Chapter One: Derek
Derek Hale felt more settled these days. Ever since he decided that it was his duty to carry on the family tradition of protecting Beacon Hills and helped Scott and the pack defeat the nogitsune all without killing Stiles, he’d started to feel as if he had finally found his place again, something he had not felt since the day Kate Argent burned his family alive in his old home. He’d started to take a more active interest in the goings on in town, and not just the werewolf or other supernatural types of happenings. He was paying attention, once again, to just the normal things that went on in Beacon Hills. For instance, today he had gone to the Beacon Hills High School lacrosse team fundraiser carwash and let a bunch of teenagers wash Laura’s Camaro. They were raising money to replace equipment that had been damaged in the school when ‘vandals’ (also known as the nogitsune) had gone on a spree and smashed a bunch of stuff up. It was a warm enough day still that a bunch of them were shirtless and cavorting around, having fun, hosing each other down as they washed the cars, and Derek could see that most of the clientele consisted of high school girls and even college age women there to ogle their naked flesh.
He sighed and shook his head. It was amazing to him just how young and carefree they were. He felt a thousand years older than they were, even though he wasn’t even in his mid-twenties. It was also amazing to him to see Scott out there with his teammates, and Scott was all smiles and sunny disposition again, even though Derek knew for sure just how heartbroken he had been after Allison’s death. Hell, even Derek had been shocked and upset by the loss of Allison. He might not have been her packmate, and she might not have had the cleanest hands in the world, but she had still been a young girl, cut down before she could have made something of herself. She had already been trying to make herself and the remaining Argent family of hunters into something more than just outright killers of any and all werewolves. Not like her Aunt Kate, and not like her grandfather Gerard either. Despite the fact that they hadn’t still been in a romantic relationship, Scott had been devastated by her loss, the loss of his first love. Understandably so. But looking at him today, Derek could smell the chemosignals that he was giving off, and he was happy. Happy to be surrounded by his friends, his pack, and his town.
Derek wished that he could be more like Scott and be able to shrug off the pain, or push it into a compartment, or whatever it was that Scott did to cope, because Derek had fallen apart after his family died, and he still wasn’t entirely sure that he had been put back together again. He really wasn’t. But being able to just see his mother in her wolf form, leaping onto the Nemeton stump in that dream thing he had, had somehow fixed something that had been broken inside him for a long time. He hadn’t been able to have a conversation with her, per se, but he had understood what her message was, and he felt at peace with himself again. As if he knew who he was again. He felt more himself now than, probably since before Paige died and his eyes turned blue, so he was feeling like he could maybe find a way to be OK again, despite all the losses that he had suffered.
He took a deep breath, watching as Scott laughed at something Stiles said and sprayed water on his friend. Stiles threw his head back and laughed, tossing the sudsy sponge at that idiot Greenberg that seemed to be the butt of every joke that day. He was about to turn away, not wanting to admire the graceful column of Stiles’ neck – because he knew just how inappropriate that was, Stiles was only seventeen for gods’ sakes – but when Scott glanced away from Stiles, his attention caught by someone else, Derek could see Stiles somehow deflate. Derek didn’t quite know how he did it but Stiles’ body language suddenly changed, from light and laughter and happiness to what seemed to him to be abject despair.
He frowned and carefully sniffed the air. Stiles smelled really sad now, too. He wondered why Scott hadn’t noticed it. But he imagined that it must be really difficult to pay attention to something as subtle as chemosignals when one was a bitten wolf. It was something he’d grown up with and never not been aware of, something he couldn’t not pay attention to since it made up a lot of how he and his family had communicated. It was an efficient way to convey emotions without requiring words, and really difficult to mask, too. Derek was himself, still shit at masking his own chemosignals even though he had good control of his facial expressions and could hide his feelings from humans. It had also been a pain in the ass, chemosignals, when he was a teenager trying to hide things from his alpha mom.
He tried not to be too obvious about it, but he stared at Stiles, trying to scrutinize him and see if he could tell how the boy was doing. Stiles had allowed his hair to grow out of the ridiculous buzzcut that he had sported back when Derek first met the boy, and Derek had to admit that it was a good look on him. But it was wet now and plastered to his head, as was the long sleeved athletic undershirt that he wore. He was one of the few boys out there that had chosen to keep his shirt on, and Derek had to think to himself, had he ever seen Stiles shirtless? And he would have to say that no, he had not. Unlike all the other people around him, and unlike most born wolves for whom nudity was really not that big a deal, Derek had never seen Stiles anything but fully clothed, shirt and all. He was usually dressed in several layers, in fact, a t-shirt, a plaid shirt, and a hoodie over all of that. It was a hot day that day, and they were washing cars, and yet, Stiles had kept his shirt on. Derek had to wonder why that was, because he knew that he and a bunch of the girls waiting in line to get their cars washed, wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Stiles’ flesh bared.
He could practically hear Stiles calling him a creeper and other names, and he hid a smile behind his hand. But he continued to pay attention to Stiles.
When Scott looked at him, Stiles was all smiles and projecting happiness, and even though his scent wasn’t exactly happy, it wasn’t quite as bitter and acrid with sadness and despair. But when Scott’s attention was not on him, the smell of sadness was so strong coming from him that it made Derek want to sneeze. He knew that it had only been a couple of weeks since the nogitsune had been expelled from Stiles (or rather, it had been Stiles vomited out of the nogitsune, if one wanted to be technical about it) and the losses that they had suffered – Allison and Aiden, to name just a couple – were still fresh, but there seemed to be something almost fragile about Stiles now. He didn’t look like he had regained the weight he had lost during the ordeal with the nogitsune. There were still dark circles under his eyes, and he looked as if he was still sick, the way the nogitsune had made him look just a few weeks ago.
Derek knew that Stiles had paid a huge and terrible price to rid himself of the fox demon, and that they hadn’t even been sure that he would survive if the nogitsune was killed, but he’d lived. He’d apparently just fainted after the nogitsune crumbled into dust and the fly captured in the box made out of wood from the Nemeton and everyone had assumed that he would be fine, that he was fine. but looking at him now, Derek had to wonder if they had made that assumption without any proof.
He waited until his car had been washed, dried, and polished, before he gravely gave his thanks and dropped an extra hundred in the tip jar and drove off, deciding that he should maybe take a short detour and talk to the sheriff to see if the elder Stilinski might have some idea what was going on with his son. He could tell that Scott wasn’t fully aware of what was happening. Derek told himself that he owed it to Scott, the Alpha, to ensure that the Beacon Hills pack was strong and sound, and Stiles was an essential member of the Beacon Hills pack. It wasn’t that Derek was concerned for Stiles because it was Stiles, and Stiles was special to him. Nope. Not at all. He glanced at his own reflection in the rearview mirror and decided not to think about that.
He parked in the visitor lot and walked into the station, asking the uniformed officer at the front desk if he could steal a few minutes of the sheriff’s time. Beyond the front desk in the inner office, he could see a few deputies working and he nodded to them absently. The sheriff station hadn’t been spared during the ordeal of the past few weeks, either, what with the bomb detonating there and the oni, once co-opted by the nogitsune, had been sent there to attack them.
Derek leaned against the wall in the waiting area while the deputy went to check with the sheriff, and he could see the bench to which he and Chris Argent had been handcuffed after the nogitsune framed them for the murder of a member of the Yakuza, the one known as Silverfinger, thus manipulating things such that they would be there at the station when the bomb detonated. Good times. Although it had been a turning point in his relationship with the hunter. He had instinctively covered Argent’s body with his own and taken the brunt of the blast. He was a werewolf after all, he could take it and heal. But later, when the nogitsune had taken control of him and he’d gone to burn Chris Argent alive in his apartment in retaliation for what Kate had done to his family, Argent had spared him and not just pulled the trigger like he was a rabid dog.
Chris Argent had treated him as if he was a human being who had been possessed, someone who was a person not acting like himself, and not just an animal to be put down. Chris Argent had told him that he was not Derek’s enemy. Argent had had every right to pull the trigger of the gun that he had shoved under Derek’s throat that night, but he hadn’t, because for once in his life he had seen that Derek was a person. A human, no matter what extras he might have been born with. And that Derek was not behaving like he normally did. He’d known that Derek wasn’t himself, and yet he hadn’t just pulled the trigger and justified Derek’s death by saying that it was kill or be killed, which technically, had been the case. He’d instead given Derek every chance to come back to himself, and luckily, Derek had. It was the beginning of a different kind of truce between the two of them, one based on mutual respect and not mutually assured destruction, the way it had been before.
A few minutes later, Sheriff Stilinski poked his head out the doorway of his office and gestured to Derek to come in, and treading carefully, Derek walked into the man’s office. It wasn’t exactly comfortable to be back where he had been on the other side of the law numerous times. The sheriff closed the door behind him and nodded to a chair.
Derek sat and Stilinski sat across the desk from him.
“What can I do for you, Derek?” Stilinski asked. He looked and smelled exhausted and worried.
Derek took a moment, at a loss for words. He wasn’t good with words to begin with, and expressing concern was a new thing for him, at least, not when something wasn’t trying to kill them. He sighed. “I’m not sure how to say it,” he murmured.
“Is everything OK?” the kindness that Stilinski exuded, the concern that came from him, was almost too much for Derek.
“I was kind of wondering the same thing about… Stiles?” Derek finally got out.
“Stiles? Why? Is he alright? Did something happen?” Stilinski’s concern was immediately turned up to eleven.
“Nothing happened,” Derek was quick to assure him. “But he doesn’t seem… he’s not himself, is he?”
The sheriff sighed and leaned back in his chair. “What makes you say that?”
“I can smell it,” Derek said. “He still smells really sad, unless he’s putting on a brave face for Scott.”
The older man sighed again and scrubbed his face with his hands. “Why can you smell it but not Scott?” he wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” Derek shrugged. “Maybe because Scott was bitten, and I’m a born wolf? Maybe Scott is around Stiles so much that it just smells like Stiles to him, and I haven’t been around them that much so I can smell it better?”
“Maybe Scott doesn’t want to smell it,” Stilinski said softly.
“He does prefer to ignore things that make him uncomfortable at times,” Derek said diplomatically.
The sheriff snorted at that. “Well, to be fair, so does my son.”
Derek had to nod his agreement. Denial all the way, that was how Stiles was. “What’s going on with Stiles?” he asked.
Stilinski blew out a long breath. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “But he’s still having nightmares, bad ones, where he screams himself awake. Loud enough to wake me, too, if I’m home. He’s still sleepwalking. And that’s if he even gets any sleep at all. I’m not sure how often he eats because he’s still all skin and bones. He’s back in school and he pretends like he’s fine, but he’s not.”
“Is it the nogitsune? Is it not all the way gone?”
“We’ve gone to Noshiko and the oni have checked him out again, you know, just in case?” Stilinski’s eyes saddened at that. “He’s got matching marks on both sides of his neck, certifying that he is still himself. And a day in bed to recover from that test. It took a lot out of him.”
“Is he fooling the oni? Is he still not himself?” Derek frowned.
“He’s himself, but he’s not… well. Not healthy. He’s sick or something. And I can’t get him to go to the hospital again,” Stilinski sighed. “He just won’t go there. He blames himself for all the damage and the deaths that happened there. Just like how he won’t come here to the station, either.”
“He’s not responsible for any of it,” Derek said fiercely.
“Try telling him that,” Stilinski pursed his lips. “He won’t listen to me when I tell him that. He doesn’t believe Scott, either. Or Lydia. He blames himself for everything that the nogitsune did.”
“But he didn’t do any of it. The nogitsune did.”
“I know that,” Stilinski agreed.
“And what does Scott say about this?”
“Not much,” Stilinski made a face. “Stiles is good at hiding things from people and he’s hiding it from Scott.”
“Have you talked to Scott?”
“Stiles has asked me not to worry him. He doesn’t want to add to Scott’s burden, especially given Allison’s death. He feels responsible for her.”
Derek snorted. “Stiles didn’t kill Allison.”
“Maybe not, but he remembers a lot of it, Derek. He remembers doing all those terrible things, he remembers how the nogitsune made him feel…”
Derek sighed. He knew what it was to live with misplaced guilt. Kate Argent might have been the one to kill his family, but he had been the weak link. He had been the idiot so in love with a woman that was way out of his league, so blind to the fact that there was no way a woman as mature and beautiful as she was would have been in any way shape or form attracted to a traumatized fifteen-year-old boy. He should have known it but he’d been so consumed by not just losing Paige, but how she had died, how she had begged him to kill her, how he had been the one to end her life rather than prolong her suffering. He couldn’t see the truth about Kate. And his mother had been trying to give him space to recover from his loss that maybe she had given him too much space and not seen how he had become a vulnerability for the pack. How he had been the one to let the hunter into their house.
It had taken him years and he still blamed himself for their deaths, most days, but he was slowly coming to understand that all that guilt that he carried, that he still shouldered, not all of it was his to bear. He had not been the one to murder eleven – no, ten, since Cora was safely back in South America again – ten people while they slept. That had been Kate. He had been used and abused, and now that he was older, he could see how what she had done to him had been wrong. He had been young and sad, and she had taken advantage of that. She had taken advantage of him. He didn’t like to use the terminology, but technically given his age at the time and the fact that he had been legally unable to give his consent, she had raped him and then murdered his family. He had not deserved that and his family had not deserved that. No one deserved to be murdered like that. Kate was a psychopath. And now, in hindsight, Derek couldn’t see any way that he would have been able to resist her charms, given just how lost he had been back then. He had been ripe for her to fuck with, and the blame should like with her, and not with him. Logically, he knew that, but he was still working on believing that. So yeah, he knew about misplaced guilt.
“I’ll see if I can speak to him,” Derek told the sheriff.
“Yeah,” the older man nodded. “Yeah, it might help if you did. In his chess game, it wasn’t Scott who was the king. It was you.”
Derek felt a twinge of something go through him – was it pride? Fear? Concern? Maybe all three. That he had been the label on the king chess piece. “I don’t know why that was,” he frowned.
“Son, I have never been able to truly understand what goes on in Stiles’ head,” Stilinski shook his head, smiling sadly. “Not even when he was a baby. Other kids had much simpler needs, but Stiles? He always marched to his own drumbeat. He took after his mother that way.”
Derek nodded. “I’ll check in with him.”
“Will you let me know if there’s something I should know about?” Stilinski asked, concern and fear for his son naked in his voice and in his eyes.
“I will,” Derek nodded.
“I don’t think he’s OK,” Stilinski admitted reluctantly. “He might be his own person again, but I don’t think he’s recovering from what the nogitsune did to him. Not that I can see.”
Derek had to think about that for a moment. Why wouldn’t Stiles have healed from the nogitsune? It had been defeated and contained. When Noshiko, Kira’s 900-year-old kitsune mother had done the same thing and trapped it in the Nemeton, the nogitsune had been imprisoned. It stopped terrorizing Beacon Hills, and it seemed as if the threat had been neutralized and the city recovered once again. Why was Stiles not recovering then?
“What does Noshiko have to say about it?” Derek asked.
“She doesn’t know,” he shrugged. “In her experience, the host never survives when the nogitsune is expelled and banished.”
“Not ever,” Stilinski reiterated solemnly.
“So, we don’t know how it might have affected Stiles, having survived being possessed by a nogitsune?”
The sheriff nodded.
Derek grunted. “I’ll see what I can do, Sheriff,” he stood and turned to leave.
“Hey, Derek,” Stilinski’s tone was hesitant, so Derek turned back, raising his eyebrows in question. The sheriff had his hand held out to him, and surprised, Derek took it and shook the man’s hand. “I just wanted to thank you for caring about Stiles. I know he didn’t make the best first impression on you.”
Derek gave him a small smile. “He has a way of… burrowing through your defenses.”
Stilinski chuckled at that, and Derek immediately felt as if he had done something right. The sheriff nodded his agreement. “He definitely does that.”
With another nod at the sheriff, Derek turned and departed, going back into his newly washed car and wondering how on earth he would approach Stiles. In the past, he would just climb in through Stiles’ window and scared the shit out of the boy, and the combination of fear, anger and arousal that he always seemed to get out of Stiles did amuse him, even back when all he was was pain and anger walking around in a mostly-human form. But surely he couldn’t do that to Stiles anymore, especially if he wasn’t feeling well.
He drove aimlessly through town, wondering what to do for a while before he made up his mind and turned towards the Stilinski residence.