Chapter 1: Hunger
Huge thanks to eeyore9990 for the beta! Go read her amazing stuff!
Your friends. Your family. Everyone who ever meant something to you. We're going to destroy all of them, Stiles. One. By. One.
Stiles jolted awake on a shuddering breath, frantically flailing himself free of the tangled and sweaty bedsheets. He bit his lips to keep from screaming on the exhale, forcing himself to take measured breaths in and out of his nose.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
He counted each finger, his pulse pounding loudly, the occasional shiver racking his body.
He shook his head in automatic denial, pinching each finger firmly as he counted, trying to drown out the echo of the nogitsune’s words.
When he finally felt steady enough he stood up, making his way to the bathroom, only staggering a little. He turned the shower on and stripped efficiently, keeping his eyes straight ahead.
The shower was steaming but it seemed to barely register. Stiles still felt frozen to his core, only distantly aware of the pounding of water against his numb skin.
He toweled himself off roughly and then tied the towel around his waist, leaning over the sink to splash cold water on his face.
He braced both hands on the bathroom counter, staring at the steamed-up mirror. It made his stomach roil, but he had to see.
With a shaking hand, he reached out and wiped a wide stripe across the mirror.
The face that looked back at him was his own, but also not.
Stiles stared into eyes that were just a little lighter than even the day before, looking almost beta-gold in the harsh lighting. His nose was just a little less uptilted, the moles on his face not quite where they used to be. The scar on the bottom of his chin from when he fell off the swings in third grade was just gone. He seemed a little bit taller, his shoulders a little bit wider.
With trembling fingers Stiles folded his left ear forward, craning his neck. A wheezing breath escaped him, his legs suddenly feeling weak with relief.
The mark of the Oni was still there, the one that meant self.
Stiles was still himself. For now.
Your friends. Your family. Everyone who ever meant something to you. We're going to destroy all of them, Stiles. One. By. One.
The nogitsune’s words echoed in Stiles’ head again, and he grimaced. It wasn’t just that the nogitsune had threatened everyone Stiles loved.
It was that he had said we.
Stiles was already dressed and nursing his second cup of coffee by the time his dad stumbled downstairs. He grunted at Stiles as he poured himself a cup.
Usually he would sit next to Stiles as he drank his morning coffee. Maybe even put a hand on his shoulder, or pull him into a sideways hug on the way out the door.
Stiles remembered that physical contact, yearned for it with a sharp hunger that seemed almost violent. But his dad kept his distance, gulping his coffee while leaning against the kitchen counter, about as far away from Stiles as he could get.
The mug clattered into the sink and his dad was out the door with just a wave.
Stiles took another sip of hot coffee, but it didn’t touch the chill inside him.
The jeep made a grinding noise and then the engine sputtered out halfway down the driveway. Stiles knocked his head against the steering wheel, cursing. It was tempting to take it as a sign, to just stay inside again today, but Stiles had a mission. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and started walking.
Stiles rested his temple against the glass of the bus window, watching the whole lot of nothing out the window. The bus passed under an underpass and he flinched as in the moment of darkness he suddenly saw his reflection, eerie golden eyes staring back at him.
The bus filled up, stop after stop. Eventually a few people were standing in the aisle. Stiles pretended not to notice that the seat next to him remained empty.
It was Malia who had finally told him to his face, brutally honest as always.
“Something about you is just wrong,” she had said bluntly. “I don’t know what it is. It makes me not want to be around you.”
Stiles had just stared at her.
“I’m sorry,” she had said, already backing away.
The bus juddered to a stop, jolting Stiles from the memory. He snagged his backpack and made his way down the aisle.
It wasn’t that people shrank away from him, nothing that obvious. It didn’t seem to be anything conscious on their part. But as Stiles crossed the street and made his way across the campus the people just seemed to naturally part around him, leaving him alone in an invisible bubble of space.
He pushed open the doors to the University library, distantly appreciating the beautiful arched windows and expansive skylights. He handed the student working the reception desk his driver’s license and signed the register. He clipped the visitor’s badge to his shirt pocket as he walked through the main concourse, heading toward a second set of stairs at the back. Stiles had hoped to attend this University someday, had been imagining it since middle school. It all seemed so distant now.
A sense of foreshortened future. Yet another symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stiles knew. More proof that naming things didn’t really help make them any better.
The woman at the front desk of the Rare Books room squinted suspiciously at Stiles’ visitor’s badge for entirely too long, but ultimately handed over a pair of white cotton gloves and let him through.
Stiles wasted no time finding his way to the proper section. He slipped a small volume from the shelf and brought it to his table, starting up his laptop and pulling up his research document. He cracked open the volume, painstakingly making his way through the spidery handwritten text, looking for answers.
Stiles had been told what had happened. That the nogitsune had thrown up a pile of bandages, and Stiles had crawled out of the floor, covered in them, distracting everyone while the nogitsune had taken Lydia. And later, when Scott bit the nogitsune at the school, that body, Stiles’ real body, had cracked to pieces and then tumbled into dust right in front of him.
So what did that mean Stiles was now?
The librarian kicked Stiles out on the dot of 5 p.m., and he caught the bus home. He avoided his reflection in the window, pulling his phone from his pocket instead. He had turned the ringer off while he was in the library, but he turned it back on now.
No missed calls. No messages.
He opened up his Messages app, and looked down the row. Every most recent message was outgoing.
To Scotty: Hey, bro, want to hang out?
To Queen Lydia: Let me know if you want to get together.
To Sourwolf: Hey, man, drop me a line, let me know you’re okay.
It was understandable that everyone retreated into themselves, or at least that’s what Stiles liked to tell himself.
Better to think that than to think that maybe they were just retreating away from Stiles.
And really, who could blame them if they were? He was the one who let the nogitsune in, who had cracked open the door in his mind that let the malevolent spirit inhabit his body. Allison and Scott both did the ritual too, but it was defenseless, human Stiles — always the weakest link — that the nogitsune had chosen. And so it was Stiles who had twisted the sword in Scott’s gut, who had thrown Derek across his own loft, who had terrorized Lydia. Stiles couldn’t even look in the mirror without seeing the nogitsune’s smirking face, he could only imagine what his friends saw.
Stiles sighed, and switched over to try to level up in Unicorn Dash.
By the time he got home, his dad was already there.
“Jeep busted again?” he asked, and Stiles grunted an acknowledgement.
“I’m off tomorrow. We can take a look at it together.”
Stiles lifted his head in surprise. “Really? That’d be great.”
Stiles’ dad took a step closer. “I know I’ve been working a lot lately. It’s just — you know, the station —” His hand strayed automatically to his side, where Stiles knew the gash from the Oni’s sword was still healing.
Stiles felt the sick squirm of guilt in his belly. Yes, he knew. The sheriff’s station that the Oni, under the nogitsune’s control, had decimated. Along with the hospital, and the animal clinic. Not just Allison and Aiden, but twenty-three innocent people, in total, dead at his hands.
“I’ll go get dinner on,” Stiles said, slipping through the doorway to the kitchen, afraid of seeing silent accusation on his dad’s face.
Stiles played with his salad, using his fork to nudge the craisins around.
“You’re not very hungry,” his dad remarked. “Big lunch?”
“Yeah,” Stiles said automatically, but the question gave him pause. Now that he thought of it, he hadn’t eaten lunch at all, had he? He couldn’t have — there was no food allowed in the Rare Books room — and he hadn’t left, anxious to make the most of one of only seven allowable days under his Visitor’s pass.
Come to think of it, he hadn’t had breakfast either. Coffee this morning was the last thing he remembered consuming, and yet he didn’t feel hungry or thirsty at all. Yet another sensation that was blunted. Deadened. Stiles apparently didn’t need to eat as much as he used to, maybe didn’t even need to eat at all. So what did that make him?
He looked down at his salad and realized he had absent-mindedly arranged the craisins into a triskele. The sight of it made him angry, and he stabbed his fork into the center, shoving a bite of spinach and craisins in his mouth, choking it down.
Derek and Peter had fucked off somewhere without even telling anyone. There were no Hales in Beacon Hills any more, no reason that Stiles would ever see a triskele again. They had left Stiles to deal with this alone.
Or maybe they hadn’t. They had a deeper knowledge of the supernatural. Maybe they knew that whatever they had left behind in Beacon Hills, it wasn’t Stiles.
What was he?
Stiles found his fingers straying to the mark of the Oni behind his left ear, tracing the slightly roughened skin of the scar. He had always been cursed with an exceptional memory. He remembered exactly what Noshiko had said after the Oni had marked him.
“Am I me?” Stiles had asked.
“More you than the nogitsune,” Noshiko had replied.
She could have just said yes, but she didn’t. Her words seemed to play on an infinite loop in Stiles’ head.
More you than the nogitsune.
But that meant not entirely him. And that was then. What was he now?
Stiles pushed open the door to the animal clinic, hoping that Scott wasn’t working there today.
Was Scott even working there at all anymore? Stiles didn’t know.
Deaton seemed to be alone, and to his credit he showed no fear when he looked up and saw Stiles standing there.
“Hey.” Stiles waved awkwardly. The Oni had almost killed Deaton too, he knew. Was there anyone in this town he could look in the eye?
“Stiles,” Deaton returned evenly. “Come on back.”
And maybe it was Stiles’ guilty conscience, but was that a note of challenge in Deaton’s voice?
Stiles approached cautiously, knowing the balustrade of the gate was made of mountain ash.
He reached out, expecting to be thrown back, and was more surprised than relieved when he easily pushed the gate open and passed through.
“Have a seat,” Deaton said, gesturing to a chair. He leaned up against the exam table, crossing his arms, his eyes seeming to take in every detail of Stiles’ changed appearance.
Stiles sat, fidgeting under Deaton’s scrutiny. Well, no point beating around the bush.
“You see it, right?” he asked. “That I’m different now.”
Deaton nodded, calm as ever. “Don’t forget — I was there, Stiles. When you split yourself from the nogitsune.”
"Split myself,” Stiles repeated bitterly. “That’s a tactful way to say that I’m — that this body — is something the nogitsune vomited up.”
Deaton raised his eyebrows, cryptic as ever.
“So what am I?” The words burst out without forethought. “Am I — am I dead? Or, or — dying? I barely sleep, I don’t seem to need to eat. I make people’s skin crawl.”
Stiles pushed up the sleeve of his plaid, showing Deaton the cut on his forearm. “I got this two weeks ago.” The cut wasn’t bleeding, but it wasn’t healing either. It was just...there. A livid slash in Stiles’ skin. “What — what does it mean?”
Deaton’s gaze inspected the cut, but he made no move to pull Stiles’ arm closer, as might have been natural. So careful not to touch.
Stiles felt the frustration and rage bubbling up inside him. “You don’t have any answers,” he said, shoving himself to his feet.
“No, I don’t,” Deaton said, stopping Stiles in his tracks at the doorway. Stiles looked back, and for once Deaton seemed a little less carefully guarded than usual, his eyebrows scrunched in concern. “You’re different, anyone can see that, but as for what you are — that remains to be determined.”
Stiles looked up at the ceiling, blinking back tears. He had known, of course he had, but somehow hearing it from Deaton made it all that much more real. “Great,” he said.
He met Deaton’s eyes again. “And if it turns out I’m something else? Something — something evil?”
Deaton nodded. “Then I’ll put you down,” he said quietly.
Stiles swallowed. “Thanks.” His mind was in turmoil, but he managed a jerky nod, and then pushed open the door to the clinic, stepping out into the harsh sunlight.
Chapter 2: Blunted
TWO MONTHS LATER
Stiles rolled open the door to Derek’s loft, grimacing at the spike of pain the action caused.
He toed off his mucky shoes at the door and went straight to the bathroom, depositing his bat in the bathtub to deal with later. He grabbed the first aid kit from under the sink and sat down on the toilet seat. He threaded the needle with surgical suture and tipped his chin down, but the gash was too high across his chest and shoulder for him to really see it well.
“Goddammit,” he muttered.
He stood up, and with a furious tug pulled free the sheet he had draped over the bathroom mirror.
Might as well get it over with. He sucked in a deep breath, steeling himself, and looked.
His hair was getting long — might need to do something about that soon. Maybe he should just buzz it down again. Save some poor barber the trauma of forced proximity to him.
His eyes were a light golden-amber, the same color they had been for a few weeks now. They might even have been considered pretty if they didn’t have such an eerie luminosity to them, all the more striking against the paleness of his skin.
He was a bit taller and his shoulders were wider than before the nogitsune, but they hadn’t changed in the last couple of weeks either. At least he wasn’t turning into some kind of monstrous giant. Despite the breadth of his shoulders he still looked lean. Fighting monsters every night kept him in shape, he guessed. He refused to drop his eyes lower, focusing on the gash across his collarbone. He stuck the needle through and made the first knot. He could feel enough sensation to know what he was doing, but the pain was distant — blunted.
He made quick work of the series of knots and then stowed the first aid kit again. He carefully covered up the mirror again before turning the shower on, thankful that the water and power seemed to be staying on in this place even if Derek was gone for good. The water pattered down on the baseball bat, washing most of the mess away although Stiles would have to remove some of those pieces of goblin flesh from the iron spikes by hand. Ugh.
He stepped in under the shower spray, concentrating carefully as he cleaned each spike. Whatever else happened, he wanted to keep his fingers intact for as long as he could. When the bat was flesh-free he held it up to the spray, making sure all the blood washed off of the runes he had carefully carved up and down its length.
When the job was done he dropped the bat carefully onto the fluffy bathmat outside, and leaned fully into the spray. Distantly he knew that it was warm, but still nothing seemed to touch the chill inside him.
When he could tell the water was starting to run cold he got out, carefully stepping around the bat, and dried himself off. He didn’t bother with clothes before crawling between the clean sheets he had put on Derek’s loft bed. He didn’t need much sleep, but he did have to rest every now and again.
He listened in on his police scanner for awhile, telling himself he was listening out for clues about trouble spots.
“I’m headed off duty now.”
“Sure thing, Sheriff. Get some rest, okay?”
“Will do. Good night, Carla.”
“Good night, Dad,” Stiles whispered into the dark room. He flipped the scanner off, and let his mind wander.
The goblin nest was mostly taken care of, but he’d go back tomorrow night to make sure there weren’t any stragglers. Nothing much to plan there.
Stiles stared up at the cracked ceiling. His night vision was a lot better than it had been before. He wondered if that was the cause of the strange glow his eyes had now, or just a side benefit. Although, at times like this it was a curse. Stiles had seen way too much of the cracked ceiling of Derek’s loft.
The corner of his mouth quirked into a smirk. It wasn’t too long ago that Stiles would have given his left arm to have been naked in Derek’s bed. Of course, that was assuming that Derek would have been naked next to him.
It had been one of his all-time jerk off fantasies, the things he and Derek might do to each other in this bed. Well, his mind could still enjoy it, even if his dick was as half-dead as the rest of him. Stiles closed his eyes and let himself imagine.
Stiles crept down the embankment of the underpass, skidding a little on the muddy ground before catching his balance. Dammit, wasn’t it trolls who were supposed to live under bridges?
He listened carefully. The goblins were small but tenacious, and his bat wouldn’t be much help if they got a good grip on him, so he had to get them before they got too close.
He heard nothing but the creak of the wind in the trees and the occasional woosh of a car on the overpass. He advanced forward, kicking into the sparse shrubbery and assorted trash piles gathered in the niches of the overpass. He stepped in a puddle that was deceptively deeper than it looked and grimaced as the cold water seeped into his canvas sneakers.
He was still shaking his foot off when the first goblin rushed him. Stiles waited until it was just in range and then swung, the bat impacting the goblin’s body with a sickening wet crunch and sending it flying back against the concrete wall of the overpass.
Unfortunately, the next two came at him simultaneously from both sides. Stiles was able to get a solid hit on one, but the other jumped on his back during the downswing, claws raking down his shoulder. With a curse Stiles dropped the bat so that he could reach over his head and wrench it free, snapping its neck with a vicious twist of his hands and throwing it aside.
He crouched down and fumbled for the grip of the bat, his eyes darting to every dark corner. Damn but these little fuckers were fast, he had barely seen them coming. He heard a noise behind him just as his fingers touched the handle of the bat. He straightened up from his crouch, winding up for another swing, but the thing that came out of the shadows was no goblin.
The next few revelations came at lightning speed. It was a man — no, it was a ‘wolf, electric blue eyes vivid in the dark. It was — it was Derek, and he was coming at Stiles at top speed, fangs and claws full out.
“Derek!” Stiles said, stumbling back a step. “It’s — it’s me, Stiles!” He wondered wildly if Derek could hear a stutter in his heartbeat as he said the words.
Then Derek was springing and Stiles hesitated, somehow unable to bring himself to swing the bat. Maybe it was better this way, quicker. He squeezed his eyes closed, waiting for the feeling of claws across his throat, but all he felt was a woosh of air next to him, and then a sharp screech rent the air. He wheeled around to see Derek with a goblin grasped in one clawed hand.
Derek snarled, ripping the goblin’s throat open with his teeth and casting it aside. Then he wiped his forearm across his mouth and spat, his face melting back into purely human form.
“God, these things taste terrible,” he said. “Of course it’s you, who else would it be? And who the hell let you come out here without backup?”
“Backup?” Stiles repeated disbelievingly, but Derek didn’t seem to be listening. He was already crowding closer, his nostrils flaring.
Derek’s eyebrows were furrowed with concern, and he was standing close — so close — closer than anyone had been to Stiles in what seemed like forever. It made Stiles’ skin feel too tight, his pulse pounding loud in his ears.
And then Derek’s hands were reaching, pulling at Stiles’ jacket and overshirt, and Stiles felt panic squeezing his chest.
“Stop,” he rasped. “Get off me.”
But it was too late. Stiles panted, sick with humiliation as Derek tore easily through the ragged remains of his t-shirt, spreading his jacket and overshirt wide. Derek froze and Stiles turned his head aside, unwilling to see the look on Derek’s face, knowing what he was seeing.
Distantly he could feel the new gash, a dull burn of pain across his shoulder. He knew it would be bleeding only sluggishly, just like all the others — the gashes and rips from every monster Stiles had fought over the last few months, stitched clumsily with black surgical sutures but still red and angry because whatever Stiles is he doesn’t heal anymore.
“It’s deep,” Derek said, his voice sounding carefully neutral. “It’ll need stitches too.”
“I can do it.” Stiles squirmed free, pulling his plaid and jacket to cover his chest.
“You can’t reach,” Derek returned evenly. “C’mon, I drove. I’ll meet you back at the loft.”
And then he was already gone, melting back into the shadows like freakin’ Batman, leaving Stiles gaping.
“What the fuck,” Stiles muttered to himself, and then followed.
Chapter 3: Stitches
It wasn’t until Stiles opened the door to the loft with his own key, the action automatic after so many weeks, that he realized how it looked.
Well, not even just how it looked. How it smelled. Derek must have been able to tell that he had been living here, his scent thick in every part of the loft. Not to mention that after all this time Stiles had gotten a little lazy about cleaning up after himself — his computer and books were scattered all over the couch and table, clothes laying where he had dropped them, coffee cups across multiple surfaces.
“I’m sorry about the mess, I’ll —” he started to say, but Derek was already herding him inside, pulling at his jacket and shirt as Stiles squirmed away uncomfortably once more.
“I can do it,” he said sharply. “It’s —”
“It goes all the way to your back,” Derek said, hands reaching again.
“Stop —” Stiles batted Derek’s hands away, his breath coming short again, an angry hot prickling flushing his skin for reasons he didn’t entirely understand. “Stop — stop acting like you care!”
The words burst out of him as if he had been keeping them there, under pressure, for months, and maybe he had.
The look of mixed concern and hurt that flashed across Derek’s face made him even angrier.
“Of course —” Derek started, but Stiles spoke over him, practically spitting each word.
“It’s not like you and Peter even bothered to say goodbye before you —”
“— were kidnapped —”
“— hightailed it out of town like —” Stiles’ words stopped up in his throat. “What?”
Derek’s posture was cautious now as he took a step toward Stiles, but his voice was gentle and firm. “Peter and I were kidnapped. From right here, the day you defeated the nogitsune. We didn’t leave — we didn’t leave you. Not on purpose.”
“Kidnapped?” Stiles repeated stupidly. In all the time he had missed Derek, cursed Derek for leaving, it had never once occurred to him that he might have been taken.
His eyes searched Derek’s body, but he looked the same as always, down to the leather jacket that was always just a little too long in the sleeves.
“Are you all right?” he asked. He knew as much as anyone that Derek could have sustained any amount of torture while he was gone and would still show no marks.
Derek shrugged, and Stiles’ stomach lurched.
“I would have looked for you,” he said urgently. Derek had to know this, had to be sure of it. “If I had known — if I had any idea that — I would have looked.”
“Stiles — I know.” And Derek did sound sure, his eyes steady on Stiles’, not shying away as most people’s did these days.
“Who took you?” Stiles asked, his mind already whirling with strategies and contingencies. If someone was coming for Derek, they had to —
“It’s a long story,” Derek said. “But it’s over now. I’ll tell you everything, but let’s get you patched up while we do it.”
Stiles’ hand strayed to the gash on his shoulder. He had forgotten about it.
“Okay,” he said.
“Kate fucking Argent?” Stiles repeated. “Kate fucking Argent not only survived, but turned into a — a werejaguar?”
Derek didn’t even look up from where he was threading the needle with surgical suture. “Yep.”
“Jesus.” Stiles was starting to be glad that Derek had taken charge of the suturing, because his hands were shaking at the very thought of it. “And she had you for — for all this time?”
“It took me a week to drive back from Mexico.”
Stiles rolled his eyes, happy to retreat back into snark for awhile, trying to recover his equilibrium. “Fine, all this time minus one week. What — what did she want with you?”
Derek was rummaging through the first aid kit. “Honestly, I’m not clear on the details. Something about an ancient temple, and berserkers. I was pretty out of it for most of the time.” He pulled out a roll of gauze and set it aside. “Where’s the anesthetic?”
“I don’t need it,” Stiles said absently. Berserkers? “I don’t feel —” anything, Stiles finished in his head, but he swallowed the word before he could let it out.
Derek was looking at him intently, as though he had spoken it aloud nonetheless. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but seemed to reconsider, pressing his lips into a tight line and knotting the bottom of the thread instead.
“Anyway,” Derek continued after an awkwardly long pause, “Thankfully Peter was paranoid enough that he had set up a system of weekly check-ins with Braeden. When she didn’t hear from him, she tracked us down, kicked ass, and that was pretty much it. Peter cut Kate’s head off and burned her to ash just to be safe this time.”
“That’s...thorough,” Stiles said, still trying to process it all. And then every coherent thought flew from his head because Derek scooted a little bit closer to Stiles on the bed and put one hand on Stiles’ shoulder to steady himself, and Stiles jolted as if he had been shocked.
“Sorry.” Derek drew back immediately. “Did I hurt you?”
“No.” Stiles licked suddenly dry lips. “No, you just — you just startled me.”
“Oh.” Derek held out his hand tentatively. “Okay?”
Stiles nodded, his body tense all over.
It was less overwhelming this time now that he was braced for it, but Derek’s hand still felt like a brand on his skin — warm, so warm, the sensation of skin against skin sending skittering sparks outward from the point of contact.
This must be how touch had felt, Stiles realized wildly, but it had just been so long, everything so deadened for months now, that he felt like he was going to come unraveled at the sheer tactile pleasure of it.
He wanted to reach out, to see if it felt the same when he touched Derek, to beg Derek to touch him more and never stop, but at the same time he was reluctant to move an inch, worried that this was a fluke — that he might feel this once and then never again.
Derek had already placed the first few stitches, his eyes flitting between where he was working and Stiles’ face.
“Are you okay?” he said, his thumb rubbing an absent-minded little crescent that seemed to burn a path on Stiles’ skin, almost forcing a moan from him. Stiles swallowed the sound, turning it into a muffled grunt. “Are you going to pass out?”
Stiles shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said through gritted teeth. “Keep going.”
Derek nodded and Stiles fought to get himself under control. It was overwhelming to have Derek so close, to have Derek’s attention focused so intently on him. Derek was breathing steadily, little huffs of warmth against Stiles’ suddenly sensitized skin. His left hand was braced along the crook of Stiles’ right shoulder and neck, steadying him. His right hand moved deftly, placing stitches that Stiles could already tell were more neat and even than any he had been able to do.
Stiles felt pinned between Derek’s strong hands, felt like he could feel every ridge and whorl of Derek’s fingerprints against his skin. Even more so, he felt cared for, as if he suddenly wasn’t alone in all of this, and that thought was enough to bring tears blinking to the surface of his eyes.
“Hang in there, I’m almost done,” Derek said reassuringly, and Stiles pulled in a deep breath. As much as he thought he was prepared, it still felt like a dunk into freezing water the second Derek pulled his hands away to cut the thread.
“All set,” Derek said, busying himself with sterilizing the needle and packing up the first aid kit as Stiles stood on shaky legs, trying to turn away so Derek wouldn’t see him wipe his eyes.
Stiles splashed cold water on his face in the bathroom and then hastily pulled on a shirt from his duffle bag.
He came out of the bathroom but then hesitated, at a loss for what to do next. He could try to pick up some of his mess, but god, Derek probably just wanted to be left alone now that he was finally home.
“I’ll just get out of your —”
“You should stay.”
Derek’s words stopped Stiles’ anxious fidgeting, his body stilling in shock. “What?”
“I mean. If you want. You could stay.”
Stiles let out a long, slow breath, his heart thumping in his chest. “I figured you’d want some peace and quiet.”
“Stiles.” Derek had that ‘you’re-a-dumbass’ look on his face, and Stiles was surprised how much he had missed it. “I just spent the last few months mostly entombed in an abandoned Mexican temple. I think I’ve had my fill of peace and quiet for awhile.”
“Oh.” Stiles scratched the back of his neck, trying to adjust to the notion of Derek actually welcoming him into his space. “You’re sure?”
“Yeah. You pick a movie, I’ll order pizza.”
It was...amazing. A brief period of time in which Stiles felt almost normal. He sat on the very end of the couch, and almost jackknifed off of it in surprise when Derek settled in right next to him.
“Is this okay?” Derek asked, and Stiles nodded, trying to get his heart under control.
By halfway through the movie Stiles had almost forgotten everything else. It felt almost natural to be here, wisecracking with Derek. Derek’s body was a line of warmth pressed against Stiles from shoulder to knee, the pizza box balanced across both their legs.
But then the movie was over and Stiles stood up and stretched, hands over his head, and saw Derek’s gaze intently examining the line of sutures low across his belly where his shirt had ridden up. He dropped his arms, his heart sinking. For just a little while, he had let himself forget.
“I’ll just — sorry, I’ll just change the sheets on the bed and then I can crash on the couch.”
“You can. But the bed’s big enough for both of us if you want.”
“Seriously?” The word came out harsher than Stiles had intended.
To his surprise Derek dropped his chin, the tips of his ears reddening. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable —”
Stiles took a step forward, his arms flailing. “What the hell, Derek? You? Making me uncomfortable? Are you — are you messing with me or something? Or are you just this fucking good at pretending?”
“God, are you really going to make me spell it out?” Stiles felt a lump gathering in his throat. He knew Derek better than to think he was being deliberately cruel, but —
“I’m a fucking freakshow now, Derek, and there’s no way you can’t pick up on it just like everyone else. Scott and Lydia won’t even return my texts. People get nervous standing next to me in the street, for Christ’s sake. Malia told me flat out that I make her skin crawl and she doesn’t want to be around me. Even my dad — my dad — “
Stiles heard his voice cracking and stopped, gulping in a deep shuddery breath. He dug the heels of his hands hard into his eyes, trying to stave off the tears. “So what are you playing at, acting like — like you don’t even notice? Is this — do you know what’s happening to me?” The sudden realization had Stiles’ stomach roiling. “Do you know for sure that I’m dying or becoming something evil and this is just — I don’t know, pity or a mercy killing or something? Feed me a last meal and smother me in my sleep? Because if so you can just tell me. Fuck, I wouldn’t even fight it.”
Derek had been watching him the whole time, his face unreadable, but at that he took a step forward, his hands reaching out before he seemed to second-guess himself and drop them.
“Stiles, no!” he said sharply. “Just — just sit down, breathe for a minute, okay?”
“What?” Stiles tried to say, but the word came out high and squeaky. He saw silver spots in his vision and realized that he had slid into a panic attack without realizing it. Derek’s voice seemed to be distant and muffled but his hands were warm and real as he guided Stiles into sitting and placed a firm palm on his chest, counting aloud to help him regulate his breathing.
Stiles felt like his lungs were calcified, every breath a struggle. He could feel his heart thumping erratically, a cold sweat prickling all over his body. The panic seemed to come in waves, but Derek’s steady voice and firm touch were a lifeline in the tumult. Derek had one palm on the back of Stiles’ neck now and another on his chest, and Stiles felt like Derek was the only thing holding him together. Finally the last wave slowly, sluggishly retreated, leaving Stiles weak and hunched over in the grip of Derek’s strong hands, sweating and shaking and gasping for air.
Derek was muttering something in a quiet, steady voice as he gently guided Stiles into uncurling, his fingers brushing Stiles’ temples as he pushed Stiles’ hair off his sweaty forehead.
Stiles managed to straighten up, leaning back weakly. Derek was beside him, still murmuring assurances, pulling him close until Stiles’ head rested on his shoulder.
“You’re okay...you’re okay…” Stiles finally realized Derek was repeating.
Stiles found himself barking out a raspy laugh. “I am so very far from okay,” he said, wiping his eyes with a shaking hand.
Derek was quiet for a moment, his fingers tracing through Stiles’ hair soothingly.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you,” Derek admitted softly. “But there’s one thing I know for sure, and it’s that you’re — you’re still you . You’re still Stiles.”
“Nobody else thinks that. Not even Deaton. Not even me.”
Derek shrugged. “I’ll just have to convince you.”
Then the room was spinning again, but this time Stiles realized it was because Derek had scooped him up, one arm behind his shoulders and another one behind his knees.
“What —” Stiles had time to say before he was placed gently on the bed.
“You’re exhausted,” Derek said. “Just go to sleep for now. We can talk in the morning.”
Stiles felt himself jostled on the bed and Derek pulled off his socks and shoes. He thought about kicking him — bossy Sourwolf — but felt too bone-weary to do anything. Now that he was lying down, in fact, he felt like he might be able to sleep, or maybe just pass out, but he found himself protesting nonetheless.
“I don’t sleep anymore,” he said, his voice sounding tired and slurred even to his own ears.
“Yeah?” Derek said, and then Stiles was suddenly enfolded in warmth, Derek rolling him to his side and pressing in close behind him, one arm sliding under his pillow and the other wrapping tight around his waist. “Just try,” Derek breathed into Stiles’ ear.
Fat chance, Stiles thought, but almost before he had finished the thought he was asleep.
Chapter 4: Anchor
Stiles woke slowly, feeling warm and relaxed. He allowed himself to sink deeper into his pillow, breathing in the comforting scent of it. He snuffled a little, wondering vaguely if he was late for school and thinking he should check the time, but he was just so comfy.
“Good morning,” a soft voice said in his ear, and Stiles jolted fully awake, flailing his way half off the bed before he was able to sit upright.
By the time he found his bearings Derek was watching him with amusement and maybe a little bit of judgment. He was fully dressed and bright-eyed, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Oh, fuck you,” Stiles muttered, scrubbing his palms into his eye sockets and then trying to push his hair down into some semblance of order.
It took another long moment before he put the pieces together. “I slept,” he said wonderingly.
Derek just nodded. “There’s coffee and pancakes,” he said, walking off toward the kitchen area of the loft.
Stiles took a moment to wash up and then pulled on a clean pair of jeans, making his way on bare feet toward the kitchen.
True to his word, Derek had set a plate full of pancakes and a steaming cup of coffee on the breakfast bar.
Stiles embraced the coffee like an old friend, finishing half the mug in a couple of gulps. He tried a bite of the pancakes. They were warm and fluffy, and he found himself managing a few more bites, self-conscious under Derek’s steady gaze.
Finally Derek’s scrutiny became too much for him, and he pushed his chair back a little, meeting his gaze challengingly. “What? Do I have syrup on my face or something?”
Derek shook his head slowly, lips curling up in a smile. “It’s just good to see you.”
Stiles opened his mouth, and then shut it again, flustered. He finally retreated back to sarcasm, his best line of defense. “Are you sure you didn’t get replaced by a pod person in Mexico?”
Derek’s smile only quirked higher. “Nope.” He took Stiles’ cup and his own to the coffeemaker and topped them off, bringing them back and setting one mug back in front of Stiles. His expression was serious now. “Just had a lot of time to think.”
“Yeah? About what.”
“A lot of things. Including why nobody would be looking for me.”
Stiles felt his face flush red. “I told you, if I had had any idea —”
Derek held up a hand, halting his words. “That’s exactly what I mean.” He turned his own coffee mug around in his hands, as if searching for the right phrasing. “I knew no one was going to be looking for me, because I knew that everyone would just think that I had just left town. Even if I wouldn’t have, not without saying goodbye.”
His eyes lifted to meet Stiles’. “I really wouldn’t have,” he repeated urgently.
Stiles nodded, and Derek’s tense shoulders seemed to relax an inch.
“But that’s what I made everyone believe — how I made everyone feel. I was so messed up after Laura died, and then so unready to be the alpha. And then losing Boyd and Erica, and trying to drive Isaac away so he wouldn’t be next. I just...I made sure to pretend like no one really mattered to me. But it’s not true. You —” His eyes met Stiles’ again, and then ducked away. “You all matter to me a lot, and trying to keep you all at a distance wasn’t accomplishing anything. It was stupid.”
“Derek —” It was hard for Stiles to reach out and take Derek’s hand, anticipating the instinctive flinch away, but instead Derek just laced his fingers through Stiles’, squeezing gently. Warmth seemed to pulse into Stiles’ body where their fingers were interlaced, and he took a moment to marvel at the sensation before remembering that he was supposed to be speaking.
“You risked your life for us, over and over. No one could ever doubt that you cared for us.”
“You did,” Derek said, lifting his chin mutinously. “Enough to think that after all that happened to you, I would just leave you without a word.”
Now it was Stiles’ turn to avoid Derek’s eyes. He pulled his hand free, taking another sip of coffee just to have something to do, and then shrugged. “I figured you knew it wasn’t exactly me you were leaving behind.”
Derek’s brow was furrowed. “You keep saying that. Why? — You’re still you.”
“How are you so sure?” The words came out angrier than Stiles intended.
“Because you’re my anchor,” Derek snapped back. He took a deep breath, apparently reining his temper in. “I would know if you’d changed.”
“What?” Stiles felt his stomach swoop, as if he had taken a step and realized there was nothing but thin air beneath him. “Since when?”
Derek shrugged. “Maybe since that summer you helped me look for Erica and Boyd. Or that time you came back for me at the hospital, and I trusted you with Cora. Maybe even before then. Maybe as early as the swimming pool.”
“You didn’t even like me then. I’m not sure you even like me now,” Stiles said weakly.
“I didn’t like anyone back then, but I trusted you, and that meant a hell of a lot more to me.” Derek’s smile was soft. “And I do like you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before.”
“Derek.” Stiles felt...god, he didn’t even know how he was feeling. His heart was pounding, his skin prickling with cold sweat. He pushed away from the table, shoving to his feet so he could pace.
“You can’t — you shouldn’t have —” His voice was wavering and he swallowed hard, trying to get it under control. Derek was going to lose his anchor again and this time it would be Stiles’ fault. “Derek, you can’t have me as your anchor. What good is an anchor that is literally falling apart?”
Derek stopped Stiles on his next circuit, hands gripping his arms to steady him in place. “Stiles, you’re not falling apart.”
“Of course I am!” Stiles spat, staring down at the floor. “You’ve seen me — I don’t heal. There’s only one logical end to that road.”
“Is that —” Derek ducked down, forcing Stiles to meet his eyes. “Is that why you’re here and not home?”
Stiles nodded jerkily. He swallowed down the lump in his throat that always seemed to appear when he thought of his dad. “Dad thinks I’m traveling, taking some time to get my head around what happened. He already had to watch mom turn into someone else, day by day, and it almost killed him. I couldn’t put him through that again.”
Derek’s hands on Stiles’ arms tightened and all of a sudden Stiles was pressed up against Derek, his arms secure around him, his face buried in Derek’s shirt. If felt amazing there — warm and safe. Stiles realized he was trembling, a fine tremor that was shaking them both, and he tried to swallow down his embarrassment. Derek smelled like leather and outdoors and Stiles allowed himself a long moment to just breathe him in.
Surprisingly, Derek was the first to break the silence. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we’ll figure it out. Together.” He pulled in a breath deep enough that Stiles could feel the rise and fall of his chest, the warm air huffing out gently against Stiles’ temple. “I promise.”
Some knot of tension deep in Stiles’ chest seemed to loosen a little. “Okay.”
Stiles and Derek sat at Derek’s table, surrounded by all the books and research Stiles had compiled over the last few months.
“It’s all in agreement,” Stiles summarized, running his hand through his hair in frustration. “The nogitsune never releases anyone alive. He breathes out a puff of smoke, and then they’re dead. And everyone said that happened! He breathed out a puff of smoke, and I should have been gone, but instead he started throwing up the bandages — which is super gross by the way if I haven’t mentioned it before — and then I crawled out.”
Derek made a humming noise, skimming through the multiple printouts and photocopies. “What about this one? It doesn’t have a translation like the others.”
“As far as I can tell it’s Japanese, but before World War II. It’s a lot of kanji, and —”
“— before standardization of hiragana,” Derek continued thoughtfully.
“You know Japanese?” Stiles could feel his eyebrows shoot up.
“Some,” Derek said. “Enough to probably translate what I know and research the rest.”
Stiles pulled up a chair. “That would be amazing. I thought about asking Noshiko to translate, but…”
“Yeah,” Derek said, his eyes meeting Stiles’ in understanding. “Let’s save that for a last resort.”
The next few hours were spent in remarkably companionable mostly-silence, as Derek translated and Stiles tried to organize the information he had collected into a system that someone else could understand. They took a quick break for lunch, Derek guilting Stiles into eating with his concerned-face that seemed to be even more effective on Stiles than Scott’s puppy-dog eyes.
“So, exactly how many languages do you know?” Stiles mumbled around bites of chicken salad, his curiosity getting the better of him as usual.
Derek’s eyes went distant for a moment, and Stiles thought he wasn’t going to answer before he realized. “Oh, jesus, you’re still counting, aren’t you? That many?”
Derek shrugged. “A lot of them are interrelated, like Spanish, Italian, Portuguese. Once you know one, it’s not that hard to learn the others. And I’m not going to fool a native speaker in any of them, except maybe Spanish.” He took a bite, chewing thoughtfully. “Japanese was for Satomi, as a mark of respect for a neighboring pack. Mom prioritized the languages important to local packs, and for research.”
“Oh god, let me guess, you also know archaic Latin?”
Derek smirked, and Stiles threw his balled-up napkin at him.
“I definitely have a type,” Stiles muttered under his breath, and then froze, heart pounding. Fuck, he had forgotten about werewolf hearing for a second. When he looked, though, Derek was still smiling, so he must not have heard.
“So,” Stiles carried on hurriedly, trying to sweep his blunder under the rug. “Were you supposed to be, like, the pack interpreter or something?”
“Nothing really formal like that. Packs —” Derek’s brow furrowed as he searched for the words. “— they should help their members develop whatever skills they have. Even if they don’t ultimately benefit the pack. But... Laura —” Derek seemed to struggle with the name, “— was always supposed to be alpha. I would have been, maybe, like a diplomat in liaising with other packs.”
Derek raised his eyebrow, as if daring Stiles to say something about his impaired social skills.
“Yeah — I can see it,” Stiles said instead.
He wasn’t an idiot, it was clear to him that Derek before the fire had been an entirely different person than the Derek he had first met — angry, terrified, alone. Their lives since then had been one crisis after another, but even so Stiles had seen enough of Derek’s true personality emerge. He was caring, and smart, and at times even downright hilarious. He would have been able to forge strong relationships with neighboring packs, and for a moment Stiles almost saw it in his head — the Hale pack prospering in Beacon Hills, protecting the land and people. Everything that Kate Argent had destroyed.
“I’m glad she’s dead,” Stiles said, his voice scaring himself a little with its viciousness, but Derek seemed to understand, simply nodding his head in agreement. His hand reached for Stiles’ and squeezed his fingers tight for a moment, and Stiles had to duck his head, swallowing down the lump of affection that was gathering in his throat.
“C’mon.” Stiles startled as the book in front of his eyes suddenly disappeared, yanked away by Derek.
Derek held out his hand and Stiles, too confused to do anything else, took it. Derek hauled him to his feet and pushed him in the direction of the door.
“You’ve got to get out of your own head for a little while. We’re going out.”
Stiles stopped short, Derek bumping up against his back.
“I can’t — I don’t go out in the day. Someone might see me, or the jeep, and tell my dad —”
Derek made a humming noise, passing Stiles and then stooping to gather up his shoes from next to the door. “We’ll take the Camaro. I know a place. No one else will be around.”
Chapter 5: Ugly
“Goddammit, Derek,” Stiles sputtered, as another branch managed to snap back and hit him in the face. “How much farther are we going? It’s hot as balls out here.”
“Just a little further,” Derek said, which was the same thing he had been saying for the last fifteen minutes. Stiles muttered a few curses under his breath, swatting at a mosquito that was dive-bombing his face.
“Here.” Derek had stopped just ahead, and Stiles made his way to where he was standing. They must be deep in the heart of the preserve, in an area Stiles had not yet explored. Nothing had looked familiar for the past half hour of their trek.
The treeline gave way to a slope of tall grass surrounding a small, crystalline lake. An old dock led out a few feet over the water, sun-bleached and a little cracked but still sturdy-looking. Some equally weathered picnic tables and benches were scattered around, vines overgrowing the sets that were closest to the treeline.
“This is amazing,” Stiles breathed, making his way down the grassy slope. “I didn’t even know this was here.”
“It was kind of a Hale family secret,” Derek said, trailing his fingers along the edge of one of the picnic tables.
Stiles scooped up a small, flat rock. He took a few tentative steps along the dock, and then more as the boards proved to be sound. At the end of the dock he ducked down, dipping the fingers of his hand into the water. It was cool but not freezing, even to his dulled senses. He settled down cross-legged at the end of the dock, sending the stone skipping across the surface of the lake. The ripple of each skip spread out, merging in spots before the surface settled back into a mirror-like stillness.
Stiles was so enthralled by the peacefulness of it all that the woosh of air and then giant splash a few seconds later caught him completely by surprise.
“You asshole!” he sputtered, wiping the water from his face as Derek’s grinning head emerged from the water, seal-like.
“What’s a lake for on a day like this if not for swimming?” Derek did a showy backflip from standing, giving Stiles a momentary but still mouth-watering view of his bare chest and the waterlogged black boxers clinging to his slim hips. “C’mon in.”
“Uhhh…” Stiles checked to make sure he wasn’t drooling. “In a minute.”
“Suit yourself.” Derek did another backflip, probably just to be a dick.
Stiles couldn’t help laughing. He pulled off his socks and shoes, and then his pants. He stood for awhile staring down at the water, pulling absently at the cuffs of his flannel. Even though it had been ridiculously hot on the hike over, he had kept it on. But if he swam in it, he’d have to walk all the way back in a wet shirt. Ugh.
He looked for Derek but he seemed to be pointedly ignoring Stiles’ dilemma, swimming laps with a perfect sidestroke.
“Whatever. Fuck it,” Stiles muttered under his breath, stripping off his overshirt and t-shirt quickly before he could have second thoughts. Derek had already seen it all anyway, right?
Still, he jumped in the water quickly, ducking down a little to keep the water level above the patchwork stitchery of his chest and arms.
Derek swam by, managing to snark “About time!” without even pausing his perfect form. Stiles had no choice but to grab his ankle, tugging hard to dunk him under water. He came up snorting water out his nose and made a grab for Stiles.
Stiles did not at all squeal like a little girl when Derek managed to pick him up and launch him several feet across the lake.
After about an hour of splashing and horsing around they both floated for awhile. The sun was low in the sky but it was still warm, and for once Stiles didn’t feel chilled from the inside. He was getting a little more used to the feeling of Derek’s hands on him as well, he mused. It still felt amazing — electric and soothing all at once — but Stiles wasn’t so startled each time.
“C’mon.” Derek’s voice pulled Stiles out of his thoughts. “Let’s dry off. I brought food.”
Derek was already spreading towels on the dock as Stiles reluctantly pulled himself out of the water.
Stiles settled down on his belly, head resting in his crossed arms, feeling the sun warm his back. The dock shook a little as Derek lay down next to him, close enough that Stiles could feel the heat radiating off of him.
He turned his head and Derek was right there, his amazing eyes bright, lashes spiked from the water.
Stiles swallowed. He turned his head back, trying to slow his heart as he stared out over the water. He felt like he couldn’t take a deep breath, with Derek so close. He wondered if this body emanated scents in the same way his old one did. If so he must be leaking his stupid feelings for Derek all over the place.
He closed his eyes, trying to stay quiet and enjoy the peace, but whatever else had happened to change him, his asshole ADHD brain was the same.
“So, do you think you’re, like, immune or something?” he found himself blurting out.
“Immune to what?”
Stiles rolled his eyes, even though Derek couldn’t see it. “You know...how being near me doesn’t seem to creep you out like it does to other people. I mean, unless you’re great at faking it.”
“Stiles —” and there it was, Derek’s hand warm and solid on Stiles’ shoulder, sending an involuntary shudder down his spine. The shock of it was enough to turn Stiles’ head back to Derek’s and then he was caught, trapped in Derek’s intense pale gaze.
“It’s...you’ve got it all wrong,” Derek said. He furrowed his brow. “You’re not creepy, it’s more like —” He stopped, as if stuck for words, and now Stiles was intensely curious.
“It’s — it’s power.” Derek made a little shrug with his shoulder, as if he couldn’t find the exact words. “It was always part of you before, but it was distant...like hearing a song when you have your windows open, and you don’t know if it’s coming from next door or a mile away. But it was stronger at times. When you held me up in the pool. When drove your car into the kanima. When you broke the spell and showed me what Jen — what the darach — actually was. Even though I could feel it then, it felt like it was buried, deep under your skin. It’s just more obvious now. It’s like — like you’re thrumming with it.”
Stiles swallowed. “Power, or... evil? ” He pulled in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “There’s always been this part of me that is more ruthless than I know someone should be,” he confessed. “A part of me that would do whatever it takes. I think that’s why the nogitsune chose me. Because...because I was already corrupted.”
“Stiles, no .” Derek pushed himself to sitting and Stiles did too, for once not concerned with exposing the stitched-up gashes across his skin. “It’s not like that. Whatever this power is...it’s good . It’s you. Just — just stronger than you were before. Undiluted.”
Stiles felt his heart lurch. God, he wanted to believe it, wanted that more than anything. But how could it be true?
“Look at me, Derek. How could this be a good thing?”
Derek tilted his head slightly, his eyes wandering over Stiles’s face and chest.
Stiles felt himself flushing red but forced himself to sit still, letting Derek see all the ugliness he had become.
Derek’s gaze was still warm, however, when it trailed back up to meet Stiles’ eyes.
“When I became an alpha,” Derek began quietly, “I changed. Almost overnight. I was a little taller, broader. More muscle. I would walk down the street and people would naturally step aside, letting me through. They were sensing the power, the predator, but I wasn’t evil.” Derek’s mouth quirked. “I was a dick sometimes, but I wasn’t evil.”
Stiles couldn’t help smiling in return, but Derek quickly grew serious again. “Then when I lost the alpha power, I became how I was before — how I am now. A little smaller. Maybe a little bit weaker, but mostly just — different.”
“Yeah.” Stiles couldn’t help himself from letting his own eyes wander, taking in Derek’s slimmer form — the narrow dip of his waist, the almost delicate slope of his shoulders.
“So,” Derek continued, “which of those forms was ugly to you?”
“What?” The question was absurd. “You — of course you weren’t —” Stiles’ words stuttered to a halt, unsure how to say it without giving his feelings away. Because Derek had been just as beautiful to Stiles with red eyes as with blue, as a muscular, fierce alpha and as the more slender, gentle beta he was now. “In either form, you were still —”
“— myself?” Derek finished for him, with a quirk of his eyebrow.
“Goddammit,” Stiles muttered. Derek Hale, captain of the debate team right here. “So, you think this is still me, in like...an alpha form or something?”
He expected Derek to laugh it off, but instead he just nodded solemnly. “All your research tells you that when the nogitsune breathed out the smoke, you should have died. But instead, this body was created. So what made you so different?” Derek reached out slowly, gently pressing his fingers to the center of Stiles’s chest, a pale patch of skin in the middle of the criss-cross of stitched wounds. “I think it was your spark.”
Stiles felt a little dizzy, like the whole world had tilted on its axis. “You think I created this body, not the nogitsune? With — with magic or something?”
“It makes sense to me.” Derek’s eyes were so intense Stiles felt himself being pulled in, leaning closer. “But either way — whether the nogitsune created this body or you did, you’re still you, Stiles.”
Derek lifted his hand slowly from Stiles’ chest, the backs of his fingers coming up to gently brush against Stiles’ cheek. “You were beautiful before, and you’re beautiful now.”
“Holy fuck.” Stiles heart was rabbiting in his chest, the breath squeezed from his lungs. “When you said you liked me...you meant you liked me.”
“Yeah.” Derek’s smile spread slowly across his face, pure sunshine so bright it hurt Stiles to look at it. “I like you, like you,” he said, with just enough gentle mockery to bring Stiles’ racing heart back under control.
“But — all that time, you acted like — you must have known —”
Derek dropped his hand from Stiles’ face, and Stiles felt the absence of the warmth immediately. Crap, he had ruined this already without meaning to, but he was just so confused.
Derek dipped his head, and Stiles was amazed to see the tips of his ears pinkening a little. “You were seventeen,” he said to the weathered boards of the dock. “I wasn’t — I couldn’t —”
And it didn’t take a genius to put it together — words like Kate, and underage, and trauma.
“You couldn’t,” Stiles repeated, wonderingly. “But you — you wanted to?”
Derek nodded, looking ashamed, and that was wrong, it was so wrong for him to feel ashamed when Stiles was overjoyed. It made Stiles reach out, his own hand tentative against Derek’s cheek, fingers trembling with nerves. Derek’s stubble prickled against his palm as Derek allowed Stiles to gently tilt his head up.
“Do you still — even now?” Stiles could barely force the words out over the hope fluttering wildly in his throat, but then Derek was nodding again, his emotions naked in his eyes, and Stiles felt like he was cracking apart but this time in the best way possible.
He wasn’t sure which of them leaned forward but suddenly Derek’s lips were pressed against his, cool and gentle and almost chaste. It was nothing like Stiles had ever expected kissing Derek to be, and yet it was perfect.
Stiles felt Derek’s fingers in his hair, gently cupping the back of his head as they kissed again and again, lips clinging. Derek let Stiles set the pace, reciprocating but not pushing, letting Stiles experiment. Stiles felt almost giddy with the freedom to explore, running his tongue along the seam of Derek’s lips to taste, testing the lushness of Derek’s bottom lip with his teeth. Derek let Stiles slowly coax his mouth open, hot and wet and sweet against Stiles’ tongue. Stiles felt greedy, desperate to learn every single thing he could — how Derek tasted and felt, what made him shiver and what made him moan.
By the time they broke apart they were both panting. Stiles was not sure when but he had moved at some point to straddle Derek’s slim hips, Derek’s hands warm and solid against Stiles’ back. Derek rested his forehead against Stiles’ shoulder and Stiles pulled away, suddenly self-conscious of his marred skin again, so close to Derek’s parted lips.
“Sorry, I know it’s kind of gross —” he started, but Derek stopped his words with a swift, biting kiss to the mouth, before ducking down and placing another kiss along the row of stitches on his collarbone.
“Uh,” Stiles said stupidly, his stomach swooping with a strange combination of lust and tenderness.
He sat back and Derek smiled, open and sunny and unguarded as Stiles had ever seen him. “C’mon,” Derek said, clambering to his feet and holding out a hand to Stiles. “I promised you food.”
Derek snagged the backpack from where they had left it at the end of the dock and made his way toward one of the closer picnic tables.
Stiles pulled on a t-shirt and followed, head still spinning with everything that happened.
Derek returned his feelings. It seemed almost too good to be true, and Stiles stomach clenched with a sudden cold fear. Almost unconsciously he started touching his fingers in turn... one...two...three...four...five. He felt a surge of relief but couldn’t stop himself from counting again and again as he made his way toward the picnic table.
Derek looked up from laying out what appeared to be a small feast, his eyes dropping unerringly to Stiles’ fidgeting fingers.
“You’re counting,” Derek said, and Stiles shrugged sheepishly.
“Just a habit,” he explained. “In dreams —”
“— you have six fingers,” Derek finished softly.
“Did I — did I tell you that already?” Stiles wracked his memory, but there were a lot of gaps around the time the nogitsune took control.
Derek gestured for Stiles to sit down, and sat down opposite him, twisting the top off a bottle of water with a flex of his forearms that made Stiles lose his train of thought for a moment.
“Not that I remember — not in real life, I mean.”
Stiles felt his eyebrows shoot up, and Derek suddenly looked shy, fingers peeling the label off the water bottle, eyes looking anywhere but at Stiles.
“When I was in the temple, I was in some kind of...stasis, or trance. I dreamed about you there. That’s when you told me.” Derek’s eyes finally met Stiles’ and Stiles felt his chest clench with the intensity of that gaze. “You kept me sane.”
“I —” Stiles didn’t know what to say. He reached out, grabbing Derek’s hand. “I’m glad I could do that for you.”
His mind whirred with the possibilities. “Do you think it was like a subconscious representation of me, or some kind of weird dream-sharing, or —”
“I don’t know,” Derek said, pushing a plate of food toward Stiles, looking more relaxed. “Just that — it made it all the more apparent when I got free that there was no denying this anymore.”
“I’m glad.” Stiles felt a lump gathering in his throat again, his emotions seeming to veer wildly from one extreme to another. “I’m so fucking glad you’re back.”
They walked back hand in hand this time. Stiles’ palm seemed to pulse with energy where it met Derek’s. Stiles was a little reluctant to talk about it still, worried he might jinx something. It occurred to him, though, that now that things had been cleared up between them, Derek might have... expectations.
‘Hey,” Stiles said, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. “Um, I guess I should warn you. Uh…”
Derek cast him a quick glance, but otherwise waited patiently while Stiles forced the words out.
“A few things have been, um, different since I changed. Like, not just the eating and sleeping stuff. Also — uh —“ Stiles could feel his cheeks flushing so hot that it felt like his whole face was about to burst into flames. He gave up and gestured kind of vaguely to his dick, dying a little inside.
Derek’s brow scrunched in confusion, and then suddenly cleared, his eyebrows shooting up. “Oh,” he said, and suddenly his cheeks were pink as well.
“Just in case you were, um, you know,” Stiles blundered on helplessly. “I didn’t want you to take it personally, if —”
“Stiles.” Derek mercifully cut him off. “I hadn’t really thought about —”
“You hadn’t?” Stiles completely failed at keeping the hurt out of his voice.
“I mean —” Derek stopped, pulling Stiles around to face him by their entwined hands. “Of course I thought about it, it’s just —” Derek’s thumb rubbed soothingly against Stiles’ skin as he seemed to search for words.
“Do you like when I touch you?” Derek asked somewhat abruptly.
“Yeah.” Stiles bit his lip. “A little too much. It’s like — it feels good in a way that nothing has felt good lately.”
“Oh.” Derek’s shoulders sagged in relief. “I wasn’t sure — I mean you smelled like you did, but your body language was really tense, and —”
Stiles pulled Derek around to walk again, feeling like this conversation might be easier without the eye contact. Still he couldn’t help from leaning into Derek a little, letting their shoulders nudge.
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” Stiles admitted. “No one had touched me since I changed — even my dad kept his distance. Everything felt so weird and blunted, and now you — you make me feel so much.”
“So you like when we touch,” Derek confirmed, waiting carefully for Stiles’ nod. “And you like when we kiss.” Stiles nodded again, even more enthusiastically, and was treated to one of Derek’s rare, sunshiney smiles. “Then we’ll figure out the rest together.”
“Easy as that?” It sounded a little too good to be true.
“Easy as that.”
Chapter 6: Beautiful
“So this is what you do in the evenings?” Derek asked with a distinctly judgey tone to his voice. “Listen to the police scanner looking for supernatural threats you can sneak in and take care of vigilante-style with your magic bat?”
“First of all,” Stiles said, “do not disrespect Wonderbat.” He saw Derek mouthing Wonderbat to himself under his breath and carried on loftily.
“Second of all, given your perpetual Batman impression, you are the last person who should be casting aspersions regarding nighttime vigilantism.”
“Stiles.” Derek pulled Stiles close. “I am not Batman,” he growled in a perfect Christian Bale impression.
Which may have led to a Batman Begins rewatch, which in turn led to some serious making out on the couch during the slow parts.
Stiles lay on the bed in his t-shirt and boxers, watching Derek strip down.
Derek looked over and hesitated with his shirt rucked up under his armpits. “Everything okay?”
Stiles realized he was scowling, and felt like slapping himself.
“Yes,” he said emphatically, scooting to sit up so he could flail more effectively. “It’s just...I’m an 18-year-old virgin, and the man of my dreams — who also happens to be the hottest man alive — is stripping down to get in bed with me. I’ve waited all my life for this, and my stupid dick is broken. It’s like I’ve been fasting all day and now I’m finally in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet and...I have a toothache or something.”
“Am I the buffet in this scenario?” Derek was doing that thing where he smiled with just his eyes, and it was so adorable that Stiles could barely stand it.
“In my defense, you’re also the man of my dreams in this scenario,” Stiles said, watching appreciatively as Derek finally pulled his shirt the rest of the way off and skimmed out of his ridiculously tight jeans. “And did I mention the hottest man alive?”
Derek sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off his socks. “I think I recall something along those lines.” He waggled his eyebrows at Stiles. “Takes one to know one.”
“Oh my god.” Stiles whacked him with a pillow. “You’re a secret cheeseball!”
Derek grinned, shoving the pillow Stiles had hit him with under his head and reeling Stiles in until they were pressed together.
He placed a soft kiss on Stiles' mouth, and then another on his nose.
“We can just stay like this,” he said, nuzzling into Stiles’ neck, his stubble scraping against Stiles’ skin in a way that made his toes curl. Stiles felt a whuff of breath as Derek inhaled his scent and then Derek seemed to melt against him, the tense muscles of his shoulders loosening under Stiles’ palms. Something in Stiles eased as well, knowing that Derek liked his scent.
“Or we can do more,” Derek continued, biting gently at the hinge of Stiles’ jaw. “Whatever you want.”
“I want everything,” Stiles said plaintively. He ran his hands down Derek’s sides, glorying in the silkiness of Derek’s skin, the bumps of Derek’s ribs beneath his fingers.
“Do you want to keep this on?” Derek asked, his own hands sneaking up under the hem of Stiles’ t-shirt, thumbs rubbing little semi-circles at his waist. Stiles hesitated, and Derek pulled back enough to see his face when he didn’t respond.
“Is it for you or for me?” Derek asked, his brow furrowed.
Stiles shrugged, feeling his face heat. “I’m not sure.”
Derek kissed him again, slow and careful. “If you feel more comfortable with it on, then keep it. But if it’s for me…” He pulled down the neck of the t-shirt, pressing a gentle kiss on the stitched-up skin over Stiles’ collarbone. “There’s no part of you that isn’t beautiful to me.”
Stiles blinked away the stinging in his eyes. He gathered his courage and pulled his t-shirt off in one swift movement, casting it aside. He hesitated, worried what he would see on Derek’s face, but when he finally raised his eyes Derek’s expression held nothing but affection as he looked him over.
Stiles pulled Derek closer, mouth seeking out his. He wanted to lose himself in Derek, to forget everything that wasn’t the taste of Derek against his lips, the feel of Derek underneath his fingers. Derek seemed eager to comply, kissing Stiles slow and soft and just a little bit dirty, teeth nipping at Stiles’ bottom lip.
Every point of contact between Stiles and Derek, every touch of skin against skin, sent pleasure spreading through Stiles’ veins, sweet and thick as honey. It made Stiles push up into Derek even more, his tongue seeking and then finding the warmth of Derek’s mouth.
It suddenly struck Stiles all at once — that he was free to touch Derek however he wanted, to taste and to feel him. This was not a pathetic fantasy — Derek was real, and solid, and returned his feelings, and Stiles felt suddenly giddy with the possibilities.
He traced his hands over Derek’s shoulders and back, fingers brushing over the tattoo he had admired so often. Then, after only a momentary hesitation, he slid his hands down Derek’s sides, grabbing two handfuls of that spectacular ass.
Derek groaned into Stiles’ mouth, his cock thickening against Stiles’ hip as Stiles used his grip on Derek to rock them together.
“Derek,” Stiles breathed into Derek’s mouth as their kiss grew filthier, Derek sucking hard on Stiles’ tongue, scraping him with teeth that may have been a little sharper than was strictly human.
Stiles saw a flash of blue as Derek ducked his face into the curve of Stiles’ neck, panting heavily for a moment as if trying to gain control, and no amount of words would have convinced Stiles that Derek found him attractive as much as that brief glimpse of Derek’s teetering control.
“It’s okay,” Stiles said, his voice hoarse and scratchy already. “Derek — anything you want.”
When Derek lifted his head he was fully human again, and he kissed Stiles again, swift and soft. His fingers toyed at the waist of Stiles’ boxers, and he raised his eyebrows, silently asking for permission.
Stiles nodded, and Derek stripped the boxers down his legs and tossed them aside, shouldering easily back between Stiles’ spread legs.
Stiles looked down his own chest, heart lurching at the sight of Derek. His cheeks were flushed, eyelashes dark against them as he looked down to where Stiles’ mostly-soft cock was nestled in his hand.
Stiles closed his eyes and swallowed. “I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely.
“Shhh.” Derek nuzzled into the hollow of Stiles’ hip, first a scrape of stubble and then a warm hot breath as he breathed in his scent. “You don’t have to be hard for me to make you feel good.”
A jolt of arousal coursed through Stiles at the words, his hips bucking helplessly up into Derek’s grip, and then Derek ducked his head.
Stiles cried out, a needy, frantic exhalation as Derek’s mouth closed around him, hot and wet and so fucking good. Derek seemed to be in no hurry, working Stiles with long, deep pulls of his mouth. Derek was much slower, more methodical than Stiles had ever been with himself. It felt amazing, pleasure building slowly but inexorably in Stiles’ belly and groin.
“Derek,” Stiles found himself mindlessly repeating. His fingers found their way into Derek’s hair — trying not to pull, but just feeling the silky strands, the movement of his head as he bobbed slowly on Stiles’ cock. “Fuck, Derek.”
Derek was making soft little hungry sounds as he swallowed Stiles down, and it was driving Stiles crazy to see Derek like this, so open and unguarded. He seemed to be loving this, enthusiastically suckling at Stiles’ cock, dipping down occasionally to mouth at his balls and lave the shaft with his tongue before swallowing Stiles down again as if he couldn’t bear to not have him in his mouth.
Derek pulled off for a moment with a wet, filthy pop. “Can I?” he murmured, and Stiles took a moment to process that Derek was showing him the bottle of lube in his hand.
“Anything,” Stiles repeated. “You can — you can fuck me —” It was a little fast, but Stiles trusted Derek, knew that he would take care of him.
Derek was already shaking his head, dipping down to lap at the head of Stiles’ cock, sending a jolt of pleasure through his body that almost prevented him from processing Derek’s words.
“Just my fingers,” Derek was saying, his own voice as wrecked as Stiles’. “Stiles, I’m going to make this so good for you.”
Stiles felt the tip of Derek’s finger, already slick and warm, circling his hole before pressing, just a little, inside. Then Derek’s mouth was back on him, hot and tight, long sucking pulls sending waves of arousal through Stiles’ body as Derek’s finger worked gently inside.
Stiles felt pulled in every direction, wanting to buck up into Derek’s mouth at the same time as he wanted to press down against the inexorable pressure of that finger. Derek grazed something inside Stiles that jolted him, making sweat gather at the small of his back, his hands fisting in the sheets to keep from pulling at Derek’s hair.
“Derek — please. Please,” Stiles was babbling, and Derek seemed to know exactly what he wanted. A second finger joined the first — more pressure and fullness, rubbing steadily now against that spot that seemed to make Stiles light up from the inside.
Stiles could feel his cock fattening up just a bit in Derek’s mouth, still mostly soft, but it didn’t seem to matter. The pleasure was building, rolling in waves through his belly and cock and balls, twisting tighter with every strong suck of Derek’s mouth, every stroke of his fingers.
“Derek...fuck. I — I can’t — I’m gonna,” Stiles choked out.
Derek made a satisfied little hum around his mouthful, sending vibrations shivering up Stiles’ spine, and that was enough to send him over. Everything in Stiles seemed to clench, the fullness intensifying as he curled up into the pleasure, Derek’s fingers beating a rapid tattoo inside him as he worked him relentlessly with his mouth and tongue. Then Stiles was coming hard, spilling into Derek’s mouth as he swallowed it all down easily. It seemed to go on endlessly, wave after wave, Derek gentling him through it as Stiles shook and gasped with the force of his release after so many months.
He was still recovering, head spinning, when Derek pulled off, teeth biting up Stiles’ belly in sharp, sucking kisses. Derek latched onto Stiles’ nipple, suckling at it with hungry little noises, and Stiles heard the slick sound of skin against skin.
“I — wait, I wanna see —” Stiles managed, pushing Derek up a bit so he could see where the slick hand that had been inside Stiles was now jerking himself hard and fast inside his boxers.
Stiles shoved Derek’s boxers down as Derek lifted up even more on one elbow, his eyes flashing blue as he looked Stiles over, lingering on his mouth, his nipples, the soft cock resting wet against his hip.
Stiles reached out, his hand joining Derek’s, fingers laced together. The rhythm stuttered for a moment and then Stiles got the hang of it, his own fingers quickly going slick with lube and precome, sliding deliciously over the shaft. Derek’s cock was so fucking hard, red and angry-looking, leaking steadily, and as much as Stiles would have liked to have taken his time he could tell that Derek was teetering on the edge.
“That’s it,” he breathed. “Come on, Derek, fuck, yeah, come on me, make me yours —”
Derek’s mouth fell open, teeth sharp, grunting as he rutted into their clasped hands, quick and desperate. Stiles swiped a thumb up over the head of his cock and then Derek was coming with a strangled roar, striping Stiles’ chest and belly, cock jerking and twitching under Stiles’ fingers.
“That’s it — fuck, yeah,” Stiles murmured. “Fuck, that’s hot.”
Stiles couldn’t believe that he got to see Derek like this — cheeks flushed and beautiful, shuddering helplessly, still spilling sluggishly over their joined hands.
“Stiles,” Derek growled, still shivering. “Stiles.” He fell to the side, landing hard on his elbow, head hanging as he gasped in panting breaths.
“Oh my god,” Stiles said. “Derek, you’re — you’re so —”
Derek’s eyes lifted, the beautiful multicolor irises intense as he looked at Stiles. Stiles felt Derek’s gaze as it if were a physical touch. Derek’s eyes roved down his neck — taking in the flush on his chest, the marks of Derek’s mouth on his skin, the evidence of Derek’s release on his chest and belly — and Stiles had never felt more beautiful.
Derek made a soft sound before lowering his head, licking Stiles clean with gentle laps of his tongue as Stiles squirmed and shuddered beneath him.
Then Derek unceremoniously flipped Stiles over like a pancake, nestling in close behind him, face buried in the nape of his neck, rumbling wordlessly as he pressed little nips and bites to the crook of Stiles’ shoulder.
Derek seemed to have gone preverbal and Stiles luxuriated in the feeling of being held tight in Derek’s arms, the wet press of Derek’s mouth against his skin. An unfamiliar relaxation spread through his muscles, leaving him feeling warm and loose and just a little bit loopy.
He wanted to do more, he wanted to do everything, but the lassitude was spreading, making him feel wooly-headed and sated.
“Sleep,” Derek rumbled into the nape of his neck, teeth pressing gently in a firm little love-bite, and Stiles was helpless to do anything except obey.
Chapter 7: Self
“Stop fidgeting,” Derek rumbled into the nape of Stiles’ neck, pulling him closer with an arm tight around his waist.
It was barely dawn, pale light filtering through the windows. Stiles closed his eyes again and tried to settle back to sleep but it was impossible. As much as he appreciated the feeling of Derek’s naked body pressed against his, he couldn’t keep from squirming.
“Your fault,” he mumbled. “You didn’t tell me we were going into the woods yesterday; the mosquitoes ate me alive.” He scratched at his chest a little, until Derek captured his hand and dragged it down to his side again.
“Mmmmm…” Derek hummed into Stiles’ throat, sending a shiver down his spine. “I’ll just have to distract you then.”
Derek moved, pressing Stiles down to his back and settling over him in a delicious slide of skin over skin.
Stiles made a happy noise, pressing up into Derek as he settled warm and solid between Stiles’ thighs. Stiles didn’t even realize he was scratching again until Derek captured one wrist in each hand, pulling them up to pin them above Stiles’ head.
“This alright?” Derek mumbled and Stiles nodded, gently testing the restraint and finding it a little more arousing than he probably should. Derek seemed to scent it on him, huffing a small laugh into the hollow of his throat before rasping his stubble there and following it with a warm, wet kiss.
Stiles felt the gentle suction, the scrape of Derek’s teeth against the tender skin, and knew he would bear Derek’s mark. The idea of it warmed him further and he squirmed in Derek’s grip, pressing up into his weight, feeling Derek’s cock stiffen against his thigh.
“Impatient,” Derek rumbled, sliding down further and laving at Stiles’ nipple.
“Fuck — Derek,” Stiles breathed. He hadn’t realized he was so sensitive there, but Derek’s mouth seemed to send sparks through Stiles’ body with every lap of his tongue.
“Derek,” Stiles pleaded again, every other word flown from his mind, but Derek was relentless, moving instead to Stiles’ other nipple, licking and pulling at it until it stood out, wet and red and puffy.
Derek leaned back as if admiring his work, and it took a moment for Stiles to realize that he had paused.
He rolled his hips up against Derek’s belly, trying to urge him on, but Derek was still just looking at Stiles, his brow a little furrowed.
“You don’t have any bites,” Derek said.
“What?” The words didn’t make any sense to Stiles’ fevered brain. “Derek, come on.”
Derek pulled back even more, making Stiles want to cry but clearing his head a bit.
“You don’t have any mosquito bites,” Derek said carefully, his eyes flying up to capture Stiles’ with a serious look. “That’s not what’s itching.” Derek leaned down, nuzzling along the line of stitches at Stiles collarbone, scenting his skin. “You’re healing.”
“What?” Stiles said again. Derek’s grip on his wrists had gone loose, and he freed his right hand, reaching up to trace the line of stitches Derek had just scented.
“I can’t — I don’t —” he started, but Derek was sitting all the way up now, and Stiles could see that for the first time the stitched cuts looked different — less livid and red, the skin lying flat and almost seamless on either side of the stitches. And they itched, a constant, nagging sensation that had Stiles absently scratching again before Derek pulled his hand away with an amused huff.
“What the fuck,” Stiles said breathlessly, looking at Derek. “Did you cure me with orgasms or magical werewolf jizz or something?”
Derek smiled, settling down on his side and pulling Stiles down on his side as well, facing him. He kept ahold of Stiles’ hands in one strong grip, but the other hand came up to brush gentle fingers down his cheek. “Not me. But I was hoping something like this might happen.”
“What — how?”
Derek’s hand rubbed soothingly up and down Stiles’ back, easing his agitation a fraction. “What keeps werewolves from healing?”
Stiles blinked at what seemed like a sudden change of topic, impatient for answers but intrigued as always by learning more about werewolves. “I don’t know...wolfsbane? Electricity?” He felt bad about saying it, but after a pause he forced the word out. “Fire?” That’s all he could remember from the bestiary, and he had the section on werewolves memorized backwards and forwards by now.
“There’s one more thing.” Derek seemed to be choosing his words carefully. He paused for a moment, rubbing Stiles’ back again, before seeming to make up his mind.
“When our house burned down, Laura and I were at school. We both felt the loss of our pack, even before the alpha spark passed to her. My — my mom must have been one of the last to die.”
Stiles made a soft hurt noise at the thought of what Derek had gone through. He wanted to hug him tightly, try to make up for all that had happened, but he knew Derek wouldn’t be sharing this painful memory without a compelling reason.
“We got to the house, and it was completely engulfed in the flames. I wasn’t thinking clearly — I smelled Kate, and knew it was my fault —”
Stiles made a little noise of protest, and Derek managed a lopsided smile. “— at least that’s what I thought then. I tried to run into the house, but Laura held me back. Her claws were out, and they broke through my skin — here, and here.” Derek traced a line on each bicep. “She let go as soon as she realized she was hurting me, and a few moments later the alpha spark passed to her and our last connection to the pack was severed. We knew it was too late.”
Derek’s voice wavered a little and Stiles waited as Derek swallowed thickly, struggling to regain his composure. “The marks of her claws didn’t heal,” he finally said, his voice steadier. “Not for months, maybe close to a year”
“I —” Stiles’ mind was whirling, trying to figure out Derek’s meaning. There was that time Scott hadn’t healed, and Allison had to stitch him up. But that had been the wolfsbane in Coach’s whistle, hadn’t it? But Scott had thought he wasn't healing because of —
“Guilt,” Stiles said aloud.
Derek nodded. “Self-hatred,” he added. “Insecurity. Any negative emotion strong enough to turn our magic against us.”
It suddenly seemed so clear to Stiles. “I thought this body belonged to the nogitsune. I hated it.”
“Your magic is more powerful now than it ever has been,” Derek agreed. “But it’s not entirely in your control. It reflects not just your conscious wishes, but your unconscious wishes. And maybe not just about healing.”
“What?” Stiles shook his head, confused again.
“Scott. Lydia. Your dad. Even Malia.” Derek’s voice was gentle. “All people the nogitsune hurt, or took advantage of. I don’t think it’s coincidence that they had trouble being around you. I think your guilt — your magic — was purposefully driving them away.”
“Fuck.” Stiles’ head was spinning. “I did this to myself? The whole time — I was hurting myself.”
“And you can heal yourself. Not me, not anyone else. Just you.”
“I’m fucking Penelope,” Stiles said wonderingly.
“What?” Derek’s brow was adorable scrunched up in confusion, Stiles thought, giddy in his relief.
“You know, Penelope, with the pig face?” Derek’s brow scrunched further. “Okay, first thing on our to-do list is watching Penelope, because that is like peak-level James McAvoy attractiveness right there,” Stiles babbled. “But all Penelope needed was to be loved by one of her own kind, and in the end it was her, right? She just had to love herself, and — boom, pig-face gone, Christina Ricci-face back.”
Derek was starting to look concerned now, and, okay, maybe there was the slightest bit of a hysterical edge to Stiles’ babbling.
“I can see my dad again,” Stiles said. “I can — I can go to college. I can actually date you, and be your boyfriend, and live a life with you, and —” Stiles pulled in a deep breath, lurching forward to hug Derek tight, trying to communicate all his relief and joy.
“I’m still me,” he breathed, and Derek hugged him back, rocking him gently back and forth as Stiles’ emotions seemed to veer wildly again, tears gathering in his eyes. He swallowed, pressing his wet face into Derek’s neck. “I’m still me.”
“You’re still you,” Derek confirmed, his voice soft and warm, and for the first time Stiles really, truly, believed him.