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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.

 

-

 

Chapter Text

Later that night Derek stands under the flickering light in the bathroom and hacks away at his facial hair with a pair of stiff, rusty scissors he found in a desk drawer. Using some of the remaining soap from the dispenser he carefully shaves himself with one of the disposable razors, only cutting himself twice. When he’s finished he barely recognizes his own reflection; staring at himself in the mirror he runs one hand self-consciously over smooth, tender skin.

It’s something.

It’s progress.

Turning the faucet on full, he pushes scuzzy soapy hair down the sink and wipes it clean. Then reaching down, he grabs the bottle of laundry detergent and twists the lid open.

 

-

 

They’re baking apple danish when Derek arrives at the bakery the next morning. His dad used to bake apple danish, used to pick the apples fresh from the tree in the back yard, used to make his own pastry too. Often he’d let Derek help. Even now, Derek can remember standing in the kitchen next to his father wearing an over-large apron, both their hands dusted with flour, as his dad showed him how to knead the dough just right. He’d always let him sneak a taste of the apple filling once it cooked down.

Boyd serves Derek a danish that’s warm and sticky on a clean plate, and he gulps it down in two big bites. A few minutes later Isaac joins them. He scowls pointedly down at the crumbs on the empty plate, before sighing deeply as he sinks down next to Boyd. Taking out his silver lighter, Boyd lights a cigarette and inhales deeply, while next to him Isaac fidgets, glaring down at Derek all the while.

“I said we’d never get rid of him.”

“Yup.”

A pause.

“Maybe we could open a tab, then when we finally find out who owns him—”

“No, Isaac. Jesus .”

“But—”

“You worry too much.”

“You don’t worry enough.”

Frowning, Boyd reaches out a hand and finds the sweet spot just behind Derek’s ear and Derek cats into it shamelessly. “It isn’t a big deal.”

Frustration and anxiety roll off Isaac in waves, and Derek isn’t great with people, never has been, but he knows enough to recognize that this isn’t really about him. Leaning over, he rests his head on Isaac’s knee, ears flat. Isaac stares balefully down at him, but Derek whines low in sympathy and tilts his head a little inviting Isaac to pet him.

“I know there’s a lot going on for you at the moment, but not everyone in this world is out to screw you over,” Boyd chides gently.

“Fine—” Isaac bites. He lifts a hand, lets it hover, before reaching down to touch Derek’s fur gently, pets it once, twice, and then pulls it away. “Fine,” he says again, softer.

Watching them with lazy curiosity, Boyd takes another long drag on his cigarette. “Anyway,” he says,  “I don’t think he has an owner.”

“What makes you say that?” asks Isaac. “He doesn’t look like a stray.”

Boyd shrugs. “You think? He hasn’t got a collar though and besides, he’s thin.”

“Thin? Seriously?” scoffs Isaac. “He’s huge. Look at him. I could ride him like a horse.”

“He’s a big dog, but he should be bigger. If you press here you can feel how pronounced his ribs are.” Boyd pushes fingers down between the bones applying gentle pressure. “Besides,” he adds, “he’s lonely. I can tell.”

Isaac’s eyes linger on Derek thoughtfully, but he doesn’t say anything else, and they wait for Boyd to finish his cigarette in silence.

“Later, boy,” Boyd says, when he’s finished. Reaching out he ruffles Derek’s fur affectionately as he stands, then disappears into the kitchen, and Derek stands too, ready to leave.

“Wait!” Isaac hisses, glancing back furtively to check that Boyd is out of sight. Reaching through the doorway he grabs a danish and offers it to Derek. “Don’t look at me like that,” he mumbles, heart fluttering nervously in his chest. “Boyd’ll never let me live this down if he finds out.”

Taking it in his mouth, Derek wags his tail gratefully, then decides to take it with him to his usual spot. She’s already there, hands cupped protectively round her coffee mug, but she double takes when she sees him approach. “Whatcha got there, mutt?” She leans down to take a look. “Is that apple?”

Derek wuffs an affirmation and settles down to eat it, his tail beating lazily against the sidewalk. The girl takes a long sip of her coffee, watching him with sharp eyes. “I prefer apricot myself,” she says.

-

 

“Dogs need meat,” Isaac announces as Derek arrives at the bakery the next morning. “Too much pastry isn’t good for you. So—” He produces a plate of thick cut bacon, crisp and glistening with fat. Derek’s mouth waters, tail thumping furiously. It’s been too long since he last ate bacon. Isaac places the plate down and then puts a bowl of water next to it.

When Boyd joins them a moment later he huffs out a laugh. “So much for not encouraging him, huh?”

Bacon grease all over his muzzle, Derek’s barely listening as Isaac snipes back, “You shut up. If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it right.”

“I’m not judging!” Boyd chuckles, holding his hands up. “Feed him what you want!” And Isaac seems mollified.

Later that morning, as Derek leaves, Boyd sneaks him an extra pastry anyway.

 

-

 

Afterwards, Derek joins the girl on her stoop. She’s pale and drawn, even more quiet than usual, but when he sits at her feet something in her scent settles, less astringent than before. He thinks maybe she’s glad to see him.

“You’re not gonna give up, huh?” she mutters. Derek edges closer so he’s pressed up against her ankles and the sour smell of loneliness dissipates further. “Okay,” she says, “Okay, good to know.”

They stay like that for a while, drawing comfort from each other. At least, Derek hopes that’s what’s happening as he dozes at her feet; he’s so relaxed he doesn’t register the approaching footsteps or the taptaptap of a heartbeat until the door to the apartment block opens behind them.

“Hey, Erica,” says a frustratingly familiar voice. “Thought I’d be the only one up this early— well hey now, who is this?”

Eyes narrowing, Derek’s head jerks up and he glares at Stiles, who stares straight back at him, one eyebrow raised, mouth twitching like he’s trying hard not to laugh. Huffing out a sigh, Derek looks away.

“Uh— hey, Stiles,” Erica says. She sounds casual, but Derek can hear the way her heartbeat speeds up and doesn’t miss the faint pink flush high on her cheeks either.

“Awww, is he yours?” asks Stiles slyly. And Derek won’t acknowledge him again, won’t give him the satisfaction.

“No! No. He’s just a dog who keeps showing up. Out of nowhere. I don’t know who he belongs to.”

“Big guy, isn’t he? And look how fluffy!” It’s a step too far, Derek can’t help himself. He turns his head to stare stonily at Stiles, who grins delightedly. “If I pet him do you think he’ll bite my hand off?”

“No.” Erica frowns. “He seems friendly enough.”

“Hah! You think so?” Crouching down to take a seat next to Erica on the stoop, Stiles rolls up his sleeves revealing strong forearms and reaches out with one hand like he’s thinking about doing it. Derek narrows his eyes, lip curling up to reveal razor sharp teeth. “Yeaaaaah, you know, I’m not gonna risk it,” Stiles says, pulling his hand back. “What’s his name?”

“I told you, he isn’t mine.”

“Bah! Every dog has to have a name. What about Lassie?” Derek growls low in his throat.

“I don’t think he likes it,” observes Erica.

“No? Balto? Fido? Rex?” He pauses significantly. “Or maybe something more unusual, like, say, Miguel?” He waggles his eyebrows and Derek snaps his teeth.

“Remind me never to let you name anything. You’re really bad at it,” Erica says flatly.

“You think?” Stiles turns the full force of his grin on her and her blush deepens.

“Definitely.” She tilts her head forward, letting her hair fall in front of her face.

“Well,” Stiles replies lowly. “You’ll just have to come up with something then, I have faith in you.” He nudges their shoulders together and something in Derek bristles at the familiar gesture.

“You should,” she says, lifting her head and meeting his eyes in a challenge. “I’m awesome. I totally named all three of my family’s guinea pigs when I was a kid.”

“Yeah?”

“Piggylicious, Sugarsnap pixiebell and Eleanor Roosevelt the fourteenth.” She counts them off on her fingers.

“Eleanor Roosevelt the fourteenth?”

“Seven year old me thought it sounded fancy.”

“She wasn’t wrong. Did you hear that?” Stiles says, ducking his head to address Derek with an infuriating smirk. “You’re in safe hands.”

In that moment, Derek really wishes he could roll his eyes, but it isn’t possible in this form. He settles for meeting Stiles' amused gaze with what he hopes is an icy glare.

Stiles grins back at him, tongue flicking out to wet his lips. “Anyway,” he says, “I gotta run, Finstock’ll kill me if I’m late opening up the store. See you later, Erica!” He flashes her a quick grin. “Later, Pooch.”

Derek snorts in disgust.

He and Erica watch together in silence as Stiles hurries down the street and rounds the corner.

“That’s Stiles,” Erica says under her breath. “He’s—uh, he’s kinda cool, I guess.”

Derek huffs out a sigh and flops down onto the floor at her feet, sulking.

-

 

So it goes on. Days turn into weeks and nothing changes. A month passes by and there’s no big revelation, no one moment that explains to Derek why he’s here, or what he should be doing. He can’t seem to find the stump again, however thoroughly he searches the preserve, and maybe he should be disappointed, but truthfully, it doesn’t feel like it matters. There’s something about this whole place that settles him, and that all encompassing feeling of rightness that settled over him when he first arrived becomes a familiar background noise to his daily routine. Most mornings he hangs out at the bakery getting fussed endlessly by Boyd while Isaac feeds him mountains of food, then he goes around to sit with Erica for a while, keeping her company. When he absolutely has to, he goes to the grocery store to buy food and bicker with Stiles.

It all feels right, and slowly Derek stops questioning why and starts to just accept it.

 

-

 

“Steak tips?” Boyd says one morning, his eyebrow quirked in amusement as Isaac places a bowl down in front of Derek.

“What? They were on sale!” Isaac’s prickly as always, but his cheeks pink and he hovers over Derek watchfully as he eats. “Do you think he’s putting on weight?”

“Yeah,” Boyd says reaching down and running a hand through Derek’s fur. “Definitely. You’re doing good.”

“Just didn’t see the point in letting good food go to waste,” Isaac sniffs, but he looks pleased. He smells pleased too. After Derek’s finished eating he lies down at their feet and Boyd fusses him some more while Isaac looks on.

 

-

 

Erica seems to be warming up to him. It’s there in little things. Her posture’s more relaxed and open, the bitter tang of loneliness that laces her scent seems somehow less, and she talks to him, tells him little snippets about her life as she drinks her morning coffee. That’s how he knows about the paper she’s trying to write that’s kicking her ass at the moment, the extra long shifts she pulls at the coffee shop on Elm, the fact that she’s epileptic and trying a new meds regimen, and how difficult she’s finding it to sleep in this heat because the AC in her apartment is broken and her super is dragging his feet to fix it.

Most days Derek lays at her feet dozing lightly, his tail thumping a lazy tattoo against the sidewalk as he lets her words wash over him; sometimes he brings a pastry from the bakery to gnaw on while he listens. Laura was always the talkative one in his family, Uncle Peter used to say she could talk the hind leg off a mule and he wasn’t wrong. No-one spun a tall tale quite like Laura, no-one could coax a smile from Derek like her either. She always seemed to know how to stop him brooding, how to make him laugh at his own ridiculousness. At least, until the fire that is. After that, well, Laura didn’t talk so much, didn’t smile so much either. Neither of them did.

And the thing is, it isn’t as if Erica reminds him of Laura. Erica’s words are a weapon that she wields against a world that infuriates her. She’s all sharp edges, brutal sarcasm and brittle pride. There’s nothing comfortable about her, but she calls to something deep in Derek. After the fire he and Laura collapsed in on themselves like a pair of imploding stars, until all that was left was a black hole of grief that sucked them both down. They didn’t seek justice or revenge. Didn’t try and expand the pack. They stopped fighting. Stopped really living. Derek thinks in a similar situation, Erica wouldn’t know how, no matter how frail her body is, or what the world throws at her.

The first day he met her, he’d assumed she was depressed, and maybe in some ways she is. She’s lonely and sad and often sick, but, underneath all that, she’s funny, and determined and above all else, fucking furious.

And he likes it. He likes her. He thinks his family would’ve too.

 

-

 

“Back again?” drawls Stiles, arms folded across his chest as he leans back against the counter.

“Problem? I thought we established you were the guardian of the forest, not the grocery store.”

“Har har.” Stiles raises an eyebrow. “I’m just trying to figure out what you eat. You’ve been in here, what? Once or twice a week for the last month, buying the same thing each time.”

“You’re memorizing my purchases? Should I be flattered or concerned?”

“You appear to survive on nothing but beans. It’s probably why you look so grumpy all the time. So let’s say I’m concerned on your behalf, and on behalf of the local rabbit population, which you’re probably decimating on a nightly basis.”

“Actually I prefer squirrels,” Derek says, mostly because it’s true.

A startled bark of laughter escapes Stiles’ lips. He squints at Derek. “You know there are deer in the preserve right?”

Deer are too big. There’s too much meat and Derek has nowhere to store it, to kill one would be wasteful, but he isn’t about to explain that.

“Are you giving me permission to hunt deer in your woods?”

“Why not?” Stiles shrugs. “I’m feeling generous.”

Derek rolls his eyes. He still isn’t convinced that the woods belong to Stiles. Normally if woods are claimed territory he can tell, can feel it like an itch under his skin; this land calls to him, welcomes him like it wants him here. Besides, he’s been out to the preserve almost daily for a month now and not come across Stiles again. Still, Stiles is watching him now, eyes searching his face for something, eventually he clears his throat awkwardly and says, “How long are you planning to stick around for, anyway?”

Blinking in surprise, Derek hesitates before replying, “A while, I guess.” He has no fixed plans, nothing to tie him here, except the strange feeling that he ought to be here. He isn't about to reveal that to Stiles though.

With a frown, Stiles rings up the items and starts to bag them up.

“Why?” Derek asks, “Is that a problem?”

Stiles’ hands hover for a second over Derek’s shopping. “No,” he says, but his reply comes a moment too late.

“But?”

“But most people like us don’t stay around here long.”

“Why not?”

Stiles’ heartbeat ticks up and he wets his lips. “I don’t know,” he says lightly. “I guess you’d have to ask them.”

“But you’re here.”

“Yes,” Stiles says brightly. Too brightly. His hands are busy with the shopping again. “Yes I am. And now you’re here too. Look at us! The only two supernaturally inclined dudes in town. We should start a club or a secret society.”

“A club?”

“Yeah, we could have a secret handshake and everything!”

“I don’t know.” Derek sighs, pretending to consider it. “Will there be a clubhouse?”

Stiles snorts. “Uh, yes. Of course. And we’ll have to think up a name that really embodies our dynamic, like, oh, I don’t know—” he gnaws on his lower lip. “Grumpy and Sparkles.”

Scrubbing one hand over his stubbled chin, Derek raises an eyebrow thoughtfully, then says, “Which one am I?”

All at once Stiles bursts out laughing, his shoulders shaking with it and when he finally calms down, the way he looks at Derek, it’s like he’s only just seeing him for the first time. “You’re pretty funny, Miguel.”

Derek shrugs, trying not to feel pleased. There’s something about Stiles like this, posture loose, smile open, eyes sparkling with laughter, all earlier tension gone.

“Do you know Palmer’s?” Stiles asks casually, leaning forward on his elbows against the counter.

“The bar? Yeah, why?” Reaching out, Derek tugs the grocery bag towards him, and clutches it to his chest.

Stiles’ eyes drag appreciatively over Derek’s body before flicking up to meet his eyes. “Thought we could go for a drink this evening.”

“A-A drink,” Derek stutters, nearly dropping the bag in surprise. He adjusts his grip, clinging on to it for dear life. One of the bean cans buckles slightly beneath his fingers. “Like—like a date?”

“Sure.” Stiles shrugs, leaning back. “You’re attractive. Especially now you’ve lost the mountain man beard. Not that I mind a beard, or stubble at least, but when I first met you it was a little too Hagrid-y, y’know?”

“Uh—” The thing is Derek has dated two people in his life. The first one, Paige, died in his arms when she was sixteen after the bite failed to take. The second, Kate, burned his family alive in their beds. That’s it. That’s the sum total of Derek’s dating history. After those two disasters he kind of tamped that part of himself down. Repressed it. Which isn’t to say he’s been a monk. Back when Laura was alive, they’d stay a little while in a town, pick up some work, and he’d go out to a bar or club and hook-up with strangers. Always strangers. After Kate he set himself two rules: No-one who knows his name. No-one who knows where he lives. It’s been so long since he’s allowed himself to think of something as simple as a date that he’s blindsided. “I—uh—”

Technically he could go on a date with Stiles and he wouldn’t be breaking either rule.

“It doesn’t have to be a date, if you don’t want. We can just go as friends. It’s fine.”

“I—” Derek stares blankly. Objectively Stiles is attractive. Probably. He has nice eyes, a full mouth, and Derek likes the way he smells. “One drink.”

“Yeah?” Stiles face splits into a wide grin.

“Just, getting to know each other a little better. That’s all.”

“Okay.” Stiles’ eyes flick over him again, but he looks away quickly. “Sure. Shall we say seven?”

Ears burning, Derek nods. “S-Sure. Yeah. I’ll, uh, yes.” He can feel Stiles’ eyes on him as he bolts for the door.

 

-

 

Even though Derek tells himself that it’s just a friendly drink, he still washes his clothes that afternoon and hangs them out to dry in the baking hot sun. He takes a shower, then stands in the bathroom for longer than he’s comfortable to admit, fiddling with his hair, trying to make it look okay. That’s all he’s going for, just okay. Just, a person who has made a basic amount of effort with their appearance: presentable. If possible he wants to avoid looking like a hobo that sleeps in an abandoned rail car and who has, on occasion in the last few weeks, eaten a squirrel. It’s no good. His hair is a little too long, there’s a cowlick that won’t lie flat no matter what he does. If Laura were here she’d— but she isn’t, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He dresses quickly; pulling on his leather jacket he buries his hands deep in the pockets as he sets out.

Palmer’s is kind of a dive, and every time Derek walks past the outside he gets the urge to sneeze. He arrives dead on seven to find that inside it’s dark, dingy, and stinks of alcohol, stale sweat and piss. Faded green vinyl stools sit at the bar, there are dark booths lining the walls and the place is empty save for a couple of older guys sitting in a corner booth nursing their beers. One big and burly, the other lean with hard eyes, they stare at him as he walks in, but he ignores them. Going over to the bar, he orders a beer and then sits on one of the stools, it has a loose thread, the seam is popping at the edges, and he can see foam starting to spill out. He digs at it absently with a finger. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing here. In this bar, in this town, in California, even. God, he’s such a mess. Should he trust Stiles? Gut instinct tells Derek that he can, but Derek’s learned the hard way that when it comes to people, his instincts aren’t good. Some part of his brain is warped, like a funhouse mirror it twists and distorts people’s true selves, and he ends up trusting when he should run or fight instead.

Maybe he should cut his losses, chug his drink and just—

“Hey,” Derek blinks, looks up to find Stiles standing beside him, and despite all his misgivings Stiles’ scent is a welcome relief after the olfactory assault of the bar. He leans forward slightly, breathing in.

“Hey,” he says after a beat.

“I wasn’t sure you’d show up.”

“Why not?”

Stiles shrugs. “Thought I might have scared you off.”

“Because you’re so terrifying to an alpha werewolf,” Derek grumbles under his breath, embarrassed to admit how close he just came to running away.

“Hey, I can be pretty damn terrifying if I want to be,” Stiles says, gesturing to the bartender for a beer. “Freaked you out in the woods that one time, didn’t I?”

“Uh, no.”

“Besides,” Stiles barrels on, ignoring him. “I think you’re one of those people who’s more worried by social occasions than anything else. You’d probably face down a hoard of zombies without batting an eye and then hide under your bed because someone invited you to a party.”

“That’s—” Derek swallows. “I don’t—”

Stiles settles down on the bar stool next to Derek and pulls it in a little closer so their knees are knocking together. “Don’t be offended. I have no filter. My mouth is always running on, but I don’t mean anything by it. You’ve just gotta learn to tune out a good thirty percent of what I say. Or that’s what Scott always said.”

“Scott?”

“Best friend.”

“Does he live ‘round here?”

“Used to.”

And there’s something about the way he says it which makes Derek ask, “He move away?”

“Nobody stays forever.” Stiles smiles tightly, and he folds his arms, one hand reaching up to fiddle with the silver chain that peeks out just below his collar. “Speaking of which, what are you doing here, Miguel?”

“Umm-you invited me?”

“I mean here, in Beacon Hell.”

“Hell?”

“I joke. Ignore me. What brings you to the wonder of Beacon Hills. Jewel of Northern California and well known tourist hotspot.” He makes a sweeping gesture that takes in the dilapidated bar.

Derek shrugs, not sure what he should say. Whether he should say anything at all. “Just passing through I guess.”

“You’ve been here a month.”

“So?”

“So, much longer here and you won’t be passing through anymore.” Stiles takes a long swallow of his beer.

“I just—like it here.”

Stiles chokes. “You like it here?” he splutters, coughing up beer violently. Derek reaches over and bangs him on the back until it passes.

“Is that so surprising?”

“It’s kind of a hole.”

Derek has lived in several holes. Literally. He says, “The bakery’s good.” Stiles shrugs noncommittally. “And I like Erica. The woods are nice.”

“Nice? Really?

“You don’t like them?”

“I mean. I guess. If you think trees are cool or whatever.” Stiles toys idly with a beer mat, observing Derek out of the corner of his eye. “So is this a date or not?” Now it’s Derek’s turn to almost choke on his drink, he’s still coughing when Stiles continues, “It’s just you kind of left it vague earlier, and when it comes to this shit, I’m a cards on the table kind of guy so for my own sanity I have to ask, am I barking up the wrong tree here?”

Once he’s finished spluttering, Derek scowls. “Barking up the wrong tree?”

“Poor choice of words,” Stiles waves a hand airily, “You know what I mean.”

Rolling his eyes, Derek sighs. He’s kind of dreaded this question, but it’s a fair one. Grudgingly he admits, “I—I’ve hooked up with guys before.”

“Okaaay.”

“And women. I’m not— I don’t really have a preference.”

“So you’re bi?”

“I don’t—” Derek glares down at the sticky surface of the bar and concentrates on peeling the label off his bottle. Sex and relationships: it’s a tangled knot inside of him that he doesn’t know how to unpick and explain, let alone apply a neat label to, for hs own benefit, or someone elses. “I don’t know--I mean, probably? I haven’t really ever—y’know—”

I haven’t allowed myself to think on it, let alone feel. I haven’t even been on a date in eight years, and I don’t know what I’m doing, is what he’s struggling to say. And either Stiles is telepathic or he has some hereto unknown handbook concealed about his person which allows him to interpret the half-formed thoughts Derek’s trying to express, because he nods like he gets it.

“Okay, well, let’s start with the basics. Do you find me attractive?”

Derek shrugs and glares down at the cold, soggy pieces of the label that he’s rolling between his thumb and forefinger. “I guess.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says drily. “Your enthusiasm is overwhelming.”

“Your—uh,” eyes are pretty, your hair looks soft, the quirk of your lips, the strength in your hands. “You smell good,” is what he blurts out, and then ducks his head, wishing the ground would swallow him.

“Good, like: Mmmmm. That squirrel was good, but I’m still feeling peckish and could sure use something bigger. Or—”

“I mean good.” Derek interrupts, lifting his head to glare at Stiles irritably. “I like the way you smell. I don’t eat people. Jesus.”

“Okay. Fine. Sorry.” Stiles says, but he doesn’t sound sorry, and he looks deeply pleased. “I like your eyes.”

“My-My eyes?”

“Yeah. They’re multi-colored. Unusual. Plus light eyes and dark hair is always kinda hot.”

“Uh-Thanks?”

“You’re welcome.” He smirks round the lip of his bottle before taking a sip.

Derek clears his throat awkwardly; for his own sanity, he needs to change the subject. “So, you said you’re half fae. Which half?”

“Left,” Stiles says, deadly serious. Derek glares flatly at him until he explodes with laughter. “Just kidding. My mom. My dad was human.” There’s something in his tone when he speaks about his father. Proud and fond, but Derek didn’t miss the ‘was’ in that sentence and he changes the subject.

“So, fae, huh? Do you have a magic wand?”

“Har har. Yes. It has a star and pink glitter and ribbons.” He rolls his eyes. “I’m also friends with Tinkerbell.”

“Wow. Friends with a celebrity. I’m impressed.”

“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. She was never the same after Peter left. Hit the booze hard.”

“Shame.” They both grin.

“A wand, though?” Stiles scoffs. “Cheap shot. Honestly. That’s how this is gonna go down? I mean, it seems like you spend half your life as an actual wolf, but have you ever lifted your leg and pissed against a tree?” Derek opens his mouth then shuts it again. “Oh my god, you totally have, haven’t you?” Stiles looks gleeful.

“You said it yourself, I can change into a wolf,” Derek points out, “When I’m in wolf form and I need to, y’know—” he trails off.

“So is there other stuff, too? I mean, have you ever humped someone’s leg because you were happy to see them? Sniffed another wolf’s butt?” Derek glares at him. “Well?”

“No,” he grinds out.

“Aww, don’t be embarrassed,” Stiles leers. “I still think you’re hot. Play your cards right and later I’ll let you take me back to your doghouse.”

“What? And then you’ll show me your fairy ring?”

Stiles collapses with laughter. “Miguel,” he says, leaning over and touching Derek’s arm. “Maybe I’ll even let you sniff it.”

And in spite of himself, in spite of the fact he’s blushing like a teenager. Derek grins.

The conversation flows a little easier after that, and Derek’s nowhere near the stage where he’s going to invite Stiles back anywhere, but this, the two of them sitting together and chatting, is the most normal interaction he’s had with anyone in months, years, maybe even since Laura died.

They drink another couple of beers together. The bar never really seems to get any busier, and when Derek comments on it Stiles just shrugs. “It’s a Tuesday, Miguel,” he says, like that explains it.

The only thing that spoils the evening slightly is the two guys in the corner. Throughout the evening Derek can feel the eyes of the big burly guy boring into them, or more precisely, Stiles.

“Who are those two?” Derek asks eventually, nodding at them.

Glancing over his shoulder Stiles grimaces. “Big guy is Ennis Johnson, tall skinny one is Crawford Lahey.”

“Ennis has been staring at you all evening. Like he’s Wile.E.Coyote and you’re the Roadrunner.”

“Hah! Accurate. Fortunately for me, everyone knows the coyote never wins.”

“Does he ever give you any trouble?” asks Derek, locking eyes with Ennis over Stiles’ shoulder.

“Nothing I can’t handle.” Stiles doesn’t even glance back at them, like they’re not worth his time. “So, one more drink and then I’ll have to go. I’m opening the store tomorrow. Again.”

“Okay.” Derek drags his eyes away from staring Ennis down and shoots Stiles a small smile. “This was fun.”

Stiles nods. “It was. It’s kinda nice to be myself for once.”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees, “I know what you mean.”

Later that evening he walks Stiles back to his apartment building, they linger on the steps talking, and it’s familiar and strange all at once. The last time he stood on someone’s doorstep after a date, it was Paige and he was fifteen. He’d chanced a kiss that night and then grinned madly to himself all the way home.

As they stand together in the balmy night air he thinks about leaning in and kissing Stiles. Imagines making out with him in front of his building like a couple of teenagers, and there’s a moment as they’re saying good-bye when he thinks Stiles is imagining it too. The thing is, despite all the flirting, and despite how much he likes Stiles, he has rules. Rules that he’s put in place for a reason. And even though hooking up with Stiles now wouldn’t technically break either of them, he knows in himself it would break them in spirit. Stiles knows him. Knows more about him than anyone has in a long time and Derek can’t risk it. In that moment he tells himself that this was never a date, not really. This was just two people getting to know each other a little better. That’s all. He needs to set the boundaries close now and stick to them.

He sticks out his hand and, after a pause, Stiles takes it. “Thanks,” Derek says, gruffer than he means to be. “This was fun.”

“Yeah.” Stiles says, shaking his hand. “Fun.”

“I should go. See you around, Stiles.”

He definitely isn’t imagining the look of disappointment on Stiles face when he says, “Oh, sure. I guess I’ll see you around, Miguel.”

 It’s for the best. Romance is a luxury Derek can’t afford, that’s what he tells himself as he walks back to the warehouse alone.

 

-

Chapter Text

After another night of restless dreams, Derek wakes with an uneasy feeling gnawing at his stomach; he can’t settle to anything, circles the warehouse restless and irritable, body one long line of tension. When he pads outside, the position of the sun in the sky tells him he’s overslept; it’s too late to go to the bakery now, by the time he arrives they’ll be close to opening. There’s still time to visit Erica though, and once he thinks that, he has to do it. Needs to. Can’t shake the idea for a moment.

The pace he sets is quicker than usual. That strange tension doesn’t leave him and only grows worse the closer to town he gets until his instincts are screaming: EricaEricaErica , and badbadwrongtrouble . It grows in him, heavy like the air before a storm, until he’s running, lightning quick, four paws thundering against the asphalt, every muscle straining with the effort, the need to see her and make sure she’s okay.

A block away he hears the sound of something shattering in the distance, a choked off noise, a heart beating quick and scared, and if someone asked, he couldn’t say what he was expecting, but when he rounds the corner onto her block to find her lying on the ground convulsing, he isn’t surprised. Her cup is smashed, jagged shards scattered all about; the bitter smell of coffee carries on the air, and alongside it, the iron tang of blood. As Derek approaches he can see it oozing, thick and sticky from her temple. She must have hit her head as she fell.

Time seems to slow as he runs to her: every sense attuned, taking in the sound of her pulse, the look of her skin, pale and clammy, her scent sour with pain.  Reaching her, his first instinct is to shift, but he has no clue what to do, no experience with seizures, no idea how to help her and no phone to call anyone. Besides if he shifts, he’ll be a naked man crouched over an unconscious woman and there’s no way that ends well.

No, he needs help and he needs it now. So he follows his instinct and does the one thing he can do, the one thing he’s avoided doing where another living soul can hear him for nigh on eight years in an effort to remain hidden.  Tipping back his head, he howls as long and loud as he knows how. The sound echoes high, piercing through the quiet morning, bouncing off buildings and causing a flock of birds to rise startled from the rooftops above and circle the air nervously. He howls again, desperate, and the windows rattle in their frames.

Nobody comes, but that makes no difference. Head tipped back he howls again, and again, and again. Because nothing else matters, someone somewhere is going to hear this and come find them, even if it’s only to complain about the noise.

It feels like hours pass as Erica jerks helplessly on the ground next to him. In reality it’s probably only a minute at most before the door to the apartment block bursts open and Stiles stumbles out, clothes half buttoned, hair sopping wet. Almost immediately Boyd and Isaac skid round the corner together, panting, hands and faces streaked in flour, eyes wild.

They’re here. They’re all here.

In that moment, Derek’s so relieved he could cry.

Boyd and Isaac race forward and Stiles is already barking orders. “Quick! Help me roll her on her side,” he calls and Isaac stumbles forward blindly to help him while Boyd pulls out his phone to call 911.

“We need to get her into the recovery position and cushion her head. Here!” Stiles tugs off his misbuttoned shirt. “We’ll use this. Don’t put anything in her mouth.”

Pale but determined, Isaac nods, behind him Boyd is speaking to the dispatcher, giving them as many details as he can.

Backing out of the way, Derek takes refuge behind some large trash cans. Now the initial surge of adrenaline has passed, he’s shaking, legs barely able to hold him up. The three men hover over her watchfully, and within minutes an ambulance siren can be heard in the distance. In no time at all it’s here and the EMT’s are climbing out and after that he can’t see what’s happening. There are too many people, too much noise, too many scents all crowding in at once, overwhelming him.

When he was little he used to hate crowds, used to hate the cacophony of noises and scents that he couldn’t tune out, his momma used to put him in ear defenders, just to help. He can still remember her, cradling him in her arms and whispering, “Pick one. One scent or sound. One that feels safe. Pick one and focus on that,” and it had always helped. Now, instinctively, he hones in on a scent that’s warm, spicy, and reassuring. Breathing deeply he lets it settle him, then tunes back into the thump of Erica’s heartbeat, still beating too fast, but strong and there. She’s going to be okay. She has to be, Please, he thinks, please let her be okay.

He hears Stiles’ voice say, “I’ll ride with her in the ambulance.” And before he knows it the EMT’s lift her in, Stiles follows and the door to the ambulance shuts behind them. The sound of her heartbeat fades as the ambulance drives away, the comforting scent dissipates and then as quickly as it began, it’s over, and it’s just he and Boyd and Isaac, standing there watching the ambulances tail lights bounce down the road and away.

As one Boyd and Isaac turn to look at each other. “Well,” Isaac says, “that was dramatic.”

Nodding slowly, Boyd looks around until he finds Derek ducking behind the trash cans. “Hey, come here, boy!” he says, crouching down, and after a moment's hesitation Derek trots toward him. “You did good,” Boyd croons, running his fingers through Derek’s fur. “You did real good.”

“Yep,” Isaac agrees, looking down at them both with something approaching fondness. Then says, “We should get back to the store, I think I left the kitchen door open. And we were already behind this morning, before all this, and there are bear claws in the oven that will burn if we’re not careful. And Mrs. Mendes is coming to collect her cake today and I still have to finish the sugar roses.”

Boyd rolls his eyes, gives Derek’s ruff one last squeeze then rises to his feet. “Come on, boy!” he says, “I think you earned yourself some bacon. And it just so happens Isaac has some ready and waiting.”

“Less talking, more walking!” calls Isaac, already striding ahead of them.

“The only reason we’re so behind,” whispers Boyd conspiratorially, “is because he was worried when you didn’t show this morning. He kept stopping to go outside and see where you were.”

“I can hear you,” snipes Isaac.

“Yeah,” Boyd says, a slow grin spreading across his face. “I know.”

 

-

 

Shaken by the events of the morning, Derek ends up hanging out with Boyd and Isaac at the bakery for most of the day. They set a bowl of water down by the back door and he lays just outside taking refuge in the shade; throughout the day whichever one of them is in the kitchen keeps up a steady stream of chatter, telling him about their customers or bringing him things to eat. It’s more comforting than he can express. Boyd comes outside to smoke at lunchtime and brings Derek a bear claw, then sits and runs his fingers through Derek’s fur in a steady, soothing rhythm.

“I still can’t get over what you did this morning,” Boyd muses eventually, hand moving to scritch under Derek’s chin. “Or how we heard you, so clear. I knew it was you. I knew you needed us. I felt it.” Leaning into his touch, Derek shuts his eyes tight and tells himself that he did enough, that Erica’s going to be fine, but he’s lost too many people over the years, and he can’t help the doubts that nag at him. Moments later Boyd’s phone beeps and, fishing it out of his pocket, he thumbs at it, pulling up a message. Cracking one eye open Derek angles to get a look at the screen, but Boyd’s already standing.

“Isaac,” he calls, immediately. “I got a message from that Stiles dude.”

“Stiles?” Isaac sticks his head through the doorway, hair tousled, flour smudged down one cheek.

“Yeah,” Boyd says. “You know, the guy from this morning, the one who went to the hospital with the girl. I gave him my number, told him to let us know how she is.”

“Ohhh. Yeah. What did he say?”

“He says she’s gonna be okay. They’ve patched her up, they’re just reviewing her meds or something, and then she’s gonna be sent home.”

Isaac nods. “Cool. That’s great.”

“Do you think we should, like—” Boyd trails off, flicking the ash from his cigarette to the ground. “I don’t know, like, get her something? Like a get well soon gift or something?”

“Um—” Isaac shrugs. “I—I guess. It isn’t like we know her.”

Ducking his head, Boyd scrubs a hand over the back of his neck. “I mean, I wouldn’t say—” his voice cracks and he clears his throat. “I’ve—uh—seen her around, she works at the coffee shop on Elm. Her name’s Erica. We’ve talked, she’s uh—pretty cool.” Derek chuffs in amusement, and Boyd reaches down absently to scritch his fur.

“Oh.” Isaac brow crumples in confusion and then he says, “Oooohhhhh. Okay, then. Yes. Go for it. Get her a gift.”

“From both of us?”

Isaac raises one eyebrow. “I mean, if you want? But won’t that kind of defeat the purpose?”

“What do you mean?”

“You want to ask her out, right?”

“Hah! Nooo! No. I mean. Maybe. That’s—” he sighs. “Is it creepy?”

“Not so creepy now I know you’ve actually spoken to her before.”

“It isn’t like—she probably doesn’t even remember me.”

Isaac sighs. “You’ll never know if you don’t put yourself out there. Text this Stiles guy. Ask him if she likes cake. Play to your strengths.”

“You don’t think Stiles is—y’know—” Boyd looks at him. Significantly. Isaac stares back blankly and Boyd sighs. “You don’t think he’s her boyfriend?”

“Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. Text him. Ask him.”

“No!”

“Not, like, ask him , ask him. Just text a reply implying that she’s his girlfriend. Like, ‘if you and your girlfriend need anything over the next day or so, let us know.’ or whatever. He’ll soon let you know if they’re dating— And if they’re not?” He jerks his head. “Then you make your move.”

“I—” Boyd tilts his head to one side, considering. “I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” Boyd groans, “It’s fucking weird.”

“No it isn’t!”

“Isaac, it’s awkward as hell. Forget it. I’m not going to do anything.” He takes one last drag on his cigarette and tosses it to the floor, grinding it out with the toe of his sneaker.

“Faint heart never won fair lady,” Isaac sniffs, heading back inside.

“Helpful,” Boyd grumbles, rolling his eyes. Then he bends slightly, one hand ruffling Derek’s fur and Derek gives his hand a sympathetic lick.  

 

-

 

When Derek finally treks back to the warehouse it’s late afternoon and he’s still wired. At the entrance he pauses, inhaling deeply as he catches a whiff of a now familiar scent, warm, enthralling and unexpected.

Stiles.

Stiles is here.

Here.

Why?

Heartbeat ratcheting up a notch, Derek approaches cautiously, careful not to make a sound. He finds Stiles perched on top of the train car engrossed in Derek’s copy of The Princess Bride, but he looks up as Derek approaches, even though Derek’s sure he didn’t make a sound.

“Aha! You’re back. Knew you couldn’t stay away forever.” Closing the book, Stiles jumps down from the roof easily and tosses it onto one of the seats, where it slips to the floor, pages fluttering open. “Erica’s fine by the way,” he says. Derek glares at the book, a growl rumbling up and out of his chest and for one moment Stiles glances around in confusion. Spotting the book, he flushes pink. “Oops. Sorry about that.” He crouches down and picks it up. “Hey, why don’t you go and change into something less fluffy? Then we can talk.”

After the other night, talking should sound good. He likes Stiles, he does, more than he should, even. But Stiles is here uninvited, in the one place that Derek has managed to find for himself, his private space. Where his things are. That book that Stiles is handling once belonged to Laura. And it doesn’t smell like her anymore, but it shouldn’t smell like Stiles. It shouldn’t. He knows it’s stupid. Can tell himself again and again that things aren’t important, people are. But truthfully? Derek has almost nothing left. One pair of jeans, a couple of t-shirts. A camping stove. Three books. The hand-me-down leather jacket his dad gave to him on his sixteenth birthday, even though it was way too big and is still too long in the arms. Derek doesn’t have much, but what he has is his. And he isn’t ready to share it yet, may never be.

A low rumbling noise reverberates round the room and it takes Derek a second to realize it’s coming from him.

“I didn’t go through your stuff,” Stiles says awkwardly. “The book was out on the chair is all, and I got bored of waiting.”

It isn’t good enough. It isn’t. Bored? Bored? Eyes fixed on him, Derek growls lower, louder, the sound echoing off the walls.

“Okay! Okay. I overstepped. I should have, I don’t know— well—I have no idea how I could’ve contacted you. Dude, do you even have a phone?” Derek snaps his teeth, and Stiles raises one hand in supplication, the other still clinging to the book. “Not the point, okay. I’ll—I’ll go.” He puts the book down gingerly on the seat and edges around Derek to the door. Teeth bared, Derek stares after him. Still as statue, he listens to Stiles’ retreating heartbeat, to fading footsteps that carry him away, leaving Derek alone in a vast empty room with only the ghosts of his past to comfort him.

 

-

 

A week goes by and he doesn’t contact Stiles, avoiding the grocery store like the plague. It’s for the best. Whatever it was between them, it’s nothing. It’s less than nothing. They don’t even know each other’s real names. This is the universe telling him to back away and whenever he feels a smidgen of remorse, he squashes it down fiercely. No good can come of pursuing a relationship with Stiles, friendship or otherwise, so it’s better to nip it in the bud. Better to end it here, before it’s even begun, before he starts to care for someone only to have them leave, only for him to be betrayed and disappointed, or worse, disappoint them.

Even if Stiles turned out to be different, it doesn’t change anything. People close to Derek get hurt, they die. It’s like he’s cursed.

Holding Stiles at arm’s length is the right thing to do.

That’s what he tells himself.

 

-

 

“You want this one?” Derek turns his head to the side, refusing to take a bite. This is the most frustrating thing about his wolf form: The complete inability to communicate with people. Boyd sighs, the hand holding the danish drops to his side, he fishes his lighter out of his pocket with the other turning it idly between long fingers. “Okay, I’m just gonna take my break.” Derek stares at the danish wide-eyed, whining pitifully. Puffing his cheeks out, Boyd offers it to him again, and again Derek turns his head to refuse it. He has a plan dammit. A plan.

“Do you want it or not?” Boyd asks, frustration bleeding through his tone. He isn’t getting it and there’s nothing else for it. Derek slips past him into the kitchen.

“Woah,” Boyd says, “You are not allowed in there. No dogs in the kitchen.”

Ignoring him, Derek places a paw on top of the stack of paper bags under the counter and stares at Boyd. He nudges the bags with the tip of his nose, and then gazes longingly at the danish, willing Boyd to understand. For a long moment they look at each other.

“Are you— Are you trying to tell me you want this—to go?” Boyd pinches the bridge of his nose. Derek yips in relief. “I’m going crazy,” Boyd mumbles under his breath, “I’m going fucking crazy.” He places his lighter on the kitchen counter, crouches down to grab a bag and places the danish inside. “There,” he says,  standing up and tnd turning to Derek. “I don’t know why the hell a dog would want—Heeeey!”

It’s too late. Derek’s already nosed the lighter off the counter and got between his teeth. “Hey!” Boyd calls, “That’s mine!” They stare at each other, Boyd clutching the paper bag, Derek with the silver lighter held gingerly between his teeth. “Okay,” says Boyd, stepping forward. “Good dog. Good dog. Just drop it.” He takes another step forward. “Just drop it for me,” he cajoles. “Goooood dog.” Slowly he reaches out one hand, edging closer, slowly closer and with each step Derek backs away, just as slow, away, away, backing towards the door, right back until he’s standing in the doorway. They’re still staring at each other. Staring. Staring. Staring. Derek’s holding every muscle tight. “Juuuuust drop it,” Boyd breathes and Derek almost feels bad.

Almost.

Almost, but not quite.

When Boyd lunges forward it’s already too late, quick as the wind, Derek’s through the door and away.

It isn’t far. Just a few blocks away, but Derek can hear Boyd swearing as he chases Derek down the street, breathless and infuriated. In no time at all Derek’s skidding round the corner and charging towards Erica who’s back in her usual position on the stoop, a tiny pink scar just visible against her hairline. She nearly drops her coffee in surprise as Derek bounds up the steps and takes refuge behind her back, Boyd hot on his heels.

Stumbling to a stop, Boyd leans over, resting his hands on his knees and pants out. “Is—Is he yours?”

Erica’s eyes narrow. “Why?”

“He stole my lighter.”

Ever since she got a out of hospital almost two weeks ago, Erica has been making an extra fuss of Derek. She taken to grooming him, brushing his fur until it shines, brings him a bowl of water every day in a shiny new bowl and even bought him kibble from the petstore, which he eats because he doesn’t want to offend her, even though it tastes like ass. She’s attached. Attached to the point where she’s talking about putting up lost dog flyers, and if no-one responds she might take him in as a pet. A pet . The only saving grace in all of this is that Stiles hasn’t been around to hear it, because the jokes at Derek’s expense would be swift and brutal.

Then there’s the fact that Boyd, having admitted his epic crush on Erica, is now openly pining. Every day this week Derek has had to listen to him wondering whether he should say anything. Whether he should drop by and see if Erica’s okay. Whether it would be too weird. Whether she’s dating Stiles. Whether she’s allergic to cake. Allergic. To. Cake.

Obviously it’s possible. People have all kinds of allergies. Lactose intolerance being one of them. But still. Still. It’s driving him insane.

He can’t take it anymore. He is neither a pet nor a therapist. So, he’s hatched a plan. A devious, cunning plan that Laura, fan of cheesy rom-coms and stalwart viewer of the Hallmark channel, would have loved. He just needed to wait until Boyd tried to offer him an apricot danish, and then… well. The rest was surprisingly easy.

Turning to look at Derek, Erica commands, “Quit hiding behind me, mutt!” Derek dips his tail and slinks down the steps to stand between her and Boyd. “Do you have his lighter?” Derek whines, flattens his ears, eyes wide and pleading, it’s the same look that has had Isaac sneaking him extra bacon all week. The corner of Erica’s mouth lifts in a smile, eyes softening. “Drop it,” she says firmly, holding out her hand, and Derek releases the lighter, letting it fall into her open palm; he puts his head on her knee, and heaves a deep, remorseful sigh. “Urgh, it’s covered in dog slobber, sorry,” Erica says, handing the lighter back to Boyd.

“It’s—uh—it’s fine,” Boyd clears his throat. “So, uh, is he yours?”

“No, I mean. I’d like him to be. But he just showed up one day a couple of months back.”

“Yeah, same. He turns up at the bakery every morning.”

“The bakery? The one on Maple or...”

“Maple.”

“You work there?”

“I own it. Co-own it. Me and my buddy Isaac.”

“That’s so cool. I wondered where this one was getting all his pastries from. I figured he was stealing them from whoever owns him. Raiding their cupboards or something. I was so jealous. Like, where’s my pastry, mutt?”

“You—uh—you like stuff like that?”

She snorts. “Who doesn’t?”

“You—uh— you want this one?” Boyd holds out the bag sheepishly.

“Really?” The paper bag rustles as Boyd hands it over and Derek lifts his head to sneak a peek. “Oh my god, apricot? That’s my favorite.” She smiles up at Boyd, bright and beaming.

Grinning bashfully, Boyd watches as she takes a bite. He clears his throat. “It’s uh— I hope this isn’t weird, but it’s really good to see that you’re okay.” Erica’s chewing slows and she looks up at Boyd, confused. “I was here the other day, well, me and Isaac, when you—” he trails off, “I called the ambulance.”

“Oh my god,” she mumbles through a mouth full of danish. “Thank-you so much? How did you even?”

“He” Boyd gestures at Derek, “howled and we heard him. I—I’ve been meaning to drop by ever since and see how you were but I didn’t want it to be weird—” he ducks his head, and Erica grins.

“Totally not weird.” she says, squinting up at him. “I know you, right? Bean House. Iced mocha, extra whip.”

“Yeah!” The relief in Boyd’s scent is overwhelming. Derek flops down between them as the two of them chat.

Laura would be proud.

 

-

 

Over the next few days it’s clear that Boyd and Erica are growing closer, increasingly they both smell happier and more like each other. It’s nice to see a little joy, a little normalcy, and even nicer to think that he might have played some part in it. In other ways, though, it just reinforces his own loneliness. That slow ache in his chest that has been growing recently. The need for family. For pack. For a mate. Maybe that’s why he finds himself walking past Beacon Hills Whole Foods on his way home from the bakery that Friday, maybe that’s why he slows down, takes a deep breath, and lets himself pick out the one scent that’s become so familiar to him for all the wrong reasons. Peering through the store window he picks out Stiles straight away. He’s leaning carelessly against the counter as he makes conversation with a tall, burly looking guy who’s buying a carton of milk. Stiles has one eyebrow raised and that goddamn infuriating half-smile playing across his lips; Derek’s stomach sinks like a stone.

The window muffles the conversation a little, but Derek has no problem hearing Stiles say, “No thanks.”

“Well, what about Sunday?” the guy says. “Come on, Stiles, don’t be a cocktease.” Derek stiffens, eyes raking over the guy. There’s something about him, the way he holds himself, the hulking mass of him, something familiar, and then he remembers—the guy from the bar the other week. The one who had spent the evening watching at Stiles.

“A cocktease?” Stiles drawls, “Ennis—”

“Stiles.”

“Didn’t your momma teach you not to call people names?”

“Hah! Cute. Look, we both know you want it, okay? I’ve seen the way you look at me. So why pre—”

“Yeaaaaahh. I’m gonna stop you there, before you say something we’ll both regret. Take your milk and go home.”

Ennis scowls and Derek waits with baited breath to see what he’ll do, eyes flicking between the two men. Ennis dwarfs Stiles, he’s nearly a foot taller and broader even than Boyd. Yet Stiles seems unphased, almost bored, like there’s no threat there at all, and Derek can see the moment Ennis reads that in him, the way his cheeks pale, eyebrows drawing down in fury. “Well now, Stiles, y’know I don’t think I will go home,” he says slowly. Reaching out, he wraps thick fingers around Stiles’ wrist. “It’s pretty quiet in here today and if Sunday don’t suit you, maybe we’ll just go out back now. You can get down on your knees and put that pretty mouth to good—”

Derek’s through the door before he can think, a snarl rumbling up out of his chest loud as a freight train, his teeth bared.

“Jesus!” Ennis spits, dropping Stiles’ arm like a hot brand and rearing back in surprise. “What the hell?!”

“Oh for fucks sake,” says Stiles.

“Oh my god,” Ennis moans, “It’s rabid. Look at it! Look at its eyes! Red eyes!” He stumbles back behind a gumball machine. “Shit! I left my shotgun in the car.” Flailing he grabs a fistful of candy bars off the shelf behind him and flings them in Derek’s general direction. A pack of Red Vines bounces off Derek’s nose.

“Stop throwing the merchandise around!” Stiles commands. He glares flatly between them. “Rabid,” he mutters as he hoists himself over the counter and drops down to stand between them; Derek prowls forward, hackles raised, eyes fixed on a now whimpering Ennis who smells faintly of urine. “Ennis,” Stiles says, voice perfectly clear. “Calm down and stop throwing stuff at my— my dog.”

“Your-- Your dog?”

“Yes,” Stiles says, turning his gaze to Derek, expression inscrutable. “This is my dog—Fluffy.” The low rumbling growl that’s echoing out of Derek’s chest stutters as he turns his head to stare. A sly smile creeps over Stiles’ face. “Now, Fluffy! Stop scaring Ennis, he’s a bully and an asshole but he’s just leaving. Right, Ennis?”

“He’s yours?” Ennis repeats dumbly.

“Did I stutter?” Stiles stalks toward Derek, irritating smirk firmly in place. “Look at him,” he coos crouching in front of Derek and leaning in close. “He’s so adorable. Just a big softy. How could you think he would hurt anyone?” Stiles reaches out a hand and mutters under his breath, so only Derek can hear, “Dude, bite me, and I swear to god you will regret it.” He needn’t worry, as soon as Stiles’ fingers curl in his fur, something settles in Derek, warm and safe and right. In that moment the urge to bury his muzzle into the soft cotton of Stiles’ t-shirt and just breathe is overwhelming, but he resists. “See,” Stiles says, relief evident in his voice. “He’s fine.”

“Right,” Ennis’ eyes don’t leave Derek, he starts to edge past the counter, giving them both a wide berth. “Right, I’ll just—”

“Don’t forget your milk.”

“Yeah—Yeah of course!” Ennis snakes out a hand to grab it off the counter and, clutching it to his chest, he sidles warily past them. Derek snaps his teeth at him as he passes and, dropping all pretense, Ennis runs for the door and barrels through it, letting it bang shut behind him.

Stiles’ eyes follow his retreating figure, and for one moment, Derek thinks his pupils seem to expand, swallowing the iris and sclera entirely, but then Stiles blinks and they’re normal again. “Enjoy your sour milk, dumbass,” he mutters, as Ennis scrambles into an old red pick-up truck and peels away in a screech of rubber.

As the noise of the engine fades Derek’s increasingly aware of how close he and Stiles actually are. They’re leaning into each other, Stiles’ fingers still running through Derek’s fur, and this close, his warm, spicy scent is comforting and overwhelming all at once. “Well now,” Stiles murmurs, “for future reference, I’m more than capable of handling Ennis, okay? I don’t need you to rush in and defend my honor or rescue me.” Long fingers fondle the silky fur around Derek’s ears and it’s annoying how good it feels. “Okay, Fluffy? You understand?”

Derek lets slip a disgruntled growl.

“Oh, you better not be complaining about the name,” Stiles chides. He gets to his feet, leaving Derek bereft of contact. “You deserve worse than that for the stunt you just pulled. What if Ennis had tried to call animal control, huh? What then, genius?”

Narrowing his eyes, Derek tries to look haughty, but his tail droops treacherously, betraying him. Stiles is right. He risked exposure. It was all kind of stupid. He was operating on some kind of base, possessive, instinct to protect, rather than thinking clearly.

“Yeah, that’s right. You know what you did,” Stiles says firmly. “Now, don’t get me wrong because I’m really pleased to see you, and I hate to be that guy, but this store has a strict no dogs policy and I don’t think Finstock differentiates between dogs and shifted werewolves, so if he catches you in here he’ll flip his shit. Which means you’ve either gotta shift or you gotta leave. Which is it gonna be?”

Derek doesn’t need to be told twice. Already, he can feel the a slow creep of embarrassment. Why did he feel the need to walk past in the first place? Why did he rush in here? Why did he give in to that sudden, primal drive to protect what’s his. Stiles isn’t his. Not even close. He slinks toward the door. Stiles holds it open and calls after him, “Good to know you care, though. I appreciate it!”

Mortified, Derek scurries back to the warehouse, his tail tucked between his legs.

Chapter Text

A lingering sense of shame keeps Derek from returning to the warehouse immediately. He knows he’ll sit there in the silence replaying the confrontation in the grocery store again and again, so instead he heads straight to the preserve. He runs through the woods on four paws until his muscles are sore, breath burning his lungs, but he can’t outrun his own embarrassment. When he returns in the early evening, it’s to find Stiles lurking outside the entrance. He’s reading something on his phone, but he looks up as Derek approaches and offers a hesitant smile.

“Hey,” he says. “I didn’t— I didn’t go inside, and if you want me to leave, I will. But I think we should talk.”

There’s something about him, eyes limned gold in the dying light, rumpled brown hair that looks soft to the touch, the way his t-shirt stretches taut across his shoulders, the warm spiciness of his scent. It makes Derek’s stomach swoop treacherously.

Trotting past him into the dim warehouse, he keeps his nose held high.

“So, uh, should I follow you?” Stiles calls after a beat. Derek doesn’t reply, but as soon as he’s out of sight he lets the change ripple through him and dives for some clothes. From outside he hears Stiles say, “Or maybe I should stay out here—” Another pause. “Or I can go, I guess, if you want?”

“I’m coming,” Derek croaks, carefully pulling the zipper up on his jeans and shoves his sockless feet into his boots, not bothering to lace them. Then he grabs the cleanest of his two t-shirts and starts to tug it over his head as he walks back out to meet Stiles.

“Ah,” Stiles breathes, looking relieved. “So we are talking again, huh?”

“We were never not talking.” Which is a lie and they both know it.

Stiles shoots him a disbelieving look but obviously decides not to push his luck. “So, I brought you a gift. To apologize.” He holds out a flat black rectangle and Derek reaches for it reflexively.

“You don’t need to apolo-- wait, you bought me a phone?”

“Nah, it’s my old prepaid one. I have a contract now, so this one is just sitting there.” Stiles’ fingers are warm, they linger as he presses the phone into Derek’s waiting palm.

“I—I can’t—”

“I put some credit on it.”

“But—”

“Take it,” he says. “I’ve programmed my number in. You should have someone you can contact in an emergency. You should—” Stiles trails off, staring down at his scuffed red chucks. One hand reaches up to fiddle with the ever-present silver chain around his neck. It is, Derek is beginning to realize, a nervous gesture.

“Thanks,” Derek says awkwardly.

Taking a deep breath, Stiles lifts his head and shoots Derek a rueful grin. “I also wanted to say, it was amazing. What you did. With Erica.”

“I didn’t do anything. You were the one who knew what to do.”

“You called me. Us. The guys from the bakery and me. We all felt it.”

“You mean heard,” Derek says and Stiles shrugs. “You’re the one who helped her,” continues Derek firmly. “Even in my human form, I wouldn’t have known what to do. Not like you did.”

“You would have done something,” Stiles says, “and anyway, that’s why I’m giving you a phone. If you need something, some one, then use it. I mean, I know you can’t exactly carry it around with you when you’re all wolfified, but you should have someone you can call on.”

Derek nods slowly, fingers clenching round the old phone. “Okay,” he says.

Stiles smiles, relieved. “There’s a charger too,” he says. “It’s in my car.” He nods at a pale blue Jeep that Derek hadn’t previously noticed, it’s parked a little ways down the road. 

“Okay,” Derek says again. He doesn’t know what else to say, but Stiles turns and walks to his car and Derek follows dumbly after, feet slipping in his unlaced boots. He’s experiencing some kind of internal crisis and it isn’t because he’s been given a gift per se. Boyd, Isaac and Erica have been doting on him for weeks after all, but they’re all operating under the belief that he’s stray dog. No-one has ever done something like this for him though, not since-- well-- before the fire. More to the point, he hasn’t had a phone in three years. The last one he owned broke just before Laura died. He never bothered replacing it because he didn’t have anyone to call.

Reaching through the Jeep’s open window, Stiles snags a plastic bag off the seat. “The charger’s in there,” he says, handing it to Derek. “You should call me if you need me, okay?”

Derek nods, staring down at the charger and the old phone. It isn’t even that it’s a phone. It’s what the phone represents. The idea that there’s someone out there in the world who knows who he is, what he is, who doesn’t mind hearing from him, who maybe even cares. He doesn’t really know what to say, how to respond. While increasingly he longs for friendship, for pack, he’s been a lone wolf so long, he isn’t sure he knows how to do this .

“Thanks,” he says, even though he’s already said it before.

“It’s okay,” Stiles shrugs and looks away. “The—uh—the other thing I meant to say,” he clears his throat. “You need to be careful. Ennis isn’t dumb, but he is mean. You risked a lot rushing in there this morning like you did.”

“I can take care of myself,” Derek mutters, a slow blush creeping over his cheeks.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, voice a little firmer. “And I can take care of myself, you need to remember that. That doesn’t mean we can’t have each other’s backs, we just have to be smart about it. And you weren’t smart today.”

Derek shrugs sulkily.

“I mean it, Miguel. Otherwise I’m gonna have to boot you out of the club.”

“So what, it’s just going to be Grumpy, now? No Sparkles?”

Stiles shakes his head, smirking. “You shush, or I won’t let you in the clubhouse.”

They grin at each other, and then Stiles clears his throat awkwardly, shuffling his feet. “Well,” he says, “I better get going. Is it okay if I text you occasionally? Just to check in?”

“Sure.” Derek nods.

“Cool.” Stiles opens the door to the Jeep and slides in. “I’ll see you around, okay?” The engine coughs and sputters to life, unhealthy but not unloved. The sort of car you keep because of what it means to you, rather than because it's a great ride, or, Derek thinks to himself, casting a knowing eye over it's rusting exterior, particularly roadworthy. He had a car like that himself, once before. Slowly, as Derek watches, Stiles turns the car around, then drives down the long dirt road and away.

 

-

 

The first text comes through the next day.

I just read that in order for a new wolf cub to urinate the mother has to massage it’s belly with her tongue? Is that true?

Derek blinks down at his phone. It’s a question. A ridiculous question, but a question nonetheless and Stiles clearly expects a reply. Derek’s finger hovers over the screen for a full minute before he responds.

How would I know?

Uhhhh, because you’re a wolf.

Yeah a WEREwolf.

Same diff

Then the next day:

Ennis came into the store today and I swear I have never seen that guy look more terrified. Like he expected you to jump out from behind the counter and rip his throat out. Hilarious.

Derek doesn’t reply to that one. Every now and again he replays that incident at the grocery store in his mind’s eye, can see the ugly, hungry expression on Ennis’ face as he’d gripped Stiles’ wrist. The more he thinks on it, the more he comes to the conclusion that Ennis got off lightly. He even toys with the idea of seeking the guy out and making some kind of threat, maybe scaring him a little. He spends the afternoon imagining various scenarios. later that day though, Stiles texts again, distracting him.

I’m bored, Miguel. Come down to the store and help me build the Millennium Falcon out of diet soda cans

Finstock pays you to do that?

Finstock doesn’t have to know

It's his day off

Anyway he lacks vision

Vision?

Yeah

Whenever I try and liven this place up he complains

He objects to my grocery themed puns

My karaoke Tuesdays

Costume themed Fridays

I was a giant beet btw

Not that Finstock was impressed

Always raining on my parade.

Derek blinks down at his phone

Grocery themed puns?

Most of the customers loved it!!!

Most?

One little complaint and Finstock makes me stop

Ah...

You wanna taco ‘bout it?

:D :D :D

It’s nacho problem. I know you don’t really carrot all

That isn’t true. I’m just trying to cornsider both sides.

Think about it from Finstocks pearspective.

He probably felt he needed to draw a lime somewhere

Oh my god. You better crumb over here right now :D :D :D

The thing is, part of him wants to, he really wants to, but he’s spent so long telling himself that he shouldn’t want, that he shouldn’t have, that he doesn’t deserve-- it feels wrong--

It feels too big.

Too scary.

He wants to be ready to reach out and take whatever Stiles is offering, but he isn’t sure how to be.

Can’t. Already have plans he texts back. Which is a lie, and he knows Stiles will know it too. Turning the phone to silent, he goes to sit in the train car and read a book.

When he finally does check his phone later, Stiles hasn’t messaged him back. Derek gets it, he does. He knows how he comes across. Hot one minute, cold the next. Stiles hasn’t done anything wrong, that’s the truth of it-- it’s Derek that’s broken. It’s Derek that’s taught himself to treat small acts of kindness and friendship the way most people would treat an unexploded bomb.

Two days follow without any contact from Stiles. Maybe he’s legitimately busy, maybe he’s pissed at Derek, either way, Derek feels bereft. More than once he sits staring at the phone, finger hovering over Stiles’ contact details willing himself to think up something clever or witty to text.

But Derek doesn’t have anything.

There are no funny work anecdotes, because he doesn’t work. He can’t ask what Stiles thinks about a TV show or tell him some funny story about his day, because he doesn’t own a TV and there isn’t anything to tell.

Derek’s a blank.

On the third Stilesless day, he spends the morning with Boyd, Isaac and Erica as usual, then comes back to the warehouse and spends the afternoon with Slaughterhouse Five open in front of him while he stares listlessly into the middle distance.

You’re sulking, Der. He can almost hear Laura’s voice say it, teasing, gentle. The way she used to be before the fire.

Looking down at the book in his hand he sees it’s open at a  passage she underlined carefully in pencil in the years after the fire. “How nice--” it reads, “to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.”

For years after the fire that’s all there was. The dull, iron-grey skies of a feelingless existence. Drifting numbly from one day to the next.

Now though---

Now things are different, or they could be.

So, he can almost hear Laura say, what are you going to do about it?

The phone beeps with a message he dives for it, hands shaking, book sliding to the floor.

They played Don’t Stop Believin’ on the radio and now I can’t stop singing it. It’s gonna be in my head allllll day

Staring blankly down at the phone, Derek gnaws at his lip, half relieved. Without letting himself think too much, he taps out a reply:

What do you want me to do about it?

Stiles response is immediate.

is a little sympathy too much to ask?

sorry you had to listen to an awesome song

you mock my pain!

A smile spreads across Derek’s face at the reference. Heart fluttering wildly in his chest, he replies:

Life is pain highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

:D

And just like that, they’re texting each other relentlessly again.

This time Derek doesn’t turn his phone to silent.

 

-

 

A week later and they’re still texting each other every day. Several times a day, even. Derek has even bought more credit for the phone using his bankcard. The money in that account comes from his family’s life insurance and he hardly ever allows himself to spend it, but-- but he’s starting to let himself believe they wouldn’t mind if he spent it on this.

That maybe, just maybe, it’s allowed.

 

-

 

Friday morning he arrives back from the bakery to find a message from Stiles already waiting for him.

 

>:(

whats wrong

my jeep

It died today

I don’t think they’re gonna be able to fix it this time.

Last time I tried to take it to the mechanic they warned me

And today there was smoke Miguel

And a loud bang

And now it wont start

Even if they could fix it I can’t afford to pay for it this month

Derek stares down at his phone, tapping a finger against the case. As a kid he used to love cars and bikes.

‘Derek loves things that go,’ his mom used to say to people, ruffling his hair fondly. “The faster the better.’

What young Derek wanted more than anything was a Camaro, sleek, black and powerful. However when his parents bought him a battered Fiero for his sixteenth birthday, he was over the moon. He spent ages, not just driving it, but poring over the owner’s manual, learning  everything he could. Eventually, he even managed to get a job at the local auto shop on Saturday morning’s, making coffee and cleaning up after Herb, the grizzled mechanic who owned the place. Grouchy and irritable at first, in the face of Derek’s overwhelming enthusiasm, Herb had soon been won over and started teaching Derek what he knew. Derek soaked up the information like a sponge. He’d come home from work on Saturday’s and then go straight out to the Fiero all afternoon, lovingly taking care of it, tuning up the engine, fixing it up, polishing the hubcaps till they gleamed.

“Son, I reckon that car is worth more now than it was when we bought it,” his Dad had said to him one day, clapping him on the back warmly, and Derek had about burst with pride.

After the fire, as he and Laura drifted aimlessly from town to town, he’d had all kinds of jobs. He’s good with his hands, finds physical labor soothing, wants to feel tired at the end of the day. He’s worked behind bars, on construction sites, even, briefly, as a rodeo clown. His favorite thing, though,  was to get a job at the local auto shop in whatever podunk town they found themselves.

Blue overalls and the smell of engine oil.

In another life, one where there was no Kate and no fire, maybe that’s where he would be now. Maybe he’d even own his own auto shop.

But the truth is, ever since Laura died he hasn’t touched a car.

Hasn’t thought about it.

Hasn’t wanted to.

I could take a look at it for you he types, hands shaking. Then hits send, feeling brave.

Seriously?

I know a little about cars, depending on what it is I might be able to fix it

You are officially my favorite werewolf

Wow. Thanks. Is that out of all the werewolves you know?

Don’t be like that sparkles. Come over tomorrow I’ll cook you dinner and you can take a look at the jeep

Deal?

Fine. I’ll try and fit it into my busy schedule

A couple of hours later, though, Stiles texts again.

BTW, Unrelated to tomorrow, do you have any big plans tonight?

Howling at the moon?

Hunting down hapless squirrels?

Or are you busy perfecting your brooding face in the mirror at your fortress of wolfitude?           

All of the above

Har har.

7.30 outside my apartment building. Be There!!!!!!

Don’t eat too many woodland creatures beforehand

Derek stares down at his phone with a frown.

 

He almost doesn’t show.

It’s with a degree of trepidation that he arrives outside Stiles’ apartment complex that evening, wearing a newly washed t-shirt, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his leather jacket, curled into fists. Is this a date? It didn’t quite sound like a date, but Derek isn’t a great judge of these things, so he’s tried to do his hair as best he can.

He texts Stiles when he arrives, and then stands awkwardly on the stoop. The evening air is warm, sky beginning to pink as the sun dips lower. In the distance he can hear the rumble of cars. Across the street someone has a window open and music playing as they cook, the smell of chili wafting on the evening breeze.

A few moments later he hears Stiles’ voice chattering, the tell tale skip of two heartbeats coming towards him, the first belongs to Stiles, and the other, well-- Derek glances towards the front door in confusion as it opens to reveal Stiles and Erica.

“Miguel!” Stiles cries, throwing his arms wide. “You came! Erica, this is Miguel. He’s a friend of mine. He’s joining us this evening.”

“A friend, huh?” Erica says, eyes flicking between them, one eyebrow raised.

“Miguel, this is Erica, she lives in my apartment block and her boyfriend works at the bakery on Maple,” Stiles says with a knowing wink.

“Uh--” Derek opens his mouth, then shuts it again. He has no idea what’s happening.

“You know, the bakery where we’re going this evening to be guinea pigs for the new recipes they’ve been devising.”

“Ohhh!” Derek says, forcing an awkward grin. Aware that he hasn’t really acknowledged Erica yet, he turns to her and says,  “Nice to meet you, Erica.”

“You too,” she replies as Stiles loops one arm through each of theirs enthusiastically and chivies them down the street.

“Oh my god,” he croons, “I am looking forward to tonight sooooo much.”

“I’m so hungry,” Erica says, “I haven’t eaten since lunchtime and I happen to know that Isaac has made cookies.”

Derek smiles wanly, trying not to freak out. Or at least, trying not to let it show.

“We should get there quicker,” Stiles says, dragging them along. “We’re not going fast enough. I’m huuuungry.”

“So, have you ever been there before?” Erica asks and it takes Derek a beat to realize she’s addressing the question to him.

“Uh, yeah all the--I mean no. I mean I-- uh-- I don’t know?”

“Riiiight.” Erica says looking at him strangely as Stiles stifles a laugh behind his hand. Derek can feel himself blushing awkwardly.

It doesn’t bode well.

 

-

 

Even though he’s eaten his bodyweight in cakes and pastries there previously, Derek has never walked through the front door of Beacon Hills Bakery before. It’s a novelty to open the blue-painted door, listening to the little bell that jingles merrily as it swings open. The store has a big glass counter which during the day is presumably filled with cakes, breads and pastries of all descriptions. The cash register that sits on the counter is a big old fashioned brass one that has a couple of dents, but has been lovingly restored and polished till it gleams. The walls are painted a pale blue, black and white framed photographs of cakes and pies hang on the walls, somehow managing to look both artsy and delicious, and there’s a big chalkboard hanging at the far end, with SPECIALS written on it in large letters, it’s currently empty.

“You’re here!” Boyd calls bustling through from the kitchen, a dishcloth slung over one shoulder. “Hey, babe!” His face breaks into a wide grin at the sight of Erica and they lean across the counter to greet each other a kiss. That done, he turns to Stiles and Derek. “Stiles, great to see you, man. Who’s your friend?”

“Miguel,” Stiles replies, patting Derek’s arm. “He’s going to help out too, he’s a big fan of your work.”

“Really?” Boyd asks, casting a bemused glance at Derek. “Oh man, I feel terrible, I usually recognize all our regulars.”

Derek shoots Stiles a pointed glare, the tips of his ears burning. “He’s never walked through the door before, but I bought him one of your bear claws the other week,” Stiles says, “Don’t feel bad.”

“Ahhh. Well, the more the merrier,” Boyd says, flipping part of the counter up, and ushering them through. “Isaac’s out back. Come say hi.”

Erica loops her arm through Boyd’s and they disappear through the back of the store and into the kitchen. Stiles is about to follow on, but Derek grabs him by the arm and hisses, “What’s going on?”

“Uh--” Stiles glances down at where Derek’s clutching his arm in a death grip and then back up at Derek’s face with confusion. He whispers, “We’re going to eat some tasty cakes. Was that not clear?”

“Yeah, okay, but why am I here?”

“Because I invited you?”

“But--” Derek releases Stiles’ arm, his hand dropping to his side, feeling a little lost. “But they don’t know me. They don’t want me here.”

“Ah!” Stiles says, tapping the side of his nose with his finger. “But they do know you. They just don’t know they know you. And if they did know they knew you? They would definitely want you here.” Derek scowls and Stiles continues, “You could do something about that, y’know?”

“Are you seriously suggesting I out myself as a werewolf, right now?” he hisses.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, deadpan. “That’s what I’m suggesting.” He rolls his eyes. “Don’t be so obtuse.”

“I’m not--”

“You know what though?” Stiles says thoughtfully, tapping his chin with one long finger. “Get to know them a bit like this, and I bet you could tell them.”

“Really?” Derek snaps, “And are you gonna tell them who you really are?”

“Our situations aren’t comparable. You’re a wolf. I’m fae.”

“So?”

“So? Do I really have to spell it out for you? Wolves are pack animals, Miguel.”

Derek drops Stiles’ arm like he’s been burned, and stumbles back a step. “You don’t get it, it isn’t as simple as--”

“I’m not saying you have to bite them, Jesus. It’s just-- I know you care about these people. They care about you. You’re acting like I’m suggesting some outrageous thing, but they’re clearly already pa--”

“You don’t get it. It isn’t safe,” Derek bites out, cutting him off. “My life isn’t safe. I’m not safe. And if they find out what I am, their lives won’t be safe either.” Stiles snorts in derision, and Derek rounds on him angrily, whispering, “You don’t know me. I could be a serial killer.”

“No,” Stiles shakes his head firmly. “No you couldn’t.”

“But--”

Stiles steps closer, chin jutting out determinedly, barely a sliver of air between them. Close enough that the smell of him fills Derek’s nose, makes him want to tug him into his arms and never let go. Derek swallows hard refusing to meet his eyes as Stiles says softly, “I may not know everything that’s happened to you, Miguel, but I know you . I see how you are with these guys. How much you care. You’re a good person.” The corner of Stiles’ mouth tugs up in a smile, and before Derek can respond he ducks forward, pressing a quick kiss against Derek’s cheek. Immediately, all the anger, all the impotent rage drains out of Derek, leaving him feeling bruised and empty. “Now,” Stiles says, “do me a favor. Try and enjoy this evening. Remember, you’re a fearsome alpha werewolf, not a drama llama, okay?”

“But--”

“Try and enjoy it for what it is. And remember, this is a fun, social occasion, nobody is suggesting you bite anything except the baked goods provided.”

“Maybe I want to bite you,” Derek mutters darkly.

“Promises, promises,” Stiles says with a wink. He squeezes Derek’s arm one last time and then disappears into the kitchen, leaving Derek staring after him dumbly. He lifts his fingers and presses them against the spot where Stiles kissed him.

A few seconds later, Boyd sticks his head through the doorway and says, “You okay, dude? You should come through, Isaac just took the first batch of cookies out the oven, and we need your opinion.” With a shaky sigh, Derek follows him through to the kitchen.

 

-

 

“So there are salted caramel cookies, raspberry and white chocolate danish, and chocolate and pecan brownies, to start with,” Isaac says gesturing to the counter in the kitchen, which is piled high with more food than five people could ever hope to eat. “Boyd’s been experimenting with bread, so we’re gonna need you guys to try that too, but it’s still in the oven.”

Stiles, Erica and Boyd fall on the food quickly, grabbing cookies and danishes, but Derek hangs back in the doorway, looking on, arms folded tight across his chest. Across the room, Stiles picks up a danish and takes a bite, then grins at Derek, who looks away ears burning.

 

 

artwork

Amazing art by the incredible tanbi-no-kami, commissioned by the lovely 9timesoutoften!

 

 

His cheek still tingles where Stiles kissed him.

“Hey,” Isaac says, sidling over to him. “I’m Isaac.”

“Miguel.” Nobody should make that much mess eating a danish, Derek thinks. It shouldn’t be possible, fae are supposed to be graceful, elegant creatures.  Not spewing crumbs everywhere while they laugh riotously as Erica makes a dick joke.

“So you’re Stiles’ friend.”

“Yeah.” There’s a smear of raspberry filling across Stiles’ cheek now.

Isaac clears his throat. “How do you two know each other?”

“We--uh--just kept running into each other, I guess.”

“So you gave up and figured that the universe was trying to tell you something?”

“Basically.”

“I won him over with my excellent customer service skills when he came into the store!” Stiles calls.

He’s licking raspberry jam from his fingers and Derek needs to look away now, he needs to, but he can’t. He rams his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket and takes a deep breath. “Jesus,” he mumbles.

 

 

artwork

Amazing art by the incredible tanbi-no-kami, commissioned by the lovely 9timesoutoften!

 

 

Next to him, Isaac huffs out a long sigh. “I didn’t realize this was couples night,” he mutters, “I woulda brought someone too.”

Derek drags his eyes away from the hypnotic sight of Stiles eating, to protest. “We aren’t--”

“Really? You haven’t taken your eyes off each other since you walked into the kitchen,” Isaac says flatly.

“That’s not--true.” It might be true. It probably is true. “We aren’t together.”

After leveling a long look at Derek, Isaac huffs an amused sigh and pats him on the arm, saying, “You should try the cookies. I make good cookies.”

“But--I--”

“A cookie,” Isaac says. “You won’t regret it, I promise.”

 

-

 

He doesn’t regret it. The food is delicious. All of it. Just as it always is. And, once he gets over his initial discomfort, it really is nice to actually talk to these guys for once. They accept his presence easily, naturally, and soon he feels almost as at home with them as he does when he’s full wolf.

The only thing is he has to keep pretending he knows less about them than he does. Several times over the course of the evening he’s forced to bite his tongue, but it isn’t until Erica starts bemoaning her super that he actually slips up and says, “Did he ever fix the AC?”

“Yeah, thank God.” she says, and then double takes. “Wait, how do you know about that?”

“I mentioned it to him,” Stiles says swiftly, nudging Derek in the ribs, hard. “After all, he’s my super too.”

“Oh yeah, of course--” Erica says, and carries on ranting about her super and Derek heaves an internal sigh of relief.

Later once the food is eaten, Boyd and Isaac invite them upstairs to the little apartment they share above the bakery and they sit around playing cards and drinking the remains of a bottle of Jack. Derek can’t get drunk, can’t get even a little bit buzzed, but he feels almost high, warm and content in a way he hasn’t for the longest time. He can’t bring himself to care that Isaac wipes the floor with them at poker; after all, he comes a close second and besides, Stiles spent half the game with his legs stretched out, foot pressed warm against Derek’s calf, a soft smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Without that distraction, Derek likes to think he may have fared better.

After they’ve played a while and finished the Jack between them, they decide to watch a movie together. Erica and Stiles take the couch, while Isaac sinks into an armchair, but Derek offers to follow Boyd out into the kitchen and help make them all something to drink. It’s the tiniest little kitchen Derek has ever seen, little more than a couple of cabinets, a sink, a fridge and an ancient looking stove. The place is bare except for an old clock on the far wall and a couple of fading photographs stuck to the fridge with chunky magnets. Boyd goes over to the stove and grabs the kettle. Boyd’s never been one to talk much, and honestly, neither is Derek, so once Boyd’s filled the kettle and put it on the stove to heat, they stand there for a little while saying nothing.

“Good game tonight,” Derek says, finally breaking the silence.

“Yup,” A smile tugs at the corner of Boyd’s mouth. “Good for Isaac anyway. Although you didn’t do too bad.”

He has Uncle Peter to thank for that. On rainy afternoons he used to sit down with Derek, Cora and Laura and teach them poker. Even now Derek can picture the old pack of red-backed bicycle cards that lived in the end table drawer. The scent of buttered popcorn. Rain drumming against the windows in the den, as Peter coached them how to bluff, count cards, keep a poker face. Clearing his throat, Derek swallows thickly and asks, “Have you lived in Beacon Hills long?”

“All my life.”

“Huh.”

“What about you, are you from round here?”

“Just passing through.”

“You and everyone else.”

“What d’ya mean?”

“Well,” Boyd leans against the kitchen counter. “Back in the day, way before I was born, Beacon Hills used to be a big deal, apparently. Or at least, it used to be a bigger deal then it is now. Now,” he shakes his head. “Now it’s a nothing town. No industry. No jobs. No future. People don’t really move here anymore. It’s like” he trails off.

“Like what?”

“Like a long slow death, I guess. More and more stores are boarded up. The buildings are crumbling. The people are tired, apathetic. Like the town is soulsick.”

“Your bakery seems successful.”

“We’re breaking even because we’ve managed to get a decent rep not just here, but across county too. If the store hadn’t come with this apartment, though, we would've had to fold a long time ago. As it is, we’re just about keeping our heads above water. I think Isaac’s worried that if it fails he’ll end up having to move back in with his dad.”

“Would that be so bad?”

“His dad is Crawford Lahey,” Boyd grimaces. “Grade A asshole.” The name sounds familiar, but Derek can’t place it.

“Does he live nearby?”

“Yeah. I mean. He doesn’t tend to bother us here, but he’s still around. He got fired as the school swim team coach and now he and his buddy, Ennis, spend their time getting drunk and making trouble.” And that’s when it clicks. He saw Crawford at the bar with Ennis on that first night at the bar with Stiles.

“What kind of trouble?”

Boyd shrugs. “Picking fights, throwing their weight around. Basically they’re both bullies.”

The kettle starts to whistle and Boyd turns the stove off saying, “There are mugs in the cupboard over there, do you mind?” He gestures at the cupboard by Derek’s head and, opening it, Derek finds a selection of mismatched cups. “Thanks man,” Boyd says, taking them from him and places them on the counter. Then reaches for a box of sleepy-time tea.  “So, if you’re not from round here, where are you from?”

“Uh, all over, I travel a lot.”

“For work?”

“I’m between jobs at the moment.”

Boyd shrugs, “What about family?”

“I don’t--They’re not-- It’s just me,” he says, voice tight.

Boyd nods slowly. After a long pause he gestures at a picture of a little girl that’s stuck to the fridge. She’s maybe three years old, grinning widely at the camera and wearing a bright yellow dress. “That’s my little sister, Alicia,” Boyd says wistfully. “She died when I was ten. It’s just me and my mom now.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, after a beat.

“It is what it is,” he sighs. “I miss her like crazy, but I like to think she’s looking out for me, even now.”

Nothing so far in Derek’s experience suggests to him that the dead look out for the living. If he believes anything now, it’s that the dead are dead, and the living are alone. “I’m sure she is,” he says.

They make up the drinks in silence, but it isn’t uncomfortable. Boyd has the knack of letting a  moment breathe, rarely seems to feel the need to fill silence with needless chatter. It’s one of the things Derek’s come to appreciate most about him over the last few weeks. When they finally carry the drinks through to the others, Erica and Stiles squash up on the couch to make room for Boyd. Isaac’s slumped in the armchair, eyes fixed on the screen.

After a moment’s hesitation, Derek sits down at Stiles’ feet, back pressed up against the the couch, shoulder nudging against Stiles’ leg. The only light in the room is the dull glow of the TV screen, the scents in the air are thick and familiar, filled with affection. With a deep sigh, he slouches, lets his head tilt to the side and rest against Stiles leg. Immediately he hears Stiles suck in a sharp breath, heartbeat ticking up. A moment later, Stiles rests his hand tentatively on Derek’s head, and when Derek doesn't move away, he starts to run his fingers through Derek’s hair in a steady rhythm.

Breathing deep, Derek feels the last of the tension he’s been carrying slip away.

 

-

Chapter Text

It’s almost midnight by the time Derek and Stiles make their way down the rickety staircase from Boyd and Isaac’s apartment and out into the cool night air, the ink black sky above them filled with stars, the moon waxing gibbous.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Stiles says glancing at him as they make their way down the alley and out onto the street.

The road is dimly lit by street lamps, silent now, except for the rumble of one lone red pickup truck that crawls slowly past them and then off into the distance.

Derek feels loose, relaxed, that heavy knot of tension that has sat squarely in his chest for as long as he can remember feels somehow lighter. The whole evening sits in his memory complete,  warm and golden, soft as a kiss. He glances towards Stiles who is looking at him expectantly, elbow bumping up against Derek’s companionably as they make their way down the street in the direction of Stiles’ apartment building.

“Yeah,” Derek says with a small smile. “It was okay.”

“Okay?” Stiles stumbles, gaze turning to a glare. “Only okay ?”

“It was--” In the last few days, Derek’s begun to realize that riling Stiles is something he enjoys. He keeps expression carefully blank. “It was fine.”

‘Fine,’ Stiles mouths, and then snorts, rolling his eyes. “Oh, I get it, you’re one of those people.”

“Those people?”

They turn the corner onto Stiles’ block. “Y’know, the people who can never admit to liking something or having a good time, or showing enthusiasm. One of those people who has to constantly undersell everything in case actually liking something means they’re not cool.”

“That’s a big accusation.”

“The food was amazing, the company was great, and you enjoyed yourself. I can’t see why you don’t just admit it.”

“I said it was okay.”

Stiles stops dead in the street outside his apartment building and glares at him. “And how would you describe the Mona Lisa or Michael Angelo’s David? Are they okay too?”

With a deep sigh, Derek stops too and turns to face him. “Stiles--”

“The Grand Canyon? Leonard Cohen? Spongebob?”

“Spongebob?”

“Don’t fuck with me, Miguel. Spongebob is awesome.”

“Right,” Derek makes a big show of puffing his cheeks out, and then releases another put upon sigh. “Okay if it’ll make you feel better.” Stiles waves his hands as if to say, go on. “Alright,” Derek says, “Are you ready? This evening was—” he pauses for dramatic effect, and Stiles scowls. “---nice.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles throws his hands up in the air. “I take it all back. I was wrong about you. You are in fact, a complete asshole.”

“Yup.” Derek grins toothily.

“I hate you, I really hate you.”

With a throaty chuckle, Derek makes a big show of leaning forward and inhaling deeply through his nose, nostrils flaring; Stiles scent is rich and heavy, thick with affection and tinged with arousal. Arching an eyebrow he says,  “Is that right?”

“Oh my god,” Stiles blushes, “Stop that. Seriously. So much hate for you right now.”

“If you say so,” Derek says, turning smugly away, deeply pleased. Victory is short lived though, and he yelps and jumps about a foot in the air as Stiles jabs him in the ribs and tickles him.

“Aha!” Stiles looks gleeful. “The big bad wolf is ticklish?”

“No,” Derek says, turning back to face him and folding his arms over his chest. He wills himself to keep his voice steady.

Stiles’ hand darts out again and Derek tries not to, but he flinches, he can’t help himself.

“I think yes,” Stiles says, grinning maniacally. “I think—” his hands dart out again and Derek takes a step back.

“Stiles!” Derek growls out.

“But you’re not ticklish, right?” With that he lunges forward.

“Exactly.” Derek says, dodging him easily. “So don’t bother. Don’t waste your time.” The last word comes out as an undignified squeak, because Stiles has pounced again. What follows is an extremely ungainly scuffle, with Stiles trying to tickle wherever he can reach and Derek trying to restrain him at every turn with limited success. It’s like trying to hold on to water. Every time he thinks he’s managed to get hold of him, Stiles seems to slip through his fingers while simultaneously using his own long fingers to catch Derek under his armpit, on his side, the soft skin of his belly, light touches that make Derek’s insides hot. They tussle for a little while but eventually Derek’s superior weight and strength win out and he finds he has Stiles pressed up against the wall of his apartment building, arms pinned over his head in an iron grip, their foreheads almost touching as they try and catch their breath.  

“Miguellll,” whines Stiles, squirming against him. “Let me goooo.”

“No tickling,” Derek grinds out, not loosening his grip.

“Seriously,” Stiles says, breathlessly, shooting him a heated look. “You’re the worst. The fucking worst. I hate you.” He’s flushed and indignant, eyes bright with the heat of battle as their chests heave. His breath on Derek’s cheek, the warmth of him, the smell of their scents combined: it’s all calling to something deep in Derek.

“Why is it so important to you that I had a good time tonight anyway?” Derek mutters, heart hammering in his chest.

“Why is it so important to you to play down your enjoyment?” Stiles counters, his tongue darts out to wet his lips and helplessly Derek tracks the motion with his eyes. “Just admit it, you had a great time.”

“I did admit it!”

“Fine. Okay. Nice.” He spits the last word like it’s poison, and his hips cant out in little rabbity thrusts as he struggles against Derek’s hold on his wrists.

“Don’t,” Derek mutters, looking away.

“So,” Stiles leans in, “let me go then.” He says it softly, breathes it into the shell of Derek’s ear, and it sends a shiver down Derek’s spine. It’s all a game, Derek realizes, he isn’t really holding Stiles at all, the crackle of magic in the air tells him that. Stiles is playing, he could probably free himself whenever he wanted to which means… which means he doesn’t want to. He wants Derek here, close. So close. The combined scent of their arousal is overwhelming and Derek wants to bury his face into the crook of Stiles’ neck and whisper all the words he’s too afraid to say out loud.

“I—” Derek says helplessly. And Stiles just watches him, gives him a look that seems to strip his soul bare and reveal all the wriggly squirming unpleasant parts of Derek, cutting him open and leaving him raw.

“I like you, Miguel. I like you a lot.” Stiles says it soft, says it serious, like it’s something weighty and important. Something that matters. Like Derek matters.

Derek stares at him. “I--I like you too,” he says, eventually. At some point, he isn’t sure when, he must have released his grip on Stiles, because he realizes now they’re both just standing there, watching each other intently.

“Well,” Stiles says, with a small smile. “Well, okay then, that’s good.” He tilts his head to the side, exposing the long, mole-speckled line of his neck, and Derek swallows, ducks his own head and looks away, fists clenching, claws pricking his palms, wolf close to the surface.

Reaching out a hand, Stiles cups Derek’s cheek, turns his head so he has to look at him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Come around four. You can take a look at the Jeep,tell me how bad it is. I’ll make dinner. Just us.”

Derek inhales, nods shakily. “Just us.”

“Awesome,” says Stiles. He leans in to press a quick, chaste kiss on Derek’s cheek, before letting go and stepping back. “Okay,” he says, looking flushed but happy. “I guess I’ll see ya tomorrow, Miguel!”

Derek nods again, dazed, watching as Stiles makes his way up the steps to his building, he turns as he reaches the door and looks back at Derek with a smile that’s small but genuine. Lifting his hand, Derek offers up an awkward wave, and Stiles’ smile widens. “Night,” he calls, as he opens the door. “Sweet dreams!”

Derek doesn’t reply, just stands there, listening to the sound of Stiles heartbeat as he climbs the stairs, opens the opens the door to his apartment and goes inside. The sound of the apartment door clicking shut startles Derek out of his stupor, he feels light-headed, dizzy with a strange feeling of disconnect and euphoria.

With a sigh, he turns on his heel, stepping out to cross the street. He’s so distracted he nearly walks straight out in front of an old red pickup truck that’s rattling along the road, stumbling to a stop, he holds out his hands in a gesture of apology as it slows and drives past him. Then, head full of nothing but Stiles, Stiles, Stiles, he makes his way back to the warehouse.

Above him the moon shines bright and almost full against the dark sky.

 

-

 

After a long shower and a restless night’s sleep, Derek spends the following day filled with nervous anticipation. In the morning he goes to the bakery as usual, then spends a little time sitting with Erica. By 9.30 though, he’s back at the warehouse with six and a half hours to fill before he’s due to meet with Stiles. He washes his clothes and hangs them out to dry, then decides to try and settle down and read but can’t concentrate at all, so he ends up pacing the warehouse restive and anxious, trying to find some way to occupy himself. Eventually he finds a few old newspapers in a desk drawer that he’d missed and spends a fruitless few minutes trying to focus on the crossword. It’s no good. Nothing seems to work, his mind keeps drifting back to Stiles, like a compass unable to point any other way than due north. Frustrated with himself, he gives the crossword up as a lost cause, strips off, changes into his wolf form and goes for a run through the preserve. Even that, though, lacks the joy it normally would, and soon he starts home.

It’s as he’s picking his way back to the warehouse that he suddenly realizes: if he’s going to be a guest at Stiles home for a meal, he should probably bring a gift or a bottle of wine or something. He hasn’t much experience with this stuff, but he has a vague notion that’s what people do.

Suddenly anxious, he races back to the warehouse, dresses quickly and walks into town, loose change jingling in his jacket pocket, determined to get something. He finds a liquor store on a previously unexplored side street, but everything in there that looks nice is out of his price range and the stuff that he can afford probably tastes like vinegar.

Heart plummeting he tries Martin’s next, but after twenty minutes aimlessly wandering past racks of clothes, fancy patterned china and obscure kitchenware, he’s no closer to finding anything.

He’s walking down Maple when he spies an offer in the window of the party store that makes him huff out a surprised laugh. Cheap plastic fairy wands for 99 cents. On a whim he goes in and buys one, slipping it inside his jacket pocket. It feels kind of an asshole thing to do really, his instincts tell him Stiles will laugh though and he’s fast discovering he likes making Stiles laugh.

Of course, as he walks out the door of the store he realizes he’s right next door to the bakery, and he nearly facepalms in frustration, because of course, it’s obvious, he could get something for dessert.

He pushes the door open and the bell jingles merrily. Isaac’s behind the counter but he looks up as Derek enters and proffers a small smile.

“Miguel, good to see you. How are you?”

“Uh--hey,” Derek says, jamming his hands in his pockets and stepping closer. There are all manner of cakes and pies and brownies, pastries and breads all sitting in neat rows behind the glass counter.

“God, I think I’m still a little hungover,” Isaac says, “I swear I had to scrape myself out of bed this morning. Looking back, I think the bottle of Jack was probably a bad idea.”

“Heh, yeah--” Derek swallows.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Isaac tilts his head, eyeing him shrewdly. “You kinda look a little pale and clammy.”

“Yeah, I’m--I’m fine.”

Isaac arches an eyebrow. “Okay,” he says, eventually. “Well, what can I get ya?”

Swallowing, Derek, blushes as he says, “I have a--uh-- a date, tonight. Well, not-- it’s-- I’m going to dinner round at---and I think, maybe, dessert?”

There’s a decent pause while Isaac translates the broken sentence into something that makes actual sense. “With Stiles?” he asks, and Derek shrugs. Isaac continues, “You should definitely get the triple chocolate brownies, those are his favorite.”

Relieved, Derek nods. “Two please,” he says, and Isaac bags them up for him.

 

-

 

It’s four o’clock exactly when Derek pushes the doorbell for Stiles’ apartment, and, after a brief pause, Stiles buzzes him up.

Derek climbs three flights of stairs and makes his way down a dingy corridor to find Stiles standing in a doorway waiting for him.

“Miguel! Come in.” He waves Derek through airily. “Hang your jacket up there.”

He gestures to a coat rack and Derek shrugs off his leather jacket and hangs it next to a bright red hoodie and a grey jacket. Glancing about the room he takes in Stiles’ apartment with surprise. Whatever he was expecting, this isn’t it.

He’s in one long room, a tiny kitchenette at one end, just a few cupboards and the basic kitchen appliances with a small table and two chairs tucked in a corner. The rest of the room is probably supposed to be a living room but it’s, well, Derek isn’t quite sure what it is. There’s a sagging orange couch in the middle of the room. A boxy TV sits squat on a cabinet that’s filled with DVD’s and games. The far wall is lined with bookshelves heaving not only with books, but nick-nacks: tacky ornaments, photographs, a tarnished sheriff’s badge, a Mets cap and a bunch of stuff that Derek mentally files away as ‘occult paraphernalia’. It’s the plants though. That’s what really stands out. They’re everywhere. Flowers, shrubs and succulents in little pots, dotted on every available surface, wedged between the books. Larger ones sit in planters around the room and on the coffee table. Most impressive is a vine that clings to one wall, creeping along the top of the bookshelves, and up over the window, delicate tendrils wound round the curtain rod in a way that must make it almost impossible to close the curtains  The whole room smells fresh and floral. And he realizes with a jolt that this is the scent that he smelled the day he first met Erica, the one that led him to the apartment block in the first place.

“You okay?” Stiles asks.

“It’s, uh—It’s really something,” manages Derek, eventually.

“What can I say? I have a green thumb.” Which is an understatement. This hodgepodge of a place doesn’t know whether it’s an apartment, a thrift store or a botanical garden. Everywhere Derek looks there’s some new thing crying out for his attention.    

“Is that a Sega Genesis?” Derek wonders aloud, gazing awestruck at an ancient looking games console by the TV.

Stiles nods. “Sometimes I like to bust out Golden Axe or Altered Beast for old times sake,” Stiles looks at it fondly. “I also have a SNES, a Gameboy, a PS2, an X-box 360, a Wii, and even the latest Playstation. They’re all around here somewhere.”

“My uncle used to have a Genesis,” Derek admits. “We were never allowed to play on it. He always said we were too young.” Peter had guarded it zealously, told Derek and his siblings that it would be an antique of the future. Of course, in the end, it had burned along with everything else.

“Well, if you want to see what you’ve been missing out on we could fire it up after dinner?” suggests Stiles pulling Derek back to the present.

And, yes. Dinner. Right. Because Stiles is cooking. For him. Because he’s a guest.

“This is for you,” Derek says abruptly, shoving the paper bag with the brownies toward Stiles.

“A gift? For me? Seriously? Why? You’re already fixing my car!”

“Well--yeah, but I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to do that and--”

Stiles shakes his head, but he looks delighted as he opens the bag, “Oh my god, chocolate brownies? Awesome!” He goes through to the kitchenette and places the bag on the counter. “I swear,” he says, “Making friends with Boyd and Isaac isn’t doing me any favors. I think my calorie intake as tripled in the last month.” He looks as lithe as he always has done, slim and lightly muscled, not an ounce of fat on him, and his ass--

Stiles turns, catches Derek staring and grins. “I--uh--” Derek says, quickly. “I got you something else too, wait a minute.” He goes back to his jacket and fishes a second paper bag out of the inside pocket. Then hands it to Stiles who is now hovering behind him.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says, “Another gift? Seriously? Are you wooing me? Is that what this--” his voice dies in his throat as he actually opens the bag. Then he starts to laugh, shoulders shaking. “Asshole,” he says as he pulls out the plastic wand Derek found for 99 cents at the party store. It’s silver, with a star on the top that’s decorated with garish pink and purple gems. Stiles twirls it expertly between his fingers and then with a flourish points it at the front door, which immediately slams shut. “Look at that,” Stiles drawls, “It works.”

“You thought it wouldn’t?” Derek says, mock offended. “I paid top dollar for it.”

Smiling broadly, Stiles shakes his head in amusement, then walks across the room and places the wand gently on a bookshelf right next to the Sheriff’s badge which he reaches out to touch like it’s a compulsion, fingers lingering briefly on the burnished metal, scent turned wistful. After a moment he half turns, glancing at Derek. “So,” he says, “what now, Miguel? Can I get you a drink or--?”

Derek swallows. “You, uh, want me to take a look at the jeep?”

“Straight down to business, huh?” Stiles looks at him fondly. “Okay, well, let’s go find my baby, she’s parked out back.”

 

-

 

Stiles sits on the curb keeping up a steady stream of conversation while Derek opens up the hood of the jeep and puts her through her paces with a sense of mounting horror. Only magic could have kept this thing running as long as it appears to have been, he’s sure of it. Every time he sucks in a breath through his teeth or mutters, “Holy shit,” under his breath, Stiles visibly flinches.

“So,” Stiles asks, when Derek finally puts the hood down with a grimace. “What’s the verdict, can she be saved?”

“Well, your EGR valve needs replacing,” Derek says, “And your head gasket has blown. You need a new alternator and the radiator has a leak. Also your bumper is literally tied on with string and your rear passenger side window isn’t a window, it’s just saran wrap and duct tape. But I’m assuming you knew that.”

“Okay, okay,” Stiles says, nodding, “But those are all fixable things, right?”

“I mean--” Derek hesitates, he knows exactly what it’s like to love a car this much. “I suppose-- technically. Although it would probably be cheaper to just buy a new--”

“Sshhhh,” Stiles hisses clamping himself to the side of the jeep like a limpet, and glaring at Derek. “Don’t let Roscoe hear you say that.”

“Stiles--” Derek begins.

“I’m just gonna have to start saving. How much d’ya think it’ll cost?”

Derek takes in a hissing breath through his teeth.

“That much, huh?” Stiles says dolefully.

“Sorry,” Derek says, and he means it.

Stiles smiles weakly. “Thanks, Miguel.”

 

-

 

Back up in Stiles apartment, Derek stares down in dismay at his t-shirt, which is now covered in smudges of engine oil and grease.

“You wanna borrow one of mine?” Stiles asks, looking him over critically.

“Yeah, please.”

Stiles disappears through a door that must lead to the bedroom and comes back a moment later with a blue and orange striped t-shirt. “I don’t know if it’s gonna fit,” he says, then adds. “You may wanna wash up in the bathroom first, otherwise you’re just gonna get this one dirty too. This way--”

Derek follows him through a doorway near the bookshelves and down a narrow corridor. They pass Stiles bedroom on the right, door slightly ajar, and opposite that is another door.

“In there,” Stiles says, gesturing. “I’ll put the t-shirt here for you.” He hangs it on a hook behind the door and then says, “I’m gonna go get on with dinner. Shall I get you a beer ready?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, “thanks.”

Stiles’ bathroom is small, white, cleanish, and also filled with plants. Derek’s beginning to sense a theme.

He cleans himself off as best he can, his hands and forearms are smudged but the grease comes off with soap and water. His t-shirt, though, is beyond saving and will definitely need a wash in an actual washing machine.

Stiles’ t-shirt, is, well, tight, and no amount of pulling it down seems to make it better.

“Stiles,” Derek says, as he stands in the doorway to the living room, scowling. “I don’t think this fits.”

Looking up from where he’s chopping vegetables, Stiles takes in Derek’s appearance and then laughs. “Yeah-- okay-- point taken. My bedroom’s opposite the bathroom. T-shirts are second drawer down in the dresser on your right. Good luck!” He offers Derek a sloppy salute.

Two minutes later, Derek appears reluctantly wearing a bright blue t-shirt with stud-muffin written on it. It’s the baggiest t-shirt he could find  and it’s still way too tight. Stiles takes one look at him wearing it and collapses with helpless laughter, “Oh Miguel, but it’s so appropriate!” he sputters.

 

-

 

After that, Derek stands in the kitchen, idly sipping his beer and listening to Stiles talk while he prepares the food. He offers to help, but Stiles brushes him off. “No need. It’s a one man job. Enjoy your beer.”

Derek wanders toward the big window on the far side of the living room, it looks out over the rooftops of the smaller buildings on the opposite side of the street. Street lamps are spread out below in every direction, beginning to blink on cheerily as the evening draws in. There’s something warm and heart-wrenchingly familiar about being here, in an actual apartment, filled with all the trappings of real life and domesticity. He can’t remember the last time he was inside looking out on the world like this, can’t stop the warm golden feeling that spreads through him. If he could stay here forever he would.

With a sigh he turns away and wanders over to the bookshelves. They are filled to bursting: old grimoires with cracked spines, books on history and magic, botany and science, old classics like Moby Dick sit alongside modern novels like The Kite Runner. He shifts his attention to the odd assortment of photographs that are scattered amongst the shelves. And they are odd. Up close he discovers that they are almost all cut from travel brochures, stock images of mountains, city skylines lit up bright against the night sky or the impossibly white sand of Caribbean beaches. Hidden among these are two actual photographs in a double frame. The first was obviously taken on an old polaroid camera years ago, it’s a faded picture of a girl with long red hair wearing a distinctive print dress that looks like one of those cubist paintings. She’s caught in profile, face half turned away, and there’s a light leak down the center that turns the colors golden. The second picture is older still, a black and white photo of a young guy with dark hair in his early twenties maybe, he’s sitting on a stoop dressed in a pinstripe suit and a fedora, looking for all the world like he’s just stepped out of one of those movies Derek’s’ mom used to like. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, that kind of thing. The guy smiles up at the camera crookedly, eyes bright with laughter.

“Okay!” Stiles calls from the kitchen. “Come sit down, dinner’s nearly ready.”

“Does it matter which seat I—”

“No! Either is fine,” Stiles says. Potholders on, he opens the oven door and lifts out a steaming  dish of mac and cheese which he places on the stove top. Derek’s stomach growls. “Take a seat, take a seat.” Stiles waves a hand at him, and Derek pulls out a rickety chair and sits down while Stiles flits about the kitchen, muttering things like “Plates, knives, forks, where are the fucking forks?” It makes Derek feel kind of guilty.

“I could set the table if you—”

“No, I’ve got it,” Stiles insists, bringing over plates and cutlery and setting them on the table, followed by a massive bowl of salad, a bottle of dressing and then, finally the mac and cheese.

The pasta looks good, but Derek reaches for the salad. He’s heaped half the contents of the salad bowl onto his plate before he realizes Stiles is sitting opposite, watching him, one eyebrow quirked in amusement. “Uh—did you want?”  Derek makes to offer him the bowl.

“No! No. Continue.” Feeling self-conscious, Derek puts the salad bowl back down awkwardly and under Stiles watchful gaze, serves himself some pasta before passing it to Stiles. “Eat up,” Stiles says, as he reaches for the spoon to serve himself. “Don’t wait for me.”

And Derek finds he’s too hungry to be polite. The salad is everything he’s been dreaming of: plump tomatoes, crisp lettuce, creamy avocado, cucumber, grated carrot. He doesn’t even bother with the dressing, he’s just so grateful to finally be eating vegetables again. “S’good,” Derek mumbles gratefully. “Thanks.”

Stiles watches, a wry smile spreading across his face as Derek blissfully savors a tomato.

“So,” he says, “Where are you from originally? I’m betting not California.”

For one moment, Derek’s grateful he has a mouthful of food. He chews slowly, considering how to answer. “New York.”

“The Big Apple, huh?” Actually his family lived upstate, but Derek lets the assumption slide. “Hey,” Stiles says eagerly, “Ever go see a Mets game?”

Derek shakes his head. “Sorry,” he says, “my dad was originally from Chicago, so we were all Cubs fans. He took us to Yankee Stadium once or twice to see them play.”

Stiles screws up his face in disgust. “Yankees? Ugh.”

Derek grins. “What about you? Have you always lived in Beacon Hills?”

“Uh, pretty much,” Stiles takes a sip of his drink and looks away. “Lame, huh?”

“No.” Honestly if Derek’s family hadn’t been wiped out in a fire he thinks he would never have strayed far where he grew up. “It’s nice to have roots. I don’t—I don’t have that any more. I miss it. Why? Where do you want to go?”

“Oh god, anywhere. Everywhere. See the world.”

“Well, what’s stopping you?”

Stiles give a disgruntled bark of laughter. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m the guardian of a magical forest.”

“So— you’re what? Bound to the land?”

He sighs. “It’s complicated.”

“Complicated?”

“Yeah, I--” Stiles pulls a face, then sighs. “Let’s say it’s a temporary gig, or it’s meant to be. Supposedly there’s someone the land belongs to-- they’re gonna show up and claim it eventually, I’m just,” he gestures expansively, "taking care of it for them.”

“And when they show up?”

“Then--well-- I’ll be free, right?” his scent turns bitter,  heartbeat skipping erratically. “I can finally go and see the world like I always wanted to, get out of Beacon Hell and never look back At least, that's the plan.” He forces a brittle smile and Derek can’t help but think of all the little pictures in cheap frames on the bookshelves, beaches and cities, mountains and deserts, some of them new, some of them faded with age.

“How will you know?” he asks. “How will you know who the land belongs to.”

“Ahh, well, there’s a whole--” Stiles raises a hand, index finger extended like he's going to write something. He makes an aborted little swirling motion but then checks himself. “--it doesn't matter. I’ll know. Trust me.”

He doesn’t seem inclined to say more, and Derek lets the subject drop.

 

-

 

After they’ve washed the dishes together Stiles nudges Derek with his elbow and says,  “So. time for some retro gaming, huh? We should play Altered Beast. You’ll like it. It’s thematically appropriate. And it’s two player, c’mon.”

“Thematically appropriate?” Derek asks. He side-eyes him hard, but follows him to the couch.

“Why can these werewolves shoot fireballs?” Derek grumps a few minutes later, staring at the screen.

“You’re just jealous,” Stiles says, “You wish you could shoot fireballs.”

“Har har. Werewolves are already awesome. They didn’t need to be all extra about it .”

“Are you seriously complaining that the game designers didn’t research werewolves thoroughly enough?”

“Maybe.”

“Well wait till you get to become a weredragon on level two or on level three, when you become a werebear who attacks people with bubblegum.”

Derek turns to look at Stiles, heedless of the game. “Weredragon? Werebear? Seriously. That’s not even a thing.”

“So you say. Pay attention. The zombies will get us. Anyway you’re wrong, we used to have a werebear in Beacon Hills back in the glory days.”

“Did he attack people with gum?”

“She. And mainly claws, if I recall,” Stiles says, jerking the controller as he hammers the buttons.

They play Altered Beast for a bit longer. It’s a quick game, and once Derek gets the hang of it they zoom through it in no time. Then Stiles insists on setting up the SNES for a game of Super Mario Kart.

“I like this better,” Derek says, as they zip over the Donut Plains together. “Altered Beast was culturally insensitive.”

“Dude, you literally just bought me a 99 cent wand from the party store,” Stiles points out.

Derek’s silent for a long moment. “Okay,” he concedes. “You may have a point.”

 

-

 

They play retro computer games late into the night, sitting on Stiles’ sagging couch, as the shadows creep in around them. The only light the dull flicker of the TV screen. And slowly, ever so slowly, they drift further towards the middle until they’re pressed shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh, elbows knocking into each others sides as they jerk the controllers this way and that. And when they finally switch off the consoles, Derek thinks he should probably leave, it’s nearly eleven and he really should be getting back, but then Stiles stands up and says. “Do you want to watch the Princess Bride with me? I have the DVD here somewhere.”

He looks uncharacteristically nervous saying it, hands jammed in his pockets, shuffling foot to foot, maybe because he has an idea that this story means something to Derek, he knows Derek has the book after all. Derek finds he can’t say no.

“How much can you quote from memory?” Stiles asks, DVD remote in hand, as he settles back down next to Derek, pressed just as close as he was before.

“Uh. Quite a bit, I think.”

Not as much as he thought, is the actual answer. He’s read the book way too many times in the last eight years, and hasn’t seen the film in nearly a decade. But Stiles seems to know all the words, mumbles along with them under his breath and Derek can’t help glancing at him. Finds himself watching Stiles more than he’s watching the movie, the dark sweep of his lashes, moles speckled across clear, pale skin, pink lips curved upwards in a bright smile. He’s beautiful. Sharp and soft all at the same time. Everything about him draws Derek in, makes him want, and he’s— he’s looking at Derek. He’s totally caught Derek checking him out.

“You okay?” asks Stiles.

“Yeah—Yeah of course.” Derek clears his throat, trying not to blush through sheer bloody-mindedness. Hurriedly, he turns his head back to the television, and tries to think about something else, anything else. He’s gonna concentrate on the TV, that’s all.

“True love, ” Inigo announces on screen, “You heard him. You could not ask for a more noble cause than that--”

His eyes drift back to Stiles like their magnetized, but this time he finds Stiles is looking back at him, a knowing smirk on his face.

“Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world—” Miracle Max replies.   “Except for a nice MLT—”

They’re both smiling at each other helplessly now and when Derek breathes in, all he can smell is them, warm and safe and home. With a shaky breath he leans in, closing the distance between them.

For the last few weeks, Derek has been very carefully not thinking about what it would be like to kiss Stiles. Now he’s actually doing it, it feels like that was a mistake. Like if he’d let himself think about it more, he would have been prepared. Because now they're kissing, and it's already too much and not enough, nothing is enough. There’s that familiar crackle of magic in the air that he always gets when Stiles is around, sizzling potential just under his skin that seems to heighten his own senses, so everything about Stiles, about them, comes into sharper focus. Until all he can think, or touch, or taste, or smell is just them, them, them, winding each other up, drawing each other closer, holding each other tighter, like it’s a fight to see who can crawl closer into the other’s skin. Before they know it, Derek has pushed Stiles back, pressed him into the couch, caging him with his arms.

Something about Stiles draws the wolf in Derek to the surface in a way he can’t explain or begin to contain. His teeth worry at Stiles’ neck, marking that pale skin up, nice and pretty, but it isn’t enough. Nothing is enough. He snakes one hand between them hand hovering over the zipper on Stiles jeans. “This, okay?” he mumbles thickly.

“Yesss,” Stiles hums, voice sounding almost sub-human. It reminds Derek of that first meeting in the forest, when he didn’t have a face to put to the voice and as Derek pulls back, panting, he sees Stiles’ skin is almost gleaming in the dark of the room, teeth sharp and white, eyes dark, the pupil has expanded to swallow the entire eye. Stiles clutches at him, fingers digging sharply into the meat of Derek’s arm. He’s beautiful. Feral. Breathtaking. “Don’t stop,” he says fiercely, pulling Derek in closer. “Don’t you dare stop.”

With a little growl of frustration, Derek finally manages to get the zipper free, underwear down and has Stiles' warm, thick, length gripped firmly in the curl of his fist. “You too,” Stiles mumbles as he arches into the touch, gingers gripping Derek's back tightly. “Together. Together.”

Derek lets go of him and, with shaking hands, pops the button on his own jeans, wrenching the zipper down and then reaching between them with one hand, he grips them both tight. His hands are still trembling at the first stroke, the feel of them together soft skin and hard flesh straining into each other. He can feel the urge to shift pressing down on him, fingers itching with it, almost dizzy with the rush, the smell, the feel— He leans down, buries his face in the damp skin of Stiles’ neck, as his hand starts to work them both, whimpering as he fights the change.

“No. Don’t hold back,” Stiles says fiercely, taking Derek’s face in his hands, and forcing him to look at him. “Don’t hide. Don’t hold back. You don’t need to hold back. I wanna see you. The real you.” Derek’s eyes flicker red, fangs dropping down. Stiles’ back bows immediately and just like that, in a few messy thrusts, it’s all over for both of them.

For a long moment they cling to each other, breathing heavily. Derek drops his head onto Stiles’ shoulder and tries to pull the wolf back under control. Stiles shoulders start to shake, he’s laughing, Derek realizes. “What’s so funny?” he mutters looking up.

“I think you’re gonna need to change, again,” Stiles says, gesturing to the studmuffin shirt with a grin.

 

-

 

They take turns freshening up in the bathroom. While Stiles is in there, Derek gets changed into a different t-shirt, this time pale gray and definitely, definitely too tight.

He’s already pulling on his boots and his leather jacket. when Stiles comes back into the living room dressed in plaid pajama pants, chest bare save for the fine, long silver chain around his neck, that Derek hasn’t previously had opportunity to see properly, it has a silver acorn charm hanging from it, and Stiles fiddles with it anxiously as he takes Derek in.

“You’re not gonna stay?” Stiles says, face falling.

“I--” Derek hesitates. “Not tonight? I don’t have any of my stuff here, and--”

“You can use my toothbrush. You can borrow my underwear too.”

“It isn’t that,” he has a feeling that if he stays here he’ll never want to leave again. Already part of him doesn’t. He needs space, though, to clear his head, to think, to process what just happened. But at the same time, he desperately doesn’t want to hurt Stiles. “I’ll come by tomorrow, if you want?”

“Yeah?” Stiles smiles, soft and a little sad.

“Definitely,” Derek says and leans in to kiss him. “I want to.”

 

-

 

Curled up under the train car seats asleep, his tail tucked over his nose, the rumble of a familiar engine wakes Derek at around 3AM that night, and for one moment, half-awake and hopeful, he thinks it might be Stiles’ jeep. Then he realizes it couldn’t be, the jeep is broken and besides, there are two heartbeats outside. He hears heavy uneven breathing and a hissed curse as the car’s doors open, his heart sinks like a stone.

“I’m telling you, I saw him come out here the other day!” hisses Ennis under his breath in a way that’s probably supposed to be stealthy. Probably would be, if Derek weren’t a werewolf. Derek scrabbles to his feet, lets the change ripple through him and starts blindly searching for his clothes.

“Out here?” Says another voice, one Derek doesn’t recognize. “Where there’s no water. No food?” Derek fumbles the fly on his jeans, then pulls on his t-shirt in a panic.

“No food? Don’t be dumb, Crawford there’s a preserve full of food. Deer. Rabbits. That wolf is eating to his heart’s content.”  There’s the sound of more doors opening and closing. Metal scraping against metal. Whatever they’re doing it doesn’t sound promising.

“But I thought that Stiles kid said it was his dog.”

“He says that,” Ennis makes a disgusting wrenching noise and spits, and sometimes werewolf hearing is the worst, because Derek can still hear it, the crackle of phlegm on his lungs, the wet sound as it hits the dirt. “He’s lying though. That ain’t no dog. I know dogs.”

“Yeah, but--”

“I’m telling you, Crawford. This is something else. I saw--”

“I know,” grumbles Crawford. “Burning red eyes. You said that already. I just-- wish you would save the liquor until after lunch.”

“I wasn’t drunk! Okay. Just. Come with me. We’re gonna take a look around.” There’s the heart-stoppingly familiar sound of a gun-cocking. And the last time Derek heard that, Laura died. For a moment he’s paralyzed with fear, but he forces himself to move, fingers trembling as he jams his books and clothes haphazardly into his backpack. Eyes sweeping the warehouse, as he tries to remove any and all traces of himself as quickly as possible.

“Ready?” Ennis says, and there’s the tell tale crunch of footsteps against gravel. Pulling his jacket on and his bag over his shoulder, Derek slips silently into the dark recesses of the warehouse through to the offices at the back, where there’s a back door.

“As I’ll ever be,” comes Crawford’s voice.

“Okay. I figure if a wolf has been round here they’ll be signs.”

Crawford doesn’t say much, just grumbles imprecations under his breath, apparently too low for Ennis to hear.

Derek finally gets to the rear entrance, an old door that he’s never actually tried to open before. Slowly he tests it, pushing against it. It swings open, creaking ominously, and he stops immediately, heart pounding. It’s okay, they didn’t hear anything. They’re too busy talking to each other as they go through the main office, rifling through drawers, all pretense at stealth gone.

“I don’t know, Ennis.” Crawford says with a sigh. “I can’t see anything here.”

“You think? There’s dog hair under that train car seat, and look what I just found in the bathroom.” Derek can hear a triumphant note in Ennis voice. There’s the thump of something being put on a desk.

“Disposable razors?” Derek’s heart sinks.

“Yup. Out in plain view. Recently used, too.”

“So what, there’s a guy living here with the wolf? Or are you saying that we’re hunting a wolf that likes to shave?” Crawford sniggers at his own joke.

“You joke,” Ennis says, “but mebbe we are.”

“Seriously?” Crawford says. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying I’ve been on Google, learnin’ a few things. Spoken to a few people. Spent the last few days watching, waiting.” He chuckles, and it’s a horrible wheezing sound. “Let’s keep looking, see what we find.”

“But--”

Derek’s heard enough, he eases himself through the door, careful not to make any noise.

Fingers shaking, he pulls out his phone and calls Stiles as he runs silently back around the outside of the building, past Ennis beaten red pickup truck, and down the dusty road that leads back to town When he looks back, he can see the bright beam of flashlight arcing against the dark windows of the warehouse behind him.

 

Chapter Text

“I’ll come and get you,” Stiles’ voice, groggy when he answered the phone, is now sharp with anxiety as Derek sneaks through the abandoned industrial park. “Whereabouts are--”

“You can’t,” Derek hisses, cutting in. “Your jeep’s broken, remember? And even if it worked they’d hear you coming a mile away. I’ll run, and I’ll stick to the shadows; I’ll be with you before you know it.”

“I don’t need my jeep, dumbass,” Stiles spits. “I can--”

But Derek doesn’t want to argue, doesn’t have the time or the patience. “Just stay put,” he says, and then ends the call, immediately switching his phone to silent.

Heart pounding he picks his way past abandoned buildings out onto the open road into town. Flat, featureless countryside extends on either side of the road leading from the industrial park, broken up by nothing except the occasional spindly tree or scrubby bush. The only thing in Derek’s favor is the roads are barely lit at all, and he doesn’t need them to be. Eyes flickering red, he hoists his bag more securely over his shoulder, takes a deep breath, and runs.

He’s almost there, he can see the lights of Beacon Hills laid out in the valley before him like a galaxy in miniature, when, in the distance, he hears the rumble of an engine approaching from behind. It’s still a ways off, but getting closer all the time. Without a second’s hesitation he veers off the main road. The ground beneath his feet dips sharply, and his feet scrabble over loose stones as he tries not to lose his footing on the rocky escarpment. After a moment’s undignified flailing he skids to a stop and crouches low, still within view of the road, but hopefully far enough back the car headlights won’t illuminate him.

It’s an agonizing three minute wait, the time seems to stretch on for hours, but eventually the car passes. Just as Derek suspected, it’s Ennis’ truck. Holding himself still, he wonders how many times has that truck passed him by him without him realizing. Pickup trucks like that are a dime a dozen in country like this. In the last few weeks, though, he’s grown too comfortable, allowed himself to settle, to tentatively put down roots, and in doing so he’s gotten careless.

‘I’ve been on Google,” Ennis had said, “learning a few things. Speaking to a few people.”

How much does he know? Who has he been speaking to? Derek can’t be sure and the uncertainty gnaws at him. It could be nothing, or the town could be swarming with hunters tomorrow.

He waits until the noise of Ennis’ truck has faded, and then he scrambles to his feet and heads towards the twinkling lights of Beacon Hills. Towards Stiles. Towards home.

 

-

 

The door to Stiles’ apartment building is open and he stands silhouetted in the doorway, arms folded across his bare chest; the silver chain round his neck glinting in the light of the hallway. As Derek approaches Stiles’ expression pulls down in a frown which only gets deeper the closer Derek gets. He slows his pace, suddenly uncertain of his reception. Climbing the steps to Stiles’ building, he stops on the penultimate one, so Stiles is just a little taller. The silence between them is damning.

“I said I’d be back,” Derek says.

Stiles glares at him flatly. “You--” he jabs a finger at Derek’s chest. “Hung up on me. Unacceptable.”

“Stiles--”

“And then you didn’t answer any of my other calls!”

“I had to turn my phone to silent. I couldn’t risk--”

“You could have been dead in a ditch! Shot full of wolfsbane! Strung up somewhere being tortured! I wouldn’t know!” He flails angrily.

“Stiles--”

“I mean I get it. It’s only Ennis, and you’re an Alpha werewolf, but still! We agreed to have each other’s backs. That’s what the cellphone was for.”

“We do!” Derek says, “I’m here! I called you, I came to you for help.”

“Hmmmph.” Stiles folds his arms back across his chest and looks away, slightly mollified. “Well,” he says eventually, “you can’t stand out here all night. Better come in.”

Derek follows Stiles retreating figure up the stairs to his apartment in silence. As soon as they get into the apartment and the door closes behind them, Stiles pushes him up against the wall, so his duffel bag digs uncomfortably into his back, and kisses him, licking into his mouth with barely repressed fury. Derek’s helpless against it, mouth opening easily, hands sliding down to Stiles hips, pulling him in close.

“You should have stayed,” Stiles pants when he finally pulls back, glowering. “You should have stayed here when I offered.”

And Derek gets what he’s saying but he doesn’t regret his decision. “If I had, they would’ve found all my stuff,” he counters. “My books--”

“Oh for god’s sake,” Stiles pulls away completely, right back until he’s out of Derek’s reach. “Because we can’t have anyone touching those damn books, can we? You get you’re more important than them, right? They’re just stupid books!” With a disgusted snort he turns away, fists clenched in his hair.

The scent of Stiles’ anger and frustration is thick in the air, almost as heavy as the silence.

“They used to belong to Laura.”

Stiles back goes rigid but he doesn’t turn to face him. “Laura?”

“My sister. When--” Derek swallows painfully. “When I was sixteen hunters set my house on fire with my almost my entire family inside. Everyone died except me and my sister, Laura. The books were in her school bag on the day of the fire. Afterwards, she became Alpha but we had nowhere to go. For a long while we drifted from town to town, working jobs here and there, staying under the radar. It was tough, but we still had each other, y’know? And.then three years ago--” He can’t get his mouth to form the words.

Slowly, Stiles turns to face him, expression raw, guilty. “Three years ago?”

“Uh-- three years ago, those same hunters caught up with us again. And my--uh-- my sister--my sister died protecting me.” He can’t stop the way his voice breaks as he says the words, hasn’t ever said them aloud before to anyone, so hasn’t practiced them, can’t make them sound even  or natural or anything other than what they are: wretched, sad and guilt-ridden. But Stiles-- well Stiles deserves an explanation, and Derek wants to give him one. “Laura died to save me--” he says again, and the words seem to reverberate up and out of him, big and impossibly sad. “And that’s why I’m weird about the books. I’m-- I’m sorry.” He feels numb all over, inside and out.

“No--” Stiles says, taking an abortive step forward, arms half out like he wants to hug Derek but isn’t sure if he should, if it would be welcome. “Nononono. Okay? You don’t have to apologize. I was worried, and sometimes that worry is expressed in assholeish ways, but it’s--you have nothing to be sorry for. Losing people--” He glances across at the bookshelves on the far wall and sucks in a breath. “It’s the worst,” he says, turning back to look at Derek. “The fucking worst. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Miguel.”

“It’s Derek,” Derek says. He doesn’t mean to do it, but as soon as he does, he’s glad. Because the truth is he feels so tired. Tired of running and hiding. Tired of games. Tired of being anything other than what he is. Tired of pretending to himself he isn’t invested in this thing with Stiles, when the truth is, despite himself, he’s all in, has been for a while. “My name is Derek Hale.”

“Derek,” Stiles repeats softly, reverently, and it tugs at Derek’s chest: the first time anyone has said his real name in years.  Slowly Stiles takes a step forward, then another, then another, until he’s close again. Tentatively he lifts his arms, giving Derek a chance to back away. When Derek doesn’t move, Stiles wraps them tight around him in a warm hug. Derek leans into it, going slack, like a puppet whose strings have been cut. WIth a sigh he buries his face in Stiles’ shoulder and just breathes.

 

-

 

He isn’t sure how long they stand there for, but the sky on the horizon is pink through the living room window when they finally break apart. Stiles looks at him, eyes glassy, cheeks flushed, hair sticking up in all directions, and Derek wants to kiss him, but he doesn’t.

“You want a drink?” Stiles asks, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. “I have cocoa.”

“Sounds good,” Derek says and follows him into the kitchen, sticking near as Stiles makes their drinks, unwilling to give up that physical closeness just yet.

They sit together at Stiles’ little table, the same table they’d shared a meal at just hours before, this time sipping their drinks in silence. Maybe it should feel uncomfortable or awkward, to be there like this in the golden-quiet of early morning, but it doesn’t. It feels natural. Perfect.

Eventually Stiles drains the last of his cocoa, scrubs a hand over his face and yawns. “Thank god I don’t have to work today. We can both sleep in. Come on.” He stands and hesitantly offers his hand to Derek, who takes it. Then Stiles leads them through to his bedroom, which is dimly lit by a bedside lamp, covers still thrown back where he must have rushed out of bed as soon as he got Derek’s call. “Make yourself at home,” he says, “I need to piss.” And he wanders across the hall to the bathroom.

Looking about himself, Derek takes in Stiles’ bedroom again. He saw it just yesterday, but he didn’t really take the time to look at it; at the time it had seemed rude to snoop. In truth it's just as cluttered as all the other rooms in the apartment. Boxes piled up against the wall. Shelves filled with books. Plants everywhere. Clothes sticking out of half open dresser drawers, and mountains of dirty laundry piled upon the floor. Still, it’s warm and safe and smells better than anywhere Derek’s had to sleep in a long time. Stripping quickly, he folds his clothes in a neat pile and stacks them on the dresser. Then he walks to the bed and lays down on it carefully. The comforter is thick, the mattress soft and giving, it creaks gently under his weight and instinctively he knows he won’t be able to sleep on it. He’s used to hard floors; nights spent curled up in a ball in enclosed spaces with only his fur to warm him.

“Stiles,” he calls, sitting up abruptly. “Are you allergic to dogs?”

There’s the sound of the toilet flushing, and Stiles calls back, “No, why?”

Derek lets the change ripple through him and by the time Stiles entering the room he’s already standing on four paws, tongue lolling out happily.

“Seriously?” Stiles says staring down at him, expression half amused, half pissed. “Are you serious right now?”

Derek wuffs an affirmation, wagging his tail.

“So, what? You’re gonna sleep in my bed-- like that ?”

Derek just looks at him, eyes wide, ears flat to his head, and Stiles sighs. Moving past Derek he walks to his bed, sinks onto it and wriggles under the covers. “Up to you Der-bear. Can I call you Der-bear?”

Derek whines.

“Okay,” Stiles says, yawning so loudly his jaw cracks. “No Der-bear. I hear ya.” He rolls onto his side, props himself up onto his elbow and stares down at Derek. “So,” he says, “where are you gonna sleep?”

Derek looks about the room, considering, before finally padding over to the strip of floor by Stiles’ bed, one of the small avenues in the room not filled with clutter. He lies down, curling himself into a ball. Above him the bed covers rustle as Stiles reaches out and switches off the lamp. Then he reaches down absently to pet Derek’s fur. The bed groans as Stiles settles himself, but he keeps his hand steady on Derek’s back, warm and heavy. Comforting.

“This okay?” Stiles mumbles, but Derek doesn’t reply. Lulled by the steady pitpat of Stiles’ heartbeat and soothed by the scent of the room, he finds he’s already drifting off to sleep.

 

-

 

The next day, Derek wakes late and in increments. The first thing he becomes aware of as he drifts into consciousness is how warm he is, warmer than he’s been in weeks of sleeping in the drafty warehouse. Opening one eye the barest hint, he takes in the sunlight which streams through a crack in the curtains, warming the patch of carpet he’s sleeping on. Looking over at Stiles’ alarm clock he sees it’s already three in the afternoon. He’s slept, and he’s slept well. One ear flicking forward lazily he lifts his head, yawning. Stiles’ bed is empty and Derek blinks blearily at it, brain still muzzy with sleep.  Gradually he realizes he can hear the sound of someone moving about the apartment as music plays through tinny speakers. If he really concentrates, he can hear Stiles singing along under his breath. Nostrils flaring he tilts his head to the side and scents the air, there’s the smell of bacon and pancakes. That’s all it takes for Derek to realize he’s actually awake after all. A few minutes later he walks into the living room on two legs, fully dressed in yesterday’s clothes.

Stiles doesn’t notice him as he enters the room. He has his back to Derek as he stands over the stove, turning bacon over in the pan, and shaking his ass in time to whatever pop song it is he’s listening to. So Derek stands in the doorway and watches quiet and appreciative.

It isn’t until Stiles flips a pancake and then spins round on his heel, waving the spatula and singing along loudly with the chorus that he notices Derek at all.

Immediately, he flails backwards, nearly knocking the frying pan off the stove top, hand clutched to his chest. “Motherfucker! We need to put a bell on you. Or, y’know, you could announce your presence upon entering the room, like a normal human being.”

“Not a human being,” Derek says with a toothy grin. “Besides, if I did that I might have missed the show,”

“Uh-huh,” Stiles says smirking as he turns back to the bacon. “You like what you see?”

Derek doesn’t bother to answer, instead he stalks across the room and presses up against Stiles’ back, hooks his chin over his shoulder, hands resting lightly on his hips. “All looks good to me,” he says and Stiles grins.

“Damn right. Now, try some bacon.” He picks up a strip between his thumb and forefinger and offers it to Derek, who takes a bite, lips brushing against Stiles’ fingers.

“Tastes good,” Derek pronounces, and drops a kiss on Stiles’ shoulder by way of thanks.

“Mmmhmmm.” Stiles slips the spatula he’s holding under a pancake and deposits it onto a waiting plate. “I’d say I’m a good cook, but it’s bacon. I don’t think it’s possible to fuck up bacon. It always tastes good. Can you make coffee while I plate up?”

Derek can, and he does.

 

-

 

Later, once Derek has pushed his empty plate to one side, Stiles, who is still shovelling food into his face, gestures to him and says, through a mouthful of half chewed food, “So, what are we gonna do?”

“About Ennis?”

“Yup.” Stiles licks the bacon grease off his fingers as he leans back in his chair.

“Well,” Derek says, “I think he knows-- or suspects at least.”

“That you’re a werewolf?”

Derek nods. “He said he’d been googling, talking to people.”

“That doesn’t have to mean he knows you’re a werewolf. Maybe he’s been googling how to deal with big dogs. Or what to do when you piss your pants in terror. That kind of thing.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but Crawford was talking about a wolf with red eyes, and there was this whole conversation they had about wolves sha--” He pauses and considers what he’s about to say. “It doesn’t matter. He knows.”

“So what? You think they’re gonna try and mess with you?” Stiles leans forward, eyes fixed on Derek.

“Ennis and Crawford I can handle. From everything I’ve heard, no one likes them. If they start running their mouths off people won’t believe them, and it isn’t as though can hurt me. If Ennis has been in contact with actual hunters though--”

“Hunters have a code, right? You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“My family hadn’t done anything wrong. Kate Argent still slaughtered them.”

“Argent?” Stiles sits up straight in his chair, looking at him sharply. “As in the oldest hunting family in the country?”

“You’ve heard of them?”

“Yuh-huh. They’re well known. I thought they followed the code though.”

“I can’t speak for all of them, but Kate definitely didn’t.”

Stiles sinks back in his chair, gnawing his lip. “Okay,” he says eventually. “So, and I'm just spit-balling here, what’s the worse case scenario? That Ennis has somehow put two and two together and  managed to find out about werewolves on the internet. Maybe talked to hunters, maybe even found Kate--”

“Impossible.” Derek says. “Kate’s dead.”

Stiles raises one eyebrow. “You’re sure?”

“Laura killed her. Ripped her throat right out. I saw it with my own eyes.” Laura had ripped Kate’s throat out as Kate had shot her through the heart with a wolfsbane bullet.

Stiles swallows. “And the other Argents, they haven’t come for you? Like, to avenge Kate or--”

“I’ve been careful,” Derek says simply. Because the truth is, in the months after Laura’s death, he lived in fear of black SUV’s descending on whatever town he found himself in, half expected it. So he’d spent a lot of time living off the grid. No phone. No friends. Only using a bankcard if it was absolutely necessary. Hell, half the time he didn’t even live in an actual building. He’d made himself invisible and he’d been good at it.

“So,” Stiles says, thoughtfully, “basically, what we’re saying is: If Ennis have somehow managed to contact the Argents we’re screwed. If it’s some other hunting family then--”

“--then it’s my word against Ennis and Crawford, and hunters aren’t going to believe a were.”

With a sigh Stiles stares down at his plate, he picks up his fork and twirls it restlessly between his fingers. “So,” he says eventually, “what are you gonna do? Leave?”  The way Stiles says it, he’s clearly going for casual, but Derek can hear the bitter, hurt edge to his voice and it gives him a moment’s pause. All this time he’s been thinking that their relationship is unequal, that Stiles is attracted to him, sure, but has also been kindly looking out for him, taking him under wing, because he can see Derek needs help. Seeing him here, like this, shoulders slumped, the sour scent of sadness coming off him in waves, it occurs to Derek that maybe he isn’t the only one who’s lonely.

Stiles has mentioned more than once that he’s the guardian of this territory. How long has he been here? That first night they spent together at Palmers he’d said that no-one stays forever. His dad. His friend Scott, and how many others? Derek steals a glance at the Sheriff’s badge, at the double frame on the bookshelves that contains the only photographs of actual people, both faded now with age.

“If I left would you come too?” He asks the question even though he’s certain he already knows the answer.

Stiles swallows, still playing with his fork. When he finally meets Derek’s gaze he looks shattered. “I wish I could. I--I want to--”

“Yeah?”

“Oh god, so much. There’s so much I want to see. There’s so much I want to do.” He breaks off, choked. “And to be with you, that would be--” he gestures broadly, unable to articulate everything he’s feeling. “But--”

“But you can’t--”

“I can’t leave this territory.”

“Then I’m staying.” In the end it’s just that simple and as he says it he feels the relief, the rightness of his decision flood him. It isn’t just that he gets to be with Stiles, the truth is: he likes it here. He’s made friends. He cares for Boyd, Erica and Isaac. This place suits him in a way he can’t even begin to explain.

“Really?” Stiles looks across at him, hopefully.

“Yup.”

“And if hunters come?”

“Then we’ll deal with them, together.”

“You’re sure? I mean it could be dangerous. You’re a lone Alpha--”

“No. I’m not. You’re my pack,” Derek says, and as he says it, he realizes it’s true. That it's been true for a while. “And Boyd, and Isaac and Erica. You may not be wolves. Three quarters of you may not even realize I’m a werewolf, but you’re it. I’m not leaving.” They may never know who or what he is, may never view him as pack, but it doesn't matter-- they're his, to look after, to protect.

Stiles gives a short, sharp,  bark of laughter. “So we’re just gonna--”

“We’re gonna sort this shit out.”

“You mean that?”

“Yup.”

“Just like that?” Stiles’ voice is disbelieving, expression hopeful.

“Just like that.”

“I--Okay.” Stiles doesn’t seem to know what to say in the face of Derek’s new found certainty. His jaw works soundlessly for a few seconds and then he says, “Well then, I think the first thing we need to do is find out what Ennis and Crawford know.”

“How?”

Stiles taps his fingers against the tabletop, deep in thought. “I mean, the easiest way is probably to break into Ennis’ place and take a look around.”

“Sounds risky.”

“Not really,” Stiles smiles. “That’s the thing about a small town like Beacon Hills. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Today is Sunday, and I happen to know that on Sunday, Ennis and Crawford will be spending the evening drinking at Palmers, watching the game. Then they drive back at around midnight drunk as skunks and spoiling for a fight. We go over while they're there, and Ennis’ place should be empty.”

“Okay,” Derek says, standing to his feet. “Sounds like a plan. Where does he live?”

“He has a place a few miles outside town. It’s pretty isolated, which is good news for us." Stiles grins broadly. "And before you say anything, don’t worry about how we’re gonna get there. I got us covered.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

“We won’t leave yet, we should wait until evening,” Stiles says decisively. “Once the game has started, so we can be sure Ennis’ place will be empty. Also under cover of darkness it’s less likely we’ll be seen.” He rubs his palms together, and a grin spreads slowly across his face. “We’ll wear dark clothes, y’know, for camouflage and also maybe --”

“I thought you said the property was isolated?”

“It is! It is! But this is Beacon Hills,” Stiles whines, “nothing has happened here in years, and if we have to break in, we might as well have fun with it. Y’know? Get into character.”

“Into character?”

“Okay, not into character. I’m not suggesting we role-play-- unless,” he grins manically, “unless you want to?”

“Stiles--”

“We’ll be like Peralta and Boyle in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

“Like who and who in wha--”

“I’ll be Jake MacKinley, my friends call me ‘Mac’. I’m a bored billionaire playboy and internationally renowned jewel thief. Last year I broke into the Tower of London and stole the Crown Jewels, only to replace them the next day. Why? Because I can. That’s just how I roll. A cool, international man of mystery--”

Derek snorts and Stiles scowls. “Heeey. I can be cool and mysterious,”  

“Yeah. Maybe I thought that first night in the preserve. Now?” Derek sucks in a breath through his teeth.

“Uh? Rude?”

“Obviously then we actually spoke and I figured you were kind of an asshole. Now,” Derek huffs out a put-upon sigh. “Now, I realize you’re basically just a giant dork.” He shakes his head, feigning disappointment.

“Dork?”

“You admitted to introducing costume themed Fridays at your work,” Derek points out. “You dressed as a giant beet.

“Um! Excuse you? Beets are the coolest vegetable!” Stiles says, outraged. “First of all, purple. Purple is the most awesome color! How many purple vegetables are there, Derek?” He gestures broadly. “I bet you can’t name another one?”

“Eggplant.”

“They’re not purple on the inside,” Stiles hisses, eyes narrowing. “And beets are a source of potassium and manganese and-- and Vitamin C, probably!”

“Also I think I read that carrots were originally purple,” Derek says, smirking. “Dutch farmers--”

“Enough!” Stiles gestures imperiously. “Just for that, tonight you get to be Dwight Dinkle, failed carrot farmer, small time crook and Barry Manilow superfan.”

“Fine by me.” Derek crosses his arms in a way he knows makes his biceps bulge. “Barry Manilow is a god.”

“Is that right?” Stiles folds his arms right back, chin tilted up.

“Yup.” With a smirk Derek turns and walks into the kitchen, pointedly whistling Copacabana.

“Ugh,” Stiles sighs. “I can’t even. One minute you’re all, ‘I’m gonna stay,’ and ‘we’re gonna sort this shit out.” and the next you’re-- the next you’re--” He trails off. After a long moment, Derek glances back and finds Stiles staring speculatively at his ass, the tip of his pink tongue just visible at the corner of his mouth.

Derek clears his throat, and Stiles flails back with his whole body, cheeks flushing a brilliant red. His eyes narrow as he meets Derek’s gaze and Derek really can’t be blamed if he looks as smug as he feels.

“Oh shut up,” Stiles says, and stomps across the room to where his laptop is propped up against the end of the couch. Leaning down to retrieve it he flips it open and sits down heavily, making the couch springs squeak.

 

-

 

Derek putters around the kitchen washing the dishes, while, in the background, Stiles taps away relentlessly on the laptop. Once Derek’s finished cleaning there doesn’t seem to be much else to do.

“You want a coffee?” he asks. When Stiles doesn’t look up he says, “Hey, Stiles!”

Stiles still doesn’t look up from where he’s busy on his laptop, so Derek pads over to him and taps him on the shoulder, With a jolt Stiles startles, head snapping up to look at him.

“Hey,” Derek repeats, “you want another coffee?”

“Uh--” Stiles blinks up at him. “Yeah, yeah, I do-- thanks.” With a sigh, he rubs at his eyes. “Sorry about that. I’ve been um-- researching.”

“Researching?”

“Uh--hunting families? Specifically the Argents. You know, just in case, we should know what we’re up against.”

“Ah,” Derek doesn’t know what his face is doing but Stiles winces.

“Is that not--? Sorry--”

“No-- it’s-- you’re right. That’s a good idea. Have you found anything?”

“Eh, not much, but I’ll keep looking.” He shrugs. “I mean it isn’t like I expected there to be a twitter account or a blog with a schedule, but they’re must be something. At the moment it’s like they don’t even exist.”

“Well,” Derek says, walking back through to the kitchen to make coffee. “The Argent’s are an old powerful family with plenty of resources. You can bet there’s nothing on the internet that they don’t want to be there.”

“Yeah, well,” Stiles mutters, “Challenge fucking accepted, assholes.”

He doesn’t look up again, not even when Derek puts his drink down on the coffee table in front of him.

 

-

 

With Stiles engaged in research Derek’s at a loose end, and he prowls the bookshelves looking for something to read. There’s a lot to choose from, but the one that catches his eye is an ancient leather-bound tome simply entitled ‘Faerie’. There’s a huge amount he doesn’t know about the fae, and by extension, about Stiles; he figures it can’t hurt to educate himself. So he grabs the book and sacks out on the opposite end of the couch to Stiles, flipping it open. It’s written in Old English, and there are lots of ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s’. Immediately he’s reminded how much he hated reading Romeo and Juliet in High School.

With a deep sigh he swings his legs up on the couch, stretches them out, burrowing his toes under Stiles’ thigh. Absently, Stiles reaches out a hand and strokes Derek’s foot. Thumb digging in to the arch with gentle, insistent pressure, warm and comforting.

“You okay?” he mumbles.

“A little cold,” Derek says. It’s a quirk of werewolf biology that werewolves core temperature runs about two or three degrees hotter than the average human, and when someone is used to being that warm on the inside, they feel any draft or hint of cool air against their skin that much more. Derek, like all weres, feels the cold acutely. It’s one of the reasons he spent so many nights in wolf form. It’s also part of why he wears his leather jacket most days.

Without looking up, Stiles lifts his hand from where it’s warming Derek’s foot, and makes a complicated gesture. As Derek watches the vine that’s wound around the curtain rod loosens, uncurling itself and extending downwards. It snakes its way along the floor, out of sight. Confused, he looks across at Stiles, but he’s gnawing at his lip, staring intently at the laptop screen. The next thing Derek knows the vine is slithering up the arm of the couch, a blanket coiled in its tendrils.

“Ummm--”

“Take it,” Stiles says, as he taps away at the keyboard.

Derek reaches out and the vine releases it easily, before immediately shrinking back across the room, slithering up the curtain until it’s wound back around the curtain rod, just as it was before.

Unsettled, Derek stares down at the blanket, then at the vine, and then at Stiles. “Uh--Thanks?” he manages, not sure if he’s grateful or freaked out. “Is that a uh--safe thing to have in the--uh-- apartment?”

“That was all me,” Stiles mumbles, staring at his screen, with a frown. “It’s just a vine. It isn’t dangerous.”

“Uh--”

“Do you want the blanket or not? I thought you were cold.”

Blinking at him, Derek says, “Yeah, uh-- sorry. Thanks.”

Stiles doesn’t say anything else, he’s too engrossed in whatever he’s looking at and, after a moment’s hesitation, Derek tugs the blanket over himself,  It smells of Stiles: warm, spicy and, above all, safe.

With a contented sigh, Derek settles back onto the couch and tries to make sense of the book. It isn’t happening though. The words are are so alien and  he finds his attention drifting back to Stiles-- the sharp angles of his face, the dark sweep of his lashes, the moles speckling his cheeks. There’s a little part of Derek, a part he isn’t particularly proud of, that’s glad Stiles can’t leave Beacon Hills. A part which hopes that once they’ve dealt with Ennis and Crawford, they might be able to settle here together. Derek wants lazy Sunday afternoons like this to become a regular thing, wants Boyd, Erica and Isaac to join them. Maybe, in time, he can even tell them who he is, make the little proto-pack he’s unintentionally found here official. Perhaps Stiles could be his emissary--

Stiles takes in a hissed breath through his teeth.  

“Find anything?”

“Not much. A little on the Argent family tree. Nothing that tells me where they are, or what their plans are.” Stiles scrubs a hand over his face, leaning back in the chair. “It’s fucking frustrating to be honest, and the more frustrated I get, the more likely I am to lose concentration and melt the laptop. Magic and electronics don’t really mix.” He glances over, finally noticing the book in Derek’s hands. “Interesting choice of reading material.”

“I’m not sure interesting is the word--”

“Yeah. It’s a little dry, and it covers, like, everything that might be considered fae. So, y’know, redcaps and leprechauns and banshees as well as all the different types of ‘fairies’” He makes the air quotes with his index fingers. “I guess it depends what you’re interested in really?”

“You,” Derek says, “I’m interested in you.”

Stiles looks at him a long moment, then slowly raises an eyebrow.“I thought we established. I’m a dork, very rare.”  

Derek smirks, digs his toes in where they’re still wedged under Stiles’ thigh. “Hmmm,” he hums. “Dork. Okay. Thanks, I’ll check the table of contents, see what it says.”

Stiles shakes his head, smiling  as he turns his attention back to his laptop.

It’s a chapter on fae culture that finally manages to capture Derek’s interest, and he loses himself for an hour as he reads  about everything from changelings to fairy rings. He’s half way through a paragraph on scríobh gealach: writing that is only visible under the light of a full moon, when Stiles taps his fingers against Derek’s ankle.

“Hey, it’s nearly time. We should get ready to leave.” Glancing up, Derek notices the room is darker than it was, dimly lit by the glow of Stiles laptop.

“Okay,” he says and stretches, cat like.

“I’m going to get changed, into something less conspicuous,” Stiles says, gesturing down at his white t-shirt and sweatpants. “You wanna borrow some clothes?”

“Nah,” Derek shakes his head. Although they’re almost of a height, Stiles is a lot slimmer in build, and after last nights debacle with the t-shirts he knows it's unlikely they'll be anything that will fit him. “I’ve given this a lot of thought-- and I don’t think Dwight Dinkle is the kind of guy to do that.”

Stiles laughs sharp and sudden, eyes bright.

 

-

 

It takes Derek less than a minute to pull on his leather jacket, find his boots and lace them up. In no time at all they’re both standing in the living room again. Derek wearing the same clothes he always wears. Stiles in dark skinny jeans, a black t-shirt and a black hoodie.

“Aah,” Stiles says suddenly, “I'm debating whether or not to take a thumb drive, in case there's anything we need to download off Ennis' laptop, but I'm doubtful it'll survive the trip. Speaking of which, maybe leave your phone behind."

Easing out of the pocket of his jeans, Derek tosses it easily onto the couch.

“That it?” Derek asks. “We're just going like this. You don’t want to take a crowbar or lock picks or---”

“Oh har fucking har, Derek,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “You’re so hilarious. Now, come stand by me.” He gestures for Derek to come join him in the centre of the room.

“Here?” Derek asks, walking over to him.

“Yep. Okay,” Stiles says, maneuvering Derek to where he wants him. “Side by side. That’s right. Now, take my hand.” His hand is warm and dry, fingers clenched around Derek’s in a tight grip. He looks at Derek and grins, eyes bright with enthusiasm.

“Okay, so what now? We click our heels together three times, or--?”

Stiles rolls his eyes, smirking. “On three, take a step forward. One. Two. Thr--”

They both step forward, a step that never actually connects with the floor, because as soon as they start to take it time slows, the world around them fades, the colors and shapes and scents and sounds of Stiles’ apartment blur together, mixing irretrievably. Derek opens his mouth to speak, but no sound comes out. In that moment he can hear the vivid green color of the vine that curls around the curtain rod trilling in his ear, can taste the sound of the car that passes by in the street outside, can smell the sound of Stiles’ heart beating, sweet and steady. 

Time  slows and slows and slows and he’s stuck, caught like an insect in amber, unable to escape, leg still extended, step still untaken.

And then... time stops completely.

The world goes dark and everything is reduced down to the sound of his own heartbeat thudding in his ears, and pressure, like his entire body, every cell and atom is caught in a vice, until he wants to scream with it, until he’s sure he won’t be able to bear it any longer.

Then, slow as molasses, time starts up again, the pressure eases. Gradually, he can hear noises but they’re distorted, like he’s listening to them under water, the only scent he can discern is the ozone rich zing of Stiles’ magic, and then time is quickening, speeding up and up and up and his foot finally, finally, hits the ground. Except it isn’t carpet beneath his feet, it’s grass and loose stones, and the smell around him isn’t bacon and pancakes and old books, it’s pine and woodsmoke and dirt. He hears the wind whispering through the trees and distant birdsong. He’s no longer in Stiles’ apartment. He’s standing on a hillside, on the edge of a forest. At the bottom of the hill is a ramshackle house and a couple of outbuildings, rundown and uncared for. The sun is already setting over distant hills, the top edge just visible on the horizon. When he looks down, dizzy and disoriented, his hand is still clenched round Stiles’, but now in a white-knuckle grip.

“Neat trick, huh?” Stiles says, turning to him with what can only be described as a manic grin.

Derek nods once, lets go Stiles’ hand, drops to his knees and throws up his pancakes in the long grass.

“Ewwww,” Stiles says, and then, crouching down next to him, he rubs gentle circles on Derek’s back and adds. “I guess it can be rough if you’re not used to it. Or, shit, maybe it’s worse if your a werewolf because of all your enhanced senses?”

“You think?” Derek croaks feebly. “I’m definitely walking back.”

Stiles pats him on the shoulder, comforting.

Once Derek’s sufficiently recovered, he gets to his feet, wiping the back of his hand against his mouth and takes a couple of deep breaths, the sour taste of bile sitting on his tongue. “Is that Ennis’ place?”

“Yup. That’s it. We’re facing the rear. The main entrance and the road is round the otherside of the property. Can you hear anyone, or any thing ?” Stiles asks, “Like heartbeats or--”

Derek strains to listen, but around them is nothing but birdsong and insects chittering.

“No. I think it’s empty.”

They start down the hill together in the direction of the house. “I’ve never been here,” Stiles says. “I mean, he has a thing for me, y’know? So he’s asked me over more than once, but that dude is….” he sucks in a breath through his teeth and winces. “He has that vibe y’know? Like he’s the type of guy who probably has a murder-death room? Or some kind of basement where he keeps people? Creepy as fuck.”

Derek’s about to agree when he notices a little pinprick of red light winking at them from under the eaves of one of the outbuildings.

“Wait,” he says, grasping Stiles’ arm as they get closer. “Look-- security cameras.” They stop where they are, halfway down the hillside, a good three hundred yards away from Ennis’ place.

“Hmmm,” Stiles says, nose scrunched in thought. “I wonder how many cameras there are? Shit, if he has cameras then there’s probably an alarm too.”

“We need to work out what areas are covered by cameras and see if there are any blind spots. Maybe if I circle around I can find a way onto the roof and disable them from above.”

“Yeah, I mean sure, we could do that--” Stiles says, “Or we could--” As Derek watches, Stiles pupils expand, teeth gone sharp. There’s a rumbling noise from behind them growing closer each second, until it’s right beneath their feet. As he looks down, a tree root bursts out of the ground. Writhing snake-like, with lightning speed it slithers past them, climbs up the side of the house, wraps itself around the camera and squeezes tight. There’s the sound of crunching metal and the smell of smoke.

“So I guess we’re not worried whether or not he finds out we’ve been here,” Derek says flatly.

“He broke into your place,” Stiles says, and his voice has that strange unearthly quality that Derek remembers from their first meeting in the preserve all those weeks ago, like metal scraping against metal. “I’m just returning the favor. Besides, he won’t know it was us.”

Derek supposes that much is true. “Are there any others?” he asks.

“Let’s find out.”

It takes them ten minutes to find and destroy the five other cameras Ennis has set up around the outside of the house and the outbuildings. When they finally open the front door of the house, an alarm starts to beep urgently. Stiles walks over to it and places a hand on it, his eyes still shining like onyx. With a beep beep beeeeeeeeeep the whole thing sparks and smokes and then whines to a halt. Joining him, Derek examines it, vaguely horrified. There’s melted plastic dripping on his shoes.

“I told you magic and electronics don’t mix,” Stiles says, as his eyes shift back to their usual brown.

“Just how many laptops have you broken like that?”

“Uhhh-- one?” Stiles blushes. “Okay--two.” Derek raises an eyebrow, and Stiles sighs. “Three. In the last year.”

“So, in total--”

“Oh god, I don’t know. I stopped counting a while back. You see why I can’t afford to repair Roscoe now?”

“Well, at  least you have other transport options.”

“Yeah, but non-supernaturals generally look at you funny if you rip open the fabric of spacetime and appear right next to them. It’s much easier to keep a low profile with a car,” Stiles says, nose wrinkling. “Anyway, let’s check this place out.”

The first thing that hits Derek is the smell of mold, there’s a large patch of it spreading across the far wall. The living room is bare save a giant television and a couple of armchairs, both crusted with ancient stains and surrounded by a sea of old beer cans and empty plastic trays grimey with the remnants of old TV dinners. A pistol sits on the arm of the chair in plain view, and it stands out as the only thing in the place that appears to be well cared for. Paint is peeling of the walls and, when they walk through to the kitchen the trash can is overflowing with garbage, the sink stinks like something rotten died in a drain somewhere. Derek clamps a hand over his nose and tries to breathe through his mouth.

“Oh my god,” Stiles moans. “It’s awful. Who lives like this?”

“We need to find his laptop,” Derek says.

“In here,” Stiles says, beckoning Derek through a door that leads to the bedroom. And the living room was bad, but this is worse. The room is stagnant, it reeks of stale sweat and come. The bedsheets look stiff, and every surface appears sticky, greasy, like it hasn’t been cleaned in an age. “Jackpot,” Stiles says, gesturing at an ancient looking silver laptop that’s balanced on a dresser. Picking it up with a grimace he opens it and switches it on. It whirs to life. Once grey keys are brown with dirt and tacky to the touch. “Jesus, I am gonna need a shower after this,” Stiles mutters. “Fuck. He has a password. What the fuck is his fucking password?”

“Maybe try ‘garbage,’” Derek deadpans.

Stiles snorts under his breath in amusement. Then looks about himself thoughtfully, types in a string of letters and presses enter. Whatever he guessed, it isn’t correct.

“Maybe there’s a clue to his password somewhere, people often write them down,” Derek suggests.

Together they toss the room as best they can until Stiles whoops with excitement. “Here, in his underwear drawer.”

He’s holding up a list triumphantly and Derek takes it from him to look at it. There’s everything on this list from various passwords to the security code for the now destroyed burglar alarm.

“Okay, okay,” Stiles mutters, typing in the password. “Oh my god, my fingers are literally sticking to the keys. This is the grossest thing that has ever happened to me.”

Derek meanwhile is staring down at the list  with a growing feeling of apprehension. He didn’t get a good look at the alarm before Stiles destroyed it, but Ennis has written the make and model next to the alarm code, and it seems familiar. It--

“Uh-- Stiles,” he says, looking up, “We need to hurry.”

Stiles glances up at him, fingers still tapping away at the keyboard all the while. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“I recognize this security system. Pretty sure they used to use it at a bar I worked in a few years back. If it’s the one I’m thinking of the cameras and the alarm are linked together and the moment one of them stops working Ennis is gonna receive a message on his cellphone.”

Stiles stops typing and stares at him. “You’re sure?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Shit. Fuck.” He huffs out a sigh. “Okay, what’s the time?” He glances at the laptop. “The game is still on, it’ll be busy in the bar, or as busy as it ever gets. If we’re lucky he won’t notice the message straight away. Jesus, why does he have all this security stuff anyway? The place is a dump.”

“Stiles--”

“I know, I know. Okay. We split up. I’ll stay here and go through his emails and browser history. You go check out the outhouses, see what you can find. Meet me at the back entrance in ten.”

Derek nods, already out of the room before Stiles has finished speaking.

 

-

 

The outbuildings are mostly empty, one has tire tracks, it’s obviously used to store the pick-up. The other is filled with crates, old tins of turpentine and paint, rusting tools and what appears to be a makeshift shooting range. There are targets hung on the wall, each one riddled with bullets. When Derek prises open the lid of one of the crates, he finds three or four automatic shotguns, all clearly well cared for, and boxes full of ammo. There are also a couple of handguns. It doesn’t have to mean anything though, he tells himself. Plenty of people like guns.

Replacing the lid, he edges towards the back of the building, every sense straining, listening out for the telltale sound of a car in the distance. There’s an old word bench set up in the far corner and as he nears it his heart sinks. Set out on the bench are a half-empty box of shotgun shells and a ziploc bag filled with a familiar looking greyish purple powder. Wolfsbane. Ennis has clearly been trying to put together wolfsbane rounds. Grabbing the bag and the shells, he looks around a little wild now, is this the only bag? Are the other boxes in the crate by the entrance wolfsbane rounds too?

He’s about to start looking when he hears it: the angry rumble of a familiar car, distant, but getting closer all the time. He stuffs the bag into the half-empty box of shells, and, clutching it to his chest, he runs.

“Stiles!” he calls as he rounds the side of the outhouse, heading towards the backdoor of the house. “He’s here, he’s--” Stiles skids out the back door and collides with him, breathless and grim faced.

“Fuck!” he says, glancing down at what Derek’s holding. “Wolfsbane? Seriously? Shit! Is that all of it?”

“I don’t know,” Derek says. “I didn’t get to finish searching--”

“Fuck!” Stiles kicks the side of the house viciously. “We should try and find the rest, get it before--”

There’s the sound of gravel spraying everywhere as the pickup peels into the front yard.

“There’s no time,” Derek says lowly, “We have to go .”

Stiles grits his teeth in frustration, grabs Derek’s hand and they stand next to each other. He mutters, “One--”

On the other side of the building, car doors slam shut and they can hear Ennis saying, “-- been hanging out with that pussy son of yours and his no good--”

“Two--”

“Shit! Look at the damage to these cameras. Do you know how much these things--”

“Three-”

Hands clasped, they take a step forward, and the world around them fades out.

 

----

 

They reappear in Stiles apartment, and immediately Derek drops to his knees, trembling. The box with the wolfsbane and the bullets tumbling out of his grasp to the floor. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to travelling like that.

“Fuck, shit, motherfucker, fuck, shit--” Stiles swears under his breath.

“Did--” Derek pants, swallowing down bile. “Did you find anything?”

“Nothing good,” Stiles mutters and stalks across the living room to the kitchen. “I feel like I need a drink, do you want one?”

“Sure,” Derek takes a few deep breaths, watching as Stiles reaches up to the top shelf of a high cupboard and takes down a bottle of whiskey, his stomach roils. “Water. Just water.”

“It’s still messing with ya, huh?”

Derek nods, head swimming. Across from him, Stiles knocks back a shot and immediately pours himself another.

Scraping himself off the floor, Derek staggers to the couch and collapses onto it. “What did you find on the laptop?”

“Porn,” Stiles says, walking over to where Derek is sitting on the couch with two glasses. He hands the one containing water to Derek and knocks back his whiskey with a gulp.  “I mean I’m not judging, we all like what we like-- but a lot of porn. Lots of pale, freckled twinks being nailed by big, aggressive older guys. So-- well-- uh-- that wasn’t weird for me or anything,” he clears his throat, smiling weakly and takes a seat on the coffee table, facing Derek.

“What else?”

Running his tongue over his top lip, Stiles finally meets Derek’s eyes. “You were right, obviously, he’s worked it out. I mean, you probably guessed that when you found his wolfsbane stash. Best I can tell, after that incident in the grocery store where you flashed your eyes at him, he hit the internet hard, searched all kinds of crazy shit from rabid dogs to zombies and biological warfare. It didn’t take him long to stumble across werewolves-- ” he trails off, gnawing his lip, scent sour.

“Stiles--”

“He’s been on this website called itsallreal.com, it’s kind of like a conspiracy site. It has a lot of stuff about the supernatural, unexplained things. Real busy forums. There’s this whole page on werewolves, and, well, there’s a whole lot of horse shit on there, but some of it’s true, y’know? I think it might be run by hunters. Not that they believe everything that’s on there, but more like they’re luring people in? Using it as a way to track incidents. Anyway, it seems Ennis started posting on there, telling his story. Asking a lot of questions.”

Derek’s heart, already heavy, sinks further. “And?”

“Best I could tell this guy started messaging him. Asking him for more details, for proof. He sent--” Stiles looks uncomfortable, “Ennis sent pictures of you as a wolf. He must have taken them on his phone. He sent them to this dude. The guy seemed pretty interested.”

Derek’s head thuds back on the couch. “So this guy, this potential hunter, do we know his name?”

“He never uses it and the email address doesn’t give much away. But--” Stiles winces, “he signs every email ‘G.’”

“G?” Derek stares at him blankly.

Stiles shrugs, shifts uncomfortably. “From the little bit of research I managed earlier, I’m thinking it could be Gerard Argent.”

“Gerard?”

“Kate’s dad.”

“Shit.” Derek stares down at his hands.

“I mean it isn’t guaranteed. It could be some other hunting--”

“You don’t think it is, though--” Derek says looking at him.

Stiles shrugs. “I don’t know. It just-- it makes sense, I guess. Like maybe he feels he has unfinished business or--”

“Were you able to find anything about him online?”

“When I was researching earlier?” Stiles shakes his head. “No, just his name. Like I said, the Argent’s don’t give much away. The only clues we have are on the website and in the email he sent to Ennis. He brags a lot about how he’s taken down Alpha’s before, poisons them with wolfsbane. Strings them up. Hacks them in half with a broadsword.” Stiles winces. “Look,” he says, after a long moment. “I know earlier you said you were gonna stay but now we know what’s happening, if you wanted to leave--” His shoulders are slumped, defeated, and his scent is tinged with loneliness.

And maybe Derek should leave, a few weeks ago he would have packed his bags without hesitation for far less than this. He’s beginning to realize though, If he runs away now, that’ll be it, he’ll never stop running.

Besides, he likes Beacon Hills, he wants to stay with Stiles, wants to make a home with him and Boyd, Erica and Isaac, he desperately wants to put down some roots. Have a home-- a pack-- a family.

“God,” Stiles says, “Who am I kidding? You should definitely leave, Derek. This place is a shithole. It gets its claws into you and it never lets you go. If I could leave, I would, in heartbeat, and I’d never look back.”

And just like that, Derek knows what he has to do. He can’t run, but he can’t stay either, not in the long term, however much he wants to. Stiles has helped him time and time again, it’s long past time Derek reciprocated. Setting his jaw he asks, “How long have you lived in Beacon Hills?”

Stiles raises his head, lips pursed, and gives Derek a long, considering look. “All my life,” he says eventually.

“Okay--” Derek says, glancing round at the ancient books, the double frame with the faded photographs of people from a different time, the old, tarnished sheriffs badge, even the vast collection of game consoles that date back to before Derek was a kid. Boyd had spoken about a Beacon Hills that had been slowly fading for generations, but sometimes there’s something in the way Stiles speaks that makes Derek think he knew it in it’s glory days. Is that even possible?

“How old are you?” asks Derek.

“That’s--” Stiles scrubs a hand over his face and looks away. “That’s a really complicated question.”

“It’s okay,” Derek says, “You don’t have to tell me.” He leans forward in his chair. “I guess what I’m saying is, after we’ve dealt with Ennis and these hunters, whoever they are, I want you to know: we’re gonna find a way to set you free. I promise.”

Stiles sucks in a shaky breath, and meets Derek’s eyes, expression soft but also still kinda sad. “Yeah? You’d do that for me, huh?” It’s obvious he doesn’t believe him. Not really.

Reaching out, Derek tugs him forward off the coffee table, pulling him in until Stiles is sitting astride his lap. Stiles goes easily,sinking towards him with a helpless sigh, like he’s just as drawn to Derek as Derek is to him. “Yeah,” Derek says, tracing his nose along Stiles’ jawline. “Yeah, I would.”

“And then what?” Stiles voice is uncharacteristically quiet, neither happy nor sad, but with a slightly pleading edge to it and Derek wraps his arms around him tighter.

“And then, whatever you want.” He says it and means it. Even though, in many ways, the thought of more time on the road is anathema. “We can travel together. All those pictures you have up there. The Grand Canyon. New York. Europe. South America. Wherever you want to go.” He’s tired of travelling, his bones ache with it. Tired of running. Tired of never having a place to call home, of having no pack, no territory. Maybe though, if they can find a way to free Stiles, they could be home to each other. Maybe that would be enough.

“Really?” Stiles leans back a little, hands reaching up to cup Derek’s face.

“Anywhere,” Derek says. “I’d follow you anywhere.”

“That-- That sounds like a nice dream,” Stiles murmurs softly and Derek leans in to kiss him.

It starts off light and gentle, just a chaste brush of lips, that turns to another and another and then another. Derek runs his fingers up, under Stiles’ t-shirt running his hands across the smooth plane of his back, before they dip down into the back of his jeans and cup his ass, pulling him in closer, grinding their cocks together, and just like that it’s as though a switch has been pulled. Before long they’re exactly where they were this time yesterday, only this time it’s Derek pushed back into the couch cushions, as Stiles hovers above him, arms caging him in. They breathe heavily into each other’s mouths, rubbing up against each other through their jeans. Derek’s so hard, he’s aching with it and Stiles is making these little broken noises, half bitten gasps as he buries his face in the crook of Derek’s shoulder.

Derek’s two steps away from coming in his pants like a teenager when Stiles’ phone starts ringing.

“Shit,” Stiles says, face flushing as his head drops to Derek’s chest. “Shit,” he says again as he reaches for his phone and scrambles to his feet in one movement. “I’ll take this call, you head into the bedroom,” he hisses at Derek, hands making a shooing motion with his hands. “And FYI,  if I find a wolf in my bed when I come in there I’m gonna be really pissed.”

Derek lets his head thunk back on to the couch and takes a moment to breath.

“Hello,” he hears Stiles says say, “Erica? Is that you?”

“Where are you?” Comes Erica’s voice over the phone. “I tried calling earlier, and I knocked on your door. You didn’t answer. You know what? Never mind. Probably off banging Miguel, and I can’t even blame you.”

“Erica--”

Derek gets to his feet, as he makes his way into the bedroom, he can hear Erica over the phone saying, “Listen, did you see Fluffy today? He didn’t turn up this morning and the guys haven’t seen him at the bakery either.”

Derek’s working the belt loose on his jeans when it hits him like a ton of bricks that she’s talking about him. He scowls. They never seem to use a name to his face. Erica always calls him ‘mutt’ and Boyd calls him ‘boy,” so where has Fluffy---

He swears under his breath-- that one time in the grocery store with Ennis and Stiles.

Motherfucker.

Has Stiles been telling people that’s his name ?

He pauses as he undresses, jean-clad knees knocking against the end of the bed. From the living room he can hear Stiles say, “Maybe he just found somewhere else to go. He’ll show up tomorrow, Erica, you’ll see.”

“You think?” she says. “Boyd said that, but I’m worried for him. I have a bad feeling.”

“I get that,” Stiles clicks his tongue sympathetically. “But it’s just been one day. If he doesn’t show up tomorrow we’ll start asking round,  maybe make a few phone calls.”

“I don’t--” Erica pauses, then sighs. “Fine,” she says bullishly. “Okay. You’ll help me?”

“Yeah! Of course!”

“Fine,” she says, but she doesn’t sound happy.

“Alright, night Erica.” Stiles says, but she’s already hung up.

With an amused sigh, Derek peels off his t-shirt, and folds it neatly, placing it on the bed. Through a crack in the curtains he sees the window is slightly open and the cool night air across the bare skin of his back makes him shiver. The full moon is only a night or so away, and he can feel the pull of it in his veins, making his blood sing.

“I swear,” Stiles calls to him, as he walks down the hallway toward the bedroom. “One day you don't turn up and she wants to organize a search party. When Erica gets an idea in her head she is the most persistent--” Stiles makes this funny little gut-punched noise, and all of a sudden is heart is beating wild and erratic in his chest.

Derek turns to look at him. He’s standing in the doorway and his eyes are dark, they look huge against his pale skin, one hand reaching up to claps the silver acorn charm on the chain around his neck. “Are you okay?” Derek says, taking a step forward. “Stiles?”

He doesn't respond. Just keeps staring at Derek.

"Stiles," Derek says again.

“Mieczyslaw,” Stiles says eventually, still staring at Derek like he’s seen a ghost. 

“What?”

Stiles blinks, seems to steady himself, but he still looks shaken. “My real name. My real name is Mieczyslaw.”

Chapter Text

Beacon County, 1876. Thunder rolls overhead; all around him the trees creak and moan, bending as the wind whips through their branches. Rain falls so thick and fast that it’s almost impossible to see and the dirt track which leads into the forest is now slick mud that seems to bubble as the rain hits it. John Stilinski urges his horse, Roscoe, onwards, head bent low against the squall.

Deputy Parrish is a little ways behind him, and when John glances back to check, he sees that Parrish’s horse, Jericho, always more highly strung, is tossing his head fearfully, hooves slipping and sliding in the silt as Parrish struggles to steady him. John tugs on Roscoe’s reins bringing him to a stop under the shelter of a nearby oak tree and waits for Parrish to catch up. Beneath him he feels Roscoe quivering, moving restlessly. Lightning cracks above them, throwing the trees into eerie relief. It causes Roscoe to startle and John leans forward to soothe him, patting his mane and whispering, “You’re okay, boy. I’m here. I’m here.”

“It’s no good,” Parrish calls as he reaches him, one hand clamped to his hat, holding it tight to his head as the wind tries to wrench it off. “This isn’t a natural storm; it’s too strong, it came on too sudden. We have to turn back and find shelter. Penelope Martin’s place is a mile back--” His words are almost lost in the howl of the wind, but John gets the gist.

Parrish is a great guy and an excellent deputy. His talents as a hellhound have become invaluable to John over the last five years. More than anything, though, Parrish is a good friend. They get on well, and they work together seamlessly. John respects him, trusts his judgement. In any other situation he’d be agreeing. On any other day he’d turn back without question and wait for the storm to pass.

But that isn’t an option tonight. Not for John.

“You go back,” John shouts back, gesturing behind them. “Take the horses to the Martin place. Wait out the storm. I have to go on!”

“Sheriff--”

“As soon as it eases find Tara! She can help you track us.” Tara Graeme works at Beacon Hills general store, and is also the town’s resident werebear. She’s good people, if a little prickly at times. Still, she won’t hesitate to help, she has the best sense of smell in town and the extra muscle could prove useful.

“But-- it’s too dangerous. How will you find them? And what will you do even if you do?” Rain gathers on the brim of Parrish’s hat, it runs in little rivulets off the dip at the front as he stares at John, eyes wide and serious. He doesn’t want to leave John alone out here and John gets that, he’s grateful for the sentiment, but there isn’t time: every second counts.

“You don’t worry about me,” John says, leaning over and grasping Parrish by the arm. “I know I’m only human, but I didn’t survive this long as Sheriff of a town like Beacon Hills without a few tricks up my sleeve.”

To his credit Parrish hesitates, there’s a moment where John wonders if he’s going to stay and argue, or even offer to keep going, it’s there in the grim expression on his face and the way he holds his shoulders.

“You know I’m right, Parrish.”

“I--Okay--” Parrish is reluctant, jaw set in a tight line.

“Here.” John says. Quickly dismounting he grabs the lead rope that’s tied to his saddle and fusses around Roscoe, securing it before offering the other end to Parrish. “Take Roscoe and Jericho back as best you can. We can’t take them any further tonight.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I know, and I’m not asking you to, but I have to do this, Parrish. It’s--It’s Stiles.”

Parrish stares at him, and whatever he sees in John’s eyes must convince him. Reluctantly he reaches out, hand closing around the rope. With a grim smile he says, “Good luck, sir. I hope you find them in time.”

“I will, don’t you worry about that. Just make sure you come back with reinforcements.”

Parrish tips his hat and spurs Jericho back down the muddy track, the collar of his coat pulled up against the rain, Roscoe plodding on behind.

John watches him go until the driving rain blocks him from view, then he turns, setting his face toward the forest. Instinctively he reaches down and pats his gun, feels the cool, reassuring weight of it hanging at his side. It’s been twenty-five years since he first arrived in Beacon Hills. Twenty since he took on the post of Sheriff, and he’s seen a lot of strange shit in that time. Met people he never woulda thought he existed outside myth or legend, people who can do amazing things. Scary things.

Most of them are good people.

People he has sworn to protect.

Most but not all.

Tonight there will be a reckoning.

“I don’t know where you are,” he murmurs under his breath, “Or if you can still hear me but, Claudia, our son is in trouble-- he’s in trouble, and he needs our help.”

At the sound of her name the wind picks up, it screams through the branches and the ground beneath his feet trembles.

 

-

 

“I don’t understand. Why would you tell me that?” Derek asks, taking a step towards Stiles. “Why would you tell me your real name?”

He doesn’t know much about the fae, but names are sacred. They’re powerful. This means something. He isn’t sure what exactly, but he knows it’s significant.

Stiles shifts from foot to foot, looking down and away, and for once Derek can’t read him at all. Chemo signals should allow him to get some sense of what Stiles is feeling, but there’s so much confused emotion bleeding off Stiles at the moment that Derek can’t unpick it to make sense of it.

“Stiles--”

With a deep breath, Stiles meets his eyes and shrugs, chin tilted up, stubborn. “You told me yours,” he says, which is no kind of answer at all.

“Look--” Derek moves a step closer. “You can’t just tell me your name and then brush it off. What’s going on?”

“I--”

“Tell me.” Derek takes another step. “If something’s wrong, I want to help you. We have each other’s backs, remember? You’re helping me with the hunters and then I’m gonna help free you. We’re gonna be together. We’re a team.”

“I know that,” Stiles says, crossing his arms, shoulders hunched. “Look--It’s-- Think of it as my gift to you. I want you to know it. I’ve wanted you to know it for a while.”

His heartbeat is fast, but it doesn’t skip a beat. He’s telling the truth, or part of it.

There’s more to this though, that much is obvious.

“Stiles--”

“Can you just-- Can you just trust me on this?” he says, throwing his hands up in frustration.

Derek folds his arms across his chest, letting Stiles' words rest between them. Then he says quietly, “I think it’s pretty clear that I trust you.

All at once, Stiles seems to deflate, he swallows, hard. “Don’t be like that--okay? I do trust you, I do, it’s just--” He scrubs a hand over his face. “Maybe I’m freaked out, okay? Maybe I am. Can you blame me? I--I really-- I really care about you, and that’s-- that’s difficult for me.” He starts to pace the small strip of floor between the doorway and Derek. “Everyone leaves okay? Everyone. Every single person I’ve ever really cared about is dead or gone. And I’ve spent my whole life dreaming about leaving this garbage town. Years. Years, Derek. Stuck here, and then you come along--” he gestures broadly. “And we get on, y’know? Like, we really click. I like you, and I don’t want to lose you to this--”

It’s clear he’s getting more and more agitated, so, reaching out with one hand Derek grabs his arm and pulls him forward into his arms, cutting him off with a kiss. Stiles gives into it immediately with a gentle sigh. When they finally pull apart, Derek strokes the pad of his thumb along Stiles’ cheek in a gentle caress and watching as his eyes flutter shut at the contact. “I’m not leaving,” Derek says, “I promise. I’m gonna stay here until I can find a way for you to leave too.”

“You like this place, though,” Stiles says, sadly. “You feel a connection with it, don’t you?”

Derek does like this place. Feels more at home in Beacon Hills than he's felt anywhere in a long time. Still, if it's a choice between Beacon Hills and Stiles? “I like you more,” he says, truthfully.

“But--”

“I told you, once we deal with Ennis I’ll find a way to free you, and then--”

“Okay-” Stiles says, reaching out he places his palm on Derek's chest, right over his heart. His voice sounds soft, almost fragile in the quiet of the room. “Okay.”

“You don’t believe me?”

Stiles’ golden-brown eyes look impossibly big as he stares at Derek. “No. Just the opposite actually. I do,” he says, with an odd little smile. “I do believe you. If anyone can find a way to free me, I think it's you.” He isn’t lying.

“Then--”

“I just get in my own head I guess. Y’know? Like there’s so many thoughts swirling around in there. I get anxious, thinking about the worst case scenarios, and it all--” Stiles waves his hand. “spirals--”

Derek gets it though, or he thinks he does. There have been too many nights where he's wished he could quiet his own mind. Even if Stiles isn't willing to tell him what precipitated this crisis, Derek still wants to help him. It's a big thing, strange new territory: to be so attached, to care so much, to trust so completely. And he does trust Stiles, not just with his life but with his heart, too. If Stiles isn't ready to talk to him yet, then Derek will wait until he is. “Well,” he says, “what can I do to help?”

“Can we just-- Can you--” Stiles cuts himself off, takes a deep breath, then says, “Kiss me?”

Derek can’t deny him. He leans in, makes it soft though, chaste, nothing but the press of dry lips, a tender gesture. He feels Stiles tremble at the contact. When he pulls back, Stiles' eyes are dark and getting darker.

“Again,” he says. “Please.”

Derek tries to keep it gentle, wants to offer solace, comfort. Doesn’t want to push Stiles when something is so clearly bothering him. Stiles doesn’t want gentle though, he clutches at Derek, bitten-to-the-quick nails digging into Derek’s forearms. He takes the gentle and gives it back harder, deeper, more desperate. He pushes at Derek’s chest with the flat of his palm, forcing him to walk backward to the edge of the bed.

“Okay. Okay. What do you want?” Derek says against his lips. “Tell me what you want.”

“I don’t want to have to think,” Stiles says. “I just-- I don’t want to have to think any more. Just for a bit--”

“Okay,” Derek murmurs, “Okay, I can do that.” With one last kiss, he puts his palms on Stiles’ chest, pushing him back a step, then slowly he drops to his knees.

“Holy shit,” Stiles mutters, staring down at him, almost reverently. He’s hard, Derek can see the outline of his cock pressing against his jeans, can smell arousal in the air. Reaching forward he gently unzips Stiles’ jeans and eases them gently down over his hips; he’s wearing Batman underwear, and Derek looks up at Stiles one eyebrow raised.

“Shut-up,” Stiles says, blushing faintly. “Batman is awesome.”

“Never said he wasn’t,” Derek says, nosing gently at the crease of Stiles thigh, where his musky scent is strongest. “Even though Wolverine is definitely better.”

“Do not--” Stiles sucks in a ragged breath as Derek begins to mouth at him through his underwear. “Don’t--oh god-- tell me I’ve been crushing on a Marvel fan all this--shit--time.”

“Any reason why I can’t like Marvel and DC?” Derek says  hands easing Stiles’ underwear down gently over his cock as it strains upwards.

“I don’t--uhhhnnnn.” Whatever Stiles was going to say is lost as Derek finally takes him into his mouth.

He’s thick and hot on Derek’s tongue, skin velvet soft and salty. The feel of him, the taste-- it’s overwhelming, and as Derek starts to move, taking him in deeper, he can feel his own cock chafing against his jeans, and with a muffled moan he reaches a hand down between his own legs and presses his palm against it.

Above him, Stiles has his hands lightly on Derek’s hair; he’s making little breathy sounds, and muttering curses, hips moving in abortive little thrusts, but Derek wants more, so he leans back releasing Stiles’ cock with a pop and says, “You don’t have to hold back, okay? I can take it.” Before taking Stiles back in his mouth.

That’s all the encouragement Stiles needs to let go. His hands twist in Derek’s hair as he starts to thrust his hips in earnest. Derek lets himself get lost in it, the slick sounds, the gasps, the sweet ache of his jaw as he lets himself be used. The scent pouring off Stiles, warm and spicy and rich.

When Stiles’ pace finally stutters, and he spills into Derek’s mouth with a silent shout it seems to take them both by surprise.

Stiles pulls out of a moment later and Derek sags forward, resting his forehead against Stiles’ hip, catching his breath, still grinding his own dick against his palm as Stiles breathes heavily above him. After a moment he taps Derek on the shoulder. “Up he says, all flushed and bright eyed. “Get up, I wanna do that for you--” he gestures to where Derek’s touching himself.

When Derek gets to his feet, Stiles immediately pulls him in for a long kiss. “Thank-you,” he mumbles, one eager hand pushing Derek’s jeans down, even as the other dips into Derek’s underwear and wraps around the length of him, working him in quick strokes.

Derek isn’t even embarrassed at how quickly he comes, only grateful that this time, at least, he isn’t wearing a t-shirt.

Afterwards, Stiles kisses him sweetly and then leads him by the hand into the bathroom and they shower together, and it takes twice as long as it might have done if they showered individually, but Derek can’t help but think it’s so much better like this. 

Later, much later, they lie together on Stiles’ bed, naked, curled under the blankets facing each other like a pair of parentheses, not saying much, letting the silence breathe between them. Stiles seems calmer for the moment, as he smirks lazily at Derek, sated and happy. For his part, Derek feels tired now, can feel his eyes drifting shut, but he fights to keep them open, wants to stay in this moment a while longer.

“What was the worst thing you ever did as a kid?” Stiles asks eventually.

“I don’t know,” Derek says, with a frown. “I was a pretty good kid.”

“I bet you were,” Stiles says, squinting at him. “A little angel, I can totally see it.”

“I jumped off the roof of our house once,” Derek admits. “Broke both my legs, and cracked a couple of ribs. Mom was pretty pissed.”

Stiles huffs out a laugh. “Any particular reason?”

“Laura,” Derek ducks his head. “she was six, maybe seven? She’d just finished reading Peter Pan--was totally convinced it was real, and kinda railroaded me into believing that she knew how we could fly. She made fairy dust out of-- well, I think it turned out to be glitter and cayenne pepper, but I didn’t know that at the time. We both climbed out of her bedroom window, and up onto the roof. She sprinkled it over both our heads. Then we were supposed to think of happy thoughts and jump--”

Stiles just looks at him-- “And--”

“And I did. She had a change of heart at the last minute. My mom was not pleased.”

“I bet--” he smiles, small but happy.

“What about you?” Derek asks, barely stifling a yawn, as he feels a bone deep tiredness creep over him.

“So much stuff. It’s difficult to pick just one. My dad used to say I had a gift for finding trouble.”

“Tell me one story then,” Derek says with a sleepy smile. “Just one.”

“Umm-” Stiles scrunches his face up thoughtfully. “I used to skip school all the time, because I didn’t like the teacher.”

“Rebel.”

Stiles smirks. “Not really. Uhhhh-- let me think. Oh okay. Once I stole my dad’s horse and tried to make it across the border to Mexico. I think I was, like, eight or maybe nine”

“How far did you get?”

“Not far. I made it into town and Tara-- she used to live around here, the werebear, I mentioned her, remember? She found me and called my dad.”

“And--”

“And I got in a whole heap of trouble.”

“I bet.”

“Yup. Full of mischief, even then.”

“Mischief,” Derek murmurs, reaching out and tracing along the high arch of Stiles’ cheekbone with his finger, and then along the moles that dot his cheek, connecting them one by one. Despite the drama of the day, despite the imminent threat of Ennis and the possibility of hunters, like this he feels safe, content. “Mischief,” he says again, and then, quieter, “Mieczyslaw.”

Stiles shudders, a fine tremor under Derek’s hand, his pupils expanding rapidly. Reaching out he gently presses a finger to Derek’s lips, shushing him gently, and Derek can feel his eyes slipping shut, sleep beckoning to him

It’s a while later, and he’s almost lost himself to sleep when Stiles says lowly, “That name-- it’s for you but not for now. It’s for when you need me. Say my name and I’ll hear you. I’ll come for you-- you understand?” And Derek’s almost too tired to respond. He thinks he tries to nod, but he can’t be completely sure. “Derek? Do you understand?”

“Okay,” Derek mumbles, through the fog of his own tiredness. “Okay.”

The rhythmic pitpat of Stiles’ heart soothes him like a lullaby he finally loses consciousness.

 

-

 

It’s the tree in the forest that attracts them, the big one that stands alone, with a trunk as thick as a train car, it’s branches spreading lush, green and welcoming. The Nemeton, Claudia had called it. She’d tried to explain it to him once. Told him it called to the magic in them: fae or shifter, witch or druid-- they all heard it, felt its power thrumming through the ground, humming in the air around them, nurturing them. Embracing them.

The tree and the land around it are sacred.

John is reliably informed that there are not many places on God’s earth where you could see a witch, a werebear and a banshee living in the same town , let alone drinking together in one bar without some kind of ruckus.

It’s the Nemeton that settles them, protects them. Under it’s shelter, Beacon Hills is a safe haven for all kinds of supernatural beings and humans alike.

Or at least it was, now John isn’t so sure.

The first body, Father James, a young man and priest at the local church, had turned up six months ago, and two more bodies had followed in the days after. The last a young girl of only fifteen.

The town was in uproar.

Beacon Hills was a peaceable town, for the most part. Sure, there was the occasional incident; even with the Nemeton’s influence you had to allow for the fact that sometimes people would drink too much liquor and get argumentative. Only difference being in Beacon Hills people might try and settle things with claws or a well aimed fireball, as well as the more traditional fists or guns.

Still, though, those incidents were rare, and nothing like this. These bodies were laid out in odd poses, the blood drained, and then strange marks cut into the skin. This wasn’t killing done by accident, in a fit of temper or drunken posturing. This was something else.

For two or three weeks John worked himself to the bone trying to figure out who had done it, or even why. But after the third murder, things went quiet,  the trail went cold, and he was forced to consider whether the culprit had moved on.

After all, there hadn’t been any other murders. Three in three days and then nothing..

Well-- not nothing.

The atmosphere in town was different, tense. People were on edge. In the three weeks after the murders John broke up more fights than he had to in the past two years combined.

It’s a bad sign. John can feel it in his bones.

A month to the day after the first body was discovered, another body shows up and the next day another, same MO as before: awkwardly posed, blood drained, skin mutilated. Then this morning John had been called out to investigate a third. A young woman, Angie Harris, new in town. He hadn’t spoken to her, but  everyone he talks to says she was nice, unassuming, no trouble. Now she’s staring up at him, pupils fixed, body stiff and cold, mouth open in a silent scream.

The third body in three days, the sixth total. People are gonna want answers, and increasingly, John  is realizing he has none to give them.

 

-

 

“You hear about that fight that broke out at Palmer’s last night?” Stiles asks later that evening. He’s preparing dinner, while John sits hunched over the table, staring down at a mess of papers. “Owen Nash beat seven shades of shit out of a kitsune who rolled into town yesterday.”

John hadn’t just heard about it. He’d been called in to break it up. “Owen Nash is a sour old goat,” he mutters. “Always complainin’ about something.”

“I think you’ll find he’s a werewolf, not a goat. Even though I now kinda want weregoat to be a thing.” Stiles says, as he places a bowl down on the table in front of him. “Eat your dinner.”

John picks up his spoon and pokes at the food suspiciously. “Beans again?” he says.

“They’re good for you.”

“Not good for anyone. This place won’t be fit to be lived in if we keep eatin’ like this-- the smell of gas alone--” Stiles raises an eyebrow at him and John shuts his mouth. Then, after a couple of seconds he whines, “ Dang it, Stiles, I hadda long day and I want some meat.”

But Stiles is well used to his complaining. Ignoring him he places his own bowl on the table and takes a seat opposite. “Bad business,” Stiles says, gesturing with his spoon at the papers, all the notes John has on the murders recorded in his painstaking chicken scratch.

“Yup. It is that.” With a deep sigh John takes a mouthful of beans and chews. Swallows. He can’t seem to get a handle on what’s happening. Can’t work out why it’s happening, and he feels sure if he could work out why than the who would follow naturally. Not that he wants to discuss it with Stiles in any detail. Stiles has a long history of poking his nose into dangerous business unasked, it’s a miracle he’s made it to twenty-three to be honest.

Across from him, Stiles picks up one of the sketches Parrish made of the wounds found on the most recent body, Angie Harris, and scowls down at it. “So this is from the second group of three, right? And the other two were a werewolf and a--”

Leaning over, John plucks the paper out of Stiles’ hand. “What it is, is none of your business.”

Stiles chooses to ignore him, and instead says, “I feel like the fact they’re in threes is significant. Was there anything that connects the first three victims?”

“A priest, a seamstress, and a spark?” John snorts, in spite of himself, “If you can think of anything, tell me, because I can’t. Two out of three are human. Two out of three are women. I can’t seem to get one thing that connects all three of them. They moved in different circles. Had different friends. Different interests. Other than livin’ in Beacon Hills there ain’t much that connects them, and the little there is doesn’t fit for all three.” He snaps his mouth shut, realizing he’s said too much, and narrows his eyes at Stiles, who is listening with rapt attention.

Goddammit.

Staring off into the middle distance, Stiles purses his lips, deep in thought.

When he doesn’t speak, John decides to turn his attention back to his food, and introduce a change of subject. Through a mouthful of beans he says, “Did you hear talk in the--”

“Virgins.” Stiles all but shouts, banging his spoon down against the table in excitement. John nearly chokes on his beans.

“‘Scuse me now?” he manages, as Stiles gets out of his chair and scuttles around the table to bang him on the back.

“I said,” Stiles continues, once he’s recovered. “I think the first three were all virgins.”

“Yeah! I heard you-- how'd ya figure?”

“Gracie Andrews, an old maid, seamstress, very pious, lived with her brother all her life, never married, the whole town knows this,” Stiles checks them off on his fingers as he talks. “Father James was a deeply religious man and unmarried .” He looks significantly at John.

“You’re naive, son, if you think that just because someone’s single or a priest they haven’t--”

“So that leaves the Spark, Annie, only fifteen and definitely not courtin’.”

The thing is. He has a point. It’s a stretch, sure, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

“Okay.” John says eventually, huffing out a sigh. “Okay. Let’s say you’re right. Let’s say that they were all virgins and that’s why someone killed ‘em. This next batch of three, they ain’t virgins, I know for a fact at least two of ‘em had kids.”

“So,” Stiles says, “Then the next batch of three were chosen for some other reason-- we just gotta figure out the connection.” He leans over the table to examine the papers. “What about these symbols that are carved into the skin? Anyone know what they mean?” He picks up the sketch of Annie’s wounds again and stares at it. “Because I have some books, I could take a look an--”

“No!” John snatches it from his grasp and gathers the papers together irritably, scowling at his son. “Doc Deaton is lookin’ into this for me.”

“Yeah but--”

“ You--” He gestures at his son, “Stay out of it.”

“What about--”

“Im serious, son. If’n I find you’ve been snoopin’ around looking into this, you and I are gonna have a fallin’ out the likes of which you cannot imagine. This whole business is dangerous. It’s trouble and you already attract trouble like horseshit attracts flies.”

“Pa--”

“I know you wanna help, son. I do. And I appreciate it. But let’s be honest, whatever did this already killed six people, including a werewolf and a spark, what hope do you have?” It’s cruel to say it, he knows. Stiles has some measure of magical ability because of his mother, but it’s raw and undeveloped, too unpredictable to be useful. John doesn’t want him anywhere near this.

Stiles frowns, opening his mouth to argue, but one look at his father’s face and he seems to change his mind. “You know who I don’t trust?” he says, changing tack lightning fast. “That new school teacher. She showed up a couple of weeks before that first murder, and I gotta bad feelin’ about her.”

John snorts. “I’ve yet to meet the school teacher you had a good feelin’ about. Remember Mr. Harris?”

“You never trust my instincts,” Stiles continues, ignoring him. “but think about all the times I’ve--”

“I swear you drove that man to drink.”

“I didn’t drive him to anything,” Stiles says mulishly. “He was a mean-spirited, ignorant, tyrant who--”

“Nevermind that, nevermind that,” John says,  “My point is. You leave Julia Baccari alone. She’s a nice young lady. Well educated, sweet natured, kind and, more to the point, human. You tryin’ to suggest she took out a werewolf? Or even the Father James? There’s no way she did this.”

“Fine,” Stiles says in clipped tones, turning away, jaw set, stubborn.

John sighs. he’s never known that look to mean anything good.

This isn’t going to end well.

He can already tell.

 

-

 

When Derek wakes, the sun is high in the sky and the bed next to him is empty. He shifts uncomfortably, back aching after a night spent on a too soft mattress. Turning his head to check the time on the alarm clock, he sees a note propped up against it.

It reads:

Gone to work. Text me when you wake. Stay here. Help yourself to food etc… STAY HERE, S x

The last ‘stay here’ is written in capitals and underlined five times. Derek flops back onto the bed, note clutched between his fingers, staring at it. It wasn’t as if he was planning to go anywhere, but, he reluctantly admits to himself, it’s kind of nice that Stiles cares enough to lecture him about it, not that he’d ever admit that aloud.

With a sigh, he places the note back on the bedside table. According to the alarm clock it’s three PM. Something about being in Stiles’ room obviously settles him enough to sleep well, even with the imminent threat of Ennis and the hunters. He buries his face in the pillow, and takes a deep breath. It still smells of last night, of Stiles, of them. Given the choice he would laze here all day in the stink of it, but he should probably get up and at least try to eat. He thinks guiltily of Boyd and Isaac who were probably waiting for him to arrive at the bakery that morning. Thinks with a pang of Erica’s worried phone call last night. He misses them, it’s only been a day or so, but he feels it like a physical ache in his chest.

There’s no way he can risk the exposure of going to the bakery as a wolf though, and while Ennis hadn’t sent any pictures of Derek as a man to his hunter contact, Derek’s certain he suspects something, he’s been watching Stiles’ apartment building, that much is obvious. He must realize that Derek has been in there, must know that Derek is new in town. He’s probably put two and two together.

With a disgruntled sigh, Derek  scrapes himself out of bed, dresses, and then wanders the flat trying to look for his phone. He eventually finally finds it wedged between the arm of the couch and the cushions; the screen is blank--the battery dead. Finding his duffel bag he digs the charger out and plugs it in, turning it on, so he can text Stiles.

Awake, he sends.

A response comes through almost immediately:

Lazy bones. Can’t believe you only just woke up and I had to work

Derek’s about to reply, but another text comes through almost immediately.

BTW, I was thinking

I might go back to Ennises place after I finish up here

Why?

That’s a terrible idea

He pauses and thinks about it for a second, then types

I’ll come with you

No

NO

DEFINITELY NOT

Too dangerous

You stay there

I can get there and back real quick

If it’s dangerous for me, it’s dangerous for you

I thought we were going to have each other’s backs

We are

Okay

I’ll level with you

Last night I couldn’t sleep. So I got up and checked out the bag of wolfsbane you found and the bullets you took from Ennis’ place

The stuff in the shotgun shells is trailing white monkshood. The stuff in the bag is Nordic blue

Different strains!!!!

Which means the bag you found isn’t their only supply of wolfsbane

We should try and find out if they have any more

So we can be prepared

How can you even tell?

Which strain is which I mean?

I don’t know if you noticed, dude, but plants are kinda my thing ;)

Let me come with you

NO

STAY

Was that a dog joke?

Would I do that?

I think we both know the answer to that

Okay okay. Seriously though. Stay IN THE HOUSE. Call me if you need me

And Derek doesn’t like it, but what can he do? With a deep sigh he types in a reply.

K

Gonna go make breakfast

Breakfast?

It’s  3:30!!!!!

I hate you

Derek sends him three heart eye emojis, because he knows it’ll make him smile. Then he tucks the phone on a bookshelf between one of the ancient grimoires and a plant, so it can charge, before disappearing into the kitchen to rustle up some food. It’s difficult to settle though, everything is a waiting game now. He doesn’t know exactly what Ennis’ next move is gonna be. He doesn’t know when hunters are gonna show up.  He just knows that it’s going to happen and if he isn’t going to run than he has to prepare himself for it.

It’s 4pm and he’s half way through a bacon sandwich when there’s a loud knock at the door. Derek freezes, sandwich halfway to his mouth, before placing it slowly on his plate and padding quietly across the room to take a look through the peephole. Boyd is standing in the hallway, as Derek watches he raises his fist and pounds on the door again.

Taking a deep breath, Derek opens it.

“Sti-- oh, Miguel, hey, man. Is Stiles there?”

Derek shakes his head. “At work.”

“Shit.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he runs a hand through close shaved hair. “No. I’m not. I don’t suppose you’ve seen Erica?”

“Erica? No. Why?”

“We were supposed to meet for lunch today and she never showed. Also, she’s not answering her phone.” He scrubs a hand over his face and sighs.

“When, uh,” Derek feels like a cold hand has his stomach in a tight grip. “When did you last speak to her?”

“She dropped by the bakery this morning, around nine? Nine thirty? She had some flyers she’d made up and she wanted us to post one in the window.”

“Flyers?”

“Lost dog,” he shrugs. “It’s a long story.”

“And no one’s heard from her since?”

“Nope. She was supposed to be working at the coffee shop this afternoon but she never showed up. I’m kinda worried. She has epilepsy, what if she’s had a seizure, or--?”

“I’ll help you look for her,” Derek says,  already tugging on his jacket and shoving his feet into his boots. Crouching down he laces them up. If anything has happened to her-- If she's come to harm because of him, he'll never forgive himself.

“Thanks, man” Boyd says. “I’ve just been by to check her apartment, and it’s empty, but I mean, maybe if we split up--”

“No,” Derek cuts him off firmly. “We’ll stick together. If we go back to the bakery I can track her from there.

“Track her?” Boyd says doubtfully. “We’re in town, not the woods.”

“It’s--” Derek takes in a deep breath. He needs a plausible lie, but he can’t think of one. “I’m gonna have to ask you to trust me,” he says. “I swear I can help you find her.”

Boyd hesitates, meeting Derek’s pleading gaze with his own steady, appraising one. The one that Derek’s drawn so much comfort from in the last few months. “Okay,” he says, eventually. “Okay. I trust you.”

“Thank-you,” Derek says, pulling on his leather jacket. “Right, lets go.” The door of Stiles’ apartment shuts behind him with click as he follow Boyd down the corridor to the stairs.

Chapter Text

At the sound of her name, the ground trembles and the wind howls but John isn’t afraid; even now, in the distance but getting closer all the time he can see tiny pinpricks of light racing towards him. They look like fireflies, but he knows better. Closer and closer they get, darting through the trees towards him with playful curiosity, heedless of the storm. Eventually, they zip around behind him, and he turns to watch them as they tumble and whirl giddily through the air above his head. They’re so close he can feel the heat coming off them, despite the lashing rain. Eventually they slow to a stop, hovering right in front of him, then, as he watches, they coalesce into one, bright glowing sun, small but perfectly formed-- if he wanted to, he could reach out and cup it in the palm of his hand.

John sucks in a breath. “There you are,” he mutters, smiling. With one hand he reaches out slowly and the light bumps gently against his fingertips; immediately, gentle heat starts to spread through him, from the tips of his fingers, down his arm, spreading outwards until he feels warm and tingly all over.

It’s still raining, but none of the rain is hitting him, the wind is still bending the trees either side of him, but it isn’t so much as ruffling the hair on his head-- his clothes which had been soaked and clinging to him are now dry.

“It’s been too long,” he says, with a knowing smile. “You ol’ flirt you.”

The light vibrates and hums against his fingers.

“I know, I know, but our son is in trouble. He’s somewhere in these woods and I need your help to find him.”

With one last lingering nudge against  his fingertips, the light takes off through the woods, pausing a few yards ahead of him as if to say, “Well? Are you coming?”

“Yeah,” John says. All at once he’s reminded of the first time he followed this same light through the woods over two decades ago. That night he’d met the one great love of his life, a whirlwind romance followed in the weeks after, the imprint of which had stayed with him ever since in the form of Stiles, who had arrived in a bassinet on his doorstep months after the Fairy Court had left California, with a note attached which read simply: Ours, C x .

John never regretted his choices, not then, not ever. Sure, he’s been lonely at times, there have been times when it’s been difficult to raise a child without their mother. Mostly though, he takes the view that he’s grateful to have known her, grateful to have had Stiles, grateful for the day he he found Beacon Hills and all the strange and wonderful people that live there. Claudia was, is , the great love of his life, he doesn’t get to see much of her, but he’s a Stilinski, and they’ve always been one and done kinda folk. He figures some people live ordinary lives, they meet the girl next door, settle down and never move away from the town they grew up in, they grow old together and then they die. Some people get that-- and some people don’t-- you play the hand you’re dealt, there’s no point complain’ about it.

Besides, whenever he’s really needed Claudia, she’s never let him down.

“Okay,” he says, “I’m comin’. But I’m not as young as I used to be, y’know?”

The light bobs once-- an acknowledgement. Then it continues onwards at a slightly slower pace, it’s golden, syrupy-soft glow illuminating the path ahead.

 

-

 

“Wait!” Derek reaches out and catches hold of Boyd’s arm.

“What?”

They’re standing in the stairwell on the third floor of Erica and Stiles’ apartment building. Edging close to the window but not standing directly in front of it, Derek risks looking down at the street below. There’s a black SUV with tinted windows parked a little ways down the street. It screams ‘hunter’. They’re waiting for him, but how much do they know? Ennis had sent them pictures of him in wolf form, would they recognize him as a human? He can’t be sure, and he can’t risk it.

Standing next to him, Boyd follows the direction of his gaze. “You know those guys?” Boyd asks.

“It’s a long story.”

“Is it a story I should know?”

“I--” Derek hesitates. “Is there anyway we can get to the bakery that avoids going past them?”

Pursing his lips, Boyd lets out a sigh. “Yeah,” he says eventually. “We can go to Erica’s apartment and climb out the window at the back and down the fire escape. I have a key.”

“Let’s go.”

Boyd reaches out and catches him by the arm. “I’m gonna need an explanation,” he says, voice carefully neutral. “It doesn’t have to be right now,” he continues when Derek opens his mouth to respond. “But soon, okay?”

“Okay,” Derek says, because there isn’t really anything else he can say.

Boyd leads them down the rickety fire escape and away from the hunters, through a network of backstreets and grimy alleyways that Derek barely recognizes, and towards the bakery. Beacon Hills, never the busiest town, is quiet enough, but even so Derek finds himself flinching every time he hears a car pass by. He walks quickly, head ducked low to avoid eye contact with the few people they pass.

It’s a relief when they finally turn a corner that leads somewhere familiar. It’s the alleyway behind the bakery, but they’re approaching it from the opposite end.

They’re about forty yards from the kitchen door when Derek hears the sound of voices coming from the kitchen, and he sticks out an arm, blocking Boyd’s way.

“Someone’s in there,” he hisses.

“Where?”

“The bakery.”

Boyd eyes him askance. “How can you can tell that from here?”

“I-- have excellent hearing.”

The look Boyd gives him suggests that he’s going to expect an explanation for Derek’s weirdness sooner, rather than later. When he opens his mouth to speak though, he says, “Isaac probably has a customer. Technically we are still open.” He tries to keep going, but Derek grabs a fistful of  Boyd’s t-shirt to stop him.

“I don’t think so,” Derek says, closing his eyes and trying to tune into what the voices are actually saying.

“--haven’t been anywhere near his place. I don’t know what you’re talking about--” That voice is Isaac’s reedy and nervous. The anxious trip of his heartbeat almost as loud as his voice to Derek’s straining ears. Something is wrong.

“It isn’t a customer,” Derek says, starting to creep forward. “It’s someone else.”

“Okay, Miguel. I think you and I have to have a little talk about--”

“Shhhh--” Derek hisses. “I’m trying to listen.”

“After all I’ve done for you,” a second voice, not Isaac, drawls, cruel and hard. And Derek’s never heard that voice before, but he thinks he can guess who it belongs to and he picks up speed. “This is how you speak to me?”

“You should leave--” says Isaac. “You’re not welcome--”

“Leave? Looks like you’ve been livin’ away from home too long. Too high and mighty to talk to you’re ol’ Dad now, huh? Looks like I’m gonna have to teach you a little respect. ”

Derek’s at the door before Crawford has even finished speaking. “Come on!” he calls back to Boyd, who’s still a ways behind, staring at him like he’s a crazy person. “It’s Crawford, we have to--” There’s the sound of something or someone tumbling backwards into something else that clatters and clangs loudly against the floor. Even Boyd hears it, and immediately starts to run.

Derek pushes at the door, but it’s shut tight, and there’s no door handle or means to open it.

“It’s a fire door,” Boyd says, as he joins Derek. “We often keep it propped open, but It opens outwards and there’s no--”

Derek doesn’t hear what he says next; he raises his fist and punches a hole straight through the door. There’s metal screeches and groans bucling inwards and as he draws his fist back he can smell the tang of his own blood in the air. Ignoring dull throb of pain he draws back his fist and punches again and there's a ear shattering sound as the reinforced metal gives and his fist goes straight through. Scrabbling with his fingers he finds purchase on the jagged edges of the metal and wrenches the door of it's hinges. It goes easily.

“Holy sh--” Boyd says, but his voice dies in his throat when he sees what lies on the other side.

Isaac is curled fetal in the middle of the kitchen, arms over his face to protect himself, metal trays and pots are scattered all around. Crawford stands over him, fists clenched but face turned towards the door, mouth hanging open in shock as Derek rushes into the room, Boyd hot on his heels.

“What the--” Crawford manages, but that’s all he gets out, because in two strides Derek crosses the room and picks Crawford up by his throat. He lifts him bodily into the air, fingers squeezing tight around his scrawny neck. He’s vaguely aware that somewhere behind him Boyd is crouching down to tend to Isaac, which is good, it’s necessary, but in that moment all Derek can hear is the angry rush of his own blood as it pounds through his veins, singing protectprotectmineprotect. Dimly he realizes that the full moon is tonight;  the wolf is prowling angrily beneath the surface setting every nerve in his body alight, demanding vengeance for his pack.

Because they are pack.

Boyd. Isaac. Erica. Stiles. They belong to him, and he belongs to them.

The last time he had a pack he was a beta, the last time he had a pack, he lost them all at the hands of a psychotic hunter, and it had been painful beyond the bearing of it. Now, here he is as an Alpha, with a pack he didn’t even intend to create, and every instinct is stronger, sharper than he remembers. The desire to protect and preserve the people he loves roars through him like a freight train. He understands now how Laura gave her life so easily to protect him three years ago. He knows he would do the same for any one of them in a heartbeat.

“This is how you treat your son, you fucking coward?” Derek snarls glaring up at Crawford, who is slowly turning purple. “You despicable piece of shit. You don’t deserve him.”

“Urghnnnurn.” Crawford sputters, fingers clawing ineffectually at Derek’s iron grip, while his feet dangle helplessly a foot above the floor.

“I ought to rip your throat out with my--”

“Miguel.” It’s Boyd’s voice, calm and steady, gentle as always. “Miguel. Put him down.” He reaches out a hand and places it gently on Derek’s shoulder, it’s presence warm, grounding. “Put him down,” he repeats. “He isn’t worth it.”

Slowly Derek turns his head and meets Boyd’s eyes suddenly aware that he’s breathing hard, heart pounding, but Boyd looks right back at him, calm and patient as ever, and his fingers tighten imperceptibly on Derek’s shoulder.

“He isn’t worth the trouble, trust me.” Boyd says again, and Derek looks past him to Isaac, who is sitting on the floor back up against the sink. He’s watching wide-eyed, but as Derek meets his gaze he nods jerkily.

At that, Derek releases his grip and Crawford crumples to the floor in a heap, gasping for air, hands scrabbling at his own neck as he coughs and wheezes.

“You,” he rasps, scrambling back across the floor away from Derek in a panic, until he’s backed up against the door to the fridge. “You’re-- I know what you are--Get away from me, freak.”

Derek rolls his shoulders, cracking his neck first one side, then the other as slowly stalks forward, glaring down at the snivelling heap on the floor.

“Miguel--” Boyd warns.

“I’m not going to touch him again.” Derek says. Then, turning to address Crawford he adds, “I’m going to ask you a question, and you’re going to answer me. Truthfully. I’ll be able to tell if you’re lying. Do you understand?”

Crawford’s breath is coming in short, stabby gasps, he tries, impossibly, to burrow further back into the closed door of the fridge away from Derek.

“I said, do you understand?”

Weaselly eyes flicking side to side, Crawford nods. He stinks of sweat and fear and his heart is pounding like a jackhammer. He’s pathetic, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be useful.

“Do you know where Erica is?”

“Erica?”

“Blonde, yay tall,” Derek gestures. “Friend of ours.”

“Wait, why would he--” Boyd asks, taking a step forward.

But Derek cuts him off, still watching Crawford. “Do you?”

“I--” he swallows, refusing to meet Derek’s eyes.

Crouching down in front of him, Derek scents the air nostrils flaring,  Only Crawford can see his face now, so he lets his eyes flare red, canines elongating into sharp points. “I’ll know if you lie,” he whispers. “And I won’t be happy.”

“Ennis--” Crawford stutters, “He’s been talking to people, brought some guys in from outta town--”

“Hunters?”

Crawford nods vigorously. “I swear,” he moans, “I don’t know nothin’. Not really.  They arrived last night. Ennis thought they were comin’ to help us, but they were-- I didn’t like ‘em. Talked down to us. Spoke to me and Ennis like we was dumb. Made us tell them what we knew and then told us to stay out of their way. Ennis was already mad because of the break in at his place, but after that he was fuming.”

“Did you get their names? Can you describe them?”

“There were four of ‘em,” he winces. “Three guys. One girl. The leader. Gerald? Gerard? I can’t remember, but he was older.”

“And you told them about me. About Erica? About these guys?”

“Yeah,” Crawford nods, shakily. “They were talkin’ about usin’ someone as bait.”

“So, wait a minute,” Boyd says, finally breaking his silence as he steps up behind Derek. “You’re thinking, what exactly? That Erica has been kidnapped by someone who’s trying to get to you?”

Eyes fading back to their normal color, teeth retracting, Derek turns his head to look at them and nods.

“But why?” Isaac asks, finally speaking, voice softer than usual. “We barely know you.”

That hurts more than it should. Closing his eyes, Derek lets out a long breath. When he opens them again he looks down at Crawford. “You,” he says. “Do you know where they are now? Where they’ve taken her?”

“No,” Crawford shakes his head-- he's telling the truth.

“Get out of here,” Derek says. “Stay away from Isaac. Stay away from me. I see you anywhere near here again and it won’t go well for you.”

Crawford blinks at him dumbly and then scrambles to his feet, skidding against the tiled floor in his rush to leave. A moment later there’s the sound of the little bell jingling merrily as he throws the door to the bakery open with a bang, and then the pounding of his footsteps as he runs down the sidewalk and away.

With a sigh Derek stands up and turns to face Boyd and Isaac who are both staring at him. For a long while neither of them say anything, and Derek doesn’t know where to begin. So much of what is happening to them at the moment is down to him. If he hadn’t shown up here months ago, they’d all be safe right now. If he hadn’t--

“So,” Boyd says firmly, “you remember that explanation we discussed. Now seems like a good time for that.”

“Seconded,” Issac says. Reaching out he grabs the counter to steady himself and starts to pull himself shakily into a standing position with a pained little grunt. Immediately Derek and Boyd reach out to help him up.

“Are you okay?” Derek asks. “Do you need medical attention?”

“I’m fine--” Isaac grimaces, hand going to his stomach. There’s a bruise on his cheek, a cut just above his lip, and he’s hunched over, one hand still clutching his stomach. Derek can feel anger rising in his chest again. “Well. Not fine,” Isaac admits lowly, “But I’ve had worse.”

Nothing about that sentence is okay, and Derek and Boyd glance at each other and look away quickly. If he sees Crawford again-- but Derek can’t let himself think about that now.

“I agree with Boyd,” Isaac says, seemingly anxious to move on from anything that references his past. “None of that made any sense to me. Why would anyone kidnap Erica because of you? We’ve met you, like, once before this.”

“No.” Derek says, softly. “More than once.”

Isaac makes a disbelieving little noise as Boyd says, “Miguel--”

That, is as good a place to start as any. “My name is Derek.”

“Then why--”

“Derek Hale.”

Boyd huffs out a sigh. “This makes even less sense. If none of us knew your real name then how--”

Derek isn’t sure how to do it. If he shifts into his beta form, it won’t convince them that they already know him. He needs to make it clear to them who he really is and he needs to do it now, so they can stop debating and find Erica.

"I'm the 'dog'," he says, making the inverted commas with his fingers. "The one Erica made the flyers for. I'm--" he swallows, scowling, "Fluffy."

"What now?" Isaac says. Next to him Boyd raises an eyebrow. They share a long look with each other and then turn as one to stare at Derek with matching expressions of disbelief. 

“You don’t believe me," Derek says. "I get why. And I could try and talk you round, I guess, but there's no time." Peeling off his leather jacket he hands it to Boyd who takes it reflexively. Derek takes a couple of steps back, giving himself some room. “The quickest way to convince you is to show you.” He tugs his t-shirt up and over his head.

“Show us?” Isaac asks as Derek hands Boyd his t-shirt, then toes off his boots even as he starts to unbuckle his belt. “What are you-- Jesus are you taking your pants off?” Isaac looks at Boyd. “Is he taking his pants off? What the fuck is happening here?"

Boyd’s other eyebrow rises to join the first, but he doesn’t say anything just reaches out a hand and places it on Isaac's shoulder protectively as Derek peels his jeans off and tosses them on the counter. “Okay. Okay.” Isaac says, arms crossed over his chest. “Can we all agree that the underwear stays on? Because this is a kitchen not a locker room and we’re already in violation of the health code about eight times over--” Derek turns away a little as he tugs his underwear down, for their sake more than his own, but apparently it isn’t enough because Isaac hisses, “--and that’s his dick. Jesus. I can’t look. I can’t--he's clearly insane. There's a crazy naked man in my kitchen and--”

“Holy shit--” Boyd hisses as Derek begins to change.

Derek has never shifted like this in front of someone who didn’t already know he was a wolf, but he’s seen his mom and Laura do it a hundred times, so he knows how weird it is to see the full change ripple through someone. Limbs shortening, muzzle growing, fur sprouting out all over. As a man and as a wolf he looks fine, but the moments in between either stage, well, If you could slow it down and watch it, it would look like the stuff of nightmares. It doesn’t take long though, and then, just like that it’s over, and Derek’s standing on four paws in the middle of the kitchen, tongue lolling out of his mouth.

“What the--” Isaac breathes, his heart racing in his chest. Boyd is silent, jaw hanging open.

For the longest moment they all just stand there, watching each other, then Derek yips hopefully at them and wags his tail. It’s Boyd who breaks the silence. He’s been staring at Derek, eyes cataloging every tiny detail. “It’s you--” he says softly. Taking a step towards Derek he reaches out a hand tentatively and Derek licks it. Boyd gives a choked off laugh. “It is you.” His fingers reach out and scratch the sweet spot behind Derek’s ear, honing in on it, unerring as always, just like has done ever since that first day all those weeks ago. Derek leans into it happily. “Isaac, look--”

Both Derek and Boyd look towards Isaac who is pressed back against the counter, eyes wide with shock. “That’s--” Isaac says, then stops, blinking at them. “Really? He’s-- really?

Boyd nods, “Seems so. I don’t understand it, but there he is.”

"Right," Isaac says, nodding slowly. "Okay. Right." He rubs his palms against the his jeans. "Right. I see."

"Isaac," Boyd begins, "I think--"

Whatever Boyd is about to say gets lost as Isaac barrels over to them, he drops to his knees and his arms wrap around Derek like a limpet, fingers buried deep in his fur. “Do you know how worried we were?” he whispers. “Erica woke up at three in the morning a couple of nights ago convinced you were in trouble and then you didn’t show up and she fucking freaked, she was convinced you’d been hit by a car or picked up by animal control. I was up with her till past midnight last night making flyers for you. When you didn't show today--”

Derek nuzzles into him and licks his face gratefully, and Isaac chokes back a laugh and hugs him tighter.

“I can't believe it. All those mornings. All that bacon? That was you? Oh my god. I told you,” Isaac says eventually to Boyd, half-laughing. “I said right back at the beginning when he first showed up that we should have started a tab. Oh my god, I feel so fucking vindicated.”

With a snort of laughter, Boyd crouches down next to them and gathers them both into his arms for a big hug.

Derek knows he’s home.

 

-

 

It hasn’t always been easy, being a single, human, father to a half-fae son. Over the years John’s tried his best to keep pace with his son’s mercurial nature, his more capricious tendencies, his proclivity to become wholly consumed by whatever strange thing has currently captured his imagination, the magic that he’s still learning to control, his strange affinity for all manner of plants and wildlife, (their small homestead is filled with shrubs and plants that Stiles collects from the preserve). It’s more than that though, there’s a wildness to him, a stubborness, he doesn’t see the world the way other people do, and most times John has viewed that as gift. Sure, Stiles may not have been a natural fit for the school room or struggle to hold down a regular job, but he’s kind, in his own way. He’s a good person-- everyone sees that.

There are days though...

Case in point, John thinks to himself as he sits at his desk, in his office, staring across at his son with a disappointed frown. Stiles has been caught breaking in to Julia Baccari’s home, and while she’s been very nice about it, John knows he has to try and talk Stiles down before he gets himself into real trouble. This obsession has to stop.

“I thought I told you to stay out of this,” John says.

Across from him, Stiles folds his arms across his chest, chin tilted up defiantly. “You’re not listening to me. None of you are listening to me. And I’m right-- It’s her. Why can’t any of you see it?”

“Stiles--” John sighs. He leans forward, reaching out a placating hand. “These murders are awful, they’re affecting everyone. Okay? But we can’t just turn against each other. There has to be evidence. It can’t just be a--” He grasps for a better phrase and can’t find it. “A witch hunt. The rule of law--”

“There is evidence. I gave you evidence.”

“A bunch of crackpot theories based on some random coincidences, and an old stick you found at her house.” He can feel himself getting angry now, because this is ridiculous. Julia is a good, sweet-natured woman, intelligent and resourceful, funny and kind. Despite all the tensions in town, the horror of the murders, the way everyone seems to be at each other’s throats: everyone agrees about that, everyone is charmed by her. Everyone except Stiles. He just won’t listen.

“It isn’t a stick. It’s a staff. She made it out of the Ne--” Stiles throws up his hands in frustration. “She’s corrupting the damn Nemeton, Dad! I know you can’t feel it like I can, but you must be able to see it. Look at the difference it’s making to the town! To the people!”

“Stiles--” It feels like the thousandth time they’ve had this argument. Stiles is wholly a creature of instinct. As Sheriff, John doesn’t have that luxury-- and there’s no evidence. “No one else thinks there’s a problem with the Nemeton. Doc Deaton--”

“He’s wrong, okay? I don’t know why the rest of you can’t feel it, but--you know what? Fine!” Stiles says, jumping to his feet, he strides across the room, and throws the door open. “You want me to find you evidence? I’ll find you evidence.”

“I don’t want you to--” It’s too late. Stiles is gone, slamming the door behind him. “I don’t want you to find evidence. I don’t want you anywhere near this.” John mutters hopelessly to himself, wondering where he’s gone wrong.

If things continue on this way, he has a sinking feeling that at some point he’s going to end up arresting his own son.

 

---------------

 

As much as Derek enjoys the closeness, it can’t last, and quick enough he’s transformed back and is hurriedly dressing, while Boyd and Isaac close up the store.

“I don’t know what we’re gonna do about the kitchen door, “ Isaac says, staring at it mournfully. “It’s still on it’s hinges, but it won’t shut properly now.”

“Sorry,” Derek says. He’s crouched down, lacing one boot and then the other. “That’s my fault.”

“Don’t be,” Isaac says, firmly. “If you hadn’t come in when you did-- well--”

Derek opens his mouth to reply, but he can’t find the words. What he wants to say, is that if he and Stiles hadn’t tried to break into Ennis’ place, Crawford might never have shown up, the door would probably be fine. If he hadn’t turned up here all those months ago-- Erica might not have been taken. All the problems they have right now, are down to him, just by being here, by being who he is, he’s endangered them.

“We’ll call the landlord tomorrow,” Boyd says, as comes back through to the kitchen. “Get him to take a look at it. Meanwhile we really need to focus on finding Erica.”

“Agreed,” Derek says, rising to his feet. “And I can help with that.”

“So these hunters,” Boyd says, “They hunt people like you?”

“Werewolves,” Derek says, “And yeah. I mean, technically there’s supposed to be a code.”

“A code?”

“They only hunt werewolves who have hurt people. This Gerard guy though, well, we think--”

“We?” Boyd asks.

“Me and Stiles,” Derek says. “Shit. Stiles. What time is it? We should call him and let him know where are.” He pats the pocket of his jeans but his phone isn’t there. Then he reaches for his jacket. “Shit,” he says when a cursory search turns up nothing. “I left my phone back at the apartment. Stiles is going to kill me.”

“I have his number,” Boyd says.

“Call him and let him know what’s happening,” says Derek, and Boyd nods, disappearing to the front of the store to make the call. Turning to Isaac, Derek continues, “Look-- I know Boyd wants to help look for her, but maybe you should stay here, it’ll be safer and--”

“No. I’m fine. It’s just a few bruises. I want to help. Erica’s my friend too. Besides, I’m the only one with transport. You'll need me to drive you-- wherever it is your going.” Isaac frowns. “Speaking of which. How will you find her?”

“We’ll start by tracking her scent as far as we can.”

“And if they picked her up in a car?”

“She’s bait, remember? They want me to come get her.”

“Hmmmm. I have a baseball bat in the apartment upstairs,” Isaac says thoughtfully. “Maybe I’ll go get that.” He stumps out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the apartment, and soon Derek can hear him rummaging around upstairs, floorboards squeaking gently as he moves around.

“Stiles isn’t picking up his phone,” Boyd says, walking back in. “I left a message.”

That’s unusual, but not unheard of. It’s past five o’clock and Stiles has undoubtedly finished work and is probably already at Ennis’ place. That’s out in the middle of nowhere, there’s almost certainly no service. Derek tries not to let himself worry. Stiles can take care of himself. He’s proved that already, time and time again. 

“Hey,” Boyd says, “Is Stiles a werewolf too?”

“No."

“He’s something though, isn’t he?” Boyd says shrewdly.

“Yeah,” Derek says, with a smile, “he’s definitely something.”

Isaac’s footsteps make the stairs creak as he comes back down them, arms filled with an assortment of stuff. “Here,” he says, dumping it all on the counter in an unceremonious heap. “Baseball bat. Taser,”He picks it up and waves it at them. “I got it when I moved out of my dad’s place before anyone asks. Usually I take it with me when I go out, but, stupidly I stopped keeping it with me while I was in the bakery. Also there’s this kitchen knife, it’s kinda sharp, and then, well--” he gestures at a random assortment of kitchen utensils including a spatula, an ancient barbecue fork that's missing one of the tines, and a soup ladle. Derek looks down at them and then across at Isaac. With a sigh he picks the ladle up between his thumb and forefinger, one eyebrow raised eloquently. “We can’t go wherever we’re going unarmed!” Isaac says, “I figure if you hit someone hard enough with that thing it’ll do some damage.”

“Yeaaaah. I’ll take the bat,” Boyd says, picking it up.

“You take the taser,” Derek says to Isaac.

“What about you?” Isaac asks.

“I’m already armed,” Derek says and lets his fangs drop; holding his palm up he flicks his claws out for show.

“Nice,” Boyd says appreciatively. “So you can just do that any time?”

From the front of the store comes a knock and a scuffle at the door. The sound of the mail slot creaking open. The three of them look at each other.

“Odd time for mail,” Boyd says, and something swoops low in Derek’s stomach.

They walk through to the front, past the glass counter, now empty of cakes and pastries, and Derek sees a crumpled piece of paper folded in two, it sticks half in, half out the mail slot.

He goes over to it and retrieves it. It’s a flyer that reads: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS DOG? In bold black letters; there’s a picture of him in his wolf form underneath it, and a cellphone number. When he unfolds the flyer to take a better look, a lock of golden blonde hair flutters to the ground.

He hands the flyer to Boyd and crouches down to pick up the hair, sniffs it. Even though he knows, he already knows.

Erica.

“It’s hers?” Boyd says hoarsely.

It smells of her, of fear, of anger. But there’s something else too, a familiar scent attached to it, infused all along the strands. The smell of dust and oil and rust, a dank an airless space he’s intimately familiar with.

“They have her at the old railroad depot outside of town,” Derek says, rising to his feet.

“I know,” Boyd says, as he stares down at the paper in his hand. “They wrote the address on the back of the flyer.”

He holds it up for Derek to see. Scrawled across the back of the flyer is the address of the depot and the words: “Come and get her.”

Chapter Text

 

The light leads John onwards, deeper and deeper into the forest.

Then, just when he thinks he can’t possibly go any farther, the light fades and he stumbles out onto a familiar clearing. For a moment the storm clouds part and the light of the full moon illuminates the glade. There’s a hill rising sharply out of the ground in front of him, and, at its peak, a tree.

The tree.

The Nemeton.

It’s nothing like he remembers, and all at once he feels a rush of guilt. He remembers knotted, moss-covered bark and gently spreading branches filled with green leaves and birdsong. He remembers love and life and laughter, curled with Claudia in the crook of its branches. He remembers feeling gently nurtured under its shadow.

That has all changed.

The trunk is ashy white, the bark seems to be writhing, it hurts his eyes to watch it, twisting and contorting in a silent scream. The leaves are a sickly yellowish-grey, and, right down the middle of the trunk runs a fine crack that has a black, tar like substance oozing out of it, like it’s bleeding.

He takes all this in within a moment, because standing on top of the hill, at the foot of the Nemeton, oblivious to his presence are Stiles and, well, he guesses that must be Julia Baccari. Her clothes seem familiar enough, but her face is unrecognizable. The sweet woman with the dark hair, twinkling blue eyes and wry smile has been replaced by something else. Something other. Her skin is ash grey, waxy and covered in scars, she has rheumy eyes and a red gash of a mouth filled with jagged teeth. In one hand she holds a wicked looking knife and the other is clasped around a tree branch, no-- not a branch, a staff, that’s what Stiles had called it. Now that John sees her holding it, it makes sense: she wields it like a wizard in a fairy tale, and he knows right to his marrow that he has to stop her. Immediately he starts to climb the hill, feet slipping against tufts of wet grass, slick mud and loose stones, as he scrambles blindly towards them.

“You’re too late,” he hears Julia scream at Stiles, over the wind and the lashing rain. “It’s done. It’s power is mine now.” Thunder rolls over head, shaking John to his core.

“I’ll destroy it rather than have that be true,” Stiles shouts back, the wind whips through his shirt and sends it billowing out in the wind like a sail. He seems so slight a figure standing there, angry and defiant. Lightning crackles above them, throwing the hillside into eerie relief; Stiles’ skin is white as chalk but his eyes seem to burn like coals. He’s never looked as inhuman as he does right now.

Julia slashes the air with her staff, but Stiles dodges, making some complicated gesture with his hand that sends her stumbling backwards with a yowl, dropping the knife. A look of triumph passes over Stiles’ face, but then all to quickly Julia finds her footing and, panting, winded, lifts the staff, aiming it at Stiles. Then she begins to chant.

John can’t hear the exact words over the storm, they don’t sound like any language he’s ever heard before but as she chants Stiles rises into the air on tiptoe, body rigid, completely immobile, legs straight, arms unwillingly extended outwards in a mockery of a crucifixion, his expression tight with pain. The air in on the hillside is electric, fizzing with magic as Julia continues to chant; it makes the fine hairs on John’s arms stand up one end. A dull, sickly yellow light emanates from the staff, and by its light John can see Stiles’ fingers twitch, he’s trying to move, his mouth works, but no sound comes out and his eyes are huge, glassy with pain and fear. John can’t tell whether it’s rain or tears that streak his face.

Reaching for his gun, John lifts it and takes aim, hands shaking. Water drips off the brim of his hat and the wind blows it directly into his eyes. He’s never going to make this shot, he thinks, swiping blindly at his face with his forearm. He’ll never make it, and Stiles will die. His son will die and it will be his own fault, because he didn’t listen.

His fingers squeeze the trigger and a bullet zips past Julia, and hits the Nemeton. He adjusts his aim and fires again. This one barely grazes her arm, but it’s enough. She screams in stinging fury and whirls to face him. Immediately Stiles drops to the floor like a marionette whose strings have been cut.

You,” she shrieks, her pale arms lifting the staff high above her head. “I am going to kill you.”

Agonizing pain shoots up John’s left arm, the sound of his own heartbeat thunders in his ears, so loud, so urgent; he feels like his heart must be about to explode in his chest. Dimly he’s aware of Stiles calling out, shouting over the noise of the storm, begging her to stop.

This is it, he thinks to himself. This is it. We’re both going to die. Unless...

“Claudia,” he hisses, through clenched teeth. “Claudia, help.”

The pain doesn’t stop, it’s excruciating, he drops slowly to his knees in the slick mud, clutching at his chest blindly. Eyes scrunched shut, chest heaving as he takes great panting breaths, trying desperately to stay conscious, to keep fighting. He turns his face to hilltop, watching as Stiles tries to charge her, half mad with fury, tries to rip the staff right out of hands, but she’s ready for him, knocking him away easily.

Then, all at once, he sees it just on the edge of his vision.

Movement in the forest below. Turning his head he watches as a ball of golden light comes bursting out of the forest, it streaks up the hill like a comet, blazing a trail behind it. So fast and so unexpected that neither Stiles nor Julia have time to react. It hits Julia squarely in the stomach and disappears.

Stiles staggers backwards, staring in surprise as Julia doubles over, her staff falling to the ground, forgotten.

For one moment everything around them stills. The wind drops. The rain slows to a drizzle. Shaking with the cold and the shock, breath rattling out of him, John tries to stand, but his legs won’t hold him and he falls back to his knees again.

Then, all of a sudden, Julia begins to scream.

It’s long and loud and unrelenting. One continuous tortured note that seems to be ripped right from her soul, a minute passes, then two, and then she stops. Silent.

She’s trembling, shaking apart, literally shaking apart, John realizes, even from here he can see her waxy skin splitting open, deep fissures that glow like lava working their way lattice-like over her skin. They get brighter and wider and deeper until she’s nothing more than a glowing ball of white light and John has to shield his eyes as the whole glade gets lit up like daylight. There’s a last piercing, gut-wrenching, howling shriek that seems to last for days, then everything goes dark.

When John opens his eyes, blinking as they grow accustomed to the darkness, he can just make out Stiles, the outline of him visible as the moon peeks out from behind a cloud, standing on the hilltop all alone as the rain picks up again.

“Son,” the Sheriff calls, as he struggles to his feet and forces himself up the hill in a limping run. “Son, are you okay?”

He looks human again. Looks like Stiles again, and John could cry with relief.

“I--I think so,” Stiles says, blinking and looking about them.

“I’m sorry, son. You were right, and I’m sorry.”

At that Stiles looks up at him, breath coming out hard, but slowly a happy grin spreads across his face and he says, “I think I’m gonna need you to put that in writing.”

John chokes back a laugh that’s almost a sob and pulls Stiles in for a bone-crunching hug, relishing the warmth of him, the feel of him alive and safe.

“Think god it’s over,” John breathes, eyes clenched shut. “It’s finally over.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, hugging him tighter still. “Over.”

As if in answer, the Nemeton groans, a long eerie call into the darkness of the night. Stiles goes still in John’s arms, and slowly, as one, they both look up.

 

-

 

Dusk is drawing in as Derek, Boyd and Isaac make their way through the forest, following the line of the road, but not so close to it that they’ll be easily seen. Isaac parked his car, a tiny Ford Fiesta with the name and address of the bakery stenciled on the side, down a dirt trail a half mile or so back, in the hopes that approaching the depot on foot would give them the element of surprise.

They trudge through the woods, Derek leading the way, then Boyd, the bat slung over his shoulder, followed on by Isaac who has the taser clutched tight in the curl of his fist and is hefting a large backpack. He spent the last few moments before they left cramming it with everything and anything he could find. The barbecue fork, a couple of kitchen knives, scissors, a flashlight, two rolls of duct tape and a pair of fluffy, pink, leopard print handcuffs that he’d found in Boyd’s bedroom.

“We don’t know what we’re gonna need,” he’d said. “We have to be prepared.”

Derek had talked him into leaving the soup ladle behind, somehow it made everything seem a little too desperate.

Now as they traipse through the woods in the half light of early evening, sun sinking low in the sky, nearing hunters, Argents,  with every footstep, Derek can’t help the feeling of guilt that overwhelms him. Boyd and Isaac shouldn’t be here at all. This is on him. This is his battle.

“When we get there,” he calls back, “I’ll go in first and scout the area. See if I can establish  where they’re keeping Erica, and exactly how many hunter’s we’re up against.”

“Why? You think there might be more than four?” Isaac asks.

“Anything’s possible.”

Twigs crunch under his feet, and the smell of rich earth and leaf mulch fills the air. From behind him Boyd says, “Okay, but once you scope them out, come back and let us know what the deal is and we’ll make a plan together. I don’t want you getting shot up with silver bullets while we’re just standing around waiting.”

“Silver doesn’t affect me.”

“No? Then how do they intend to take you down? I mean I’m assuming you have to have some kind of kryptonite type deal going on.”

“Mountain ash,” Derek admits, “Hunters lace their bullets with it. Sometimes mistletoe, too. Also there’s this whole thing where they cut us in half with a broadsword.”

“Whereas you could cut me in half with a broadsword and I’d be fine,” Isaac quips, but Derek can’t muster a smile.

“Seriously though,” he says, “don’t take any unnecessary risks. I don’t want you guys getting hurt because of me.”

“Uhhh- we’re here because we choose to be, and we’re going in with our eyes open.” Isaac says. “If one of us gets hurt, it won’t be because of you.”

Which is a ridiculous argument. The only reason Erica has been taken in the first place is because they know it’ll bring Derek to them. Because he stopped being careful. Because he stopped running for a few weeks and actually tried to live awhile.

“You know none of this is your fault,” Boyd says, “right? You haven’t hurt anyone. You haven't done anything wrong. You’re allowed to exist. None of this is your fault.”

“Sure,” Derek lies. The silence behind him is deafening. “I just--” he says and then cuts himself off. It’s better not to get into it. Probably.

“Just what?” Isaac says.

“I don’t understand how you guys can be so accepting of this. I’m a werewolf. An actual literal werewolf. You didn’t know werewolves existed before I came along, right?”

“Nope,” Boyd says, and Derek turns his head just in time to catch Isaac shaking his head.

“So why aren’t you more freaked out? We’re dangerous. We’re apex predators. I could rip both of you apart with my bare hands. I could tear your throats out with my teeth. I could--” he needs to make them understand. Needs them to know what they’re getting into. To be afraid. To reconsider. He needs them to be safe.

“Yeah,” Isaac says, dismissively,  “but you wouldn’t--”

“How can you know that?” Derek says. “How can you possibly know that. I don’t get why you’re here. You were right back in the bakery when you said you barely know me--”

“No,” Boyd says. “You were right. We do know you.”

“But--”

“Who set me up with Erica in the first place? I mean you must have sat there listening to me complain and pine for over a week, and what did you do?”

“That--”

“Who burst in just now and rescued me from my dick of a dad,” Isaac chimes in. “Who came into the bakery two days ago, adorably nervous about dinner with his new boyfriend and bought triple chocolate brownies?”

“Who found Erica hurt and bleeding on the floor mid seizure and called everyone to her so she would get treatment?”

“Okay, but--”

Boyd puts his hand on Derek’s wrist to stop him. Reluctantly Derek turns to face him.

“When you did that, when you howled,” Boyd continues, “I didn’t just hear it. I felt it, here.” He places his palm flat over his chest. “So sure-- maybe it seems to you like we should be more surprised, or upset or something. I don’t know. All I can tell you is-- you were right. We do know you. And you know us. From the moment we met we’ve been looking out for each other. That doesn’t fucking stop now.”

“You don’t want  to see us to get hurt?” Isaac says coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with Boyd. “We don’t want to see you get hurt either.”

“We’re in this together,” Boyd says. “You may as well accept it.”

The thing is, even when Derek accepted the fact that he’d inadvertently created some kind of proto-pack here with Boyd, Erica, Isaac and Stiles, he figured that, with the exception of Stiles, it was pretty much one sided. He’d think of them as pack, and they, eventually, hopefully, might come to think of him as a slightly weird, intense friend. Pack is instinctive for him, it isn’t for them, or at least-- he hadn’t expected it to be.

And yet.

Here they are.

An alpha needs a pack. It makes them stronger. It gives them something to fight for. Hope and a future. Boyd and Isaac are not wolves, but they’re brave and they’re loyal and Derek-- Derek trusts them.

“Okay,” he says, relenting, “We’re in this together.”

 

-

 

The Nemeton towers over he and Stiles, that black tar-like substance still seeping from the split in its trunk, the bark still writhing, twisting, painful to look at.

“I don’t think it’s over yet,” Stiles says, voice hollow as he pulls away from his dad, a grim expression on his face.

There’s a sound like rumbling thunder, but it isn’t coming from the sky, it resonates beneath their feet. The ground shakes, and a furrow appears, splitting the earth at the base of the hill, sending dirt spraying everywhere as it works its way toward them with lightning speed. Before either of them can react a root bursts out of the ground, twisted and nightmarish, it wraps itself around John’s leg and wrenches him off his feet, lifting him into the air.

“Dad!” Stiles calls as another root bursts through the ground wrapping itself around John’s torso and squeezing him tight. All the air rushes out of his body, he can’t speak, can barely draw breath, it feels like a vice around his chest. “Stop it!” Stiles screams at the tree, darting out of the way, to avoid yet another root that bursts through the ground and tries to grab at him. “What are you doing? You’re killing him. You’re killing him.”

John’s lungs burning with the need to just take a goddamned breath, panic and pain rush through him making him dizzy, but he sees what happens next: sees Stiles dodging the tree roots that burst out of the ground all around them like writhing snakes. Sees him lunge for the knife that Julia dropped earlier, and trying to hack at the base of the roots, but even as he cuts through one, another two spring up in their place, bursting out of the ground and wrapping themselves around John’s arms, his wrists, his ankles, squeezing tighter and tighter.

“Stop it!” Stiles screams again. “Stop it now.” Stiles has always had a way with plants, nurtured them in a way that John has always known was magical. John has never seen the plant that Stiles couldn’t cajole into doing his bidding, but this one isn’t listening.

Beneath him, Stiles turns towards the twisted, tortured trunk of the Nemeton, dropping the knife in his panic. He stoops immediately to pick it up, but then he seems to pause,  when he stands he isn’t holding the knife anymore, but Julia’s staff. Stiles holds it in his hands, tests the weight of it. Then he takes one more look up at John, trapped, choking; Stiles eyes go dark, skin pale, and he seems to find his courage. Hefting the staff back over his shoulder, Stiles mutters a few words and all at once the staff seems to glow, a dull green light. Then, with all of his strength, Stiles swings it, like he’s swinging an axe, like he means to cut down the tree. He screams with the effort of it.

The thing is. It isn’t an axe.

It doesn’t even actually hit the Nemeton.

John’s certain it doesn't-- Stiles is too far away for one thing. There’s no way he made contact and even if he did, it’s a staff-- it’s a blunt object-- it can’t do any damage--

And yet.

There’s a loud crack, it sounds like lightning but it comes from the tree, there’s a giant notch in the bark, chipped straight across the middle, like someone has hacked at it. That black tarry substance is bubbling out of it, in earnest now, oozing out of every knot and crack. The root around John’s chest loosens its grip ever so slightly and he manages a choked breath, vision swimming.

Below he sees Stiles tilt his head to look at him, eyes glittering like polished onyx in the moonlight, mouth set in a grim line. Stiles slashes the air with the staff again, repeating that hacking motion, again and again and again, and each time he does it is followed by an awful groaning, cracking sound at the base of the tree, like it’s screaming in pain. By the end, Stiles is panting with the effort of it, sweat beading on his forehead as he lifts the staff again and again, and each time he does it, the root that’s crushing John’s chest loosens a little more. One last time Stiles lifts the staff, raising it for a final blow. Then, slowly, inexorably, the Nemeton topples over with a long groan. It lands on the far side of the hill, hitting the ground with a noise like thunder, and leaving nothing but a jagged, scorched stump behind.

There’s a moment where John’s still suspended mid air with roots wrapped around his chest, his legs, his arms, his face, and then John feels the their grip loosen completely, and he has just enough time to shout, “Oh shi--” Before the roots release him, and he, and they, drop to the ground..

He lays there for a moment, head spinning, blinking up at the sky, trying to catch his breath. Trying to work out what the fuck just happened.

“Dad?” He hears slick squelching footsteps as Stiles runs through the mud towards him. He winces as Stiles gently rolls him over, staring down at him, his face streaked with tears. “Dad? Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” John wheezes. He tries to sit up, but stops abruptly, realizing that he can’t, pain burns hotly across his shoulder. “Think I may have broken something though.”

“Shit--I’m sorry. Where? Where does it hurt?” Stiles’ hands paw at him gently.

“No. I’m sorry, son.” He says, even though he’s said it once, but it bears repeating. “You were right about her, and I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, Dad. That’s okay. We’re both alive. That’s the main thing. I think she managed to bewitch half the town. It wasn’t just you that didn’t see what she was--” he stops talking, voice fading away as he looks up, and John follows his gaze.

Around them the storm has faded. The rain is no more than a gentle drizzle. The skies are clear, bright with a million stars. Above them, tiny lights, like fireflies are drifting downwards through the air towards them, as John and Stiles watch as they drift together like iron filings drawn to a magnet. Fusing into one light, they’re stretching upwards, outwards, changing shape, becoming something more.

A figure.

A woman.

She stands next to Stiles.

She’s just as beautiful as John remembers, and the sight of her takes his breath away.

“I--Mom?” Stiles says, stumbling to his feet, voice cracking.

Claudia reaches out, running her finger tips down his tear-streaked face, her expression more serious than John has ever seen it. She turns to look behind them at the ruined stump of the Nemeton. The body of the great tree slumped down the hillside away from them, lifeless and defeated.

“My son,” she says, turning to look at him. “Oh my son. What have you done?

 

-

 Derek, Boyd and Isaac follow the tree line as it curves round, hugging the side of the industrial park, until the train depot is finally in view. From the cover of the preserve Derek can make out two SUV’s parked out the front. The female hunter is standing by the front entrance armed with a rifle, and another hunter, one of the men, circles the building on patrol.

The depot is a long building, twice as tall as a house with small windows set right near the top. There’s no way to approach it from the front without being seen. That’s one of the reasons Derek picked it as his hideaway for so long. There are offices toward the rear though, which back onto the preserve and have low roofs and windows, not to mention the back entrance which Derek used to escape the previous night. That’s probably their best bet for getting in undetected, so they make their way quickly and quietly through the preserve until they’re positioned behind the depot.

“Can you hear anything?” Boyd asks.

Derek closes his eyes and listens intently. There are several heartbeats and, at this distance it can be hard to distinguish between them, but he doesn’t thinks there are more than five. Three of them seem to be clustered from a similar place within the building and they’re difficult to pick apart from each other. Erica must be one of them. Then there’s one a little more distant, presumably the female hunter guarding the front door, and then the one that’s on the move.

“Three people in the main building. One out front, one on patrol.” Derek says.

“Okay,” Boyd says, “Well, if we take out the one on patrol first. Then the one on guard, that means we have two less to worry about going in.”

“Agreed.”

“How’re we gonna do it?” Isaac asks.

“I’ll climb on the roof of one of the offices, when this guy comes back around again, I’ll get the drop on him. You have the handcuffs and the tape ready.”

“Okay,” Isaac immediately swings his backpack off his shoulder and starts to rifle through it, producing the fluffy pink handcuffs with a flourish.

Derek glares at them, and huffs out a beleaguered sigh.

“What?” Boyd says, completely unabashed. “Erica is really good at--”

“Don’t need to know,” Derek says immediately. “Just wait and get ready for my signal.” With that he stalks through the preserve and jumps, clutching onto the flat edge of the low roof, he pulls himself up onto it with ease. With one last look to the preserve, he presses himself low to the tiles and waits.

It doesn’t take long. Within a few minutes there’s the sound of slow footsteps approaching, a steady heartbeat. The guy, because it is one of the guys, pauses just a few steps from where Derek is pressed flat against the rooftop and Derek can feel every muscle coiled tight as he waits to spring. Quietly as he can he leans over the edge, maneuvering himself carefully into position. Below him the guy lights a cigarette, and as he exhales wisps of blue smoke slips silently upward. Glancing across to the preserve, Derek can’t quite make out Boyd or Isaac, but he knows they must be watching him, and he feels his own heart beat pick up.

The guy takes a final drag on his cigarette, throws it to the ground crushing it under his heel. As he starts to move away his heavy footfalls coming closer and Derek tenses, holding his breath--

Three.

Two.

One.

Derek leaps down onto him, knocking him to the ground. The guy's gun skitters away across the loose stones, and before he can let out so much as a pained, “Oof--” Derek has his face pressed into the dirt. One hand clamped tight across his mouth.

“Tape,” Derek grits out, easily holding the guy still as he tries to struggle free. “Across his mouth.”

Isaac and Boyd appear from the treeline, and Isaac plasters duct tape across the guys mouth, while Boyd cuffs his hands behind his back.

“Frisk him,” Derek says, still holding him in an iron grip.

Boyd checks his pockets and pats him down. He has a handgun in an ankle holster and two knives. Isaac shoves the knives in the backpack but takes the handgun.

“You know how to use a gun?” Derek asks skeptically.

“No,” Isaac admits staring down at it with interest, “But that’s hardly common knowledge.”

“Don’t take the safety off.”

“Couldn’t if I wanted to.”

“Bind his legs with tape too. Tight as you can. Boyd, grab the rifle.”

Isaac tapes him up good and tight while Boyd grabs the gun.

“Right,” Derek says when they’re all done, he forces the guy to kneel. “Boyd, stay here and guard him. If he tries to escape, shoot him.”

Boyd’s eyebrows rise incrementally at that, but he doesn’t say anything, just nods his agreement.

“Isaac,” Derek continues, “Come with me.”

“Yup,” Isaac says, scrambling after Derek as he strides away. “Yes. Okay.”

“Right,” Derek says, peering round the corner of the building at the hunter who guards the entrance about fifty yards away. “We need to get to her and silence her before she’s able to alert anyone inside.”

“How are we gonna do that?”

“I don’t know,” Derek says through gritted teeth.

“I’d say use the gun,” Isaac suggests, “But it’s probably too loud. We don’t want to alert the others to our presence.

“Yeah, besides--” If he doesn’t shoot to kill she’ll call them anyway. He doesn’t want to kill anyone. Not if he doesn’t have too. He refuses to be the monster these hunters like to pretend he is.

“Well, let’s see what we’ve got--” Isaac hefts the backpack off his shoulder and rifles through it.

“It’s shame we can’t get closer without being seen,” Derek muses, “the taser would be perfect.”

“I could try and distract her and you could creep up on the other side and taser her.”

“You’re assuming she wouldn’t shoot you on sight, or immediately alert the others as soon as she saw you,” Derek points out.

“Yeah, true, so we need something non lethal but okay, okaaaay--” Isaac produces something from the backpack and tries to push it into Derek’s hands.

He stares down at it blankly.

“I thought I told you to leave the ladle at home,” Derek grinds out.

“You said yourself, we’re too far away for the taser to work.”

“A fucking soup ladle is not the answer to that--”

“And neither of us wants to actually shoot someone.”

“Yes, but--”

“And I’d give you the barbecue fork or one of the knives, but lets face it, that’s just dangerous as a gun, and I get the feeling you don’t actually want to kill people. Neither do I.”

“Isaac--”

“Just throw it. Hard as you can. Try and-- I don’t know-- knock her out.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“Fine,” Isaac snaps, “If you have a better idea, just say, because any minute now, she’s gonna realize that her buddy hasn’t come back round from patrol and then all hell is gonna break loose.”

He’s right. God help Derek, but he’s right. “Fine,” Derek all but growls. He grabs the ladle and holds it in his hand, testing the weight of it. It’s a solid, metal thing, the sort of thing that probably gets used in a professional kitchen, if he throws it hard enough, maybe, just maybe--

“I can’t,” he hisses. “There’s no way this--”

There’s the crackle of static as the hunter presses a button on her radio and says, “Kyle, you there? Everything okay?”

“Do it!” Isaac commands in hushed tones.

“But--” Derek whispers.

“Kyle?” she says again.

There’s an awkward pause, the crackle of static over the radio and then a male voice, that sounds a bit like Boyd’s says. “I’ll--uh--I’ll be right there?”

“Go on!” Isaac hisses. “Do it! Do it now!”

“Fuck! Fine,” Derek leans round the corner and takes aim, throws the ladle straight at her head, not as hard as he can, but hard enough so it’ll connect. It arcs through the air with unerring accuracy and hits her smack on her temple.

Immediately Derek ducks back round the corner out of sight.

“Shit,” they hear her say. “What the-- Oh my god. What--”

There’s the sound of boots on gravel, and he risks peeking out. She’s stooping down to take a look at what hit her.

“What the actual fuck?” she murmurs groggily, peering down at the ladle as she massages her temple with the hand not clenched around her gun. As she starts to bend down to get a closer look, Derek sprints towards her in seconds,  launching himself the last few yards and sending her sprawling to the floor. After a brief scuffle has his knee in her back, pressing her to the floor, while one hand is clamped tight over her mouth.

“Tape,” he grits out to Isaac who has only just reached them.

“Okay, okay.”

Soon she’s bound hand and foot, mouth taped shut. Derek frisks her for other weapons and comes away with a taser, some chinese ring daggers and a tiny pistol.

“You take those,” Derek says, nodding at the weapons.

“Oh my god,” Isaac mumbles, stuffing the knives and the second taser into his bag. “I feel like a fucking mafia boss or an assassin or something. Who uses this shit? Seriously?”

“Okay,” Derek says, picking her up and hefting her easily over one shoulder. “Let’s go.”

They jog around the warehouse, back to where Boyd and the other captive, Kyle, presumably, are still waiting.

It wasn’t pretty or elegant, Derek thinks to himself, but it worked and that’s two down, two to go. One of those, though, is almost certainly Gerard, and Derek can’t kid himself that he’ll give up without a fight.

Chapter Text

John’s shoulder throbs, his ribs hurt and his hands won’t stop shaking. The storm has passed and he’s shivering now, his rain-soaked clothes cling to him. Still, there’s something in the air, a heaviness, a charge that makes his palms itch, and it feels like it’s that, more than the stinging wind and the cool night air, which brings gooseflesh up on his arms and sets his teeth on edge. He doesn’t have time to process all that now though, instead, he struggles to his feet, chin jutting out defiantly as he faces Claudia. “It wasn’t Stiles’ fault,” he says. “He saved my life.”

“I know—I know--” Claudia’s gaze drifts back to the ruined Nemeton. “That isn’t what I mean.” She sucks in a breath between her teeth.“I don’t blame him-- I just-- You have to understand there are consequences to this. Consequences beyond my control.”

“C--Consequences?” Stiles blinks up at her from where he’s still kneeling on the ground, and swipes a hand to scratch his nose, spreading dirt over one cheek. “What kind of consequences?”

With a deep sigh, Claudia turns to look at him. “This land is ancient, magical, a wellspring of power for the supernatural. Three hundred years ago our people realized at great cost how easily that power could be corrupted and used for evil by the wrong person. So we cast a powerful spell to insure that the land would always be protected, and planted the Nemeton. In doing so we created a safe haven for supernatural creatures of all kinds, and even after our people moved on, it continued. Now the tree is gone and that protec--”

“Protection?” Stiles struggles to his feet, quivering with anger. “Seriously? What protection? Nine people have died. A Darach lived in Beacon Hills for months, deceived most of the town and corrupted the tree! I was the only one who saw through her. You talk like you guys fixed everything but the Nemeton wasn’t working! Where were your people when Julia went on a killing spree? Where were you? Huh?”

The air seems to crackle between them and Claudia flinches; it makes something twist in John’s gut.  “I’m sorry--” she swallows and reaches out a hand, but Stiles takes a step back from her and she lets it drop again. There’s an uncomfortable silence.

Clearing his throat, John says, “I don’t understand how he was able to destroy the Nemeton in the first place,” John says. “He barely has any magical ability at all--”

“Except that’s not true, is it?” Claudia says, turning to him. “It’s never been that he lacked magic, just that he lacked focus. The magic he had was unpredictable, but it was there. What he lacked before was purpose, that’s the material point--”

“Purpose?” asks John.

Stiles’ shoulders slump. “As soon as you were in danger,” he says, “I would have done anything to save you. Anything . And I--” he swallows, and grits his teeth and turns to his mom. “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

“I know,” Claudia says gently.

“And I’m not evil,” Stiles ducks his head, staring down at his hands. “Just because I used the Darach’s staff-- because I destroyed the Nemeton. I’m not like her, I--”

“I know that too.” This time when Claudia steps forward and reaches out a hand, he doesn’t flinch back and she tilts his chin up so he’s forced to look at her as she traces the line of his jaw with the tip of her finger. “But the spell my ancestors cast so long ago demands that the land have a guardian. Your heart burned with the desire to protect what you love and once the Nemeton was destroyed the power in this land was drawn to you like lightning to a church spire.”

Finally the truth of what she’s been trying to say begins to dawn on John. “But-- You mean?”

“The land has chosen Stiles to act as it’s guardian--” Stiles stumbles back a step, as if her words hit him like a physical blow. She continues, “You are it’s protector and its power flows through you.”

“But-” he looks between them desperately. “I don’t want that! I didn’t know what I was doing. It was instinct, that’s all. I didn’t care about this place or the fucking power, I cared about Dad.”

“Stiles--”

“No,” he shakes his head. “I can’t do it. I won’t. I refuse--”

“You cannot,” she says simply. “It’s already happened. Can’t you feel it?” Her eyes rake his face and John follows her gaze and looks, really looks at Stiles. He’s--- different. Thinner, his cheekbones look sharper, his skin paler, his eyes darker, he looks-- less human somehow. More than that though, when John concentrates he realizes that palm-tingling energy that thrums in the air around them, bringing gooseflesh up on his arms, is radiating from Stiles.

“But--” Stiles’ skin is chalk white, he doesn’t finish the sentence, just stares at them, silently pleading one of them to tell him it’s not true. “That can’t be true. It can’t-- Dad?” His voice cracks over that last word and John’s heart clenches in his chest.

“He did it to save me,” John grits. “It was me that didn’t listen when he said Julia was trouble and it was your people who planted a magic tree and then never came back to check on it. Why should Stiles be punished for those things? Why?”

“John, it isn’t a punishment, so much as--”

“Really? Then tell me, what does it mean for him? I want to know.” John folds his arms across his chest. “How does him being the guardian of this place affect him? I mean your people chose to plant a tree rather than leave a person here to do this job for a reason, right?”

Claudia hesitates before saying, “He’s tied to this place now. Not quite human, not quite fae, but something else. He likely will not age. He will wield the power of this land, but never be able leave it’s boundaries and while he flourishes, the land will flourish with him--”

“And if I don’t… flourish?” Stiles asks.

“You are tied to this place, inextricably linked to it, wholly dependent on each other for survival.”

Stiles face crumples further and John bursts out, “So he’s just gonna have to live here forever and ever and never be able to leave? That’s bullshit! There has to be another way.” He looks between them. “I mean…if it’s that important that this land is protected can’t we just, I don’t know-- plant another tree?”

“Dad--” Stiles says miserably.

“No, son.” He turns to face Claudia. “Your folks planted a goddamn tree once, they can do it again, right? Right?”

“It isn’t--”

“Hell,” he says, cutting her off. “I’ll plant one. How hard can it be? There are acorns on the branches of the old Nemeton. I’ll take one and bury it. I’ll come back and water it every day if I have to.”

“It won’t--”

But John doesn’t want to hear it, so instead reaches out, grasping Claudia by the arm. “He’s our son,” he says, his voice scrapes hoarsely up out of his throat, brittle, almost crumbles to dust in the chill night air. “He’s our son, there has to be more we can do. We can’t just leave him to an eternity of watching over a magical forest alone, while everyone around him that he loves grows old and dies.” Claudia meets his desperate gaze, and finally, finally, he sees the grief in her eyes.

“John, my love--”

“There has to be a way.”

“Dad--”

“There has to be some way round this. In every fairy tale I ever read when someone is trapped there’s a way to free them. There’s some prince riding in on a horse, or a fairy godmother or-- or something. It can’t just be this for him-- it just-- it can’t. Please. Please, Claudia. I’m begging you. You have to give us some kind of a hope here. There has to be some kind of end in sight.”

“This isn’t a fairytale--”

“It could be.”

Claudia sighs, closing her eyes. When she opens them again she says, “The lore around this is muddy at best, but I think to plant another Nemeton and release Stiles, the land would have to call someone else, someone whose intent and desire to protect was as pure, as pure and focused as Stiles’ was when he rescued you. Only then would it work in the way it was intended. You know from experience now, that it would be better to have no Nemeton at all, then a corrupt one, drawing all manner of evil to it and poisoning the land.”

“Well I refuse to believe that there isn’t someone with a pure heart who could do that,” John says.

“Maybe--” Claudia concedes. She tilts her head to one side thoughtfully. “Just maybe there’s a way we can find out.”

 

---

 

The back door to the depot creaks as Derek forces it open, but apparently not loud enough for the hunters at the other end of the warehouse to hear. Isaac holds the door ajar while Derek slings the male hunter, Kyle, over his shoulder, and follows Boyd who half carries, half drags the female hunter through the doorway.

“Are we gonna leave these guys somewhere?” Boyd pants. “Because I’m not sure I can drag her around with me and be stealthy.”

“Yeah, this way,” Derek whispers, jerking his head in the direction of the janitor’s closet. A tiny little space, it’s only contents now are a rusting metal bucket, a mop and a few empty bottles of cleaner that sit on the narrow, grimy window sill. They drag the two hunters through the doorway, and leave them, still bound and gagged, crammed on the floor next to each other. They both glare balefully up at Derek.

“Right,” Derek says, closing the door on them. The next room over is an office and sneaking in he grabs a chair. He brings it back with him and jams it under the door handle. “I don’t know how long it’ll hold them,” he says. “We need to be quick.”

Together they creep through the dusty corridors of the warehouse, Derek leading the way past the offices and the bathroom, past the deep thrumming bass of the room with the generator, until they come to a doorway. Signalling for the others to stop well short of it, Derek edges closer to take a look. The main room looks very similar to how it was a few nights ago, only the scent has changed, overlayed by Ennis and Crawford, and, more recently, Erica and the hunters. The last dregs of sunlight spill through the high windows and Derek can see the old train car which he used to bed down in and, past that, nearer the front entrance,  three office chairs pulled around in a circle. The chair Erica sits in faces them. She has her hands tied behind her back, her feet bound, and her golden hair a frizzy halo in the dying light. The other two seats in the circle are taken up by two guys, one young and heavyset, the other older and balding, if he moves too far into the room, it’s likely they’ll see him.

Turning to the others he whispers, “They’re in here!” Immediately, Boyd and Isaac come to join him, and sneak a look for themselves.

“--deal with it before that self righteous bitch catches up to us.” The older guy is speaking. Derek only catches the tail end of what he says but they seem worried someone may be after them. Someone who isn’t him, which makes Derek wonder-- are they worried about another wolf? If so, it seems strange that there are only four of them. The Argents are a huge hunting family, old and powerful with huge number of resources and manpower at their disposal.

Then Erica’s voice cuts through the silence. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m gonna say again: I have epilepsy and I need my goddamn medication.”

Both the hunters ignore her.

“I’m serious,” she says. “Stress is a big trigger and being kidnapped? Pretty fucking stressf--”

“Shut up,” spits the older man, getting up and striding over to stand in front of Erica. “Or I’ll get Conor to gag you again.”

Erica glares up at him scornfully. “Asshole,” she mutters and Derek sees him lifts the butt of his gun, like he’s considering whether or not to hit her with it.

“Gerard--” says the younger hunter, Conor, even as Derek tenses taking an involuntary step forward. His nostrils flare as he tunes into Erica’s heartbeat to reassure himself. It’s strong, steady, and, as shaky and hoarse as her voice sounds, the overriding emotion bleeding through her scent is anger, not fear.

“When I get out of here--” Erica starts to say.

Gerard cups her face in one hand and squishes her cheeks between his fingers, cutting her off. “You’re not getting out of here, darlin’. You don’t leave until your Alpha comes to get you.”

The look Erica’s suggests she’s trying to set him on fire with the power of thought alone. “You,” she hisses, “are a fucking psycho.”

“Maybe,” Gerard, leans in real close. “But I’m also the one with a gun.”

“What are we gonna do?” Boyd asks, grimly. He and Isaac are looking at Derek,  expressions fierce. It hits Derek like a train that they believe he’ll look after them, that he’ll look after Erica. They trust him. It’s a new feeling, unsettling but not unwelcome. He wants them to trust him. He wants to be someone they can depend on. This is what being an Alpha means, Derek’s beginning to understand that now, he knew it on an intellectual level but finally he feels it in the way that his mother and Laura must have.

When he was alone, he had the luxury of running at the least sign of danger, but he isn’t running any more. An Alpha with a pack stays. Fights. Protects. Derek doesn’t think he could run now if he wanted to.

It doesn’t mean he has a plan though.

“I wonder if we could draw them out one at a time,” Derek muses. “Or maybe if we had some kind of distraction--”

Isaac’s face lights up. “Like--”

“If you mention the soup ladle,” Derek says, eyes narrowing. “I swear to god--

“It worked last time.”

Boyd looks between them and shakes his head. “Seriously guys--” he says. “Quit bickering and focus on helping Erica.”

“You’re right,” Derek says. “Okay, how about this? I’ll sneak round the back of the train car and get as close to them as I can, see if I can take them by surprise. You two stay here.” It has all the benefits of them not endangering themselves anymore than they already have done. It’s a plan he can definitely live with.

“No,” Isaac hisses, as Boyd says, “You’re not going in there alone .”

With a put upon sigh, Derek glares at them both.

“They have guns loaded with bullets that can kill you,” Boyd continues.

Derek opens his mouth to point out that the bullets will kill Boyd and Isaac just as easily, when Isaac cuts in, “We should go with the distraction idea.”

Pursing his lips Derek sighs; across the other side of the depot Gerard starts speaking again, and he hushes them both to listen. “Kyle and Steph haven’t checked in. Radio them, and find out what they’re up to.”

“Shit,” hisses Isaac. “We have the radios. They’re in my backpack. When they don’t reply, these guys are gonna know something is up.”

“Okay--Okay. Here’s what we’re gonna do. Derek, you go round the back the traincar. Get as close to them as you can,” Boyd says.

“And you two are gonna stay here?” Derek says hopefully.

“Isaac you stay here, get your taser out. On the off chance those hunters we tied up manage to escape the janitors closet, you know what to do. I’m going to create a distraction.”

“I don’t like it,” Derek says immediately. Boyd opens his mouth to argue, and Derek  lifts a hand, takes a deep breath and continues, “But I trust you.”

Boyd’s mouth snaps shut and then he grins. “They know I’m human, so they’re not going to try and shoot me, right?” It’s false bravado and they all know it.

At least three members of Derek’s family were human and Kate had still burned them alive in their beds. Gerard is an Argent, and Argents can never be trusted. Derek doesn’t point that out though, instead he says, “I won’t let them hurt any of you. I promise.”

“Boyd--” Isaac’s chin trembles ominously and Boyd reaches over and pulls him into a one armed hug, then drags Derek into it too. For one brief second they hold each other hard as they can. Then Derek breaks away.

“Be ready to dive for cover,” he says to Boyd.

“Okay--”

“And don’t do anything stupid,” he says to them both roughly. They both roll their eyes.

“Kinda shutting the gate after the horse has bolted on that one,” Isaac mumbles, “but okay.”

Shaking his head, Derek turns and peers back round the doorway. Gerard and Conor have their backs to him as they try to raise Steph and Kyle on the radio, so he slips through the doorway into the main warehouse silent as a mouse.

“Steph, come in?” Conor has the radio to his mouth, but there’s nothing. Just dead air. If they’d thought it through a bit more, Derek thinks, maybe they’d have come up with a fancier plan, a smarter plan, one that involves using the hunters they’ve already captured as leverage. But there isn’t time.

There’s only now.

This.

The darkening sky, the dank smell of the warehouse, of rust and disuse, is overlaid with thick pheromones, fear, anger, disgust, hatred. It sends a shiver down his spine and he reminds himself that that isn’t what this is about. This is about the moment, just before he walked out here, where he squeezed Boyd and Isaac to his chest and felt them hug him back just as tight. This is about laying at Erica’s feet while she sits on the stoop and tells him about her day. This is about poker nights and lazy mornings at the bakery eating good food cooked by Isaac, while Boyd ruffles his fur. This is about curling next to Stiles in bed and talking until they fall asleep. It’s about waking to the smell of pancakes in the morning and sitting in the kitchen eating them, his feet tangled together with Stiles’ under the table, warm, and safe with someone he loves.  This is about finally accepting his own place, embracing who he is. The sun is fading in the sky, the full moon sings to the blood in his veins, and he’s strong with pack, friendship and family. These are things that are worth fighting for, and when he remembers that, he doesn’t feel afraid or angry or guilty anymore, no, he feels the bravest he’s felt in a long time.

As he edges round the far side of the train car,  he can just make out the outline of Erica’s chair, can see a little of her blonde hair. He can hear Gerard’s quickening footsteps as he paces round in a tight circle, muttering, “Where are they? Where the fuck are they? Why won’t they answer?”

“Should I go check on them?” Conor asks.

“No,” Gerard snarls. “No. That’s what he wants. That’s what he’s hoping for.”

As Derek edges closer, they’re almost within view, and then somebody clears their throat and Derek hears both Gerard and Conor snap to attention immediately, guns cocking. He can see Erica sit up a little straighter in her chair, and hears her  hiss, “Boyd, what the fuck are you doing?”

“I’m unarmed,” Boyd says. Derek can’t see him, but he can hear him walking slowly forward. He edges a little further around the front edge of the train car, so he can see Erica, and in front of her, facing away, Conor and Gerard. They have their rifles trained on Boyd, handguns holstered, shoulders squared.

“Stay put. Keep your hands in the air where we can see ‘em,” Gerard snarls. “Where’s your Alpha?”

There’s a pause. “Look, man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Boyd lifts his palms in the air, and does his best confused face. Derek inches around the short edge, trying to catch Erica’s eye, but she’s staring at Boyd, pale and for the first time he smells the acrid stench of fear bleeding off her.

“Don’t play games with me, boy.” Gerard’s finger hovers over the trigger.

“Hey,” Boyd says. “You’re the ones who mailed a lock of my girlfriend’s hair through my door and told me to come and get her, so I’m here, just like you asked. I don’t want any trouble, just tell me what you want, okay? Money? I don’t have much but--”

“Nice try, but I know you know what I’m talking about,” Gerard spits. “He’s here, isn’t he?”

“Who?”

Derek gestures urgently and finally, finally , Erica notices him. Her eyes widen in shock. “What the fuck?” she mouths at him furiously, leaning forward a little in her chair. Her office chair. Her chair that has wheels on the bottom, and just like that… a plan starts to come together in Derek’s mind.

A way they could catch both hunters off guard, together. He gestures furiously to Erica, trying to communicate what he wants and hoping she gets it. She’s watching him wide eyed, but she nods a little and he thinks, he hopes , they’re on the same page.

“You know who I mean, the Alpha.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, okay?” Boyd says, voice low and soothing. “I’m just a baker. I don’t know what an Alpha is. I just want Erica back safe. That’s all.”

“When?” Erica mouths at Derek.

On three, he gestures, and she nods. Out loud she says, “Trust me, hon.”

One. Derek gestures.

“These guys are psychos.”

Two.

“You shoulda stayed at home and dodged a bullet, ” she says just as Derek gestures three, and they move together.

It feels like it happens in slow motion. It feels like it happens all at once. The way he launches himself forward toward Conor, as Erica throws herself forward into Gerard from behind, making his knees buckle.

Derek aims low, at Conor’s hips and they crash to the floor, Conor’s rifle flying across the smooth concrete. The kid twists round to face Derek, and he is a kid, this close Derek can see that now, Conor can’t be more than about seventeen despite his build. He reaches wildly for his sidearm but Derek grabs hold of his arm before he can reach it and punches him once, squarely in the face. Pulls it a little, because he doesn’t want to kill him, just knock him out. Immediately Conor goes limp, breathing but unconscious.

Across from them, Erica has rammed Gerard from behind with her chair straight in the back of the knees, throwing them both off balance, and making he fumbles his rifle, dropping it and a shot rings out but Derek doesn’t have time to think about where it’s landed, he just has to act, springing to his feet just as Gerard whirls around with a cry of fury.

“I knew it,” he screeches reaching for his sidearm. “I knew you were here.”

“Good for you,” Derek says, and punches him. Gerard’s head snaps back painfully and blood spurts out of his nose like a fountain. He staggers backwards a step, one hand clasped to his face, head shaking his head like he’s trying to clear it. Derek follows it up with a punch to his gut and Gerard curls over, winded, turning away. At that, Derek grabs him from behind, one arm looped over his chest like a steel bar and, reaching down, grabs Gerard’s pistol from it’s holster. Cocking it he presses the barrel up, into Gerard’s ribs.

“Go on, move,” he grits out. “I dare you.”

“I knew,” Gerard pants. “I knew you--”

“Yeah, nobody cares what you thought you knew, asswipe,” Erica crows from where she’s lying on the floor still tied to the chair. “You just got taken out by a girl tied to a chair and a Danny Zuko wannabe.” Derek turns his head to look at her, eyebrows raised, and she grins. “No offence, Miguel.”

“You little bitch, I’m gonna kill--” Gerard doesn’t get to finish the sentence, Derek pushes him to the floor and then lobs the pistol through one of the high warehouse windows with unerring accuracy. There’s the sound of glass shattering and a distant thump.

“You’re gonna shoot her?” Derek snarls, eyes flaring red as he glares down at Gerard, who meet’s his gaze stonily. “You think I’d let you hurt her?” The rush of the blood in his veins is electric, the sunlight is almost gone and even in the dingy halflight he can feel the full moon call to him. Something wild and animal beneath his skin. Reaching down he grabs Gerard’s hands and squeezes them in his own until he feels the bones crunch. Until he sees Gerard’s sour, stoic face crumple and hears him howl with pain. In that moment Derek wants to keep going, wants to break every bone in his ignorant, withered body.

“Miguel--” Erica’s voice, calls to him. “Miguel? I think he’s uh-- I think it’s enough.”

Derek blinks. Lets go. Gerard falls to the floor, staring down at his ruined hands, whimpering pitifully. “What did you do? What did you do to me?”

“Yeah,” Derek says. “Guess you won’t be shooting anyone any time soon.”

He wheels round to look at Erica, who is lying on the floor, still tied to her chair. It must have fallen over when she launched herself into Gerard.

“Are you okay?” Derek asks.

“Yeah.” She squints up at him cautiously. “Are you?”

Derek nods slowly. “I think I am now.” Crouching down he gently lifts the chair to an upright position. Then picks up the two rifles on the floor. God knows where Conor’s pistol go to, it’s probably under a workbench somewhere.

“What about you, honey?” Erica calls out into the room. “You didn’t get hit when that gun fired, did you?”

“Nah.” Boyd says, Derek looks round to see he’s standing to his feet behind a workbench. “I found cover. Thanks for the heads up by the way.”

“No problem, baby. Hey, can one of you untie me?”

“Sure,” Boyd jogs over and Derek hands him the rifles.

“Keep an eye on them,” he says nodding at Gerard and the unconscious form of Conor. “I can break Erica free.”

Boyd nods.

“I can’t believe you guys mounted a rescue!” Erica says, beaming at them, as Derek snaps the ties that bind her hands. She has a cut on her temple that’s bleeding sluggishly but otherwise she’s mercifully unharmed. “It was so cool, we totally kicked ass!” She rubs the feeling back into her red raw wrists.

“Right?” Boyd grins at her.

“You were so brave walking in there like that. When I saw you I thought you were gonna die and then I saw Miguel--”

“You know, we could really do with something to tie these two up with,” Derek says as he snaps the cable ties round Erica’s feet.

“Isaac has something in his backpack,” Boyd says. “Isaac?”

“Isaac’s here too?” Erica looks between them gleefully. “Holy shit!”

“Yeah he’s--” Boyd looks up from where he’s standing over Conor and Gerard, and sucks in a breath, expression gone slack. His hands drop almost losing the grip on his gun. “Isaac?” he says again and something in his voice makes Derek follow his gaze.

Isaac’s standing in the doorway and he isn’t alone. Crawford Lahey stands behind him, and he has the barrel of a gun pressed to Isaac’s temple.

“S-Sorry, guys,” Isaac manages and then flinches as his dad presses the barrel of the gun in further.

A cruel smile creeps across Crawford’s face. “Well now,” he drawls. “Why don’t you put those guns down out of reach in that train car over there--” he nods at Boyd, who hesitates. “You want me to shoot him?” Crawford asks.

Silently Boyd steps forward places both the rifles on the floor of the train car.

“Then back with your buddies over there,” Crawford says, “that’s right.”

“Thank God you’re here,” Gerard says, hands curled to his chest as he tries to struggle to his feet. “You need to--”

“Stay where you are, old man,” Crawford says. “Or I swear to god I’ll shoot you in the head.”

“But--”

“We ain’t here to help you--” He moves forward into the room, forcing Isaac in front of him, the gun still pressed against his temple. Derek swallows, all he can hear is the drumming of heartbeats, Isaac’s loudest of all, it feels like it’s about to burst out of his chest.

“Dad, please--” Isaac whimpers. “Don’t--”

“I tol’ you to be quiet--” Crawford snarls at him.

“What are you doing?” Erica says shakily. “That’s your son! You wouldn’t shoot your own son!”

“Well now, we don’t want to shoot anyone,” Crawford says, looking at Derek, his mouth stretching thin over yellowing teeth. It’s a lie. He’s lying. It’s written all over his face. “We don’t want to shoot so stay still and we’ll--”

It takes a moment for Derek to register what’s wrong with that sentence. One moment too long.

We.

We don’t want to--

Which means that somewhere, somehow in all this commotion of his fight with Gerard...

Derek shakes his head trying to process the different heartbeats in the room, takes a breath trying to parse the scents. The scent he’s looking for.

We, he thinks frantically and whirls around, already half wolfed out in panic.

A shot rings out, hitting Derek straight in the belly and he crumples to the ground, full of bright, searing, white hot pain. Boyd starts forward to him immediately, but another shot rings out and he drops to the floor like a stone a couple of feet from Derek.

Erica screams.

“He said we didn’t want to,” says the voice of Ennis. “He didn’t say we wouldn’t.”

 

---

 

“I fucked up, huh?” Stiles says, slumping down next to John where he’s sitting at the stump of the Nemeton. He sniffs dolefully, and John doesn’t have to look at him to know he’s close to crying. It’s been one heck of a night.

Claudia disappeared down the hill a while ago, collecting whatever it is she needs for the spell, but John can still make her out when the clouds part and the moon lights the clearing. As he listens to his son snuffle next to him he can’t help but wonder: how different would things be for Stiles right now if he’d grown up with her? Would he even be in this situation? Would he be happier? Healthier? Would he be somewhere else, enjoying a better life? “Do you ever wonder if you woulda been better--” He cuts himself off before he can finish the question, but his eyes are still fixed on Claudia and Stiles follows his gaze.

“What?” He jerks his head back to John and says, “ No .”

“But there’s a whole part of you that she woulda understood better than I ever can. I mean-- I did my best, but--”

“Please,” Stiles scoffs, “can you even imagine me as part of the Fairy Court? Seriously? A bunch of elegant, graceful, beautiful people and me ? No. There’s no way that would have worked and besides,” he nudges John gently with his elbow. “Who would’ve looked after you, made sure you were eatin’ properly?”

“Eating properly?” John says drily. “Is that what we’re callin’ beans four times a week?”

“Better than charcoaled meat,” Stiles shoots back. “The one time I let you cook you nearly set fire to the house.”

“Hey,” John says. “I’m the Sheriff! It isn’t my fault I got called to--”

“Excuses, excuses.” Stiles shakes his head fondly. “Just admit it, I’m the better cook.”

“Better cook my ass,” mutters John, pretending to scowl and Stiles reaches out and threads their fingers together, something he hasn’t done since he was a little boy. “Still though--”

“You better quit talkin’ nonsense,” Stiles says, snuggling up to John’s uninjured side carefully. “I got no patience for it. It’s been a weird kinda day.”

“Ain’t that the truth, kiddo. Ain’t that the truth.”

Stiles’ head is resting on John’s shoulder, his breathing even, he may even be asleep when Claudia finally returns to them; gently John nudges him and Stiles startles, blinking up at her.

“You’re back!”

“Yes.” Her eyes are solemn.

“So,” Stiles scrambles to his feet and then sticks out a hand to John, who takes it, wincing as he pulls himself up, his shoulder aching dully. “What do we do?”

“Over here,” Claudia gestures to the stump of the Nemeton, and Stiles and John follow her. She has a bunch of stuff clutched in her fist, and she places them on the stump. There are flowers that John can’t name, a dried out looking leaf from the Nemeton, an acorn and an oddly shaped stone. “I need a hair from your head,” she says to Stiles, and he hesitates for just a second before reaching up, plucking one out and handing it to her.  She takes it and places it next to the other stuff, then closes her eyes and gestures elegantly with one hand. Immediately a small carved wooden bowl pops into existence on the stump.

“Woah,” Stiles breathes, and a smile flickers at the corner of Claudia’s mouth.  While they watch, she tears off a few petals from the flowers and sprinkles them into the bowl with the hair and the acorn and the other stuff. Then she cups it in both hands and lifts it towards the sky. The moon is mostly hidden behind a cloud but as she lifts the bowl up, the clouds shift and a shaft of silver light hits the bowl dead center. Claudia shuts her eyes, muttering an incantation under her breath. A moment later, she lowers her arms, still carefully cupping the bowl between her hands, and John can see that it is now filled with a silvery, shimmering liquid, that shines bright as the moon in the sky above them.

“We’re going to scry,” she says.

“Scry?” John asks.

“It’s a form of fortune telling. If there is someone else, someone that Stiles will meet that could help free him, this may hint at who.” She turns to Stiles. “Take my hands.” They link hands over the bowl. “I need you to concentrate. Stare into the bowl and focus your mind.”

Stiles swallows, but nods, staring down at the bowl of shimmering moonlight and Claudia does the same. For a moment the both seem to breathe quietly, Stiles shifting nervously from foot to foot, fidgeting. Claudia is still as a statue.

“Concentrate,” Claudia exhales.

Stiles blinks and John sees him try and center himself again. Then he and Claudia stare down at the surface of the bowl together, where a dried out bit of leaf from the nemeton and a handful of petals bob on the surface.

It doesn’t seem like anything is happening, and John opens his mouth to say as much, when the atmosphere on the hilltop changes, and unnatural silence descends. There’s no sound, not a drop of rain or the rustle of a leaf, or the sound of his own breath, and yet John can still see the trees moving, can still feel his chest rise and fall. Taking a step closer to Claudia and Stiles he sees that their eyes are black, shining like onyx, as they hold each others hands in a white knuckle grip.

“Stiles?” John tries to say, but the word dies in his throat. So he reaches out and gently touches Stiles’ arm.

Stiles doesn’t respond. He can’t seem to hear John now and neither can Claudia. Their bodies might be here but their minds are somewhere completely different.

It’s probably okay, John tells himself, just part of the spell. Don’t panic. Don’t disturb them. Just let them be.

Long minutes pass like hours, and John is on the verge of nudging one of them, overcome with the nagging fear that they might lose themselves to this, and not be able to find their way back to him.

He’s two seconds away from digging Stiles in the ribs with his elbow, when they both break apart, staggering backwards, breathing heavily.

“Are you okay?” John asks, reaching out to steady Stiles, who is curled over like he might be sick.

“Stiles?” Claudia asks, stepping over to him and crouching down to grasp his hands. “Tell me, what did you see?”

“I don’t--” Stiles face crumples in confusion, and he sucks in a bit breath. “I-- Jesus-- I think I’m gonna be--” He wrenches himself free and throws up in the grass.

Claudia waits for him to stop heaving before speaking again. “What did you see?” she asks again.

“I felt, vague impressions: sadness, loneliness, guilt, grief. I don’t know. Vague impressions of emotion and--”

“And?”

“A symbol.”

Claudia crouches down and, picking up a stick traces something into the dirt. Three swirls joined at the centre. She looks up at Stiles for confirmation and he nods.

“That’s it.”

“You didn’t feel anything else?” She presses. “No other sense of who this person might be to you?” Her eyes rake his face searchingly.

“No.” he says.

Something about her expression makes John ask,  “Why? Did you?”

“Nothing certain.”

“If you know something that could help, then tell us.”

“If I tell you something and I’m wrong it could send Stiles down the wrong path,” she says, “and anyway, nothing changes the fact that here and now, this land is Stiles’ to care for.”

“We don’t know when this person will show up?” John asks.

Claudia shakes her head and turns to Stiles. “I won’t pretend this will be easy, and I’m sorry. I know that this isn’t what you would have chosen--”

“I-- I’ll try, my best,” he says, voice strained. “That’s all I can do, right? And eventually this person will show up and I’ll be free. The way I look at it I’m just holding on for them. Keeping this place safe until they get here. For all we know it may not be that long, right? They could be here next week for all we know.” The corner of his mouth lifts in a half hearted attempt at a smile.

“We can hope,” Claudia says, with a sad smile of her own, and John wonders what she saw in the bowl that she isn’t saying. How many years Stiles has ahead of him like this. Claudia clears her throat, “In the meantime though, we must  make some preparations for when you finally meet this person.” Claudia dips her index finger in the bowl and when she lifts it out it’s gleaming, molten moonlight dripping from it. Turning to Stiles she says, “Lift your shirt.”

 

---

The pain burns through Derek. He can feel his skin trying to close over the buckshot in his stomach as he keels over and he claws at his belly, rucking the shirt up, can already see black tendrils snaking across his stomach, from the craters of skin where the pellets hit.

He’s dimly aware of footsteps moving toward him, heartbeats pounding and the scent of fear and pain. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Erica hunched over Boyd, tears running down her face. This is all wrong.

They’d done it.

This shouldn’t happen, this---

Brown boots come to a stop straight in front of Derek’s face. “Hey, freak,” Ennis says with a thin-lipped grin, and kicks him in the belly. Derek curls over, wheezing. “Not such a big shot now, are ya?”

“Why? Why are you doing this?” Erica screams but Ennis ignores her.

Instead, his double barrelled shotgun nestled in the crook of his arm, he crouches down in front of Derek. “Y’know, when i first realized what you are, I figured, I gotta find some way to put you down. Because werewolves?” He laughs, and it’s an ugly, wheezing sound. “That’s some dangerous shit, right?”

He jabs Derek in the stomach with the butt of the gun and Derek thinks he might pass out from the pain. He chokes and wheezes, pawing at the buckshot in his belly, the skin is already trying to grow over it.

“Yikes,” Ennis grins. “Not looking too good, huh? Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. I thought I needed to put you down, but then I did more reading, chatted with that shithead over there,” he gestures at Gerard. “Followed you around a bit and saw you hanging out with these losers and I realized. This is wasted on you. All that power, and you’ve been doing what? Hanging out at a bakery? Living in an abandoned depot? You could be so much more. We didn’t know for sure who you were though, the human you, I mean. Not till I sent my buddy over to the bakery earlier today. Figured we’d make a few threats, see if we could draw you out.” He spits, and it lands by Derek’s face.

Derek chokes on the air, can feel his vision swimming, he’s drenched in sweat, can feel the change pressing down on him, eyes flickering red and back like a broken street lamp. His canines elongating without his control. What was it Stiles had said? Two different strains of wolfsbane. Maybe mistletoe as well. Tilting his head to the side Derek vomits tarry black goop and it sticks to his chin and pools on the floor beneath him. It feels like he can’t take a breath, the poison already working its way through him too quickly, and he writhes, gulping down big gasping breaths.

“Yeah, you’re weak. All that power and it’s wasted on you,” Ennis says, casually and he rolls up the sleeve of his shirt. “But you know what? It won’t be wasted on me.”

With that he forces wrist into Derek’s mouth and pushes it down against his sharp teeth, and Derek tries to hold back. Tries to move away, but he can’t. He’s weak. He’s helpless, there’s too much poison in his system.  “That’s how it works, right?” Ennis says, eyes hard. “You bite me. I turn. I kill you, and I’m the Alpha.” Ennis looks up, nods at the others who are swim in and out of focus at the edge of Derek’s vision. “I bite them, they have to be my pack. They have to do what I say. People in this town have ta do what I want.”

Tears leak out of Derek’s eyes, his stomach throbs, “No--”

“No?” Ennis says. It’s the full moon tonight, and perhaps that’s why the wound on Ennis’ wrist is already beginning to heal. Derek bites back a howl. It’s the full moon, and Ennis has no idea what he’s done to himself, he has no idea how to control himself. Turning people? Once he’s killed Derek he’ll be lucky if he doesn’t flip out and kill every other person here. Ennis reaches out and drags Derek up by the collar, and repeats,  “No? Just how are you gonna stop me, huh? You didn’t claim them, and now they’re gonna be mine. That’s how it works.”

Blinking at Ennis, Derek feels his heart pound slow in his ears, his head muzzy, so muzzy. He’s going to die. Here and now. He’s let down Erica and Boyd and Isaac. He’s failed. In that moment though his thoughts turn to Stiles, how devastated he’ll be. How lonely. How Derek promised him that he would free him, would stay with him. How they had that one perfect night curled up in bed next to each other whispering secrets to each other across the pillow until Derek fell asleep, warm and safe. How Stiles had trusted him, had even trusted him with his real na-- Derek sucks in a painful breath, spots dance before his eyes, but he knows all in a rush what he’s got to do.

“Who’s gonna stop me?” Ennis says, lips curling yellow teeth in a snarl, his face looking an unnatural grey in the fading light.

“M-M-M--” Derek’s eyes roll back in his head, body arching in pain. “Mi--”

Standing to his feet, Ennis picks Derek up easily and hurls him into the side of the train car which buckles like a tin can. “You?” He roars, and every window in the building shakes. It’s happening. The full moon is rising and the change is coming quicker than Ennis can handle it, he’s exultant, furious, drunk on his own power. He's out of control. Striding over to Derek he kicks him again. “You think you can stop me?”

“No--” Derek pants out, wheezing.

“Then who?”

“Mieczyslaw,” whispers Derek, and he feels it immediately. Feels the sudden change in the air. Magic crackling around them. Can taste it on his tongue, can almost smell it in the air, ozone rich and impossible to ignore.

The room darkens, and as Derek looks up through the high depot windows he sees dark clouds rolling across the sky. It’s happening.

“Who?” Ennis snarls, and Derek grins back up at him like a loon, black goop dribbling down his chin.

“Mieczyslaw,” he says again, and starts to laugh.

Thunder rolls overhead and beneath them the ground trembles.

 

---

Chapter Text

At a whisper of Stiles’ true name the ground shakes and the windows rattle in their frames. The lights overhead sputter on. They flicker and hum, off, on, off, on, off, then on again, getting brighter and brighter, until, without warning, every bulb in the building explodes. Erica hunches protectively over Boyd’s prone form, trying to shield him from the shower of glass; next to them, Gerard ducks down under a nearby workbench, raising his ruined hands to cover his head. Even Crawford, the barrel of his pistol still pressed snug against Isaac’s temple, stumbles back a step looking about himself in fear, but Derek doesn’t have a chance to move. Ennis grabs him by his shirt, canines elongating and flecks of his saliva spatter Derek’s face as he snarls, “What did you do ? What’s happening?”

Derek can only gasp, his breath ragged, shallow; whatever was in those shotgun shells is taking hold more and more by the second. The pain in his belly burns like fire, and, with every breath, every beat of his heart, he can feel the poison spread. He’s kitten weak and muzzy headed, but he has to hang on-- has to maintain a dogged grip on his own consciousness-- after all, while he’s awake Ennis’ fury is directed at him and not the others, and that may be the only way he can protect them now.

With a growl Ennis throws him to the floor and Derek groans, writhing in pain as he sucks in one deep, shocky breath after another.

Outside, dusk has fallen, and inside the warehouse the dim grey half-light is cut with dark shadows that deepen by the second. For a non-wolf it must be getting difficult to see, but Derek has no trouble watching Ennis as he stalks the floor, his movements jerky and uneven, his nostrils flaring. There’s a greyish tinge to his skin, it’s waxy and sallow. His clawed hands are bunched into fists and blood seeps between his fingers and drips slowly, pooling, slick and sticky against the concrete floor.

Ennis is fighting for control.

He’s fighting and he’s losing.

Come on Stiles, Derek thinks. Almost prays. Please. Please. Please.

As if in answer, the ground trembles again. Magic thrums through the air, Derek can taste it, harsh and metallic on his tongue, setting his teeth on edge. It makes his palms itch-- makes his arms break out in gooseflesh. Shivering, he scrunches his eyes shut, brings one of his arms up from his belly to try and cover his ears. His senses are going haywire. He can hear the pounding of every heartbeat in the room getting louder louder and quicker quicker with each thud. Each breath sounds like thunder in his ears, from the sharp staccato of Isaac’s panicked gasping, to the shaky, shallow inhales of Boyd, barely hanging on. The smell of panic and fear is acid in his nostrils. He can taste it, feels like he can almost see it.

The humans in the room seem unaffected, but Ennis howls in pain and confusion. He’s roiling, seething, a barely contained storm of rage. He claws at himself, like he’s trying to crawl out of his own skin, gouging marks across his face; the cuts form, bleed and heal, then form again, as he tears at himself.  “What is this?” he screams, doubling over.

Derek doesn’t answer him. Pain throbs in his stomach and he slowly levers himself up on to one elbow and heaves, vomiting more black goop.

“Please,” he hears Erica say, her voice tremulous, “please let me take him to the hospital. I--I think he’s really hurt.”

She’s talking about Boyd, at least Derek thinks she is. Looking over at her through a haze of pain, he can see her still crouched over Boyd’s body. Her hands stroking his shoulders, his face, gently, helplessly. “Please,” she begs. “Please.”

Ennis spins round with a guttural snarl. “Shut. Up!” he roars, and the windows high above him shatter, showering more shards of glass everywhere, and once again everyone ducks for cover.

In the seconds after, silence falls, then Erica starts to cry softly. At that Ennis breathes deeply through his nose, quick, deep breaths, shaking his head like he’s trying to clear it. Control is slipping through his fingers. The sun is all but gone. The moon is rising-- full and round, furious and unforgiving. Derek can’t see it, but he can feel it, pulling at the blood in his veins. Even through the pain he can feel the urge to shift pressing down on him. Exultant. Angry. He wants to howl, to change, to run-- he wants to give in . He doesn’t. He knows how to master it-- to use it-- to bend those urges to his will, until he controls them and not the other way around. But Derek is a born wolf with years of experience. Ennis, on the other hand--

He’s turned his back to them, hunched over, trembling, great snuffling snarls burst from him. It’s a noise more animal than human, strange and disconcerting even to Derek.

“Uhhhh-- Ennis?” Crawford says tentatively. He’s still clutching Isaac to him, the barrel of his gun still pressed against Isaac’s temple. “A-Are you--”

At the sound of his voice, Ennis sucks in a deep shuddering breath, then another. Slowly he turns to look at Crawford. His eyes glow a dull sickly yellow as his face contorts, features shifting, rearranging themselves into his beta form. “Fuck. Off.” Ennis' voice sounds like it’s clawed its way out of his throat. It sounds like he barely remembers how to string two words together.

When he sees Ennis’ face, Crawford stumbles back a couple of steps in horror, and lets go of Isaac, who immediately dives across to where Boyd, Erica and Gerard are all huddled.

“E--Ennis?” Crawford’s voice breaks over the name.

A deep bass rumbling noise rises up out of Ennis’ chest. He bares his teeth ever so slightly.

Slowly, reluctantly, Crawford raises his gun again, but this time it isn’t pointed at Isaac. His finger hovers over the trigger, twitching, nervous. “E-Ennis?” he says again.

Ennis grunts, his eyes flick to the barrel of the gun and lock on, the growling noise grows louder, deeper. He chuffs out a harsh breath.

Lower. The. Gun. Derek thinks. But he doesn’t say it. He can’t force the words out through the throb of pain in his gut.

Sweat beads on Crawford's forehead, it trickles down his face, into his eyes, but he doesn’t swipe at it, doesn’t take his gaze off of Ennis-- not for a second.

Ennis’ nostrils flare, and his head tilts to one side as he considers Crawford carefully.

Don’t run. Don’t shoot. Don’t make any sudden movements, Derek wills. Don’t turn yourself into prey, and hope against hope that there’s still enough of him left to hold on.

“Ennis?” Crawford half whispers. He stinks of fear, of desperation. The air is so thick with it, in that moment it feels like the only scent in the room. “It’s me-- It’s-- It’s me. You remember me?”

The barrel of the gun glints slightly as a shaft of moonlight strobes through the high, glassless window frames. Ennis’ lips peel back in a snarl.

“W-We’re in this together,” Crawford says desperately. “We’re--” His finger trembles over the trigger. “Friends?”

Ennis takes a jerky step forward, then another, claws extended, mouth open in a snarl, and, hands shaking violently, Crawford fires. Wide. It whistles over Ennis’ shoulder and embeds itself in the wall of the train car.

With a howl of fury that makes the ground quake, Ennis springs forward.

Derek hears rather than sees another shot fire, but it misses-- too little too late. Crawford’s gun goes skidding across the floor as he drops like a stone under the weight of Ennis’ attack, hitting the floor with a sickening thud. There’s a mangled cry, and a spray of blood spurts up the side of the workbench and over the floor, then another, again and again, each time getting weaker. Arterial, Derek thinks dumbly as the iron rich tang of blood floods the air. There’s the wet crunch of Ennis tearing through flesh, breaking bone. The heavy breathing, interspersed with grunting, snuffling, noises that Ennis makes as he hulks over Crawford’s prone form, shredding and clawing through skin and muscle in uncontrolled animal rage.

From his position on the floor, all Derek can see of Crawford now is one foot twitching-- twitching-- twitching-- and then-- still. His heartbeat, thready and uneven, fading, fading, fading and then-- silent.

Across from them, Derek thinks he hears Isaac take in a deep, shaky breath. The kind of breath you take when you’re desperately trying not to cry. Save for Ennis’ snorts and snarls, it’s the only noise in the room.

Slowly Ennis rises and turns to face them, bloody and triumphant, his hands slick and sticky, eyes glowing, wild and dangerous, his lips pull back over his bloody fangs in a feral grin and then, tipping back his head, he howls.

“Uh--Cr--” Isaac says, voice a choked whisper. “Craw--”  With a pained gasp, Derek turns his head to look at him.  Isaac’s half rising to his feet, face pale with shock. “Oh my god. Oh my god. Fuck." He scrubs a hand over his face. "Fuck. Da -- ” he breaks off, unable to finish the word.

With a snort, Ennis turns to look at him, eyes glinting yellow.

“What did you do?” Isaac murmurs, eyes fixed on all that can be seen of Crawford: the blood that pools under him. Voice brittle with horror, he says again, “What did you do?

Teeth bared, claws dripping with blood, Ennis snarls, and takes a step toward him.

“No!” The word tugs at the wound in Derek’s stomach. He lifts himself up onto one elbow and every movement creates another bright pulse of pain that makes him feel like he could pass out. “No no no no!”

Ennis hesitates, gaze flicking over to Derek, and then, immediately back to Isaac. He takes another jerky step toward him.

Heart in his throat, Derek forces himself to sit up further, head spinning-- “Mieczysław,” he calls, voice raw, breaking over the name. His throat feels like he’s swallowed glass, jagged and sore. “Mieczysław! Mieczysław! ” He feels the difference this time. Like he’s summoning Stiles. Calling him up with every fiber in his being. Every cell in his body reaching out to him, demanding his presence here.

As if in answer, the air turns thinner and time seems to slow; he can feel each individual hair rise on the back of his neck. Every throb of pain, every thump of his heart is stretched, dragged out and made to feel like it lasts for minutes, days, hours. His senses bleed into one another, sight, sound, touch, smell all dialed up to eleven, and then melting into each other until he can’t distinguish one from the other.

Time stretches out, tight as a rubber band pulled to breaking, it feels like it’s either going to snap back or break forever and leave him stranded here, at this one point, for the rest of eternity. Head swimming, he forces himself to look up at the humans, but they seem unaffected. Across from him Ennis staggers forward, face screwed up, mouth opened in a silent scream, miserable with pain and confusion.

Then, just when Derek thinks he won’t be able to bear it anymore, the tension breaks. He feels it like the recoil from a shotgun, knocking him back. Feels time start to speed up again.

There’s a ripping, tearing sound, like a thousand strips of velcro slowly being peeled apart, it seems to be wrenched right from the air around them, and then, suddenly, Stiles steps into existence, right there next to Derek-- pale, rangy and dark-eyed, inhuman and utterly beautiful. He looks about himself, taking in the rest of the pack, Ennis, Crawford, Gerard, then he looks down at where Derek is lying on the floor, chalk-white and bloody. He raises one eyebrow, and, in a voice that sounds like metal scraping against metal he says, “I thought I told you to stay .”

Derek doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry in relief at that, and settles for rolling his eyes. Stiles may be the all-powerful fae guardian of the forest, but he’s also exactly the kind of asshole who's never going to let the opportunity for a good dog joke slide. It might be one of the things Derek loves most about him.

Across from them Ennis takes a deep hulking breath, drawing himself up to his full height. Illuminated only by the moonlight that streams in through the high windows, Stiles looks so slight standing there across from him, and for one moment Derek feels a sharp stab of fear on his behalf.

“You,” the word grumbles up out of Ennis’ chest, rusty and awkward.

“Me,” Stiles says, and his lips peel back in a humorless smile, revealing a row of teeth, slightly too sharp to be fully human.

Ennis swipes a hand across his mouth, blood smearing across his cheek, then stretches his neck from side to side, letting the joints crack. “Should. Have. Guessed--” Each word scrapes its way out, rough and uneven, as Ennis shuts his eyes, lets his nostrils flare. “Always. You.” He looks almost pleased as his lips thin in a smile. “Fuck. Smell so good. Gonna--” he shudders, stretching as he huffs in a lungful of air. “Gonna taste you.” He bares his teeth, blood and saliva drips from wickedly sharp canines.

Stiles’ eyes flick past Ennis to where Crawford lies in a pool of his own blood. “Like you just tasted Crawford?” His other eyebrow lifts to join the first. “I’m gonna respectfully decline.”

Derek can smell Ennis’ anger, his frustration and impotent arousal-- a toxic stew that’s simmered long enough, now it’s about to boil over. “You think--” Ennis grits, “you-- get-- to say no? You think-- you have-- a choice?” He crouches down on his haunches, poised to leap, his eyes flaring that sickly yellow color. Across from him Stiles gestures, a quick flick of his wrist, and Derek hears a rumble like distant thunder.

“There’s always a choice,” Stiles says, the ghost of a smile playing over his lips.

With a howl of rage, Ennis lunges forward.

It happens so fast, Derek barely registers it: One moment Ennis is rushing towards Stiles in a frenzy of snapping teeth and sharp claws, jaw extending like a snake that wants to swallow him whole-- the next the ground begins to shake, the rumble that Derek heard seconds earlier is getting closer and closer, and, as it nears, he half grins in recognition. It isn’t thunder at all: A tree root, twisted, gnarled, and thick as a man’s arm, punches up through the floor of the warehouse sending chunks of concrete everywhere. Snake-like it slithers forward, and, lightning fast, wraps itself around Ennis’ ankle pulling him off his feet and lifting him into the air.

He dangles there, snapping and snarling ridiculously, trying to lean up and reach for it so he can free himself.

“Let. Me. Go,” he roars, twisting and flailing.

“Nah. I think you need a time out,” Stiles says, head tilting up to look at him.

Ennis snarls, and Stiles gestures again. The root draws itself back and flings Ennis against the far wall. There’s the dull thwack as his body hits the ground, followed by the sound of crumbling drywall and falling bricks, as half the wall caves on top of him. A plume of dust rises.

Immediately the root drops to the ground, limp and lifeless. It lies there, unmoving.

Stiles waits a beat to see if Ennis is going to get back up; when he doesn’t he turns and looks down at Derek. As he meets Derek’s gaze, his features soften, change ever so slightly, until he looks less unearthly and more-- human. “You worry about offering those guys the bite,” he nods towards the others. “But you give it to him ?”

Derek arches up as another burst of pain racks his body. “Wasn’t exactly a choice,” he grits.

Stiles crouches down to take a look at him, “Fuck. You just had to rush off and get shot, didn’t you?”

“A-Again. N-Not a ch-choice--”

“Really? I gave you one job,” Stiles says, “One. Stay in the apartment. Jesus. ” Glancing over to the others he says, “Wait. Who’s that guy?” Stiles nods at Gerard, who is still cowering under the workbench.

“Gerard,”  Derek manages, and then, “A-Argent.” He curls over to vomit more black goo.

“But--”

Derek manages to scowl up at him, as pain racks through him again.

“Okay, less questions more fixing the wolfsbane poisoning. I hear you.”

“And Boyd,” Erica pleads. She seems to have recovered from the initial shock at Stiles’ sudden appearance. “He’s been shot too. I think-- It isn’t good. I--I can barely feel his pulse any more.”

Stiles looks between Boyd and Derek, and Derek says, “B-Boyd first. I-I’ll live.”

Stiles snorts in derision at that, but hurries across the room. “Okay, let’s get shed some light on the subject, it’s getting so I can’t see a thing in here.” He opens his palm face up and concentrates, after a few seconds a ball of light appears in it, and, when he seems happy with the brightness he lifts his hand to his mouth and blows, one short, sharp breath. It floats about eight feet in the air, and hangs there, suspended like a tiny sun bathing the immediate space in a warm yellow glow. Then Stiles crouches down over Boyd to take a better look. He frowns.  Turning to Erica he says, “Shit. Fuck. Okay. Does Boyd have his lighter with him?”

She sniffs, rubbing her nose with the heel of her hand. “I think so, why?”

“We’re going to need it.”

“What?”

“We can use it to save Derek and Boyd." He edges round to get closer and take a better look at the wound, but the movement brings him nearer to Gerard, who’s still lurking under the workbench. As Stiles nears he flinches back like he’s been burned.

“What the fuck are you?” he hisses. “Stay away from me. Freak.” Turning to look at them all he spits, “This whole place is full of fucking freaks. All of you. Betraying your species to be friends with monsters. Don’t you see what they’re capable of! I swear, when I get out of here I’m going to bring a fucking army back with me. I’m going to hunt every last one of you down. I’m going to--”

“I don’t have time for this shit,” Stiles mutters. Leaning forward, he reaches out and forcibly cups Gerard’s face in one hand. “Sleep,” he says. It’s unmistakably a command and Gerard’s voice trails off, he blinks slowly at Stiles, then buckles, folds over, sinking to the floor. Within seconds he’s snoring gently.

Turning to Isaac, Stiles says, “To save them we’re gonna need a bullet. One of the ones that shot Derek and Boyd, so can you get me the guns?” Isaac looks green with shock, but after a beat he nods, and scrambles to his feet, pointedly avoiding looking at where his dad lies. Stiles turns back to Derek. “Looks like you’re about to make your second beta of the night. Let’s hope he turns out better than the first one.” Stiles gets to his feet and jogs back over to where Derek lays. “Erica, have you found the lighter--”

She hesitates. “Wait. You mean you’re gonna turn Boyd into--” she pales, her gaze flicking across to the hole Ennis left in the warehouse wall.

Crouching down next to Derek, Stiles loops his arm under his shoulder and helps hims struggle to his feet. “Ennis was an asshole,” Stiles says matter of factly. “So he was an asshole werewolf. Boyd is a good guy, and he’ll be a good wolf. Plus, he’ll have Derek to help keep him in check while he gets the hang of it.”

Erica swallows. “But--”

“Erica,” he says, seriously. “Trust me, if I could ask Boyd’s permission I would. But you’re right. He’s hanging on by a thread, and there isn’t time to get help. If we don’t do this, he’ll die.”

“But-- All the stuff you can do, can’t you--”

“I can’t heal people. I can do all kinds of things in the interest of protecting this place, but I can’t do that. I’m sorry. Only Derek can help him now-- assuming he’s willing.”

Derek meets Erica’s gaze. “I’ll look after him,” he promises, voice shaking with the effort of standing. “I won’t let him hurt anyone like Ennis did. Stiles is right, he’ll make a good wolf.”

She stares at him a long moment. Blinks. “Like you?” she says, her voice watery.

Derek smiles then, in spite of everything he can’t help himself, and, after a beat she smiles back.

It’s all Derek can do to move. He clutches onto Stiles shirt helplessly, legs as frail as a baby deer, every step pulling at the wound in his stomach, biting back the urge to cry out in pain through sheer force of will.

“You know,” Stiles huffs conversationally, as takes Derek’s weight, and half drags him across to the others. “I’m thinking you could use some kind of obedience training. Y’know, following basic commands etc… etc…” He says it lightly enough, but there’s a slightly brittle edge to his voice, and Derek can tell he’s angry or hurt at the way things have turned out, probably both.

“I’ll let you book me in,” he rasps, and the corner of Stiles’ mouth twitches up in a smile. When they reach Boyd and Erica, he helps Derek lie down on the floor next to him. Isaac returns with a selection of guns, and puts them on the workbench. “We need to make sure we use the right bullets here. Okay, so who shot these two, and with what?” Stiles asks.

“Ennis shot them,” Isaac says, “But I don’t know--”

Erica gestures down at the selection of guns. “These belonged to the hunters,” she sniffs, her voice is brittle with emotion, but she sounds confident. “These belonged to Crawford and Ennis.”

Picking up Crawford’s pistol from with his right hand, Stiles hits the magazine release, then catches the magazine in his left. Peering at it he says, relieved, “Still got a couple of unspent cartridges in there, cool.”

Derek shuts his eyes and waits; the pain has now almost turned to numbness, which he figures is probably a bad sign. Aware he just has to make it through the next couple of minutes he tries to focus on Stiles’ heartbeat, the comforting trip of his pulse. It’s like a lullaby, though, and he can almost feel himself slipping into unconsciousness. Instead he shifts focus onto the ragged edge of Boyds breathing, because he is still breathing, it’s shallow but it’s there-- his pulse reedy and thin, but persistent, and Derek has to try and hang on long enough to help him. He’ll never forgive himself if he doesn’t.

“Not long now, guys,” Stiles says, and Derek’s eyes slip shut, his head reeling. “Hold on.” Now that Stiles is here, he feels like he can relax, feels himself floating up, out of his own body, a vague, dreamlike sensation. With his eyes shut he focuses on the sounds around him, trying to stay awake.

The sound of the others talking, Erica and Isaac, mumbling to each other, Stiles trying to reassure them. The sound of Stiles releasing the cartridges from the magazine.

Then, just on the edge of Derek’s hearing, there’s something else. Movement. Loose stones falling to the floor, a low, pained grunt. Labored breathing. Movement. What sounds like more stones hitting the floor. Soft footsteps. It could be a dream. It’s probably a dream, but--

Derek forces his eyes to flutter open, and blinks. Erica and Isaac are hunched over he and Boyd, faces tight with concern. Stiles is standing by the workbench with his back to them, opening up a cartridge to get at the wolfsbane within.

The footsteps are closer now, quiet, but unmistakable. There’s the beginning of a growl. An all too familiar scent in the air--

“Stiles--” Derek’s voice is weak, but some warning note in it that makes Stiles stops what he’s doing and glance round.

That’s all the notice he gets.

There’s no time to respond.

It’s too late.

Ennis picks Stiles up by the scruff of his neck and throws him through the open doorway of the derelict train car where he hits his head against one of the metal stanchions with a sickening crack and drops to the floor like a stone.

Isaac screams in shock.

Ignoring him, Ennis launches himself after Stiles, he leaps through the doorway and stands over Stiles’ still form, panting heavily.

“D-don’t--” Derek says.

Without any effort at all, Ennis wrenches the stanchion free, in a horrifying squeal of twisted metal. He hefts it in his hands, testing the weight of it, he takes a deep breath through his nose, the another. When he looks back towards them, y ellow eyes glinting, his lips peel back in a nasty smile.

Stiles isn’t moving. That’s all Derek can think. He’s lying here on the floor, his plaid shirt and the pale white skin of his arm the only thing that’s visible in the wreck of the traincar. Above them though, the werelight Stiles summoned earlier flickers, but doesn’t go out. That has to mean something, Derek thinks desperately. It has to. 

Next to Derek, out of the corner of his eye, he sees Erica rise slowly, edging closer she reaches her hand up for one of the hunter’s guns that Isaac left on the workbench. Slowly she gets to her feet, her stance wide.

“Erica--” Derek murmurs, helplessly.

She ignores him.

Still standing over Stiles, Ennis lifts the metal bar, high above his head, meaning to bring it down on Stiles with all his strength, and Derek swears he can see Stiles' arm twitch up, like he's bracing himself for the hit.

“Hey, motherfucker,” Erica calls, and, Ennis stops, midaction, turns. She opens fire. He takes one in the arm with a howl of pain. Dropping the bar to the floor with a clatter, he staggers back a step, and then with a grunt starts towards her, and she squeezes the trigger again, hitting him in the shoulder and then again in the leg. He half stumbles, half falls out of the train car as she tries to fire again, but there’s just the dull click of an empty chamber. She’s out of bullets.

“Little. Bitch,” Ennis breathes, lurching towards her, one hand clutching his shoulder. “I’m gonna fucking--” There’s a crunching sound of breaking bone and tearing flesh.

He stumbles to a stop.

Blinks.

Takes in one sharp, shallow breath.

Then another.

Blood bubbles up on his lips, He opens his mouth to speak but no words come out, just a dreadful gurgling sound.

A whine rises up, out of his throat, high pitched, pained.

Ennis stares down at his own chest in shock-- stares at the red spot that’s appearing on his white t-shirt. It’s bright, ruby red, and spreading.

Like an inflatable toy with a slow leak, Ennis folds over, drops to his knees, and that’s when Derek sees him-- Stiles, standing there behind him, expression grim, there’s a deep gash across his head and his plaid shirt is in tatters-- but he’s clutching the metal bar that Ennis meant to beat him with, and he’s driven it clean through Ennis’-- back to front. Derek can see the imprint of it, a circular impression against the bloody stain on Ennis’ shirt.

Without warning, Ennis falls forward on to his face, skewered on the pole.

Finally silent. His pulse is still there, but it’s fading. There’s only so long even he can last riddled with wolfsbane with a pole through his chest.

“And stay down, motherfucker,” Stiles pants, letting go of it. The bar clatters to the floor, as Stiles limps past Ennis and back over to the rest of them. “Okay, where were we?”

“Stiles--” Derek says weakly. He can feel his grip on consciousness beginning to fade. “Please-- Boyd.” Boyd’s pulse is barely audible now, and Derek can feel his grip on consciousness slipping away.

Hobbling over, Stiles drops to his knees.

“Derek-- Derek, can you hear me? I have the wolfsbane, I need you to stay awake. I need you to bite Boyd… can you do that? He’s not gonna make it otherwise. Derek? Can you do that?”

“W-want to.” He’s weak though, drifting, feels like he’s floating, floating high above his body, and his eyes slip shut.

“Derek!”  shouts Stiles.

The last thing Derek remembers is the press of warm flesh up against his mouth, the smell of ash, the rich iron tang of blood in his mouth, and Stiles' voice repeating, again and again, “Stay with me. Come on. Stay with me.”

Chapter Text

Derek startles awake; clear, cold air slices through his lungs as he sucks in a great big breath and sits up all at once, blinking and confused. Above him the moon is shiny and round as a newly minted dime, suspended in an ink-black sky. Endless stars are scattered overhead, twinkling brightly, and the scent of pine and rich earth carries toward him on the breeze. He’s near the top of a steep hill; as his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, he peers down the bare slope-- clustered around the foot are dense woods that stretch before him as far as the eye can see. Wind dances through the treetops rustling the leaves; somewhere in the distance an owl hoots softly.

“You’re awake.”

Derek half turns to look at Isaac, who is sitting behind him, perched on the stump of an old tree, his backpack sitting next to him, his legs swinging back and forth, hitting the rough bark rhythmically with his heels. It’s a familiar stump. A familiar hill top-- although Derek hasn’t seen it since that first night in the Beacon Hills preserve all those weeks ago.

“Hey.” Derek runs a hand through his hair and looks about himself a little more. “How did we get here? Where is everyone?”

“Stiles brought us here, first you and me, then Boyd and Erica, he said it would be-- appropriate? I don’t get why. Anyway, he and Erica are watching over Boyd, they’re just over the hill a ways.”

“How’s Boyd?”

“Still asleep, but healing. Stiles says he’ll be out for a little while longer yet.” Isaac jumps down off the stump and lopes over to him. “So are you, uh--feeling better?”

Derek takes a moment to assess himself. He feels tired, a little weak maybe, but the pain from the shotgun wounds in his stomach is gone. There isn’t even that tight, fizzing feeling that suggests he’s still healing. “I’m good,” he says slowly. “I think I’m good.”

“They really did a number on you and Boyd.” Isaac takes a seat next to him, on the damp grass; he bends his knees and rests his arms on them loosely. “Ennis and Cr-- uh,” he clears his throat awkwardly. “They mixed a whole cocktail of shit into whatever they shot you guys with. It took awhile for Stiles to figure it out. I swear even he thought he was gonna lose you both at one point.”

Derek doesn’t know what to say to that, except that it explains why the bullets affected him so badly.

There’s a long silence. Isaac picks up a stray stick and pokes at the ground between them, dislodging clods of earth. He says, “So--uh-- so what is he then? Stiles, I mean. Some kind of a leprechaun or hobgoblin or--?”

“Sure,” says Derek with a sly smile.

“Hah!” Isaac’s lips curl upwards. “I think if I call him a leprechaun he’ll probably hex me.”

“Noooooo. What makes you say that?”

“I’ll tell him you told me he was a leprechaun. Then we’ll see what’s what.” He pokes at the ground a little more forcefully, digging out little furrows in the soil. It occurs to Derek that it’s been a tough night for everyone, but perhaps especially Isaac.

Clearing his throat he says, “I’m sorry.” Isaac pauses in his excavations to look over at him. “About your dad,” Derek clarifies.

Isaac gives a little one shouldered shrug, after a beat he says, “I hated him. I hated him so much. He was a jerk. Just-- god, the worst, the fucking worst.”  

He returns to gouging the earth and he’s downright vicious now, as he digs, lumps of dirt spray everywhere. Eventually, a stray stone hits Derek on the knee and he reaches out a hand, placing it over Isaac’s wrist to still him. Isaac inhales shakily and sniffs, scrubbing his free hand over his eyes. Derek can smell the sudden tang of salt on the air. He lets go of him.

Drawing a shuddering breath Isaac says, “Fuck. Shit. I don’t even know why I’m upset. If things were the other way around I know he wouldn’t shed a tear over me.”

Derek doesn’t know what to say. His family were, for the most part, happy. Peter was occasionally an asshole, but not the kind of asshole that deserved bad things. More the kind of asshole that teased you a little too much about the girl you had a crush on, or that awkward haircut your mom made you get when you were twelve. Sometimes, even now, there are days when Derek misses that so much he’s breathless with it. His hands curl in the fabric of his jeans, a white-knuckled grip.

When Derek doesn’t say anything, Isaac continues, “I just-- it wasn’t always like that with my dad, y’know? It wasn’t always the way you saw it today.” He goes back to poking the ground with the stick, flicking more dirt out of the trench he’s made, and resolutely doesn’t look at Derek. “There was a time, way back, ages ago, when my mom was still alive-- when it was okay, sometimes even good. At least--” He stops digging for a moment and stares off into the middle distance. “At least, I think there was-- maybe I’m misremembering.”

Derek thinks about that often, how much of what he remembers about his family is actually real, and how much is just his mind playing tricks on him, painting everything rose colored so that it makes things easier. He doesn’t even have photographs of them. More and more in the last few years, since Laura died, he feels like the memories are fading, blurring out of focus. He isn’t sure he can remember the exact color of his mom’s eyes, or Cora’s scent, or the sound of his dad’s voice, or Peter’s laugh. All he has left now are memories, and memories of memories, and the mind lies to you-- tricks you. It changes things. He knows it does.

More than once, traveling across country, he’s walked into some podunk town and caught a glimpse of someone from behind, or in profile, and been convinced that it’s Laura, or his parents. Always, in that minute there’s a rollercoaster moment, where his stomach drops, as he lets himself believe that the last few years have all been one horrific mistake, that the people he loves are still alive. Then, inevitably, as the person moves around, or turns into better light, he’s realized that it isn’t them at all and the loneliness returns, more crushing than before.

The one thing he’s had though, always, throughout everything, is a sure knowledge that his family loved him. They may not be here now, but when they were, they were all in. They belonged to him, and he to them. The memories he has of them are nearly all good. And he’s grateful that he had that, at least. It’s a weird, alien, thing to think, but it could have been worse.

“When I was little we used to go to the beach every year on the 4th of July,” Isaac says. “My Dad would drive us to the coast and my mom would make a picnic lunch. Me and my brother, Cam, used to build sandcastles and play in the surf, watch the sunset together. My Dad had these old lawn chairs he’d take with us, he used to sit in one and pull my mom onto his knee and bury his face in her hair, and she’d be smiling. Sometimes we’d buy ice-cream-- I can still picture it so clear. Like I can almost smell the salt in the air, y’know? That feeling of being completely happy and-- and--” His voice breaks a little. “And safe.” He swipes at his eyes. “I used to think about those times, after my uh-- my mom and Cam died and my dad started drinking. When things got bad. I used to think about that. To remind myself that it was real.”

Dropping his stick to the floor, Isaac rubs his grubby hand across his nose and dirt streaks across his cheek, mixing with snot and tears. He shakes his head, voice thick. “I think that’s what’s fucking with my mind, y’know? In some weird way I’m gonna miss him. Or maybe I miss the version of him I wish he could have been. Which is probably even more fucked up. It’s just-- he was the only family I had left, and I guess some stupid part of me kept hoping that one day he would sort himself out, that we’d-- that he would--” he makes a sweeping gesture with one arm. “He didn’t hesitate to put a gun to my head, and I knew then--. God, I’m such an idiot .”

Derek thinks of Kate. Of loving someone so much your heart could burst. Loving someone more than they deserve, only to have them betray you completely. “You’re not an idiot,” he says softly, “everyone wants to believe that the people they love are deserving of it, that they love us back, that they can be trusted. Especially a parent.”

Isaac nod miserably, shoulders hunched and thin. Silently Derek lifts his arm up in invitation. After a moment, Isaac sinks against him, and Derek pulls him into a one armed hug.

“My brother, my mom and now my dad. I’m the only one left,” Isaac says, and his shoulders are shaking in earnest now. The fabric of Derek’s t-shirt is wet with his tears. “And I didn’t-- these last few years, I didn’t feel anything for him. I don’t think I still loved him. He beat that out of me, I guess, but at the same time. Oh god. I don’t want to be the only one left. I don’t want to be alone.

It roars through Derek like the desert wind, the stinging desolate emptiness of being the last surviving member of your family. Every lonely aching moment of the last few years, every night spent in dank motel rooms eking out an existence, or huddled, shivering, under a bridge, tired, wrung out and alone. Wishing it could be different. Wishing he could go back and undo the one thing that blew his life apart. The truth is losing his family never got any easier, not really, not in the way people tell you it will. He just got used to managing the pain, and that’s a different thing entirely.

“My whole family died in a house fire when I was sixteen,” he says, and he feels Isaac tense under his arm. Slowly he continues, “I don’t know how it was for you, when you lost your mom and brother, but--” He sighs. “People say that time heals. It didn’t. Not for me. At least, not the way people think. It was more like losing a limb or something, the initial wound might’ve stopped bleeding, but the limb never grew back, y’know? I had to learn to live with the loss. Time didn’t heal, it educated.” He sucks in a  breath, shivering. “I think maybe that’s how it goes. Eventually we learn to make it part of who we are, to function, even though a piece of us never really stops mi--” His voice breaks over the word and he clears his throat, swallows, blinking hard, before continuing, “Even though I never really stop missing them, even now.” He squeezes Isaac’s shoulder. “Your dad really was the worst.” Isaac huffs out a watery chuckle. “Seriously,” Derek continues, “he was a fucking dick, and he didn’t deserve you, but it sounds like he wasn’t always the worst. Whatever you’re feeling now, it’s okay. It’s okay to hate him. It’s okay to remember the good bits. It’s okay to be sad about what could have been. It’s okay to feel all of it. This is real life. People don’t have to fit in nice neat boxes.”

Isaac presses his head into Derek’s shoulder and sniffs wetly. “Okay,” he says, and, eventually, “thanks. Thank-you. I don’t know-- I think that helps.”

Derek squeezes him closer and doesn’t let go.

 

-

 

Later, Derek and Isaac get up and go to find the others. Boyd is lying on the ground just over the crown of the hill, still out for the count, with Stiles and Erica sitting on either side of him. They look up as Isaac and Derek approach.

“You’re awake,” Stiles says, eyebrows climbing, a smile spreads across his face. He scrambles to his feet.

“You sound surprised,” says Derek.

“Pleased,” Stiles corrects. “I was worried.”

“Hey guys!” Erica says, she’s leaning over Boyd, hair falling in front of her face, as she strokes his temple. “Boyd still hasn’t moved yet,”

“It’ll take him a little longer, because he’s a beta.” Stiles says, jamming his hands in his pockets and rocking on the balls of his feet. Turning to Derek, he says, “It’s like Ennis and Crawford read up on hunting werewolves on the internet and then decided to dial the whole thing up to eleven for maximum shittiness.”

“Yeah, Isaac mentioned that. Speaking of hunters. What about Gerard and his buddies?”

“All being dealt with,” Stiles says, flashing a quick grin. “While you guys were risking life and limb at the warehouse, I was breaking into Ennis’ place, remember?”

“And?”

“And while I was there, who should show up looking for Gerard, but Allison Argent.”

“Who?” Erica asks, her hands pausing in their ministrations  as she looks up at Stiles, bemused.

“Gerard’s granddaughter, and the actual leader of the Argents. She had a whole team with her, they were trying to track down Gerard who had basically mutinied, gathered a little group of rebel hunters together, and gone rogue.”

“Ahhh,” says Derek. He vaguely recalls Gerard mentioning someone trying to track him down when they first found him at the warehouse, but he’d blocked it from his mind. “That explains why there were so few of them.”  

“Exactly! Anyway, they descended on Ennis’ place while I was rightfully breaking in and there were a tense few minutes where they tried to threaten me with crossbows and guns and I was forced to defend myself.” He grins sharply. “But then we discovered that we were both on team ‘Gerard sucks balls’. So y’know, gooooooo team!” Stiles waves imaginary pom poms.

Derek rolls his eyes fondly. “So--”

“Sooooo, we were in the middle of exchanging information, when you called my name and I had to zip away to rescue you. But since then I’ve texted her and told her where to pick up her Grandpappy. Apparently he’s a fucking psycho who refuses to obey the code, and the whole family is kinda done with him. I think they’ll probably lock him in the brig or whatever it is hunter’s do.”

“The brig?” Isaac cuts in. “Are these hunters, pirates or starship captains?”

“Pfff. You know what I mean.” Stiles waves a hand airily. “Basically he’s gonna face hunter justice. And having met Allison, I wouldn’t want to be in Gerard’s shoes. The woman is badass. Actually,” he says to Derek, “I should give you her number. She wanted to meet you.”

“I don’t know,” Derek says. Except that he does, and there’s no way he wants anything to do with any member of the Argent family at all. He doesn’t care if Allison Argent is an angel who rides a unicorn and shits fairy dust. Argent’s are evil and they can’t be trusted.

“Look,” Stiles says. “I understand your reluctance, but she knows who you are, knows what Kate did to your family and is disgusted by it. She’s revamping the Argents from the inside, trying to make them better, and I think she’s eager to make amends.”

“Uh-huh,” Derek says noncommittally.

“Oh!Oh!Oh!” Erica squeals. She shifts up onto her knees and stares down at Boyd, who is beginning to stir.

“Okay,” Derek says stepping forward. “Maybe get back a little. This is gonna be a lot for him to take in.”

Immediately Isaac and Stiles start to step back, Erica, however, hovers reluctantly. “But--”

“Seriously,” Derek says. “He will be okay, I swear, but right now, you need to get way over there.” He gestures behind him, up the hill, to the stump.

“Come on,” Stiles says, clapping his hands together with manic cheerfulness. “Give the Alpha room to work.” He places one hand on Erica’s arm. “It’ll be okay,” he says, a little more gently. “Promise.”

The others have only just made it to the stump, when, moments later Boyd’s eyes fly open and he scrambles up onto his haunches with a snarl. He’s shifting into beta form, his eyebrows have disappeared and a truly impressive set of mutton chops are already sprouting. Crouching down in front of him, Derek places his hands on Boyd’s shoulders and grips him firmly, holding him in place.

Boyd blinks at him, a low growl rumbling in his chest.

“Hey,” Derek says, “Hey. Boyd. It’s me, Derek. Do you remember?”

“Wha--” Boyd’s words are thick around his new fangs, he shakes his head jerkily, like he’s trying to get water out of his ears.

“You remember the warehouse? Gerard? The hunters? The ambush?” At that word Boyd strains against Derek’s grip, the growl intensifying. “Well. Ennis shot you, and the only way to save you was to--”

Boyd snaps and snarls, struggling against Derek’s hold, claws extending as he tries to swipe at him and nearly throwing him off balance.

“No. No. No,” Derek says, swerving his body out of the way, but loosening his hold. Immediately Boyd pushes forward, sending them both sprawling into the dirt. They tussle a while, all teeth and claws and thrashing limbs, but eventually Derek’s superior strength wins out and he has him pinned, face down, his knee digging between Boyd’s shoulder blades, Boyd’s hands pulled tight behind his back in an iron grip.

“Boyd, listen to me, you have to try,” Derek pants. “You have to try. You need to find an anchor.” Boyd bucks wildly, pushing against the hold, but Derek’s grip is firm. “Your anchor will ground you. It might be a memory or feeling, but when you focus on it, it’s gonna give you control, and help you keep a grip on your humanity. Come on.”

Thrashing in the dirt, Boyd’s head rears back and he snaps his teeth, snarling in rage. Instinctively, Derek roars back, it resonates up and out of his chest and he feels the ground tremble. His eyes flare red. Immediately Boyd goes limp, pliant, and Derek can feel it, the connection between them, golden bright and clear. “That’s right,” he says lowly. “I’m your Alpha. I’m gonna look after you. You can do this. We can do this. I’m not gonna let you hurt anyone.”

Turning his head to the side, cheek pressed into the dirt, Boyd’s breaths coming short sharp gasps and his eyes are flickering gold like a broken streetlamp. “I can’t-- I can’t,” he says. “It’s too much. Oh god.”

“You can, you will. I believe in you. And I’m not going to hurt you. I want to help you. Okay?”

Boyd takes in a shaky breath, but manages a jerky nod.

“You can do it, baby!” Erica calls, shakily. “I know you can!”

At the sound of her voice, Boyd’s head snaps up. “Erica?” He sounds a little lost, a little more human, and it occurs to Derek all in a rush that maybe he should have guessed what Boyd’s anchor would be. Or perhaps, who. He releases his grip on Boyd, who immediately scrambles up to his knees. “Erica?” he says again.

“I’m here, I’m here,” she calls. Isaac and Stiles are either side of her, holding on to her arms, otherwise Derek’s pretty sure she’d be half way towards them now. “You can do it.”

Boyd leaps to his feet, his eyebrows are returning, his weird mutton chops are melting away before Derek’s eyes.

“It’s fine,” Derek calls up to the others. “You can come back to us.”

“Are you sure?” Isaac says.

“Pretty sure, yeah,” Derek says with a wry smile.

Erica’s already racing towards them, and Boyd meets her half way, picks her up in his arms and spins her round, before pulling her into a hug.

“Hah!” Stiles says, sounding amused. “Didn’t take long to find his anchor.”

“No,” Derek says drily. “With hindsight I feel like I should’ve guessed.”

Boyd has his nose against Erica’s neck, he’s taking in deep huffing breaths. “Oh my god,” Derek hears him mumble. “Did you always smell this good?” And Erica laughs, warm and bright and happy.

 

-

 

After that, it turns into a night that Derek thinks he’ll remember on his deathbed as one of the best in his entire life.  Stiles conjures several werelights for them. They bob in the air like buoys in the sea, tiny lanterns that give off light and a surprising amount of heat, while Derek and his pack charge around the hillside, chasing each other, whooping and laughing.

Then, when they’re all tired and achy, they collapse on the ground at the top of the hill, looking out at the preserve in the moonlight and Isaac produces Three Musketeer bars, an enormous bottle of grape gatorade and three croissants from his trusty backpack.

“What?” Isaac says when Derek looks at him one eyebrow raised. “You thought I only packed weapons? Who knew how long the rescue mission was gonna be. I was prepared.

“Weapons,” Derek snorts, remembering the soup ladle, and Isaac ducks his head and grins.

They sit in a loose circle, stuffing their faces with chocolate and stale pastry and passing the bottle round between them to drink.

Boyd’s face screws up when he takes a swig of the Gatorade. “Oh god,” he mumbles. “Okay, that doesn’t taste like it used to.”

“Chemicals,” Derek agrees. “Stuff like that never tastes that great to weres. Sorry.”

Boyd shrugs. “There are worse things to have to deal with, I guess,” he says.

“Okay, okay!” Stiles says, spraying crumbs from his mouthful of croissant. “I have an idea. I have an idea. Pack bonding session. You know what we need? Truth or dare.”

“I don’t--” Derek begins

But Erica grins like a shark. “Yes!” she hisses, pumping her fist, and everyone else nods enthusiastically, so Derek gives in.

“I want to ask first!” Isaac says, and the others nod.  “Okay, Boyd, truth or dare?”

“Truth,” Boyd says with a shrug.

Isaac grins slyly. “When was the last time you wore those pink fluffy handcuffs that we used on the hunters.” Everyone whoops with laughter, and turns to look at Boyd.

“I don’t know?” Boyd says unabashed. “I’m thinking two maybe three nights ago? When we were roleplaying, I was the accountant and you--” he glances over at Erica for confirmation, and she cackles with laughter.

“Accountant?” Derek blurts out, choking on his Three Musketeer bar.

“He was examining my financial recorrrrds,” Erica drawls, dragging out the last word and making a filthy gesture.

“How did you manage to make that sound dirty?” Stiles asks wonderingly.

“It’s a gift,” she winks at him. “Besides I’ve always thought accountants were sexy. They have a kind of librarian vibe? They’re like the librarians of math. All uptight and proper and glasses and then you just peel them out of their--”

“No. No. NO!” Isaac blanches. “I regret asking. Let’s never mention it again. Okay, okay. Boyd, you’re turn to ask someone--”

 

-

 

The night wears on, but no one talks about leaving. After they’ve finished playing truth or dare and eaten the snacks Isaac brought, Derek and Boyd strip of their shirts and run through the forest, chasing after the moon as it calls to them, while the others sit by the old stump and keep watch.

It’s been ages since Derek’s spent a full moon with another wolf, with pack, and longer still since he’s run like this, and he charges through the undergrowth with abandon, leaping over rocks and tussocky grass, bounding over brooks, aware of nothing but the sweet ache in his muscles, the cold air burning his lungs, the pounding of his feet against the ground and his packmate keeping pace with him. He feels wild. Fierce. Free. And yet. For the first time since his family died, he feels safe, too. Tethered. To Boyd and the others. Secure in who they are to him.

He doesn’t know how much distance he and Boyd cover together by the time they circle round to make their way back, or how long they’ve been gone. It could be an hour, it could be three. It feels like the night is stretching on forever, it feels like it’s only been minutes. The sky is still dark though, and the moon is singing sweetly to him.

As he and Boyd reach the others at the top of the hill, Derek feels his heart swell in his chest. Tipping back his head as he reaches the summit he howls in thanks and immediately Boyd tilts back his own head to join him. Moments later, Erica, Isaac and Stiles all scramble to their feet and join in too. It goes on and on and on, their voices rising up and out across the treetops in joyful unison, and Derek can’t remember a time he’s been this happy.

Eventually, voices hoarse, they crowd together for warmth in the cool air, arms slipping round each other in one giant group hug.

“Holy shit,” Boyd breathes. He has Isaac tucked under one arm, and Erica under the other.

“You okay?” Derek asks.

“More than,” Boyd says. “Seriously.”

“What’s it like?” Erica asks, head tilted up at Boyd, eyes shining.

“I can’t describe it,” Boyd says, eventually. “I feel--” he glances at Derek and a slow smile spreads across his face. “Like I’m exactly who I’m supposed to be.”

Derek ducks his head. He has to look away, there’s a lump rising in his throat. Next to him, he feels Stiles squeeze his shoulder.

“I want you to bite me,” Erica says firmly, looking at Derek. “If you’re willing.”

“If you want.” Derek says. “We’ll sit down and discuss what it’ll mean, but--”

“Will it help with my epilepsy?”

He nods, and she beams. “Fucking sold.”

Everyone’s eyes drift automatically to Isaac and he blushes slightly, lips parted. And Derek thinks he knows what’s coming, especially given what happened with Ennis and Crawford tonight. He isn’t wrong. Isaac stutters out, “I-I’m not saying I don’t want to, I think I will eventually, but maybe-- not yet?” He’s biting his lip as he stares at Derek, wide-eyed. “I still want to be part of this, uh-- pack, and hang out and, is that--?” He uses the word pack like he’s not sure he should. Like he isn’t sure he’s earned it.

“That’s okay,” Derek says immediately. “If you ever wanted to take the bite then the offer’s there, but you’ll never have to. You are pack. And pack is family. Whether you’re a wolf or not.”

The answering grin that spreads across Isaac’s face is blinding .

“Okay, okay,” Boyd says, giving Erica and Isaac’s shoulders one last squeeze. “I wanna test what my boundaries are now. Super strength and speed and all that jazz, who’s with me?”

“Me!” Erica says, and Isaac nods enthusiastically.

“There’s a boulder down the hill the size of a small car,” Isaac says. “Let’s see if you can lift it. For science!”

The three of them trail down the hillside together, and Derek watches them go. He feels Stiles’ hand slip into his, their fingers twined together. “Happy?” Stiles murmurs.

Derek nods. “Yeah,” he says. “I really am.”

They watch in silence as Isaac gestures to a boulder and Boyd crosses over to it and, with a great heaving effort, lifts it clean over his head while Isaac and Erica whoop and cheer.

“I never thought I would have this when I arrived here,” Derek murmurs. “I figured I’d never get to settle down.”

“I know,” Stiles says softly. There’s a melancholy tinge to his scent, and Derek’s about to ask if he’s okay, but Stiles sniffs loudly and says. “It’s kind of turning into a party, isn’t it? We should have some music. What do you think? Who Let The Dogs Out?” he grins.

“Stiles--”

He’s already got his phone out and he’s swiping through screens. “Shit. Luckily for you, there’s fuck all cell reception in the middle of the preserve. Of course--” He waggles his eyebrows. “--I could always serenade you.”

“I--”

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” he warbles, shimmying his hips. “No?” he says, as Derek glares flatly at him. “What about a classic, like How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?”

“I swear to god, I will claw your throat right out.”

Stiles rolls his eyes at that, and cranes his neck to check out what the rest of the pack are doing. He starts to hum.

“Is that the theme to Lassie?” Derek says after a moment.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Stiles says, but he can barely get the words out he’s started to laugh so hard, shoulders shaking.

“That’s it,” Derek rounds on him, jams his fingers in Stiles ribs and tickles him mercilessly.

“Ahhahaaaaaa,” Stiles screeches, twisting in his grasp and trying to get away. “Two can play at the game. I’m not the only ticklish one, remember?”

It degenerates quickly into the kind of flailing and ungainly scuffle that nobody really gets to win, but is enjoyable nonetheless. Until, eventually, they’re both lying side by side in the dirt, panting and laughing. Stiles looks across at him, eyes shining like liquid gold in the werelight, lips parted in an outrageously happy grin. With that, and the sounds of Erica, Boyd and Isaac’s laughter echoing up the hillside, Derek’s heart feels like it’s going to burst, it’s so full.

Reaching out a hand, he tangles his fingers through Stiles’ and for maybe the first time in his life, says exactly what he’s thinking: “I’m so fucking in love with you.”

Stiles blinks at him, lips parted in shock, and then the smile slides off his face to be replaced with an expression that’s entirely more serious. Releasing Derek’s hand he sits up, and rests his elbows on his knees. His heartbeat is going crazy. “Yeah?” he says, but he doesn’t look happy.

With a sigh, Derek sits up too. “Is that a problem?” he asks cautiously.

Stiles shrugs. “I don’t know?” Derek opens his mouth to speak, but Stiles cuts him off. “Shit. I’ve been waiting so long-- I had all these plans, y’know? Where I would go, what I would do if I ever-- And I still want that. None of that’s changed-- except everything’s changed-- because you’re here and I--”

“It’s me isn’t it?” Derek says. “I’m the one you’ve been waiting for.” It feels arrogant to say it out loud, but as he says the words, he feels the truth of them in his bones. This place wants him, welcomes him, and he loves it. Has, maybe, ever since that first night in the preserve, when he stumbled upon this very hillside. For years he’s been unhappy. The need for territory, for pack, an itch under his skin that he’s taught himself to ignore. And yet. Within moments of being here, before he ever met Stiles, that restless loneliness had been soothed. Being here had felt right . He’d tried to understand why at first, but somehow along the way he got distracted, making friends, finding a pack, falling in love.

Reaching up with shaking hands, Stiles fiddles the clasp on the chain with the silver acorn charm that hangs around his neck and unhooks it, holding it out to Derek. “This belongs to you,” he says.

Derek doesn’t take it, and it dangles there between them, twisting slowly in the breeze.

“I want to stay here,” Derek admits. “This place, these people, they feel like home . They feel right.”

“I know,” Stiles says hopelessly. “As soon as I saw that fucking tattoo on your back. I knew.”

“My tattoo?”

With his free hand Stiles pulls down the gaping collar of his tee, exposing the skin just above his heart. In the moonlight, the perfect swirls of a triskele gleam silver against his pale skin.

Derek reaches out a finger to trace it. “But that wasn’t there--”

“It can only be seen under the light of the full moon,” Stiles says. And Derek has a vague recollection of reading something about that in one of Stiles’ many books about the fae. Stiles continues. “It’s been there the whole time, my mom drew it the night I destroyed the original Nemeton. That was the night I became guardian of this territory. She told me that the person who would plant a new Nemeton and free me would bear this mark.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“By the time I realized who you were, I didn’t want it to be you. I’d-- I’d fallen for you. We’d made all those plans to leave to--”

“Stiles--”

“I just needed time, okay? To process it.” He laughs hollowly. “ I needed time. For years all I’ve had is time. And now there’s not enough of it.”

“We could-- I don’t have to--” He can’t finish the words, because he has to stay, he has a responsibility to Boyd now, and Erica and Isaac. Besides, if he refuses to play his part, then Stiles will never be free. It’s a perfect catch 22.

“You’re gonna stay here,” Stiles says forcefully, eyes rimmed with tears. “You’re gonna finally have a home and a pack, just like you deserve. You’re gonna plant a new Nemeton, and you’re gonna nurture it and protect it as it grows, and in turn, it’s going to protect the land. You are gonna be first Hale Alpha in a long line of Hale Alphas stretching forward for generations to come. And you’re gonna be great at it. I know you will be. You know you will be. It’s what you want--”

It is what Derek wants. For years it’s been the truest, most secret desire of his heart. A constant yearning under his skin. To have security, stability, a family. A real home. A pack. For a long time he felt guilty over it. Stamped down on the impulse. Wouldn’t let himself consider it because it felt like a betrayal of the family he’d lost. Now he can accept that it’s what they would want for him. That it is, perhaps, the best way to honor their memory.

“And you?” he asks, and his voice cracks a little over the words, because he already knows the answer.

“I can stay a couple of weeks, and help you settle in,” Stiles says. “But-- I just-- I need to not be here anymore. I don’t know if you can understand? I never chose this role, it chose me. I never wanted it. I mean I did my best, but as the years passed I grew to resent it so much-- and--” He shrugs, looking away. “Right now, I need to be free. I’ve needed it so long, I-- That’s what you’re giving to me, and--” his voice dies in his throat.

“Stiles--”

“I’m so grateful. And I love you too. I never expected to, but I do. And I’m so sorry. And I’m grateful.” Tears streak down his cheeks and Derek reaches up and swipes them away gently with the pad of his thumb.

“You don’t need to be sorry,” he says firmly, and then, quieter, more gently. “And wherever you go, no matter how far you travel, there will always be a place for you here, with us. With me. ” Stiles makes a strange, strangled noise that’s part snort, part sob, and, leaning in, Derek brushes their lips together, once, twice. Three times. Then, he leans his forehead against Stiles’ with a sigh and reaches out hand, palm upturned. Stiles drops the chain into it. It feels heavy, inexplicably warm to the touch, and it’s getting warmer all the while.

“Uhhhh--” Derek looks down in confusion to see that the chain is all but gone, it’s melted into nothing and the silver around the charm is being eaten away, like flames licking along the edge of newspaper, the edges shrinking back to reveal that the charm is not a charm at all. It’s a bright green acorn. It lies there in his palm. Fresh. New. Filled with potential.

Stiles sniffs. “You--uh--” He swipes at his nose with the cuff of his plaid shirt. “You should plant it.”

“Where?”

Stiles smiles softly. “Wherever you want.”

Leaning in Derek kisses him one more time, lingering, soft and gentle. When they break apart, Stiles still has his eyes scrunched shut, like if he opens them the moment will end, and it’ll all be over.  Derek reaches out and cups his face, tracing his index finger along Stiles’ high cheekbones. He says, “Just because we’re not gonna be in the same place for a while. It doesn’t change how I feel about you. We’re gonna make this work, we’re gonna make us work. It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be good. I promise.”

Stiles eyes flutter open and he holds Derek’s gaze, the barest suggestion of a smile playing over his lips. “I believe you,” he says.  

 

-

 

In the end, Derek chooses a spot on the same hilltop as the original Nemeton. After all, he likes the hillside, it gives a good view of the preserve and besides, it holds some great memories.

With his pack circled around him, and the moon shining bright overhead, he digs a little hole in the earth with one clawed hand. Then pauses, uncertain. “So,” he says, glancing up at Stiles. “Are there any special words I need to say or rituals or--”

“It’s the intention that counts,” Stiles says. “What it means to you as you plant it.”

“Right,” Derek says, jaw clenching. “Okay.” Except he doesn’t feel okay. He feels nervous.

Crouching down next to him, Stiles takes his hand. “Just think about what matters to you. What’s in your heart. What you want for this land. For your pack. Hold that in your heart as you plant the seed.”

Derek’s eyes close, and he tries to center himself. Lets his mind drift to the night they’ve just spent together. He thinks about Boyd, that first meeting, how easily he’d welcomed Derek, with steady hands and a steadier heart, sitting on the steps of the bakery, the scent of cigarette smoke, the weight of his hands as it combs through Derek’s fur, patient and gentle.

He thinks about Erica, how bright she burns, filled with anger and compassion, fighting so hard against the world, fiercely protective of the people that she loves, never giving up, never backing down.

He thinks of Isaac, beaten down by life, scared, but refusing to give in, quietly kind, doggedly persisting, refusing to be cowed and still standing shoulder to shoulder with Derek to help his friends even though he’s afraid.

He thinks of his family. How much he still misses them. How he wishes they could be here, but he knows they would be proud of who he is. They set him an example of what pack could be, they’d want him to try, they’d want him to live, and he’s finally ready to embrace that, to be true to himself and honor their memory.

He thinks of Stiles, of how warm and safe he feels lying in his arms, thinks of his whiskey gold eyes, the smile that curves on his lips. Thinks of how life changing it is to love someone and have them love you in return. To love someone enough to let them be who they need to be.

Patience. Courage. Kindness. Integrity. Love. Love. Love. That’s what he wants for this place. That’s what this needs to become.

He holds all these things in his heart and releases the acorn from his fist.

It hits the earth with a soft thud and, hand trembling, Derek reaches out, grabs a handful of loose soil, and sprinkles it over the top.

He feels the change immediately, like someone has punched him in the gut, feels his eyes flicker red as he pitches forward onto his hands, with a pained, “Oof.”

It starts in his chest, like a ball of electricity, like pure light, crackling through his veins and passing out through his hands and feet where they touch the ground, it snaps and sizzles as it travels down, deep down, into the earth and then, all at once it radiates outwards, like a beacon, like an explosion, stretching out, further than he can see, miles and miles in every direction, and as it goes it lights up every tree, every root and leaf, every insect, every creature, is edged in silver, thrown into sharp relief.

He can see all of it.

Feel all of it.

Hear every heartbeat.

Smell every scent.

And he knows in that moment-- this is it, this is his land. His territory. It belongs to him, his to nurture and protect.

His to love.

“Mine,” he gasps breathlessly, and immediately he feels  an answer rushing towards him on the breeze, heady and exciting. It sounds like insects chittering, like old branches creaking, like leaves rustling in the trees, like the babble of water in a clear mountain stream, like a million unearthly voices all lifting together in unison. “Yes,” it seems to say. “Yes. Yours. Yours. Yours.”

Derek kneels in the dirt, tips back his head and howls.

Chapter Text

“So that worked then,” Erica says. She’s standing over Derek, peering down at him where he’s sprawled on the ground, staring up at the sky.

He blinks, and tries to focus on her, head spinning. He feels drugged, high, that feeling of connectedness with everything still thrums through his veins, less powerful than before but present nonetheless. His head lolls to the side and he sees the others standing around him.

“That was pretty cool,” Isaac admits, head tilted speculatively to one side. “For a minute there, this place lit up like Times Square at Christmas.” The others all nod their agreement.

Taking a step forward, Boyd sticks his hand out and, after a beat, Derek takes it and gets to his feet. He doesn’t know how long he’s been lying there, but the sky is tinged pink, dawn creeping over the edges of the horizon. “Nearly morning,” he mumbles.

Next to him, Erica yawns widely. “Yeah, I need my bed. S’been a long night.”

“True,” Boyd says, “We should probably be getting back.”

Derek turns to Stiles. “Will you?”

“Sure,” Stiles says, and makes a familiar gesture. Nothing happens.

“Come on. Come on. Let’s get going,” Isaac says, nudging him with his elbow. “Some of us aren’t supernatural badasses. We need our sleep.”

“Uh--” Stiles stares down at his hands.

“What’s going on?” Derek asks, stepping forward.

“Yeah, I-- uh-- huh.” His voice sounds weird, hollow, disbelieving. “I can’t.”

“You can’t?”  Boyd says, just as Derek asks. “Are you okay?”

Finally Stiles looks up. “Yeah,” he says, and then again, a little stronger, “Yeah, I’m fine.” A smile spreads slowly across his face, bright and radiant as the rising sun.

“Can’t do what?” Isaac asks.

“I can’t take us home.”

“What?”

Stiles starts to laugh, quiet at first, but soon it bubbles up out of him like water from a fountain, and he slaps a hand over his mouth to contain it, shoulders shaking.

“Wait. Wait a minute. Are you fucking with me right now?” Erica asks, staring at him.

“No! No.” Stiles clutches his side, as he tries to compose himself. “No. I’m not. I’m-- It’s gone.”

“But you’re half-fae,” Derek says. “You’re magical, you’re--”

“Yeah, I am. I still am. But I guess ripping a hole in space time to get places was a magical guardian of the forest thing,” says Stiles, “and not a fae thing. And I’m not that person anymore. I’m just me. I’m-- I’m free.” His voice breaks over that last word, his eyes look a little moist.

Derek reaches out a hand and takes one of Stiles’ squeezing it tight.

“Okay, well, not to rain on your parade or anything, because this all sounds very significant and y’know, important for your emotional wellbeing, or whatever,” says Erica, “but, just so we’re real clear, are you saying we have to walk home? From here?

“Uh-- sorry? I guess?” Stiles says with a sheepish shrug. “It’s probably only about seven miles.” he gestures in front of them, over the tops of the trees. “Just walk that way to the old train depot. You parked near there, right?”

Only seven miles?” Erica and Isaac say in unison.

“Eh. We can walk it.” Boyd shrugs.

“Easy for the werewolf to say,” Erica mutters.

Boyd’s answering grin is more cheshire cat than werewolf, and Erica rolls her eyes.

“But--Okay. So, just a minute,” Isaac says, tapping his chin with his forefinger. “You’re half fae? Like a fairy? Seriously? Fairies are real?”

Stiles nods. “I mean probably not the way you--”

“What sort of magic can you do?” Isaac asks, “I mean, could you conjure something caffeinated? Or maybe bacony-- y’know, sustenance for the journey?”

“Ummmm--” Stiles’ face scrunches up apologetically. “No?”

“But what can you do then?” Isaac says. “Is there like a godmother gig that I can get in on here? Is that a thing? Do you grant wishes? Because--”

“This isn’t Cinderella” says Stiles, cutting him off. “You’ve watched too many Disney films.”

“Okay, but do you have wings?” Isaac continues, squinting at Stiles’ back like he might be hiding them under layers of plaid, and then his eyes light up. “Oh my god, can you teach me to fly? Because then we could all fly home. Do I just need to think happy thoughts?”

“Isaac--”

“Because I think I could do that. I mean, I’ve taken a few tests online and I’m kind of an Eeyore more than a Tigger, but, well, I like to think of myself as a realist, and--”

“I am not Tinkerbell,” Stiles bites out, jabbing a finger at Isaac, whose face morphs from sincere wide-eyed questioning to the most shit-eating grin Derek has ever seen. “Ohhhh,” Stiles breathes, “You asshole--” He swats a hand at Isaac, who skips back a step laughing.

“Okay, enough. Enough. We can walk,” Derek says, holding up his hands. He refuses to let the conversation derail further. “I know for a fact that there’s caffeine and bacon back at Stiles’ place. The sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll be back.” Not that he thinks anyone will want coffee once they get home, more likely they’ll just want to go to bed, but he doesn’t say that out loud.

With minimal grumbling, they all turn and start to traipse down the hill together in the direction Stiles indicated. The other three go ahead, but Stiles walks side by side with Derek, his hands jammed in the pocket of his jeans, their elbows knocking together companionably. “So,” Stiles says, eyeing him askance, “we’ve reached that stage in the relationship where you’re volunteering my apartment and refrigerator for pack breakfasts, huh?”

“Uhhh--” Derek can feel his ears turning beet red. “Sorry. Was that not? I can--” After everything that happened it had just felt so natural. His jaw clenches.

Ahead of them, the others have already reached the treeline at the bottom of the hill, Erica has convinced Boyd to give her a piggyback, and Isaac’s wondering aloud whether there are mountain lions in the woods.

“It’s fine,” Stiles smirks, taking pity on him. “I’m just teasing. It made me laugh is all.”

“But I shouldn’t--”

“No. You totally should. Mi casa es su casa. In fact--” Stiles clears his throat. “--I was gonna say, you should take over my place officially. Y’know, once I’ve--” he gestures vaguely.

Derek swallows. “Are you sure?”

Reaching out Stiles takes his hand, tangling their fingers together and squeezes. “The surest.”

There’s a bright burst of laughter ahead of them, and then the sound of someone singing, “On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese--” Moments later everyone joins in.

 

-

 

It takes them nearly three hours to get back to Beacon Hills all told, and it’s almost nine in the morning when the five of them fall through the door to Stiles’ apartment hungry and exhausted, but happy.

Derek and Boyd have the most energy, still buzzing from the full moon. They commandeer Stiles’ kitchenette and make bacon and eggs, while the others face plant onto the couch or sprawl on the floor, too tired to do much other than stare into the middle distance with that slightly wild eyed look that comes from having had no sleep in over twenty-four hours.

By the time Derek and Boyd have actually plated up the food, and placed it on the coffee table, Isaac and Erica are both sleeping and have to be gently shaken awake to eat.

Derek takes a seat next to Stiles on the couch and hands him a plate. Stiles smiles tiredly, but takes a forkful of egg and chews, eyes fluttering shut in pleasure. “Okay, yeah, s’good,” he mumbles. “First we eat, and then bed.”

Which is basically how it pans out. Erica and Boyd scarf their food down and then stagger to their feet and disappear downstairs to Erica’s apartment, leaving only Derek, Stiles, and Isaac, who is sitting cross-legged on the floor by the coffee table, face mashed into what’s left of his scrambled eggs, breathing evenly. As they watch, he starts to snore.

“You pick him up and lay him out on the couch,” Stiles says with a yawn. “I’ll get a couple of blankets.”

Once Isaac is tucked up safe and snug, Derek follows Stiles into his bedroom and they undress and crawl under the sheets together. Stiles is out like a light almost as soon as his head hits the pillow, but Derek isn’t quite ready for sleep yet. Instead, he curls around him, his front to Stiles’ back, arms wrapped tight around his waist, and buries his face against the skin at Stiles’ nape, breathing in his scent. He knows he won’t have this much longer, and tired as he is, he wants to savor it while he can.

He isn’t sure how long it takes for him to finally tip over the edge into sleep, but it’s a while.

 

-

 

When he wakes the sun is high in the sky, it’s late afternoon and after a moment battling with himself over whether or not he actually wants to be awake yet, he rolls onto his back, blinking up at the ceiling.

Next to him, Stiles is an untidy sprawl of limbs, snoring gently. Derek watches him a long while, the flicker of his eyelids as he dreams, the dark smudge of his lashes against his cheek, the even movement of his chest as he breathes in and out, in and out; Derek watches Stiles and his heart aches.

He never thought he’d fall in love, never imagined in his wildest dreams that it was something he’d be allowed to have.

Years spent filled with grief and mired in guilt. Mostly he’s grown used to solitude, his heart too bruised to ever let someone in again. So he embraced the blame and let it color all his memories, let it inform every decision he made, because he didn’t feel he deserved a happy, comfortable, life when his own naivety had robbed his family of theirs.

Except somehow, over time, the guilt has dimmed without him even realizing and the memories, good and bad, are slowly fading too, turned sepia with age-- scattering out of reach like sand blown by the wind. He still misses his family, will always love them and honor their memory, but gently, naturally, it’s become the dull ache of an old injury that flares up when the wind blows cold. He can live with it. He’s learned how.

He’s punished himself enough.

And now Stiles is here, or at least he’s here for the moment.

The truth is, Derek’s had a lifetime of practice losing the people he loves, having them leave him behind and go where he can’t follow.

But that isn’t what’s happening here, he reminds himself, he isn’t losing Stiles. He’s letting him go.

There’s something between he and Stiles. Something that transcends time or space. What’s a hundred or a thousand miles of distance, when, well over a hundred years ago, Stiles’ mother had drawn a triskele on Stiles’ skin, and told him that Derek would be the one to save him.

And Derek has, he will. He wants to. He’s letting Stiles go and he’s doing it gladly.

For once, he isn’t the one who fucked up. He isn’t the one hurting people. For once, he gets to do something good for someone he cares for. He gets to love someone and know that they’ll be whole and happy, living the life they want to because of him .

That’s worth something.

That’s important.

And it feels like he can bear any amount of distance, if he has that to comfort him.

Reaching out one hand he traces his finger down Stiles’ cheek and Stiles snuffles gently, mumbles, “No more cats.”

Derek’s breath catches in his throat, his heart swells.

It occurs to him that there is at least one more thing he could do for Stiles before he goes.

Slowly he eases himself out of bed and dresses quickly, then he grabs Stiles’ keys, past the now empty couch, and lets himself out of the apartment.

 

-

 

The autoshop sign is peeling, its rusted hinges mean it squeaks loudly in the breeze. The sharp smell of engine oil is heavy in the air. When Derek opens the shop door and walks inside, there’s nobody on the little front desk to welcome him, just a chipped vase with faded plastic flowers, an old telephone with a coiled handset cord, and a sign telling him that if no one is at the front desk, he should try out the back.

Luis Castillo is a grizzled bear of a man, he could be fifty, he could be eighty, or any age in between. Barrel chested, with that ropey, sinewy muscle that comes from years of hard labor and great big hands. His face is wrinkled as a walnut, with a wide white-toothed smile. He’s wearing bright blue coveralls rolled down to his waist, a white tank top with grease smudges all over it, and a green baseball cap over wispy grey hair. He lights up a hand rolled cigarette as Derek tells him about the mountain of things wrong with Stiles’ Jeep, and what it’ll take to fix it.

“You new around here?” Luis asks, once Derek has finished speaking.

“Yeah--”

“You gonna stick around?”

Derek nods. “Planning to.”

“You working somewhere?” Luis asks, surveying him with bright brown eyes.

“I-uh--I haven’t--.”

Luis sniffs, takes a long drag on his cigarette, and blows the smoke out slowly. Eyes fixed on Derek the whole time. “See the pick up back there--” he gestures behind him. “The transmission’s slipping.” He stares at Derek, one eyebrow raised, waiting.

“I--uh--” Derek looks between him and that blue pick up. “Are the fluid levels low?”

Luis stares at Derek, expression impassive.

“A leak?”

Luis shrugs. “Why don’t you go take a look, tell me what you think.”

Derek’s about to say that all he’s actually wants is to get Stiles’ jeep fixed, but-- but cars. The smell of oil and sunbaked asphalt. The chance to spend half an hour tinkering with an engine while the radio hums a low tune in the background. He walks over to the pick up and pops the hood.

Maybe twenty minutes later, he’s run through a series of checks and determined that the car’s transmission bands are worn. When he makes the pronouncement, Luis purses his lips against a smile.

“So, whaddya say? You come back here tomorrow. Eight AM.”

“Eight?”

Luis grins, wide, like a lion. “Eight till five. You get a half hour for lunch. Sundays and Mondays off.”

“Are you serious?”

“No. This is all an elaborate prank. Smile for candid camera.”

Derek opens his mouth, then shuts it again, not sure what to say.

“I’m just kidding. Yes. I’m serious. I’m nearly seventy years old. This place is a lot for me. I’m looking for extra help. You wanna job or not?” Later, Derek will discover that Luis is actually a spritely sixty-three. But he’s fond of saying that: “I’m nearly seventy years old!” Whenever it suits him.

“Uhh--” Derek blinks. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

“Good.” Luis grins, all teeth, wrinkles folding into wrinkles as he smiles.

“What about the Jeep?”

Luis takes a final drag on cigarette and then throws it to the floor, and stubs it out with his toe. “What model is it?”

“Old, Cj-5, 1980 I think.”

“You can drive the tow truck round tomorrow and pick it up.”

“How much--”

“Depends. We can order the parts and you can fix it on your own time, save your buddy some cash. If you fix it on my time, that’s something else. All I ask is that when you’re here, you working on stuff I’m paying you for. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, scratching the back of his neck in a daze. “No, that’s fine. I have money. I’ll pay.”

He has the insurance money. He’s never used it before. Not unless it was an emergency. But now he has a pack. He has responsibilities. He has a life. He has a future. He has Stiles.

 

--

 

When he gets back to the apartment later that afternoon. Stiles is standing in the living room by the bookcase staring down at something in his hands. He’s wearing his plaid pajama pants, but shirtless, and Derek takes a moment to appreciate the broad muscles of his back, the sinewy stretch of his arms, his hair still sleep tousled and touchable.

“Oh,” Stiles looks up as he walks through the door. “You’re back. Where have you been?”

“I got a job,” It sounds strange even as he says, the word feels foreign in his mouth. It’s been a while.

“A job?”

“The autoshop on Magnolia.”

“Luis? He’s a cool guy,” Stiles grins. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” As Derek steps closer, he sees that Stiles is holding the double photo frame. The one that’s filled with actual pictures of people.

“Was Isaac gone when you left?”

“Yeah.”

“You okay?” Derek walks over to Stiles and drops a kiss on the cheek, one arm curling around his waist.

“Yeah,” Stiles stares down at the pictures in his hand. The faded black and white photo of the guy with the crooked jaw in the sharp suit, and the polaroid of the redheaded girl in the mondrian dress. “I was just thinking about what I’m gonna do now. Where I’ll go. Y’know, making some half assed plans.”

“Yeah?” Derek lets the silence stretch out between them. When he inhales, Stiles scent is tinged with sadness.

“That’s Scott,” Stiles says wistfully, gesturing at the guy in the picture. “Ten years he lived here and we just-- we connected, y’know? Right from the beginning. He was my best friend, one of the best men I’ve ever met, and the first person who I really connected with after my dad died. I loved him like a brother.” Stiles sniffs. “He was a werewolf too, bitten, not born. A true alpha, the first one the East Coast had seen in a hundred years. Back then I felt sure he was gonna be y’know--” he taps the spot above his heart where the triskele sits.

“Sounds like a good guy. What happened?”

Stiles snorts. “He fell in love with a werecoyote and moved to Michigan. Had a whole bunch of kids. For years we wrote to each other. He even came back to visit once, during the summer of fifty two, just for a few days. He had grey hair then and he’d gotten kind of paunchy, but he was still Scott . He died back in eighty-five. Nothing tragic. Just old age. Apparently he passed on surrounded by his wife, his kids and his grandkids. I didn’t get to go to the funeral, obviously, so I figure the first thing I’ll do is head East, see if I can find any of his relatives or his pack. At the very least visit his grave and pay my respects.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Derek says softly.

“Sorry,” Stiles says, swiping at his nose. “I’m bringing the mood down.” He places the photo frame back on the shelf.

“You don’t have to apologize.” Derek nods at the picture frame. “What about the girl?”

“Ahhhh. Lydia?” Stiles’ mouth ticks up in a grin. “My partner in crime. She was born here in about 1950, but Beacon Hills was too small to contain her for long. She was a math genius and a banshee. Worked for NASA for a while. Travelled the world giving lectures on stuff I’ll never understand. Now, well-- imagine Blanche from the Golden Girls, but with the combined soul of Olivia Pope and Hermione Granger.” Stiles looks at Derek askance. “You have know idea what I’m talking about do you?”

“I know who Hermione is and I kinda remember the Golden Girls?” Derek says, with an apologetic shrug.

“I am going to leave you a list of books, TV shows and films to watch in my absence. I expect you to be fully caught up by the time I return.”

At those words Derek sucks in a sharp breath and stares at him, a blush creeps across Stiles’ cheek, eyes widening as he realizes what he just said.

“I--uh--”

“It’s okay,” Derek says immediately, jerking one shoulder up in a half shrug. “I’m not asking for a time frame. I’ll still be here. So leave me the list. Prepare a pop quiz.” He tries for a smile.

Stiles reaches out a hand, cups the back of Derek’s head, inhales shakily. “You’re it for me,” he says, and his voice is soft, serious. “You know that right? You’re like-- my hero. When I first got to know you, I figured I was gonna be the one to rescue you, bring you out of your shell or whatever, but it turns out--”

“That we got to rescue each other?”

Stiles smiles at that, huffs out a self-deprecating laugh. “I don’t know about that--”

“You were the first person since my family died who tried to get to know me . The first person I ever felt I could let in. The only one who seemed interested to try. Because of you I have a pack. I have territory. I’m not alone anymore.” He traces a finger along the sharp edge of Stiles’ cheekbone. “If you hadn’t turned up when you did last night, Ennis would have killed me and the others. Trust me. We rescued each other.”

Stiles rests his forehead against Derek’s and sighs. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.” And then fiercely, “But I need to be sure you understand. I might be leaving Beacon Hills, but I’m not leaving you.”

“I know,” Derek says. “I know that.” Because he does. And with that Stiles kisses him.

Derek’s kissed a few people in his life, but he’s never met anyone who kisses like Stiles does. Like it’s essential. Like Derek’s the only one that matters. Like he’s oxygen. Stiles’ lips are warm and insistent, tongue slipping into his mouth and teasing gently even as he presses his body up against him, strong and sure. Solid. Real.

Derek pulls him closer still,  trailing his fingers lightly over the smooth skin and firm muscle of Stiles' chest until he reaches the spot where he thinks the triskele would sit. Slowly he traces the pattern onto Stiles’ skin; Stiles shivers at the touch and breaks the kiss, panting hard.

“You should fuck me,” he whispers, breathes it into the damp skin of Derek’s neck as he pushes against him, grinding up against Derek like a promise. Derek’s cock is thickening in his jeans, and Stiles is hard too, so fucking hard. Derek can feel the outline of him against those threadbare pajama pants.

And this time, it’s Derek’s turn to shiver.

 

-

 

They don’t make it to the bedroom. Instead, Stiles backs Derek up against the couch, kissing frantically all the while.

“Take your pants off and sit down,” Stiles commands, between kisses, even as he pulls down his own pajama pants without grace or elegance. His cock slaps back against his stomach, thick and hot, blood rich and leaking copiously. It’s all Derek can smell, the scent musky and rich.

Derek stares at it, dazed. “I--uh--Shouldn’t we-- prep you or?”

“I may have pregamed,” Stiles says, with a wink and a grin, as he reaches out, long fingers popping the button of Derek’s jeans, working down the zipper and then tugging his jeans and underwear down over his thighs without ceremony. Derek kicks the clothes off and then peels his t-shirt over his head, as Stiles says, “Woke up, got in the shower, came with two fingers buried inside myself and your name on my lips. I was putting on quite a show, and then I realized you weren’t even in the apartment.”

He pouts at Derek in mock reproach, one hand palming Derek’s cock and Derek whines. “Stiles--”

With that, he pushes Derek down onto the couch, knees splayed on either side of him, and leans down to whisper in his ears. “That’s right. I fingered myself, and the whole time I wished it was you. Your gorgeous fucking cock. Look at it.” He wraps his fingers around it in a light, teasing grip, jerks him, one slow stoke. Derek’s hips buck upward, eyes clenching shut, fingers clutching tight at Stiles’ shoulders, his back, anywhere he can reach. “Look at it. Look at you.”

Derek sucks in a breath, and forces his eyes open, meeting Stiles’ heated gaze. “Could say the same.”

He runs his hands down Stiles back and grabs hold of his ass, massages the cheeks, as Stiles leans down to kiss him again.

“Fuck,” he breathes as Derek works his fingers down the cleft,  finally tracing Stiles’ hole. “Fuck,” he breathes again, as Derek circles it with one dry finger.

“You got lube?” Derek asks, kissing him.

Stiles blinks down at him. “Yeah, just--” he pushes down against Derek, mashing their dicks together, but makes a complicated gesture with his hand and two seconds later a vine appears at Derek’s side clutching a little bottle of lube in one coiled tendril.

“Huh,” Derek says, reaching out to take it. “Just so you know, that’s never not going to be weird.”

“Would you rather I got up and went to get it myself?” Stiles asks, punctuating the question by grinding down against Derek’s erection again.

Derek moans. “Nooope. No. You’re good. You’re-- fuck.”

He manages to unscrew the lid without a problem, so there’s that, but he ends up getting lube all over the couch, as well as his fingers and his dick. Apparently Alpha werewolf coordination and reflexes count for nothing when Stiles is squirming in his lap and breathing dirty promises into his ear.

Eventually though, Derek manages to get one slicked up finger in easily enough, then a second soon after, proving that Stiles wasn’t exaggerating. He definitely pregamed, just like he said he did. It makes Derek’s stomach swoop just thinking about it. Soon Derek’s up to three, sliding them in and out, twisting and dragging against the clinging warmth of Stiles’ body, getting a little rough, as he listens to him moan and swear. Smells that warm, spicy scent, heady with arousal.

When Stiles finally sinks down on top of him, Derek’s cock buried deep inside of him, they both let out a ragged sigh.

“Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” Stiles chants, eyes clenched shut. “You are sooo much bigger than your fingers. “Fuck.”

“You alright?” Derek asks. He’s struggling. Torn between a desire to know that Stiles is okay, but knowing if he keeps looking at him, he’s not going to last as long as he wants to.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, “Yeah. S’good. It’s-- Let me--”

He moves slow at first, teasing. Like he’s getting used to the sensation. But Derek’s hands come up to hold him, steadying him as he changes the rhythm up, setting a brisk pace that has Derek biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, fingers pressed into Stiles’ hips hard enough that they’ll probably bruise. He can feel the change simmering under the surface, and maybe Stiles can sense it too, because he pants out, “S’okay. S’okay. You can-- you can--do it--”

That’s how it always seems to be with Stiles, like he draws the wolf out of Derek. Welcomes it. Like Derek can always be wholly himself, and when he finally dares to look up and sees Stiles, head thrown back, pink lips parted as he rides him, Derek’s eyes flicker red helplessly. He lets go of Stiles’ hips, as he feels his claws extend, and ends up digging them into the faded orange couch, hears the sound of the material shredding. Wills himself not to come. Not yet. Not--

“M’Close,” Stiles says, in that scratchy, gravel-deep voice he gets when the fae part of him comes to the surface. When Derek dares to look up at him again, Stiles’ eyes are black as polished onyx. “Can you--”

Derek forces the change to recede, and reaches out with one hand, gripping Stiles’ cock, setting a fast pace.

A few swift strokes and it’s all over. He spends all over Derek’s stomach, and as soon as Stiles comes, Derek follows him, helpless against the smell, the feel, the weight of him, the sloppy open-mouthed kisses that he’s lavishing against Derek’s neck.

“Tha’ was good,” Stiles slurs, lifting up so that Derek slides out, and then slumping over him.

Derek doesn’t think he can form words yet, but he nods, tugging Stiles over so they’re both lying on the couch, damp and sweaty and sated, and closes his eyes, listens to the sound of their hearts beating in perfect counterpoint to each other.

“How can I leave?” Stiles says eventually, propping himself up onto one elbow. “When we can fuck like that, how can I leave?.”

“Phone sex,” Derek mumbles, eyes still shut.

Stiles nods. “Skype, too. Snapchat. Facetime.”

“You’re just making words up now,” Derek says, squinting at him suspiciously.

Stiles smiles down at him fondly, smooths his hand along the rough grain of the stubble on Derek’s cheek. “Sometimes I feel like you’re the old one,” he says. “You seriously have no idea what Facetime is?”

Derek shrugs.

“Ugh. It’s like an epic love story where you’re a caveman I discovered in a block of ice and I unfroze you and had to teach you about the world, and then we banged.”

Derek levels an unimpressed stare at him. “Wow, that was beautiful, you should write a novel.”

“I should,” Stiles says, fingers trailing down along Derek’s chest, tracing idly through the slick mess between them. Derek watches him, feels his dick try and stir vainly, as Stiles continues, “I bet it’d make the best seller list. There’d probably be a movie adaptation. We’ll get Henry Cavill to play Grogg, the caveman. That’s you by the way.”

Secretly, Derek thinks Stiles probably could do anything he puts his mind to, and he has no idea who Henry Cavill is, so he settles for saying, “I’ll learn how to use Facechat for you, if you want.”

Stiles smiles at him fondly. “Yeah? For me? I’m worth it?”  

“Of course,” Derek says, lips ticking upward. “After all, this is true love, you think this happens every day?”

Stiles swats him lightly on the shoulder. “Oh my god. You’re such a fucking sap,” he says, but he looks deeply pleased.

 

-

 

The days drift by. One week becomes two. Two becomes three. Stiles doesn’t leave. He talks about it like it’s an inevitability, and Derek knows he’s planning to rent a storage unit in Beacon Heights. He’s even started packing stuff in the bedroom into boxes. But he seems reluctant to set a date, and after a while Derek stops asking. It isn’t like he wants Stiles to go. There’s a part of him. A big part, that wants Stiles to stay here, with him, forever. Still, there are days where he catches Stiles looking pensive, staring off into the distance with a pinched expression on his face, and in those moments Derek knows, he knows that this part can’t last forever. Stiles is going to leave, at least for a while.

So the days pass by, Derek settles into work at the autoshop, he loves the job and he likes his boss immensely. Luis has a wry sense of humor. Sure, he likes to complain a little, but it’s mostly for show, and he has a kind heart. He takes Derek under his wing, encouraging him in what he knows, and sharing his knowledge and experience freely.

Boyd takes well to werewolfdom. He’s patient and stoic, loyal and just-- easy. All good qualities in a wolf, and a perfect first beta for Derek who has never had a pack to lead before. After the first week Boyd asks if he can introduces Derek to his mom. He wants her to be allowed in on the secret, he says, “I want her to know, Der. I’m all she has left, and she deserves that.” So Derek obliges. Mrs Boyd, or Veronica as she insists the pack call her, takes it all in her stride, and quickly becomes something of a surrogate mom to everyone. She insists on holding a pack lunch. The first Sunday they all show up she cooks enough food to feed an army of werewolves let alone Derek’s tiny pack. She plies them with mountains of crisp fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens. Then, once they’ve eaten so much they have to unbutton their pants, they help with the dishes, then slump on the couch in an ungainly heap and shout loudly at the TV as the stars of whatever reality show is airing make progressively terrible decisions. After that first time, they take turns with the cooking and hosting, but it becomes a weekly thing.

Isaac seems happier. Like a weight has been lifted. He’s affectionate in a way that Derek hasn’t seen from him before. Regularly greets Derek with a hug, teases Stiles, and roughhouses with Erica and Boyd. “I feel free,” he says to Derek one evening, as he sits on the battered office chair Luis keeps in the autoshop, while Derek’s working late, putting in time on Stiles’ Jeep. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”

Three weeks in, Erica officially asks for the bite, and Derek obliges. She’s fierce, spirited, snappier than Boyd and it shows-- she doesn’t find it quite as easy to focus on her anchor, but she gets there in the end. The first full moon after she’s turned Derek takes them back up to the Nemeton and the wolves spend the night charging through the woods, chasing the moon, while Isaac and Stiles sit on a picnic blanket near the fresh bud of the new Nemeton that’s pushing through the mound of earth. Isaac’s packed another picnic. Properly prepared this time with delicacies from the bakery-- but he still brings Gatorade and Three Musketeer bars too. “It’s pack tradition, Alpha mine!” he says when Derek asks.

Five weeks of blissful happiness has passed when Derek comes home from work one night to find that Stiles is standing among piles of half filled boxes, one of the bookshelves almost cleared of all contents. He looks up as Derek comes in, smiles, almost guiltily.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey.” Derek shucks his jacket and toes off his sneakers, a sinking feeling in his stomach. Then, standing there in the doorway he surveys the room, feeling a little lost.

“I finally booked the storage unit. Isaac’s gonna drive me up there in his van tomorrow, so I figured I better, y’know,” Stiles makes a sweeping gesture at the piles of stuff. “Do you want to keep any of the books, or should I--”

“Yeah, maybe,” Derek swallows around the lump that’s rapidly appearing in his throat. “I mean. I only have three so, I may as well have something to fill the shelves.”

Stiles smiles wanly, and as Derek steps forward and gets a better look at him, he can see, can smell , that Stiles has been crying.

“Hey,” he says, closing the distance between them and pulling Stiles into a hug. “Hey, it’s okay.”

Stiles clings onto him tightly. “I don’t want to leave you,” he admits. “I don’t want to, but I don’t want to stay here either. Fuck.” His shoulders start to shake, and the thin cotton of Derek’s t-shirt is getting damp.

“I know. I know,” Derek murmurs. “I know. But it’ll be okay. Remember? You’ll always have a place here. This isn’t forever.”

“I know,” Stiles sniffs. “I know.”

They stand there a long while, just holding each other, Stiles’ face buried against Derek’s shoulder, as he gets himself under control. Then, finally, with a big juddering sigh, he steps back, swiping at his nose with the cuff of his plaid shirt.

“I swear I never used to be this emotional before I met you,” he mutters. “Jesus. Okay, well why don’t you go get your books and put them on this shelf.”

Derek hasn’t touched those old books in over a month. Hasn’t had the time, they’re still sitting in the bottom of his old bag.

“Wait,” Stiles calls, as Derek disappears into their bedroom to retrieve them. “You say you have three books? I’ve only ever seen two. The Princess Bride and Slaughterhouse Five. What’s the other one?”

Rifling through Stiles’ closet, Derek finds the old black duffle bag and lifts it onto the bed. He unzips it and carefully picks the books up. Lifting them to his nose, he inhales deeply. If he closes his eyes he can imagine that the last remnants of Laura’s scent still cling to them. They’re the only part of her he has left that isn’t a memory, and they’re now so much a part of himself that he doesn’t know where they end and he begins.

“Derek,” Stiles says, poking his head round the door, eyes bright with curiosity. “What’s the third book?”

With a wry smile Derek selects it from the small pile and hands it over to him. “It always struck me as strangely appropriate for you,” he says.

Stiles reaches for it, and as he sees the cover he grins. “Peter Pan,” he says, “Seriously?”

“I guess I felt you might have a certain kinship with the boy who never grew up.” Derek lifts one eyebrow.

“Hmmm,” Stiles says, turning the book over in his hand, to look at the back cover. “I suppose I should be grateful that you’re not trying to imply I’m Tinkerbell.”

“I would never.”

“I’ve never actually read this book,” Stiles admits. He traces his finger over the cracked spine and then opens it to the first page and inhales sharply. “This book is the property of Laura Hale, age 12. Derek and Cora keep out,” he reads aloud. “That’s a pretty kickass skull and crossbones your sister drew there.”

“It was her favorite book as a kid, she always had it with her, even when she got older.” Derek plucks the book from Stiles’ hand, closing it gently he places it on the bed. “You should try reading it,” he says, tugging Stiles towards him, and dropping a kiss on his lips. “It’s pretty good.”

“Mmmm,” Stiles hums, wrapping his arms around Derek and tugging him closer. “You’re pretty good. Or something.”

“Or something?”

“Something witty,” Stiles mumbles. “It was gonna be witty, but your hotness is scrambling my brain. So just pretend I said something witty.”

Derek smirks at him and kisses him again.

 

-

 

Three days. That’s how long they have left as it turns out. Just three days. And to Derek it seems to pass in a blink of an eye. Before he can really process it, the apartment seems to be half empty, some of Stiles stuff locked away safely in a storage unit, more still thrown out completely.

“You can just leave it in your apartment,” Derek had argued on more than one occasion. “It’s still your apartment. And I don’t own anything!”

“Yeah,” Stiles had replied with a rueful smile. “But you will.”

The morning Stiles is due to leave, Derek wakes up early with a lump in his throat, his stomach tight, he opens his eyes to find Stiles is already looking at him, eyes dark and a little sad in the dim morning light.

“Der--” he says, in a choked of voice, and Derek leans across and kisses him before he can say anything else. Kisses him until they’re not thinking about what’s to come. Derek sucks him off, relishes the weight of Stiles in his mouth, the dull ache of his jaw grounding him as he bobs his head, the feel of Stiles’ long fingers pulling at his hair, the taste of him salty on Derek’s tongue as he comes.

Then, after, Derek preps him, fucks into him, tries to make it last. Tries to hold on to the feel of Stiles’ body hot and tight around him, the damp slide of skin on skin, the smell of him musky and warm, so that later when Stiles is far away, he’ll be able to remember it.

Around lunchtime they make their way to the bakery and the guys close it at midday for an hour specially. Erica and Veronica join them all, and they sit round and eat lunch together, one last meal. All Stiles favorite snacks. Boyd has made triple chocolate brownies for the occasion. A tray for them to share and a tupperware box filled for Stiles to take with him. Then once Stiles has said tearful goodbyes to the rest of the pack, Derek walks Stiles back to his apartment block. They go upstairs, grab Stiles’ bags, and Derek pockets the parting gift that he’s planning to give Stiles before he leaves.

“This way,” he says leading Stiles out the back to the place where he has parked Isaac’s van.

They load the bags into the van, and then Derek drives them down the long road out of town, finally parking up outside the old train depot. It’s weathered looking dusty and worn in the golden light of the afternoon.

“So this is where we gonna say our goodbyes, huh?” Stiles says, turning to look at him.

“We’re not quite there yet,” says Derek. And he ushers Stiles out of the van and round the side of the building where he’s parked...

“I knew it!” Stiles says, beaming at him, and running over to Roscoe. The window isn’t saran wrap and duct tape anymore. The bumper is no longer tied on with string. Every part of the engine has been finely tuned, the worn tires replaced, the car waxed so the blue paintwork all but gleams in the sunshine.

“You knew?” he says, feeling slightly disappointed.

“What? You really thought you’d kept it a secret?” Stiles says, arching an eyebrow at him. “Why do you think I haven’t bought bus tickets or another car?” He laughs gleefully as Derek tosses him the keys, and opening the door, he climbs inside. “Oh my god, is that a new sound system? Seriously?”

Derek shrugs bashfully and Stiles winds down the window and leans out. “I have the best boyfriend,” he says grinning madly.

“Don’t you forget it,” Derek says, and steps forward to kiss him.

When they part, Stiles cheeks are pink, lips kiss-swollen. He blinks at Derek with wide brown eyes. “This is really great. Thanks. It means a lot. And I--I have something for you, too.” He reaches into his back pocket of his jeans and pulls something out.

As he hands it over, Derek’s fingers close over cool smooth metal. He looks down, fingers curling tight around the hard edge of the Sheriff’s badge in his palm.

“It was my Dad’s,” Stiles says, a slightly trembling edge to his voice. “It’s the, uh-- the only thing I have left of him. I’m giving it to you for safe keeping. It’s my most precious possession, so you know I’m coming back for it. Okay?”

The lump that seems to have taken up permanent residence in Derek’s throat today is suddenly back with a vengeance. “I have something for you too,” he says, willing his voice steady.

“Other than the car?” One of Stiles’ eyebrows disappears into his hairline, and Derek feels a little bit of genuine satisfaction that in this, at least, he might genuinely be able to surprise Stiles. He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a book, handing it to Stiles, who takes it curiously.

“You’re giving me Peter Pan,” he says, softly. “Derek, are you sure--”

“You should finally read it,” Derek says, aiming for nonchalant and missing grandly. “I want you to have it.”

Stiles looks down at the book, swallows hard, and then says, “There’s a bookmark in it.”

“I know,” Derek says. “I put it there. For you.”

With a swift glance at Derek, Stiles opens the book to the page in question, and his breath catches in his throat, as he sees the line that Derek had painstakingly underlined in pencil last night, and the small note he’d left in the margin. “To live will be an awfully big adventure,” Stiles reads aloud, and then, his voice breaking a little as he reads Derek’s message, “Live fully. Embrace the adventure without guilt or regret, and I will too, promise. I love you. Derek.”

The thing is, right now Stiles’ big adventure is out there somewhere, on the horizon, and Derek’s is here in Beacon Hills. In that moment Derek wants to thank him for the last few months. To tell him that until Stiles came into his life he’d forgotten what it felt like to really feel alive. He’d forgotten what it felt like to laugh, to love and be loved. To have the security of family and pack. And for him, that’s the biggest adventure of all. He wants to say all that and a million other things that are all sitting on the tip of his tongue, but he doesn’t get the chance, because Stiles scrambles out of the Jeep, book still clutched in his hand and throws himself at Derek. Wraps his arms around him and clings to him. Kisses him fiercely.

“Remember this moment,” Stiles breathes. “Remember me. Don’t you fucking forget me okay?”

“I couldn’t,” Derek says quietly. “I can’t. I won’t.”

They’re there a while, neither one quite able to bring themselves to the point of separating, but finally they pull apart. Derek helps Stiles load up the Jeep with his bags. They hug each other one last time, then Stiles opens the door to the Jeep and climbs in, swiping at his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.

“Okay,” he says, staring straight ahead. He puts the keys in the ignition and twists, the engine turns over, purring to life. “Okay,” he says again, and when he turns to look at Derek his eyes seem to glow whisky gold in the late afternoon sun.

It strikes Derek then that Stiles has always been a strange dichotomy. There are times when he’s seemed old, wise beyond his years. There are times when he’s seemed snarky and playful, every inch the boy who never grew up, perhaps because he’s never been allowed to grow past the boundaries of this place. But as Stiles breathes out now, shoulders going lax, he looks truly happy, at peace in a way Derek has never seen before. Younger than his years. Strong. Ready. For whatever life is about to throw at him.

Derek steps forward, crosses his arms and leans against the window of the Jeep.

“I love you,” Derek says.

Stiles exhales slowly. “I love you too.”

“Call me when you stop for the night, okay? Or before, if you want.”

“I will.” Stiles waggles his eyebrows. “Tell Erica to install Snapchat on your phone. I demand dick pics.”

Derek shakes his head with a put upon sigh, biting his lip against a smile. “You always know how to bring real class to a tender moment.”

Stiles laughs brightly at that, and then kisses him sweetly one last time. When they finally part, he clicks his seatbelt in, and then as Derek steps back, pulls out of the parking space and away.

Stopping as he’s about to turn onto the main road, he looks back briefly and waves at Derek one last time and Derek waves too. Then he stands there and watches as the Jeep drives down the dirt road and away. Watches until the Jeep is nothing but a speck in the distance. Watches until there’s nothing left but the dust cloud plume in its wake. Then he turns back, climbs into the van, his heart strangely light, and heads for home.

Chapter Text

A flurry of texts from Erica come through just as Stiles is about to board the plane, and the flight attendant gives him a dirty look as he gets his phone out to check them.

Change of plans. Isaac’s picking you up at the airport because it’s Felicia’s ballet recital at 3

And before you complain

We all know you and Isaac love each other really, so don’t even front

Also

It could have been worse...

It could have been Jackson

Jackson. Stiles scrunches his face up at the thought. Derek took him in a couple of years after Stiles left, and, well, he’s okay. Stiles is fond of him and all, but his particular brand of brash assholeishness clashes with Stiles’ own. Not that he and Stiles have ever met in person, but that hasn’t stopped them bickering over Skype, or Whatsapp, or the telephone, loudly and repeatedly.

Stiles’ phone beeps again.

It’s a picture of Erica’s daughter, Felicia, three years old, grin a mile wide, springy, black curls wild as she strikes a pretty pose in a bright pink tutu.

She’s gorgeous, Stiles texts back, and then, quickly, before the flight attendant can lecture him about his phone, Tell Isaac I’ll see him there

 

-


When Stiles first leaves Beacon Hills he follows a rambling, meandering trail which makes no sense to anyone but himself.

He heads north at first, stops in Seattle, stays for a while, visits the Space Needle because he feels like he ought to, and the Pinball Museum because he actually wants to. Then a couple weeks later, on a whim, he heads east, eventually stumbles across Glacier park in Montana, and spends a week there hiking, marvelling at the spectacular views. In Wyoming he hits the rodeo and sends Derek multiple pictures of men wearing chaps, hinting that it would be a good look on him. Derek responds with a series of unimpressed emojis, but Stiles isn’t worried, there’s plenty of time to try and persuade him.

He continues on, his progress scattershot at best; he stops wherever catches his eye, makes friends, even picks up work here and there. Erica starts a pack Whatsapp group and he spends far too much time bickering with Isaac, joking with Erica, and having long debates with Boyd about obscure TV shows. Derek’s in the chat too, but doesn’t contribute as much to the discussion as the others. Texts are not really his medium, and he tends to be quiet in groups anyway, even groups of friends, preferring to silently observe, appreciate things, and then discuss them at length later, one on one. And Stiles has plenty of one on one. Derek Skypes him most nights, and they lie in bed talking. More often than not, once the conversation peters out they fall asleep without ending the call, lulled to sleep by the sound of each other’s steady breathing.

It takes a while, but Stiles eventually finds his way to Michigan, spends two months staying with the McCalls in Grand Haven. Now a big, well established pack, it’s led by Scott’s grandson, Conor, a strapping guy of about forty-five, who bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather. Stiles stays two months straight, runs with them on the full moons, swims in the great lake, and visits Scott’s grave in the local churchyard more than once to pay his respects and feel close to his old friend. Towards the end of his time there, Conor floats the idea that Stiles stay permanently, but he politely declines. After all, he has a pack already, and besides, there’s an itch under his skin, a restless energy that he just can’t seem to tame, it’s urging him onwards. Adventure is out there, life is waiting to be lived, and he has a promise to keep.

So he says his goodbyes.

Heads south.

Makes his way to Texas. Then Louisiana. Strolls through the French Quarter in New Orleans, and listens to the easy strains of jazz music that floats toward him on the evening breeze. He likes it there, the heat, the relaxed atmosphere that belies the passion simmering just below the surface. He stays a while, but even the Big Easy can’t hold him forever, and so he heads east again, this time to Miami, drives through the Everglades, discovers great Cuban food, checks out the beaches.

But it’s still there.  

Longing. Yearning. A feeling that if he can just make it over the next horizon there’ll be something else. Something better.

It gnaws at his chest whenever he allows himself space to think, and won’t leave him be.  

So he drives up the east coast. Maryland. Boston. Finally reaching New York. He’s there almost six months. Gets a part time job in a bar and makes friends with a couple of weres, Jeff and Amir, and a not-evil succubus called Saeko. The three of them share an apartment in Brooklyn together, and are happy to let Stiles stay for a while as long as he pitches in with the rent. The first time he Skypes Derek and describes his new living situation, Derek says, “It sounds like the set up for an unlikely sitcom.”

“Like a paranormal Three’s Company? Or a supernatural Friends?” Stiles asks. “In that case can I be Chandler? I feel like I’m definitely a Chandler.”

“Well, you are hopeless, awkward and desperate for love, soooo--”

“Heeey--” Stiles says, and knocks his fists together twice in response a la Ross.

Derek grins. “So,” he says, thoughtfully, as Stiles reaches for the bottle of gatorade on his bedside table and takes a sip. “If you’re Chandler, does that make me Monica?”

Immediately Stiles’ snorts Gatorade out of his nose and all over the screen of his laptop. “Oh god,” he says, laughing and wiping furiously at the screen. “Sorry. Ugh. Shit. Monica?” He considers for a moment. “I mean, I don’t think you’re a direct fit for any of them really, but maybe more Phoebe?”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “Phoebe?”

“What? Phoebe’s awesome! She’s badass! She’s had a tough life. She’s lived on the streets. She has this terrible tragic past that she overcomes because she’s a survivor. I mean a pimp spit in her mouth, Derek! In her mouth!”

“Uh-huh--”

“Also, she’s fiercely loyal to those she loves. Accepting of people. Funny. Plus” Stiles continues, warming to his theme, “more than any other character she takes her friends and turns them into her family. Tell me that isn’t you.”

Derek’s quiet for a long moment. “I don’t know. She’s a little bit-- weird.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Stiles says, with a smirk. “See? You have loads in common.”

Derek shakes his head half exasperated, half amused. “You’re so annoying. Too annoying to be Chandler. I changed my mind. You’re Janice.”

“Oh. My. God!” Stiles screeches, horrified. “Shut. Up!”

“Oh. My. God! Shut. Up!” Derek responds, mimicking him perfectly. “Yeah, definitely Janice.”

“Yeah, well. Janice was a queen,” Stiles decides, sniffing haughtily. “And, FYI, I happen to look amazing in a leopard print pump.”

Time passes, life in New York is good, great even, he gets to see Central Park in the fall. Enjoys his job. Makes new friends, sees the sights, attends Mets games to his heart’s content. All in all Stiles is the happiest he’s been in a long time, or he should be, but soon the ache in chest is back again. And before long he finds himself staring off into the distance, unsettled and incomplete, wishing he was somewhere else.

It’s because he’s limiting himself he decides morosely one night, after too much alcohol and too little sleep. He needs to get out of the U.S., really stretch his wings, broaden his horizons. Getting out his laptop he checks the available flights, hoping that inspiration will strike, and books plane tickets on a whim.

Then he calls Derek, and lets him know what’s happening.

“What about Roscoe?” Derek asks.

“I don’t know.” Stiles gnaws at his lip. “Long term parking, maybe?”

“How long though?” Derek says skeptically.

In the end, it turns out Amir is planning to visit family in San Francisco the following month. He agrees to drive Roscoe back across country for Stiles and leave him with Derek. So it all kind of works out.

 

-

 

“Woah, Dad, woah, woah. What are you doing?”

Stiles’ dad shifts a little, struggling to get out of the rickety armchair, his joints groan under the strain of acute arthritis; the old blanket that covers him falls to the floor.

“Stay put,” Stiles says firmly. “What is it you need? I can get it for you.”

“Gotta go,” the Sheriff mumbles, blinking at him. “Gotta ride out to the ravine and check for the Dunbar kid. He’s lost, and there’s a storm a’brewin’.”

The Dunbar kid. Liam. Hmmm. That was a good while back, but when exactly? Stiles cocks his head to one side and racks his brain, trying to remember, even as he says, “No. No. You don’t need to go. It’s fine. There’s no problem. Sit down.”

The Sheriff’s brow wrinkles as he scowls up at Stiles. “What would you know, eh? You been snoopin’ through my stuff again? I’m the Sheriff here--” He taps a knobbly finger against his own chest belligerently. “--Not you.”

Stiles urges him to sit back in the armchair and picks the thick, scratchy blanket up off the floor, tucking it around his dad gently, making sure he’s warm. Winter this year has been particularly cruel.

“No snooping,” he promises, “I wouldn’t do that.”

His father snorts in disbelief, which may or may not be fair. Stiles never did have the best record on that score when his dad was a lawman, but that’s by the by.

Once again, his dad makes to get up, still agitated, and Stiles tries a different tack. “Jordan’s ridden out there already,” he says soothingly. “He’s gonna find Liam. You need to stay here, okay? Just stay here and rest.”

His dad sniffs, eyes flitting suspiciously over Stiles, but some of the tension seems to seep out of his shoulders. “Jordan, eh?”

“Yep. You like Jordan. He’s a good deputy.”

“He’s a little green.” Jordan is fifty years old now, and Sheriff of a small township east of Alameda. He hasn’t been anywhere near Beacon Hills in fifteen years, but Stiles doesn’t point that out.

“He’s a good guy, and a capable deputy,” Stiles says firmly. His dad grunts, but slumps back in the chair like a recalcitrant teenager, eyes fixed accusatively on Stiles.

With a sigh, Stiles turns, and, grabs the poker. He stirs the charred embers in the grate, bringing life back into them. Then, reaching out, he grabs a log from the pile and tosses it on. After a moment the fire starts to spit and crackle.

It’s difficult when his dad’s mind wanders like this. When it first started a couple of years back, Stiles used to try and talk him round. Used to try and explain where they were. When they were. Now, for the most part, he just goes along with whatever time or place his dad thinks it is. It’s less upsetting for them both that way.

He isn’t sure if that’s the right thing to do though, or just the easiest, and, not for the first time, he wishes there were someone he could ask. But his mom passed four years ago, and Beacon Hills isn’t the town it used to be. It’s changing. Slowly but inexorably, without the Nemeton’s influence to keep them here, the supernatural community is dispersing.  Apart from his dad, Stiles only has a handful of people left now who truly know him, and half the time his dad doesn’t remember what day of the week it is, let alone who his son is, and what he’s capable of.

“I was out at the Martin homestead today,” Stiles says, his thoughts settling on the banshee family who live just out of town and seem resolutely determined not to go anywhere. “Pam and George are talkin’ about taking over the general store and makin’ something of it. Could be pretty cool.”

The flames in the grate sputter and snap as the new log starts to turn white and cracked. His dad doesn’t reply, and after a moment Stiles looks around to check on him. The old sheriff is slumped in his chair, chin resting on his chest, wrinkled face lax in sleep, breathing soft and even. At peace, for now, at least.

With a sigh, Stiles turns away to tend the fire.

 

-

 

Bali, Stiles visits the Uluwatu Temple which sits high on the cliff tops, looking out over the ocean. As he approaches he can hear monkeys whooping and chattering in the nearby forest and later, as he walks around the grounds, one of them darts down from a tree and steals his sunglasses from his bag and runs away. Stiles gives chase, and finally finds it sitting on an ancient stone trough, methodically pulling them apart. As soon as it spots him, it runs again, scales a high wall, and glares down at him chittering angrily, the ruins of Stiles’ sunglasses crushed in it’s tiny fist. He takes a photo and posts it to the pack Whatsapp group, just to amuse them all.

Later he watches a kecak dance as the sun sinks low on the horizon, sky bleeding golden-red, and listens to the waves crash against the shoreline below.

It’s a beautiful place.

And he tries to settle into the moment. To appreciate it. Really feel it. But something won’t sit right in his chest.

He must have read Derek’s message in Peter Pan a thousand times now. Live fully. Embrace the adventure. It’s permission to do the things he’s spent years dreaming of, and he’s trying. Trying so damn hard.

He should feel happy.

He should feel at peace.

There are moments when he does, but he can’t seem to make it part of himself, can’t seem to hold onto the feeling, and own it.

Wherever he is, he’s always finds himself thinking about the next place. Gaze always fixed on the horizon.

Later, in his hotel room, he Skypes Derek, overcome with the urge to see his face and hear his voice. He feels like he needs it to ground him.

They talk about his day, and Derek tells him little bits about the pack, and then says, “By the way. I’ve been thinking about what we discussed the other week.”

“Yeah?” Stiles scrunches his face in confusion, and then says, “Oh! You mean the chaps I found on Amazon? Because I maintain that you would look--”

“No,” Derek says hurriedly. “The thing about the money.”

“Ah.” Stiles knows it’s something that plays on Derek’s mind a lot. There was a huge insurance payout after the fire killed his family. Millions of dollars just sitting there that he’d never thought to touch, never wanted to, until he actually had a pack to spend it on. “Okay,” Stiles says, “have you come to any conclusions?”

“I’ve been thinking maybe I could build a house,” Derek bursts out all in a rush, “For the pack. Not that I don’t love living in your apartment, I do, but it’s kinda small and the pack only seems to be getting bigger, and now that Erica’s pregnant, well--”

“That’s an amazing idea,” Stiles says immediately and with complete honesty. “I love it. You should totally do that.”

“Good. Uh.” Derek ducks his head, not meeting Stiles’ eyes. “So, okay. With that in mind, there’s some land for sale just out of town. I went to take a look today with Boyd. It was--I liked it, so did he. It backs on to the preserve, so it’ll be good for full moons, but it isn’t too far from town. I’m gonna take the whole pack out there to see it, but I was thinking of sending you photographs, so you can tell me what you think? No pressure. I know you’re not-- there’s no pressure-- but I--uh-- I want it to be somewhere you would want to--” he swallows, “I’d like you to be... involved in the process, if you want.”

“Yeah. No. Of course. I want. Definitely. Sure,” says Stiles, a lump forming in his throat. “I would love to. Send me all the pics. Seriously. I would be--” he grasps around for the right word, “--honored, to do that.”

“Yeah?” Derek asks, finally lifting his head to meet Stiles’ eyes, with a small, hopeful smile.

“Totally. One hundred percent.”

“Okay.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, taking a deep breath. “God, that’s huge.” He laughs a little hysterically. “I guess we’re gonna build a house. Or, y’know, you are--”

“We are,” Derek says immediately. “I’m not asking you to come back until you’re ready. That’s not what this is. But I want you to be as involved as you can be. At every stage. Because it’ll be our house. I mean. If you want. To live with me. Eventually.”

Stiles smiles then, he can’t help it. “I don’t know when I’m coming back,” he says, “But I promise I will. And when I do, there’s nowhere else I’m gonna want to be.”

Derek’s answering grin is like the sun, and Stiles knows he’s grinning like a loon. Can feel it stretching his face, his heart feels like it’s gonna burst in his chest.  

“Okay,” he says, waving his hand. “Enough of this sappy shit. The wifi in this hotel is pretty good. So I’m thinking I dim the lights, put some music on, maybe we get freaky deaky over the in-ter-net, whaddya think?” He waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“I think maybe you guys oughta move this conversation to Derek’s bedroom,” Isaac says, hoving into view over Derek’s left shoulder. “Jesus. Why is it that the ace guy always has to be in the room for this stuff? Yesterday I walked in on Boyd and Erica mid--”

“Oh stop complaining,” Stiles says cutting him off. “Don’t you have your own apartment?”

“Yeah,” Isaac says, “But Derek and I were half way through a Die Hard marathon that you interrupted.”

Derek ducks his head, scrubs one hand over his face, ears scarlet.

Stiles feels a little bad about that, but it isn’t as though Derek told him at any point. “Call me later,” he says to Derek pointedly. “Once you’re alone . And tell your puppy that he better not be eating those gross lime tortilla chips in our apartment.”

“You’re not even here, you’ve not been here in two years. Why would you care?” Isaac cuts in. “Also, lime is the best flavor.” He disappears off screen out of Stiles view, but reappears quickly carrying a huge bag of the offending chips, and pointedly stuffs a handful in his mouth, chewing them obnoxiously.

“I’m gonna go,” Derek says, shaking his head, and probably regretting several life choices. “I love you, and I will call you later.”

“I love you too,” Stiles says.

“Gross,” says Isaac, and Stiles flips him off.

 

-

 

Stiles doesn’t get to check his phone again until a layover in Ohio. He has three hours to spare, which is not enough time to do anything of note, but more than enough time for him to freak himself out.

There’s a small box in the breast pocket of his jacket, it’s sitting just over his heart, and he feels the significance of that acutely. The thought makes his palms sweat and he wipes them off on his jeans nervously.

To take his mind off things, he gets his phone out and scrolls through the messages. There’s nothing more from Erica since her picture of Felicia earlier. But Kira, a sweetnatured kitsune, with a slightly macabre streak, who joined the pack around a year ago, has just sent him a picture of Derek. He’s sitting on the porch swing of the pack house, with Felicia snuggled next to him, as he reads her a storybook. Neither of them are looking at the camera, they only have eyes for each other, and the smile on Derek’s face is breathtaking. It makes Stiles’ heart stutter in his chest. Kira’s captioned the photo, Look at all the cute!!

What are you trying to do to me?? Stiles texts back.

Ten minutes later his phone beeps again.

Just think. Soon you’ll be able to see stuff like this every day. IN PERSON. FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

I can’t wait, he replies, with total honesty.

 

-

 

Stiles is sitting on a bench in downtown Beacon Hills, eating his lunch and deeply engrossed in the latest copy of Amazing Stories magazine which is open on his knees in front of him.

“Hey,” says a voice, and Stiles’ head snaps up to see who’s talking. It’s a guy, young, early twenties maybe with ill-fitting clothes, tousled black hair, a crooked jaw and an easy smile. “Hey! Hi!” the guys says again, and gestures at the seat next to Stiles. “Is anyone sitting here?”

“Uh, no,” Stiles says, and shifts along to make more room. He takes another bite of his sandwich and turns back to his magazine, but the guy apparently has other plans.

“So, my name’s Scott. Scott McCall.” The guy sticks his hand out. “I’m new in town.”

“Yeah?” Wistfully, Stiles closes his magazine, puts the remains of his sandwich down, and shakes the offered hand. Through a mouthful of half-chewed bread and ham he manages to say, “Stiles. Stilinski. I’ve--uh-- lived here forever. Literally.”

Scott grins at that, bright. Beaming. “Lucky you! It seems like a great town. Big.”

Stiles snorts derisively.

“Hey, I’m from Cherry Creek, in White Pine County, Nevada, population fifty. Compared to that, this place is huge.” He nods at the magazine next to Stiles. “Say, I loved the Man from the Atom, in the first issue, did you read it?”

“Uh,” Stiles almost chokes on what’s left of his food, spluttering helplessly until Scott bangs him on the back a couple times, in a helpful kind of way. “Yeah? Yeah I read it. It was great. So, you’re a fan of this--” he gestures vaguely at the magazine.

“Yup,” Scott says. “You sound surprised?”

“I--I guess I’ve just never met anyone in this godforsaken town who likes that sorta thing before.”

“You keep talkin’ that way! It isn’t that bad here, is it?” Scott asks, and then laughs heartily when Stiles scrunches up his face in response.

They spend the next half hour discussing the relative merits of Jules Verne and HG Wells. Then agree to meet up later that evening for a drink, which is where Stiles discovers that Scott has replaced Amos Smith as the local veterinarian, and that he has a room at a guest house downtown, but is looking for an apartment. As it turns out, Stiles has a spare room, and just like that, he finds he has a roommate.

For the next ten years or so the town of Beacon Hills goes through an unexpected period of affluence, even bucking the national trend when the Great Depression hits. Businesses open. The town expands, new buildings are built, houses and apartment blocks, schools and offices. People flood in from all over to take advantage of it, and life is good.

Years later, local historians still recall it as the town’s heyday. An inexplicable golden age of prosperity and industry.

For his part, when Stiles looks back on that time, he realizes it was the land responding to the fact that he was happy. He’d never had a friend like Scott before, close as any brother, a comrade, co-conspirator, and the nearest thing to family he’d known since his dad died.



-

 

“Fuck. We’re good at that.” Stiles rests his head on Derek’s chest, and listens to the steady thump of his heart. He’s drowsy, lost in a haze of post coital bliss, as one finger traces idle swirls in Derek’s chest hair.

“We really are.” Derek plants a sweaty kiss to his forehead, and lets his head flop back against the pillow.

Overhead the ceiling fan whirs, pushing warm air around the room. Apparently it’s the hottest April Hawaii has seen in a while. Unseasonably warm. Freakish, even. The local news stations won’t stop talking about it.

A myna bird chatters argumentatively from a tree near their window, and Stiles can hear people screeching with laughter and splashing in the pool outside. It sounds like fun, and if they ever peel themselves out of bed, they really ought to check it out. After all, they basically haven’t stirred from this room since they arrived at the hotel two days ago, except to eat.

“Enjoying your birthday?” Derek murmurs, his arm tightening around Stiles’ waist, pulling him closer, like he senses Stiles’ thoughts and disapproves.

“Every birthday with you is a good one,” Stiles says,  because it’s true, and because falling in love has apparently turned him into a giant sap.

Every year since Stiles left Beacon Hills, Derek has joined him for a week around his birthday, wherever he happens to be in the world. Last year it was Tokyo. The year before that, Vienna. Before that, Salvador. It’s both the best, and the worst thing in the universe, because a week together always leaves them both wanting more. Stiles always wishes Derek could stay longer, could stay forever, but he knows that that can’t be. Derek has responsibilities, a young pack to take care of, a Nemeton to protect, so they try and make good use of the time they have.

In practice, that means Derek never gets to see much of any place they’re staying, because they pretty much hole up in a nice hotel room and refuse to let each other go until it’s time for him to leave. Stiles might feel guilty sometimes that Derek’s spends so much money, but never actually gets to see the sights. It never seems to bother Derek, though. Case in point, he’s pushing up against Stiles now, nostrils flaring, like Stiles’ scent is the most addictive thing in the world, his steadily thickening cock pressing suggestively against Stiles’ hip, clearly ready for a second round.

Stiles huffs out an amused sigh. “Not all of us have werewolf stamina, y’know. I have this little thing called a refractory period? I know you’ve heard of it.”

“That’s okay,” Derek mumbles, flipping Stiles so he’s on his back, and kissing him soundly. “I’ll top this time.”

The next morning he does manage to prise Derek out of bed. They shower, change, eat breakfast and spend a couple of hours hand in hand, poking around the swap meet in Aloha Stadium parking lot. Stiles buys Derek a fabulous pink and green shirt, which he insists Derek wear immediately. Derek spends his time picking out gifts for the pack. A necklace for Erica, a baseball cap for Boyd, board shorts for Isaac, and hand carved windchimes for baby Felicia.

“I don’t know what to get Jackson,” he murmurs, frowning.

“I know it’s difficult, but personality transplants don’t exist, and even if they did, you couldn’t buy him one at a flea market,” Stiles says.

“He isn’t so bad,” Derek says, nudging him with a reproachful elbow. “You’ll see. He’s better in person. Sometimes he’s almost sweet.”

On their return, they say hello to the maid as she passes them outside their room and she winks at them. “Are you enjoying your honeymoon?”

“It’s amazing,” Stiles says immediately, not bothering to correct her assumption, and not missing the nervous glance Derek sends his way. “Hawaii is beautiful.”

When she leaves he reaches for Derek’s hand, and presses a kiss to it, gently, reverently. “I love you,” he says just to reassure him. “And I may not be ready to come back to Beacon Hills just yet, but I don’t give a shit if people think we’re married, okay? Because you’re it for me, and in my heart we totally are.”

Derek gives him this look. One that Stiles can read like a book. He’s deeply pleased, but trying to pretend like he isn’t because he’s a contrary little shit when the mood takes him. “Isaac’s always telling me we’re gross,” he says, unlocking the door to their room, and Stiles follows him as he steps inside. “I guess I finally see what he means.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t love it when I get all sappy, Hale,” Stiles says, letting the door bang shut behind them. “I know you’re game.”

“Is that right?”

“Damn straight. You live for that shit. You’re a sap. A hopeless romantic. Now--” Stiles makes a big show of rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck, like he’s preparing for something big. “Here’s the plan, big guy. I’m gonna order wine. You’re gonna put on that playlist you like. The one with all the Adele. And then--” he shimmies his hips suggestively, “--prepare to wooed. We are going to slow bone.”

“You hate that playlist.”

“Yeah, but as I already pointed out, I love you, and love is all about compromise,” Stiles says, affecting the air of someone making a tremendous sacrifice for the greater good.

“Uh-huh,” Derek says, tone dry as a bone, but he’s already stripping off his shirt, which Stiles definitely appreciates. “That's what long term relationships are all about, compromise and slow boning.”

“You see!” Stiles kicks off his shorts and tries to pull his shirt over his head without unbuttoning it, but it gets stuck. “You totally get it. We are on the same wavelength. That’s why we’re so perfect for each other.”

“Perfect?”

“Yup,” Stiles says, finally tugging his head free from his shirt. He sends it sailing across the room with a flourish. “Absolutely perfect.” He glances at Derek, who is already gloriously naked. “Awww, fuck it,” he says, and pounces.

They never do get to the wine, or listen to the Adele-- turns out neither of them mind very much.

 

-

 

Isaac meets him at Sacramento airport, he’s carrying a cardboard sign that reads, “TINKERBELL,” in large glittery letters, and has a sly smirk on his face.

Stiles hasn’t stepped foot in California in almost six years. Hasn’t seen Isaac in the flesh in just as long, but the sight of him, tall and lean, tanned and happy, with that goddamn annoying smug smile on his face and the stupid sign his hand, has Stiles grinning so wide he thinks his face might split. He drops his bags to the floor and launches himself at Isaac, giving him the biggest, longest bear hug he can muster, and Isaac returns it fiercely.

“I missed you, you fuck,” Stiles says, feeling suddenly, inexplicably, emotional.

“Yeah. Missed you too, dumbass. We all have.” They don’t seem to be able to let each other go. Stiles finds himself crying a few manly tears, and judging from the way Isaac is sniffing he probably is too.

“Okay, you have to let go of me,” Stiles says, eventually, voice thick as he wriggles away. “You bitten wolves never know your own strength. I’m getting crushed here.” He steps back, swipes surreptitiously at his eyes and sees Isaac do the same.

“You need help with your bags?” Isaac asks, a moment later, all casual.

“Uh,” Stiles sniffs. “I guess you can take the big one. Put those werewolf muscles to good use.”

He does, and they walk through the airport, shoulders bumping together companionably.

“He doesn’t know I’m coming, right?” Stiles asks, as they pick their way through the parking lot to Isaac’s car, a shiny silver sedan.

“Nah,” Isaac says, easily, grinning at him. “He hasn’t got a clue.”

 

-

 

More than five years after he first leaves Beacon Hills Stiles finds himself in London, and discovers he likes it, so he stays. He finds work shepherding tourists around the Victoria and Albert museum, and shares a miniscule, but astonishingly expensive, apartment in Soho with a guy named Malik, who busks on the London Underground during the day, and works at a local Comedy Club in the evening. It’s a pretty sweet set up, and Stiles likes it well enough.

One day, he’s walking through one of London’s ubiquitous narrow, winding, side streets on his lunch break when he passes a jewellery store and something catches his eye. He stops in his tracks. Goes back. Stares. Presses himself right up against the window, fingers splayed wide, breath misting the glass. It’s there. Sitting right there, in a little square red velvet box. Shiny. Perfect. It’s calling to him.

His heart feels like it’s gonna beat out of his chest.

Twenty minutes later he’s still pacing up and down outside the store, arguing with himself, before finally ducking inside and handing over more money than he can reasonably afford.

As he leaves, he places the small square box inside his the breast pocket of his shirt and heads back to work. He feels the weight of it there for the rest of the day, like a promise.

Later he sits in the bedroom of his tiny apartment and gets it out, stares down at it, allows his mind to wander. He can see himself asking. He can see Derek wearing it. He can see them , what they are, what they could be . He misses Derek so much in that moment that he almost books a plane ticket right then and there. He imagines driving down to meet Derek, surprising him at his house. Their house. A house Stiles has seen pictures of many times. Seen, but never actually visited. He thinks of walking through that door, of asking the question, asking and then staying…

Staying.

In Beacon Hills.

His breath catches in his throat, and he snaps the box shut, places it safely in his sock drawer, and tries not to think about it.

He doesn’t succeed.

He finds he can’t settle long in London after that. His mind won’t let go of the decision that’s before him. He doesn’t know how to reconcile the different things he wants anymore. Doesn’t know what to do. Needs to talk it through with someone and try and make sense of it.

So he does the most sensible thing he can think of and books another plane ticket.

He’s calling in the big guns.

 

-

 

In some ways, the moments when his dad is lucid are worse than the times when he’s confused. There’s a look he gets, pained, regretful; he doesn’t want Stiles to see him like this. Doesn’t want to be a burden. Doesn’t want to leave him to a long, lonely future, with no one around to look out for him.

In those moments of mental clarity, Stiles can see the heartache etched in the lines of his face, in his rheumy eyes, in the way his hands tremble, and his breath catches. “I’m sorry, son,” he says, in those moments, voice scraping out of his chest. “I’m so sorry.”

And Stiles holds him, shushes him like a small child and tells him, “It’s okay. It’s all gonna be okay.” And tries to believe it for both of them. Tries not to cry.

“You’re a decent cook,” his dad says one evening, slurping soup from the spoon Stiles holds for him. “I never could cook worth a damn, and neither could your ma, so I don’t know where you got it from.”

It’s one of those rare, good days. His dad is lucid, but not maudlin. There have even been moments where it feels just like it used to.

“She tried to cook?” Stiles never saw his mom much outside of his various forays into the preserve. He never saw her eat, let alone cook.

“Heh.” His dad snorts. “Tried is the operative word. I had stomach cramps for three days after she made me this rabbit stew one time. Not that I told her that, mind you.”

He grins at Stiles, who smiles back at him, and offers him another spoonful of soup. There’s quiet between them for a moment.

“Do you ever--” Stiles begins, then cuts himself off.

“What?”

“Do you ever regret how things worked out?” Stiles asks. “I mean, I know you loved her and I know you love me, so that isn’t what I’m asking. I guess I mean-- all those years spent apart and only able to meet up every now and then. It can’t have been easy.” There were plenty of women who were interested in his dad as Stiles was growing up. Many who would happily have stepped up to be the wife of the Sheriff, but his dad had never seemed interested.

With a sigh, his dad says, “Look, your mom and I didn’t have a traditional relationship, we never got married, we never even lived together, and it wasn’t always easy, but we made good use of the time we did get, and that’s all you can do in this life. We both had other things we wanted. Both had lives to live, dreams to follow. Responsibilities. It didn’t stop us being there for each other when it counted. Didn’t stop us from loving each other and you. So, to answer your question,  no, I don’t have regrets.”

“But--”

“Son, sometimes love is just like the storybooks tell you it will be, it’s a guy and a gal. It’s two kids and a house with a white picket fence. It’s growing old together and never being apart. Truth is though, a lot of times it isn’t that simple. People find love in all kinds of different ways, in different places, and it’s awkward and it’s messy, and it’s sacrifice and separation.”

“Is it worth it?”

“I’m not going to lie to you. It’s hard work. But at its best it’s a thousand little ordinary everyday moments that add up to something beautiful, something more than the sum of their parts. And it doesn’t always make sense to those on the outside looking in, but that doesn’t make it any less special, or any less real when you find it. You play the hand you’re dealt, son, and you make it work for you. One day you’ll fall in love. Then you’ll see.”

“I don’t know. I mean,” Stiles shrugs. “Given my--uh-- situation, I figure that may not be on the cards for me.” It’s the first time he’s ever said that out loud, though he’s thought it often enough.

At that, his dad leans forward and grips Stiles’ arm with surprising strength. He stares him straight in the eye, deadly serious. “You’re wrong. It’s gonna happen for you one day, I promise.”

“You can’t--”

“Your mom told me once she had a feelin’ on that score, not long after you destroyed the Nemeton, and I believe her. It’s gonna happen for you. So just hold on. You’ll see.” He seems to be getting agitated again. His fingernails are digging into Stiles’ arm, pinching the skin tight.

“Okay, Dad,” Stiles says, soothingly. “Okay.”

Stiles helps his dad to bed that night, then lies in his own room, listening to the wind blow outside. It makes a branch from the alder tree near his window tap against his glass like it’s trying to get in. He thinks about his dad and mom. About love. Tries to imagine what it would be like to feel that way about someone, or even more unlikely, to engender that feeling in someone else.

It’s a seductive dream, he decides, but dreams are for people who get to go to sleep. Wake up. Go about their daily lives. Grow old.

Dreams are for people who have choices and a future.

Dreams are for people who get to live.

Stiles doesn’t have the luxury of dreams.

 

-

 

When Stiles thinks about Beacon Hills, he remembers an air of tired decay that seemed to pervade everything from the crumbling apartment buildings to the old store fronts with their peeling paint bleached by the sun. While he lived here, it seemed to him that the town sucked the life from people, it was a place too small for big dreams, and a sense of quiet resignation always seemed to overtake people who stayed too long. They became as faded and apathetic as the place they lived in, pining for past glory, but without the will or wherefore to make it happen.

So, when Isaac drives him through town, he finds himself momentarily speechless. The streets are clean and bustling with people, the store fronts are vibrant. Where a disused parking lot once languished, a new cinema now stands proudly. There are modern apartment blocks springing up all over. The bakery has a new awning. Even Palmers, the dive bar that smelled of piss and stale beer, has been repainted, it’s brickwork repointed. It looks, if not respectable, than at least like a place you would actually have fun time on a night out.

Isaac is watching him out of the corner of his eye, a small smile on his face. “Pretty different, huh?” he says.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, feeling a little lost. “Yeah. Really different.”

“We reckon about ten percent of the town are supernatural now,” Isaac says, casually. “But the number’s growing all the time. Apparently the Nemeton attracts them, We have a were jaguar, and a couple of fairies, a druid, hell, a dryad moved to town a year ago and opened a nursery. How perfect is that?”

“You’re shitting me?”

“Nope.”

“Why didn’t anyone say anything?”

He looks thoughtful. “It didn’t happen all at once, y’know. Just slowly. So we didn’t realize how much had changed at first, and then when we did, well, you needed to not be here, and we all understood that, so I don’t know-- I don’t know how we could have told you without it feeling like we were pressuring you, y’know?”

“I get that,” Stiles says, still staring out of the window. They’re passing through the suburbs now. Rows of neat houses with tidy front yards, boxy SUV’s and kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk. “You could have told me,” he decides.

Isaac shrugs. And Stiles understands. What’s done is done. You can’t change the past.

They turn left and start down a road leading out of town. There are fewer houses, and the ones there are, are spaced further apart.

“Is he gonna be there when we arrive?” Stiles says, and Isaac doesn’t need to ask who he’s talking about.

“We should make it there before him. He insisted on working even though it’s his birthday. You know what he’s like. It kinda suited us, anyway, because it made organizing the party so much easier. The pack has spent the whole day decorating, apart from Boyd and Erica who took an hour to attend a ballet recital.” He grins. “It looks amazing, though. You’ll see.

“I can’t believe he’s turning thirty,” Stiles says, after a beat. “He’s getting so old .”

“Aren’t you, like, a hundred and sixty something,” Isaac says, glancing at him.

“Pfff, that’s nothing. Besides Derek’s an older soul than I will ever be. I may have more years on paper, but I made sure never to grow up.”

“And people say you aren’t self aware,” Isaac says, smirking at him.

Stiles flips him off on principal.

 

-

 

When Stiles wakes, it’s to sunlight streaming through a gap in the curtains. The window is cracked open to allow the cool sea breeze in; outside he can hear water lapping against the deck. A seagull calls from somewhere overhead, it’s cry loud and piercing. He blinks at the ceiling a long moment, then slowly gets out of bed, hikes his pajama pants up, and then crosses the room and opens the curtains fully, taking in the view. That done, with a sigh, he lopes to the dresser and peers at himself in the mirror. Something catches his eye, and he leans closer, poking speculatively at his chin.

It’s there.

It’s definitely there.

And he’s prepared to swear blind that it wasn’t yesterday.

He grins at his own reflection.

“Look,” he calls, as he makes his way out of the bedroom, bare feet slapping against the cool marble tiles of the gleaming white hallway. He hip checks an end table as he skids round the corner into the living room, and narrowly avoids knocking over a lavish floral arrangement. Everything here is impossibly chic, stylish-- just like it’s owner. It’s a beach house, Jim, but not as we know it.

“Look,” he says again, making his way through the wide airy living room and out of it’s sliding glass doors onto the deck. The sun is warm on his skin. Salt sea air fills his lungs. The ocean looks particularly beautiful today, azure waves  are crested white. Above him, gulls turn lazy circles in the sky.

On the deck before him, stretched out on a sunlounger and draped in an elegant kaftan, her strawberry blonde hair shot through with silver and swept up in an elegant knot on her head, there sits Lydia Martin. She peers at him over the top of her oversized sunglasses.

“Look at what?”

“Look,” Stiles says again, he shuffles forward and leans down over her, jabbing a finger at his chin. “Gray. I have a gray hair. An actual fucking gray hair. See? See! All these years and it’s finally happened! This is exciting shit.”

She takes a deep breath in through her nose and turns back to the book she has open in her lap. “Two things,” she says sweetly. “First, I’ve told you before, you need to shave, you can’t grow facial hair.”

“But--” Stiles gestures wildly at exhibit A: his beard.

“Two,” she says, not allowing him to interrupt. “Nobody likes a show off.”

“I’m not--”

She glares at him then, and okay, maybe he does like to tease her. Not that she isn’t growing old gracefully. At nearly seventy, she looks as poised and elegant as she ever did. But, well, she is a little sore about Stiles’ perpetual youthfulness.

Not that that is an issue anymore, apparently. He strokes his scraggly beard, fingers rubbing idly along his chin where the lone gray hair has set up camp. Derek has a beard now, too. It’s not the wild mountain man one that he arrived in Beacon Hills with nearly six years ago. It looks thick and lush, and well maintained. He looks like a hipster. Or a sexy lumberjack who moonlights as an underwear model. At least that’s what Stiles tells him when they Skype.

“Oh god,” Lydia says judgmentally, turning a page of her book over. “You’re thinking about him again, aren’t you? Your face has gone all-- gooey.”

“He has a beard,” Stiles says, not even trying to deny it. “It’s starting to get a little gray just here.” He gestures with his fingers either side of his chin. “Looks really sexy and distinguished. I think--”

“Shave.” Lydia says, firmly. “Derek can pull off a beard. I’ve seen the pictures. You on the other hand, look like you have mange.”

“Heeey,” Stiles says, voice ringing with genuine hurt and betrayal. “Sometimes the mean things you say are just really-- mean .”

She arches an eyebrow, unimpressed. “Does Derek like your beard?”

“He said it looked nice.”

“Uh-huh.” She smirks at him.

“Stop it.”

“I’m not saying anything.”

“You are. Your face is all judgy.”

“Mmmhmmm.”

“I mean it.”

“Stiles, honey. ‘Nice’, is the color beige. It’s the tepid bathwater of compliments. You know this.”

“Okay, okay. I’m the first to admit it can be used like that. But I swear to you he was sincere when he said it, okay? I could tell.”

“Nice is what you say when you either don’t really care about something or you hate something but don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Stiles opens his mouth, then shuts it again. He’d been so proud showing off his new facial hair to Derek over Skype the other night. His shoulders slump, crestfallen. “So, wait, you don’t think he likes my beard?”

Lydia closes her book with a put upon sigh. “I think he likes you . A lot.”

“But--”

“But he’d have to be blind to like the beard.”

Stiles pouts. “I’m going to text him and find out. No. Wait. I’m going to Skype so that I can see his face. He should be awake now. What’s the time difference between Barbados and California again?”

“We’re three hours ahead.”

“So it’s, like, three in the afternoon there. Dammit he’s probably still at work. I’ll just have to wait until he gets back which means another two hours at least until--”

“When are you going to stop pretending you’re not tired of the long distance thing.” She closes the book on her lap with finality, and places it on a wrought iron and glass end table that probably cost more than Stiles’ entire apartment back in Beacon Hills.

“Pffff,” he says, “It isn’t ideal, but we make it work.”

“Do you?”

“We still see each other. We speak every day. He knows I need time--”

“You needed time. You’ve taken time.”

“Maybe I need more time.”

“More time?” She folds her arms. “Stiles. Let me be frank. You arrived here from London six weeks ago, a complete mess. Something’s clearly on your mind. And it isn’t that I don’t adore your company, because you know I do, but at some point it would be really great if you just… spat it out.”

She glares at him. He tries to glare back, but it’s like a tortoise trying to beat Usain Bolt in a sprint: There’s no contest. Eventually his shoulders sag, and he slumps in defeat.

“Fine,” he says.

She draws up her legs to make room for him and he plops down on the edge of the sunlounger next to her, shoulders hunched.

The thing about Lydia is that she’s always right. Stiles discovered that fact back in 1957 when one sweltering Saturday afternoon, a precocious seven year old with fiery red hair in pigtails accosted him in the local ice-cream parlor and told him that he had dirt on his cheek, that the mint choc chip he’d ordered was vastly inferior to the strawberry, and that he’d been given the wrong change. She had been right about everything then, and right about almost all things ever since. Not that he’s ever bothered to tell her as much. Although he’s pretty sure she knows, and that she knows he knows.

The truth is, he came here for advice. They both know it. He just-- isn’t sure where to start.

“You remember back in Beacon Hills, how we used to talk about leaving,” he says.

“Vividly.”

“We were so desperate to get out of that place, and then you actually did, and I kinda resented that a little bit.”

“Understandable.”

“After you left, I went through this phase where I did nothing but read travel books. I collected brochures. I cut out the pictures and stuck them up all over my apartment. All the places I wanted to go. I had binders full of them.”

She hugs her knees to her chest and rests her head on them, watching him. It’s a gesture that seems to take years off her, and he’s forcibly reminded of the girl she used to be. It makes his heart ache.

“Even when Derek came along, I was so focused on that idea of escaping. I knew that everything would come right if I could just get out of that town.”

“And you did--”

He sighs. “It isn’t what I thought it would be, though. I thought it would be an adventure. I thought that it would lead to some big discovery about myself or that I’d be fulfilled. But no matter where I wake up in the world each morning, I’m never happy. I never feel content.”

“Oh, Stiles--”

“And I guess I’m coming to the conclusion that maybe the problem isn’t Beacon Hills at all, it never was.” His voice cracks, teetering on the edge of tears. “I think it’s me. I think maybe I’m broken. I’m incapable of being happy.”

She pulls him in for a hug then, and he goes easily enough, eyes a little watery. She pats his hair gently, and doesn’t mention it. It takes a while but eventually he’s calm again. Once she’s sure he’s okay she lets him go and he sits straight again, swiping at his nose.

“I want you to listen to me very carefully,” she says. “Because I’m going to tell you something important, okay?”

“Okay.” He sniffs dolefully.

“Literally everything you just said is bullshit.”

“Excuse me?” His jaw drops.

“I said, it’s bullshit.”

“Lydia--”

“First of all, get rid of the idea that happiness is a permanent state of being that you have to attain, and that any little discomfort or hurt or unhappiness is somehow a sign that the universe is out of balance. It isn’t. Happiness is one part on the spectrum of human experience. No more or less important than sadness or anger or regret or any other part you care to name. You feel all of those things at some point, and you ought to.”

“Yes, but--”

“I haven’t finished.” She glares at him. “The idea that you can’t experience happiness is a lie that you have told yourself. You can feel happy. I’ve seen you feel happy since you’ve been here. Every night this week in fact. It’s written all over your face whenever you talk to that boyfriend of yours and his goddamn pack. You were happy when we went hiking the other day. God, you were even happy last night when we made chicken parmesan.”

Stiles sighs. “I think it’s those breadcrumbs you use, they were extra crunchy.”

“You are capable of happiness. But if you want to feel happier, then here's some advice: Go back to California, be with Derek.”

“But Beacon Hills--”

“You’ve conditioned yourself, Stiles. Jesus. It’s practically Pavlovian. This is a consequence of more than a century telling yourself you can never be happy in Beacon Hills. But the truth is, you’ve found happiness with Derek. With the pack. Do you really think it makes a difference if you’re in Beacon Hills or Beverly Hills?”

“But--”

“You remember that time back in sixty nine, when I came back from MIT and you roped me into taking on a swamp monster--”

“It wasn’t a swamp monster, it was--”

“It lived in a bog, in the forest.”

“But--”

“The point is, we kicked its ass and then you did your magical travelling thing to try and get us home, and miscalculated, and we ended up being dumped in the river. You remember?”

“Yeah,” he says smiling.

“And we were soaking wet, and laughing, and we had a whole water fight thing, and then we walked two miles back to town, because I said I didn’t trust you to teleport us again. And you took me for ice-cream at the diner as an apology, and the waitress pointed out that I had pondweed in my hair. You remember all that?”

He nods.

“Were you happy that day?”

He hesitates. Nods again.

“Good. So was I. And we were in Beacon Hills. I was sodden. I had swamp monster juice all over my favorite dress and pondweed in my hair and it’s still one of my favorite memories. It isn’t about where you are Stiles, it’s who you’re with and what you choose to make of it.”

He doesn’t know whether he feels heartened or chastised. “I bought a ring,” he says, because that knowledge has been eating away at him, and he has to tell someone. “I bought a ring. I didn’t mean to but I did.”

“Well then,” she says, smiling, “I expect an invitation to the wedding.”

He nods. “You’ll be my best man?”

“I would be honored.”

After a moment he gets up from the sunlounger, as he leaves he half turns to look at her. “What if I go there and it all goes to shit because of me and I lose the best thing in my life?” As he says it, he realizes maybe that’s been the crux of the issue all this time, he just hasn’t let himself see it. He’s spent a lifetime losing people he loves. He doesn’t think he could stand to lose Derek. In some ways it’s been easier to keep him at arm’s length.

“Then you’re clearly an irredeemable fuck up,” she says, deadpan. “So you come and join me in Barbados, and we grow old disgracefully together.”

“Hah!”

“You had an idea about how your life had to be in order for you to be happy. It turns out you were wrong. Admit it. Change. Move on. Embrace the life you want to live. Be brave. Take the risk. Derek’s taken it, it seems to be working out okay for him.”

“God,” he sighs, “when did you get so wise,”

She snorts. “We both know I was born this way. Now go and shave.”

 

-

 

Stiles has seen the house in pictures more times than he can count. Pored over the blueprints, discussed which room should go where, and the exact color the walls ought to be. He’s caught glimpses of it over Skype and, when it was first built and furnished, Derek even recorded a tour on his phone, and sent it to him. Nothing, however, prepares him for how he feels when he sees it for the first time in real life.

Isaac drives them down a long dirt road lined with trees that opens out into a large clearing surrounded by woodland. It’s utterly secluded, and perfect grounds for the house that stands proudly in the center. It’s bright red bricks seem to glow in the late afternoon sun. There’s a porch out front with a swing, and a playset in the front yard that must belong to Felicia. Someone has strung lanterns along porch, as well as a sign which reads Happy Birthday and another that reads Welcome Home! In bright, bold letters.

Isaac parks his car a ways back from the house and gets out, but it takes Stiles a moment to compose himself before he joins him. When he finally climbs out, he can hear the sound of laughter coming from somewhere in the distance; the smell from the barbecue carries towards him on the breeze.

He finds his knees are shaking. Tears are hitting his t-shirt, and he doesn’t know exactly when he started crying, but he can’t seem to stop.

“You wanna go see inside the house?” Isaac suggests, nudging his arm gently.

“No,” Stiles says, thickly, and then, “Not without Derek. It wouldn’t be right.”

Isaac nods, like he gets it. “Maybe I’ll get the others to come around. They’ll want to see you too.” He jogs away, leaving Stiles to try and regain his composure.

He wasn’t sure how he would feel coming back to Beacon Hills, but as he stands here, looking at this beautiful house that Derek built, built for them, his heart feels so full it aches. It’s too much. He has to look away.

Suddenly, though, there’s the sound of whooping and hollering and then all at once he finds he’s surrounded. Isaac. Boyd. Erica. Little Felicia. Kira, and even Jackson. They surge around him like the tide, piling onto him, until he doesn’t know where he ends and they begin.

“I missed you,” Erica says, fiercely in his ear, as she hugs him. “I missed you so much.”

Stiles nods, because he can’t seem to find his voice.

When she lets go, Boyd pulls him into a hug and ruffles his hair. “You look good, man,” he says. “Real good.”

That makes Stiles laugh, a slightly manic edge to it. “I look like crap,” he sniffs. “And I smell like an airport. And I can’t stop crying.”

“Yeah,” Boyd says easily. “It’s a good look on you.”

That starts the tears again, and they all pile on to hug him once more.

Eventually, once he’s managed to calm a little, they convince him to join them around the back of the house, where the barbecue is set up. There are more people back here, and more arriving all the time. Some he recognizes from when he was last in Beacon Hills, like Boyd’s mom and Finstock, but a lot are new to him. There are large tables set up with pristine, white tablecloths and lots of chairs dotted about. Someone puts a beer in his hand, and he spends the next half hour fielding questions and trying to catch up with everyone he’s missed. Well, almost everyone.

Eventually, Boyd calls everyone to order. “Luis just texted, the eagle has left the nest,” he announces. “So we’re gonna go round the front, okay?”

They’re herded back round to the front of the house. And looking about himself, Stiles thinks they’re must be nearly a hundred people here by now. He finds himself sandwiched near the front between Erica and Kira, who have each looped an arm around his shoulders and are squeezing him tightly. People are still chatting and laughing, but all Stiles can feel is his own heart fluttering like a caged bird in his chest.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Erica whispers in his ear. “Promise.” And he nods. Can’t bring himself to speak.

Finally, he hears the sound of a familiar engine rumbling down the dirt road in front of them, and everyone falls silent. He recognizes the noise of the engine immediately. It’s his old Jeep. Derek’s driving Roscoe, and somehow that makes Stiles’ eyes fill again.

The Jeep bounces down the trail towards them, and Stiles sees the moment Derek realizes what’s happening, He parks a ways short of the house, and shakes his head rolling his eyes, even as he smiles. Then opens the door to the Jeep and climbs out.

“Happy Birthday!” everyone cheers, and Derek ducks his head, his ears scarlet.

“Happy Birthday I get,” he says, gesturing towards the sign, once the noise has died down, “but welcome home--” His nostrils flare and his voice dies in his throat. His eyes rake the crowd until they find Stiles. “Oh my god,” he mumbles softly, face draining of all color. “Oh my god.”

Stiles can’t move, can’t feel his legs, but then someone pushes him, and he stumbles forward a step.

Derek can’t seem to take his eyes off him, like maybe he thinks Stiles is a mirage or that he’s walked into a dream.

Stiles takes a few more steps forward, lets momentum carry him. “Hey. Hi,” he says, stopping a few feet short of Derek. “Hey.”

Derek swallows. “You came to my party?” he says, when he finally finds his voice.

“No.” Stiles scrubs one hand over the back of his neck awkwardly, and attempts a smile. “I came home. For good.” He finds he’s crying again, because apparently he can’t stop that at the moment, but he doesn’t have time to feel self conscious, because suddenly Derek’s right there in front of him. He cups Stiles face in his hands like he’s precious, and then they’re kissing, and everyone around them is whooping and cheering, and Stiles’ heart feels like it might just burst from happiness.

The party carries on late into the night. There’s music and dancing and drinking and more food than Stiles has ever seen, but at some point, Derek manages to steal him away, sneaking them into the house, so that he can show Stiles around.

It’s just as Stiles remembers from the pictures, large airy rooms filled with comfortable, practical, furniture and homey touches. Nobody would call it tidy, but it has a ‘lived in’ quality, that speaks to a life that is full and happy. A flyer for a bake sale is stuck to the refrigerator with a novelty magnet, and next to them are pictures drawn by Felicia of her parents and the rest of the pack. A million photographs in frames dot the walls. When he looks at them more closely, Stiles is surprised to find that many are of him. He’d shared selfies and pictures of his travels over the years, but he hadn’t realized that Derek had been making hard copies. There they are though, right next to the photos of every other pack member, and he sees his own face smiling back at him in nearly every room.

Eventually Derek takes him upstairs, points out the rooms that belong to various pack members, but stops outside a door at the far end of the corridor.

“Is this your room?” Stiles asks.

“Our room,” Derek says, and turns the door handle. He pushes it open and holds it ajar so Stiles can walk through.

It’s simply furnished: A large bed sits against one wall, with dark blue sheets. The bedroom furniture is sturdy, hand carved from from good quality wood. One wall is painted dark blue, the others are all white, and dotted with more pictures. But Stiles doesn’t look at them this time, instead he moves to the open window, drawn by the breeze that stirs the blue plaid curtains, curious to take a look at the view. The window overlooks the backyard, which in turn gives way to the preserve, trees laid out before him in every direction as far as the eye can see. Overhead the moon shines brightly in the sky above. He can hear the noise from the party rising up below them, the steady thrum of the bass, a sudden burst of laughter. The chill night air makes him shiver, but a moment later he feels the warmth of Derek’s body as he crosses the room and comes to stand behind him. This , he thinks, just this. It’s everything he’s ever wanted and not known how to articulate.

“What do you think?” Derek asks. He sounds nervous.

Stiles turns to face him, reaches out, runs a hand over Derek’s t-shirt smoothing it flat. Sighs softly. Smiles. “I think it’s good to be home,” he says, and pulls Derek in for a kiss.

 

-

 

When he wakes up the next morning, it’s to the sound of the pack moving around downstairs, clearing through the debris of the night before. The scent of pine carries through the open window. It’s a new day.

Next to him Derek shifts in his sleep, tugging him near, rubbing his scratchy beard against the nape of Stiles’ neck, as he tries to burrow closer.

For as long as Stiles can remember, he’s woken up with a restless ache in his chest, found himself constantly looking to the next thing to try and fill that emptiness. It’s left him unable to truly relax and enjoy the present. But as he eases back into Derek’s arms, and feels them tighten around him, holding him close, he knows for maybe the first time, what it is to be perfectly content. Knows without a doubt he is exactly where he’s supposed to be.

He has love. A pack. He’s found a family. Who knows? Maybe later today, if the opportunity presents itself, he might even propose, and that? Well, that will be the beginning of an awfully big adventure.

 

I see your face

In the window, I see your face in the reflections of the moon

I feel my own

Ancients shadows disappear when I am near to you--  

--And all my life

Before I met you, when I was trying hard in love

I thought the sun

Was going down, but the sun was comin' up


Thunderbolt's Goodnight, Josh Ritter