The phone rings and Stiles winces. It could be work, a new client. Or it could be another debt collector. He's hoping for the former, but it's probably the latter. He answers — he can always hang up if it's about one of their overdue accounts.
"Stilinski Investigations," he says in his most professional voice. "This is Stiles speaking."
There's a pause, then a woman's voice comes over the line. "My name is Laura Hale, and I'd like to make an appointment to speak with… someone."
The name sounds somewhat familiar, but Stiles can't place it. "Okay, we can do that," he says. He grabs his planner off the desk and looks it over. The only thing on it is his hours at the nursery. His father lost his nighttime security job last week and hasn't found anything new. The investigation thing hasn't really taken off yet, at least not legitimately, and their borrowed startup money is dwindling. Most of the cases they get need Stiles's expertise, not his dad's. (Though really, he's not much of an expert. He's a dabbler and he's learning as he goes along.) "When would you like to come in? I have an opening tomorrow evening-"
"Can I come in today?" Laura asks.
Stiles blinks. He'll be elbow deep in compost in a few hours, but… "If you can make it in before noon, we can see you."
"I can be there in an hour," Laura says.
Desperate. Cheating spouse? Missing spouse? "Okayyyy. My dad will be in by then, so sure. Can you tell me what this is about just so I know what to expect?"
"I'm trying to find my brother. He went missing nine years ago." There's a pause, and Stiles nods even though she can't see him. But then she goes on with, "I heard you're good with scrying."
Oh. Oh. It's going to be one of those cases. Stiles starts to feel a little better about it, now. He may not be as good as his dad (yet) with the mundane cases, but he's been doing pretty well with the supernatural ones. He flies by the seat of his pants most times, but he's picked up a lot over the years. He always has better luck when he can use magic, or when it's expected of him.
"Are you?" Laura asks, and Stiles realizes he was thinking rather than talking.
"You called the right place. I'm great with scrying."
"Good, because not even our emissary has been able to find my brother."
Stiles tries not to feel anxious when he hears that. The difficulty level has just been upped, and now he knows he'll be working for a werewolf.
"I'll see you in an hour," Stiles tells her, trying to keep the nervousness out of his voice. He hopes he succeeds.
Stiles makes coffee, tidies his desk, and changes his shirt into one with fewer wrinkles. His dad looks more professional, dressed in a button shirt and a tie. It's not the same as a uniform, but he still has an air of authority about him even though he hasn't been a LEO in years.
"Does the name Laura Hale mean anything to you?" Stiles asks his dad as they wait.
His father's gaze goes sharp. "Hale does. There was a family in Beacon Hills named Hale, and I think Laura was the name of one of the kids. You said she's looking for her brother?"
"Yeah. A missing person's case."
"Nine years ago?"
"How'd you know?" Stiles asks.
"I remember it. Derek Hale, fifteen-year-old white male, went missing one night in the Preserve. Last person to see him was his girlfriend. His family was adamant he wasn't dead, but there was no sign of him at all."
"He's not dead," Stiles says absently. "His sister is a werewolf. Pack bonds are pretty clear — she'd know if her brother died."
His dad tilts his head. He's got his thinking face on. "Just the sister is a werewolf?"
"Guess we'll find out soon enough," Stiles says. He looks up as two overly-attractive people walk through the office door.
The woman speaks first. "I'm Laura, this is Peter." She's not tall, per se, but she has a commanding presence Stiles can't deny. If he couldn't tell from her energy that she was a beta, he'd swear she was an alpha.
Beside her, her companion offers a smile, but it's more a baring of teeth than a pleasant greeting. His eyes are sharp as he looks around the room, and when they land on Stiles's dad, he dips his head. "Deputy Stilinski?"
"Peter Hale," his dad says. "I'm not a deputy anymore. You can call me John."
"You know them?" Laura asks Peter.
"The Stilinskis used to live in Beacon Hills," Peter says. "A rather interesting coincidence, I think."
"Come sit down, and we'll discuss the case," John says. "Stiles handles all the magic, but you'd be surprised how much mundane detective work can help even the oddest supernatural problems."
Not to mention, Stiles isn't even really a private detective. In New York, you have to be twenty-five to get your investigator license. Stiles still has a few years to go.
Everyone sits but Stiles, who prefers to just lean against his dad's desk, soaking up every word and taking notes.
"How long have you known about the supernatural?" Peter asks them. "It would have had to have been after you left Beacon Hills."
John nods. "Stiles's magic manifested when he was sixteen."
Peter's eyes go sharp again, zeroing in on Stiles. Stiles shrugs. "It's helpful with the supernatural cases." He hopes that downplaying his abilities will work. He even does it with his dad, hasn't really explained what being a Spark means, and he's not going to mention the word with people in the know. People treat him differently when they find out. "What are you doing in New York, anyway?"
"I go to school here," Laura says. "I heard a rumor about your scrying skills and Peter flew over to check you out."
"I can't make any promises," Stiles says, "but I'll do my best." He knows his best is pretty good, despite his lack of formal training.
"I remember when Derek went missing," John says then. He leans back in his chair. "But it's been awhile so if you could go over everything with me again, that'd be great."
Peter takes a file out of his briefcase. "This is everything we have."
"When can you get to work on it?" Laura asks Stiles.
Stiles has to be at work in two hours. After that, he'll be free. "Tonight."
"Call us the moment you have something," Peter says.
"It doesn't matter what time it is," Laura adds. "Just call."
Stiles has no formal training. Everything he knows how to do he learned from the internet and movies about the occult. Hey, some of them have good ideas! And a crystal ball is a classic, okay? It was cheap, too. He found it at the nursery in the lawn ornament section. He got his employee discount, plus it was on clearance.
He lights some candles for ambiance (buy one get one free at the discount supermarket), sits cross-legged on the floor, and looks into the crystal ball.
"Derek Hale," he whispers. And then he does the most important thing, the action that makes everything work the best, and believes. He believes he'll find the missing boy.
Well, Derek Hale won't be a boy anymore. He may have disappeared when he was fifteen, but he'll be twenty-four now. Older than Stiles, even. He has a picture of Derek from the time of his disappearance, but he's not sure how much good it will do. Nine years is a long time.
His eyes burn as he gazes into the crystal ball. His hands are a little sweaty, and the smooth surface is getting damp. He doesn't see anything at first. But then the clouds part and he sees something in the mist.
A tree. A big honking oak tree.
The longer he looks into the glass (because let's face it, that's all it is, nothing mystical about it), the clearer the picture becomes. There's a full moon in the sky overhead, which makes sense because of the werewolves. And then a wolf's head peeks out of the tree.
Stiles squints because he's not sure what he's seeing. Well, he's sure but… is that possible? Maybe it's a metaphor. Maybe he's seeing something he has to interpret, though that's only happened to him rarely. Only once before, actually, when-
Just like that, his attention is shot, and the crystal ball goes back to being a piece of cheap glass again. He sighs and puts it down, then grabs his notebook to write down what he saw. He doesn't leave out anything, just in case a detail means something important.
Should he call the Hales? It's not much to go on. He shrugs and turns on the lamp, blowing out the candles.
In the living room, his dad is watching baseball with a can of beer in his hand. John looks up, inquisitive. "Anything?"
"Maybe," Stiles says. "I don't know if they'll pay us anything for it."
"They paid up front," John reminds him. "More than we asked for."
Stiles nods. "Well. I guess I'll call Laura, see if she can make any sense out of what I saw."
"What did you see?" John asks.
"I'm not really sure." He sighs. "I wish I had some Adderall. It's hard to concentrate without it."
His dad makes a guilty face. "I didn't think about getting your prescription filled. I got us some groceries while you were at work and-"
"I know, Dad," Stiles says. "Do we have enough to get some, though? I know the rent's due."
"Don't worry about it," John says. "I'll get your Ativan filled, too."
It's Stiles's turn to feel guilty. If he didn't have so much wrong with him, then maybe they could get on top of the bills. He's been going without his meds for awhile, but…
"I said don't worry about it," his dad says.
Stiles sighs. "I know we're gonna lose the office," he admits. He's known it for weeks now, even before his dad got fired — laid off, they called it — from his security job. There's just no way to keep the business going, not unless they get a massive influx of clients, and soon.
"We don't need an office." John smiles. "C'mon, it's nice to have, but we can work out of the apartment just fine. We'll meet clients at Starbucks or whatever."
Stiles huffs a laugh. "Okay. Okay, I'll keep that in mind."
He can't help hoping this case will turn everything around, though.
Apparently, the tree in Stiles's vision is essential, and when Peter and Laura call to tell their alpha about it, she consults with her emissary, and they decide Stiles should come to Beacon Hills to scry again closer to the source.
"This is the closest we've gotten to an answer since it happened," Laura explains.
They offer a lot of money, and to pay for the plane ticket on top of it, and to keep him and his father comfortably away from home.
"I don't really want to go back to Beacon Hills," John tells Stiles privately. "You go on. I'll be okay on my own here."
Some of Stiles's happiest memories are set in Beacon Hills. Before his mom got sick, before they moved to find a treatment, when they were a family. When they were whole.
Stiles hasn't felt whole since he was a kid. There's an emptiness in him, a hunger, that he's never really been able to sate. Magic helps, but it's not enough. Maybe he'll find what he's looking for back where he was happy.
He's not sure about leaving his dad alone, though. He tries to get him interested in the case, in going back to Beacon Hills, but his dad just shakes his head.
"Get something more concrete than a tree and a wolf's head… Geez, kid, there's not a thing I can do with that." He laughs it off. "This is your show. Go on and make me proud."
Stiles talks to their neighbor Amir, makes him promise to check in on John while Stiles is away. Maybe he'll even bring him a salad or some of his mother's vegetable dishes, so he doesn't die of malnutrition. It makes Stiles feel slightly better knowing someone will be looking out for his dad.
Beacon Hills is nothing like Stiles remembers. Then again, he was just a kid when his family left, so his memories are of elementary school and the public library's kid-friendly areas. There's a park in the middle of town, but it's been revamped, so even the playground equipment looks different.
A trip down memory lane is not why he's here, though. He follows the GPS coordinates to the Hales' home, driving past and a little way through the forest. He's surprised by all the magic here. He can feel it, and it calls to him. He wants to stop and wade out into the middle of it. He wants to follow the pull and see where it takes him. But he keeps in mind that he'll have time to do that later. He has a job to do now.
He tries not to be overwhelmed by the Hales when he meets them. They are all — like Laura and Peter — unfairly attractive. Talia is the alpha and Derek's mother, and she looks like a fashion model, even at her age, whatever that is. Her husband Joe could be a movie star. He's tall and broad and just looking at him makes Stiles a little weak in the knees. Hell, he has that problem with every single one of them except Matt, who's a young teen, but who looks like he's going to grow up and be just as devastating as the rest of them.
Amazingly gorgeous, every one.
And then he meets Alan Deaton, who is overwhelming in a different way. He's quiet but he's intense, and Stiles can feel his magic. He's the Hales' emissary, and he wants to know what Stiles did to have his vision.
Stiles answers him as best he can. Deaton just stares at him.
"Is something wrong?" Talia asks.
Deaton gives her a mild look. "Young Mr. Stilinski is just… not what I expected."
Stiles doesn't know what that's supposed to mean. At least, not yet.
The full moon is in two days, and Deaton seems to think that's relevant. But first, he wants to show Stiles the tree.
Stiles expects their walk to the tree to be silent, but as soon as they are (presumably) out of werewolf hearing range, Deaton speaks.
"You're a Spark. A strong one," he says.
Stiles stumbles over his feet but quickly rights himself. "I am? I mean… I'm a Spark but… I haven't had any training. I can't do much."
"You may have done more for my pack than I've been able to do in nine years," Deaton says. He stops walking and looks at Stiles shrewdly. "You have so much untapped potential. You may be able to find Derek and bring him home. If you can do that, I'll make sure you have the best training you could possibly have."
"Really?" Stiles asks, feeling optimistic for once. Then he realizes what a tall order finding Derek Hale is and sinks back down to reality. "I'll try, at least."
"Tell me, what do you feel out here?" Deaton asks.
Stiles keeps walking, not letting the emissary surprise him again. "What do you mean?"
"Where are you going, Stiles?"
And Stiles realizes he's leading Deaton now, that his feet are following the pull he feels. "To the… tree? Am I going the right way?"
Deaton smiles. "Yes. Keep going."
"It's more than just a tree, isn't it." He can feel that they're getting nearer.
"You're right." They're moving faster now, but Deaton doesn't seem winded. "The tree is a nemeton, a place of worship. But it's situated over a convergence of ley lines."
"So… a super special magical tree?" Stiles asks.
Deaton flashes a smile, there and gone in a blink. "The emissary before me performed her rites there. I always thought she was caught up too much in the old ways, but now I'm not so sure."
"Do you have any idea what the wolf head I saw in my vision means?" Stiles asks. He slows, though the tug is stronger now. He steps into a clearing, and his train of thought is derailed entirely. The tree is even bigger and more majestic in real life. Its trunk is thick, easily as big around as a car, and its limbs sprawl out and up into the sky.
"It's the oldest living thing in the forest," Deaton says, his voice hushed, the question presumably forgotten.
Stiles starts walking again. He hadn't realized he'd stopped when he caught sight of the nemeton. He walks until he can touch the tree, and when he does, he feels her pulse with life. With magic.
"Hello," Stiles whispers. He doesn't question why he's talking to a tree. It just seems right to greet her.
Her branches sway, even though there's no wind. She's curious, Stiles thinks. He walks around her, climbing over her massive roots and trailing his hand around her trunk. Her bark looks rough, but it's smoother to the touch. There's moss growing on her, and he does his best not to dislodge any.
"What do you feel?" Deaton asks, curiosity in his voice.
Stiles closes his eyes, overwhelmed, wonder filling him to the brim. "She's alive."
"We don't know much more than we did," Deaton says.
Stiles is still stunned — meeting a sentient tree isn't an everyday occurrence — and doesn't answer.
Talia says, "But the nemeton had something to do with Derek's disappearance."
Deaton nods. "Yes."
"It would explain why Paige woke up there," Peter says. "She said she remembered Derek carrying her into the woods, so maybe…"
"Maybe he took her there," Talia says.
"But why?" Laura asks.
"She's alive. The nemeton, she's sentient. I'm sure of it," Stiles says.
Everyone stops to stare at him. Peter raises his eyebrows. Deaton just watches mildly. But the rest of them seem skeptical.
Joe says, "The tree."
"I'm inclined to believe Stiles's assessment," Deaton says after a long moment. Then everyone is staring at him, instead.
"Let's say that's true. What do we do with this information?" Talia asks.
Stiles controls the urge to roll his eyes. It seems so simple to him now. "That's easy. I go back and ask her where Derek is."
Cora, who's been silent up until now, gives him a look. "Do you speak tree now?"
"Cora," Talia says quietly.
"Tal, she's got a point. How do you talk to a tree?" Joe asks.
"I think she was talking to me before, when I was scrying." Stiles looks at all of them, trying to remember what they've lost, so his temper doesn't get the best of him. "I think the vision was sent by the nemeton. So maybe that's how she wants to talk. Through visions."
"I agree," Deaton says. "What do we lose by trying it?"
The Hales seem to agree, as most of them bob their heads in the affirmative.
"The first vision showed the full moon, correct?" Deaton asks Stiles.
Stiles nods slowly, knowing where this is headed.
"Then you should try to communicate with the nemeton then," Deaton says.
"I'm up for it," Stiles says with a shrug. He's nervous, but he's being paid well. He thinks about all the debt he and his dad have racked up and knows it'll be worth it.
There's something else, too, a feeling he's keeping to himself for now. When he saw the tree, when he touched her for the first time, he felt something. Not the magic or her sentience or anything magical, but something much more personal. He felt like he could feel his future.
He realizes just how insane that would sound if he said it aloud, so he doesn't.
On the night of the full moon, Stiles tells Deaton he wants to try to talk to the nemeton alone. Part of him wants privacy, but part just doesn't want to crash and burn in front of witnesses.
Again, he lets the pull lead him to the tree. She's calling him. She… likes him?
The moon is very bright in the sky, and he can see well. Being able to see means he pauses when he catches sight of the nemeton again. She's so big, so old, so full of magic. Her branches sway in greeting.
Stiles waves awkwardly. "Hi again." How, exactly, he's supposed to talk to her is a bit of a mystery, but Stiles figures he can wing it. "I'm Stiles."
The magic in the forest seems to pulse. It would overwhelm him if he didn't feel so welcomed. Anticipation makes him shiver. He knows what he wants to ask her, but it feels a little rude to jump right into it. So he sits down at the base of her trunk and leans back against it.
Maybe he should try to connect with her via his magic. A trance, maybe? Meditation? He's never been too good at those but he figures now is as good a time to try as any.
He closes his eyes and leans back more heavily against her. The magic is so strong, he can feel it lapping at his edges like a lake meeting land.
And that's when he feels it. She's not alone. There's someone else there with her, inside her.
"How?" he asks, and she answers in a vision. First, he just sees a wolf's head protruding from her trunk, but she's shown him this before, and he didn't get it then, either.
In his mind's eye, he sees what she sees. Ley lines branch out from her like mystical roots, running through the forest and the town. Someone got lost in them? Someone followed them to her?
She shows him two young people, a boy and a girl. The boy is holding the girl as he runs through the forest. Stiles can see he's going on instinct, and can also recognize him from his pictures. It's Derek Hale. The girl must be Paige, his girlfriend at the time.
The teens reach the nemeton and Derek lays Paige down where Stiles is now. Paige is spitting up black goo and crying out in pain. Stiles hasn't seen this in reality, but he knows what it means. She's rejecting a werewolf bite. She's not turning. She's dying.
"Please, save her!" Derek cries out, his voice echoing strangely in the vision. He doesn't bring an offering, though. He has no magic, no gifts. Just… himself.
The nemeton extends herself and asks him a question.
"Yes. Yes, anything!" Derek says.
Thick limbs reach down and wrap around him, pulling him in. Paige's moans taper off and she passes out, but Stiles gets the impression that she's turning now, that she's becoming a werewolf.
But what was the question?
"I sacrificed myself," comes a voice. It's thick, rusty. Still, it gives Stiles a thrill to hear it. He knows right away that it's Derek.
"Are you still alive?" Stiles asks, turning this way and that, wanting to see him.
A vision of Derek shows up, but he's nothing like he should look like. He still looks fifteen.
"Dude, it's been nine years," Stiles says. "Have you not aged?"
Derek looks surprised. He looks down at himself, then at the nemeton. "That long?"
"Where are you? I need to find you. Your family misses you so much, they have no clue what happened, and I want to get you back to them," Stiles says in a rush.
"I'm part of the nemeton now," Derek says, and he's disappeared. Stiles can't see him, though his voice echoes throughout the clearing.
"Do you want to get out?" Stiles asks.
Instead of words, Derek answers in a long howl. The sound reverberates with longing. Stiles turns around and faces the tree. A black wolf head peers out at him with yellow eyes.
"Derek?" Stiles isn't sure if this is real or a vision. "Um. Can you give him back?" he asks the nemeton.
She reaches out with her magic and touches him. Not softly. This time it's more like a wave overtaking him. He's drowning under her, but it's not entirely bad. He can feel more of her like this. She wants to know what she gets in return. She was lonely before Derek came along, and now she spends her time with him, showing him magic, traveling with his consciousness along the ley lines. What can Stiles give her that's worth Derek?
"I don't… I don't have anything," Stiles admits.
She laughs in his mind and shows him something beautiful. It takes him a moment to realize it's his magic. It's purple and sparkly, and she loves sparkly things. All he has to do is make her pretty things with his magic, and she'll let Derek out. Maybe only a little bit, not completely. But some.
"Deal," Stiles says, not even stopping to wonder how he'll make things with magic when he barely understands his magic to begin with.
He gets up and sways a little. The sun is up. How long was he communing with the nemeton?
As he walks away from the clearing, he hears Derek's voice once more. It's little more than a whisper, but it's a beautiful sound. "Thank you."
Talia holds his hands, tears standing in her eyes. "You talked to him? Derek was there?"
This is the weirdest thing that's ever happened to Stiles. He nods.
"Well, how did he sound?" Joe asks.
"Like he hasn't used his voice in a while," Stiles says.
"How do we get him back?" Peter asks, and the others nod, obviously eager to know.
Stiles hesitates. He's had time to think about the nemeton's request now, and he thinks he understands. She wants attention. She wants sacrifices, offerings. Stiles making things with his magic is all of those things. He doesn't know how soon his magic will grow back after he uses it to make pretty… ornaments? He'll be offering up his own magic and nonexistent expertise. He'll be giving her lots of attention. He wonders how much of Derek he'll get in return.
How much his familly will get. Because this is about them, and it's they who are paying him. This isn't personal.
(It feels personal.)
"It's gonna take a lot of magic and time," Stiles says. He gives a wan smile. "I think she likes me."
Deaton looks thoughtful. Stiles has no idea what he's thinking.
Talia looks at Deaton and Deaton nods. Stiles guesses he's telling her it makes sense.
He doesn't know how. It barely makes sense to him, and he's the one who got the vision. Or whatever it was. He feels like he's trying to catch up with all the supernatural stuff and as soon as he has a handle on it, the magic throws a curve.
That night, he calls his dad. Tells him he'll be in Beacon Hills indefinitely.
John is quiet over the line for a few moments. Then he sighs. "So you didn't find the kid?"
"He's not a kid," Stiles reminds him. "But yeah. He's, uh, stuck in a magic tree?"
"What." His dad's flat incredulity comes in loud and clear over the line.
"I'm gonna get him out. I hope, anyway." Stiles sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "I feel like I have to."
"Well, we do have a cash contract," his father jokes.
"It's more than that," Stiles says. He shrugs even though his dad can't see it. "I don't know. There's something about this…"
"Uh huh," John says.
Stiles snorts. "But get this: Deaton says that if I get Derek back, he'll make sure I get trained. Like real magical training. No more bumbling around with half-baked ideas from The Craft."
"You know, when you put it that way, what you've been doing sounds pretty dangerous," his dad says, and Stiles knows he's only half joking.
"Pfft. It's been fine. I haven't set anything on fire or accidentally sold my soul to the devil or anything, so it's all worked out."
His dad groans.
"Is Amir taking care of you?" Stiles asks.
"Oh, is that what's happening? Here I thought he was bringing vegetables and scolding me about my salt intake because he cares."
Stiles laughs. "I may have asked him to keep an eye on you."
"Kind of one-sided. I don't have anyone to spy on you for me."
"Amir isn't spying. He's watching out for you."
"Still. Who's watching out for you?"
Stiles smiles, thinking of the warmth the Hales have shown him. "I've got a werewolf pack with a vested interest in me. That's going to have to do."
His dad sighs dramatically. "Okay, you win."
"Good talk, Dad. Don't worry, I'll stay in touch. And I'll be careful."
"You'd better," John says seriously. "You're all I've got."
Stiles dreams. He dreams of patterns, intricate and beautiful. He knows the nemeton is sending him these, but at first he doesn't know why.
He doesn't understand until he wakes up, a pattern in his head, magic already dripping from his fingers. He doesn't even bother to get dressed, just shoves his feet into his shoes and runs out the door. He runs to the nemeton, and once he gets to her, out of breath, he grins.
"I've got it. But you've got to give me something in return," he says.
The nemeton is amused. A wolf head peeks out from where its nestled in her bark.
Stiles shakes his head. "Not good enough."
And then the wolf shifts. He's… Derek. Not the fifteen-year-old version, either. He's handsome, slightly stubbled, and he has the most beautiful green eyes Stiles has ever seen.
Stiles is stunned for a moment but then smiles at him. "Hey."
Derek blinks. His mouth works for a moment before he lets out a rusty, "Hi."
Stiles beams. "I'm gonna get you back to your family, dude."
The longing and wonder on Derek's face are unmistakable. Stiles knows he has to do this. For himself, for the Hales, and for Derek.
"Well, let's get started, then," Stiles says, grinning. "Maybe you can help? She showed me what she wants, but I'm a little iffy on how to do it. I could use some advice."
Derek looks down, and Stiles tracks his gaze. He looks at his hands, which are glowing and still dripping magic. The magic wants to do something, wants to make… something beautiful.
"My grandma… she taught me how to crochet," Derek says haltingly. The words are rough, but Stiles understands immediately.
"I could weave my magic like it's yarn," he says, almost to himself. Once upon a time, he had a mother who loved to knit. He probably couldn't knit anything but a string if he just picked up needles and yarn right now, but he knows the basics and could probably learn again. Only this time…
He wiggles his fingers. Purple light drips from his fingertips in long strands. He looks at Derek and smiles.
Derek's smile is wobbly. Tentative. Stiles is reminded of how long he's been stuck inside a tree, not interacting with anyone but the nemeton. He's probably forgotten how to be social. That's okay. Stiles can get him used to that.
Of course, the pack wants to see Derek. It's been nine years, and Talia is beside herself when she finds out she can see her son again. But the problem is when they get to the tree (everyone, all of the Hales) Derek's face has disappeared.
"Derek?" Stiles calls, looking all over the trunk for his face, for even the wolf head he first appeared as. But there's nothing, nothing but the nemeton.
"I thought you said he was here," Peter says in a low voice. Talia and the others look on, confusion turning to mistrust.
"He is here… he. He was here. I haven't finished the first magic… thing. I haven't started. I mean, I tried, a couple of times, but." Stiles picks up one of the discarded magic projects and frowns at it. It's unraveling, but at one point it started to have a real design to it. It looks like a tangled ball of purple light more than what the nemeton showed him. "It'll just take time."
"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Cora asks. "You could be taking advantage of us. Of mom." She walks closer, a scowl on her face, and Stiles doesn't know how to prove he's telling the truth.
"Cora, stop," Talia says, but she's frowning too.
Peter crowds in closer too, but he's not looking at Stiles. "Is that your magic?"
Stiles looks at the tangled mess in his hands. "Yeah. It's going to take a little more time than I thought. I have to learn how to make it pretty. She wants it to be pretty."
Peter and Talia share a look, then Peter nods.
Talia's face clears. "You're sacrificing your magic for us?"
"Maybe he's just making you think that," Laura says lowly. Cora nods in agreement.
"No, I'm telling the truth!" Stiles turns back to the nemeton, puts a hand on her trunk and closes his eyes. Show them. Please. They miss him. And if they don't believe me, I'll have to leave. I know you don't want that.
He leans his forehead against the nemeton's bark and whispers, "Please. Please."
There is a sudden hush, the entire forest holding its collective breath. And then Talia lets out a soft exclamation.
Stiles opens his eyes and is face to face with Derek, close enough to kiss. It's just his face but he's looking out from the tree, looking at Stiles, and then beyond Stiles. At his mother.
"Mom?" Derek asks, voice full of emotion. His eyes are bright with unshed tears and longing.
"Derek," Talia says. It sounds like a prayer. Even in her scramble to get closer she is graceful, and then she's standing side by side with Stiles, looking at her son's face. "I've missed you so much."
"I'm sorry," Derek whispers. Stiles backs away, giving them their moment.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," Talia says, cupping his face.
"I couldn't let her die," Derek explains.
Stiles moves farther away, letting them speak. He looks on at the rest of the pack, who are watching Talia and Derek with wide eyes. Joe comes forward, and then the rest, all of them exclaiming softly over him and coming closer. Touching him. Scenting, Stiles realizes.
They love him so much, and it's up to Stiles to get him back for them. He looks at the tangle of magic in his hands again and sighs. He doesn't know if he can.
There's a whisper then through the nemeton's branches, as the sunlight and breeze filter through onto his skin. Believe.
"I brought you something," Stiles tells Derek the next day. He holds up a plate. "Your mom mentioned it's your favorite food, and I figure you haven't had any food in… nine years? So. Um."
"My dad's lasagne?" Derek asks, eyes wide.
Stiles grins. "Yeah, man. Just for you."
Derek eyes the plate hungrily. Stiles moves the plastic wrap back from the lasagne and picks up a fork. It's only then that he realizes he's going to have to feed it to Derek because Derek's arms and hands aren't free.
Stiles blushes, but he cuts a piece with the side of the fork and offers it to Derek.
Derek opens his mouth and then closes his eyes when he tastes it. He moans softly, and Stiles blushes harder in response.
It's hard not to think about the intimacy of the act. At least Stiles isn't feeding Derek with his fingers, that'd be even worse. So… it's just a guy helping another guy out.
When Derek has polished off the plate, he licks his lips and smiles. "Thank you, Stiles."
Stiles swallows hard. Derek's smile is beautiful. He shrugs. "No big deal. I just figured you hadn't had home cooking in nine years, so it'd be a nice surprise."
"You're not very good with gratitude," Derek points out. For someone with forgotten social skills, he's certainly judgemental.
Stiles rolls his eyes and puts the plate and fork down on the ground. "You wanna help me spin up some magic or something?" he says to change the subject. "I figure you know the kinds of things she likes."
Derek nods. It's so weird to see just a head nodding as it sticks out of a tree, but it doesn't look painful or anything, so Stiles doesn't call attention to it.
"Okay, so I've been practicing 'knitting' my magic, but it's just a mess. I wonder if I'm really on the right track at all." He pulls a string of purple light from one fingertip and lets it dangle there.
Derek frowns, obviously thinking. "Have you ever played cat's cradle?"
"When I was a kid, sure… wait, okay." Stiles feels hopeful again. He pulls the magic out longer and thinks it into being one long continuous circle of light. He hooks his thumbs and fingers into it like it's string, then slowly goes through the motions of cat's cradle. He seems to remember something else called Jacob's ladder, but he doesn't remember the moves as well.
"You're doing great," Derek murmurs, his eyes on Stiles's creation.
"It's simple, but this could just be the start, right?" Stiles holds out his hands with a makeshift woven pattern he made on his own, with his fingers. He can do this. "I bet there's videos on YouTube with more intricate things I could learn…" He's talking mostly to himself, but Derek answers.
"I knew you could do it," he says, and it gives Stiles a warm feeling. They smile at each other. Something seems to pass between them, but Stiles doesn't know if he's imagining it or not. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but Derek is still looking at him, and Stiles feels his face flush.
"It's not a good enough gift yet, but-"
The nemeton sends him a pulse of 'Yes, it is' and Stiles tries to figure out how to give it to her.
"Hang it on one of her branches," Derek suggests.
"Like a Christmas ornament?" Stiles asks dryly.
Derek smiles. "She'll like it."
So Stiles climbs up and loops a magic thread through his ornament and hangs it from the nemeton. It's simple, but it's purple and sparkly, and he definitely gets the sense she likes it.
"It's pretty," Derek says, and Stiles gives him a shy, hopeful smile.
Little by little, Stiles learns. He brings a laptop out to the nemeton, and he and Derek watch YouTube together. Not just tutorials for Stiles's magic weaving, but all kinds of things. Stiles realizes Derek never finished high school and decides to get him ready for his GED.
Derek's not against the idea. "You really think I'm getting out of here?" he asks, and is that a wistful quality to his voice?
"Yeah, man, we'll get you your life back. Don't worry. I'm getting better, right?" Stiles holds up his latest creation. It is better, but it's still fairly simple. He's going to learn intricate things eventually, but it may take some time.
Apparently, time is the one thing he's got. That and money, because the pack is paying him by the day. If they keep going the way they are, Stiles and his dad will be out of debt soon and might even be able to hold the office.
Which means going back to New York when all this is over. And somehow, that doesn't feel right. He sighs.
"You're getting better," Derek says.
"Thanks, Der," Stiles says absently, thinking about New York.
"I miss my dad, I guess," Stiles says, "but not so much that I'm homesick. I really like it here."
"Are you thinking of sticking around?" Derek asks, and is that a hopeful lilt to his voice?
Stiles smiles a little. "I guess I am. There's just… my dad and I started a business in New York, and I don't know what it means for that if I don't go back." Then he starts telling Derek about the detective agency he and his dad started. "I guess we could do it here, but so far Dad doesn't want to come back."
"Why not?" Derek asks.
"Memories." Stiles sighs. "We lived in Beacon Hills when I was a kid, back before my mom got sick. And then when she did, we moved to find her better treatment. Didn't work, but. Anyway, I don't have anything but happy memories of this town, but Dad sees it differently than I do, I guess."
"I'm sorry about your mom," Derek says.
Stiles shrugs it off, not wanting to dwell on an old wound. "I've got to bring Dad around about this place, though."
"I hope you can."
"Would you miss me if I went back?" Stiles asks, half teasing and completely curious.
"I've gotten used to you, so yeah," Derek says lightly. Their eyes meet.
"You have your whole pack," Stiles says. "I mean, I don't want to go, but if I do…"
"Don't," Derek says, and a hand reaches out from the tree. Derek's hand, Derek's arm, reaching out to him. Stiles blinks at it, and this must be new for Derek too because he seems shocked.
Stiles reaches out without thinking and takes Derek's hand in his own. It's warm and smooth, and Stiles doesn't want to ever let go. He looks into Derek's eyes and sees that thought mirrored back at him.
"Don't go," Derek says.
Stiles squeezes his hand. "Okay."
He doesn't know what it means, but it's something, and it's important.
"What about your girlfriend, do you want to see her?" Stiles asks. He hates to even bring it up. He's feeling a little strange about Derek like he's his, and he knows that's irrational, but he needs to confront it. Asking about the girlfriend is a good way to thumb his nose at the feeling, even though it hurts to say.
"You mean Paige?" Derek asks. His eyebrows are knit together, and he looks confused.
"You did sacrifice your freedom for her life," Stiles mutters, feeling unaccountably jealous.
"Like you've said, it's been nine years. She's… we're both adults now."
"You don't want to… reconnect or something?"
Derek's quiet for a moment. Then he says, "That's the past. It's not that I don't care..."
Stiles tries to make sense of what Derek's saying. "Well, you're right. It's been nine years."
"I used to feel like I loved her, and I don't know, maybe I did. But I was fifteen."
"You're a different person now," Stiles says quietly.
Derek smiles. "Yeah."
Stiles licks his bottom lip nervously. He feels Derek's eyes on him. "So you're looking to the future. What's that gonna look like for you?"
"I have no idea," Derek says, "but I have hope again. Because of you."
Stiles swallows thickly. His irrational possessive/jealous moment has faded into something much softer. He has hope, too.
"What are you thinking about when you make your ornaments?" Derek asks. "They have a certain feeling to them…"
"You can feel it? Cool," Stiles says with a grin. "It's just like, I don't know. Protection? I think about protecting the nemeton. And you."
Derek gives him a soft smile. "Look what she let me do this morning," he says and squirms a little. But then his bare chest and arms are peeking out, some bands of bark holding him in but doing nothing to hide how fucking ripped he is. Werewolves, Stiles thinks. Or maybe just Hales.
"That's, um, wow," he says, trying not to ogle. And there's a lot to ogle.
Derek smirks. He knows exactly what Stiles is thinking. This is so unfair. Stiles wants to tell him to put it away, but he can't imagine telling Derek to go back into his tree. The nemeton letting Derek out more can only be a good thing.
"Did she say why?" Stiles asks.
Derek looks at the two ornaments hanging from the nemeton's branches. "It's because of you."
Stiles can't help but feel a swell of pride. He did that, and he's getting better. "How does it feel?" he asks. "Being out of the tree, I mean."
"Weird. I think it'll be even weirder when I'm completely detached, though." Derek runs his hand across his chest, fingers bumping against a green-brown vine. "We've been part of each other for so long."
"What's the first thing you want to do once you're free?" Stiles asks him.
Derek's quiet. He looks at Stiles, then past him to the forest. "I'd like to run."
Stiles thinks about this, then nods. "Yeah, I can see that. I wish I could run with you, but I'm sure you'd outpace me by like, miles."
"I could run slow," Derek says with a smirk.
Stiles snorts. "Or you could forget about me and run with your pack. You must miss that."
"I do," Derek says. "I could never forget about you, though."
What does that even mean? Is Derek saying what Stiles thinks he is, does he mean it like… like…
"I'm pretty unforgettable," Stiles says without thinking.
Derek laughs, and it's a beautiful sound. Stiles just wants to get closer to it, to hear it all the time.
"Well, you could run with your pack, but I could wait for you to get back."
Derek smiles at him again. "Thank you." He tilts his head. "I can sort of run, in my mind. The nemeton can take my consciousness along the telluric currents with her. But nothing beats feeling the ground beneath your actual feet and the wind against your body and…" He looks down. "So that's what I want to do."
Stiles nods and sits down across from him. He brings his hands up and starts a new ornament, this time with something more intricate in mind. "You're going to have it," he says. It comes out fiercer than he'd meant.
Derek gives him a look Stiles can't decipher. "Thank you," he says quietly.
Stiles shrugs it off.
Derek closes his eyes, and then he's sliding down. Stiles widens his eyes, not knowing what he's doing, but then Derek is sitting down on his level. His chest disappears back inside the tree, but his knees poke out where he's sitting tailor style. Stiles can even see his feet.
"Want to listen to some music while I work?" Stiles asks and takes out his phone. "I bet you've missed out on a lot of sweet jams." He smiles goofily to let Derek know he knows his slang is ridiculous.
Derek smiles back. "I haven't listened to anything in years, so yeah. Go for it."
Stiles searches his phone and settles on Eels. The happy poppy sound of Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) sounds a little tinny over the phone speaker. "This isn't new, but it's fun. And I realize it doesn't sound great, but I can borrow a Bluetooth speaker and bring it out here for us. I bet Cora has one."
"Cora was just… ten, I think, when everything happened. What's she like?" Derek asks.
"She's been out to visit, right?" Stiles asks with a frown.
"Yeah, but with the rest of the pack. I don't know her anymore. Same with Matty… he was practically a baby nine years ago." Derek frowns in thought.
Stiles nods. He guesses he can understand that. And one thing he understands is that it must suck. This is Derek's pack, and he barely knows them. "Well, Cora's kinda scowly. Um, mistrustful, I guess. But I think it's just a front. She likes basketball, I've seen her play with your uncle and brother. And of course, Matt plays for BHHS."
"I used to play basketball," Derek says. He sighs. Then he nods toward the phone. "I like the song."
"Thought you would," Stiles says, but then he changes the music, puts on a playlist. "I've been making this for you. Some stuff you've missed out on. I got a lot of it off some past years' Billboard charts, but then there's other music that you won't find on charts but are pretty awesome anyway. Wait until you hear…" He goes on, and on, and he knows he's babbling, but Derek never tells him to shut up.
Derek actually seems interested. He's listening to Florence + the Machine when he finally interrupts. "Weren't you working on your next ornament?"
"Oh! Right. Sorry," Stiles says sheepishly.
"I don't mind… I mean, I like listening to you, but you get off track a little."
Stiles flushes. "ADHD, man. I can't help it. Sometimes I just go into tangents."
Derek smiles. "It's fine. But the ornaments-"
"Are more important. Right," Stiles says, looking down at his hands. He hasn't done anything yet, and the sun is starting to go down. His stomach rumbles. He looks at his phone. It's already after 6pm. "Shit." How long have they been talking and listening to music? Hours upon hours.
"You have to go?" Derek asks.
Stiles nods but offers up a small smile. "But hey… next time I'll bring a picnic basket or something."
Stiles's dreams are a lot different lately than they've been in the past. It's the nemeton reaching out to him, getting to know him, showing him magic. But because Derek's merged with the nemeton, his consciousness melded to hers, Derek shows up in the dreams, too.
Those are the best dreams, and while he's asleep he's too involved and interested to feel embarrassment about it.
The first time he sees Derek (as an adult and not a projection of his fifteen-year-old self) out of the tree, it's a dream. Derek's turned away, so maybe he doesn't notice Stiles staring. He's completely nude, and Stiles's jaw drops.
There's a tattoo on his muscled back, the same as the Hale triskele he's seen around the house. When did he get it? Stiles has a hard time imagining it was there when Derek was a teenager.
He's staring at Derek's assets when he must make a noise. Derek starts to turn around, a smile on his face.
"Whoa, you're naked, maybe you don't wanna keep turning and, um-"
Derek laughs but stops. He looks over his shoulder at Stiles and gives a knowing look.
"This is a dream," Stiles says.
Stiles tries to focus on something other than Derek's body. He fails, mostly. "Do you really have a tattoo?"
"I was going to get it when I turned eighteen." Derek looks up at the nemeton and then with a whisper of magic or concentration, he's wearing a pair of jeans. They're loose around the hips so they sit low, and when Derek turns around Stiles can't help but stare at the deep V of his hips.
It's a dream, Stiles reminds himself. He can control it, somewhat, right? He feels his face flaming anyway.
"Any idea what we're doing here?" Stiles asks. He knows the nemeton put them together in this dream, but the reason isn't apparent yet.
Derek ducks his head. "I wanted to see you."
"Miss me?" Stiles asks. "I just left a few hours ago."
Derek shrugs. "I guess it's more like… I wanted you to see me."
Stiles laughs. "Well if you wanted me to get an eyeful…"
And then he realizes Derek's expression right now is shy. "That wasn't the plan. But I thought, maybe, we could go for a walk?"
"Because we can't in the waking world, but we can now?" Stiles asks rhetorically. "Sounds good. As long as we don't get lost."
"I know these woods like I know myself," Derek says.
And then they're walking. Stiles realizes he's wearing a t-shirt and boxers with no shoes, the same thing he was wearing as he slept. Leaves crunch underneath his bare feet but even when he steps on twigs and rocks, it doesn't hurt. He walks side by side with Derek, so close that their arms brush against each other every now and then. It's a dream, Stiles tells himself, but that doesn't stop him from getting butterflies from every incidental touch.
"Do you want to run?" Stiles asks.
Derek grins. "You up for it?"
"It's a dream," Stiles points out. "I have magic, I bet I could keep up with you here." He grins back, and Derek's eyes gain an excited light.
"Try to catch me," Derek says, and takes off through the trees.
Stiles laughs and gives chase. Derek is fast, but in this dream so is Stiles. He keeps him in sight for some time as he runs — a lot more gracefully than in real life.
Then he loses him. Stiles stops and looks around, listening for Derek, but he doesn't hear him. There's only the woods, the trees, and some birdsong.
"Derek?" Stiles calls out. "Where'd you go?"
He hears a twig snap. Stiles turns around, but instead of Derek, there's a wolf. He's big, black with golden eyes and too familiar to be scary.
"Oh," Stiles says softly.
The wolf — Derek — trots closer, his head down. Stiles smiles at him but doesn't say another word, not wanting to break whatever magic this is. The wolf huffs.
What am I supposed to do now? Stiles wonders, but then Derek is shoving his huge wolf head against Stiles's hand, and Stiles laughs. He ends up sitting on the ground with a gigantic wolf in his lap.
It's the best dream Stiles has ever had, and he never wants it to end.
Eventually, the wolf wants to play again, running circles around Stiles as he jogs through the woods until they've made one big loop and they're back at the nemeton.
Stiles collapses on the ground onto his back, feeling giddy with something he can't name. He's out of breath even though he knows it's a dream, but that doesn't seem to matter.
Derek lies down on the ground with him, human again. They're head to head, grinning at each other like loons.
"Thank you," Derek tells him.
Stiles closes his eyes and hums.
Deaton starts teaching Stiles real magic. When Stiles points out he hasn't quite saved Derek yet, Deaton gives him a mild look and asks if he'd rather wait.
Stiles laughs. "Well, no, but-"
"You never know when you'll need to know something," Deaton tells him and then teaches him how to access the telluric currents. Apparently, Sparks can do more than druids, and Deaton has to teach him by explaining how things work rather than showing him, but Stiles catches on faster than he'd have thought. It all makes sense, and Stiles can feel the magic in the forest, under his feet, in the roots of the nemeton — which stretch farther than a natural tree's.
Deaton teaches him runes and sigils, and Stiles, in turn, uses those in his ornament weaving. So now in addition to adding his belief, he has symbols with which to anchor his belief. It makes the ornaments magically stronger, more beautiful, and the nemeton is more pleased every day.
Derek gets closer and closer to being released. The nemeton feels sad about it, though.
Stiles talks to her. "You won't be neglected like before," he promises her. He tilts his forehead against her trunk, his hands flat on her bark. "I'll bring you offerings. And Deaton has promised to perform rites here again like the last emissary did."
She likes that.
The rest of the pack bring offerings too, and though they don't have magic, they do have money, and the nemeton likes shiny things. So soon the tree has a delicate band of precious stones wrapped around her — the ruby red of Talia's eyes, blue sapphires to symbolize water and the sky her branches always reach toward, and the green of life, of her leaves.
The pack comes together around the nemeton to gift them to her, and together they hang the gold chain the gems are attached to. All of them press their hands against the nemeton and say a few words, though Stiles can't hear what they are. They're for the nemeton.
She's thrilled, though. Derek looks at his family in love and awe, but it doesn't stop with the pack. He gives Stiles the same look, their eyes meeting and holding. After the pack comes to Derek to scent him and kiss his cheek, Derek looks at Stiles again with wonder and gratitude.
Talia gives Stiles a hug. It's heartfelt and motherly, and Stiles sinks into it. Tears prick his eyes, but he's not the only one crying. Everyone is affected. Even Peter looks at him with gratitude, after he presses his cheek to Derek's, and when he walks past he runs a hand over Stiles's shoulder, marking him with pack-scent.
They all do. They hug Stiles or find other ways to touch him, and it makes Stiles want to hide or chase after them for more. It feels so good to be included.
They leave, eventually, after more tears and more touching. Stiles watches them go, a multitude of emotions crashing around inside him. They make him feel so included, so welcome, and Stiles wants to stay there with them forever.
When he looks back at Derek, after his pack has left the clearing, he sees Derek is watching him, a knowing look on his face.
"You're practically pack now," Derek says. "They really love you."
Stiles's face is already warm, but it heats more. "They're grateful. They nearly have you back for good. It… it's not me."
Derek holds out his free hand, and Stiles is walking closer before he even thinks about it. When he's close enough, Derek reaches for one of Stiles's hands. Their fingers entwine like they're meant to do just that, and Derek tugs him even closer.
"You smell like pack now," Derek murmurs. They are face to face, and Stiles's heart starts pounding with anticipation, with hope. "But not enough like me."
Stiles sucks in a short breath. "You want to scent me?"
"Because… because I'm your pack?" Stiles says, fumbling with the words and hoping Derek's answer is a firm yes.
"Not just that," Derek says, and tugs Stiles even closer. He lets go of Stiles's hand but only to press his fingers against Stiles's cheek.
Stiles closes his eyes and leans into the touch. Derek should be the one starved for touch and affection, after years without, but Stiles feels like he's been the one trapped away, hidden until this moment, and Derek's fingertips are discovering him for the first time.
He sways forward until his forehead rests against Derek's and Derek reaches around to thread his fingers through Stiles's hair.
"I want to kiss you," Derek tells him.
I am so onboard with this plan, Stiles tries to say, but it only comes out as a whimper, and then Derek's lips are on his — soft but insistent.
Stiles can't think of anything but the taste of him and the scorching heat of his mouth, of the surprising swipe of Derek's tongue against his bottom lip. Derek moans, and Stiles answers, opening his mouth and letting him in.
Derek tastes of green things, clover and mint, like the forest. It only makes sense, Stiles thinks, but then he stops thinking because Derek is kissing him more deeply like he wants to sear his claim on Stiles for good.
Stiles's hands eventually land after fluttering helplessly at first, and he cups Derek's stubbled cheek with one hand while the other squeezes at his exposed shoulder. His fingers splay against warm skin and smooth bark, and he remembers he can't pull Derek in closer, so he has to be the one to move, pressing his body against Derek's.
It's... odd. Derek isn't all there. Stiles's cock gets hard, but when he presses against Derek, he feels actual wood against his erection and not metaphorical wood, which he'd prefer. The thought makes him giggle, and Derek breaks the kiss.
"Okay?" Derek asks. His lips are red and wet from kissing, his cheeks pink, his eyes dark with want.
"I just really can't wait to get you out of there," Stiles says breathlessly.
"You will. I believe in you," Derek tells him.
Stiles leans in again and rubs his cheek against Derek's slightly scratchy one, scenting him like he's seen the others do. Derek makes a pleased sound, a low rumble that's almost a purr.
He's not sure what their relationship is, but Stiles is sure there are real feelings there. His own feelings are tentative but good, and he thinks Derek feels the same. They'll figure it out, he's sure. Together.
He can't stop thinking about the kiss. He licks his lips every now and then and thinks he can taste a hint of Derek's fresh flavor. The nemeton is laughing at him, he just knows. But she's happy as well.
He wonders why she hasn't let Derek go yet, but he's working on his most intricate ornament, and he thinks this will do it. He has the design in his head. It's like a purple snowflake, delicate and unique. He knows the nemeton will be pleased, and he can already see the pride in Derek's eyes as he talks about it.
He can't spend all his time at the nemeton, though. Matt has basketball games now, and the pack invites Stiles to come watch. Afterward, Stiles tells Derek all about them.
There's an important away game coming up, and Matt begs Stiles to come. It's almost two hours away, but the look on Matt's face when Stiles agrees is worth it.
The game is exciting, as high school basketball games go. Stiles cheers Matt on, as do the rest of the pack. But during halftime, Stiles feels something is off. The nemeton pulls at him, even at a great distance, and Stiles closes his eyes and tries to see what's going on, tries to communicate with her.
He gets nothing but sleepy confusion. He blinks slowly once his eyes open again and finds the pack looking at him.
"I have to go," Stiles says. "Something's wrong."
"What is it?" Talia asks.
Stiles frowns. "I'm not sure."
"I'll drive you," Laura says immediately, and they leave as soon as they can get out to the parking lot.
In the car, Stiles calls Deaton, asks to meet him at the nemeton. Deaton should get there before Stiles, but it turns out they get there at the same time. Laura drove fast, but not that fast.
"What's going on?" Stiles asks.
Deaton looks confused. "I couldn't find the clearing."
Laura growls. "Something smells wrong."
Stiles approaches the nemeton, but for once he doesn't feel her customary greeting. She still feels… sleepy. Derek's eyes are closed as well, his arms relaxed at his sides.
"Derek?" Stiles calls. He presses his fingertips, then his palm, against Derek's cheek. "Hey, sleepywolf. Wake up."
It takes longer than Stiles would like for Derek's eyes to open. He blinks, then focuses. "Hi."
"Hi yourself," Stiles says and looks back at Laura and Deaton. "Something's definitely weird. What does it smell like?"
"Wolfsbane," Laura says. "Something else, too, but I don't know what. It's like it's been deliberately covered."
Deaton is frowning. "Hunters would smell of wolfsbane."
Stiles hasn't had any run-ins with hunters, and he hopes to keep it that way. "Why would hunters be here? And what did they do to the nemeton and Derek?" He looks at Derek, who's frowning, too. "Did you see anyone before you fell asleep?"
"I… heard a voice?" he says.
Stiles looks around to see if anything is out of place.
"What did it sound like?" Laura asks.
"I think it was a woman," Derek says.
All the ornaments and gemstones are still in their places. The nemeton is waking up. She's angry, but when Stiles asks, she doesn't have any more answers than Derek had.
Stiles notices a ring of disturbed dirt around the tree, but when he touches it, it just seems like regular dirt. Nothing new, nothing out of place except for turned ground. He shakes his head.
"I don't sense any harm has been done," Deaton says.
"Me neither," Stiles says reluctantly. "But I don't like the idea of someone poking around here."
"I'm going to tell mom, see what she says," Laura says. She gives Derek a smacking kiss on the cheek before walking toward the house with her phone, already calling Talia.
Deaton and Stiles look at each other. "Wards," they say in unison.
"Creepy," Derek remarks.
Stiles grins at him. "We're going to put up wards. Just in case this happens again. The nemeton let me know something was wrong, but I'd like more of a warning. And I won't be going out of town again, either."
"I think someone should stay here and guard the nemeton," Deaton says.
"Yeah, good idea," Stiles says.
Talia agrees, so they alternate pack members. Someone will always be at the nemeton now, even when Stiles is there, too.
"We need to protect you as well," Talia explains. "We'll set up a schedule."
Stiles and Derek exchange a look, not wanting to say aloud that they'd rather be alone sometimes. Safety is more important than their budding relationship.
He wanted to read to Derek from one of the more recent Riordan books — he thinks Derek will like The Sword of Summer. But Cora's on guard duty today, and Stiles is a little embarrassed to be caught reading to Derek, and a middle grade book, at that. He's not ashamed of his likes, but reading to Derek feels intimate, and he doesn't want to share it with someone else.
They work on Derek's GED prep instead.
Stiles doesn't have a lot of time, though. He's meeting Deaton in an hour and helping him ward the Preserve, including the Hale house. The idea is to have a warning system, should someone encroach on the surrounding territory.
Stiles is only just learning how it all works. He has the power, but not the skill.
"I believe in you," Derek says seriously when Stiles mentions what he's doing later.
Stiles gives him a shy smile, and for a moment forgets Cora is even there.
Only for a moment, though, because Cora makes a soft sound and Stiles jerks to look at her.
Her eyes are wide. "Really?"
"Really what?" Derek asks, sounding defensive.
"Nothing, you're just… in a tree, nothing about that says romance." Cora waves her hand as if to explain herself. Then she gets a gleeful look on her face. "Mom's gonna flip her shit."
"Why? What? What does that mean?" Stiles asks, trying not to panic. He wants Talia to like him. To accept him. He thought she did, what with the welcoming him into the pack home and treating him like family. Maybe that would change once they realize he's involved with their long-lost beta/son/brother/nephew and-
"Stiles," Derek says calmly, cutting through his panic. "Breathe. Cora doesn't mean it. Mom will be fine."
"What if she's not?" Stiles asks, but he's moving closer and letting Derek put his free arm around his waist.
"Mom already loves you," Derek says.
Cora seems to have recognized her mistake. "It's just a shock. I mean, who could have predicted my missing brother was actually trapped inside a magic tree, and the witchy guy we hired to get him out ends up falling for him? It's pretty unbelievable." She tilts her head. "The whole situation is unbelievable, but I guess…" She trails off and shakes her head. "I think Mom still sees Derek as fifteen, too."
Derek frowns, and Stiles gets distracted by his eyebrows. How can someone have such attractive eyebrows? "The more time she spends with me, the better that gets. Especially since we've been talking about college."
"Oh, god, is she on your case about going to Stanford?" Cora asks. "I thought I'd never talk her out of that one."
"I don't think I want to leave Beacon Hills," Derek says, and Stiles feels a flood of relief. He hadn't realized he was anxious about it. "Besides, we're talking me with a GED, not you with an impressive high school transcript, perfect GPA, and astronomical SAT scores."
Is that a blush on Cora's cheeks? "How do you know about that?"
"You think mom didn't start bragging about you as soon as she could?" Derek asks with a smirk.
Stiles kisses his cheek. "And now you get to tease her about it every chance you get like a good big brother should."
Cora opens her mouth and closes it again. Then she gives Stiles a little smile. "Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for giving me my brother back."
Stiles looks at all the places Derek is still attached to the tree. "Don't thank me yet, I'm not done."
Deaton teaches Stiles to ward, and Stiles picks it up easily. At least, that's what he thinks. When Deaton checks his work, he frowns. "How did you manage to make a shield? I gave you instructions for a ward."
Stiles concentrates and the 'ward' — which isn't a ward — flickers into view, looking like one of Stiles's intricate ornaments. He didn't weave it consciously, so he doesn't know how it happened that way.
Deaton raises his eyebrows. "And it's certainly not supposed to be visible."
Stiles frowns and wipes sweat from his face. "Um."
"Can you pull the magic back into yourself and start over?" Deaton asks.
Stiles tries, but the shield is stubborn. It's been made, it's pretty, and it doesn't want to go back. It almost feels like the nemeton when she's feeling petulant. "Um."
Deaton sighs. "What?"
"It doesn't want to go?"
"It's sentient, too?" Deaton asks, and though his voice is mild, his eyes are wide.
"Just a little bit, maybe," Stiles says. "Um. I don't know what to do now." He looks at the flat piece of magic balancing on his hand like a platter and shakes his head. "It would make a nice ornament for the nemeton, I think."
Deaton comes closer to get a better look. "Hmm. What were you thinking about when you tried to make the ward?"
Stiles feels blood rush to his face. "Derek," he mumbles.
"Getting him out of the nemeton."
Deaton nods. "So your problem isn't that you're unfocused, but that you're focused on the wrong thing."
Stiles sighs. "Okay." He forgot to take his meds. He's been distracted, okay? Not that he thinks they would help in this particular instance. Like Deaton said, he is focused. Just not on warding. He wills his ornament to fold and then puts it away in his pocket. "Okay, let's try this again."
"Visualize a line from this tree to the last we marked," Deaton says for the second time. "Think of the trees as fence posts and the ward as a fence. The runes anchor the fencing to the trees. Put your hand on the rune and feel the ward go up."
Stiles takes a deep breath and does as he's told. He listened. He's visualizing, closing his eyes to make it easier. The rune beneath his palm pulses with magic and then-
"Stiles, tone it down," Deaton murmurs. "Not so much."
Stiles opens his eyes and gasps. There's a ward, all right. But it's highly visible, a bright violet sheet of magic connecting the two trees. "Oops."
"Pull some of that magic back," Deaton says.
Stiles calls the magic back to him, and it comes, albeit reluctantly. "Better?" He squints at the ward. He can't see it anymore, but he can feel it's there.
"Perfect. Now we just have to do this all around the Preserve," Deaton says.
Stiles groans. "You sound so happy about it."
Deaton gives him a small smile. "It's fun." Then he walks off, presumably toward the next tree on their route.
Stiles stares after him for a long moment, his jaw dropped. Fun, he mouths. They are traipsing through the woods on an unseasonably hot day, sweat dripping down their foreheads into their eyes, expending magical energy — which is like an exercise in itself — and they have acres and acres of the Preserve to cover. He sighs and hurries after the druid, shaking his head.
They don't ward everything because they may be magic but they aren't superhuman. They get about a third of what they want to do done.
Stiles hangs the shield/ornament on the nemeton, and she seems to love it.
He calls his dad that night. He tells him he's staying in Beacon Hills.
"Are you sure, son?" his dad says after a long pause.
Stiles thinks of Deaton's promise to teach him, of the magic he's already learned. He thinks of the Hales, and their warm welcome, of the way he feels like he belongs with them. He thinks of the nemeton, of how fond he's become of her. And he thinks of Derek, how their brand new relationship feels like something he's been looking for his whole life. It's an unspoken promise, and Stiles wants to see it fulfilled.
"Yeah, I'm sure," he answers.
"Well I'm not just gonna leave you there," his dad says. "Guess I'll be moving, too."
"We can start up the agency again here?" Stiles asks tentatively. He still wants to do it. He loves working with his dad, doing what he does best, and with some more formal training, he can do an even better job at the supernatural side of detective work. "The age requirement is only 18 here, but there are lots of other stipulations. I'll need more school, for one."
"I know. I may have looked it up."
Stiles grins. "So you were already thinking of coming?"
"You sounded pretty enthused over this Derek guy," his dad says, and Stiles is glad he can't tease him for blushing over the phone.
"Yeah, well. It's not just Derek," Stiles mutters. Then he yawns. "Ugh, all that warding today completely wiped me out. I guess I'm going to bed early tonight."
"You mentioned earlier something about guards?" his dad says, and Stiles kicks himself mentally.
"Yeah, something weird happened, and they just want to be careful."
"Weird how?" Ever the investigator.
Stiles shrugs even though his dad can't see it. "Trespassing, some disturbed dirt, some kind of sleep spell, maybe?" He frowns. A spell doesn't line up with the hunter theory unless they have a magic worker with them. Or maybe the hunters used some other means to put Derek and the nemeton to sleep? This is something he has to think on some more — preferably when he's awake.
"So someone's watching over the magic tree tonight, too?"
Stiles huffs a tired laugh at the description, not that he hasn't called her the same. "Yeah, I think it's Joe's turn." He mumbles it, his eyes falling closed. "Dad, I'm gonna fall asleep on you."
His dad laughs softly. "Okay. I'll talk to you soon. Love you, kid."
"Love you too. Night, Dad."
He clumsily plugs his phone in for the night and then falls back against the pillows with a sigh of relief. He's so tired that sleep grabs him immediately.
"I'm going to miss sharing dreams with you," Stiles says wistfully.
He and Derek are walking through the woods, hand in hand. It's sappy and romantic and perfect.
Derek frowns, his eyebrows knitting together. "Why? When I'm out we can be together whenever we want."
A smile blooms on Stiles's face. He feels it like a sunrise. He feels all warm inside, and he hopes Derek can see that in his eyes. "You mean that?"
"Of course," Derek says. He turns and cups Stiles's cheek. "I want to be with you… all the time."
"Me too," Stiles whispers. And then Derek leans in and kisses him, promises on his lips.
But then something happens. Derek staggers back. "What?" he asks, looking around, disoriented and confused.
Stiles grabs his arm when it looks like he's going to fall over, but Derek still goes down. Stiles helps him land softly. "What's going on?"
"She's back," Derek says, and then he closes his eyes.
Stiles panics. "Who? The hunter? Or whoever?" he slaps at Derek's cheeks. "Wake up!"
Except it doesn't wake him. Derek disappears completely from the dream and Stiles bolts upright, looking around the guest room, pinching himself, counting his fingers, doing everything he can think of to make sure he's no longer dreaming. Then he dresses quickly and runs out the door.
He bangs on doors along the hallway and rushes downstairs. "Hey, everybody, wake up, Derek's in trouble!"
He has to wait for a bunch of sleepy werewolves to convene in the living room, and Stiles is pacing and wishing he could just go out right then. But he can't. He doesn't know what he'll find. He doesn't know if he can face whoever it is alone.
"What's the situation?" someone asks. Peter. The first person downstairs. He doesn't look like he was sleeping.
"She's back. She put Derek to sleep, and I can't feel the nemeton at all," Stiles says. He bites at his nails and continues to pace. "I'm not sure what to do. Joe's probably asleep too, or she wouldn't have gotten to the nemeton at all." His voice wobbles a little. He's hoping Joe is just asleep. There's no telling what the trespasser is capable of, only that she wants something with the nemeton. What if she killed Derek's dad?
Talia growls. Then she starts issuing orders to everyone. They're to split up into pairs and approach the nemeton from different sides. Stiles gets Talia. It makes sense to put their strongest fighter with the human, but Stiles tries not to think about how that makes him the weakest.
He will learn more magic. He will make sure he's not the weakest, or at least able to protect the pack if another situation like this arises. He can't do anything about it right now, but he makes a mental note: No more weak Stiles.
They run. They split up. And then the weirdest thing happens, and Talia stops.
"I don't know where we are," she says, uncertainty in her voice where it's never been before, or at least not where Stiles could hear.
Stiles looks around. Nothing looks familiar to him either, but it's night, and he's just following the currents to the nemeton like he always does. But if Talia can't follow that way…
"Just follow me," Stiles says. He leads her deeper into the Preserve, or at least tries to, but once he gets closer to the nemeton, he looks back and realizes he's lost her.
He's lost his backup. The smart thing would be to wait for her to catch up. He should definitely not go on ahead without her. He doesn't even have a gun.
He swears. He knows himself. He's going to go see what he can do to help Derek and the nemeton, and if he survives, his dad is going to lay into him for losing his common sense.
Maybe he won't tell his dad about this part.
He keeps walking, feeling the pull of the magic, and realizes that the others will experience the same thing Talia did. No one else is going to the nemeton. It's just him. He's gonna be alone.
He's quiet as he gets to the edge of the clearing, staying hidden in the shadows. She's there, and the magic from Stiles's ornaments are lighting the nemeton — but they're slowly dimming.
He sees Joe slumped against a tree, but he's too far away for Stiles to tell if he's still breathing. Derek is standing, attached to the nemeton at his back, his eyes closed.
On the ground, or rather coming out of the ground, is a ring of flowers. Wolfsbane, all around the tree in a circle. He knows instinctively that they're there to weaken Derek, and because he's joined to the nemeton, the tree itself will feel the effects as well.
She's draining the nemeton's magic. If she does it much longer, she'll kill them both. Stiles doesn't know who she is, but she's killing his boyfriend and their magical tree friend, and that's just not on.
Her back is turned. Stiles has to find a way to the nemeton without getting hit with one of her spells or whatever she's doing to everyone. But then he remembers, he knows how to make a shield. He can conjure one of those and run to the nemeton. He's not sure what he'll be able to accomplish once he's there, but he knows he has to reverse what she's doing.
Derek is losing his color, turning gray. Stiles has to work fast.
He conjures, concentrates, believes, and the shield comes into being. It's strong, he can tell it is, but it's also bright. It catches the witch's attention — Stiles is gonna call her a witch, he doesn't care about the proper terminology right now — and she turns toward him with wide eyes.
She looks like a regular person, not a bloodthirsty magical murderer. But Stiles knows better than to rely on first impressions. She's literally sucking the life out of his boyfriend.
Her surprised face quickly morphs into what Stiles surmises is her angry face. Stiles starts running, holding the shield in front of him. Sure enough, a bolt of blue light heads straight for him, but the shield holds. Amazingly, the spell hits the shield and then bounces right back at the witch.
It hits her, and she goes down with a cry. Stiles doesn't spare her another glance, just keeps running toward the tree and Derek.
He passes through the wolfsbane, and that's not good. He needs to do something about that. He knows better than to try to light it with mundane fire, but his own magic is safe. It won't produce toxic smoke, just burn up the flowers and render them harmless. He just has to believe.
They look kind of pretty burning with purple flame all in a circle like that, but he doesn't have time to appreciate the aesthetics. Keeping his shield up with one hand in case the witch gets up again, Stiles puts his other hand on the nemeton's trunk and pulses magic into her to make up for the loss. A kind of magical transfusion.
He hears Derek gasp and reach out. He's confused, maybe still stuck in his dream.
Then Stiles feels the nemeton wake. And she is angry.
"I've got you," Stiles murmurs to them. The nemeton acknowledges him with a gentle nudge against his magic, almost like a pat on the head.
Derek crashes to his knees, and Stiles realizes Derek's 1. naked and 2. completely free.
And that's when the witch disappears. It happens quickly, just from one moment to the next, and if Stiles hadn't been watching her for possible danger, he would have missed it. But the nemeton's roots rise out of the ground, grab her, and pull her down. Swallowed by the earth. Or maybe eaten by the nemeton.
Stiles doesn't want to dwell on what, exactly, just happened. The danger is gone, and he can focus on making sure Derek and the nemeton are okay. Joe is already stumbling to his knees, the sleep spell broken with the death of the caster.
The nemeton feels strong again. She's taken back her magic. Derek… Derek is another story.
Stiles slowly puts his shield away and takes his hand away from the nemeton. He puts his arms around Derek and helps him to sit.
"Take it easy," Stiles says. "You haven't used your legs in a while. Not really."
"Stiles?" Derek says. "What happened?"
"The nemeton let you go," Stiles says with a soft smile, and Derek looks at him in wonder. Stiles cups his face, leans in. "You're free."
And then before they can have a big romantic moment, or even one kiss, the entire Hale pack comes running into the clearing, and all Stiles can do is lean against Derek and laugh in relief.
The celebrating goes on for days.
Peter and Stiles's dad connect over the phone and work in two directions to come to the same conclusion: the witch was working alone. Her name was Julia Baccari, and she was once an emissary. She was replaced by a more powerful druid, her former alpha tells Peter, and had a serious case of magic envy.
Stiles thinks it's incredibly lucky that she wanted to keep the murder to a minimum. The sleep and confusion spells she was throwing around were meant to hinder, but not kill. Whatever her reasons, Stiles is grateful none of the pack was seriously hurt.
"Thank you," Talia says, after taking him aside and hugging him. "You kept my mate safe and you gave me my son back. I don't know how I can ever repay you, but I'm going to start with money. And then whatever else you might want or need."
It seems very heartfelt and full of gratitude, and Stiles isn't used to such bald declarations or thanks, for that matter. He shrugs.
"What is it, Stiles? What can I give you?" Talia asks, correctly assuming there's something Stiles wants.
"I know I'm just human, but I'm a Spark," he murmurs quietly. He usually keeps his magical status to himself, not wanting people to treat him differently, but in this case, he feels he needs to talk himself up a little.
Talia's eyes widen, but she nods. "Go on."
Stiles swallows hard, his throat feeling sticky. He takes a deep breath. "Can I be part of your pack? Formally? I can contribute. I'm going to learn more magic; I won't be a hindrance. I want to be an asset to you and the rest of the Hales."
She shakes her head and takes his hands in hers. "Even if you didn't have magic, if you wanted to stay with us and never be turned, we would accept you. Because you're an extraordinary person, and we already love you."
Stiles blinks rapidly, taking that in. "I don't know what to say." Then he remembers, and whispers, "Is it okay if I date your son?"
Talia frowns. "I hope you mean Derek," she says, and for a split second Stiles doesn't realize she's joking. But then she winks and hugs him again. "He couldn't possibly do better than you, Stiles. If you're both happy together, then, of course, you have my blessing."
Stiles beams and snuggles into Talia's hug.
"We'll announce you're joining the pack at dinner tonight, but I don't think anyone will be surprised," Talia says. "Happy, yes. But not surprised." She pulls back and looks at him with such warmth and affection that it makes him want to cry. "Welcome to the Hale pack."
"Thank you," Stiles says, as sincerely as he can manage.
"Now go find Derek. He's probably looking for you."
Stiles grins. "Yes, ma'am!"
The nemeton tells Stiles where Derek is, even lays out a path in his mind to follow.
"I would have thought you'd had enough of the tree," Stiles jokes, but he does feel a twinge of anxiety seeing Derek leaning against the nemeton. For a moment, Stiles imagines Derek sinking back into her trunk and being lost again.
Derek smiles and pushes away from the tree, walking closer. He's wearing a tank and a pair of basketball shorts, most likely borrowed from his father. He looks good enough to lick. Stiles can't take his eyes off him as Derek stalks closer.
Stalks. Yes. Like the wolf he is. Sometimes Stiles forgets Derek is a werewolf, what with all the other crazy circumstances, but he's forcibly reminded now.
It's not a bad thing. Stiles is kind of really into the way Derek's eyes flash gold. He's beautiful. Every single thing about Derek is a turn on. His looks are the obvious attraction, but Derek is damn smart and funny, and the way he looks at Stiles sometimes — the way he's looking right now — is enough to make Stiles's dick chub up and take notice.
And Derek smirks like he knows exactly the effect he's having. "I knew you'd find me." He holds out his hand. "Let's go for a walk."
It's just like one of their shared dreams, except now Stiles can feel the heat of Derek's hand in his own as they walk. Birds sing and flit from tree to tree above them, and Stiles hears squirrels scampering around too, making little chitters as they rustle leaves. It's nice. He definitely can't get this kind of experience in New York, and he's glad he's decided to stay.
"Your mom is accepting me into the pack," Stiles says with a small, proud smile.
Derek hums. "Well, you're extraordinary. It would be stupid to pass you up."
Hearing praise from Derek is different from hearing it from the alpha. Talia gives off such strong motherly vibes, makes Stiles feel safe and wanted, but Derek's words make Stiles blush, and his heart feels almost too big for his chest.
Stiles bites his lip. "And the other day I kept calling you my boyfriend in my head, but I'm not sure if you wanna go that fast, so…"
Derek frowns, looking pained for a moment, but then he pulls Stiles close and kisses him thoroughly. Stiles is breathless by the time it's finished, panting and wanting even more. Derek says, "Boyfriend, partner, mate, whatever you want to call it."
Stiles sucks in a breath, his eyes wide. He knows what mate means. Derek's serious about this.
He brushes against Stiles's cheek with his thumb, back and forth, looking at him like he's precious. Like he loves him. He hasn't said the words, but… this is love, right? Stiles certainly thinks so.
It's happened so fast, and under such weird circumstances, but Stiles is sure about this. And so, it seems, is Derek.
They end up smiling at each other, not saying another word, at least not until they're kissing again and Stiles can't stop begging for more. Derek kisses like he's starving for him, and he still tastes of fresh green things, and somehow Stiles ends up with his back against a tree and his shirt rucked up around his armpits so Derek can kiss every inch of exposed skin.
Stiles can't get enough. He tugs at Derek's shirt and then it's off, and they're chest to chest, skin to skin, warm and perfect. Stiles's cock is rock hard, but he's not the only one. Derek's low growls and pleased hums tell Stiles he may just be getting fucked against a tree very soon.
He's only half right. Derek drops to his knees and nuzzles Stiles's cock through his jeans, and okay, blowjob against the tree is almost as good, especially considering they don't have lube.
"I've wanted to taste you for so long," Derek mutters, and Stiles likes that desire-roughened voice. His cock likes it too, twitching as much as it can in the confines of his jeans. Derek gets Stiles's pants unbuttoned, unzipped, and down to his thighs along with his underwear, and then pauses. He looks up. "I haven't actually done this before."
Stiles fumbles for something encouraging to say, maybe something profound, but it comes out as a strangled noise when Derek wraps his hand around the base of his cock and licks the length.
"That's fine," Stiles finally manages to say, right before Derek slides his lips down his dick.
Derek's mouth is a wet, hot heaven. Perfection. Stiles's fingers scramble against the bark of the tree, but then he slides a hand into Derek's hair. Derek moans, and Stiles pets him gently.
"That's… god, Derek, that's so good," Stiles says, not knowing what else to say. He gives a little direction but otherwise lets Derek do what he wants. Because Derek is a natural. It must have something to do with his wolfy instincts or something, or maybe he just knows how to interpret Stiles's sex noises, because he does everything right. He licks, he sucks, he bobs his head and takes Stiles deeper and god, how is it possible that this is Derek's first time?
Stiles is going to come. His thighs shake. He warns Derek, tries to pull him off, but Derek just moans and sucks and keeps doing exactly what he's been doing. When Stiles comes, his head bounces against the tree behind him, and he sees stars.
He hears Derek make a short, choked sound, and he feels bad for coming in Derek's mouth the first time, but then he realizes Derek swallowed and then-
"Oh my god," Stiles breathes. "Did you… did you just come?"
Derek looks dazed and a little goofy. Stiles pulls him to his feet and kisses him, tasting his own come in his mouth and not minding one bit.
"You're so amazing," Stiles murmurs.
Derek nuzzles his neck and breathes in deep. He's hiding his face when he says, "I came in my pants."
Stiles laughs softly. "That's fine. That's pretty hot, actually. I mean, you're hot. You're incredible."
Derek groans, still sounding embarrassed, but he holds onto Stiles and scents his neck, his cheek. Stiles is going to have beard burn there, and he doesn't care one bit.
The office is pretty bare, for now, but Stiles and his dad are bringing in boxes, and Talia says she'll help decorate.
"It's a detective agency, not a fancy doctor's office. It doesn't need a lot of decoration," Stiles's dad says.
"You'd be better off letting her have her way," Derek says under his breath, and Talia smirks.
"We don't even know if we're going to last," John says.
Stiles scoffs. "We did okay in New York, and if you can make it there…" He trails off and sighs contentedly.
"At least the rent's cheaper," John mutters. He looks at Derek. "Can you move that desk over here closer to the window?"
Stiles will never get over watching Derek pick heavy things up like they're light as a feather.
"Word is already getting around," Talia says. "You two found my lost son. You'll get so many mundane and supernatural cases, you'll be able to pick and choose your clients."
Once Derek gets the desk in place, he moves back to Stiles's side. They're inseparable these days, and Derek's been interested in everything Stiles has to do to get his private investigator license in California. Stiles wouldn't be surprised if Derek decides he wants to work with them, too.
He aced his GED, and he's looking forward to starting next semester at the local community college. Whatever he decides to do, Stiles will support him. He wouldn't mind some werewolf backup on his cases, though.
"I doubt we'll do that well," John says, trying to be a realist, Stiles knows.
"You've got a meeting in an hour, and two more tomorrow. So." Stiles shrugs. "We might."
His dad smiles, and he's obviously happy to be getting back to work. He studied hard to pass the California exam, and while Stiles still needs some additional courses, he'll be available to consult.
Stiles looks at Derek, and the phrase 'the first day of the rest of your life' runs through his head. This is it. This is their new beginning.
Derek catches him looking and laces their fingers together. His eyes are light, full of happiness. Maybe he's thinking the same thing.