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Derek mostly tried to give Stiles space when he came back to himself. They hadn’t spoken to one another since Derek had left the last time, and he knew there were other people who needed him more.

He looked overwhelmed, and nervous, but the thing that concerned Derek the most was that he was quiet.

He was so, so quiet. Normally no one could get him to shut up. Stiles mouthed off at everyone, all the time, but since his return to sanity, he’d barely spoken more than twenty sentences, a majority of them being to Derek.

Derek didn’t like what that suggested about his mental stability. Not that he could blame Stiles. Derek had seen the videos, he knew what he’d gone through. Not first hand, of course, but he could imagine the emotional turmoil that would put someone like Stiles through.

He probably hadn’t even fully come to terms with being a Werewolf. Probably wasn’t even sure how to be a Werewolf, given his entire transformation and subsequent coming to terms with it had all happened while he was a captive. With Hunters, no less, so that probably hadn’t helped much in the developmental stage of his Werewolfness.

Derek sat on the stairs after Deaton broke the mountain ash line, everyone crowding Stiles. They hugged him and spoke to him, talking over one another. A few people hung back, like Jackson and Ethan, and Cora, but everyone else had swarmed him. They were all so excited, laughing and hugging him in turn and insisting they’d tried so hard to find him.

Stiles’ eyes looked terrified every time he shot a look at Derek, and it made him wonder if his control was hanging on by a thread. He didn’t seem to be losing control, but a lot had happened in a very short space of time. And he was tense. So, so tense. Derek supposed it made sense, he’d spent three years attacked by Supernatural creatures and he was currently surrounded by them. They may have been his friends, but his instincts were likely shouting that he was in danger.

When Deaton excused himself to head back to the clinic, saying he was happy Stiles was back, Derek took that as an invitation to leave, as well. Cora stuck so close to his heels she almost tripped him down the stairs, but he knew she just felt uncomfortable. She’d been gone a long time, and to know her presence had brought Stiles back was probably really confusing for her.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, he turned to look at her. She crossed her arms, shifting her weight uncomfortably, and looked anywhere but at him.

“How long are you staying?” he asked quietly.

“Not sure,” she admitted. “Not long.”

He nodded, figuring as much. “You have a place to stay?”

“No.”

“You and Peter can take the loft.”

“What about you?” She frowned at him. He just shrugged and figured he’d crash on Lloyd’s couch or something. He doubted the sheriff would want him around right now.

“It’s good to see you, Cora,” he admitted softly. “You look really good.” He patted her shoulder once, a little awkwardly, then turned to head back for the Camaro.

He was back at the shop in under fifteen minutes, and all the guys paused in what they were doing to stare at him. Derek didn’t look at anyone and just headed straight for the office, grabbing a few files from the cabinet and sitting down to work through them. This was Lloyd’s least favourite part, and Derek liked this much better than the budget, so he sat there and worked slowly through them, checking them for consistency in price and reviewing the files that had been brought in for people’s check-ups.

It didn’t take long for Chuck to hunt him down, sitting down across from him with a long, loud groan before crossing his beefy arms. He was pretty fit for someone pushing seventy.

“Weren’t you gone?”

“I can’t come back?” Derek asked, eyes still on the file he had open in front of him and frowning. One of the guys was showing the client needed new tires because the old ones were bald, but they’d only just replaced the guy’s tires six months ago. That was a little excessive for a six month window, so he’d have to check the car out before they called the client back.

“Kid,” Chuck said, voice gruff. “What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“This morning you looked like a man who’d lost everything. Now you look like someone tore your heart out of your chest and told you to keep walking like nothing happened.”

Derek paused in what he was doing, pen poised on the post-it he’d been writing on, and glanced up. Chuck just raised his eyebrows, clearly waiting on an answer.

A year ago, Derek would’ve stared him down until he left the office, but he and Chuck had an understanding. They were both closed off, and neither of them trusted anyone with anything. But Chuck had given an inch, and Derek had responded in kind to a point where they kind of grudgingly acknowledged they both needed someone there to help them every now and then.

He knew Chuck cared about him a lot. And Derek himself thought very highly of Chuck. He was like a second father to him. It was hard to sit there and force him to walk out when it was clear he just wanted to help. He just wanted to make sure Derek was okay.

Dropping his pen, Derek leaned back in his seat and rubbed at his face. Word was going to get out, anyway, so he saw no point in hiding it.

“The sheriff’s son is back.”

Chuck wasn’t able to keep the surprise from his face, eyebrows shooting up, but he didn’t react otherwise.

“He’s not okay.” Derek knew he kept using those words to describe Stiles, but it was the easiest explanation. Everything else sounded inadequate. “He went through a lot. He and I—we parted on bad terms. I want to be there for him. Help him. But I don’t... I don’t know how. I don’t even know if he’d let me.” Derek raked one hand through his hair, shaking his head and letting out a bitter laugh. “I don’t even know why I came back here. I don’t even know what I’m doing.”

“You came back to look for him,” Chuck reminded him, a bit of an edge to his tone, like he wasn’t happy about the self-hate coming out of Derek’s mouth. “You came back to take care of a man this town cares about who was falling apart without his son. The only reason the sheriff is still standing right now, the only reason he’s coherent enough to welcome his son home, is because you kept him on his feet. If not for you, that boy would’ve come home to nothing. So stop acting like what you did in his absence wasn’t important.” Chuck inched the chair closer, resting his folded hands on the desk in front of Derek and inspecting every inch of his face. “What do you need?”

“I don’t know,” Derek admitted.

“Well, when you do, let me know.” Chuck stood then, the chair scraping loudly against the ground. “In the meantime, you’re not going to stop yourself from thinking about the kid doing paperwork. Stopping a car from crushing you, that will keep your mind off him. And I got just the car for you. Come on.”

Derek wanted to insist paperwork was fine, but he knew it was a lie. He was more likely to lose himself to the job if he was trying to stop from getting crushed. Nevermind that Chuck didn’t know Derek could just throw the car off him, but again, he needed to keep his two lives separate. If he was lucky, nobody in the shop would ever find out what he was.

Chuck led Derek through the shop towards the back. He paused when he realized they were approaching the door. The one Lloyd and Chuck always told him not to open, because it was personal. He knew the other guys had been in there before, but they’d also been working in the shop a lot longer than Derek had.

When Chuck noticed he’d stopped, he motioned for him to keep up, reaching the door and pulling it open. Derek followed him through it, frowning at a beat up Mustang sitting up on four blocks, the wheels long gone and the paint so rusted it might as well have been a hunk of rust instead of an actual car.

“What the hell is that?”

“My abandoned side project,” Chuck informed him, moving up to it and running one hand along the rough hood. “I bought this piece of junk right after I was gifted the shop. Kept saying I’d work on it one day, get it running and back to its prime. Never did find the time, and once I retired, I realized my body couldn’t do what it used to. I’m never gonna get this thing fixed and running on my own.” He looked over at Derek. “Reckon you can. Tell you what, kid. You fix up this car in your free time, and I’ll knock ten thousand off the price of the shop.”

“Chuck—”

“Don’t argue, kid. Just get to work.” He thumbed at the car before heading back out into the main part of the garage. Derek watched him walk away until the door slid shut, then turned back to the car, rubbing the back of his neck.

Chuck was crazy if he thought this hunk of junk could ever hit the roads again, but if nothing else, at least he’d provided a distraction. Something for Derek to focus all of his attention on.

So, he got to work. He popped the hood, inspecting the guts of the car, then slid under it to check out what the undercarriage looked like. The frame was almost beyond saving, at this point, but rebuilding the frame from scratch would take an eternity, especially since they didn’t have the tools for it here and Derek couldn’t very well mould it all with his bare hands. That was sure to prompt uncomfortable questions.

Deciding he had to start somewhere, he slowly began taking the frame apart, one of the doors falling off when he opened it and landing on his foot. He’d never been so thankful to be a Werewolf in his life, because that definitely would’ve been cause for concern had he been human.

That thought led his mind back to Stiles and he hastily shoved it aside, continuing his work and focussing on the task at hand.

Lloyd came by to drag him out to lunch, and then followed Derek into the back room when they returned, laughing so hard at the mess he’d been given he was almost crying. He left to work on real cars, and only returned closer to dinner time with a sandwich and a bottle of Coke.

He and Derek sat on stools by the tools, both staring at the car while they ate.

They said nothing for a long time, and when Lloyd finally broke the silence, Derek turned to him.

“You know we care about you, right?”

“I know,” Derek admitted, taking another bite of his sandwich.

“You wanna tell me what all’s been going on?”

Derek didn’t want to go through the story again, because the whole point was not to think about it. Lloyd interpreted his silence as exactly that—him not wanting to talk about it. Before he left though, Derek told him to ask Chuck, and that it was okay for him to know what was bothering him, just not repeated from Derek. He didn’t want to fall down that hole again.

When he was done his drink, he went back to work on the car, losing track of time and enjoying the feel of grease and metal beneath his hands. He was in the process of tearing something out from under the car that definitely didn’t belong there when he froze, hearing a familiar heartbeat approaching.

For a long moment, he didn’t move, positive he was mistaken, but after a few seconds, the door opened and Derek could see Lloyd’s boots from under the car.

“Boss, you’ve got company.”

Lloyd’s feet retreated, but the other set didn’t, waiting patiently while Derek wiped his hands on a rag, let out a slow breath, and finally pushed himself out from under the car. He sat up, still using the rag on his hands, staring at the sheriff who was looking over the car.

“John,” he said, voice entirely too casual.

“Figured you’d be here,” the sheriff said, walking slowly around the car. “Didn’t take you as the type to run away.”

“I wasn’t running,” Derek insisted, getting to his feet and forcing himself not to cross his arms. It would make him look defensive, and he wasn’t running. He was just... giving Stiles space.

“It’s late. Everyone else is already gone for the night. I told Scott to beat it, he’s hogged Stiles almost all day.” The sheriff finally looked up at him and nodded towards the door. “Let’s go home, Derek.”

“I told Peter and Cora they could have the loft,” Derek argued. Technically he’d told Cora, but he was sure she’d pass on the message.

Then again, maybe not, it was Peter, after all.

The look John gave him was a mixture of annoyed and unimpressed.

“Cute. You know that’s not the home I was talking about. Let’s go, it’s late, and I need to figure out my work schedule since I’m not leaving my son’s side for the next few years.”

Derek watched the sheriff walk back around the car to the door, pulling it open but not leaving, eyes on Derek. He raised his eyebrows, and Derek couldn’t believe the change in him.

He still looked exhausted and older than he’d been even a month ago, but the light was back in his eyes, and he stood a little straighter. His shoulders weren’t drooping quite so badly anymore, and he actually had some colour in his face.

John was going to be okay. He had Stiles back, really had him back. They still had to find a way to make the people who’d taken him pay, but for now, the Pack was together, and they were safe.

That was the important thing.

“I don’t think Stiles wants me in the same house as him,” Derek argued, making no move to follow him.

“Stiles is in the car, anxious and unhappy at being left there even though Parrish is with him.” The sheriff gave him a look. “He asked when you were coming back the moment you left.”

That made Derek uncomfortable for reasons he didn’t understand. He and Stiles had a complicated relationship. It had always been complicated, they’d hated one another for a long time. Hatred had turned into friendship which had turned into this weird in-between stage. They weren’t together, but they weren’t not together. They had feelings for one another, strong feelings, and once upon a time, Derek had thought maybe things could move forward.

But then he’d given Stiles an ultimatum. Stiles had rejected him for it. Derek had left. Stiles had disappeared. He didn’t really know where they stood, what he was to Stiles. Was he even still a friend? Or did Stiles just want him around because Derek was the strongest person in their Pack save Parrish?

Or maybe because Derek was the only person who didn’t look at him like he was okay.

Because everyone else was acting like Stiles was fine. He was back, and he was fine. Only Derek, Malia and Peter were looking at him like he was never going to be okay again. And given the options, it was likely Derek was the lesser of those three evils. Malia wouldn’t be able to help him like Derek could, because she was so blunt and had long ago come to terms with her time as a coyote. Hell, she didn’t even feel any remorse for the people she’d hurt, and Peter, well, he was Peter.

Really, if anyone was going to understand Stiles, truly understand him, it was probably going to be Derek.

“Let’s go home, Derek,” the sheriff repeated.

This time, Derek moved to follow him, despite how hard it was to do so.

The shop had closed without Derek even noticing. Only Lloyd was still around, going over files in the office. Derek told him he’d be back tomorrow, and while Lloyd didn’t say anything about it, he nodded in understanding and bid him a good night.

When Derek exited the shop, he found Stiles sitting in the sheriff’s cruiser, but Parrish’s was right next to it, the Hellhound looking around with narrowed eyes, as if daring something to jump out and try and take him.

It suddenly occurred to Derek how hard it must’ve been for the sheriff to walk into the garage to get him, leaving Stiles outside like this.

Derek headed for the Camaro and climbed behind the wheel. He let the sheriff head out first, Parrish behind him, and took up the rear. They drove back to the house, and Derek parked on the road like he always did behind the cruiser. Parrish double-parked beside him and climbed out, moving to the sheriff’s car and helping Stiles out.

He didn’t need help, not really, but it was obvious he was out of sorts. Confused and worried and not at all happy to be out in the open, head whipping around urgently and eyes flashing off and on like he couldn’t control his shift.

“You gonna be okay tonight?” Parrish asked, moving around the car to the sheriff with Stiles. “I can stick around if you need me to.”

“You have work in the morning.” The sheriff wrapped his arm around Stiles’ shoulders, pulling him in close. Derek saw him tense, but his son said nothing, so Derek didn’t, either. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Parrish nodded, told Stiles he was glad to see him back, then headed for his cruiser. He drove off with the other three watching after him, then Derek led the way to the house.

He wondered what Stiles would think once he realized Derek kind of owned the house. He didn’t know how much John had told him, but evidently enough that he didn’t seem surprised with the scent of Derek all over the house when they walked in.

Stiles looked around as if he’d never seen it before, fingers brushing lightly along the wall while he headed towards the kitchen, reacquainting himself with an area he’d grown up in. The sheriff followed right on his heels, but Derek just stood by the entrance with his hands in his pockets after locking the door, and hesitated before heading upstairs.

While he himself had never been feral, he was sure this was a bit overwhelming for Stiles, and he probably felt a little suffocated by the people who were hanging around him. Derek didn’t want to hover, even though he desperately wanted to crush him against his chest and insist he would never leave his side again. Stiles was dealing with enough without adding that to the mix.

Reaching the second floor, he headed to his room, but before stripping out of his clothes, he hesitated. He was dirty, and he didn’t want to climb into bed like this, but he didn’t really know what to do about the bathroom situation. Technically the hall bathroom was Stiles’, but since he’d been gone, it had turned into Derek’s.

He listened to what was going on downstairs, and it sounded like John was making Stiles some food so Derek figured he had time. He headed for the bathroom, stripped down, and showered as quickly as he could. He wrapped his towel around his waist when he exited and quickly brushed his teeth. Once he was done, he looked around to make sure none of Stiles’ things had been moved.

When he’d started using the bathroom, he’d only added a towel and toothbrush for himself, along with all the other items he needed, but everything else had remained mostly untouched. Barring the shampoo and soap in the shower, everything that belonged to Stiles was still there.

Exiting the bathroom, he almost walked into Stiles, stopping himself just short of him. Stiles tensed and took a step back. Derek noticed his hands clench into fists and rise slightly, as if he were about to raise them and move into a fighting stance, but he managed to stop himself before they got above stomach-level.

“Sorry,” Derek moved aside. “Wanted to grab a shower before heading to bed.”

“Me too,” Stiles said.

Which Derek found odd, because he could smell the soap on him, and he looked cleaner than he had that morning. Derek also knew the clothes he was wearing belonged to him, likely John grabbing them from Derek’s dresser upstairs since Stiles had been naked when he’d come back to himself.

He didn’t ask why Stiles wanted to shower again so soon, he just motioned the bathroom in an ‘all yours’ kind of way and headed for his room, shutting his door.

Dressing in loose sweats, he turned off his light and crawled into bed, staring up at the ceiling while he listened to the water hit tile in the bathroom. Stiles’ breathing was slow and even, but Derek could hear his heart pounding a mile a minute. It was rude to listen in like that, so he tried really hard to stop, but Stiles was back. It had been three years. Derek couldn’t even imagine how he must be feeling.

A part of him wondered how angry he was. Did he think they’d all stopped looking for him? That they’d stopped caring? Did he think they figured he was dead and had just tried to move on with their lives?

Even if he thought that, Derek would be the first to insist they hadn’t. None of them. Everyone had fallen apart when he’d gone missing, and he knew for certain that Malia and Peter had been out looking for him, even after all this time. Derek would’ve too, but John needed him. And as he kept reminding people, and himself, he could only worry about one Stilinski at a time.

The shower cut off almost twenty minutes later, and Derek couldn’t help but listen in. Stiles dried himself off, but when he stopped moving, Derek could hear his heartrate increase and his breathing beginning to go erratic. He winced, because Stiles was probably having terrible flashbacks. What had happened to him wasn’t going to go away overnight just because he’d escaped.

And Derek already knew people wanted him back. Stiles wasn’t going to be close to okay for a long time.

He climbed out of bed and opened his bedroom door as loudly as he could. It had the desired effect, because he heard Stiles’ heart stutter, and then begin to slow. His breathing was still ragged, but calming down.

Derek looked out into the corridor and saw the sheriff standing outside the bathroom door with his arms crossed. He glanced at Derek briefly, then faced the door once more. Derek’s eyes lowered to what was on the floor beside him and frowned.

“What’s that?”

“He asked me to nail his window shut,” the sheriff informed him. “It’s a good idea, and I’m not taking any chances with those Hunters.”

Derek winced, because he didn’t think Stiles knowing that Valeris knew where he was was a good thing, but he nodded and moved forward, bending down to grab the hammer and nails.

“I’ll do it,” he said softly, then moved past him to do just that.

He tried to work quickly, because he didn’t want to still be in Stiles’ space when he exited the bathroom. It was harder than it should have been, nailing a window shut, but he managed it as best he could, stepping back to survey his work. When he left the room, Stiles had just exited the bathroom, and he wondered if he’d been waiting for Derek to finish before emerging.

John moved forward to hug him tightly, and Derek saw Stiles tense. He hugged his father back, but he looked uncomfortable doing so, and Derek hated that. Stiles was really going to need to speak to someone about his experience, but not today.

The sheriff pulled back, one hand closing tightly around Stiles’ shoulder. “Nailed your window shut,” he said, as if Stiles hadn’t heard it himself. “You can stay with me tonight, if you want. Or I can stay in your room.”

“No,” Stiles said quickly. When hurt flashed across John’s face and his scent shifted, Stiles winced. “I—I’m not good at night. I don’t want to hurt you. I’ll be okay.”

Derek heard the lie, and he was sure the sheriff did, too. Neither of them called him on it and John just kissed the crown of his head and hugged him again.

“All right. Okay. I’ll be right down the hall, and Derek’s across from you. Just scream if you need us.”

Stiles shifted and John let him go, then followed him to his room. When Stiles walked into it, he looked around and Derek realized he could probably smell him all over the place. Derek entered the room more often than John did, and he was suddenly uncomfortable to realize Stiles was aware of just how much he’d been obsessing.

“Do you need anything?” John asked, clearly unwilling to let Stiles out of sight. “Anything at all?”

Stiles licked his lips, looking around. He glanced over at Derek, then away again quickly, eyes on the floor right at his father’s feet. For a long moment, he said nothing. He opened his mouth a few times, like he wanted to, but then snapped it shut again, looking frustrated and concerned.

Finally, he said, “Actually... I do.”

“Anything,” the sheriff said immediately.

Letting out a slow breath, Stiles glanced at Derek again, as if wishing he’d leave them, then stared at the ground once more. “Can you please surround my room with mountain ash?”

The hurt that lanced through Derek at those words was sharp and unexpected. He tried to keep his expression neutral, but cursed when he remembered Stiles was a Werewolf now. He knew he’d hit home with that comment, but before he opened his mouth to explain himself, the sheriff glanced at Derek briefly before speaking.

“You scared of something getting in?” he asked uncertainly, as if his brain had gone exactly where Derek’s had.

Stiles being scared of him.

It seemed to take a century for Stiles to respond, but he finally shook his head slowly, and said, “No. I’m scared of getting out.”

Derek frowned at that, he and the sheriff sharing a look, but they didn’t say anything. John just agreed, kissed Stiles’ forehead once, then headed downstairs to get the mountain ash.

Figuring he should leave him be, Derek started to turn to head back to his room, but Stiles said one word and he froze.

“Don’t.”

When Derek glanced back at him, Stiles wasn’t looking at him. He took it as the request it was and shifted back into place, staying with him, but didn’t enter the room. He stayed in the corridor, Stiles hanging out in his doorway, neither of them speaking.

It was hard not to dwell on his previous words, because why Stiles thought he was going to make a break for it, Derek didn’t know. Though something about what he’d said did tickle the back of his brain. He felt like he should’ve been remembering something, but he couldn’t figure out what.

After a moment, Stiles left the doorway and Derek heard some drawers open and shut, Stiles evidently pulling out his pyjamas. It sounded like it took him a while to figure out where they were, like he’d been gone for more than just three years. Derek chalked it up to being overwhelmed.

When he returned to the doorway, the clothes were nowhere in sight, and Derek figured he’d dropped them down on his bed.

John returned moments later, walking into the room and slowly made a large circle. They had to pull his bed away from the wall so John could get all the way around, closing it off right outside the door so that Stiles could still open and close it.

Stiles couldn’t go to his desk or shelf, or anything else in his room right now, but this was a temporary thing. Derek figured the sheriff would do the baseboards in the morning, but it was late, and they were all emotionally and physically exhausted after a long day.

“Thanks,” Stiles said softly. “Can you lock my door?”

The sheriff shot a glance at Derek, but said, “Sure, kiddo.”

John didn’t move for a long while. It seemed to take a herculean effort for him to reach out and slowly pull it shut, reaching inside so he could push the pop-lock in. “I love you, Stiles.”

“Love you too, dad.”

The door shut. John let out a slow breath, rubbing his face and turning to Derek. “You hear anything come near the house, you better let me know.”

“Nothing will come near the house,” Derek promised.

John moved past him, patting his shoulder and squeezing tightly, then disappeared into his room. He left his door ajar, like he thought closing it entirely would slow him down if he had to barrel down the corridor to his son. Derek couldn’t say he blamed him, a part of him wanted to just hang out outside Stiles’ door all night.

But he couldn’t do that. Stiles seemed out of sorts enough as it was, and he didn’t want to exacerbate the problem so he just turned and headed to his room, shutting the door and lying back down to stare at his ceiling.

It was going to be a long night.


Derek didn’t sleep that night. He tried, but every sound he heard had him jerk upright, listening hard to make sure it wasn’t someone coming for Stiles. John exited his room and went to check on Stiles at least eight times over the course of the night, constantly popping the lock to get his door open. Honestly, Derek was amazed it wasn’t more, but it clearly meant the sheriff wasn’t getting any sleep, either.

Stiles didn’t seem to be sleeping himself, but Derek tried not to focus on him too much. He just listened to the sounds around the house, making sure none of them were threatening.

Eventually, around six in the morning, the sheriff got up for good. Derek heard him check in on Stiles once more and then he headed downstairs to make some food. Derek could smell the eggs wafting up to the second floor.

He didn’t want to get up himself, but if he didn’t, he was just going to go crazy. He wanted to go to work, get some jobs done, not obsess over Stiles. He needed a distraction, and the shop was the best source he had.

So, Derek got up, getting dressed and pulling on his jacket before exiting the room. He went to the bathroom to relieve himself and brush his teeth, checking his hair, then left to head for the stairs.

Stiles’ door was open, the mountain ash line broken—likely John when he’d gone down to make food—and he saw the other man sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bed. He was wearing a light grey shirt and checkered sweats, likely the pyjamas he’d pulled out the night before.

His eyes shot up when Derek appeared in the doorway.

Crossing his arms, Derek eyed him critically, trying to see if any part of the old Stiles was in there. He knew what he’d gone through had changed him, but he hoped it hadn’t completely decimated who he used to be. He didn’t want Stiles to live the rest of his life scared, defensive and tense. He wanted him to be happy. Again, not something that would happen overnight, but he couldn’t help but feel like Stiles was miserable over the fact he was mostly human again.

He’d probably found it easier to cope with what he’d done while feral. Derek didn’t really blame him.

“Hey,” he offered. It was the first word he’d spoken to him since he’d left the loft, and it sounded so inadequate. “Did you sleep at all?”

Stiles shook his head, eyes still on Derek, fingers playing with what appeared to be a rolled up thread he’d pulled from his pants, the hem of his left leg loose. “No.”

Derek already knew that, not only because he’d listened in all night, but because John had asked him the same question before heading to make breakfast. It had been followed up with comments about how Stiles needed his sleep, had to keep up his strength. Derek didn’t lecture him. He couldn’t imagine what his head was like right now, sleep was probably the last thing Stiles wanted to do.

So he said nothing, and they just stared at one another.

One thing, at least, hadn’t changed. When they were silent for too long, Stiles shifted, as if uncomfortable with it. As if wishing Derek would leave, or say something. After a time, it seemed to be too much for him and he finally broke the silence.

“Dad says you lived here with him.” He paused, then frowned slightly. “Live here,” he amended, changing to the present tense.

Which was accurate, because Derek did live here. He’d move back to the loft once Peter and Cora either left or found their own living arrangements in town. He was sure Peter had a place.

“Yeah,” Derek said, offering nothing further. He didn’t know how much Stiles wanted to speak to him, he just wasn’t ready to leave yet. So he didn’t push. He just answered what wasn’t technically a question.

Another silence, but this one was shorter, Stiles playing with the edge of his blanket, licking his lips, and then speaking, eyes on what his hand was doing instead of Derek.

“Melissa and Parrish said you moved in for dad. To keep an eye on him.”

Derek shrugged like it was no big deal. “Someone had to take care of him.”

Stiles nodded, and it looked like he wanted to say something. Maybe ‘thank you,’ or some form of agreement, but he didn’t. He just kept staring down at his hand tugging lightly at the edge of his comforter.

This silence lasted longer, and finally, Derek couldn’t handle it. He was the one who broke it this time.

“Stiles,” he said quietly, needing to tell him how sorry he was for leaving. For letting this happen to him. “Stiles, I—”

“No.” The harshness in Stiles’ voice was unexpected, and cut deep. He doubted Stiles knew what he was going to say, but evidently he was worried enough to not want to hear it. His eyes shot to Derek’s face, flashing blue briefly before he seemed to get them back under control and averted them once more.

Instead of pushing like he was sure Stiles expected him to, Derek said nothing. He just stood and waited for the tense set of Stiles’ shoulders to relax, then uncrossed his arms and glanced over his shoulder. It sounded like John was done with breakfast.

“I’m heading to work,” he informed Stiles, turning back to him. “I’ll let you and John eat together. I’ll be back later.”

Stiles said nothing, so Derek just nodded and turned, heading down the stairs as the sheriff exited the kitchen. He frowned when he saw Derek heading for the front door, but didn’t comment on it. Derek waved at him and left the house, walking down the porch steps and moving quickly to his car so he could get the hell out of there.

Most of the diners were closed, and he didn’t want to go to the McDonalds because it was out of the way, so he instead just headed over to Chuck’s, knowing the man would be awake.

Predictably, he was. Given he’d been covering for Derek, he was in the middle of finishing up making his breakfast when Derek knocked on his door. He didn’t seem surprised to see him when he opened it, and just motioned for him to help himself before taking a seat at his kitchen table.

Derek poured himself a coffee and grabbed a tortilla to make a breakfast burrito out of the eggs, sausages and mixed vegetables, then sat across from him to eat.

“You running away from something?” Chuck asked him.

“No.”

“Try harder next time, maybe I’ll believe you.” Chuck gave him a look but didn’t push.

Derek just ate his burrito in silence, the two of them lost in their own thoughts. When they were finished, Derek cleared the table and washed the dishes since Chuck didn’t own a dishwasher. He put the leftovers away, washed the pans, and then went back to the table so they could finish up their coffees before heading out.

“I just want to give him space,” Derek admitted after a comfortable silence. Chuck evidently knew he’d speak when he wanted to, and he smiled a little before taking a sip of his drink.

“Is that what you want, or what he wants?”

“I don’t know what he wants,” Derek said softly. “I just know if it were me, I wouldn’t want people crowding me. He went through a lot. The last thing he needs is people babying him and acting like he’s not okay.”

“You said he wasn’t okay,” Chuck pointed out.

“He’s not okay,” Derek agreed. “But reminding him of that isn’t going to help him be okay. It’s just going to make him feel like he never will be again.”

“Hm.” It was all Chuck said, then he drained his coffee and stood, walking past Derek to put the mug in the sink, filling it with water so the coffee didn’t stain his cup. “Should have a busy day today. ‘Course, it’ll be less busy if I stick around, but I can always just bark orders at the idiots if you wanted to take point.”

“It’s your garage,” Derek said.

“Actually, it’s yours, kid. Just because you haven’t earned it yet doesn’t mean it ain’t yours.” Chuck slapped him hard in the back, heading for the door. “Let’s get out there before Lloyd burns the place down.”

“That’d be pretty talented of him.”

“Don’t underestimate my nephew.”

Sometimes, Derek was jealous of Lloyd, because he had Chuck as an uncle. Chuck was rough around the edges, and he was loud and angry most of the time, but overall he was an amazingly kind person beneath all his snark. Sometimes, Derek thought the snark was just for show, because he’d never been anything but compassionate towards Derek.

And who did Derek have? Fucking Peter. Who’d murdered his sister, turned Scott, tried to murder Derek multiple times, and didn’t seem to stay dead when he was killed. Sure, Peter was the one who’d solved their last problem, but usually he was the reason the problem existed in the first place. Him bringing Stiles back to himself didn’t absolve him of all the past crimes he’d committed.

Besides, if not for Peter, Stiles wouldn’t have been in this mess at all. If Scott had stayed human, there wouldn’t have been anything Supernatural about the duo and then they probably would’ve gone on with life as normal.

Derek was glad when they reached the garage, because it meant he didn’t have to think anymore. Lloyd was livid when they walked in, because Alex had called in again—not sick, but because he’d gotten hammered the night before and was too hungover to come in. He and Jason always went drinking together, which meant it was only a matter of time before they got a call from Jason, too.

Which they did, about twenty minutes later. So Lloyd had to call Harry to ask him to come in on his day off, and Derek had to check their jobs for the day to see if they would be able to meet their deadlines for people’s pick-ups. Thankfully Chuck was sticking around so he could do paperwork and man the phone, even though he had no reason to even show up since Derek had come in.

Overall though, it was a good thing. It kept Derek busy, and his mind was focussed on the task at hand instead of obsessing about Stiles. He wondered what he was doing, if he was still with his dad or if he’d gone to see Scott. If the Pack was all at the house, talking and laughing and pretending Stiles hadn’t spent three years in hell. Pretending they didn’t notice how broken he was.

Or maybe they did notice and just didn’t care. Expected him to heal, to be back to his old self, to make like the last three years hadn’t happened.

He couldn’t blame them. More than anything, Derek wanted the old Stiles back, but he knew it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t like they could just force him to be better. He wasn’t going to be for probably years.

Derek just hoped he stopped tensing when his dad hugged him. He was sure John noticed, but he wasn’t going to stop holding his son. Derek really hoped Stiles was okay with the hugs sooner rather than later.

It had been almost two hours since Derek had arrived at the shop, his upper body beneath a car and fiddling with the underside when footsteps approached and the entire garage went eerily silent. Derek didn’t really pay attention, because the guys always got like that when a pretty girl walked in—Derek imagined Lydia would qualify, though he couldn’t imagine why she’d be here.

When the silence stretched for longer than usual, Derek frowned, but Lloyd spoke before he’d moved to pull out from under the car.

“Boss? You got company.”

Derek did push himself out from under the car, sitting up and turning to see who’d walked in.

He didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. He hoped the shock wasn’t too evident on his face.

“Stiles.”

He was standing awkwardly by the large bay doors, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He was wearing clothes Derek always used to see him in: jeans, a graphic tee, oversized plaid shirt. He looked no different than he used to, except for the haunted look on his face, the lack of smile, and the clear discomfort he felt, shifting his weight from foot to foot, eyes skirting from each person in front of him to the next.

Finally, he settled his gaze on Derek, but he didn’t move forward. He seemed uncertain of his welcome.

Derek stood and motioned for him to follow, turning to give Chuck a look. That seemed to snap him out of his daze and he clapped his hands together, barking at the others to get back to work. Derek saw Stiles tense at the loud noise and the gruff voice, but he just hurried to follow after Derek and was led into the back room where Chuck’s Mustang was.

There were other rooms they could’ve used, but given the Mustang room was Derek’s new distraction, it seemed fitting to bring Stiles in there.

He moved across the car so it was between him and Stiles, hoping it would give him some comfort since he seemed uncertain around other Supernaturals, nevermind he and Derek were friends.

Or, used to be. Derek didn’t honestly know anymore.

He expected Stiles to keep the door open, but after a moment, he turned and shut it. It seemed to take a considerable effort, and Derek moved to lean against the back worktable, hands behind himself in an attempt to make Stiles feel more comfortable.

“What are you doing here?” Derek asked him. It wasn’t necessarily what he wanted to say to him, but he didn’t know what else to start with.

Stiles shrugged, looking at the car, but not moving any closer. “I made dad go to work. Parrish says he’s not been doing so well on that front.”

Derek made a face, but he didn’t blame Parrish for ratting the sheriff out. After all, he was dangerously close to losing his job, far as Derek knew, so it wasn’t a bad thing that Stiles had forced him to go to work.

“He didn’t want to leave me alone. I wouldn’t have let him, anyway. I can’t be alone right now,” Stiles continued, answering Derek’s original question. It looked like he wanted to say more, but after a moment, he clenched his jaw and seemed to change his mind on what, exactly, he was going to say. He instead went with, “He was going to bring me to Scott’s. He probably thought that was what I wanted.” He shrugged, like it was a reasonable assumption to make.

Honestly, Derek thought it was reasonable, as well. Scott and Stiles had been inseparable for years. He knew they had a falling out, but they’d made up, and while things would never be as they were, he’d still always expected Stiles to race to Scott’s side long before coming to Derek’s.

“You told him no?” Derek asked when the silence stretched for too long.

Stiles shook his head, hands still in his pockets, shoulders tense. “Guess my face told him I wasn’t interested. Scott’s... intense. Since I got my head back on straight, he’s been...” Stiles trailed off and shook his head, then glanced over at Derek. “You make me feel... calm. You’re not throwing emotions at me.” He half-shrugged. “It’s easier around you. So he brought me here. For now.”

Derek figured he’d been right when he’d been thinking about this the night before. Stiles was overwhelmed, people were smothering him, and he just needed room to breathe. He needed some space to come to terms with everything. What he’d done, the fact that he was out, that he’d changed, that everyone had changed.

That he’d lost three years of his life. That he was never, ever getting that time back.

“You’re welcome to stay,” Derek offered softly. “If you want. I can take you somewhere else if you’d prefer, but I think it’ll be good for you. The guys are good people, and it’ll help you stay grounded to watch everyone interact without smothering you.”

The fact that Stiles had been dropped off proved he was intending to stay, but Derek wasn’t going to assume. He just wanted Stiles to do what he thought was best for himself. If he wanted to stay, then he could stay. If he’d prefer to leave, Derek wouldn’t stop him.

One of the guys out in the garage dropped what sounded like an axle shaft and Stiles whipped around, fists raised and snarl on his lips.

Derek made sure not to move, waiting for Stiles to recognize it wasn’t a danger to him. It took him a few seconds, but he eventually relaxed, and when he turned back to Derek, his expression was wrecked. Like he was embarrassed and ashamed to be that jumpy.

It was ridiculous of him to think that given where he’d been the past three years.

“It gets easier,” Derek promised. He didn’t know how to help Stiles with his trauma, but he could at least help him with one ting. “The noise, I mean. It takes time, but it gets easier. Scott figured it out, and we both know you’re smarter than him.” He offered Stiles a small smile, which he didn’t return. He just went back to looking haunted, gaze lowering to his hands, which he opened and closed slowly, watching his fingers move.

“I didn’t...” Stiles winced, closing his hands into fists before looking back up at Derek. “I’m not sure how to be this.”

Derek knew what ‘this’ meant, and he pushed away from the workbench, leaning forward on the car that separated them. “I know,” he whispered. “It’s okay. We’ll help you learn.”

“Everyone is acting like I should go back to how I was,” Stiles blurted out, shaking his head and raking one trembling hand through his hair, tugging harshly. “That I can just put it behind me. That I should be okay.” He glanced up at Derek. “Why don’t you think that?”

“Because I know you, Stiles.”

“Better than Scott?”

Derek smiled slightly once more, raising his eyebrows. “Are you surprised?”

Stiles seemed to think about it for a moment, then shook his head. “I guess not.”

They stood in silence for a moment. Stiles was inspecting every inch of Derek’s face, as if he’d never seen it before. Derek had to wonder if maybe he thought he was dreaming. Or if he thought he was dying and this was all just some elaborate hallucination.

He looked exhausted, deep shadows beneath his eyes, and pale. Derek hated seeing him like this, he just wanted to wrap him in a blanket and put him somewhere safe where no one could touch him ever again. Stiles hadn’t deserved what had happened to him. None of them deserved it, but Stiles least of all. He was a good person, a kind soul, someone who wanted to do the right thing and help people.

He’d given up his dream of escape, his job at the FBI, everything, just to come back and help Scott. Be close to his dad. Live a life he’d so desperately wanted to escape from. For others.

Derek knew that feeling. He’d also tried to escape, but something had dragged him back. That something was Stiles, and even if he never forgave him, Derek didn’t know if he’d ever get another opportunity.

“I shouldn’t have done it,” he said, voice low. He knew Stiles would hear it without any problems, given his new abilities. When Stiles frowned, not understanding, Derek clarified. “The ultimatum. Making you choose. It wasn’t fair. I shouldn’t have done it.”

“You wanted out,” Stiles said quietly. “I hated you for it, but I never blamed you. I just hated that I couldn’t have it, too.”

“I should’ve stayed.”

Stiles was silent for only a moment, then said, “I wish you had.”

“I’m sorry.”

He was fairly certain the only reason Stiles didn’t explode at him was because Derek was apologizing for leaving him behind like he did. Not because of what had happened to him. Derek was under the impression that was why Stiles had stopped him earlier that morning. He didn’t want people to apologize for what had happened to him. He just wanted them to help him.

Derek could do that. He would help him with everything he had.

“We should head back out there,” Derek said. “Lloyd’s probably grumbling about me slacking off.”

“He’s your boss?” Stiles asked, evidently thinking Lloyd was Chuck.

“No, I’m his.” He saw the confusion and just smiled. “It’s a long story. I can tell you about it when we’re out there.”

Stiles hesitated, then nodded and slowly opened the door. He stepped out, but didn’t move far. Derek inched his way around the Mustang and followed him out, heading back for the vehicle he’d been working on after shutting the door. He was about to tell Stiles to take a seat wherever he wanted, but Chuck approached them then, eying Stiles with interest.

“You stickin’ around, kid?”

At least having someone younger than Derek in the place meant Chuck would call someone else kid. That was encouraging, maybe Derek could upgrade to ‘Hale’ or something.

Stiles looked a little taken aback, glancing at Derek, then saying, “Uh, I was going to.”

“Good. I got a job for you. Something even a moron could do, but Derek’s busy so you’ll have to do.”

Derek watched to make sure he wasn’t leading him out of the garage, but Chuck just wandered over to one of the work benches and grumped at him to organize all the tools. Then he turned and went back to the office when the phone rang, bitching about people never giving him a break and how he was too old for this bullshit.

Lloyd and Harry were dutifully working on their own cars, occasionally tossing banter at one another, including Derek whenever they felt like they needed a third person to make the conversation more interesting.

Derek was back under the car by then, but he kept an ear on Stiles, listening to him sort through all the tools and organizing the work bench. It was literally the most annoying task in the world, but it was keeping him busy, and Chuck probably wanted him to be able to focus on something other than his own thoughts.

When noon rolled around, Alex actually showed up, still miserable and sporting a headache, but he showed up. He eyed Stiles with interest, but said nothing, evidently having been warned ahead of time. When he settled in on a car, Derek checked the time and figured he should grab a bite to eat. He knew Stiles was probably starving, so he poked his head into the office to tell Chuck he was going out for a bit, then went to collect Stiles.

He’d been taking his time organizing the workbench, and when Derek approached, he saw that he was actually separating out a whole bunch of parts that had been mixed together. It wasn’t something Chuck had told him to do, but he’d obviously found it cathartic.

“Gonna grab a bite. You can stay here with the guys or come with me, whichever you prefer.”

Stiles hesitated, but Derek recognized it wasn’t about going or staying. When he spoke, it made Derek’s stomach clench. “I could eat. If that’s okay with you.”

He was almost asking for permission to eat, and Derek was so, so glad Valeris wasn’t here, because he’d have ripped his face off.

It certainly explained why his feral mind had been so hesitant the first day, thinking the food was a test or poisoned. Derek was going to force that out of his system as soon as possible.

“Let’s get some food in you,” Derek said in response, and led the way out.

They walked to the diner down the street, a few people giving them double-takes with their mouths hanging open. Evidently news of Stiles’ return hadn’t spread yet, but it soon would. He just hoped people didn’t crowd him, but so far nobody approached.

Once in the diner, Derek texted the sheriff since it was close to the station, and he and Stiles perused the menu. They still hadn’t ordered when John walked in, beaming at them and hurrying to join them, sitting beside his son and wrapping an arm around him.

Stiles still tensed, but he at least managed a small, albeit forced, smile.

It hurt Derek to see him like this. Because it wasn’t like Stiles to be this closed off. It was like he was policing his emotions, being sure to keep everything in check. Most of the time, Derek had no idea what he was thinking, or how he was feeling, because he was just so good at locking everything down.

They ordered and ate while chatting, Stiles having hesitated before requesting his food, like he was worried he’d get punished before remembering he was with his father and friend. John did most of the talking, with Derek helping him hold the conversation since Stiles only piped up every now and then. He ate like a man who’d clearly been starved, because he seemed to hesitate whenever he was halfway through his meal, as if thinking he should be saving the rest for later.

Just in case.

Derek and the sheriff both caught on and started making plans for dinner, and Derek even ordered two more burgers to go so he and Stiles could have something to eat in a few hours. Not that Lloyd didn’t always have snacks lying around, but Derek doubted Stiles would help himself to them.

When they were done, the sheriff drove them back to the garage, mostly to spend more time with Stiles, and then left to head back to work. Stiles stayed with Derek the rest of the afternoon until John was off shift. He came to pick him up, told Derek he better be home for dinner, and then left.

Chuck made Derek head out around six, even though he usually hung around much longer than that. He was just parking on the road when he got a text from John asking if he was heading home soon since dinner was just about ready.

Derek scowled when he saw Scott’s bike in the driveway beside the still-covered Jeep, but forced himself not to be too bitter about it. Scott was Stiles’ best friend, and it wouldn’t be fair to keep him away.

When he entered the house, he heard a loud clatter in the kitchen. He didn’t think much of it until he walked into the room and saw both John and Scott staring at Stiles, who’d stood from his chair violently enough to have it skid backwards and hit the wall.

He was staring right at Derek, and it took a few seconds for him to calm down. Derek just stared back, waiting for him to get himself back under control before moving forward to join John at the stove. He acted like Stiles’ reaction was perfectly normal, because Stiles didn’t need people constantly reminding him he wasn’t okay.

He’d probably been startled when Derek had entered the house and reacted badly. Scott and John should’ve expected it and pretended it was fine instead of staring at him like they pitied him.

Reaching John, he slapped a hand on his shoulder to get his attention, forcing his gaze away from his son, and looked at the food on the stove.

“What can I help with?”

“Nothing here, but you can check on the steaks. They’re out on the barbecue.”

“Sure.”

Derek headed for the back door, and heard footsteps follow. He didn’t turn to see who it was, he already knew.

Reaching the barbecue, he raised the lid and grabbed the tongs on the side, moving the meat around slightly to make sure it wasn’t sticking. Stiles stood a little to his left. Close enough he could reach out and touch him, but far enough that he had time to jerk away if Derek made a grab for him.

“You know your dad shouldn’t be eating steak,” Derek said.

“I figured I’d let him just for today,” Stiles responded.

“As long as it’s just today.”

Stiles said nothing, just watched Derek work. It was weird, having Stiles be outside with him instead of inside with Scott. He understood why, it was still weird though. He could also tell Stiles wanted to say something, but he was holding himself back.

Derek really needed to at least help him get his voice back, he just didn’t know how. Stiles had always mouthed off at the wrong people. Evidently being held for three years had broken him of that habit.

“Awfully quiet,” Derek said, flipping one of the steaks. “Never knew how much I hated the quiet until after the noise went away.”

It had the desired effect, Stiles shifting a bit closer. “Is your boss going to mind if I come by again tomorrow?”

“I’m the boss, remember?” Derek said, checking another hunk of meat. “And it’s fine, if that’s what you want to do. Jason and Alex should both be in tomorrow, so you’ll have to tolerate their bullshit, but if you can do that, then you’re welcome.”

He heard a chair creak inside, Scott shifting, clearly unhappy. He wasn’t subtle, because Stiles’ head turned to the door, then back to Derek. He said nothing, so Derek didn’t comment on it, either. Scott was evidently hurt he wasn’t Stiles’ first choice.

Given the level of ‘worry, worry, fear, angst, angst, happy, happy, worry, angst’ coming off him, Derek couldn’t really blame Stiles for wanting someone else. Derek’s general baseline was always just content, so it was probably easier on Stiles’ still unfamiliar senses. They’d have to work on getting him trained up sooner rather than later.

When the steaks were done, Derek set them down on a plate that had been left out for them and headed back inside. The sheriff was in the process of putting a dish of rice on the table, and Derek saw it was set for five people. Melissa’s arrival a few minutes later and explained the fifth setting.

They spoke about work while they ate, Stiles mostly silent while he poked at his food before eating it, as if afraid he would get in trouble for doing so. They really needed him to talk to someone, Derek just wasn’t sure how they were going to succeed with that.

He had someone in mind, but he lived abroad and wasn’t someone Stiles knew. In a way, the unfamiliar person might help, but similarly, Derek didn’t know if he wanted to introduce a new Supernatural being to him when he was still teetering on the edge, even if the Supernatural happened to be the healing sort.

Scott hung around for a while after dinner, Melissa heading home to get some sleep. He actually offered to watch Star Wars with Stiles, but that seemed to hurt him more than anything, because they all knew Scott would never willingly watch those movies. He was just proving to Stiles that he thought he was fragile and needed coddling.

Stiles was anything but fragile. He was a fighter, a death machine, an undefeated champion.

He was just broken, that was all. Very different from being fragile. His sanity seemed to be hanging on by a thread, and Scott wasn’t helping.

Derek went to shower and retired early, exhausted from the emotional day the night before and his lack of sleep. He passed out almost immediately, waking up around two to use the bathroom. He could tell Stiles was still awake, but he didn’t want to bother him, so he just headed back for his room, realizing he hadn’t set his alarm. Doing that, he went back to sleep for a few hours, climbing out of bed at half past six to get ready for work.

The sheriff was up again, having just broken the mountain ash line to Stiles’ bedroom before heading downstairs in his uniform. Stiles was dressed and ready to face the day, though he looked worse than he had the day before.

The bruises beneath his eyes were more pronounced, and Derek was willing to bet he hadn’t slept at all the night before. He’d fix that when they got to work, but for now, he just went to the kitchen and saw the sheriff perusing the fridge.

“I can grab food on the way to work,” Derek said, since it looked like they were low on eggs.

“I’ll get some groceries when I head home this afternoon,” the sheriff said, smiling brightly when Stiles walked into the kitchen, having brushed his teeth and combed his hair. “Hey son. Breakfast?”

“I’m heading out with Derek.”

John seemed surprised, and a little hurt, but he rallied quickly, evidently only wanting what was best for Stiles. “Sure thing, kiddo. Any requests for dinner?”

Stiles was silent for much too long, and Derek could feel his anxiety mounting, so he cut in and told the sheriff they should have tacos, being very clear that John should be getting the tofu ‘meat’ and that they would all eat it in solidarity. He grumbled unhappily, but obliged.

Derek and Stiles headed out, and instead of going to the shop, he stopped at Chuck’s for breakfast again. He didn’t usually do this, maybe only about twice a month, but Chuck had been really good for Stiles the day before.

Someone he didn’t know. Someone who had no idea what Stiles was supposed to be like, and just treated him like anyone else. Didn’t look at him like he was pitying him.

When he knocked, Chuck opened the door, grunted, and waved them into the house. He’d made some kind of breakfast hash today with scrambled eggs, so Derek grabbed himself a plate, then motioned for Stiles to help himself.

Stiles sat down with the barest amount of food on his plate. Chuck paused in his chewing, cocked an eyebrow at Derek, then stood up and grabbed Stiles’ plate. Stiles looked crestfallen, but Chuck just went back to the stove, loaded it up with more food, and dropped it in front of him again before digging back into his own breakfast.

“You’re not gonna last the day around those fuckheads without food in your stomach, kid,” Chuck grunted, jerking his head at Derek. “Especially that one. Fucking pain in my ass.”

“Love you too, Chuck.”

“Shut up.”

Derek just smiled to himself and ate his food.


It turned into a bit of a routine for Derek and Stiles. When his dad worked, Stiles would go to the garage with Derek. If his dad was home, he would stay back with him. They ate at Chuck’s in the morning whenever they were together, and if Stiles wasn’t with him, Derek lasted at the garage on Lloyd’s snacks until the diner opened down the street.

Stiles still wasn’t sleeping. It was turning into a problem, one that John was getting increasingly distressed about. Eventually, Chuck was the one who ordered him into the back seat of the Mustang and told him to sleep before he made his slumber permanent. While probably not the best choice of words for someone who’d endured what Stiles had, it was increasingly clear to Derek that Stiles relished Chuck’s tough love, because he really was treating him like anyone else. He wasn’t coddling him, or suffocating him, or acting like Stiles was about to break into a thousand pieces. He spoke to Stiles the same way he spoke to Derek, or Lloyd, or any of the other guys.

It actually reminded Derek of how Chuck had started warming up to him. Derek had been just as lost and broken over Stiles’ disappearance when he’d first started working there, and Chuck had brought him back from the brink of depression over and over just by being there without forcing himself on him emotionally. He was just there, a pillar of strength to lean against, and he always said the right thing.

The Pack started dropping in after the first week. Most of them had been keeping their distance barring Scott and Parrish, the latter moreso coming by for Derek and the sheriff’s sake, but after one week passed, they all seemed like they wanted to spend time with him.

Lydia was the first to show up at the garage, and Jason dropped something heavy on his foot at the sight of her. She ignored him completely and went straight to Stiles’ side where he was helping Chuck with filing.

Derek didn’t listen in while they spoke, but he was at least thankful it sounded like it was going well. Lydia ended up joining them for lunch, and left afterwards. Once it became clear Stiles was okay with people so long as it was one at a time, the Pack seemed to rotate. After Lydia’s departure, they were left alone in the garage for an hour before Malia showed up.

Stiles seemed less comfortable with her than he had Lydia, but he didn’t tell her to leave. They chatted until the sheriff showed up to take him home. Then that turned into the new routine.

Every time Stiles came to the garage, the first few hours were spent with him napping in the Mustang in the other room. No one bothered him, and no one said anything whenever they heard him wake up screaming. Derek had wanted to go check on him the first time, but Chuck insisted it would only make him more uncomfortable to know they heard him. Derek had disagreed at first, but it became clear he was right when Stiles exited the back looking and smelling better than he had when he’d walked in.

For now, Derek trusted Chuck, because he seemed to know what he was doing.

One of the days Stiles wasn’t around, Derek and Lloyd went to grab lunch, and he asked him why Chuck was so good with people who were broken. Like him, like Stiles.

“Because uncle Chuck’s been broken long as I’ve known him,” Lloyd said, sticking a fry into his mouth and chewing while picking up another. “You tend to know what broken people need when you’ve learned how to fix yourself from experience.”

Derek didn’t ask again, and he never brought it up with Chuck. It wasn’t any of his business, but he had to wonder what had broken the man and how he’d fixed himself. He wondered if Derek himself was being fixed just by being in his presence. He was really helping Stiles, but more than that, he was teaching Derek how to help Stiles.

He already wasn’t coddling him, which he knew was helping, but Chuck’s blatant disregard for anything about Stiles’ experience and his clear indication that he didn’t want to know about it made Stiles so much more relaxed when he was in the garage over what he was like at home and around the others.

The only person he seemed remotely comfortable around was Derek, and that was mostly because he was taking his cues from Chuck.

It was weird to realize a human was helping a Werewolf like this, but Derek figured it made sense. Stiles had been human when he’d helped Scott, so it was only fitting another human would help him as a Werewolf.

Humans were amazing. Derek deeply regretted that Stiles wasn’t one anymore, but only for Stiles’ sake. He hated that Stiles had been turned into something he’d never wanted to be.

It was halfway through week two, when Derek was heading upstairs to grab a shower before bed, that Stiles caught up to him.

“Derek, can we talk?”

“Sure.” He half-turned on the steps. “What’s up?”

Stiles motioned for them to finish their ascent and they both stopped at the top of the landing, Derek putting some space between them since Stiles was still tense and uncomfortable around Supernaturals. The only one he didn’t shy away from was Lydia, but they had a strong bond, so he wasn’t surprised.

It definitely wasn’t because Lydia wasn’t dangerous, because Derek could say from experience that she was.

“What’s up?” he asked again.

“Dad has the next three days off,” Stiles said, crossing his arms defensively and shifting his weight. “I can’t come to the shop, I don’t want to hurt him.”

“That’s okay, I understand.” And Derek did. Stiles spent more time with him than his own father, and he was more than okay for them to start mending that bridge. He also hoped Stiles would open up about what had happened to him, since he still hadn’t. Whenever anyone tried bringing it up, Stiles clammed up and his face turned red, like he was struggling not to lose it on them.

They understood his reluctance, but he needed to talk to someone, and Derek figured his dad would be it.

“I have a problem.”

Derek waited, but when Stiles didn’t elaborate, he said, “What can I do?”

He felt like he hadn’t said the right thing, because Stiles stayed silent for much too long. Digging deep, and trying to remember how things used to be between them, back when they’d been friends, but still assholes to each other, he crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows.

“You gonna tell me? Or do I have to guess?”

He was really starting to understand why he and Stiles had always been so good for one another, and why Chuck’s tough love was working. Because this was what Stiles was used to, especially from Derek. This is what he reacted to, what he pushed the boundaries of. Tough love.

It was probably why they’d almost... well, that was in the past. Nothing he was going to dredge up right now, not with Stiles like this.

“I can’t nap in the Mustang,” he said, like it pained him to admit. “And I can’t sleep at night. In my bed. I just—I can’t do it.”

“Is it the bed?” Derek asked uncertainly. “Or your room?”

“It’s just...” Stiles raked a frustrated hand through his hair, trailing off. “I just can’t. I don’t want to be alone. But I can’t stay with dad, I’m... I get violent if I’m startled awake. I don’t want to hurt him.”

Derek took that exactly for what it meant. It wasn’t that he wanted to hurt Derek, it was that Derek healed much faster than the sheriff did.

“My bed is bigger,” he said. “We can nail the window shut, and your dad can do another mountain ash barrier.”

He hadn’t realized how tense Stiles was until those words made him relax. He nodded, licking his lips, said he’d go and get his dad to do that, then turned to head back downstairs.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start. It was Stiles okay admitting what he wanted, or needed. He hadn’t done that at all since his return, so any progress was good progress in Derek’s book.

He went to take a shower, like he’d been planning, and when he exited the bathroom he found Stiles helping John move the furniture in his room so he could make the barrier. Derek sent Stiles off to shower and finished up with the sheriff. They both got to work nailing the window shut, and while it was obvious John was still worried about his son, he at least seemed a little more hopeful than he had even an hour ago.

When Stiles was showered and ready for bed, he and Derek waited for John to close the barrier and shut the door, Stiles clutching his pillow to his chest like a child. Derek didn’t have a lock on his door, so they had to settle with the mountain ash barrier being on the inside of it.

Derek got the light, but instantly turned it back on at the sharp exhale from Stiles. It was a weird reaction, seeing as Stiles could see in the dark as a Werewolf, but Derek didn’t question it and just headed for the bed. The light wasn’t that bright anyway, he wouldn’t be bothered by it if they had to sleep with it on.

He honestly hadn’t noticed that Stiles hadn’t turned his light off in his own room before, but he’d been trying hard not to pry.

Pulling back the covers and yanking his pillow to one side of the bed instead of the centre, Derek motioned for Stiles to join him. Stiles set his pillow down as well and climbed beneath the blankets, but he was stiff and clearly uncomfortable.

Derek just fell down beside him, figuring reacting to it would only make things worse. He yanked the covers up, told Stiles to kick at him if he hogged them, and then rolled onto his side so he could try and get some sleep.

It definitely didn’t work, because he couldn’t stop thinking about Stiles behind him, lying motionless on his back like he was afraid to move. He wasn’t going to get any sleep if he just lay there like a statue.

Against his better judgement, he said, “What are you so afraid of?”

He heard more than felt Stiles move behind him, probably only turning his head to look over at him. For a long moment, he said nothing, and Derek was ready to just give up and try and pretend he wasn’t there, in case that would help the other man sleep, but eventually, Stiles answered.

“He always came at night,” Stiles said quietly. “When I let my guard down. When I least expected it. He always came to the basement and made sure I was always alert. An alert fighter is a winning fighter, and The Master wouldn’t tolerate anything but the best.”

Derek couldn’t help but roll onto his back, staring openly at Stiles, heart slamming in his ribs at the words.

The Master? The Master?!

Oh God. Oh Jesus fucking Christ, no!

Derek could barely get the words out, but he somehow managed, “Did he...?”

Stiles gave him a sharp look. “I was a pet. Doing that with me would be like fucking your dog. So no, nothing like that.” He seemed to regret his slipup, but Derek had to wonder how harshly he’d been punished every time he refused to call him by his title.

He hated that this Werewolf beside him was so different to the goofy, talkative, intelligent boy he’d known for years.

“He would come and hurt you?” Derek asked.

“He would bring monsters,” Stiles said quietly, gaze shifting to the ceiling. “He and his family would hunt, and if they found something worth bringing home, they would leave it with me in the basement while I was sleeping. If I didn’t wake up fast enough, I got hurt.”

“Didn’t they ever worry you would die?” Derek would’ve thought Stiles was too good of an investment to risk him being hurt like that.

“At first I think The Master just wanted to make sure I was worth the money he’d paid. After that, he expected me to win. I always did, but it made sleep dangerous. The only reason I can do it in the Mustang is because I’m locked in a car in a room in a garage. It would take a lot to get to me there. And it would be loud.” He shrugged one shoulder, still staring anywhere but at Derek. “Once I turned into a Werewolf, it was easier to know when something was coming for me. And when I turned feral, I didn’t care. Sleep came easier when my voice wasn’t so loud in my head.”

“I wasn’t going to leave you like that,” Derek said. “I don’t regret pulling you back.”

“I wish you hadn’t.”

“I know, but losing yourself to the wolf wasn’t going to help you in the long run. Your dad needs you. Scott needs you.”

“Let me guess, you need me, too?” Stiles asked dryly, turning his head to look at him again.

“No,” Derek said. “I don’t need you.”

Stiles clearly wasn’t expecting that because he just stared at him like he had no idea what to say. He almost looked hurt, and half-angry, but Derek let him stew in his own emotions for a while before he continued, if only because having Stiles actually feel something other than fear and anxiety for once was a good thing.

“Need is a very specific thing. Your dad needs you, because he doesn’t know how to function without you. He needs you to be there to watch what he eats, and he needs you to stay close to him so he knows he hasn’t lost everyone he cares about. He needs you like a dying man needs one more breath. He’s desperate for it.
“Scott needs you, too. He needs you to keep him out of trouble. He needs you to challenge him, to keep him in line, to keep the Pack together. He needs you to be the voice of reason, to make the plans, to know when to fight and when to turn tail and run. Scott needs you like an Alpha needs a second, because he doesn’t know how to do this without you. He doesn’t know how to exist without you in his orbit, because you’ve never not been in his orbit before.
“But me? I don’t need you. At all. Because I survived before you, and I survived after you. I can manage without you in my life, but the difference is I won’t. Because I want you. I want you to be in my life. I want you in my space, arguing with me, annoying me, being infuriatingly right all the time. I want you to be a part of my future, whether it’s as a coworker at the garage, as a Packmate to this broken Pack that I don’t even know can be salvaged, as a friend, as a brother, I don’t care. All I know is that want and need are two different things, and just because I don’t need you doesn’t mean I don’t want you.”

Stiles stared at him like he had no idea what to say. He opened his mouth a few times, but ended up closing it, struggling to get words out. It looked like Derek had destroyed him, and he wasn’t sorry, because the best way to fix something that was broken was to shatter it and let it rebuild itself.

Stiles was strong. He was the strongest person Derek had ever met. And he knew that no matter what, he would come back from this. It would take time, and energy, and he would hate every fucking second of it, because it would hurt, and it would be hard, but he would do it.

“I can’t be who I was,” Stiles insisted, swallowing hard.

“No,” Derek agreed. “You can’t. Because you’re not him anymore. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be yourself. Shit happens, Stiles. And I know that when you were nine years old, you probably thought you could never be who you were before then.”

He didn’t have to say “when your mother died” because Stiles already knew that he was referring to that time of his life.

“You thought you couldn’t ever heal from that. That you were broken, and you would always be broken. But you did. You healed, you rebuilt yourself from the ground up. The Stiles I met back in those woods wasn’t the same Stiles who was eight years old, because he changed when he turned nine, but he was still you. You fixed yourself once, and you can do it again.”

“This is different.”

“Why?”

“You saw what I did,” Stiles insisted, sitting up and turning to him fully. “The videos. I was feral, but I remember. You watched one of them, and then you left, but I know you watched them all. I know you saw all the things I did, the people I hurt, the ones I killed. How am I supposed to come back from that?”

“With a lot of pain and hard work.” Derek wasn’t going to sugarcoat it, because he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It had taken him years to come to terms with what he’d done. To Paige, to his family, to his dead Betas. It was hard, and it hurt, but if he could do it, so could Stiles.

“I can’t.”

“If you ever say that to me again, you’ll regret it,” Derek said darkly, slowly sitting up. He saw Stiles tense, his eyes slowly bleeding blue, but Derek didn’t let that deter him. “We spent three years thinking the worst. Three years believing you were dead, worried out of our minds, falling apart at the seams. Your dad turned into a drunkard, the Pack splintered and fell apart, I lost the one person in my life that I truly cared about. And we have you back now. You found your way back here, feral, out of your mind, but you still came. You came back to us. So don’t you dare sit there and tell me you can’t because I will never let you give up on yourself. You did what you had to do to survive, Stiles. If I could’ve taken your place, I would have. But you, and every other Supernatural in that ring with you, did what they had to do. None of you are at fault. Every single one of you is a victim, and if you don’t understand that, I’m going to have to repeat it to you over and over until you finally believe it. Nothing about what happened to you was okay, but the part that is the most unforgivable is that you think it was your fault. It wasn’t, Stiles. It was not your fault. And if Valeris shows his face here ever again, he is never going to leave.”

Stiles didn’t seem to know what to do, or say. He just sat there, staring at Derek, and looking lost. Like he wanted to argue, but didn’t know how. Like he wanted to believe Derek, but truly didn’t. Like he wished he’d stayed feral, or he’d stayed locked in a basement with a cruel man he called The Master upstairs.

Because anything was easier than forgiving himself, and Derek knew that more than anyone else. He knew how hard it was to hurt someone without meaning to, and while he knew that Stiles had killed someone in self-defence before, it was different than what he’d done in the matches.

Inching forward on the bed slowly, Derek reached out one hand, eyes locked on Stiles’ still-blue ones. He reached slowly for the back of Stiles’ neck, and pulled him closer, pressing their foreheads together.

“We are not going to let you go, Stiles. You’re stuck with us until the end, so you’re going to have to recognize that no matter what, we’re going to bully you into forgiving yourself. How you want to do that is up to you, but you will find a way to fix yourself, because you’re the strongest person I know. And you’re also the most stubborn person I know. So we’re going to lie down, and you’re going to close your eyes and sleep, knowing the most dangerous thing in this room with you is me, and I would rather die than lay a hand on you. Understand?”

For a few seconds, Stiles didn’t move. Then, he finally nodded, and Derek squeezed the back of his neck lightly.

Tough love. But he meant every word.

Derek released him and lay back down. Stiles took a moment to collect himself, but his eyes eventually turned hazel once more and he lay down beside Derek, pulling the covers up over himself. He twisted onto his side, facing Derek, and while Derek didn’t like sleeping on his left side, he turned that way anyway so they were almost nose to nose.

“Go to sleep, Stiles.”

“If I do, and you’re gone when I wake up, I’ll never forgive you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Derek promised.

Derek was the first one to close his eyes, and while it took a long time for him to fall asleep, he felt Stiles inch a bit closer an hour later before his breathing evened out.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start.


Things were going surprisingly well by the third week. Stiles had nightmares, but he still slept with Derek in his room so while he flailed and injured him a lot, it wasn’t anything Derek couldn’t handle. Though the first nightmare had definitely been a challenge, since Stiles had wolfed out and ended up on top of Derek trying to rip his throat out.

Derek didn’t hold it against him. Stiles had obviously woken after his nightmare, recognized a Supernatural was right there, and proceeded to try and protect himself. They didn’t talk about it the next morning, but Derek also didn’t let him angst about it, asking if he was coming to the shop with him.

By the Friday of the third week, it was clear Stiles really needed some help with his Werewolf side. Whenever he got startled at the shop, he always wolfed out. Thankfully he usually had his back to the rest of the guys, but it was only a matter of time before someone noticed.

Stiles told Derek he needed someone to train him, but that he couldn’t continuously rely on Derek for everything. That made sense, and he’d told him to do what he needed to do. Stiles had made a call out of earshot with Derek’s phone, and told him he was starting in the morning so he wouldn’t be going to the shop with him.

That was a good thing, because Stiles would start to feel more comfortable with himself once he got his Werewolf problem under control. The biggest surprise came when Derek was speaking to Scott about it later, wanting to give him some tips on things to bear in mind, only for Scott to ask him what the hell he was talking about.

Derek had no idea what to say, and had ended up hanging up on him, because there were only so many people he could’ve gone to for advice. His second call was Deaton, but he also advised he wasn’t the one Stiles had sought out.

The call he’d made wasn’t showing up in Derek’s history, like he’d deleted it, so it wasn’t until the following morning when Stiles’ ride came to pick him up that he realized who it was.

And the sheriff was not happy.

“Good morning. My, something smells delightful. Bacon?” Peter smiled at them jovially and Derek had to refrain from punching him in the mouth.

“What are you doing here?”

“Coming to fetch my student.” Peter looked entirely too pleased.

Derek turned on his heel and went up the stairs. He knew that Peter would hear him, but he had to know if Stiles was out of his mind. Peter? Peter?!

He walked into Stiles’ room while he was pulling his shoes on. He was resolutely not looking at Derek, likely because he knew he did not approve.

“Peter?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, grabbing for his other shoe.

“Are you insane?” Derek asked, unable to stop himself. Given Stiles had literally been insane not long ago, it probably wasn’t the best choice of words, but Stiles didn’t seem to care about that.

“Who else do you recommend?” Stiles demanded, standing once his second shoe was on. “I can’t rely on you for everything, I already do too much. I can’t do this with Scott, he’s always looking at me like I’m going to break. Liam’s too green, he would make a terrible teacher. Malia’s too aggressive, I’ll lose control and attack her. I haven’t seen Isaac in years, we barely know each other at this point, I don’t think it would be safe for either of us to have him train me. Jackson would have me punching him within minutes, and he’s protective of Ethan so I wouldn’t have a chance to get trained without being attacked by Jackson if I were to make a wrong move towards Ethan.” Stiles threw his hands up in defeat, the action so much like his old self that it momentarily derailed Derek’s anger. “I’m kind of out of options.”

“Cora?” Derek demanded.

“I asked her,” Stiles admitted. “She said no.”

“What?”

“She was held captive for a time, too. She knows what it’s like to lose control. She didn’t think she would be a good teacher. I literally had Peter, or you, and I can’t always rely on you. You’re doing a good job of hiding it, because you’re the Fort Knox of emotions, but I know this hasn’t been easy for you. I’m just—trying to stand on my own two feet. Heal, just like you wanted. If Peter has to be the one to teach me, then I guess that’s how it’s gonna be.”

Derek kind of hated that Stiles was using his words against him, but he couldn’t say he blamed him. It was what Derek wanted, just... not with Peter. But he wasn’t going to make the decision for Stiles, so if he wanted Peter, then Derek would grit his teeth and accept it.

The two of them left the house just before Derek did, and he spent a majority of his time at the shop worrying about them. What if Peter triggered him? What if Stiles lost control? What if Peter had an ulterior motive? What if, what if, what if?

It was almost a relief when he got a text around three from the sheriff saying Stiles was back. Derek wanted to rush home and check on him, but he fought the urge, because that would be coddling and overbearing, so he just told John he was glad he’d survived the day with Peter and that he’d be home for dinner.

They had pasta that night, that Stiles himself made. He seemed particularly proud, and Derek realized that, slowly but surely, ever since their conversation in Derek’s bedroom, Stiles was trying. He still reacted badly to loud noises, he still had nightmares, he still didn’t like being alone, but he was trying. Hopefully he’d be okay around the Pack again soon, as a group, since he could tell they were all getting a little anxious about it.

None of them had left again, but he knew most of them wanted things to go back to normal. Lydia had already mentioned in the group chat that she was looking for a place to rent in Beacon Hills since she could not live with her parents again, which suggested she was moving back.

Liam and Mason both had a year of school left, but were talking about taking a year off. Cora had asked him if she could move back and live in the loft if he ended up staying at the Stilinski’s indefinitely. Malia and Peter were already acting like they’d never left.

Isaac was a bit more hesitant, wanting to stay, but having too many bad memories. Derek didn’t blame him if he wanted to leave, but so far he didn’t really give any indication either way whether or not he was staying or going.

Kira was still a bit on the fence, and Derek knew that as much as she wanted to stay for Stiles, she was probably going to leave again. It was too hard to stay, and her family didn’t live there anymore. Jackson and Ethan both had lives back in England, and would probably be heading back once things calmed down, but surprisingly, Jackson seemed to want Stiles to be okay before they left.

As much as they’d been enemies in high school, Derek really felt like Jackson cared a lot about Stiles and Scott. The two of them and Lydia had been his first Pack, and Stiles and Scott had worked tirelessly to save him from being killed back when he was the Kanima. He might never tell them how much he cared about them, but his presence meant he truly did.

Derek felt a little better about how things were going when he went to bed that night. Stiles always laid motionless beside him for the first hour, but eventually inched closer and fell asleep against Derek. He wished he’d just do it as soon as he got into bed, but baby steps. Stiles needed to move at his own pace, so Derek let him. He knew it was just about having another person close, feeling safe with someone beside him and not having to worry about hurting them.

Honestly, Derek sometimes felt guilty that it wasn’t the sheriff, because he cared so much about his son, that it would’ve helped them both heal a great deal if Stiles didn’t wake up so violently.

It was at some point a little past three in the morning that Derek woke up. His skin felt prickly and itchy, and he almost wanted to climb out of bed and go somewhere. He didn’t know where, just somewhere. Somewhere that wasn’t here.

Just when he started to shrug it off, he felt the bed dip and Stiles was heading for the door. Derek frowned, sitting up.

“Stiles?”

He reached the mountain ash barrier, staring down at it. He tried to grab the doorhandle, but it was on the other side of the barrier, so he couldn’t get through. He pushed against it, straining, a snarl escaping him.

Derek felt cold all over.

“Stiles?” He stood up, moving behind him and touching his shoulder.

“I have to go.”

“Go where?”

“Out. Let me out.” Stiles tried to grab the handle again, but he couldn’t. Turning abruptly, he headed for the window, but was met with the same result. Letting out another frustrated growl, he rounded on Derek, eyes bright blue. “You can’t keep me in here. I have to get out!”

“Stiles, what’s going on?” Derek demanded, both hands out in a calming fashion. “Where do you have to go?”

“Just—out!” Stiles dug both hands through his hair, tugging harshly. “I have to get out of here! You can’t keep me here!”

“What’s going on?” John’s groggy voice demanded, opening the bedroom door.

“Dad!” Stiles raced to the door, almost knocking Derek over. “Dad, let me out! Let me out now!”

“Okay, calm down.” The sheriff started to bend down but Derek snarled and grabbed Stiles’ arm, wrenching him back.

“John, do not break the mountain ash circle.”

“No, do it!” Stiles insisted, shoving at Derek hard to make him let go. He didn’t. “Dad, let me out. I have to get out, I have to go!”

Thankfully, the sheriff recognized something was wrong, still bent down but not making any move to break the line. His eyes shifted to Derek, who wrenched Stiles around so he was staring at him.

He remembered this feeling. The itchiness, the anxiousness. It had happened before, and that same night, feral Stiles had been clawing to get out. It wasn’t a coincidence it had happened again.

“Stiles!”

“Let me go! Let me out! I have to get out!”

“Stiles!” Derek grabbed his face in both hands, pressing their foreheads together even as Stiles shoved and elbowed at Derek’s chest, trying to get him to let go. “Stiles, listen to me. Listen! You’re okay. You’re here, and you’re okay. You’re not going anywhere, do you hear me?”

“No, I—”

“Hey, look at me. Listen to my voice. I’m not letting you go, understand? I’m not letting you go anywhere. You belong here. You are staying here. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. You’re okay here. You’re safe. Everything is okay. Just breathe, and focus on me.”

Stiles had stopped trying to push him away, and the more Derek spoke, the faster his breathing came, fingers clenched tightly around Derek’s bare shoulders, holding onto him for dear life. The hands that had previously been pushing him away were now clutching to him desperately.

“Don’t let them take me,” he insisted, voice shattered and fear rolling off him in waves. “Derek, I don’t want to go! I don’t want to go, don’t let them take me!”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Derek promised, the itch under his skin driving him crazy, but he just focussed on Stiles. “You’re staying here. With me. Your dad’s not letting you out. You’re staying with me. Just breathe, it’s okay.”

Derek jumped slightly when Stiles shifted, because he hadn’t been expecting it. His arms wrapped around his neck, yanking him closer and hugging him for dear life, harsh, laboured breaths hot and wet against Derek’s neck. Stiles’ heart was going a mile a minute, and Derek couldn’t do anything but just hold him, hugging him back just as tightly.

After a few moments, John stepped over the line and moved up to them, one hand spreading across Stiles’ back, rubbing it gently.

“You’re okay, son. You’re okay. We’ve got you.” He kissed the crown on Stiles’ head. “We’ve got you.”

Derek didn’t say anything more, letting John take over. He could feel the itch beginning to dissipate, and as it did, the tenseness in Stiles’ muscles began to ease.

This didn’t bode well, because Derek was fairly certain what had just happened wasn’t because Stiles had woken up and had a change of heart about where he’d been.

He was starting to think he understood how Stiles had disappeared three years ago.


Stiles didn’t go back to sleep, not that Derek blamed him. He and John stayed with him in the room, but Stiles wouldn’t speak to them. He just sat on the bed, gritting his teeth whenever they asked him questions. It was strange though, because Derek noticed his face turning red, sweat pouring down it like he was straining himself.

They ended up giving up asking him questions, and both of them called into work. When the sun rose and they felt more confident about Stiles’ escape attempts after hours of watching him, they headed out of the room and down to the kitchen. Derek noticed the sheriff grab some mountain ash and he methodically put a line of it along all the windows and doors that led out of the house.

Stiles actually seemed to relax at that, like he’d been hoping for him to do that. Derek just finished making pancakes, not really knowing what else to do. When he set the plate down in front of Stiles, the other man grabbed his wrist before he could pull it away, staring at him intently.

“I don’t want to go,” he said.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Derek repeated, for what felt like the millionth time, but the desperate look in Stiles’ eyes made him feel like he was missing something.

Once breakfast was eaten, Derek texted the Pack to come over. They’d mostly been ignoring the threat of Valeris, but something about last night had triggered Stiles and they needed to deal with the problem. He also called Chris and asked him to stop in, because Stiles wasn’t the only person they should be worried about. With that Supernatural fight club in existence, every Supernatural in the country was at risk. They needed to find the place and shut it down, sooner rather than later.

The sheriff ended up having to leave, something urgent coming up at work. He only agreed to it because Stiles seemed to be okay, but he grabbed Derek’s arm before he left and told him not to let Stiles out of his sight.

As if he needed to be told.

That meant that everyone had to wait until Lydia showed up before they could enter the house, since the mountain ash prevented them from crossing over the threshold. Derek was gripping Stiles’ arm tightly when the barrier was broken, but he felt comforted by the fact that Stiles was clenching his hand in the back of Derek’s shirt just as tightly. Like he was scared he’d make a break for the door.

Parrish was working and wanted to keep an eye on the sheriff, so he mentioned he wasn’t coming in the group chat. Chris hadn’t arrived yet, but he’d also said he might not be around for a while, since he was looking into something. Peter and Cora were also missing, and Derek realized he’d forgotten to text them. He did that while the others got settled, and figured they could start without them.

“We need to talk about the fight club,” Derek said when they’d all gotten themselves organized in the living room. “We already know that Valeris wants Stiles back, but it’s more than that. As long as the place exists, everyone’s at risk. All of us, and others. We need to figure out what we’re going to do.”

“I don’t think it’ll be as easy as you’re suggesting to take something like that down,” Scott insisted, shaking his head. “It’s not about the location itself, it’s about the people behind it.”

“Exactly. And we know who runs it,” Lydia said with a scoff, looking at Scott, and then Derek. “They mentioned it in the auction video. The Lautus Striga. They’re the ones who targeted Stiles, so clearly they’re the mastermind. And it sounds like they were the one who held the auction, so we need to start there.”

“First we need to figure out where the place is,” Malia insisted. “So we can murder a few people for what they’ve done.”

Derek saw Stiles shift uncomfortably in his peripheral, but he said nothing. Unfortunately, Derek was going to have to make Malia look up the word ‘tact’ in the dictionary for the millionth time.

“It’s not like the website’s going to have an address,” Jackson said with a scoff, sitting on the couch and leaning back against Ethan. “Unless Stilinski knows where they are so we can go shut them down.” He glanced at him when he said this. “Do you know where it is?”

“Yes,” Stiles said immediately.

Everyone turned to him, surprised.

“You do?” Derek asked, honestly having expected him not to know.

“That’s perfect,” Scott said, grinning. “We can figure out a plan and go take the whole operation down. Can you tell us how to get there?”

Stiles stared at him for a long moment, and Derek frowned when he saw his cheeks beginning to turn pink. Finally, he said, “No.”

It wasn’t what any of them expected.

“No?” Malia asked. “But you said you know where the place is.”

“I do know,” Stiles agreed.

“So where is it?” she asked.

Stiles gave her the same long stare he’d given Scott before finally saying, “I can’t.” He practically bit the words out.

“Can’t what?” Malia asked impatiently.

“I can’t tell you where it is.”

“Stiles,” Scott insisted, standing and moving to the chair Stiles was sitting in, bending down beside him. “There’s a lot of lives we can save. I know you’re scared, but you don’t have to go. We just need an address.”

Stiles’ face was so red that he looked like he might have heatstroke. He let out a frustrated growl, eyes turning blue and claws coming out, but he still didn’t speak for a few long seconds. Then, he bit out another response around fangs. “You don’t get it, I can’t tell you.”

Something about the way he’d said it was bothering Derek. He stared at him while Scott continued to press, trying to get him to understand.

“Stiles, you really don’t have to worry. I promise, you don’t need to come. We’re a big Pack, we can go, we’ll be safe, but you need to tell us where it is.”

“Scott, I can’t! If you—”

“This is important!” Scott pressed, a bit of frustration peeking into his tone.

The look on Stiles’ face showed he was also frustrated himself, raking an agitated hand through his hair. And slowly, Derek felt like he might understand Stiles’ silence the night before. Why he hadn’t answered any questions.

When Scott opened his mouth to insist again, Derek moved over to them and motioned him back. Scott looked offended, but Stiles had already turned his attention to Derek, towering over him. Clearly annoyed, Scott sat back on his heels and watched them.

Derek was eying Stiles, his assumptions about how he’d gone missing resurfacing. He thought about the night before, about how Stiles had reacted, about how much he’d been sweating as they asked him questions, like he was straining, pushing. Like he was trying to speak, but no words were coming.

How he kept repeating ‘I don’t want to go’ when he’d originally been saying ‘I have to go.’

What he said now. That he couldn’t. Not that he didn’t want to, he couldn’t.

The differences in word choice were subtle, but Derek knew Stiles very, very well.

“You can’t,” Derek said slowly, watching Stiles.

“No, I can’t,” Stiles agreed, still sounding frustrated.

Derek bent down slightly so they were at eye level, watching his expression closely. “Not you won’t. You can’t.”

Stiles looked startled, shifting back to human, eyes returning to their soft amber colour while he stared at Derek before hastily saying, “Yes—yes! Yes!” He looked like Derek had just cured him of all that ailed him with those five words.

“What’s the difference?” Scott asked, annoyed. He clearly didn’t understand, but Lydia did. And based on Mason’s sharp exhale, so did he.

“Oh my God,” Lydia said softly.

Derek didn’t look away from Stiles. “Everyone thought it was magic that took you. Because you were here, and then suddenly you weren’t. You literally cannot tell us, can you? It’s not that you don’t want to, it’s that you can’t.”

“Exactly!” Stiles reached out, gripping the front of Derek’s shirt with both hands. “Yes!”

“Wait, so this is magic?” Scott asked uncertainly. “A Witch did this?”

“Lautus Striga can translate into many things, but it can mean ‘Grand Witch’ in some translations,” Lydia explained. “More than a title, probably literal.”

Stiles looked so relieved Derek thought he might cry. It had him wondering if maybe Stiles couldn’t talk about his time there. Maybe it wasn’t that he was keeping things bottled up. Maybe it was that he physically couldn’t talk about it. Maybe some things had been forced down.

“You know where it is, don’t you?” Derek asked him. “You know where it is, you just can’t tell us where it is.”

“Yes.”

“Can you take us there?” Scott asked.

Derek had never seen someone’s face go from red to white before, but that was exactly what happened. All the blood drained from Stiles’ face so fast he probably blacked out for half a second. He turned to look at Scott, fingers tightening in Derek’s shirt, as if ready to hang onto him for dear life if Scott tried to drag him to the door.

“I’m not going back there. I’m not! I’m not going back!”

“No one is making you go anywhere,” Derek said sharply, gripping Stiles’ shoulders and forcing his attention back to him. “Okay? No one is going to make you go back.”

“Well now what?” Jackson asked impatiently. “Stilinski’s going to have a meltdown if he has to bring us there, but he can’t tell us where it is. Stalemate.”

“I just don’t get why you’d bother to cast a spell that stops someone from disclosing the location, but doesn’t stop them from going to it.” Liam shrugged, frowning. “I mean, isn’t that the same thing?”

“It’s actually pretty smart,” Lydia insisted, seeming annoyed people around her were so incompetent. “If you have a prisoner who escapes, but can only bring reinforcements by going back, then you know they’re coming and you get the escapee and a new set of toys. Realistically, this is the better option. Stiles goes back with a small army, and they get a whole new set of Supernaturals to auction off.”

“How are they supposed to know when he comes back? Could be tomorrow, could be next year.” Liam shrugged. “Still dumb.”

But it wasn’t dumb, was it? Because they knew where Stiles was. Derek was willing to bet that the Witch after him had been using magic the night before to lure him out of the house. While entirely likely that she knew he’d come home, Stiles had been feral. He’d been feral when he’d shown up in the woods, so no one had any guarantee he had any recollection of where ‘home’ even was.

And yet, there was that night where feral Stiles had been clawing to escape. And Valeris and his Hunters had shown up, and the ones who’d been sneaking into town behind the Pack’s back had known exactly where Stiles was, when there was no reason for them to know about Derek’s loft. And last night, the Witch knew Stiles was back at the house and no longer in the loft.

“You have a tracking device, don’t you?”

Stiles stared up at Derek helplessly, and it explained so much. Why he wouldn’t go anywhere alone. Why he liked being in the garage, with people who wouldn’t suffocate him, but still with people. Why he felt uncomfortable being home alone with his father. Hell, he’d been the one to ask the sheriff to nail his window shut.

They were tracking him, but Stiles couldn’t tell them that!

“Shit,” Scott hissed when it became clear Derek was right. “I’ll call mom. She can get it out.”

“Not going to help if we don’t know where it is,” Lydia insisted, moving off the couch and taking Scott’s place beside Stiles since the Alpha had stood to call his mother. “You can’t tell us where it is, and you can’t tell us you even have it, but what about this?” She lifted one hand, pointed at his wrist, and said, “Is there something foreign under your skin here?”

“No.” Stiles seemed startled to have answered and Lydia preened.

She turned to give Derek a triumphant look. “Magic is ridiculous. There’s always a loophole.” She pointed to another spot and asked the same question.

It was the slowest, and most frustrating game in the world. Lydia pointed at different spots over and over again, covering more ground but Stiles always said no. She tried his neck, behind his ears, his wrists, his collarbone, his shoulder blades, everywhere that made sense for a tracker to be. Eventually, she went to his ankles, working her way up, and it was clear Stiles was getting as frustrated as she was.

Melissa had arrived by then, Scott filling her in to what they were doing since she’d only been told Stiles had a tracking device somewhere beneath his skin.

After she got to his knees, he stood up and said, “No. There’s nothing foreign there. There was a lot of pain. I had to be held down to a table, face-down.”

Lydia seemed startled, but Derek understood. He moved behind Stiles while Lydia stared up at him, and pressed his fingers at the top of Stiles’ spine.

“Is there something foreign under your skin here?”

“No,” Stiles said, but he sounded less annoyed, so they were on the right track.

Derek moved one vertebrae down, and asked the question again. Stiles’ answer was frustrated when he went down one more, so switching tracks, Derek moved his fingers to the base of his spine, and only got two words out before Stiles answered.

“Is there—”

“Yes! There is!”

Melissa moved to join Derek, looking at where he was touching, and then pulled up Stiles’ shirt, feeling around the area.

“I can feel it,” she said, pressing down on one spot. “It’s right there. The problem now is how we get it out.”

“You cut it out,” Malia said in a very ‘duh’ sort of way.

“Thank you, Malia, I’m well aware of that.” She straightened and gave her a look. “My point is, how do I perform surgery on someone with super-healing?”

Silence.

“Wolfsbane?” Kira offered hesitantly.

“Perhaps something less life threatening.”

They all jumped and whipped towards the door. It seemed as if Peter had arrived, but he couldn’t enter. He probably hadn’t knocked specifically so he could have a grand entrance, the asshole.

Lydia moved to the door and pulled it open, but didn’t break the mountain ash barrier to let him in. He just offered her a smile, looking pleased with himself, and turned to Scott.

“There’s one thing that heals more slowly than others.”

Derek looked down at Scott, as well, realizing what Peter meant.

“Alpha.” Peter looked positively gleeful.

Stiles instantly stiffened.

Derek didn’t blame him. After what he’d been through, it was natural he’d be hesitant to let another Werewolf dig claws into him, even if that Werewolf happened to be his best friend.

“He’s not wrong,” Ethan offered hesitantly. “If Scott were to use his claws instead of a scalpel, it would keep the wound open long enough for Melissa to get the tracking device out.”

It was clear when Derek turned to Stiles that he was not okay with this plan, but he said nothing. He just stared back at Derek, like a part of him wanted Derek to stop what was coming, but also recognized there were very few options. While wolfsbane would work, it also posed a risk. If they made a mistake, it could end up killing him. So even though he was uncomfortable with having the claws of an Alpha on him, he kept his mouth shut.

“All right, everyone out,” Melissa said, moving to the door and motioning for Peter to shoo. “He doesn’t need an audience, so all of you—go kill some deer or something.”

“Deer are quite tasty, I must admit,” Peter said pleasantly while Melissa broke the barrier.

“Deer is my favourite,” Malia agreed, getting to her feet.

They all filed out of the house, Lydia telling them they would reconvene later. When Derek went to leave, Stiles’ hand was back in his shirt, tugging hard. He took that for the silent request it was, and when Melissa motioned for him to go, Derek just tilted his head slightly until she noticed the arm moving around behind his back, since Stiles was behind him.

She said nothing and just closed the barrier before shutting the door.

“I need light,” she said, looking around, then motioned the coffee table. “Can you stretch out there? Take your shirt off.”

“Can we call my dad?” Stiles asked, voice even, but words betraying his fear.

“I’ll do it,” Derek said. He started to try and move away to do just that, but Stiles wouldn’t let go of his shirt. It occurred to him that maybe Stiles felt more comfortable having Derek between him and Scott. A weird thought, but he didn’t dwell on it. He just pulled the phone from his pocket while they all stood in the living room and called the station. It was awkward, having them all watch him while he made the call, but he couldn’t exactly pry Stiles’ hand off his shirt.

“Sheriff’s Department, this is Stilinski.”

“Hey John, it’s Derek.”

“What happened? What happened, is he okay?!”

Derek didn’t even have time to inhale before the sheriff was freaking out and he hastily said, “He’s fine! John, he’s fine! He’s right here, he’s okay.”

He allowed the man a few laboured breaths, clearly trying to calm himself down. When Derek was sure the sheriff wasn’t going to have a heart attack, he continued.

“Stiles has a tracking device. We need to cut it out. He wants you to come home before we do.”

“I’ll be right there. Don’t do anything until I’m there.”

He hung up before waiting for Derek’s confirmation. Putting his phone back in his pocket, he turned to the only human in the room and nodded.

“He’s coming.”

She nodded, and then got to her knees beside the coffee table, opening a small kit she’d brought with her. She didn’t ask Stiles to take his shirt off again, figuring he would once his dad arrived, but she got what she needed ready, including a sealed scalpel, even though she probably wouldn’t need to use it.

Leaving to wash her hands, Derek almost wanted to tell her not to bother, considering Stiles couldn’t get sick or infected, but he figured it was the nurse in her. When she returned, she pulled on nitrile gloves, and then waited.

The sheriff was back within minutes, clearly having cut on his siren to reach the house faster. He parked outside and hurried to the door, throwing it open urgently and moving into the living room.

Stiles relaxed infinitesimally, which was comforting for Derek, because he was starting to trust the people around him. The sheriff moved to hug him, and while Stiles still tensed, he relaxed much faster, hugging his father back and finally releasing Derek.

“I’m right here. You’re gonna be okay.” John kissed the crown of his head, pulled back to pat his cheek, and then took a step back.

Stiles lowered his gaze when he took off his shirt, and they all dutifully didn’t react to the mess of scars on his skin. He clenched the shirt tightly in both hands for a few seconds, then finally released his grip and dropped it on the couch. Moving to lie down on the coffee table, Derek almost asked why they didn’t use the couch, but figured Melissa had her reasons.

The sheriff sat down on the edge of a cushion, reaching out to grab at one of Stiles’ hands. Derek lingered on Stiles’ other side, but didn’t touch him. Melissa’s voice was soft when she spoke to Scott, wiping disinfectant on the base of Stiles’ spine and then motioning where she needed him to cut.

The second Scott’s claw was pressed to Stiles’ skin, a low, threatening sound escaped him. Derek glanced up at the sheriff, who was staring right back at him. Scott wisely didn’t move.

“Stiles,” Derek said, slowly reaching out to press one hand on his shoulder, holding him down, and grabbing at Stiles’ hand with his other. “It’s just Scott.”

“No one’s gonna hurt you, son.” The sheriff had also moved to press his free hand to Stiles’ other shoulder. He probably couldn’t keep him down if Stiles really wanted to get up, but hopefully Derek could.

“I’ll make it quick,” Scott promised.

He glanced at his mother before pressing his claw into Stiles’ skin. Another loud snarl left Stiles, but he just tightened his grip on his father and Derek’s hands, and true to his word, Scott was quick. He made the cut exactly as his mother asked, and then retreated quickly. While the wound would heal more slowly, it wasn’t like something this shallow would take hours to heal. Melissa had minutes, if she was lucky.

She moved in quickly, pulling gently at the skin and using splinter forceps to try and dig the tracking device out. Stiles’ shoulders were shifting, like he was testing the strength of his captors, and Derek bent down a bit so Stiles could see him out of the corner of his eye.

“You’re okay, Stiles. She’s just looking for the tracker. It’ll be over quickly. You’re okay.”

He could see John wincing with how hard Stiles was gripping his hand, but he said nothing. Derek couldn’t blame Stiles for his worry and defensiveness. He’d spent three years fighting Supernatural beings, he’d associated pain with his captivity. It was normal he was reacting badly to something like this.

“I’ve got it,” Melissa said, frowning slightly. “I’ve got it.”

Stiles let out a snarl, snapping his teeth when she pulled it free. He bucked, wanting to be let go, and Scott grabbed Melissa, yanking her to her feet and moving her away from Stiles. Derek and the sheriff let him go, as well, but Derek shifted around to stand in front of John, just in case.

Rolling to his feet, Stiles took a few quick steps back from them, angling himself so he had a corner at his back. His eyes were blue and his fists were clenched, but he didn’t look like he was going to attack them. Melissa had both hands raised, one of them still holding the splinter forceps, which were bloody and pinching a small pill-shaped object.

“Sorry,” Stiles said after a long moment. “Thank you.”

“It’s okay, sweetie.” Melissa offered him a small smile, then shifted her gaze to the tracker. “The question now is, what do we do with this?”


As it turned out, Kira solved their problem. She was heading back to her parents’ place, insisting her presence was no longer needed. She’d come back for Stiles, but he had enough people around who loved and cared about him, and she wanted to help by not suffocating him.

She agreed to take the tracking device, making it appear as if Stiles was heading out of State. Once she arrived home, she was going to mail it to England, where Jackson and Ethan were. They weren’t heading back yet, but by the time Kira got home, they would be on their way and it would take a while for the mail to reach their place. Once it arrived there, they were going to discuss the next course of action. Either they would continue to mail it around until the place was taken down, or they would destroy it. For now, they just didn’t want anyone to know they’d removed it.

Kira came by to say goodbye to Stiles, and was gone within hours, taking the tracking device with her. Nobody was comfortable with it, considering she would have no backup if someone came at her, but she promised she’d text Lydia every couple of hours to confirm she was okay, and she’d let them all know once she mailed the item to England.

After her departure, Stiles went back out with Peter to get some more training, and Derek headed to the garage for some distractions. Chuck was there, a solid pillar of strength that Derek could lean on, and he hated having to use him but he needed someone to help keep him together so that he, in turn, could stop Stiles from falling apart.

Two nights later, Kira confirmed the tracking device was headed for England, and Lydia sat down with Stiles at the Stilinski kitchen table to try and figure out how to get a location out of him that would circumvent the spell cast on him.

It was slow going at first, but then Lydia realized she could ask him if he’d been in specific States the past few years, and when it became clear he could answer those with yes or no, she started narrowing it down to city, and eventually streets.

They couldn’t get any more specific than that, but they had a cross-street, which meant they would be able to find the location fairly easily once they got there. Of course, now there was the problem of who would be going and what, exactly, they were going to do to take the place down.

But there was one thing that bothered Derek a fair bit. He kept remembering every reaction Stiles had had the nights where he’d tried to leave, to go where he was being called—likely with magic—but he also kept thinking about the itchy feeling that preceded Stiles’ reaction. Derek physically felt the magic sliding over him on its way to Stiles, and it bothered him enough that during a lunch break, instead of going to grab food with Lloyd at the diner, he headed to the clinic to see Deaton.

There was a woman with her daughter sitting in the waiting room, a parakeet in a cage on the little girl’s lap. The woman’s husband often used the garage’s services, so when she smiled at him, obviously recognizing him, he managed a smile back before heading to the front counter. He had to wait for Deaton to come out, since the swinging door was made of mountain ash, and debated going around back when he finally emerged.

He seemed startled to see Derek, but let him into the back, telling the woman and her daughter that he was finishing up with Derek’s pet as explanation for why he was being helped first.

When they reached the back room, Scott saw him pass and joined them in one of the examination rooms, where they tended to have most of their pow-wows.

Or where they used to, anyway. Things were still tense, but at least most of the Pack was sticking around. Jackson and Ethan had left right after Kira, and Cora and Isaac were still ho-humming their departures, but everyone else had pretty much settled back in as normal.

Derek was concerned about the state of his loft, since apparently more than just Cora and Peter had been staying there.

“How much do you know about Witch magic?” Derek asked, crossing his arms and leaning back against one of the counters.

“It differs greatly from Druid magic,” Deaton said with a slow nod, “but there are enough similarities that I can recognize it. Not reverse it, but at least understand its purpose.”

Derek bit back his comment about how Deaton could’ve helped them resolve a lot of problems if he’d been around Stiles enough after his human side had come back. It was hard, but he managed.

“Is there anything you can think of that would have someone calling to Stiles, where I can feel it myself, but I’m not affected?”

Deaton had a good poker face, but the slight shift in his features showed that Derek’s words had startled him. He leaned forward on the table that separated them, eying Derek with interest.

“What did it feel like?”

“Itchy,” Derek replied immediately. “Like there was something beneath my skin, clawing to get out. I felt uncomfortable, and like I had to go somewhere, but not enough that I actually stood up to do it. Both times, Stiles was trying to get past the barrier.”

Derek felt sick when he remembered the difference in words. Stiles kept saying he had to go, but that he didn’t want to. The spells cast on him were so specific, it made him feel like he was going to throw up. Stiles had no choice, when he was called, he had to go.

But he didn’t want to.

“This—is very troubling,” Deaton informed him.

Derek frowned. “Why?”

“Because Witch magic doesn’t work that way on humans. If Stiles was originally taken utilizing this magic, then he was exposed to it. Magic you’re describing only affects Supernatural creatures. It is less effective on born creatures, but they still feel it. Depending on their resolve, and if they’ve been previously exposed to it, it weakens them enough to comply. But if it affected Stiles when he was human, and it isn’t affecting you now, there is a piece to this puzzle we are missing.”

There was no way for Derek to piece all of this together. It had been years ago, and he hadn’t even been in town when Stiles was taken. It was likely Stiles himself knew the specifics, but whether or not he could tell them was another story. Not to mention it now put the rest of the Pack at risk. If the sheriff was exposed to whatever magic this was, and he was forced to obey, Stiles would do whatever the Lautus Striga asked of him just to keep his father safe.

He was still thinking this over when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He thought of ignoring it, but that would be a bad idea so he pulled it out and frowned at the name flashing on his screen.

“Yeah?”

“Hello nephew.” The strain in Peter’s voice was not comforting. “Could I trouble you to come to our old home in the Preserve as quickly as you possibly can? I know it’s a lot to ask, but your little boyfriend needs you.”

Derek was already halfway out the back door, Scott on his heels. He didn’t care that Scott was coming, he just had to get to Stiles.

“I’ll be right there.”

“Do hurry.”

Definitely not comforting.

Derek shoved his phone into his pocket and climbed behind the wheel. He barely gave Scott enough time to join him before he was peeling out of the lot and hurrying towards the Preserve. Sirens blared behind him, and he cursed, but ignored them. When he glanced in his rear-view mirror, he noticed it was Parrish and pulled his phone out again, calling him.

“You’re speeding.”

“Yeah, Jordan. Occur to you there’s a reason for that?”

“Of course, but I couldn’t ignore it. Just keep driving, people will think you’re running from the cops.”

“Just what I need,” he grumbled, hanging up and tossing his phone into the cup holder. When they made it to the Preserve, Parrish’s lights cut off and he slowed, allowing Derek to drive off into the trees where no one could see that a police officer had let him get away.

Scott said nothing beside him, but he was tense the whole way. Derek managed to get them far enough into the woods that they were almost at his old childhood home, but the area was too overgrown after years of neglect and they ended up having to climb out of the car a ways out from the house. They both ran, Derek moving much faster than Scott, and when he crashed through the trees at the end, he skid to a halt at the inhuman howl of rage that bellowed in his direction.

He only just managed to snag the back of Scott’s shirt when he exploded out of the trees, yanking him back hard enough to rip the material and have him fall on his ass beside Derek.

Peter was standing at one end of the rotted porch, blood on his clothes, but no visible wounds. Stiles was in the middle of the open space, crouched and poised to spring at the first person who came at him. He was in full Beta shift, and there were rips in his shirt, like claws had sliced into his skin.

Derek scowled over at Peter, who glared right back.

“It was an accident. He did much worse to me.” He motioned his ruined clothes and overall bloody appearance.

“What happened?” Derek demanded, releasing Scott and taking a slow step forward. Stiles’ eyes shot to him and he growled.

“It’s quite clear what happened,” Peter said, sounding annoyed. “We were sparring, trying to get his natural reflexes up. I overestimated how close he was and ended up slicing into him. After that, Stiles checked out.”

Derek could tell Peter wasn’t happy about what had happened. He was probably pissed Stiles had reverted to this beast, who’d had no problems ripping him apart. Derek didn’t worry about that right now, he just had to get Stiles back in control.

Thankfully, because Stiles had been Stiles minutes before, it would be easier to pull him back to the surface this time. But it only reinforced Derek’s belief that Stiles was one wrong move away from being feral at all times.

Holding both hands out slowly, showing Stiles he wasn’t armed and he wasn’t wolfed out, he took a few cautious steps forward. Stiles hunkered down more, growling low.

As much as it chaffed, Derek grit his teeth, lowered his stance slightly, and tilted his head to one side, baring his throat. It made every hair on his body rise, and the submission was uncomfortable, but he wasn’t going to be able to get any closer unless he showed Stiles he didn’t mean him any harm.

For a few long seconds, nothing happened. Then, finally, the growling stopped. Stiles stayed poised to strike, but he didn’t look like he was going to attack Derek anymore. It was more of a defensive stance.

Derek stayed low to the ground, trying to make himself seem a bit smaller, and inched closer to Stiles. He could hear Scott muttering curses under his breath behind him, but ignored him in favour of approaching Stiles.

“Stiles?” Derek was only about two feet away. “Can you hear me?”

He reached out one hand, but it had been the wrong thing to do. The beast roared and leapt at him. Scott shouted his name and he heard Peter curse, but Derek just landed hard on his back with Stiles on top of him, one hand against his chest and the other over his head, claws out and readying to slice into him.

On a whim, Derek twisted his head and bared his throat again, feeling extremely vulnerable given he was not going to hurt Stiles, but he also recognized he was playing a dangerous game with his own life. He kept himself relaxed beneath Stiles, hands loosely at his sides, and neck exposed for Stiles to do with as he pleased.

Stiles seemed to hesitate, blue eyes inspecting him curiously. Peter and Scott had started to approach when Stiles had jumped on Derek, but they both froze when it became clear he wasn’t about to hurt him.

Not yet, anyway.

“Stiles,” Derek said, neck still tilted towards him. “It’s okay. No one’s going to hurt you.” He slowly shifted his hands, being sure not to make any sudden movements, and rested both of them on Stiles’ thighs, which were on either side of Derek’s hips. He let his hands run smoothly up his thighs, and then back down in a calming manner.

“Derek,” Scott said nervously.

“I’m the one about to get my throat ripped out,” Derek said, trying to keep his voice calm so as not to set Stiles off. “How about you shut the fuck up and let me handle this?”

Scott wisely said nothing more and Derek kept running his hands up and down Stiles’ thighs. Eventually, the raised claws lowered, Stiles staring down at him like he recognized him, but couldn’t place him. Derek tensed when Stiles lowered his face into his neck, waiting for him to tear his throat out, but he didn’t.

He just buried his face in Derek’s neck and inhaled deeply. A low rumble started in Stiles’ chest, but this one was more pleased than threatening. Derek jumped when a tongue laved over his pulse point, Stiles nuzzling into his neck. He wasn’t exactly happy to have a feral Werewolf’s teeth that close to his neck, but this was promising. He just kept rubbing Stiles’ thighs, listening to him breathe against his throat.

After what felt like an eternity, the breathing became more human and less animalistic. Then Stiles’ heart began to pound in his chest and his breaths came more erratically. When his hands came up to grip tightly at Derek’s arms, he knew that Stiles was back.

He knew Stiles had clawed his way back to the surface.

“You’re so fucking stupid,” Stiles said hoarsely. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

“I was thinking I wasn’t going to hurt you,” Derek said, shifting his hands from Stiles’ thighs to his back, hugging him closer. “I was thinking you’d find your way back. And you did.”

“I could’ve killed you.”

“I don’t think you would have.”

“You don’t know that!”

“I know you,” Derek countered. “Feral or not, I know you, Stiles. And you didn’t hurt me before, why would this time be different?”

Stiles exhaled sharply against his throat, and then shifted so he could sit up. He was slow getting to his feet, but he eventually got there and Derek pushed himself up as well. Thankfully, Scott was smart enough to stay back, which was a good thing since Stiles’ control was hanging on by a literal thread.

“You okay buddy?” Scott asked uncertainly.

“Yeah.” He avoided looking at anyone, suddenly fascinated with something at his feet. “I’m good.”

“Perhaps we should return to our more... theoretical training programs,” Peter said from halfway down the porch.

“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. “Sorry,” he muttered in afterthought.

“Want to head home?” Scott asked him.

Stiles shook his head, and Derek checked his phone for the time. The guys were probably wondering where he was, though if he showed back up with Stiles, they’d probably piece it together.

“I was at work. Want to head to the shop? Chuck probably has some more mundane tasks for you to do.”

“Sure.” Stiles seemed relieved that Derek wasn’t pissed off at him. Which was ridiculous, because why on earth would he be? It wasn’t Stiles’ fault, much as he liked to believe it was.

Peter stayed behind while the others trudged out of the forest. Derek let Stiles take up the rear, since he didn’t seem keen on having someone behind him, and while it made his wolf snarl in his mind, Derek tolerated having someone dangerous following right at his back.

Stiles sat in the back seat for the ride out of the Preserve and Derek dropped Scott back off at the clinic—even though a bitter part of him wanted to make him walk, since he hadn’t been invited anyway. Once they were back at the garage, Chuck was on Derek the second he walked in.

“The fuck you been?” he demanded, eyes skirting to Stiles. “Just because you own the place doesn’t mean you can fuck off whenever you want.”

“I know, sorry. Something came up.”

“Shut up. Get back to work.”

Stiles shifted uncomfortably, but Derek just smiled a little and motioned for him to follow. “Don’t worry about Chuck, he’s not actually mad. He’s always like that.”

“He seems pretty mad.”

“What does your nose say?” Derek asked, moving back to his workbench and pulling a few files over to see what he had to get done in the afternoon.

Stiles stared at Chuck for a long while, watching him bark angrily at Lloyd, and then Jason, and then Lloyd again before disappearing into the office.

“I like him,” Stiles said honestly. “He makes me feel normal.”

“Yeah, Chuck’s good at that,” Derek agreed, just as the man came back out of the office and whistled sharply.

“Oi. Kid. Get in here, I got phones that need manning.”

For a few seconds, nobody moved. Then Stiles looked around, started when he realized Chuck was speaking to him, and motioned himself.

“Who, me?”

“Did I stutter? You stick around, you’re getting put to use. Get in here, I’ll teach you the ropes.”

“I know how to answer a phone,” Stiles insisted, heading for the office.

“Good for you, didn’t ask. Hurry up, I’m not getting any younger.”

Derek and Lloyd shared an amused look, a small laugh escaping Derek while he shook his head. He had absolutely no doubt in his mind that Stiles was going to nail the calls. Derek had been thinking about how perfect he’d be back before he’d been found. Sure, Stiles was different now, and still struggling to get himself back together, but he was stronger than he was giving himself credit for.

It was weird to realize that Stiles thought he needed others because he was scared. Derek could feel it on him, the way he relied on people. He legitimately thought he wanted others around due to fear, but Derek knew better. Stiles was using his Pack to ground him. When he’d been gripping Derek and John’s hands while being sliced into, it wasn’t because he was scared of having an Alpha cutting into his skin. It was because he was worried he was going to wolf out and attack people.

Stiles might not recognize the difference, but Derek did.

He listened in whenever Stiles answered the phone, working on a tune up for a car they’d had for a few days. It kept getting bumped down on the list because the owner was pushing back his pickup date, but he’d show up eventually so it was best to get it done now. Stiles seemed good on the phone, almost normal. He joked and laughed with people on the other end, reviewed the schedule, and always cheerfully thanked them for their patronage. It was so much like how he used to be that Derek wondered how hard he was working to sound that way.

It was evident being that ‘on’ all day had exhausted him, because when dinner rolled around, Chuck kicked him out of the office and told him to take Derek’s lazy fat ass out of his garage and grab something to eat.

Derek called back that his ass wasn’t fat, and Chuck told him to shut up and get out of his sight before he fired him. Derek just laughed and led the way out, Stiles on his heels. They went down to the diner for dinner, Derek calling the sheriff while they walked so he could meet them there.

He showed up with Parrish, and while it was clear both had heard about the mishap earlier—fuck you, Scott—neither of them said anything about it.

They went back to work afterwards, Stiles hanging out in the back room with Chuck while the man tried to work on the Mustang. He was probably getting Stiles to do the bending over and the various things Chuck himself couldn’t do anymore. Stiles seemed really relaxed while he helped out, and it made Derek think about dropping by on a day off with him so they could work on the car together.

It was half past nine when they finally went home, both of them showering and heading to bed. Things were starting to look up. They weren’t perfect, and Stiles was far from being okay, but he was getting there. Slowly but surely, he was getting there.


Derek was bent over a car with a wrench in one hand and a rag in the other when he heard the sirens approaching. He didn’t let it bother him, since the police station was close to the garage, and it was entirely likely the car would pass them by, but everyone paused when the cruiser squealed to a halt right outside the garage’s large bay doors, Derek frowning and straightening.

Parrish was out of his car so fast Derek felt like he’d blinked and the man was on him.

“Stiles is gone.”

It felt like someone had just punched Derek in the chest. “What?”

“He’s gone! He was training with Peter, and then froze, said he had to go, and ran off. Peter tried to chase after him, but he lost him in the Preserve.”

Derek threw what he was holding down and bolted for his car, Parrish hurrying back to the cruiser. He climbed behind the wheel and shot out of the lot so fast he almost clipped Parrish. He floored it to the Preserve, the cruiser right on his ass with the sirens blaring, and when he reached the edge of where the Hale house used to sit, he saw a number of other cars already there.

He patted his pocket for his phone, wondering why he hadn’t been told immediately, but found his pocket empty. He couldn’t remember where his phone was, and right now, he didn’t fucking care.

Climbing out, he and Parrish hurried through the trees the rest of the way to the house, and found the Pack there arguing with each other. The sheriff looked like he was falling apart at the seams, standing on the porch and gripping the railing so tightly his fingers were turning white. Melissa was beside him, looking concerned but fierce. Derek understood. She had to keep it together for him.

“What happened?” Derek demanded, moving forward with Parrish while the others argued.

Scott had Peter by the front of the shirt, wolfed out and furious while snarling in his uncle’s face.

“Peter let them take him!”

“I didn’t let anyone take him,” Peter snapped back. He was only partially wolfed out, but it was clear that he was going to lose it on Scott soon if he didn’t let him go. “They called to him, and he fled. He’s remarkably fast. I tried to keep up, but I lost his trail.”

“We never should’ve left him alone with you,” Scott hissed angrily. “We never should’ve trusted you with him!”

“Enough!” Derek grabbed at Scott and forced him away from Peter. Scott ripped the other man’s shirt, since he was still holding onto him, but Derek managed to get them separated. “I don’t care whose fault it is, or what blame game you want to play. They took Stiles, and we need to get him back. That’s all that matters. That’s the only thing that matters!”

“He’s gonna go feral again,” Scott snapped. “He’s going to lose control again! We might never get him back! He could die this time!”

“Hey!” Derek grabbed the front of Scott’s shirt with one hand and wrenched him forward so they were nose to nose. “You need to stow that. The more you panic, the further away he gets. Are you an Alpha or aren’t you?” He shoved Scott back and he stumbled a few steps, looking stunned. “Stiles is gone, but we can’t focus on where he went and on what we don’t know. We can only focus on what we do know. Which is what?”

“There’s a Witch involved,” Lydia said softly.

“Right. And we have a vague idea of where the fight club is,” Derek added.

“We know he’s undefeated and worth a lot to Valeris,” Lydia offered again.

“And they want him feral.” Malia shrugged. “Easier to control something that can’t think for itself.”

“They’re cruel,” Peter said dryly, as if that needed to be stated.

Derek turned to him at the words, a thought occurring to him. The second it did, he fucking hated it. But he knew it was their best shot at getting Stiles back and taking down the ring.

“Shit.” He rubbed at his mouth, and the look the others gave him made him realize they knew he had an idea.

“What are you thinking?” Lydia demanded.

“They’re cruel.” Derek pointed at Peter, repeating his words, and looking at Scott. “They take enjoyment out of watching others suffer. Can you imagine how much enjoyment they would get if they threw Stiles into a cage match against a friend?”

No one spoke for a long moment. Surprisingly, it was the least expected party who did.

“What?” John asked hoarsely.

“We know where they are, but they don’t know that we know that. If I move slowly, take at least a few days to reach the place, they’ll think I followed his scent. They’ll take me in, and the ‘Grand Witch’ is going to know who I am. They’re going to rush to have a match, pitting me against Stiles, knowing full well what that would do to his psyche, and mine.”

“No,” John said, pulling away from the railing, looking horrified. “No! Derek, that’s-that’s insane! He could kill you!”

“But he won’t,” Derek insisted. “Because while I’m making my way there, the rest of you are going to figure out how we’re going to take them down.” He turned to Scott. “Whatever happened to Stiles that had him affected by the magic touched all of you. I’m the only one who isn’t affected, so I’m the only one who can do this. I’m the only one Stiles will hold back for. So I’m doing this, and the rest of you better damn well figure a way to get us both out, because if I get killed by the love of my life, I’m going to be really, really, really fucking pissed off!”


Derek honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d ever felt this awful. Every breath was like shards of broken glass tearing at his lungs. His bones ached as if they were all broken and couldn’t heal. His muscles had that deep rooted pain in them that didn’t seem to dissipate no matter how long he waited.

He still had strength left in him. He knew that he could still fight, that he could rip apart the people on either side of him, dragging his limp form down a dark corridor, feet and knees sliding easily along the hard ground. He knew he could take them out, but that wasn’t the plan.

If they knew how strong he was, they had reasons to work harder at breaking him, and he didn’t want that. What he wanted was to be taken to the Lautus Striga so that she could see how perfect this was for her little ring. He needed her to recognize that Derek was Stiles’ friend, and rush into a match so that they could move forward with their plan.

Provided the others had thought of one. The last he’d heard was they were finalizing things, but that had been several hours ago, so he had to hope they would be quick about it. He hadn’t been lying when he said he’d be pissed beyond all reason if Stiles ended up killing him.

The being dead part would be pretty shitty, but he was more concerned about what that would do to Stiles. Stiles already blamed himself for all the people he’d hurt, Derek really didn’t want his death to be on Stiles’ conscience.

He also really didn’t want to die, despite his actions that clearly suggested otherwise.

When he was thrown roughly into a room, he groaned at the blood in his mouth from the fall, struggling to get to his hands and knees. Well, pretending to struggle more than he truly felt. He was in pain, but it wasn’t anything he hadn’t experienced before.

The sharp exhale he heard when someone slammed their foot into the middle of his back and forced him back down suggested Stiles was close enough to see him. He couldn’t smell him, though, so he wasn’t sure where he might be.

The black hood on his head was wrenched off and he winced at the bright lights on him, realizing he was in the same mirrored room Stiles had been in during the auction. He couldn’t hear that many people behind the glass, so he felt like this wasn’t an auction. This was different.

Which was exactly what they were banking on.

“My, my,” a voice he didn’t recognize said over the speakers in the room. “Aren’t you a treat. I understand why you weren’t affected by my magic before. Born a monster, and I don’t recall seeing you when I sent to Aswang to Beacon Hills.”

“Where’s Stiles?” Derek bit out, the foot on his back stomping harder. He grunted, but didn’t react otherwise. They hadn’t used nearly enough wolfsbane on him, which was their mistake if he decided to tear through the place to get to Stiles.

“Where indeed. Oh Romulus, he brought us such a pretty toy, didn’t he?”

“Where is he?” Derek snarled.

The door behind him opened but Derek couldn’t turn to look. He just lay there while someone was forced into the room. Feet were in his peripheral, and then Stiles grunted when he was pushed to his knees, one hand in his hair and a wolfsbane laced knife at his throat. He was breathing hard, hands curled into fists, and Derek could see how much he was struggling to maintain control. How hard it was for him not to slip back into the feral beast he’d been not long ago.

“Hello Romulus. It’s been a while. Glad to see Valeris got his pet back.”

“Thank you, Lautus Striga.”

Derek jerked roughly and growled when he heard the voice. James Valeris was right there. Right in the room with him. He could jump up and rip out the man’s throat for everything he’d done to Stiles. And he wanted to, so badly. He wanted to do it, but he didn’t trust his odds. He didn’t know how many of them there were, but they probably had weapons to take down Werewolves. Getting killed by Hunters wasn’t part of the plan.

“I believe we’ve been given a rare opportunity, wouldn’t you say, Valeris?”

“You mean the monster?” Derek assumed Valeris was referring to him.

“Yes. Intriguing notion, don’t you think?”

“I think he’s more trouble than he’s worth. He was captured too easily to be worth anything. Might as well get rid of him now.”

Derek heard a gun cock and something pressed against the base of his skull.

“No, no!” Stiles forced out, voice sounding wrong to Derek’s ears. He was breathing hard, head tilted back to an almost impossible angle, and fists clenched in his jeans. “Please. Please. Don’t.”

“Don’t?” Valeris asked, sounding amused. “Since when do you have a say in what happens, pet?”

“Please,” Stiles said again, grunting when his head was wrenched back a degree further, knife biting into his skin. “Please. I’ll do anything. Anything you want. Please just don’t.”

“Did you hear him, Valeris? Anything, he said. Think of the possibilities. Think of what you can achieve with Romulus, if only the monster is spared.”

It occurred to Derek that the woman behind the mirror didn’t have full control. Perhaps Derek, as the ‘thief’ who’d taken Stiles, was at Valeris’ mercy. The owner of the pet that was stolen had the right to punish the person who’d taken him. It was just a theory, but the Witch didn’t sound like she cared much either way.

“She’s right,” the man holding the gun to Derek’s head said. It sounded like one of the two men who’d been with Valeris when they’d come for Stiles all those weeks ago. “We stand to gain more keeping him alive.”

Valeris himself didn’t sound convinced. He hummed once, Stiles letting out a sharp sound when his head was pulled back yet again. Derek actually worried he might break his neck.

“Tell me, pet. What is he to you? This monster you beg for me to spare.”

Stiles was breathing hard, and for a long moment, Derek thought he wasn’t going to answer. When Valeris hummed again and told the guy behind Derek to shoot him, Stiles panicked.

“Wait, wait! Please wait!”

“I asked you a question. You disobeyed. This is your punishment.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please, Master, I’m sorry. Please just don’t hurt him. He’s-he has nothing to do with this.”

“That’s not what I asked. I asked what he is to you. This is your last chance to answer honestly, or the last thing you’ll see of him is his brains on the floor. Maybe I’ll even make you clean up the mess he’ll leave behind when he goes.”

Stiles’ heart was slamming so hard in his chest, it was painful to listen to. Derek suddenly felt like his presence was a bad idea. Maybe it would’ve been better if someone else had come instead of him, because Stiles was losing his composure. That wasn’t Derek’s intention, he just needed to be sure whoever ended up with Stiles in that cage was someone the feral beast wouldn’t kill.

Not that Derek had any guarantee, but he was hopeful.

“Who. Is. He?” Valeris repeated darkly.

Stiles inhaled sharply, then forced the words out. “He’s everything.”

That... was not what Derek was expecting. Evidently, it wasn’t what anyone else was expecting, either.

“He’s everything. Please, I can’t... I need him. I need him. He means everything to me.”

“Are you in love with him?” Valeris sounded disgusted. “He’s a man. And a monster. But I suppose, you’re a monster too, aren’t you?”

He shoved Stiles forward, blade slicing into his neck shallowly. Stiles fell onto his hands and knees, avoiding looking at Derek, hands curling into fists.

“Disgusting.”

“Think of the publicity,” the woman on the other side of the mirror said. “Romulus, undefeated champion, fighting the man who means everything to him. What will win out in a battle to the death? Survival, or love?”

Stiles’ head shot up. “What? No! You said—”

Valeris kicked him in the face. Derek didn’t know what his boots were made of, but whatever it was clearly hurt Werewolves, because Stiles’s face split open and he spat blood, coughing hard.

“How soon can we organize the fight?”

“Tomorrow evening, at the latest. Earlier, if everyone cooperates.”

“Fine. I’ll take my pet home. You can keep the born atrocity.”

“Wait.” Stiles’ arm was grabbed and he was wrenched to his feet. “Wait! You can’t! Derek!”

The door slammed behind him. Derek listened and heard Stiles struggling, heard him snarl. Something happened that he couldn’t make out, glass shattering and a roar, but then there was a shot and Derek’s blood ran cold. He only relaxed when he heard a howl of agony, because Stiles was still alive, and that was the important thing.

For a long moment, there was silence, save for the man still digging his foot into Derek’s back. It wasn’t the same one who’d been holding the gun to his head, that man had left with Valeris.

After what seemed an eternity, the door behind him opened again, and heels clicked across the floor. A woman bent down beside Derek, eying him with interest.

“Hello Derek Hale.”

He just growled, letting his eyes bleed blue.

“That’s quite enough, unless you’d like another large dose of wolfsbane. But I’d rather not tip the scales too far in Valeris’ favour. You see, I don’t like it when things become predictable. Makes it boring, it’s bad for business. Of course, everyone loves Romulus, he’s quite pretty, and most saw him in his prime, as a human, back when he was still winning against monsters twice as terrifying as you. But this? Oh, this is going to be a story for the ages. Romulus, forced to fight the man who means everything to him. Forced to choose between dying himself, or killing the love of his life. Poetic, don’t you think?”

“What makes you think I’m going to lay a hand on him?” Derek demanded.

“Because, Mr. Hale. If one of you doesn’t fall by the end of the match, you both will.” Her eyes hardened. “Nobody likes a weak champion. If Romulus refuses to fight, and you refuse to fight, I suppose we have no use for either of you. Either you kill him, or he kills you, otherwise you both die.”

“I’d rather die than touch him,” Derek hissed. “And I doubt very much he wants to live through this again. If killing us both is the endgame, it’s going to be a short match.”

The Witch let out a soft laugh. “I wonder, after three years of fighting to survive, if Romulus would agree. Why would he risk dying, when he worked so hard to survive this long? Always waiting. Always hoping someone would come and save him. Always insisting he would be found. That Derek would come for him. That Derek would save him.”

Derek’s chest clenched at the words, and he had to wonder how true they were. Evidently, she saw this in his expression, because she laughed.

“Oh, but he didn’t tell you. For an entire year, he kept insisting Derek Hale, the strongest Werewolf he knew, was going to find him. Was going to get him out. He kept biting the words at us through his bars, insisting it was only a matter of time. Imagine his hopelessness when one year turned to two. And then two to three. Imagine how angry he must’ve felt when he had to save himself. When Derek Hale didn’t come for him, like he’d been so sure he would. Are you positive the person you knew is still in there? Maybe his Master is going to beat the compassion out of him. Maybe tomorrow, when he shows up, he won’t be the same person anymore.”

Derek snarled at her, putting every ounce of venom he could into his tone.

“When I get out of here, you’re the first person I’m going to take down.”

“Oh, sweetheart.” She reached out to slap lightly at his visible cheek. “When you get out of here, it’ll be wrapped in a sheet and tossed down the garbage disposal with the rest of the trash we incinerate on a weekly basis. Enjoy the next twenty-four hours, because you’re not walking out of here alive.”


They didn’t keep him comfortable. He was fed, and allowed to sleep, but they’d shoved him in a cage that was much too small for him, in the same room as countless other beasts and monsters that went bump in the night. A majority of them were still aggressive, snarling and biting out insults, swiping at the Hunters that patrolled in front of their cages.

Some of them were quiet, looked almost broken, sitting behind their bars waiting to die. Derek could hear the area above them beginning to fill up, people joking and laughing, ready to enjoy a good show. He didn’t know how they’d marketed the fight, but people sounded excited. No doubt they were glad to have Romulus back after such a long absence. He was a crowd favourite, after all.

Derek really hoped the rest of the Pack was coming. He’d left his phone with his Camaro just over the State border, because he wasn’t willing to risk anyone finding it and knowing their plans. Provided their plans were panning out.

He didn’t care so much what happened to him. If he had to, he’d take himself out, if only so Stiles could live long enough to be rescued. This wasn’t like last time. They knew how to get him back this time, and even if Derek was dead, they’d save Stiles.

They had to.

If they didn’t, Derek was going to haunt them from the grave.

He knew they were getting closer to the fight when the noise levels increased. A few minutes later, someone came to collect him carrying a rifle and chains. They got the chains on his wrists before opening the cage door, and he could feel the wolfsbane on them biting into his skin. There were lines of mountain ash on the floor, forcing Derek in a specific direction, the Hunters following on either side just outside the line so he couldn’t hurt them. They led him to a room, which was strange, but he understood when he walked in.

Stiles was there, sitting in the corner, head buried in his knees and fingers clenched in his hair. The door shut behind Derek and he moved quickly to his side, bending down in front of him and touching his arm lightly.

“Stiles.”

“Why did you come here?” Stiles asked, misery laced in every word. “Why did you do this to me?”

“I wasn’t going to leave you here,” Derek insisted.

“And this is better?” Stiles demanded, looking up at him, a mixture of fury and agony on his face. “Forcing me into the ring with you is better?! At least if you’d left me here, I’d have known dad was okay. They would’ve left the rest of you alone. They only wanted me back, I should’ve just come back! I shouldn’t have resisted, I should’ve listened. The Master was calling, and I only made it worse by refusing to obey.”

“Hey,” Derek said harshly, shifting so he could grab the back of Stiles’ neck. It was awkward with the cuffs still linking his wrists together, but he managed it. “Listen to me. He is not your Master. He does not own you. I don’t care what happens when we get out there. I don’t care if you have to kill me to survive, you do it, understand? We lost you once and it almost destroyed us all. I won’t let them take you a second time. Not again. You belong to me, understand? You are part of my Pack, and I am not letting these people take you. So if you have to kill me to survive, you do it, understand?”

“I can’t,” Stiles insisted, gripping the front of Derek’s shirt in both hands. “Derek, I fucking can’t!”

“You can’t?” he asked. “Or you won’t?”

Stiles looked like he’d been slapped. He just stared at Derek, horrified, and shook his head. “No. No!”

“Stiles, you can. If you have to, you do it. Can’t and won’t are two different things, we’ve already spoken about that. We’ve already proved that. If you have to, you take me down, understand? I’m not going to fight you.”

“There has to be a way,” Stiles insisted. “There has to be a way out! Maybe-maybe we can Hunger Games them! Maybe we can make them root more for our survival than our demise!”

“This isn’t a movie, Stiles.” Derek pressed his forehead against Stiles’, closing his eyes and letting out a slow breath. “I wish we had more time. I wish I could tell you how sorry I am for everything. I’m sorry I left. I’m sorry I gave you an ultimatum. I’m sorry I didn’t come back. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you how I felt before our falling out. I’m sorry Peter turned Scott into a Werewolf. I’m sorry my family ruined your life. I’m just—sorry. I’m sorry about everything.”

Stiles’ hands in his shirt tightened, and Derek lost his balance when he was wrenched forward. Stiles’ lips were on his, the kiss sloppy and urgent, but still perfect. Because it was Stiles. Because this was what Derek had wanted for years, what he’d wished he’d had since the moment Stiles had hesitated before rushing in to check on Scott back when he thought Derek was dying. This was what Derek had wanted for so, so long, and he hated that it was now, here, in this dingy room beneath the floor of a death ring where Hunters were cheering for their deaths.

But it was Stiles, so it was perfect, and he just kissed him back, wanting to savour this moment for the rest of his undoubtedly very short life.

When they pulled apart, Derek shifted his hands so he could cup Stiles’ face, brushing his thumbs across his cheekbones, foreheads still pressed together.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Stiles insisted quietly.

“You’re going to have to. For as long as we can both hold out.” He hoped Stiles understood what he meant. Until the others arrive.

The good thing about all this was that they’d had time. The Pack had thought the match would happen right away, but they’d gotten an extra day. Surely whatever was planned was in place by now. Derek could only hope.

The door behind them opened, but neither of them moved. Derek’s hands tightened on Stiles’ face, and his fists clenched even more in Derek’s shirt. It wasn’t until a Hunter came up behind Derek and jabbed a tazer into his back that they separated. He grunted, feeling all his muscles clench, electricity shooting up and down his nerve endings. When he fell onto his side, he noticed the camera in the corner. He wished he’d noticed it before, because he was pissed off the crowd had gotten a show.

It made sense, though. He doubted they made a habit of allowing contestants to hang out right before a match, but this was different. Because their favourite was going to be fighting the man he loved, and that was probably the most exciting thing in the world to these sick, rich fucks.

“Move.” Derek had a foot prodding him in the side and he grunted, the amount of electricity coursing through him much more than he was used to. They’d upped the voltage since he was last electrocuted, clearly.

Stiles was already on his feet, the other Hunter leading him towards the door. He and Derek locked gazes before he was shoved out and to the left. When Derek got to his feet, the Hunter behind him pushed at his shoulder and he snarled at him, then moved out of the room. He was forced to go right, following another path of mountain ash all the way to a door.

He only had to wait a few seconds before the Hunter opened it and shoved at him. He stumbled forward, turning to glare at the man, but keys were tossed to him and the door shut behind him again. He could hear the crowd roaring overhead. There was a short, mountain-ash path leading to an open door to the large cage he’d seen in the videos with Stiles.

The cage door on the other side was also open, but the regular door leading into the back where Stiles was likely waiting was still closed. He didn’t think that would last long.

Looking down at the keys he’d been thrown, he realized they were for the cuffs. That was comforting, at least. He’d have had a hell of a time fighting with his wrists locked together.

It took some doing getting them undone, Derek wincing at the wolfsbane burning into his skin, but they eventually fell to the ground and he rubbed at his wrists, watching them slowly heal. Not a high enough dose to cause lasting damage, he supposed.

Glancing back out towards the cage door, he let out a slow breath, knowing this was it, and hoping the others were ready.

Squaring his shoulders and cracking his neck, he walked forward until he was in the cage, the door slamming shut of its own accord behind him.

Derek looked around at the crowd while people booed him, eyes raking over all the faces for someone familiar. He caught sight of Valeris fairly quickly, baring his teeth at him, but he couldn’t see anyone else he knew. That wasn’t comforting, because he’d been expecting Chris to show up, if only to let him know the plan was proceeding with his presence alone.

He was still wearing his jeans, shirt and leather jacket, so he chucked the jacket and dropped it outside the bars, not wanting it to get ruined. Of course, it was entirely likely he would die in this ring if the others hadn’t gotten their shit together, but on the off chance he didn’t die at the hands of the love of his life, he wanted his father’s jacket to survive the fight, too.

The jeans were restrictive, which was a pain, but he just stretched and tried not to feel nervous. He wasn’t planning on hurting Stiles, but as far as he could remember, they had twenty minutes of fight time before the match was called to an end. As long as he and Stiles could put on a good show for a while, Derek would know by the nineteen minute mark if Stiles had to put him down.

He really hoped he didn’t, but things weren’t looking good right now.

There were loud announcements overhead, but Derek couldn’t make them out over the screaming crowd. The noise was deafening, and he couldn’t imagine how this must’ve been for Stiles when he’d first turned. He remembered some videos where he’d been covering his ears, but it was so much worse in person than it had been watching it. He was getting a headache, and the noise was grating on his nerves, making his gums itch.

He felt like he was standing in the cage for a long time, and he was beginning to worry about what was going on. Stiles wasn’t out yet, and while every second of time they had before the fight was a good thing, this didn’t bode well. Where the fuck was he?

The crowd was getting restless, and Derek caught sight of a clock overhead, beneath the timer. He watched it for a long while, and at the ten minute mark, he knew something was wrong. He’d been in the cage for a while before seeing the clock, so he’d probably been waiting closer to twenty, and still Stiles wasn’t there.

That didn’t bode well.

Finally, the lights outside the cage dimmed and a loud, low bass began to beat. The crowd went crazy, most of them chanting ‘Rome, Rome, Rome’ repeatedly. Some of the more dignified guests were just clapping, but a majority of them were excited for the upcoming match.

Derek watched the door across from him, waiting for it to open. Once it did, he relaxed, because it meant Stiles was okay, and he was coming.

And come he did. Very quickly. On all fours.

Derek barely had time to recognize that it was Stiles before the other man slammed right into him, sending him on his ass and landing on top of him, roaring in his face.

The other door slammed shut, trapping them both in the cage together, and as Derek struggled to keep Stiles’ claws away from his face, teeth snapping inches from his neck, he realized why it had taken him so long to come out.

Stiles was feral again. They’d spent the past twenty minutes making him lose control. They’d probably guessed Stiles and Derek weren’t going to fight seriously, and the crowd wanted a show. This was more entertaining, watching a feral beast kill someone he loved while unable to control himself.

Derek had really underestimated how sick these fuckers were.

“Stiles,” Derek forced out, twisting his head and struggling to keep him off him. “Stiles, it’s me, it’s me!”

He got one knee between them and forced Stiles off him, leaping to his feet and jerking away from claws swiped at his chest. It was such a close call that his shirt ripped, but not his skin. Derek hit the cage, and ducked when Stiles swung at him, rolling under him and moving away, trying to put some distance between them.

“Stiles!” While Derek had fully expected to end up in the cage with a feral Stiles, he’d actually been hopeful about their chances when he’d walked out of the room to a sane one. “Stiles, don’t let them do this to you!”

Derek dodged another swipe, but he wasn’t used to the size of the cage like Stiles was. He kept hitting the bars and having to dodge out of the way, narrowly missing getting clawed up. Stiles was also smart, feral or not, and he quickly noticed the pattern, so that eventually when Derek went to dodge, he got slashed right across the face. The claws narrowly missed his eyes and he stumbled away, trying to rub the blood away before it obscured his vision.

Before he managed it, Stiles tackled him around the middle, landing on him again and clamping sharp teeth right on his pulse.

Derek went very still, Stiles’ teeth digging in harder, and he made sure not to move. If he showed any kind of aggression, Stiles would rip his face away and take most of Derek’s throat with him. So he stayed motionless, trying to ignore how much it hurt, trying to ignore the blood sliding down his neck.

“Stiles,” he said, voice strained from the teeth in his throat. “Stiles, it’s me.” He shifted his hands slowly, going for the same action he had back in the Preserve. The teeth sank in further and Derek winced, the crowd going insane beyond the bars, but Derek ignored them. He let his hands fall on Stiles’ thighs and slowly ran them upwards.

The body above him froze, and Derek carefully slid his hands back down, rubbing them soothingly along his thighs. The pressure on his throat was beginning to affect his breathing, but he struggled not to panic, and just kept running his hands up and down Stiles’ legs.

Slowly, much too slowly, the teeth in his neck began to loosen until they finally retreated and Stiles pulled away, staring down at Derek with bloody lips, blue eyes confused. Derek could feel his injury healing, breathing coming back more easily, and he let one hand leave Stiles’ thigh, slowly reaching up for his face. Stiles jerked back, clearly unhappy, but Derek just paused briefly, waited for him to recognize Derek wasn’t going to hurt him, and then finished moving his hand to his cheek, brushing his thumb against his cheekbone.

“I’m right here,” Derek promised. “You’re okay. You’re going to be okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”

He slid his hand back behind Stiles’ neck and pulled him down. Stiles resisted at first, but when Derek turned to bare his throat, blood sticky on his skin, Stiles let himself be pulled down, burying his face in his neck again.

He heard him inhale deeply, and exhale shakily. He did this a few times, the crowd around them murmuring in confusion at what was going on. When Derek heard Stiles’ next inhale stutter, and felt him stiffen, he knew Stiles was back. Derek let out a slow, relieved sigh, closing his eyes, and so, so thankful Peter had triggered him like he had.

Otherwise, Derek wouldn’t have known how to bring him back.

“Derek,” he said, voice barely a whisper.

“It’s okay, I’m okay.” Derek kept Stiles’ face in his neck.

Movement out of his peripheral caught his attention and he shifted his gaze towards it. The Witch had joined Valeris by the edge of the cage, watching them both with interest. She bent down to say something to him, but he shook his head sharply, single eye locked angrily on Derek.

That didn’t matter, though, because something flashed up higher in the stands, and when Derek’s eyes shifted there, he saw someone he recognized, and smiled a little.

“Looks like the cavalry’s here,” he informed Stiles.

Stiles barely had time to say, “What?” before multiple doors slammed open and everyone was shouting.

Derek honestly didn’t know what he’d been expecting when the Pack had told him they had a plan, but it certainly wasn’t this. Realistically, it made sense to go this route, but it was still an incredibly startling surprise.

Without thinking, Derek rolled them over so he was on top of Stiles, shielding him with his body when screaming and gunfire erupted around them. Stiles’ claws bit into his arms and he was beginning to hyperventilate, hanging on to his sanity by a thread, and Derek pressed his forehead to Stiles’.

“Breathe. You’re okay. We’re gonna be okay. I need you to stay in control. Can you do that? We can’t wolf out right now. It’s very important.”

Stiles’ grip tightened, Derek feeling blood sliding along his arms, but at least Stiles’ face was still human. His eyes were blue, but he just clenched them shut, leaning up so he could bury his face in Derek’s neck, breathing him in desperately.

Something slammed into Derek’s back and he snarled, but it didn’t feel like anything to be concerned about. Just a normal bullet, which he hoped nobody had noticed, otherwise he’d have a hell of a time explaining it. It was already going to be a problem explaining away all the blood with no injuries.

One of the doors was forced open and Derek twisted to see Chris hurrying towards them, looking around urgently while holding a gun in both hands. He had a bulletproof vest on, and Derek had to wonder how he’d managed to get invited. Then again, he was the inside man, so it wasn’t like the others would’ve gotten in without him.

“Come on, we need to get you out of here.”

He ducked when a shot just barely missed him, suggesting the good guys weren’t the only ones with guns. Made sense, even if they were full of wolfsbane bullets, all the Hunters in the area had been sporting guns.

Another man raced into the cage, wearing full SWAT gear with FBI emblazoned on the front.

Really, this was the smartest call they ever could’ve made. Trying to come at the ring as a Pack wouldn’t have worked. But, just like the sheriff had threatened all those weeks ago, coming at them from a human angle was a lot easier.

And they had a contact in the FBI.

The agent who entered the cage hurried forward, gun aimed upwards while he checked their surroundings, but there was so much going on it was impossible. His voice was muffled behind a mask, but he motioned for them to hurry up and move out of the open. Then he twisted, raised his rifle, and fired at someone.

Derek found some satisfaction in hearing the scream of agony from the Witch. He hoped she was dead before the night was through, but didn’t stick around to wait and find out. He got to his feet, dragging Stiles up with him, and they hurried towards the open door, Chris and the agent covering their retreat. Derek kicked open the door on the other end, then slammed into a barrier.

“What are you doing? Go!” The agent snarled.

Chris moved forward instantly, breaking the barrier, and led the way. Derek clutched Stiles’ hand, dragging him along with him.

It was fucking pandemonium, both inside and outside the arena area. Hunters that had been guarding all the fighters were firing at agents who’d broken into the prison area. Most of the monsters in there looked human, but Derek hoped none of them attacked the agents.

Really, this was risky. This was so, so risky.

Then again, he supposed it helped that Scott’s father was a senior agent. He wondered how much he’d been told to convince him to storm the place.

Chris didn’t slow on his way to the exit, breaking mountain ash barriers hastily with one foot as he went. When they finally reached the door, the agent told them to clear the area before turning back to return to the fray.

Derek followed Chris outside, where countless vehicles with flashing lights surrounded the building. They were ushered forward hastily by police officers who were crouched behind the open doors of their cars, and once they cleared the line, paramedics were on them instantly.

“I’m fine, we’re fine,” Derek insisted, because this was bad. This was very mad.

“The blood’s not theirs, they’re okay,” Chris shot in, pushing a woman back, who looked offended at being handled in such a manner. “Save it for the ones who need it. These two are fine.”

He managed to usher them past the paramedics and towards the back of the cars. An officer was on their heels, presumably to take their statements, but someone shouted Stiles’ name and he and Derek both turned in that direction.

John practically bowled over two officers telling him to stay back and Stiles ripped his hand from Derek’s, racing to meet his father. They crashed into each other so hard, Derek was positive Stiles broke a few of the sheriff’s bones, but he didn’t seem to even notice. The older man was hugging his son so tightly, one hand buried in his hair while he sobbed into his neck.

Chris’ hand fell on Derek’s shoulder and he turned to look at him, seeing the man’s eyes on the blood on his neck.

“Close call,” Chris commented quietly.

“Yeah,” he agreed, turning back to look at Stiles and his father. “But if he did it, I wouldn’t have stopped him.”

“I’m getting too old for this shit, Derek.”

“You and me both,” Derek muttered, turning to look over his shoulder. One of the officers was still hovering, clearly waiting to see who he could corner first—it’d probably be Derek—but he just kept his gaze on the large building he’d been in.

“Aren’t you only twenty or something?”

“Hilarious,” Derek said dryly, wiping at his neck with his free hand. The blood was sticky and uncomfortable, he wanted to wash it off. “I don’t even remember what twenty feels like.”

Chris laughed and slapped him in the back a few times, squeezing tightly. “You’re gonna be the death of us all, Hale.”

“I hope not,” he muttered. “What time is it?”

“Just after one.”

“Huh.” Derek turned to stare at the building again. “It’s Wednesday.”

“That is it,” Chris agreed. “Why?”

Derek didn’t answer. He just felt like he might learn not to hate Wednesdays so much anymore.

“Stiles!”

The panicked cry had Derek’s head whipping back around, and he saw Stiles on his knees, one hand clutching his chest. He let out a sharp exhale, then looked up at Derek. For a few seconds, he said nothing, and Derek felt his stomach drop, wondering what the fuck had just happened.

But then tears formed in Stiles’ eyes, and when he spoke, he sounded so hopeful that it ached to listen to him.

“She’s gone,” he whispered. “The Lautus Striga. She’s gone.”

The spells are gone.


“Hale, you fucking asshole!”

Derek paused in the doorway of the garage, a little startled at Chuck storming over to him. He was incredibly terrifying for a human, and Derek was almost tempted to turn tail and run, but before he could decide whether or not he wanted to do that, Chuck was on him.

The man grabbed at his shoulders, wrenched him forward, and hugged him so tightly Derek was worried he was going to break a few of his own bones.

For a few seconds, Derek had no idea what to do, so it took a while for him to hug the man back.

When Chuck pulled away, he grabbed Derek’s face in both hands, staring him in the eye. “You all right? We saw the news. They said you almost died.”

“They exaggerated.” Derek offered him a smile, patting him lightly in the shoulder. “I’m fine. Few bumps and bruises, but nothing major.”

The rest of the guys had joined them, all of them staring at Derek in awe, like they were scared to touch him in case they hurt him. Which was hilarious, considering Chuck had already crushed him against his chest. A foreign feeling, but not unpleasant.

“You sure you’re okay?” Lloyd asked, giving him a once-over, as if to be sure he wasn’t sporting any injuries that meant he should be at home. “We were worried about you.”

“What happened?” Harry demanded.

Chuck turned to cuff him hard across the back of the head. “He went through something traumatic, you malfunctioning asswipe! Don’t ask stupid questions!”

“It’s okay,” Derek insisted with a small laugh. “It’s—I’m fine. Honest.”

The warmth in his chest was unexpected, but not unwelcome. He and the men in the garage had gotten close over the past few years, but he didn’t realize how much he cared about them until now. How much they all meant to each other. They were just as much his Pack as any of the others, even if it was in a different way.

Chuck almost felt like his human Alpha, always reliable, a pillar of strength, knowing what to say at every turn. And the others felt like Packmates. Sure, Alex and Jason were flaky, and Harry could be an idiot sometimes, but he still cared about them, and they still had good times together. And Lloyd. Lloyd was like a brother to him. Always mouthing off at him, calling him ‘boss’ sarcastically, even while honestly treating him like his boss. Helping him out with things he sucked at in the shop, always having his back whenever he needed him.

“Jesus, kid, are you crying?” Chuck demanded.

“What? No!” Derek shoved at him lightly, wiping at his face to be sure he wasn’t crying. He wasn’t, but it was a close thing. “I’m fine, honestly. I actually went there on purpose. To help shut it down.”

They were all silent for a moment, and when Chuck spoke again, his voice was the softest Derek had ever heard it. “That’s where he was, wasn’t it? The sheriff’s kid?”

Derek nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. He and Stiles hadn’t seen one another for a few days. After what had happened, Derek figured they could use some space. The two of them were interviewed separately, but Chris stayed with Derek during the interrogation and John stayed with Stiles.

Scott’s father conducted both interviews, and some of the questions he asked made Derek feel like Scott had told him a bit more than anyone else. He kept staring at Derek like he couldn’t believe his eyes, which made it feel a little too much like Agent McCall knew Werewolves existed.

When they’d headed home, Stiles had gone back with John. Chris had driven Derek back to his Camaro—thankfully right where he’d left it—and when they all got back to Beacon Hills, Derek went to the loft instead of the house.

It had been almost four days since that night, and it wasn’t that Derek was avoiding him, it was more that he wanted to give him space. Stiles had lost his mind three times in a short period of time. He was finally free from the Witch’s curses, her death having broken her hold on him. Valeris was in custody, as were countless other Hunters, and a lot of the people involved in the fight club were dead.

All in all, it had been a good win for them. Stiles was still broken, but he’d heal in time. Derek knew he had to work at it on his own for a little bit, and he wasn’t going to rush him.

“Kid’s amazing,” Chuck said. “I don’t know how he can be so strong after spending three years in that hellhole.”

“He’s pretty great,” Derek agreed. “I’m glad he knows it’s over now.”

“Agreed. That being said,” Chuck ended his sentence by cuffing Derek hard across the head. He barely felt it, but he pretended it hurt, letting out a sharp shout and glaring at him before rubbing at the ‘injury.’ “Next time you run off without telling us, and come back without telling us you’re okay, I’ll shove my foot so far up your ass, I’ll be using you as a shoe! Clear?”

“Sorry.” Derek hadn’t even thought about how worried people would be about him. It had been so long since he’d had anyone outside the Pack, but he should’ve thought about Chuck and the guys. He’d raced out of the garage over a week ago after Parrish, and the next they’d heard about him was in the news when the anchors spoke about him helping take the ring down from the inside.

He and Chris were famous in town. Derek hated it, but at least Stiles’ name had been kept out of the stories. He knew most people in town probably figured it out, given he’d been missing so long, returned, and then missing again. Magically Derek Hale and Chris Argent take down an illegal fight club a few days later? Didn’t take a genius to figure out that was what had happened to him.

Chuck wrapped one arm around Derek’s shoulders, grunted that he was going to be the death of him, and dragged him towards the back, barking at the others to get back to work. He let Chuck lead him towards the room that held the Mustang, but slammed on the brakes when a scent hit his nose.

“Ah,” Chuck said. “Figure it out, did you?”

Derek turned to him, startled, because he’d forgotten that Chuck didn’t know he was a Werewolf. So he had no idea that Derek hadn’t figured anything out. He’d just smelled someone familiar, and hadn’t been expecting it.

“He’s been coming around the past two days. Can’t sleep, he says. He likes the Mustang. Says it makes him feel safe. Says it smells like you.”

Stiles was in the room. Derek could hear him, his heart slow and steady, breathing deep and even.

“He’s a good kid. Good with the customers.” Chuck patted Derek’s shoulder lightly. “Wants to learn about cars. Figure maybe he can fix the Mustang up with me, if you’re okay with me taking the distraction back.”

“I think he needs it more than me,” Derek admitted. “We should let him sleep.”

“You should stop running away,” Chuck insisted, shoving him towards the door. “I know it’s hard to let someone in, but maybe you should consider how hard it is being alone. Kid needs you, Hale. Don’t pretend you don’t need him just as much.”

“Want and need are two very different things.”

“So they are,” Chuck agreed. “But just because you want something, doesn’t mean you don’t also need it.”

Derek didn’t have the brain capacity to play this game with Chuck. He just stared at the door, then moved up to it and knocked lightly. The thump he heard on the other side suggested a violent awakening, but he let Stiles compose himself, figure out where he was, calm down before he knocked again.

“Chuck?”

“It’s me,” Derek said. “Can I come in?”

“Sure.”

Derek pushed open the door and stepped into the room, shutting it behind himself. Stiles was sitting up in the back seat of the Mustang, staring at him like he didn’t know what to say.

Shoving his hands into his pockets, Derek asked, “How’re you doing?”

“Great, thanks for asking. You?”

“Probably better than you,” he said with a small smile, moving to lean against the car, staring in at him. “Surprised your dad let you out of his sight.”

“He threatened Chuck if anything happened to me. Helps there’s no way in or out of this room except that door.” Stiles frowned. “How did he get the car in here, anyway?”

“Probably in pieces.”

“How’s he going to get it out once it’s done?”

“Who knows?” Derek shrugged and offered him a smile. “Seriously, Stiles. How are you?”

Stiles let out a bitter laugh, raking one hand through his hair. “Fucked up. Really fucked in the head. Still can’t sleep properly, keep worrying I’m going to wolf out, go feral. Waiting for The Master to show back up, for the Lautus Striga to still be alive and make me go back.”

“She’s dead,” Derek promised, bending down so he could see him better. “She’s dead, and you know she is. All her spells are broken.”

“Yeah.” Stiles let out a small laugh, shaking his head and averting his gaze, watching his fingers pick at his nails. “She liked you, you know. Thought you were interesting. She markets interesting.”

Derek hesitated, then pulled open the front door of the Mustang, taking a seat sideways so he could see Stiles.

“How did it happen?” he asked. “How did she get to you?”

For a moment, he didn’t think Stiles was going to answer. Too soon, maybe. Or too hard. Eventually though, he let out a sharp exhale and raked a hand through his hair.

“The Hunters that came into town, the ones chasing the Aswang, you remember? Scott said you and Chris caught up to them after I went missing.”

“I remember,” Derek said.

“They were under her control. Their code was similar to Chris’. They only go after the bad things. They found out about the matches, tried to stop them. The Lautus Striga managed to touch them with her magic. She created the Aswang, a beast that comes back over and over, forcing the Hunters to chase it indefinitely. As they did, they travelled across the country, and every time a new group of Supernaturals met up with them, her magic touched them through the Aswang. It kind of... I don’t know, pulls data? Figures people out and sends it back to her.”

Stiles didn’t continue, but Derek could guess what she’d found in him.

“She found the Nogitsune,” he said softly, remembering the auction tape. ‘Touched by darkness,’ they’d said.

“Yeah,” Stiles confirmed quietly. “The whole Pack was affected, but she doesn’t take a Pack. It’s too difficult to control, because a Pack keeps itself strong together. It also causes problems in the ring. She only ever steals one person, so she surveyed our Pack, and chose me. That night, she called to me, and I walked out of the house and went to her. She can only control Supernatural creatures, or humans touched by her magic. But not if they’re born. It’s why you and dad were never affected when she called to me. Because neither you nor dad were there when the Aswang was around, and you were too strong for her magic to control even if you had been.”

“She said something to me,” Derek said quietly, watching Stiles’ face. “When she had me. After you left with Valeris. She said you were waiting for me. That you insisted I’d come for you. Is that true?”

Stiles’ silence said enough and Derek felt his heart clench in his chest.

A part of him had known it was true. Had known she wouldn’t have just made that up on the spot. He’d suspected she was telling him the truth, he just hadn’t wanted to believe it. A larger part of himself was adamant that Stiles had no idea Derek had even been notified, that there was no way he’d think, out of everyone, that it was Derek who would come for him.

He should’ve known she wasn’t lying. He just hadn’t wanted to believe she was telling the truth.

“I don’t blame you,” Stiles finally said, very quietly. “There was no way for you to know where I was, to find me, help me. I didn’t blame you for not finding me the first time. I wanted you to, but it’s not fair to expect that much from you when you weren’t even in Beacon Hills. Didn’t even know if the others had told you. I guess I just thought if anyone would come for me, it’d be you. And you did, in the end.”

“The second time,” Derek said quietly.

“Both times,” Stiles insisted. “Maybe I got myself out the first time, but you found me in the woods. You took me home, got me back, kept me sane. And the second time, you came for me. It’s funny, because the second time, I wished you hadn’t. All I could think about was what I’d gone through, how much they’d hurt me, and when I saw you get dragged into that room, more than anything, I wanted you to be anywhere else. I didn’t want you to go through the same horrors I did. You’d suffered enough, I didn’t want you to suffer any more than you already had.”

“I couldn’t lose you,” Derek said. “Not again. I wouldn’t have survived it a second time.”

Stiles said nothing, and they sat in silence for a long while, Derek watching Stiles, and the other Werewolf staring down at his hands. There was so much more he had to talk about, as hard as it was going to be. He had to talk about the people he’d hurt, the ones who’d hurt him, what had happened to him while with Valeris, the creatures he’d been forced to kill.

He was himself for now, but every time something happened, it tipped him over the edge back into being feral. He was walking the tight rope, risked losing his balance every second of every day, and they needed to get him back on solid ground before he could move forward any further.

“You need to talk to someone,” Derek said softly.

Stiles let out a bitter laugh. “Oh sure, let me just call up the local psychiatrist and spill all my secrets. Not like that isn’t a one-way ticket to Eichen House.”

“I have a friend,” Derek insisted, thoughts returning to where they’d been weeks prior. “In Germany.”

“That’s a bit far,” Stiles said dryly.

“I’m sure he’d agree to Skype calls. Might even come out here, if I push him enough. He keeps saying he’s going to visit, but he never does. He’s a therapist. He’d be good for you.”

“He like us?”

Derek shook his head. “He’s a Nephilim.”

Stiles stared at him. “Seriously? That’s a thing?”

“Werewolves are fine, but Nephilim aren’t?”

“I just never really thought of Angels as being a thing.” Stiles shrugged.

“Not in the conventional sense. Angels are just like any other Supernatural creature. Just don’t ask him if he can fly, he’s pretty sore about that topic considering his sisters can. He just got healing touch, which he insists isn’t as cool.”

“You have weird friends,” Stiles informed him.

Derek just gave him a look, then pushed himself back to his feet. “I should get to work. I’ve been missing more days than I should lately. You gonna stick around.”

“If I can.”

“Chuck wants to put you to work on the phones. Up for that?”

“It’ll keep me distracted.” Stiles climbed out of the car and Derek opened the door, preceding him out.

Chuck immediately barked that it was about time, and that he was tired of his retirement being interrupted by childish drama. Then, he yelled for Stiles to make himself useful and answers the morons on the phone because he had shit to do so Derek didn’t run his family’s hard work into the ground.

Derek just shook his head and laughed, heading over to one of the work benches.


Stiles came by the shop every day for two weeks. Derek still stayed at the loft, wanting to give Stiles space, but it was proving to be a fruitless effort since he came and spent the whole day with him in the shop, anyway.

Sometimes he’d disappear with his dad for a while, but usually if his dad was working, he was with Derek at the shop. He tried to spend time with Scott every now and then, but it was clear he still didn’t trust Alphas, even if this one was his best friend.

Scott took it in stride, which was impressive in Derek’s opinion, but he later learned it was because Melissa and the sheriff had sat him down and told him it wasn’t about Scott, it was about Stiles. They would mend that bridge in their own time, for now, Stiles had to focus on fixing himself before he could fix his friendships.

Derek moved back into the house around the same time Dieter arrived from Germany. Peter took off when he found out he was in town, which made sense considering Dieter had tried to kill him many times when they were younger, and would probably be furious to find out Peter had died and come back multiple times.

Dieter was sad to have missed Cora, who headed back home after Stiles’ safe return, but pleased to meet the rest of the Pack. They’d all more or less figured out their living arrangements, and Derek didn’t miss the fact that Stiles’ presence had glued the broken pieces of the Pack back together. Things weren’t perfect, and it would take a long time for them to be even close to perfect, but at least they were all together again.

Dieter was planning on sticking around for a month, since he rarely got days off with his job, and Derek was paying him to help Stiles out anyway. Plus, free room and board since he’d be staying at the loft, hence Derek’s relocation.

He had one meeting with Stiles before calling Derek and telling him he was going to be around for much longer than a month. Derek believed that, and just thanked him for his help. Stiles definitely needed to talk things out, and while most of it was going to be difficult, he’d at least get it all out in the open, which would help him come to terms with what had happened to him.

Stiles slept in Derek’s bed with him once he’d moved back into the house. He didn’t like being alone, and he still woke up from nightmares trying to claw and bite at the closest person to him. Derek didn’t mind, he just wanted to help however he could, and if that meant being close to him and stopping him from eviscerating him on a nightly basis, well, wasn’t like Stiles hadn’t already tried to kill him once before, what were a few more attempts?

Derek was lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling and listening to Stiles breathe beside him while thinking about the weird turn his life had taken. He kind of owned a house. He kind of owned a business. He had great friends. He was back in a Pack—albeit reluctantly. He had two close father figures in Chuck and John. He had Stiles.

Some days, he didn’t understand how things had turned out this way. How Stiles going missing had made him put down enough roots that he knew he could never pick up and walk away again. He understood why Stiles had come back after his stint in the FBI. This was a life neither of them could escape from, and now more than ever, they needed each other.

Or wanted each other. According to Chuck, while wanting and needing were two different things, it was still possible to want someone enough to need them.

“Derek?”

He turned his head to look at Stiles, who had his back to him, facing the door. “Yeah?”

Stiles was silent for a moment before saying, “I want to be okay again.”

“You will be,” Derek said, looking back up at the ceiling. “You’ll feel different, but you’ll be okay. Dieter says you’re trying, and that’s the most important thing.”

“How long did it take you?”

Derek turned back to him, letting out a small sigh. “It’s different for me. I only had Laura. We fed off each other’s grief, didn’t come to terms with anything. We weren’t helping each other.”

“So when were you okay again?”

“I don’t remember when I was okay again,” Derek admitted. “But I remember when I started being okay.” He smiled slightly, rolling onto his side so he was facing Stiles’ back. “It was when I walked through the Preserve, and saw two morons trespassing while trying to find an inhaler.”

“Shut up,” Stiles muttered.

“I’m serious. You and Scott... you guys helped make me okay again. It took time after that, but having people who care makes a world of difference. I owe you a lot, Stiles. It’s why I’m here for you, as long as you need me. You want me right here, this is where I’ll be. You need some space, you say the word, and I’ll go back to the loft.”

Stiles went silent for a moment, then he rolled over so they were facing each other, almost nose to nose.

“I’m not okay,” he whispered.

“No, you’re not,” Derek agreed.

“But I will be. One day.”

“Yeah. You really will.”

Stiles hesitated. “Will you wait?”

Derek frowned, not sure he understood. “Wait?”

“I want this. What we had. Or almost had. What we were heading towards. I want it. But I can’t right now. I can’t... be there for you while needing you so much. And I don’t want to taint what we have by relying on you for everything. So will you wait? If it takes me time, will you wait for me to be okay?”

Reaching out one hand, Derek cupped Stiles’ face and smiled, rubbing his thumb along his cheek. “I’m not going anywhere. Even if it takes you five, ten, fifteen years to be okay, I’ll be here. You brought me back here, now you’re stuck with me.”

“What a hardship for me,” Stiles said with a small laugh. “Sorry I ruined our first kiss.”

“You didn’t ruin anything. When you’re okay again, when you want to try this, we can wipe the slate clean. Start over.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.” Derek smiled, brushing his thumb against his cheek for a few more seconds before pulling his hand away. “Get some sleep. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow. Kind of regret having Chuck back in the shop.”

“I love that guy.”

“Yeah, me too.” Derek admitted. “Go to sleep.”

It took a while, but Stiles’ breathing eventually evened out and he fell asleep long before Derek did.

He knew it would take time for Stiles to be okay again. Knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy fix, that he would have good days and bad days. That they would fight, and need space, and try and come to terms with their own pasts.

He knew Stiles was going to have to fight and claw his way back to stable ground, to a place where he didn’t jump at every loud noise and immediately go on the defensive. Where he could hang out with a group of people and not lose himself to the dangers of being so surrounded. Where he wouldn’t go feral at the slightest pain, or fear, or any other trigger.

Derek knew it would be hard, and take time, and it did. It was hard, and it did take time. But Stiles was okay again, eventually. He healed, he got himself back on solid ground, eventually.

Derek would never forget that day, when he woke up, and Stiles was Stiles again. Maybe a little different, and maybe harder than he used to be, but it was Stiles. And he’d never forget that day.

It was a Wednesday.

END.