shatters. Stiles gapes.

Peter crashes away into the forest again, darting in huge leaps between trees; even Allison couldn’t hit that kind of a target. Cora, healed now, springs a few steps forward as if she wants to chase, but stops herself. Nobody else could keep up with her, not the humans on a good day and not the other wolves who are all still nursing wounds.

Peter’s long gone. They had him and he escaped.

“Fucking… fuck!” Stiles blurts.

Derek lets out a mean laugh, heaving himself to his feet. “Not as easy as you thought, hm? There's a reason we asked for help.”

Stiles forces down his irritation and gives Derek a tight smile. The guy’s awfully smug considering he’s drenched in his own blood and his crazed uncle is on the loose again. He doesn’t even look winded, and his perfect abs are neatly healed. Stiles can see them clearly defined through the fluttering tears in what had once been a very tight henley.

“Regroup at the house,” Derek orders, and trots off towards their makeshift home base at the ruins of the Hale home. Stiles groans. He knows they need to alert the others to the situation but damn, would a five-minute breather kill them? Scott pats his shoulder as he walks by with Allison under his arm, supporting his weight while he heals. Cora and Malia are already distant down the path with Derek.

Stiles huffs along at the back of the group, hating how hard he has to work to keep pace. “I guess we've gotta keep working with them, but I don’t have to like it,” he snipes to nobody in particular. Plenty loud enough for werewolf ears, from the way Derek’s head half-turns before he catches himself.

Good.

 


 

 

 

The group makes it to the charred remains of the house without further mishap. It's become a base of operations of sorts, neutral ground. Still, the place is poorly defensible and hardly secret, what with the fire-licked walls lacking any structural integrity, and the fact that Peter knows all about it. Meeting up here is morbid and stupid, Stiles has decided.

“Well, he knows we have help, now.” Malia muses. “After that little show, he’s going to be more dangerous. He’ll try to take us out one by one before we get organized. My father's always been a planner.”

“Your father ?” Scott confirms, obviously horrified. They'd known she was a cousin of Derek and Cora’s, but the fact that it's through the very sibling they're hunting? That's news to all of them.

Malia nods, and then seems to belatedly realize from the McCall pack’s reactions that she needs to explain more. “I mean... We aren’t close?”

“No shit,” Stiles mutters.

Cora frowns at him. “Malia’s right. We need better protection. We can't be on alert at every moment, and now that Peter knows we have a plan he won’t be hanging back, trying to wait us out.”

“That’s a good point,” Scott agrees. “Does he know where you’re living, now?”

“No,” Derek says, “But there’s only so much we can do to hide our scent and our presence from our Alpha.”

Scott nods. “Stiles, take the Jeep and go with them. See what you can do about keeping Peter from finding their home, and put up some protective spells while you’re at it.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Derek sneers. “A wolf doesn’t share his den with just anyone. I don’t trust him.”

Stiles fights the urge to stick his tongue out at the guy; too childish, even for him.

“Derek, your pack needs protection,” Scott says evenly. “Stiles is really good at what he does. Cora and Malia can come with us to our home to tell the rest of my pack about what happened with Peter today, alright? No secrets. Fair is fair.”

Derek doesn't really have a choice, and they all know it. He jerks his head in agreement, at least as much to save face as because Scott’s convinced him. Stiles just hopes the Hales don't turn on him or try and take him as a hostage. It's not that they could overpower him, not with his spark, but he’d have to kill them and there’d be no convincing Scott it was for a good reason.

The den turns out to be in one of the old buildings in what had once been Beacon Hills’ industrial district, but now makes up a no man’s land between the woods and where humans feel comfortable making homes. Stiles pulls up to the address Derek had scrawled down, pen ridiculous in his clawed hand, and parks the Jeep off a side street where it’s at least a bit hidden. It makes sense they'd want some human comforts, too, but Stiles had kind of assumed they lived in like, a creepy dank cave filled with bones.

A mechanical elevator takes him up to the top floor and Derek lets him in, managing - despite his shifted face - to make it clear that accepting another pack’s emissary into his home is something he’s only doing under duress. Stiles ignores him. The place isn’t quite homey, what with the exposed brick and a spiral stair that looks like wrought iron, but it’s nice enough. And it's got great light, too, because there are windows. Giant, floor to ceiling windows.

“Wow, couldn't find a more exposed location?” Stiles chirps brightly, waving his hand at the wall of glass overlooking all the other nearby buildings. “Not sure this one is risky enough.”

“We’re on the 28th floor,” Derek growls guiltily. “Those aren’t a problem. Worry about the stairs.”

“I say what I’ll worry about.”

Derek rolls his eyes and waves a hand for Stiles to get on with it already. Stiles cracks his knuckles and uses his switchblade to make a thin cut on the inside of his arm, prods at it until blood starts to well up.

Derek's nostrils flare. “What's that for?”

“A sacrifice. Some sparks use their memories, emotions, body parts even. Anything you have, you can sacrifice it! But blood is easiest. You make more, nach.” He doesn’t care to get into why he can get away with sacrificing so little for results another spark might literally give a leg for.

“You didn't use it in the woods.”

“Didn’t need to, for a simple binding circle. The mountain ash counts as enough of a sacrifice - I mean, a tree got burned, right? But for something like this, even I need a little extra juice. Which is going stale, so…”

Derek nods, stepping back to let him do his thing.

The guilty secret is, Stiles enjoys using his spark. He knows it’s supposed to be a tool, one he’s paid a steep price for, used judiciously to protect his pack and their town. Fun isn’t really the point. But there it is, all the same, a thrill of pure pleasure. He feels the pulse of it, the bright streamers arcing under his skin from his eyes back around his skull, lighting the tips of his fingers as he traces the spells into the air. It feels powerful and flowing and right. Like it used to when he practiced with his mother.

Derek looks a little taken with the spectacle of it, at least enough that he stops snapping and growling for once. Stiles admits he plays it up, making his gestures bigger, more sweeping than he would alone. He enjoys the feeling of eyes on him, the opportunity to show off after the fiasco with Peter earlier.

He ties off the last spell almost an hour later, and Derek’s still watching, silent behind his shifted mask. Stiles claps his hands as if shaking the dust off. “That should help! So, what you’ve got here is some blocking spells to take care of your scent and mute any pack bonds once you’re inside. You should still be able to track each other, though - I tuned everything to the aura I got off Tall-Dark-and-Angry when he broke my spell earlier. Oh, and the defensive stuff is all set to the same trigger. Your pack won’t even have to worry about it, but if Peter steps foot in here, and the whole thing goes up like a firework. Explosion should go from the walls out,” he explains with a wide-fingered gesture, “so anyone inside should be OK. I think that’ll do the trick, yeah?”

“...Yes. Thank you,” Derek grits.

Stiles smirks at him. “Don’t strain anything, there. I'm only doing it ‘cause my Alpha asked, not on account of giving a flying fuck about you. Honestly? Cora seems like she’s got a better temperament for being an Alpha, and Malia’s a fucking badass. No skin off my back if you die.”

Stiles thinks he spots a flicker of real hurt in Derek’s startled expression, though it’s quickly covered with a sarcastic half-smile that shows a lot of fang. “Sorry I’ll be disappointing you.”

“Whoa!” Stiles makes an exaggerated expression of amazement. “You're psychic? That must come in handy.”

“Do you ever fucking shut up?” Derek snaps, with a new exasperation that’s even more fun than the anger. He’s crossed his arms again, must not know how it makes his biceps look all thick and powerful. Or maybe he does know. Stiles finds his eyes trailing over the curve of muscle as the wolf keeps ranting. “Is there an off button? There must be, or your Alpha would have kicked you out of the pack years ago.”

“Oh, I can think of a couple things you could do to shut me up.” The words tumble out before Stiles thinks through if it’s a good idea to say them.

His eyes flick up to Derek’s face to check, and he still isn't sure. Expressions are harder to read in beta form, and while there’s something different in his eyes now, Stiles can’t say if it’s the kind of different he’s hoping for. They’re alone, he remembers, and now the wolf is stalking close to him. It triggers that adrenaline rush again, that fear-anticipation-arousal woven too close to sort out even if he’d cared to. Stiles tips his head up, arches an eyebrow.

“Only a couple things?” Derek rumbles. “Have some imagination, spark. I can think of so many more ways I could force the words right out of your head.”

Stiles’ bloodstream is almost tingling, his heart pounding fast. “Yeah? Try me.” He doesn’t let himself shy away, not even when it means their chests bump into each other, half macho posturing and half flirtation. Derek’s head tips, his mouth a breath away from a kiss. Then he grabs Stiles by the front of his plaid overshirt and tugs.

Caught off guard, Stiles falls to his knees where he would have gone willingly. He shoots a glare up at Derek, but is confronted instead with the thick outline of a hard cock being presented in his face, clear even through a layer of denim. It’s irritating as hell, except for how it's slightly hotter than it is irritating.

Stiles forgets the throb of his kneecaps in favor of scrabbling at Derek’s belt and fly, fighting with the beta’s clawed hands to get to the prize first. The erection pressing from inside makes the zipper unwieldy, but once he wrangles it down (none too carefully) Derek’s cock springs free from the front of his boxers. Stiles’ mouth waters, hungry for a taste. He thinks maybe he has been since the very first time Derek snarled, something about all those muscles and rage pinging Stiles just right. His cock is thick, veined, and of course he’s uncut. He fucking would be.

Derek's got a hand at the back of his head, intent on getting started, but this time Stiles takes initiative without the forced encouragement. Derek’s long enough that he chokes a little, but he swallows and forces himself all the way down despite that, until Derek’s jeans zipper and pubic hair are rough against his lips. It’s worth it for the noise the wolf makes.

Both of them try to get the upper hand, to set the pace, but Stiles wins. He knows he’s good at this, and Derek’s stuttering hips are the proof. His hand in Stiles’ hair spasms and tugs, edging on true pain, but he’s not trying to take charge and fuck Stiles’ face the same way as in the beginning. He’s losing control. Stiles hollows his cheeks and looks up, anticipating the sweet reaction.

The reaction is that Derek’s shift melts away, leaving him vulnerable and human for the first time and, oh, that’s the best kind of reward. Stiles would risk swallowing his tongue except his mouth is full already. Derek’s almost... pretty, at least in comparison to the brute power of his other form. The full, arched eyebrows alone are things somebody ought to write odes to, and then there’s the rest of it: thin nose and gaunt cheeks, long lashes fluttering over pale green eyes. Every feature stands out so sharp it seems delicate.

Fucking around before your soulmate bond presents isn’t that unusual. Nor is the fact they haven’t as much as kissed; you take pleasure where you can find it in a world where every day might well be your last. It's a little stranger that Stiles didn’t even know his face before he knew the taste of him, but it’s hard to care about doing things backwards when blowing him is so good, so distracting. Stiles’ world shrinks down to the sloppy spit-slick task, to teasing and playing for reactions, mixing it up with his teeth and tongue and lips, hooking his thumbs in Derek’s pants to pull the fly open wider. Not everyone has a soulmate to cuddle up with all perfect like his friends. He sucks harder, not sure if the goal is pleasure or punishment, or for whom.

The hand in his hair spasms again. “Yeah - fuck, I’m - ah, I’m going to…”

Stiles doesn’t pull off, just sets his teeth against the insides of his lips and drags down Derek’s length, and stopping right at the head to press his tongue flat against the slit before flicking it around the head in a swirling lick. Like clockwork, Derek’s abs quiver under his ruined shirt as he spills into Stiles’ mouth, thick and salty. Stiles swallows, suckling the last drop down while making eye contact through his lashes. Derek’s eyes basically roll back into his head, and he slumps boneless against the windows beside them.

Stiles barely gives him a moment to recover before he pops to his feet, licking lips he knows are flushed and puffy from being used, slick and obscene.

“Fun! So, how are you repaying the favor?” He gestures to the bulge in his own pants and he's expecting Derek to shy away, demure from the challenge. He’s expecting that he’ll get to be the one less affected by this, and therefore come out the winner.

He doesn't get that.

“Hm.” Derek pushes off the windows and past Stiles, stripping out of his shirt on the way towards the spiral staircase set in the corner. There’s a tattoo between his shoulderblades, a curious three-spiraled symbol that fits so right there it almost looks familiar. “Guess you could fuck me. Or, try.”

His pants come off next and Stiles gets a glimpse of muscled, hairy thighs and a round tight ass that’s everything promised by the way the jeans had hugged it on their hikes. Then Derek tosses the jeans over the railing and disappears upstairs, leaving Stiles with a choice.

Not much of one - the offer is not what he expected, but no way he’s turning it down. He jogs upstairs, stripping out of his clothes, clumsier than Derek had been in his eagerness. Derek’s already waiting, sprawled open on the bed in the center of the upstairs space, and Stiles pounces onto it as well, eager to see exactly what he can get away with.

The orgasm did little to gentle Derek; he’s just as growly and demanding as he’d been before he came. He sends a bottle of lube sailing at Stiles’ head, then refuses to barely stay still while Stiles scissors him open. He treats it like a competition, never offering any submission except what Stiles forces him into. Consequently, Stiles feels like a fucking god when he finally eases his cock into Derek’s tight heat and feels the wolf’s body go pliant under him for one blissful second. Then Derek writhes up onto his knees and says, “Is that honestly the best you can do?” and Stiles gives into his baser instincts.

He fucks him as hard as he can, spurred on by the litany of derisive comments about human size, stamina, and technique... but even more by the little lacuna, the gasps and moans that Derek can’t help but release. He’s so tight, so beautiful even from behind, that Stiles finds himself close to coming all too soon.

But he digs his fingers into Derek’s tapered waist and won’t let himself yet, simply refuses to let go until the wolf is absolutely wrecked, taken apart to his foundations. Wary of actually cramping up, Stiles adjusts their position, manhandles Derek onto his back and twists his hips around until he finds that perfect angle, one where he can tap Derek’s prostate head on.

Finally, those snide comments fall away. Derek’s human face is flushed and twisted in something between pain delighted in or pleasure resented, and Stiles can’t help it, he leans over to lick the sweat off his neck for something to do with his mouth that isn’t kissing. Derek snaps at him, shifted back to fangs again for a second. Stiles jerks away, heart pounding. He’d forgotten how much of a thing necks are to werewolves.

Allison apparently wasn't exaggerating about werewolf refractory periods, and Derek’s hard again by now. Even better. There’s sweat beaded on Stiles’ back, prickling as he jerks Derek hard and fast, and he has to keep his hips still as he can to hold off his own orgasm. They finish one after the other, Derek with a near-silent whine and Stiles with a shout. Then they flop apart, satiated, onto the damp sheets. This, the afterglow, it’s the closest thing to peace Stiles has found in this fucked-up world.  

The second he can trust his legs, Stiles rolls out of bed and throws on his rumpled clothes.

“FYI, I still hate you,” he reminds them both, hesitating at the top of the stairs to button his fly and spare a glance back to the bed.

Derek throws him a sarcastic thumbs-up. “Same,” he says, but he’s too come-drunk to really put anger behind it.

Stiles almost laughs, but doesn’t let himself. Not until he’s back in the Jeep.

 


 

 

 

Later in the week, Stiles finds himself walking in the woods again. He’s becoming a regular outdoorsman, or something. Not so much with the forced marching today, though - this time he’s alone. He’s wearing a bright red sweatshirt over his usual plaid, one that no doubt stands out from the environment like a fucking beacon. It’s nearing sundown, too. Vulnerable, vulnerable , he thinks, hunching his shoulders and quickening his steps down the thin trail.

Out there among the trees, the Alpha wolf is waiting and hungry. However in their element the Hales look hiking in the woods, it’s Peter who’s the unchallenged master of this place. They're only betas, and still half-human. He’s a feral predator entirely ruled by animal instinct. No doubt he’s been dreaming of an opportunity to easily snap up a wandering stray and weaken the packs opposing him. And right now, Stiles is that lonely stray.

As if on cue, the monster that was once Peter saunters onto the path in front of Stiles. He’s got it all: slavering jaws flecked with white spittle, eyes that glow red like hell itself, hands twisted into clawed weapons. He’s murder personified.

Stiles grins.

The binding circle he throws down won’t be strong enough this time, either, but now Stiles is banking on that fact. When Peter rushes the edge to claw through the boundary, Stiles’ bat is there already, swinging for his dumb, deranged face. It connects, and the aluminum sends shudder of spark magic through the Alpha.

Peter staggers, but shakes the damage off after a moment and, wary enough to dodge Stiles’ second, half-hearted swing, takes the barrier down with a couple swipes. He snarls triumphantly in Stiles’ direction, like he’s actually won something by withstanding that opening salvo. He hasn’t, of course. Waggling his fingers cheekily at the beast in front of him, Stiles takes a step back and waits.

The Hales burst onto the open trail from their hiding place upwind, having come running as soon as they heard the crack of Stiles’ bat.

Peter’s attention swings to them and he’s almost brought his bulk to bear when Malia hits him. She’s in her full shift this time and she’s absolutely good for two wolves, a third of Peter’s size but so fast she tears a mouthful of his flesh and darts back before he has a chance to swipe her away. She bounds just out of his reach, her muzzle dripping red.

Derek and Cora are there too, and they don’t hesitate to join the brawl. Derek’s foot smashes into Peter’s skull, and Cora latches onto his bicep while he’s reeling. Cora’s attack has him stumbling to all fours, and Malia flings herself on his back while he’s laid low. Whatever training they’d done over the last few days had worked, at least enough for this.

Peter is healing from their attacks too quickly, though. If anything, they’re fighting for a victory by slow attrition, and there’s no time for that. The Alpha’s clearly fed up with his betas’ insubordination. He roars at them to demand submission... and, again, finds his reaction anticipated. Lydia’s banshee scream cuts through his call, and Stiles sees Derek smirk, unaffected.

Peter swings his heavy muzzle towards the sound of the scream, but he can’t find the source. He looks to Stiles, then, lips peeling back from his teeth. There’s a human brain under all that fur and muscle, after all, and he must realize by now there’s a plan at work that he didn’t anticipate. Everything that has gone wrong for him so far had started with Stiles’ magic.

Derek claws at Peter’s chest, but the beast bats him easily aside and starts to run towards Stiles. His headlong rush is halted only when a feathered arrow buries itself in his shoulder. Stiles lets out a breath in relief; Allison’s finally gotten in range.

Peter huffs in surprise, then swats the annoyance away with a huge paw. The shaft snaps, but the arrowhead stays lodged in his flesh, pinging with a little red light. Then it explodes, having been equipped with one of Danny’s creations, a small bomb full of chemicals Lydia had recommended as highly combustible.

Peter roars again, this time in pain and anger. Another arrow zings out of the woods to strike him deep in his side, and when it blows it sets off a burning inside of him, so bright Stiles swears he can see the outline of organs against the wolf’s ribs.

The beast falls, writhing, but still alive. Stiles steps forward, ready to use his spark if it’s needed to subdue him. Cora’s already there pinning their target to the ground, though, Stiles settles for kneeling next to her to help hold the Alpha for Derek. Malia takes Peter’s other side, having shifted out of her coyote form. She’s naked, but nothing about her bloodied, dirt-streaked body seems sexual at this moment.

Peter’s burnt skin is hot, and it crisps under Stiles’ hands as he struggles against the hold, fighting to get free, to hide and heal. Stiles looks over to snap at Derek to hurry it up, asshole , but finds the beta’s familiar shifted face looking down at his Alpha with an ineffably conflicted expression. The words die on Stiles’ tongue. It must be painful to kill a quarter of your remaining family, even like this.

But then, everything is hard these days. Stiles doesn’t have the space to hold any sympathy for strangers; he can’t afford it.

Derek’s face settles into hard lines and he throws his weight into a clawed swipe that cuts deep into Peter’s throat. Finally, the struggling limbs go still. Alpha red burns into Derek’s eyes as the life bleeds out of his uncle’s; he throws back his head and howls at the sky.

Stiles unclenches his hands from the corpse’s arm. It’s human, now, pathetic and small. All of them rise to their feet and get some distance from the sorry remains, Derek shaking off whatever emotions had briefly stayed his hand. Once they’re a few yards away he turns back to his new betas, chin high and proud, and flashes his red Alpha eyes. Stiles watches the tiny pack flash blue and gold eyes back, accepting him as their leader. The tradition as it should be. They’re still a small pack, still vulnerable, but whole now under Derek’s command. Ready to defend this territory on their own merits.

All in all a win, Stiles decides, wiping the greasy ash off of his hands and onto his jeans as Allison, Lydia and Scott make their way up the path from where they’d been secreted away for the ambush. Jackson’s request to tag along had been firmly denied. While the Hales murmur gently among themselves, Stiles goes to his own pack and gives them a double thumbs up. He’d been totally right about acting as bait! So there, Scott. His Alpha breaks character to roll his eyes at Stiles’ smug expression.

Having scented his new betas to his content, Derek turns to the McCall pack, as well. He nods his head, the gesture that looks almost formal despite the bloody mess on his shirt and hands. “You have the appreciation of my pack. The Hales are indebted to you.”

“It was for all of our safety,” Scott says. “And it was the right thing to do. But... I think today proves that we can achieve more working together. If you’re willing, I’d like to build a stronger bond between our packs. An alliance.”

“Uh, Scott,” Stiles hisses, “what are you doing? We don’t trust them.”

Scott says, “Shush.”

Derek’s eyes dart between them, but he doesn’t acknowledge the spat. “An alliance? I’m not sure what that means.”

“I'm not either,” Scott says easily. “Not yet. But to start with, I thinks it means we strengthen each other where we can.”

“There’s something specific you want,” Derek says. It isn’t a question, and though Stiles knows Scott doesn’t mean it that way, as a threat, Derek sounds resigned to owing a painful favor for the help his pack received. It’s clear that he won’t try to squirm out of paying his family’s debts, however steep the price. For a second, Stiles almost respects him.

Scott smiles and nods. “We want you to give one of our human members, Jackson, the bite.”

Wait, Stiles thinks, what? Taking the bite from a born wolf is almost safe, even at Jackson’s age, but Stiles can’t imagine Lydia has agreed to this, especially from her shocked expression. Stiles looks quickly away, hiding his surprise. There's a conversation waiting there that he absolutely intends to avoid.

Derek’s gaze flits to Allison for a second and then back to Scott, wariness waring with hope. “And what do we get, in exchange for strengthening you?”

“In return, we allow you to bolster your pack from our town,” Scott offers. “You need more betas to defend your territory, and I know there are humans in Beacon Hills who’d be willing to take the bite in exchange for strength and belonging. You have to ask them, though,” he adds fervently. “It must be consensual, or everything between us is finished.”

“Of course,” Derek agrees, as if he’s offended at the suggestion he might do otherwise. “It’s a generous offer. I'll need eight to restore us to what we were before the fire.”

“No, no way,” Stiles sputters. “Eight? Are you kidding ?”

“The Hale pack hasn’t been that large for a long time,” Allison says evenly.

Scott nods. “I’m sorry, but they’re right. We can’t give you eight more people. I’m not sure there are even that many in town who’d want the bite.”

Malia makes a face. “No accounting for taste.”

“Hey, some of us are already perfect the way we are,” Stiles says. The idea of the bite has never appealed to him outside of that desperate year when he’d been sixteen and any exchange for power would have seemed tempting. And even then he’d found another way.

Derek’s jaw is clenched, despite his gracious nod. The thread of sarcasm in his voice is probably unintentional when he asks, “How many are we allowed, then?”

“Three,” Scott says, quickly enough to confirm he’d decided before they started negotiating. “Double your numbers, now.”

“Fine,” Derek accepts with a jerky nod. “Bring Jackson to the house tomorrow at noon, and I’ll turn him. I’ll let you know when we’ve chosen my betas.” The conversation’s clearly finished from his end.

“Say ‘thanks,’” Stiles snips, but Derek’s already walking away, Cora at his side and Malia ranging ahead in her coyote form. Gone with barely a nod.

“Well, fuck you, too,” Stiles mutters at their backs, then swings his gaze around to glare at Scott. These are the people his Alpha wants to ally with? Today's little jaunt was supposed to be the last they’d see of each other. The idea of meeting up with the Hales on the regular gives him no joy, however helpful they’ve been. Not least because having one of his conquests hanging around is as unwanted as it is unprecedented. Derek’s hot and all, but Stiles doesn't go in for seconds.

Scott blinks innocently in the face of all Stiles’ irritation, as if he doesn’t know that Alphas - and best friends! - are supposed to explain their plans before springing them on folks.

“What are you doing, Scott?” Stiles seethes. “Right after Jackson turns, before he accepts you as his Alpha… there’s a period where he’ll be Derek’s. He could get taken in by the Hales! How is that okay to risk? What about Lydia?” He gestures wildly in her direction, happy to let her take a turn telling Scott off.

But Lydia looks down, refusing to back him up. “He’s always wanted the bite,” she says instead. “And I want that for him, if it’s what he needs to feel accepted and useful. This way, the change won’t be so dangerous.”

“It won’t,” Scott agrees. “And we’re not going to lose him, either. The Hales don't want a fight any more than we do. This is the best way to show trust and build up both our packs.”

Stiles makes a face that shows exactly what he thinks of that.

Scott finally buckles. “Ok, yes, I am aware that there’s a possibility Derek could try to claim Jackson as his beta. But if he does, Lydia will bring him back to us. Right? Nothing’s stronger than the soulmate bond.”

Stiles scoffs, but he doesn’t bother arguing. Dissing the bond to Scott is a losing tactic if he ever heard one.

“Look,” Scott says, squeezing his shoulder, “I get that I’m making a bet here. But we have to take risks if we want anything to change for the better. We’re surviving on our own, Stiles, but only that. If we work with the Hales we can make this whole area safe, like it used to be. I want more than just survival.” He’s looking at Allison now, something impossibly soft in his eyes. “I want to live .”

The hope he’s offering is impossible to resist, the kind of idealized vision that only the best leaders can pull into the tangible world. Ugh . This is why Scott’s the Alpha, Stiles supposes. He gives them all a cause to fight for without even realizing how unusual his optimism is in the current world.

Stiles, on the other hand, is the realist, and he will be the one keeping an eye on their new pals. Without a common enemy, there’s nothing binding them together, and who knows what goes on in the minds of born wolves. He doesn’t trust anybody besides his own goddamn pack, and that sure as hell doesn’t include the Hales, or their new Alpha.

 

Chapter Text

Despite Stiles’ fears, nothing much changes through the rest of the spring, except that Jackson's a werewolf now. Next thing Stiles knows, they're coasting into summer, an easy season that always leaves him antsy for the beginning of fall when the harder times will set in. The situation with the Hales is basically the same as it ever was, too - they lurk on the periphery, keeping the preserve from turning into a haven for outlaws. Derek hadn't contested Jackson's allegiance, much to Scott’s smug appreciation. They came for the last of their betas about a month after turning him, and haven’t been heard from since. Not even on full moons like tonight when their help would be appreciated.

Stiles winces at the latest howl and tries to turn the music on his phone louder even though he knows it’s on full volume already. Jackson is coming into his wolfitude in fits and starts under Scott's instruction, but during the full moon Lydia’s the only person he’ll stand. The two of them are locked up in the basement now, and Stiles would almost feel sorry for the guy except that he literally asked for it. Lydia he does feel sory for. It’s creepy down there, a place that Stiles has mostly avoided since Scott's old days of nearly being feral. There are chains, the electrical breakers, an old water heater, and not much else.

Another cry breaks through the music, one that Stiles desperately wants to ignore because he honestly can’t tell if it’s half-feral suffering or some kind of sex thing.

The knocking on his door is almost lost between the animal noises and the bass line, but when it continues he glances back and grins, switching off the music.

“Pops!”

“Hey, kid. Chris and I just got back.” His father smiles ruefully. “Jackson still making that racket, I see.”

“No kidding.” Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Mind coming down to the office for debrief? Chris has some things he wants Scott's opinion on.”

Stiles nods, following his dad downstairs with a spike of apprehension. Chris’ hunter background makes him more high-strung than the sheriff, but he doesn’t draw Scott’s attention lightly. If he wants a full pack debrief, there’ll be a good reason.

“What’s the matter?” Scott asks once the whole crew (minus Jackson and Lydia) is present. He’s settled into an Alpha stance, his feet set wide and ready.

Chris steps forward. “We found a body.” Stiles’ eyebrow quirks up. He wants to to say, and ? A corpse in itself isn't exactly news. “It was garrotted,” Chris elaborates. “Then hung. Looks to me like a sacrifice.”

Scott nods soberly. “That’s not good. Are you sure?”

“No,” Chris admits easily. “The signs are all there, though - the garroting, the post-mortem treatment. We need to double-check the ley lines, but my money's on the killer being a magic user.”

“Understood,” Scott says heavily, and then pauses a minute to consider. When he looks up, his expression is bright and settled. “I think it’s time to ask our allies for assistance.”

“Ugh, really?” Stiles whines. “We can totally handle whatever this is. Alone.”

Scott smiles at him. “Of course. But the thing is, we don’t have to.”

 


 

 

The inter-pack meeting is at the McCall’s place this time, no matter how vehemently Stiles argues against letting strangers know the layout. Cora and Malia have already been inside, after all, which is a hard argument to beat. Especially because when Scott brings it up, Stiles remembers what he’d been doing over at the Hales’ place while they visited, and loses his train of thought just long enough to lose the argument, too.

Scott at least volunteers the hotel bar for the meeting, a spot that’s separated off from the pack's living quarters by a reinforced door with three deadbolts. When they first took over the hotel, Scott had wanted to have a place for the townspeople to congregate, and once it became apparent that the promise of cheap liquor would entice people more than the promise of an overeager werewolf teenager asking questions about their lives, the idea of reopening the bar had come to fruition.

It's not very fancy, just a few mismatched tables and one shelf stocked with half-empty bottles of well liquor. Still, anyone is welcome to come here to talk, or pay for a drink. The townspeople refer to it as 'the saloon,' no matter how many times Stiles tries to correct them. There are almost always a few people there in the hours it's open; it empties around sundown, though, as nobody wants to walk back home after dark. Not even now that Beacon Hills is one of the safer towns on the West Coast. After hours, the bar is a private place for the Pack to relax. Or, apparently, to entertain a possibly hostile wolf pack.

Derek's new crew still looks rough and tumble when they saunter into the McCall’s space, but less desperately wild than the first time they’d met. The new additions are a bombshell blonde and two men: a cherubic blond boy, and Mr. tall dark and handsome. They’re all wearing leather jackets, like some kind of club. Cora’s cut her hair into a severe bob, and looks about as pleased to be there as Stiles is.

Derek is harder to read. He’s put on some Alpha bulk, or maybe the broadness of his chest is just a side effect of the whole not being on the run thing. It’s a good look on him, either way. He’s got a bit of a tan, now, too… but there’s still the familiar tight-pants swagger and shifted wolf face.

“I’m impressed you managed to sweet-talk three whole people into joining up with you indefinitely, looking all gnarly like that,” Stiles points out before Scott can say something sappy about cooperation. “Honestly, I’m not sure how you managed it. I guess you can go full animal now that you’re the big, bad Alpha. Is that how it went down? Didja play fetch with them or something?”

“Dog jokes, original,” Derek says flatly, but he lets the shift go. Success , Stiles thinks. The face under all the ridges and sideburns is a little broader now, accented with sculpted dark scruff, but he's still just as pretty. “For somebody with a werewolf Alpha himself, you sure do talk shit about my kind.”

Stiles grins. “I can dislike you without it being a species thing, bro.”

“I'm not your bro,” Derek snaps, finally irritated.

“Sure thing, bro,” Stiles answers brightly. He rolls his tongue against his lower lip, remembering that time he had this guy’s dick in his mouth. They’re both remembering it, actually, from the way Derek’s eyes keep flicking down.

“Stiles,” Scott says under his breath, “you’re not helping.”

“Seriously. You sure you want us here?” Cora asks, not making a secret of eavesdropping. Malia is examining her claws right beside her cousin, though with her it’s hard to tell if it’s a careless habit or a statement. “Seems like maybe we should call the beta exchange even and go our separate ways.”

“No,” Scott says firmly. “I want to work together.” He turns to the newbies, and ratchets up to a real high beam smile. “Sorry about all that, we really are happy to meet you. I’m Scott. You’re fitting in well with the Hales?”

“Very,” the woman purrs. “Erica, by the way. This,” she points to the tall black man behind her, “is Boyd, my mate. And that’s Isaac.”

“Nice to meet you,” Scott chirps, grinning around to take all of them in. “I’m really glad that we’ll be working together.”

Derek rolls his eyes at all the niceties - a man after Stiles’ own heart - and interrupts before they can start going around and naming their favorite colors. “What's the situation?” he demands.

“Oh, you know. Murder and mayhem,” Stiles answers back. “The usual.”

“Not mayhem,” Scott corrects. “We don’t even know what we’re dealing with, here. One of our patrols found a body and we think it could be a sacrifice, but maybe it’s just a human killer with a fucked-up idea of fun. That’s why I called you. The Hales have known about the supernatural for ages longer than the rest of us, except Chris. Even he only knows things from the outside, as a hunter. We need your perspective to get an idea what we’re really up against.”

Derek nods. “We have a decent library in our family vault, there may be books that would be helpful to us. Cora can go with you to the scene, see if she can pick up any clues you may have missed. Who do you want to send with me to the vault?”

“Personally, I like the sound of research,” Lydia says.

Personally, Stiles doesn’t. He needs a good outlet for all this pent-up tension before he starts climbing Derek like a fucking tree. The hatesex last time was supposed to get him out of Stiles’ system, not make it worse. It was supposed to be one and done.

“Stiles should go, too,” Scott decides, which, great. “And Allison. She knows French, I imagine that might come in handy if your reference books are anything like ours.”

Derek nods, eyes flitting to Stiles’ mouth again. “Understood. Let’s go.”

 


 

 

“Da-amn,” Stiles curses, staring around the full shelves in awe. There are so many books here he can’t quite grasp it. Is this what libraries used to be like? The vault is a far cry from animals in cave dens, that’s for sure. Malia looks bored with the entire concept of research, but Lydia and Allison look as impressed as Stiles. He goes to the nearest shelf to pull off the thickest volume. It has a picture of a plant embossed on the leather cover, and a title that reads “ A. Lycoctonum

“You would pick that one,” Derek mutters as he snatches it out of Stiles’ hands and puts it back. “The books on magic are there.”

“Touchy,” Stiles grouches, but he goes to the indicated shelf and grabs the second largest, Lydia having already claimed the best for herself. Their group settles down around a small table in the center of the vault and gets down to the task at hand.

Even with all four of them working (Stiles won’t count Malia), the research is slow going. They don’t exactly know what they’re looking for, and with only one confirmed kill so far, there’s not very much to go on. As it turns out, one type of sacrificial magic resembles other types of sacrificial magic to a sort of depressing degree.

To be fair, Stiles is also having trouble focusing. He’s usually good at sucking himself into a research vortex, mind flitting from quirky little detail to detail, pulling out factoids and fitting them together into a grand theory. But right beside him is Derek, who’s frowning deeply, wearing a soft sweater, and distracting the hell out of Stiles. He’d shrugged out of the leather when they sat down, and the neckline of the knitwear under it is still crooked, showing off most of his collarbone. Stiles shifts in his seat, willing away a burgeoning boner, and kicks the Alpha under the table - genuinely on accident. Derek looks up with murder in his eyes, then shoves his book forward so it hits the corner of Stiles’ and knocks it crooked.

“I think I found something,” Lydia announces, just before Stiles shoves his book right back into Derek’s. “We might be dealing with a Darach, a dark druid.”

Derek stands to loom over Lydia’s shoulder, eyeing the page in front of her. “I’ve only heard rumors about those. Aren’t druids suppose to keep the balance, take out those of their kind when they go evil?”

“If you haven’t noticed,” Stiles points out, “pretty much none of the old order works like it should. Human or supernatural.”

“Just our luck,” Allison murmurs. “Lydia, is there any way to know for sure?”

“Not until we have more bodies. Apparently the Darach will kill in threes, and the connection between the victims should give us an idea what the Darach is trying to accomplish. There’s a list here of the types.”

Malia perks up from her spot over in the corner. “Can you use your banshee senses to anticipate the kills? Get us there first so we can fight?”

Lydia smiles tightly. “Not really how it works, no.”

“We’ll have to wait and see, then,” Derek says. “You should go tell your Alpha.”

Derek watches like a hawk as the McCall pack puts their books back where they’d found them. Stiles would joke, but then again he can hardly fault him. These volumes are worth their weight in gold. He follows Allison and Lydia as they walk towards their cars, but at a distance. The women are gossiping about werewolf boyfriends and there’s stuff about Scott’s dick that he just doesn’t need to know. Then, at the last moment, he takes a hard left and trails Derek to the loft rather than going to the Jeep.

“What do you want,” Derek snaps flatly when he notices Stiles is lingering.

Stiles shrugs. He's never gone in for seconds before, but there’s something to be said for trying new things. He's half hard just thinking about how good it was last time, and he's noticed Derek looking, too. “I guess I was just thinking, I never got a proper thanks for my part in getting you those pretty new red eyes.”

“I already gave your little friend the bite,” Derek says, heading up the stairs as if Stiles isn’t even there. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Stiles follows him to the bedroom. “No. Jackson was Scott’s ask. I’m the one who played bait for your goddamn uncle.”

“That was for me? Thought you just enjoyed the little red riding hood dress-up.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. Walked right into that one. “You owe me, you know that you do.”

“Alright, so you think you deserve a reward.” Derek crosses his arms, biceps bulging. “Like what?”

“Surprise me.”

The way Derek smiles at those words has all Stiles’ blood rushing again, a delicious cocktail of flight-or-fuck adrenaline.

“Get on the bed,” Derek growls. “I’m topping this time.”

“And that’s a reward?” Stiles drawls, even as a thrill of arousal shoots to his groin at the suggestion. “Fine, fine. Show me how it's done.”

He figures it’ll be rough, all about proving a point with size and muscles but, hey, he’s into that. Plus, he's almost sure he'll get in a really nasty joke about doggy style. He obeys the order just slowly enough to be irritating.

True to form, Derek is indeed demanding and borderline bruising. Stiles’ clothes are made short work of, the stitching in his overshirt popping when Derek yanks too fast. Stiles bites Derek's shoulder in revenge and gets tossed flat on his back for the effort. Derek kisses like he's proving a point, and the point is that Stiles needs to fucking behave.

They’re both fully stripped down moments later, each of them too eager to make even a passing gesture at patience. Derek’s mouth is everywhere, dragging along Stiles’ skin as an afterthought to his nose. Stiles can’t help but find the scenting erotic, even though it's not sexy. Or shouldn't be. He’d thought he had an oral fixation, but it’s honestly nothing compared to Derek's scent kink.

When they finally get to the point where Derek slides his cock into Stiles’ slickened and almost-prepped hole, he’s just as rough and fast as Stiles predicted. But he’s also an absurdly conscientious lover, paying attention to Stiles’ reactions and using the knowledge to take him apart with a methodical precision that hadn't been anticipated at all. It all builds to such a good orgasm that Stiles can’t even be mad when he realizes he's giving Derek the submission he wants, mewling and twitching his hips for more friction.

Stiles finishes loud and then keeps going, delighted to embarrass the Alpha in front of his pups, until Derek clues in that it’s faked and a hand claps heavily over his mouth.

Stiles rolls out from under it, smirking as he sits up. His stifles a huge yawn as he reaches down for his pants. Athletic sex really takes it out of a guy, and he has the feeling he’ll be feeling this for days. It’ll be the good kind of sore: used muscle aches accented with bruises in all the right places.

“Don't get cocky or anything,” he warns the Alpha, fighting down a dopey grin.

“Mm.” Derek’s come-drunk and relaxed enough to melt, exuding a deep satisfaction that Stiles doesn't quite trust. There’s even the hint of a smile on his usually scowling face.

Stiles frowns and jabs a finger in the wolf’s ribs to nip that in the bud. “Look, I just want to be clear that I'm not catching feelings just because we occasionally fuck around and give each other endorphins.”

Derek opens his eyes just to blink at him, one perfect eyebrow arched incredulously. “I know that. We’re not mates, after all.”

“Wait, you're a romantic ?” Stiles laughs. “Oh my God, aren’t you supposed to be, like, saving yourself for The One?” He leers at Derek’s sweaty, naked body, reaches out to tweak one of his sensitive nipples.

Derek doesn't bother covering up the nudity, though he does bat Stiles’ hand away from his chest. “What we’re doing isn’t something that could even touch the mating bond. You're an easy way to scratch an itch in the meantime, that’s all. When my mate’s ready, I'll be waiting for them.” His fingers linger on his chest where the mark would be, the expression on his face reverent and distant.  

“Pfft, got it,” Stiles laughs. But his smile drops away quickly when he turns to tie his shoes. It's not that it hurts his feelings, since there aren't any, but it hurts his pride a little. The sex is good enough that he doesn't think Derek's being fair to dismiss it as itch scratching.

He puts that into the way he rides Derek’s dick the next time - because of course there’s a next time - making use of everything he's learned about the wolf’s body so far to tease and push him until he’s a shuddering mess. Stiles has him begging, literally begging for release, muscles clenching and gleaming with sweat, his eyes actually flashing red because he's lost control just from Stiles’ touch.

After he’s finally allowed to come, Derek slides down the bed and sucks Stiles off for the first time. His dark lashes look even longer from above, all flared out across his cheekbones. The shift’s long gone, leaving a purely human mouth hot and wet around Stiles’ cock. He even lets Stiles pet his hair. He even lets Stiles come on his face.

Stiles has had his share of experience since he cashed in the v-card with a passing mercenary at seventeen. He hits a handful of common kinks, between the big pretty eyes and the broad shoulders, and even if he didn’t, who would pass up the chance to bed a living legend? Still, those have been quick, half-dressed fucks, without time or inclination for anything more adventurous than rimming. It's never been this way before: luxuriating in each other’s bodies, eager to try everything new. Stiles really enjoys 69’ing, for example. Who knew? He's not sure if the difference is werewolf stamina or if it’s just that he and Derek happen to be sexually compatible sluts, but there's no reason to look a gift horse in the mouth. Fucking Derek is a revelation, is all he has to say about that. The guy’s hands alone could...

“Stiles,” Scott says, redirecting his attention from daydreams about the night before.

“Uh huh?”

Scott actually seems irritated. “Ideas? For tracking the Darach?”

Stiles frowns and makes himself pay attention. “What about chemosignals? You always say you can get emotions off of people and sometimes places, but Derek says that with experience, you can smell types of magic, if it's fresh enough. That's gotta be-”

“Wait, since when do you talk to Derek?” Scott interrupts suspiciously.

Shit . “We... hang out?”

“Oh my God, you’re sleeping with him.”

“No,” Stiles scoffs. Scott gives him an unimpressed look. “I mean... the stuff we do in bed is significantly more athletic than sleeping.”

“Do you think he’s your soulmate?” Scott leans in to ask, equal parts fascinated and horrified.

“No, jeez,” Stiles scoffs. He knows that's impossible.

Scott tsks. “Right. You're always hooking up with people who are absolutely terrible matches. It’s like it’s on purpose! You know, I have Allison, Jackson and Lydia found each other before their marks even presented, and who do you have? Stiles, look at me. I’m serious. A soulmate bond is a great gift. You need to open your heart to it, be ready for the connection, or it’ll never happen.”

“My heart’s plenty open.”

“Liar.”

Ugh, wolves. Stiles hates the whole heart beat lie detector thing, hand to God. “Look, I don't need that complication right now,” he says, which is as true a statement as has ever been said.

“But it’s unusual to be older and still not have one,” Scott frets. As if Stiles isn’t one measly year over the average age for a mark to show up.

“Danny's older than I am.”

“Danny's ready!” Scott snaps, actually snaps. Then he catches himself. “Just… Stiles, I want you to be happy.”

“I am, Scotty. I don’t need a soulmate, I’m doing fine.” Stiles gives his Alpha a big smile, letting him hear the steady heartbeat that proves the truth of that. “It’ll happen when it happens. Right? That’s the point.”

“Okay, okay,” Scott relents. “But... go back, what were you saying about chemosignals? They’re not just for emotions?”

 


 

 

Stiles is getting pretty familiar with the inside of the loft these days, because apparently he’s the Hale whisperer now. Today the question isn’t about the Darach - despite two more deaths, they still haven’t made much headway in tracking the killer down. Instead, the errand is to ask Derek about teaching a bitten wolf control. Jackson’s still struggling, while the newer Hale betas are all doing great despite having a month’s less practice. They’d been over to the McCall’s saloon on the last full moon, after meeting up to look into the latest kill, and Boyd had taken a bad beat in their poker game without even flashing his eyes; Jackson is still in the “scent my mate and howl at things” phase. There’s another full moon tomorrow, and Lydia had given Stiles a look when he asked if the chore couldn’t wait.

But when Stiles arrived at the den Derek had been locked away in his loft and Cora had glared daggers when Stiles demanded an audience. Erica had perked up instead and promised to pass along some magic talisman that Derek had given her the first month. She swore it worked wonders, and Stiles was ready to try anything to get on Lydia’s good side again.

“I think it’s in here somewhere…” Erica says. Stiles checks out her room while she roots through the drawer. Unlike Derek’s spare space upstairs, Erica’s room is actually pretty nice. Homey. Stiles wanders over to her desk, mostly to check the handful of books stacked on it, and finds himself drawn to a framed picture. It has the slightly blurred look that indicates it was developed in a DIY darkroom post-conflicts, and it’s of a teenage girl. Pimpled face, her hair a frizzy mess, not done any favors by the schlubby sweater she’d chosen for the occasion.

“Cousin or sister?” Stiles checks, pointing.  

“Oh, that? It’s me,” Erica says over her shoulder. Stiles can't help it, his mouth falls open into an unattractive gape.

Erica grins. “I was sick back then. Sick, and so terrified of what could happen to me if anything went wrong with the medical supply runs. Or if I was attacked, or a million other things. I was scared all the time. Ah, here we go.” She closes the drawer, waving a disc the width of her palm. “I still don’t know how Derek saw anything more than prey when he looked at me, but he did. He didn’t just give me the bite, he and Cora were the first people to give me a place to belong. I felt safe for the first time, with them. Desirable. A few days later, my mark came in.” She presses a hand to her heart. “We found Boyd through the bond, and Derek bit him so we could be together. No questions asked.”

It's weird for Stiles, thinking about Derek being that kind of Alpha. He’d assumed the new betas were picked for, like, the aesthetic. “That’s pretty fast. I thought it took longer for a soulmark to come in, even after your circumstances improve.”

Erica shrugs, handing him the flat talismen. “Most wolves get it quick. Cora already had hers for Isaac when they found me. She says it came in pretty much the day after Derek became Alpha.”

“Wait, Isaac and Cora?” Stiles double takes. “They don’t even seem to like each other. I never see them hanging out!”

“They’re a weird pair,” Erica admits. “But the marks match up, and everything. I guess they’re in love?”

“But Derek doesn’t have one, and he's older than me.” Stiles knows; he’d have seen the white glow of an incomplete soulmark or the dark tattoo of a consummated one. But Derek’s heart is as blank as Stiles’.

“No.” Erica’s rouged mouth twists, a hint that the shy girl is still there underneath the curls and makeup. “Cora says it makes the pack unstable. For him to still be alone.”

“Right,” Stiles says. He’s not sure why he feels guilty. He pinches the talisman and waves it at Erica. “Uh, thanks for this. I’ll go give it to Jackson.”

But when they head back to the main room Cora’s gone and Derek’s door is ajar and… Well. Stiles is all the way here, anyways.

He waltzes into Derek’s room without bothering to knock, which he knows freaks Derek out, which means Stiles gets pinned to a wall before the Alpha quite clocks who it is, which means they’re touching, and and once they're touching...

“That was ama-azing,” Stiles purrs, stretching out and savoring the way his body feels light and heavy at the same time. He’s still got one sock on, but only the one sock.

“Mmhm.” Derek's eyes are closed; apparently he gets this sex stupid every time he blows a load - especially when he bottoms.

Stiles grabs his shirt to get dressed, but while he’s searching for the hem he spots a giant hickey on his side, grouped between two smaller ones. Then he notices the one on his inner arm, framed by a bite mark, and another hickey near his hip. “What the fuck!” he yelps, twisting to spot yet another on the swell of his ass. Or maybe that one’s a thumb bruise. “Holy shit, you left marks everywhere ! Are there any on my neck? I’m having dinner with my dad tonight!”

“Whoops.” Derek is maddeningly smug about the whole situation, and of course he has zero himself. Werewolves.

“You motherfucker,” Stiles snarls, launching himself at Derek. He sucks a purposeful mark on his chest, moves down just an inch to make another. The bruises each heal before he finishes making the next one, and Stiles knows perfectly well none of them will actually stick. That’s fine, he’s just enjoying himself. Derek is too, from the squirming under his tongue. “You wolves, you’re terrible,” Stiles mutters against his skin. He drags his teeth down the curve of Derek's hip.

“Not my fault you're so easy to mark up,” Derek rumbles. “Like a peach or something. I barely have to touch you.”

“Oh yeah?” Stiles nips the inside of his lip, just enough to pull a tinge of blood into his saliva which he uses to tamp down Derek’s healing right where his mouth is. He takes his time leaving a nice, large lovebite at his hip, sucking and licking at the sensitive skin while Derek takes deep, unsteady breaths and touches his hair. Stiles pulls back to confirm he’s left a bruise that’s not healing, then rests his head on Derek’s thigh to admire it.

“Wait, what?” Derek looks down in mild concern, then pushes a finger to the center of what Stiles realizes is the first hickey he’s ever had stay. Of course it’s his first, none of his other lovers could have marked him like this. From his expression, it’s not good or bad so much as… startling.

The expression on his face is so openly surprised that Stiles is jolted out of his own perspective. Seen by an outsider, the moment would seem weirdly intimate: Derek’s soft cock lays on his thigh near where Stiles’ cheek is resting, and Stiles’ body is curled between Derek’s legs, bracketed by them. His back is pressed to one of Derek’s calves, a warm line across his spine. They’re practically cuddling . Stiles rolls away to sit on the edge of the bed, brushes a glowing hand through the air to undo the spell and let Derek heal the mark.

“Just a trick I picked up,” he says, and it comes out like an apology, one that the possessive asshole is hardly owed.

Derek still looks unsettled, fingers tracing the place where the bruise had been. “What, from another hook up? I'm sure your mate will be overjoyed to find themselves with such an experienced lover.”

“Eh,” Stiles says, not quite having the heart to snark back. The thing is… he mocks, but there are times despite himself that he does want a soulmate. Times when he feels so ready for it, so open to having a person marked out just for him. His fingers trail over his blank heart almost on instinct. Then, with a huff, he reaches for his shirt again and redirects the conversation. “Why do you say mates? It’s soulmates.”

“For humans maybe,” Derek scoffs. “For us, it's everything. Your soul, yes, but also your mind, your body.” He trails a hand down Stiles’ rib cage, prodding one of the bruises there lasciviously right when the gesture starts to seem sweet. Stiles swats at him, tugs his shirt down over the marks. “It's even how you fit with each others’ packs,” Derek finishes. “So, mates. Ideally matched in every way.”

“Jeeze. It's a weird biological hold over, not a religious experience. You know there’s research that suggests it evolved as a way to mix the best genes? To ensure reproductive success.”

“The bond isn’t about that,” Derek says, not even angry just... fervent.

“I mean, fine, it would be nice and all,” Stiles admits grudgingly. “But it's the apocalypse out there. Don’t we all have better things to worry about?”

Derek's dour expression is back, although not directed at Stiles for once. “Part of what went wrong for Peter was losing his mate in the fire before they consummated the bond. Wolves - Alphas especially - we can't be whole without our other half. The instinct to protect your mate, provide and care for them…”

“... be cared for by them,” Stiles interrupts. It’s started to be fucking irritating how Derek always insists on thinking in terms of what he can give.

“I don't know,” Derek snaps, suddenly angry. “I don't... I'm not even sure I have one.”

Stiles blinks. “What? Everyone has one.” It's kind of the thing about soulmates, the one-to-one exchange rate.

Derek is unconvinced. “It should have happened by now. One time, I thought… but it didn't. With everything that’s happened to my family, maybe I just don't deserve one.”

“That's not true,” Stiles argues. It earns him exactly one surly shrug. “Derek. You absolutely deserve one.”

Derek’s eyes flick to him, vulnerable and trusting. A second later they both look away and don’t make eye contact again as Stiles finishes dressing, or say a word. Slipping into reassurances isn't supposed to be something they do.

“Lock the door when you leave,” Derek says before Stiles has even finished tying his shoe.

It's a clear dismissal, and Stiles goes willingly. Maybe Scott's right and he should cool it with the hookups for a bit. He never meant to sign up for another person to worry about, allies be damned.

He hits his Alpha’s speed dial on the way down to the loft’s living room, and gets sent to voicemail. “Hey, Scotty,” he says. “Got a fancy talisman for Jackson that Erica swears will help. Hope you’re not currently being eaten by the Darach. Gimme a call back if I don’t catch you at home first.”

“You guys are so lucky to have phones,” Erica says, and Stiles glances over to see she’s perked up, staring at the device in his hand.

“Oh, yeah. It’s not cheap, but we need ‘em to stay in communication. Danny does upkeep on the towers out here, and we’re close enough to the Silicon Valley corporations that we can get the devices from traders.”

“I want one,” she sighs from her perch on Boyd's lap. “I hate getting sent over to your place whenever Derek has a question.”

“Cuts into our boning schedule,” Boyd deadpans, and Erica laughs dirtily, squirming in his lap.

Stiles smiles. She's so changed from that fearful child he’d seen in the picture, all confident sexuality and what-of-it attitude. Jury’s still out on Isaac, but the rest of Hales aren’t such bad allies to have, really. Not that he'll ever admit that to Scott.

Well, he figures as he clambers into the Jeep, it can't hurt to ask if Danny can get them a few spare phones. It'll be helpful for coordination at least, like Erica said. And maybe he can convince Derek to try sexting once he gets his head right about what they are and aren’t to each other.

 


 

 

Stiles does get the phones, but they don’t get used for sexting. Instead, he winds up calling Erica for the first time to bitch that the fancy Hale talisman has done jack shit to help Jackson with his shift. She passes him to Derek, who laughs until he almost chokes before explaining it's a big fat mcguffin, a wink-wink-nudge trick that focuses a new wolf’s attention and helps them trust themselves enough to find a real anchor. “You don’t just hold it and magically have control,” he sniggers.

“God damn it,” Stiles sighs, rubbing the bruise on his forehead from when Jackson had flung the thing back at him in a rage.

“You're an idiot,” Derek says in a tone that a stranger might confuse for fondness. “I’ll swing by next full moon with Boyd and see if we can help find him an anchor that works.”

“What did I tell you?” Scott smirks when Stiles passes the news along. “Allies.”

“Ugh,” Stiles mutters.

 


 


The latest murder victim makes a disgusting scene, even for Stiles. He’s been strung up just within view of the road, out at the preserve’s border. Lydia had found the body early that morning and now Scott and Derek are there, along with Chris and Allison. This makes the fourth kill, but there’s no connection between them that Stiles can see. The killings aren't happening quickly, but they’re becoming a bit too regular. People are freaking out. The pack’s supposed to protect them, and the uneasy peace in Beacon Hills relies on the townspeople trusting the pack, not starting to wonder if they're better off making their own deals. Stiles can see it’s wearing on Scott to not be able to save everyone.

They have a name for this newest victim, like all the others, and as much of a backstory as they’re liable to cobble together. But no matter how Stiles wracks his brain he can’t square the what they’ve found so far with any of the potential sacrificial categories Lydia had drilled into all of them. Virgins, warriors, healers...

“But what’s the connection?” Chris says, echoing Stiles’ concerns. He’s intense and quiet, almost talking to himself.

Derek quirks his head thoughtfully. “What if we missed something?” he asks. “Lydia, you don’t get drawn to every death in this area, and we weren’t looking for this sort of thing until Chris happened to find the first. So, what if it wasn’t the first?”

“Thats a good point,” Allison admits. “We’ve been trying to section them off in threes… but is there a connection between a different set?”

“Strangers,” Stiles says. “ Travelers . Not the first three, the first two. Those victims were from out of town. We thought the Darach targeted them just because strangers were an easy mark, without friends and family… but what if that’s the connection?”

Lydia is pensive. “If you’re right and the Darach sacrificed three Travelers to start, that’s the first step in the spell for a summoning, isn’t it?”

Chris’ face is grim. “If so, the next type of sacrifice they need is Guardians, to complete the binding half of the spell.” Stiles thinks of Derek, guarding his pack against Peter even before he was an Alpha, and then actively doesn't. That's not anything he wants to dwell on. “This would be the second Guardian. We could be looking at a Darach with a pet demon if we’re not careful,” Chris finishes.  

“Then we’ll be careful,” Scott says firmly. “We can’t let anyone else die.”

Derek looks behind them, nostrils flaring, and Stiles follows his gaze to see Melissa jogging towards them, one of the pack’s cars parked haphazardly at the side of the road nearest to where they’re standing. She looks tense and pale and Stiles’ sense of something wrong grows exponentially with each step she takes.

“Melissa?” he calls. “What are you doing here? You could have called if you needed something.”

“Stiles,” she says, voice brittle with strained emotion. “Your dad wasn’t answering his phone earlier, so I sent Jackson for his scent. With everything going on I just wanted to be sure. Just in case. But Jackson says the trail ended, and he couldn’t track anything past where he found this in the street.” She holds out an old, battered cellphone. His father’s.

Stiles’ breath catches in his lungs.

“Parental guardian,” Lydia breathes, and Stiles’ brain catches up to his instinctive emotional reaction. The latest two victims have been fathers, and now…

“Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit ,” he chants, like the words can encompass and contain the realization rolling through his body. His dad is gone, his dad is the last sacrifice. If the Darach goes through with it, he’ll be an orphan. He won’t have anyone, and he can't handle even the thought of being that alone. His dad can’t be gone, not the man who’s in all his earliest memories, the person who gave him his bat and actually meant it for games instead of violence… he’s dimly aware that he’s slipping into a panic attack, and he doesn’t want to do that. Not in front of strangers. He can’t show that kind of weakness, but his dad.. .

Scott drags him a few yards away, gets Stiles sitting on fallen tree trunk and kneels in front of him, placing Stiles’ hand on his chest so he can match his steady breaths. They’re mostly out of view of the rest of the group, who are caught up in their own discussions. Scott, Stiles remembers yet again, is the world’s best Alpha, and best friend. He’s got his breath back a little, now, the panic attack starting to lose its grip.

““Look, it's okay,” Scott is saying. “It’ll be okay. The last sacrifice is the hardest to arrange, the Darach will need it to be in the right location, with all the incantations and sigils set up, the moon in the right position. We have time still, we’re gonna save him. Okay? It hasn’t happened yet. We’re gonna save him.”

“Yeah. Yeah,” Stiles agrees, because the alternative is unthinkable.  

Scott gives him some space, still rubbing his shoulder comfortingly. “You’ve got this, man. With your spark, the Darach doesn’t stand a chance.”

“We hope,” Stiles laughs thickly.

“We know,” Scott corrects gently. “And if not, look, this is exactly why we have allies, now. All of us are going to work together. We’ll get him back.”

“What? We’re going to be attacking this fucker head on, Scott,” Stiles says. “Probably in his own fucking lair. We’re going to be marching into who knows what, against something with power we literally don’t understand. We can’t ask the Hales to back us up, maybe die for us. My dad’s not their problem,” Stiles says. “Research is one thing, but…”

“We'll do it,” Derek interrupts. “Allies means we help each other. It doesn’t count for anything if we don’t take risks when they’re called for. This is called for.”

Stiles twists to gape up at him. When had he come over? It had seemed so ludicrous to believe that another pack could align interests with theirs the way Scott insisted, but there's the proof in Derek’s serious brows-furrowed face as he assures them backup.

“Thanks,” Stiles croaks, pathetically grateful and too emotional to risk more than that one word. Knowing they’ll be six wolves stronger is enough to help him back to his feet, pushing the terror back down where it can’t choke him. They can do this. They can save his dad.

 


 

 

The forest is cold, dark and overly silent as the packs make their way towards where they hope his father is being held. Stiles isn't sure if he's shivering from the chill, or from fear.

Of course the hub of Beacon Hills’ ley lines would be in the middle of the preserve, he thinks. Of fucking course. Between Lydia’s careful mapping and Derek's knowledge of the preserve’s magical history, this clearing is their best guess for where the Darach’s lair should be.

The Hales call the gnarled old tree in front of them the Nemeton. Stiles doesn’t quite think that sounds ominous enough for the effect of the twisted oak and the silent forest around it. This is a place where blood has been spilled, enough that Stiles can feel the charge of magical power lingering in the air. He thinks from their expressions that the wolves can smell something similar.

Stiles look to Derek, who’s scenting the air for a hint of the Darach’s magic; the wolf looks back at him and nods. Their guesswork paid off.

All the Hale pack is there, even though they don’t need to be. This is only their fight half way, but Derek is keeping his word about being allies. Scott was beyond right about that idea, and Stiles will actually tell him so once all this is done. Hell, once they get his dad back Stiles will be happy enough to write him a goddamn musical about how right he was.

All the betas spread out to look for an entrance to the lair. Stiles’ fingers twitch, but in this he’s useless. Using his magic will just tip the Darch off.

“Psst,” Cora hisses, a few moment later. Once she’s got everyone’s attention, she gestures to a low cellar door yards away from the Nematon’s clearing, one that had been buried in the undergrowth. She bends and rips the half-rotted planks apart, revealing a small, tight passage that extends down into dank-smelling darkness.

“Well, that looks healthy and safe,” Boyd jokes under his breath.

Stiles heads down the rickety ladder first, in case of any magical defenses that he’d be the best equipped to handle. Nothing impedes his progress, though, not down the claustrophobic passage and not on the sloping, tight path that cuts through the earth towards a space right under the tree. Scott is right behind him, Allison and Jackson after, and then the Hales. Lydia and Melissa are last, not being fighters. Chris had opted to stay back and ensure their home wasn’t entirely defenseless, but everyone else had insisted on helping the sheriff. The path opens up to a cellar of some sort, and Stiles hopes that their strength will be enough.

He spots his dad lying on the dirt floor before anything. There's blood on his side and arm and he's not moving, though there's no telling striation across his throat. The Darach is what Stiles spots next. It’s a woman, and she’s a nasty sight, all corpse-white skin riven with angry scars. Her head jerks around to look at the intruders from where she’s hovering over Stiles’ father. The sacrificial sigils are already drawn out, lit by the moonlight directed by carefully arranged mirrors. They’ve arrived just in time.

Stiles whips his bat forward, shooting out a bolt of lightning. The Darach blocks it easily with a sweep of her arm, then throws down a barrier so the wolves can’t approach her. Stiles hisses in frustration. Real mountain ash, and his dad’s on the other side of the line.

So many of them versus one enemy should make for an easy fight, but the space is too small for them to press their advantage. Scott, shifted, charges against the ash line, bending it with the strength of his Alpha power.

As it starts to spark and fracture, the Darach waves a hand, smirking. Nine dark forms coalesce out of a seeping black smoke. Stiles hears Boyd curse behind him. The new assailants are larger than mere humans would be, armored with grotesque iron masks and fucking katanas, because having nine supernatural assailants wasn’t bad enough on its own. Are these the demons that the Darach is trying to bind? They look like some kind of evil ninjas.

Two of them step forward in unison, slashing their swords. Scott leaps away from the blades, and he’s quickly on the defensive against their coordinated attack.

Jackson and the Hales charge into the melee next, countering the ninjas with claws and snapping back with their fangs. Jackson’s teeth tear into one of the demons attacking Scott, finally holding his own in battle, and Stiles can see he’s gleeful with it.

“Show time,” Stiles mutters, gripping his bat and his switchblade. Watching the wolves fight has reminded him of his own strengths. They might have claws and fangs, but Stiles has magic. He eyes the white-faced, scarred woman in front of him, the one who’d tried to steal his father as a sacrifice.

Big mistake.

He uses his switchblade to nick the side of his wrist, a bit of blood sacrifice to enable larger spells. As he works up a devastating enough attack, so much magic is coursing under his skin that he’s practically glowing. Yet his casting breaks on her defenses, and then she’s throwing an answering spell of her own; a lashing tongue of fire.

Stiles dodges it, already working on his next spell. He knows he’s being overly reckless, letting her castings burn out on the cellar walls, but he can’t be bothered to waste his strength on countering. He’s too frightened about his dad. Besides, counterspells are not his forte. He’s not exactly used to his magic being challenged.

The Darach, on the other hand, has clearly had the formal training Stiles lacks. She sends another blast of flames in Scott’s direction, and Stiles does have to counter this one or risk his Alpha burning. Another blast shoots out, this time towards Cora, before Stiles can whip up an attack of his own. He curses. Somehow she’s getting the upper hand.

“Stiles,” Derek snaps, shoving a blade away from where it had bitten deep into his bicep. “A little help?”

Panic is starting to edge in on Stiles’ mind, but he directs his attention back to the problem at hand. Both packs are depending on his help. This fucking Darach isn’t getting the best of him. With everything he’s sacrificed to ensure he’d always be the strongest, there’s no way he can lose. He throws a weak spell out, not even using his bat. His aim goes so wide that she doesn’t even bother countering it.

She laughs at him, but Stiles just smirks as his spell hits his true target. Behind her, the largest mirror reflecting moonlight onto her sigils shatters, sending thick shards of glass to clatter uselessly onto the floor. Even if she takes Stiles down now, she can’t complete her sacrifice.

The Darach’s laughter stills, but her teeth stay bared in a spiteful, cruel smile. The sharp pieces of glass swoop up, and hang easily in the air for a second before shooting past her.

Stiles’ life flashes in front of his eyes as the jagged bits of dagger-like mirror speed directly for him. Then, at the last second, he’s pulled aside and it’s Derek in the line of fire.

Stiles gasps as the Alpha takes the hits; bits of glass sink into his muscle with a sickening wet sound, and one of the largest shards slices through his hand on the way to his chest, severing two of his fingers entirely.

But Derek is still standing once the glass is done flying. The Darach looks unsure what to do now that her desperate offensive has failed to take Stiles down.

Derek pulls a shard glass out of his neck, and roars at her.

The sound jerks Stiles out of his paralysis. He chants an incantation as he opens another cut, and the sigils he’s scratched into the metal of his bat start to light up along with the familiar glowing trails arcing under his skin.

The spell is powerful enough, and the Darach distracted enough, that he finally breaks the line of mountain ash. Derek’s Betas, enraged for their Alpha, have managed to pin down the demon swordsmen, which means Scott is free to seize the opportunity and attack the Darach.

Scott’s fangs sink into her neck and she crumples. Even as the Betas tense, readying themselves for some new attack from her ninjas, the demons go still. They bow and melt away into black puffs of smoke. Then, even that dissipates like it had never been there at all.

It’s over; now that the Darach’s binding spell has been interrupted, the evil she’d tried to summon has gone back to where it came from. Stiles takes a deep, shaky breath. They won.

His father's chest is moving; he's still breathing. Thank God, Stiles thinks, but it terrifies him how the sheriff’s uniform is still stained with blood, how his eyes are still closed. Melissa’s already shoved past Jackson and Erica and is tending to him, but Stiles crowds in next to her, crouching over his father so he can confirm each breath. “Is he...? There's so much blood, fuck, is he going to be okay?”

“He’s fine,” Melissa says gently. “The blood is from this cut on his arm, it's not too deep. I'd say he's mostly dehydrated and exhausted. Give him some space, I've got this.”

Stiles stands to pace, still high on adrenaline, running his hand through his hair. Then he sees Derek sitting on the floor among his pack. Oh God, Derek. He’s badly bloodied, and he’s cradling his ruined hand, the one missing the middle and ring fingers, which he’d lost protecting Stiles.

“Why did you do that?” Stiles strides over, grabs Derek's hand. I liked those fingers, he almost says.

Derek gives him a wry look. “They'll grow back.” He waggles the stubs at Stiles, bone already protruding from the gore, rebuilding outwards in white spikes. It’s deeply gross, but Stiles is relieved all the same. Relieved and…disappointed? He pushes that nonsensical reaction away. Of course Derek took the hit knowing it meant nothing for him in the long run. They’re allies, not pack .

“Go on,” Derek says, and jerks his head over towards where the sheriff is being lifted by Scott and Allison. Stiles rushes to help them up the stairs, and by the time they make it to the Jeep, all the Hales are long gone.

He drives to the bunker, eyes on the rear view mirror to check on his dad more than the road, and when they arrive he helps Scott settle his dad in the cot in the makeshift hospital room under Melissa’s watchful eye. She bandages his arm after disinfecting the wound thoroughly, then takes his pulse and checks his pupils. She declares him out of the woods, though in need of observation.

“Go get some rest,” she encourages Stiles. “There's nothing you can do here. I promise I’ll call you if anything changes.”

 


 

 

Stiles goes to Derek's instead.

He’s desperate to not think, and there’s nothing to do at home except that. If he’s alone he’ll dwell on how close he was to losing his dad, to being well and truly alone. With Derek, on the other hand, he’ll be distracted. Hell, they’re almost friendly, sometimes. Stiles knows he won’t be turned away.

If Derek's surprised, it doesn't show. He opens the door, quirks an eyebrow, and Stiles doesn't bother causing a fight. He just presses his mouth against Derek’s mouth, all teeth and tongue. Derek's fingers are on his face and Stiles twines them with his own, breaks the kiss to look at them, appreciate that they still exist. No matter how much magic he does, the healing-regeneration thing wolves do will never grow old.

He pulls Derek back towards the bed, keeps pulling until the wolf is bracketing him on the sheets. He puts Derek’s stupid regrown fingers into his mouth, licks the sensitive new skin of them. He wants to be - he wants to be taken out of his brain, and he doesn’t know how to ask for that.

He doesn’t have to. Derek strips them both out of their clothes, wordless. Then he pulls one of Stiles’ knees up over his elbow to hold him open, fingers him loose while they kiss chest to chest, and then fucks him deep and slow. There’s no banter this time. Derek takes charge, but not by talking trash, or pinning any part of Stiles down. He isn’t rough, for all he lets his bulk press Stiles down into the mattress. The weight is comforting, frankly. Stiles just lays back and lets him make it good, only thinking enough to acknowledge how nice it is that he can count on Derek for that, to know what gets Stiles off without him back seat driving the way he would have to with a stranger.

Stiles comes quietly, for once, arms squeezing around Derek’s neck so tightly he probably cut off his air supply, his whole body clenching up as if he can hold onto the moment by clinging to Derek’s body. Then he collapses back, heaving for breath himself, observing Derek’s last unsteady thrusts from a benevolent remove.

Post coital, Stiles finds his head clearer. He’d been right; this was just what he needed.  All the tension from the fight has been fucked straight out of him. His phone buzzes, but when he checks it with apprehension brewing, it’s only a confirmation from Scott that his father’s doing well, sleeping more easily now and recovering. Stiles closes his eyes and smiles. His father is fine, the Darach is dead. They won.

“Those things are annoying as fuck,” Derek says muggily, slowly recovering from his own postcoital fugue state. “Bzz, bzz, bzz. I still haven’t forgiven you for giving one to Erica.”

Stiles laughs. “Luddite. How are you supposed to get in touch with someone, then?”

“We howl.”

“Psh. Phones are good for other stuff, too.” Stiles glances over to confirm that, yes, Derek is doing the eyebrow thing. Stiles could have a whole conversation with just Derek's eyebrows. “Here, look,” he says, thumbing over to his playlist.

The sound is a little tinny coming out of the phone’s small speakers, but Stiles drops it into an empty cup on Derek’s nightstand. The acoustics are a little better like that; a trick he learned from Danny.

The song’s one of Stiles’ favorites, a rich and melancholy blend of distorted guitars pulsing under a woman’s achingly clear voice: Sweetheart, lovin' ain't so easy when you're far apart Derek laughs a little, surprised and pleased; music like this is a bit of a luxury. Stiles beams, happy that for now, the two of them are allowed to let go of the constant on-edge fear of always waiting for the next disaster. They’re allowed to just lay here and appreciate the moment. They’re allowed to live.

The music swoops into a new chord, and Derek pulls Stiles on top of him to kiss. Stiles makes a little irritated noise to protest that he hasn't got wolf stamina, that he needs more than a minute to get it up again. But Derek doesn’t let go and Stiles gets drawn into kissing back. So, fine, Derek will figure out the hard way that round two is still a ways off.

It takes him longer than it should to realize they’re just kissing for the sake of it.

They’re still naked, pressed against each other all sweat-sticky, but it’s the most chaste thing they've done. Just warm and sloppy kisses, exploring… they’re making out like in an old high school movie from before the conflicts. Derek’s finger tips are tracing constellations of Stiles’ moles, all above the belt, and somehow Stiles has got his mouth resting on the thin skin at Derek pulsepoint. Stiles has got his teeth right on Derek's jugular, and Derek is letting him.

Stiles pulls back enough to gape down and Derek doesn’t even seem to notice what happened. He smiles up, a little quizzically, and there are crinkles at the corners of his beautiful pale eyes and his eyebrows are doing that familiar questioning thing again… and Stiles is gone, over the cliff and falling breathless before there's even a chance to scream.

“What is it?”

“Nothing,” Stiles lies. He dips down and kisses Derek again to make him stop looking, or maybe because he suddenly can't help but taste him. Maybe he's never going to be able to help himself around this man again, he thinks with a sinking terror.

In a lifetime of hardship, this might be the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.

 


 

 

Stiles rouses awake stiff and sore from sleeping hunched in a chair. He’d been having a strange dream, something about being trapped… but before he can quite pin the memory down he realizes there’s a hand gently squeezing his arm and jolts his head up. His dad is smiling down at him from where he’s propped up in the hospital cot.

“Hey, kid.”

“Dad,” Stiles says, choking up as he grabs the hand on his arm and grips it tight. “God, you’re okay.” The crick in his back is forgotten as he lunges in for a hug.

“I knew you’d save me,” John says, hugging back tightly with his good arm. “I told her, the second I woke up in that place, that she’d better watch out for my son. I can’t believe how strong and brave you grew up to be. You know that? Mom would be so proud.” Eyes wet, he puts a hand over his faded soul mark.  

In a world like this, you’d think plenty of people would end up with the grey mark of a dead connection before even reaching adulthood, but it never happens. You only get a mark like his father’s by loving and losing. Maybe the universe accounts for fate, and only pairs soulmates who’ll at least have time to meet; nobody really knows how it works. Chris has a faded mark, too; Melissa’s is still dark, proclaiming Rafael’s health somewhere out there. Why is it always the assholes who survive?

“I miss her,” Stiles admits, placing his hand over his father’s. He’s still raw from the last week. Usually they don’t talk about it. Some things just hurt too much to look at straight on.

His dad just smiles, sadly. “I miss her too.” He pats Stiles’ shoulder, both of them taking comfort in the touch where words are so far from being enough. Maybe, Stiles thinks, it’s a mistake to keep avoiding her memory so thoroughly. Maybe it’s time for them to start remembering the good parts, find a way to salvage some happiness out of what they’ve long considered a complete tragedy.

The sheriff clears his throat, and Stiles is relieved at the excuse to let that moment pass for now. “Not to be ungrateful, but you don't look much better than I do,” John says, “and I was almost killed as part of a freaky sacrificial ritual. Have you been staying up on my account?”

Stiles’ mind goes to the weird dreams that have kept his sleep fitful lately - ones of being in Derek’s library but all the books are gibberish, or ones where he’s washing up in the morning and sees something in the mirror that’s not quite himself. He shrugs. “I guess I’ve missed some sleep the last couple days. And you know, you almost dying wasn’t easy on my blood pressure either.” He dredges a smile out of his discomfort and hopes it looks convincing. “It'll be fine now the Darach is six feet under, and you’re up and at ‘em.”

“I wish you had someone to look out for you,” the sheriff frets. “I know you and Hale have your thing, and I try to stay out of all that, but it isn’t the same as having a soulmate. No, hear me out,” he says, and Stiles’ mouth clicks shut on his familiar rebuttal. “When you let yourself find that person, when your mark starts to glow, you’ll see. It’s a connection you feel deep in your bones. It’s real . All this will seem like playing dress-up in comparison. The person your soulmark will lead you to is the exact match you need, and I want that for you, Stiles. You can’t always be an island. You don’t need to be.”

“I’ve got Scott, and Lydia,” Stiles protests weakly. “And Allison.”

“Yes, and they all have soulmates. You’ll always be part of the pack, but they’ll be family. I won’t be around forever, and I want to know you’ll have somebody who’ll put you first, Stiles.”

“Dad. You’re like, fifty,” Stiles says, grimacing. “Don’t talk like that. It’s a long time off.”

“Okay, you caught me,” John says with a sly smile. “I just want some grandkids while my kneecaps are still good.”

“Dad .”

“There's my smile,” the sheriff chuckles. “Okay, okay. Enough from your old man. But... think about it. I know you feel like you’ve got to be a big tough hero, but you’re that already. It’s time to let yourself be happy, son.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees. He leans forward and hugs his dad again, the familiar smell of gun oil and shaving cream enveloping him. It’s been ages since they got to be nearly the same height, but it can still be fresh surprise sometimes when they embrace and his dad isn’t still a giant. He hides his expression in his dad’s shoulder, and tries to make himself believe that this will all work out.

In his heart of hearts, though, he knows he’s not any kind of hero, and that a happy ending isn’t in the cards for the person he truly is.

 


 

 

Stiles screams himself awake, limbs flailing like he can fight off the imaginary assailants in his half-remembered nightmare. Derek’s there to press him down, a comforting weight staying his motions. Trembling with passing adrenaline, Stiles goes limp and lets himself be held.

Derek strokes his head, his back. “Sh, Stiles, it's okay,” he says softly. “It's okay. Just let it go.” He nuzzles into Stiles’ neck, that werewolf need to scent for emotions. “Here, think about something else.”

“Like what?” Stiles bitches, wavery voice undercutting his snark.

Derek hums. “Can you tell me what everyone has, but nobody can lose?”

Stiles twists to blink at him. “Huh?”

“Everybody has it, but nobody can lose it. What is it, Stiles?”

Everybody has … Stiles realizes the answer with a pang. “I don't know.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I don’t, just, fuck. Stop asking that stupid question.”

“It's a riddle,” Derek corrects. “Come on, Stiles. What is it? Everybody has it, but…”

“Ok. Ok, it's…” Fuck . Stiles doesn’t want to say the words. “It’s a soulmate. Everyone’s got a soulmate, that’s the answer.”

Teeth glint in the dark, too sharp to be human. “Is it?”

“Derek?” Stiles reaches out to lay his hand on Derek’s chest, and finds it sticky. He jerks back to reveal a dark splotch on his white tank-top, right where his soulmark should be. Stiles pulls the shirt to the side and finds a raw mess where the skin has been flayed away, a wound that shows no sign of werewolf healing. “Derek, what happened?” he yelps. “Did you do this to yourself? Shit, shit , it won't stop bleeding, it’s not healing! Derek!”

Derek grabs his hand away. “The answer is a shadow, Stiles. A soulmate can be lost, don't you remember? But you can't lose the darkness.”

Derek’s shifted wolf face is very close, and very unfamiliar, almost leering. All of a sudden Stiles doesn’t feel safe anymore. It’s been a long time since Derek wolfed out in bed. Longer since he showed this much fang. Stiles feels his pulse hammering. He swallows around it. Tries not to scream.

“I have another one for you,” Derek says. “When is a monster not a monster?” His razor-sharp claws prick at Stiles’ arms, right through his thin sleep shirt. Stiles wants to pull away, but struggling now will only tear him up. Adrenaline pours into his veins, and what do you know? He can't confuse it with arousal, anymore. This, he knows, is fear. How could he be so stupid? Derek is a werewolf, part wild animal, and not even a member of Stiles’ pack. The monster in his bed could kill him at any moment, and what’s stopping him from doing it? A monster is always a monster, Stiles thinks. It’s always a monster except when…

Derek's fangs are at his neck, just nipping between little kisses, but he could so easily change the angle and bite deep into the defenseless flesh, let loose an arterial spray or crush his windpipe in those powerful jaws. Stiles goes still except for a shudder and thinks, I’d let him .

He turns his head away, giving Derek even more access to his neck, and sees his own hand pale against the dark sheets, spidery-strange with too many fingers. Too many fingers. This isn’t real, Stiles realizes with a fresh swoop of horror. He’s dreaming again - still - and this isn’t real .

Stiles wakes himself by screaming his throat raw, again, but this time he’s alone.

He stifles the noise as quickly as he can. No need to wake the others, who might want an explanation he isn't willing to give. Only… can he really be sure he's awake?

One-two-three-four-five, he counts off on his left hand. Real. He breathes deeply, letting his eyes slip shut for a second. Then they snap open and he counts again: one-two-three-four-five, one-two-three-four-five. Still real.

God, this is driving him crazy. He’s had nightmares before, but not like this. He doesn’t know what it is, something about all the sleep he lost tracking the Darach to the nemeton, the fear about losing his dad, the painful thing happening between him and Derek. Who knows, but he’s slowly being worn down past what he can bear. All the stupid riddles… he knows the answer to the second one, now.

A monster’s not a monster when you love it.

Stupid, stupid, he curses himself, laying back on the sweat-damp sheets and pressing the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. This is why Scott was always warning him against hooking up, why he didn't ever go for seconds with his previous conquests. Love is something that only counts when it happens between mates. Everything else is just a tragedy waiting to happen, a hope born with its mortal wound already inflicted. Derek’s got a perfect lover out there in the world already, and it isn’t Stiles.

Giving up on sleep, he rolls out of bed and sneaks past the other rooms into the storage area where his spell ingredients are kept, alongside Allison’s weapons and the herbs Melissa uses in place of the increasingly rare medicine they try and scavenge. He knows what he needs to do. It’s high time he put those nails in the coffin; letting go of Derek now will be a kindness for everyone.

He’s been toying with the idea of finding Derek’s mate for him since the night they rescued his dad, and now he's decided. He can’t afford to keep grasping at shadows, and by doing this he’ll give Derek something good in the process. Truly good, in a way that Stiles himself isn’t, can’t be for him.

You’re not supposed to do spells like this, of course; there's a reason Derek’s mate isn't ready, or their marks would be lit up and drawing them together. Only, Stiles reassures himself, anyone could be ready for Derek. Anyone could fall for him, no matter their hangups about love. So, he sets up the spell; it requires Derek's sweat, semen and blood, but it wasn’t hard to get his hands on a smudge of each. Stiles is careful setting up the sigils, spills more of his blood than he probably need to, does every step just right.

He thinks, while he does the incantations, that Derek’s mate will probably be a younger woman, and that’s why she’s not ready yet. Still a little too wild to relish taking on the responsibility of being the Alpha’s wife, for now, but growing into that graceful kindness. She’ll be sweet, she’ll want children, she won’t push Derek’s buttons just to get his attention. She’s by definition perfect, and Stiles can find her for Derek. The spell catches and lights; he follows the glowing thread away from Derek's aura, out and out like a tightrope, tracing that bright line of connection to the inevitable matched aura of the soulmate.

Then there’s a missed step, a jolt of falling in the bottom of Stiles’ gut that snaps his eyes open and has him bracing a hand on the floor. He frowns. That’s not right, he’d lost the spell somehow. He tries again, but once more it's like following a thread that just… vanishes, leaves him grabbing at nothingness, flailing in a soupy darkness rather than connecting to another aura.

Stiles hisses in frustration. He’d swear he was doing the spell correctly, but the result isn’t making sense. Nobody's connection to their mate just ends like this, slices off without any resolution. Even Stiles’ father’s connection would lead to the echo of his mother. And Derek doesn’t have the faded mark of a dead bond, anyway.

No, the only reason for someone to have a connection to nothing, Stiles thinks with gritted teeth, is if they made a sacrifice. A dumbass who prioritized a stronger spark over perfect love? That person doesn’t have a soulmate. Derek wouldn't ever fuck up and sever his connection over something so transient as power. The bond is too important to him; he’s been waiting so long for it without ever losing faith, idealizing this mate he’s never even met. Only his connection cuts off anyways! Stiles kicks his heel into the concrete floor, scowling. It doesn’t make any sense. How can there be no connection if Derek didn’t...

The realization hits him hard enough he has to takes a shocky little gasp of air: Derek wouldn't need to sacrifice anything to sever his bond, if the person on the other end did it for him.

No way. No. Heart beating almost painfully hard, Stiles stumbles back to his room and grabs his phone, dialing with a distant buzzing in his hands .

He'd been so sure it was worth it, he thinks as the call connects. He’d never cared about soulmates, there wasn't room for that kind of hope in his life. He’d seen the bond his mom had with his dad, how they loved each other... but she died, they killed her and even she didn't have enough power to stop them. It wasn’t sensible to keep the possibility of love around if he wasn’t going to live to see it. He couldn’t risk his pack’s safety on the off chance that he’d be enough without the boost.

Only now he thinks of Derek saying mates , the way he’d explained how the bond bolstered the whole pack, a missing piece that would strengthen them all. Stiles closes his eyes, listening to the tinny ring and trying not to think any more. He’s good at that, isn’t he? Being thoughtless? He’d only thought of himself when he made the exchange, of what he was willing to give up. He had weighed it as a fuzzy romantic maybe, not as Derek's perfect, warm arms, not as his stupid bunny teeth, not his determination or his quiet strength or the way he laughs... He might have had all that waiting for him, and he’d thought it was cheap .

Deaton says, “Mr. Stilinski?”

“Deaton,” Stiles says. He tries to keep it casual, despite the telling hour. “Hi, question: if I… if I wanted to undo that one thing we did, you know, give up the power boost and have my connection back again. Just theoretically, is that, uh, is that-”

“No. Stiles, of course not.” Deaton interrupts, irritated.

Swelling waves of regret crash against his rib cage. He knew. He knew that it didn’t work that way. It’s not a sacrifice if you only lay something precious aside to be traded back later. Ashes and spilled blood are sacrifices; things that have been destroyed, ruined utterly, broken down to useless parts.

When he speaks again, his voice wobbles. “What about if I thought, maybe... if I thought there was someone…” His hand has found its way to his heart, the blank sheen of the skin there almost a scar, a different texture if you know to look. “Is there a way that I could somehow at least know who it would have been?”

“Stiles,” Deaton chastises, disappointed. “You knew what you were giving up.”

“Okay, yeah,” Stiles agrees, forcing a laugh. “Yeah, I know. It's no problem. Thanks.” He hangs up, fingers numb.

He'd thought it was cheap, but it wasn't. Oh, it was the farthest thing from cheap. He was offering up not only everything Derek’s come to mean to him, but everything he could have meant to Derek. That’s the thing about soulmates, he thinks darkly: the one-to-one exchange rate.

It’s fine. It doesn't change anything. Even if it’s true and it should have been Derek, Stiles has always known there was no great love in his future. So what, if now he’s met his perfect might-have-been? He was alone before and he’s alone now.

Only it changes everything, because if it should have been Derek, then he's responsible for dashing any hope of a true love bond for the Alpha, ruining his life before they even met. Because of Stiles, the Hale pack will never be as stable as it should be, never quite be complete. And all the time Derek will be thinking it’s his fault somehow when it's not, could never be.

There’s no way to be sure, Deaton said. But all the same, Stiles is.

With a weightless sort of hope, Stiles thinks, couldn't they make it work anyways? They already have a relationship of a sort. It’s not enough, yet, but if put his heart into it, wooed Derek with his whole intention, proved he could be enough... he’d be wasting his time, because Derek would never accept it. He’ll always be waiting for the mate he believes is still coming.

Stiles could tell him, then. Just explain what had happened, right? How he’s pretty sure that no mate will ever spark Derek’s bond, because the mate is him. Or, would have been except that he didn't give a shit about mates and he happily severed their connection for a better exchange rate on future spells. And also, since he did that, it’s hard to be sure. Impossible, actually. But Derek should take his word for it.

A laugh forces its way out of Stiles’ mouth at the idea. He can imagine how well that would go over. And after that bombshell, he expects that Derek will smile at him and say it’s fine? He’s totally cool with Stiles ripping away the possibility for them to actually bond in exchange for boosting his own spark? Hardly. And that’s assuming he even believes that someone like Stiles could be it for him, in the first place, with zero evidence. No, Stiles ruined everything they should have had together, and he can’t make up for that with spare cell phones and blowjobs. If he admits what he’s done, Derek will never forgive him. He can't tell him.

He’ll just try to convince Derek to be happy without a mate, to be with Stiles in the meantime. They’ll settle into a tentative relationship that will start to feel like enough, eventually, when no soulmate ever appears to jolt them out of it.

Except that no matter how good it might feel, it would be built on a lie. He has to confess.

Only, he can't.  
Stiles sits on the bed, hands clasped between his knees, and stares at the floor. For the first time in his life, he has no idea what to do.

 

Chapter Text

Derek can’t focus. Part of the trouble is how the loft’s open skylight means noise from the town filters in, and part is how the room is edging towards the chilly side of comfortable. But mostly he’s unsettled that even with the fresh night air blowing in from above, a taunting reminder of Stiles hovers unavoidably at the edge of his senses.

It’s been over a week since they saw each other last. Since the Darach’s death, there's simply been less reason to spend time with the McCall pack. Less excuse, Derek should maybe say. He should be thinking about his own pack, but the jeans crumpled on his floor remind him of Stiles stripping on his way to bed, and the disarray of his bedsheets isn’t any better. He halfheartedly considers jerking off, but he knows from experience that will barely take the edge off.

The worst part is that while Derek’s been feeling the distance acutely, Stiles couldn’t care less. Visiting the McCalls’ den earlier that day had proved it. The meeting had only been a quick check-in to share notated maps of their patrols around the Preserve, and frankly, Derek could have sent Erica to run them to Scott rather than going himself. But it had been a while since he’d seen their allies - seen Stiles, admit it - and he’d thought, why not? So he’d taken the maps himself, with half a hope for something more.

Scott had been happy enough to see him, ushered him into the McCall den like he belonged there. It was a little unsettling that Derek didn’t disagree with the sentiment. They’d sat in the privacy of the Alpha’s chambers and swapped reports from their patrols, Derek getting more and more antsy for no reason he could name until the reason came in the room.

Stiles had been wearing an oversized white t-shirt, thin fabric hanging loose past his hips but snug across his chest. Shorts peeked out from under it, dark blue with a silly pattern of tugboats on them. They hit just above his knees, wide enough to make his hairy shins look spindly. The effect was accessibly casual, his un-styled hair sticking up in tufts like it did when Derek put his hands in it, grabbing and raking through it when Stiles went down on him. He smelled sweet, like warmed sheets. Even having seen him naked so often, Derek had to adjust in his seat to disguise his reaction to the way the outfit accented Stiles’ broad lankiness.

“Scott, I-” Stiles had started, before he spotted Derek on a half-second delay and jolted with surprise. “What are you doing here?” he’d asked brusquely.

“Be a little nicer to the person who saved your life,” Derek had snarked back. “I think we established an exchange rate for that kind of favor the first time you came to my den, didn’t we?”

He'd been primed for a snide reply, but Stiles’ gaze had slid away and he’d shifted his weight uneasily, rolling the knuckles of his bare feet on the floor. “Right, well. Have fun you two,” he’d said as he backed out of the room, leaving Derek flat-footed, unsure what he had done wrong.

Stiles hadn’t come back, so Derek had finished discussing maps with Scott and gone home unsatisfied. Had he offended Stiles with his quip? Admittedly, the implication that he was owed sex was crass. He hadn’t meant it like that. Derek had thought that bantery teasing was their thing , but... he rolls his eyes at himself when he realizes he’s fretting over Stiles’ feelings. What does he care, if he did? In any case, it was such a small comment. More likely Stiles has gotten bored of him. So, fine. It was fun while it lasted, but Derek is waiting for his mate and it’s no trouble to go back to celibacy in the meantime.

Only, for the moment, he’ll probably focus better farther from the bed that keeps dredging up memories of kissing Stiles’ long neck, of the way he blinks his honey eyes when Derek does something he particularly likes - dropping slowly closed, snapping open fast like he missed the view.

In the den’s living room, surrounded only by the scent of his pack, it’s indeed easier to scan the McCalls’ reports for evidence of other wolves encroaching on the Hale territory. He wants to be sure not to miss any signs; there have been rumors of the Alpha pack making inroads nearby, clashing with Satomi’s pack up North. If Deucalion is making a play, Derek wants to be prepared for him.

Of course, using the public space for an office has its own problems.

“Still up working,” Cora says as she wanders by holding a can of soda - another present from the McCalls. It’s an observation rather than a question, and laced thoroughly with judgement. “How was the very necessary inter-pack meeting earlier? Learn anything vital?”

“Our packs should stay in touch, Scott agreed,” Derek mutters. Alphas aren’t supposed to put up with this kind of back-talk, but he doesn’t know how you could avoid it with a sister like Cora. Laura was always better at managing her.

Cora rolls her eyes but she drops into the chair next to him rather than going back to her and Isaac’s room. “What's really up, bro?”

“Nothing, Cora.”

She raises her eyebrows at him. “Yeah, that’s plausible. Handy how I’m totally unable to hear lies, or smell the depressive funk all over you.”

Derek finds himself flashing his eyes at her and snarling with Alpha authority.

She leans back without saying a word, letting her face do the talking. Derek huffs and hunches back over his notes. He was out of line, pulling rank over a bit of teasing, but he’s simply not in the mood to be needled. Maybe she’ll take the hint that he’s not interested in hashing out his feelings, and leave.

“Is it a mate thing?” she asks, quiet.

“Cora.”

She leans over to knock her shoulder into his, like when they were kids, right around the start of the conflicts, and Peter had told them some horribly plausible story about hunters who would slaughter them all in the night. She’d always been the bravest of them. “It’s okay to talk to me. I mean, this isn’t normal: you’re an Alpha, and kind of ancient. But there’s no shame in being blocked, Der. I want to help, and I can’t if you won’t be honest.”

“Yeah, you’re the expert on mates. Things with you and Isaac are so great.”

She prickles. “We’ve at least presented, haven’t we? We’re… we’re doing things in our own time. You wouldn’t understand what it’s like.”

“I’m aware,” Derek says down to the table. “Thanks for the reminder, though.”

Cora winces and knocks their shoulders again, apologetic. “Look, I don't want to assume anything but, what about Stiles? I mean, he’s pretty up front about not being open to the bond yet, and you two are all over each other, so...”

“It’s not him,” Derek says, honestly. “He doesn't want the bite, he's another pack’s emissary, he couldn’t bear children to continue the Hale line. He’s irritating as fuck. It's not a good match.” Derek shakes his head, thinks, and I still can’t get him out from under my skin .

“Well, maybe you need to stop wasting time with him, then,” Cora says. “If you're hung up on whatever it is you two have going on, that attachment might be standing in the way of the bond with your actual mate.”

“It’s not.”

“Are you sure?”

“No!” Derek snaps. “I’m not sure about anything! But it wasn’t happening before Stiles, and it’s not happening now, why the fuck would avoiding him change anything? It’s not like I’m confused. I’m ready for my real mate, I’ve been ready this whole time, maybe it’s not my fault that something about the bond is broken. Can’t you just leave it?”

“We can't lose you the way we lost Peter,” Cora says, and it would sound like an order except how she can’t keep her voice from trembling. Derek remembers, should never have forgotten, that she’s not just nosey, she’s scared.

“I know,” he says, forcing the tension out of his shoulders. “You’re not going to. I’ll figure something out.”

 


 

 

It had seemed natural how often they fell together, but it's clear now there was nothing natural about the regularity of it. Derek hasn’t crossed paths with Stiles since that day in Scott’s room, more than a week ago. It’s been near misses and absence since then, and it’s driving Derek crazy.

Today the two packs are meeting in the McCalls’ saloon after hours, and Stiles is finally there, slouching against a wall over by the hallway. So far he’s only socialized with his own people, almost to the point of being reserved. It’s uncharacteristic. Even the first time they met he’d been comfortable getting right in Derek’s face, but now it seems like he’s not sure what to do with him; he doesn’t even look in his direction. Or, he doesn’t while Derek is looking back.

Derek is at a table with Scott, trying not to seem as desperate for the spark’s attention as he's started to feel. He struggles to track the other Alpha’s report - nothing new in Beacon Hills, just the same general shittiness as always forcing the sheriff out on patrol earlier than Melissa might have recommended.

“And what about the preserve?” Scott asks at the end of his report. “Anything happening with the Alpha pack?”

“I’m not sure,” Derek admits. “We’ve run off a couple Omegas, but there haven’t been any more signs of Deucalion’s interference. They may have moved along. Satomi is a formidable opponent.”

Scott nods, unsurprised. If there had been actual news, Derek would have contacted him earlier. These new meetings are intended to serve primarily as a mechanism to build a stronger emotional alliance, beyond the practical matters of patrols and battles. Both packs are small enough that tensions can run high if there’s conflict within them, and it’s nice for everyone to socialize with another group and let off steam. Even though Scott’s pack lives among the townspeople, there are few social bonds there. Humans can appreciate the advantage of having werewolves and banshees around in theory; they’re not always so comfortable befriending them in practice.

After all the two packs have risked together, the animosity between them has faded. Cora and Boyd are going shot for shot at the bar with Jackson, while Erica and Lydia are chatting about nail polish. Danny’s set up a casual poker game, and the others are playing cards for trinkets. Malia loses a huge pot to Allison with only a mild sneer, no flashing eyes, and heads over to the bar. Boyd gives up his seat next to Cora. He wanders to the table with his whiskey and Danny deals him in. The atmosphere’s not exactly relaxed, considering all the potential threats this meeting was set up to assess, but it does feel a bit like respite.

Derek won’t be caught looking, but all his attention is still on Stiles. He’s aware of the obvious things, of course: the broad planes of his chest and shoulders, his surprisingly strong hands, his fucking mouth. But Derek misses him talking, too, the sharpness of his wit. He misses his perspective balancing Scott’s, always grim enough to match Derek’s own pessimism. He just... misses him. Not in a way, he tells himself, that would block him from his true bond. It's mostly just that he’s horny after nearly two weeks of nothing but his own hand.

Scott accepts Derek’s judgement on the Alpha pack, quizzes him about the Omegas, and then sighs and calls it enough. He goes to the bar and offers Derek a drink, which he accepts, but the formal meeting is over. Scott goes to chat with Isaac, who’s just lost his last chips, and Derek stays at the table drinking. He watches Stiles linger at the poker game just long enough to make a face at Allison’s cards that has everyone else folding. Then Stiles shifts his gaze to Derek, their eyes locking. Finally . Stiles turns away, almost reluctantly, and slaps Scott’s shoulder for a goodbye. He leaves down the hall, towards his room.

“I’ll meet you back at the den,” Derek murmurs to Cora, and follows him.

“Hey,” Stiles says, when he sees Derek lurking in his doorway. It’s too wary a tone to be welcoming, but he’s not jolting back in surprise, either. He isn’t asking him to leave.

Derek steps inside and shuts the door behind him. Stiles’ eyes flick to the latch, breath speeding at the sudden privacy, and then back to Derek's face as he steps forward. Derek’s hand drifts to the back of Stiles’ head almost of its own volition, palm coming to rest against the warm curve of his skull. He pauses there with his fingers combing through the tousled short hair.

He can hear Stiles’ heartbeat ticking faster, smell the first budding of arousal even though none shows on his impassive face. Derek draws closer, tentative and unsure of the extent of his welcome. Touching is allowed, but can he initiate a kiss? Or is that off the table? Does he need to pretend that they still irritate each other before intimacy is palatable? It hasn't been like that for a while, not for Derek at least. What he wants is the easy familiarity of the night they killed the Darach. The lack of pretense between them.

He runs his thumb down the shell of Stiles’ ear, searching his face for permission.

And it’s there a second later. Stiles almosts melts into the touch, listing his cheek into it with a sigh. His eyes drop closed and blink back open dark and wanting. Whatever hesitation he’d had is gone now, and he nudges the last half-step into Derek’s space to kiss him hard, licking into his mouth and sucking on his lower lip, pushing their bodies together as best he can with both his hands fisted on Derek’s lapels. Derek kisses back just as roughly, pouring all of the week’s frustrated desire into it, taking and relinquishing the upper hand, losing himself in the kiss until they’re both out of breath. Stiles pulls back with with a deep, shuddery inhalation, like he’s wrecked just from that. Derek preens. He walks them stumbling to the bed, painfully hard already. It’s been too long, even just a couple weeks of missing out. He’s surprised by how much he wants this, needs it. By how simply tasting Stiles is settling the wolf in him.

Stiles shoves the leather jacket off, tongue laving a path from Derek’s collarbone to his jaw, and Derek yanks Stiles’ shirt off over his head, not caring how it tangles with the plaid overshirt. He tosses his own henley after it and tips them both onto the bed, bracketing Stiles’ slim hips with his knees, easing lower so their bodies are flush. He rolls his hips, moving away just enough to stroke his hand down Stiles’ thick happy trail, farther down to palm his hardness through his jeans. Or, try.

Stiles sighs, scrubbing both palms over his flushed face. Flushed with embarrassment, more than arousal. He’s not even halfway hard, and softening under Derek’s touch. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s, uh,” Derek sits up, flustered. “Is there something I’m…?”

“It’s not you,” Stiles rushes to say. “This is amazing, I'm just… I'm not sleeping well. I don’t know. I think I'm coming down with something.” He’s not lying. Derek looks again to see that there are dark circles under his eyes, and he’s too pale. Now that Derek’s looking without the haze of need, it’s plain to see. “If you wanna jerk off, you know…” Stiles gestures at his chest as if to say, me casa es su casa.

“Thanks,” Derek says dryly. He crowds against Stiles again, pressing him into the mattress as he noses under his jaw. Stiles doesn't smell sick, exactly. A little musty, somehow, but not like phlegm or disease. Maybe he should ask Scott if it’s serious. Or is that his place? No, he decides. They don’t have that relationship.

Besides, he finds he’s satisfied to kiss and touch, refamiliarizing himself with Stiles’ body. There’ll be time for more, later. It’s a relief to find that the distance between them was nothing more than Stiles being under the weather, and that they can still have this diversion between disasters. The kissing slows to him just holding Stiles, curved towards each other on their sides. Stiles’ breath is sticky-warm against his neck as he slips into dozing. Then he startles awake, tapping his fingers against his thumb, one-two-three-four.

“You should sleep,” Derek prods. “I can let myself out.”

“Nng,” Stiles disagrees, irritable. He rolls over so they’re spooning, placing Derek’s hand on his abs and half-heartedly grinding his ass back against Derek’s crotch.

Derek smiles and pulls his hand back to trace across the soft skin of Stiles’ back, charting the familiar moles with an affectionate contentment. Then, he catches himself at it.

Cora’s suggestion should be crazy, but this... What if it could be Stiles, Derek lets himself wonder. He wasn’t supposed to be the Alpha, after all. The issue of pups, of Stiles being another pack’s emissary, those are only problems because of his status. Laura's second would have paired perfectly with a strong spark, and a mating alliance with another pack would have been an advantage. If it was just the two of them he needed to consider... This could be what he's supposed to have, and all this time it’s just been Stiles holding back that’s kept his mark from presenting. What if his mate is the man already laying in his arms, fitting there so perfectly?

“Stiles?” he asks softly.

Stiles hums sleepily at him.

“Why aren’t you ready for your mate?”

Stiles goes absolutely still, not even breathing for a second. “Hah,” he says, voice thick. “Wrong question.” There’s a sad loneliness in his voice that Derek recognizes all too well, and no skip of a lie in his heartbeat. He’s not holding back, Derek realizes. If he ever really was. He’s ready.

But Derek's ready, too, past ready. He’s reaching out to Stiles with his whole heart in that moment and still there's no glow of a mating mark. It's not happening between them. Obviously. He hadn't really thought it was, had he? Except... why would he be so sorry, unless he had bought into his own stupid fantasy for a moment?

He wasn’t going to be this kind of idiot again. Not after Kate. He ought to know better, but here he is anyway, making the same tired mistakes. He pushes himself upright, away from Stiles. “I should go.”

“Yeah, sorry about the, you know. I'll be up for it next time,” Stiles says, rolling over. “Say hi to-”

“I mean, I don’t think we should have a next time.” Derek takes a breath to continue, and then doesn’t. They aren’t mates. They don’t owe each other explanations, and his reasoning is too vulnerable to admit. The spark’s been clear since day one that he wasn’t going to bring romance into the equation, and Derek’s the one who’s confusing this for more than it is. They’re both waiting for their perfect lover, one who isn't the person in front of them.

Stiles is sleepy enough that it takes him a moment to catch on. Derek watches as his initial confusion is steamrolled by realization that has his brown eyes going wide for a second, his expression pulled in too many directions to pick out any one emotion; Derek is surprised at the intensity of the reaction. He has the irrational thought that he should take it back, somehow. Maybe he’d acted too quickly.

But Stiles then nods, quick little bobs of his head, and he won't meet Derek’s eyes anymore. “If you…sure. Yeah. Got it.”

“I just think at this point, it's for the best.”

Stiles gives him one last jerky nod, and Derek gets up off the bed, awkwardly untangling their legs. He wonders, do you kiss goodbye after something like this? He pulls his shirt on, fixes his hair with his fingers, and shrugs his jacket on. He settles on squeezing Stiles’ shoulder for a farewell.

Only Stiles catches his hand when he starts to pull away, keeping it there on his warm skin. It looks like he wants to say something, but he can’t force the words out.

“It’s okay, Stiles,” Derek says with a gentle squeeze. “I'm not your ma- your soulmate. This was never going to be real, or we’d know.” He taps his thumb on Stiles’ chest, an approximation of where his mark is supposed to glow. “You'll find the right person, soon.” It’s supposed to be comforting, said with what Derek meant to be an encouraging smile, but Stiles’ expression crumples. Derek takes a step back, pulling his hand free. He doesn’t want to intrude on this vulnerable moment; it’s between Stiles and his soulmate. He slips out of the room, and shuts the door softly behind him.

Derek uses the side door to let himself out, avoiding the others in the front saloon. He’s not in the mood to put a good face on his roiling emotions, right now. He keeps thinking how funny it is that only after seeing Stiles’ reaction to him leaving does he realize how much the other man actually cared. It's only now after it's over that he can see it wasn't just a fuck for either of them, by the end.

Walking the back alleys back towards the no man’s land where his pack makes their home, Derek takes deep breaths of the evening air, trying to crowd out the bittersweet emptiness. It's better to do this now, he reminds himself. They'd eventually have to end it, no matter what. They were both just lonely, to have let it get as far as it did.

Still, he thinks, his mate must be someone very like Stiles. Someone quick-witted and prickly, who doesn’t let Derek’s often mercurial moods fling them both into anger. Stiles was always good at that, at balancing Derek’s temper and despair with humor. Stiles was good at a lot of things.

As he walks, Derek thinks that it's probably alright if he’s sad about this, at least for a little while. It doesn’t make him less ready for his mate. If anything, it makes him want it more. When his mark lights up it will make this painless, render all these emotions small in comparison. As hard as that is to imagine, now. He closes his eyes and thinks to the universe, I'm ready, I'm ready.

Nothing happens. He hadn’t really expected differently.

 


 

 

The good news is that Deucalion’s pack’s been spotted farther East, and they’re almost certainly not coming for the Hale or McCall territory. The bad news is that leaves Derek and is pack to stew without any distractions, and tensions are running high.

“I am always on fucking patrol with you,” Cora is ranting, now. “Isaac and I need time together to spend alone, you know we do, and we can’t have that if you’re always sending me off to go hike around the preserve. There’s nothing out there!”

“When you’re the Alpha, you can make that call,” Derek snaps. “I say we need to keep our territory safe. And that means patrols.”

“I don’t mind going again,” Malia offers.

“Stay out of this, Malia!” Cora yells, right over Derek’s barking the exact same words. They both clap their mouths shut and glare at one another.

“We’ve drawn up patrol schedules so that we’re all out there for the same number of hours a week,” Boyd says reasonably. “He’s not singling you out, Cora.”

“But Isaac and I need more time,” she says, close to a petulant whine. “He doesn’t even put us on the same rotations.”

“You’re distracted around each other, and I can’t spare two of my betas for however long it’s going to take you two before you actually consummate the bond,” Derek says. “Figure that shit out on your own time, don’t use it as an excuse to get out of work.”

“Don't take it out on me that you're jealous I've actually got a mate,” Cora tosses out, half a smile on her face because she knows she’s gone too far.

Derek’s bared his fangs before he’s able to stop himself, and Cora’s already up in his space with her eyes flashing right back. She’s angling for a fight, looking for familiar way they’d tussled as kids to work out other tensions. But now, with Derek as her Alpha, a fight means something different. He can’t let himself be the kind of leader to responds to insubordination with violence.

“Stop it, both of you,” a voice snaps, and they’re both startled out of their shifts to look at Isaac.

He tenses a little under their joint attention, but he doesn’t back down. “Cora, you can’t ask for special treatment because of our bond. We have plenty of time together, you know that’s not the problem. And Derek,” he steps forward, tipping his jaw up in challenge even as Derek can smell the nerves on him. “You can’t keep treating Cora like your baby sister. You coddle her half the time, but then you expect her to obey you without question when you’d give any of the rest of us a real explanation. If you want her to take you seriously, treat her like an adult.”

“I don’t recall asking for your opinion on how I should act towards Cora,” Derek says lowly, almost a growl.

“You didn’t need to,” Isaac replies evenly. He isn’t backing down. “You’re her Alpha, but I’m her mate, and I- what?” He looks down, plainly startled, at his own chest, and then over at Cora.

Derek looks too, and finds her blushing beet red, a hand over her chest where her own mark has apparently just burned dark with consummation.

“Really?” Isaac squawks, somewhere between delighted and irritated. “Standing up to Derek? That’s you thing? I was trying so hard to be deferential to him for you I…”

“Shut up,” Cora hisses, blushing impossibly redder. “Shut up, shut up. Are you going to make fun of me, or are you going to do something about this?”
Isaac cocks his head thoughtfully, but his eyes are dreamy-vague. “Do something about this,” he decides, marching over and taking her by the hand. They both trip off towards Cora’s bedroom down the hall without another look back.

“So… should I, uh, wait?” Erica asks, looking over at Boyd uncertainly. She was supposed to be on patrol half an hour ago, except for the argument with Cora.

Derek sighs. “No. Boyd, if it’s alright, you go with Erica. Just… try not to get too distracted.”

Boyd salutes only half ironically, and leaves with a pleased smile at Erica. She waggles her eyebrows at Derek as she follows him out. Derek groans. They’re absolutely going to spend more time making out than watching out, but he has to admit that Cora was basically right. The forest isn’t so dangerous now that they need to be on high alert.

“You’re not out of your responsibilities forever,” Derek calls down the hall. “Cora, you’re going with Malia tomorrow. And Isaac’s taking Boyd’s rotation with me on Friday!” He’s not at all sure they’re listening to him. A delighted squeal echoes back, and he recoils.

“I hope I never present my mark,” Malia scoffs, lip curling in mild disgust. “Romance, yuck.”

Derek huffs a laugh, but doesn’t bother to correct her. It’ll happen soon enough for her, and most likely she'll change her tune. He’ll finally be the only Hale left unbonded. He tries to put the jealous thought out of his head and be happy for Cora, but it’s easier said than done.

 


 

 

“Jesus,” Isaac says, somewhere between a horrified gasp and a moan.

“Keep it together,” Derek snaps, but the desecrated, mangled corpse in front of them is awful enough that he’s having trouble with that himself. After so much time without a fresh horror, he shouldn’t be surprised. The body had been left right in the middle of their patrol route, like something wanted them to see. It’s human, most likely a townsperson from Beacon Hills. That means he was dragged all the way out here for a specific reason. Maybe just so no one could hear the screams.

The whole clearing smells like pain and blood, enough that Derek’s nose wrinkles involuntarily with distaste. The sharp tang of it has washed out any subtler hint of the killer's scent. Derek doesn’t want to get any closer to the remains, but he needs to examine them for clues about what did this. He’s the Alpha. He won’t ask Isaac to do it.

The body parts are all still there, he establishes - covered in buckets of blood and mangled almost past recognition, but accounted for. It doesn’t look like anything needed to eat, then. On the other hand, there’s no indication this was a sacrifice, either. Whatever made the kill, it seems its only goal was… suffering.

It’s not an animal instinct, that need to torture. Derek sighs and gestures for Isaac to hand over his phone. He doesn’t like it, but this new threat will most likely warrant yet another collaboration with the McCalls. If he’s not careful, he’s going to start getting used to having back up. That concern, though, isn’t enough to keep him from asking for help with something as malevolent as this.

“Scott?” he says when the other Alpha picks up. “I found something in the preserve I think you should come see.”

Derek goes to meet him at the road, hearing Stiles’ old Jeep from at least a mile away. He uses the time before it comes into view to clamp down on his emotions. It still aches to even think about the spark, much less physically see him with his upturned nose and mobile mouth, and know he’ll never get to touch again. By the time Stiles parks on the shoulder, Derek is thankfully ready to face him without more than a tightening of his jaw. He jerks his head in the direction of the clearing, and the three of them walk in silence to where Isaac is keeping watch over the scene of the murder.

“You’re right, this doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before,” Scott says after he examines the body. He looks five years older when he stands and moves away from the gore, turning his back to it for the debrief. “If we’re lucky it’s just a serial killer. Stiles, any magic residue?”

“No,” Stiles says. He’s fidgety, same as always, but grimly quiet. No jokes, no sparking sexual tension, just a hard absence of attention. “Maybe the Darach survived, and this is some revenge thing? It looks personal .”

Scott shakes his head. “I felt the life go out of her down in that cellar. I wasn’t taking chances, and with what I did… She didn’t come back from that. What about the Dread Doctors?”

“No, not without any parts missing,” Derek sighs. “These remains would hardly be useful for experiments.”

Isaac tosses out his own suggestion - the Alpha pack after all? - but it’s halfhearted. Everyone seems to realize that they won’t work out what happened here, not tonight. After a few minutes of perfunctory hemming and hawing about possibilities, Derek walks with Isaac to see the McCalls back to the Jeep. Awareness that there will be another scene like this one, and soon, hangs heavy in the air. This is not a world where tragedies can be written off and moved past; they keep coming and coming until you stop them with blood. Derek could almost collapse under it sometimes, how there will always be one more tragedy; another death, another unknown threat, more impossible regrets.

On the other hand, Derek thinks darkly as he listens to the jeep’s clunky engine fading away, trying to maintain order in this hellhole is almost a good enough distraction to keep him from missing Stiles. Maybe a vicious serial killer would do the trick.

Stupid, stupid, he curses himself in his head. He needs to stay ready for his mate, that’s why he cut it off in the first place. But, he’s starting to think, he might have acted too late.

 


 

 

Irritatingly loud buzzing startles Derek awake. He grabs at his phone, scowling. Only the McCall pack has this number, and by now they've all figured out to call Erica if they need to get in touch. She actually likes it when people do that. Three am, he sees as he picks up. Jesus . it better be another corpse, or drama of equally threatening proportions. He’d never bothered to enter names for numbers, so he goes in blind. “Hello?”

The pattern of breath on the other end of the line is unfamiliar, but it’s Stiles’ voice that says, “Hi, Derek.”

Thrill of hopeful arousal shoots through his chest, but he pushes that away. “What’s wrong, did Lydia find another body?”

“Not yet,” Stiles chirps, weirdly chipper for such a grim phrase.

“Alright,” Derek says warily. “Why are you calling?” He knows the answer he wants, but Stiles isn’t the kind of person who’d beg to be taken back. Hell, looking like he does, he’d never need to. Surely he’s found a new lover if that’s what he wants. He has no need for Derek.

Indeed, Stiles’ voice is casual when he answers. “I just have a question for you. Well, more of a riddle.”

Derek rubs his eyes. “Okay…?”

“When is your soulmate not your soulmate?”

“That's not a riddle.”

“Sure it is,” Stiles laughs.

Derek isn’t sure if it’s because of the hour or his own lack of creative thinking, but to him the question sounds a zen koan, a contradiction on its face. “Your mate is always your mate, Stiles, it's not… I don't know. When they’re dead?”

“Oh, you’re so close,” Stiles says. “Come on, keep guessing.”

Derek doesn't like this, all of a sudden. He’s not sure what Stiles is trying to point out, calling him so late with this kind of nonsense. Nonsense about mates. Pulling the phone back a hair, he looks down at the receiver as if he could see something helpful through it. He wishes he could get a scent, an expression, any clue that would tell him more than a frustratingly flattened voice over a bad connection. “Are you drunk?”

Stiles barks out a full-throated laugh, and hangs up on him.

Derek stares down at the screen for a second as the phone blinks the call time and switches over to blank again.

Whatever , Derek decides as he tosses the phone back onto his nightstand where it's been gathering dust. He can't afford to get drawn back into Stiles’ orbit. He rolls over and shuts his eyes.

 


 

 

The next day - or, later the same day? - dawns oppressively overcast, and Derek only makes it to eleven am before he caves and calls Scott. He couldn’t quite get back to sleep after Stiles’ call, his shallow dozing interrupted by dreams he can’t remember, and he’s restless with curiosity. Is Stiles getting everyone’s take on the riddle? Was the call specific to Derek?

If Scott’s surprised at the sudden contact, he hides it well with a genial greeting and a chatty, “What’s up?”

“Nothing particular,” Derek hedges, glancing towards his door for any suddenly appearing siblings. “Just, has your pack found any clues about what might have killed the man Isaac and I found?” Really, he wants to ask about Stiles, but he’s aware how it would seem. It’s none of his business what Stiles is doing, now. If it ever was.

“No,” Scott admits morosely. “I’ll let you know if we do find anything. Um, and while I’ve got you... not to pry, but, have you seen or heard from Stiles?”

Derek frowns. “He called me earlier today,” he admits. He’s not sure if he should have said the call was last night, instead. It seems like something that happened in a dream, now, a liminal moment slipped in between the usual rhythms of life. “Why?”

“Thank god,” Scott breathes. “I haven’t been able to get in touch with him at all. We woke up yesterday and he was gone, but I thought it was just one of his moods. He does that sometimes, you know, just needs space from it all. And it’s fine, I get it, and I try not worry… but he didn't come home last night, and with the thing out there torturing people… God. His dad is flipping out. Did he seem okay?”

Derek’ stomach lurches with unsettled worry. Stiles hadn’t seemed normal at all, not really, but it hadn’t even occurred to him to check in with his Alpha if he was alright. He’d just been curious how it related to their relationship. Their not-relationship. “He didn't sound hurt,” Derek offers, guiltily.

“Did he tell you where he was? What was up?”

“No,” Derek grits.

“I think we should go look for him,” Scott decides. “I’d welcome the help if your pack wants to lend a hand.”

“We do,” Derek agrees, heading down the spiral staircase to the den’s main level. He jerks his chin at Boyd and Erica, knows they’re listening in now. “Of course we’ll help look for Stiles.”

Erica, Isaac and Boyd go with Malia to search the preserve, while the McCalls search around the town. There’s more of a chance that Stiles will be there, and more places to hide, so Cora and Derek are in town as well. They split up to cover more ground, starting from different ends of the no man’s land nearest the preserve and working in towards the seedier areas of Beacon Hills. Derek feels like an abomination there, with the way the townspeople shy away from him. He could shift back to his human form, but even with the extra sharpness he gets from the shift, he can’t get a scent for Stiles. Not amongst all the other humanity packed in, here.

It hasn’t quite been an hour when a yipping howl slices through the town, plainly audible to wolf ears. It’s Malia’s voice, coming from the direction of the old Hale house. Knowing that Scott will have heard the howl too, Derek shifts his weight and sets off at a loping run towards the sound.

Scott has just arrived with the sheriff when Derek makes it to the house and shifts back to human. The police cruiser they’d driven in is still idling on the dirt path that leads to the house. Malia is waiting for them on the veranda, hovering over Stiles, who’s sitting on the porch steps.

Derek's limbs go liquid with relief as tension he hadn't realized he was carrying melts away. Stiles is whole and healthy, sitting up on his own with no scent of blood or pain. It takes a long moment for Derek to notice the slowness of his movements, his disoriented gaze, and the exhausted slope to his shoulders.

Scott goes to his best friend to help him stand, leading him towards his father’s car. “What were you doing out here?” he says, holding Stiles’ elbow to stabilize him.

“I… I don't know,” Stiles answers, voice rough.

“How can you not know?” the sheriff says tightly. “It’s been almost two days!”

Stiles startles at that. “What? Dad, no way have I been gone that long. Scotty? Have I?”

Derek shouldn't intrude, though he wants nothing more than to touch, to use his hands to sooth the spark like he used to. Instead he clears his throat, and Stiles’ eyes snap to his.

“Called in the whole gang, I guess,” Stiles says with a bitter thread in his tone. “This isn’t a problem for them, you didn’t need the fucking cavalry.”

“You're the one who called me,” Derek snaps back, hurt.

“What? No, I didn't.” Stiles’ face is open and shocked, and Derek notices that, again, he’s tapping his thumb against his fingers. Like he’s counting them.

“Check your call log.”

Stiles fumbles with the device, almost elbowing Scott in the process, and finds the evidence. Derek can tell because his face goes blank in horror. He looks back up to Derek, a terrible hollowness in his voice as he asks, “What did I say?”

Derek shrugs. “Nothing, really. You were asking nonsensical questions.”

Scott’s phone rings before Stiles can push him on the deflection. “Allison, hi, it’s okay,” he says. “We found him. I’m putting you on speaker.”

Her voice is thin through the tiny device, but audible. “Stiles, I'm so glad you’re alright!”

“Hey, Ally-A,” Stiles sighs, an exhausted but genuine smile tugging the corners of his mouth up. “I'm glad, too. Come on back to the den, we’re heading back now and we'll see you there, soon.”

“Actually, there’s… there’s something that you guys should come see. It’s the electrical plant by the East border. Somebody overloaded it, and the power’s out.”

Scott and Stiles exchange a look. Even Derek knows that Beacon Hills had moved off of generators in the last couple years to the more reliable plant, but they still conserve its power during the day by using generators where they can. It could have been hours before they noticed the power was out, but to have none of the streetlights or indoor lights working all night... it would have been chaos.

“There’s something else,” Allison continues grimly. “Whoever it was, they killed most of the workers, too. The rest have been hiding, they’re terrified. That’s why nobody alerted us.”

Scott looks at Derek, who grits his teeth. From bad to worse. “Malia,” he barks. “When the others get here, have them go back to the den with you. I’m going to the power plant.”

 


 

 

Allison was, if anything, downplaying the carnage at the power plant. It’s a massacre. She’s managed to lure the survivors out of hiding, but most of them are still huddled near the walls of the plant, shuddering, covered in their friends’ blood and rambling about shadow and smoke. The sheriff and Chris are talking with them, now. As the main law enforcement of the town, they’re trusted by the people of Beacon Hills. They’re also both human, which helps in times of crisis. People instinctively cling to their own.

“You think whatever did this is the same thing as left the body Derek found?” Scott asks his mate, quietly. Voices echo too easily among the high metal walls.

“Maybe,” Allison says, shaking her head. She’s as hardened as any of them, but what she found here has left her pale and quiet.

“He’s come back!” a preteen girl shrieks. Her accusing finger points directly at Stiles. “He’s back! It was him! He’s going to kill us all!”

“What?” Stiles blurts. “No, I wasn't here, I was… you found me at the Hale house in the preserve.” He looks to Scott for support, but it’s another survivor who speaks up.

“You’re lying! We all saw, it was you. You told those thugs to slaughter us and you laughed .”

“No, come on,” Stiles insists, high pitched with desperation. “I’d never…”

The teen girl interrupts. “He used his bat to overload the power grid, it’s over there. And he used it to point out which ones of us to cut down next. Those creepy silver masks, it’s some kind of death cult. Maybe all of you are in on it.” She starts to sob.

The sheriff takes her shoulders and starts murmuring softly to her, trying to calm her down. He shoots a warning look over at Scott to handle the situation.

Scott draws Stiles down one of the paths, out of sight of the survivors, and Derek and Allison follow. It’s in the direction that the girl had indicated, and sure enough: there’s a silver bat just like Stiles’ magnetized to the machines.

Derek plucks the bat from the wall; the weapon has the same runes scratched into the sides as Stiles’, and more damningly than that it’s got his familiar scent all over it. He hands the evidence wordlessly to Scott.

“But I never even...I... What’s happening ?” Stiles demands, more visibly unsettled than Derek has ever seen him, even when they went toe to toe with a powerful dark druid intent on killing his father. “You don’t really think...I wasn’t here! Scott . You have to believe me.”

“Let's get you home,” Scott says, putting a bit of that authority in his tone in response to his emissary’s panic. “You can rest up and see if you remember anything.”

He puts a hand at the small of Stiles’ back and walks them all back to the parking lot, just on the brisk side of comfortable. The need to get him away from the survivors goes unspoken, as does the obvious question: How can he be sure what he’s done, when he doesn’t remember anything of the last two days?

 


 

 

Nobody from either pack actually believes Stiles would do something like what had happened at the power plant, not even if he’d been sleepwalking, but the eyewitnesses are hard to deny. The uncertainty has them all on edge, at an impasse without any clues except this one that they can’t trust. Scott has settled, for now, on keeping Stiles at their den, waiting for the sheriff and Chris to come up with some explanation.

Derek is back at the Hale vault, to look in the old books for some hint about monsters that use swords to maim and kill, that have some relationship with electricity, perhaps... anything that will point in a direction that isn’t Stiles. He should probably look for legends about sparks going insane, though he hates to think it. Wolves aren’t meant to go unmated into adulthood; maybe Emissaries aren’t different.

In the meantime, he’s sent the rest of his pack out on patrol, except for Cora who’s at the McCalls offering her help. Derek should perhaps have gone with her, or asked for Lydia to come with him and help research, but he can't be around anyone else right now. He won’t be able to keep himself together.

There’s a screech of metal as the door to the vault opens.

Derek frowns. “Cora?”

But the footsteps aren’t hers, belong to somebody with longer legs and a swinging gait. It’s Stiles, who comes into the room smiling as if nothing is wrong.

“Derek, Derek, good to see you. How are things?” He turns his attention to the books, trailing his fingers across the spines with a knowing smirk. His hips sway as he walks, almost sinuous.

“Did Cora come with you?” Derek asks, surprised that Scott’s comfortable enough to let Stiles leave their den. Maybe the sheriff uncovered something with the survivors? In any case, Stiles doesn’t seem as disoriented as he had at the Hale house. Then again, he doesn’t quite look like his usual self, either. He isn’t fidgeting, Derek realizes. Oddly, the lack of distracted anxiety in the spark is making Derek worry about him more than the fidgeting would. “Are you feeling better?” he hazards.

Stiles mugs at him, an exaggerated frown of consideration. “I don't know! You tell me.” He closes the distance between them and places Derek's hands on the broad planes of his chest, long fingers wrapped around his wrists. “Do I feel better?”

Derek can feel the nubs of his nipples through the tight maroon tee he’s wearing. There’s no overshirt today. A shudder of want goes down his spine.

“We don’t do this, anymore,” he says as Stiles releases his wrists and moves his hands to Derek’s belt. He tugs the deceptively strong fingers away, and it’s so hard not to think about them in his mouth, about the way Stiles’ eyes would go dark as he fucked him slow and deep. “Really. Stop.”

“But, why?” Stiles whines. His hands slip out of Derek's hold and he goes back to playing with his belt buckle. “It’s been a rough day, hasn’t it? This’ll be good. So good.”

“That’s the problem,” Derek growls. “We’re not supposed to...I need to be ready for the bond.” As much as he’s forcing himself to resist the advances, it’s hard to argue with Stiles hooking his fingers into his waistband, tugging them close. “Look, I think I’ve been falling for you, and I won’t be able to keep myself open to finding my mate if we keep doing this.” The admission is terrifying to say out loud, overly honest. Vulnerable like he hasn’t let himself be since the hunters took his family.

Stiles’ brow is creased in concern as he quirks his head to the side and says, “You mean, your soulmate?”

“Yes,” Derek breathes. “We both need to be ready for our real soulmates.”

“Oh, Derek,” Stiles sighs, the perfect picture of disappointment.

“Stiles…?”

“You still think that’s a thing you get to have? I mean, you're basically just an animal. Do dogs even have souls?” He pat-slaps Derek's cheek, then grabs his jaw and gently shakes his face. Derek’s too shocked to even resist. And Stiles isn’t done, yet. “Born wolves like you, you’re just controlled by your baser instincts; eat, sleep, reproduce. Don’t get me wrong, you’re good for fucking! Like, great stamina, nice size dick, know what to do with your mouth. I’m all for it, work what your mama gave you. Before she burned.” Stiles pauses, smiles benignly. “It’s cute you think there’s something better to save yourself for, but… a soulmate? You? Please.”

“Stiles?” Derek hears himself whimpering, and it’s pathetic but he can’t stop. It hurts . They were over barbed insults; they were friends. Stiles was the one who looked him in the eye and said, you absolutely deserve one.

“Sti-iles, Sti-iles,” the spark echoes, mockingly high-pitched, like he's imitating a child. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But you already know, don’t you? You know you’re a stupid animal who was never supposed to be an Alpha at all, only you couldn't save your mother, or you sister, or your uncle, so here you are. Even with those big, bad Alpha powers, you’re just the sorry dregs of a dying pack. Five little betas, three newly bitten...you can’t defend them from what’s out there.” The hand on his jaw is rougher, now. Derek’s back bumps up against the shelves and Stiles leans in so his mouth is close to his ear. Derek cringes away; his teeth are too close to his neck. “You think Isaac, Erica and Boyd are better with you, safer? You can’t even find your mate, what kind of Alpha do you think you are?” Despite Derek pushing back as far as he can, Stiles’ face is right there. Derek can feel his rough inhalations against his pulsepoint. “Nobody needs you, Derek. Nobody wants you. And you're never going to find your mate.”

Derek closes his eyes against his worst nightmares intoned to the beat of a steady, truthful heart. He’s not even fighting it anymore, he’s just trying to weather each new blow.

It’s a testament to how expertly Stiles had honed in on his tenderest vulnerabilities that Derek takes a long moment to realize the grinding pain at his core is physical, too. His eyes pop open as he makes the connection, already too breathless for a scream. He looks down to see a blade stabbed deep into in his gut, and then up again, gaping in horror.

Stiles grins at him, sweat slick on his face. He’s holding the handle of the sword that’s embedded in Derek’s stomach, and where the fuck did he get a sword?

“Shhh, puppy,” Stiles croons. “This won’t… well, I guess it will hurt. That’s the point! But shhh anyways.” His broad hand clamps rough over Derek’s mouth and nose, muffling his cries as the sword is twisted around and drawn out. Stiles waits for a second, letting the muscles and organs heal, only to plunge back in, cutting Derek open again and again. There’s blood everywhere, and Derek’s knees almost buckle with all his body’s energy pouring into salvaging the damage enough to keep him alive. The muffled screams he tries to make come out breathless, he can’t seem to fill his lungs.

Stiles eyes are dark and flat above his crazed grin. Derek’s never found him ugly, not even when he thought he hated him, but he’s ugly now. Derek dimly realizes that there are black lines trailing up Stiles’ skin, as if he was draining Derek’s pain. Except that he isn’t taking any of that suffering away; Derek can feel every inch of it.

Something about the sight of Stiles using a power he shouldn’t have jolts Derek out of the sense that this is a nightmare he needs to wake up from. It’s only too real, and if he doesn’t do something, he’s going to die here.

He shifts, with an effort, and bites at the hand over his mouth - or, tries. At the first prick of his fangs against skin Stiles jerks away. With the space that gives him, Derek howls for his pack.

“You fucking menace!” Stiles curses, and the impossibly strong hand shoots forward again to grab Derek’s throat, choking the breath out of him as the the sword twists into his guts again. But this time Stiles is intending not to torture, but to kill. He starts sawing back and forth, working to cut through to his spine and slice it in half. “Stupid mutt. You think you can outsmart a fox?” he hisses, breath wet and close in Derek’s ear.

“Derek!” Cora screams. Derek twists as best he can to look at her; she must have already been headed to the vault to find him to have come so quickly. As his sister rushes to him, Malia comes down the hall as well, full-shifts between strides and slams into Stiles jaws first. He’s knocked back, the sword skittering away on the floor.

He manages to keep his feet, and when she comes for him again he anticipates her attack. He grabs her back leg and throws her into one of the bookshelves, knocking all the old volumes to the floor.

Isaac is there now, too, and he and Cora square off against the spark. Malia’s on her feet again behind him, growling and flashing bright blue eyes. For a second Derek thinks they’ve got him cornered. Only then nine dark wisps of smoke appear and thicken around Stiles before snapping into focus; ninjas, exactly like the demons the Darach had controlled. And they’re all carrying swords just like the one Stiles had used on Derek.

Stiles steps back, and the smoke demons engage with the Hale pack, nine versus three. Derek snarls as he forces himself to his feet. The wound is almost healed now, and he needs to help his pack. Just for a little while, until the rest of his betas and their allies can come. If they can hold their own for a bit longer...

Stiles tut-tuts mockingly, from a distance. No, not Stiles. Something else wearing his skin. “Lucky break this time, puppy. I guess my Oni and I will come play with you some other time,” it says, a little smile playing on Stiles’ mouth below its flat, dead eyes.

“Cora!” Derek shouts in warning, but it’s too late. The thing in Stiles had used their distraction with Oni to position himself perfectly between the pack and the door, and before they can act he’s gone. The ninjas all stand straight, bow, and vanish as well, leaving Derek and his pack alone with their shock.

 

Chapter Text


 

 

“If the ninjas that attacked you in the vault were the same as the demons we fought in the Darach’s cave, I bet they were at the power plant, too,” Allison muses. “I mean, the victims said that the killers had swords and wore silver masks.”

Both packs are crammed into the McCalls’ bunker for a desperate war room. The instant they’d arrived, Derek had learned from an anguished Scott how Stiles had disappeared between one moment and the next, slipping away while no one was looking. As soon as they’d realized what had happened, Cora had headed straight for Derek, only stopping at the den to collect Isaac and Malia.

It was a hunch that had saved his life.

Derek's stomach itches, still covered in dried blood that’s flaking off except for the places it’s still tacky enough to glue the remains of his shirt to his skin.

“Whatever those things are, they report to Stiles, now,” Isaac confirms. “He called them Oni.”

“Not Stiles,” Scott corrects firmly. “Whatever’s doing this, it isn’t him.”

“Is it the Darach?” Jackson asks. “Is this a spell she set in motion, one that forces Stiles to do her bidding?”

“No,” Lydia says. “Druid magic doesn’t work like that. These Oni, though, they were the demons she tried to summon. And if they’re still here...”

“That would explain everything, if Stiles is possessed,” Chris jumps in, stating the obvious.

Derek wants to break something. “Great,” he snarls, pacing and pricking his own skin with his claws to keep from attacking anything else. “Poor defenseless Stiles, that's great, weak little Stiles. What could he possibly do?” Even Cora shies from the vicious sarcasm in his tone.

“There might be clues in his room,” the sheriff offers. “Something that will help us figure out how those demons are connected to him. Or, to the thing he’s possessed by.”

It’s an idea, at least. Scott nods, gesturing for the pack to come upstairs and check.

Ransacking Stiles’ room feels like a violation of trust, as if they’ve tacitly decided it’s alright to treat him as a common criminal. Derek clamps down on the shame and rifles through his drawers anyways. A ratty old baseball, stacks of pre-conflict comic books, the blue shorts he'd been wearing in Scott's room, washed clean of his scent. So many private things, rendered meaningless in his absence. Derek growls and slams the drawer. Useless, except for ramping his own anxiety up even more. What could they possibly find here that will reverse the monumental wrongness he’d seen behind Stiles’ eyes?

Lydia holds up a book fat with bits of paper filed between the pages. “Notes. He was trying to track his movements and his sleep patterns,” she summarizes. “Towards the end the records get sloppy, though. And there are riddles, too. When is a door not a door...when it's ajar?” she reads incredulously. “The records start weeks back. Not long after the Darach.”

“He's been fighting this longer than we knew,” Scott says grimly.

Derek has to shut his eyes to conceal them flashing red. Stiles had known there was something wrong, had even told Derek. He’d called it being sick, but it hadn’t been anything so banal. He'd been fighting this, and Derek had abandoned him to do it alone. He hadn’t even bothered to check in with Stiles’ Alpha, to be sure he was alright.

“Look,” Melissa says, pointing to a chessboard on top of Stiles’ cluttered dresser. “He’s tagged the pieces with our names.”

Derek goes to look, brushes the colorful little labels with the tips of his fingers. On the white king, his own name is spelled out in what must be Stiles’ handwriting. It's spidery, all emphatic dark lines. He pulls his hand back, a pang shooting through his chest. “How can we be sure it's not the demon?” Derek asks.

“Chess is Stiles’ game,” the sheriff answers.

“Then, why did he put my name on the king?”

“I don’t think any of us could say, but you're in check,” Lydia points out, indicating the black bishop’s clear diagonal line of attack.

“Lovely observation, incredibly helpful,” Cora snaps. “Your emissary is possessed by a killer, and he's out for my brother’s blood. Fuck when it started, or whatever coded clues you think this chessboard is supposed to be hiding. How are we going to fix it?”

“What about Deaton? He’s supposed to be an expert in the supernatural. We could ask him, right?” Melissa says. It’s phrased as a question, but her mouth is set in a firm line that even someone like Deaton might think twice about standing against. For a second Derek thinks of his own mother, his first Alpha, how she’d have done anything to protect them. Mothers anywhere, he supposes, have that in common.

Jackson and Chris look ready to argue, but Scott silences them with a look. “Sounds good, Mom. We'll see what he has to say.”

Derek is happy with the call. Trustworthy or not, the druid is probably their best shot.

 


 

 

Deaton is visibly worried, once they tell him their suspicions about the Darach’s ritual working half way, and that serves to worry the rest of them more. “You think Stiles has been possessed?”

“He tried to kill me,” Derek admits. The actual wound is long gone and he’d taken the time to rinse himself clean when he changed into one of Scott’s spare shirts, but it hurts just to think about what had happened.

“Could that actually be what's going on?” Scott asks. “I just don’t understand how this could have happened. Aren't sparks more resistant to that kind of thing?”

“Yes, but Stiles has a… darkness. An opening in his heart,” Deaton clarifies at the Alpha’s disbelieving look. “It could have left him vulnerable to possession. The Darach’s death before the final sacrifice could have released the demon she had partially summoned, like you said, and a tricky enough spirit could have used the fissure in Stiles’ soul as a door to get inside him and take control.”

“But what kind of demon could do something like that?”

“You tell me,” Deaton says. “What have you found out about it, so far?”

“Feeds on pain,” Lydia says, cool and clinical. “Able to summon nine assistants, wearing silver masks and bearing katanas. Some connection with electricity, perhaps, but maybe that was just the best way he could think of to sow chaos in the town.”

Deaton’s face had gone tense as she listed the facts. He nods, once, as if to brace himself. “This is a Nogitsune.”

Allison sucks in a sharp breath, and Derek keens without meaning to. He should have known. Stiles had practically admitted as much, when he asked if he could outsmart a fox, but Derek hadn't made the connection. He's only heard of kitsunes going dark in Peter’s horror stories, never thought of them as real things that could squirm into and possess a person he knew. “Can we give Stiles the bite?” he asks, frantic.

“He doesn't want it, never has,” Scott says.

“But it would kill the demon. Foxes and wolves are incompatible. I know he wouldn’t want to be a wolf, but he wouldn’t want to be a murderer, either. We need to do something. Deaton?”

“Yes, it would resolve the situation for an Alpha to bite him. I'd recommend it, in fact.”

“But the bite would kill the host too,” Allison says. “My father saw it happen back in LA. Stiles won't be a werewolf, if Scott bites him. He’ll be ashes.”

“Better that than a Nogitsune,” the druid says, impassive despite the glares and gasps of disbelief directed at him by everyone in the room.

“There's a legend that your mate can pull you back from anything, even your Alpha,” Malia says. “Maybe it would work on a demon too. Right?” For once she seems young, like someone her own age.

“...It's a theory that I’ve heard suggested,” Deaton allows.

“But he hasn't presented his mark, yet,” the sheriff says. “How can we even test the theory without his soulmate?”

“We’ll have figure out a way to find that person, if their bond could save Stiles,” Scott says. “Deaton, you can help us, can’t you? I know spells like that exist.”

Derek knows finding Stiles’ mate is the right call given the situation, despite the risk of the bond going wrong after being forged too soon. They have to do something. He crosses his arms and looks at the floor, trying not to imagine how it will feel to meet the person Stiles is meant to love, the person who’s actually worthy of him.

Only Deaton says, “No.”

“What?” Lydia’s icy calm fractures. “How can you say that? You pretend to be all about balance, but you’re just like all the rest of them! You abdicated your role when the conflicts upended the world and we needed you most. Now you only care about yourself. Ignoring a dark druid was bad enough, but a Nogitsune? Something this purely evil comes into our town and you…”

“I mean to say, it's a plausible theory but moot,” Deaton interrupts her smoothly, the barest hint of anger trembling under the surface of his tone. His eyes are tight and hard. “A searching spell wouldn’t help us find Stiles’ soulmate, because there isn't one to find.”

Derek balks, looking to Scott. The other Alpha is equally shocked, blood drained from his ashen face. “What do you mean, he doesn’t have one? That's impossible.”

“Ah. Perhaps more accurately, I could say he doesn’t have a soulmate anymore. I helped him sacrifice the bond five years ago. That severing is what created the opening for the demon, the darkness I spoke of.”

Scott is clearly horrified. “What? Why would he do that?”

“A spark’s power is bolstered by sacrifice, and the potential for a soulmate is one of the most powerful, one with lasting effects. As you’ve seen in your friend, the results can be remarkable. Though there are occasionally regrets, it's quite irreversible.” He glances towards Derek, almost quick enough to miss.

Scott isn’t paying attention to see, anyway; he’s reconstructing a timeline from his memory. “Five years ago,” he mutters. “Five years ago would be a while after I’d turned, wouldn’t it have been? About when my father left, that’s right. It was just the four of us and… and Stiles’ power pulled us through that shitty year, his spark just exploded and kept our pack from going under. We thought he’d had a breakthrough in his training or something, but he hadn’t. It was this.”

He'd put his own happiness on the altar to save his pack, Derek realizes, rubbing his chest where he’s so often felt the lack of his own mark. Just sixteen and Stiles had stepped up as best as he knew how, to help his friends. Even then he’d known that kind of loyalty. While out in the preserve at the same time, Derek had been twenty-one, just starting to put his life back together after his family’s decimation, barely allowing himself to think he might be ready for a mate, desperate enough he’d imagined one night the first sparkings of a mark presenting. He’d been crushed when it had come to nothing beyond a few minutes’ lingering warmth.

“He did this to protect me, our pack. This is my fault.” Scott blinks up, looking young and lost, before anger starts to creep in at the edges of his mouth. “You told him about this, Deaton? And then you helped him make the sacrifice. How could you?!”

“He asked.” Deaton blinks laconically and adds as an afterthought, “And he had money.”

The calm words spike the anger already brewing in Derek’s chest, driving it so hot it’s a physical presence. How can the druid be this calm, knowing he didn't just abet a desperate teen in giving away a piece of his soul, but that the already heavy cost has metastasized into a death sentence? Derek wants to murder him. He wants the Nogitsune to murder him. He hasn't felt this all-encompassing rage since Peter.

“Great, well, we're fucked then. Stiles is good as dead,” Jackson snaps. He looks close to tears, and Lydia reaches out to hug him, her eyes glinting wetly as well.

Scott shakes his head, an Alpha firmness bleeding into his stance as he stares Deaton down. “I’m not giving up on him. We’ll figure out another way to save him.”

“We need to keep him from hurting anyone else, first,” Chris says. “Then we can come up with a way to pull the demon out of him. Our priority is protecting this town.”

Scott’s jaw is tight, but he nods after a moment’s hesitation. He’s the defender of all innocents here in Beacon Hills, and he can’t ignore their suffering. “We can do both,” he says.

Derek nods along, indicating agreement with the hunter’s logic. The easy gesture hides the blinding clarity in his mind that he's lying. He doesn't owe the town anything. Let it burn, if it has to. Protecting Stiles is his priority.

 


 

 

The underpass is piled with rubble and trash, concrete pillars cracked and covered in obscene graffiti. The shadows cast by the arching and unused freeway are long in the afternoon light. Derek and Scott stride along the street, alert to the corners where someone could hide.

Both of them are underslept and overstressed to be on patrol again. They’re still too close to the revelations about Stiles to be settled in their skin, and in a fair world they would be home processing. In this world, they can’t afford a day off. Not when the demon fox is still on the loose, hungry for pain and chaos.

“This is stupid,” Derek growls, stopping in his tracks and glaring at the empty road around them. “Say we actually find him, then what? We don’t have any way to stop him.”

“Well, we can’t just leave the town at his mercy,” Scott answers with strained patience. “You’ve seen what he’s capable of.”

“Your deciding what is and isn’t acceptable doesn’t add up to a strategy! The Nogitsune doesn’t care about good intentions. What, you think you’ll ask nicely and the demon will just sit down and negotiate? Or are you going to murder him, like Chris said? Never mind Stiles dies, too.”

“Shit, Derek! He was my best friend before he was your fuck buddy, don’t assume you’re the only one with his best interests at heart. Why do you do that, anyways? Always jump straight to violence? It’s murder right off the bat with you, every time. You never want to actually think for a second about alternatives!”

Derek prickles, the barb hitting too close to home. “Guess I’m just a dumb beast, huh?” He lets his shift roll through him, feels the familiar fangs and fur overtake his human features. “This is how you see me, isn’t it? An animal, an abomination who’ll never really be equal to you and your human pack.”

“Wow, what an impressive new height to your martyr complex,” Scott snaps. The tendons in his neck and shoulders are taut as he jabs a finger at Derek's chest. “I’m the one who suggested the alliance in the first place. I asked you to give the bite to one of my betas! I’d thought collaborating was working, but maybe it’s not. Maybe we’re not meant to be allies.”

They’re facing off now, too close for even a heated conversation. Scott’s eyes flash before he can quite contain it, and Derek feels the finger at his sternum pop a claw.

“You’d better hope we don’t end up aligned against one another,” Derek says evenly. “You’re an untried pup, in over his head. You fell into your Alpha status through pure luck and-”

“I’d rather be lucky than have killed my own uncle for power,” Scott interrupts.

Derek’s clawed swipe slams into Scott’s face almost before he knows what he’s doing. Genuine shock flashes across Scott's face as the four cuts heal over, and then he shoves Derek back with a yell of rage, all ten claws stabbing into his chest.

Derek stumbles back into a fighting stance and spins into a kick, catching Scott in the ribs. Scott ducks under the next punch and slashes at Derek’s side in revenge. It’s a petty, vicious fight. Each of them can easily draw blood, but as a pair they’re too evenly matched for the battle to end in anything but a draw. Neither of them wants that, not yet.

A sharp, slow clapping finally jerks both of them to a halt. “Oh, bravo, bravo!” Stiles’ voice rings out from above them, delighted. “I've always wanted to see a dogfight.” They turn to see him drop down from the overpass onto a pile of rubble, then to the street, sticking the landings in a way that makes Derek’s knees ache in sympathy.

The demon’s wearing a gleeful expression, irresistibly drawn to the chaos promised by their alliance breaking. Derek watches him approach, wary. It looks like Stiles, but different in so many small ways. He’s sickly pale, with bruised eyes and cracked lips, and his movements are all wrong. It kills Derek inside to see him and yet not, at the same time.

“Hi there, puppy,” the demon says, acknowledging Derek’s silent stare. “Taking me up on my offer to play?”

He twists his hand and a thread of black smoke snaps into being a sword. Derek flinches despite himself.

Stiles - no, the Nogitsune - laps up the reaction, and steps forward, but then he stumbles. A pair of silver lead line sprout from two delicate shafts embedded in his side. It’s a taser, jury rigged by Danny to deliver twice as much electricity as should be needed to bring down someone Stiles’ size. Allison had been following them with her father and the sheriff, waiting for this chance.

Stiles’ nostrils flare as the power arcs through him, and his muscles are tense. Only, he doesn’t go down. He grabs the leads and pulls them free. The metal shafts make a pathetically small noise when he tosses them to the ground. Derek hears Scott curse under his breath.

Stiles shakes himself, then bares his teeth in a triumphant grin. “What, you actually thought you fooled me with your little act? C’mon guys, it’s the exact same trick you pulled on the last big bad. Can't out-fox the fox with something that unimaginative.”

“We got you to come out, didn’t we?” Derek says.

The demon taps a finger playfully to his temple. “True. But how’s this for a twist: you think you're faking the chaos to get to me where you want me, but it’s the other way around. I’m getting into your heads. You wolves over here are never going to risk killing poor, sweet Stiles.” He nods to Scott and Derek. ”And you're not going to risk me hurting anyone else,” he adds, nodding at the humans across the way. “Recipe for some juicy conflict, if you ask me.”

“We're all on the same page,” the sheriff says, stepping forward from behind Chris with the cuffs they’d hoped to use still in his hand. “Nobody’s getting hurt, including my s-”

“You’re not on the same page,” Stiles snaps over him. “You’re not even reading from the same book. The only thing you have in common is that you’re all here to watch each other die.”

Chris pulls out his gun, snaps off the safety.

The Nogitsune twitches at the sound and then it shudders, seeming to fight with itself. It looks up and Stiles’ face is open and confused. “What…” he breathes. “Chris, why are you… Dad? Dad, it’s me, please…”

“It’s okay, son,” the sheriff says quickly, putting a calming hand on Chris’ shoulder. “We’re not going to do anything hasty.”

“That’s not Stiles,” Scott says woodenly.

The Nogitsune drops the act and lolls its head in mock frustration. “Oh, come on, I might as well be. Got better insight to who he was than all of you, at least. You probably didn’t know that he hated playing catch, for example,” he tells the sheriff conversationally. “He did. He’d go out in the yard and play along because it was better than seeing you stinking drunk, but he fucking hated every second. Too bad it was your soulmate who bit the dust, huh? Stiles would have switched you for her in a hot second, if he could have.”

“He’s just saying whatever he can to cause us pain,” Derek says. “Reacting makes him stronger. Don’t believe him.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Stiles’ mouth smirks. “Why bother, when there’s so much good stuff I can use up in here? Right after the first time he fucked you, he said he hated you. Remember? You’re kidding yourself if you think that ever changed.” He pauses, looks thoughtful. “Also, that pitchy whining thing you do when you come?” He pauses for a quick, humiliating impression. “Not cute.”

Derek looks away, flushing with shame, avoiding Scott’s concerned look. But rather than digging in, the Nogitsune’s attention rolls off of him like oil from water, to the other Alpha. “And you, what are you even doing bringing your soulmate here? How much you wanna bet I can kill her? Me or my Oni. I mean, it’s insane how one little wound can finish one of these humans off, you know? With medical care being what it is these days…? She’ll wish she died quick and easy. Personally, I’ve got my fingers crossed for sepsis.”

Blood drains from Scott’s face, even though Allison has always been the farthest thing from weak. Derek does his best to ignore the demon’s taunts. Instead he searches for differences in Stiles’ face, in his scent. The latter has started to take on the barest edge of musty wrongness, but only if Derek forces himself to find it. How can he seem so normal with something so horrific wormed inside him?

But the Nogitsune has tired of his own monologue. He makes a sharp gesture and the nine Oni manifest out of pillars of smoke, in a circle around Allison, Chris and the sheriff. Allison grabs her fighting daggers, while both the men grab their guns. But none of them are truly equipped to take on supernatural assailants in close quarters.

Scott runs across the lot, shifting to intercept one of the Oni just as it draws back its katana to attack. He tackles the creature to the ground with a roar, and Allison takes down another with her knives, freeing up enough space to get out her bow. Derek wants to join them, but holds himself back. The Nogitsune is counting on them acting from emotion, but the humans were going to text an alert to all the other patrols if they found the Nogitsune. Backup is coming, and soon.

Meanwhile, the Nogitsune seems occupied with watching the fight, drinking up the terror of the humans and Alpha. Derek takes his chance.

He actually gets an arm around Stiles’ chest, nearly pinning him, before Stiles’ body twists out of his grasp. Unforgiving fingers clamp around his shoulder and Derek is thrown aside as easily as if he weighed nothing, skidding and tumbling across the rough asphalt.

Derek hisses in pain, pushing himself off the ground as his road-burned skin scabs over and heals. He turns back to the fight only to see Chris leveling his gun directly at Stiles’ head.

No, Derek thinks, the air suddenly catching icy in his lungs.

The sheriff has the same thought, and reaches out to quickly shove the gun aside, sending the bullet into a nearby pillar. The Nogitsune laughs, even as Lydia and Jackson come running around the corner, with Boyd and Erica right behind. The wolves are all shifted and ready to attack, and they start to run for the Oni even as Lydia, clutching the brick wall beside her, screams, “Allison!”

Everyone had been distracted by Chris and the sheriff’s scuffle, Scott included, but now they look back to where Allison is surrounded by the sword-wielding creatures. One of them has its katana leveled at her stomach and though she tries to twist out of the weapons’ path it thrusts forward into her side. Lydia screams again, and Scott just barely catches his mate as she collapses.

“Well, puppy, looks like it’s play time for us after all,” the Nogitsune says, dragging its eyes away from the scene across the way and advancing on Derek.

Derek shuffles back, swallowing hard. He’s cut off from any route to the pack, being backed into a concrete pillar. The rest of his allies are oblivious, crowded around Allison and Scott’s hunched forms, defending them from the Oni. The sheriff’s already on the phone, for Melissa no doubt, and he isn’t paying attention to the Nogitsune in that moment either. Derek is isolated and outmatched. Even if he had the strength, he’s not entirely sure he could win this fight, not when his enemy is hiding in Stiles’ body.

“Now where were we?” Stiles taps his pouting lower lip and then pauses to smirk. “Oh, that’s right. Here.” A sword forms in his hand again.

“Stiles,” Derek tries, stepping back. “Stiles, you don’t want to do this.”

“You’re right,” the Nogitsune. “He’s screaming for me to stop, you know that? But unfortunately for you both, the spark’s not in the driver’s seat anymore. Sorry, puppy.”

Derek tries to throw himself to the side fast enough to miss the blade, but he doesn’t stand any better chance than Allison did. The Nogitsune is faster by far, and Derek is pinned against the concrete pillar like a butterfly on a board. He grunts, twisting his face to keep from reacting any more than he has to. The pain is what the Nogitsune feeds on.

“C’mon, baby,” Stiles’ face leers, grinding the blade into Derek as he brings his face close. “Scream for me.”

It wasn’t supposed to go like this, but at this point there’s no choice. Derek blinks his eyes open, flashing red as he shifts and darts his hand up to Stiles’ neck, plunging four claws in between the vulnerable knobs of his spine.

 


 

 

“We can’t be sure that will even slow him down,” Chris snaps at Danny, gesturing dismissively at the taser their tech wizard just offered up. They’ve only just come back from Deaton’s, and everyone is still reeling with what they learned. “We need a solution that we’re sure of, now.”

“Like what, killing him?” Derek snarls.

Chris turns to him, arms crossed. “If we need to.”

“Nobody’s killing anyone,” Scott says, loud enough to cover Derek’s audible growl.

“Today was the second time he’s gone after Derek,” Cora muses, attention drawn inward. “Why is that? Why would he focus on taking him down?”

Jackson shrugs. “He's the strongest?”

“Scott’s just as strong, and Scott's his Alpha,” Boyd points out.

“It doesn't make sense,” Isaac agrees

“Unless Derek's a bigger threat, somehow,” Cora realizes. “Unless... What if he's Stiles’ mate? What if he’s the person who can pull Stiles’ back?”

Everyone turns to look, different levels of disbelief on their faces.

“Derek?” Scott asks.

He opens his mouth to scoff, and then hesitates. He’d thought so himself, once. In fact, the reason he’d convinced himself otherwise was the lack of mark, which only lines up better with what he knows now. It’s a perfect answer, one that seems to make too much sense to be wrong. Then again, he wants it to be true so badly that he might be lying to himself.

“I do feel strongly for him,” he admits thickly. “And it's strange that my mark never came in for anyone else…” He breaks off, reaching over his own shoulder to touch the top spiral of the tattoo he’d gotten five years ago. “But even if it is- was me, there’s no connection anymore. Deaton explained that the sacrifice is irreversible. There’s nothing I can do for him, now.”

“Fuck Deaton,” Scott says. “I don’t believe a soulmate bond is something you can lose so easily. If that connection existed between you, then a part of that bond is still there. Maybe not as a mark that will lead you to one another, but that doesn’t matter. You already found each other, didn’t you? That’s fate. I know you can save him.”

“How, though?” Jackson asks. “I mean, if Derek was going to bring Stiles back to himself, wouldn’t it have happened when the Nogitsune tried to fucking slice him in half at the vault? I bet Derek was trying pretty hard to get through to him then.”

“But Stiles hasn’t always been aware of what the demon is doing. Remember the power plant? None of you heard his heartbeat skip when he claimed he was never there, even though the Nogitsune obviously was. He really didn’t know. Things that happen out here don’t touch him unless the Nogitsune wants them to. So, yeah, he didn’t hear Derek when the Nogitsune tried to kill him. And he’ll never hear Scott’s Alpha roar to call him back to himself. But what if...what if one of them was in his head, too? Maybe they could get Stiles to take back control.”

Everyone turns to Isaac, surprised at the sudden monologue.

He shrugs, a little shy under all the attention. “I mean, an Alpha can access their beta’s memories, right? Hotwire into their mind with their claws? Cora’s showed me books about the old wolf traditions. I remember reading that.”

“I’m not his Alpha,” Derek argues.

“But you are an Alpha,” Scott says, determined. “It might work. I have my Alpha roar, you have your bond. Once the taser brings him down, we can use this ritual to get into his mind together and reach the real Stiles. Fix this for good.”

Derek nods, hesitant.

They send Isaac to the vault with Cora to find the books detailing the ritual, while Lydia and Jackson formulate a plan to draw the Nogitsune out. They agree that by having the two packs act as if they’re at one another’s throats, they can create the chaos that the Nogitsune feeds on, and draw him out. They select pairs who will stage a fight - Jackson and Erica, Scott and Derek - while another group waits ready in the shadows to use one of Danny’s tasers to subdue Stiles - Allison with Chris and the sheriff, and Lydia with Boyd and Malia.

“So, the ritual starts when your Alpha claws enter Stiles’ spine,” Isaac says, double checking some details in the book he and Cora had reviewed and brought back to the bunker. “When you first wake up in his dreamspace, there will be some vision of restraint. The mind’s defenses. Break free of those restraints and you’ll find a door. Now, this part isn’t very clear, but you’ll need to keep working your way through Stiles’ memories and fears. Just keep moving to the next space through doors, passageways, things like that. Eventually you’ll get to the center of his consciousness, a place where you see the representation of his ‘self,’ or ego. Since he’s possessed, he’ll be trapped playing some kind of game or focused on a task that the Nogitsune has set up to distract him. If you break his concentration from that, it should break the demon’s control too, and enable Stiles to cast it out.”

“Sounds easy,” Erica says, half a joke. Boyd nudges her, smiles encouragingly.

“It’s a plan,” Scott says. “We’ll go tomorrow, before he has a chance to do any more damage.”

The Hale pack agrees to say at the McCall bunker so they can get an early start. Isaac and Cora follow Malia, Erica and Boyd up to the unused rooms on the third floor. Derek lingers in the saloon with Scott, sketching out an argument for the following day.

“Just, you have to know that I won’t mean it,” Scott insists after tentatively suggesting he might bring up their different leadership styles. “Whatever I say…”

“I can handle,” Derek interrupts, irritated. “The important part is making it seem real. Don’t be scared to hurt my feelings.”

Scott nods, glumly, and they lapse into silence. The ritual Isaac found is dangerous in itself, a true hail Mary effort. And more than that… if Derek’s the one who tries to pull Stiles back, the spark’s life will depend on their connection. They’ve barely even spoken for nearly a month. How can he presume to be the person Stiles will fight off a demon for?

“Look, we both know this might not go according to plan,” Derek says lowly.

Scott looks at him, a weary tension in his eyes showing that he’s thought the same thing, despite the optimistic face he’s put up for the pack.

“If Danny’s taser doesn’t work, or anything else goes wrong, we might need to do the ritual on the fly. Only one of us will have a shot, and it should be you.”

“Derek…”

“We already know that you’re his Alpha and his best friend, that’s the connection we should trust. I’ll do my best to help you get into position, but you have to be the one who enters his mind. There’s no way to know if there’s anything left of our connection as mates, if it was even supposed to be me in the first place. It’s not certain, not like your pack bond.”

Scott sighs. “Alright, I’ll go. But for now, we should get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?” Derek nods tensely, and Scott gives him an understanding smile. “Hey. We’ll get him back.”

They part ways in the hall, Scott going to be with Allison while Derek heads up to his unfamiliar, stale-smelling room. He sleeps poorly on the rough sheets, drifting between troubled dreams and troubled waking. Morning comes too soon, dawning with an insistent light that bleeds through the cracks of the boarded windows. The others begin to rise, and the noise of their preparations is perfectly audible through the walls. Derek feels unsettled in his skin, eager to go and yet afraid of what they’ll find. Of the chance that they might still fail.

“Ready?” Scott says, waiting in the doorway to the outside. Derek is struck again with the enormity of their plan’s consequences, succeed or fail.

“Do you think Stiles knew? That it would have been me?” Derek asks Scott softly.

Scott hesitates. “I think some part of him did. He put your name on the king, remember? That was a warning. Some part of him knew.”

“Then why didn't he tell me?”

Scott smiles, clapping Derek’s shoulder with an easy confidence. “You can ask him yourself, once we save him.”

 


 

 

Derek groans awake to another reality with the sense memory of Stiles’ delicate skin breaking under his claws. He’s in the McCalls’ bunker, again, down in the basement he had seen just once while he was helping Jackson. Only - no, this isn’t the basement. It’s a nightmare version of it, larger and darker than the reality.

That bizarre realization is enough of a distraction that it takes him another moment to realize that he’s shackled to the wall, like a newly turned wolf who can’t be trusted on the full moon. Stiles’ mind’s defense. Derek rattles the chains, wincing as he jostles the screws in his skull. The itchy feeling of his healing being triggered crawls under his skin, along with the first bit of panic setting in. Who knows by what dream-logic these restraints operate? Who knows what’s happening in the real world, how much time he has?

“We’re trying to help him, Derek,” Scott had said, when he’d questioned Isaac’s confidence in them moving past this part so quickly. “If the restraints are a defense against being hurt, we’re going to pass that test. Stiles will want us to.”

Derek feels like that’s a bit too convenient, but he strains against the metal binds. Sure enough, the chain snaps free from the wall. He unscrews the device holding his head, the bolts seeming to leap eagerly into his palm. Once he’s free, though, he still feels like his healing is being triggered, working at fixing something even though there are no open wounds. Derek shrugs that off. Maybe it’s a crossed wire from being in Stiles’ mind, or a holdover from his physical form. No time to focus on that. He has one challenge down, yes, but who knows now many to go.

The one door he can find should only lead to a water heater, but instead it opens up into a version of the Hale family vault. Like the basement, this vault is larger than its real counterpart, the few shelves that exist in reality fractured and reflected into a veritable labyrinth. There aren’t any doors visible.

Derek’s nostrils flare as he catches a wafting hint of foul-smelling air. Something musty, like old bandages. He turns quickly towards the source and sees a flicker of movement between shelves.

He edges forwards towards the intersection where he’d seen movement, then ducks quickly around it. Once more he manages to catch a glimpse - barely an impression - of a hunching dark shape shuffling away. He hisses in frustration.

“Who’s...” he gets out, before the monster pounces down onto him with a barking laugh.

He gets out half a curse before he’s rolling to the ground with his assailant. How could he not have realized that Nogitsune could have a presence here, same as Stiles does? As they fight Derek finally has a glimpse of how Stiles sees the demon, and it doesn’t look at all like the man himself. It’s a beefier figure, all wrapped in bandages under its old-fashioned clothes - except for a gaping slice of a mouth, full of pointy fox teeth. Derek struggles against the thing, viciously proud when he starts to overcome it. He even rolls them over and pins the demon to the floor with a snarl. Only then he remembers - winning here would mean nothing. He pulls them both up and braces his stance to throw the monster away from him. A quick look around from this spot shows him a door hidden in between two crooked shelves, and he strides through it before the Nogitsune can attack again.

He finds himself in his own loft, the first space that seems accurately represented. He doesn’t let himself dwell too long on why this one place feels light and airy, bright the way neither the vault nor the basement had been. He puts a hand on the bed and finds the sheets warm. The touch seems to awaken Stiles’ scent in the room, and Derek’s eyes slip shut as he’s drawn into a vivid memory of the last time he’d had Stiles here.

He pushes away from the bed with a gasp. This is a trap as much as the pointless battle in the vault had been. Stiles’ ego isn’t here, and Derek can’t afford to wait around. He forces himself down the spiral staircase.

Then he’s in the preserve, a nightmare again, until he crawls down into the Nemeton’s cellar doors. Those lead somehow to the remains of his family home, and he finds himself standing in the very room where they’d first met. He grits his teeth. It doesn’t seem like he’s getting anywhere at all. Isaac hadn’t had any useful advice about this. Where is Stiles' true self? Derek needs to find him, not another useless dream-memory.

He forces his way through a gap in the fire-eaten walls, determined, and stumbles into bright, open air. Derek gapes around at the new scene, a carnival version of the street in front of the McCall’s den. It's all washed-out dun colors and hazy dust in the air. The buildings are as flat as cardboard cutouts. And there, way down the long road, is Stiles.

He’s standing at the ready, fingers clutched around the bat hanging by his side. The Nogitsune, or a version of it, is waiting even farther down the street. The thing’s legs are spread in a fighter’s stance, and it's staring Stiles down like a duelist from too far away to strike. It seems like any second the tense standoff will turn into a shootout, but it never does. Never will. This is the game, the false task that’s trapped Stiles’ consciousness inside his own brain.

“Stiles!” Derek slips into his shift for speed and runs, his feet sending little puffs of dust into the air.

Only he’s not making any progress. He’s sprinting, hard enough he’s out of breath, but Stiles is as far away as the second he’d gotten here. Derek can’t get close enough to shout at him, much less touch. Though he tries.

Finally he stumbles to a halt, lungs and eyes burning. Has to do this. Has to. But… he can’t. This is why Scott was supposed to be the one to do this. Scott has his Alpha roar, Scott has known Stiles since they were children. What does Derek have? Nothing. He closes his eyes and can’t stop himself from thinking about what they’d be losing in Stiles: his intelligence, his grim humor, his loyalty and strength. His laughter.

It’s unacceptable to give up and leave him like this. But instead of physically running around like an idiot, he needs do something that will change the dreamstate keeping him away from Stiles. Maybe there’s some trick to close the distance.

Derek reaches out with his own thoughts, trying to draw near to the man waiting far in front of him. He’s not sure what he’s doing except that he’s hoping against hope for a miracle. For a moment of grace that will reward the value of all that Stiles has given up for his pack, the value that Derek sees in him.

Derek’s chest starts to itch, like a scab flaking. He winces, bringing a clawed hand up to scratch, and realizes there are lights arcing under his skin. Like Stiles’ spark; like a mating mark. He feels it course over his brow, around his fanged mouth, and then… he gasps and pulls his shirt aside to see a glowing symbol flicker to life on his chest, a sickly swirl of light that grows stronger and stronger until the white shape beams through Derek’s shirt even when he lets the fabric slip back to cover it.

Of course. Inside of Stiles’ mind, there’s no distance between them, no connecting thread to sever. It’s true, after all. He should have known from the second he saw him, should have recognized the real reason for all the restless need that he’d misidentified as anger. But now he’s finally sure: he was meant for Stiles, and nothing can take that away. He loves him. He has for such a long time, but now he’s allowed to believe in it.

At that moment Stiles, standing tense and ready in front of him, goes slack. His head dips as he looks down, and then he twists to looks back at Derek, mouth falling open, breaking the connection to the Nogitsune’s game.

“Stiles,” Derek whispers, but before he can say it louder his vision blacks out from the edges in and -

- his back hits something hard and rough. He blinks away the brightness of the real sun shining between the on ramp’s support pillars, and turns to see Stiles’ frail body convulsing beside him.

 


 

 

Derek’s gut has healed, with the sword disappeared back to smoke, but he still feels kitten-weak. Stiles is in a worse state, though. Derek scrambles to his knees and turns him over so he doesn’t choke. The awful dry heaves turn into him vomiting out blackened bandages, ones that smell intensely of the Nogitsune. Horrified, Derek tries to help as he can, steadying Stiles as he pulls the fabric from his own throat. Finally, Stiles’ body expels the last of it, and he goes slack with relief. Derek lets him sit back to gulp huge breaths of air. He looks over to where Allison had fallen, and sees that the Oni have vanished. How long has it been? Melissa is just arriving with Malia, Erica and Boyd, and she’s going to kneel with Scott over Allison.

“Over here,” Derek cries roughly, waving a hand for his pack’s attention.

The pile of foul smelling rags Stiles had vomited up shuffles. Derek’s head snaps to look as a damp, bandaged hand reaches out, followed by a head and shoulders. It's a whole other body crawling out of the discards.

Malia is already there, claws at the ready to slit the creation’s throat.

“No!” Derek barks, using his full Alpha authority. Malia freezes, eyes wide. “Just... wait,” Derek says, softer. He doesn’t know why he’d reacted so strongly.

Erica comes around Malia and takes the creation’s blundering hands by the wrists. She uses her free hand to push the bandages covering its face aside; underneath them is Stiles. A perfect duplicate.

“What the…” the sheriff breathes, having come over to his saved son only to find this impossible scene instead.

“Bite them both, Derek,” Cora says. “One will ash, one will be a wolf. Problem solved.”

“Derek!” the first Stiles cries, his voice rough from coughing up the huge pile of fabric. “Don’t, please don’t. I’m the real me, just… bite him first, fuck. I just wanna be myself, I don’t want... please don’t do that to me.”

Derek looks at him, groping for the new creation’s wrist. He pulls the Stiles that had come from the rags towards him, keeping his eyes on the Stiles who's still kneeling a pace away with relief starting to paint his features.

“That’s the Nogitsune,” he growls, jerking his chin at the one who’d begged to be saved, even knowing hesitation would endanger his friends. “Pin him.”

Cora goes to do as he’d asked, but the Nogitsune grabs her by the neck and puts her between himself and Malia’s claws. His hand around her throat is so tight his knuckles are white, and for all her clawing he doesn’t as much as flinch.

“Smart doggie,” he snips at Derek, through a humorless snarl. “But I’m not done, yet. You really think you can kill me? I am a thousand years old!”

Derek stands with the real Stiles, letting the sheriff take his son’s arm so he’s free to save his sister. Just as he’s tensing to run at the pair, though, a syringe stabs down into the Nogitsune’s neck. A dark thumb presses down hard on the plunger, sending a full dose of liquid into the demon’s veins.

The Nogitsune half turns its head, a jerky gesture that ends with a strange, dry twitching. Deep rifts appear in his suddenly ashen skin, draining what little color had been left to him, and he crumbles into dust between one breath and the next. Cora gasps, toppling to her knees with a hand to her throat. Deaton stands where the Nogitsune had been, looking down at the sorry pile of dust with an unreadable expression.

“Deaton?” Scott calls. Nobody can quite believe the Druid risked his own neck to help anyone else.

The man himself seems to understand their disbelief, from his wry smile. “Some of us remember the old rules,” he says. “The balance is kept.” He spares one level look at Derek, and then he walks away, towards his office.

“Dad,” Stiles says, muffled into the sheriff’s shoulder. "What’s… fuck, what’s been happening? I...is everyone okay?”

“We’re going to be, son,” the sheriff says, clutching Stiles tightly to his chest. “Yeah, it’ll be okay. Don’t worry.” He leans back to give him a big smile.

Stiles returns it, halfway, and then glances back towards Derek.

Derek walks over, wanting to hug him, too. His face is so vulnerable and open; he’s still the snarky unrepentant man he'd loved for so long, but all his sharp-edged walls have come tumbling down to reveal the core of him. It’s beautiful, despite the awful circumstances.

They look at each other for a long moment, and Derek can almost see Stiles reconstructing the moment the Nogitsune’s hold had broken. The moment their marks had lit up the only way they ever will, in a dream.

“Did you know?” Derek asks. “That I was your mate?”

Stiles nods, but rather than sharing Derek’s tentative joy he looks miserable. His gaze drops to the ground, avoiding Derek’s face. “I figured it out, yeah.”

“Stiles!” Scott yells. He’s standing now, but clearly torn between his best friend and Allison. Erica’s there draining her pain, and Lydia is stroking her hair and keeping her alert as Melissa works to staunch the bleeding well enough to transport her somewhere sterile, with needles and thread.

“Scott,” Stiles says with a small but honest smile, clearly eager to turn his attention from Derek. “Wait, Allison, fuck. Is she…?”

“Mom says she’ll be okay, but we need to get her back to the bunker, now. Chris already went ahead to prep the operating table.”

Melissa stands up, instructing Boyd and Jackson to lift Allison as gently as they can and carry her over to where the sheriff’s cruiser is parked.

“We need to go, but I’ll let you know when she’s stable,” Scott tells Derek. “The fact we made it at all is because of what you did. You and Deaton. Thank you.”

Derek nods.

Stiles looks back at him, too, but not like he wants to stay. It’s a look that speaks of regret and obligation. He wants to leave, only he feels like he shouldn’t.

“Go,” Derek encourages, tipping his chin towards the car. Of course Stiles needs time to digest everything that had happened that day, everything with the Nogitsune. For Derek, the revelation that they were - should have been? - mates was still new and shocking, but for Stiles it was clearly familiar. Familiar, and not the source of reassuring joy Derek had found it to be.

The McCalls leave, and Derek’s pack gathers around him, scenting each other after the day’s strain. Cora and Malia are especially clingy, sharing Derek’s fear of losing any more family. Derek nuzzles both of them, runs his hands over Erica and Boyd, lets Isaac drape himself over Cora so they’re sandwiching her in a hug. As an Alpha, he needs to see to his own pack as much as Stiles needs to process the fight and what had happened before it in his own time.

It shouldn’t be surprising that they didn’t fall into a passionate embrace right over the ashes of Stiles’ tormenter. Yet somehow, it is.

 


 

 

“Hi,” Derek says, nine days later. It’s been long enough that he’s surprised to see Stiles in his bedroom, looking better than he had a week ago - some color in his cheeks, hair freshly washed. It’s a relief. Scott had let them know when Allison stabilized, but there hasn’t been time for any visiting. Both packs have had healing to do on their own. Apparently. Derek has tried not to push.

“Hi. Sorry. Cora let me in,” Stiles says, haltingly.

“No, that’s not…” Derek cuts himself off with a huff. How is it that they’re so awkward around each other now, when it should be so much simpler? He sets his shoulders, takes a deep breath, tries again. “It’s fine. Are you alright?”

“Peachy,” Stiles lies. He’s pacing in a wide circle, peering around the high-ceilinged room like he’s taking stock of things, looking everywhere except at Derek.

“You don’t have to be here if you’re not… if you don’t want to be,” Derek offers. Nine days has been just enough time for him to start coming up with his own convoluted theories to explain the absence: Stiles had given the mark up happily, wanting to be unencumbered. Stiles had known his soulmate was a wolf, and had given it up to avoid the pressure to accept the bite. Stiles had longed to undo the sacrifice until he realized it was only Derek on the other side of the bond, at which point he’d wanted to keep it a secret.

Stiles’ face scrunches inscrutably at Derek’s offer. “Yeah, I kind of do. You’re the last stop on my big apology tour.” There’s a hint of a dark-humored smirk playing around his mouth.

“Apology tour?”

Stiles sighs, and finally faces Derek head on. “I’m sorry that… that I ruined everything.”

“What did you ruin?” Derek asks, carefully.

“Everything,” Stiles snaps. “Us. I sold our connection, our bond, I gave you up for a nice perk with my magic. I only cared about getting more power, and you’re the one who suffered for that. You wasted years thinking… thinking it was something wrong with you. Now I guess you know what really happened, but you’re still stuck with just me. Halfway. You don’t even get a real bond, and what’s on the other end is broken too. You should have someone amazing and instead you get this, this fucking mass mur-”

Derek stops him the only way he knows how, with a kiss. He’s too overwhelmed to come up with the words to argue against something so completely wrong.

When he pulls back, after longer than he’d meant, Stiles just blinks at him, stunned, mouth hanging a little open in surprise.

“You’re not a killer because the Nogitsune used you to hurt people,” Derek says, the words finally coming. “Stop saying that. And you’re not some power-hungry Darach, sacrificing other people to feed on their power. You gave up your own mark to keep your pack safe, you did the only thing you knew how to do when were just sixteen, Stiles. Sixteen. You know what I was doing at sixteen? I was letting myself get seduced by a hunter who used me to get to my whole family and murder them. I’m no saint. Fuck, nobody in this world is. Don’t act like what you did was the worst possible sin. It wasn’t. Giving up your bond isn’t something you need to apologize for.”

“Yes, it is,” Stiles argues loudly, recovering from the shock of Derek’s admission about Kate. “It wasn’t just mine, it was ours. I knew what I was doing, but you never had the chance to choose, and those years without knowing… it matters to you. Mating is a huge deal for wolves in general, and even more for you specifically. And I ruined that! You never get to have that because of me.”

“But I still have you.” Derek’s teeth clack shut and he’s suddenly terrified, unsure if what he’d blurted out is true. They’re mates, yes, but not bonded. It’s uncharted territory. Tentatively he asks, “Don’t I? The bond… fine, we don’t get that. But you never changed who we are. Stiles, You're mine with or without the stupid marks. You’re it for me.”

Stiles’ eyes are bright and he turns away with half a laugh. “How is that not the saddest sentence you’ve ever said in your life?”

“How can you not see how wrong you are about yourself?” Stiles’ eyes glance back, half hopeful, and Derek gathers him up again, cradling his face in his hands, reveling in the small miracle that he is, once more, only himself. No demons, except the ones he carries with him. “Let yourself trust me on this. You’re mine, Stiles, my mate. Perfect in every way, including this.”

Stiles relaxes into the touch with a look on his face like doing so pains him, but then he’s the one to lean forward and initiate a kiss, and the one after that.

They’re both of them hungry for it, their bodies remembering how to fall together and find pleasure. It’s familiar and yet strange, a more questioning thing than the blunt passion of their previous encounters. When they kiss now, it’s with the knowledge that there’s more behind it than a release of tension. There’s love. Or, Derek chides himself, at least the potential for it.

Stiles gasps into Derek’s mouth, a shaky intimate breath, and his hands are fisted tight in Derek’s shirt. He opens his eyes, gaze searching, and Derek hopes that he can see how the exact same wondering relief is being reflected back at him. He hopes that Stiles can trust that, for Derek, he’s not damaged by anything that happened. He truly is perfect, and Derek wants everything he’s ready to give.

Then, he feels a warm glow spark deep in his chest. From the sudden surprise on Stiles’ face, they both feel it.

“Oh,” Stiles gasps, looking at Derek’s forming mark rather than down as his own, same as Derek is looking at Stiles’. They can both feel the tug of connection, the rock solid certainty that the two symbols match. “The triskele,” he says, soft and almost reverent. “Like in my dream.”

It’s true. Their mark is the one Derek had felt burn on his chest for a second five years ago, the one he’d half remembered and had tattooed on his back out of some uncertain sense of faith. Stiles’ fingers brush across the mark lightly, as if he’s worried it might wipe away. “When I first saw your tattoo, I thought that I recognized it.”

Derek tucks him close and rubs his cheek into his hair, mingling their scents. Stiles’ breath is hot across his pulsepoint, unsteady but deep. They’ll both need time to heal, Derek knows that. The things that have happened to them aren’t things that go away overnight. But Stiles is himself again, he’s safe in Derek’s arms, and miraculously they’ve reformed their bond. He knows that given time, the rest will fall in place.

 


 

 Epilogue

 

To be honest, Stiles isn’t entirely sure how all this happened.

The bunker’s basement has three unmatched couches, now, and a TV Jackson wheedled his parents into sending from the Silicon Valley. The place has turned into a real den, like out of the times before, rather than a holding cell for newly bitten wolves. As of today, Danny's even got cable spliced off a feed from San Francisco, and all of the younger betas from both packs are gathered for a movie night to celebrate. With popcorn, no less.

As always, Boyd and Erica have claimed first place in the PDA competition, with Allison and Scott an adorable second. Jackson and Lydia are lounging against each other like something out of a photoshoot, and Cora’s got her feet in Isaac’s lap as if it’s no big deal that he’s massaging her arches, even though anyone who looked at her for a second could tell that she's living for the attention. It’s kind of funny how much of the couples’ relationships can be read in their postures. And what, Stiles wonders, does that say about his own situation?

“You wouldn’t fucking dare,” Derek snarls, clutching the bowl of popcorn to his chest even as he braces his stance.

“You heard Scott, that there was a genuine challenge! I’ve gotta do it.”

“Stiles…!”

He takes running start from over by the stairs, and then leaps at Derek, who does, in fact, drop the bowl of popcorn to catch him. They both topple back onto the couch, bouncing Erica and Boyd on the other end.

“I hate you,” Derek huffs, gazing mournfully at his spilled snack.

“Nu-uh, you love me. More than popcorn, apparently,” Stiles informs him smugly, picking a kernel off his shirt and popping it into his own mouth.

Derek grunts sourly in his ear, but Stiles can tell that it’s just for show. Their marks have been consummated for almost half a year, but it’s still a thrill to find the proof of their connection. He’s not sure he'll ever be used to how natural it feels to be around one another like this, teasing and cuddling. Each time Derek kisses him just to say hello, it feels like a private gift.

It goes beyond that, as well. He can tell that Derek is more settled for having their bond. It’s clear to all of them how he uses patient humor to manage his pack rather than giving into the lashing anxiety that had driven him in his first months as an Alpha. Stiles feels more settled, himself. Getting used to the new limits of his power is challenging, but he's beginning to trust how his fears can be balanced by Derek’s assurances. It's like sitting in a familiar, wobbly chair that’s suddenly been leveled.

The two of them aren't the only ones thriving. With Allison fully recovered, Scott’s pack is even stronger than before. So much so, in fact, that they’ve grown their network of allies to include the Yukimuras to the East, and Satomi's pack up North. The Hales are still the pack most closely aligned with Scott’s, not least since Stiles is, in a way, both of theirs. Yet as they share skills and knowledge with each other, it’s become easier and easier to keep order in their respective territories and to anticipate threats. Even to share resources in times of need. The world is undeniably improving, out here, thanks to Scott’s philosophy of collaboration.

It’s an optimism that, of course, has its foundations built on their ability to defend those ideals with force. Derek suspects that their growing strength will eventually threaten the Silicone Valley Collective, and the more purist supernatural gangs like Deucalion’s that still roam the no man’s lands to the Northeast. Scott denies the plausibility of such looming threats, but Stiles agrees with his mate. Well, Scott can be as optimistic as he wants. Stiles and Derek can plan for any awful contingency and let him be the idealist. For now, it’s enough that they’re safe.

“So, what’re we watching?” Stiles asks, sliding off of Derek's lap into a more comfortable position. They’re at the mercy of what’s being broadcast from the corporate stronghold, so the film choices are rather limited.

“The Magnificent Seven,” Danny says through a smile. He’s been buzzing with near-manic glee ever since his mark presented a few weeks ago. Stiles is less sure. Danny had a crush on Jackson before Lydia had been around to calm the worst of his jackass tendencies, so who knows what kind of asshole is being drawn into the pack as they speak.

The movie is in black and white, and a bit slow for Stiles tastes. Derek is rapt. Stiles tries, for his sake, to limit his squirming and commentary, but there’s only so much a man can do.

On screen, heroic sacrifices are being made, with a stoic clench of a jaw. “Look, it’s you,” Stiles croons teasingly at Derek.

“Too scrawny,” Derek stage-whispers back. “It’s you.”

“Please, scrawny? You know I could take you in a fight.”

“Oh, sure. A food fight maybe.” He flicks a loose kernel at Stiles’ cheek.

“Please move your foreplay somewhere else,” Cora sniffs.

“Sold!” Stiles crows, grabbing Derek’s hand and dragging him up the stairs. He only gets half a glimpse of Cora’s horrified expression before they’re on the main level. Then they’re up to the second floor hall, stumbling over each other’s feet to make it to the bed first.

The room still smells like sex from that morning, even to Stiles’ human nose; Derek had stayed over in anticipation of the movie night. They have an ongoing argument about whose place they should move into for good, but it lacks urgency. Derek’s has the advantage of size - California king, Stiles always ends up moaning at least once during their discussions - but Stiles’ has privacy from werewolf ears, and proximity to delicious food on the frequent mornings when Melissa and the sheriff do brunch. But bacon, is Derek’s now-familiar retort to the California king argument.

For now, having both spaces works.

Despite all of the domestic bliss they've stumbled into, there's still a healthy thread of antagonistic sexual tension. Stiles pushes Derek onto his bed, playfully demanding. He can’t keep himself from smiling into his mate’s mouth, running his hands up under his shirt to find the raised lines of his tattoo. He can feel Derek’s answering hands tracing where Stiles’ moles punctuate the broad expanse of his back. He knows Derek has each one memorized.

“I wanted to see the end of the movie,” Derek sighs.

Stiles is hardly deterred; the way his mate’s hips keep rocking into Stiles’ is undercutting his plausibility. “Tough luck,” he tosses out, moving his mouth along Derek’s jaw line and then nipping at his ear. He starts to kiss his way down to do battle with Derek’s belt and tight jeans, a fashion choice that he does love… right up until the moment he’s confronted with peeling them off. Derek lifts his his hips to help.

Petty as it might be, Stiles can't help but be a little smug that, of all the people in the world, his mate turned out to be this fucking good looking. It'll never get old, having Derek spread out under him with all those muscles so perfectly defined. Stiles hums, roving his hands through the hair on his chest and stomach, down to his thighs and up to grip his ribs.

“Stiles,” Derek whines.

“I got you,” Stiles murmurs, lowering his body to line them up, skin on skin from their shins to their mouths.

There’s no need to rush, so they don’t. They kiss almost lazily, exploring each other until the friction becomes both too much and not enough and Stiles writhes down to just get his mouth on Derek’s cock already. He loves doing it, watching Derek fall apart under his attentions like the first time they were together. It’s even easier to get him there now they know each other’s bodies so well.

He doesn’t want to finish with a blowjob, though, and Derek doesn’t either. He yanks Stiles up with a growl, back so they’re face to face, and reaches down to line Stiles’ cock up with his entrance, eyes flashing.

“Shift for me,” Stiles says, trembling just at the point of penetration.

Derek growls low and slowly lets himself change. Stiles grins down at him as he pushes his hips forward. Call it a kink, but something about this does it for him. A mix, perhaps, of knowing Derek sees it as acceptance of his wolf side, which he’s been uncertain about with other lovers given his past, and of it being a reminder of when they first met. Stiles isn’t inclined to overanalyze. It works for them, and that’s enough.

It’s warm in the room and with the exertion of fucking they’re both damp with sweat in no time, deliciously slick. Stiles tugs at the dark whorls of hair on Derek’s chest, Derek yanks him down to bury his nose in Stiles’ neck. The rhythm goes unsteady as they both get close, and Stiles adjusts his weight to free a hand to stroke Derek through the last hesitation, to send him tumbling over the edge at the exact time that Stiles loses his own control and comes hard, pulsing into Derek's tight heat.

In the afterglow, Stiles laps lazily at the sweat beaded on Derek’s neck while Derek shudders through the aftershocks. As intense as his orgasms have always been, nowadays they leave him even more trembly and overwhelmed. He puts a hand to Stiles’ head, directs his mouth down to the tender junction of his neck and shoulder. “Yeah, just…” he breathes.

Stiles smirks against the skin, but he does as he’s asked. He uses a carefully constructed spell to suppress his mate's healing, just at this spot, and Derek moans at the sharp pain-pleasure of teeth and suction. He hasn't ever told Stiles how much he loves wearing his lovebites, but Stiles knows all the same. The little bruises on his neck are more than claiming, they're the hallmark of how vulnerable Derek can allow himself to be with Stiles. Once he’s sure he’s left a good one, he pulls away and settles onto his back.

After a few long, luxurious moments he opens his eyes to see Derek propped on one elbow, gazing down at him with naked affection. Stiles reaches up and ruffles his hair. “Happy is a good look on you, you know that?” he says.

“Mm,” Derek agrees, letting his eyes drop closed like he wants to savor the image. “Same to you.” His hand moves to trace the spirals of Stiles’ mating mark, that miraculous little symbol they’d won back without any sacrifice, like a reward out of a fairy tale just for their having tried to do the right thing. Even Deaton can't quite say how it had come back.

So, it’s true, Stiles has no idea how all of this happened. He doesn't know how he ended up not only safe with his pack but also happy with Derek. He has no idea why he's bonded now despite his sacrifice, cherished despite his sins. He certainly doesn’t deserve it.

All the same, he's learning to accept miracles since he found Derek.