stuck in reverse
It’s the hesitation that starts it all.
Stiles doesn’t think anyone else sees it, the uncertainty that flickers behind Derek’s eyes and disappears just as quickly with a barked, “Again,” to the puppies, bent over with their hands on their knees, chests heaving. Boyd and Erica and Isaac huff out a long sigh in response, roll their eyes, and clench their shoulders in before they start running another lap along the path Derek set for them in the preserve.
But Stiles does. He sees it. He sees the thing Derek doesn’t want anyone else to see. That thing he covers up with his Grumpy Cat frown and his judgy eyebrows and his growl.
“What am I, his keeper?”
Judging by the look leveled his way, Stiles would say that yes, that’s exactly what Derek thinks he is.
“He’s uh…with Allison.”
Derek stares out at the preserve, at the spot where the puppies started their lap, and clenches and unclenches his hands at his sides once. Just once. He probably thought Stiles didn’t catch that either.
“Then what are you doing here?”
Right. Because they are ScottandStiles or StilesandScott. Stott. Sciles. Whatever. They are a unit, except that Scott has a value beyond ScottandStiles, and Stiles does not. Not to Derek. Stiles is the accessory, and there’s no reason for him to be here if Scott’s not. Scott is the werewolf. Stiles is the cut-able, scar-able, breakable human spaz.
The look Derek gives him is incredibly judgmental for someone who loses his eyebrows when he shifts.
“Is there, you know, anything you want me to pass on to him?”
Derek stares at him so long without moving that Stiles almost steps forward and waves a hand in front of his face. Almost. Despite evidence to the contrary, he doesn’t have an actual death wish.
“Go home, Stiles.”
Derek is gone, into the preserve, before Stiles can even open his mouth.
He puts that look into the back of his mind, shelves it away with Erica’s forced bravado and Isaac’s dickish overcompensation to be mulled over at a later date. If Derek doesn’t want his help, great.
He has a Spanish test to study for.
It isn’t until about two weeks later, when they’re all leaving the scene of their latest near loss, that Stiles thinks of that moment of hesitation again. Scott and Allison head off toward her car with Jackson and Lydia close behind. The puppies are heading off to the right, supporting each other while Boyd’s leg heals and the deep gash on Isaac’s arm closes up and Derek…Derek is walking off in the complete other direction, bloody but healing quickly. No one looks for him, no one stops to see if he’s okay. No one but Stiles. He waits, gives them a moment to remember, but they never do. It’s just Stiles, standing there in the middle of an ever widening gap. And before Stiles can yell out to Derek himself, ask if he’s okay, Derek disappears.
Stiles doesn’t really want to think about how good he is at that, how he makes it seem like second nature. And he doesn’t want to think about how their system for dealing with each new Big Bad has some serious holes in it. They’re supposed to be a pack, they’re supposed to work together, but they’re not. What they are is little pairs and groups of people and Derek, who come together to make sure the entirety of Beacon Hills doesn’t die in some supernatural incident. They’re not friends, not really. Definitely not family. And they certainly have no idea how to work together. Everyone just sort of does their own thing and they all cross their fingers, hope for the best, and act like no matter what they do, no matter what happens to them, they’re always going to make it out okay. They’re always going to heal. And that’s just about the shittiest excuse for a plan Stiles can think of, because if Stiles knows anything, he knows this: they’re not going to get this lucky all the time. The way they’re going, one day one of them is going to pay with their life. And it’ll probably be a hell of a lot sooner than they’d like. At this point it’s just a guess who that’s going to be. Before they do, they have to fix this. They have to fix them. And clearly it has to start with Derek, their fearless leader.
He’s a total and complete mess, and they’re a mess because of it, and it’s not as if it’s just today that decides it. It’s that look from two weeks ago and the walking away tonight and their pitiful excuse for a pack and the late night grocery shopping with a single wrapped sandwich and small plastic bowl of salad in his hand (which Stiles has actual proof of, thanks to a text from his dad asking him to pick up milk and eggs) and the way he skulks around the burnt out shell of his former home, alone, scaring innocent teenagers and native wildlife.
It’s Kate too. It’s Laura, ripped in half.
Derek Hale may be ridiculous and broody and a pretty bad alpha by basically every measurable standard known to man or wolfy kind, like nothing could be truer than that…but he also deserves a hell of a lot better. And nothing could be truer than that either.
And Stiles is going to make sure he gets it.
Their lives depend on it.
Stiles swears the Hale house gets creepier every time he sees it, although maybe that’s because now it’s less sad, burnt shell and more sad, burnt torture chamber or sad, burnt tomb, since Kate Argent is a fucking psychopath who tortured Derek and murdered his family in cold blood.
Stiles doesn’t know how he can stand it, how he can just wake up in the morning and not start screaming in a fit of rage.
He winces as he says it, his voice a little too loud. It’s not like he needs to scream. If he’s here, Derek will hear him.
And he’s definitely here, broody sad sack that he is.
“Derek man, come on. It’s just me. It’s Stiles,” he adds, like Derek doesn’t know the sound of his voice.
When he still hears nothing Stiles grunts in frustration and hops up to the porch, skipping over the broken steps. He pushes open the creaking front door slowly, sticking his head through the crack which, now that he thinks of it, might not be the smartest idea?
Very vulnerable, the head. And since it’s pretty much all Stiles has to work with, he should probably treat it with a little more care, especially since people who aren’t exactly concerned for his safety and well being have been known to hang out here.
No one ever said he had good self-preservation instincts.
He steps inside, turns and flails when he almost runs smack dab into Derek who’s standing like a creeper, staring at him. Of course. Drama queen.
“What do you want.”
He doesn’t even say it like a question.
“I’m here for you.”
“You’re here for me.”
Again, with the no question mark.
“Yeah. I was thinking-”
He turns, walks away, and strips off his shirt. Stiles swallows as Derek jumps up and grabs the beam above him, pulling himself up. Stiles watches the muscles shift in Derek’s back as he does slow pull up after slow pull up, watches his biceps tense before he shakes himself.
Look, he’s not immune, okay? He’s definitely not immune. And he’s pretty sure Derek definitely knows that, the asshole.
“I’m here to offer my services.”
Derek stops, face next to the beam, then slowly turns his head to the left. “You’re here to offer your services.”
“Yeah. Grey’s Anatomy reference aside, I’m here to offer to be your person.”
There’s a pause and then Derek lets go of the beam, drops down graceful as you please. Show off.
He turns slowly and says, “You want to be my…person.”
Stiles can hear the mocking in his voice and he frowns but otherwise ignores it and says, “Yeah. Your buddy, your pal, your friend. The person you vent to when you need to. The person you blow off steam with and decompress with. The person you confide in. The one you call at two in the morning to help you bury a body. Your person.”
If one thing has become clear to Stiles over the last few weeks, it’s that Derek desperately needs someone. He needs someone who actually cares how he’s doing, he needs someone who doesn’t need him to have all the answers. He needs someone he can just be Derek around, without fulfilling some sort of quota. He can’t confide in the betas, because they look to him to lead, and his relationship with Scott is contentious at the best of times. Jackson and Lydia are equally self-absorbed, Allison is an Argent, and Peter is straight up nutballs. So that leaves Stiles.
“You accused me of murder.”
“Yeah, well…I think we can both agree that I’ve grown a lot as a person since then.”
He shakes his head like he’s dismissing him. Like the very thought isn’t even worth considering. “You. You think I should confide in you.”
You, he says. You. Like Stiles can’t know, like he can’t understand. Like he isn’t worthy. Like the pitiful little human can’t possibly understand the pressures Derek is under.
And that? Well that just pisses Stiles off.
“Yeah. Me. And screw you because I’m awesome. I may not be a werewolf, I may just be a scrawny, breakable little human, but I’m smart and I’m loyal as hell. Once you’ve got me, you’ve got me for life. You got that? For life. And guess what buddy?” He steps forward, plants a finger in Derek’s chest, watches as he takes a half step back, his eyes boring into Stiles’. “You’re an absolute disaster, but I give a shit about you. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have held you up for hours in that pool. I wouldn’t have let you into my car, or driven you to Deaton’s.” He holds up his hand briefly, thumb and pointer finger the tiniest bit apart. “I wouldn’t have gotten this close to sawing your arm off and giving myself nightmares for life. I would have backed up my car, driven around you, and let you die in the middle of the school parking lot. I would have let you fucking drown.” He steps back, throws up his hands. “Don’t take me up on my offer if you don’t want to. But you don’t have to be an asshole about it.” He turns and starts to walk away then turns back and says, “And just an fyi? This pitiful little human is going to keep showing up and saving your life if I need to. And you don’t get any say in that. Got it? You fucking matter to me. So fuck you.”
This time it’s Stiles who walks away.
Stiles sees Derek a handful of times over the next few weeks, but it’s always at a distance. A couple times from the tree line during lacrosse practice – god, such a creeper – and a couple times when he’s dropping the puppies off at school. But he doesn’t so much as look in Stiles’ direction or send a text his way, and Stiles isn’t an idiot, nor is he oblivious. He can hear what isn’t being said. Despite the desert wasteland that he calls his love life, he knows how to handle rejection. So he holds up his end and stays away too.
Besides, it’s not like anyone was eager for him to show up at pack meetings.
Stiles looks at the text from Scott on his phone, sighs.
can’t hang 2nite. ally needs me :( sat?
He’ll cancel Saturday too. That’s pretty much the only reliable thing about Scott these days.
That and how much he talks about Allison.
He can’t think about it. If he does, it’ll just make him sad and depressed. His one friend, abandoning him for a girl. Stiles, wandering lonely down the streets, eating alone at lunch. Jesus, it’s like an after school special.
He pulls up a browser window, starts reading one of the supernatural sites he’d bookmarked the other day. Most of them are straight garbage mixed with delusions as far as Stiles can tell, but there’s a few that seem genuine. They have their werewolf basics right, anyway. Red eyes equals alpha? Check. Beta shift versus full shift? Check. Scent marking? Check.
But God, he hopes redcaps aren’t a real thing. The last thing they need is murderous old dudes with horse teeth running around Beacon Hills in blood soaked hats.
“Hey kid.” Stiles looks over his shoulder when his dad walks into his room. “I have to go into work.” His eyes skitter to Stiles’ laptop screen, then narrow. “What the hell are you reading?”
It seems like he’s been working more and more lately, so much so that unless Stiles stopped by the station once in a while with dinner, they could go days without seeing each other. Two ships in the proverbial night and all that. Tonight was the first time Stiles has gotten more than an hour with him in a week.
“Oh, uh…fairy tales. Legends. That kind of thing. Got stuck in an internet hole, you know?”
He leans in, reads a little, grimaces and pulls away. “Well pull yourself out of it and take the trash can to the curb.” He shakes his head. “Geez. It’s like you’re trying to give yourself nightmares.”
He leaves Stiles’ room muttering something about “soaking their hats in the blood of their enemies” and Stiles waves a hand at his departing back, over his shoulder.
He doesn’t know the half of it.
It’s past midnight when Stiles finally climbs out of his internet hole and realizes he still hasn’t taken the trash can out. He stands and stretches with a yawn, scratching his belly as he walks down the stairs. It’s almost completely silent outside, his street still, and he quietly opens the side gate and pulls out the rolling can, stopping when elderly Mrs. Kerkovitch’s tiny mixed breed dog starts barking in the yard next to him. Stiles bends down, puts his finger over his lips, and tries to shush the yapping dog. The last thing he needs is Mrs. Kerkovitch waking up and calling his dad to tattle on him.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
Buggsy doesn’t give a shit about what Stiles wants and keeps barking, his little chest heaving. But he isn’t looking at Stiles. He’s looking somewhere past him, across the street. Stiles looks that direction, strains his eyes against the darkness, but whatever’s bugging Buggsy – heh – seems to be hidden from the streetlights. And without super wolfy senses, there’s no way Stiles can tell what it is. Still, if he can’t get Buggsy to stop, Mrs. Kerkovitch is definitely going to come looking. So he tries shushing Buggsy one more time, even though he’s not really expecting it to work.
A dog whisperer, Stiles is not.
But Buggsy does stops barking with one last tiny, ineffectual yap, and Stiles straightens up and immediately looks across the street. Whatever the hell is out there is a lot fiercer than Buggsy.
He stands and waits in the silence for a moment, waits for Buggsy to start yapping again or Mrs. Kerkovitch to wake up and stick her head out the window and start chiding him in Serbian, but it never happens. There’s just silence. Not even crickets. Just absolute stillness.
Something is definitely out there. Or someone. And Stiles is pretty sure he knows who it is.
He pulls the can slowly down the paved driveway, eyes fixed on the darkness across the street, and drops it down in front of the curb. He turns to walk away but stops. Waits. Something’s telling him he should turn back, so he does, eyes slowly scanning the darkness around him. He stands there at the base of his driveway, eyes darting around, and hesitates a moment before he asks, in the silence and the dark and the middle of his empty street, “Hey…are redcaps real?”
He doesn’t really expect an answer. He doesn’t get one. Not even a flash of red eyes from across the street that tells him he’s been heard.
He turns, walks back into his house, and locks the front door behind him.
He sees Scott as soon as he steps out of his Jeep and he slings his backpack on, jogs over and slaps his hands in a quick rhythm on the metal handrail.
“Hey, so Saturday…Call of Duty. Prepare to fill up on junk food and have your ass kicked.”
Scott’s face falls a little and yeah…Stiles knows that look. He deflates.
“You can’t make it Saturday.”
Scott’s hands grip the straps of his backpack and he says earnestly, “Stiles, sorry man. But I promised Allison I’d help her with something important.”
“Was that before or after your text to me last night?”
He looks down, away from Stiles, and Stiles has his answer. Stiles knew he’d cancel, he did. He was just…hoping for better, he guesses. He was first string until Allison came along. He was priority one. And now he’s not, and Scott has turned into the kind of guy who cancels on Stiles for a girlfriend. He’s turned into the kind of friend who doesn’t pick up the phone when Stiles calls. And that sucks, especially when you’re holding up a hundred and ninety pounds of werewolf dead weight in a high school pool.
“Go help her with her big thing.”
Scott smiles and it makes Stiles smile back, like a reflex. He means it though. He always means it. It’s Scott.
“Thanks buddy!” He spies Allison across the lawn and starts to go to her then turns and, as he’s walking backward, says, “Next Saturday, though. You and me. Call of Duty. Okay?”
“I’ll put it on my calendar.”
Scott’s smile widens and he jogs over to Allison, who smiles up at him from her seat on the picnic table next to Lydia.
Yeah. Stiles will hold his breath.
He hooks his thumbs in his backpack straps, climbs the steps to the front door, weaves his way through the hallways, comes to a halt when he sees Boyd of all people leaning up against the locker next to his, looking at his nails.
Stiles sounds like an idiot. He knows this. Boyd is merciful enough not to respond. Or to, you know, even so much as note Stiles’ existence.
He opens his locker slowly, one eye on Boyd. Experience and common sense have taught him it’s best to keep a predator in sight and in front of you at all times, even in the middle of a high school hallway.
Hell, especially in the middle of a high school hallway.
Boyd takes his sweet time but finally he turns, looks at Stiles. His blank eyes skitter over Stiles’…everything…and Stiles resists the urge to recoil and cover himself with his hands like some blushing maiden in a badly written romance novel.
“Are you practicing the intimidation tactics you learned from Derek in intimidation class or something? Because…” He makes some sort of vague, flaily gesture at Boyd. “I should tell you it’s working. Mostly. You need more eyebrows. Can eyebrows be taught?” Boyd lifts his, takes one step forward. Stiles steps back so quickly he bangs into the locker behind him. “Yep. Yep, there they are. Well done. You’ve graduated. Félicitationes.”
A slow smile grows on Boyd’s face. “Derek says to come to the pack meeting tonight.”
Then he just turns and leaves. Seriously. Just walks down the hallway like Stiles isn’t still pressed up against his locker, wondering what the hell just happened.
“I’ll talk to Scott!”
If he was expecting an answer, he doesn’t get one.
That seems to be a theme lately.
Scott, shocker of shockers, is not going to the meeting, so that pretty much immediately eliminates Stiles from going. Last time he showed up without Scott Derek just eyed him and told him to go home. Plus, Harris gave him an extra essay due tomorrow because Stiles breathed wrong in class or something and Jackson and Danny pretty much kicked his ass in practice as a farewell gift from Danny, since he’s moving to Honolulu – lucky gorgeous bastard – so the last thing he wants to do is go out and sit on a porch while he watches the puppies run around and beat each other up. So he heads to the Sheriff’s station with dinner for his dad instead of to the preserve, and then heads home to start Harris’ stupid essay.
He finally gets up from his computer a few hours later when his stomach growls, essay done, and makes himself a sandwich for dinner. He’s walking back into his room with a plate in one hand and glass of soda in the other when he sees Derek standing next to his window, staring at him.
Frankly, Stiles isn’t surprised. Random werewolves showing up when he least expects them has been kind of a thing lately.
Stiles blinks, tries to process that.
Finally, Derek rolls his eyes and huffs impatiently. “Redcaps are real.”
“Hah! I knew you were out there. Creeper.” Stiles’ shoulders drop a little. “But damn. I was really hoping they were just a figment of someone’s twisted imagination. I’ll add them to my list of real versus fake.” He perks up. “Unicorns?”
Derek shakes his head. “Fake.”
“Damn.” Stiles shakes his head in return. “No justice.”
“You weren’t at the meeting.”
“Oh…yeah. Well…Scott couldn’t make it, so I figured there wasn’t really any point in my going either, right? Besides, I had this stupid essay to write for Harris because he hates me, so…”
Derek’s eyebrows scrunch together. He looks a little constipated. Of course, that doesn’t change how gorgeous Derek is in the slightest, which Stiles thinks is wickedly unfair.
“I didn’t ask Scott to come. I asked you.”
Stiles’ mouth opens and closes and he stands there, feeling a little stupid. “Oh.”
Derek still looks constipated. “Come to the next meeting tomorrow.”
“…okay. Yeah. I will.”
Derek nods once and Stiles looks down at the sandwich he’s just remembered is in his hand.
“Hey…have you had…” Stile trails off when he looks up, discovers Derek is gone. “…dinner?”
He sets the glass and the plate down on his desk, drops down into his chair.
One day he’ll get used to that. Maybe.
He does show up to the next meeting, without Scott, and finds Derek standing on the porch with his arms crossed watching Erica and Isaac attempt to take down Boyd. They’re circling him, shifted, claws out, waiting. Stiles hops up onto the porch next to Derek, who barks out, “Isaac!” and Stiles watches as Isaac runs at Boyd, quickly followed by Erica.
“Boyd’s going to win.”
Derek lifts an eyebrow. “Even two against one?”
“Oh yeah. No contest.” Stiles tears his eyes away from the betas to find Derek staring at him. “Boyd’s the only one who isn’t worried about impressing you. So he’s not going to take the stupid chances Isaac or Erica will trying to catch your eye. Plus, he’s stronger. Even two against one, it’s not really a fair fight.”
Stiles notices suddenly how quiet it’s become, and when he turns his head he finds the betas standing there, watching him.
“Yeah? You’re such a good werewolf, Stilinski? How would you beat him then?”
“You sweep his legs,” he says to Isaac, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. And, honestly? It kind of is. “Get him on the ground. He’s slower than you are, so he won’t be able to recover as quickly, or elude an attack like you can. Use your speed, catch him off guard.”
In the next moment, Erica has attacked Boyd’s legs, bringing him down and rolling him into Isaac, taking him down too. She wraps a clawed hand around each throat and crows, victorious, when Derek announces her the winner. She gives Stiles a proud grin like the puppy she is and Stiles grins back, winks at her.
“Laps,” Derek calls out, and a groaning Isaac and Boyd pull themselves up off the ground and start chasing after a laughing Erica, who has already disappeared beyond the first corner.
“Those are for you.”
Derek is nodding down at a small stack of old books at his feet, faded colorful hardbacks with aged yellow pages that smell faintly of smoke. Stiles picks up the first book, cracks it open carefully. He’s only about halfway through the first page when he stops, awed. These have to be rare. He can’t imagine there are a ton of legitimate books on supernatural creatures hanging around, especially not ones with old school handwritten notes in the margins from more than one hand. It’s like a history of real life supernatural creature encounters.
“Dude…these are awesome.”
Derek looks pained. “Don’t call me dude. I put notes next to the species that I know are extinct, if there wasn’t a note there already.”
Stiles plops down at Derek’s feet, open book in his lap. “Wait…leprechauns are real? Seriously?”
“They’re all assholes.”
Stiles laughs, turns the page. “Good to know.”
There’s a long silence as Stiles reads and Derek watches the tree line, listening for something. Probably the betas.
Finally he says quietly, “I thought they would help your research.”
He pauses, hand on the page, and looks up at Derek, craning his neck all the way back. “Yeah. This is awesome. Seriously.”
“Maybe it’ll keep you from going to fake werewolf sites.”
“Oh, I doubt it. There’s a lot out there to learn, Derek. And you have to read through the crap to get to the good stuff. Which reminds me.”
Derek lifts an eyebrow.
“Do werewolves have knots?”
Derek’s cheeks pink and his eyes widen and his head whips away to stare in the distance. Then he clenches his jaw, bounds down off the porch and runs away, down the track he set for the betas.
This is getting to be a pattern.
Stiles stands, eyes scanning the leafy edges of the preserve as he calls out, one hand cupped around his mouth, “Was it something I said?”
“Yeah, I get it.” Stiles holds his phone to his ear with his left shoulder, opens the fridge and pulls out a soda then closes it with his foot. “I’ll put a plate in the oven for you. Yeah. Love you too.”
Another late night for his dad. That makes, what? Four times this week?
And it’s Thursday.
He pops the top on the soda, takes a sip and pauses, looking up toward the ceiling. He blinks, sets the soda down with a smirk, and resumes chopping tomatoes on the cutting board in front of him. “I know you know my dad isn’t here. It’s safe to come downstairs.”
He swipes the tomatoes into the salad bowl and sets it on the table with a bowl of cut up garlic bread. He’s just setting another plate down on the table when Derek steps into the room.
“No…” he bites out, like it’s painful for him. “Werewolves don’t have…knots.”
Stiles starts laughing as he sets the pan of lasagna down on the table. “I figured.”
Derek presses his lips together. He looks like he’s maybe a half second away from following through with his constant threat and actually ripping Stiles’ throat out with his teeth.
“Then why did you ask?” he grits out.
Stiles grins and drops down into his chair. “Because sometimes I’m an asshole.” He nods at the other chair, the one with an empty plate sitting in front of it. “And I’m boundlessly curious. Sit.”
Derek hesitates, his hand curling on the back of the chair before he pulls it out and sits down, stiff and unsure.
God, this is sad.
“I think it’s cute how scared you are of my dad.”
“Do you want to explain to him what I’m doing in your bedroom? Besides,” Derek eyes him. “He’s the sheriff.”
“Yeah, but even if he shoots you, it’s not going to kill you.”
“It will if he uses the right bullets.”
Stiles pauses, looks down at his food. “He’d have to know what you are first. And the chances are pretty low, considering how much I lie to him.”
His stomach twists. He knows it’s a necessity, but he’s done so much lying to his dad. So much. Thinking about it gives him a stomachache. He is not a good kid.
“How did you know I was here?”
Stiles narrows his eyes.
“A few minutes ago. When you told me to come downstairs. And…” He swallows his words and looks away then hesitantly says, “When you were taking out the trash.”
“Oh! ” He laughs once, like a burst. “I do that like a hundred times a day. I figured one of these times I was actually going to get lucky and you’d be upstairs.”
Derek rolls his eyes and Stiles starts to eat because his food is starting to get lukewarm, and look…he slaved over a room temperature cutting board for some of this stuff. He’s mopping up some red sauce on the edge of his plate with his half-eaten garlic bread when Derek says, “I don’t feel connected to them.”
Stiles looks up to see Derek pushing around his food on his plate, staring at it like it’s offended him somehow which is not cool, because Stiles followed the lasagna package directions exactly.
“Well…you’re kind of a shitty Alpha.”
There’s a clatter as Derek drops his fork on his plate and he pushes back from the table, hands clenched white against the edge. Before he can stand, Stiles clamps his hand down on Derek’s wrist and then immediately pulls it back, both hands raised in supplication when Derek practically burns Stiles to ash with the power of his glare.
“It’s not your fault. It’s not like anyone, including you, ever thought you were going to be an alpha. Laura’s the one who got all the training, right? You’ve just had this thing sort of…thrown at you. Of course you suck at it. So you’re not a natural. So what? Dude…you need to give yourself a break.” Stiles reaches for another piece of garlic bread. “The problem is you’re still trying to convince everyone you’re a Big Bad Alpha when you’re not. It’s okay to admit you don’t know everything. Especially because you don’t.”
“Admitting that makes them vulnerable. It makes all of us vulnerable!”
Stiles throws his hands up. “We’re already vulnerable!”
He stands, points at Stiles. “You don’t think I know that?”
Stiles stands, plants his hands on the table and stares Derek down. “So let’s fix it!”
“What…you have a plan, Stiles?” he sneers.
“Yes!” He backs down, takes a deep breath. “Yes…I have a plan.” At Derek’s skeptical, raised eyebrows, Stiles says, “You learn. You learn all the things you never had a chance to learn. And you get everyone working together. You make this into an actual pack. One that supports each other, and not just when something new is trying to kill us. And I’ll help.”
“It isn’t that easy.”
“We’ll come up with training regimens. We’ll discuss strategy and game plans for each kind of baddie we can face so we’re not just flying by the seat of our pants all the damn time. We can do this.”
“No.” He straightens, crosses his arms across his chest. “I’m the Alpha. This is on me.”
“What makes for a stronger pack than relying on the people around you?” At Derek’s dismissive shake of his head, Stiles yells, “Hey! You are not alone! Pull your head out of your ass and stop acting like you are!”
Derek growls and steps forward aggressively until Stiles is backed up against the wall, head hitting the drywall with a soft thump. They stare at each other, breathing hard, Stiles pinned down by the intensity radiating out of Derek’s eyes, by Derek’s rigid, unyielding hands, clenched in the front of his shirt. Derek stares him down, hard, but Stiles refuses to yield and swallows, his eyes fixed to Derek’s.
He says softly, “I know trusting people is stupidly difficult for you. And I get why. But I’m not going to betray you. Listen to my heartbeat if you don’t believe me.”
Stiles can hear the tick of the clock near the entryway in the silence that follows, Derek’s eyes darting across his face.
Finally Derek backs up, clenches his fists, roars, and walks away, shaking. Stiles doesn’t move until he hears the front door slam, the pictures near the stairs rattling. He sinks down into his chair at the table, pushes his plate away.
He’s lying in bed, propped up against the headboard with his laptop open when he sees the blinds move out of the corner of his eye.
“I accept your apology.”
There’s a long silence and then, “I didn’t say anything.”
This is a huge deal for Derek, him showing up like this and way earlier than Stiles would’ve guessed. He would’ve bet on Derek taking at least a few days to brood about it, to stew.
“Your silence spoke volumes.” He gestures with his hand. “Get over here. I’m about to start an episode of Parks and Rec.”
When Derek doesn’t move, Stiles looks up.
Derek swallows, clenches his jaw. When he finally speaks, he sounds tired, defeated. “I don’t feel connected to them. I should feel connected to them. They’re my betas.”
When Stiles doesn’t say anything else, Derek says, “Say it, Stiles.”
“I don’t want you to growl at me and back me into another wall. I’m pretty comfortable where I am.”
“I won’t.” His lips thin. “I promise.”
He grunts, and his words come out like someone is slowly pulling them out of him, bit by bit. “You’re always the one who tells me the truth, even when you know it’s going to piss me off. I need you to tell me the truth.”
They’ve gone from Derek shoving him up against a wall to you do something for my own good and I guess that’s pretty okay, so I won’t slam you against a wall this time.
It’s no you’re the moon of my life, but Stiles will take it.
It’s a good jumping off point.
“I know you care about them, you’re just…pretty terrible about showing it. Erica, Boyd, and Isaac are three very distinct wolfy persons…you have to stop treating them like they’re three interchangeable parts. Like they’re replaceable. Give them jobs and roles. That’ll start making it feel like a real pack, instead of just a group of people who come together because they like to howl at the moon once a month for funsies. Be kinder to them, less brutal. You want them to trust you, not fear you. I know this is rough, scary stuff, and you’re just trying to prepare them but they already know that too. And for God’s sakes give them an attaboy once in a while, or I’m gonna start bringing homemade certificates of accomplishment to meetings. Best Wolfy Growl. Best Use of Claws. Most Likely to Chase Their Own Tail On the Full Moon. I have a bootlegged copy of Photoshop and comic sans on my laptop. Don’t make me use them.”
Derek walks over and fingers the open book on Stiles’ nightstand, one of the books Derek gave him. The Pack: Dynamics and Hierarchy Amongst Western European and Northern American Werewolf Groups. Stiles has been wondering if there are companion books to this one about Asian werewolf packs, about African, about South American. He’d love to get his hands on them.
“And what about Scott?”
“Scott is…” Stiles doesn’t know what Scott is anymore, or what his plan is. It’s not like he confides in Stiles much these days. “Let’s plan for the worst, and hope that one day he comes to his senses. And I promise to do my best to keep working on him.”
“Jackson is a perpetual asshole.” Derek levels Stiles with his best that’s not helpful, Stiles glare. “But he also responds well to personal attention and flattery. And it’ll help if you can explain to him how Lydia fits in. He’s not going to go anywhere without her. But he wants to join, so it’s not going to be that tough of a sell. He just wants you to think he’s above it. Just make him feel like the special pretty princess he is.”
Derek nods and Stiles pats the bed next to him and pulls up the next episode of Parks and Rec. “Get comfy.”
He doesn’t. He stands there and stares at Stiles instead, wallowing in his leather jacket and broody manpain like somehow that’s a better option than Stiles’ super comfy bed.
“How is this going to work?”
“However you want it to?” Derek’s lips thin and Stiles says, “There’s no guidebook, dude. If you just want to hang out and read while I do homework, that’s great. If you want to snuggle, we can do that too. I’m an awesome snuggler.”
“Right,” he says, all deadpan snark.
“Hey, don’t disparage my snuggling skills, buddy. They’re top notch.”
“It’s a safe space, alright? It’s whatever you need. You don’t have to be at your best here, with me. You don’t have to lead anyone, you don’t have to save the world. You can suck if you need to.”
Whatever gets Derek to stop carrying all that shit around on his back, whatever gets Derek to unclench and trust them all, even just a little bit.
“It’s friends with benefits, you choose the benefits. But I have to tell you…I do make some pretty amazing brownies. Life changing, really. Probably my best quality.”
“I thought that was your snuggling skills.”
“I’m a man of many talents, Derek. From which you will now benefit. Prepare to be impressed.”
Derek walks over and sinks onto the bed, settling back against the headboard next to Stiles. When he starts to lift his feet onto the bed, Stiles swats them off and says, “Take your shoes off. Were you raised by wolves?”
He snickers and Derek rolls his eyes, yanks his shoes off, and shoves Stiles over. “You’re an idiot.”
He smiles to himself, says softly, fondly, “Yeah.”
He doesn’t say he’s sorry, and neither does Derek. They don’t say anything else for the rest of the night. But it still feels like a concession, or an agreement.
It feels like moving forward.
Stiles isn’t sure when he falls asleep, but when he wakes up the next morning his laptop is sitting on his desk, closed, and Derek is gone.
“Can we put harpies down on the list of Things Stiles Never Wants to Experience First Hand? Because they sound terrifying. And I would like to keep all of my limbs.”
Stiles is lying on the porch, stretched out on his back at Derek’s feet, his head propped up on his backpack. It’s a nice fall day, warm with a nice breeze, and Derek is taking advantage of it, running the Betas through some new drills Stiles designed that actually make use of each of their particular strengths. Right now Boyd is pulling Erica and Isaac on a sled while they fight back, make him work for it, and Jackson tries to distract everyone. Stiles is working his way through the books Derek gave him, attaching sticky note flags to various pages, jotting down notes in a little notebook he absolutely keeps hidden in a hollowed out book on his shelf his dad doesn’t know about, just in case he decides to go wandering around in Stiles’ room some day.
Derek looks down at him. “Sure, Stiles.”
Stiles thinks he saw the hint of a smile there. It might’ve just been gas, actually, but Stiles is going to count it as a win. Derek doesn’t smile enough.
Stiles lays the open book on his stomach. “You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I can’t believe unicorns aren’t real, but these terrifying monstrosities are. They’re half woman, half vulture, vicious as hell, they smell like death and destruction, and they enjoy blinding people in their spare time. No thanks. I’ll take an ogre any day. At least they’re stupid.”
“Stupid and strong. Hello nephew.” Peter smiles down at Stiles, a twinkle in his eye Stiles doesn’t like. “Hello Stiles.”
Stiles holds his fingers up in the sign of the cross and says, “Be gone, demon spawn! Away with you!”
The grin grows on Peter’s face. He looks…fond. Blech.
“The offer’s still open, by the way. In case you’ve changed your mind.”
Derek looks down at Stiles. “What offer?”
“Oh, you didn’t tell him? Oh…” He raises pleased eyebrows. “Isn’t that interesting.”
Stiles rolls his eyes and stands, wiping off his ass with a quick brush of the hand. “Don’t give yourself so much credit.” He looks at Derek, who’s staring at him intently, arms crossed, biceps straining against the sleeves of his Henley. It’s a nice look. A bit distracting. “When Peter was an Alpha, he offered me the bite. I told him no.”
Derek’s head whips to glare at Peter. “You what?”
“Oh don’t give me that look. One of us had to.” His eyes slide to Stiles. “It would be a waste not to. He’d be such a good wolf.”
Stiles snorts. “Yeah, okay.” He stuffs the books in his backpack and says, “That’s my cue to leave.” He pulls the backpack on one shoulder and says, “Oh, and in case you’ve forgotten, you’re not an Alpha anymore. Your bite wouldn’t exactly turn me.”
Peter’s grin splits his face, it’s so big. “There are other reasons to bite someone. Like I said, the offer still stands.”
Stiles gags, jumps off the porch, spins and flings his limbs, rolling his head to rid himself of the utter ick and creep as he walks down the yard toward his car. He yanks open the door to his Jeep and flings his bag in, jerking the door closed, then starts it up and lays his arm across the back of the passenger seat. He looks up before he puts it in reverse and stops for a moment when he sees Derek standing on the porch, staring at Stiles while Peter talks, saying something Stiles can’t hear with lips he can’t read. He can’t read Derek either, not from this far away. He wishes he could.
He shakes himself, turns his head, and puts the Jeep in reverse.
“I’ll be right back! I’m just going to drop my bag in my room!” Stiles yells as he slips the backpack off his shoulder and steps into his room.
And finds Derek, standing next to his open window.
“This is brave.” He sets the bag down on his desk chair. “My dad’s downstairs.”
Of course he does. Wolfy hearing and all that.
“You didn’t tell me. About Peter.”
His hands are shoved into his pockets and his nostrils are flared, his lips pushed together.
“Yeah, well we kinda had a lot going on that night. All of us. Lydia had been attacked, you were being tortured, Mr. Argent found out his sister was a murderer…it just wasn’t all that important considering everything else. Besides, you killed him. I didn’t think we’d actually have to deal with him again, not after that night. Not that lucky, as it turns out.” He scratches his temple. “And…part of me didn’t tell you because I…wasn’t really sure you’d care.”
He shrugs but eyes Derek warily. It’s not like Stiles meant anything to Derek before. He doesn’t harbor any delusions on that front. He was Scott’s plus one, not an entity unto himself. Hell, despite their little arrangement, he’s not sure he means that much to him now.
Derek’s jaw clenches and he nods, just once.
“Besides, me? A werewolf?” He laughs, scrubs the back of his head. “No one thinks that’s a good idea.”
Derek stares him down. One moment he looks upset and then he shifts, looks more determined than anything. He squares his shoulders and lifts his chin. There are no red eyes, but otherwise he looks every bit the powerful, strong Alpha. He stares at Stiles intently. “If you wanted the bite, I would give it to you. I know you don’t want it. That’s why I haven’t offered.”
Stiles’ mouth opens, but nothing comes out.
“Peter may be a little crazy, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.”
“A little crazy?”
“Stiles! Did you get lost or something?”
Stiles rolls his eyes. Dad jokes. “I’ll be right there!” he calls out, his head tipped toward the stairs, his eyes on Derek.
“I’ve gotta…” He trails off and gestures over his shoulder with his thumb.
Derek nods. “Go spend time with your dad.”
Stiles nods back but neither of them move.
This movie night is kind of a big deal. What with his dad’s work schedule, and everything Stiles does with the pack, plus school and lacrosse…quality time is pretty unusual these days. Plus, Stiles hasn’t disappointed his dad in like, a week, so he wants to capitalize on those good vibes while he can. Build up some good kid equity for the future.
And, you know, just enjoy being with his dad.
Derek and Stiles stand there in silence, eyes fixed on each other for what feels like a lifetime until they hear a noise come from the stairs. Then Derek turns and quietly steps through the open window and onto the roof, disappearing from view with a single long, lingering look.
“Hey…what’s taking so long?”
Stiles takes a breath and reaches for the open plastic bag sitting under his desk, spinning around and holding it up. “Movie night munchies. Can’t have a movie night without peanut butter cups.”
John reaches for the bag, frowns when Stiles pulls it back.
“You can have one. And not until after you’ve eaten dinner.”
“Fine.” He smiles. “Since you were taking so long, I took the liberty of ordering the pizza. Meat lovers.”
Stiles clasps a hand to his chest, recoils. “I’m making a salad and you are eating it.”
“Deal.” When Stiles relaxes, he reaches a hand into the bag, quick as you please, and pulls out a small handful of peanut butter cups. “But I’m eating three of these.”
Stiles gasps, clutches the rest of the bag to his chest. “Thief!”
John wraps him in a gentle headlock and pulls him downstairs.
Scott cancels Call of Duty again. Stiles isn’t surprised.
He wishes he were.
It’s weird to see him down the hallway, to see him smile at Stiles as if nothing has changed, as if nothing is different. And he probably thinks nothing has. But despite repeated movie night or Call of Duty Saturday invites from Stiles, Scott has cancelled every single one. When Stiles calls, Scott tells him he has to call him right back and then never does, if he picks up the phone at all. And look, he doesn’t begrudge Scott a girlfriend – they were bound to find girlfriends or boyfriends eventually. But Stiles has been reduced to a school buddy. They eat lunch together sometimes, they walk through the halls together sometimes, and sometimes they deal with a supernatural emergency together. It’s been weeks since Stiles spent actual, real time with Scott.
And he misses his best friend.
They’ve been attached at the hip since midway through second grade, when Scott and his parents moved to town, and now suddenly…nothing. It’s one hell of a jolt to the system. He thought he could rely on Scott, no matter what. Dos amigos. But now he’s starting to get that maybe that’s not as true as he used to think it was. And in that case…maybe they’re outgrowing each other. Maybe they were best friends, but maybe that’s not what they’re going to be forever. Maybe it was always supposed to be temporary.
And if that’s true, well…that fucking sucks.
Scott grins as he drops down into the seat across from Stiles, and Stiles smiles back. He can’t help himself. It’s a kneejerk response to Scott’s dimples and puppy eyes. If Scott and Allison ever decide to procreate, they will have very dimply, dark-haired children.
Scott reaches forward and snags a Cheeto from the open bag in front of Stiles, and Stiles takes a bite out of his sandwich.
“Did I tell you what Allison said this morning?”
Stiles sets his sandwich down and says, “Scotty, you know I’m happy for you, right? Allison’s super awesome and smart and pretty, and you totally deserve someone as awesome as you are.” Scott grins and ducks his head, bashful. “But do you think we could have some Scott and Stiles time?”
Maybe this is just a test, right? Maybe this is one of those things you go through as friends, only to emerge stronger on the other side. Lots of best friends get into rough patches once boyfriends and girlfriends enter the picture. But lots of them make it through, too.
Scott frowns. “We just played COD the other day.”
“Two and a half months ago.”
His frown deepens. “No, we-”
“You’ve cancelled on me seven times in a row. Including this morning.”
Scott stares down at his lunch.
“And you almost never show up to pack meetings either, so kinda the only time I get to see you is at school these days.”
He looks up. “Why would I show up to pack meetings? Derek’s not my Alpha.”
“No, I know. You’re strictly Solo Scotty. But you don’t have to be a member of the pack to come train, or to help us strategize. I know Derek wants you there.”
“But I’m not Solo Scotty. You’re in my pack.”
“You know I respect your decision to be your own guy,” Stiles says gently and Scott smiles a little because yeah, Stiles has been the President of the Scott McCall Fan Club since they got assigned to the same reading circle. “But Derek’s my Alpha. I’m a part of his pack. And that’s my decision.”
“But you’re my best friend.”
He leans closer. “You should be in my pack.” He frowns. “Derek’s not-”
Stiles isn’t the least bit interested in hearing what Scott thinks Derek isn’t. “He’s trying. And he’s getting better. And at least he doesn’t hang up on me when I call with a supernatural emergency.”
“I held Derek’s dead weight up in that pool for hours before you got there.”
Scott looks like a kicked puppy.
He sighs. “Look, I know this is hard for you because you didn’t get a choice and so you kinda resent it. I get that. But Derek was born a werewolf, and he’s proud of that. He just wants to keep Beacon Hills safe. And I want to help him do that.”
Scott nods to himself as he looks down at the table for one long moment then gets up, makes some lame excuse for why he can’t stick around, and almost runs out of the cafeteria, head down. Something about needing to finish lab work for Bio.
Stiles pushes his sandwich away. He’s not hungry anymore.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Stiles lets out the longest moan of his young life and flops face first onto his bed. He doesn’t care that he doesn’t know where he dropped his backpack, he doesn’t care that he has hours of homework to do and research for the pack waiting, he just needs a minute to lie here. Maybe five. Or fifteen. An hour, tops.
“What’s wrong with you?”
There’s a pause and then Derek says, “Maybe you shouldn’t make it so easy on him.”
“A comedian, this guy,” he says.
But his words are slurred and muffled by the pillow under his mouth, so Derek says an annoyed, “What?”
Stiles turns his head, flops it back on the pillow, eyes closed. “Jackson has been kicking my ass in team sports since t-ball. It’s our normal.”
He doesn’t ask how long Derek’s been here, he doesn’t comment on how comfortable he is now in Stiles’ room, reading his books, going through his stuff. The guy needs exposure to something that’s a little close to normal. He splits his time between the burnt out shell of his family home and an abandoned train station. Serial killers have less creepy digs.
He shifts a little too quickly and moans in protest.
There’s the turn of a page and then Derek’s hand is on Stiles’ arm and oh…yeah, that’s…yeah. The soreness is fading with each moment, and Stiles cracks open an eye and looks at Derek, studies him. He’s sitting in Stiles’ chair with his jacket off, legs crossed, as if he sits there every day, which, for all Stiles knows, he might. Stiles keeps his window unlocked for a good reason.
He’s reading one of the books he lent to Stiles – The Pack – with his hand casually placed on Stiles’ forearm. He looks so soft and at home and Stiles feels connected to him. Like they’re a pair, like they’re partners, like they’re in it together. And he’s stupidly proud of him for reading the book, for listening and trying to do better, and…he wants to take a picture of this moment. He wants to keep it forever. He wants to scrapbook it with stupid little paper hearts all around it and bring it out later to show Derek how far he’s come when he starts to doubt himself.
Mostly he wants Derek to keep his hand there, forever. He wants to grow old with Derek’s hand on his arm. He closes his eye.
He always thought it would be Lydia forever for him. But if he’s being honest with himself, Lydia hasn’t featured in his dreams for a while now. He’ll always have a healthy appreciation for her, and she’ll never stop being gorgeous and smart and every inch the fearsome goddess, but his focus is less on redheaded pedestal dwellers and more on scruffy, dark haired, muscle-y, quasi-ineffectual Alphas these days.
He may as well admit that to himself.
He turns another page.
“If books like The Pack exist, why don’t more people know about werewolves?”
There’s a rustle to his left, but Stiles can’t bring himself to open his eyes to parse out what it is. He’s just so comfortable, and Derek’s hand feels so nice and his eyelids feel so heavy. Way too heavy to lift.
“The books are closely guarded. They’re only given to fellow pack members.” Derek is quiet for a while and Stiles almost thinks he’s done talking when he adds, “This was my mom’s.”
Oh. That explains the faint, smoky smell, the slightly singed edges on a couple of them. Derek’s mom probably wrote some of the notes on the sides. He rescued them from his burnt house, and then he gave them to Stiles, some of the last things he probably has from his family, other than fading memories.
He gave them to Stiles.
Derek’s hand lingers for a few more moments and then it’s gone along with Stiles’ heavy-eyed calm. Now he feels extra alert, too aware. Tense.
His eyes snap open and he gets up off his bed, walks out of the room to find his backpack.
He has homework he needs to get to.
A witch attacks them.
Her name is Circe. (Stiles has a feeling that’s not her birth name.) She’s half-crazed and so skinny she looks emaciated and, more importantly, she’s alone. She’s alone, and clearly only half as powerful as she thinks she is, and Stiles is absolutely sure that saves them, but she still manages to get off more than a few spells that just narrowly miss a couple of them. Stiles doesn’t know a lot about magic, but hers looks strange, wrong. Sickly. Half formed.
“Well,” he says as he sputters and spits, a mouthful of small white feathers fluttering to the ground at his feet. “That could’ve gone a lot better.”
Jackson scrubs at his front, covered in feathers, and reaches up a hand to pluck a few from Lydia’s hair. “Yeah. That was a shitshow, starring us.”
“We kicked her ass,” Erica says as she shares a smirk with Isaac. Stiles admires her ability to look superior and deadly, even when coated head to toe in white feather covered leather. He couldn’t pull off that look on his best day.
“She tripped over her own feet and hexed off her own face.” Jackson lifts an eyebrow, looks at Erica with the sort of judgment he usually reserves for Stiles. “Who the hell is she anyway?”
“A coven-less witch named Circe.”
She’d introduced herself to Stiles yesterday in the bookstore, though introduced is a loose term. There was mostly a lot of leaning and close talking of disjointed words and manic shaking. He’d recommended leaving town. She hadn’t listened. Clearly.
Jackson lifts an eyebrow as he flicks the last remaining feather off of his shoulder. “Seriously? Like that chick in the Odyssey?” He tilts his head and turns skeptical, judgy eyes to the dead witch on the floor on the other side of the warehouse. “That’s a reach.”
Stiles blinks and takes a step back. He says, with a horrified sort of awe, “You have depths.”
Their Circe may have had aspirations of classical, incredible beauty and power, just like her namesake, but she failed pretty miserably on both points. If she hadn’t attacked them as a show of power, Stiles would actually feel for her. Derek is over there right now, across the warehouse, checking to make sure she’s dead. Stiles doesn’t envy that job.
“Yeah. No shit, loser,” he says, amused. Amused.
Scott steps forward and says, nice and firm, “We’re all okay, Stiles.”
And that’s an absolutely reasonable thing to say, because they are. Aside from a few scrapes and bruises and a whole lot of errant feathers and pigeon carcasses – man, did that spell misfire – everyone came out of it just fine. And that worries the shit out of Stiles. They’re going to take this win and they’re going to talk about it like it was some decisive victory, and it’s going to delude them into thinking they’re more powerful than they are when they got lucky. They got lucky. It was nine against one, and the only reason they won is because Circe is loco, has shit balance, and bounced one of her own spells off of a puddle in the middle of the warehouse floor. If this had been another witch, someone less crazy and a little more powerful, they might be rushing one of them to Deaton’s right now.
Stiles laughs once, softly, shakes his head and flings a hand out helplessly. “What is it with you werewolves? You think because you’re apex predators now you’ve got some sort of magical get out of death free card? Newsflash, puppies.” They snarl at him, flash their teeth, and Stiles resolutely does not give a shit. They’re paper tigers, all of them. “Sharks are apex predators, and humans kill millions of them a year. You know how many humans were killed by sharks last year?”
Scott says, “Stiles…”
Isaac rolls his eyes and goes to turn away, like he’s done with the whole thing, with Stiles. Boyd and Erica share a look, and even Scott is turning away, looking away from Stiles like he’s acting a little crazy and Stiles just about screams.
No, he does.
Boyd asks, in that unruffled way of his, “Why do you know that?”
Stiles clenches his jaw and flails two very frustrated arms out. “Who gives a shit why I know that? There are six billion people in this world! How many werewolves do you think there are? We can overwhelm you by sheer numbers. And that’s not to mention all the bigger, badder, weirder shit that goes bump in the night. You beat one witch and you think you’ve got it covered. You’re infants, and you don’t listen to anyone who might know what the hell they’re talking about! You’re bigger than you used to be, and stronger, and you think if you just run full force at something with your teeth and your claws, that’ll solve the problem.”
“Hey,” Jackson says, in protest, and Stiles has to concede that because Jackson of all people didn’t run in half cocked and actually had a pretty good, if not basic and hastily scrapped together, idea of how to handle Circe. But, like usual, none of them know how to work like a team, not when it counts, so led by Scott’s thick head, half of them ran in first, without discussing anything, without looking to Derek for guidance, and left the rest of them to run in after them. Which they did, because they weren’t about to leave their compadres without backup.
“Except Jackson,” Stiles says, and immediately grimaces. “Did you hear what I just said? Except Jackson.”
Derek steps into the patch of moonlight streaming in through the high warehouse windows, locks eyes with him, and says, “Stiles.”
Stiles just shakes his head. He’s got to get this out.
“You’re reckless, and you’re going to get one of us killed soon. And I don’t know about you, but I’d actually like to live to see my eighteenth birthday! I don’t want my dad to bury me!”
Erica steps forward, says, “If you can’t handle it, you don’t have to show up. You’re not a wolf, Stiles.”
Stiles tips his head all the way back, stares up at the ceiling, running the tip of his tongue over the edges of his teeth. He takes one long deep calming breath before he slowly tilts his head back down, looks at each of the idiots and says, “First? Fuck you. And second? Fuck. You.” He includes Scott in this, and the look he gives Stiles is so hurt, Stiles feels it like an ache in his stomach. But it’s not as if Scott has made any effort at all since their conversation in the cafeteria. He still doesn’t pick up the phone if Stiles calls, they still don’t spend any time together. Stiles is the only one making any effort here. So screw their years of best friendship. Right now Scott is just another one of the idiots who grew claws one day and decided they knew more than someone who’s had them his whole life.
He turns and makes for the gaping opening to the warehouse, where Boyd had ripped the metal door practically off its hinges no more than ten minutes ago, but stops just before he reaches it and turns back.
“By the way, in case it wasn’t clear…I don’t want any of you assholes to die either!”
If there were a door to slam, he’d slam it. He’d slam it harder than he’s ever slammed anything in his entire fucking life. Stiles is the one making dramatic exits now.
He hangs out with too many werewolves.
They all avoid him the next day at school, though Stiles catches Scott staring at him more than once from down the hall before Scott realizes he’s been caught and looks away. As far as Stiles is concerned, this is fine. He’s still pretty pissed at all of them.
Derek didn’t show up last night either. But that’s not that weird. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he goes off by himself and hunts or gathers or goes off on walkabout or whatever. Stiles has never asked, and it’s not like Derek is required to show up in Stiles’ room every night. It’s more of a needs must kind of situation.
He’s used to having him there, though. He misses him sometimes, when he doesn’t show up. He missed him last night. But it’s not like he’s going to mention it. This isn’t about what Stiles wants. It’s about what Derek needs.
Stiles looks up when Jackson sits down in the chair across from him at the library table, a few pieces of paper in his hand. He slides them across the table to Stiles and Stiles closes the book he was reading – Principles and Practice of the Magickal Arts, another from the stack of books Derek gave him – and flips through them. They look like lacrosse plays. Well…sort of. If you consider game plans for how to deal with supernatural creatures lacrosse plays. The one on top is a fleshed out version of Jackson’s plan from yesterday. Or, what they should have done against Circe, if half of them weren’t idiots who insist on running into everything half-cocked.
They could have just tried talking to her, for one thing. That would’ve been a nice start.
“I’m surprised you’re not avoiding me too.”
“Why would I? I’m not one of the idiots on your shit list.”
Stiles scratches the back of his neck. “Right.”
They absolutely deserved it – Stiles will stand by that – but still…it might not have been the smartest idea to yell at supernatural creatures with super sharp claws and ten times his strength. He always did have more balls than sense.
It’s fine. Derek wouldn’t have let them do anything to him. He thinks.
“They deserved it. Someone should’ve chewed their asses out a long time ago. One of them is going to get us killed one of these days and PS...you’re not the only one who wants to live to see adulthood.”
Stiles traces a finger over the circle with a letter D inside it on the first sheet of paper. Derek, he assumes. There’s a circle with an L – he assumes that’s Lydia. E…B…I…J…A…S. Erica, Boyd, Isaac, Jackson, Allison, Scott. On each page, a different configuration of lettered circles with a different header. P-3. P-5. W-A.
“They’ll be a lot easier to pass off as lacrosse plays, that way.”
Stiles looks at Jackson a long time and Jackson looks right back. He has a bone deep feeling that he’s underestimated him, that there’s something about Jackson he’s been missing for a long time. And Jackson knows it. Jackson knows it, and he’s not wasting his time holding it over Stiles’ head. He’s just sitting there waiting for Stiles to get it, to catch up.
God…his world is so fucking weird lately.
Stiles drops his eyes back down to the papers in front of him, flips through them quickly, studying them. Supernatural game plans. At least he knows he wasn’t yelling into a void.
So D…L…E…B…I…J…A…S. Derek, Lydia, Erica, Boyd, Isaac, Jackson, Allison, Scott. The letter P only appears at the base of each page, which means Jackson is smart enough to know they may never be able to rely on Peter to show up and help. The letter M only appears once in the mix with the rest of the lettered circles – on W-A, which Stiles makes an educated guess translates to Witch-Alone, since it looks exactly like Jackson’s plan against Circe, just a little more fleshed out – but on the rest of the sheets sits on the bottom, next to P. It takes him a second to realize that S doesn’t stand for Scott. M does. McCall. S stands for Stiles. Or Stilinski, probably. Stiles isn’t going to romanticize his relationship with Jackson.
These are good. They’re thought out. Allison is positioned at the back of everyone to make use of her long range shooting. Isaac and Erica are positioned to surprise with their speed. There’s a number one next to Derek and a two next to Stiles, which he assumes would mean they should have entered first and second, to try and talk it out with Circe before jumping the gun and assuming she was going to hex first and ask questions later. There are even little notations in some sort of Jackson shorthand at the top and bottom of the page and next to the lettered circles that Stiles assumes translates to some sort of reasoning for everyone’s positioning. They’re good, and he says as much to Jackson.
Jackson picks up Stiles’ book, flips it open and starts browsing through it. “I know.”
“This is exactly what we should have done against Circe.” He thinks back to yesterday’s clusterfuck and shakes his head. “Kinda surprised you’re giving them to me, though.”
Stiles snorts. “Please. I know what you think of me. Why not just give them to Derek?”
Jackson sets the book down, eyes him quietly. “You think I don’t like you.”
“Well…yeah. It’s not exactly a state secret.”
Jackson is silent for a long time, eyes fixed to Stiles’ face, before he says, “I think you dress like you robbed a frat house full of lumberjacks and I think you have terrible taste in your current best friend, but you’re smart, you’re loyal, and you know exactly who you are. And you don’t give a shit if anyone likes you or not. I like you. I’ve always liked you. It’s McCall I can’t stand.”
“But Scott is-”
“Self-centered, jealous, and petty. He’s a selfish little shit who only shows up to help when it suits him. At least Peter’s up front about what a pain in the ass he is.”
Jackson turns his attention back to Stiles’ book and Stiles furrows his eyebrows and stares at Jackson’s profile. “He’s-”
“He doesn’t deserve your loyalty,” he says, eyes focused on the open book in his hands. “If you called me because you needed back up, I wouldn’t hang up on you. And I wouldn’t shove you aside just because I got a girlfriend.”
This is…a weirdly thoughtful revelation. Stiles doesn’t know what to do with this. Are they…friends? Actual friends?
“You kick my ass in lacrosse.”
“If I didn’t push you, how would you get any better?”
Stiles really doesn’t know what to do with this.
“You could’ve been first line this whole time, you know,” he says easily, as if Stiles is supposed to know that somehow. Based on his track record, Stiles thinks Jackson is smoking something. “He’s insecure, and he takes it out on you.”
“Is this because Danny moved away? Are you lonely? Because you don’t have to settle for me. There are plenty of awesome guys out there who would be crazy about being your new BFF. Lots of other little fishies in the sea.”
Jackson gives him a decidedly unimpressed look. “You think I’m settling for you? Me? I don’t settle on my friends, Stiles. I choose them. Carefully. And if you think you’re the kind of person that needs to be settled for, then clearly I have some work to do. God,” he mutters, disgusted. “McCall has done shit for you.”
Stiles blinks, then blinks again, a strange sort of understanding washing over him. “You’re offering your hand in best friendship.”
Has he entered the Twilight Zone? He feels like he’s entered the Twilight Zone.
Jackson looks up. “Do you want me to say it in Spanish? Sí,” he says, eyebrow lifted, in an absolute spot on mimic of Stiles.
Stiles barks out a surprised laugh and clamps a hand over his mouth as he curls his shoulders in, giving the librarian an apology wave with his other hand when she shoots her eye lasers of death his way. When she finally looks away he drops the hand on his mouth and shares a small, hesitant smile with Jackson.
He’s definitely entered some sort of weird, alternate dimension.
“He’s jealous of you. He always has been.”
“Oh come on.”
“Don’t make me spell it out for you.”
“You might have to.”
Jackson sighs heavily, annoyed. “You hold yourself back so he won’t feel like less. You have a GPA over four but you never mention it because McCall has a C average. You made first line on human ability, he had to be bitten. He expects you to be there for him every time, the second he calls, but when was the last time he showed up for you?”
Stiles doesn’t answer. He can’t. And man, is that shitty. Scott used to be one of the only things he was sure he could depend on. But he hasn’t been sure of that in a while.
Have there always been cracks in their friendship? Did Stiles just ignore them?
“You’re the reason he can control his shift and how does he thank you? By blowing you off. You make yourself small for him. You don’t have to do that with me.” He holds up the book. “Magic?”
Stiles welcomes the change in topic. “I’m trying to teach myself some basic things, like blowing up a light bulb or moving an object.”
“In the school library?” he asks, and lifts an eyebrow.
Stiles gives his closest approximation of a bitch, please face. “It’s just the theory. I’ve been practicing at home, but so far I can only move a pencil like a centimeter.” He swipes the book back. “I figure we can use any advantage we can get. Anything that can help keep us alive. I want to see if I can expand the power of Lydia’s Molotov cocktails. Stuff like that. Make myself useful.” He turns his attention back to Jackson’s plays, spreads the sheets out across the table so he can see all five of them. “You should give these to Derek.”
“I gave them to you for a reason.”
He frowns. “Derek will listen to you. He’s not going to dismiss you.”
“Coming from you they’ll have twice the weight. Derek trusts your opinion more than he trusts anyone else’s.”
Stiles stares down at the sheets, his heart giving an extra little thump. He shakes his head. “If I gave you the specs for some other creatures, do you think you could come up with more of these?”
“What do you think?”
“About your game plans? I think I’m going to bring these to Derek today so we can start using them in training. That’s what I think.”
As for the rest of it? Stiles isn’t even remotely fucking sure.
“I’m sorry I didn’t show up last night.”
Stiles looks up to find Derek looming over him, looking stubbly and soft. God, that’s unfair. Stiles wonders if he just rolls out of bed that way. He probably does.
“You don’t have to apologize. It’s not like it’s a requirement. I don’t take attendance.”
“Right,” he says, clenches his jaw and looks away.
Stiles rolls his eyes. Clearly they still need to work a bit on their communication skills. “I like having you there okay? But if there’s something else you want to do, you don’t have to apologize for that, or justify it. That’s one of the basic rules of this.” Stiles gestures between them with a few quick flails of the hand. “You never have to apologize, or come up with an excuse. I’m there if you need me, but I get that sometimes you might not. Or that sometimes you might have a better offer. It’s cool.”
Derek crosses his arms and furrows his eyebrows and stares down at Stiles, hard, and Stiles has the distinct and unnerving feeling he’s missing something. Like Derek is speaking another language, and Stiles is doing a piss poor job of translating.
He focuses back on the pencil on the table in front of him, feels the heat of Derek’s eyes on him as he tries with all his might to get the pencil to move.
Which it does. It rolls down the table and then comes right back, stopping in front of Stiles’ face.
“Hah!” Stiles drums excited hands on the tabletop, grins up at Derek, who gives him an amused little twitch of the lips back.
Across the room the betas are sparring with Lydia acting as referee. This time it’s Jackson facing Boyd, and Boyd reaches up, gets a hold of Jackson by the throat, and slams him into the ground. Stiles winces in sympathy.
“Scott isn’t here.”
Stiles sighs, looks back over at Derek. Allison showed up today, tagging along with Lydia and Jackson, but no Scott. Stiles was one of the last ones to arrive, and when he did he was accosted with apologies from Erica, Isaac, and Boyd, their proverbial tails between their legs. Motivated, Stiles is sure, by a few sharp words from Derek, who watched every exchange carefully from a distance, his arms crossed.
“Yeah, I think that’s probably my fault this time. Sorry. We had a…conversation the other day.”
Derek waits a beat, and when Stiles doesn’t speak, prompts him with, “And?”
“It was less conversation and more…disagreement.”
“You had a fight.”
“You know...words were said, things were disagreed with, and then he made a lame excuse and walked away. If you add on my stern group talking-to the other day, you might say I’m not his favorite right now.”
“But apparently Jackson wants to take his spot? So…”
Stiles shakes his head, reaches down into his backpack and pulls out the sheets of paper Jackson gave him, hands them over to Derek, who looks down at them blankly.
“It’s some ideas on strategy. What to do when we face a witch like Circe, or different sized packs…” He makes a you get it gesture with his hand as he trails off. “There’s only a few, but it’s a start.”
Derek is staring at him again, intently. “You came up with these?”
“Nope,” he says, comes around the table and leans against the edge, crossing his arms with a smile. “Jackson did.”
Derek’s eyebrows go up. “Jackson?”
“Hey, it makes sense.” When Derek stares at him pointedly, Stiles says, “Jackson’s been the best player on every team he’s played on since we were kids. He’s spent years studying the opposition, figuring out how to beat them. If anyone knows strategy, it’s him.” Stiles nods at them. “Take a look. They’re good.”
“Since when are you pro Jackson?”
“He’s pack.” Stiles shrugs a little. “And remember, he’s very enthusiastic about being my new bff, so.”
Derek gives him one more lingering look before he looks down at the papers in his hands. He flips the first page to the back then scans the next page then flips that one to the back. Eventually his eyes meet Stiles’ again and he says, “They’ll need some adjustments.”
“That’s why you make the big bucks,” Stiles says with a little smirk. “Talk to your Chief Strategist. I’m sure he has even more ideas, and this is a good opportunity to pass on some more of your wolfy wisdom.”
Derek stares at him a moment then calls out for Jackson, and when Stiles and Derek look over at the other side of the station, they find Jackson already standing there, watching them.
Along with everyone else.
Stiles goes back to his chair and focuses on his pencil, bent low over the table, chin propped on his folded hands. When Jackson walks over he and Derek set up on the other half of the table and Derek sidles up next to Stiles, his arm brushing Stiles’ shoulder when he moves. It’s horrifically distracting, especially because trying to get the pencil to float instead of roll is a lot more complicated than he would have thought. Like working an entirely different muscle.
Derek leans over the table as he discusses some sort of change with Jackson and shifts, presses his hip against Stiles’ side just the tiniest amount. Like a tease.
The pencil shoots up through the air and embeds itself in the ceiling above them.
Stiles jerks up out of his chair, metal scraping against concrete, and stares up at the pencil, fish mouthed.
That’s not quite what he was trying to do.
“Stiles,” Lydia says as she walks over, drawing out his name. “Did you just do that?”
“Looks like it.”
“Could you do it again?”
Stiles looks at her, shrugs a little helplessly. “I guess?”
Again, not exactly what he was trying to accomplish.
From beside Lydia, Allison is staring up at the ceiling, thoughtful. “Is that a normal pencil?”
“I gave it a nice little dusting of mountain ash, but otherwise...yeah. Dixon Ticonderoga number two.”
She looks over at him, a smile starting to grow on her face. “That gives me an idea.”
She reaches down into the bag slung over her shoulder and pulls out a small handful of throwing knives and a couple of arrows. She holds them up, her smile now a grin.
“Do you think you could do the same thing with these?”
Derek co-opts Stiles’ backup pencil to work with Jackson and Stiles and Allison spend the rest of the meeting with mountain ash coated throwing knives and arrows, trying to see if Stiles can get them to move. They’re mostly unsuccessful, but Allison seems satisfied when he’s able to get one of the knives to move a short distance. Allison, on the other hand, hits her target with every single one of her arrows.
“Oh yeah...four inches. I’m a real killer.”
Allison blesses him with her dimples and says, “We’ll keep working at it. You’ll get better.”
She bends down to pick up his lone success and Stiles says, “I was surprised to see you showed up today.”
She looks over her shoulder at everyone else. “I’m not sure I’m ever going to feel totally comfortable.”
He gets that. It’s a shame, but he gets it.
She turns back to him. “But that’s not what you meant, is it?”
Uh...no. No it wasn’t. “I just don’t want to put you in the middle of anything.”
“Don’t worry. I’m capable of making my own choices.”
Stiles lifts a fist in solidarity. “Rock on, Sister Suffragette.”
She gives him another dimpled smile. “Even if I never feel comfortable, even if I never feel like I really belong, this is too important. I know how he feels about joining Derek’s pack, but...this isn’t about that. We can’t afford to be hunters and werewolves. We have to grow and adapt. We have to work together.”
Has Stiles mentioned lately how awesome and smart Allison is? Because she’s awesome and smart.
“I know he means well, but he just doesn’t get it.” She looks past Stiles, at the groups and pairs of supernatural creatures behind them as she steps up to her target, arrows stuck in a cluster in the bullseye. She pulls the first arrow out, looks at Stiles. “None of them do. They’re so focused on themselves, on others like them, that they don’t see the rest of us. Us little humans. They don’t see how what they do affects all of us.” She pulls out another arrow and gives him a small, secret smile. “But not you. I think you see everything. I think you see the whole board. There’s something the rest of us are missing that you’re not.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“I do,” she says firmly. “And If I were on the other side…that would terrify me.”
“For what it’s worth?” He gives her a little nudge with his shoulder. “If I were on the other side, I’d be terrified of you too. Hell, I’m a little terrified of you right now.”
She gives him her biggest, brightest smile and yanks the last arrow out of the target.
Because sometimes Derek is still an asshole, he likes to play little games with Stiles like make it back to Stiles’ house before Stiles does and then hover in the dark corners of Stiles’ room and wait until he’s vulnerable before leaping out at him.
Stiles startles and yelps and nearly falls flat on his ass, sprawled out on the floor in the middle of his bedroom. It’s only a desperate, reflexive grab of the edge of his desk that keeps him upright. Crap. He’s like a fawn trying to walk on a frozen pond.
“A bell. I am getting you a bell.”
“Like I’d wear anything that resembles a dog collar.”
Stiles shrugs easily, straightens up and pulls his jacket off. “Fair point.” He grins. “Be fun to make you try, though.”
Derek steps forward out of the shadows. “You’re not avoiding this conversation.”
“Stiles,” Derek growls. “You distracted me at the pack meeting. You’re not distracting me again.”
Stiles sighs. “Scott and I just aren’t on the best of terms right now, alright? Not a big thing. Nothing for you to get worked up about.”
“Why?” He takes another step toward Stiles. “What changed?”
“Look…” he says, and braces a hand on the back of his desk chair. “I’ve always supported Scott’s choice not to be a part of anyone’s pack. I know that sucks for you, that that’s not what you want, but Scott didn’t get a choice when Peter bit him, so I get it. And I don’t care if you don’t like it, you’re gonna have to get that too.” Derek presses his lips together. “The disagreement came when he assumed I was a part of his pack. I had to remind him I had a choice too. And that I choose you. You’re my Alpha. Your pack is my pack.”
Derek stares him down, takes another step forward. “He’s your best friend.”
“Yeah, that was the other thing that came up. I sorta mentioned he’d been sucking at it lately. He didn’t take that too well either.”
“Nope, no. Uh uh. This wasn’t about you, so no piling guilt onto your shoulders. Not allowed. Sorry, buddy.”
“You shouldn’t have to make a choice, not-”
Stiles flicks Derek’s nose and Derek stops talking and recoils, blinks. Stiles laughs.
“I’m not a dog, Stiles,” Derek growls.
“Trust me, I know that.” His shoulders drop. “Hey…thanks for giving a shit. You didn’t have to.”
“Why didn’t I have to?”
“Well you know…this,” Stiles says, and gestures with one broad, flailing hand around the room, at Derek, at himself. “None of this is about me. This is about you. This is about what you need.”
Derek stares at him a long time. It’s a little unnerving, but somehow still comforting. The Duality of Derek.
“I’d offer up some more Parks and Rec and cuddle time if you’re up for it, but I think my dad’s gonna be home tonight, so we might only get in a couple of episodes?”
Derek slips off his jacket, drapes it over the back of Stiles’ desk chair, starts pulling off his boots. “Okay.”
“Okay.” He snaps his fingers, shoots Derek double finger guns. “You get comfy, I’m gonna go grab some food.”
They stuff themselves – well, Stiles does…Derek is the picture of moderation which is ridiculous considering his metabolism – and Stiles leans back against Derek. And somewhere in the middle of the third episode Stiles drifts off to sleep, his head pillowed on Derek’s bicep, their legs tangled together under Stiles’ comforter.
When Stiles started this thing with Derek, he did a lot of reading up on werewolf and wolf packs, both to figure out how Derek’s dynamic with his betas could improve, and what Stiles could do to make Derek feel safe in Stiles’ house. Something he might need, maybe something he wasn’t getting, that Stiles could provide. And what he read over and over again was how tactile wolves are, how they need the comfort and safe touch of pack, how wolves without it can get angry or frustrated, or feel lost. Which explained a lot about Derek, actually.
Clearly Derek needed that comfort and companionship desperately but didn’t know how to ask for it, or whether he was even allowed, because he started a pack out of broken teenagers, and then made himself into some strict authority figure instead of making himself into their caring, tough older brother, which is actually what they all needed.
Bless his frustrated, dysfunctional little heart.
So item one on Stiles’ list was touch Derek more and encourage Derek to touch him more, and the way he did that was by expressly giving Derek permission to cuddle the hell out of Stiles whenever he felt like it, no questions asked. And Stiles did his part by pressing his thigh up against Derek’s and using his stomach as a pillow sometimes. There were a lot of little, casual, friendly touches thrown around. It took some time, but Derek started loosening up, going with it, expecting it. Lately Stiles hasn’t even needed to say anything. Derek is the first one to initiate contact, to pull Stiles down to the bed and under his arm. And Stiles is always the first one to fall asleep, and the last one to wake up.
But then, Derek is a light sleeper.
Stiles mumbles and turns over, pushing his face into Derek’s chest.
Derek huffs and gives his shoulder a little jostle.
“Whaaaaaaaat,” he says, on a moan. He’s just so comfortable.
“Your dad’s home.”
“Shit.” Stiles sits up abruptly and would have fallen off the bed if Derek hadn’t reached out a hand and grabbed him by the shirt. Stiles pats the hand on his shirt and gets up as soon as Derek lets go. “Thanks, buddy.”
He scrubs the back of his head and motions toward the downstairs. “Alright, I’m gonna…check in with my dad. Uh…”
This is weird. Unnecessarily awkward. But they never say goodbye. Derek just leaves after Stiles has fallen asleep, or when Stiles has gotten up to use the bathroom. So Stiles doesn’t really know how to do this part. And it’s not like he has a lot of relationship experience to help fill in the gaps.
So like many courageous men before him, he doesn’t do or say anything at all. He just walks out.
Derek knows the way out, anyway. Not like he needs help with that.
He finds his dad downstairs with his head in the fridge, uniform shirt unbuttoned and untucked, sidearm already locked away in his gun safe.
“There’s leftover spaghetti on the third shelf,” Stiles says, and climbs up onto a bar stool, yawning into his hand.
“Oh,” John sighs. “Thank God.”
John nods as he reaches into the cabinet for a bowl, sets in on the counter in front of him and reaches into a drawer for a fork. He serves some of the spaghetti into his bowl, throws it in the microwave, and turns around, leaning against the counter. “Long thirty-six hours. As soon as I eat this, I’m crashing.”
The microwave beeps and he grabs the bowl and the fork, sits down on the barstool next to Stiles.
John digs his fork into the noodles, twirls it, leans over and takes a bite.
“Sooooo…any new interesting cases?”
John eyes him.
“You know, one day your curiosity might have real consequences,” he says, voice heavy. He shakes his head, takes another large bite.
Right, well. A little late for that.
“Yeah,” Stiles says quietly, looks out the window above the sink, out at the dark backyard. He stays silent for a long time, his dad eating next to him. Finally he says, “You know, I was just trying to make conversation.”
John snorts, stands, puts his bowl in the sink. “It’s never just conversation with you.”
Stiles gets up from his stool and heads upstairs. He has his hand on the doorknob, his door cracked just a couple inches when he dad comes up behind him, sighs and says, “Curiosity is good, Stiles. You’ve always been interested in the world around you, in the way things work, it’s…” He trails off, shakes his head. “I just…I worry about you.”
John is quiet for a moment then he nods, claps a hand on Stiles’ shoulder, says good night, and heads into his room, head bowed.
Stiles stands there for a moment himself staring at his dad’s closed door, and wonders if he stands there long enough, if he thinks hard enough, whether he’ll be able to come up with the exact moment his dad stopped trusting him at his word.
He pushes his own door the rest of the way open, stops in his tracks when he sees Derek sitting up against the headboard under the covers with a book in his hand. Not one of the books Derek gave Stiles, one of Stiles’ from his bookcase. The House on Mango Street. Required reading from the summer before freshman year.
Stiles shakes his head a little, turns around, and closes the door behind him.
He strips out of his shirt and jeans, walks over to his dresser and pulls out a dark blue t-shirt and a pair of plaid pajama bottoms, gets dressed, and gets into his side of the bed, facing away from Derek.
“You going to stay and read?”
“Is the light going to keep you up?”
“Nah. ‘S fine.”
Stiles hears the soft turn of a page and Derek says, “I’ll hear him if he gets up.”
“I know,” Stiles says.
Frankly, if his dad found Derek in his bed it probably wouldn’t even surprise him that much. He’d just add it to the long list titled Shit Stiles Does That Disappoints Me.
This wouldn’t even top the list. Top ten though, for sure.
Stiles wishes he were a better kid. He wishes his dad would look at him like he still looks at Scott. He wishes for a lot of things.
Stiles closes his eyes, listens to Derek turn another page, and lets his mind wander to their last meeting. They’re getting better, stronger. They’re connecting. Erica and Lydia actually sat next to each other and started laughing together. Jackson worked on some lacrosse moves with Isaac. Boyd led a spirited game of Capture the Flag. Derek smiled at them and doled out praise. They all listened to their fearless leader. Fucking awesome, all of it.
But they still have a ways to go, Stiles knows that. Their communication skills are terrible, and there are some major trust issues all the way around they’re still working on. They could stand to incorporate some trust exercises in their training regimens for damn sure. But they’re getting there.
The problem is it’s been a little while since Circe attacked them, and that has him itching. Something’s coming, Stiles is sure of that. He doesn’t know why, but he’s sure. And he’s pretty sure that when it hits, they’re not going to be ready for it.
“I wish I could tell him the truth,” he says quietly. “About everything.”
“I know,” he says. “I know why I can’t. It’s not my story to tell. It wouldn’t be fair of me to do that.”
Derek is silent in the bed next to him, still.
Stiles swallows hard, feels his stomach turn over as he stares at the bookshelves along his wall as he clutches his pillow with his fingers.
“But sometimes he looks at me, and I think he wishes I was easier. I think he wishes I was someone else. Sometimes he looks at me and…” he trails off, sucks in a breath. He hasn’t said this to anyone, and he needs to. He’s been letting it rot inside too long. “…sometimes I think he wishes I was Scott.”
Derek doesn’t say anything but after a long moment Stiles feels a soft, warm hand on his shoulder and he flips over onto his other side, presses his face into Derek’s side, and clenches his eyes shut.
“Good night, Stiles,” Derek says after a while, his hand dropping one more time to rest on Stiles’ back.
The thing is, this is not one of those situations where Stiles glories in being right. He would much rather be wrong any day than be where he is now: on his back on the ground in a poorly lit, gravel covered parking lot, trapped under a 400 pound dead beta named Bubba.
Stiles couldn’t make this stuff up if he tried.
Bubba landed sort of awkwardly on Stiles’ upper body, pinning his arms and covering his face, so not only has moving him been pretty impossible so far, but it’s getting hard to breathe. He can hear the muffled sounds of fighting fairly close and he tries to shove Bubba off him as hard as he can with his shoulder but Bubba is like a gross, sweaty, bloody, immovable boulder. There’s a high, anguished scream, and Stiles starts to yell himself as he tries and tries and tries to get out from under this stupid dead werewolf.
That was Erica, or Allison.
A yell, lower pitched.
Isaac? Jackson? Boyd?
A loud, fierce roar.
Stiles yells under Bubba again, kicks out his legs trying to gain purchase on something, anything. Near him the fighting dies down until Stiles can’t hear anything anymore and he stills, trying to hear small sounds of life. A voice, movement, anything.
He’s hoping they’re just too far away for him to hear. He doesn’t want to think about the alternative. He doesn’t want to think about what it would mean.
And then, his name.
Allison is calling his name.
He kicks his legs out again and calls out, hoping she can see or hear him and she must, because he hears footsteps running toward him not a minute later, and her voice calling for Jackson’s help, and I found him, directed at god knows who.
When Bubba is finally pulled off of him Stiles sucks in a long deep breath and blinks rapidly and repeatedly as Jackson yanks him to his feet by the front of his shirt.
“Leave it to you to get taken out by a dead guy.”
Allison is cradling her right wrist and Jackson has small cuts and slashes that are already starting to heal themselves, but otherwise they seem okay. Across the parking lot some of their compatriots don’t seem to be doing so well. At least half of them are on the ground. He’s glad Lydia is out of town, at her aunt’s, but he notices Peter is nowhere to be found. Shocker.
Scott, however, did show up, sometime after Stiles got taken out. Double shocker.
“Stiles, are you okay?” Allison asks. “You’re covered in blood.”
Stiles does inventory, prods at his sides and his stomach and his chest and his face, takes another breath. He’s going to be sore as hell tomorrow and there are a couple nice cuts on his lip and his cheek that he’ll have to figure out a way to explain, but otherwise, a little miraculously, he’s fine. “It’s all Bubba’s, I guess.”
She nods and she looks relieved for him, and he kinda wants to hug her.
“How’s the wrist?”
He puts two gentle fingers under it and she moves it a little back and forth, grimacing. “I think it’s just twisted, or a mild sprain. I’ll ice it when I get home.”
Allison is lucky. She won’t have to lie about her wrist, she won’t have to tell her dad she tripped, or that someone accidentally knocked her down and she had to brace her fall. She can actually tell him the truth: that they were fighting a group of biker werewolves who cruised through town, saw a pack full of teenagers, and decided to attack them for fun.
Stiles wonders what the hell that would feel like. Telling his dad the truth for once.
“I’m going to go check on the others.” She gives his elbow a gentle squeeze. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Derek is about 30 feet away and coming toward them, eyes widening when he sees the amount of blood on Stiles’ clothes. Stiles opens his mouth to speak, but Jackson beats him to it.
“It’s not his blood.”
Derek stares at Stiles, eyes boring into his.
“It’s not,” Stiles says. Finally, Derek nods. But it’s more like a concession than an actual agreement. Stiles isn’t top on the list of worries right now. “How’s everybody else? I thought I heard someone scream.”
Derek frowns. “Erica. She has a broken leg, and one of them got claws in her stomach.”
Stiles winces in sympathy. She’ll heal, and she’ll be good as new in a few days, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to suck getting there.
“Isaac has a broken arm, Scott got a dislocated shoulder. Boyd lost a lot of blood. He got slashed up pretty bad, although thankfully not by the alpha.”
“Who’s now missing his head,” Jackson says.
It was a pack of 12 seriously beefy, unwashed bikers. Stiles is surprised they didn’t fare any worse.
Derek looks over his shoulder at Isaac, helping a much paler than normal Boyd to stand and at Scott, knelt down next to Erica. His jaw clenches. “It’s the least he deserved.”
“Yeah.” Derek looks back and Stiles sways a little on his feet. He feels a little lightheaded, all of a sudden.
Jackson reaches up a hand and grips his arm, bracing him. Derek’s eyes widen and he looks like he wants to step forward but Stiles says, “Go on, take care of them. Get them out of here so they can heal.”
Derek gives him a long look, presses his lips together, and walks away.
“You might have a concussion.”
Stiles shakes his head. “It’s just the adrenaline wearing off.”
He locks eyes with Scott across the room. He might have gotten here crazy late, but he got here, and that’s some definite progress. He and Derek even seem to be having a civil conversation for once, crouched down on opposite sides of Erica.
“Uh, me and Derek…it’s…” He gestures weakly and ineffectually. He doesn’t actually know how to finish that sentence.
Jackson manages to look both impatiently supportive and vaguely over it all. “You’re boning. Yeah. I know.”
They’re not boning, though. There has been no bone-adge.
“He was pissed when he thought you got taken out, by the way.”
“Yeah, that’s me…Human Liability. Registered trademark.” He makes a little swooshy letter R in the air. “Making life difficult for Alpha werewolves since twenty eleven.”
The thing about being friends with Jackson is that apparently when you’re being an idiot, he’s still fond of letting you know. With his face. He has expert bitch face. “Yeah…that’s not why he was pissed. And stop calling yourself a fucking liability. It’s getting old.”
Stiles opens his mouth but snaps it shut when Scott and Allison come walking up to them.
“Stiles, hey. Are you…?”
Scott’s puppy dog eyes, honestly.
“I’m okay. You?”
“Yeah,” he says, and smiles a little, tentative. “I’m good. Werewolf healing, you know.”
Look, it’s not even close to an apology, but Stiles will settle for it. He’s stopped expecting more from Scott. Like accountability. And the pack is the most important thing, anyway. If they’re going to make this thing work, they need unity. And sometimes for the sake of unity, you just have to bite your tongue and let shit go.
But Scott isn’t going to be the first person Stiles calls anymore. He’s learned that lesson.
Jackson rolls his eyes. “Go home and take a shower. You smell like dead unwashed werewolf.”
When he walks away Stiles calls out, “Yeah? Well you smell like a field of manly wildflowers!”
Stiles makes a face.
It’s insane. They’re five minutes removed from dispatching a violent, angry pack of sweaty biker werewolves, and Jackson smells like he just stepped out of the shower. Stiles smells like Bubba’s corpse.
Scott gives Stiles a funny look and Stiles looks around at the dead werewolves, nudges Bubba with his toe, reaches down and pulls the one throwing knife he managed to land out of the dead dude’s side. He needs to keep practicing. “What are we going to do with these guys?”
Allison says, “I was thinking maybe my dad and the hunters could help.” She turns to Scott. “Take me home?”
He nods and says to Stiles, “Call you later?”
He won’t. But Stiles nods anyway, watches them as they retreat to Allison’s car, as Scott gets into the driver’s seat and drives away.
Stiles sniffs, rubs his nose on his shirt sleeve and recoils in disgust.
God, Jackson’s right. He does smell like dead unwashed werewolf.
When Stiles was a little kid and he imagined growing up, becoming a teenager, he never imagined he’d be doing so much stain removal at 11:30 at night.
He thought there’d be a lot more kissing, actually. And parties, set to a kickass soundtrack.
John Hughes lied to him.
He throws his de-stained shirt in the washer, turns the dial, starts the load, and drags himself upstairs on weary feet to his bedroom which, as it turns out, is currently occupied by guess who.
Stiles bites back his snark. Tonight was rough for all of them, and Derek, standing there with blood stained hands in a blood streaked jacket and ripped clothes, looks like the physical embodiment of their night. He also looks like he’s a half second away from snapping in half under the slightest pressure.
“They’re fine.” He closes his eyes briefly as an apology. “They’re healing.”
“That wasn’t what I was going to ask.” He doesn’t say that Derek doesn’t need to apologize, that he’s supposed to yell and scream and get frustrated and let it all out. That’s kinda the point of it all. It’s his safe space. “Are you okay?”
He’s staring at Stiles like Stiles has the answer to his problem, like he can fix it, and Stiles would think that’s a responsibility he’s absolutely not prepared for except he totally volunteered. He’s the President, Vice President, and Secretary of the Committee for the Preservation and Protection of Derek Hale.
He’s not sure he is prepared for it, though.
“I’m okay,” he whispers, and Derek flinches. He takes a few slow steps forward. “Do you want to check for yourself?”
It’s a little silly that Derek doesn’t trust him on this, but Derek doesn’t trust anyone, and for pretty good reason. The thought of that makes Stiles a little sick, actually.
Derek stretches out tentative hands, looks at Stiles hesitantly, then lifts the hem of Stiles’ t-shirt slowly, eyes and fingers skittering over the bruises on Stiles’ ribs. His fingertips are a little cold and Stiles sucks in a breath. Derek’s eyes shoot up to his.
“Sorry,” Stiles mumbles.
“You’re so much trouble,” he murmurs. He says it like he means it and he doesn’t. He says it like he’s never meant anything so much in his entire life. He says it like a prayer as his fingers make a slow map of Stiles’ skin. “You’re so human.”
Derek’s eyes shift to the cleaned up cut on Stiles’ temple, to the cut on his cheek. His thumb traces over the tiny cut near the corner of Stiles’ mouth and Stiles’ stomach drops. He swallows.
“Yeah, but totally worth it. Right?” he asks, suddenly incredibly nervous, his heart hanging out there between them. He’s not sure he wants an answer. He’s absolutely sure he does.
Something crosses over Derek’s face and he cradles Stiles’ jaw in both hands and kisses him.
Derek’s lips are cool and a little chapped, and Stiles is too surprised to kiss him back. So Derek pulls back after a moment, face closed off and body rigid, and no. No. No no no no no no no no.
Stiles scrabbles at Derek’s jacket, pulls him back. Derek goes, pliant, but his eyes are fixed to the corner of Stiles’ room, his jaw set. Ready for rejection.
Stiles pulls his hands off Derek’s jacket, fingertips tacky with traces of blood, grabs Derek’s face and kisses him.
Derek didn’t even change. He took care of his Betas, made sure they were going to be okay, and then he came right to Stiles in his ripped, blood-soaked clothes to make sure Stiles was okay. As if Stiles could reject that.
Stiles isn’t sure he’s any good at this, actually. He hasn’t exactly had a ton of life experience. But determination and effort make up for a lot of sins he’s always found, and he’s always been a quick learner. Derek doesn’t seem to be complaining. He seems to be getting into it, actually. Stepping closer, putting his arm around Stiles, fisting the back of his t-shirt, folding himself around him.
Stiles hisses and backs away then frowns, gently prodding his lip. “Sorry. Way to ruin the mood.”
Derek’s hands are back on his face now, and his eyes are soft. He leans in slowly, kisses him on the uninjured corner of his mouth once, pulls back. Stiles blinks, surprised at the gentleness, surprised to find his hands clenched in Derek’s jacket. He stares at them. He stares at the blood on his fingers. He can’t stop staring at them.
“Most of it isn’t mine.”
Stiles nods. “Shower?”
Derek nods and Stiles wonders how he managed to last this long with the blood of a foreign werewolf – or werewolves – on him. If Stiles could smell it, identify it as other mixed too intimately with pack the way Derek can, it probably would have driven him crazy.
Stiles hands him a stack of clothes he thinks might fit and takes his stained pants and jacket downstairs to clean, throwing his ripped shirt away in the trash can by his desk.
Like he said, he never imagined he’d be doing so much stain removal at 11:30 at night.
He’s draping Derek’s newly clean jacket over the back of his desk chair and answering Jackson’s text – no, my head doesn’t hurt, the president’s name is obama, you can stop testing me for concussion symptoms, jesus – when Derek comes walking in from the hallway in his bare feet and sits on Stiles’ bed. The clothes are a little too tight, but underwear model that he is, he pulls them off.
He has his arms braced on his knees, his shoulders curled in and his head bowed. He looks vulnerable and small, and Stiles hates it.
“That could’ve been a massacre.”
He looks up at Stiles.
“Everyone’s okay, or they’re going to be. And we’ll do better next time. We’ll train harder…we’ll learn from this. This is not a failure for you. You did good today.” He licks his lips. “If you need to go watch over them, I get it. I’m okay, you know that.”
His clawed hands clench at Stiles’ bedspread. “What if I’m not?”
Stiles steps toward the bed slowly and Derek hesitates, looks up at him for a long time before he unfolds with a sagging of his limbs and pulls Stiles in with both hands, pressing his face into Stiles’ stomach as he wraps both arms around him tightly and holds on for dear life. Stiles runs his hands through Derek’s wet hair, presses fingertips into his scalp, and Derek mumbles something into Stiles’ stomach that Stiles doesn’t ask him to repeat. But he does anyway, as if he can’t hold it back, as if he’s tired of holding it back.
“I saw you go down across the parking lot. I couldn’t get to you.”
“You had a lot more to worry about than one little human.”
Derek’s jaw clenches.
“I couldn’t take care of any of you. Not the way you needed to be taken care of. Not the way an Alpha should have taken care of you. Not the way my mom would have.”
“She would’ve brought everyone back to the house, she would’ve watched over everyone until she was sure they were okay. You left by yourself tonight. You brought yourself home because I couldn’t watch over all of you at once. I don’t have anywhere to do that. What kind of an Alpha am I?”
For once in his life, Stiles doesn’t say the wrong thing. He doesn’t say anything.
Derek’s voice gets a little quieter and his arms tighten around Stiles. “Everyone who gets close to me gets hurt. Or dies.”
“Then it’s about time we broke that streak.”
Derek keeps holding on and Stiles holds him back, tight. Stiles has a feeling that if he tried to let go, or move away, that Derek’s hands would simply tighten, pull him in closer and anyway, he doesn’t want to let go.
He’s never found it so easy to be so calm, so still.
Eventually Derek’s hands loosen and Stiles slips out of them and quietly reaches over to the bedside table and turns off the light. He gets in the bed, waits for Derek to get under the covers on his side. It takes less time than he thinks it will, but tonight has been rough so maybe Stiles should have seen that coming. Derek pulls the covers back and then Stiles waits just a beat after he’s settled before he flips over and settles himself partially on top of Derek, his face tucked into Derek’s neck. He smells like Stiles now, like his shampoo and conditioner, like his laundry detergent, like his soap. Derek’s arms tighten around him and his nose presses into Stiles’ hair.
Stiles is exhausted and Derek is warm beneath him, but mentally he’s still a little wired, so Stiles stays in this little purgatory of sleep for a long time, hazy and unfocused.
He’s almost off to sleep when Derek’s arms tighten a little more, when Derek takes a deep breath and lets it out. When he murmurs into Stiles’ hair, “You’re not just one little human.”
From then on, Stiles decides he’s going to take advantage. When he comes home from school he’ll pause briefly in some story or some rant to give Derek a quick kiss hello before he continues on. If he’s the first one at pack meetings, he grabs that kiss before he sets himself up. He’s going for normalcy here. He wants to normalize his affection with Derek to the point where he doesn’t question Stiles at all. He’s going to Pavlov’s Dog this shit so when he walks in the room, Derek is going to lean in expecting to be kissed.
But not just that. Nope. Stiles is going to find a reason to give Derek the equivalent of an emotional gold star sticker every day. Read a book on pack dynamics? I’m proud of you, big guy. Shared a smile with Isaac during a training exercise? You’re awesome. Gave Erica some kudos for a job well done? Intense make out session.
And he’s going to get handsy too. Not creepy, grabbing your ass in line at the supermarket handsy, but you bet your ass Stiles is going to touch Derek’s arm when he laughs and prop his feet in his lap and use his shoulder as a head rest sometimes.
Stiles is going to drop a buttload of romantic bro-fection on Derek Hale.
And there’s nothing Derek can do about it.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Stiles croaks out, winces and recoils as he catches bright sun from behind Jackson’s head. “It’s six thirty in the morning. On Saturday. Did we make plans for you to be an asshole that I seemed to have forgotten about?”
“Get it all out of your system?” Jackson asks with a smirk, steps past Stiles into the house.
Stiles shuts the door, falls back against it. “No. You’re ugly and stupid and I hate you. And your breath smells like cheese,” he says petulantly. “Dude. I was really enjoying sleeping in.”
“And now you’re going to enjoy going for a run.”
“I immediately rescind any acceptance of your friendship, actual or implied. Go away.”
Stiles trudges away, up the stairs, and Jackson follows him.
“Are you a sadist?” Stiles asks, and flops down face first onto his unmade bed. He curls around his pillow. Nice pillow. Soft pillow. Still smells like Derek.
Jackson reaches into his dresser, pulls out some clothes and tosses them onto Stiles.
“Ugh,” Stiles groans, flips over and says through gritted teeth, “Fine. But you’re buying me a Red Bull.”
“No,” he says, as if the entire idea of that is offensive.
“I’m buying you breakfast afterward,” he says, as if Stiles is an idiot, and he’s forgetting it’s part of their normal Saturday morning.
Jackson picks up one of the books off his desk, flips through it.
“I hate running,” Stiles says, as he pulls on his pants.
“You ran track. Nobody who volunteers to run track hates to run.”
Jackson glances at the rest of Stiles’ research books stacked on the end of his desk, on his floor, against the wall. Stiles had a dream the other night that his books multiplied and grew over him like vines, suffocating him in his bed.
Stiles needs another bookshelf. He also needs to stop eating ice cream before bed.
“You’re amassing one hell of a library.”
Stiles shrugs, slips on his shirt.
It’s surprisingly easy to find authentic books on eBay, mostly coming from sellers who clearly aren’t part of the supernatural community themselves and don’t know what the hell they have. Plus Derek brings him new books constantly to supplement his library even further. Stiles doesn’t ask where he gets them, but they always come to him smelling as if they’ve already lived a life, or two or ten, and sometimes Derek will quietly tell him about their former owners, who always seem a little amused that their books will be going to a teenage boy with a taste for the interesting, for the strange.
“The more we know, the better prepared we can be.”
Stiles isn’t strong, Stiles isn’t fast, Stiles doesn’t have incredible hearing or quick reflexes or a strange attraction to leather – unless Derek is wearing it – but so help him, if he can keep them from running into a situation half blind, he’s gonna do it.
Jackson drives them out to the preserve and Stiles falls out of the car, a mess of uncoordinated limbs. Jackson just raises an eyebrow.
They start at a jog down the normal pedestrian paths. Jackson lets Stiles set the pace to start, but takes over after a few minutes, increasing their speed and forcing Stiles to up his own to match. He keeps doing this at irregular intervals, forcing Stiles every time to keep up, straying away from the path and into the trees, making the course more difficult so Stiles has to adjust for fallen branches, for roots, for plants and trees. Stiles still keeps his own pretty well, though he knows Jackson is holding back. Werewolves and their super speed.
Stiles is panting, his chest heaving, when they make it back to Jackson’s car an hour later and Stiles leans over, his hands braced on his knees, and breathes in deep, staring at the gravel beneath his feet. He rights himself, wipes the sweat from his forehead with the back of his forearm, and barely manages to catch the water bottle Jackson tosses his way.
“Not bad for a human.”
He hasn’t even broken a sweat. It’s disgusting.
Stiles makes a noncommittal noise and downs half the bottle.
“We’ll see how you do tomorrow.”
He should’ve guessed that was coming.
“You know,” Stiles says, panting, “I have a carefully crafted balance to my life that involves sleeping in on weekend mornings.” He breathes deep and leans against the split rail fence behind him. “I like sleeping in.”
Jackson caps his water bottle. “Do you want to be a werewolf, Stiles?”
“I like being human,” he says firmly.
He nods. “Then we’re going to run every morning.”
He eyes him. “Because you enjoy watching me struggle to keep up? Look…I may not have your wolfy talents, I may not be able to beat you in a foot race anymore, but I’m not useless.”
Stiles rises off the fence.
“You spend hours and hours doing research, you’re working with Allison on moving knives with your mind because you don’t have claws, you call us out on our bullshit when we need to hear it. What part of that is useless?”
Stiles shifts his weight from one foot to the other, rubs at the cap of his water bottle with the tip of a finger.
“It’s like Derek says, every member of the pack serves a different purpose, has a different role. You’re not the muscle, and no, you’re not going to win any races against a werewolf. But who said you had to win? You just need to keep up long enough to hand them their asses.”
“I’m human, Jackson.”
“Please,” he says with an eye roll, as if Stiles should know better. “You need claws and fangs as much as Lydia does.”
Stiles walks over to the passenger side of Jackson’s car, eyeing Jackson the whole time, and pulls open the door. “It continues to creep me out how thoughtful and supportive you are.”
“Yeah, well…” Jackson drawls, “your entire sense of fashion creeps me out, so I guess that makes us even.”
Stiles is a sweaty mess but Jackson doesn’t make any noise about it, just reaches into the back seat and pulls a towel out of his lacrosse bag, dropping it in Stiles’ lap as he drives them to Paulie’s Diner to buy Stiles breakfast. They order omelets and large coffees from a smiley waitress with a cheerful, lilting voice and pink wavy hair that fades into blonde the closer it gets to her scalp, and Stiles leans back in the booth, stares at the ceiling as Jackson types on his phone. Stiles slides down his booth bench a little, props his feet up on Jackson’s booth on the other side, nudging Jackson’s hip with his foot.
He laces his fingers together over his stomach.
He’s tired, but it’s the good kind. His muscles feel warm and a little achy, his mind feels calm and settled. He forgot how much he liked to run. He didn’t realize he missed it.
“Here you are…” Their waitress sets their coffees down. “Sorry about the wait. It’s pretty jammed in here today.”
Stiles sits up and reaches for the milk pitcher. “Yeah, I noticed. Is it always like this on Saturday mornings?”
“Everybody loves Ray’s waffles,” she says, all cheery and matter of fact. She’s a warm, comfortable kind of pretty. Like the girl next door you’ve known all your life.
“Yeah?” She nods and Stiles leans in and peers at her name tag. “Okaaaaaayyyy…Cassandra.” He looks up with a grin. “Bring us one of Ray’s waffles too.”
“With strawberries and whipped cream?” she asks with a sly, playful smile.
“Do you even need to ask?”
“Coming right up,” she says with a wink.
Stiles stirs a sugar into his coffee happily, sits back and takes a sip, looks around the restaurant. It’s packed – every table is full, actually – but all the waitresses have a spring in their step, and all the customers are in a great mood. He watches a little girl laugh, and climb into her smiling dad’s lap two tables over.
“Thanks, Jackson. For this.”
Jackson finishes typing out a text, sets his phone down and looks up.
“You’re welcome.” He pulls his coffee cup closer, taps a sugar packet against his hand and rips it open. “I’m eating half of that waffle.”
“Of course you are? I ordered it for the both of us. I even used that word: us. As in a unit. As in Waffle Bros. Bros in Wafflehood.”
“Yeah…I doubt she focused on that, since she barely even looked my way once.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Jesus, you’re oblivious to flirting. How did you and Derek get together? Did he have to make a PowerPoint or something to get you to finally see what was right in front of you?”
“Please,” Stiles scoffs. “We both know I’m the obsessive one. If anyone is going to make a PowerPoint in this relationship, it would be me. I’d fill it with memes and badly drawn graphics I made in Paint and accompany it with a carefully curated playlist featuring at least one One Direction song.”
Jackson just nods because, well, some things can’t be argued with.
“No, mostly it involved a lot of close talking and neck sniffing and some pushing me up against walls in a less than strictly gentle or platonic way that led to hands and lips and feelings.”
Roughly speaking, anyway.
“I don’t need the hard and dirty details of your sex life, Stiles.”
A plate clatters against their table and they both look up at Cassandra who sputters an apology, sets their other plates down in front of them, and pulls a rag out of her half apron to wipe some stray whip cream and strawberry sauce splatters off their table. When she’s done she turns and hurries away and Stiles watches as she pushes her way through the swinging doors and into the kitchen.
“Well, that…was awkward.”
Jackson pulls his plate a little closer, pulls a napkin from the dispenser at the end of their table. “Stiles, everything with you is a little bit awkward.”
Stiles considers that, takes a sip of his coffee, finally nods as he picks up his fork and digs in.
Everyone has finally healed from their latest supernatural adventure, so Derek calls for a debrief meeting and honestly? Stiles could not be prouder.
Stiles is just getting out of Roscoe in front of the abandoned station when he hears a low, “Hello, Stiles.”
He yanks his bag out of the passenger seat. “We could’ve used your help, you know.”
Of course he knows. He’s just an arrogant prick who does what he pleases. Asshole.
“You seemed to have it well in hand.”
“Bullshit.” He slams the door and rounds on Peter, backing him into the side of his car as Stiles bares his teeth. “Bull. Shit. I know he’s your family, your blood, so you think that gives you some sort of leeway, but he’s your goddamn Alpha, and you need to show him some respect. When he calls, you come like a good dog.” Stiles points his finger in Peter’s chest. “Period.”
Peter looks lazily down at his chest, at Stiles’ finger, then looks back up. “Careful. My teeth are sharp and my patience only goes so far.”
Stiles shakes his head in disgust. “Your membership in this pack is conditional. You show up and you contribute like everybody else or you can leave, uncle or not.”
Peter gives him a slow grin to match the slow, syrupy way he speaks. “What a little lion he has, protecting him.”
“You think I couldn’t rip you apart with my bare hands if I wanted to? I may not have claws and fangs, but I can be supremely fucking determined under the right circumstances.”
“Something I’ve never doubted. Not for a moment.”
Stiles leans in close, his voice low. “I know you’ve been through a lot. Some truly awful shit has happened to you. But some of that terrible shit happened to him too. You need to stop blaming him for it right the fuck now. I won’t let you tear him apart. He may be your family, but he’s my family too, asshole.”
He stomps across the parking lot and shoves the door open, slamming it behind him and flailing at the door, at Peter, just on the other side. When he turns, everyone’s watching him, most of them with their eyebrows lifted to their hairlines.
“Peter,” he says, with feeling, and they all nod in understanding and look away. All except Derek, who fixes his eyes on Stiles, staring at him intently. Stiles wedges himself in the tiny space at the end of a couch next to Erica, wraps his arm around her shoulder and gives it a light squeeze. “How you feeling?”
She smiles at him, no distance or hardness behind her eyes. “Better. Thanks.”
He smiles back, gives her shoulder another little squeeze. “Good. I heard you were a total badass, by the way.”
She gives him a proud grin. He nudges Isaac’s shoulder with the back of his hand, pushes back into the sofa to look around Erica’s head and says, “You too. Major ass kickage.”
Isaac ducks his head, but Stiles can see the smile he’s trying to hide.
“Alright, now that everyone’s here-”
Stiles rolls his eyes. He doesn’t even look.
“Peter,” Derek deadpans. “How nice of you to drop by.”
Peter saunters over, out of the shadows. “Well, Stiles mentioned I hadn’t been pulling my weight. So here I am.”
“Because Stiles told you to?” Scott asks, disbelief clear in his voice and hell, Stiles is operating under a little disbelief here too, although not about Peter. About Scott. He can’t believe he showed up. On time. To a pack meeting.
Peter grins. “He is my favorite.”
“We got caught off guard, I know that.” They all turn to Derek, give him their attention. “But you fought like hell, and everyone’s alright.” Derek crosses his arms, a little stiff. “I’m proud of you. All of you. We have a lot to work on, but that was a good first step.”
Next to him, Stiles can feel Erica preen, and when he looks around the room, he can see everyone sit up a little straighter. Even Lydia does and she wasn’t even there. She’s proud by proxy. Derek’s eyes find his and Stiles gives him a secret little smile and a wink, and he watches as Derek’s shoulders loosen.
“So let’s go over what we did right.”
It’s without a doubt the best meeting they’ve ever had. They run drills and everyone gives their input and Derek is a commanding presence over it all, and he’s never been more of an Alpha, he’s never been more of their Alpha, and Stiles is stupidly, wonderfully proud of him.
They’re all a little tired, but they’re leaving with smiles, and as soon as the door shuts behind Lydia, Stiles smacks Derek on the ass and says, “Well done, Alpha.”
He only gets a few steps away before he’s pulled back against Derek’s body, Derek’s hand gripping Stiles’ throat gently, his lips against Stiles’ ear. “You sure you want to start something Stiles?”
Stiles wiggles his ass and says, with a smug little grin, “Maybe.”
Derek’s other hand presses against Stiles’ stomach, pushes his ass back up against Derek’s groin, and Derek rolls his hips, huffs a breath of soft, warm air against Stiles’ ear, caresses soft fingers against Stiles’ throat. Stiles sighs and the hand on his stomach curls in and Stiles can feel the barest hint of the tips of Derek’s claws scratching lightly against his belly. Stiles lets his head fall back slowly, eyes going half mast as his heartbeat kicks up a notch, and Derek nudges his nose against Stiles’ temple, his cheek, scenting a slow path down his skin.
And then Derek pulls away and licks all the way up the column of Stiles’ throat in one long, fluid motion.
Stiles pushes him away laughing, more than a little turned on, and swipes his bag up off of the ground as he pushes the heel of his hand into his groin.
Derek’s answering grin in the best thing he’s seen all week.
“Hey…I thought the bigger a pack was, the stronger they are. But this book says that isn’t necessarily true.”
Derek walks into the room in Stiles’ underwear, rubbing at his wet hair with a towel. That’s a bit annoying, actually. He looks better in them than Stiles does. “The strongest packs are usually the oldest ones, packs that have deep ties to the land they protect.”
“So you care for the land, protect the land, and it protects you back.”
“Something like that. But the diversity of a pack is important too. Historically, the strongest packs have always had human members. Humans keep the wolves grounded. Anchored.” Derek takes the book out of Stiles’ hand, snapping it shut and tossing it away as he climbs up on the bed, holds himself up over Stiles with a forearm braced on either side of Stiles’ head.
Stiles slides down the bed and smiles up at Derek stupidly. “Hi.”
He reaches up and wraps his hands around Derek’s ribs, strokes his thumbs along Derek’s skin.
“I heard what you said to Peter.” He stares intently down at Stiles. “I’m your family?”
“What did I tell you, big guy? When you’ve got me, you’ve got me for li-”
Derek’s kiss is urgent and needy, and he practically consumes Stiles’ mouth. Stiles kisses back just as hard, gripping Derek’s hips when he breaks off the kiss and buries his face in Stiles’ neck, licking and sucking at the skin, rolling his hips, rubbing himself against Stiles. Stiles lets himself get lost in it for a minute before he nudges him off with a reminder not to leave a visible mark, that those are things that dads who are sheriffs tend to have questions about. Derek pulls off and kisses him on the mouth once before sliding down Stiles’ body, stopping when his hands are gripped inside the waistband of Stiles’ pajama pants.
Stiles lifts his head and meets Derek’s intense stare.
“If you don’t want this, tell me.”
“Oh, I want this.” He flails a hand toward Derek. “This…you. Yes. Please.”
“Are you sure?” he asks.
“Do you need a written invitation? A telegram? Carrier pigeon? Seriously…I promise to swear under any future oath that yes, I definitely wanted you to have your filthy, filthy way with me.”
Derek yanks Stiles’ pants and underwear off in one solid motion and, before Stiles can even make a sound, swallows Stiles in, all the way down. Stiles gasps, throws his head back, clamps a hand onto Derek’s hair and throws his thighs open wide. He pants and writhes and thrusts his hips up until Derek plants a hand on one side, forcing him to the bed as he licks along Stiles’ dick, as he sucks the head, as he pulls off. Stiles groans in frustration and moves the other hand to grip Derek’s hair too and Derek huffs a soft laugh against the head before he nuzzles along the line of Stiles’ cock and into the curls at the base before he gives the side of the cock a kiss and swallows Stiles down again.
He picks up his pace, hollowing his cheeks, but it doesn’t take much, and before Stiles knows it his back is bowing and he’s screaming and he’s coming harder than he ever has before. He doesn’t even have enough time to warn Derek and he feels like an asshole about that, but this is his first blow job and he has a virgin teenager’s hair-trigger. All his previous experience had been strictly solo, and his own hand doesn’t even come close to Derek’s mouth.
He collapses, breathing hard, his hands falling off of Derek’s head and onto the bed, palms up. Derek pulls off, licks Stiles’ spent cock a few times before Stiles pushes him away with a moan and a halfhearted hand and he climbs up Stiles’ body and braces himself on one forearm over Stiles. He rucks up Stiles’ shirt over his chest, up to his armpits, and yanks his own borrowed underwear down past his ass and starts striping his own dick. He claims Stiles’ mouth with his and Stiles is heavy-eyed and slow-blinking but has just enough energy for this, just enough energy to urge Derek on between kisses before Derek is groaning into Stiles’ mouth and coming all over him. Derek pants into his mouth as the last of the cum falls and then he’s kissing him again, softly, sweetly, as he rubs the cum into Stiles’ skin, down across his stomach and his groin and the tops of his thighs, up across his ribs and his chest.
Finally Derek pulls back and pulls up his underwear, flipping a wrung out, pliant Stiles to rest on top of him. One arm is wrapped around him tight, fingers resting just under Stiles’ left armpit and his rucked up t-shirt. The other is lower, hand splayed possessively on the right cheek of Stiles’ bare ass. Stiles presses his face into Derek’s neck, lays a kiss on the soft skin there and feels Derek rumble.
God, he’s going to feel so gross in the morning.
Still, totally worth it.
“Yeah…” he drawls out, barely able to form words. “You got me, big guy.”
This time, Stiles doesn’t hear what Derek says in response.
So…trolls exist. Go figure. And it turns out they have a taste for human flesh but have zero interest in werewolves or other supernatural creatures – read: banshees. So if they’re going to get rid of this thing, that reduces the bait down to two possibilities. And Stiles has never been any good at long range shooting.
“You know this is pretty much our only option.”
Derek clenches his jaw, crosses his arms. “We’ll find another way.”
“Mr. Ugly has already eaten a waitress from Paulie’s Diner. Do we want to give it a shot to eat someone else?”
When Jackson and Stiles showed up to Paulie’s yesterday morning and snagged their usual booth, Cassandra came out with red-rimmed eyes and told them all about her fellow waitress Sandy, who’d taken the trash out to the dumpster the night before and never returned, leaving behind one dirty white Ked surrounded by huge tracks that, quote, the police couldn’t identify. Unquote.
Suffice to say their first call was to Derek.
Look, Stiles isn’t exactly thrilled about this plan. But the choice is either let troll loose to find his next nummy human treat or make Stiles run for his life through the preserve, so it’s obvious which choice they need to make.
“The plan is solid. I run my ass off toward the clearing while Lydia and Allison slow him down with arrows and a lot of awesome homemade smoke bombs, and when I get to the clearing you take over and tie him up with tons of rope and chains and wait for the sun to come up. Easy.”
Only it turns out to not be that easy because the troll catches him once, one meaty massive hand wrapping around his forearm and nearly pulling his arm out of its socket, and it’s only one of Lydia’s awesome smoke bombs – exploding in Mr. Ugly’s eyes thanks to the precision of one of Allison’s arrows – that saves his ass and lets him get away. He rubs his shoulder and calls out every name in the book as he tries to entice him to the clearing, which is where they discover for themselves that trolls are not only stupidly big they’re stupidly strong. It takes every single last rope they have, every single chain, and every single one of them holding on to keep him in the clearing until the sun comes up, Stiles’ shoulder barking the whole time, tears coming to his eyes as he’s yanked and pulled. When the sun comes up over the tops of the trees the troll turns immediately into stone and they all collapse onto the grass, panting, staring up at the sky.
“Well,” Isaac says after a long pause, from somewhere to Stiles’ right, “That actually went pretty well.”
Stiles laughs, hysterical with relief, and hears echoes of it around the clearing from the other members of the pack. It was a good plan, solid, simple, and effective despite Stiles’ near miss and the massive bruise growing on his arm. Everyone worked together, and there were no major injuries. Scott was MIA, but Peter showed up for once, and basically on time too. They might actually be figuring this thing out.
“You’re a goddess.”
“I know.” Stiles sits up and catches her eye. She’s sitting about ten feet away from him, feet demurely tucked under her. She grins at him. “But good feedback is always appreciated.”
He grins back.
Everyone is sitting up now and they all respond to Derek’s question with a nod or a yes as they stand, brush themselves off, and start untangling the ropes and chains wrapped around the petrified troll. They’re only at it a few minutes before Erica swears and kindly reminds them all that first period is starting in thirty-five minutes, so they’d better get their asses in gear. Stiles promises a ride to Isaac, Erica, and Boyd with a stopover at a drive thru for breakfast since they’re growing Betas who eat like a pack of wild dogs – heh – then tells them he’ll catch up when he sees Derek staring at him from the other side of the clearing.
Derek comes stalking up to him, grips his arm gently and lifts it. He stares at the growing bruise then stares at Stiles, eyes boring into his. Over Derek’s shoulder Stiles can see Peter watching them, slowly coiling a chain in his hands.
“Before you speak, let me say something.”
Derek presses his lips together, flares his nostrils.
“It’s just a bruise.” When he doesn’t say anything else, Derek blinks, surprised, his fingers warm and tense on Stiles’ wrist. Stiles grins. “Were you expecting a whole speech?”
“Yes,” he says, as if Stiles is being deliberately stupid. “Most of the time I can’t get you to stop talking.”
“This isn’t your fault.” Derek looks down and his fingers tighten on Stiles’ wrist and suddenly all Stiles can think about is Derek’s family, trapped inside a burning building they can’t escape and Derek, carrying that around all this time, punishing himself over and over and over again. “What happened to your family isn’t your fault either.”
Derek looks up, alarmed. “Stiles-”
“What she did to you sucks.”
“Stiles,” he growls this time, like a warning, and pulls his hand back.
“She was a psychopath and a murderer and an abuser.” He takes a deep breath but it doesn’t make him feel calmer, it doesn’t make him feel like he wants to commit murder any less. “And I would kill her if I could for what she did to you and your family. I would rip her apart. And I would make sure she felt it. I don’t give a shit if she’s already dead.”
His phone beeps and he yanks it out of his pocket, gives a frustrated growl when he reads Erica’s text.
what’s taking so long batman?
“Dammit,” he says, and shoves the phone back into his pocket, shaking his head. Derek is staring at him intensely and Stiles wants to scream. Instead he walks away with a frustrated growl, down the path and toward his car where Erica is waiting in the passenger seat with a cracked ice pack for his arm. Like the awesome wingwoman she is, she holds it on his arm all the way to school.
Derek isn’t there when Stiles gets home from school.
He’s not exactly surprised by that because sometimes Derek still does that avoiding thing if there’s something he just doesn’t want to talk about, but those days are fewer and fewer lately, what with the uptick in sexytimes and the kissing and whatnot. But Stiles is man enough to admit he misses him when he isn’t there.
Stiles heads downstairs to the kitchen, yanks open the fridge, scans the contents a minute before deciding on some string cheese. He closes the fridge door and immediately yelps, flinches away from Derek, who was lurking on the other side.
Derek smirks a little. “How’s your arm?”
“I’m glad to see you’ve decided to include some variety in your dark corner skulking,” Stiles says, and rips open the string cheese packaging.
“Have to keep you on your toes.”
Stiles just hums noncommittally, leans forward with his elbows on the counter and starts pulling strings of cheese off his mozzarella stick.
After a while Derek says softly, “It was a good plan.”
Stiles turns, leans against the counter. “Even if you didn’t like it?”
“Yeah,” he says, even softer.
“I meant what I said, you know.” Stiles looks away for a second, then looks back. “All of it.”
“I know you did.”
Stiles nods. “But you don’t think I could.”
Derek stares at Stiles with something close to disbelief, eyebrows furrowed. “Stiles, you’re more wolf than any bitten were I’ve ever met. You’re vicious, and loyal. You’d rip apart anybody who hurt someone you love.”
“You’re damn right.”
Derek pauses, says softly, hesitantly, “You’d rip someone apart for me?”
God, that makes Stiles ache. Makes him burn, makes him hurt.
In a heartbeat, he’d do it. In less than one. In a moment. It unnerves him a little sometimes, how easy it would be.
“I keep telling you things, and you keep not listening. I love you, alright?”
He says it with his heart in his throat, his mouth a little dry. He tells himself it’s okay if Derek doesn’t say it back, that it doesn’t matter if he ever says it at all.
“And I’m not going to stand by and let someone hurt you. And I don’t give a shit how long ago something happened to you in the past, I’m going to be pissed about that too. Somebody should give a shit about that. Somebody should be pissed on your behalf.” He pauses, then says, “Whatever you think you’re responsible for, whatever it is you think you’ve done, is nothing compared to what’s happened to you. Nothing.”
Stiles rakes a rough hand through his hair.
“God, Derek. You chose to start your pack with an abused kid, a girl with a disability who was being bullied, and a kid who felt so alone he was drowning. You picked three outcasts and gave them a family. You talk about your failings as an Alpha, but God…what about the victories? What about the triumphs? Do you have any idea how proud of you your mom would be?”
The kiss is hard. Their teeth clash, and Stiles can feel Derek biting at his lips, bruising them. Stiles gives it all back, burrowing fingers into Derek’s hair and grasping tightly, pulling his head back so he can lean in and suck a hard bruise onto Derek’s neck that Stiles knows won’t stay. He sucks as hard as he can anyway, shoves his thigh in between Derek’s legs, presses up firmly against Derek’s dick and rubs. Derek’s hand reaches down and yanks at Stiles’ belt buckle, shoves Stiles back and shoves his pants down, rips off his boxer briefs until they’re all lying in a sad puddle at Stiles’ feet.
Derek drops to his knees, nips at the skin of his belly, sucks a mark into Stiles’ hip. Stiles moans, reaches a hand down and pushes Derek off of him.
“Derek…we’re in the kitchen,” he groans. “You can’t suck my cock in the kitchen.”
Derek growls and wraps an arm around the back of Stiles’ thighs and stands, picking Stiles up over his shoulder and heading upstairs, taking the steps two at a time. Stiles watches his pants puddle recede as they get further and further away and he hopes desperately his dad doesn’t come home soon. Not exactly something he wants to explain.
Derek tosses him on the bed, climbs up after him and brackets Stiles with his arms as he reaches into Stiles’ bedside table and pulls out a bottle of lube. Stiles rips his shirt off and kisses Derek, bracing himself with his hands on the bed. Derek gives him one more fierce kiss, then pulls off and kisses down Stiles’ body, sucking marks along the way on his chest, on his stomach, on the inside of Stiles’ thighs. Finally he nudges Stiles’ legs open and looks up at Stiles from under his lashes and Stiles hears the click of a cap opening.
“Yesssss,” Stiles breathes out, and lets his head fall back to the bed.
Derek kisses the inside of his thigh then noses at Stiles’ balls, in the curls at the base of his dick, as a single wet finger circles his asshole. Stiles lets out one long, deep breath when Derek swallows him down, when that single finger breaches him.
Stiles starts mumbling, mostly curse words and expressions of Derek’s prowess, and his hips start canting, and Derek adds another finger, curls them inside Stiles as he worships Stiles’ dick. Stiles shouts at the slight burn, digs his heels into Derek’s back, clutches Derek’s head in his fists. He might yank a little hard.
Whatever. Derek’s a werewolf, he can take it.
Derek adds a third finger, pulls off Stiles’ dick and kisses him instead as he curls his fingers inside Stiles’ body. Stiles is starting to feel the pressure building along with his heart rate and he backs off from Derek’s kiss, says, “If you keep doing that, I’m gonna cum.”
“Good,” Derek says and grins, feral. He curls his fingers inside Stiles again and Stiles swears, throws his head back as his back bows and his toes curl on Derek’s back. “That’s what I was going for.”
Stiles props himself back up on his forearms, panting, looks down at Derek and his grin and his arm, moving and flexing as his fingers keep up their rhythm , and says, “Not if wanting to cum on your dick is what I was going for.”
Derek’s eyes go intense and he breathes, “Yes.”
“Come on, Derek,” Stiles says. He lets his legs go loose, fall open. “Get naked and then get up here and fuck me.”
Derek stands slowly off the foot of the bed, strips slowly, teasing, keeps his eyes on Stiles. Stiles is rock hard and he reaches down, grabs his dick and starts slowly jerking it, strokes the skin of his inner thighs and his balls with the other hand. Nothing that’ll make him cum, more like an absentminded habit he can’t help as each layer of Derek’s clothing comes off, as each new part of skin is revealed. Stiles is never going to get over how gorgeous Derek is.
Derek watches him jack off as he strips, his smile growing. When he tosses his boxer briefs off to the side – Stiles’, actually, and God…does Derek even own his own underwear anymore? – Stiles can see Derek is hard too, cock pointing up to his belly.
“Can you give me anything?”
“Then no. Get your ass up here.”
Derek grabs the bottle of lube and slicks himself up then kneels on the bed between Stiles’ legs, leans forward and rolls his hips so his dick rubs against Stiles’ hand on his own dick.
Stiles moans and Derek surges forward, swallows that moan.
“Come on, Derek,” Stiles says when they pull apart, and Derek pushes Stiles’ hand off his dick, lifts Stiles’ hips and lines himself up. Stiles swears again and shuts his eyes, his head tipping back.
“No, Stiles,” Derek says, puts his hand on Stiles’ cheek and stops moving. Stiles whines and grabs at Derek’s back and Derek says, “Open your eyes.”
Stiles does and Derek leans in, pecks him on the lips.
“Keep them open.”
Derek gives him another little kiss, then kisses the side of Stiles’ left knee, before he starts to push in, achingly slow. Stiles keeps his eyes on Derek the whole time, and it’s fourteen kinds of intense and a little bit awkward, but all that is overshadowed by the feeling of Derek filling him up, inch by stupidly slow inch, until he bottoms out inside of Stiles.
And shit…that’s incredible.
“You okay?” Derek whispers, his mouth next to Stiles’ ear.
Stiles clutches Derek to him, licks into his mouth, starts kissing him long and deep and slow. Derek kisses him back and starts moving his hips in little, slow thrusts, catching Stiles’ whimpers in his mouth. He pulls a little further out on each thrust before he slides back in until eventually just the head of his dick is inside Stiles, but he keeps up his torturously slow pace, and it’s driving Stiles crazy. He’s being gentle, and Stiles appreciates that but also kinda not, because it’s just this side of not enough and Stiles needs more.
“Harder,” he says, and digs his heels into Derek’s ass, urging him closer. “I can take it, c’mon.”
“Yes,” Stiles hisses when Derek snaps his hips, sliding all the way back in. “Yes yes yes yes yes yes.”
Derek speeds up, snapping his hips, and Stiles hangs on for the ride, one arm slung over Derek’s neck, his mouth spilling out words of encouragement mixed with increasingly creative swear words as Derek hunches over and fucks into him. Stiles can feel he’s close – it’s not going to take much – and he leans up and gives Derek the biggest, deepest, filthiest kiss he can as he drops a hand down and starts working his own dick. Derek kisses him back just as hard, and his hips snap even harder, and then Stiles is breaking off from the kiss with a gasp, spilling over his own hand between their bodies, chest heaving.
Derek keeps going, fucking into Stiles, and Stiles grabs at his shoulders, cheers him on. Derek leans in for one more kiss and then he’s stilling, his thighs flexing, as he pants into Stiles’ mouth.
Derek huffs a soft laugh and noses Stiles’ cheek, the underside of his jaw. He nudges Stiles’ nose with his own then gives him a little kiss and pulls out, laying down next to him. Stiles stares at his ceiling, works at getting his breath back, and reaches over and takes Derek’s hand, lacing their fingers together to rest on his stomach.
After a few minutes Derek releases his hand and gets up, walks out of the room only to walk back in a minute later with a warm wet washcloth. He sits down on the side of the bed and starts cleaning Stiles up with gentle strokes. Stiles curls into it, blinks up at him, smiles, and Derek does a more cursory job on himself, tossing the washcloth into Stiles’ hamper.
“My pants are still downstairs in the kitchen.”
It’s probably the least appropriate and most idiotic thing he could say in this situation, but it’s possible Stiles’ brain is still a little frozen.
Also, he doesn’t want his dad to come home and start playing the what the hell is wrong with Stiles this time guessing game.
He doesn’t actually mean for Derek to go get them, but before he can get up and do it himself, Derek is back, tossing his pants and boxers into his hamper too.
“Man…I could get used to this.” He points a finger, extends his arm out. “Fetch me a glass of water, Jeeves.”
“No,” he says, all deadpan snark, and climbs into the bed, pulling Stiles to him and pulling the covers over them.
“Worth a shot.”
Stiles goes easily, rests his head on Derek’s stretched out bicep. It’s dark outside now, and Stiles’ blinds are open. He can just make out a few stars blinking in the night sky in the space between two trees, over the roof line.
“I thought I loved her.” Derek pauses, his eyes focused on Stiles’ forehead. “I thought she loved me.”
Stiles stiffens, feels Derek stiffen too. Stiles licks his lips, says the only correct thing he can think to say even though he can feel the homicidal parts of him raring up, desperate to rip into Kate and tear her to shreds. He reminds himself that she’s dead, that she’s gone, that the only way she can hurt them now is if they let her. He forces his body to relax. “Of course you did.”
Derek’s muscles loosen and when he finally speaks again his voice is soft, wet, raw. “She killed my family, Stiles.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I know.”
He holds him a little tighter, his arms wrapping around Derek’s back.
It comes out in a flow of soft, steady words, the full story of what Kate did to Derek. Derek tells Stiles everything, all the big and the little things, things Stiles is very sure Derek has never said out loud to anyone before now, and it’s worse than Stiles could have imagined. It takes a long time for him to get it all out, and when he’s done he wraps his arms around Stiles and doesn’t let go, his voice hoarse when he says Stiles’ name one more time.
So the sex? The sex is great when it happens. Like A+, 10/10, would absolutely recommend. And Derek is versatile too, which is great because his ass is incredible, and it would be a shame if Stiles didn’t get to show his appreciation in every way possible.
But most of the time, their relationship is stupidly normal. They watch movies. Sometimes they talk. They kiss and cuddle and give each other a hard time. They work on pack things together, strategies and training and plans. Derek asks for his opinion, Stiles always gives it, and Derek only occasionally tells him to shut up, but it’s always with an undercurrent of affection.
When you’ve been told to shut up as many times as Stiles has in his life, you learn to tell the difference.
Sure, they haven’t exactly had a conversation about the fact that they’re in a relationship, but Derek is fully aware that Stiles has some major, capital letter L feelings and hasn’t run away screaming, and also Stiles has a feeling that if he tried to bring it up, that Derek would just give him that look that screams Why are you being an idiot?, so Stiles just never brings it up.
But even with all of that, even with how much Stiles knows they’ve come to rely on each other, even with how much they confide in one another, even though Stiles is Derek’s person, sometimes there are still things Stiles doesn’t know how to say.
Stiles shakes himself, gets back to the open Calculus book front of him. “Nothing.”
Derek heaves a big sigh, one of his you’re annoying me right now but I’m trying to be patient with you because I’ve done a lot of growth as a person and also I care about you and what you have to say regardless of whether I’ve ever said as much to you before sighs.
Derek is a really expressive dude, once you learn to read him.
“Stiles.” He shuts the book he was reading, using his finger as a bookmark.
“I’m going to make a suggestion, and you’re going to hate it.”
He lifts an eyebrow. “Does it involve you running into danger ahead of me?”
“I have no current plans for that, no.”
“Then I’m willing to entertain it.”
Stiles taps his mechanical pencil on his open notebook, grimaces. “I think you should…think about creating a new Hale House. And I think we should knock the old one down.”
Derek pulls his finger out of the book, sets the book on the bed next to him.
“I know that house means a lot to you,” he hastens to say, “so I feel like an asshole even bringing it up, but…you deserve better than a burnt out house and an abandoned subway station. Alright?”
“You deserve a real pack house.”
They hold meetings at the old house, they train there, but Stiles is convinced that really comes down to convenience and proximity to the preserve these days, instead of any kind of self-flagellation on Derek’s part. Stiles hates that house, and he hates it more and more every time he’s there. He wants to take a sledgehammer to its scorched walls. He wants to tear it down piece by piece with his fingernails until there’s no longer a monument standing to the remainder of Derek’s burnt life and blackened hopes, to all the time he’s spent going backwards, wallowing in his mistakes because he thought that was all he deserved.
“I’m guessing you have some ideas?”
Stiles just shrugs, but they both know he does. If Stiles has anything, it’s ideas.
Derek sits down on the end of the bed. “Show me.”
Stiles picks his open laptop up, sets it on his lap, and pulls up all the sites he’d bookmarked, rolling across the room in his desk chair and handing the computer over. He leans forward in the chair, his forearms on his knees, and watches Derek as he stares at the computer, face impassive.
“It was just an idea,” Stiles says when the silence drags on too long, when he’s waited too long for a hint of anything from Derek. “You can forget I said anything.”
Derek pauses in his scrolling, finger hesitating over the keyboard. Finally he looks up. “I started seeing a therapist.”
Stiles sits up.
“Just on video,” he says and shakes his head, like that somehow makes it less important, or less noteworthy, or less valid. Like somehow Stiles should be less floored by his confession. “She works with a pack I knew in New York. They gave me her information.”
“How’s it going?” he asks hesitantly.
“It’s therapy,” he says, a wry, pained smile on his face, and looks back down at the laptop before looking up, turning it to face Stiles. “I like this one.”
Stiles gets up out of his chair and sits down on the bed next to Derek, leans in close.
It’s the loft space in the old, disused manufacturing part of town. It needed the most work out of all the places Stiles had bookmarked, but it had the most potential too. It would make one hell of a pack project, working to fix it up.
“We’ll have to expand that second story so we can get more bedrooms and bathrooms in there, but yeah…I think it’s a great choice.”
“I was thinking of buying the whole building. Not just that loft.”
“You want to buy the whole building?”
“It’s for the pack, Stiles,” he says, eyes fixed on the screen.
Sometimes he forgets Derek is rich. But that’s pretty easy to do when you avoid focusing on the dead family – not to mention the emotional and psychological and sexual trauma – that made him that way.
“It’d definitely be big enough for all of us.”
“Plus room to expand in the future, when we need it.”
When, not if. When. God, Stiles is so proud of him.
“Room for everybody to have their own space, but room for all of us to come together too.”
“Even Peter?” Stiles asks wryly.
“We’ll give him the smallest room.” He clicks through the pictures, stops again at one that shows a corner of the loft, one with high windows. “I’m thinking a library and study right here. All that natural light? I can build a work table for the middle for you – something big, so you have plenty of room to spread out during your research. There’d be tons of space for shelves, floor to ceiling ones...I can build one of those rolling ladders…plenty of room for your books, plus room to grow. No more stacks on the floor.” He pauses, eyes lifting to Stiles with hesitation. “What do you think?”
Derek wants to build Stiles a library.
“I think I’d probably never leave.”
Stiles curls himself around Derek, rests his chin on Derek’s shoulder as Derek clicks to the next picture.
“Redcaps!” Stiles yells.
Jackson reaches out a hand and grabs the front of Stiles’ hoodie, yanking him to the ground and behind a boulder just as a massive rock goes careening over their heads and smashes into a tree behind them.
“They’re on my list, Derek! My list!” he yells out. “Have I not been clear about that from the beginning?”
“What do you want me to do about it, Stiles?” he calls back from his spot of safety behind a large tree about fifteen yards away. A rock slams into his tree and he turns his face away briefly as splinters and chunks of wood spray out behind him. He turns his face back to Stiles and snarks, “You want me to send a memo to the supernatural community and tell them you have a list?”
“Is that so much to ask?”
Stiles winces as a rock strikes the boulder he and Jackson are leaning up against, sending brief shock waves vibrating into their backs.
Isaac yells, “Why are weird little gnomes trying to kill us with rocks?”
“They’re not gnomes,” Stiles says. “Gnomes are a hell of a lot nicer than this.”
“Then what are these things?” Erica asks, ducking down when a rock comes flying by, an inch away from her head.
“Homicidal goblins,” Stiles mutters. His phone chimes and he looks down at it as another rock comes sailing close by and careens off a flat rock in the ground, nearly striking Isaac.
Loud, low cackles and chuckles follow. Murderous little bastards.
It’s from Allison and Lydia, who are stuck behind a tree about twenty yards away. There’s too much open space in between them and the rest of the pack, too much opportunity for the redcaps to pick them off with a rock, especially without supernatural speed, so Derek instructed them to stay put.
So far the redcaps seem to have ignored them, but it’s probably best not to take any chances.
Stiles looks up and sees the edge of some brown hair peeking out from behind the tree trunk before it quickly ducks away and out of sight.
Nope. His thumbs move quickly over his phone screen. Won’t do anything. Little shits are impervious to standard weaponry.
“So what’s the plan, Derek? How do we stop these guys?” Erica asks.
They already knew brute force wouldn’t work, since Stiles had just barely managed to warn them all off, urging them down behind the trees and boulders moments before the first large rock was thrown, narrowly missing Boyd. But with the distraction of the rocks and the ducking and whatnot, they haven’t exactly been able to form a plan yet.
Still, Stiles is crazy proud of all of them. They’re looking to Derek to lead, they’re listening. A fucking dream team, that’s what they are.
Another rock comes rushing over their heads and makes contact with a small pine, breaking the trunk and uprooting the tree.
“Where are all these rocks coming from?” Stiles asks. “Legitimately, I want to know…where are they coming from? Did they make a stockpile in advance? Were they lying in wait? Or are they just crazy fast diggers? It’s not like there are piles of rocks just hanging around in the preserve, waiting to be used with murderous intent.”
“Or non-murderous intent?” Isaac asks before he tucks his arms in and ducks his head, pushing Erica down with him and shielding them from a rock that comes bouncing caddywhompus off the boulder behind them. “How strong are these guys?”
“Strong,” Derek says. “And I…don’t have a plan. I’ve never had to face one before. They’re not exactly native to California.”
“Or anywhere else in the US.”
Derek nods, catches Stiles’ eye. “Jackson and I haven’t had a chance to work on one yet.”
“Okay Stiles,” Boyd says, peeking out from behind his tree. “You’re up. Any idea on how we beat these guys?”
Stiles starts pulling off his shoe, unthreading the shoelace from the eyelets. “Who knows their bible verses?” he asks cheerfully as another rock comes sailing by, followed by a chorus of cackles.
In the end, it’s pretty anticlimactic. They construct makeshift crosses with sticks and a shoelace each, Boyd and Erica teach the rest of them short bible verses, and they run at the little fuckers and chant their brains out. The redcaps scream and moan and drop their rocks and then basically just disappear, leaving behind one giant-ass horse tooth each, sitting there in the middle of the grass.
Erica makes a face, nudges one of the teeth with the foot that still has a shoe on it. “What do we do with those?”
“We should keep them,” Lydia says as she and Allison come walking up. “I’m sure Stiles can figure out if they’re useful at all.”
She reaches into the pocket of her skirt and pulls out a folded tissue with a pale pink kiss on it, unfolds it and bends at the knee, picking up each of the three teeth with two dainty fingers. Then she bundles the tissue, turns with a swing of her curled hair, and hands it to Stiles.
Stiles takes it, holds it out. “Yay?”
“Guys? What is it? What’s up?” Scott says, head swiveling around as he comes jogging slowly into their little cluster of trees and rocks from the left. He must have entered the preserve from the Leitch trail, on the opposite side from the Vargas trail, which is how the rest of them got there.
So he didn’t read the text that carefully.
Get to the preserve as soon as you can. Isaac and I are pinned down about 100 yards from Vargas. Watch for flying rocks. Keep your heads down.
“What’s up? What’s up?!?” Erica grits her teeth and turns away. “I swear…”
“What?” he asks, oblivious.
Derek sent the group text twenty-five minutes ago, after he and Isaac went for a jog in the preserve and got ambushed by the redcaps, giving them twin cuts on their foreheads that have since closed up, leaving behind a track of bright red blood. Everyone else got here fifteen minutes ago, took the Vargas trail – since the Leitch trail is way the hell on the other side – and immediately took cover behind trees and boulders once the first rock came hurtling their way.
“What?” Jackson repeats, terse and mocking. He takes a slow step toward Scott. “Did you not get the text?”
“I got it,” he says, defensive. “I was at work. It’s not like I could just get up and leave.”
Stiles looks away, goes to catch Allison’s eye and finds her already looking at him. Her eyebrows are furrowed, and she’s frowning gently. She holds his gaze for a moment before looking away, back at Scott and Jackson.
She caught that too, then.
“No? Because you couldn’t wait to feed the dogs?” He takes another slow step, his voice measured and icy. “They were going to starve to death if you didn’t feed them right away?”
“What do you want, Jackson?”
“I want you to stop being a little self-important shit who only shows up when he wants to. This is a pack. We show up for each other. Period.”
“Everybody’s fine,” Scott says, eyes hardening.
“No thanks to you,” Erica says, throws out the words like she’s using a slingshot, aiming for the most damage.
“You know what I think?” Jackson says, low and razor sharp. “You make a lot of noise about being a good guy for someone with such a shitty track record.”
“Jackson,” Derek says quietly, the red bleeding into his eyes. “Enough.”
Jackson swallows his next words, eyes boring into Derek’s before Jackson backs down, tilts his head just a bit to bare his neck. The red fades away from Derek’s eyes and he puts a hand on Jackson’s shoulder, his thumb resting on his collarbone. He gives him a little nod, and turns to Scott.
“My pack has this covered, Scott. You can head on home. But thanks for coming anyway, in case we needed you.”
Scott’s eyes widen a little, and Stiles knows his do too. Derek has spent the last year trying to convince Scott to be part of his pack, intense and insistent, no matter how hard Scott declined. And now he’s just…letting that go?
They’ll need to talk about that.
Scott’s eyebrows furrow and his mouth opens and closes without anything coming out. He looks around at all of them but they all look away, or hold his gaze a little too long. None of them know what to say in response. What could they say? Whose side does he expect them all to be on? Derek shows up every day, leads them and bleeds for them. Would never hesitate to put himself in front of any of them if it meant saving their lives. Scott barely shows up at all, and when he does, it’s usually when everything is dying down, when it’s convenient for him.
Looking at him now, Stiles can see insecure, pre-werewolf Scott peeking out just under the disbelief, the shaken cocky assuredness.
“We’ve got this,” Derek says with a small, sure smile. A clear dismissal.
Derek watches Scott expectantly, his hand on Jackson’s shoulder, until Scott gets the hint.
Before he leaves he looks at Allison, calls for her. She lifts her chin, but her words are soft. “I still have some things to do here. I’ll call you when I’m done.”
He looks a little lost, lonely and small as his eyebrows furrow again and he looks around at everyone and then walks down the path and away from them, looking back one more time before he disappears out of sight.
He did it to himself, but God Stiles hates this. He hates it so fucking much.
Derek praises everyone, breaking the thick silence, and directs them to fan out and search the preserve for any more redcaps that might be lingering, hiding and waiting to surprise them. “They aren’t fast, but remember they’re small. Good at hiding. So keep your eyes open and use your instincts.”
Stiles makes a series of crucifixes out of twigs and some grasses so no one will have to search through the preserve in one shoe, and Derek sends Lydia with Jackson and Allison with Erica, since they don’t have the same enhanced senses and can’t smell the little pains in their collective asses. Derek claims the path back toward the Hale house for him and Stiles, and Stiles takes a seat on his best friend the boulder as he re-laces his Converse.
He’s very fond of this boulder. He’s thinking of making a little brass memorial plaque for it.
On October 12, 2012, during the Battle of Redcap, this boulder prevented Stiles Stilinski and Jackson Whittemore, key members of the Hale pack, from being brained with rocks by murderous little shitheads. Its service was instrumental in turning the tide of the battle, and later, winning the war.
It’s the least it deserves.
“You were really good today.”
Stiles cranes his head back to look up at Derek, his half-laced shoe in his lap. Derek’s eyes immediately track to Stiles’ neck, darken. Stiles smirks. “Just following your lead, Alpha.”
“Stiles,” he says, deep and full of promises, and Stiles grins, unabashed, and looks back down at his shoe.
He feeds the laces through the eyelets, crossing them over each other. “I never thought I’d hear you reject Scott.”
“We don’t need him.”
Stiles looks up at Derek again, slips his shoe on.
“Our pack is already strong without him, and getting stronger all the time. Bess reminded me that the only people we need are people we can rely on, people we can trust. People who want to be with us. I’ve wasted a lot of time on him, when I could’ve been focusing on the people I already had. It was a huge error, one I won’t make again.”
Stiles stands. “Bess? Is that your therapist?”
He nods. “If Scott wants to be a part of the pack, then that option is always open to him in the future, as long as he wants to be here, and as long as he contributes. But everyone has to agree. We’re a family, not just a pack. And we make decisions together.”
Derek looks totally relaxed, totally at ease. This isn’t the same guy who punctuated every sentence with a growl, who made a sport out of dwelling and obsessing.
“Well Alpha Hale…look at you.”
He ducks his head with a smile but follows that with a low, serious, “I’ve made some terrible mistakes, Stiles.”
“Yeah, maybe. But you’re crazy if you think that’s all you are.”
He gives Stiles the smallest of nods, and meets his eye, and Stiles knows he doesn’t have to say anything else. It’ll never hurt to be reminded he’s not a complete failure, but he doesn’t wear it anymore, like some sort of restrictive, self-sacrificial leather jacket of pain. He’s learning to let that shit go.
Elsa would be fucking proud.
“Hey…is there a difference between a Hale member of the pack and a non-Hale member of the pack? Scent wise?”
He considers that. “A little. When I was a kid, my mom accepted these refugees from a decimated pack into ours. Born wolves. When she performed their formal ceremony, she put her teeth to their necks but she didn’t bite down.”
“She didn’t bite down?”
He shakes his head. “It’s ceremonial. Once the Alpha offers the safety and protection and care of pack, and they accept, they become pack. Their scent changes over the time they spend in the pack, but you can still tell they didn’t start as Hales. It’s faint, but it’s there.”
“And anyone bitten by the Hale Alpha, regardless of whether their last name is Hale or not, will always smell like a Hale.”
“Everyone has their own specific scent, but yes…once someone is bitten by a Hale, there’s an undercurrent of Hale underneath the rest of their scent. Why?”
It’s just a theory Stiles has been working on, but…
“Some part of you knew Scott was a Hale, right? That’s why you were chasing him so hard,” he says, nods to himself like he should’ve known, he should’ve guessed. It was so obvious. Why hadn’t he seen that before? “Your sister had just died, you thought your only living relative was a permanent vegetable…you thought you were alone. And then you caught the shared scent of Hale again, so of course you kept at him to be pack, to be brothers.”
“I didn’t recognize it right away,” Derek says, and Stiles nods.
“I’m a little ashamed it took me so long to recognize it for what it was, actually,” he admits.
Every time Scott told him no, every time he refused to be pack, must’ve felt like a splinter under his skin he couldn’t remove. Like someone taunting him with a constant reminder of his mistake. A Hale right in front of him, but just out of reach. A Hale that wanted nothing to do with him. A Hale that had no interest in being family. Which is exactly what he thought he deserved.
Because of course what Derek needed after everything he’d been through was to exist in a near constant state of rejection. That really does wonders for the self esteem.
Scott’s missing out and he doesn’t even know. He just won’t let himself see it.
“Whatever his choice, it’s his to make, Stiles. I’m not going to take that from him.”
No, Derek hadn’t been born to this. He isn’t a natural. But fuck that. Stiles would rather back Derek and his compassion in action, his resolute hard work, than any natural born Alpha.
“And you wanted to help him. You didn’t want him to become somebody he wasn’t. An animal.”
“I didn’t want him to hurt anybody he cared about. It’s hard to forgive yourself after that.”
They step back onto the path leading back toward the Hale house, and Stiles hands Derek a crucifix.
“Do I smell like a Hale? Even though I haven’t been bitten?”
Stiles steps over a fallen pine branch, scans to his left, looking for bloody hats hiding behind the trees, waiting to ambush them.
“You smell like you. And you smell like us.”
Stiles looks over and sees Derek smile to himself softly as he scans the forest to his right.
“Like pack, yeah.” Derek looks over at him, smile settling. “Like your dad. And like you and me.”
Stiles likes that. The them of it all. It feels so sturdy, so dependable. He lets that dance around in his head for a minute.
They walk on, pausing a few times to check an area more thoroughly, but eventually they exit the trees, and come out into the clearing on the side of the Hale house. No redcaps in sight.
Stiles taps the crucifix against his palm, stares back into the trees. No one else has made it back to the house yet, but he was expecting that. They all headed off in different directions, points on a compass. Derek and Stiles had been south. “Something is off about them.”
“We all know how much you hate them, Stiles,” Derek says with a roll of the eyes. “We’ve read your detailed blog post.”
It’s been bothering him a lot lately, niggling at the back of his brain. There’s something weird going on with their recent influx of creatures, but Stiles can’t figure out what the hell it is. They’re connected somehow, he’s sure of it. He just doesn’t know how.
“Okay, first of all,” he says, and holds up a finger. “I’m really loving the snark. Makes me want to climb you like a tree. Let’s table that for later. Secondly? You kid, but I might just start a blog. Watch me. Little Red and Big Bad. I plan on featuring lots of pictures of your abs.”
“What the hell are they doing in a forest in Northern California? Redcaps are native to Scotland. They lurk around castles like Macbeth’s ghost. They even laugh in a sinister, annoying brogue.”
Derek lifts an eyebrow. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you are talking to a werewolf.”
“And most of my friends are werewolves, yeah yeah.” Stiles waves that off with a hand. “They’re loners, Derek. What were three of them doing together?”
Stiles shakes his head, resumes tapping his homemade crucifix against the flat of his hand as he stares out at the trees.
“My mom used to say that like finds like. Supernatural beings are always drawn to each other. Maybe they were drawn here, happened upon us, and wanted to make their presence known. You’ve told me before how confrontational they are.”
Stiles isn’t buying it.
“Daddy-O.” Stiles slaps a rhythm on the tile counter top, spins around his dad at the stove, pulls a carton of OJ out of the fridge and starts drinking, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand when he’s done.
His dad tilts the pan in his hand, sending the eggs sliding down onto a plate on the counter next to him, pulls the slices of sourdough out of the toaster. He motions Stiles over to the table and sets the plate down in front of him, grabbing a second plate off the counter and setting it in front of his own place.
“Nice,” Stiles says, and reaches for the butter in the center of the table.
He hands it off to his dad when he’s done and John takes his time buttering his toast.
“So, Stiles…,” John says, voice full of relaxing, Sunday morning ease. “Should I ask about your nighttime gentleman caller, or would you like to tell me?”
Stiles freezes, mouth full of half-chewed toast. He swallows hard, winces and coughs when the bread gets stuck a little.
He takes a sip of the juice in front of him, coughs one more time to clear his throat, pounds at his chest with a fist as tears come to his eyes. “I’m, uh…not sure what you mean.”
“No?” John stares him down but Stiles refuses to break. “Mrs. Kerkovitch still has the station on speed dial.”
“Does she? That’s a fun fact.”
“I…” Stiles slouches back in his chair, sets his juice glass down with a thunk. “…I have a…boyfriend.”
“Well that’s a relief. Considering Mrs. Kerkovitch has seen this young man sneaking out of your bedroom window numerous times a week for the past few months, I was certainly hoping it was serious. I’m happy to know my fears on that front were unfounded.”
John sighs, deflates. “Did you think you couldn’t tell me? Did you think I wouldn’t understand? That I…that I wouldn’t support you?”
“No, it’s not the fact that it’s a guy. I knew you’d be cool with whoever I liked kissing.” Jokes aside, Stiles has never doubted that. Never. “It’s just…this particular guy.”
“Why?” John asks. “Did you think I’d be bothered by the fact that you once accused him of murder?”
Stiles drops his fork, hears it clatter on his plate.
“Oh yeah, kid.”
“He’s a fair bit older than you, Stiles.”
“Mom was five years younger than you.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t meet when either of us were in high school.” John frowns, rubs his forehead. “Derek Hale? Seriously?”
“He’s a good man.” When John lifts his eyebrows in disbelief, Stiles says firmly, “He is. Do you think I’d choose someone who wasn’t? God, I would hope you would trust that, at least.”
God, his dad sounds so tired.
There’s nothing he can say to that, no way he can change it. He is seventeen, and Derek’s not. He knows it’s not ideal, that there’s no way his dad was going to be excited about that, but life isn’t exactly ideal. If it were, his mom would be alive and so would Derek’s family, and Kate Argent would’ve never existed. They would’ve gotten to meet like normal people, bumping in line at a coffee shop or something. Nothing about the way they came into each other’s lives has been normal or ideal. But you don’t get to choose. And Stiles isn’t about to throw him away simply because the situation isn’t ideal.
“Look, I know he seems kind of like an aloof asshole who frowns at like, everything, but that’s mostly because life has kicked him in the balls for the last six years and he’s scared if he lets someone in, they’ll wind up kicking him in the balls too.”
“And yet you got in under his defenses.”
“I’m annoyingly persistent.”
“You are that.”
“Give him a chance, dad. He’s worth it, okay? He’s worth all of it.”
John sits back in his chair, gives Stiles a long, measured look. His cop look. “Okay, Stiles,” he says finally. “Starting right now, I’m giving him a chance.”
Stiles opens his mouth to respond when there’s a loud knock at the front door.
“Well…he has excellent timing, I’ll give him that.” He glances down at his watch. “Punctual, too.”
Stiles swivels his head toward the front door, then back to his dad.
John’s eyes light up, and a smile starts to grow on his face. “It’s rude to leave your boyfriend waiting on the front porch, Stiles. Go get the door.”
It’s a joke. Has to be. But no. His dad’s smile is entirely too wide and self-satisfying to be a lie.
He’s never scrambled out of his seat so fast in his life.
“You’re really at the front door,” Stiles says when he yanks open the door and finds Derek standing on the front porch in front of him, a pan of cinnamon rolls in his hands.
They’re in an actual pan, not one of those grocery store throwaway ones. They’re still warm, Stiles can tell. The icing is still a little runny. He can smell the cinnamon. Derek baked. How? He doesn’t even have an oven.
Maybe this is a mirage. Or a fever-induced nightmare. That sounds a lot more plausible than Derek Hale standing on his front porch, waiting to impress Stiles’ dad with freshly baked cinnamon rolls.
“Are those Pillsbury?”
“I’m not going to make your dad cinnamon rolls out of a cardboard tube,” he says, twelve kinds of affronted.
“Oh my God,” Stiles says, and looks away.
He can’t handle this.
Accepting the inevitable, Stiles drops his head and nods, opens the door wider to let Derek in with a broad sweep of his arm. Derek left his leather jacket in the car, which was good thinking; leather jackets don’t exactly scream dad friendly. Stiles appreciates the forethought. He traded it in for a soft looking, deep green Henley and a nice pair of dark denim jeans that look new. His boots look new too.
“Hey, do you feel like a road trip? What do you say we head to Canada? I hear Whistler is beautiful.”
“Stiles,” he says, a smile threatening to tip the corners of his mouth up.
“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles says with a sigh, waving him off. “The executioner’s this way.”
Stiles leads him to the kitchen where his dad is waiting at the kitchen table, watching them as they walk in, hands folded on the table in front of him.
It’s an excellent interpretation of a mob boss. If he ever decided to get out of legal enforcement, he might have a future in the less-than-legal enforcement business.
“Sheriff,” Derek says, with a small nod.
Shit. This is bad.
Stiles does a double take, his hands on the back of a chair, all prepared to take a seat next to Derek. A united front. “Wait…what?”
John gives him a serene smile. “Upstairs. Now.”
Stiles sputters. “Dad.”
Derek puts a light hand on the back of Stiles’ arm. Just a brush of fingers, really. But it’s more than Derek’s ever done in front of anyone else and Stiles immediately deflates.
“Fine,” he says, and walks over to the roll of paper towels by the sink and rips a sheet off with a jerk. He pulls a fork out of a drawer, shuts it with his hip with a bang, and walks over to the pan of cinnamon rolls in Derek’s hands, stabbing right through the center of the one in the middle, prying it out of the pan and plopping it onto his paper towel, sucking some residual icing off of his thumb. “But I’m taking this with me.”
He pulls the fork out of the center of his roll and stabs another roll through the center, leaving the fork sticking up in the pan. He rips a long chunk off his roll like a wild animal, narrowing his eyes at his dad as he walks out of the kitchen.
“Ugh,” he groans as he walks up the stairs. “Of course your cinnamon rolls are amazing.”
He takes another big bite.
“Incredible,” he mutters through a mouthful of sugar and cinnamon and warm, soft pastry.
He sits down in his desk chair with a huff and a frown and tries doing some reading for English. When that doesn’t work he switches to Physics, then Spanish. But he can’t focus on any of it, not with the conversation going on downstairs. And much as he’d like to overhear, to know exactly what the hell they’re talking about, he knows if he tries, his dad will know, and he’ll call him out on it before he can hear anything.
His dad has ways.
Eventually Stiles makes his bed, because he figures doing something physical might distract him at least a little bit. It only works for about a half second and then he’s falling back onto his freshly made bed, legs hanging off the end. He stares at his ceiling and drums at his stomach with his fingers, and listens hard for any small noise coming from downstairs, but no. Nothing.
It’s not like he’s worried his dad is actually going to do anything to Derek. But he doesn’t want anyone telling Derek he’s not good enough, or he’s not wanted. Not even if that person is his dad and he’s doing it out of parental love for Stiles.
He feels a gentle kick on the sole of his foot and he props himself up on his forearms, finds Derek standing in front of him.
Stiles narrows his eyes. “You don’t look injured.”
Derek lifts an eyebrow. “I’m a werewolf, Stiles. How much damage do you think your dad could really do to me?”
“Oh, if he really wanted to, somehow I think he’d find a way.”
Derek looks good, though. Relaxed, settled. Comfortable. There’s a soft smile tipping the corners of his mouth.
“Did he at least threaten you with bodily harm if you hurt me?”
“And here I thought he loved me.”
Derek nods toward Stiles’ dad’s room. “He wants to talk with you before he heads off to work.”
Stiles gets off the bed, stands in front of Derek, looks him up and down. Derek’s smile never moves.
Derek takes a step closer. “Go see your dad, Stiles.”
His dad is standing at his dresser, his back to the doorway, when Stiles walks into his room.
“I thought you were supposed to have the whole day off.”
“Yeah,” John says, and throws a glance at Stiles over his shoulder. “Rodriguez got food poisoning. I’m just going in to cover for a few hours. I’ll be back by the time the game starts.”
John reaches into his closet, pulls out a uniform shirt and slips it on, straightens the collar. “I think you’re right, Stiles. Derek is a good man. And I trust your choice.”
Stiles’ mouth drops open a little and he steps forward, says hesitantly, “That must’ve been some conversation.”
“It helps when you ask the right questions.”
John sits down on the bench at the end of his bed, slips on his boots one by one, pulls the laces tight and ties them. “I worry about you, you know.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says softly. “I know.”
It’s a familiar refrain. Second verse, same as the first.
John looks up, stands up. “When you love someone, you do it with a sort of…” He trails off, searching for the right words.
“Determined, single-minded selflessness,” he says. Stiles’ eyes widen a little. “You don’t love people very often, but when you do, you give them everything.” Stiles feels his eyes becoming a little wet and he blinks, hard. “You sit by their hospital bed for hours, you watch their diet obsessively. You help them pass their classes so they won’t feel like a failure. I see you, Stiles,” he says, his voice soft. “Even when you think I don’t.”
Stiles blinks, looks away a moment.
“I’ve always worried that when you fell in love with someone, that they wouldn’t love you back the way that you loved them. With that same single mindedness and fierce, unwavering loyalty.” Stiles looks back at him, his eyes definitely wet now. “But there isn’t anything for me to worry about, is there?”
Stiles shakes his head with a jerk.
“I’m not crazy about the fact that you’re seventeen and he’s not, but…I know you.” He takes a step toward Stiles, who swallows. “And this is big. Isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Stiles manages to croak out.
His dad nods in gentle understanding, the corners of his eyes crinkling, his lips tipping up in a wistful smile.
“He has to use the front door from here on out. Or the back door. No more climbing in and out of your window unless it’s some sort of emergency. Got it?”
Stiles huffs a laugh, nods.
He wonders if supernatural emergencies count.
His dad nods, pulls Stiles into a tight hug. “I miss your mom,” he says quietly, next to Stiles’ ear.
Stiles squeezes his eyes shut. He misses her too.
“She would’ve been laughing her ass off right now.”
Stiles laughs and steps back, wipes at his eyes as his dad buttons up his shirt, tucks it in. “I know we haven’t exactly been going in the same direction, you and me. Not since mom died. But I’m going to make some changes to the schedule at work.”
“You’re going to college in a year, and then who knows? I don’t want to miss the time I’m sure I’ve got left with you. We’re starting with Stilinski breakfast, every weekend. I already told Derek he has a standing invitation.”
“I’ve missed you, kid. And that’s my fault.”
Stiles hugs him again, longer this time. His dad hugs him back, a little tighter, like he can impress the hug on him, like he can leave the hug with Stiles when he goes.
Derek is sitting at the kitchen table when they make it downstairs and he stands to greet them as John unlocks his gun safe, pulls out his sidearm.
“The game starts at five…I’ll be back by then.” He holsters his sidearm. “Derek, I don’t know how you feel about baseball, but you’re welcome to join us for the game tonight.”
“Thanks,” he says and nods. “I’d like that.”
John gives a nod back and reaches into his wallet, pulling out a couple of bills and holding them out to Stiles between two fingers. “Take care of dinner?” Stiles snatches the bills out of his hand and John says, “Is it too much to hope for no veggie burger tonight?”
John gives him a resigned nod, waves over his shoulder as he heads out the door.
Derek and Stiles stare at the closed door for a minute before Derek breaks the silence, asks, “Veggie burgers tonight?”
Stiles scoffs. “I’m making him a super burrito. Carnitas, guac, sour cream, full fat cheese…the works. He’s getting chips and salsa too. He deserves it.” He slips the money into the front pocket of his jeans. “He likes you.”
He looks over at Derek and sees a small smile grow on his face, head bowed.
“I like him too.”
“You realize this is like…the best case scenario? He handled that beautifully. Which makes me think…” he hesitates, scratches the back of his head, looks at Derek out of the side of his eye, “…he might take learning something else beautifully too.”
He immediately holds up both hands. “Hey…no pressure, okay? I totally get the reasons why you choose not to, and you know I’m not gonna say anything. I just want to put it out there that if you ever change your mind on that…he could be a really good ally.”
“And he’s your dad.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says softly. “That too.”
Stiles scrubs a hand over the back of his head, nods, and heads into the kitchen to start a shopping list.
Derek follows him, says a little hesitantly, “So there’s a new Marvel movie opening this weekend. Or DC?”
Stiles looks up, his hand on the refrigerator door.
“Sorry…I don’t know the difference.”
“I know,” Stiles says with a smile. It doesn’t matter if he does. “I like movies.”
“I know,” Derek says, and smiles back. “Think you might be free Friday?”
“I think so. I like popcorn too.”
Derek’s smile grows. “I’ll make sure to get the biggest bucket they have.”
Stiles leans forward, bracing his forearms on the tile counter top between them. “I might want to hold your hand.”
“Okay,” he says, and matches Stiles’ position.
“Yeah?” Stiles’ hands are close enough to Derek’s to touch, and he stretches out a few long fingers, brushes against the back of Derek’s fingers.
“See,” Allison says with a brilliant smile, “I told you you’d get better at it.”
It’s amazing, but with Allison’s help, a hell of a lot of practice, and an insane amount of focus, Stiles can make those knives hit some part of the target just about every time. Not the center of the target. That’s only happened once, and it was a total fluke.
He’s a work in progress.
She pulls his knives out of the target and says, “Next we focus on your control.”
Once Stiles gets them moving, they do tend to get a mind of their own. It’d be nice to think bulls-eye, and hit it for once.
She goes to hand him the knives and then stops, her face going suddenly serious. Her eyes skitter around to everyone else before they finally land back on Stiles. She takes a step closer. “The other day, after the redcaps?”
“You heard that too.”
He’s been thinking about it ever since. He can’t seem to stop thinking about it.
“He lied,” she says, her voice barely louder than a whisper. As if saying it any louder would make it worse, or truer somehow.
“Yeah,” he says, his voice just as soft.
The clinic closes at noon on Saturdays. After that, it’s just Scott all by his lonesome, feeding animals, cleaning up messes, filing some paperwork. He’s always done by 1:30, at the latest.
Derek sent the text at 2:15.
“Maybe he didn’t hear the text.”
She shakes her head. “He didn’t deny getting it. He just said he couldn’t leave work, which we both know isn’t true.”
If any boss would understand a supernatural emergency, it would be Deaton.
“To be fair, he’s always made it clear he’s not interested in being a part of Derek’s pack.”
She shakes her head, looks at Stiles’ knives in her hand.
“But I was there. You were there. Shouldn’t that have been enough?”
Stiles just shrugs. “I haven’t been his favorite person for a while now, so…”
But Allison? Yeah. Stiles would definitely have expected Scott to show for her.
She’s kind enough to look abashed at that, which is ridiculous because it’s not even a little bit her fault. That’s all on Scott.
She’s quiet for a long time, staring down at those knives in her hand. She’s distant, somewhere else, and he stands there with her, lets her be. He doesn’t know what to say anyway. There’s something going on he hasn’t been privy to.
Finally she looks up and says, “I’m sorry to cut our training short, Stiles. But I think I need to. Is that okay?”
“Yeah,” he says. “ ‘Course it’s okay. Are you okay?”
She pauses. “I have some thinking I need to do.”
Which isn’t a yes.
She hands him the knives and he takes them, nods, watches as she walks away and slips quietly through the side door. Stiles gently tosses one of the flat black knives in an open hand for a moment, slapping the others against his thigh as he keeps staring at the side door, long after Allison has stepped through it.
What the hell is going on with Scott?
He shakes his head and sets the knives down in a row, lines them up and concentrates, visualizes the center of the target thirty feet away, forces himself to forget about Allison, about Scott, about the weirdness surrounding all these random supernatural beings attacking them recently. Focus only on the knives, see them rising, flying through the air, hitting their target. Just the knives.
Breathe in, breathe out. In…out.
One knife rises in the air, hovers, then zooms forward, embedding itself in the pillar right next to Isaac’s head, missing his clearly marked target by a good five feet.
Isaac turns his head slowly, blinks, turns back. “I think you still need a little practice.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says and winces. “Sorry. I lost my focus at the last second.”
He steps over, yanks it out of the pillar.
Stiles picks up four of the knives and then, one by one, sticks them into the scarred wood tabletop with a flick of the wrist, all in a row. He plants his hands wide on the table, leans forward and stares at them, as if somehow they’re going to start talking and solve his puzzle.
“What are those supposed to be?”
Stiles points at each of them in turn without looking up, and says, “Witch…biker werewolves…troll…redcaps.”
“What do they have in common?”
“They all tried to kill us?”
Stiles looks up. “Other than that.”
He shrugs. “This is Beacon Hills. Weird stuff just happens here.”
“This isn’t Sunnydale. We don’t live on a hellmouth. Anything that shows up here, shows up for a reason.”
“You just…can’t figure out what that reason is.”
Stiles throws out a hand in acknowledgment and rises from his bent position, crossing his arms over his chest as he stares down at the knives.
“There’s nothing all that strange about Circe or the werewolves, but what was a troll doing away from a bridge, wandering toward a diner at the edge of town? What are redcaps doing outside of the British Isles?”
“Trolls actually live under bridges?”
Stiles turns to him. “Yeah. Believe it or not, the fairy tales got that one right. Trolls love their bridges. And leaving their bridge is like…abandoning their home.”
“So it’s something they’d never do,” Isaac says and Stiles nods, shifts his weight from one foot to the next as he stares at the knives. “Has it occurred to you that maybe you can’t solve it?”
Stiles looks up.
“Maybe there’s a piece of information you just don’t have.”
“Pizza!” Peter calls out, door banging open behind him, Derek following with a few bags in his hands.
Isaac leaves him, heeding the call for food, but Stiles stays where he is and lets everyone else crowd around first and grab their pizza and soda. Lydia ignores the food temporarily too and walks over to him, stepping up to the table and running her finger over the scarred wood.
“Let me guess…witch, werewolves, troll, redcaps?”
He huffs a laugh, directs a wry smile her way. “Genius Lydia, Almighty Goddess, future winner of the Fields Medal, please come save me from myself.”
She laughs and he grins and it hits him how nice it is not to be infatuated with her anymore. How glad he is that he gets to appreciate the real version of her, not some trumped up version he created and worshipped for years as gospel.
He sweeps his hands out in front of him. “Four creatures, alike in origins, in fair Beacon Hills where we lay our scene.”
She lifts her eyebrows, steps around the table. “From…ancient blood comes new mutiny, and uncivil acts make civil hands unclean?”
“Something like that,” he says, giving her a secret smile that she returns with one of her own. He crosses his arms over his chest. “What am I missing? What am I not seeing?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“Because one plus one plus one plus one equals four, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t make it equal four. And because everyone knows that when a problem needs to be solved, you look to the smartest person in the room.”
“Well there’s your first problem. In this case, I’m not the smartest person in the room. You are. It’s not a math problem, Stiles. It’s a logic problem. In this case, one plus one plus one plus one is never going to equal four. You just have to figure out why.”
“And what it equals instead.”
Her eyebrows give a pleased little uptick to match the turning up of the corners of her mouth. “You know…you’re the only one who’s ever given me a run for my money.”
“Please,” Stiles scoffs, “you’re the smartest person I know.”
“Right back atcha.”
He tilts his head, gives her a look. “You kick my ass regularly and handily.”
“At math? Sure.” She gives a delicate shrug. “I kick everyone’s ass at math.”
“You learned archaic Latin because you were bored with the regular one.”
“I learned archaic Latin because it interested me. Sound familiar?” She bats her eyes at him a little too innocently. “No? How many nights have you stayed up into the early hours of the morning researching everything that interested you?” She crosses her arms over her chest. “I read your paper on the history of male circumcision. It was good. Very good. Well-researched, well-reasoned. There were a couple of dangling participles in there-”
“That’s what she said,” he mutters.
She rolls her eyes at him. “But it was good. The best paper either of us had written that year. I knew I had to up my game if I wanted to stay ahead of you.”
Stiles’ eyebrows tick up.
“No one makes me work harder than you do.”
“You’re basically a genius.”
“And genius abhors a vacuum.”
With one final, pointed look, Lydia walks away and over to Jackson, taking a seat next to Erica, smoothing her skirt beneath her and accepting the plate he holds out to her. He watches her for a little while, then looks away from her and around the rest of the room. Everyone else is seated with food too, taking over couches and chairs and tables on the other side of the station, so Stiles takes one last look at his line of knives and walks over to Peter and Derek, picking up a paper plate and grabbing a couple of slices of combo.
“You own reusable canvas bags.”
They’re just basic, off-white bags, nothing special about them. But the fact that Derek owns them makes Stiles want to lean forward and kiss him anyway. And he would, but he’s not sure where Derek’s comfort level with pda outside of Stiles’ house is, and he’s not going to be the kind of person that takes something from Derek without asking.
Stiles goes to take a bite then stops, looks at Peter out of the corner of his eye. “Eating this isn’t going to enter me into some binding slave contract or marriage agreement, is it? Because that’s not going to work for me.”
He doesn’t say because I’m crazy about your nephew or I may put up a brave front, but frankly you still creep me out, but he doesn’t think he has to, really. Peter always seems to hear what Stiles doesn’t say.
Peter’s answering grin is delighted. “Not this time, I’m afraid. This time it’s just pizza.”
Stiles takes a bite out of the pizza, eyeing Peter as he chews.
“You know…in another universe, you and I could have been great friends, Stiles.”
“We could be great friends in this one, Peter,” he says and accepts the can of Sprite Derek holds out to him. “You just have to figure out how to pull your head out of your ass.”
Stiles takes another bite of his pizza, walks over and takes a seat near Boyd, crossing his ankles as he props his feet up on the table in front of him.
The pizza is good. They sprang for the quality stuff.
His eyes wander across the room to his knives, stuck in that scarred little table, and Stiles chews thoughtfully and takes a sip of his soda as he stares at them. Maybe Isaac’s right. Maybe there’s something he’s missing, something he can’t see. Or maybe Lydia’s right, and he’s been looking at the problem wrong the whole time, trying to add them up when he should’ve been singling them out.
Maybe they’re both right.
“Derek asked me to be his second today.”
Stiles looks over at Boyd, sets his soda down.
“Yeah?” Boyd nods and Stiles nods back, smiles to himself. “Good. ‘Bout time.” Boyd gives one of his thousand yard stares and Stiles says, “I mean, it was kind of a given, but I’m glad he finally made it official.”
“Come on.” Stiles scoffs. “You’re smart, you’re strong, you’re reliable, and you’re clear headed. When shit goes sideways, Derek knows you’re going to handle things. He can rely on you to do what you have to. We all can. He couldn’t have picked anyone better.”
“Not even you?”
“Me? Are you kidding? I have the diplomacy of a gnat. Mouthing off to people is on my top ten list of favorite things to do.” He wrinkles his nose, shakes his head. “Nahhhhh. It’s not even a contest. You…you were practically made for that job.”
Stiles slouches back in his chair, takes a bite out of the crust and moans. “God, I love this crust.”
“I know,” Derek says as he sits down on the edge of the table, pressed up against Stiles’ feet. “That’s why I went to Mama Rosa’s.”
“You’re awesome,” Stiles says, munching happily on the last of his crust.
Derek brings up a foot to rest on the edge of Stiles’ chair and Stiles rests his hand on Derek’s leg as he eats. Before long he finds his eyes tracking back to his knives, stuck there in that table in their rigid row. Witch…biker werewolves…troll…redcaps. He taps the remainder of his crust against his bottom lip. Witch…biker werewolves…troll...redcaps.
He snaps to attention when he feels a gentle squeeze on his knee, and looks over to find Derek watching him expectantly. He wonders how many times Derek called his name.
He sighs and says, “Witch…biker werewolves…troll…redcaps.”
“You still think they’re connected.”
“Yeah,” he says, and stares at those knives. “I know it sounds like I’m obsessing and I probably am, but…it’s a gut feeling. They have something in common. I just can’t figure out what the hell it is. And if we could figure that out, then -”
“Then we might be able to predict the next thing, before it comes for us.”
“Yes,” Stiles says emphatically.
“You want to play offense, instead of defense.”
“Yes. Don’t you?”
Being the ones with the upper hand for once? God, that would be a hell of a thing.
Derek takes a sip of Stiles’ soda, rests his hand on Stiles’ ankle, his thumb stroking the bone. Stiles leans his head back, shuts his eyes, lets the words roll through his head in hopes of something shaking loose. Witch…biker werewolves…troll…redcaps. Witch…biker werewolves…troll…redcaps.
What the hell were you all doing in Beacon Hills?
Derek watches Stiles from his seat on the end of the bed as Stiles walks around the room, stripping off articles of clothing silently, dropping them on the floor before he climbs on the bed on his knees and
puts his hand on Derek’s shoulder to steady himself. He straddles Derek’s lap, sweeping his thumb across Derek’s throat as he reaches down behind himself, takes Derek in his hand and positions him, sinking down slowly with a sigh that Derek matches. Derek presses his nose into the column of Stiles’ throat and Stiles threads his fingers through Derek’s hair and closes his eyes as he starts to roll his hips slowly.
It’s mid-day, just the right time of day for the sun to come in through his window, warming up the room and painting the floor a golden yellow, light barely splashing over Derek’s calf. There’s no urgency in their movements, no desperation. Just a constant, slow pace that neither of them try to increase. Derek’s hand is centered in Stiles’ lower back, and he huffs out a breath against Stiles’ throat. Stiles closes his eyes and bows his head, and relishes the slow drag of Derek, sliding in and out of him, the tip of Derek’s nose, dragging across his neck, the weighty heat of Derek’s hands on his skin. He loses himself in the constant slow rhythm, feels himself floating away, mind going blank.
“Stiles,” Derek mutters, kissing his neck. “Stiles.”
Stiles’ hand drops from Derek’s hair to the back of his shoulder, fingers draping over warm, sweaty skin, barely holding on.
Stiles huffs out a breath against Derek’s skin as Derek’s cock keeps up the slow, delicious slide in and out of Stiles.
“Derek,” he sighs, fingertips pressing into the skin of Derek’s shoulder.
“Stiles, I nee- WHAT THE FUCK?”
Stiles’ head whips up, his hand tightens on Derek. He blinks, disoriented, before he sees Scott standing by the open window, staring at them, and finally comes back to himself.
“WHAT THE HELL, SCOTT? DUDE!” he sputters, and he and Derek separate. Stiles winces and grasps behind Derek for a pillow, shoving it down in his lap over his junk. Derek stays where he is, staring Scott down hard, his nostrils flared, and making no move to cover himself. Werewolves and their nudity comfort levels. “What are you doing here?”
“I needed to talk to you,” he says. Stiles can hear the anger, the hurt, bleeding through his voice. His eyes shift back and forth between the two of them, his eyes and mouth getting harder the more he stands there, his fists clenching at his sides. “But clearly you’re busy.”
“Yeah,” he says slowly, dragging the word out. “Clearly. Would’ve been nice if you’d noticed that before coming in through my bedroom window.”
“What are you doing with him?”
Stiles blinks, presses his lips together. His patience level is at, like, zero. “Well, when a human and his Alpha love each other very much…”
“What the hell, Stiles?”
He sweeps out one big, broad hand. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“I can’t believe you’re letting him use you like this,” he says, taking a step forward, hand outstretched and eyes intent.
Derek stands, muscles tense and tightly coiled as a low rumble grows in his chest. He takes a step closer to Scott, but Stiles swipes his sweats from the floor, pulls them on roughly and stands, cutting Derek off before he can get any closer. “Get out.”
“What?” Scott looks incredulous. “You’re kicking me out? For him?”
“Oh my God,” Stiles says, and shakes his head with disbelief and no small amount of anger. “Yes.”
He hardens, spits out, “Fine. I guess that’s what years of friendship gets me, huh?”
He sneers at Stiles as he leaves, out the way he came in, like he’s trying to land a parting shot.
Stiles shakes his head, falls back onto his bed.
“FUCK!” he yells to the ceiling as he throws two frustrated arms up then lets them fall, forearms crossing to rest over his face. He breathes out hard through his nose, clenches his fists to keep his hands from shaking. What a fucking hypocrite.
There’s a gentle pressure on his left hand and he uncurls his fist, feels the smooth skin of Derek’s hand slip into his. Stiles squeezes his hand as his breathing slows and quiets, as the tension begins to fall out of his muscles. Derek gives his hand a little pulse.
“You’re still naked, aren’t you?”
Derek doesn’t respond.
“Werewolves,” he mutters to himself.
Stiles sees Scott the moment he steps out of his Jeep on Monday, standing there staring at him across the parking lot like some imitation of Derek the first time they met: eyes boring into Stiles, frown fixed on his face. But when Stiles slings his backpack on his back and takes a step toward him, Scott turns and leaves.
The rest of the morning follows the exact same pattern. Stiles will look up from his locker or his desk or the drinking fountain only to find Scott standing there, staring him down. He’ll take a step closer and Scott will sneer and walk away, every time. By lunch period he’s had enough, and he sits at his table in the cafeteria, poking at his food as he matches Scott’s stare, coming from across the room.
It’s the most juvenile version of a staring contest he’s ever been a part of, and he was five once and used to think losing a staring contest gave you cooties.
He looks up when his lunch tray is pushed out of the way and a Double Double, animal fries, and a large Lemon Up are set in front of him. Jackson sits down across from him and Stiles takes a bite of his burger as Jackson reaches into the In-N-Out bag, pulls out his own food. They aren’t allowed to leave campus for lunch and there isn’t even an In-N-Out in their town so Stiles isn’t sure how Jackson pulled it off, but he doesn’t really care. This is so much better than mystery meat chili mac.
Besides, if he asked, Jackson would just give him some vague answer like, I have my ways. Which, fine, Stiles respects that. A guy’s gotta keep some mystery about himself.
“Why is McCall being a bigger douche than usual?”
“You know why.” Stiles sips at his soda, eyes Jackson. “He found out about me and Derek.”
“So he’s having a temper tantrum because he finally figured out he’s not the center of your universe anymore? Oh yeah,” he says, full of snark and spite, staring at Stiles as he picks up a fry. “He’s just full of good friend material. Inspiring, really.”
Stiles stalls by tapping his fingers against his paper cup and glancing over at Scott before he says, “He didn’t just find out we were dating. He…walked in…on me and Derek on Saturday.”
He stares at Jackson pointedly and lifts his eyebrows high into his hairline and Jackson sighs, like Stiles is a lot of work. Which is fair, because Stiles can be.
“Jesus, Stiles. Just say you were having sex. I’m fully aware that you’re fucking.”
“Fine. He walked in on us having sex.”
That wasn’t a detail he’d shared with Jackson when Stiles had called him Sunday, mostly because it was an awesome private moment that turned into a supremely shitty private moment, but also because he didn’t think Scott would react by stalking the shit out of him at school today.
Regardless, Jackson doesn’t seem all that surprised.
“Is he an idiot? No, don’t answer that. I know the answer to that question.”
“To be fair, I wasn’t being very…vocal, alright? It might not have been that obvious, even to the…” He trails off when he notices a girl a table over who seems a little too interested in their conversation. “…specially gifted among us.”
“Stiles…sometimes you’re quiet. Doesn’t matter. I still have really good hearing. Good enough to pick up on the signs when I’m outside your house. And when I do, I know that’s my cue to take a couple more laps around the block.”
Stiles cringes. “Sorry.”
“Well, you know, for…” He trails off, waves a hand between them. “…when you’re…”
He makes another awkward hand gesture to go along with this awkward conversation.
“I don’t call you every time I show up at your house, so if I hear anything, that’s on me. Why would I be upset that you enjoy fucking your boyfriend?”
The too-interested girl the next table over eeps, drops something on her tray. Jackson looks over, lifts an eyebrow and stares her down.
“Can I help you?”
She shakes her head, stands quickly to buss her tray, practically running out of the caf.
Stiles stares at him.
Jackson finally looks his way again, says, “What?”
“Sorry. I keep forgetting how supportive you are now.”
“You’ll get used to it eventually,” he says, all comfort and ease and self-assuredness as he takes a bite of his burger and snags one of Stiles’ cheese and spread and onion covered fries.
Stiles looks over at Scott, sitting across the cafeteria and staring down Stiles as he chews a bit of his sandwich slowly, nostrils flared. Stiles would laugh if the whole thing weren’t making him so frustrated and miserable.
“God,” Stiles mutters.
“Stop,” Jackson says. “His bullshit is not your bullshit. He’s just pissed off because Allison broke up with him and he ran to you with his tail between his legs expecting you to pick him like always, and you picked Derek instead. He’s trying to guilt you into feeling bad for something you have no reason to feel bad about.”
Which is pretty much exactly what Jackson told him on Sunday, when Stiles told him about Scott’s ultimatum and Jackson told Stiles that Allison called Lydia late Friday night, and Lydia had been with Allison ever since.
Jackson stands, turns and takes a step toward Scott, who furiously gathers up the remains of his lunch and tosses it in the garbage can before storming out of the cafeteria.
“Idiot,” Jackson says as he sits down, picks his burger back up.
The rest of school is more of the same. Scott hovers at some weird, indeterminate distance with his frown of judgment and displeasure, creeping on Stiles, but this time Stiles just turns and walks away instead of trying to engage with him. Whatever Scott is doing, whatever point he’s trying to make, Stiles just isn’t interested. If he wants to be pissed off and act like a five year old about it, Stiles isn’t going to give him an audience.
He hadn’t factored in lacrosse practice, though.
It’s a disaster right from the start, when Stiles jogs onto the field and Scott comes up behind him, knocking into his shoulder hard, and nearly sending him to the ground. No one else catches it, and Stiles just purses his lips as Scott glares at him over his shoulder.
“Why does Scott look like he’s planning ways to kill you?”
Stiles looks over at Isaac and says, “You noticed?”
“Little hard to miss.”
“Lahey! Stilinski! Am I paying you to sit around and talk?”
“You’re not paying us at all, coach.”
“That’s right! You should be paying me! I’m providing you with a very valuable service! Now get over here! Passing drills!” Coach Finstock plops his whistle into mouth and blows short, insistent tweets at them until they share a look and go jogging past him onto the field.
The passing drills go about as well as Stiles could imagine, which is not at all. About five seconds into the first one a ball comes whizzing by his face and he immediately turns to Scott, gritting his teeth as Scott tightens his grip on his stick and stares him down. The minute he turns around another ball comes his way, but this one hits him squarely in the meat of his calf.
The rest of practice goes even worse.
Jackson spends about half the practice barking at his co-captain to focus and stop pissing around, and Stiles spends the other half dodging balls and elbows and other shit thrown his way. He nearly lands on his ass a half dozen times. So he isn’t surprised when Coach calls the practice early, and then gives them a massive lecture about the game coming up against Ponderosa before giving them one final drill.
Stiles has his helmet off, and he doesn’t see the hit coming.
The fall knocks the air out of him and he sucks in a startled breath and blinks rapidly, staring up at the slowly darkening sky above him. Isaac’s worried face pops up in front of him, and his eyes skitter over Stiles before he asks, “Are you okay?”
Stiles hesitates then nods and Isaac grabs his arm and helps him up. He does a little inventory, tilts his head left and right, twists a little at the waist, rolls his shoulders, but he seems to be all good. The shoulder pads must have taken most of the impact.
“Hey! What the hell is going on over here?”
Stiles takes a look at Jackson, one hand fisted in the front of Scott’s jersey, and the two of them, staring each other down, and says, “It was an accident, Coach. Everything’s fine.”
“Really,” he says, and Stiles knows he doesn’t believe him.
“Yep,” Stiles says. “Right Jackson?”
Jackson looks over at him, holds Stiles’ gaze for a second before releasing his hand and looking back at Coach Finstock. “Yep, Coach. All good.” He slings a rough arm over Scott’s shoulders, tugs him in close. “Go on ahead. My co-captain and I are going to hang back for a minute and discuss strategy for Friday.”
Coach eyes Jackson for a minute but Jackson is unmoved, just gives him the tiniest nod. Something passes between them, and Coach nods back, turns and sends everyone else to the locker rooms without another word to the four of them, blowing his whistle repeatedly and incessantly, herding their teammates back into the locker room.
As soon as everyone else is off the field, Scott shoves at Jackson and Jackson takes a step back.
“I’m only going to say this once, McCall…get over your shit. Now.”
Scott sneers at him. “No problem, Jackson. I’ll make sure not to screw up the game this Friday.”
“Pondo can go fuck itself,” he snarls, dismissive, and Scott takes a step back, confused. “You think I’m going to let you come after Stiles?”
“No, it’s fine,” Stiles says, and steps forward. “He’s pissed at me, let him be pissed at me. Clearly there are some things that need to be aired out.” He throws his hands out. “Go ahead, Scott. You want to have it out, let’s have it out.”
Scott shakes his head, looks away. He swipes his stick and helmet off the grass and it looks like he’s going to walk away without saying anything when he shakes his head again and throws his gear back down to the ground.
“You’ve been my best friend since the second grade, and you chose screwing Derek over me? I needed you! I needed my friend!”
Jackson takes a step forward, opens his mouth, and Stiles puts out an arm, stops him. “Did you call me? Send a text? An IM? An email? Carrier pigeon? Smoke signals? Did you try to contact me in any way before you came over?”
“I shouldn’t have to! I never had to before!”
“So I should just be at your beck and call constantly, is that it? Always open and free, for whenever you decide you actually need me?”
Scott presses his lips together, flares his nostrils, hands clenched at his side.
“You’re allowed to fall in love with somebody, but I’m not? Is that it?”
“As if you’re actually in love with Derek,” he sneers, dismissive.
“Yes!” Stiles shouts. “I am! I’m crazy about him! Crazy about the big D. And for the first time in my life…that’s not a euphemism!” The fight leaves him just about as it came and Stiles sags, feeling a little defeated and a lot tired. “Why do you hate him so much? All he’s done is try to help you.”
“All he’s done is ruin my life!” Scott yells.
“Derek isn’t the reason you were bitten.”
“No, you are.”
Ah, there we go.
Stiles just shakes his head. “No. I’m not.”
“If you hadn’t made me go into the preserve that night, I wouldn’t be this.” His eyes flash, just enough to make his point. “Allison’s family wouldn’t hate me for what I am, and they wouldn’t have convinced her to break up with me. I tried everything to get in close with them, to get them to trust me, so they would see I’m not some…animal.”
It always comes back to Allison with him. Always.
“Okay, first? I think you’re severely underestimating Allison’s ability to make her own choices. And second, if they hate you for who you are, why would you want anything to do with them?”
“They’re the family of the girl I love, Stiles.” Scott shakes his head. “If you hadn’t-”
“No,” Stiles says. “Uh uh. I’m not taking the blame for that.”
“You made me follow you to the preserve.”
“And you stayed.” Stiles says. “My dad was right there. All you had to do was step out from behind the tree and say ‘Whoops, Sheriff. My bad!’ and he would’ve pulled you out of there too. I’m not the reason you’re a werewolf, and neither is Derek. Peter is.”
“Derek is the reason I’m still a werewolf. He killed Peter,” he says, voice low, “and took away any chance I had at being normal again.”
“It wouldn’t have worked.”
“You don’t know that!”
“Everybody knows that!” Stiles yells. “You can’t take away the bite by killing the Alpha. The only thing it would’ve done is make you an Alpha and a killer, and Derek wanted to save you from that.”
“Save me,” he spits out. “Right.”
“Yes, save you. Or did you want to kill somebody with your bare hands? Were you ready to do that?”
“I get it now,” he says, his disappointment practically leaking out of him. “You’ve been on his side a lot longer than I realized.”
Stiles shakes his head, baffled. “What?”
Scott works his jaw, crosses his arms.
“Oh…I’m a bad friend, is that it?”
Scott stares him down and Stiles licks his lips.
“Who taught you how to control your shift, huh? Who came the second you called, every time you called? Who backed you up, no matter what? Me. But I’m a bad friend, right? I’m such a bad friend that I’ve spent the last few months looking through every book I could get my hands on, and every website that even mentioned werewolves, trying to find you a cure.”
There is a lot of freaky shit on the internet.
“I don’t believe you.”
“No?” Stiles asks. “Follow me home. I’ll give you all the research it took me hours and hours and hours to compile. That’s how I know it wouldn’t work, by the way. Not because Derek told me it wouldn’t. Because I did my fucking research.”
It was countless late nights, it was all the free minutes he could grab in between schoolwork and keeping the house going for his dad and helping the pack and being Derek’s person. And Stiles had done it gladly because it was for Scott, and for Scott he would’ve moved the fucking world if he had to.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I knew it was probably a long shot, and I didn’t want to disappoint you when I didn’t find anything.”
Scott’s fought being a werewolf from the beginning. He’d loved the side effects, sure. Who wouldn’t love increased speed and stamina and saying bye-bye to your asthma? But he didn’t choose it, and he didn’t want it. He saw it as a burden. And despite how awesome Stiles thinks the whole thing is – werewolves are fucking real – Scott has never seemed to want anything to do with it at all. And the last thing Stiles wants is for Scott to be unhappy. So he did the research. He did all the fucking research he could, even while Stiles was hoping Scott would change his mind.
“And part of me was kind of hoping I wouldn’t need to find anything. That you’d acknowledge how awesome it was, and how you were finally ready to be pack.”
“With all of us. With me. With Jackson and Isaac and Boyd and Erica and Lydia and Allison.”
“I just want to be normal, Stiles. Like…”
He bows his head, shuffles his feet.
“Like who? Like Allison’s family? You need to aim a lot higher than that.”
Scott’s head darts up and he frowns, his eyes hardening.
“Look, I think Allison is awesome. You know that. And I can concede that her dad has a moral compass that usually points north. But everyone else in the family? They can go fuck themselves.”
“Don’t talk like that about Allison’s family,” he grits out.
“Oh my God!” Stiles says. He wants to reach out and strangle Scott, but he runs his hands through his hair instead. He’s so blinded by how much he loves her, that he can’t see the obvious staring him in the face. “Her mother is like a Russian sleeper agent who’s just waiting to kill us with her poison tipped fingernails, her grandfather is a creepy ass sadist, and her aunt was a murderous, abusive, sociopath who burned the Hale house down.”
“She must’ve had her reasons,” Scott says, jaw set, and oh my God, Stiles can tell he believes that. He believes his own bullshit.
“She trapped eleven people in that house, Scott!” Scott turns away and Stiles rounds on him and steps right into his space, refusing to let Scott look away from him, refusing to let Scott back away. “Eleven! She burned them alive! Derek’s parents, his little sister, his grandparents and cousins…his pack. His family!”
“Maybe they deserved it!” he says in a rush, stepping up to Stiles.
In the next moment his mouth snaps shut and he blinks, takes a step back as if startled by the words that just left his mouth.
But they’ve been said. He can’t take them back.
“When they set your mom’s house on fire with her in it,” Stiles says softly, his voice heavy, “are you going to say the same thing? That maybe she deserved it? That maybe you deserved it?”
The right hook hits him square in the mouth and Stiles falls to his hands and knees. The taste of iron is thick in his mouth, and he spits, watching as his blood hits the grass beneath him. He looks up at Scott, walking away from them, his shoulders tense and hunched, and calls out, “You may hate what you’ve become, but I promise no one hates you quite like they do. You’re a werewolf, Scott. You think they’re ever going to let you forget that?”
Scott never turns around, and Stiles shakes his head when he disappears from sight, sits back on his heels and stares at the open field in front of him. He sits there for a few minutes, doesn’t look over when Jackson steps up next to him, leans over and picks his lacrosse gear up off the ground. Isaac steps up next to him too, on his other side, and Stiles finally stands, works his jaw a little and spits some remaining blood out of his mouth before he starts a slow walk back to the locker room, Jackson and Isaac walking quietly beside him.
“Go ahead,” Stiles grits out. “Say it. Say I told you so.”
Jackson stops him with a hand to the shoulder. “I may not give a shit about Scott McCall…he can fucking rot for all I care…but you do. I’m not going to kick you while you’re down.” He holds out Stiles’ helmet and stick. Stiles takes them. “Friends don’t do that.”
Scott has already cleared out by the time they get to the locker room, and Stiles sits down heavily on the wood bench in front of the lockers, stares at the helmet in his hand, clenches his fingers around the scuffed red plastic then yells as he throws it as hard as he can into the back of the locker before dropping to the bench beneath him.
He stares at the concrete floor for a good couple of minutes, hands gripping the front edge of the wooden bench hard before he finally shakes himself, stands, and starts pulling off his uniform in worn-out silence, shoving it into his locker. He dresses quickly, grabs his gear and his backpack and slams the locker door shut, giving Scott’s locker next to his one long hard look before turning and walking down the aisle.
“Stilinski!” Coach strides out of his office, looks him up and down, eyes intense, boring deep. Stiles stands his ground, resists the urge to take a step back. “You been working out outside of practice?”
“Jackson and I run every morning, and we’ve started doing some drills with Isaac on the side, yeah.”
It turns out lacrosse drills are surprisingly useful devices for helping to train werewolves. Who knew?
His eyes zone in on Stiles’ mouth and Stiles shifts a little. There’s blood there, he knows. Staining his teeth, painting the corner of his mouth, dried and dark red. But Stiles doesn’t cover it up. He’s tired of covering shit up. Let him look.
Coach nods. “You’ve sucked a lot less lately.”
“Thanks, Coach. That’s…inspiring.”
“Don’t let it go to your head,” he says as he turns and walks back into his office.
Not really a chance of that.
Jackson and Isaac are waiting for him outside the locker room, leaning against the wall opposite the door, and he gives them a quick glance as they rise off the wall.
“We have a punching bag at the station if you still feel like you need to hit something. Or I bet Boyd would let you hit him once as a freebie.”
Stiles lifts his eyebrows. “If I hit Boyd, I would probably break my hand.”
“Yep,” Isaac says, “that’s why he’d let you get in a free shot.”
Stiles laughs and Isaac grins, and Stiles shakes his head and feels some of the tension leaving his shoulders.
“You probably shouldn’t have said that about his mom,” Isaac says, his voice quieter, more serious.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, nodding.
“He shouldn’t have said that about Derek’s family,” Jackson says, voice icy and hard, and Stiles’ eyebrows tick up quickly because yeah, he definitely agrees with that too.
Stiles nods at them, heads toward the parking lot, slings his stuff in the back of Roscoe, and pulls out. Two blocks into his drive he finally looks back through the rear view mirror and sees Jackson’s Porsche following behind his Jeep, Isaac sitting beside him in the passenger seat. They follow him all the way home. It isn’t even a little bit necessary, but Stiles appreciates the gesture.
He pulls his car into the driveway next to his dad’s patrol car and turns off the engine, sits there for a minute before grabbing his stuff from the back seat and heading toward his front door. When he gets there he stops and turns, and holds up a hand toward Jackson and Isaac, parked next to the curb in front of his house, and Isaac holds his hand up in response. Jackson nods and waits until Stiles has the front door open, then drives away.
Stiles closes the door quietly behind him, starts trudging up the stairs.
He stops and turns, lacrosse bag slung over his shoulder, and his dad stares at his mouth and flinches back, eyes widening.
“It’s fine,” Stiles says.
“Fine,” John repeats slowly. “Are you okay?”
Stiles gives him a sort of half-hearted nod, and his dad’s concerned face gets a little more serious.
“Dad…who was your best friend when you were a kid? When you were my age?”
If he’s thrown off by Stiles’ question, he doesn’t show it. The benefit of being a cop. Nothing much surprises him anymore.
“Rick Lee. Small kid, but tough. Really tough. A big heart. It got him into trouble sometimes. Sometimes it got the both of us into trouble.”
“You got into trouble?”
“Yeah. Kid stuff. We never went looking for dead bodies.”
Stiles smiles a little to himself, ducks his head.
“I don’t think you’ve ever told me about him.”
“No, I guess not. I haven’t thought about him in years, actually. But we used to be as close as you and Scott. Wherever you’d find one of us, you’d find the other.”
“Why’d you stop being friends?”
John shrugs. “Life, I guess. The stuff that held us together when we were younger started to fade as we got older. And we were on different paths. He joined the army, and I met your mom and joined the academy, and we just…drifted away from each other, I guess. Stopped needing each other the way we used to.”
Stiles just nods, looks away.
“Jackson Whittemore’s been around a lot lately.”
Stiles nods again.
“I thought the two of you were…enemies.”
“Sometimes you can be wrong about a person.”
And hell…everybody knows Stiles can be quick to judge.
His dad nods, stares at him a long time, and finally Stiles nods back.
They nod back and forth at each other like they don’t know how to do anything else, but they’ve spent the last few years avoiding talking, so maybe they’re just rusty. Out of practice. His mom would’ve been better at this, he thinks. She would’ve known exactly what to say to fill in their gaps. She never would’ve let their gaps exist in the first place.
Stiles turns away with a quiet slap from his hand on the banister, starts walking up the stairs.
“The hydrogen peroxide is on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet.”
Stiles looks back at his dad, still standing by the side of the stairs, watching him.
“For your lip.”
“Thanks,” Stiles says, and heads upstairs.
He drops his stuff in the middle of his bedroom floor then spends about a half an hour in the shower, mostly just standing there with his hands braced on the tile and his eyes closed as he lets the hot water pound down on his body. He breathes in and out slowly, lets the water rush down until it turns cold then shuts the shower off, wraps a towel around his hips, brushes his teeth, prods at the corner of his mouth. All the blood has washed away. Now it’s just a tiny cut on the side of his mouth, nothing more. Barely noticeable.
Derek is waiting for Stiles in his bedroom, which Stiles should’ve guessed would happen. He stands from his seat at the end of Stiles’ bed.
“Isaac told you?”
Derek nods, and his eyes track to Stiles’ lip. “Your dad ordered Chinese.”
“I shouldn’t have given him that burrito the other day as a reward. Now he’s thinking he can take liberties.”
Derek gives him the barest hint of a smile as he walks over and reaches up a hand, brushing his thumb gently against the corner of Stiles’ mouth. Stiles leans into his hand. He doesn’t ask if Derek knows exactly what Stiles and Scott said, if Isaac told him everything. It doesn’t really matter.
“Get dressed. I’ll see you downstairs.”
Stiles nods and waits until Derek leaves before dropping the towel, walking over to his dresser and pulling on a pair of boxer briefs and some sweats.
As soon as he makes it down the stairs he can hear laughter coming from the dining room, and he steps through the doorway to find his dad sharing a joke with a smiling Jackson, Derek watching them with a smile of his own across the table. Stiles drops down into the chair next to Derek.
“I can’t believe you ordered Chinese.”
“Hey,” John says, and points his half-eaten spring roll at Stiles. “I’ll have you know I ordered brown rice instead of white, plus steamed vegetables.”
“And a double order of spring rolls,” Jackson snarks, and slides the container over to Stiles. “I saved you the last two.”
Stiles snags them before his dad can, and rounds his plate out with a little from each of the cartons. There’s a ton of food here. Did his dad order half the menu?
He picks up a pair of chopsticks, pulls them apart and rolls them together, tapping the ends against the table before he digs in.
Jackson and his dad carry the conversation, with input from Derek here and there. Stiles stays quiet and eats, watching them all, feeling no desire to talk. He likes watching them interact, however strange it all still seems to him that he’s dating Derek Hale, that Jackson Whittemore keeps showing up and caring about him, that his dad has actually followed through and been around more. That they’re talking to each other again. He never would’ve seen any of that coming.
His dad looks up at him from across the table, gives him a little smile.
God, you can be really wrong about people.
“That position looks uncomfortable.”
“My body is elastic,” Stiles says, looking up from his book, his head hanging down over the edge of the couch. “I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.”
Derek, of course, is sitting on the couch like a normal person, and Stiles lifts one leg off the back of the couch and pokes him in the shoulder with his big toe.
“Just like you take advantage of it.”
He waggles his eyebrows and Derek gives him one unimpressed look before returning to his book.
“We’re never having sex again.”
“Hey now…that feels like unnecessary punishment for you too. Do you want to deprive yourself?”
“I’ll survive,” he says, and turns the page.
“Ouch,” Stiles says, with feeling, and Derek grants him a little smile.
Stiles picks his book back up, tries to concentrate on his reading for English, but he’s feeling jittery and distracted, and Holden Caulfield is a whiny, entitled asshole. He drops his book onto the floor with a sigh, lets his arms hang down, stares past the coffee table and under the entertainment center where some serious dust bunnies are forming.
“I’m going out of town for a few days. Maybe a week.”
“Yeah?” Stiles sits up, rights himself on the couch so he’s leaning against the arm, facing Derek. He brings his legs up to rest in Derek’s lap and Derek sets his book on the end table, rests his hand on Stiles’ ankle. “Where are you going?”
“A little town outside of Portland named Amity.”
Stiles snorts. “Yeah, that doesn’t sound like you’re headed into a horror movie. Great idea. Hey, pro tip: if you hear a noise and investigate only to find out it’s a cat, leave immediately. It’s never just the cat.”
“You know I’m a werewolf, right?”
Stiles lifts his eyebrows. “And?”
Please. As if werewolves are the scariest thing to go bump in the night.
Derek shakes his head. “It’s where Circe’s from,” he says, and Stiles perks up at that. “You still think they’re all connected, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
Derek nods. “Then it’s worth checking into. Try to stay alive while I’m gone, okay?”
Stiles lets out an offended little noise from the back of his throat. “No confidence!”
He huffs, rolls his eyes. “Fine. I, Stiles Stilinski, promise not to knowingly incur the wrath of any member of the supernatural contingent of Beacon Hills while my boyfriend with the super scary caterpillar eyebrows of doom is out of town. Happy?”
Derek caresses his ankle then grips and pulls, pulling Stiles down the couch and toward him. Stiles lets out a little uncontrolled eep and Derek leans over him with a wolfy grin.
Stiles startles with a gasp and a flail of his limbs, banging back against his open locker.
He stares at Allison. “Shit. Are you sure you’re not a werewolf? Because you’ve got that sneaking up behind the hapless human thing working for you really well.”
She looks around them, her hand clutching the strap of her book bag, shifting her weight back and forth from one foot to the other. Eventually she squares up and lifts her chin, her eyes boring into his.
“If I asked you to play hooky with me today, what would you say?”
She worries her lip, clutches her bag a little tighter. Her eyes shift away from him, and the moment they harden, he knows exactly who she sees.
“I say let’s do it.”
Her eyes snap back to him and a wide, hopeful smile grows on her face. She leans into his space just a touch. “Yeah?”
It’s an impulsive decision but he doesn’t have any tests today, and no practice, and he can slip his homework into his teachers’ mailboxes before they go. He’s more than likely going to catch some major shit from his dad for this, but he can tell she needs this. She really needs this. And he is nothing if not a bro.
He shoulders his bag, shuts his locker with a bang, and motions down the hallway with his head. She hurries after him and they unload their homework in the mailboxes before continuing down the hallway at a quick walk, weaving through students heading the other direction. They keep sharing little secret excited looks that threaten to be smiles, and when the crowd gets too thick in front of Allison, he grabs her hand and pulls her behind him, out the front doors of the school, like salmon swimming upstream.
He holds her hand as they rush down the steps and toward his Jeep, letting go when they reach the parking lot, and she finally looks at him and grins when she’s sitting in the passenger seat, buckled in.
“Okay, mademoiselle…” He turns the key in the ignition and looks over at her. “Where are we going?”
She nods. “I trust you. Just one rule: we don’t talk about Scott.”
“Deal,” he says with feeling, and puts the car in gear.
His phone chimes when he’s at a light, and he picks it up, reads the text and responds, thumbs flying as his eyes scan repeatedly up to the light, watching to make sure it doesn’t turn green while he’s typing.
“Jackson,” he says, and finishes typing, stowing his phone in the cup holder. “I didn’t give him any details, but I asked him to cover for us.”
“And he will?”
“Oh yeah. Okay…first stop: snacks for the road.”
He pulls into the parking lot for a little mom and pop grocery store, and Stiles pushes the door open and snags a hand basket, breezing by the bored twenty something cashier in a faded red vest blowing a pink gum bubble and filing her nails alone at the register.
“We need salty, we need sweet…and we need drinks.” He spins until he finds the right aisle and starts throwing things in the basket, heading to the cooler with purpose, grabbing a couple of sodas and a few bottles of water. He turns to Allison. “Now we’re ready.”
“No,” Allison says, and throws a bag of sour gummy worms into the basket. “Now we’re ready.”
They pay the cashier, who doesn’t even try to engage them in small talk, going right back to filing her nails and popping her gum as soon as their snacks are bagged. His phone buzzes again with Jackson’s answer as they’re loading the bags into the car and while Allison climbs in, Stiles pauses outside his door, staring down at his phone.
“We can go back.” Stiles looks up and Allison is looking at him, serious, understanding, and a little sad. “It was nice of you to say yes, but we can go back, if you need to.”
“No.” Stiles shakes his head. “Nope. You need this day, and I’m giving it to you. Friends take care of friends, pack takes care of pack. It’s just…I need to call my dad and let him know. We’re doing this whole…telling the truth thing, and I don’t want to break the streak now.”
She gives him a hesitant smile in sympathy. “Good luck.”
He salutes her, dials, lets out a breath and bows his head as it rings.
Stiles? Why are you calling me from school? Are you okay?
Stiles scrubs the back of his head. “That’s the first thing you should know: I’m fine. Totally okay. One hundred percent good.”
What’s the second thing I should know?
Stiles winces as he says, “I’m not at school.”
“I’m engaging in a time honored tradition passed down through the generations of honoring my youth by creating lasting memories outside of an educational institution?”
Are you playing hooky, Stiles?
“You know, when you put it like that, it just sounds-”
Stiles turns and leans against the side of the Jeep, scuffing the toe of his shoe against the pavement beneath his feet as his dad sighs, long and deep, on the other end of the phone.
“My friend needs me, dad. She really needs me. And I don’t want to let her down.”
Are you calling for permission or acceptance?
“Neither?” he says, tipping his head back and squinting into the sun. “Pretty sure I’m going to be grounded until I graduate next year for this.”
It’s a pretty solid bet, actually.
“I just didn’t want to lie to you about it.”
There’s a long pause on the other end of the line before his dad sighs again.
My shift ends at eleven. Wait up for me.
“Yeah. Will do.”
And be safe, please. The both of you.
When he turns around Allison is watching him, hands twisting the plastic cap of her water bottle, lip pulled between her teeth. “How bad is your punishment?”
“To be determined,” he says and climbs into his seat, closing the door behind him with a flourish. “Are you ready?”
She gives him a grateful smile and reaches over her shoulder, grabs the seatbelt and buckles it. “Ready.”
He turns on the car, turns up the radio, and pulls out of the parking lot.
Mini golf is first, at a place Stiles’ mom used to take him. All the holes are designed like famous world landmarks, and Stiles snags the pink ball for himself because everyone knows the pink ball is the best one.
They’re the only ones there, so they have the run of the place, and they make it count. They do elaborate little routines before every hole, little spins and butt wiggles and convoluted putter practice swings and laugh until their sides hurt, and Stiles does truly awful hushed voice golf commentary before every putt in the worst English accent ever.
Now…Allison Argent is stepping up to the first hole…Big Ben really did a number on her yesterday…let’s see how she plays the lie today, and if she can make up any ground on her chief competitor, who seems to be running away with the competition. Pip pip cheerio and all that.
They take a selfie on every hole, sometimes multiples, and Stiles sends every single one of them to Derek and follows that with a text with a string of hashtags. #stilesandallysdayoff. #futureprogolfers. #watchoutpga.
Allison murders him. Just slaughters him. And Stiles has never had a better time mini golfing in his life.
Allison takes one final picture of him starfished next to the final hole, his traitorous ball still a couple of inches away from the cup, Stiles facing toward it, trying to blow it into the hole.
After they turn in their balls and clubs they head into the attached arcade and Allison slaughters him there too. She grins at him as her character is roundhouse kicking him to death on screen, her dimples on full display and the overhead fluorescent lights catching in her eyes, and Stiles can see, easily, how someone could fall in love with her. They exchange all the tickets they win for two little bright green alien shaped erasers, and they stick them to the dashboard with a piece of chewed gum before they head out. Their little mascots.
The movies are next, this tiny theater a few towns away that plays classic movies and reruns and only has two screens but the best popcorn and homemade candy and treats. Stiles buys two matinee tickets for The Breakfast Club and shells out for popcorn and a couple of massive cookies with M&Ms, hip checking Allison out of the way when she tries to pay instead.
“I wish my kids got along as well as you two do,” the lady at the concession stand says, a little wistfully, and Stiles and Allison share a secret smile.
It’s a good enough explanation for what they are. Siblings. Family. The truth is a little harder to explain.
“I’m sure they’ll grow into each other,” Allison says kindly, and the concession lady shakes her head.
“They’re in their thirties. I’m afraid that ship has probably sailed, honey. But you’re very sweet,” she says, and pats Allison on the hand.
They grab seats right in the middle of a totally empty theater and prop their feet up on the backs of the seats in front of them, scooting down in their seats so the screen looms above them, balancing the tub of popcorn precariously on the armrest between them. They throw popcorn kernels up in the air and try to catch them with their mouths, and take a ton more selfies. Stiles sends all of those to Derek too.
#thisdayhasbeensponsoredbyjohnhughes. #thiscookieisasbigasmyface. #targetpractice.
When the movie starts, Allison recites the lines right along with Stiles, grinning at him when he gives her a surprised Yes!. When the dancing starts they get up from their seats and mimic the dances on screen, dancing down their row and into the aisle with pumping arms and duck walking feet. When they reach the end, Stiles lifts his fist to Judd Nelson.
Stiles knows exactly what they need next, and quick search on his phone tells him it’s only a couple of miles away.
He puts his turn signal on, turns his head both ways, and takes a right down the street. He turns up the radio, fingers drumming against the steering wheel, head bopping along to the music. It’s a gorgeous spring day, and Allison’s hair keeps getting blown between them because of the open window, no matter how many times she pushes it back.
It’s a hell of a day to be a teenager, playing hooky from school.
“I’m sorry you’re getting in trouble for this,” she calls to him over the radio and the sound of the air rushing by as they drive, pushing her hair back and out of her face for the hundredth time.
“It was my choice,” Stiles says, and turns down the radio as he looks over at her. “Besides, you’re totally worth it. This day is totally worth it. I’m never going to forget it.”
“Me either,” she says.
He turns the radio back up when he hears the next song start, turning to Allison as he sings in mock Britney voice, making as many exaggerated facial expressions as he can, “Oops I did it again…I played with your heart…got lost in the game…ooh baby baby…”
The food trucks are all parked in a half circle on one end of a huge parking lot, and Stiles parks and immediately beelines for the taco truck appropriately named Paco’s Tacos, furthest to the left. He joins the sizeable line, bouncing in his shoes, and when they finally make it to the front, he drums his hands on the little metal counter as he reads the menu board, deciding on two of their specials of the day and two watermelon agua frescas. Before he can pay, Allison hip checks him out of the way with a satisfied smirk, slapping her own money down on the counter. When they get their food, they grab a small picnic table off to the side, sitting across from each other.
“Okay, so I have it on good authority that these are the best tacos in the Sacramento region, including the foothills.” He lifts up a taco in front of his face, stares at it. “Carlos, don’t fail us now.”
“A dude I met on an online message board.”
She lifts an eyebrow. “And we should trust Carlos?”
“When it comes to having your back in an online game? No. He’s a terrible shot and the dude will turn on you in a heartbeat. But he has an extensive rating system for tacos. Dude has done tons of field research.”
“In that case,” she says, and holds her first taco right up next to Stiles’. “To Carlos.”
They tap the ends of their tacos together and take a bite, shells crunching and juice dripping down their fingers.
Allison sits back, eyes widening, messy hand held in front of her mouth as she chews. “Oh my God.”
“Oh my God,” Stiles repeats, and takes another bite.
After that there’s no more talking, just some happy sounds mixed in with the crunching and the sipping, and at least a dozen more selfies, one with Stiles cradling his last taco to his cheek. He tags that one #truelovestory.
Stiles sends all of those to Derek too.
After they snag some wet wipes from the bowl on the table between them, they wave a sad goodbye to the truck as Stiles turns out of the parking lot and points them toward their next stop.
The aquarium is pretty empty, just a couple of classes of elementary school kids on a field trip and a few families wandering through. Stiles and Allison watch the otters play in their pool, they waddle with the penguins, they pet some rays and starfish, they take some perfectly timed selfies in the wave crash exhibit – #cominlikeatidalwave – they watch vibrant jellyfish as they swim by porthole windows.
The aquarium is relaxing, calming. The complete opposite of their normal lives, where they’re never really sure what kind of weird supernatural thing is just around the corner, waiting to mess their lives up a little bit more. He wants to bring Derek here, when they have a day. He thinks he’ll like it.
He holds up his phone, takes a picture of the jellies swimming lazily by, sends it to Derek.
“I think I’m ready to go back,” Allison says, a small smile on her face as she watches the jellies.
“One more stop,” Stiles says, stuffing his hands into his pockets, and she nods.
The jellies float by in front of her face, bright red against the cool blue water.
It’s the perfect capper on their day, and Stiles has been wanting to try this place ever since he saw the pictures on Instagram of monstrous ice cream cones, stacked high with different flavors, tops of massive waffle cones coated in chocolate or marshmallow and smothered in breakfast cereal or candy. He’s absolutely sure they’re going to get stomach aches just trying to eat one of these things, and he loves it.
They sit outside at a little table just underneath the red striped awning, and while Stiles starts licking the first of three ice creams on his white chocolate and Fruit Loop topped cone, Allison just stares at hers in her hand in amazement.
“I don’t know where to start,” she says with a laugh.
“Just pick a spot and dive in.”
Stiles is alternating licking each flavor of ice cream to try and stem the tide of the melting as much as possible, but it’s a losing battle.
A tasty, fun losing battle.
“There’s no way I’m going to be able to eat this whole thing.”
“I know. Isn’t that awesome?”
Stiles takes a picture of Allison staring confused at her cone, laughing as he sends it to Derek.
“Thanks for asking me to do this today,” he says in between licks as he sets his phone down on the table. “I think I really needed this too.”
Allison isn’t the only one who needed a day off. In some ways, no one can understand him better than she does. He never would’ve imagined that however many months ago, when Scott was pointing out the new girl with hearts in his eyes.
“Thanks for not bringing him up.”
Scott connects them, in their love and their disappointment, in their shared secret. Stiles is glad it isn’t the only thing connecting them these days. He would’ve missed out on knowing a really awesome girl otherwise.
“You asked me not to.”
A breeze picks up and she shakes her head, tossing the hair out of her face.
“Yeah,” she says, warm eyes fixed on him as she takes a lick of her cone. “I did.”
“You’ve got me, you know? In your corner. Always.”
“I know,” she says, stubbornly certain, shoulders squaring. “And you’ve got me too. Always.”
Stiles smiles, ice cream dripping across his fingers and down his hand, onto the tabletop. His tasty battle finally lost.
“Never doubted that for a moment.”
About ten miles outside of Beacon Hills, Stiles looks down at his dashboard and notices he’s practically running on empty. Huh. Weird. He just filled up yesterday, and they haven’t driven that far today.
He cranes his head, looking around for a gas station, but doesn’t see one.
“Hey…keep your eyes out for a gas station? I’m seriously low here.”
Allison nods and Stiles’ phone chimes in the cup holder. He glances down, snags the phone. It’s a text from Derek.
“Ooo!” Allison says, and points across the road at a station mostly hidden by pine trees, her bare feet slipping down from the dash as she sits upright in her seat. “On your left.”
“Nice catch,” he says, and makes the turn, stopping in front of the first available pump.
Pump ‘n Go is one of those small, family-owned places with only a few pumps, and it’s pretty dead except for the little beat up Honda sedan parked in front of the convenience mart and the cashier Stiles can see through the window, stocking some chips. Stiles feeds some cash into the pay machine, starts the pump, and leans into the open window of the Jeep, bracing his forearms against the door. Allison’s feet are back up on the dash, teal painted toes shiny in the sunlight, and her dark hair is piled up on the top of her head in a messy bun, finally tired of constantly shooing it out of her face. Her head is tipped back, and she stares at the ceiling of the car from behind her sunglasses.
“I really do love him,” she says softly. “I didn’t break up with him because I don’t.”
Her fingers rub at the edge of her floral skirt. Where skirt meets skin.
“I know,” Stiles says, and he does. Of course he does. It was the same for him and Scott.
She turns her head, slips her sunglasses onto the top of her hair. “I heard he punched you.”
“Yep,” he says, pointing to his mouth. “Got me good. It was one hell of a break up.”
She gives him a sad little smile. “Ours too.” She pauses, then says, “He’s different than he used to be.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, drawing the word out as he looks down at his hands.
“He was sweet, you know? That’s why I liked him. But lately he’s been…angry. Insular. All he wanted was for the two of us to be together, all the time. And he became obsessed with spending time with my family.”
“Maybe he was just trying to make a good impression on your dad. You know…prove he was good enough for you or whatever. A teenage werewolf falling in love with a hunter’s daughter isn’t exactly an easy road.”
He looks over when he hears the pump disengage. His tank is full.
He juts a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m going to head in and grab my change. Can I get you anything? Gum? Mints? Cheesy little carved wood Bigfoot statue? This place is bound to have some really stellar touristy knick knacks.”
She sits up, unbuckles, and slips her flats on. “I’ll come in with you. Stretch my legs.”
The bell chimes when they walk in and Stiles snags his change from the cashier as Allison strolls slowly down the aisle that holds all the touristy crap: the bumper stickers and hats and key chains and cheap neon colored sunglasses and extra extra large t-shirts in Pepto Bismol pink that say I Struck Gold in El Dorado County!
“Hey man…are you sure you gave me the right change?” Stiles frowns at the bills in his hand, does a quick count.
Stiles shrugs, stows the cash in his wallet and makes his way over to Allison. She’s spinning a rack of postcards with one finger, scanning through the basic offerings – Lake Tahoe, gold prospectors, The Hanging Tree, Apple Hill – and Stiles scans the shelves in front of him. He holds up a coffee mug.
“Placerville is for Lovers coffee mug?” He holds up a bumper sticker in his other hand. “Or I Brake for Gold Panners bumper sticker?”
She laughs. “I’ll pass.”
He sets them down, starts browsing through the cheap plastic snow globes when he catches some movement in the parking lot and glances up. There’s a group of seven in leather jackets headed toward the door, laughing and loud, and Stiles watches them as they push open the doors with inhuman strength, sending them flying open. One of them grabs a bag of chips and rips it open, shoves a few in his mouth before throwing the rest of the bag on the ground, stepping on it on his way to the coolers. He punches through the glass of the cooler door, pulls out a beer and punctures the side of the can with a claw, tipping his head back to drink the whole thing in one go. Stiles watches the wounds on his knuckles knit up and heal in front of his eyes and reaches out a hand and quietly and quickly pulls Allison around the end of the aisle and down to the floor with him.
Werewolves, he mouths.
A couple of the others throw fixtures to the ground and destroy merchandise while another slips behind the counter and starts causing mayhem, throwing objects back over his shoulder into the store, picking up the cash register and hurling it toward a row of snacks. The last two – a tall, broad man with a shaved head and a woman with dark hair and a smoky laugh – herd the terrified cashier up against the front of the counter, snapping their teeth and laughing when he flinches back. The cashier flinches as cigarette packs hit the back of his head one by one, tossed by the guy behind the counter as he laughs, canines bright.
“You’re supposed to fight back,” the tall, broad man says, his eyes flashing red.
Stiles pulls out his phone to start a recording, his hand barely peeking out from behind the shelf.
The angle isn’t perfect to get a good picture of all of them, but it’ll have to do. Getting any closer would more than likely draw their attention, and that seems like a really poor choice.
“It’s a lot more fun when your food has bite,” he says, and snaps his teeth again.
“You don’t scare me,” the cashier says, his voice barely audible.
The Alpha grins. “That’s the spirit.”
Stiles glances to his left, looking for a back door, when he spies a woman holding her little boy, crouched down behind the end of the candy section two short aisles over. He frowns. Stiles would know that pink and blonde hair anywhere. She looks over at him, terrified, her eyes widening in recognition, and Stiles grabs Allison’s hand. They quickly and quietly move an aisle closer, and Stiles tentatively holds his phone out again around the corner, watching the werewolves. After a moment Allison squeezes his arm, nods with her head toward a slightly cracked back door, the smallest sliver of daylight available. Stiles nods, and then nods toward Cassandra and her son, and Allison creeps silently over, holds her hand out to the little boy, and puts her finger up to her lips, her eyes darting up to the pack of werewolves at the front of the store. The little boy nods and hugs Cassandra, and Allison swallows hard and keeps her eyes fixed on the front of the store as she slowly creeps backward crouched low, watching the werewolves’ every move. Stiles keeps glancing between Allison and the wolves, watching for any sudden awareness of the four humans huddled in the back of the store, trying to make a break for it, his heart racing.
Finally Allison makes it to the back door and she keeps her eyes focused on the werewolves as she slowly pushes it open far enough for the little boy to fit through the opening. The little boy looks back at Cassandra with his big brown eyes, his lip wobbling, and Cassandra gives him a watery smile and an encouraging nod, her hand flat on her chest. He crawls through.
Allison gestures to Cassandra and Cassandra looks over at Stiles, who glances at her and nods quickly, returning his focus back to the werewolves. He doesn’t hear Cassandra slip through the back door, he doesn’t see it either, but he knows she’s successful because the wolves never move, and when he looks back she’s gone and Allison is gesturing to him, crouched down in front of the door.
Stiles shuts off his phone and slips it in his pocket, backing up slowly and carefully, one hand stretched behind his back and reaching toward Allison. He relaxes a little when he feels her fingers grab his, and he squeezes her hand before they turn and slip through the back door.
As soon as they’re clear they hurry around to the front, breaking into a run and hustling into the Jeep, watching as the Honda sedan guns it out of the lot and speeds down the street, gravel spraying behind its back tires. Stiles’ hand is shaking a little, and he struggles to get the keys in the ignition. He glances back nervously toward the convenience store, swearing and eyes widening when he finds the Alpha standing in front of the window watching them, eyes burning red.
“Shit shit shit!”
He finally jams the keys into the ignition, turns the car on, and peels out of the lot.
“Shit!” he yells, and slams his hand down against the wheel as he presses his foot down on the accelerator and shifts into second, trying to put as much distance between them as fast as he can.
Allison has her body twisted around, staring out through the back of the Jeep, her hand braced on Stiles’ seat, and Stiles glances up at the rearview mirror, breathing hard. The back of her head is blocking most of his view, but just above her head he can see a strip of clear road.
Finally Allison says, “They’re not following us.”
She hesitates then nods, turns in her seat. “I’m sure.”
Stiles exhales a long breath, runs a rough hand through his hair. Allison lets out her own breath and they stare down the empty highway as they try to get their heartbeats to return to normal, nervous eyes still scanning the trees along both sides of the road, checking and double checking and triple checking to make sure there aren’t any shifted werewolves, tracking his car.
Stiles grips the steering wheel a little tighter, looks over at her. “We need to call an emergency meeting. Now.”
“We have a problem,” Stiles says as he pushes the subway station door open, Allison following right behind. “A big, furry, howls at the moon problem, and it’s right outside of town.”
This was apparently exactly the wrong thing to say, because aside from Peter, who watches them all with amusement from a chair off to the side, everyone else starts talking over each other, and won’t let Stiles or Allison get a word in to tell everyone what they know. Finally they give up, glance at each other as everyone else keeps yelling between themselves.
They need Derek.
As if summoned, the door to the station flies open and in comes walking Derek in his scowl and his leather and his clenched fists. Stiles’ own personal, super hot genie.
God, Stiles is happy to see him.
Derek closes the distance between them but stays a half step away, crosses his arms over his chest and raises his eyebrows as he stares Stiles down.
“Okay, no. I know what you’re going to say, and it’s not my fault I’m supernatural catnip or whatever. We were totally there first…pumping gas…minding our own business…and then suddenly, werewolves.” He pauses a beat then says, “Which to be fair, could totally be a tagline for my life.” He sweeps his hand through the air in a rainbow arc. “Suddenly, werewolves!”
“How many were there?” Derek asks.
“At least seven,” Allison says, and Stiles pulls out his phone, keys up the video and hands it over to Derek.
Everyone crowds around Derek and Stiles’ phone, and Jackson leans in, says, “Is that our waitress?”
“Yeah. She had her kid with her.”
“I don’t see a kid,” Erica says, and frowns.
“He must’ve been out of the frame. I wasn’t trying to take video of them. I was a little focused on the werewolves in front of me, threatening to make the cashier their next chew toy. Shit,” he says, and ducks his head, closing his eyes. “The cashier. Shit!”
He walks away from the group, scrubs a hand through his hair and then kicks a chair, sending it colliding with the table before it lands on its back, rocking gently before settling, the loud crash reverberating through the station.
“SHIT!” he screams, fists clenching and body bending in half.
“Hey hey…there was nothing we could do, Stiles,” Allison says as she catches up to him, puts her hand on his shoulder. “There was nothing we could do. There were seven of them and two of us, and we weren’t armed. We got Cassandra and her son out, and we got ourselves out safely. That’s all we could do.”
“She’s right, Stiles.”
Stiles looks up and finds Derek staring at him intently, the rest of the pack quietly watching them.
“You did exactly what you should’ve done.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, and shakes his head. “Doesn’t mean I don’t feel like a gigantic asshole, though.”
There will always be casualties in this world, people you have to leave behind, people you can’t save. People you know, people you don’t. They don’t show that in the recruitment video, though. It’s not in the So You Want to Run with Werewolves pamphlet. You have to learn that the hard way.
Derek continues watching him long after everyone else has looked away. Stiles blinks first, and swallows, and looks away to find Peter watching him, understanding. Stiles looks away from him too.
Stiles is pretty sure he’s not ready for Peter to be understanding.
“Which one’s the Alpha?” Boyd asks.
“The guy in the front on the right,” Stiles says quietly, crossing his arms. “Tall one, shaved head.”
Derek replays the video a few more times before handing Stiles his phone back. The rest of them step back, sedate.
“Did they see either of you?”
“Oh yeah,” Stiles says.
“He stood at the window and watched us drive away,” Allison says.
“Like the creeping creeper he is,” Stiles adds.
Derek frowns. “He just watched you drive away?”
“He didn’t try and follow you?”
“No. Not that we saw.”
“And we were looking,” Allison adds.
Derek turns, crosses his arms, shares a look with Peter.
Derek ignores him, says, “Until further notice, no one travels alone. Especially Stiles, Allison, and Lydia. Got it?”
“Derek…,” he says, stepping up to him. “Why didn’t they follow us?”
He pauses. “I don’t know.”
“But it’s probably nothing good.”
The pause is longer this time, heavier.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Of course,” Stiles mutters to himself.
Just once it’d be nice if a supernatural creature decided leaving the pack alone was the best course of action. They need to come across an introverted dragon. Or a timid gnome.
God…he was having such a fucking good day too.
The meeting that breaks up is a lot more somber than when it started, and Allison asks for a couple of minutes to speak to Lydia before they leave. Stiles tells her to take her time, that he’ll meet her back at the car.
Stiles turns just as he reaches his car, leans up against the driver’s side door and waits for Derek to reach him, eyes intent and pupils red rimmed, boots crunching against the gravel.
“Hey,” Stiles says when Derek finally reaches him and stops, leans into Stiles’ space like he belongs there.
Derek brings a hand up and rests it on Stiles’ jaw, runs his thumb over Stiles’ lips then ducks his head, runs his nose along the column of Stiles’ throat, leaving little huffing breaths in his wake, rumbling low in the back of his throat.
Finally Derek pulls back, shakes his head.
“I know,” Stiles says. “So much trouble.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“No,” Stiles says, shaking his head. “She and I started the day together, and we’re going to end it together. Leaving her now would feel like abandoning her midstream or something. And this was a really good day for the two of us, furry problem notwithstanding. We’ll be alright.”
Allison comes walking up and gets in the passenger side, and Stiles rises, pulls open his door and gets in.
Derek leans in through the car window, looks at them both. “That wasn’t an easy decision you had to make today. I’m proud of you for keeping each other safe, for looking after each other, and for saving an innocent woman and her child.”
Allison gives him a smile and Derek leans in a little further, gives Stiles a kiss.
“No side trips, no detours. Get home. I’ll see you in a few.”
He backs up just far enough to clear the side of the Jeep, and Stiles starts his car, puts it in reverse, and pulls out of the parking lot onto a deserted dark road, headlights showing him the way.
A few minutes into the drive he looks over at Allison, finds her smiling at him.
“What?” When she raises her eyebrows at him, he says, “Oh come on…you already knew. I know you knew.”
“Well, yes. We all do.”
Stiles just nods because yeah, of course they do. They’re not stupid, nor are they unobservant. And Derek may not have kissed Stiles in front of any of them before now, but with Derek it’s usually about the little stuff anyway. He’s more a remember your favorite soup and bring you a homemade pint of it when you’re feeling sick kind of guy, not so much a run down the street and profess his undying love for you in sonnet form kind of guy. But the love is there. Man, is it there.
Also, Stiles used the L word in front of Isaac. He probably started spreading it around to everybody a half second after he was out of Jackson’s car.
Her smile softens, becomes wistful and fond. “But it’s nice to see him open up around us, to trust the rest of us with his happiness. Seeing our Alpha happy…I think it makes the rest of us feel like we’re stronger, as a pack.”
He’s never heard Allison call Derek her Alpha before and he reaches over, takes her hand and squeezes it. She wraps his hand in both of hers, squeezes back.
“The Alpha is going to come after the two of us first. Isn’t he?”
“Yeah. Probably.” He glances over at her. “Isn’t that what you’d do if you were him?”
Stiles makes the final turn into the partially lit Beacon Hills High student parking lot, and pulls to a stop next to Allison’s car, sitting alone in an otherwise empty lot.
Stiles leaves his car idling and they both look around, scanning the trees and the bushes and the dark spots.
“God…why do schools always look creepy at night?” he mutters.
“Oh…I hate this,” she breathes out, eyes darting across the parking lot. “Searching for predators in the shadows. I feel like I’m about to be that girl who runs upstairs in a horror movie.”
“You’d never be that girl. You’d be the one who runs down the street in her bare feet with a bat and saves everybody’s asses.” She gives him a grateful smile and he says, “I can just drive you home right now. Give you a ride to school in the morning?”
“No.” She shakes her head. “If I come home without my car my mom and my grandpa will be suspicious, and…”
She shakes her head again.
“They’ve been acting strangely lately. Talking secretively, asking me where I’m going all the time…excluding my dad, which they’ve never done before.”
“Huh,” Stiles says, and makes a mental note to tell Derek about that.
“Yeah.” She turns, looks out through the back of the Jeep. “I don’t see anyone. Do you?”
“I think we’re as all clear as we’re gonna get.”
She jumps out of the Jeep, keys in hand, and slips into her car, locking the door immediately. Stiles puts the Jeep in gear and waits until she backs up before following her closely, out of the parking lot.
He checks his rearview mirror almost obsessively on the drive to her house, and when he’s not checking what’s behind them, he’s keeping his eye on Allison.
He lets out a big sigh when her house comes into view, parks next to the curb right in front of her house and hops out, jogging over to her.
“Thanks again for today, Stiles,” she says as they walk over to her front door, both of them tracking the darkness with their eyes, ill at ease.
“The pleasure’s all mine,” he says, and nudges her shoulder with his. “Oh, I almost forgot…a memento.”
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small plastic snow globe, holds it out in the middle of his palm for her to take. She does, gives it a shake, laughs as the fake snow falls down on the little gold panner.
“I love it.”
“Good, although full disclosure? I totally stole it. Sorry.”
“Me too,” she says with a barely concealed grin as she reaches into her own pocket and pulls out Stiles’ pink golf ball, holding it out to him.
“My pink ball! Nice.”
He pockets the ball as the front porch light comes on and the door opens and Mr. Argent appears, leaning into the side of the doorframe, looking at Stiles.
“Allison…go on in and get washed up for dinner.”
She stows the snow globe in her pocket, gives Stiles a smile. “See you at school tomorrow, Stiles.”
“Night,” he says as he nods.
He gives Mr. Argent a nervous half salute, barely resisting the urge to bow as he retreats, and stuffs his hands in the pockets of his hoodie before he turns and starts toward his car, looking down at the ground.
Look…dude is intimidating, alright?
He turns back.
Mr. Argent’s words are measured and careful as he says, “You take care of her. You watch her back, right?”
Stiles hesitates before he says, “I think you and I both know she can take care of herself. I mean…she’s incredible.” He narrows his eyes, tilts his head. “Like, crazy incredible. And at least some of that is because of you.”
There’s a long pause and then Mr. Argent nods, finally, and Stiles turns to go again before turning back, one more time.
“But yeah…I’ve got her back. ‘Course I do.”
Mr. Argent nods again, more commiserating this time, and looks up and over Stiles’ shoulder, smiling when he says, “Derek.”
Stiles turns, rolls his eyes when he sees Derek sitting in the passenger seat of his Jeep, waiting for him.
“Chris,” Derek says, his voice loud enough for their human ears to hear.
Stiles nods at him. “Night Mr. Argent.”
“Call me Chris,” he says and Stiles just nods again, mostly because he has no idea what to say to that, but also because he doesn’t want to ruin this super strange kumbaya bonding moment they’ve got going on.
“Get home safe.”
Stiles hurries down the walkway, hears the front door to Allison’s house close behind him.
“I said no detours.”
Ah, Derek’s constipation face. Stiles’ old buddy.
“It wasn’t a detour, it was totally planned. Just because I didn’t let you in on this one tiny little part of the plan doesn’t mean it wasn’t actually in the plan the whole time and oh my God, did you follow us the whole way?”
“Get in the car, Stiles.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he says, walks over and climbs in his car, starts it up.
“There’s a pack out there with a violent, aggressive Alpha, and he’s focused on you.”
Stiles spares him a glance. “Yeah, but he doesn’t necessarily know I’m a member of a pack. That’s to our advantage, right?”
He puts the Jeep in gear and starts down the street.
“He knows,” Derek says darkly.
“How do you know that?”
“Because the outside of your car stinks of foreign wolves. The inside still smells like me, like pack.”
He looks over, alarmed. “The outside of my car smells like them?”
“Like, in an I gave your car a friendly appreciative pat when I walked by kind of way, orrrr…”
“They ran their hands the entire length of your car,” Derek says through gritted teeth. “They wanted me to smell them. They’re taunting me, and threatening you.”
“Awesome,” Stiles breathes out and swallows hard. “That’s not going to give me nightmares tonight.”
He makes the turn for his street, rubs an anxious hand through his hair.
“Hey…positive: Mr. Argent totally loves me now,” he says, and glances over to find Derek watching him. “I mean he still scares the shit out of me, but I think that’s just self-preservation talking.”
He parks in the driveway, turns off the ignition, sits there and stares at his hands, clenched on the steering wheel.
He lets out a long, low breath.
“I’m not leaving you tonight, Stiles,” he says, deep and low and full of promises. “I’m not going to let him get to you.”
Stiles lets his eyes fall shut briefly before he shakes himself and yanks his keys from the ignition, pulls his backpack out of the back seat.
“Let’s go inside,” Stiles says.
Derek follows him without speaking but Stiles can feel his eyes on him as he unlocks the front door, as he flips on the light in the family room, as he drops his bag by the stairs and walks into the kitchen, flipping on that light too.
“Stiles,” Derek says, and Stiles looks up.
“How do you feel about a sandwich? I don’t really feel like making anything big for dinner.”
He sighs, deflates. “You can’t stay tonight.” When Derek starts to object, Stiles says, “You can’t. I’m already in trouble with my dad for playing hooky today, and I’m pretty sure one of his punishments is going to be a cut back on boyfriend time.”
“He caught you.”
“No. I called him. Told him what I was doing. I wanted to be upfront about it.”
Derek raises his eyebrows. “You wanted to be punished?”
“Look…Allison needed me, and I wanted to be there for her, I needed to be there for her, but this is the closest I’ve been to my dad in a long time and I wasn’t going to ruin that by lying to him again.”
“Fine,” he says, though he’s definitely not happy about it. “I’ll come back through the window, after he’s asleep.”
“No you won’t. You respect him, and you respect his rules.”
“This is about your life, Stiles. Much as I respect your father, I’m willing to break a few rules if it means saving your life.”
Stiles shakes his head. “Derek-”
“Don’t ask me not to protect you!”
In the silence after Stiles can hear the hum of the refrigerator, the slick slide and click of Derek’s nails against the tile countertop. He drops his head for a moment then looks back up, back up to Derek’s desperate, pained face, and not until that moment does Stiles realize exactly what Derek thinks he’s asking him to do: to stand by and let Stiles be unprotected. To make Derek watch one more time as the safety of someone he cares about is out of his hands.
“I’m not. I’m asking you to trust me. I’ve been…playing around with a few spells, combining things here and there, looking for a way to protect my dad when neither of us are here, and I think I’ve come up with something that’ll work. Some wards, for the house. But I haven’t tested them yet.”
“Because my boyfriend’s a werewolf.”
Derek flicks his eyebrows up, waits for Stiles to continue.
“I’m new to this. The only thing I’ve done so far is manage to make a few knives fly, so I’m not even sure if I can get it to work in the first place, and even if I can I don’t have the precision to make super specific wards that keep some werewolves in and some werewolves out. If I put them up and they work, you won’t be able to enter. And I’m not sure I’ll be able to figure out how to take them down after.”
“Put them up,” Derek says, not an ounce of hesitation in his voice.
“Derek, did you hear me? I’m not sure I’ll be able to remove them.”
“You’re putting them up,” he says, voice even firmer.
“We won’t be able to…” He trails off, gestures weakly upstairs toward his bedroom.
“When the time comes you’ll figure it out,” he says, voice softening. “I know you will.” He comes around the side of the counter. “We’ll put them up right before I leave, so I can test them.”
“That’s assuming they’ll work.”
“They’ll work,” he says, full of quiet confidence. Stiles wishes he could feel the same.
Derek makes dinner, but neither of them are all that hungry, so mostly they pick at it for about ten minutes before they give up and box the rest of it up. Then Derek stands without a word, walks outside the front door, turns and faces Stiles. Nods.
Stiles licks his lips, lifts his hands.
The words aren’t difficult, and it helps that Stiles has them memorized. He closes his eyes and pushes his will into his words, the same way he does with the knives, but feels nothing when he’s done chanting. He’s not sure if that’s a good sign or a bad sign or hell, a neutral sign, since the books don’t say anything about whether he’s supposed to feel tingles in his toes or sparks in his fingers or what the hell ever.
On the other hand, maybe his translation skills just suck.
He looks at Derek and shrugs and Derek steps forward, reaches out a hand, and is immediately pushed back the moment he tries to cross the threshold.
They work. His wards work.
“Told you,” Derek says, a small smile tilting his lips. He turns his head, looks down the street. “Your dad’s coming.”
He’s a little early.
“You know the sound of his car?” Stiles asks in disbelief.
“No. All the police cruisers sound the same,” Derek says dismissively. “I can hear his voice. He’s singing along to the radio.”
Derek just smiles.
“Oh come on! You can’t say that and then not tell me! I need something embarrassing to hold over his head once in a while. It’s part of the complexity of a single parent, only child relationship. God…was it a bad seventies song? Please tell me it was something people used to do the hustle to.”
“Tell you what…if you promise to be careful, to not take any unnecessary risks until we take care of that pack…then when they’re gone, I’ll tell you what song it was.”
“Do you want the deal or not?”
Stiles can see his dad’s car now, about halfway down the block, and Derek backs away, starting to fade away into the darkness.
“Ugh…fine!” he calls after him, and Derek smirks before he retreats totally out of view. “Deal!”
“Son,” John says as he pulls up slowly in front of the house, next to the curb. “Why are you standing outside on the porch yelling at the bushes?”
“Would you believe I was passing time waiting for you?”
“Not for a moment.”
Stiles shrugs and heads inside, sits on the back of the couch as he waits for his dad. He’s figuring some major grounding, a fair amount of manual labor, and some strictly enforced Derek-free time is probably in his cards, although Stiles is crossing his fingers he might be a little more lenient on the last one.
Either way, probably best to get it over with. No sense in dragging this out.
“Okay,” John says as he walks in, shuts the door firmly behind himself. “We’re going to get right to it because I have to be on shift again in less than seven hours, and I’m beat.”
“You just came off shift.”
John rubs a hand over his forehead. “Angela Marsden had to take her son to the hospital tonight.”
“Eric? Is he going to be okay?”
“Yeah. It’s his appendix. They got it in time, but she’s a single mom, so…”
“So you’re doing your Sheriff-y duty and covering her shift.”
He nods. “Okay kid, here’s the deal: You have to come home every day after school this week, Derek is not allowed in this house again until Sunday morning breakfast, and this Saturday you will be spending some quality time with me at the station. First, you’re going to wash and detail every patrol car. When you’re done with that, Tara has a big stack of back filing she needs a hand with. And when you’re done with that, the break room fridge needs a nice, deep cleaning.”
Stiles waits for more, but nothing comes. That’s it. No real grounding? No surrendering of electronics? No you must come home directly from school every day until you graduate, no exceptions, do not pass Go, do not collect $200? This is a token punishment, at worst.
He raises his eyebrows. “Did you want more?”
“Nope! No!” He raises his hands in surrender. “I’m totally happy with my punishment. Ecstatic, even. Over the moon!”
“Yeah,” John says wryly, “I figured.” John sighs then, his shoulders dropping as he takes off his sidearm, checks it, and locks it away. “Your friend is lucky to have you.”
Stiles swallows. “I’m lucky to have her.”
John gives him a small, tired nod. “No more Ferris Bueller impersonations, alright?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, and smiles to himself. “You got it.”
John nods one more time and gives Stiles a halfhearted wave as he trudges up the stairs, toward his bed. “Goodnight Stiles.”
“Night,” he says, rises from the back of the couch, turns off the lights, checks the doors and windows are locked, and follows his dad upstairs, sending Derek a text as he walks.
punishment was light. just grounded for the rest of this week plus some manual labor plus house is a you free zone til sun, not like you can get in anyway until I fix the wards. how you gonna survive w/out cuddling and special sexytimes?
Stiles sneaks his fingers through the slats of his blinds, engages the rarely-used lock on his window, peers out through the gap at the quiet street, eyes scanning the darkness before he turns, strips, pulls on a pair of Batman pj pants and a black tee.
Sorry. Who’s this?
He snorts as he pulls back the covers and climbs into bed, types a quick response, tosses his phone on his side table, and shuts off the light.
When Stiles was eight, a kid his age went missing from a little town about thirty miles east of Beacon Hills. The local news put his school picture up on the hour, every hour, as they talked about what a sweet kid he was, how much he loved his little sister, how trusting he was. His name was Steven Krakowski, and they found him a week after he disappeared, gagged and bound and left in the trunk of an abandoned, rusted-out Buick.
Stiles didn’t know any of the details at the time, since he’d yet to grow into a nosy little shit with the habit of snooping through his dad’s case files, but he knew a kid was missing, and that the kid looked a little bit like him, and for a week his dad was gone at all hours of the day until the night he came home at dinnertime, looking tired and sad. No one had to tell Stiles what that meant.
That night his dad pulled him outside to his patrol car and popped the trunk, and showed Stiles exactly how to kick out a tail light. He showed him where the most vulnerable parts were on a person’s body, and had Stiles mimic hitting those parts over and over again. He showed him how to break out of zip ties and duct tape. He told him to scream bloody murder if anyone ever tried to take him, but that if they succeeded, he needed to pay attention to his surroundings. He taught him to stop, to look, to listen. And he drilled it into him over and over and over again.
Remember Mischief…Mischief, listen! Remember…no matter what, try to stay calm, assess the situation, and always always listen to your instincts.
He knows he’s been taken. He figured that out the second he came to on a wooden chair and not in his bed. The rest of it he’s pieced together slowly, catalogued every detail he could while he pretended to sleep, keeping his breathing as even as possible so whoever it is that kept walking by continued to leave him alone.
Based on contextual evidence, he knows he’s outside and he’s restrained, though he’s not sure how yet – it doesn’t feel like rope or chains or zip ties. But every time he tries to move even the smallest bit, his arms and legs hold fast to the chair, so whatever they’re using, it works. There’s at least four sets of feet but he’s going to assume there’s more of them than that. Better to overestimate than under. So, educated guess…that Alpha and his pack came after him. Goody. He’s never going to hear the end of this from Derek.
They had to have taken him from his house because he’s still in his pajamas and the last thing he remembers is texting Derek, but how the hell did they manage to do that? They must’ve whammied him somehow because his head is pounding, so that explains at least part of it, but how did they get in the house if the wards worked on Derek? And oh God…what about his dad? Did they pass him by or did they take him too? Is his dad okay? Shit…don’t let them have taken his dad too.
“I know you’re awake.”
Stiles lifts his head from his chest, opens his eyes and immediately winces, recoiling at the bright daylight and squeezing his eyes shut again.
“Yeah, sorry about that. The comedown’s a real bitch.”
He turns his head in the direction of the smoky, feminine voice and opens his eyes just wide enough to let a little light in, more cautious this time. He can’t see the owner of the voice, but he can guess via process of elimination who it is. As far as he knows, their pack only has one female member, though Stiles guesses they could’ve been hiding some others somewhere. Maybe they weren’t all there at the Pump ‘N Go.
At least he knows exactly where he is now: the preserve. His chair is positioned right in front of the petrified troll, the toes of one bared foot extending out just past his own feet. If he tilts his head back he knows he’ll see the troll’s outstretched hand, its arm covered in graffiti.
The taggers in this town. Zero respect for petrified supernatural creatures.
His eyes finally adjust and he looks up, sees an empty wooden chair positioned right across from him and just beyond that, a few yards back, two of the werewolves from the gas station convenience store standing there silently with their hands behind their backs, watching him. One of them is the Alpha. Stiles winces as his head pounds in time with his heartbeat, eyes them as he moves to rub his head and only manages to jerk his shoulder a little.
Right. He can’t move his hands. They’re pinned down.
“Hey Moe…Curly…either of you got an aspirin?”
Look, Stiles knows it’s not the smartest idea to provoke a hostile Alpha or his meathead Beta sidekick, but he’s got to figure out what he’s working with here. Stay calm, assess the situation.
They blink impassively at him, even the Alpha. He narrows his eyes, stares at the Alpha. What self-respecting leather clad leader of wolves lets a lowly human mouth off at him without flashing a little claw or fang?
“I’m going to take that as a no,” he mutters, turns his head and immediately goes cold, eyes widening as he tries to jerk up out of his chair only to be reminded that he’s stuck fast. To his right are Boyd, Allison, and Jackson in that order, Jackson closest to Stiles. The guys are held captive by circles of mountain ash and Allison is being literally held by one of the werewolves, one large hand clamped over her mouth, the other around her wrists, pinned behind her back, her open black duffle at his feet. Boyd watches Stiles calmly, face serious and shoulders tense as his eyes scan Stiles and then redirect to scan the entire area, assessing, but Jackson is wolfed out, growling and baring his teeth, trying to push at a barrier that won’t give. Stiles should be hearing the loud roar, but it’s like someone’s put Jackson on mute. A picture with no sound. Stiles shakes his head, blinks, listens again. Nothing.
Boyd’s eyes meet his then lift up, looking pointedly past Stiles, and Stiles gets the hint and whips his head to the other side, feels his stomach sink even further. He grits his teeth, trying to get up from his chair, even though he knows it won’t work. To his left are Lydia, furthest away from him and held in check by a werewolf of her own, eyes boring into Stiles. She’s followed by Erica, claws and fangs out and blood matted in her blonde hair, trapped behind a mountain ash ring. Next to her is Isaac, claws out and watching everything with wide eyes, and then Derek, closest to Stiles, in ripped clothes, covered in blood. He growls out something, fighting against his own unbreakable barrier, his eyes fixed to Stiles. He’s saying something, but Stiles can’t hear him and he’s no good at reading lips either. He grunts and squeezes his eyes shut briefly, shakes his head and tries to hear him again.
“You’re clever, Stiles. Cleverer than I thought you would be.”
The voice finally comes closer, out from behind the troll, and its owner sits down in the chair across from Stiles and crosses her legs, resting her wrists on top of one another on her knee as she smiles at Stiles, tossing her curled pink and blonde ombre hair.
Like Stiles said, he’d know that hair anywhere.
“I’m glad,” she says. “You can teach a lot of things, but not cleverness.”
He stares at Cassandra hard, furrows his eyebrows as she smiles at him serenely. He runs it all over in his mind, every single last detail, as he stares at her, as he takes her in. Circe and the warehouse. The werewolf bikers and the parking lot. The troll and Paulie’s. The redcaps and the preserve. She seems amused by his examination of her. Patient. The fingers of her right hand play with a ring on the middle finger of her left hand, spinning it around her finger gently, rotating it around its axis, and Stiles stares at that ring, at the simple band with some sort of inscription he’s too far away to read, and simple as that, it comes to him. It washes over him like a wave of understanding. He sees how everything connects. The answer was in front of him for weeks, and he missed it. Lydia was right.
She’s going to love making him say that later.
“You. You’re what they all had in common.”
She’s been delivering him his breakfast a few times a week for the last couple of months. Why couldn’t he have opened his fucking eyes?
“Yes,” she says.
“Circe was your sister.”
He nods and she grins and says approvingly, “Very good, Stiles.”
“I should’ve seen it earlier,” he mutters and shakes his head. Her name is Cassandra, for God’s sake. Cassandra and Circe. How much more obvious can you get?
“Oh don’t be so hard on yourself. No one else even thought they were connected. Just you.”
“Yay,” he says. “I’ll plan an awards ceremony.” He eyes her. “So you’re a witch, just like your sister. I would guess that’s why I can’t move from my chair even though I’m not tied down.”
“And the fact that I can’t hear my pack…you’d have something to do with that too, I’m guessing?”
“You’re batting a thousand, Stiles. A simple little spell. Necessary. It was getting tiresome listening to them. They kept going on and on about what they were going to do to me if I hurt you.”
“Yeah, well…they care about me.”
“Yes,” she says. “They do. Dogs are very loyal that way.”
“They’re not dogs,” he grits out.
She waves a hand through the air between them. “Good as. Little beasts, all of them. Easy to control, to influence.”
Stiles’ eyes scan up and over her shoulder to the Alpha still standing there, impassive. The Alpha blinks once, slowly, and Stiles drops his head suddenly as a wave of nausea comes over him. Any Alpha would be snarling at her words, at the least. Sharpening their claws, showing their teeth. In Stiles’ experience, werewolves don’t enjoy being called little beasts, as if they’re nothing more than base instincts and aggression.
“Do all witches have specialties?” he asks softly, carefully.
“Usually, yes,” she says, delighted and proud, and Stiles feels sick.
“And yours is the mind. You can control what people see, what they hear. You can control them. Turn them into puppets, make them do what you want them to do.”
“I prefer the word thralls, but sure…if you like.”
He looks over at the Alpha again, standing there impassively, trapped inside his own powerful, useless body. Stiles and Allison were never in any danger at the Pump ‘N Go. It was all a performance, a test. An illusion, custom made for Stiles.
“You don’t have a kid, do you?”
She grins. “It’s pretty easy, once you get the hang of it. One simple spell can make someone see all kinds of things. Like thinking your gas tank is on empty, when really it’s not.”
She doesn’t have a kid, Stiles didn’t need to stop for gas. She’s been playing a game with Stiles this whole time, asking him to see her, to find her, to pay attention.
“It’s an elegant little spell. I’ll be happy to teach it to you, once this is all over.”
And if she can control a whole pack of werewolves at one time, how difficult could it really be for her to control a troll or a few redcaps?
“I’m sorry about your sister.”
She sobers. “Thank you.”
“You were close?”
“As close as two sisters can be. We’re all we had left.”
“And you’re the older sister.” It’s an easy connection to make. “It was your job to take care of her.”
She laughs, wetly. “She made it hard sometimes. But I never minded taking care of her, looking out for her.” She smiles to herself. “I loved her.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save her. But she wouldn’t listen, no matter what I said.”
“I’m sure you did everything you could,” she says soothingly, as if trying to assuage Stiles. “She could be like that sometimes. Tunnel-visioned, when she saw something she wanted.” She looks back up at Stiles. “You know, she called me the day before she died, told me she’d met this boy. Just…bumped into him in a bookstore, of all places. In the graphic novels section.” Her eyes brighten, spark, and she smiles slowly as she looks at Stiles. “She said he smelled like fire and oxygen and electricity. Like a summer storm. Like magic, sparking in the air. I haven’t heard her sound so excited in years.”
She looks at him pointedly and Stiles says, eyebrows rising to his hairline, practically choking on his own words, “Me? You mean me?”
“Who else would I mean?”
“I don’t know,” he says, “like, literally anyone else? Look…your sister was clearly going through some things when she came through town. She must have mistaken me for someone else. Gotten confused. I’m just a human teenager. Zero percent supernatural over here.”
“She’s been going through some things for years. It’s hard losing your parents. But that doesn’t mean she was wrong. You are everything she claimed you were and more. Even sitting here right now, across from you, I can feel your spark in the air. It’s…addictive.”
She gets a manic glint to her eye and Stiles recoils.
“Clearly you’re untrained, though. Selfish little beasts, keeping your power from you,” she hisses through her teeth. “Keeping you impotent.”
“What are you talking about?” he asks, jerking and testing the bonds. They’re holding tight.
“Isn’t it obvious, Stiles?” she asks, as if he should have made the connection by now. “That’s why they’re all drawn to you. That’s why they trust you, even though their little brains don’t really understand why.”
Before he can stop the impulse, his head is turning to look at Derek. Derek is motionless behind his barrier, eyes boring with aching intensity into Stiles, and Stiles breathes, feels the momentary feeling of panic wash away.
It’s a lie. One of her shitty diversions. A poorly executed sleight of hand. She doesn’t know Derek. Stiles does. And if he knew Stiles was capable of doing more than moving a few stupid pencils, he’d never keep anything like that from him.
“I know your training has been lax, but don’t worry…I’m going to fix that. After we get rid of them, of course.”
Stiles’ head whips back to Cassandra then to his friends, his boyfriend, trapped and angry, fighting against their bonds, snarling and snapping and pushing against their mountain ash barriers.
“What? Over my dead fucking body, lady.”
“No, Stiles. Over theirs.”
Stiles strains forward in his chair, fighting against his own bonds as much as he can, and she frowns at him.
“They murdered my sister, Stiles. They need to pay for that.”
“I’m sorry for what happened to your sister, Cassandra, I really am, but it was an accident. She killed herself.”
“She threw a spell at us and it misfired. They didn’t do anything to her.”
“They’re dirty little beasts, Stiles.” She leans forward, spits out her words with razor sharp syllables, eyes boring into his, compelling him to understand her, to agree. “I know it’s hard for you to see that because they’re right in front of you, because you’re so loyal. But time will help that. Distance will help that.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” he bites out.
“I can’t train you properly here. You’d be too distracted. And a distracted spark makes for an unfocused witch.”
“You think I’d go anywhere with you?”
“Stiles…it’s for the best. After they die, you won’t have any reason to be here anyway.”
“Fuck you,” he spits out, straining forward in his chair, toes gripping into the grass beneath his feet. “Oh God…fuck you so hard! What are you gonna do? Make me watch while you kill them so you can teach me some bullshit lesson about losing the people you love? So I can channel that rage into becoming some Merlin level wizard? Well guess fucking what lady? I learned that lesson a long time ago. You’re a little late to the fucking party.”
“Stiles,” she says, sitting back with wide eyes, mouth parting, “I’d never make you watch. I’m not cruel.”
“You and I have very different definitions of the word cruel.”
“I’m sure this will hurt now, but in the long run, you’ll see it was the right thing to do. I’m doing what’s best for you.”
“Oh God…that’s such bullshit. You want to live out some revenge fantasy because your sister was a fucking psycho.”
She clenches her jaw, sits upright in the chair. “Careful, Stiles.”
But see…Stiles has never been all that good at being careful. Careful isn’t his specialty.
“Clearly, there’s one hell of a family resemblance.”
The pain is white-hot, sudden and intense, and all over his body. His limbs contract and he screams, drops his head, slams his eyes shut. For a moment he can feel his arms and legs slipping in their bonds and then the intensity of the pain is gone, washing away from him. He pants, open-mouthed, as his eyes suddenly flicker open and he sees long, wide gashes starting to knit themselves back together on his arms, on the backs of his hands, on the tops of his feet. He watches as short stripes of blood bloom and blossom on the fabric of his pajama pants over his thighs.
“I know you didn’t really mean it, Stiles,” She says quietly. “You’re angry, and you’re lashing out.”
“How would you expect me to be?” he mutters. “Do you think I’m supposed to thank you?”
“Not now, no. I’m not selfish.”
His head whips up. He still hasn’t quite caught his breath, and he pants a few more times before he says, “You want to kill almost anyone who means anything to me because your family died, and you don’t think you’re selfish?”
“I’m doing this for you, Stiles,” she says firmly, mouth a straight arrow.
“No, you’re not,” he spits out. “You’re doing it for yourself. At least have the balls to admit it, you fucking bitch.”
The pain is back, sharper and harder this time, and the scream Stiles lets out this time breaks his voice in two. His head falls forward as the pain recedes, slower this time, as if she’s dragging out the ache, and his mouth parts and his eyes flutter open to see a whole new batch of cuts on his limbs knitting themselves back together, leaving behind shiny pink lines that eventually dull. The blood from the cuts has dripped down his arms and over his fingers and splattered into the grass below his chair, and when he looks down at his lap, he can see the blood-soaked tops of his pajama pants, the rivulets of blood that have snaked down his legs and cascaded over the tops of his feet.
“I can keep this up all day, Stiles.”
“Good,” he spits out. “So can I.”
She stands from her chair. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Really?” She nods insistently and Stiles sags into the back of his chair. “All you’ve done since you met me is hurt me. So I’d say you’re doing a piss poor job of it.”
She grits her teeth. “Are you sure you want to test me? This is just the start of what I can do.”
“Bring it on, psycho.”
She looks at him a long time and he stares back hard, and then she lifts her hand, disappointment shining through her, and simply snaps her fingers. Stiles screams as his right forearm snaps in half, pain radiating up to his shoulder and down to his fingers. He feels the bile come up and he swallows harshly, feeling the burn as it goes back down his throat.
“I think I’ll let you live with that pain. Teach you a little lesson.”
“Yeah?” Stiles grits out as he looks up at her through tear-soaked lashes. “And what lesson is that? Never trust a chick who brings you waffles and wants to kill your family?”
If he could hear his friends right now, if he could hear Derek, he knows what they would be saying, what they would be screaming at him. Shut up, Stiles. Stiles, no. Stiles, please. But he can’t stop talking, he can’t stop goading her. If he does, she’ll look away from Stiles. Once she does, she’ll remember his pack is there. And once he loses control of her, killing them is the first thing she’ll do. And Stiles can’t have that. He can’t have anyone dying for him. Stiles is who she wants, Stiles is who she’s focused on, and that means she’ll drag it out with him as long as he can keep her focused on him. Hopefully it’ll be long enough for Stiles to come up with a plan.
He may not be fast, he may not be strong, but no one has his mouth. And no one is as stubborn as he is.
“I haven’t taken your family, Stiles. Do you see your father anywhere? He would have been the easiest of all to take, and I didn’t,” she says earnestly, as if Stiles should thank her for her forbearance or something. As if he should thank her for her kindness.
But at least he has the answer to that question. She didn’t take his dad too. His dad is safe.
His eyes stray to the werewolves behind her and then to Boyd, off to the side, watching him silently.
“How did they get into my house? I put up wards.”
“They were nicely executed too. Much better than I would have expected from someone without training. Wards can be tricky little things. It’s easy for them to go wrong. But yours were perfect…basic but perfect.”
“But you were able to break them anyway.”
“Yes, but it certainly took me a lot longer than I thought it would,” she says, no small measure of pride directed toward Stiles and his magic. “You nearly messed up my schedule this morning.”
Time and callous murder wait for no bitch.
“He is rather pretty, isn’t he?” she says almost absentmindedly as she looks over at Derek, takes a few steps closer to him, wrinkles her nose. “Even covered in blood. I suppose I can see why you were attracted to him in a visceral, animal sort of way.”
She whips her head his direction, anger quickly marring her face. “Careful, Stiles. When we’re long gone I won’t forget any of these slights.”
“And you think I will?”
“I think I’m a lot stronger than you are,” She says lowly, as she steps closer, as she puts her full attention on Stiles. “I think you forget that.”
“I don’t think you’re giving me enough fucking credit,” he says as he glares up at her, teeth gritted. “I will annihilate you, and I’ll make you feel every moment of it. You have my word.”
“Did you know that when both carotid arteries are compressed at the same time, that it can take only fifteen to twenty seconds to lose consciousness? That’s it,” she says quietly, lifts her hand, and squeezes her hand together and Stiles gasps, his arms breaking free from their bonds.
He starts scrabbling at the invisible hand at his throat with his left hand, trying unsuccessfully and desperately to knock it away as his right arm hangs broken and useless. The tears come to his eyes, and he can feel the dizziness coming over him when the hand is suddenly gone and Stiles is gasping, trying to pull in as many breaths as he can into burning, aching lungs.
“That was only five seconds,” she says, her voice right next to his ear, and Stiles winces as he pulls his face away from hers, his body shaking and trembling. His eyes land on Allison’s feet, on the way they’re scrambling and fighting at the dirt, and he looks up at her and meets her eye. The moment she does she stops struggling against the werewolf holding her, and he can see her fear, her anxiety, shining out through her eyes, but he can see her sheer strength too, and it makes him feel a little lighter. His eyes drop to the unzipped bag at her feet, the shiny flash of metal just barely visible in the front pocket.
“You know, there’s another human here. Are you going to kill her too?”
“She made her bed.”
“So did I, but you want to take me away from all this, don’t you? Why not take her too? Or let her go. By your standards, she’s no animal.”
“As I said Stiles, she made her choice,” she says firmly. “And now she’ll have to live with those consequences. I get no pleasure in ordering her life to be ended.”
“But you’ll do it anyway.”
“It needs to be done.”
“Yeah…that’s what sociopaths always say.”
The hand isn’t invisible this time – it’s Cassandra’s. She yanks him up out of the chair and holds him aloft, as if he weighs no more than a cat, her hand just barely cutting off his airway. Stiles tries to suck in a breath, tries to knock her hand off his throat, but she’s too strong, fire burning behind her eyes. She backs off enough so he can breath and he sucks in a breath while he can, even though it’s shallow and not nearly enough, before she’s squeezing again. Squeeze…release. Squeeze…release. Squeeze…release. Like Stiles is a stress ball, and she’s working out her anger. She cuts off his air just long enough every time to make Stiles struggle, to make him fight. But the dizziness is starting to come back and he knows it isn’t long before he loses consciousness completely, before he’s in a situation he can no longer argue his way out of, or distract her from.
Before he can no longer protect his pack.
His eyes fall back to the bag at Allison’s feet, and even as he plays at fighting off Cassandra’s hand, he focuses all his attention on the bag, on what he knows are inside. It’s all he has, but it might be just the distraction he needs.
So he does exactly what Allison taught him and he focuses on the shape, on the weight, on the feel of each of his throwing knives, and pushes everything he has into making them fly, one more time.
Stars are exploding on the edges of his vision and his hand drops limp, eyes focusing what little they’re able to on Cassandra, so close, so angry. He focuses on her face, burns it into his memory.
And then she screams, the knives planting in her back, in her arm, in her neck, and Stiles falls to the ground, landing on his broken arm. He screams with a broken voice then flips over to his left side as best as he can, clutching his trembling right arm to his chest, and reaches out his left hand, fingers outstretched toward one werewolf as he tries to breathe and focus through the pain, radiating along his body. His fingers tense and strain, spread wide, as he pushes every single last bit of will he has left into them and his shaking hand, and for a moment he thinks it’s not going to work, that he has nothing left, that he’s failed.
And then the line of Boyd’s circle breaks.
All the fight has gone out of him and he exhales as his hand droops. He rests his cheek on the grass as he watches Boyd take out the werewolf holding Allison through heavy lidded eyes, dragging him away from her and snapping his neck. Allison quickly recovers and breaks the line of Jackson’s circle with the toe of her boot, and Jackson runs toward Cassandra before being interrupted by the two werewolves that had been standing behind her. Stiles can hear their fighting but he can’t see it, and he tries to get up on shaky legs only to be pushed back down, his head coming in contact with a rock. Stiles startles at the pain, at the surprise of it, and struggles to take in a breath when he sees Cassandra leaning over him, mouth twisted in a vicious snarl, her hands curled into fists in his shirt, lifting him up off the ground, her eyes sparking as she shakes him.
“Useless, ungrateful little brat,” she spits out. “Do you know what I could have done for you? What I could have given you?”
In the space under her arm Stiles can see a little of the fight raging on, all of them preoccupied with the other pack, and Derek, still stuck behind his ring. Lydia is behind Isaac and Erica, who’ve teamed up to fight two of the wolves but are backed up to the tree line, and Jackson and Boyd are working on their own pair. Stiles winces when Boyd takes a shot to the face.
“I was prepared to show you the world.” She lifts him up only to slam him back down to the ground and Stiles gives a weary yelp of pain at the impact. She lifts him back up again, shakes him. “I was prepared to teach you everything I know. Do you know what a gift that is?”
Stiles blinks rapidly, pushes weakly at her hands with his left hand and watches Allison dart across the clearing, her bow in her hand, headed straight for Derek.
“Fruitcake,” Stiles rasps, with a grin.
“Your gift…it’s fruitcake. The gift nobody wants. The gift everyone throws away.”
She slaps him across the face and he laughs and doesn’t move his head back.
“I could have made you into something amazing.”
He turns his head back, smiles through the blood in his mouth, runs his tongue across his teeth. “See…now you’re just not paying attention. I like who I am just fine. I don’t want to be a psycho like you. I never want to be anything like you.”
“Goodbye, Stiles,” she says, and lifts him up off the ground one more time, her hands wrapped tightly around his neck. He can feel her rage as she squeezes his throat, fingertips pressing in hard, and Stiles chokes, tries to take in a breath that isn’t there, and thinks about his dad. And about Derek. He hopes they know he loved them, that he didn’t want to leave them. He hopes they understand why he did, he hopes they don’t blame themselves for it, even though he knows they will. And as the blackness starts to creep in at the edge of his vision, the night they had Chinese food together – Stiles and Jackson and Derek and his dad – pops into his head like a blessing, Derek sharing a joke with his smiling dad, Jackson laughing like he can’t help himself. And if this is the last moment he gets with them, he’s glad. If this is his last moment, he’s okay.
Then Stiles is falling, dropping back to the ground with a jarring thud and a pained scream. He looks up through bleary eyes as he sucks in a breath, the blackness receding, to find Peter standing behind Cassandra, bloody arm jutting through her chest, her heart in his hand. Peter looks down at him intently then pulls his arm back out of her chest and she falls forward onto the grass, lifeless, her face permanently stunned and eyes empty as they look Stiles’ way.
Behind Peter the fighting has stopped, the two wolves remaining from the other pack backing away from the Hale pack, hands held up in front of them, shaking their heads, looking around with widening eyes. He hears Derek tell them that they’re okay, that Cassandra is dead, that no one is controlling them anymore, and Stiles sees everyone come up behind Peter and stop, look down at him.
“Hey guys,” Stiles says, words coming out soft and slurred.
Peter tosses the heart in his hand away and drops to his knees next to Stiles, his bloody hand hovering over Stiles’ head but not touching. Derek drops to his knees on the other side of Stiles, cups Stiles’ cheek with his hand tentatively, looks up at Peter.
“Yeah…what the hell was that?” Jackson says from above Stiles’ head. “You ripped her heart out with your hand.”
“I told you,” Peter says, deeply serious, eyes meeting Derek’s over Stiles, “Stiles is my favorite.”
Stiles chokes out a laugh and slow blinks toward the sky.
Stiles blinks, focuses when Derek’s worried face pops up in front of his. It takes all the effort he has, but he lifts his left arm, pats Derek on the arm, tries to reassure him.
“’M okay…just need some sleep.”
He can feel the adrenaline leaving him, and he feels shaky and tired. Exhausted, actually. And he hurts all over. He just needs to sleep. If he sleeps, he’ll be okay.
He closes his eyes, hears Jackson say Derek’s name and his, hears Peter say something he doesn’t catch.
He just needs to sleep.
Two of them, he thinks. One close, one further away. The voices are hazy, indistinct, but Stiles can hear them becoming clearer with words like witch and sir and Derek. He feels fuzzy, a little like he’s floating, but also a little like he’s too tethered down to move. He’s a human hot air balloon.
At least he assumes he’s still human.
“It’s my fault.”
“Don’t. Don’t do that, son. Don’t take on someone else’s crazy and act like you had anything to do with it.”
His eyes are so heavy. Every part of him feels heavy.
“She made a choice – to take Stiles, to attack all of you. And I would guess she made that choice long before she came to Beacon Hills.”
Stiles groans a little, opens his eyes. There’s a pulse ox monitor on his finger and IV tubing in his left arm and an obnoxious orange cast on his right arm. To his right the heart monitor beeps quietly, letting him know in regular, cheerful tones that his heart is still working. He’s in the hospital, then.
He’s got to stop waking up to surprises. This is not a good trend.
His dad is sitting next to his bed, leaning forward. He smiles when he sees Stiles wake up, puts a gentle hand on the top of his head and Stiles turns into it, slow blinking. They must have called his dad at work. He’s still in his uniform. It’s a little rumpled, though. And there are some pretty dark circles under his eyes. His dad looks like he’s aged about fourteen years in the span of a day and Stiles wonders how long he’s been out of it.
He licks his lips. His mouth tastes like death.
“Hi,” Stiles croaks out.
John holds out a cup of water with a straw and Stiles leans forward, takes a slow sip.
“So what’s the prognosis?”
“A concussion, stitches in the back of your head, a fractured radius and ulna, bruising at the throat, some pretty severe back contusions, bruised ribs, and a hefty amount of blood loss.”
“Oh yeah?” Stiles asks weakly. “Is that all?”
“You’re going to live, but it’s going to hurt for a while.”
“Something to look forward to then.”
John pauses. “How’s the pain level right now?”
It’s not great. But Stiles is not about to say that out loud and give his dad something else to frown about.
“So pretty bad then?” his dad says wryly, and Stiles should’ve known better than to try to slip that past him. “They can’t give you the good stuff because of the concussion.”
“Ah,” Stiles says lightly. “Sucks to be me, then.”
A wounded noise comes from the other end of the room and Stiles’ eyes slide across the room until they land on Derek, standing in the corner away from them, staring intently at Stiles, hands clenching at his sides. He looks like all the wants to do is step forward, but doesn’t think he’s allowed.
Stiles’ eyes fall back on his dad and he says, with a hint of a smile, “He’s such a martyr, isn’t he?”
“I noticed that.” He tilts his head, looks over at Derek. “We’re going to have to work on that.”
John gives Derek a kind smile. Stiles loves his dad.
“Get over here.” Derek hesitates, so John says gently, as if coaxing a wounded animal, “Come on.”
Derek finally walks over, takes a seat on Stiles’ hospital bed next to Stiles’ leg, watching John’s face the whole time. John gives him a small nod, looks back to Stiles.
“Other than the pain, how you feeling?”
“Tired. Really tired.”
“Yeah, that would be the blood loss. Although the concussion isn’t helping things either.”
“Yeah,” his dad says, thumb rubbing gently on Stiles’ forehead. “That witch really did a number on you, huh?”
Stiles suddenly feels very, very awake, and he stutters, mouth going dry. He shifts to try and sit up but winces when his back and ribs protest. His dad presses him back to the bed with a hand on the shoulder.
He looks over at Derek, panicked, and Derek puts a hand on his leg.
“I told him everything, Stiles.”
Stiles reaches out a hand and grasps at Derek’s arm and Derek pulls his arm away, grasps Stiles’ hand with his instead.
“He deserved to know.” Derek gives Stiles’ hand a gentle squeeze. “And I wanted him to know.”
Stiles looks down at their hands, watches the black veins appear in Derek’s arm as he feels the pain in his body and his head start to recede.
“So my kid is in love with a werewolf…and my kid went up against a witch and won.”
John shakes his head as he stares at Derek’s arm.
“He saved all of us,” Derek says, voice thick, eyes fixed to Stiles’.
“No, I didn’t. I just…distracted her by talking too much and made some knives fly.”
“You don’t get to hide behind this one. Derek told me what you went through, how you fought back.” He leans in, touches his forehead to Stiles’. “You’re one hell of a kid, you know that?”
Stiles swallows, blinks quickly, licks his lips. He says hesitantly, “You seem to be taking this pretty well.”
John sighs and pulls back. “I’m still a little pissed, but Derek and I talked. And the more we talked, the better I understood. And going forward, he’s going to be a lot more forthcoming.”
He gives Derek a look, and Derek gives him a small nod back.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but…it wasn’t my story to tell.”
“I know. Derek said that too. Doesn’t mean I don’t have questions, though. Lots of questions.”
“Yeah. Been there.”
“I bet,” he says, voice wry. “When you get out of the hospital in a few days, the three of us are going to sit down and talk. Until then, you’re going to get some rest, and I’m going to head back to work. My shift ends tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll be back with food then.”He looks over at Derek. “Make sure he sleeps.”
“Okay.” John nods, pats Derek on the thigh, stands and leans over to kiss Stiles on the forehead. “I love you, kid.”
“Love you too.”
John gives Derek’s shoulder a squeeze and they both watch as he walks out of the hospital room, shaking his head. Stiles might be imagining it – hell, it’s probably just the severe blood loss – but his dad looks a little lighter. He’s walking a little taller. There’s no secrets anymore, no big thing hanging over them.
Again, could be the blood loss? But Stiles feels a hell of a lot lighter too.
Derek scoots down, leans over, gives Stiles a soft kiss. Then he pulls back just a touch and says, “I’m a little pissed at you.”
“I’m the Alpha, Stiles.”
“I’m the strongest, the fastest, the most experienced fighter.”
“Stiles, I’m your boyfriend.”
“Yeah,” he breathes out.
“I’m supposed to protect you.”
“We’re supposed to protect each other.”
“You should have broken my circle.”
Derek grits his teeth, bows his head, his hands clench the sheets on either side of Stiles. “Stiles.”
“You love me too much.” Derek lifts his head and Stiles threads the fingers of his good hand into Derek’s hair. Derek closes his eyes and leans into the touch. “All you wanted to do was get your claws into her, make her feel pain, make her suffer.”
“I would have,” he says soft and low and heavy, like a promise, as he nuzzles into Stiles’ palm.
“You would’ve tried. And she would’ve thrown just about all the wolves under her thrall at you at once. You would’ve been fighting five wolves, all alone.”
“I took out two of them before they could get me into that circle,” he says, eyes fierce. “I could have taken out the rest of them too.”
“Boyd was the right choice. You know he was. You chose him as your second for a reason.” Derek’s lips thin. “But you don’t have to like it.”
“Good,” he says, and his eyes open. “I don’t.”
Stiles would do it again, though. He’d do it exactly the same. Derek would have killed himself trying to get to Stiles. And Stiles just can’t have that.
“I do love you,” Derek says, all earnest intensity.
“I know,” Stiles says.
“I’ve never said it.”
“You didn’t have to.”
Some people don’t need words.
“Stiles,” Melissa McCall says as she walks into his room. She gives him a smile, warm and motherly. “Good to see you awake.”
“Good to be awake.”
She gives Derek a long look but Derek only sits up, looks back. He belongs there just as much as Stiles’ dad does.
“Your vitals look good. But you’re still going to be with us for the next few days.”
He sighs. “Yeah, that’s what dad said.”
She looks up at the monitors behind him, writes a few things down in his chart.
“How you feeling?”
Her smile deepens. “I bet. We’ve given you two units of blood so far, but I think you’re in for a couple more. You lost a lot of blood.”
“Yeah. Blood’s important. Should’ve kept that inside my body, huh?”
“It’s usually a good idea.” She looks up from the chart. “I’m afraid you’re going to be tired for a little while longer too. We’re going to be waking you up every hour, so be prepared for that.”
She hums. “Someone’s here to see you.”
“They can have five minutes.” She looks at them both pointedly. “Five. That’s it. Then you need to rest.”
She waits until they both nod before she nods back, gives Stiles’ shoulder a light squeeze, and leaves Stiles’ room.
About ten seconds later Jackson walks in, backpack hanging off one shoulder. He stands in the doorway, raises an unimpressed eyebrow.
“Well…you look like shit.”
There’s something stupidly reassuring about Jackson. Something so reliably consistent.
Stiles grins. “Sweet talker.”
He walks up to the side of the bed, takes a seat in the chair Stiles’ dad vacated and sets the backpack on the ground, leans forward. “You’re an idiot.”
“You’re pissed at me too, huh? Get in line.”
“You should’ve broken our circles a lot earlier.”
“I had to wait for my moment.”
“While she was choking you to death?” he asks, wearing his most unimpressed face. It’s a Jackson special. “Great plan. Pick an earlier moment next time.”
No one sasses like Jackson.
“We didn’t exactly have a game plan drawn up for this situation.”
Jackson lifts an eyebrow, reaches into his backpack, pulls out a sheet of paper and drops it on Stiles’ lap.
No acronyms this time. At the top of the paper, Jackson has written Stiles Gets Kidnapped by a Witch Who Wants to Make Him Her Bitch.
Stiles grins. Amazing. He’s going to frame this.
“You’re human, Stiles.”
Stiles looks up. “Yeah. And you matter to me, dipshit. I wasn’t going to let her hurt you.”
Jackson looks at him a long time.
“Get used to it.”
“How is everyone?” Derek asks.
Jackson turns to him. “They’re fine. We cleaned everything up with the help of Allison’s dad, and then asked one of the thralls to tell us where they’d been hiding. It was a house on the outskirts of town. We cleaned that out too.”
“That’s good thinking, Jackson. Good work.”
“I stopped by Stiles’ on the way here and grabbed some clothes for you.” He reaches into the backpack and pulls out a stack of clothes and hands them to Derek. Derek takes them gratefully. “Figured you wouldn’t want to sit in those all night.”
No one mentions how hilarious it is that Jackson stopped at Stiles’ house to grab Derek clothes. Derek just thanks him with a nod, stands and strips off his ruined shirt first, then unbuckles his belt and pulls off his pants.
“We got rid of everything that pointed to the supernatural, including the shrine to Stiles, which had to be my favorite part.” He taps on his phone then flips it around to show them the picture on his phone.
“God,” Stiles says with a grimace. “That’s…something.”
He feels the nausea start to rise as he takes in the wardrobe shrine. He recognizes a crumpled napkin from the diner with some stupid picture he’d drawn for Jackson, an empty plastic water bottle he must have left behind, and bundles of some kind of herbs set on the wooden shelf behind a bowl of some sort of liquid but it’s the pictures of Stiles pasted all over the inside of the wardrobe, overlapping each other, that really make him feel like he wants to throw up. There are pictures of Stiles with his friends, with Derek, with his dad. Alone. In most of them he’s alone, and he’s been caught in the middle of reading a textbook outside of school, or at lacrosse practice, or walking out of the grocery store. Sometimes he’s serious but in a lot of them he’s laughing, smiling. And it finally occurs to him how many times she could have taken Stiles without anyone seeing, how easy it would have been for her. She wanted to make a spectacle of it. She wanted his packmates to see, to know that she’d beaten them. She wanted it to be the last thing they saw.
He closes his eyes, swallows the rising bile, and breathes out slowly.
Derek frowns and rumbles, low in his chest, staring down at the picture.
“Yeah,” Jackson says as he pulls his phone back, shuts it off. “I had fun burning those myself.” He reaches down into the backpack, pulls out a large, thick, old leather bound book and sets it on Stiles’ bed. “I saved this from the house cleanup though. Snagged it for you before Mr. Argent noticed it was there.”
Stiles opens it carefully, flips a page, then another and another and looks up, eyes wide.
“This is her Book of Shadows.”
“Yours now. I figure that’s the least you deserve for all the shit she just put you through.”
Stiles leafs through the pages slowly, reading the titles of the pages as he goes. To Bring a Plague. To Save an Innocent. The Firestorm. The Binding Spell. To Find What Was Lost.
“This should go to her family. Her coven. By all rights it’s theirs,” he says, even as he turns another page, fingers sliding over the illustration of a raven.
“She didn’t have any family, remember?” Jackson says. “She told us as much herself. Far as I’m concerned, that makes it fair game.”
“But we’ll check anyway,” Derek says, slipping his shirt on over his head and pulling the sleeves up his arms a bit. “Just to make sure.”
“Who knows if I’ll even be able to use it.”
An unimpressed Jackson says, “You’re kidding, right? You stopped a witch today by moving knives with your mind, and you’re not sure you’ll be able to use it?”
“I’ve been able to move mountain ash, that’s all. I broke Boyd’s circle…mountain ash. I made a pencil roll and fly…mountain ash. I made knives fly…”
“Yeah, I get it,” Jackson says, “mountain ash. Except those weren’t your knives today, genius. They were Allison’s. And she doesn’t put mountain ash on her knives. She doesn’t need to.”
No, that can’t be right. They were Stiles’ knives. Flat and black, and the last time they’d practiced Stiles had handed them to Allison who had…handed them back. And Stiles had stowed them away in his bag, where they were still sitting, at the base of his desk.
“They were her knives.”
Not Stiles’. No mountain ash assist this time.
Stiles nods, runs his hand over another page, one with an illustration of a flowering red vine. Maybe she hadn’t been talking totally out of her ass. Maybe there really is something about Stiles that’s…if not supernatural then maybe…other? Supernatural adjacent?
He shakes his head, closes the book on his lap with a quick flick of the wrist. “I can’t believe she was right in front of me for so long and I missed it.”
“Us. Don’t give yourself all the credit. She was right in front of the both of us for more than three months and I missed it too.”
“Neither of you are to blame,” Derek says, and if there’s a hint of commanding Alpha growl under his words, neither Jackson nor Stiles say anything, though Stiles notices Jackson sits up a little straighter in his chair. Derek lifts his eyebrows and stares at each of them pointedly and says, “Do you understand me?”
Stiles nods because in a situation like this it’s always easier to agree with Derek and move on, even if he’s not exactly right. Stiles doesn’t blame himself, not exactly. But it rankles the shit out of him that he didn’t put the pieces together. That he couldn’t manage to see the whole picture.
“Yeah,” Jackson says, “got it. But come on…her name was Cassandra. Circe and Cassandra. How much more obvious can you get? What were her parents’ names? Hecate and Merlin?”
Stiles takes a moment to be impressed with Jackson’s correct pronunciation of Hecate before he says, “Cuz you were thinking about it.”
“Of course I was. The moment you mentioned something weird was going on, I started paying attention. I may not be as quick to come up with an answer as you are, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying to work one out.”
At Stiles’ silence, Jackson rolls his eyes, gives an irritated huff. But behind that irritation, Stiles can hear the steady ribbon of impatient fondness too, carefully concealed. He wonders how long it’s been there, how often he’s missed it.
“God, you’re an idiot,” Jackson mutters to himself then stares at Stiles. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say this to you, but I guess it has to be one more.” He leans forward, speaks in precise, slightly impatient words with pointedly raised eyebrows. “When the smartest guy in the room is telling you something hinky is going on, you pay attention. It’s a basic rule of self-preservation.”
But it’s more than that. And Stiles thinks he finally gets that now.
“I’m sorry, Jackson. I haven’t been fair to you.”
He shrugs. “I’m not keeping score.”
But he looks more relaxed now, and he reaches into the front pocket of the backpack for a black Sharpie, uncaps it and reaches across the bed for Stiles’ right arm. Stiles helps him out and lifts his arm, taking in the orange color of his cast, the new weight of it, before he lowers his arm down to his stomach with a sigh. No more lacrosse for him this year. Jackson hunches forward and starts writing, covering the arm with his body so Stiles can’t see. After a minute he pulls back and Stiles looks down. Next to a poorly scribbled wolf head, open in a howl, is a sentence written in thick letters, the fourth word underlined several times with messy lines.
Stiles is a DIPSHIT who needs to learn to listen.
Stiles starts laughing and almost immediately regrets it. He winces at the strain on his ribs and back and sucks in a breath through his teeth. Derek sits down on the bed, puts a hand on Stiles’ arm, and the pain floats away from him, as quick as it came. Thank God for wolfy pain relief mojo. Stiles gives him a grateful twitch of the lips even as Derek frowns down at him.
“I think I’ll keep you.”
His frown lightens a little, slides over into something approaching exasperated fondness. Stiles is familiar with that look. It’s one of his favorites. “Yeah? Pain relief finally tipped the scales for you?”
“Nah,” Stiles says with a dopey grin. “It’s the surly demeanor and the rockin’ bod. You had me at ‘This is private property’.”
Jackson stands, shoulders his backpack. “My five minutes are up.”
Stiles blinks up at him. “Scared of Mrs. McCall?”
He lifts an eyebrow. “I know a predator when I see one.”
“Smart. But then you are big on self-preservation.”
“One of us has to be in this relationship.”
There’s a rustle at the door to Stiles’ room and they all look over. Scott is standing in the doorway with his hands in his pockets, jaw clenched and shoulders curled in, eyes trained to the faded linoleum floor at his feet. Stiles pauses a beat before he looks back at Jackson.
“I’m glad I have you to look out for me.”
Jackson looks back at him, gives him a smile masquerading as a smirk. “Can’t room with you at Stanford in a year if you’re dead.”
“Right,” Stiles says with a smile.
“And I care about you too, dipshit.”
He walks over to the door, stands in the open doorway across from Scott and sizes him up.
“McCall,” Jackson says with a sneer.
“Jackson,” Scott says, jaw clenched.
No love lost there, that’s for sure.
Jackson gives him one final look before dismissing him with a curled lip and looking back over at Stiles. “I’ll stop by tomorrow.”
Stiles gives him a little nod as he leaves and Scott walks into the room, shoulders still hunched, hands still in his pockets, eyes still fixed to the floor. Derek spares him a glance, looks down at Stiles, gives him a quick kiss. Stiles leaves his lips pursed when Derek pulls back.
“I’m going to go get some coffee. I’ll get you a refill for your water too.”
He stands, gives Scott another quick glance on his way out of the room.
Stiles watches Scott shift across the room, watches his eyes fall on anything but Stiles, only a little more relaxed than when Derek and Jackson were in the room with them.
“Your mom called you?”
“Yeah,” he says, and nods. “What happened?”
“Witch,” Stiles says simply. He’s not about to go into detail.
“Oh,” he says softly. Nods again. He still isn’t looking at Stiles.
“You know, I don’t get you Scott.” Stiles’ voice is hoarse and Scott finally lets his eyes fall on Stiles’. “I’ve always had your back. Always. Why couldn’t you have mine?”
Scott frowns. “I didn’t know she’d taken you.”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it. Why couldn’t you be happy for me, man?”
Stiles already knows the answer. They both already know the answer, however much Scott will try and deny that. He couldn’t be happy for Stiles because that would mean acknowledging that he was no longer the center of Stiles’ universe, and the two of them have always been selfish with each other, with their friendship. Insular. Stiles has always picked Scott first, over everyone else, and Scott never thought that would change. He never thought he’d have to put in the effort to keep Stiles, so now he has no idea how to put in the work of being someone’s friend.
“There’s no space for me in your life anymore, is there?”
His words come out flat, unemotional. Like he’s already accepted it.
“Of course there is. There’s always space for you. You’re my brother, man.”
“But not your best friend.”
“No,” he says, and even as he says it, he knows it’ll hurt Scott to hear it. It’s hurting Stiles to say it. It still needs to be said.
“Because that’s Jackson’s job now,” he says with more than a hint of bitterness, spitting his name out like a dirty word, his eyes straying to the monitor next to Stiles’ bed.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, “and he’s really good at it.”
Scott winces, his mouth twisting, turning his face away like he doesn’t want to hear it. Stiles is going to say it anyway. Jackson deserves that. So does Stiles.
“He listens, he helps me, he shows up, he’s supportive.”
“You always said he was a jackass,” he says softly, accusingly, and Stiles nods.
“Yeah, I did. And I wasn’t wrong. It just turns out he’s my kind of jackass.”
Scott scuffs the toe of his shoe against the linoleum, stares down at his foot and shakes his head.
“You didn’t leave any space for me in your life,” Stiles says, “and I wasn’t going to hang around the outskirts waiting for you to remember I was there. Your world got smaller, and mine got bigger. You’ll always be family. But how close we are going forward…that’s up to you, man. I’m not going to sit around and wait for you anymore, but if you want to step up and join in…there’s always a place for you.”
“With Derek’s pack,” he says softly.
“I love him, Scotty,” Stiles says, and Scott looks up at the endearment, at the utter sincerity of Stiles’ words. “I’m not asking you to love him too. I’m asking you to respect the fact that he’s a major part of my life now. He’s not going anywhere.”
“And I have to like it?”
“He’s good for me, man. Really, really good for me. And I think I’m pretty good for him too. And I’m not going to let anyone stay in my life who wants to hurt him, even if we have history together.”
Scott turns away, nods and stares at the ground.
“I’m gonna keep looking, you know that right? I’m not gonna stop looking for a way to cure you.”
Scott’s eyes lift to his, the smallest bit hopeful and a lot disbelieving.
“I can tell that you’re miserable. You think I want you to suffer?”
“No,” he says.
No matter how far apart they’ve been these last few months, Scott would never tell that lie.
“I can’t promise I’ll find anything-”
Scott nods earnestly, and it’s like a little of pre-bite Scott, peeking through. “I know.”
Stiles thinks he’d be a lot happier if he learned to accept what he is now, but it’s not up to him to tell Scott that anymore. If he’s going to work that out, he’s going to have to do it himself.
Derek comes walking back in the room sipping at his coffee, a cup of water for Stiles in his other hand, a paperback book tucked under his arm. He gives Scott a friendly nod, sets his items down on the table next to Stiles’ bed.
“I should…get going,” Scott says with an awkward jut of the thumb over his shoulder. He goes to leave then turns back, says, “Derek.”
Derek gives him a nod as he takes a seat in the chair at Stiles’ side. “Scott.”
And look, that one word, that tiny hint of a nod from Scott, they’re barely anything. They’re the smallest blips on the reconciliation radar possible. But they’re still something, they’re still the inkling of more, and Stiles doesn’t fight his sleepy smile.
“Feel better, Stiles.”
“Thanks buddy,” he says, and yawns, eyes falling closed before he can stop them.
Stiles lets himself drift through his sleepy haze, Derek’s hand on his arm pulling away his pain, his face turned toward Derek at his bedside, finally too worn out to fight it anymore. He blinks owlishly a few times, watches Derek read the cheap paperback thriller he probably bought at the gift shop, the sort of thing you leave behind at the airport or the hotel when you’re done reading it.
“Close your eyes, Stiles,” he says without looking up. He turns a page, his book braced with one hand against his crossed legs, the thumb of his right hand stroking Stiles’ arm. “Go to sleep.”
“You don’t have to stay, you know,” he mumbles, eyes feeling heavier. “I’ll be okay.”
“Don’t be an idiot.”
“Can’t help it. ‘S my natural state.”
Derek refuses to be charmed. “Stop fighting it. Go to sleep. You need your rest.”
Stiles’ eyes close and he sighs, mumbles out, “Mmkay.”
He feels his hand lift, feels the press of lips against the backs of his fingers before it’s lowered back to the bed. He sighs, relaxes.
“I’ll be here when you wake up.”
He’s never doubted anything less in his life.
“Okay,” John says as he walks into the living room with a lap tray of food in his hands, Derek trailing behind holding a few plates and a glass in his. “One grilled cheese and one bowl of tomato basil soup.”
Stiles sits up against the piled up pillows behind him on the couch as John sets the tray down over his legs. “Sick day food? Special treatment? Dad…you going soft?”
“Call it a onetime exception due to acts of extreme selflessness and bravery.” He leans into him, moves the glass on the tray a little closer to Stiles so it’s within his reach. “But let me be clear about something, Stiles…I never want to sit next to a hospital bed with you in it again. Got it?”
“Got it,” Stiles says, and takes a bite out of his sandwich.
They all know he’s lying, that there are some things they can’t control no matter how prepared they are or how hard they try, but that doesn’t matter. For a moment, Stiles’ easy response makes them all feel better. Still, it’s an impossible ask, his dad has to know that. Stiles is too much like his dad to ever sit around and watch the people he cares about be hurt.
“So Cassandra is officially family-less,” John says, setting down his sandwich and picking up his beer. “No coven either. She was kicked out about eight months ago after her parents were killed and she went power mad and tried to take over, although everyone expected it. Her whole family was a piece of work. Let’s just say the head of the coven didn’t exactly seem broken up to hear that Cassandra was dead.”
“Yeah,” Derek says darkly over the mouth of his beer bottle, “I’m not exactly broken up about it either.”
John hums in response. “Once the floodgates opened…they had a lot to say. Let’s just say it’s better for everyone that she’s not around anymore.”
“And they just…gave up that information? To a Sheriff?” Stiles asks.
John eyes him, says wryly, “Yeah. I’m pretty good at my job, kid. And it’s amazing the questions you can ask when you have all the information.”
“Touché, papa bear.” He drags his spoon through his soup, scraping the rounded edge of it against the bottom of the bowl as he stares at the book sitting innocently on the end of the couch on top of his blanket-covered legs. “So the book…it’s mine? It doesn’t need to go into evidence?”
“I don’t think an evidence lockup would be the right place for it,” he says and reaches over, picks it up off Stiles’ legs and flips it open. “What is it anyway?”
“A Book of Shadows,” Derek says. “A witch’s recipe book. It has spells, potions, history…whatever the witch deems important enough to include. They’re passed down through families. Otherwise it’s almost impossible to get a hold of one. I’ve only seen…one? Come onto open market before, and it was later confirmed to be a fake.”
John eyes shift from Derek to Stiles as he flips another page. “And you’ll be able to use this?”
Stiles hesitates. “Maybe? Possibly? Jury’s still out on that officially, but…uh…”
“But you can do something.”
“And she seemed to think you were capable of a lot more than that.”
Stiles looks over at Derek. “You really told him everything, huh?”
“I had to stand there and watch you be tortured, Stiles. Yeah…I told him everything.”
“She thought you had potential,” John says, and Stiles focuses back on his dad.
“Yeah. She seemed to think I had a lot of it actually. Or that’s what she said. But a lot of the stuff coming out of her mouth was bullshit, so…”
John hums in response, looks down at the book in his lap. “You know, I always thought your mom was magical, but I assumed that was because I loved her, and not because she really was.”
“Dad,” Stiles says hesitantly.
“That’s the way it is though when you love someone more than yourself. You have a way of seeing them in a way no one else ever has. Everything they do seems like magic.”
He says it almost thoughtfully, and Stiles’ stomach tightens up.
“You think mom used magic?”
“Maybe.” He looks up, shuts the book in his lap. “Maybe not. But you do. And I was told by a reliable source yesterday that these things tend to run in families. Pretty sure you didn’t get it from me.”
So his mom might’ve been…magic.
“Reliable source?” He pauses. “You asked the head of the coven about me.”
“I needed information. She was the best option.”
“And she agrees. You have a lot of potential. Apparently smelling like a summer storm, like lightning, is something pretty special.”
Stiles swallows. “So Cassandra wasn’t just talking out of her ass, then.”
“Evidently not,” John says and stands, walks over and hands Stiles the Book of Shadows. “Turns out that psycho had at least one truth to tell.”
The doorbell rings and John steps away to answer it. Stiles is too far away to hear who it is, but he doesn’t need to. He knows it’s Jackson, making good on his promise to stop by today. Stiles rubs his thumb over the cover of the book, looks over at Derek to find he’s already being watched.
“Guess that’s it, huh?”
Derek leans forward. “Stiles, what is it?”
“Moving a few pencils is one thing…this is…”
“If anyone can do big things, it’s you.”
That makes Stiles smile, but it’s weak and he knows it.
“She went crazy with her power, Derek. They both did. She and Circe.”
“And you think somehow that could happen to you too.”
“I saw what she was capable of. I felt it.” Derek’s face hardens. “Once I come into my power, how long is it going to take before I tip over the edge too? Abduct a teenager of my own? Start slicing him open with a flick of my wrist?”
“That’ll never happen.”
“You can’t say that.”
“She used her power to hurt, to control, to kill. You use yours to protect. You have an entire pack of people around you who care about you. She had to weasel her way into their minds and pull their strings. Not a one of them would have helped her willingly but I promise you if I’d had to, I would have killed for you yesterday, I would have died for you.” He leans in close, puts his hand on the back of Stiles’ neck. “No matter how powerful you get, you can never become what she became because you’re nothing like her. I’m not a slave to what I am, and neither are you. And the moment you start to doubt it, I’ll be here to remind you you’re being an idiot.”
Derek leans in and kisses him and Stiles brings a hand up to rest on his face. When he pulls back, Stiles says hoarsely, playfully, “What? You got a plan, Derek?”
Derek smiles at him, his eyes crinkling at the corners, the tips of his front teeth showing. “Yeah, I got a plan. You learn.”
Stiles hesitates then says, “I learn all the things I haven’t had a chance to learn yet?”
“Yep,” he says. “And I’ll help. We all will.”
Stiles smiles down at the tray.
“You’re not alone,” he says, and Stiles can hear the smile in his voice, the love. “Stop acting like you are.”
“Stiles, you know we can put this off for a little longer. Maybe wait until your cast comes off?”
John spares him a glance from the driver’s seat.
“Nope,” he says, as they stop in front of the Sheriff’s station. “A punishment was levied and I told you I would complete the punishment as soon as I was able. And since I no longer need to scream every time I stand up to go pee, that time is now. I am a man of my word.” He gestures to his arm. “Granted, it’s going to be a little awkward washing cars with one usable hand, but this man of his word will make it work. And I brought supplies.” He unzips the backpack at his feet, hefts it up and shows his dad. “See?”
“So you’re going to what? Duct tape garbage bags over your arm?”
It works for taking a shower.
“Solid plan, son.”
John shakes his head as Stiles reaches across his body with his left hand and jerks at the handle to open the door of the patrol car, catching his foot a little awkwardly as he finally steps out but righting himself before he can embarrass himself too badly in front of a station full of his dad’s underlings. His dad lifts his eyebrows from the other side of the car.
“Need some help there?”
“Nope. Got it,” he says as he shuts the car door.
“You sure about that?” he asks as Stiles jerks the bag in his hands, realizing a little too late that he’d shut the car door on the strap. He stops, calmly opens the door and removes the strap before shutting the door again with a gentle, slow push.
“Yep,” he says and shoulders the bag, giving his dad a bright smile.
His dad eyes him a little longer than Stiles thinks is strictly necessary.
They’re both stepping up from the street and onto the sidewalk when Allison and her dad come walking up, Allison with a bright smile on her face, her hair bundled on the top of her head in a messy bun, dressed in a tank top and shorts and sneakers. She looks like one of those pictures artists post on Instagram of Disney princesses in modern clothes. But then, that’s kinda how she always looks. She wore a sundress with birds on it to school a couple days ago and he had to stop himself from calling her Cinderella.
“Hi Stiles. Hi Sheriff.”
“Allison. Chris.” John gives them each a nod, but he grants Allison a smile too. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
Allison glances at her dad then says, “I came clean to my dad, and we agreed I should come clean to you too.”
He lifts his eyebrows. “About?”
“I’m the bad influence that convinced Stiles to skip school.”
“Ah,” John says with a smile. “You’re the friend in need.”
“Yeah,” she says as she gives Stiles a smile that he immediately returns. “That’s me. But my dad and I agreed that since I was the instigator, it was only right that I suffer the exact same punishment Stiles did.”
She says it like it’s something carefully rehearsed, fighting her smile the whole time, and when Stiles looks over, he sees Mr. Argent is fighting a smile too.
“So I was grounded for the week, went straight home from school every day, and I am here to wash patrol cars and file paperwork.”
“And clean the break room fridge,” Stiles adds helpfully.
“And clean the break room fridge,” she parrots, and turns her thousand-watt smile on the Sheriff.
John pauses. “Oh? You’ve had to endure his entire punishment?”
She nods. “His entire punishment.”
“Was it as hard for you to go without seeing Derek in your house for the whole week as it was for Stiles? Because there was some whining in our house.”
Stiles winces. His dad is the worst.
Allison presses her lips together to stop herself from laughing in front of their dads and says, as solemn as she can, “It was a real hardship, Sheriff. But I made it through.”
“It was a close thing for a while though,” Chris says, and grants Stiles his most wry smile.
Strike that. They’re all the worst.
He’s about to butt in, tell them all that ha ha ha, they’re so funny when Lydia comes walking up in yoga pants and a tank top, red curls bouncing behind her, and stops in front of them all.
“There you all are,” she says, a touch annoyed, as if she’s been waiting for them. As if they’re late to some party Stiles doesn’t remember getting an invite for.
She turns and starts to walk away and when she senses she isn’t being followed, she stops and looks over her shoulder at them. “Well, come on. We’re all waiting in the back for you.”
We? Stiles thinks, but immediately follows. He’s not sure if this is because of self-preservation or out of some lingering desire to follow Lydia wherever she goes, left over from his years of pining, but go he does, Allison keeping step with him, their dads just behind.
When they turn the corner behind the station, it’s to find the rest of the pack standing next to a patrol car, filling buckets with soapy water with a hose, another patrol car lined up behind the first one, all ready to be cleaned. Stiles’ eyes immediately find Derek, standing next to the car, watching Stiles with the barest hint of a smile tugging his lips. They’ve been texting and calling, but Stiles hasn’t actually seen him in a week, and Stiles is going through withdrawals, all joking aside. God, he’s beautiful. Like a Michelangelo sculpture. And he loves Stiles, which is just insane.
“Let me guess,” John says and steps forward, hooking his thumbs in his duty belt. “You’re all here to serve Stiles’ punishment too?”
“Stiles still has a cast, sir,” says Isaac. “And he may be enthusiastic about completing his punishment-”
“But enthusiasm doesn’t equal skill,” Boyd says.
“Hey!” Stiles objects with a laugh, grins when everyone else laughs too.
“And pack elders deserve our best.”
Stiles feels his stomach flip over, ducks his head to hide his smile as he stares at his scuffed up shoes.
“Also, he saved our lives,” Erica says easily, and he looks up to find her looking at him. She gives him a smile then shifts to look at Stiles’ dad. “All our lives. So it seems like the least we could do.”
Lydia divvies up the workers, claiming Stiles for herself to work inside on filing and assigning Allison to the break room. Everyone else gets put on patrol cars, which they seem happy about, the guys stripping off their shirts left and right as they turn the hose on and start rinsing down the first car.
Stiles is about to jog across the lot and snag a kiss from Derek when Lydia takes his arm and yanks him inside. Stiles protests but it’s no use, and he sighs as Lydia pulls him through the station toward Tara and the front desk as Allison pulls on a pair of rubber gloves and Chris and his dad head to his dad’s office to commiserate over human kids who run with wolves. Or whatever it is parents/members of the supernatural community talk about.
“Lydia, how could you do that to me? He was shirtless.”
“Oh please,” she scoffs. “As if it’s the first time he’s pulled his shirt off with you around. As if it’ll be the last. You’re a trigger for him.”
“Yeah?” he asks, looking back toward the direction they came. He can’t see any of them back there since there are no windows looking out on the back lot, but he’s always had a good imagination.
“Stiles, he’s been pulling his shirt off in front of you for months,” she says, all judgy, but Stiles doesn’t care.
“As if you’re upset about it,” he says. “You get to benefit too.”
She considers that then hums, gives a delicate shrug with a single shoulder. “True.”
Tara pulls out all the files for them and they dive in, commandeering a spare desk to pile up their alphabetized stacks, Lydia flicking him a couple of times when he gets off task and starts reading some of the files. He flicks her back and pushes a stack of completed files for her to take to the file room, since Stiles is a one-armed wonder these days, and his general lack of coordination means he’s more likely to drop the whole stack en route and force them to start all over again.
He hops up behind the front desk when Tara asks him to cover for her so she can use the bathroom, and he spreads out a group of files, flipping open one that looks interesting: an unsolved murder of a transient from six years ago. No leads, barely any clues, no ID on the vic even. A John Doe. No one should have to end their life as a John Doe. Maybe he can slip the folder into his backpack. They won’t miss it.
“Sticking your nose somewhere you shouldn’t, Stiles?”
He looks up, rolls his eyes. “Peter. What are you doing here? Here to help serve my punishment too?”
“God, no. I realized that I was the only pack member who hadn’t signed your cast yet. And we can’t have that. Pack unity, and all.” He gestures with an open hand to Stiles’ arm. “May I?”
“Sure,” he says, holding his arm out as he stares him down. “Go crazy. That’s not such a stretch for you, is it?”
His answering smile is almost parentally proud, and he skirts the end of the counter, stops with his hip pressed to Stiles, and pulls a black Sharpie out of the cup at the front desk. He braces Stiles’ arm with one hand as he begins to draw three spiraling arms on the palm of Stiles’ hand, just at the top of his cast, and then behind those, a near perfect sketch of an anatomical heart.
Stiles stares at it a moment as Peter caps the pen. He knows it would delight Peter if he made a comment, if he asked, so he doesn’t. Knowing Peter, it has multiple meanings anyway, and at least one of those meanings Stiles is absolutely sure he has no interest in knowing.
“What are you really doing here, Peter?”
“Your father called me.”
“And you came? Just like that?” he asks skeptically.
The slow smile grows on his face and he drops the Sharpie back into the cup. “He is the law, Stiles.”
“As if that’s ever been a concern for you before.”
He’s positively grinning now. “Maybe it’s just that he’s a Stilinski. We Hales do seem to have a certain…fondness…for Stilinskis. We like to keep them close.”
“And rip hearts out for them?”
His face is unreadable as he looks down at him. “It seemed only right. Ripping the heart out of a murderess to save the heart of the pack.”
“Mr. Hale,” John says as he comes walking up, startling Stiles. He holds out his hand and Stiles watches as Peter takes it, holding on just a hair too long.
“Peter, please,” he says, all congenial.
“Thanks for coming in,” he says.
“My pleasure,” he says, eyes slipping back to Stiles for a moment before he takes John’s direction to his office, heading off alone as Stiles’ dad stays back.
John looks at Stiles, lets his eyes drop to the paperwork on the desk under Stiles’ arm that Stiles hurriedly – and unconvincingly – tries to cover up.
“You’re supposed to be filing the paperwork, not reading it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Uh huh,” he says as Lydia comes walking up. He pulls his credit card out, holds it up. “Go get the pack lunch, okay?” When Stiles goes to take the card, John pulls it back, makes a face. “And can I get something with actual meat on it this time? No fake meat you’re trying to pass off as real. I can tell the difference.”
“So can your arteries. Which is the point.”
He nods as he takes the card out of his dad’s fingers. “Yes, okay, fine. Concessions will be made for two reasons today. One, you’re treating everybody, and two, you have been way more chill about everything lately than someone in my situation has any right to hope, so…”
John clasps a hand on his shoulder, gives it a squeeze. Stiles gives him a little smile and a nod, tucking the card into his back pocket.
“Get me a Coke too?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, okay.”
Lydia steals Jackson’s keys and drives them to a local store with an attached deli that makes pretty acceptable sandwiches, and Stiles lets her order the sandwiches while he snags soda and water and bags of chips and containers of potato salad and a box of plastic forks because if he’s learned one thing about haunting the sheriff’s station break room over the years, it’s that it never has any utensils.
“I’ve started a training schedule for you,” she says when Stiles comes back around with the cart, giving the deli guy a half smile when he sets the fourth of their sandwiches on the top of the glass case. “Just a rough sketch of one until we really map out a plan together. But we need to make working on your French and Latin a top priority – that’s going to be essential for the texts we’ll need to decode. So many ancient herbalists and naturalists wrote in French and Latin.”
“You’ve already mapped out a plan?”
She lifts an eyebrow at him. “Of course I have.”
“So you’re going to be my sensei?”
She considers that. “In a way. Really, it’ll be more like a…research partnership. A pairing of minds. And this is too big to trust with anyone outside of the pack. People lie, they have their own agendas – the evidence of that is right in front of us – but pack is pack. Pack can be trusted.”
She eyes him. “We both know there’s someone nearby who could have told us about your gift ages ago, but he never deigned to mention it. Either that means he didn’t know, which seems unlikely, or he’s not exactly forthcoming. And therefore not someone to trust easily.”
“Which suits the two of us just fine anyway. When have you and I ever needed an adult’s supervision to learn?”
She gives him a smile and like a shot, he remembers how he managed to get so infatuated with her in the first place.
She nods, takes the last sandwich off the top of the glass case and drops it in Stiles’ basket.
“We should get some It’s-Its too.”
“Vanilla?” he asks.
“Cappuccino?” she counters.
“Mint,” they both agree, and head off to the frozen foods.
On the ride back to the station, Lydia details her plan for Stiles and his training. She’s right, it’s a rough sketch, but they’re both new to the idea of Stiles having any real power to speak of, much less the reality of it, so that’s to be expected. Still, it’s a solid plan, and not for the first time, he’s grateful he gets to call Lydia his friend.
When they make it back to the station they split up, Lydia to the newly clean break room to set up lunch and Stiles to the lot out back to call the wolves in. When he gets there they’re just finishing up one of the cars, and he stops and watches them for a minute. They look happy , the five of them, sun warm and damp as they work at drying off a car together, sharing jokes back and forth across the hood. If Stiles had to guess, he’d say the hose probably got turned on a few of them once or twice. Boyd is the only one who looks suspiciously dry.
He looks at the five of them, so happy together, and he thinks back to that first day he noticed Derek walking away alone, how nobody seemed to care. How Derek didn’t even seem to care, how he’d come to expect it, like some sort of masochistic self-administered punishment for being a teenage boy who couldn’t see through someone’s lies.
As if he knows he’s being watched, as if he knows it’s Stiles doing the watching, Derek looks up from drying the top of the patrol car with a smile. He slings the rag over his shoulder as the rest of their pack finishes wiping down the car, all looking up at their Alpha when it’s done, waiting for his direction.
By now Lydia has spread the food out on the table, labeled the sandwiches so everyone gets their favorite, and stowed the ice cream in the freezer. When they get inside a Sheriff, two hunters, a fledgling witch, a banshee, five Beta werewolves and one Alpha werewolf will crowd around a table that’s too small for them, knocking elbows and knees, sharing food together.
There are still things they all need to work on, demons they need to slay, battles they have left to fight. It’s probably time they spoke with Isaac about talking to someone, and Stiles has had too many nightmares about Cassandra lately to think they’re going away of their own accord. No one is sure whether to trust Peter or not, and the weirdness with Allison’s family is still looming behind them. But they’ll figure it out. Right now, in this moment, they don’t have to worry about any of that. Right now there’s a table in the break room calling their name, a sandwich with meat for his dad, and the best ice cream in the world waiting for them in the freezer. Right now, they have everything they need. They have family. They have pack.
“Lunch!” he calls out, his left hand cupped around his mouth. “Come and get it!”