In a land of myth and a time of magic— oh wait, that’s Merlin. Well, there’s magic at least insofar as those that are part of that world bear the signs upon their wrists. There have always been witches, druids, mages, warlocks, and sparks just as there have always been werewolves and the supernatural. If the myth is to be believed, a very powerful warlock lost their love to a well concealed enemy and cast a spell so powerful that it cost their life. Magic always comes with a price, it is said.
The warlock’s life spell had given those who were part of the supernatural spectrum a protection of sorts, so that a love like theirs would not be parted in the same way. Those that came after them knew the names of both their greatest ally and of their greatest threat, though most prevailing tellings simplify it down to soulmate and enemy. But who has true enemies these days and who would even believe in soulmates in this century?
If the myth is true, nobody knows how many generations it’s been since it started just as nobody knows which name is which. This, of course, presents a terrible loophole for those of ill intent to work their way into lives, families, packs, covens, and communities in which they don’t rightly belong. This, of course, was the case with Kate Argent when she absolutely was not who or what she said she was and orchestrated the murder of Derek’s whole family while spinning sweet nothings about how they were fated to be together.
He knew then that the Mieczysław whose name was on his other wrist, whoever and wherever they were, was most definitely not his greatest threat. Kate was. She was no ally and she definitely was not soulmate material, no matter what she’d tried to say before she used him to get a lock on all the best angles of attack.
The Mieczysław soulmark didn’t have a last name and his sisters had always teased him that that sounded pretty villainous right off the bat. That’s not normally how it works. Perhaps he would only ever meet one Mieczysław and the universe hadn’t needed to be any more specific as a result, his mom had said but she had always been a hopeless romantic. His other wrist quite clearly said Kate Argent. He should have known that mark was the warning.
Laura had tried to comfort him when they escaped to New York; how was he to have known. He still felt like he should have. He should have known and done a lot of things differently.
That same thought rattles through him again as Scott and a tearful Stiles stand in front of him and the world is going to shit once more.
“Where’s my dad?” Stiles voice breaks over the question as he asks Jennifer, the woman standing beside Derek that just tried to convince him that she was really a high school English teacher and that he just had to listen to her.
“How should I know?” She looks to him, “Derek, tell me you don’t believe this.”
But this is Stiles. Stiles understands what it means to lose your family. All he has is his father and he would never play him like a card, has never lied to or purposefully misled Derek, has nothing to gain here but everything to lose. He is deadly serious right now and as Derek looks up at him, he knows with certainty that he will do whatever he can to protect Stiles and save his father, that he always has.
They protect each other, the one constant in their lives since Derek returned to Beacon Hills. After the fire, he thought he’d never trust again unless by some miracle Mieczysław found him; he certainly wasn’t going looking for him. Especially after Laura and Peter, he didn’t want to trust anyone. But this is Stiles and he’s inserted himself into Derek’s life as a permanent fixture and shown his colors many times. He trusts Stiles, especially on this.
For the first time he questions why it is that he, who has specifically not allowed himself to open up and be vulnerable with anyone or to develop anything from the unwanted attraction anyone has held toward him, has somehow ended up in a physical and protective relationship with this relative stranger whom he still knows next to nothing about. Was it something she said, something she did that made him go to her, to choose to be with her? He can’t place it, his mind pushes away the thoughts against his will and he knows there’s something more sinister afoot. He steels his resolve and shifts to look from Stiles back to her coolly.
“Do you know what happened to Stiles’ father?”
“Why would I know that?” She answers the questions with a question, a method they’re used to seeing out of Peter when he’s trying to talk or at least think his way out of a direct, incriminating response.
“Answer the question.” She can’t talk her way around a that and his phrasing choice is purposeful. She either answers or she diverts and either way they’ll have a clear answer.
“No, I- of course I wouldn’t know, I—”
Stiles isn’t a werewolf but Derek can tell from the way he tenses further that he knows she’s lying. Scott and Derek on the other hand, absolutely know she’s lying because they can hear the way her heart skips and speeds up over the no in a way that can’t be accounted for by virtue of just being nervous about the accusation.
Bolstered by Scott and now Derek believing him, or perhaps by having pieced some unseen thing together, Stiles straightens up and steps closer to her with a grim set to his expression. Derek can practically feel the repressed energy radiating off of him as he asks again with a steadier voice, “Where is my dad?”
“Derek, this is crazy. This is absurd. You can’t possibly—”
Stiles laughs, a broken and soulless sounding thing that jars them all into tearing their gazes back to him as he unbuttons a sleeve. “You know, I thought I was so lucky. My mother always said the names were a gift, that there’s great power in a name, that I was lucky. I thought maybe that whole thing about being forewarned wasn’t necessary, some cosmic joke, because clearly fate should have known you’d die before we ever met so why bother with the warning right. But you didn’t die, did you Julia? Because here you are and I can’t even say I didn’t know because the fucking universe told me to watch out for you, my research told me you were powerful, and I even saw your prior connection to our current alpha infestation and yet I still didn’t heed the warning.”
Jennifer’s appearance flickers for a moment at the mention of the name Stiles says with intent, her glamour dropping. He knows the power that lies in naming and uses it. Her glamour flickers again as Stiles yanks his right sleeve up and the mark on his wrist clearly reads Julia Baccari.
She screams and lunges at him but Derek has her before she gets within spitting distance and Scott breaks out the mistletoe powder from Deaton’s. Stiles may have thought she was already out of the equation but he’s also had a few years to tame his spark and learn a handful of ways to deal with a strong magical adversary, even one so twisted she’s now a darach who’s murdered twelve people in pursuit of her cause.
“I definitely should have known. There’s a lot of things I should’ve done differently.” Stiles echos Derek’s own thoughts, kicks out at a pebble in front of his weathered Converse as he does so.
“Sometimes I wonder if that’s a universal sentiment.”
Derek’s response is so quiet that Stiles almost misses it but it pulls him out of the spiral of self loathing and what ifs that he’d been about to tumble down now that they’re winding down for the night. “Hmm?”
Derek heaves a sigh as if surrendering to the fact he’s got to put words to this feeling now. “I felt that way too, after. It’s supposed to be a warning but three out of three of us were still—”
“Boyd tried. He had a plan and he tried. And you stopped her, we stopped them. People still died but Julia didn’t win, not all the way at least. She didn’t get my dad.”
“Because you put it all together. This wasn’t your fault, Stiles.” Derek knows as soon as the words leave his mouth that he may just as well have said nothing. Scott and the rest of the pack have probably already tried that tact to no avail.
“It wasn’t yours either. Not with Kate, not with Boyd, and not now. What Jennifer— what Julia did to you wasn’t your fault. You broke that spell all on your own too. That was no small task. If I didn’t already know your magic was limited to your furry shift, I’d wonder about you Hale.” There’s almost a hint of a smirk at the end there as he climbs up into the jeep when they finally reach it.
Derek’s still rolling his eyes as he slides in the passenger seat, tossing a tarp-wrapped shovel on the floor in the back. He barely notices Stiles rubbing his left wrist as he’s buckling in. It’s a habit Derek’s been vaguely aware of since he met Stiles though it seems an unconscious movement like his flailing and how restless his right leg gets when he’s sitting too long. Derek’s eyes are always drawn to the movement.
Stiles hums contemplatively, drumming on the steering wheel for a moment before shifting into drive. Julia and the alpha pack are as wrapped up as they’re going to be; Deucalion’s skipping town, Ethan and Aiden are inexplicably staying, Kali and Ennis are both dead and buried, and Julia’s been neutralized. Stiles, Derek, and what could be loosely framed as a pack have worked their asses off and mostly made it through to the other side of yet another horrific series of events. Stiles isn’t about to roll over and be civil with the twins after what they did to Erica, to Cora, and especially to Boyd and Derek; but at least for tonight he’s earned a break. They all have. He’s cashing in that break right now.
“Not a word.” Stiles snipes out preemptively as he pulls into a parking space. He knows, without even hazarding to look over, that Derek has his judgey eyebrows in position. “It’s 10:30 at night and this is the only place that’s going to feed me a whole container of hot cinnamon rolls right now so you can either come watch me inhale them, and maybe I’ll get you a pizza, or you can sit here in the jeep in the dark like a creepy creeper who creeps outside of Pizza Hut.”
Derek holds back his internal commentary, especially the parts on Pizza Hut not really being pizza, and follows Stiles inside like it’s a normal Tuesday night and not at all like they’d both just lived through yet another unbelievable shit storm and were left to clean up the mess.
Stiles stress eats his way through three full boxes of the mini Cinnabons before their pizzas even make it out of the oven. Derek, once again, finds himself unsure as to whether he should be scared of or impressed by Stiles.
It’s been a year since they lost Erica to the Alpha Pack, since they lost Boyd to Derek’s own hands courtesy of the twins, since they almost lost Stiles’ dad to the darach who’d positioned herself in his life, since the town did lose twelve innocent people. He wishes that they didn’t have to know exactly what it’s like to keep going after that kind of loss, but they do. It’s been quite the year since, somehow managing to both fly by when nobody's lives were being threatened and also to drag on during the worst parts.
They’re out in the Preserve making a bonfire of the trunk of the Nemeton because apparently big supernatural to-do’s really are their normal weeknight schtick now as alpha and emissary. Deaton, Ms. Morell, and Stiles had finally finished all the binding and preparations of the stump that they’d had to do while Stiles worked his way through to graduation simultaneously.
This burning ritual is the last step to prevent anyone else from rolling into town trying to use it for dubious purposes, Stiles had translated Deaton’s cryptic instructions to Derek. Their ties to the tree were paramount, he’d insisted. Derek was tied to it unwittingly both through the loss of Paige and through Julia’s dark workings. Stiles was tied more directly to it from having helped strip and bind her powers back to the Nemeton, further bound by his connection to her. Normally, Stiles wouldn’t ask Derek to be near anything to do with fire but this had to be them and he’s keeping it as controlled as he can.
They were doing this and it would make for one less problematic variable for the pack. And they were a pack now, especially since Scott had gotten a hell of a lot nicer to Derek and much more receptive to his insight and training since last year’s Jenninfer is Julia debacle. Stiles is caught up in thought and Derek’s watching the time tick by on his watch.
There are steps they’re supposed to be following, like any ritual. Death rites for a sacred and powerful tree probably deserve their fullest attention but this is Stiles and his mind is probably running down at least ten different paths right now.
Derek clears his throat and uncrosses his arms to gesture to more mountain ash kindling that Stiles is meant to be adding into the fire at this point, a step he certainly can’t do in his stead. The glow of the fire in combination with the moonlight illuminates the cursive on the wrist of his outstretched hands.
Stiles gasps and tries to cover it with the fakest fake cough Derek has ever heard, earning some fully raised Hale brows in the process.
“Nothing, nothing.” He coughs out, limbs flailing out to scoop up the additional wood and toss it into the flames haphazardly. This is peak Stiles, Spark Emissary of Beacon Hills, flailing about in the middle of a serious procedure but always, always doing his duty to protect his people and somehow making it all work.
Derek manages to look even less impressed and even more disbelieving. He’s got some seriously communicative eyebrows, okay. It’s a gift. And he really hopes those sticks weren’t meant to be placed in any specific design or order because Stiles just dropped them on there like this ritual isn’t the single most pressing thing for the entire town of Beacon Hills right now.
Stiles runs a hand through his hair and bites his lip. He rocks back and forth on his heels like he’s debating the pros and cons of either elaborating or bolting and he’s not sure which. He can’t actually leave because they’re literally in the middle of this process and their ties mean they have to be the ones to put it to rest. He can practically picture the twinkle in Deaton’s eye as he relayed those specific instructions. His gaze flicks down to Derek’s wrists and back up to his unimpressed brows, absently rubbing at his own left wrist as he rocks back.
It’s considered impolite to look at someone’s soulmarks without permission but this is Stiles. Derek’s are uncovered often enough around the pack that he’s actually surprised Stiles hasn’t seen them before now.
Derek had assumed when they met that Stiles was a mundane human with a terrible habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s known since the night with the mountain ash and the kanima at the club that Stiles had to have his own markings. He’s a spark, he definitely has them but he’s always in long sleeves, hoodies, and jackets.
The night he’d shown Jennifer that he knew her true name and that he was absolutely not buying the shit she was trying to sell him, Derek had seen the one name clearly while the other remained covered. It occurs to him now that he’s never seen Stiles’ wrists outside of that one night but Stiles had to have seen his at some point.
“It’s not like you haven’t seen them before, Stiles.” He’s facing away from Stiles so he’s sure to make the eye roll clear in his voice as he adds the sage bundles into the fire at the appropriate time since Stiles seems to be having a moment to contemplate propriety of seeing Derek’s wrists like he’s a 1700’s maiden or something.
He hears the uptick from the normal pitter patter of Stiles’ heart at his comment and turns to look at him, clearly confused by that and now also by the chemosignals he’s throwing out.
Stiles holds up his palms placatingly, “Not saying I looked on purpose, because I’m not that much of an asshole, but no actually. I haven’t. You’re right handed and your default pose is crankypants runway model which involves a lot of arm crossing. So I’ve only ever really seen—”
He trails off and Derek knows exactly why. Mentioning Kate was something Stiles never did lightly. Derek appreciates that he’s not pushing that pressure point now. He doesn’t need the reminder that her name has been on his right wrist for as long as he can remember, has taken to covering it with the band of his watch even. He’s about to snark back about the crankypants comments but Stiles speaks up again.
“Did you ever wonder how I knew it was Julia? We knew it was a darach but did you wonder how I knew it was Jennifer, that she was Julia?” Stiles asks.
Derek quirks an eyebrow at the apparent change in conversational thread. But again, this is Stiles and conversational conventions hold up just about as well will him as every other societal convention, which is to say not well.
Stiles hasn’t mentioned Julia by name in the past year and while they both know why they’re here tonight, Derek’s been following his lead on avoiding the subject much like Stiles has always done in regard to Kate and Paige. He tries to school his features to mask the shock of Stiles bringing up the topic of her so bluntly when they’ve been working largely in silence since they parked the jeep.
“Yeah,” Derek answers honestly. “I’m sure we all did. You do tend to piece things together but given that you thought she’d died and you had no way to know which she was meant to be, yeah.”
“I knew,” is the quick response. “I mean, I didn’t know she was still alive, obviously. But I knew which one she was, that she was the threat.”
Derek’s eyes go to the plaid-covered left wrist that he knows bears Stiles’ second name. It begins to dawn on him and Stiles sees the moment the penny drops and Derek realizes Stiles knows that whoever’s name adorns his left wrist is his greatest ally, possibly his greatest love, maybe even his soulmate; and that he’s totally at peace with that knowledge.
“Anyone that would murder people like that, that would go after my dad like that, that would use you like that; they had to be my greatest threat. But I already knew she landed in that box.”
Stiles rubs his wrist absently and Derek wonders, not for the first time, if he even realizes he’s doing it. Stiles stirs what’s left of the quickly dwindling fire counterclockwise with the iron he brought and seems to speak to the flames and ash in words Derek doesn’t register before it flares up once more and blips, quite suddenly, out of existence.
He kneels down to feel the ground near the now ash-filled pit where the Nemeton and it’s roots once stood and is silent for another long moment as if he’s feeling for any lingering connections there that they missed. He must be satisfied with what he’s found because he stands and nods for Derek to start helping him fill in the pit with the specially salted earth Derek had been instructed to transport there earlier that day. Nothing would be growing here again.
It’s considered just as impolite to ask whose names someone has as it is to try and see them without being purposefully shown. Derek doesn’t have to ask because this is Stiles. Stiles rolls up his sleeves slowly, carefully like he’s issuing a challenge to Derek. When they’re done evening out the soil, Stiles sits down on the ground and admires their work. It was not an insubstantial hole and he’s mildly surprised there’d been enough to smooth the grade.
For somebody who’d been so flustered by having seen Derek’s wrist, Stiles still hasn’t rolled his shirtsleeves back down and Derek’s trying his best to be respectful of his privacy. Apparently he is done with privacy now that their job of the night has been complete. He shifts his focus solely to Derek and holds his left wrist out.
Derek’s breath catches in his throat, his own name is right there in stark contrast to Stiles’ pale skin. He half reaches out from where he’s seated next to Stiles on the grass to touch the letters, pulls back before he makes contact though. Stiles has his name but that doesn’t make Stiles his. He’s not a possession; people don’t belong to people. Even if they could, in a way, he knows Stiles isn’t his. But if anything in this world is a fact of life he knows he’s Stiles’ and already was before he saw the proof of it written out. He tries to look away from the mark but can’t now that he knows it’s there.
Stiles’ smile is a bit wistful as he says, “You were one of the only survivors of a mysterious fire and then you skipped town. We met you at a murder scene. The odds weren’t ever really in your favor, were they? Didn’t you ever wonder why Scott so adamantly didn’t want to join your pack when he had no idea how to handle being a werewolf, why we were so quick to assume you were a murderer, why my dad was so quick to arrest you, why Scott continued to blame you for every bad thing that happened? He always thought he knew what you were about, that you were the enemy.”
Derek cannot fathom any words, just stares down at his name. His name. His. It’s all his brain seems to be able to come up with at the moment.
Stiles continues on in defense of Scott as if Derek had responded, “We grew up together. He knows my names as well as I do, didn’t even have his own until the day we met you. He heard my mother’s stories. I didn’t want to trust you either but then I got to see you as more than just case files. You survived losing your family, then your sister, and you still stayed to help us when there was nothing in it for you. We saved each other enough that I knew you’d never be a threat. Not to me. You show up, you help, you stay. Scott was convinced that’s what you wanted us to think so that we would trust you and you’d break me. You’re not the big, bad wolf we thought you were. But I also assumed you’d say something if it was reciprocal.”
It’s not. Because Stiles may have Derek’s name but they both know that Stiles is not the name on either of Derek’s wrists. Stiles is loyal, considerate, intelligent, fittingly acerbic, and always there. He shows up, he helps, he stays. It’s not actually the first time Derek has wished that Stiles could be his as more than just his emissary. But no matter how connected he feels to Stiles, it’s not meant to be that way.
Maybe it really was about allies not soulmates after all. It is true that he’s had no greater ally than Stiles, but that’s so much different than what his own mother had told him to expect in the stories she passed down to him and his sisters that he feels almost bereft. He doesn’t deserve Stiles.
Derek looks crestfallen, pulls his gaze from Stiles’ wrist to his face. “Stiles, I—”
“Can I?” Stiles cuts in, nodding to Derek’s own left wrist.
He shrugs and proffers the offending wrist.
Stiles releases a thoughtful huff and runs his finger over the lettering in an obviously practiced movement. “We’re idiots.”
Derek jerks back, confused, but Stiles doesn’t release the wrist he’s gently holding just strokes a soothing thumb against it.
“Mieczysław, you’ll just know. You will meet them and you will know that, marked or not, you would have found each other and that you would go to the ends of the earth for one another. There’s great power in a name, she said, but the name is not what binds you.” Stiles recites, clearly repeating from his memory.
“Your mom?” Derek guesses, brain not quite catching up.
“Yup, and she was right. I knew your name, who you were, thought I should avoid you before I knew better and yet I couldn’t stay away. I didn’t hold you up in a pool and save your wolfy ass more times than I can count just because your name is on my wrist, Derek. I did it because I couldn’t not, because my feelings are what binds me to you not some woowoo predestination. You were a choice that I made, it wasn’t made for me. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to feel obligated to deal with me any more than you already have to. I’m great at both keeping you alive and carrying on one-sided; I was resigned to that and I was fine. But this- I don’t- Der, you have my name.”
“Oh.” Derek feels all at once like he can’t breathe. “I do?”
“Your parents named you Mieczysław?” Derek asks, butchering the name.
“Well, they certainly didn’t name me Stiles Stilinski. Did you seriously not know? We’re idiots.”
“I have your name, Mieczysław.” Derek breathes out slowly, carefully pronouncing the name that had rolled so naturally out of Stiles’ mouth. He says it with intent, like a promise. There’s power in naming someone and he feels it now.