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Out of Focus

Chapter Text

The stone walls of the cell seemed to draw all heat from the air, leaving Stiles cold through to his soul. He sat on the bed, since it was marginally more comfortable than the chair, and put the blanket between his back and the wall so that when he leaned back, he didn’t instantly end up shivering as the stone leeched heat from his body. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, as if there were some creature inside him, clawing away at his insides.

The room gradually grew brighter in reflection of the day outside, but it had been nine days since Stiles had seen real daylight. He felt like he ought to be scratching a count of days on the wall, like the prisoners in the old movies, but he didn’t need a tally to count the passing of time. He could tell day from night because the lamp in the corner of the cell was lit or dark at regular intervals, and by the movements of the people outside. Nine days since he’d been brought down here. Nearly two days since they’d brought him something to eat.

He should be focusing, trying to practice, but it was hard for him to focus on anything at the best of times, much less with the distraction of hunger working against him from the inside. Stiles leaned his head back against the wall and let his mind drift. As they so often did, his thoughts went to his dad. Did his dad miss him? Was his dad still looking for him? Had his dad given him up for dead?

It had been thirty seven days since he’d last seen his dad.

There were sounds from beyond the cell door. Somewhere, a heavy door clanged shut. Stiles really, really hoped that this was someone bringing him breakfast.

He got to his feet, swayed slightly, and then found his balance. He stood beside the bed, staring towards the door of his cell. He practically twitched as he stood there, anxiety surging through him. What if they decided he needed to fast another day? What if no one came at all? What if they’d forgotten about him altogether?

The cell door opened and Lady Rose walked in, carrying a bowl of steaming porridge. Stiles probably should be paying more attention to the tall and regal woman, but his eyes were locked on that bowl as she set it down on the table. Stiles longed to run over there and dive face-first into the bowl. He fidgeted slightly, eyes on the food, as he repeated the words self control over and over in his mind.

“Good morning, Stiles,” Lady Rose said.

“Good morning, my lady,” he replied. He didn’t dare move towards the porridge. This could be another test. She could be seeing how strong of will he was.

“I wish to see what progress you’ve made,” she said. “Show me the light.”

Stiles drew a breath and tried not to think about how this could be his chance to get out of here. He had to show he had control, that he could handle the power.

Stiles held his hands in front of him and pressed his palms together like he was praying. He focused on the power, on the flow of magic, the strength of his own will. In his mind, he pictured the energy like the flowing water and guided that flow through his body, down into his hands until his palms tingled with the promise of magic.

He drew his hands apart slowly, feeling the magic there, calling on it to shine.

A golden glow filled the cell, shining out from between his hands. There was no heat, but still the light seemed warming, a steady radiance that didn’t flicker or move. Stiles stared at the light, held it there, and tried to think of nothing more than keeping this spell stable. He couldn’t let himself think about the spell going wrong or…

The light dimmed slightly, but Stiles caught that stray thought before it went too far. Focus. He held the spell.

“A considerable improvement,” Lady Rose said. Stiles held the light there even when she spoke. After a minute, she nodded, and told him he could stop. Stiles let the spell end, the light faded away. The room seemed darker, colder, now that they were lit only by the lamp in the corner.

Stiles’ eyes fell again to the bowl on the table. He hoped this demonstration would be enough for Lady Rose to reward him with a meal. His hands shook a little and he was sure it wasn’t just from the strain of performing magic. She didn’t seem about to let him eat though. She reached into a pocket, hidden in the folds of the long robes she wore, and pulled out a pebble. She held this out towards Stiles. Stiles took it, already guessing what was coming next.

“Levitate the stone,” she ordered.

Stiles held the stone on the flattened palm of one hand. He again called up the energy, feeling it flow. He visualised the magic flowing around the pebble, covering it completely, then hardened to a solid coating like water freezing to ice. With slow care, he pictured the magic floating up, like an ice cube rising to the surface of a drink, carrying something inside it. He eased the stone upwards, holding it firm in the casing of magic, but careful to only use a gentle touch. If he tried to use too much power the –

The pebble exploded.

Stiles stood there, while Lady Rose brushed dust from the front of her robes.

“The spell worked,” Stiles pointed out. “The stone was definitely levitating before…” He gestured, indicating the fine dust which now coated the floor and the pair of them. From the expression on Lady Rose’s face, she didn’t think that was much of a consolation.

“You still lack focus,” she said.

“Well maybe it’s difficult to focus when I’m trapped in a hole away from daylight being starved to death,” Stiles snapped.

“Don’t you think you’re being melodramatic?”

“No I am not being melodramatic!” Stiles said. As he spoke, the dust from the exploded pebble rose up in the air, quivering slightly. An instant later, it flew outwards with a wall of force that splattered the dust against the walls and made the furniture skid a little way from him over the stone floor. Even Lady Rose rocked back on her heels as the energy passed over her.

Lady Rose gave a disappointed sigh.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles said quickly. Saying he hadn’t meant for that to happen wouldn’t help his case at all. Magical accidents were the reason he was down here.

Lady Rose turned away from Stiles. She looked at the bowl of porridge on the table and picked it up.

“Please,” said Stiles, “leave me the porridge. I’m sorry about that. I’ll try harder. I will. Just leave me some breakfast.”

“I don’t think you’d want to eat this now,” she said. She tilted the bowl towards him and he saw the layer of dust over the surface from the exploded stone.

“I’ll scrape the bad bits off,” Stiles said.

Lady Rose frowned, giving him a thoughtful look. Her eyes flickered up and down his body.

“Stiles,” she said, “when was your last meal?”

“Lunch,” he said, “the day before yesterday.”

“Are you sure?”

“Am I sure when I last got food?” Stiles asked, failing to keep the sarcasm from his tone. “Well, gee, maybe not. Maybe I’ve been sleep walking through a locked door and having great feasts without noticing.”

He forced himself to stop, holding back on the anger. Lashing out wouldn’t help. Especially, lashing out at Lady Rose. He needed her to think he was controlled and focused and well behaved and not at all likely to set fire to a building. Again.

Lady Rose turned away. Stiles had no way of knowing when she’d next come visit him, so he decided to take a chance, hopeless though it was.

“Could I please go outside for just five minutes,” Stiles said. “I won’t do anything, I won’t try any magic, I won’t cause any trouble, I promise, I just… I just want to go outside for a bit.”

She paused and looked back at him. Then walked out.

Stiles brushed pebble dust off the bed and sat down on it. He tucked his feet up under himself and tried not to cry. He had screwed up again. He wrapped his arms around his aching stomach and tried not to think about being stuck down here forever, locked away from sunlight, while his friends and his dad had no idea what had happened to him.

He had been sitting there only a few minutes when he heard noises outside the cell again. He disentangled his limbs and struggled to his feet. This time it was Carl who opened the door, holding a tray in one hand. He left the door open as he carried the tray to the table, knowing that even Stiles wasn’t stupid enough to try and escape. Carl put the tray down and offered Stiles a smile.

“Lady Rose says to eat it slowly,” he said.

“Thanks,” Stiles said. Carl nodded and let himself out, shutting the door firmly behind him again. Stiles sat down at the table and looked at the food arrayed before him. There was a bowl of porridge. There were two pieces of toast smeared with butter. There was a small dish holding a mixture of berries. There was an apple and a banana. Finally, there was a pot of herbal tea and a jug of juice.

Stiles wanted to dive right in and devour the lot, but he had to be careful of Lady Rose’ warning. This was probably another test. He didn’t know when he’d next get food so he would need to ration it out.

He could start with the porridge, which wouldn’t taste good cold, and save the toast and fruit for later. He could make this last all day if he was careful.

He picked up the spoon and took a small amount of porridge on the tip. He ate slowly, tiny spoonful by tiny spoonful, making this meal last as long as he possibly could. At last, he scraped his finger around the bowl, using it to get every last bit. He drank the tea down as he went, emptying the pot. With the hot food inside him, he felt properly warm for the first time in days.

He needed to avoid the temptation of the rest of the food though, so he left it there on the table and returned to his seat on the bed. He took the porridge spoon with him to practice the levitation spell. He rested the spoon on the palm of his hand and let the energy flow through him. He gathered his magic around that spoon, holding it as he had with the pebble. He lifted, bringing the spoon into the air. He held it there, keeping the spoon in place with nothing but will and magic.

For perhaps a minute, he simply held the spoon aloft, but it didn’t take long for his mind to start to drift and for his memory to fill with images of Harry Potter and Wingardium Leviosa. As soon as his mind was no longer fully on the spoon, it wobbled, starting to fall, spinning a little.

He tried to catch it, tried to wrap the spoon in magic once again, but catching a moving object was harder than lifting a still one. His power clashed against the movement and he overdid it. The spoon flew upwards, crumpling a little under the grip of his magic. It hit the ceiling and then, spell over, dropped down and hit Stiles on the head.

It bounced onto the floor. With a sigh, Stiles bent down and picked it up. The bowl of the spoon was flattened and the handle bent out of shape. Not a great example of control.

He wondered if he could reshape it. After all, he’d used magical forces to put it out of shape, so magic must be capable of bending it back. It would just take a little care.

He was just about to attempt it when the cell door opened and Lady Rose walked in, holding a canvas bag in one hand. Stiles hadn’t heard her approaching, so he hurried to his feet now. If she cared about his lack of protocol, she didn’t show it. She just looked at the tray and its contents.

“I thought you were hungry,” she said.

“I was,” Stiles said. “I am. But you said to eat slowly and I wasn’t sure when I’d next get food.”

She gave another disappointed sigh. Stiles wondered how he’d disappointed her this time.

“I meant that you should eat it slowly so you didn’t make yourself sick. Eat. I’ll make sure you get food today.”

Stiles wasn’t going to ignore a direct order like that, so he went to the table and grabbed a piece of toast, tearing into it with huge bites. He caught Lady Rose’s look and forced himself to slow down. Lady Rose stood beside the table, looking down at him while he ate.

“You are a problem, Stiles,” she said.

“You and my dad should start a club,” Stiles muttered. Then, “Sorry,” when he caught her look. Interrupting a powerful witch was probably a very bad idea.

“The holding rooms are not supposed to be a punishment,” she said. “This is not meant to be a prison.”

“Oh, my mistake, I guess I was confused by the heavy doors and all the locks.”

She sighed again.

“These rooms are supposed to be a teaching aid, a way of removing distractions so that disciples can improve their focus. Most apprentices find that a day or two in one of these rooms, time spent in meditation and practice, gives them what they need to channel their gifts with purpose. Time spent here lets you practice self-awareness, learning to recognise more clearly the sensations of magic. As I said, usually a day or two is enough to help those who are having difficulty. How long have you been in here?”

“Nine days,” Stiles said, around the last mouthful of toast.

“Nine days,” Lady Rose echoed. “Nine days and you’re still liable to cause explosions. Our training methods have been used over the centuries to give those with magical abilities control over their gifts. For generations, disciplines have learned through our ways and blossomed in their abilities. And now, we get you.”

“I guess you’ve never had a disciple with ADHD before,” Stiles said.

“It’s clear that solitary meditation here is not helping you. Fasting for a meal or two usually helps a disciple to be aware of the flow of energies through their body, but we can’t have you being starved to death.” There was anger in her tone and Stiles wondered if maybe the anger wasn’t actually directed at him. He wondered if she’d been unaware of how little food they’d been giving him.

“I think,” she continued, “it’s long past time for us to accept that our usual methods aren’t going to work with you. I think we need to try a new approach.”

She set the canvas bag on the table. Curious, Stiles reached out and looked inside. There were balls of yarn and pairs of knitting needles, as well as sheets of paper with instructions printed on them.

“I don’t understand,” Stiles said.

“You are going to learn how to knit.”

“I’d gathered that much,” he said, “but that isn’t helping me understand.”

“Your problem is staying focused on a spell. You’ll start a work of magic only to get distracted and lose control. Maybe the answer is to give you a secondary focus. Knitting will give your hands something to do, while freeing up your mind to perform magic.”

Stiles gave her a sceptical look. She shrugged.

“Give it a go. If it doesn’t work, we’ll think of something else to try.”

She left him then, once again closing the door on him and leaving him trapped in the cold, stone cell. Stiles reached into the bag and pulled out the instructions.

Chapter Text

A trio of lights hovered above Stiles’ head, illuminating his work. It was easier when he didn’t think about it. The more he thought on a spell, the more likely it was to fail or, more often than not, explode. When he thought about something else, he could leave some tiny corner of his mind still working on the magic. It was a delicate balance though. If too much of his attention was on something else, then the spell would just fizzle and die. But when he got it right, he could sit on the bed and knit a long scarf, while the lights of his magic stayed true and clear. His hands moved automatically and his eyes focused on the line of lumpy stitches rather than his magic.

There were sounds outside and Stiles stood, nearly tripping over another scarf that had somehow ended up wrapped around his legs. Only one of the lights winked out when he was distracted by this. The other two stayed shining, hanging in the air over the bed.

Lady Rose opened the door and stepped inside. She looked at the pile of scarves that littered the bed, and at the two witch-lights that Stiles powered. The lights flickered a little with his nerves as he felt her scrutiny, but they didn’t die.

“How is the experiment going?” Lady Rose asked.

“I’ve nearly run out of yarn,” Stiles answered.

She cast her eyes over the tangle of scarves, the corners of her lips betraying a faint hint of amusement.

“I see that,” she said. “But is it helping your magic?”

Nervousness crept over him again. If he did well, he might get to go outside again, but that thought brought with it all the fears about what might happen if he didn’t do well. One light dimmed while the other brightened.

Stiles sat down on the edge of the bed, tightening his grip on the needles and resuming work, tucking the end of a needle into a loop of yarn and looping the thread around it again. Maybe he could make that look deliberate, make her think he was in full control.

Staring at his row of stitches, he made the dim light brighten and the bright light dim, then the other way round. They fluctuated in unison in time to his will. He didn’t look up at Lady Rose. He didn’t need to know what she was thinking.

Stiles reached the end of the row of stiches and switched the needles round in his hands. Over his head, he moved the two lights together, visualising them like candles floating in a pool of water, gently letting the currents push them to the same point, then letting the lights flow into one. When there only one light above his head, Stiles slowly let the flow of power diminish. He didn’t just turn the spell off, but let the energy drop gently until the light slowly faded away.

Then he looked up at Lady Rose, smiling hopefully. There was a smile on her lips too.

“That would seem to be an improvement,” she said.

“Nothing’s exploded in two days,” he said.

“A definite improvement then.”

Was she teasing him? Stiles decided it was safer not to ask. He just waited, fiddling an end of yarn around his fingers while he waited for her to say something. He wanted to scream in frustration when she just looked at him thoughtfully.

“You may leave the holding room,” she said, then held up a hand to stop him before he spoke, “but there are conditions. You are still to sleep in here and you are not to practice your magic around anything flammable.”

“Thank you,” Stiles said.

“Now go ahead. I’ll see about finding you some more yarn.”

She opened the door and Stiles nearly knocked her over in his hurry to leave the room.

Beyond the cell door was a stone corridor that ended in another door. This one was guarded today by Carl, but he looked beyond Stiles and, on receiving the nod from Lady Rose, opened it up for him. Stiles hurried through and up a steep flight of stone steps. A minute later, slightly breathless, he emerged into daylight. If the world had any sense of dramatic effect, it would have been a gloriously sunny day so he could soak up the sun’s radiance. It was raining. The sky overhead was dull and grey, the low clouds letting out a steady stream of water.

He walked across the gardens of the estate, feet splashing through the puddles on the paths. He felt water soaking through his t-shirt and getting into his shoes but there was no way he was going into the house yet after so long trapped in that cell.

He skirted the edge of the lawn and ducked through the labyrinthine passages of rosebushes that wound twisted paths around the side of the big house. The gardens were brilliant with colour, even in the grey rain. Stiles wasn’t sure if it was just his appreciation of them after two weeks trapped in stone, or because he was aware of the flow of magic through them. Every living thing in this garden was infused with energy, born within itself and nourished by the coven until the whole place shone with power. He walked on down the path between the rose bushes, noting when it narrowed but not recognising it as a warning until his t-shirt sleeve caught on thorns.

He turned. The bushes hadn’t visibly moved but the path was noticeably narrower than when he’d walked on it before. Now he had to turn sideways to avoid getting caught on branches and thorns. He sped up, hoping to get out of here before things got worse.

His foot caught on a root that trailed across the path and he stumbled. He regained his footing but when he looked up, he was surrounded on all sides by rose bushes. There was no path out on any side. He wondered if he should have gone round the other side of the house. It might not have made much difference. He would probably have ended up pelted with fruit from the orchard if he had gone that way. This garden really didn’t like him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, trying not to feel weird about the fact he was talking to plants. “It was an accident. I’m doing much better now.”

He spun slowly, seeing tall walls of rose bushes on each side. Fighting his way out would break his agreement with Lady Rose and she would not be happy if he damaged her garden. Again.

Maybe he could convince the plants that he meant no harm, reach out with his magic and touch against theirs. But he wasn’t sure that mind-melding with a plant consciousness that actively hated him was a particularly sensible plan. He could call for help but that would be fairly humiliating. The coven had seen more than enough of him failing spectacularly at his magic; getting rescued from a bush wasn’t something he was keen on.

He stepped forward, finding a point where the branches of two neighbouring bushes twisted together. He was sure this had been an opening a few minutes ago. He reached out and touched those branches, as though hunting for a hidden switch to open up the secret passageway. He could feel the gentle power of the garden tingling through his fingertips.

“Come on,” Stiles muttered, “we’ve got to live together. Please be nice.”

“Are you talking to the bushes?” a voice asked.

Stiles spun round, and saw a girl standing on the clear and wide path that wove away between the rose bushes. It was Sephy, a girl of twelve who already wore the woven belt of a senior disciple. She was someone Stiles longed to hate for her effortless control of magic, except she was too sweet about it to properly resent.

“These bushes hate me,” Stiles said. “They’ve been trying to trap me.”

Sephy smiled, taking it as a joke, saying, “I used to get lost all the time when I first came here. Come on. We’ve been waiting for you in the house.”

Stiles decided it wasn’t worth arguing. He followed Sephy along the wide path that wove between sedate bushes. In less than a minute, the path opened up and let them out beside the walls of the house. Sephy headed straight for a side door and Stiles followed, kicking off his damp shoes on the mat inside.

The house felt deliciously warm after the cold rain and all those days in the cell. Stiles just stood there for a minute and let himself feel warmth.

“Come on,” Sephy said. She caught his hand and towed him into the house. Stiles let himself be led to the large sitting room, which doubled as a practice area for the disciples. The others were waiting, a group of two dozen kids between the ages of seven and fifteen. The oldest of the group, excluding Stiles, was Ian, who wore the woven belt and who hoped to become a full member of the coven at the winter solstice. The youngest was Amy, Carl’s daughter, who had almost as much trouble with focus as Stiles but was forgiven more for it because of her age, and the fact she generally didn’t make things explode.

The whole group were gathered around, some sitting on the couches and armchairs, others standing in a little cluster in the gaps. They blocked Stiles’ view of the coffee table at the heart of the room, until Sephy led him over. The group parted, grinning, to reveal a large cake decorated with birthday candles.

“Since we know how much you love fire,” Ian said. Someone had written Congratulations! on the cake in pink icing.

“Congratulations?” Stiles asked. “On getting out?”

“On setting a record,” Sephy said.

“Two weeks in the holding rooms,” Ian said. “It’s an achievement.”

“I have to go back tonight,” Stiles said, which earned looks of sympathy.

“I want cake!” said Amy. Stiles chuckled and acquiesced. He bent over the coffee table and blew out the candles. Someone proffered a knife and he sliced into the cake, cutting large slices that were eagerly pounced on by the other disciples. When he was done, Stiles took his own slice and bit into it eagerly. He had been given food over the past few days, since the start of the new experiment, but cake hadn’t been included.

They moved up to give him room on the couch, but he was still rather soggy and so he decided to stand.

“Did you guys miss me?” he asked.

“It’s been boring without you,” Amy said.

“Well, I’ve promised not to blow things up anymore, so it might not be as interesting now that I’m back.”

“Oh.” Amy looked thoroughly disappointed at the lack of impending explosions. Stiles managed a smile. It wasn’t the same as hanging out with Scott and Lydia and the rest of the pack, but it was nice to feel welcomed and wanted. After the loneliness of the cell, it was nice to be greeted with smiles.

Carl poked his head into the room and reminded them that they were supposed to be practicing. Stiles’ promise had been not to practice near anything flammable, so he quietly excused himself. Besides, he had another priority.

He headed upstairs. He found the room which had been his before one explosion too many had led to his exile. It was a twin room shared with Ian, as bland and uninviting as a cheap hotel room. There was no indication of the personalities of the room’s inhabitants. No posters or decorations or anything that showed the people living here had souls. Stiles went to the chest of drawers and pulled out a change of clothes and left the room as quickly as he’d entered. This was just a pit stop. His true destination was the big bathroom down the hall.

In his stay in the cell, he’d been taken out for bathroom breaks and given an opportunity for quick washes and changes of underwear, but the bathroom in the holding area was minimal to say the least. He wanted a proper shower.

He locked the door behind him, stripped off his damp clothes, and stood under a spray of hot water that felt like heaven. There were some pleasures that were never fully appreciated until they were gone. He soaped and scrubbed and rinsed his body clean, letting his skin go pink from the heat of the water. It was probably the longest shower of his life but it was glorious.

Eventually, he knew he had to face the real world. He emerged and towelled off, dressing quickly in the clean clothes. Despite being the oldest of the disciples, he didn’t have the colourful, woven belt of a senior. He didn’t even have the brown, plaited belt of the intermediate. They hadn’t even given him the single, grey cord of a novice. Even Amy had the grey novice belt. He hadn’t managed to earn the status of beginner in his magical training. At this rate, he would never be allowed to go home.

He returned to his room and saw that someone had been here in his absence. There was a pile of scarves neatly folded on his bed, and a big pile of balls of yarn in every colour under the sun. Stiles went to the pile. What the hell was he supposed to do with a pile of scarves? It wasn’t like he could even give them as Christmas presents to –

He stopped mid-thought. He picked up the scarves one at a time, inspecting them carefully and trying to work out which were the least lumpy and uneven. He pulled out a blue one and one made with multi-coloured wool that gradually shifted shades along the scarf’s length. Carrying the two, he went downstairs, by-passing the room where the kids were now practicing their magic. He went to a simple door at the back of the house, fought down the urge to panic and run away, and he knocked quietly on the wood.

“Come in,” called Lady Rose from within.

Stiles walked in and tried to remember how to breathe. She sat behind her desk like some lady of the manor in a period drama. She gave Stiles a polite smile of greeting.

“What can I do for you, Stiles?” she asked.

Stiles had spent the brief walk down here trying to find the right words, trying to find the words that would be persuasive enough.

“I know I can’t go home yet or call my dad or anything,” Stiles said, “but when the other disciples are brought it, their families know and understand and agree to the decision. None of the other disciples were kidnapped from outside a diner.” Lady Rose looked like she was about to speak, so Stiles continued quickly. “I know why you did it. I know. But I haven’t seen my dad in forty two days and he doesn’t know what happened to me or why I left. I just… I just want to let him know that I’m OK. That I’m alive. And I thought… since I don’t have anything else to do with these,” he raised the scarves he still held, “maybe I could send them to him as a Christmas present.”

“Stiles, we have secrecy rules for a reason.”

“I know. I just… I’m all my dad’s got and he’ll be so worried. I need to tell him I’m alive.”

Lady Rose looked at him. Her expression was difficult to read, but Stiles thought he saw sympathy in it.

“Please,” Stiles said. “One little message. I won’t tell him where I am or spill any coven secrets. Just let me tell me dad I’m alright.”

Lady Rose thought some more. Stiles would have dropped to his knees and begged if he thought it would make a difference. But she just looked at him.

“That cupboard,” she said, pointing. “Get a fresh pad from the top shelf.”

The cupboard in question contained stationery that was divvied up between the disciples when they required it for their lessons. Stiles took out a fresh pad of paper now, and a pen from one of the boxes.

“I will read the message before it gets sent,” Lady Rose said. “Keep it short and do not say anything that would lead an outsider to our sanctuary.”

Stiles nodded, and wrote a very short message, essentially informing his dad that he was alive. He offered it to Lady Rose. She read it while Stiles held it. It took Stiles a moment to realise why she wasn’t touching it: she didn’t want to leave fingerprints on the letter. She was avoiding leaving any evidence that could be traced back to here. She nodded, giving him instructions to find a box and seal it and write the address. Stiles then found a plastic bag and dropped the box inside it, so someone could carry it without leaving evidence on the parcel itself. Lady Rose was careful, but Stiles didn’t care right now. He was communicating with his dad for the first time in more than a month. All the precautions in the world wouldn’t stop him being happy right now.

Even the fact that he had to go and sit outside in the rain to practice his magic couldn’t dampen his mood.

Chapter Text

Sheriff John Stilinski hadn’t seen his son in forty-five days. Forty-five days since Stiles had stopped at a diner for take-out and had never come home. Forty-five days of John trying to get through his life. Forty-five days of waiting and wishing, of hoping for news and finding nothing, of catching sight of a hoodie out of the corner of his eye and turning, heart surging with joy, only to see that the wearer was someone completely different.

He had been a police officer for too long. He knew the facts of a case like this, knew that the odds of Stiles being found alive diminished enormously with every hour that passed. After over a month, he knew how remote the possibility was of Stiles being found safe and sound. But still he clung to that faint shred of hope because there was nothing else he could do. Stiles was his son. His only child. If there was even the slightest chance that Stiles was still out there somewhere, he would fight for that chance, but each day of dashed hope was more painful than the last.

So he didn’t dare let himself hope when he saw the parcel on his doorstep, even though the handwriting looked just like Stiles’. He couldn’t bear the thought of his hope being dashed again. He picked up the parcel and carried it inside. He set it down on the kitchen table and just stared, hoping and not daring to hope. As long as the parcel was shut, he could hope that it was from Stiles. If he opened it up and it turned out to be something unrelated, another piece of hope would be killed.

Eventually, he reached out and tore the tape from the parcel. He lifted the flaps of the box and stared in confusion at the pile of knitted wool inside. There was a note folded on top. He lifted it out and read.

Dad,

I’m sorry. I can’t tell you where I am but I can tell you that I’m OK. I’m not hurt.

I love you. I miss you. I wish I could come home.

Enclosed are Christmas presents for you and Scott. I made them myself – it probably shows.

Look after yourself.

I’ll see you when I can.

Stiles.

It was painfully short. John’s hands trembled and the paper slipped from between his fingers.

A letter from Stiles. Stiles was alive.

A treacherous thought whispered that there was no date on the letter. Stiles could have written that note months ago and his kidnappers had sent it now to confuse him. But what would be their motivation? It wasn’t like John had had any clues until this moment. And besides, Stiles wouldn’t have written about Christmas presents a month and a half ago. No, this had to have been written recently. Stiles was alive.

He grabbed his phone out of his pocket, pulling up a number and dialling. Scott answered almost at once.

“Sheriff? What’s going on?”

“Get to my house. Now.”

He hung up.

He stood there, staring at the letter until Scott arrived. He read it again and again, looking for some sign, some secret message. Stiles was clever. If there was some hidden way to get a message to him, he’d find it. Maybe it was buried in the wording of the letter. Maybe it was hidden in the scarves somehow. John wouldn’t put it past him.

Scott opened the door without knocking, barging into the kitchen.

“What is it?” he asked. “What’s happened?”

Then his eyes fell on the open box and on the letter. Scott picked up the note and read.

“He’s alive,” he said.

“He’s alive,” John echoed.

Scott picked up one of the scarves and buried his face in it.

“It smells like Stiles,” he said.

“So he definitely did make it?” John asked.

“Probably. He’s definitely handled it a lot. His scent’s all over it. But I can’t picture Stiles getting into knitting. I can’t imagine him sitting still long enough to do it.”

John couldn’t picture it either. Stiles had always been active and fidgety, constantly needing to move. He’d got better since he’d gone on medication, but it had always been there. Sitting quietly knitting wasn’t something Stiles would choose to do. Maybe that was the hidden message? Maybe he wanted to show that this wasn’t his choice by giving them something he would never normally choose to make?

“Can you find any other scents on it?” John asked. “Anything that would tell us where he is?”

“Nothing. There’s nothing really noticeable, nothing that’s clear. Just… Stiles.”

“Maybe forensics can get something from the box and the letter.”

Scott reached out and put a hand against John’s arm.

“He’s alive though,” he said. “He’s definitely alive.”

***

Forensics found nothing useful, even with John pulling every favour he had to get quicker reports. They found finger prints on the note but they all matched Stiles’ prints, which were on file after the incident when Stiles and Scott had stolen a police vehicle and kidnapped Jackson. The stationery was all perfectly ordinary, available from any office supply store in the country. There was nothing. There were a couple of hairs on one of the scarves, but they probably belonged to Stiles. There were no special residues or materials or anything that would lead them to a location.

John went with the other angle of investigation, which was to try and work out who had opportunity to drop the parcel off at his house. It had happened at night and there were no security cameras nearby. He checked traffic cameras for nearby streets, but there were hundreds of vehicles that had been in the area and could have come by the house. He asked around the neighbourhood, but no one had seen anyone dropping something off.

Like with the diner, normal channels of police investigation had completely failed. So they had to resort to supernatural channels of investigation. Scott had called in the pack and they’d spent some time sniffing around the house, hoping to pick up a trail. They’d apparently drawn a blank, even after Derek had spent most of a day hunting along the street for anything out of place, any scents of something unusual. Derek had looked like he planned to put a fist through a wall when Scott had admitted that they weren’t going to find anything that way.

None of them were ready to admit defeat that easily though. There was one last long shot to try. John called Deaton.

They waited for him in the kitchen, John, Scott and Derek, along with the mysterious parcel. John had spent a lot of time staring at those scarves. They were obviously homemade, with uneven stiches and rough patches, made with more effort and enthusiasm than skill. Scott was right, John couldn’t picture Stiles sitting down for the time required to make not one but two scarves. He would only do so if he was given no other choice.

The letter did seem to imply a lack of choice. He wasn’t hurt, he claimed, but he couldn’t say where he was. John just didn’t know what to make of kidnappers who were willing to let Stiles send a care package home.

Deaton arrived shortly. He looked at the parcel and its contents, reading the note carefully. John itched to ask him if there was something he could use, some magical way to track Stiles down. Instead, he just stood and watched while Deaton picked up one of the scarves, eyeing it with curiosity and, John thought, surprise. Maybe he too was surprised that Stiles would take up knitting.

“There’s magic in this,” Deaton said.

“Magic?” John asked. “There’s a spell on it?” John couldn’t imagine Stiles giving him something enchanted on purpose, but maybe someone else had taken Stiles’ gift and put a spell on it afterwards.

“Nothing so focused as a spell,” Deaton said. “It’s… like an aura.” Everyone just stared at him in confusion. “I think this was made in the presence of magic and that left a trace. Imagine this was made in same room as someone cooking a strong chilli. Your werewolf senses would be able to pick up the scent of the chilli even though no one actually put chilli into the scarf. It’s the same here. Someone was performing magic, strong magic, and that power has become woven into the fabric as a slight trace.”

“Stiles is being held by magic workers?” John asked.

“So it would appear.”

“More evil druids?” Scott asked.

Deaton gave a little shrug, “I would hesitate to make guesses.”

“But why would they take him? For information on the pack? Leverage against us?”

“Perhaps,” Deaton said, “or perhaps…” He trailed off.

“What?” Derek asked. He hadn’t spoken much since he’d come to help and this one word was more of a growl than a question.

“Stiles has a little magical talent,” Deaton said. “He has only harnessed it on a couple of occasions, but the gift is unmistakably there. It is possible that he is learning to control that gift. There are… sanctuaries… places of safety for those learning the craft. Students of magic are extremely vulnerable in the early stages of their training so the locations of these sanctuaries are kept hidden. While they are there, students are allowed no contact with the outside world in order to preserve the secret.”

“Do you think Stiles is at one of these places?” John asked.

“I don’t know. I’m speculating. All I know is that someone performed magic while this scarf was being made.”

“Stiles wouldn’t leave Beacon Hills by choice,” Derek said. John was a little surprised by the certainty in Derek’s voice, but he nodded his agreement. He didn’t believe that Stiles would have disappeared like this of his own volition. The letter had said that he wished he could come home. Wherever Stiles was, he was being held against his will.

***

Derek wasn’t going to ignore this. He wasn’t going to just pretend that this one clue they finally had didn’t exist. Stiles was alive. He wasn’t going to just sit around speculating and theorising about ways to find him. He was going to find him. Whatever it took.

They hadn’t heard anything from Stiles’ kidnappers since the disappearance. No threats or ransom demands or anything to explain why he might have been targeted. They had considered the possibility that this was nothing to do with the supernatural but the magic on the scarves made that unlikely. So the only theory they were left to work with was the idea that Stiles had been taken by a group intent on teaching him magic. While Derek could see Stiles being interested in that, he didn’t believe that Stiles would have agreed to cut all ties with his dad without warning. Which meant Stiles was there against his will.

Deaton wouldn’t reveal the location of the magic schools. He claimed he didn’t know but Derek had never been able to tell when that man was lying. He just knew that he wasn’t going to trust him now. But even if Deaton refused to reveal anything, someone had to know where they might be.

Derek just wished Stiles were here, because this was exactly the sort of research Stiles was so good at. Derek sat in his loft, trying to work out how to find the hidden location of a coven of magic workers who would be able to hold Stiles prisoner. He couldn’t help feeling that if Stiles were trying to solve this problem, he’d already have printed out twelve different sources of information for cross-referencing. Derek was staring at empty space.

He sighed. It was obvious he wasn’t going to find any answers here. But there were people who specialised in finding those with supernatural talents. A few years ago, Derek would have said he’d rather die than go to an Argent for help, but this was about Stiles. And Chris Argent had knowledge. Derek had worked with Chris when Stiles had been taken by the nogitsune; he could at least ask him for information now. He had to swallow his pride and get on with it.

He pulled his phone out, a part of him still finding it hard to believe that a hunter would be in his contacts list, and he dialled the number. He stood in the middle of his loft, pacing a little, listening to the phone ring. He almost wanted it to just ring out so he’d have an excuse to not talk to him.

“Derek,” Chris’ voice answered, “this is a surprise.”

“I need information,” Derek said.

“Is there something killing in Beacon Hills again?”

“No… it’s… I need to know where to find groups of witches.”

There was a pause at the other end of the phone, then Chris said, “A specific group of witches or any group?”

“I think a group of witches have Stiles but I don’t know where to look.”

There was another pause. Derek hated phones. He liked to watch someone’s face and hear their heart, to make guesses of what they were thinking and feeling. The phone gave him nothing.

“I understand,” Chris said. “I’ll see what I can find out. I’ll be in touch.”

Chapter Text

Stiles wasn’t sure if patchwork blankets were a thing, but he was making one anyway. He was sick of scarves but he wasn’t up for anything much more complicated or it would take too much focus from the magic. So he was making squares of knitting in different colours and planned to sew them together into a blanket. He was sitting out on the patio behind the house because he still wasn’t allowed to do magic inside, even though he hadn’t blown anything up for over a week. He had several of his scarves wrapped around him to combat the winter chill. His hands worked steadily, looping yarn into new stiches along the needles. While he knitted, he worked an element spell.

He was working with water, deciding that was a more sensible choice than trying magic with fire. He called up the element, drawing it to him from the earth, condensing it out of the cold air, until a small puddle formed on the patio stones in front of him. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it now, so he focused simply on controlling the movement of the water, persuading it with a magic touch to flow or puddle or even bubble up in a little fountain. He smiled to himself a little as he made that water dance under the gentle caress of his power. The first time he’d dried this, he’d made jokes about water-bending, and received blank looks from the other disciples.

Maybe he ought to find a way to introduce the kids to the wonders of magical martial arts animation. He just started to wonder how he would achieve this, when he nearly lost control of his spell, his water flowing under gravity instead of his will, splashing against his feet. Focus. He needed to focus. God, he missed having Adderall.

He managed to get the spell under control again. This was progress. He’d been incredibly sceptical about the knitting but there could be no doubt that he was doing better. Naturally, it would turn out that the way for him to focus was to not focus. But his spells were coming smoother. There weren’t the same violent mistakes which he’d been plagued by when he’d started. He was still on the simple, first-order spells, but he was carrying them out as he intended them. Until his thoughts inevitably started to wander anyway.

At this rate, he might be able to graduate as a disciple sometime this century.

The patio doors opened and someone stepped out. Stiles tried not to lose focus. He had the water flowing in a little moat around him. He slowly let go of the spell and let the water lie there, just a strangely shaped puddle on the stones.

“Yeah! It’s Stiles!” a voice yelled. Stiles turned round and saw Ian there in the patio doors, staring at the ring of water.

“What’s me?” Stiles asked.

“Water is fountaining out of every drain in the house,” Ian said. His tone was hard. Accusing.

“What?”

“Is this a game for you?” Ian asked. “You’re so mad about being away from your family that you’re determined to find some new way to cause mischief every other day?”

“No!” Stiles said. “I was just practicing a water elemental spell.”

“Oh please. A person doesn’t just wreck the entire plumbing of a house by accident. I don’t care how powerful Eve says you are.”

“I…” Stiles stopped protesting mid-thought as his mind caught up with his ears. “Eve thinks I’m powerful?”

Stiles had been under the impression that Eve thought he was a useless waste of space as a magic student. Eve was one of the senior women of the coven, Lady Rose’s right-hand woman.

“Some of us have to work hard,” Ian said.

“You think I’m not working hard?” Stiles asked. Ian looked Stiles up and down, eyes taking in the scarves, the knitting needles, the balls of yarn he was working with. His expression said more than words what he thought about how hard Stiles was working.

Stiles got to his feet, dropping his knitting on the ground and just staring at Ian.

“I haven’t seen my friends and family in forty nine days,” Stiles said. “I am trying anything anyone can suggest about how to control this magic inside me because I want to see my dad again and I’m terrified, because the last time I had uncontrollable power inside me, it wasn’t a rock or a pear tree that blew up, it was the sheriff’s station where my dad works and it was the power generator at the hospital, which actually put a friend of mine in hospital. I am working my ass off, whether you see it or not, because I want to make sure when I go back home I don’t accidentally blow up a gas main under the house.”

Ian took a terrified step back, eyes wide.

“Stiles, stop it,” he said.

Stiles started to ask what he was supposed to stop. Then he noticed the paving slabs that made up the patio. Several large pieces of stone had wrenched themselves out of their settings and were now floating above the ground and spinning slightly.

“Oh crap,” Stiles muttered. The lumps of rock fell back down to the ground, some of the slabs cracking with the force when they landed. Stiles winced at the noise, looking down at the chaos. When he looked back at Ian, he swallowed nervously, seeing the figure standing behind him. Lady Rose was standing in the doorway.

“Stiles,” she said, “please join me in my study.”

She turned and walked away. Ian quickly moved out of the way so that Stiles could follow her. Stiles really, really didn’t want to face this conversation. This could lead to another stay down in holding. He couldn’t go back in that cell again. Alone with his own thoughts and fears, with no freedom to move, that place was hell.

Once inside the study, Lady Rose sat down behind her desk. Stiles stood there, tapping his thumbs against his fingers in a nervous twitch. She just looked at him in her manner of assessing him with nothing but her eyes.

“Nothing blew up this time,” Stiles said, filling the void of silence in the room. She sighed. God, how he hated that sound.

“I heard what you said to Ian,” Lady Rose said. It wasn’t a question and it wasn’t a statement Stiles knew how to respond to either, so he just stood there, fidgeting, waiting for her to continue.

“What is happening with you now isn’t the same as what happened to you then,” she said. “You shouldn’t compare them.”

“I know,” Stiles said. “If the nogitsune blew something up, then it was an evil spirit doing it. If I blow something up now, I’ve only got myself to blame.”

There came that disappointed sigh again.

“Stiles, you possess power that would be beyond the wildest dreams of most practitioners. Most, like Ian, started with their basic spells failing to get anything to happen at all. You are quite the opposite. With you, all your training is around trying to hold back the flow of power. Each is difficult in its own way, but you face the challenge that when things go wrong…”

“Stuff blows up,” Stiles finished for her. She nodded.

“I wouldn’t advocate binding your powers,” Lady Rose said. “I think there is too much you could do with your abilities to take them from you. But I think we may need to limit them.”

“How?” Stiles asked.

“There are tools we build, ceremonies and rituals, objects we can make use of, which would ordinarily be used to enhance the major of a spell caster. I propose, we try to build something of the type, but with the intent of obstructing your gift.”

“So you mean you’re going to make me a sort of anti-magic wand or something?”

“In a way. I was thinking perhaps an amulet to inhibit your powers. And you will be making it with me.”

Stiles nodded. He was, at this point, happy to get any assistance in the not blowing up of stuff. He had nightmares about being back in Beacon Hills and electrical generators exploding all around him and Scott saying that he must be evil again. The dreams always ended with Stiles trying to say that he wasn’t evil but not being able to find the words for it, ashamed to admit, even in dreams, that he was just that inept.

“I’m sorry about the patio,” Stiles said. “And the plumbing.”

***

Derek was woken up by the phone call, but he wasn’t going to complain. He answered at once as soon as he saw Chris’ name on the screen.

“Did you find something?” he asked.

“I’ve emailed you a map,” Chris said. “It charts the energy currents of different types that flow through the world.”

“Like the ones the Darach was using to pick points for her sacrifices?”

“Exactly. Points where currents cross are powerful. The more currents cross, the more powerful the place. Different types of currents converging can have all sorts of effects. The,” Chris hesitated, then continued, “person who helped me put the map together pointed out some that would help with protective magic, and some that would help practitioners draw power. The first lot, I’ve marked in blue, the second in red.”

“Thank you.”

“The map covers most of Beacon County, but there are a lot of currents through this place. There are a lot of sites that a coven might be using.”

“It’s a start,” Derek said. “It narrows things down.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Derek said again. He hung up the phone and went to get his laptop. There was no way he was going to get back to sleep now. Time to start searching.

Chapter Text

“Stiles, please focus,” Lady Rose said. “This is very important for your training and you haven’t listened to a thing I’ve said for the past five minutes. This may not be as much fun as flinging fire around and destroying my house’s plumbing, but it is a vital foundation of magical skill.”

She was walking between the raised beds in her herb garden. On either side of her, packed in together, were a variety of plants. Some might be found in any other herb garden, but some were rather more unusual. This part of the garden was as big as Stiles’ whole garden back home, carefully tended and filled with whatever the coven might need either for creating potions or cooking soup. Whichever variety of plants he happened to be passing, Stiles tried to keep to the centre of the path, arms tucked in to avoid any contact with them.

“It’s not that I don’t agree this is worth knowing,” Stiles said, “it’s just that your garden hates me.”

“You blew part of it up,” Lady Rose said. “It holds a grudge.”

“At least you didn’t look at me like I’m crazy for ascribing emotions to your plants.”

“Plants don’t have emotions any more than your individual cells do. But, as a collective whole, the garden has its own flow of energies, its own magic. Most students only learn this in the final stages of their training here.”

Stiles took a cautious step around something that had vicious-looking thorns. He did not to get on the wrong side of that particular plant.

“I guess most students don’t blow bits of it up,” he commented.

“No. The garden has magic woven through it as part of the protection of this sanctuary. It guards against threats.”

“Well, can you tell it that I’m not a threat?”

“I don’t lie to my plants, Stiles. Now, come here. What can you tell me about this herb?”

Stiles inched his way carefully over to her and stared at the plant she was indicating. He looked at it carefully. It was a small, bushy thing with several wide, green leaves.

“It looks a bit like basil,” he said.

“That’s because it’s basil. What else?”

“It goes nicely in a pasta sauce?”

Lady Rose sighed. Stiles wished he could get a dollar every time he heard that noise. He’d leave here a millionaire.

“Do you know nothing of its magical properties?”

Stiles shrugged.

“It can be used in purification rights, most commonly for ridding negative energies from a place.”

She plucked several leaves from the plant.

“You think I’ve got a lot of negative energy to get rid of?” Stiles asked.

She gave him a severe look. Stiles went silent again. It was hardly surprising he’d be considered negative, particularly after that time he’d had a nightmare and nearly set the bedroom on fire. His explosive nightmares were the reason he still had to sleep down in the cell. He was pretty sure that was the result of his subconscious and a hell of a lot of trauma, rather than any energies that could be got rid of with a few leaves of basil.

Lady Rose continued down the path and pointed out another plant.

“What do you know of this one?”

Stiles looked, “Not a clue.”

“When we go back inside, I’m going to give you a primer on herb lore. Your previous instructions have been sorely lacking in a great many areas.”

“Do you know what my previous instructions were?” Stiles asked. “How to make a mountain ash barrier, that eating mistletoe is a bad idea for dogs and humans, that there are more varieties of wolfsbane than there are kryptonite, and that it’s a really, really bad idea to get into a bathtub full of ice to wake up a magic tree stump. Deaton was not one for detailed lesson plans.”

“And that is why you’re here. This one here,” she broke a twig of a small bush, “is used as incense in spells of blessing. It’s very sensitive to cycles of day and night and is most powerful at dawn.” She moved on. “And this one here, this is the one we’re really after. It’s used in binding spells. If I were to strip you of your powers, this herb would be the main component of the potion.”

She tore off a whole handful of the leaves. Stiles stared at them. He wondered if he should ask her to make the binding potion. He wasn’t sure he was getting any more handle on his powers now than he had at the beginning. It might be better for everyone if he just accepted the fact that he wasn’t cut out to be a witch.

Maybe he should have just let them bind his powers and be done with it. His mind drifted back to the days when he’d thought he was normal. He’d never thought he could wish to be powerless again. It had been less scary to be the weak human armed with a baseball bat against evil foes, than to be a powerful magic practitioner.

“Stiles, are you even listening to me?”

Stiles jumped. Lady Rose had been talking again and he hadn’t heard a word. Maybe he should stop wishing for powerlessness and start wishing for Adderall. She gestured towards another plant.

“Protection magic?” he said.

She narrowed her eyes, “Lucky guess.”

“Sorry. I’m focussed. All about the herb lore. Lay it on me.”

She sighed.

***

There were an awful lot of plants that had protective properties. Stiles was sitting in the library, going through Lady Rose’s books. One she’d given him dealt specifically with protective plants and more than half of the herbs in her garden were listed in here somewhere. There was no way he’d be able to tell which particular protective herb was relevant this time. He had a notepad next to him and was scribbling things down in the fragile hope that this would help some of the knowledge sink in, but it didn’t seem to be working.

Once more, he found himself thinking about how much he missed Adderall. Eve brewed him a herbal potion that was supposed to help people focus. The coven’s magic had helped keep the Adderall withdrawal symptoms at bay when he’d first come here, but it didn’t seem to be helping him keep his distracted thoughts in line. He rapped his pen against his notepad in a disjointed drumming, while one of his feet bounced randomly under the table, trying and failing to pay attention to the books in front of him.

He read through the next page, but his thoughts were refusing to stay on track. He kept thinking of all those nights doing research, finding out about werewolves or how to break into a bank vault. He would have loved to have had this library at his disposal then. He felt like he was squandering it now. If he couldn’t focus enough to read a complete chapter of the same book in one go, how was he supposed to focus enough to learn spells?

Doing magic with herbs and potions was probably safer for him, because things were less likely to blow up than when he was channelling his own magic, but he felt like he was back in chemistry class with Harris glowering at him for not knowing the precise properties of every element on the periodic table. He tried to focus on the page in front of him, the woodcut drawings and diagrams, the descriptions of magical properties. This was interesting stuff. He ought to be interested, he told himself again.

The library door opened.

“Not blowing things up today?” asked a voice. It was Ian. Stiles didn’t even bother looking up.

“I’m trying to learn about protective herbs.”

“We need all the protection we can get with you around.”

Stiles tried to keep a lock on his frustration. Letting his emotions run wild was a sure fire way to tap into his magic accidentally.

“I’m not trying to be destructive,” Stiles said.

“That almost makes it worse. You’ve got power I would kill for.”

“You shouldn’t say that,” Stiles interrupted.

“It’s just an expression. You know I don’t mean it literally.” Ian sounded offended and defensive at the same time.

“One of the first magic workers I ever met,” Stiles said, “killed people in human sacrifices to increase her power. You shouldn’t ever make jokes like that because for some of us it’s not a joke. A couple of people I really cared about ended up dead.”

He thought about his dad, about Scott’s mom, and Allison’s dad, how they’d all nearly been added to the list of sacrifices. He had power the likes of the Darach would murder to get. And all he could do was cause violent accidents.

“I’m sorry,” Ian said. Stiles wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Ian apologise before. Stiles looked up at him in surprise. Ian turned away, stepping past the table where Stiles was working so he could inspect the shelves. It was like he wanted to pretend that those words had never been spoken. Stiles let him.

Ian grabbed a book on protective circles and left the library with it. Stiles bent his head down over the pages of herb lore and tried to focus.

***

Derek stood at the door to a church. This was the fifth site he’d checked out from Argent’s list. This one was marked as a focal point for spiritual energy, so he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised to find a place of worship built here. He wondered if the original builders of the church had known that they were tapping into magical currents.

The door was locked so Derek couldn’t get inside, he had to make do with scenting the air, and with listening. He closed his eyes and gave himself to his other senses. There was no trace of Stiles’ scent, nothing to indicate he’d walked through here, but if he was a prisoner, he probably wasn’t walking around outside much anyway. He listened, trying to hear anything out of place, but all he could hear was the sound of life from the streets around the church, the usual mixture of traffic and conversation and everyday noises. He was so busy trying to focus through the mess to identify a trace of Stiles, that he almost didn’t hear the footsteps approaching him.

Derek opened his eyes, looking round to see a man approaching, with the black shirt and white dog collar that marked him a vicar. Or was it a father? Derek had never been to church so he wasn’t all too clear on the difference.

“Can I help you?” the man asked.

“I wanted to get into the church,” Derek answered. Inside, he’d be able to tell more easily whether Stiles had been there. The scent would linger more. The priest guy looked at him for a moment and then nodded. He gave a cheerful smile and approached the door, taking a key from his pocket. Derek stepped back so the guy could unlock the door.

“It’s a shame we have to lock it,” the priest guy said. “A house of God should always be open. But, unfortunately, we’ve had a couple of thefts. Someone stole the charity collection box. Sickening really that some people would steal crumbs from the mouths of the poor.”

Derek wasn’t sure if those words were explanation, accusation, or warning. The priest might have been waiting to see Derek’s reaction, to see whether he was the sort who would steal charity collections. Derek said nothing.

Once the door was open, he walked into the darkness inside, between rows of old, oak pews. He picked one at random and stepped into it. He couldn’t just stand there, so he dropped to his knees on an embroidered cushion there for the purpose. He might never have been to church, but he’d seen enough TV to know the procedure. He folded his hands in front of him and bowed his head, eyes closed.

He let himself feel out with his senses. There were a lot of scents here. There were people scents, presumably from the congregation. The priest’s scent was strong, which was hardly surprising. There were undertones of polish on the pews and lingering traces of candle wax in the air. There was no trace of Stiles’ scent. If Stiles ever had been here, it hadn’t been for a long while, long enough that any hint of him was washed over by all the other scents.

Derek listened just to be sure but the church was quiet. He could hear the priest moving around. He could hear an occasional drip of a tap somewhere in a back room. That was about it. The sounds of the outside world were muffled by the stone walls and there were no sounds inside that would indicate prisoners or magic workers. Derek hadn’t held out much hope of finding Stiles here, but he was confident now. Stiles wasn’t here.

Derek stood. He walked between the pews back towards the door, passing the priest.

“Thank you,” Derek said quietly.

“You don’t need to come into the church to pray,” the priest said. “God will hear you wherever you are.”

“Maybe so, but I can’t hear him,” Derek answered. He left the church.

He didn’t believe that there was some great force guiding the world. It was hard enough knowing that everything that had been done to him and his family had been done deliberately by psychopaths and murderers. If there was some all-powerful being controlling everything, then that being was no one he wanted to worship.

Derek didn’t expect to get divine help in his search. He’d have to stick to doing things the slow way. If he had to check every single point on Argent’s map, so be it.

Chapter Text

“My grandma used to make lavender bags,” Stiles said. “Little pouches of lavender that she stuck in drawers to make her clothes smell nice.”

“Stiles, focus,” said Lady Rose for what felt like the hundredth time that morning.

They were sitting at a table in the smaller of the two kitchens. The house had been designed so that the coven could cook up potions and spells in one kitchen while the other one was used to provide food for everyone. Spread in front of Stiles were a wide variety of herbs, at least of dozen of which Stiles could remember the names of. Stiles was taking little pinches of the various herbs in the correct ratios to beat into dust in the stone pestle. Once the mixture was ready, Stiles would sew the herbs into a little, cloth pouch.

“I was just struck by the similarity,” Stiles said, trying to defend his wandering thoughts. He checked his instruction list. He checked the assembled herbs.

“Erm,” he said, “which one’s anise again?”

Lady Rose sighed and pointed to a collection of small seeds. Aniseed, right. He ought to have remembered that.

“Used for?” she prompted.

Stiles measured the seeds carefully into a teaspoon and tried to remember the pages of the books he’d read in the library upstairs.

“Nightmares?” he said. She nodded.

Stiles tipped the seeds into the mortar and started crushing them. He wondered if anise was a normal part of the recipe or if Lady Rose had added them specifically for him. Protection from nightmares certainly couldn’t hurt and a few seeds were cheaper than a decade of therapy.

He continued on down his list. In all, about twenty plants were carefully measured and mixed together. When he was done, he spooned the powdery mixture into the middle of a circle of silk. They’d spent yesterday preparing the silk, soaking it in water infused with a different bunch of protection herbs that were annoyingly similar to the ones he was trying to remember today. It felt like almost every protective herb ever grown was involved someone, except the one that was supposed to protect a marriage against infidelity. Apparently Lady Rose didn’t feel that essential to the creation of this magical talisman. The annoying thing was that Stiles actually remembered that it was caraway seeds that were supposed to do that. He just couldn’t remember half of the herbs he was supposed to remember.

He felt like his thoughts were a jigsaw puzzle and someone had shaken up the box so he couldn’t see how any of them fit together. He started to get distracted over-thinking that metaphor, wondering how upside down pieces would figure, and what would be the corner pieces of herb lore. Lady Rose cleared her throat.

Stiles shifted in his seat and tried to focus on what he was doing. He gathered up the edges of the cloth, lifting them up to form a little pouch that held his herbal mixture. He held the top shut with one hand and in the other he picked up a silver needle already threaded with a strand of silk. He started sewing.

As he stitched back and forth, sealing the top of the pouch so the mixture wouldn’t escape, he called up his magic. He tried to ignore that Lady Rose had stood and was backing away from the table. He eased his power to the surface, feeling that warm tingle in the skin of his hands. He felt the flow of it like water down his arm and towards his fingertips, out through the needle. A faint silver gleam shone along the length of the needle.

Stiles tried to focus on the feel of it, on the work that he was doing, and not be distracted by how pretty it was. The thread itself seemed to glow until it looked like Stiles was sewing with light itself. Back and forth he went with the needle, round and round, until he was out of thread, then he set the pouch down and tied off the end of the thread. He put the needle down and let the remaining magic dissipate away from his hands. He let out a slow breath.

“So far, so good,” Lady Rose said.

“Meaning nothing’s exploded yet,” Stiles said. She gave a smile and a little nod.

“Next?” she asked. He tried to remember. He glanced down at his notes but he couldn’t see anything of the next page.

“Rose water and lavender?” he asked. Lady Rose nodded. “It really is like my grandma’s lavender bags.”

“Stiles, focus.”

***

John Stilinski climbed the stairs to the old building, hoping he was just imagining that the place felt more abandoned than usual. He cursed the fact that Derek had picked the top floor to make his home as he panted his way up the last few flights. Damn werewolves and their supernaturally-assisted stamina. As he climbed, he could almost hear Stiles’ voice, making comments about how stair climbing was exceptionally good exercise and how he should be doing this more often. He knew exactly how Stiles would sound when he said it and it hurt that he didn’t know if he’d ever hear his son criticise his health again.

He reached the top floor and headed through the open door into Derek’s loft. Scott stood in the middle of the room, waiting for him.

“I don’t think he’s been here in days,” Scott said. “His scent’s faded.”

“When’s the last time you heard from him?” John asked.

“I’m not sure. A week maybe. When we were trying to pick up scents around your house after...”

“After the box.”

Scott nodded.

“I just figured I’d check to make sure he was alright,” Scott continued, “but his car’s gone and half his closet is empty. I checked for a note.”

“You don’t think he was kidnapped then?”

“Only if the kidnapper was nice enough to let him pack clean underwear. This place doesn’t smell like anyone unfamiliar.”

“That’s something at least.”

“I just can’t believe he’d run off at a time like this,” Scott said.

John remembered how Derek had been after Stiles had gone missing, and how he'd been after the parcel had arrived. He’d spent more time than anyone hunting for a trail, trying to pick up Stiles’ scent.

“I don’t believe it either,” John said. And he meant that. He didn’t believe that Derek had just abandoned the pack and Stiles. Maybe Derek had found something? Another lead? Another avenue of investigation?

“Have you talked to the rest of the pack?” John asked.

“I called around right after I called you,” Scott said. “No one’s seen Derek either and he didn’t tell anyone he was leaving.”

“Telling people things does seem to be a challenge for that young man.”

John pulled his phone out of his pocket to bring up Derek’s number.

“Who are you calling?” Scott asked.

“I’m calling Derek.”

“I just got voicemail when I tried.”

“Well you may be his alpha, but I’m the sheriff. He will answer me if he has any sense of self-preservation.”

John held the phone to his ear, listening to it ring. The ringing tone continued for far too long and he expected it to go through to voicemail any moment. Then the ringing stopped, and a familiar voice said, “Sheriff?”

“Oh good, so you are alive,” John said. “Scott was worried.”

“I’m fine.”

“Where are you?”

There was a hesitation at the other end of the phone. Across the room, Scott was obviously listening in. He looked relieved and furious at the same time.

“I’m looking into some things,” Derek said.

“What things?”

There was that hesitation again.

“Is it to do with Stiles?” John prompted.

After another moment of hesitation, Derek answered with the expected, “Yes.”

“Why the hell didn’t you tell anyone?” Scott demanded.

“I didn’t know if it would pan out. I still don’t. I didn’t want to give anyone false hope. As soon as I find anything solid, I will tell you. I promise.”

John let out a breath. He understood that much. He’d felt that first flutter of hope when Derek had mentioned that there was something worth looking into. After weeks with no leads whatsoever, even the slightest hint of anything was worth something. But that hope was dangerous. It was as painful as the loss.

“Take care of yourself, Derek,” John said. “And good luck.”

“And check in with us so we know you’re alive,” Scott added.

“Thanks,” Derek said. And the call ended.

John stood with Scott in the empty apartment.

“If there’s anything to find, Derek will find it,” Scott said. He didn’t sound entirely like he believed that, but John nodded. Hope was all he had now, flimsy though it may be.

***

The next site on Derek’s list seemed instantly suspicious. There was a large building set in a huge garden, all of which was surrounded by a very high wall. That wall gave very clear indications that what was outside the property was meant to stay outside. But inside the walls was a meeting point of three of the lines of mystical force, according to Argent’s map. It was marked as a site strong in protective energies.

He walked around the outskirts of the property, which had been built in rich woodland. Someone had taken care to clear the area around the wall of trees, so that there were no easy points to climb a tree and from there make it over the top. At every point, there was a distance of at least twenty metres between the wall and the nearest tree. Derek kept to the treeline and looked out for any other possible ways across. He didn’t know if Stiles was inside, but someone had built this place to keep people out and Derek was determined to find out why.

He completed a full circle of the property and the only obvious way in was through a large gate. It would be a way in for humans anyway. He risked crossing the open space towards the gate and didn’t have to touch it to recognise the wood for what it was: mountain ash. That was unlikely to be a coincidence. Someone had built this place with a gate made of mountain ash precisely to keep people like him out. He hurried back to the treeline to make plans.

There was no sign that he’d been detected. It was possible that there was an entire coven of witches on the other side of the wall preparing to fight him but if they were, they were doing so quietly. Unless he picked up something that suggested he’d been spotted, his best plan was to stay hidden and then try to get over the wall after dark. Anyone inside would be more likely to be asleep so he’d hopefully have more chance to look round before being spotted.

And it gave him time to figure out a way over the wall.

A human would never be able to get that high. He wondered how high he could jump, whether he’d be able to grab the top of the wall and hall himself over. If he could get a run up?

It was unlikely, but he might be able to do it if he gave himself a ramp. If he could get himself just a little higher before he jumped, it might be enough.

He didn’t have a springboard in the back of his car, but he was in the woods. He spent some time looking around for anything that might be useful and building up a small pile of supplies. There wasn’t much. He found some large rocks. He could use those to hold up his ramp. But he needed the ramp itself. After some searching, he found a burnt out tree that he guessed had been struck by lightning. There was a large branch, just about wide enough that he’d be able to walk along it, that still seemed sturdy enough to hold his weight. He hoped. It wasn’t like he’d need it to hold his weight for long.

He hefted the branch and carried it back to his pile of rocks, in a clearing away from the wall. He built himself a test ramp, with the branch carefully balanced and then wedged in by the stones. He gave himself a run up, stumbled a foot off the edge of the branch, and fell, a sharp pain shooting through his ankle.

He bite down on the cry of pain and waited for the bone to knit together again. Then he stood and tried again.

On the third attempt, he managed to grab hold of a branch that he was sure was at least as high as the wall’s top. With a bit of effort, he hauled himself up until he could sit astride the branch. Then he dropped to the ground, rolling with the impact to avoid further injury.

He practiced a couple more times, but then he noticed the branch creaking ominously. He didn’t want to risk the thing breaking on him, so he stopped. His next attempt would be the real thing.

Derek tried to silence the treacherous thought that this might all be for nothing. He had no way of knowing whether Stiles was in there. But if Stiles was being held prisoner, this place looked more likely than the church, or the waterfall, or any of the other places Derek had checked in his search.

When darkness started to fall, Derek carried his items around to the treeline, well away from the gate. When it was fully dark, he crept into the gap between the wall and the trees, setting up his makeshift ramp. He double-checked to make sure everything was as sturdy as he could make it. He didn’t want to make a noise and get spotted before he could get inside.

He backed up as far as he could from his run up and then sprinted out of the trees. His feet hit the branch and he ran up it for three steps and then just leapt, all of his strength going into his legs for the jump.

He slammed painfully into the wall, but his arms and head were over the top. He grabbed at the top of the wall, clinging on and scrabbling for purchase. He grabbed a clump of what was probably ivy on the other side and hauled himself up, his feet scraping at the smooth outer surface to try and get a foothold. It took some effort but then he was there, sat on the top, one leg on either side of the wall. He could only pause there to catch his breath for a fraction of a second because he didn’t want to get spotted.

He swung his other leg over and dropped from the top of the wall.

Something caught around his ankle. His body pivoted as he fell until he slammed face-first into the wall, upside down. Something held his foot firmly near the top of the wall and, as Derek struggled to reach up and free it, he felt tendrils reaching out to claim the rest of him.

Chapter Text

Stiles was woken by a wailing sound that was unmistakably an alarm. He had no idea what it meant, which was alarming in and of itself. He scrambled out of his bed in that stone cell and headed for the door. They’d stopped locking him in now, so he could hurry up the stairs and out into the chill night. The noise was worse out here, louder and almost organic in nature, like an animal in torment. He wondered where it was coming from. He saw shadowy forms sprinting across the lawns from the house and he hurried over towards them. The adults of the coven were running towards the wall.

“What’s going on?” he called, over the wails of the alarm.

It was Carl who answered: “Something’s breached the wall. Get into the house with the kids.”

He pointed towards the house but kept on running, not paying attention to whether Stiles listened or not. Stiles had no intention of being sent back inside to play babysitter, so he hurried after the adults.

Something had crossed the wall, but it hadn’t made it very far. A snarling creature was trapped in the ivy and creepers that grew around the edges of the property. It was tangled up in the plants, slashing at them with the claws of the one limb that wasn’t trapped. As it tried to cut itself free, more plants moved and shifted, working to restrain it.

There was something odd about its shape and, in the darkness, it took Stiles a moment to realise it was upside down. Its head dangled down while both legs and one arm were caught in the greenery. It snarled with animal anger as it tried to break free.

The adults of the coven formed a semi-circle around the struggling creature, ready to destroy the threat. Stiles felt a surge of pity. Even something that sounded so ferocious didn’t deserve to be cut down while it was trapped.

Around the semi-circle, the members of the coven called up their powers. Eve held her hands in front of her and a ball of lightning formed between them, sending silver light over the scene. It gleamed in the blue eyes of the creature on the wall and Stiles finally got a look at the face.

“Derek?”

Stiles didn’t even think. He pushed his way through the ring of witches.

“Stiles, go back to the house,” Lady Rose ordered.

“No,” Stiles said. “You can’t do this. You can’t hurt him.”

“Stiles, he’s a werewolf. Get out of the way.”

“No!”

Power surged out of him. There was a sound like thunder and a crack ran up the height of the wall, stones shattering. The vines recoiled from the force, releasing their hold, and Derek toppled headfirst into the shrubs below. Stiles winced in sympathy for him.

Around him, the witches of the coven reacted with alarm, preparing their spells. Stiles saw that ball of lightning in Eve’s hands and felt the rush of fear. All they were seeing was a threat of their sanctuary. They’d kill Derek to keep their secret safe. His magic surged with his rising emotions. He couldn’t let them hurt Derek. He needed to get that energy away from Eve, get it so she couldn’t aim it at Derek.

Instinctively, he called on the power to draw it to himself. He had less than half a second to realise how utterly stupid that was, then the lightning leapt between them and struck Stiles in the chest. Pain tore through his body and the last thing he heard was Derek’s howl of fury.

***

Derek hit the ground, landing in a tangle of bushes that instantly started reacting to his presence. They writhed around him, branches and roots twisting into bonds for his limbs. He slashed at them and rolled, trying to get to his feet before the plants could trap him again. He fought to escape the shrubbery and get towards Stiles.

Then he saw the witch shoot Stiles down with her lightning. Stiles’ whole body shook with the shock of it and then he crumpled to the ground. Derek let out a roar of pure fury that they could do such a thing. He slashed his claws through a small bush, tearing it to splinters.

“Get him out of here,” a woman’s voice commanded. “Take him back to the house.”

Someone was moving towards Stiles. Derek snarled and struggled through tripping roots. He wasn’t going to let them take Stiles anywhere. Not when he’d got so close.

Something struck him from the side, knocking him down again. Once again, vines tried to creep over him. He had no intention of getting caught again so he rolled back to his feet and started moving, not daring to stand still. He charged at the woman who’d hurt Stiles, but a blast of fire caught him from one of the others.

Pain seared up his body as his clothes caught light and his skin charred from the heat. He could smell his own burning flesh but he wasn’t going to be stopped by it, even as memories of never-forgotten terrors threatened to resurface.

He ran at the nearest witch, claws and fangs ready to tear them to pieces, only to run straight into a wall of invisible force. The witch had her hands up, holding a barrier between them. Derek slashed his claws against the empty air but couldn’t break through, so he turned to one of the others.

Wind whipped around Derek like his own personal whirlwind, raising dirt and dust that stung his eyes and made it difficult to see. The wind battered at him, putting out the flames but making every movement a struggle.

“Try to hold him still,” the woman ordered. It didn’t take Derek long to realise why. Branches of the shrubs had already reached out, trying to wrap around his ankles. Derek bent to slash through them and free his legs, but the distraction let one of the other witches hit him with about a dozen flying rocks.

Derek struggled through the wind and bombarding rocks, through the tangle of plants, but other witches were surrounding him, holding up their hands to form more invisible walls. Derek was trapped, penned in by walls of magic. He snarled and fought but he couldn’t get through. All the while, the branches twisted and tangled around his legs.

All the while, he felt the burning rage that he’d been so close. Stiles had been right in front of him, and Derek had failed him.

***

Derek was stuck in a tiny, stone room that stank of Stiles. More accurately, it stank of Stiles’ despair and loneliness and misery. The trace of those emotions clung to the stones, to the thin blankets of the narrow bed, to the very air. The scent was recent but also pervasive. Stiles must have spent a long time in this room feeling miserable. There were traces of fear and nightmare sweats tangled into the bed. Derek breathed in those feelings with every moment and he longed to rip someone to pieces for them.

The magic the witches had bound him with had faded, but he was trapped in this room. The door was made of mountain ash and he could feel traces of ash in the walls. He wasn’t sure how they’d done it, maybe mixed ash in with the cement that fixed the stones in place, or maybe embedded wood behind the stones. All he knew was that there was a supernatural barrier in place. Even if he could get the door open, the barrier would hold him in this room.

He wasn’t entirely sure why they’d kept him alive. Most of the coven had seemed as surprised as Derek, but the woman who was clearly in charge had bound him with her magic and used it to carry him down here. They’d searched him, taking away his phone, wallet and car keys. Then they’d left him in the gloom, a small light shedding weak illumination on this dismal place.

He waited, imagining what terrible things they might be doing to Stiles. Stiles had interfered. He’d argued with them and they’d shot him with magical lightning. There was no knowing what torments they might be inflicting on him in punishment.

Derek tried to hold back his feelings of rage. Lashing out impotently wouldn’t help anyone, it would just exhaust his strength wastefully. He needed to be rational. He needed to figure out a plan. He couldn’t just attack the stone walls. He needed to scheme and plot and come up with a way to escape and take Stiles with him. He needed to think like Stiles.

He did try, but all he could think was that the door was firmly shut and he didn’t have any way to signal the rest of the pack. A howl would never reach that far. He listened out, trying to find some clue or something he could use, but he heard nothing until the sound of a door opening and closing, then the soft tread of feet on stone. Derek stood and waited in the middle of the cell. The heavy door swung outwards, revealing a middle aged women. She looked like something out of a ren faire or a fantasy convention, with long white robes embroidered with roses. She stood on the other side of the threshold, staring at Derek.

It was hard to be sure, but he thought she was the one who’d been giving orders outside. He’d know for sure when she spoke, but she seemed content to just stand there, staring at Derek. Derek longed to rip her throat out but he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of running straight at a mountain ash barrier. He could see the line of wood running across the threshold, keeping the barrier line closed.

“Where is he?” Derek snarled, when he couldn’t take her silent staring anymore.

“Somewhere you won’t get to him,” she answered. She didn’t even pretend not to know who he was talking about. And she was definitely the one who’d been shouting orders.

“I will be leaving here with him,” Derek said.

“You won’t be leaving here at all.”

Derek glanced down again at the line of mountain ash. He didn’t know a way to pass the barrier without a human breaking it for him, but she didn’t know that he was here alone. Maybe he could bluff her into making a deal.

“Do you think a werewolf acts alone?” Derek asked. “My pack will be coming. All we want is Stiles. Give him to me and I’ll leave. Try and keep him from us and we won’t stop until every one of your coven is dead or dying.”

“He is ours,” the witch said. “We will not let you or any other werewolf take him from us.”

“I’ll be taking him whether you let me or not.”

Derek opened his mouth to a snarl, letting his eyes shine. He wasn’t sure if she knew what blue eyes meant for a werewolf, but if she was intimidated at all, she didn’t show it. She remained perfectly calm, almost impassive. Derek wanted to slice her open. He wanted to wipe that unruffled expression off her face with his claws.

“We have our defences,” the witch said. “Any other werewolf who tries to cross our boundaries will pay the price. I came here to see if you could be reasoned with, but that’s clearly not the case. Just know that we will do everything in our power to keep Stiles from you.”

She turned and walked away, the heavy door closing behind her with her needing to touch it. Derek let out another furious howl.

He was certain now though that Stiles was alive. They way she’d been talking, it was clear they hadn’t killed him. That meant there was still hope. There was still a chance that Derek could get Stiles away from this place.

***

Stiles’ entire body ached. He hadn’t felt like this in a long time, not since the time he’d exhausted himself holding Derek up in a pool of water for hours. It wasn’t exactly pain, but it was a sensation that permeated every part of him and protested against any form of movement. He opened his eyes and stared through early morning light at the ceiling of his bedroom in the house. He turned his head, ignoring the faint throb in his temples, and saw Ian sitting on the other bed.

“I’ll go get Lady Rose,” Ian said, and he left the room without another word.

Stiles lay there. He didn’t think he’d be able to do anything else.

How could he have been so stupid? Drawing someone else’s spell to himself had been the height of idiocy. It wasn’t like he could protect Derek while unconscious.

That thought brought with it a surge of fear. Was Derek alright? Or had the coven killed him while Stiles had been knocked out? Derek had managed to find him here and Stiles had been utterly useless in protecting him.

The bedroom door opened again and Lady Rose came in. She shut the door carefully behind her and then came to sit down on the edge of Ian’s bed.

“We’re going to have to have some more lessons on drawing energy,” she said. “You need to be careful when other magic workers are creating spells or your attempts to call on magical sources for power can yield... unfortunate results.”

So she thought he’d been trying to create a spell of his own and that attracting Eve’s lightning had been an accident. She didn’t realise that he’d been deliberately trying to interfere with Eve’s spell, just in a very clumsy way.

“We also might need a few more lessons on doing what you’re told,” she said. “You could have been seriously hurt.”

Stiles tried to push himself up on his elbows. He gave up on that idea and let himself just flop there on the mattress.

“I couldn’t let you hurt him,” Stiles said.

“That... creature,” Rose hesitated, “is a werewolf. A threat to us all here in the sanctuary.”

She’d used the present tense. That meant Derek was still alive. Stiles let out a breath of relief. He closed his eyes and just enjoyed the momentary unclenching of the knot of tension he’d been feeling since he’d woken up. Derek was alive.

Lady Rose must have misinterpreted his expression, because she continued on quickly, in as comforting a tone as she could manage, “It’s alright, Stiles. He’s dangerous but we’ve got him contained. We’re not going to let him hurt you. You’re safe.”

Stiles started to laugh. He instantly regretted it as his entire body ached at the movement. Lady Rose looked at him like he was insane.

“I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s here to rescue me,” Stiles said.

“What?”

“His name’s Derek. He’s a friend. Well, an ally. Well... something.”

“A friend?” Lady Rose sounded utterly disbelieving. Stiles had told her a lot about the nogitsune and the Darach, about why he’d awakened the nematon, but he’d shied away from details of werewolves. It hadn’t seemed right to spill the pack’s secrets, but now here she was promising to protect him from his own rescue party.

“Near enough,” Stiles said. She raised an eyebrow. “He’s not a threat.”

“He’s already threatened to kill everyone here if we don’t hand you over to him.”

Stiles couldn’t help an amused smirk at that. It was kind of sweet, in a weird way, that Derek would threaten an entire coven for him. Lady Rose’s eyes narrowed at his expression.

“Let me talk to him,” Stiles said. “I’ll sort this out.”

“It’s too dangerous. I can’t let you anywhere near him.”

Chapter Text

Derek hated being helpless. He was feeling almost claustrophobic after the hours in this tiny room, along with his thoughts and fears. He tried again and again to think of a way out of here, to think of a way to escape, but there was nothing. He couldn’t get across the ash barrier.

So he tried listening, straining his hearing to its limits to try and pick up some sound, something that would give him a clue, an edge. He sat in perfect stillness so his own movements wouldn’t block out any faint sounds, and heard only tiny noises of movement somewhere above, muted by stone and earth between them.

Then he heard the voice, an almost accusing tone asking, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see the werewolf,” came the answer. Stiles’ voice. The relief that washed over Derek was almost a physical force. He was alive. He was walking around up there, able to talk. He was alright.

“No one’s allowed down there,” the first voice responded.

“It’s OK. I talked to Lady Rose about this.”

“You talked to Lady Rose about seeing the werewolf?”

“Absolutely.”

“And she said it was OK?”

“Would I be here if she hadn’t?” Stiles asked. Despite everything, Derek smirked a little. He could picture the exact look on Stiles’ face as he lied without lying.

But it seemed the other guy knew Stiles too, because he said simply, “Yes.”

“Come on,” said Stiles. “Let me talk to him. Just ten minutes.”

“No one is allowed near the werewolf.”

“I can’t believe you spent all that time keeping me down in that cell and now you won’t let me in.”

“Go back to the house, Stiles.”

“Just five minutes,” Stiles tried again.

“Go.”

“If it makes you feel better, I won’t even open the door. I just need to talk to him.”

“No.”

“He won’t hurt me.”

“No.”

Stiles’ voice was louder now, easier to make out through the stone walls of the cell.

“He won’t hurt me,” Stiles said again. “I would bet every cent I have and every cent I’ll ever earn that he came here to rescue me. He’s not going to hurt me.”

“He’s a werewolf.”

“So what?” Stiles demanded.

There was a little pause. Derek wasn’t sure if there was silence up there or if something was being said just too quietly for him to hear. He wished he could see them. He wished he could talk to Stiles. But Stiles only had human hearing.

Derek wanted to tell him that of course he’d come to save him. He would have searched the entire world if necessary. And of course he wasn’t going to hurt Stiles. He’d hurt the rest of them, these people who thought they could order Stiles around, trap him in stone and keep him from his family. Keep him from his pack.

Derek threw back his head and roared. It wasn’t a howl as a wolf would make it, but an outpouring of sound and power that shook the stones around him. He let out everything he had. It wouldn’t reach back to Beacon Hills, but it should make it out of this cell, to where Stiles stood. He hoped Stiles would understand. He had pack with him now. He wasn’t alone anymore.

As the echoes died away, he heard the other voice outside asking, “What the hell was that?”

“That was Derek,” Stiles answered. “He was calling to his pack.”

“His pack? You mean there are going to be more of them here?”

“Maybe you should let me talk to him. I could find out.”

“No. You’re not getting down there. Now, I need to talk to Lady Rose.”

That voice started to recede even as Derek was listening. He tried for longer to hear what might be happening out there, but the conversation was over. Presumably the guy had gone and taken Stiles with him. But Stiles had heard him. Whether he realised Derek had been calling to him, or if he thought he was signalling the rest of the pack, he must know now that he wasn’t alone. That was something.

***

Stiles went to the office, ready to argue with Lady Rose again. He had to see Derek. He felt it like a burning need. His friend was down there, all alone, in the cold cell that Stiles had come to loath so much. Stiles wasn’t asking for much. He just wanted to let Derek know that he wasn’t alone, that Stiles was up here trying to figure out a way to get him out.

Lady Rose wasn't there. She was probably talking to Carl about Derek’s howl, or discussing what should be done to Derek with the rest of the coven. Stiles fidgeted nervously, deciding he’d just wait here, because she was bound to come back soon. Then he’d make his case for why he needed to see Derek.

Then his eyes fell on the objects resting on the desk. Such simple things. A phone, a wallet, a set of car keys. Stiles knew they belonged to Derek. Maybe he’d seen Derek using that phone enough for him to know it subconsciously, maybe it was just that there was no one else they could belong to.

Stiles felt like he was handling a live grenade as he reached out and picked up the phone. His fingers were damp and trembling as he hit the power button. No one here owned a phone so this was the first time he’d held one in so long.

This was so against the rules that it was ludicrous even for him, and he’d once stolen a police transport vehicle and kidnapped a classmate. But he had to do this. If he didn’t do this, terrible things might happen. People might get hurt. Because Derek had howled. He’d called to the pack. Maybe he’d been trying to talk to Stiles, or maybe it meant that Scott and the others were outside the boundaries of the sanctuary, ready to attack. If Stiles did nothing, there could be an all-out war between the coven and pack and people could get killed.

It seemed to take forever for the phone to power up. Stiles fidgeted and fiddled, waiting for it, afraid at every moment that the door would open and Lady Rose would walk in. This was a huge risk. This wasn’t an argument or an accident; this was open defiance of the coven’s biggest rule. He was inviting anger when he still needed them to teach him. He still had a million things to learn. But he couldn’t ignore this opportunity that had been handed to him on a silver platter. If he didn’t take this chance, he’d never forgive himself. He just had to make it worthwhile. He considered taking the phone and running, finding somewhere to hide, but it wasn’t like he could keep this hidden. Even if they locked him up in punishment for this, he’d be able to talk with Derek.

The phone finally was ready. Thankfully, it wasn't locked. Stiles spared a smile at technophobe werewolves who probably hadn’t figured out how to set a PIN. Stiles got into the contacts and saw the name Stilinski staring out at him. His dad’s number. Stiles’ fingers were trembling as he pressed the name. He held the phone up to his ear with a shaking hand.

“Derek,” the voice came through the phone, his dad’s voice. “Did you find something?”

Even Stiles’ breath was shaking, a sob fighting its way up his throat. He couldn’t find voice to create words. His dad’s voice. For the first time in weeks. Stiles nearly dropped the phone.

“Derek?” his dad said again. “Did you find something about Stiles?”

There was desperation in his voice, mingled with fear and something that was almost anger. The sound of it finally unlocked Stiles’ voice.

“Dad,” he said. The word was half-sob.

He could hear the shock in the momentary silence. He could hear his dad’s breath, shaking like his own across the distance of the call.

“Stiles?”

“It’s me.”

“Oh god.”

Rational thought pushed through the surge of emotion, prompting Stiles into action. He didn’t have long. Lady Rose could be back at any moment. He thought of Derek on the wall, surrounded by magic users who would protect this sanctuary at any cost.

He spoke again, words coming out in a rush, desperate to get his message across.

“Don’t come looking for me, Dad,” he said. “Not you, not Scott, not anybody. Don’t try and find me. Tell Scott. Don’t follow Derek. I’m fine. I’m safe. I promise. But you can’t come looking for me.”

“Stiles,” his dad said. The name sounded broken.

“I mean it. You have to trust me. Nothing I’ve ever said has been as important as this. You can’t come after me. I need to be here right now. I’m safe. I’m protected. But the people protecting me, they’ll see anyone else as a threat. I can’t let... Dad, you have to stay away. I love you. Just stay away.”

Stiles hung up the call before his dad could say anything else. Before he said something he shouldn’t. He hit the power button to turn off the phone and then let it drop between his fingers. It bounced on the carpet.

Only then did he notice the figure in the doorway. He turned, defiant, and glared at Lady Rose.

“It seems you have some problems with the concept of secrecy,” she said. She walked up to him and then bent and picked up the phone. He wondered how much she’d heard, how long she’d stood there watching him.

“I’m protecting the sanctuary,” Stiles said. “Derek is part of a pack. His alpha and the rest of the pack, they’ll look for him, and they’ll look for me. If Derek could find me, the others will too... and my dad. You nearly killed Derek last night for crossing the boundary. I’m not going to let you do that to the others, to my family. I’ll blow this place to a crater myself before I let you hurt them. Or Derek.”

“Stiles,” she began. Her voice was softer than he’d ever heard it before. He kept glaring at her, trying to turn him emotions into rage, into determination. He had to pretend to be strong, because he felt like he could crumble at any moment.

Then she was there in front of him. She put her arms around him and pulled him in close. It was like a dam had burst inside. His whole body shook in great heaving sobs as he poured tears out into her shoulder. He couldn’t stop the tears.

He thought of his dad, the way his voice had sounded over the phone, like he couldn’t believe it was actually Stiles’ voice. He thought of Derek, of that roar as he called out for pack. He thought of Scott, who must be out there somewhere, looking for him. He thought of everyone who was kept from him, and he cried into the shoulder of the woman who was doing the keeping.

***

John stood in his office, staring at his phone even though the screen was now blank. He wasn’t entirely sure that what had happened was real. He’d imagined countless times that Stiles would just walk in the door or call his phone or something, the way he always had in the past, like the weeks of worry just hadn’t happened. This phone call could have been just another figment of his imagination, another hope so strong it felt real.

But the desperation in Stiles’ voice, the fear, he never would have imagined that. He never would have dreamt up Stiles begging him to stay away, trying to protect him from afar.

He replayed the words in his mind, dissecting them, looking for secret meaning or hidden message. But all he heard was his son begging him to trust, to believe that he shouldn’t look for him. Because anyone else would be seen as a threat.

Stiles had called him from Derek’s phone.

John tried to analyse the meaning of that. That Derek must have found Stiles was obvious, but beyond that, what did it mean? Stiles had been crying on the phone, or near enough, begging John to trust him, warning that it wasn’t safe.

Had something happened to Derek? Was he dead? Had he been killed in his hunt for Stiles?

All those questions echoed in the silent wake of the phone call. There was one question that sounded louder than all the others. How was he supposed to stay away? If his son was out there somewhere, crying and pleading, how was it physically possible for John to not look for him?

Chapter Text

From the outside, it looked like someone had built a potting shed out of grey stone and gone seriously overboard with the door. Stiles knew better. He knew that door was made of mountain ash, the very stones inscribed with protective runes and enhanced with spells that would stop magic from escaping the pit below, and stop anyone else escaping either.

He walked beside Lady Rose along the path. She stopped at the door and looked at Stiles. Her expression was serious, almost worried. She’d relented after much arguing, possibly because she’d seen him break down after talking to his dad, possibly because he’d sworn a hundred times that Derek wouldn’t hurt him, but it was clear she wasn’t happy about this.

“Fifteen minutes,” she said, “and stay on the outside of the threshold. I still think he’s dangerous.”

Stiles nodded.

Lady Rose reached out and pressed her hand to the door handle. There was no visible sign of magic. The spells that recognised her and unlocked the defences were all invisible, a shifting of forces no one outside the realm of supernatural would notice. But Stiles felt the shift of energy like a tingle on his skin. And then she opened the door for him.

Stiles stepped through the doorway onto the first of the grey stone steps. They reached down steeply, burrowing under the gardens to the isolation cells below. He started walking, reminding himself that he wasn’t being buried down here this time. His footsteps echoed loudly against the stone and he heard the clang of the door shutting behind him. His breath shook, but he remained calm. He wasn’t going to break down again.

He reached the door. He touched the handle on the outside and sent a tiny burst of magic through the metal, and then it opened easily, the door swinging outwards effortlessly.

Derek was standing on the other side of the doorway, waiting for him.

They stood in silence. Stiles realised, for all his arguing about getting down here, that he hadn’t the faintest idea what he should say. Words seemed completely useless. Derek had fought through Lady Rose’s magic and the sanctuary’s defences, but Stiles was left standing there, hesitant. He wasn’t sure if he should apologise to Derek, because it was his fault he was here. He had to say something; the precious minutes were slipping away. Inevitably, the words that finally broke through his silence were more joke than gratitude.

“Did you really threaten to kill everyone here to get me back?” Stiles asked. “I didn’t know you cared that much.”

Derek rolled his eyes.

“Scott was getting annoying without you,” Derek said.

“So this was all about helping Scott?”

“Your dad was all grumpy. It was getting on my nerves.”

“And the only way to avoid this grumpiness and annoyingness was launching a one-wolf rescue mission?” Stiles asked. Derek glared at him. Stiles bit down a smirk.

“Aw,” Stiles said, “you do care. You,” he jabbed a finger towards Derek, “are a big fluffy lamb in wolf’s clothing.”

He hadn’t noticed that his jabbing finger had crossed the threshold, not until Derek reached out a hand and grabbed Stiles’ wrist. Before Stiles could react, Derek gave a yank and Stiles was pulled, stumbling, over the threshold. He didn’t have a chance to recover his balance before Derek was there, wrapping his arms around Stiles, pulling him tight, breathing in his scent. Stiles might have imagined a reaction like this from Scott, but never in a million years had he expecting this from Derek.

He patted Derek vaguely on the back.

“It’s OK, big guy. I’m fine.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“I might be if you don’t let go of me. Humans need oxygen, you know.”

Derek let go. He stepped back, looking suddenly awkward and embarrassed, like he wasn’t entirely sure where that hug had come from. Stiles knew the feeling.

He should probably get back on the other side of the doorway. He ought to at least pretend to follow Lady Rose’s orders. But he was here now. And somehow backing away from Derek seemed insulting, like he was saying he didn’t trust him. He couldn’t bring himself to do that.

“Are you going to break the barrier?” Derek asked. He waved a hand towards the doorway.

“I can’t,” Stiles answered. “It’s not like a dust barrier that you can just wave your hands over. It’s actually built in with solid wood and woven into the protections of the sanctuary and the garden and...”

“You could have just said no.”

“They... They don’t trust you. They think, ‘ooh, werewolf – big, scary threat.’ I’ve been trying to convince them that you’re not going to hurt them but I think the fact you threatened to kill them all is giving them some concern on that front. They think,” Stiles gave a little laugh at the irony of it all and then continued, “They think they’re protecting me from you.”

“They stole you from your family,” Derek said. “From your pack. That’s not protection.”

“It... It kinda was.”

Derek gave him a look of pure disbelief.

Stiles went over to the narrow bed and sat down on it. He cast his mind back over those first few days, the initial aftermath of his kidnapping. He tried to frame words to express it all. He stood again and paced a few steps. All the while, Derek just stared at him, waiting.

“After we woke the nematon,” Stiles said, “there was an opening into my mind, like a door that was ajar.”

“I know,” Derek said. “I remember. You threw me across the room and planted a bomb that nearly blew me to bits.”

“You don’t know. Because the door was still there.” Stiles paced again, not meeting Derek’s eyes, trying not to think about this even as he explained it. “The darkness the nematon left was still there, inside my mind, like a poison. We got rid of the nogitsune but there was still... a shadow. It... It wasn’t alive in the way that the nogitsune was, but... I could feel it. And it was drawing... stuff to it.”

“What kind of stuff?” Derek asked.

“Energy. Bad vibes. Nothing tangible. It was just a little trickle of badness flowing into me. Growing.” Stiles swallowed, remembering that feeling, the sense of unease like he didn’t quite fit into his own skin, that he’d tried to dismiss as just bad memories, that he’d tried to ignore.

“They felt it,” Stiles went on. “The coven and Lady Rose. They could see the shift in energy patterns, the way that the darkness was being drawn to Beacon Hills. At first, they thought it was just the nematon, drawing everything to it. But I didn’t always stay in Beacon Hills. I went to Mexico. Twice. And they saw the energy shift, flowing to me wherever I was. They realised that there was a living person as the heart of it and they started looking. It took them a while to find me.”

“And when they found you, they just grabbed you outside a diner. They took you from your home.” Derek’s voice hadn’t lost any of its angry edge.

“They didn’t know if I was doing it deliberately. They were afraid I was like... like the Darach. Pulling power in by evil means in order to hurt and... and kill.”

“They could have asked anyone who knew you.”

Stiles stood up again, restless energy driving him as he went over these difficult subjects. He walked a little, fidgeting, not meeting Derek’s eye as he talked. Even the things he knew weren’t his fault still felt like his fault.

“They did ask around. They heard stories about the guy who pranked his teachers, who had a restraining order against him for kidnapping a classmate, who was rumoured to have been somehow involved in all the mess that the nogitsune caused. It’s no wonder they thought I was evil.”

Stiles had been almost babbling, frantically pacing back and forth in the tiny space. Derek stepped up to him and caught him by the arm, holding him still. Stiles was forced to stop moving and now he turned to look at Derek, almost afraid of what he might see. There was sadness in Derek’s eyes as they met his.

“You’re not evil,” Derek said. The words were softly spoken but somehow heavy with the weight of meaning behind them. For a moment they just stood there, Derek’s hand still on Stiles’ arm. Stiles became slowly aware of how close they were. It felt like there was more, some unspoken thing right there under the surface, and Stiles didn’t know what he was facing.

So Stiles did what he always did. He forced a smile and turned the moment into a joke, teasing, “That’s probably the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

Derek dropped his hand and stepped back.

“It won’t happen again,” Derek said. Stiles was already missing the warmth of his touch.

“So what happened next?” Derek prompted.

“They grabbed me outside the diner. They used magic to hold me and then used some herb concoction to knock me out. They brought me back to the sanctuary to do a binding ritual.”

“Binding?”

“Basically stripping me of my magic powers.”

“What magic powers?” Derek asked.

Stiles laughed, “Exactly what I said. Word for word. So Lady Rose and I got to talking and I told her about the nematon and the nogitsune and everything, and she figured out what was really happening so we changed plans. They did a cleansing ritual instead. Basically purged the evil from inside me and made it so the energy would stop being drawn to me. And that is as much information as you will ever get from me about the nature of the cleansing ritual.”

Stiles had no intention of ever going into detail about that ritual. In fact, he’d have been quite happy to forget the details. Ritual washing in front of a bunch of virtual strangers had been where it started and he had never felt as self-conscious about his body in his life. Derek seemed to understand his reluctance though. He just nodded.

“But why didn’t you come back?” he asked. “After the cleansing.”

Stiles resumed pacing. He dragged a hand through his hair.

“Because there were still openings into my mind. The one the nogitsune used left me vulnerable and then all this negative energy flowing into me made it wider and then, once that was done, it was still there. It’s basically a direct channel between me and magical energies.”

Derek raised an eyebrow.

“I can do magic,” Stiles said. “I can’t stop doing magic. If I get angry, rocks start floating. I had a nightmare and set my bed on fire with purple flames. I tried to do a simple spell to control water and I ended up wrecking the plumbing for the house and they’re still fixing parts of it. I need to be here right now. I could have left a hundred times. I could have blown a hole through the boundary wall and none of them, not even Lady Rose, would have been able to stop me. But if I leave, I won’t be able to come back. And I can’t control this power. If I leave here before I’ve got it under control, I could hurt people. I could hurt Dad. I need to stay here until I learn, however long that takes.”

Derek was staring at Stiles. Stiles waited for him to say something. Derek just stared, his face almost blank except for a trace of anger around his eyes.

“You should have told us,” Derek said at last. “Your dad didn’t know whether you were alive or dead.”

Stiles closed his eyes against the accusation in his face. He fought down the urge to cry. He’d spent ridiculous amounts of time crying today so he was not going to break down in front of Derek.

“They have rules,” Stiles said, “about secrecy. This place is a sanctuary, used for training children, people who are vulnerable. It’s safe as long as no one knows where it is and, having seen the Darach and everything, I kinda get that. I wanted to call my dad and Scott and... and everyone. But they wouldn’t let me. I had to argue like hell to get them to let me sent the scarves and even then I had to be careful not to say too much in case I accidentally let something slip. I have to follow their rules so they’ll continue to teach me and that means I have to go along with the stupid restrictions on outside communication even though...” Even though he’d spent every night worrying about how his dad was getting along. Even though he’d missed his family and friends more than he could express. Even though the loneliness had never left him. Even though he’d wanted more than anything just to hear his dad’s voice.

His words caught in his throat again, hampered by a rising sob. And then Derek was there in front of him. He put his arms around Stiles and pulled him close. Stiles lent into the hug, tears leaking from his eyes despite his attempts to stop them. Strong arms held him. It wasn’t his dad’s hug, it wasn’t the comfort he’d been dreaming about, but it was enough for now. It was a touch of home.

Someone cleared their throat.

Stiles jumped a little and pulled out of Derek’s arms. Derek gently pushed Stiles back, standing between him and the doorway where Lady Rose was standing. She had her arms folded, looking severely at Stiles. Stiles wiped his face on his sleeve, trying to erase the evidence of tears.

“I distinctly remember telling you to stay this side of the threshold,” she said.

Stiles whacked Derek on the arm.

“You and your stupid werewolf super-hearing,” he said. “You could have warned me she was coming so I didn’t get caught.”

“Stiles, get out here,” Lady Rose ordered.

“Look, it’s fine,” Stiles said. “I told you he wouldn’t hurt me and look, not a scratch. Unless you think hugging is somehow aggressive and dangerous behaviour. Ooh, scary werewolf likes to give evil, violent hugs. How awful.”

Derek turned a little to look at him and said, “I’m rethinking my position on not hurting you.”

“You should try to have a less murdery expression when you make jokes like that,” Stiles said.

“Who says I’m joking?”

“Stiles,” Lady Rose said again, more firmly this time, a hint of fear to it. “Get across the threshold.”

“It’s fine,” Stiles told here. “This is just our thing. I insult him, he threatens to kill me. It’s a whole thing. Doesn’t mean anything.”

There was a minute change in Derek’s posture. It was so tiny it was almost invisible. If Stiles hadn’t been standing so close, and hadn’t known Derek so well, he could easily have missed it. Derek had tensed when Stiles said this didn’t mean anything.

But now wasn’t the time to ask him about it. Stiles kept his focus on Lady Rose.

“I told you,” Stiles said, “Derek came here to rescue me. Now I’ve explained that I don’t need rescuing and so everything’s all resolved. No need to fight. You can just let Derek go and I’ll get on with my training and everyone’s happy.”

“We can’t let him go knowing the location of our sanctuary.”

“I’m not leaving you with them,” Derek snarled at the same time.

Stiles ignored him and kept talking to Lady Rose, asking, “What if he promises not to tell anyone?”

Lady Rose gave him a look that spoke volumes about how stupid she thought that suggestion. It was a look worthy of Derek.

“Look, if you keep him here,” Stiles said, “his alpha and the rest of the pack will track him down and then the secret’s out anyway. Getting him to promise to keep the secret and letting him go back to the pack is really the safest option.”

“Out of the question.”

“Well it’s not like you can keep him prisoner here forever,” Stiles said. Her expression darkened a little, her eyes dropping from his just for a moment. Such a tiny change looked almost like an admission of guilt. She knew she couldn’t keep someone a prisoner here forever and she didn’t intend to.

Stiles stepped round Derek, putting himself between Derek and Lady Rose.

“You can’t kill Derek,” Stiles said. “He hasn’t done anything wrong. All he wanted to do was help me.”

“I know, Stiles,” said Lady Rose. “But I have to think of the safety of the sanctuary and the disciples.”

“You’re not protecting anyone if you teach them it’s OK to murder people who happen to be inconvenient,” Stiles was nearly yelling. As he spoke, he was aware of his rising anger and then a loud cracking sound made him jump.

The table had just cracked down the middle. For a moment, they just stared at it as it stood there, and then gravity took over. The table legs slid outward and the thing crashed down to the ground in two halves. Stiles winced at the sound.

“Did you just do that?” Derek asked.

“I thought I was doing better about magical accidents,” Stiles said. He had the little pouch of herbs worn under his shirt, next to his skin. It was supposed to act as a damper to prevent any surges of his power. He reached up now and twisted his fingers around the cord.

“You’re angry,” Lady Rose said.

“Well duh! You’re thinking about murdering someone whose only crime is trying to find me after you kidnapped me. Derek is one of the good guys. If you’re thinking about killing him, what does that make you?”

“We can talk about this later, Stiles. Come with me now.”

“Maybe I should stay here to keep your bloodthirsty ways at bay.”

She sighed and then said, “Stiles,” emphasising his name like he was being somehow unreasonable.

Stiles folded his arms and glared at her, still standing between her and Derek.

“Stiles, come with me back to the house and we can discuss how to handle this.”

“Only if you promise there won’t be any killing.”

She appeared to consider this and then sighed again.

“I promise there won’t be any killing... for the time being.”

That was probably as good as it was going to get. Stiles nodded. But he turned back to Derek first.

“I’ll see you soon,” Stiles promised. Derek nodded, then looked past him to glare at Lady Rose again.

“If you hurt Stiles,” Derek told her, “I will rip your throat out with my teeth.”

Stiles fought down a smile. That threat felt so familiar that, in a bizarre way that probably said terrible things about his subconscious, it felt comforting.

Stiles walked back to the door and stepped over the threshold. Lady Rose put a hand in the middle of his back and guided him towards the stairs, the door swinging shut behind them, shutting Derek away again.

Chapter Text

John called everyone together. He didn’t say what it was about over the phone, just said that it was urgent and had the pack come to his house. He got Parrish to drive him there from the station because he didn’t trust himself behind the wheel right now. He was an emotional wreck, torn between elation and despair.

He’d spoken to Stiles. He’d heard his son’s voice. But the words were not what he wanted to hear.

Scott was already there by the time Parrish pulled up in front of the house. John got out of the car and Scott almost pounced on him.

“What is it?” he demanded. “Is it Stiles?”

John nodded.

“I spoke to him,” he said.

Scott made a strangled noise, almost laughing, his face breaking into a grin. Then he caught himself, seeing the expression on John’s face.

“What?” he asked. “What’s wrong? What did he say?”

“When the others get here,” John said.

Scott looked almost as twitchy as Stiles, shifting from foot to foot while he waited. John let them inside and went to his drinks cabinet. He poured himself a small measure of whiskey in the bottom of a glass, stared at it a moment, and swallowed it down.

Nothing. No soothing easement of feeling. No blissful break from reality. He stared at the rest of the amber liquid, wondering how much it would take to just forget for a while, to shut the world away.

He was aware of Scott and Parrish watching him. He put the cap back on the bottle and put it away.

The others came quickly. Malia, Kira, Liam, Lydia, all gathering in his house and waiting for news. He could almost feel the hope radiating off them as they looked at him.

“Stiles called me,” he said, “from Derek’s phone.”

He related the conversation, short as it was, almost word for word, the details burned into his memory. The others listened.

“He said not to look for him,” Scott said quietly. He looked broken. John understood that feeling. All the fear he’d been feeling for so long, and Stiles’ only comment was to keep feeling it, to keep away.

“He said other people would be considered a threat,” John said. “I think... I know Derek was looking for him and now Stiles called from Derek’s phone but there was no mention of Derek.”

“You think Derek might be...” Scott started. He trailed off, the question too painful to express in words because saying it might make it real.

“I don’t know,” John said, “but Stiles seemed adamant we couldn’t come looking for him.”

“We’re not going to listen to that though, are we?” asked Malia.

“Of course not.” It was Scott who answered. “We can figure out where Derek went and then find Stiles, but we’ll be careful. If we know there’s a danger, we can avoid it.”

John wanted to argue, wanted to point out again how certain Stiles had been, how definite about them staying away. The rational part of him said he should listen, he should trust his son’s judgement. But the rest of him was thinking like a father. He’d heard the fear and pain in Stiles’ voice and he didn’t want to rest until he had Stiles safe and home again. So he nodded his agreement to Scott.

***

The leaders of the coven sat around a large, oval table that would have looked more like the focal point of a war room if it weren’t for the vase of roses at the centre. The others sat on beautifully carved chairs that were probably valuable antiques. Stiles was in a cheap pine chair that had been brought in from the kitchen and squeezed between the others. He fidgeted with the cord that held the herb pouch round his neck.

Around him, the leaders of the coven discussed what should be done regarding Derek. Stiles tried to hold his tongue while they talked about the risk Derek posed, about the importance of protecting the sanctuary and the children, about how they had to be cautious. No one used the word kill, but it hovered unsaid over the table where they could all hear it anyway. At last, Stiles couldn’t take it anymore.

“You can’t keep Derek a prisoner here forever,” he said, “and you can’t kill an innocent person.” He glared round the table to see if anyone would argue with him on that. “The only option is to let him go. I can get him to understand why we have to have secrecy. I can get him to promise not to tell anyone.”

“We do not trust outsiders with the secret of our location,” Lady Rose said.

“Well the longer we spend arguing about this, the more time there is for Scott to track Derek down.”

“Scott?” Carl asked.

“Derek’s alpha,” Stiles said, “and my best friend. Werewolves care about pack. If you try and keep Derek here, before long you’ll be up to your necks in werewolves, werecoyotes, banshees, kitsune, and Parrish.”

“Parrish?” asked Eve. They were all looking at him like he was crazy. At the other end of the table, someone muttered to a neighbour. Stiles couldn’t hear it clearly, but it seemed to be surprise that all that could be in one pack.

“We don’t know what Parrish is. Someone tried to set him on fire and he didn’t get burned, so we know he’s something though, so he’s part of the pack.” Stiles had spent some time in the library hunting through old books for answers to what Parrish might be. Unfortunately, the books didn’t come with a handy search engine so he could just type in symptoms and wait for an answer to pop out. So far, he’d not read anything that matched up to what they knew of Parrish. Someone really needed to take the information in those books and create a searchable database on the supernatural.

Stiles caught his thoughts before they got too side-tracked by that idea. He looked round the table now at the worried faces, and he went on, “If you try and hold Derek against his will, it’s not him you’ll be fighting, it’ll be everyone and that will just get people hurt. Good people. No one wants that.”

“We can’t let him go with knowledge of the sanctuary,” Lady Rose said.

Stiles had a sudden memory of standing in Deaton’s clinic, holding Isaac down in a bath of ice and herbs.

“There’s magic that had affect memory,” he said. “Can’t you make him forget about all this and then let him go?”

All around the table people glanced sideways at each other, some secret meaning passing between them. Stiles felt like there was a conversation going on in a foreign language and he was the only one sitting there without a translation. At last, Lady Rose looked across the table at him.

“Memory magic is dangerous,” she said, “and any spell that interferes with a person’s mind is invasive at the least and unethical to the point of evil at the worst.”

“But you were OK when you were thinking about killing him?” Stiles challenged.

No one met his eyes for several seconds after he said that.

“A lot can go wrong if you start interfering with a mind,” Lady Rose said. “It’s not as simple as saying some magic words and wishing away the memories you don’t want a person to have. Memories are interconnected. You either leave traces that can be pieced together again or you rip out huge chunks of a person’s past. The first would be dangerous for us, the second is potentially devastating for him.”

Stiles stopped arguing this point. He had no desire to destroy half of Derek’s mind in the name of saving him, and the fact that they’d recovered Isaac’s memories after Deucalion wiped them proved the point about memory spells not being perfect.

He wracked his brain some more.

“Could we make it so he can’t talk about this?” Stiles asked.

“How would he feel about losing his ability to talk and write entirely?” Carl asked.

“So that’s a no?”

“You can’t be selective about these things.”

“What about making an unbreakable promise?” Stiles asked. “Like, having his swear on some magical thing that he won’t tell anyone so that the spell holds him to the promise?”

Eve looked amused and exasperated at the same time, saying, “We’ve told you before, Stiles, this isn’t Harry Potter. You can’t just make an unbreakable magic promise.”

“I’m just trying to come up with ideas,” Stiles said. “You may be OK with turning into murderers and teaching the kids bigoted ideas like it doesn’t matter if you slaughter werewolves, but I’m not. If you think you can just kill people because they’re in the wrong place then you’re as evil as the Darach.” He glared round at them, then muttered, “Besides, it’s an unbreakable oath in Harry Potter, not promise.”

Lady Rose sighed.

“Stiles,” she said, “you are here as a courtesy, because you know this man and this affects you. But you need to remember your place here. You are a disciple of this coven. Speak with more respect.”

That was too much for him to take. She was talking to him like an unreasonable child despite everything was going on.

“What makes you think I have the slightest respect for any of you?” Stiles snapped.

In the middle of the table, the roses burst into flames.

***

Derek spent some time staring at the broken table. There wasn’t much else to do but stare at it, and think.

At first, he couldn’t understand why Stiles would go along with these people. Whatever reasons they might have had, they’d separated Stiles from his family. Derek knew how much Stiles cared about his dad. He couldn’t believe that Stiles would just go along with their rules on secrecy after he’d been abducted. He would have expected Stiles to fight them every moment until they gave in. It wasn’t like him to be cowed by anyone. He couldn’t imagine how the witches here, however powerful, could possibly scare Stiles into timid submission. Stiles was more likely to make sarcastic comments than give in if someone threatened him.

But the more Derek stared at that table, the more he thought he understood. Stiles wasn’t scared of the witches. He was scared of himself. He was scared of the fact he could destroy a table without even thinking, just by getting angry.

Stiles had gone through hell with the nogitsune. He’d had something take over his body, and then use his shape to inflict terror on a whole town. He’d seen Allison and Aiden die. He’d seen countless strangers slaughtered at the whim of a chaotic fox. He was scared of history repeating itself. If Stiles honestly believed he was a threat to his friends and family, he would shut himself in a dark cell and throw away the key without anyone having to force him. Derek breathed in the scents of Stiles’ fear and despair and he knew he was right about this.

But that didn’t mean Stiles was right. It didn’t mean the witches were right.

There was the sound of a door opening again and a gentle tread of footsteps on the stair. Derek stood and waited. He didn’t think the approach sounded right for Stiles, so he wasn’t surprised when the door opened and the witch stood outside the threshold again.

Derek glared at her. She looked at him calmly.

“We have been discussing what to do about you,” she said.

“Shoot me with silver bullets and drive a stake through my heart?” Derek asked, voice laced with sarcasm.

“Stiles thinks we should just let you go and trust you to keep the secret of our sanctuary.”

“You’ll never persuade me to leave Stiles here with you.”

“Stiles is safe here.”

“Safe?”

“Yes.”

Derek shook his head, so furious he wasn’t even sure where to begin.

“Have you heard the saying that dogs can smell fear?” Derek asked.

“Of course,” the witch answered.

“Well so can werewolves.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” she said. Derek didn’t hear a hint of a lie in that, but then she might just be as good at lying as Deaton. In any event, she didn’t look afraid.

“It’s not just fear,” Derek explained. “We can pick up on other things, other emotions. People give away hints about what they’re feeling in subtle changes of body chemistry, little traces in their sweat. Fear is the easiest one to identify because it makes you sweat more, but the other feelings can be identified if you practice. Or if it’s a person whose scent you know well.”

“Is there a point to this lesson?”

“I know Stiles’ scent. I know what he was feeling when you put him down here. The loneliness. The misery.”

There was a flicker of something on her face. It might have been sorrow, but it was gone too quickly for Derek to be certain. As he’d spoken, she looked away from him, just for that little moment.

“We shouldn’t have kept him in isolation so long,” she said. “But he’s not miserable now. He’s made friends with the other students here.”

“Let me guess,” Derek said. “He smiles. He makes sarcastic comments and jokes about Star Wars?”

“More often it’s Harry Potter, but yes. I know he gets a little homesick from time to time, but on the whole he’s happy here.”

“You’re a fool. He is utterly miserable and he just doesn’t trust you enough to let you see it. He needs his family.” Derek almost said pack, but he caught himself in time. It wasn’t like he thought he was one of the ones Stiles needed.

“He needs to learn to control his gifts,” the witch said.

“He needs to go home.”

“When he learns control.”

“And how the hell is he supposed to learn control when his emotions are in turmoil because he’s held prisoner away from home? Is he even getting his medication?”

“Medication?”

“For his ADHD!”

“One of the coven prepares a herbal treatment which improves focus.”

“And does it work on someone who has a neurological condition?” Derek asked. If it weren’t for the magical barrier between them, he would throttle her. He could feel his claws digging into his palms where his hands were tightened into fists at his sides. “Stiles needs his medicine. He can’t focus properly without it. How do you expect to teach him anything when you don’t even know him?”

“Stiles is happy with the arrangements we have made to help him. If he needed more, he would know to ask.”

Derek wished he had something sharp to throw at her.

“You are an ignorant bitch,” he snarled.

“And I will not be spoken to that way.”

She turned, the door already slamming shut behind her.

Chapter Text

Lady Rose summoned Stiles back to her study. He went and stood in front of her desk, twiddling a piece of yarn around his fingers, waiting to hear the worst. He waited to hear whatever decision she’d made.

“I went to see the werewolf again,” she said.

“Is he still alive?” Stiles asked.

She looked at him seriously and said, “I told you I wasn’t going to kill him.”

“You said ‘for the time being’. That could mean anything.”

That serious expression didn’t leave her face.

“You really don’t trust me, do you?” she asked.

Stiles bit down on his instinctive response. He couldn’t afford to antagonise her further while Derek’s life hung in the balance. She’d already told him off for being disrespectful around the issue of Derek. But how the hell was he supposed to answer a question like that? He wrapped the piece of yarn around the end of his finger so tightly that it had left white lines on his skin. He untangled the thread to give himself another moment to think.

“I know that you’re doing what you think is necessary to protect the sanctuary and the other students,” Stiles said.

“That was a very political answer.”

Stiles shrugged.

“Stiles, are you miserable here?” Lady Rose asked.

Stiles bit down a bitter laugh. The question was absurd. He’d been taken from his home and told he had powers that could cause massive destruction. His only hope was learning to focus enough to control his magic, but focus was a problem for him at the best of times, never mind when his emotions were all over the place and he hadn’t taken Adderall in almost two months. He hadn’t seen his dad in weeks, he hadn’t even spoken to Scott, and now Derek was locked in a tiny cell and might get murdered in the name of secrecy. And now Lady Rose had the nerve to ask him if he was miserable.

“I take it that’s a yes,” she said, studying his face carefully. Stiles said nothing. There was nothing to say. He started winding the yarn around his fingers again.

Lady Rose continued, “The werewolf also talked about your medication. I know Eve has been brewing you something to help with your focus. You’re happy with that, aren’t you?”

Stiles considered his answer carefully, remembering that he needed to keep from causing Derek trouble. He said, “It’s not as effective as Adderall.”

“In what way?”

“Adderall works,” Stiles said. That was probably too blunt. He continued, “Adderall makes it easier for me to focus, to stay on a subject for a period of time and not get distracted.”

“Do you think your Adderall would help you focus on your magic training?” she asked.

“Yes,” Stiles said. He didn’t even hesitate.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I told you when you brought me here that I took medication to help me focus.”

“But I thought Eve’s potion was having the same effect. If that wasn’t the case, you should have told me so I could help.”

“How?” Stiles asked. “Would you have let me go home and pick up my prescription? You weren’t even letting me call my dad and tell him I was OK because of your ridiculous paranoia about secrecy. How the hell am I supposed to go out and get medication? I mean, you barely even gave me food when I was in isolation.”

Her jaw clenched.

“What happened with the food was a mistake,” she said. “There was no one formally assigned to take care of your meals, which meant it sometimes slipped people’s minds or we assumed that others were taking care of it. I don’t say this to excuse what happened, but I’m sorry. It wasn’t deliberate.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Stiles snapped. “I thought I was being starved in an exercise on patience or control. Am I supposed to just accept your apology that I was starved by accident?”

He spat the words out, angry again. He felt the pouch of herbs against his skin and tried to stay calm. At least this proved that thing worked. If he weren’t wearing it, something probably would have exploded already. He couldn’t believe Lady Rose was talking like it was his fault for not saying he needed his medication when she didn’t have much of a track record for providing what he needed about everything else. He’d told her a million times that he needed to talk to his dad, and she’d just talked about secrecy and the need to protect him from outside threats.

“Stiles,” she said, “we’re trying to help you. We can’t do that when you don’t tell us what you need.”

“Fine. I need you to let Derek go and I need you to let me talk to my dad.”

She sighed. Stiles wanted to slap her if she made that disappointed little noise again.

“That’s what you want, Stiles. There’s a difference between need and want.”

“Why do you bother asking me if you’re not going to listen to my answer?” Stiles said.

“I want to help you, Stiles, but you have to be reasonable.”

“Because everyone else round here is so damn reasonable! You’re not even denying that you were thinking about killing Derek. And there is no reason I shouldn’t talk to my dad except for rules of secrecy that probably made sense when letters were carried on foot and people could be followed. Letting me make a phone call won’t give away your top secret location.”

“Phone calls can be traced.”

“But Derek found me anyway! Whatever he used to find me, the others will be able to use. The secret is already out. Letting me talk to my dad will let me reassure him and be safer than keeping the silence. But you won’t let me because your so caught up in traditions of secrecy that you can’t even see they’re pointless.”

“I think I’ve heard enough, Stiles,” Lady Rose said firmly.

“Because there’s only so much you can take of someone telling you you’re wrong.”

“Stiles.”

“No. I’ve had enough. You will consider killing an innocent person because you think it’s justified to keep your secrets. You know who else I met who thought killing people was justified? The Darach. She killed a dozen people and nearly murdered my dad and my best friend’s mom. She was evil and if you kill Derek or Scott or anyone to protect your secret, then you’re just as bad as her.”

Lady Rose just stared at him, shock on her face. Stiles tried to calm down, because blowing up the room would somewhat diminish the effect of his righteous anger. He didn’t wait for a response from Lady Rose. He just turned and walked away.

***

Stiles was woken by a crashing sound. He sat up in bed, heart racing, sweat clinging his t-shirt to his body.

“Damn it, Stiles,” Ian muttered. “What did you do this time?”

He reached out to click the light switch. Nothing happened.

Stiles pressed his hands together and called up the simple light spell. It didn’t take long to spot what he’d done. The lightbulb in the ceiling light had exploded. A few pieces were still dangling from the fitting, but the floor was a glitter of glass shards from the remains of the bulb. Ian glared across the gap between the beds.

“This is your mess,” Ian said. “I’m not cleaning it up.”

He rolled over and pulled the covers up over his head. Stiles looked down at the worrying patch of broken glass. He didn’t particularly want to step out into that in bare feet. He shuffled to the end of the bed where the ground was clearer and he climbed over the kick board. He yanked on his shoes to avoid any risk and headed for the door, letting his light fade out as he left.

He headed downstairs and Lady Rose found him, a few minutes later, rummaging for a dustpan under the kitchen sink. He looked up at her, pan in hand.

“What exploded this time?” she asked.

“Just a lightbulb,” Stiles said.

“Just a lightbulb,” she repeated. Stiles clutched the handle of the pan tightly.

“I’m going to go clean up the glass.”

She was standing in the doorway. Until she stepped aside, he was trapped. She didn’t look like she was about to move.

“Your nightmares aren’t getting better, are they?” she asked. Stiles shrugged.

“I should clean up,” he said again. She took the hint this time and stepped out of the doorway. Stiles hurried back upstairs. He created a light but kept it dim to avoid disturbing Ian and then he slipped into the room.

He used the light to look for anything reflective, and swept the shards of glass into the pan. He would have loved to use magic to help clean up, but that was a recipe for disaster. Besides, he was still forbidden from practicing magic inside the house. He tried to be as quiet as possible, so it took him a little while to make sure he’d got everything, but eventually he let himself out of the room again and headed back downstairs to throw out the shards.

He put the pan away and then stopped hesitantly in the now-empty kitchen. There was no sign now of Lady Rose, for which he was grateful. The whole house felt dark and still. All the sensible people were in bed, but he had no desire to follow suit. His dream was still vivid in his mind.

Instead, he looked around the kitchen and thought about all those days in the cell without food. He grabbed a tray and rummaged in cupboards and pantry for a few items, collecting a random assortment of edibles. Then he let himself out of the kitchen door.

He skirted the edge of the herb garden and looped the house, keeping close to the building in case the plants decided to attack him. Then he reached the lawn. The grass at least tolerated him, so he felt more confident about cutting across to the entrance down to isolation rooms.

No one was on guard. Maybe the coven had decided that the mountain ash was keeping Derek thoroughly trapped. Presumably they weren’t too concerned about Stiles sneaking down to see him. It seemed Lady Rose was less worried about Derek ripping Stiles to pieces now that she’d seen them together.

Stiles set the tray down to open the outer door, then made himself a magic light to show him the way down the stairs. At the bottom, he put the tray down again and touched the door to open it. He half-expected Derek to be asleep, which was silly really. Derek was a prisoner in a strange location and he had heightened senses. Of course he’d be awake. He was standing there waiting when Stiles opened the door.

“Visiting hours already?” Derek asked.

“I wasn’t sure if you were getting food,” Stiles said.

“Yes, they’ve been feeding me.”

Stiles nodded. He walked into the room anyway. He looked at the broken table for a moment and then set the tray down on the floor.

“They even bring me a bucket,” Derek said, with more than a touch of bitterness in his tone.

“Bucket?” Stiles said. Then he realised. “Oh.”

It seemed they didn’t trust Derek enough to let him out to use the little washroom down here.

“I guess my presence is unnecessary then,” Stiles said. He should have just let Derek sleep.

But Derek didn’t seem too annoyed. He bent down over the tray and grabbed a couple of items. He tossed one at Stiles.

“Sit down and have a power bar,” he said. He sat down on the bed and tore open the packet of his own power bar. Stiles hesitated a moment and then sat down beside him. He turned his snack over and over in his hands. He wasn’t actually hungry but maybe he should just eat to avoid having to talk. He tore the package open and took a bite.

“Nightmare?” Derek asked after a few minutes.

“How did you know?”

“It’s a weird time to be wandering about. Want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“OK.”

Stiles ate a little, despite not being really hungry. He felt stupid for having come down here. But he was down here and unsupervised. Maybe now was a time to ask the questions that had been worrying him.

“So,” he said, “are Scott and my dad about to launch a rescue mission?”

“They don’t know where I am,” Derek answered.

“You came to rescue me and didn’t tell anyone else where you’d found me?”

“I was searching a whole bunch of possible sites. I figured I’d call them when I found the one you were at.”

“So all you’ve done is give them another person missing without trace? You are an absolutely lousy knight in shining armour, Derek.”

“If I’m the knight in shining armour, what does that make you?”

“I guess I’d better start knitting myself a princess gown.”

Derek snorted. Stiles had been staring ahead of him all this time but now he turned and looked at Derek, seeing the amused smile on his face. It wasn’t often he got to see Derek smiling. It felt good that he’d been the one to put the smile there.

Stiles finished eating and tossed the wrapper down on the tray with his other supplies.

“I should get back to the house,” he said.

“Or you could sleep down here.”

The offer caught Stiles completely by surprise. He blinked at Derek for a moment. He’d hated the idea of sleeping down here again, but it was different with Derek here, with another person adding warmth to the place. But it wasn’t fair.

“I couldn’t,” he said at last. “There’s only one bed and I don’t want to steal it from you.”

“We can share.”

“The bed’s tiny. I’d kick you out of it.”

“Stiles, it’s too quiet down here by myself. I want you to stay.”

“Well, no one’s ever accused me of being too quiet. Are you sure?”

Derek stood and pointed at the mattress.

“Stiles, just lie down and go to sleep.”

Stiles gave him a mock salute and kicked off his shoes. He lay down on the bed, squeezing himself up so he was against the wall to give Derek as much space as possible. He lay on his side, facing the wall, because this was weird enough as it was. He felt the mattress shift beneath him as Derek lay down, and something pressed against Stiles’ back.

“See,” he started, “I told you the bed was too small.”

“Ssh,” Derek murmured. Then his hand, the thing on Stiles’ back, started moving in soothing circles, a slow and gentle touch. Stiles closed his eyes and let himself feel that soft touch.

Chapter Text

Derek didn’t sleep again that night. He just lay there for a while, watching Stiles sleep. Then Stiles started stirring on the mattress and the kicking began. It seemed Stiles hadn’t been kidding about that. Derek got out of bed to avoid the flailing limbs and he sat down on the floor beside the head of the bed, touching Stiles’ shoulder in what he hoped what a comforting manner and murmuring that he was safe. It seemed to work. After a couple of minutes, Stiles settled down into sleep again.

He needed this. The dark shadows under Stiles’ eyes reminded Derek too much of the nogitsune mess and he wondered how little sleep Stiles had been getting lately. How bad the nightmares were. Stiles had never dealt with the trauma of the nogitsune, not really, and now he’d been snatched away by strangers and told he was a danger to those he loved. No wonder Stiles was having nightmares and it didn’t seem like the people here were doing anything to help him deal with them properly.

Derek watched Stiles sleep and once again imagined what he would do to that witch bitch if he could get his hands on her. It would have to be slow. Something to equal the slow torture she’d been putting Stiles through.

As he imagined her grisly demise, he heard the door opening up above and the sound of footsteps down the stairs. He stood and put himself between the door and the bed. He was already glaring when the door opened and she stood there. She looked at Derek and then lent sideways to look round him at the bed. Then her eyes fell on the tray of food and Derek wondered if she was going to be angry at Stiles for stealing food from her, but she said nothing. She just straightened up and met Derek’s eyes again.

“I thought this would be where he’d come,” she said. Her voice was quiet. Derek kept his eyes on her but he listened for movement behind him. He didn’t want this to wake Stiles up.

“He needs sleep,” Derek said.

“Be careful. When he has nightmares, things can get explosive.”

“Is that why you trapped him down here alone? You couldn’t be bothered to deal with the trauma that was giving him bad dreams, so you shut him away where no one would have to deal with the fallout.” Only the fact Stiles was sleeping kept Derek’s voice quiet. He wanted to yell at her, to growl and snarl, but Stiles looked like he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. Derek would not be waking him now if there was anything he could do to prevent it.

“It was for everyone’s safety, including his.”

“Physical maybe,” Derek said. “But you clearly don’t give a damn about his emotional safety.”

Her lips pressed together in a tight line, like they were a dam holding back words. She looked past Derek to Stiles again.

“I’m not trying to hurt him,” she said. “I’m trying to help him.”

“By telling him he’ll kill his family? After everything he’s been through?” Derek’s voice rose a little in volume. Behind him, Stiles stirred a little, a moaning noise emerging from his mouth. He started squirming on the bed, shifting, the dreams taking hold again.

Derek spared only a moment to continue glaring at the witch. Then he hurried to Stiles’ side, putting a hand on his shoulder and murmuring reassurances.

“Ssh. It’s OK. You’re safe. You’re not alone. It’s alright. You’re safe. Everyone’s safe.”

The movement stilled, the nightmare releasing its grip. Derek stayed crouching by the bed, kept his hand there on Stiles’ shoulder, but he turned his head to glare at the witch in the doorway. Stiles’ nightmares hadn’t been this bad since they’d defeated the nogitsune and Derek knew exactly who to blame for their recurrence.

The witch stared at Stiles for a long moment, then said, “When he wakes up, send him up to the house. He has lessons to attend to.”

She walked away, the door swinging shut behind her. Derek glared after her, and then turned back to the task of keeping Stiles calm.

***

It was strange to be waking up slowly, instead of being shocked out of sleep by nightmares or the sounds of their destructive impact. Awareness returned gradually and Stiles realised he was warm, and he wasn’t alone. A hand lay on his shoulder. He turned his head and opened his eyes, seeing Derek sitting on the floor by the bed. The bed which Stiles was sprawled out all over.

“Crap,” Stiles muttered. “I kicked you out of bed, didn’t I?”

“Looked like you needed it more than I did.”

Stiles rubbed a hand over his face and sat up. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a good night’s sleep. He felt like he’d slept for a century.

“What time is it?” he asked.

Derek checked his watch and said, “Nearly noon.”

“You’re kidding!”

“You looked like you hadn’t slept properly for a while. That bitch woman came round while you were asleep.”

“I think you got the wrong consonant at the start of that word,” Stiles said.

“I stand by what I said. She said you were to go back to the house for your lessons when you woke up.”

Stiles started to stand, but Derek continued, “You don’t have to do what she says though. You could stay here. If she comes in here to try and force you out, there are a number of things I look forward to doing to her.”

“No, I should go,” Stiles said. “I’ve got to practice my magic if I ever want to get enough control to go home. Thanks for, you know, the bed thing.”

“Any time.”

Stiles was half way up the stairs before he started wondering what exactly Derek meant by that. Any time? It could have just been Derek being polite, giving the expected response to being thanked. Or he could have been saying that Stiles was welcome to come to him any time because he was bored and lonely, and wanted to have company even if it was an annoying kid. Or he might have been saying that Stiles was welcome to share his bed at any time. But that was utterly ridiculous. Derek definitely hadn’t meant that.

Stiles tried to dismiss the thought and headed back to the house. Inside, Eve was preparing lunch so Stiles decided there wasn’t much point in trying to start a magic lesson now. He just wandered in to join the other students. They were scattered around the room, some on the chairs, some on the floor, all working quietly. Ian glared at Stiles when he walked in, but Stiles ignored him. He went instead to Sephy who was sitting on the floor behind the couch, a book in her hands, frowning at it.

“Tricky spell?” Stiles asked quietly, not wanted to interfere with the other kids.

“Chemistry,” she said, and made a face. As well as their magic lessons, the kids were being home schooled in other subjects too. Stiles sat down beside her.

“I’m pretty good at chemistry,” he said. He’d had to be good because Harris had hated his guts and would mark him down for absolutely anything, so his homework always had to be perfect. “Maybe I can help.”

Sephy smiled and showed him the book.

***

Derek shoved the broken halves of the table into the corner, one partly on top of the other, to give himself a bit more space in this little room. He wanted to run, to burn off energy, to vent this trapped frustration that had been building for too long. So he did what he could in the space available to him. Press ups and sit ups, lunges, dips using the edge of the bed. It wasn’t what he wanted but it was enough to start building a sweat, to get his heart beating a little faster.

Because when he thought of the way Stiles had lain down beside him, so trusting, he burned with a need to do something. He couldn’t shake the thought from his mind. How easy it would have been to betray that trust, to push the situation to somewhere Stiles wouldn’t want it to go.

Derek went back to doing press ups and tried not to think. Stiles had enough people taking advantage of him right now.

He worked his way through his cycle of exercises again and was back to press ups when he heard the door opening. His first hope that Stiles was returning quickly vanished. Those weren’t Stiles’ footsteps on the stairs. He leapt to his feet, waiting for the inevitable.

When the door opened, the witch was there, holding a bowl of soup. She set it on the ground and nudged it gently over the line of wood at the threshold of the room. She was extremely careful not to let any part of her body cross that line. Derek stared at the soup, which smelled delicious. Then he went to the pile of food Stiles had provided, looked the witch in the eye, and picked up a packet of chips. He opened that and started eating, smiling coldly around each mouthful while the soup cooled gently on the floor. The witch pressed her lips together tightly as she watched him. The chips tasted of chemical flavourings, but it was worth it.

“I wanted to try again to talk to you,” she said, “because I want you to understand the importance of the work we do here. This place is a sanctuary, a place of learning and safety. Members of the coven and many allied magic workers send their children to us if they show signs of the gift. We keep them safe and we teach them how to channel their powers. Their parents entrust the children to us without knowing the precise location of our sanctuary, but certain of our promise to keep those children safe. During their time here, those children have very little contact with the outside world, in order to protect our secrets. Sometimes that can be difficult with young children, but they understand the necessity of it.”

“Why is it necessary?” Derek asked.

“Because these children are vulnerable. There are some magic practitioners who are... ruthless in their methods. There have been cases where children were sacrificed so that a witch could obtain a portion of their power. I believe you’ve encountered one person who might act in such a way. Aside from human practitioners, there are also spirits and creatures who would make easy prey of these children.”

“So I’m supposed to nod and smile and say it’s OK that you’re emotionally abusing Stiles because there are other people out there who are meaner than you?” Derek asked. “However you dress this up so you can sleep at night, what you’re doing to him is still evil.”

He thought he saw her lips tighten again when he talked about emotional abuse, but she was a master at keeping an appearance of calm. There was no change in her heartbeat. Derek wondered if she’d learned this from the same place as Deaton.

“Stiles is a unique case,” she said. “A group of practitioners, including some from this coven, worked together to capture him believing him to be a threat, to be one of those unscrupulous individuals. If we had known then what we now know about his situation, we would have acted differently. We would have approached Stiles and his father and asked permission to bring him here for training. Unfortunately, when we learned the truth, he was already here and subject to the usual rules put in place centuries ago for the safety of the disciples of magic.”

“And that makes it OK? Stiles needs his father. He needs his friends. He needs to be somewhere he knows he is safe. He needs his medication. How the hell is he supposed to study anything without that? He needs to have someone who is actually paying attention to his needs and not just following some old tradition put in place generations before he was born.”

“And that is why I have a proposition for you,” she said.

Derek glared at her while she explained. He listened, silently fuming as she tried to frame this as a reasonable compromise.

“Stiles trusts you,” she finished up. “If you agree to this arrangement, then I shall trust his trust.”

“Why the hell would I help you?” Derek asked.

“It’s not me you’d be helping. It’s Stiles.”

***
After dinner, Stiles decided to go out and see Derek again. No one seemed to be paying attention to his movements now, so he didn’t even have to argue with anyone about it. He stopped by his room first and picked up the patchwork blanket which was now finished. It gave him an excuse to be there, since he knew that cell could feel cold, even if he suspected Derek would be judging him until the end of time for this creation. It was a misshapen collection of panels knitted in different coloured wools and sewn clumsily together, but it was warm and bright and that had to be worth something in that miserable room.

Stiles crossed the lawn, avoiding the larger plants that might still hold a grudge, and let himself into the isolation area. He was about halfway down the stairs when he noticed the door at the bottom was open and he ran the rest of the way, nearly tripping over his own feet at the bottom.

The cell was empty.

Derek was gone. There was no sign of him. Stiles stepped across the threshold, staring around at the emptiness, but all trace of Derek’s presence had been erased. Someone had even changed the sheets on the bed.

Stiles hugged the blanket to his stomach, as though it could ward of the terror. Anger and fear rushed through him in a storm that burst out in a rush of wind. The furniture trembled and shook like in an earthquake as his body started to shake.

The blanket dropped from his hands. He turned and ran, pounding up the stairs and out into the evening light. Around him, the ground shook. The plants writhed around him and he didn’t care whether that was his magic or their reaction to him. He just ran across the lawn and into the house. He didn’t even have to open the door. It just burst inward as he got to it. Around him, furniture rattled and lights shook overhead. The whole house creaked in protest but Stiles didn’t care. He wouldn’t care if this whole place fell to pieces around him. He stormed down a corridor, windows exploding outwards in showers of glittering shards. He heard someone screaming but he didn’t care.

Lady Rose came out of her study as he arrived.

“Stiles, calm down,” she said.

“Where is he?” Stiles yelled. Chips of paint and plaster disintegrated off the walls, flying around him in a whirl, battered by a wind that seemed to whip in all directions at once. A lightbulb exploded overhead, sending shards of glass raining down, but there was a new source of light as curtains caught fire.

“Stiles, it’s alright,” Lady Rose said. There was fear in her eyes and Stiles was glad.

“You said you wouldn’t kill him!” He yelled and power surged out of him, enough to knock even Rose back a step. The burning curtains blazed brighter and then disintegrated in a cloud of ash that joined the swirl of floating debris around him. Shadows and darkness danced as chaos flew.

“He’s not dead,” she said, holding her hands out towards him in a placating gesture. Stiles barely heard the words over the wind and his own fury. Others of the coven arrived but Stiles was more interested in Lady Rose. Carl called for Stiles to calm down, but Stiles couldn’t be calm right now. Derek was gone. They’d been scared of him and now he was gone. If he was dead, Stiles would never forgive himself. He should have stayed with Derek. He should have made sure he was alright.

“Where is he?” Stiles asked again.

“He’s gone,” Lady Rose said.

“Gone? So you just let him walk out of here after all your fussing about secrecy? God! You don’t really expect me to believe that.”

Floorboards creaked and shifted around his feet, fighting to escape from their positions, trying to fly and join the madness, pressing up against the carpet. The carpet itself smoked and simmered, patches glowing like old embers. Someone was pleading with Stiles to get control of his magic, but he barely registered the words.

“It’s true, Stiles. If you’d just calm down we can talk about this rationally.”

“I am being rational!” Stiles screamed. A lamp lifted off the ground and flew into a wall, smashing a hole through the plaster. Through the gap, Stiles could see furniture in the next room floating or shaking under the influence of his magic. The whole house shook as though in an earthquake. Pictures wrenched free of the walls. A chair tore itself to pieces and chunks of wood smashed into each other, catching fire as they flew about Stiles.

All his fury, about being kept from his dad, about Derek, about not getting enough food, about being told to focus a hundred times a day but not being given his meds, came bursting out of him. Around him, things flew and exploded and crashed into each other. The whole world seemed to be shaking. Over the noise of it all, he heard them yelling his name.

Lady Rose tried to push through the chaos, using her magic to calm some of the swirling energy so she could get close. Then a flying picture hit her. Then someone was yelling her name instead.

In that moment, Stiles didn’t care. He didn’t care if he’d hurt her. He didn’t care if she was dead. She’d hurt Derek.

Stiles let out a scream, as primal as the magic tearing through him. All his rage poured out in sound and the entire building shook with it.

Then something soft and wet struck him in the back. It flowed around him, soothing, calming, drowning out the fire of his rage in a way that could only be magical. They’d cast a spell on him. He ought to be angry about that, but the calming something flowing around him pushed those thoughts away. The storm of emotion and magic started to still, items dropping to the ground as the magical wind dropped.

Stiles dropped too, falling towards the carpet as the magic compelled him to sleep.

Chapter Text

When Stiles woke up, he was back in the cell. It took less than half a minute to cross the room and try the door. He wasn’t remotely surprised to find it locked. So much for Lady Rose’s promise that the isolation room wasn’t meant as a punishment.

He knew he should feel angry about that, but all his anger was spent. He just felt tired and drained. He wondered if that was an after-effect of the knockout spell or if he’d exhausted himself flinging around so much magic earlier. Either way, anger was just too much effort.

He bent down and picked up the pile of colourful wool from the cell floor. He’d dropped his blanket down here earlier when he’d come to look for Derek. He still didn’t know where Derek was. Lady Rose had said he wasn’t dead, but that wasn’t exactly much of a promise. Maybe the coven were right now busily destroying Derek’s brain to remove all memory of this place. Maybe they were torturing Derek into submission. Maybe she’d lied and his body was already fertilising her rose bushes.

Stiles wrapped the blanket round himself, trying not to think about the fact that Derek might never get the chance to mock him for it. He lay down on the bed, feeling cold and almost hollow. He should have stayed down here with Derek. He shouldn’t have let his guard down, not even for a moment. He should never have let this happen. Now Derek was gone and he didn’t have a clue where.

Maybe if he’d held his magic under control more, Lady Rose would have told him. But that was the only regret he was going to let himself have over that display. He thought about the damage to the house, wondering how bad it was. There was at least one hole in a wall, a lot of damaged paintwork and quite a few broken pieces of furniture, probably out or two light fittings as well. He hoped Lady Rose had to spend the next year fixing the mess. He hoped it had hurt her when she’d been hit by the painting.

He’d never imagined himself to be so vindictive, but he played the memory back in his thoughts and he really, really hoped that it had been painful and left her with bruises that were sore for weeks.

More than that, he hoped Derek was alright. Stiles tugged the blanket around his body and tried not to think about what Derek might be going through right now.

In that cold cell, he thought about the destruction he’d wrought. He hadn’t been trying to do any of that, he’d just stopped holding back and let his emotions tap directly into his magic. The memory of it terrified him, the new fears mingling with his worries about Derek. If he could do all that without even trying, what else might he be capable of?

His imagination conjured up images of all the times he’d argued with his dad. What if he went home and he got upset and the oven exploded or something? He thought about all the times he’d been annoyed with Scott. What if they had a fight and Scott burst into flames? Even werewolves weren’t great at healing burn injuries. His mind supplied him with a hundred terrifying scenarios of death and destruction following him home if he tried to leave this place. Much as he hated Lady Rose right now, this incident was proof that he wasn’t ready to step outside the walls of the sanctuary.

He clung to the edges of the blanket and tried not to think of anything at all.

***

John woke to a faint noise in the house. He was awake instantly, worried about what this might mean. It wasn’t like his son was wandering around getting a glass of water and bumping into things. For a fraction of a second, John dared to imagine that the past months had just been a nightmare and he’d step out there and see his son, safe and sound, ready to laugh at him for worrying so much.

He knew how unlikely that was. More like some burglar was going to find out what that trying to rob the sheriff was a really bad idea. John had a gun in his bedside table. He took it out now, checked the safety, and crept from the room. He paused in the hallway, listening.

The sounds were coming from Stiles’ room. After everything that had happened, someone had broken into Stiles’ room? That was like salt in the wound. John flung the door open, hit the light, and aimed his gun.

Then he froze, staring in surprise.

“Derek?”

Derek was bent over Stiles’ desk, mid rummage through one of the drawers. He looked at John now in embarrassed surprise. For someone they’d feared was dead, he was looking remarkably well. After that phone call with Stiles, John had feared the worst.

“Sheriff,” he said.

“What’s going on here?”

“I need to find Stiles’ medication.”

“Derek, we were afraid something had happened to you.”

“Where’s the medication.”

“Why the hell are you after Stiles’ medication? Did you find him? Is he OK? Where is he? Is he here?” John’s mind was racing with possible implications so that he couldn’t get his thoughts straight in his head. But the only reason he could think of for Derek to need Stiles’ pills was because Derek knew where Stiles was and wanted to take them to him.

“Yes,” Derek said.

John almost considered shooting him just to vent his frustration, but he lowered his gun and forced himself to ask calmly.

“Yes to what?”

“Yes, I’ve found Stiles. I’m going to go back to him with a few things he needs, one of which is his medication. Where is it?”

That was when John noticed the little pile on the bed. Derek had gathered some items, including Stiles’ favourite hoody, a few well-worn books, and even his pillow.

“Why do you need that lot?” John asked. “You don’t need to take his pillow. He doesn’t need his pillow. You know why he doesn’t need his pillow? He doesn’t need his pillow because if you know where Stiles is then you can take me to him and I can drag him back home where he belongs.”

Derek brought his hand out of the drawer he’d been digging through. It was clenched into a fist.

“I can’t tell you where Stiles is,” Derek said, “and I can’t take you to him. I made a promise that I wouldn’t do either of those and Stiles promised that I was trustworthy, so I can’t go back on that promise.”

“No,” John said. He could have come up with some elegant argument explaining precisely why that was completely unacceptable, but that simple word was just on repeat in his mind. He couldn’t accept that he was standing in front of someone who knew exactly where Stiles was and that other person wasn’t telling him what he needed to know.

“Where is Stiles?” John asked.

“I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone or show anyone or bring anyone back with me. If you want to find Stiles, you’ll have to hunt for him another way.”

“No! I don’t give a damn about your promises! What about your promise to tell me as soon as you knew anything?”

“I don’t trust the people who have Stiles,” Derek said, “but he told them they could trust me. I don’t want to give them any reason to be angry at him. So you’ll have to hunt a-nother way.”

It took John a moment to notice the strange stress on the words. Not ‘hunt a’ but ‘hunter’. There were not many hunters that they both knew.

“Chris?” he said. “Chris knows where Stiles is?”

Derek shook his head, “If he knew, he’d have called you weeks ago. But he has experience in hunting for people. Lots of knowledge.”

“Are you telling me that Chris knows something I can use to find Stiles?”

“I couldn’t possibly tell you anything of the sort,” Derek said. “I made a promise.” He gave a cold, little smile. Then he asked, “So where are Stiles’ meds?”

“Top drawer of his bedside cabinet,” John said, still running things over in his mind. Derek went over to the bedside cabinet and dug around, coming out with the container of pills. He unscrewed the top and looked inside.

“I’m not sure these will last him very long,” Derek said.

“Well, when you bring him home, he can get his prescription refilled.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen soon.” Derek looked down, frowning a little as he spotted something else in the drawer. “Maybe I can take him a message though.” He pulled a camera out of the drawer. “Does this thing do video?”

“Video? You won’t tell me where my son is but you expect me to record a video? No! I will drag you down to the station and put you in an interrogation room and not let you leave until you tell me every tiny little detail you have on where Stiles is and who has him. You don’t get to do this. This is my son we’re talking about! My son!”

Derek didn’t appear to be listening. He was fiddling about with the controls on the camera, then he held it up, aiming at John.

“Say something and I’ll take the video to Stiles,” Derek said.

“No! You’re not taking the video to Stiles. You’re taking me to Stiles. A message is not good enough. Some vague statement about promises to keep secrets is not good enough. If you try to leave here without me, so help me God, I will shoot you!”

John glared past the camera at Derek. Derek said nothing. He just shut the camera off and started to gather up the little collection of Stiles’ belongings.

***

Stiles was vaguely aware that something was stirring. He was stirring. Or being stirred. Someone was lifting him up. Then there was something soft under his head. Something that felt right. Something that felt like it belonged there. He opened his eyes.

That was his pillow. Under his head was his pillow. It even had his own pillow case on it.

He sat up, staring at this pillow which absolutely could not possibly be here. He looked round and saw Derek standing next to the bed, Stiles’ favourite hoody in his hands and couple of Stiles’ books tucked under one arm.

“My pillow,” Stiles said. “How have you got my pillow? And I’m really glad they didn’t kill you.”

Derek frowned at him. “Are you more happy about seeing your pillow than the fact I didn’t get murdered?”

“It’s a good pillow.”

Derek gave a little snort and shake of his head. Then he prodded at the knitted blanket wrapped around Stiles.

“It doesn’t match this monstrosity,” he said. Stiles started to laugh, partly because he’d thought Derek would call the blanket something like that, partly because he was just glad Derek hadn’t been murdered, and partly because this whole situation seemed weird and he wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. Or if he was fully awake.

“Are you OK?” Derek asked. He sounded concerned. That settled it. Stiles had had a complete nervous breakdown and he was imagining all of this.

Derek sat down on the bed beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. When that didn’t work, he started rubbing circles on Stiles’ back again. It felt very real. Physical contact didn’t usually feel that real in dreams. Stiles tried to get his hysterics under control so that he could actually ask Derek what the hell was going on because nothing about this made sense.

“Stiles?” Derek said his name again, cautiously, as Stiles managed to get himself calmed down.

“I’m OK,” Stiles said. “I’m just... confused. My pillow? My hoody?”

“More than that,” Derek said. He handed the hoody over. Stiles took it in confusion, surprised by the weight. There were things in the pockets. He dug inside. One pocket revealed his Adderall. The other, a camera.

“I really don’t get this,” Stiles said.

“I had an interesting conversation with Lady Rose. I told her about how she shouldn’t be depriving you of your medication and stuff. It’s possible I called her evil.”

“I definitely called her evil,” Stiles said. “I compared her to the Darach for even thinking about killing you. So she’s getting the message from both sides.”

“Clearly one of us got through to her because she made a deal with me. If I promised not to tell anyone where you were or lead anyone back here or anything like that, then I could go and fetch your medication. I took the liberty of picking up a few other things while I was there.”

“Like a camera? I mean, the pillow is awesome and the medication is going to be a big help with the whole focusing thing, but why a camera?”

“Turn it on and check the memory.”

Stiles followed Derek’s instructions, looking at the little screen on the back of the camera. When he turned it onto playback mode, he saw the thumbnail with his dad’s face on it. He pressed play and watched the short video of his dad yelling at Derek that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer and threatening to shoot Derek.

“At least you didn’t get shot,” Stiles said.

Derek shifted position and brought his leg up onto the bed. Stiles looked, seeing the dark stain of blood on Derek’s pants and the hole in the calf. Stiles reached out and prodded at the hole that a bullet had recently gone through. He started laughing again.

“Oh my god!” Stiles said. “My dad shot you?”

“It was bound to happen eventually.”

Stiles laughed again, then realised that it might be seen as mean to laugh about someone getting shot.

“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t believe my dad shot you.”

“He’s been stressed,” Derek said, shrugging a little and lowering his leg again.

Stiles laughed a little at the statement but then his laughter dissolved into tears at the realisation of what it was his dad was stressed about. He didn’t want to be the reason his dad was suffering. He didn’t want to be the reason Derek got shot. He didn’t want any of this.

“Hey,” Derek said softly. “Hey. It’s OK.”

He put his hand on Stiles’ back again as Stiles sobbed. He hated this. He hated that he was falling to pieces in front of Derek. He hated that he was falling apart at all. He wasn’t usually like this. Sobbing emotional wreck wasn’t how he wanted to be seen. It wasn’t how he wanted to be.

“It’ll be OK,” Derek said.

“God, you must think I’m pathetic,” Stiles muttered, between sniffles.

“No.”

“I swear I’ve cried more in the past two months than I have since...” Since his mom had died. He didn’t finish off the thought. Derek seemed to understand anyway though.

He muttered, “Yeah,” quietly.

Stiles grabbed a corner of the knitted blanket and tried to wipe his face on it muttering about needing to pull himself together.

“It’s OK to hurt,” Derek said. “You’ve been through a lot. You lost people and then were cut off from friends and family, no support structure, afraid that you’ll screw up and people will get hurt.”

Stiles thought of Derek as he’d first known him, back in Beacon Hills after the death of his sister, without any support structure either, worried that Scott would get hurt or the alpha might kill someone who didn’t deserve it.

“Are we talking about me or you now?” Stiles asked. Derek shrugged.

“You think I’ve never cried?” Derek said.

Stiles had never seen Derek cry. Even after Boyd, he’d been dry-eyed, more in shock than anything else. He couldn’t picture Derek blubbering like an infant. But he’d lost his entire family, first to the fire, then to Peter. Then he’d lost the betas he’d made into his family. Of course Derek must have cried. Stiles felt stupid for crying like this now when his friends and family were still alive. He might be kept away from his dad, but at least he knew his dad was alright and would continue to be alright. He needed to pull himself together.

“I just can’t believe she let you go,” Stiles said. “I’ve been arguing for about two months to just send a message to my dad, and now she lets you walk out of here and see him. I mean, it’s what I wanted and I should be glad that you were able to see him and get that message, but it’s just infuriating. If she was going to change her mind on this, why couldn’t she change her mind at the start? Then I could have been talking to my dad all along. That she would argue so hard against me even calling my dad and then do this is hugely hypocritical.”

If she let Derek out of here despite not trusting him and still refused to let Stiles have contact with his dad, he’d probably end up thumping her. Or throwing levitating paintings at her face again.

“Sooner or later,” Derek said, “you’re going to run out of pills and maybe I’ll get sent out again to get more. You could record something on the camera and I can keep it with me in case I get a chance to give it to him.”

Stiles managed a smile.

“Yeah,” he said. Then he realised Derek was taking the camera from him. “Oh god, not right now though. He can’t see I’ve been crying.”

Stiles scrubbed at his face with the blanket, hoping to get rid of all trace of tears. Derek watched him with amusement.

“While you’re at it,” he said, “you might want to do something about the plaster and paint and stuff in your hair.”

“What?”

Stiles rubbed a hand through his hair vigorously and, sure enough, a little cloud of pale dust rose up around his head.

“Are you going to explain that?” Derek asked.

“When you were gone, I thought they might have killed you. I had a little bit of a magical temper tantrum.” He didn’t want to admit to the extent of what he’d managed; he was more than a little scared of his own power and it was easier to turn it into a joke with childish terms.

“I guess that explains why that Rose woman had a black eye when she let me back in here.”

“A black eye?” Stiles grinned. He shouldn’t grin. It was mean and vindictive to grin about the fact that he’d given her a black eye with all that flying junk. But still he grinned. And Derek returned it.

“Ready?” Derek asked. Stiles nodded. Derek aimed the camera at him and Stiles thought about what to say. Derek hit record.

“You know what,” Stiles said to that little recording light, “I’m not going to record a message for my dad because he shot you. And I’m mad about that. So instead, this message is for Scott. That way, when Dad inevitably takes a copy of this message to use as evidence, he’ll be able to see that I’m mad at him. So, hey, Scott.” He gave a little wave. “Long time no see. As you can hopefully tell, I’m fine. Alive and well and dealing with the fact that no one gets my references, so nothing new there. You know, maybe you can take this as an opportunity. In all the spare time you have now that you’re not hanging out with me, you can actually watch Star Wars so that when I come back and make jokes, you’ll actually know what I’m talking about. And I will be coming back. That’s a promise. And when I do, you’d better have watched the original trilogy so I will slit you open like a tauntaun and now you need to watch the movies so you know what I’m talking about. I miss you. Take care of yourself and my dad. And tell my dad I love him. I’m still mad at him for shooting Derek, but I love him. See you soon, man.”

Stiles nodded to Derek, who stopped the camera recording. Derek was looking at him like he was insane.

“What?” Stiles asked.

“Your big chance to give a message to your friends and family, and you spend half of it talking about Star Wars?”

“That was deliberate. If I spend a whole message telling them how much they mean to me and all of that, they’d think it was the last message I’d ever send. If I spend the whole time giving Scott a hard time about the fact he still hasn’t seen Star Wars, then he knows I’m not too worried and that I mean it when I say I’ll see him again.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

Stiles shrugged. Derek pocketed the camera.

“Derek,” Stiles said, “thank you. For the message. For the pillow. For everything. You could have just taken the chance to leave when they let you out of here.”

“I couldn’t,” Derek said. “I don’t trust these people. For as long as you think you need to be here, I will be here to make sure these witches don’t hurt you anymore.”

Stiles smiled. It was so rare for him to have genuine smiles these days but this one just bubbled up to the surface. He didn’t know what to say to Derek, how to probably thank him for those sentiments, so he just smiled. For a moment, Derek smiled back.

Chapter Text

Derek sat on the chair while Stiles sat cross-legged on the bed and practiced his magic. Stiles had swallowed down some Adderall and declared that he should keep up his training if he ever wanted to leave this place. He kept up a running commentary while he worked, talking about what he was doing and the reasons behind it. He rambled about the knitting, about how he started doing that when he practiced magic to try and limit his distractedness. Derek suspected the talking was having the same effect.

Stiles practiced making lights, creating a whole constellation of little stars that he got to dance around him, talking non-stop about energy flows and balance. Derek watched them sparkle in Stiles’ eyes. His skin seemed to glow under their brightness.

“I’m getting much better at light spells,” Stiles said. “They’re very simple in terms of the energy involved and I haven’t set anything on fire with one in ages. I mean, fire and explosions were a serious problem when I first started. Lady Rose tried to teach me a levitation spell by getting me to float a pear in her orchard and I blew up a pear tree. The whole thing. Roots and all. So now her garden really doesn’t like me.”

He moved his hands around like he was shepherding the lights and they floated and bobbed through the air, shifting gently until they met and ran together. The little sparkles of light grew brighter as they flowed into each other until an orb of brilliant radiance hung in the air above Stiles’ folded legs.

“For a while, they decided I should practice down here because the mountain ash barrier stops magical energies getting out,” Stiles went on. “Basically, it means that no matter how much destruction I cause in here, it won’t hurt anyone out there.”

“Should I be trying to keep more distance then?” Derek asked.

“No, it’s fine. I’m getting much better at control. When I’m awake anyway. Stuff still goes boom when I have a nightmare. But I’ve got some herbs and stuff that limit the damage.”

The light faded, almost dissolving into the air. Then Stiles looked at Derek, an almost nervous smile on his lips.

“So,” he said, “what do you think?”

“You’ll never need a flashlight again,” Derek said, because he couldn’t easily say that watching the light catch his eyes like that had made him want to kiss him. Stiles gave a fake glare.

“You have no sense of wonder,” Stiles complained. “Fine. I’ll show you something more impressive.”

He shifted a little on the bed and then held his hands out in front of him, palms facing each other but a few inches apart.

“This,” he announced, “is an element spell. There are ways of calling up the elements to get them to respond to your bidding. I can pull moisture out of the air to get my water for the spell and then I can manipulate it. It works with all the classic elements. And I really wish Kira’s mom were here because then I could ask her about Japanese elements, because they sometimes have five listed, and I know that the Chinese have wood and metal in their list of elements – I can’t remember which of the Greek elements they miss off because they have five too. It makes me wonder if the same spells would work with their elements.”

While Stiles talked, a few droplets of water formed between his hands, merging together like the lights hand until he had a ball of water there about the size of a baseball. Then he started moving his hands and the water flowed with his gestures. He moved his hands apart and the water grew into a long line still hovering in the air. When he waved them over his head, the water floated up into a little ring that flowed over his head like a halo. Stiles grinned.

“Think you could earthbend us through the walls?” Derek asked.

Stiles blinked at him in surprise, his hands stilling. The water splashed down over Stiles’ head.

“Damn it!” Stiles muttered. Derek tried not to look like he was fighting down laughter. Stiles was still staring at him like he’d sprouted a second head, even as he shook water out of his hair.

“You made an Avatar reference,” Stiles said.

“You, of all people, should not complain about people making references,” Derek said.

“No. I wasn’t. Not complaining. The first time I was shown that spell, I called it waterbending and everyone looked at me like I was crazy. I just can’t believe you actually said that.”

In this closed in room, scents were easy to pick up. For the first time since Derek had got here, an emotional trace was stronger than the despair and fear that had been hovering around Stiles in a constant aura. Now, Derek picked up the scent of happiness.

***

Stiles was making another attempt at waterbending, hoping for a less embarrassing ending this time, when Derek stiffened. He stood, looking towards the door. Stiles dispersed his water in a burst of steam that quickly dissipated into the air. He stood himself as he heard the feet descending the stairs and then the cell door opened. Lady Rose stood there, dark bruising shining around her eye and down onto her cheek. Stiles bit his lower lip in an effort to keep his face straight.

“You should come up to the house for lunch,” she said. She glanced at Derek. “Both of you. Gather your things.”

“My things?” Stiles asked.

“You won’t need to come back here afterwards.” She said it like it was obvious, like she hadn’t kept Stiles and the Derek locked down here. Still, Stiles wasn’t going to argue. He grabbed his pillow and blanket, and the hoody. Derek grabbed his jacket, the camera tucked into a pocket already, and then he helped by grabbing Stiles’ Adderall and the stack of books before Stiles dropped something.

Lady Rose crouched outside the doorway and held her hands over the length of wood across the threshold. There was no visible change but Stiles felt the shift inside him, just a faint tremor that told him the barrier was down, at least for the moment. They Lady Rose stood again, straightening her robes and turning back to the stairs without waiting for them. Stiles nodded to Derek and stepped over the wood after her. Derek hesitated only a moment at the threshold and then followed. He seemed surprised that he’d got across.

Outside the upper door, Lady Rose waited. As soon as they emerged, she started walking across the lawn towards the house and the other two followed.

“What’s going on?” Stiles asked. He had about a million more questions, about her sudden about-face regarding keeping Derek locked up forever, about what this meant for him, about everything, but those three words seemed to summarise it enough.

“Over the past few days,” Lady Rose said, “you and your... friend have given me reason to reconsider your situation here. I have attempted to treat you according to the same rules and traditions as any other student, but the fact is you are not like any other disciple. Your power, your background, the situation with your father, even your medical situation, all of this makes you different. I said once before that we might need to take a different approach with your training. I think perhaps we should have taken a different approach with your whole situation. For that, I apologise.”

“You apologise?” said Derek. “You think two months of torture can be just waved away with an apology?” He turned to Stiles. “Can I punch her?”

Stiles wasn’t sure whether Derek was asking him because he was just trying to make Lady Rose nervous, or if he was genuinely after Stiles’ permission. After all, Stiles still needed her help to learn magic. But even though he knew he needed her, there were limits to how much bullshit he could take.

“It was a weak-ass apology,” he said to Derek, not quite giving permission but not refusing it either. She sighed. Not long ago, Stiles would have cringed at that sound, but it was somehow different when he’d elicited it from her deliberately.

They reached the main door of the house without any of the garden trying to kill them, presumably because Lady Rose was with them. She headed up the porch steps and then opened the door for them. Stiles and Derek walked inside.

“I am trying to support your needs,” Lady Rose said. “That is all I have ever done. I have simply... miscalculated some of those needs.”

“I told you what I needed,” Stiles said. “You just didn’t listen.”

Derek looked round at the entrance hall to the great house. This was presumably the first time he’d seen inside. He wasn’t seeing it at its best. All around, Stiles saw the effects of his loss of control. The ceiling light had been torn from its place overhead and was embedded halfway up a wall. The paint had been damaged by flying debris or just torn from the walls altogether, leaving deep scars in the plaster beneath. Some of the floorboards had warped, leaving a lumpy surface beneath the carpet, which itself was scorched and charred in places. Wind whistled in through broken windows. There were several gaps where items of furniture had once stood, leaving the place with an empty and desolate air.

“Reminds me of home,” Derek said to Stiles, with a quirk of his eyebrows that suggested a joke. Stiles gave a quick grin.

“There’s even a hole in the wall down that way,” Stiles said, pointing towards where he’d had his confrontation with Lady Rose around Derek’s disappearance.

“Are you proud of the damage you caused?” Lady Rose asked.

“Usually no,” Stiles answered. “This time...” He shrugged. He could practically see her frustration.

“Put your things down and come through to the dining room,” she said. “After lunch, we can discuss your situation and I shall endeavour to be more considerate to your unique needs.”

Stiles put down his blanket and pillow on a side table that was now leaning a little and had several chips in its polished finish. He turned back to Lady Rose and looked her in the eye.

“I can tell you right now what I need,” he said. “Give me a phone and let me call my dad.”

“Calls can be traced,” she said.

“So when you say you’ll be considerate to my needs, what you mean is you’ll continue to ignore what I tell you while you play lip service to being supportive. Come on, Derek. We might as well eat while she remembers to feed us. Dining room is this way.”

Stiles started walking, Derek coming to walk beside him.

“Remembers to feed us?” Derek asked.

“Yeah. There were a couple of weeks when I was down in that cell and sometimes they would forget to bring me meals. Occasionally for more than a day.”

Derek moved so fast he practically left a vacuum at Stiles’ side. He turned and grabbed Lady Rose by the throat, lifting her up and slamming her into a wall before she could react. He held her off the ground, snarling into her face. Stiles felt a rush of fear, not for her, but that she might call up her magic and hurt Derek.

“Derek, put her down,” he said quickly. “I still need her to teach me.”

“You can find another teacher,” Derek growled.

There was a burst of magic. Derek was knocked backwards. He hit the ground, rolled, and came up snarling, already transformed, fangs and claws ready for a fight. Stiles hurried between them, glaring at Lady Rose.

“Don’t you dare,” he said. “If you hurt him, you know I can hurt you.” Around him, there was that tremor like the start of an earthquake, his power flowing out of him and into the world.

Stiles glanced over his shoulder and met Derek’s glowing blue eyes, “Derek, I’m hungry. Let’s go get lunch.”

He walked down the corridor, trusting Derek to follow him and not turn Lady Rose into a chew toy. The dining room was a mess too, though not quite as bad as other parts of the house. There were two tables in the large room, to give enough space for everyone to eat at once. One of them was no longer completely stable, one of its legs bent outwards a little. A couple of the chairs had scrapes in their usually fine polish. There wasn’t the same scale of destruction, but Stiles had no doubt that he was the cause of these minor bumps.

The rest of the coven were gathering and Stiles knew he wasn’t imagining the nervous glances he was getting. Normally some of the kids would start talking to him as soon as he walked in, but today they moved away when he got too close. He wasn’t sure if it was him they were avoiding or Derek. Derek just glared round at everyone.

Stiles caught Derek’s sleeve and tugged him towards one of the tables. He sat down and Derek took the place next to him, still glaring. Eve was in the process of getting the food out, with the aid of some of the others that she directed with efficiency. Pretty soon the dining tables had bowls of salad, platters of meat, and baskets of bread all set up and ready. Everyone not busy serving started sitting down at the tables and it was clear people were trying to take seats far away from Stiles and Derek. At one point, Amy approached as though to take the seat beside Stiles, but Carl caught her and guided her to a place at the other table instead. In the end, Ian sat next to Stiles and Sephy sat on Derek’s other side.

There was strained politeness as those at their table made certain to offer Stiles and Derek first helping from the various dishes. Stiles dug out a large helping of salad while Derek skewered a few slices of meat.

Stiles wasn't used to people being scared of him. Derek glared around the table with his usual glower, but this wasn’t a normal experience for Stiles. He was used to being ignored or mocked or chatted to, but never feared. Derek was probably used to people looking at him this way but it made Stiles’ skin crawl. It was like they were afraid he was going to snap and blow the entire room to shrapnel. This was what he had to look forward to, being seen as the guy who could knock a whole through a wall simply by losing his temper.

He finished his meal in record time and then stood up from the table when most people were still halfway through eating. He tugged at Derek’s sleeve. Derek pushed his own chair away from the table. Around the room, there was a quieting as eyes turned in their direction. But all Stiles did was walk out of the room, fingers still caught on Derek’s sleeve, towing him along behind him. He headed towards Lady Rose’s study. Derek followed silently.

Here, the place looked even more like a war zone. Furnishings and decorations had been cleared away, but the damage to the walls was harder to tidy up. There was a hole clear through one of them, while others were scraped and crumbling. There were scorch marks and scrapes on everything. It was like a bomb had gone off. Stiles went to the doorway into the study and waited, looking at the fragments of wood that still hung to the frame, all that was left of the door. Inside the room, the desk had been salvaged, but not much else.

Stiles didn’t look at Derek. He didn’t need to know what Derek was thinking.

“So this is why you’re scared to come home,” Derek said at last.

Stiles’ fingers tightened on the broken doorframe.

“Someone could get hurt,” he said. “I need to learn. I need to get control before I go back.”

“But what about you?” Derek asked. “Being here with these people... it’s killing you.”

“Better me than someone else. You of all people should understand.” The words escaped before Stiles could stop them, before he could think about how potentially hurtful they would be. Reminding Derek that he’d caused his family’s death was a thoughtless thing to do, especially after how kind Derek had been to him over the past few days. He waited for Derek to get angry or upset, but it never said.

“I do understand,” Derek said. “But there has to be another way, someone else who could teach you. Maybe Deaton.”

“OK. Fine. Let’s say we go back and persuade Deaton to teach me. Where do I stay while I’m learning? Back home with Dad? Waiting for the next explosive nightmare? Even with all the precautions against accidents, I managed to blow up a lightbulb in my sleep the other night. I can’t risk my dad being hurt.”

“So you’ll stay here? With people who starved you and took away your medication?”

“If that’s what it takes to keep my dad and Scott and everyone else safe, yes.”

“I think your dad would rather take the risk and have you home,” Derek said.

Stiles closed his eyes. A memory filled his mind, as vivid now as the day it had happened. He remembered looking at his dad inside a dream of a hospital room, hearing the nogitsune say that they were going to kill him. He remembered the chaos of the sheriff’s station in the aftermath of the explosion, knowing that the bomb had been in his dad’s office, knowing how close he’d come to losing his father.

“I can’t risk him,” Stiles said. “If that means I have to stay here and obey these stupid rules, so be it.”

Stiles opened his eyes again and finally turned to look at Derek. He started a little to see Lady Rose standing beyond Derek, watching him. He wondered how long she’d been standing there and glowered at Derek for not warning him.

“Stiles,” Lady Rose said, “after the cleansing, when I invited you to study here as a disciple of the coven, you said you wanted to learn. I took that at face value. I realise now I should have looked closer. You didn’t agree to stay because of a desire to be here but out of a fear of going back home.”

“What difference does it make?” Stiles asked.

“All the difference in the world. You’ve seen how your magic is tied to your emotions.” She raised a hand to indicate the destruction around them. “Right now, your emotions are ruled by fear and pain. I’ve tried to teach you to control your magic, but without realising that your emotional state was damaging your attempts to learn. For my part in causing your emotional state, I apologise.”

Derek looked like he wanted to shove her into a wall again.

“Your part?” he growled. “Why don’t you just say how you starved and tormented him?”

Lady Rose’s eyes flicked towards Derek, then back to Stiles.

“I’m sorry, Stiles,” she said. “I think it’s time for me to accept that I can’t just treat you like an ordinary disciple. I have to accept that the techniques and rules we’ve used for years are not going to be applicable in every case.”

Stiles’ heart was pounding. The rules weren’t always applicable? Did that mean what it sounded like? He hardly dared hope.

She gestured towards the study.

“Come,” she said. “I have an idea about how to move forward. I want to know what you think, both of you. This time, I’ll try to listen.”

Chapter Text

Lady Rose sat at her desk in the damaged study. Stiles stood in front of it, Derek at his side, standing so close that Stiles could almost feel his arm against his.

“I have duties,” Lady Rose said, “and responsibilities to the rest of the disciples. I won’t put their safety at risk. The rules of secrecy exist for good reason. I cannot allow someone to flaunt them while living within these walls.”

“In other words,” Derek said, “you won’t actually change anything.”

“I said, while living within these walls.”

“So if I want to call my dad ever again I have to leave and never come back?” Stiles asked. “Yeah, I’m with Derek: what the hell are you changing?”

“This site was chosen for the sanctuary because of a confluence of energies that combine to provide a protective aura. This is not the only site that could have been chosen. With your power, Stiles, we could go to another site and tap into the energy convergence to create new protective barriers that would be almost as effective against spiritual threats as the boundaries of the sanctuary. There wouldn’t be the same protections against physical threats, but I suspect you would be able to hold your own in a fight, and your... friend has already proven his willingness to defend you.”

“Yeah, my very own guard wolf,” Stiles muttered.

“Call me that again and I’ll rip your tongue out,” Derek said.

“See. This is why people think you’re violent.”

Lady Rose cleared her throat before Stiles and Derek could get into an argument.

“My point,” she said, “is that we could build a new protected space for you to train. It wouldn’t be quite as safe for you as remaining here, but you would be able to make contact with your family and friends without putting anyone but yourself at risk. We could preserve the rules and the security of the sanctuary, while giving you the contact you require.”

“What’s the catch?” Stiles asked, because there had to be one. This sounded too perfect. A safe place to practice and unrestricted contact with his dad? Even though Lady Rose claimed to be trying to listen to his needs, it still seemed too good to be good.

“You will be cut off from the resources of the sanctuary. You wouldn’t be able to use the library or the herb garden, you wouldn’t have access to the members of the coven with their various expertise. We would arrange for some of the coven to visit you to continue your lessons, or perhaps to bring you books and study materials, but for the most part you would be on your own.”

“I can live with that,” Stiles said, thinking of his time in isolation. That had been all about the solo study, but at least this way he’d be able to phone his dad and Derek would be with him so he’d have company.

“There would be more practical resources you would be cut off from,” she continued. “Electricity, running water, beds. How do you feel about camping?”

“Camping?”

“The site I have in mind is out of the way. You wouldn’t be disturbed and you wouldn’t be a danger to anyone else if you had another outburst, but there’s nothing there.”

Stiles hadn’t been camping in years. There had been a couple of trips with his dad when he’d been younger, and one with Scott. The closest he’d come to camping recently was using it as an excuse so they could sneak away to Mexico when Derek had been missing. Stiles had come to the conclusion that mankind had spent years developing things like hot showers and electricity for a reason and that the great outdoors was sorely overrated. But she was offering a compromise that would let him call his dad. Insect bites and sleeping on the ground were worth that, though he wasn’t entirely sure how they were going to keep the phone charged up.

“He agrees,” Derek said.

“Excuse me, I can make my own decisions, thank you,” said Stiles. Lady Rose raised an enquiring eyebrow. “Oh, Derek’s right, of course I agree, I would just prefer it if he let me make that decision myself rather than agreeing on my behalf.”

“If that’s all settled then,” Lady Rose said, “we had better pack. You will have nothing but what you take with you.”

***

Derek trailed Stiles while he collected things together. His first stop was a bedroom that showed a few scars from Stiles’ night terrors. Mismatched curtains and a few scorch marks around the window were evidence of a fire. There were scrapes in the wall above one of the beds like someone had clawed it. But Stiles ignored all this. He just went to some drawers and unloaded some clean clothes. The t-shirts were all plain, with none of the colourful designs Stiles preferred on his clothes, so Derek guessed his opinion hadn’t been asked when they’d supplied him with them. But, along with the more ordinary clothes, was an entire drawer stuffed full of uneven scarves.

Stiles caught him staring and looked embarrassed.

“I told you I did a lot of knitting,” he said. He started to haul the lot of them out of the drawer.

“You’re bringing them all?”

“They could be useful.”

“No one needs a hundred scarves.”

“I was thinking of making a mound of them and sleeping on them,” Stiles said. “But if you want to sleep on the cold, hard, lumpy ground, that’s fine. I’ll keep my scarf mountain to myself.”

Stiles tried to pick everything up all at once, a huge armful of clothes and underwear and scarves until, inevitably, things started overflowing. Socks fell to the floor and rolled away under the bed. Trailing ends of scarf dangled down from the pile, threatening to tangle around his legs. Derek watched the whole thing with a mixture of amusement and foreboding. He could just picture Stiles getting to the top of the stairs and then tripping on a stray scarf and ending up at the bottom with a broken neck.

“Stop being an idiot,” Derek said. “Put that lot down and go find some bags or something. We don’t want to leave a trail of lost socks all the way to this supposed safe place.”

“Fine,” Stiles said. He dropped the whole pile. “But make yourself useful and, I dunno, fold something.”

Derek rolled his eyes. Stiles hurried off and Derek started gathering the items that had rolled away. He did as he was told and started folding things. He got down on his stomach to grab the balled socks that had ended up under the bed. He was still half under there when the bedroom door reopened but it wasn’t Stiles’ scent that wafted in. Derek slid out from under the bed and turned to glare at the teenager who stood there.

“So Stiles is really leaving?” the boy asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. We’ll finally get some peace and quiet round here.”

His tone was surprisingly angry. Derek reminded himself that throttling a kid would not be a good idea. Throttling the head bitch was still a possibility, but Stiles would be upset with him if he murdered a teenager.

“Is Stiles your boyfriend?” the kid asked. There was that angry note in his tone again, almost like a challenge. What was that? Jealousy?

Derek wanted to say yes. He wanted to declare that Stiles was his and that anyone who tried to take him would face bloody fury. But Derek knew that Stiles didn’t see it that way. With all his talk about contacting people, Stiles had talked about his dad and Scott, over and over, but he’d never given the slightest hint that he’d missed Derek at all.

“No,” Derek said. He hoped the kid would get the hint and just leave it alone.

“Then why did you come here for him?”

That was the question. Why had Derek come for Stiles? There were a million possible answers. Derek had come because Stiles was a good person who didn’t deserve all the awful stuff that he’d been put through. He’d come because Stiles could make him smile and Derek didn’t want to face his future without Stiles’ truly cringe-worthy sense of humour. He’d come because there’d never been a possibility of him not coming. But most importantly, Derek had come because, no matter what Stiles found out about him, Stiles always thought he was worth saving. From Peter, from the kanima, from the wreckage of the hospital after the Darach and the alphas, from Kate’s magic in the desert. Stiles always came to save him, with his ridiculous baseball bat and his ridiculous grin. Stiles thought Derek was worth saving, and that was worth everything.

“I came because he came for me,” Derek said.

He looked past the kid to the doorway, where Stiles was returning, a pile of canvas bags bundled under one arm. He looked at Derek, face tense and serious, then he dumped the bags on the floor and started shoving clothes inside. He didn’t say a word. Derek wondered what had happened in the few minutes he’d been gone that had upset him this much.

The other kid grabbed a book and dropped down on the bed, reading determinedly. Stiles just shoved everything into the bags without meeting Derek’s eyes, so Derek helped with the rest of the clothes. It didn’t take them long and then they were gathering the bags up. Stiles didn’t take the clothes downstairs though. Instead, he walked to another door and opened it up to reveal a room stuffed floor to ceiling with books. Derek stared around at the shelves, but Stiles seemed to know what he was after, charging in and grabbing a few books off the shelves, stuffing the into the bags between scarves and t-shirts.

“This is a lot of books,” Derek commented.

“Yep. And the best thing is, most of them aren’t in archaic Latin. I mean, admittedly a couple of them are in old English and one I think’s in ancient Greek, but for the most part, they beat the Argent bestiary hands down. All I need is some sort of indexing database to help with searching, but if someone’s written something down about magic, it’s probably in here somewhere.”

Stiles seemed to be done. At least a dozen books were squeezed somewhere into the canvas bags. Then he hesitated, went back, and tapped his fingers against spines along one shelf, muttering under his breath. Derek couldn’t hear clearly, but he had a suspicion it was eeny-meeny-miny-moe. Stiles came away with one last book.

“What’s that one?” Derek asked.

“No idea. I’ve got the standard training texts to work from, but I figure if I keep trying books at random, sooner or later I’ll get one with something awesome in it.”

They headed downstairs with all their bags and found that someone else had been busy. There were cardboard boxes in the hallway, all stuffed full of food. There were some pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables, but mostly the boxes were filled with packets and tins. One box also held some cooking pots, crockery and the like. Lady Rose stood near the supplies.

“We don’t have a portable stove to lend you,” she said. “I suspect making a campfire won’t be a challenge.”

“What about a tent?” Derek asked. “And sleeping bags?”

“We don’t actually have anything like that in the house, but Carl is fetching some bedding and some plastic sheeting that we have in storage. It will have to do.”

Derek didn’t argue. He would have loved to say something about her low standards in providing care, but right now it didn’t matter. Once they were away from this place, Derek would be able to find a way to provide for Stiles.

“Now, Derek,” Lady Rose continued, “these belong to you.”

She reached a hand into her robes and emerged first with his phone, then his wallet and keys. The phone was turned off, but Derek slipped it into a pocket. He wasn’t going to make the call until he was away from here.

A man came into the hall then with armfuls of blankets, a pillow, and the promise sheeting. Derek grabbed the things he’d brought from Stiles’ house, which were still in a pile on the side table, and he added it to the pile. There was a surprising amount of stuff, far more than Stiles and Derek would be able to carry. Stiles was staring at the pile too, apparently having the same thoughts.

“So,” he said, “do we levitate this stuff to get it to where we need to go?”

“No!” Lady Rose said sharply. “No magic until we are at our destination and I’ve rigged up at least the first layer of protection. There are things out there that could detect it and be drawn to it. In fact, it might be safer to render you unconscious for the journey.”

Derek stepped between her and Stiles.

“Try it and I’ll break every bone in your body.”

She didn’t back away, even when Derek loomed into her personal space, but she didn’t try to argue.

“Alright,” she said. “But I mean it about magic. You haven’t learned to mask your spells yet. Stiles, you will need to stay calm.”

“Promise,” Stiles said. “But then how the hell do we get this to your other safe space?”

Derek reached into his pocket again and pulled out his car keys.

Chapter Text

Lady Rose sat in the front passenger seat of Derek’s car. Stiles was in the back, staring out of the window as though trees moving behind glass were a novelty. The fact that Stiles was clearly so excited to be out here was just one more reason that Derek wanted to kill that bitch witch. And now his car would smell like her. Every time he drove somewhere, he would have to endure her stench. He wanted to throw the door open and tell her to walk. But she was the only person who actually knew where they were going.

Although, as she directed him to take a remote turn off into the woods, Derek realised there was something familiar about it. He’d been here before. He’d come this way during his search for Stiles. He’d checked so many sites before he’d found that big house that it took him a moment to remember what was down this road. It was a pond with a little waterfall in a clearing in the forest. Derek had driven near to it and then looked around and taken all of five minutes that there was no way anyone could be living nearby. And now they would be. There was absolutely nothing there and this was the place Stiles would have to stay until he learned to control his magic, however long that took.

Derek’s hands tightened around the steering wheel. He knew this was a win for them, but it still felt like Stiles was being dumped in the middle of the wilderness and that wasn’t much better than dumping him in a tiny cell.

The road came to an end abruptly under the trees. Derek parked the car. The last time he’d come here, he’d wondered at the way the road just stopped, since there was no obvious reason for people to drive this far and so there was no obvious reason for the road to exist at all. He wondered now if witches had made their way to the pond enough times over the years to warrant it.

They all got out of the car and Derek left the door open. He wanted to get that woman’s scent out as quickly as possible. Maybe if he let enough air through now, the scent wouldn’t have time to settle.

She grabbed one of the bags, one she’d packed with strange, magical bits and pieces, and started to walk through the trees. Stiles followed, clutching his pillow and that ridiculous knitted blanket. Derek slung a couple of the other bags over his shoulders and then grabbed a box of tin cans. He followed a little way behind. That witch was already talking Stiles through what needed to be done about his protection.

The clearing was as Derek remembered it. There was a wide space between the trees, with a ridge across the middle where the ground rose by about a metre. A tiny stream trickled across the clearing to the ridge and then splashed down into a pond that was nearly circular. The pond trickled out again and wove away into the trees. The ground was bright with grass and a few flowers pocked up around the edge of the pond. It would have been a lovely place for a picnic, but as a place to live there was absolutely nothing.

Derek dumped the stuff down by the pond and started back towards the car. Stiles and that witch were starting the protective magic. She took a few lumps of rough crystal out of her back and was burying them at strategic points around the edge of the clearing, accompanying this with waves of her hands. Stiles was watching it all carefully. Derek left them to it.

Back at the car, he dug his phone out of his pocket and turned it on. There were a dozen missed calls from the sheriff and another five from Scott. There was also a low battery warning, so Derek ignored the messages and just called the sheriff’s number. He answered instantly.

“Stiles?”

“It’s Derek.”

“Derek, is Stiles with you? Is he OK?”

“He’s OK. Did you talk to Argent?” Derek asked.

“Yeah. He said he gave you a map and a list of sites to check out.”

“Yes. I don’t know how long my phone battery will last. One of the sites marked as having protective magic is a small pond about forty miles north east of Beacon Hills, in the middle of a patch of forest.”

“That’s next on my list to check out.”

“Well I’m there now with Stiles. Don’t bring the whole pack. Just you. Maybe Scott. We don’t want to mob him with everyone all at once.”

The sheriff made a strange noise. Derek wondered for a moment if his phone was dying, but it was apparently just the sheriff’s noise of delight.

“I’ll be right there,” he said.

Derek wondered if he should ask the sheriff to bring a tent, but he decided against it, saying instead, “We’ll be here.”

He ended the call. He shoved the phone into his pocket again, and grabbed the next load of stuff.

***

Derek had moved all their supplies and made a pile of them by the pond, sorting out food from bedding from books. Then he went back into the woods to fetch firewood, leaving Stiles with Lady Rose apparently planting seeds around the edge of the clearing. Derek hoped they weren’t going to grow into something that would try to eat him.

When Derek returned, the witch was manipulating water out of the pond and floating it around all the freshly planted seeds. After the administration of the magic, floating water, tiny green shots burst from the earth. The edge of the clearing was gradually being marked by the ring of seedlings. While she did that, Stiles had out a stick that Derek instinctively knew to be mountain ash. In his other hand, he had an open book that he checked periodically. He was walking the boundary, using the stick to scrape markings into the earth, presumably adding to the protective spells.

Derek watched them both work as he arranged some stones in a ring and built the foundations for a fire in the space between them, piling twigs and kindling, with larger pieces of wood waiting nearby. They were done surprisingly quickly, finishing up even as he finished arranging the wood.

“It won’t keep out animals or people,” Lady Rose said to Stiles, “but as long as you remain inside the circle, you should be shielded from magical detection and beings of spirit won’t be able to penetrate the barrier. Your own magic won’t be able to escape either. Just don’t damage the boundary markers.”

Stiles nodded.

“So you’re done?” Derek asked.

“Yes. We’re done with the boundary, but I can help you get settled.”

“Stiles’ dad will be here soon and if he shot me for just not telling him where Stiles was, he’ll definitely want to shoot you.” Derek smiled at her. “You’re welcome to stay.”

“You called his father.”

“Someone had to.”

Lady Rose nodded. She turned back to Stiles and told him that someone would be along tomorrow to continue his lessons. Derek almost wanted her to ask for a lift back to her sanctuary, just so he could have the joy of telling her where to stick it, but she just walked away into the trees. Derek stared after her until he couldn’t hear her footsteps anymore.

“Are you just going to glare at the trees all day or should we sort out sleeping arrangements while it’s still full daylight?” Stiles asked.

“What’s to arrange? It’s not like we’ve got a tent to put up. We just lay the bedding out and hope it doesn’t rain.”

“You lived in the middle of the woods for months. How are your camping skills this sucky?”

“I had a house.”

“Barely.”

“You got a better idea?”

“Always,” Stiles said. “Give me a hand with this.”

‘This’ turned out to be one of the plastic sheets. They spread it out on the ground on the opposite side of the pond from their food supplies, where there was such enough room between the pond and the boundary edge. It was on the higher ground, above the pond, which probably made sense in terms of not getting flooded if the weather changed. Stiles weighed the corners down with cans so it wouldn’t flap around and then he got the bedding, making the promised mound of scarves to serve as mattress and then spreading it over with a couple of blankets. It was only when Stiles went for the pillows that Derek realised the problem.

“You’re only making one bed,” Derek said.

“Well there’s only so much stuff and, besides, it will probably get cold. If you want, you can sleep on the other side of the pond, but I’m keeping my scarves. You mocked my scarves.”

Derek stared at the makeshift bed. It was true that they had limited supplies of bedding and sharing body heat was practical given that they had no shelter and it was the middle of winter, but Stiles was basically suggesting they shared a bed. They’d done that, albeit briefly, after Stiles had had his nightmare, but this was different. This was a planned thing. Derek would be lying next to Stiles. One little movement in the middle of the night and he would be pressed up against him.

What if he got an erection? What if Stiles felt it and realised what it meant? What if Stiles was so freaked out he wouldn’t let Derek stay here and protect him?

“If you’re freaking out this much we can get my dad to bring some more stuff when he gets here,” Stiles said.

“I’m not freaking out.”

“You haven’t moved in, like, five minutes. I get it. You’re so disgusted at the thought of being in the same space as me that...”

“I’m not disgusted,” Derek said quickly.

“If you say so.”

“I’m not disgusted.”

“I heard you the first time, man.”

Derek wished there was a wall here to shove Stiles into because he needed to do something. Stiles was being so cheerfully obtuse that Derek wanted to scream. Derek was left with no idea what to say to rescue this conversation from the pit it had fallen into. He needed to argue. He needed to convince Stiles that there was nothing disgusting about sharing a bed with him, but he had to do so without terrifying him with the knowledge that Derek would cheerfully pin him down on that pile of scarves and screw his brains out.

Derek had never in his life been so glad to hear a car engine. He looked towards the road. He couldn’t see the car but there was only one person it was likely to be.

“Derek?” Stiles asked.

“I hear a car.”

Stiles burst into a grin. The bed argument was instantly forgotten. He shifted excitedly in place, looking like he was warming up to run across the boundary line.

“I’ll go meet him,” Derek said. “Show him the way.”

Stiles nodded, still twitching on the spot. Derek started towards the car.

“Don’t tread on the plants,” Stiles warned. Derek stepped carefully over the tiny green sprouts.

The sheriff’s cruiser was parked up next to Derek’s car when Derek got through the trees, the sheriff and Scott climbing out of it. The question was written on both of their faces, but it was the sheriff who asked, “Where is he?”

Derek jerked his head in the direction of the pond and started walking. He made it about three steps when the sheriff pushed past him, running between the trees. Derek sped up a little and was there in time to see Stiles warning his dad against treading on the boundary plants. Then the sheriff was inside the circle, throwing his arms around Stiles.

“Oh god, I’ve missed you,” Stiles said into his dad’s shoulder. Then Scott was there, hugging Stiles from behind so that the sheriff didn’t have to let go. There were no jokes this time about needing oxygen and needing to be let go. Stiles was just pressed in between them, laughing and crying all in the same moment, arms clawing at the back of his dad’s coat as he clung on. All Derek could do was stand off to the side and watch this beautiful moment. A moment he could be witness to, but not a part of.

Chapter Text

Eventually, the hug had to end. It was his dad who was the first to ask what had happened, where Stiles had been, a flood of questions pouring from his mouth. The overwhelming joy that Stiles had felt on seeing his dad again gave way to nerves again.

“Let’s talk about it over coffee,” said Stiles. “We’ve got a jar of instant. I’ll just get some water heated up.”

Stiles crouched down beside the fire Derek had laid but not lit. He was tingling with excitement and a little bit of fear, worried how they would react but wanting to share this. He tried to push those emotions back to avoid turning this into a huge fireball. Just the tiniest hint of spark was needed. He held his hand out over the pile of wood, calling upon the elements and willing the fire to begin.

He yanked his hand back an instant before the roaring flames seared his skin. That had been a little too close, but it was still going pretty good and at least this way he didn’t have to wait for it to heat up naturally. He stuck some more wood on the fire so it didn’t run out of fuel. Then he grabbed a pan from the cooking supplies and then called on the water of the pond, drawing up a small quantity and guiding it over to him. This he was a little less worried about because the worst that could happen would be that he got wet. As he relaxed into the spell, the water flowed easily, splashing into the pan under his will. He set the pan of water down in the edge of the fire and then he turned to look at his dad and Scott.

“That was magic,” Scott said.

“Yeah,” Stiles said. Despite his nerves, the grin fought its way onto his face.

“You did magic!”

“Yeah I did.”

“Awesome!”

His dad was staring at him, wide-eyed. Stiles waited for the reaction. He waited for his dad to be upset or disappointed or angry or something. He waited for his dad to be scared of him, to expect a re-enactment of the nogitsune disaster. He waited for something. His dad just stared at him, surprise the only thing registering on his face.

“So you’ve been studying magic?” his dad asked.

“Yes.”

“And this meant you couldn’t call me?”

“The coven have these ridiculous rules about secrecy,” Stiles said. He flopped down on the ground next to the fire and started telling on the whole story. He started with how he’d been mistaken for an evil magic practitioner, then finding that he had the out-of-control magic, then being invited to train with the coven. He decided to leave out the bit about being starved and locked in a tiny cell.

“Which meant I had to go along with their stupid rules because otherwise they wouldn’t teach me how to make things not go boom. But I persuaded them to let me send the scarves as a Christmas present because I knew you guys would be worried about me. But then Derek tried to come and rescue me and ended up a prisoner and then I thought that they’d killed him and things really went boom. And I kept telling them that you guys would be looking for me and Derek now so they sent me out here and we’ve set up a magically boundary to protect me from evil, nasty things that might be drawn to my magic and now I can talk to you without breaking coven rules.”

Stiles ran out of breath.

His dad and Scott were still staring at him. They were probably still processing.

“Does this mean you’re coming home?” his dad asked.

Stiles had expected this question but he still wasn’t sure how to answer this in a way that wasn’t going to cause emotional explosions that might cause actual explosions. He avoided his dad’s eye.

“You’re not coming home, are you?” his dad said.

“Things are... explosive right now.”

“Explosive?”

“I blew up a lightbulb the other night,” he admitted, “while I was asleep. And then when Derek was gone and I thought maybe they’d murdered him to keep the secret, I might have trashed the entire building. I can’t come home until I know I’m not going to blow you up.”

“So I’m supposed to just let you go back to people who kidnapped you and kept you away from me? People who won’t even let you talk to me?”

“Actually no,” Stiles said. “We’re going to be camping out here now so you can talk to me as much as you like.”

His dad looked around the campsite, taking it in properly for the first time. Up until now, his eyes had basically been locked on Stiles. Now he saw the boxes of food and the makeshift bed.

“Camping?” he said. “It’s the middle of winter! You’ll freeze.”

“We’ve got blankets and stuff, and the campfire.”

“What about if a mountain lion attacks?”

“Derek will eat it for breakfast.”

Stiles grinned over at Derek, who was standing off to the side, glaring at him for that joke.

“No,” Stiles’ dad said. “You can’t call me up and bring me here after everything that’s happened and then tell me you’re not coming home. I don’t care if I have to carry you and lock you in the back of my car, you’re coming home.”

“And how does that make you different from the people who grabbed me and carried me off in the first place?” Stiles asked.

His dad stared at him, angry and upset, then snapped, “I’m your father!”

“That doesn’t mean you’re right!” Stiles snapped back. There was a loud cracking noise and then a wet splatter. Shards of metal flew across the clearing, followed by trails of reddish brown mess. A handful of beans hit Stiles in the side of the face with a damp splodge.

There was a moment of silence while everyone stared at what had once been a can of baked beans and which was now a beany explosion spread across about a ten metre wide circle. Stiles was glad that they’d put the bed on the opposite side of the pond to the food supplies, because beans had surprisingly good range. Most of their food supplies were now splashed with tomato sauce.

His dad stared. He picked some beans off the front of his jacket.

“You just did that?” he asked.

“This is what I’m afraid of,” Stiles said. “I get upset and...” He gestured towards the mess. “Beans are a nuisance, but back home there’s too much that could actually be dangerous.”

“But what about school? You should be in school.”

“Home-schooling lessons,” Stiles said. He went to the bags and pulled out a biology text book as evidence, holding it up for his dad to see. Then he wiped beans and tomato sauce off the cover with his sleeve.

“Dad, this really is the best option,” Stiles continued. “I’m away from the coven and their stupid secrecy rules, but I’m not going to hurt anyone else, and the boundary will keep evil magic things away from me. I can put up with a bit of wilderness camping. It’s only until I can get the magic more under control.”

“And how long is that going to take?” his dad asked. “Because if you tell me you’ll be coming home next week, maybe I’ll stop arguing.”

Stiles didn’t have a good answer. So he practiced avoidance. He decided that the water had been boiling long enough to be safe to drink, so he went and dug some mugs out of their supplies. There were only two mugs, but he guessed they could take turns. He spooned some coffee granules into the mugs and then used magic to manipulate the still-bubbling water out of the pot and into the mugs. He handed one of the mugs over to his dad, who took it, still staring at him seriously. Stiles offered the other mug to Scott, who shook his head and gestured that Stiles could take it. Stiles clutched the mug between his hands, feeling the heat flow through his fingers.

“I am getting better,” Stiles said. “And now I’ve got my Adderall again, it should be easier to focus. And you’ll be able to come and check up on me as often as you like. I just can’t risk anyone getting hurt. Dad, you know why I can’t let anyone get hurt because of me.”

“I’m not going to leave you out here alone in the middle of the woods.”

“I’m not alone. Derek’s with me.”

“I could stay too,” Scott suggested.

“No!” Stiles’ dad said. “You have school. And your mom would kill me.”

“Dad,” Stiles tried again, “I’m not in danger here. You saw what I did by accident. Just think what I can do if I actually try. If some, I dunno, sexual predator comes across me in the woods and tries to take advantage, I could turn him into a crater. If you’re worried about me, fine, bring a tent and a couple of sleeping bags, but I’m not leaving this place until I stop blowing stuff up by accident.”

“So you’ll just blow stuff up on purpose?” Scott said.

“Imagine the fun we could have with Coach,” said Stiles. “I can just see him, about to take a bit into a big sandwich at lunch, and then boom. Ham and bits of bread flying everywhere. Then in class, he picks up a pen and boom, ink splatters all over him.”

Stiles’ dad rubbed his fingers against his temples.

“I can’t believe that my life is such that I have to forbid you from magically pranking your teachers.”

“Fine,” Stiles pouted. “No blowing up Coach.”

At least it seemed he’d managed to divert the conversation from the subject of whether he’d be staying here. He knew it wouldn’t be the end of the argument. His dad would probably remain adamant on the subject until the day Stiles achieved complete mastery, but at least for now they could talk about other things.

“Other than blowing stuff up,” Scott asked, “what can you do?”

Stiles decided this was time to put on the light show again. It was pretty and impressive and unlikely to make anything explode. He put down his coffee and called up the lights, making them dance around him like a swarm of fireflies. He felt his magic flowing through him as he guided this little collection of points, making them swirl over his head. He gathered them together in front of him into one large light and then he toss it up and exploded it again like a firework, sending out a thousand tiny glitters that faded into the air.

Stiles grinned nervously towards his dad, waiting for a reaction. It was Scott who spoke first.

“That was unbelievable!” he said. He was grinning too. This was what Stiles had been missing more than anything. He’d been learning all this amazing stuff about magic but there’d been no one to share it with, no one to really talk to. So he made up for it now.

“I can manipulate the elements,” he said, “and levitate things and do the light spells. It’s not much, but it means I’ll never need a flashlight again.” He grinned in Derek’s direction at that. “These are just the first order spells, simple stuff, but they can be combined together to do much more complicated stuff like weather spells or making plants grow, which is actually a really cool bit of magic because it involves all of the elements because you’ve got to give them a little bit of heat, and water, and get the earth to nourish them and then provide the air, and it’s all got to be in perfect balance. And on top of that, there’s the spiritual stuff, because there are these spirits basically everywhere in the world and you can use magic to communicate with them and ask them for help, or drive them away if they’re malicious. And you can combine those too. There’s this spell for finding your way when lost which uses the light spell to show the path but then gets local spirits to guide the light in the right way. And then there’s all the stuff you can do with potions, which I’m really struggling with because all these herbs look exactly the same and they all have like ten different uses depending on context, but I’m getting there.”

He slowed to a stop, partly because he needed to breathe, and partly because his dad was still staring at him with that serious look on his face.

“And you plan on living in the middle of the forest until you learn all this?” his dad asked.

“No. Of course not. I could spend the rest of my life mastering all this. I just need to get the basics under control. Then I can come home.”

“This is ridiculous. You’re coming home now.”

“Did you see the beans explode, Dad? Because I could make something else explode. Or I could set something on fire. Do you want me to set your car on fire? Because that could happen.”

“I’m not going to let you threaten me into leaving you in the middle of nowhere.”

“They’re not threats! Dad, I want to come home. Really, I do. But it’s not safe. I can’t let you get hurt.”

Stiles glared at his dad. His dad glared back at him.

In was Derek who broke the silence. He’d been standing off to the side, just watching, but now he said, “Sheriff, you’re not going to win this argument with him. But I’ll be here. I’ll keep him safe.”

Stiles’ dad glared at Derek. Then he rubbed a hand over his face.

“I still don’t like this,” he said.

“I know,” said Stiles.

“And you can’t camp out all winter with no real equipment. What happens when the weather turns bad? You need a tent and a thermal sleeping bag and I don’t know what else. You need a way to make contact in an emergency. You need... I don’t know what else you need but I’m not leaving you in the wilderness with a box of baked beans.”

“OK.”

“And if I go to fetch you that stuff,” he went on, “I need you to promise, I need you to swear on your life, that you will still be here when I get back.”

“I promise,” Stiles said.

“Right then. I’m going to get you some real equipment. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Scott, I assume you want to stay here.”

“Yeah, I’ll stay,” Scott said.

“OK. Don’t take your eyes off him for a minute,” Stiles’ dad said to Scott, pointing at Stiles.

He stood up, putting down his nearly untouched mug of coffee. Stiles stood too. His dad grabbed him for another hug. Stiles leaned into it. He hadn’t known how much he’d needed this until now. A part of him wanted to hold on forever and refuse to let his dad go, but the rational part of him knew that his dad wouldn’t be gone long.

He let go. His dad walked away and stepped carefully over the boundary line, looking back at least four times before the trees blocked the view. Stiles stood there, watching him leave, fighting down the irrational fear that something awful might keep him from seeing his dad again.

Eventually, Scott cleared his throat. Stiles turned away from the trees and forced a smile.

“So,” Scott said. “Magic lessons?”

So Stiles started talking about his training. He told the story about how he’d made the pear tree explode, and the magic plants that had taken a dislike to him after that. He took great delight in describing how Derek had been caught upside down by the ivy. He kept it all light, talking like it had been a great adventure. Everything he said was true, but there were more than a few things he didn’t talk about.

Like the nightmares. The cell. Being deprived of food and meds and then told to focus. Each omission seemed like a secret weight he was tucking out of sight as he laughed with Scott over stories of the other students and of his various magical mishaps. With every word not spoken, Stiles felt the weight grow. And he felt the weight of Derek’s eyes, constantly watching.

Chapter Text

The sheriff returned as promised a couple of hours later and Derek went to help carry things out from the car. There was a tent, an expensive-looking sleeping bag, a bottle of anti-bacterial gel, and a packet that claimed to contain foot-warmers. There was some more food, some more cold-weather clothes, and various odds and ends including a little camping stove. The sheriff had also bought a new phone. Most importantly, there was a large take-out bag that smelled of burgers and curly fries.

It would take several trips to carry everything between the car and the pond, and the sheriff took the opportunity to talk to Derek where Stiles couldn’t overhear.

“Is he really alright?” was the first question the sheriff asked.

“Physically, he’s perfectly fine.”

“And emotionally?”

“This has been tougher on him than he wants you to realise.”

The sheriff nodded. He must have expected that answer. He stared at the pile of stuff in the trunk of his car, like he was reconsidering just slamming the trunk shut, grabbing Stiles, and getting out of here.

“The thing he’s most scared of is hurting you,” Derek said. “He loves you and he’s missed you, but he’s terrified of causing something bad to happen to you. This,” he gestured back towards the camp, “is his way of getting both. He gets you but he gets to keep you safe.”

“But will he be safe?”

“As safe as I can make him.”

“You said you don’t trust the people who took him, this coven he talked about?”

“Not in the slightest. Their leader is a self-righteous,” Derek remembered who he was talking to, caught himself, and finished the sentence, “witch.”

The sheriff gave a little, amused huff of breath. He probably guessed what word Derek would have preferred to use.

The sheriff continued, “Leaving him here, in a place chosen by his kidnappers, it goes against every rational instinct.”

There were approaching footsteps and Scott appeared between the trees.

“Stiles wants to know if you’re done talking about him,” he announced.

The sheriff looked at Derek.

“For now,” he said. He grabbed the take-out bag and tossed it to Scott. “This should keep him quiet for a bit.”

They ate their burgers sitting around the campfire. Stiles stole half his dad’s curly fries under the pretence that it was for his dad’s own good. He was almost back to his old self and that was good to see. By the time they’d finished, it was starting to get dark but the sheriff insisted that they needed to put the tent up just in case the weather went bad overnight. Derek watched the ensuing argument, half-expecting something to explode, while Stiles and his dad bickered over the interpretation of the instructions that came in the tent’s wrappings.

Scott wisely chose not to get between them. He took a front row seat next to Derek and laughed at the show. There were no magical fireworks and, even when he was calling his dad an imbecile, Stiles seemed to be getting more relaxed.

“I can’t believe he’s OK,” Scott said.

There were so many things Derek might have said. He could have said something about the starvation, or that bitch woman, or the cell, or that Stiles had been deprived of medication, or the nightmares. But, right now, arguing with his dad, Stiles really did seem OK.

***

When the tent was finally up and the bed remade inside it, his dad had run out of excuses to linger. He still managed to wait for half an hour. By then it was fully dark, with only the glow of the campfire. Stiles had made a few of his magic lights to help them see to put up the tent, but then he’d been distracted by the argument and the lights had faded to nothing. Now there was just flickering shadows and the inevitable night.

Stiles wondered if he should ask his dad to stay, but the tent wasn’t that big and there was just the one sleeping bag. That was actually a little mean now he thought about it. His dad hadn’t bought a sleeping bag for Derek. And the concept of sleep kept recurring and sooner or later his dad would go home to his bed and Stiles would stay here with a tent. Stiles was starting to stress about the fact that he’d gone so long without seeing his dad and now he was going to be saying goodbye to his dad again. Stiles was twitching and pacing and trying not to think which never worked for stopping thinking about things.

His dad must have seen the look on his face. He caught Stiles’ arm to get him to stand still.

“Hey,” he said softly, “I’ve got one more thing for you.” He handed over a phone. “It’s fully charged but leave it off for now to preserve the battery. I’ve programmed the numbers for the whole pack into it in case you need anything, and I will call you at eight o’clock tomorrow morning, so turn it on for then. We’ll talk in the morning. Then, after work, I will come back and make sure you’re still alright and check there’s nothing we’ve forgotten to get for you.”

Stiles smiled. Every word his dad had just said took a little bit of tension away from him. He clutched the phone tightly in one hand and pulled his dad into a hug.

“I love you, kiddo,” his dad said.

“Love you too.”

Scott hugged him as well before heading off. Then there was just Stiles and Derek, standing by the tent. His dad’s arms had felt warm around him and their absence made the night air feel cold. Stiles wrapped his arms around himself but it wasn’t the same. Even knowing he would see his dad again tomorrow didn’t make it feel like less of a loss.

“Here,” Derek said. And draped something over Stiles’ shoulder. It was the monstrosity blanket, with its brightly coloured patches rendered less obviously clashing in by the darkness.

“Thanks,” Stiles said. They stood and stared at each other for a minute. Stiles played with the edge of the blanket. Stiles looked around the campsite and his eyes fell on the bag containing a pile of books. There was nothing else to do.

“I guess I should get some reading done,” he said, grabbing the top book from the pile.

“In this light?” Derek asked.

Stiles held out a hand and called a little magical energy. The light burst into being. Stiles sat down beneath it and opened the book.

“Right,” Derek said. He looked around. “Could you make another of those?”

He went for the book bag.

“You sure?” Stiles asked.

“Of course. I’d love to read about,” he picked up a book and looked at the cover, “the protective nature of herbal plants.”

“Good choice.”

“Really?”

“If you’re struggling to get to sleep. You’ll be out like a light in five minutes. Guaranteed.”

Derek put the book back and grabbed one of the others, a bestiary Stiles had been reading in the hope of identifying whatever the hell Parrish was. Stiles bent his head over his book and began reading.

He made it about two paragraphs before he forgot about his spell and the lights went out. He summoned his magic again and picked up where he’d left off. The third times the lights went out, Derek gave a growl of frustration and tossed the book aside.

“I’m going to bed,” he said. Then he stomped off towards the trees.

“There’s a perfectly good tent,” Stiles called out.

“If you want me to piss on your sleeping bag, I’m more than happy to oblige,” Derek said. He walked away into the woods. Stiles looked round at the campsite and realised a critical error. They’d made the boundary just inside the treeline, meaning that there was absolutely no cover. No privacy.

Stiles put the book away and cringed internally.

“Derek,” he called out. “I know you can hear me with your werewolf super-hearing. So stay where you are for the next, say, ten minutes. I mean it. Don’t come back for ten minutes.”

Stiles stood by the boundary line and relieved himself into the trees, before washing his hands in the stream and applying some of the anti-bacterial goop his dad had brought. Then he ducked into the tent, just in case Derek came back, and changed into sweatpants. He pulled a new fleecy top over his t-shirt to help keep him warm through the night. It was beautifully soft and snuggleable.

“Am I allowed back?” Derek called.

“Yeah, it’s fine. I wonder if we’d be able to get one of those portable bathrooms they have at festivals.”

“Unlikely.”

Derek climbed into the tent and zipped it shut behind him. Stiles made another magic light so they could see what they were doing. He felt a little guilty as he slipped into his thermal sleeping bag on top of the mattress of scarves he’d rebuilt inside the ten. He offered Derek the knitted blanket instead.

“You might need this,” he said.

“I’ll be alright.”

“Look, I know you think it’s hideous, but it will keep you warm.”

Derek hesitated a moment and then took it. He held it up to his face. Stiles decided not to make any comments about smell. He’d slept in that blanket so it probably didn’t smell ideal to someone with werewolf senses, but Derek said nothing either. He wrapped the blanket around his body and then slipped under the other blankets that they’d brought from the sanctuary.

Stiles let the light blink out and they were plunged into darkness. It felt strange to lie there in his sleeping bag, and know that Derek was just inches away.

“Derek,” he said quietly. “Thanks. For staying with me.”

“Of course I stayed.”

“Because you feel you owe me. For coming after you in Mexico.”

“It’s not like that,” Derek said.

“I heard you talking to Ian. It’s OK. I get it. You’re helping me now because I came after you when Kate took you and you want to even the scales. It’s fine. It’s not like I was under the delusion you actually liked me or anything.”

“Stiles,” Derek said.

“No. Forget I said anything. Goodnight.”

There was a long silence. Stiles closed his eyes and tried not to think. He wished he hadn’t brought this stupid subject up. He should have just left things alone.

“You’re an idiot,” Derek said.

“Glad we sorted that out.”

“You think I would go through all this if I didn’t like you?”

There was another silence. Stiles heard that question over and over in his mind as he thought back over the past few days and all Derek had done, coming to rescue him, letting Stiles kick him out of bed, calling his dad, everything. Stiles smiled a little into the darkness. Derek actually liked him. Stiles squirmed a little inside the sleeping bag.

“Go to sleep, Stiles,” Derek said.

Chapter Text

Derek woke with the dawn, the rising light outside stirring animals and birds into noise. He lay there inside the tent, watching Stiles sleep. Derek had been woken a couple of times in the night by Stiles wriggling in his sleep, but he hadn’t had any nightmares. Derek guessed that seeing his dad and Scott had helped sooth his mental state. Stiles stirred a little, rolling over inside the confines of the sleeping bag. It probably wouldn’t be long before he woke.

Derek slipped out from under the blankets, including the knitted one that smelt so much of Stiles. The morning air was chill. Their fire had died overnight but the little camp stove had an inbuilt spark so he could get it to light. He set some water on to heat to make coffee.

While he waited, he undressed and splashed some water from the pond over him. It wasn’t much of a shower, but it was better than nothing. Only when he finished and went to grab clean clothes did he realise the thing that had been forgotten in their various preparations. They didn’t have a towel. So Derek pulled clean clothes on over wet skin and huddled around the camp stove to try and steal some heat from it. Werewolves didn’t tend to feel the cold as much as humans did, but that didn’t mean he appreciated a cold water bath outside in the middle of winter with no way to dry off afterwards.

Stiles emerged from the tent behind Derek and Derek heard a surprised little intake of breath.

“What happened?” Stiles asked. Derek looked down at his body, at the wet t-shirt clinging to his skin.

“I tried to have a wash. We forgot towels.”

“God, you’ll freeze.”

Stiles hurried out of the tent and over to the remains of their fire. He assembled some wood and waved his hands over the pile, which burst instantly into a roar of flames. Derek crouched down beside the blaze, holding his hands towards the heat.

“No, no,” Stiles said. “Clothes off.”

Derek raised an eyebrow. Stiles actually blushed. He looked away. But Stiles probably had a point. Derek peeled his wet t-shirt off and tossed it towards Stiles. Stiles used a stick to hold the shirt up over the flames. By the time Derek had his jeans off, the t-shirt had started to steam.

“I should come camping more often,” Stiles muttered. Then, when Derek turned to look at him, he turned crimson. “Crap. I said that out loud, didn’t I?”

Derek might have laughed at Stiles’ embarrassment. He already knew Stiles found him attractive. He’d known since Stiles had manipulated him into doing a strip-tease for his friend in exchange for hacking help. Danny hadn’t been the only one smelling of arousal that afternoon. It was different now that they knew each other better. It was different now that the attraction went both ways. Besides, Derek couldn’t afford to make Stiles uncomfortable right now, when comfort was desperately lacking. So Derek said nothing. He acted as though he hadn’t heard and just held his jeans over the fire to dry them.

Then a thought occurred.

“Couldn’t you have done the waterbending thing and just sucked the water out of my clothes?” Derek asked.

“Oh. Crap. Yeah, I guess I could. I didn’t think.”

“So you weren’t just using the excuse to see me half-naked?”

Stiles’ blush, which had begun to fade, returned with a vengeance until he was bright red.

“No,” he said. “It wasn’t an excuse. Not that you don’t look good half-naked. Not that I’m looking at you. Well, I am looking at you but not looking, you know. Not that you’re not worth looking at. Oh god, I should just stick my foot in my mouth and save myself the trouble. I just didn’t think about the water thing and I should have done. Look, just put your clothes on and we’ll do that instead. I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. I’m not trying to take advantage of you or anything. I wouldn’t. Not with you. Not that I wouldn’t want to see you because, I mean, anyone with eyes would want to see you but not that I... I should just shut up.”

“Probably a good idea.” Derek was fighting laughter again, but feeling guilty about it at the same time. He hadn’t meant to make Stiles uncomfortable. This could make things more awkward between them.

Since he was already undressed, Derek decided to just let the fire do its work. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long, and then Derek was pulling on warm and mostly dry clothes. Stiles decided against a cold wash and just scrubbed his hands and face with the anti-bacterial stuff before pulling on clean clothes. Derek bent over breakfast preparation while Stiles changed, forcing his eyes not to stray.

Things were still a little awkward when they sat down together with their coffee and plates of beans, so Stiles did what he always did when faced with silence. He talked. He rambled about the possibility of using magic to make a hot shower. He could manipulate water pretty well now, so it should be possible to get the water out of the pond and into a shower, but that would still be freezing cold. He talked about using the fire elemental spell to heat the water up as he pulled it out of the pond.

“There wouldn’t be an actual fire. Even I can’t make water burn. I hope. But the same magic I use to make a fire start could be used to heat the water. I would just have to be careful with levels. I wouldn’t want to give myself third degree burns trying to make a shower.”

“We still have the towel problem,” Derek pointed out.

“Hot air. Heat spell and air elemental control. Same sort of idea and I’d get a hot air blower thing going, like a whole body hair dryer. Again, the problem would be regulating the temperature. I should start experimenting.”

“Just don’t burn yourself with your experiments.”

Stiles rolled his eyes.

Anything he might have said was interrupted by his new phone ringing. Stiles jumped, flailed, nearly splattered everything with baked beans again, and then grabbed for the phone.

“Hi!” he said, a little breathless.

“Stiles,” the sheriff’s voice came through. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. I’m good. The phone call made me jump.”

Derek swallowed down the last of his breakfast and stood.

“I’m going to get some more firewood,” he told Stiles, who nodded. Derek crossed the boundary and headed off into the trees, leaving Stiles to talk to his dad in private. If Stiles needed something, he could always yell and Derek would hear, but there was no need to infringe too much on an exchange with his dad. So Derek hunted dry branches. They had the plastic sheeting. They should probably make a wood pile under that to make sure that they’d always have plenty of dry wood, even if the weather changed.

Derek worked slowly, but eventually he’d gathered as much would as he could easily carry, so he walked back towards the camp. Stiles was still on the phone, but he noticed Derek’s return and pointed out that his dad probably had work to get to. They promised to see each other later and then Stiles said he’d turn off the phone to preserve the battery.

“OK, see you later,” Stiles said. “And bring towels. Love you.” Stiles was smiling a little as he hung up, definitely more relaxed than he’d been back at the witch’s house.

Derek grabbed the pots from breakfast and went to the stream to wash them.

“Derek,” Stiles said. Derek turned, half-expecting Stiles to offer to wash them. Instead, Stiles said, “Do you mind putting the fuel for the stove on the other side of the boundary?”

Derek wasn’t going to argue that with a guy who blew stuff up on a frequent basis. He took the stove as well, placing them both just on the other side of the line of plants and stones that marked the edge of their campsite.

“Should I put the fire out too?” he asked.

“Probably a good idea,” Stiles said. “But I’ll try it my way.”

He crouched next to the fire, holding his hands out, and the flames gradually dimmed. The fire weakened until there was just a soft glow. Then nothing. Stiles let out a breath of relief.

“Were you expecting it to blow up when you were putting it out?” Derek asked.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

Derek decided it was safest to wash the dishes himself rather than risking Stiles trying to clean them using magic. While Derek worked, Stiles used magic to create a spray of water over the pond as the basis for his shower. Derek wondered if he was trying to heat it but decided not to interrupt. He just left the dishes out to dry and went to grab a book instead.

A little while after breakfast, Derek’s ears caught the approach of footsteps. Lady Rose walked up to their camp. Derek glowered at her over his book but said nothing. She ignored him and greeted Stiles cheerfully, taking in their expanded camp and asking how the night had gone and if Stiles had had a good catch up with his dad. Stiles replied politely but with an efficiency of statement that was unusual for him. After the relaxed and vocal Stiles of yesterday evening, this seemed a huge step backwards. If Lady Rose noticed, she didn’t say anything. She probably hadn’t seen Stiles happy often enough to notice the difference.

She pulled a cloth pouch from somewhere in her robes and held it out to Stiles. He opened it up and took out a seed about half an inch long. From the weight of the pouch, there were more seeds inside it.

“You saw what I did yesterday with the seeds,” she said. “I’d like you to try the same.”

Derek watched as they found a clear patch of ground and Stiles buried the seed, sitting down on the earth beside it. Lady Rose stood over him, lecturing on element control and balance, offering advice on energy flow. Then she told Stiles to try. The first time, the seed shot out of the earth and flew up in the air for a few metres. There was more lecturing and Stiles tried again. Lady Rose talked about the need for focus. This time, the patch of ground bubbled with water and turned into mud. Then the seed did sprout, a long shoot racing into the air before withering in about five seconds. The new plant collapsed to the ground dead. That happened a few more times. Stiles was getting visibly frustrated now and his next attempt caused the seed to start sprouting and then instantly burst into flames.

Stiles gave a noise of annoyance and Derek decided he’d had enough. He put his book down and went over to Stiles.

“That’s enough for now,” he said.

“Excuse me?” Lady Rose sounded affronted.

Derek ignored her. He grabbed Stiles’ arm and towed him up, starting towards the edge of the clearing and dragging Stiles behind him.

“Ow! That arm’s still attached, Derek!” Stiles complained.

Derek stopped by the boundary edge and glared towards Lady Rose to make sure she kept her distance. Then he looked back at Stiles, the grip on his arm changing to a gentle touch.

“I know what the problem is,” Derek said.

“You know why my spell isn’t working?” Stiles asked. He sounded incredibly doubtful.

“Yesterday, when you were showing off for your dad and Scott, you were having fun and everything went perfectly. Now, you’re treating this as a lesson and you’re getting frustrated and it’s going wrong.”

“This is a harder spell than the stuff I was doing yesterday.”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with how difficult the spell is. I think the problem is you’re getting stressed about it.”

“So I should do yoga before practicing magic?” Stiles asked.

“No. You should stop caring too much about whether it works. You’ve built this all up in your head as being so important that you’re making it harder for yourself. Treat it like a game.”

“A game?”

“Yes. The ‘keep the elements in balance’ game. You’re trying to get a new high score but if it goes wrong, who cares? You just press reset and try again. There are absolutely zero negative consequences if you don’t get it perfect on the first try. Or the hundredth try. Just relax and have fun. Because when you think about it, what you’re trying to do is pretty cool.”

“It is pretty cool.”

“And if it bursts into flames again, you’ve got another fun anecdote to share with Scott, and that’s good too.”

Stiles nodded. He still looked a little doubtful, but there was a trace of a smile on his face too.

“You’re right,” he said. “No stress. Just playing with magic.”

“So go have fun,” Derek said.

Stiles went back to his place on the ground. Lady Rose glared at Derek over him.

“I don’t appreciate having my lessons interrupted,” she said.

“We need to talk too,” Derek said. He didn’t actually want to talk to her, but he figured Stiles would do better without someone looming sternly over him. So he walked back to the edge of the clearing and she followed.

“Well?” she asked quietly.

“You’re going about this all wrong,” Derek said.

“You think you know more about teaching magic than I do?”

“I know nothing about teaching magic,” Derek said, “but I know Stiles. It will take him forever to learn if you teach him like this.”

“Like what?”

“One thing at a time, making him practice over and over until he gets it right.”

“Then what would you suggest?” Lady Rose asked. Derek wasn’t sure if she was being patronising or genuinely asking. He decided to act as though it was the second.

“Give him several things to work on. If he has a whole bunch of exercises he can switch between them when one gets frustrating or when he gets distracted.”

“Flitting between tasks is less conducive to study than focusing on a sole challenge.”

“Not for Stiles. I’ve seen him doing research for the pack. He’ll have a dozen books and about a hundred webpages open and he’ll jump between them. He’ll come across something in one which reminds him of something in another, and so he’ll jump and read about that, and then he’ll come across a connection to something else, and he’ll go read that for a bit. By the end of it, he knows everything he could hope to know on the subject, but he doesn’t get there in a straight line. He’s the same with doing his homework. He’ll do half a page of chemistry and then switch over to English, and then get bored with that and jump to biology, and then have an idea for the English essay and switch back. He doesn’t think in straight lines.”

Derek wasn’t sure if she was really listening to him, but she was quiet. That was a good sign.

“He needs to learn in his own way. His own pace,” Derek said.

Lady Rose shook her head, “In my experience, when children set their own pace, they do nothing.”

“We’re not talking about children. We’re talking about Stiles. He wants to learn this stuff. But the way you’re doing it makes it into a chore. It needs to be fun for him.”

“Fun?”

“Try things like... letting him set his own challenges. He was talking this morning about finding a way to rig a hot shower by combining the water and fire element spells. That would be a good exercise, right? That’s the sort of thing he needs. Don’t tell him what to do, but give him problems and let him figure out the solution for himself.”

“You truly believe Stiles will learn better this way?”

“Absolutely,” Derek said.

“I suppose it’s worth a try.”

Derek still wanted to punch this woman and he still felt there were dancing monkeys who would make better teachers than her, but if Stiles insisted on staying to learn from her, Derek would do what he could to make the learning experience a good one. This agreement might not be much, but it was a step in the right direction.

“Erm,” Stiles called out. “A little help here?”

Derek turned back to Stiles. He’d managed the plant-growing spell. In front of him was a tiny tree, about a foot high, with a thin trunk and skinny, spindly branches, and a few bright leaves sprouting from them. It would have looked like a perfect execution of the spell. Except that all the other seeds had sprouted too. All the seeds in the bag had grown trunks and branches of their own, grown sideways out of the bag, and somehow ended up wrapped around Stiles’ arms and torso. When he shifted position, a twig snapped, but then it instantly grew back, poking Stiles in the arm.

Derek smirked in amusement.

“At least they didn’t burst into flames,” he said.

“I hate you,” Stiles said.

Lady Rose hurried to his side and ran her hands over the plants. Little branches and stalks moved under her ministrations, untangling slowly and easing away from Stiles. As she worked, she spoke.

“It seems you managed to implement the growth spell,” she said, “but the effect was too wide-ranging. You need to learn to focus your magic so that it only affects the area you intend it to. It’s like the water element spell and the plumbing all over again.”

“Well, short of wrapping myself in mountain ash, how can I stop the magic spilling over?”

Lady Rose opened her mouth. She looked up at Derek.

“Practice,” she said, turning back to Stiles. “You need to experiment with targeting a small area with a spell and not affecting the areas around it.” She walked over to their food supplies and pulled out a can from the collection. She showed it: a can of spaghetti. “Try lifting one strand of spaghetti out at a time and levitating it over to a pan, without moving the others. Or you could tie some of your scarves up and try to create a wind that only moves one of them. Your... friend has suggested that you might want to have several exercises you can move between and that you might want to come up with your own exercises, so all I will suggest is that you try performing magic on a small scale and focus on keeping the effect from spilling over.”

She returned to Stiles and continued her ministrations to the plants, which bent slowly to her will, their tangling branches easing away so that she could take each little seedling and move it to its own spot away from the others, and away from Stiles. Stiles was frowning at her and had been through most of her little speech. Derek thought he was surprised by this change in approach. Then he spoke.

“Why do you pause like that?” he asked.

“Like what?”

“When you talk about Derek. You never use his name. It’s always ‘your pause friend’.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

“Yeah, you do. It’s like you’re thinking about calling him something else. But he is my friend. There should be no pausing necessary.”

He managed to extract his arm from the mess of plants and gestured as he spoke, knocking into a branch, which instantly reacted, trying to wrap around his wrist again.

“Damn it,” he muttered. Lady Rose reached out and stroked that branch, which shivered at her touch and released Stiles’ arm. It seemed the conversation was put on hold when she dealt with the plant.

Chapter Text

Stiles cooked lunch using magic. It was a slow process. He had the can of spaghetti in front of him and lifted out a long strand of pasta, using a tiny influence of the fire elemental magic to warm it up. Then he deposited it in the pan. Every few minutes, he paused his levitation spell to apply just a touch more heat to the pasta in the pan to stop it going stone cold while he worked on the rest of the can. It was astonishingly hard work to try and only move one thing at a time.

Every little while, Stiles got up and walked around just to ease his frustrated mood. Lady Rose said nothing. She sat on the ground surrounded by the little plants, trying to undo the damage Stiles had managed to cause. She looked over to him when he moved around and he could almost feel her judging him. She probably thought he was lazy for having to keep stopping all the time. So he refused to let himself keep getting distracted. He moved about a bit and then returned to the can and tried for the next bit of spaghetti, lifting it out, heating it, trying not to think about accidentally burning it because that might lead to accidentally burning it, and then adding it to the heated pan. Only Lady Rose’s continued presence kept him from saying, “Screw it,” and just dumping the entire contents of the can in the pan in one go.

When the final piece of spaghetti lifted out and floated over to the pan, Stiles was about ready to scream. But it was done. He looked at the mass of pasta and tomato sauce and decided that it was a feeble lunch, so he dug around in their supplies until he found a can of peas so that they could have some vegetable matter in their food. There was no way in hell that he was going to go through the same nightmare with about a thousand peas so he just tipped the peas in with the spaghetti and stirred everything together, adding just a touch of heat. He tried to hold his frustration back because he didn’t want to set fire to their lunch after all that.

“Done!” he declared.

Derek put aside his book and gathered the plates, serving out mounds of pasta and peas. There were only two plates. Derek put half of the food onto one and handed it over to Stiles. Then he put the other half on a plate which he kept for himself. There were only a few scrapings of tomato sauce left in the pan, so it was perfectly clear that Derek had no intention of letting Lady Rose eat any of it. He just started eating, staring impassively at her.

Stiles wondered if he was waiting for her to say something, waiting for an excuse to exact vengeance for Stiles being starved in isolation. Perhaps Lady Rose understood the point Derek was trying to make because she ignored her lack of food. Instead, she just smiled at Stiles and talked about his magic.

“Area of intent is important,” she said. “At the moment, when you perform magic, it spills over into the surrounding area. This is dangerous for multiple reasons. The obvious is that you risk doing magic to objects other than your intended.” She gestured towards the little forest of new sprouts that she’d moved aside ready for transplanting into her garden. “But the more subtle danger is that it makes you visible. Anyone or anything sensitive to magic will be able to pick up your spells. They may be drawn to you.”

“And that would be bad,” Stiles muttered.

“That would be potentially lethal. When you can be precise with your spells, you can start learning how to ensure the essence of your magic is not felt by others.” She hesitated and then added, “At least for minor magics.”

“Meaning?”

“That display the other evening in the house,” she said, “would have been felt by every magic worker within a hundred miles, were it not for the defences around the sanctuary. Unless inside a containing circle,” she gestured towards their campsite boundary, “magic on that scale would be almost impossible to conceal. The more powerful a spell is, the more difficult it is to mask its trace.”

She had talked about masking before, as one of the reasons the sanctuary existed. New magic users couldn’t hide their presence and there were certain nasty things, including some of the creatures listed in the bestiary, that would decide magic users made a tasty snack.

“Surely if you use magic to mask magic,” Stiles said, “you’re just doubling the amount of magic being used.”

“Different types of magic, different spells,” she answered, “have a unique feel to them. When you have enough control, you can create an aura of magic which doesn’t interfere with your spell, but which has the precise opposite feel to that of the spell you are actively using. This results in an overall impression that nothing is happening.”

“Magic cancelling headphones,” Stiles said. She gave him a bewildered look. “Sorry. There was a thought process connection there. Noise cancelling headphones block out low frequency sounds by creating a sound wave that’s exactly a hundred and eighty degrees opposite to the sound wave you don’t want to hear. This sounds like the same principle, but applied to magic instead of sound waves. That means that magical energy must have a wave form.”

Lady Rose was still giving him a bemused look. Derek looked vaguely amused.

“I wish I had an internet connection,” Stiles said. “I wonder if anyone’s ever done any studies on comparing magic to electromagnetic radiation. Probably not. I can’t imagine going to a university and asking to perform a scientific study of magic, though people have done scientific tests on ESP and stuff, so maybe it would be possible. You’d need an accurate and repeatable way to measure magical energy though and I’ve no idea what kind of machine you could build that would do that.”

Stiles realised they were still staring at him and caught himself before he started to plan out experimental conditions for measuring the effects of magic. He got on with eating, picking out the bits of spaghetti that had ended up slightly burned despite his best intentions. Most of the meal was edible though, which should probably be considered a victory under the circumstances.

He finished eating and decided to try using magic to do the dishes. He could try levitating the dirt without levitating the plates. Deciding between the two should count as an exercise in precision. He set a plate down in front of him and focused on his magic, visualising the flowing currents of power floating over the plate, flowing over the surface but stopping at the dirt, wrapping around them, taking hold. Half of his attention was on making sure that this and only this was effected. He closed his metaphorical grip and lifted up.

The plate wobbled a bit but stayed on the ground, the fragments of pasta and tomato lifting up. He gathered them together, crushing the mess into a ball. He held his focus and tried, with another part of his mind, to call up an earth spell. He moved aside a patch of dirt and lowered his food waste into the hole where it could decompose naturally. He eased the earth back in place over the top. Then he sat back with a victorious grin.

Derek had been watching the whole thing. Stiles waited for a comment pointing out that doing the dishes would take about two hours if he continued with this approach, but the comment never came. Instead, Derek just smiled and nodded.

Lady Rose was also watching. She smiled and said, “A useful exercise.”

“I’m going to try the scarf thing,” Stiles said. “Derek, do you mind doing the other dishes? I did cook lunch.”

Derek didn’t say anything. He just grabbed his plate and the pan, taking them over to the stream to get them clean the normal way.

“Your focus certainly seems to have improved,” Lady Rose commented.

“Told you I need Adderall,” Stiles said.

“Yes. I apologise that I did not take you seriously about that at the start of this. When you didn’t repeat the request, I assumed you were happy managing with our alternative.”

Stiles crossed to the tent to retrieve some scarves, and swallowed down annoyance as he did so. She managed to combine an apology with an excuse for why this was actually his fault and not hers. She wanted to put the blame on him for not being more clear in expressing his needs. Maybe she was right. Maybe he could have argued more. Maybe he should have told her every day that he needed to talk to his dad and he might have reached this compromise situation sooner.

Stiles grabbed a handful of scarves from their makeshift mattress and emerged from the tent, jumping a little to find Derek standing by the tent’s opening.

“You’re going to give me a heart attack!” he complained.

Derek put a hand on Stiles’ arm and leaned in to speak softly, “She is the one to blame for what you went through, not you. Don’t blame yourself for your suffering.”

Stiles looked at him in confusion for a moment, wondering when mind-reading became one of the werewolf superpowers. Then he realised how Derek had figured out what he’d been thinking.

“If you keep up this emotion-sniffing trick,” Stiles said, “I’ll sue you for invasion of privacy.” But he smiled despite his words. It was good to know that at least one person wasn’t blaming him in the slightest.

Across the clearing, Lady Rose was watching the exchange impassively. Stiles ignored her. He lay his scarves on the ground, weighing down one end of each one with a can from their food store. Then he focused on making a wind. He called up the element, and aimed it towards one of the scarves. A moment later, a strong wind blew through the camp, lifting the scarves up from the ground, shaking the sides of the tent, and flapping the pages of the book Derek was trying to read. Derek looked up, smoothed down the pages, and returned to reading. Lady Rose righted one of the seedling trees that had been blown over.

“Air is a temperamental element,” she said. “It is always interconnected. Moving some moves the rest. It is the perfect element to practice isolation with because it is such a challenge.”

“In other words, don’t get angry and set things on fire when I can’t make it work?” Stiles asked. She smiled a little and nodded.

Stiles tried again, targeting little gusts of air. Difficult didn’t even begin to cover it. As soon as he started creating a wind, other air moved into the vacuum he’d created. The whole campsite was buffeted by cold air, the wind chill making the position feel utterly miserable.

He remembered his conversation with Derek that morning about combining the element spells to create a hot air blower. He ignored the scarves and called up the fire element, just a little, focusing its energy on the air itself, not on anything flammable. It wouldn’t take much, just a touch of warmth, with the air moving through it, around it, spreading the heat to stop any one part getting hot enough to be dangerous.

The wind that blew across the campsite this time was warm, brushing against his face and hands. He breathed in deeply, dragging that warmth down into his lung. Across the clearing, Derek looked up at him and smiled. Lady Rose gave him a curious look.

“Combined fire and air spells?” she asked.

“I was getting cold.”

“I suppose for some spells, a wide area of effect makes sense,” she said. Stiles supposed that counted as approval.

She continued, “Although the magic causing the effect is contained, heat is one of those things which will spread over time. If you keep creating heat spells within this space, it will gradually warm the area on the other side of the barrier.”

“Meaning that I shouldn’t go overboard or I might contribute to global warming,” Stiles said.

“Meaning that while a cause may be magical, an effect may be natural. The boundary will shield against the former, but not the latter.”

“So if I set fire to the grass, the magic might be contained, but the fire could still spread?”

“Potentially.”

It made sense, but it added to his store of worry. He’d been working on the assumption that anything he did would be held in the clearing by the boundary spells, but anything that was not supernatural in nature could cross over easily. Of course there would be a risk. Now he that to worry about as well as worrying if the spell would actually work.

He forgot about the heat portion to avoid any accidental forest fires, and went back to trying to move the scarves. He could get them all to move, that was easy enough. Getting just one to move seemed basically impossible. He thought the one he was aiming at was flapping more than the others, but any difference was negligible.

“Stiles,” Derek called, “take a break.”

Stiles was getting frustrated with the exercise, but he was nowhere close to the point where fires and explosions were a likelihood, so he said, “It’s OK. I can keep going.”

“You’re getting a visitor,” Derek said.

Stiles looked across at him, puzzled, but Derek was clearly listening out for something beyond human hearing. Stiles checked his watch. It was too early for this to be his dad’s promised visit. Then he heard the roar of a motorcycle engine through the trees and he hurried to his feet. Derek put his book away and came to stand with him.

Lady Rose looked at Stiles’ excited grin.

“I take it you know who this visitor is?” she asked.

“I’ve got a pretty good guess,” Stiles said.

Sure enough, about a minute after the engine stopped, Scott stepped into view through the trees, carrying a large cardboard box. He stepped carefully over the boundary line and set the box down. The instant he straightened up, Stiles pulled him into a hug.

Lady Rose cleared her throat and said, “Do you plan on introducing me?”

“Lady Rose, this is Scott, Scott, Lady Rose,” Stiles said, gesturing between them.

Lady Rose looked puzzled, “The alpha?”

“That’s right,” Scott said. Her eyes darted up and down, taking him in.

“You’re younger than I expected,” she said. Scott shrugged. He wasn’t offended by the comment.

“So, you’re a lady?” he asked.

“It is a traditional title placed upon the leader of a coven.”

“Even if the leader’s a guy?” Scott asked. That was one of the first questions Stiles had asked on the subject and he saw her lips press tightly together now, a sure sign of irritation.

“That has never come up,” she said. She forced a smile. “I think we have had enough lessons for one day. Stiles, someone will come tomorrow to continue your training.”

She walked away and they waited, watching until she was out of sight. Then Stiles turned back to Scott.

“So, what’s in the box?”

“Care package from the pack.” Scott grabbed the box and opened it up. He started pulling items out, listing them off. “Lydia sends her notes, so if you do managed to come back during this school year, you’ll be able to keep up. Liam sends marshmallows. Apparently there’s a law that you can’t go camping without toasting marshmallows. Malia sends socks. I’m not entirely sure why, but I didn’t give her long to go shopping so.” He shrugged. “Kira sends some of her books on mythology so you’ve got some stuff to read. Parrish heard about the knitting, so he sends a couple of balls of yarn. He also sends a promise that he’ll keep an eye on your dad’s lunches at the station.”

Stiles nodded at that last point, more than satisfied with that as a gift.

“And what do you send?” Stiles asked. He expected some joking response, about sending love or something. Instead, Scott pulled out a Tupperware box.

“My mom’s cinnamon cookies,” he said.

“You!” Stiles said. “I love you! You are my favourite person in the whole world!”

Stiles grabbed Scott into another hug. Then he snatched the box of cookies from Scott and took them over to their fire site. It was only then that Stiles noticed Derek was glaring at the cookies. Was Derek allergic to cinnamon or something?

***

Stiles was toasting marshmallows. But he wasn’t using the fire to do so. They sat on the ground next to the fire. Derek and Scott had the bag of marshmallows between them and they would take it in turns to toss one up in the air. Stiles would catch it with magic, heat it to toasting, and then float the hot and gooey mess to a waiting mouth. Derek actually felt a little sick now, not used to eating this much sugar, but he had no desire to stop the game because Stiles kept laughing, particularly when he lost his hold of the flying marshmallows. All of them had been hit at least once.

Scott was laughing too, commenting about how this training was better than the sort of practice Stiles had dreamt up for him to teach him control.

“If you start hitting me with lacrosse balls,” Stiles said, “I’ll set you on fire. Remember, I can kill you with my brain.”

He looked at them expectantly. Derek shared a confused look with Scott. Stiles’ expression changed to frustration.

“You two are useless!” he complained.

“Star Wars reference?” Scott asked.

Derek shook his head, “That wasn’t from Star Wars.”

A thought occurred and he left the fire to find his jacket, which was in a heap inside the entrance of the tent. Scott looked at him in confusion, but Stiles seemed to realise what was going through Derek’s mind.

“Of course. The message.”

“The message?” Scott asked.

Derek fished out the camera and handed it over.

“We had plans,” Derek said, “that if I got sent out for Stiles’ medication again, I’d get this to you.”

Scott turned it on and found the thumbnail of Stiles’ video. He watched the message, a little smile on his face as the video rambled about Star Wars. But there was a sadness behind the smile. When the video ended, Scott looked up at Stiles, a seriousness on his face.

“You look like you’d been crying,” he said.

“I’d thought Derek might have been killed,” Stiles said, “and then he turned up with a message from my dad. I got a little emotional. No big deal.”

From Scott’s face, it didn’t look like he believed the lie. But he nodded. Derek could practically see what Scott was thinking. He was wondering what nightmare Stiles had gone through in the past couple of months. But Stiles forced a grin and clapped his hands.

“Come on!” he said. “We’ve still got half a bag of marshmallows left.”

And so they returned to their game, toasting marshmallows with magic until the sheriff turned up with real food. And towels.

Chapter Text

The next day, no one from the coven showed up for the promised lessons, but Stiles was grateful for that. It was a Saturday, and the entire pack, his dad and Parrish included, showed up to spend time with him. Stiles still got plenty of magic practice though, because he was expected to show off for his friends. He was getting really good at the light show now, and made a big thing about heating water with magic to make coffee.

They chatted as a group, talking about everything that had happened in the past few weeks, all the stories from school. He asked about their Thanksgivings and Christmases, hating that he’d missed both. The coven didn’t celebrate Christmas so he’d barely noticed the date. Now Lydia suggested that they do a pack Christmas here, a few days late. Stiles saw the expression on his dad’s face and agreed eagerly.

Stiles brought out a few more anecdotes from his time with the coven, doing everything to keep his tone light and joking, but aware of more than a few concerned looks. There were a lot of significant looks going around. Stiles noticed Derek staring at him more than once. When he wasn’t staring at Stiles, he was staring at Malia. Stiles decided not to ask about it while surrounded by people with supernatural hearing.

Stiles waited until their party had broken up and he and Derek were left alone in the clearing once again. Only then did he round on Derek and ask, “What?”

“What?” Derek asked.

“I asked first.”

“Yeah, but you’re going to have to explain what exactly you’re asking me.”

“Why were you staring?”

“I wasn’t staring.”

“Yes. You were. You were staring at me all day. And when you weren’t staring at me, you were staring at Malia.”

Derek looked away, visibly uncomfortable.

“You didn’t look very happy to see her,” Derek said.

“Of course I was happy to see her. I was happy to see everyone.”

“That’s my point. You treated her the same way you treated Liam. She’s supposed to be your girlfriend and you haven’t seen her in two months. Shouldn’t you have been a little more... enthusiastic? Even with your dad there.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Stiles said. He couldn’t believe he was having to have this conversation now. He’d been away two months and the news had never reached Derek about the break up? But apparently that was the case, because Derek was giving him a disbelieving look.

“She’s not your girlfriend?” he said. “But she said you had sex. Usually that’s the sort of thing people do with their girlfriends.”

“We didn’t have sex!” Stiles said. He wanted to scream. His little seedling tree quivered. Two months away and he was still having to explain this. He’d have thought Scott or someone would have mentioned things to Derek in the meantime. “In fact, the way she was going round telling people we had sex was a major factor in the break up.”

“Because she was lying about it?” Derek asked.

“Because she didn’t realise she was lying.”

Derek gave him a long look, then said, “I’m confused.”

“So was she.” Stiles dragged a hand across his face, hunting for the words to explain this. “She missed a lot when she was living in the wild. Apparently, one of the things she missed was sex ed. We never... you know. There was some making out, and little... hand stuff... You know what, I’m not going into details with you. But the fact is we never had sex but she thought we had. When I heard she’d been telling people we had, we sat down and had a long talk and she decided that she probably shouldn’t leap straight into a relationship until she’d had a bit more practice being human again. We broke up about a week before I was captured.”

“And you’re OK about it?” Derek asked.

“I’m fine. In fact, and this is awful to say, I was a little relieved when it happened.”

“Relieved?” Derek asked.

Stiles felt extremely weird talking about this with Derek. He felt weird talking about this with anyone. He’d tried talking to Scott, but Scott had been deeply into Kira at the time and hadn’t seemed to grasp why Stiles had been awkward around the relationship with Malia. He’d joked about it, thinking a beautiful girl creeping into bed with him should be a thing to celebrate.

“She used to break into my room,” Stiles said, “when I was asleep, and spoon me. No invitations, no discussion, she just did it. And she didn’t understand why I thought it was weird. I mean, it’s not like it was the first time a were-somebody broke into my room, but at least you didn’t look like you were going to cry when I screamed and told you off for it.”

“She cried?”

“No but she looked like she might and she was all offended and so I just decided it was easier not to argue but I just wanted to sleep and she would just show up wanting to cuddle.”

“She made you uncomfortable,” Derek said.

“And I couldn’t tell her that because it would upset her. She just didn’t have a reference point for what was normal and that made things... complicated.”

Derek was quiet. Stiles wondered what he was thinking. He wondered if Derek thought he was despicable for taking advantage of Malia. That thought had crossed Stiles’ mind more than once since he’d realised how naïve Malia was in terms of human relationships. He should have realised sooner and had a conversation with her right at the start. Malia was Derek’s cousin, his family, and he cared so much about family. He probably hated Stiles right now for letting things go as far as they had with her.

“Stiles,” Derek said quietly.

“Yeah?” Stiles asked, apprehensive, waiting for some judgement of his guilt.

“If I do anything that makes you uncomfortable, you’ll tell me?”

“What?”

“It’s just, sharing a tent, living in close quarters like this,” Derek said, “if I do anything that makes you uncomfortable, I want to know about it.”

Stiles almost laughed. Here he was worried about what Derek thought of him, and Derek was worried about upsetting him.

“Derek,” he said, “I promise, if you do anything I don’t want, I will not only tell you, I’ll punch you in the groin.”

Derek smiled and said, “Good.”

***

Derek was woken by a scream. He sat up straight, turning to Stiles, expecting to see him in the grip of a nightmare, but he was waking up, as dazed as Derek. The scream came again, from outside the tent. Derek leapt out from under his blankets and dragged the zipper open, running out into the night while Stiles was still struggling to extract himself from the sleeping bag.

The woods were dark. Derek listened, letting himself be guided by sound rather than sight. There were voices, rising in panic, and pounding of terrified hearts. He ran towards the noise.

There were children beneath the trees. One, a girl in her early teens, lay on the ground, unconscious. The teenage boy from the sanctuary stood over her, holding a little girl in his arms while trying to drag the unconscious one along. He looked up as Derek approached, calling a burst of flame which he flung in Derek’s direction. Fortunately, the boy’s shaking hands made his aim terrible. Derek dodged sideways, seeing the terror on the boy’s face in the brief light of the fire. The little girl in his arms gave a little scream.

“Oh god!” the boy said. “Sorry. Help me.”

His eyes left Derek’s, darting around to look at the woods. Derek didn’t know what the boy was looking for. All he saw was darkness and shadow. But now wasn’t the time to ask.

Derek picked up the unconscious girl and hurried back towards the campsite. Stiles was waiting on the other side of the boundary line, fire lit and magical lights hanging in the air over his head. One of the lights winked out as he saw them approaching. Derek crossed the line and set the unconscious girl down next to the fire.

“Sephy?” Stiles asked, staring at her. He turned to the boy. “What happened?”

The boy set down the little girl, who was now crying quietly. As soon as she was out of his arms, he spun round to face Stiles, fist flying with the motion to punch Stiles right across the jaw. Stiles staggered sideways under the blow, looking too shocked to respond.

“This is all your fault!” the boy yelled.

“What?” Stiles asked.

“Sanctuary was attacked!”

Chapter Text

Stiles could only stare at Ian for several moments, his mind failing to grasp the full implications of what had just been said. The Sanctuary couldn’t have been attacked. The whole point of its existence was that it was a safe place. But now Ian was glaring at Stiles like this was all because of him.

Sitting near the fire, Amy started to cry, blubbing out, “I want my daddy,” over and over.

“I don’t understand,” Stiles said. “What attacked?”

“Shadow eaters,” Ian said.

“What?” Derek asked.

Stiles tried to remember the passage from the bestiary. He had read about them because Eve had mentioned them as being a threat to new practitioners.

“They’re sort of shapes of spirit,” Stiles said, “which is where the whole shadow part of the name comes in because they don’t have a solid substance not because they literally eat shadows, but they attach to someone with magic and just suck the life out of them. But I thought they were really weak and that practiced witches could disperse them. Why didn’t the coven just get rid of them?”

“There were hundreds of them,” Ian said. “They poured over the boundary and it was like everything just went black. Lady Rose and the others they tried to stop them but there were too many so she just told us to run while they fought. She told us where you were but we got separated when we got into the woods.”

“’We’ being?”

“Some of the students. I don’t know where they are. I think they might have got Micah.” Ian looked like he might start crying, but he glared at Stiles. “You’re supposed to be so powerful. Do something!”

Stiles had no idea what to do. He’d never even seen one of these creatures, but they were supposedly attracted to magic workers. They were one of the reasons he’d stayed inside the boundary since Lady Rose had set it up. The moment he crossed that line, it was likely that any shadow eaters in the area would be drawn straight to him. He supposed he could act as bait to drawn any creatures away from the other students but he wasn’t exactly keen to expose himself to attack from a swarm of monsters that had apparently overwhelmed the coven.

“I can track the students by scent,” Derek said, “and bring them here.”

“Be careful,” Stiles said. “I don’t know what the shadow eaters will make of a werewolf.”

Derek nodded. He ran across the boundary line and back in the direction from which Ian and the others had come. Stiles couldn’t just stand here and wait for Derek though. He grabbed the emergency phone and turned it on. While he waited for that, he grabbed the pan and filled it with water, which he set on the fire, on the grounds that people who’d been chased by monsters might want a warm drink.

He got the monstrosity blanket out of the tent and took it to Amy, draping it over her shoulders. She was in her nightdress and was probably freezing, so he encouraged her over towards the fire. She was still crying and asking for her daddy.

“It’s alright,” Stiles told her. “You’re safe here. We’ve got a boundary. And your dad’s a tough witch. He’s busy fighting off monsters to make sure they can’t get to you.”

By then, the phone was on. Stiles checked the address book. His dad had put a lot of numbers in there but he’d missed out Deaton. Thankfully, Stiles had a plan B. He called Scott. Stiles paced a little, anxious, while he waited for the ringing tone to get an answer.

“What is it?” Scott demanded, angry. He probably didn’t recognise the number and was annoyed to get a call in the middle of the night.

“Scott, it’s me.”

“Stiles?” Suddenly all anger was replaced with fear. “Is something wrong?”

“I need you to go to Deaton. Tell him that there are shadow eaters. I’m safe behind a boundary but there are others who might be in trouble. See if he knows a way to stop them. But I don’t know how these things will react to werewolves or kitsune or whatever, so no one is to come near here until you’ve talked to Deaton and got a plan from him.”

“Are you OK.”

“I’m fine. They’ve not got near me. Talk to Deaton. Don’t do anything until you’ve talked to him and call this phone if he’s got anything useful.”

“I will. Be careful.”

Stiles hung up. He turned his attention next to Sephy. She was breathing alright and her pulse was strong, but she was cold, lying motionless on the ground next to the fire. Stiles didn’t have a clue what to do, other than grabbing more blankets from the tent to cover her and try to keep her warm. Stiles looked up at Ian, who was pacing nearby.

“One of the shadow eaters got her?” Stiles asked.

“Yeah. It sort of wrapped around her and she collapsed. I threw a blast of magic at it to disperse it, but by then she was out cold.”

“OK,” Stiles said. “Find the bestiary. It’s in that box over there and find the section on shadow eaters. See if there’s anything in there about how to help someone who was attacked.”

Ian seemed grateful to be told what to do and obeyed the order. Stiles just wished there was someone here telling him what to do. Stiles was a little surprised though at how easily Ian was following instructions, especially given his attitude when he’d first arrived.

“You said this was my fault?” Stiles asked.

“The sanctuary was safe until you started breaking rules,” Ian said. “Nothing like this ever happened.”

“It can’t be me they’re after,” Stiles said. “I’ve been here. If they were drawn to me, they’d have attacked here, not back at the sanctuary.”

“All I know is that we were safe and then you started blowing stuff up and sending messages and letting your werewolf boyfriend cross the boundary.”

Stiles decided that this wasn’t the time to argue about the boyfriend comment.

“I was inside the boundary whenever I did magic,” he said. “And the message was to my dad. My entirely unmagical dad who would have no way of communicating with shadow eaters and so be unable to cause anything like this even if he wanted to, which he wouldn’t. You can’t blame this on me.”

“What about the members of the coven going outside the boundary to teach you?”

“They’re supposed to be able to move around safely and hide their magic,” Stiles said. “If they can’t, that’s not my fault.”

Beside him, Amy was crying again. Stiles wasn’t sure if it was because he and Ian were yelling at each other, but that probably wasn’t helping. He grabbed the Tupperware box from the food supplies and held it out to Amy.

“Here, have a cookie,” he said. She took one, but didn’t stop crying.

Stiles turned back to Ian, “Does the book have anything?”

“I’ve found the page. It talks about the shadow eaters. It says they surround a witch and consume their magic.”

“Does it say anything about how to help someone who’s been attacked?”

“Nothing.”

That was either good news or terrible. It could be that there was nothing in the book about how to help Sephy because she’d be perfectly fine on her own and just needed time to recover. Or it could mean that there was no way to help her. Stiles put a hand on her cheek and felt the cold skin. He didn’t know what to do.

Across the fire, Ian stood with the book, a magical light hovering above his head to let him read the text. He stared in horror at the page.

“What’s wrong?” Stiles asked.

“I think I made things worse,” he said. “The book says that a strong discharge of magic will disperse a shadow eater, but they reform and they gain the energy from the attack.”

“So they come back stronger?”

“And if there are a lot of them, they reform more quickly because the energy from one might merge with the energy from another. I was blasting them to bits when we were trying to get away from the sanctuary. I thought I was helping.”

Fear and guilt warred on Ian’s face. Stiles remembered how he’d felt during the business with the nogitsune. He’d thought he was helping when he’d performed the ritual to find his dad, but in the process he’d unleashed a monster. He saw that guilt reflected in Ian’s face.

“It’s OK,” Stiles said. “You did what you had to. If you hadn’t blasted the one attacking Sephy, she might be dead right now.”

Amy’s sobs grew more violent. The cookie in her hand was falling to crumbs between her fingers.

“Does the book say anything about how to stop them properly?” Stiles asked.

“It says a spiritual cleansing should drive them away.”

“Does it give instructions?”

“No.”

“Have you done a spiritual cleansing before?”

“I’ve cleansed an area of negative energy,” Ian said. He sounded incredibly doubtful.

The only experience Stiles really had of a spiritual cleansing was the purification rite that had cured him of the negative energy left by the nematon ritual. Stiles looked down at Sephy. She really didn’t look good. He wondered if improvising was a terrible idea, but he hated the thought of doing nothing. He reached under his shirt and pulled out the pouch of herbs he’d made to protect against his own magic.

“Help me get her into the water,” Stiles said.

“She’ll freeze.”

“Just help me.”

Stiles grabbed Sephy’s shoulders and lifted. Ian hurried round and took hold of her feet. Together, they heaved her up and lifted her into the pond. They lowered her into the water, Stiles keeping his hold on her shoulders so her head didn’t go under. The water was icy around his hand, so he called up a little fire, just a touch of heat to flow through the water. It took less than a second for the water to start steaming in the cold air and he stopped the spell before his magic went too far.

He got Ian to take over holding Sephy’s head out of the water. He crouched on the bank while she floated in the now heated pond. Then Stiles pulled open the pouch, trying to remember his lessons with Lady Rose in the herb garden. Basil, he remembered. It could be used in rituals to get rid of negative energy. On her instructions, he’d added a lot to the mixture.

The herb mixture was now just a mashed up pile of green, a hundred different herbs all muddled together. But he could do this. He could separate out the basil. He told himself it didn’t matter if he got a few bits of other things in there, because they were all for protection and more protection really couldn’t hurt right now. He remembered his exercise with the dishes. He held the mixture in his hand and willed the basil to float, willed it to respond. A powdery green mass rose up out of the pouch, disturbing other bits of herb dust that drifted down over the ground.

He floated the basil powder over to the pond, lowering it into the water over Sephy. He willed his magic into it. He had no idea what he was doing. He had no idea if this would do anything. He just knew he had to try. He urged his power into the herb, into the water, into her.

He knew that a real ritual should have more to it. Burning of incense, drinking of Eve’s funky tea, channelling of power through a sacred circle. Stiles didn’t have any of that. He didn’t have the right words to say. All he had was a handful of basil, and hope.

Chapter Text

Derek followed the scent of fear through the trees. He didn’t need to distinguish between different people, just aim at anything that smelt human. He followed the trail back to where he’d met up with the three kids, and then he scented the air, moving slowly and sniffing, trying to pick up which directly they’d come from by the traces they’d left on the earth and plants. Derek suspected Stiles would be making jokes about bloodhounds after this, but he followed his nose through the woods, moving carefully and trying to pick out a path.

Fortunately for him, the kids hadn’t bothered with any tricks to hide their trails. Unfortunately, he wasn’t used to sniffing people out like a dog. He had to go more slowly than he’d like, keeping an eye out for anything that might be an evil spirit monster. It didn’t help that he wasn’t even sure what he was looking for on that front.

He reached a point where scent trails branched. The scents he’d been following mingled with others and continued on, but there was a branch that went off in a different direction. Derek guessed that was another group of kids getting separated. He headed after that trail instead. The path meandered through trees, weaving around patches of undergrowth until all sense of direction was lost. Derek’s only option for getting back to Stiles would be to follow his own trail, which was anything but a straight line.

At last, he heard voices up ahead, a boy complaining of being lost. Someone said they should wait where they were for Ian, someone else said that they should go back, a girl’s voice said they should keep going. They were still bickering when Derek stepped into the clearing.

A girl of about ten yelped in fear and tried to hit him with a branch. Derek caught the branch, yanked it out of her hand, and tossed it aside. There were five children under the trees, aged between about nine and about twelve. They huddled together now, staring at him.

“I can take you to Ian and Stiles,” Derek said.

The children looked at him.

“Why should we trust you?” asked the girl who’d tried to hit him.

Derek wasn’t sure how to answer that. He wasn’t sure how to convince a group of children he was trustworthy. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t trust himself in their position.

He went for the practical approach and said, “You can stand in the woods with no food, no coats, and no way to get home, or you can come with me to a campsite where we have a fire and supplies, and where Stiles and Ian are working on a way to help.”

Derek decided if this didn’t work, he would pick the girl up and use her as a hostage to get the others to follow, but they had a quick whispered conference, the result of which was the decision that they had nothing to lose. Derek turned and walked through the woods, the children following him.

“You’re Stiles’ werewolf, aren’t you?” one of the boys asked.

“Yes,” Derek said.

“Are you evil?”

“No,” Derek said.

“If you were evil, would you tell us?”

“Probably not.”

One of the other kids shushed the boy at that point. Maybe the other kid would prefer to accept Derek’s non-evilness on face value rather than think too deeply about it. Derek just kept walking, letting the kids trail behind him.

He could get them back to Stiles but the problem was, what then? He didn’t know how many kids he was supposed to be looking for. And did it make more sense to get these kids to safety and then go hunt for any stragglers, or to hunt now rather than having to double back?

He glanced back at the scared cluster of kids.

“How many of you came into the woods?”

“There were ten of us,” stick girl answered. Five here, three back at the camp, meant that there were two kids missing. He kept walking, following the trail of his own familiar scent. He didn’t know how long it would take to find the other kids. He hadn’t picked up any obvious scent trail so hunting for them could take all night. He decided it was better to get these kids back to Stiles, who would hopefully have an idea by now of what to do next.

Fortunately, the way back was quicker because he didn’t have to stop every few minutes and sniff.

He saw the firelight through the trees and quickened his pace, the kids hurrying along behind him. He didn’t even have to tell them to be careful of the boundary line. They recognised the ring of seedlings and stepped over it into the campsite.

Stiles and Ian were over near the pond, and Stiles called over as soon as he saw Derek: “Come and give us a hand here.”

Derek hurried over and saw the older of the girls was in the pond. He decided this wasn’t the best time to ask why, he just helped Stiles with hauling her out, her sodden clothes weighing her down. She looked less pale now than when he’d come across her in the woods, and she stirred a little as he carried her over to the fire.

“Is she OK?” one of the boys asked.

“I don’t know,” Stiles answered. He held his hands over her body and Derek could see moisture oozing out of her clothes as Stiles dried her off.

“I should get back out there,” Derek said. He turned to Ian for confirmation and asked, “Two more kids to find, right?”

Ian nodded, “If the others got out, they went in a different direction. There should be two more in the woods. Micah...”

He trailed off. Derek suspected he wasn’t going to like what he found if he came across Micah. He just started back towards the boundary line, and then pulled up short when a ringtone cut across the camp.

He grabbed the phone from where Stiles had left it. Scott’s name was on the screen.

“Scott?” he asked.

“No, it’s Deaton. Is Stiles there?”

“He’s doing a spell right now,” Derek said. He didn’t want to interrupt Stiles went he was doing magic just in case something exploded. “Did you find something?”

Stiles tossed a load of water into the pond where it fell with a splash. Then he turned to Ian and ordered, “Water element spell. Get her dry.”

He hurried to Derek and snatched the phone before even checking whether Ian would obey. He did. Derek knew he should get out there to look for the missing kids, but he waited, needing to hear whatever advice Deaton might have.

“Yes?” Stiles asked.

“Stiles,” Deaton answered, “Scott said you’ve been attacked by shadow eaters.”

“I didn’t actually see them, but there are a bunch of kids here. Apparently the sanctuary was attacked and the kids came here because we’ve got a boundary.”

“Good. Stay inside the boundary. There are rituals to be rid of shadow eaters but they take time. You need a safe place to prepare. I’m on my way to you with the materials we’ll need.”

“There are still a couple of kids out there.”

“If they don’t perform any magic, they might be able to slip past the shadow eaters. They’re more drawn to active magic.”

Stiles looked across the camp at Derek. The firelight caught his eyes.

“Will they be drawn to Derek?” Stiles asked.

There was a moment of hesitation at the other end. When Deaton answered, even with the phone in the way, Derek could tell that he wasn’t entirely confident in his answer.

“If he stays completely in human form,” Deaton said, “he should be fine. If he transforms, they’ll probably be able to sense him.”

Derek wished Deaton had sounded more sure of that, but he guessed he had better odds than two lost kids who might do something like call up a magic light so they could see their way in the woods at night. He nodded to Stiles and crossed the boundary line, setting off into the woods once more.

He followed the trail back through the trees, more easy to distinguish now he’d gone this way a couple of times. He would go back to the branching point and then keep going, looking for a point where the trail branched again, where the other children might have got lost.

***

John sat in the passenger seat of Deaton’s car because he knew he was in no fit state to drive right now. If he was behind the wheel, his foot would be right down on the floor. As it was, he twitched in place, as though he could make them move faster by refusing to sit still.

His son was out there. In the woods. In danger.

Stiles had told Scott he was safe behind a magical boundary, but since when had Stiles ever stayed somewhere safe? At the first hint of trouble, he would run headlong into it. And now there were monsters out there that were drawn to magic and Stiles was some extremely powerful magical witch now. John tried to fight down visions of arriving to see his son being devoured by shadowy creatures.

John clutched a cardboard box on his lap, filled with a collection of little jars from Deaton’s supply. He didn’t know what was in any of them. As sheriff, he thought it was probably a good idea if he didn’t know what was in some of them. But Deaton thought they would help with getting rid of the things that were currently attacking Stiles.

John’s fingers tightened around the box at that thought. At least he was going to be there. At least he could at least attempt to stop Stiles from doing anything more than usually stupid. He wasn’t going to be stuck at home, ignorant of whatever hell his son was going through. Not this time.

“How dangerous are these things?” John asked, really not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.

“One or two of these things,” Deaton said, “are a nuisance. A quick cleansing spell and all over.”

“But we’re not dealing with one or two, are we?” If a coven had been attacked and not able to deal with these things, it was obvious they weren’t as simple a problem as Deaton was trying to pretend.

“There was a major magical event a few nights ago,” Deaton said, “just before Stiles made contact with you again.”

“Stiles said things had got explosive when he’d thought Derek might have been killed,” John said. He counted back the nights and Deaton nodded.

“The energy traces were distorted,” Deaton said.

“Distorted?”

“My best guess is that there was a partial barrier in the way, a barrier that has been damaged somehow. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what the magic was doing, just that there was a lot of it. I think every shadow eater in the country must have flocked towards the site. And I think the barrier that should have kept them out was already damaged.”

“But according to Stiles, the whole point of this place was that it was safe, that there was a barrier to protect the people inside from any magical threat.” He remembered that first phonecall with Stiles, when he’d been freaking out that any rescue attempt might be misinterpreted as a threat. He’d been so obviously terrified that anyone who came after him would get hurt.

“I can’t say for sure without seeing the place,” Deaton said, “but my guess is that someone damaged the barrier. They didn’t bring it down completely – the witches would have been able to tell if that had happened – but they caused enough damage to let strong energy signals leak out without it being obvious from inside the barrier. Someone made them visible.”

“You keep saying someone, not something,” John said. “It wasn’t these shadow things that did that?”

“No. The shadow eaters will have come later, when they sensed the magic. The damage to the barrier would have come before that, before the magical display that I noticed even from Beacon Hills. There’s one thing that’s worrying me though.”

“More worrying than creatures attacking Stiles?”

“The whole point of creating a protective barrier is to guard against threats from outside. Breaking a barrier from the outside is extremely difficult and usually takes far more power than required to put the barrier up, particularly with a sophisticated barrier, which I assume is the case here. Breaking a barrier from the inside though... that’s comparatively easy.”

Chapter Text

Sephy still hadn’t moved, but she was dry now and tucked inside Stiles’ sleeping back. Her colour was back and she was breathing OK, which Stiles hoped meant she wasn’t in any immediate danger. He had no clue how to go about waking her up, but at least now it just looked like she was asleep.

Ian was trying to keep the other kids occupied by getting some of the older ones to cook food for the younger ones. Stiles was surprised to find himself grateful for Ian’s intervention because he was busy trying to avoid a panic attack while attempting to convince a bunch of frightened kids that there was nothing to be frightened of. It probably would work better if he wasn’t scared out of his mind.

Stiles went through the entry on shadow eaters in the bestiary twice, but there was nothing in there that remotely resembled instructions for how to get rid of them. He started flicking through the other books, hoping something would jump out at him as an answer to their problem.

One of the kids gave a yelp of fear. Stiles spun round, nearly dropping the book. He got his first look at a shadow eater. It took him a moment to see it, just a dark shape in the darkness. It was like a strange mist, but black rather than white, obscuring the objects behind it but not completely. It drifted on the breeze beneath the trees, intangible but menacing. The children stared at it and a couple of them started to cry.

“I don’t think it can sense us,” Stiles said. He wasn’t confident of that, but the shadowy form was just drifting past the clearing. It wasn’t trying to cross the boundary. It was hard to tell what a lump of darkness was thinking, or if it could think, but it wasn’t trying to come in their direction. It was just floating between tree trunks.

“We just need to stay calm,” Stiles continued. “It can’t cross the boundary. We’re safe here.”

“But what if the rest of them come?” asked one of the little ones.

“They can’t tell we’re here if we’re behind the boundary,” Ian said. “There’s no reason for the others to come.”

“But we were behind a boundary at sanctuary,” a boy said. “They came there.”

Stiles didn’t have an answer for him because everything in the book and everything Lady Rose had said told him that the shadow eaters shouldn’t have known the sanctuary even existed, much less that there were tasty magic workers inside. It should have been impossible for them to be drawn to sanctuary or to cross the boundary. But they’d done just that. Which made Stiles severely doubt the strength of the protections here. He couldn’t lie to these kids so he didn’t know what to say. When he looked to Ian, Ian just stared blankly back, as bereft of answers as Stiles.

All Stiles could do was stand there behind the boundary line and watch the shadow drift silently by. Then it shifted direction, floating off under the trees. Still, Stiles stood there, watching the darkness for more of the things. He stood there until the sound of a car engine cut through the night.

Stiles had never been so pleased to see Deaton. He came out of the trees followed by Stiles’ dad, who was holding a large cardboard box. Now there were adults here. There were authority figures. And one of the authority figures had a box of magical ingredients and could put this right.

Stiles hurried over to Deaton the second he crossed the boundary line.

“What do I need to do?” Stiles asked.

Ian came up beside him before Deaton could answer and asked, “Who’s this?”

“This is Deaton,” Stiles said. “He knows how to deal with these things. And this is my dad. This is Ian, a huge pain in my ass but he’s the one who got some the kids here to be safe so he’s got his good points.”

Ian bristled at the assessment of himself, but Stiles didn’t have time to deal with Ian’s feelings right now. He was more interested in what Deaton had to say. He looked round at the kids, seeing the cluster of magic students who were huddled around the fire or watching over the unconscious Sephy. He took the box from Stiles’ dad and set it down.

Most of the kids were listening when Deaton said, “There is a cleansing ritual to destroy or drive away shadow eaters. It calls upon the spiritual energy of the place to repel the shadow eaters. The problem is that the ritual takes time during the casting, the person is vulnerable. It also can’t be completed inside a protective barrier or it would only have effect within the barrier. We need to perform the ritual outside the barrier.”

“One of the shadow eaters is really close,” Stiles warned. “It drifted past a couple of minutes ago.”

“That could be a problem. As soon as the ritual starts, all of the shadow eaters in the nearby area will be drawn to its magic. We can prepare the materials behind the barrier but someone will need to be outside it for the ritual itself.”

It was Stiles’ dad who cut in, saying, “Let’s prepare the materials then. We can worry about how to perform it when everything’s ready.” He looked around the campsite. “Where’s Derek?”

“Looking for the last couple of kids,” Stiles said. “Is the rest of the pack coming?”

“We thought it better to keep those with supernatural abilities well away from here for the time being.”

Stiles nodded. It made sense. But if Deaton was worried about Scott and the others being a target for the shadow eaters, that meant that Derek might be a target after all. Stiles tried to push that thought from his mind. The best way to help Derek right now was to help Deaton. He crouched down next to the box and looked at the jars of herbs inside.

“What do you need us to do?” Stiles asked.

***

Derek had found the other kids because he’d heard them as soon as he got close enough. This time, there were no sounds. There was just the dark wood, with the rustle of branches in the night, insects buzzing, and the strange snuffling of little creatures going about their business, unaware of battles with magical forces. Derek was struggling to find the trail, walking slowly now, sniffing frequently to try and track the scent of the last kids.

What if they were dead? What if that was why Derek couldn’t hear anything?

What if Stiles was under attack back at the campsite?

Derek was out here hunting for kids he’d never even met. He’d been in the same room as them for lunch once and not exchanged a single word with any of them, but here he was trying to track them down when there were apparently magical creatures around that would be drawn to Stiles. Derek wanted nothing more than to run back to that campsite and make sure Stiles wasn’t doing anything stupid. But Stiles was worried about the kids. Stiles would want him to save the kids. So Derek was out here, looking for the kids.

He’d never really noticed how many scents there were in the woods before. Every type of plant had its own signature smell and the ground was criss-crossed with animal trails. Derek was trying to see through his nose, trying to chase down the elusive scent of human that was surrounded by everything else. He had to go slowly again, hating every step, because he could lose the trail. And every moment he was out here, Stiles was back there with nothing but a magic circle and a bunch of helpless kids. If anything happened to Stiles tonight, Derek didn’t know what he’d do.

After what felt like an eternity, the scent of humans grew stronger. He was near now. Any moment, he’d hear them or see them. He pressed onwards, sniffing out for a better sense of direction. He was so focused on scent, on tracking the humans by smell, that he almost tripped over the foot sticking out from a patch of undergrowth.

Derek dropped down into a crouch next to a boy probably a little less than ten years old. He was out cold, face white in the darkness. For a moment, Derek was almost afraid to check, the boy looked so still, but there was a faint heartbeat. He was still alive, but he looked frozen. Derek lay a hand on the boy’s cheek and it was icy.

He pulled the boy carefully out from among the plants and then lifted him up into his arms, clutching the boy to his chest. Only then did he see the other one, a girl. She was laying a little way away, a dark cloud clinging to her head and chest. It was like a black fog had settled over her, making it difficult to see her features, but her eyes were open. She was looking at him. Her fingers twitched in Derek’s direction, just the faintest of movements. It was a silent plea.

Derek approached cautiously. The black fog thing didn’t seem to notice or care. Presumably a young witch was more interesting than a werewolf.

Derek couldn’t tell if the thing was clinging to her or just hovering over her. It didn’t look like it had anything to cling on with. He hoped that was the case because otherwise he didn’t have a clue how to help. He shifted the boy over his left shoulder so he could hold him in place with one arm.

“This might hurt a bit,” Derek warned. He couldn’t tell if the girl heard.

He grabbed her by the ankle, which wasn’t inside the black fog. Then he towed her along the ground. He dragged her by the foot, away from the shadow eater. It started moving, trying to follow, but Derek pulled her out from under its touch, moving as quickly as he thought he could without bashing the girls’ head against a rock or something.

The instant her body was out of the black cloud completely, Derek grabbed her round the waist and hefted her up onto his other shoulder, then he set off at a run into the woods. She lay limp over his shoulder. He didn’t know if he’d hurt he dragging her along the ground like that. He didn’t know if the shadow eater had finished its work. Or perhaps she was just too relieved to say or do anything. All he knew was that she felt cold under his arm, like the boy did.

He ran beneath the trees, following his trail back. He wanted to get the kids back to Stiles as quickly as possible, so Stiles could do with them whatever he’d done with the other girl. Derek had to trust that Stiles would make everything better because this wasn’t an enemy Derek could fight. Derek felt helpless here, entirely unsuited to a fight with shadowy clouds that sucked the life out of people.

He saw a shadow eater, just a patch of darker darkness hanging in the air a couple of feet off the ground. Derek swerved, dodging round trees to avoid it. He pressed through a thicker patch of undergrowth and nearly didn’t see the next one in the deep shadows around one of the trees.

He had to slow down. He had to watch every shadow. In the night, every patch of blackness might hide one of these things. There was no movement from the kids on his shoulders, no sign of life except when he listened carefully and picked up the pair of faint heartbeats.

Each step back was a balance between the need to hurry and the need to be careful. He saw more of the shadow eaters, or possibly just dark shadows that his fear was tricking him into believing were shadow eaters. Either way, he steered clear. He felt like this was taking too long. A little paranoid whisper of thought started up and he worried that he’d somehow doubled back on himself and maybe he was now walking in circles, following his own trail but getting nowhere.

Then he heard the voices up ahead. He quickened his pace and saw the light between the trees. He was nearly there. He hurried forward, getting within sight of the campsite now. He was so relieved to be back that he didn’t notice the shadow eater drifting close to the ground until he stepped in it.

Cold shot through his leg and he stumbled. He nearly fell. He nearly dropped the kids. He tried to stumble forward, but his right leg wasn’t responding properly. It was numb, like he had a lump of polystyrene instead of a foot. And the shadow eater was following, trailing after him to wrap around his limb again.

“Derek?” Stiles called from the clearing.

Derek managed another step forward. It felt like there was ice in his veins, spreading upwards from his feet. The thing was around both his feet now, numbing ice attacking both of them.

He tried for another step and nearly fell.

Then the sheriff was beside him, taking the girl from his arms. Deaton stepped across the boundary, throwing something powdery at the black fog at Derek’s feet. The shadow eater was pushed backwards as though blown by a strong wind, but it didn’t disappear entirely. But it was enough for Deaton to get to Derek and take the boy.

Derek struggled to walk forwards, but he couldn’t feel the ground beneath his feet. It was like his legs weren’t attached to him anymore, he couldn’t tell when his steps made contact. And the cold was spreading. It was flowing through the rest of his body now.

“Don’t you dare cross that line, Stiles!” Derek heard the sheriff yell. Then he was back at Derek’s side, this time slipping one of Derek’s arms over his shoulder. Derek was reminded of a swimming pool what felt like a lifetime ago, and he wanted to laugh. He leaned his weight on the sheriff and tried to get his feet to listen to him.

“It’s OK, son, I’ve got you,” the sheriff said, half-carrying Derek as he stumbled into the clearing and across the boundary line.

The instant they were across the line, the sheriff lowered Derek to the ground and Derek couldn’t do anything but let it happen. The cold was everywhere now. His body was barely responding to him. But he could turn his head and offer a smile to Stiles, who rushed to his side and grabbed his hand. Derek felt that faint trace of warm, the soft contact of his skin. For an instant, it seemed to melt the ice in his fingers, but only for an instant.

“It’ll be OK,” Stiles said. He looked like he was crying. “We’ll make it OK. We’ll fix this.”

It was hard to move, hard to speak, but Derek had to try one last time.

“I know,” Derek managed. “I trust you.”

They weren’t the words Derek wanted to say, but it was too late now for the other words. And now Derek might never get the chance to say them. Stiles might never know how much Derek loved him.

“It’s coming back,” Derek heard the sheriff say.

“It’s alright,” said Deaton. “It can’t cross the boundary.”

Derek couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore. But he wouldn’t slip completely into darkness just yet. He forced himself to hold on, to listen to the voices around him, to cling to this life with every fibre of his being. He wasn’t ready to die tonight. He wasn’t ready to leave Stiles. All he could feel now was the icy cold flowing through him and the soft, warm trace of Stiles’ hand still clinging to his.

“They crossed the boundary at sanctuary,” one of the kids said.

“The boundary there was damaged,” Deaton replied. “I don’t know how or by who, but it was damaged enough that your sanctuary was no longer completely hidden. I felt a major magical event a few nights ago and the shadow eaters must have been drawn to that. And whatever damage let the energy leak out must have also let the creatures break in.”

“Oh god,” Derek heard Stiles say. “This is all my fault.”

Chapter Text

“You had the right idea,” Deaton said, as Stiles and his dad lifted Derek into the pond. “But it’s not about performing a cleansing ritual, it’s about the application of magic. Think of it like a transfusion. These people have had magic sucked out of them, and they need someone to give a little back.”

“So I’m replacing the stolen magic with mine?” Stiles asked. The kids Derek had brought back were already in the water. Ian held one and a girl, Lucy, held the other, keeping them from sinking. Stiles kept his hands on Derek, holding his head above the water.

“It’s not as simple as replacing the magic, but by infusing them with your magic, it will stabilise them and let them reconnect with their own sources of magic in time.”

“In time?”

“Just keep calm and let your magic flow into the water.”

Stiles wasn’t feeling calm in the slightest. He tried to suggest that Deaton perform the magic transfusion thingy, but Deaton put a hand on Stiles’ shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze.

“It’s better if it’s your power,” he said. “Especially for Derek.”

Stiles decided this wasn’t the time to ask what exactly he meant by that. He just focused on Derek’s shoulders beneath his hands and the need to remain calm. Calm was hard to come by right now, with Derek floating motionless in the pond, not noticing when his legs drifted into the legs of the kids who were likewise submerged. Derek was completely unresponsive now and Stiles knew it was his fault. Not just because his magical outburst had drawn the shadow eaters here. That wouldn’t have been a problem if the boundary was intact and Stiles was certain he was the one who’d damaged the boundary. He remembered the sound like a crash of thunder and the way the stones of the wall had cracked. He hadn’t intended it to happen, and he’d been too focused on Derek to even think about the implications at the time, but he thought about them now. The night Derek had climbed over the wall, Stiles had damaged the boundary.

It was like the nogitsune all over again except this time he couldn’t blame some demon. Everything he’d feared had happened. He’d hurt one of the people he most wanted to protect. He’d hurt Derek.

He closed his eyes, trying to force the thoughts away, trying to stay calm. Trying not to break down completely under the weight of his guilt.

There was movement beside him and then his dad was crouching down next to him at the edge of the pond. He put a hand on Stiles’ arm.

“Just breathe, Stiles,” he said. “We’ll make this right. All of it. He’ll be alright.”

Stiles nodded, even though he didn’t really believe the words. He closed his eyes again but this time it wasn’t about fighting back tears. He reached out to his magic, connecting to the power, feeling it tingling through his body. He let it flow like liquid warmth down his arms, into his hands, out into the water. He let it leak out of him, warming the chill of the pond, warming the cold shoulders under his fingers. He let his power flow from his body so that it could bathe Derek and the others. There was no real spell, no conscious drive to his magic, just this subtle path of energy from one to another.

He needed this to work. He needed Derek to be OK. After all the hell that Derek had been through, Stiles couldn’t bear the thought of causing him more suffering. And after all that Stiles had lost, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing Derek too.

When Stiles opened his eyes, Derek was no longer so painfully pale. His dad was still there beside him, ready to help haul Derek out of the water. Stiles got one of the kids to do a water spell to dry him while he helped lift the other kids out of the pond.

He wanted to just stay next to Derek and make sure he was alright, but he couldn’t ignore the fact that other people were in worse condition than Derek was. As he hauled the kids from the pond, he saw the colour back in their faces as with Derek, and as with Sephy. They were running out of blankets and space by the fire now, so they had to hope that no one else got affected by these things.

He checked on Derek one last time and got the monstrosity blanket, which Amy had set aside at some point. He tucked it in around Derek, even as the water was being pulled from his clothes. Derek didn’t really react as Stiles covered him and tucked the ends of the blanket under his side. He didn’t react until Stiles fingers brushed against Derek’s hand.

Derek’s fingers twitched a little, as though reaching out for what had touched him. Stiles tried again, a little more deliberate this time. He took Derek’s hand in his. He squeezed it gently. There was another tiny twitch of Derek’s fingers, as though he were trying to squeeze back. Stiles was aware of his dad watching but helping Derek was more important than worrying about what his dad might be thinking.

“I’m here,” Stiles said quietly. “It’ll be OK. You’ll be OK.”

There was no response this time. Stiles wondered if the previous reactions had just been a coincidence. Either way, the fact that he’d reacted at all was a good sign. It meant there was still life in there somewhere. It meant Stiles hadn’t got him killed.

Stiles looked up from Derek, paying attention to what was going on around the campsite. There were more shadow eaters around. A lot more. They hovered around the edge of the clearing, pressing against the boundary as though there was a glass wall there. Stiles swallowed nervously, trying not to think about how the boundary back at the sanctuary had broken, and that one had been a lot more solid than this one.

Around the boundary, the shadow eaters met and merged and then flowed apart again, drifting like dark fog. Another one drifted out from under the trees, joining the crowd of darkness that pressed in around them.

“There are more of them,” Stiles said. “I thought they couldn’t sense us here.”

Deaton looked up from where he was carefully combining his herbs into a bowl. There was a second bowl resting by his side, already filled with powders of herbs.

“When they brush against the boundary,” Deaton said, “they feel the magic of it. They can’t sense what’s happening inside it and they can’t cross it, but the act of trying to pass through it sends a trace of magic that the others can sense.”

“So they’re going to be drawn here?” Stiles asked.

“This is a good thing. It means that they’ll all be close enough to be affected by the banishing spell.”

Deaton seemed astonishingly calm, despite the mass of floating darkness that drifted along the edge of the boundary. Stiles wished that calm were infectious. He could just look at these swirls of insubstantial blackness that could take out even someone as strong as Derek in less than a minute.

Stiles stood near Deaton, looking out at the dark mass of shadow eaters, twitching slightly with nerves. He wanted to do something. He didn’t have a clue what to do. He wanted to jump in the pond and let the water swallow him. Maybe the world would be a better a place if he did. He wouldn’t be around to cause any more problems if he did.

A hand rested on his shoulder. Stiles turned to see his dad standing beside him. He offered a comforting smile.

“We’ll get through this,” he promised. “Derek’s looking better already. He’ll be OK.”

Stiles glanced round, not to check on Derek but to make sure that none of the kids were close enough to hear. When Stiles spoke next, it was in a whisper that barely made it to his own ears. He didn’t want them to know the truth but someone had to know. The truth felt like it was burning inside him.

“I think this is my fault,” Stiles said.

“No,” his dad said.

“When Derek broke into the sanctuary, he got caught on the wall, trapped in the defences. I used my magic to get him down but when I did that, the wall cracked. I didn’t even think about it at the time because Derek was in danger, but that wall was part of the defences, part of the boundary line. I damaged the boundary and then my magical outburst when Derek disappeared caused these things to be drawn to the sanctuary. Ian was right, this was all my fault.”

“No,” his dad said again, tone firmer this time.

“It is.”

“Stiles, was it your job to maintain the boundaries at this sanctuary?”

“Well, no.”

“Did other people know what you did when you say this damage occurred?”

“Yes,” Stiles said. He thought about that. Several of the coven had been there, including Lady Rose, when the wall had cracked. One of them should have recognised the danger that crack posed.

“Then shouldn’t one of them have fixed the problem?” his dad asked. Stiles nodded slowly, still thinking about it. It was weird, if he really had damaged the wall, that no one had repaired it, especially given the value Lady Rose and everyone put on the secrecy and safety that sanctuary was supposed to provide.

“It’s not your fault, Stiles,” his dad repeated.

Stiles nodded again because it was obvious his dad wasn’t going to accept anything but agreement. And his dad was right that someone should have fixed the damage, but Stiles couldn’t get rid of that gut-twisting sense of guilt that wormed inside him. Because he was the one who’d damaged the wall, whatever other factors might be. He hadn’t intended any of this, but he was at the heart of the damage. He looked towards Derek, lying by the fire with the knitted blanket covering him. One single thought ran round and round Stiles’ mind: everyone he cared about ended up getting hurt.

“I’m ready,” Deaton announced. His words were softly spoken, but they seemed to resonate around the clearing. All the little conversations that had sprung up between clusters of kids now faded to silence. They all turned to look at him.

Deaton stood in a slow unfolding of his body, picking up a bowl in each hand. One of them he held out towards Stiles. He took it in fingers slick with a nervous sweat. Inside was a powder in a mixture of green shades, no doubt a combination of multiple different herbs. Deaton kept hold of the other bowl with a slightly differently shaded powder.

“I will perform the ritual,” Deaton said, “to banish the shadow eaters, but it will take time to complete and while I am performing it, it will be a signal to them that magic is taking place.”

“They’ll be drawn straight to you,” Ian said. He glanced between Deaton and the still figures by the fire.

“That’s what Stiles’ part in all this will be,” Deaton said. He looked directly at Stiles now and said, “You will be keeping me safe.”

That sense of guilt in his gut quickly transformed into panic.

“Don’t you want someone with more control?” Stiles asked. He looked about the camp and saw Ian, who’d moved closer now that Deaton was ready. For all his faults, Ian had a lot more control of his magic than Stiles. Ian hadn’t ever got anyone hurt with his power.

“I want you to do this,” Deaton said. He dropped his voice to near a whisper, quiet enough that Stiles wasn’t sure anyone else except his dad could hear, “There’s no one here I trust to do this as much as I trust you.”

Stiles wondered if Deaton had heard his whispered conversation with his dad, if he was saying this in an attempt to make Stiles feel better. Or maybe he didn’t know what Stiles had done and this trust was all completely misplaced. Stiles’ hand trembled as he held the bowl.

“What do you want me to do?” Stiles asked.

“The herbs in this bowl are used for purification and for repelling malevolent spirits,” Deaton said. “When you burn them, the smell can ward off incorporeal creatures. I want you to stand next to me and use this powder, a little at a time. Lift it into the air with your magic and burn it. It will keep the creatures away from us long enough for me to complete the ritual.”

Stiles thought about his experiments with spells, about how he’d combined the fire and air spells to warm the campsite. He could use the fire to burn the powder and air or maybe simple levitation to hold the powder around them, but to do all that while trying to keep someone else safe with all these creatures around him? One little slip up and he’d be swallowed up in darkness. They both would.

“Are you sure about this?” It was Stiles’ dad who asked the question, his words echoing Stiles’ thoughts. Deaton nodded.

“You can do this, Stiles,” Deaton said. “And the sooner we get started, the sooner we can get Derek back to my clinic and properly taken care of.”

It was a low trick to use Derek like that. Stiles could recognise it for what it was: shameful manipulation. Worse, he knew that Deaton knew that he knew it was manipulation. But it worked. It was always going to work. Derek was hurt and by doing this, Stiles would be able to clear away the threat so they could get him out of here. Stiles had no choice but to help him in any way he could.

Deaton looked around the boundary, which was under attack from all sides now, with shadow eaters pressing right up against the barrier. But the attack wasn’t uniform and the creatures weren’t being at all intelligent about it, meaning that there were empty gaps between the floating masses of dark fog. Deaton headed for the biggest gap, a space of about three metres where there were no shadow eaters. Stiles followed close behind, wishing he had a bigger safety margin.

“Prepare yourself,” Deaton warned, “and start casting the spell the second you cross the boundary otherwise they will be drawn to you as you start doing magic. Keep the spell focused on the area immediately around us; we don’t want to run out before I can complete the ritual.”

Stiles nodded. His mouth was too dry for him to find words.

“Good luck,” his dad said, right behind him.

Why wasn’t his dad arguing about this? Surely his dad should be telling him he wasn’t allowed to take this risk. He should be trying to keep him safe inside the boundary. But instead he was just standing there, letting Stiles do this. Trusting him. Guilt and fear tangled in knots in his stomach making him want to vomit.

He glanced back at Derek, reminding himself once more why he had to do this.

Then he called up his magic, readying the spell. He put his hand into the bowl and gathered a small handful of the herb powder in his palm. He infused it with a trace of his magic. Then he stepped across the line.

He tossed the dust in the air and summoned the fire spell, the powder exploding into a mass of sparks and smoke. He gathered that smoke, calling the air spell even as the shadow eaters started moving towards him.

He was vaguely aware of Deaton sitting down on the ground beside him, right outside the boundary, but he had to focus on the spell. The smoke swirled around them on his magic wind, creating a new circle of haze between them and the mass of swarming darkness.

Deaton was speaking, but Stiles couldn’t let himself listen to the words. He picked up a tiny pinch of powder between his fingers and tossed it into the air, igniting the dust and replenishing the fading smoke.

He could only see a couple of feet in any direction. All around him was a ring of pale smoke, buffeted by his own magic in a constant swirling circle. Right beyond that, the shadow eaters swarmed, blocking out all light. He couldn’t even see the campsite, despite its closeness. The dark fog pressed against the smoke of the burning herbs, shifting with their own internal winds. It was claustrophobically dark, with these creatures of cold and spirit trying to force in on all sides. And overhead.

Stiles tossed another pinch of dust up, igniting it to smoke above their heads, to stop the creatures trying to get over the top of his defences. They were trapped in a little vault of darkness now. Stiles could only see in the faintly flickering light of Deaton working his own spell.

Stiles couldn’t let himself fear. He couldn’t afford to fear. He had to focus.

Pinch of powder, ignite, move the smoke. Pinch of powder, ignite, move the smoke. Pinch of powder, ignite, move the smoke. Over and over and over again. Stiles got into a rhythm, feeling his magic flowing through him, flowing through the air around him. He pushed everything else aside, all his fears and feelings, and just let himself feel the flow of power, finding some point of calm serenity at the heart of the spell.

Then his fingers scraped against the bottom of the bowl and he realised how little powder was left. He looked down and saw a few scattered scrapings left. That shock of fear was almost enough to shatter the spell, but he held it together, feeling the shadow eaters pressing tighter around his defences.

He risked a glance down at Deaton, who was working softly on his own spell. He had no idea how close Deaton was to completion. All Stiles knew was that he had hardly enough powder to keep the spell going for another couple of minutes. The moment the smoke ran out, the creatures would be on them and then whatever spell Deaton was working on would be for nothing. The shadow eaters would be drawn straight to the source of magic.

Unless there was a more powerful source of magic to distract them.

Stiles tossed another tiny pinch of powder into the air, not daring to lose focus even as he formulated a plan. The shadow eaters were stupid. All they did was converge on the strongest source of magic to feed. If Stiles could give them something to occupy them, Deaton might have a chance to finish his spell.

Stiles scraped together all the powder that was left into a pitiful puddle in his palm and dropped the bowl. He divided the powder between two hands.

One handful, he hurled into the air and ignited, started a strong wind in a cyclone around Deaton that would have momentum of its own, hopefully giving Deaton another minute of safety. Then he ignited the other handful and held it tight about himself, wrapping his body in a cloak of smoke.

He ran from Deaton. He felt the shadow eaters only inches away from the rapidly fading smoke, then he let loose a burst of magic like a beacon, shooting a light up towards the sky, pouring everything he had into the spell. It was an explosion of raw energy.

Darkness washed over him. Stiles tried to hold to the burning rush of magic as the ice flowed into his body. A sound came from what seemed like miles away: his dad was screaming his name.

Chapter Text

Tiny golden lights shot out from Deaton, rings of them racing away from him like ripples in a pond, spreading through the forest, passing through the trees as though they were made of air. Those lights tore through the shadow eaters, which dissolved on contact like mist fading under the morning sun.

John didn’t wait to be told it was safe. He ran across the boundary line to where Stiles lay unconscious under the trees. For one horrifying moment, he thought Stiles was dead. His skin was ice cold and pale, his pulse barely there. John put a hand on Stiles’ cheek, trying to feel life in him.

“Stiles, Stiles, come on,” John muttered. There was no reaction. He wanted to scream at Stiles for being so stupid, for risking his life like that. He wanted to scream at himself for letting Stiles go out there in the first place. Of course Stiles was going to do something stupid.

Deaton hurried over to him, looking down at the motionless teen.

“Quick, into the pond,” he said. There was a desperate urging in his voice, which was nearly enough to send John into a panic. Deaton was always so calm. To hear him worried now was terrifying.

John got his arms under Stiles, one under his knees and the other under his arms. He lifted Stiles up, cradling him to his chest. He nearly ran back into the clearing, lowering Stiles into the surprisingly warm water of the pond. He’d seen Stiles do this with Derek so recently, but the fact that Derek hadn’t moved since wasn’t helping soothes his fears at all. And Derek hadn’t looked as ghastly pale as Stiles did now. He looked like someone had sucked all the colour out of him. John couldn’t look away from his face, even when Deaton appeared at his side with armfuls of herb jars.

Deaton poured something over Stiles in the pond and then reached in, taking Stiles’ hand. John wondered if he was supposed to be doing anything, if there was anything he could do to help, but Deaton had his eyes shut and looked like he was concentrating. John didn’t dare interrupt. He just held Stiles’ head above the water and watched his son’s face for any sign of restored life.

This seemed to be taking longer than with Derek. Was it taking longer? Was it taking too long? John wanted to ask but he didn’t dare distract Deaton.

One of the teenagers, the boy Stiles had called Ian, came up to the pond. He crouched down at the edge of the water.

“Can I help?” he asked. Deaton gave an almost imperceptible nod.

Ian lowered his hands into the water, reaching out towards Stiles, and he closed his eyes. John couldn’t see anything happening. There was no visible sign of magic. For all he could tell, the kid was just washing his hands. But one of the other kids came up to the edge of the pond and lowered her hands into the water. Then another. Then another. Pretty soon, the edge of the pond was surrounded by kids, all reaching into the water and stretching their hands out towards Stiles.

Stiles’ lips parted slightly and he drew in a breath.

It was such a tiny sign of life. Stiles hadn’t responded or opened his eyes or anything, but it was enough that John nearly broke down in tears right there. He couldn’t watch Stiles die but there wasn’t a thing he could do to help him. All he could do was hold his head above water and wait for these kids to do something. He didn’t even know most of their names, but they were pouring their magic into the pond and into Stiles.

When Deaton let go and helped John to lift Stiles from the water, Stiles looked a little better, but he still had a drawn pallor that reminded John too much of the nogitsune. They lifted Stiles over to lie beside Derek next to the fire. Deaton beckoned Ian over to start getting rid of the rapidly cooling water that was soaked through Stiles’ clothes. Even as Ian worked, Deaton untucked the knitted blanket from under Derek’s side. He held it for a moment, frowning slightly, and then pulled it over to cover Stiles as well. They had to manoeuvre Stiles very close to Derek to get the blanket to cover both of them.

“Do you have the scarf he knitted for you?” Deaton asked.

“Not with me,” John said. “Why?”

“It’s infused with magic,” Deaton said. “His magic specifically. When he had his power drawn out of him, it took a lot of his, for lack of a better term, life force with it. We need to keep a channel open between Stiles and his magic so that he can draw strength from it and restore what he lost. The blanket will help but the more we can get, the better.”

John stood up from Stiles’ side and walked over to the tent. He tossed the sleeping bag aside and revealed the mound of scarves that Stiles had been using as a mattress. A slight smile grew on Deaton’s lips.

Together, they grabbed armfuls of scarves and carried them back to Stiles’ sleeping form. John shifted the blanket so that he could pack the scarves in around Stiles. That’s when he noticed the hands. When they’d covered Stiles, he and Derek had been lying side by side, utterly motionless. Somehow, their hands had become linked, their fingers woven together. John hadn’t done that, and he knew Deaton hadn’t either, which meant that one of them must have moved and taken the other’s hand. It was the first sign that there was actually some life left in them and John’s breath caught in his throat. He stared at those joined hands.

Derek wasn’t exactly the person John would have chosen for his son’s romantic partner, the fact that he was a werewolf rather less of a concern than the age difference, but at least he knew that Derek would stop at nothing to protect Stiles. Really, that was the most a man could hope for from his son’s boyfriend.

He picked up one of the scarves and wrapped it around the joined hands. Maybe the magic in it would help both of them.

He worked quickly, shoving scarves inside Stiles’ clothes so that they had direct contact with his skin, and was just covering them up with the blanket again, when the little girl let out a yell of, “Daddy!” and ran out of the clearing.

John stood. A pair of adults were walking through the woods in the dawn light. Both looked like they’d been dragged through a hedge backwards, with clothes torn and hair tangled, dirt and bits of twig clinging to them. Despite this, the lady had an air of quiet dignity. The man looked considerably less dignified, but that was largely due to the child clinging limit-like around his leg.

John faced them. There was no doubt that these were two of the people who’d kidnapped Stiles. He longed to punch them in the face but he restrained the impulse, partly because they could potentially kick his ass with magic, but mostly because of the kids. He couldn’t punch a guy who was being hugged by his daughter so tightly he was probably losing circulation in that limb.

“Stiles said you’d come,” the little girl was saying. “He told me you’d be fighting the monsters to keep me safe and then you’d come to get me.”

“He did, did he?” the man said. There was something strained in his tone. He was probably just trying to hold himself together, his hands on his daughter’s shoulders, holding her close.

The lady turned her attention to John, “You must be Stiles’ father.”

“You must be his kidnapper,” John retorted. Her lips pressed together in a narrow line, but she didn’t try to argue on that point.

“Stiles was amazing,” Ian said, coming up behind them. “He helped Sephy and the others after the shadow eaters got them, and then he distracted them so that that guy,” he pointed at Deaton, “could do a banishing spell. Stiles risked his life.”

“He saved us,” the girl added.

The man’s hands tightened a little more around his daughter, his eyes falling on where Stiles was lying.

“He shouldn’t have had to,” John said. “I thought the whole point of you stealing him from his home was so that you could keep him safe.”

The lady at least had the decency to look ashamed, but her answer left John wanting to punch her again.

“This situation was unexpected. It seems there was damage to the defences of the sanctuary and we were not fully aware of the extent. This was an unfortunate lapse but one we can rectify. We have restored the boundaries and ridded the sanctuary of shadow eaters. We were rounding up our missing students and getting them back to safety when we felt the burst of magic I can only assume was Stiles’ distraction. So we came to take the students back to sanctuary.”

“You’re not taking Stiles back,” John said.

She didn’t answer at once. She just walked past him and crouched down next to Stiles, touching his skin gently with the tips of her fingers. John wanted to pick her up and throw her in the fire.

“We can help him back at sanctuary,” she said.

“You’re not taking him away from me again.”

She considered slightly. Then she nodded.

***

Stiles was warm. He was wrapped up in something snuggly, with something warm pressed up against his back. His sleepy mind tried to cling to the pleasant doze he’d had going, but his body was insisting that the warmth was a little too warm. He needed to kick off the snuggly thing and get some air against his skin.

He shifted and tried to claw at the blankets that were wrapped around him. Then he heard the grunt from behind him. The warm something pressed up against him back was alive. Was a person.

A shock of fear woke Stiles up. He kicked his way out of the mess of blankets, rolled away from the mysterious person, flailed a little, and fell off the bed with a thump.

“Ow! Damn it!”

“Stiles?” Derek’s voice sounded in the darkness somewhere above him. He’d been the someone on the bed. “Are you OK?”

“I fell out of bed.”

“Where are we?”

“No friggin’ clue.”

It was dark wherever they were, dark enough that Stiles could only see vague shadows around him, the shape of the bed and Derek moving around on it. He held out a hand and called up light.

The room remained pitch black.

A surge of panic rushed through Stiles. He tried not to think about it. He was just tired and stressed and having performance issues. It didn’t mean anything that the spell hadn’t worked. He could always try again.

He pressed his hands together in front of him and called on his magic, reaching for that familiar warm tingle. He felt a faint prickle in the skin on his palms but as he drew his hands apart, the expected light failed to materialise between them. He couldn’t call up light. It was the simplest spell he knew, the one which he’d been able to make work even when everything else was exploding all around him, and now he couldn’t do it. Now he was sitting in darkness, unable to call up his magic.

“Stiles? What’s wrong?”

Derek was out of bed, crouching beside Stiles, hands on his shoulders.

“I can’t make a light,” Stiles said. “After all this, I can’t do magic.”

He’d talked the coven out of binding his magic and gone through hell to learn to use it. If he’d lost his magic, then he might as well have just let them bind him in the first place. He could have been home all along, with his dad and the pack and everyone. If he’d lost his magic, then the weeks of hell trying to learn had all been for nothing. He’d put up with everything Lady Rose had thrown at him so that he could learn to use magic, so he could be useful to the pack. If he’d lost that, then what was the point of having stayed with her?

“It’ll be OK,” Derek said. “You’ll figure it out.”

It wasn’t clear whether he meant that Stiles would figure out how to get his magic back or that he would figure out what to do without it. Stiles didn’t want to do without it. The thing that had gotten him through the past few weeks was the knowledge that he’d be able to use his magic to protect the pack once he finished learning to control it. And now it was gone.

So Stiles just sat there on the floor in a dark room, with Derek’s hands on his shoulders.

After a minute or two, Derek stood up. Of course he did. Stiles was being particularly pathetic right now so naturally Derek didn’t want to sit on the floor and coddle him.

There was a click and a light came on overhead. Stiles looked around at the familiar bedroom. It was the room he’d shared with Ian back at the sanctuary. Ian’s bed was neatly made, which raised the question of why he and Derek had been lying together in the same one. It also raised the question of what the hell they were doing back here and what had happened to his dad. Not to mention all the shadow eaters.

There was also the question of how long they’d been here, since Stiles suddenly became aware that he was famished. And incredibly thirsty. And desperate for a pee. He pushed himself up from the floor because breakdowns would have to wait until he’d emptied his bladder.

He opened the door and stepped out into dark corridor, nearly tripping over his dad in the process. There was a chair right outside the door, his dad slumped down in it asleep, his legs stretching across the corridor. It must have been a very uncomfortable position to sleep in. Stiles stepped carefully over those legs and headed to the bathroom.

When he emerged a minute later, he was instantly grabbed into a fierce hug. His dad nearly crushed him against his chest. His hands clutched into the back of Stiles’ t-shirt.

“You idiot,” his dad said. “You utter, complete and total idiot. What the hell were you thinking? Were you even thinking? I’m not letting you out of my sight until you learn not to be so stupidly self-sacrificing, which means you will never be out of my sight ever again. You could have been killed. You nearly were.”

“I’m OK, Dad,” Stiles said, not because he really felt OK but because he felt his dad needed to hear it.

His dad let him out of the hug and looked him in the face, studying his features as though searching for something.

“You’re really OK?” his dad asked.

“I’m hungry. How long have I been out?”

“Nearly twenty four hours. Come on, there’s got to be food around here somewhere.”

***

Pretty soon, Stiles and Derek were sitting side by side at the kitchen table tucking into bowls of cereal, while his dad sat across from them, sipping a coffee. It was still freaking Stiles out that his dad was here, especially after all the ridiculous secrecy rules. Apparently the sanctuary almost being wiped out by life-sucking spirit monsters had convinced Lady Rose that maybe she needed to rethink how things worked around here. Either that or his dad had threatened everyone into letting him accompany Stiles, rules or no rules. Given what had happened with Derek, there might have been actual shooting involved.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Stiles said, around mouthfuls of cereal.

“I made sure that Rose woman understood the only way she was getting me away from you would be if she killed me.”

“I’m surprised she didn’t go with that option.”

“I think the fact you saved a bunch of her students has convinced her she owes you. And clearly her secrecy rules weren’t working as well as she’d like anyway. Apparently she has decided the time is right for the coven to revisit their policies and see if there is room for improvement.”

“So what happens now?” Stiles asked.

“That depends,” his dad said after a moment’s hesitation.

“On what?” Stiles accidentally sent a spray of milk over the table by talking with his mouth full. The fact that his dad didn’t reprimand it probably said significant things about his state of mind.

“Have you tried doing any magic since you woke up?” his dad asked.

The fact that he knew to ask confirmed all the fears Stiles had been trying not to feel. His dad was asking about his magic because he knew something might be up with it. Disappointment settled like a weight in his stomach. Stiles had lost his magic.

Chapter Text

Stiles didn’t really have anything to pack. Everything that was his was out at the campsite in the woods. Still, Stiles looked around the bedroom and felt like he should be doing something to mark this occasion because he wasn’t going camping this time. He was leaving for good. His dad had made it perfectly clear that Stiles would find other teachers when his magic came back. If it came back.

Lady Rose insisted that it almost certainly would, but she’d been very evasive about timescales. On the bright side, when it did come back, it would be a gradual process. She had smiled and explained that this would be a good thing. He would have the opportunity to learn control when his magic was minimal. She’d said confidently that by the time he was up to full strength, he would have learned how to manage his powers. That confidence was enough to tell Stiles that she expected it to take years for him to get back up to strength.

But that was a good thing, he reminded himself for about the hundredth time, because it meant no more magical explosions. Stiles could practice his spells within a mountain ash circle or some other barrier, and not have to worry the rest of the time about accidents that would draw more shadow eaters or anything else to him. He could learn about magical theory from Deaton and practice making his spells undetectable to magical bad guys. And he could go back to his dad without worrying about blowing up his house.

But still he felt like he’d lost something precious. Stiles held his hands together and tried to channel his magic. He tried to feel the flow of power. He thought there was a faint tingle in his palms, but maybe that was wishful thinking because when he drew his hands apart, there wasn’t even the faintest glimmer of light.

“Stiles?” There was a tapping at the door. Stiles looked up and Carl stood there, clutching a couple of items in his hands: a book and a teddybear. Carl stood awkwardly for a moment.

“I... um... these are for you,” he said. He held out book and bear. Stiles took them. The book was an exploration of magical energies, which could be potentially useful. The bear he had no clue about.

“I,” Carl started again and then hesitated. He seemed strangely nervous.

“Yes?” Stiles prompted.

“You saved Amy’s life. I wanted to thank you. The bear’s hers. She wanted to thank you too.”

“It’s really unnecessary,” Stiles said. “I just did what I had to do.”

“You risked your life to save my daughter.”

“Really, I did it to save Derek and my dad. Saving Amy was just a biproduct.”

“Even so, you saved her when I couldn’t, when I...” Carl trailed off. There was something on his face that looked suspiciously like guilt. Stiles thought back to the conversation he’d had with his dad back at the campsite.

“I damaged the boundary wall,” Stiles said, “but someone should have noticed. Someone should have realised the danger the damage posed and done something.” He didn’t phrase it as an accusation, but there was still a hint of something accusing in his tone. Carl looked away and that was all the proof Stiles needed.

“I didn’t mean any of this,” Carl said. “I just thought Lady Rose was being indulgent with you. She let you get away with misbehaviour which would be unacceptable in kids half your age. She let you send that message home despite the secrecy rules. She didn’t get rid of your werewolf even though he was a threat. So when I saw the damage in the wall, I thought I could use it to prove a point to her about the risk you posed. I thought if she saw that you risked exposure, she wouldn’t let you get away with so much.”

“I wasn’t getting away with anything,” Stiles said.

“I didn’t want any of this. The attack, the scale of it, I never dreamed. I nearly got my daughter killed and you, you of all people, saved her. I... I’m sorry.”

Every rule of social interaction said that Stiles should say it was OK, just a few words to accept the apology. But he didn’t want to accept the apology because it wasn’t OK. That night in the woods had been utterly terrifying and a number of people had nearly died, not just the ones who’d ended up at the pond with him. Derek had nearly died. Stiles wasn’t ready to let that go.

So he stood and faced Carl head on and said, “I wasn’t misbehaving. I was trying with every fibre of my being to learn to control this magic and the fact that you refused to believe that makes you a dick. The fact that you left damage to the boundary wall makes you an irresponsible dick. I accepted the rules about not talking to my dad, despite the fact it was killing me, because I understood your need for secrecy. You ignored those rules to prove a point. Whatever I might have done by accident, you did on purpose. And you really should have known better than me what the consequences might be. So I’m taking the book, because it might be useful, but you can keep your apology and shove it up your ass.”

Stiles shoved the teddybear back at Carl and headed for the door.

“Don’t tell Lady Rose,” Carl said.

“Whether you tell her is between you and your conscious, but if I can figure it out, someone else will.”

Stiles walked out.

***

Stiles was woken from a disturbing dream by a thumping noise. For a moment, he thought the noise had been part of the nightmare, but then he realised his window was open. He climbed out of bed and went to check. A pair of blue eyes looked up at him from the darkness below and Stiles knew what had happened. A werewolf had tried to get into his room but not expected the mountain ash boundary inside the window, and he’d lost his grip when his passage inside had been blocked, ending up on the ground below.

“I’ll break the barrier,” Stiles called, and did just that. Moments later, Derek climbed in the window.

“Creeper,” Stiles muttered.

“It sounded like you were having a nightmare. I wanted to check you were OK.”

“And why were you lurking outside my house in the first place?” When Derek looked away, Stiles repeated, “Creeper.”

Stiles sat down on the end of his bed. Derek just stood there, a little embarrassed.

“What’s with the barrier?” Derek asked.

“No one has a clue when my magic is going to start coming back,” Stiles answered. “I figured I might as well get into the habit of sleeping inside a boundary so if I start blowing things up again while I’m asleep, I won’t be radiating my presence to the entire state.”

Derek nodded. Then he went back to just standing there. He looked exceedingly uncomfortable.

“Look, I’m fine,” Stiles said. “I’m back home safe. You don’t have to be my bodyguard anymore.”

“Right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a creeper.”

Derek started back for the window. He seemed strangely upset given that Stiles was basically telling him he could go home to his own bed instead of standing out in the cold outside Stiles’ house. There was a reluctance in his movement, even as he put his hands on the window frame.

“Unless you want to stay,” Stiles said.

Derek stood there, hands on the frame, fingers gripping tight against the wood.

“I don’t want to intrude,” Derek said.

“It’s fine. I’ve got used to having you around. Just don’t expect me to be good company. I’m still feeling seriously tired.”

“Yeah,” Derek said, agreement in his tone. He’d been drained in the woods too. Even with werewolf healing, he was probably still getting his strength back, which urged the question of why he’d been hanging around outside Stiles’ house in the middle of the night. He sounded so tired that Stiles felt a surge of pity. He was also clearly suffering sleep deprivation himself, because he would never in sound mind make the offer he made next.

“You can share the bed if you want to sleep.”

Derek looked horrified at the proposition, so Stiles added, “Only if you want to. There’s a perfectly good floor if not.”

Stiles decided not to reset the ash barrier. It was unlikely that he was going to start blasting unconscious magic for a while yet. He couldn’t even get the light spell working when he tried at it. So he just lay back in his bed and waited for Derek to make up his mind. After a few moments, there was the sound of the window sliding shut. A moments later, the bed shifted as Derek got into it. Stiles lay there, aware of the presence in the bed beside him, but relaxed by it instead of freaked out.

“Derek,” he said quietly. “Thanks for bringing me home.”

“You’re welcome. Thanks for saving me from the shadow eaters.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Just don’t ever risk your life like that again.”

“Don’t worry,” Stiles said, “my dad’s already warned me that if I get myself killed, I’m grounded.”

The mattress shook a little as Derek chuckled.

“Goodnight, Stiles.”

“Goodnight, Derek.”

***

Stiles woke in full daylight to the sight of his father staring down at him. It took him a moment to realise that there was an arm throw over his chest. Stiles gave a little yelp and shoved the arm aside, Derek waking up in that instant and then staring up at Stiles’ dad with terror in his eyes.

“This isn’t what it looks like,” Stiles said quickly.

“You’re staying for breakfast, Derek,” his dad said. “Both of you, downstairs in ten minutes.”

He walked out of the room. For a moment, all Stiles could do was sit there, staring at Derek, who stared back at him.

“He’s going to shoot me again,” Derek said.

“I’ll stand between you at all times, I promise.” Stiles meant it as partly a joke, but Derek nodded gratefully.

Stiles decided to skip the shower and just told Derek to turn his back so he could pull on some clean clothes. He would rather be fully dressed for the conversation with his father.

“Nothing happened,” Stiles said. “We’ll just tell Dad that nothing happened and it will be fine. Nobody needs to get shot. I mean, we had a perfectly good reason for sharing a bed.”

“Which was?” Derek asked.

Stiles hesitated. It had seemed perfectly logical at some ungodly hour last night but now sharing a bed seemed decidedly less so. Stiles couldn’t think of a way to explain this that his dad would consider even half plausible, especially given that he didn’t have a good explanation for Derek lurking outside their house in the middle of the night. He couldn’t think of a way to say that without it seeming creepy and weird.

Stiles headed down to breakfast, with Derek slinking down behind him, apparently trying to use Stiles as a human shield. Stiles’ dad was at the stove, cooking up eggs and bacon.

“You’re not supposed to have bacon,” Stiles said, sticking to familiar conversation topics in the hope of postponing the inevitable outcry that was bound to happen.

“The strain you’ve put on my heart in the last few days,” his dad said, “I think I can be excused a little bacon. There’s coffee in the pot.”

Stiles poured a mug for each of them while his dad finished off the cooking and served the food onto three plates. Pretty soon, Stiles and Derek were sitting on one side of the table, Stiles’ dad on the other. Derek prodded at the contents of his plate without eating. Stiles wondered if he were looking for wolfsbane in it.

“Dad,” Stiles said, “nothing happened. I know what you saw this morning may have looked like something had happened, but nothing happened.”

“Maybe not last night,” his dad said.

“Not any night!”

“Do you take me for a fool?” his dad asked. “Second thought, don’t answer that. Let me just say that you need to be discrete. You’re not eighteen yet. I don’t want to be in a position where I have to arrest my son’s boyfriend so –“

“Derek’s not my boyfriend!”

His dad gave him a look. It was the look usually reserved for when Stiles tried to explain that the smell on his breath was definitely not alcohol, or that Mr Harris had implemented a new grading system based on Harry Potter and F really meant fantastic. He didn’t believe a word Stiles was saying.

“Derek isn’t my boyfriend!” Stiles said.

“I’m not,” Derek agreed. “We’re not. Nothing has happened.”

“I saw you,” Stiles’ dad said, “in the woods, while you were unconscious.”

“Well I can’t be held responsible for anything I might do when I’m unconscious.”

“You were holding hands. The two of you were out cold, completely unaware of the rest of the world, and you someone managed to hold hands.”

Stiles shot a confused look in Derek’s direction. Derek looked back at him, equally bewildered. Stiles had no memory of that, which made sense if he’d been unconscious at the time. That was the only thing about this whole situation that made sense.

His dad seemed to understand the utter confusion passing between them. He scraped egg up into his mouth and swallowed quickly.

“I think you two have got a lot to talk about,” he said. “I need to get to work. Remember what I said about discretion.”

He hurried through the last few mouthfuls and stood, leaving the house with just a brief goodbye. Stiles was left sitting at the table next to Derek, aware of how close Derek was sitting. Close enough that he could almost feel the warmth of Derek’s presence across the miniscule space between them.

“We were holding hands,” Stiles said.

“That’s what he said.”

“I don’t remember holding hands.”

“Neither do I.”

“Holding hands doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I mean, really, my dad’s making interpretations of feelings based on something that neither of us remember, which is ridiculous. I mean, the way he’s talking about it he makes it sound like you love...” Stiles voice cracked and trailed off before he say the final word. His eyes were locked on Derek’s face. Right now, Derek looked terrified. He looked terrified of what Stiles might say. He looked vulnerable in a way Stiles had never imagined Derek could look.

“You love me?” Stiles asked.

For a moment, he thought Derek would just bolt. But he nodded slowly.

Stiles thought of everything Derek had done for him over the past few days, the way he’d come to save him, the way he’d fought for him, all the little acts of kindness at the campsite, all the moments when he’d seemed to know what was going on in Stiles’ mind. It was so glaringly obvious that Stiles wasn’t sure how he could have missed it. Stiles was also faced with the realisation that Derek was the sweetest guy on the planet, however he might pretend otherwise. The way he’d helped Stiles sent a rosy glow through him.

Stiles closed that tiny gap between them and pressed his lips to Derek’s. For a moment, Derek just sat in frozen shock, but then he melted into the kiss.

“I love you,” Stiles whispered, when they broke apart.

Derek looked away. That fear was in his eyes again.

“You don’t have to say it,” Derek started.

“I love you,” Stiles said quickly and pressed his lips to Derek’s again.

It was like something shifted inside Derek. He started moving, his hands wrapping around Stiles, pulling him close. Stiles was almost pulled out of his chair but he never had a moment’s doubt that he would fall. Derek was holding him. Derek would always hold him.

“Want to do some of the stuff my dad thinks we’re already doing?” Stiles asked.

There was something of the animal in Derek’s eyes when he asked, “Like what?”

Stiles found himself facing the possibility of sexual ecstasy and his mind went completely blank. Every thought he’d ever had on the subject, every idle fancy, vanished from his brain and he was left with just a gaping sense of anticipation.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Anything.”

“Anything?” Derek asked, a teasing note. “That’s a dangerous offer.”

He dove in for another kiss, something almost hungry about it now. He had his arms around Stiles and stood, lifting Stiles upright. Stiles let himself be lifted, his chair squeaking back over the floor. Stiles shoved the chair out of the way and then took hold of Derek, arms around his back, one hand reaching down to cup Derek’s ass. He could feel his heart racing as his hand made that short journey, something feeling forbidden about the touch. Stiles half expected to be stopped, to be told this wasn’t allowed for him. But Derek just moaned into the kiss.

“Upstairs?” Stiles suggested, breathless. He wasn’t entirely sure he could make it upstairs. His blood seemed to be rapidly abandoning his legs.

“Are you sure we’re not moving too fast?” Derek asked.

“Too fast? I’ve been thinking about this since the first time you shoved me against my door.”

“I guess we’d better hurry up then.”

Derek pulled away from the kiss, but he caught Stiles’ hand in his own. It was a gesture more romantic than sexual, and that fact alone sent a thrill of delight through Stiles that was more powerful than from all the kissing. Stiles ran up the stairs behind Derek, their hands linked.

Inside the bedroom, Stiles shut the door and then Derek slammed him against it. Stiles had been here before but it had never been anything like this. One of Derek’s hands was at Stiles’ shoulder, but the other caressed his hip. Derek leant in, kissing Stiles’ neck until he shivered. Stiles needed those hands on him because otherwise he’d be a puddle on the floor.

“You smell so good,” Derek murmured, his voice a low growl.

“You too,” Stiles muttered, because he did. A musk of leather and just a hint of sweat that Stiles could wrap himself up in.

“Can I suck you off?” Derek asked.

Despite everything, Stiles couldn’t resist the facetious response of, “I dunno, can you?”

Derek pulled away from Stiles just far enough so that Stiles would be able to see he was glaring. The hint of a smirk twitching the corners of his mouth up ruined the effect somewhat.

“Let’s find out,” Derek said. He dropped to his knees in front of Stiles.

Stiles made a little strangled sound as Derek eased his zipper down. He was already hard. He’d thought about this so many times. He’d imagined this moment. A part of him didn’t quite believe it was real. Maybe he was still dreaming, just hallucinating in the aftermath of the attack in the woods. But then Derek’s mouth, hot and wet, slid over his erection, and Stiles knew no dream had ever felt this good.

He clung on to the door handle to keep his legs from buckling under him. With his other hand, he worked his fingers into Derek’s hair, partly using Derek to stay upright, partly just needing to touch him. Derek seemed to take that as encouragement because suddenly he sucked. Not in the bad way, but in the way that left Stiles’ brain short-circuiting because right now heaven seemed to be located between Derek’s lips.

Derek started moving his head, pulling out and back in, sucking as he did so. For once in his life, Stiles was completely focused, focused on the heat that was building inside him as he panted and just felt.

“I’m gonna,” he muttered, and then gave a wordless cry. He shuddered against the door and saw stars.

Bright points of light burst into being around him, dancing in the same quivering motion as his body, sparkling above Derek’s head.

As Stiles came down from the climax, the lights faded away. For a moment, Stiles wondered if he’d just imagined them in the heat of the moment. Maybe they were a sign that his mind had literally been blown. But as Derek pulled off him, his eyes darted to the fading lights.

“Are you OK?” Derek asked.

“I’m not sure I can move my legs,” Stiles said, “but yeah. I mean, that was awesome and... magic.”

“I guess anger and fear aren’t the only emotions that let you tap into your power.”

Stiles should probably be worried about that, but this burst of magic hadn’t been dangerous. Nothing had blown up. It was just... pretty. It was hard to be worried about that. It was hard to be worried about anything right now. Because his magic was coming back. If his magic had been wild and destructive when he’d been miserable, he was interested to see what it would be like now that he was happy.

Stiles got his legs to respond again. He eased away from the door and around Derek. He headed over to the window.

“Stiles?” Derek asked, voice filled with concern.

Stiles grabbed a handful of mountain ash and closed the line under the window, linking in with the boards Deaton had fitted ages ago into the house’s security system. He closed the barrier.

“Stiles, what are you doing?”

“Making a barrier,” Stiles said. “I don’t want any evil nasty things interrupting us. I want to see what magic things we can make happen when I do that to you.”

He grinned, and Derek grinned back.