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a lion among them

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He knew he’d handled it badly.

Not like he knew any other way to handle this kind of thing, Derek thought, only a little bitter.

If he had ever, once in his life, handled conflict well, then maybe more people would be alive. People like Laura, who had come back to Beacon Hills despite Derek’s pleading. People like Erica and Boyd, who had needed more support than he’d been able to give.

But instead, Derek had heard the word Emissary come out of Scott’s mouth, and had immediately vetoed it with extreme prejudice.

It was like he wanted Scott to set his jaw and ignore Derek’s input. Honestly.

But Stiles- Derek had thought that at the very least, Stiles would listen. That their relationship meant enough that Stiles would hear him out before deciding.

Derek had thought wrong.

 

* * *

 

He’d felt the Oath take hold. Isaac wouldn’t notice, nor would the rest of the pack – their instincts weren’t fine-tuned to feel the change. But Derek, as he’d said a million times, was a born wolf, and it wasn’t a fucking competition, Scott, but it did mean that Derek’s control was automatically better, and his instincts were more attuned to some things.

So Derek had stopped, winded, in the middle of sanding back a tabletop, and he’d known.

 

 

* * *

 

“Derek?”

The sun had set while Derek had been …busy. He hadn’t even realized he was working in near-darkness, his vision had adjusted as the light levels changed. But. It didn’t say a lot for his mental state that he hadn’t noticed time passing.

The dim light meant that Stiles wouldn’t have seen yet. Derek took a breath and braced himself and in the next second the hallway light flared to life and threw a square of brightness across the bed, Derek, and the half-filled duffel bag.

Stiles paused in the doorway. “What’re you doing in the d-”

The words stopped like his throat had closed over.

Derek turned back for another handful of shirts, the few spare socks at the back of the drawer.  There was a rhythm to the task and he kept his focus on the actual packing, rather than thinking about what it meant.

“What. What are you-”

Derek grabbed his oldest jeans, the last thing left, and closed his eyes rather than look at the bare wood on his side of the drawer.

“No,” Stiles said, whisper soft. “Derek, no.

He swallowed, yanked the zipper shut and said, “I told you I couldn’t live with it.”

“N-yes, I mean, yeah but,” Stiles said. “But- why are you-”

Derek was across the room before he even knew he was moving. “Did you think I wouldn’t know?” he demanded, one spike of rage making an appearance amongst the numbness.

Stiles swallowed hard, staring helplessly at Derek.

For a moment their eyes locked, then Derek reached between them, fingers sliding beneath the neckline of Stiles’ bat-signal shirt. He lifted the new strip of leather that hung there, the shiny medallion swinging back and forth, innocuous and damning.

“We were still talking about this,” he said softly. “At least, I thought we were. I haven’t decided anything, you told me, just this morning.”

“I hadn’t,” Stiles said, voice shaky.

“So you made a snap decision over lunch, is that it? Those must have been some amazing fucking burgers.”

Stiles swallowed again. “Derek,” he said, pleading. “You gotta understand, the pack needs-”

“What made it so urgent?” Derek cut across him. “At breakfast you hadn’t decided, and now you come home and it’s already done. Oath taken.”

Stiles bit his lip. “It- Scott’s been contacted by the Tuross clan. They’re already on their way here.”

Derek felt the breath whoosh out of his lungs. “Tuross?” he demanded. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

He spun away, feeling the hot prick of his claws at the tips of his fingers. “So you jumped in and signed your life over to the pack without even letting me know because Scott asked you to.”

“Derek, please,” Stiles said. “We can talk about this.”

“We can, can we?” Derek said, brows flying up. “We can fucking talk about it – now that it’s done. Now that you’ve gone ahead and done something irreversible, you want to talk about all the ways I’m supposed to just accept it.”

“You knew how important this was to me-”

“And you knew that I couldn’t live with you doing this,” Derek said, flinging his arms out in disbelief. “What the fuck did you think I meant by that, Stiles?”

“Not this,” he said, helpless. He shook his head and gestured angrily at the bag on the bed. “I didn’t think you’d leave.”

“Well it’s the only choice I have left, Stiles. I can’t stand here and watch the pack take pieces of you, month after month and year after year. Watch you walk into danger and know I can’t protect you. How am I supposed to sleep beside you every night knowing full fucking well that I come second to the pack’s needs, every damn time?”

“You don’t,” Stiles cried. “You’re not second- Derek, I love you, you know that.”

“And this is how you show it. By going behind my back and then expecting me to just suck it up and adjust.  What did you do? Calculate how long I was likely to be angry and decide it was worth it in the long run? Jesus, Stiles. I know you’re young, but even you have to see that this was manipulative fucking bullshit. This isn’t trust, and it sure as shit isn’t honesty, which is what we promised each other when all of this started.”

Stiles sat down suddenly, all the anger gone at once. “I know.” He buried his face in his hands. “Fuck. I know.”

“You know,” Derek said. “But you did it anyway. And that’s. That’s – I can’t. Be around that, Stiles. Someone with an agenda who works around me- you know I can’t do that.”

“You’re comparing me to her? To them?” There’s open hurt on his face but for once it didn’t make Derek feel guilty, this time it just pisses him off.

“You went behind my back and did the one thing I was afraid of, Stiles. I know your intentions are good but your methods are pretty fucking similar.”

“I didn’t…” Stiles trails off.

Derek took a deep breath and tried for patience. “I know that it’s not easy for you, the way Scott and I are with each other. I get that. But this isn’t the way to deal with it, Stiles.”

“Please don’t leave,” he whispered. “Just. Anything but that. Derek, you’ll be omega-”

Derek sighed, felt his throat thicken, and ran a hand over his face, searching for control. “I cannot stay here,” he said, as calmly as he could. “If I stay, I’ll fight to protect you, and if I do that, I’ve broken pack law. If we break pack law, then every ‘wolf on the West Coast is within their rights to take out the entire pack, not just you and me.”

Stiles blinked at him. “Destroy us? What?”

He shook his head. “Either I stay and watch-” he chokes off that line of thought. “Or I go, and hope that me being gone helps things. If other packs can’t smell me on you, if they know I’m out of the picture, you’re less of a target. You’ll have more of a chance.”

“I didn’t know that,” he said, white-faced. “I didn’t-”

“Because Scott won’t ever fucking listen to me when I try to tell all of you this shit,” Derek exploded. “And you never want him to think you’re taking my side, which means you only half-believe what I say.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles said, numb. His voice sounds awful, and Derek shook his head, suddenly exhausted.

“I know,” he said heavily. “I know you are. Didn’t change anything.”

There’s silence for a moment, and then he steeled himself for the last, terrible part. “You need to get out of this house,” Derek told him, and leaned down to zip up the bag, because he’s a coward and he didn’t want to see Stiles’ face.

“What?”

Derek drew in a breath. “Our scents are too entwined here.” He straightened and turned to face Stiles. All of a sudden his anger was gone, and there was only the hideous sadness of something ending before its time. “You need for my scent to fade, you need to force it to happen, and quickly.”

“I- wh-”

Derek stepped in close. One last indulgence. “Go to your Dad’s. Just – pack a bag and go there tonight. Let someone else pack this place up, don’t come back here. The more my scent fades the safer you’ll be.”

“No,” Stiles said, shook his head, because despite being human he understands the wolf culture shockingly well. He knows the language of scent, of pack, what it means.

“You have to,” Derek said. And he closes his eyes, tried to channel some kind of optimism, some vague hope that this won’t go the way he thought it will. “Because you’re smart, so smart, Stiles. You’re brilliant, and you’re unpredictable, and you’re a survivor and you’re going to make it. I know you are. I know it.”

Please, please God, Mother Moon, all the powers in the universe protect him. Please.

The tears spilled over and ran down Stiles’ cheek, and Derek reached up to cup his face in careful hands.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles whispered. His hand slid up until his thumb brushed the soft skin behind Derek’s ear, an echo of a thousand careless touched. “Derek, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know, I didn’t under-”

“Ssh, I know,” Derek whispered back, and kissed him, gentle and sweet. Stiles slid his hand into Derek’s hair, his thumb brushing against that spot behind Derek’s ear that always made him shiver, and Derek reached up to cup his hand, bittersweetness washing through him. It shouldn’t have been a trigger but as their lips parted Stiles gasped, heart kicking into overdrive, his scent turning fear-sour as panic surged through his body.

“No,” Stiles gasped, “no, that’s not our last kiss, it’s not-”

“Breathe, breathe, Stiles,” Derek urged, and manhandled him back until his legs hit the mattress and he folded down onto the bed. He pushed the younger man’s head between his knees and flattened his hand over Stiles’ back. Slowly he rubbed in firm circles, still talking, crouched at his side, close.

Stiles clutched at the medallion, white-knuckled and tugging at the cord hard enough for it to cut into his neck. Derek turned his face away from it, unable to bear to look, knowing it won’t come off no matter how much they might wish it undone. Not until the oath was satisfied – either by time, or by sacrifice.

There was a surge of rage at Scott, then at Stiles, and he gritted his teeth through it. There’d be plenty of time to be pissed off about it. Years and years, if Derek is any judge of his own feelings.

“Ssh,” he managed, “shh, Stiles, it’s all right. Just breathe. Breathe through it.”

“What have I done,” Stiles mumbled into his hands, “What have I done?”