Derek feels like he’s drowning.
He’s been drowning for months now, trying to find a way to keep going after Paige died. Today was one of the bad days, when he doesn’t have the heart or the energy to do anything but sit on his bed and stare at the pile of crumpled, photocopied sheet music she forgot the only time she was at his house. They didn’t even make out that day. They just did homework.
The mangled paper, almost destroyed from cramming down in the bottom of her backpack, sits on top of his desk in a dogeared mess. He should probably throw it away. No, he definitely should throw it away. But he can’t.
Derek takes a deep breath and holds it, hoping that if he holds it long enough, he’ll black out before he starts crying again.
Crying isn’t a relief anymore. It’s just a shameful state of being.
He closes his eyes tight, wraps his arms around his stomach, and leans so his head is nearly between his legs.
And startles, because one second he was alone in silence, and the next there’s a man, tall and slender and looking wildly around with his mouth hanging open.
Derek is plastered against the wall, legs akimbo across his bed. He wasn’t beta-shifted yet, but it was close. Shit. “Mom!” he yells immediately, but the man puts his hands out and shushes him.
“Derek, it’s okay, I’m not here to hurt you.”
“But full disclosure, your mom’s not going to hear you because I soundproofed this room. Sorry about that.”
Derek takes a minute to listen for his family in the living room, and it’s so quiet, his ears are nearly ringing. “Who are you?” he demands, taking in a deep breath and analyzing the stranger. He looks like he’s maybe college-aged, maybe graduated, wearing stained jeans and a gray t-shirt with Converse that should have been thrown out months ago. He smells like coffee and barbecue chips, and the way the air smells after it’s been burnt by lightning, metallic and hot, and something…
It takes Derek a minute to pinpoint the rest of the man’s smell because—it’s Derek. It’s a weird version of his own smell, not different enough to belong to a family member, but not exactly how Derek smells now either.
Derek falters a bit. “Why do you smell like me?”
“It’s probably better if you don’t know?” the man is saying. “Besides, explaining would take too long, and I don’t know how long this is going to work. Okay, first of all, do your eyes turn blue?”
“My eyes don’t turn any color.” Derek swallows, his mouth suddenly dry.
The man snorts at that. “Of course you’re still a bad liar. Either they turn gold or blue when you wolf out, so which is it?” The man sticks his neck out and raises his eyebrows, like, well?
Derek ignores his nerves and crowds into the man’s space, pushing him against the wall. “Have you been watching me?”
The man looks down at him with half-lidded eyes, and he sighs, suddenly looking heartbroken. “Blue, then. Fuck.”
Derek’s eyes are indeed flashing blue. He can tell by the familiar heat and the brief glow on man’s face, reflecting in his brown eyes if Derek pays attention. Derek shakes his head and tries not to show how scared it makes him, that he lost control so quickly. He hasn’t in years.
The man is limp—comfortable, even, being held against the wall like this, and he’s muttering to himself. “Okay, this changes my plan a little. Basics first.” He meets Derek’s eyes and pushes his head forward a little. Derek has to stop himself from backing up, maintaining distance between their faces. “I know you’re a werewolf, you and your family. I won’t out you. Besides, I’m a spark, so it’s not like I’m a muggle either. You with me so far?”
Derek feels his brow wrinkle in a frown, but he calms down enough that his eyes turn back to normal, and he nods.
“Good,” says the man, looking down a bit in concentration and speaking rapidly. “I need you to know which people in town are hunters, okay? Just, if I did my research right, the Argents are back in town, and Kate Argent is going to be your substitute teacher.”
Derek blushes and feels angry—angry and embarrassed. Kate already is his substitute teacher—their school can’t hold onto English teachers to save a life—and they hadn’t kissed yet, but there is definitely something. Light, and playful, and a little forbidden. And after losing Paige, all he really wants is to just feel. Anything. Anything but feeling like a massive fuck-up who got his girlfriend bitten against her will, whose claws put her out of her misery when the bite didn’t take. Derek swallows and steps back, losing all his will to fight.
The man straightens and steps away from the wall, still talking fast. “I don’t know what kind of bullshit she’s going to tell you, but she’s a hunter, and she’s trying to find a way in to kill your family.”
“But my family hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“Yeah, well, she’s a psycho, so she doesn’t care about that. Her family doesn’t follow the code.”
Derek doesn’t know how to respond to that, so he falls back into his default mode and glares at the stranger.
The man rolls his head around and laces his fingers behind his neck in frustration. “Fine. I didn’t want to say it. She’s going to try to sleep with you, get you to trust her, and use you for intel. You can’t let that happen, Der.”
Derek’s mind goes to that afternoon, when Miss Argent—Kate—had asked him to stay behind to compliment his newest essay, trailing her fingers down his shoulder and telling him how mature, how well-adjusted he was.
It was a far cry from how he felt all the time these days. He’d walked out of there feeling like he could breathe, for once.
The man’s gaze sharpens in sudden remembrance. “Oh! While I’m here, maybe tell your mom that if Deucalion gets blinded, he’s going to turn into a psycho too. Although, he’s probably always been a psycho on some level, but losing his sight just really brings it out of him. Like, killing his pack on purpose.”
Derek has to try again, or he’ll go crazy. “Who are you?”
The man is jittery, almost dancing in the way he moves. “I’m a, you know, I’m kind of like a druid. Although the druids totally wouldn’t approve of what I’m doing, but I’m trying to restore balance in my own way. Arguably.”
Derek is so fucking annoyed. No straight answers whatsoever. “Get out of my room.”
The guy, if anything, softens at Derek’s harsh tone. “There’s the sourwolf I know.”
Derek growls at him.
“Right. You wouldn’t like that now either, I should have guessed that. My bad. Okay. Well. I’m fucking up royally here. I just need—” and here he locks eyes with Derek, hard, and suddenly Derek’s mouth feels dry and he’s fixating on the way this stranger’s eyes almost glow in the light from his bedside lamp, “—I just need to make sure you’ll be okay.”
Derek still feels like he’s missing the line of conversation. “So you came here,” he says, just to be clear, “to warn me about Kate Argent?”
“Yes!” the man shouts in clear relief. “Bad news. Bad, bad. She—you know, I don’t want to tell you, you’ve got enough going on, just promise me you’ll be on your guard. And probably talk to your parents about it. You should probably take advantage of them. Being around. Shit.” He winces and shakes his head forcibly, turning so he can pace in the space between Derek’s closet and his bedroom door.
“What do you mean?” demands Derek, accidentally going closer again. “You sound like you’re not sure they’ll be…” His eyebrows crunch together and he shakes his head in confusion.
“I… shit. Okay. So, say hypothetically that you lost your family, totally not through any fault of yours, but you thought it was.”
Derek feels himself cocking his head in the way that Cora always teases him for, but he can’t help it, and uneasiness pervades his body. This seems very much like a hypothetical situation that isn’t hypothetical at all.
The man just keeps going, like if he’s going to tell the story, he might as well get it over with quickly. “And years later, you’re learning how to keep going, and to forgive yourself, and you’re being so brave, and,” his warm eyes are misty, Derek notices, just before the man wipes the back of his hand across them and shakes himself, “and you’re happy. You’re actually happy, despite all the shit that happened to you. But no matter how well you’re doing now, they’re still gone. And people lose family all the time. It’s just a thing that happens, but I believe it would be better if you had your family, Derek. It would just be better.”
Derek barely even knows what this man is talking about, but his eyes start watering too, for some baffling reason. He wipes his tears away angrily, feeling more unbalanced by the minute.
The stranger doesn’t see it, and he’s waving his arms like he has no idea the danger they present to the lamp on Derek’s desk. “And when I realized how strongly I believed that, I had to do something with it. Like, if I believe something strong enough, I can fix things, and this is something I can definitely fix. I already can tell it’s doing something,” he says, laughing in disbelief as he wipes his eyes again. “It’s getting harder and harder for me to stay here. Der, I—”
Derek swallows, takes a deep breath, swallows again. Sure, the situation is strange, but that’s no excuse for how this strange man is able to make him feel so shaken. His sincerity is bleeding through every pore, and now that Derek is paying attention, the man’s heart is beating quickly, but steadily. He believes what he is saying, at least.
“How do you know me?” Derek insists.
The man’s face is panicked for a second, and then it smooths over. “We, uh. You don’t know me. There’s a good chance we’ll never see each other again, if things go right. I just, if you’re happy, it will be worth it.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“Yeah, I know, I just… if I tell you the short version it’ll just,” he puffs out his cheeks and lifts his hands away in an approximation of a brain exploding, “and if I tell you the long version I’ll probably either take all night, or fuck something up, or both. I don’t matter, okay? Don’t worry about who I am. Just take care of yourself. Oh, shit, you’re forgetting, I shouldn’t be feeling this present. See? Big fat distraction. Why did I come here?”
It takes Derek a moment to realize it’s not a rhetorical question. “Oh. Kate,” he says, his stomach dropping.
“And Deucalion. You don’t know who that is, probably. And please, please get Deaton to check out the nemeton, you know that big tree in the forest. But especially Kate. You know what, just write it down. I should’ve just fucking written you a letter.”
Without waiting for Derek to do it, the man grabs a sharpie and scribbles out a note on the back of an old Spanish test. In the minute it takes for him to write, Derek has to restrain himself from interrupting. He was proud of that test, even if he wasn’t planning on showing anyone.
When the visitor is done, he slides it away with a sigh of relief. “Alright, that definitely worked. I’m barely holding on now.”
“What do you mean?” Derek feels genuinely worried for this man, now.
“Just, please be happy. If you’re happy, that’s all I want.” Stiles gazes at him, then, with the air of losing a battle with himself, he hugs Derek, strong arms around his shoulders. Derek finds himself with his face crushed against the man’s collar bone, and he should probably mind, but it’s a pretty good hug. Really good, even.
“Take care of yourself,” he hears the man say, his voice rumbling straight from his chest to Derek’s right ear. “Bye, sourwolf.”
And then, in a rush of light and sparkles that seem ripped directly from the Star Trek franchise, he’s gone.
Derek doesn’t look at the desk after the man disappears. He’s experienced a little bit too much weirdness in the last ten minutes. He can’t handle looking at the letter right now.
He goes downstairs to where his family is watching HGTV.
“Hey, Der,” says his mom, and she moves her stack of books to the other side in a silent invitation to join her.
She doesn’t ask too many questions, since Paige, and Derek is grateful. At least she’s used to smelling strangers on him, after a day bumping into people at school. She doesn’t notice the scent of one more stranger who smells like barbecue chips.
He lays down next to her, puts his head in her lap, and watches the Fuller family debate which vacation home to renovate.
He eventually has to go back to his room, to face the fever dream that happened there, and sure enough, there’s basically an entire novel on the back of his Spanish test, written in emphatic strokes that barely stay consistent in size and style.
1. Kate Argent - BIG NO I cannot stress this enough any authority figure who puts the moves on a minor is sick or evil or both. She kills weres for fun pls stay away
2. Deucalion - BLIND => MEGA SOCIOPATH
3. Nemeton - TELL DEATON when Paige died her blood activated it if you can contain the nogitsune you will be preventing a lot of pain
4. Take care of the people around you Der. You like to look strong and manly because you’re the personification of manpain but I know you better than that. You’re happiest when you’re helping others don’t forget that
The last part of the letter looks shaky, and he remembers that the man had looked a little shaky himself while writing it. I’m barely holding on now, he had said. But he had taken the time to write that nonetheless, the longest part of the note.
Derek feels exposed and embarrassed. The man definitely knows him, knows him well. Too well. He had managed to expose all of Derek’s weak spots.
Derek reads the note six times before slamming it into a notebook and forcing himself to go to bed. Later. He’ll deal with that later.
At breakfast the next day, he grumps down the stairs and pauses at the entrance to the kitchen, where his mom and dad are eating together, both reading on their laptops, knees knocking together.
Derek should tell them, the stranger had said.
Derek considers it. Considers the stranger, the fact that he didn’t say anything the night before, the fact that his parents might very well guess what he’d been flirting with when it came to Kate Argent.
“Morning, Derek,” says his dad, and his mom looks up for a second to flash him a smile.
He chickens out.
“Morning,” he says, and helps himself to a stack of pancakes.