Peter is sated behind him, already moved on from post-orgasm bliss to indifference and uncaring, he can feel it. He sometimes wishes he weren't an Empath. Then he remembers it's the last gift his mother gave him before she died and he decides it's okay.
Or, well, not okay, but he'll live- he'll have something of hers to cling to.
When he gets up, covered in sweat and cum and slick, Peter just grunts, rolls over, falls asleep.
He's not in love with this man, though he knows him intimately and understands him better than most would, than most could, but Stiles had been lonely and he'd needed an Alpha.
Peter had been lonely too, Stiles felt it on him.
That they ended up together like this was simple, biological, and probably far more shallow on Peter's side than on Stiles'. After all, there may not be love there, but Stiles still cares. Kind of hard not to when you can feel everything everyone around you is feeling.
Peter shivers, there's a spike of discomfort, Stiles covers him with the blanket, cards fingers through his hair, and leaves him to take a quick shower.
After he sloughs all the grime and sex and salt off of his skin he stares at himself in the mirror, the hickeys, and bruises. Peter was unusually rough tonight, frustrated and angry and a little ashamed.
Stiles wonders if a case went wrong, maybe? He doesn't know, never asks.
Derek is glaring at his Uncle, whose prone body is hooked up to IVs and monitors, who's the reason he along with the rest of the Pack are stationed in a cramped room in a disgusting hospital that smells.
He knows he shouldn't be blaming his Uncle for getting into a car accident, but he's having a hard time with it. Peter's an ass, some part of Derek is wondering if this wasn't done on purpose. Some clever manipulative stunt.
It's only Mom, Laura and him right now- the Doctors had said that Peter was fine, for the most part, but they had no idea when he was gonna wake up. Honestly, that wasn't the most shocking thing the Doctors had said, no, what was most disturbing was when they revealed that he'd been brought in with an Omega, an Omega who wasn't hurt as badly and had left him to go do something that couldn't fucking wait, apparently, an Omega who had had a ring on their finger and was seemingly engaged to Peter (without any of the Pack's knowledge), an Omega who wasn't Kate (the Omega everyone thought Peter was dating and getting serious with).
Needless to say, everyone was burning with curiosity. Derek was just pissed, he may not like his Uncle much, but what kind of fiancée leaves their partner after they've been in a car crash? What the fuck?
Just as he's thinking that, a young man comes bursting into the room smelling of anxiety, irritation, impatience, and a hint of fever-heat, like their Heat has only just receded. He also smells amazing, and it's not just the pheromones (although that adds to it), he smells like blackberries and lakes and clay and lavender. Gods, his wolf just wants to wrap itself up in it and roll around and take deep greedy breaths.
Then he sees the ring on the guy's finger, it glints in the terrible overbearing light the hospital provides. It's like he's been dipped in an ice bath and he instantly feels guilty for having been pissed at the guy, for having had a weird primal reaction to his scent, because this is Peter's Omega. Who was apparently in Heat when the car accident happened, poor guy.
Although, this raises a fucking lot more questions than it does answers, because he may be an Omega, but he's a guy and Derek had no idea his Uncle swung that way. Not that he minds, Derek swings pretty heavily that way himself, it's just, how many secrets was Peter keeping from them? Because if his Mom's and Laura's expressions are any indication, they didn't know either. And this guy is so young, like maybe a little older than twenty, at most, younger than Derek himself, way younger than Peter.
The guy is staring hard at Peter, eyes raking over him, fists clenching and unclenching several times. He huffs, shakes his head, takes a deep breath, and then his heart stutters, Derek hears it, and the guy zeroes in on him with such intense focus that Derek kind of wants to run away, or maybe drown in those eyes, or maybe wrap the guy up in cotton and protect him from everything forever. Instead, wracked with indecision and overstimulation, his brain just shuts off. He doesn't know if he's thankful or mad at it for that, because that just leaves him looking into warm honeyed whiskey eyes which are as wide and inviting and beautiful as the day is young.
Cinnamon-spice attraction, tangy lemon curiosity, all wind-swept and coated with wild berries. The smell of him is overwhelming. Considering who he's engaged to, though? The influx of interest on his part is a little worrying and not something Derek wants to trust at all.
Laura is wrinkling her nose, at this point. Derek doesn't necessarily blame her.
His Mom, however, just gives the guy a sharp look before schooling her expression, standing from her chair at Peter's bedside and saying: "Are you Peter's fiancée?"
The guy blinks at Derek a few more times, as Derek consciously tries to melt into the wall he's leaning against, before turning to, for the first time it seems, take in Mom and Laura.
"Yeah, yep, yes I am, that's me. Um. Hi, hello. Sorry. Stiles, I'm um, Stiles, my name is Stiles. You're, uh, Talia, right?"
His Mom's eyes soften somewhat as the guy babbles, his voice is deep, as honeyed as his eyes, all intelligent-smoke and clumsiness. She smiles at him, small and motherly, "Yes. I'm Talia, it's nice to meet you, Stiles."
Then she's reaching out a hand, to shake his probably, only-
He flinches, like a full body jerk away, like he expects the contact she's offering to be painful, his heart-rate ticking up and his scent instantly souring, flush with an aggressive kind of terror that makes Derek want to whine.
Then, the scent vanishes, all of it, the wildberries and wind and lake-water and fear, covered with cold and ice and just the smallest hints of pain. Laura is staring at him wide-eyed and their Mother is frowning because everything about all of what just happened is so fucking wrong.
But Stiles, he just flails a little, covers up the flinch expertly, makes his heartbeat settle, smiles wide and open and takes his Mom's hand in his. If they weren't werewolves they might've even bought it, that's how good it was.
Conditioned, practiced and perfected.
"Are you alright?" Laura asks, because she's nosy, and because he's obviously not.
"Yes, I'm fine." Lie. "Well, I mean," he laughs a little breathlessly, letting go of Mom's hand, "apart from the whole car crash thing- speaking of, I'm so sorry I had to leave right after it happened, my Heat hit, like, at the worst possible time, but what can you do? Biology. Anyway, the Doc says he's fine? Just, like, a little comatose? Or, y'know, not a little, a lot, but yeah, he's healthy, just- not- not waking up. Also, sorry we had to meet like this, I swear I was planning on making a much better first impression, and oh my god, why didn't he ever tell me his whole family was beautiful? Like, you're all gorgeous, pictures don't do you justice, it's incredibly intimidating, and Mother Mary, am I still talking? Sorry, can't take Adderall for two more days, because, yeah. Biology."
By the time he's done talking Derek is gaping a little and wondering if he ever finds time to breathe around all those words, his Mom is full on smiling, with the beginnings of fondness in her eyes, and Laura is chuckling behind her hand, blushing unashamedly.
"I like you," Laura declares, "he can keep you."
"I think you're making a wonderful first impression, dear." Mom tells him, and he grins at her.
His scent is coming back, slow, tentative, still a little sour, but the ice, the cold shut-down of emotion? That's gone.
Derek breathes a sigh of relief before he can help himself and Stiles turns to look at him, still smiling, but- it might just be Derek's imagination- it looks a little brittle.
"And you're Derek, right?" He asks, soft, quiet, perfect. Derek keeps himself from breathing in his scent, tries to make his heart slow the fuck down because he knows he shouldn't be feeling anything for this guy, his Uncle's fiancée, a stranger he just met.
Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with him?
Derek just nods, his arms crossed defensively over his chest, and is surprised to see Stiles' grin become just a tad more genuine, his body tensing when he sees how it melts the honey in those eyes, makes them sun-lit amber full of life.
"I think I could have a whole conversation with just your eyebrows, dude," he says, and Laura cackles. Derek glares at her, is thankful and devastated in equal measure when Stiles turns and starts talking to her, too.
He tells them he knows them all from photos and conversations he's had with Peter and, oddly enough, google. Says he gets insatiably curious and researches everything and gets hyperfocused sometimes because of his ADHD. Unabashedly tells them he spent three weeks researching their whole family, asks if they know that one of their ancestors was one of the founding fathers of Beacon Hills along with an Argent ancestor, but that the Hales and the Argents had some sort of bad-blood going on and there was some kind of fued over the land and the Hales won and banished them from town, thinks it's oddly ironic that Peter and Kate are (were, he quickly amends himself, but the slip was there, and Derek can't help but wonder when, exactly, Stiles and his Uncle started dating) a thing.
He compliments them all at least fifteen times, gushing about how amazing Mom is at being a lawyer, that he's sure Peter wants to be just like her, that her genetics are amazing; he marvels like an idiot at Laura's tattoos, tells her he loves all the work of hers he's seen, says she's a wonderful artist and asks if she could look at his work sometime because apparently, he paints; tells Derek he might like to go to his gym/boxing club sometime, that his best friend Scott has a membership, that Derek helped the guy get first-line in highschool and that was awesome, they're both eternally grateful.
He tells Derek to use his words at least three times and in the span of an hour has nicknamed him 'Grumpybrows'.
He's annoying, Derek decides.
Laura and his Mom seem to be entirely taken with him, though, and agree immediately when he asks if he can stay awhile.
Derek kinda wants to punch him.
They spend the rest of the day seriously discussing the entire history of the male circumcision. In detail. It's gross. Derek's going to have nightmares.
They can't all hold vigil, not forever, anyway, and they all have jobs, but they're also Pack. The good thing about that is there're a lot of them- they're all connected- they'll all always have each other's backs.
So they take turns, tag in, tag out.
And everyone meets Stiles after awhile, because the guy is almost always at the hospital with Peter, though he goes home to shower and sleep and change occasionally. And everyone loves Stiles, because he fills the empty spaces with talk and he's always moving and laughing and he's filled with so much light and life.
Plus he smells good to all of them, not just Derek (although Derek wonders if maybe he's a little more ardent about this conclusion than the others are).
The fear strangled by ice thing has happened several times now, normally happens when he gets startled or when someone goes to touch him without warning, and, in a few cases, for no reason anyone could discern at all. All the werewolves have noticed it, the humans had no idea until they were told, because Stiles really is that good at covering.
Erica helpfully pointed out that Isaac was a little like that before they kidnapped him (not literally, it was all legal, Mom is a lawyer for chrissakes) from his abusive douche of a father. The Pack began speculating that maybe he was abused as a kid, but Mom shot the idea down, she's met Sheriff Stilinski (and they were all surprised to find out that that's who Stiles' dad was), "That man has a heart of gold." She'd said, and then ordered them with Alpha-red eyes to stop prying.
It was worrisome but it wasn't any of their business and if Stiles wanted to tell them, he would.
They all, very reluctantly, agreed.
Derek thinks Laura, Phillip, and Grandad are the most in love with Stiles, everyone else is fond of him, but those three get these glints of mischief and glee and adoration in their eyes, like they and he are thick as thieves.
And it's kind of a good thing, because it means they want to be at the hospital more often, and Derek doesn't mind anything that allows him to avoid the stench of disinfectant and blood and illness and death.
Still, he'd kind of like to see Stiles again.
No! he reprimands himself, because that? That is the exact reason he should be avoiding him. Having a crush- which, yeah, he does, he'd tried to stop it but then he started having dreams filled with pale pink lips and milk-white skin and moles and eyes all heated and husky and molten clay; he kind of gave up denying it, after- on your Uncle's fiancée is the worst possible sin and he doesn't want to go to the special kind of hell, so he's going to avoid Stiles and his endearing personality and his perfect smell and his fucking eyes like the plague.
Really, he is. He swears. But he's still curious, just as curious as the rest of them, so he decides maybe, maybe he'll snoop a little.
Just a bit.
Peter is sitting on the couch in the loft, looking at him like maybe he's an insect or a germ or something, and Stiles is kind of used to it. So, he just stands there, naked, cold but not shivering, he might be shivering if his body weren't hot from pain and tingly from the numbness that comes after.
Peter looks kind of like a poisonous snake right now, and Stiles wants to google snakes with blue eyes, find out if they're normal or an anomaly, find out if they're more poisonous than regular snakes.
"Drop." Peter says, voice quiet and deadly in the dark moonlit space between them.
Stiles hits the floor with a thud, surrendering himself in a perfect kneel within seconds. The hardwood scrapes his knees, the position agitates his wounds, but he doesn't really care, it doesn't matter right now.
Peter lost an important case, he's an amalgamation of rage and impotence, of shame and psychopathy and the sick devastated need to hurt and dominate someone. Stiles understands this, knows Peter has a hard time losing, knows he needs to take it out on someone, knows it isn't healthy or safe or sane but welcomes it anyway because Stiles needs to take care of someone, because he needs the pain to void all of the emotions everyone pours into him on a daily basis, because he wants an Alpha to shut up the Omega inside of him without being Mated to anyone.
This works, so he accepts it for what it is. He likes it when Peter gets him to go deep, it isn't easy, and it doesn't happen often, because neither of them trust each other, not really, they only ever allow the darkest parts of them out when they're with each other, they keep their joys and kindnesses for the outside world, hidden away from them here, in this place where sex and blood reign as some kind of twisted metaphorical emperors. But, when it happens, when Peter gets Stiles so far down he doesn't know what's going on anymore, it feels like paint, like watercolor and room enough to breathe and fuzzy images of his Mama and swimming in the lake. Nothing touches him here, in this lonely infinite space. Nobody's emotions but his own, even if his own are cloudy and pathetic and stale, at least they belong to him.
Tonight, though, Peter takes advantage of this, he fucks him raw without opening him up, he whips him until his blood is soaking the floor beneath them, he pulls his hair until clumps of it are littering the ground, scratches, roars and seethes. Now he's turning him over and Stiles is already coming up, has to because he's starting to feel that sick shiver-chill, because Peter is seeing red, he can feel the fury so potent it's overwhelming and as Peter wraps his fingers around Stiles' throat with another violent thrust, as his eyes warp and flash unnaturally and his face becomes like that of a demon, Stiles wonders if he'll finally kill him this time.
Kind of wants to know what he'll do with his body. Grunts as the claws start to dig in, the ringing in his ears barely keeping out the insults, the horrible barbs that catch on all his insecurities and rub them raw and---
Panting, fighting, scrambling away from the person whose emotions are crashing down on him- confused and concerned, worried and scared, maybe just a little angry (not angry like Peter, it's a different flavor).
He's coughing and sputtering like he's been drowning for hours and he's just come up for air, he can't handle anyone touching him right now, he doesn't know where he is, he doesn't know what's going on. How is he alive? The guy comes closer and Stiles falls on his ass- which isn't as sore as it should be, he notes- in his haste to get away. Quick and undignified he crawls backward, toward the wall, the window, clutches the curtains to himself, doesn't know if he's naked or not but wants to be covered, hidden, anyway.
He's distantly aware that he's crying, shaking, that maybe a dream can put you into subspace, subdrop, he needs to look that up.
Maybe when he calms the fuck down.
"Hey," the man says, a deep, rumbling timbre, but far away, echoey and lost somewhere, "hey, shh, it's okay, I'm not- Jesus, Stiles. No one's going to hurt you."
But Stiles can't breathe, he's trying, he really is, but his heart is thundering in his ears and Peter was choking him, choking him-- then this guy is here, his emotions thrumming and- normally it'd feel invasive, but it doesn't, because he's worried and scared and just a little mad but he's blanketing it over with calm and responsibility and protectiveness, and that's, that's really nice.
Stiles still startles at the touch, but lets the man, all muscles and strength and sparkling water eyes and hair like chocolate or oak trees, smells like rain and Alpha and home and safe, so he lets him take the hand that isn't currently scratching desperately at his throat. The guy whines and gently takes that hand too, brings them both to his chest, smooth and strong, a heartbeat under cloth and skin that's steady, not like his, which is beating frenetic.
Lake-eyes, Stiles thinks, because there are green flecks in the blue that look like fish scales. Lake-eyes tells him to breathe, imposes the notion with his dramatic eyebrows, breathes deep himself, asks Stiles to follow along.
"C'mon, Stiles, breathe with me. Here, like this: In, two three four, hold it, out two three four. One more time, there you go, like that, you're doing so well. Breathe, Stiles, breathe."
It takes awhile, Stiles doesn't really know how long, but as his lungs learn sense his mind comes back to him, wakes up, returns to sanity, tells him what the fuck is actually going on.
That day happened awhile back, and he was just dreaming, a remembering sort of dream, but still just a dream.
Peter isn't killing him, Peter's in the hospital, they're engaged and his family knows about him now.
Lake-eyes isn't lake-eyes, he's Grumpybrows, he's Peter's nephew, he's-
"Derek," Stiles says on an exhale, finally calming down, "you're Derek. And I'm- I'm alive?"
Derek doesn't say anything for a minute, he's alarmed, more scared than he was a second ago, his protectiveness is kicking into overdrive. Stiles is a little surprised to realize that Derek is probably scared for him.
"Yeah," he assures, gripping Stiles' hands in his, tight, rubbing his thumbs over the knuckles, "you're alive."
"And Peter?" He asks, holds his breath, knows where Peter is, knows that asking this isn't going to help the situation at all but- but he really needs to know.
"He's safe, Stiles."
"No, no, I mean-" he licks his lips, breath starts coming faster again, it was such a goddamn bad idea to fall asleep in the loft, he should've held off until he was home, until he was somewhere he could lock the doors and shut himself away. Fuck the fact that he was exhausted and he needed to feed the goddamn cat.
"Where?" He finishes pathetically. He has no idea if maybe he gave too much away, can feel an uptick in confusion, anger, protectiveness, worry, so much worry.
"Hospital." Derek breathes, soft, the word cracks in the air not unlike a whip and Stiles twitches, small and minute, but it's enough because Derek moves to let go of his hands, and. No. Just, no.
Derek is the first person Stiles has ever met in his entire life who smells like safety other than his Mom- even his Dad, who tries so goddamn hard, works and fights like hell for him, who he loves fiercely, doesn't make him feel-
Like the emotions of other people can't touch him.
Like Derek won't let them.
Like maybe he can do this without needing the pain.
And he doesn't know how or why because they've barely spoken to each other, and Derek kind of looks like he could kill you without a second thought, but he smells like wood-smoke and forests and wet leaves and the warmth of animals pressed up close during winter time, it's so much home and Alpha and kindness and safe, and it's everything he needs right now.
Besides, he's pretty sure he's in subdrop, or something, because his whole body is pin-pricks and cold-sweats and shiver-shake even though he feels too warm and queasy and off, off in that way that makes him want to not think, because everything is oversensitized and his skin wants someone else's skin, the air isn't enough or it's too much.
Not to mention, the instant Derek lets go of his hands his mind erupts, the floodgates open, whatever was keeping him focused and grounded is gone and now he's- he's floating away, he's everyone, he's the lady on the side-walk who doesn't like the sound of her own clicking heels and is irritated- the man in the apartment two floors down joking, humor laughter- someone having sex- someone throwing a punch- angerjoyshamehopeprayermeloncholydepressionlovefondnesshatredfearpainfearpainconcern.
He makes a sound, it would embarrass him if he could feel anything for himself right now, because it's like a high pitched keening cry and it's loud and needy and desperate. Then there are hands again, grabbing his, and he breathes a shaky sigh of relief when he stops feeling everyone and just feels Derek.
So much worry, the need to protect, fear mingled with curiosity mingled with dread and helplessness.
"Stiles, Stiles! I'm here, calm down, I'm here. What do I do? What do you need?" He sounds desperate and broken, which is weird because what Stiles is feeling shouldn't affect him at all. And even though Stiles wants, needs him, he doesn't deserve this, this tender sort of care, he doesn't understand it.
But he can't comprehend anything right now, he's delirious and on edge and he just-
"Alpha." He breathes, like it's the last thing he'll ever say, and he untangles himself from the curtains to launch himself at Derek, who was crouched down low in front of him. Stiles wraps his legs around his waist, his arms around his neck, noses at the soft skin under his ear, breathes in deep greedy gulps of him and hangs on.
Because right now? In this weird fever-haze of nightmare-fear? Derek is his only lifeline, he's absolutely sure of it.
There's a shocked intake of breath, and the body beneath him stills, tense and unsure and, he can feel it, really fucking confused.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he's crying, it's all leaking out of him, he can't stop any of it, normally he's alone when shit like this happens, normally he can suffer through and survive on his own, normally it takes a day of convincing himself he's real and he still exists before he can face the world again, but he manages, he's never let anyone see this side of himself, weak and broken and disgusting, "I'll be better," he whimpers, "I'll be better, I'm so sorry, please don't hurt me, I'll be good, Alpha, I swear."
Derek's arms, so soft, tender, gentle, the kindest touch he's ever felt in his entire life, wrap around him, hold him steady, rub circles into his back, fingers curl into his hair, rub up and down his arms and his legs, touch everywhere. Derek tilts his head back, gives better access, Stiles huffs in his scent, cries whiningly into his shoulder, hiccups through it like a child. Derek's hands settle, one cupping the back of his neck and its pair continually rubbing circles on his back.
The whole time Derek is whispering quiet, soothing, comforting, reassuring things. Lots of words, very little content, but it's nice, it's calming, grounding.
"You're good, Stiles," he's saying, and it makes Stiles shiver, a better sort of shiver, Derek pauses, though, freezes for just a second and maybe Stiles did something wrong? So he's opening his mouth, ready to apologize again, but suddenly Derek feels like blooming understanding and he starts cooing, "Good boy, you're such a good boy, you did such a good job. It's okay, you're perfect, it's okay now, baby. Just rest for me, there you go, good boy. My good boy."
It's exactly what he needed to hear, so he clings closer, he sighs soft, relaxes, boneless, pliable, and lets himself drift, goes under without much fuss at all.
No pain, just peace.
Sweet words and saccharine emotions, and he's floating again, but this time? This time it's not scary at all, Derek will bring him back, when it's time.
He trembles, Derek tells him to close his eyes, go back to sleep, he smiles and listens.
Derek knows about the more traditional roles some Omegas and Alphas fall into, he knows okay? And he's cool with it, hell, lots of people are cool with it, there's a whole modern subculture, and he even knows some people who are like that, Dominant and Submissive.
He's really fucking glad for that right now, as soon as he gets home, he swears, he's going to hug his dad for all he's worth and thank him fiercely for that extremely awkward conversation about what an Omega sometimes needs and how to do it right and all about Subspace and Subdrop and fucking Aftercare. He's going to thank him and then ask, as calmly as he is able, what the fuck it means when an Omega wakes up in Subdrop, panicking and fucking terrified.
Because that's what Stiles just did, he's absolutely certain. He didn't know at first, didn't understand, couldn't figure out what was going on. He smelled like pain and fear and nightmares, and he was running away, hiding like some wild, injured animal, then he was having a panic attack, and it didn't even seem like he knew where he was, couldn't recognize Derek until the very end, and even then he sounded, smelled, just, off.
But Derek knows he doesn't like to touch people, so he thought, since he seemed coherent, since he'd stopped scratching at his neck until it bled- Jesus Christ- but as soon as the contact was lost Stiles' smell became... he's never smelled anything like that before, it was like an artificial reenactment of every emotional scent out there, cloying and hollow all at once, and the sound he made? Derek won't forget that sound for the rest of his life, it'll be haunting him months from now, he's sure.
As soon as Derek had recaptured his hands, Stiles seemed to calm somewhat, but he was still... and Derek just wanted to fucking help, he's never seen anyone that fragile and small and broken, breaking. It didn't seem right, it wasn't okay, that it was Stiles, beautiful, brave, clever, talkative, hyper, annoying but endearing Stiles, who was like that.
He doesn't know what he said exactly, but something, it flipped a switch, and suddenly he had a lapful of sobbing, terrified Omega, and for a second all he could think about was Peter, and that his Mom was gonna kill him, because he was pretty sure Stiles was scenting him, and that's a big fucking deal for werewolves, but then, Gods, the things he was saying? And he was still so scared, so vulnerable, and it wasn't sexual or platonic, even, it was just, it was desperate, and he sounded like he was underwater, just a hint of slurring, of something else, and it wasn't Heat.
He'd just had a Heat, and he didn't smell like that, he smelled chilled and- oh.
As soon as it clicked, as soon as he knew what he was doing, he had him. Derek had never put someone down before, but, whether it was because of the situation or something else, he didn't know, Stiles went as easy as anything. Just a little, quiet praise and the man was under, melted into him, he'd sighed and become boneless, soft, pliable in Derek's arms.
Derek hushed him, he was still hiccoughing from the way he wept before, and then told him to rest, to sleep, and he did, no hesitation, just closed his eyes and started to smell like lakes and starlight and slumber and lullabies and tears, his heartbeat going slow-steady.
Derek didn't really want to let him go, right now he just wanted to hold him forever, wrap him up in blankets and silk and feathers and protect him from every horrible monster the world had to offer. But Stiles wasn't his to hold, no matter what had just happened. So, Derek carried him to the bed, silently wondered why Stiles had been in Peter's loft asleep on the couch in the first place, and set him down as gently as he possibly could.
Stiles stirred a little but remained in a deep sleep, dreamless, too, Derek hoped faintly.
He didn't dare leave the room, but he did step back to lean against the wall, keeping an eye on his charge even as he pulled out his phone.
Laura had had a boyfriend, once, who, even though they both presented as Betas, was into stuff like this. She would know what to do, he hoped.
Stiles drifted awake slowly, blinked blearily at the world, memories coming to him through the cotton-balls in his brain. He rubbed at his eyes, which felt grimy and swollen from crying, with his fists, sitting up and looking around.
He remembered what had happened, knew he'd have to thank and apologize to Derek later, have to cover the best he could, considering. The room smelled of Peter, which wasn't very comforting, but Stiles still managed to smile softly at the memory of all that Derek had done to help him, he needed to send the man a fucking fruit basket, anyone else would've knocked him on his ass and ran away.
And maybe it was because he was so used to being left alone during and after things like this that he was so startled by Derek coming into the room with a tray of food.
"Derek," he breathes, a little roughly, wide-eyed with surprise, "you're still here?"
Derek falters for a second, his eyes and emotions going dark before he shakes his head, shakes himself out of it, and walks over, handing Stiles a tray which is piled with chocolate, crackers, fruits, honey, cream, and peanut butter. There are two water bottles, too. Stiles sets it all on his lap, looks at it with no small amount of awe.
"Is that the first time that's happened to you?" Derek asks, still in that soothing tone from before, and Stiles looks up at him, he doesn't want to be, but...
"Why are you being so kind to me?" He asks, a little suspicious despite himself, unable to trust this charitability. Derek blinks at him, and Stiles cocks his head at the hurt Derek is feeling. Hurt that's quickly replaced by an oddly familial sort of horror that Stiles, just, doesn't get at all.
Derek clenches and unclenches his fists, scowl set firmly on his face, but there's always a scowl on his face, so that doesn't help much. Stiles, for the first time, finds himself wanting to be able to read more than just emotions from a person, wants to know why Derek is suddenly feeling worried and horrified and intensely protective and dimly curious, but in a way that says he has questions he isn't entirely sure he wants the answers to.
"Why are you asking me that?" Derek still ends up inquiring, although now he feels irritated with himself. Stiles is almost amused, almost.
"No one else has ever been this kind to me before," Stiles tells him, and Derek looks, feels, like he's been physically struck. Stiles is the more curious one now.
"Not even Peter?" Derek asks, barely more than a whisper, and Stiles, he doesn't, he can't answer that. He turns to the food instead, takes the water bottle, drains the whole thing in the space of seconds.
Lots of emotions roll out of Derek, that horror boiling down to something like rage, that protectiveness mingling with desire and soaring to the forefront of everything else, there's a little bit of guilt there, too, somewhere deeper, but it's as bright as anything.
"This has happened before," Derek concludes. Not a question at all, that.
"And no one was there," More of a statement than a question, but...
"I was fine," Stiles tells him, mechanically, automatically. Man, those strawberries are really something. Most interesting strawberries Stiles has ever seen. "I'm always fine."
"Okay," Derek croaks, but the word sounds like bile, like it clawed its way out of his mouth and it cost him everything to say it at all, "Okay," he says again, steadier, but not quite right, "Okay." he repeats, swallows, moves to sit on the edge of the bed, his back to Stiles, his hands steepled under his chin as if to keep them from shaking, eyes staring blankly at the wall.
"I'm going to stay." He tells him, no room for argument, Stiles can't quite help the joy he feels, the stunned smile that crosses his face. Derek turns to look at him with his nostrils flared, as if a smell of some kind lured his eyes away from the wall, toward Stiles, and Stiles knows there must be some kind of deranged hope on his face, because no one ever stays with him.
This is the first time anyone has ever tried.
Derek looks a little bit like someone just broke his heart, surprised and scared and so, so very sad, and Stiles doesn't understand, but it doesn't matter then because Derek scoots up the bed and sits beside him, tentatively takes his hand, squeezes it like he's trying for comfort.
"No one's ever held my hand before," Stiles says, staring at their entwined fingers with wonder, so quietly he wouldn't think Derek would be able to hear, but he must because he whines, low, deep in his throat, and Stiles can feel how much Derek's heart is aching, although he has no idea why, but he doesn't like that Derek is making that noise, doesn't like that Derek is in pain, so he looks up at him and offers him the brightest smile he's had to offer in, well, years, he thinks, because, damn, this feels nice.
It feels frighteningly close to joy.
"Thank you," he tells him, because he has to.
Derek blinks at him, his mouth parted, he looks a little lost, a little bit like he's just seen both a ghost and a goddess. Then he swallows, holds his hand tighter, clenches his mouth shut like he's grinding his teeth. His eyes look suspiciously bright for a moment, like all that heartache wants to flood him and pour out his eyes, it makes the flecks in his irises sparkle, remind Stiles of koi fish.
Maybe his smile goes a little soft and fond.
It's a struggle, but Derek manages to give a slightly desperate, incredibly sad smile back.
Stiles grins, because it's the first time Derek has smiled at him, and it feels like a victory.
And Derek, his eyebrows furrow, those tears look a little closer now, but he just rubs his thumb against Stiles' knuckles, almost as if to distract himself.
"Eat," Derek instructs, but the word is lined with affection instead of Alpha. It's nice. Kind.
Stiles does as he's told, and for the very first time, feels inordinately happy about it.
Derek is really, really hoping he's wrong. He's sitting in the hospital chair, watching Peter as his chest goes up, then down, his heart beat, beat, beating along with the monitor which is beeping a mechanical echo.
He's the only one here right now, he'd told everyone else to leave as soon as he'd entered, and Stiles- who had told him the reason he'd been at the loft was to feed the cat, Poughkeepsie (and Derek hadn't even known Peter had had a cat), and that if he didn't get some work done soon (work he'd been neglecting in favor of holding vigil over Peter with them) he'd get into trouble, so they shouldn't expect to see him for awhile. And since Stiles wasn't here, no one pressed to stay. Although he's sure that part of it was the look on his face, the smells wafting off of him- he knows he smells like despair and Stiles, he knows that they're curious, but he can also trust them to know that he needed a minute alone, despite their meddling and their nosiness.
He's also sure that if Stiles had been there they wouldn't have given two shits, they'd've told him to go wallow somewhere else, and, honestly, he's extremely thankful his family is so invested.
It'll make what he might have to do easier.
Besides, Jesus Christ, Stiles deserved, he just deserved so much more than what he was getting, what Peter was giving to him. He deserved love and care and a family.
Derek closes his eyes, feels the ghost of Stiles on his lap, smells his scent lingering on his clothes, mingled with tears and blood from the scratches he'd managed to make on his neck. He remembers the smell of joy when he'd told Stiles he'd stay, like sun-soaked sand and wind-swept willow trees, remembers the blinding smile, the first actually happy smile he'd ever seen the Omega give, all because Derek had held his hand.
He clenches trembling fingers into fists, he prays he's wrong.
Gods, he wants to be wrong.
Trepidation, dread, and all that has happened in the past 12 hours whirls through him as he takes out his phone, texts his Mom to come sit with him, they need to talk.
Please, he begs, please let me be wrong.
He doesn't want to hate Peter, he doesn't.
He's getting the sneaking suspicion he's going to.
Talia walks into the hospital room, getting increasingly worried, especially when she sees her son, who smells of hurt and fear and confusion- despair and agitation with the lingering scent of Stiles, though it's muddled with the salt water aroma of tears and the dilution of time- and he's just sitting there, hands clasped tightly under his chin, elbows propped up on his knees, staring at Peter with darkened, weary eyes.
She has no idea what he wants to talk with her about, but she's beginning to think it's important. Maybe life or death important.
"Derek, honey? What's going on, you asked to see me?"
"Mom, do you think Uncle Peter is a bad person?"
She blinks in surprise, he asked it quietly, tensely, like he's afraid of the answer. She wonders what brought this on. Licking her lips she looks from her son to her little brother, who she never could trust, who always leaned closer to cruel than kind. She pulls another chair from against the wall toward Derek's so she can sit next to him, Peter's bed barely a breath away from grazing their knees.
She heaves a sigh when she sits down.
"I don't think so," she answers honestly.
Derek stills, rolls his shoulders, closes his eyes like he's bracing for impact.
"Do you think it's normal," he begins, swallows thickly, opens his eyes, looks at her dead on, serious and... Protective? "Is it normal for someone to wake up from a nightmare in subdrop? For them to be utterly surprised when someone decides to stay with them and help them through it? For them to act like they're used to the occurrence or occurrences like it, and, more than that, they're used to dealing with it alone?"
"No," she answers, her stomach dropping in a sickening way, because some part of her has already registered the weird connection that Stiles and Derek inexplicably have; she knows that the scent clinging to him is Stiles and tears, knows why he's asking, telling her these things.
"No, that's not normal, but it's also complicated, especially if we don't know any of the circumstances involved. Waking up from a nightmare in subdrop can happen to an Omega, or a Beta, even, with an intense hormone imbalance- or one who's just started taking suppressants if the brand doesn't affect them kindly- or one who's started any kind of hormone or sleep therapy. As for this person acting like they're more used to dealing with situations like that alone? Maybe they hide it? Maybe they are used to it for whatever reason, and normally keep it to themselves, for, again, any number of reasons."
"So," he says slowly, his eyes moving back to Peter, "what you're saying is there could be a lot of extenuating circumstances and... everyone's innocent until proven guilty?"
"You don't think Uncle Peter would be capable of hurting Stiles, do you?"
She can't answer that.
He looks at her, sharp, understanding, dark. Nods and stands.
"Okay." He says, and he moves his chair back, walks out of the room, shuts the door behind him.
Something about it sounds incredibly final.
Talia waits until he's out of hearing distance, leans forward and takes Peter's hand in hers: "Little brother, if you hurt that boy, there's gonna be hell to pay."
She wonders what it says about him that she's even considering he might've.
Stiles remembers the proposal distinctly. He had never wanted to be Mated or married, that was part of the allure of being used by an Alpha who was already in a relationship. But he, more than anyone, understood Peter, honestly, he understood most people in a way no one else ever could, being what he was. But with Peter it was more than that. He knew all of the man's monsters and demons, he knew, intimately, of his darkness.
He knew he was probably one of the only people capable of accepting it.
So it didn't come as a surprise, to him, when Peter had summoned him to the Loft and he'd found the man there, feeling murder-fury, shame, bitterness, always so much rage, staring at the ring-box on the coffee table in front of him. He'd proposed to Kate and she'd denied him, and for Peter, who knew an Alpha his age needed to be married and Mated in order to really continue their ambitions? Well, he was frustrated, to say the least.
So when he'd looked up and trained ice-blue eyes on Stiles, asked through gritted teeth if Stiles would marry him instead? Stiles had barely hesitated. It's not like he was holding out for anyone, not like he'd fall in love anytime soon, not like this was something he'd survive for very long.
Some part of him wondered, even as he accepted the proposal, if a death sentence was what he wanted, after so long living with this power, after so long just barely managing at survival.
So he'd said he would never bear Peter children, because he'd never trust the man with the well-being of an innocent, and accepted.
They'd fucked then, a bloody, harrowing, give and take of their bodies until Peter didn't feel so much of a need to track Kate down and rip her throat out with his teeth. After, while Peter slept and Stiles felt cold and a little trapped and raw and shaky, he'd crept downstairs and put the ring on.
There was very little ceremony. Then again, with them, as they were, there needn't be.
So when asked by a very excited Laura Hale, who'd invited him out for coffee, and was perusing some of his sketches with giddiness and pride humming through her, how Peter had proposed-
Well, he'd blanked, just a little. Managed to offer his best smile, and said, "He just asked."
It was the truth, anyway. Laura had looked at him a little strangely, then, before thankfully letting it go.
The whole gallery smelled like paint and lake-water, like starlight singing against wildberries and wind-swept willow trees. A happy and tired Stiles sort of smell.
Derek was smiling before he could help himself.
Most of the Pack had been astonished to learn that Stiles, who had told them that day they met- a month ago, now- while he was complimenting Laura's tattoos, that he was a fellow artist, was actually a pretty big deal.
Not exactly famous, but close enough. He sells his pieces under the moniker Mischief, and his paintings are considered the work of a prodigy. And seeing them now, even displayed under artificial yellows and blues as they are? Derek can understand why.
The emotions weaved through vicious lines and gentle angles and bubbly beauty and ugly violence, the chaos of purity, glorious in it's complexity and abstraction. The awe of it is more than a little breathtaking.
It's kind of an honor, he thinks, to have been invited as a family for a private viewing before all of the pieces get auctioned off and sold. It also makes the having very flexible schedule whilst also having deadlines thing make more sense. Derek can't hide the grin he feels when Laura starts bemoaning her own skill and shrieking at every single wonderous work, like she can't even help herself.
"Never took you for a fangirl!" Derek calls when she runs across the hall squealing about a painting that looks like wolves chasing after a single arrow pierced bird that seems to be just barely staying ahead of their snapping jaws with fierce determination in its eyes.
"Oh my god, oh my god!" She crows, "Stiles!!!!"
Derek, Granddad, and Mom are all laughing at her now, as she jumps up and down before running over to the next thing that catches her eye, like a kid in a fucking candy store. Stiles, who had been talking to his Art Dealer somewhere in the back, must hear her because he comes out hurriedly looking tired and a little worried and asking:
"Laura? What's wrong?"
Laura, who has no self-control, just glomps him. They all freeze, breathe through panic crushed by ice and then a stilted-suppressed nothing before they're all overwhelmed with, surprisingly enough, the meatiest juice of berries and fruits, all star-sparkling lake water and fresh, warm clay, clean, earthy wind, surrounding them and cutting into the stench of paint.
The smell is so strong, no one he's ever met has been capable of smelling so strongly of something that it permeates the whole of the space around them so completely. And he has the sneaking suspicion that that's joy, that's Stiles exhilarated, delighted, joyful.
It's the best fucking thing he's ever encountered, it's practically orgasmic.
And Stiles? He just makes it that much worse by throwing his head back and laughing like birdsong and windchimes while he swings Laura around like she doesn't weigh a thing.
"You like it?" He asks, all glee and insecurity.
"Of course I like it! Stiles. Stiles, this is amazing!"
Stiles swings her around once more to her utter delight before setting her down and untangling them, then, with eyes unusually bright, scent still soaring, softly, he murmurs: "I'm glad you think so."
"Did you really have any doubt I would? I mean, Gods, Stiles, you're a genius."
He beams at her, inordinately pleased by the compliment, and Derek wonders what others must've said about his art for him to act as such. Wonders what Peter thought of it. But he won't ask, he's too worried that asking about that would ruin this moment, a moment he wants to capture in vivid technicolor and frame, because there he is, smiling at the rest of the Pack the way he smiled at Derek when Derek held his hand.
Gorgeous, blinding, pure, innocent, immaculate.
It's only the second time he's seen it, but it's the first time everyone else has, and he's sure he doesn't miss the slight frown Granddad sends his way before the rest of them smile back. Derek kind of wants to know if it's possible to smell like happy and heart-ache about something at the same time, wonders if he smells like that right now.
Because it really shouldn't be this hard to coax that kind of smile out of him. It should come easy. Derek really hates with a fervor that it doesn't.
He wanders around, content to have the smell, overwhelmingly intense as it is, and the distant talk, without actually keeping Stiles to himself. It's nice, wonderful, really, to see Stiles talking to all of the Pack together, somehow it feels like home, even more so than usual when the Pack comes together.
There's something comforting about it, he can feen his wolf settle and sigh within him, knows he's smiling, small and secret, as he looks at the paintings, as he listens, as he breathes. Can't help himself. It's that fuzzy sort of happy that goes deep, makes you want to be slow and quiet for awhile, because you know everyone you love is together and around you and safe and, probably, just as happy.
He freezes, staring at a painting of something wild, some sort of demon tangled in roots and flowers and sunlight, trying at the harrowing endeavor of getting free, with a ghost just out of sight wrapping it's hands tight around his, desperately trying to pull.
I love him, he thinks, swallowing, and he lets the tears that come with that realization, the tears that take him because that painting is the biggest one here and it's titled 'Escape' and it feels like some terrified and lonely sort of scream trapped in acrylic stained canvas, he lets them come.
He stays quiet like that for a few minutes, just looking at it because he can't help himself, then he swallows, sighs, wipes the tears away and returns to the rest of them. Savors the conversation, relishes the hug Stiles offers before they leave, scents him because he's too desperate not to, studiously ignores the rest of his family until he can escape them after.
They know he'd cried, know what bad etiquette it is to scent your Uncle's Fiancée, know what he smells like. He doesn't need to tell them anything.
He doesn't really want to.
"You don't like blueberries?" Derek asks one day.
They're both at the loft because, well, it's owned by their family more than Peter, though Peter is the one who lives there, and Stiles comes by most afternoons to feed and water Poughkeepsie, and clean the litter-box. On the days that he can't he usually texts Derek because, as far as he knows, Derek is there almost as often as he is.
Because Derek wants to see, to smell, to be around Stiles without his family, his Pack, to disturb them. And yes, that's selfish and it's wrong, but he doesn't care. He'll never act on how he feels, but it's not like tucking it away is going to make him stop feeling it, it'll only cause him pain.
If anyone asks, he'll tell them.
If Stiles asks, he'll tell him.
He's in love, and it'll never come to fruition, but it feels as wonderful as it aches, and he's not going to ignore it for Peter's sake.
For now, though, no one has asked, which is astonishing considering how nosey the Pack normally is, he kind of wonders why. But, still, no one has asked, and he's let himself be as close to Stiles as Stiles will allow.
They're only friends, they'll only ever be friends, and that kind of kills him, but, he thinks, as long as Stiles can keep smiling like that? Like he is right now? Yeah, Derek can accept it.
"No," Stiles huffs, "honestly, most berries aren't really my thing, well, except for strawberries, but, even then, only with whipped cream."
"Well... it's just, you smell like-"
"Wait, I smell like blueberries?" Stiles asks, half incredulous, half horrified, "Ew, gross! And, hey, my smell doesn't have anything to do with my taste-buds, I mean, you smell like petrichor and woods and shit, I don't see you going around eating wet bark or- wait, do you eat wet bark? Because that- that's so much worse than blueberries, I gotta tell you, Der."
Derek doesn't think he's ever laughed this much in his life, he's doubled over practically wheezing with it, and Stiles is just grinning at him with mischief twinkling in his sun-soaked amber eyes.
Derek can't help but thinking the moniker he uses for his paintings is dead-on, though he kind of wonders why he chose it, so he asks, a little later, when his lungs decide they can start working again and his cheeks feel like they're about to fall off.
"My birth name," Stiles tells him, sitting on the floor and petting the fluffy, glossy coat of one little black cat with mismatched gold and green eyes, she's got a white tipped tail but other than that she's the cutest little shadow in the world, "I couldn't pronounce it well when I was little, so I'd end up saying mischief, and my mom went along with it, much to my dad's exasperation. It's still one of the best memories I have of her."
"Sorry," Derek says, because he doesn't know what it's like to lose a parent, but he can smell it in the air, the bittersweet grit-dry crumbling clay scent of loss that invades the wind-swept willows and twilight lake water of pleased Omega, just from talking about her.
Stiles smiles something small and a little sad at him.
"It's okay," Stiles assures, just as Poughkeepsie finds she's quite done with all of the attention and swats him before sauntering off, Stiles huffs, then shakes his head, "it was a long time ago."
They're both sitting on the hardwood with their backs resting against the couch, the coffee table moved a little ways away from them to make room. The wall in front of them is brick and time, interesting in its own right, and there's a flat screen hanging there that doesn't look like it's been turned on in forever. Derek wonders for a brief moment how Stiles would react to the proposition of them watching TV together, decides that might be pushing his luck and puts the thought away for another time.
They're sitting companionably close, not close enough in Derek's opinion, but he can feel the heat of Stiles' body, barely a breath away from his, and thinks it might be too close by anyone else's standards.
He clears his throat softly. Stiles hums, questioning.
"So, your real name?"
"You're not allowed to laugh."
"I would never."
Stiles punches his arm, "Ow! What're you made out of?" He shrieks, cradling the offending hand.
Derek just laughs harder.