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It Was a Wednesday

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Derek Hale remembered everything about that day. He remembered the date and time. Where he was and what he was doing. What he was wearing.

He remembered it all.

February 24th, ten forty-seven at night.

It was a Wednesday.

He was in the Whiskey Thief Tavern on Davis street in Evanston, Illinois. He was playing pool with some people he’d met a few days back. He had a Corona in his left hand and a pool cue in his right.

He was wearing his usual black jeans, a grey T-shirt and steel-toed boots. His jacket was in the car parked out back.

He was winning.

He’d been taking a sip of his drink when his phone buzzed in his pocket. Setting the cue against the wall, he dug it from his jeans and flipped it over to see the caller.

The second he did, he froze, staring at the name. He hadn’t seen that name on his screen in a very long time. He hadn’t ever thought he’d see it again, not since he’d left.

For a few rings, he debated whether or not to answer. He didn’t know if he wanted to. They hadn’t split on good terms, and even now, seeing the name blinking at him was making his chest ache. The pain he felt was a monster in his gut, clawing at his insides to get free.

He forced it back viciously, took a breath, and answered right before it was about to go to voicemail. Putting the phone to his ear, he tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to mind. He was completely blanking and so, he said nothing.

It didn’t matter. The person on the other end spoke first.

“Hello Derek.”

That wasn’t the voice he’d been expecting to hear when he saw that name on his screen.

“Sheriff,” he said automatically, moving away from the game, even as one of the men called after him that it was his turn.

He felt a different beast rearing its head at the sound of sheriff Stilinski’s voice. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to hear from him, it was more that his gut knew he wouldn’t call unless he had to. His stomach was already in knots, but his brain hadn’t caught up on the panic yet.

“I know you left everything behind you,” the sheriff said quietly as Derek exited the pub via the back door, moving to his car and leaning against it, focussed entirely on the older man’s voice. “I know you did what you had to do for your own benefit. I don’t blame you for that. I’ve never blamed you for that. And I wouldn’t call you unless—” His voice broke and the knots in Derek’s stomach twisted horribly. “I have no one else. I can’t—Scott isn’t good enough.”

Derek felt like all the noise around him had disappeared. He felt like he was standing alone in a dark room, knowing something was coming for him, but unable to see or hear it. It would just be there. Suddenly, horribly, and unwelcome.

“Sheriff, what happened?” Derek knew there was only one reason that name would appear on his screen with another person speaking down the line. He knew, logically, what was wrong, but his brain refused to believe it. Because it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real, and it wouldn’t be real until he heard the words.

They came, even though Derek begged for them not to.

“Stiles is missing.”

It felt like the ground had fallen out from under him. Derek knew he was standing in a parking lot, but his body insisted he was in a free fall, waiting for the horrible, crushing impact.

“How long?”

“Two months.” 

Derek almost said something he’d regret. He almost shouted at him, wanting to know why he had waited this long to contact him, why he hadn’t told him sooner, when it had been one month, three weeks, two days?

Why he had trusted Scott with someone so important when Scott was a shitty friend, a shitty Alpha, a shitty person!

Why he hadn’t called him immediately!

He forced the rage aside, feeling his eyes burning and his gums itching. He had to take a second to regain control, emotions he hadn’t felt in a long time warring within him, each one clamouring for attention.

Rage, horror, nausea.



“I know you left,” the sheriff said, voice strained. “I understand why, son. I do. And he did too, even though I know he never admitted that to you. But I—Derek, he needs you. You’re the only one I know who can do this. You’re a born wolf, I know you can find him. I know that—” He cut himself off with a sharp breath, like he was struggling to maintain his composure. “Derek, please.”

He hated hearing him beg.

Derek had already made up his mind the second he’d heard his voice.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m in Illinois, it’ll take me a while, but I’ll be there.”

The sheriff let out a slow, measured breath, like he was seconds away from falling apart.

He probably was.

“Thank you. I’ll be expecting you. I’ll let Scott know.”

“See you soon.”

Derek hung up and turned to climb into the car. He didn’t go home first. He didn’t call anyone. He didn’t worry about his life in Illinois.

He got in his car, and he headed out of town as fast as he could go without getting pulled over. He raced to Beacon Hills as quickly as the Camaro would allow. He made it there in record time, exhausted and worried, but he’d made it.

Derek remembered everything about that day like it was yesterday.

But it wasn’t.

Because February 24th, the day ‘Stiles Stilinski Home’ flashed on his screen, and his father’s voice rang down the line wasn’t yesterday.

And no matter how hard he tried to forget, no matter what he did to erase that memory from his brain, no matter who he saw to just hack it right out and free him of this suffering, Derek remembered everything about that day.

That day was three years ago.

It was a Wednesday.

The loud, almost jarring sound of his phone going off much earlier than it was supposed to had Derek almost ready to wolf out and smash the thing to pieces. He’d had a terrible night, an even worse evening, and he just wanted to lie in bed and sleep until he didn’t have a choice but to get up for work. So his phone ringing loudly in the darkness of the room he currently occupied was quite unwelcome and ridiculously frustrating.

But, he’d never been one to ignore a phonecall at the ass crack of dawn, so he reached out with one hand, fumbling on the nightstand for the phone, and then wrenched it over. He heard something snap and hoped he hadn’t just broken his charger again. He was starting to go through those as often as other people went through socks.

Lifting his head off the pillow, he squinted at the bright screen, and felt his stomach drop at the name flashing back at him. That couldn’t be good.

There went sleep.

Answering the call and rolling onto his back, blankets tangling around his waist, he inhaled deeply and rubbed one hand over his face.


“Hey Derek,” Jordan Parrish said down the line, sounding as tired as Derek felt. “Sorry to wake you. I take it you aren’t home.”

“Let me guess,” he said with a sigh. “Again?”

“Again,” Parrish replied.

“What time?”


Derek pulled the phone away to check the time. It was just after five, so he was an hour late. He brought it back to his ear before saying, “I’ll handle it.”

“Thanks Derek. Sorry I woke you.”

Grunting in response, he just said he’d see him soon and then hung up. It took him a few minutes to convince himself to get out of bed, but he eventually found the strength. Every day was an exercise in willpower, forcing himself to get up, forcing himself to leave the house, forcing himself to act like his life hadn’t fallen apart spectacularly around him.

He stumbled around his room to get some clothes on, abandoning all hope of getting some sleep today. It was fine, he could drink coffee and just do paperwork for the day. It would probably be best for him not to attempt to handle any heavy machinery while this exhausted.

Then again, he felt perpetually exhausted, so that might’ve honestly been a lost cause. At least he hadn’t killed himself yet, so that was a plus.

Once he was dressed, he headed down the stairs and grabbed his jacket, yanking it on before pulling open the loft door. He made it to the Camaro quickly, and then started on his way down the familiar road, able to drive where he needed to be in his sleep.

He made it there in only ten minutes, parking the Camaro on the street and then climbing out. He dutifully looked anywhere but at the driveway, where a tarp covered a vehicle he didn’t want to think about. He just moved up to the porch, climbed the steps quickly, and reached into his pocket to pull out his keys.

Unlocking the door took no time at all, and when he threw it open, he recoiled slightly at the stench.

“Fuck,” he hissed, trying to breathe through his mouth, entering the house and shutting the door behind him. It had been too many days since he’d been there, he knew it was his own fault for not making the trip home. It was just hard when he was tired and the old loft was closer.

Moving quickly through the house, he found the man passed out on the couch with an overturned bottle of whiskey on the floor, soaking into the carpet. The place was a mess and it was far too fucking early in the morning to be dealing with this.

But, he’d promised himself he would be there for him, so he obediently moved across the living room and grabbed the sheriff’s shoulder, giving him a hard shake.

“John,” he said, shaking him roughly when all he did was groan. “John, get up.” He got a slap to his arm for that. Scowling, he tightened his grip to bruising, and snapped, “Noah!”

“Don’t call me that,” the sheriff grunted, opening his eyes and looking up at Derek. It looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days, his clothes hung off him like they were much too big for him, and he smelled like a sewer.

“You’re late for work,” Derek informed him.

“So what?” was the gruff response.

“So I didn’t pay off your mortgage in order for you to lie in your own vomit, drunk out of your mind on your couch,” Derek snapped.

“I never asked you to do that,” the older man said, words slurring together. “I asked you to find my son, but you didn’t. Because you can’t do anything right, can you?”

Derek kept the wince off his face, because he didn’t need to be focussing on the sheriff’s words right then. He needed to get the man into some semblance of order, but he knew it would be impossible. He was still drunk, he was in no shape to go to work.

And so, Derek did the only thing he could do. He turned around and went up to the second floor, entering the sheriff’s bedroom and moving through it to the en suite. He started the shower, making it go as cold as it was able to, and then turned to head back downstairs. The sheriff was right where he’d left him, except he’d managed to snag the bottle off the ground and was attempting to drink it while lying down.

Derek wrenched the bottle from his hand viciously and set it on the coffee table so hard the bottle cracked. Then he grabbed the sheriff by the front of his stained white shirt and wrenched him off the couch. He tried to fight back, stumbling over his own feet, but he was drunk and exhausted, and Derek was a Werewolf. It was easy to drag the man up the stairs and down the corridor. When they reached the bathroom, he forcibly shoved him under the spray, snarling when he was hit with the cold water himself in an attempt to get John to sit in the tub.

“I fucking hate you,” he said, with feeling, eyes unfocussed but somehow still conveying the hatred and rage.

“I know,” Derek informed him. “Clean yourself up.”

“I wish you’d never come back here, you worthless bastard!”

“I know,” Derek said again, walking out of the bathroom, and shutting the door behind him.

He took a second to stand on the other side, half his upper body dripping water. It was easy to hear the sobbing through the door over the sound of water hitting tile and flesh. It made his chest ache, but he didn’t go back into the bathroom.

He just waited, listening to make sure John was actually doing something in there, and then headed towards the man’s dresser. He pulled out a pair of shorts and one of the only clean shirts he had left, then moved to leave them on the dresser by the bathroom door.

They’d played this game before, Derek was used to it, and so was the sheriff.

Heading back downstairs, Derek pulled his phone out and found Parrish’s contact, calling him back and putting it to his ear.

“How bad is it?” he asked in greeting.

“Bad,” Derek said, rubbing his eyes with one hand. “How many sick days does he have left?”


“Shit.” When Derek had come back from Illinois, the sheriff’s lack of ever taking a day off had meant he had an accumulated two-hundred and forty sick days. He’d been using them up, slowly but surely, the past three years, and to hear he was down to eight wasn’t great. “He isn’t in any position to come into work today.”

“I’ll do some damage control.”

“Thanks.” Derek hung up and let out a sigh, rubbing the back of his neck. He tilted his head, listening to the sounds from upstairs. It seemed like he was done crying, but he hadn’t made any move to exit the shower yet. Derek didn’t want to bother starting a cleanup when he knew he’d have to go back upstairs, so he instead called another number.

“Do you have any idea what time it is, boss?” a tired voice demanded down the line. It sounded like his face was smooshed into his pillow.

“I do, actually. I need a personal day, can you open?”

There was a loud, long groan of complaint on the other end, followed by a deep sigh. “You’re killing me, boss.”

“Sorry, unavoidable.”

“You’re lucky you pay me so well.”

“I’ll drop in as soon as I can.”

“Mm hm.” The line went dead.

Derek pulled the phone away, then checked his calendar. When he confirmed she was working, and thus wouldn’t wake her, he opened his texts and sent off a message.

Can you come over when you’re off shift?

He waited, watching the screen, and saw that she was typing back.

[Melissa McCall]


[Melissa McCall]

No worse than usual

[Melissa McCall]
I’m off in an hour. See you soon

He put the phone away and by then he could hear the sheriff cursing and stumbling around upstairs. He headed back to the second level and entered the bedroom. The old, dirty and wet clothes had been discarded on the floor by the bathroom door, soaking into the carpet. The sheriff had just finished pulling on his shirt, stumbling towards the bed.

Derek moved over beside him and pulled the covers aside, wincing at the stench. He was going to have to wash those later when John was sober again.

John seemed to realize he was back and he fisted the front of Derek’s shirt, almost falling into him. “You were supposed to fix it.”

“I know.”

“I hate you.”

“I know. Get some sleep.” Shoving John easily into bed, he pulled the blanket back over him, then moved to grab John’s wet clothes off the ground. He ended up just putting them in the hamper, and then moving through the room collecting all the discarded clothing, shoving everything into the laundry before exiting the room with it, shutting the door. He made his way downstairs and threw a load into the wash, starting it before heading back upstairs. He couldn’t do John’s room while he was sleeping, so he instead opened his own bedroom door and let out a sigh.

“Really, John?” Shaking his head, he moved forward, knowing this was kind of his own fault. He’d been sleeping at the loft for too long, and he knew this happened whenever he wasn’t around to keep an eye on him.

But still, this was a new low, even for the sheriff. There was dried vomit all over the bedspread, and a majority of Derek’s clothes had been thrown all over the room like a child having a tantrum. He knew John wasn’t in control when he got drunk, but still. Now he was going to have to do laundry virtually all day.

Stripping the bed and gathering the laundry in his arms with the blankets folded over themselves so he wasn’t touching the vomit, he made three trips to get everything to the laundry room off the kitchen, dumping it all on the floor.

Heading back upstairs, he slowly and methodically cleaned his room, putting all the empty bottles out into the corridor to be brought to the recycle bin outside later. Once his room was back to some semblance of order, he left and went to clean the other bathroom on their floor. There was vomit in the tub, but at least that was easy to clean, and the rest of the bathroom didn’t look too bad. Made sense, since John tended to use his own.

He was still on his knees scrubbing at the tub when the door opened downstairs. Tossing the rag down on a clean spot and relishing the reprieve for his abused nose, he got to his feet and moved to the stairs, seeing Melissa McCall standing at the base of them, looking around with disgust. When she glanced up and saw him, she gave him an apologetic look.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let it get this bad.”

“You’re not his keeper,” Derek insisted.

“Neither are you,” she reminded him softly.

“Someone needs to keep an eye on him,” Derek said. “Might as well be me.”

Melissa looked like she wanted to say something, but thought better of it. She just sighed, clearly exhausted after a long night at work, and set her purse down on the hall table, looking around. “Do you need help up there?”

“I’ve got it.”

“I’ll start down here, then.”

“Thank you.” Derek turned to head back for the bathroom.

He was going to have a long day.

Noah John Stilinski was the strongest man Derek had ever met. The only two people in his life who could destroy him were his wife and his son.

His wife had died, and it had nearly annihilated him. But he had his son, and he loved him, and he’d fought himself out of the bottle, he’d gotten sober, and he’d raised him to the best of his ability while forever nursing a broken heart.

And then his son had disappeared, and there was nothing left for him. No reason for him to continue, to fight, to be there. So he let himself go. He drowned his sorrows in alcohol, he ignored that anyone else existed in the world, and he gave up. At this point, Derek looked at him and saw only a man waiting to die.

The thing that killed Derek the most was that Stiles’ disappearance hadn’t only affected the sheriff. It had affected everyone.

Three years ago, he’d come back to Beacon Hills at the sheriff’s request. He’d started organizing Pack meetings, they’d all gone out and tried their best to find Stiles. His uncle Peter had come back from wherever the hell he was in the world, having magically heard about Stiles’ disappearance, and had offered his assistance.

Nobody wanted to trust him, but Derek could see that Stiles being missing was actually affecting him. As much as Peter hated all of them, Stiles was the one he hated the least. Derek might actually hesitantly believe that Peter cared for him, in his own, messed up way. So he’d stayed, and they’d searched, and they’d researched, and they’d done what they could.

Weeks turned into months which turned into years.

After the first year, the Pack couldn’t even look at each other. They’d fallen apart to in-fighting and accusations. Everyone had someone to blame for everything that had ever gone wrong in the town. People’s deaths, people’s ruined lives, disappearances, scars, unwanted abilities. Everyone had something to complain about, and everyone hated each other.

The sheriff had been holding it together for a time. He’d started drinking early on, a coping mechanism that was all too easy to fall back into. But he’d managed to keep himself together up until the in-fighting. The more the Pack fought, the more hopeless he became. He started to look haggard every time Derek saw him. He was losing weight, the strong set of his shoulders started to droop, and he aged very quickly in a short amount of time.

It wasn’t until the departures that he really fell apart. It wasn’t until the Pack fully split that John stopped going to work, spent more time drinking than anything else, and fully gave up hope that his son would ever be found again.

Lydia Martin was the first to leave. She insisted the Pack was useless, they didn’t care enough about Stiles, and she was going to find him on her own. She’d left after eighteen months, and Derek didn’t know where she’d gone, only that she never came back.

Liam Dunbar and Mason Hewitt left next. They’d already been in university when they’d heard the news, having taken two years off in their efforts to find their friend. But it became clear it was a lost cause. For Mason, it looked like it was too hard pretending they would find him. For Liam, it looked like he felt his Alpha had failed him. They both left, returning to university. After a semester in the same one, Mason transferred to another, and as far as Derek knew, they didn’t speak anymore.

Malia Tate was the next to disappear. She’d outlasted the others mostly out of desperation. Stiles was the one who’d saved her, the one who’d helped her. Stiles was someone Derek truly believed was Malia’s first love. They all had one, and for Malia, he was it. She didn’t want to give up, and Derek didn’t think she had. But she left in the middle of the night, leaving only a note for Derek saying she couldn’t stay there anymore. She emailed him every now and then, but he didn’t know where she was, and he never asked.

Peter was the last to go. He and Scott got into it, and then he attacked him, and then he left. He told Derek there was no reason for him to stay either, since Scott clearly didn’t care enough about his friend to find him. Derek told him if he was leaving to just go, so Peter did.

While Jordan Parrish didn’t go anywhere, he was never truly part of the Pack. He was a Supernatural being, a Hellhound, but he was a police officer first and a Supernatural second. He had his own life, his own friends. He cared about the sheriff, and he stayed out of the Pack politics to avoid conflicts. So when the Pack splintered and Pack meetings stopped, he didn’t ask why. He just went about his day.

And then it was just Derek and Scott. They had never been close friends. They had hardly even been friends. By the end of the second year, Derek hated him, and Scott hated him in return. They went their separate ways, Scott returning to his studies and eventually joining Deaton in the clinic, never wanting to stray too far from home.

Derek knew he could’ve left. He knew he could pack up and go back to his old life. Hell, he could’ve gone out looking for Stiles, and he wanted to. He did, so badly. He wanted to believe Stiles was alive out there, that he was waiting for someone to come and save him, and Derek so desperately wanted to be that person.

The only reason he didn’t was because of the sheriff. Because of the man he’d become in the past two years. His drinking had gotten worse when the last of the Pack left, and he already hadn’t been going to work. The full breakup of the Pack had him never going to work. Derek, Melissa and Parrish had to force him out of bed, stop him from self-destructing.

John lapsed on his mortgage. They were threatening to take his badge. His health declined. Derek didn’t know what to do, how to help him.

Derek knew Stiles was John’s everything, but he also knew that to Stiles, the sheriff was his everything.

Stiles loved his father so much he would die if anything happened to him. And Derek knew if he left, nobody would take care of him. Nobody would watch him and make sure he was doing okay.

Sure, Parrish always worked hard to make sure he showed up for work and got through the day, and Melissa dropped by every now and then to check in, but no one would be there for him. No one would make sure he was taking care of himself, and Derek couldn’t let the man kill himself in misery.

Stiles meant too much to him for Derek to let the sheriff implode.

When he’d come back at the sheriff’s request, Derek had been living in the loft at first. When the sheriff began going downhill, he’d moved into the spare room at the house. When he lapsed on the mortgage, Derek paid it off with the express understanding that he now owned the house, which meant the sheriff was never allowed to keep him out of it. It was an agreement they had come to between the two of them, and while Derek knew John deeply regretted it, he’d kept up his end of the deal, never using mountain ash or anything else harmful to Werewolves to keep Derek out.

Derek came and went as he pleased, and as the months passed, more and more of his belongings ended up in the spare room until suddenly it wasn’t the spare room anymore, it was just Derek’s room. He spent more time in the house than at the loft until he finally just didn’t go to the loft unless he was at work late.

Though he had money, he’d spent a chunk of it paying off the sheriff’s mortgage, and while he didn’t want to have any ties, he also understood he needed a distraction or he would go insane. So Derek had gone looking for a job. There was an opening for a mechanic at Armour Tire and Service, and Derek was actually pretty skilled with cars, having taken a few courses in both high school and university—mostly just for fun. He and the owner got along really well, and it was obvious to him that Derek needed an outlet, and that this job was the perfect distraction for him.

After two years of him working there, the old man decided to retire, and Derek had been a little worried about being booted out when he sold his business, because everyone knew Derek Hale and he was not very well liked. He was ‘a problem child’ or whatever.

Thankfully, the owner—a guy named Charles Armour, whom Derek referred to as ‘Chuck’—decided he would rather have someone competent take over the shop than someone he didn’t even know, and his nephew had already declined three times. So he and Derek made an agreement: they agreed on a price he would sell the place to Derek at, and instead of getting a salary, Derek would work his usual hours and that money would go towards buying the shop.

He still had a long way to go, and he knew he could technically pay off a bit of the amount with the money he had left, but this worked out better for him. He used his own money to live his life, and he knew that at the end of five more years, the place would be his. He’d never thought he’d want to stay in Beacon Hills, but he had someone who needed him, so he had no plans of leaving.

So, Derek suddenly had a new life in Beacon Hills. He lived with the sheriff in a house he kind of owned, and he worked his ass off at a garage that he kind of owned. And in between all that, he searched for Stiles. He obsessed about it. He called in all the favours he had, he touched base with dozens of friends across the world, he did whatever he could to try and find the one person in the world he cared about.

Hell, he’d even called his sister Cora, whom he didn’t speak to anymore, and she’d agreed to keep an eye out for Stiles. Even apologized for him going missing.

Everyone knew how much this hurt for Derek, because everyone knew what had happened between them.

Before he’d left, Derek had told Stiles he was the only person in his life he truly cared about anymore. He told him he wanted more than what they had, but there was a caveat: Stiles had to come with him. He had to leave, get out of Beacon Hills, leave all this bullshit behind him.

Stiles had tried that once. He’d gone to be an intern at the FBI, he’d worked to become something more than the token human. But then he’d gotten sucked back in, and try as he might, he couldn’t walk away. So when Derek told him the terms, Stiles said no.

He argued about his dad, about Scott, about how it wasn’t fair for Derek to give him an ultimatum, to make him choose between them and him. At the time, Derek hadn’t felt like it was an ultimatum, but he did now. He understood it had been unfair to ask him to leave, unfair to insist that he had to get out when Stiles had already tried that once, and failed.

So they’d fought, and before they could even become something, they ended up being nothing. Derek left, he didn’t look back, he disappeared across the country.

He kept his phone number, though. He kept up with the Pack, checked their group chat every now and then. His chest ached whenever he saw Stiles’ name in the group chat, but Derek himself never spoke. He never made his presence known.

And they never kicked him out of the chat.

But they also didn’t talk about everything happening in town in the group chat.

Stiles went missing. Derek came back. The chat was still there, and though no one used it, everyone was still in it. No one had dared leave it. But it had been three years. Derek didn’t want to lose hope, but he knew he couldn’t focus on two Stilinskis at once. He was only one man, and he was tired, and hurt, and fed up with losing everything all the time.

He blamed himself for Stiles’ disappearance. He wasn’t going to let the sheriff kill himself over this. So if the only thing he could do with what was left of his pathetic life was take care of the man who meant the world to the man that meant the world to Derek, then that was what he was going to do.

He was going to clean up after him. He was going to wipe his face when he threw up, and get him into bed when he was tired, and force feed him healthy shit when he was being a grumpy motherfucker. Derek was going to make sure Noah John Stilinski lived a long and healthy life, even if he was as miserable as Derek was.

Because they owed it to Stiles. Derek owed Stiles everything, and he knew the sheriff was the only man who mattered to him. So Derek was going to keep him alive and breathing as long as he could, and there wasn’t a damn thing John could do about it.

“Thanks for coming,” Derek said when he and Melissa finally sat at the kitchen table, the last load of laundry in the dryer and the house looking back to normal. “I shouldn’t have stayed away for so long, I know how he gets.”

“He’s not your responsibility,” Melissa said softly, looking ready to pass out where she was sitting, nursing a cup of tea. “You know you don’t have to do this.”

“I do,” Derek insisted. “I have to.” John was all he had left of Stiles, he wasn’t going to let the man drink himself to death.

“How long were you at the loft?”

Derek shook his head, raking one hand through his hair. “Six days? Maybe a week?”

It was depressing when he realized how badly the house had suffered in his short absence. The loft was just closer to the garage, and he’d been working long hours trying to make up for the two guys he had on vacation.

Lesson learned. No matter how tired he was, he needed to come back to the house, or else John would hit the bottle again.

A lot of bottles. It was lucky he hadn’t shown up for work and Parrish had called Derek, or he might’ve drunk himself to death.

Actually, that was probably what he’d been going for.

Melissa reached across the table, taking one of his hands and squeezing tightly, offering him a tired smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“You’re a good man, Derek. Doing this, taking care of him. I know he doesn’t tell you, but he does appreciate it. He’s glad you’re back.”

His drunken mind seemed to disagree, but Derek didn’t say anything about that. “Can I drive you home?”

“I’ll be okay to drive,” she promised, checking the time. “Besides, he’ll be home.”

Right. Scott. Derek and Scott avoided one another like they would spontaneously combust on the spot if they were close to each other. Derek had seen him in the grocery store once and both of them had frozen an entire aisle apart before Derek had left, deciding to come back at a later time.

Scott wanted him out of his territory, but he was on Hale land and didn’t have the right to kick him out. They tolerated each other’s presence in Beacon Hills, but hadn’t spoken in over a year.

It came as absolutely no surprise to Derek that the person keeping the Pack together was Stiles. Scott couldn’t do this without him, and it was why everyone had left. Because Scott wasn’t Stiles.

Derek walked Melissa to the door, thanking her again and watched her climb into her car. When she left, he went back into the house and shut the door. He called the garage, smiling a little at how disgruntled Lloyd Butler was.

Lloyd was Chuck’s nephew, eighteen years older than Derek, and he hated his job like nobody’s business but he went into work anyway. When Derek had called him that morning, he knew he’d be pissed about it, but he never said no. Derek attributed it to nostalgia. Apparently the shop used to be owned by his grandfather, who’d passed it down to Chuck when he’d been old enough. Lloyd had no desires to take over, which was probably the only reason Chuck had offered it to Derek.

Lloyd was a good man, hard worker, especially for someone who didn’t like his job. He didn’t act superior to Derek, and he gave anyone else in the shop shit when they acted like Derek was too young or inexperienced to run the place. It had taken a long time for the guys to treat him with respect, but Derek knew it was all thanks to Lloyd.

The guy was awesome, Derek enjoyed going out for beers with him. The others tagged along every now and then, but he and Lloyd had always been the closest out of everyone in the shop barring Chuck.

“How’ve things been today?” Derek asked, falling onto the couch.

“Shit. Jason didn’t show up, because he’s a fucking idiot who can’t read a schedule, and Harry and Alex fucked up the Martin’s checkup. Had to knock ten percent off their price and re-do the whole thing from scratch.”

“Sorry Lloyd.”

“Damn straight you are,” he grunted, papers shuffling on the other end of the line. “You deal with that personal problem?”

“In a way.” It wasn’t a secret the sheriff’s son had been missing for three years.

And it wasn’t a secret Derek lived with him.

Lloyd knew that Derek only took a day off work if he had to deal with something for the sheriff. Sometimes Parrish took over, and sometimes Melissa did, but usually it was Derek. He was thankful that everyone was so understanding.

He was thankful for Parrish, because half the time he wouldn’t know if shit was going down without a contact at the station.

Derek and Parrish had actually become pretty close friends over the years. He came around a lot to check in, and made dinner every now and then if Derek was at work late so that the sheriff didn’t have a reason to eat badly. Derek really liked Parrish, he was a good guy, and they’d gotten close enough that he’d stopped calling him ‘Hale’ and Derek, in turn, stopped calling him ‘Parrish.’ They were just Derek and Jordan now, which was nice.

It was really nice having at least one person his age in town that didn’t hate him.

Derek and Lloyd talked about the day at work, organizing the books and making sure the right parts were ordered. He said he’d be in the following day, Lloyd grunted something unintelligible, and then they hung up.

While he didn’t want to leave the house, the fridge was woefully empty and Derek ended up making a grocery store run, restocking everything they needed, and buying extras of things he wasn’t sure about, like toilet paper. He stopped at the garage on his way back, picking up some papers and being barked at by Lloyd for bothering to drag his lazy ass into work at all, but he knew the guy just cared so he didn’t take it to heart. Lloyd was very much like his uncle, which made sense since he’d grown up with the man breathing down his neck at the shop.

Once he was back home, he put everything away and got some food ready for when John woke up, then spread his papers out on the kitchen table so he could get a head start on the books for next month. He wanted to hire a receptionist, because most of the guys at the shop were like Derek, which meant they lacked social skills, and he worried they were losing business because of the gruffness when they answered the phone. Having someone with a little less bite would be nice, except they’d have to be able to handle the rough edges of the other guys.

It made his chest ache when his mind immediately went to Stiles. Stiles had always been good with Derek. He’d always been able to clap back, and he never took his attitude to heart. He would’ve been able to work in a shop with a bunch of grumpy, rough-around-the-edges mechanics. Stiles would’ve been chipper on the phone, and an asshole to the rest of the guys.

He would’ve been perfect.

Before Derek could allow himself to fall further into that dark hole, he heard movement from upstairs and paused in what he was doing, listening. The sheriff was up and moving about.

When he glanced at the stove, he saw it was a little after four. Derek was tired, being up for so long, and he knew he was going to crash early, but hopefully the sheriff would actually manage to make it to work today. Parrish had confirmed earlier via text that he was scheduled for the morning shift again, so if he could get the man fed and back into bed in a couple of hours, he should be human enough to make it for his four am start.

Derek waited while John got himself organized upstairs, then the bedroom door opened. He kept his eyes on his paper, scratching away at the numbers and scowling when they didn’t add up properly. He hated doing the books, he wasn’t great at math, but it was one of the first things Chuck had taught him when he’d told him he could have the garage. Derek wasn’t enough of an ass to force someone else to do it, even if Lloyd could probably do it faster than him. He just took solace in the fact that the guy always double-checked his work.

He didn’t look up when the sheriff entered the kitchen. He heard him pause at the door for a long while, and then he sighed and finally moved forward, sitting down across from Derek at the table.

“I didn’t mean it,” he said softly. “What I said before. I didn’t mean it, Derek.”

“I know,” he said. He knew the sheriff wasn’t lying, because every signal his body gave out radiated shame and hurt and misery. Derek knew he meant it, though. Derek knew that, deep down, beneath all the pain he felt, John truly hated him.

If Derek and his family had stayed gone, Scott never would’ve become a Werewolf. If Scott wasn’t a Werewolf, his son wouldn’t have gotten involved in that life. If he hadn’t gotten involved, maybe he would still be there. Hell, maybe he’d still be at the FBI. Maybe he’d be an actual agent by now, out solving cases and fighting the good fight. Maybe he’d own a tiny box of an apartment in Washington, with a dog and a girlfriend. Maybe he’d be happy, and would Skype with his dad, visit on the holidays.

Things wouldn’t have turned into this if only the Hales hadn’t come back. If only Laura had stayed away, if only Peter hadn’t killed her and become an Alpha, if only Peter hadn’t bitten Scott, if only Derek hadn’t killed him and become the Alpha instead. The Hales were behind what had happened to Stiles, and Derek knew, deep down, further even than the sheriff was aware of, he knew that the man across from him hated him with every bone in his body.

Derek stood up, dropping his pen. He went to the microwave and started it up, waiting in front of it for the minute it ran before pulling the plate of food out and bringing it to the table with some cutlery. He set it in front of the sheriff, then went to find him some Tylenol and a glass of water. He returned with those as well, then took his seat once more while the sheriff downed the medicine and drained half the glass. Then he started eating, looking down at his plate, avoiding Derek’s eye.

“I thought I got rid of all the alcohol in the house,” Derek said while the man cut into his green beans.

“You were gone,” he said. A fact, not an accusation. “I bought more.”

“I thought I told Jeff not to sell you any alcohol,” Derek insisted. Which he had. He’d spoken to the owner of the only liquor store in town and they’d come to an agreement that the sheriff was not permitted on the premises.

“Drove to the next county.”

He wanted to be pissed about it, but he knew the sheriff was desperate for an escape. He just wanted a reprieve, and Derek understood that. It hurt for all of them, and they all coped in different ways.

Lydia ran, Derek drowned himself in his work, and the sheriff drank. They all coped in their own ways.

“You have work at four tomorrow morning,” Derek told him, picking his pen back up and returning to his numbers. “Parrish is coming to pick you up at three forty-five.”

“I’m an adult, Derek.”

Derek just raised his head to give him a look. The sheriff still wasn’t looking at him, stabbing at his food like a petulant child.

Against his better judgment, he said, “This isn’t what he would’ve wanted for you.”

John went absolutely still, and Derek saw his hand clenching around his fork, jaw working like he was going to say something, but he obviously thought better of it because he remained silent and eventually, his hand relaxed.

He knew what he wanted to say. “This was your fault. Your family forced his hand when Peter bit Scott. You left him. You left the Pack. They took him because you didn’t protect him.”

They were things the sheriff had said to him while drunk. Derek remembered every horrible thing that had been said to him, and he knew he deserved every word. He also knew how ashamed the sheriff felt as soon as he was sober again and realized what he’d said.

But that was okay. Derek had tough skin, he’d been getting shit on since he was sixteen. It didn’t even bother him anymore, especially since he believed it.

Besides, nothing he said was ever as bad as what he’d ever said to Scott.

Scott had only come by once when the sheriff was drunk.


It had been enough.

Even as much as he hated Scott, Derek had still felt sorry for him, hearing the things the sheriff had said. Of course, John had called the next day to apologize, but Scott never came by again. It worked out, since Derek lived there now and they didn’t want anything to do with each other.

“I wish you’d go,” John said quietly. “I wish you’d leave and go find him.”

“I can’t do that,” Derek said, despite how badly he wanted to. “I was gone for six days and you almost killed yourself, not to mention you destroyed the house. All I can smell is vomit and other bodily fluids. I’m here for you. The others will handle finding him.”

That was another thing that had changed over the years.

No one ever said his name anymore. Nobody dared utter it, for fear of the reaction. Not even just because of the sheriff, but because of themselves. Derek had tried once. He’d said his name out loud, alone in the loft, and it had hurt so much he’d almost doubled over. Stiles’ name was like razor blades in his mouth, broken glass working its way up his throat, shredding his voicebox. Stiles’ name was a reminder of who they’d all lost.

Derek wanted to believe he was still alive out there. He wanted to believe they would find Stiles one day, that it would be like nothing happened.

He wasn’t that naive. It had been three years.

Stiles was dead.

They all knew it. None of them wanted to accept it, but they all knew it.

It was a hard pill to swallow.

The sheriff went to work at three forty-five in the morning. Derek slept until seven, then got up and headed to the garage. Lloyd showed up a little after eight to open up with him, and when the other guys showed up, he and Derek went to the diner to grab breakfast, Lloyd looking over the books and the two of them talking about the potential of hiring someone to man the phones and deal with the customers in a less abrasive way.

The day was long, and exhausting. Derek spent the double shift there, like he always did. He closed the shop a little after nine, and Parrish was at the house when he got back. He’d made dinner, and was on his way out.

Derek thanked him as if Parrish were taking care of his own father, then went inside. The sheriff was already asleep in the recliner in the living room. Derek didn’t want to wake him to get him to bed, so he just draped a blanket over him and turned off the television before heading upstairs.

When he reached the second floor, he paused while staring at the only closed door on the floor. It was the only room John never destroyed whenever he was left alone in the house for too long. It always looked exactly the same whenever Derek opened the door.

His hand burned with need, but he knew it would just hurt to walk in there. Still, he found himself moving forward and reached out, turning the knob and pushing open the door. Light streamed through the blinds from the streetlamps outside, and Derek gave his eyes a few seconds to shift so he could see in the dark.

The room looked the same as it always did. Unmade bed, books and papers littering the desk, previously mud-caked shoes in the corner. The mud had dried and started to crumble so that all that remained was rust-coloured dust surrounding the shoes, a few chunks having stuck to the soles.

Stiles’ bat was sitting up against his bed, his phone charger was hanging off the nightstand, and an expired bottle of Adderall was lying on its side against the lamp beside his bed.

His scent had long ago faded from the room. It had been too long since he’d been in there. Even after twenty-two years of living in this room, three without him had made everything disappear.

Sometimes, when Derek was feeling particularly pathetic, he would lie on the floor and try and inhale his scent from the carpet, but even that had faded to an almost impossible degree. It was like Stiles was disappearing entirely, and soon, it would be like he never existed. Eventually this door would never be opened again. The covered Jeep in the driveway would become too painful a reminder and would disappear. Every piece of Stiles would be gone, like he was never there.

And that was the day Derek knew they would all finally accept that he was never coming back.

He hated that he didn’t know the whole story. Some nights, he lay awake thinking about what he’d been told, and wondered if having more knowledge would’ve made a difference in finding him.

When he’d come back and been briefed by Scott, they didn’t know much. A group of Hunters had come to town, not looking for trouble, just tracking a monster called an Aswang—an Asian blood-sucking beast—that had come through town. The Pack hadn’t been interested in making friendly with the Hunters, but Chris Argent acted as their go-between and together they managed to track the beast down.

Once it was caught, the Hunters left, and the Pack split to go home. John said Stiles definitely made it home, because the Jeep was in the driveway, and he heard him enter the house—apparently he’d tripped on the stairs and cursed an injury. That was the last anyone knew about him. John hadn’t heard him enter his room, and there had been no signs of a break-in. Derek felt inclined to believe Stiles had never made it to the second floor, because he would’ve charged his phone which meant it would’ve still been there when the sheriff went looking for him the next morning.

The mud-caked shoes had been from the night before, a confusing aside that Scott had spent entirely too long focussing on before Malia had insisted they weren’t the shoes Stiles had been wearing the last night anyone had seen him.

Stiles had been in his house. He had entered the house, climbed the stairs, tripped, and then he was gone. The Pack had searched for him for two months before Derek had been called, and the first thing he did upon hearing the story was find the Hunters. Chris helped him with that, but the group of them were actually decent human beings and were adamant that they hadn’t touched Stiles. Half of them honestly didn’t even remember him, and Derek knew they weren’t lying. He also couldn’t smell him anywhere on them.

The Pack had expanded their perimeter as the days passed, but they couldn’t find him. Stiles’ scent always led back to his house, and there were no foreign scents in the place. He’d literally vanished into thin air.

Which, of course, suggested magic and witchcraft. Derek had called some Magician friends, and Alan Deaton, town Druid and Scott’s Emissary, had touched base with his own contacts, but nobody could find anything that proved Stiles had been magicked away.

He was there, and then he wasn’t.

Three years later, and he still wasn’t.

Derek’s grip tightened on the doorknob, warping the metal until he could force himself to let go. He moved further into the room, sitting down on Stiles’ bed and looked around, feeling his chest ache.

He knew he couldn’t have done anything in the moment. He knew Stiles had disappeared without anyone being able to do anything. But a part of him still wondered if he might’ve found him had he been there. If he’d found out the second it had happened, maybe his born-wolf abilities would’ve made a difference.

A ridiculous thought, given Malia was also a born-Were, but Derek was nothing if not a martyr. Everything was always his fault in some way or another, and Stiles’ disappearance was no different.

Lying down on the bed, Derek stared up at the ceiling, the room smelling musty and more like himself than anything else, given his occasional visits.

“I shouldn’t have fallen in love with you,” he said to the ceiling. “Everyone I love with my entire being either gets destroyed or destroys me.”

Really, he should’ve noticed the pattern.

He’d loved Paige, and she’d died.

He’d loved Kate, and she’d murdered his family.

He’d loved Jennifer, and she’d almost murdered his new Pack and friends.

He’d loved Stiles, and now he was probably dead.

He should’ve known not to fall in love with someone he cared so much about. He’d cared so much about Stiles. It seemed logical that the next step for him would be to fall in love with him, but he should’ve noticed his pattern. He shouldn’t have let himself go down that road, because now he was gone, and it was all his fault.

Everything was his fault, just like always. Because Derek was a walking fucking disaster.

“Planning on sleeping there?”

Derek started and jerked upright, looking over at the door where the sheriff was standing. He hadn’t heard him come upstairs.

“No.” He stood, moving away from the bed and exiting the room, shutting the door behind him. “You should sleep, it’s late.”

“I’m the adult, here,” John reminded him, even though Derek was twenty-eight, and a bonafide adult himself.

“I need to go to Agassis Falls tomorrow,” Derek informed him. “Have to pick up some parts for the shop. Jordan’ll be here after work until I get back.”

John didn’t say anything, likely because he knew it wouldn’t do any good.

“Melissa said she’d drop by for dinner. Might bring Scott.”

They both knew Scott wouldn’t come, but Melissa would try. Derek wouldn’t be around, and it had been months since the sheriff and Scott had seen one another. Might do some good, as long as the man stayed sober.

“Good night, Derek.” He sounded so defeated when he said it that it hurt to hear.

“Good night.”

He watched the sheriff head to his room and disappear inside, the door shutting with a soft click.

Derek turned back to Stiles’ door, brushing his fingers lightly along the wood, heart clenching in his chest.

“I’m sorry.” He let his fingers slide off the door and then turned to enter his room.

Derek hated Agassis Falls. It was almost a mirror image of Beacon Hills, except minus the Supernatural bullshit and plus about eighty thousand extra racist assholes. He almost always felt the urge to tear someone’s head off whenever he spent more than ten minutes in the damn place, which was why he always made a point of doing what he needed to do and leaving as soon as possible.

Agassis Falls was a six hour drive from Beacon Hills, so Derek always had to leave early in the morning, spend no more than an hour there—though he tried for literally ten minutes—and then headed back out right away.

He stopped at a McDonalds for breakfast, perusing the menu, and then again at a local fast food joint about four miles out from his destination. They had specials on display for each day of the week, so while Derek idled behind another car giving their order, he pulled out his phone to check what day it was.


He pushed it back into his pocket almost violently, hating Wednesdays, but got the special anyway since he’d been too angry to check the menu properly before moving up to the order box.

He ate his lunch on his way into town, made it to his destination, managed not to rip anyone’s face off, and then headed off again. A group of girls in a VW Beetle followed him almost all the way out of town, catcalling to him and asking him if he was looking to have a good time. He resolutely stared straight ahead to avoid flashing his eyes at them and snarling. Thankfully, he made it to the highway and they gave up their attempts to get his attention.

It was a long way back, and he stopped at a diner for dinner, figuring he should have at least one healthy meal today. He stopped at the garage before heading home to drop off the parts they’d needed, and left a note for Lloyd for the morning. Derek was coming in around nine since he had to stop by the bank with Chuck first thing. There was a problem with the rent, and they needed to figure out what the fuck had happened before Chuck went postal on someone.

The guy was surprisingly scary when he was angry.

He could see light coming from beneath one of the doors at the back that led into a room he’d never entered, but he didn’t investigate. When he’d first started, Lloyd and Chuck both had told him the room was off-limits. It was personal. Derek never broke their trust by checking it out, and he figured it was Chuck in the back, given the recent scent.

By the time he got back to the house, Melissa and Parrish were both still there. Derek let himself in and greeted everyone in the living room, noting their tense expressions the second he walked into the house.

“What happened?” he asked immediately, moving into the living room and sitting beside Melissa on the couch.

“Nothing yet,” Parrish said, raking a hand through his hair. “Couple of hunters came to the station today. Were out in the Preserve hunting deer and found a few dead ones off the path.”

It took a second for Derek to realize he meant actual hunters, not Hunters, capital H. The kind of hunters who went out with the orange vests and rifles and killed animals for sport, not the Chris Argent kind of Hunters.

“Do we know what it was?” Derek asked.

“I went out there with Val earlier, brought one back to Deaton. He said it was an animal attack, but we’ve been hearing a lot of reports about a wild animal out in the Preserve killing deer and rabbits the past two days.”

“We think it’s Supernatural?” Derek asked with a frown.

Their little town had been doing surprisingly well since the sheriff had gotten drunk five months ago and gone out to burn the Nemeton to ash. He’d almost set half the forest on fire in the process and Parrish had been the one to get him out of there before he killed himself, but it seemed whatever magic the Nemeton was pushing out to attract evil had finally ceased.

Derek had kind of been enjoying their little reprieve.

“Nothing suggests that so far,” the sheriff grunted. “Looks perfectly normal. But we can’t have a wild animal out there with hunting season starting. It’s a danger to civilians.”

“You want me to check it out?” Derek asked.

“Not yet,” Parrish said, despite it being obvious the sheriff thought otherwise. “It’s just an animal passing through. We’ll put out a warning and hope it moves along quickly. Reports only just started coming in, with any luck it’ll be gone inside a week.”

Derek shrugged, but figured he’d go check it out anyway once Melissa and Parrish left. It was still light out, and he was in a bad mood from his long day in the car and the reminder of what day of the week it was.

It also didn’t help that it was currently February 20th, and he was fast approaching the anniversary of the phone call he’d received from the sheriff. He felt like it might be nice to go out, turn into a wolf, maul whatever the fuck was attacking deer in his territory.

Well, Scott’s territory, but his land. And really, was Scott even an Alpha anymore? He had no Pack, he was just an Omega with red eyes. At least Derek had a Pack, what with having the sheriff and Parrish in his circle. One Supernatural and a human still constituted a Pack, as evidenced by the fact that Derek’s original Pack had literally been him, Stiles and Scott.

Parrish and Melissa stayed only a few minutes longer, moving on to less depressing topics in an attempt to lighten the mood. Derek saw them out when they finally left, and as soon as the door was shut, he turned and saw the sheriff in the corridor behind him.

“You want me to check it out,” he guessed.

“You were going to anyway.”

He wasn’t wrong, so Derek just shrugged one shoulder and cocked his head, listening for Melissa and Parrish to leave before heading out.

“Did you put an alert out yet? Might go wolf, and I don’t want anyone to shoot at me.” Though he might deserve it, in his opinion.

“Best you stay human,” the sheriff said in response.

Derek just nodded and waited. Once he was sure Melissa and Parrish had left, he exited the house, pausing before shutting the door and glaring at John. “If I come home and smell any alcohol in this house, you’ll regret it. I’ll be right back, don’t be stupid.”

The sheriff said nothing, which wasn’t comforting, but he was a grown fucking man and Derek had to hope he could leave him alone for ten fucking minutes.

He went back to the Camaro, keeping his gaze on his own car and not looking at the covered vehicle in the driveway. Once he was behind the wheel, he headed out to the Preserve. There were a few cars parked in the lot, but it was getting dark and he knew whatever idiots were out looking for trouble, they’d be forced to head back soon.

Locking up and then pushing his keys into his pocket, he headed out on foot through the path, listening hard and making out where all the various humans were in the woods. They were idiots for being out there trying to find whatever was killing the deer, but he didn’t dwell on it. If they got killed, it would be their own fault. Sure, if it was Supernatural, he’d feel a little guilty, but if it turned out to be a bear or something, well, they shouldn’t have gone out looking to get their faces eaten, that was on them.

Derek walked along the path for about a mile before heading off into the trees. He knew these woods like he did his own childhood home, and it was easy for him to scent the air and find a dead deer. This one had been dead for a while, at least a week, and when he bent down beside it to get a better scent on what had attacked it, he froze.

Every hair on his body rose on end and he was positive he was wrong, but he bent down closer, ignoring the smell of decay and the various bugs that had started to make the dead animal their dinner and he inhaled again.

It was faint, but it was there. That, or he was crazy. He was probably crazy, because that was impossible. It was impossible.

Shifting along around the deer, staying close to the ground, Derek followed the scent, nostrils flaring and eyes burning when they turned blue. He could almost see the trail as it led off further into the Preserve and he hastily followed it, staying low and inhaling almost greedily.

He knew he was losing his mind, because there was no way he was smelling what he thought he was. He’d had a long day, he was clearly delusional, it was Wednesday and close to the anniversary of a horrible phone call. But this scent was familiar, and it made his chest burn. Every inhale was like liquid fire in his lungs, burning its way through him, because he knew this scent, and it was impossible.

He lost track of it about half a mile into the woods, and he almost lost his fucking mind before scenting the air and finding another dead animal. This one was fresher, and the scent of what had taken it down was stronger. Maybe a day old, if that. Derek didn’t worry about it, he just raced after the scent, following it along as the sun began to disappear beneath the horizon, bathing the area in darkness. His boots crunched over fallen leaves, and he batted branches out of his face impatiently, continuing after the scent. It was getting stronger the further into the Preserve he went, and he was about to lose his fucking mind when he inhaled and he knew he was on a fresh trail.

Hours, maybe even minutes, old.


If he was crazy, he was going straight to fucking Eichen house, because it smelled like Stiles. This scent he’d been following smelled like Stiles!

And this one was fresh.

He raced through the forest after it, heart pounding in his chest and claws coming out despite his best effort. He slashed through branches that were in his way, and leapt over fallen trees, moving through the forest so fast he could hardly keep track of his surroundings.

He skid to a halt outside a large rock formation. He vaguely knew where he was, about two miles south of his old childhood home. The place reeked of blood and death, but underneath all that and the trail of dead animal carcases leading to the entrance of a small opening in the rocks, he could smell him.

“Stiles!” Derek raced for the opening, a part of his mind screaming at him that he was stupid to fall for such an obvious trap, but another part of him insisting he didn’t care. Really, after three years, it didn’t matter if it was a trap. If he found Stiles, he didn’t care if he died immediately afterwards. He just needed to see him one last time.

He clambered into the cave, and was immediately hit with another scent. It still had that Stiles flavour to it, but somehow it smelled... wrong. Not bad, just different. Not like Stiles.

And then he heard the roar.

He froze, barely past the entrance, and his eyes searched the darkness of the cave he was in. It wasn’t very big, maybe about the size of his bedroom back at the house, so it made the sweep quick. His eyes landed on a dirty, blood-streaked mass of human flesh in the far corner, bright blue eyes looking out at him from under matted brown hair.

For a few seconds, Derek wasn’t sure what he was looking at, because he could smell Stiles, but he couldn’t see him. At least, that was what he thought at first, until the growling Werewolf in the cave shifted and Derek realized, with a start, that the growling Werewolf was Stiles.

His stomach bottomed out, because he was staring at Stiles, and it felt so good to see him, except he was a Werewolf, and his eyes were blue, and Derek knew, he just knew that whatever had happened to him, it had been awful.

Stiles had never wanted to be a Werewolf, and now he was, and his eyes were blue, and fuck!

“Stiles,” Derek said softly, throat tight. He forced himself to pull his claws back, to make his eyes return to normal. He made himself as human as he could, holding one hand out slowly and taking a cautious step forward.

Stiles growled loudly, hunkering down and looking ready to attack him. Derek stopped, staring at him, because Stiles was acting like he didn’t recognize him. Had Derek changed in the past few years? Or was Stiles just pissed that Derek was there at all?

Honestly, he didn’t care. He didn’t care if Stiles tore him to ribbons, he was going to fucking crush him in a hug the second he could get close enough, because it was Stiles and he was alive and Derek felt like he might be in shock because his heart was pounding in his chest and it was a struggle to inhale properly.

“Stiles, it’s me. It’s Derek.” When he took another step forward, the growling turned threatening and he saw Stiles digging his claws into the ground beneath him, ready to pounce.

His blood ran cold, because this was different. This wasn’t a pissed off Stiles. It wasn’t even a pissed off Werewolf. It was a threatened Werewolf. Stiles was acting the same way Derek had seen countless others act before. Countless Werewolves his mother had been forced to take down, been forced to decide whether they could be saved or were too far gone.

His stomach bottomed out when he realized what he was looking at.

Hunters liked to play a game with Werewolves. It was a cruel, vicious game that they found great amusement in. Kate had tried to play it with Derek during one of her many torture sessions upon his return to Beacon Hills, but she’d never succeeded because Scott and Stiles had always found him and set him free. They had no idea what they’d done for him, how many times they’d saved him.

Because a Werewolf who was forced to shift, and then forced to remain in that shift for an extended period of time could lose its mind. Its human side would recede, and the wolf would take over. After a few days of this, it started becoming harder for the human to come back. After months, it was almost impossible.

After years, it was impossible.

The wolves would go feral. A beast’s mind trapped in a human body.

And Stiles... Stiles looked and sounded exactly like the countless feral wolves Derek had seen his mother take down when he was a child.

Stiles wasn’t Stiles anymore.

He wasn’t even a Werewolf anymore.

He was feral.

His heart stuttered in his chest at the realization. He’d found Stiles. He’d found him. But Stiles wasn’t in there anymore. Maybe, deep down, if the shift hadn’t been forced for too long. Maybe he could come back, they could pull him back to the surface, but if they were too late...

“No,” he growled to no one, his voice low and guttural with a touch of desperation. He wasn’t losing Stiles. Not like this. Not when he was right here. He wasn’t going to fucking lose him, so he just had to get him out of there before they had unwanted visitors and he could deal with the rest afterwards.

“Stiles,” Derek said again, forcing himself to remain calm, because he felt like he was going to lose his fucking mind if Stiles was gone. “Stiles, I know you’re still in there,” he said softly. “I know you can hear me.” He inched forward slowly, little by little.

Stiles growled again loudly, Derek struggling to keep his wolf at bay, and when Stiles swiped at him with one clawed hand, Derek recoiled when it slashed across his arm. The wounds healed instantly, but he flashed his eyes at Stiles and bared his human teeth at him.

“Stop it,” he snapped, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Stiles just kept growling, stalking to the left a little bit, pressed up against the cave wall.

Derek hated that he couldn’t do this, but he knew why Stiles was reacting like this. Because Derek was a Beta, and Stiles was an Beta, and they were both on the same level. Derek couldn’t make him listen, couldn’t make him stop or follow or do anything.

Derek needed an Alpha.

It chafed, but he needed Scott.

Taking another step back to put a bit of distance between them, just in case Stiles tried to attack him by surprise, Derek reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He had to bring it up higher because he didn’t want to take his eyes off Stiles. After three years, he wasn’t going to look away from him for even a second, if he could help it.

He thumbed through his contacts quickly, the sight of Stiles’ name in the list not hurting as much today as it had any other day. Scott’s was right above it and he hit his name, pressing the call button.

Derek put the phone to his ear, eyes still locked on the growling body in front of him, the sound making his gums itch and his hackles rise in defence. It was taking everything he had not to growl back, but he knew that would only invite Stiles to attack him. It would be considered a challenge.

The phone rang and rang until it clicked to voicemail.

“Hi, you’ve reached Scott McCall, I ca—”

Derek hung up and called again, putting the phone back to his ear. Stiles had shifted back a bit further, pressing himself closer to the filthy cave wall, bright blue eyes shining out at him through the darkness. He must have moved into an acoustically rich part of the cave because his growling seemed to be echoing, Derek feeling it in his bones.

When he went to voicemail a second time, he knew Scott was ignoring him. Unsurprising, given they hadn’t spoken in over a year, but it irked him that Scott was screening his calls.

Derek had nothing to say to him, ever, so obviously it would be important if he was calling.

Frustrated, he knew Stiles wasn’t going anywhere given he was blocking the exit, so despite not wanting to, he took his eyes off him to glance down at his phone, opening a text message and sending three words.

I found Stiles

He watched the message send, eyes shooting back up to Stiles, making sure he was still there. Obviously he was still there, but after three years, Derek wasn’t taking any chances.

Twenty seconds after the text was sent, his phone rang, Scott’s name flashing back at him. Stiles growled louder at the vibrating sound and bared his teeth, the only purely white thing in the cave right then.

Derek answered the call and had barely raised the phone to his ear when Scott was speaking.

“Where is he? Is he okay? Let me talk to him, put him on!”

Stiles was growling even louder now, as if Scott’s voice was threatening to him. Derek wondered if his feral-mind could somehow determine even over the phone that Scott was an Alpha.

“He can’t come to the phone right now. He’s not—okay.”

The sharp inhale on the other end made him realize he hadn’t chosen the right words, especially since Scott followed up with a slightly hysterical note to his tone.

“Is he alive?! Derek, is he alive?! Where are you?! What happened?!”

“He’s alive,” Derek confirmed, and he had never been so happy in his life to be able to say those words. The past three years had been hell, not knowing where Stiles was, what was happening to him, if he was even alive.

Having him here, despite the obvious concern of him being a feral Werewolf, was the biggest relief Derek had ever experienced in his life.

“What happened? Where are you? What’s that sound?”

Derek jumped, having momentarily forgotten Scott was on the phone with him because Stiles had started moving. He’d stalked over to the other side of the cave, still eying Derek warily and growling, then settled protectively over a mass of clothes, leaves and animal innards. It was probably where he was sleeping.

Lovely. No wonder he smelled like death.

“Stiles,” Derek said, answering Scott’s question. Or, one of them, at least.

“Stiles? What do you—Stiles is making that noise?”



“How fast do you think you can make it to the south lot of the Preserve?”

“I don’t—I’m not home. I’m in the next county over with Deaton.” 

“How fast, Scott?”

“A couple hours?”

“Good. Start driving. Follow my scent when you find my car.”

Derek hung up.

Stiles did not like having another Werewolf in his space, but Derek didn’t give two shits right then about what Stiles did and didn’t like. Derek had parked his ass in the entrance to the cave, and hadn’t taken his eyes off Stiles since hanging up with Scott.

For the most part, Stiles just growled and hovered around his nest, but occasionally he shifted forward slightly and scented the air, as if curious about Derek. He obviously knew Derek was a Werewolf, but given Derek himself had never gone feral, he had no idea how Stiles’ mind was working.

Did a part of him even recognize Derek? Did he understand that he was a human being under all his snarling, or was the wolf fully in control? Had he been a wolf for too long? Where had he been all this time?! Surely not in this cave, given his clothes looked relatively new—if a little dirty—and it looked like he’d only killed a few animals to drag back there. Even Parrish had said the dead deer had only cropped up yesterday, as far as he knew.

Stiles had obviously been in the woods for longer, given the animal Derek had found first, but probably not for longer than a week. So, what? Had his feral mind remembered his home and brought him back this far? Would he have ended up on the sheriff’s doorstep before long?

If that was true, then Stiles had to be in there somewhere. Derek just had to pull him back out.

He had no idea how he was going to do that, but one problem at a time. First things first, they had to get him out of this cave and somewhere safe, where he wasn’t going to get shot by hunters, capital H or otherwise.

It occurred to him that he hadn’t called John yet. Hadn’t said anything to him about this yet. He didn’t know how he was going to do that. He couldn’t go the night without telling him, but he definitely knew he couldn’t tell him right now. John would come out to the Preserve and get lost trying to find them, so it was best they get Stiles out of there first, then he could think about the sheriff.

He did check his phone though, just in case, and had a text from him asking if he was still alive. Derek just responded he would be back when he could and the sheriff seemed to accept that answer.

He didn’t text again.

Derek was still sitting in the cave entrance watching Stiles when he heard leaves crunching and fast footfalls approaching from the same direction he’d come from. Stiles heard them too, and his growling went up a notch and turned threatening.

Pounding footsteps neared them, and Derek thought he might have heard a second set, which made sense if Scott had been with Deaton. He hoped he wasn’t leaving the Druid too far behind, it was dark, and Deaton didn’t have night vision like they did.

Scott exploded out of the trees to his left a few seconds later, practically tripping over Derek in his haste to get into the cave, but before he’d even opened his mouth to say Stiles’ name, Stiles let out a roar that shook the entire area they were in and launched himself at Scott.

Though Derek had also rushed in, he’d managed to stop himself just inside the cave entrance, something Scott hadn’t done.

His fast approach had been seen as an attack, and Derek rolled out of the way to avoid Scott falling on top of him. Stiles only got the upper hand because he’d startled Scott, and when he pulled back one hand to slice through Scott’s throat, Derek hastily grabbed his wrist and hauled him off.

“What the hell!” Scott shouted, scrambling back as Deaton came through the trees, breathing hard and sweating. Derek struggled with Stiles, managing to grab both his arms and crossing them over Stiles’ own chest, but now that Stiles was a Werewolf, he was much stronger than before. It was hard to keep his hold on him, and he was thrashing and flailing, roaring again and struggling to pull free.

And succeeding. Derek didn’t know where this was coming from, but Stiles was pulling free and Derek was struggling to keep his hold on him.

“Scott,” Derek snapped angrily. “Make him submit!”

“What?” Scott asked, still lying on his ass on the ground just beyond the cave entrance. He looked pale, and scared, and confused. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Scott, now!” Derek shouted, getting an elbow to the gut and then claws to the face. He managed to turn his head away to avoid losing an eye, but Stiles was on him, slamming him back against the cave wall, and Derek was positive he was about to get eviscerated when a loud, powerful howl slammed into him so hard he felt all the air rush out of his lungs.

Stiles dropped him instantly, backing away from him and turning to look at Scott. He’d crouched slightly so he was lower to the ground, and let out a small sound that was a cross between a whine and a growl. He shifted his head, as if he were about to bare his neck, but didn’t quite make the action believable. His chin was only just tilted, eyes lowered, but any Alpha who wasn’t his best friend would’ve been furious at the disrespect.

That in itself was surprising to Derek, because the howl had been so powerful it took everything Derek had not to offer his own throat, but he managed to resist, because he would not submit to Scott. Ever.

He swiped one angry hand across his healed face, trying to clear the blood off, and moved cautiously around Stiles, who was still crouched on the ground with his throat partially bared.

“Derek,” Scott bit out, voice still holding a touch of his Alpha power and making Derek’s shoulders tense. “What the fuck is going on?”

“In case it’s not perfectly obvious,” Derek snapped at him, eyes still on Stiles, “he’s a Werewolf.”

“Yeah, I got that part. Why did he attack us?”

“He attacked you,” Derek spat, glancing over at Scott with a scowl, “because you barrelled into his territory. Didn’t you smell he was different?”

“No,” Scott insisted, eyes bright red and jaw clenched. “I smelled you, and Stiles. So I came.”

“I told you he wasn’t okay,” Derek insisted, wiping more blood from his face. “He almost fucking killed me.”

“You should’ve told me he was a Werewolf, and I would’ve approached with more caution!”

“Perhaps now isn’t the time,” Deaton said before Derek could rip into Scott. The tension was making Stiles growl again, and he looked a little less willing to submit to Scott with the way things were going. Derek bit his tongue, because he knew his attitude was making it worse. He was a Beta mouthing off at an Alpha. Stiles’ mind may not have been all there, but the wolf would pick up on the weakness in Scott if Derek kept speaking to him like that.

“What’s wrong with him?” Scott asked softly. “Why is he... why is he like that?”

“He’s feral,” Derek said, watching Stiles carefully for any indication he was going to attack him again.

“That... is not good,” Deaton said slowly.

“No, it isn’t,” Derek agreed, turning to give Scott a look before he could ask. “We need to get him out of here.”

“How do you propose we do that?” Scott asked dryly. “Ask him nicely?”

“I was thinking more we tranq him, but if you think asking nicely will work, by all means,” Derek said sarcastically with a smile that was all teeth.

Before Scott could snap something back at him, Deaton placed one hand on his shoulder. “There are some items at the clinic we could use. Regular tranquilizers won’t work on a Werewolf, but perhaps some laced with Wolfsbane to weaken him.”

Derek didn’t like that. It was clear from Scott’s expression that he didn’t, either. But it wasn’t like they had much of a choice. Stiles wasn’t going to follow them out, and he looked extremely hostile right then, hardly submitting to Scott but unsure if he wanted to be regardless. If they didn’t move quickly, Stiles was going to slam through them by force and run off.

He’d lost him once, no fucking way in hell was Derek losing him again.

Deaton gave Scott directions on where to go and what to get, since he could make it to the clinic and back quickly. Scott looked unhappy with having to leave, but he obeyed after he was sure he had a proper list and took off with one last look over his shoulder at Stiles. Deaton motioned for Derek to move back while pulling a jar from his pocket.

Within seconds, he’d erected a barrier of mountain ash at the cave’s entrance, which was at least slightly comforting for Derek, because it meant Stiles couldn’t escape.

They were both silent while they stared into the opening, watching Stiles growl and begin to stalk back and forth, eying them with distrust. With Scott gone, it was just a Beta and a human, and Stiles’ feral brain probably figured he could take them.

Derek didn’t want to talk to Deaton about this, because he was well aware of what was happening right now, but Deaton made the decision for him, saying softly, “This is not good.”

“I know,” Derek grit out, crossing his arms and staring at Stiles, trying to ignore the ache in his chest.

“We might be too late.”

“We’ll get him back,” Derek insisted sharply, not looking at Deaton. “We’ll figure something out. There has to be a way.”

“You know there isn’t,” Deaton said softly, not unkindly. “If he has been feral for an extended period of time, you know there’s no coming back from that. Your mother would not have put down so many if it were possible.”

Derek knew that. He knew that. But this was Stiles. It wasn’t a random feral Werewolf, or an acquaintance, or even a friend. It was fucking Stiles. And no matter what he was, no matter how dangerous he became, Derek wasn’t going to let him get taken out.

He hadn’t allowed it when Stiles was the Nogitsune and he sure as fuck wasn’t going to allow it now. He’d figure something out. He’d get him tame, he’d work to bring back his humanity, he’d... just do something. But he wouldn’t let anyone kill him. Over his dead fucking body.

Scott came back a few minutes later with a bag of items. Stiles started growling low in his throat at the sight of him again but they all ignored him while Deaton began putting everything together, Scott holding his phone aloft with the flashlight function on so he could see what he was doing. Derek just kept his eyes on Stiles.

Stiles growled again at the clear challenge, baring his teeth and flashing his eyes. Derek responded in kind, because he could only stand being insulted for so long before his hackles rose, even if it was Stiles. His snarl was far more impressive than Stiles’, which he seemed to realize because he eyed Derek with interest, seemed to form some kind of opinion of him, then huffed unhappily and turned to lie down in his nest.

“I would suggest we plan before we knock him out,” Deaton said, lifting the small gun he was holding and inspecting it to ensure it was properly loaded. “While powerful with the wolfsbane, he will not remain unconscious for long.”

“Well, what do we do? Bring him home?”

“No,” Derek insisted, looking at Scott like he was an idiot. Which he was, clearly. “He’s unstable, he’ll attack anyone he sees, especially if they’re alone. You want to be responsible for Stiles killing his own father?”

“Well what do you suggest?” Scott snapped, narrowing his eyes. “This was all your idea, so getting him out of here works only as well as the plan you had. Which was non-existent.”

Derek glared at him, the two of them having a staring match. Deaton dutifully ignored them in favour of fiddling with the tranq gun he held.

Turning back to Stiles, Derek didn’t know what they could do. They couldn’t bring him home, that was a terrible idea. They couldn’t bring him anywhere close to humans, and they had to be careful about the noise he was going to make. What they needed was an isolated location. Somewhere close, but not too close. Away from people, where the amount of noise he made wouldn’t be a problem. And somewhere closed off, to ensure nobody accidentally stumbled upon it.

Derek’s brain stuttered to a halt when he realized he had the perfect place. He just really, really didn’t like it.

“We’ll bring him to the loft,” he said, turning to look at Deaton. “We can surround the first floor with mountain ash so he won’t escape, but he can move freely within.”

Deaton nodded once, eyes pensive. “That could work. I would suggest we block off areas such as the kitchen, to avoid any complications.”

He meant fires, but Derek appreciated that he didn’t elaborate. He couldn’t imagine how he’d have felt if he showed up to the loft in flames knowing Stiles was trapped inside because of the barriers. The very thought was making his stomach roll over unpleasantly, trying not to let memories surface.

“Once he’s out, Scott can go ahead with you to get the loft ready.” Derek dug his keys from his pocket and pulled the appropriate one off for them.

“I can’t touch mountain ash,” Scott reminded him acidly.

“You can see in the dark and Deaton can’t make it back through the woods on his own,” Derek snapped. “If you want to wait for me, that’s fine, but you need to get him out first so he can get started on the loft before Stiles gets there.”

“Why can’t you lead him out while I take care of Stiles?”

I found him,” Derek spat angrily.

“He’s my friend!” Scott shot back.

Stiles let out an angry growl from his nest, and Derek turned to glance at him. Blue eyes were shining out at them again, and he looked displeased with the interruption to his attempted slumber. Letting out a slow breath, Derek turned back to Scott.

“For once in your fucking life, can you just do as I say?” Derek demanded, voice low. “I will be right behind you.”

It looked like Scott was going to argue, but Deaton told him that it didn’t matter who took Stiles as long as they moved quickly. And unfortunately for Scott, they both knew that Derek was faster than him. That cut the argument short, and Deaton handed the tranq gun over to Derek.

“I will break the barrier,” he said, moving closer, watching Derek for a moment. “Please allow us five minutes head start.”

He nodded, then watched as Deaton bent down to break the mountain ash line. He disappeared quickly with Scott, Derek moving into the entrance once more to ensure Stiles didn’t try and barrel past him.

He seemed disinterested now, like Scott and Derek’s lack of action had bored him and he figured they were a non-threat. He was just lying in his nest of dirty clothes, animal innards and dead leaves. There wasn’t a clean spot on him, everything dirt-smeared or bloody, clothes ripped and fraying at the seams. Derek just watched him while he settled, trying to get comfortable, though he didn’t close his eyes, keeping the bright blue locked on Derek in the entrance.

It hurt to see those bright blue eyes. Derek knew Stiles, he knew how much he valued human life. Any life, really. He wasn’t one to kill someone lightly, so whatever had happened to him, the blue eyes were going to hurt when he came back to himself.

And he would, Derek knew he would, because he was going to do everything in his power to ensure Stiles came back.

He wasn’t entirely sure how much time had passed, but over five minutes for certain. He really hoped Scott and Deaton were moving quickly, because he didn’t want Stiles waking up while the loft was still being dealt with.

He almost wanted to apologize for what he was about to do, but it wasn’t like Stiles would understand him anyway. So he shifted to ensure he could block any escape attempts if he missed, and then aimed the tranq at Stiles, firing.

It hit him in the shoulder and Stiles jerked upright, letting out an angry snarl and starting for Derek before his eyes flagged and he stumbled, crashing face first to the ground.

Shoving the gun into the back of his jeans, Derek rushed forward and grabbed Stiles by the armpits. He winced at the stench, but didn’t dwell on it, ripping the tranq out of his arm and then tossing him over his shoulder. Turning, he bolted back the way he’d come, following Scott’s most recent scent so that he wasn’t making a giant detour from his first attempt to reach the cave. He could hear Stiles’ shallow breaths and occasional soft growls, but he didn’t move and his heart sounded slow and sluggish. Derek really hoped he stayed unconscious long enough to get him out of the Camaro, or he was going to be pissed about the ruined upholster.

When he exited the woods into the lot, it was empty save for his Camaro and he rushed to it, shoving Stiles into the back seat and then climbing into the front. He hit the gas, shooting out of the lot and down the long road leading out of the Preserve, pulling his phone out while he went. He hit a name in his contacts and put it to his ear.


“Jordan, you on patrol tonight?” he asked, eying his rear-view mirror to check on Stiles. Still out of it.

“Yeah, why?”

“I need you to come to the Preserve and clear a path for me to the loft. I’m going to be speeding pretty badly, and I cannot get pulled over.”

“Okay, which road are you coming from?”

Derek gave him his location and Parrish said he’d be right there before he hung up. When he emerged from the trees, Parrish was waiting and he immediately cut on his siren and led the way to the loft. There weren’t too many cars around, but it was more the being pulled over aspect of his speeding that he was worried about as opposed to the traffic. This was Beacon Hills, there was no traffic.

They reached the loft quickly, Derek hoping Stiles stayed unconscious for a while longer. Parrish parked beside Deaton’s car while Derek slammed on the brakes and turned off the engine. He leapt from his seat and yanked open the back door, dragging Stiles out and throwing him over his shoulder once more.

“Holy shit!” Parrish said, following behind Derek while he hurried for the door. “Is that—?”

“Yes,” Derek said, climbing the stairs quickly towards the loft.

“Does the sheriff know?”

“Not yet, I’m telling him once we have Stiles contained.”


“Not now, Parrish,” Derek insisted, entering the loft.

Scott was moving furniture and various electrical items out of the main area while Deaton slowly created a large circle in the middle of Derek’s living room. That was probably the better idea all around, but it made Derek’s skin crawl at the realization that Stiles would be trapped in a confined area.

Then again, his living room was bigger than the cave, so at least he had that going for him.

He noticed Parrish’s tenseness, eying the mountain ash, and the thin press of his lips suggested he understood that Stiles wasn’t entirely human anymore.

“You were quick,” Deaton commented when he glanced up at them.

Derek hesitated, then asked, “How long do we have?”

“I would say at least ten more minutes, but I can’t be certain.”

“Good enough. Scott, with me. Jordan, help Deaton.”

Derek strode quickly to the bathroom, Scott on his heels. Stiles was a fucking mess, and he had no idea when they would have this opportunity again, so he cut on the shower and then dumped Stiles into the tub as gently as he could while moving quickly.

“Help me clean him up,” Derek ordered, kicking off his boots while wrenching his shirt over his head. He stripped down to his boxer-briefs in seconds and climbed under the spray, adjusting it to something a little more comfortable and then grabbing some soap while holding the shampoo out to Scott.

He’d only stripped off his shirt, and he got to work quickly washing Stiles’ hair while Derek rubbed a washcloth across Stiles’ exposed skin. It was a struggle getting the clothes he wore off, but he managed it with Scott’s help, yanking off the grey shirt and sweats as quickly as they could. Stiles wasn’t wearing anything underneath, but Derek didn’t worry about that right now.

He was back to rubbing at the dirt on his skin when he paused. He felt something beneath his fingers, and as soon as the water had washed away the dirt and suds, he felt his stomach drop.

Scott froze, eyes on the same thing.

“Oh my God...” he breathed, but Derek just gave himself a mental shake and went back to cleaning him.

“Later. Just get him cleaned up.”

It took them eight minutes to get him clean, and Stiles was definitely starting to recover, because he was growling louder than he had in the car, and he could move his fingers.

“Out,” Derek ordered, turning the water off and climbing out. He grabbed a spare towel from under the sink and tossed it to Scott to work on Stiles while he used his own to quickly dry off. Still in his boxer-briefs, he bent down once he was decently dry to help Scott finish up with Stiles before they hauled him out of the tub.

“His hair—”

“We’re out of time,” Derek insisted, the two of them hurrying into the living room.

A majority of it had been carved out with the mountain ash barrier, which was nice, but it cut off around the edges so that Derek and Scott would still be able to move around the loft without being hindered by the barrier. The only items that had been left within the area were the couch, coffee table, and a few books. He didn’t know why Deaton had left the books, probably just in hopes that Stiles would be smart enough to use them as a means to come back to himself.

They dropped Stiles onto the couch and then hastily retreated, Deaton bending down to close off the barrier with the last bit of mountain ash. The closure made Derek’s teeth ache, and he saw Scott wince and roll his shoulders. Even though they were outside, they still felt the power behind it. The way it could trap them if it wanted to.

“What the fuck is going on?” Parrish breathed, looking wide-eyed at Stiles. “What the hell happened to him?”

Derek just shook his head, because he didn’t know, and what they’d seen under the dirt and grime...

He’d been tortured. Stiles had been tortured before he was turned into a Werewolf. And they knew it was before, because his chest and back were marred with deep, ugly scars. Lines of healed skin criss-crossing over one another, some a light white and sunken, others a harsh red and bulging. His chest looked bad, but his back looked worse. He also had smaller pock marks, like someone had either shot him, or taken a hot poker and burned him. Overall, he looked terrible.

Derek had no fucking idea what he was going to tell his father.

“I need to see John,” he said quietly. “I need to tell him about this.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Scott insisted. “He’ll want to see him.”

“Think about what he’ll do to us if he finds out we kept this a secret, and tell me again we shouldn’t let him know we found his son,” Derek snapped.

Scott flashed his eyes at him angrily, and Derek growled, but Parrish just stepped between them.

“Enough. Derek, let’s get the sheriff. Scott, maybe—call your mom?”

“Fine,” Scott bit out.

Derek turned on his heel and headed back into the bathroom to grab his clothes. He dressed quickly, hearing Deaton and Scott give Parrish the cliffnotes of what was going on. Not much of it, but just explaining that Stiles was dangerous right now and they needed to keep him contained, just like Derek had said.

When he’d gotten his boots back on, he exited the bathroom and moved around the large barrier towards the door. It was still open, so he just stepped through and went down the stairs, Parrish following behind him. They were silent the whole way down, and when they got outside, Parrish headed for the cruiser and said he’d meet Derek at the house.

He spent the entire drive there with his hands clenching the wheel of the Camaro so tightly he was sure he’d bend it. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to say to John. They’d found Stiles, but he was feral, and a Werewolf, and had clearly been tortured. They wouldn’t be able to determine what had happened to him unless they could get his human side back which, oh yeah, would be impossible if he’d been forced into his shift for over a certain period of time. Derek felt like it would almost be worse for him to have Stiles back without actually having him back.

He parked on the street like he always did, Parrish taking a spot across from him. They both climbed out at the same time, but Derek didn’t move, staring up at the house and wondering how he was supposed to have this conversation with the sheriff.

Derek wasn’t good with words. He’d never been good with words. This was going to require a lot of words, and he just... didn’t know if he could do it.

Parrish appeared beside him, watching him while Derek just kept staring up at the house.

“What’s going on?” Parrish asked. “You don’t seem happy to have found him.”

“He’s not okay,” Derek said quietly.

“I know, Scott and Deaton told me.”

“No,” Derek insisted, turning to him. “He’s not okay. He’s not... all there anymore.”

Parrish frowned at him, but Derek couldn’t have this conversation twice, so he figured he’d just let him listen when he broke the news to the sheriff.

Sighing, Derek slammed the Camaro door and headed for the porch, Parrish keeping step beside him. They climbed them together and Derek preceded him into the house. The sheriff was still in the living room, and Derek almost let out an annoyed sigh when he smelled beer, but whatever. The alcohol would probably help, in this case.

John turned when he saw him enter, and then stood when he saw Parrish follow him inside.

“Did you find the animal?”

“We need to talk,” Derek said, motioning the kitchen with a jerk of his head. “Now.”

John still drained his can of beer before following and Derek tried to stamp down his annoyance at that, insisting to himself it would probably be better that way.

They all went to the kitchen, Parrish staying by the door with his arms crossed while Derek took a seat at the table, the sheriff across from him. Once they were settled, Derek had no fucking idea how to proceed. Because he knew it wasn’t going to be easy explaining this to him, so before he even mentioned Stiles, he figured the safest thing to do was start with the Werewolf.

“I found what was killing the deer in the woods,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “It’s a Werewolf, but he’s not... okay.”

“Meaning?” the sheriff asked gruffly, arms crossed and frown on his face.

“There’s something Hunters do sometimes. To Werewolves. For sport. If you force a Werewolf to remain in their shift for an extended period of time, the wolf takes over and the human beneath is lost. They usually do it before setting the wolf free in an area so they can hunt it for fun. If the wolf is pushed back, the human can return, but if it isn’t...” Derek’s chest clenched at the thought of Stiles being gone. Of him never coming back. He couldn’t get the words out, he couldn’t tell the sheriff this might be permanent. For now, it was best the sheriff just thought of it as an inconvenience.

He could tell Parrish was a little distressed, given he knew who this Werewolf was, but he dutifully kept his mouth shut and remained in the doorway.

“I found him in a cave. He’s... I don’t know what level he’s at. We might be able to get him back quickly, but I don’t...”

“It might be too late,” the sheriff said with a nod when Derek trailed off. “Well, if we have to put it down, I guess we’ll do what needs doing.”

Derek said nothing, because he knew the sheriff was looking at it logically.

“Where is it?”

“The loft,” Derek said. “I brought him back there and trapped him in a mountain ash barrier. He’s not okay. He was human once, tortured. He has scars. Then he turned into a wolf, and was forced to shift, and now... his eyes are blue, and I don’t... I’m not sure how to help him.”

Derek wasn’t even sure Stiles could be helped, but he refused to let things end like this.

“Well, give it your best shot and if it doesn’t work, we’ll deal with it.” The sheriff groaned, getting to his feet. “If that’s all?”

Derek said nothing. Parrish also said nothing.

That seemed to be noticed, because he looked between them briefly, then narrowed his eyes.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

When Derek continued to remain silent, Parrish hesitantly said, “Sheriff, you’re going to need to understand that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s not in control, he’s an animal. And he’s dangerous.”

Parrish hadn’t been there for the beginning, so Derek could only assume he’d pieced everything together on his own based on everything he’d seen and heard. It wasn’t a hard situation to put together, which was made clear when John stiffened, and slowly turned back to look at Derek.

“Derek,” he said slowly, his heartrate spiking, “who did you find in the woods?”

“You have to understand,” Derek said quietly, “he doesn’t remember anything. He doesn’t know who he is, or who we are, or—”

The sheriff had already bolted for the exit, but Parrish was still standing in the doorway and just barely managed to keep his footing, pushing the man back. Derek leapt to his feet and grabbed at him, wrenching him away from the kitchen door, even while John elbowed him repeatedly in the gut.

“Stiles! You found Stiles! Derek, you found Stiles! Let me go! I have to see him!”

“Sheriff, you need to listen!” Parrish insisted, trying to stop him from continuing to hit at Derek. It didn’t really matter, he could barely feel it, because he understood the sheriff’s desperation.

Three years. It had been three years since Stiles had gone missing, and now he was back. He was wrong, and he was a Werewolf, but he was back.

Derek and Parrish easily wrestled the sheriff into a chair, holding him there while he continued to scream for them to just let him go, that he had to see him, tears streaming down his face while they tried to speak over him.

“John, we’re going to let you see him!” Derek snapped, trying to get some control back. “We’re going to bring you to him, but you need to understand! You can’t cross the mountain ash barrier. You can’t approach him, or try and hug him, or go anywhere near him. He’s not in control, and he could hurt you. We need you to understand this because the second you’re in the room with him, if you cross the barrier, no one can help you. We cannot cross into it, and he cannot come out. If you go in there, you’re on your own, and he will tear you apart.”

“He’s my son!”

“Not right now!” Derek shouted.

The sheriff didn’t stop struggling, but he at least seemed to be listening.

“You don’t understand. He isn’t the Stiles we all knew anymore. He’s a wolf. He’s going to react to things based on animal instinct. If he feels threatened, he’ll attack. If he’s scared, he’ll attack. If he’s bored, he’ll probably tear apart the couch just for fun. You cannot look at him and see Stiles right now, do you understand?”

It took a while to calm the sheriff down, but he finally seemed to compose himself. Just barely.

Derek sent Parrish along first, wanting someone in between the sheriff and Stiles when they reached the loft, and then headed out to the Camaro with John once he was sure Parrish had a good head start.

They drove in silence, but the sheriff was sniffing loudly and seemed ready to lose his mind. Derek could understand, because in John’s defence, he himself had followed Stiles’ scent like a crazed man. But he knew he could handle being sliced and diced by those wicked claws. The sheriff was only human, after all. He wouldn’t heal as quickly.

When they reached the loft, he saw that Melissa’s car was already there. They climbed out and the sheriff raced for the entrance. Derek hurried after him, but he wasn’t too concerned, because Scott and Parrish were in the loft and would stop him before he did anything stupid.

He followed him up the stairs, the man moving remarkably fast for someone his age, and when they entered the loft, Parrish grabbed at the sheriff’s shirt to yank him back before he crossed over the line.

Derek moved up behind them and eased to the left so he could look into the circle.

Stiles was awake again, and he looked extremely unhappy. He was stalking angrily around the edge of the circle on all fours, blue eyes darting between all the people who’d gathered.

“Oh son,” the sheriff said softly, and Derek could smell the salty scent of tears, but he didn’t turn to look at him. “Oh Stiles. Son. What happened to you?”

Stiles barely gave him more than a cursory glance, only having looked because he spoke but evidently deeming him a non-threat. He just circled wide, occasionally ramming his shoulder out against the barrier, as if testing its resistence.

Melissa was on the other side of the room, and while Derek could tell she wanted to cover her mouth and cry, she had a very stony expression, like she was trying to hold it together in front of the sheriff.

The six of them stood there, watching Stiles while he made large circles around his new prison. His hair was long and damp from his shower, he wasn’t wearing any clothes, and almost every inch of skin was littered with scars and healed injuries. He wasn’t fully in his Beta shift, but his eyes were electric blue and his mouth was full of fangs. He clearly didn’t recognize any of them at all, which was extremely worrying, because Derek didn’t know what they would do if Stiles wasn’t still in there somewhere.

“How do we get him back?” John asked.

Derek and Deaton shared a look, because it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t like flipping a switch between the wolf and the human, not for something like this. They had to forcibly pull Stiles back out, if he was even still in there at all.

“It’s not—”

“Derek,” the sheriff said, an edge of hysteria in his tone, “how do we get him back?”

Derek sighed and raked a hand through his hair, the action making Stiles turn to him and growl low in his throat. He seemed to understand he wasn’t in any immediate danger, but he clearly didn’t like being trapped and on display.

It looked like he was waiting for one of them to jump into his prison and attack him.

“I’ll work on it.”

We will work on it,” Scott snapped. “I’m an Alpha.”

“But you’re not a born wolf, and you’re barely even a decent Alpha,” Derek snapped.

“He’s my friend!”

“Yeah, that you lost three years ago!”

“Enough!” Melissa snapped. “Both of you, that is enough. It doesn’t matter who’s Alpha and who’s not, or who’s a born wolf and who’s not. All that matters right now is Stiles and helping him. He needs us, so whatever happened between you two stops now. Both of you grow up!”

Derek just scowled and crossed his arms, but obediently kept his mouth shut. Scott glowered at him from the other side of the circle.

They all jumped, Stiles included, when Parrish’s radio went off. He cursed, realizing he was still on duty, and turned to leave the apartment, speaking into his radio while heading down the stairs to get back to work.

It was probably for the best. It was late, they were all tired and emotional. Stiles wasn’t going anywhere for the moment, so they could afford to get some rest and try and deal with this in the morning.

Melissa seemed to be of the same mind, because she wrapped her arm around Scott’s shoulders and told him they needed to head out. He didn’t want to, but Melissa was persistent and he relented. He glared at Derek and said he’d be back first thing in the morning. Derek didn’t refuse, but he also wasn’t happy about it.

Deaton followed them out, informing Derek in low tones that he would bring over whatever he could find about ferals. Derek nodded in thanks, then shut the door behind him when he left. Turning back to Stiles, it was just him and the sheriff, who hadn’t taken his eyes off his son since he’d walked into the loft.

“You can take the bed,” Derek said softly. “I’ll...” He glanced at the couch inside the mountain ash circle. “I’ll figure something out.”

“If you think I can sleep tonight, you’re out of your damn mind, Derek.” The sheriff moved across the apartment to the small table by the window, dragging one of the chairs to the edge of the mountain ash barrier and sitting down in it.

Derek wished he could be surprised, but honestly, he was also kind of worried to take his eyes off Stiles right now. It had been hard going to get the sheriff, but he’d known Scott was there. Even now, he knew John would probably be awake all night, but what about in the morning? They both had work.

Fuck, he had to go to the bank with Chuck. Derek couldn’t do that right now, he had more important things to worry about than the shop. Which made him feel guilty, because he was supposed to be taking over, but this was Stiles! And if they wanted to get him back before this became permanent—provided it wasn’t already—then he couldn’t waste time in the garage or going to the bank.

Making sure the sheriff was well enough outside the barrier, Derek pulled his phone out while heading upstairs. It was late, a little past eleven by now, but he couldn’t leave this for the morning. So he found Chuck’s number in his phone and called it, apologizing internally for waking him up.

Which he very clearly did if the sleep-gruff voice coming down the line was any indication.

“A particular reason you decided to call me this late at night, kid?” he asked sleepily.

“Chuck,” Derek said, trying to figure out how to explain what was going on without, well, explaining what was going on. “Sorry.”

There was a short pause on the other end, and then he heard Chuck sit up with a groan. “Son, what’s going on?”

“I need to take some time off. I know it doesn’t fit into our agreement, and I don’t have the right to ask, but—”

“Bullshit,” Chuck interrupted gruffly. “Do you have any idea how many days off you’ve taken since you started working at the shop?”

Great, he’d pissed him off. Derek’s hand tightened around the phone, ready to defend himself, but he paused when Chuck continued.

“None. You’ve taken no days off, kid. Because days off taking care of the sheriff don’t count. When was the last time you took a day for you? Never, that’s when. And I reckon the time off you need now isn’t for you either, is it?” Before Derek could even answer, Chuck continued. “‘Course it ain’t. It’s for someone else, because you’re that kinda guy, Hale. So you take all the time you need, and I’ll watch the shop for you until you’re ready to come back. Lloyd can pick up some more shifts, lazy bastard needs more exercise anyway.”

It was weird. Hearing someone reprimand him for caring about others was weird. It’d been a long time since he truly felt like people cared about him, but he’d always known deep down Chuck had a soft spot. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have offered him the shop.

“Thanks Chuck,” he said quietly. “I’m really sorry about this. I can still come tomorrow if you really need me to, but—”

“I look like I need your help, wiseass?” Chuck interrupted. He was silent for a moment, then his voice softened a degree before he said, “Don’t worry about me, or the shop. You do what needs doing. Lloyd and I will handle the rest until you’re back.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate this.”

Chuck grunted in response, then said, “If you need anything, you know where to find me. You take care of yourself. Don’t be a stranger.”

“Thanks. Sorry I woke you.”

“Shut up. See you when I see you, kid.” Chuck hung up.

Derek set his phone down on the nightstand and rubbed at his face before falling onto his bed.

He didn’t think he would sleep, not with Stiles pacing anxiously downstairs and the sheriff’s pounding heart.

So he just lay on his bed and stared up at the ceiling, listening to the sounds coming from downstairs, and hoping they weren’t too late to save Stiles.

Derek had just stepped out of the shower when he heard his phone go off upstairs. It had been dinging constantly for the past few minutes, and he wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing, but he didn’t dwell on it too much.

The sheriff had passed out in the chair by the edge of the barrier, and Stiles had, as predicted, torn apart Derek’s couch and used the insides of the cushions to make a small nest in the corner, which he was currently snoozing on.

It was the corner closest to the windows, sun beaming down on him. He opened his eyes and growled softly every time Derek moved around the area, but whenever he was out of sight—either upstairs or in the bathroom—he quieted down. Derek was getting annoyed with all the growling though, so while he knew it was childish, he’d started growling back, flashing his eyes at Stiles.

Stiles didn’t appreciate that and would scowl and growl a bit louder. Derek knew if they had an all-out war he would emerge victorious, but it would definitely wake the sheriff, so he restrained himself.

For now.

He just didn’t like another wolf challenging him in his own home, even if that wolf happened to be Stiles. In a way, it wasn’t even Stiles. It was just an animal, and that hurt.

Reaching his room, his phone was still dinging on the nightstand, but he ignored it so he could pull some clothes on, getting into his jeans and a black tee before moving barefoot to the bed and snatching his phone up off the stand.

It had been a long time since he’d seen the Pack chat used, and it was almost weird to realize that constant dinging was happening because they were speaking to each other again. He hadn’t thought that would ever happen, but he should’ve figured if there was anyone who could bring the Pack back together, it was Stiles.

we found stiles

Are you serious?
Scott, this better not be a joke, or I will rip your head off.
Are you serious?

OMG is he okay>! where is he?! what hapepened?!

where r u?
i’m coming back

SCOTT MCCALL, you ANSWER ME right now!

its been a long night
we found stiles its not a joke
and no hes not ok
hes a wolf

But is he okay otherwise?

where r u???
i’m coming back

Where was he? What happened to him?

we dont know
were worlking on it

I’m coming home.

i’ll call my dad and get on a flight asap

I’ll head back too.

See you soon.

There was nothing for Derek to add, so he just typed the one thing and opened another message.

Stiles has been found.

He didn’t have to wait long. The response came within ten seconds.

Malia just told me. I’m heading back now. Will take me a few days.
Try not to lose him before I get there.

He’s feral.

Then you better hope I get there quickly.

He didn’t know why Peter thought his presence would make a difference, but he also knew Peter was well-versed in the inner workings of feral minds. He was older than Derek, and he’d been raised with the same knowledge as Talia, which meant he might have more ideas on how to bring Stiles back.

Shoving his phone into his pocket, he headed back downstairs, Stiles opening his eyes and grumbling unhappily at the sight of him. Derek just flashed his eyes and bared his fangs at him again, but Stiles seemed tired of the game and didn’t react, he just watched Derek walk over to the sheriff.

Setting one hand on his shoulder, he gave him a gentle shake and the sheriff started awake, looking up at Derek, and then over at Stiles. His eyes began to water and he brought both hands up to rub at them.

“I thought it was a dream,” he admitted.

“Not a dream,” Derek said softly, eying Stiles. “I’m going to grab some groceries. I doubt he’ll eat anything I have here. Once I’m back, you should head to work.”

“If you think—”

“John, you’re not going to do any good for him right now,” Derek insisted with a scowl. “You’re going to obsess, and you’re almost out of vacation time. You need to go to work. You need a distraction. Once your shift is over, you can come right back. I won’t stop you. But you are an adult, and you need to go to work before you get fired.”

That wasn’t the only reason Derek wanted the sheriff out of the loft. He needed him gone so he could figure out what he was going to do. They hadn’t told the sheriff that this might be permanent, and Derek had no idea how long he would last being around the man and keeping that secret.

Deaton had said he’d come by with some books, and Derek knew he had a few himself from Peter’s vault, but this really wasn’t territory he was familiar with. He had a few friends abroad who might have some guidance for him, but he was honestly worried all of them would say it was a lost cause.

Was there even a way to determine how long Stiles had been shifted? Derek honestly didn’t know. This was all new territory for him, and it killed him not having anyone to help. Peter was the best source he had right now, which was not comforting or encouraging.

The sheriff was silent and scowling, but his eyes were on Stiles and Derek didn’t want to argue with him right now. He just headed for the door, having to edge around the barrier, and left the loft. He didn’t want to leave the sheriff alone with Stiles for too long, so he hurried down the stairs to the Camaro and headed for the store.

He had no idea what he should be getting for Stiles, because he didn’t have any experience with this. He assumed meat, so when he reached the store, he just went straight to the fresh meat and grabbed a few packs of various items. He didn’t worry about what they were, he just grabbed as many as he could carry and headed for the checkout.

The cashier looked tired while checking him out, but cocked an eyebrow at the fact that he’d literally just bought a whole bunch of meat.

“Having a barbecue?”


Derek’s curt tone made it clear he should keep his mouth shut, so he finished up ringing him through and Derek paid with his card before grabbing his bag and heading back out to the Camaro. He was halfway back to the loft before realizing he hadn’t bought anything for himself or the sheriff. Cursing, and knowing the fridge was empty, he had to make a detour or he’d never eat. He stopped at one of the coffee shops in town and bought a few random pastries and sandwiches along with two coffees. He doubted the sheriff would remember to eat anything, and while the food he’d just bought wasn’t great for his diet, it was better than nothing at this point.

Derek scowled when he reached the loft once more, because Scott’s bike was there, which meant he was upstairs already. That annoyed him, because Scott was acting like he could solve everything, and while a part of Derek acknowledged he was just as desperate to see Stiles as the rest of them, he was still pissed about his presence.

When he’d climbed the stairs and entered the loft, Scott and the sheriff were on the other side of the room, both staring down at Stiles. He was growling low in his throat angrily, still in his nest of couch fluff. He turned to Derek when he entered, and growled deeper.

“Shut up,” Derek muttered, moving around the circle and dropping his bags on the table, holding the drink tray out to the sheriff so he could grab one of the cups.

He took one with a nod of thanks, eyes still on his son, and Scott scowled at him while Derek set his own coffee on the table.

“What took you so long?”

“Are you timing me, now?” Derek snapped. “I’m not allowed to go out and get food for myself and Stiles?”

“You took too long,” Scott insisted. “You’re wasting time.”

“And what are you doing?” Derek snapped, reaching angrily into the grocery bag and pulling out a pack of meat. “You’re just standing there staring at him. Real helpful, Scott. Great Alpha instincts.”

Scott’s eyes flashed angrily and Derek bared his teeth in response, but that made Stiles let out a loud growl and they both turned back to him. He was staring at Scott like he didn’t like him. Derek assumed it was because of the forced submission from the day before, but it also occurred to him that maybe Stiles noticed Derek was holding something that smelled like food.

Suck up to the one with food, it made sense.

Ripping through the plastic wrap around the styrofoam base, Derek moved closer to the mountain ash barrier, a little unsure of how to do this. If he tossed the meat over the line, his floor was going to get dirty really fast. But if he put it on a plate, Stiles would probably break it and have a weapon. Not that he could do much with it, but still.

He was kind of unstable. Derek didn’t really want him to have anything that could be a weapon.

Sighing and deciding he could live with the dirty floor, he tossed the meat over the mountain ash, watching it splat onto the floor, blood oozing out. It looked like steak, though Derek honestly hadn’t been paying attention. He tossed the second one over as well, both of them almost on top of each other. He was at least minimizing the surface area he was staining.

Stiles stared at him for a few seconds, though his face was angled towards the meat, sniffing curiously. He turned to glance at the meat, then looked back at Derek before unfolding himself from his nest and heading over to it. He poked at it curiously, glanced at Derek, curled his lips back, then turned and headed back for his nest.

Derek frowned.

“What happened?” Scott asked. “Why isn’t he eating it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I mean I don’t know, Scott!” Derek snapped, turning to him. “Do you know? Do you know why Stiles won’t eat meat? Because I sure as fuck don’t!”

“Well what do you know?” Scott demanded angrily. “You seemed to not know a lot!”

Derek opened his mouth to rip him a new one when the sheriff interrupted with a loud, “Hey!”

Both of them fell silent and he glared at them both, pointing a finger at each of them in turn.

“Stow that. I don’t care what problem you two have with each other, but it stops now. Like Melissa said last night, everyone is going to stop with the animosity. This is about Stiles. Now I know you both care about him in your own way, but you need to remember who I am.” His eyes hardened into shards of green glass. “I don’t care if I have to put a mountain ash line at the loft door to keep you out, the two of you will get along, and we are going to figure this out. Clear?”

He glared much harder at Scott than he did at Derek, so that was nice. Derek appreciated that. Scott just crossed his arms and lowered his gaze, shifting his weight uncomfortably. He probably remembered the last time he’d seen the sheriff. Derek wanted to feel bad for him, but he really didn’t.

“So,” John said, turning to Derek, “what are your thoughts? Any ideas?”

Derek turned back to Stiles, watching him huddle further into the nest. He looked unhappy, like it wasn’t big enough. Which made sense, since it was only the insides of the couch cushions. He might stop at the house later and grab some clothes. Maybe some of Stiles’ own, to both provide more of a cushion, as well as in case it was familiar to him somehow.

He wasn’t optimistic enough to think he could get him back into sweats and a shirt. Lord only knew how he’d ended up in them in the first place.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “He should be hungry, wolves eat a lot.”

“I’ve seen you boys eat,” the sheriff reminded him, also watching his son.

Or at least, the animal wearing his son’s skin.

“Maybe he doesn’t like steak?” Scott offered hesitantly, like he didn’t want to get snapped at for speaking.

Derek headed back for the bag to see what else he had. There was a package of ground turkey he’d grabbed by accident, but he ripped it open and took a handful out, moving back to the barrier and tossing it over. Stiles turned to look over at it, sniffing the air, then huffed and looked away.

He and the sheriff shared a look.

“Real food?” he offered.

“Worth a shot,” Derek muttered, moving back to the table, wiping his dirty hand off on his jeans and then grabbing one of the pastries from the coffee shop. It looked like a chocolate croissant, and he moved back to the barrier with it.

This he tossed right beside Stiles at his nest. Stiles turned to look at it, huffed again, and actually smacked it away like it was offensive. It slid across the floor, stopping a few inches from the edge of the mountain ash.

“Well shit,” Derek said.

What the fuck were they supposed to do now? Stiles wouldn’t eat meat, and he wouldn’t eat pastries. Derek doubted they could go through all the other food groups with better results.

“Perhaps he doesn’t trust us.”

“Jesus!” Derek snapped, whipping towards the door where Deaton was standing.

They’d been so focussed on Stiles none of them had heard him approach. Derek felt a little less embarrassed by that when he realized Scott hadn’t noticed, either. The sheriff was rubbing at his chest, like his heart had jerked in fright.

“What?” Derek asked once he’d gotten over being startled. People didn’t often startle him, it was rather unpleasant and he didn’t look forward to the next time.

“We found him, rendered him unconscious, took him from his temporary home, and trapped him inside a barrier he can’t seem to escape.” Deaton was watching Stiles while he spoke. “I would imagine he isn’t very fond of us, and he likely doesn’t believe we’re looking out for him. He’s probably looking at the food as something dangerous. Either a test, or even something that could be poisoned.”

“So he won’t eat,” John muttered. “Great.”

Derek turned back to look at Stiles, wondering if that was it. He thought about maybe going out to catch a rabbit or a deer for him, but if Deaton’s assumption was correct, it wouldn’t really do much good. It didn’t matter what they put in front of him, he wasn’t going to eat it so long as he thought they were trying to poison him.

It made his stomach twist horribly to realize maybe people had poisoned him. Maybe whoever had him had given him food laced with wolfsbane, made him sick, used food as another means of torture. Maybe they’d teased him with food, and when he was stupid enough to take it, they’d punished him. So many possibilities, and Derek didn’t know what to do. How to make him understand they were trying to help.

They all stood in silence for a long moment before Derek turned and went back to the bag of meat. He ripped open another pack of steak, then moved around the barrier so he was right in front of Stiles. That earned him a scowl and a low rumble, since he was blocking the sun Stiles had obviously been enjoying, but Derek didn’t care. He crouched in front of him, picked up one of the steaks, and took a bite out of it.

He heard Scott make a noise of disgust from behind him, but Derek ignored him. Meat was meat, he’d eaten raw meat before when he was a wolf. The only difference was he looked human right now, but the taste didn’t change. His human teeth made it harder to rip into it, but he wasn’t willing to wolf out even partially in front of Stiles right now.

Taking another bite, he chewed it while maintaining eye contact with Stiles, feeling blood on his chin, and then gently tossed the rest over the line so it landed right in front of him. Stiles’ jerked up slightly in his nest, staring down at the meat. His eyes skirted back and forth between Derek and the meat, the other scowling slightly before leaning forward and sniffing it. He reached out with one clawed hand, poking around at it and growling softly. He started to drag it closer, then seemed to think better of it and let it go, lying back down in his nest.

“John, can you come get it back for me?” Derek asked, eyes still on Stiles, who was staring at him with his eyebrows down in a small scowl.

“Am I gonna lose a hand?” John muttered, but he obeyed and approached slowly, Stiles’ eyes snapping to him when he closed the distance. Derek moved over slightly to give the sheriff room and he hesitated before reaching over the line and quickly grabbing the meat. Stiles jerked up again once it was back on their side of the mountain ash barrier and Derek took it from him.

While he wasn’t thrilled about taking another bite, given it had been on his floor which wasn’t exactly clean, he just reminded himself he ate rabbits in the forest and sometimes ended up with dirt and leaves in his mouth.

Derek slowly and methodically took a bite out of every part of the steak Stiles had touched, as if trying to prove to him that it was safe to eat. When he thought he’d gotten all the relevant parts that had been touched, he tossed it back over the mountain ash line.

Stiles still hesitated, eying him suspiciously, but he was faster to grab at the meat this time, pulling it closer and sniffing at it. He kept looking between the meat and Derek, hesitating, like he was waiting for someone to grab it out of his hands.

He went to bite at it, but didn’t, like he’d been using that action to see if they would steal his food away. When it was clear they wouldn’t, he finally bit into it, eyes still locked on Derek. He wolfed it down in record time, licking the juices off his fingers and lips. Derek grabbed the second one, took a few bites out of it for good measure, then tossed it over the line.

There was less hesitation this time, Stiles grabbing at it and practically inhaling it.

John let out a slow breath beside Derek, patting his shoulder once before getting back to his feet from his crouched position, his knees popping loudly while he stood.

Stiles seemed to trust the food wasn’t poisoned—for now, at least—and that they weren’t going to steal it back from him, because he turned to grab at the other meat Derek had originally thrown into his prison and gobbled them down quickly. One thing that made Derek a little happy was that Stiles sniffed at the pastry and then ate that, too. He was eating human food, so he couldn’t be entirely lost in there.

He hoped.

“We should begin our research,” Deaton said from closer to the door.

“Right.” Derek stood and turned to the sheriff. “You need to go to work.”

When John opened his mouth to argue, Derek just stared pointedly at Stiles, who was still licking at his fingers, seeming somewhat delighted at the taste of chocolate that lingered on them from the croissant.

“When Stiles comes back to himself,” he said, avoiding saying if, “he’s going to wonder what you’ve been up to the past three years. Do you really want him to know you’ve spent more time drunk at home than doing your job like you should’ve been?”

He could tell the sheriff thought that was a low blow, but Derek didn’t care. He needed him out of the loft so he could panic in peace over the fact that Stiles might never come back.

“You called me three years ago, because you knew I could find your son,” Derek said softly. “I did. I found him. Now let me help him.”

John didn’t like it, and it was obvious to all of them, but he let out a harsh exhale and muttered, “Fine.” He turned to grab one of the pastries from the bag on the table, Derek dutifully not saying anything about it, then looked back over at him, pointing a finger at him with the same hand. “Anything changes in his condition, anything at all, you call me. Do you understand? If you keep anything from me, Derek Hale, remember I know how to kill a Werewolf.”

Scott shot him a look at that, but Derek dutifully didn’t look at him, nodding his understanding.

“I’ll keep you updated.” He pulled his keys from his pocket and tossed them over. The sheriff almost dropped them since he had a coffee in one hand and the pastry in the other.

Derek had been the one to drive last night, so the sheriff had no way to get home to the cruiser. While he wasn’t happy to hand over the keys to his Camaro to anyone except Stiles, he’d settle for his father. Anything to get him out of there, at any rate.

The sheriff cast one last long look at his son, then headed for the door, continuing to glance back at him, as if making sure he was still there. Eventually, he had to exit the loft, and Derek listened to him climb down the stairs and finally exit the building.

“You haven’t told him,” Scott accused. “That it might be permanent.”

“One thing at a time,” Derek muttered. He’d implied it, anyway. He was sure the sheriff understood, he probably just didn’t want to believe it.

“You should make your way to work, as well,” Deaton told Scott, moving to the table with the books he’d brought.

“What?” Scott asked, offended. “No, I’m staying here! I’m helping!”

“Scott,” Deaton said calmly, turning to look over at him. “I cannot have the clinic unattended, and I would imagine my expertise on the matter far outweighs your own. One of us has to be there, and given the urgency in returning Mr. Stilinski to his human state, I would think I would be better suited to be here. If you disagree, I can go to work and you can remain here and research with Derek.”

Usually, Derek hated Deaton. The guy was frustratingly cryptic and infuriatingly even-tempered. Right now, though? Derek could’ve fucking kissed him. Because he didn’t want Scott here any more than Scott wanted to be near him.

A part of him wondered if Deaton was doing it for Stiles’ sake, since Derek and Scott snarking at each other probably wasn’t good for his development.

Scott tried the puppy eyes on Deaton, asking if they couldn’t just close the clinic, but Deaton reminded him that was his livelihood, and one of them would be going to work today. Who that was depended on Scott.

Five minutes later, he left the loft, slamming the sliding door hard behind him.

They both waited until they heard his bike start and Scott peel off before Derek sank into the chair at the table and covered his face with his clean hand, the other sticky with meat juices.

He felt like he was slowly falling apart. It had been a struggle keeping calm in front of everyone, but he was alone with Deaton now, and if he wanted to have a mental breakdown, he felt like Deaton was the only person he was okay doing that in front of.

After all, Deaton was the only one who truly understood how royally fucked they were.

“Do we know?” Derek asked softly, face still in his hand. “Do we know how long he’s been a wolf?”

“It’s difficult to say,” Deaton admitted, and Derek heard him moving forward, closer to Stiles. “You found him in the Preserve, so I would like to think this is encouraging. He remembered his home, to an extent.”

That was true. Derek had to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. A difficult feat for someone whose entire life was full of negatives, but he really couldn’t lose Stiles. Not like this. He wouldn’t come back from this, and neither would the sheriff.

Fuck, neither would Scott.

Losing Stiles once had destroyed them all. Losing him like this would be the end of them.

Letting out a slow breath, Derek rubbed his hand down his face while sliding it off, then turned back to Stiles. He’d moved to his little nest once more, curling up onto it and still looking unhappy with how uncomfortable it was.

Without thinking on it too much, Derek stood and headed upstairs, Deaton remaining where he was, watching Stiles. Derek pulled open one of his cupboards and dug through it for a spare blanket, then headed back downstairs with it. He moved over to where Stiles was and tossed it right onto him.

Stiles jerked up, covered by the blanket, and hastily clawed at it to get it off himself. He glared up at Derek, blue eyes flashing, then looking down at what he held. It didn’t take him long to shift around so the blanket was bunched up beneath him, curling into a ball again and shifting over a bit so he was in the sunlight. He kept his gaze locked on Derek, basically ignoring Deaton.

It made sense, Derek was the larger threat. He hoped Stiles stopped viewing him as one soon, though.

“We should begin,” Deaton said, moving to the table and taking a seat.

Derek kept his gaze on Stiles for a moment longer, then followed. He cleared the food off the table, bringing the garbage to the kitchen and putting the rest of the meat in the fridge. Washing his hands, he went back to the table and sat, pulling the coffee closer as well as the pastries he’d bought and taking one of the offered books from Deaton.

Flipping it open, he let out a slow breath, cast one last glance over his shoulder at Stiles, and began to read.

The sheriff texted or called Derek almost hourly. It would’ve been annoying if Derek didn’t completely understand his desperation. He still hadn’t told him about how this could be permanent, but he didn’t know how to do that. So he just gave him updates as the day progressed, and was kind of pleased when Stiles ate lunch without any complaints.

He definitely didn’t trust Derek, not yet, but he seemed to understand that he was being taken care of. He probably also liked his chances better with a Beta, because Derek already knew Stiles was extremely strong. Probably not stronger than him, but Stiles had an advantage Derek didn’t.

Stiles could hurt Derek without remorse. Derek wouldn’t lay a finger on Stiles.

It was nearing mid-afternoon when Scott showed up. Deaton seemed unhappy to have the clinic closed early, but Scott insisted there were no more appointments, and he’d left a sign on the door that they could call his cell or Deaton’s for emergencies. While still displeased, Deaton handed over a book and Scott sat down on the floor in front of Stiles to read.

Stiles didn’t appreciate that, growling low in his throat like an angry motor non-stop. Derek ended up snapping at Scott to move, but he was a stubborn asshole and stayed put, Stiles’ growling continuing.

The sheriff arrived close to dinner time, and he’d been kind enough to bring takeout. Derek was starving, and he was sure Deaton was, as well, since he hadn’t seen the man eat once since his arrival.

They were dividing the food into equal portions, the sheriff having grabbed an extra plate since Parrish was coming over in a few minutes, when Deaton’s phone rang. He checked the display, arched an eyebrow, then answered it.

“Hello Lydia. It’s been a long time.”

“Where is he?” she asked, her voice carrying easily to the Werewolves in the room.

“At the loft. We were just—” The line clicked and Deaton pulled the phone away from his ear, looking a little amused.

Derek didn’t think anything about this situation was something to be amused about, but that was Deaton in a nutshell. Making sense since never.

The sheriff ate while standing up, watching Stiles, who was sniffing curiously in their direction. He was still grumbling about Scott, having scooted a bit further away from him inside his circle, but he didn’t seem to mind anyone else. Derek was strongly of the opinion that Stiles was just angry about the forced submission and Scott wasn’t helping his case by sticking so close to him.

They all turned when the door at the bottom of the stairs banged open, hurried footsteps moving up the stairs. Within seconds, the loft door slid open and Lydia was standing there, her eyes darting quickly across everyone’s face before settling on Stiles.

Derek knew the moment she realized he wasn’t human anymore, because her face fell and he heard her heart stutter in her chest.

Stiles, for his part, just glared at her, like she’d interrupted his nap time, but otherwise didn’t seem concerned by her presence.

She looked good, Derek had to admit. Her hair was still its rich red colour, falling in perfect curls around her face. Her make-up was perfect, not a single indication of her having been on a plane until moments ago. She was dressed to the nines, looking ready to go out to a party as opposed to rushing home to see an old friend.

Derek knew it wasn’t that. He knew that when Scott had texted the group chat, Lydia had likely already been up and going about her day. Based on how she looked, she’d probably gotten right into a car and raced for the airport. He didn’t even know if she’d brought anything home with her.

“Sheriff,” she said politely, eyes still on Stiles. “Deaton.”

“Hello Lydia,” Deaton said again, the sheriff nodding in greeting.

Lydia didn’t acknowledge Scott, but she at least spared a glance for Derek, the two of them locking eyes for a moment before she looked back at Stiles. That was more than Derek had been expecting, if he was honest.

The Pack hadn’t split on good terms, it would take a while for them to reacclimate to each other’s presence.

She moved further into the loft, right up to the mountain ash circle, and bent down. It looked like she was going to cry, but Derek could see her trying to hold it together. She managed a watery smile before she spoke again.

“Hi Stiles.”

“He can’t understand you,” Scott said softly from his own spot at the edge of the circle. “He’s feral.”

“What does that mean?” Lydia asked, turning to Deaton, as if he were the one to have spoken and not Scott.

“Stiles’ wolf is currently in control. It’s forced the human side of him back.”

“How do we get the human side to the front again?” she asked.

Derek held up the book he had open in front of him in answer and Lydia pursed her lips before turning back to Stiles. She was raking her eyes over every inch of him while he watched her with interest. He unfolded from his nest and inched a little closer, scenting the air as if she smelled familiar. He jerked back when he accidentally hit the barrier and scowled, baring his teeth. Lydia didn’t even flinch.

“Where was he?” she asked softly, eyes on his scarred skin. “Where did you find him?”

“Derek found him in the woods,” Scott said, which had Lydia turn to him sharply for the first time since her arrival, narrowing her eyes angrily.

“I thought you said you both found him,” she accused.

Scott frowned, clearly not liking her tone. “Well yeah, we did, but it was Derek wh—”

“There’s no ‘well yeah,’ Scott,” Lydia snapped, cutting him off. “Who found him? Was it you, or Derek, or both of you together?”

Scott seemed not to know what the big deal was. Derek didn’t really, either, but he wasn’t willing to piss Lydia off. She seemed angry enough, and so far, she didn’t hate Derek, so he was fine leaving the anger she felt aimed towards Scott.

“If you want to be literal, then I guess Derek’s the one who found him,” Scott said coldly.

“Then why did you say ‘we’ when you texted the Pack?” she demanded, a hard edge in her tone. She turned to glare at Derek, now. So much for staying on her good side. “Why didn’t you correct him?”

Derek shrugged, crossing his arms over his chest. “I didn’t think it was important. Stiles was found. Does it matter who found him?”

“Yes,” Lydia said, getting to her feet and flipping some perfect curls over her shoulder. “It does. Because here I thought Scott was actually a decent Alpha, for once.”

“Oh, and Derek is better than me because he’s the one who found Stiles?” Scott snapped angrily, getting to his feet and storming around the circle so he was closer to her.

Stiles was beginning to growl again, low and guttural, something threatening leaking through in the sound of it.

“You had two months to find him, Scott. And you didn’t,” Lydia accused. “If we’d called Derek like all of us suggested in those first few weeks, maybe we’d have found him sooner. But no, you were determined to do this on your own! Because he was your best friend.” She moved to stab him in the chest with one angry finger. “Because clearly, your friendship with him mattered more than anything else. More than how much I cared about him, or his father, or Malia! Everything was always about you, Scott, and your stupid ego!”

“I did my best!” Scott shouted, the room shaking with the Alpha tone slipping into his voice. Stiles’ growling got much, much louder. “I did everything I could to find him! Derek just got lucky!”

“Oh, is that what we’re going with? Derek was lucky?” Lydia scoffed. “Right, Scott. Because Derek’s been nothing but lucky his entire life. No way he’s just a better Werewolf than you, that would be absurd, wouldn’t it?”

Stiles let out a snarl when Scott pointed his finger in Lydia’s face.

Derek realized, with a start, that Stiles was feeding off the negative energy in the room. Before, he’d thought the growling was about him not liking Scott, but it occurred to him that every time Stiles got really loud, it was when there was animosity. Him and Scott back at the cave, him and Scott last night, him and Scott this afternoon, and now Scott and Lydia. The Pack was fractured and unstable, and it was affecting Stiles.

Before he could open his mouth to tell them to stop, the sheriff was on his feet, forcibly pushing the two of them apart. He was much rougher with Scott than with Lydia, having placed one hand in the center of his chest and shoving him back, while all he did to Lydia was place a hand on her shoulder to keep her in place.

“That’s enough,” he snapped. “Both of you. It’s enough of a problem with Scott and Derek, I’m not going to stand around and watch everyone in the Pack fight with each other. This is about Stiles, so anyone who doesn’t care about helping him can leave and I’ll do this myself. I don’t have time to babysit a bunch of children.” The sheriff pointed over at Derek, eyes on Scott when he spoke. “Derek found Stiles. I knew if anyone would ever find my son, it would be him.”

Scott winced at that, hurt flashing across his features, but he said nothing.

“Derek found him, so Derek’s in charge. Anyone who has a problem with that knows where the door is. If you want to stay, you get along. I won’t tolerate this bullshit anymore. Are we clear?”

He looked back at Lydia briefly, then turned to Scott once more.

Scott hunched his shoulders, shuffling his feet, trying to go for his puppy eyes but didn’t quite succeed. He nodded his understanding, Lydia letting out a clipped, “Clear.”

“Good,” the sheriff grunted. “Lydia, there’s some food left if you’re hungry. Grab a book and let’s get to work.”

Derek stood from the chair and offered it to Lydia. She took it with a nod of thanks, but didn’t say anything. She pulled a book over and flipped it open while Derek moved around the loft to the other side, sitting down on the stairs with his plate on his lap and a book in his hands.

Parrish showed up a few minutes later, he and Lydia greeting one another much more amicably than she had anyone else in the room. Derek would’ve figured it was because she liked Parrish the best, but he realized she was making an effort when her eyes kept skirting to the sheriff.

He didn’t dwell on it, eyes re-reading the same sentence over and over again, feeling anxiety begin to rise once more. Lydia, like the sheriff, didn’t know this might be permanent. He was going to have to tell them eventually. They were going to need to brace themselves for the possibility that Stiles was gone, and he wasn’t coming back.

It was well past midnight by the time anything else happened, and Derek hadn’t turned a page in hours, too focussed on his panic to pay attention to anything else. But he started when there was the sound of a car speeding towards the loft, slamming on the brakes just outside. A car door slammed and then someone threw themselves through the door at the bottom of the stairs.

They all looked at the door, still open from Lydia’s arrival, and Malia exploded into the loft, making a beeline for Stiles.

Her fast approach was not appreciated, and Stiles roared loudly, flying in her direction to attack, to protect himself, but he slammed into the barrier and skidded backwards, snapping his teeth angrily.

Malia didn’t seem to care. She moved right up to the barrier and placed both hands on it, forehead resting against it as well and eyes bleeding blue, locked on Stiles. He growled and paced on the other side of the barrier, and Malia just stared at him, inhaling deeply, drinking him in.

“Hello Malia,” Deaton said politely, but she ignored him, eyes locked on Stiles, claws extending and scratching slowly down the barrier separating them.

“He’s alive,” she said, mostly to herself. “He’s alive.”

He saw Scott straighten abruptly out of his peripheral and cast a glance at him. He already knew where Scott’s mind was going, even before he turned to look at him, feeling the Alpha burning holes in his skull with his gaze.

But Scott didn’t understand. He didn’t know. Derek barely tolerated him, he didn’t want to have to explain this to Scott, but he didn’t have a choice.

Scott’s mind had evidently gone to Malia being feral. She had been, once upon a time. Stuck in the body of a coyote while being a Were. But it was different with her, something Derek consistently reminded Scott of, despite how much the idiot didn’t listen.

Born and bitten. Born and bitten. They weren’t the same. There were differences. So many differences. Malia, like Derek, was a born Were. She’d been feral, yes, but she could come back from that no matter how long she was in her animal form. She could come back from it because with born Weres, they weren’t separated inside their minds. Animal and human were intertwined, one and the same. While it was possible to lose oneself in the animal, like Malia had done, the human was always there, hovering near the surface, ready to come back with the right push. It didn’t matter how many years Malia had been a coyote, the fact of the matter was, she was a born Were, and she could always be called back.

Bitten wolves couldn’t. Bitten wolves were either human or animal. Once the animal took over, that was it. If the human side didn’t come back fast enough, it never would.

Scott jerked his head towards the stairs leading up to the second floor, moving quickly in Derek’s direction. Derek didn’t want to have this conversation in front of the sheriff, so he obediently stood and made his way up to the second level with his plate and the book. Scott followed, and the sound of another chair scraping meant Lydia was also heading after them.

Setting his plate and book down on his dresser, Derek turned back to the stairs and crossed his arms, waiting for Scott to meet him so they could get this over with.

Once he was at the landing, he was already speaking.

“I brought Malia back. I brought her back by forcing her to submit to me, to an Alpha. If it worked with her, when she was a coyote for years, it has to work with him.” He frowned, continuing before Derek could cut in, Lydia having reached the top of the stairs by then and looking between them. “But we tried that with Stiles, and all it did was piss him off. So what did we do wrong?”

“What are you talking about?” Lydia demanded, frustrated and clearly displeased with joining a conversation she didn’t fully understand.

“Feral Werewolves don’t come back,” Derek explained shortly, crossing his arms and letting out a soft sigh. “If a Werewolf is feral for an extended period of time, there’s no coming back from that.”

“But you brought Malia back,” Lydia said to Scott before Derek could explain why it wouldn’t work. “You tried the same thing with Stiles, and it didn’t work?”

“No, it didn’t,” Scott said miserably. “What if I tried again?”

“It won’t work,” Derek cut in before the two of them could continue to discuss this and ignore his wealth of knowledge on the subject.

“And why not?” Scott snapped at him, narrowing his eyes. “Because I’m not good enough?”

“Because he is not born,” Derek shot back, feeling his gums itch. God, how he hated Scott. “You keep acting like I’m implying born Weres are better than bitten ones, but I’m not. I am providing you with facts. Born Weres are both the animal and the human. It doesn’t matter that Malia was a coyote for years, her human side cannot disappear into the recesses of her mind because it is as much a part of her as her animal side. Stiles is different. He was bitten. His wolf side and his human side are mutually exclusive. It’s possible for one to exist without the other, which is why anything we try that worked on a born wolf will not have the same effect on a bitten one.”

“So what, we sit here and do nothing?” Scott demanded.

Derek motioned the book he’d set down. “We are doing something!”

“Not good enough.” Scott turned to Lydia. “I’ll try again.”

“He’ll hate you,” Derek snapped.

“He already hates me,” Scott snarled back, Derek’s shoulders tensing and his eyes flashing instinctively. “He growls whenever I’m anywhere near him.”

“Because you’re pushing your Alphaness in his face,” Derek insisted sharply. “I told you that earlier.”

“Enough,” Lydia snapped, turning to Scott. “Do you remember exactly what you did with Malia? Maybe you did something different and that’s why it worked for her and not Stiles.”

Derek wanted to be pissed at Lydia for taking Scott’s side, but he understood. She was desperate. They were all desperate. But this wasn’t going to work, and they were wasting time pretending it might. Derek wanted to get back to his book.

“Maybe?” Scott rubbed the back of his head, letting out a slow breath. “I can try. I can channel it. I want Stiles back more than anything, I can make it work.”

Derek didn’t argue with them again. He knew it wouldn’t work, but they would just have to see that for themselves. Even if forcing submission was the way to go, Derek knew it wasn’t that simple. There was something Stiles needed to come back, and he’d never been one to submit to anyone. When a wolf got in his face back when he was human, he just stood his ground. Now that he was a Werewolf, Derek didn’t understand why Scott thought he’d be any different.

He wouldn’t be. Stiles didn’t submit. He wouldn’t submit. Not entirely. Not more than he had back in the cave, and even then it had barely been enough. He’d stopped, and he’d sort of bared his throat, but he’d done so reluctantly, and it was clear it wasn’t a true submission. It was just an acknowledgement that Scott was an Alpha, nothing more.

Scott turned and headed back downstairs without another word. Lydia followed him immediately, but Derek didn’t. He just stayed on the second level, clenching his hands tightly around his arms where they were still crossed, and waited.

Every hair on his body rose on end and he felt his eyes flash at the howl from downstairs. His gums ached, wanting to shift, and he felt himself turning his head slightly, as if he was going to bare his throat to an unseen Alpha. He managed to resist the urge, though he did hear Malia let out a soft whine from downstairs.

There was silence for only a second, and then a roar of fury that sounded very aggressive. Derek had known it wouldn’t work. Stiles had followed Scott everywhere, but even their relationship had fractured at some point. During Derek’s first absence, he knew there had been a problem between the pair. Something that had shifted their relationship. They were still best friends, they still cared about each other, but there was more hesitation there than there had been before. There was a shift, and Derek had seen it when he’d first come back, when Stiles had helped him while an intern with the FBI. He’d seen the way their dynamic had shifted.

Stiles followed Scott, but he didn’t trust him.

Scott was trying to force Stiles to fully submit, but it wasn’t going to happen. This wasn’t the way to get him back, Derek knew it wasn’t. He just didn’t know what to do.

Pulling his phone out, he opened his text messages, gritting his teeth while sending a message out.

How long before you’re back?

He only had to wait half a minute before he got a response.

I’m touched you miss me so much.
I’m coming as fast as I can.
Do try not to lose him before I get there.

How LONG, Peter?

Two days at the most.

Derek shoved his phone into his pocket.

Two days might as well be two more fucking years, at this point.

Derek didn’t know if they had two days.

When Derek woke up in the middle of the night, after barely having gotten to sleep given how stressed he was, it took him a few seconds to understand why. His eyes opened, and he felt itchy. Like someone was touching him all over with something prickly. His brain felt sluggish and strange, and he had the feeling like he needed to be somewhere, but he couldn’t figure out where.

Sitting up and trying to get rid of the discomfort, his eyes snapped to the stairs when he heard a loud thud and then a roar that shook the whole building.

Derek was on his feet and racing to the stairs in half a second, scrambling down them so fast he almost just fell down them. When he reached the bottom, he saw Stiles at the edge of the barrier, banging against it and clawing to get out, roaring in the direction of the door. Derek’s eyes shot to it, but it was closed and locked, like it had been since Stiles had come back into his life.

“Stiles!” He raced towards him, moving to the other side of the circle so he was between Stiles and the door. “Stiles, it’s okay! It’s all right!”

Stiles was looking through him at the door. Drool was dribbling down his chin, his teeth were bared, and his eyes were so blue they almost hurt to look at. He just roared again, banging so hard against the barrier that it threatened to give way. Derek wouldn’t have thought that possible if not for the fact that Scott had done it once, and Stiles was far more impressive than him. If anyone could push through a barrier by sheer force of will alone, it would be Stiles.

“Stiles!” Derek moved right up to the barrier, placing his hands on it right where Stiles himself was. “It’s okay. You’re okay. Calm down. Breathe, just breathe. I’m right here. You’re okay, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Stiles didn’t look like he could hear him, he just kept pounding at the mountain ash wall, trying to get out, the sounds escaping him becoming desperate and pained. Derek’s skin crawled and his ears rang, and he felt like he needed to be somewhere, but that was impossible because there was nowhere else in the world he should be other than here, with Stiles.

“Look at me!” Derek shouted, shifting into his Beta form and growling loudly. “Stiles, look at me!”

Derek didn’t know if it was the transformation, or the guttural sound of his voice, but Stiles’ gaze finally snapped to him and Derek leaned forward.

“You’re okay. Stiles, I’m right here. I am right here. And I won’t let anyone touch you again. You’re safe. I promise, with me, you’re always safe. I’ve got you.”

Stiles was breathing hard, whining low in his throat, but he’d stopped clawing and slamming against the barrier, so Derek took that as a win.

“That’s it.” Derek let his features return to normal, one hand brushing lightly down the barrier, wishing more than anything that he could touch Stiles right now. “That’s it, you’re okay. It was just a nightmare. You’re okay here, I won’t let anyone touch you. Not ever again.”

Stiles whined in his throat again and pressed harder into the barrier, eyes locked on Derek, like he wanted to push right through it. He slid to the ground, still pressed up against it, curling into a little ball.

Derek slowly shifted onto his knees, hand still pressed against the barrier, right where Stiles’ face was resting. He could almost pretend he felt his skin through the magic keeping them apart. He’d never so badly in his life wished he was a human before.

“You’re okay, Stiles. I’m going to fix this. You’re going to be okay, I’ll get you back. I won’t give up on you, just let me help you.”

Stiles said nothing, as usual, and closed his eyes, still breathing hard, and nuzzling against the barrier, almost as if he could feel Derek’s hand touching him.

Derek stayed kneeling where he was for a long while, watching Stiles calm down until he finally fell asleep again. Once he was sure the other Werewolf was unconscious, Derek stood silently and turned to look at the door, frowning slightly. The itchy feeling he’d woken up to was gone, but he wasn’t stupid enough to think it wasn’t a coincidence.

He woke up feeling itchy and uncomfortable, and suddenly Stiles was clawing to get out?

Something was going on, Derek just didn’t know what it was yet.

By the time morning rolled around, the last of the Pack were back. Liam showed up at the loft a little after dawn and Mason arrived around noon. Derek went about explaining everything that he could, keeping out the permanence of the situation until after the sheriff had departed for sleep back at the house, having dropped in after work.

Scott had shown up briefly as well, but was also chased out by Deaton once more, and Derek was left facing the others and explaining that they might not be able to get Stiles back.

Predictably, Malia piped in that it had worked for her, but she didn’t remember much about her time being feral, and she didn’t understand why it had worked for her. Derek was once again forced to explain there was a difference between born and bitten Weres, a conversation he was getting frustrated having to repeat.

People always looked at him like he was implying born Weres were better, but it wasn’t about who was better. It was about actual fact, and that fact in this moment was that Malia was never truly lost. She would always have come back one way or another, but Stiles wasn’t like her. He was bitten, and if the human part of what made Stiles Stiles was gone, there was no getting it back, no matter how much Scott roared at him to submit.

Eventually, they all just grabbed books and went about reading, none of them willing to leave, wanting to be close to Stiles. The only time Derek seemed able to kick people out was at night, and even then, he only half-succeeded with the sheriff.

Stiles didn’t like all the attention, and he was downright hostile when Scott returned at the end of the day, but Derek realized Stiles calmed down a lot whenever specific people were there.

He didn’t seem to mind Derek at all. Probably because he was the one who fed him and they’d somewhat bonded the night before, but he seemed okay with Derek.

When Derek woke up the following morning alone in the loft and went downstairs to shower, Stiles didn’t even twitch in his nest. He just lay there while Derek went about his day, and only looked up when he approached with his breakfast. He’d made eggs, just on a whim, and had managed to inch the plate over the line without affecting the barrier.

Stiles had eaten it with his hands, devouring the eggs, toast and bacon. It was real food, which was encouraging, but Derek didn’t know if he was eating it because it tasted good and familiar, or if he was doing it because he recognized that it was food and he needed it.

Stiles also appeared fine with the sheriff. More curious than anything, really. He often stared at him when the sheriff was around, reading through books or eating meals while staring right back.

And Deaton. He was fine with Deaton, too.

Everyone else was touch and go. He seemed to associate Lydia with Scott, and was somewhat angry whenever she was around, though nowhere near as aggressive as he was towards Scott. Malia he seemed not to trust, likely because of her fast approach, but he only grumbled in her presence and nothing more. Liam and Mason he didn’t seem to have an opinion on yet. He didn’t growl when they were around, but he also didn’t take his eyes off them, as if anticipating an attack.

Peter showed up two days later, just like he’d said. The Pack was all together at the loft, things tense and uncomfortable because of how long they’d been apart and the fact that most of them hated one another. But they made it work. For Stiles. Because he needed them. So they managed, somehow.

When Peter walked into the room, everyone tensed. He didn’t even acknowledge any of them, he just tilted his head curiously, watching Stiles, and moved closer to him, crouching right in front of him and giving him a slow once-over.

“I’ve always wanted to see him without clothes on. Can’t say I’m thrilled with the view, in this case.” The harshness in his tone suggested he was pissed at how injured he clearly was. Nevermind the fact that he was feral, they all knew Werewolves didn’t scar, so whatever had happened to him had happened before he turned into a Werewolf.

Derek stood, moving behind Peter. Stiles’ gaze shifted from Peter to Derek, then back to Peter. It was weird seeing Stiles look at Peter without his usual disdain on his face. Sure, Stiles tolerated the older man, but it wasn’t like they were friends.

Peter wasn’t really friends with anyone. He just tolerated some of them more than others.

Stiles was his favourite.

“Are we too late?” Derek asked quietly, almost afraid of the answer. “Can we get him back?”

“You can always get them back,” Peter said, eying Stiles with interest, now. It occurred to Derek that once upon a time, Peter had wanted Stiles as his Beta. He was probably thrilled to have someone as talented and amazing as Stiles as a Werewolf, now.

Shit, for all Derek knew, Peter might try and fucking steal him. Good thing the mountain ash kept him out as much as the rest of them.

“That’s not true,” Derek insisted. “Mom always had to put ferals down. Even Deaton said it couldn’t be done.”

“Deaton knows nothing,” Peter said with an exasperated sigh. “His understanding of our kind comes from books and observation. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be feral, truly feral.” He hummed, cocking his head, eyes still on Stiles. “I was almost feral, once. Your mother brought me back from that brink. It was long before you were even a thought,” he said, waving one hand towards Derek. “We were young. Hunters were cruel, and they still are.”

“You’re a born Were,” Derek reminded him.

“True, but irrelevant. There are ways to bring ferals back, they’re just less savoury and your mother was nothing if not a purist. Tell me, do we know who hurt him?” Peter asked, jumping topics faster than Derek could follow.

“No,” he said through gritted teeth once he’d caught back up. “I’m more concerned with getting him back, if we even can.”

“We can, we just need to figure out what it is he wants.”

Derek frowned, trying to figure out what Peter’s game was. He didn’t trust him, and he hated having to rely on him, but Peter and his mother had grown up together. Peter knew what it was like having an Alpha around who actually knew what they were doing.

“Mom always put ferals down,” he argued. “She said that with the bitten ones, once they’re past a certain point, there’s no saving them.”

Peter finally turned then, arching an eyebrow at him. “Your mother did the best she could without resorting to... alternate methods. Ones that are frowned upon by our kind. But,” Peter turned back to Stiles, “this is Stiles. I don’t imagine even Mr. Goody-two-shoes over there will refuse.” He motioned absently towards Scott.

Derek felt hope rising in his chest and throttled it violently. Peter was going to get his hopes up, get all their hopes up, and then fail them. He’d never managed to succeed in anything before, why should this time be any different?

Still, Derek found himself asking, “How?”

Peter stood, still watching Stiles while he spoke. “It’s possible to bring bittens back. It’s not as easy as it is with born Weres, but it can be done with knowledge of the feral Were and some forms of magic.”

Derek felt his skin tingle, and before he could even say anything, Scott was on his feet.

“No. Absolutely not.”

Peter continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “In order for the magic to work, you just need to find that one thing that the human wants more than the wolf does. The success rate is rare, even with the magic reenforcing it.” He pointed at Stiles, turning to look at Derek. “If there is ever a rarity, it’s him. If anyone can come back, it’s him.”

It was a show of support from the least expected party, and Derek wasn’t sure how to take it. He wanted to believe Peter. Wanted to believe Stiles could come back, that it could be that easy, but Peter himself had admitted it was rare. That it didn’t happen often, not to mention magic was involved. Hoping Stiles could come back wasn’t the same as it being possible.

“No,” Scott said again, and Derek felt inclined to agree. “The last time Stiles was involved with anything magical, he was possessed. We’re not doing that to him again.”

“That was magic with a price,” Peter said, still watching Derek and ignoring Scott as much as he was able to. “This magic doesn’t have a price.”

“All magic has a price,” Derek insisted.

“This one doesn’t. It’s magic that feeds off the will of others. We just need to figure out what it is Stiles wants, and once we have it, the spell works. That’s it.” Peter shook his head. “No catch, no trick, just Stiles coming back.”

No one spoke for a long while, each of them turning over his words. Derek, like Scott, didn’t like it. Magic was dangerous, it was unpredictable. It was pricey, and Stiles had already paid the price a hundred times over. He’d been possessed, and in that time he’d murdered countless people, including Allison, and hurt dozens more.

But it was Stiles. If they didn’t try, if they didn’t at least try...

“I wanted guidance,” Malia said softly, breaking the silence, and making both Peter and Derek turn to her. She was watching Stiles, who was still staring up at Peter. “I wanted to belong to a Pack. Scott made me submit, he gave me an Alpha. He gave me a Pack. It was what I wanted.”

Peter inclined his head, turning to smile at Derek, as if pleased. “So now the question is: what does Stiles want?”

They all turned to glance at him, but Stiles didn’t offer any advice. He just sat in his nest staring back at them until he got bored of the game and settled more comfortably, closing his eyes and snoozing.

It wasn’t encouraging.

“I would’ve thought his father would be the catalyst,” Lydia said softly.

“Stiles’ relationship with his father is complicated,” Derek offered.

“How would you know?” Scott asked bitingly.

“Because I pay attention,” Derek returned, just as harshly.

Before they could begin another fight, the door opened once more and the sheriff walked in. He seemed to realize he’d interrupted what would’ve undoubtedly been a stellar argument and he gave them all a disapproving look. Then his eyes shifted to Peter.

“Peter. Didn’t realize you were back.”

“For my favourite human? Anything.” Peter turned back to Stiles, considering him. “Though I suppose he’s no longer human, is he? Though that is of little consequence to me.”

“I’ll bet,” the sheriff said acidly, walking further into the room. “Chris Argent called. Wants to talk to you.”

Scott started to move when John held one hand up. “Not you. You.” He pointed at Derek.

The animosity radiating from Scott did not go unnoticed but Derek obediently moved to the door and exited the loft. The sheriff followed, though it was clear he didn’t want to. Probably wanted to spend more time with his son, but at this point, it was turning into a problem because Derek was going to have to tell him they might not get him back.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Derek climbed into the cruiser and the sheriff drove them to Chris’ house. They parked on the curb and Derek climbed out, John following. It had been a long time since Derek had spoken to Chris Argent, and he didn’t like his chances right now. Whenever Chris was involved, it was always unpleasant.

They climbed the porch steps, Derek frowning at a familiar scent, but he didn’t place it until after he’d rung the bell and the door opened.

“Isaac,” he said, startled at the sight of him. He hadn’t seen Isaac Lahey in years. Not since Chris’ daughter had died and Isaac had decided he couldn’t be in Beacon Hills anymore.

“Hey Derek,” he said uncomfortably, shifting his weight. “It’s been a while.”

“Yeah.” He gave him a once-over. “You look good.”


“What are you doing here?”

“I heard about Stiles,” he said softly. “About how he’s back. Kind of.”

“How?” Derek frowned.

“I told Chris,” the sheriff said. “Chris told Isaac.”

Isaac moved aside and motioned them in. They both entered the house, heading for the living room while Isaac disappeared upstairs. He returned a few moments later with Chris, who looked extremely tense and unhappy. Derek wondered if it was about him, but the last time they’d spoken, they’d been civil. Chris was instrumental in helping him find the Hunters who’d been passing through town three years ago.

“We have a problem,” he said seriously, taking a seat across from them on the couch. Isaac just leaned back against the wall by the door, looking uncomfortable but alert.

“When don’t we?” the sheriff asked gruffly, but Chris ignored him, speaking to Derek, eyes locked on him.

“Hunters are coming.”

“Not anything we haven’t dealt with before,” Derek reminded him uncertainly, unsure of why this time was different.

And why he was there instead of Scott.

Chris shook his head. “They’re coming for Stiles.”

Derek tensed instantly, feeling his hackles rise, possession and protectiveness slamming into him. “Because he’s feral. They want to put him down.”

Chris’ smile was humourless. “They say they own him.”

These words were met with a long, tense silence. Finally, it was John who broke it.

“He’s my son,” the sheriff said darkly. “Nobody owns him. If anyone does own him, it would be me as his father.”

“They don’t see it that way,” Chris said, shaking his head. “They bought him, he belongs to them.”

“We’ll buy him back,” Derek snarled. “They’re not getting him.”

“They’re going to try.” Chris sighed, rubbing his face with both hands. “If the rest of the Pack were here, we might be able to hold them off, but with only a few of us, it’s—”

“The rest of the Pack is here,” Derek cut him off.

Chris paused, watching him for a long moment. Derek grunted but explained that everyone had come back, Peter included. And on top of that, they had an extra in Isaac, which was even better.

“They’ve agreed to meet with me at the town border before entering,” Chris explained. “I thought we might have problems with our numbers, but if the Pack is back, we can meet them there. Hold them off.”

“How long do we have?”

“A few hours, maybe less.”

Derek nodded and stood. “I’ll let the Pack know. We’ll make preparations.”

Chris nodded, eying him with interest. It looked like he was seeing Derek in a new light, as if he remembered what he’d been like as an Alpha, and was feeling that same energy again. Derek ignored it, because he wasn’t an Alpha anymore. Hadn’t been for a long time, and he had no interest. Scott could have that, all Derek cared about was Stiles.

He and the sheriff left and when Derek got back to the loft, he explained the situation to the others. There were a lot of questions and angry demands, people talking over each other, but Stiles’ angry grumblings forced them to calm down. Derek found it somewhat funny that Stiles had always been the one to keep everyone together, and even now, as a feral Werewolf, he was somehow still managing to do so.

They came up with a gameplan, more of less. They needed their strongest out in the field, but Chris had been particularly adamant that the Pack as a whole needed to show up, as many as they could get, to show the Hunters Stiles was not someone they could just come and claim as they pleased.

Deaton ended up volunteering to stay behind with Stiles, and while Derek hated it, they all agreed it was best. He could break the mountain ash line if something went wrong, and they really wanted their strongest fighters at the meeting.

Chris called when the Hunters were half an hour out and the Pack all got into their cars to meet them at the edge of the town border. Derek couldn’t help the warmth in his chest when he parked and climbed out, seeing the rest of them emerge from their vehicles. Their Pack had splintered and fallen apart after Stiles had disappeared, but now? They were back together. They were one unit again, albeit grudgingly. Even Isaac, who grinned when Scott shouted his name, the two of them hugging and speaking to one another excitedly. Derek watched them while Lydia moved up beside him, the two of them silent for a long while.

“What are we going to do if he doesn’t come back?” Lydia asked softly, voicing words Derek thought about every waking moment of his day.

“We’ll make him come back,” Derek promised. “Somehow. We’ll find a way.”

She said nothing else, and they waited. Eventually, a group of cars approached, all of them stiffening at the sight. Chris took the lead, waiting in the middle of the road for them to slow and eventually stop.

An old, grizzled-looking man exited the main vehicle. He looked a little worse for wear, with an eyepatch and scars along his face, but his shoulders were broad and he looked strong. For someone his age, he looked like he could bench press a truck, it was kind of intimidating in a human.

Two other men exited with him, heading towards Chris, and while the rest of the people in the other cars exited, none of them approached. They all had crossbows or rifles, clearly ready for a fight. Derek clenched his hands into fists and could hear Malia growling low in her throat, but nobody moved aside from the three men approaching Chris.


“Valeris,” Chris responded. “Thank you for asking to meet instead of entering the territory.”

“We were being courteous to another Hunter.” His single eye raked across the other people present, curling his lip upwards in distaste. “I didn’t realize you ran with the wolves.”

“The Beacon Hills Pack is not like many others that exist,” Chris argued. “They are committed to protecting the people, as am I.”

“That is of little importance to us,” one of the other men said. “We’re here for our property.”

“Stiles,” Chris confirmed.

“Whatever you want to call him,” eyepatch said. “He belongs to us. We purchased him.”

“You the ones who hurt him, too?” Derek asked, before he could stop himself.

One of the hunters by the closest car flicked the safety off their weapon, clearly bracing for a fight, but eyepatch waved one hand over his shoulder, turning his single eye on Derek.

“No,” he said easily. “We didn’t lay a hand on him.” Not a lie, but not the whole truth, either. “But he is ours, and we would very much like him returned to us. He makes a rather good pet. My grandson misses him terribly.”

Anger slammed through Derek so hard he almost let it explode out of his mouth in a roar, but thankfully the most human of them was the one to approach, looking just as furious as Derek felt.

“You are talking about my son,” the sheriff snarled in a rather impressive impression of a Werewolf. “He was stolen from me, and I don’t care how much you paid, or what you think regarding who he belongs to, he is mine. You are not taking him!”

“He isn’t your son anymore,” eyepatch said coolly. “He is a beast. And he belongs to me.”

The sheriff had his weapon drawn before anyone else could stop him. The Hunters all raised their own weapons and Derek crouched, readying himself for a fight. The other Weres around him did the same, and Derek reached over to grab Lydia’s arm, pulling her slowly behind him.

For a long moment, nobody moved, but Derek could see the sheriff’s hand trembling. With rage, or fear, or grief, he didn’t know. He just hoped it didn’t come down to a fight. They would win, but at a price.

“He is my son,” the sheriff repeated. “You will not have him.”

“He was very, very expensive,” eyepatch returned. “We will not leave empty-handed.”

“How much is he worth?” Peter piped up from somewhere to Derek’s left. He could see his uncle moving forward slowly in his peripheral, but didn’t turn to glance at him. “A feral Werewolf isn’t that expensive on the market these days. They’re almost boring. How much is he worth to you? A hundred thousand? Two hundred?”

“We paid four million,” eyepatch said.

Derek glanced at Peter at those words, but his uncle kept his expression closed off. Four million was not normal for a Werewolf, feral or otherwise. Stiles was different somehow, but none of them had any idea how different. Or why.

To his credit, Peter didn’t react, watching eyepatch as if for the lie. There wasn’t one, none of the Weres had heard blips in his heartrate. He truly had paid four million dollars for Stiles.

Eyepatch smirked, clearly amused by the reactions he was eliciting. “He is quite remarkable. Very obedient, a good little pet.”

Derek’s eyes shifted to the sheriff again, whose hand was shaking. He was going to pull the trigger, Derek could sense it. Chris evidently could, as well, because he shifted slightly so he was closer to the sheriff, likely to stop him if he needed to.

“We want him back,” one of the other men said. “He’s very important to us.”

“He’s more important to us,” Chris cut in before the sheriff’s temper could flare any more.

One of the women by the cars let out a frustrated growl. “If you do not return Romulus to us—”

“Hush,” eyepatch said harshly, turning to glare at the woman with his one eye. “That is enough.”

Derek frowned. Romulus. He recognized the name. Founder of Rome in Roman mythology, the descendant of Aeneas, hero of the Trojan war. He and his twin Remus were raised by wolves, which suggested to Derek that these people knew a lot more about Stiles than they were letting on.

But at least they had a starting point, now. Romulus. And this man, Valeris, which was clearly a last name given how he and Chris had greeted one another. They could figure out what had happened to Stiles.

Eyepatch swept his gaze along the crowd at his back, making it clear he wasn’t going to tolerate any further outbursts, then faced Peter once more.

“How much is he worth to you?” he asked Peter. “This feral wolf.”

“Quite a bit, actually.” Peter smiled jovially. “We can pay you for him. With interest, for your troubles, of course. Four million, plus a few hundred thousand.”

Derek didn’t want to know where Peter had gotten all that money from. Some things were better left unknown, but he didn’t have a doubt in his mind Peter had a couple hundred million stashed away somewhere.

“No deal,” one of the guys with eyepatch snarled. “He belongs to us.”

“Say that one more time,” the sheriff said darkly. “I dare you.”

“Stiles isn’t a thing you can own,” Derek snapped. “He’s a person, and he’s ours. He belonged to us first. If you’re unwilling to take the offer, it’s because you’re the ones who stole him.”

“He was human back then,” the sheriff said darkly. “I’m sure I can make kidnapping charges stick.”

“Are you threatening us?” the guy beside eyepatch demanded, sounding offended.

Eyepatch held one hand up to silence him, eying the sheriff with his one cool blue eye. It looked like he was trying to determine how serious John was. How much he truly could make charges stick. Fighting ‘monsters’ in secret was one thing, but going up against an officer of the law regarding a human boy who’d been kidnapped three years ago was another entirely. It risked exposing them, and if there was one thing Derek knew about Hunters, it was that they liked keeping their side jobs a secret.

After a few moments, eyepatch’s phone went off. He ignored it at first, and then slowly reached into his pocket and pulled it out, reading over a message. Derek couldn’t tell based on his expression if it was good news or bad news. He had the poker face of a God.

He eventually put the phone back and looked at Peter, inclining his head once.

“Four million. With interest.”

“Dad,” one of the men hissed, but he silenced them once more.

Derek frowned. They weren’t interested in letting Stiles go, that much was clear. The question was why. He was just a feral Werewolf. Usually they were hunted for sport, but these people seemed to keep him around like a veritable pet. That didn’t make any sense to Derek, and he so desperately wanted to know why.

Only Stiles would be able to tell them, provided he remembered once he was sane again.

If he was ever sane again.

“Four million with interest,” Peter agreed.

“Deal,” eyepatch finally said.

Peter smiled pleasantly and moved a few steps closer, pulling his phone out. The other Hunters tightened their ranks, aiming weapons at him, but he seemed unconcerned, he just spoke to eyepatch in low tones, the two of them confirming the payment. Derek still didn’t want to know how much money Peter had, or where he’d gotten it from. He also wasn’t sure he was happy Peter was the one paying them off, because he was the kind of person who’d argue he now owned Stiles.

Not that he could take him from this Pack, they’d tear him apart.

Once the transaction was complete, eyepatch checking his bank account on his own phone to make sure it went through, he looked up at them and smiled.

It was all teeth, and not at all friendly.

“Pleasure doing business with you.” He turned to his companions. “Let’s go.”

The two men with eyepatch shared a look, one of them turning to glare hatefully at Peter before a bark from their leader forced them both to turn and head back for their cars.

None of the Pack moved while they returned to their vehicles, and once the three were back inside, the others climbed into their own cars and they all turned and drove away. Nobody spoke until their taillights had disappeared into the distance.

“That was too easy,” Mason insisted quietly.

Derek was sure they all felt the same way. None of the Hunters were happy with eyepatch’s decision. And there was also the text he’d received, taking his eyes off an entire Pack to check his phone.

That didn’t bode well.

“It was expensive, is what it was,” Peter grumbled, scowling at his phone. “Stiles is lucky he’s the only person in this pathetic Pack I care about.”

“Something isn’t sitting right with me,” Lydia muttered, clutching at her stomach with one hand. “I don’t feel well.”

Derek agreed. This wasn’t sitting well with any of them.

He pulled his phone out and called Deaton, putting it to his ear. He waited while it rang.

And rang.

And rang.

His blood ran cold when voicemail picked up.

Hanging up, he dialled back, turning to hurry for his car. It rang again, but just like before, nobody answered.

Derek felt like he was going to throw up.

“Get to the loft,” he ordered, racing for the Camaro. “Get to the loft now!”

He was in the car and peeling out of there before anyone else. The sheriff was the first person on his heels, sirens blaring while he and Parrish raced after him towards the loft.

They shouldn’t have left him alone with Deaton. They should’ve assumed there was more going on than they knew. The Hunters had given up too easily. It was clear they didn’t want to, they wanted Stiles back, but they’d taken money and left? With barely a fight? Something was wrong.

Derek slammed on the brakes at the base of the building, throwing open his door and feeling his stomach bottom out.

There were new scents near his building. Some he knew were human. Others weren’t.

Wolves. He could smell wolves. They had been here recently.

“Shit!” He bolted for the door, slamming through it hard enough to blow it off the hinges. He raced up the stairs, heart pounding while the sheriff and Parrish followed behind him. He ignored them, feeling like he was going to be sick.

Not again. Please, God, not again!

He threw open the loft door in time to hear someone snap, “Yeah, yeah, grr to you too, Stilinski.”

Derek stopped so abruptly that the sheriff quite literally slammed into him. Thankfully Parrish was there to save him from tumbling backwards down the stairs from rebounding off the Werewolf, but Derek didn’t pay them any attention. His eyes were on the Werewolf circling the outside of the mountain ash, eyes locked on Stiles.

He had to be hallucinating.

But after a moment, green eyes slowly rose and a smarmy smirk appeared on his haughty face. “Hale. It’s been a long time.”

“Jackson.” His eyes shot to the other man who was at the table with Deaton, helping him tend to a head wound. “Ethan.”

Jackson Whittemore and his boyfriend Ethan had been in England the last time Derek had checked. While Jackson had once been his Beta, they’d never really gotten along, and as far as he knew, Jackson hated Stiles. To have him here, now, was extremely confusing and somewhat disorienting.

Scott crashed up the stairs after them all, pushing past Derek into the loft. He stopped as abruptly as Derek did, eying the two men.

“What are you doing here?” Scott asked. He sounded ruder than Derek felt was warranted.

“Heard Stilinski was back.”

“How?” Derek asked.

Jackson reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, tapping something before turning it to face them.

Derek stared, because he’d honestly had no idea Jackson was in the group chat. He supposed it made sense, he’d probably joined it when he’d been a Beta, and once he’d moved, maybe he’d been re-invited by Lydia under his new number, and then never said anything. As the years passed and more people joined the Pack, his name and number had probably gotten buried in the contacts, and nobody knew he was there.

Jackson knew Stiles was missing. Everyone knew he was missing, because everyone had been contacted for help finding him. So when Jackson had seen the conversations happening in the group chat once more, he’d probably read them, realized Stiles was back, and... and apparently, gotten on a plane home.

Derek felt like he was in shock, but he shrugged it off quickly and moved towards Deaton at the table, where Ethan was still tending to his injury.

“What happened?”

“Hunters,” Ethan said easily, eyes on what he was doing while Deaton winced. “Four of them. Caught Deaton off-guard. They got Stiles all the way downstairs before we showed up and chased them off. It was a bitch getting him back up here.” He motioned his arm, where dried blood was clearly visible from healed wounds Stiles had inflicted. “Thank God she was with us, or else we wouldn’t have gotten him back into the mountain ash circle. She’s the one who managed to wake Deaton up.”

Derek frowned. “Thank God who was with you?”

The way Scott’s heart thudded loudly in his chest had Derek whip around towards the kitchen. A beautiful Asian woman exited the room, carrying a bowl of water in one hand and some disinfectant in the other. She’d paused in the doorway, likely unsure of her welcome, but Scott spoke before she could retreat.

“Kira,” he said quietly. “You’re—you came back.”

Kira Yukimura shifted her weight uncomfortably, avoiding looking at Scott and instead focussing on Stiles. “I came back for Stiles,” she said softly. “No other reason than that. He’s my friend, and I care about him.”

She moved to the table to set her items down, offering Derek a quiet hello.

He knew she and Scott had parted on bad terms—really, everyone involved had parted on bad terms. But Derek also knew she wasn’t in the group chat, having left it long before Stiles had gone missing. He could only assume Lydia had told her what was going on. Maybe she, Jackson and Ethan had bumped into one another by accident.

Maybe Ethan had reached out to her when they’d come back to the US. Derek didn’t know. All he knew was that it was really nice to see her.

“So,” Jackson said loudly, always wanting to be the center of attention and likely bored with the awkwardness, “what the hell’s wrong with Stilinski?”

“He’s feral,” Scott informed him. “I thought you read the messages in the group chat.”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Jackson snapped, but Ethan was the one to still and glance over at Stiles.

Evidently he understood what that meant more than Jackson did.

He looked up at Derek then. “Are we too late?”

Derek didn’t have time to say anything because the sheriff was beside him instantly, eyes narrowed. “Too late for what?” He looked at Derek. “What does he mean by too late?”

Derek wished he could’ve been saved by the arrival of the rest of the Pack, but the sheriff didn’t let him slip away. The others all said their hellos, with Lydia and Jackson somewhat civil, though clearly uncomfortable. Everyone was trying to figure out how they fit together again, especially since some people were new to the Pack while others were part of the original group. Ethan, for his part, stayed out of it all and just kept helping Deaton dress his head wound, which hadn’t stopped bleeding.

The sheriff just stared at Derek hard enough to set him on fire and he let out a slow breath before finally admitting the truth to him.

“Like I implied when we first spoke about the Werewolf I found in the woods, feral Werewolves can’t always be saved,” he said quietly, practically hearing every muscle in the sheriff’s body tense. “If they’ve been feral for too long, their human side disappears, and it never comes back.”

The sheriff looked like he was going to be sick. Before he could open his mouth, before he could even decide what he wanted to say, Malia was beside Derek.

“I came back,” she insisted, despite knowing as well as Derek did that it was because she was a born Were, but anything to stop the man from panicking, he supposed. “Stiles is stubborn, he’ll come back, too. He’s going to come back, he has to. I won’t let him go out like this.”

The sheriff took a few deep breaths through his nose, then motioned between himself and Derek. “You and I are talking about this later.”

“Or not at all,” Peter said jovially, sliding the loft door shut and smiling at them all. “I’ve managed to procure the completed spell required to bring Stiles back. No need to thank me, all in a day’s work, you’re all very welcome for my services.”

“He’s still here?” Jackson asked with a snort, crossing his arms. “Haven’t you been killed yet?”

“Multiple times, in point of fact.” Peter smiled pleasantly at him, but continued across the room. He pulled something out of his pocket, unfolding it slowly and dropping it on the table in front of Deaton.

It looked like he’d ripped it out of a book, probably from one of his many vaults hidden around town. Derek wasn’t stupid enough to think he only had the one, Peter had far too much money to not have stashes of it everywhere.

Deaton eyed him critically, then pulled the page closer, looking it over with a frown while Ethan finished with the last of the medical tape around the gauze on his forehead. He shook his head once he’d finished reading the page.

“This has never been known to work. Talia has tried this. We cannot proceed without enough knowledge on the feral wolf.”

“I remember, I was there. But!” Peter grinned, poking at Derek’s cheek, for some stupid reason. Probably to annoy him. “Look at the Pack. They’ve all reconvened, every single one of them. For Stiles. They all came for him, and the Pack is complete.”

“Not all of them,” Chris said darkly.

Peter waved an impatient hand at him over his shoulder. “Yes, yes. Not everyone can come back to life like I can.”

Derek expected Chris to say something else, but it was Isaac who growled angrily. Nobody wanted to remember those they’d lost along the way, and even Derek was unhappy of the reminder.

Boyd. Erica. Allison.

“Point is,” Peter continued, ignoring everyone else while he motioned the page, “this will work. Because what is it Stiles has always wanted more than anything else?”

“His mother,” the sheriff snapped.

“Besides that,” Peter waved a hand impatiently.

“The unconditional love of his father,” Derek supplied.

Peter turned to give him an annoyed look. “Really, nephew? Surely one of you will provide an answer that is something he once had and lost.”

They were all silent for a long moment before Lydia finally said, “Found family.”

Peter snapped his fingers before pointing at her, grinning widely. “Precisely! Precisely! Found family. And he had that. The Pack meant more to him than his own life, it’s why he fought for it again and again, even when he knew he might die in the process.” Peter turned to Scott. “Call your mother. Once she’s here, the Pack, his found family, will all be in this room, and we can attempt the spell.”

Scott and Derek shared an uncomfortable look, but they were desperate enough. They had nothing else, and Derek was positive Stiles was too far gone to save. If there was a chance, even the smallest, slightest chance, they had to take it.

He nodded once, and was surprised Scott was taking his lead on this. He obediently pulled his phone out and moved towards the kitchen to call his mother. Kira moved away across the room so they didn’t have to be near one another.

Derek turned back to the page Deaton was inspecting. He didn’t trust Peter, not really, but he did trust that Peter wanted Stiles back so he chose to believe this wasn’t a trick. Still, he had no idea what the spell was, so he leaned over to try and read through it. The sheriff did the same, the two of them crowding Deaton. Ethan got uncomfortable enough to get to his feet and ease his way out of the huddled group.

It was definitely magic. Some kind Derek didn’t recognize. It evidently meant something to Deaton though, because he looked unhappy. Derek himself didn’t know if he wanted anyone casting magic on Stiles. Things could go wrong, and what if they did something irreversible.

Then again...

Derek turned to glance at Stiles with a wince. His situation was already fairly irreversible as it was.

Scott returned moments later, advising his mother was on her way. Nobody spoke about what they were planning to do while they waited. Most of them just spoke in low tones, catching up since they’d all been apart for so long.

It was weird. Seeing everyone back. Having them all in one place. It was awkward, and uncomfortable, and it was clear there was still a lot of hurt and anger and pain between them all. But it was Stiles. And he mattered to all of them one way or another. Hell, even to Jackson, apparently.

To be fair, Stiles had saved his life. Stiles was always there for everyone when they needed him the most. It was only right that everyone else should be there for him.

When Melissa arrived, she started at the sight of half the people in the room. There were more greetings and questions, but everyone eventually quieted down and Deaton got to his feet, reviewing the page in his hand.

“Do you need anything?” the sheriff asked gruffly. He had his arms crossed and his face was blank, but Derek could hear his heart pounding in his chest. If this didn’t work, Derek didn’t know what he would do.

Not let the man go home, that was for sure. He’d probably been drinking again, but Derek could really only worry about one Stilinski at a time, and Stiles took priority.

“No,” Deaton said. “It is simple, just ill-advised.”

“Ill-advised how?” Scott asked slowly.

“As you know, your Lycanthropy is a form of magic. Different magics mixing can have adverse effects, as seen with what happened the last time.”

He was talking about the Nogitsune. About the nightmares Scott, Allison and Stiles had been having after they’d performed the spell to find their parents.

“You said this one didn’t have a price,” Derek snapped at Peter.

“All magic has a price,” Deaton countered before Peter could speak. “This one’s isn’t steep, it relies on the will of those around the feral beast. So long as none of us lose our desires to help him, it will succeed and the price will have been paid. I just hesitate because of his state of mind.”

“Can’t get any worse,” Jackson muttered. A few people shot him a look but he just shrugged, clearly unconcerned.

Deaton waited, watching Scott for permission. Surprisingly, Scott looked at Derek. Probably so that he could blame him if things went wrong.

Derek didn’t think there was anything left to lose, so he just nodded. Scott nodded back, then looked at Deaton.

“Do it.”

Deaton inclined his head and told them to stand around the mountain ash barrier, in a large circle. It was difficult, there being so many of them, but they managed to fit around the circle with Deaton moving to take his spot as well.

Stiles began to growl low in his throat, clearly displeased. He looked around nervously, unsure of what was going on, but Derek just pressed one hand on the barrier.

“Hey,” he said softly, Stiles’ eyes shooting back to him. “You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be fine.”

Stiles didn’t stop growling, but he just kept staring at Derek like he wanted to believe him.

Derek kept eye contact with him while Deaton began to chant. It was in Latin, and Derek understood half the words, but he didn’t let his eyes leave Stiles’. He could tell Deaton was reading through the spell a few times over, changing inflections and speed, but after the fifth run through, he stopped, and they all stared at Stiles.

He just kept staring back at Derek.

Derek’s stomach hit his feet and he let his hand slide off the barrier. It was stupid to think it would work.

“I’m sorry,” Deaton said quietly.

“No,” the sheriff insisted, voice cracking. “No, no—you did it wrong. We missed something! There’s-there’s a reason it didn’t work! Try again!”

“John,” Melissa said softly, but he just shouted for Deaton to try again. The sound had Stiles growling, turning to him, but Peter let out a sharp bark of laughter.

Everyone turned to him as he continued to laugh, shaking his head. For one, horrible moment, Derek thought this had all been a joke to him. That he’d just pretended this was a cure but it was actually something else.

The next words out of his mouth suggested otherwise.

“Forgive me, we forgot one very important piece of the puzzle. Do try not to let those Hunters take him, I’ll be back in two days.”

Without another word, he left the loft.

Derek and Scott shared a look across the circle, but said nothing.

Whatever happened, Derek couldn’t let the sheriff return home tonight.

It was barely past dawn when Derek’s head jerked up off his pillow, insistent knocking sounding at the door. He let out a slow breath and rolled over, rubbing at his face with both hands and groaning.

He wasn’t getting much sleep, not with the knowledge that Stiles might no longer be saved, but even the few hours he managed to get kept being interrupted by something or another. He heard shuffling downstairs, knowing John was heading for the door, but Derek obediently climbed out of bed and started down the stairs as it was pulled open.

“Chris,” the sheriff said, sounding broken and exhausted.

“I know what happened to him.”

Derek was on the first floor instantly, staring across the open space at Chris while he hurried into the loft carrying a laptop under one arm, a bag over his shoulder. John shut and locked the door behind him, holstering a gun Derek hadn’t even noticed until now.

Considering what had happened the night before with the Hunters, it made sense.

“I didn’t have all the pieces before, but with the hints from last night, and a few called in favours, I know what happened.”

Chris sat down at the little table, setting his laptop down and opening it. Derek and the sheriff joined him while he booted it up and opened a web browser. He went to his favourites and clicked on a website whose tagline was “A New Kind of Entertainment.”

That definitely didn’t bode well and Derek’s stomach twisted into knots at what they might end up looking at.

When the page loaded, he frowned, because it was all dark colours and red borders, full of links and videos and headers.

“The man last night is called James Valeris. His family is an old Hunter family, similar to ours. We never ran in the same circles, but I always knew his ideals were different than mine, even before I changed my code. After our meeting last night, I went home and started digging. Tried to figure out what he’d been doing the past few years.” He turned to the sheriff and Derek, leaving the main screen of the site in place. “Calling in some favours led me to this site. I had to create a profile and pay a steep admittance fee, but once you’re in, as long as you’ve proven your credibility as a Hunter, you just pay a monthly fee and have unlimited access to everything the site has to offer.”

“Which is what?” John asked uncertainly.

Chris looked at him sadly, then said, “I know why they want him back so badly.”

He turned back to the screen, and clicked on a tab that said “contestants.” Derek’s stomach hit his feet for a second time in only a few short hours. There was a large tree boasting different names and titles, as well as owners, outlining winners and losers of what seemed to be some kind of Supernatural fight club.

At the very top, underneath the word ‘undefeated,’ was a picture of Stiles, the name Romulus, and in smaller print, ‘owner: James Valeris.’

Derek heard the sheriff’s breathing become erratic, not that he could blame him.

“Are you telling me,” John said, voice cracking, “that my son was forced to fight against Supernatural creatures?”

“Yes,” Chris said quietly. “And he was winning.”

Derek turned to look at Stiles. He hadn’t reacted to Chris’ arrival other than to grumble at being woken. He was in his nest, like he often was, not a care in the world. His eyes were open and locked on Chris, but he shifted his gaze to Derek when he saw him looking. Grumbling low in his throat, he twisted around in his nest so his back was to them and seemed like he was trying to go back to sleep.

“There are hundreds of videos,” Chris said quietly, making Derek turn back to him. “From his auction, to the last time anyone saw him in the ring.”

When he clicked on Stiles’ picture, the sheriff let out a wounded noise, stumbled backwards insisting that he couldn’t, and then raced for the bathroom. Derek winced as he heard him retching, but he didn’t turn away. He couldn’t.

He knew something had turned Stiles into this, and he had to know what. Had to know if there was a chance to use it to get him back.

So when Chris paused, likely unsure if he should proceed, Derek leaned forward to press his fingers against the touchpad and scrolled to the bottom. It made him feel sick to see how many videos there were. It was like trying to refresh a Youtube page where someone had been making videos almost daily for three years. It kept stuttering and buffering, attempting to load everything, and after a few minutes, they finally reached the bottom.

The videos were mostly titled things like ‘match one’ and ‘championship match silver’ and the like, but a few of them had different titles, and the very first video was called ‘Auction - First Ever Human.’

Derek clicked on it before he could change his mind.

It immediately went to full screen without his prompting, and for a moment, the screen buffered, a small circle appearing in the middle and turning around and around. Then, sound crackled to life, the screen still dark, and Derek could hear Stiles’ harsh, laboured breathing.

Lights turned on without warning and he recoiled, blinking rapidly to attempt to get his eyes to focus and looking around. He was wearing grey sweats and a plain black T-shirt. His hands were cuffed together behind his back, and two pairs of legs were visible behind him while he looked around urgently.

“What is this?” Stiles demanded. “What the fuck is going on?!”

A growl from behind them made Derek whip around, Chris hitting the space bar to pause the video. Stiles was looking at him again, growling low and clearly unhappy. He probably recognized his own voice on the screen.

Derek didn’t care, he had to know, so he faced the computer once more and hit the space bar, watching.

“Where the hell am I?” he started to get to his feet but let out a sharp cry when one of the people behind him slammed the end of a black rod into his back. The way he convulsed suggested it was a tazer and Derek’s hands curled into angry fists.

“Lot 7-5-7,” another voice said while Stiles gasped for breath, struggling not to tip forward. His head lifted, looking around himself. “A rarity, even in our circles. A human the Lautus Striga has deemed worthy. Touched by darkness, part of a Pack of wolves, strong despite his humanity. One of a kind. The first of its kind.”

“What the fuck is this?!” Stiles shouted, then screamed again when another rod was jabbed into his back.

The wolf behind Derek was growling louder, but he ignored him, watching Stiles fall forward on the screen, coughing and struggling to gasp in air.

“As the first human, we understand the reluctance to invest, so the Lautus Striga has agreed to provide a demonstration to show the human’s worth.”

That couldn’t be good, and Derek growled himself when one of the men behind Stiles jabbed him again with the tazer, Stiles convulsing on the ground before twitching and breathing hard. One of the men bent down to undo the cuffs and then a metal bat landed beside Stiles’ head, the two retreating.

A door slammed somewhere off-screen and it was clear it took considerable effort for Stiles to get back to his feet, but he struggled his way up anyway, gritting his teeth and coughing, his muscles twitching.

“As you can see, very resilient. He was struck with the same number of volts as a regular Werewolf.”

“Will you shut up!” Stiles spat, grabbing the bat and using it to help him get to his feet. “I’m not for sale. My dad’s a cop,” he bit out. Once he was fully standing, he stumbled slightly, turning in a circle. It was hard to see much, given the light was shining directly on Stiles, but Derek felt inclined to believe he was in a room of mirrors, potential buyers on the other side watching him.

Stiles gripped the bat hard in both hands, let out a shout, and then slammed it hard against the closest mirror. It cracked, but didn’t break. His muscles were still twitching and he seemed out of breath, like he was having trouble breathing.

A door opened and Stiles turned, the bat raised, then his face fell.

“What the fu—what the fuck is that?!” he demanded, voice a little higher than normal.

There was a sound, like ripping skin, and then something Derek didn’t recognize flew at Stiles. He managed to dodge, rolling under the beast’s wide swing. Derek could hear the current Stiles growling louder behind him, but he ignored him, because he was too far into the video now to stop.

He had no idea what the monster fighting Stiles was, it wasn’t anything he’d ever seen before. He tensed when the beast slashed wicked claws at Stiles’ back and heard him scream, but he didn’t fall and he didn’t give up. He just turned and swung the bat with everything he had, a cry of both rage and fear escaping him, getting some distance between himself and the beast.

It seemed to take an eternity for Stiles to win the fight. The monster was quick, but Stiles was nimble. Years of running with wolves and fighting Supernatural creatures stronger and faster than him had helped him adapt to dealing with them. While the beast was fast and lethal, Stiles was managing to twist out of the way at the last second, using the bat to keep some distance between them until he had an opening.

Once he did, he swung the bat again, the speed of it catching in the video, whistling through the air, aimed right at the thing’s head. Derek didn’t know if maybe the beast had an allergy to the metal the bat was made of, or if Stiles just happened to guess on the weakest point of its body, because there was a sickening crunch and whatever had been attacking him fell to the ground, black ooze escaping from the crack in its skull. Stiles let out another scream and began slamming the bat hard against the mirror he’d previously been attacking. With two hits, the glass shattered, exposing a crowd of people on the other side, who scrambled back.

Before Stiles could jump through the opening, someone was behind him and he screamed and fell to his knees when he was tazed again, the bat falling from his hand. He fell flat on his face, convulsing, even as the person behind him kept the tazer pressed against his skin.

“That’s enough,” another voice said and the tazer was pulled back.

Stiles didn’t get up again, muscles twitching and hands struggling to shift and support his weight so he could stand, but he was shaking too badly to follow through.

“Bidding will begin at one-hundred thousand.”

A series of dings followed this statement, and Derek realized with a sick feeling in his stomach that Stiles had just given them a reason to bid on him. He didn’t have a choice, it was fight or die, but his win had caused him to be treated like something that could be owned.

“Sold. New owner: James Valeris.”

The screen went black.

Derek stared at it for a long moment, the video returning to its original size and showing off all the others that existed. It took a conscious effort for him not to hurl the damn thing across the room and tear the entire loft apart.

He had to know. He had to know what had happened to him. How bad it had gotten. He had to know when... how... with Stiles. He had to know.

But Stiles was still growling behind him, clearly displeased with what had just been playing. Derek couldn’t watch these videos with him here.

Turning to Chris, who looked a little pale, suggesting he hadn’t watched any of the videos himself, Derek said, “I need to borrow this.”

Chris turned to him, then shifted to look back at Stiles. He faced Derek again and nodded once.

“I’ll stay here with the sheriff.”

Derek nodded in thanks, then slapped the screen shut. Chris hadn’t typed in a password, and he hadn’t logged into the site, so it would be easy to open it once more. Chris pulled the power cable from the bag he’d brought along and held it out to Derek, who took it, tucked the laptop under his arm, and left the loft.

He wanted to go back to the house and watch it there alone, but he knew that wasn’t fair. It wasn’t just about him, other people had come for Stiles, and they all deserved to know. The sheriff didn’t want to, but that was his right. Everyone else—he’d give them the option. Whether they came or not was up to them.

Opening the group chat once he got into the Camaro, he sent out a message, knowing someone would let Kira know. Peter had left town, so they’d have to fill him in later, and Isaac probably already knew given Chris was the one who’d found the videos. If he hadn’t come along, he obviously didn’t want to know.

I know what happened to Stiles. Chris found videos. I’m going home to watch them. Come if you want. Don’t if you don’t.
They’re very graphic. He’s not okay in them.

Unsurprisingly, Scott was the first to respond.

dont start w/o me

I’m coming with Kira.

Derek shoved his phone back in his pocket and started the Camaro, heading for the house. By the time he got there, Jackson’s Porsche was already sitting in the driveway behind the Jeep, and Malia was sitting on the porch steps.

Letting the three others into the house, he set the laptop down on the coffee table and went to find an HDMI cable so he could connect the computer to the television. By the time he came back downstairs, Scott, Lydia and Kira had shown up along with Liam and Parrish. Mason had decided he wasn’t interested, and Deaton couldn’t leave the clinic. Melissa had apparently gone to the loft to stay with John and Chris.

And Stiles.

Derek explained the situation just as Chris had, then opened the first video, forced to watch it again. Lydia spent the whole thing with both hands over her mouth and tears in her eyes. Everyone else watched with horror, but seemed to try and detach themselves as much as possible.

There were far too many videos to watch all of them, so they had to pick and choose. They watched the first two after the auction, mostly to get an idea of how the fights worked. Apparently they were timed, and the goal was to render the other party unable to fight before the timer ran out. Stiles, being human, was always allowed some kind of weapon when he went into the large cages, and most of the time the buzzer rang with neither of them being taken down. Stiles was good at dodging, and he’d started climbing the cage in his first go around, clinging to the bars in the ceiling.

It didn’t do much against Werewolves, but his first opponent had been a Vampire and while powerful, they didn’t jump as high as Werewolves did, and didn’t fly like myths insisted they could. So Stiles just clung to the bars, arms shaking, and managed to outlast the Vampire.

Apparently if both were still in good health at the end of the timer, the enforcers came in and beat them until one of them fell unconscious. The one who remained conscious the longest was proclaimed the winner.

Stiles won the first round only because the enforcers couldn’t reach him, and the video cut out once the winner was announced with Stiles still pressed flat against the ceiling, feet locked into the bars and arms shaking from hanging on.

They’d apparently learned from their mistake because the next video, when Stiles tried to do the same thing, they electrocuted the bars and he fell back into the middle of the cage with barely enough time to dodge an attack.

He won the second round by the skin of his teeth, but not without injury. It explained all the scars, because Stiles was still human at the beginning and he was fighting monsters.

Monsters with sharp teeth and claws.

They skipped a few videos, mostly looking at titles to decide whether or not to watch them. They watched all the ones in the championship round, which happened twice a year as far as they could tell: summer and winter.

There were fights where Stiles was pale and sickly looking, with blood peeking through the light shirts he wore from injuries that obviously hadn’t fully healed, but it was clear that Valeris kept him well cared for. After all, Stiles was an investment, and based on how much money he was getting from the wins, it would be stupid not to keep him healthy.

The bets were always up on the screen, down near the right hand corner. The first few videos they watched, Stiles was always bet against, but when they watched the first year’s winter championship, after he’d creamed everyone in the summer championship, the bids started being more in his favour. Which worked out for people bidding on him since he won the winter championship, too.

They watched video after video, all of them feeling sick and horrified. But it wasn’t until a video from eight months ago caught Derek’s eye that he hesitated. They’d all been keeping their cool, trying to detach themselves from what they were watching, pretending it wasn’t one of their friends on the screen.

This was different, though. Because this video was titled ‘The Fall of Romulus?’

Derek knew this was the one where he turned into a Werewolf.

He turned to look at Lydia, seeing how she was doing. She’d been crying silently for a while now, tears streaming steadily down her face. Kira was gripping her hand in an iron tight hold, her face an emotionless mask.

Scott was the one who reached over and clicked on it and they all focussed on the screen once more.

The fight started like it always did, with a monster underestimating Stiles. This one was an Alpha, and while Stiles had fought them before on the screen, this one was different. He moved faster, was less predictable.

“He’s feral,” Malia said quietly from beside Derek.

“Yeah,” Derek agreed softly.

They hadn’t seen ferals so far in the ring, mostly because it looked like nobody wanted their investments going to waste by being killed. Evidently, Stiles’ two year winning streak was making them have to up the ante to keep things interesting.

Stiles fought hard, but it was obvious a prior injury to his leg was making him move slower than normal. He was doing fairly well for the first half, but his leg gave out when he tried to swing the bat he held and the feral Alpha took advantage of it.

The bat was wrenched from his hands, and Stiles jerked away, rolling and scrambling after it. He’d just closed his hand around the head of the bat, getting up onto his knees and beginning to turn so he could swing when the Alpha caught his wrist with one hand, grabbed a fistful of hair with the other, and wrenched his head to the side.

Derek lowered his eyes when he heard Stiles scream, feeling his gorge rise and clenching his hands into fists. There was a commotion on the screen and it took effort for him to raise his gaze once more.

Stiles had twisted to knee the Alpha in the balls, and he let out a cry of rage before leaping up and slamming the bat down repeatedly on the Alpha’s head. Blood was streaming down his neck from a gaping wound, but Stiles looked crazed, slamming the bat down over and over again, blood spattering around him and flecks of it flying off the bat with each swing.

The Alpha was dead, and the buzzer sounded to proclaim a winner. Stiles stumbled back, dropping the bat, and then fell over, landing hard on his side and screaming. Rolling onto his back, he arched it and screamed louder, hands clawing at the ground.

The screen cut off just as James Valeris bolted into the cage towards his property, looking furious.

“Guess a Werewolf is worth less than a badass human,” Malia said into the silence that followed.

“He’s still undefeated,” Scott insisted quietly. “There are more videos.”

And he was right, because the next video boasted the name ‘Romulus Returns’ and looked to have been two months later. They’d probably had to take Stiles off the roster for a while, considering he was newly turned.

They watched the next video, mostly because they didn’t know how to stop. Stiles was clumsy, and barely won against another Were, but it was obvious he still hadn’t gotten his new abilities under control. He kept clapping his hands over his ears, like the noise was deafening, and he no longer had weapons when he walked into the cage.

The next video was better, and he seemed to be getting back to normal. It was the video four months later, two months before Stiles had been found, where the shift happened. Romulus was back in the cage, but he was restrained and growling, eyes flashing blue. Before he was released, the announcer told the crowd they were in for a treat. A feral Werewolf, undefeated champion, would be fighting off against the previous undefeated champion. They’d never fought before, and apparently the other champion was also feral. He’d been the reigning champion for two years, so the bets were stacked against Stiles.

He won. It was the first video where he was merciless and ruthless. He snapped the other Were’s neck with primal rage and then roared, looking pleased with himself. It was a far cry from the Stiles they all knew and it made Derek’s stomach clench.

It also gave him a timeline for how long Stiles had been feral. Two months. That was a long fucking time, he honestly didn’t know if that was too long.

The next few videos showed much of the same, Stiles fighting against others, primarily Werewolves, and always winning. He always went for a killing blow, but they’d started to electrocute him before he could succeed, mostly because some of the Weres he fought were Alphas and it seemed no one wanted him to become an Alpha.

Though something interesting did happen during the fights that had Derek a little optimistic. He waited until they’d reached the last video, which was from a month ago, and was titled ‘The King of Rome.’ Stiles had defeated his opponent and been electrocuted as usual, however it was clear he wasn’t as injured as he’d played up. The second people entered the cage to restrain him and drag him out, he leapt up, tore through one guy’s neck with his teeth, threw the other into the cage wall and disappeared through the cage doors just as the video cut to black.

Derek assumed it was left in just for ratings, because a few of the other videos had shown Stiles’ escape attempts, only to be followed up by another fight less than a week later. The only difference here was that this escape attempt had actually succeeded.

Stiles had gotten out. He’d escaped, and made his way back to Beacon Hills.

Peter needed to hurry up and come back with whatever the missing piece was, because Stiles could be saved. It wasn’t too late. Derek knew it wasn’t too late.

Because Stiles was still in there!

“What?” Scott asked, clearly sensing the shift.

“We can get him back.” Derek turned to Scott. “It’s not too late, he can come back, Scott.”

“It’s been two months,” Liam said quietly. “I thought you said—”

“You don’t get it.” Derek turned to him, then focussed on Scott again. “When I ran into the cave, yes I stopped before anything happened, but look at this.” Derek motioned the screen, which had returned to the main video library. “Look at everything he’s gone through, both sane and insane. Stiles’ first instinct when he senses another Supernatural being is to attack them because that’s what he’s been doing for three years!” Derek motioned himself. “I ran into that cave, and he roared, Scott. That’s all he did. He hunkered down and roared. He didn’t come at me, he didn’t attack me until I grabbed at him to get him off you, which was probably something he perceived as threatening. And in the videos, there were other Alphas. Alphas who roared to make him submit, who tried to get him under control as a means to win. He never submitted. Never even showed signs of it. But with you? With you, you roared, and he submitted. Barely, but he did. He didn’t attack you, or me, he just fell to his knees and tilted his head.” Derek pointed at the screen again. “Everything that’s happened since he got out suggests Stiles is in there. He found his way home. He didn’t attack me. He submitted to you. Stiles is pulling at the wolf, he’s trying to come back. We just need to help him before it’s too late.”

Derek looked back at the screen, at the last video they’d watched.

At the king of Rome.

“We need to get him back before we can’t anymore.”

Derek didn’t sleep that night.

He couldn’t. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the moment right before the Alpha’s teeth sank into Stiles’ neck. Heard Stiles’ agonized scream. That he’d managed to kill the Alpha before succumbing to the pain of the bite was remarkable, in Derek’s opinion.

Another part of him was livid, because that death should’ve counted towards his Alpha status. An Alpha Stiles would’ve been harder to turn feral. They would’ve had more time. But he’d killed that Alpha as a human, before the change had finished processing. And so, he turned as a Beta.

But he was still undefeated. He was the longest reigning champion. Sure, the other had been two years strong before fighting Stiles, but that didn’t matter. Stiles had beaten everyone, and when the other champion had been put in his path, he’d cut him down, too.

Derek knew that even if they got Stiles back, he wouldn’t be the same. Not after what he’d endured. Not after everything he’d done.

He knew that Stiles was going to hate himself, would probably be furious they’d brought him out of his feral state at all. Because being feral was much easier. He wouldn’t have to think about or come to terms with what he’d done. He’d killed in that ring. Not often, and always justified, but he’d still killed.

Derek knew better than anyone that Stiles was not going to be okay if he ever came back to himself.

The sheriff wasn’t working the night shift today, and Derek could hear him downstairs. He was speaking to Stiles in low tones, telling him stories about his past, his childhood. Likely trying to pull him back from wherever his mind had gone, but he knew it wouldn’t be that easy.

They’d tried a number of things while waiting on Peter to come back. He’d only been gone two days, but it was enough for them to try whatever they could. Nothing seemed to be working, and Derek was worried nothing ever would.

What if that spell was it? What if that was their last chance, and if whatever Peter had gone to retrieve didn’t work, they would lose Stiles?

He didn’t want to think about it, but he didn’t want to think about the videos, either. James Valeris wasn’t going to stop coming for Stiles, not when he was undefeated and stood to make the man millions. Nevermind that Peter had paid him off, Peter was a Werewolf, Valeris probably looked at that money as owed to him.

It still didn’t explain how Stiles had ended up where he did, though. The auction had mentioned a Lautus Striga. Derek knew there were a lot of different meanings to those words, but ‘striga’ meant ‘Witch’ in some variations of the word. So was that a real Witch, or just a title? After all, Stiles had been called Romulus, so it was entirely likely the Lautus Striga, or ‘Grand Witch’ was just an old lady who raked in the dough. Seemed unlikely a Supernatural would be running the show, considering who was in the ring.

But then... the auctioneer had said she sensed darkness in Stiles. Evidently she was referring to the Nogitsune, but how could someone know that without knowing it? Either this was an inside job—unlikely, given the Pack’s frantic search—or she was truly magic.

And if she was, that was sickening, because she was turning on her own kind. Creating an underground Supernatural fight club where monsters fought one another whether they wanted to or not. How could one Supernatural do that to so many others? It didn’t make any sense.

Then again, money was a powerful motivator.

Dawn was beginning to creep up on him when Derek heard his phone buzz. He turned to glance at it, debated whether or not to check it, then pulled it over, not having plugged it in overnight. His chest clenched when Chuck’s name appeared on the screen, the man having sent him a message.

He’d been doing that the past few days, asking Derek how he was doing, if he needed to talk, needed anything. It was hard lying to the man, but Derek didn’t want him to know about all this Supernatural bullshit. He just always replied that he needed more time and that he was sorry.

Chuck always told him to shut the hell up and take all the time he needed.

Derek missed the garage. He missed going there and working on the cars. Missed thinking about something other than his own anxiety and fear of having lost Stiles again, just in a different way.

He opened the text message and tapped out a reply.

hey kid how r u doin?

Why are you awake so early?

im an old man ill sleep when im dead
u didnt answr my q

Derek stared at the text for a long while, feeling his eyes burn. He covered them with his free hand, struggling to breathe. He was only twenty-eight years old. How much more could he lose before the universe finally tired of torturing him?

Not good
I don’t know what to do

wat do u need son?
tell me wat i can do

“Nothing,” Derek said miserably. But that wasn’t what he typed.

I don’t know

come by the shop
ur up neway
come make urself useful

Derek stared at the message for a long while, then rubbed one hand over his face and climbed out of bed, tapping out that he’d be there in a minute before putting his phone back on the nightstand. He got himself dressed and ready to leave, then pushed his phone, wallet and keys into his pockets.

The sheriff was still awake when he got downstairs, and he saw Stiles staring at the man with wide, intelligent eyes, like he was drinking in his every word. They were still electric blue, though, so Stiles wasn’t in there.

“I’m going out for a bit,” he said to the sheriff, the man turning to him, looking exhausted and defeated.

“I’ll be here.”

“I know, John.” Derek patted his shoulder lightly on his way by, then headed for the door. He could see Stiles watching him out of the corner of his eye, but he didn’t look at him. He just walked out of the loft and closed the door behind him, securing it as best he could to ensure nothing got in or out.

The drive to the garage was familiar and comforting, and when he reached it, he parked out back where Chuck’s car was already located. He saw Lloyd’s bike was there, too. He was probably inside as well. Derek wondered if Chuck had called him or if Lloyd had already been on his way in.

He let himself into the back room, walking through the office and out into the main garage. Chuck and Lloyd were both bent over, looking into the guts of a sleek Mercedes. They didn’t hear him approach, but Lloyd startled when Derek’s shadow fell over them.

“Christ. Trying to give us a heart attack?” Lloyd demanded with a scowl. He gave Derek a once-over before saying, “You look like shit.”

“Jesus, kid,” Chuck agreed. “You been sleeping?”

“No,” Derek admitted. “Things... they’re not good.” He raked a shaky hand through his hair. “I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m falling apart.”

Chuck’s expression softened about one percent. He wasn’t really a feelings kind of guy, but he cared about Derek, and he showed him that in his own way. Tough love, they all called it. Chuck was a master at it.

“Come on, son. Let’s get you working on something. It’ll keep your brain busy.”

Chuck slapped him once in the back before wrapping one beefy arm around his shoulders and dragging him towards another car. All it needed was an oil change, having been dropped off at closing with the owner coming by once they opened to pick it up.

Derek got to work on that, even though it literally took him five minutes. Chuck seemed to have a few menial jobs for him, likely not wanting him to do anything too labour-heavy since Derek clearly wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

He helped Lloyd replace a few parts in various other cars, and once the shop opened and the others showed up, they all greeted him kindly and slapped him on the back, saying it was good to see him. Derek tried to focus on how good it felt to be back in the shop. Around people he relied on, who were his friends, and weren’t affected by all the Supernatural bullshit that governed the rest of his life.

This was one place. One place in his stupid existence that the Supernatural hadn’t yet touched. He really hoped it stayed that way, because he couldn’t lose something else.

He couldn’t.

He had half his upper body under a Toyota with Lloyd passing him parts while eating a breakfast sandwich when Alex’s voice rang through the shop.

“Yo, Derek. Phone’s for you. Sounds important, guy’s kind of a dick about it.”

Derek almost flipped the car right off him, but managed to reign himself in, sliding out quickly from underneath it, heart slamming against his ribs. He raced for the office, the shop going eerily quiet, and practically wrenched the phone from Alex’s hand when he didn’t let it go fast enough.

“Hello? What happened?”

“Relax, nephew, he’s fine. You didn’t answer your phone. I had to guess on where you were.”

Derek’s hand went to his pocket, but his phone was probably dead after so many hours of not being charged.

“You’re back,” Derek said.

“I am. Call the Pack, I have the final piece. See you at the loft.”

The line clicked and Derek hung up, staring at the phone for a long moment. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to go back to the loft. Didn’t want to call the Pack, have everyone show up, have them stand in a circle and chant Latin and have Stiles just... sit there.

He didn’t want to go through that again. The pain, and knowledge that Stiles wasn’t in there anymore. That he’d lost him. Again.

Again, and again, and again. When was he going to stop losing the people he cared about? He’d lost Stiles so many times in different ways, he didn’t think he could handle this anymore. He wanted to climb into the Camaro and leave town. Just drive and drive and drive and hope nobody ever found him. Hoped he just disappeared from existence. He couldn’t do this anymore.

He could only bend so much before he broke.


A hand fell lightly onto his shoulder, squeezing hard, and he felt his chest constrict. His throat tightened and he was positive he was about to lose it, but he had to stay focussed. Had to stay in control.

“Son? Are you okay?”

“I have to go,” Derek said softly. “I have... someone needs me.”

“Yeah,” Chuck said, voice less gruff than usual. “Someone always does.” A short pause, the hand remaining on his shoulder. “Lloyd and I are having a barbecue this weekend. Come over, just for a bit. Just to get some distance.”

Derek’s throat tightened further. “I’ll try. I have to go.”

Chuck’s hand slid off his shoulder and Derek hurried out of the office, heading for the back door. He disappeared through it and was in the Camaro in seconds, breathing hard and resting his forehead against the steering wheel.

This had to work. It had to. If it didn’t work, Derek didn’t know what he was going to do. He needed it to work.

If it didn’t, he was going to find James Valeris and fucking tear his other eye out. He was going to raze the earth, destroy any and all Hunters he could get his hands on. He was going to lose his fucking mind.

Letting out another slow breath, he straightened and pulled out his phone. It had barely any juice left, not enough for a call which was probably why Peter couldn’t get through, but enough for him to send a text or two. So he opened the group chat and typed out a message.

Peter’s back
Meet at the loft
Tell whoever isn’t in the chat

He waited to confirm the messages actually sent, then closed it out, and stared at the phone, feeling his stomach drop when he saw the date. 


Shoving the phone viciously back into his pocket, he had to take a few seconds to calm himself down before he started the car and headed back for the loft.

Parrish was already there when he showed up and they headed upstairs together, Derek unlocking the door and sliding it open. The sheriff turned to look at them, Stiles doing the same, but once he saw who it was, he turned back to his father, seeming uninterested.

“What’s going on?” John asked.

“Peter’s back,” Derek muttered. “We’re trying again.”

The sheriff’s lips pressed into a hard line, and Derek knew how he felt. He knew, because it was how Derek himself felt, too. Like they were just setting themselves up for more heartache. Like Stiles was gone, and he wasn’t coming back.

But neither of them said it. Derek just went to sit on the stairs, waiting for the others to arrive. Peter was the first to show up, and Derek stared incredulously at the person who followed him through the door.

“Cora,” he said, unable to believe it.

She shifted uncomfortably, crossing her arms. “Hey Derek.”

“You came.” He honestly had no idea how to feel. He and Cora hadn’t spoken, not really, in years. When Stiles had gone missing, he’d reached out to ask for help, and she’d agreed to it on her side of the world, but since then they hadn’t exactly kept in touch.

It meant more than he could voice to have her standing here, because he realized Peter was right. They had been missing someone. Cora was the last member of their Pack who was still alive, everyone else was already there. The spell hadn’t worked because the whole Pack hadn’t been present, and out of everyone from the original group of them, Cora cared about Stiles the most. They’d formed a strong friendship before she’d left, and it was the only reason Derek had bothered asking for her help. He knew she’d do it, because she, like everyone else, cared about Stiles.

There were mixed reactions when the rest of the Pack showed up. Some people seemed pleased to see Cora, Lydia going so far as to hug her. Others weren’t as happy, Scott scowling at her like she’d betrayed them and not even acknowledging her. That seemed fine with Cora, since she didn’t look happy to be there at all.

She went to bend down in front of Stiles, who stared back at her, baring his teeth. She just smiled and flicked at the barrier right where his face was before standing.

Deaton was the last to arrive, and it was clear when he did that he was unhappy they were trying this again. Derek was unhappy, too. Most of them looked unhappy.

But what else could they do? They had to try this again, because if they didn’t, they had nothing. This was literally it, and Derek couldn’t... he couldn’t just sit around and read and wait for Stiles to fix himself.

If there was even a one percent chance this would work with Cora, they had to try, and Derek just hoped a second failure wouldn’t break him entirely. He wouldn’t be able to come back from that.

“Around the barrier, if you would,” Deaton said softly.

Derek stood, and they all shuffled along the barrier where space permitted, spreading themselves out. Deaton took the same spot as last time, pulling the page from his pocket and unfolding it. He stared down at it for a few moments, saying nothing.

Finally, he let out a small sigh, closed his eyes, reopened them, and began to read.

Derek’s eyes shot from Deaton to Stiles when he heard a grunt. The sound made Deaton pause, and Stiles let out a small growl, getting to his feet and stalking around the inside of the circle on all fours, eying them all.

Derek and Scott shared a look, then Scott turned back to Deaton.

“Keep going.”

Deaton glanced at him, then back at Stiles, and looked down at the page once more. When he started reading again, Stiles let out another grunt, freezing in his tracks and shaking his head.

Derek’s heart was pounding in his chest, blood roaring in his ears. He could hear similar reactions from those around him, and Lydia’s hand found his, squeezing tightly while they stared.

A distinctly human cry left Stiles and he fell onto his side, curling in on himself and clutching at his head while Deaton continued to chant, reading the same lines over and over again.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Peter was saying repeatedly somewhere on Derek’s right. “Come on, Stiles, come on.”

Stiles cried out again, eyes clenched shut and knees tucking in further, hands pressed against his ears. Deaton had to speak louder to be heard over Stiles’ screaming, and then abruptly, it cut off.

Deaton stopped, everyone froze. Derek didn’t even breathe, he just stared down at Stiles, lying on his side near the far edge of the barrier away from him, breathing hard with sweat dotting his skin.

After a minute, hour, day, year, Stiles blinked open his eyes, and looked up at Derek.

His eyes were brown.

His eyes were brown.

“Stiles,” John choked out, and before anyone could stop him, he’d crossed over the barrier, racing for his son.

Derek saw Stiles tense when the sheriff reached him, yanking him upright and crushing him in a hug, one hand splayed on his scarred back while the other buried in his hair.

The sheriff was crying, rocking Stiles from side to side while he held onto him for dear life, a steady mantra of “You’re okay, you’re safe, I’ve got you, you’re okay,” escaping his lips. Stiles’ hands were still up by his head, no longer pressed against his ears, but just gripping his own hair while his eyes shifted around the circle, staring at them all in turn.

Lydia let go of Derek’s hand and rushed into the circle, falling beside Stiles and wrapping her arms around him as best she could, face buried in his neck.

Stiles looked a little overwhelmed, his breathing still ragged, like he wasn’t entirely sure what he was seeing was real.

Melissa was crying on the other side of the circle, and Malia was pressing so hard into it that she threatened to actually break through. Scott looked like he was in shock, like he didn’t know if it had actually worked or not.

Stiles’ eyes found Derek again over his father’s shoulder, staring at him.

Derek felt his stomach bottom out, because the look in his eye made it extremely clear what he was about to say. Derek knew what his first words would be, he could practically hear them, and he begged for them not to come. Begged for Stiles to wait. To just wait. To come back to himself fully before asking, to just wait.

He didn’t.

“My eyes,” he said, his voice rough and worn from disuse, staring right at Derek. “My eyes, Derek, what colour are they?”

Derek had never known it could hurt this much hearing Stiles ask a simple question. It had been years since he’d heard his voice. Years since the two of them had spoken. Derek would’ve given anything to hear his voice even an hour ago, but now? Hearing that?

He wished he’d left the second he realized it had worked. Because he couldn’t. This couldn’t be the first thing Stiles asked him.

“What colour are my eyes, Derek?!” Stiles demanded, a hint of hysteria in his voice. His father was holding him tighter, and Lydia was sobbing into his neck, but he just kept staring at Derek.

As if he knew the only person who would answer him was the one he was burning holes into with his gaze.

But the absolute horror and panic in his expressive face made it incredibly clear that Stiles knew. He knew what colour his eyes were, and he was desperately hoping he was wrong.

Derek wished he could tell him he was wrong.

“Blue,” he finally whispered. “Your eyes are blue.”

If he’d thought his heart was aching at the question, it was absolutely nothing compared to the feeling of seeing that expression on Stiles’ face.

He looked horrified, and anguished, and disgusted all at once. He looked like someone had told him he was the Nogitsune, and it had never been a possessing spirit, but an actual part of him all along.

He looked like a piece of him had just broken.

“Stiles, it wasn’t your fault,” Derek insisted quickly, feeling the tension in the room. He knew all too well how hard it could be to realize he’d hurt someone, and while the Nogitsune had done that too, it was another entity. It had been the one in control.

To Stiles, whether he was feral or not, whether it was self-defence or not, it was him.

It was still him.

And he knew he’d killed people in that cage. He knew he’d killed that Alpha who’d turned him. And that beast who’d attacked him in the auction. And countless others in the name of survival.

Stiles knew even before he asked that his eyes were blue.

“It was,” Stiles whispered, and Derek’s chest ached because he sounded wrecked. He sounded hollow and broken and like he would never be the same. “It was me, Derek. I—when I wasn’t...” His voice cracked and his breaths shook when he tried to speak. “It was me. I did those things. After they—” He cut off, clearly still unable to talk about it. “I just let the wolf take over. Because it hurt less. Because it was easier. I was selfish, and I—”

“Don’t,” Derek growled, the snap of his voice startling enough to stop Stiles mid-sentence. “Don’t you dare say you were selfish for protecting yourself. Not to me.”

Stiles was crying, now. Derek didn’t know if it was his words, or because he was overwhelmed, or because he was finally home and safe and with the people he loved. Maybe it was seeing how many of them had come back for him. How many people cared. How even Jackson had shown up, and Cora, and Isaac. All the people who’d once left were back, for him. Because it was Stiles, and they needed him, and he was back.

He was back, he was back, he was back.

He came back.

It was a Wednesday.