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The Last Chills of Winter

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Derek hated the cold. He hated the cold and his dumb sister and his even dumber uncle for making him trudge through the forest in the middle of winter through two feet of snow because it “smelled tingly”. Things didn’t smell tingly. Tingly wasn’t a smell. Derek huffed and kicked at a snow bank as he passed it, finding the little dull thud his boot made against it deeply unsatisfying. Laura couldn’t spare the time to check it out because she was busy putting the finishing touches on the new pack house she was going to move into with a handful of betas when she became an Alpha next month. Peter, of course, was just a lowly beta with two little toddlers who needed his attention and he just couldn’t bare to spend so much time away from the little munchkins. But, oh, Talia, dearest sister, why not send Derek? After all, he really should get out more and who knows how much fun he'll have in the woods by himself?

So, here he was. Alone and freezing. Stomping through the snow on a Saturday night toward the Nematon because Laura had felt sneezy near it yesterday and Peter was an asshole. Derek sighed. He should be at home, working on his book: a historical fiction piece, which, despite what Laura said, was very good and much more interesting than a 5th grade report on the Spanish Inquisition. He shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his leather jacket. He didn’t own a warmer coat. He was a goddamn werewolf; it should be illegal for him to feel this cold.

And yet.

He scowled into his scarf and kept going. He was nearly there. He would just do a quick walk around the perimeter of the Nematon’s clearing and then head back home where there were blankets and tea and Netflix. He stepped into the clearing and felt the familiar hum of the Nematon’s power wash over him. Everything looked fine. The Nematon had icicles hanging from its branches, the snow in the clearing looked undisturbed— save the two sets of footprints he recognized as his sister's and uncle's from their run yesterday— and the fox that lived on the edge of the clearing was asleep in her den. Derek reluctantly poked his nose out of his scarf and sniffed.

Cool air, fresh snow, scraped bark, pine needles, and … peaches?

He sniffed again. Yep, definitely peaches. In the dead of winter. At the Nematon. It wasn’t and artificial smell either. There was no trace of chemical additives in the scent. He was smelling real physical peaches.

Derek considered his options. He could go back home and report to his Alpha or he could investigate now in case the smell vanished. Derek sighed again. He knew what his sister would do, he knew what his mother would do, and he knew what they’d tell him he should have done. So he stepped further into the clearing. He followed his nose to the base of the Nematon. Even without leaves, the Nematon’s branches had blocked enough of the snow to leave a ring of exposed dirt around it’s base and Derek shook the snow off his boots as quietly as he could. Even though there was no one else there, it felt wrong to make unnecessary noise in the presence of the Nematon. From here the scent traveled upward so Derek examined the tree’s lower branches.

At first he saw nothing, but then there was the tiniest shimmer, the smallest of twitches on a thick branch just above him. Derek remembered his lessons and directed his gaze just to the side of the branch. He unfocused his eyes, using his peripheral vision instead, and a moment later he saw it. A slim figure perched on the branch with unnatural ease. A fae.

“I am Derek Hale,” he announced to the invisible figure, “son of Alpha Talia Hale, guardian of Beacon Hills and its people. I request that you show yourself and declare your purpose on our lands.”

He was answered with a delighted burst of laughter that instantly reminded Derek of a sun shower, which was odd. He wasn’t usually one for illustrative comparisons.

“No need to be so formal, Mr. Wolf,” came the playful response. Derek squinted up at the tree and a moment later two golden eyes stared back at him. Derek had seen a few fae before but he didn’t remember them having such thick, doe like lashes or such mischievous smiles. This fae looked somewhere in his twenties, by human standards, and his mole dotted skin favored a bluish tint. Now that he had removed his magical protection, Derek could hear his steady heartbeat and the quiet beating of his translucent wings that were moving too fast for even his eyes to see. The smell of peaches blossomed more fully and Derek quickly traced it to the bag the fae had slung over his lean shoulder. He wore a loose draping of dark maroon fabric tied around his waist with a string woven of dried plant fibers. His shins and feet were bare, as were his upper arms, but there was fabric and more string woven around his forearms and hands along with some sort of metallic thread. There were a few rings around his fingers and some flowers tucked in his belt. He could smell jasmine, rosewood, and sap now too.

“You look cold,” the fae observed with a grin.

“It is cold,” Derek retorted, “who are you and why are you here?”

“Don’t be so hasty, Mr. Wolf,” the fae said, rising effortlessly from his branch and floating down towards Derek, “why don’t we make a trade instead?”

Derek watched him move, mesmerized by his fluidity. It was like he hadn’t had any weight on the branch at all, he had just been kneeling on it for show. His wings had been doing all the work and they continued to do so as the fae hovered two feet off the ground in front of him. They moved so fast they were almost completely invisible. It was like he was floating underwater while Derek was stuck on dry land.

“A trade.” Derek pulled his hands out of his pockets and crossed his arms. He knew better than to get pulled into games with a trickster.

“Oh, don’t be like that, sourwolf!” The fae laughed, forcing Derek to think again of springtime sun showers. He quickly shook the thought from his mind and tried to focus, refusing to let the fae charm him into getting his way. Derek raised an eyebrow at him; trying to channel what Laura called his “murder face.”

“Alright, how about this.” The fae raised his hands in a placating gesture before reaching into his bag, “I’ll give you my purpose here if you take a message back to your Alpha.”

Alpha Talia Hale had a policy along the lines of “I’d better know everything that’s happening everywhere to everyone at all times” so she would be hearing about this no matter what the fae said next but Derek thought it best to use the leverage he had to make the fae think he was actually making some sort of reasonable bargain in case he changed his mind and decided to ask for something else. He nodded once.

“Great! Okay,” The fae exclaimed with a delighted clap of his hands, “I noticed a rot growing on the branch of your Nematon. It had a sort of itchy feeling so it must be magic.” He pulled a chunk of bark out of his bag and showed it to Derek. It was lumpy and bulbous. Derek frowned.

“I removed it so your Nematon will probably be fine but you should have your emissary come check it out, just in case.” The fae pulled some of the fabric off one of his forearms and began to wrap the bark in it, “And take this back to your Alpha so that she can figure out what to do with it.”

He handed the now wrapped bark to Derek who took it with surprise. This fae seemed incredibly helpful and forthcoming so, naturally, Derek’s guard went up even further.

“If this is a trick—“

“Oh, Mr. Wolfie,” the fae sighed, “so naturally suspicious.”

He laughed again and floated a little lower, putting him at eye level with Derek.

“I swear by the light of the moon that I wish you and your pack no misfortune,” the fae declared, “and as a token of my goodwill I offer you this peach!”

His tone switched from a solemn oath to a delighted exclamation in the course of a single breath and with a swift flourish he pulled a small fuzzy peach from his bag and presented it to Derek with both hands and a cheeky smile. Derek stared at it.

“You’re… giving me a peach.”

“You have a really hard time with putting question marks in your sentences, don’t you?” the fae replied.

He wiggled the peach back and forth in front of Derek’s face. Derek continued to stare.

“What, do you think it’s poisoned or something?” the fae asked with a sarcastic eye roll.

Derek didn’t respond, just raised another eyebrow. He found that sometimes questions were more easily answered when he said nothing at all. The fae sighed and brought the peach to his lips. He bit into it and Derek watched a drop of its juice roll down his wrist.

“See,” the fae said with his mouth still full of peach, “tasty.”

He held it back out in front of Derek’s face. Unable to think of an excuse, Derek’s hand came up to take it but he still hesitated before his fingers reached its fuzzy surface.

“You know,” the fae said, “most would consider it rude to refuse a gift that was freely given. Especially after I’ve gone through all the trouble of healing your tree and informing you of its sickness.”

Derek took the peach.

“Well then, Mr. Wolf,” the fae said, floating upwards again.

“My name is Derek,” Derek reminded him.

“I heard,” the fae replied, “I’ll see you around.”

The fae winked before flying up above the Nematon and vanishing into thin air. Derek stood for a moment beneath its branches and wondered what the fuck just happened. He looked down at the peach in his hand. The fae had bitten off a good chunk of it and the free flowing juice of it filled Derek’s nose with its sweet scent. He shouldn’t. But it would be rude not to. Before he had time to think too hard about it, he was biting into the exposed flesh of the fruit. It was rich and tart. It filled his mouth with the taste of summertime and it felt warm in his stomach. It was gone before he realized he’d taken more than one bite and the pit sat innocently in his palm.

The walk home didn’t feel quite so cold.

 

 

“You ate it?” Laura yelped, whacking Derek in the arm with the book he’d just been holding, “did you forget everything you’ve ever learned? Do you have a death wish? Are you actually stupid?”

“It was fine, Laura,” Derek mumbled into his pancakes.

All he wanted was a quiet breakfast where he could eat without getting hit, having things thrown in his direction, or an elbow in his food.

“Derek,” his mother’s voice was heavy with concern, “you know better than to eat something given to you by a fae.”

Derek looked up and saw his mother watching him over the kitchen island with the little crease between her brows that meant he was in trouble.

“He was just being nice,” Derek offered.

“The fae aren’t nice for no reason,” Derek’s father countered from the other side of the table.

“One time you yelled at me for leaving my scarf near one of their sanctuaries,” Isaac added, dropping his dishes in the sink, “you said they’d come and turn me into a weasel for disrespecting them.”

“The fae exude a natural charm,” Peter piped up from the living room, “They use it to lure unsuspecting humans into their traps. Perhaps we’re being too hard on my dear nephew for succumbing to his magic.”

“He didn’t magically charm me,” Derek shot back in his defense.

“Oh, so he just regular charmed you?” Laura said with a smirk.

“What? No,” Derek growled.

“Was he hot?”

“No! He just—“ He just had a laugh like a sun shower. “He said it would be rude to refuse a gift after he saved the Nematon.”

Derek could feel his face heating up but he forced himself to stare at his Alpha with some semblance of conviction. Talia met his gaze and then turned to examine the rotting bark he’d left on the kitchen counter still wrapped in the fae’s cloth.

“I’ll show this to Deaton,” she said, poking it with a single claw, “and you will explain to him exactly what happened.”

Derek groaned. Deaton was the worst.

 

 

“Well, if you didn’t take it at first and then he had to convince you to take it with logic, it’s likely you weren’t charmed,” Deaton reasoned in his usual uncaring tone, “so you ate it out of your own foolishness.”

“Great.”

Derek sunk a little in his seat under his mother’s disapproving stare. He was twenty-four years old and yet one look from his mother made him feel like he was seven again and he’d just spilled magic pixie remover all over great-grandma Eliza’s armchair. Even just being in his mom’s study made him nervous. Talia sat behind the old oak desk that had been passed down through the Hale line for generations with Deaton and Derek seated in front of her, looking up at her imposing table and powerful stature silhouetted by the three tall windows that overlooked the preserve behind her.

“Do you still have the pit?” Deaton asked. Derek had figured he might want to see it so he pulled it out of his pocket and handed it over. Deaton examined it for a moment, turning it in his long dark fingers.

“It has a faint trace of magic,” he mumbled more to himself than them.

“What did it do?” Talia demanded, “What’s wrong with Derek?”

“Nothing, nothing.” Deaton shook his head, “this is a warming charm.”

“Warming?” Derek asked.

“The fae use it to keep warm in the winter,” Deaton explained with the tiniest hint of a smile, “the fae must have thought you looked cold.”

Talia snorted but Derek could tell she was relieved.

“Now, about this rot,” Deaton turned his attention to the bark still wrapped on Talia’s desk, “oh.”

“What now?” Talia asked, exasperated already, “You haven’t even opened it yet.”

Sometimes Derek forgot that for all her peacekeeping skills in a house of two-dozen wolves and humans, she still hated Deaton as much as he did.

“This fabric,” Deaton said, pulling out a pen and lifting one of the corners, “it has metallic threads in it. Gold and copper, I think.”

“So?” Derek asked.

“Only fae royalty wear metal.”

“Royalty,” Talia echoed, “Well, it’s a good thing you took that peach then, Derek, or we might be in deep trouble with our lovely neighbors.”

Derek was no stranger to the conflict between the wolves and the fae. Almost all their childhood stories revolved around his grandmother fighting the fae, defeating them, or humiliating them in some manner or another. But a tense truce had been made before Derek was born and the conflict had ceased, for the most part. Grandma May had always sworn that the fae had intentionally set a wendigo loose in their territory when Derek was three, but nothing could be proven.

“Was he wearing a crown or circlet?” Deaton asked, still turning the scrap of fabric this way and that.

“No,” Derek said, “just a red-ish thing with string, that fabric wrapped around his arms, and some flowers”

“Any rings?”

“He might have had rings,” Derek amended. Deaton hummed noncommittally.

“Either he was a prince of some sort,” Deaton began, “or he stole this and is seeking your favor as protection from the fae he sole it from.”

“Great,” Derek said again, “So zero chance of pissing off the fae then.”

“You should ask him about it when you see him tonight,” Deaton added, casually.

“Wait, what?”

“Deaton,” Talia said, leaning forward over her heavy desk, “I don’t think Derek should meet this fae again. Whatever his motives, they do not bode well for us.”

“In fae culture,” Deaton began with his seemingly infinite patience, “all gifts must be returned. It’s impossible that he would heal the Nematon and give Derek a spell to keep him warm without expecting something in return. He will be waiting for you to return his kindness in the same place you met. If he is a prince then you must go, unless you want the fae to abandon the truce you spent so long building over the perceived slight. And if he isn’t, then the fae will be looking for him and we don’t want to be caught harboring a fugitive so we must find out quickly and send him back.”

Talia made an irritated noise and sat back in her chair. Derek could see the wheels turning. There was no clear option in which he didn’t go trudging back out through the snow in the dark. He sighed and resigned himself to his fate. He could see the moment his mother made up her mind and she gave him a small sympathetic smile.

“Use your judgment, dear,” she said, “Don’t give him more than what he’s given you.”

“Now.” Deaton flipped open the fabric to reveal the bark underneath, “Lets see what all this is about.”

The bark looked like bubbles had grown underneath it, making it swell and crack in large spheres. Deaton poked at one of the bubbles with the tip of his finger and the outer bark crumbled and dark foul smelling goo oozed out. Talia and Derek immediately stood, covering their noses with their hands.

“Ugh, what is that?” Talia exclaimed, coming around the desk and pulling Derek behind her, “It smells like tar.”

Derek looked over his mother’s shoulder, which wasn’t difficult since he was half a foot taller than her, and saw Deaton hadn’t moved. He was still poking and prodding away, letting more goo and stench burst out without a care. Derek pinched his nose harder, he felt like he was going to sneeze. Deaton reached into his bag and pulled out a handful of vials.

“Let me examine this more closely,” he said, pressing a vial against another bubble and letting the sludge run into it, “and I’ll let you know what I find.”

“You’re getting crap on my desk.”

“It appears so.”

“Um,” Derek interrupted, “I'm gonna go.”

“Yes,” Deaton agreed, “think of something to give the fae. Try not to offend him and find out who he is.”

Derek nodded and Talia patted him on the shoulder, still grimacing at the stench that now filled her office.

“Wear a hat!” She called out as he left, “They say it’s going to go more than ten below zero tonight!”

Derek shut the door behind him and breathed the clean air of the hallway before shuffling back to his room. He had around four hours until he should probably leave to meet the fae at the Nematon at the same time he had the night before and he needed to think of something to give him. Something that would balance what he had received. Talia probably had to think of stuff like this all the time. Derek silently counted his blessings that he would never be an Alpha.

 

 

That evening he found himself following his own footsteps back through the forest. It was cold again. Colder than yesterday. Stupidly cold. Derek walked and felt his feet slowly going numb and his nose turning red. He hadn’t worn a hat and he deeply regretted it. He decided that a war between the wolves and the fae might be worth it if it meant he could be warm again. Derek could see the Nematon’s clearing up ahead. Maybe the fae had more peaches. He stopped at the edge of the clearing and sniffed. Nothing. Maybe Deaton had been wrong and the fae hadn’t come back. Derek decided that if he came all this way for nothing he would go to Deaton’s clinic and whack him in the face with that disgusting goopy bark. But before he ran off to smack his mother’s emissary, he decided he should at least walk the perimeter to be sure. He walked around the edge of the clearing, nearly returning to his starting place when he caught a whiff of something clean. Like fresh cut flowers. Derek turned back to the Nematon. The fae was definitely up there somewhere. He examined the branches for the little telltale shimmer of fae illusion magic. He walked up to the trunk and stared until a tiny flicker of movement gave the fae away.

“Are you going to stay up there all night?” Derek asked the empty branches.

“Only if you couldn’t find me,” came the cheeky response.

The fae appeared, sitting on one branch with his elbows perched in front of him on another, his hands cradling his head as he stared down sweetly at Derek. Derek wondered how stupid he looked walking in circles before catching the fae’s scent.

“What gave me away?” the fae asked, slipping in between the branches to float down toward Derek. He was wearing a purple outfit this time, but one of his arms was still bare.

“Scent, both times.”

“Ah,” the fae looked thoughtful for a moment, “I never had much practice hiding those. We fae don’t have great noses.”

Derek’s eyes were drawn automatically to the fae’s nose. It was slightly pointed, impish, and only a little bit adorable. Derek blinked and looked back up to the fae’s eyes. He silently cursed Laura for putting thoughts into his head.

“Here.” Derek reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wooden box.

He handed it to the fae and watched him examine it. The fae ran his fingers over the engraved triskelion on the top and traced the edges of the natural wood shape. Eventually, he pulled the two halves apart, separating the lid from the base to reveal a single blossom of Cosmos Atrosanguineus.

“How did you get this?” the fae asked breathlessly.

His eyes were wide with wonder and he brushed a single almost black petal with the tip of his finger.

“The Chocolate Cosmos is native to Mexico,” Derek replied, “I had some business with a pack there a while back and I came across it. I hear it has magical properties, particularly in fae lore.”

The fae brought the blossom to his face and sniffed its faint chocolate scent with an awestruck smile.

“You ‘came across it?’” the fae looked up at him with a knowing smile.

“I liberated it from some vampires,” Derek said with a shrug and the fae threw his head back and laughed.

“Oh, man, I wish I’d seen that!”

Derek tried not to look too smug. They fae slowly placed the lid back on the box and cradled it to his chest.

“Thank you, Derek Hale.” To Derek’s surprise, the fae bowed his head, “This gift is humbly accepted.”

“No need to be so formal,” Derek said and the fae laughed again at hearing his own words thrown back at him.

“Oh, so Wolfie’s got a sense of humor now,” he said through his laughter.

“Maybe now you’ll tell me who you are?”

“And back to business,” the fae sighed. He tucked the box into his bag and pushed it up on his shoulder, “I suppose your emissary has told you a little about me already.”

“We have some theories,” Derek deflected, not wanting to give too much away.

“Maybe this will clear things up,” the fae said. He pulled a thin metal chain out from under his tunic and held it out to Derek. Derek reflexively put out his hand and caught the little golden design hanging from the end of it. It was a gold poppy surrounded by a branch on one side and an antler on the other. The sigil of fae royalty. Derek looked up at the prince in front of him and found their faces inches apart. Whisky eyes stared back at him and his soft blue tinted skin made the sparkling irises almost glow.

“Your highness.” Derek let go of the necklace and lowered his gaze.

If he were an Alpha he would have been able to stand his ground but as things stood, the fae prince out-ranked him.

“Mr. Wolf,” the prince pouted, “I thought we’d already established how we felt about formalities.”

Derek couldn’t help but crack a tiny smile.

“What shall I call you then?” He asked, looking back up at the prince who smiled back at him.

“You can call me Stiles.”

“Stiles.” Stiles grinned even more widely at that and he lowered himself a little more, his bare feet now brushing the snow. Derek guessed that if he actually stood instead of hovering, Stiles would stand maybe three or four inches below him.

“Here,” Stiles reached back into his bag and pulled out another peach, “you look cold.”

Derek had been so wrapped up in the conversation that he’d forgotten to be mad about being cold but he still took the peach gratefully.

“Thanks,” he said, bringing the peach up to his lips without hesitation.

He took a bite and let the warmth flood his body, sighing a little as he did.

“You don’t need one?” Derek asked, eyeing Stiles’ bare toes brushing against the snow.

“The magic works better on us so we don’t need as much,” Stiles murmured.

Derek looked up from where he was licking a drop of peach juice off his thumb at Stiles’ dazed tone. His eyes were fixed on the peach, Derek held it out to him and made a questioning noise as he continued to munch on the big bite he had already taken.

“Uh, no thanks.” Stiles blinked and waved his hands, floating backwards a little with a shy smile, “I’m good.”

It occurred to Derek that their business was technically done. Derek swallowed and lowered the half of the peach he had yet to devour.

“It’s getting late,” he said, “I should be getting back.”

Stiles nodded vigorously, his eyes fixed on the ground.

“Thank you for tending to the Nematon, our emissary is looking into the sickness on the bark you gave us.”

“Of course,” Stiles said, nodding again.

“Right, well.” Derek took a couple steps backward toward the edge of the clearing, “If we ever have need to contact the fae I’ll ask for you.”

It’s always good have allies, his mother would say. Derek turned and followed the path his footsteps made out of the clearing.

“Wait!” Stiles called. Derek turned and Stiles darted forward and stopped a few feet in front of him, “it’s cold.”

“Right,” Derek responded, blinking up at Stiles.

“I mean,” Stiles began again, “It’s really cold.”

“Yeah,” Derek agreed, not sure where this was supposed to be going.

“You shouldn’t be this cold,” he said, pointing at Derek, “You’re a wolf.”

“I mean,” Derek frowned, “We can get cold sometimes.”

“But not here.”

Suddenly, Stiles was starting to make a glimmer of sense. Derek had only felt this cold before when he went on a post-college trip with some friends. They’d gone across Europe and Asia with a quick stop in Greenland where it had gotten so cold Derek had been worried that his human friends would just keel over and die. Erica had assured him that if one of them did get too cold that’s not what would happen but he still worried.

“Well,” he said with a shrug, “You know what the humans are doing to the environment.”

“Oh, man. Don’t get me started.” Stiles waved him off, “But no. We keep close tabs on the whole preserve and even accounting for human interference it should not be this cold. I’m thinking it might have something to do with the rot.”

“How so?”

“Don’t know yet,” Stiles said, placing a fist under his chin and gazing upwards in a dramatically thoughtful manner, “so far I have down that both things happened at around the same time.”

“It’s a bit of a stretch,” Derek mused with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes, but a worthy pursuit!” Stiles exclaimed, “We should investigate.”

“Investigate.” Derek’s other eyebrow went up.

“Yes!” Stiles smiled and flew forward until they were less than a foot apart, “Let’s meet again tomorrow.”

Derek felt something flutter in his stomach. He’d been flirted with enough to know exactly what Stiles was suggesting, but was he really going to do this? Agree to meet with a fae prince under the pretense of investigating magical tampering with the weather just so that they could spend time together and potentially have some sort of fling even though they’d only met yesterday?

“Alright.”

Stiles’ grin was blinding and his laugh was like wind chimes.

 

 

Derek headed out the following day at noon. He told his mother most of what had happened the night before, only leaving out the bit about meeting again. He had never been a great liar and there was no way in hell he could make Stiles’ reasoning sound convincing. He didn't say where he was going when he left the house but the way Laura had smirked at him when he left made him uneasy. When they were kids, she’d somehow managed convince the rest of the pack that he was the baby of the family despite the three siblings that came after him. Ethan and Aiden were still in high school and they weren’t asked as many questions as he was every time he tried to do something. The fact that Laura hadn’t bombarded him with questions as to why he was going off on his own instead of spending time with her during the precious little time she had left before she went off and became an Alpha made him unbearably suspicious. He half expected her to come bursting through the trees as he approached the clearing for the third time in as many days. But she didn’t. Stiles was alone, weaving something together on one of the Nematon’s lower branches.

“Stiles!” Derek called out to him as he approached. Stiles jerked up then tumbled backwards with a yelp. Derek jumped forward to catch him but Stiles just rolled backward in midair, righting himself with a laugh.

“You startled me, Sourwolf!” Stiles shoved the string he’d been fiddling with into his bag and drifted down to eye level.

“What were you doing up there?” Derek asked, gesturing to Stiles’ bag.

“Oh, just practicing some magic.” He pushed his bag further behind him with a mischievous grin, “a lot of our magic relies on secrecy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Stiles thought for a moment, “your emissary does magic right?”

“Sometimes,” Derek told him, “it has to do with belief.”

“Right, well our magic is fundamentally the same,” Stiles explained, “but the belief of others influences the outcome too. Someone else’s doubt could become our own.”

“So you keep your methods secret,” Derek reasoned, “to limit the potential for doubt on all fronts.”

“Exactly,” Stiles chirped with another smile, “well, sort of. It’s a lot more complicated than that but you get the gist.”

He waved his hand dismissively, letting the gesture roll through his body in an all-encompassing motion. Watching him was like trying to keep track of a hummingbird. He was always moving; drifting with the breeze and bobbing like a ship in the ocean. Derek didn’t want it to stop.

“Do all fae do magic?”

“No.” Stiles began drifting back toward the Nematon, “we all have the capacity to do it in some form or another, but not everyone chooses to study it enough to be any good at it.”

Stiles floated back up to the branch he had been sitting on earlier and patted the bark next to him.

“You can get up here, right?” Stiles asked. Derek couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not. He let his eyes flash gold, just because, and leapt. He leaned back casually against the trunk and let his claws retract slowly. Stiles was watching him with wide eyes.

“Do that again.”

“What?”

Stiles straddled the branch and scooted closer. He grabbed Derek’s hand and stared at his fingers.

“Do it again.”

Stiles’ hands were warm. So warm. And soft. Derek suddenly found himself self-conscious of the thickness of his fingers, the sharp lines of his veins, and roughness of his knuckles. Stiles hands were surprisingly defined and strong but still elegant where Derek’s suddenly looked clumsy. The blue tinge to his skin made it look whiter than white against Derek’s more tan complexion. Stiles looked up at Derek expectantly. Derek let his claws slide out again, watching Stiles’ face as he did. His eyes widened, not in shock or horror, but in excitement. Derek heard his heart speed up ever so slightly and the soft breath he let out. Stiles’ grip tightened with one hand and the other came up to run a fingertip over the claw on Derek’s index finger.

“Careful.” Derek pulled his hand down a little, away from Stiles’ soft skin.

Stiles pulled back and looked up at him, alarmed.

“I don’t want you to cut yourself,” Derek explained softly, holding his hand back out with a reassuring smile.

Stiles took it and continued his examination. He ran his fingers along the backs of Derek’s claws, down his fingers, feeling the soft skin between them and the ridges of his palm. He pressed gently against the thin bones and watched the skin shift over Derek’s knuckles as he bent his fingers. He felt all the way down to Derek’s wrist where he curled his fingers around the delicate joint, ran his thumb over the hard bone, and finally came to rest with a finger pressed against Derek’s pulse.

Derek was almost scared to look at him. He knew his heart was speeding up with every passing moment and that something about being studied so intently and so gently felt more intimate to him than it had any right to. Derek hadn’t been sure he’d read the signs right yesterday once he’d made it back to the familiarity of his room. He thought maybe things were just done differently in fae culture and that Stiles hadn’t actually been flirting with him. But now he was pretty sure what Stiles was after. People only paid Derek this kind of attention for one reason, but right now Derek couldn’t really bring himself to mind. Stiles was interesting and Derek wanted to know more. Not to mention, he was gorgeous. So he let Stiles touch him and got lost in the feeling.

Really, it was just his hand in Stiles’. It was just a finger against his wrist. It shouldn’t make their eyes meet. It shouldn’t make the space between them suddenly feel too big. It shouldn’t draw them together until there was only a breath left between them.

“Der-bear!” a voice sing-songed.

Derek jerked back, head snapping toward the edge of the clearing. He felt Stiles let go of his hand. He was cold again.

“There you are!” Laura burst out from between the trees, like he fucking knew she would, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

“Why are you in a tree?” Cora asked, stepping out of the forest behind Laura.

“Isn’t it obvious.” Peters drawling voice came sarcastically tumbling out after her, “he’s made a new friend.”

Derek decided right then that Laura, Cora, and Peter were definitely his three least favorite family members.

“Are all wolves required to wear leather,” Stiles asked, diverting Derek’s embarrassment “or do you all just pretend to be in a gang as a cover?”

There was a beat of silence, then Laura’s laughter echoed around the clearing.

“Oh, that’s funny,” Laura managed to get out, “we should totally do that.”

“What are you doing here,” Derek hissed at her, pulling away from Stiles and sliding off the branch onto solid ground. He stalked up to her and glared, flicking looks at Cora and his uncle over her shoulders.

“Well, I was just sitting around all alone when I wondered to myself, ‘gee, where is my sweet, babiest brother? I sure would love to spend some quality time with him before I leave forever.’” She gave him a saccharine smile, “and then I thought, ‘what could have possibly led him away from his dearest, loveliest sister?”

Derek and Cora both snorted, but Laura’s attention was already elsewhere. She was looking over Derek’s head, at the fae in the tree.

“Perhaps a trickster with an eye for what isn’t his.”

“Whoa,” Stiles flailed a little as he flitted off the branch and hovered by the Nematon’s trunk, “slow down.”

“Laura—“ Derek began, but Laura pushed passed him to stand in front of Stiles. Cora and Peter followed her and came up on either side of Derek in a classic defensive position. Derek was suddenly being shielded by his pack against a potential threat.

But this was Stiles! Stiles was fine. Cora gripped his elbow. She stared up at him with a fierce protectiveness that he’d seen a hundred times before. Derek trusted his family, his pack, with every fiber of his being and trust had to be earned. If Stiles wanted to be trusted by the pack, Derek decided he would vouch for him but ultimately it was up to Stiles to prove his own worth. If Derek’s intuition were anything to go by, Stiles would do just fine.

“What do you want with my brother?” Laura demanded.

Stiles gaped at her. Derek wondered how they looked to him. A soon to be Alpha, flanked by an uninterested looking uncle and a weirdly intimidating nineteen year old, all surrounding a guy who had just been described as the “babiest” who also stood a good head taller than the rest of them.

“Um,” Stiles began, “I mean, nothing in particular.”

Laura crossed her arms and Derek could just tell that she was giving Stiles her best “I’m not impressed” look.

“I just—“ Stiles tried again, “I just wanted to get to know him a little.”

“Why.” Laura demanded.

“Because he’s cute.”

Cora tried and failed to hide her laugh behind her sleeve and Derek felt his face heating up yet again.

“You’re a fae prince,” Laura said, not backing down, “and he’s the son of the most powerful Alpha on this side of the country. There’s no way this isn’t politically motivated.”

“Listen.” Stiles straightened, holding his head a little higher, “my kind are fighting our own battles. We are connected to the Earth and in times of stability we are quiet and stagnant. But the world is changing and we must too. We are busy dealing with the changing planet and, despite what you might think, we thrive like this. Our kind are adapting and growing and spreading to help the world adjust to the humans interference and to pave the way for recovery when the humans are gone. Our scope is not limited to one lifetime, we think in the long term for the good of the world. The only reason we ever had a conflict with your pack was because your predecessors mistook our attempts to heal the preserve as attacks against their property. Normally, we do not treat with anyone but we knew that agreeing to your terms was the only way we could continue our work here even though we could easily just wait a few hundred years for your pack to move on or vanish. One alliance with a wolf means nothing in the scheme of our goals and there is no benefit for me if I were trying to trick you.”

Derek stared at the fae in front of him. One movement he was laughing, smiling at every opportunity, and calling him “wolfie” and the next he was spouting policy and speaking with diplomacy. Derek had forgotten that being a prince meant that one day Stiles would be a king. Laura seemed likewise impressed.

“So we’re meaningless to you?” Peter asked with a sneer.

“In the grand scheme of things, yes.” Stiles gave a soft smile, “but not to me.”

“Oh?” Peter scowled.

“Fae live in the future but you live in the present,” Stiles said, he gave Derek a shy smile over Laura’s head, “In my world, it takes a thousand years for anything to change or just for things to happen. But your world is so fast paced, you can actually feel like your choices have meaning.”

“Fine,” Laura conceded, though she didn’t sound thrilled about it, “but you will have to make yourself known to our Alpha if you plan on making a habit of hanging out around our Nematon.”

Stiles saluted her with a thrilled grin. Laura turned back to Derek and pulled him down to whisper something in his ear.

“Don’t get to attached,” she hissed, “he’s fascinated by our world because it’s different but soon he’ll get bored and then he’ll be gone.”

She looked up at him with the same earnest protective instincts that Cora had and Derek nodded. Laura had told him once that he had the tendency to fall hard and fast and he had to agree. It was a habit that had yet to work out for him. Laura had been the one to help him put himself back together after Paige, and then Ji, and then Ravi. He had promised her last time that he would be more careful and also that he would never eat that much chocolate fudge brownie ice cream in one sitting again. He let Cora punch him in the arm and dodged Peter’s attempt to ruffle his hair and then they were gone as quickly as they’d come. Derek looked back at Stiles who grinned at him again. He opened his mouth to speak but Derek held up a hand. He waited until the footsteps of his family faded before lowering it.

“Your family is kind of scary,” Stiles said in an exaggerated whisper.

“Yeah,” Derek shrugged, “they’re protective.”

“They love you,” Stiles amended.

Derek smiled to himself and began walking back toward the Nematon.

“Three siblings?” Stiles asked.

“Laura and Cora are my sisters,” Derek told him, “Peter is my uncle. I have younger twin brothers too.”

“Whoa, full house!” Stiles laughed.

“What about you?” he asked as he swung back up to their branch, “what’s your family like?”

“Well,” Stiles began, flying up to join him, “My dad is the King. I don’t see him a lot because he’s got a lot going on; I think he’s in northern Canada right now. My mom, the Queen, is also away a lot. They basically split the work between land and sea so my mom is off the coast of New England at the moment.”

“How much do you guys rule over?” Derek wondered.

“Based on your borders we rule everything north of Texas, basically.” Stiles shrugged, “The rest of the Americas are split between four other ruling families. Eurasia, Africa, the poles, Austraila, and each of the oceans are all split between eighty something clans of fae.”

“Wow.” Derek wondered how none of this had come up when his mother had insisted on him and Laura taking lessons with Deaton about the supernatural world.

“But enough about politics,” Stiles declared with a flailing hand, “its usually just my sister, Lydia, and me. We go around the country together, helping our kind when they need us and learning about the job our parents do.”

“Where is she now?”

“Lydia’s in Brazil,” Stiles said, looking away across the clearing, “she’s making an arrangement with the Queen there about the future of the Gulf of Mexico.”

He fell silent and Derek wanted to put a hand on his shoulder but Laura’s warning was fresh in his mind.

“Sorry,” Derek said as a substitute, “you must miss her.”

“Yeah,” Stiles breathed, his brow furrowed slightly as he stared at the snow-covered ground below them.

“What about you?” Derek asked, trying to distract him, “shouldn’t you be off schmoozing with some other fae royalty?”

“Oh, believe me,” Stiles looked back over at Derek with another one of his smiles, “I do my fair share of schmoozing. I was actually supposed to go with her to Brazil but she said she wanted to test herself. We usually do this thing where one of us pretends to be really dumb and the other runs the show so that anyone with a secret agenda tries to manipulate the dumb one and then we grift them, but she said we shouldn’t rely on it so much, especially since it only really works once.”

“That makes sense,” Derek supplied, “Laura’s going to be an Alpha so our mom’s been sending her out to meet with other packs and other creatures on her own to see how she does.”

“Like just now?”

“Actually, I think that was just Laura being herself,” Derek said with a grimace, “she was born to be an Alpha.”

“What about you?” Stiles asked, turning to straddle the branch and face him again.

“I don’t think so,” Derek admitted, “It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Derek didn’t know where this was coming from. He had barely even let the thought sit comfortably in his mind, let alone spoken it aloud. There was an expectation that he’d follow his sister’s footsteps, but it had been clear for a long time that Derek wasn’t cut out to be an Alpha. It was something no one ever talked about, and definitely not something Derek had ever verbalized in an attempt to divert his family’s disappointment. But something about Stiles’ candor and genuine interest made him feel like he could say anything and Stiles would understand. In his mind, Laura shook her head at him. But he couldn’t help it. Something about Stiles just drew him in.

“I get it, believe me.” Stiles nodded, “you’re basically a prince too, but I guess you have a little more choice in whether or not to rule.”

From there, it was easy. Derek was enthralled by Stiles descriptions of fae society and the invisible hand they had all over the world. Stiles seemed equally interested in the day to day meanderings of the Hale pack, their skirmishes with the vampires down south, and the treaties with the eastern packs. By the time Derek wandered home, his head was full of Stiles. His lips, always ready to break into a smile; his wit, ready to strike at any opportunity; and his laugh, sweet like a smattering of midday rain. Derek flopped down on his dark bedspread and considered himself truly and utterly fucked.

 

 

It became a habit. Derek would wake up, power through his workout routine, write a little, have lunch, go see Stiles, come home, play with his cousins, maybe have dinner with Isaac, Erica, Scott, Jackson, and Boyd, and then write some more until he fell asleep.

Occasionally, Stiles would have some princely duty to attend to or Derek would be needed for some pack business and they wouldn’t see each other. On those days, Derek contemplated exactly what he was doing. In a few weeks, he had become closer to Stiles than anyone else in his life. He still trusted his pack more than anything but he felt more honest, more himself, when he was with Stiles and, from what Stiles told him about his role as prince, it seemed that Stiles felt the same way.

Derek spent three hours searching for the old smartphone that his dad had bought for his grandma a few years back. She had fiddled with it for half an hour before declaring that if anyone wanted to talk to her they should just shout and tossing it somewhere, never to be used again. Derek found it wedged between two books on the highest shelf in the study and brought it to Stiles, who was immediately enraptured. Stiles picked it up quickly and found Laura’s number still in its contacts, which he used to send her long indecipherable strings of emojis, which she responded to with gusto. The next day, Stiles had come with a small pouch tied around the new phone, which he explained was a restorative healing charm that he’d altered to keep his phone charged without electricity. Derek couldn’t hide how impressed he was with Stiles’ ingenuity so, naturally, Stiles had bragged about it for about three days. Derek couldn’t even pretend to disagree with Stiles’ declarations of his own intelligence since it now allowed them to talk at all hours. Derek would wake up to a string of texts about how irritating magpies were, some kids he saw in the preserve, Lydia, or the new peaches he was charming because it was still so goddamn cold outside. Stiles would send him slightly blurry photos of things he spotted while flying and sometimes, to Derek’s delight, a photo or two of himself. So far, Derek had four photos of Stiles saved to his phone. The first was an accidental shot Stiles had taken of himself, part of Derek, and the sky from his first day with the phone, the second was a celebratory selfie taken right after Derek had explained what those were, the third was taken a few days later when Stiles had befriended a family of deer one morning and got them all to pose for a photo with him, and the fourth was Derek’s favorite. They had been texting late one night and Derek mentioned that he always imagined Stiles’ home to look like the space underneath the branches of a huge willow tree. Stiles had laughed and sent him a photo of himself curled up in a soft looking red blanket with one cheek squished against a pillow. One bare shoulder was peeking out between the folds and there was a sleepy smile on his face. Derek had stared at it for several minutes before responding that the glowing firelight and tall organic looking walls definitely seemed more regal than what he had been picturing.

Laura moved out. She took Liam, Jordan, Suki, Lee, and Karima with her. Laura had become an Alpha in a private ceremony with Deaton and Talia, as per tradition, but Derek had felt something shift inside him when it happened. He had, in many ways, been Laura’s second even though they were both betas. She had always postured as an Alpha and Derek had spent most of his childhood deferring to her. Derek felt that bond being torn as she became a real Alpha. She went off to have her own pack and Derek remained, acknowledging that he was still his mother’s beta. He felt her loss more strongly than he had anticipated. The whole pack felt fractured when she left, taking the five other betas with her. For the first time in years, the house had empty rooms and quiet moments.

Derek found himself out in the preserve that night. Stiles was already there. Derek hadn’t asked him to come and when he saw Stiles sprawled across what had quickly become “their branch”, he knew he didn’t have to. They didn’t say much. They just sat side by side. Stiles leaned his head on Derek’s shoulder and curled his fingers around Derek’s arm. Through his loneliness, Derek found himself grateful for the stability of being a beta. He’d always be here, he’d never have to find his own pack house, and he’d always be able to come to the Nematon to see Stiles. The Nematon was the only place they had both known where they were sure to be safe from human eyes. Derek could hide amongst them easily enough but it was a lot harder to explain away wings and bluish skin. So Derek continued his almost daily trips into the preserve and let Stiles take over Laura’s old position as his closest companion.

December turned to January, which turned to February, March, and April, though, the weather remained a frigid ten degrees on a good day. Derek’s publisher sent him a proof copy of his book and he cried a little, Laura faced her first challenge as an Alpha— a rogue manticore that she handled quite well, and Stiles’ sister finally returned from Brazil. Stiles had disappeared for a few days to welcome her back and had told Derek that he wanted to introduce them that Friday. Derek was uncharacteristically nervous. He shouldn’t be. He was technically only meeting the sister of a friend. That wasn’t even a thing people got nervous about. If he and Stiles were dating, maybe then he would have the right to be nervous, but they weren’t. Nothing had happened since that day, months ago, when Stiles had run his fingers down Derek’s palm and their eyes had met and they had both leaned in. Derek thought about that moment a lot. When he lay in bed, waiting for sleep to come, he would wonder what would have happened if Laura hadn’t shown up. If they’d kept leaning towards each other. If their lips had met. He imagined Stiles tasted like peaches and hot apple cider. He imagined that Stiles’ hands would wander across him the same way they wandered through the air when he spoke. He would drift off to the thought of Stiles pressing kisses against his throat.

That was what made him nervous, he realized as he pulled shirt after shirt out of his closet, trying to figure out what to wear for the big “meet-the-sister” day. Stiles described Lydia as a goddess who could tear civilizations apart with the sheer force of her intelligence and Derek was afraid she’d take one look at him and just know. She’d know and she’d tell Stiles and Stiles would leave. He hadn’t tried to make any sort of move again since that day. Derek even wondered if he had just imagined the look in Stiles’ eyes and the flutter in his heartbeat. Either way, Stiles had gotten to know Derek and clearly decided that they should just be friends. Derek could respect that. It was better than him getting bored with Derek’s simple life and flying off. And, now that Laura had moved, he would have to drive for three and a half hours if he wanted to cry on her after he got rejected. But he was twenty-five years old now. He could be friends with a guy without making it weird. He settled on a soft blue Henley that Stiles had once said was nice and his usual leather jacket. He was just slipping into his shoes in the foyer when a panicked howl echoed through the preserve.

Isaac.

Derek’s answering roar was reverberating through his chest before he had even burst through the door. In an instant he was on all fours, the full shift coming as naturally as breathing. He heard Cora, Erica, and Ethan’s howls in response and did a quick tally in his head. His mother had gone to San Francisco with Deaton to renew a treaty with some omegas that lived there, his human father was at work, Peter and his wife were in their apartment in town with the baby so they were too far away to help, his three other cousins were at school, work, and in Connecticut, respectively, the six other pack members currently in the state were all too scattered around to get here fast enough, Boyd, Jackson, and Scott were living on their college campus this semester, Aiden was at the high school—and now that he thought of it Ethan definitely should have been with him, and Erica, Cora, and Isaac all had the loose schedules of college students and had the afternoon off. Derek sniffed the air as he raced toward the distant heartbeat he knew to be Isaac’s. There were six heartbeats around him and the faint scent of tar. Isaac’s heartbeat speed up and Derek suddenly got a whiff of blood. Derek howled again.

 

I’m here, I’m coming.

 

He pushed himself to go faster and then came skidding to a halt in front of Isaac with a deafening roar. He felt Isaac sink with relief behind him and then his brain caught up with his instincts and he took in the scene before him. Six fae were circling them at various heights but they didn’t look like Stiles. Their skin was an ashy grey, their movements were stiff and jerky, and the smell of tar seemed to get stronger with every passing moment. The scent was enough to remind Derek of the sickness Stiles had removed from the Nematon. He remembered bubbles of black goo oozing from it and sure enough he spotted lumps on the skin of the fae closest to him. Derek sunk lower to the ground and let a growl vibrate through his body. He backed into Isaac who took the hint and lowered himself behind Derek’s protective stance. Derek hoped this wasn’t a zombie situation and that he wouldn’t get infected when he suddenly leapt forward and tore the nearest fae from the air, the one with Isaac’s blood on its grey hands. He brought it crashing to the ground and it screamed. Derek was sensible enough to avoid snapping at it with his teeth but he drove his claws into its flesh, sending splatters of black pus in every direction. It coated Derek’s paws and seemed to sink through his fur. It was freezing to touch. Erica came crashing through the trees and Derek immediately abandoned the fae who now lay half splattered against the cold ground to jump in front of her and growl. She stumbled backwards in shock.

 

Stay back.

 

She could easily ignore him but she didn’t. She took in the black goo and the grey skinned fae and turned toward Isaac instead. Derek spotted another fae descending out of the corner of his eye and he caught its ankle with his claw. More tar-like ooze came dripping out but the fae remained in the air. Derek ran and leapt; digging his claws into the bark of a tree for leverage and aimed, claws first, at another fae. He brought it to the ground with a sickening squelch. Distantly, he heard Erica calling out warnings to Cora and Ethan, who were fast approaching, but his attention was on the four remaining fae. He caught a hint of sulfer in the air and the familiar sizzle of magic and dodged behind a tree just in time to avoid a blast of something that set the black substance on fire, turning the pools of liquid into plumes of dark smoke that stunk like rotting meat and made Derek’s eyes burn. He tried to keep them open but even his fast healing didn’t help with the pain. With his nose and eyes overwhelmed it was clear he was fighting a loosing battle. He could hear the four betas retreating from the fumes and he turned back to his opponent to give them more time to get away. But the shrill scream of another fae and the sharp sting of a knife forced him back down. Derek hit the ground and kicked up at the air, making contact with a body that seemed to melt beneath his hind paws and he was splashed with more black goo. The fae screamed again and this time the knife sunk into his shoulder. Derek didn’t think, he just turned and bit.

His mouth flooded with the disgusting cold fluid. Derek choked and reared back. He spat and coughed but the sticky substance coated the inside of his mouth like nothing else he’d ever tasted. His mouth went numb and he began to feel dizzy. He felt himself hit the ground again, this time with human hands against the thin layer of snow that still covered the ground. Derek contemplated his own stupidity as a warm hand pressed against his bare back and a familiar voice called out.

 

 

Derek blinked slowly at the ceiling. It was one of those speckled ceilings with the panels that kids used to get pencils stuck in during school when the teachers weren’t looking. Derek had always been the best at that. He blinked again. He was pretty sure he didn’t have school today. Or ever again. He moved and his elbow made contact with the metal slab he was laying on. He bolted upright.

“Isaac!” He was halfway to his feet when he realized hands were pushing him back down.

“Relax, bro.” Cora caught him as he teetered on his feet a little. Isaac appeared behind her and Derek reached over Cora’s head to pull him in by the back of the neck. Isaac pressed his head into Derek’s throat and wrapped his arms around his waist. Derek sighed against Isaac’s hair and hugged him close, breathing in the scent of him, safe and healed.

“Are you okay?” Derek whispered. Isaac nodded and squeezed him tighter. Derek let himself relax and quickly realized that if he didn’t sit back down he would be getting a much closer look at the floor of Deaton’s veterinary clinic real soon. Isaac felt him wobble and helped him sit back down on the operating table.

“You gave us quite a scare,” Deaton’s voice came from the other side of the room. Derek looked up to see basically his entire pack all crammed into the small space and staring at him with varying degrees of worry.

“Uh, what happened?” Derek asked, trying to spot Deaton between his many relatives.

“You bit one of those weird zombie fae things,” Isaac said, sitting down next to him and handing him a shirt, “it made you shift back and then you passed out.”

“But it wasn’t like you just lost consciousness,” Erica told him, she looked like she’d been crying.

“Your bond went cold.” Talia stepped forward and pressed her forehead against her son’s, “it was like—“

She didn’t finish her sentence but her shaking hands cupping the sides of Derek’s face said enough. He turned and pressed his face into her neck like Isaac had done to him and sank into the familiarity of his mother’s embrace. After a moment, he lifted one of his hands off his mother’s back and held it out to Erica. She took it and Derek felt Boyd squeeze his wrist. Another hand squeezed his elbow, a cheek pressed against his inner forearm, and whole packs worth of fingers took turns tangling with his own.

Derek would have been content to stay like that for the next several hours but memories tugged at his mind.

“What happened?” He asked again, looking up at Talia, “are those fae still out there?”

“Your boyfriend swooped in at the last minute,” Cora teased, “it was very ex machina.”

“What?” Derek tried to stand up again but Talia still hadn’t let go and easily pushed him back down.

“He’s not as princely as I thought he would be,” Erica mused.

“I thought he was pretty charming,” Isaac mumbled.

“Yeah, I liked him!” Scott chimed in with a beaming grin.

“He was covered in too much zombie ooze to be charming,” Jackson decided.

“Where is he?” Derek asked, struggling against his Alpha’s hold, “What happened?”

“Derek!” Talia pushed him down again, “Everything’s fine. The Prince is outside, he was able to subdue the other fae with his sister and she took them to be examined by their people. He managed to stop the disease from spreading within you, but he wasn’t able to heal you completely. Luckily, Deaton had some ideas after he examined that bark from the Nematon that the Prince brought us and he was able to get the rest of it out of your system.”

Derek immediately focused his hearing. His head was still a little fuzzy but he picked out the familiar voice with only a bit of strain.

“—and then he said that because of their healing abilities wolves couldn’t get headaches and I stupidly thought that their bodies blocked out the pain but he meant that they healed the problem before it got painful enough to be a problem and I was so caught up in what was happening I didn’t even realize I was doing the healing spell before it was already halfway done and it was meant to be used on fae and it started to heal without dulling the pain and I hadn’t even considered the disease those creatures had infected him with and —“

“Oh my god, someone go tell him he has to breathe,” Derek sighed with relief into his mom’s arm.

“He’s literally been going like that for fourteen minutes,” Aiden supplied, “Ever since Sheriff Stilinski showed up and gave him an audience.”

“Ah, the Sheriff has been waiting to hear from me.” Talia finally pulled away from Derek, who used her retreating arm as leverage to pull himself up.

“Derek—“

“I feel a lot better, mom,” he said, and it wasn’t a total lie.

His body was healing by the second and he felt secure on his own two feet. Talia gave him a calculating look but said nothing. She led the way out of the clinic, thanking Deaton as she went. Derek figured he owed Deaton a significant amount for what he’d done and said his own thanks, which Deaton took with a nod before ushering the whole pack out after Talia and getting back to his day job.

Stiles was fluttering haphazardly in the parking lot while continuing to rant to the Sheriff. Sheriff Stilinski was leaning against his cruiser looking pleasantly bewildered.

“Sheriff,” Talia called out, cutting Stiles off mid-word.

“Mrs. Hale,” the Sheriff greeted, turning away from the flailing Prince with a smile, “Derek, you’re looking better.”

Before Derek could reply Stiles was barreling towards him. He quickly braced for impact but it never came. Somehow, despite his speed, Stiles pressed himself against Derek with the most gentle of touches. Arms curled softly around his neck and a warm cheek pressed against his. Derek hugged him back instinctively, placing his hands with the same delicacy against Stiles’ lower back. He heard someone coo behind him but he ignored it and breathed in the familiar scent of jasmine, rosewood, and peaches. Stiles pulled back too quickly and pressed his palms against Derek’s cheeks, squishing them together slightly and frowning hard.

“Something’s still not right,” he whispered, more to himself than Derek.

He heard Isaac begin to ask what was wrong before he felt a jolt from Stile’s hands. It was like his ears had just popped but a hundred times stronger. The fog over his head lifted and suddenly everything was loud and bright and pungent. Instinctively, Derek knew this was how things normally were but the contrast was so strong that it almost hurt to be so sensitive. He groaned and pressed his hand against his temple, trapping Stiles’ hand against his face in the process.

“God, is that what being human is like?” Derek groaned, “I don’t like it.”

“Oh, don’t be such a drama wolf,” Stiles said with a smile, poking at Derek’s cheek with his free hand.

“You good, Derek?” Isaac was still hovering around them with Erica, Jackson, Boyd, and Scott close behind.

Derek nodded and waved them off, closing his eyes against the brightness. He tried to focus his ears first, just like he had taught the bitten betas when they had first turned. He could hear his mother, Deaton, and the Sheriff discussing the damage they had done to the forest and whether or not they should close off the preserve until they found the source of the sickness. Peter was telling the rest of the pack that they should head home and reach out to their neighboring packs to warn them to be on the look out for sick fae. Boyd was pulling Erica and Scott away, saying that they should give Derek and Stiles some privacy. Derek sighed. He knew he was doing a terrible job of hiding his feelings but it was far too late to take it back now. He just hoped that Stiles didn’t mind. Stiles’ heartbeat was strong and steady. The flutter of his wings was a hundred times faster than his heart but they still maintained a gentle rhythm together. Derek let the unwavering beat focus him before opening his eyes again. Stiles was watching him with an undeniably fond expression. He had never shown himself to be particularly patient but now it seemed he could wait forever for Derek to adjust to his newly cleared head. Derek stared back and wondered. Maybe Stiles was still interested in him. Maybe he just needed Derek to make the first move.

Another wave of dizziness swept over Derek.

“Ok,” Derek groaned, squeezing his eyes shut again and slumping further into Stiles’ hold, “I was wrong, I need to sit down.”

Almost instantly, Derek felt hands at his elbows. He opened his eyes again and saw himself being pulled away from Stiles by Boyd’s strong hands. Derek slumped back against him and allowed himself to be led to the Camaro, where Boyd deposited him in the backseat. Scott, Jackson, and Isaac squeezed themselves beside him and Erica got in the front. Derek looked up at Stiles, who hovered a few feet away from the still open car door.

“Stiles,” Derek called out to him, “thank you.”

Stiles smiled softly and drifted closer.

“Of course,” he whispered, “your betas are lucky to have you.”

Derek could feel the disappointment rising in him as he thought back to what happened and he shook his head. He felt Isaac squeeze his arm.

“They’re not my betas,” he said, “I would have completely failed if you hadn’t shown up.”

“That’s not true,” Scott consoled in vain.

Derek pulled his arm away from Isaac and kept his eyes on his knees.

“I couldn’t protect you.”

“But you did.” Derek’s eyes snapped up at the pure confidence in Stiles’ tone.

“You ran to your packmate’s aid,” Stiles explained calmly, “and you stood between him and the threat. You warned the others against engaging with a potentially infectious enemy while fighting them yourself. When your pack began to retreat you continued to fight, giving them more time to escape even though you must have known you couldn’t win. Because of you, none of your pack was harmed. You kept them safe.”

Derek stared at the prince. He was being utterly sincere.

“I mean,” Stiles’ serious expression broke into a grin, “you did it in an incredibly stupid and self sacrificing sort of way, but you did do it.”

Derek gaped at him while Erica laughed in the front seat. Before Derek could respond, Stiles pressed a hand to his shoulder and then pulled back and pushed the car door shut. Boyd started up the engine and pulled out of the parking lot in front of Deaton’s animal clinic and Derek watched Stiles shrink through the window.

“He’s got a point you know,” Boyd said, looking at Derek in the rearview mirror.

“You should rely on us more,” Scott added, with his most earnest puppy eyes, “we’re all supposed to help each other.”

“We can handle ourselves in a fight too, you know,” Jackson reminded him.

“Maybe we should train together more?” Isaac suggested quietly.

“Yeah,” Erica agreed, “Then I could have totally helped you take some of those guys out.”

“It was dangerous,” Derek grumbled.

“Yeah, you nearly died,” Erica reminded him, “If we worked together we might have stood a chance. That was like, the whole point of the Incredibles.”

“Oh yeah!” Scott exclaimed, “we should watch that again!”

“Hell yeah!” Erica yelled, “pack movie night!”

“Ugh,” Derek groaned, trying to hide his smile, “you guys always get popcorn kernels in my clothes somehow.”

“I’ll invite Stiles,” Erica sing-songed.

“You don’t even have his number.”

“HE HAS A NUMBER?” Erica and Scott shrieked in unison.

 

 

Movie night was postponed since the second Derek’s head had hit his pillow he was asleep and hadn’t woken back up again for seventeen hours. He woke to sunny afternoon light, a complete lack of residual pain, and two-dozen texts from Stiles informing him that Erica and Scott had got their hands on his number. Judging by the fact that his phones background had been changed to a selfie of Erica with Scott sticking his tongue out in the background, Derek assumed they had temporarily commandeered his phone while he was asleep. True to her word, Erica invited Stiles to pack movie night, which gave Derek more feelings than he knew what to do with. He thought about Stiles here, in his home, sitting neatly on the armrest of the sofa, his wings spilling over toward the floor. He wondered how Stiles would look floating in his bedroom, examining his bookshelves and the old trophies from high school, one foot brushing the soft blue carpet. Derek stopped that train of thought in its tracks. As far as he could tell, now that his head was completely clear, Stiles had decided that they should just be friends. Derek was sure that Stiles had almost kissed him all those months ago, but had made no move since. Now his actions were that of a friend, maybe even a packmate, but not necessarily romantic. Besides, his feelings had been on full display in the clinic’s parking lot and Stiles had simply ushered him off. Derek felt his face start to flush as he thought back to how he had clung to Stiles, leaned on him, and kept his hands trapped against his cheeks just so he could smell him better.

He decided to run off his embarrassment.

Derek stayed in his human form as he ran. His range was more limited this way and he figured it would be stupid to run all that far with diseased fae potentially roaming the woods. He ran a familiar path through the preserve, startling slightly when he realized he’d veered off course toward the Nematon. He found himself in its clearing and looked around. Stiles wasn’t there. He probably had a lot to deal with now that it seemed his people might have a magical plague on their hands. Derek circled the Nematon, scenting the air for any hint of the sickness that had infected the fae. Nothing. It smelled healthy. Satisfied, Derek continued running.

It wasn’t until two days later that he saw Stiles again. They hadn’t texted much either. Derek had asked Stiles for some assistance convincing one of their neighboring packs that they were working with the fae to discover the source of the illness because they, not unlike the Hale Pack, had some unpleasant history with the fae, but he hadn’t responded. Derek continued to reason that Stiles was busy but the little insecure voice in his head argued that Stiles had caught on to Derek’s feelings and was pulling away. Derek tried his best to ignore it.

It was Sunday evening and most of the pack was out. Only Derek, Scott, Jackson, Boyd, Erica, Isaac, Cora, Ethan, and Aiden had hung around for movie night. Derek knew his siblings had only really stuck around to get a better look at Stiles but he was glad they were there all the same. Having them all there made him feel whole in a different sort of way. Not like he did when the whole pack was around, with his mother at the head of the table, looking out across their dozens of packmates. Something about this smallness, the closeness, made him feel calm, despite the noise. Erica and Ethan were fighting over the biggest beanbag chair. Their snarls and growls were only drowned out by Scott, Isaac, and Aiden, who were taking turns throwing m&m’s into the air for the others to catch, each toss becoming higher and farther away and each catch becoming more elaborate and acrobatic. Cora and Boyd were watching and silently judging the rest of them. Derek smiled. His phone buzzed in his pocket and Erica’s head snapped up.

“Oh, is princey here?” She cooed, one hand still mushing Ethan’s face into the beanbag. Derek pulled out his phone and sure enough it was from Stiles.

 

I’m outside

 

Derek turned and left, ignoring the shouts of his packmates as they all asked about Stiles. He took the stairs up out of the basement movie room two at a time and landed in the foyer across from the front door in seconds. He swung the door open and there was Stiles. Beaming down at him from ten feet away and three feet up.

“Hey,” Derek called, unable to hold his smile back in the face of Stiles unwavering grin.

“Hey, yourself,” Stiles said back.

He fluttered forward uncertainly. Derek stepped back and gestured for him to come in.

“Come on, everyone’s waiting.”

Stiles nodded and suddenly looked very serious as he handed gently on the porch. He stopped before making it to the doorway.

“Um,” Stiles examined the doorframe, “how do I get in?”

Derek blinked. He hadn’t considered Stiles’ wingspan. When moving, his wings were almost invisible but he could see them glinting around three feet across on either side of Stiles’ shoulders. He looked down at Stiles’ feet. He’d only ever seen Stiles brush them against the ground to keep himself at eye level, never to actually hold any weight.

“Can you… walk?” Derek asked.

“I’ve never really tried,” Stiles admitted, sounding intrigued, “I’ll give it a go.”

Stiles held out his hands to Derek, who carefully took them. Stiles pressed his palms against Derek’s forearms and let him take some of his weight as his wings stopped beating. They stilled behind him, still shimmering with iridescence and nearly sweeping against the porch floor. Stiles’ face was turned down as he concentrated on his feet. He shifted one foot forward and his knees buckled.

“Whoa!” he gripped Derek’s arms, digging his fingers into Derek’s biceps, “this is hard!”

“Well,” Derek stepped back, leading Stiles through the doorway, “you’ve never used your feet like this before, they’re not used to it. Balancing while flying is probably a lot different than doing it on your feet.”

“That’s true,” Stiles agreed, sliding his feet across the smooth hardwood floor and scrunching his nose, “it tickles.”

Derek smiled. He shifted, letting go of one of Stiles’ arms so he could wrap his hand around Stile’s waist and support him standing side by side. With his now free hand he pulled the front door shut and Stiles twitched beside him.

“Something wrong?” Derek asked, looking down at Stiles’ face for perhaps the first time. It was a good angle for him.

“This space is so… closed,” he mumbled, looking up at the ceiling and the close walls of the vestibule, “none of our buildings have ceilings or rooms this small.”

“Do you want to go back out?” Derek asked. He wouldn’t be upset if Stiles didn’t come any further in. He’d rather Stiles be comfortable than part of pack night.

“No!” Stiles looked up at Derek with big doe-like eyes, “It’s just different.”

“Well, the place we watch movies is in the basement, which is sort of underground.”

“Oh.” Stiles was beginning to look more and more apprehensive.

“It’s really okay if you want to pass on this one,” Derek said, squeezing Stiles’ waist reassuringly, “we all understand.”

“I mean,” Stiles began, biting his lip, “you’ll be there the whole time right?”

Derek’s heart skipped a beat.

“Of course.”

Stiles smiled. He took another step forward and his knee gave out almost immediately. As he started falling forward his wings jerked out instinctively and Derek heard the light fixture above them shatter a moment before they were thrown into darkness. Derek darted forward and grabbed Stiles fully around the waist, twisting him around and pulling him tight against his chest and Stiles’ wings went still. Derek was suddenly deeply grateful most of the rooms in the house were soundproofed and there was no way the rest of the pack heard that. Glass rolled to a halt across the floor and the wire that still held the remnants of half a light bulb slowly stopped swinging.

“Oh my god,” Stiles whispered into Derek’s chest, “I am so sorry.”

Derek bit his lips but he couldn’t help the little shake of his shoulders

“I should go. I’m not mean to be in human sized spaces, I don’t want to break— are you laughing?“

Stiles pushed away from Derek to look at his face. Derek couldn’t hold it back any more; he threw his head back and laughed.

“What the hell, Derek,” Stiles pushed him, but he was smiling now too, “I broke your light!”

“It’s okay,” Derek said through his dying laughter, “we’re a house full of wolves we break stuff all the time.”

He smiled down at Stiles, unable to contain the adoration he was sure was pouring off him in waves. He leaned in conspiratorially.

“We also aren’t meant to be in human spaces,” he whispered, “it’s not like they test furniture for durability against wolf wrestling.”

Stiles chuckled and pressed his forehead against Derek’s shoulder. His hands were curled up against his chest and one was fisted in Derek’s shirt. Derek felt Stiles’ feet shuffling against the floor, looking for better purchase.

“Wait!” Derek tightened his arms against Stile’s waist and quickly lifted him off the ground.

“What? What?” Stiles grabbed Derek’s shoulders and Derek heard Stiles’ heart trip over itself.

“Sorry, sorry,” Derek said, “there’s glass everywhere now, I don’t want you to cut yourself.”

“Oh,” Stiles relaxed in his arms, “sorry about that.”

Derek chuckled again, shaking his head.

“Don’t worry about it.” He stepped around the glass and lifted Stiles to seat him on the staircase that led up to the second floor.

“I’m going to sweep this up, just wait here a second, okay?”

Stiles nodded seriously, eyeing the space around him for any more breakable things. Derek grabbed a broom and dustpan from the closet in the kitchen returned quickly to where Stiles sat, still as a statue. He swept up quickly, making a mental note to run to the hardware store tomorrow to pick up a new light fixture because it looked like Stiles had taken out basically the whole thing.

“Is your wing okay?” Derek asked, suddenly realizing that he must have had quite an impact with the light to cause this kind of damage. He looked up at Stiles from where he was kneeling on the floor, dustpan still in hand. He couldn’t see any injuries.

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles stroked his wings, which were lying folded together against the stairs he was sitting on, “I’m fine, these things are pretty strong.” He lifted one so it unfurled slightly. It bent as if he were folding a sheet of fabric. Its translucent surface shimmered with a rainbow of colors in the light from the living room and Derek watched it unfold into a wide, sparkling fae wing.

“Can I touch it?” he asked softly, keeping his hands at his sides as he did in case Stiles said no.

Stiles dropped his wing, which collapsed back into its resting position against the stairs. Derek opened his mouth to apologize but Stiles beat him to it.

“Sure.” Derek noticed the dark flush appearing across Stiles’ blue tinted skin, “just be gentle, okay?”

Stiles turned so he was half facing the stairs, letting his wings fall toward Derek, who gently laid the dustpan against the floor and stepped forward. He kneeled in front of the stairs and just looked.

The wings fell straight down Stiles’ back from just inside his shoulder blades. His tunic hung from his shoulder and the neckline fell low, underneath his wings before swooping back up to his other shoulder to keep his wings from getting caught when he put it on. Derek raised his hand and ran the back of his index finger against Stiles shoulder, down his back to his shoulder blade, and down the strong muscle that held the wing to his back. He turned his finger so the pad brushed against the soft folds of the wing. It felt smoother than silk. Up close Derek could see that it was made of tiny scales like a butterfly wing, each one reflecting at a slightly different angle than the one next to it. The wing farthest from the stairs slowly began to unfurl until it was pulled tight between the hard vein-like structures that formed its architecture. At its full height it was as tall as Stiles was three times as wide. Its apex was a full two feet above Stiles’ head and its lowest point would have ended somewhere around Stiles’ ankles if he were standing. Unfolded, Derek could see that really it was two wings overlapping each other to appear like one unit. It glistened in the soft light from the living room and Derek couldn’t help hold his whole hand up to gently brush its surface. He swept his fingers down from the top section of wing to the bottom. It trembled.

“Is this okay?” Derek whispered, still half entranced by the beauty in front of him.

“Yeah,” Stiles sighed back, “We just… don’t really have our wings touched very often.”

“Oh.” Derek started to pull his hand back.

“No, it’s okay.” Stiles looked over his shoulder at Derek, “its just because we’re protective of them. It’s what separates us from humans.”

Derek tried not to think too hard about the fact that Stiles had just said, in a round about sort of way, that he trusted Derek as he went back to stroking the soft surface of Stiles’ wings.

“Besides,” Stiles continued, turning back around, “you let me play with your claws all the time.”

Derek smiled at Stiles’ back. He couldn’t think of a worse combination than his claws and Stiles’ wings. Stiles had said they were strong but he doubted they’d survive very long if he slid a claw out by accident. Stiles must know that, but he was letting him touch him with those same fingers anyway. Derek felt the emotion in his chest start to swell and he let his hand fall.

“Come on.” Derek stood and held out his hand to Stiles, “the others must be waiting.”

Stiles let his wing fold up again and join its partner against his back before taking Derek’s hand with a shy smile. His face was still flushed a soft blue making his golden eyes shine like the sun over the ocean. Derek looked away. He guided Stiles’ hand to the railing and made sure he was steady on his feet before turning around.

“Hop on,” Derek said, preparing to take Stiles’ weight.

“I can walk,” Stiles insisted.

Derek looked back over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow.

“Do you remember the light bulb incident?”

Stiles jabbed him in the side with a pointy finger and huffed out a laugh. Derek smiled and turned back around.

“Come on, it’ll be faster this way,” Derek said.

It was silent for a moment. Then Derek felt Stiles’ hands on his shoulders. They slid around him until they clasped around his neck. Derek leaned forward and reached back to grab Stiles’ legs. He had forgotten that Stiles’ clothing was so loose and skirt-like until his hands made contact with Stiles’ bare thighs. Stiles’ legs pressed against Derek’s sides and he slid his hands down so he was holding the outsides of Stiles’ knees rather than his thighs, which Derek now knew were incredibly soft. He was grateful that Stiles couldn’t see the furious blush that he could feel heating up his face as he headed down the hall toward the basement door. He tried to subtly take a calming breath as he reached for the handle so that hopefully the rest of the pack wouldn’t be able to smell his embarrassment or any of the other dozens of emotions that were probably wafting off him at the moment. The door swung open and the loud roughhousing that had probably just been happening immediately died as Derek came down the stairs, Stiles on his back.

“What took you guy so long,” Erica blurted, wiggling her eyebrows at the two of them as they came in to view. Boyd tugged at the back of her shirt and she tumbled easily back into his lap on the beanbag chair, which she seemed to have successfully bullied Ethan off of.

“There may or may not have been an incident involving the light next to your front door,” Stiles said cheekily as Derek brought them around the main couch in the seating area.

“Oh man, is it broken again?” Scott asked delightedly, “I was the last one to break it so I was stuck on dish duty but now—“

“You’re not off of dish duty,” Derek interrupted, “Stiles doesn’t live with us so he can’t take over.”

“But the rule!”

“Applies to people who live here,” Derek reminded him, setting Stiles down on the sofa, slowly so Stiles could arrange his wings before he sat down, “you keep doing dishes until you learn not to do backflips off the stairs.”

“You do them all the time!” Scott protested.

“And how many times have I broken the light?” Derek asked smugly as he settled down next to Stiles.

“None,” Scott pouted.

Stiles snickered into his hand.

“You broke grandma’s vase doing cartwheels on the porch railing that one time,” Aiden added with a grin.

“And you broke a window falling out of the second floor after tripping over your own roller-skate, what’s your point?”

“What’s this?” Stiles asked through the pack’s laughter, holding up the TV remote.

“It controls the TV,” Erica told him, holding out her hands “here, throw it over!”

Stiles tossed it to her and she started setting up the TV for the movie.

“Have you ever seen a movie before?” Derek asked as the Incredibles menu popped up on the screen.

“I’ve seen things through peoples windows in town,” Stiles said, turning so he was facing Derek and wrapping a hand around his arm, “and I’ve heard people talk about them.”

Stiles scooted closer so he and Derek were pressed together. When he turned his head to look at the large screen mounted on the wall Derek subtly sniffed. Trying to get a clean scent was near impossible in this room that was saturated with the scents of the entire pack from years of movie nights, sleepovers, and birthday parties. But sitting so close together, with the single-minded focus Stiles seemed to give him, Derek picked out his scent right as Cora turned the lights off for the full movie experience. Stiles’ scent instantly spiked with fear and he jerked to look at the light that had just gone out and then the stairs. Derek grabbed Stiles’ wrist with his free hand.

“Hey,” he whispered as the opening sequence began to play, “it’s okay”

Stiles stared back at him with wide eyes, flicked them up to the screen, and then back to him.

“We can always leave if you want to,” Derek whispered.

Stiles nodded in understanding but made no move to get up. Derek let go of his wrist and tried to exude calm vibes by relaxing back into the sofa and pretending to watch the screen. Stiles slowly sank down next to him. He pulled Derek’s arm closer and wrapped both arms around it as if he were hugging a stuffed animal. Derek’s bicep pressed against Stiles’ chest and his hand came to rest against Stiles’ knee. Over Stiles’ shoulder Derek saw Cora’s head whip toward him as she detected the soft stutter of his heartbeat. She grinned at him wickedly before turning back to the movie with an evil smirk. Derek sighed and resigned himself to the relentless teasing she was sure to enlist Laura and Erica in inflicting on him. He was just glad that no one else seemed to have noticed.

Stiles was quickly enraptured by the movie. He jumped when the characters suddenly found themselves in danger and laughed at every joke. His heart raced when Syndrome shot down the plane with the kids in it and again when the whole Parr family found each other in the jungle. As the movie went on Stiles relaxed until the side of his face came to rest on Derek’s shoulder and his arms, still wrapped around Derek’s, rested loosely against him.

Derek wondered if it was just being in such an enclosed, underground space that had made Stiles jumpy or if it was the fact that he was a fae that had found himself in the middle of a wolf’s den. There was no natural hostility between fae and wolves. They never hunted each other and they never needed to compete for resources. But both tended to prioritize protecting their own above making new friends, so when they did come into contact there was little to discuss past business, which did sometimes lead to violence. Derek had never heard of a wolf and a fae ever being more than temporary allies— and he’d spent several days looking through the Hale library for any hint of a closer relationship, not that he would ever admit it. Stiles had no problem with him being a wolf, but he wondered if those feelings extended to the rest of the pack.

Derek came back from his musings when Stiles jerked, gripping his arm tightly once again. Derek’s eyes flashed and he grabbed the bit of Stiles closest to his hand, which happened to be his knee, pulling him closer. Then he realized the threat was just Syndrome holding baby Jack-Jack while the Incredibles helplessly looked on. Derek quickly scanned the room but no one seemed to have noticed the mini wolf-out he just had. Except for Stiles, that is.

“Sorry,” Stiles whispered, loosening his grip on Derek’s arm.

Derek shook his head with an embarrassed smile. He let go of Stiles’ knee and they watched the end of the movie in silence.

Scott and Isaac cheered as the film ended and Cora flicked the lights back on. Stiles blinked against the sudden brightness and smiled up at Derek.

“Did you like it?” Derek asked quietly as Ethan and Aiden began fighting over the last of the M&M’s on the snack table.

“It was so good,” Stiles exclaimed, “oh my god, the thing with the plane was so scary!”

“That is such a good sequence!” Erica agreed from where she was still sprawled out across Boyd.

“And all the babysitter stuff was so funny!” Stiles laughed.

Stiles and Erica ran through a mini highlight reel of the movie while the rest of the pack began to filter out. Cora wiggled her eyebrows at Derek as she followed Scott and Ethan up the stairs, which Derek ignored even though he could feel the tips of his ears turning red. Stiles was still curled into his side. He had an arm across Derek’s waist and his head was still resting against his shoulder. Derek and Boyd made eye contact above Stiles and Erica’s heads and Derek saw a deep exasperated fondness in Boyd’s eyes.

Boyd had always been on the quiet side, but once he was comfortable he revealed a sharp wit and dry humor. Derek had been surprised when he and Erica had started dating, but it didn’t take long for him to see how easily they balanced each other. He gave her a solid foundation for her unstable life and she drew him out of his solitary habits to really show him the value of the pack. Boyd smiled softly at him and Derek couldn’t help but smile back as they let their other halves talk themselves in circles about superheroes and villains. Eventually, Erica let out a wide yawn, cutting off her own criticisms about the portrayals of women in the superhero genre, and Boyd suggested they head up to bed. The two made their way out and Derek began to reluctantly untangle himself from Stile’s warm hands before kneeling in front of the couch so Stiles could slide onto his back.

“You doing okay?” Derek asked as he hoisted Stiles’ light form up.

“Yeah!” Stiles nodded, unconsciously rubbing his face against the side of Derek’s head, “Your pack is really nice.”

Derek slowly climbed the stairs.

“You weren’t too uncomfortable?” he asked.

“No, once the movie started I forgot all about how small the room was.”

Derek took his time in the hallway, pretending to check the floor for any glass he might have missed earlier.

“And it helped that you were there,” Stiles added, “If I had just been by myself I’m not sure I would have been able to relax.”

“I don’t know,” Derek mused, “I think you’re more stubborn than you give yourself credit for.”

“Ha ha,” Stiles mocked, poking Derek in the side in retaliation.

Derek smiled, his face safely out of view, and carefully held on to Stiles with one hand while he pulled open the front door. A gust of cool wind blew through the foyer and Derek shivered as he stepped onto the porch.

“Thanks for letting me come over,” Stiles said quietly as he slid off Derek’s back, letting his hands trail down Derek’s arms before slowly stepping around to face him. Derek kept a tight grip on Stiles’ forearms as he got his footing and tried not to miss the feeling of Stiles pressed against his back too much.

“Of course. You can come over whenever you want,” Derek whispered back.

Stiles looked up at him with his big doe shaped eyes and smiled. Derek felt butterflies in his stomach.

“Really?” Stiles asked, his voice even softer than before and his face somehow even closer. Derek nodded, not trusting himself to speak. His heart was pounding in his chest so loudly that Derek felt like he couldn’t hear anything beyond it. Stiles was looking up at him and his face was so open, so soft. Derek’s mind jumped back to that day in December. He regretted it. He regretted not kissing Stiles right then. He regretted not trying again the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. Derek refused to add today to that list.

He stepped closer.

Over the rush of his own heartbeat Derek barely heard Stiles’ sharp inhale as his hands slid up to Derek’s shoulders. Another gust of wind skated across Derek’s skin. He pressed a hand against Stiles’ bare shoulder blade.

“Cold?” Derek asked in a whisper.

Stiles took a gentle step forward, his toes stepping lightly on Derek’s as their bodies pressed together. Their noses brushed as Stiles shook his head with a small smile.

“Are you?” Stiles whispered back.

The wind was still blowing but when Derek wrapped both his arms around Stiles’ waist and felt Stiles grip him back more tightly in return, the air nipping at his skin vanished and the warmth in his chest seemed to grow. Derek sunk more deeply into Stiles’ embrace and his answer came out honest and true.

“No,” he breathed.

Stiles’ eyes slipped shut and Derek felt a warm breath ghost across his lips.

A sharp, high-pitched cry shot through the silence of the night. Stiles’ head whipped toward the forest. Derek heard a crash from inside the house as the pack bolted to the windows.

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Scott and Isaac burst through the still open front door alert and scanning the trees for threats.

They were this close.

Derek heard Cora’s voice call down from upstairs that she could see figures moving in the distance.

One more second and he would have finally known what Stiles’ lips tasted like.

Stiles slipped out of Derek’s arms and stretched out his wings.

A chill ran through Derek as wind blew through the preserve.

He sighed.

“Derek.”

Derek looked up. Stiles was hovering a foot off the porch now. He looked disappointed.

“Take this.” Stiles reached into his tunic and pulled out his necklace with the symbol of Fae royalty dangling from the thin chain, “it’s an endless chain that only fae magic can remove or put on.”

Derek remained still as Stiles leaned forward, holding up the two ends of the necklace to show Derek the absence of a clasp between them. Stiles reached around Derek’s neck, bringing the two ends together and then letting it fall into place on Derek’s chest.

“Show this to the other packs and they’ll know we must be on the same side.”

Derek could only nod in response. Stiles smiled again, but it didn’t reach his eyes, and squeezed Derek’s shoulders before letting go and flying back into the open air.

“Don’t worry,” Stiles called to the rest of the pack, half of whom were now gathered on the porch and the rest visible in the upstairs windows, “that was the call of one of our soldiers. It means she’s found more diseased fae in the woods. Stay inside, let us handle this.”

With that, Stiles disappeared into the trees.

Derek remained frozen in place as the pack filtered back inside. He could hear Aiden on the phone, letting their mother know what was happening. Erica and Cora were trying to convince Isaac and Scott that they should still go out to help. A hand closed around Derek’s shoulder and he looked over at Boyd who tilted his head sympathetically. Somehow, Boyd always seemed to know exactly what Derek needed and right now it was strong hands pushing him toward the house and a sure voice telling him, “he’ll come back.”

 

 

A few hours later Stiles texted that they’d caught eight infected fae and that the woods were safe for the moment. Lydia was apparently working on an antidote while Stiles was charged with locating the source. Talia, responding to an official message from Princess Lydia, agreed to keep her wolves removed from the situation unless any of the malicious fae appeared dangerously close to the Hale House or the town. So, caught between his Alpha’s orders not to engage with the current situation and his desire to run out into the woods to find Stiles, Derek left town. He, Boyd, Peter, and Cora headed east to attempt to convince their neighboring packs that if some sick looking fae wandered into their territories it wasn’t an intentional attack by the fae. The Devore, Martinez, and Han Packs were all easy enough to convince the first time around, but the Choi Pack had apparently emigrated from Korea in the 19th century because the fae that ruled East Asia had pushed them out. Derek understood their point of view but he had to convince them that this was a situation the fae could not control so that they wouldn’t declare war if they were attacked by some sick fae. So far, the disease had been found primarily in California but, being unsure of the cause, they didn’t know how far it would spread so Derek agreed to make the ten-hour drive to Seattle to meet with Alpha Choi to discuss the situation. He let Boyd take over the Camaro around the five hour mark so he could focus on his upcoming meeting with the Alpha. As he skimmed through his notes and made a short list of all the points he had to make sure he brought up during the meeting he found himself turning the thin gold chain Stiles had given him around and around his neck. It wasn’t a heavy necklace but it comforted Derek when he felt it press against the back of his neck when he pulled it. He imagined it would help him channel some of Stiles’ diplomatic abilities and not accidentally start a war.

Eventually, Boyd pulled up in front of an apartment building that was owned by one of the Choi pack betas, which was where they’d agreed to stay until negotiations were over. It was also where they would be holding their meetings. As Derek stepped out of the car he could feel the slight discomfort that prickled at his skin due to being in another wolf’s territory. He could tell the Alpha was waiting for them inside. Peter and Cora pulled their bags out of the trunk and Boyd clapped a hand on Derek’s shoulder.

“You got this,” Boyd murmured under his breath, giving Derek a gentle nudge forward.

Derek took a breath, shook off his nerves, and mentally recited the phrase he had been taught to say before he even knew what it meant.

I am Derek Hale, son of Alpha Talia Hale, guardian of Beacon Hills and its people.

They were just words, but he could feel the power of his name filling him up. He would speak those words to Alpha Choi and she would feel it too. Derek straightened, holding his head up with the confidence he saw every day in his mothers shoulders, and walked in.

 

 

Derek collapsed onto his own bed for the first time in six days. Trying to debate with someone who out ranked you without being disrespectful but also heavily implying that they’re wrong was a minefield Derek never wanted to enter ever again. Granted, the Choi’s had been incredibly gracious and hospitable, Derek assumed because his mother had helped them out of a tricky spot with a chimera several years ago. But all had ended well. Alpha Choi had agreed to treat the situation as a non-violently as possible and to defer to the Hale Pack as a mediator between the fae and wolves. Stiles’ necklace had been extremely helpful in convincing them that the fae meant well. They knew a fae would never give up the symbol of his royal lineage without a bond of trust so Derek estimated that Stiles had saved him from approximately three days worth of further negotiations. Derek imagined how Stiles would smile when he told him about it. He fell asleep to the sound of distant wind chimes.

 

“Derek?”

Derek blinked his eyes open. He was lying facedown on his bed. His jeans were digging into his hips uncomfortably and his legs were stiff from the long car ride.

“Yeah, mom?” Derek scrubbed at his face and pushed himself up to a seated position.

“Long trip?” Talia asked with a laugh before sitting down on the edge of Derek’s bed.

Derek hummed in response, still trying to get his bearings. It was dark out now, just past six, he guessed.

“You’ve always been more cautious than your sister,” Talia began, “I had to explain to her over and over why she wasn’t ready to be an Alpha.”

Derek nodded, not sure where the non sequitur came from, but Laura’s teenage years had brought many half shouted conversations about responsibility and accountability.

“You, on the other hand,” Talia said with a smile, running her fingers through her sons hair, “never seemed interested.”

There wasn’t a question, but Derek heard it in the silence that followed. He wished they could have this conversation when he wasn’t half asleep. Actually, he wished he didn’t have to have this conversation at all, but Talia was waiting.

“It’s a lot to take on,” he admitted, then the rest came tumbling out, “I’m not charismatic like she is. I don’t think I’d be able to hold a pack together. I just spent six days with the Choi pack and I feel like my heads going to explode, there’s no way I can do that as often as you do. This stuff doesn’t come naturally to me either and other wolves will be able to sense that. I’d be challenged all the time and if I failed it would reflect badly on you and Laura and our whole pack.”

Talia tilted her head and Derek let his fall forward.

“Sorry,” he whispered, “I know you were all expecting me to be an Alpha too and I didn’t want to bring it up because I knew you’d be upset. I- I’m sorry.”

Talia sighed. Derek braced himself for the inevitable consoling. She would hug him and tell him it's okay, that he tried, and eventually, he’d be forgiven. Right on cue, he felt his mother’s arms wrap around him and he let his head fall onto her shoulder.

“You know,” Talia whispered into Derek’s hair, “when we first agreed to take Isaac in, we put Laura in charge of his training.”

Derek blinked in surprised but said nothing.

“Your dad and I agreed to treat him the same as any other new beta we took in so he wouldn’t feel singled out or isolated, but that we’d also make sure he had the extra support he needed from us if Laura wasn’t enough. It took about three days for us to realize that we’d made a horrible decision. Laura knew Isaac represented her first real test as a future Alpha and she wanted so badly to prove herself. She knew the faster Isaac learned to control his shift the better she would look. She knew the better he integrated with the pack the more responsibility we’d give her. Laura’s ambition was to be the best Alpha possible and by extension, to have the most successful betas. If Isaac were an ordinary beta this might not have been a problem, but her drive for Isaac to succeed clashed with the patience needed to truly assist a child who lived through the things Isaac did. Laura was doing much more harm than good so we quickly decided that I should train Isaac instead, but when we found Isaac he wasn’t with Laura, he was with you.”

Talia pulled away slightly and Derek looked up at her. Her face held nothing but pride.

“Isaac found safety and comfort in you. He was drawn to you because you treated him like a friend rather than a beta,” Talia smiled and brushed Derek’s hair again, “we knew you had no interest in being an Alpha but we couldn’t ignore how good you were with Isaac. After that we started giving new betas a choice. We let them spend a few days getting to know both you and Laura and then we let them choose between you both. Laura got Jordan, Suki, and Karima and you got Scott, Boyd, Jackson, and Erica. They chose you, Derek, and there is nothing I’ve seen that suggests they ever plan on leaving you.”

Derek stared at his mother in shock.

“Not only that,” Talia continued, “but Cora has also suggested she might follow you if you decided to start your own pack.”

“What?” That was enough to startle Derek out of his silence, “Cora?

“Cora,” Talia repeated with a laugh, “Can you really not see how much she adores you?”

Derek shook his head.

“Well, she would never admit it,” Talia shrugged, “and I know the twins argued about whether they would follow you or Laura but I insisted that they stay under my roof until they’ve graduated high school at least. I would be upset that you and Laura will be leaving my own house rather empty, but I did the same thing to my own parents so I can’t complain.”

Derek gaped at her.

“My point is,” Talia continued, “that you can wipe those thoughts about not being a natural leader from your head. And forget the idea that you wouldn’t be able to hold a pack together because you’re already doing it. Boyd has even been putting up with Peter on a regular basis so he can learn more about his role as your second.”

“S-second?” Derek stuttered over the word.

“I think he’s already rather good at it,” Talia nodded approvingly, “he’s attentive, calm, and always ready to pick up the slack when you’re not feeling up to it.”

She was right. Of course she was right. Derek wondered how he missed it. Isaac, Scott, Boyd, Erica, Jackson, Cora, Aiden, Ethan. The people that made him feel whole and settled. His pack. It was like everything in his life had been ever so slightly misaligned without him even realizing it until right now. He was theirs and they were his. To protect, to guide, to love. Derek felt tears welling up in his eyes.

“Oh, sweetie,” Talia pulled him back into a tight hug, “you’re going to be amazing.”

“But—“ Derek swallowed, “what about the other stuff. The diplomacy and other packs.”

“The Choi packs is one of the most stubborn I’ve ever met. The longest I’ve spent with them is three days at which point I tactfully switch off with Peter because if I don’t things will most definitely go down in flames. I sent Peter with you so that when you started loosing your composure he could take over, but you never did. Oh, if you could hear the things he said about you. I believe the phrase “I couldn’t have done that” may have been uttered at one point. Though I would suggest taking it easier next time. Your pack is there to help you, let them,” Talia smiled down at him again, “and about being challenged, Laura, the amazing, confident, born-to-be-an-Alpha, Laura, has been on her own for just over two months and she’s already been challenged four times.”

Derek’s eyes went wide and he sat up.

“Is she okay?” He asked frantically, “Does she need help?”

“No, no, she’s fine,” Talia pulled him back down and ran a soothing hand up his arm, “its natural that a new Alpha is tested by the beings who live nearby, usually small beings like pixies or gnomes. They know they can’t really get a pack of wolves to move out once they’ve settled there but they like to test their boundaries with new packs to see how much trouble they can cause before we decide to get involved. The biggest problem Laura’s had was the manticore. She did ask for some help with that one, she just wanted a few extra wolves to make sure her plan to remove it went off without a hitch. Peter said it would have been fine if he and a few others hadn’t gone but it was incredibly mature of her to ask for help just in case something went wrong. Being challenged is part of becoming an Alpha and when you are, you can always count on us to help you out if you need it. And if things do go wrong, well…”

Derek started to look worried again when his mother trailed off but she just leaned in and began to whisper to him.

“When I first became an Alpha I accidentally agreed to give over half of the Hale Territory to a handful of omegas and their vampire friend.”

“No,” Derek gasped.

“It’s true,” Talia whispered with a laugh, “I had to call my mom.”

Despite the turmoil in Derek's head, he laughed too.

“If we can come back from that without losing our reputation I doubt there’s anything you could do that we couldn’t fix.”

Talia brushed her fingers across Derek’s cheek and sighed.

“Your dad’s been trying to get me to tell you all this for years,” she muttered.

“Why didn’t you?” Derek asked.

“Selfish reasons,” Talia admitted with a sad smile, “he couldn’t blame me for wanting to keep you around a little longer.”

Derek thought about leaving, about not seeing his mom, his dad, his cousins, his brothers, or his uncle for weeks at a time, maybe even months. Discomfort turned his stomach. But at the same time, he felt strangely ready to leave.

“I’m ready,” Derek whispered to himself, voice full of awe.

He looked up at his mom— his Alpha— and said it again, this time with conviction.

“I’m ready.”

 

 

Later that evening, Derek sat in one of the large armchairs in the pack movie room just watching the chaos around him. Erica was fending off both Aiden and Ethan for control of the biggest beanbag chair. Isaac was backseat gaming Scotts current attempt at beating Boyd’s high score in Mario Cart. Jackson was texting his human friend, Danny, who Derek had always thought would be a good addition to the pack. Cora was complaining to Boyd about one of her professors while he picked the peanut M&M’s out of the trail mix Scott insisted on buying even though no one liked the raisins. It was perfect. Derek watched them all with a deep sense of pride that was almost too overwhelming to think about. It was a few minutes before he noticed Boyd staring at him. When he did, he wasn’t sure what expression was on his face or what emotion he was broadcasting but whatever it was, it caused a smile to spread across Boyd’s face. A full, genuine smile.

“Dude,” Isaac said, pausing his hassling of Scott, who had come in second place again, “why are you smiling like that?”

“Whoa, Boyd,” Jackson said, looking up from his phone, “Your face is all contorted, it’s freaking me out.”

Erica whipped a pillow into Jacksons face but also looked over at her boyfriend curiously and then at Derek.

“Derek, what’s going on?” She asked, eyes flicking back and forth between them.

“Derek’s going to be our Alpha.” Somehow, Boyd always knew.

Eight pairs of eyes whipped toward Derek and all he could do under their gaze was smile. The room exploded with noise. The game console was flung into the sofa, the beanbag chair was forgotten, even Jackson's phone ended up somewhere beneath the cushions as Derek was crushed from all directions by his pack. Through the pile of excited wolves and exuberant shouts Derek looked up and saw his dad sitting on the stairs, watching them with the same pride he’d seen on his mothers face earlier that evening. Derek felt tears prickling at his eyes again and when his dad smiled at him they started to well up. Derek smiled back then buried his face in Isaac’s stomach and let himself be hugged. This was it. This was everything he never even knew he wanted.

There was only one thing missing.

If only Stiles were a wolf, or a regular fae, or even human, then he could be here. He could be part of the pack. It was selfish, Derek knew it. Stiles loved his family, his people, and he had a responsibility to the continent he was to inherit. His life was much bigger than the small town Derek would probably move to and the six states that comprised the Hale Territory. If they were going to be together then it only made sense for Derek to give up his small life to be there for Stiles when he became king. But here, wrapped up in his pack, he knew he couldn’t give this up. Not ever.

Maybe they just weren’t meant to be.

“Hey.” Isaac poked the top of Derek’s head, “Stop being sad.”

“Maybe if you all were nicer to me,” Derek grumbled into Isaac’s shirt.

“Aw!” Erica pulled Derek’s head up and squished his cheeks together, “is the big bad Alpha feeling sad?”

Derek let his fangs slide out and snapped at her fingers while Erica laughed delightedly. The pile devolved as hugging turned to wrestling and the already torn up carpet gained a few new holes. Derek eventually found himself sprawled across the floor as Isaac, Cora, Jackson, and Erica continued to battle it out around him. He watched as Aiden and Ethan continued the whispered argument they’d been having for the past few minutes. They were talking too quietly for Derek to hear but he could guess the topic based on what his mom had told him earlier. The twins crept upstairs, still whispering as the door shut behind them.

“Ethan wants to live with you after they graduate,” Boyd whispered from his spot on the floor next to Derek, “Aiden wants to go with Laura. But most of all, they don’t want to split up.”

Derek nodded in understanding. They’d have to cross that bridge when they got to it.

“I’m going to head to bed,” Derek said, standing up, “Night, everyone.”

A chorus of goodbyes followed Derek up the stairs and he stepped through the quiet house to his room. He pulled out his phone and shot off a quick text to Stiles.

 

Do you have any free time soon? I have some big news

 

Derek brushed his teeth and changed into sweats while he pretended not to be waiting for a response. Stiles usually responded immediately but Derek wasn’t surprised about the wait given the situation he was dealing with. He was in bed, waiting with his phone on his pillow when the response came.

 

Tomorrow around 3?

 

Derek smiled.

 

 

Derek was early. It was barely 2:30 when he leapt up onto their usual branch on the Nematon. It had been just over a week since he’d last seen Stiles and Derek was self aware enough to admit that he’d missed him. He ran his thumb across the gold surface of Stiles' necklace. He knew Stiles would probably ask for it back now that it had served its purpose so Derek took the time he had left to play with it a little more. He’d gotten into the habit of twisting the chain around his finger until he lost circulation. He did that a few times when he heard the sound of an approaching heartbeat. Derek sat up and watched the tree line for Stiles to emerge, but he paused when he realized there were no less than three heartbeats and three sets of wings heading in his direction.

Moments later, three fae emerged from the trees. Each wore a simple leather breastplate and other pieces of light armor. One held a spear and the other two held their palms out in a gesture that Derek had come to recognize as a staple of fae magic. Derek quickly examined them; none had grey skin, they didn’t smell of tar from what he could tell across the clearing, and they weren’t immediately attacking. Derek held up both his hands and called out to them.

“I am Derek Hale, son of Alpha Talia Hale, guardian of Beacon Hills and its people.”

“What are you doing here, wolf?” The middle fae responded, hands still held out in ready position.

“I’m waiting for Stiles, he asked me to meet him here,” Derek told her truthfully, despite her aggression.

Stiles?” The fae on the right spat out, darting forward several feet with his spear pointed at Derek, “How dare you speak of Prince Mieczysław so informally.”

“Sorry!” Derek hopped down from the branch, landing by the base of the Nematon, “I didn’t mean to be rude, I’m waiting for Prince— uh, the Prince.”

“What is that?” The middle fae demanded, pointing a hand at Derek’s chest.

“Oh, the Prince lent this to me,” Derek held up the necklace, hoping that would indicate to them that he was a friend of Stiles’.

“How did you get that?” The fae on the left charged forward and Derek felt something invisible start to wrap around his chest and squeeze, “You stole it from the Prince!”

“No!” Derek choked out with what little breath he hand, “It was a gift— the chain!”

“This wolf is a threat, we must bring him to the court to face the King’s justice,” the middle fae announced.

“W-What?” Derek shook his head, starting to feel lightheaded already.

“You’re dead now, wolf,” the fae with the spear hissed, suddenly right up in Derek’s face. His breath wafted across Dereks cheek and then he smelled it there on the fae’s breath.

Tar.

Derek summoned the last of his breath, let his eyes flash gold, and howled.

 

 

Derek twisted his arms, trying to see if his wrists would turn in the iron shackles. They didn’t. He rolled his shoulders again, trying to shift into a more comfortable position while on the ground with his hands bound behind his back, but it was no use. Derek guessed it had been around three hours since he fae had kidnapped him and brought him deep into their territory. He had been blindfolded for most of the journey and when the blindfold had been removed Derek found himself on a platform of large oak leaves that extended only about three feet in all directions and beyond was a sheer drop of approximately 200 feet between the huge trees that surrounded him. As far as Derek could tell, it was impossible to get down so he wasn’t sure why exactly the handcuffs were necessary. All he could do was wait. The three fae that had brought him here had all vanished, presumably to get someone higher up to come back and smite him or something. Derek was only a little bit worried. He knew his pack had heard his call and that they’d be able to track him wherever he was. Stiles would have shown up not long after he was taken too and he would know better than anyone where the three fae soldiers had brought him. His main concern were the fae themselves. He had only sensed that they were sick when they had been right on top of him and the only indication had been their scent— and perhaps their aggression— and Stiles had said that fae didn’t have great noses. There might be way more infected fae than they had previously thought.

Minutes ticked by and the sun started to set. An evening chill blew through the trees and Derek shivered. As the last rays of sunlight faded away Derek heard something. A faint scraping against the trees. It grew steadily louder and soon Derek could pick out three familiar heartbeats. Derek rose to his knees and leaned over the edge of the soft leafy platform and through the darkness he saw three figures climbing the tree closest to him. Derek let out a soft, involuntary rumble and heard Boyd’s in response.

“I told them they could use the main entrance,” Stiles said, “but they insisted on walking.”

Derek’s head jerked up to where Stiles was fluttering around him with an easy smile on his face.

“Stiles,” Derek sighed, desperately grateful, “you found me.”

“We helped,” Cora grumbled as she pulled herself up onto a branch level with Derek.

“What happened, Der?” Stiles asked as he lowered himself to start working Derek’s shackles open.

“I was waiting for you by the Nematon,” Derek said, “then three fae soldiers showed up. They accused me of stealing the necklace you gave me and then brought me here.”

“What?” Stiles let the shackles fall before darting back in front of Derek, “They all know you and your pack are our allies.”

“They didn’t look sick,” Derek explained urgently, “but when they got close I could smell the sickness on them. I think it might be making them more aggressive.”

“Well, shit.” Stiles pressed two fingers against his temple, “the incubation period must be longer than we estimated. Hundreds of us could be sick right now without even knowing because the primary symptoms haven’t manifested yet.”

“Do you need help from us?” Derek asked.

“Maybe,” Stiles said, “You could help us find sick fae by scent. We need to quarantine them until Lydia finds a cure. Come on.”

Stiles held his arms out to Derek.

“I’ll fly you over to that branch,” he said, nodding to where Cora, Boyd, and Isaac had climbed up to, “Then you guys need to get back on the ground.”

As Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek the trees shook and suddenly hundreds of fae were swarming in the trees. Stiles immediately let go of Derek and spun around, holding an arm out protectively. Isaac, Cora, and Boyd clung to their branch as the flurry of fae whipped around them. The trees filled with fae ranging from the palest blues to the darkest greens all with nearly invisible translucent wings beating behind them. None that Derek could see held much semblance to the grey creatures that had attacked Isaac but the scent of tar was unmistakable. It wafted with the breeze as the fae became still, all surrounding Stiles and Derek, looking down at them with unreadable expressions.

“Friends,” Stiles called out to them with much more confidence than Derek felt, “These wolves are our allies. They are helping us contain the plague that threatens us. For what reason has this wolf been brought here as a prisoner?”

Silence followed.

“Will no one lay any offense against him?” Stiles demanded.

“Prince Mieczysław,” a female voice finally replied from high up in the trees, “the wolves were declared a threat by your father, the King.”

“On what grounds?” Stiles asked.

“Prince Mieczysław,” A different voice replied timidly, this time from just above Cora, “the King is not himself.”

Derek looked over and spotted a young looking blue skinned girl with long black hair floating hesitantly forward.

“What do you mean?” Stiles asked, urgently.

“How dare you insult the King!” The first voice shouted.

A tall woman emerged from the crowd and she was followed by a large group of fae who echoed her angry accusation.

“Stiles!” The young girl darted over to them, “something’s happened to the King and I don’t know where Lydia is!”

“Kira, what do you mean ‘something’s happened’?” Stiles grabbed her by the arms, ignoring the large group of fae who were amassing behind the tall woman, “Where’s my sister?”

“I don’t know,” Kira shook her head, looking worriedly at the woman before continuing, “The King was meant to arrive this morning but… but, Stiles, it’s not him! Kali and the others, they keep calling him the King and following his demands but it’s not him!”

“Where is he now?” Stiles let go of Kira and turned to face Kali and her horde.

“Here,” Kira whispered.

The mass of fae began to split and from between them the foul stench of tar filled the air. Derek recoiled and even Stiles turned away from the smell. A figure appeared and began to descend between the trees. Simultaneously, another group of fae flew up behind Derek and surrounded the little platform he was still kneeling on, blocking out the scent. A girl with a bow flew up next to Stiles.

“We’ve got your back, Stiles,” she said, knocking an arrow and aiming it at the approaching figure.

“Allison,” Stiles whispered to her, “where’s my sister?”

“I don’t know,” Allison whispered back, “no one’s seen her since yesterday.”

“Son,” A deep voice cut through the crowds of fae like a knife, “come away from the wolf.”

“You are not my father.” Stiles flew forward to meet the imposter. The fae that had flown to protect the prince parted easily, giving Derek his first glimpse of the man claiming to be the King.

His skin looked like it was melting. Black ooze was dripping from his eyes and mouth, covering his chest and leaving dark rivulets across his arms and hands. His grey skin was bloated with growths of rot in some places and dripping with goo in others. His hands and feet curled like that of a hundred year old man and his body was thin and skeletal. But his eyes were the worst. Pure white against the black substance, they were somehow simultaneously absent yet piercing. They were hollow and empty, exuding malice without intent and cruelty without definition.

“You have poisoned my people,” Stiles accused, “you have no place amongst us, demon.”

“Now, Mieczysław, there’s no need to be rude,” the creature smiled, revealing a row of glistening black fangs, “I know it must be difficult for you, loosing your whole family so tragically, but you mustn’t let it consume you.”

Stiles moved faster than Derek had ever seen. In an instant he had a hand around the monster’s throat and the other drawn back with a sphere of blue fire the size of a basketball hovering above his palm. The small army of fae that had surrounded Derek charged forward after their prince toward the creature and the fae he had possessed. Derek clung helplessly to his unstable platform as the beating of thousands of wings pushed him backwards. Shouts and screams began to fill the air along with the stench of rot and the metallic smell of blood. Derek could hear Isaac shouting his name and he turned to try to see him through the mass of bodies that surrounded him. As he did, a passing fae knocked into his shoulder and Derek tipped forward. He threw out his hands to keep himself from falling but it was too late, the platform was too small and there was nothing beneath him but air. As Derek fell he watched the fae grow smaller above him. Except one. Blue hands shot out and a curtain of silky black hair brushed against his face as arms wrapped around him. Kira wasn’t strong enough to stop Derek’s fall in its tracks but she slowed it down and steered him sideways until he was pinned to the trunk of a thick tree still some hundred feet in the air. Derek quickly dug his claws into the bark and Kira helped haul him up until he was securely seated on the closest branch. Kira let him go and then half fell onto the branch next to him, panting.

“God, you’re heavy,” she groaned.

“Sorry,” Derek said, rubbing his ribcage where she’d grabbed him, “Thanks for that.”

“Don’t mention it.” Kira looked up at him and smiled, “He wasn’t kidding about your eyes, huh?”

“What?”

An inhuman shriek cut through their conversation from the fight above. The creature had tumbled down, away from the battle. It’s grey skin was on fire and it crashed into the side of a tree before perching on one of its branches. Stiles came chasing after it, hands still ablaze. The creature drew a hand back and Derek saw the glistening of thin, razor sharp claws grow from its fingertips.

“LOOK OUT!” Derek screamed, but Stiles couldn’t hear him.

Derek watched Stiles collide with the creature. There was a burst of blue flame then Stiles came darting out the other side. Derek breathed a sigh of relief when suddenly Stiles jerked backward. The creature had buried one clawed hand in the tree and the other was impaled through the tip of Stiles’ wing.

“STILES!” Derek’s shout was joined by Kira’s and she took off toward Stiles as fast as she could. Derek watched in horror as the creature pulled Stiles back into its grasp. He saw several other fae leave the fight above to race toward their prince, but Derek could tell they weren’t going to make it. The creature held the writhing Stiles by his wings, dangling him above the open air below. It pulled its other clawed hand out of the tree and with one decisive stroke, cut Stiles’ wings from his body.

Derek’s vision went red. The roar that echoed for miles around was ripped from Derek’s throat more painfully than anything he had ever felt before. Everything was bright and loud and intense. An arrow pierced through the creature’s eye. Cora howled above him. Stiles was falling in slow motion.

Without thinking, he leapt.

Derek flew farther through the air than he would have ever thought possible and he angled himself forward until he collided with Stiles. As they fell, Derek twisted until Stiles was wrapped securely in his arms and his own body fell between the prince and the ground.

Stiles smelled like ash.

Derek’s spine snapped against the hard rocks below.

 

 

A sweet song drifted through the air. It told of a wolf who fell in love with the moon. The wolf chased her across the sky but could never reach her, all the wolf could do was howl a mournful tune and hope the moon was listening.

 

 

Derek woke in a pool of moonlight. He was cold. A hand was running through his hair. A soft voice was singing in a language few ears could understand.

Derek looked up at his little sister and she brushed her hand through his hair again. As her song came to an end she bent forward and pressed her forehead against his. Derek felt her tears fall across his cheek. Isaac’s arms tightened around him and Boyd squeezed his wrist. Erica pressed her face into his chest and Scott and Jackson pressed against both his sides. They lay in silence, clinging to each other with the desperation of a family nearly torn apart. Derek blinked up at the curtain of his sister’s hair and saw his bedroom ceiling between the long brown strands. He searched his memory and remembered pain, he remembered clinging to something that was being torn from his grasp, he remembered being carried through the forest.

“Stiles is in the guest room,” Cora whispered, “You’ve been out for six hours. He’s still unconscious.”

Derek focused on the room above his and he could make out the faint, slow beating of a tired heart and the steady pace of another heart he knew to be Deaton’s.

“Don’t even think about getting up, though,” Cora continued, “You’re still healing.”

Derek stretched a little under the weight of his pack and felt the familiar itch of healing under his skin. He wiggled his toes and rolled his shoulders. His back was the most uncomfortable. Derek vaguely remembered hitting the ground and feeling something shatter but it felt like almost everything was back in place now. Though, his spine would probably re-break if he so much as sat up before it was completely healed.

“Six hours?” Derek said, or tried to say.

His voice was rough and his throat was painfully dry. He swallowed and repeated his question.

“Six hours isn’t long enough to heal like this.” He managed in a low half whisper.

“For a beta,” Boyd said, running his hand down Derek’s arm before tangling their fingers together, “but you’re not a beta anymore.”

Derek knew he should be freaking out. He had decided to become an Alpha a few days ago. He hadn’t even looked in to how becoming an Alpha worked yet, let alone how to actually be one. But he was still so tired and Boyd’s words washed over him without the weight they would carry in any other circumstances.

“Oh,” was all he said.

“I think he took it pretty well,” Erica fake whispered to Boyd, who nudged her in the ribs.

“He’ll freak out later,” Boyd replied before settling down again with his head resting on Derek’s arm.

Derek silently agreed before closing his eyes once again.

 

 

The next time he woke up the clock on his nightstand read 2AM. The pack was still curled around him, all sound asleep. Derek stretched a little and felt no prickling of healing, only the stiffness that tended to follow it. Derek carefully lifted his head off of Cora’s stomach. He twisted to slide Isaac and Scott of his chest and gently pulled his hand from Boyd’s grasp, scooting it inch by inch out from under his head and behind Erica’s neck. The pack shifted as he slipped out, but remained asleep as they reformed around the void Derek left and settled once again. Derek stood, stretching his arms above his head and letting out a sigh of relief as his healthy body relaxed. He dropped his arms and looked down at his pack. He had always cared for them, but he never could have understood the fierce protectiveness that blossomed in his chest as he watched them sleep. It was a deep love that Derek guessed was reserved for Alphas. He leaned down and brushed Isaac’s curls off Jackson's cheek, smiling as Jackson's nose crinkled. Derek decided that given the chance, he could stand like this forever, just watching over them. It felt right. But a soft heartbeat from upstairs drew him away. He slipped out of his bedroom into the dark hall. He let his eyes flash so he could see better and jerked back when the glass of a picture frame shone red.

Alpha red.

Derek made a beeline for the bathroom and flipped the light on, shutting the door quietly behind him. He placed his hands on either side of the sink and leaned forward, staring at his own reflection in the mirror. He looked the same. Same hazel eyes, thick eyebrows, dark stubble. He focused back on his eyes. Fear turned his stomach as he stared at them. He took a deep breath and watched them flash a deep crimson. Suddenly, he didn’t recognize himself. His cheekbones looked too sharp, his jaw too wide, and his eyes were not his own. But they looked familiar somehow. His stomach flipped again as he realized what he was seeing. His father had always said he had his mother’s eyes and it seemed he had her wolf eyes now too. He looked wrong because he didn’t look like her. But as he stared at himself his face began to change again. He saw the curve of his mother’s lips, the slope of her forehead, and the strong bridge of her nose. He saw the unchallengeable authority in her eyes.

His eyes.

Derek drew back from the mirror.

I am Alpha Derek Hale, he thought, guardian of Beacon Hills and its people.

He couldn’t help the snort that escaped him. It sounded stupid even though it was true. He felt like a child trying on his parent’s clothes except this time he couldn’t take them off. But there was a smile on his face as his eyes shifted back to their original hazel and Derek found that he wasn’t so afraid.

A faint whimper drew him away from the mirror. Derek was up the stairs before he even really registered what he heard. He opened the door to the guest room and found Stiles curled up on the corner of the bed facing the wall. Bright moonlight shone across his small form under a pile of blankets and Derek quietly shut the door behind him. The room smelled like panic, Deaton, and blood. He padded softly across the room and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Stiles,” Derek whispered.

Stiles was trembling. Every other breath was a hitching gasp of pain.

“Stiles,” Derek said again, scooting closer, “let me take some of your pain.”

The blankets quivered as Stiles shook his head.

“No? Why not?” Derek asked, laying a hand gently on the blankets, “I can help you sleep.”

Stiles moved under the blankets again, this time Derek could tell he was turning over. He started to remove his hand when one of Stiles’ own wiggled out and grabbed him.

“Stiles.” Stiles’ hand squeezed his tightly, “can I see you?”

Slowly, another hand emerged and began pulling the blankets away revealing bare shoulders and swaths of white bandages circling his torso. Stiles sat up and Derek saw tearstained cheeks, pale skin, and red-rimed eyes. Derek almost did a double take. Stiles’ cheeks were red, not blue. Fae didn’t have red blood, but Stiles’ cheeks were red. Derek looked down at Stiles’ bandages, he couldn’t see Stiles’ back but the front of the bandages had a few spots where Deaton had gotten blood on his fingers as he applied them. Red spots.

“Stiles,” Derek whispered again, this time with full understanding.

Stiles’ face pinched as fresh tears came tumbling out of his eyes. Stiles leaned forward and Derek caught him in his arms, pressing Stiles’ face into his neck. Sobs shook Stiles’ body and Derek let him cry. Derek thought for a moment about how he would feel if he suddenly turned human. He wouldn’t be able to see or smell as well. He wouldn’t feel the push and pull of the moon. He wouldn’t feel his family and the close-knit bonds that connected them. He wouldn’t be able to shift and run and howl with the freedom no human had ever felt. He wouldn’t be able to protect his pack. He wouldn’t be himself.

“Stiles,” he whispered again, “let me help.”

This time he felt Stiles’ nod against his shoulder and Derek carefully brought a hand up to curl around the back of Stiles’ neck. Cold flooded Derek’s arm as he drew the pain from Stiles’ human body. Stiles let out a shaky sigh of relief and sank further into Derek as the pain ebbed away. Derek carefully maneuvered onto his back, holding Stiles against his chest, and pulled the blankets back up around them. Stiles sobs eventually began to fade. Exhausted, he relaxed into Derek’s hold and fell into a fitful sleep with Derek following not long after.

 

 

Derek woke to the sound of the front door opening downstairs. Sunlight filled the room and Derek heard his father welcoming Deaton in. He ran his hand across Stiles’ shoulders and began draining his pain again without thinking. It wasn’t as sharp as last night, it was now a dull throb. Derek looked down at the human sprawled across his chest. His hair was the same brown, there was the same constellation of moles splattered across his cheeks, and his nose was still the same slightly upturned shape. The only things that were new were the flush of pink across his cheeks, the bruises that littered his skin all the way up to his jawline, and his scent. His scent was fundamentally the same, but instead of the light, breezy quality that hung around all fae, Stiles’ scent now echoed the deeper, heady scent that was indicative of a human. It was a little disorienting, but it was still Stiles.

“Stiles,” Derek whispered, squeezing his shoulder gently, “Stiles, wake up.”

Stiles turned his head back into Derek’s neck and sighed, pressing his cold nose against Derek’s skin.

“Stiles,” Derek said again, trying not to smile at Stiles answering snuffle, “Deaton is here to see you.”

Derek felt Stiles’ eyelashes flutter against his neck and heard his little groan as he pushed himself up. He blinked down at Derek a few times before his eyebrows began to draw together. Derek could see the moment Stiles remembered the events of the day before. Darkness clouded his expression and he sat up, turning away from Derek to throw his legs over the side of the bed. Someone had given Stiles a pair of Isaac’s sweatpants to wear and Derek noticed a small pile of clothing belonging to various members of the pack on the dresser, along with Stiles’ torn and bloody tunic. Derek heard Deaton making his way up the stairs.

“Deaton’s on his way up,” Derek told Stiles, sliding over to sit next to him, “Do you want anything? Water? Breakfast?”

Stiles shook his head. His silence was starting to concern Derek. Stiles was never silent.

“Are you sure?”

Stiles nodded. Deaton knocked on the door.

“Do you want me to stay?”

Stiles shook his head. Derek tried to ignore the sting as Deaton stepped inside with an armful of fresh bandages and a bag that Derek knew contained a mini arsenal of supernatural herbs and chemicals. Derek knew that the most important thing right now was Stiles and what he needed. If what he needed wasn’t Derek, then it wasn’t Derek.

“Okay, I’ll be downstairs if you need me,” Derek whispered to Stiles before nodding to Deaton and slipping out the door.

Feeling somewhat useless, Derek headed down to the kitchen to hopefully make himself useful to his father, who was making waffles for the twins before they headed off to school.

“You’re awake.” Lucas Hale sighed in relief as Derek entered the kitchen. Derek smiled softly at his dad and let himself be pulled into a gentle hug. He was taller than his dad now, which would never not be weird, and broader too. When Lucas pulled back he smiled up at his son and squeezed his arms.

“How is Stiles?” He asked, turning back to the array of eggs and flour behind him.

“Not great,” Derek said with a shrug, “which is about as good as anyone could possibly expect.”

Lucas nodded solemnly and cracked another egg.

“We’ll look after him.” Lucas pointed toward the whisk on the opposite counter and Derek handed it to him.

“Dad?”

“Hm?”

“You like being human.”

Lucas paused with the whisk centimeters away from the surface of the waffle mixture. He set it down on the counter and sighed heavily.

“I do.”

“Then why did you say it like that?”

“Because I know you’re thinking about Stiles and you have to understand that my life is so radically different from his that there is nothing I could say in favor of being human that would help him right now.”

“I don’t get it.”

“There are pros and cons to being any race,” Lucas explained, “wolves are physically superior and have unbreakable bonds with others but are also hunted as monsters and must hide away from much of society, despite being naturally social creatures. Fae have magic and flight but resist the technology created by other races leaving themselves intentionally isolated and out of touch with the rest of the world. Humans lack in physical abilities compared to wolves and magic is seen as a fantasy rather than a reality but we dominate this planet and everything in it. When viewed this way, impartially, it’s easy to see that choosing between just these three would be difficult. You cannot choose one without giving something up. But being human is seen as the baseline. We are the source from which the other humanoid races evolved. It’s impossible not to see being fae or a wolf as an upgrade, and becoming human as a demotion. I was born human and I have learned to see the value in that. When I first met your mom I struggled with the idea that she might prefer if I were a wolf; someone who would understand her better, someone she wouldn’t have to explain things to. But I found my place in the wolf pack anyway and I know that being a wolf or a human doesn’t change who you are.”

Lucas picked up his whisk again and went back to his waffles. Derek watched him in silence. It wasn’t until Lucas was pouring the first of the batter into the waffle iron that Derek had processed enough to respond.

“Why don’t you think telling Stiles that would help?”

“He’s a fae prince,” Lucas said, snapping the iron closed and flipping it over, “he has thousands of others depending on him and looking up to him. You’re an Alpha now, what would happen to your pack if you suddenly became human?”

Derek suddenly felt like his chest had caved in.

“I couldn’t help them,” he whispered, “I’d be lost.”

“They would still love you,” Lucas nodded, “but they’d fall apart. They could come back to Talia but they’d always carry you loss around with them. And you would spend years trying to get over the feeling that somehow you’d failed them and after being an Alpha, the fact that your youngest wolf cousin would be stronger than you would only add to your feelings of inadequacy.”

There was a dark weight settling in Derek’s chest.

Worry, panic, fear. Void.

Stiles was probably feeling the same thing tenfold. Not only had he lost the ability to help his people, but his kingdom had been taken over by a demon. His family was missing at best and dead at worst. Those unaffected by the demon would be looking for Stiles to lead them but he couldn’t, not like this.

A warm hand settled on Derek’s shoulder. He looked up at his father’s warm brown eyes.

“Stiles is lost right now but he’s a smart kid and he’ll be able to dig himself out of this mess if we give him the tools he needs, so right now,” Lucas gave his son a soft smile, “he’s going to need an anchor.”

Now that was something Derek could understand.

The waffle maker beeped and Lucas returned to the task at hand, flipping the lid open and sighing.

“Why is the first one always shit?” He grumbled to himself, peeling the half burnt mess off the iron.

“Ooh, Dad said a bad word!” Ethan yelled in mock horror as he rounded the corner.

“Oh hush.” Lucas rolled his eyes, refilling the waffle iron and pointing Ethan to the glass of orange juice waiting for him on the counter next to Derek, “As if your wolfy ears haven’t heard a hundred times worse already. Where’s your brother?”

“Right here,” Ethan said, reaching up and lightly tapping Derek on the nose, “Gosh, dad, are your eyes going already?”

Derek growled and snapped at Ethan’s finger. Ethan jumped back with a yelp and held his juice up, trying to keep it from spilling, as Derek grabbed him around the waist and picked him up, gnawing playfully at his shoulder to hide the fact that he just wanted to bury his face in his pack to alleviate the sickening emptiness his dad had made him aware of.

“No wolfing in the kitche—and it's on the floor now.”

Ethan and Derek froze, looking up at their dad with sheepish expressions over the puddle of orange juice that had splattered across the floor and up the cabinets. Ethan detangled himself from Derek’s hold and gently placed the empty glass on the counter. Derek silently pulled the roll of paper towels off the mounting on the wall and handed a wad of it to Ethan and the boys got to work cleaning up their mess while Lucas watched with a single, unamused raised eyebrow. Halfway through cleaning up it re-occurred to Derek that he was an Alpha. It made him smile while juice soaked through his towel and covered his hands. Even Alphas had to respect dad-glares it seemed.

“Ethan, where’s Aiden?” Lucas asked, more specifically this time.

“Um, probably still in bed,” Ethan admitted. Derek focused his senses on the twin’s room upstairs and sure enough, Aiden was asleep.

“Cora,” Lucas said, Derek heard the tap of Cora’s fingernails against her phone pause from where she was still nested with the rest of the pack in Derek’s room, “Why don’t you go give your brother a wake up call.”

On the floor, Derek and Ethan both cringed as Cora laughed manically and slipped out of Derek’s room.

“Ethan, come eat,” Lucas pulled a new, less burnt, waffle out of the iron and placed it on the counter along with a new glass of orange juice and Ethan left Derek to finish wiping down the floor. As he stood, there was a soft knock on the door. Derek heard three heartbeats out on the porch, along with the soft beating of wings.

“Wait here,” Derek commanded, both to his family and the other over a dozen wolves in the house who had all frozen on high alert. Since his mother was away, he was technically the highest authority in Hale Territory. The thought made his steps falter but he powered through.

Derek made his way to the door and stood behind its thick wood frame. He let out a long breath and then took a deep breath in. He had been holding back his new Alpha senses in order to keep them from overwhelming him but now he welcomed them. He could smell the light scent of three fae, pine, jasmine, blood, grass, rosewood, anxiety, and dirt. No tar. Derek pulled the door open.

He immediately recognized two of the three women in front of him; Kira, who saved his life, and Allison, the archer.

“Kira, Allison, I’m glad to see you’re both alright,” Derek said with a smile.

Kira beamed at him and Allison raised an eyebrow. Derek could see dried bloodstains on both of them and smears of dirt and sweat but they still had both wings so Derek figured that was a win for them.

“It is customary, even for wolves, to greet the highest ranking member of the other party first, is it not, Alpha Hale?” The third woman said in a voice that exuded undeniable authority. She was beautiful and terrifying. Her hazel eyes glared at him from beneath perfectly arched eyebrows, her full lips frowned at him with a slight judgmental tilt, and her long strawberry blonde hair fluttered around her despite the lack of breeze.

“Princess Lydia.” Derek stiffened and then dipped his head in a slight bow as Stiles had told him people do to him, “Please excuse me, I should have recognized you. Stiles is inside. He’s wounded but our emissary is tending to him now.”

“He’s human?” Lydia asked, looking more for confirmation than information. Stiles had said she was quick.

“Yes,” Derek said.

He tried to guess her emotion but she gave nothing away. Her face was a mask and her heartbeat was steady.

“I would like to see him,” Lydia said.

She phrased it as a request, but she said it like a command. Derek realized he was unconsciously cataloging her every action, not out of paranoia or dislike, but out of a desire to imitate. He was too used to acting like a beta and he hadn’t spent his life trying to be an Alpha, like Laura. Lydia spoke with the authority of an Alpha and Derek knew that if he was going to be successful, he needed to command every conversation like she did, like Laura did, like his mother did. But this was about Stiles and Derek didn’t need to be an Alpha right this second, so he acquiesced easily.

“Go to the left side of the house,” Derek pointed around the porch, “it’s the fourth window on the second floor.”

Lydia nodded once and then vanished above the roof of the porch with Kira and Allison flanking her. Derek shut the door and then leapt up the stairs, covered the hallway in a two steps, and skid to a halt in front of the guest room just as Deaton was stepping out.

“I’ll come back tonight to check on the Prince,” Deaton told Derek before disappearing down the stairs. Derek gave him a distracted nod before peeking into the room. Stiles’ bandages had been changed and the room smelled strongly of blood and herbs. Stiles was currently kneeling on the bed, trying to reach the latch on the window that was just out of reach while his sister waited on the other side with a small crease of worry between her perfect eyebrows.

“Stiles, may I?” Derek asked, stepping hesitantly into the room.

Stiles eyes snapped to him and he nodded quickly. Derek was immediately at his side. He made quick work of the latch and slid the window up before pulling a chair from the corner over and helping Stiles into so he could sit as close as possible to the window.

“Stiles,” Lydia whispered, all regal authority gone in the presence of her brother.

Kira and Allison hovered behind her. Kira had tears in her eyes but was trying to keep them in and Allison wavered between deep concern and absolute fury. Lydia slid her hands through the window and Stiles leaned forward so she could cup his face. Derek looked away. Moments between family aren’t meant to have an audience. From the corner of his eye he could see Kira and Allison do the same. Derek waited until he heard Lydia clear her throat and looked over to see them pulling away from where they had rested their foreheads against each other.

“Mom is with the desert fae in the Midwest, she was attacked by a group of fae under the demons influence. She was badly wounded but she’s alive. The desert fae are keeping the sickness from spreading through her. Dad disappeared two days ago somewhere in the Black Hills Forest, everyone who was traveling with him now serves the demon but we have no confirmation of his status. The demon that replaced him is named Deucalion. He’s managed to infect over two thirds of our population in the region, those who remain free have fled north to regroup. I have to go with them to rally everyone and try to gain the support of the neighboring kingdoms. You’ll be safest here, for now. Deucalion probably thinks you’re no longer a threat so he won’t come after you. The wolves will protect you and while you heal you can find out all you can about Deucalion, how to stop the spread of his influence, and ultimately kill him. Kira will stay here with you and then bring me the information you uncover so we can fully plan our attack. I’ve given her all my research on the sickness and all the lore on demons I could find in our library, the Hale emissary will have more. What do you think?”

Derek felt like he’d just been assaulted with information. It was not unlike talking to Stiles, but much more succinct and not quite so quickly spoken. As far as he could tell, her plan seemed straightforward and if Stiles’ enthusiasm for learning about werewolves were anything to go by, researching would suit him well.

“You’re awfully quiet,” Lydia said, tilting her head at her brother.

Stiles sighed and for a moment Derek thought he was going to say something but instead he pointed at his throat, then his chest, then held his hands out in fists before unfurling them so they were open with his palms facing upwards.

Oh,” Lydia breathed, “it’s a long shot.”

Stiles nodded, then looked at his sister with determined eyes.

“But if anyone can do it, it’s you.” Lydia leaned forward again and squeezed her brothers hand, “keep your silence then and I will keep mine. I will see you on the frontlines, Stiles.”

Stiles pulled Lydia’s hand toward him and placed a kiss on her knuckles before letting go. Lydia smiled at him and they just looked at each other for a long moment before Lydia turned back to Derek.

“If you’re half the wolf Stiles has told me you are then you will protect him.”

“With my life,” Derek replied with utter conviction.

“I will hold you to that,” Lydia said, giving Derek one last once over before nodding her head to him in an elegant bow, “We’ll be in touch, Alpha Hale.”

She gave one last soft look to Stiles before turning and disappearing into the morning fog.

“Bye, Stiles,” Allison whispered, darting forward to touch their hands together before turning, squeezing Kira’s shoulder, and following her princess into the trees.

Silence fell. Kira and Derek both looked at Stiles, who said nothing, and then up at each other.

“I’m Kira,” Kira blurted, “I don’t think we’ve ever actually been introduced. I mean, you already know my name but, um, I’m friends with Stiles! Well, I’m the assistant to the guy who taught him and Lydia how to run the kingdom and do magic and stuff—“

“You can call me Derek,” Derek interrupted, since Kira was running out of breath and didn’t seem capable of stopping on her own, “You have information for Stiles?”

“Oh, yes!” Kira turned to show Derek the large bag she had slung across her back, which was stuffed with books, scrolls, and loose sheets of paper.

Stiles perked up at that, he reached toward them before realizing that the window didn’t quite open enough to get the whole thing inside. Kira seemed to have had a similar thought.

“Um.” Kira regarded the window cautiously, “how do I get in?”

Derek thought back to how Stiles did the first time he came in and wondered if Kira would be offended if he suggested she stay outside, but before he could say anything there was a knock on the guest room door and Boyd poked his head in.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I was thinking we should move this operation to the Vault.”

 

 

The Vault was the perfect place to regroup. It had once belonged to Peter, back when he was convinced he would be an amazing Alpha. He had gone all out, blowing his savings to build a fortress just outside a small town further north. It was beautifully crafted with everything a pack would ever need, along with luxuries like two Jacuzzis, an elevator, and huge balconies with sliding bulletproof glass doors on every floor. Then Derek’s grandma had actually tested Peter’s abilities as a leader and he’d realized that things like responsibility and accountability were involved, so he bailed, leaving the Vault as a secret, secure safe house that the pack used on occasion to hide the younger members when a threat was in town. Derek remembered being brought here with Cora and the twins during an incident with a rogue hell hound. Peter had turned the weekend into a fun no-parents-allowed slumber party where Derek had eaten so many marshmallows that even his werewolf body couldn’t handle it and he threw up.

Derek smiled at the memory as he drove the Camaro up the last stretch of the long driveway and parked in front of the Vault. The rest of the pack was already there, moving in and argue-fighting over who got which bedroom. Derek had driven slowly for Stiles, who was sitting uncomfortably in the passengers seat beside him. When Derek had told him that they could go somewhere hidden in the woods with high ceilings and sliding doors on every floor that Kira could easily navigate through he’d been about as enthusiastic as someone who was refusing to speak for some reason could be. Derek had tried to argue that Stiles was in no condition to travel the three-hour long car ride, but Stiles had made himself clear and Derek was incapable of saying no to him. So he folded a pillow in half and placed it behind Stiles’ lower back in the car seat so he was forced to sit forward, keeping his shoulders away from the leather seat. Every bump they hit and ever jerk of the car made Derek nervous, so the journey had taken considerably longer than it should have but Derek decided that he’d rather Stiles be uncomfortable for longer than in active pain for a shorter ride. But as Derek put the car in park and looked over at Stiles’ pale face, he wasn’t completely sure he’d picked the better option. Derek hopped out of the car and ran to open Stiles’ door for him. He undid Stiles’ seat belt and lifted him out in a bridal carry. Stiles wrapped an arm around Derek’s neck and where their skin managed to touch Derek began pulling Stiles’ pain. Boyd was holding the door open for them as Derek and Stiles approached the Vault and he pointed them up the stairs just behind him.

“We put you guys in the Alpha Suite.”

Derek rolled his eyes and stepped past him. Peter had originally named it the Alpha Penthouse but even he had eventually conceded that it was a bit too pretentious, not that Alpha Suite was much better in that regard. Derek climbed the stairs, avoiding Cora and Ethan, who were arguing on the second floor, Isaac and Scott, who were fighting on the third, and Aiden and Erica, who were moping and being a sore winner respectively. Finally, on the fourth floor, Derek carried Stiles into the Alpha Suite. It was a single room separated onto three levels by three little step staircases; on the lowest was a cozy lounge area with a few sofas and a TV mounted on the wall above a fireplace, on the second was a wall of bookshelves, large desks, and some comfy arm chairs, and on the third was the largest bed money could buy covered in soft sheets and a fluffy duvet with thick carpeting, a balcony outside the wall-to-ceiling windows facing both east and west, and a door which led to the equally luxurious bathroom. The whole space glowed with the soft light as the sun set between the trees and the golden hour descended outside. Derek set Stiles down on one of the sofas and Stiles immediately rolled onto his stomach and stretched out across it with a deep sign, tilting his head to the side and pressing it into a pillow. Derek looked down at him and his eyes caught on the way the warm light made the shadow of Stiles’ eyelashes curl around his cheek, the way it illuminated the soft angles of his nose, the shadow in cast under his brow and the curve of his jaw.

He was beautiful, as always.

Derek felt a dull ache in his chest as he realized that he wanted nothing more than to lean down and press a kiss against the side of Stiles’ face to comfort him, to make him feel safe, to show how he felt. He wanted so badly and he thought that if it were the day before yesterday, the kiss might have even been welcomed. But not now. Not when Stiles had a million other things buzzing around his already busy head. Not when he was in so much pain. Derek pulled himself out of his thoughts as Stiles' head turned and suddenly two bright eyes were staring up at him. In the light of the setting sun Stiles' brown eyes glowed like melted gold. His eyes widened as he looked up at Derek and Derek swore he heard a hitch in Stiles’ breath as his eyes skated across Derek’s face.

“Hey,” Derek whispered, kneeling down so he and Stiles were at eye level.

Stiles continued to stare at him with unblinking eyes.

“I’m going to go downstairs and make sure the pack is settling in okay,” he said, still whispering although he wasn’t entirely sure why, “I’ll bring you up some water and something to eat, is there anything else you need?”

Stiles didn’t move for a long moment and then he gave his head a tiny shake.

“Okay,” Derek said with a small smile before going to stand up, but a hand closing around his wrist stopped him.

Stiles, still looking at Derek with those big golden eyes, brought Derek’s hand up to his face. Derek’s breath froze in his lungs and his heart stopped in its tracks as Stiles placed a tiny kiss to the inside of his wrist. It was gentle and soft and as he pulled his lips away, Stiles tilted his face to let Derek’s hand rest against his cheek. Derek was transfixed. Stiles lips were so sweet and his cheek was so warm against Derek’s palm. It was a gesture that spoke a thousand million words, but there were only two that Derek was absolutely sure Stiles’ meant.

Thank you.

Derek let out a shaky breath and, with tender caution, let his thumb drift across Stiles’ cheek. Stiles’ eyes slid shut and the corner of his mouth twitched into the smallest of smiles, the first Derek had seen from him today, so he kept going. He let his fingers curl around the side of Stiles’ face and into the hair behind his ear. He explored the slope of Stiles’ cheekbone with gentle touches. He let his fingers slide down the side of Stiles’ neck and back up to the sharp edge of his jaw. The urge to kiss him had been growing steadily as the seconds ticked by and Derek realized that he probably could. Stiles had all but given him an invitation to do so. Derek let his hand slip back into Stiles’ hair with intent this time and felt himself leaning in without really noticing. His lips were a breath away from Stile’s skin when he realized something else.

If he kissed Stiles now he’d never stop.

If they’d kissed up in the Nematon’s branches all those months ago it might have been fine, fun even. If they’d kissed on the porch it would have been perfect, it would have shone with potential, it would have promised to feed the blossom of attraction that existed between them and they would have grown together. But now, Derek realized that if Stiles gave him an inch he’d take a mile. He’d hold on and never let go. Stiles wasn’t a stranger he thought was cute anymore and he wasn’t a friend that Derek had a crush on. Somehow, over the last few months, Derek had unconsciously given Stiles his trust, his loyalty, and his utter devotion.

His love.

The word sent a shock through Derek’s body. It was simultaneously obvious and unfathomable. How could he think himself in love with this beautiful, genius, mess of a boy when he’d only known him a few months?

Wow, you fall hard and fast, don’t you, baby brother?”

Laura laughed at him in his head. If Laura had been there she would have pulled Derek into her room one night. She would have wrestled him down to the ground and then sat on him until he talked to her about his feelings. She would have laughed at him and then reminded him again not to get caught up. She would have kept his feet on the ground as the thought of Stiles pulled him up to cloud nine. She would have anchored him.

Derek sighed against Stiles’ cheek and let his head fall until his forehead was pressed against Stiles’ soft hair. The bridge of his nose dragged across Stiles’ skin until it came to rest just beneath his jaw. Derek breathed. His thoughts were flooded with the scent of Stiles. Rain, rosewood, blood, and peaches. Derek tried to ignore the blood, pain, and Deaton’s ointments and focus on the parts that made Stiles, Stiles. The parts he loved.

Derek bit back a groan and forced himself to pull away from Stiles’ intoxicating scent. Now that the “L” word had lodged itself in his head it wouldn’t leave. He’d thought himself in love three times before. First with Paige, then Ji, and then Ravi. Paige had moved away and proximity was a pretty essential aspect of a high school relationship so that hadn't worked out. Ji was his college sweetheart. Derek had pictured them getting a place together after and maybe getting a dog, but Ji’s career had pulled her to England and Derek couldn’t move so far away from his pack. Then he’d met Ravi and six months in he’d thought for sure, this is the one. But after two years they found themselves drifting apart. There was no big fight or tearful speech; they just realized that they weren’t as perfect for each other as they’d once thought. Derek had never told any of them that he loved them. He’d thought he was in love, he might have even been sure, but it was impossible to know another person’s mind and the fear that they didn’t feel the same way was enough to keep him silent in those moments when the thought threatened to make itself into words.

That same fear made itself known once again. Without his own permission, he’d gone and fallen in love with someone he wasn’t even in a relationship with. Someone he hadn’t even kissed. And yet he couldn’t remember even really feeling like this before. Had he been so spellbound by Ravi? Had it ached so much when Ji was just out of reach? Had the scent of Paige made his heart beat this fast? Did any of them even hold a candle to Stiles? Was this the fourth time he had fallen in love, or the first? But none of it mattered if Stiles didn’t feel the same way. Derek was fairly sure Stiles liked him. He wouldn’t have nearly kissed Derek on the porch or actually kissed him just now if he didn’t. But what were the odds that he still didn’t just like Derek? What were the odds that he loved Derek back? It was impossible to guess and if Derek had learned anything from his previous relationships it was that you should never guess how someone feels when they're standing right there waiting to be asked. The only way to know what Stiles was feeling would be to sit down and talk about it. They needed to discuss what they wanted and see if they both happened to want each other. Derek needed to know that before this went any further. He couldn’t indulge his feelings a second longer if Stiles didn’t feel as strongly as he did. He wasn’t sure he could handle the heartbreak. He needed to know Stiles’ mind.

And Stiles, it seemed, had taken a vow of silence.

There was always something. Every time. It was like they were caught in each other’s gravity but it was only strong enough to get them to orbit each other, never to touch.

Stiles’ eyes were still closed. His hand had fallen away from Derek’s wrist as he had moved across Stiles’ face. He was oblivious to Derek’s thoughts. The sun had finally disappeared behind the trees, taking its golden light with it. But it wasn’t the light that made Stiles beautiful. Derek ripped his eyes away and pulled his hand back from Stiles’ warmth.

“I’ll—“ his voice came out rough so he cleared his throat and started again, “I’ll be back soon.”

He didn’t wait for Stiles’ silent response before he fled.

 

 

Derek found Kira perched on the kitchen island on the first floor. She had her hand stuck in a blender and Derek nearly ripped it away from her before he realized it wasn’t plugged in. After his heart returned to its regularly scheduled programming he began poking through the groceries the pack had brought to find something for Stiles.

“The shouting’s stopped,” Kira remarked as she pulled the spinning blade out of the blender and examined it.

Derek nodded. Every flight of stairs he’d walked down had forced him to play mediator in a game of “so-and-so took the biggest bedroom but here’s why I deserve it more” and with every step he’d thought Peter had the right idea putting an elevator in the Vault. He pulled some ciabatta out of the fridge and began putting a sandwich together as Kira continued dismantling the blender. Her wings fluttered behind her and occasionally brushed against the counter, sending a light gust of air across Derek’s cutting board. Derek sliced the finished sandwich diagonally and placed it gently on a plate before plucking the loose pieces of blender out of Kira’s hands and piling them up next to her.

“Um, yes?” Kira asked as Derek stood silently in front of her.

He was trying to find the right words as to not be so blunt, but he was emotionally exhausted so he didn’t try that hard.

“Why isn’t Stiles talking?” he asked with a slightly more accusatory tone than talking to Kira probably warranted.

“Huh?”

“At first I thought he was in shock or that this was just his way of coping,” Derek continued, “But after he talked with Lydia it definitely seems like there’s a more deliberate reason for it.”

“Yeah, I got that too,” Kira agreed.

“Well, why is he doing it?” Derek asked again.

“How should I know?”

“He made those hand gestures at Lydia and she seemed to know,” Derek pressed.

“Yeah, because they grew up together and could probably have a whole conversation in complete silence,” Kira replied, a little defensively, “That was Stiles making weird gestures that Lydia could figure out, not sign language.”

“Oh.” Derek deflated, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so…”

“I get it,” Kira waved him off, “you want to help but don’t know how. It makes the best of us antsy.”

“Yeah,” Derek sighed.

“Look.” Kira put a hand on Derek shoulder, “If Lydia wasn’t worried about it then neither am I. Stiles is a smart guy and more resilient than he looks, whatever he’s doing I’m sure its for a good reason. Tomorrow, Stiles and I will start going through the stuff Lydia left us. It’ll give him something to do and help keep his mind off things.”

Derek couldn’t help but give Kira a small, grateful smile. She smiled back and punched him lightly on the shoulder.

“Now go take that food up to Stiles, he gets all pouty when he’s hungry.”

Sure enough, when Derek finally made his way back upstairs, Stiles was sitting cross-legged on the sofa with a little pout on his face.

“Sorry I took so long,” Derek said, handing Stiles the plate and a glass of water, “I know you’re probably pretty hungry.”

Stiles looked up at Derek with a little crease between his brows.

“Kira said you pout when you’re hungry.”

Stiles lips twitched into a smile again and he shook his head.

“Oh, that’s not the reason?”

Stiles smiled at Derek again and then pointed at him.

“Me?”

Stiles nodded.

“You were pouting because I took so long.”

Stiles nodded again. He looked a little sheepish before stuffing half the sandwich in his mouth. Derek turned away, trying to ignore the flutter of hope at Stiles’ implication. Without Stiles’ voice to fill the silence Derek found himself more inclined to speak.

“There’s smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, and some red onion in that,” Derek ignored Stiles’ little gesture for him to come sit next to him and walked over to the row of windows, ”I could tell you didn’t like the chicken salad at lunch so I thought I’d try something different. I know it’s probably nothing like the food you’re used to so let me know how you feel about it and we can keep trying different kinds of things until you find something you like.”

Derek tested the wards on the windows as he spoke, as well as the ones on the sliding door to the balconies on either side of the room. Once satisfied with the security, he slid one window down so a breeze wafted through the space. Stiles was used to more open environments so a shift in the air should help him feel comfortable. Derek walked up to the bedroom area of the space and began puttering around, fluffing the pillows and turning down the sheets. Derek felt a little guilty, rambling on about nothing to avoid Stiles, but he had to keep his distance, at least for now, so he wouldn’t fall any further than he already had. He found two duffel bags at the foot of the bed, one with Derek’s own clothes and the other full of things the pack had donated to Stiles. He picked up the bag with Stiles’ things and began sorting it into the closet while explaining to Stiles the particulars of why his uncle built the Vault. He could feel Stiles’ eyes on him as he moved but he only looked up to check if Stiles was still hungry or if he needed more water. He noted that three of his own shirts were amongst Stiles’ things now. This morning it had seemed like a fine idea to give Stiles some of his own clothes but now he wished there was a way for him to take it back without Stiles noticing. Stiles’ scent was bad enough on its own but mixed with Derek’s it would be like Stiles was taunting him with all the possibilities. But Stiles was watching so he placed the shirts amongst the others in the closet and closed it gently behind him.

“If you’re done eating we should probably check on your back before you go to bed,” Derek said, pulling the bag of supplies Deaton left them that had been tucked into Stiles’ duffel bag.

Stiles nodded, placing his empty plate on the coffee table before holding his arms out to be lifted. Derek placed the supplies next to the bathroom door before heading back down to the lounge area to get Stiles. He tried to remain as unemotional as possible as Stiles wrapped his arms around his neck and Derek slipped his around Stiles’ waist and under his knees. Derek carried him to the bathroom and sat him down on the unnecessarily large marble countertop next to the Jacuzzi. He grabbed the supplies and placed them in a line across the counter as Stiles lifted his borrowed t-shirt over his head. Derek hadn’t seen Stiles’ wounds yet and he silently reminded himself not to cringe when he saw them. Being born a werewolf meant that whenever Derek had injured himself as a child he would just close his eyes for a few minutes and by the time he opened them all evidence of trauma would be gone. He wasn’t used to seeing open wounds, scars, or even bruises and the thought of them made him a little nauseous. So he centered himself as he slipped on a latex glove from the box Deaton had provided and began tugging gently on the bandages that wrapped around Stiles’ chest and up over his shoulders. He went over the instructions that Deaton had given him: remove the bandages and gauze, then clean off the ointment and any blood on the wounds, then reapply the ointment in a dabbing motion and rewrap the gauze and bandages. It sounded easy enough. Deaton said the ointment would speed up the healing process exponentially and Derek hoped it would work, Stiles had said that magic stems from belief so Derek tried his best to believe as the bandages fell away and the gauze remained stuck to Stiles’ marred skin. Derek placed his ungloved hand on Stiles’ shoulder to pull his dull pain as he pulled the gauze away, revealing two vertical scabs framed by a crossing of stitches between Stiles’ shoulder blades. It seemed Deaton’s ointment was working. Based on Derek’s knowledge of human healing times it should take significantly longer for the wounds to look so healed. But even though they looked significantly better than Derek had expected, the stitches themselves still made Derek’s stomach flip.

Stiles was human. He was fragile and breakable and if he got hurt again he’d have to be stitched back together. He focused on the back of Stiles’ head for a moment and just breathed. Stiles seemed surprisingly unaffected. He was sitting very still but not stiffly, his breathing was calm and so was his heartbeat. It was nothing like it had been the night before when he had smelled of nothing but pain, panic, and blood. Perhaps it was part of Deaton’s medicine or maybe Kira was right and Stiles was resilient, save for those few hours immediately after the event. Regardless, Stiles’ calm acceptance of reality spurred Derek on to do the same. He had a job to do. He cleaned the wounds as Deaton had instructed and reapplied the magic ointment with significantly more belief in its properties than he had had a few minutes before. Derek had to remove the hand that was draining Stiles’ pain as he moved to rewrap him in bandages so he worked quickly.

“Are you in a lot of pain?” Derek asked quietly as he worked.

Stiles shook his head.

“It’s less than before?”

Stiles nodded.

Derek finished wrapping and moved his hand back to Stiles’ shoulder. He wanted to say something else. Something about how this didn’t change anything, how no matter what Stiles would always be smart, brave, and ingenious, that, wings or no wings, he would always be extraordinary. But he couldn’t think of a way to say it that wouldn’t come across as pitying or as blind optimism, so he just squeezed Stiles’ shoulder as he drained his pain away. Stiles reached up and let his fingers brush briefly over Derek’s before turning on the sink next to him.

“There’s a toothbrush in here, and some toothpaste and soap,” Derek quickly explained, pulling open a drawer, “You can use whatever you want. I’ll let you get cleaned up.”

Derek made sure Stiles was in range of everything he might need before slipping out of the bathroom. Now that he was alone he debated pulling his own shirts out of the closet again. It would mean Stiles wouldn’t be sitting around with Derek’s scent all over him, but Stiles had seen him place them in the closet and might be suspicious when his set of eleven shirts suddenly went down to eight. But also Stiles might not have been paying that close attention when they’d packed for him and he probably couldn’t even remember which shirts were Derek’s so the odds of him picking them were smaller than the others anyway. After a few minutes of silent back and forth, Derek decided to leave them, thinking their absence too obvious considering Stiles’ limited wardrobe. So he picked up his own duffel and quickly sifted through it, making sure he had remembered everything in his rush to get his pack organized that morning. He was just patting around in there for his phone charger when a shuffling noise in the bathroom caught his attention. He looked up to see a very unstable Stiles sliding one foot in front of the other out the bathroom door.

“Whoa, you need a hand?” Derek asked, immediately jumping to Stiles’ side. Stiles kept shuffle-walking toward the bed so Derek just placed a hand on his elbow and left the other hovering around his waist in case he started to fall. Considering how badly Stiles’ first attempt at walking had gone, this was a definite improvement. Maybe now without his wings to fall back on Stiles realized that he had to figure out how to walk so that he could get around on his own. Or maybe turning human had improved his leg muscles and sense of balance on two feet. Or maybe he was just stubborn. Derek followed Stiles over to the bed and helped him slide under the thick duvet. Once he seemed comfortable, Derek grabbed his duffel and stood awkwardly at the foot of the bed. Stiles sat up. The little crease between his eyebrows was back.

“I’ll be in a bedroom one floor down,” Derek told him, trying to ignore Stiles’ surprise, “I put your phone on the nightstand so you can text me if you need anything.”

Derek took a step backward toward the door. Stiles’ brow furrowed deeper and he pointed at the huge empty spot on the bed beside him.

“I figure you’d want some time to yourself,” Derek went on, “and some time to really relax after the car ride which I’m sure was pretty painful for you.”

Stiles shrugged and pointed at the bed again.

“Are you still in pain? Do you need me to—”

Stiles was already shaking his head. His frustration was becoming more and more difficult to ignore and Derek knew that he was only making it worse.

“Then I should really go.”

At that, Stiles deflated. His frustration turned to disappointment and he nodded once before turning onto his side and pulling the duvet up over his shoulders. Derek watched him and felt his heart clench. This was all his fault. If he hadn’t let his feelings get away from him, he could be in that bed with Stiles, giving him the support he needed. Being his anchor. But right now Derek needed a little distance and Stiles was suffering for it.

With a heart full of shame, Derek left.

 

 

By the time a week had passed it felt like it had been a year. With the help of Deaton’s ointment, Stiles’ wounds had healed in four days, and Deaton himself had arrived on the fifth to remove the stitches. Stiles wore Derek’s shirts for the first two days, which was torture, and hadn’t worn them again since. The entire pack left to make their classes, but returned for the weekend, leaving Derek, Stiles, and Kira alone for the majority of the week. Stiles and Kira were making good progress into the pile of scrolls, books, and papers that Lydia had left them, at least when Kira wasn’t being distracted by an infatuated Scott, who had become significantly more invested in the whole situation once he’d laid eyes on the young fae. He and Derek both did their best to make themselves useful but all of the scrolls and books were written in various fae languages so there wasn’t much for them to do besides sit quietly and provide snacks. Stiles had improved significantly at walking and could now make it down to the second floor on his own before he needed a break. His regular bright personality had also started to return, albeit slowly and in between hours of moody silence. Stiles seemed to like fresh fruit, pasta, and cupcakes the best out of everything Derek had given him to eat and, even in silence, had managed to declare his deep and unparalleled love for curly fries. But despite the increasing normalcy, things between Derek and Stiles had grown tense. After that first night Stiles had made no effort to ask Derek to stay with him again. It took three days of Derek doing his best to never be alone with Stiles for Stiles to catch on and to move Kira into the Alpha Suite with him. Now, every time Derek entered to bring Stiles breakfast, or to tell him to take a break from pouring over Lydia’s notes, Kira was there as a buffer. Kira had also taken over tending to Stiles’ back and Derek found that there was less and less reason for him to spend much time with Stiles at all. Derek was honestly grateful for her presence. She did little things like line the windows with pine needles and dandelions, which made Stiles smile at some apparent inside joke they had, and hung a bundle of jasmine and orange seeds above the headboard, which she said made the room smell more like home. She also did things like take apart the bathroom faucet and pull the flat screen TV down from its mounting on the wall to “see how it worked” but Derek decided the spending his time fixing her little projects was better than sitting around doing nothing. So he remounted the TV, he fixed the blender, he jotted down a couple new ideas for his next book, he cooked, and he did not think about leaving his bed at 3AM to curl up next to Stiles. Not once.

But when something was frustrating Stiles, he would get to the bottom of it. That was something Derek should have known by now, but instead, things came to a head without him realizing it. It was Saturday, the 15th day of their stay at the Vault. The pack were all back from college for the weekend and Jackson had decided that Stiles needed some new clothes. Stiles was pretty confident on his feet now so, after making Jackson promise to go slow and take breaks if Stiles needed them, Derek watched Jackson’s Porsche drive off with Stiles in the front seat. He would have gone with them but being an Alpha separated from his pack for five days a week was beginning to take its toll. So he spent the afternoon sprawled across the floor with his pack alternating between cuddling with him and fighting on his stomach while a string of action movies played in the background. It was a good afternoon.

A huge, forty minute long debate between Indian and Chinese takeout was just coming to a close when Derek heard Jackson’s Porsche pull back into the driveway but he was surprised to hear three heartbeats leaving the car instead of two. Derek shoved Erica off him and swung open the front door just as Danny rounded the side of Jackson’s car.

“Hey, Derek!” Danny called, waving up at him.

Derek waved back and hurried over to help him pull an armful of bags out of the trunk.

“Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Valentino,” Derek read off the bags incredulously, “exactly how many pairs of designer jeans does one guy need?”

“What did you expect,” Danny said with a dimpled grin, “you put Jackson in charge.”

Derek snorted and then turned to Stiles who stepped out of the car and came around to Danny’s side. He looked relaxed, maybe a little tired from all the walking, but overall he seemed to be content.

“I hope you didn’t let Jackson pick everything out,” Derek said, “you might open your closet one day and find it empty because Jackson’s decided everything’d look better on him.”

Stiles’ mouth twitched into a smile and his eyes flicked back and forth between Danny and Derek.

“Says the guy who’s worn the same jeans for the past five years.” Jackson’s voice came from around the front of the car where he was picking a loose pine needle off the windshield.

“What? They’re comfy.” Derek turned and pretended to examine his own incredibly worn jeans.

“And they make his ass look great,” Danny added, giving Derek an appreciative once over.

“See, Danny gets it,” Derek said with a laugh, punching him in the shoulder.

Stiles’ eyebrows had shot up and he continued to glance back and forth between the two of them. Derek raised an eyebrow at him and the crease between Stiles’ brows made another appearance.

“Here, put your massive biceps to use for a sec, will you?” Danny loaded six surprisingly heavy designer bags into Derek’s arms and he pretended to struggle for a moment to make Danny laughed.

“Are you staying for the weekend or just stopping by?” Derek asked as he led the way into the Vault.

“Jackson said I could stay a while if that’s alright,” Danny replied, suddenly sheepish behind another few Calvin Klein bags, “he said I’d be, uh, welcome to stick around.”

Jackson was immediately at Danny’s side, staring at Derek with unnecessary force as they paused just outside the front door

“Sure,” Derek said with a knowing smile, “you can stay as long as you want.”

“Stay forever!” Scotts voice came pouring out the second floor window.

“Join our cult!” Erica yelled after him.

“I don’t have to be, uh, you know,” Danny began, through his nervous smile, “a wolf or anything, right?”

“Of course not,” Derek assured him, “pack is family. It doesn’t matter if you’re a wolf or human or anything else. We’d never ask you to be something you’re not.”

Derek refused to look at Stiles as he spoke, willing himself instead to focus on Danny’s relieved scent and hoping Stiles would get the message. Derek placed the bags he was holding on the ground and pulled Danny into a tight hug.

“Spend a couple weekends with us before you decide,” Derek said, pulling back and pushing open the front door to reveal several very excited looking wolves and one slightly confused fae, “and we can talk more about how humans fit in packs later.”

“Boring!” Erica sings-songed, “Come join our puppy pile!”

Danny was quickly enveloped by the pack. Derek resisted the urge to properly scent Danny until he smelled right, he should at least explain to Danny what being in a wolf pack meant before Derek rubbed himself all over him. Derek turned to pick up the bags again but found himself face to face with a very angry looking Stiles.

“Stiles, wha—“

Derek didn’t get to finish his sentence. Stiles grabbed Derek by the wrist and began tugging him up the stairs. The sounds of the pack welcoming Danny into the family were finally shut out by the slam of the sound proofed Alpha Suite door as it swung shut behind them and Stiles turned to face Derek again. Stiles was a little out of breath from being out all day and then marching up the stairs so quickly. Derek was about to suggest he sit down but the expression on Stiles’ face kept him silent. He looked angry, he looked confused, he looked hurt. Derek knew exactly what he’d done wrong, but not why Danny’s arrival seemed to have triggered this reaction.

“Stiles?” Derek asked quietly.

Stiles face pinched and his hands came up to cover his face as he shook his head. Derek was silent for a moment. It was clear they needed to have some kind of conversation, but he wasn’t sure how.

“Stiles, listen,” Derek began.

Stiles squeezed his temples, shaking his head again.

“Just for a second,” Derek assured him, “look I don’t know why you’ve decided to stop talking but I’m sure its for a good reason and I’m not going to try to make you talk if you don’t want to but I can’t just guess what’s going on. I need you to communicate with me somehow. Do you not like Danny? Is something else wrong?”

Stiles heaved a sigh, closed his eyes, and shrugged minutely. Derek closed his mouth and waited for Stiles to figure out what he wanted to say and how he was going to say it. He expected Stiles to start making hand gestures or mouthing words as he had the past two weeks, he did not expect Stiles to step right into Derek’s personal space and look up at him with those big determined eyes.

“Stiles?” Derek asked again as Stiles’ chest brushed against his own.

Stiles’ hand curled into a fist against Derek’s henley and the other came and placed a single finger against Derek’s lips. He tapped once, then placed his finger against his own lips and tapped again.

 

Kiss me.

 

Derek’s head was shaking before he’d even really thought about it. Surprise and embarrassment filled the air as Stiles began to pull away.

“No, no, no, no, wait, let me—“ Derek grabbed Stiles’ elbows and pulled him back against his chest and he sighed, “It’s not that I don’t want to.”

The anger was back. Stiles’ fists clenched and he threw his arms out in an exaggerated shrug.

 

Then why?

 

“It’s because I— because you’re so— I can’t just...”

Derek groaned. He was never the best with expressing himself but this was a new low. Judging by Stiles’ expression, he was equally unimpressed. Derek took a deep breath and started again.

“It’s not a secret that I like you a lot,” Derek said, eyes focused on his own hands still curled around Stiles’ forearms, “I think that was pretty obvious from basically the beginning but it wasn’t until you got hurt that I realized how much I care about you. It’s— it’s more than I have any right to and I can’t— I can’t let myself fall any farther for you than I already have without knowing what I mean to you.”

Derek finally made himself look back up at Stiles’ face. Stiles’ eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly open in shock.

“What I mean is,” Derek continued, “I need to know if you’re as serious about this as I am or if this is just something fun you want to try before you have to go off and marry some fae prince or princess because I honestly don’t think I could do that.”

Stiles continued to stare at him, his heart beating more loudly every second.

“I know you can’t really answer me right now,” Derek sighed, “so I think maybe we should put this conversation on pause until we can talk properly?”

Stiles looked down at Derek’s chest and he huffed out a laugh. He pressed both his hands against his face and let out a long shaky sigh before collapsing against Derek, who quickly wrapped his arms around him to keep him on his feet.

“Stiles? You okay?” Derek asked.

Stiles just nodded against Derek’s chest before Derek heard a little sniff and the air turned salty.

“Whoa, hey what’s wrong?” Derek squeezed Stiles in a tight hug, “you smell like… relief?”

Stiles laughed again through his silent tears.

“Why? What did you think I was going to say?”

Stiles looked up and rolled his red-rimmed eyes before wiping them roughly with the heel of his hand. Derek caught his wrist and replaced Stiles’ hand with one of his own, gently brushing away the tears on his cheeks.

“What did you think?” Derek asked quietly.

Stiles sniffed again and then nodded toward the door.

“The pack?” Derek guessed.

Stiles nodded then poked his own cheeks, giving an adorable impression of dimples.

“Danny?”

Stiles nodded again, then scrunched his nose and curled his hands into claw shapes.

“Danny’s not a wolf.”

Stiles nodded and looked awkwardly off to the side.

“Danny’s not a wolf but he’s part of the pack now,” Derek said, trying to figure out what Stiles was getting at, “and that was confusing for yo—“

Understanding hit Derek like a ton of bricks.

“You thought humans couldn’t be part of a pack.”

Stiles pressed his face back against Derek’s chest.

“You thought my feelings toward you had changed because you’re human now.”

Stiles clung to him a little tighter. Derek pressed his face into Stiles’ hair.

“Stiles,” Derek whispered, “you are clever, loyal, and beautiful, and you’re funny at least sixty-five percent of the time”

Stiles let out the tiny ghost of a laugh.

“That’s who you are and nothing can change that. You were amazing as a fae and you’ll be amazing as a human. It would be impossible for you to be anything less.”

Stiles’ arms found their way around Derek’s neck and they stayed wrapped around each other until Stiles’ legs started to shake. Derek silently picked him up and sat him down on the nearest sofa before sliding down to his knees in front of him. Derek tangled their hands together and looked up at Stiles whose wet eyes smiled down at him.

“I’ve also sort of been functioning around the presumption that you would be speaking again at some point in the future, is that true?”

Stiles nodded.

“Sometime soon?”

Stiles shrugged cautiously with an uncertain frown.

“Okay.” Derek nodded and pressed his forehead against Stiles’ hands, “However long it takes.”

 

 

“Deucalion is a malevolent demon who was imprisoned by a group of fae some eight thousand years ago,” Kira began, “We’re not sure where exactly he was imprisoned but we do know how. Stiles found the series of spells that were used to bind him and has worked out a way he might have managed to escape. But, Stiles has also indicated that none of this really matters. Our goal is not to re-imprison Deucalion because that means he has the potential to escape again at some point in the future, our goal is to kill him.”

Kira looked then at Stiles, who nodded for her to go on. It had been another week since Derek and Stiles had talked and since then their relationship had returned to much of its previous casual affection, except for the fact that Stiles now wore Valentino jeans that framed his ass perfectly and soft Ralph Lauren t-shirts that accentuated the breadth of his shoulders and the narrow planes of his waist. Basically Derek was moderately turned all the goddamn time and Stiles knew it. Derek could see the laughter in Stiles’ eyes every time he leaned provocatively over his desk to pick up a far away book or when he took a break from researching to stretch his hands high above his head, flashing Derek with a view of his sharp hipbones and, occasionally, the gentle ridges of his abs.

Today, Stiles had decided to get under Derek’s skin in a different way. He’d foregone the well fitting button downs and soft t-shirts that Jackson had gotten him in favor of one of Derek’s from the small pile that still sat in his closet. Derek had already left halfway through breakfast to will his boner back down but now he was sitting in the main living room of the Vault, surrounded by his pack, Stiles, Kira, Lydia, Allison, and a handful of other fae. Now really wasn’t the time to be getting distracted by how the lose neckline of Derek’s shirt was pulled a little to the right, revealing one of Stiles’ sharp collarbones, or how the hem had pulled up a little, catching on the waistband of his jeans accentuating his narrow waist, or the fact that the shirt was so infused with Derek’s own scent that Stiles smelt as though Derek had rubbed himself all over him, which made Derek want to actually do it more than he did already.

Cora pinched his bicep hard and Derek pulled his mind away from Stiles to grimace apologetically at his sister, who looked incredibly unimpressed and a little disgusted.

“We believe that a combination of silver, copper, and petrified ash wood will poison him enough to render him immobile and that decapitating him with a dagger dipped in hellhound fire will separate the demon from the host body he’s occupying.”

“Is there a way to remove the demon without killing the fae he’s possessing?” Allison asked from where she was standing behind Lydia’s chair.

“No,” Kira replied, “According to our information, the soul of the fae was destroyed when Deucalion took over his body, so there’s nothing we can do there. Once the demon soul has been separated it’ll be chaotic, well, more chaotic than it is already. It’ll try to find a new host to occupy but if the metal and ash wood has done its job it shouldn’t be able to move. We’ll be safe as long as we keep our distance. At this point, Stiles will engage. He hasn’t said what he’s going to do in order to keep his belief pure and the odds of success high, but if all goes well, Deucalion will be killed and his plague will stop actively spreading.”

“What about the fae already effected by him?” one of the fae Derek hadn’t bothered to remember the name of asked.

“Using Lydia’s preliminary research, Stiles has created a starting point for an antidote. We don’t know if it’ll work yet since we haven’t had the chance to test it but once Deucalion is dead the effected fae will have no master and, according to the documents we found, they’ll become aimless, making it easier for us to administer the cure. It’ll probably need some adjusting as we see how well it works and if it has any side effects but we’re confident we can get them back to their right minds.”

“Right,” Lydia spoke with her usual dignified grace, “so we have a basic plan. Allison and I will organize a more specific strategy for attack so we should be prepared to mobilize in the next week or so.”

“Actually,” Kira spoke up a little sheepishly, “Stiles has insisted that the attack occur on the next full moon, which is three nights from now.”

The fae shifted anxiously and began whispering to each other. Allison asked the man who had spoken before if they could do it in time, he just shrugged.

“And has my dear brother explained why this time frame is necessary?” Lydia asked, eyeing Stiles curiously.

“Um, he hasn’t.” Kira rubbed the back of her neck uncomfortably.

“I see.”

Lydia raised an eyebrow at her brother and he smiled back.

“Well,” Lydia unfurled her wings and rose, “We’d better get a move on then.”

With that dismissal, the fae began to filter out through the large balcony windows. Some went to collect the right types of wood and metal, some to procure the right dagger, and some returned to their temporary home up north, which had spent the last week and a half under siege by Deucalion’s poisoned soldiers. Lydia, Stiles, Allison, and Kira gathered around the table Stiles had covered with fae lore and maps of Northern California and began planning their attack. Derek turned to his own pack who gathered around him quickly, all eager to hear their role in this fight.

“Stiles and Kira figured out that the best way to get to Deucalion is to divert his resources. The fae army will distract his soldiers in open conflict while Deucalion remains in the fae capitol, which is where Stiles fought him before. So far, he hasn’t left that area unless he’s had a shot at Lydia so we assume he’s only really after the ruling fae. Allison will lead the fae army to fight while Isaac, Erica, Scott, and Jackson monitor the woods behind the fight to make sure none of Deucalion’s fae make it back to him. Cora, Boyd, Lydia, Stiles, and I will head into the center of fae territory to find Deucalion. We as a pack are completely off Deucalion’s radar so getting in shouldn’t be a problem. Then Lydia will distract him while we fight off any personal guards he has, get him in contact with the poison, and cut off his head with the knife. Then we’ll need to protect Stiles while he does his magic and kills Deucalion for good. Questions?”

“Yeah, uh,” Scott raised his hand over Isaac’s head, “I have a Spanish test that day?”

“The attacks not going to start until around 6:30, you all should have time to finish class and get to where you need to be before then.”

“I don’t have a Spanish test,” Jackson said, “Will you write me a fake doctor’s note so I can skip and have more time to prepare for my responsibilities in this battle?”

“No.”

“Fine, do you think Lydia would go out with me if I asked?”

“No.”

“Do you think Kira would go out with me if I asked?” Scott asked hopefully.

“Maybe.”

“Do you think that archer girl would go out—“ Isaac began.

“No, now go away before I tell her to shoot you all.”

 

 

The morning of the attack, Derek found Stiles sitting shirtless in front of the floor to ceiling windows watching the sunrise. The scars on his back had faded into two thin lines, barely visible on either side of his spine. The pale morning light made his bare skin glow like a raindrop in the sun. That was one of the first things Derek had thought about Stiles, that his laughter reminded him of a sun shower. Derek hadn’t heard that laugh now in nearly a month. It made his world feel as pale and cool as the sunlight.

“Did you get some sleep last night?” Derek asked as he sat down on the floor next to Stiles.

Stiles nodded.

“You ready for tonight?”

Stiles looked over at Derek. His eyes shone like pools of amber, his lips were pulled into a calm smile, and he looked more alive than he had in weeks.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Derek said, smiling back, “I still have your necklace, by the way.”

Derek held up the golden chain that was still clasped around his neck with fae magic. Stiles reached over and touched it, letting his finger slide across the smooth metal surface of the design.

“I thought you might want it back.”

To Derek’s surprise, Stiles shook his head. Stiles scooted closer, taking the small pendant and tucking it carefully back into Derek’s shirt before looking up at him with earnest eyes. Derek wasn’t an expert at romantic gestures, but he recognized a claiming mark when he saw one. He felt what was sure to be a dark blush spreading across his face as Stiles came even closer. He nudged Derek’s limbs around until they were wrapped around him. Stiles’ back pressed against Derek’s front and his head rested on Derek’s shoulder as they watched the sun continue is slow ascent into the sky.

 

 

Fire was raining down from the trees above. Flaming leaves brushed past Derek’s fur as he ran. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Deucalion wasn’t supposed to have this kind of power. But it seemed that he had learned from the last time the fae had fought him and he'd prepared. Derek caught a glimpse of something glimmering on the floor of the Fae throne room. He darted towards it, nudging the burning leaves away with his nose, knowing that any burns he got would heal quickly. It was the knife Cora had dropped when she’d been attacked. Derek clamped its handle in his jaws as he began to run again. Boyd was fighting off six fae to his right, Cora had four on her tail as she back flipped off a branch and over their heads. Some three dozen grey skinned fae lay unmoving on the ground, engulfed in the fire Lydia had started. Stiles was hunched in the middle of the room with a piece of chalk in his hand scribbling patterns on the floor. Lydia’s throat was currently being crushed beneath one of Deucalion’s ancient gnarled feet. Black ooze was dripping into her long hair as she reached for the cord of silver, copper, and petrified ash that lay just a few inches out of reach. Derek ran as fast as he could, leaping over Stiles’ head and charging at Deucalion. Deucalion raised a hand in his direction and Derek feigned left just as Deucalion swiped his long, impossibly sharp claws in the spot Derek’s head had just been. Derek shifted back into his beta form and dropped the dagger, reaching instead for the cord and flinging it around Deucalion’s skeletal knees. Deucalion fell forward, releasing Lydia from his grip, and screamed with anger, sending a spew of goo in Derek’s direction. From just a few feet away, Derek could see Deucalion in all his demonic glory. His grey skin was withered and bloated, yet the sharp protrusions of his angled bones were still prominent across his face, his left eye was no more than an empty cavern on his face thanks to Allison’s well aimed arrow, and his right was a glassy white against the black tar caked across his features. Derek shifted back into his wolf form just as Deucalion’s claws stuck through his shoulder, pinning him to the ground. Derek roared and twisted, letting the razor thin claws carve through him until he could plant his hind paws against Deucalion’s shoulder and push. The bones cracked beneath his strong legs and then snapped. Deucalion came crashing down as a Lydia grabbed his shoulder and dragged through it with the dagger, which slipped easily through the already broken bone and severed his arm from his body. Derek grabbed Deucalion’s limp arm in his teeth and pulled it out of his shoulder, he then bit down on the magical cord and pulled it tight around the demon. But as Lydia approached to slit Deucalion’s throat, his remaining hand broke free, slicing across her forearm and sending the knife clattering across the floor. Derek dug his claws into the ground as Deucalion tried to tug the cord from his jaws. Derek could see the cord turning Deucalion’s grey skin an angry red beneath its touch but it wasn’t enough. The poison needed more time to spread. Lydia darted for the knife, leaving Derek to handle Deucalion on his own. The demon hissed and sharp fangs grew from his mouth and Derek twisted out of the way, but not fast enough. Deucalion bit down on Derek’s front leg, making him roar in response, dropping the cord as he did. As Deucalion shook free of his restraints, a familiar voice cut through the chaos:

“Need a hand, Baby bro?”

Derek didn’t even need to turn around to know what Deucalion was suddenly faced with. Derek shook out his wounded leg and took up his familiar position low to the ground as Laura’s sleek brown form leapt overhead. Just the sight of her was enough to calm Derek’s racing heart. Liam and Suki came to flank Derek on either side as their Alpha dug her claws into Deucalion’s abdomen and shredded it open. What looked like gallons of black ooze poured from his wounds as he shrieked at Laura, swiping at her with his one remaining arm. Derek shifted once again into his beta form, grabbing the cord and twisting it around Deucalion’s disgusting shriveled body as many times as he could. Behind him, Derek heard Lee, Jordan, and Karima joining Boyd and Cora in their fight against Deucalion’s henchmen and Stiles, still scratching his chalk against the ground. Laura circled Deucalion and Derek as the cord turned more and more of his rotting flesh a burning red. Lydia appeared at Derek’s side and they waited until the demons screams died down and the twitching stilled, then Lydia grabbed Deucalion by what little hair he had and sawed through his throat with the dagger dipped in hellhound fire. For a moment, everything went still. A freezing wind seemed to emanate from the corpse, sweeping through the room and sending swirling frost across the ground and up the walls. The ooze that had been dripping across the floor moments ago was instantly frozen solid and the fresh blood that had warmed Derek’s bare skin was suddenly like ice. The only sound in the room was that of Stiles, still scratching his chalk across the now icy floor as if nothing was happening. It was up to him now.

Lydia and the two wolf packs backed away from the center of the room. Derek, almost unconsciously, slipped back in to his wolf form and padded silently across the perimeter toward Boyd and Cora, who were huddled together, nursing their wounds. They both settled into his warm fur and watched as Stiles stood in the center of the large circular pattern of symbols he’d finally finished drawing. An amorphous mass of crystalline air condensed above the frozen corpse. Its contents swirled slowly as if the air itself was too cold to move. Stiles faced it with a straight back and a steady heart. As he stared down the entity, white smoke began to swirl up from the symbols drawn on the ground. As the vapors curled upward they turned an icy blue, then a deep vibrant red. The cloud let out a shriek at a frequency that shot through Derek’s ears. Cora and Boyd shrunk into Derek and he tried his best to shield them from the horrific sound. The mass suddenly shot out at Stiles with sharp tendrils that echoed the demon’s thin claws but they seemed to shatter against an invisible barrier in front of Stiles. The claws vanished but the shriek continued, never faltering or pausing for breath, but Stiles seemed unaffected. The chalk pattern burst into flame that surrounded Stiles in a perfect circle and from high above them, the branches of the trees seemed to open up, letting the light of the full moon fill the open air of the throne room. Suddenly, Derek’s ears were filled with the whispers of a thousand tiny voices that were somehow quiet enough to still be whispers, yet loud enough to drown out the shriek of the demon. They chanted in an unfamiliar language as the amorphous demon was pulled across the fire of Stiles’ circle. The fire turned blue again as the demon became trapped inside and for a moment the world fell deathly silent. Then the cloud exploded in a burst of white light that threw Derek back into the wall behind him, Cora and Boyd crashing along with him. The light grew to the size of a house before enveloping Stiles completely. Derek’s panicked yelp was lost in the roar of the explosion, but as Stiles disappeared the light began to dim. Through it, Derek could just barely see Stiles’ form. He was shaking and writhing, clutching himself as his back bowed and twisted until finally he fell still. The light died, retreating into Stiles himself, until nothing but the light of the full moon filled the cavernous room. The cloudy mass was gone, the corpse of Deucalion had been blasted away by the explosion, the fires had died, and the frost had melted. All that was left was Stiles, hunched over himself on his knees, surrounded by a circle of black ash.

Lydia was the first to step forward, flying toward her brother with blue fae blood dripping down her arm and black tar still streaked through her hair. She knelt in front of him and placed a hand on the back of his neck. Derek wasn’t far behind. He ran forward, quickly followed by Boyd and Cora. Derek sniffed across Stiles’ skin. He was still prickling with energy and smelled of sulfur, sweat, and pain. Derek whined and nosed at Stiles’ ear. A shaky hand came up and rested against Derek’s neck. Stiles slowly sat up, eyes darting from his sister, to Laura, Derek, and around again until finally settling on Derek.

Stiles took a deep breath and gripped Derek’s fur more tightly before tilting his head up to the moon and letting the breath out. As he did, Derek heard the tearing of fabric and his own gasp as Stiles’ eyes flashed white and two shimmering translucent wings appeared at his back, lifting him off the ground to hover above them all. As Stiles glowed with moonlight the wolves broke into a chorus of victorious howls that was only broken by the beautiful shower of laughter that filled the air as Stiles finally broke his silence.

 

Derek could taste Stiles’ happiness in the air as he and Lydia flew around each other in a birdlike dance. Derek watched them spin and twirl around each other, laughing together and playing tag like children. A pair of pants hitting him in the face interrupted his thoughts.

“Cover up, bro, you’re flashing everyone.” Laura, fully dressed, flopped down on the ground next to him and he pulled the sweatpants on with a grumble before knocking shoulders with his sister and wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

“Thanks for coming,” he whispered into her hair.

“Of course,” Laura smiled as she squeezed him back, “I’m not saying I’m a better Alpha than you and that you should worship me for all time but we’re all thinking it.”

Derek lunged at her with a snap of his fangs and a deep, playful growl. Laura laughed as they tumbled around each other until Laura had him pinned to the ground and had taken a firm seat on his stomach.

“So, Stiles, huh?” Laura asked with a knowing smirk.

Derek rolled his eyes but did nothing to hide his smile.

“Ooh,” Laura sing-songed, “someone’s in love!”

“Shut up,” Derek grumbled, despite the fact that he was blushing furiously.

“Oh my god, wait, really?” Laura froze for a second.

Derek didn’t respond, which was response enough.

“Holy shit!” Laura bounced painfully on Derek’s stomach, “I leave for like six months and I miss everything.”

“Hey!” Cora shouted from the other side of the room, “Are you making fun of Derek without me?”

Next thing Derek knew he was being tackled by his other sister who wedged herself between them, elbowing Derek in the sternum on the way.

“God, why did you pick this goober over me?” Laura smacked Cora’s butt as she wiggled into place.

“Because he buys me smooth peanut butter when I ask for it, not that chunky organic crap.”

It was technically true, but Derek heard the slight shift in her heartbeat that revealed it for the half-truth it was and from the sudden softening of Laura’s expression, she heard it too.

“Aw,” Laura cooed, “you guys are so cute.”

Derek and Cora both turned on Laura then, working together to pin her down and snap at her fingers.

“Hey, guys?”

The three siblings looked up at Jordan’s call. Stiles and Lydia had come back to ground level and were talking with a bloody, but smiling, Allison.

“Oh, did we win?” Cora asked, bounding off of Laura who grunted as Cora’s knee made contact with her ribcage.

“Come on.” Derek pulled his sister to her feet and led the way to the small group of fae and wolves gathered near the entrance.

As they approached Derek caught Stiles’ eye through the crowd. Stiles was already practically glowing but it intensified tenfold as his face split into a huge smile. He flew up above the crowd then lowered back down again in front of Derek whose own face mirrored Stiles’ happiness.

“Hey there, Mr. Wolf,” Stiles said through his smile.

“Prince Mieczysław,” Derek replied with a polite tip of his head.

“Whoa!” Stiles’ eyes widened with surprise, “How’d you learn to say that?”

“Kira taught me,” Derek admitted with a faint blush.

Stiles laughed delightedly and Derek felt his heart swell at the sound. Without warning, he stepped forward and wrapped Stiles in a tight hug, burying his face in Stile’s neck and breathing in the sweet smell of him. Stiles sighed into the hug and seemed to almost melt against him.

“Derek,” Stiles whispered against Derek’s chest.

“Yeah?”

“I have surprise for you.”

“Is it a peach?”

Stiles threw his head back and laughed again as he pulled away.

“No,” he said through his giggles, “It’s something else.”

Stiles backed away another foot while Derek waited patiently for Stiles to make his announcement. But no words came. Instead, Stiles gripped Derek’s hands tightly and his eyes flashed white once more. Stiles’ wings seemed to fold back into his body, the bluish tint to his skin faded back into a human red, and his feet settled firmly on the ground. The gasps of the other creatures in the room faded into excited yelps once again as Stiles shifted seamlessly from fae to human and Stiles waited for them to calm down before he explained himself.

“I realized what Deucalion was going to do to me just before he did it,” Stiles said, “In that moment I started a spell, which linked us very loosely together. I was only able to recite the very beginning of the spell before I lost consciousness but that was enough. After that I needed to wait until I was back in proximity with him to finish the spell, if I said anything in between beginning the spell and finishing it the energy from the spell would be released and I’m honestly not sure what would have happened. So I waited, and then I merged two spells together. I finished the spell I started but I added another verse which destroyed his soul, but the energy from it was still linked to me so I channeled it through the full moon, like the first wolves did, in order to change myself into a shifter.”

“Holy shit,” Lydia murmured, “I always knew we were both geniuses but that’s on a whole other level.”

“Well, I had a lot of time to figure it out,” Stiles said with a grin, “and a butt load of blind, unearned confidence.”

“Well, whatever works,” Lydia laughed, “but what does this mean for the kingdom?”

“I’ll have to talk to mom about it,” Stiles shrugged, “but my focus has always been our relationships with humans and other magical beings. If anything, this opens a lot of doors for us in terms of access to potential alliances.”

“So, you just had a purely political reason for doing this?” Lydia asked with a knowing smirk.

Stiles’ eyes flicked for a second back to Derek before answering.

“Yep, totally.”

None of the wolves called him on the lie.

 

 

Things moved surprisingly quickly after that. Stiles shifted back into a fae to reunite with the soldiers who had fought for him. A message arrived from Stiles’ mother not long after, which said that when Deucalion fell the magic that had injured her changed into something more easily curable and she was now on her way to the Black Hills forest, where her husband had finally been seen for the first time in weeks. Lydia began administering the antidote Stiles made to some of the fae Deucalion had controlled, who had become comatose once he’d been killed, but she immediately noticed some aspects of the concoction that could be improved and disappeared to make adjustments. Laura gathered her pack and, after making Derek promise to bring his pack over for a double pack sleepover next month, headed home. Derek gathered his own pack and did the same.

Once back at the Vault, they piled into the huge living room on the first floor and curled around each other. Derek checked in with each wolf, running his hands across still healing injuries and pressing his scent into their skin with every touch until they were all relaxed, comfortable, and sleepy. He watched them fall asleep one by one until the only sounds he could hear were the beatings of a half dozen serene hearts. Derek nuzzled his face against Isaac’s bouncy curls one last time before gently extracting himself from the pile and slipping quietly up the stairs.

The Alpha Suite was empty when he arrived but he hadn’t expected anything else. Derek stepped up to the huge sliding glass doors and pushed them open as far as they’d go before heading into the bathroom. He pulled off his blood and dirt splattered sweats and stepped under the warm spray of the shower. He washed the blood, sweat, and tar off his skin and let the intensity of the day flow down the drain. By the time he emerged in clean sweats and a loose t-shirt the sky was getting lighter and a very human Stiles was sitting on the floor in front of the open windows overlooking the forest, watching the sun begin to rise.

Derek sank down next to him and let the pure scent of jasmine, rosewood, and peaches wash over him, calming his nervous heart and soothing his anxious mind. Stiles turned away from the sunrise then, facing Derek with all his attention. Derek mirrored him; turning so their knees pressed together and there was nothing but the cool morning breeze between them.

“When we first met,” Stiles began in a whisper, “I thought you were the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. I gave you that peach because it guaranteed that you’d have to come back and return the gift. It meant I’d be able to see you again. After that I thought all I wanted was some fun, that’s why I made up that dumb excuse about the weather being connected to the rot that weirdly turned out to be true. That was my plan when we nearly kissed in the Nematon. I just wanted you because you were beautiful and funny and I liked you. Then your sister interrupted us and I realized I might have been too quick with my decision. You were more intriguing than I’d given you credit for, so I decided to hold off on just trying to get in your pants and actually spend some time getting to know you. I think that might have been the best decision of my life. You’re sweet, patient, loyal, fierce, smart, generous, caring, and a thousand other things and I knew, months ago, that you could be it for me. But it wasn’t until that night in your house that I realized how deep in I really was. I thought, at first, that maybe I was so attracted to you because you were new and different and exciting, but then you got hurt and I thought it was my fault, but you invited me over and I accidentally broke your light and I was freaking out because I didn’t know what to do or how to fix it but then I looked up and you were laughing. That was the first time I saw you really, fully laugh with everything you had and all I could think was ‘wow, I want to see that every day for the rest of my life.’”

Derek swallowed thickly. His heart was racing a thousand beats a minute and Stiles’ wasn’t much better, but he continued.

“Then you went and treated me so perfectly for the rest of the night. You touched me so gently and you made me feel so safe and comfortable and happy that I hardly knew what to do with myself but I knew that I couldn’t let you go. I didn’t just want you for one night: I wanted you forever. I was going to kiss you before I left. I was going to kiss you like you’d never been kissed before. I can’t even describe how disappointed I was when we were interrupted again. So I gave you my necklace to make sure that everyone who saw it would know how I felt about you. Then, well, things got complicated. But I want you to know that I’m not upset that I’m part human now. I’ve always been fascinated with humans and their culture. I’m honestly pretty excited to see their world, not as an invisible observer, but as an active participant. I’m just glad I was able to figure out how to shift. I wouldn’t know what to do if I were stuck on the ground forever. But, to answer your question: I am absolutely serious about you, more serious than you can imagine. There is no prince waiting for me out east and my parents would never ask me to marry someone I did not love, no matter what the political gain may be. My choices are my own and I chose you a long time ago.”

Derek could hardly breathe. Of all the things he’d hoped for, this was far beyond his most indulgent dreams.

“You really— for that long?” Derek asked in a rough whisper.

Stiles hand came up to Derek’s cheek and Derek realized that tears were threatening to spill from his eyes. He blinked hard against them but Stiles just leaned in closer, sliding up onto his knees and then climbing over Derek’s crossed legs to settle into his lap.

“Yes,” Stiles breathed against Derek’s cheek, “I want you, I want the pack that comes with you, I want to kiss you goodbye when I have to go do prince things, and I want to fall asleep in your bed when I get back.”

Derek wrapped his arms around Stiles’ waist helplessly and buried his face in the soft fabric of Stiles’ shirt.

“It’s yours,” Derek finally said in a shaky voice, “anything you want.”

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

“I want to hear you laugh.”

That was enough to startle a snort out of Derek who looked up at the perfect boy in his lap with a sudden mischievous glint in his eyes. Stiles only had time to blink down at him before Derek had him pinned to the soft carpet and was trailing quick fingers up his shirt and across his ribcage. Stiles flailed and laughed against Derek’s tickle attack as Derek growled playfully and nipped at him with human teeth. Stiles caught both Derek’s wrists and yanked him down. Derek could break Stiles’ hold easily, but he didn’t. He let himself be pulled until he was laughing into Stiles’ neck and as he let Stiles catch his breath he ran his nose up and down the strong muscle, pressing his scent into the skin behind Stiles’ ear and at the junction of his shoulder. Eventually, Stiles hands found their way into Derek’s hair and his legs wrapped around Derek’s waist. Derek pulled back and dragged his rough cheek across Stiles’ jawline and up the side of his face until they were eye to eye with each other.

“Stiles,” Derek whispered.

“Yeah?” Stiles breathed back.

His brown eyes shone with laughter and warmth radiated from his glowing skin.

“Kiss me.”

Stiles smile widened and he didn’t hesitate to tilt his head up and finally press his soft lips against Derek’s. As perfect as Stiles’ scent was, it had nothing on the taste of him. Derek sighed as Stiles’ mouth opened beneath him and pressed him deeper into the carpet.

It was like the first day of summer, it was like the first hint of sunlight after a storm, it was like coming home after a long cold day. Derek groaned as Stiles’ hands found their way under his shirt and began gently scratching up his chest. He retaliated with a hard grind of his hips and Stiles’ sharp gasp of pleasure went straight to his dick. Suddenly, the air turned hot and desperate as the rhythm of their grind sped up and Stiles began pressing wet kisses down Derek’s neck. Stiles pulled at the back of Derek’s t-shirt, tugging it up and Derek got the message. He paused the thrusting of his hips to sit up and pull his shirt over his head.

“Fucking hell,” Stiles muttered to himself, eyes roaming across Derek’s body.

“’m sorry, what was that?” Derek teased as he leaned back down, “Did you say something?”

“Nothin’, your abs are totally average.”

Derek nipped at Stiles’ shoulder and he bucked his hips in response.

“Guess I should work out more, huh?” Derek muttered into his ear, wrapping his arms more firmly around Stiles’ waist and letting Stiles feel his abs clench as he lifted them up and steered them toward the bed.

“Fuck.” Stiles scratched his nails down Derek’s chest from his shoulders to the waistband of his sweats.

Derek lowered Stiles’ onto the mattress, pushing away the duvet and giving Stiles’ shirt a sharp tug.

“Off.”

Stiles scrambled out of his shirt as Derek kicked off his sweats. Stiles froze with his arms still wrapped in fabric and stared at Derek’s naked body.

Fuck.

“You know, you’re usually a lot more articulate than this,” Derek pretended to muse, “are you sure you didn’t hit your head? Maybe we should just go to sleep?”

“Oh, shut the fuck up you big ass—“

Derek cut him off with a biting kiss, which was undercut by the small chuckle that tumbled out of him against Stiles’ lips. Stiles smiled against him as Derek began to explore the new expanse of warm skin just waiting to be touched. He left little bites down Stiles’ neck and sucked dark marks just beneath his collarbones. He trailed his fingers along the soft skin of his arms and let his teeth linger on the deep rise and fall of his ribcage when he realized it made Stiles’ breath hitch. He licked from mole to mole, biting and sucking as he made his way down Stiles’ chest, across his stomach, and down to his sharp hipbones. Derek dragged his hands up the inside of Stiles’ thighs just to make him squirm before unbuttoning his jeans, or at least trying to. Derek frowned down at the little button and tried again, but it refused to come undone.

“Having trouble down there, big guy?” Stiles teased from his position on his elbows, grinning down at the top of Derek’s head.

“The fuck is wrong with your pants?” Derek growled up at him, not caring that he was pouting.

“They’re designer,” Stiles said in a surprisingly accurate impersonation of Jackson before breaking into giggles and pushing Derek’s hands out of the way to undo the latching mechanism masquerading as a button. As soon as it open, Derek pounced. He grabbed the waistband and tugged until it was stretched tight across Stiles’ ass and the inch of skin just above his dick was revealed. Derek pressed his face against it and licked. Stiles’ shivered and began tugging incessantly on Derek’s hair.

“Come on, come on, want them off,” Stiles groaned as his back arched against the sheets.

Derek quickly tugged the jeans the rest of the way down, pushing Stiles’ knees up so he could pull them over his bare feet before staring down at the mouthwatering sight below him. Stiles’ torso was covered in Derek’s marks, but his unblemished thighs opened a whole new world of possibilities. Derek ignored Stiles’ leaking cock and pushed his legs out to either side, spreading him wide.

“Der-ek” Stiles whined, fisting the sheets on either side of his head.

“I got you,” Derek whispered before placing a sweet kiss to the inside of Stiles’ knee.

Stiles had the most gorgeous flush across his cheeks and Derek resisted the urge to dart up and kiss him senseless. He had a plan and he was going to stick to it. He held Stiles’ legs apart and left wet lines of open-mouthed kisses and sharp bites up the insides of his thighs, pushing Stiles’ knees farther and farther up as he went. By the time he got to the place Stiles really wanted him, Stiles was shaking and trying to push his hips up for some kind of relief, but couldn’t because of Derek’s tight grip holding his legs up to his chest. Derek let a soft breath dance across Stiles’ cock and watched it jerk in response.

“Come on, come on, come on,” Stiles hissed above him, still writhing in Derek’s grasp.

Derek smiled and felt his own dick twitch as he leaned down and pressed a kiss to the head of Stiles’ cock. Stiles gasped as Derek blew a cool breath across the wet spot he left on Stiles’ skin and tugged Derek’s hair sharply as another spurt of precome dripped onto his stomach.

“God, you’re such a tease,” Stiles moaned as Derek let his lips skate lightly down Stiles’ length.

Stiles yelped as Derek sucked one of his balls into his mouth and slipped his arms under Stiles’ thighs, pushing them over his shoulders, and wrapping his arms up over Stiles’ hips to pin him to the mattress. Derek held Stiles in place as he took his exploration further down to the soft skin behind his balls and finally the tight hole between his cheeks. Stiles breath was coming out in little gasps now and his heart was racing as Derek ran his tongue around the rim of Stiles’ entrance. Stiles let go of Derek’s hair with a moan and spread himself wider, holding himself open, and giving Derek better access to his hole. Derek groaned as he pressed his tongue inside and Stiles echoed him as he melted into the mattress.

“Stiles,” Derek breathed between licks, “lube, bedside table.”

Stiles released his grip on himself to reach for the drawer. Derek took over, letting go of Stiles’ hips to spread his cheeks himself and continuing to press his tongue in the smooth, tight rim. It took Stiles a long time and several curses before Derek felt the bottle of lube tap against his shoulder. Derek didn’t look up or pause in his licking as Stiles repositioned himself, holding his legs apart as Derek flicked the cap open and coated his fingers in lube.

“Ready?” Derek asked, looking up at Stiles who nodded back at him with bright eyes.

Derek watched Stiles’ face as he pressed a slick finger against his hole. Stiles mouth opened in a silent gasp as Derek felt his finger slip easily inside. The soft morning light was getting steadily brighter, making Stiles’ sweaty skin glisten as Derek slid his finger steadily deeper and deeper into Stiles. Derek watched Stiles’ expression tighten and relax, his eyes squeeze shut and open to stare back at him, as he pressed in another finger and another. As Derek watched Stiles’ chest rise and fall he realized he could do this forever. Just watch Stiles being wrapped up in his own pleasure, see his fingers pressing in an out of Stiles’ loosening hole, feel as Stiles found his climax on nothing but Derek’s hands.

“’m ready, Der,” Stiles breathed with heavy lidded eyes, breaking Derek out of his thoughts.

Derek kept moving his fingers as he leaned back down to press a deep kiss to Stiles’ lips. Stiles’ hands found their way back into Derek’s hair and Derek twisted his fingers in the way he now knew would make Stiles heart skip a beat.

“Come on, Der,” Stiles whispered against Derek’s lips, “’m ready.”

Derek held himself up on his elbow and slowly pulled his fingers out, making Stiles’ whine. He pressed more reassuring kisses against Stiles’ cheeks as he found the lube again and ran a freshly slick hand across his own cock. Derek bit his lip and took a deep breath. He was already so close to coming. It would be hard to go as slow as Stiles needed while resisting the urge to fuck him as hard as he could, and he needed to make this good for Stiles. So instead of lining himself up, he wrapped an arm around Stiles’ waist and flipped them over. Stiles blinked down at him in surprise.

“This okay?” Derek asked, running his clean hand up and down Stiles’ spine.

Stiles nodded vigorously and scooted back down Derek’s torso and planted a hand on Derek’s chest to hold himself up as he reached back and gently pressed Derek’s cock to his entrance. They both moaned in unison as the head of Derek’s dick slid inside. Stiles held himself there for a moment before inching his way down. Derek bit down on his lip again and tried not to come. When the stretch became too much Stiles lifted back up, letting his rim catch on the head a few more times before trying again. Derek gripped Stiles’ thighs tightly to keep himself from loosing control and just thrusting up into him. He was caught between watching Stiles’ slack face as he sank further and further down, watching his own cock slowly sliding deeper and deeper into Stiles, and keeping his eyes squeezed shut so he wouldn’t lose his mind.

After an eternity of tiny, impossibly tight half thrusts, Stiles’ hole stretched past the widest part of Derek’s girth and he slid down the rest of the way with a startled cry. Derek fought to keep himself still as Stiles arms gave out and he collapsed against Derek’s chest.

“Der, you’re so big,” Stiles whined against Derek’s neck, “feel so full.”

“So good,” Derek whispered back, reaching down to feel where Stiles was stretched around him, “’s perfect.”

Derek kept himself still until Stiles planted his elbows on either side of Derek’s head and pressed his damp forehead against Derek’s. They stared at each other, reveling in the knowledge of how intimately they were connected and how, after all this time, they’d finally made it. After a long moment, Stiles nodded a yes to Derek’s silent question and Derek slowly lifted his hips up to plant his feet firmly on the mattress. He held Stiles’ ass in place above him and began to move. The first gentle thrust produced a long, deep groan from Stiles. The second was sharper and more desperate. By the time Derek picked up the pace and really found his rhythm, Stiles was a limp mess. Every smack of Derek’s hips against him was followed by a breathless high-pitched gasp right in Derek’s ear. It spurred him on in the best way. Derek shifted his angle, searching for the motions that made Stiles keen the loudest and grip his hair the tightest. Derek found it when a particularly deep thrust made Stiles muffle his cry by burying his teeth in the base of Derek’s neck.

That was the beginning of the end for both of them. Derek’s hips stuttered and he pushed Stiles’ back into a deeper arch, trapping his dick more firmly between their stomachs. Stiles’ moans climbed higher and higher, his body shaking violently against Derek’s before freezing. Stiles took in one last sharp breath before he clenched down around Derek and he came in long streaks of white across Derek’s chest with a long silent cry. He was still gasping through the last waves of pleasure as Derek snapped his hips once, twice more before burying himself in Stiles as deep as he could go and sucking Stiles’ tongue into his mouth. As his come filled Stiles, Derek kissed him hard, trying to mirror the intensity of his feeling with the passion of his kiss. From the way Stiles kissed him back and the way he lifted his hips to slide up and down Derek’s sensitive cock a few more times as the last spurts of come filled him up, he seemed to get it.

Derek let his eyes slide shut and smiled at how easily Stiles moved around him now. Stiles slid down his length once more before pulling off, letting Derek’s come leak out of him, drip down his balls, and onto Derek’s abs. He collapsed onto Derek’s chest and sighed as Derek nuzzled against him and pressed two fingers back into Stiles’ loose hole.

“Perfect,” Derek whispered into Stiles hair.

“Yeah,” Stiles hummed in agreement, “sticky.”

Derek snorted and slid is fingers back out, letting another wave of come and lube come dripping out.

“Oh, I’m sorry, is this helping?” Derek began wiping his fingers on Stiles’ ass.

“Ew, stop!” Stiles laughed, pushing up off Derek’s chest and swiping his hand through his own, partially dried come and smearing it around on Derek, who grinned up at him.

“Wait, you’re a wolf, you’re probably into this,” Stiles stopped rubbing his come around and blinked at his own, now very sticky, hands, “great, I played myself.”

Derek let his head flop back down onto the mattress and laughed loud and clear. When he looked up again, Stiles was smiling down at him. It wasn’t the huge grin from earlier or the bright laughing smile Derek had grown familiar with. It was something smaller, something private, something soft that Derek could feel echoed on his own face. Derek pulled Stiles back down and shifted them until they were both lying on their sides, eye to eye. Stiles tangled their legs together and Derek pressed in close, curling an arm around Stiles’ waist until they were touching everywhere they could. A breeze drifted through the open window, filling the air with the earthy scent of the forest, the fresh taste of morning dew, and the last chills of winter.

“Hey, Der?” Stiles asked, blinking sleepily.

“Yeah?”

“You cold?”

Derek smiled and pressed a kiss to Stiles’ temple.

“How could I be when you’re so warm?”