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Bearer of the Future

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Stiles embodies the wolf.

He dances in the fires at night amongst the rest of them, wearing his necklace of fish bones. When they all open up to the sky and chant and sing and howl to the moon there is a voice between them, not human in the slightest, another wolf howling, a wolf never seen but known by all.

Derek’s chest swells with pride each and every time. He howls louder, and the laughter of the wolf embodied follows him into the night.

-

Born fragile in a fishing village, the boy was restless all the night through. He would tell the story over community fires on rare occasion, although everyone knew the pain it brought him. A child restless all through the night, unable to sleep, yet come the sun he would nap and nap. His father tried to tell him he was sleeping on the wrong cycle, that he needed to wake with the sun and sleep with the moon.

Stiles was born to the wrong cycle. When left to the wolves he flourished.

-

They adopt a fox two years after they adopt a boy.

Kira is foxfire, warm and simmering, and she senses fire in the boy, encourages it, teaches him how to draw it out.

Left to the wolves and a fox adopted, he flourishes, and the fires speak to him. They speak and speak and Kira can summon them, but only Stiles can hear them.

-

His mother was a mystic, but Stiles will rarely tell the story.

Some dark nights Derek would sit with him before the fire, long past when the pack had gone to bed, the morning sun paling the thin line of the horizon, smoke fading into the still-dark sky. They sit in companionable silence. Stiles watches the stars, and Derek watches Stiles.

“My mother was a mystic,” he will rarely say. Derek has heard the story twice before. “An oracle, they called her in our village. She could cast the fish-bones and read the way the moon pulled at the ocean. She could predict storms.”

The boy does not finish his story. They watch the smoke furl, black into blackness, the night moonless.

Derek watches Stiles work his mouth around the words he can’t bear to speak. He stares at the boy’s arms, his back. Black moles dust his moon-pale skin like the stars freckle the heavens. “The night sky in reverse”, Derek’s mother had told him once about their human, “with eyes like bear.”

Stiles would never finish the story. The first time he had told it, spilling his guts out in the desert on a hunt that lasted half of the moon’s phase, he had tried. She could predict the storms and the seasons but not - The boy had cried, clutching the fish bones around his throat, anguish turning to anger, and the fire he had raised burned and burned all the night through with nothing but rage to supply it that long cold night.

Derek, many moons the boy’s senior, has always called him boy. Yet looking at him now, staring at starry skin and scarred hands, he thinks he must be wrong.

In the morning the birds sing him awake, shrill voices chanting. Stiles, on his back, has his arms spread to the sun, as if accepting that even a child of the moon could bear witness. Derek’s head is on his human’s chest, and the shrill voices of birds chanting matches the beat of the heart beneath him. He doesn't need to be this close to hear it, though. Derek can pick out his pulse amongst a stampede of buffalo.

-

Derek can pick out his pulse amongst a stampede of buffalo - until he can’t.

His chest constricts, heart skipping beats, stomach sinking like a sickness.

He can hear his mother’s, strong behind him; and the twin beats of his sisters, frantic with the thrill of the hunt, to his flanks. He can make out the footfalls of wolves amongst the startled herd, the chants of the warriors, the drum of thunder in the distance driving the frenzied beasts. The storm has them startled, and up until twelve seconds ago he could hear Stiles’ pulse strong and steady.

Twelve seconds ago, sudden quiet like lightning cracked open Derek’s sternum and stopped his heart.

“Left!” his mother screams at him, but when he looks Stiles is not left. “Go left!” she repeats, shoving him, repeating the order until he does as she hurls herself into the fray, and he obeys, he goes left even though Stiles is not there. He rushes into the herd, unable to hear his mother over the silence of too many heartbeats, none of them right.

Thirty-six seconds, and he can’t breathe.

Forty-nine seconds, and he is gasping for air, screaming the name.

Fifty-three seconds, and lightning explodes around them, heat and light erupting as if from the ground up, enveloping them. Too bright, past the point of painful, Derek shields his eyes, and when finally he dares to open them a wildfire has enclosed them in an imperfect circle, not quite closed, broken only by Stiles standing at the gap, arms stretched wide as if holding the inferno back by the sheer force of his will extended through bloodied hands.

His heartbeat chants loud and clear. His pulse surging. His eyes like molten pools of gold in the light reflected.

The herd calms down as the rain comes. The rain calms the fires as Stiles lets the embers cool, and it washes the blood from their faces. The rain washes the blood from Stiles’ arms and face but it soon replaces itself. Battered and bleeding, their shaman stands before them over a black and smoking crack in the ground where lightning itself had struck. He is vibrating with energy, energized, electricity sparking at his fingertips. Lightning spiderwebs in the far distance, driven off, and the rain gives chase, following the storm away.

Derek has always known Stiles was a firestarter. But now there is a whisper in his ear, traitorous, muttering back his own thoughts. Stiles is not just that. He is the firestarter, the stormbringer, the heavens reflected in reverse upon his very flesh, the invoker of spirits, the keeper of history, the bearer of the future. Derek believes suddenly, as if told by his ancestors themselves, that Stiles could summon the sun.

He believes it in his bones.

-

Derek’s father is the first to pick up on it.

He found it curious, because he always thought that his mother would know first, followed very shortly by his intrusive sisters.

Derek is standing in the shallows of the lake, spear held at the ready, when he hears his father approaching.

“Stiles could probably teach you that better.”

Derek thrusts the spearhead into a trout. A good catch, but his father is right.

The fish flails and flails until it dies.

“He has more important matters to attend at present.”

He tries not to, but he can hear Laura’s screams from the other side of their land. He stabs into the water again, catching a sturgeon by the tail, nearly missing.

“Can you hear the pup?”

Derek doesn’t have to strain his ears. He has been able to hear her child’s heartbeat for some time now, steady and rhythmic in her belly.

“Yes.”

“Strong, that one. A warrior. He’ll take after you, I imagine.”

He smiles despite himself. They are all warriors, every single one of them, Kira and Stiles included. His mother raised each of her children to be fierce, unforgiving. Strong and loyal and ferocious.

“You should go to him, Derek.”

Pointedly, Derek does not look at his father. The electricity in the air is palpable, and he knows that somehow this is a test.

“It takes a lot out of him to bring a new being into this world. The wolf in the child is screaming to be let out, free finally. He is the only one capable of keeping it in, or else the child would die.”

Derek knows how it is. He has known it for years. His father told him the same story when Cora was born, when his cousins were born. It is easy enough for their shaman to keep them in check, but they are grown and pack-aware. He has earned their loyalty, the loyalty of their wolf. He spears a fat carp that struggles out every final breath.

“After the birth, Laura shall have more energy than Stiles.” That is how it must be, of course. Stiles has to make it as easy as possible for her, must contain the child’s wolf, for Laura will be in charge of doing so once the babe is born and will need every ounce of her strength for the weeks to come.

Derek spears another fish and watches it die bleeding on his pole before he turns back towards their dens.

He arrives just as his mother is stepping out of Laura’s. Inside the den of thick furs harvested and dried specifically to keep the baby warm in the approaching winter he can hear the heart beating, strong and free, and he can smell the smoky magic in the air. Just as the sun emerges from behind the cover of clouds Stiles steps out, one arm thrown over Peter’s shoulder, breathing shallow, eyes fluttering. His hands are bloodied by his burden. Bearer of the future, born to ferry souls from old to new.

He exchanges with Peter the pole of fish for Stiles, and leads him to the river to wash off. Stiles falls asleep in his arms, and he lays them out in the sun, absorbing the fading midday heat. Soon winter shall be upon them and the heat shall be scarce, even with their firebringer shaman, for it is much more taxing on him to summon fire from the cold air.

Derek wakes to fingers on his chest, tracing the hairs down his belly, lower, and the sun dips down, relinquished to the night, the darkness attempting to steal their heat. But Stiles’ skin is hot enough to burn and every piece of skin he touches lights up like the sun returning once more.

Derek knows it in his bones. He knows that this is the secret, Stiles’ magic at work creating sparks behind his eyelids, because Stiles can summon the sun.

-

“Raised amongst women, Derek, you know how to treat a girl.”

His mother is completely right, she always is. So it is ironic for whom his soul breathes.

-

Stiles takes Derek's right hand, pressing it against his chest, barely tilted sideways and over his heart, as if he could reach through skin and bone and grab that beating muscle tightly. His own skips beats in his chest as if Stiles has already stolen it away, and maybe he has. Stiles moves his own hand away slowly, eyes locked, eyes for each other only, the rest of the world forgotten, and he feels the exact second the searing heat beneath his palm spreads through his fingers like a scald. Smoke spirals out between his hand and Stiles’ flesh, the brand burning in, and it burns. It burns hotter than fire itself, fire embodied; the only explanation of heat is Stiles himself, embodiment of wolf, invoker of fire, catalyst of controlled chaos. When finally the heat cools and the smoke dissipates he carefully removes his fingers. His handprint exactly is branded into Stiles’ chest, directly over his heart, and when he looks down at his own palm still tingling with heat he finds an imperfect circle, as if painted in one thick brushstroke but not quite finished with a small gap between beginning and end, nearly black like charred flesh but painless. Painless like an old wound long since healed over.

His mouth is on Stiles’ before his hands can even reach his mate’s face.

His mate. His mate.

Mine, his wolf sings and bellows and chants to the dusk.

Through the hurried breathless gasps Derek whispers, “I am yours eternal.”

When they wake their faces are pressed, forehead to forehead, and Stiles is smiling brighter than the moon. But by everything, he glows brighter than the sun. Two eternal giants dancing endless, an infinite procession in the skies.

-

The knife in his gut has him pinned to a tree.

Screaming and scratching, frantic, Derek tries to dislodge it. Black spills from his guts, pain worse than anything he’d ever before experienced. Out on the hills he can see the silhouettes of his family, his pack, face to face with the group of four before them. Long-barreled, Derek recognized a gun when he sees one, even from this distance. He’s only seen one once before, but he knows exactly what it is. What it is capable of.

The entire groups has guns. The entire group facing his family has guns faced at his family. His mother and father and Cora and Laura and Laura’s mate and the child held protectively against her chest, barely four moon cycles breathing the fresh autumn air. His cousins and the elders amongst them, and the strays brought into the pack by his mother’s generosity alone. Kira and Stiles.

Stiles steps forward. He can hardly see them from here, but his hand flares with pain and his heart constricts in his chest. Stiles has stepped heart-first against the barrel of the long gun, and Derek can imagine with sickening clarity the cold metal barrel pressing into the brand on his mate’s chest.

Mine! tears from his throat, his chest, from deeper inside him than anything has ever before. From his wolf, from the universe itself inside him, from the very essence that makes him up. It tears him apart, burning away any sensation of pain except the coldness in his palm. Cold like terror.

He rips the knife from his stomach and blood mixes with black spilling like a buffalo slashed open upon the earth below.

He is halfway across the field in two seconds.

Before he can get there, he hears a gentle click.

Wildfire erupts, and his family goes up in flames. Engulfed completely, surrounded, a raging wind spiraling the flames about them. Gunshot after gunshot echoes, stopping Derek in his tracks with the sheer silence of noise. Like chains have shackled him motionless, and his stomach drops to his feet, sickness and horror gathering in the back of his throat.

The bile on his tongue is so strong that it takes a moment for him to realize that in the center of the inferno is Stiles’ heartbeat, loud and angry.

A moment later the guns are clicking helplessly empty. Three of the group steps back. One woman stands her ground, reaches for her knife. The fire licks out, melting the metal, grabbing her arm and tossing her effortlessly down the embankment.

He hears her skull crack from half a field away.

The sky has turned from dark to darker, and the three men scatter, sprinting across the hills in opposite directions as the sun is choked out. Thunder explodes around them and the rain comes in sheets, deafening, and three bolts of lightning crash into their targets and nothing is left to write down in the history books, not flesh nor blood nor bone.

Derek holds his guts in, palming the open wound, barely able to breathe as the pain slowly comes back to him, consciousness filling the world around him, and the fires around his family shred apart and disappear. Stormclouds coalesce before him and Stiles is suddenly there, in his space, holding him, forehead against forehead, face wet both with the threat of salty tears and with the sudden rain, and Stiles’ whimpers are pulled from his throat, whispers worried and frantic gathering at the forefront, hand against hand against bleeding-out stomach. Kira is at his side, appearing from the last of the licking flames to help lower him to the ground, pulling wolfsbane from the skein she always keeps at her hip. His family not far behind, waterlogged, running after him, worried, like it was his life at risk just. Not a scratch on their bodies. Safe. Safe because Stiles deemed it must be so.

By the time Derek can again stand there is nothing left of the hunters but black smudges in the soil and a woman whose corpse is already being eaten by vultures and the rain has let up and the sun it shines again.

-

Stiles has the spent bullets, every single one. He collected them, and keeps them in a pouch.

Derek lays out next to his anchor as Stiles fingers the cold metal.

“The future, Derek.” he whispers, the word savage on his tongue. “The future is coming, and we shall be prepared.”

Derek wraps his arms around Stiles’ stomach and presses his face into his belly. He nuzzles his cheek against the bare skin there, just as his father did when Talia was pregnant with Cora. As if trying to mark his scent permanently upon her, as if it wasn’t already. To scent his unborn child. Laura’s mate had done the same thing, before the child was born, dropping to his knees and pressing his cheeks against the exposed swell of flesh and life.

He and Stiles will never have their own children. It is a fact Derek has long considered, and long accepted. Instead he buries his face further into the firm expanse of skin pulled taut over lithe muscle.

Stiles cards his fingers through his hair and breathes steady and strong.

-

Stiles’ father doesn’t fish.

Which makes it suspicious that Derek finds the man sitting on the dock, bowed rod in hand.

The sun has not yet risen. The sky is awash in grays and blues, the moon and stars still visible if only barely. Stiles is still asleep in his father’s bed, face practically melting into the sheets, glad for the brief visit home. Warm amongst sheets inside that wooden dwelling, sheltered from the shorter and darker and colder days.

Never one for taking his time when there was a point to get to, Derek sits down beside him and says, “When did you know?”

The man watches the point where the ocean meets the sky. Gentle tides push and pull. At the embankment the shallows have frosted over, the steady undertow turning the thin ice to a messy gray slush. The rod dips, bending, but the man doesn’t pull at it, and the fish gets away.

“You have to look like you’re doing something,” he says, not meeting his gaze, breath expelled in pale white puffs. “If you want to sit around lost in your thoughts, you have to be fishing.”

“Humans are a strange breed.”

“I must agree.”

The sun rises slowly, cold pale light to their backs seen mostly in the reflection of the ocean’s surface. The birds awake slowly, and the town fills in around them, all dressed in heavy coats. Occasionally someone greets them. One child stops to stare at Derek. It is obvious she has never met a wolf, and she reaches out to touch the exposed skin of his stomach where the fur pulled around his shoulder leaves him exposed.

“Aren’t you cold?”

Her mother chides her, but Derek smiles and shakes his head and watches as she is pulled off into the crowd.

After the fisherman have all set sail for the morning, Stiles’ father pulls his rod from the water and sets it on the dock beside him.

“He set the ocean on fire,” the man tells him, turning to face him, eye to eye. “We were out about a mile into the channel. His mother needed to catch a certain type of fish. She always said their bones were the best for scrying. She was pointing out at the water, asking him to find the fish for her. Close your eyes and listen for it, Stiles, she told him, and he did just that. He closed his eyes and listened and pointed at the water, and set fire to the ocean. A ring of fire. It went down into the water and then was gone an instant later, but then the fish she was looking for came up, half cooked and floating.”

He unties the hook from the string and puts it carefully back in the crate he had dragged out with him.

“With the bones of that very fish she divined that our boy would do amazing, impossible things. She said he would become one with the very forces of the earth, and that nothing not even nature herself could stop him.”

“I believe it.”

“He wears those bones to this day.”

The elder man nods and stands and reaches for the crate but Derek grabs it and carries it for him. Mere paces away from his home the man turns to face him, stopping in his tracks.

“When it got to the point where, if she wasn’t around, I thought the sun had gone out… That was when, Derek. To answer your actual question. That was when I knew.”

The scent of cooking fish draws them inside. Stiles is awake, tousled hair and sleepy eyed smile, cooking upon a conjured flame, radiating warmth and light.