Chapter 1: Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane—
A few things before we jump into it: I've seen Teen Wolf seasons 1-5 and am picking and choosing what I want from it, but if you haven't seen any of the show, just know that there are werewolves and you should be fine. This is a sort-of historical AU, but I made some pretty deliberate changes. Homosexuality is totally normalized and homophobia is just not going to be a thing that exists. I don't want to deal with it, so I'm making it not a thing. Religion and sexism are also going to be way less of a thing. Lastly, some of this is just going to be plain historically inaccurate (werewolves aside), either because I didn't do enough research or decided to take a short-cut. I'm gonna try to make notes at the end addressing some of these things buuuuuuuuuuut -_- mostly I hope everybody just rolls with it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Derek hated this time of year in Alaska. The sun wasn't out enough anymore for it to be fully warm, but there hadn't been a frost hard enough yet to kill off the mosquitos either. Everything was just wet, marshy and miserable.
The sight of the burned-out husk that had once been the Hale family homestead did nothing to improve his mood. He stared out across the drive and the house seemed to stare back. The shudders over the big front windows had been ripped off and their windowpanes shattered. They stood open, dark and gaping, like unseeing eyes. What had once seemed so solid, indomitable and alive, was now warped and sagging, collapsing under its own weight. His family home felt like little more than an unclaimed corpse, bloated and rotting in the woods.
But Derek was back now. He was the only one left, and he had come back.
Derek scanned the overgrown landscaping of the yard. A raven was picking at the remains of his mother's vegetable garden. It had been far enough away from the house to have escaped the heat of the blaze, but had gone to seed after more than a year of being left untended. How quickly the wilderness reclaims its land, he thought to himself. The raven cawed forlornly, pecking through a squash bed that must have volunteered itself into existence over the summer.
He walked over to the other side of the truck and opened the cab, taking a handful of dried oats out of the sack being stored there, for lack of a better place, and scattered them across the dirt and the weeds. A raven would bring mischief and its goodwill promised never to work out exactly as one hoped or anticipated, but Derek was not in a position to turn down providence in any form. A good omen was a good omen. He tossed out another handful of oats and the raven cried approvingly, pecking over them as Derek walked in the house.
He found Isaac in what had once been the living room, clearing out debris with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. The air was thick with ash and soot and there were scorch marks along the walls and smoke stains billowed across the ceiling like clouds.
Isaac stopped for a second, pulling off the scarf he had tied around his face and looking up, ruffling his dirty blond hair. It stuck up in tufts, soft and curly, like the belly of a lamb. "I wouldn't trust the upper stories, and the kitchen looks about one hard rain away from collapsing, but this room," he banged his shovel against the floor. "There's stone in the walls and the foundation. It's solid, I think this was the original house, the rest must have been added on later."
"It was." Derek walked over to the giant stone fireplace that had once been at the heart of the house. The chimney ran straight up, through its center, like the trunk of an ancient tree. Radiating heat, it had warmed the hallways and bedrooms above. "It was built by my grandmother when she came over from Holland in 1853. As the family got bigger, they expanded around it, adding another two floors and the separate kitchen and dining room." He dropped down to crouch on the hearth and peer up into the chimney, then poked around the cinders still caught in the grate. "Someone's been here recently, lighting fires."
Isaac leaned over his shoulder to look. He sniffed experimentally, then scrunched up his nose and sneezed, stepping back. Muffling another violent sneeze in the crook of his elbow, he wiped at his nose with the hem of his shirt and made a disgusted face. "Well, if it's arson, they're a bit late to the party, aren't they? I don't think it gets much more burned to the ground than this."
Derek stood up, leaning against the mantelpiece and feeling the smooth shapes of the river-rocks against the palms of his hands. He had stood like that so many times as a boy, drying himself by the fire on days just as cold and wet as this one that, for a moment, he could almost imagine they were warm. "Are you saying you'd rather sleep outside in the rain?"
"Are you going to sleep outside in the rain?"
"Not if I can help it."
"Okay, then, me too. I'd like to not help it too."
Derek shot Isaac an amused look, then crouched down again to clear out the grate.
He had met Isaac on V-J Day, the last day of WWII and the same day that Peter had died and Derek had become an Alpha. At exactly 10:25 in the evening, Derek had been standing on base at Guadalcanal, when he had heard a ringing in his ears, like artillery shells in the distance, and looked at his watch to log the time. There had been a pressure behind his eyes and his vision had gone red and started fading in and out as he concentrated on the watchface. The second hand kept slowing down and speeding up and he had been having trouble differentiating between the minutes and the hours. Then something had popped, like a glass jar under the wheels of a truck, and he had been sick all over his boots before passing out cold in the dirt.
Diagnosed with dysentery and excessive celebration, he had been sent to the med tent to sleep it off and woken up, newly an Alpha, one bed over from Isaac Lahey, an eighteen-year-old volunteer from New England who had looked both much too young to be a man and much too old to be a boy. Isaac Lahey had not been celebrating. Isaac had not been able to walk, or stand, or feel his hands or feet. His eyes had not tracked properly and he had spent most of the time confused, not sure of where he was or how he had gotten there, like someone with late-stage dementia.
He didn't have dementia, though, he had Beriberi, and it wasn't a disease. It was a form of malnourishment, specifically a deficiency in vitamin B1 so prolonged and so severe that it caused damage to the brain. Isaac had survived over a year in a Japanese POW camp and been released into the waiting arms of the US Army, only to die slowly in his own vomit on a cardboard mattress, a few days after the war had ended, because there just wasn't enough red meat in the world. Not turning him had felt like it would be both tempting fate and a crime of irony.
So, in a moment of insanity, Derek had turned him and Isaac had survived to become a werewolf. After that it had been blind dumb luck that had sent Isaac and him home, miraculously on the same boat, all the way back to San Francisco together without incident and just in time for Isaac's first full moon. A few days later, they had received their discharge papers and been sent on their way, along with thousands of other soldiers, newly released from active duty. Isaac had also been issued a bus ticket back to New England, but he sold it for cash and told Derek that he had no home to go back to. Derek hadn't pried, they were brothers now, it was for the best.
The new and ever-evolving plan had then become to wait until spring, returning north to the Hale family home, just outside Fairbanks, when the weather was milder and Isaac had had a little more time to practice controlling his shift. In the meanwhile, they made their way down Interstate 5 towards Bakersfield, California, where Derek's sister Cora lived with her new pack. The desert was empty, dark and dry and they had taken their time, driving slowly through the interior of Southern California, enjoying the quiet.
Cora, though, had not made herself easy to find and it had taken almost a year before they had finally tracked her down just outside St. George, Utah. The pack she had married into was paranoid and migratory, never stopping in the same place twice. It was from Cora that they had learned about what had happened to the Hale Family Pack: Peter's return from war and Talia's death and then about the fire that had caused the alpha powers to transfer to Derek, even though he had been half a world away. The whole pack had died, swept away by the fire, leaving only Derek, who had been at war, and Isaac, who was newly turned, and one other Beta, bitten by Peter, up in Fairbanks, just days before the fire, named Scott McCall.
Finding out about Scott McCall had changed everything.
They slept outside that night.
The rain had cleared, but it had been coming down hard the night before and their tent hadn't had time to dry yet. It was the same old tent they had used in the desert and all the way up to Fairbanks and the weatherproofing was starting to fade. It was leaky and cramped and had been slowly acquiring a slightly funky smell. But it was familiar, reliable, and mixed in with the stench of mud and sweat and canvas rot was something comforting. It was starting to smell like pack.
Isaac rubbed at his swollen, bloodshot eyes as he sorted out his blankets, shuffling things around, folding and tucking until everything was arranged just so. He was over six feet tall, with broad, sharp shoulders and long limbs, but, curled up in his blankets, he looked like little more than an ill-fitting collection of knobby knees and elbows that smelled vaguely of mildew and lanolin.
Derek had lit a fire in the fireplace earlier that evening, only to discover that the chimney had been lined with wolfsbane. It had slowly spread through the room in a vapor, released by the heat of the fire, irritating Isaac's eyes and making his throat swell. Isaac hadn't been a werewolf long enough to recognize what was happening, but Derek had known immediately. Even masked by the pungency of the smoke and ash that permeated the house, the smell of burning wolfsbane was not one he was likely to forget.
He wondered though, if five years ago, before he had learned hyper-vigilance, before he had become accustomed to living under the shadow of constant threat, before he had started wandering around on high alert at all times, would he have noticed? The signs had been subtle, easy to dismiss: a new Beta's watering eyes, a slightly off-putting smell. For him, now, that had been enough, but five years ago he wouldn't have been so certain.
Isaac sneezed and blew his nose into a handkerchief. "Who would do something like that? And why? How are we even supposed to clean it out?"
Derek shrugged, looking out at the sky through the open flap of their tent. The cloud cover had lifted and he could see the stars for the first time since their arrival in Alaska. "I don't know." It was one more in a series of too many mystery he had neither the time nor the energy to unravel.
It would have been nice, to sleep by a warm fire with a solid roof above them, but Derek found himself strangely glad that they had been driven out of the house. The whole place felt sad to him, oppressive, like living in a stone bunker, trapped under the weight of his own tragedy. It was less comfortable out here, but at least they could see the stars.
"Isaac," he whispered, still looking out into the night.
"Have you ever seen the Northern Lights before?"
Isaac shuffled forward to peek out of the open tent flap and into the night sky. It glowed bright overhead. Streaks of green and blue danced across it in waves, undulating over the backdrop of the Milky Way, like in an endless ocean.
"Wow." Isaac's eyes flashed gold, the wolf in him drawn out and wanting to watch. "What is it?"
Derek peered at him sideways for a second, then turned back to the sky. "The Athabaskan tribes believe that the Northern Lights are the spirits of the dead trying to communicate with the living. The sky people watch over us and send us messages in light."
"How do you know that?"
"My aunt, she was Athabaskan."
Isaac continued to look up at the dancing green and blue in the sky. "My parents are dead too."
Derek nodded. He could feel his own eyes flash, alpha red next Isaac's gold.
"That was a good explanation, Derek. I liked that one."
Derek nodded again, and smiled up at the sky.
They drove into Fairbanks the next morning, headed for the general store to pick up supplies and a few new tools. Wintering over in the old homestead wasn't going to be an option anymore and they had a limited about of time to come up with an alternative before the first snowfall.
Derek felt itchy and anxious. They should have had months to prepare for winter. Now, the autumnal equinox was upon them. The first snow was barely weeks away, if they were lucky, and there were only three full moons left until the solstice. Tonight was already the first. Everything was being cut much too thinly. If Scott McCall was still alive, and still himself, not feral and roaming the forest as a beast, they would need to find him soon.
Isaac wrinkled his nose and sniffed, adjusting his scarf and curling up against the door of the truck as he watched the scenery go by. "Why didn't we just wait until spring to come up here, if you're so worried about the solstice?"
Derek adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. "McCall might have made it through his first winter alone, but he won't survive a second one. It's going to be hard on you too, but he's one of us now. We can't abandon him."
He glanced over at Isaac, who had buried his chin deep into the collar of his coat and was hugging himself as he huddled by the door. Isaac was cold all the time and Derek sometimes wondered if it wasn't a holdover from the Beriberi that had almost killed him at Guadalcanal. Werewolves could heal from almost anything, but they couldn't manufacture nutrients out of thin air. Turning Isaac had not instantly cured him, werewolves could still starve to death, it just took a lot longer. But time was really all that Isaac had needed, enough time to absorb the nutrients his body was lacking, before it shut itself down. He was healthy now, had been for a while, but that didn't make him not remember what it had felt like to starve.
Pulling into a parking spot just off Cushman Street, beside the general store, Derek resolved to buy Isaac a better coat, and some woolen long underwear, and mittens and, also, a hat. Building a proper house would probably help too. And then Isaac could think about starting a family. Isaac would probably be less cold if he had a proper family. And then the pack would be bigger as well, which Derek would like.
First things first, though: they walked into the general store.
If small towns were good at anything, it was spreading gossip and starting rumors. Derek was fairly certain that within twenty minutes of him stepping into that general store, half of Fairbanks would probably know that the youngest Hale boy was back in town. But that had been inevitable from the start and fighting small town gossip was like trying to hold back the tide. Lacking the power of God, the moon, or the US army, it was impossible to stop but fairly easy to anticipate and outrun. With that in mind, Derek greeted the clerk, introduced himself and Isaac, and proceeded to spend the next few minutes idly chatting about the weather, the war and his plans to rebuild the family homestead, before coming around to mentioning an old friend he had served with for a while on Adak Island.
"Did Staff Sergeant Noah Stilinski ever make it back here, after the war?"
Asking about Scott McCall directly seemed like a bad plan, especially since the likelihood was high that he had gone crazy over the past year and could potentially be running around the woods naked now, living on raw moose meat and howling at the moon. New in town, and already under the spotlight of intriguingly tragic and suspicious circumstances, he couldn't afford to be caught asking shady questions and drawing even more unwanted attention to himself. Staff Sergeant Stilinski, though, Derek had served with him for almost a year and a half, all through the Aleutians Campaign, and Stilinski had more than once proven very adept at keeping his ears open, his mouth shut, and rolling with the punches. Stilinski hadn’t had much family, but had left a son behind in Fairbanks, and had spoken fondly of the day when he would be able to go back.
"Oh, he's back in Fairbanks all right. It's Sheriff Stilinski now, got himself elected last year."
They made their purchases quickly and loaded up the truck. Then Derek sent Isaac back to the house with instructions on how to grade out a foundation for the cabin they would be building over the next week or so, before starting out in search of the Sheriff's Station.
The station wasn't difficult to find. Fairbanks being small enough to not even have a proper courthouse, the entirety of the municipal government was run out of the Sheriff's Station, which was located conveniently next Vandusen's Furniture Store. Convenient, because the owner of Vandusen's Furniture Store also happened to be the town council, just like the mayor was also the owner of the GM dealership down the street. There probably weren't more than a half-dozen full-time employees in the whole city government, a fact which was underlined rather boldly for Derek when he walked into the reception, only to be greeted by an entirely empty office.
There was a bell at the front desk. He rang it a few times.
"Susan can you get that?" A voice called out from behind a closed door.
Derek swept his eyes around the empty room. "I don't think she's here."
"Oh, yeah, she went to lunch. Sorry about that, I was trying to catch up on some paperwork..." Noah Stilinski emerged from out of a back office, stopping short as soon as he caught sight of Derek. "Private Hale." A big smile broke out across he face and he stepped forward with enthusiasm, pulling Derek into a hug. "The man lives and breaths. It's damn good to see you, Hale. Come on back, this calls for a drink. You are old enough for a drink, these days, aren't you?" He waved Derek into his office, gesturing him towards a chair before sitting down himself.
Derek followed him in, amused. "I'm twentythree, but that doesn't mean I can get drunk."
"It's barely noon and I'm the Sheriff, neither of us can get drunk." Stilinski pulled two glasses and a bottle of whiskey out of the bottom drawer of his desk, pouring them each a finger and passing one forward to Derek. "It's a ritual, aren't rituals supposed to be important for people like you?"
"People like me?"
"People with, you know," the Sheriff gestured vaguely in front of himself, "shedding problems."
Derek snorted, sitting down as he picked up his glass. "I'm supernatural. Shedding is for dogs and rituals are for Presbyterians."
The Sheriff huffed out a laugh and raised his glass. "I'll drink to that."
They toasted and Derek sniffed at the whiskey, then took a sip. It wasn't bad. It tasted like smoke, tobacco and just the tiniest bit like molasses; it was exactly the kind of drink he would have expected Stilinski to prefer.
"To be honest, I didn't think you would be coming back."
Derek shrugged. "It's home, I would have made it here eventually. But I'm also looking for someone. There's a young wolf running around, eighteen, maybe nineteen years old, my uncle turned him just before the fire."
Stilinski nodded and sighed, then leaned back in his chair and rubbed at the bridge of his nose like he was developing a headache. "Got anything else? Because, these days, that doesn't exactly narrow it down much."
Derek raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, there's a whole pack of 'em. It seems like all of Stiles' friends these days have shedding problems. Even his girlfriend's got shedding problems."
It took Derek a second to respond. A pack. A whole pack. A pack of them. The words played over and over in his head. A whole pack of them.
He pushed those thoughts to the side, backtracking over the rest of the sentence. "Who's Stiles?"
A framed picture sat on Stilinski's desk and he picked it up and handed it across to Derek. In it, two boys were smiling at the camera. He pointed to one of them. "My son, Stiles."
Back on Adak Island, when Sheriff Stilinski had been Staff Sergeant Stilinski, he used to carry around an old black and white photograph of his son in his right breast pocket. He would pass it around proudly, showing it off to anyone who would look. Faded and dog-eared, the photograph had been of an awkward, skinny kid with a short buzz cut and big eyes. The boy had been caught turning towards the camera with his mouth hanging half-open, and he looked startled, as if he hadn't been expecting the flash. Stilinski used to laugh and say that it was the only photograph he had of his son that wasn't blurry and that taking his son’s picture was like taking a crash course in wildlife photography: the only way to get him to sit still long enough was to catch him by surprise or wait till he was eating.
The young man that looked out from this new photograph was older, no longer a boy. His hair had darkened and was no longer close-cropped. He had let it grow out long enough that it needed to be combed back from his face and it was rumpled and unkempt, like he probably ran his fingers through it often. He was still thin and wiry, with a delicate jaw and an upturned nose, but his shoulders had broadened and his face had become more angular. He was looking into the camera confidently, with his perfectly arched eyebrows slightly raised, and was smiling, as if he had a secret that it amused him more to keep than to tell.
"I thought his name was Mieczysław?"
The Sheriff waved his hand dismissively. "It is, but he likes to be called Stiles now. When the war started, I was called out of the reserves almost immediately and put back into active duty. So Stiles had to go live with some family friends." The Sheriff's wife had died years ago. "We've known the McCalls for years and the boys have always been friends. But imagine my surprise when I came back home, having newly discovered that werewolves were a real thing, and realized that, not only was this sleepy little town neck deep in the supernatural, but my son's best friend, Scott, was one of them." The Sheriff leaned over and pointed out the other boy in the photograph.
"This is Scott McCall?" Derek looked back down. Stiles' friend had a slightly stockier build and darker coloring, but he looked happy, healthy, and just as sane as Stiles. With any luck, it was a recent photo. Derek passed the frame back. "You said there are more of them?"
"Yeah, this girl, Malia. She just showed up in town one day, walked right out of the woods with no gear, no supplies, no transportation and no ID. The boys tried to convince me that she's some kind of a survival expert, wilderness guide, what-have-you, and, yeah, she's good with sled dogs, but I caught Stiles teaching her how to walk in snowshoes last winter year. Snowshoes! She couldn't even put them on! And watching her try to light a camp stove is like watching a cat learn how to tapdance.
"I'm pretty sure she and Stiles are dating and that she's a werecoyote, if there even is such a thing, and I really hope there is, because the alternative is that Stiles has been letting an actual coyote in through his bedroom window at night."
Derek nodded. "Yes, werecoyotes exist, but they're not common this far north. She would have to be strong to have wandered so far from the desert." Coyotes were a lot like wolves in some ways, but they had fewer pack instincts and tended towards warmer climates. Being alone was a lot less of a problem for them, though.
"And now there's this other kid, Liam, who's been hanging around. He's local, still in high school, so I'm not quite sure how he fits into all of this, but he scratched the ever-living-hell out of my kitchen table last week and it wasn't with his fingernails." The Sheriff knocked back the last of his whiskey and put his glass down. "Is it just that I know what to look for now? Is this normal?"
Derek frowned and looked down into his own drink. "No. Normally the local pack keeps things under control."
Stilinski sighed and paused for a second, then took in a deep breath through his nose. "I'm sorry, Derek, about your family. I really am." He looked sincere.
Derek shook his head. "I'm back now. Scott is my responsibility and so are the others. This is still Hale Pack Territory."
"Yeah, well." The Sheriff tapped his wedding ring a few times against the desktop, worrying it with his thumb. "Proceed with caution. These kids are stubborn, especially Stiles, and he's protective. The war was hard on everybody and they've gotten pretty used to handling things on their own. Threaten his autonomy and he'll shut you down so fast you'll think the power went out."
"You don't trust your son very much, do you?"
The Sheriff looked up sharply at that, narrowing his eyes. "I'd trust him with my life and anyone else's. I am honored, every day, that I get to call Stiles my son. It’s only..." He deflating slightly and rubbed at the his eyes and the bridge of his nose. "It's more that I'm not sure if he trusts me. He's gotten so used to being on his own."
Derek nodded and took a drink from his glass. They were both silent for a minute, lost in their own thoughts.
"I went back to the house the other day."
Stilinski grimaced, "Oh yeah?"
"There are ravens there now, like there were on Adak."
Thirty miles long by twenty miles wide, Adak Island was an uninhabited patch of rocky tundra, out at the ass end of nowhere in the Aleutian Islands. Out there, the winds blew in cyclonic storms and it rained 340 days a year. There was nothing to look at but moss, scavenger ravens, and a volcano that occasionally coughed up smoke into the overhanging clouds. The US Army had built an air base on Adak after the Japanese invaded Alaska, bombing Dutch Harbor and working their way up the Aleutians. Derek and Noah Stilinski had both been stationed there in '43, and it was there that they had met.
The Sheriff looked at the whiskey bottle still sitting in front of him, his face pained. He picked it up and shoved it back in the bottom drawer of his desk. "Please tell me wereravens aren't a thing. I don't know if I could handle wereravens."
Derek rolled his eyes. "No, there are no such things as wereravens."
"Not everything is supernatural. Sometimes ravens are just ravens."
Looking thoroughly exasperated, Stilinski leaned forward onto his elbows and gazed at Derek steadily "If the ravens can breath fire or turn into yetis, tell me right now, straight-up. Otherwise, I would like it to be noted that you are terrible at small talk."
When Derek didn't respond, just glared and folded his arms across his chest in silence, the Sheriff laughed. Lifting his arms placatingly, he leaned back into his chair. "Don't worry about it, Hale, everybody's got to be bad at something."
Derek walked back from the Sheriff's Station, making it to the Hale property in the early afternoon to help Isaac get construction started on their temporary housing. The forest outside Fairbanks was lit up, green, yellow and red, from the changing colors of the tamarack trees. They stood out brightly against the grey skies.
That night, Derek and Isaac slept out under the stars again. With temperatures hovering just above freezing, the damp cold sank into their bones, making them miss the dry heat of the California desert. The full moon hung low along the horizon, its light filtering in weakly through the cloud cover and the deep shadows of the forest. For all of Derek's foreboding about the strength and power of the northern moon, its pull felt distant and diffused, less like a lightening strike and more like the soft hum of static electricity.
"How do you feel?" Derek asked. They had set up their tent on a small rise and dug a shallow trench around it to keep the water from pooling underneath them. Derek watched the rain flow down the sides of the tent and run away, down the slope of the hill, as the last sliver of moonlight sunk below the horizon.
Isaac inspected his fingers, extending his claws and flexing them in the dim light, then retracting them back to dull, human fingernails. "Strong, in control."
"Good." Derek looked up at the sky. "The harvest moon is always kind."
"What comes after the harvest moon?"
"The hunter moon."
"That sounds bad."
"It's not. We are hunters. The full moons on either side of the equinox are good to us. They are easy, balancing. Find your center in them, you will need it later."
"For the solstice?"
"Yes, for the solstice."
"The moon set tonight."
"Why would it matter whether or not the sun comes up, so long as the moon sets?"
It was times like these that made Derek glad to have Isaac in his pack. For all his wide, doe-eyed staring and meek mannerisms, he was surprisingly unafraid. Resigned, perhaps. Pessimistic, definitely. But also stubborn and unwilling to go to his fate quietly, which was what had drawn Derek to him in the first place.
He followed Isaac's gaze over to where the moon was disappearing behind the trees. "It doesn't, but the winter solstice is not just the longest night of the year, it is the longest full moon of the year. The moon will be in the sky over Fairbanks for close to twenty hours. If we were at the north pole, it would rise the week before and not set again until a week after."
Derek sighed and shifted onto his back, closing his eyes. "Imagine the earth as an apple."
"The earth isn't shaped like an apple."
Derek cracked one eye open, just enough to glare. Isaac immediately shut his mouth.
"Imagine the earth as an apple, orbiting the sun. The core is the axis on which it spins and the stem marks the north pole. As the earth spins, we experience night and day.
"Now imagine the apple tilted, ever so slightly to one side. It orbits the sun, but, because of its tilt, the stem of the apple will always be turned either slightly towards or slightly away from the sun. This is what gives us the seasons.
"During the winter solstice, the earth is at the point in its orbit where the North Pole is turned completely away from the sun. The Earth continues to spin on its axis, but the North Pole remains always in shadow.
"Now imagine the moon, on the opposite side of the earth from the sun, reflecting its light like a mirror. It takes twentyeight days for the moon to orbit the earth, four weeks. So, during the winter solstice, when the North Pole never faces the sun, there will be two weeks on either side of the full moon when the moon will always be visible in the sky, and two weeks on either side of the new moon, when it will always be below the horizon.
"That, Isaac, is the month of the wolf moon."
They were both quiet for a moment. Derek tilted his head to the side to look over at Isaac, who was picking at his cuticles and staring blankly out into the night. "Understand?"
Derek sighed and closed his eyes, rolling over again. "It just is. During the winter solstice, the full moon is in the sky for a long time and during the summer solstice, hardly at all, sometimes barely two hours."
"That doesn't sound good either."
"Let's worry about one thing at a time."
"Okay, but just so you know, that explanation was shit."
The next morning, Derek got up, washed his face, brewed some coffee, and went to go see Scott McCall. It would be best, he had decided, to approach the Beta alone. The poor kid was probably hanging on by his toenails at this point. A show of force might spook him, put him on his guard, make him run, and Derek really wanted this to go well.
He was tired. He had been tired on the morning he had left for war and tired every morning since. He wanted to go home, but he was already there. This was home: this land, this town, under this sky. If he couldn't make a home for himself here, he wasn't going to find one anywhere else either and he couldn't do it alone. A lone wolf was a death wish and two were a suicide pact, but, with three, they could rebuild. Three was enough for a new beginning.
He wanted this to go well.
According to Sheriff Stilinski, Scott worked at a veterinary office on the outskirts of town and Derek headed off to find it, hoping to catch Scott before he started work. He brought a thermos of coffee with him to drink on the drive in and tried to practice looking trustworthy and reassuring in the rearview mirror. His success was limited, but he hoped that the early hour would push things a little more into his favor. Nothing could truly be sinister before nine o'clock in the morning.
He found the office easily enough, the storefront was freshly painted and well kept and a bell sounded over the door as he pushed it open to let himself in. Scott McCall stood behind the counter in the back, already in deep conversation with a young man Derek recognized as Stiles Stilinski and a young woman he didn't recognize at all, with fair skin and short brown hair. She didn't smell like a wolf, exactly, but it was close enough to make Derek think that this was probably Malia, the mysterious werecoyote. Sheriff Stilinski gave good intel.
"Scott McCall." Derek greeted the Beta as he stepped forward. The three of them had already turned, looking up as soon as they had heard the bell. Scott came forward from behind the counter, putting himself in between Derek and the others. He stood a few inches shy of six foot, but carried himself like he was taller. Tanned, with dark eyes and dark hair, he looked good, healthy and confident. He had done well for himself, especially for having survived the bite alone.
"You're a werewolf."
Derek blinked. A bit blunt, but at least he's to the point. "Yes." He met Scott's eyes, allowing his own to bleed to red and letting the wolf shine through. "I am your Alpha."
Scott's eyes flashed in answer, also red, and Derek almost jerked back in surprise.
"Who did you kill?" He asked, incredulously. The only packs in the area were strong, old and well established, unless the war had changed things for more than just the Hales. But Scott's eyes had been alpha red, and there were a limited number of ways for a Beta to become an Alpha. Killing and stealing another Alpha's power was the most likely.
"No one. I came by my power honestly. It's my own, I didn't have to steal it from anyone else." Scott crossed his arms and took a step forward, his friends flanking him on either side.
"A true Alpha, then. That's good, but more strength means you'll need even more control. We need to start training immediately."
"Thanks for the tip, Sweetcheeks, but how about you back this whole thing up for two seconds and maybe restart by introducing yourself." Stiles's voice had a sarcastic drawl to it, like he enjoyed chewing his words as they came out, just to give them that little extra bite. He looked much like he had in his photograph, lean and lanky, with a delicate face. His hair looked softer in real life, though, and lighter, just barely too dark to be blond. He was leaning against the counter behind Scott, watching Derek with one eyebrow raised expectantly. He had dark circles under his honey-brown eyes and he smelled like cynicism.
Derek ignored him, turning back to Scott. "You've done well to make it this long on your own, but you need guidance."
The girl, Malia, spoke up, sniffing the air. "He smells bad. I don't like him."
"Bad smells are definitely a point against, highly suspicious. Tell us more." Stiles pushed himself away from the counter, standing next to Scott as Malia leaned forward towards Derek, sniffing. She covered her nose and grimaced.
"I don't know, it’s just bad. Like sickness."
Derek continued to direct his attention to Scott, trying not to glower. He was probably failing. "There's a lot you need to learn, that I can teach you. You need a pack, we're stronger together. It's how we survive."
Scott looked at him inquisitively, stepping forward and uncrossing his arms, wary but no longer overtly hostile. His friends had that part covered. "Are you injured?"
"Whoa there buddy," Stiles put his hand on Scott's shoulder. "How about we not touch the strange, potentially diseased, werewolf until we can be sure he's had all his shots."
Derek grit his teeth. "I am neither sick nor injured and this is my territory, Hale Pack Territory."
"Hale Pack," Stiles looked surprised, giving Derek a careful once-over. "Hale Pack as in the Hale family." He let the sentence stand there for a second and Derek gave up on trying not to scowl. "So that would make you... Derek Hale." Stiles snapped his fingers and nodded, turning to the others. "He served with my dad. Though, when Dad mentioned he was back in town, he left out the part about him being a werewolf." He brought up one finger, tapping it against his mouth consideringly.
Derek turned, slowly and deliberately, away from the Stilinski boy and back towards Scott. The air was hostile, it smelled like anxiety, tension and bitterness. This wasn't going as planned. "You are strong, you survived the first winter, but you will not survive another without my help. I can make you stronger, teach you control."
This shouldn't even have been a debate. How could they not understand? There were no training wheels out here. This was the frontier, the Great White North. When the moon came up in winter, it would hang in the sky longer and clearer than anywhere else on Earth. Turned werewolves were rare, they lost themselves too easily to the wolf, and then the pull of the moon became too strong, it was only the pack that could save them. Maybe Scott had been lucky for a year, found a way to survive, but he wouldn't be able to do it again. And why would he want to? Why would he say no? Derek wanted a pack so bad he could taste it like acid in his mouth.
Scott looked a little uncertain. "I'm sorry about your family, but I'm doing alright on my own."
The Stilinski boy looked less uncertain.
Derek didn't think he could frown any deeper if he tried. He was already giving himself a headache, he was frowning so hard. It was a battle to keep his eyes from glowing red and his fangs from dropping. He wanted to grab Scott by the scruff of the neck and shake him into compliance.
Instead, he tried to concentrate on the positive. Everyone was safe and sane. It was still early, not even quite the equinox. If Scott McCall had made it through a whole year without going feral, he could make it through the hunter moon, and probably the one after that as well. Contact had been established and Derek had done an excellent job of making a terrible first impression, but it was still early. He had time. Nothing more could be accomplished today.
Derek nodded to Scott and turned to leave. "Think about it, McCall, I'll be around."
The morning was still and quiet as he walked back to his truck and he paused for a second when he got there, leaning against the cab. He could hear them talking amongst themselves inside the animal clinique.
"He's sick? Are you sure? I didn't smell sickness on him." Scott sounded confused and slightly skeptical.
"It's not rotting, like meat, but more like old sweat and anxiety and maybe like he rolled around in something dead."
"He did just come back from the front."
"Yeah, a year ago." Stiles cut in.
"Maybe it's stuck to him, like battle sickness. I've never smelled someone with battle sickness before."
"Do werewolves even get that?"
"Everyone gets that, Stiles."
Derek took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he leaned against the door of his truck. He had nightmares, sometimes. Scott had been turned a year ago, in August, just days before the fire and Derek had always believed that Scott hadn't gone feral, but now he knew. He had looked into Scott's eyes and known for certain. He also knew, down to his very marrow, he knew that the bodies of his packmates had not been left to sit in that house, bloating and rotting in the August heat. They had been buried. He knew this. He knew this for a fact, despite having not seen the graves, they were neither in the cemetery by the church nor around the property of the house. He new these things, but sometimes he had nightmares. He wondered if that was what Malia could smell.
Derek climbed into his truck and drove away. Scott would come around. There was no other alternative.
"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane—" is a line from The Law of the Yukon by Robert W. Service (1874-1958). The beginning of the poem reads:
This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
"Send not your foolish and feeble;
send me your strong and your sane --
Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;"
Robert W. Service was an Englishman who moved to the Yukon as a young man and wrote a lot of very iconic poetry about the area. He was living in France during WWI and also wrote about his time as an ambulance driver and stretcher bearer at Dunkirk. His poetry is pretty simplistic and maybe even crudely written, but very well loved, I think somewhat because it is so non-academic.
The information on Adak Island and the Aleutian Campaign should be fairly accurate. There is a documentary on C-SPAN3 about it, if anyone is curious. I am not an expert on any of this stuff though, so bear with me. I deliberately fudged some stuff too. Like, Derek getting stationed on Adak Island makes sense, but maybe not his getting transferred to Guadalcanal later. Also, Isaac and Derek getting discharged right out of port in San Francisco… >_> whatever, I don’t really want to know if that makes historical sense or not.
I actually did some research into how the phases of the moon and how moon-set/moon-rise works that far north but... I don't actually have any kind of advanced knowledge in any of this so bear with me. Maybe that bit was boring for people anyway, but I thought it was super fascinating :))).
Chapter 2: the fire went out and the cold crept in
The cabin wasn't quite finished in time for the first snow, but it was a near thing. Derek was still laying shingles when the first flurries started coming down in late October and he and Isaac had to spend a few nights sleeping on the rough pine floors of their new home with tarps still stretched across empty window frames and covering the bare patches in the roof. But even after the house was sealed up, there was still a lot left to do to prepare for winter.
They were still getting their water from out of a nearby stream, which not only promised to freeze solid very shortly, but Derek knew for a fact ran right past an old slag pit. Slag pits were refuse pits left behind by smelting plants. They were chalk-full of heavy metals and sulfides that could easily poison the groundwater after a heavy rain and the area around Fairbanks was dotted with them, abandoned after the end of the gold rush of the mid-1800s. To avoid heavy metal toxicity, there were two wells off the main house and, after some minor difficulties, Isaac and Derek were able to replace the pump on the outdoor one and buy a generator to run the heat-tapes that would keep it from freezing once temperatures dropped down to the negative teens.
After that, an outhouse had to be dug before the ground froze solid, a wood stove installed and hooked up to the newly built chimney and they had to chop enough firewood to last them until the summer came. It took them the better part of a month, and at the end of it they were still sleeping on camping pads and hauling water into the house in buckets, but at least they were warm, drinking clean water, and no one had to shit in the woods anymore.
At that point, Derek decided that it was time to turn back to the question of Scott McCall. Derek hadn't had much success approaching Scott directly and it didn't take a public relations expert to figure out why. Scott McCall was a small-town kid. He said 'please' and 'thank you,' loved his mother, thought 'gosh darn' was a curse word and still had the same best friend he had met when he was four years old in the neighborhood sandbox. Derek had never been particularly good at inspiring confidence or making people like him and the untimely deaths of most of his family had not exactly imbued him with an excess of positivity. He was six feet and two hundred pounds of angry dark eyebrows and a five o'clock shadow that came in by ten-thirty in the morning. It was no surprise that Scott McCall had taken one look at him and decided he was better off on his own.
The newest version of the plan, then, was for Derek to avoid direct contact altogether. Instead of applying positive pressure and putting McCall on his guard, Derek would simply pave the way so thoroughly that it would actually be more work for Scott to avoid him than to join. It was a two-pronged approached. Since Derek had already struck out in terms of being the face of the operation, that became Isaac's job. Isaac was still recovering from a year spent in a five-by-five foot hole in the ground in the South Pacific and his social skills were somewhat lacking as a result, but he was close to Scott's age and had been a werewolf for roughly the same amount of time. So, as soon as they had water and a roof over their heads, Derek set him up with a part-time job cleaning cages and scrubbing floors at the animal clinic and instructed him to play nice.
Isaac had a sympathetic face and was generally very tolerable, as a person. Being tolerated was probably not the highest of bars to strive for, but Derek decided that anything short of open hostility would, at this point, be a step in the right direction.
The second half of the equation was about Derek. Maybe Derek had come across as just some vagrant, veteran bum who had wandered north in a state of shell-shocked stupor, but he was heir to one of the most well-respected werewolf packs in interior Alaska. The knowledge, wealth and resources of the Hale family were his to draw upon and his to share. He just needed to make sure Scott understood that and fixing up the old house seemed like a good place to start. Which was why Derek found himself driving into town, one month after his confrontation with Scott in the veterinarian's office, in search of his old high school football coach.
According to the ever-helpful clerk at the general store, Bobby Finstock still coached football at Fairbanks High, but had given up teaching, instead taking over the auto repair shop out on Barnett Drive. He had a kid working there who did odd jobs sometimes and could probably be hired to help Derek clean out his chimney, even though it was almost winter and both roof and chimney were, not only of questionable structural integrity, but now also frozen and snow-covered.
Derek parked out in front of the shop, next to a re-purposed military-grade Willys Jeep. Then walked into the front office, where he found Finstock at the counter looking over a checklist he had pinned to a clipboard. Finstock looked up as he walked in. "Well, if it isn't Derek Hale, the worst tight end Fairbanks High ever saw take the field. Remind me again why you weren't benched all four years I had you on my team?"
"Probably had something to do with how much you like to win."
"Nah, I just liked watching you flatten the defensive, winning was more of a side benefit. What's the point in winning if you can't have fun doing it?"
Derek stepped forward and they shook hands. "Glad to hear you're still in the game, Coach."
Finstock snorted, "Yeah, well, it's the only aspect of teaching that still allows for corporal punishment. I quit the rest of it after a parent complained that my disciplinary measures were," he added air quotes, "sick, twisted and bizarre."
Derek raised an eyebrow. "What did you do?"
"I made their little brat stand in the corner with a bucket over his head until he could recite the school's fight song and the first page of the Constitution. Now stop prying into my career history like you care and tell me what you want."
"I'm looking to hire someone to help with repair work on the old house."
"It's November, you want to start repairs on your house in November?"
"You know anyone who wants work or should I keep asking around?"
Finstock gave Derek an incredibly unimpressed look, then turned to yell into the garage behind him. "STILINSKI!"
"Yeah, Coach!" Stiles skidded around the corner and into sight, catching himself on the doorframe as he came to a stop behind the counter.
"You wanna get paid to break you neck crawling around a condemned building all day in the snow?"
Stiles glanced over at Derek, looked at Finstock again, then did a double-take back to Derek. "You want to hire someone to work on your house?"
Stiles stared. "You," he pointed, "want to hire me," he pointed at himself, "to do manual labor."
Derek sighed and crossed his arms, raising both his eyebrows.
"Jesus Christ, Stilinski,” Finstock threw up his hands in exasperation, “did you not hear me the first time? The man's an idiot, but the kind with cash. Take the job, don't take the job, I really don't care. I don't have any work for you today, so, whatever you decided, buzz off." He picked up his pencil and clipboard again and made a shooing motion with his free hand. "That goes for you too, Hale. Unless your car breaks down in the parking lot, get outta here. You're tracking dirt onto my linoleum."
“It was good seeing you, Coach.” Derek smiled crookedly and turned to walk out the door. He could hear Stiles grabbing his jacket and gloves off a hook behind the counter and trotting after him.
"Alright, what's the deal, my noble wolf friend?"
Out on the sidewalk, Derek contemplated, for a second, whether or not the pain in the ass of dealing with Stiles all day would be worth it. Stiles knew Derek was a werewolf, which made things easier, but Stiles was also Stiles, and though they did not know each other well at this point, that promised, by all accounts, to be its own trial.
In the end, the fact that he was on an ever-shrinking timeline and Stiles wouldn't question Derek's casual feats of uncommon strength won out. "The chimney's lined with wolfsbane. I can't clean it out myself."
"You want me to climb around on your roof in the middle of November? You better be a seriously rich wolf, with actual money, if you think that is going to be happening."
Derek crossed his arms and leaned against the door of his truck. "I'll pay you twenty dollars to get the job done in one day."
Both of Stiles’ eyebrows went up. "This isn't some machiavellian plot to lure me out of town so you can kill me and bury my body in your basement is it?"
"If I wanted you dead it would have happened by now. Now, do you want the job, or should I shop it around somewhere else?"
"Nope. I'm good, I'll sweep a chimney for twenty dollars. I ain't afraid of you, Mr. Adalwolf, sir." He gave a mock salute.
Derek rolled his eyes and went to open the door to his truck, then paused before climbing in. He turned back. "Did you seriously call me Adolf just now? Really?"
"No, of course not." Stiles raised both his hands and waved them in energetic denial. "I'm calling you a wolf, a noble wolf, which you are. Adal means noble. It's absolutely a compliment and I'm offended you would think differently. On a side note, did you know that the Mongolians believe sprinkling their food with powdered wolf rectum can cure hemorrhoids?"
Derek blinked, very slowly. "Well," he wasn't sure his eyebrows could be raised any higher, but they were certainly trying, "I'm sorry your ass hurts, but if you want to lick mine, you're going to have to come up with something better than that."
He climbed into his truck, turned the ignition and drove away. It took Stiles two blocks to catch up.
Stiles drove a 1941 military grade Model MB Willys Jeep, complete with a rifle-mount in front of the steering wheel, and he pulled up to the Hale house in it like an invading army. He talked the same way birds could fly and fish could swim: often, with enthusiasm and using his entire body. He was exuberant, enthusiastic and drove Derek, literally and figuratively, right up the wall.
Derek found himself spending most of the afternoon exiled on top the roof in a gas mask, sent there because, there was “no way on God's green earth, unless the fate of the Union and the free world depend on it," that Stiles was going up there. It also genuinely made sense. The whole process went a lot faster with someone on the roof as well as inside the house and, with the protection of the gas mask, Derek barely even noticed the wolfsbane. Why Stiles was running around, driving a military surplus Jeep with military surplus gas masks in the back, was a question for another time.
It took almost three hours and something like seven passes with various brushes and assorted scrapers before Derek was content that they had scoured the chimney all the way down to the bare stone. He climbed down off the roof and came back into the house to help clean up, but a haze of soot and powdered wolfsbane hung heavy in the air. He barely managed to pick up a shovel before he felt the skin of his hands start to break out into rashes, driving him out of the house. So he left Stiles to finish up on his own and headed back to the cabin to wash up.
After Stiles had dumped the last wheelbarrow of wolfsbane-infused ash into a hole in the ground out back, he came over to the log cabin to collect his pay. He like a coal miner, his hair and his clothes were black. Soot had worked its way between his overlapping layers, finding every sliver of exposed skin, staining his nailbeds, his fingers, his ears, and the back of his neck. Only his face was white, where it had been covered by the gas mask. The effect was somewhat comical, like he had just stepped off a bad vaudeville production and Derek had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing.
Stiles ran his ashy fingers through his hair. "Alright, that chimney is about as clean as it's gonna get, short of you hiring somebody to crawl up inside it and scrub it down with baking soda and a toothbrush. Which, should you choose to go that route, is a job you are gonna have to find someone else for." Stiles hunched over a litte, trying to work the soot out of his hair, then did an awkward kind of full-body shake, like a wet dog, and patted at his clothes. "How are you gonna know if we got it all, anyway?"
Derek stepped out of cabin, closing the door and moving to the side, to position himself upwind of where Stiles was scattering soot and ash everywhere. "I'll let the place air out a couple of days, then start a fire in the fireplace and see what I smell." He had cleaned up earlier, when he had first gone in, and watched with an amused smile as Stiles tried to scrub some of the soot off his hands with snow, swearing at the cold and blowing on his frozen fingers. "There's warm water in the cabin, if you want to clean up before you leave."
"Oh, yes. Thank God, lead me to it, Wolfman."
Derek opened the door, then put his hand out to stop Stiles from following him inside. "Stay here, you're not tracking wolfbane into the house."
"Are you kidding me right now? It's zero degrees out! You expect me to wash up outside? This was all an elaborate ploy to get me to die of hypothermia, wasn't it? I'm a human. I have delicate sensibilities and a narrow climate zone required for life."
Derek closed the door.
It wasn't a big cabin, just a small room with two narrow bunks and a wood stove between them. Most of the remaining space was taken up by a multi-purpose table and two chairs. Storage space was limited, so he and Isaac had built the roof out, to over-hang a few feet in front of the house and placed an outdoor table underneath it. That way, they had a staging area where they could clean up and sort gear without having to track mud, snow and ice inside. Derek had already set the wash basin by the door, along with the soap, so he just had to gather up a towel, one of Isaac's clean shirts, and the kettle off the stove, before stepping back outside.
Stiles stripped down without ceremony, removing his jacket, flannel shirt and vest and bending over the basin to wash. He splashed the warm water over the back of his neck, working the soap up his forearms and scrubbing at the soot under his fingernails as he complained. "If you thought you could score points with Scott by hiring me, boy did this set you back. No one who has ever made me wash outside when it wasn't at least 50 degrees out has ever recovered in my esteem. Didn't you get the memo on how you should be buttering up the best friend? No, of course not. You're just a bitter, bitter wolf. Basically Beowulf, only more tragically unhappy. I bet not even the Marx brothers could make you laugh."
Derek watched Stiles as he talked at him. Stiles was skinny and pale, hunching his shoulders against the wind chill and scrubbing his skin pink with the rough ply of Derek's towel. But his shoulders were broader than they first appeared, making his hips seem even more narrow as they disappeared into the waistband of his pants. His skin, from the tips of his fingers all the way to his breast bone, was barely two shades up from being milk white without so much as the hint of a farmer's tan. It was dotted here and there with dark beauty marks, much the same as the ones Derek had already noticed on Stiles' face and neck. He had one on the hinge of his jaw, just under his left ear, and another on his cheek, where it dimpled. Derek had known, on an academic level, that they must extend below his collar and cuffs to be scattered across the rest of him as well, Derek just hadn't previously put a lot of thought into what that might look like. He found himself strangely grateful when Stiles pulled the clean shirt on, over his shoulders, and shrugged back into his jacket.
But then he had to watch Stiles' long fingers as they danced over the buttons and tucked the tails into his pants, and he had a moment where he regretted not lending Stiles one of his own shirts. His own shirts were probably softer than Isaac's, especially the one he slept in. That one was particularly soft and smelled especially nice. Derek kept his clothes in a cedar trunk with sprigs of mountain-heather slipped between the stacks. It was something his mother used to do and it added a sweet, fresh smell that was calming rather than overpowering. Stiles didn't have a mother. He might appreciate something like that.
Except that Isaac's clothes were perfectly soft and clean and fit Stiles a hell of a lot better than Derek's would, not to mention being immeasurably less distracting to see Stiles wearing.
Pull yourself together. He's clever and has a cute nose. Get over it.
Derek tuned back into Stiles’ narration just in time to see him put his hand out and look expectantly in Derek’s direction. Taking a guess as to why, Derek reached into his pocket for his bill fold and pulled out two tens. Stiles ran them quickly through his fingers before tucking them into his jacket pocket. Then, smoothing his hat down over his ears, he pulled on his gloves, collected his gas masks, and turned towards his jeep.
"Well, it's been real. If you ever feel the need to over-pay someone to sweep out your chimney again, you know where to find me. Winters are pretty slow at the garage. That being said, don't get any ideas about this being a good way to get at Scott. You can't sweet talk me, so don't even try it."
Derek followed Stiles out to his car, only half-listening as Stiles continued to prattle on. It occurred to him that talking must be self-soothing for Stiles, like how babies sometimes sing themselves to sleep. Derek used to have two twin cousins that would coo back and forth to each other from separate cribs every night. They hadn’t been upset, they had just liked to reassure each other that they were both still there.
He reached out, putting his hand on the side of the jeep just as Stiles made to start the ignition, interrupting his monologue. "Do you know what happened?” The jeep was elevated for high clearance so Derek didn’t even have to hunch down as he looked across at Stiles. “I can't find any graves. Do you know where they buried my family?"
Stiles put his gloved hands on the steering wheel and stared at them for a second before turning back to Derek. It occurred to him that this was the first time Stiles had sat still long enough for him could get a good look at his eyes. They were a very light brown, without even the hint of green or blue in them, like ripe barley. "It was August. There were a lot of... No one knew what to do. There were no..."
Stiles let his gaze slip away for a second, over Derek's shoulder, towards the house, then looked back into Derek's face and started over. "There were almost twenty bodies and it was August, Derek. No one knew what to do, so the Sheriff made a call. It was a bad call and he lost his position over it when the next election cycle came around in November. My dad was barely back from active duty a handful of months before he got elected, and this was mostly why. Your family kept to themselves, but they were well-liked and the Sheriff made a bad call."
"What happened?" Derek felt like a bell glass had come down over his head. He could see and hear, but the world suddenly had no smell and no taste.
"It was August and the bank wouldn't release any funds to provide for a burial without the consent of the surviving heirs. So..." Stiles turned away again, gazing out the windshield and down the drive. "So, they used an old slag pit. A preacher came and said a few words and there's a marker there, but they're in an old slag pit."
Derek took a slow, measured breath as he heard the news. It wasn't so bad. They had been buried together, there was no shame in a mass grave.
"I can show it to you, if you want." Stiles was still looking straight ahead, out the windshield.
Derek shook his head. "Just tell me where."
Derek had grown up roaming the land around Fairbanks. He knew all the old abandoned mines and retired smelting plants and apparently Stiles did too, because he described the location with a specificity that indicated a more than casual familiarity with what should have been a restricted access area. When he was sure he understood where it was, Derek thanked him and stepped back, allowing Stiles to drive away.
Watching him leave, hunched down against the wind in his open-top jeep, Derek contemplated the kind of stubbornness that must be required to drive an open-top jeep year-round in the interior of Alaska. Stiles did not appear to be the type of person easily influenced by things like well-paved roads or paths of least resistance.
A few more weeks went by and Derek finally managed to route running water directly into the cabin. The generator was really only powerful enough to keep the pipes and the water pump from freezing, so everything else had to either be run off batteries or kerosine. The lamps flickered at night as the sun went down earlier and earlier, and the wood Derek had managed to split before the forest froze solid was still green and it sputtered and popped in the stove.
Isaac was noncommittal about how much headway he had managed to achieve with Scott, but he had at least managed to make himself a constant presence in Scott's life, even going so far as to join the pick-up hockey team Scott played in on Saturday nights. In the meantime, Derek prepared for the worst.
It was unlikely Isaac would be able to stay in control during the wolf moon and Scott, though largely an unknown, was much too inexperienced to be counted upon to handle it either, especially if he had an even younger Beta roaming around. Derek had found and confirmed the existence of Liam, the high school student that Scott must have turned over the summer. Liam was incredibly young and painfully inexperienced. Scott still had to chain him to a tree during even the short autumn moons, and he would be lucky to survive the winter with his sanity intact.
With that in mind, Derek set about clearing and restoring the old house with increased fervor. The kitchen was mostly destroyed, the main support beams burned through and the roof collapsing inward, but the root cellar had been largely untouched by the fire. It was dark and dry down there, kept at a constant temperature, insulated by the earth and sealed off from the rest of the house by a thick, reinforced metal door. It had been redesigned when WWII first broke out in Europe to double as a bomb shelter for the family and, at the time, Derek had thought his father was being silly and paranoid. After the bombing of Dutch Harbor, he had reconsidered his opinion and now he could only think to be grateful. There were few places built sturdy enough to contain the combined strength of three grown werewolves.
Isaac did not like the root cellar idea. He had had enough of being locked in small dark holes to last him a lifetime and the legacy of the Hale house did not make matters much better. The stench of death and loss seemed to hang over the building like a dreadful miasma. But there were no other good options. So Derek continued to work, chopping away at the wreckage, slowly unearthing the kitchen, like a doctor trying to removing a gangrenous limb from an unwilling patient.
He wasn't particularly surprised to find more wolfbane, caught in the flue fed by the kitchen stove, and had been somewhat planning for it. He had driven Isaac into work that morning, dropping him off at the veterinary clinic so that he could have the truck for the rest of the day, before coming back to test the stove, only to head into town again a few hours later.
This time it was Stiles who was standing behind the counter at Finstock's auto repair shop. He smiled when Derek walked in and it was the same teasing, secretive smile that Derek recognized from the picture on Sheriff Stilinski's desk. He breathed in deeply through his nose, but nothing in the air made it any clearer to him what that smile meant.
"What can I do you for, Derek? Got a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere that needs rescuing?"
Derek gave Stiles a dry look. "If it were that, I would not be coming to you. You would probably just get stuck up the tree with the cat."
"Hmmm..." Stiles tilted his head consideringly. "You make a fair point. Question still stands, though."
"There's another chimney, same deal as last time."
"Same twenty bucks?"
"COACH!" Stiles shouted over his shoulder into the garage.
"STILINSKI! WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT--"
"I'M TAKING THE DAY OFF, YOU DON'T PAY ME ENOUGH!" Stiles interrupted Finstock's reply, already putting on his coat and hat.
"YEAH, AND THERE'S A DAMN GOOD REASON, STILINSKI. NOW GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE SO I CAN PAY YOU EVEN LESS!"
Stiles and Derek were already walking out the door.
Back at the Hale house, it took closer to four hours to get the chimney in the kitchen fully cleared of wolfsbane. By the time they were finished, Derek was starting to feel rashes develop on his wrists where soot had worked its way into the gap between his work gloves and the sleeves of his jacket. The gas mask was a blessing and he silently thanked whatever bizarre set of circumstances had lead Stiles to keep a matching pair of them in the back of his jeep, as he climbed down off of the roof.
"Stiles!" He took he mask off and shouted into the house. "I'm gonna go clean up, there'll be hot water for you when you're finished, just come by the cabin!"
"10-4!" Stiles yelled back.
He threw his gas mask into the jeep as he walked by, then stripped down to his long underwear, shaking the worst of the soot out of his jacket and hanging it in the wind before kicking off his boots and stepping over the threshold into the house. He stoked the fire and put the kettle on, washing his hands in cold water, straight out of the taps, and using a nail brush to get at the soot that had worked its way under his gloves. The kettle went off as he dug through Isaac's clothes, looking for something for Stiles to change into and trying to resist the urge to pull a shirt from amongst his own things instead. He turned to take it off the heat when he hear Stiles' jeeps start up.
It was a cold day and some engines took a long time to warm up properly, so Derek didn't think much of it at first. But then, instead of hearing the crunch of Stiles' feet hitting the gravel as he climbed back out of his vehicle and headed toward the house, Derek heard the jeep change gears. The clutch groaned in protest as Stiles forced it into first and then the engine rumbled and the balljoints shrieked and Stiles was driving away.
It was odd, to say the least. Stiles hadn't even been paid yet, and when Derek poked his head into the old house, he could still see soot everywhere, all over the cracked and battered tile floor of the kitchen. He couldn't imagine what could possibly have pulled Stiles away so abruptly. There were no telephone lines on the property, and Derek hadn't heard the radio playing. Stiles must have remembered something, some emergency. But even if that were the case, it was still damn rude, just leaving like that, without a single word of explanation. He could have even just shouted something, it wasn't like Derek wouldn't have heard. Derek frowned to himself as he stood there, looking at the mess. It pissed him off to leave a job only half-finished.
He tied a handkerchief around his nose and mouth and waded into the wreckage with a broom. After five minutes, his nose was already running freely and his eyes were watering, making it hard to see as he worked. He had already caught himself twice, trying to rub at them. It didn't take much longer after that before he was cursing out loud to himself, coughing, sneezing and probably also red and rashy as the wolfbane irritated the skin of his face. He had to take a break to let the swelling do down enough that he could see and breath again.
"Unreliable, good-for-nothing, lazy, worthless," his sympathy for whatever had befallen Stiles was dwindling by the second and by the end of thirty minutes, he was considering packing a wheelbarrow full of soot into the back of his truck and hand-delivering it to Stiles's doorstep.
"Hale!" A voice shouted from outside, interrupting his thoughts. "Derek Hale! This is Sheriff Stilinski! I need you to come out of the house!"
"What?" Derek pulled the handkerchief down, off his face, and was immediately caught in a sneezing fit.
Sheriff Stilinski spoke again, "Hale! I need you to come out, slowly, with your hands where I can see them! Please acknowledge if you understand!"
"Noah? What the hell?" Derek called back, putting down the broom and dustpan and walking out of the kitchen, towards the door.
"It's going to be fine, Derek, I just need you to come out now, with your hands up. This will all go a lot easier if you cooperate. Please, Derek, I need you to cooperate."
Stilinski's voice was steady and calm, but Derek could recognize pleading when he heard it. There was nothing in the Sheriff's arsenal that could prevent Derek from running and they both knew it, but if he ran now, he would never be able to come back. Something had happened in town, something bad.
"I'm coming out, now, but you better be able to explain this, Stilinski."
Derek emerged from the house slowly, with his arms raised. The Sheriff was there with Deputy Parrish and they both had their guns out and trained on him. He was instructed to stop a few feet in front of the house. Sheriff Stilinski approached, put him in handcuffs and then escort him back to the squad car. They had parked at the end of the drive, which explained why Derek hadn't heard them approaching, and the Sheriff read him his rights as they walked, with Parrish following a few steps behind.
"What the hell is going on, Stilinski?" Derek ducked his head as he was folded into the back of the car.
The Sheriff just shook his head. "We'll talk at the station."
Stiles had found a dead guy in the backyard.
He had gone to dump the ashes in a grove of trees behind the house, and found a dead guy lying there, totally eviscerated, having bled out into the snow. It was the second dead body to have been found since Derek had come back. Both victims had been drifters from out of town, brutally dismembered, seemingly by some wild animal, and the first death had been dismissed as such. But the second victim had been found behind the Hale house and there were signs that a blade had been used. The time of death had been placed at roughly ten in the morning and Derek had been home alone at ten that morning, lighting a fire in the kitchen stove.
"The body of the deceased was found in the woods to the northeast of the main house." The Sheriff sat across from Derek. They were in the only interrogation room at the station, Derek's hands were cuffed to the table. "The victim was approximately twenty-four years old, male, with dark hair." He put down a photo for Derek to look at. "No identification, last seen walking east through town. Goddamnit, Hale, you're a goddamn werewolf how could you not know what was happening barely ten yards away from you?" He hit the table in frustration.
"The whole chimney in the kitchen was lined with wolfsbane. I can't even smell you right now and I haven't been exposed in six hours. I have no idea who this person is or how they got on my property."
"Well he certainly seemed to know you."
"He came into the Sunrise Cafe this morning asking about you."
"Asking for Hale."
"Maybe he was trying to order a beer and someone heard him wrong."
"Derek, this is not the time to be cute. A man who was last seen looking for you was found murdered on your property, while you were there, by your own admission, alone and standing about fifteen feet away busy staring at a wall."
Derek sighed and leaned back in his chair, tilting his head up to look at the ceiling. He closed his eyes for a second. "What do you want me to say, Stilinski? I haven't been home in five years. That guy could be my next door neighbor and I wouldn't know the difference. What motivation could I possibly have to start killing people?"
There was an overly long pause before the Sheriff responded. "Hale, you were at war."
"So were you, Sheriff."
"Yes, but you were at war and while you were at war your entire family died. That can change a person."
"Thank you for that insight, Sheriff, I hadn’t noticed."
Stilinski leaned his elbows on the table and massaged his temples, breathing steadily in and out through his nose. He shook his head slowly, then straightened, sitting up to his full height as he looked across the table at Derek. "This is what's going to have to happen right now, Hale. I am going book you under suspicion of first degree murder. It's already after business hours on a Friday and next week is Christmas, so the likelihood is high that you will be stuck here, awaiting arraignment until the week after next. The evidence so far is circumstantial, but there is enough of it that I can't release you. You'll need to sit tight and wait this one out until we can find something that clears you."
Derek watched the Sheriff's face. Stilinski was calm, his voice was steady and reassuring, but Derek's sinuses had been slowly clearing up since he had been placed into custody and he was beginning to be able to smell things again. The Sheriff reeked of fear and doubt.
It didn't matter though. Regardless of Stilinski's faith or lack of faith in him, Derek's choices remained the same: either wait in custody and hope for the best, or run away and never come back.
He resigned himself to the idea that he would probably be spending Christmas in a cell. "Can you do me a favor, Sheriff?"
Stilinski gestured inquisitively but noncommittally.
"Make sure Isaac is taken care of."
"I believe Mrs. McCall is making arrangements for him to stay with the McCall family over the holidays."
Derek nodded, that was good, at least. "You have until January fourth to do whatever it is that you need to do, but I can't be in here on the solstice."
"I'll do what I can." Stilinski's heartbeat was steady, but the air still smelled like doubt.
Prisoners being held under suspicion of murder one do not normally get many visitors and prisoners in general do not normally get many visitors at three in the morning. On second thought, though, Derek decided that he really should have predicted the inevitability that Stiles would, at some point, come pay him a visit, if only because he wasn't supposed to.
"You didn't bite Scott."
Derek rolled over on his bunk and squinted across the dark room at Stiles, who was staring at him through the iron bars that separated them. "No, I didn't bite Scott," he answered.
"The timing is off for you to have bitten Scott. You were still deployed in Asia when Scott was bitten."
"You stole a copy of my service record?"
"Dad brought it home to look through it. "
Derek sat up, dropping his feet onto the ground and resting his elbows on his knees. He watched Stiles pace back and forth outside his cell.
"So you didn't turn Scott," Stiles continued, thinking out loud, "but you have been mauling hobos and dumping them in your backyard, which is concerning. That, or the Alpha that did turn Scott is running around, mauling hobos and dumping them in your backyard, which is even more concerning."
"Save the innocent speech for literally anyone else, I'm following the evidence."
Derek shrugged. "Then you'll want the rest of the facts. My Uncle Peter turned Scott, before he died."
"Seriously? Crazy Peter Hale was an Alpha?"
"My Uncle Peter was a good man." Derek clenched his fists where they rested on his knees. Peter had been only ten years older than Derek and they had been close. He had been the one to teach Derek how to control his shift and how to mask his speed and strength so that Derek could be allowed to go to public high school. He hadn't always been particularly patient or kind, but he had been able to explain things to Derek in a way that made sense.
"Your Uncle Peter came back from France in a coma, only to miraculously recover six months later, bite a seventeen-year-old, apparently, and then burn down his own house, killing himself and his entire family."
Derek stood up, walking across the cell to stand in front of Stiles. "What are you talking about?"
"I saw the investigative report. They ruled it an accident but it was August, Derek, why the fuck would there be a fire going in the fireplace? Your Uncle Peter was found downstairs, in the living room and there were traces of turpentine all over the place. It was a murder-suicide but no one wanted to point their finger at a war hero and no one thought it mattered because everyone was dead anyway."
They were toe to toe, with only the bars between them. Stiles was looking up at Derek, unflinching, staring him right in the eyes, as Derek held himself very still. He could feel a growl rising in the back of his throat and the fangs in his mouth were just waiting to descend. The wolf strained to get out. He feinted towards the bars and Stiles flinched back.
Smirking, Derek felt the wolf settle again as he walked back towards his bunk. He knew he was being petty, but it was still satisfying.
"Oh my god, you are a dick." Stiles groused, probably making faces at Derek's retreating back.
Derek lay down, turning to face the wall and resolving not to allow himself to be further goaded. The Peter Derek had known would have laughed at the idea of being called a war hero. He would have laughed and then probably tricked some poor kid, maybe even Derek, into peeing on the front door of the VFW and starting a fight. Peter had been an asshole and an instigator, but not homicidal or crazy. That had been before the war, though, and a lot of things had changed since then. The fire was looking, every day, less and less like it could possibly have been an accident and Peter’s roll in it was just one more thing that Derek didn’t have the energy to think about. "Take care of Isaac, make sure he has a good Christmas."
"I'm pretty sure he doesn't need a babysitter."
Derek closed his eyes and didn't respond. Stiles left shortly after that.
Derek remained in custody for two weeks, all through Christmas and for the entire week following. Then, late on the morning of the fourth of January, he was released without ceremony or explanation by deputy Parrish. Had it been even one day earlier, he might have taken the time ask why, to find out what had changed, but it was the fourth of January. The moon would be up in only a matter of hours. There was no time to think about anything else.
He jogged all the way across town to the veterinary office where Scott worked, talking his way past the receptionist and going straight to the back, where he found Isaac, hosing down the dog cages.
"Isaac, this is it. The moon will be up in three hours. I'm going back to the house to prepare, do you think you can get Scott and Liam to come freely?"
Isaac watched the water as it sprayed out of the hose, then turned off the faucet and picked up a scrub brush, not meeting Derek's eyes. "These past two weeks have been good. Mrs. McCall cooks sometimes and Scott taught me how to take an animal's pain."
Derek nodded. "Practicing on small animals is smart, there's no risk of going too far and hurting yourself. Do you think you can get Scott and Liam to come to the house before moonrise?"
Isaac dipped his brush in chlorine and began slowly scrubbing at the metal bars of the dog cages. He frowned and pressed his lips together tightly. "We've been working on control. Stiles has this method he used with Scott when he first got bitten and--"
"Isaac," Derek cut in, "do you think you can get them back in time?"
Isaac finally looked up. "Scott thinks my control is good. He thinks I can handle it. He has techniques, for working with Liam, but he thinks I can handle it without... without using the cellar."
Derek heard movement in the room behind him and whipped around just as Scott come into view, standing in the doorway with his arms crossed.
"You lived through this once, do you not remember what it was like, McCall?" He glared at Scott accusingly. "How can say it wasn't that bad? It is that bad! It's worse! We need to find Liam, right now, and all of you need to come with me!"
Scott stepped across the room to stand in front of Isaac, his arms still crossed over his body. "No. Isaac doesn't want to go with you and he doesn't have to. I remember last year, Stiles chained me up and I went crazy, out of control, for maybe six hours, but it didn't last forever. I wore myself out. It took a few days to recover from, but it wasn't the end of the world. No one needs to be buried in a pit."
"What are you talking about? That's not how the full moon works! You don't get tired, without an outlet, it just builds! Even I feel the need to run during a wolf moon. It gives us strength! It doesn't make you tired! The cellar is safe, none of you are ready for this!"
Scott widened his stance and dropped his hands to his sides, he wasn't listening anymore. "It's Isaac's choice."
Derek looked between Scott and Isaac. Isaac had gone back to staring at the ground, but Scott was watching Derek closely, waiting to see what he would do. He grit his teeth and glared, then turned around and walked out. Now was not the time to start a fight.
He didn't go far. Moonrise was three hours away.
Watching from across the street, he saw Stiles came by with Malia and Liam a few hours later. They all piled into the Jeep, driving forty miles out of town to a campsite in the middle of the woods. It looked like they had used the location before, there was a fire pit that had been cleared of snow and a stockpile of dry wood stacked under a tarp. As the moon came up, they lit a fire and chained Liam to a tree nearby, then huddled around it, preparing to relax away the wolf moon.
It worked for the first few hours. Scott's control was excellent, especially considering his age, and Isaac's was getting there. They lasted a solid six hours before showing any signs of getting twitchy. Then, at hour eight, Malia unceremoniously stripped and shifted, transforming into a coyote and slipping off into the woods on her own. Derek wasn't worried about her, he had been watching Malia. She had been born a werecoyote and had long-since found the balance between her human self and her animal shift. Her transformation had been controlled, a choice. She folded her pants along the creases before stacking them with her other clothes on the tailgate of the jeep and disappearing into the night.
Derek stayed where he was.
Like Malia, he had a full-shift, but he had decided against using it that night. The wolf-shift was powerful, but it was also uncompromising. It ran and it hunted, but it could not speak and it had no hands. Instead he waited upwind, in the dark, in his half-shift, with his claws and his fangs extended, listening as Liam howled and pulled at his restraints, while Scott and Isaac sat by the fire with Stiles, picking at their hands and shuffling their feet, like addicts.
When the dam finally did break, Derek was almost proud. Isaac had lasted close to sixteen hours, unrestrained, in the full light of the moon and he might have lasted even longer, were it not for Liam. Liam had been getting progressively stronger and more crazed as the hours passed and the chains that held him to the tree had grown slowly colder and more brittle, freezing in the chill of the long night. At eight in the morning, they reached their breaking point.
A link snapped, the sound echoing through the woods like a gunshot, and Liam was gone, racing into the woods with a triumphant howl. That was the last straw for Isaac, who had been barely holding on as it was. He shifted and chased off after his packmate, joining in his howls, two young wolves delighted at their first hunt.
"Scott!" Stiles shouted as Scott shifted, then shifted back, struggling to keep his wolf in check, but Derek was already gone, chasing after the Betas. Scott would have to fight that battle on his own.
Isaac and Liam were racing back towards town, running parallel to the highway. Derek was able to get out in front of Isaac, but Liam had caught the scent of something, and was already too far ahead. He could smell old blood as well as something warm and alive and Liam was after it, barrelling through the woods, wild and out of control, drunk on the power of the moon.
Crossing a frozen stream, Derek vaguely registered their surroundings as familiar, before catching sight of the Sheriff's car, parked in a gravel turn-out just off the road. All other thoughts left his mind as he lept forward, half-slipping into his full shift for a split second before crashing into Liam, pulling him back just as he made contact with the Sheriff.
He smelled fresh blood, fresh blood mixed with old blood and death, but there was no time to analyze it further. Isaac caught up with them a second later and Derek grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, bringing him down in a headlock and holding on.
Liam was fighting him, pulling to get free and howling in frustration when he couldn't. Derek howled in return, flashing his alpha eyes and roaring that he submit, but Liam was too far gone. The wolf in him couldn't even recognize an Alpha, there was only the hunt. He turned on Derek, clawing into him, lashing out in any way he could, digging deep rivets down Derek's back. Blood poured out, filling the air with its smell, and Isaac went insane, shrieking and howling and biting into Derek's side and at his arm where it restrained him.
Derek felt his own wolf rise, the winter wolf. He was a full-shift Alpha, born and raised at the 65th parallel. The year he had turned sixteen, he had been sent north to survive the wolf moon alone above the arctic circle and, he, like every other Hale before him, had remained himself for two weeks as the moon circled the sky, never setting. He should kill these pups for their weakness, cull them from the pack. A wolf that could not master of his own nature was not a wolf, but only a beast.
Derek closed his eyes and found his center. He felt Liam's claws digging into his leg, tearing at the muscle and ripping it wide open, faster than it could heal. He locked off his grip around Liam's arm as he felt the wound close up, the flesh knitting itself back together even as Liam tore it open again. He drew upon the strength of the wolf, feeling it settle over him, like a second skin.
Two hours. The moon would set in only two more hours.
Derek listened to the sound of his own heartbeat, forcing it to slow down, then stretched out his hearing to listen to that of Isaac and Liam, racing beside him and, a little further away, the steady, strong heartbeat of the Sheriff.
Two hours. No one need die tonight. The moon will set in two hours.
"the fire went out and the cold crept in" is a fragment of a line from Robert W. Service's poem The Parson's Son. The poem ends with the stanza:
This was the song of the parson's son,
as he lay in his bunk alone,
Ere the fire went out and the cold crept in,
and his blue lips ceased to moan,
And the hunger-maddened malamutes
had torn him flesh from bone.
According to the internet (specifically saving.org) the buying power of $20 in 1946 would be the same as $265 in 2017. So, yeah, Derek is paying Stiles a really good wage for barely half a day of unskilled labor.
Maybe this joke is just way too dumb but adal means noble in German and the name Adolf (as in Hitler) comes from the Old High German name Adalwolf (noble wolf). Adolf used to be a really popular name in Germany, obviously that has dropped off considerably since 1942. Fun fact: in Germany, it’s not illegal to name your kid Adolf but the registration office can refuse to register the name if you can’t demonstrate adequately that it’s not related to right-wing extremism.
I have never lived in Fairbanks. I did some research on the town, but not a ton, so take any specific references to the area with a huge grain of salt. This goes as well for references to how the city government works. Alaska wasn’t a state yet and I imagine, being so far out, they did a lot of self-policing, but I didn’t look that far into it. I don’t think they used a Sheriff’s department to run law enforcement, but it doesn’t seem too incongruous to pretend, so I’m pretending.
Chapter 3: as wolf-dogs fight we've fought, the lean wolf-land and I
It smelled like heather, when Derek woke up, heather and cedar. He was lying down and could feel the sheets, soft against his skin. He ran his hands over the thick wool blankets that covered him, they were rough and heavy, pressing down against the loosely woven cotton underneath. His fingers felt the texture of each layer, linen, then cotton, then wool. He was home, in his own bed, these were his linens, his bedclothes.
Derek cracked open his eyes. Isaac was sitting next to his bedside, slumped over in a chair, which was stupid. Isaac's bed was only a foot away, but he had wedged a chair between the two bunks, hemmed in by the table and the wood stove. Stubborn, that was Isaac. He looked uncomfortable, half-falling out of his chair and head lolling to the side. Good thing he was a werewolf, in another minute he would probably lose his balance and go crashing into the wood stove. He looked okay though, normal.
Derek blinked very slowly, his eyes felt sandy and crusted with sleep and his mouth was dry. As he breathed in, he could feel the warm air that was coming off the wood stove irritating the back of his throat, it hurt to swallow. His whole body was tired and ached with hunger. Eggs, meat, dairy, anything green, any kind of citrus, and water, water for days and days, he was so dehydrated he got lost thinking about a glass of orange juice. What I wouldn't give for a glass of orange juice and two raw eggs.
There was a mug left out on the table for him and he pushed himself up to reach for it. The skin of his forearm was smooth and unblemished and nothing in his chest strained or pulled as he twisted. He had healed. Other than a general sense of malaise that was unlikely to leave him anytime soon, he had completely healed.
The water in the mug was tepid and bitter. Someone had made him pine needle tea and it was a testament to how much Derek's body was craving Vitamin C that he downed the whole thing in one go. It smelled like pine rosin and left a filmy aftertaste in his mouth, but he already wanted more. He had lost a lot of blood and his body had been cannibalizing itself as he had healed, he needed more of everything: water, fats, protein, iron, amino acids. The quickest way to kill a werewolf was by cutting one in half, but they could also be killed through attrition, by draining them dry until their body simply ran out of the resources with which to heal itself. Derek knew that he had come very close to reaching that limit. He could feel it in his bones, exactly how close.
He set his empty mug back down on the table and Isaac jerked awake.
"Oh my God, Derek," and then he was being hugged. Isaac threw himself out of his chair and rubbed his face into Derek's shirt, scenting him like a child. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You were right, you were completely right. I wasn't ready, and you tried to say and I fucked up and I'm sorry. I'll listen. We'll train more and I'll get better and I'll listen to whatever you say."
Derek sighed, clasping one hand over the back of Isaac's neck and holding him steady. "It's okay, Isaac." He pushed lightly at Isaac's shoulders, getting him sit up. "Let me see your eyes."
Isaac's eyes glowed bright gold and Derek felt something in his chest relax for the first time since the moon had gone up on the solstice. Isaac had made it through a world war and when Derek had turned him, his wolf-eyes had still been gold. He had never killed, had never been made to kill, and Derek would have held on forever, would have found a way to keep standing, holding Isaac back, even as he felt the last drop of blood drain out of him, to keep it that way. He smiled tiredly. "Good. Good. You're okay. Everything is okay."
"Scott and the others, they'll come around. They don't know what they're doing. They need you. They need an Alpha who knows things, not just some kid."
Derek's smile grew rueful. "I will always be there for you Isaac, but Scott is your Alpha now." He let his eyes flash, showing their color.
They were blue.
He knew they were blue. He had felt the red drain out of them the day before, just as the full moon was finally setting, and had woken up knowing that it had not come back. But it still felt strangely final to see the confirmation in Isaac's face. Seeing Isaac's shocked expression made him feel inexplicably old. Most werewolves spent their whole lives with the same golden color in their eyes, but this was already the third time Derek's had changed. He wasn't even twenty four yet.
"I'm not a true Alpha, like Scott. I inherited the alpha powers from my uncle and," he shrugged, "I used too much of them at once."
Isaac looked miserable, like Derek had just told him that all the circus elephants in all the world had gotten sick and and died and that it was all his fault. The circus always made Isaac nebulously sad and most of the acts had stopped impressing him once he had become a werewolf, but he liked the elephants. Derek was reasonably certain that Dumbo was Isaac’s favorite movie. He chose to not make any assumptions as to why, maybe Isaac just liked the music.
"Don't look at me like that." He ruffled Isaac's hair and pushed him away awkwardly, not really knowing what to do. "It's done. Get me some water and tell Scott to stop skulking around outside. I may not be an Alpha anymore," he directed his voice pointedly towards the door, "but I am not def."
Isaac picked up Derek's empty mug, wiping furtively at his nose with his sleeve as he smiled. "Yeah, he is kind of a mouth breather."
"Hey, I used to have asthma. It's a habit." Scott walked through the door, taking Isaac's spot by the bed while Isaac refilled Derek's water.
Opening his mouth to speak, Scott reconsidered. He closed it again and they both sat in semi-awkward silence as Scott's face cycled through a number of expressions before finally setting on uncomfortable and vaguely constipated. Derek accepted his mug back from Isaac and took a drink.
He had woken up a few times throughout the previous day and night. Still in a fog and mostly unaware of his surroundings, his mind had sifted through the events of the last few months. There had been a lot of things, since coming back, that hadn't made sense, little puzzle pieces that didn't fit, that he had tried to ignore, avoid or repress. He had allowed himself to examine them closely for the first time, and a few of things had come together.
"You used to break into my family's house during the full moon, didn't you? You and Stiles."
Scott nodded. "Once it started snowing. We needed someplace with shelter, that was secluded, but not so far out of town it would take forever to get to."
"And then on the solstice, you knew it would be a long night and it was cold out, so you lit a fire in the fireplace."
"That's why you got sick, you were poisoning yourself. You didn't fall asleep with exhaustion, you passed out from breathing in wolfsbane fumes from the fire. Stiles probably had a hard time waking you up once the moon set."
"He dragged me outside and threw me in a snowbank."
Derek snorted. That sounded like Stiles.
There was another short pause as Derek drank again. Scott scratched at the back of his head. "The Sheriff is okay. He hit his head pretty hard and is being treated for mild hypothermia from lying in the snow for so long, but he'll be fine. Stiles is at home with him. We were gonna take you there, but we thought maybe you'd rather wake up somewhere familiar. I know it's like that for me. I like to be in my own space when I'm, you know." He gestured at Derek's general state of weakness.
"Yeah, he's good too. A little freaked out, but doing alright."
Finishing his water, Derek let himself fall back against his pillow. He was worn out, just from talking. "You'll take Isaac into your pack."
Scott avoided eye contact, looking around the room uncertainly and shifting in his seat. "I don't really have a pack..."
Derek watched him steadily, waiting until Scott met his gaze. "Isaac is part of your pack."
"Yes, of course. If Isaac wants to be. He's more than welcome." Scott shifted again. "You could be too, if you wanted."
Derek sighed and closed his eyes. He wasn't sure what he wanted anymore. He was tired and decided not to respond.
Isaac came by a lot during Derek's recovery. He had wanted to move back into the cabin at first, but Derek encouraged him to stay in town, with the McCalls. Scott was his Alpha now and it wouldn't be good for him to isolate himself from his pack. Also, he could tell that Isaac liked it there. He was lonely and liked being with people, it was good for him. He still came by, though, and that was nice too.
He would bring great big slabs of beef with him and they would cook it over the wood stove, playing five-card draw and ace-to-six low while Isaac worked on control exercises. The wood stove wasn't all-that well designed for cooking steak and neither Derek nor Isaac were particularly inspired chefs, so what they ate generally turned out half-raw and slightly charred, but neither of them really minded. Isaac could eat red meat in any form from sunup to sundown and never get tired of it and Derek was still trying to work through a protein deficiency from his injury. They could have thrown it over the truck's radiator and driven around for an hour and still thought it turned out delicious. Also, watching Isaac try bluff with his teeth extended and his cards delicately balanced in his claws was definitely one of the funnier things Derek had ever seen in his life.
The Sheriff had recovered quickly, his injuries had been minor as Scott had reported, and he came by a few times as well, once Stiles finally let him out of the house, to check in on Derek and to thank him for saving his life. The first time he showed up, Derek had half a mind to be irritated with him for having been out during the full moon at all. But, at the end of the day, just because Stilinski was aware of the existence of werewolves, that didn't make him an expert on the supernatural. When the Sheriff pulled up to the cabin with a bandage on his forehead, over his left eye, and a casserole and a six-pack of beer next to him in the passenger seat, Derek decided it just wasn't worth the energy it would take to be annoyed.
They talked for a while. Apparently the Sheriff had been out during the full moon for the same reason that Derek had been released from prison: there had been another murder. Another drifter had been shredded apart on the outskirts of the Hale property and the Sheriff had wanted a second look at the crime scene before it deteriorated.
Derek picked at his plate, tuna-noodle-casserole wasn't what he would call one of his favorite foods, but he wouldn’t turn his nose up at it either. "Just because I was locked up during the third murder doesn't mean I’m innocent of the first two."
"It certainly raised the odds."
Derek gave the Sheriff a pointed stare until he relented, putting his fork down and sighing. "Look, what did you expect me to do? Keep you locked up forever? I exercised my best judgement when I took you into custody and I did the same thing again when I let you go."
They were sitting at the table, eating casserole and drinking the beer the Sheriff had brought with him. Derek turned to watch the ravens outside, they were picking at the grain Derek had scattered in front of the house for them.
"So, now that you're no longer a person of interest, I was wondering if you would take a look at a few things for me." The Sheriff pushed his plate away, setting a manila envelope on the table in front of him and he opening it. He pulled out three photos and laid them out one at a time for Derek to see. "Victim number one was found on December 8th, six miles out of town on Highway 3. Female, the victim was in her late thirties or early forties, potentially of native Alaskan heritage. Her death was first assumed to be the result of an animal attack, but is now considered to have been a murder."
He laid out a second photo. "Victim number two was found on the Hale property on December 20th, after the victim had been seen inquiring about the Hale family. White, male, in his early twenties, marks were found on the body that indicate the use of a blade."
Stilinski laid down the last photo. "Victim number three was found on the morning of January 4th, also on the Hale family property, though much further from the house. Male, early twenties, Asian or native Alaskan heritage and," he tapped at the photograph, "this one was a werewolf."
Derek raised an eyebrow.
"Scott said he could smell it at the crime scene, he kept asking who the other wolf had been. When I showed him the body of our victim, he confirmed it. Whoever this was, he was a werewolf." Stilinski gestured towards the photograph, "clearly this all has to be related. Maybe the first one really was an animal attack, but the second one was looking for you and the third one was a werewolf. Is there some kind of a supernatural war going on that I don't know about? Is your family involved? Is there something, anything, you're not telling me?"
Derek reached out, sliding the photograph of the first victim across the table towards himself. "She was a werewolf too."
"You know her?"
"Nasnana Yu'pik, she was a member of Yu'pik Pack, near Talkeetna. We used to visit them sometimes." He picked up the photo to look at it closer. "You can run the name, but I doubt her birth was registered anywhere. They were a very traditional pack." He paused for a second. "They would have come to look for her, though, if she went missing. We should be neck-deep in Yu'pik Pack politics right now."
"There's been nothing. I've sent all three photos out to every precinct in the state and over into Canada and it's turned up nothing."
Derek frowned and looked out the window, watching the ravens. He took a drink of beer and picked idly at the paper label while he thought. "There wasn't a war going on when I left, but a lot of things could have changed in five years."
The latter half of January was cold and dark. The sun barely rose before eleven in the morning and it would set again by three in the afternoon. The moon, a waxing crescent, was on the wrong side of the earth and would only stay in the sky for a few hours at a time. The wind would boom against the cabin walls during the long nights and the forest was loud with the sound of ice, shaking to the ground out of frozen tree branches.
It was early in the evening near the end of the month, the sun had just set, and Derek was sitting on his bed next to the wood stove, reading, when he heard the jeep approach. The cabin was small enough to be lit up brightly by the light from one kerosene lamp, making it hard to see out the windows, but a willys jeep had a very distinctive sounding engine and, after four years in the army, Derek could recognize it in his sleep. Stiles' headlights shone in through the frost-covered windows as he pulled up the drive, and Derek waited for them to turn off, putting his book down when he heard Stiles’ footsteps in the snow. He didn’t quite have time to make it across the room, though, before Stiles was pounding on the door to be let in. Throwing up the bar, he ushered Stiles inside, shutting the door tight behind him against the force of the wind.
Stiles was shaking, shivering with cold and covered in ice that was slowly beginning to drip off of him and melt all over the floor. He had on driving goggles, a thick fur hat and a parka with a hood and collar that fastened all the way up over his nose, so that not a scrap of skin was visible. A sheen of ice covered his chest and shoulders and his mittens had frozen into c-shaped curls, like he was still holding onto the steering wheel. Even his boots had frozen shut. He had either forgotten his gaiters or decided not to bother with them and the uncovered laces had fused together in the cold. It looked like they would probably have to be thawed out first in order for Stiles to get them off on his own.
This thought must have occurred to Stiles as well, because he took a step towards the fire. Derek put a hand out to stop him, giving him a hard look. "Don't move, you're dripping all over my floor."
Flipping open his trunk, he pulled out a towel and threw it down at Stiles' feet while Stiles pulled off his hat and mittens, pushing his goggles up onto his forehead as they began to fog up. His mouth was still covered by the high collar of his jacket and big chunks of ice were starting to drop off of it and onto the floor.
"Don't move." Derek repeated, stepping forward to take his hat and mittens and hang them over the wood stove, before coming back. He cracked open the zipper cover on the front of Stiles’ jacket, shaking off more snow and ice and working open the buttons on the collar.
"I can undress myself, you know." Stiles' voice sounded a little peevish, but not overly argumentative, as if he felt he should complain on principle, but in actuality, really couldn't care less, so long as he wasn't being kicked back out into the cold.
Standing this close, Derek could see the fine lines of Stiles’ cheekbones, the curve of his cupid’s bow and the exact shade of his eyelashes. His skin looked soft and he had another beauty mark just over his left eyebrow. He was always so pale, they had only known each other in winter, and Derek briefly wondered what he would look like flushed. "Have you ever lived somewhere that didn't have a mudroom?"
"Then don't move, you'll make a mess."
Derek hung Stiles' jacket by the door before crouching down to tackle the laces on his boots. It took a minute or two to shake them free of ice and get them untied and loosened up. Then Stiles dropped his snow pants and Derek tried to talk him through stepping out of the whole mess without getting his feet wet. He almost succeeded, making it over to the dry floor with one foot before tripping over the towel and almost landing with his ass in the puddle that had been accumulating at his feet. He caught himself at the last minute, stepping back, right into the ice water, and steadying himself with a hand on Derek's head.
"Oh, God, that's cold! Woah, whoops! Hey... " Stiles smiled sheepishly in his frozen socks and long underwear as he quickly removed his hand from Derek's hair.
His fingers were long and delicate and Derek found himself watching them for a moment as Stiles pulled his hand back, before rolling his eyes, mopping up the water and putting Stiles' boots and pants by the door with his jacket. How a person could be so ungainly, as a whole, while being composed of so many graceful parts, was a mystery to him. "Take your socks off and put them over the stove." He dug around in his trunk for a pair of wool socks and threw them at Stiles along with a sweater. "Put these on."
Struggling to catch it all, Stiles juggled the socks for a second, then dumped everything on the table while he hung his wet things, flopping back onto Isaac's bed when he was done and sighing in contentment as he wiggled his toes. Pulling on the dry socks like it was a religious experience, he squirmed around for a bit trying to get the sweater on without having to sit up, burying his nose in the collar as soon as it was over his head. "This smells amazing." He stretched out his feet and closed his eyes. "This feels amazing. I'm done. I think I'm gonna take a nap now. I have accomplished enough for one day."
Derek glared down at him with his arms crossed. Stiles looked ridiculous. He had on red long underwear - bright red long underwear - and a blue and white button-up sweater with snowflakes knit into it and Derek's over-sized drab green cable-knit thrown overtop. His hair was half-pasted down from having worn a hat on the way over and half-sticking up from having taken the hat off when he had come in. He was lying on his back with his arms and legs hanging off the side of the bed and he looked like he was about half a minute away from hibernating until spring.
Derek poked at him with his foot. "Why are you here?"
Stiles groaned and rolled away.
Derek poked at him again. "If you're here because you got into a fight with your girlfriend or something, I will toss you out into the snow."
"Ugh, no. Why would you even say that? Snow-based threats are not funny for anyone and I so happen to be here on very important, mission-critical business. You should be thanking me, my business is that important."
Derek stared at Stiles' back for a second, he had curled up on his side, facing the wall. When Stiles continued to not move, Derek grabbed him by the ankle and started pulling him off the bed. "Yeah, that's not a good enough answer, you're going back outside."
"Woah! Wait! No! I'll talk! I'll talk!" Stiles flailed and grabbed at the headboard.
"That was a given. Tell me something useful."
"I have a theory about the murders." Derek let go of Stiles' ankle as he sat up, scooting forward to sit cross-legged on the bed facing Derek, who continued to glare down at him. He took a breath, then paused, raising an eyebrow. "Can you like, sit down now? Maybe make some coffee or something if you're one of those people who can't sit still while something's being explained?"
Derek looked at him in disbelief. "Are you really accusing me of being hyperactive right now?"
"Well," Stiles gestured at Derek's standing form, "somebody's been unable to sit still since I got here, and it hasn't been me."
"Oh my God, shut up."
"Are you sure? I thought you wanted me to--"
"Stiles!" Derek cut him off, holding his head in his hand for a second before rolling his eyes toward the ceiling and turning to grab the percolator off the shelf. It looked like Stiles was going to be there a while, so he might as well make coffee. "Get to your point."
"So, I was thinking about what we know. Victim number one," he lifted one finger, "was a werewolf by the name of Nasnana Yu'pik. The Yu'pik Pack kept to themselves, didn't interact a lot with outsiders, but they did come into town pretty often for basic commerce: buying and selling, that kind of thing. My dad did a little bit of digging, made a few calls and it turns out the Yu'pik family disappeared right around three years ago, in the winter of 1944.
"Second victim," Stiles raised a second finger, "he looks white, but we started circulating the photograph among the tribes anyway and got someone claiming to recognize him as being an Aleut from the Islands of the Four Mountains, and this is where it gets interesting. The Islands of the Four Mountains were not among those evacuated during the invasion of 1942 but, by the end of 1943, they had been abandoned anyway and no one can say for sure why.
"The third victim," he raised a third finger, "was a werewolf." He paused for a second. "That's all we know right now, actually, but it still fits with the theory."
He scooted forward in excitement. "So, the Japanese invaded in '42 and were pushed back out again in the summer of '43. But, sometime before that happened, an entire tribe of, let's assume for the sake of this theory, werewolves, goes missing. Then, a year later, another pack disappears, and, since we have a third unclaimed werewolf body on our hands, probably a third pack after that, not to mention your family, which the wolfsbane in the chimneys seems to conclusively prove could not have been entirely an accident. Now, what does all this indicate?"
By this time, Derek had sat down and was staring at Stiles skeptically from across the table.
"The Japanese are still invading!" Stiles threw his hands up, almost falling off the bed as he made his point.
Derek raised an eyebrow. The percolator started to boil and he moved it towards the edge of the wood stove to simmer for a while before turning back to Stiles, who was still waving his hands energetically. "And how is it, exactly, that no one has noticed?"
"They've been turning people into Siberian weretigers! The native Japanese may have been pushed back, but they'd already turned enough people into weretigers to start wiping out the werewolf population! Wait, hear me out. I've been doing some research and the Siberian Tiger is the wolf's only natural predator and guess where the Siberian Tiger lives."
"Yes! Siberia, but specifically the Sikhote Alin mountain region, which is right across the Sea of Japan! Obviously, the Japanese have weretigers, it only makes sense, and now they're spreading across Alaska and wiping out the werewolves!"
Derek stared at Stiles. "Obviously."
"Yes! It's clearly either that or hunters or both."
Derek sat up a little straighter. "Hunters?"
"Yeah, there's this guy in town with his daughter. They're professional wolf hunters, just come over from Canada, and they've been asking around about whether we have any problem animals in the area."
"I know, right?" Stiles reached over to the shelf above the wood stove for a couple of mugs and poured himself some coffee from the percolator. "My money is definitely on the Siberian Tiger theory."
Derek sighed and sat back, filling his own cup and resigning himself to the possibility that he might be spending the rest of his evening listening to conspiracy theories. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Dude," Stiles quirked an eyebrow, blowing on his coffee for a second before taking a sip, "you're involved. Your family was definitely a part of this. I might believe the story about your Uncle Peter going crazy and lighting himself on fire, but shoving wolfsbane up the chimney? That is premeditated, and if your family wasn't the only one it happened to? No way. Japanese Siberian weretiger invasion: it's the only theory that makes sense."
"And the hunters?"
"Maybe they're in on it! Or, like, a sweeper team, coming through and getting the stragglers. Or it's totally unrelated and they're just some freaky hunters rolling into town uninvited."
Derek looked up at the ceiling, taking a sip of coffee as he considered his response. As far crackpot theories went, this one was up there, but Stiles did have a point in some regards. There was definitely something going on that no one else had, as of yet, been able to fully explain. Or explain at all, really.
He was saved from having to think up something appropriate to say by a sharp rap, coming from the front window.
Stiles shrieked and almost spilled half his coffee all over himself as he jumped up, pulling his feet onto the bed. "Mother of Christ! What was that?"
"It's just the raven, he'll go away in a second. I feed him sometimes and he's picked up some bad habits."
"Why the fuck do you have a pet raven, that is so creepy!"
Derek raised an eyebrow. "People feed stray animals all the time."
"Yeah, but not the creepy ones!"
Derek tilted his head to the side.
"'Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary,' ring any bells? It's a poem. It's kind of famous, and, now that I think about it, it’s basically about you."
"And ravens are bad in this?"
"Yeah, they’re pretty much the harbingers of death."
Derek thought about it for a while before nodding slowly. "Most humans don't much like wolves either."
Stiles slumped back down on the bed, giving up. He stretched out his legs, setting his coffee on the table and picking up Derek's book instead. "So what do wolves think, then?"
Derek was almost half-way through The Razor's Edge and still unsure how he felt about it so far. He watched Stiles idly leaf through the pages, dropping Derek's bookmark and then putting it back in completely the wrong place.
"There's a myth that the raven used to be white. Back then, the sky was empty and the people lived in darkness without fire or fresh water. It was the raven who hung the sun and the moon in the sky and brought fresh water to the earth, having stolen them from the grey eagle, who wanted to keep everything for himself. But the last thing the raven stole was a firebrand, and as he flew with it, bringing it to the people, the smoke stained his feathers and turned them black."
Stiles hummed, closing the book and tapping its spine against his chest. "You sure this raven wasn't a communist? Sounds a bit suspect, redistributing the wealth like that."
Derek scowled and made to turn away, but before he could, Stiles swatted at him with his book, laughing. "Don't be like that, you know I'm just being an ass. It's a nice story. So? What? Wolves put up with ravens always nosing around their kills and stealing from them because 'the raven' acted as some kind of werewolf Prometheus about a million years ago?"
Derek continued to scowl and Stiles laughed again. "Wolves take their debts very seriously, don't they?"
"We don't forget things easily, no."
Another full moon came and went and suddenly it was March. The days were getting longer and longer and Derek was about as recovered as he was likely to get. He still felt weak, weaker than he ever remembered being, even before he had become an Alpha, but he had to remind himself that that was normal. He was an Omega now, a wolf without a pack, and this was the way of things.
He kept working on the house. It was slow going, in the snow and mostly by himself, but it felt good to have some sort of a purpose, a tangible goal that he could move towards in measurable increments. He had already weatherized it somewhat by stretching tarps and nailing plywood boards over the gaping holes in the roof and siding, stopping it from deteriorating further as he cleaned out the debris from inside. Cleaning it out felt like it took forever. He found himself stacking up pile after pile of half-charred furniture, smoke-stained clothing, and partially melted appliances, separating everything into: save, burn, or trash. Then, when the place was, at long last, empty, he began to cut away at the char and rot that had eroded the interior, finally getting a good look at the structure of the place.
It had fared reasonably well. The fire had raced through the house, destroying furnishings, warping doorframes, and staining everything with smoke and soot, but the only place it had burned hot enough to affect the studs or the integrity of the foundation was in the kitchen, where the gas stove had acted as an accelerant. A couple of support beams needed to either be splinted or fully replaced, and he was contemplating how he might get that done alone and slowly concluding that he would probably have to wait for Isaac to come by and help, when a coyote trotted up next to him, out of the trees.
Malia looked at him expectantly and he rolled his eyes, shaking his head and pointing across the yard, towards the cabin. "Between you and Stiles I'm going to run out of clothes before this winter is over. There's an old coat of Isaac's and some spare boots by the door, but nothing is going to come close to fitting you."
She huffed and loped off across the snow, shifting into her human form as she reached the door to the cabin, so she could let herself in. Nudity wasn't something that born shifters were generally very concerned about and neither was frostbite, but standing around in the cold was uncomfortable and burned a lot of energy. Most of the time putting on a jacket was, quite simply, the easier option.
Emerging a few minutes later, fully clothed, Malia wandered back over. She must have managed to find a few more of Isaac's things, because she wasn't quite swimming in the waistband of her pants. Isaac was much taller than she was though, so she had had to roll up the cuffs significantly at her wrists and ankles and the boots were so big on her that they looked more like clown shoes than anything else. She looked down with slight irritation at the boots, as if she could get them to behave by glaring at them strongly enough, but seemed otherwise completely unselfconscious about the way she looked. She moved with an assuredness that was attractive and Derek could see why Stiles liked her. There were few people in the world, supernatural or otherwise, who were so comfortable in their own skin.
As she drew closer, he found himself breathing in deeply through his nose, looking for the scent of engine oil, wet flannel, coffee and fresh-baked bread that would mean she had seen Stiles recently, but he couldn't find it. He tried again, subconsciously leaning towards her, and could smell Isaac's jacket, the heather coming off one of his own undershirts, snow, pine, wet wool, and maybe even chocolate, but nothing that explicitly said Stiles to him.
Malia gave him a slightly puzzled, slightly contemptuous look until he shook himself out of his reverie and pulled back. She continued to watch him, unamused. "Just because I'm single doesn't mean I'm interested."
Derek straightened in surprise and she huffed, rolling her eyes. "Might as well get this over with,” she said, under her breath. Then, more loudly, “Stiles and I broke up. Nothing happened, but we broke up."
There was a bit of a pause as Derek eyed her and she stared him down, right back. "I'm fairly certain," he started, tentatively, "that you did not come all the way out here to tell me about your breakup."
"I didn't. I came out here because they're all," she groaned and gestured in frustration towards Derek, the house and seemingly everything else. "Stiles doesn't lie, but he never tells the whole truth either. And they stink of guilt all the time, all three of them. Stiles thinks I should have been there, that I could have helped keep things under control. But I always go off on my own during the full moon. He just hates being wrong, which is stupid, just like feeling guilty is stupid. They made a mistake, him and Scott and Liam and you cleaned it up. That's how it is. They should feel grateful you helped at all. And that you didn't kill Liam."
Derek raised his eyebrows pointedly. "I’m still not getting why you’re here."
"Well," Malia crossed her arms and turned to face the house, "Isaac said you might need help with a few things."
When Derek still didn't say anything in response, she nodded in his direction. "I'm saying: thank you. Liam and the Sheriff are part of my pack, and I guess Isaac is now, too. This seemed more productive than chasing after weretigers and trying to solve every murder in a three-hundred mile radius of Fairbanks."
Derek snorted, "Siberian weretigers, I'm told there's a difference."
"There probably is, but they still don’t exist on this continent. At least the hunters he's been stalking present an actual, credible threat."
"The father and daughter?"
"The Argents," she nodded in confirmation. "Do me a favor and be careful around the full moon, will you? If you get yourself shot and your pelt turned in for a bounty I might have to start wearing one of Stiles' gas masks all the time, the guilt is going to be that thick."
"Nice to know you care." Derek glanced up at the sky, checking the position of the sun, then looked back towards the house. "Well, come on. You can hold up the ceiling for me while I fix something."
The full moon came around again fairly quickly, and when it did, Derek shifted into his wolf form and went running. He could smell the others: Scott, Isaac and Liam. Malia must have gone out on her own again but the three of them had stayed together, soaking up the power of the moon as they raced through the woods. They weren't his pack, but they were his brothers and he felt drawn to them. It was soothing to hear their howls and catch their scent in the cold, clear air.
He circled around them, staying upwind and seeing how close he could get before they noticed. He doubted they would mind him being there, but he kept himself apart anyway, following the pack and watching them scuffle and chase, playing like the pack of infants they were, until he grew bored. The oldest among them hadn't been a werewolf for two years yet and it showed as much in their exuberance as it did in their inexperience. Except that he didn't grow bored so much as he grew sad. Watching them made him feel abruptly melancholy and alone. What he had lost seemed to stretch out in front of him like a deep canyon, trapping him on one side, cut off from the world, without the means to cross. The McCall pack was as small as it was young, but it would grow and gain strength. The Hale Pack would die with Derek.
He padded slowly back in the direction of town, retracing, by scent, the path Scott's pack had taken as they had raced off into the wood, when he came upon Stiles' jeep. Stiles had parked in the same camping spot the pack had used on the night of the solstice, this time not bothering to light a fire. Instead, he had curled up on the bench-seat in the back with a blanket around his shoulders, reading by the light of a headlamp.
As Derek approached, Stiles looked up, startled, then immediately calmed down again when he recognized Derek's blue eyes, staring back at him. "You had better be who I think you are," he mumbled, going back to his book as Derek hopped up next to him. He seemed completely unbothered by the gigantic black wolf that had just joined him in the bed of his jeep.
It was a cold night and everything was covered in a thick layer of frost, but the back of the jeep was filled with old, moth-eaten wool blankets and when Derek laid himself down in them, they smelled like pack. The whole pack must have driven out there together and it seemed to be something they did often, because the smell of them was strong. The blankets had probably become a semi-permanent addition to Stiles' vehicle, for the convenience and comfort of any extra werewolves and werecoyotes that he might be hauling around.
Derek closed his eyes. The blankets were warm and he was tired. The forest was still and quite, silent except for the far-off howl of Scott's pack and the quiet whisper of Stiles, slowly turning the pages on his book. It was a comforting sound.
"Thank you," Stiles' voice was low and when Derek looked up, Stiles was still concentrating on his book, his face illuminated only by the light of his headlamp as it reflected off the pages, "for saving my dad." His eyes weren’t moving as he stared at the page in front of him and he looked serious.
Derek traced the line of Stiles’ upturned nose with his eyes. Stiles was very loyal and very protective, he would have made a good soldier. He kept an M1903 Springfield in the rifle-mount in the front of the jeep and probably knew how to shoot it. His father had probably taught him. He was probably and excellent shot. But the idea of Stiles at war was painful in a way that Derek couldn’t fully explain. He felt the urge to scent Stiles, to wrap him up in even more blankets and push him down into the footwell, so that Derek could stand over him, between Stiles and the world, baring his fangs against any oncommers, as if Stiles were someone he had any right to protect.
Instead, Derek cocked his head to the side, acknowledging the thanks, and curled up with his eyes closed and his nose buried in soft wool, smelling engine oil, fresh-baked bread, wet flannel and coffee.
"as wolf-dogs fight we've fought, the lean wolf-land and I" is a line fragment from Robert W. Service's poem The Heart of the Sourdough. The poem ends with the stanza:
Then when as wolf-dogs fight we've fought,
the lean wolf-land and I;
Fought and bled till the snows are red under the reeling sky;
Even as lean wolf-dog goes down will I go down and die.
The Japanese invaded the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska in 1942 and sent the native population there back to Hokkaido for internment. Meanwhile, the US evacuated the rest of the nearby islands and sent the native population to internment camps in southeast Alaska. Neither of these camps were good places to be, 15 died in Japanese internment and 75 died in the US internment camps. In 1988, Congress passed an act that attempted to provide restitution to survivors, but the US did not formally apologize until 2017.
Professional wolf hunting was definitely a thing back in the day. In the '20s and '30s tens of thousands of wolves were killed annually in the lower 48 and in Canada the government backed an extermination program, starting in 1948, that offered a cash bounty for killing wolves. This continued until the early '70s. I don't know if there would have been a bounty for killing wolves in Alaska, but let's pretend there was.
The Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also called Amur tiger, once ranged throughout all of Korea, north-eastern China, Russian Far East, and eastern Mongolia. They are pretty much the wolf's only natural predator besides humans and other wolves. Everything from moose to bears were considered prey animals for them and they had repressed the population of wolves within their territory to the state of localized extinction. Now the Siberian tiger is classified as an endangered species. They were wiped out of Korea by the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of the early 1900s and only exist in small numbers in the mountains of the Russian Far East. Talk about a badass charismatic megafauna. Siberian Tigers are boss.
The Razor's Edge is a 1944 novel by W. Somerset Maugham. It's about an American pilot who comes back, traumatized, from WWI, but it's told from the perspective of his friends and acquaintances, none of whom had been been in the war. It was adapted into a film in 1946 and again in 1984 (starring Bill Murray). The book is a bit dry and covers a lot of ground (10 or 15 years, I think), so, unless Hermann Hesse is your favorite author, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it but it's one of those books that I think about a lot for some reason.
The raven myth is from the Northern Athabaskan people. I'm pretty sure it's shared by a lot of other native tribes as well, though. I first heard it in relation to the salmon and ceder people from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia).
Chapter 4: there’s that in us that time can never tame
Trigger Warning: semi-graphic depictions of violence
There is a spotify playlist here. I recommend listening to the first five or six songs to get a feel for what was on the radio in 1947 :)))
Incidentally, I just googled my own title, "The Great Alone," and found out that there is a 2015 documentary about the iditarod (1,000mile epic dogsled race in Alaska) by the same name. You can find the trailer here, it's really good.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As early March bled into early April, and the days got progressively longer and the nights shorter and less bitter, Derek found himself increasingly unable to deny the inevitable. The house was far from finished, but in the full light of day it was hard to avoid the realization that fixing up a gigantic empty house was barely logical as a short-term goal, much less a long-term occupation. The isolation began to wear on him as well. He had grown up in a big family and gone from there directly into the army. After that, there had been Isaac, his constant shadow for over a year. The first time he had ever slept in a room alone had been in his cell in the Sheriff's office, but even then he had occasionally heard the nightwatchman moving around in the next room. Out here, there was no one, not for miles.
For a while, it had felt good to be alone. So much had changed in the past year, and so quickly, he had barely been able to stay on top of it all, much less process any of it. He had clung to his old identity for as long as possible, trying to subsume the role of his mother, his sister, even his uncle, and be the Hale Pack Alpha. But now that was impossible. The Hale Pack was gone, pretending otherwise was futile and foolish. He wasn't sure he was ready to fully tackle the loss of his family, but it was time to at least deal with what that meant for his sense of self. He couldn't be content to just tread water anymore, it was time to start moving forward.
He found himself at a bit of a loss, though, for how to go about doing that. Derek liked team sports. He had played football and basketball in school, had fought for his country and had been planning on coming home to work hard for his pack. Rugged individualism and self-direction didn’t come naturally to him. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency made sense, sure, but self-actualization sounded a little bit too masturbatory for his liking.
So, feeling like he could maybe do with a little outside input, he went in search of Isaac.
"What do you mean: do I find my job personally satisfying?" Isaac was scrubbing cages in the back of the veterinary office. It was only a few minutes from the end of his shift and he was obviously tired, looking exactly like a person who had just spent eight hours scraping dried cat vomit off of a ceramic tiled floor. "The pay is shit, it always smells like either cleaning supplies or dog piss and the only animals that ever come in here are sick, dying or dead. On the plus side, though," he put down his scrub brush and started spraying off the cages, "no one's tried to shoot at me yet, it's mostly indoors and Scott's not really much for yelling so, all in all, it's a hell of an improvement on the army. But, no. I'm not exactly doing God's work here. It's just a job."
Derek thought about that for a second as Isaac shut off the water and walked over to the sink to wash his hands. He lathered soap up to his elbows and worked the dirt out from under his fingernails with a hog-bristle brush.
"So you'd rather be doing something else?"
Isaac shot Derek a look out of the corner of his eye. "I'm pretty sure you have the money to do whatever you want, Derek." The Hale family had been well off, not John D. Rockefeller levels of well off, but plenty comfortable and the money that had been left to Derek would be more than enough to adequately support one man in a reasonably lavish lifestyle until the end of his days. That really wasn't the point though. "If I had your kind of money," Isaac continued, looking off into the distance and tilting his head to the side in consideration. "I'd probably stay in Fairbanks. This is an okay place to be. I'd stay here and buy a butcher shop."
"A bit cliche." Derek raised an eyebrow. "A werewolf who owns a butcher shop."
"Hey, you asked. I would buy a butcher shop and a really hot car." He nodded to himself. "Yeah, if I were you, that's definitely what I would do. You need a car, anyway."
"I already have a car."
Isaac snorted. "No, you used to have a truck. Then you gave it to me and now you walk everywhere."
"I didn't give it to you."
"Derek," Isaac turned, drying his hands on a towel, "when was the last time you drove it? Last week you even asked me if you could borrow it. I quote, 'Would you mind if I take the truck on Friday, Isaac, I need to pick some siding up from the sawmill.'"
Derek huffed and crossed his arms, but didn't deny it. Isaac had a job that he needed to be able to get to and, besides, Derek liked knowing that Isaac had an easy way of coming out to the cabin anytime he wanted to. Derek didn't have as much need for the truck. He didn't dislike walking, he wasn't on any kind of schedule and when he needed it, he just borrowed it back.
Except that now he was thinking about getting a job, coming into town more regularly, creating a life for himself. A car would probably be helpful for that. "Okay, let's go buy a car."
Isaac hung the towel back up and raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"I need one. I can afford it. Let’s go buy a car."
"A hot car?"
Derek shrugged. "Sure."
Rolling his eyes, Derek started walking towards the door. "You coming?"
The first place they went was the Chevrolet Dealership. Owned and operated by the mayor of Fairbanks, it was the biggest auto dealership in town and seemed initially promising, but after forty five minutes of looking at four-door sedans and two-door coupes with names like 'Fleetmaster' and 'Stylemaster,' Derek found himself dreadfully underwhelmed. They reminded him of the kind of cars his parents had owned: comfortable and safe, with plenty of room in the back for the kids and trunk space to spare.
As he listened to the salesman describe the vacuum actuated windshield wipers and optional center bumper guard, he resigned himself to the purchase being much more sober, healthy, and utterly boring than he had originally anticipated. He needed a car, so he would buy one, like replacing an incredibly expensive toothbrush. Isaac would think it was fun and exciting and Derek would play along as gamely as possible and try not to think about how the backseat would probably never get used and how he might even have to throw a sandbag in the trunk once the snow fell to get enough weight over the rear tires. How utterly depressing.
But then Derek looked across the hood of the car at where Isaac was standing. He was staring at the car in obvious horror. They locked eyes over the salesman's head and Isaac mouthed the words, "Get us out of here," and suddenly Derek felt much better about the whole situation.
Five minutes later they were out on the curb again, climbing back into Derek/Isaac's truck and headed for the Buick dealership across town.
"That was terrible."
Derek cocked an eyebrow in Isaac's direction. "The options seemed practical enough."
"Derek," Isaac sounded exasperated, "I know you like to think of yourself as some kind of a sage old man, but I have seen your military ID, you are barely two years older than me."
"I'm three years older than you."
"Two and a half, at most, your birthday's in November. My point is: you aren't actually middle aged yet and we're not actually children."
"Since when do you use the royal we?"
"I mean," Isaac waved his hand, "the others. Liam's kind of a baby, but Scott and Stiles? They’re basically my age."
"How about you just find the car you want and give me my truck back?" Derek sighed, pulling into the Buick dealership. One thing at a time, he promised himself.
He did not enjoy shopping. Going to more than one location to make a single purchase was already feeling like way too much hassle. A car was a utility, a tool. It wasn't meant to be fun or exciting or 'hot,' whatever that even meant.
They walked into the showroom to take a look at the latest designs the engineers at GM's Buick Motor Division had come up with and Isaac barely made it through the door before stopping dead. "This is it, Derek, this is the one."
Derek found himself nodding in agreement.
The design of the Super Sedanet had been inspired by the look and feel of a fighter airplane. It was fast, mean, and modern. There was nothing conservative about it, nothing that said 'war-time rationing' or 'protestant work ethic.' It was glossy black, with chrome accents, an automatic choke and a straight-eight engine that literally roared to a start. The starter was connected to the accelerator and engaged by pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor.
"This car is stupidly indulgent and makes no sense in Alaska." Derek circled it slowly.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure you like it anyway."
Derek shook his head. "I'll spend half the winter digging it out of the snow."
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure you're gonna buy it anyway."
Isaac wasn’t wrong.
It took a couple of hours to get the financing straightened out and the paperwork signed, but then Isaac was jumping into the passenger seat, grinning like a kid at Christmas. "It's Friday night and we're in a brand new car, let's go cruise the strip."
Derek got in at a much more sedate pace, firing up the engine and pulling out onto the street. "Should we move the pickup?"
"I'll get it tomorrow." Isaac waved him off. "Just point us downtown, I'll tell you where to go from there." He leaned forward and turned on the radio, still grinning like a lune.
"Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba," came spilling out of the front speakers and Derek immediately groaned, slapping Isaac away from the radio dial and changing the station.
"No. No Perry Como. Not in my car. Not now and not ever." There weren't a lot of radio options in Fairbanks, but slightly staticy redneck yodeling was still better than Perry Como.
Isaac snorted, "Oh, what? You'd rather listen to Tex Williams then? You're such a hick sometimes Derek."
Derek fiddled with the dial as he drove, trying to get some of the static to go away and making a face at Isaac. "And I thought you were from some kind of center of civilization. Your taste in music is so square, surveyors use it as a reference when they're laying in corners."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. You're a square peg in a round hole and I'm a sucker, happy to consume the corporate product. Okay, turn here. Now slow down." Isaac was pressed up against the window surveying the sidewalk closely.
"Are you looking for someone?"
"Not really-- slow down, slow down! Oh my god, what are we listening to? Ernest Tubb? Change the station! Change the station!" He fought Derek for control of the radio again. "Okay, now drive over to the curb, come on, come on!"
"Are you seriously-- hey, I said no Perry Como! Isaac, what are you doing?"
Isaac had already turned up the radio and rolled down his window enough to lean out and start shouting, "Hey! Hey, Allison!"
"Oh my fucking God, Isaac. I hate you."
Derek wasn't quite sure how it happened, but the next thing he knew, Allison Argent, alleged werewolf hunter on whom Isaac, he was now learning, had a massive crush, her friend, Lydia Martin, and Stiles Stilinski, who had been there either to hit on Lydia or stalk Allison, or both, were all crowding into the car. Isaac had managed to get himself sandwiched between the girls in the back, kicking Stiles up to the front seat with Derek.
Stiles immediately slid all the way over on the bench seat, positioning himself directly in front of the radio dial and peering over Derek's shoulder at the instrument panel. "Nice. I like the way they put the speedometer front and center like that." He started playing around with the instrument panel. "Cigarette lighter, ash tray, too bad you don't smoke. Or do you? The jeep doesn't even have a radio. I mean, other than the police scanner and the CB, but that's not really the same. Is this new? It feels new." He stretched out for a second on the seat, then flipped around to lean over the backrest and talk to the girls in the back, not waiting for an answer to any of his questions. He gestured as he talked and it made his butt wiggle. It was about half a foot from Derek’s face and he glared at it out of the corner of his eye.
"Isaac, you dog. How did you swing this? I work in an auto shop and I haven't even seen one of these things yet. Did you finally cash in those paychecks you've been saving up?"
"It's Derek's." Isaac responded, like that shouldn’t have been obvious enough already, since Derek was the one driving.
"See, that's where you are clearly mistaken, Isaac. This couldn't possibly be Derek's car, that would go against all laws of natural selection. Ladies,” he turned a little and gestured towards Derek, “you have to stay strong. The human race is relying on you. I know you may be tempted by the broad shoulders and the big green eyes and the, you know," there was some more gesturing, "the everything else. But, for the sake of all of humanity, I am counting on you to look past all that. I promise you, he is completely undateable: dumb as a brick, terrible personality, deeply negative attitude and if that's not reason enough, I'm pretty sure his dick is orange and he's repressing a studder."
"Shut up, Derek. No one was asking your opinion. So, yes, don't be fooled by the good hair and the biceps. Derek is totally off the table. Consider yourselves warned. Don't let the cool car influence your decision making."
"Hush, Derek, adults are talking."
Derek took his right hand off the steering wheel and shoved Stiles into the backseat by his ass.
"Hey! Uncalled for!"
"Isaac!" Derek called over Stiles' affronted yelping, "Where are we going? I'm not driving laps up and down mainstreet all night."
"Well," Isaac grunted as he rolled Stiles back over the backrest and into the front seat again. "It's the last night of true dark before summer, so they're throwing up a sheet behind the theater and projecting a movie onto it, just like a drive-in. That could be kinda fun." He sounded hopeful.
The girls were enthusiastic about this idea, so Derek drove them in the direction of the local cinema and found himself paying for all five tickets as they pulled into the back lot. It had been retro-fitted into an impromptu outdoor theater, complete with a concessions stand and a projection booth. The spring drive-in was something that had been started back when Derek was in high school and it looked like it had only grown more popular. Most of the youth of Fairbanks was there and Lydia almost immediately found a group of her friends. She wandered off to join them, trying to coax Allison into coming with her, but Isaac's interest must not have been entirely one-sided, because Allison decided to stay.
They made it about half an hour into The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer before Stiles started going stir-crazy. He had been jiggling his leg up and down for the better part of twenty minutes and it had escalated to the point where he was basically hovering over his seat, vibrating with pent-up energy. Isaac was staring holes into the back of Derek's head trying to telepathically get them to both leave.
Stiles broke first. He shot straight up, almost banging his head against the roof of the car as he lunged for the door handle. "I'm going to get food. Food sounds good. I hope they have french fries, or hot dogs. Or just, anything hot that's food. That sounds good. Okay, yeah, I'm going." He clambered out of the car like it was on fire but he couldn't quite remember how to use all his limbs.
As soon as the door shut again, Derek felt the staring at the back of his head intensify. He rolled his eyes, tempted to say something snappy and sarcastic but not actually wanting to embarrass Isaac to the point of ruining his evening. He took the keys out of his pocket and threw them into the backseat for Isaac to catch, before climbing out. "Don't drive away without me."
Stiles was at the food kiosk, ordering as many french fries as the laws of physics would allow to be shoved inside a brown paper cone, when Derek caught up with him. Stiles paid and they walked over towards the edge of the lot, where they would be out of the way. The night wasn't warm by any means, it was barely ten degrees out, but compared to the negative twenty they had gotten used to over the winter, it felt downright balmy. Stiles had even taken off his gloves so he could feel the warmth coming off his food against his bare hands.
He had switched to his spring wardrobe and was wearing a light jacket, not the heavy parka he had worn in the depth of winter. The collar was short and even though he had up popped it up around his neck, it left most of his throat exposed. The jacket was slightly too big for him and it hung loosely around his shoulders, gapping at the neck so Derek could see all the way down to the dip between his collarbones.
Stiles didn't have as many freckles on his right side, only a few on his cheek and in the corner of his eye, but they stood out, dark against his pale skin. When Derek took a deep breath, he could feel the heat of him, dissipating off his body in waves. He always smelled good, like fresh air, good food and a little bit like motor oil, or the exhaust from a well-running engine. They were good smells, comforting smells, smells that reminded Derek of home, pack and family. It made just being near Stiles feel good, like standing next to warm radiator after spending all day out in the cold.
Derek allowed his normally hard expression to soften, he felt drowsy and contented. Maybe they could just stand here for a while. That would be nice.
Stiles shivered. He had a hat pulled over his ears and covering his soft brown hair, but there were goosebumps on his exposed neck and throat. He licked a bit of salt off one of his fingers and hunched his shoulders against the chill. Stiles' stubble was starting to come in, a little bit darker than the hair on his head, like the color of his eyebrows. It looked coarse. Stiles didn't have a lot of body hair, Derek had seen, but it looked like he could probably grow a decent beard if he wanted to. Derek found himself wondering if he found that attractive because he liked the idea of Stiles with a beard, or if he was just reaching a point where he found every arbitrary new thing about Stiles attractive. The line between the two seemed somewhat indistinct.
Stiles shivered again.
"Here." Derek pulled his scarf off and tried passing it to Stiles, then wrapped it around his neck for him when Stiles just raised his hands and mumbled, his mouth and both hands full of food.
"Thanks." Stiles swallowed, shrugging his shoulders a bit and adjusting the scarf around his face with his chin, then offered his packet of french fries to Derek. "Want some?"
Derek didn't really. He took one anyway, though, pulling his collar up against the wind. It wasn't quite high enough to keep out the chill and the french fry tasted like shit: over-cooked in old grease and barely warm. But Derek couldn’t make himself care and when Stiles offered him another, he took that one as well.
"You like the movie?" Stiles asked.
It was a romantic comedy about a love triangle between a painter, a judge and a high school girl. The only thing funny about it was probably the dialogue, which they couldn't hear since they weren't close enough to a radio, and the whole concept was just so far out of Derek's realm of experience that he was having a hard time even following what was going on. But he was in too good a mood to complain about things that didn't bother him all that much, so he just shrugged.
"Yeah, not so much my thing either. Those Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies are way funnier. You see Road to Utopia last year?"
Derek nodded and shrugged again. "I saw it with Isaac. I don't think it gave him a very realistic idea of what Alaska would be like."
Stiles laughed out loud, almost choking on a french fry. "What about music? You didn't seem too thrilled about what was coming in over the radio on the way here."
Derek made a face.
"Not a fan of big band, or did Perry Como do something to you, personally?"
"Big band is fine, just..." Derek looked up at the sky, he didn't hold out a lot of hope for this conversation going anywhere. "Ever heard of Chester Burnett?"
This time Stiles did choke on a french fry. Derek had to pound him on the back a few times as he bent over, coughing and turning red, still laughing even as he tried to get his breath back. "I'm sorry," he burst out laughing again, "I can't even touch that one. You listen to Howlin' Wolf, I think that knowledge might actually kill me. There is nothing I could say that would make that more funny."
Derek raised an eyebrow, surprised Stiles even knew who the guy was. "He's good."
"Hmm... yeah. A bit sad sometimes though." Stiles ate the last of his french fries, throwing away the paper and sticking his hands in his pockets to warm them. "My dad always listens to country and western."
"What about you?"
"Anything that I can dance to." He smiled, and then squinted off to the side, as if something had just occurred to him. "Unless it's shrill. Jimmie Rodgers might be great and all, but the yodeling is just not for me. Ugh, and sometimes Finstock listens to opera at the shop and I just have to leave. It's too much, those ladies could cut glass by singing at it for too long."
Derek quirked his head to the side. "Chester Burnett was a big fan of Jimmie Rodgers."
"Yeah, but there's a big difference between a howling wolf and a dying cat. I mean if dying cat sounds are your thing," Stiles raised his hands and waved them appeasingly, "far be it from me to criticise. Just don't make me listen to it too. Besides, if you're gonna sing the blues, you might as well really sing the blues, you know?" He started humming a twelve bar rhythm. "You ever heard of Blind Willie McTell?
"You made me love you, and you made me cry.
"You should remember, that you was born to die."
Stiles didn't have a particularly inspiring singing voice, and he was all wrong for the blues: too happy, too full of life. But he put his all into it, like he did with everything, and his voice was deeper than Derek would have thought.
Stiles stuck his tongue out and smiled, which was, again, not how a person was supposed act when singing the blues. "I still like Hank Williams, though," he continued, dancing a little bit as he sang.
"Hey, good lookin', whatcha got cookin'?
"How's about cookin' something up with me?"
He winked in Derek's direction, laughing again.
Derek buried his face in his collar and rolled his eyes, trying hard not to blush. Stiles was too much for words, sometimes. He shouldn't be allowed to smile that stupid smile and laugh that stupid laugh and sing love songs in that slightly-off-key-but-not-really-all-that-terrible voice and look at Derek with those eyes and whatever had possessed Derek to give him his scarf? Because if he had smelled wonderful before, it was so much worse now. Now he smelled wonderful and also a little bit like Derek.
Stiles elbowed him in the side and Derek almost jumped. Dear God,when did he get so close?
"Okay, your turn."
"What?" Derek looked over at him, confused.
"Come on, I sang for you and I'm a terrible singer. It's your turn now."
"I don't sing."
"You can't be any worse than me. Plus, you've had tons more practice. I know they made you sing in the army, don't even try to pretend."
"Cadences are not the same."
"Well then sing one of those. Come on," he nudged Derek again, "Don't be a Sourwolf."
Derek bit the inside of his cheek, staring straight ahead and not responding.
"I can be super annoying when I want to be and I promise you, I will put my full effort behind it if you don't sing. You can't even begin to imagine how annoying I can be. I have raw talent and years of practice, I can empty a crowded bus in minutes."
Derek didn't move.
Stiles took a deep breath.
Derek caved, cutting him off before he could make good on his threat.
"My girl, my girl, don't lie to me,
"tell me where did you sleep last night?"
He wasn't so much singing as he was saying the lyrics out loud, very quietly, and with somewhat appropriate pacing. But Stiles seemed to accept it as close enough because he smiled so widely that Derek thought his face might split in half. Wrapping his arm around Derek's back and tucking his hand under Derek's arm to keep it warm, he helped him finished the chorus.
"In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don't ever shine.
"I shivered the whole night through."
Stiles dropped his head down to rest it on Derek's shoulder. Derek couldn't see his face, but it felt like he was smiling. Completely inappropriate for the song. He could smell Stiles' hair through the wool of his hat and it took everything in him not to turn his head to the side and breath it in more fully. It was the kind of thing he could get drunk off of. Instead, he looked up, watching the Milky Way overhead and trying not to think about how warm Stiles felt next to him. "You're a terrible singer."
"Shut up, Derek, we're having a moment."
Derek smiled. "Speak for yourself."
Derek didn't buy a butcher shop. He considered it for the better part of a week before deciding that he had no real interest in owning a small business. The prospect sounded much too fraught with petty annoyances, such as customers, sales and inventory, for Derek's liking. Paying for Isaac to apprentice at one sounded altogether much easier.
Instead, Derek found a part-time position with the Sheriff's department. He had a certain talent for animal control and he didn't mind working under Sheriff Stilinski. So that became his new normal: spending most of his week chasing black bears out of people's backyards and explaining to visiting tourists why the moose trotting down mainstreet was not actually a problem. Other than Isaac, he didn't see the pack much. He still sat with Stiles during the full moon, but they didn't talk. Stiles might say a few words, comment on something he was reading or complain about Finstock, but Derek would be in his wolf form and would always leave before the others returned.
He wasn't part of the pack. They didn't give him strength. But he hung around the edges of them, and they accepted his presence. It was enough.
Then, one Saturday afternoon in late May, he was out chopping wood for the winter when he heard the jeep coming up the drive. It was an 85 degree day and he had taken off his shirt, enjoying the feel of the sun against his skin. The wood he was chopping now was from the previous autumn and it had seasoned well throughout the winter and spring. It split nicely, cleanly, with little splintering and few knots, and he kept working even as he heard Stiles pull up to the house and he and Scott climb out. They rounded the side of the cabin and approached just as he split another round with one easy swing, burying the ax-head in his chopping block
"I didn't think werewolves could get tattoos." Scott sounded surprised.
Derek had three interlocking, rotating spirals tattooed between his shoulderblades and Scott was staring at them in obvious confusion. Derek pulled his ax free and set up another round on his chopping block. "We can, it just takes some doing."
"How? Can I get one? I tried to get a tattoo before, but it healed itself almost immediately. Does yours mean something? Is it a werewolf thing?" Scott stepped forward to look at Derek's back more closely, clearly side-tracked from whatever had brought him there in the first place.
"The triskele is the symbol of the Hale family. I got it the summer I turned sixteen." Derek swung his ax and the round split with satisfying crack. "I wouldn't exactly recommend the process."
"Is it like, a rite of passage or something? That's so cool. How is it done?"
"Well," Derek sunk his ax into his chopping block and picked up his shirt, wiping off his face and turning to face Scott. "Two ways, really. Either with a blow torch, which will hurt like hell and give you a big keloid scar, like a cattle brand, or you can spend the summer solstice above the arctic circle. If you can survive two weeks of total sunlight, without the moon, by the time you get back, you will be weak enough for the tattoo to take."
Derek had been chopping wood since early that morning and he could feel a tightness in the muscles across his chest and shoulders. He stretched, working out the stiffness in his rotator cuff so everything could re-knit properly.
Standing behind Scott, a few paces away, Stiles start to sweat.
Stiles hadn't said a word since coming around the corner of the house. He was staring somewhat dazedly and smelled nervous, off-balance and maybe a little aroused. But as soon as Derek glanced over at him, he looked away, kicking at the dirt and stumbling forward into Scott, talking fast to cover his embarrassment. "That's it? You miss one full moon and you're basically human? What if somebody locks you in a lead box overnight or something?"
"They'd have to lock me in there for a couple of weeks, at least." Derek turned back to Scott. "I'm sure you've noticed by now, but even a crescent moon will give you strength. The full moon is, by far, the strongest, but any moonlight is powerful to a werewolf. No moonlight at all for two weeks is tantamount to starvation. As the summer solstice gets closer, and the moon is in the sky for shorter and shorter periods of time, you can probably feel yourself getting weaker."
"Yeah. That's actually kinda something we wanted to talk to you about."
"Oh?" Derek pulled his shirt back on and Stiles exhaled audibly, like he had been holding his breath the whole time. Derek tugged the hem down to his waist and Stiles stepped forward, taking over the conversation from Scott.
"Yeah, so, we were thinking. The first three bodies all showed up inside one month, the month before the winter solstice, then the solstice happened and after that: nothing. No more incidents all through spring. Until last week, less than a month before the summer solstice and BAM, another dead werewolf."
A dead body had been found the week before, on the outskirts of Fairbanks. Same MO as the others: mangled, like an animal attack, but with signs that a blade had been used. The victim remained, as of yet, unidentified but had definitely been a werewolf.
"It has to be connected," Stiles continued, "the Omegas are being drawn out by the solstice."
"Obviously." Derek crossed his arms and leaned against the side of the cabin. "The solstice is hard to get through without a pack. They're afraid they won't survive it, that they'll go feral or die. They must know they're being hunted, but probably heard there was a new pack being built in Fairbanks and are drawn to the promise of an Alpha. That's why they're coming here, to this property, Fairbanks was always Hale Pack Territory. They assume the Alpha is me."
"Obviously?" Stiles flailed about for a second. "Were you not planning on sharing this information with the group? There are werewolf killers running around out there, do you not want us to stop them?"
Derek raised a critical eyebrow. "Well, you're not being very successful are you?"
"Oh my God, must you be so negative? Is there a point to you, or are you just here to look good?"
"I bought a flashy car." Derek cut in, gesturing at the Sedanet parked next to the jeep, "I got a job in town and, before that, I was arrested and, before that, there was the fire. People know me. If there's someone out there hunting Omegas, there's no way they could have missed me." He shrugged and picked up his ax again, tugging it out of the stump. "Whoever it is will come for me eventually. Or, barring that, I get called in on every wild animal sighting in town. If a feral werewolf makes it past city limits, I'll be the first to know."
"You're using yourself as bait."
Derek set a log upright on his chopping block, not responding right away. He looked at Scott. "Your pack's young. Really young. Most of you are just barely getting used to being werewolves at all, you included. And your dad," he pointed his ax at Stiles, "is the Sheriff. You can't afford to not keep your nose clean. Whoever is killing werewolves has been doing it a long time. They're dangerous, smart, and probably human."
"Or Siberian Weretiger."
Derek raised an eyebrow in Stiles' direction and he made a snarky face, like he might try to press his point, but then shut his mouth instead. "They're probably hunters and they're going to come for me before long and when they do, I'm not going to gather evidence, I’m not going to build a case, I'm going to kill them. It would be best if you weren't involved."
Turning towards his chopping block, Derek raised his ax. The log split with a sharp crack.
Stiles and Scott stayed for a few more minutes, discussing, but the conversation was basically over. Stiles would continue to watch the Argent family, Scott would try to help his pack prepare for the solstice, and everyone would keep their eyes peeled for any stray werewolves wandering into Fairbanks. Scott looked for a second like he might invite Derek to join the pack again, but he held his tongue. Derek was more useful as bait anyway.
It rained non-stop all the way through early June and, by the middle of the month, the roads were thick with mud. Derek's brand new Sedanet was designed for driving down paved streets in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, not slogging through ankle-deep sludge on rutted out dirt roads and it had been developing some overheating problems. So it was to Derek's extreme lack of surprise when, one soggy afternoon a few days before the solstice, the radiator blew a leak, dumping radiator fluid all over the road, two miles out of town.
It was a long, wet walk to Finstock's auto repair and, when he finally got there, he must have looked pathetic indeed because Stiles offered to give him a ride back to his car and help with the repair. He laughed, throwing Derek a towel to dry his wet hair and loading a new radiator into the back of his jeep with his toolbox, a few quarts of radiator fluid and a tow-rope, just in case. It felt comfortable, like maybe they were becoming friends.
The rain continued to come down hard on the drive back, not just pouring, but in buckets, the kind that was so loud a person had to shout to hear themselves think over the sound of it. The willys jeep had a canvas cover that helped somewhat to keep the rain off, but the sides were open and water blew in sideways, whipping around the windshield and splashing up from the wheels. Derek was soaked to his skin already and by the time they made it out to his car, Stiles was well on his way to being the same.
Stiles pulled his hat down and his collar up around his ears before jumping out with his tool box and dashing over to where the Sedante stood, abandoned on the side of the road. He lifted the hood and ducked under it, trying to get out of the rain as much as possible. His thick wool pants were pegged well above the ankle to keep them free of the mud and tucked into the top of his leather work boots. The weatherproofing on his jacket was old and the canvas jacket was already dark and heavy with water. He was draining the last of the fluid out of the radiator and unbolting it from the unibody of the car, bent over at the waist to keep his head and shoulders dry under the hood. Rainwater hit him in the lower back, sluicing off the oil-treated fabric and collecting on the hem, before running down his long legs in rivlets.
It was hard to not just sit there and watch him. Some of Stiles' soft brown hair had escaped from under his hat and was dripping into his eyes. He tried to shake it out of the way, but it was plastered to his forehead, so he flicked at it with his fingers, leaving a dark greasy smudge over his eyebrow.
Derek shook himself, climbing out of the jeep and joining Stiles under the hood of the car, helping to disconnect the hoses and pull the old radiator out.
"This...... old... ....s..ld .... real sh..ter." Stiles muttered something as they lifted it out of the car, but it was hard to hear over the sound of the rain.
"WHAT?!" Derek shouted.
"THIS IS AN OLD RADIATOR!! WHOEVER SOLD YOU THIS CAR WAS A REAL SHYSTER!" Stiles yelled back, pointing at the obvious denting and rust marks where the radiator must have been struck by something and cracked.
"THAT SONOFA--" Derek stopped, turned his head towards the forest. It was raining so hard he almost hadn't noticed, but he smelled something.
He stepped around the car, scanning the woods next to the highway and breathing deeply. It had only been for a second but -there- he caught movement out of the corner of his eye.
"What is it?" Stiles came up next to him, moving slowly and talking quietly, right into his ear.
"Go get Scott. Tell him I found another Omega. He needs to hurry, she smells almost feral."
"Okay." Stiles backed away towards the jeep. The werewolf was standing at the edge of the trees, watching them tensely. Then Stiles slipped, losing his footing in the mud, and something about the sudden movement must have spooked her, because she took off into the woods.
"Get Scott, she needs an Alpha!" Derek shouted over his shoulder as he raced after her.
The Omega was panicked and weak. She hadn't had a pack for what had probably been a very long time and the nearness of the solstice was tapping her strength even further. Her desperation gave her speed, but her energy was flagging, and she sacrificed caution to compensate. She charged through the woods blindly, cutting herself on tree branches and almost tripping over blow-down and undergrowth.
Then she fell, crying out in pain. Derek lept forward to take advantage, but dodged to the side as soon as he saw what had stopped her. Her leg had been caught in a bear trap.
The ground gave out underneath him and he fell to his knees in a pool of water that had been hiding under a false floor. Electricity shot through him as soon as the water soaked to his skin. He tired to stand, but the electric current slammed him back down, making him seize and convulse. It was all he could do to keep from collapsing completely. The pool of water was only a foot deep, he could see over the edge, but he was immobilized. His jaw was locked. He couldn't even speak.
The Omega was thrashing on the ground a few feet in front of him, clawing at where her leg was caught in the metal teeth of the trap. She howled, crying out and tearing at her own flesh like a wild animal, but she was too weak to get free.
Derek tried to shift, tried to push past the flood of electricity being pumped through him. He felt his eyes glow blue and his canines elongate as he pushed his head up, lifting it over the edge of the pit. Then his strength gave out and he collapsed again, tasting acid in his mouth as everything faded to black.
When he woke up again, he was lying face-down in his own vomit. His body was still in the water and electricity continued to coarsed through him, making his thoughts blurry and slow and keeping him from moving. His jaw ached from being clenched shut.
The Argents were there.
Chris Argent, Allison's father, was standing over the Omega, his boot on her black hair, holding her head down. She had shifted, her claws and were teeth extended and her eyes glowed, but she had already worked herself past the point of exhaustion. She lay still, too tired to resist, chest heaving and shivering in the cold. She looked young, probably Liam's age, seventeen or eighteen, and she was covered in mud and blood and wet with the rain. Stretched out between the steel trap on her leg and Chris Argent's foot on her hair, her golden eyes stared across the clearing at Derek, wide with pain and terror.
Allison was there as well, standing next to her father. She bent to bind the girl's arms behind her back and inspect the steel trap, but her father stopped her as she made to release it. He shouted over the sound of the rain. "Allison, it's too late for that!"
"She's just a little girl! Maybe we can help her find a new pack! Maybe there are exceptions."
She gestured in Derek's direction. "We've been watching him for months and he hasn't hurt anyone."
Derek worked at the muscles in his jaw, trying to get it to unlock. He could hear someone running, way off in the distance. Help was coming. He couldn't tell who it was, the rain washed out his sense of smell and the electricity dulled his senses, but Stiles had gone to get Scott. Stiles could be relied upon and Scott would come. He was too much of a bleeding heart not to come. They just needed more time. Help was on it’s way.
Chris leaned down to pick up the ax that was lying on the ground next to him. "They may look like humans, Allison, and maybe, in their packs, they can keep some of their humanity. But alone they are just beasts, no better than the wolves we hunt."
"But Derek hasn't--"
"Allison!" He shouted, cutting her off. "Look how crazed this one already is." He turned the Omega's head with the side of the ax, so that Allison could see her yellow eyes. "You don't wait until a rabid dog has bitten someone before putting it down. Now stand back, watch the other one."
Allison stepped back, picking up her crossbow and training it on Derek as her father lifted his ax. Derek strained forward, his vision fading in and out as he tried to move, to shift, to do anything that would give them more time. Everything seemed to slow down. He lifted his head, felt his chest rise up out of the mud, his eyes glowing blue. The ax started to fall.
A shot rang out and something hit him in the shoulder, pushing him back into the mud.
It hurt. He felt punch drunk and for a few seconds he couldn't breathe. There was a crossbow bolt sticking out of his chest. He convulsed, his body's ability to heal fighting against the electricity that was still running through him, now drawn further into his chest by the metal tip of the arrowhead. It took him a second to catch up to what was going on around him.
Allison was shrieking.
She had flung herself on the body of her father, who was lying, collapsed in the mud. The werewolf girl had shaken herself out of her catatonic state and was trying to crawl away, but her leg was still caught in the trap and her arms were bound. She mostly just flinched and struggled weakly as Allison clawed at her father's jacket, trying to get at the gaping wound in his chest.
Stiles was there. He was standing behind Derek, where Derek couldn't see him, but that was Stiles' voice.
Derek heard the slide of a bullet being chambered in a bolt-action rifle. Stiles kept an M1903 Springfield in the front of his jeep. He had fired once and had four rounds left, more than enough.
Allison's shrieks stopped as he checked her father's pulse and put pressure on his wound. Left side, center-of-mass. His odds weren't good. Derek hadn't seen her father go down, but there was a reason the .30-06 had been the standard rifle round of the United States Military since World War I. It was accurate and made a big hole.
When Allison looked up again, her eyes were swollen and her hands were covered in blood. She reached for her crossbow. "YOU KILLED HIM!"
Then Scott crashed through the trees with Malia, Isaac and Liam hot on his heels.
"there's that in us that time can never tame" is from The Rhyme of the Restless Ones by Robert W. Service. The last stanza of the poem reads:The car I have in mind for them to buy is the 1949 Buick Super Sedanet in black with chrome trim. It's 1947 in the story so they can't actually buy a Super Sedanet for two more years but -_- allow me some leeway. I was originally going to have him drive a Chevy Corvair, the precursor to the Camaro, but they didn't start making those till '59. I wanted him to have something really fun that looked more '50s than '40s and Buick was the more progressive in their designs than Chevrolet was at that time.
No, there's that in us that time can never tame;
And life will always seem a careless game;
And they'd better far forget --
Those who say they love us yet --
Forget, blot out with bitterness our name.
There was so much good blues, country and folk music happening in the '40s, I can't even say this enough. I made a Spotify playlist here. I tried to order the songs and artists as they are mentioned in the chapter. Give it a listen if you’re curious! (I did cheat here a little too, a couple of these songs actually came out a couple years later, but all the artists were definitely active in ‘47)
It would be pretty implausible for Stiles to have grown up in Alaska with a military father and not know how to shoot. It would also be kinda weird for him to not carry a rifle in his vehicle. Derek doesn't because Derek is a werewolf, but Stiles isn't so, yeah. He can't exactly fight off a bear with his hands. The M1903 Springfield is a pretty famous rifle, it was used through both world wars and some people still hunt with it. I'm not super knowledgeable about these things, but I assume this would be something that Stiles would be likely to carry.
Chapter 5: all is gold that golden gleams
Trigger Warning: some period-typical racism
Reason number one million seventy-eight hundred and forty-two why my beta reader is awesome: when, even after three edits, my character still decides to, "shit his mouth," and she gently suggests that maybe he might actually be trying to "shut his mouth." MargaretKire (mothdustmouth on Tumblr)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Isaac took a crossbow bolt to the chest as he lept across the clearing. The impact made him stagger, but not stop. Allison already had her foot in the cockingstirrup of her crossbow and the string half-way pulled back to the latch when he reached her, ripping it out of her hands. The string released with a snap and and she fell, her foot tangled in the stirrup. Scott grabbed her by the arms as she went down, breaking her fall and holding her in place against the ground.
"ISAAC!" Scott's eyes flashed red as he shouted Isaac's name. His claws and fangs were extended and he pushed his chest forward, crouching over Allison and shielding her from view. Isaac's face was contorted in pain and anger. He had shifted further into his wolf form than Derek had ever seen him go before and he was howling in rage, confusion and betrayal. His voice oscillated between human and werewolf and the crossbow bolt protruded from his chest like a broken bone.
Malia crouched over the Omega girl, watching the three of them, Scott, Allison and Isaac, with sharp eyes.
Liam held back, hesitating, and Derek was suddenly unsure of how much he knew. They had never spoken. Liam was just a highschool kid. Scott could have been keeping him in the dark. He could have been pulled out of pre-season football practice without explanation or understanding. Finally, he seemed to make a decision veering towards Derek with a determined look on his face.
Derek tried to shout a warning, but the words wouldn't come. His chest was clenched tight and he could barely move his diaphragm enough to breathe. His head had been pushed back into the mud. If he slipped down any further he wasn't sure he would be able to lift it again. He felt oddly warm, like he had wet himself, but he knew he hadn't, and his fingers tingled. The electricity held him immobilized and the blood loss was sapping his strength. Lethargy and panic consumed him in equal parts. He fought to move, pushing himself to focus on the panic and the pain.
Liam jumped down into the water with Derek and abruptly crumpled. His weight fell forwards, landing hard across Derek's shoulders and chest and taking Derek under. Derek's head slipped below the surface of the water. Everything became murky, grey and muted. Liam seized as he fell, trying to resist the effects of the electric current, but he hadn't been prepared and wasn't strong enough to fight through it. He lasted only a few seconds, then he lay still.
It was very quiet.
They stared at each other through the water, neither of them breathing, for what felt like a long time. It was dark down there. Derek tried to blink away the shadows, but his eyelids wouldn't move. Not breathing was easy, too easy. He could feel the steel tip of the arrowhead tearing at the soft tissue of his right lung, drawing electricity into his chest and heating it until it burned him. Breathing hurt. It was hard. He knew he should be holding his breath to keep the water out of his lungs, to stop himself from drowning, but it was an abstracted thought. Not breathing was easy. It was very dark. The water was cloudy, he couldn't even see Liam anymore.
"WAKE UP! DEREK, YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT! WAKE UP!"
Derek's head snapped to the side as Stiles punched him in the face.
The rain beat down around them. He was still lying half-way in the water, but had been pulled to sitting and the arrow had been yanked free from his chest. The electricity was gone and it no longer hurt to breathe, he was healing.
Stiles hit him again. "WAKE UP!"
Derek coughed the stiffness out of his lungs and opened his eyes. Stiles was kneeling over him, up to his thighs in the water and straddling Derek's waist with his arm cocked back, ready to hit him again. His hat and gloves were gone, his hair was plastered to his face and his hands had turned white with cold. Water ran down his neck and dripped off the end of his nose. It was a cute nose, narrow and slightly upturned. His eyes were dark and his canvas jacket was heavy with water.
Everything was muddier than it should have been. The whole right side of the pit had been caved in, excavated haphazardly with some kind of a blunt object. A car battery lay a few feet away, ripped out of the ground and leaking acid sluggishly, lead wires tangled into a rat's nest next to it. Liam stood over them, holding Stiles' rifle in both hands like he thought his life might depend on it.
The butt of the rifle was caked in mud and clay, but the barrel was clean. Stiles had known better than to drop it. Derek coughed again and tried to swallow, everything felt dull, slow and muted. Except Stiles. Stiles was sharp and quick and vibrant. Stiles was beautiful.
"You're beautiful," Derek heard himself say.
The rain was loud and someone was screaming in the background. Stiles looked down at him in confusion. "WHAT?" He shouted.
Derek's limbs felt heavy and tired, but the tingling in his fingers had receded and the wound in his chest had closed. He blinked away the last of the lethargy and tried to sit up. "GET OFF OF ME!"
Stiles laughed, shaking his head. There was an edge to it that sounded something like relief. He got to his feet and climbed out of the pit, taking his rifle back from Liam and checking it, wiping off the butt and pulling back the bolt to test the action. "You are such an asshole."
"YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE!"
Derek didn't bother to deny it, everyone was entitled to an opinion. Struggling to stand, he accidently locked eyes with Liam over Stiles' shoulder. Liam was giving him a strange, assessing look. He ignored it. Now wasn't the time.
Malia and Scott had managed to free the Omega from the beartrap and calm her down enough for her to shift back into her human form. She was curled up in Scott's lap, her leg healing slowly and her neck stretched out, bare and vulnerable, against his shoulder. Malia grimaced, one hand against the girl's leg, drawing out the pain and helping her heal. They were pack now.
A few feet away, Allison was screaming. Her voice was hoarse and her cries were coming out in gasps and bursts, wordless, like an injured animal. Her hands had been tied behind her back and she was lying on her stomach in the mud. Isaac held her down with his foot between her shoulderblades. The crossbow bolt had been pulled from his chest and he had control over himself again: his face human and his claws retracted back to fingernails. His eyes, though, still glowed gold and he didn't look away from Allison as she struggled, screaming and crying. His foot stayed firmly against her back.
Beside them, Chris Argent lay still and quiet in the mud. His chest didn't rise. His eyes didn't blink. His pulse didn't flutter in his neck. The bleeding had stopped. Dead men don't bleed.
It was time to call the Sheriff.
Stiles radioed his father from the ham transceiver in his jeep. The jeep still stood on the side of the highway next to Derek's broken-down Buick, with Scott's Oldsmobile now parked behind them. The conversation was short and to the point.
"Stiles Stilinski to Sheriff Stilinski. Come in. Over."
"Stiles, this is Sheriff Stilinski, I read you. Over."
"Need your eyes out here, four miles north of the Hale turnoff on Highway 3. Over."
"Copy that. Four miles north of the Hale turnoff on Highway 3. ETA: thirty minutes. On my way. Over."
"You'll see us by the jeep. Out."
Malia and Liam had been left in the woods to guard Argent's body, but Stiles, Scott and Derek had hauled Allison and the werewolf girl out of the woods with them. The werewolf girl was exhausted, fading in and out of consciousness the whole walk back and as soon as they reached the cars, Scott wrapped her in an emergency blanket and packed her into the back of his vehicle so she could sleep. She passed out almost immediately, probably feeling safe for the first time in years.
Isaac wouldn't let Allison out of his sight, tieing her to the tow-ring on the front of the jeep and sitting in the rain to watch her, his face blank. It was hard to imagine that he had been infatuated with her only a few hours before. He looked every inch a soldier: cold, unflinching and vigilant. She had lost both his trust and his sympathy.
Stiles sat in the front seat. He hung up the radio microphone and rechecked his rifle, resting it on his lap when he was satisfied. They waited for the Sheriff.
Derek's car was exactly as it had been when he had taken off after the Omega girl. The hood was propped up and the cracked radiator pulled out and leaning up against the grill. Stiles hadn't even taken his toolbox out of the rain before calling Scott on the CB radio and following Derek into the woods. Slower and unskilled at tracking, he had arrived on the scene only a few minutes ahead of Scott and the others. But a few minutes had been enough. Were it not for those few minutes, Derek might not be alive, the werewolf girl definitely wouldn't be.
He mounted the new radiator, filling it with fluid and letting the car idle for a while as the air bubbles worked themselves out, keeping his eye on the temperature gage and listening to the sounds of the engine. The wind picked up. They were out of the shelter of the trees, cold, wet, and now no longer moving. Steam started to rise off Isaac's shoulders as his body burned more energy to keep himself warm. Stiles shivered, then reached into the back of the jeep for a wool blanket. He threw it on top of Allison and settled back into his seat with his rifle, hunching his shoulders and tucking his chin into the collar of his wet jacket.
No one moved again until the Sheriff arrived.
Sheriff Stilinski arrived in a squad car with Deputy Parrish, stepping out and assessing the scene in front of him for a moment before asking Stiles to report. Stiles was cagy, not meeting his father's eyes and slow to come up with an explanation or a good cover story. The Sheriff cut him off mid-sentence.
"Scott, are you willing to take responsibility for the girl for the time being?"
"Yes, sir." Scott had stepped out of his car when the Sheriff pulled up.
"Good. You and Isaac, take her back into town with you. Find your mother. Get her some dry clothes, something to eat, make sure she’s okay. If something happens that I need to know about, call the station. Otherwise, I will be by in the morning to collect your statements."
Derek felt some part of him relax as the Sheriff took charge. Stilinski had been a good Sergeant: fair, cool-headed and adaptable. He could be trusted and he knew the score. They could tell him the truth and he wouldn't ask them prying questions like: why Derek wasn't dead from electrocution and how come Isaac didn't have a hole in his chest the size and shape of a crossbow bolt.
"Parrish, take Allison Argent back to the station. I want to hold her for questioning until we can get this cleared up. Give her some dry clothes and a hot meal, but put her in a cell. Let's do this by the book." He untied Allison from the jeep and helped her into the back of the squad car, sending Parrish off with a few more instructions and a sharp nod, then turned to Derek. "Show me the body."
Derek nodded, "This way," and lead them back through the woods as Scott and Isaac pulled away, headed into town.
They walked in silence for half an hour, reaching Liam and Malia just as the rain was finally letting up. Derek gave the Sheriff his account of what had happened, gesturing to the beartrap, the ax, the car battery, and the broken crossbow. The rain had already washed any transient evidence away. Blood, footprints and signs of struggle had been reduced to nothing more than a nondescript slick of mud around Chris Argent's body.
The Sheriff listened, asking very few questions as he slowly and methodically looked everything over. Then he walked off to the edge of the clearing and leaned against a tree, glancing back at his son for a second before turning away again.
Stiles stayed quite, keeping his eyes up and just barely not meeting his father's gaze. He had yet to put his rifle down and was holding it in front of his body in port arms. His feet were shoulder-width apart, his back straight and his jaw set. He looked cold and tired, but like he was determined not to show it.
Derek made a decision. "It was a hunting accident."
The Sheriff looked over.
"It was a hunting accident," Derek repeated. "Stiles was helping me with my car when we heard Allison screaming. I went to investigate while he radioed for help. The Argents found a girl tangled up in one of their traps. She panicked when they tried to help her and Chris got shot. It was a hunting accident. We called you as soon as we knew someone had died."
"I can't arrest Allison Argent for a hunting accident."
"You shouldn't arrest her, it would only start a war with the hunters."
"This is the fifth dead body I've had to investigate in less than a year!" The Sheriff burst out, shouting. "If this isn't a war, then what the fuck is it?"
Derek crossed his arms, frowning. His jacket was so saturated with water that it ran down his chest, squeezed out from where his sleeves were folded at the elbows. He was starting to feel cold and hungry, a sure sign that he was reaching the end of his energy reserves, but he also knew that what they did next was important. It could have repercussions on Scott's pack for a long time.
"I don't know what this is." He admitted. "There have always been werewolf hunters. When I left for the war, we had a truce with them. That could have changed, but arresting the Argent girl won't do anything but give you a lot to answer for." He shifted, hugging his chest a little tighter, trying to keep the heat in. "Maybe it would be best if all these deaths recently really had been animal attacks. Except this one. Allison Argent and her father were out checking their traps and he accidently got shot. These things happen sometimes. I think that would be better, if that were what happened. For everyone." He pointedly did not look at Stiles.
The Sheriff rubbed at his eyes and sighed. "Alright. I'm going to trust that you know more about this than I do." He took a slow breath in and let it out again. Then, when he looked up, his face was set and clear. He had made his decision. "Liam, collect up all the wiring and start hauling that car battery back to the vehicles. Stiles, go find your bullet casing. Malia: ax, crossbow, and sweep for anything else. Leave everything in the jeep, rifle included, Stiles, and take Derek's car back into town. I want the three of you to go straight home, get cleaned up and get some sleep. We'll go over statements in the morning. Derek, you're going to help me with the body."
Everyone stared at him for a second, a little dazed, until the Sheriff clapped his hands and waved them into action. "Get moving people! We're burning daylight!"
They brought Chris's body to the morgue, a crossbow bolt lodged in his chest, and the Sheriff logged the incident away as a hunting accident, no autopsy necessary. Allison was kept overnight, for her own safety, and released into the custody of her friends, Scott, Isaac and Derek, the next morning. Everyone signed corroborating statements, mostly to the effect of having seen nothing except rain, mud, and Chris Argent, lying on the ground with a crossbow bolt in his chest. Even Allison cooperated and Sheriff Stilinski was able to close the case quickly and fairly quietly, keeping the unknown girl out of the report as much as possible.
The unknown girl's name was Kira and she had come from the Yu'pik tribe, the same tribe as the first victim, Nasnana, the one Derek had recognized. She was nervous and quiet, didn't talk much beyond yes, no and thank you, didn't want attention and wasn't anywhere near ready to tell her story. She was staying in the McCall's spare bedroom for the time being. Isaac had moved to the pullout in Scott's room.
Scott, Isaac and Derek took Allison back to the McCall house as soon as Mrs. McCall left for work. Allison hadn't spoken since signing the written statement that the Sheriff had put in front of her. She wore ill-fitting clothing borrowed from the Sheriff's department and looked unkempt, exhausted by grief and resigned to her fate, walking towards the house as if she expected to be executed by firing squad when they reached the living room. The rest of the pack had already gathered there, waiting, when they sat her down. It took some time for her to choke out her story.
According to her, her family had always been werewolf hunters, ever since there had first been werewolves. They lived by a code: "We hunt those who hunt us." Normally this meant only lone werewolves, Omegas, wolves so crazy, violent and feral they had been thrown out by their own packs and couldn't find another willing to take them in.
"But, there have always been extremists and during the war..." Her voice trailed off and Derek grew very still. He could feel a growl building in the back of his throat. He knew what was coming next.
"We didn't know. I swear, we didn't know until it was already done. The Aleutian Islands were being evacuated anyway, it took so long to notice what was happening." Allison dropped her head into her hands. "We think they were targeting Alphas, taking them down and then striking at the pack when leadership was in transition."
Derek nodded numbly. There had been peace for so long. The western packs rarely even saw humans, much less hunters or other werewolves. They would have had no reason to be on their guard. It must have been so easy.
"They attacked a pack from the Islands of the Four Mountains," Stiles prodded. He was sitting on the couch between Scott and Isaac, leaning back with his arms crossed and watching Allison intently.
"Yes," Allison nodded without looking up, "and then another Aleut tribe on the mainland, on the banks of the Kuskokwim river. After that, we think they were up north for a while, before sweeping down south to the Yu'pik Pack, then the Hale Pack." She paused to take a shaky breath. "There was a war going on, so much distance between everything, and a lot of the packs don't communicate regularly with outsiders. We didn't know for sure until they went after the Yakutat Pack and were caught." She swallowed wetly and blinked rapidly a few times. "Their bodies were delivered to our doorstep last October. The truce was renegotiated, it's over."
"It didn't look like it was over from where I was standing yesterday." Stiles' voice was sharp and accusing.
"What they did was wrong, but it left fallout. We were just doing what was necessary."
"Stop obfuscating. Who is 'they' and what, exactly, was necessary?"
Allison's mouth tightened and she looked away. "Hunters from my family. Does it matter? They're dead now. They destroyed the balance. When they broke up the packs, it left a lot of Omegas."
"Oh, so you were just coming through to finish the job, then?"
"No!" Allison's hands shook. She tucked her hair behind her ears and Scott leaned forward to hand her a glass of water. She sipped it, calming herself, then put it down. "We were told... My father said..." She stopped and started a few times, closing her eyes and gathering her thoughts before trying again. "We heard that a Hale had come back from the war. Omegas are dangerous, they lose control and kill people or turn them without consent. We didn't know for sure though, if he was a werewolf. Sometimes packs have humans living with them and Derek showed no sign of going feral. But then Omegas kept showing up in town, so we stayed."
"You stuck around," Stiles looked at her coldly, "to hack up orphans as they crawled across your doorstep. Salting them like they were slugs in your garden. Tell me, did it make a difference to you if they were born werewolves or turned? Was this eugenics, or an equal-opportunity genocide?"
Allison started to cry as Stiles berated her. Her jaw was clenched and she refused to look down, but her breathing was ragged and her eyes were wet. She was young, maybe twenty, had probably been taught to shoot a crossbow as soon as she could lift one and had been indoctrinated into the hunter mentality since the womb. Now her family was dead and she had been ostracized by her people. She had nothing.
"Are there anymore traps on my land?" Derek cut into Stiles' diatribe.
Allison nodded. "A few more, I could show you."
"No need." Derek stood abruptly and everyone turned to look at him. "I've heard enough."
"What?" Scott got to his feet as well. "But what about--"
"This is your territory now, Scott." Derek walked towards the door. "Do what you think is best, I need to clear my property before someone breaks their neck or cites me for poaching. Just..." He stopped for a second with his hand on the doorknob. "Don't kill her. There's been enough... There's been enough of that."
If anyone could get the cycle of fear, pain and vengeance to end, it would be Scott. Derek didn't know how. He wanted to hate her. He wanted to hate Allison and then forgive her. But all he saw when he looked at her was a poor, misled girl, scared, alone and afraid and he didn't know what to do. He just wanted it to be over: the death and the loss. There had been enough.
Derek kept to himself for the next few days, avoiding the pack, running most of his business with the Sheriff's office through Deputy Parrish instead of Sheriff Stilinski. He didn't even want to smell the pack or hear about what they were doing. He knew that Allison was alive and that she was being watched. She had been allowed to bury her father and was living in a boarding house downtown. She was still friends with Lydia Martin and Deputy Parrish mentioned her occasionally with a certain degree of pity. It made Derek want to grind his teeth.
He had to resist the urge to show up in her window at night, to wait for her in her room or in the backseat of her car like a second-rate horror villain, and demand answers. She could give him names, details, flesh out the crimes that her family had committed against his. Someone close to her had murdered his mother, then poisoned his family with wolfsbane and burned them alive in their sleep.
He couldn't bring himself to hate her, but he couldn't stop himself from hating all together.
His hatred had no outlet, it was directionless. He carried it around inside him like a gall stone, and it hurt. The Hales had rarely hired outside workmen. They had chopped their own wood, reshingled their own roof and fixed their own plumbing. Anyone who got close enough to be able line both chimneys of the house with wolfsbane would have had to have been a friend of the family. Someone's boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, bridge partner or best friend had betrayed them and everything inside of Derek demanded to know why. He wanted there to be a reason, something that he could point to that would make him understand.
It ate at him and it hurt, but he refused to let it consume him. The only way to move forward was to let it go. If he did not feed it, it would pass.
The summer solstice came in late June and after that, the shortest full moon of the year, the Strawberry Moon. The rain had cleared and the forest smelled sweet, warm and fresh with life. It was midnight and still barely dusk when Derek slipped into his wolf form and went out into the woods. He could hear Scott and his pack running through the trees, howling in celebration of the beginning of summer as they waited for moonrise.
Like always, Derek did not approach, but circled around them, watching and feeling the glow of their youth and their optimism. It was Kira's first full moon with the pack and her joy and relief colored the air in an almost palpable haze. Werewolves were at their weakest this time of year, but there was something freeing about that weakness. They could run wild, without restraint, feeding off the strength of their packmates and finally relaxing the iron grip of their self-control. They had made it through another winter, and now they could rest.
As the sun dipped below the horizon and the moon came up, he let the pack drift away from him, deeper into the woods. Following their trail backwards to its point of origin, he found the jeep, with Stiles reading in the back.
Derek hopped up onto the bench seat next to him. He smelled sick. It had been over a week since the shooting, but Stiles still stank of cold sweat and anxiety, enough that Derek thought for a moment he might be running a fever. He looked at Stiles out of the corner of his eye. No, it wasn't that kind of sickness.
Normally, when Derek joined Stiles during the full moon, Stiles would be sprawled across the backseat of his jeep. He'd have his feet propped up against the frame and only grudgingly move over a little to make room for Derek. On a cold night he might wrap himself up in a cocoon of wool blankets, or huddle down into the high collar of his parka, but he never sat properly, never ramrod straight. He never frowned down into the pages of his book, tense and angry, as if the whole world were burdening him with its ineptitude.
A couple of minutes passed with Stiles making no attempt to acknowledge Derek's presence. He grew increasingly agitated as the silence stretched on, flipping the pages of his book violently and scowling down at it in disdain. It was like watching a dam that was about to break.
"You know what this is?" Stiles tipped the cover of his book in Derek's direction so he could read the title, Rocket Ship Galileo, then turned it away again without waiting for Derek's response. "A prediction of the fucking future!"
Derek watched Stiles with cool blue eyes. There weren't that many humans willing to rant at him when he was in wolf form. But maybe Stiles saw him as more of a wolf-dog. Normal he would be offended at the mere thought, but Derek decided he was okay with it for the time being. Stiles needed to vent and Derek was glad that it was at him and not someone else.
"They build a rocket ship and take it to the moon and guess what they find when they get there? Space Nazis! And everyone's all surprised! Ooooh, Space Nazis, what a shock! How did this happen?" He slapped the book down on his knee. "Like it wouldn't be our own fucking fault if the Third Reich started a colony on the moon. We're already fucking funding it! Wernher von Braun is in Texas right now with all his closest friends doing the same fucking thing he was doing five years ago in Germany, business as usual. Our tax dollars, hard at work."
Stiles opened his book again, turning another page, and it almost ripped off into his hand. He was carrying so much tension in his shoulders that Derek could see the tendons stand out against his neck. His eyes barely scanned the page as he stared down at it.
"Actions have consequences. If you agreed to build rockets for the fucking Nazis, you don't get to play with rockets anymore. It's that simple."
Derek shifted a little closer so he could look over Stiles' shoulder at what he was reading.
Neither ‘common sense’ nor ‘logic’ can prove anything. Proof comes from experiment, or to put it another way, from experience, and from nothing else.
"You make a choice, you take responsibility for it. Don't hide behind religion, or science, or pursuit of knowledge or whatever-the-fuck. No one has an inalienable right to know everything."
Derek huffed out an almost-laugh and Stiles made a face. "Oh, you think that's funny, do you, Dog-Breath? You're the one who fought in the war. Don't tell me you buy this whole, 'we were just scientists,' bullshit. Because that's what it is, bullshit. Nobody gets to be neutral."
Stiles probably didn't even understand why he was so upset. He just was. He was angry at the world because he had killed someone and now everything was different. It hadn't been an accident and it hadn't been self-defense. He had made the decision to take his gun with him and he had made the decision to shoot it. Justified or not, he would have to find his own way of dealing with the outcome. There would be no quick fix. For everyone else, nothing had changed, but for him, from here on out, the world would always be slightly out of sync.
Derek knew the feeling.
He laid his head down on Stiles' thigh. Humans were social creatures, like werewolves. Sometimes the only thing to do was just to be there. Stiles had killed a man. Nothing could change that or make it better. But if Stiles wanted to rant at someone about Space Nazis for a while, Derek could sit with him and listen.
"Sure, fine, shed all over me, why don't you?" Stiles let his hand drop down to rest on Derek's head. He ran it over his coat, a bit hesitantly at first, then more firmly when Derek didn't make any move to shake him off. He scratched at the thick fur on the scruff of Derek's neck. It felt good.
Derek stretched a bit, pushing his nose into the folds of Stiles' jacket and sighing into his sweater. Yeah, he's definitely thinking of me as a dog right now, he thought to himself. There were worse things, though.
"God, you're soft. Of course you are, you're Derek Hale. Is that a werewolf thing or do you have some kind of a beauty regimen for your wolf fur? How would that even work? If you use pomade, does it mess with your coat when you shift?" Stiles chuckled to himself, closing his book and putting it down as he sagged back into his seat and looked up at the sky. Only a few stars were visible. It never got full-dark that time of year. "What happened when you entered the army and they gave you a buzz-cut? I bet you looked hilarious with a buzz-cut, way less intimidating, all big ears and buck teeth." Stiles sighed and some of the tension drained out of him, not all of it, but enough that he seemed almost relaxed as he continued to look up at the dull-grey sky and run his fingers down Derek's back. They stayed like that for almost two hours.
The full moon was short and Derek never actually saw it come up, it stayed too close to the horizon and was hidden by the trees. But he could feel it, the same way he could feel the light of the moon from behind a cloudbank, or through the canvas walls of a tent. It gave him strength and he soaked it in, surrounded by Stiles' warmth and the smell of pack and family, until it set again and the others began to return.
He sat up a few minutes before they came into view, jumping down, out of the jeep, and watching the pack arrive. They eyed him curiously when they noticed his presence, gathering loosely behind Scott as he padded forward to greet the Alpha. He sat down in front of him and bared his throat.
Scott stared down at Derek blankly.
He huffed and rolled his eyes, baring his throat again, but Scott just kept looking at him in confusion. He waved awkwardly. "Umm... Hey, Derek."
Derek shifted into his human form. "I'm asking to join your pack."
"Oh! Yes. Of course. Yeah, definitely."
Derek tipped his chin up again, bearing his throat for a third time. It felt strange. It was something he had not done since the last time he had seen his mother, but it was tradition.
"Umm... Welcome to the pack? Buddy?" Scott patted Derek's arm. "I feel like I'm missing something here."
Derek shrugged, Scott could run his pack however he wanted. He was about to make a comment to that effect, but was cut off when Isaac slammed into his side, enveloping him in a massive bear-hug.
"Does this mean I can move back in? Please? Scott's great, but he snores and I see him everyday at work and Kira needs more space. I think too many people freak her out and you're in the pack now so you should be around your packmates more--"
It took Derek a second to get his wind back. Isaac had knocked him back a few steps and was now sniffing his neck and rubbing his scent all over Derek's face, something he hadn't been able to do since joining the McCall pack.
"You can move back in."
Isaac's face lit up.
"Under one condition."
Isaac's face fell again. "What?"
"We're trading vehicles. That car you made me buy is a lemon, I want my truck back."
Isaac laughed, "You just don't want to deal with it in the winter."
"Think whatever you want, the condition stands." Derek ruffled Isaac's hair. He couldn't have stopped himself from smiling if he tried. It had been hard to lose Isaac as a packmate. They had been each other's only family for more than a year. Isaac was like a younger brother to him.
Then someone cleared their throat pointedly and Derek turned around to see Stiles holding out a pair of loose-fitting track pants, his eyes averted and a slightly pained expression on his face. "If you don't mind."
Some humans were funny about clothes. Derek was a little surprised that Stiles was among them, but he slipped the track pants on anyway. It was a bit cold out and besides that, only polite.
"Maybe you should have gotten one of those big family cars after all," Isaac joked, "we're not all gonna fit in the jeep anymore." He seemed pretty delighted at the thought.
Derek shrugged as he pulled the pants up over his hips. They fit okay, a bit snug in the waist and long in the leg, probably an old pair of Isaac's, but they'd do. "I'll walk back with Scott, we have some things to discuss. The rest of you, go on ahead." He glanced over at Scott for confirmation.
Scott nodded. "Yeah, sure."
"But you're not even wearing shoes!" Liam was staring down at Derek's bare feet in horror. There was a chill in the air and Derek's chest had already broken out into goosebumps, but it was endurable. Liam looked like he thought Derek was going to catch his death. "It's almost six miles back to your house from here!"
"Werewolves are hearty, we can withstand a lot more than-- Ouch!" A boot hit Derek in the back of the head and he ducked just as the second one went sailing past.
"Don't be such a martyr, Derek." Stiles, now in his stockings, stood up in the back of the jeep and stripped off his coat, throwing it at Derek as well.
"Stiles, I don't need--"
"Everybody in!" Stiles shouted over him, climbing into the driver's seat with a blanket. He draped it over his shoulders and pulled his hat down snugly over his ears as he started the engine. "It's not like I'm giving you my socks, Derek. Learn to accept some help."
He released the parking break and everyone scrambled to get in. Then, they pulled way.
Derek stared after them for a second, feeling somewhat steamrolled and slightly confused, before sitting down in the grass with Stiles' boots and jacket. Stiles had lied, or at least partially lied. He hadn't given Derek his wool socks, but he had balled up his sock liners and stuffed them into the toe of each boot before he had thrown them. They were thin, meant to protect against blisters, not to insulate, but they made getting the boots on a lot easier and wearing them a lot more comfortable.
Everything was a little too tight. The boots pinched at the heel and around the toe box, the jacket wouldn't close fully over his chest and the pants dug into his waist when he sat down. But he could get it all on and it was warm and better than nothing. It didn't really hit him until he was tying up the laces on Stiles' boots, trying to lean forward without bursting a seam on Isaac's pants, that he had a pack now and they had just dressed him.
He had a pack and they had literally clothed him. He felt suddenly very close to crying. He had a pack now. He could smell them on himself, mostly Stiles and Isaac, but also Scott, Malia, Liam and Kira and it would only get stronger over time. Because they were his pack.
"Hey," Scott looked down at him, sounding slightly concerned, "if the boots are that uncomfortable, you can just shift into a wolf again. We can always talk when we get back."
"It's fine." Derek shook his head, getting his face back under control as he pushed to his feet. "I can deal with it."
They walked for awhile in silence, then Scott spoke up. "Liam's happy, about you joining."
Derek raised an eyebrow. Liam hadn't seemed that concerned with him. He wasn't even sure they had ever been properly introduced.
"He just doesn't talk to you because he's embarrassed," Scott continued. "I mean, you were this football star back in high school, then you were a war hero and you saved him from killing the Sheriff and then he almost drowned you. So, yeah, he's a bit mortified."
"I'm not really a war hero, or any of that." The idea made Derek uncomfortable and he didn't know how else to respond, so he changed the subject. "How's Kira adjusting?"
"Good." Scott scratched at the back of his neck. "She's still a little afraid of her own shift, but she's doing good. It's getting a little complicated explaining things to my mom, though."
"You should just tell her."
"Tell her what?"
Derek shrugged. "Everything. Your pack is growing and it will continue to grow. A couple more Omegas will wander into town or someone will get pregnant. You should start preparing for that. This isn't something that's going away." He looked over at Scott. "You have my resources now, but you're the Alpha. You need to commit to your pack. Either tell your mother what's going on, or cut her out of your life. Tell her you founded a religion or something, she might buy that."
Scott grimaced and shoved his hands into his pockets. "How can they look up to me? How am I your Alpha? I have no idea what I'm doing."
"They chose you. Most of them didn't have to, but they chose you anyway. You can do this." Derek smiled, this felt right. "You're already better at it than I was. You don't have to know everything. Just be someone they can trust and let them know that you're in it with them."
Scott squinted off into the distance. "Liam didn't choose this."
"He still has a human family, doesn't he?"
"Yeah..." Scott sighed. "I turned him last summer, it was kind of an accident. Finstock organizes these alumni games during pre-season training sometimes. We get to play football and haze the freshmen. It's stupid, but you know," he shrugged, "fun. Stiles and I thought it would be funny to put peanut butter in everyone's helmets last year."
Derek tilted his head in question.
"Liam was allergic. He swoll up like a balloon and stopped breathing. We thought he was going to die, so Stiles got the rest of the team out of there and I turned him. He survived but," Scott shrugged again, "now he's a werewolf."
Scott looked so guilt-ridden and indigent on Liam's behalf that Derek couldn't help but burst out laughing.
"It's not funny!"
Derek rolled his eyes, "He got turned into a werewolf because of a peanut allergy, it's hilarious."
"He should have had a choice!" Scott glared, but he was also holding back a bit of a smile. "Stiles is right, you are kind of a dick."
"Stiles is right a lot and Liam will adjust. Just be there for him. Which, actually, I was wondering something."
Derek pulled Stiles' jacket around himself a little tighter. It was a few years old and smelled strongly of Stiles, which was mostly good and comforting, but there was an underlying layer of distress and hurt to it that put Derek's teeth on edge and made him anxious. "Malia didn't show up until after you had already turned Liam."
"Yeah." Scott answered, sounding a bit confused at where this was going.
"But you had to be an Alpha to turn Liam."
"Yeah, it just kinda happened. Not all at once, at first only when I was really upset or stressed out, my eyes would go red instead of gold. We didn't even know what it meant until Malia explained. She said it was rare, but not totally unheard of."
Derek nodded. "That explains a lot. An Alpha draws strength from their pack, it's what changes their eyes. You can't be an Alpha without a pack. I had wondered: you're strong, but surviving the Bite completely alone? No one is that strong. Stiles was with you from the beginning. He's human, but he stood by you enough that you had a pack right from the start."
"Yeah, he's my best friend." Scott smiled proudly.
"You need to talk to him."
Scott looked down, kicking at the grass a bit. "He knows I support him. What else am I supposed to say?"
"Just," it was Derek's turn to scrunch up his face, looking for the right words, "be his friend. Do whatever it is you two do. Swap baseball cards or whatever. Be there for him."
"Baseball cards?" Scott looked unimpressed. "Really? That's your idea of a good time?"
"Do I look like I understand your friendship?"
"I think you might be struggling with the concept in general."
Derek looked unamused, but let the dig go.
They walked for a few minutes before Scott spoke up again. "What about Allison?"
"What about her?"
"What do you think we should do about her?" Scott was watching Derek out of the corner of his eye, waiting for his reaction.
Derek shrugged, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
"You're really okay with her just... being around?"
"Hating her doesn't do me any good." Derek squinted up at the sky. The trees had thinned as they came closer to town and it was getting lighter. Barely four in the morning and the sun was already starting to come up. "It doesn't bring anyone back. My family is dead, her family is dead. We can either kill each other or try to move forward."
"I was thinking, maybe we could use her."
Derek quirked an eyebrow.
"She hunts werewolves," Scott explained, "she knows about the packs that were destroyed. If there are more Omegas out there, maybe she can help us find them."
Derek nodded. "It would make it easier to keep an eye on her too." He shot a smug grin over towards Scott. "See, I told you you'd be good at this."
They decided not to wait for the next Omega to come to them. There had been rumors of a crazed grizzly bear roaming the forest near where Highway 8 passed through Denali Park and something about the time of year and the patterns of the attacks had Stiles convinced that it was more than just a wild animal. So, on a warm weekend in mid-August, they all packed into two vehicles and caravaned south to see what they could find. It took the better part of two days and a lot of running around in circles, but they finally got close enough to determine that whatever it was was definitely not a bear. It wasn't a werewolf or a werecoyote either, but it was something. So they came back to Fairbanks empty-handed, only to return the next weekend with a more experienced hunter in tow.
It was impressive, watching Allison work. She had tools at her disposal that, five years before, would have put a chill down Derek's back. But he had since gained a lot of experience with just how inventive humans could be when determined to do one another harm. Her skills were, however, disturbingly specific to the weaknesses of werewolves and others of their kind.
She passed out earplugs and high-pitched whistles that were painful to a shifter's sensitive hearing, and they walked through the creature's territory in a line, driving it ahead of them like beaters in a pheasant hunt. When it was out in the open, they were able to take it down with a tranquilizer dart and get it tied to a tree so they could talk to it.
The creature was male and didn't have a full shift, which was the only reason they recognized him as anything but an animal. Even in sleep, he didn't regain his human features, he had gone completely feral. As soon as he woke up, he began howling and screaming in rage, unable to communicate and lost to his instincts. He strained so hard to get free that he started choking himself on his own bonds.
Derek was prepared to put the poor creature out of its misery. But, ironically, it was Allison who spoke up first to plead for a little more time. Scott was a sucker for lost causes, so he didn't take a whole lot of convincing, and they ended up spending the next four days camped out in the woods trying to tame the savage beast, as it were. Most of the pack was sent home at the end of the weekend, but Scott, Stiles, Derek and Allison all stayed, determined to see the thing through.
By Tuesday, the situation had gotten pretty bleak and even Scott was starting to lose faith. The shifter was just too far gone, nothing would reach him and it was cruel to keep him chained up the way they had been. Then, Stiles had a very Stiles kind of brilliant, horrible idea.
"Scott, you should pee on him."
"What?" Everyone turned to stare in a mixture of horror and curiosity.
"Well, he's basically an animal right now, so you should communicate with him like an animal would. You want to tell him that you're an Alpha? That he's in your jurisdiction and needs to defer to you? Well, peeing on him should get that message across pretty clearly."
Scott blinked, "Okay, that made a surprising amount of sense but, no, I'm not gonna pee on him. That's just... weird and gross and just... no."
"Dude, look at him. We are running out of ideas here."
"You don't pee on people, Stiles. That's just a rule. It is never okay to pee on someone."
"It is if they've been stung by a jellyfish, or are on fire, or it's a sex thing and you've talked about it and it's something they're into. Common, there are plenty of times it's okay. Just give it a try."
Scott did not give it a try.
Stiles, on the other hand, definitely did. He peed into a bottle and then kind of sprinkled it from a distance. The shifter grew immediately so incensed that it threw him into an uncontrollable screaming rage, which wouldn't have been anything particularly new, except that the screams gradually turned into curses, then death threats, and then finally elaborate and disparaging remarks concerning Stiles' appearance, behavior, and parentage. It took another two hours and Stiles leaving the line of sight before Scott got him calmed down enough to shift back into his human form and be passed a towel.
His name was Jackson, he was a werelion, and he and Stiles were officially never going to be friends. His family had come to Alaska during the gold rush and been adopted into one of the northern packs. Derek got the impression that his control had probably never been very good. But then again, that far north, the standards for control were a lot higher. But after the hunters had come though Jackson had lost it almost immediately and had no sense of how much time had passed or what he had done while feral.
Unfortunately, though the pee thing had worked, but it became kind of a sticking point with Jackson. Even after agreeing to join the pack, he had almost refused to ride back to Fairbanks with them, claiming he would prefer to walk, rather than share breathing space with Stiles. Eventually, they convinced him to put up with Stiles' presence long enough to get back to Fairbanks, but then there was the question of what do with him. At first, they moved him in with Scott, hoping that being close to the Alpha would calm him down, like it had with Kira. So they played musical beds: Kira moved in with Malia, Isaac came back to the cabin with Derek, and Jackson settled into the spare room at the McCall house.
This lasted exactly two days.
Jackson, apparently, was kind of a douchebag and Mrs. McCall finally put her foot down. She had been read into what was going on and, according to her, while she was happy to provide a halfway house for any needy were-orphans that Scott might come across, conceited assholes were not her department. So Derek and Isaac bunked their beds and moved Jackson in with them. It was a bit crowded, but they had both spent enough time in the army to be pretty experienced living in close quarters with grade A dickheads and the situation was almost comforting in its familiarity. Though it did make renovating the big house a much higher priority.
On the night of the first full moon after the autumn solstice, one year after Derek and Isaac had first arrived in Fairbanks, Derek drove Jackson and Isaac out into the forest. The others were coming in a separate vehicle from further in town and normally Derek would just take on his wolf form and meet them out there, but the last two times he had done that, Jackson had not shown up. It was hard to get Jackson to join in any group activities because Jackson was an ass. He was enough of an ass that everyone was fairly certain he had been an ass even before the brutal murder of most of his family. Tragedy, however, had definitely not helped the situation. Neither had the two years he had spent feral. Nevertheless, Derek had decided, and Scott had agreed, that meeting up for the full moon was not optional. They didn't have to stick together the whole time, but the pack went out together, and came back together. If that meant Derek had to babysit Jackson on the way over, so be it.
They parked next to each other as per usual and as the full moon rose, Malia stripped out of her clothes and shifted, disappearing into the woods. The rest of the pack followed, with Jackson eagerly racing out ahead and Kira trailing behind reluctantly. It seemed that while Kira's brush with her feral nature had made her fearful of her wolf, Jackson had embraced his to the point where he almost thirsted for it. At first, Derek had considered this cause for concern, but as Jackson settled in more and more, he grew less worried. There was nothing inherently wrong with embracing the power of the shift and Isaac was keeping an eye on Jackson. Isaac and Jackson talked quite a bit, sometime late at night when Derek was asleep or early in the evening when Derek was out, pacing the woods. He had no idea what about, but they did talk and in this, Derek was willing to trust Isaac's judgement.
Once the pack had wondered off, Stiles hopped up into the back of his jeep with his headlamp, book and blankets, settling in like he always did. Derek followed, stretching out on the seat next to him.
Stiles had gotten better. He talked more and wasn't as angry all the time. He joked with Scott, poked fun at Jackson and ordered Liam around like a manservant. But he had bad days too. Sometimes he still smelled raw and sick, like an old injury that ached and continued to draw infection because of a splinter trapped under the skin. The wound had closed, but not fully healed.
Derek watched Stiles read for a few minutes. Today was one of those bad days. "Have you ever wondered why Malia, Jackson and I have blue eyes?" he asked.
Stiles looked up from his book. "Your eyes are green."
Derek raised an eyebrow derisively, making his eyes flash blue. "Betas should have yellow eyes. We're all born that way. But if a wolf becomes an Alpha, their eyes turn red and if a wolf takes the life of an innocent, their eyes turn blue."
Stiles hummed curiously. "Jackson's is obvious and Malia's I can guess. What happened to you?"
"I had an older sister, Laura. She signed up right after I was drafted. Strong, smart, patriotic, an excellent hunter, she ended up recruited to Castner's Cutthroats, the Alaskan Scouts. I'd see her sometimes when she came through Dutch Harbor on leave. We were both part of the invasion force to recapture Attu Island."
"And that didn't go well," Stiles filled in. The Battle of Attu was well known in Alaska. It had ended in victory in the sense that the United States had retaken Attu Island, but there had been thousands of American casualties.
Derek nodded. "The Japanese had the whole place booby trapped." He looked up at the sky, the moon was just coming into view over the trees. "It takes a lot to kill a werewolf, but the Japanese are very innovative. They had designed a new hand grenade, one that was easier to set traps with and she set one off. It wasn't quite enough to kill her, but it was..." He shook his head. "Not good. That's how your father found out about all of this. He was my Sergeant at the time. The Alaskan Scouts weren't anywhere near where our unit was. But after she was injured, she lost control of her shift, knew it was the end, and came looking for me, so I could put her out of her misery. Your dad was there when she found me, and he saw her turn back into her human form after I killed her."
"Huh." Stiles put his book down. "And he saw your eyes turn blue?"
"No." Derek made a face. "They were already blue. I shot some Jap between the eyes, right on the beach when we first landed."
"Oh, fuck you." Stiles picked up his book again. "I knew that was too melodramatic to be true. I can't believe you would make something like that up, though."
"I didn't." Derek shrugged. "It's all true."
"Well, then how do you know it wasn't killing your sister that turned your eyes blue? You said it had to be an innocent life, so enemy soldiers shouldn't count."
"My sister was a soldier."
"Yeah, but..." Stiles waved his hand in disgust at the whole concept. "This doesn't even make sense. How do you know if some stranger is innocent or not? Or is it all about guilt? What if you just thought you killed someone, but really they survived? Or what if they were secretly some crazy mass murderer? There are just way too many loopholes in this entire premise."
Derek tilted his head to the side, looking at Stiles consideringly. "My mother once told me that there are two wolves inside of all of us: one with yellow eyes and the one with blue. Just because someone has had to call the blue-eyed wolf forward, doesn't mean that the yellow-eyed wolf isn't still just as much inside of them as it is inside of anyone else."
"Just, what? Don't feed the blue-eyed wolf more than necessary? Cut the bullshit, Derek, what are you trying to say?"
"I'm saying, you're still you, Stiles. Something has changed that won't ever change back, but that doesn't mean that you're not still you."
Stiles went quiet for a second and when he spoke again, his voice was clipped and bitter. "Well, fuck you very much, Derek. I don't have a wolf and my eyes are brown. They've always been brown and they're brown now. Some of us don't have all this mystic bullshit to fall back on. Some of us are just human. I can take responsibility for my actions without needing some moralistic fairy tale to tell me that I was justified and am still going to heaven." Stiles snapped open his book again, looking down at it resolutely, with his back rigid and mouth pulled down into a tight line.
This is why I'm not the Alpha. I'm terrible at this. Derek thought to himself, sighing as he curled up on the seat next to Stiles and laid his head in Stiles' lap. "It never made me feel any better either."
Just as he was closing his eyes, it occurred to him that he was not in his wolf form. He had laid down next to Stiles as a wolf enough times now that it wasn't strange for him to cuddle up next to him to be petted. But he wasn't a wolf right now, he was a human, and he had laid his head in Stiles' lap without a second thought. To him there was no real difference, but he was fairly certain that Stiles wouldn't see it that way.
He could feel Stiles tense under him and neither of them moved. He waited to see what would happen. A few seconds ticked by. Then, very tentatively, Stiles reached out and brushed his hand through Derek's hair, pushing it back from his face.
Derek melted into it, pressing his nose into Stiles' stomach and breathing him in. This was everything: Stiles' lap, his crotch, his belly, where he was most warm and most vulnerable and smelled the most like himself. Stiles' hands carded through Derek's hair, stroking the nape of his neck and drifting over to trace the line of his jaw. He curled around Stiles, moving closer until he was sure Stiles could feel his warm breath against his abdomen, even through all the layers of wool and flannel.
It was different than when Derek was a wolf, not necessarily because it was different for Derek, but because it was different for Stiles. He wasn't a wolf now and Stiles was still holding him close, stroking his hair and touching his neck and letting him worry at Stiles' sweater with his teeth. Stiles' sweater smelled and tasted like Stiles and it felt so good, so comforting, so heart-achingly wonderful, to feel Stiles' hand in his hair and to know that Stiles was seeing him, not as a dog or a wolf or even as a human, but as he was.
Stiles breathed out a slow sigh, one that Derek could feel coming from deep in Stiles’ diaphragm, and relaxed back into his seat. He let one hand rest on Derek’s shoulder, petting through Derek’s hair and tilting his head back to look up at the stars. He smelled contented.
"All is gold that golden gleams." is from Robert W. Service's poem Dreams Are Best, the last stanza reads:
Yes, I’ll smoke my cigarette,
Vestured in my garb of dreams,
And I’ll borrow no regret;
All is gold that golden gleams.
So I’ll charm my solitude
With the faith that Life is blest,
Brave and noble, bright and good,...
Oh, I think that dreams are best!
Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) is a YA sci-fi novel by Robert A. Heinlein about three teenagers who work with a retired physicist from the Manhattan Project to retrofit a rocket and take it to the moon. Stuff happens and they find a colony of Nazis on the moon and there is some speculating about how the craters of the moon might have been actually caused by a lunar nuclear war. I'm a Heinlein fan myself, but he's definitely not for everyone and this was maybe one of his weaker novels, TBH. Fun face: the book was initially rejected by publishers because they thought the idea of taking a rocket to the moon was "too far out." They must have felt really dumb about 20 years later.
Castner's Cutthroats was the unofficial name for the 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platoon. They did mostly reconnaissance work and were super instrumental during the Aleutian Campaign. Recruited from gold prospectors, fur trappers, native Aleuts, and etc, they were given a lot of freedom from the standards of military protocol in order to get the job done. They were basically the Alaskan version of the dirty dozen. Side note: there were, to my knowledge, no women in Castner's Cutthroats, but I'm pretending that sexism was less of a thing in this story.
The Kiska hand grenade (Type 99 hand grenade) was developed by the Japanese during WWII and much better designed for use in setting booby traps than previous designs. It was nicknamed the Kiska hand grenade by US troops because the first time any of them had fallen into Allied hands was after the battle of Kiska, in the Aleutian Campaign. (The US retook the island of Kiska immediately after retaking Attu, the battle discussed in this chapter)
Chapter 6: the man above was a murderer, the man below was a thief
****HOUSEKEEPING**** I decided to turn this into a series because it seemed silly to have the entire fic rated E just because of the epilogue. Plus, I was planning to write a stand-alone Christmas Special for it anyway, so it only made sense. So, yeah, subscribe to the series if you want to get a notification for the next update. :)))
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The summer passed and winter came, cold and dark, but the pack endured, thrived even, sustaining each other through the lengthening nights. Those of them who had been weak and hurting after so much time alone, Kira, Jackson and Derek, found themselves healed and energized by the wolf moon. The ties binding them to the pack strengthened.
It helped to be living in such close quarters. The big house hadn't been finished in time for the fall of the first snow, and Isaac, Jackson and Derek had resigned themselves to spending the winter almost on top of each other in the one-room cabin. Derek was selfishly glad for it. He felt safe being able to hear his packmates during the long, cold evenings, to feel them warming the air with their breath and smell the lingering haze of their emotions, all mixed up with his, as they ate and slept and lived together. He started to dream for the first time since before the war.
When he had first entered the army, he hadn't been able to let his guard down long enough to sleep for more than four or five hours at a stretch. He had never spend so much time away from his pack and it had unnerved him to be surrounded by so many foreign bodies, to have so many strangers around him as he slept. Then there had only been Isaac and he had felt the Alpha powers settling over his shoulders like an iron weight. He had worked himself to exhaustion every day and woken up every morning with his jaw aching and his teeth clenched, his heart hammering in his chest, terrified of what might have happened while his guard was down.
Now, he would lie awake at night to the sounds of Isaac and Jackson's steady breathing, listening to their heartbeats. Stiles drifted off sometimes, while they sat together during the full moon, and Derek had long-since memorized the rhythm of his resting heartbeat. He would play it in the background of his mind, next to Isaac and Jackson's, steadying him like a metronome. It was more than just him now, there was a pack.
Once, an actual wolf had come sniffing around the cabin in the middle of the night and Jackson had been up and out of bed in an instant, snarling out the window at the poor creature and then collapsing back into bed again without ever fully waking up. As acerbic and irritating as Jackson was during the day, he had his own battles he was fighting. Derek wasn't the only one to have lost everything and he wasn't alone in his hyper-vigilance.
After that, Derek found himself sleeping longer. Deliberately or not, something deep in his chest had slowly begun to unclench. Instead of jerking awake after five hours of unconsciousness, feeling tense and sore with anxiety, Derek would drift in and out of strange dreams, only finally waking up when Isaac dropped down off the top bunk sometime after seven in the morning. He would watch Isaac slip groggily into his boots and overcoat and stumble out the door for his morning constitutional, not bothering to get up yet. Jackson would be awake in another minute and fighting him for use of the washstand was never worth it.
Living with someone meant learning a lot of stupid, funny, personal things about them. Isaac, for instance, was so regular one could quite literally use his morning call of nature as an alarm clock and Jackson was almost pathological when it came to his personal grooming routine. Derek was fairly certain that Jackson shaved at least twice a day and considered priority access to their mirror a privilege worth drawing blood over. Which was why Derek stayed in the warmth of his bed, watching Isaac get up and Jackson stumble towards the sink, feeling no particular rush to rouse himself further. It was still January anyways and the sun wouldn't be up for a few hours yet.
Jackson stumbled around groggily, stirring up the fire and setting the kettle on before lighting a kerosene lamp and laying out his shaving kit. He polished his straight razor in long, practiced strokes against his razor strap as he waited for the water to boil. Derek watched him for a while, it was the same routine every morning and the predictability of it was relaxing.
"Don't even think about bringing him back here." Jackson caught Derek's reflection in his shaving mirror, his eyes narrowed critically.
"What are you talking about?" Derek stretched under the covers and started considering the merits of rolling out of bed and getting dressed.
Jackson gave Derek a condescending look over his shoulder, as if his non sequitur should have made any kind of sense. "Stiles," he said with no small amount of disgust. "You're always like this after you see him."
Derek felt the back of his neck heat up. He had seen Stiles the day before. Stiles had come by the station to bring his father lunch and Derek had been there filling out paperwork. There was a moose that tended to wander into town every winter and hold up traffic. It happened so often that Derek had gotten a little behind on writing up the incident reports and, of course, because it was Stiles and all odd and amusing occurrences in the world could be at least peripherally traced back to Stiles, Stiles had butted his nose in and wanted to know all about it. Apparently Stiles used to tag along on animal control calls and was somewhat attached to this moose, had named it even. Łośek, because, as a kid, Stiles hadn't wanted to be the only one in town with a confusing Polish name.
Stiles and Derek had chatted. It had been nice, and then Stiles had left and Derek had finished out his workday and gone home and slept and had good dreams.
"What, exactly, am I like?" Derek glared across the room at Jackson.
"You sleep in." He said it like he was accusing Derek of having wet himself. "And then you wake up all relaxed and contented, it's like living with someone who's still going through puberty."
"I don't know what you're implying." Derek sat up, frowning. They hadn't been those kind of good dreams.
Jackson snorted, going to fetch his hot water as the kettle started to whistle. "And I don't really don't care. Just keep him and his bodily fluids far away from me."
Derek growled, "This isn't any of your business." He could feel his fangs start to descend.
"Don't act so offended, it's not like you're courting." Jackson lathered up his shaving soap and started spreading it across his jawline, seeming to have lost all interest in the conversation.
Jackson could be a real shit sometimes.
Deflated, Derek collapsed back against his pillow and stared up at Isaac's bunk above him. It was true that he had been dreaming a lot recently. His dreams were not always necessarily about Stiles, but Stiles was often in them. The night before, for example, he had been dreaming about his family's house.
It had been summer and he had been trying to get the front door hung, but the frame kept pulling away from the wooden studs. He kept trying to nail it back into place, but the wood would only splinter or pull away even more. After struggling for what felt like forever, he had been about to pry it all off and start over from scratch, when suddenly Stiles had been standing there, leaning against the side of the house and watching him with a raised eyebrow. Dropping a tub of wood glue and a couple of C-clamps into Derek's lap, Stiles had smiled down at him, his upper lip twitching as if to hold back his laughter as he asked, "Didn't your mother ever tell you? Just because you own a really good hammer doesn't make every problem a nail."
Maybe it had sort of been about Stiles. Sort of about the house and sort of about Stiles, like they were connected somehow.
Derek sighed and sat up, rolling out of bed and walking over to the woodstove to start a pot of coffee. As much as he hated to admit it, Jackson had a point: they weren't courting, or dating, or together in any way. Derek had been seeking Stiles out for months now, sitting with him during the full moon, finding him at the autoshop or the Sheriff's office and dreaming about him when he felt safe enough to dream. He had an attachment and he was indulging it without permission to the point where others were noticing. It was improper, disrespectful and needed to stop.
The right thing to do was to go see Scott, it was proper and respectful. It was also mortifyingly embarrassing. Mortifyingly embarrassing not just to Derek, but also, quite obviously, to Scott, who almost choked on his own spit when Derek approached him early the next morning as he was opening up the animal clinic.
"Excuse me?" Scott croaked out between coughs, turning on Derek in disbelief.
"I would like your permission to call on Stiles."
Scott opened and closed his mouth a few times, like he knew it was his turn to talk but had absolutely no idea what he was supposed to say, before finally sputtering out, "You mean, like, ask him on a date?"
Derek restrained himself from rolling his eyes. "No, I mean call on. Dating is for children. If I just wanted to feel him up in the back of a car we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"Why are we having this conversation? Shouldn't you be talking to him?" Scott's eyes widened suddenly in horror. "You're not asking for my help, are you? I'm not sure--"
"No." Derek cut him off. "I'm asking because you are the Alpha."
"Yeah, so? That doesn't make him my property, what the fuck?"
Derek pinched his eyes closed and sighed. "You're my Alpha too. It's a sign of respect to ask permission. Respect to you, to the pack and to him."
Scott eyed Derek skeptically. "Okay... well, then yeah. Consider yourself free to go ask Stiles... whatever you're going to ask him."
"This isn't my blessing or anything. He's gonna answer you however he's gonna answer you."
Derek nodded, turning to leave. "I know."
"And I hope you're not be expecting me to keep this a secret."
Derek paused at the door, looking back at Scott over his shoulder with both eyebrows raised.
Scott made a face. "You're totally gonna ask the Sheriff's permission too, aren't you?"
"Wow, that is so old-fashioned. But, like, out of curiousity, what would you have done if I had said no?"
Derek shrugged, "Asked him anyway."
Scott laughed and shook his head, still looking a bit shocked, but now slightly less off-balance. "Yeah, okay. Well, good luck, I guess."
"Thanks." Derek walked out the door, bracing against the cold and closing it tightly behind him.
As awkward as the conversation with Scott had been, the one with Sheriff Stilinski was considerably worse.
Derek dropped by the Sheriff's Station in the early afternoon. There tended to be a lull in activity just then and Noah was always in a better mood after he had eaten. Asking to speak with the Sheriff in private, he was quickly ushered into Noah's office.
The Sheriff gestured for him to close the door and sit down, but Derek politely refused, preferring to stand at parade rest for this conversation. His face must have looked rather grim, because the Sheriff reached down into the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. "What's on your mind, Hale?"
"I would like to ask your permission to call on your son."
One of the glasses immediately disappeared, back into the desk.
The Sheriff poured himself a stiff drink. "No."
Derek wasn't surprised, but it still hurt.
He locked his knees and concentrated on his breathing evenly, not allowing anything to show on his face. He hadn't been expecting the Sheriff to approve. Sheriff Stilinski loved his son, would want someone good for his son, someone safe, not a werewolf with a dead family and a history of violence that followed him around like a bad smell.
"You do not have my permission." The Sheriff drained his glass, putting it down hard and watching Derek from across his desk. "Stiles is my only son. I will support him and protect him, no matter what it takes."
Derek stared straight ahead. "I appreciate that, sir."
The Sheriff looked tempted to pour himself another drink, but instead put the bottle away and slammed the drawer shut. "I will support him," he sounded almost angry, as if daring Derek to say otherwise. "I will support him, Hale, to the exclusion of all else. Do you understand me? He is my son."
"I understand, sir."
"Thank you, sir." Derek was glad he hadn't sat down. He felt light-headed; getting up would have been difficult.
Three days later, it was Sunday and the whole pack had gathered at the hockey rink. Sundays were hockey days. It was a pack tradition that had snuck up on them, starting out as just a casual pick-up game between Stiles, Scott and a few kids they had gone to highschool. But then Liam had joined, and then Isaac and Jackson and now they all played, except for Malia, who found it amusing to come watch. There were enough of them coming regularly to form two full teams and had gotten pretty good. Good enough that Coach Finstock would come by some Sundays to run drills with them in hopes of drumming up support for a city-wide hockey league.
Derek had resisted involvement for as long as possible, hockey was not his sport. He had played varsity baseball, football and basketball, but never really learned how to skate. Eventually, though, he was forced to admit that it was unhealthy to outright avoid pack activities and, once even Malia had started showing up, it became somewhat undeniable that Sunday afternoon hockey was a pack activity.
It had been three days since Derek had talked to Scott and Noah and during those three days he had found himself to be both astoundingly industrious and undeniably cowardly. The front drive had never before been so well-shoveled, the firewood never so neatly stacked. He had latched on to any excuse to keep away from town and, by Saturday afternoon, anything within a three mile radius of the cabin that had needed repairs had been fixed. Every blade had been sharpened, and anything with a joint, seam, or roof had either been weatherised, reinforced, or buttressed. Then, suddenly, it was Sunday, hockey day, and he had no more excuses.
On the upside, Sunday was probably a good day to talk to Stiles. Stiles was good at hockey and doing things they were good at tended to put people in an equally good mood.
Being human and not naturally very coordinated, Stiles was almost always at a pronounced physical disadvantage to the rest of the pack. But hockey was a skilled sport and he had been playing for a long time. Ironically, Derek was under the impression that Stiles did not actually care that much about hockey. Kicking a puck around the ice had just been a convenient way for him to avoid thinking about things like his mother dying, his father being sent off to war and his best friend being turned into a werewolf. Getting good at it had been more of a side-effect than anything else.
On the downside, Derek was less good at hockey. His quick turns were pathetic, his stick skills were sloppy and he was just starting to get the hang of skating backwards. On the days when Finstock ran practices, Derek generally spent the whole time stuck in the goal, where he was less likely to trip all over himself. Thank God he was a werewolf too, because Derek was pretty sure that half the pucks he had actually managed to block had either caught him in the face or caused him to do what what should have been irreparable damage to his knees. Add to that the fact that he really hated to lose and most Sundays ended with Derek in an incredibly piss-poor mood.
That day was no exception. If anything, that day was worse. He was on-edge and stressed out. There was no more putting it off: he was going to talk to Stiles. After practice.
Derek had never before been more aware of the physical presence of someone at whom he was studiously not looking.
"PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFT!" Coach Finstock blew his whistle long and loud, making all the shifters flinch and cover their ears. They were running one-on-one drills, with Derek in goal, and Derek had actually managed to win one, for once.
"You call that a check? That was pathetic, I've seen harder hits on a kindergarden playground! Jackson, show them how it's done!"
Jackson came down the ice with the puck. He had played hockey with his old pack up north and he was not only good, but also an unrepentant show-off. True to form, once he got within scoring distance, instead of just shooting like a normal person, he decided to throw Derek off-balance with a completely unnecessary lacrosse move, scooped the puck up with the flat of his stick and dumped it in the goal over Derek's shoulder. Derek tried to block it and ended up flat on his face. He could practically hear Jackson smirking as he skated away. What an asshole.
"PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFT!" Finstock blew his whistle again. "Jackson, trade in for Hale! Hale, get your sick-pack abs off the ice before you start melting a hole in it. You may look like Cary Grant, but it's a goddamn miracle you haven't split your own head open yet!"
Derek pulled himself off to the side of the frozen pond, surreptitiously feeling at his nose. It smarted and, while he was pretty sure it wasn't broken, there was nothing worse than having your nose heal off-center. Why couldn't Stiles have liked baseball? Derek was good at baseball. Maybe he could get the pack to start a league in the summer. He could teach Stiles to pitch. Stiles would be a good pitcher. Or a shortstop, since he was kind of scrappy.
Derek watched the pack line out for the one-on-one drill against Jackson as he indulged his day-dream. Stiles smiling and laughing on the pitcher's mound. Stiles diving for a ground ball. Stiles playing catch on a bright summer day. Stiles tripping Jackson and sending him sprawling across the ice.
Derek did a double take and, yes, Stiles had indeed just unabashedly tripped Jackson, hooking his stick around Jackson's ankle and giving it a nice tug before skating past him, unimpeded, and dumping the puck right in the net.
Jackson was on his feet, pointing and yelling, before Coach Finstock could even get his whistle in his mouth. "FOUL! He fouled me! That was a foul!"
Finstock rolled his eyes as Stiles skated back towards center ice, grinning. "Oh, give it a rest, Jackson. This isn't ballet. Good initiative, Stilinski! But make it a little less obvious next time. If you're gonna trip somebody, try to make sure it's not visible from Canada."
"Yessir!" Stiles gave a mock salute.
Jackson was visibly steaming. He was so angry he was starting to turn colors, and not even red either, actual colors, like orange and a splotchy black. His hair was standing on end and his eyes shining a bit too brightly. His five o'clock shadow was beginning to look more like three-day-old stubble.
Derek skated forward. "Hey, Finstock, how about we take ten?"
"How about you get your ass back on the sidelines? We can't just take breaks! This is hockey practice."
"I'll give you five bucks to go smoke a cigarette."
"Done." Finstock started patting down his pockets for his cigarettes. "ALL RIGHT EVERYBODY, TEN MINUTE BREAK. Don't even think about stingeing me, Hale, I know where you live."
By this time, Derek, Scott and Stiles, because, of course Stiles would have to stick his nose in, had all reached Jackson, crowding around him as much as he would allow, trying to block him from public view.
"You cheated! Everybody saw you cheat, you should be tossed right off the team! You shouldn't even be allowed in the pack, you're just a human!" Jackson was raving mad. His voice was starting to slur a bit as his fangs came in.
"Jackson!" Scott flashed his red eyes. "Concentrate! You need to calm down. This is not the place."
Jackson bared his teeth and growled over at Stiles, who was looking at him with his head cocked to the side and a curious expression on his face.
"Are you sick?" Stiles asked. "You're all stripey."
He had a point. They all turned to look. Jackson's Beta form was normally a sort of sandy brown color, as one would expect with a lion, definitely not orange and black.
Jackson scowled. "My mother was a weretiger. I have two beta forms, unlike you pathetic--"
"OH MY GOD!" Stiles cut him off, practically jumping up and down with excitement. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! YOU'RE A LIGER! A WERELIGER! And, Oh my God, your mother was Russian! You're a Siberian Wereliger! That's so cool!"
"I could break you in half!"
"Yes, but so could a weretitmouse, so don't let it go to your head. But you're a wereLIGER! How does that even work? Oh my God, this is so awesome!"
Jackson glared over at Stiles with narrowed eyes. He had calmed down a bit and his face was starting to drain of its unnatural color, but his eyes were still glowing. "Are you acknowledging my superiority?"
"Dude, how is that even a question?"
Jackson sniffed snootily in response but before anything more could be said, Kira skated over. "Hey, guys! What's the hold up? We ready to scrimmage?" Though still a little timid, Kira also somehow managed to be unflaggingly optimistic at all times.
"Jackson's a Siberian wereliger!" Stiles proclaimed proudly.
"PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFT!" Finstock blew his whistle and they all cringed. "Time's up!" he shouted, stepping back onto the ice. "Thieves get rich, saints get shot, God don't answer prayers a lot!"
Kira looked around with wide eyes, more confused than ever. "What does that even mean?"
Finstock had not changed his coaching style at all since Derek had played football for him in high school. He, Scott and Stiles all collectively shook their heads. "Nobody knows."
They broke into two teams for a scrimmage and Derek found himself on the sidelines again, waiting to be subbed in. He'd probably be put in after halftime. The pack was competitive, but not to the extent of being poor sports, and they got along well these days. Sure, Jackson had a temper, but so did Derek and Isaac. Stiles too, when it came down to it, though Stiles' anger tended to burn cold and slow. Derek saw it in his eyes sometimes when Allison was nearby. It was a calculating kind of anger, hard, persistent and slow to forgive.
Stiles wasn't angry now though. Derek watched him play. He and Scott worked seamlessly together. According to Stiles, they had used hockey as a training tool during that first winter after Scott had been bitten. It had helped him to learn focus and control. The practice had stuck and now it was a tradition. Every pack had its own traditions and the McCall pack had been playing hockey together since the very beginning.
Stiles made an interception and dashed off down the ice, faking left to draw Isaac after him and then making a blind pass to Scott, pumping his fist in the air as Scott scored. He came around the back of the goal for a high five. "That's right, Scotty, that's how it's done!"
Liam snorted and jabbed him in the side as they lined back up for the faceoff around center ice. "Don't you ever score your own goals, or is passing to Scott all you know how to do?"
Stiles just smiled and winked saucily. "I would, but Scott gets pissy if I don't let him in on the action every once in awhile." Then the puck dropped and they were off again.
There was laughter and teasing and banter. The pack was happy. It wasn't perfect, but there was a sense of easy camaraderie in the air. Everything smelled of sweat and wet wool and belonging. The pack was starting to coalesce, with it's own identity and traditions.
In another five minutes or so, Derek would be called to sub in and he would be a part of it too. Stiles might smile at him and tease him about his shitty skating and Jackson might yell at him for missing a pass. He might make a goal. He might make an interception. He might fall flat on his ass, but he'd be a part of it. He was already a part of it. This was his pack now. It should have made him happy, but instead it just made him feel sick and cold and sad.
"Greenberg," Derek turned to the other substitute waiting on the sidelines next to him, "tell Finstock I'll drop by on Monday with his money. I have to head out."
"Huh? What? Sure, yeah."
Derek unlaced his skates quickly and slipped his boots on. He was gone before the next goal was scored.
He made it halfway home before he gave up on all pretense of control and stripped to his skin and shifted, leaving his clothes piled up in a snowdrift to be collected later. Or never. If someone stole them, or some animal ran off with them, Derek wasn't sure he would care. He just needed to run.
He ran and ran and ran, stretching out his legs and feeling the cold air in his lungs and the rush of the wind through his coat, clearing his mind and thinking of nothing. Not thinking about his mother's house and how it had been gutted and re-designed to be more like a dormitory than a family home. Not thinking about family. Not thinking about Christmas and New Years and hockey on Sundays. Not thinking about pack. Not thinking about Scott McCall, who was a young Alpha with a young pack and who was allowed to run his pack however he wanted. Scott McCall, who wasn't a Hale and had never been a Hale and couldn't be expected to know or care about Hale Pack traditions. Not thinking about Stiles, who was strong and stubborn and beautiful. Who might say no, but also might say yes, but either way, was bright and sharp and soft and lovely enough to be worth any amount of teasing and humiliation. Not thinking about how stupidly in love he was and how desperately he wanted someone to tease him about it. Not thinking about how no one ever would, because there was no one left.
Derek ran until he was tired and then he ran some more, making a wide loop around the outskirts of town and skirting the banks of the river for a while before heading back up north towards the road, as if trying to pretend that he didn't know exactly where he was going.
He approached the smelting plant from the back, coming upon it as if by coincidence and picking his way through the abandoned buildings carefully, like he didn't know exactly where he was, hadn't thought about it, hadn't avoided it, hadn't been giving the place two square miles of breadth since Stiles had first told him about it almost a year ago.
The air was cold and dry and the snow was hard, packed solid and frozen in place so that he left no prints as he walked. It was quiet, quiet like it only ever was in the middle of winter when sun was going down. The shadows were lengthening and he was glad for it. His wolf form was dark, almost black, and he stood out against the snow. The dark coloring, like the full-shift, was a Hale pack trait and was something to be worn with pride, a sign of his heritage, but it was also very exposing.
He could feel his eyes glow as they picked up the last of the afternoon light and then: there it was. There was the slag pit, the mass grave that his family had been dumped in, the final resting place of the pack he had been born into. There was the pit, a place he had been telling himself meant nothing but had nonetheless been avoiding. There was the pit and next to it, inexplicably, there was Stiles.
Looking cold and tired and like he had been waiting for maybe a long time, there, next to the pit, was Stiles.
It took a minute or two for him to notice Derek's presence, but when he did, Stiles uncurled himself from the front seat of his jeep and stiffly jumped down into the snow, grabbing a shovel out of the back.
"I thought you might come here," he said as explanation, as if it explained anything, and walked towards the edge of the slag pit.
Everything was covered in a thick layer of snow so that the surface of the pit was only visible as a circular indentation in the ground, one ill-defined lump among many ill-defined lumps that made up the winter landscape. But Stiles seemed to know what he was looking for. He chipped away at the snow and ice that had hardened into a berm around the embankment, fishing around a bit before excavating a certain spot, digging it out with his shovel and then crouching down to brush it clear with his mittens.
He stepped back, glancing over in Derek's direction but not quite looking at him. "I figured, if you were coming here, you might want to see this."
It was wooden marker, already weather-beaten and cracking, but still clearly legible.
Here lies the Hale Family.
Taken from us on the day of our greatest triumph, August 15, 1945.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
"It's not much but... there was a collection, to have a marker put in. It only seemed right. Some people though there should be something from the bible on it but your family wasn't very church going. I hope it's okay. I mean, of course it's not okay, but..."
Derek padded closer, so he could peer over the edge. There was nothing to see. The pit was covered in snow, and there was nothing to smell. It was just a barren, frozen hole in the ground. The air was dry, all of the moisture frozen out of it. The only smells in the air came from the snow, the tannon of the pine trees and Stiles.
Stiles was fumbling awkwardly with his shovel, looking more awake now, but also uncomfortable, as if suddenly not sure what he was doing there. "I can leave, if you want. I don't even know why I thought you might come here, and you probably want to be alone. But, the wood cracks more when it gets uncovered, so I didn't want to dig it out if I was wrong about you coming. Not that, I mean, you've probably already seen it. But then I thought about visiting my mom and... when dad was gone, it was hard. To go alone. So then I thought that maybe you hadn't. But. I can leave."
Derek felt hollowed out, empty and untethered. He had been standing at attention, holding himself on edge and in control with anger, pain and through sheer force of will, for so long that now that he was finally trying to let go, it felt like there was nothing to fall back on. His family was gone and he felt their absence like a sucking void: cold, empty, and alone.
He turned away from the edge and into Stiles' space, pushing up against Stiles' side and pressing his muzzle into Stiles' jacket.
"Hey... oh, okay. Yeah, okay. This is fine too." Stiles allowed himself to be pushed over so that he was crouching in the snow, where Derek could smell his face and the little bits of hair that peeked out from under his hat. "It's okay, it's okay. Hey, I'm not going anywhere. I've got you. Here." Stiles ripped off his scarf and fumbled with the top button of his jacket, pulling open his collar and lifting his chin to give Derek full access to the entire length of his throat, inviting Derek to scent him. Just like that. Like it was nothing.
Stiles ran his mittens over Derek's fur and drew him close. On any other day, Derek might have shown restraint. He might have sniffed at Stiles' cheek and nuzzled into his chest, or pressed their noses together, or done any other number of things that were sweet and nice and affectionate and not that. Because Stiles had no way of knowing what that was. If Scott didn't know, then Stiles wouldn't know. Stiles had lifted his chin and showed Derek his pulsepoint like it wasn't the biggest sign of trust that could be offered to a werewolf. Like it wasn't something most grown wolves only ever did with their Alphas and their mates. Like it wasn't something huge and significant and meaningful.
On any other day, Derek would have held back, would have politely found a way around it, a way to not take advantage, to not get his hopes up. But it wasn't any other day and Derek was just too damn tired. It had been so long since anyone had shown him that kind of trust and he ached for it like a phantom limb. If Stiles didn't mean it, it would hurt later, but for now Derek was weak.
He buried his face in the open collar of Stiles' jacket, running his nose up Stiles' neck, from the notch of his shoulder all the way up to his jaw and behind his ear, breathing him in and basking in the warmth and comfort of it all. Stiles hummed to himself, petting at Derek's fur through his mittens and squirming around to tuck Derek more comfortably under his chin.
Derek was unsure how long they stayed like that, probably only a few minutes, but it could have been longer. By the time he pulled back, Stiles had gone stiff from the crouching down in the cold. He sighed and rubbed his face against Derek's coat. "Let's get you home, okay?"
Derek nodded. Stiles could have suggested that they drive to Africa and Derek would have been fine with it, but home sounded good too.
He thought he saw his discarded clothes and hockey gear in the back seat as he climbed in, but he could have been mistaken. He curled up in the front, laying his head down on Stiles' lap and was already half asleep by the time the jeep was even warmed up enough for them to leave.
The cabin was dark when they pulled up to it. No one was home, something that was uncommon enough to be curious, but Stiles seemed unsurprised. He went directly inside and started a fire, stripping down to his long underwear in front of the door and hanging his things to dry along the wall. He looked soft and rumpled, digging around in Derek's trunk for a towel, some soft cotton sweatpants and a sweater and then turning to look at Derek fondly but expectantly, like maybe there was something Derek was supposed to do now that he was forgetting.
At which point Derek realized that being in his wolf form was probably a bit rude and inappropriate, seeing as how they were indoors now. He shifted so that he could dry himself off and put clothes on and be tucked into bed, which maybe should have felt condescending or at least patronizing, but actually felt lovely and comforting and just right. Then Stiles climbed in bed behind him, slotting himself against Derek's back and wrapping an arm around Derek's chest and he was so warm and his skin is so soft and his shoulders so solid and strong that everything should have been just perfect. But instead, it was terrifying.
Derek could feel Stiles' pulse where his hand pressed against Derek's chest, could hear the beating of his heart and the soft rasp of his breathing and it all seemed suddenly so fragile and fleeting. All he could think about was the unguarded door, the soft spot on Stiles' back, just between his shoulder blades, the delicate bumps of his cervical spine, the gentle curve of his neck and the narrow cage of his ribs, all left open and exposed to the unguarded door.
Rolling over, he brought Stiles across his chest, manhandling him around until he was between Derek and the wall. He felt across Stiles' back and neck in the darkness, reassuring himself that all was well, and then clutched him close so he could smell his hair and feel his heartbeat against his chest.
Stiles grumbled a bit during the process, but seemed mostly asleep already and too tired to put up much protest. He yawned as he resettled his head against the pillow. "Seriously? Don't think I don't know what you're doing. We're gonna talk about this. In the morning, though. Big talk. There's gonna be lots of stuff that we talk about. In the morning."
Derek nodded against the nape of Stiles' neck. Maybe it was paranoid and irrational, but he felt better like this. "Isaac and Jackson...?" He asked sleepily.
"Were advised to find somewhere else to sleep tonight."
"Mmm," Derek muttered in approval, bringing Stiles, if at all possible, even closer. "Did Scott tell you?"
"That you asked permission to 'call on me?'" Stiles snorted. "Yeah, probably before you were even out of the building."
"Mmm, I was going to ask you today."
"Too bad you're a big fat chicken."
Stiles sounded teasing and affectionate, but Derek huffed anyways and rubbed his forehead into Stiles' hair. "Can I call on you?"
"Too late, so sorry. Position's been filled." He patted Derek's arm, and burrowed a little deeper under the covers. "You were too slow. I'm calling on you now. Look at me, doing all this calling. We're at your house and everything. Now go to sleep."
Derek woke up bathed in light. It was streaming in through a crack in the curtains over his bed, warming his face and shining in his eyes, just enough to wake him up, but not enough to be unpleasant. The fire must have burned down in the night because the air in the cabin had a bite to it, but under the blankets it was warm. Stiles had shifted, turning to lie on his stomach with his head tucked under Derek's chin and one hand tangled in Derek's sweater. He was heavier than he looked, a solid weight against Derek's chest, loose and pliant with sleep. His mouth had fallen open and he was snoring, just a little bit.
Stiles stretched as he woke up, rolling his hips, arching his back and kneading with his fingers, like a cat. Derek moved with him, running his hands down Stiles' back and cradling his hips. It felt good, comforting. Stiles was here, in his bed, because, of course, Stiles should always be here.
Letting out a soft sigh, Stiles squirmed around until he could bury his face in the crook of Derek's neck, nosing at his collarbone and seeking out the hem of Derek's sweater with his hands. He slotted his thigh between Derek's legs and rubbed up against him lazily as he traced the curve of Derek's ribs with his fingers.
"G’morning, handsome." Stiles' voice was rough with sleep and he sounded only half-awake. Everything was soft and warm and dream-like. Stiles' hips fit perfectly in Derek's hands and he smelled like pine trees and engine oil and wool, like sex and love and home and like everything that Derek never wanted to give up or let go of. His breath was hot against Derek's neck and his fingers soft and gentle against Derek's side. Everything was slotting into place just right, like grooves in a disk lock. He rocked into Derek's thigh and hummed contentedly against Derek's throat. Everything was as it should be. Stiles was here, because, of course, Stiles should always be here.
Derek's eyes flew open and he sat up, pulling away and spinning around so his feet hit the cold floor next to the bed, shocking him awake.
"Whaaa?" Stiles fell back against the bed, blinking the sleep out of his eyes and squinting up at Derek, who sat there, panting. "You okay?"
Derek scrubbed at his face, trying to will his heart rate back down and his palms to stop sweating. "We should talk. There are things you should know first. About... this."
"If you're worried about the werewolf thing, I'm pretty sure I've got a decent handle on the situation. And I have it on good authority that your equipment works pretty much like the standard." Stiles paused, reaching out to trace the line of skin showing on Derek's back where his sweater had ridden up. "Unless certain things are different for born werewolves."
"Werewolves mate for life."
"Oh." Stiles pulled his hand back. "But Scott... But... Wait, so, you've never..."
"What? No. Of course I have!" Derek glared back at Stiles over his shoulder, more embarrassed than anything else. "Werewolves can have casual sex."
"Okay..." Stiles watched Derek's face with a raised eyebrow. "Then... I don't know if I totally understand what you're saying."
"Sometimes sex is just sex," Derek huffed and looked away again, folding his hands to keep from fidgeting, "and sometimes it's not." The sex talk: how mortifying.
"Sometimes it's making love?" Stiles sounded understandably incredulous.
"I'm not being trite." Derek glared down at his hands. "It's real for us, it can tie you to someone, like and anchor."
"An anchor?" Stiles sat up, looking horrified. "As in: having sex with me is like tying yourself to a lead weight and taking a long walk off a short dock?"
"No! It's stabilizing. Like an anchor. Or like, if you had spent your whole life trying to build a house on top of sand, and then were suddenly given a solid foundation."
"So... that's good then. Foundations are good. Stabilizing is good."
Derek kept his eyes firmly on his hands. "Not if it doesn't last. If it goes away, then all you've done is build a house in the clouds."
Stiles narrowed his eyes and when Derek didn't clarify further, he prompted carefully, "You're going to have to unravel that metaphor a little more."
"Scenting, sex, commitment: it's all bound up in the same thing. I won't be able to keep them seperate. I'll go all in. Everything. Right now. Forever. I can't do that. Not when you're not sure."
The bed shifted a little behind Derek's back as Stiles sighed and kicked his feet free of the covers. He leaned back against the bed for a moment, gently running his hand down Derek's back and then jumping to his feet. "Okay. I guess I should have known. Not like anything else with you has ever been normal. You made such a production out of asking everyone permission like this was Victorian England, it only figures you'd be earth-shatteringly traditional. So apparently werewolves imprint on people sometimes. I should be way more weirded out by that. Jesus H. Christ. This would be cute, if it weren't so fucking frustrating."
Derek's head sunk lower towards his knees and he refused to look up as Stiles got dressed. Stiles' words washed over him without registering. It was right that he told Stiles. It was right, but it wasn't fair. He wanted to still be in bed with Stiles, warm and safe, even if it was only temporary. He wanted it so badly.
He watched Stiles in his peripheral vision, saw him slip his boots on and wind his scarf around his neck, button up his jacket and pull on his hat. He steeled himself for a polite goodbye.
But, instead, Stiles ran his hand through Derek's hair and kissed the crown of his head. "Taking a hint isn't really one of my strong points, so you're gonna have to be clear with me, okay? We can take this at your pace, you can 'call on me,' or whatever, if that's how this works. Come over for dinner tonight, my dad will make casserole and threaten you with a shotgun, it'll be the whole authentic experience. Be there at six, shave, wear something clean and bring a dessert or something. My dad likes apples."
He brought his hand down to the back of Derek's neck for a second, kissed the top of his head again, and then left.
Derek stared down at his feet blankly for another ten seconds, blinking rapidly as he tried to process what had just happened. When he finally did, he was up and out the door, running through the snow to Stiles' car in his bare feet.
Stiles had just turned on the ignition and was letting the jeep idle while the engine warmed up. It was bright out, the sun reflecting off the brilliant white of the snow and Stiles had his sunglasses on, his head tilted up to take in the warmth of the sun and his collar opened slightly at the neck, despite the cold. His skin was paler and his hair darker than it was in the summer, bringing out the flush of his cheeks and the pink of his lips as he turned to smile at Derek's approach. "Did you want your things? I picked them up off the road yesterday and was going to give them back, but didn't want to ruin my dramatic exi--"
Derek stepped up onto the running boards and into the jeep, throwing his leg over Stiles' lap and settling himself down to straddle his legs in one easy move. He brought their cheeks together, scratching his stubble across Stiles' day-old scruff and scenting him as he slowly leaned back, feeling his way closer and closer to Stiles' mouth until they were kissing.
It could have been long and deep and mind-bendingly dirty and Derek could tell that Stiles would have been open to that plan, very open. But it was their first kiss Derek maybe also panicked a tiny bit at the last second, and so instead he just cupped Stiles' cheek carefully and kissing him softly, licking tentatively at his upper lip, just enough to taste, and then pulling back and climbing out the jeep again, almost as quickly as he had climbed in.
Stiles looked a little dazed behind his sunglasses, his mouth hanging slightly open and his head tilted upwards and towards the side of the jeep, swaying closer as Derek reached around behind him and into the backseat to grab his clothes and hockey gear from the day before. Derek laughed and stole a kiss to the dark beauty mark over Stiles' left dimple as he pulled away.
"Oh, go inside and put some shoes on. You have baking to do, preferably pie." Stiles wrinkled his nose in mock frustration and swatted at Derek playfully as he danced back, out of reach. "And don't forget to practice looking intimidated in front of a mirror before you come over. My dad's been going over his speech for the better part of a week now and I know he'll be really disappointed if you don't look even a little bit scared."
"I'll keep that in mind." Derek smiled, watching Stiles as he backed up the jeep and then drove off, staring after him long past the point where he had disappeared down the road and onto the highway.
Hopefully Isaac or Jackson would know how to bake a pie, because Derek had no clue. He caught himself frowning as he thought it over and then laughed out loud in spite of himself because, really, wasn't that just the most gloriously mundane problem to have?
"the man above was a murderer, the man below was a thief" is the from the first stanza of the Robert W. Service poem My Friends. It reads:
The man above was a murderer, the man below was a thief;
And I lay there in the bunk between, ailing beyond belief;
A weary armful of skin and bone, wasted with pain and grief.
Holy shit, no more notes??? What is this??? Thanks for reading, the epilogue should be up soon, I'll link it as the next installment in the series :)))