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Where You Still Remember Dreaming

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Awesome fic cover by Grimmypuff

 

The first time Derek feels it he’s curled up in a ball under a bridge, his tail tucked over his nose. He’s taken refuge under a soggy mass of cardboard boxes in a vain attempt to shield himself from the bitter New York wind. When sleep finally finds him he dreams about Laura again; dreams her sitting in the crook of the apple tree that grew in the backyard of their old family home. Branches creak in the breeze. Her hair falls in front of her face as she reads the book that’s open on her knees. The scent of honeysuckle is in the air. As he approaches she looks up, smiles sweetly. “Soon,” she says, “they’ll be here soon.” He feels strangely hopeful.

When he wakes it’s to thunder rolling overhead, the stale scent of vomit nearby, two guys arguing not six feet from his hiding place, and a feeling in his chest that he can’t begin to name. It tugs just below his rib cage, pulling insistently. Close by the argument is escalating, a drug deal gone wrong. He can hear raised voices and scuffling feet; the sharp tang of anger and fear floods his nostrils. There’s the unmistakable click-click of a gun being cocked and Derek scrambles to his feet, the makeshift shelter falling away; instantly the men break apart, scrabbling backwards in surprise. The taller of the two holds a pistol in shaking hands. “Holy shit, look at the size of that thing,” yelps the other.

Rain drums furiously on the bridge, it pounds relentlessly against the slick sidewalk, which glows sickly orange, bathed in reflected light from the streetlamps. In the distance there’s a sharp crack of lightning. Growling low, Derek takes a step forward, then another. A bullet zings past him, wide, and embeds itself in the bridge. Another hits the cardboard boxes. The guy must be high, he couldn’t hit a barn door. With a snarl Derek leaps forward and as one the men turn and race away down the road until Derek can no longer distinguish the rabbit-quick beat of their hearts from the driving rain. With an amused huff he trots back to the tattered remains of his hiding place and noses through it until he finds what he’s looking for. Gently he fits his mouth over the fraying strap of his duffel bag lifting it carefully.

It’s time to move on, he can’t stay in New York anymore. Call it instinct, call it magic, Derek doesn’t know what it is, but something is calling to him and he knows he has to follow it wherever it takes him. First though, he has to find somewhere less exposed and change.

-

 

Days turn into weeks, weeks become months, seasons change. Still it calls to him, a strange mixture of bone deep certainty and restless yearning. So far it’s led him across state lines, through towns and cities, over hills and plains, woods and deserts, on two legs and on four paws. He’s bedded down on park benches, shacked up in abandoned buildings, found long-forgotten caves and old animal dens to call his own for the night. Mostly he’s caught and killed his own food, sometimes he’s begged for scraps and once or twice he’s been forced to pick through trash. Occasionally he finds a town he likes and stays a few days, picking up a little work, cash in hand stuff, where they don’t ask too many questions. Most of the money he makes that way he puts aside in case of emergencies. The rest he ekes out on cheap food and drink, like the canned beans that he cooks on the camping stove Laura found in a thrift store a few years back. And all the while, thrumming under his skin like a second heartbeat there’s the knowledge that he won’t stay or settle down, he can’t, because there’s something waiting just over the horizon, something that is just for him. The surety of that knowledge has driven him across the breadth of the country and brought him here, to Beacon County, California.

Now, as he pads through the ancient woods of Beacon Hills preserve, that tug in his chest feels stronger than ever.

Above him the moon is nearly full, plump and silver in a dark cloudless sky. Derek lifts his head as the wind ruffles his fur, bringing with it all the scents of the forest. Eyes fluttering shut, he takes in the rotten sweet smell of decaying leaves, of fresh pine, of rich earth and, under all that, magic.

There are no hunters here, no hikers out this late at night, no other wolves lay claim to this territory. He shivers, skin creeping under his thick fur. The eyes of the forest are on him, every instinct tells him that he’s being watched. Still, he’s come this far, and he can’t stop now. The deeper he goes the older the trees become, their bark’s gnarled and knotty, branches grasping at the starry sky. Onward he goes, deeper and deeper, until the crackle of magic is a tangible thing in the air around him that makes his fur stand on end. It could be hours later, or maybe only minutes, time passes strangely in forests and in magical forests doubly so, but somehow he finds himself in a clearing lit by moonlight. A steep hill rises abruptly out of the ground before him, and he’s aware, with every fiber of his being, that this is where he’s meant to be. His stomach flutters with anticipation, like a child who knows that Christmas is just round the corner.

Barely daring to breathe he starts to climb the hill, picking his way over rocks and tussocky grass in the moonlight. At the top he finds the last thing he expected: an ancient tree stump, maybe eight feet across, the wood splintered and charred. He circles it cautiously, taking it in from all angles.

This, Derek thinks, disappointed, is this it? Is this why I’m here?

Around him the woods fall silent. Expectant. There is no sound. No scent carries on the breeze, because there is no breeze. Everything is still. All he can hear is the beating of his own heart, the hum and rush of his own blood in his ears. The ground around the stump is bare, giving way to bald patches of earth. He sniffs around the peeling bark, and that’s when he begins to realize, there are no insects, no fungus. Nothing grows here. There are none of the usual signs of decay. In a forest even an old tree stump should be teeming with life, but this is a cold, dead thing.

And yet.

He is meant to be here.

He feels it.

This place is for him.

With no-one around for miles, Derek tips back his head and howls long and mournful at the moon. A challenge. A declaration. He doesn’t know how or why he’s been brought here, but he’s going to find out.



-

 

Cupped between two hills and backing onto the preserve, the town of Beacon Hills is neither big enough to be interesting nor small enough to be truly friendly; once-modern buildings are tired and weather-beaten, bleached of all color under the relentless California sun. Once a bustling community, now it’s a podunk town with little to recommend it, a place people pass through on their way to somewhere else.

Derek finds an abandoned industrial park bordering the forest three miles out of town. All day, he watches from the safety of the trees but no-one comes out there, not once. The buildings are all empty, the roads that connect them devoid of any traffic and Derek can’t pick up the barest hint of human scent. Still, it’s night before he dares to pick his way through the ghost town and choose a building to call his own. Dank and airless, the one he settles on used to belong to the Beacon Hills Railroad Depot, and he makes a home in the rusting carcass of an ancient train car, curling up in a ball to sleep under the seats.

This level of isolation is perfect; as long as he’s careful, Derek can do as he pleases here without drawing any attention to himself. Something has called him, drawn him across the country and now that he’s here there’s an unerring sense of rightness that he can’t explain, can barely allow himself to indulge for fear of being disappointed. After all, Derek learned along time ago, he doesn’t get to settle down, that isn’t how his life works.

Most of his family were wiped out by Kate Argent when he was sixteen years old, leaving only Laura and him, a tiny pack of two whose only solace was each other. For five years they drifted like tumbleweed from town to town, picking up work here and there, sleeping in cheap motel rooms, traveling light and staying under the radar, refusing to even touch the insurance money for fear of drawing attention to themselves. He’d thought they were safe, but the truth is they’d been lulled into a false sense of sense of security. When Kate found them again, Laura hadn’t walked away, but she’d taken Kate with her.

It’s been three years since Laura passed and he became the Alpha. Three years of wandering, heartbroken and alone, half terrified that more hunters will come seek him out in  vengeance for Kate's death, half hoping they'll succeed. 

In his position, an alpha should feel the urge to bite, to claim, to create the pack they don’t have, to survive. Choked by guilt and grief, Derek hasn’t even tried. He hasn’t earned the right to be Alpha, it fell to him only when everyone else in his family died, and the idea of creating another pack? Of trying to replace the people he’s lost?

No.

If he had his way, he wouldn’t be Alpha. He didn’t want it three years ago, and he doesn’t want it now.

But life has never seemed to care what Derek did or did not want.

Life has never been that kind.

-


In the early hours of the morning, Derek risks exploring Beacon Hills proper for the first time. On four paws he pads through empty streets and peers into storefront windows, head tilted curiously. It’s pretty much what he expected: a cookie cutter town in northern California. This isn’t the first he’s seen and it probably won’t be the last. If there’s a reason he’s been led here, he can’t fathom it.

Nostrils flaring, he wanders on, silent and inquisitive. In this form his senses make everything sharper, more intense, tell a much richer tale than they do even in his beta form. The remnants of yesterdays scents are a tangle of trailing threads that run up and down Main Street, weaving in and out of stores and apartments, a slowly unraveling tapestry that tells him the story of the day before.

As he stares in the window of Martin’s, a rambling department store which has seen better days, the breeze carries a faint floral scent to him, comforting and strangely familiar. Without hesitation he turns tail and follows it to a crumbling apartment building three blocks over. This early though, there’s no-one around and the building is locked tight.

With a huff, he carries on down the street, passing a bar, closed now, but the sour smell of body odor and stale beer still lingers and makes him sneeze; he trots by quickly.

Rounding a corner, another scent hits him. Ears twitching forward, he sniffs the air, easily picking out cinnamon, butter and sugar as they waft toward him. He hesitates for a moment, battling with himself, but his stomach growls, winning the argument. Setting off at a brisk pace, he follows his nose down the street until he finds what he’s looking for: Beacon Hills Bakery. With it’s name stenciled on the window in elegant gold script and it’s blue and white striped awning, it has an air of shabby gentility completely at odds with the garish pink of the party store next door. Derek pushes at the bakery door with one paw but it doesn’t budge. It’s too early for them to be open to customers; there’s an alley to the right though, and darting down it he finds the entrance to the kitchen. Rearing on his hind legs he pushes against it with his front paws, it’s locked too, but there are voices coming from inside.

Dropping back down, he scratches at the door’s peeling paintwork with blunt claws and then butts his head against the solid wood hopefully.

As he listens the voices pause, then there’s the sound of footsteps coming closer and the door cracks open. A tall man, broad as a house, stares down at him with serious brown eyes before his face splits into a wide grin.

“Who is it, Boyd?” calls a voice.

“Well, I don’t know his name, but he seems friendly.” The door opens wider and Derek wags his tail as the man, Boyd, crouches down and reaches out with large fingers to ruffle Derek’s fur and fondle his ears. “He’s big, real big,” Boyd continues, “blue eyes too, could be part husky, I guess?” He sounds uncertain but not unfriendly. Tilting his head, Derek leans hungrily into the touch. Truthfully, he misses this, misses simple human contact. The wolf in him is greedy for it, the man too if he’s honest. And he isn’t a dog, has never and will never be one, but touch-starved and lonely as he is, he’s learned to take what he can get.

“Ugh,” says the voice, “We can’t—Don’t encourage him.” Derek cracks an eye to find a sour-faced guy with pale skin and curly hair glaring down at him.

“I know, I know,” Boyd replies. Withdrawing his hand, he stands and Derek whimpers at the loss of contact.

The sour-faced guy, Isaac, according to his name-tag, rolls his eyes. “Whatever you do, don’t feed him, we’ll never get rid of him if you feed him.” Turning, he disappears back into the kitchen and Derek flattens his ears, giving Boyd his biggest, most soulful puppy eyes.

Shaking his head ruefully, Boyd glances back, watches until Isaac’s out of sight and then, leaning to one side, he plucks a pastry off a waiting tray and offers it to Derek. “Don’t tell anyone,” he murmurs. Derek takes the pastry gently between his teeth, then pushes his head up into Boyd’s open palm in gratitude. “Yeah,” Boyd says, “I know. You’re a good dog. I can tell.”



-

 

Later, as Derek makes his way back through town, he picks up that floral scent again, and on a whim, follows it back to the old apartment building. He still can’t tell where it’s coming from, but there’s a girl with pale skin and a mane of frizzy blonde hair sitting on the stoop, clutching a mug of coffee to her chest. She looks up as he approaches.

Her mouth is turned down in a frown and as he comes closer, she eyes him, half suspicious. For a long moment they stare at each other. The scent of flowers is stronger here, even though there’s no obvious source. It reminds Derek of drowsy evenings in high summer, the creak of the old porch swing, his head resting on his mother’s lap, her fingers curled in the fine hairs at the nape of his neck. He blinks, and the memory is gone. Derek huffs out a sigh and pads closer to the girl slowly, giving her a chance to move away. As he nears he can hear her heart rate pick up, can smell the bitter tang of medication that laces her scent.

She mutters, “What do you want?”

Loneliness is wrapped around her like a well-worn blanket. It seeps from her every pore, saturating the air around her. And he knows it, recognizes it completely because he feels it so acutely himself. He gets close, as close as he can without actually touching, but she doesn’t lift her hand to pet him, as if she doesn’t have the energy, even for that small act of affection.

“All by yourself, huh?” she murmurs eventually, rising to her feet. “Me too, mutt. Me too.” With that she turns and heads back into the building. Derek watches her go, then turns tail and heads back toward the warehouse.

 

-

 

On his return he putters around the old depot for a bit, exploring it properly for the first time. It’s musty and old and most of it isn’t easily accessible to him in his current form, so, chuffing reluctantly, he lets the change ripple through him, stretching as he stands on two legs. Rifling through his bag, he pulls on jeans and the cleaner of his two t-shirts, dressing from habit rather than necessity.

It’s quiet in the warehouse, almost oppressively so, but he busies himself well enough, exploring the large space. He finds old tools left to rust on dusty workbenches. Further exploration uncovers a generator and, after fiddling with it a bit, he manages to bring it humming to life. There are a couple of offices, situated towards the rear. They’ve been emptied of all paperwork but the furniture’s still there and when Derek finally gives into hunger and grabs chips from his bag, he’s able to sit in an actual chair and eat at a desk. It’s promising. The biggest find, though, is a changing stall with an old rusted shower and a large mirror. Derek stands under the flickering fluorescent light of the bathroom and stares at his own reflection. His eyes are sunken, razor sharp cheekbones cut through a forest of facial hair. He runs one hand through his beard tentatively, barely able to recognize himself. It’s been at least two months since he last shaved, but he has a little bit of money set aside, and if Boyd is willing to sneak him the occasional pastry at the bakery, maybe he could spring for a razor, maybe even some Tide, then he could wash his clothes in the sink. It’s a good thought.

With a bit of encouragement the shower sputters to life and, in a moment of inspiration, he checks the restroom soap dispensers. There’s plenty left and Derek spends a happy half hour in the shower, watching weeks of ingrained dirt sluicing down his body in rivulets and disappearing down the drain. When he steps out of the shower, he looks clean for the first time in weeks. In the mirror the triskele tattoo on his back is stark against his skin.

Satisfied with his new home, he dries off as best he can, changes back into still-grubby clothes then pads through to the train car and sinks onto one of the seats. At times like this he misses his family more than he can say. What he would give to be slumped on the couch with Laura now, bickering over what to watch on TV, or sitting in the kitchen chatting with his dad while muffins bake in the oven. There’s almost nothing left of his old life though. The only tangible pieces that remain are three books that Laura, an inveterate bookworm, had in her school bag on the day of the fire. He’s read and re-read them again and again so that now the pages are brittle, spines cracked and faded, and any scent of Laura is all but gone. Grabbing his bag he pulls out Slaughterhouse-Five. It was Laura’s favorite. She used to read it aloud to him back when they were— before she— He can’t bring himself to finish the thought. Opening the book, he settles in for a quiet afternoon.

So it goes.

-

 

Evening draws in, the sun dipping low on the horizon as Derek finally puts his book down,  Billy Pilgrim is in the zoo on Tralfamadore. It feels like it’s okay to leave him there for the moment, he’s safe and for once, Derek appears to be too. Besides, the moon is full tonight and Derek is intent on exploring more of the preserve. It’s easy to slip straight into his wolfskin, to feel his joints crack, muscles tear and then reknit themselves as a rush of new information floods his senses. He inhales deeply, then stretches, letting himself feel the change completely.

When he lopes outside he doesn’t have far to go. The industrial park borders the preserve and trees have long since crept in to try and reclaim the disused buildings; in no time at all Derek’s swallowed by the shadows of the forest.

At first he passes unnoticed between the trees, listening intently to the sounds of life around him. Foxes and raccoons skritch about in the brush, mice scuttle through the bracken, an owl hoots softly overhead. Even though he’s alone, a packless alpha with no friends or family left, on nights like this it’s hard to avoid getting sucked into the reckless joy of it, the fierce feeling of freedom that always comes with this form around the full moon. He chases a squirrel through the undergrowth until it disappears up a tree, tracks a rabbit to it’s warren, paddles in a brook that burbles cheerfully as it cuts a path between the trees, before eventually stopping to lower his head and take a long drink.

Tonight, he intends to return to the stump and explore further. He needs to work out what it is about that particular place that draws him to it. Before he’s finished drinking, though, a prickle under his skin tells him there’s something nearby. Slowly he lifts his head, ears flicking up, inhaling deeply, he tries to catch a scent.

Magic. Derek can feel it thick in the air around him, and once again, an unnatural stillness has fallen over the preserve.

“AwoooOooo!” It’s faint, carried in on the evening breeze and followed quickly by a mocking laugh.

Derek shivers. It could be a coincidence, just some kids messing around in the woods late at night, drinking beer and howling at the moon.

“AwoooOooo” It sounds again, closer and then again, closer still. And just like that he knows.

This isn’t kids.

It’s meant for him.

He can feel it in his bones.

Climbing up the bank, he takes a few steps in the direction of the voice. The crackle of magic in the air is even stronger now, it calls out to whatever magic lives in him and makes him what he is, it sings to the blood in his veins. Makes him want to tip back his head and howl for a pack that he doesn’t have, will never have again.

He restrains himself, stands in the shadow of a spreading oak tree and listens, waiting to see what happens next. “AwoooOooo!” This time the voice comes from the branches directly above him, and it startles a growl from Derek. He rears on his hind legs, front paws stretched against the bark of the tree, trying to get a glimpse, but whoever’s there is concealed by the foliage, and they’re downwind, he can’t smell a thing.

“Down boy,” says a voice from above him, melodic, yet somehow, alien. “You can’t get up here. Not on four paws anyway.” That last sentence seems to be whispered directly into Derek’s ear, but when he wheels around there’s no-one there. With a snarl, he backs away, his heart pounding wildly, adrenaline surging through him.

Above him, the voice snickers. The sound echoes until laughter seems to come from everywhere at once, resonating around the grove. Building until the woods ring with it, until Derek wants to cover his ears, wants to hide, wants to turn tail and run. Unbidden, a whine rises up in Derek’s throat and just like that the laughter stops.

The woods are quiet.

The only sound is his own ragged breath.

For one moment Derek wonders if he’s all alone, if he imagined it all.

He almost jumps when the voice speaks again from the branches above. “Where’s your pack, Wolf? Did you lose them?” The voice clucks it’s tongue disapprovingly. “Careless.”

The mocking tone makes something in Derek snap, and a long growl, loud as thunder, rumbles out of his chest. It reverberates round the woods, makes the branches quiver, their leaves trembling. He can hear the rustle and scuffle of small animals rushing back to the safety of their dens, the pitpatpitpat of their frightened heartbeats.

“Enough.” The voice commands, and Derek finds he can’t help but obey, the growl dies in this throat. “Bad dog. These woods are private property and under my protection. You’re the trespasser, so quit treating me like I’m a mailman in your front yard.” Derek bristles, snapping his teeth, and the voice gives an exaggerated sigh. The canopy rustles above him and Derek snarls. “Bored now!” singsongs the voice. And just like that it’s disappearing through the treetops at speed, so quickly Derek knows he won’t be able to follow it even if he tries. Quieting, he strains to listen and can just make out it whistling, “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf,” as it fades into the distance.

 

-

 

On returning to the old train car Derek passes a restless night. When he startles awake a few hours later and pads outside, dawn is only just beginning to crest over the edge of distant hills. Nearby trees rustle in the breeze, calling to him, and he considers going for a run in the preserve, but then his stomach growls noisily and he sighs. Turning, Derek heads back to the bakery.

Seemingly unsurprised at his reappearance, Boyd welcomes him easily and, retrieving a couple of pastries, he places them in a dish on the floor for Derek to eat. Then Boyd sits in the doorway next to him, lights a cigarette with a silver lighter and inhales deeply. Smoke curls lazily from his mouth, as he sighs, head thunking back against the door frame. The cigarette dangles between his fingers and his scent is, not sad precisely, but an echo of sadness. Wistful, maybe.

Once Derek’s eaten his fill he rests his paw on Boyd’s knee in thanks and nudges Boyd’s free hand with his head until he gets the hint and starts scratching that sweet spot just behind his ears. “Where’s your owner? Huh? Where are they?” Boyd murmurs. “Are you lost?”

Derek lets his head sink onto Boyd’s lap and enjoys the unfamiliar feel of gentle hands and a kind voice. A low whine rises at the back of his throat, because Boyd is right: Derek is lost. A wolf without a pack always is.

 

-

 

There’s no scent calling to him this time, but he stops by the old apartment building on his way home nonetheless. She’s sitting on the stoop again, coffee mug in hand, still cloaked in sadness. And although he knows she’s seen him, she doesn’t acknowledge his presence. He pads up to her quietly and she ignores him. He settles at her feet, and she says nothing. He doesn’t beg for her attention and she doesn’t seem to want his. But she accepts the fact of him, accepts him sitting with her and doesn’t shoo him away or get up immediately and leave.

For half an hour they sit together in companionable silence, each wrapped in their own thoughts. When she finally stands she says, “I’m not inviting you in. I’m not feeding you either. Don’t get any ideas.”

Derek lifts his head to look at her and chuffs out a sigh, watching as she disappears into the apartment complex. Then he gets up slowly and lopes back down the street, picking his way back through town to the warehouse before the sun can climb too high in the sky.

 

-

 

Despite the previous night's adventures, Derek returns to the preserve that afternoon, determined to find the hill with the stump on it and explore further. The forest is a different animal in daylight, but still beautiful. Sunlight trickles through the canopy of moss-covered trees, their branches heavy with bursts of brightly colored leaves that whisper gently in the breeze. It’s magic, Derek thinks, but a different sort than the night before. The sort of magic that all forests contain, that sense of peaceful freedom, a timeless escape from the drudgery of the world. Last night had been something different, the woods had thrummed with ancient power, heady, alive and dangerous. Day or night, though, there’s something about this land, something that calls to him. A feeling he doesn’t recognize, hasn’t ever felt before, but it thrums under his skin like electricity. Still, he can’t find his way back to the stump.

It’s late afternoon when he finally calls it a day, and returns to the warehouse; he slips easily into his human skin, hunger gnawing at his belly. There’s a grocery store in town. He noticed it yesterday. Checking his duffel bag he finds the inner pocket where he keeps his savings and tips out a mess of coins, a few screwed up bills and a bankcard that he only uses in an emergency. Gathering up the change, he dresses swiftly, then, after a moment’s hesitation he tugs on his leather jacket too. It’s sunny outside, and a three mile walk lies ahead of him, but like all werewolves Derek feels the cold acutely, and besides, sometimes he needs that familiar armor.

 

-

 

Beacon Whole Foods, reads the storefront, Keeping Beacon Hills Healthy Since 1979. The facade is weathered wood. Painted red at one point, it’s a dusky pink now. Loose change weighing heavily in his pocket, Derek opens the door and steps inside. As he enters there’s a sharp intake of breath from behind the counter at the front of the store. Glancing over, Derek sees a guy watching him. He’s wearing a red t-shirt with the store logo emblazoned on it and a bulky plaid shirt over that; he has messy brown hair, a snub nose and the corner of his mouth tugs upward, like he’s amused at some private joke.

Ignoring him, Derek heads over to the back of the store and grabs the cheapest laundry detergent he can find, in the smallest possible size, and a pack of disposable razors. It’s a sizable chunk of his available funds. Wandering the aisles he allows himself a long, wistful look at the bacon, before turning away and searching out the canned goods. He’s trying to decide whether to treat himself to a can of pork and beans or whether to just stick to regular beans, when the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end; he’s being watched again. The guy from the front of the store is peering at him with wide brown eyes from behind a pyramid of Cap’n Crunch. When Derek catches his eye he steps out, hands jammed deep in the pocket of his jeans and nods at the can in Derek’s hand. He snarks, “Really, that’s what you’re going with?”

Slowly Derek places the can back on the shelf and turns to face him. His eyes flick over the guy, taking in bright eyes and a knowing smirk, and then down to check his name badge, but it’s covered in black tape. “Shouldn’t you be encouraging me to buy this stuff?” Derek asks.

Plump, pink lips part in a smile. “Yeah, but I’m a terrible employee, so—” Derek quirks an eyebrow and the guy’s smile widens. Idly he reaches out and scratches a mole-speckled cheek with a long finger. “I guess I figured your kind would like a steak or something, you know, probably organic because it’s less chemicals. Definitely eat it raw.”

“My kind?” Derek balls his hands into fists, can feel his claws pricking at his palms, heart pounding, gums tingling with the sudden need to shift. Taking a deep breath, he squashes the urge down and instead grits out, “What my kind likes best is to hunt. Make the kill ourselves. Eat the meat fresh.” He curls his lip into a smile that reveals a hint of fang.

It’s a lie, obviously. Raw meat lost it’s appeal years ago, because in the absence of a regular income and a kitchen it’s ninety percent of his diet. As a kid he might have thought that sounded cool. Now he wishes he could curl up in a house on a comfortable couch with a greasy pizza or, better still, a salad, but this asshole doesn’t need to know that, and Derek pointedly runs his tongue over the tip of one sharp canine.

“Okaaay, message received,” the guy drawls, as his fingers  play idly with a fine silver chain that Derek can see peeking out from under the collar of his red t-shirt. “What are you doing here anyway? After last night I figured you’d be—”

“Last night—” Derek’s hands drop to his side, and he takes a step back. “That was you?

“Ding, ding, ding,” the guy says, with an asshole grin as he gestures round at an imaginary audience. “We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen!”

Inhaling deeply, Derek catalogues the guy’s scent more closely. He smells of mint toothpaste, strong coffee and cheez-its but, under that, there’s something warm and spicy, something enticing; it makes Derek’s stomach swoop. He frowns. “You said the woods were private property. This is the town.” The guy rolls his eyes but doesn’t argue the point and Derek continues, “What are you, anyway?” Because whatever his senses are telling him, this guy can’t be human.

“You mean you can’t tell just by sniffing?” The guy raises an eyebrow. “I guess there are more things in heaven and earth, Balto, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” His expression is insufferably smug and Derek’s overcome with the urge to wipe that grin off his face, but he can’t, he can’t afford to draw attention to himself in a public place. Can’t afford to start a feud with a creature he knows nothing about.

“Whatever. Do you work here? Or do you wear the t-shirt because you’re a big fan of the store?” Derek plucks the can of beans back off the shelf. “Can I buy this stuff now?”

“Sure,” the guy bites out, and turning, stalks back towards the counter while Derek follows on behind still trying to place his scent. The more he focuses, the more he can pick out an edge. Something other. An enticing whiff of something not entirely human.

When he reaches the counter, the guy hoists himself up onto it and slides across, dropping down on the other side to stand behind the cash register. Derek places the can, the razors and the detergent down and then busies himself decanting his change while the guy rings up the shopping. He operates the cash register without even looking at it, his narrowed eyes on Derek the entire time.

“Do you always introduce yourself by hiding in trees?” Derek asks, when he can no longer stand the scrutiny.

“Only if I think the person I’m introducing myself to could rip my throat out with their teeth.” The guy’s smile is a knife edge, tantalizingly sharp. In that moment there’s something almost feral about him, dangerous, his eyes glitter dark and beautiful against pale skin. It triggers some half-forgotten memory in Derek: a warning from his mother maybe, or a tall tale told by Uncle Peter on a Hunter’s Moon.

“Fae,” he breathes.

The guy stiffens slightly, as he bags up Derek’s groceries, but he doesn’t confirm or deny.

“I’m right,” Derek persists. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Half-Fae,” the guy admits grudgingly.

“So are there more of you round here?” Because that would be a disaster. A packless Alpha stands no chance against the might of the Fairy Court.

The guy taps his fingers against the counter and levels a long look at Derek before replying, “Just me.” And his heartbeat is steady, but that doesn’t mean much.

“I don’t want any trouble,” Derek says.

“Stay out of my woods at night and you won’t get any.” The guy shoves the bag across the counter to Derek. “What’s your name? I can’t keep calling you Balto.”

“What’s yours?”

“Stiles.”

Derek raises an eyebrow. That isn’t his real name. There’s no way. But now he thinks about it, he has a vague memory of someone, probably Uncle Peter, telling him that with the fae, names have power. “I’m Miguel,” he says.

“Lie.”

“Are you trying to tell me your real name is Stiles?”

Stiles runs his tongue across his teeth and considers Derek carefully. “Fair enough,” he says, “Miguel it is.”

Grabbing his groceries and pocketing the change, Derek turns to leave; he’s nearly at the door when Stiles calls out, “By the way, Miguel, if you’re interested, it’s two for one on bags of kibble at the pet store down the street.”

Derek doesn’t look back, doesn’t hesitate, just raises a hand and flips him off on the way out.

 

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