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The Wolf of the Woods

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Today is the day, Stiles just knows it. Today’s the day he’s going to touch the great wolf.

He’d come close last week, had offered the beast a scrap of meat with one hand, while the other carefully, cautiously reached out…but the wolf had seen it and sprung away, hot amber eyes boring into Stiles before disappearing deeper into the woods.

The great black wolf is the reason the forest is off-limits to anyone in the village, even though, as far as anyone knows, it’s never done any harm to anyone. But the village elders—including Stiles’ father—aren’t willing to take the chance, so no one takes the trail through the trees unless there’s great need, and only during daylight hours.

But the presence of that trail continually reminds Stiles that it hasn’t always been this way, that the wolf only showed up a few years ago, and Stiles is determined to find out what brought it here. And if he could perhaps tame it in the process, all the better.

Despite his resolve, it had taken him days of wandering through the forest before he even caught a glimpse of the wolf. But when he had, his breath had stilled in his chest—he’d thought the stories had exaggerated the size of the creature, but it was far larger than he thought it’d be, and Stiles had abruptly realized he could be facing his death.

But the wolf had hardly paid him any mind, only glancing his way before hurrying off through the undergrowth.

Stiles had been too startled that day, but any time he’d seen the wolf after that, he’d try to follow him. It was in vain, though, because after a few steps the wolf would always vanish into the trees.

Something had changed when Stiles had started talking, though.

He’d said something in frustration, like why do you always disappear so fast, I’ve never even gotten a good look at you, and to his surprise those ears had swiveled back, and the wolf’s pace had slowed. Over the ensuing weeks, he’d stayed with Stiles longer and longer, seeming to listen intently to whatever he was rambling about. It’d taken a lot of patience, but he’d managed to gradually walk closer to the wolf, until they were roaming the forest nearly side by side.

And the wolf is allowing that closeness consistently now, which is why Stiles is convinced that today he’ll bridge the final gap, that he’ll actually get to touch the great black wolf.

But the wolf is clearly not aware of those plans. He leads Stiles through a few large, looping circles, weaving and winding through the trees at a gradually increasing pace, until Stiles can no longer keep up, and he’s suddenly gone.

Stiles lets out an aggrieved sound, and gives into his frustration, collapsing down at the foot of a tree and rubbing his hands over his face. He’s not sure how to convey to an animal that he’s harmless, but he’s clearly failing at it.

He’s just considering staying here and wallowing, regretting his foolish ideas, when there comes a soft touch against his knee. He tries not to flinch, because it’s probably one of the friendly deer that like to roam through the village. But when he slowly, carefully pulls his hands from his face, it’s no deer looking back at him.

It’s the wolf, eyes glowing hot amber, and Stiles has only a half a second to be afraid before it nudges his palm. That seems sort of…encouraging, so he tentatively reaches out, lightly touches the space between the wolf’s ears.

“Hi,” he breathes, and he knows it’s inane, but he can’t stop the words pouring fourth. “I’m Stiles. What brought you here, wolf? Where did you come from?”

He keeps rambling, and the wolf seems to listen intently, allowing the contact of Stiles hand for a long moment before turning and bounding off into the trees.

And Stiles just grins victoriously, because he knows he can do it. He’s really going to tame the wolf.

 

*

 

Although, in reality, it seems like the wolf is taming him.

If Stiles tries to follow for too long, the wolf will disappear, only to suddenly reappear out of nowhere and tackle Stiles to the ground. He’ll make a soft huffing sound, almost like a warning, and then is gone before Stiles can get his feet back under him.

Stiles always takes the hint, and goes back home.

And after a lot of trial and error, he realizes the wolf will only consistently meet him in the clearing closest to the village, the one that’s the least treacherous to get to. Stiles finds that sort of odd, but considering nobody else comes out here, the wolf must feel that it’s pretty safe.

Sometimes, the wolf will lay down in the soft grass beneath the trees, looking up at Stiles expectantly until he sits down next to him. Often the wolf will rest his head against Stiles’ leg, and Stiles will run his fingers through that thick black coat, talking idly about village life until the wolf either dozes off, or gives Stiles a fond nudge before trotting away.

Maybe he won’t tame the wolf. But being a friend seems like a better option, anyway.

 

*

 

Most of the villagers—the ones who notice he’s gone, anyway—think Stiles is spending his time in the city a few miles north, a ruse Stiles’ friend Scott helps him maintain. The road there only has a few thickets of trees, nothing like the dense forest that borders the village, so it’s considered pretty safe.

Stiles’ dad is more than a little suspicious about the time Stiles is supposedly spending there, but Stiles just keeps insisting that he’s trying to have as much fun as he can before he has to dedicate his time to learning a trade. His dad never really seems to buy it, but that’s okay.

Stiles is hoping he won’t have to keep it up for much longer.

And when he’s not sneaking off into the woods, Stiles is building. He’s nearly come of age, and it’s traditional for young adults to build their own lodging before moving out of their family’s home. Usually they have the help of the village to do it, but since absolutely no one approves of the location Stiles chose to build on, he’s pretty much on his own.

He’s not worried, though. He has Scott’s help, and his dad’s sometimes, when he has a break from his leatherworking commissions. And Stiles is a hard worker, focused when he needs to be, so despite the lack of assistance he’s nearly done with it. He doesn’t have many things to bring over from his dad’s house, having never owned much, but he’s excited by the independence that will symbolize.

And he knows that, as much as his dad protested the spot Stiles built on, he’s happy Stiles has decided to stay here, close by.

 

*

 

So, week after week, Stiles gets used to meeting the wolf and exploring the forest together.

But one day, as Stiles waits in the clearing, what comes silently through the trees is not a wolf, but a man. A rather handsome man, Stiles can’t help noticing, wearing clothes that don’t seem to fit quite right.

“Stiles,” the man greets, tone mild despite his serious expression.

Stiles balks a little at that. “Who are you? How do you know my name?”

In answer the man’s eyes glow hot amber, just the same as the wolf’s.

“It’s you,” Stiles gasps, staring at the stranger as his mind struggles to understand. “But how—” That’s all he can get out. All his life he’s grown up with stories of people who could change themselves, who could become something else. But for all his vivid imagination, Stiles never believed those stories to be anything other than entertaining tales, something to get them all through the long winter months.

The man nods, solemn. “I’m Derek. You were always asking me questions when we’d walk together, and I thought it might be time to give you answers.” There’s a tiny shrug, though, as if he’s feeling uncertain.

Stiles gives him a small encouraging smile, and it widens when Derek steps a little closer.

But then Derek takes a deep, shuddering breath, and Stiles suddenly feels as though storm clouds have come, blocking out the light. And his smile drops off his face when Derek says, “Two years ago, late at night, my family’s home was burned down to the ground.”

Stiles casts his mind about, and remembers briefly hearing about a fire, deep in the woods. The Hale family, who occasionally brought their wares to the village to sell.

“I was out, gathering nectar from the moon-flowers, but everyone else was still inside when they—” Derek’s words choke off then, for a long moment, before he begins to speak again. “We tended rare plants and made wood carvings, and we mostly kept to ourselves, so I couldn’t believe—but I guess after they broke into our storage shed, they realized the easiest way not to be followed was to create a bigger distraction. My family died so they could escape easily with dried plants and bits of wood.”

Stiles hears the bitter rage in Derek’s voice, and thinks he understands what happened. Still, he just listens as Derek talks, sure that he needs that more than any platitude right now.

“So I screamed out my anger and grief until it turned to howls, and I shifted fully into a wolf, even though it wasn’t a full moon. And I stayed that way. I drove all of the bandits and thieves out of the forest,” he smiles grimly, “by any means necessary.” His smile becomes something more real when he adds, “Did you notice there were no more thefts in the village?”

Stiles nods, because his father had mentioned that livestock were no longer disappearing, and no more ironworks vanishing from the blacksmith’s shop. He’d joked that it’d really reduced his workload, and given him too much free time to stitch leather, but Stiles knew he hadn’t minded at all.  

“I patrolled day and night, trying to forget, trying to keep this from happening again. And started to lose hold on my humanity.” There’s a long pause, his gaze resting heavily on Stiles. “Then you came along. And at first I was afraid—for so long, I had only ever attacked the humans I encountered. I was afraid I would hurt you, even though you smelled of the village and I knew you posed no threat.”

“That’s why you were always running away from me,” Stiles says quietly.

“Yes,” Derek says. “But then you started speaking to me, as though I was a person, as though my existence mattered, and I began to remember who I was. What I was. And I knew that I had to shift back. But it was difficult, as I had been in this form for so long. I stayed with you as much as I could, listening and learning, trying to pull myself into the human world. And I finally succeeded.”

But Derek says that in a strangely grave way, so Stiles has to ask, “Is something wrong?”

Derek gives him a small, uncertain smile. “Now that I have returned, I find that I don’t know what to do.”

“Well,” Stiles says cautiously. “I had this idea—actually, it might be better if I show you.”

Derek gives him an odd look at that, but he follows Stiles back to the village willingly enough. They emerge at the far edge of the tree line, where hopefully no one will see them leaving the forest. Stiles doesn’t want anyone making a fuss before he has a chance to explain.

And what Stiles wants to show Derek isn’t far from here, anyway.

“I started building it when I began trying to befriend the wolf,” Stiles says as they approach his nearly-finished house. They’ve come at it from the side, and it’s apparent that the back door opens directly into the forest. There’s a soft rustle of leaves underfoot as they round the corner, and Stiles leans heavily next to the door, looking out into the trees. “I knew he’d want to be in the woods, but thought maybe sometimes he’d come here, too.” He dares a glance Derek’s way. “And the offer still stands. It’s not quite done, but if you’d like to stay—”

“I can help you finish it,” Derek says, smiling now. “It’s been a long since I’ve built anything, but I’d like to try again.”

“Perfect,” Stiles says, smiling brightly back.

And then, with Derek by his side, they go house to house, letting the villagers know that the forest is safe to them. That the wolf is a protector, not a danger.

 

*

 

Epilogue:

 

Stiles sits at the table next to Derek, looking out the open back door and into the woods. It’s lovely, sun beams shining through gaps in the leaves, birds flitting from branch to branch, but he wonders if it’s going to take away what he loves.

He hears Derek leave in the middle of the night sometimes, to patrol, sometimes he wakes early and looks across to see Derek’s cot empty, unslept in. There isn’t much danger out there now, the reputation the forest has gained doing most of Derek’s work for him, and Stiles wonders if he’s becoming restless.

He wonders if Derek would like to change back, to go roaming farther in search of others of his kind. Stiles has grown used to having Derek in his home, in his life, but he doesn’t even know if Derek intends to stay.

And his dad has been asking some rather pointed questions about Derek’s place his life, questions Stiles would like to know the answers to himself.

“Do you, um,” he tries, hands gripping the edge of the table. “There’s plenty of vacant land, and I’d be more than happy to help, if you wanted to build your own house here.”

Derek looks at him, mouth flattening to a thin line before returning to a more neutral expression. “Do you want me to move out?” he asks stiltedly. “If you’re asking me to leave, then I—”

“No,” Stiles says quickly. “No, of course not. I love having you here, but I didn’t know if you wanted—I just—you can leave any time you want,” he finally manages to get out. It’s not what he really wanted to say, but it’ll have to do.

“Well, if you want to know the truth of it,” Derek says, his hand covering Stiles’ as his soft lips press against Stiles’ own, “I’d rather stay.”

“Perfect,” Stiles breathes, kissing Derek again. “That’d be just perfect.”