Trees whip past as Stiles speeds down the narrow two-lane road toward Beacon Hills. The low-hanging branches of pines and oaks shadow the road and shiver as his rental car zips by. It’s late afternoon. The air streaming through his open window has a soft, heavy feeling that hints at a rising storm. Stiles has missed days like these, ones where he can feel the building storm before he sees it; the rising, white bulk of rain clouds hiding the peaks of mountains before opening up and drowning the world beneath. He’d forgotten that feeling, grown used to storms forming over the ocean, the salty, untamed sting of the Atlantic carrying wind and rain.
It’s unexpected, the strength of the nostalgia and homesickness that washes over him as he draws closer. He’d been back for short visits during the holidays, but those had done little to settle the ache in his chest when he remembered the weird urban tangle he grew up in. The FBI has kept him away from Beacon Hills. And now, the FBI is bringing him back.
He’d graduated from George Washington University and been snapped up by the Bureau almost immediately. Even with the debacle of his internship, he’d managed to impress the right people. The right supernatural people, it turned out.
Located near Quantico, the Special Investigative Unit filled a blocky, 70’s-era government building that smelled like stale cigarette smoke and the ozone tang of magic. The agents assigned there were a wide and diverse spectrum of people. They’d all somehow gotten themselves tangled up in the world that lived beneath the surface of everyday life. In Stiles’s case, the FBI had tagged him as soon as they’d figured out who, exactly, had carried him from that warehouse during his internship. The Hale family may have been long gone, but their name still held power. Combined with Stiles’s spark, it had been a no-brainer for the Bureau. He’d made his share of X-Files jokes—his supervisor had ripped his I WANT TO BELIEVE poster from his cubicle wall as soon as she’d seen it—but after the honeymoon-glow of his early days in the SIU had faded, he’d found that the place fit him like so many other places didn’t. He’d learned how to harness his magic, had strengthened it—and his body—through rigorous training, and after six long years, he’d come into himself in a way he never thought he could.
When they’d told him about the new field office they were opening, located a half-hour from downtown Beacon Hills, he’d immediately put in for a transfer and immediately been accepted. Stiles knew it had to do with his personal connections to the area, but since it meant he could go home, he didn’t really care.
The city limits flash past him, the Welcome to Beacon Hills! sign a blur of green and white that he barely registers. As the road dips down, falling out of the mountains, his hands tighten on the steering wheel. There’s a knot in his stomach. He wants to blame it on the roadside diner where he’d had lunch, but as comforting as the excuse might be, he knows it’s nerves.
Nerves and, maybe, regret. Sharp, stinging regret that he can’t seem to shake, even as he tamps the emotion down, hard. It’s tangled up with the people he’s left behind, with one person that he can’t shake, but he pushes that aside, lets the excitement of finally being home overwhelm the rest. He’s stayed in touch with most of the pack, but it’s been years since he’s actually seen some of them, and his gut twists when he thinks about their pending reunion.
Stiles’s dad is standing on the porch when he pulls up, and even though Stiles isn’t sure he’s ready to be back here yet, he falls out of the car to rush up the creaking wooden steps, sweeping his dad into a rib-bruising hug that lifts the older man, laughing, into the air.
“Jesus, kid,” Dad says, voice choked by laughter and the tight band of Stiles’s arms around his chest. “I missed you, too.”
Grinning, Stiles sets his dad down. The Sheriff stumbles a little, catching his balance by grabbing onto Stiles’s shoulder. He gives it a tight squeeze, his smile softening, then lets his hand drop.
“Let’s go get you unpacked,” he says, heading toward the car. “I made up your room for you.”
Stiles follows after his dad, helping him grab suitcases from the trunk and backseat of the rental car. The rest of Stiles’s stuff is coming on a truck the next day; his lease to the new apartment doesn’t start until the morning. They carry his luggage up the stairs, and his dad drops the smaller suitcase on Stiles’s bed before setting his hands on his hips and giving Stiles a slow appraisal.
“You remind me so much of your mother sometimes,” he says, his mouth quirked up in a small, sad smile.
Stiles’s throat tightens and he coughs it away. “Let me get unpacked, and I’ll run out for burgers from Ruby's.”
His dad’s smile brightens. “Don’t tease, now.”
“Melissa sent me your last cholesterol panel. You’ve earned it.”
“I’d say something about patient confidentiality laws,” his dad starts, “but I’m sure you got yourself on my approved list somehow.”
Stiles points to his dad, then taps the tip of his nose. “Got it in one.”
Rolling his eyes, the Sheriff heads toward the door. “I’m proud of you, kid, and I’m real glad you’re home.”
“Me, too.” Stiles shoos his dad from the room. “Now, give me some space. I’ve been in a car for hours, I need to stretch out my legs, and—trust me—you don’t want to be here for that.”
“No kidding.” His dad rolls his eyes before heading down the hallway. “I’ll grab you a beer,” he shouts, his footfalls heavy on the stairs.
“Thanks!” Stiles yells back before closing the door and taking in his room.
The snowboarder wall decal is gone, replaced by a photo collage of Stiles in college, then at the Academy, with a couple newspaper clippings about some of his cases scattered around them. While most of what the SIU does is secret, they aren’t perfect, and cover stories are fairly common. Stiles walks closer, skimming an article about a coven of warlocks they’d broken up and disguised as a sex trafficking ring—not far from the truth, to be honest, but the group had been gathering virgins for sacrifice rather than for sale.
Otherwise, though, the place is almost unchanged. His desk is covered with old notes, and when he pulls open the top drawer, there’s a ball of red yarn, dusty from disuse, sitting in easy reach. He pulls it out, tosses it into the air a time or two, then sets it back inside, sliding the drawer quietly shut.
It only takes him a few minutes to unpack his overnight stuff. Most of the clothes he’d brought with him are T-shirts and jeans. He does have one suit with him in case he gets called into the new Beacon Hills branch office early, though he leaves it, slightly rumpled, in the bottom of his suitcase. The Bureau had given him two weeks to get settled before getting back to work, and with the timing of his lease and how much stuff he’d collected in D.C., it’s going to be a close call to get everything moved in and unpacked before his first day.
After shrugging into a worn hoodie, Stiles hurries out to his car after getting his dad’s dinner order. Ruby's is a local institution, a greasy spoon in the best tradition, and Stiles’s mouth waters as he draws closer. He calls Scott on his way, but gets his voicemail. Stiles leaves a short message that he’s back, then ambles his way through town.
Time has been kind to Beacon Hills. The old mall’s been torn down and replaced by an apartment complex and there’s a new park near the post office. The bakery’s closed, but it’s been replaced by a bookstore that looks intriguing. Stiles makes a note of it, then winds through the busy streets until he finds parking about a block from the restaurant.
Beacon Hills is colder than Alexandria, and the storm that was threatening on his way in looks like it’ll rip open the sky at any moment. He pulls his hoodie close around his neck as he hurries inside. There’s a short line at the one, ancient register, and Stiles kills time by going through his phone, thumbing open his work email as he shuffles forward. There’s a new message from Bartlett, his old department lead, that he wants to read once he gets a second.
The waitress behind the counter grins at him as he steps forward, her wrinkled face splitting into surprised joy as she takes him in.
“Stiles Stilinski, as I live and breathe! When did you get back into town? It’s been years!”
He returns her smile, blushing at her effusive greeting. “I just drove in. It’s good to see you, Martha.”
“I am always having to chase your father out of here,” she says as she comes around the counter to wrap him in a warm hug. “Don’t worry, we always give him the side salad and a whole wheat bun.”
“I’m sure he appreciates that,” Stiles says with a laugh. “You mind if I get a to-go order in?”
She scoffs, then shuffles back around the counter. “Of course not, dear. Whatever you want.”
He rattles off the order—two burgers with fries this time, his dad deserves it—and pays.
“You make yourself comfortable while you wait, dear,” Martha says before passing his ticket through a wide opening into the kitchen. “It won’t be more than a moment. Would you like something to drink?”
“Water,” Stiles says as he gets comfortable in one of the empty booths near the front door, “thank you.”
She sets a sweating glass before him on the table a moment later, but Stiles barely notices it as he reads Bartlett’s update. The Unit had closed a case right before he left—a lamia that had been hunting children on the Delmarva Peninsula—and there’s an update on the condition of the last kid it had snatched. He tries not to think about the children he hadn’t been able to help, letting himself give into relief instead of regret, as he reads that the little girl is expected to make a full recovery.
Martha comes by with a heavy paper bag ten minutes later, the bottom already stained with grease, and gives him another fond smile. “You tell your father I said hello,” she says as he takes the bag. “And I sure hope you’ll be sticking around, young man.”
“Planning on it.” Stiles stands. “Give it a few weeks, and you’ll be sick of me.”
She laughs and slaps at his arm. “You Stilinski men,” she sighs, “such charmers.”
He’s smiling as he drives home, the scent of fried potatoes and grease filling the rental car. The sky opens up a few minutes later, the world suddenly washed in thick, torrential rain. Sighing, Stiles fumbles for the wipers, unfamiliar with the controls. He manages to get them turned up to their highest setting, then leans forward, squinting, as they do absolutely nothing to clear the water from his view. He crawls the rest of the way home, cursing quietly under his breath as he hopes the weather will break. He has to be extra careful as he pulls onto his dad’s street, the roadway clogged with cars parked along the sidewalk.
Someone’s having a party, Stiles thinks as he inches his way through the crowded street.
Rain is still falling heavily when he parks in the driveway. He has to tuck the paper bag with dinner into his hoodie before running from the car to the relative safety of his dad’s front porch. He’s soaked through by the time he wrestles the door open. Pushing his way inside, annoyed and wet, he freezes as he takes in the crowd gathered in the front hallway.
Scott is front and center, grinning and laughing as he takes in Stiles and his bulging sweatshirt. Slightly behind him, her hand clasped tightly in Scott’s, Malia smiles and leans forward to rest her chin on Scott’s shoulder, eyes bright with humor. Lydia walks in from the living room, giving Stiles a slow once over before she raises one of her eyebrows. Isaac trails in after her and wraps one of his arms around her waist before pressing a kiss to the top of her head. Liam, Corey and Mason come tumbling out of the kitchen a few seconds later, laughing as they bump shoulders. The three younger members all yell when they see him, arms thrown up in the air, and then Stiles is completely smothered by his pack.
The group presses in close to him, arms wrapped around him in tight hugs, crushing the hidden bag of food. Shocked and ecstatic, he doesn’t even care as the bag explodes, soaking his shirt in grease, burgers, and ketchup.
“Does anyone smell that?” Liam asks, nose wrinkling, and Stiles laughs so hard, he can’t see.
After changing out of his ruined clothes, Stiles spends the rest of the night with his pack, the house filled with laughter and stories and reminiscence. Scott and Malia are getting ready to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary—the wood anniversary, Scott whispers to him as they’re crowded together in the kitchen, grabbing beers from the fridge; he’s commissioned a custom piece of a coyote and a wolf entwined, and Stiles is suitably impressed when Scott shows him the rough piece—and Scott’s just about done with his internship at Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital. They’ve been in touch while Stiles has been on the east coast, but it feels good to be caught under the heavy weight of Scott’s arm, pulled in close to his side as he tells the pack about the weird shit he’s had to pull out of people’s butts since starting his rotation in the ER. Beacon Hill is home to more than just supernatural freaks, it seems.
Lydia is only in town for a short visit, getting ready to head to Chicago to receive the Fields Medal. She preens as Stiles freaks out.
“You can’t say anything about it publicly,” she says with a lazy, self-satisfied grin. “They haven’t announced the winners yet, and I’d get in trouble for telling you before the ceremony.”
Stiles does his best to keep up with her as she explains the theorem that’s snagged her the prize, but once Lydia starts talking about string theory and condensed matter physics, Isaac nodding sagely behind her—as if he understands half of what she’s saying—Stiles zones out and ends up drinking his beer just a bit too fast. By the time Lydia’s, done, he’s buzzed and confused and so proud, he might burst.
Though he’s nearly overwhelmed by his friends, head darting back and forth as stories pour over him like rain on parched land, something nags at him throughout the night. A quiet sense that the picturesque reunion isn’t quite right, that some unseen but integral piece is missing. It leaves him slightly off-center, though he tries to ignore it. He’s happy right now. There’s no reason to pick at the scabs of his past, not tonight.
After they’ve demolished most of the pizza Scott had brought, they’re all lounging in the living room, some mindless comedy playing on the TV. With the laugh track in the background, Stiles’s mind wanders, and the missing piece finally slots into place. As Stiles looks around the room, the absence seems glaring, neon bright and unmistakable. He doesn’t understand why it took him so long to put his finger on it, but now he can’t avoid it. It’s like a rotten tooth, something he can’t help but poke at, even though it aches. And because he doesn’t know how not to hurt himself like this, he presses against it. Hard.
He leans into Scott, dragging his attention away from the screen. “So, where’s everyone else?” he asks, hoping his tone comes across as casual instead of bitter.
“Theo’s running down a pack of rogue hunters somewhere near the Canadian border. Kira is learning more about kitsune at Fushimi Inari. You gotta check out her Instagram, it’s insane. And Peter’s being creepy somewhere around town. Malia keeps up with him more than I do.”
Stiles waits for more, but Scott’s turned his attention back to the TV, smiling at something stupid that’s happening on screen.
“And Derek?” Stiles prompts, feeling obvious and awkward, the name like acid on his tongue.
Scott, turning back, frowns at him. “He’s on-duty tonight.”
“Did he, uh,”—Stiles gestures around the room—“know this was happening?”
“Probably not,” Scott says. “We didn’t really know this was going to happen until you called me. We all expected you to get in late tonight.” He flushes, then shoots Stiles an embarrassed grin. “There may or may not have been a surprise party planned for you for tomorrow. We just shifted it up a night, I guess.”
Stiles can’t help but smile back, even though his chest tightens. “Thanks, Scotty,” he says, nudging his best friend’s shoulder with his own, choosing to focus on the sense of belonging he feels surrounded by his found family. “I appreciate it.”
“Don’t worry about the rest of the pack,” Scott says before wrapping his arm around Stiles and pulling him in tight. “Now, c’mon, we’re missing the best part.”
Stiles lets the conversation go, fades back into the general sense of comfort that suffuses the house. But once everyone leaves, Scott and Malia the last to go, Stiles finds himself rubbing at the center of his chest, wondering if the pain is heartburn from the pizza or something else, wondering how Scott had dodged his question about Derek so smoothly.
He stumbles his way to bed, a little drunk, a little happy, and a little sad. With the lights off, the rain pounding gently against the window, he drifts, almost convinced that he’s back in high school, when things might have been more chaotic but also simpler. He falls asleep, wondering if some things never change and Harris still hates his guts.
The Chesapeake is quiet. Stiles stares out over the preternaturally still water, his feet planted in the thin, salt-stained grass that edges the causeway. His suit jacket is tight around his shoulders, and he shifts, trying to ease it into place. Clouds hover in the distance, dark and uncertain on the horizon. He takes a careful step forward, looks down at where the water laps against the ground, and sees small, white bones breaking through the surface.
He leans down, presses his fingers to the cold, wet things, and lets his head fall forward, chin resting on his chest as everything aches.
When he opens his eyes, the Bay is gone, replaced by a wide, vaguely familiar forest. Dead leaves crack and snap beneath his feet as he walks forward, those tiny bones still clenched in his hand. The trees thin, opening into an overgrown field that surrounds a broken and fallen home. There’s someone on the porch, someone as familiar to him as the woods around him, but Stiles turns, heart pounding, and runs.
The further he goes, the darker it gets until he can barely make out the trees in front of him. He slows, catching his breath and reaching in front of him blindly. Bark is rough against his palms, cutting in deep until he can feel blood oozing from his hands and coating his arms. He tries to staunch the flow, shrugging out of his jacket to wrap it around the wound, but blood soaks through until it’s dripping on the ground behind him, leaving a trail of bright red that’s the only light in the now pitch black.
Stiles reaches out with his other senses, blind and lost. His magic shifts beneath his skin as it struggles to answer his command. Though it fights, snapping and sparking between his capillaries, it can’t break free. It finally quiets, frustrated and subdued. Stiles shivers and spins in a circle, trying to find his way back.
There’s something lurking in this dark, quiet space. An unknown creature, a presence that he can feel more than see. Never one for good decisions, he reaches toward it, hands and mind grasping, but as it brushes against his sticky, blood-coated fingers, pain lances through him. Deep, cold, aching, it makes his muscles tense and spasm. He falls to the ground, teeth clenched so hard, he can’t scream. He tastes blood and decay on his tongue, and bile rises in his throat as the small bones held in his hand crack against the forest floor.
The thing shushes him. The sound is soothing, but its dusty, metallic breath coasts over the delicate shell of his ear and makes his nausea worse.
“What are you?” He’s surprised by his own voice, the power held in it. And the fear.
<<You’ll know soon enough, but not yet,>> it says, its voice soft like a thin shroud dragged across cold, carved marble. <<Not yet.>>
Stiles bolts awake, muscles tight and panic racing through his veins. The room is cast in a soft glow, and he stares down at his chest, watching as his tattoos slowly fade from a warm, golden glow to black against his skin. He fumbles for his phone, then hunts for a familiar name before hitting the call button. It rings a few times before Chris Argent’s gruff voice answers.
“Stiles, why are you calling me at three in the morning?”
“We’ve got a problem,” he says, voice shaking.
“I figured,” Chris grumbles, but he sounds slightly more awake. “You want to fill me in? Where are you?”
Stiles runs a hand over his face, fighting back the still lingering panic. Glancing around the room, he tries to see if there’s any sign of whatever had set off his wards, but there’s nothing. Just his old desk, his nearly empty suitcase, and darkness. He shivers.
“I don’t know,” he finally forces out. He looks down at the hand not holding his phone and sucks in a breath when he sees it’s coated in dried blood. Shaking, he reaches for the light next to his bed.
The sheets tangled around his body are stained red.
“It’s bad,” he says, throat clogged with fear. “I’m at my dad’s.”
Chris sighs. “I’ll be right over.”
Stiles walks away and pretends he’s not running.
The first time Stiles fucked Chris Argent, it was an accident. The older man was in town as an SIU consultant, they were out drinking after closing a case, and they both got sloppy. It was a drunken stumble that slammed Chris into a wall, Stiles’s body pressed tight up against his as they both caught their balance and their breath. And then there were hands and lips and teeth, and in the morning, Chris let himself out while Stiles was still in the shower.
The second time was a mistake. There were no excuses, no elevated BAC to blame it all on. Instead, it was dinner and heated glances and meaningful pauses in conversation. Stiles let Chris fuck him into the mattress and had to bite into a pillow when he came, the orgasm breaking him into pieces, tearing him apart so violently, his vision went white at the edges.
Even though he knew it was wrong, Stiles couldn’t help but keep coming back, again and again. Whenever Chris was in D.C., whenever Stiles was in Beacon Hills. They crashed into each other like a rock slide, grinding and broken and tectonic. But it was also cathartic, and as much as he didn’t want to, Stiles needed it.
There were so many reasons why this thing was a bad idea. It wasn’t just that they sometimes worked together. It was that Chris also worked with the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department, and Stiles knew that some of his scent was going to linger on Chris’s clothes, especially when Stiles was in town for a visit. He tried not to think about that when he was rubbing up against Chris’s muscled body, mouthing at his neck while they fumbled at the buttons and zippers of their jeans. Tried not to think about it when he knocked on Chris’s door in the middle of the night around New Year’s, when he was on his knees and drooling around Chris’s cock, when he was laid bare across the bedroom floor as Chris fucked into him, slow and deep.
Like all bad habits, it was hard to quit. Stiles finally pulled himself away after months of vacillation, and Chris handled it with such grace that Stiles almost regretted ending things. Regretted that he couldn’t open himself up for more than mindless, emotionless sex.
He doesn’t think about why that’s the case.
Stiles cracks the door open before Chris gets a chance to knock.
“The last time I saw you at three in the morning,” Chris says, pushing his way inside, “you were in the hospital.” He gives Stiles a slow, considering gaze. “You looked better with a gut wound than you do now. You want to explain what’s going on?”
Stiles shuts the door with more vehemence than he intends, then heads toward the kitchen. “I don’t know if I can.”
“That’s rather surprising, considering how much you like to talk.” Chris grabs his arm, stopping Stiles before he gets too far. “C’mon. What’s up?”
Deflating, Stiles nods his head toward the kitchen. “I’ve got coffee brewing. Just… Come sit down.”
He grabs two mugs from the cabinet above the sink—one Batman, one Christmas—and fills them before settling across from Chris at the kitchen table.
“I don’t know if Dad keeps creamer around,” he starts, but Chris cuts him off.
“Black is fine.” He takes a slow sip. “You want to explain to me what I’m doing here?”
Stiles leans forward, hands wrapped around his mug. There’s still blood under his nails where he couldn’t scrub it out.
“Is it Hale?”
Stiles’s head snaps up. “What’s he got to do with this?”
“I don’t know, you tell me. You’re the one who called me at three in the morning, from Beacon Hills—thanks for letting me know you’d be in town, by the way—about a problem you were having. I figured the booty calls were done, but you’ve always been one for surprises.”
“I had a nightmare,” Stiles says. “And before you say a fucking word, there was something in it with me. Something that tripped my wards.”
“All of them.”
Chris freezes. “Well, shit.”
“Yeah, shit.” Stiles shakes his head. “You ever heard of anything that can do that?”
“If you were anyone else, maybe. But you’re one of the most paranoid people I’ve ever met—and that’s a compliment, not a complaint—and if something set off all of the protections I’m sure you have in place, then it’s more dangerous than what I run into. You call the SIU yet?”
Stiles shakes his head. “There’s no one in the office at this hour, and the new branch isn’t expecting me for two more weeks. I don’t know if they’ve even got a partner lined up for me yet, much less a contact for emergencies.”
“What about Scott?”
“He won’t have any more of an idea than you do. Your bestiary is his go-to.”
“So,” Chris says, frowning into his coffee.
“Yep.” Stiles hits the P hard, the sound sharp and final. “I’m gonna have to talk to him.”
Chris’s posture eases as the unspoken tension between them dissipates. “So, it does have to do with Hale. You going to be okay?”
“Probably not,” Stiles says, honest with himself in a way that only happens in the early morning. “I’m sorry I didn’t let you know I was coming back.”
“I understand why you didn’t.” Chris twists the mug in his hands. “Just be careful, okay? You get stupid around him, and I don’t think you can afford that right now.”
“Waking up covered in blood does tend to make that point,” Stiles agrees. “I haven’t even stripped the sheets yet.”
“You want a hand?”
Stiles considers it, but the idea of Chris anywhere near his bed when he’s feeling this vulnerable is a bad one. He gives an almost imperceptible shake of his head no.
“Make sure you strengthen your wards before you go back to sleep. I’ll check around the perimeter, see if anything catches my attention.” Chris drains his coffee. “And then I guess I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
“Thanks,” Stiles says before standing. “I’ll text you.”
“Be careful,” Chris warns again, his hand a warm, heavy weight on Stiles’s shoulder. “Whatever this is, we’ll figure it out.”
Stiles nods and lets Chris out, locking the door behind him. With a sigh, he heads back upstairs and strips his bed. While the sheets are stained, it isn’t as bad as he’d thought originally. The blood hasn’t even soaked through to the mattress and seems to be gathered at the top of the bed. He carefully wraps everything into a bundle, needing the evidence for later. As far as he can tell, there aren’t any injuries on his body, but the blood had to come from somewhere—or someone—and Stiles needs to get to the bottom of it.
His clothes, also stained and crusted with blood along the collar, get tossed into the washing machine directly—there’s more than enough blood on his linens for testing—and he starts the wash cycle with an extra rinse before wandering back to his room.
When morning comes peeking through the clouds, the sun fitfully pressing its way through the still lingering storm, Stiles puts his suit on like armor. He tugs his dress shirt over his wrists to hide the edges of his tattoos before grabbing his badge, keys, and gun, and heading to the Sheriff’s department’s downtown office.
It’s nearly empty inside, the night shift finishing their last bits of paperwork, and he walks to the back corner of the building, near his dad’s office, but not quite all the way to it. He hovers in the bullpen, steadying his heartbeat as he gathers the courage to cross the distance between him and the scarred desk near the back wall. He hates that he’s afraid of this, considering everything that he’s seen and done in the last decade, but he’s hated so many things about Derek Hale in that time, this feels like just another log on the fire.
He stands in front of the desk and waits until the man sitting there looks up, his prismatic eyes rising from his paperwork to meet Stiles’s.
Even though he doesn’t want to, Stiles drags his eyes over Derek. He looks comfortable in his uniform, in his skin. He’s settled, easy, as if he knows his place in the world. He’s still got a thin layer of stubble covering his jaw and cheeks, but there are flecks of gray around the corners of his mouth that weren’t there years ago. His hair is a bit longer than Stiles remembers it, and it curls just slightly over his forehead, enticing in its disregard for departmental uniform regulations. There are crows feet bracketing his eyes, subtle hints at the laughter that must have filled the years since Stiles has seen him.
This Derek is older, softer, though no less dangerous. All these subtle changes turn his physical attractiveness, already a deadly thing, into a honed blade that cuts deep into the marrow of Stiles’s soul. Emotions that he’d thought long dead—or at least buried alive—rise up, tightening his throat with something far from hate.
“Deputy Hale,” Stiles says, fighting for a lightness he doesn’t feel. It comes out heavy with words unsaid, with years of history he can’t forget, even though he wants to.
“Agent Stilinski,” Derek replies, his voice rough. It twists through Stiles like a knife, and he gives up on any chance of this exchange being anything but uncomfortable for the both of them.
“I need your help. There’s something in Beacon Hills.”
Derek leans back in his chair. “Something serious?”
“Feels like it,” Stiles replies, thankful that he’s learned how to control his voice and expression since high school.
Derek sniffs, then frowns, as if he can still smell the blood on Stiles’s hands. “My shift ends in a half-hour. I can meet you at the Sheriff’s house.”
“No,” Stiles says. He’s surprised at his tone, tries to soften it and fails. “Deaton’s.”
Derek’s eyes flash blue, but he nods stiffly. “Deaton’s, then.”
Stiles tips his head in acknowledgement, then takes a hesitant step back. Emotion catches him, making his normally fluid motions jerky and uncertain. If Derek notices, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he watches Stiles as if he’s a mystery, a stranger. It stings, and Stiles finally turns his back, shoulders taut like a drawn bow string.
Stiles barely hears the whispered words, but they catch like rough bark, like broken bones, and he winces.
“Deaton’s,” he says again, back still turned. “Thirty minutes.”
Stiles walks away and pretends he’s not running.
He goes straight to Deaton’s clinic after that. The vet relocated a few years ago, and Stiles nearly gets lost on his way over, taking a left when he should’ve made a right. He blames it on exhaustion rather than distraction.
After Chris left the night before, Stiles tried to identify the blood without any luck. It took him an hour to get his mind to settle, and though he could’ve remade his bed and slept there, he made up the couch instead. He’s closer to thirty than twenty, so his back isn’t thanking him for it, but the quick snippet of sleep he’d been able to find was worth the lingering twinge. Regretting that he didn’t think to grab coffee before leaving the Sheriff’s office, he manages to fix his navigation mistake—city planning and grid systems for the win—and pulls into the parking lot of the Beacon Hills Animal Clinic long before he needs to.
He texts Chris while the car idles and lets him know to head to Deaton’s when he can. He’s startled by a loud knock on his window, and Stiles reaches for his gun, magic flaring beneath his skin, before he realizes that the dark figure looming outside his car is a familiar one.
“Deaton,” Stiles says after rolling down his window. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“You’re scaring off my paying customers, Mr. Stilinski. Come inside before I go out of business.”
“Agent,” he mumbles under his breath as he turns off the car. “Agent Stilinski.”
Deaton doesn’t respond before walking back inside. Stiles follows after him, feeling eighteen all over again instead of twenty-eight. He lets the weight of his gun and badge push away the sense of adolescence that Deaton brings forth before walking inside, the bell above the door ringing merrily.
The new location doesn’t look that much different from the old one. There are more exam rooms, and there’s a cheerful middle-aged woman sitting behind the front desk, but the color scheme and the omnipresent smell of antiseptic and wet fur are the same.
Stiles senses the wards, though, and those are definitely stronger than the old clinic’s. There is, of course, mountain ash encircling the building, but there’s also holly and calendula and oak woven into the painted woodwork. He reaches out with his magic, touching the protections embedded in the brick and wood gently. They snap back at him, stinging his fingers, and he raises his eyebrows at the impressively subtle, but strong, wards.
Deaton waves him into a back room, and Stiles follows, still tingling hands now in his pockets.
“Nice work out front,” he says as Deaton shuts the door. “Whoever warded this place knows what they’re doing.”
“That would be me,” Deaton says, deadpan. “Why are you here?”
Stiles sighs. “There’s something in Beacon Hills.”
“There is always something in Beacon Hills. That’s why your illustrious employers decided to put a field office here.” Deaton’s voice drips with disdain. “Why are you here, Stiles?”
“Something happened last night,” he says, leaning against the wall and acting like the vet’s disdain doesn’t sting. “I was dreaming, and when I woke up, I was covered in blood.”
Deaton’s eyebrows rise. “That’s definitely something.”
Stiles snorts. “No kidding. My sheets are ruined.”
“Were there any injuries?”
“No, nothing. Just blood.”
“You saved a sample, I’m assuming?” Deaton asks, reaching for an overhead cabinet. “We’ll need to know who—or what—it came from.”
Stiles pulls a plastic sandwich bag from his jacket pocket. There’s a stained strip of 300-count cotton inside, and he passes it to Deaton carefully. “There’s plenty more where this came from, if you need it.”
Deaton hums, pulls on a pair of gloves, and takes the fabric out of the bag. Grabbing a large stone bowl from the cabinet, he sets the strip and plastic bag on the counter. Deaton pulls vials of powders and herbs from the cabinet with careless familiarity, arranging them on the counter by the bowl.
Stiles moves close enough to read through the labels and frowns. “I tried these last night,” he says, grabbing three of the vials and pushing them to the side. “No luck.”
Deaton frowns, removes two more vials, and then pulls a wicked looking knife from the cabinet. Stiles blanches for a second, but the vet uses it to cut the stained strip of fabric into smaller pieces, one for each of the four remaining vials, and Stiles lets the tension drain from his body.
Stiles reads the remaining labels while Deaton finishes cutting. Blessed Sandalwood. Bluebell. Sweet Violet. Primrose.
Carefully, Deaton places a piece of cotton into the stone bowl along with the contents of the first vial.
“If you’d be so kind, Mr. Stilinski?” he asks, gesturing toward the bowl. Stiles nods, takes off his suit jacket, and rolls up his sleeve. His tattoo—a series of black, fractaling lines like branching roots—pulses against his skin as his magic gathers, and when he lets a trickle of power loose, the color shifts, flaring white-gold for an instant, before fading back to black.
The stained fabric bursts into flame, catching the sandalwood oil in a rush. It smells like burnt hair and storm drenched forest, and there’s an energy that seeps into the room with each curl of smoke rising from the basin. It tickles at the back of Stiles’s throat, and he coughs. Deaton’s eyes fall on him, intent and watchful.
When nothing further happens, the vet sighs and starts cleaning out the still smoking contents of the bowl.
Chris arrives just as Stiles sets paper-thin curls of dried violet alight.
“It smells like you’re burning potpourri in here,” he says, closing the door behind him. “You figure anything out?”
Stiles shakes his head as Deaton examines the way the fire creeps through the faded petals and blood. “No, nothing yet. Thanks for coming.”
“You bringing anyone else in on this?” he asks, giving Stiles a pointed look.
There’s a knock on the door, and the receptionist peeks her head inside, nose wrinkling at the smell. “Doctor, there’s a sheriff’s deputy here to see you.”
Chris’s eyebrows raise as Deaton leaves the room. He shuts the door quickly, leaning against it as if to strengthen the barrier.
“Do I need to ask which one?”
Stiles sighs. “No.”
“How’d that go?”
“About as well as you’d expect. No one drew blood, at least.”
Chris sighs. “You sure you’re going to be okay with this?”
“I don’t think I have a choice,” Stiles says with a shrug. “I need his knowledge and experience. If he can be civil, so can I.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Chris says with a smirk.
“Hey, fuck you,” Stiles says, stung.
“You liked it the other way around if I remember correctly.”
Stiles flushes. “I’m versatile.”
The other man’s expression softens as he takes a step closer to Stiles. “I’m just giving you shit. You’re going to have to admit that you’re far from impartial when it comes to Hale.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Stiles says. “I still need his help.”
“You need to be safe,” Chris stresses, “and free from distractions. We don’t know what fucked with you last night, Stiles, and until we figure it out and put it down, you’re in danger.”
“I don’t know about that, actually. Whatever it was, I don’t think it’s targeting me.” He shakes his head, remembers the hushed, rancid breath against his ear. Not yet.
The door opens, and Stiles and Chris both turn as Derek and Deaton walk inside. Derek’s nose wrinkles immediately.
“What the hell have you been doing in here?” he asks, eyes narrowing as he takes in the stone bowl. “Why didn’t you just wait for me?”
He walks over and grabs a piece of bloody fabric from the counter, lifts it to his nose, and takes a deep inhale. He closes his eyes, breathes in again, then exhales slowly before turning to nod at Stiles.
“It’s his. You need anything else?”
Yes, Stiles thinks, filled with a tangle of emotion as he realizes that Derek still knows the scent of his blood.
“How’s the Nemeton been behaving itself?” Chris asks, looking between Deaton and Derek and pointedly ignoring the way that Stiles’s shoulders have tightened.
“No more or less active than it ever is,” Deaton says enigmatically.
Derek rolls his eyes. “Which is to say that we’ve had a few supernatural visitors in the last six months, but nothing worth noting. An infestation of fairies, a mountain troll, and a pair of omegas running from Canada, all taken care of without any serious injuries.” He looks at Stiles. “What happened?”
Stiles feels childish as he recounts his dream. Deaton nods along as Stiles speaks, clearly piecing together hints about whatever creature invaded his dreams the night before. Derek looks haughty and disinterested, and Stiles wishes it still didn’t make him want.
“How would you describe the creature’s voice?” Deaton asks.
“I don’t know that it really had one,” Stiles says, trying to recall the feeling that came when it spoke. “It was more like it was in my head, rather than actually saying anything.”
“That is interesting. And you’re sure it was malevolent?”
“It sure as hell wasn’t nice.”
Deaton and Derek share a glance, frowning.
“What?” Stiles asks, shifting his weight so he’s no longer leaning against the counter. “What was that?”
“Nothing,” Derek says, but Stiles catches Derek’s eyes jumping to Deaton for support.
“No,” he says, shaking his finger at the two of them. “You know what we’re dealing with here.”
Derek glowers. “I don’t know anything.”
“Alright, Jon Snow,” he snarks. “But you’ve got an idea.”
“I’ll need to do more research,” Deaton says, breaking the sudden, spiking tension. “But it sounds like it may be a Dream Walker.”
“Christ,” Chris says, bemused. “I cannot believe you’re a federal agent. A Dream Walker. A creature that travels into people’s sleeping minds.”
“Wait, like Freddy Krueger? You’ve got to be shitting me. Are you telling me I’m Tina Gray?”
“No,” Deaton says, clearly put out. “Freddy Kreuger is a fictional character. Actual Dream Walkers feed off their victim’s energy. Killing the host would be counterproductive.”
“But they do kill people.”
Deaton shrugs. “They’re not supposed to.”
“Really not making me feel any better, Doc,” Stiles says. “So what do I do about getting rid of the thing?”
“I’ll have to make a few phone calls.” Deaton turns back to his cabinet. “In the meantime, I have a tea you can drink that should stop you from dreaming and stop your magic from making any further messes. Without the dreams, the Walker won’t be able to feed. It may just leave on its own, once its food source has been removed.”
“Or it will kill me because I stole it’s dinner,” Stiles stresses. “I hope you won’t be offended if I do some digging of my own.”
“If you were, at any point in your life, worried about offending someone, I would be shocked,” Derek says. “We all done here?”
“Yes,” Deaton says with a nod. “Thank you for your help, Derek.”
“Jackass,” Stiles mutters to himself, watching Derek leave with regret and bitterness clogging his throat. Chris doesn’t say anything, but Stiles can feel the weight of pity in his gaze.
Deaton hands him a paper bag. “One heaping tablespoon, steeped in eight ounces of just-boiling water for five minutes. That will give you dreamless sleep for six to eight hours. Don’t drink it until you are in bed. If your mind is active after drinking this, you may have… complications.”
“Like what?” Stiles asks, eyebrows raised.
“Like sleep-eating, Mr. Stilinski. Not everything is nefarious.”
“Jury’s still out on that one,” he says, peering into the bag. “But thank you.”
“You’ll contact me if you learn anything more?”
“Of course,” Stiles says, folding the top of the bag shut. He slips into his suit jacket, tilts his head in Chris’s direction. “You want to grab some breakfast?”
“Normally, I’d say yes,” he says, “but I’ve got to get packed and on the road for a trade show. I’ll be back in a couple of days. Rain check?”
“Yeah.” Stiles runs a hand over the back of his head, the short hairs there catching against his fingers. “Maybe I’ll head into the field office, get the lay of the land.”
“Make sure you eat something,” Chris says with fond warning in his voice. “You have a habit of forgetting.”
Deaton looks between the two of them, then starts putting things away. “If you two would be so kind as to leave, I’m expecting a Great Pyrenees shortly, and I need the room.”
It’s raining again when Stiles walks out of the clinic, and he gives Chris a quick wave goodbye before climbing into his rental car. He shrugs out of his water-speckled jacket, wiggling in the tight confines of the driver's seat. The jacket and the bag of tea get tossed into the passenger seat. Heater on full, Stiles points his car toward Ruby's, figuring a greasy breakfast and a cup of warm, perfect diner coffee would go a long way toward improving his morning.
It’s quiet and empty when he arrives, Martha nowhere to be seen. Instead, a mousey high schooler shows him to a booth in the back, laying the menu in front of him with a stumbling and quiet rundown of today’s breakfast specials. Stiles gives her his most comforting smile, usually reserved for grieving family members or people in shock, and pretends to look through the various iterations of eggs and fried potatoes the diner offers. She comes back with a steaming carafe of coffee, and Stiles gratefully turns the chipped coffee mug on the table upright for her to fill. Breathing the rich tang of fresh brewed coffee, he takes a sip, then leans back into the cracked vinyl of the booth before placing his order.
The problem with diners in the early morning is that there are no distractions. There aren’t enough customers for the waitresses to be busy, no silverware needing to be rolled into neat, napkin-wrapped packages. The few customers inside have their heads down, noses buried in their phones, and leave as soon as they’re done eating. The rain keeps people from walking down the street, which leaves people watching completely out. Stiles tries to distract himself with his phone, but even that doesn’t help. Instead, he’s left with his mind spinning as it works at the puzzle of his dream.
He googles for Dream Walkers while he waits for his food, sipping idly at his coffee as he scrolls through search results. There’s very little online that’s useful. More than a few websites talk about lucid dreaming, humans harnessing the power of their sleeping minds to control their dreams, but it doesn’t match with what Deaton had told him. There’s one page that starts out promising, but it ends up being a description of a character from Supernatural, and Stiles closes out of the tab with a stinging tap against his phone.
The waitress comes back with the carafe and his food, topping his coffee up as he murmurs his thanks. His eggs are perfectly over-easy, the hash browns crisp and snappy when he cuts into them with the side of his fork. His rye toast must be made in-house or from a nearby bakery because its flavor is fresh and sharp against his tongue. It’s an incredible breakfast, exactly what he came into Ruby's for.
It all sours in his stomach when the front door opens and Derek Hale walks inside, heading straight for Stiles’s booth.
Thank you to everyone who's left a kudos or a comment or subscribed to this thing! It's been a lot of fun writing it, and I'm excited that so many of you want to go along on this ride with me. Next chapter is out Friday. <3
Stiles laughs, and the sound of it is like ash, like quiet destruction.
Stiles doesn’t say anything when Derek falls into the bench seat across from him, glowering. The waitress starts to approach, but Derek waves her off gently, none of his clear annoyance directed at the girl. Instead, he turns his attention back to Stiles, laser-focused ire setting Stiles’s teeth on edge.
“Long time, no see,” Stiles snarks before pushing his empty plate away from him. “What do you want, Deputy?”
“I talked to the Sheriff.”
“Makes sense, as he’s your boss.”
“I talked to him,” Derek growls out, “about what happened last night. You left a pile of bloody clothes in his washing machine. He had questions.”
Stiles hides in his cup of coffee, tries to wait Derek out. But, clearly, he’s learned some interrogation techniques since joining the force, and Stiles gives in before he does.
“What did Dad have to say about it?”
“He said we should work on it together. Use it as an opportunity to ‘foster bonds’ between our department and the SIU.”
Stiles frowns, confused. “Is it a re-election year?”
Derek’s mouth twitches like he might smile, but it vanishes as quickly as it appeared. “It might be. Whatever the ballot, he gave me an order, and I’m here.”
“Scott told me you were on duty last night. Shouldn’t you be going home?”
“I…” Derek looks away from him.
“You lied,” Stiles guesses, and Derek flinches, confirming it. “You didn’t want to be there.”
“It’s complicated,” Derek says, hands clenched into fists. “And it’s not important.”
Stiles wants to argue the point, wants to have a reason to tear into Derek’s walls and get some of this poison out, but he can’t. The man isn’t wrong.
“What resources do you have?” Stiles asks.
“I’ve got my family’s files, and there are a few neighboring packs that we’ve formed alliances with since you left.”
It sounds like a recrimination, though Stiles knows it isn’t. He nods, letting the sting fade. “I’ll see what I can find in the SIU’s database, and there are a couple of people back in D.C. that owe me some favors. Between that and Deaton’s information, I won’t be your problem much longer.”
“Stiles,” Derek growls. “I don’t…”
He runs a hand through his hair, looking past Stiles to the far wall of the diner. The small muscles in his face jump as he clenches his jaw, the corners of his mouth turning down before he finally looks back to Stiles.
“What happened to us?” he asks.
Silence falls. There’s the quiet clink of silverware. Coffee brewing. The chime of the door as it opens, letting another patron in. The words are heavy and sit between them, waiting for Stiles to do something, to maybe pick them up and finally examine what they mean rather than run away.
Derek sighs, and the opportunity passes.
“I… I just don’t understand why you hate me.”
Stiles laughs, and the sound of it is like ash, like quiet destruction. “That’s the thing, Derek,” he says as he pulls his wallet from his pocket and tosses a twenty down on the table. “I’ve never hated you.”
Derek rises as Stiles does, his body blocking the way to the door. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks, face tight.
“Can we not do this?” Stiles asks, suddenly feeling tired and broken. When Derek doesn’t move, Stiles rolls his eyes, throat tight. “It doesn’t matter what it means. It didn’t matter seven years ago, and it doesn’t matter now. Just… move. I’ve got work to do.”
Derek’s jaw clenches again. Stiles can hear his teeth grind against each other, and he wonders in a distant way if Derek could wear down his fangs like that, from holding his teeth together so tightly that he can’t speak.
After a heartbeat, Derek’s weight shifts, his shoulders falling as he looks away. Stiles pushes past him, does his best to not brush against Derek’s chest, but he can still feel the heat that always seems to come off the man, can smell the spicy hint of his body wash. Stiles shivers, cold, and walks to his car, careless of the rain as it washes any trace of Derek away.
The new Beacon Hills Field Office of the SIU is tiny compared to what Stiles is used to. It takes up the entire length of what used to be a strip mall, the walls between the stores knocked down to make a wide, sprawling, open work space. There’s a quick zing of energy as he walks inside, the building’s wards brushing against his own with an electric charge of warning. Cubicles fill most of the office space, though there’s a neat entryway with a receptionist that asks for his credentials before pointing him down a hallway of offices. A plaque on the door declares the office belongs to the “Special Agent in Charge,” and Stiles knocks quietly before trying the knob.
A woman is standing in front of a desk, her back to the door and her blond hair just brushing the collar of her dark blue suit jacket. She turns as the door opens and gives Stiles a long, considering look as she sets a Manilla folder down, her blue eyes steady.
“Agent Stiles Stilinski?” she asks, leaning her hip against the desk and crossing her arms.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says, suddenly standing at attention. Now that he’s focusing, he can feel the power radiating off of the woman. She’s got a sure sense of command, of leadership, but there are also waves of magic pouring off of her. It trips against his wards, burning as they try to make up their mind about whether to activate or not.
“Special Agent Peterson,” she says, holding her hand out to him. They shake, and power snaps between them like leashed dogs. Like wolves. “I see the stories aren’t exaggerated.”
“No, ma’am,” he says, shaking the sting from his fingers.
“Take a seat,” she says as she moves around to sit behind the desk. “I didn’t think you were supposed to be in yet.”
“I’m not.” He sits. “I experienced an event last night, and I need to make use of the SIU’s database.”
“Anything we need to be worried about?” she asks.
“I’m not sure yet, ma’am. That’s part of why I need access.”
She hums thoughtfully, then nods. “Your computer hasn’t been ordered yet, but I think we’ve got an older model that was supposed to be decommissioned that you can use while the purchase order goes through. It won’t run for shit, but you’ll be able to connect to the VPN and the DB. I’ll have IT get your credentials set up enough that you can get in.”
“I appreciate it,” he says, feeling a sudden wash of relief.
“I appreciate you coming out here,” she replies. “You’re a local guy, and in these smaller towns, that matters almost as much as the badge. On top of that, you’ve got a connection to that damn stump, which means you’re going to be tapped into what’s coming our way. Add your ties to local law enforcement and the McCall pack, and you’re more of an asset to us than I think you realize.”
Stiles is stunned. It must show because Agent Peterson laughs, falling back in her chair with a self-satisfied smirk. “I know my agents, Stilinski. Don’t look so surprised.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” he says. “I’ll do my best to live up to your expectations.”
“C’mon,” she says, standing. “IT’s this way.”
They wander around the perimeter of the building until they reach a dark room tucked into the back. Peterson knocks but doesn’t wait for a response before pushing her way inside. It’s hard to see in the room, the only light coming from a small desk lamp and the blue-ish glow of LEDs.
“Mayer, whatever you’re working on, shut it down.” Peterson directs the statement to a series of monitors and unsteady stacks of Diet Mountain Dew cans. “I need you to get Agent Stilinski set up on one of our older machines.”
A man pops his head out from behind the mass of monitors. He’s got thick glasses and a thicker beard, and his short brown hair sticks up around his head in a messy halo.
“But I’m just about to finish this,” he says, sounding confused at the request. “It’ll only be another twenty minutes.”
“And it’ll take you five to get Stilinski set up. He needs access to the VPN and our central creature database. Pause whatever you’re working on, get him squared away, and then you can take as long as you want to finish it up.”
Mayer lets out a deep sigh, but stands and comes out from behind his desk. He’s wearing a stained Star Wars shirt that rides up just enough to show off his slightly rounded belly. Wearily, he scratches at the thin strip of skin, then pushes past Stiles and Peterson.
“All of the old hardware is in the back room,” he says as he leaves, not looking to see if they follow.
Peterson rolls her eyes, but trails after the man.
“Should I ask?”
She sighs. “He’s the best tech guy I’ve ever worked with. The man is a genius when it comes to anything on a microchip. People, however…”
“Understood,” Stiles says.
Mayer leads them to a work area that’s tucked next to a set of double doors. Peterson looks around for a moment, then nods as if she’s satisfied by the cluttered mess that fills up the small space.
“Welcome to the Beacon Hills Field Office,” Peterson says before clapping him on the back. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Stilinski.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Stiles says. She nods again, then leaves him and Mayer alone.
While Mayer digs through the mess of computers that are piled up around the workbench, Stiles peeks through the windows filling the upper half of the double doors and sees a back loading dock filled with cardboard boxes. He turns and watches Mayer bend down to grab a PC tower that’s seen better days. The casing is dented, but it boots up when Mayer presses the on button.
“I have no idea how to spell your name,” Mayer says, gesturing for Stiles to start filling in his user information. “Go ahead and type it in for me, and I’ll do the rest.”
Stiles types his full name—first, middle, and last—into the computer, then gets out of the way while Mayer clicks through Windows screen after Windows screen. Stiles likes to think he knows his way around a search engine, but the desktop stuff leaves him at a total loss. He recognizes that he’s completely outclassed here.
After a few minutes, Mayer finishes whatever setup work he needs to do, then shuts down the PC. He pulls its cord from the wall and hands the tower to Stiles who fumbles with the unexpected weight of it.
“I’ll have to get you the peripherals from storage,” Mayer says. “Where’s your office?”
Stiles freezes. “I have no idea.”
“There’s an empty cube by the front desk. C’mon.”
Mayer finds him a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, and gets him connected to the office internet. As soon as Stiles is able to log in, though, Mayer disappears. Stiles shakes his head, puzzled and amused by the man, then pulls up the SIU creature database and an empty document for notes.
There’s relatively little in the database on Dream Walkers, which is immediately disappointing. Most of what the SIU has on them matches up with what Deaton had told him: they feed on the energy in dreams, latch onto a singular person for an indeterminate amount of time, and—once they’re finished or full or whatever, it’s not really clear—they leave. Symptoms include nightmares, exhaustion, and a bitter metallic taste in the back of the mouth. Their victims slowly waste away, as if suffering from a really bad flu. By the end of things, they either recover or they fall into a coma that they never wake up from. Stiles runs his tongue over his teeth, doesn’t taste anything other than stale coffee, and dives back into his research.
He cross-references his wards against the database, looking for creatures that would trip them, and makes careful notes as he finds, then discards, option after option. Demons are out (no brimstone), followed quickly by Night-Mares for the same reason. The baku is benevolent, which immediately excludes it from his list. He didn’t wake up with a heavy weight on his chest, so it’s not a mara or a hag. And though he wasn’t able to see the creature and whether it was wearing a hat, he doubts it was an alp.
Fingers pausing over the keys, he finally types in nogitsune, and shivers as he reads its description. His throat tight, heart pounding, Stiles fights to stay impartial, unaffected. It’s been years since his possession by the dark spirit, but he still has nightmares. On the bad days, he has to count his fingers—one, two, three, four—until the panic subsides.
But as he reviews the worst time in his life, the symptoms spelled out in simple black and white on the screen, his anxiety eases. His nightmare doesn’t fit, the voice of the creature nothing like the quiet, roaring hiss that has haunted him since high school. He sags, breath staggering from him as he crosses nogitsune off the list.
Hard on the heels of that relief, Stiles is faced with his jumbled list of mostly eliminated creatures. He runs a hand over his face and prints out a copy. He waves goodbye to the receptionist who nods her head slightly before going back to her work, and jumps into his car.
He starts it, then sits in the parking lot for a long time, not entirely sure where he should go next. The rain has dispersed to a light mist, and Stiles watches his wiper blades whip back and forth to clear the thin spit the sky casts down. The truck with his stuff is arriving around three o’clock, and he’s got an hour and a half to kill before then. Making a split-second decision, he shifts the car into reverse and pulls out onto the road, heading toward Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital.
The ER is crowded, unsurprisingly, but Stiles flashes his badge to get past the front desk—he refuses to feel bad about waving his proverbial dick around—and into the bowels of the building. He recognizes one of the nurses manning triage and gets her to point him in Scott’s direction.
He eventually finds his best friend in the doctor’s lounge, feet up on a battered coffee table, eating a protein bar and watching the news. Stiles knocks on the doorframe, and Scott turns, face twisting into a smile, mouth still full.
“Stiles!” He lisps the name around his food before swallowing and getting to his feet. He wraps Stiles’s in a tight hug, patting his back a little harder than necessary, and Stiles laughs.
“Hey, dude,” he says, taking a step back. “You got a minute?”
“I’ve got rounds in twenty,” Scott says. “What d’you need?”
“I had a nightmare. Here,” Stiles says, passing Scott the print out and gesturing back toward the couch he’d just gotten up from. “I want you to take a look at this for me, see if you can’t help narrow down what caused it.”
“Yeah, man. Anything to help.” Scott takes the paper. “I’m guessing you weren’t able to figure it out on your own?”
Stiles shakes his head. “No, not yet. I was hoping you might see something I missed.”
Scott grins before sitting down and taking another bite of his protein bar. He chews thoughtfully while looking over the list, brow furrowed.
“Seems like you’ve crossed a lot of these off already,” Scott says, touching the lines where Stiles has discarded each creature. “You sure it wasn’t just a nightmare?”
Stiles shakes his head, explains about his wards, the presence he felt in the dream, and the blood. Scott nods, re-reading the list as he listens.
“Well,” he finally says, “I think you’re right about it not being a baku, but I don’t think you should discount the mara so quickly. No weight on your chest doesn’t mean that you haven’t been picked up by one. Keep an eye out for bruises. If they don’t camp out on your chest, they’ll beat the shit out of you while you’re sleeping.”
“Thanks, Scotty,” Stiles says with a soft smile. “You’ve gotten good at this.”
Scott shakes his head, laughing. “I’ve just picked some of this stuff up from Mr. Argent and Der—from people who know more than I do.”
“You can say his name,” Stiles sighs. “I won’t bite your head off.”
Scott gives him a long, considering look, expression going distant and sad. “Are you ever going to tell me what happened between you two?”
Stiles looks away, furious that he’s having this conversation again. He doesn’t answer, refuses to speak around the hot ball of anger sitting in his throat.
“I thought you guys were becoming friends, before…”
“No shit,” Scott says with a laugh that’s lacking in any humor. “I just wish I could help.”
Stiles deflates a little, heart twisting. “I know.”
“Can I ask why you smell like him?”
Stiles stills, hands clenched tight in front of him. “Dad’s got him working with me on this. Figures it’ll build rapport between the sheriff’s department and the SIU.”
“Well, that sucks,” Scott says, and Stiles laughs.
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
Scott raises an eyebrow, both of them aware of the lie. “You sure?” Scott asks. “You always smell sad when you talk about him, man.”
“You’re good people, Scott McCall, but let’s stay focused on the dangerous supernatural creature instead of me. If any bodies come into the morgue that set your wolfy senses twitching, you let me know. ”
“You’ll be the first person I call,” Scott says with a nod.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you, dude.” Stiles pats his shoulder, then stands. “Also, you’re late.”
Scott looks frantically toward the clock, then curses. “Don’t think we’re done talking about this. You know how to get out of here?”
“Yeah, I got it. Dinner later?”
Scott nods, attention already refocused as he hurries toward the door. “Yeah, of course. Call Malia, she always sets that stuff up.”
Stiles opens his mouth to tell Scott that he doesn’t have Malia’s number, but his best friend is already through the door and into the hallway, running off to wherever he was supposed to be five minutes ago.
Stiles calls Lydia to get Malia’s number, then makes plans to meet her and Scott for dinner. With the commute from the SIU field office to BH Memorial, plus his time with Scott, Stiles has to rush over to his new apartment complex, making it just in time to get his keys before the moving truck arrives. He unlocks the door on his first story unit, then grins as he takes in the wide open space.
That grin fades as more and more boxes get loaded in. Once the truck is empty, Stiles’s new apartment is filled with furniture and so many boxes, he has to line them up against the walls in places to get past. He knew he had a lot of stuff, but the apartment, crammed full of his crap, brings it home.
Happy that he doesn’t have to try to cook in the mess, he starts moving boxes into their appropriate rooms—linens and clothes in the master bedroom, computer stuff and books in the second one he’s going to use for an at-home office, kitchen stuff in the… well, kitchen. He uses the knife he keeps strapped to his ankle to open the box with his bedding, then makes up his mattress. His second pillow is missing, probably tucked in with the towels, but when he’s done, the bed looks presentable.
He locks the place up, runs over to his dad’s to grab his suitcases and give the man another rib-bruising hug, and then meets Scott and Malia at the one decent Italian place in Beacon Hills. He has the lasagna, which is okay to middling, and Scott and Malia both get the steak puttanesca, which makes him moan when Malia is kind enough to let him take a bite. She bares her teeth at him when Stiles tries to steal another bite, sending Scott into a fit of laughter as he takes a sip of his Sangiovese. Stiles takes the opportunity to grab a bite from Scott’s plate, and the evening quickly devolves from there.
Stiles waves as Scott and Malia leave, standing in the open door of his rental car as they pull away. He’s slightly buzzed from the wine, so he takes his time getting back to his apartment. He brings his suitcases inside and unpacks them haphazardly. Yawning, he considers brewing up Deaton’s tea, but he doesn’t know where his electric kettle is and doesn’t want to bother with boiling water on the stove. He’s already barely keeping his eyes open as it is, and he doesn’t usually dream. Falling face-first into bed after brushing his teeth, he figures it’ll be fine.
What’s the worst that could happen?
There are leaves beneath his bare feet. Confused, he curls his toes into them. Earthy and wet, the smell of it hits him, and he looks up. A grove of trees surrounds him, their twisted limbs tangling together so that they block out the night sky. His throat tightens.
He knows this place.
Turning around, he stares at the gnarled stump slumbering in the center of the grove. There are no bodies gathered around it, no lightning bugs dancing through its roots, but Stiles can feel the energy seeping out of it. There’s a slow, steady pulse that echoes in his chest. A bone deep thud that twists in his gut like acid.
It takes all of his will to pull his eyes from the Nemeton. He clenches his teeth, baring them as he forces his head up and away from it.
Someone is standing across from him, the Nemeton between them. The clearing is dark, shrouded by more than branches. Stiles takes a hesitant step forward, scared to move closer to the stump, but equally as afraid of not knowing who’s there with him.
The figure takes a matching step back, and its head tips up, meeting Stiles’s eyes. Eyes flash blue, and in that brief instant of light, Stiles recognizes the man.
“Why are you here?” he asks. The words echo, bouncing and rebounding in the space until they turn into a cacophony, so loud that Stiles has to press his hands over his ears.
why are you here are you here you here here HERE
Derek is unaffected, his eyes still forward, watching. Stiles takes another step forward, stumbles, and Derek does the same in reverse. Stiles curses, and it joins the booming noise filling the grove.
He doesn’t care that the name is quickly swallowed up by the rest, doesn’t care that it ricochets through his head with the rest of his words. He walks forward, picking up speed as Derek continues to back away from him.
Bare feet trip over roots, and Stiles’s hands land on the jagged top of the stump. His skin slaps against the wood, the sound snapping through the grove and silencing everything else in a sudden absence of noise that hurts almost as much as his roaring voice had. Derek, just at the edge of the grove, takes a final step backward, disappearing.
Stiles curses again and tries to stand. But when he pushes away from the Nemeton, he finds his hands are stuck. He looks down, horrified to see the branching lines of his tattoos writhing across his skin, creeping forward like roots to dig their way through the cracks of the stump. He screams, tries to pull away again, but the tendrils of ink only thicken and grow, binding him to the Nemeton.
He feels it when the roots of the tree dig into his skin, burrow their way through his bloodstream, and burst out of his wide mouth, still stretched open on a scream.
He claws his way to consciousness, throat tight as he tries to scream. It comes roaring out of him, quiet at first before pouring into the darkness of his bedroom. His body follows, lurching up out of the tangled sheets as he claws at his face. He can still feel the branches in his mouth, the earthy flavor of the Nemeton’s roots growing tangled on his tongue.
Hands trembling against his face, he shakes and shivers as he recovers from the dream. It’s hard to breathe. Panic and terror tighten his throat. Swallowing, he pushes it down, counts his fingers slowly, waits for the tempo of his heart to slow.
It takes him a minute to finally turn on the light, terrified of what he’ll find. But other than the disarray of his bed, there’s no sign of danger. His wards are solid and strong. There’s no blood, no sign that anything happened at all, other than the dream. His magic is sleeping, even though he isn’t, curled up in his chest like a fox in its den.
His phone is on the bedside table, and for a moment, he thinks about calling someone. Maybe Scott, maybe his dad. How would he explain it, though? It’s been years since he’s called either of them this late. He knows it always stressed Scott out, hearing Stiles panting down the line in fear as he tried to make sense of how long he’d be asleep, whether he’d gone sleepwalking, if it was the nogitsune all over again.
He gives up on the idea and scrubs a hand over his face before rolling out of bed. He heads to the kitchen, hoping the change of scenery will help his mind settle. There’s nothing for him to do once he gets there, though. Everything is still boxed up, but it’s too late or too early—it doesn’t really matter which—to start unpacking. He’s got some groceries in the fridge, so he grabs a carton of orange juice, drinks straight from it, and looks out the windows of his apartment into the black night around him.
He’s heading to his office space to review his notes from the day before when his phone starts ringing. Confused, he hurries to his bedroom and answers as it’s about to switch to voicemail, his dad’s name and photo filling the screen.
“Dad,” he says, suddenly worried. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, kiddo.” Dad sighs. “I’m going to need you to meet me at the hospital, though.”
“Do you remember our next door neighbor, Mr. Carter?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, no less confused. “Why are you calling me about Mr. Carter at,”—he looks at the clock—“five o’clock in the morning?”
“Derek thinks it has something to do with your… friend.”
“Whatever tripped my wards, you mean,” Stiles says.
“Yes. Can you come down here? I want you to look at the body.”
“It’ll take me a minute to get dressed, but I’ll meet you there in twenty.”
“Okay,” Dad says. “Be safe, and I’ll see you soon.”
Stiles sets his phone back down, then looks at the tangled sheets of his bed. His wards may not have tripped, but something happened while he was dreaming. He can feel it.
Shivering, he starts hunting for the box with his suits.
He’s a little rumpled when he arrives at BH Memorial, but the place is relatively empty, and Stiles finds he doesn’t worry too much about tarnishing the reputation of the FBI anyway. There’s a loading bay for the morgue in the back—a location he’s, unfortunately, still familiar with from high school—and he finds his dad there, standing next to an empty ambulance and looking concerned.
“Hey,” Stiles says, hurrying up to the entrance. “Sorry I’m late.”
His dad waves his concern away. “It happens. C’mon inside.”
Stiles trails after the Sheriff, wondering at the tired slump of his shoulders and what it means. His dad starts talking as they get closer to the morgue’s refrigerated storage room.
“His wife came running over this morning,” Noah says. “Poor woman was a mess. I got her to calm down a bit, and then I got their house secured.”
“When did it happen?”
“A little after three,” he says, gesturing for Stiles to head into the morgue first. “Derek and Jordan came to assist, and that’s when Derek noticed something was off.”
The two deputies are inside the morgue, standing next to a metal autopsy table and talking quietly. Derek looks up when the door opens, his previously animated expression going still and closed off. Stiles pauses, every part of his body that might move stalled by Derek’s shuttered expression. He forces his chest to rise and fall with breath, for his heart to beat, drags his muscles into motion as he walks further into the room, the door swinging shut behind him. It hurts, and he leans into it, refusing to break eye contact with Derek as he shuts it all down, shoves his confused emotions deep inside where they can’t burst free. If Derek’s going to act like it’s fine, then so is Stiles.
Jordan—God bless the man—doesn’t seem to notice and gives Stiles a muted smile.
“Hey Stiles,” he says, tone an odd mix of happy and subdued. “Pretty shitty way to welcome you back, but it’s good to have you here.”
“It’s good to see you, too.” Stiles’s mouth quirks up into a reluctant grin. “Circumstances could be better.”
Though it’s draped in a white sheet, Stiles can tell there’s a body lying on top of the table between Derek and Jordan. It’s big, and Stiles twinges, thinking about the boisterous man he remembers from his childhood, the same man who’s lying underneath the white cotton.
“What’re we dealing with here?” Stiles asks, sliding professionalism on like a shield.
“Sixty-five-year-old male,” Jordan states with clinical authority. “History of heart problems according to the wife, and he’s got a wicked scar from open heart surgery. Sounds like he’s had a bunch of work done, honestly.”
“Has the coroner taken a look at him yet?” Stiles asks before pulling the sheet away. Mr. Carter looks pretty much like Stiles remembers him, only now he’s pale and still, all his fine muscles relaxed and soft in death so that he looks like a doll rather than a person.
“Not yet,” Derek says. “The wife was convinced it was a heart attack, but something smelled off.”
“Literally or figuratively?” Stiles peers down at the pink scar in the center of the corpse’s chest. It’s faded, but still raised.
“Literally,” Derek says. “When we got to the scene, there was something metallic in the air.”
Stiles frowns. “What kind of metal?”
“Iron,” Derek says, taking a deep breath. His eyes flash blue for a second, then fade. “Or maybe nickel or steel. No rust, but it sticks to the back of my throat.”
“Well,” Stiles says before taking off his suit jacket. He passes it to Jordan, then rolls up his sleeves and looks around for gloves. He finds a box and slides on a pair, then cracks his fingers. His tattoos pulse against his skin, magic pooling in the dark lines as he draws energy into his body. “Stand back, gentlemen. This could get messy.”
“Stiles,” his dad warns. “Don’t you dare damage my body.”
Stiles rolls his eyes, then stands next to the corpse, arms outstretched. “It’ll be fine.”
Taking a deep breath, Stiles lets the power gather in the pit of his stomach. It feels like heat, like a rolling ball of electricity that snaps and bites as he forces it to the surface. The lights in the morgue flicker, and the other men in the room look around, concerned.
“It’s normal,” Stiles says, his tongue thick in his mouth as power floods his body. He can taste the familiar ozone tang now and lets it ground him. His tattoos shine, covering both of his forearms in branching, glowing lines that flow down to his hands. The nitrile does little to block the light pouring off of his fingers, and as he brings them closer to Mr. Carter’s body, the magic snaps out in thin lines of energy, crackling over the body’s skin like lightning.
Stiles grits his teeth and forces the energy to behave itself. The lines steady, coating the body in golden-white light. He shuts his eyes, cutting off anything but the sense of his magic flowing from his body into the corpse. Like a coursing hound, it bounds through muscles and arteries, sliding between skin and already decaying organs. Buried in Mr. Carter’s flesh, it hunts, searching through dead cells for their destroyer. It snaps, snarls, then finds the scent. Baying, calling to its master, it courses up the femoral artery, scrambles around the aortic arch, and settles around the heart in a snarling tangle of light and energy.
“It’s his heart for sure,” Stiles says as he tries to soothe the crackling magic beneath his hands. He opens his eyes and looks down at the body where the glow of power has coalesced around the man’s chest and the scar bisecting it. “I think the coroner’s going to rule this natural causes.”
“What about the smell?” Derek asks, though his voice is subdued, a little awed.
“The SIU’s notes on Dream Walkers said its victims tasted metal, so it might be something. We’ll want to check with the widow, see if he’s been having any nightmares lately.”
Stiles calls his magic back into his body. It leaps at his command in a rush, and the light coming from the corpse disappears like a bulb burning out. There’s a harsh snap, a tang in the air, and then the room returns to normal, fluorescent lights no longer flickering.
“Can you tell us anything else?” Jordan asks.
“Not without more supplies than I have here, no. And based on what my magic is telling me, he did die from a heart attack. There’s nothing supernatural about that. You have his medical record by any chance?”
His dad shakes his head. “No, but we’re working on it.”
“I’ll see if Scott or Melissa is here. One of them might be able to pull it up for me. There might be something in his history that’ll jump out at me.”
“Thanks for taking a look, kiddo.” Noah grins, then stands at attention. “Agent Stilinski.”
“Of course, Sheriff.” Stiles winks. “See you for dinner tonight?”
“How about a salad instead?”
His dad laughs. “All right, all right. I’ll see you at home.”
Stiles nods to Derek and Jordan, then pushes his way through the morgue doors and into the hospital hallway.
He doesn’t start shaking until he’s around the corner, his heart pounding in his chest as his magic finally leaves his body. It’s always like this, after. He calls the magic forth, and it comes leaping into him, desperate to please. But after it’s used, after Stiles has channeled it into whatever task he has for it, the magic takes as much as it gives. It leaves him exhausted and disoriented, eyes and mind bleary and unfocused.
He presses his back against the cinderblock wall, hands fumbling against the paint-covered stone, as he fights to stay on his feet. Slowly, gingerly, he lets his back slide down the wall, knees buckling at the last moment so he hits the floor, hard. He drags his knees up, then rests his head against them, just breathing and fighting back the gray edging his vision.
As he struggles to stay conscious, he hears the doors of the morgue open, followed by his dad’s voice.
“I think we’re done for the night, gentlemen. Parrish, I know you were just finishing up your shift, so if you wanted to kick off home, that’s fine with me.”
“I can take care of the paperwork,” Derek offers.
“Thanks,” Jordan says.
The echo from the hallway jumbles the words of their conversation. Stiles rests and listens, the interplay of Derek, Jordan, and his dad’s voices like white noise as the ringing in his ears fades. He’s broken out of his stupor when he hears his name.
“You going to talk to me about what’s going on with you and Stiles?” Jordan asks, tone pitched between concern and warning.
“It’s fine,” Derek says. “Same shit, different day.”
“So he’s still being a pain in the ass about things?”
“It’s Stiles. Why is that surprising?”
Jordan huffs out a laugh. “You have a point. But…” There’s a heavy sigh. “I guess I always thought he had a soft spot for you, I don’t know. I just didn’t think you two would stay mad at each other this long.”
“I’m not mad,” Derek says. It sounds like he’s trying to convince someone—himself—of the truth. “He’s the one who’s pissed off about something.”
“Well, if you need backup…” Jordan trails off as Derek laughs. The sound makes Stiles’s chest clench, and he presses his head harder into his knees, drawing clarity from the pain.
“It’ll be fine. Go home, Parrish.”
“You ever going to call me Jordan?”
“No. Now, go home.”
Jordan laughs. “All right. Stay out of trouble.”
Derek scoffs at the idea. There’s the sound of footsteps walking down the hallway. They fade. Stiles thinks he’s alone again, but then there’s a quiet, tired sigh from around the corner.
“Fuck,” Derek says softly. There’s a sudden crack of knuckles against cinderblock, the sound of stone fracturing. “Fuck.”
Stiles freezes, then scrambles for his magic. It jumps to his command, and he wraps it around himself like a barrier, like a blanket, muffling the sound of his racing heart and panting breath. He must be fast enough, because Derek finally walks away, his footsteps echoing in Stiles’s ears long after they’re gone.
He eventually tracks down Melissa, tucked behind the main reception desk in the ER. She smiles at him, bright-eyed even in the early morning. Her hair is touched with gray, but she’s still beautiful like coming home after a long trip. He doesn’t ask, just walks around the desk to wrap her up in a hug. She laughs, warm and joyous, against his ear as she returns the embrace.
“Hey, kiddo,” she says, all smiles when he pulls away. “What’re you doing here?”
“Looking for the most amazing woman in Beacon Hills,” he says, laying it on a little thick.
She shoots him a suspicious grin. “How many laws are you about to ask me to break?”
“Just HIPAA,” he says with a laugh. “Nothing major.”
“Nothing major, he says,” she shakes her head, but sits back down at her computer. “You know that’s a federal law.”
“And I’m a federal agent,” he says, flashing the badge on his hip. “So we’re in luck.”
“Okay, agent,” she says. “What’re we looking for?”
“Michael Carter,” Stiles says. “They brought his body in this morning. I need to see his medical history.”
“Give me just a moment. This system is shit.”
After a few minutes of annoyed key presses, Melissa waves Stiles to look at the screen.
“Here you go,” she says, rolling her chair back so that he can see more clearly. “There are a couple cardiology reports in here, plus a bunch of lab work. Do you know what you’re looking for, exactly?”
“I’ll know it when I see it,” Stiles says quietly, leaning forward to take control of the computer.
He scrolls through the man’s records, frowning when he reaches the bottom of one of the reports.
“This says he died,” he says.
“Really?” Melissa scoots forward, crowding into his space. He lets her slip in and take the mouse back. She bites her lip, brow furrowed. “You’re right. Looks like he flatlined during his bypass. But here,”—she reaches out and touches the screen—“they got him back and were able to finish the procedure. Most of his record has to do with his heart condition. He wasn’t a healthy man, Stiles. They had him on all kinds of medications. Beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, lipitor, anything to keep his cardiovascular system running.”
“What about symptoms? Is there anything in here that’ll say if he was tasting metal or having trouble sleeping?”
Melissa stills, then turns wary eyes to his face. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know yet,” he says. “But we think this guy is connected to it.”
“Well,” she says, clicking out of the report and opening another window. “These are the patient notes associated with his record.”
Stiles skims them but doesn’t see anything useful.
“Can you print this out for me?” Stiles asks.
“No, I can’t release his records to you,” she says, looking stern and chagrined, “but if you need to look at them again, you know where I am.”
“Thanks, Melissa,” he says before pressing a kiss to her curling, grayed hair. “If you see Scott, tell him I said hi.”
“Of course.” She waves him away as she closes out of Mr. Carter’s record. “Now get out of here. You’re distracting me.”
“Love you, too,” Stiles says with a grin. Melissa smiles back, but keeps her eyes on the computer screen. It tickles a laugh from him, and he turns around, heading into the bowels of the hospital so he doesn’t have to walk all the way around the exterior of the building to get to his car.
He doesn’t let his fingers trail over a single, broken cinder block as he approaches the morgue, but it’s a near thing.
Stiles gets home and sleeps until the sun creeps into his bedroom with fierce beams of light that glance across his face. Groaning, he turns over and pulls his comforter over his face. Sunlight cuts through the thick material, and it grows uncomfortably warm under the blanket. Stiles gives up the fight, flinging the blanket from his face to turn petulant eyes to the window in his room.
Blackout curtains, he thinks to himself.
After another moment, he gets all the way out of bed, digs a towel out of a box, and takes a quick shower. He feels moderately refreshed after, so he gets dressed and starts opening boxes.
While he focuses on unpacking in his room, the bathrooms, and his office, the process gives him time to get familiar with the layout of his new place. The bedrooms are on opposite sides of the unit, with the wide-open living space in between. When he looked at the floorplan originally, there’d be a line between the “living” and “dining” areas, but there’s no wall in real life. As he starts tearing down boxes, the space starts to feel expansive and open, and light pours in from the patio into the living space.
The kitchen, which is arguably the smallest room in the place, is full of stuff. He moves some things into the awkward sitting area next to the kitchen, but it still leaves the counters covered in heavy, clinking boxes. Leaving that for later—he’s not much of a cook, anyway—he finishes unpacking his desktop computer and various supernatural research materials. He sets his printout about Dream Walkers on his desk, reminds himself to call the local ISP to get service hooked up, and adds the torn-down boxes from the office to the growing pile on the floor in the main living area.
Happy with the progress he’s made so far—he can actually see his couch and coffee table now, though it’s still a struggle to get to them—he finds a pad of paper in the office and starts making a list of things he’ll need to pick up from the store later. He’s got a hook up for a washer and dryer, but he’ll need to actually get them—they weren’t included in the unit—before he can make use of the space. His dad won’t mind him ducking over to wash his clothes, he’s sure, especially if he brings food with him.
His stomach gives an annoyed growl, and he checks the time, surprised at how late it’s gotten. He’d somehow missed lunch in all the excitement, so he texts his dad about dinner and grins when the Sheriff sends back a slew of hamburger emojis. Stiles responds with salads, his dad shoots back ice cream with a question mark, and Stiles sends back a thumbs up.
See you soon, his dad replies.
Stiles grabs his keys from the breakfast bar counter and heads out. There’s a Safeway between his place and his dad’s, so he ducks in and grabs the stuff for a decent salad—fresh, leafy lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, avocados, some bacon, and a roast chicken he’ll tear up and toss in. He chucks a quart of ice cream into his cart, along with some hot fudge and whipped cream, and hurries through the checkout.
His dad raises an eye when Stiles knocks.
“You think you got enough?” he asks.
“Take the chicken,” Stiles says, trying to juggle the bags of produce and the still-hot chicken. “I need to get the ice cream into the freezer.”
“This doesn’t make up for those burgers your friends ruined,” his dad says, chicken in hand as he closes the door behind Stiles.
“Your doctor’s thanking them for it, trust me. I don’t think the grease is ever going to come out of that shirt.”
His dad rolls his eyes, then starts washing the lettuce. They work together quietly, passing knives and bowls between each other with a familiarity that hasn’t faded with time. Stiles hands his dad a drumstick while he’s tearing meat from the chicken, and the Sheriff eats it happily before starting on the bacon. He lets it cool on a paper towel-covered plate before crumbling it over the salads that Stiles has assembled in the meantime.
“Looks good,” his dad says before taking his plate and sitting at the table.
“It’s nothing special.” Stiles sits, then starts eating. They don’t need to talk right now, just enjoying each other’s company as the sun starts to dip outside.
Stiles is pushing his empty plate away when his dad sighs and leans back in his chair, giving him a considering look.
“So,” he starts, frowning. “When were you planning on telling me about those clothes I found?”
Stiles flushes, chastised. “I was getting around to it.”
“That’s a hell of a thing to find in your washing machine.”
“I wasn’t thinking too clearly when it happened. Sorry.”
Noah rubs at the bridge of his nose. “You know, I’ve always worried about you, but since the werewolves and the kanima and the nogitsune… It changed. But then you went into the FBI, and I figured you’d learn how to take care of yourself.” He gives a wry grin. “That light show you put on this morning was pretty damn impressive. I know you’re an adult now, and while I still worry, I know you’re able to keep yourself safe. But next time you wake up covered in blood? Can you just tell me right away?”
Stiles ducks his head. “Yeah, Dad.”
“I definitely didn’t think that I’d be getting an explanation from Derek, of all people.”
Stiles gets up from the table, grabbing both of their plates and heading toward the sink.
“How’s working with him going?”
His dad is a veteran interrogator. He’s probably questioned hundreds of suspects since he joined the force, worked over people both innocent and guilty. There’s a certain shift to his voice when he’s looking for information, hoping to make someone trip over their words to spill the truth. Stiles recognizes that tone, knows it from his own interrogation training. It’s funny, but his dad’s questioning voice sounds exactly like his.
“It’s working fine,” Stiles says. He drops the plates in the sink and starts running the water.
His dad persists. “He’s a good deputy. Very detail-oriented, but he’s got a soft touch with victims. He’s grown a lot since he joined. I think you’d be surprised at how much he’s changed.”
“I’m sure I would be.”
The water runs quietly. Plates clink together as he wipes them down with a sponge. A large hand lands on his shoulder, and he jumps, dropping the dish into the sink with a loud clatter of ceramic on stainless steel.
“Stiles,” his dad says, making him turn around. “You two need to learn how to work together. I know you’ve got some personal issues with the guy, ones I don’t understand, but with the SIU coming into town, my deputies need someone they can liaise with. I’ve already talked to the Special Agent in Charge at the new office, and she and I agree that you’re the best agent for the job. And while Jordan is a hell of a deputy, he doesn’t have the supernatural knowledge that Derek does.”
“I know, Dad,” Stiles says. His magic stirs, rising to protect its master from this imagined, nebulous threat, and Stiles has to calm it, make it settle back in the pit of his stomach. “I’ll figure out how to make it work.”
“Good.” His dad squeezes his shoulder again, then heads to the freezer. “After dessert, I want you to give him a call and update him on Mr. Carter. Melissa called me earlier, and I want you to debrief him.”
Stiles can’t decide if he wants to take the order like an adult or try to eat the entire carton of ice cream himself, just to spite his father. Instead, he lets his shoulders relax and heats up the fudge sauce in the microwave as his dad spoons out too-large scoops of ice cream for the both of them.
His apartment is dark when he comes home. He stumbles over a box as he shuts the door and falls against the wall. Groaning softly, he slides down it to settle on the ground. The day’s caught up to him, finally, and he’s tired and feeling worn thin. His dad’s order echoes in his mind, though, and after a moment, he pulls his phone out of his hoodie pocket and turns it on.
His dad programmed Derek’s number in before Stiles left. Stiles opens his contacts and stares at it. Ten digits, ones he doesn’t recognize anymore, gleam back at him from his phone’s screen. His thumb hovers over the call button. It feels heavy, weighted. Stiles gives into gravity and lets skin touch screen.
The display goes black except for Derek’s name and the call icons. Stiles thumbs the speakerphone on, then tilts his head back, unable to look at the screen.
“Derek Hale. How can I help you?”
His voice ricochets through Stiles’s apartment like a gunshot, and it hurts just as much. Stiles doesn’t say anything, can’t say anything, and the silence grows and grows, like years, like rot.
“Hey,” he says, throat tight. “Sorry to call this late.”
“No, it’s okay.” Derek pauses. “I didn’t think you had my number.”
“My dad gave it to me.”
It goes quiet again. Stiles tries to make out the background noise from Derek’s end, but it’s too faint to make sense of it. He knows that Derek can probably hear Stiles’s breathing, his heartbeat. The silence almost hurts.
“Why’d you call?” Derek finally asks.
Stiles grabs onto professionalism like a life preserver. He can do clinical, methodical. “Melissa pulled up Mr. Carter’s medical record for me. Guy had a major history of heart problems. Apparently, he died during his open heart surgery.”
“So you think it was natural causes.”
“I think it’s more likely than a Dream Walker,” Stiles says. “They don’t kill people with heart attacks.”
“No, that’s just bacon.”
Stiles laughs, and immediately wishes he hadn’t. It reminds him too much of calling Derek when he’d been at school, the two of them talking, laughing with each other until the early mornings. That laugh makes all the years between them, all the pain, disappear for a moment, And while Stiles knows it’s going to come flooding back any second now, the short reprieve from the twisted grief he feels whenever he thinks of Derek feels like a breath of air after drowning.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Derek says into the silence. His words are soft like he’s gentling an injured animal. “I didn’t say it earlier, but I am.”
“I am, too.” Stiles swallows. “It was... good to see you.”
“Same.” Derek breathes heavily into the phone. “I miss—missed you.”
Stiles’s chest hurts, and there’s something like tears pricking at the corner of his eyes. He bites the inside of his cheek, fights it back.
“Anyway, it’s late.” Derek sounds embarrassed. “I reached out to some of my contacts earlier, and I should have something by tomorrow. Scott’s going to keep an eye on the morgue, too. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep him watching.”
“Yeah, I had the same thought.”
“That’s what he said when I asked.”
Silence again, though it feels different this time. There’s something hesitant to it, something approaching hopeful, expectant. Stiles doesn’t examine it, can’t look at it any more than he can look at Derek’s name on his phone.
“Guess I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Stiles finally says. “Good night, Derek.”
“Good night, Stiles.”
The call ends, and Stiles closes his eyes, lets his phone drop to the floor of his front hallway, and tries to keep his head above water.
He wasn’t sure when he fell asleep. It was spring break, almost the end of his freshman year at GWU, and he was visiting Derek at the newly renovated Hale House. Scott and the rest of the pack had wandered their way over, and the night had turned into an impromptu party. The new couch was comfortable, and, snuggled into the gentle give of the cushions, he’d fallen asleep somewhere between the start of A New Hope and Alderaan exploding into a million pieces.
Stiles woke to the feeling of gentle fingers carding through his hair and a warm thigh under his cheek. For a brief moment, his heart jumped, convinced it was his mother, soothing him through a fever or nightmare. But as he woke, he realized that the hand catching against the tangle of his hair was too wide, too rough, to be a woman’s. Eyes blinking, he twisted around, confused.
Derek looked down at him, his hand stilling in Stiles’s hair as his eyes softened.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, hand lifting. Stiles grabbed at it, stopping the movement. He knew that Derek could pull his hand free, but as they stared at each other and Derek didn’t move, Stiles felt something warm and overwhelming settle in his chest, close to his heart.
“Don’t stop,” he said quietly, laying back down and pressing Derek’s hand against his hair. “If you want to… It’s nice.”
Derek didn’t answer, but started running his fingers through Stiles’s slightly too-long hair again. Stiles shut his eyes, let his head sink into the slight resistance of Derek’s leg. Yawning, he shifted to get comfortable, his body lifting and settling back into the couch. Meanwhile, Derek’s slow, careful touch continued, soothing him into a half-doze that he never wanted to give up. It eased something inside of him, a darkness he thought he’d buried long ago. But with each pass of Derek’s fingers through his hair, he felt some of it fall away like ash after a fire. Like waves crashing against stone, wearing it slowly, inexorably away, soothing the harsh edges until the rocks were smooth and round and soft.
Episode IV playing quietly in the background, he fell back to sleep, hardly able to tell when his dreams took him under.
Thank you all, again, for your comments, kudos, and bookmarks! It's been a long time since I've posted a longer fic, and I appreciate you all coming along for the ride.
Continued thanks to clotpolesonly for beta reading and telling me I'm pretty. <3
“So go,” Stiles bites out. “No one’s asking you to stay.”
If you were wondering when this fic would earn its explicit tag, this is it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After digging his coffee maker out and getting a pot brewed, Stiles calls the local ISP in the morning. It must be his lucky day, because he manages to snag a time that afternoon for installation. With little to do other than unpack, he grabs his grocery list and heads to the Safeway.
The aisles are nearly empty, most people at work or on their way to work or on their way home from work, rather than out food shopping at 8:00 AM. He strolls through the produce section, grabbing a few more essentials.
His list isn’t long, and he knows he’s just killing time and avoiding his apartment. That laugh still hangs in the corners of the place, waiting for Stiles to acknowledge the ache in the center of his chest he’s been repressing for years. He’s an adult, he knows this isn’t healthy, but he somehow can’t bring himself to examine why it hurts so much when he thinks about Derek. He’s spent so much time trying to parse out what happened between the two of them, he isn’t sure he has the energy to put anymore thought into it. He certainly doesn’t have the emotional stamina for it.
But last night, Derek said he missed him, that he misses Stiles. Mixed in with all of the anger and confusion, maybe there is still something…
Stiles cuts off his train of thought, shoves a box of cereal into his shopping cart as he turns away from it. It’s not worth it. Derek made himself clear years ago, and Stiles has done everything he can to keep his distance, to protect himself from the jagged edges of their broken friendship. He’s not throwing himself back into that mess, not again. It doesn’t matter if Derek misses Stiles, doesn’t matter if Stiles misses Derek. What they had is gone. All that’s left is to pick up enough of the pieces so that they can work together without hurting each other again.
Stiles drives home, puts his groceries away. He finishes setting up the bathrooms while he waits for the ISP tech. The guy arrives exactly on time. Stiles is so surprised by the tech’s timeliness that he lets his magic free, making sure the man isn’t a supernatural threat. There’s a hint of troll in his DNA, but it’s at least six generations back, and Stiles’s magic comes slinking back to him, disappointed that it has nothing fun to do.
The tech gets everything hooked up pretty quickly. There’s existing wires from the previous tenant, so he really only has to plug in the router and get it configured to Stiles’s new account. Stiles thanks him and passes the guy a five dollar tip when he leaves.
Now that he’s got internet and isn’t limited to unpacking for entertainment, Stiles immediately turns on his computer. He wastes an hour on reddit, going through the various supernatural subs that he lurks on. They’re usually a bust, but every once in awhile, he’ll find an actual supe asking or answering questions. That’s not the case today, but he does find out about a new podcast that strikes his interest, so it’s not a total wash.
After that, he knuckles down. His cursory search on Dream Walkers hadn’t found much useful information two days ago, but now he’s got his bestiaries, his notes, and a full-fledged browser to work with. He loses himself to the familiar process. There’s still a lot of Supernatural crap that comes up, but as he reaches the tenth page of Google results, he starts finding useful information.
There are more reports of a metallic taste by people who claim to have been haunted by Dream Walkers. Most compare it to pennies, but there are a few who describe it like nickel or steel. He isn’t sure if that’s what Derek was smelling, and he’s not able to find anything that mentions an odor, but it can’t hurt to run it by the wolf later.
Lunch passes quickly, and he’s got a bit of a tension headache coming on as the afternoon passes. By the end of the day, Stiles has a pile of new information to add to his existing notes, and none of it tells him how to deal with the Dream Walker.
The most useful thing is a list of spells he can use to ward against it. He wanders around his apartment, laying the marks on the doors and windows as his magic leaps and gambols about him, panting in excitement as it stretches its legs. He lets it roam free, lets it spread its golden-white light around the apartment as he finishes warding in his bedroom. The new protections aren’t that different from the ones he has on his body, but they’ll hopefully wake him before the Dream Walker can invade.
He weaves additional marks in with the wards. These are meant to trap, to capture, to contain, and while he’s not exactly sure if they’re the right symbols for the creature, it can’t hurt. Of course, if he does manage to catch it, he has no idea what he’ll do then.
But that’s Future Stiles’s problem.
The Stiles of Right Now, however, is more concerned with dinner than any pending supernatural threats. He makes his way to the kitchen, then groans.
There are boxes everywhere, and Stiles wonders if he can just live out of them until he dies, rather than unpack all of it. For a moment, he imagines being found, years later, buried under all of his things, a stack of newspapers his funeral shroud, and frowns, giving up on the idea of living in disorder. He sighs, deep and unhappy, and uses his knife to start cutting through packing tape.
Thankfully, the kitchen boxes are about the only things left, though his living room is full of torn-down boxes that he’ll need to drag out to the dumpster eventually. Still uncertain about where he’s going to put everything, the counters end up covered in pots and pans, stacks of dishes enveloped in newsprint crowded next to bubble wrapped glasses. He stares at the overhead cabinets against the back wall of the kitchen, wonders if it makes more sense for the cups and plates to go between the stove and the fridge, or if he should use that space for his spices and baking stuff, when there’s a loud knock on his door.
“Coming!” he shouts, sending a quick prayer of thanks to whichever unpacking deity recognized his plight, as he heads to the front door, his bare feet sticking to the tile.
His prayer is followed quickly by a silent curse when he opens the door. Derek is standing on Stiles’s brand new Welcome mat, looking like he isn’t sure he wants to be here. It shouldn’t be attractive—the slight scowl on his face, the general tenseness to his body, the hunched curve of his shoulders—but a part of Stiles still sighs, entranced.
“What’s up?” he asks, fighting to keep his arms from crossing. “You need something?”
Derek reaches into his jacket and pulls out a Manilla envelope. “I’ve got some information for you. About whatever caused your nightmare.”
Stiles steps to the side, gesturing with his head that Derek should come inside. “Excuse the mess,” he says as he shuts the door behind him.
Derek, eyes wide, takes in the general chaos of Stiles’s apartment, then makes his way to the couch pushed up against the wall in the living room. Derek has to move a stack of folded boxes from the coffee table, but then he sits and starts opening the envelope.
“It’s not a whole lot,” he says, flipping through the pages. “I was able to get in touch with the Martinez pack, and they had some documents from the turn of the century that they scanned in for me. From what the alpha said, you could be looking at a wekufe, but it wasn’t exactly clear from the text if it’s a vengeful spirit or something else. It matches up a bit with what Deaton told us, and they apparently smell like old pennies, but I wanted to get your thoughts.”
Derek looks up from the couch, the papers outstretched between him and Stiles. It’s an olive branch in the form of printouts, and Stiles feels something shift as he reaches out, takes the papers, and starts flipping through them.
He looks back at Derek, deadpan. “These are in Spanish.”
“Yeah,” Derek says, acting like this isn’t a problem. “I told you, it’s from the Martinez pack.”
“I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Did you translate it already?” Stiles asks, any softer emotions being overridden by annoyance.
“No, not yet, but I thought—“
“I can’t do anything with this.” He thrusts the papers back at Derek, who fumbles for them, a couple of sheets falling to the ground.
“Why do you always have to be such an asshole about things?” Derek asks as he picks the papers from the floor. “I thought we were supposed to work on this together.”
“Yeah, we are,” Stiles says. “But I can’t work with that.”
“I know that. If you’d just give me a sec—”
“I don’t know if you noticed, but I’ve got a lot going on right now. I don’t have time to snuggle up on the couch while you translate Spanish to me.”
Derek freezes, face going tight with repressed emotion. “I’m just trying to help.”
“Then be helpful,” Stiles says curtly. “Email me the translation when you’re done. I’ll show you out.”
“You can leave,” Stiles says, voice cracking. Whatever shred of camaraderie they’d found last night isn’t enough, not in the face of the bitterness he still has buried inside.
Derek is silent, papers curled in his clenched hands. He stares at Stiles and lets his eyes move over Stiles’s face as if searching for something. Stiles tenses, pulls his shoulders back under the assault of Derek’s gaze. He focuses on breathing instead of the faceted colors of Derek’s eyes, tries to keep his heart from thundering out of control.
“We’re going to have to talk about this,” Derek says finally. The words are harsh, though his voice is low.
“I don’t want to talk to you, Derek. Not tonight.” Stiles desperately hopes that Derek can’t hear the lie in his heartbeat. “I want to get my kitchen unpacked, I want to have dinner, and I want to go to bed. So, if you can kindly get the fuck out of here…”
“What is your problem?” Derek explodes, rising to his feet in a shower of papers. They fall to the floor between them, forgotten as Derek strides forward, eyes flashing. “What did I do to you?”
“You know exactly what you did,” Stiles says through gritted teeth and stinging eyes. His magic snaps, and Stiles has to leash it with a force of will that has him shaking. “Now get. The fuck. Out.”
“Fine,” Derek snarls, teeth bared, though his fangs aren’t. “But if we’re going to work together on this, you’re going to have to get over your bullshit, Stiles.”
Stiles gapes at him, eyes wide as Derek turns and storms out of the apartment. Outrage building, he sputters, looking around the apartment for his shoes and deciding to fuck it all as he runs after Derek.
He bursts into his building’s hallway as the door to the parking lot slams shut.
“That motherfucker.” He pushes his way outside and is immediately caught in a downpour.
Stiles isn’t sure when it started raining again—it feels like it hasn’t stopped since he got to town—but he’s drenched through within seconds, his worn Quantico T-shirt clinging to his chest like a second skin and his jeans chafing against his legs. Derek hasn’t gotten far. He’s a dark shape in the yellow glow of the parking lot lights, his head ducked, jacket pulled up around his neck to hold back the rain.
“Hey, asshole,” Stiles yells, rain dripping down his face and plastering his hair to his head.
Derek turns around, and for just a moment, Stiles thinks he looks defeated, like he’s wounded and waiting for the final blow. But then Derek’s striding up to him, anger radiating off of him in waves.
“I’m not the asshole in this situation,” he says through gritted teeth. “I’m just trying to help.”
“So be helpful!” Stiles throws it at him like a curse. “What do you expect me to do with turn-of-the-century Spanish?”
“I don’t know.” Derek crosses his arms, his hair dripping over his forehead as the rain picks up. “Maybe sit still for five goddamn minutes and listen to me.”
“And then what?” Stiles asks. “We pretend like we’re friends? Like this is normal? I swear, Derek, if anyone’s the asshole here, it’s you. You just,”—he waves his arms toward Derek, gesturing to his entire body as if it explains everything—“and then you act like nothing’s changed, nothing’s different when it is. Or was, I don’t know. Fuck!”
“That’s not… You’re the one who said it didn’t matter!”
“Of course it fucking mattered, you inconceivably stupid piece of shit. Of course it did.” Stiles tries to run his fingers through his hair, but it’s so wet now, they just catch and pull. “I thought I could handle this, I really did. I thought I could come back to Beacon Hills and see you, and I’d be fine. But you keep acting like it’s all going to be okay, like it’s just going to go back to the way it was, when you and I both know that’s never going to happen. It doesn’t matter if we miss each other. That’s over.” Stiles pants, trying to catch his breath, uncertain if the water on his face is just rain. “Don’t show up at my apartment, looking—I dunno—hopeful, with a stack of fucking papers I can’t do fuck all with and expect me to act like it’s okay. Because it’s not. None of it is.”
“Stiles,” Derek says, eyes stricken, face taut.
He’s beautiful. It’s always at the edge of Stiles’s mind, the fact that Derek has been and always will be the model he compares everyone else to. But here, in the rain, in the dark of night, looking like his heart is breaking, he’s indescribable.
The anger disappears from Stiles, leaving him feeling empty and drained. He wants it back, wants the scalding, worthless comfort it brings, but he can’t find it anymore. Suddenly cold, he shivers, wrapping his arms around his chest to hold in whatever he can. Derek’s silent. Waiting.
“I’m just… I’ll call you tomorrow or something, I don’t know. Just… Please.”
Derek makes a pained sound and steps forward. Heat radiates off of him because it always does, and Stiles desperately wants to lean into it, wants to let it wash over him and replace this ache with something richer, something more than the black hole lodged in his chest. He fights it, he swears he does. But then Derek is pulling Stiles into his arms, wrapping him up in warmth and leather, and Stiles falls into it like a rainstorm.
His buries his arms into the opening of Derek’s jacket and wraps them around the other man, fingers tangling in Derek’s shirt. It’s still dry, protected from the downpour, and Stiles can feel the moisture wicking from his skin into the thin cotton. Throat tight, he buries his face in Derek’s neck, breathing him in while Derek’s hands fist in Stiles’s hair and the collar of his T-shirt. They stand there for a long moment, tangled in each others arms, fighting for solid ground and failing to find it. Then Derek rubs his cheek against Stiles’s, a rough caress against the delicate planes of Stiles’s face, lets his lips chase the rain from Stiles’s skin, and kisses him.
Derek kisses Stiles as if he’s oxygen. As if, without Stiles, Derek’s world will end. It’s a cataclysm, and it overwhelms Stiles like a flood.
He groans into the wet heat of Derek’s mouth, hands grasping to pull him closer, to keep himself from drowning. They stumble back, stumble together, and Stiles feels something sharp bite into the skin of his feet. He curses against Derek’s mouth, and the other man stills, going cold in an instant.
“No,” Stiles says against his mouth. “No, no. Not that. It’s my feet, I don’t have shoes. Please.” He kisses Derek again, and after a second, Derek kisses him back, though the fervor is lessened, softened.
“Why aren’t you wearing shoes?” Derek asks, and Stiles licks the question from his mouth.
“Shut up,” he says, pulling Derek back toward the front door. “Just shut up.”
They fall into Stiles’s apartment, knocking into the piles of boxes as Stiles shoves Derek’s jacket from his shoulders. It falls to the floor in a sodden heap, but Stiles barely notices, his fingers tangled in Derek’s hair again. One of them kicks the door shut, and then Stiles is shoving Derek up against it, Stiles’s wet shirt clinging to Derek’s skin.
Derek groans and grabs at Stiles’s hips, pulling them hard against his own. Stiles can feel the weight of Derek’s service piece on his hip, and the heavy heat of his cock against Stiles’s. Stiles grinds against it, rising on his toes to press closer as his mouth battles with Derek’s.
“Fuck,” Derek groans, hands tightening.
“That’s the idea,” Stiles says, tilting Derek’s head back so Siltes can bite as his neck. Derek’s answering moan vibrates through Stiles’s lips, and he grins, feral, against the skin there.
Derek wrenches Stiles’s head back, his fingers so tight in Stiles’s hair that it stings. He winces a little, but the pain feels good, and he lets Derek position him for another bruising kiss. Stiles lets his hand drop from Derek’s hair, lets his thumb rest in the hinge of Derek’s jaw as he bites at Stiles’s mouth. Derek forces Stiles’s head back further, then drags his lips from Stiles’s mouth to his jawline, teeth dragging against Stiles’s stubble before he bites at the column of his neck.
It’s Stiles’s turn to curse, and he feels Derek laugh before the other man starts in with teeth and lips, sucking what will likely be a wicked bruise into Stiles’s skin.
“Do you like this?” Derek asks against Stiles’s pulse, his hands trailing down Stiles’s back to rest at the hem of his T-Shirt.
Confused, Stiles blinks up at the ceiling as Derek continues to take teasing bites from his neck.
“Yes,” Derek sighs against the dip of Stiles’s collarbone, “your shirt.”
“I think so?”
“Then take it off,” Derek says, breath tickling at the collar of Stiles’s shirt, “before I do.”
Stiles feels his cock twitch at the words, and he fumbles for the hem of his shirt. The material sticks to his skin, and it pulls away from his body with a soft suction that makes him shiver. He throws the worn cotton away from him, hoping it doesn’t land in a box, then shivers again, this time from cold.
Derek pulls back, eyes burning a path over Stiles’s body. Derek’s hands trace their way across the planes of Stiles’s stomach, fingertips grazing the gentle roll of his abs, echoing the inked lines that cover his body. One sweeps its way around to Stiles’s ass, pulling their bodies together again in a languorous roll that has Stiles’s eyes snapping shut against the pleasure of it.
He falls into the sensation of Derek’s body against his, his chest pressed against the soft warmth of Derek’s shirt. Derek trails his hand over the bare skin of Stiles’s back, his fingers falling in and out of the gentle valleys of muscle that cover his body. They tangle in the short hair at the back of Stiles’s head, pull him closer, mouths crashing together like thunder. Like lightning.
Derek is a storm that rolls over Stiles, engulfing him in sensation. He gasps for breath, mouth too full of desire, of want, for there to be room for air, but Derek is there, holding him up, holding him close as hunger washes through him in a wave. Stiles loses track of everything but Derek’s touch, Derek’s mouth, Derek’s skin. He barely notices when they fall into his bedroom, Derek pulling away only long enough to take off his shirt before crashing back into Stiles’s arms.
His mattress is soft and giving under his back, and Derek is a hard weight against his chest. Stiles wraps his legs around Derek’s hips, pulls him in for another roll of bodies that leaves him shuddering, so close to coming already he can’t think.
Derek’s hands fumble at Stiles’s hips, slipping against the rain-slick skin there. He pulls back, panting against Stiles’s mouth.
“Off,” Derek gasps as his fingers dig into the waistband of Stiles’s pants. “These need to be off.”
“Yes.” Stiles pulls his hands from Derek’s body, the motion reluctant and frantic all at once. He fumbles at the button and zipper of his pants, his body shifting as he tries to take his soaked jeans off while his legs are still tangled with Derek’s.
Derek laughs, then rolls to the side to let Stiles get undressed. Stiles slides his underwear off with his pants, figuring he might as well go for broke. When Derek’s breath stops, stutters in his chest, Stiles groans, then leans up to press his lips to Derek’s chest before nipping at the hard flesh there.
“You, too,” he breathes against Derek’s nipple. He presses his tongue against it, runs the flat of it over the pebbled surface. “I want you naked.”
Derek shivers, and Stiles tastes it. With a shove, Stiles flips Derek onto his back, then rips at the fastenings of his pants, stripping them off in a jerking, halting motion. He has no idea where they land, distracted from everything around him as he kneels between Derek’s legs, Derek’s cock hard and flushed against his stomach, his eyes glowing blue in the dim light of Stiles’s bedroom.
There’s a brief flash of clarity in Stiles’s mind. A moment of complete and utter what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-right-now. He stares at Derek, spread across his bed like a wet dream made real, like his every late-night desire brought forth in flesh and heavy breath, and Stiles tries desperately to understand what this moment means, if it will change anything or just make it worse.
But then Derek leans up on his elbows, mouth quirked in a challenge.
He only says Stiles’s name. One word, but it’s enough to break the spell, and Stiles swallows him down in a single, smooth motion, forgetting everything but Derek and how fucking good this feels right now.
He loses track of time. There’s just the weight of Derek’s cock in his mouth, Derek’s fingers tangled in his hair, Derek’s mouth whispering obscenities above him as Stiles does his best to work him with hand and tongue and lips. There’s a warning clench of hands, a tightening in the body beneath his, and then Derek comes down Stiles’s throat with a choked off curse. Stiles swallows, savoring the taste as he lets his mouth linger before pulling away.
“Fuck,” Derek pants, his hands falling away from Stiles’s head. “Your mouth, I just…”
“I’m going to fuck you,” Stiles murmurs into Derek’s hip. He bites at the taut skin stretched over bone, trails his tongue through the muscled vee there, following it down. “You’re going to let me fuck you.”
Derek groans again, but lifts his hips, lets Stiles wind his way down Derek’s body to press his tongue against the wrinkled pucker of his asshole. He licks at it, nose buried in the soft skin of Derek’s spent balls, and presses a finger against Derek’s entrance with his tongue. It’s so sweet when the muscle gives, and Stiles groans, rutting against his mattress, when his finger slides in.
Everything feels superheated, charged and poised to break. There’s energy buzzing in the air around them, tickling against his senses as Stiles works his way into Derek’s body, finger by finger. He turns Derek eventually, spreading him out on his hands and knees before Stiles like an offering. He rains praise over Derek’s body, whispers litanies and liturgies against Derek’s asshole as it blooms beneath Stiles’s fingers and tongue. When he finally slides inside, his cock slick with lube and spit and come, he starts praying, hoping that he’ll hold on, that he’ll make this last.
Derek is hard again and moaning, and Stiles leans forward, pressing his front against Derek’s sweat-soaked back. He wraps a hand around Derek’s cock, desperate to make this good for the both of them, wanting nothing more than to make an indelible mark on Derek’s skin, on his heart. To leave some kind of imperfection on this perfect body that will tell everyone that comes after that Stiles was here, that this was his, if only for a night.
He pounds into Derek’s body, desperate and heartbroken, and the sobs he leaves against Derek’s back aren’t just from passion. He’s grieving as he comes, and he breathes out Derek’s name like a benediction, like a eulogy.
Derek comes over his hand a moment later, warm and sticky, and Stiles is so fucking thankful that he can stay like this, spread over Derek’s body, Derek’s body spread out beneath his, while he recovers what shreds of himself he can find. It’s harder than he’d like it to be to pull it all back together, but he does it, breath by breath, until he’s able to take his hands from Derek’s body, to slide out of him, to pretend like his life hasn’t changed in the last twenty minutes.
Derek stays on his hands and knees, even as Stiles pulls away. His head is bent, and he’s panting, breathing into the sheets. Stiles reaches out, hand hovering over Derek’s skin. He’s nearly there, nearly touching him again in something other than lust, than anger, when a faint buzzing starts up from the darkness of his bedroom.
They both still, the sound one they’re familiar with after years in law enforcement.
A phone, vibrating against the floor.
Stiles stands, fumbles for his pants, but it’s not his phone that’s ringing. He tosses Derek’s jeans to him and stands in the center of his room, feeling naked in a way that clothes won’t fix.
“Deputy Hale,” Derek says, head still bent, body still bowed into an arch. He nods, makes some kind of understanding noise while Stiles fights to stay calm, fights to stop the roaring in his ears from growing out of control.
A few more minutes, he thinks to himself, ears ringing as Derek continues his conversation. Don’t let this be it. Don’t let it end now. Please.
“Yeah, I’ll be right there,” Derek says, finally pushing himself off of the bed and meeting Stiles’s eyes. His expression is unreadable in the dark, and Stiles thinks there are some small miracles in life, that it’s a blessing he can’t tell what Derek’s thinking at this exact instance. That he can’t confirm the regret he knows must be building between them.
“I’ve got to go,” Derek says, sliding into his jeans, sliding his phone into his pocket. He grabs his shirt from the floor, shifts his weight uncomfortably, no longer able to look at Stiles.
“So go,” Stiles bites out. He’s shaking now, tiny imperceptible shivers that move up and down his body. “No one’s asking you to stay.”
Derek flinches. “This was a mistake.”
With another sigh, Derek pushes past Stiles and walks into the hallway. He’s backlit from the main room, his body a perfect silhouette in the doorway, and Stiles watches him leave, listens for the sound of the door slamming shut behind him, before he collapses to the floor.
The panic attack washes over him and cuts the breath from his lungs. Everything’s spinning around him. There’s a tinny noise that fills his ears, and even in the darkness of his room, the edges of the world turn gray. He presses his head against the hardwood floor and pants, deep gasping breaths that do little to ease the ache in his chest. Curled into himself, he lays down, head tucked into his arms as he battles through it, mouth open as he tries to get air into his oxygen-starved lungs.
It takes a long time for him to calm down, longer than usual. When he finally gets back to his feet, he shuffles his unsteady way into the kitchen. There are still boxes scattered around the room, and he pushes them out of his way as he hunts for a mug, for his kettle. He boils water, dumps a heaping teaspoon of Deaton’s tea into the cup, pours the steaming water over top of it. He doesn’t know if it’s eight ounces, finds he doesn’t really care. Instead, he watches the oven clock tick down five minutes, then drinks the entire concoction, leaves and all, as quickly as he can.
It burns going down. Clogs in his throat. There are bits of tea caught in his teeth, and he scrubs them away, hoping to remove the taste of Derek and pine needles from his mouth.
He crawls into his bed, realizes that the sheets are tacky with drying come, and he wrestles them off the mattress. He can’t bear to turn the light on, just rips the linens from the bed and hurls them into the darkened corner of his room. The comforter wrapped tight around his shoulders, he falls onto the bare mattress, buries his face in his pillow, and hopes the tea will let him forget.
Stiles finds Derek in the basement of a church in Mexico, wrapped in wolfsbane and sleeping. He tears at the vines tangled around Derek’s body, but they grow back, stinging Stiles’s hands with thorns. He can’t give up, keeps pulling the plants away until his blood-slick hands reach Derek’s skin. Stiles presses forward, his whole body against the tangled, thorned vines, and he kisses Derek, praying he’ll wake up.
Derek’s eyes flash open, blue and glowing.
“This was a mistake.”
Stiles spins, trying to find his bearings, and then he’s on the shore of the Chesapeake again. The air is salty, and spray from the water stings in the cuts on his hands. He looks down at them, trying to remember how they got so stained with blood and purple flowers. Someone calls his name, and he turns. A man walks toward him, a small body cradled in his arms, and Stiles thinks he’s going to throw up.
He takes a step backward, and his foot lands in the water. He turns around, surprised to see a concrete floor covered in three inches of water. He looks up, and Derek is hunched before him, Boyd’s body dying the water and the floor red. Stiles reaches his stained hand forward, lays it on Derek’s shoulder. He squeezes, fingers tightening on the muscle beneath them, and Derek raises his hand, presses it against Stiles’s.
Pulls it away.
“I’ve got to go.”
Eyes shut, and when he opens them, he’s in an interrogation room. The perp is cuffed to the table, but he looks calm, almost cocky. Stiles wants to punch him in the face. He knows what this man has done, knows that he’s a monster wrapped in human flesh, though there’s nothing supernatural about him. Stiles slams his hands down on the table, lets his magic crackle in the air around him. It courses across the table, leaping in lightning-arcs to crash into the very-human hands locked in metal. The man convulses across from Stiles, eyes wide in fear and realization.
Then they close.
It’s dark, and there are fingers in his hair. They’re soft. Gentle. Stiles hears a voice above him, but he doesn’t turn. He doesn’t want to see, doesn’t want to know. Instead, he focuses on the feel of those fingers against his scalp, of the gentle tug against his short hair, of the warm leg pressed beneath his cheek. He can’t think, can’t remember. If he does…
“I miss you.”
Stiles drags himself awake. It feels like choking, like pulling himself out of a thick mire that’s clinging tight around his throat and body. He jerks upright and pants into the soft fabric of the comforter tangled about his legs.
He checks his wards with shaking hands and finds them still, quiescent. His magic rises to his command, but it’s pensive. He doesn’t call it, but lets it flow through him slowly, calming his racing heart.
Just a nightmare, he thinks as his magic and his body settle.
There’s a crack of lightning, and in the sudden wash of light, he sees a figure in the corner of his room. Tall, but shrouded in darkness and something like a hood, Stiles can’t make out much about it in the brief second his room is lit up. A scream clogs in his throat, and his magic roars to life, leaping from him in a wave of power. He scrambles for the bedside lamp as the energy whips through the room.
When he turns it on, the room flooding with light, all he sees are the crumpled sheets of his bed, laying haphazardly on top of a folded box.
It takes him a long time to fall back to sleep.
He doesn’t turn off the light.
ANGST! ANGST FOR EVERYONE!
Thank you all again for reading. We're almost halfway there!
Stiles feels like he’s been finding dead bodies all his life. It’s like he started at sixteen and never stopped.
Stiles puts all of the now empty boxes into a giant stack, then wrestles them to the apartment complex’s dumpster. He tosses them inside with a giant whumph, and he tries not to think about standing in the same parking lot the night before, wrapped in rain and Derek’s arms.
He can’t ignore the previous night for long, though. The pile of sheets in the corner of his room stare at him in judgement, and his bedroom reeks of sex. He makes his bed robotically, then leaves before he can crawl back into it.
Derek’s papers are still scattered over the living room floor, and as Stiles gathers them together, he sees that there are small notes written in the margins, Derek’s handwriting offering translations of the old Spanish. His chest tightens, but he sets the papers into a neat pile on the coffee table. If he lets his fingers trail over them, there’s no one there to see and judge.
Once he finishes putting the kitchen to rights, there’s nothing left for Stiles to do in the apartment but feel antsy and unsure. He needs to follow up on some of the leads from his research yesterday, but that’ll require him to go to the field office, and he doesn’t want to make the long drive right now. There’s laundry piling up, but he hasn’t asked his dad if it’ll be okay for him to use his dad’s washer and dryer until Stiles can buy his own. Another part of him isn’t ready to wash the sheets. It would mean acknowledging how they got dirty in the first place, if only to himself.
So instead of doing anything productive, he pulls his phone out and stares at the home screen. He thumbs it open and finds Derek’s contact info, deciding to be as much of an adult as he can pretend to be. With a deep breath, he dials and puts the phone up to his ear. It rings a few times, Stiles growing more anxious with each peal, and then his call is forwarded to an automated voice messaging system.
“You’ve reached Derek Hale. I can’t answer right now, but please leave a message with your name and the reason for calling, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks.”
Stiles sighs and waits for the beep.
“Hey, Derek.” His voice is rough, and he coughs, trying to clear it. “I, uh… I think we need to talk about… ah, you already know what we need to talk about. Seems pretty obvious. Anyway, I’m going to head over to your place, see if you’re there. I, uh, I don’t think we should… I need to…” Stiles swallows, closes his eyes. “Just call me back when you get this. I’ll see you soon, I guess. Bye.”
He hangs up and curses. It only takes him a few minutes to get dressed, and then he’s out the door, his gun on his belt, his badge in his pocket, and his phone no longer on silent.
There’s a thick fog hanging around this morning, a remnant of the storm from the night before. It makes Stiles miss his Jeep and its four wheel drive. His rental car is fine, but he has to drive a little under the limit to be safe, and right now, all he wants to do is speed down the winding roads to the Preserve and Derek’s house. He taps his fingers on the steering wheel, his shoulders slightly hunched as he peers through the windshield.
Later, when he runs the next few minutes through his mind, he’ll blame it on the weather. The roads are wet, there’s low visibility. He’s distracted from the night before and familiar enough with the roads, even after a decade, that he’s half zoned out as he drives. The thick woods and the thick fog make the road feel like a tunnel through the world, one that becomes all he can see. It’s perfectly natural that he misses it, even as a trained federal agent with a paranoid streak.
He doesn’t see the skid marks on the ground, doesn’t immediately notice the way they weave across the tarmac. It’s the only explanation for why he’s nearly on top of the wreck before he sees it.
“Shit!” He slams on the brakes, then fights with the steering wheel as the car tries to fishtail out from beneath him. The ABS kicks on, shuddering through the brake pedal and into his leg. Stiles backs off a little, gets the car under control, then pulls onto the shoulder about twenty yards past the car buried into the metal guardrail along the curve of the road.
He catches his breath, then fumbles for his phone and dials 911.
“Beacon County 911, what’s your emergency?”
“Hi, this is Stiles Stilinski. There’s a car wreck out on County Line Road. I’m near,”—he checks behind him, then gets out of the car and searches for some kind of signage—“looks like mile marker twenty-four-point-five. I haven’t assessed the scene yet, so I’m not sure if there are any injuries, but the front end of the thing’s nearly through the guardrail.”
“Okay, Stiles,” the operator responds, voice pitched low and calming. “Can you see the driver of the vehicle?”
“No, it’s like soup out here. Hold on, I’m heading to the car.” He starts running. As he gets closer, he can make out a figure slumped over the steering wheel. He curses.
“The driver’s still in the car, not sure what kind of state they’re in.”
“Can you tell if they’re breathing?”
“Yeah, one second.”
He wrenches the front door open, and the driver slumps toward the door with the motion. Stiles drops his phone as he catches the driver and eases them back into the seat.
It’s a woman. She looks to be only a few years older that Stiles, and he thinks he recognizes her from high school. It makes the bottom of his stomach drop out. He bends down, picks up his phone, then presses his fingers to her neck.
“I don’t have a pulse. I’m going to put you on speaker and start CPR.”
“That’s good,” the operator says, his voice now echoing across the road as Stiles sets his phone down again and starts pulling the driver from the car. “EMS is en-route. Just stay on the line with me until they get there, okay?”
“Yeah, will do,” Stiles says as he unbuckles the woman from the driver’s seat, hits the car’s emergency lights, and does his best to carry her out of the vehicle to the shoulder of the road.
He lays her down on the gravel edge, trying to keep as far away from the roadside as possible. With the poor visibility and the curve, this situation is just asking to get worse.
After checking her airway, Stiles starts chest compressions. Thirty of them, then two rescue breaths. He feels for a pulse, gets nothing, goes back to pressing down hard on the woman’s chest.
C’mon, he thinks furiously. Come on.
His arms start to ache, a dull burn that only grows as he continues CPR. He can feel the woman’s bones creaking beneath the heel of his hands, and part of his mind is braced and ready when one of her ribs cracks beneath the pressure.
Keep going. You can’t give up on her.
The ambulance comes screaming down the road, its emergency lights staining the fog blood-red. An EMT has to pull him off the woman as another replaces Stiles.
“Hey,” the woman says, concerned. “We’ve got her now. It’s okay.”
Stiles meets her eyes. He’s panting and covered in sweat. His arms feel like rubber now that he’s not using them. Slowly, he nods, then stumbles back from the scene.
He hears the EMTs talking between themselves, the AED reporting “no shock advised.” The 911 operator is saying his name, and Stiles finally picks up his phone.
“... can hear the EMTs. It’s okay if you get off the line now, Stiles.”
“Yeah,” he murmurs, watching as they get the woman onto a stretcher and roll her toward the ambulance, the female EMT crouched over the woman and continuing compressions. “Thank you.”
He hangs up. His hand falls limply to his side as the ambulance speeds away, disappearing into the fog. All he can see are its lights, flashing red, until they drive around the bend in the road and out of sight. He turns the woman’s car off, though the engine isn’t running. The wipers stop, though, and in the sudden stillness of the empty road, he’s more alone than he has been in years.
Stiles feels like he’s been finding dead bodies all his life. It’s like he started at sixteen and never stopped. Now, as he stands on the side of the road next to a wrecked car, the memory of cracking bones still ricocheting through his arms and hands, he wonders if this is all his life is going to be. Him, endlessly tripping over corpses, trying to put the broken pieces back together, always a little too late to stop them from shattering.
He slams the driver’s side door shut, then heads back to his car. He numbly notes the license plate on the wrecked car. The EMTs probably have the woman’s license, but he can still call the wreck into the Sheriff’s office and let them know about the road hazard. He doesn’t care that 911 probably already alerted them. It’ll give him something to do, something to make him feel a little less helpless.
As he approaches his car, though, he slows. Standing near the front bumper, shrouded in mist, is a dark figure. Stiles lets his hand move toward his holster, fingers hovering on the snap that holds his gun in place.
“Morning,” he says loudly. “It’s a bit dangerous to be taking a walk in this weather. You mind stepping away from the car and telling me what you’re doing here?”
The figure moves toward him. Stiles wouldn’t call the motion walking. It’s too smooth for that. Whatever this thing is, it glides as it advances. He lets his hand drop from his gun and calls his magic to him in a rush.
His tattoos flare to life, and the fog glows around him in a golden-white nimbus. It burns away the moisture in the air, leaving an empty pocket around Stiles. He shifts his weight, back foot braced, as the figure pauses.
<<You are interesting,>> it says. Stiles hears the words in his mind, rather than his ears. There’s a pressure in his skull when it speaks, and the hairs on the back of his neck rise in a shivering rush. <<There are not many beings quite like you in the world.>>
Shit. He knows that voice, or sensation or whatever. It’s the same one that spoke to him in his dream, and as he thinks it, his wards trip. Magic rushes through him and bucks his control. It bounds forward in a crackling wave of light as Stiles tries to call it back. Fog burns away behind it, leaving a trail of ozone and sparks as the magic snaps at the creature’s heels.
In the suddenly clear air, Stiles is able to see the creature, though it does little to help him understand what he’s looking at. The figure is vaguely human shaped, though it’s too tall and thin to actually be a person. It’s also draped in what appears to be a black, hooded robe, but the longer Stiles stares at it, the less certain he is about that, too. The color isn’t right, a depth to the darkness that seems to eat light, rather than reflect it. It’s impenetrable, unknowable like the dead of night or the deepest parts of the ocean, and the animal part of Stiles’s brain knows that predators prowl in that inky twilight, unseen but deadly.
Dismissively, the creature waves its hand at Stiles’s magic as the energy leaps around its feet. With that soft, derisive motion, the energy pops out of existence. Stiles feels it like a punch to the gut, and he folds in on himself in pain.
<<You don’t understand, do you?>> The creature drifts closer, and Stiles takes a stumbling step back. <<Most do not. But this is, somehow, unexpected from you.>>
“Why don’t you clue me in?” Stiles asks through gritted teeth. He can feel his magic coming back to him, slowly filling the reserves in his body. It feels cowed, though, as if it had been reprimanded harshly. When he tries to draw what little there is to the surface, it flinches, shrinking away from his demand. Stiles tries not to panic, unfamiliar with the sensation of his magic refusing to respond. He pulls harder, and it falteringly fills his tattoos, crackling and stinging the whole way.
<<You already perceive what I am.>> The darkness around it stretches, grows. It engulfs the road, then the woods, then the world, until all that’s left is Stiles, covered in trembling light, and the creature in the center of the darkness, an endless void in an endless void.
Its mouth opens, and within its depths, novas flash. Nebulae are born and collapse. Stars like fangs glisten in the darkness as it grins, and Stiles goes cold.
Stiles pulls power into his hands and throws it forward in a swell of light. It crashes against the creature like waves against stone, sparking into mist that stains the blackness with pinpricks like stars. The creature runs its finger through the residue, smearing it across the black fabric of whatever world its pulled them into. With a cavalier gesture, it flicks its too-long fingers, and as the glowing flecks spatter against his skin, magic zips back into Stiles like a riptide.
He’s thrown backward, and his back scrapes against the hard tarmac of the road as he lands. He can’t see it, but he feels it biting into his skin through his hoodie. Blood trickles down his back, the tacky sensation more familiar than he’d like it to be. It hurts like a sonuvabitch, but he grits his teeth against the pain and rolls onto his side, already trying to find his feet again.
“What are you?” he asks, terrified but unyielding as he winces his way to standing.
Stiles throws another volley of power at the creature. It pours out of him in great gouts of energy that leave his chest heaving. His nose starts bleeding, but he keeps pushing. On a roar, his magic flies from him in a guttering rush and slams into the creature, which takes a stumbling step back, the lights within its mouth dimming for a second.
Stiles feels something like hope whip through him as his vision starts to dim. But then the creature streaks forward, exhaling ionized gases that burn his eyes and form stars around them. In the dim light, the creature’s face is clearer, and all Stiles can see are dark holes where its eyes should be. The stars around their bodies start to warp and are pulled in until those pits of eyes are surrounded by coronas of light, event horizons that starts to pull at Stiles’s magic as easily as it had drawn in the stars.
<<I AM THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA, THE FIRST AND THE LAST, THE BEGINNING AND THE END.>>
He can’t breathe. He can’t think. The voice in his mind is too powerful, too loud. It feels like his head is going to explode. He tries to cover his ears, to scream, but everything is frozen. Time is stopped. His heart wants to beat, but it can’t. There’s a tight fist in his chest, his pulse put on pause.
<<Behold, for I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me,>> it whispers. <<To give to each one according to what he deserves.>>
And then Stiles’s eyes are rolling back in his head, and he doesn’t hear anything else.
Everything is fuzzy and distant as Stiles comes to. He’s lying on his front, something soft and giving beneath him, and there’s a dull ache across his back. Someone’s put a cotton robe on him, and it’s open in the back. A blanket is draped over his hips, though, giving him some semblance of modesty. With a groan, he shifts and feels the familiar pull of an IV in his arm. He turns bleary eyes toward it, then catches a dark figure seated in the corner of the room from the corner of his vision.
Stiles stops breathing, his body tensing. His magic flares to life within him, and the power of it roars in his ears along with his thundering pulse.
“You’re all right, Stiles.”
The figure stands up, moving out of the dim light of the hospital room to the brighter beams directly over Stiles’s bed.
The realization that Stiles is safe, that he’s no longer on the side of the road with whatever-the-fuck that thing was, leaves him sagging against the mattress in relief. But as he takes in Derek’s stiff posture, the way he doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, the fact that he’s still wearing his jacket, Stiles feels that relief trickle away.
“What happened?” he asks. His voice is hoarse, and he licks at his lips. Derek passes him a small paper cup with a straw. He reaches for the straw with his lips and fumbles with it a moment before taking a grateful sip of ice water. Derek takes the cup back, sets it on a small table next to Stiles’s bed.
“I’m not entirely sure. We got a call about a car wreck, and since it was close to my house, I went to check on the vehicle.” He looks over Stiles’s back. “Imagine my surprise when I found you, unconscious, on the side of the road.”
“Shit.” Stiles tries to sit up, and pain lances through him. “Shit. What the fuck happened to my back?”
“As far as the doctors could tell, you’ve got second- and third-degree road rash all along your back. They don’t know how the hell you managed it,”—he gives Stiles a look that says Derek believes Stiles can do anything he puts his mind to—“since you were apparently fine when the EMTs left the scene. It’s ruined your tattoos.”
Stiles doesn’t think about the work it’ll take to put them back, the pain and time it’ll cost. “What about the woman?”
“DOA,” Derek says, not pulling the punch in the slightest. “I’m more concerned about what happened to you.”
“I don’t even know, dude,” Stiles says, burying his face in his pillow. Now that the initial adrenaline rush is wearing off, Stiles feels drowsy and distant from his body. Now that his face is pressed into the softness of his pillow, he starts to drift.
Derek’s loud sigh as he crosses his arms, the fabric of his long-sleeved shirt rustling in the quiet room, startles Stiles out of his half-doze.
“Don’t call me ‘dude’, Stiles. We’re adults. Use my name.”
“They both start with D,” Stiles says. “It’s close enough.”
He grins, then starts drifting again. Shaking his head—the motion sending fire racing through his back—he forces himself awake. He blinks at Derek, trying to keep him in focus.
“What’d they put me on?” he asks, doing his best to keep his mind from fuzzing out on him again.
“You’ve got a morphine drip,” Derek says. The chair screeches as he pulls it closer to Stiles’s bed. “And some nerve blockers for the worst of the pain.”
Stiles lets his head loll against his arms as he blatantly stares at Derek. The man shifts under the scrutiny and recrosses his arms. His legs cross a moment later, and Stiles grins.
“Y’know, if I don’t move, I feel pretty great. M’brain isn’t working, though.”
Derek’s mouth twists into a reluctant grin. “I bet. You going to tell me what happened, or do I have to beat it from you?”
“I got something you can beat,” Stiles says before he can stop himself.
“I’m serious,” Derek stresses. “Your dad was worried sick when I called it in.”
“Ah, fuck.” Stiles winces. “It’s safe to guess he’s around here somewhere, huh?”
“He went down to the cafeteria to get some coffee. He’ll be back soon.”
“Why are you here?” Stiles regrets the words as soon as he says them. “I mean, you were first on scene, so it makes sense that you’d come to the hospital, but why are you still here? You could’ve left.”
“Whatever you may think,” Derek says, his voice tight, “I do care about you.”
“I don’t think you don’t care,” Stiles murmurs into his arm, dragging his eyes from Derek’s.
Derek leans back in his chair and rubs at the space between his eyes. “Whatever, Stiles. I wasn’t going to leave you abandoned on the side of the road with half of your back torn off. For fuck’s sake, I could see your ribs.”
“I’m lean, Derek, that’s what it looks like when—”
“No, you idiot. The abrasions went to the bone.”
Stiles finally takes stock of his body. The morphine is keeping him floating above the pain, but as he focuses on it, he can tell that he’s going to be hurting—hurting bad—for the near future unless he does something about it. His head is muddled, but he calls out to his magic. It stumbles its way to him, just as dizzy as Stiles.
Do your thing, he thinks before letting it lope its way through his body. There’s warmth around his back, but unlike the distant, searing burn that’s been there, the sensation is like sliding into a warm bath or curling up in a soft blanket before a fire. His magic circles the edges of his injuries, then slowly releases healing energy into the wounds. The heat increases, turns stinging, and then it fades, leaving Stiles with the worst itch he’s ever had in his life.
“Holy crap, that’s annoying,” he says before reaching back to tentatively brush his fingers against the newly healed skin covering his back. When there’s no answering rush of pain at the touch, just a worsening itch, he starts scratching.
“Don’t do that,” Derek says, getting up from the chair to grab at Stiles’s hand. “You’re going to open it back up, you idiot.”
“It itches,” he whines, and he hates how petulant it sounds. But it does, and he doesn’t like it. “Derek, help me. It’s so bad.”
With a roll of his eyes, Derek places Stiles’s hand back on the hospital bed, pressing his wrist into the mattress. A flicker of heat slips through Stiles to settle in his gut. There’s so much strength in Derek’s fingers, and though he’s ashamed of his body’s response, Stiles can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be held down by that power.
Derek releases Stiles’s wrist, and Stiles thinks he’s going to step back, to sit back down in the chair. Instead, Derek’s warm palm flattens against Stiles’s back and starts rubbing circles against the still itching skin. Derek’s palms are calloused just enough that it eases the discomfort, and Stiles sighs. He’s already buzzed from the morphine, but now there’s a low thrum of pleasure entwined with it as Derek’s hand keeps coasting soothing circles across the muscles of his back.
Stiles tries to hold the moan back, he really does. He shuts his mouth, clamps his teeth shut, thinks to himself on repeat don’t don’t don’t don’t. But just like the persistent itch under his skin won’t stop, the sound already escaping his mouth won’t, either.
It slides into the room with them, makes itself unavoidable as it settles between him and Derek. The hand on his back stills, and Stiles swears he can feel the individual ridges of Derek’s fingerprints pressing themselves into his soul.
“We’re going to have to talk about last night,” Derek says softly before restarting the slow circles against Stiles’s back. “And we’re going to have to talk about what happened before then, too.”
“That’s why I was out there,” Stiles says, eyes shut and tongue heavy in his mouth. “I was coming to see you. To talk.”
“I got your voicemail.”
The room is quiet, and, against his best efforts, Stiles starts to drift again. The slow circles on his back don’t stop. Derek’s rough hand drags against his skin, and he sinks into it, lets his thoughts fade and still until the only thing in his world is Derek’s touch on his body. The pressure on his skin changes, shifts. There’s a gentle sense of warmth, a hint of body wash, and breath against his hair. Lips press against the crown of his head. Words are spoken that he can’t make out, can only feel as exhalations against his hair, but as he struggles back to consciousness, chasing the quiet confession like a drowning man chases the shore, his dad walks into the room, two cups of coffee in his hands.
Suddenly, there are more important things than Derek’s touch or what he might have said when he thought Stiles couldn’t hear.
“What the hell happened to you?” his dad asks, rushing to hand the coffees to Derek. He pushes the other man aside, crowding up against the side rail of Stiles’s bed. “And what the hell happened to your back? Jesus Christ, kid. I was just here, and you looked like ground beef.”
Stiles winces. “Great visual, Dad. Fantastic use of imagery.”
“Shut up.” His dad presses a kiss to his forehead, his hand tight in Stiles’s hair. “Don’t do that again, you got me?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll make sure to avoid monsters made out of the fabric of spacetime in the future.”
Derek perks up, his attention suddenly drawn into the conversation. “What?”
Stiles sighs, then makes to turn onto his side. His dad presses a restraining hand against his shoulder, and Stiles glares up at him. The sheriff relents with a roll of his eyes and a gentle, comforting squeeze of his hand. The hospital gown falls around Stiles’s shoulders as he sits up, and he reaches around to hold it closed.
“The thing that did this to me,” Stiles says. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Its body was made out of space or something. It was just dark, but full of light? I can’t… I don’t really know how to describe it.”
“What happened?” his dad asks.
Stiles opens his mouth, then shakes his head, still fogged with morphine. He looks down at the IV in his arm, bites his lip, then pulls out in a long, smooth motion. The thin tube feeding medicine into his body slides out of his skin like an ingrown hair. It burns a little, and cold saline and morphine pour over his arm as the tube leaves his body.
“Stiles!” Derek says, rushing forward to turn off the pump. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I can’t think,” he says, holding the still twitching IV line because he doesn’t know what else to do with it. Derek takes it from him with shaking fingers and wraps it around the metal pole.
Stiles closes his eyes and calls his magic again. It stumbles forward, and he sends it hunting the thing coursing through his bloodstream and making them both unsteady. The magic snaps at the drugs slowly at first, lazy nips and bites that miss more often than they find their mark, but as it continues moving through his body, pacing down the corridors of his veins, its attacks sharpen, become more purposeful. Soon, it’s diving through his blood like a shark through chummed waters, mouth full of teeth and intent. The drugged haze fades, and when Stiles opens his eyes again, his mind is clear and razor sharp.
“That’s so much better,” he sighs with a slow roll of his shoulders. The skin on his back is still tight, and he lets his magic go focus on healing the last remaining marks the creature left on his body.
“You want to fill us in, kid?” his dad asks. He rolls a small stool from the corner of the room over to Stiles’s bed, then takes the cup of coffee Derek holds out for him. “I’d really like to understand what’s going on right now.”
“First, I don’t think it’s a Dream Walker,” Stiles says. “I wasn’t asleep when it attacked, so that pretty much rules those out.”
“Do you have any idea what it is?” Derek asks.
“No,” Stiles says. Then he shakes his head. “Okay, yes. Maybe.”
Stiles winces. “It defies description, okay? It was dark, and it looked like it was wearing a robe. But the robe wasn’t really separate from its body? Just… it was a part of it, like an extension of its body, maybe. Except then it was everywhere, and the whole world was dark. But there were stars?” He shakes his head. “It felt like nothing. Like death.”
“And you’re sure you weren’t sleeping?” his dad asks.
“Positive.” Stiles holds the hospital robe tighter in his hand. “And it said something about being the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. And that it’s coming to give people what they deserve.”
“That’s Revelations,” his dad says quietly, “which doesn’t bode well for us or Beacon Hills.”
“I’ve got to call the SIU, see if they can find anything on how to stop the thing.”
“You can’t stop it,” Derek says quietly. “It’s a Reaper.”
Stiles and his dad freeze, then turn their heads toward Derek.
“You know what this thing is?” Stiles asks.
Derek nods softly, staring down at his hands and the cup of coffee crushed between them. The steaming liquid drips from the ruined styrofoam cup and puddles on the floor. Stiles watches as the reddened skin of Derek’s hands heals and goes pale.
“I’ve seen one before.” He shakes his head thoughtfully. “It was… after the fire.”
“Jesus,” the Sheriff whispers. “What’s it want?”
“Justice. In a sense.” Derek breaks out of his daze. Hands shaking, he sets the coffee cup on the table. “They come when something is out of balance. Good and evil. Light and dark.”
“Life and death.” Stiles breathes the words out. “And Beacon Hills has had plenty of that over the years.”
Derek nods. “I may still have some notes from when I was younger, but I can’t be sure. I don’t really remember what happened right after the… I’ll check with Peter, too. He might have something.”
Stiles thinks. “But why would it be targeting me? I’m not a killer.”
“I don’t know,” Derek says. “But if it is coming for you,”—he looks up, eyes haunted—“you won’t be able to stop it.”
And we've officially hit the midpoint! It's all downhill from here, folks.
Thanks again to my lovely friend and beta reader, clotpolesonly. You are the best.
This was it. Call it prescience, premonition, foresight, whatever, but something in Stiles was singing with the knowledge that this moment was going to change his life.
It was the last day of fall break during his junior year. The pack was sprawled across Derek’s loft, bellies and hearts full after a massive meal that Stiles had prepared. Scott and Malia were drowsing together while Lydia was packing up the last of the leftovers. She set the final tupperware into Derek’s fridge as Stiles wandered into the kitchen, eyeing the pile of dishes laying in the sink.
He turned on the water and started rinsing, passing plates to Lydia as she joined him at the counter so she could place them in the dishwasher. They worked together in companionable silence, and Stiles found himself grateful that their brief relationship two years before hadn’t twisted into something unhappy after their breakup, but had, instead, settled into a deep, abiding respect and love.
Lydia closed the dishwasher and started it, then leaned against the counter, arms crossing.
“When are you going to tell him?” she asked, no preamble or warning.
Stiles wanted to pretend he didn’t know what she meant.They’d never talked about his feelings for Derek, but Stiles and Lydia didn’t really need to talk about their emotions to understand each other. He considered lying about it, acting like she was talking about something else, but he sighed and didn’t.
“I don’t know,” he said, shoulders bowing as he held onto the edge of the sink with tight fingers. “Maybe never.”
“Stiles.” She sighed, then reached to clasp his arm gently. “He deserves to know.”
He knew she was right. He could feel it in the tangle of his stomach, in the twist his heart gave when he thought of Derek. So few people had ever loved the man without calculation, and there was no part of Stiles’s feelings for Derek that were anywhere near calculated or planned. They just were in a visceral, integral way. They were part of who Stiles was now, part of how he defined himself. And didn’t Derek deserve to know that someone saw him, knew him, and found nothing wanting? And would Stiles rather regret something he’d done or something he never did?
Shit. He really hated that Lydia was always right. He tensed his hands, then pulled them back from the sink, determination settling in his stomach like a heavy, wrenching weight.
Lydia must have seen his realization in his face because she squeezed his arm and smiled. “Good. Don’t miss your chance.”
Stiles nodded, still reeling, and watched as she left the kitchen. The TV turned off in the background, and he made out the quiet rumble of Scott’s voice, the low hum of conversation as he, Malia, and Lydia talked, and then the click of the front door as it closed behind them.
He washed down the sink and counters, puttering around the kitchen as a way to delay the inevitable. After a quick pep talk that was more cursing at himself than anything else, he finally put down the towel he was slowly strangling and went looking for Derek.
Stiles found him outside on the balcony, leaning forward against the low brick wall to stare out at the lights of Beacon Hills. He stood when Stiles joined him, rolling his shoulders and smiling at him.
“I thought you’d left with the rest of them.”
“No,” Stiles said as he sidled up next to Derek. “Figured I’d say goodbye before I cut out.”
“The food was great,” Derek said. “I always forget you can cook.”
“It’s comes with making sure my dad doesn’t eat himself into an early grave,” Stiles said with a laugh. “But thank you.”
“It was nice, having everyone back. You’ll be home for Christmas, right?”
Stiles nodded. “Yeah. I already got your present. It’s a chew toy, you’re going to love it.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “I thought we were past the dog jokes, Stiles.”
“I will never be past the dog jokes.”
“It better not squeak,” Derek deadpanned, and a laugh punched its way out of Stiles’s chest, surprised and delighted.
They smiled at each other for a long moment, Stiles’s laughter echoing out over the city. A cold wind whipped up, and Stiles took an unconscious step toward Derek and the heat he always seemed to radiate. Derek’s expression stilled, his smile dampening as his eyes dropped to Stiles’s mouth.
Stiles watched the motion, realized that Derek was always staring at his mouth. That he crowded close to Stiles when they were in a group. That his eyes followed Stiles when he walked into a room and that they lingered.
Understanding rolled over him in a dizzying wave, and Stiles sucked in a breath, watched as Derek’s eyes darkened. Derek licked his lips, still watching Stiles as the world seemed to pause around them.
This was it. Call it prescience, premonition, foresight, whatever, but something in Stiles was singing with the knowledge that this moment was going to change his life. His pulse was overwhelmingly loud in his ears, and he knew that Derek couldn’t help but hear it, feel it, as Stiles took that last, tentative step forward.
His hands pressed against Derek’s chest, and he felt the man’s heart pounding beneath the thin fabric of his shirt. Stiles leaned in, mouth just slightly open, took a sip of a breath, and then pressed his lips to Derek’s.
He had known it was going to be unforgettable, knew that the timeline of his life was going to split into two: before he kissed Derek Hale, and after. But now he knew the taste of Derek’s surprise, the sensation of his breath stuttering from his mouth, the gentle pressure of his lips against Stiles’s, and it was overwhelming in the best way. His world shifted on its axis, and when it resettled, Derek was at the center of it. Bright and warm and open. Wanting.
Of course, Stiles thought, his mouth lifting into a gentle smile as he reached up to cradle Derek’s jaw in his hand. This is it.
“Stiles.” Derek whispered his name against Stiles’s lips, and he tasted it more than heard it. There was something sour there, though, and it took him a moment to recognize the tone held within those syllables.
It wasn’t lust, wasn’t desire.
It was regret.
Body going icy cold from more than the late November wind, Stiles fought to keep his hand from tightening on Derek’s face but failed. He knew he was holding on too tight, and it was only when Derek’s fingers wrapped around Stiles’s wrist and pulled his hand away that Stiles finally stepped back. His mouth was still warm with the memory of Derek’s, and though he wanted to run his tongue over his lips, to savor that taste for just a moment longer, he didn’t.
“I’m sorry.” It was all Derek said before he let Stiles’s hand drop.
Stiles fought for calm, and he somehow found it. His heart didn’t race. His hands didn’t shake. Instead, he shrugged, nonchalant and easy when everything seemed to be crumbling around him.
“No worries,” he said. “I guess I should’ve asked first, huh?”
“I—” Derek cut himself off.
“I’ve got to get home,” Stiles said. “See you at Christmas?”
“Yeah,” Derek replied, voice as flat as the surface of the ocean after a storm. “See you then.”
And Stiles was right. His life was different after that moment. Changed. Transformed, but not in the way he wanted. Now, he knew what Derek’s mouth felt like against his, and he knew that he’d never feel it more than that one time. A brief, pulsing second of his life that had set its course spinning like a compass without north.
He returned to D.C. and college, and tried not to look back.
“Do you live for moments like these?” Stiles asks Derek.
“What’re you talking about?”
“Like, when you’re in the shower, and you’re getting ready for the day, do you just think of ominous portents that you can toss out randomly? Is that how you pass the time while you’re washing your hair?”
Derek growls, and the Sheriff holds up his hands between the two of them. “That’s enough, boys.”
“I mean, c’mon,” Stiles says, scoffing. “A Reaper? What the fuck is that?”
“It’s deadly, Stiles, and you shouldn’t be joking about it. It’s going to kill you.”
“Why? Why is it going to kill me, Derek?”
Derek fumbles for words, mouth twisting over syllables as he tries to get them out. He growls again, hands raised in a helpless motion. “I don’t know, okay? But if it’s contacted you twice, then you’re clearly a target.”
“Wait a second,” his dad says, still trying to be the voice of reason in the room. “Stiles wasn’t the only person at the scene. What about the driver of the car? Could she have been who it was after?”
Derek and Stiles refuse to break eye contact, but after an exhausted sigh from his dad, Stiles finally looks away. “Maybe. What do we know about her?”
“I haven’t really followed up on it,” the Sheriff says. “I’ve been a little busy here.”
“Is her body still in the building?” Stiles asks. He swings his legs off the edge of his bed and starts shrugging out of the hospital robe. “Where are my clothes?”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Derek asks. “Get back in bed.”
“I’m fine,” he says as he gets up. His knees wobble a little, but he grabs the side rail in a way that’s totally nonchalant and subtle until he finds his feet. “Clothes.”
“Your shirt and hoodie were ruined by your blood,” Derek stresses. “And your jeans aren’t much better.”
“I’m sure one of you has a change of clothes in your car, right?” He looks between Derek and his dad, feeling vulnerable enough to pull the hospital robe back on. “I’ll wear those.”
“Kid,” his dad says sternly. “I know you used your… whatever to fix your back, but you look exhausted. The body isn’t going anywhere. Get some rest, and we’ll look into her when you wake up.”
“No, you listen. You may be an FBI agent, and you’re certainly not a child anymore, but you need to lay down and rest. If that thing wanted to kill you, it sounds like it would’ve.” He points at Stiles when he opens his mouth to complain. “Don’t make me handcuff you to the bed, Stiles. I have handcuffed you to desks and cars, and so help me, I will handcuff you to this bed if that’s the only way to get you to take a goddamn nap. Do you understand me?”
Stiles opens his mouth to argue, but his legs give out on him before he can. He falls heavily onto the bed, then absolutely does not pout.
“In the meantime,” his dad continues, voice softening, “Derek will get you a change of clothes, and I’ll start finding out about our car crash victim.”
“Fine,” Stiles says petulantly. “But as soon as I wake up, I’m out of here.”
“Fine. Derek, let’s go before the patient can become a bigger pain in the ass.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Stiles threatens.
His dad reaches for his cuffs, and Stiles falls back onto his pillow, wincing as his newly healed skin pulls. The Sheriff stomps out, but Derek lingers in the room, his hands stuffed into his pockets as he stands just inside the doorway.
“I’ll rest,” Stiles says with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “You don’t need to babysit me.”
“Your clothes,” Derek says hesitantly. “I can grab something from Walmart, or I can swing by your place?”
Stiles hesitates, realizing that the sheets from the night before are still piled in the corner of his room, as obvious as a fucking love note. Derek must catch something in Stiles’s expression because he nods.
“Do you need my sizes?” Stiles asks, feeling acutely uncomfortable and not because of his back.
“No,” Derek says before rapping his knuckles against the doorframe. “I remember.”
Stiles nods, throat tight. The air in the room is suddenly charged. Stiles can’t tell if he wants Derek to leave so he can brood in peace, or if he wants the man to crawl into the cramped hospital bed and wrap Stiles in his arms and somehow make this less… just less.
Instead, Derek looks at Stiles for a long moment before turning away, rapping his knuckles one more time against the doorframe, and walking into the hallway.
Turns out, Stiles is still pretty damn good at brooding over Derek Hale.
When Derek returns with a shopping bag full of jeans, a T-shirt, and a hoodie in highlighter yellow, Stiles gets dressed, then checks himself out, AMA. The nurse on duty is pissed as hell about it and tries to force him to show her his back. After a bit of a struggle with the hem of his shirt, Stiles uses a touch of magic to make her think his injuries weren’t as bad as his chart indicates, and he makes a break for it while she stares, confused, at her computer screen.
He finds his dad in the morgue, talking to Agent Peterson. Stiles hesitates in the doorway, but Peterson lifts her head, then her eyebrows, when she sees him.
“Agent Stilinski,” she says, blinking at his sweatshirt. “I didn’t expect to see you this soon.”
“Agent Peterson.” He walks into the morgue, hoping the muted lighting will do something to dim the glow from his clothes. If anything, it seems to make him brighter. The next time he’s alone with Derek, he’s going to blind the man, either with his outfit or his thumbs, whichever works fastest. “What are you doing here, ma’am?”
“Sheriff Stilinski gave me a call. Sounds like you’ve managed to get yourself into a bit of trouble.”
Stiles flushes. “Not intentionally, ma’am.”
“I didn’t think so,” she says with a grin, though her expression dims quickly. “I’m afraid the SIU isn’t going to be much help here, though. I checked our records before heading over, and we don’t have anything in the database about a Reaper.”
“Deputy Hale appears to be our resident expert,” Stiles says, gesturing toward Derek as he walks into the morgue behind him. “Derek, why don’t you share what you know with the rest of the class?”
Peterson ignores Stiles’s snark and reaches out to shake Derek’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Deputy. I’ve heard good things about you.”
“Thank you,” Derek says, dipping his head and giving Agent Peterson his most charming and self-deprecating smile. “I’m just trying to do my job.”
Peterson’s smile turns predatory for an instant, and Stiles has to fight the urge to push Derek out of the room and back to the safety of the hallway. It’s not jealousy twisting in his gut, just self-preservation, he swears.
“What can you tell us about this Reaper, Deputy?” she asks, her expression falling back to a professional mask.
“Reapers are figments of Death,” Derek says as he moves closer to the shrouded body in the middle of the room. “The best explanation I’ve heard is to think of them like the Egyptian judgement myth.”
When Peterson’s brow furrows in confusion, Derek continues. “After an Egyptian died, their heart would be weighed in judgement. Anubis, the god of death, would take the heart and place it on a scale. It would be weighed against a feather from Ma’at, the goddess of order and truth. If the heart weighed more than the feather, it was devoured by Ammit, and the deceased died a second, true death.”
“So the Reaper, it’s Anubis in this analogy?”
Derek shakes his head. “More like Ammit. They come to places that are out of balance, and they try to set it right.”
Stiles frowns. “What does that mean? It’s here to kill people to restore some kind of cosmic balance?”
“I’m not really sure,” Derek says with a shrug. “The one that I saw after my family… after the fire, it wasn’t concerned with why it had happened, only that so many people had died and so few had made it out. The imbalance seemed to make it angry, rather than the result.”
“So our Reaper,” Stiles says, slightly confused, “is here because too many people have died in Beacon Hills?” He looks from Derek, to the body, then back. “But if that’s the case, why would it be killing?”
“I don’t think they all have the same motivations,” Derek says. “My family records aren’t exactly clear about that, just that they’re creatures of judgement. This one probably has a different reason for being here than the one that talked to me.”
The Sheriff nods, considering. “That gives us something to work with, at least. We’ve got two potential victims, which means we should be able to find some kind of commonality between them. Our victimology should point us toward the Reaper’s motive.”
“So what commonalities do we have?” Agent Peterson asks.
“Well,” the Sheriff says, not looking optimistic, “on the surface, not much. Mr. Carter was in his late sixties and had a history of cardiovascular issues. The woman from the car crash, Megan Smith, was in her early thirties and, as far as her medical record indicates, in perfect health.”
Stiles takes a step toward the body, then hesitates. “Do you want me to…?” He wiggles his fingers, lets his magic dance between them in small, electric arcs.
“You’ve done enough with your magic today, Stiles. I managed to get an autopsy scheduled for this afternoon, so we can save the light show for later. We’ll know more once the coroner has a chance to investigate the body.”
Stiles nods. “Okay. So what do we do in the meantime?”
“In the meantime,” Agent Peterson says, “I want you to keep working with Deputy Hale on this. The Sheriff says you came into contact with this thing, right?”
“Then I want you two to compare notes and see what you can shake out. Start learning everything you can about our victims, too. I’ll pull a few strings on my end and get you whatever information I can. Sheriff, if there’s anything the SIU can do to help…”
Stiles’s dad nods. “Thank you, Agent. We appreciate the assist.”
“Of course. Since you gentlemen seem to have things in hand, I’ve got a field office to get back to.” She looks around the room, then nods toward the body. “I’ll be in touch.”
The door swings shut behind her as she heads out of the morgue. The Sheriff gives Stiles a slow appraisal, then sighs.
“I could see you from space, kid.”
“I didn’t specify a color,” Stiles mutters before stuffing his hands into the front pocket of his glowstick of a hoodie.
The Sheriff looks at Derek, then back to Stiles. His mouth twitches as he fights back a smile. Stiles pulls a hand out of his pocket and points at his father.
“Don’t you dare laugh,” he warns.
“I’m not laughing.” His father coughs into his sleeve to hide his grin. He struggles for a moment, the corners of his mouth trembling as he fights to keep them from rising, before he forces his face back into a more professional demeanor. “I’ll call the two of you once I hear back from the coroner. Let me know if you get anywhere with this.”
“Yes, sir,” Derek says as the Sheriff claps him on the shoulder.
“Your rental car got towed to the county impound,” his dad says to Stiles with an apologetic wince. “Derek can drive you over to pick it up. I’ve already told them to not charge you for anything.”
“Thank God for nepotism,” Stiles deadpans.
“Keep an eye on him, Hale,” his father warns. A grin slips through. “Not that you’d miss him in that sweatshirt.”
His dad is out of the morgue before Stiles can yell at him for the crack. Frowning, he turns to Derek.
“They didn’t have a different color?”
“I thought it suited you,” Derek says with a tone so dry, Stiles needs a drink. “You ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says before glancing at the body. “Let’s get out of here.”
The silence that permeates Derek’s car as they drive to the impound lot is stifling. Stiles comes up with a handful of topics of conversation, then discards them just as quickly. He opens his window instead, resting his elbow along the edge of the door and resting his chin on top of it. He closes his eyes as cold, wet air presses against his face. It whips its way through his hair, soothing some of the lingering exhaustion from the overuse of his magic and the fading adrenaline of his fight. The sweatshirt does a good job of keeping him warm, even with the tepid wind, and he finds himself reluctantly appreciating Derek’s choice in outerwear, color be damned.
He’s starting to doze when Derek finally breaks the silence by raising the window a tiny bit, knocking Stiles off balance. Stiles lifts his head, heart pounding in surprise, to glare at Derek who continues to raise the window in slow, jerky motions until Stiles moves him arm.
“You wanted to talk,” Derek says, eyes back on the road.
Stiles thunks his head against the cold glass and stares out over the side view mirror. “Yeah, I did.”
“I’m not sure where to start.”
“Why don’t you tell me why you came back.”
Stiles scoffs. “That’s easy. The FBI opened a branch, I put in for a transfer, and now,”—he gestures toward himself with one lazy hand—“tada!”
“You know that’s not what I meant,” Derek says, annoyance growing in his tone.
“It’s part of it.”
“So, you’re only here for the job,” Derek presses. “No other reasons.”
“I missed my dad,” Stiles starts, “and Scott.”
“And the east coast is great, but it wasn’t home.” He shrugs. “I guess I was just ready to come back.”
“What about you?” Stiles asks. “You have anything you want to talk about?”
Derek sighs. “Yes, Stiles, I have a lot of things I want to talk about. But I’m not the problem here.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I wasn’t trying to be cryptic.”
“That must be the first time in your life that’s the case,” Stiles says sourly. “But I’m not the only person here who’s got a problem.”
“You’re my problem,” Derek says. His hands tighten on the steering wheel, and Stiles can hear the leather groan under Derek’s grip.
“I haven’t been your problem in half a decade.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Derek says.
“I think that’s exactly what you meant. You’re not happy I’m home, admit it.”
“I am happy you’re here.” Derek sighs. “I can’t… Hold on a second.”
He flips on his turn signal and slows before pulling onto the side of the road. He shifts the car into park and uses his palm to slam the emergency blinkers on. He takes a breath before turning to face Stiles.
Derek stares at him for a long moment, quietly drawing his eyes over Stiles’s face as he continues to say nothing. Stiles shifts beneath that gaze, his skin going hot under the scrutiny.
“What do you want, Derek?” Stiles finally asks. He leans back against the door, arms crossed. “You’ve got me trapped here, might as well take the opportunity to get whatever shit you want to say out.”
His expression darkens. “What happened last night?”
Stiles flushes. “I think you know.”
“I know what we did,” Derek says, his eyes darting to Stiles’s mouth, then back to his eyes, “but what happened? What did it mean to you?”
Stiles licks his lips, watches Derek’s eyes follow the motion before they darken.
“Were you just trying to cross me off of your list?” Derek continues. “Get what you hadn’t been able to in college?”
“That’s bullshit,” Stiles says, anger and twisted lust flowing through him like superheated steam. “You know it was more than that.”
“Do I?” Derek leans forward, his seat belt digging into his shoulder. “You seemed pretty happy to get me out of there right after.”
“You’re the one who had to leave.”
“You could’ve asked me to stay.”
Stiles freezes, throat tightening. “Goddammit,” he says before fumbling to unbuckle his seatbelt. He grabs the door handle and nearly falls out of the car as he exits. He slams the door shut behind him, then curses quietly when he hears Derek climb out from the other side of the car.
They are so good at hurting each other. Even after all of this time, he knows how to make Derek bleed, how to find those pieces of him that are still vulnerable, a body full of Achilles’s heels. He recognizes that what he’s about to do is petty, childish, but he aches every time he even thinks of Derek, and he knows that Derek hasn’t spared him a second-thought in the echoing space of the decade between them. If all he can have is Derek’s pain and anger, he’ll take it over the void. At least Derek will think of him then.
“Get back in the fucking car, Stiles,” Derek says, voice tight. “I’m not fighting with you on the side of the road like some kind of bad soap opera.”
Stiles laughs. “Tough shit. I’m not sitting in that car with you when you say crap like that.”
“I should’ve asked you to stay?” Stiles laughs again, and it’s bitter and harsh. “After what you did?”
“I didn’t do anything!” Derek storms toward Stiles. Stiles plants his feet, unwilling to show anything that might look like fear or sorrow. “Why do keep acting like this is all my fault?”
“Because it is!” Stiles shoves his hands into his pockets so he doesn’t punch Derek. “You made it pretty damn clear that you didn’t want anything to do with me, so I got out of your way. Don’t give me shit because your actions have consequences.”
“My actions?” Derek gestures toward Stiles. “What about you? Did you sleep your way through the FBI, or were you just fucking Argent?”
“You don’t know anything about that,” Stiles says through gritted teeth.
“I know he’d come waltzing into the sheriff’s department reeking of you every time you were in town.” Derek gives Stiles a slow once over, disdain and desire heavy in his gaze. “Though I don’t know what he was so smug about. I’ve had better.”
“You weren’t complaining when I was fucking you,” Stiles says bitterly. “You were gagging for it.”
“I wasn’t the one gagging,” Derek says, crowding into Stiles’s space.
“I fucking hate you,” Stiles bites out, fingers curled into a tight fist in the pocket of his hoodie.
“No,” Derek says softly, the word at odds with the venom he’s been spitting so far. “No, you don’t.”
Stiles fights the tears pricking at the corners of his eyes, fights the tangled ball of hurt and love that threatens to unravel at Derek’s quiet declaration, fights to stay outraged when he just wants to give up.
“I wish I did,” he finally spits out. He turns away from Derek, stares at the car.
There’s warmth along his side, the soft smell of body wash and Derek’s skin. There’s a touch on his elbow, a gentle pull that forces Stiles’s body to twist away from the car and toward Derek. Like a comet drawn back around a star, whipping through space on an invisible but inescapable trajectory, he lets Derek move him, his eyes locked on the wide expanse of Derek’s chest.
“Look at me,” Derek says, and Stiles shakes his head. “Stiles. Please.”
It works every damn time, that low request in his whiskey smooth voice. Stiles drags his eyes up, meets Derek’s, and fights to not give into gravity.
“I’m sorry,” Derek says. “Goddammit, I’m sorry.”
“Does it even matter?” Stiles asks, tired and worn thin.
“Yes, it matters,” Derek says, shaking Stiles gently. “It matters. It’s just… You came home, and I never saw you. You stopped talking to me. I had to hear from Scott that you got into the FBI. You cut me out of your life like our friendship meant nothing to you, like I meant nothing to you. And that hurt, Stiles. It still hurts.”
“You didn’t…” Stiles swallows. “I couldn’t be your friend anymore, not after…”
“It was a kiss, Stiles.” Derek’s expression is pained and frantic, and the grip on Stiles’s arm tightens. “One kiss.”
“And I wanted more than that.” The words explode from him, pus from a wound long since turned septic. “And you didn’t, and I couldn’t look at you without still wanting more.”
“I didn’t know.”
Stiles laughs softly. “That doesn’t make it better.”
“If I’d known—“
“What?” Stiles asks, finally pulling away. “You would’ve let me fuck you then instead of now? You would’ve kept me happy until you figured out a way to let me down easy? How would it have changed anything?”
“I would’ve told you the truth.”
“Stiles.” His name is broken and jagged on Derek’s lips, cutting deep into the already bleeding wound of his heart.
“Fuck you,” Stiles sighs. He looks at Derek, at his north, at his sun, and curses him.
“What?” Stiles asks, body gone cold.
“I didn’t… I had a reason,” Derek says. He looks embarrassed and terrified, and Stiles isn’t familiar with that combination of emotions crashing over Derek’s face. “I’d been talking to McCall.”
“Scott?” Stiles asks, confused what his best friend has to do with anything. “He didn’t know.”
“Not Scott,” Derek says, running a hand through his hair. He starts to pace, anxious energy bleeding off of his body with each step. “Agent McCall. Rafe.”
“After your internship,” Derek says, “he called me. Someone told him about your op and how an intern had run off with the suspect. Apparently, it left an impression, and the Bureau was about to blacklist you. McCall brought in the SIU and got them to take care of it, and he wanted me to know that I wasn’t on the Most Wanted list anymore.”
“That was freshman year,” Stiles says with a shake of his head.
“He wanted me to join,” Derek says. “Said that the Hale name would do a lot to help the SIU in the supernatural world. I turned him down, but I freelanced from time-to-time. We kept in touch.”
“That’s great,” Stiles says, struggling to make sense of this new information. “What does it have to do with…”
He hates his brain sometimes. Hates how it can jump from one point of reference to some nearly illogical conclusion. Right now, he feels it click over, a biological servo tripping as he follows the path that Derek’s only started to put down in words.
“The SIU. They snapped me up immediately after I graduated. I’d barely put my application into the Bureau before they were calling me in for the interview.” He raises his widening eyes to Derek’s stricken face. “You knew. You knew that they wanted me.”
Derek swallows, nods.
“So when I kissed you,”—Stiles can feel the anger bubbling up again—“you pushed me away on purpose.”
“I didn’t want you to throw away what you wanted over me,” Derek offers, as if that makes it better. “I wanted you to be happy.”
“You think I’ve been happy?” Stiles asks, gesturing toward himself. “Does it look like I’ve been happy?”
“Your dad says—”
“You think my dad knows how I’m feeling? You think I wouldn’t keep that shit from him? Jesus Christ, Derek.” He shakes his head, stomach turning sour. “Why didn’t you… If you’d just asked me.”
“You would’ve given it up,” Derek says fervently, stepping forward and reaching toward Stiles. Stiles takes a step back, and Derek’s hands fall to his sides as fists. “You wouldn’t have stayed if we’d…”
“You don’t know that,” Stiles says. “You had no right to make that decision for me, for us.”
He spins around, curses and fists his hands in his hair, tugging at the strands hard enough to sting. “If you hadn’t known,” Stiles starts. He has to swallow before he can finish the sentence, fighting tears and anger and regret down to join the bile building in his gut. “If you hadn’t known, what would you have done?”
“I would’ve kissed you back.” The words are whispered, but they crack through Stiles like a gunshot. They feel like a wound reopened, like hot blood pouring over his skin, like bones breaking. “I’d have tried…”
Stiles drags his hands from his hair over his face. He bites at his knuckles, eyes squeezed shut so tight that stars burst behind his eyelids. He lets them twist and warp as he waits for the world to right itself again.
The narrative he’s been telling himself for almost a decade is twisted, an unrecognizable wreck of a life now that he sees the other side of things. He thinks about the damage he’s done to himself, to Derek, to the both of them, all in the name of a broken heart that didn’t have to be. He winces when he thinks about Chris, about the way that Stiles had used him as just another weapon against Derek and his supposed ambivalence.
Stiles is the problem here, and he hates himself for it almost as much as he hates Derek for turning him into it.
“Stiles.” His name is broken and jagged on Derek’s lips, cutting deep into the already bleeding wound of his heart.
“Fuck you,” Stiles sighs. He looks at Derek, at his north, at his sun, and curses him.
“I didn’t realize…”
“No, I guess you didn’t.”
Derek rocks back as if the words are a physical blow. His eyes are storm clouds about to burst, lightning and rain dancing in their multi-hued depths. Energy crackles there, a flash of electric light that stains his eyes blue as he readies himself, lips moving.
“Stiles, I lo—”
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Stiles hisses, stopping Derek before he can finish. “Not here, not now. I can’t… You can’t say that.”
“I don’t care,” Stiles says, his heart pounding as he lies, as he tries to rebuild his emotional shields that Derek has so casually destroyed. He shoves his way past Derek, wrenches the passenger side door open, and falls into the car. “Take me to impound, and then leave me the hell alone.”
The rest of the ride is silent in the way that hospital waiting rooms are. Someone is dying in the bed on the other side of the wall, everyone knows it, but no one’s saying a word. It’s a physical weight, a pressure that builds and builds until it demands to be acknowledged, though no one is willing to be the one to do it. Even the sound of the car’s tires on the road feels like too much, the quiet hum and crackle of rubber on asphalt like birdshot from a twelve-gauge, tearing Stiles into pieces.
Stiles clenches his teeth so hard, he has a tension headache by the time Derek rolls up to the impound lot. He doesn’t say anything when he stops the car. Stiles gets out, shuts the door, and heads to the main office. It’s a glorified shack, and by the time Stiles’s hand is on the doorknob, Derek’s pulled a U-turn and is already headed back to town.
He’s not going to cry, not yet. He’s got something else to focus on other than the shredded remains of his heart, the caustic taste of regret clogging his throat. After a deep breath, his professional FBI mask sliding into place, Stiles opens the door. He plasters a friendly smile on his face and hopes it doesn’t look psychotic.
“Good afternoon,” he says a touch too brightly. “Stiles Stilinski. I believe you have my car.”
Stiles phone pings when he’s halfway to his apartment. He checks the notification at the next red light, sees that it’s an email from Agent Peterson. Something about their possible victims, and a happy note that this is an important first step for the two agencies. Peterson’s hopeful it’ll be a lasting, fruitful partnership, especially with the longstanding history between the two officers assigned to the task.
He turns his phone off, then throws it into the passenger seat with a curse. Fuck interdepartmentalism. Stiles doesn’t give a shit about any of that right now. He’ll get as far as he can with the case on his own, then he’ll tap some of his resources back on the east coast for assistance. Chris is back in town in another day or so, and he’s sure to have something useful in the Argent Bestiary or one of his hunter contacts might know something. Hell, Stiles will track down Peter before he’ll talk to Derek again. Scott said he was in town, and Stiles is fairly certain he still has his phone number. As long as Peter hasn’t changed it in the seven years since Stiles’s last called, it’ll be fine.
It’ll all be fine.
He’s not breaking.
There are more dark clouds hanging low over his apartment when he arrives, the never-ending storm that seems to be hovering around Beacon Hills rumbling in warming. The sky’s gone a bizarre shade of orange, and though the air is still and pensive, there’s a sense of impending motion that hangs heavy in the noiseless limbs of the trees around the complex.
Stiles pushes his way into his darkened apartment. He turns on the lights, but nothing happens. He flicks the switch back and forth with no change, and as he kicks the door shut behind him, he realizes he can’t hear the fridge going, either. He sighs, wondering if he’s got a flashlight anywhere in the apartment and if Beacon County Power is any better about their response times than when he was in high school.
There’s a crack of lightning, and the skies open. Rain lashes against the windows in furious, snapping sheets. Stiles watches the storm rage and feels a kinship with it. He closes his eyes and listens to the downpour as it tries to break its way into his apartment and fails. The futility of it settles something in him, makes the pain and anger curled in his chest ease and wash down the drain like so much cold water.
He digs through the utility closet next to the door and finds a heavy-duty Maglite. It clicks on, the beam blinding in the small space, but then it flickers and dims. He smacks it with the side of his hand, rattling the batteries, but after another fitful burst of light, it goes dark. He reminds himself to get new batteries before leaving the flashlight haphazardly on a shelf.
He's heading to his bedroom to finally clean up the mess from the night before, figuring the light from the apartment parking lot will be enough for him to see by. There’s another flash of lightning, and that’s when Stiles notices it.
A shadow grows in the corner of his living room. Thunder rolls through the room, shaking the building, but the shadow doesn’t move. Instead, it grows, slowly draining away the still-orange light that seeps in through the windows. That darkness slips its way over the carpet, the furniture, the few remaining bits of trash that Stiles meant to take out that morning and forgot about. It moves toward him, and though he wants to do something—move, yell, breathe—he can’t.
<<Do you know me?>> it asks, its void-like eyes staring into his soul.
“Reaper,” Stiles croaks out. He tries to call his magic to him, but the creature holds out its hand. The energy building within Stiles’s body stops, one predator recognizing another, then settles, waiting. Unleashed, ready to strike, but biding its time.
<<Why do you still fight?>>
“You’re here to kill me, aren’t you?” Stiles almost laughs. “Why wouldn’t I fight?”
It tilts its head to the side like a confused animal, and the incongruity of it strikes him as almost funny. Here is a being made of—as far as he can tell—the fabric of the universe, and it expresses puzzlement in the same stupid way as everything else. A slow cocking of its head to the side, eyes fixed forward.
<<I am here for balance,>> it says. <<Killing you would upset that.>>
“Then why are you here?”
<<You interest me. You are an imperfect creature. There is blood on your hands, but you leave a trail of life, not death, in your wake. You are both part of the supernatural and yet separate from it. You run with wolves, but you also flee from them. You are a balance about to collapse.>> It moves closer, leaning in until Stiles can feel its heated breath against his face. <<I want to know what would tip your scales, one way or the other. What it would take to make you fall.>>
“Killing innocent people is a good way to find out,” Stiles grits out.
<<No one is truly innocent,>> it says with a contemptuous wave of its hand. <<These people have taken what they should not have. They have traveled the wrong way down the path, without any regard for what they have left behind. I am only returning them to whence they came.>>
It stands in his living room for a long moment, the darkness flooding the space as lightning rips through the sky outside. The light glances off of its body and is reflected, crackling through its form in arcing blue-white bands that slowly fade into nothing. Its form shifts like dark clouds in a night sky, and Stiles sees stars winking through the cracks between. Thunder rolls outside and echoes in the creature’s form, and Stiles quakes.
<<We will meet again.>>
As quickly as it arrived, it’s gone. The apartment lights burst into bright, searing life, and Stiles blinks and covers his eyes against the burn. The fridge hums quietly, the oven clock blinking 12:00 in glowing blue numbers. His printer whirrs to life from the office, clicking and beeping cheerfully as it boots up. The rain outside softens, but still beats, like the wings of a caged bird, against the glass.
Stiles’s hands are shaking, and he needs to do something to stop them, mindless motions to keep his thoughts from whirling out of control, to stop the panic from setting in. Stiles finds a notepad and quickly scribbles everything he remembers the creature saying. Balance is at the core of its message, but it also said that its victims had taken something, had traveled the wrong way. He frowns as he scribbles the words down, then runs the nail of his thumb over his lips, thinking. He taps the pen against the words, underlines them, then starts putting his apartment back to rights.
His wards are all intact, with no sign of anything dangerous trying to enter his apartment. He wonders how the magic in the marks determines danger, and if, since the Reaper wasn’t looking to hurt him, it didn’t qualify. Whatever the case, he’s going to have to rethink his protections.
After resetting his clocks, he boots up his computer and opens up Peterson’s email. There are two basic background checks attached to the email, the PDFs named for each victim. Stiles opens them both and starts skimming for commonalities.
Mr. Carter’s report reads like a Boy Scout’s, albeit one who didn’t know how to cut back on his red meat and beer. Happily married for thirty-five years, lived in the same house for that same time. Stiles wonders if Mr. Carter had carried his wife over the threshold when they moved in, and then pulls himself back from the thought.
He needs to be professional about this.
Stiles doesn’t find anything interesting about the second victim, Megan, until he’s on the second page of her background check. Hidden near the bottom, tucked away in a paragraph about her childhood, is one word: suicide. Frowning, Stiles flips back to the first page of the report, then back again. There are no further details on it, but Stiles knows that she didn’t die from suicide, so why is it noted in her file?
He calls Scott, tapping his fingers against his desk as the phone rings. It picks up after a moment, Scott’s cheerful voice sparkling down the line.
“Hey Stiles,” he says. “What’s up, man? How’re you feeling? My mom said you were admitted?”
“It was nothing, I’m fine,” Stiles says, leaning forward. “Can you check a medical record for me?”
Scott sighs. “You know that’s illegal.”
“For once in our lives, it isn’t. We found another victim, and the SIU’s officially stepped in. I need to look at her records as part of the investigation.”
“Well, shit, in that case,” Scott says, sounding surprised and a little pleased, “let me get it pulled up. What’s the name?”
Stiles rattles it off, along with her date of birth, and after a quiet moment, Scott starts speaking.
“Megan Smith, thirty-one years old. I’ve got records going back since she was a kid, so she’s probably lived in Beacon Hills her whole life. There’s nothing all that interesting here, though, Stiles. It seems like she—”
Scott’s voice cuts off.
“What is it?” Stiles asks, wishing he could reach through the phone and shake his best friend. “What’d you find?”
“She killed herself, or at least she tried.” Scott sounds stunned. “Shit, I remember this girl. Second semester of junior year, you remember? There was that sophomore girl. Her sister found her in the bathtub?”
“I knew I recognized her face,” Stiles says. “There was a fund to help pay for her medical care, right?”
“Yeah,” Scott says. “According to her records, though, she flatlined in the ambulance. They got her back, but it was a near thing.”
Stiles feels like cheering, which is not the appropriate emotional response to hearing about a teenaged girl’s halfway successful suicide attempt. But it’s the connection he needs, and that’s worth celebrating.
“They both died,” Stiles says excitedly. “That’s what’s the same between the victims.”
“Isn’t that why you’re investigating them?” Scott asks.
“No, I don’t mean that the Reaper killed them both. I mean, it did, but that’s not the important part. They both died before the Reaper got to them. Mr. Carter died during his open heart surgery, but they brought him back. And Megan, she committed suicide, but they were able to revive her, too.”
“What’s a Reaper?”
Stiles groans. “I don’t have time to explain it to you right now, but it’s bad news and it’s obsessed with balance. Do you have a way to check in the hospital’s records for anyone who died there, but was revived?”
“Maybe?” Scott says. “I don’t usually run reports in this thing, but I can check with my mom. She might know someone who can put something together for you. But, Stiles… This is Beacon Hills. It’s going to be a long list. I mean, I’ll be on it. Twice.”
“Okay, shit. Um,” Stiles runs his hand through his hair. “If you see anything big, black, and scary, run as fast as you can, okay? Don’t try to fight it, just find me or Derek.”
“What’s Derek going to do?”
“I have no idea, but he’s seen one of these things before, which means he might stand a chance at protecting you.”
“And what’re you going to do?” Scott asks.
“Don’t worry about that,” Stiles says. “Call me as soon as you get that list together, okay? It’s a matter of life and death.”
“Yeah, of course,” Scott says. “I’ll get right on it.”
“Thanks, buddy. I owe you.”
“You always owe me.”
“Love you, too,” Stiles says, then hangs up. He quickly scrolls through his contacts, then stops when he finds Peter’s name. He presses the call icon, holds his phone to his ear, and waits for the ringing to stop.
The train station smelled like cold, musty metal. Stiles could taste it in the back of his throat, an almost bloody tang to the air that clung to his molars and tongue. He swallowed around it, trying to push the bitter flavor from his mouth, but it refused to move, as still and unyielding as the benches and the people sitting on them.
He reached into his pocket, jangled his keys nervously. The station cancellation notice echoed around the room again, and he watched as the people sitting around him shifted as one, a giant organism shaking itself awake before settling into a deeper sleep.
But in the rolling motion of the room, Stiles found a point of stillness. An island in a storm-torn sea.
He stood slowly, trying to find that spot, but the rest of the room exploded into action, fear and chaos overtaking the crowd before he could. Horses neighed in the distance, and their hooves clattered like thunder as they drew closer. Frantic bodies pressed against his, and he shoved his way through the crowd like a salmon desperately making its way upstream.
The people screamed and howled, dove from the hooves striking like lightning on the station floor, but Stiles simply ran. His body slammed into one of the pillars, the rough and broken concrete scratching against his palms. Even here, there was pain, and he found some comfort in that reminder of life. Hidden here, the Riders didn’t see him, and Stiles was able to watch them as they careened through the room and out the tunnel, their latest victim struggling on the floor before his bound hands and feet were freed.
The man looked terrified as he rubbed his wrists and looked around the crowded and suddenly silent room. As a single mass, the people moved back to their benches and sat, all signs of terror wiped clean like a slate. A room full of damnatio memoriae.
All except for him and Peter.
Of all the people in the world, both those he knew and those he didn’t, Peter was the last person he’d expect to find here. But as Stiles thought it, he knew it wasn’t true. Of course it was Peter. Who else would be dumb enough to find themselves here, rather than locked up in the relative safety of Eichen House? Who else would be unlucky enough to step from one trap directly into another? Peter is the Wile E. Coyote of the Hales, always getting caught in his own schemes. This is just another anvil, another ACME product gone wrong.
He knew he couldn’t trust the man, but there was no one else that he could depend on. Peter might have been a bastard, but he was always a self-interested one, and he’d do his damnedest to get out of here.
Stiles could count on that.
Peter agrees to meet him at a coffee shop in the center of town that afternoon, so Stiles packs up his laptop and notes and heads there early. He figures being the first one to arrive will give him some kind of leg up on the wolf, though he’s not entirely convinced that Peter won’t somehow manage to turn that around on him later.
He orders a large latte and snags a table in the corner across from the door. From here, he’s got a clear view of the entrance. It gives him a sense of security to have his back up against the wall and all of the exits noted. He pops a pair of headphones in, then starts consolidating his notes.
Now that he has an idea of what the Reaper is looking for in its victims, he shoots an email to Bartlett back in D.C. The guy’s a genius when it comes to finding folklore, and Stiles is hopeful that he’ll come back with something useful. He also sends Chris a text, then waits impatiently, leg bouncing under the table, for a reply.
I’ll be back in town tonight, he eventually responds. I’ll see if any of my contacts know about these things.
Talk about it over dinner? Stiles asks, hands sweating slightly as he types the message into his phone.
Sure. Pick the place, and I’ll meet you there.
Stiles starts typing in the name of a fancy joint in the ritzy district of downtown, then deletes it and suggests Ruby's. Chris sends back a thumbs up, and Stiles sets his phone on the table, screen down so he can’t look at what else Chris might send.
After an hour, Stiles is so engrossed in his work, he doesn’t notice when someone approaches his table. The screech of the chair across from his on the floor shocks him from his trance, and he jumps, pulling his headphones out and calling his magic to his hands.
“No need for that,” Peter says, eyeing the glowing marks peeking from the cuffs of Stiles’s sleeves. “If I wanted to kill you, I wouldn’t do it in a Starbucks.”
“Too corporate for you?” Stiles asks.
“I do like to support local businesses.” He settles into the chair, cup of coffee balanced delicately in the cage of his fingers.
It’s been almost a decade since Stiles last saw Peter Hale, but the time has been kind to the man. He’s wearing a well-fitting leather jacket, a staple of the Hale family wardrobe as far as Stiles can tell, and a V-neck T-shirt that is only a deep breath away from indecent. There’s a slight dusting of gray at his temples, and he’s let his beard grow out a little more than he used to, but otherwise, he’s unchanged. Werewolf aging is a blessing and a curse, and Stiles finds himself wondering—not for the first time—how old Peter is, exactly.
“Now, why’d you want to talk?” Peter asks. “You were uncharacteristically cryptic on the phone.”
“There’s something after you,” Stiles says.
“Yes, you mentioned, but that’s also most Tuesdays for me, so I’m afraid you’ll need to be more specific.”
“It’s called a Reaper. This one is going after people who’ve died and come back.” Stiles gives Peter a pointed look.
“Why aren’t you warning your good friend, Scott? It seems like he’d need to be as vigilant as I would, if not more so.”
“I already have,” Stiles says. “But I have a feeling that you can tell me something about this thing.”
Peter raises an eyebrow and takes a slow sip of coffee. “I may know something. You’d do better to ask my nephew, though. I believe he’s had personal experience with these things.” Peter tilts his head to the side, both eyebrows raised. “Or maybe you shouldn’t ask my nephew, considering what your heart did just now.”
Peter closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, inhaling slowly through his nose and letting it out in a controlled breath from his mouth. He grins, sharp as a knife, and when his eyes open, they’re fading from bright blue to a more subdued shade.
“Why, Stiles,” he purrs, “I had no idea you two were so close.”
Stiles stiffens. “That’s none of your business.”
“I think it is,” Peter says. “After all, why are you talking to me about the Reaper if you could be… talking with Derek instead?”
“Derek and I are done talking,” Stiles says, trying to draw the conversation back under his control.
“So it seems.” Peter clicks his tongue. “What a shame. I’d always thought I would have a chance with you after Argent. You do seem to have a thing for older men.”
“The Reaper,” Stiles stresses. “What do you know about it?”
“I know that they’re bad news. I also know there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“That’s what we thought about the Hunt,” Stiles says. “And look at us now.”
Peter laughs. “You think this thing is anything like the Hunt? If the Hunt knew there was a Reaper in town, they would turn tail and run. Reapers are a figment of Death. They only have one purpose, and that is to destroy. If this one is in Beacon Hills and hunting people who have come back from death, then the local morgues are going to need to start stocking up on body bags.”
“There’s got to be something we can do,” Stiles stresses. “This one is obsessed with balance. Maybe there’s a way we can restore it.”
“Maybe there’s something you can do,” Peter says before draining his coffee cup. “I’m suddenly in the mood for a vacation. One that’ll take me far away from Beacon Hills for the near future.”
Stiles flops back in his seat, arms crossed. “Of course you’re going to run.”
“It’s what I’m good at,” Peter says without shame. “But I’ll do you one favor before I go.”
He reaches into his pocket and slides a thumb drive to Stiles. “This is the Hale Bestiary. Everything our family has ever known about the supernatural. Derek and I have been updating it over the years. I believe he wrote down everything he knows about Reapers in there.”
Stiles grabs the stick, but Peter slams his hand down on Stiles’s wrist before he can pick it up.
“One thing, though,” Peter says, voice thick with charm and quid-pro-quo. “I’d like to know what you plan on doing with my nephew.”
“Lie,” Peter says. His grip tightens, and Stiles winces. “I know you don’t think I care about him, but he is my family, and family is very important to me. So, tell me, Stiles, what you’re going to do.”
Stiles holds Peter’s gaze, anger boiling within him. It’s none of Peter’s business what Stiles is going to do, but he needs the information on the thumb drive. He lets his magic spark over his skin, and Peter pulls his hand back in surprise and pain as the golden-white light races across his fingers.
“That’s between me and Derek,” Stiles says before tucking the thumb drive into his pocket. “You can ask him.”
Peter shakes the sting from his hand. “I think I will. I find it very interesting that a well-trained federal agent can lose control so easily over one person.”
He stands and straightens his jacket around his shoulders. “I’d say it was nice to see you, but…”
“Be careful,” Stiles warns. “I may not like you, but I don’t want you dead.”
“Isn’t that a pleasant surprise,” Peter says with a smirk. His expression steadies, grows more serious. “Don’t hurt my nephew, Stiles. You’ve done enough of that as it is.”
Stiles opens his mouth, indignation heavy on his tongue, but Peter is already out the door before Stiles can think of what to say.
Stiles is tired of using other people—of using Chris—to make himself feel better.
The bell above the door chimes cheerfully when Stiles pushes his way into Ruby’s. It’s pouring out again, and he wipes rain from his face as Martha points him to a booth in the back.
“That lovely Mr. Argent said you’d be coming in. We got you boys the best seat in the place. Go make yourself comfortable.” She winks at him before helping a customer waiting at the counter, and Stiles wonders what Chris would think of being called boy.
The older man is sitting in the aforementioned booth, a glass of water resting idly by an abandoned menu as Chris scrolls through his phone. He glances up as Stiles approaches and smiles softly, his blue eyes twinkling.
“Stiles,” he says. “I have to say, I prefer this to meeting at your dad’s place at three A.M.”
“I have better coffee,” Stiles offers.
Chris laughs. “But they know how to brew it here. Sit down, let’s talk about this Reaper.”
“I don’t have much more to say. I sent you my notes earlier,” Stiles says as he slides into the booth. He grabs a menu, scans it quickly, then sets it back down. “Were you able to find out anything more?”
“Nothing good,” Chris says. He reaches under the table and pulls a folder off the bench seat next to him. “This is all I was able to get from my contacts.”
He slides it over to Stiles who takes the folder and flips it open. It’s a series of photos, the prints glossy and hi-res. There are bodies in stark detail, their lips bloodless, eyes unseeing as they stare back into the lens. No signs of injuries, just a series of corpses spread across the tabletop. Chris casually slides the pictures together and back into the folder as Martha approaches.
“What can I get you gentlemen?” she asks, pad of paper and pen in hand.
“I’m not hungry,” Stiles says, stomach a tight ball of nerves. “Just a soda. Coke, if you’ve got it.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, eyes still trained on the folder. “That’s fine.”
“And for you, handsome?” Martha asks Chris, giving him a quick once-over.
“How about you surprise me?” he says, laying on the charm.
“I guess I’ll see you when I get off my shift, then,” she says with a wicked grin that shouldn’t look so at home on the face of a sixty-year-old.
Chris laughs. “How about the special, side of fries?”
“You want that medium?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Chris says, and Martha scoffs.
“You call me Martha,” she says as she scribbles his order down. “None of this ma’am nonsense.”
Chris smiles again. “Yes, ma’am.”
She waves a careless hand at them, then heads back to the kitchen, muttering something fond to herself.
“You’ve gotten better at that,” Stiles says, pulling the folder back to his side of the booth.
“At getting people to leave you alone without threatening them,” Stiles says. He opens the folder again and flips through the pictures. “What am I looking at here?”
“I got those from another Hunter who’s based out of Chicago. She wasn’t able to give me many specifics, but she had those.”
“Did she catch it?” Stiles asks.
“No,” Chris says with a shake of his head. “Just tracked it. She lost its trail somewhere south of Springfield.”
“Was she able to figure out what connected all of these people?” Stiles asks, sliding the folder back to Chris. “Any kind of commonalities?”
“Nothing in public record.” Chris puts the folder back on the seat. “And nothing through unofficial channels, either.”
Stiles leans back in the booth, his body sagging with the weight of the day’s work heavy across his shoulders. He runs a hand over his face, then drags it through his hair.
“So, is there anything I can do here?” Stiles asks. “Or should I just warn the coroner that business is about to pick up?”
“I haven't heard of anyone beating one of these things,” Chris says. “But since they're obsessed with balance, if you can figure out how to even the scales, you might be able to stop it from killing anyone else.”
Stiles’s brow furrows, and he runs his thumbnail over his lips. “This Reaper is targeting people who’ve died and come back.” The words fall from his lips like molasses in January, dragging over his teeth and tongue as he tries to think through the problem. “But we both know that there are plenty of people in Beacon Hills who’ve done that. So why were its victims a sixty-five-year-old cardiac patient and a former suicide, and not someone like Scott or Peter?”
Chris looks at Stiles, considering. “Scott’s died twice now, right? And Peter, at least once?” At Stiles’s nod, he continues. “They certainly seem like better targets. But...”
“Could it be the werewolf thing?” Stiles asks. “Derek saw one of these things, and he’s still standing.”
“Maybe,” Chris says hesitantly. “But at least one of those victims in Chicago was supernatural. I don’t think it would protect them.”
“Okay. If being a supernatural creature isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card, then what’s stopping it?”
“No idea,” Chris says before taking a sip of his water, his eyes watchful like a predator tracking prey as they stay locked on Stiles. “Speaking of Hale, what’s he got to say about it?”
Stiles hates that his heart twinges at the name, hates that he knows Chris can read the emotion in the wince that darts across Stiles’s face. “Just that same balance shit,” he says, refocusing on the bigger problem, “but I think I figured that out when I talked to it before.”
“Wait, what?” Chris leans forward. “What do you mean before?”
“I mean when it attacked me on the side of the road. It spouted some biblical shit about the beginning and end, and giving people what they deserve. And then, it said it was here for balance.” He pauses, thinking. “It seemed less antagonistic the second time, like it wanted me to understand...”
“The second time?”
“Yeah.” Stiles leans forward, his fingers steepled as he stares at the tabletop, eyes unseeing. “It said I was a ‘balance about to collapse’ and that I fascinated it. Do you think…?”
He meets Chris’s confused and concerned gaze, and then something clicks in his mind, a piece of the puzzle falling into place.
“Scott’s balanced it out,” Stiles says, realization striking him like the lightning that crackles outside the diner. “He came back, but he’s made up for it. Even though he’s died more times than he should have, he’s also saved lives that would’ve otherwise been lost.”
“And you think that’s why the Reaper hasn’t gone after him?” Chris asks, still looking concerned.
“I think Scott’s evened the scales more than a guy who couldn’t give up hamburgers, even after open-heart surgery.”
“So who’s next?” Chris asks. “And how are you going to stop this thing?”
Stiles bites at his lip. “I don’t know. But if it’s looking for people who’ve died, come back, and not done a damn thing about it, there are a few potential targets I can think of. One target, actually.”
Chris raises his eyebrow, mouth fighting a slightly predatory grin. “Is Peter still in town?”
Stiles touches his nose, then points to Chris. “I just saw him, actually. He gave me this.” He pulls out the thumb drive and wiggles it. “It’s the Hale Bestiary.”
Chris’s eyes flash with interest. “Any chance I can get a copy of that?”
“Once I get it loaded onto my computer, sure,” Stiles says before slipping it back into his pocket. “We can go back to my place after we eat. Might as well get it done now, rather than later.”
“Your place, huh?” Chris leans back in the booth, his arm thrown casually over the back of his seat. “I’ve heard this before.”
“Strictly professional,” Stiles says. “Promise.”
“I’ve heard that before, too,” Chris says with a soft smile. “I trust you’ll behave yourself?”
“Scout’s honor,” Stiles says, flipping Chris off instead of saluting. “You’ll be in and out.”
Chris rolls his eyes, but he’s laughing while he does it.
Martha arrives a few minutes later with Chris’s food, and Stiles surreptitiously steals fries from the plate while Chris pretends not to notice. Their conversation turns to more mundane matters as they eat. Chris tells him about the trade show he’s just gotten back from, and Stiles talks about the field office and what he thinks of his new coworkers. They share laughing stories about shared acquaintances, hunters and agents that they’ve both worked with in the past.
Martha brings them the bill, and Stiles snatches it before Chris can.
“My treat,” he says as he reaches for his wallet. “You can get it next time.”
He gives Chris his address, and then both run to their cars through the still-pouring rain. The drive back to his place is slow and easy, the roads familiar now that he’s driven them a few times. Rain beats down on his car in a quiet, constant thrum that soothes him. He leaves his radio off, listening instead to the white noise of the storm as it washes over Beacon Hills. His wipers strike up a counterpoint to the steady patter of raindrops. His turn signal adds to the percussive song that ticks its way forward as he turns into his apartment complex.
Now that things have slowed down, exhaustion weighs on him. After all of the excitement—the accident, waking up in the hospital, the fight with Derek, meeting the Reaper, then Peter, then Chris—Stiles is surprised he’s still moving. He lets his magic bolster him. It curls low in his gut, a warmth that helps him keep his eyes open as he pulls into his parking spot, Chris’s car tucking in next to his in the lot.
Though it’s still raining, it’s slowed down since they left the diner. Stiles flips through his keys and pushes his door open, Chris lingering close behind. He flips the lights on, then sets his keys down on the kitchen counter.
“Make yourself at home,” Stiles says as he heads to his office. “This shouldn’t take too long.”
His computer boots up easily, and Stiles plugs the thumb drive in, watching as the bestiary transfers. Windows estimates a few minutes, so he ducks back into the main room to find Chris holding a stack of papers, his brow furrowed.
“So Hale was here,” Chris says carefully, his eyes still on the papers in his hand.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. He’s exhausted, the very last of his energy draining out of him as he watches Chris flip through the pages of Derek’s research. “He dropped those off last night.”
Chris sets the papers back down on the coffee table. “And?”
“And…” Stiles sighs. “I’m tired of talking about this.”
Chris walks over to Stiles and cups his face with a too-gentle hand, his eyes kind and sad. “I know.”
Stiles leans into the touch. There’s comfort there and the offer of something more. He wishes he could give into it, wishes he could lose himself in the easy temptation of Chris’s body against his. But he’s tired of using other people—of using Chris—to make himself feel better, so he lifts his own hand to Chris’s and pulls the other man’s palm from his face. He cradles it for a moment, then squeezes the calloused hand before letting it drop.
“He loves you,” Chris says.
The words lance through Stiles, and he closes his eyes against them.
“And you love him,” Chris continues.
Eyes still shut, he nods and hears Chris sigh. The computer in his office dings quietly, and Stiles opens his eyes, meeting Chris’s sympathetic gaze.
“I’ll go get the thumb drive,” he says, drained and heartbroken.
He turns, and Chris’s voice stops him.
“Stiles,” he says, “it’s okay. Sometimes… Just because two people care for each other, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work out. I’m not saying that’s the case here, but you have to ask yourself what you want, what you really want, and if Derek’s the person to give it to you.”
His shoulders tight, Stiles walks into his office and rips the thumb drive out of its USB port. He heads back to Chris and shoves it into his hands.
“I’ll walk you out,” he says, refusing to look up from his hands. He pushes past Chris, who grabs his shoulder and spins him around.
“I know you don’t want to hear it,” Chris starts, and Stiles holds up a hand, stopping the flow of words.
“I don’t want to hear it,” he says with a sigh, tamping down on the defensiveness that’s come leaping up like armor, “but I need to hear it. Just… Tonight?” He shakes his head. “Tonight, I’m tired, and there are bigger things to deal with than my fucked up head. Whatever this thing is between me and Derek, I’ll get it figured out. But not right now.”
“Okay. I’m here if you need me,” Chris says gently. “If you need a friend, you have one.”
“I know,” Stiles says. He offers a wan smile, and Chris returns it. “Be safe out there. The roads are a mess.”
“Yeah.” Chris tucks his hands into his pockets and heads to the door. “Stay in touch, and let me know if you need any backup with this thing.”
“You’ll be my first call,” Stiles says as he pulls the front door open. “Have a good night.”
“Night, Stiles,” Chris says.
Stiles shuts the door, then leans his head against it. Reaching down without looking, he locks up, then pushes himself away. The lights click off quietly, and he wanders to his bedroom in the dark. His bed is soft and giving when he falls into it. He flops onto his back and wiggles his way out of his jeans. His phone clatters loudly when he tosses it onto his night stand, and he shuts his eyes, ready to block out the day and give into the fatigue skating its way through his body.
But instead of drifting into sleep, Stiles’s mind races. He doesn’t know how to make it stop, caught in the riptide of his overactive imagination. It drags him further and further away from sleep until he’s stranded in the middle of an ocean of thought that threatens to drown him. He wonders about the Reaper and its motivations, why it’s in Beacon Hills and who it’s hunting next. Thinks about balance and what he’s done to even the scales of his own life, if any of the work he’s done in the last decade has made up for the terrible things he did as the nogitsune.
And, though he doesn’t want to, he thinks about Derek. It sends lances of pain through him, the sensation of it pooling in the palms of his hands and the corners of his eyes. His chest is tight as he thinks about the lost time, about the ways they’ve hurt each other since Stiles walked out of the loft for the last time. He wonders what would have happened if they’d just talked to each other back then, if they’d been open and honest, if they’d been older and more mature. If he’d opened up to Derek back then, if he’d said something...
But that’s the thing about Derek Hale. Even though Stiles aches with want, with a desperate, twisting regret whenever he thinks of the man, he doesn’t have the right. There’s nothing more for him to hold onto than one stupid kiss and their ill-considered night together. And even with those wretched memories, a part of Stiles still screams out that he’s never going to stop feeling this way, no matter what could have, should have, would have happened.
He doesn’t need a singular moment to explain the wreckage of his love for Derek. His heart is filled by a cascade of minutiae, grains of sand in an hourglass, millions of small, unremarkable seconds that grow, piling one on top of the other, until he’s buried with the weight of it, gasping for breath and lost.
Twisting lines of black beneath tanned skin. The glint of crooked, fanged teeth. The heavy weight of a body lightened by cold water. Soft voices. Rough hands. Sad eyes. An amalgamation of memory that leaves him stumbling, gutted, years after any of it mattered.
The truth of it—the reality that he only faces during the darkest part of night, sheets tangled around his legs, his eyes red and gritty with exhaustion and not bitterness—is that he never had Derek. That one kiss—the thing that changed his life, that ended it—was only a single drop in the sea of… whatever they had been, whatever they would never be. It didn’t matter if they loved each other, not now.
He has no right to this ache, no excuse when he’d pushed Derek away with an animalistic need for safety, for a place to hide as he failed to heal from the gutting wound of rejection. He’d seen it in the confusion reflected in Derek’s eyes as Stiles had drifted further and further away. He’d put this distance between them first, and he’d solidified it when he’d accepted the position with SIU. He’d gone as far from the man, from the pain, as he could, and he’d let the gulf between them grow with every day, every year, that he stayed away.
He can lay the blame for all of it on the FBI, on his work, but Stiles knows the truth. It’s his fault.
Every cursed piece of it.
He presses the palms of his hands into his eyes, not surprised to find them wet with unshed tears. He’s an idiot, sure, but he knows when he’s reached a breaking point. Rolling out of bed, he leans over his knees, staring blindly at the floor of his bedroom as he fights for composure. There’s no one here to see him fall apart, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to stay strong.
It takes him a moment to realize that the ringing he hears isn’t just in his ears. He lifts his head and watches as his phone skips and skitters on his nightstand. His fingers feel distant, his hand too far from his body, when he reaches for the phone and picks it up.
Derek’s name stares back at him from the screen because of course it does. Of course that’s how this day is going to end, with the man who’s name is carved into his heart so deeply, it’s a scar, calling him in the night.
“Hey,” he says when he answers the phone. Part of him wants to lash out, but he’s too tired now. So instead, he sits in the dark and listens to Derek breathe.
“I’m sorry to call this late,” Derek says, “but I need you to get to the Safeway as soon as possible. There’s a body, and I think it’s the Reaper’s work. It smells like it, at least.”
“Okay,” Stiles says, worn too thin to curse. “I can be there in fifteen.”
“I appreciate it. I’ve got other deputies on their way to help secure the scene, but you’re the only agent I know in the area, and…” His voice trails off. “I’ll wait for you outside.”
“Understood.” Stiles hangs up and cradles his phone in his hands for a long moment, running his thumb lightly over the screen and watching as it lights up under the touch. It’s heavy in his hand when he pulls his jeans back on and tucks the phone into his pocket. He knows he should call Chris for backup, but as he slides a new shirt on, slips into his shoes, and drives toward the Safeway, he leaves his phone alone.
There are Beacon County Sheriff cruisers and an ambulance waiting for him when Stiles arrives. Lights flash through the parking lot, glinting off the puddles of water left by the earlier storm. It’s still misting a little, and Stiles hates how the moisture clings to his face with tiny, ant-like prickles. When a deputy tries to stop him from passing the cordon the Sheriff’s department has put up, he flashes his badge a moment before recognition sinks in.
“Agent Stilinski,” the deputy says, clearly flustered and embarrassed. “Sorry about that, sir.”
“It’s fine,” Stiles says, waving the man away as he sees Derek’s familiar form walking toward him. “Deputy Hale is expecting me.”
“Of course, sir. Agent. I’ll just…” He gestures back to the cordon, his hands landing on his gun belt like nervous birds settling on a wire.
Stiles barely notices, too focused on Derek as he approaches. The sharp planes of his face are caught in the flashing lights of the cruisers and the ambulance, strobing red and white in a dizzying pattern. There’s exhaustion etched in the lines around his eyes, and Stiles wonders if the hint of defeat that hangs from the corners of Derek’s mouth is due to Stiles or to the body inside.
“What can you tell me about the victim?” Stiles asks, not trying for small talk when he knows it would want to grow into something bigger.
“Young guy. ID says his name is Fred Baker. I had someone pull records on him before you arrived, and he’s got a bunch of drug charges on his rap sheet. They’re all old, though. The most recent arrest is from eighteen months ago. We’re still working on next-of-kin.”
They fall into the rote behaviors of investigation. Stiles grabs a pair of gloves from a deputy by the front door as Derek leads him inside. They cut through the cashier stations, the bright lights of the supermarket jarring after the soft darkness outside, and Derek heads down a freezer aisle.
There’s a red basket on the ground, its contents tipped and scattered across the floor. Laundry detergent, dryer sheets, a package of Pop-Tarts. A late-night shopping run cut short.
The body next to it is young, healthy. He’s face-down on the floor, arms and legs spread akimbo. His left foot is twisted awkwardly, and Stiles can tell from its position that the victim was dead before he hit the ground.
Stiles is so damned tired, but he calls to his magic, kneeling to touch the linoleum floor, and lets it free. It sizzles from his hands in bright, arcing light, and dances over the wide, white tiles to the corpse. Slowly, it moves over the still form, its energy licking out to test and taste the body. Stiles feels it snarl in recognition before it settles around the victim’s heart, teeth snapping as it draws his attention closer.
“What happened?” Stiles asks as his magic comes trotting back into his body, slipping into his blood to settle as a warmth in his chest.
“I was grocery shopping, and he just dropped.” Derek’s voice struggles to be heard. “I knew before he hit the ground that he was…”
“You were here?” Stiles looks from the body to Derek and finally notices the tension threaded through his body. Stiles knows that emotion, knows the helpless feeling that thrums in Derek’s muscles and holds his body taut.
He doesn’t say anything else, just stares down at the body on the ground. Stiles rises to his feet slowly. “It’s definitely the Reaper.”
Stiles sighs. “So how’d he die?”
“OD’d last year,” Derek says quietly, somehow already knowing what question Stiles is really asking. “He was revived with Narcan. I remember him from drug court.”
“How’d you figure it out?”
Derek shrugs. “Scott called me after you did.”
“Shit.” Stiles waves another deputy over. “Make sure no one disturbs the body until the coroner gets here, you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” the young woman says.
Stiles nods, then grabs Derek’s arm. “C’mon, we’re getting out of here.” Derek goes to pull away, his body tensing beneath Stiles’s hand. Stiles stops, lets his grip gentle. “Just outside. You don’t need to stand here and do this to yourself.”
Indecision washes over Derek’s face, a strange shift of emotion that dances through the tiny muscles along his jaw and mouth. He meets Stiles’s eyes, his own haunted and shadowed by dark circles, and then nods.
Stiles lets his hand fall from Derek’s arm, knowing that he’ll follow, and makes his way to a rear exit. He pushes his way through a pair of double doors that lead into a back loading dock, then walks down a ramp into the parking lot behind the store.
A mist hangs in the air and swirls with eddies of wind, small memories of the brutal downpour that had come through only hours earlier. A breeze twists through the air, clinging to Stiles skin as he leans against the wall and waits for Derek to join him.
After a moment, the wolf steps outside. He pulls the collar of his jacket tight around his neck, gives Stiles a long, considering look, then leans up against the wall. Derek’s close enough that his body heat seeps into Stiles’s shoulder where it almost touches his. It makes him shiver.
It’s weird, but they don’t speak. Stiles has spent the last decade wanting to say things to Derek, to yell and scream at him. And since he’s been home, that’s all that Stiles has been doing. He’s been raging against the man, lashing at him like a howling wind against immutable stone. But now he’s tired, and instead of lashing out, he’s simply there. The two of them, quiet and still when it’s the last thing they should be. The eye of the storm.
It’s been years since Stiles has had a cigarette, but his fingers itch for one now. It’d give him something else to focus on, let him turn his attention to the careful inhale-hold-exhale of smoking, rather than the tense line of the warm body next to his. It’d keep his mouth occupied so he didn’t feel the need to fill it with words. He runs his thumbnail over his lips, a nervous habit he’s never been able to shake.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he finally blurts out. He pulls his hand away from his face, clenches it into a fist by his side.
Derek shifts next to him, his jacket catching against the rough cinderblock of the wall. “I didn’t think it was.”
“Then why are you beating yourself up over it?”
Frustration grows, familiar and comfortable, and Stiles does his best to tamp it down.
“What are you doing right now, then?”
He’ll work on it.
Derek sighs. He sounds tired, as worn out as the storm dying around them. “I don’t want to fight, Stiles. Just… say what you want to say, and then let me do my job.”
It stings that Derek thinks that’s what Stiles wants to do right now. That he would want to drag Derek out into the cold and damp and lay into him. But there’s also a tight ball in the bottom of his stomach that feels like guilt at the words. He swallows, shakes his head.
“I’m not… I don’t want to fight, either.”
Things go quiet again. There’s the gentle drip of rainwater from the gutters of the supermarket, a scatter of droplets that fall from the leaves of a nearby tree when the wind whips through its branches. Stiles turns his eyes to the damp concrete dock and exhales, long and slow, and watches as the air turns to fog.
“I’m sorry,” he says on a sigh. “About earlier today. I said… It doesn’t matter what I said. I shouldn’t have. I was… cruel.”
“Yeah,” Derek says. There’s hardly any intonation to the word, a simple declarative statement that makes Stiles flinch. “You were.”
Stiles laughs, and it hurts as Derek turns to look at him.
“You think that’s funny?”
“No,” Stiles says. “No, it’s not funny at all. I just…” He pushes away from the wall, takes a few steps, and forces himself to turn and face Derek. “I’m sorry. For a lot of things.”
Derek meets his eyes, nods slightly. “I know.”
“So, our victim," Stiles says, moving away from the painful conversation he's not ready to have yet. "You saw him go down?”
“Notice anything?” Stiles asks.
“Nothing.” Derek sounds frustrated, annoyance thick in his voice. His chin is resting on his chest, eyes locked on the ground as he remembers. “Not a sound, not a smell. I was just grabbing something for dinner, and…”
“And he was dead.”
Stiles sighs. “I saw it again.”
Derek’s head snaps up. “The Reaper?” When Stiles nods, Derek’s face pales. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. It didn’t attack me, it just wanted… It wanted to talk, I guess. I should’ve known…”
“There’s no way to know that this thing is coming.” Derek nearly snarls the words. “It just appears and murders people.”
“But it doesn’t see it that way,” Stiles says with a shake of his head. “As far as it’s concerned, it’s doing a job. Evening things out.”
“Life doesn’t work like that.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Stiles agrees, “but we’re not the ones out here giving people heart attacks.”
“So, what do we do?” Derek runs a hand through his hair, the dark locks threading through his fingers and turning disheveled.
“Well,” Stiles says, reaching out with his magic. There’s a small burn along the right side of his body, and as he turns, it grows stronger. “The tracking spell I put on Peter is probably a good place to start.”
Derek gives him a questioning look. “When did you see Peter?”
“Earlier tonight.” He waves away Derek’s concern. “It was fine, don’t worry about it. The important thing is that I’m tracking him. If this thing is going to target anyone, it’ll be Peter. Can you think of anything he’s done in the last five years to make up for dying and coming back?”
Derek snorts. “Good point.”
“Now that he knows this thing is gunning for him, he’s going to run. The tracking spell means I won’t lose him if he does. It also marks him as being under my protection,” Stiles says, “and since this thing’s apparently obsessed with me, it might buy us enough time to stop it.”
“That’s clever,” Derek says, sounding surprised.
“When I’m not too busy being an ass, I am good at my job.” Stiles offers a smile like an olive branch, and Derek returns the expression, his eyes lifting at the corners.
“C’mon, we should head back in,” Stiles says before turning back to the bright doorway leading into the building. “I might be able to pick something up from the scene. My magic knows what to look for now.”
“Stiles,” Derek says. There's entreaty in the words, and Stiles goes still. “I’m sorry, too. I said a lot of things… I didn’t mean them.”
“I know.” Stiles manages to fight back the wince, remembering words half-spoken on the side of the road. “It’s okay.”
“Are you…?” His voice cuts off, his question stopped before he can ask it. Derek’s footfalls echo in the loading dock. They roll like thunder, like a storm growing on the horizon, the wall of the eye drawing closer. “Okay.”
Stiles walks into the harsh fluorescent light of the supermarket, Derek at his back, and tries to focus on the threat before him, instead of the one behind.
He tires quickly. He hasn’t had enough sleep, has been running himself ragged the last couple of days. It catches up to him, and his breath comes out in sobs as his arms shake. He collapses, screams.
Too late. Always too damn late.
He knows it’s a dream because he’s straddling Derek, who’s looking at Stiles with eyes half-lidded in pleasure and mouth open on a groan.
“God, Stiles,” he breathes, his body rolling like waves as Stiles ruts down against him. “Please, baby, I can’t…”
Stiles crushes his mouth to Derek’s, cutting his words off before Derek can keep speaking, before they start fighting and hurting each other again. His fingers tangle in Derek’s hair, holding him close to Stiles, not letting him pull away, not this time.
“I know,” Stiles murmurs against Derek’s swollen lips. “Let me love you.”
There are hands and heat, and through it all, Stiles keeps his mouth pressed tight against Derek’s, whispering promises into his gasping mouth. Stiles tries to pour his heart into his kisses, tries to soothe the ache in his chest that won’t go away. It burns like unshed tears, and Stiles fights to ignore it, to lose himself in the feel of Derek’s body beneath his. But as the pain grows and Derek’s hands still against Stiles’s back, he pulls away, blinking.
The man beneath him is motionless, eyes wide and unseeing. Blood trickles from the corner of Derek’s mouth, and when Stiles rears back and wipes at his lips, the back of his hand comes away stained red.
“Oh God,” he croaks. He grabs Derek by his shoulders, his hands trembling as he shakes the man’s heavy body.
“Derek.” Stiles pulse thunders in his ears. “You need to wake up, goddamnit. Don’t you fucking do this to me, not now.”
He calls his magic, waiting for the familiar sting of power to lance through his fingers, but nothing comes. Screaming, he shakes Derek’s unresponsive body again and again. The wolf’s body starts to shimmer, like rain evaporating off of hot asphalt, until it fades, slipping from his hands like smoke.
Stiles folds in on himself, head pressed against the empty ground beneath him. He clenches his hands into fists as he screams and screams, tears pouring from his eyes like rain onto parched earth.
After a moment, his ragged, shaking breath the only sound in the empty space, Stiles feels something approach. He twists, falling onto his side, hands splayed behind him as he looks up into the familiar cowled shape of the Reaper.
“What the fuck do you want?” Stiles asks, anger like iron on his tongue.
<<I believe we have had this conversation before,>> it says, staring down at him from the darkness of its hood.
“I don’t give a shit,” Stiles spits. “Get the fuck out of Beacon Hills.”
The Reaper tilts its head with something like pity in the motion. <<There is still work to be done here. You know this.>>
“I already told you,” Stiles says, reaching for his magic. It sparks against his skin this time, though it’s weak and distant. “Get out.”
The creature sighs, and stars flash in the space before its mouth, swirling in the air as tiny diamonds that wink in and out of existence. <<Do you understand why I do what I do?>> it asks, offering its hand to Stiles.
“No,” he says. After a moment, he takes the creature’s palm in his. It burns against his hand as the Reaper pulls him to his feet, and when Stiles takes a shaky step back, there’s a dark stain on his skin where they touched.
It shakes its head, the motion so human it makes Stiles’s shiver.
<<To some, I am a respite. I am a release from pain, from suffering. I am a return home after a long journey. And I walk by their side so that, even at the End, they are not alone.
But to others, to those who know that they have squandered their gifts, I am an enemy. I am a horror waiting in the dark, just past vision. I am fear, dread of what is to come. I am inevitable, though, and even as they fight and scream and sob, I am still by their side on that final walk.>>
“Even if you’re dragging them with you.”
<<Even then. I am neither Good nor Evil. I am neither Kindness nor Spite. I am Death, and you cannot have Life, cannot appreciate it, without me. Whether your time here is long or short, to live is to have and to then lose.>>
The Reaper looks down at him, eyes shadowed by the heavy cowl covering its face. Stiles can’t see its eyes, but he feels the weight of them like a noose around his neck.
<<There’s always a cost when it comes to life,>> it says, its voice a whispered echo, spiderwebs in his mind. <<That is the only truth.>>
“Yes,” he says softly, the word slipping from his mouth like a gasping, final breath.
It tastes like blood.
Stiles wakes up to pain. It shocks him from sleep as a sharp sting along his right side, an almost insignificant electric burn that could be confused for a pulled muscle or an ache from the day before. But within seconds, it grows into a fiery agony, one that sweeps over his body from his hips to his chin. Stiles gasps as it washes over him, taking a second to absorb the pain filling his body, and then he fumbles for his phone.
Derek’s number rings a handful of times before he answers.
“Stiles,” he says, sounding resigned. “What is it?”
“It’s the Reaper,” he says through gritted teeth. “It’s going after Peter.”
Pain rolls through his bones like thunder, and Stiles curses until the wave passes.
“Where are you?” Derek asks, his voice muted by the ringing in Stiles’s ears.
“Doesn’t matter,” Stiles gasps. “I’ve got GPS tracking on my phone. Call my dad, he’s got access to it. I’ve gotta get to Peter before—”
More pain, this time whiting out his vision. His phone clatters from his hand as he crumples, arms wrapped around his stomach as he hopes—prays—for the burn to subside. Derek’s voice reverberates out of the phone, his tone a frantic mix of worry and anger. Stiles picks it back up with trembling fingers.
“Hey,” Stiles says, interrupting Derek’s flow of words. “I’ve got to go now or it’s going to be too late. Call my dad. Find me. Find us. I’ll do what I can to stop it.”
“Stiles, don’t you dare—”
And then he hangs up.
For a spell that’s specifically meant to track something, it’s pretty shit at telling Stiles where the hell to go. As soon as he starts moving, the pain subsides, the spell recognizing that Stiles is answering its call. But instead of giving him a clear idea of where Peter is, the spell is only a warmth along his body in Peter’s direction. As Stiles draws closer, the heat increases until he can feel it nearly searing his flesh from his bones. Eyes unfocused and blurry with tears as he speeds down the empty streets of Beacon Hills, Stiles sags with relief when he finally finds Peter, the spell snapping its connection between them in a wash of cool, soothing relief.
He’s at a small park on the edge of town, a memorial garden for some person who’d donated a ton of money to Beacon Hills a half-century ago. The moon peeks its way through the fitful clouds left in the wake of the storm. Brick pathways wind around tasteful arrangements of flowers and trees with the occasional bench nestled under low-hanging branches. Peter’s settled on one, a dim figure in the half-light, his arm slung over the back. When he turns his head toward Stiles, there’s no sign of surprise.
Feet ringing in the peaceful space as he runs toward the bench, Stiles gathers magic in his palms, letting it race and spark across his skin. Peter slowly gets to his feet, his mouth twisting in a soft, pitying smile.
Stiles senses the Reaper before he sees it. Tastes burnt-ash and steel in the back of his mouth as he takes in a deep, gulping breath. It rises from the shadowed darkness of the trees, moving with its too-smooth glide toward Peter.
“Peter!” Stiles shouts, ozone coating his tongue as he gathers magic. “Run!”
Peter smirks before turning away from Stiles, stepping around the bench, and walking slowly toward the Reaper as it stills at the edge of the trees.
Stiles puts his hands in front of him and pushes his power out in a wave of light. It rushes over the ground, the damp grass rustling in its wake, and wraps itself around Peter in a swirling mass of shimmering gold. The wolf rolls his eyes and shoots Stiles an irritated glare from inside the twisting energy that shields him.
“What are you doing?” he asks, arms crossed as the Reaper watches the two of them.
“Saving your ass,” Stiles grits out before placing himself between the Reaper and Peter. “I told you, get the fuck out of Beacon Hills.”
The creature laughs. Stiles feels it like a whirlwind in his mind, a storm of crackling lightning and thunder that tears through him.
<<You are persistent,>> the Reaper says with pity heavy in its unnatural voice. <<But there is nothing you can do here. This is not your concern.>>
“The fuck it isn’t,” Stiles growls before throwing another wave of power at the creature. The light splashes against its body, casting the interior of the Reaper’s hood into stark clarity for a heartbeat.
Darkness, even in the bright illumination. Bone and blood. Some unending intelligence that stares into Stiles’s eyes, his soul, as if it can see everything that makes up his being.
<<You are interesting, but this is not your place,>> it says. The words scrape across Stiles’s mind like steel against steel, harsh and filled with sparks. <<Begone.>>
And then the light winks out, Stiles’s magic gone in an instant. When he raises his arms for another attack, the Reaper waves dismissively toward him, and Stiles is sent flying, his body crashing heavily into the bench behind him.
His eyes water. Everything is gray around the edges. There’s oxygen in the air, but he can’t get it into his lungs, his mouth gaping as he frantically tries to remember how to breathe.
Peter keeps his eyes on the Reaper, his hands tucked casually into his pockets as the swirling light around him fades into drifting motes, then darkness.
“You’ve found me.” He sounds disinterested, bored. Unconcerned. “What do you want?”
The Reaper turns its face from Stiles to Peter. The only sound is Stiles’s pulse in his ears, the rush of air into his lungs as he finally gathers a shuddering breath, then Peter’s startled laugh.
“That’s it?” He laughs again. “I thought it would be something... more. Are you sure?”
Silence. Breath. Wind through the trees.
The Reaper raises its hand, fingers gently curled toward Peter in silent entreaty. Stiles falls forward, nails digging into the ground as he tries to get up, to do something to stop this. Instead, he screams, helpless as Peter places his fingers against the Reaper’s.
His body goes unnaturally still. Droplets of water rise around the man, floating through the air as if gravity has disappeared. They wink in and out of the moonlight, spinning silently as Stiles’s ears ring. He can’t move, can’t do anything, and his chest hurts from more than injury.
Oh God, he thinks. I’m too late.
And then everything snaps. The rain falls back to the ground. Peter crumples into a heap as the Reaper drops its arm. Stiles yells. It’s choked, made soft and broken from the tight pain in his chest.
<<The debt is paid. The balance has been restored.>> The Reaper looks at Stiles, then nods as if pleased.
It disappears, leaving behind the smell of brushed metal and lightning.
No. No, no no no.
Stiles pushes himself to his feet, then stumbles to Peter’s still body. Hands shaking, he presses them to the man’s back and rolls him onto his side.
Peter’s eyes are closed and his face pale. Stiles’s fingers fumble for a pulse. He can’t feel anything. His palms fall to the man’s chest, start compressions that his mind is only just remembering to count.
He isn’t sure if CPR will work on a werewolf, if his straining arms and thundering pulse will make any kind of difference. All he hears is too late, too late, playing on repeat in his mind as he frantically shoves his sweating palms into Peter’s sternum again and again.
He tires quickly. He hasn’t had enough sleep, has been running himself ragged the last couple of days. It catches up to him, and his breath comes out in sobs as his arms shake. He collapses, screams into Peter’s too-still chest.
Too late. Always too damn late.
“Are you done with the theatrics?”
Peter’s voice rumbles against Stiles’s face, and he falls back as if burnt. “What the fuck?” He looks at Peter, takes in the man’s tired but amused expression. “You were dead. Why aren’t you dead?”
Peter laughs, then groans before shutting his eyes again. “I paid the debt.”
“You didn’t have a pulse.” Stiles’s mind is spinning. “How are you alive? And you paid a debt? What does that even mean?”
He turns his head in the direction of the voice and sees Derek sprinting toward him and Peter.
“Fancy meeting you here, Derek,” Peter says as he slowly rolls to sit up. “What brought you out at this time of night?”
“What happened? Are you okay?” Derek crouches down next to Peter, his hands pressing quickly but cautiously over the curve of his uncle’s shoulders.
Peter bats Derek’s hands away, coughing. “I’m fine, I’m fine. Stop hovering. Christ, Stiles. Did you have to try so hard to bring me back?”
“What?” Derek asks. His eyes are wide and filled with confusion and fear. “Where’s the Reaper?”
“It’s gone.” Stiles’s voice sounds surprised even to himself. “It just… It left.”
“It left?” Derek turns back to Peter, brow furrowed. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Peter says before getting shakily to his feet, his hand rubbing over the center of his chest. “I paid the debt.”
Derek’s frustration comes out in a growl.
“Honestly?” Peter shrugs. “I don’t know what happened. It asked me to… let go. So I did.”
“What did you let go of?” Stiles asks. “What did it take?”
“I don’t know, but you two are giving me a headache.” Peter stares pointedly at Stiles and Derek. “Now, I’m not sure what you’re going to do, but I’m going home. Have a lovely night.”
And then he turns, walks unsteadily down the brick path, and disappears into the night.
Stiles stares after Peter, idly rubbing the dirt on his hands into his jeans. Derek is silent next to him, and Stiles can’t bring himself to look.
“Are you all right?” Derek asks, breaking the silence.
Stiles stands with a wince, but nods. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“You have any idea what just happened?”
“Not a clue. Fuck.”
Now that the adrenaline is fading, everything catches up to him. Fast. His vision goes gray around the edges, and he stumbles a little as his body crashes. Derek grabs Stiles’s elbow, and he tries to not feel that touch like fire in his veins.
“You sure you’re okay?” Derek asks, his grip tightening as Stiles sways on his feet.
“Maybe not,” he says, grabbing for Derek’s arm with sweaty palms.
“I’m going to drive you home,” Derek says before slipping under Stiles’s arm and taking some of his weight.
Stiles doesn’t thank him, just groans as the ringing in his ears gets louder and the world narrows into a dark tunnel. Derek’s voice is tinny when he speaks, Stiles’s name sounding like it’s coming over a phone with a bad connection.
“You’d better not pass out,” Derek warns as he eases Stiles into the front seat of Derek’s car.
“M’not gonna pass out,” he murmurs, trying to blink away the darkness clouding his vision.
“Yes, you are,” Derek says with reluctant concern. He picks up Stiles’s legs, puts his feet on the dashboard, and then lowers the seat back so Stiles is nearly lying down. “Can you get your belt on?”
Stiles fumbles for it and throws Derek an unsteady thumbs up once it clicks into place.
The drive back to his apartment is quiet except for the ringing in his ears. It fades the longer he’s lying back, but now he has to fight against exhaustion instead. His body feels heavy, weighted. It presses into the seat until he feels like he's sinking through it, his bones and flesh turned to stone while his mind floats, light, above everything.
Derek shakes him awake an eternity later, and Stiles forces his eyes open. Stiles’s body and mind are so tired, he’s surprised he’s able to move at all.
“C’mon,” Derek says before brushing the hair from Stiles’s forehead. “Let’s get you inside.”
Stiles nods, then fumbles for his seatbelt. Derek pushes Stiles’s ineffectual hands away, releases the clasp, then comes around to the other side of the car to help Stiles to his feet. He stumbles, but Derek catches him. Hands gentle, he slips in close to Stiles and eases him across the parking lot and into his apartment.
They walk carefully to Stiles’s bedroom, and Derek sets Stiles on the edge of his bed. Exhausted, he falls back into the rumpled sheets and comforter. There are soft tugs against his feet as Derek takes Stiles’s shoes off. Delicate fingers that help him ease out of his jeans and shirt.
A quiet hiss of indrawn breath.
“Jesus,” Derek says. “Stiles, your chest.”
He opens his eyes and looks down, staring at the mottled bruises scattered across his body like buckshot. Tentatively, he brushes his fingers over the stains and winces.
“It’ll be fine.” He lets his hand fall onto the bed, lets his eyes shut. “Deal with it in the morning.”
Derek sighs, then pulls the comforter from underneath the heavy weight of Stiles’s body. He tucks Stiles in, running his hands over the soft fabric after nestling it around Stiles’s shoulders. His touch lingers, then withdraws like sunset fading to night.
The light switches off, and Stiles struggles to stay awake. Mind swirling, he reaches toward the door, toward Derek’s silhouette.
He breathes the word.
Air passed over chapped lips.
Hope stretched thin.
Derek stills, hand resting on the doorframe, and then he nods.
Stiles closes his eyes, inhales. Feels like he can breathe again. The bed dips, and he lets his body roll with the movement. Derek is warm and solid against his side. Stiles curves his body into Derek's, and instead of pushing him away, Derek pulls him closer, arm wrapping around Stiles's shoulder. Derek's hand rests on Stiles's back, and after a moment, Stiles feels relief wash over him.
When he cracks his eyes open, he sees black lines easing their way up Derek's arm beneath his head.
"You don't have to do that," Stiles slurs, tongue thick and heavy.
Derek shushes him. "Just let me take care of you."
"Okay." Stiles closes his eyes again. "Do you want to talk about this?"
"Not really," Derek murmurs. "But we should."
They fall silent again, Derek's hand pulling pain from Stiles's body. Even though he doesn't want to, Stiles starts to drift off. And as warm, calloused fingers run soothing circles over his back and a familiar pair of lips press themselves against his forehead, Stiles—finally—falls asleep.
The final chapter is coming on Friday! Hold onto your pants!
He’s not sure how he’s here right now, not sure what went down with the Reaper or what it all means, but—for now—his mind is quiet. Peaceful.
Everything hurts. It drags him from sleep with a groan, and Stiles blinks up at his ceiling. He winces as he stirs, his chest and ribs protesting with a deep ache that tells him he’ll either need to tape them or use his magic to heal the injury.
He shifts again and is startled when he hears a sleepy growl. Turning his head—it hurts too much to roll onto his side—he sees Derek, passed out next to him in the bed.
Early morning light slips through the window in his room, casting soft rays across the bed. They caress the man next to him, and Stiles’s breath catches. Derek’s laying on his front, his arms tucked underneath his pillow as if snuggling it. He took his shirt off at some point in the night, and his back is bare, his triskele tattoo on display. Stiles remembers the last time he saw that tattoo, that back, spread out before him, and he feels heat grow low in his body, numbing the pain.
Eyes closed, his lashes like dark stains against his skin, Derek looks peaceful, younger. His face is relaxed in sleep, mouth parted as he breathes. His dark hair is tousled and hanging over his forehead, and Stiles’s fingers itch with the need to brush it aside, to touch the sharp curve of Derek’s cheek, to feel the man’s pulse against his skin.
His chest swells with a familiar pain. This man fucks him up in every way possible, and staring at him as he sleeps, Stiles thinks it’ll always be like this; Stiles, wishing he could touch Derek like the morning light.
Finally rolling onto his side with a sharp inhale, Stiles watches Derek sleep. Drinks him in with his eyes. Remembers the feel of his skin, the taste of his mouth. Desire rolls through him, slow and languid. For a second, he lets himself sink into it. Lets the heat wash over him and erase the bitter longing still lodged in his chest. His mouth curls into a smile, one that’s equal parts want and sadness. Stiles takes a deep breath, his ribs aching, and lets it go.
He’s not sure how he’s here right now, not sure what went down with the Reaper or what it all means, but—for now—his mind is quiet. Peaceful.
Not that it lasts long. As soon as he thinks about the night before, he can’t help trying to figure out what happened. The Reaper had come to kill Peter, hadn’t it? It had told Peter to repay a debt, and while Peter had said multiple times that he’d done that, Stiles can’t figure out how or with what.
It nags at him. He’s never been good with puzzles he can’t figure out. They drive him crazy, and right now, even with the slow rise and fall of Derek’s body next to him, the golden light bathing the man’s body in an ethereal glow, he can’t stop his mind from spinning back, again and again, to the Reaper.
“I can hear you thinking,” Derek grumbles.
Stiles jumps. “You’re awake.”
“Seems like it.” Derek groans and runs a hand over his early morning stubble. “Sorry. I meant to wake up earlier.”
Stiles’s chest tightens. “Before I did.”
“Yeah. Thought you’d prefer it that way.”
“No,” Stiles says, though the word sticks in his throat. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Derek opens his eyes, and Stiles is lost. Something shifts inside of him, and he’s tumbling, falling into the sea-green depths of Derek’s eyes. God, he’s tired of fighting this, of trying to hate the man when every atom of his being wants nothing more than to love him.
It asked me to… let go.
“What the hell happened last night?” Derek rolls onto his back and sits up with a groan, his knees bent as he rubs at his eyes.
Stiles shrugs, though it makes him wince. “Peter beat it, I guess?”
“Peter paid it,” Derek says with a shake of his head. “The debt or whatever. I still don’t understand what that means.”
Stiles sighs, rolls onto his back, and throws his arm over his eyes.
It hurts to look at Derek.
“It told me,” he starts, mind still racing, “that there’s always a cost. That to live is to lose, that we can’t appreciate life without that loss.”
Derek exhales quietly, almost like a laugh. “So, what did Peter have to lose?”
“Beats me,” Stiles says. “But whatever he gave up, it saved his life. Maybe saved other lives.”
“At this rate, he’s never going to die.”
“Or he’ll just come back once he has.” Stiles pulls his arm away, looks up at Derek as the man looks down at him. “I’m glad the Reaper didn’t kill him, though. I wouldn’t want you to go through that, losing more of your family.”
Derek ducks his head, cheeks painted red with embarrassment and, maybe, surprise. “Thanks.”
"You think he'll ever tell us what it wanted?"
"Does Peter ever tell us anything?" Derek asks, laughing quietly. "No, I don't think he'll say anything."
The conversation dies, the room falling silent. They sit in it together, their quiet breaths the only sound in the room. Their exhales fall into a rhythm, a calm pattern of in and out, back and forth, that washes over Stiles’s senses like a drug.
“Derek,” he says before he realizes he’s going to speak. “If I had to… If it asked me to give something up....”
“You don’t have t—”
“It wouldn’t be you,” he continues, unable to look at the man as he confesses. “Even with all of the bad parts, I wouldn’t give up any part of you in my life. I don’t know how to fix this… thing between us, but even if I can’t, I’d still want it. I’d still want you.”
Silence again. He shuts his eyes, feeling torn open.
“I’m so tired of trying to hate you,” he whispers into the darkness behind his eyes. “I don’t think I can.”
Soft fingers in his hair, turning his head. A thumb, touching the corner of his eye and smearing the wetness that gathers there.
“Stiles,” Derek says. “Open your eyes.”
He doesn’t want to. Doesn’t know what else to say or do. But as Derek’s fingers smooth over his skin and brush away his tears, he does.
Derek is looking at him with warmth in his gaze. He’s still bent slightly over his raised knees, the comforter laying across his lap, his arm stretched out as he caresses Stiles’s face.
“You talk too much sometimes,” he whispers before leaning over to press his lips to Stiles’s. The touch is almost not there, the pressure so light that Stiles nearly misses it. A delicate brush of skin against skin before Derek pulls back.
He’s still close, though, his hand cradling Stiles’s face. Derek’s eyes wander over Stiles’s skin, his glance like a touch.
“I tried giving you up,” Derek says softly. “I thought I could. But you’re an annoying little shit,” — Stiles laughs at that — “and whether I like it or not, I’ve been stuck on you for longer than I’d like to admit.”
He lets his thumb trail from the corner of Stiles’s eye to the jut of his jaw, tracing over bone. “I understand why you might hate me.” He swallows, expression guarded and sad. “I hurt you.”
Stiles shakes his head. “We hurt each other, and, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“I am, too.”
“This… thing,” Stiles says hoarsely, “that I feel for you, it burns me up inside. It hurts, Derek. And I don’t know what to do with it, how to make it stop or if I even want it to.”
Derek nods, then presses his forehead to Stiles’s before closing his eyes. Stiles wraps his fingers around Derek’s wrist, keeping Derek’s hand against his skin.
“So, what do we do?”
Stiles breathes. Takes in Derek’s soft, pained expression, the delicate curve of his eyelashes as he presses his eyes tightly shut. There are wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, criss-crossing his skin as the man fights for composure, for calm.
And Stiles… lets go.
“I love you.”
Derek’s eyes open, their beautiful multi-hued color washed away by flashing blue.
“I love you.” Stiles says it like it’s a universal truth, like it’s as obvious as the sunrise, as the tides, as gravity. “I have for a long time.”
“Are you fishing for compliments?”
Derek laughs, and Stiles feels it against his mouth and body.
“What else can I do?” Stiles continues. “I don’t know how not to love you.”
“You’re really good at pretending otherwise,” Derek says, and Stiles flinches. Derek shushes him, his fingers soothing Stiles until his body eases back into the bed. “You scare me.”
“You scare me, too,” Stiles says. He reaches for Derek’s hair, threads his fingers through it so the man can’t pull away. “I’m terrified of this.”
They look at each other for a long moment, and then, moving as slow and steady as a heartbeat, they kiss. It’s gentle, seeking. An apology in the form of lips and soft caresses. Stiles sinks into it, lets himself drift into the give and take. When Derek’s tongue traces the seam of his lips, he gasps, and Derek dives in for a taste.
Their tongues tangle together, more push and pull between them. There’s no fight this time, just pleasure that curls around Stiles and wraps him in warmth and low-burning lust like banked coals.
He lets his hands drift lazily over Derek’s body. He didn’t take the time to savor this before, the feel of Derek’s skin under his fingers. Then, it was all rage and hurt and lust. Now, it’s easier, fluid and slow. He memorizes the rise and fall of Derek’s back, the careful jut of his hip bones, the rounded globes of his ass. When he squeezes, Derek shudders and pulls away, panting.
“Stiles,” he says, ducking his head to press his nose against Stiles’s neck. “What are we doing?”
Stiles shivers as the words coast over his skin. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”
“It should.” Derek kisses his neck, then darts his tongue out to trace the taut muscle. “I don’t want to make a mistake.”
Stiles tangles his fingers in Derek’s hair and pulls him up to look at him. “We’re going to make mistakes. There’s no way we can’t. But if we make them together? Then, that’s okay.”
He pulls Derek in for another kiss, lets it deepen, lets himself get lost in it. After a moment, both of them panting, Derek pulls back again.
“Shut up,” Stiles says against Derek’s lips, and any hesitancy disappears under the rush of desire.
It’s not like last time. They undress slowly, taking their time to touch and taste as they move over each other’s bodies. Stiles lets Derek lead, lets the man play him like a well-tuned instrument. His pulse thrums through him, a low-key vibration that grows in his body with every touch of Derek’s calloused hands. Rolling against Derek’s hard body, Stiles loses himself to pleasure, to joy.
Derek grins as he kisses his way down Stiles’s body, his fingers trailing after his mouth, leaving fire in their wake. Stiles thinks he’s going to fly apart under Derek’s soft touch. He buries his fingers in Derek’s hair, not sure if he wants to pull the man back in for a kiss or push him lower, where his body is so hard, it aches.
Derek’s stubble drags across the thin skin of Stiles’s cock, and his whole body tenses like he’s been electrified. When the sting is eased by a slow, hot lick of Derek’s tongue, Stiles groans.
“Oh God,” he gasps, fingers tightening in Derek’s hair.
“Name’s Derek, actually.”
And then he’s taking Stiles’s cock into the welcome warmth of his mouth, and Stiles’s eyes roll back in his head. It’s glorious torture as Derek works him over, sucking at him with a gentle pressure that has stars blossoming behind his eyes. He pulls back, licks at the over-sensitive head as precome leaks from Stiles’s tip. He’s already close, and Derek’s slow and steady pace has him panting and squirming beneath Derek’s strong hands and clever mouth. As Stiles feels the back of Derek’s throat close around the head of his cock, he has to frantically pull Derek up from where he’s doing his best to ruin Stiles’s life.
“Stop, stop,” he pants, pulling Derek up his body as the man chuckles low in his throat. “I want you inside me when I come.”
“Holy fuck,” Derek says before claiming Stiles’s mouth in a bruising kiss. “Yes.”
They kiss again, Derek’s hands tangled in Stiles’s hair as he ruts his hard cock against the crease of Stiles’s thighs.
“Lube,” Stiles says, fumbling for his bedside table. Derek lets him go long enough that Stiles can turn over and pull the small drawer open. Derek groans behind him, and Stiles glances over his shoulder, grinning, to catch Derek’s eyes glued to Stiles’s ass, Derek’s hand moving slowly over his cock. Reaching inside the drawer with unsteady fingers, Stiles pulls out the bottle of lube and tosses it to Derek.
“Get me ready,” he says as he widens his legs, raising his ass into the air as Derek flips the cap open.
Derek’s fingers are cold and slick as they brush against Stiles’s hole, and Stiles groans, dropping his head into the rumpled sheets and fighting to not come at the gentle touch. When the first finger breaches him, thick and so hot, it burns, Stiles muffles his shout in the mattress.
“Wanna hear you,” Derek says behind him, corkscrewing his finger deeper into Stiles to brush against his prostate. It whips through him like electricity, like magic, and Stiles lifts his head from the bed and moans Derek’s name.
“Yeah, just like that,” Derek says, pulling out only to press back in with a second finger. It burns, and Stiles bears down, feeling the sting ease into a deeper ache that has him panting for more.
“Can you just fuck me already?” Stiles says, and Derek slaps Stiles’s ass with his free hand.
“Unless you want me splitting you open on my dick, you need a bit more prep.”
“I need you inside of me,” Stiles moans.
Derek brushes his fingers over Stiles’s prostate, and he shakes with pleasure.
“You’re so greedy,” Derek says. It sounds pleased, possessive.
He rewards Stiles by pressing against his prostate again, hitting it with just enough pressure that Stiles’s feels his balls pull up tight, his body ready to break under the pleasure. But Derek pulls away before Stiles can come, stretching Stiles’s rim wider as his fingers retreat.
Stiles gives into the rhythm that Derek sets, pressing himself back against the fingers that slide in and out of his body, keeping him on edge and keening. Derek whispers soothing words into Stiles’s skin, his stubble rasping against Stiles’s body. He eventually adds a third finger, and Stiles curses, reaching for his leaking cock and praying for relief.
“Not yet,” Derek says, taking Stiles’s shaking hand away and pressing it into the mattress. “Wanna be inside you.”
“Get the fuck on it, then,” Stiles says, thrusting his hips forward so that Derek’s fingers slip from his body.
“If you think I’m going to let you top from the bottom all the time…” Derek starts.
Stiles has a tart response on his lips, but it gets washed away by a groan as Derek eases his way into Stiles’s body. It stings a little—Derek was right about the prep, damn him—but he glorifies in the slow burn. Derek’s fingers dig into his hips, pulling Stiles closer until he’s buried deep in Stiles’s body.
“Fuck, you’re so tight,” Derek groans before pulling back. He curses, then slams back in, and Stiles falls onto his forearms, mouth open as he fights for air.
God, it feels so fucking good. Derek’s got the angle just right, and he hits Stiles prostate with each thrust. He trails kisses and curses across Stiles’s back and shoulders, mouthing at Stiles’s neck as he fucks him. Stiles nerves are on fire, his entire body overwhelmed by the feel of Derek’s cock moving within him. He’s begging for it now, knuckles white in the sheets.
When Derek’s hand wraps around his dick, Stiles falls apart. He’s coming so hard, he can’t see, can’t hear. The world narrows to Derek’s touch, Derek’s cock, Derek’s lips against him. Stiles’s arms give out, and he falls forward, Derek pushing him farther and farther up the bed. With a curse that sounds like Stiles’s name, Derek shudders behind him, thrusting as his orgasm leaves his body shaking.
They fall forward, Derek rolling to the side as Stiles lands in his wet spot. He grumbles into the blankets but can’t find the energy to roll out of it.
“It’s official,” he says, turning his head to the side to stare at Derek with half-lidded eyes. “You’ve killed me.”
Derek laughs before pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Shut up, Stiles.”
“Such tenderness,” he murmurs, closing his eyes as he fights the grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I can really feel the love over here.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Derek says as he trails a hand down Stiles’s back to tease at the crack of his ass before dipping lower. Stiles shivers in pleasure. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Stiles shifts, moaning a little at the ache. “I feel fucking great.”
Derek presses another kiss to Stiles’s forehead, and Stiles opens his eyes to watch the man roll from the bed and stretch next to it, his lean body arching in the light like a fucking masterpiece made real. Stiles’s dick gives a hopeful twitch as he trails his eyes over Derek’s body.
Derek catches his expression and raises an eyebrow. “Down, boy.”
“Really?” Stiles asks on a laugh. “Dog jokes?”
Derek grins, and it lights him up. It makes something in Stiles’s chest twist, a deep-seated warmth that chokes him.
“I’ll never be past dog jokes,” Derek says with a wink.
“I love you,” Stiles says quietly, and Derek stills, teasing expression fading into something delicate and new.
“I love you, too.” His voice is rough, tangled with emotion. “So damn much.”
Stiles pushes himself up from the bed and crawls toward Derek. He bends as Stiles rises, their mouths meeting with banked passion that threatens to overwhelm them both. Derek pulls away to brush his hand over Stiles’s face, eyes warm.
“C’mon,” he says, “let’s go shower.”
Stiles follows, lost in the gentle roll of Derek’s body as he walks into the bathroom and turns on the water. It pounds against the stall like a storm, and when Stiles’s climbs in after Derek, their wet skin sliding together, it moves through him like thunder.
It can’t be this easy, he thinks as the water washes over him. How can it be this easy?
But then Derek turns and kisses Stiles like he’s oxygen, like his world will end without Stiles in it. It overwhelms him, pulls him in like gravity until Stiles is lost in the depths of Derek, his heart thundering in his ears.
And maybe it is that easy. Maybe it is just as simple as letting go, as trusting to the thing swirling through them, drawing them back to each other again and again. And even though it’s hard, even though it’s not something that comes easy to him, Stiles trusts. He gives into the feeling, knowing that Derek will be there to catch him when he falls.
And he does.
And it's done!
Thank you all for coming along on this ride with me. All of your comments, kudos, and bookmarks have made my day over and over again.
An overwhelming thank you to my lovely friend, clotpolesonly. You are a fantastic cheerleader, beta, and friend. I'm so glad we met. J&J forever.
If you want to stay up-to-date with my writing, you can follow me on twitter at @p1013.