Chapter 1: Windows
Hi all; Just FYI, aside from the AU element of Stiles being blind, most of the "bad" things in this fic are canon. So, basically the canon history of Derek and Kate as well as his history with Paige, Isaac's canonical abusive dad, Erica's seizure disorder, Stiles' panic attacks, etc. If you have any questions about the tags, just let me know. I also tend not to tag every sex act in a fic -- if there's anything that's a squick or you absolutely must know if the fic contains in order to read it, feel free to ask me in the comments or on my Tumblr, drgrlfriend.tumblr.com (leave out the first 'I' for "I didn't sign up for Tumblr in time to get the url I wanted." ;-)
An additional note -- I just added two new tags that I wasn't too sure about. Ableist Language refers to Stiles calling himself a "spaz" at times. There's actually no ableist language related to Stiles' blindness. No one has complained, but I'd rather overwarn than underwarn; I don't use that term myself, but Stiles does. I also struggled about including the Demisexuality / Demisexual Derek Hale tags. In my viewpoint as author it's accurate and I wanted to label it in case people were looking for characterizations of that type, but he never overtly self-identifies as such in the course of the fic so I wanted to warn so no one was disappointed by that element being lacking. Thanks for reading!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
[Cover art by the amazing justaddgigi]
The kid was looking again, and Derek had just about had it.
It's not like Derek didn't know how he looked. Wolves matured early, and Derek had developed muscles and scruff before any of his peers. He had first started to become aware of his appeal under Paige's shy gaze. It had been confirmed when Kate had silenced him with a kiss, her throaty voice purring, "Nobody wants you for your conversation, darling," as her fingers traced greedily over the muscles of his abdomen. Fool that he was, he had been flattered at the time.
Losing his family had only made him more disciplined -- more determined to be stronger and faster than anyone who might hunt him. Working himself to the point of physical exhaustion was both his penance and his salvation. As a result his shoulders broadened, his biceps bulged, his thighs thickened with lean muscle. And the eyes of strangers lingered longer, the cloying scent of their avid interest a miasma that surrounded him no matter where he went in the city.
Here, though, in the safety of his own apartment -- he shouldn't have to put up with that. He wouldn't say that he ever fully relaxed his vigil, but at least in his own apartment he could finally shut out the chaos and noise and sticky lust of the city. This was his sanctuary, smelling only of him, and here was as close as he ever got these days to feeling at peace. Until that damn kid moved in to the building across the alleyway.
New York City was claustrophobic enough on its own. It had been Laura's choice to come here, her fervent hope that anyone tracking them would lose them in the teeming mass of the city. Derek had followed along numbly, secrets and remorse burning like acid in his chest. He had forfeited any right to his own opinion on the day he betrayed his whole family.
Then Laura had died, and Derek had stayed behind in the city he despised. Most of the time he didn't even know why. Maybe he was still trying to be a good beta to Laura even after his eyes had flared alpha-red with her death. Maybe he was reluctant to sever that last, tenuous connection to her. Or maybe he was just treading water, with no place better to go. Pretending to be a functioning human being because that’s all that Laura had ever wanted for him.
So he had his apartment, small and sparse but clean. It didn't have a view, of course, the building across the alley was so close that their fire escapes practically touched. But that building was a wreck, half of the windows boarded up, and the apartment facing Derek's had been empty for as long as he had lived there -- until earlier this week.
That's when the kid had moved in, and the floor-to-ceiling windows of Derek's industrial loft had turned from a blessing to a curse. They used to create the illusion of space and light, allowing Derek to pretend that he wasn't really hemmed into the small square footage of his actual apartment. That illusion was the only thing that made the cramped space tolerable, and why he abhored the very idea of curtains. The lights of the city didn't bother him, through closed eyelids he could even pretend it was sunshine filtering through forest leaves.
The kid must have moved in while Derek was at work. Derek hadn't even noticed at first, so accustomed to his routine. He had ditched his wallet and keys on the table by the door, kicking his shoes off and nudging them underneath. His bed was smack in the middle of the loft, and he had stripped his suit off, throwing it on the comforter to be hung up later, anxious to shower the heat and scent of the city off his body. He was already pulling his shirt over his head when he had noticed the flicker of movement in the apartment across the alley.
There the kid had been, his apartment completely dark, just standing at his window and staring straight at Derek. It didn't look like he had just been passing by the window and had been distracted, either. No, the kid had looked like he was settled in for the long haul, his forearm braced against the top of the window, his gaze fixed forward directly into Derek's apartment.
Derek had turned his back, startled and unsettled, and then had felt even more exposed, knowing the kid could probably see the triskele tattooed between his shoulder blades as clear as day. He had almost felt those eyes crawling over him from the darkened apartment across the way, and he hadn't been able to suppress his shudder. He had lunged for the light switch, working harder than he had needed to in ages to keep his eyes from flaring red in the sudden darkness, his claws from lengthening at the invasion of his once-private space.
He had scuttled to the bathroom, the one enclosed space in his apartment, and had let the shower beat down on him, water scaldingly hot. He had tried not to look across the way when he got out, but couldn't help himself.
The kid had still been there, a long lean silhouette in the window topped by a fluff of hair. Derek had watched through sidelong glances as he hurriedly redressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, awkwardly holding his towel up for modesty. He was waiting for some kind of self-consciousness or at the very least acknowledgement on the kid's part, but the kid had seemed unrepentant, the streetlights from below reflecting off of wide eyes unnervingly fixed on Derek's form. Finally Derek had skipped dinner and retreated beneath his comforter, shifting restlessly long into the night, unaccustomed to sleeping in clothes, feeling vulnerable and edgy under the memory of that gaze.
The kid hadn't been there the next morning, and Derek had heaved a sigh of relief. The way the kid had been staring at him had been rude as hell, but maybe he hadn't realized that Derek could see him past the reflection in his own windows, and Derek supposed some degree of the kid's curiosity about his new neighbors was allowable. Hopefully that curiosity had been satisfied. Derek had tried to push it from his mind, focusing in on his work.
That night he had returned home, and had barely flicked on his own lights before the kid was in the window again, staring. Derek hadn't worked as late and even in the dim evening light filtering down between the two buildings he could see the kid more clearly.
He didn't seem as young as Derek had thought at first...still gangly and lean but with surprisingly broad shoulders, his bicep stretching the sleeve of his t-shirt where his arm was braced against the top of the window. A scattering of moles dotted the pale skin of his cheek, and his mouth was pink and lax, lips slightly parted almost obscenely. Most arresting, though, were his eyes, wide and ringed with dark lashes, the irises lit to an almost golden amber by the few stray beams of dying sunlight slanting between the buildings as he stared almost unblinkingly into Derek's apartment.
"Dammit," Derek had cursed. He had glared back for a few minutes, eyes narrowed, but the kid hadn't seemed intimidated at all. He had even smiled a bit, the corner of his lips tilting up as if he were enjoying Derek's discomfort. Asshole.
Derek tried to ignore him, going about his routine as usual as much as possible, but his skin crawled with self-consciousness, nerves jittering. And then it happened again the next night, and the next. By Friday night, Derek was absolutely determined to do something. Whatever the punk kid’s problem was, Derek would no longer let himself feel threatened in his own space.
That night he got home, sweating and itching from the summer heat, throwing his keys on the table with such force that they scuffed the wood. He stalked directly to his windows, teeth already grinding, fingers clenched into fists. The kid was already there, already staring, as Derek glared angrily back.
“Hey!” Derek’s windows were thick and didn’t open, but the window the kid stood in front of was an ancient metal-framed one with a hand-crank, and Derek could see that it was cranked open a few inches. “Hey you!” Derek snarled, slamming his fist on the frame of his own windows, making the floor-to-ceiling glass shudder alarmingly. The kid didn’t even flinch, his smirk unwavering. Derek listened, but couldn’t hear his heartbeat through the glass and the cacophony of street sounds to know if he was even the slightest bit alarmed. He certainly didn’t look it.
“That’s it,” Derek snapped. He snatched up his keys, stomping down the stairs of his apartment building and storming across the street before he had time for second thoughts. The lock on the main door of the building was already broken, confirming in Derek’s mind the kind of run-down dump that it was. Derek’s fury carried him past a mailroom with junk mail scattered on the floor, through a moldy-smelling lobby and up the dingy stairs. The already unbearable heat rose with every floor he ascended, fueling his rising temper. Four flights up he burst into the landing, the hallway narrow, the flourescent light overhead flickering and buzzing. He headed straight for the door of the apartment that faced his own.
“Hey.” He knocked sharply on the door. “Hey!”
He heard the footsteps approaching, saw the peephole darken as the kid came to stand right in front of the scuffed metal door. At least he seemed alarmed now, his heart rate already rapid and quickening further the longer he stood there.
“Yeah?” the kid finally said, his voice sounding uncertain. “Who is it?”
“Fucking what?!” Derek muttered to himself. What the hell kind of game was this asshole playing? “You know who I am,” he snapped loudly. “Your neighbor.”
“You’re my neighbor?” The kid’s voice sounded more confident now. “You gotta forgive me if we were introduced — I’m not exactly good with faces.” Derek could hear the smirk in his voice now, and it was the final straw. What kind of crack was that? Four solid days of staring creepily at Derek and now the kid was pretending he didn’t even recognize his face!?
The rage burned so brightly within Derek that he could feel his vision haze red, his claws snapping out involuntarily. It was simple to slide one of those claws between the rickety metal door and the jamb, slicing through the deadbolts the kid had no doubt placed, thinking himself safe.
Derek shoved the door open, sending the kid pinwheeling back to land on his ass. Derek stepped into the apartment, the low rumble of a growl escaping his chest, enjoying the look of fear on the kid’s face as the door swung shut behind him with a solid thunk.
The kid scuttled backwards until his back was against the wall, scrambling to his feet while his arms flailed wildly, reaching out apparently for some kind of weapon. He grabbed a floor lamp, shifting it until he held it in his hands like a baseball bat, almost conking himself in the head with the shade.
“Listen, if you want money, I don’t have much, but you can just take it, okay?” the kid was babbling.
“I don’t want any damn money,” Derek spat, stepping closer. “What I want is for you —” Derek’s voice stumbled to a halt, his senses belatedly prickling with the awareness of something wrong. Even though he had stepped closer the kid’s eyes were still staring at the doorway, over Derek’s shoulder.
Derek turned his head, looking at the closed door and then back at the kid.
“What do you want?” the kid was saying, tightening his grip on the lamp. “I swear, if you lay a hand on me — my dad — he’s the Sheriff, he’ll fucking find you and kill you —” his voice cracked slightly on the word ‘dad’ and Derek found himself dropping his hands to his side. He took another silent step to his left, watching the amber eyes closely. They didn’t even flicker in his direction.
“You —” Derek watched as the kid startled and flailed before adjusting his stance to face Derek’s new position. His eyes slid past Derek a bit and then fixed again — at a point closer to where Derek stood, but still not exactly right.
“I’m warning you, leave now or I’m gonna start swinging,” the kid said defiantly. “Last chance.”
“You’re blind,” Derek said flatly, the anger draining from him so suddenly he felt almost woozy. His vision cleared, his claws sliding back into blunt fingernails.
“Thanks for the memo, genius,” the kid said acidly. “I can still fucking defend myself, so don’t take another damn step.”
“Fuck, I...I’m sorry,” Derek stuttered.
“What?!” The kid’s brow crinkled. “I mean — what?! You’re fucking sorry!?” His lips thinned into a harsh line. “What, is this some kinda Hallmark movie where you’re discovering the error of your ways because you don’t want to rob a blind person?! That’s fucking condescending, man. I’ll have you know that —”
“Just, wait.” Derek interrupted what was apparently the start of a convincing argument as to why he should rob the kid after all, feeling his head start to spin. “This is — it’s a misunderstanding. I’m — I’m not robbing you. You’re — you’re safe, okay? I’m taking three steps back. Just — just let me explain.”
Derek took three steps back, counting each, letting the floor creak noisily under his feet. “I’m at the door. I’ll leave the second you want me to. Just — just let me explain.”
“Explain why you came busting into my apartment? Yeah, go right ahead, man, I can’t wait to hear this epic tale.” The kid’s voice dripped with sarcasm, and Christ, Derek had earned every ounce of it.
Derek was bad with words on a good day, and in a situation like this he was beyond hopeless. He stared at the kid, tongue-tied, not having the slightest clue where to start.
“Well?” the kid prompted. Derek stared blankly at him for a bit longer. The kid lowered the lamp a fraction. “Did he fucking leave?” he mumbled to himself.
Derek thought longingly of how easy it would be to slip out the the door and just disappear, but he couldn’t do that. This kid would be terrified forever, would never feel safe in his apartment again, and Derek knew all too well how that felt.
“I’m still here,” Derek pointed out obligingly.
“Gah!” The kid startled and flailed again, and this time the lamp shade did hit him in the face.
Derek could feel his own eyes widening. “That wasn’t me,” he rushed to explain. “That — that was the lampshade.”
“I know it was the fucking lampshade, you asshole!” the kid spat back at him, angry tears standing out in his eyes as he ripped the shade off the lamp and threw it to the ground. There was no bulb in the lamp yet, and Derek belatedly realized why the kid was always standing around in the dark. “I’m not — what the fuck is wrong with you!?” His lip was starting to swell up in the corner, and between the tears in his wide eyes, his upturned nose, and his pouting lip, he was starting to look like a child having a tantrum.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Derek found himself saying dejectedly. “I’m just really, really sorry. You can put the lamp down. I promise I won’t hurt you. I’ll fix your door. I really am your neighbor.”
“You really are my neighbor?” the kid repeated incredulously, apparently latching onto the least reassuring part of that whole speech. “Christ, my dad told me I was gonna get murdered in the first month of living here, and I told him he was being overprotective. Now I have a fucking psycho for a neighbor and I’m gonna die in the first week.”
“You’re not gonna die. I don’t — I don’t live in your building. I’ll fix your door, and I’ll leave you alone, I promise. You’ll never have to see me again,” Derek babbled, and then cringed at his own word choice.
“You just said you were my neighbor!!” the kid practically shrieked. “Are you trying to fucking confuse me to death?”
“Across the street! Your neighbor across the street, is what I meant. Your — your apartment window looks into mine. And — you’ve been standing there, every night, just looking in my window. And I don’t have curtains, and you — you were making me really uncomfortable, and you weren’t stopping no matter how much I glared at you, and — and fuck, you’re blind, and that’s why, I get that now, but before it just felt really threatening, and that’s why I came over —” Derek stumbled to a stop once again, wondering inanely if that was more words than he had spoken at once to anyone since Laura died.
The kid had lowered the lamp now, at least, his eyebrows high on his mobile face. “I. Seemed threatening. To you,” he repeated dubiously.
It sounded ridiculous now that he had said it, and the kid didn’t even know what Derek looked like — didn’t know that he was almost 200 pounds of solid muscle and werewolf to boot. The apartment was almost unbearably hot and humid, and Derek felt his cheeks flush even warmer, sweat trickling down his back. He looked down at his feet, unable to explain further. “I — I have issues,” he finally said.
The kid snorted. “That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.” He seemed to be calming down a little, though, the frantic patter of his heart slowing, the acidity of fear in his scent settling into something warmer and softer.
He relaxed his stance a little further, the base of the lamp settling to the floor, but his voice was still sharp with suspicion when he spoke again. “Are these issues, like, anger management issues? Have you ever hurt someone? And that whole thing about blind people having heightened senses is true, man, so I’ll know if you’re lying,” he said, his heartbeat ironically blipping as he told the lie.
Derek couldn’t help the bark of laughter that escaped him. “Only if you were blinded saving an old man from a truck full of radioactive waste,” he found himself blurting out, and then bit his tongue. Crap, he was supposed to be apologizing, not needling the guy.
Surprisingly, his stupid remark seemed to put the kid further at ease. “Daredevil reference,” the kid observed, his eyes crinkling a little at the corners. “Nice.”
“I shouldn’t have joked about that,” Derek said awkwardly. “Sorry. Again.”
“No worries, dude. I’m not sensitive about it. Besides, for all you know, that’s exactly how I went blind.” The kid grinned widely for a minute before seeming to remember the situation and forcing his face to look stern again.
“Anyway,” Derek forged on. “I’m not — I’ve never — I wouldn’t hurt anyone. But if you want to call the cops on me or something, that’s fine. My name is Derek Hale. I can wait here while you call or you can send them over to my place. I’ll — I’ll corroborate your statement and all that. If that would make you feel safer.”
The kid put the lamp fully down now, running a hand through his already disordered hair and taking a deep breath, letting it out with a sigh. “Nah, man. Maybe I’m being stupid, but I don’t think that’s necessary.” Dusk was starting to fall more fully, casting shadows across the kid's face as he shrugged his shoulders a few times to release the tension. “Not that you didn’t scare the crap out of me, but I kinda get where you were coming from. You stormed over here to confront a raging pervert and instead you got 163 pounds of sarcasm and disability. It’s — well, I won’t say it’s understandable, it’s still weird as hell, but — I can see where I would have creeped you out since you didn’t know about the whole —” the kid’s fingers did some sort of elaborate twirl in front of his eyes “— situation going on up here.”
“Why —” Derek started, before stopping himself. He had no right to ask any questions.
The kid waited for a minute, and then snorted again. “Just spit it out, dude. I think the good ship Etiquette has fucking sailed.”
Derek felt himself flush again at the reminder, but his curiosity was starting to override his shame. “Why do you stand at the window all evening?”
"Oh! That’s an easy one.” The kid grinned again. “It’s a fucking oven in here in the evenings, if you hadn’t noticed, and no a/c. Can’t even put a window unit in these damn casement windows, and most of them are painted shut from the outside under like, nine decades of paint.”
He moved back over to the window, hand unerringly finding the crank and trying to turn it. It made a horrible screech and only opened a fraction more, the kid holding his breath with the effort of turning it even a few rotations. “I can only get this one window open,” he huffed, “And even this one only cranks a few inches. But if I stand right in front of it I get at least a little bit of a breeze. So I throw a podcast on, and just hang out here and listen.” His mouth twisted into a self-deprecating grin. “Hot nightlife in the big city, huh?”
“I can — I can try to fix that for you too,” Derek offered. “Make it so they all open, at least.”
“Really, man?” The kid braced his forearm on the top of the window frame and leaned into the breeze, the position familiar to Derek but now seen from the other side. It seemed so obvious now. “That would be awesome. Handy is something I am absolutely not.”
“Yeah, I’ll — there’s a hardware store a few blocks down that’s open for awhile yet. I’ll do the door for sure tonight, and the windows if I can.”
"Thanks.” The kid seemed remarkably unconcerned with Derek’s continued presence in his apartment, in a way that spoke to poor self-preservation. He stood relaxed at the window, still savoring the breeze. His t-shirt had a damp patch between the shoulder blades, making it stick to the strong muscles of his back. “So you live over there, huh?” he remarked, gesturing out his window.
“Yeah. For, uh, about two years now.”
“And you thought I was spending all evening just perving on you,” the kid remarked, his voice bright with mischief. He turned his head, a dying ray of summer sun lighting his eyes to a translucent honey-gold. “You must be hot, to have thought that. No one worries about getting perved on when they’re like a hundred years old and wrinkly. Are you super hot?”
“I — uh —”
The kid laughed in delight, his whole body shaking with it. “You totally are!” he crowed. “You’re hot like burning!” He turned back to the window, letting his long fingers glaze lightly over the surface of the glass. “Wasted opportunity, man,” he said contemplatively. “You’re like the stereotypical sexy neighbor in a sitcom, and here I am, a Peeping Tom with no peepers.”
“I —” Derek had no idea what to say to that.
The kid straightened up suddenly, a pink flush rising to his cheeks. “Jeez, sorry, dude. My mouth runs away with me sometimes. Feel free to disregard, like, 90 percent of what I say.”
“No, it’s okay.” Derek managed to shuffle a few steps closer to the door, wondering why he hadn’t left already. “I better get to the store, though, before it closes. I’ll be back in, like, half an hour?”
“Yeah, sounds good,” the kid said moving back to the window. Derek finally made it out the door, closing it behind him and taking a deep breath, trying to collect his scattered thoughts.
“Bring pizza!” the kid yelled from inside the apartment, and Derek found himself smiling as he kicked himself into motion, making his way down the dingy hall.
Find me on Tumblr for more Sterek-y fun!
Prompt from a list of AUs for Disabled / Chronically Ill OTPs:
You thought I’d been staring at you all night and wanted you to come over, but really I’m just blind and was looking nowhere. At least your voice is pretty. AU
Sorry if the updated tags (Blind Character and Blind Stiles) ruined the "big reveal" for y'all, but I figured some people might want to find the fic based on those tags specifically so I included them now that the fic is well underway.
The kid talked a lot.
“Hey, yeah, come in!” he started in as soon as Derek knocked hesitantly on the door an hour later. “I am such a goober, I realized I never even told you my name, which is ridiculous. It’s Stiles by the way, although not really, I mean naming someone Stiles Stilinski would be kind of awful, along the lines of Major Major, but it’s my nickname, and trust me you don’t want to know the real one — no pizza?” The sudden shift of his face from enthusiastic to disappointed was comical.
“Uh…” Derek’s brain took a minute to catch up. “It’s getting delivered. I couldn’t carry it with all the other stuff.”
“Oh!” The kids’ face brightened again. “Yeah, awesome, I bet you know all the best places for delivery around here, huh? My dad was going to come up and help me settle in, and we were gonna explore and all that kind of stuff, but then he ended up having to testify in this trial that went way longer than it was supposed to — did I mention he was a sheriff? Anyway, he’s a sheriff, and he got stuck testifying, and the start date for my job was July 1st, so it was just me and the movers, and I found my way to work and the grocery store but otherwise I’ve kind of been just hunkering down until he gets released from the trial and can come up here so we can check out the neighborhood together, you know? Anyway, what’d you bring?”
Derek was starting to develop a strategy of only responding to the last question out of Stiles’ mouth. “New locks. Stuff to fix the windows. I got you a fan, too, for air circulation. And, uh —” He shifted awkwardly on his feet. “Light bulbs?”
“Oh, jeez!” Derek’s night vision was sharp enough to see Stiles flush even in the near-darkness of the apartment. “I totally forgot that, didn’t I? I mean, it was on my list, but no one has come to visit yet, so I — anyway, smart thinking, I can put them in the lamps if you hand them over. Don’t kill yourself in the dark.”
Derek handed the package of lightbulbs over and Stiles flitted around, his long deft fingers screwing them in, keeping his fingertips on each bulb as he turned the switch until he could feel it warm up to confirm that it was lit. “At least this isn’t as bad as when I moved into my dorm room — I had a single, and I didn’t realize I had put my big dresser in front of my light switch until the first time I had someone over, and boy was that awkward, I think he thought it was some kind of move on my part, you know, dark apartment to set the mood or whatever…”
Derek watched Stiles move around the apartment, trying to ignore the little prickle of awareness down his spine that said, He’s into guys.
“I’ll get started on the locks,” he said.
Derek learned more about Stiles in a few hours than he probably knew about any other person in the city. Stiles had just graduated college, and had a job as an editorial assistant at a publishing house. He really wanted to be a novelist, but until someone discovered his “immense and staggering talent” as he put it, he had to put in hours in the trenches, and apparently New York City was “the place to be” for publishing.
Derek found that he could get away with the occasional grunt of acknowledgment and Stiles would carry on a conversation single-handedly, which seemed to suit them both remarkably well.
The pizza arrived and Stiles ate with gusto, taking enormous bites in between a monologue about how long it had been since he’d had a pizza with everything on it and his father’s propensity to sneak junk food despite the very strict diet that Stiles had him on. At one point Stiles gestured so animatedly that only Derek’s werewolf reflexes kept him from getting clocked in the head with a slice of pizza.
“Oh wait — here!” Stiles said at one point, pulling his phone from his pocket. Derek had noticed that Stiles seemed to hold his phone in his hand whenever possible, and on the rare times he put it away he seemed to pat his pocket compulsively to confirm it was there, but he hadn’t seen Stiles use it yet.
“Yes, Stiles?” A British voice responded from the phone, startling Derek.
“Show me dad.”
“Showing dad,” the phone responded. Stiles tipped the phone screen in Derek’s direction, using his thumb to swipe through a few photos. Each one was carefully labeled, Jarvis reading the caption aloud as the photo appeared on screen. “Dad in uniform, 2014. Dad’s birthday, 2014. Dad and me, Christmas 2013. Dad with me and Lydia at graduation.”
Derek stared down at the screen, the photos of the fatherly man and the obvious pride on his face bringing an unexpected lump to his throat. In the last one he had his arm around Stiles on one side in a cap and a gown, and around a beautiful young woman on the other side.
“Is Lydia your sister?” Derek asked.
Stiles snorted. “Nah, I mean, I wish. I mean, I didn’t used to wish she was my sister, I was in love with her from, like, age 7 until age 13. I was totally convinced I was going to marry her, but instead she became my best friend, which it turns out is way better, and now she’s practically like my sister.”
Derek felt a sudden, irrational spike of jealousy. “She’s beautiful,” he said to cover it, and Stiles grinned.
“I know, right? I mean, I remember how she looked then, even, and she was both beautiful and terrifying even in middle school, with that strawberry blond hair, and when she would put on lip gloss in class...” Stiles got a dreamy look on his face.
“I better get back to work,” Derek muttered, trying to keep the growl from his voice.
“What?” Stiles seemed to jolt back to awareness. “Oh, yeah, sure. Anyway, I can only imagine how she looks now, but that’s not even the best part, she’s so ridiculously crazy-smart, and she kind of took me on as a pet project or something. She did a lot of the custom programming for Jarvis. Now she’s studying some kind of crazy Pure Mathematics at MIT, but we talk on the phone and Skype all the time. She’s the one who helped me convince dad that I could make it out here.”
Derek made a vague noise of interrogation as he pried at the layers of paint over the windows, finally giving up on the utility knife and stealthily extending a claw.
“He’s just — overprotective, I guess. I mean, it’s understandable, with all that happened, and it’s just the two of us, but if he had his way I’d probably be still living at home and grounded half the time. It was hard enough for me to convince him to let me move to the dorms for college, but to move all the way across the country, and to New York City — it took a lot of convincing.”
“He thought you’d get murdered in the first month,” Derek said, remembering Stiles’ babbling from earlier, and then immediately regretted it as Stiles frowned, his scent souring a little with sadness.
“He was — he was mad when he said that,” Stiles said, his voice subdued.
Derek found himself floundering for a way to make it better. “This building is a little, um —”
“I know!” Stiles burst out, his voice edged with anger now. Derek froze, unsure what he had said exactly but certain that he’d made things worse. “I know,” Stiles said more quietly. “I know this place is a dump, I’m blind, not — not stupid. But my dad —” He ran a hand through his hair, making it stick up even further in all directions. “My dad thinks this is a bad idea, and I’m — I’m just gonna give up and go home. So he insisted I find a place that rents month-to-month. And trust me, this place — this is like the Taj Mahal of month-to-month rentals in New York City that can be afforded on an editorial assistant’s salary.”
“I didn’t mean to insult your place,” Derek said hesitantly.
“I know. I’m sorry I snapped at you,” Stiles said, but his scent was still tinged with sadness. “It’s just — a sensitive subject, I guess. Because — because maybe he’s right. I mean, I’ve only been here a week, but...it’s already a lot harder than I thought it’d be.”
Stiles sat down on his bed, turning his phone around and around in his hands, his shoulders slumped. “I mean, I was kind of prepared for how crazy and crowded the city was, and that sucks, but I was ready for that, you know? I mean, college campuses can get pretty crazy and crowded, and I could deal with it. But at least at college there were classes to go to, and everyone was new, so we were all figuring it out together. Here everyone seems like they’re in their own orbits, you know what I mean? I go to work, and I use text-to-speech for editing so I have headphones on almost all the time, but even if I don’t it doesn’t seem like people really talk to each other, or — I don’t know, sorry, I’m babbling. Ignore.”
Derek scraped at the windows for a little longer, thinking over what Stiles had said. In one way, that description was what he and Laura had first found appealing about New York City. No one to ask questions, no one to care about two teenagers all on their own. And Derek had deliberately sought out a job where he rarely interacted with others, spending all day in solitude with his numbers and spreadsheets. Over time, though, it did wear him down. A wolf was never meant to be alone, and the warmth of a family, of pack, was something that Derek would likely never find here. At least not the way he was going.
“I think —” he started finally, taking another moment to organize his thoughts. “I think people in this city get kind of a shell, but — underneath, they’re still people, just like any place else. It might just take a little time. More than you’re used to.”
And Christ, but Stiles’ smile seemed to warm the whole room. “You think so?”
“Yeah. You’ll do fine.”
They were both quieter after that, more thoughtful. Derek found the silence surprisingly companionable. It was nice to work with his hands again, letting Stiles’ warm scent wash over him, his steady breathing and pattering heartbeat a comforting backdrop to the scraping of Derek’s tools and the rustling as Stiles unpacked a few boxes.
Derek got all of the windows open, and greased the cranks so they turned more easily. Before he left he set up the fan, being sure to get Stiles’ approval on the placement of it, and turned it on. They both breathed a sigh of relief as the cool evening air was drawn in from the windows, circulating through the stuffy apartment like a balm.
“I guess I’m done,” Derek said finally. “You’ve got two deadbolts and a bar now, that should hold pretty well.” He gathered up the last of his tools, heading for the door.
Stiles opened the door, fingers flicking easily over the new locks and bar. “Thanks, Derek,” he said, leaning against the door as Derek made his way through it. “It’s good, y’know...to have a friend in the city.”
And Derek didn’t mean it like that, he really didn’t. It was his stupid mouth acting out of surprise, because no one had called him friend in he didn’t even know how long. “I — I’m not —” he found himself stammering out in shock, the words dying on his lips as Stiles’ face grew tense and set.
“Yeah, I get it,” Stiles said, his warm soft scent suddenly reeking of disappointment and embarrassment. “See you never, man,” Stiles said curtly, and before Derek knew it the door was closing in his face. He heard the click of one deadbolt and then another, and the slide of the bar, as he stood in the hallway, aching with regret for what he had said and uncertain how to make it right.
I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Next chapter is much happier, I promise. :-)
Chapter 3: Voices
The kid was suddenly everywhere.
For the first few days after Derek’s horrible blunder, he hadn’t seen Stiles at all. Derek couldn’t stop himself from compulsively looking out his windows and across the alley, but Stiles’ blinds stayed firmly shut, his apartment dark.
Derek spent the weekend in misery, unsure what he should do.
Just nut up and apologize, you dork. Derek could practically hear Laura’s advice, but it wasn’t that simple.
He had promised Stiles that once he fixed the door Stiles would never have to see him again. That didn’t seem to be what Stiles wanted, if he called Derek a friend. Or at least that’s not what he had wanted, for a brief moment in time before Derek had fucked everything up. It was probably exactly what Stiles wanted now, and if so it would be beyond creepy for Derek to go back over there, inflicting his unwelcome presence on the kid yet again.
And what would that even achieve? Derek was not the kind of person anyone would call friend. He was angry, and awkward, and didn’t know how to talk to people. The only thing that made people interested in him in the first place was his appearance, and Stiles couldn’t even see it. No, Stiles was just new to the city and overwhelmed, and desperate for any kind of personal connection. Once he had settled in he would probably consider it a narrow miss, thinking back to how he had almost let Derek into his life.
And yet, when the work week began, Derek found himself desperately seeking Stiles’ scent on the street, almost involuntarily. He seemed particularly attuned to it, and couldn’t stop himself from huffing in greedy breaths through his nose, analyzing every aspect of it. It smelled...lonely, and Derek hated himself more with every compulsive inhale.
And then, the faint trace of Stiles’ scent on the air wasn’t enough. Like a true creeper, the next day Derek found himself altering his schedule, getting ready earlier than he ever had and waiting in the lobby of his building until he saw Stiles emerge from the building next door. Derek watched him, and scented him, and imagined a hundred different ways that he could approach him and apologize. Instead, he ended up just following Stiles in dogged silence all the way to the subway stop, watching as the A train doors closed between them, whisking Stiles away for another day as Derek made his way dejectedly to his own train.
Derek didn’t even know what it was about the kid that had captivated him so completely. Sure, Stiles had been nice to Derek when he had no reason to be, but he wasn’t the first person in this city to treat Derek with kindness. And his laugh hadn’t been that bright, his obvious love for his father and friends that endearing, his effortless conversation that engaging. It can’t all have been as golden and warm and easy as it was in Derek’s memory.
Once Derek realized that Stiles seemed to work a slightly altered schedule, from 7 to 3, he found himself not only following Stiles to the subway stop in the morning but also making excuses to leave work early himself. He lingered outside the subway stop until he heard the slide-tap of Stiles’ white cane and that fluffy head emerged from the stairwell. Stiles seemed to have adjusted to the city streets remarkably quickly, walking chin-up and determined through the complicated maze of street crossings and obstacles, his cane in one hand and his phone in the other, a wireless headphone in one ear and the other ear apparently listening to his environment.
On Thursday morning Derek was lingering in his lobby, waiting for Stiles again, when a young man with floppy dark hair and a crooked jaw pushed his way through the door. The kid and his obnoxious roommate had been in the apartment next door since Derek had moved in, and Derek still wasn’t sure of his name. Sam? Seth? Something like that. In the two years they had lived next to each other Derek had only nodded at him in passing.
“I know, Ally,” the kid was saying into his phone as he made his way to the mailroom. He was wearing his usual EMT uniform and looked rumpled and flushed, like he had just gotten off his shift. “Not only did he move out while I was at work, but he ditched on next month’s rent. I can pull from savings for a month or two, but no way can I afford the place on my own for longer than that.”
Derek heard a muffled voice respond, probably the dark-haired girl who seemed to be a frequent visitor. She always flashed a dimpled smile at Derek in the hallway, and Derek usually blushed and found somewhere else to be, knowing that ridiculously sappy endearments and then the muffled sounds of sex from the apartment next door would be soon to follow.
The kid was leaving the mailroom now, juggling his phone, mail, and keys as he headed for the stairwell. “No, we don’t have a lease. It’s — “ The kid looked around, his eyes widening as they landed on Derek. He turned his back and whispered into the phone, “It’s an illegal sublet.”
Across the street Stiles’ slim figure emerged from his building, the front door closing behind him and then bouncing open again. The lock still hadn’t been fixed. Derek was tempted to fix it himself, but he wasn’t even sure the kid had a key to it, and he couldn’t ask. He absently heard his neighbor starting to say his goodbyes to his girlfriend as Derek opened the lobby door to leave.
Turn around, you asshole. Derek shook his head as if he could physically dislodge Laura’s voice from his ears.
Two steps out the door Derek stopped, watching as Stiles’ surprisingly broad shoulders disappeared into the crowd in just a few moments. He turned back, walking swiftly back through the lobby to where the guy was finally hanging up after a long series of ‘I love you’s.
“Hey,” Derek said awkwardly, and the guy jumped about a foot in the air.
“Oh! Hey! Derek, right? Hi! Um...what’s up? I don’t know if we’ve ever actually met. I’m Scott. McCall.” Scott held his hand out for a handshake, which turned into an awkward wave when Derek didn’t react quickly enough.
“Were you — do you need a roommate?” Derek said abruptly.
Scott’s eyes widened in fear.
“Not me,” Derek said with a roll of his eyes, ignoring the way the kid sagged in apparent relief. “I know someone — I mean, I have a friend who might be looking for something. He lives in the place across the street —” Derek gestured out the lobby doors “— but that place is…”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Scott craned his neck, peering out the lobby doors dubiously. “People actually live over there?”
“He’s only been there since the beginning of the month, but it’s — it’s not safe. And he’s month-to-month.”
Scott’s face was brightening the more Derek spoke. “Oh, yeah! That would...that would be great! I mean, Matt really screwed me by bailing without any warning, it would be amazing if I could find someone for next month. And I work a lot of nights, so I usually stay out of the way pretty good.”
“I think —” Derek was just starting to recognize how creepy all this would sound if Stiles ever did speak to Scott. “I think he’d like the company.”
“Cool! Totally! Yeah, give him my number! Here, let me text you my contact info. What’s your number?”
“Uh —” Derek was only belatedly realizing what he had done. Somehow he had thought that Scott would approach Stiles on his own, but that didn’t really make any sense, did it? He numbly repeated his number, hearing his own phone buzz as the contact came through.
“Great, so just tell him to give me a call, okay?” Scott was chirping. “Thanks a million, man!” Scott pulled open the stairwell door and loped up the stairs, leaving Derek bewildered and dismayed at the bottom.
Derek spent all that day regretting his impulsive decision to approach Scott. Sure, he wanted Stiles to be safe and happy, with an urgency that he couldn’t explain. However, now he was practically obligated to approach Stiles, and not just to apologize, but to tell him about Scott. How exponentially creepier was that going to be?
“Yes, I know you hate me, now would you like to move in next door to me?” Derek imagined himself saying in his head, and cringed at the very thought. And what if Stiles did move in next door? They would probably run into each other every day.
You see him every day now, Derek, because you’re a creepy stalker.
Derek tried to focus in on his spreadsheets, dismissing Laura’s voice, but it was impossible to concentrate. The idea of Stiles being right next door was driving him mad with some strange combination of anticipation and dread. Seeing him every day, close enough to see the flush on his pale cheeks, the vividness of his honey-colored eyes. Smelling his scent every day, fresh and warm in the hallways. The walls between the apartments were thin — usually Derek was trying to block out the noises from next door, but if he concentrated maybe he would even be able to hear the tempo of Stiles’ heartbeat, make out the sound of his bright laughter. Maybe he could lull himself to sleep with Stiles’ steady breathing.
Stalker, Laura teased, and Derek ran a frustrated hand through his hair, but still left work early enough to follow Stiles home.
The next day he was determined to approach Stiles. He rehearsed again and again in his head what he would say, and exactly how he would say it. He would be composed and polite. He would apologize briefly, and then let Stiles know about Scott’s situation. He would…
Once again Derek found himself at the subway stop, watching Stiles’ train carry him away, having said nothing. He regrouped, rationalizing that it was for the best. Now that he was considering it fully, it would be better to catch Stiles after work. It might be unfair to upset or delay him on his way to his workplace.
Still, as the end of the work day neared he dragged his heels, checking and re-checking his latest financial report. By the time he pushed himself out the door he knew that he had probably missed Stiles at the subway stop by now. That was fine, he told himself. Better to try Stiles at his apartment, so that he could keep a solid door and three deadbolts between them if he preferred.
Only a few blocks from the subway stop and halfway to their neighborhood, Derek caught a scent that made his chest seize up with fear. It was the warm, soft smell of Stiles, now so familiar to him, but overlaid this time by an acrid note of panic. Derek swallowed around suddenly lengthening fangs, following the scent half a block down and into an alley, his heart thundering in his chest.
He could hear Stiles’ frantic heartbeat and panting breaths, but almost overlooked him at first. He was crouched in the shadow of a dumpster, his face buried in his arms, barely pulling in shuddering breaths. His cane was discarded on the dirty alley floor beside him.
“Stiles!” Derek dropped to his knees in front of Stiles, his own chest aching with sympathy at Stiles’ rattling wheezy breaths. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
“Derek?” Stiles lifted his head, his eyes wide and searching.
“Should I call an ambulance?” Derek asked. Before he realized what he was doing he was already reaching out, grasping Stiles’ shoulder, rubbing a thumb on his neck to see if there was any pain he could draw out.
Stiles reached out with trembling fingers, grasping Derek’s hand like a lifeline. His breathing seemed to ease a bit.
“No, not hurt, it’s just — “ Derek could see him fighting off the panic, trying to gather his thoughts. “Jarvis — my phone — someone just — just grabbed it out of my hand.” The hand holding Derek’s squeezed tight. “Derek — my whole life is on that phone. I can’t — I can’t function without it. And now it’s gone —”
Derek flattened Stiles’ hand against his own chest. “It’s gonna be okay. Just breathe with me for a minute. Feel my breathing and breathe with me.”
Stiles sucked in a shuddering breath as Derek forced himself to inhale deeply, the scent of Stiles and his panic seeming to burn in his lungs until he was able to exhale slowly. Stiles’ answering breath wooshed out too fast, but he seemed to be concentrating, wide-eyed, on the feel of Derek’s chest beneath his trembling hand, and the next breath in was steadier.
[Art by the amazing maichan808]
They breathed like that, in and out, in silence for a few minutes, Derek’s heightened senses concentrated on Stiles — the warmth of his body, the rapid patter of his pulse, the tension in his muscles where Derek still grasped his shoulder. Finally, Stiles seemed to be surfacing from the panic a bit, the acrid fear surrounding him blunting to a deeper, sadder scent.
“How long ago?” Derek blurted out.
“What?” Stiles seemed to shake himself, forehead furrowing. “Maybe five minutes before you got here? I guess, I don’t really know. I just got off the avenue as soon as I could, ‘cause I could feel the panic attack coming on —”
“Wait here,” Derek growled. He tried to stand and ended up dragging Stiles with him, Stiles’ death grip on Derek’s hand unyielding.
“You can’t leave!” Stiles said, his voice shrill, the scent of his panic sharpening in the air again.
Derek thought furiously. The odds of following a scent through the city this long afterwards was slim already, but it was Stiles’ scent, and for reasons Derek didn’t even want to admit to himself he was finely attuned to it. And Stiles almost always had that phone in his hand, the scent of his skin would be thick all over it.
Derek pulled his own phone out of his pocket, pulling up the depressingly small list of contacts. He hit the name “McCall” and Scott’s sleepy voice answered after only one ring.
“Scott, I’m putting you on the phone with — with my friend. Just talk to him, okay? I’ll be right back.” Stiles’ hand tightened on Derek’s again. “I’ll be right back,” Derek repeated, trying to put as much certainty into the words as possible without slipping into an alpha voice. “Stiles — trust me.”
Stiles took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said. Derek pressed the phone into his hands and took off running, down the alley to the avenue, heading southwest. Stiles would have been walking home from work, and the pickpocket wouldn’t have continued on in the same direction as his target.
Derek headed down the avenue away from where they lived, huffing as unobtrusively through his nose as possible to clear out the fresh scent of Stiles from their contact in the alley, seeking out the slightly older trace. It was faint, but it was detectable in fits and starts, a fine thread interwoven with the myriad other smells of the city. It strengthened as Derek sped up, dodging through traffic at every crossing, not even caring how rudely he shouldered past the other pedestrians in between. By the time he reached the next corner the scent was strong enough that Derek was certain making the turn onto the next street.
A ten-minute head start wasn’t much when you had an angry werewolf on your heels, and Derek spotted the boy within seven more blocks. His head was down but his eyes were scanning the crowd, no doubt looking for more easy targets. Derek stalked closer, the faint transfer of scent from Stiles on the boy making his blood boil. He was right next to the boy at the next alley, and he didn’t even try to come up with a pretense, just grabbed him by the collar and shoved him straight into the alley and up against the wall.
“Wha — “
Derek ignored the kid’s protestations, pulling the backpack from his shoulder and unzipping it. It held what looked to be about fifteen iPhones, as well as a few wallets and other assorted valuables. As Derek dipped his head closer Stiles’ scent was clear as a bell, zinging through Derek’s body. He closed his eyes, knowing they were burning red.
“Run,” he growled at the kid around a mouthful of fangs, giving him a shove in the right direction. Derek listened to him scramble away, waiting until he was well clear of the alley before he risked opening his eyes again.
It took a few more moments for Derek to fight the wolf back fully, and then he started back the way he had come. Now that the heat of the hunt was over, Derek was suddenly unsure of his decision to chase down the phone. Stiles had been on the verge of a panic attack, Derek should have stayed with him instead. Fuck, his stupid wolf instincts had led him to hunt down the threat, but in doing so he had left Stiles practically undefended. What if the call with Scott got disconnected, or if someone ran across Stiles and realized how vulnerable he was, all by himself in a New York City alley…
Derek’s tension grew with every step, and by the time he got back to the alleyway his heart was pounding again. He heard Stiles’ voice and that of another man and a low growl rumbled in his chest, his muscles tensing to attack. Suddenly a peal of laughter rang out, bright and strong, and Derek would recognize that laugh anywhere. He took a moment to take a deep breath, checking to make sure that his nails were blunt and his vision was clear before rounding the dumpster.
“Yeah, I’m totally serious — oh, hey, Derek!” Scott said amiably. “See, he’s doing it now,” Scott muttered under his breath to Stiles.
“The eyebrow thing?” Stiles muttered back, and Derek scowled automatically before consciously trying to relax his forehead.
Scott was looking at him like he was from another planet. “Oh my god, dude, I can’t believe you’re missing this!” he said to Stiles. “He’s, like, trying to frown and not-frown at the same time, I think he’s gonna sprain something.”
They both burst into giggles at that, and Derek rolled his eyes. “If you guys are about done — do you want your phone back, Stiles?”
“What?!” Stiles’ whole face lit up as Derek shoved the backpack at Scott.
“Whoa,” Scott breathed, unzipping the backpack and looking in. “There’s like twenty phones in here. Which one is yours?”
“Jarvis?” Stiles said.
“Yes, Stiles?” the phone replied immediately in a British-accented voice, muffled but still audible. Stiles’ whole body sagged with relief. “It should be lit up now,” he said, jiggling restlessly and making grabby hands.
Scott dug through the backpack and emerged victoriously with an illuminated phone, placing it carefully in Stiles’ hands.
“Location, Jarvis,” Stiles said.
“Location. Audubon Avenue between 171st Street and 172nd Street. Proceed to the route 15 feet southeast.”
“Oh thank God,” Stiles breathed out in relief, hugging the phone to his chest. “Derek, that was amazing. How could you — I mean, he must have been hell and gone by the time you even found me. It’s practically impossible —”
Derek could pinpoint the moment Stiles really thought it through, the admiration on his face fading as his voice faltered. “I mean, it’s — it’s really impossible,” Stiles repeated, his voice suddenly sharp with suspicion, fear starting to color his scent. Derek tried not to flinch as Stiles moved instinctively closer to Scott. “Is this — is this some kind of set up? Some kind of con, or, or — a prank? ‘Let’s mess with the blind kid and put hot sauce on his ice cream,’ that kind of thing?”
Derek stood, his mouth open, frozen in horror. It hurt, more than he would have thought possible, to see the suspicion and fear on Stiles’ face, but what else would he think? Derek felt despair blossoming like ice in his chest, the coldness spreading out to numb his fingertips. He had no reasonable explanation for what he had just done.
“Dude, no!” Surprisingly, it was Scott who chimed in to defend Derek. “Derek’s a good dude. I mean, I know he comes across all growly and, y’know, um — murder-y — but he’s a really good guy. He carries Mrs. Zarakolu’s groceries up the stairs every week, even though she checks out his ass the whole time. And — and that time the fire alarm went off at 3 a.m. in January, Derek gave his coat to Mr. Nunez’s twins, even though Mr. Nunez had brought chocolate to keep them happy but not a coat, because, let’s face it, he’s not the smartest dad in the world, and they got their chocolate hands all over Derek’s coat and it was wool and he wouldn’t even let Mr. Nunez pay for the dry cleaning!”
Derek wasn’t sure who was more stunned by this unsolicited character testimonial, himself or Stiles.
“How do you know all that?” Derek finally asked Scott.
“Dude.” Scott rolled his eyes. “Everyone in the building talks to each other, except you. So they mostly talk about you.”
“You’re never even there during the days!” Derek found himself protesting.
Scott shrugged, flashing that lazy smile again. “Mrs. Christakos in 402 likes me. She says I remind her of her grandson. She feeds me baklava and catches me up on all the gossip on Sundays.”
“Wow.” Stiles was looking calmer now, although a trace of consternation still furrowed his brow. “I mean...yeah.” His expression cleared, and he smiled hesitantly. “Sorry, Derek. Apparently you’re like the surly Robin Hood of Washington Heights or something, and I’m sorry I — you know, accused you of whatever. That was a pretty asshole thing for me to do after you just saved my ass by getting Jarvis back for me.”
“It’s okay,” Derek said, thankful to be off the hook for now, but certain that the topic of how he recovered the phone would come up again. Derek was starting to understand that for all of Stiles’ flailing and babbling, he was remarkably acute. For now, though, Stiles still looked pretty shaken up, and seemed content to let the subject drop. “I was headed home,” Derek said. “I can, uh, walk with you if that’s where you’re going.”
“Actually, I was thinking maybe we should go get burgers and talk about the roommate thing,” Scott piped up cheerfully. “I mean, Stiles is the one you were talking about, right? The friend of yours with the month-to-month lease?”
Derek found himself blushing as Stiles mouthed the word “friend?” to himself, eyebrows raised high.
“Yeah, that was Stiles,” Derek said. “That’s good. I’ll, uh — see you guys around then.”
“Wait!” Stiles reached out, managing to grab an awkward handful of Derek’s shirt sleeve. “You’re coming with us, right? The least I can do is buy my knight in shining armor a burger.” Stiles batted his eyelashes dramatically, and the effect should have been comical but all it did was draw Derek’s attention to the way those thick eyelashes rested against Stiles’ mole-spotted cheek, and the vivid amber eyes that were revealed when they lifted.
“Of course Derek’s coming,” Scott said easily, pressing Stiles’ cane into his right hand. “Here, grab my elbow if you like, Stiles. Have you been to Vicky’s yet? Their milkshakes are amazing. Did someone really put hot sauce on your ice cream? People are assholes.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, sliding Jarvis into his pocket and fumbling for his cane and Scott’s arm with his right hand while dragging Derek along by his sleeve with his left. “It was this douchebag who was the captain of the lacrosse team in high school. But I got him back. You see, he was really stuck up about his hair, and we were on the swim team together, so my friend Lydia helped me alter his shampoo formula with an untraceable chemical that…”
Scott and Stiles headed companionably toward the diner, chattering the whole time, and Derek would have thought that they had forgotten about him except for how Stiles kept the fingers of his left hand tangled up in Derek’s shirt sleeve for the first five blocks.
Chapter 4: Conversations
The kid and Scott seemed to take to each other immediately.
Within a few minutes of conversation they discovered that they had both grown up in California, in towns only twenty minutes apart — Stiles in a place called Beacon Hills and Scott in the nearby Beacon Valley. That mutual connection had them chattering nonstop all the way to the diner, Derek awkwardly following along.
When they got there Scott crowded Derek into the booth in front of him, as if knowing he was tempted to bolt, while Stiles slid in easily across the way. The waitress who came to take their order was all long blonde hair and cleavage, the low cut of her waitress uniform barely leaving room for the nametag reading “Erica.”
“A table full of pretty boys! My favorite,” she purred with a predatory smile as the tall, dark-skinned grill cook looked on with affectionate resignation in between flipping burgers. She rattled off the specials while eyeing each of them appreciatively in turn, her mascara-rimmed eyes lingering the longest on Derek until he found himself flushing under the scrutiny.
Scott and Stiles ordered enough food for two people each, taking a quick moment to tease Derek about his choice of soup and salad. Then they launched into a discussion of the latest Avengers movie, Stiles eagerly asking Scott for details that apparently weren’t covered by the audio descriptive service. Derek hadn’t seen it yet.
When the food arrived they both spent a moment in mutual appreciation of curly fries before finally getting down to business.
“So, you’re serious about the roommate thing? Did Derek tell you about the whole, you know —” Stiles somehow managed to gesture at his eyes while still holding a handful of curly fries, making Derek flinch.
“He didn’t mention it, but no big,” Scott said. “I mean, I figure you might want to make some changes to the place, but that’s fine with me.”
“It’s cool of you to say that, but you should take some time to think it over. I mean, you can’t really leave stuff lying around on the floor. And I’d probably need to have a bunch of stuff labeled —- you know, use my remote and microwave, and label some of the food and stuff.” Stiles seemed determined to talk Scott out of this, but the hope was plain on his face.
Scott snorted. “My mom raised me better than to leave stuff lying around. At least outside my bedroom. But, you should think it over too. I’m kinda low on the totem pole at work, so I work a lot of overnight shifts, 11 to 7, so I’m coming and going at kinda weird times, and I sleep during the day a lot. And, um —” he ducked his head and blushed, and Derek was sure if Stiles had been able to see that puppy dog look he would have melted on the spot. “My girlfriend comes over a lot. Our schedules don’t line up very often, ‘cause she’s still in school, but when we both have a day off we usually end up at my place, since she still lives with her dad.”
“That sounds totally do-able!” Stiles' grin around a mouthful of curly fries was incandescent. “I’ll be at work most days, so you won’t have to worry about me waking you up. And Allison sounds great from what you told me already.” Derek couldn’t help rolling his eyes. Stiles and Scott had been alone for all of ten minutes while Derek chased the phone thief, of course Scott had already told Stiles all about Allison. “My dad would be so happy if I wasn’t on my own, and in a safer building too,” Stiles continued, practically fidgeting in his booth with excitement.
“It’s going to be awesome!” Scott’s grin was almost equally wide. “And I don’t mind the labeling and stuff, of course not. My microwave’s crap anyway.” He hesitated for a second, swiping his fries around in a puddle of ketchup before lifting his eyes to Stiles, his usual dopey expression disappearing as he scanned Stiles’ face with surprisingly keen scrutiny. “It’s cortical, right?”
Stiles’ mouth dropped open for a minute before he shut it with a snap. “That’s so cool, man! No one gets that distinction unless I give them the whole lecture usually.”
Scott blushed, shrugging. “I’m an EMT, checking pupillary reflexes is pretty much automatic for me.”
Derek looked curiously between them, but neither of them seemed inclined to elaborate, digging into their food again.
“Cortical?” Derek finally asked. “What does that mean?”
Stiles feigned an elaborate startle. “He speaks! Almost forgot you were there, man.”
“Very funny,” Derek grumbled.
Stiles looked gleeful at this evidence of having gotten under Derek’s skin. “Cortical blindness,” he said, taking another enormous bite of his cheeseburger, and barely chewing before swallowing. “Means the eyes are actually fine. The problem is in my brain.” His eyes narrowed warningly in Derek’s direction. “No smart comments, Derek, I can practically feel you thinking it.”
“I — I wasn’t going to…” Derek stammered awkwardly, until Stiles kicked him under the table.
“Kidding, man,” Stiles said. “Don’t choke on your own spit or anything.”
That sent both Stiles and Scott into another fit of giggles. Christ, at least they were bonding, even if it meant they had both regressed to acting like teenagers.
“Anyway,” Stiles continued after he had finally settled down. “It just means the lower-level eye stuff works fine. Pupils, and blink reflexes, stuff like that. Makes people think I’m faking it sometimes, they don’t get how you can be blind if your eyes seem to work. And I can see a little light and shadow sometimes, get a sense of motion at the edges of my visual field, that kind of thing. But I don’t know if that’s really better or worse, usually it’s more distracting than helpful, so sometimes it’s better to just keep things dark. I had — some visual hallucinations at first.” Stiles’ voice had grown increasingly serious, and now his scent shifted, clouding with remembered sadness and fear. “That was — way too freaky.”
“Sorry, man,” Scott said sincerely, and Derek was glad that he had the ability to say something when Derek himself was tongue-tied.
Stiles seemed to physically shrug off the bad memories. “It was a long time ago.” He shoved the last few curly fries in his mouth and smiled again. “So, Scotty — when can I move in?”
Scott and Stiles had decided to move Stiles in right away, since they both had Sunday off and they thought it would be better to have Stiles settled in before his dad came to visit. Derek had been there for the whole conversation, and so he probably should have been less suprised when someone knocked on his door Sunday afternoon.
He paused in his push-ups, listening to Stiles’ heartbeat outside his door, somehow strangely noticeable in comparison to Scott’s more typical rhythm. He had heard it passing through the hall all morning, Stiles’ soft warm scent clouding the hallway as he directed the movers hauling boxes back and forth.
“Maybe we shouldn’t bother him…” Scott was muttering.
“Nah, it’s fine,” Stiles answered brightly, pounding on the door again. “C’mon, Derek, we know you’re in there,” he called out. “Stop flexing in front of the mirror or whatever and come hang.”
Derek pushed hard enough on the next push-up to boost himself to his feet, wiping his hands on his sweatpants before yanking open the door. “What.”
“As a professional copyeditor, let me tell you that question marks can be your friend,” Stiles began, undaunted. “But, in response to your question-phrased-as-a-statement, ‘what’ is that all the boxes are moved, and you should come over and hang out with us while we unpack my stuff. Scott has valiantly volunteered to get burritos from that place on Broadway, so place your order now. Let me guess, something carnivorous. Puerco? Carne?”
Derek realized he was staring open-mouthed at Stiles, and shifted his gaze to Scott. Scott shrugged.
“Um...carne, I guess?” Derek found himself saying.
“Cool!” Stiles’ smile was blinding. “Put Derek down for carne, guac on the side. Derek, feel free to finish up your Buns of Steel routine or whatever, but be at our place in five.” Stiles was already halfway back to the apartment next door, where the door had been propped open with a stack of boxes. “See ya soon!”
Derek looked back to where Scott was headed down the hall in the direction of the staircase. Scott sent Derek another shrug and a wave before disappearing down the stairs. Derek stood in his doorway for another minute, feeling bewildered and slightly overwhelmed, before jumping in the shower.
The door to Scott and Stiles’ apartment was still propped open, but Derek knocked on it anyway before poking his head in the doorway. Stiles had his cane and seemed to be pacing the floor, muttering to himself, but he stopped and lifted his head.
“C’mon in,” he said. “Just getting the layout solid in my head.”
“I can come back,” Derek said uncertainly.
“Nah, of course not.” Stiles had already put his cane aside and was pulling a box from the stack on top of the coffee table. He ran his fingers over the spines of the books inside before seemingly effortlessly making his way to the bookshelf, tracing his fingers over one of the shelves that had been cleared for him. “Pick a box and get started.”
Derek picked up another box from the coffee table, peeking inside. It looked like computer equipment, a tangle of cords and mysterious black boxes.
"So, Derek. What are you?”
Derek froze, almost fumbling the box he was holding in suddenly-numb fingers. “What?”
“Nah, just kidding.” Stiles flashed a bright smile, and Derek started to tentatively relax, putting the box down. “I already know,” Stiles continued as Derek listened in growing horror. “Your body temperature runs hot, you growl practically all the time — way to live up to that stereotype, by the way — and even Scott thinks that you’re preternaturally hot, and he’s straight as an arrow. And then there’s the whole tracking my phone through the streets of New York City thing. Werewolf, right?”
“What —” Derek swallowed around a powder-dry throat. He thought frantically about running, starting over yet again. He didn’t have much to pack. If he left New York City today, he could go — he could go —
The thought of it was exhausting. Leaving this place, without Laura. What was even the point of starting over again? He’d rather just stay here and meet his fate, whatever it was. He felt some of the panic draining, leaving only resignation and despair.
“What are you going to do?” Derek finally managed to get out.
“Hmm?” Stiles hadn’t even stopped his unpacking, still putting Braille books on the shelf Scott had cleared for him. “Well, I figured while we ate maybe we’d watch a movie. Did you know Scott hasn’t even seen Star Wars yet? That’s, like, a tragedy, man. That’s gotta be addressed ASAP.”
Derek clenched his hands into fists, claws piercing his palms. “Are you fucking with me?”
Only then did Stiles pause his unpacking, lifting his head, his eyes scanning in Derek’s direction. “What — is something wrong?”
“What are you going to do about me being a werewolf?” Derek snarled.
“Do?” Stiles’ forehead was wrinkled in confusion, his heartbeat quick but steady. “What would you want me to do? I’m not going to tell Scott, if that’s what you’re worried about. I figured from how you reacted when you tracked my phone that you wanted to keep it on the down-low.”
Derek tried to pull in a strangled breath through a chest tight with fear. Days. Stiles had known for days.
“Derek? Say something, big guy. You’re making me worry a little here.”
Derek had to suppress a bitter laugh at the irony of it. The idea that Derek was making Stiles worry, when Stiles was so casually tearing Derek’s whole world to shreds.
“Are you going to tell the hunters?” Derek managed, hating how unsteady his voice sounded.
“Hunters?” And Christ, the kid had no sense of self-preservation at all, because instead of cowering away he was walking toward Derek, fearlessly, not stopping until he was close enough that Derek could rip his throat out if he wanted. “Why would I — Derek, are you having trouble with control? Have you — have you hurt someone?”
“Do you think that matters?” Derek spat out, his voice choked with fury. “Are you honestly that naive?”
“What do you — hunters follow a code. They only — they only hunt werewolves who are dangerous, the ones who have hurt innocent people.” Stiles’ heartbeat was steady, his voice showing only confusion. He truly believed what he was saying.
Derek looked at Stiles, standing in front of him. His body language was open, his bright eyes clear, lips parted as he awaited Derek’s response. Derek could claw out his throat in an instant, leave him bleeding on the ground, and Stiles wouldn’t even see it coming. He was so trusting, so vulnerable, and didn’t even seem to realize it. It made Derek suddenly viciously angry to see it, bringing up memories of a time when Derek had been that open and trusting, all his defenses down. A time when Derek had also placed his faith unquestioningly in the code of hunters, and his family had paid the price of his gullibility.
“You’re a fool,” Derek snarled. He turned away before he could see the hurt cross Stiles’ open expression, but the bitter tang of it still stung his nose. Derek gulped in shallow breaths through his mouth, still trying to get his emotions under control, bracing against whatever angry response Stiles might throw at him.
Instead, he heard Stiles take a shuffling step closer, felt Stiles’ tentative fingertips graze Derek’s shoulder before he settled his palm warmly against the slope of Derek’s shoulder blade in a gesture of comfort.
“Derek.” Stiles’ voice was gentle in a way that wounded Derek more than his anger would have. “What happened to you?”
Derek felt himself wanting to lean into the comfort of that touch desperately. Instead he jerked away, pulling in another shuddering breath. He didn’t deserve any kind of comfort. If Stiles ever did find out what had happened, knew the part that stupid, naive Derek had played in betraying his own family, he wouldn’t even be offering it.
Derek wanted Stiles to know how dangerous hunters were, wanted to warn him not to trust so blindly, but he couldn’t stand the thought of forcing the words out. Stiles perceived so much more than he should, asked questions where others would never dare. Derek knew if he started to tell the story it would all come out, the guilty secrets that had been writhing in his belly for years suddenly exposed to Stiles’ scrutiny. The very idea of it made him swallow back a thick rush of bile.
Like the coward he was, he scrambled for an out. “Your dad’s a sheriff,” he said curtly. “Tell him to look me up. See what hunters can do. I’m leaving.” Derek forced his shaky legs to move, pushing past Stiles to the doorway. “And lock your fucking door,” he snapped, shoving the tower of boxes holding the door out of the way, pretending not to care as the top box of the stack toppled to the ground and split open, contents skittering across the wooden floor.
Derek retreated to his apartment, sliding his own locks shut before collapsing to sit shakily on the edge of his bed. He brushed his foot over the loose floorboards where he had hidden a small fireproof safe with a stack of cash and documents, as well as the few family photos he had left. He imagined shoving them into a bag and retrieving the Camaro from the garage. He could just drive, maybe south this time. He didn’t need much sleep, he could probably make it straight through to Mexico if he really pushed himself. But there were hunters there too. There were hunters everywhere, and Derek was so damn tired of running.
He lay down on his bed, curling up into himself, letting the familiar scent of his own apartment soothe him. He heard Scott return, the smell of Mexican food curling through the hallway. Heard Stiles making excuses for Derek’s absence, distracting Scott by asking him to start up the movie. Then he heard the gentle sounds of Stiles making his way the few steps down the hallway to stand in front of Derek’s door, his heartbeat pattering.
Stiles knocked softly but didn’t pause, heading immediately back to his apartment. Derek waited, tense, until he heard the sounds of Stiles and Scott settling in to watch the movie, the familiar booming music interspersed with their comments and the rustling of their burrito wrappers. Only then did Derek make his way to his front door, leaving the chain on while he opened it just a crack.
A carne burrito with a side of guacamole sat in the center of the floor in front of his door in a little paper boat, like an offering of peace. Derek retrieved it quickly, refastening the locks. He stood by the door with the burrito in his hand for long moments, just staring at it. Then, depressed and ashamed for reasons he didn’t fully understand, Derek ate the burrito with his back pressed against the shared wall between the two apartments, listening to the sounds of the movie and easy conversation filtering through from next door.
Chapter 5: Coffee
Derek stopped his restless tossing and turning in bed, every sense alert at the overheard voice command from next door. It was late, and Scott had just left for his evening shift.
Derek knew he shouldn’t eavesdrop but he did anyway, standing up to lean against the shared wall of the apartment, eyes closed so he could concentrate as the computer rang through.
“Hey, kiddo.” The man’s voice was as warm and proud as Derek had imagined it would be from the pictures Stiles had shown him. “So, two weeks in the big city and you’ve already got yourself tangled up with wolves, huh?”
“Very funny, dad,” Stiles’ voice was uncharacteristically serious. “Did you look him up?”
“I did.” The Sheriff’s voice was solemn now as well. “You sure he’s okay with this? I know how your curiosity can get away with you, kiddo, but a man’s privacy — a wolf’s privacy — is not something to be playin’ around with.”
“It’s that bad, huh?” Stiles sighed. “I promise, dad, his literal words were, ‘Your dad’s a sheriff, tell him to look me up.’ I think — I think he wants me to know, but he doesn’t want to tell me.”
There were a few seconds of silence, as if the Sheriff was studying Stiles’ expression for truthfulness, before he conceded. “All right. I’m sending you the police report now. I’ll stay on the line.”
Derek heard the chime of an incoming email, and then nothing but the almost imperceptible rapid tip-a-tap of Stiles’ fingertips dragging over his Braille display for several minutes.
“A fire?” Stiles muttered, almost to himself. “How could they possibly — oh, now I see...an eclipse?”
“Yeah,” the sheriff said. “And they must have lined the doors and windows with ash. You can’t fault their planning.”
“Christ,” Stiles breathed, the display still tapping under his fingertips. “Ten people died? And — dad, some of the kids — they were too young to have presented. It’s like they didn’t even care if they were wolves or not.”
“I doubt that they did.”
“He said it was hunters, but dad — this isn’t justice. It’s — it’s genocide. Do hunters do stuff like this?”
“They shouldn’t, but then again there’s fanatics in any group.” Derek heard the sheriff sigh, the creak as he leaned back in his chair. “You’ve got to realize, kiddo, the Beacon Hills territory has been under the rule of the Ito clan for more than a century. They take care of their own, and can handle just about anything. Even with the Nemeton attracting all types here, they provide protection and stability that a lot of territories just don’t have. In other places, it’s wilder. Packs fighting each other for territory, alphas getting killed for their power. Something like this, where the whole pack is taken out at once — it could happen.”
“Not the whole pack,” Stiles mused. “It says two of the Hale siblings survived. Derek and Laura.”
Christ, it hurt to hear Stiles say Laura’s name. I would have liked him, Laura’s voice said in Derek’s head, and Derek had to swallow down the lump in his throat.
“Hold on, let me run her name,” the Sheriff said.
Derek let himself slowly slump to the ground, curling his back against the wall. It didn’t hurt any less to know what they’d find.
“There’s a death certificate for her too, but just...two years ago. In New York City.”
“Fuck,” Stiles breathed.
“I’d say ‘watch your language,’ son, but in this case I think it’s justified.” Derek heard the sheriff draw in a deep breath. “Stiles, I know you want to see the good in everybody. But you’ve gotta keep in mind...people don’t go through something like this and come out the same on the other side.”
“Dad, it’s not — he’s not — “
“I’m not warning you away from him, son. God knows it looks like he could use somebody on his side. All I’m saying is, be careful.”
“I will be.”
The sheriff’s snort was affectionate. “Like hell you will. Trouble has a way of finding you —”
“Hey! At least a good 50% of the trouble I got into was Lydia’s fault! You can’t hang out with a banshee most of the time and not stumble over a few dead bodies…”
“All right, all right.” The sheriff sounded like he had heard this argument many times before. “You got me on that one.”
“I miss you, dad.” Stiles’ voice was soft and fond. “It’s good talking to you, but I miss those Stilinski hugs.”
“Miss you too, kiddo. I think it should be a few more days for this trial at the most, and then I’ll be on the next flight.”
So, that was that, Derek told himself. Stiles knew now what a disaster Derek’s life was, and would keep his distance. It’s what Derek had intended, after all. There’s no reason the thought should make Derek feel so hollow inside.
Derek was washing his single plate and glass, listening absently to Stiles’ heartbeat as it progressed down the hall. Instead of continuing on, the sound quickened in front of Derek’s door, lingering there.
Derek turned off the faucet, grabbing a dishtowel to dry his hands as Stiles knocked.
“Yeah?” He didn’t mean to sound unfriendly, but as usual his confusion was making him tongue-tied.
“Yo, Derek! Scott made like a ton of his abuela’s tamales. Want to come over and help us eat them?”
“I...uh. I just ate.” Derek said, stupidly holding up the dishtowel as if it would prove his case, even if Stiles could see it.
“Oh, okay. No big. Catch you next time!” Stiles was already heading back to his apartment.
Next time? Derek found himself thinking as he shut his own door.
“Hey, Derek! I’m done being a couch potato. Scott says there’s a gym with a pool a couple of blocks from here and we’re gonna go enroll. Want to come get physical with me?”
Derek’s brain seemed to seize up at the innuendo. Was that deliberate? Was Stiles teasing him? “I. I work out here.” City gyms were meat markets, and Derek had learned early on that he hated working out in public, the eyes of strangers on him the whole time.
“Oh, okay. I hear Jazzercise is da bomb, bee tee dubs, so no shame. Have fun.”
“Hey, Derek! Scott and I are gonna go grab some beers with his EMT bro Isaac. Wanna come?”
“I don’t. I don’t drink.” Derek cringed at his own answer. Why did he always have to say the first thing that came into his mind? Stiles obviously wouldn’t care if he actually had a beer or not, he just wanted Derek to come out with them, for reasons Derek absolutely couldn’t fathom. He opened his mouth to change his response, but Stiles was already backing away.
“Sure thing. I woulda bought you a Shirley Temple, you know, but that’s fine. Catch you on the flip side.”
Derek was just locking the door behind himself when Stiles tumbled into the hall, pulling his own apartment door shut and fumbling his cane into his hand while still trying to sling his messenger bag over his shoulder.
Derek stood watching, paralyzed with uncertainty, until the keys slipped in his suddenly sweaty palm and Stiles raised his head at the jangling sound.
“That you, Derek?”
Stiles smiled wide. “Figured I’d give the lovebirds some alone time.” The smile dropped off his face, replaced with a look of consternation. “Oh, man, I just now realized. Supersenses means you’re probably as sexiled as I am, huh?”
Stiles started down the hall, seeming to assume that Derek would fall into step beside him, and Derek found himself doing so. “Exactly how clearly can you hear what goes on in our place, anyway?” Stiles continued.
Derek watched in fascination as Stiles seemed to hear what he had just said and stumbled over nothing, a bright red flush spreading up his neck and blotching his cheeks. “And…um…I’m gonna stop asking questions I don’t want to know the answer to right…about…now.”
Derek felt himself violently blushing as well, thankful that Stiles couldn’t see it. He had tried to give Stiles some modicum of privacy, but he couldn’t control what he overheard while he slept. Several times over the past week he had woken up, already half-hard, to the sound of Stiles’ gentle sighs and muffled groans. He had buried his face in his pillow, trying his best not to rut into his mattress as he listened in a welter of guilty arousal. The whisper of the bedclothes over Stiles’ skin, the soft little exhalations he made as he touched himself, the slick sounds that sent Derek’s imagination reeling trying to envision exactly what Stiles was doing with those clever fingers…
“Sorry, I – ADHD, you know?” Stiles’ embarrassed voice jolted Derek away from his lurid thoughts and back to the present. “I take the meds so I can concentrate at work, but even the XR wears off right about now, and suddenly my mind goes zinging around like a dog off its leash for the first time all day, and my mouth is just running behind trying to keep up, if you get my very extended and unnecessary analogy.” Stiles tromped down a few more steps as Derek was still trying to come up with something to say, flustered beyond words by his own wayward thoughts.
“Are you glaring?” Stiles asked cheerily before Derek thought of anything. “Scott says you do that a lot, but – you know, kinda wasted on me. If you want me to get the full effect you’re gonna have to do something, like maybe say ‘Glare….glare…glare…” while it’s going on.”
“I — I’m not glaring.” The words came out a little huskier than Derek intended, and he felt his blush intensifying until the tips of his ears burned.
“Okay. Good to know. Soooooo,” Stiles said a little too loudly, obviously eager to change the subject. “Where do you go to avoid the Allison-and-Scott shmoopiness?”
“I mean, no pressure. You can go do your own thing, of course. I was just gonna find a coffee shop or something, but you don’t have to come with. If, you know, you need your quiet time or whatever.”
“No – I mean, yeah, you can come. There’s, um, a good place a few blocks down. They have good tea, and, um, wifi.” Derek held the lobby door open for Stiles, and as they passed through it Stiles’ left hand seemed to settle almost naturally on Derek’s right forearm, following his lead.
“Tea, huh?” Stiles seemed to be turning that information around in his mind, and then filing it away. “I kinda figured you for a black coffee, no sugar kind of guy. But I guess it makes sense. No alcohol, no coffee. Brutally efficient home workouts. Just a general allergy to fun, is what I’m picking up here.”
Derek racked his brain for some evidence to refute Stiles’ conclusion, and found himself coming up with nothing. He had strived so hard for discipline, focused so intently on just surviving, but Stiles made it sound...pathetic. Empty.
“I have a sweet tooth.” It was a pretty far reach — Derek hadn’t let himself indulge his sweet tooth in years — but it was true. The warmth of Stiles’ answering smile allayed some of Derek’s guilt over the half-truth.
“I’m totally gonna make you prove that now, man. I’m gonna ask for the most sugar-frosted, chocolate-y thing on the menu at this place, and you’re gonna eat every bite. Deal?”
Something at the back of Derek’s mind cringed at the thought of the indulgence, but the thought of that smile leaving Stiles’ face was even worse. “Deal,” Derek said reluctantly.
Stiles chuckled, as if he could just tell how much it had cost Derek to agree. “I have to say, I’m really impressed that you are voluntarily doing something social,” he commented. “I figured I’d have to ask at least ten more times before you cracked.”
“I don’t…I guess I didn’t…”
Stiles walked beside him, silent except for the sweep and tap of his cane, uncharacteristically patient as Derek tried to formulate his thoughts.
“You and Scott seemed to get along, so…” Derek ended on a shrug, even knowing Stiles couldn’t see it.
“So what?” The edge of Stiles’ mouth curved in amusement. “You figured I had one slot on my motherboard for ‘friend’ and it was taken? It doesn’t work that way, Sourwolf.”
“Don’t call me that,” Derek grumbled as he held the door to the coffee shop open for Stiles, but even he could hear that there was no heat to the words.
“Aw, c’mon, Sourwolf! Nicknames are just one way to show that we’re on our way to becoming bee eff effs!”
“I don’t understand half of the things you say,” Derek admitted.
Stiles seemed to take that confession in stride. “I get that a lot. Stiles-ese. The only way to learn is through exposure, though, so kudos to you for breaking your heretofore impeccable streak of social avoidance.”
They made it to the counter before Derek could think of a response, and true to his word Stiles ordered two of the Snickers peanut butter brownies in addition to his own ridiculously sweet and frothy coffee confection and Derek’s admittedly plain-looking cup of Earl Grey tea. Stiles brushed aside Derek’s offer to pay, pulling a combination of bills folded into various shapes from his wallet, his long fingers smoothing them out before handing them over to the barista.
As soon as they sat down at Derek’s usual table, Stiles took a bite of the brownie and made a practically obscene noise.
“Oh my god, Derek,” he moaned, licking a smear of chocolate from his thumb. “You have got to try this.”
Derek realized his was just staring, his jaw hanging open, and shoved his brownie into his mouth in embarrassment. “S’good,” he conceded, watching enthralled as Stiles took a sip of his coffee and then licked whipped cream off of his lower lip
“So, seriously, Derek,” Stiles said, and Derek forced himself to concentrate. “How come you’ve been dodging all my expertly-crafted social overtures?”
Derek swallowed the bite of brownie, stalling for time. He had no idea what Stiles was hoping to hear.
“I guess. I just didn’t see why you were asking.” Derek shrugged again. “I’m not exactly the best company.”
“You sell yourself short, Sourwolf. You made a Daredevil reference within five minutes of meeting me. I have a strong suspicion that you are secretly hilarious. I’m gonna just chip away at this until I’m proven correct.”
“But – why?” Derek felt like an idiot for asking, but he couldn’t help himself. Derek was a disaster. He was angry, and awkward, and made people uncomfortable. No one sought out his company with anything other than sex on their mind, and even if Stiles’ scent was often colored with the low-level cinnamon smell of arousal it didn’t seem specific to Derek. Why would he feel that way, without the ability to see the only part of Derek that was attractive to others?
No, Stiles had to want something from him, and the sooner Derek found out what it was the less…the less it would hurt when he did. Maybe Stiles wanted the Bite, and was working his way up to asking, or maybe it was something else, but it had to be something. Derek found that without meaning to he had reached out, his hand firmly gripping Stiles’ wrist. “Seriously, Stiles,” he said, his voice coming out low and gravelly. “Why?”
Stiles grew uncharacteristically still, his face serious, but he still didn’t smell scared. “Let me ask you a question first,” he said, his voice gentle in the way that Derek was learning meant that Stiles knew he was treading on dangerous ground. “When you busted into my old place, and realized I was blind. You could have just bailed right away. I didn’t know what you looked like, I couldn’t have stopped you. But you didn’t. You stayed, and told me your full name and where you lived, and offered to turn yourself in. Why the hell would you do something like that, Derek?”
“I – “ Derek pulled his hand off Stiles’ forearm with an effort, looking down at his teacup as if it would contain the answer. When it didn’t provide any help, he decided to go with the truth. “I didn’t want you to be scared. If I just left, you wouldn’t have felt safe there ever again.”
“Exactly.” Stiles had a knowing smile, like Derek had just proven something to him. “You’re a good guy, Derek. Sad thing is, only one of us here knows it.”
Derek stared at Stiles, flummoxed. He knew he wasn’t evil, or malicious, but a ‘good guy’? Derek would describe himself in a lot of ways, but that wasn’t one of them. And yet Stiles, and even Scott, seemed so convinced otherwise. It made Derek uncomfortable at the same time it sent a little curl of hope shivering through him.
If Stiles actually liked Derek, if he and Scott were offering their companionship with no ulterior motive, maybe this was something Derek could actually have. He wouldn’t be greedy and ask for more, but just to have this — someone to talk to, someone who actually wanted him around — was more than he’d had since Laura had died, and something he had honestly given up hope of ever having again.
Stiles seemed to sense Derek’s turmoil, leaning back in his chair as if to deliberately lighten the mood. “Plus, like I said,” he said brightly, slurping a big gulp of his coffee drink. “Secretly hilarious, I just know it. You’ll prove it to me someday.”
Derek tried to wrap his mind around it. He had used to joke around, all the time, with his family before the fire. The idea that he could be that way again, that someone even thought him capable of it — it made him want to try.
“Stiles?” Derek said.
Derek waited until Stiles had taken his next big gulp of coffee.
It was one hundred percent worth being sprayed with coffee to make Stiles laugh like that, bright and loud, his whole body shaking until he was breathless, wiping tears from his eyes as he finally settled back into his chair.
“Knew it,” Stiles said with satisfaction when he had caught his breath. He lifted his cup. “Cheers, Sourwolf.”
Derek bowed to the inevitable, clinking his teacup to Stiles’ latte mug. “Cheers.”
Chapter 6: Walls
Somehow, that easily, Derek found that Stiles — and to a lesser extent Scott — had suddenly become part of his life.
Before Derek left the coffee shop that evening Stiles had grabbed his phone, turning on a voice-over option that Derek hadn’t even realized existed and then tapping away for a few more minutes so rapidly that Derek couldn’t even follow what he was doing. By the time Stiles handed the phone back Derek had a new contact programmed in under the name “Stiles is Awesome!”, complete with an off-center selfie.
“Hope you don’t pay for texts, man,” Stiles had said with a smirk.
The sound of the arriving text startled the hell out of Derek, he was so unused to receiving them.
The guy on the subway next to me smells like cabbage, Stiles had texted. Who even eats cabbage these days?
Derek stared at the text for awhile, as if hoping to decode some secret hidden message in it.
Just wait, he finally texted back laboriously, his thumbs clumsy on the little virtual keyboard. Mrs. Christakos in 402 makes stuffed cabbage rolls every Christmas. The hallway smells like cabbage until New Year’s.
Damn, Stiles texted back. Better book my flight home now.
I’m so booooored, Stiles texted Derek randomly in the middle of the work day. Entertain me.
Derek stared at the text, wondering what in the hell he could do to entertain someone like Stiles.
Iron Man or Spider-Man? he finally texted in reply.
He had to turn his phone to silent as the series of texts came through, one on the heels of the other, for the next forty-five minutes.
“C’mon, Derek!” Stiles knocked for the third time in a row on Derek’s door, making Derek roll his eyes as he shoved his feet into his shoes. “Sexile Coffee Club!” Stiles whispered theatrically through the door.
Derek yanked the door open, slinging his messenger bag across his chest. “We are not calling it that.”
“We 100% are calling it that,” Stiles responded happily. “Unless you think of something better. Brownie Buddies? Shmoop Refugees? Oh — I’ve got it! Scallison Sexiles!”
“What the hell is ‘Scallison’?”
“It’s a portmanteau! You know, Scott plus Allison equals Scallison! It’s either that or...Allott?”
Derek deliberately bumped Stiles’ shoulder with his as they walked. “No more caffeine for you.”
“I can’t believe neither of you two have ever seen ‘Ghostbusters’!” Stiles exclaimed, running his fingers over the spines of his DVD collection, checking a few of the Braille labels before finding the right one. He loaded it into the DVD player before making his way to the couch, unrepentantly running his fingers over their shoulders and the back of the couch to check their positions before squeezing in between Scott and Derek. “Did you just completely waste your childhoods, or what?”
“There’s more to life than 80’s movies, Stiles,” Scott grinned, nudging Stiles’ thigh with the bowl of popcorn as Stiles hit “play” on the remote.
“There may be more, but nothing better, Scotty.” Stiles grabbed a handful of popcorn, shoving most of it into his mouth at once. He tilted the bowl in Derek’s direction.
“No thanks,” Derek mumbled, distracted by the warmth of Stiles’ body, pressed against his from shoulder to knee. With every breath he inhaled Stiles’ own warm scent, mixed with a bit of salty buttery scent from the popcorn. This was as close as he had been to another person since Laura had died. Derek would have expected to feel uncomfortable, like when people got too close to him on the subway, but instead it was...comforting.
Stiles was bopping along to the theme song. There might even have been a whisper of jazz hands during several of the “Ghostbusters!” choruses. As the movie continued, though, he settled in with his feet up on the coffee table, his body a line of heat all against Derek’s side. At one point he slung his arm along the back of the sofa, behind Derek’s shoulders. “Back off man, I’m a scientist,” he said in synchrony with the character on the screen, squeezing Derek’s shoulders in glee.
Derek let his head rest back, enjoying the warmth of Stiles’ arm at the back of his neck. He remembered sitting on the couch, watching movies with his family, while the kids gorged themselves on popcorn and ice cream. With so many family members of varying ages and tastes, sometimes the argument over what to watch would last almost as long as the movie itself. Derek always sat on the end of the couch and his dad would sometimes reach out, cupping the back of Derek’s neck, scent-marking him almost absent-mindedly as they watched.
The movie was entertaining but Derek was only half paying attention, his focus wandering to Stiles’ soft huffs of laughter, the steady thump of his heartbeat. “This was my favorite part as a kid.” Stiles leaned in, whispering in Derek’s ear as a blob of green slime on the screen raced toward Bill Murray.
Scott snorted in laughter but Derek was distracted, watching Stiles. He was laughing also, his head thrown back to expose the long line of his throat, his pink mouth curved in amusement. The constellation of moles on his cheek stood out stark against his creamy skin, and Derek fought the urge to nuzzle closer, to feel the texture of his skin. He felt himself leaning closer, against his will.
“Ha!” Stiles laughed again, his hand slapping Derek’s thigh, his long fingers pale against Derek’s dark jeans. Derek startled, suddenly feeling eyes on him. He jerked his head up to find Scott pointedly looking back towards the screen, smiling to himself as he shoved another handful of popcorn in his mouth.
The Sheriff didn’t even have to look, batting Stiles’ hands aside as he reached for a beer.
“C’mon, Dad!” Stiles complained, although resignation was clear in his voice. “It’s just a few weeks now!”
“And when you come to visit at Christmas I’ll buy you a beer myself,” the sheriff responded, unperturbed.
“Aargh!” Stiles shoved his dad, both of them smiling now.
“I thought —” Derek started, before realizing he might be getting Stiles into trouble. He stopped, awkwardly taking a sip of the beer he had been frankly too intimidated to turn down when the sheriff offered it to him.
“I’m not twenty-one until September,” Stiles clarified, sticking out his tongue in his dad’s direction as he grabbed a bottle of water instead.
“He skipped a year in middle school,” the sheriff added proudly. “Of course,” he continued with a mischievous glint in his eye, “That may have had a lot to do with Miss Lydia Martin also being advanced a grade…”
“Dad!” Stiles protested, his cheeks flushing pink.
“What?” The sheriff’s pose of innocence was transparent. “I can’t be proud that my son’s a genius?”
Stiles grumbled something inaudible into his bottle of water. Derek watched in fascination as the flush spread up to cover the tips of his ears.
“So, Derek,” the sheriff said, startling Derek back to awareness.
The sheriff’s pale blue eyes were assessing in a way that made Derek feel that the man could see down to his very bones. “I understand that you helped Stiles find this place.”
“I just...I heard Scott saying he needed a roommate, and I didn’t think the place across the street looked very safe.”
The sheriff’s gaze softened. “Well, I appreciate you looking out for my boy. And being willing to have him living next to you. He can be a lot to handle.”
“Hey!” Stiles protested. “I’m right here.”
The sheriff’s gaze stayed steady on Derek’s face. “I’m talking to Derek, son.”
“I — “ Derek concentrated hard on not ducking his head or shuffling his feet. “I don’t mind, sir,” he ended up mumbling.
“Good.” The sheriff was smiling now. “Call me John.”
“Yes, sir. Um, John,” Derek said, making Stiles snort water inelegantly out his nose.
“Gross!” Scott said, his voice tinged with admiration.
Stiles was mopping his face off with his shirtsleeve. “Hey, if I snarfed over the nachos, does that mean I get to eat them all?” he asked hopefully.
“Hey pretty boys,” Erica purred.
As usual, the diner was empty except for Erica and Boyd. Scott, Stiles, and Derek had developed a habit of coming in on Wednesday nights before Scott went on shift, hitting that sweet spot between the dinner crowd and the post-party drunks getting their fix of greasy foods.
Boyd always worked the afternoon and evening shift because he was taking classes during the day, getting his degree in engineering. Erica claimed she worked the same shift for better tips, but with the glances she cast at Boyd when he wasn’t looking Derek suspected she had other reasons.
Erica rattled off the specials, taking down their orders as usual. She clipped the order slip above the grill for Boyd, and then wandered back in their direction. If it wasn’t Erica Derek would have said that she almost looked shy.
Stiles seemed to hear the click of her heels, his head tilting in her direction. “Erica?”
And she was shy, her voice tentative. “I figured it out, I think.”
“Really?” Stiles smiled, bright and wide. “Well c’mon! I can’t wait!”
“It’s in the back. I’ll go get it.” Derek and Scott watched in puzzlement as Erica raced toward the back, returning with what looked like a piece of red fabric in her hand. “It’s just a first try,” she said a little hesitantly. “But I think it came out pretty good.”
Stiles was already pushing the place settings toward the wall. “Gimme,” he said, and she put the piece of cloth in his hands.
Stiles spread it out on the table, and now Derek could see it was a t-shirt. It looked similar to the graphic t-shirts that Stiles wore often, although the design was a little more intricate, looking almost like an ink sketch.
Stiles was already running his fingers over it. “I can totally feel it!” he exclaimed. Derek leaned in closer, and he could see now that the lines of printed ink were raised off the surface of the shirt.
Erica was smiling now too, her eyes shining happily. “I tried the high density screenprinting at first, but you could barely feel it, or at least I could barely feel it. So I tried out this puff additive, it puffs up the ink as it cures. Cool, huh?”
“So cool!” Stiles agreed. “It’s your Catwoman, right?” His long fingers were tracing up the tail, and then skimming down the length of the whip.
Derek looked down at the t-shirt. The design really was beautiful, both detailed and fluid, Catwoman’s pose fierce but not overly sexualized.
“You drew this?” Scott asked in amazement, echoing Derek’s thoughts.
“Erica’s internet-famous,” Stiles bragged. “She sells her designs online — not just t-shirts but prints and tote bags and everything. She even has a table at New York ComicCon every year, and let me tell you those suckers are hard to get.”
“I think I might start adding the raised printing as an option,” Erica said, her fingertips running over the raised ink lines thoughtfully. “I mean, it’ll be a little harder since I’ll have to do the printing and shipping myself, but I think people will really dig the look, you know? It’s — unique.”
“No,” Derek said before thinking. He ignored Stiles kicking him under the table, hurrying to clarify. “I mean, you could have them as a ComicCon exclusive. That way — you wouldn’t have to deal with all the mailing hassle, and I bet people would get into bidding wars over them and that kind of thing.”
They were all staring at him. Even Boyd had stepped out from behind the grill and was looking at Derek. “What — is that stupid?” Derek asked.
Stiles’ foot was now running up and down Derek’s calf where he had kicked him, as if in apology. “Nah, man, that’s genius!” He nudged Derek’s shoulder with his. “It was just, like, a lot of words all at once from someone who never talks. You gotta give us time to acclimate, a little — you know, ease us in at the shallow end.”
“I talk,” Derek complained into his water, disgruntled, but Stiles was already focused back on Erica.
“I think I’m gonna need one of each of your designs, you know. Erica Reyes exclusives!”
If Derek wasn’t so sure that Erica was head-over-heels for Boyd, he would be growling a little at the look of adoration she was sending Stiles.
“Check this out,” she said. “This was just for you.” She flipped up the bottom of the shirt, guiding Stiles’ hand to the inside of the front hem.
Stiles’ brow furrowed in concentration, and then suddenly cleared as a smile broke across his face. “Red!” he said, pushing the shirt more to the center of the table so that the others could see the series of raised ink dots.
Erica seemed to be glowing with pride. “I found a Braille translator online. I thought that if you did want more shirts, I could label the colors for you. To help you match, that kind of thing.”
Stiles made a strangled sort of noise and reached out, pulling Erica into an awkward hug given that he was still sitting in the booth and she was standing by his side. He ended up with his arm around her hips and his face smushed a bit into her apron strings, but neither of them seemed to mind.
“Order’s up,” Boyd called out.
Stiles released Erica. “I’m gonna wear it right now,” he said, and he was already pulling his t-shirt off, unselfconsciously revealing a taut, flat belly with an intriguing trail of dark brown hair leading down into the waistband of his pants, a toned chest, those surprisingly wide shoulders with a sprinkling of moles scattered along the crest of them…
“Order’s up,” Boyd repeated, a little more forcefully.
Derek and Erica both startled, Derek looking away while Erica sauntered over to pick up their orders with a secretive grin. Derek refused to meet Scott’s eyes, studiously arranging the silverware back into place as Stiles pulled on the new shirt, smoothing it down over his chest.
“How does it look?” he asked Erica as she returned with the food.
Her smile was wide and genuine, making her suddenly look much younger. “It looks great.”
Derek couldn’t get over the change in her. Her usual brazen, predatory demeanor had completely disappeared. The woman underneath was nothing that he would have ever expected — shy, artistic, passionate. Derek had the feeling that he could have come to this diner every week for years and never even caught a glimpse of that person, and yet something about Stiles had drawn her out in just a few weeks.
Derek remembered the very first evening he had spent with Stiles.
I think people in this city get kind of a shell, Derek had told Stiles. But — underneath, they’re still people, just like any place else. It might just take a little time.
Derek looked at Stiles again, his gaze drawn to him as if magnetically attracted. Stiles was attempting to steal curly fries off of Scott’s plate even though he had a plateful himself, and Scott was flicking his hand.
In just a few weeks Stiles had somehow managed to become as close as a brother to Scott, to reveal the Erica that was hiding behind her brassy bombshell facade — even to draw out Boyd’s dry sense of humor. And Derek — Derek wasn’t entirely sure what Stiles was doing to him. Making him feel things he thought were long-dead, drawing him into the little family that Stiles seemed to be creating effortlessly. Giving Derek kindness and affection that he hadn’t felt since his family had died. And Stiles seemed to be doing it for no particular reason, it seemed, except that he could. It was wonderful and terrifying in almost equal proportions.
“You okay there, big guy?” Stiles shifted a fraction closer, leaning his weight into Derek for a moment before taking another bite of his cheeseburger.
“Yeah,” Derek said, allowing himself to lean back in return, a jolt of warmth running through him where their hips and shoulders pressed together for a moment, drinking in Stiles’ smile in response. “I’m good.”
Chapter 7: Whiskey
Fifty-five, fifty-six, Derek counted in his head, trying to shove all of the other thoughts out. Fifty-seven, fifty-eight. He should have stopped for water long ago, he could feel his tank top soaked with sweat, his track pants sticking to his body. The muscles across his back and shoulders were screaming as he pushed hard into the next push-up, his breath rasping in his lungs as if he were drowning. Fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-one…
He heard the buzz of his phone, and realized it had been buzzing for awhile now. He slowly let his knees lower to the floor, his arms shaking from the sudden release of effort.
Come over, the first text from Stiles said, the time stamp showing that it had come through five minutes ago.
Don’t pretend like you’re not home.
Derek frowned down at his phone, thumb too slippery with sweat to even clear the texts. Stiles would normally just come to his door if he needed something. The texts didn’t sound like he was hurt or anything, though.
Derek rolled his shoulders, giving up on figuring out whatever Stiles was up to and heading next door. The door to Scott and Stiles’ apartment was cracked open, making Derek’s heart quicken a little in concern.
“Stiles?” he said, pushing the door fully open.
“Finally,” Stiles said, ducking out of the kitchen. He looked rumpled, in pajama bottoms and a threadbare t-shirt, his hair disordered even more than usual. He had two water bottles in his hand, and held one out to Derek.
Derek closed and locked the door behind himself, taking the water bottle. “I was working out,” he grumbled when Stiles didn’t initiate any further conversation.
“Yeah, I know,” Stiles said, popping the top on his own water bottle and taking a big gulp. “You’ve been working out since 4 a.m.”
Derek sneaked a glance at the clock on the microwave. It was almost ten. Normally at this time on a Saturday morning Stiles would be at the gym, coming back smelling of exertion and the faint scent of chlorine. “I’m sorry if I woke you up,” he mumbled. “I’ll try to keep it down.”
“That’s not —” Stiles looked pissed off. “This isn’t a freakin’ noise complaint, Derek.”
Stiles sighed. He chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, seemingly working up to saying something. “I know what today is, Derek.”
“What?” Derek’s mouth was suddenly even drier, his whole body flushing hot, and he pulled the water open, taking a big gulp.
Stiles seemed a little embarrassed now, shrugging. “I’m good with dates. And my dad —” he squared his shoulders, as if bracing for Derek’s reaction. “My dad sent me the police report on Laura’s death.”
Just hearing Stiles say her name out loud was like a punch to the gut. Derek swallowed hard, scrambling for something to say.
Stiles moved closer, reaching out with uncanny accuracy to place a warm palm on Derek’s shoulder. “I just wanted to let you know.” His voice was soft and gentle, seeming to curl in under Derek’s skin and loosen some of the tightness in his chest. “I mean, if you want to go back to your place and continue wearing yourself down to a little werewolf nub, that’s fine. I’ll throw on some music and drown out the sound of you torturing yourself. I just —” Stiles seemed to run out of steam, ending with another shrug. “Does that even work?”
Derek stared at his water bottle, watching a drop of condensation trickle down the side and puddle on the first knuckle of his index finger. “It didn’t last year,” he finally said. “I just don’t know what else to do.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said. “I know.” And he sounded like he really did know, that distinctive scent of old, remembered grief clouding the air for a moment.
“What —” Derek had to clear the rasp from his voice. “What do you do?”
“Me?” Stiles’ mouth twisted bitterly, as he dropped his hand from Derek’s arm, moving to sit on the sofa, propping his feet up on the coffee table with a sigh. “I’ve tried a lot of things over the years. Pretending it didn’t exist, marathoning movies. Spending time with my dad, or with friends.” Without consciously making the decision, Derek found himself sitting down next to Stiles, seeking the comfort of his closeness.
“Getting drunk off my ass,” Stiles continued, his mouth curving in amusement. “That one kind of worked, until I paid for it the next day. But I guess it depends — I know you don’t drink now, but were you a happy drunk, or a broody drunk? I mean, smart money’s on broody, but you never know. Case in point — Scott, the happiest dude on earth, but get a couple of shots in him and it’s like he stepped out of a Chekov play.”
Derek tried to picture it for a second, and then shook his head, dismissing the image. “How would I know?” he asked grumpily. “Born werewolf, remember?”
Stiles tilted his head, those wide amber eyes crinkling in confusion. “You’re kidding, right?”
“What? I can’t get drunk, so I’ve just never really bothered with any of it.”
“Aw, man! You can’t tell me you don’t know?” Stiles didn’t even wait for an answer, already leaping to his feet. He ducked into his bedroom for a second, and then banged around in the kitchen, returning with two bottles and two glasses. He set the glasses down and then ran his thumb over the Braille label on one of the bottles as if verifying before clunking it down on the coffee table in front of Derek.
Derek picked it up. It looked like whiskey, the liquid inside amber and clear as he tilted the bottle. The label on the front had a stylized W and B intersected by — was that a full moon, of all ridiculous things?
“What is this?”
“Wolf’s Brew, man. 94 proof whiskey, plus a 2% solution of aconitum vulparia. Poisonous to humans, but just as good as the real stuff for wolves. My dad brought me up a bottle to keep around for —” His heart stuttered a little as he seemed to stumble over his words. “ — for, you know, a rainy day, but hey. All yours, if you want it.”
“It really works?” Derek had never heard of such a thing. Although come to think of it, there were a few times after the kids had gone to bed that the adults had stayed up later. And more than a few times that Peter had rolled in after dawn, loud-voiced until Talia had shushed him.
Stiles had his head leaned back, eyes closed. “Ain’t no party like a werewolf party,” he said lazily, smiling to himself as if reliving some memories. He sat up suddenly, snatching up the other bottle — a more familiar bottle of Jack Daniels — by the neck. “I’m game if you are.”
“It’s ten in the morning.” Derek said repressingly. It irked him at times how Stiles seemed to know more about werewolves than Derek even did.
“Scandal!” Stiles put the bottle down and clutched his chest dramatically. “Scott’s on day shift for once. You got somewhere else to be?”
Derek considered returning to his stark apartment, trying to push himself beyond his healing into physical exhaustion. It never worked — even when his body gave out and he fell into bed, weak and helpless, he still couldn’t rest, his mind racing with regrets and bitter memories.
“No,” he said. “I have nowhere else to be.”
Stiles seemed to pick up on the bleakness in his tone. “I mean, you don’t have to — no pressure to try the Brew, man. We can just hang out if you want. I won’t — I won’t make you talk about anything if you don’t want to.”
“I know.” Despite the way Stiles relentlessly forced Derek to socialize, he never actually pushed him about anything personal. It was one of the reasons —
The thought startled Derek. It was one of the reasons I trust him. He didn’t even know exactly when it had happened, but he couldn’t deny the truth of it. Derek stood, making up his mind. “If we’re gonna do this, I’m gonna shower. And you have to eat something. I’m not letting you get drunk on an empty stomach.”
“Awesome, man. I’ll even make pancakes. Maple syrup goes with whiskey like you wouldn’t believe.”
Derek shook his head. “It’s terrifying that you know that.”
“Whatever. You’ll see. Back here in fifteen?”
Derek already felt better, the darkness that had been weighing down upon him lifted just a bit by Stiles’ company.
Stiles, slightly drunk, was downright adorable. All his manic energy seemed to slow down, his voice turning honey-thick, his movements easy and languid instead of sharp and fidgety. He was even more tactile than usual, too.
Derek was at the end of the couch, with his feet up on the coffee table. Stiles had started out next to him, but was now draped across the full length of the sofa, his calves over Derek’s lap. At some point he had commandeered one of Derek’s hands and was rubbing slow, absent-minded circles in the palm of it. It felt amazing. Derek took another sip of the liquor, liking the slow burn of it down his throat, the warmth it kindled in his belly.
“It’s just like — I almost want to have it printed on business cards, at this point. The front would be titled, ‘My Tragic Backstory,’ and the back would have, like, ‘I hope that satisfied your curiosity.’ I mean, I understand people being curious, but it’s a big leap from that to feeling entitled to know. And when it’s the first thing out of their mouths, it’s just — honestly, I’m impressed I haven’t whacked more people with my cane.”
Derek grunted in agreement. He imagined how much worse it would be if he had a burn, or some other visible sign of what had happened to him — to have people staring, and asking, all the time.
“When someone doesn’t ask, that’s when I know. They understand. I mean, they know what it’s like, to have something really shitty happen to them. You didn’t ask. Scott either. Same way I don’t ask Scott why he never talks about his dad. It’s like — it’s like the unspoken bro code of people who life has fucked over, know what I mean?”
Derek gave Stiles’ calf a squeeze. They were silent for awhile, both sipping their drinks.
“Do you want to know?” Stiles asked suddenly.
Derek shrugged. “You don’t — you don’t have to.”
“No. It’s okay.” Stiles sat up a little, his gaze intense for all that it was a little off-center from Derek’s face. “I want to tell you. If it won’t bum you out more, I mean.”
“Yeah.” Derek squeezed Stiles’ calf again. “Tell me.”
“It was a car accident,” Stiles said. “I mean, no big surprise on that part. Happens all the time, right? Drunk driver, in the middle of the day, as my mom was driving me home from school. I mean, it’s practically a Lifetime movie cliché.”
“It’s — it’s not a cliché,” Derek said softly.
Stiles sat up, reaching for his bottle. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I know.” He poured carefully, hooking his finger inside the rim of the glass to check the level. Derek politely ignored the salty scent in the air, letting Stiles blink away his tears before he turned back around to face Derek, settling back on the couch.
“I shoulda died too. I mean, it was the freakest of accidents. The car was crushed. They said — they said mom died instantly. Instead, I was squished up in there for a long time before they could get me out. Part of the car door was pushed up into the back of my neck.”
Stiles ran a hand over the back of his neck contemplatively before curling it back around his drink, taking a big gulp. For some reason when he sat back he had settled in close, curled up against Derek’s body. Derek couldn’t help reaching out, running his own palm over the fuzzy nape of Stiles’ neck, as if he could protect it retroactively. Stiles leaned into the touch.
“There’s an artery that goes up the back of the neck there, that’s what got compressed. Branches off into two other ones, that supply blood to the part of the brain that processes visual information. You have to be pretty unlucky to knock them both out with clots. Usually only happens to old folks with heart trouble, that kind of thing. But I was unlucky enough to stroke them both out.” Stiles shrugged. “Or lucky enough, depending on how you look at it. A little more and it would have severed my spinal cord, or compressed my brain stem. That high up, there’s no surviving that.”
Derek’s hand had remained on the nape of Stiles’ neck and he couldn’t help running his thumb over it again, feeling the gentle hollow where Stiles’ skull joined the tender nape of his neck. Just a few millimeters, probably, and Stiles wouldn’t be here right now. Derek would have never even known he existed.
Stiles sighed at the touch. “Brains are weird,” he mused. “When something like that happens, they try to fill in the missing information. ‘Complex visual hallucinations,’ they called it. But for me —” Stiles moved in even closer, resting his cheek on Derek’s shoulder. It should be strange, cuddling like this, but it felt almost natural, Derek’s arms coming up to encircle Stiles, to keep him close. “For me, it just meant I saw my mom all the time. Standing just at the edge of my vision, or sitting on the side of the hospital bed. Every time I tried to look right at her she’d disappear, but then when I looked away she’d come back.”
Derek could smell the salt of Stiles’ tears again, and it felt natural this time to reach up, brushing them away with his thumb, letting his touch linger on Stiles’ cheek. “I can’t imagine what I put my dad through,” Stiles said, his voice thick with tears. “They kept telling me that mom was dead, and I kept screaming at them that they were wrong, that they were lying, that she was just there.”
Derek squeezed Stiles tight, unable to find any words. Stiles didn’t seem to need them, though, pushing close into Derek’s embrace, letting out a deep shuddery breath. They sat like that for a long time, breathing in synchrony, pressed close together.
“I hear Laura sometimes,” Derek found himself saying, to his surprise. “Just her voice, telling me — telling me what she would think, or what I should do.”
Stiles nodded into Derek’s chest. “Do you want to — you could tell me about her. If you want.”
And surprisingly Derek did want to — he wanted Stiles to know about Laura. Had the futile, desperate wish that Stiles and Laura could have met, have been friends.
“She was — strong. Kept us going, when I wanted to just give up. And she was funny. Didn’t take any of my crap.”
“She sounds awesome.”
“Yeah.” Derek took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “We weren’t that close before — before the fire. I was closer to my dad, and my brothers. She was closer to my mom, training to be the next alpha. But afterwards —” Derek rested his chin on Stiles’ hair, breathing in his scent. “We were all we had left of pack, and home. Just the two of us, for so many years. We still fought, but we were also so — so connected. And then she was just — gone.”
Stiles’ arms were tight around Derek’s waist now, any pretense that they were not outright holding each other gone. “That fucking sucks,” he said sincerely, and that seemed to be all there was to say.
Derek just stayed there, enjoying Stiles’ steady, undemanding presence. Breathing in his warmth and scent. The soothing patter of his heartbeat, and the familiar rustle of his breathing. He wasn’t even sure of the moment in which Stiles slid into sleep, suddenly even more soft and pliant where he was enfolded in Derek’s arms.
He seemed to fit there perfectly. The loneliness had become so much a part of Derek that he hardly recognized it anymore, like the ache of a broken bone that never healed right. Something about Stiles in his arms eased that ache, filling him up with warmth and comfort to the very marrow of his bones.
Derek wasn’t sure when he slid into sleep either. He awoke blearily to the sound of Scott’s footsteps in the hallway, late evening sunlight slanting through the windows. At some point Derek had slid down to lie full-length on the sofa. Stiles was sprawled over Derek’s chest, his face flushed, his mouth pink and lax.
Derek gently rolled Stiles toward the back of the sofa, sliding out from under him and sitting up just as Scott’s keys rattled in the door. He stood up, flustered, running a hand through his disordered hair.
“Oh! Hey, man.” Scott’s eyes flicked between where Derek stood, feeling unaccountably guilty, and where Stiles was stretched out and snoring on his belly on the couch. “Didn’t know you were here.”
“I was — I was just leaving,” Derek mumbled. He grabbed the half-empty bottle of Brew, remembering what Stiles had said about it being poisonous to humans.
“You sure?” Scott’s voice was gentle. “You don’t have to bail, you could stick around.”
“No, I — I should go.” Derek felt awkward and uncertain. The mingled scent of himself and Stiles was thick in the air, scrambling his thoughts, seeming to call out to something deep within him. Now that the warm buzz of the wolfsbane alcohol had faded, though, he wasn’t sure what it all had meant. Had it simply been kindness and comfort, or something more? Derek didn’t know, and right now he just felt raw and exposed under Scott’s gaze.
“Suit yourself.” Scott went into the kitchen and started poking through the fridge. Derek couldn’t help feeling that there was something cowardly about his retreat, but he retreated nonetheless, returning to his apartment.
He should eat something too, but he felt too tired, all hollowed out. Instead he lay down on his bed. After a moment’s embarrassment he pulled his shirt off and laid it next to his pillow, letting himself nuzzle into it, breathing in the warm soft scent of Stiles mixed with his own sharper, more alpine scent.
He closed his eyes, letting his mind wander in that netherland between sleeping and wakefulness. Thoughts of Laura’s death were still dark at the back of his mind, but instead he let himself think of Stiles. He pushed away all his doubts over what it had meant, and instead concentrated on how Stiles had felt in his arms, and how right it had felt to have him there. And as sleep started to take him, he let himself — just for a moment — imagine that Stiles’ scent was truly in his bed, and that Stiles’ warm, laughing body was held in his arms every night.
Derek woke at dawn the next morning, surprised to have slept so soundly through the night. His whole body felt loose and relaxed. He blinked his eyes open and realized that he held his shirt from last night in one hand, still cuddling into it. He allowed himself to breathe it in one more time, the trace of Stiles’ scent fading already, before he pushed himself to his feet.
He went through his morning routine on autopilot, his thoughts circling uselessly as he tried to make sense of the night before. Every time he tried to think about what it might have meant, he felt anxiety building up in his chest, his thoughts shying away nervously.
Stiles was affectionate with everyone, he told himself. And it was true — Derek didn’t know if it was exacerbated by the need for tactile input to compensate for his visual impairment or if it was just the way he had always been, but Stiles touched everyone, easily and casually. Shoving Scott affectionately, or hugging Erica. And yet, Derek doubted that Stiles ever actually cuddled any of them, or had fallen asleep draped over them...
He was just drunk, he told himself severely. And that was true also — the whiskey seemed to weaken Stiles’ already-wobbly boundaries. Derek never joined Scott and Stiles when they went out for drinks with Allison, or Scott’s partner Isaac who Derek still hadn’t met, or occasionally even Erica and Boyd when they were off shift. For all he knew Stiles was like that every time he drank. Just the thought of it — of Stiles snuggling up to the mysterious Isaac in the way he had with Derek, made Derek itch to drop his fangs.
And that, right there — that was yet another reason why Derek should just keep Stiles at a distance. Derek was a born wolf. Ever since puberty his control had been impeccable. Inheriting the alpha power, however, was something for which he had been totally unprepared. The heightened senses and intensified instincts were overwhelming, driving him further into his refuge of social isolation. Something about Stiles seemed to weaken his already shaky control, the wolf under his skin lurking closer to the surface than ever when Stiles was near.
A beta without a pack was bad enough — unmoored, and emotionally unstable. An alpha without a pack was almost unheard of. Derek was on borrowed time, and if he snapped it would be the people close to him who would suffer. No one had been close to him for so long that he had pushed the concern aside, but now he found himself — however reluctantly — surrounded by people he cared about. Yet more people who would potentially suffer from the curse hanging over Derek’s head.
Derek was startled out of his grim thoughts by the sound of Stiles waking up next door — his heartbeat quickening, the crack of his back as he stretched. Derek couldn’t stop himself from listening intently, trying to get a sense of Stiles’ mood. It was creepy and invasive, and he knew it. Yet still he listened as Stiles swallowed some pills down with a glass of water, his movements sounding slow and fumbling compared to even his typical morning clumsiness. Was Stiles just hung over, or was that the heaviness of regret weighing down his limbs?
By the time Stiles stepped under the stream of his shower silently, instead of singing along at the top of his voice to his eclectic playlist as he usually did, Derek’s stomach was churning with anxiety. He finally forced himself out of his apartment, unable to tune out Stiles’ presence next door but unwilling to keep invading his privacy. Especially since every sound was like another stone on the grave of Derek’s unfocused hopes, convincing him further that Stiles had nothing but regret for what had happened last night.
Derek spent most of the day wandering aimlessly, his body restless as his thoughts and emotions vacillated wildly. Remembered comfort at the feeling of Stiles in his arms, and despair at the thought that it might never happen again. A small shiver of hope that Stiles might have feelings for him, and then icy dread at the thought of what it would mean if he did. Concern that Stiles hadn’t contacted him — probably the first day in weeks that they hadn’t spoken or texted at least a few times during the day — mingled with relief, because he had no idea what he would even say the next time they did speak.
By the time he returned home, he was exhausted from the emotional upheaval of the day. He forced himself to eat some food cold out of the refrigerator, and stepped into the shower, letting the lukewarm water beat down on him, stripping off the cloying scents of the city outside.
He tumbled into bed. His shirt from last night was still there, but the scent of Stiles had almost completely faded from it. Derek shoved it aside in irritation, closing his eyes and hoping for the oblivion of sleep to finally silence his tumultuous thoughts. Through the wall he could hear Stiles getting ready for bed as well — the rustle as he changed into his pajamas, the woosh of the faucet as he washed his face and brushed his teeth. After being gone all day the familiar patter of Stiles’ heartbeat was a welcome sound, soothing Derek’s nerves.
For just a moment, Derek let himself imagine that there was no wall between them — that instead of being a creepy listener next door, he was actually entitled to hear Stiles’ evening routine. That Stiles was in their apartment, preparing to climb into their bed — the mundane nighttime routine of a long-established relationship. The idea seemed so unobtainable, the distance between reality and fantasy so vast, with Derek lacking any of the skills to bridge that distance. And yet Derek listened, and dreamed, and wanted.
The next morning, the sound of an incoming text made Derek’s heart jolt.
Settle a bet. Which Quicksilver is better, DoFP or AoU?
Derek frowned down at the text. Some part of him had — wondered? — hoped? — that Stiles would want to talk to him about the last evening they spent together, but this text made it perfectly clear that — for Stiles at least — nothing had changed.
What is DoFP or AoU? he replied finally replied.
DoFP = X-Men Days of Future Past, AoU = Avengers Age of Ultron, dummy.
I haven’t seen Age of Ultron yet.
There was a gap of about an hour, while Derek tried to immerse himself in his spreadsheets again, telling himself that it didn’t matter that he seemed to be back to being just another one of Stiles’ many buddies. It was what he wanted — what he had been determined to do himself, in fact. He and Stiles could remain friends, and anything more would remain a harmless fantasy.
Scott’s in! Tonight, 7:30. Magic Johnson Theater. I bought tix already. Be there.
Derek sighed, putting his phone back in his pocket. He could do this.
He met up with Scott and Stiles in the theater lobby, Scott nudging Stiles and whispering something to him as Derek approached.
"Derek! Hey!” Stiles’ smile was a little forced. “Here’s your ticket.”
Derek took the ticket, pressing into Stiles’ hand a $20, already folded into quarters. Stiles’ smile as he felt the folded bill relaxed into something more genuine.
“Should we go in?” Stiles said just as Scott’s phone sounded with a text.
Scott frowned down at his phone. “Aw, man! I’m sorry, guys. I have to bail. They’re calling me in."
Derek tried not to feel hurt as Stiles grabbed at Scott’s arm, looking panicked. He pulled Scott a few paces aside, and Derek pretended he couldn’t hear their whispered conversation.
“Are you kidding me?” Stiles hissed. “You can’t do this!”
“I’m sorry!” Scott was giving the puppy dog eyes even if Stiles couldn’t see them. “I swear, they’re really calling me in.”
“If this is just some —”
“No! I’m serious! I wouldn’t do that to you, bro. This is a genuine work emergency.”
They shoved each other back and forth a few times, but Stiles already looked resigned. Derek pretended to be studying the concession menu as they made their way back over to him, Scott making his hurried apologies before leaving Derek and Stiles standing awkwardly in the lobby.
“If you — we can cancel, if you don’t feel like it anymore,” Derek finally mumbled. “I know you’ve seen it already.”
“Nah.” Stiles ruffled a hand through his hair, his mouth still pressed into an unhappy line. “Of course not.”
Things seemed a little better once the movie started. Stiles whispered comments into Derek’s ear, trying to make him laugh by repeating some of the odder narration from the audio descriptive service he had playing in his other ear. By the time the movie was over, it felt as if things had settled a little between them.
“Vicky’s?” Stiles suggested, and Derek found himself agreeing.
“But when you take Hank Pym out of the Ultron storyline, it changes the whole tone of it. I mean, Hank has a purpose in creating Ultron — justice, and order. To have Stark and Banner do it — it seems too arbitrary,” Derek said earnestly.
Erica had her hip resting against their table, the pitcher of water in her hands long forgotten. “Not to mention — no Wasp, not even really in the Ant-Man movie! I mean, Janet van Dyne rocks —”
“Order up!” Boyd called, and Erica huffed in irritation at the interruption, ambling back toward the grill.
Stiles leaned in, playing idly with his silverware. “So, how come you know so much about comic books?”
Derek stared down at his plate, trying to find words amid the flood of memories. “My dad — he was really into that stuff. He had a lot of the classics — The Dark Knight Returns, the Watchmen, that kind of stuff. We knew we weren’t supposed to read them until we were older, but my —” Derek had to pull in a deep breath, exhaling sharply through his nose to control the spike of pain in his chest. “My little brother Cameron and I would sneak them anyway, and read them under the covers with a flashlight.”
Derek hadn’t thought about that in ages, and suddenly it was so vivid — the scent of his family all around him, the orange light of the flashlight under the canopy of Derek’s quilt, the whispers as he and Cam alternated reading the voices, with Derek always claiming first pick because he was older. The memory hurt, but it also felt good, made Derek feel a little echo of the warmth and safety he had taken for granted back then.
He blinked away the dampness in his eyes, clearing his throat. “I’m sure my dad knew, but he never said anything. And then when we got older, he took us to the comic book store with him.”
Derek didn’t realize that Stiles’ hand had found his until Stiles gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“I’m sorry, man,” Stiles said, his scent tinged with sadness. “I didn’t mean to bring up —”
“No,” Derek interrupted, turning his hand to squeeze Stiles’ palm in return. “I — I want to remember them.” He didn’t realize until he said it how true it was. “Since Laura died, there’s been nobody who…” he couldn’t finish the sentence, the lump growing in his throat even though he felt as if a weight had been lifted. “They should be remembered.”
“Yeah.” Stiles responded softly. “They should.” He ducked his head, scratching the back of his neck as if embarrassed by his sincerity. “Whenever you want to talk about them, I’m just saying...I’m here. I mean, I’d like to know.”
“Thanks,” Derek mumbled, his voice rough. “I’d — I’d like that.”
Stiles’ smile was warm and genuine, the last of the awkwardness between them gone. “Anytime, man.”
“Get in, loser, we’re going shopping!”
Derek opened his door. “A. You don’t have a car. B. You realize that makes you the ‘mean girl’ in this scenario.”
“Oh, so that movie reference you get.”
Stiles refused to tell Derek where they were going, his earbud firmly in his ear with the volume turned down low to prevent Derek from even hearing the navigation. Finally they stopped in front of a storefront.
“All right, I got us this far. Lead us to the door,” Stiles said, practically bouncing with excitement.
Derek smiled too as he took in the store’s name — “Kenny’s Comics” — and the windowfront overflowing with comic book-themed merchandise. “I’ve never heard of this place,” he commented.
“Of course not,” Stiles replied blithely. “That’s because comic book stores are beautiful places filled with rainbows and sunshine and kitten whispers.” He stopped, suddenly looking serious. “Is this okay? I mean, it’s not too much?”
“No.” Derek guided Stiles forward. “It’s — it’s great.” And it was. He was suddenly surprised he hadn’t thought of it before — re-buying some of those old volumes that he used to read with Cameron and his dad, escaping into those familiar stories.
The employee behind the desk raised her head, her multicolor spiked hair quivering. “Can I help you guys find anything?” Derek squinted a little against the glow of light that seemed to surround her for a moment. He blinked, and it disappeared. He tried to scent the air as unobtrusively as possible. She wasn’t a wolf, but she was...something.
“Yeah, thanks. Do you have the Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal?” Stiles asked, as Derek led them closer to the desk.
“Kamala Khan,” the employee commented with a wide smile. “You’re gonna love her.” She flitted over to a tall rack, pulling out a small slim graphic novel unerringly.
“Volume 3 is sold out right now, but we have more on order,” she added, returning back to her post. “We have Volume 2, though, if you end up liking this one. And you will.” Her bright brown eyes flicked over Stiles curiously, dipping down to examine his cane and then back to his face. “Is this for you, or…?”
“Let’s find out,” Stiles said with a smirk, holding out his hand for the comic book.
His hand traced the edge of the counter, orienting himself, before he leaned his cane against it. He opened up the volume to page one, and then pulled out Jarvis.
“Jarvis, open app ‘Comic Books Are a Waste of Time,’” Stiles said. “No offense, um — ”
“Kira,” the clerk supplied.
“No offense, Kira,” Stiles smiled in her direction. “My friend Lydia did this for me, and she and I hold some differing opinions.”
“No prob,” she said, shrugging her shoulders, making the watercolor tattoos across her collarbone ripple. She and Derek watched curiously as Stiles held his phone up, seeming to snap a picture of the front of the comic book. He photographed the next five pages as well, and then tapped a button.
“Ms. Marvel, No Normal,” Jarvis’ voice announced. “First setting: Circle Q Store. Characters: Kamala, Nakia, Bruno.” Each character name was spoken in a different voice, female for the women and male for the man. “Panel one,” Jarvis continued. “Scene: Sandwiches. Text: Easy Greasy BLT.”
“Whoa!” Kira breathed as she re-opened the comic book to the first page. She and Derek both leaned in to look at the panel, which was exactly as Jarvis had described it.
“I just want to smell it,” the female voice assigned to Kamala said. “Panel two,” Jarvis announced, and Stiles hit something to pause the recitation.
“That is so cool!” the clerk said, the lights buzzing and flickering a little around her. “Sorry,” she shrugged, with a sidelong glance at Derek. “Old wiring.”
Stiles hadn’t even noticed, too busy grinning ear to ear. “I’ll beta it a little more at home before I tell Lydia to put it up on the app stores, but it’s pretty cool, right? The text recognition is pretty standard, but she wrote some advanced visual recognition program that compares the wikipedia entry and other textual information for the comic with a Google image search of the characters to help the program recognize them. It recognizes objects and most actions too.”
“It’s absolutely awesome!” Kira’s eyes were shining. “Let me know when it goes live, we can do some in-store promotion for it.”
“Will do.” Stiles was practically fidgeting with excitement. “Derek, feel free to look around, I have a feeling I’m going to be here for awhile. I need to have a conversation with Kira about what I’ve missed over the last nine years.”
“Whoa!” Kira breathed, her eyes widening. “Nine years?” she repeated, before a smile broke across her face as well. “Well, let’s get started!”
Derek put down his tea cup carefully. By now he recognized the tone Stiles got when he was preparing to broach a subject he knew Derek might not like.
“Yeah?” This was something Derek had been working on. What Stiles called ‘verbalizing his nonverbals.’ Or, as Stiles had explained further, “Communicating solely with your eyebrows may work with other people, Sourwolf, but it’s not gonna fly with me.”
“So…Scott has this partner, Isaac. You ever met him?”
“No,” Derek said cautiously, wondering where this was going.
“Yeah, I figured not. He said Matt was a creepy asshole, he tried to avoid him at all costs so he never came by Scott’s place much before.”
“Okay.” Derek was watching Stiles closely as he twisted his hands together briefly, before seeming to discover his napkin, slowly and methodically shredding it.
“So, like I said, Isaac. Scott’s partner. They’ve been EMS-ing together for pretty much the past year or so, apparently. He’s…he’s a really nice guy. A little shy at first, but once you get to know him, just really nice.”
“Okay,” Derek said again, a sick, hollow feeling growing in his gut. “That’s — that’s good, I guess.”
“You think?” Stiles seemed to brighten. “I was thinking maybe of asking him to hang out with us sometime. You know, get drinks together. Or maybe I can do something at our place. I’m a sucky cook, but I can do guacamole or something…”
Derek felt numb. He stared down at his hands. They felt large, useless. He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “If you want to ask him out —" he said, and then had to clear his throat again. “Just ask him. To do something with just the two of you. Otherwise he’ll get confused.”
“What?” Stiles’ mobile face was creased with confusion. “Ask him —" His mouth twisted, his scent suddenly clouding with bitter disappointment. “I’m not interested in Isaac, Derek. I’m asking — I’m asking if you want to meet him.”
“You’re trying to set me up?” Derek knew his voice was too loud, causing the people at the next table to turn to look at him, but he couldn’t help it.
“No! Argh!” Stiles scrubbed his hand across his face in frustration. He leaned in, grabbing Derek’s arm to orient himself. “He’s a wolf,” he whispered. “Christ, I probably should have led with that, huh? I’m not asking if you want to date him. I mean, I don’t even know — I didn’t even know that guys were — I just meant…I was wondering if maybe you could have a pack again,” he finished in a rushed tumble of words.
“Oh.” Derek couldn’t think of anything else to say. The word “pack” seemed like a solid brick wall at the end of the rollercoaster of emotions that the last few minutes had been. Pack to Derek was family — his parents, and brothers and sisters, and cousins. Uncle Peter. Laura. Pack was something that was gone, lost to him forever, and could never be replaced.
“Listen, I’m not saying you have to decide now, but just…think about it. Maybe meet Isaac. It’s not…” Stiles seemed to uncharacteristically get stuck for words, biting his lip in frustration before trying again.
“A wolf — especially an alpha — can’t go on for very long without a pack, Derek,” he said, his voice low and serious. “You know that as well as I do. And Isaac —” Stiles leaned in again, his hand seeming to find its way back to Derek’s arm automatically. “We didn’t get to talk for long, because he freaked out a little when he found out I knew what he was, but…I think he needs someone too.”
Derek forced himself to concentrate on Stiles’ words, and not the warmth of Stiles’ palm on his forearm, the gentle reassurance of his thumb absentmindedly brushing back and forth across Derek’s skin. “He said his mom was the wolf, and she died when he was little. Never told his dad, apparently, so it was an unhappy surprise to everyone when Isaac first presented. He said his dad hated him for it, used to lock him in a freezer during his shifts. And...he didn’t say, but Derek —" Stiles’ eyes were wide and serious. “You know how you just know sometimes. And a wolf kid wouldn’t exactly show bruises the next day, know what I mean?”
Derek knew exactly what Stiles meant, and felt the low, involuntary rumble of a growl in his chest at the thought of it. The idea of someone hurting any child, let alone one who couldn’t even show the scars — at least the physical ones — turned Derek’s stomach. The idea was repugnant, but Derek didn’t doubt Stiles’ instincts for a second. He didn’t know if it was growing up as the child of a cop, or just something about Stiles, but Stiles’ ability to read people was uncanny.
Stiles smiled to himself as if a question had been answered.
“Don’t look so smug,” Derek grumbled, snorting as Stiles immediately rearranged his face into a look of total innocence.
“But you’ll think about it?”
Stiles was trying to contain his excitement, but he was horrible at it. The smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, his eyes seeming to glow from within.
Derek shook his head, knowing he was already sunk. “I’ll think about it,” he warned.
Isaac was pretty much just as Stiles had described him. Shy, but with a sharp sarcastic edge once he relaxed and felt a little more comfortable.
Scott seemed a little confused as to why Stiles had arranged the get-together, his eyes darting between Derek and Stiles at first, but he quickly seemed to relax and smiled goofily at the way they all seemed to be getting along together.
And they did seem to get along, strangely. It wasn’t as easy it felt when it was just Derek and Stiles, but Scott seemed accustomed to Derek’s silences at this point, and Isaac didn’t seem to mind either. He cast Derek a few evaluative glances that made Derek wonder what Stiles had told Isaac, but otherwise seemed content to chatter and joke with the others. Derek sipped his water and let the camaraderie wash over him. It felt – nice. Not the same as being with his family, but it still seemed to fill a gap inside him that he hadn’t even realized was there.
Derek hadn’t been sure how he would react to the scent of another wolf so close to his own territory — so close to Stiles — but it was actually fine. Isaac’s scent was mild and nonthreatening, with a sweet milky note that reminded Derek of his brother Cameron. And Stiles was right — Isaac needed other wolves. Needed an alpha. Derek wasn’t even sure if he was conscious of it, but as the evening went on he could see how Isaac kept moving closer to him, seeking approval.
Scott was giving the two of them some disapproving looks, but Stiles’ delight in how the evening was going was obvious. He was relaxed and laughing, drawing Derek into the discussion and effortlessly filling in the gaps every time Derek’s social awkwardness let the conversation lag. At one point Scott tried to draw Stiles into the kitchen for a hissed conversation but Stiles just laughed and elbowed him off, returning with an enormous quantity of guacamole with Scott trailing behind, sulkily carrying an equally large quantity of his abuela’s tamales.
At the end of the evening Isaac made his goodbyes, and Derek took the cue to leave as well. They walked the few paces down the hall to Derek’s door together before lingering awkwardly in front of it.
“So.” Isaac was the first one to break the uncomfortable silence. “It was...nice to meet you.” He was staring mostly at the floor, but kept shooting Derek quick glances, caution and hope warring in his gaze.
“Yeah.” Derek felt a little nervous, but overall this seemed easier than he had imagined. It felt...right. “Do you — can I?”
He raised his hand, cursing his difficulty articulating what he wanted to say, but Isaac seemed to understand nonetheless. A sweet smile broke across his face, making him look suddenly very young and angelic. He quickly unwound the light scarf he had been wearing — it was barely September, for chrissakes — and tilted his head forward.
Derek placed his palm warm on the back of Isaac’s neck, scent-marking him, both of them sighing at the contact. It was nothing formal — they would have to learn more about each other before he asked for Isaac’s formal submission and they formed a pack bond, but it was a start. An offer of protection. A promise.
“I — thanks,” Isaac mumbled. They were both blushing now. Christ, Derek didn’t remember this ever being so awkward when his mom did it, but Talia was born to be an alpha and wore the rank like an empress. Derek — Derek had never planned to be the alpha of his own pack, but for the first time he was realizing that maybe he could be. It might not come easily, but if he could offer his protection to someone like Isaac, maybe some good could come out of his cursed situation after all.
“I’ll — Stiles said there was stuff you might need to know. About being a wolf, I mean. We could meet up sometime, and talk about it more.”
“Yeah.” The tension seemed to have left Isaac’s body, his gaze now direct and appraising. “I’d like that.” He seemed ready to go, but then hesitated. “Hey, man. Can I ask you something?”
Derek paused in the act of fishing his keys out of his pocket. “Yeah?”
Now Isaac seemed to be getting shy again, dropping his gaze. “Maybe I’m overstepping, or whatever, but...Stiles is a good guy.”
Derek felt his stomach drop. He hadn’t detected any particular attraction between Isaac and Stiles, but maybe he had missed something. “Um. Yeah? He is.”
Isaac lifted his chin in determination. “I just mean...maybe you should be straight with him. If you’re not interested, I mean. It’s not — it’s not right to let him keep hoping like this.”
“What.” Derek blinked in surprise. “It’s not — it’s not like that. I mean, I don’t think he feels. Like that. About me.”
Isaac took a step back, his eyes narrowing. “Are you kidding me? I could understand if you were turned, but you were born, like me. You’ve got to smell that all over him.”
“It’s not.” Derek pulled in a deep breath, frustrated. “It’s not me. He always smells like that. It’s just — it’s just Stiles.”
Isaac barked a short laugh, before stilling suddenly, his brow furrowing. “You’re serious.” He shook his head. “I’ve hung out with Stiles a bunch of times. He’s never smelled like that before tonight.” He was outright smirking now. “I guess he just smells like that all the time around you.”
“But. He can’t see me. He didn’t even know me at first.” Derek didn’t even know why he was still talking about this with Isaac. He could have just flashed his eyes at the kid and told him to shut up at any time, but it was just...really?
“What can I say?” Isaac shrugged. “When he’s drunk he talks about how pretty your voice is.” He smiled again, looking much less angelic this time. “Nice meeting you, Derek.”
Then he was off down the hallway, leaving Derek stunned and frozen outside his own front door.
And finally I manage to work in the second half of the prompt! It only took me 8 chapters, lol. :-D
Everyone is going clubbing Friday night, Stiles had texted. Your presence absolutely required. Dress sexy, I’ll need help getting in the door.
It took Derek less than five seconds to reply. Absolutely not.
He had been thinking about what Isaac had said — had barely been able to think of anything else — but so far Stiles had been treating him the same as always, and he hadn’t figured out a way to broach the subject. Going to a noisy, smelly club with every member of Stiles’ improvised family was definitely not a step in the right direction.
C’mon, Sourwolf! Shake your groove thang! Even Scott got the night off! Everyone is going!
Derek frowned at his phone. He had hated crowds even before everything happened, and now with his alpha senses even walking past a club in the evenings was almost intolerable.
Not everyone, he texted back. And stop overusing exclamation marks. You’re a copyeditor, you should know better.
!!!!!Buzzkill!!!!!, Stiles texted back, along with a dizzying series of disapproving emojis, including a frowny face, a thumbs down, and a wilted flower.
Derek couldn’t help smiling at the text. He’d make it up to Stiles somehow.
Derek had heard the muffled music and giggling from next door as the group got ready to go out, so he thought he was prepared when the familiar knock came at his door, Stiles’ already rapid heartbeat speeding up even a fraction further as Derek pulled the door open.
“Jesus.” Derek was not ready for this. Not at all.
“Nope, just me,” Stiles answered brightly. “But I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“What — why — “
“Ally and Kira dressed me. What do you think?” Stiles held his arms out, doing a slow twirl for Derek’s benefit.
And fuck, but he looked — delicious. His black jeans were skin-tight, emphasizing the endless stretch of his legs down to heavy boots. A studded belt circled his lean hips, and above it was a blood-red v-neck that seemed to cling to his broad shoulders and arms like a second skin. His usually chaotic hair was artfully tousled, just disordered enough to look as if someone had been running their hands through it.
“Are you — are you wearing make-up?” The dark sweep of Stiles’ eyelashes was even darker than usual, making his vivid amber eyes look practically luminous in comparison. His lush lower lip, always pink, was even rosier now with a glittery sheen. Derek watched avidly as Stiles sucked that lower lip into his mouth, biting down on it in the way that Derek himself longed to do.
“Hey — guyliner is a real thing!” Stiles was blushing now, a hectic pink blooming across his cheekbone. Derek wanted to press his tongue there, wanted to discover if he could taste the heat of that flush with his tongue. “So, are you coming out with us or not?”
“You — you’re going out like that?” Derek’s hands twitched on the door frame as he suppressed the urge to reach out for Stiles, to keep him close.
Stiles’ lush mouth compressed into a unamused line. “Nah, I squeezed myself into these jeans to hang around the house. What is your damage, Derek?”
“You shouldn’t — I don’t think it’s safe for you to go out like that.” Derek knew he was saying the wrong thing, could see Stiles’ cheeks flushing with anger rather than shyness now, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“I literally don’t know which part of that condescending bullshit to take issue with first.” Stiles’ voice was flat and cold. “The idea that I shouldn’t go clubbing because I’m blind? Or that I’m dressed in a way to put my nonexistent virtue at risk? It’s like a fucking smorgasbord of paternalistic assholery.”
Derek felt his own cheeks flushing hot. “It’s just — you’re —”
“I’m what, Derek?” Stiles’ voice had suddenly changed, into a low purr. He slid a step closer, unerringly notching himself up against Derek’s body. “You think I don’t like to dance?” Derek’s throat turned sandpaper-dry as Stiles swayed his hips in a slow, sinuous undulation. Stiles’ right hand was suddenly at Derek’s waist, his left hand curling around the nape of Derek’s neck. He had never touched Derek so intimately, so provocatively, before. His next words were breathed hot into Derek’s ear. “You think I don’t like to have a good time?”
Derek drew in an unsteady breath, his head clouded with the warm, luscious scent of Stiles, closer than he had ever been. Stiles twisted his hips again and suddenly Derek was falling, his legs swept out from under him by Stiles’ booted foot, Stiles’ hands on Derek’s waist and nape pushing him back into a controlled fall that was gentler than Derek probably deserved, leaving him sprawled on the floorboards.
“I’m a goddamn sheriff’s son,” Stiles spat, his voice cold with fury again. “My best friend is a banshee. I’ve captured a kanima. I can take care of myself. And you —” Stiles pulled in an angry breath, his hands clenching and then relaxing as his scent transmuted from anger to bitter disappointment. “I don’t even know why I bother with you.”
Stiles stomped off down the hall. He stopped at his own door. “We’ll be at Nitro if you get over yourself and want to join us,” he threw over his shoulder. He slammed the door shut behind him.
“Set me up with another shot, Ally,” Derek heard muffled through the wall.
“Aw, ignore him. He’s an asshole — ” Scott started.
“It’s fine,” Stiles interrupted tersely, as Derek picked himself up off the floor, shutting his own door gently. “It’s all good.”
Derek took a deep breath, bracing himself before he pushed into the club. The beat of the music was already pounding in his head, making it ache. The press of people was overwhelming, Derek’s nose twitching with the overload of scents, his body flinching as people brushed up against him on all sides. Further away shadows flitted through the artificial smoke in a vision that seemed straight out of one of Derek’s worst nightmares. He forced himself down the narrow hallway toward the pulsating lights of what must be the dance floor.
The music was louder in there and the strobe lights were setting Derek’s nerves even further on edge, but at least it was cooler and a little more open. The bar area and dance floor were crowded but the dark edges of the room were populated only by a sparse scattering of couples, groping or grinding on each other, shrouded in the anonymity provided by the flickering lights and acrid artificial smoke.
Derek circled the edges of the room, trying to acclimate, hoping to catch Stiles’ scent from among the turbulent roil of smoke and sweat and alcohol. He searched the crowd around the bar, careful not to let his eyes glow red, but came up empty. Maybe they had decided to go somewhere else after all. He was just preparing to leave when a flash of red on the dance floor caught his attention.
He moved closer, pushing his way through the edges of the crowd. There, in the thick of the dance floor, was Stiles. His head was thrown back, the long line of his throat exposed as he swiveled his hips and shoulders to the beat. All of his usual clumsy fidgetiness seemed to have disappeared, his movements sinuous and graceful, as if the thudding beat of the music was channeling all the hyperkinetic energy through his body. The wrist strap of his foldable cane was looped through his belt, making it look more like some new kind of fashion accessory than an accessibility device. He was mesmerizing.
Art by the amazing andavs.
Scott, Allison, Isaac, Boyd, and Kira were dancing loosely around him, sometimes in pairs, sometimes breaking free to dance with Stiles for a few minutes. As Derek watched a stranger approached, handsome and dimpled. Scott leaned in, saying something in Stiles’ ear as the stranger sidled up to Stiles, laying an inquiring hand on his shoulder. Stiles smiled in the stranger’s direction, tracing a path up his arm to orient himself before moving in to dance with him.
Derek felt a growl building in his chest. The other man was relaxed, easy in a way that Derek would never be, touching Stiles with casual expertise. After a few moments more he used his large hands to turn Stiles smoothly, pressing his chest against Stiles’ back as the two of them moved fluidly together. He leaned forward, whispering something in Stiles’ ear, and Stiles threw his head back and laughed.
Derek turned away, unable to watch any longer, pushing his way back through the crowd to the bar. His chest felt tight, his body aching with tension, as he snarled at the bartender for a bottle of water. He stared down at the stained and scuffed surface of the bar, the flashing multicolored lights reflecting off of circles of condensation left behind by beer bottles and glasses. He should leave. He wasn’t sure why he had come in the first place.
“Well hey there, Sourwolf. Come here often?”
Derek jerked his head up. Stiles was leaning against the bar next to him, his skin warm and flushed, his eyes bright under the dazzling lights. Derek caught a glimpse of Scott making his way back to the dance floor, sending Derek a thumbs-up as he went.
“Stiles,” Derek said stupidly.
“Yup,” Stiles said, popping the ‘p’. He rested both elbows back on the bar, closing his eyes and leaning his head back as if soaking in the atmosphere. Sweat glistened in the hollow of his throat. “Ready to buy me a drink?”
Derek scrambled to come up with a coherent response. “I dunno. Will your dad arrest me?”
Stiles straightened up, sliding something from the back pocket of his skintight jeans, holding it up proudly. “Not as of this morning, you doofus.”
Derek squinted at the ID card for a moment before it clicked. “It’s — it’s your birthday? You didn’t say anything.” Derek hadn’t thought it was possible to feel worse for how he had acted earlier in the evening, but he had been wrong.
Stiles seemed fine now, though, leaning back against the bar again, his body still moving just a bit to the beat of the music as the corner of his mouth quirked in a smile. “I didn’t want to guilt you into coming. I know how you feel about crowds. And noise. And pretty much everything about places like this.”
Derek shouldn’t be surprised at this point by how perceptive Stiles was, but he hadn’t realized he had told Stiles any of those things. Quite possibly he hadn’t, Stiles had just put it together from the things that he knew Derek avoided doing. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly. “I didn’t like places like this before, and after I became alpha, it just...got worse.”
Stiles nodded, seeming to file that information away before his expression shifted to something unreadable. He swayed a little closer. “But you’re here now.”
Derek took a sip from his water bottle. It did nothing to cool the heat crawling up his spine. “I’m here now,” he agreed.
Stiles’ hand traced the edge of the bar until it ran into Derek’s arm. Then those long fingers curled around Derek’s forearm, squeezing once. “So then, Sourwolf. Dance with me?”
“I — I don’t —”
Stiles started to draw his hand away, ducking his head. “Never mind, it was —”
“I don’t know how to dance,” Derek interrupted in a rush.
Stiles tilted his head up again. The eyeliner had smudged a little, making his amber eyes look smoky and mysterious. “That’s the only reason?” He licked his glossy lips, Derek avidly watching the movement of that pink tongue. “I could show you. If you want.” His mouth twisted ironically. “It’s not like I’m in a position to critique your dance moves here.”
“I —” Derek looked back to the dance floor. Isaac, Boyd, and Kira were dancing with each other, oblivious, but Scott and Allison hurriedly looked away from where they had obviously been watching Derek and Stiles. “Your friends are looking at us.”
Stiles’ hand found Derek’s arm again, running fingers down to his hand until he reached the water bottle. He pulled it from Derek’s grasp, taking several long gulps. Derek watched the movement of his throat, enthralled, until Stiles put the water bottle back on the bar with a thump. “Take us someplace quieter, then,” he demanded, softening it with a smile.
“Okay.” It was strange walking hand-in-hand instead of the more familiar grasp of Stiles’ palm on the crook of his arm, but it was good. Stiles seemed happy and loose, humming under his breath a little to whatever song was playing. Derek found a corner of the room that wasn’t occupied by another couple. It wasn’t much quieter there but it was darker and the air conditioning vent was blowing cool air, keeping some of the artificial smoke away.
“Here,” Derek said, and Stiles turned to him, still humming. Stiles’ left hand traced up Derek’s arm to his neck, his right hand holding Derek’s waist. It was actually very similar to how Stiles had held Derek earlier that night, right before dropping him to the floor. This time, though, Stiles leaned in, using his hands and body to help sway Derek to the music, and Derek was falling into Stiles — his head dipping down to breathe in Stiles’ scent, his arms coming up almost automatically to wrap around Stiles’ back. Stiles was humming in Derek’s ear now, little vibrations that buzzed and zinged across Derek’s nerve endings.
“That’s good,” Stiles said, and Derek felt the praise wash over him in a warm rush. “Now a little more —” The hand at Derek’s waist moved to his hip, and now instead of swaying together they were moving in counterpoint. Stiles somehow notched in even nearer, his thigh sliding in close between Derek’s legs.
The beat of the music was just a backdrop now, a thudding rhythm eclipsed by the sound of Stiles’ heartbeat, the rustle of his breath next to Derek’s ear. Derek’s head felt dull, foggy with the warm, luscious scent of Stiles, even as his body felt energized. He could feel his cock thickening in his jeans with every pulse of the music, every brush of Stiles’ pelvis against his own.
“You’re a good dancer,” Derek breathed, his voice hoarser than he expected.
Stiles hummed happily. “Scott said that you were watching me dance.”
“Yeah.” Derek couldn’t find it in himself to deny it, not any more. “You were — you’re beautiful.”
Stiles’ hand fisted in Derek’s damp t-shirt, pulling him closer. Derek’s own hands had wandered somehow, one rucking up the hem of Stiles’ t-shirt to settle on the warm skin underneath while the other found its way to the back of Stiles’ neck, thumb brushing back and forth across the tender skin there. Scent-marking, Derek realized, and the thought of it — of laying claim to Stiles in that way — made something hot and wild rise up in him.
It took hardly any effort at all for him to slide just that fraction closer, the next pass of their hips a slow sweet slide of Stiles’ cock against his, both of them unabashedly hard in their jeans. Derek felt like he should be ashamed but he couldn’t find it in himself to care, too lost in heat and sensation and the thump of Stiles’ heartbeat where they were now pressed together from chest to groin.
Stiles’ lower lip was still glistening from the lip gloss and Derek couldn’t stop himself from leaning forward, tilting his head so that Stiles’ plump lower lip brushed against his own. It could have seemed accidental, but not the second pass, another chaste brushing of both lips this time, or the third, when Stiles finally exhaled against Derek’s mouth and Derek pressed in closer.
The lip gloss was sticky and a bit sweet as Derek ran his tongue over it, testing the plumpness of Stiles’ lower lip with his tongue. Derek wanted to feast on Stiles’ mouth and forced himself to slow down, tamping down hard on the instinct to just take. Instead he teased Stiles with little nips and sucking bites until Stiles let out a shuddery breath of frustration. Only then did Derek deepen the kiss, coaxing Stiles’ mouth open, savoring the first taste of Stiles, that pink tongue of his whiskey-sweet, his mouth just as warm and lush as it always looked.
The rest of the club seemed to disappear, Derek conscious of nothing but Stiles in his arms, the sweetness of the kiss a delicious contrast to the slow, dirty grind of their bodies. Stiles was pushing forward, deepening the kiss with nips and bites of his own, and Derek couldn’t help himself from growling low and rough into Stiles’ mouth as he pressed him back towards the wall.
Stiles’ soft little exhale of excitement spurred him on as he crowded Stiles against the wall with his large body. Stiles seemed to know exactly what Derek wanted, throwing his head back as Derek dragged his open mouth down the line of Stiles’ throat, settling in to suck and lick a mark onto the tender junction of his neck and collarbone. Stiles had lost all pretense of rhythm, now simply squirming under Derek’s hands, one leg coming up to wrap around the back of Derek’s thigh, pulling him even closer.
Derek lifted his head up, dragging in a deep breath. Instead of the scent of Stiles, though, his nose was assaulted with a wave of sickly-sweet perfume, the jasmine-and-citrus scent so familiar it brought a rush of bile to the back of his throat. He froze, trying to clear his head as the onslaught of memories pushed in on him.
“Right there, darling,” a woman’s voice purred at his side, making his skin crawl. He started to pull away but strong hands were drawing him back, a slick mouth covering his own, keeping him from pulling in a breath. He felt a hand move down to skim across his abdomen, making his stomach lurch at the memory of fingernails scraping across that same skin. His body broke out in a cold sweat, his ears ringing in a way that made the sounds of the club seem woolly and distant.
“Stop.” The word left his mouth without his volition, explosive and raspy.
Stiles made a soft, pained noise and Derek blinked, trying to separate the memories from the reality. He realized he had Stiles pinned up against the wall with a hand to his chest, trying to keep him at a distance but pressing much harder than he should. Stiles’ hands were scrabbling at Derek’s forearm, trying to ease some of the pressure, and Derek jerked his arm away in horror. Stiles sagged against the wall, pulling in a sharp, wheezy breath, coughing a little as he exhaled. The couple Derek hadn’t even noticed beside them had stopped their groping and were staring at Derek, eyes wide.
“Derek?” Stiles said. His voice was shaky, the smell of his fear now tainting the air along with the perfume Kate used to wear.
“I’m sorry.” Derek backed away, bumping into someone behind him. He had to ball his hands into fists to prevent his claws from springing free at the unexpected touch. The lights were flashing, his head pounding. Every breath he took in seemed to wind something tighter in his chest, dragging the noxious artificial smoke deeper into his lungs. The music pressed down on him, deafening and disorienting.
“I’m sorry,” Derek said again. “I have to —”
And coward that he was he just fled, pushing his way through the press of people, desperate to reach the open air. He broke free of the front door at a near-run, the mugginess of the night outside hardly helping to clear his lungs. The night was still early and the streets were thick with people, talking and laughing, bumping carelessly into Derek as he set out blindly for home. It wasn’t until he was back inside his apartment, tense and shaking, that he fully realized what he had done.
He had hurt Stiles. Kissed him, and then hurt him, and then left him there. Derek hardly knew which part of that was more difficult to wrap his mind around.
Derek’s phone buzzed in his pocket, making him startle, his heart kicking up another notch. Stiles is Awesome! flashed across the screen, along with Stiles’ familiar off-center selfie. Derek stared at it, heart pounding. He couldn’t even imagine picking up, couldn’t even begin to think what he might say to explain what he had done.
I’m sorry, he texted to Stiles instead.
He turned his phone off and crawled into bed.
I'm sorry too, dear readers! I promise, a lot gets sorted out next chapter. :-)
Chapter 10: Confessions
Derek was unsurprised to hear Stiles’ knock on his door early the next morning.
“We need to talk,” Stiles began without preliminaries as soon as Derek opened the door. “Scott’s sleeping in, can we just go to the coffee shop or something…”
“No —” Derek hurried to clarify as a muscle in Stiles’ jaw twitched with anger. “I mean, no, we don’t need to go anywhere. You can — you can come in.”
Surprise flashed over Stiles’ face. “In — into your place?”
“Yeah.” Derek was glad that Stiles seemed to know enough about wolves to understand how important this was to him, to take the gesture as it was meant. No one but Derek had been in this apartment since Derek had moved in; he even met with Isaac on neutral ground or at Isaac’s place. Allowing Stiles in, letting his scent cloud the apartment — in Derek’s awkward way, he was trying to make a declaration, and Stiles seemed to understand at least some of that.
“Okay,” Stiles said somewhat uncertainly.
“There’s — it’s about the size of your place, but the kitchen’s on the right, and the bathroom’s on the left. And there’s — the bed is by the window. There’s a couch about six feet in front of you, and a coffee table in front of it. The bed is over to the right of that stuff, the dresser against the far wall. There’s a table here by the door with my keys and stuff, but not much else. I don’t have a lot of furniture.”
“Thanks,” Stiles said, his voice carefully neutral now, the expression on his usually-transparent face unreadable. Derek watched as Stiles explored the room a little, mapping out the major furniture before sitting down on the couch.
“Do you — I could make tea or something?”
“I don’t want any damn tea,” Stiles snapped, standing up again almost immediately. “I just — I just want to know where I stand. Can you give me that much?”
“I — I don’t — “ Derek started, but Stiles was already talking over him, ranting half to himself, it seemed, pacing back and forth in front of the sofa.
“ — Because just when I think I know where this is headed, something shifts, and it makes me worry that I’ve — that I’ve misread everything. That it’s just wishful thinking that’s making me think that sometimes you — and I’ve been there before, Derek. I’ve been there way too often. I’ve spent a good part of my life chasing after people who didn’t feel the same way about me that I felt about them, and I’m done with that. So, I just need to know.”
Stiles ran a hand through his hair, pulling in a shaky breath. “Do you just want my friendship?” he asked bluntly. “Because you’ve got that, and that’s where it can stand. But if you want more — and that wasn’t wishful thinking grinding up against me in that club last night, Derek — then you need to come right out and say it, and stop blowing hot and cold, or whatever is going on.”
“I do.” Derek closed his eyes, trying to bolster his courage. “I do want more.”
“Oh.” Stiles seemed taken aback, as if he had braced himself fully for rejection. “Then...first of all, yay!” His voice sounded anything but joyful. “But second of all, what’s the conflict here? Because it’s obvious that you’re fighting something every step of the way, Derek. Is it — is it some sort of wolfy instinct thing?”
Derek felt like he had suddenly lost the thread of the conversation. “Wolfy what?”
“You know.” Stiles gestured sharply in irritation. “If you’re — if you’re trying to spare my feelings about something, just — don’t bother. I’d rather just know than get jerked around, and if you’re fighting this because you want someone who can push out some wolfy pups for you, or someone who, you know —”
“What?” Derek’s brain seemed to be lagging, trying to keep up with the leaps in Stiles’ logic.
Stiles suddenly sank down on the sofa, biting his lip. “I mean, I’m not stupid. Someone like me would last all of five seconds in the whole ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ scenario. I can understand if you’re having trouble with the idea of choosing a — “ Stiles seemed to falter, but Derek heard the unspoken word clearly nonetheless. A mate. Stiles pulled in a deep breath, starting again. “If me being blind is the problem, if your wolf sees that as damaged, or whatever —”
And Derek couldn’t bear to hear another word. “Fuck, Stiles. No! I mean, just — all of these things that you’re thinking. They’re all wrong.” He moved closer, sitting beside Stiles despite the jangling tension that told him he would rather be pacing. “It’s not — I want you, all of you, exactly as you are. But, it’s not easy for me. I —”
He scrambled for a way to explain, a place to start. As much as his thoughts had spun last night, realizing that he would have to explain to Stiles somehow, now that the moment was here the words jammed up in his chest. His throat closed in panic, until all that escaped him was a low whine.
“Woah!” There was nothing in Stiles’ face but concern now. “Take it easy, big guy. It’s okay. Just...just breathe for a second.”
Derek almost sobbed in relief, pulling in a shuddering breath.
“That’s it,” Stiles said, his hand finding Derek’s, rubbing slow circles in the palm of it. Derek closed his eyes, focusing on his breathing — on Stiles warm and near him, his gentle touch. He felt some of the panic easing, his heartbeat steadying as they breathed in and out in silence.
“You okay?” Stiles asked.
Derek nodded, and then foolishly realized that Stiles couldn’t see it. “Yeah,” he said, his voice still rough and unsteady. “I want to tell you. I do. I just —” he pulled in another deep breath, trying to ease the constriction in his chest.
“Would you — do you want to text me instead?” Stiles suddenly asked.
Derek’s hand instinctively tightened on Stiles’ fingers. “Are you — are you leaving?”
“No, man. Of course not.” Stiles squeezed Derek’s hand back. “I just thought — sometimes it seems easier for you, you know? I’ll stay right here. You can tell me, when you’re ready, or if you want, you can — you know, write it instead.”
Derek considered the idea. It seemed like another act of cowardice, but Stiles had offered so easily, he didn’t seem to mind at all. And he was right, Derek did usually find it easier to text back and forth with Stiles, never as stuck for words or conscious of his awkward pauses as he was when they were in person.
Derek pulled his phone from his pocket, only now remembering that he had turned it completely off last night. It chimed as he turned it on, and then buzzed as a string of texts came through.
Are you okay?
Please, just let me know that you’re okay.
Just let me know that you got home all right.
Derek stared at the texts, a lump rising in his throat. While he had been worried all night about how he had treated Stiles — how he would explain it to Stiles — Stiles had been worried about him.
“I’m sorry,” Derek said, the words seeming almost meaningless with as often as he had said them since last night. “I turned my phone off.”
“So I gathered.” Stiles said. His hand was on Derek’s thigh now, and he gave it an encouraging squeeze.
Derek stared down at the virtual keyboard of his phone, trying to figure out where to begin.
I’ve only slept with one person, a long time ago, Derek texted. And it was bad. He looked at the text for awhile, pressure rising up in his chest again. It seemed like such a stupid understatement, but he didn’t know how else to start. He hit the send button before he could think about it any more.
Derek felt the buzz as Jarvis signaled the incoming text. Stiles had already set up the headphones, putting only one earbud in his ear. Even though the volume was set low, Derek could still hear Jarvis’ precise voice repeating his words, his intonation neutral. It helped somehow, gave Derek a little distance from what he was saying.
Stiles remained quiet for awhile after listening to the text, his hand rubbing almost absent-mindedly over Derek’s thigh. “How bad?” he finally asked softly.
Derek took a deep breath, his thumbs shaking as he typed out the next text. He knew how intuitive Stiles was, knew how quickly he would put it together.
She was a hunter.
Stiles drew in a sharp breath, his hand instinctively clenching where it rested on Derek’s thigh.
“How long ago?” he asked, but something in his voice told Derek he already knew.
I was 15, Derek texted.
Stiles nodded once sharply, as if solidifying the information in his own mind. Derek could see his jaw clenching and releasing, as if he were fighting back anger, or possibly just more questions. Finally Stiles took a deep breath, and let it out, forcing some of the tension from his body. He tentatively reached out, placing his hand on Derek’s chest, before slowly curling in closer against him. “Is — is this okay?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Derek’s voice was still hoarse and shaky, but something in his chest seemed to loosen as he pulled Stiles closer. Stiles nestled into the curve of Derek’s body, resting his head on Derek’s chest. Derek tangled a hand in Stiles’ hair, nuzzling his nose into the top of Stiles’ head, just breathing him in for awhile in relief. Stiles’ familiar heartbeat thumped against Derek’s ribs, helping to settle his jangling nerves.
“There’s been no one since then?” Stiles finally asked. “No one-night stands, or — or hook-ups?”
Derek shook his head, knowing Stiles could feel it. He could feel the bolt of shock running through Stiles, could practically follow his thoughts as he calculated just how many years it had been.
Derek thought about texting again, but gathered his thoughts to speak instead. “We were grieving, and on the run for a long time. And then, remembering how it was with —” The name stuck in his throat for a minute, but then he forced it out. “With Kate, and what she did after — the thought of it just made me feel guilty, and sick. And then — after awhile, it had been so long it was just easier to not even consider it. The people who — who wanted me that way weren’t people I wanted back anyway.”
Derek could feel Stiles breathing a little too rapidly, his breath huffing warm against Derek’s shirt. “I’m sorry I pushed you,” Stiles suddenly said in a rush. “I figured — everyone says that you’re so hot, and I just assumed that — that you were hooking up with people all the time, even if I kinda knew that you didn’t do relationships much.”
“You didn’t — “ Derek hesitated for moment, wanting desperately to get the words right. “I mean — I needed a push, because I didn’t — I wasn’t sure that you wanted that. But you didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want. I’ve wanted you for awhile now.”
“Yeah?” Derek felt Stiles smile against his chest. “Me too.” It shouldn’t be such a big deal, just acknowledging it, but somehow it was. Derek felt another bit of tension leave him, knowing that he was allowed to feel that way, that Stiles wasn’t creeped out by his attraction.
“It’s good,” Stiles seemed to be echoing Derek’s thoughts out loud. “It’s good that we both feel that way.” He tangled his fingers in Derek’s again, giving them a squeeze. “But we don’t have to act on it, if you don’t feel comfortable. I mean, there are people who stick to the — to the cuddles and stuff, and, um —” Stiles was starting to blush “ — don’t do, you know, the more. Um. Sexual stuff.”
“No!” Derek’s voice was overly loud, making them both flinch, but he couldn’t help himself. All the things he wanted to do — to taste Stiles’ skin and touch him all over and hear those incredible little noises he made in person instead of through the wall — the idea of losing all that now that he just found out he could have it was making him panic a little.
“I mean,” he stumbled to clarify, “I want that — that other stuff too. I just — something about last night. The smell of perfume and where you were touching me and that woman said — she said something that Kate used to say, and that’s — that’s why. I. I’m sorry,” he finished awkwardly. “I didn’t know that was going to happen, but I shouldn’t have left, and especially I shouldn’t have left you there without getting you back to Scott. I just — I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“Hey.” Stiles had both arms wrapped around Derek now, squeezing him tight. It should have made Derek feel claustrophobic, trapped, but instead it just made him feel...safe. Grounded. “I understand. It was the wrong way for us to get started, maybe. And I —” He pushed his face a little more firmly into Derek’s chest. “I’m maybe not as experienced as I pretend to be. I mean, I dated some in college, but it never lasted more than a few dates with the same guy. So I’ve mostly done, um, just hand jobs, and the one time I tried to give a blow job the guy held my hair too tight and I freaked out a little and had to stop, and —”
“Stiles,” Derek interrupted. “Breathe.”
Stiles pulled in a deep breath. “Yeah. Okay.” He laughed a little into Derek’s chest. “I’m just saying — I don’t mind taking it slow. And if there’s anything you don’t like, or anything you don’t want to do, just tell me.”
“That sounds good.” And it really, really did. Looking back with the experience of age, it was so easy to see how coercive his relationship with Kate had been. If he tried to slow her down she would tell him not to be such a baby, tell him that she’d make him feel good. And afterwards he would keep telling himself that it had felt good, physically, even if something about it had felt wrong. That it was sexy that she wanted him so badly that she couldn’t wait for him to catch up.
“You too,” Derek made sure to say, pushing away the memories. “We can both do that.”
“Yeah.” It seemed impossible for Stiles to get closer but somehow he managed, breathing out a deep sigh and letting his body go boneless against Derek’s. “I’m wiped out,” he said with a yawn. “I couldn’t sleep at all last night.”
“Me too,” Derek admitted. “Do you — will you stay here awhile longer? We could just watch t.v., and you can nap if you want to.”
“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. “I want to do that. Can we lie down? Not on the bed, I mean, just here.”
“Yeah.” Derek took in another breath, pushing himself to say more. “I really liked...when we did that before.”
Stiles’ smile was worth the effort, warm and bright. “Me too. For someone who is basically, like, a wall of muscle, you’re surprisingly comfy.”
It took a little while to get situated, Derek lying back and Stiles wiggling a little on top of him until he was curled up against Derek’s side, his head nestled on Derek’s shoulder, one leg thrown across Derek’s thigh. Stiles wound his arm around Derek’s waist, his hand sneaking in between the couch and Derek’s back, rucking up Derek’s shirt a little so he could place his palm flat against Derek’s skin. “This okay?” Stiles asked, sounding half asleep already.
“Yeah.” Derek pulled his own arm tighter around Stiles, sneaking his own hand under the hem of Stiles’ shirt so he could feel his skin in return. “S’good.” And it was even more amazing than Derek had remembered — the heavy, warm weight of Stiles on top of him, but this time without any doubts or confusion about what it might mean.
It was arousing to have Stiles this close, but it was a pleasant, low-level hum. Not the overwhelming tidal wave from last night, but rather a steady undercurrent, overlaid by the rush of comfort and affection Derek felt with Stiles’ weight in his arms, surrounded by Stiles’ scent. Knowing that Stiles wanted him, and was willing to be patient with him. Derek felt almost certain that he was going to fuck this up somehow, that there was no way it could be this easy, but he pushed the thoughts aside as best as he could, focusing on Stiles’ steady breathing and the thump of his heart as he drifted into sleep.
Chapter 11: Skin
Derek slowly surfaced from sleep, trying to cling to the last vestiges of his dream. It was something about Stiles, he was smiling, and —
Derek drew in a deep breath and immediately the heady scent of Stiles filled his lungs. His eyes sprang open, his brain belatedly processing the soft weight of Stiles across his chest, the warm line of their bodies pressed together along the length of the sofa.
Stiles was stirring awake too, nuzzling his cheek against Derek’s chest, mumbling something incoherent. Derek watched as those dark eyelashes — still a little smudged with the last remnants of eyeliner from last night — fluttered open. Stiles yawned enormously, stretching against Derek’s body, reigniting the low thrum of arousal in Derek’s belly.
“Hey,” Derek said, his voice scratchy.
“Hey there yourself,” Stiles mumbled, still nuzzling in against Derek’s chest. He seemed in no hurry to move, his hand starting to wander instead, drifting over the planes and dips of Derek’s chest over his t-shirt. “This okay?” Stiles asked.
“Yeah.” Derek laid his own hand on Stiles’ upper back, feeling the flex of those strong muscles under his palm as Stiles explored. He had been trying to hide his fascination with Stiles’ hands since he met him. Now he not only had permission to look his fill, but to watch those hands drift over his own body — elegant fingers pressing and testing, mapping the geography of Derek’s torso.
“So this is the result of all those workouts,” Stiles grinned sleepily. “Can’t say I object.”
“Me either,” Derek rumbled, low and satisfied, his own hand tracing the breadth of Stiles’ wide, strong shoulders. “Maybe I should take up swimming too.”
Stiles snorted a laugh into Derek’s neck, his upturned nose brushing across Derek’s stubble. “Sure, make me imagine you in a Speedo. Are you trying to kill me here?”
Derek smiled. “No. Definitely not.” Stiles was pressed against Derek’s side, leaned up on one elbow, and it took only a slight tightening of Derek’s arm to tumble Stiles more fully on top of him, settling his hips between Derek’s thighs, chest pressed against his.
“Hmmm…” Stiles hummed happily at this development, hand tracing up Derek’s neck now, thumb grazing his cheek, feeling Derek’s smile. “Can I —” Stiles said, halting the movement of his hand.
It took a moment for Derek to understand. “Of course,” he said, taking Stiles’ fingers in his, laying them fully against his cheek.
Stiles smiled widely, closing his eyes as he hitched himself a little higher against Derek’s body. His fingertips brushed delicately over Derek’s stubble, testing the texture, before outlining his mouth. Derek nipped teasingly at the fingertips, making Stiles laugh, but Stiles quickly sobered again, his brow furrowing slightly in concentration as he drifted his fingertips over the bridge of Derek’s nose, the breadth of his forehead, the crest of his cheekbones.
“Eyebrows,” he muttered, seemingly to himself, brushing a thumb over Derek’s thick brows and then laughing again as Derek furrowed them in pretend anger. “Glare!” Stiles said with delight. “Now I can get the full effect.”
Derek took Stiles’ wandering hand in his, tracing the fingertips back down his cheek to his lips, kissing each one deliberately. “You’re ridiculous,” he said.
Stiles smiled even wider. “You don’t mind,” he asserted confidently, and he was still smiling as he leaned in, lips brushing Derek’s gently before he deepened the kiss.
This kiss was softer, slow and sweet, drizzling pleasure through Derek’s veins until his blood ran honey-thick with it. Stiles’ mouth was lush and wet, tasting faintly of sugary coffee, and in contrast to his usual frenetic energy his kiss was lazy, unhurried. He licked his way languidly into Derek’s mouth with a soft, happy exhalation, and then proceeded to explore, alternating indulgent swipes of his tongue with little nips and bites, sucking on Derek’s tongue in return, learning and cataloging what they both liked.
Stiles was devastating Derek, making him feel like he was slowly coming unspooled — not just by Stiles’ kisses but by his undivided attention, the heady certainty that Stiles was focused intently on learning what pleased Derek instead of pleasing himself. They kissed and kissed, Derek’s hands sliding to Stiles’ hips, unconsciously shifting him against his body in time with the movement of their tongues. They barely stopped to take in shuddery breaths, kissing and moving together until Derek’s world started going golden and shimmery at the edges.
Derek had no warning, his fangs suddenly extending, scraping Stiles’ tongue as Derek jerked back in horror.
“I’m sorry,” Derek mumbled awkwardly, voice thick around the lengthened teeth as he pushed himself up to sitting.
“Whoa.” And Christ, but Stiles looked delighted. “Did I just like...make you drop fang? Because I’ve gotta say, that’s hot as fuck.”
“What?” Derek blinked. “Really?”
“Hell yeah.” Stiles prowled his way up Derek’s body until he was straddling him, sitting firmly in his lap. He smirked, reaching out, tracing fingertips over Derek’s mouth. His thumb pressed gently at the seam of Derek’s lips and Derek couldn’t think of denying him, opening his mouth and letting Stiles’ thumb inside, licking gently at the salty pad of his finger as Stiles traced over Derek’s sharpened cuspid teeth.
“Can I — can I feel your shift?” Stiles was stirring his hips now on Derek’s lap, seemingly unconsciously, as Derek sucked his thumb deeper into his mouth.
The friction made Derek gasp, letting go of Stiles’ thumb to pull in air through a suddenly dry throat. “You — you’d want to?”
“‘Course.” Stiles was running his hands over Derek’s face again, tracing his fingertips across his brow, his ears — all the places that would change with the shift. “It’s part of you. I wanna know everything.”
Derek couldn’t contain the growl that rumbled up from his chest, his wolf preening under Stiles’ unconditional acceptance. He let the shift come over him, Stiles’ delicious scent intensified beyond belief as he drew it in through his flattened nasal bridge, careful to keep his clawed fingers extended away from Stiles’ delicate skin. He scented carefully for any sign of fear, but all he smelled was a deepening of Stiles’ already rich cinnamon-arousal scent.
Stiles traced his fingers again, over Derek’s mouth, his pointed ears, his brow. “That’s a lotta eyebrow to disappear,” he smirked, before scratching his fingers down the heavy sideburns. Derek couldn’t help leaning into Stiles’ touch, a soft noise escaping him. “This is very Wolverine,” Stiles commented, smiling widely. “I dig it.”
Derek buried his laugh in Stiles’ neck, wallowing in his scent, the thick fragrance of Stiles’ arousal making him salivate. “How can you — “ The words degenerated into an inarticulate growl as Stiles bucked down, grinding into Derek’s lap.
Stiles leaned in, nipping at the exquisitely sensitive tip of Derek’s pointed ear, making him shiver. “Easy,” he mumbled.
And it was — it all seemed so easy with Stiles. Derek mouthed at Stiles’ neck, breathing in his fragrant scent, tasting his salty-sweet skin. Any sane human would be terrified by the laving of his roughened tongue, the scrape of his fangs, but Stiles just wound his hand in Derek’s hair, pushing his face in closer. “Fuck — yeah,” he breathed. He canted his hips, pressing the rigid length of his cock just right against Derek’s, before starting a slow, purposeful grind, the muscles of his thighs flexing under Derek’s palms.
The words, the friction, the smell and taste of Stiles — it was as if all the lust Derek had been repressing was suddenly breaking free, rising up hot and dark and needy, making him buck up to Stiles in return with frantic hitches of his hips. Stiles had found a faster rhythm, unashamedly rutting against Derek, the drag of their cocks together through too many layers of clothes feeling too rough and too dry and yet somehow just perfect.
Derek gritted his teeth, fangs piercing his lower lip, a low and constant growl rumbling in his chest in counterpoint to the soft little grunts and exhalations Stiles was making. He could feel the heat rising up in Stiles’ body, could smell the change in his scent as he tipped closer to orgasm. He fucked up hard against Stiles’ body as if he could claim him right through their clothes, his hands on Stiles’ hips pressing him down until the fingers wound in Derek’s hair suddenly clenched tighter.
“Derek,” Stiles ground out, the flush rising in his cheeks, his mouth falling open as he shuddered out his orgasm against Derek’s body. Derek snarled in satisfaction, pressing his face back into Stiles’ neck, wild with the scent of Stiles’ skin and the rich loamy smell of his come. He strained against Stiles’ suddenly pliant body, humping and writhing roughly, until the molten wave of pleasure rolling up his spine crested and he spilled between them in deep, shivering pulses. The scent of his release mixed with Stiles’ was intoxicating, dragging out his orgasm seemingly endlessly, leaving him still churning his hips shallowly against Stiles as the aftershocks stuttered through him.
Derek collapsed back against the sofa, dazed and sated, heart still thundering as Stiles panted out open-mouth breaths against his chest. Slowly Derek drew the wolf back under his skin, mourning briefly the loss of the intensified scents but consoling himself with the ability to touch freely, his palms seeking out the warm, sweat-damp skin of Stiles’ back under his shirt.
“Soooo...” Stiles was still catching his breath, but of course that wouldn’t stop him from talking, Derek thought fondly. “That was maybe a little less slow than we had planned.”
Derek’s brain felt offline, too blissed-out to generate words. “I didn’t mind,” he managed.
He could feel Stiles’ mouth curve against the muscles of his chest. “Good to know.”
Stiles fidgeted a little, settling himself more comfortably on top of Derek, his thigh scraping over Derek’s groin and making his cock twitch, shocky and oversensitive in his come-slick boxers. Derek rumbled low, a firm hand on the nape of Stiles’ neck and another on his hip holding Stiles still, his wolf howling in triumph as Stiles immediately yielded to his hold, his body going loose and malleable.
“Fuuuuck,” Stiles slurred out, nosing into Derek’s chest. “I think I’m discovering kinks I didn’t know I had.”
Derek’s fingers tightened even more in instinctive response to Stiles’ words, making Stiles hiss. Derek loosened his grasp immediately.
“I hurt you.” Dread curled through Derek’s gut as his thumb pulled down on the waistband of Stiles’ jeans at his hip, exposing the pink marks from Derek’s fingers that Derek knew would be bruising blue in a few hours.
“Relax.” Stiles dragged a hand through Derek’s hair, fingernails scraping at his skull soothingly. “S’a good kinda hurt,” he yawned, the fingers of his other hand covering Derek’s, pressing them against the incipient bruise with a little satisfied exhalation.
Derek’s mind was still uneasy. “It’s not just this. Last night — “ He craned his head up again, pulling gently at the hem of Stiles’ t-shirt. Stiles let him, flopping back with a resigned sigh as Derek rucked the t-shirt up to Stiles’ armpits. There was a dark mark across Stiles’ pale chest, a bluish shadow in the indistinct form of Derek’s palm. Derek made a low noise of distress when he saw it.
“Derek — ” Stiles started impatiently.
Derek nosed apologetically at the bruise, his hand moving to Stiles’ ribs to instinctively leech his pain.
“Whoa!” Stiles’ fingers were on Derek’s forearm, feeling the raised veins. “Enough with the pain-drain, mister, I’m loopy enough as it is.”
“Sorry,” Derek muttered again, miserably.
“Just —” Stiles’ voice was edged with irritation. “Stop apologizing.” He pushed on Derek, manhandling him back to lie down, plopping himself forcefully on top of him in a way that must have made his bruised ribs ache. “Derek, I grew up an honorary member of the Ito pack. I’ve run with wolves since I was five. Yeah, I bruise like a peach, but it doesn’t bother me. I’m not gonna break.”
He pulled in a deep breath, his voice gentling. “Being blind — so many people treat me like glass. Like they have to be super careful with me, or super nice to me to make up for my shit circumstances. One of the things I like most about you is that you don’t do that. You’re just as grumpy and weird with me as you are with anyone, and it’s awesome. So — so don’t start now. Just lie back and let me get all up on this hotness and — and just let me enjoy my post-orgasm buzz, you big jerk.”
“Okay.” Derek found himself strangely comforted by Stiles’ abrasive tone. “S—”
“Don’t you dare say it,” Stiles warned, but Derek could hear the smile in his voice.
“S — shut up,” Derek altered course to say instead.
“That’s more like it.” Stiles’ voice was warm with satisfaction, making the last of Derek’s tension seep away. Derek lay back, allowing himself to just enjoy the moment — the feel of Stiles against him, the smell of them both. Derek’s apartment would smell like Stiles and sex for weeks, and as much as it would drive Derek crazy he was also reveling in it.
He let his mind drift, still trying to process the events of the last few hours. It felt surreal, how quickly it had all happened, his creepy one-way fixation with Stiles now becoming something attainable. Real. And how determined Stiles seemed to make this work, despite all of Derek’s idiotic missteps and overreactions.
“I — I’m just not used to being out of control,” Derek found himself saying.
“Mmmmm. No kidding, Mr. No-Caffeine No-Fun 500-Pushups-A-Day Hale,” Stiles snarked. He seemed to sober then, the smirk melting off his face as he seemed to grow contemplative, his fingers tracing absently over the bumps of Derek’s ribs. “You said — at the club, you said that it was worse since you became an alpha. Is that part of it? Is this — more overwhelming, now?”
Derek shrugged. “I dunno. Can’t really compare. Not sure if it’s being alpha, or if it’s something about you that makes it hard to keep control. But —” The very thought of it made his throat tighten again. “I don’t want to mess up.”
“You won’t.” Stiles’ brow furrowed at that. “I mean, you will,” he amended. “We both will. But we’ll figure it out.”
He made it sound so easy, his voice still slow and relaxed, his heart thumping steadily with no sign of a lie.
Derek let that sink in, drifting in thought for a while. This time it was Stiles who interrupted his reverie.
“You’re gonna tell me, right? I mean, not now, but some day. What happened to Laura, and how you became alpha?”
Derek could feel himself start to tense again, the memories he had pushed deep clamoring at the back of his mind. “Some day,” he rasped, through a dry throat.
“Okay.” Stiles’ voice was knowing and soft, his hand tracing soothing circles on Derek’s skin until the memories subsided again. Apparently Stiles only had so much stillness in him, though, and before long he started shifting around again, opening his mouth before shutting it again.
“Just go ahead and ask,” Derek muttered, resigned.
“Did you really not know I was interested?” The question popped out explosively, as if Stiles had been holding it back for too long. “I mean, you’re making me question my game, man. I asked you to get physical with me. I snuggled with you. I figured that was pretty damn blatant.”
Derek shrugged again. “I couldn’t tell if that was just you being — you. Joking around.” He stopped, considering. “Maybe I was a little scared,” he admitted, only realizing the full truth of it as he said the words. “Of getting it wrong, and screwing everything up. I like — I like being with you. And even Scott, and Isaac, and Erica and Boyd, and — and everyone.”
“Hey.” Stiles pushed up to his elbow, his eyes crinkled with concern. “You know that those guys are your friends too. Even if this doesn’t work out — you’re not gonna lose them, or me, in your life. I’m not gonna let you be alone again.”
Derek had to close his eyes against the flood of feelings. He had felt so alone, for so long. Even with Laura, for all that they were a pack of two, the secrets he held had created distance between them. The idea that it didn’t have to be that way — that Stiles could be as generous with his friends as he was with every other part of him — it made something in Derek feel like he was cracking open, warmth flooding in where only coldness used to be.
“We can keep this quiet, though, if you want,” Stiles continued, seemingly unaware of what he was doing to Derek. “I mean, Isaac will probably smell it on us, but we don’t need to make a big deal of it if that takes some of the pressure off.” Stiles snickered. “I’ll just have to wait for Scott to leave before I head back my place in these sticky pants. At least it’s the shortest Walk of Shame possible.”
“He left a little while back. Allison’s dad left for an overnight trip, so she called him over.” Derek said absently, mind still trying to decipher the meaning of the rest of it. Did Stiles want to keep this quiet, in case he changed his mind?
“Wow. You really can hear everything in our place, huh?”
“Uh.” Derek froze, reluctant to admit the extent of his eavesdropping.
Stiles was blushing just a little, but the look on his face was frankly speculative. He sat up, pulling the crotch of his jeans away from his skin with a grimace. “I’m gonna go take a shower, get some things done. You gonna be around later?”
“Yeah.” Derek sat up, feeling sticky himself but reluctant to let Stiles go.
“Good.” Stiles fumbled around until he found his cane, smiling to himself. “I’ll call you, then.”
“Call me?” Did that mean Stiles didn’t want to see Derek again tonight? “Why?”
Stiles’ smile widened dangerously. “You’ll see.” He found his way to the door unerringly, Derek still staring after him. “Later, Sourwolf.”
The door clicked shut behind him, leaving Derek wondering as he heard Stiles enter his own apartment. He listened to the rustle as Stiles stripped out of his clothes, the rush of the shower, and then Stiles’ playlist started, Nicki Minaj blasting through the wall. “Boy toy named DEREK used to live in Detroit…” Stiles sang loudly, making Derek snort and shake his head as he got up to shower himself.
Chapter 12: Plans
Derek tried to go about his usual Saturday — working out, dropping his clothes at the dry cleaner’s, grocery shopping. In the back of his mind, however, he couldn’t help replaying Stiles’ words. I’ll call you, he had said. Not that he would come to Derek’s place, or even stop by to see him. Had Derek messed something up already? But Stiles hadn’t seemed mad.
He was back in his apartment by dinner time, half wondering if Stiles was going to invite him to dinner. But, no, Derek couldn’t help overhearing Stiles microwaving his own dinner, and then the low murmur of his voice and the tapping of his Braille display as he wrote for awhile. At one point he thought he heard Stiles coming to his door, but he didn’t knock — turning back to return to his apartment almost immediately, as if he had changed his mind. Shortly after that Derek heard Stiles getting ready for bed and he really started to worry, wondering what he could have done to drive Stiles away so quickly.
The buzz of his phone startled him, Stiles is Awesome! flashing across the screen.
He rushed to swipe the phone on with a sweaty thumb. “Stiles?”
“Hey there, Sourwolf!” Stiles sounded happy and relaxed, and Derek took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.
“Stiles, why — why are you calling?”
“So.” Stiles’ shaky breath seemed to indicate that he was a little more nervous than he had seemed at first. “I had an idea. I was thinking that the problem with going slow, is that when faced with your voice, and your body, and well, your everything, it’s a little hard to slow things down. So I thought that maybe tonight we could do this instead. Kind of like a trial run.”
“Seriously? Get with the program, Sourwolf. And check your door, I left you a present.”
Derek went to his door obediently, opening it. Something was hanging from the doorknob. Derek pulled it off, bringing it inside and closing the door. It was the t-shirt Stiles had been wearing earlier, still smelling strongly of Stiles and Derek, and more faintly of sex.
“I figured it might help. You know, with your wolfy senses, if, um, auditory stimulation alone wasn’t enough.”
Derek held the shirt up to his face, inhaling deeply, letting the scent soothe him. He was starting to figure out Stiles’ plan. “Phone sex?” he said, doubtfully. “Stiles, I’m not — I’m not so good at talking.”
“I figured I’d do most of the talking,” Stiles said easily. “You don’t have to say anything, if you don’t want to. And you don’t have to. Um. Join in, unless you want to.”
Derek sat down heavily on the bed. “I thought — I thought something was wrong,” he admitted softly. “When you said you were going to call instead of come over.”
“Oh, shit.” Derek could hear the squeak of the bed as Stiles sat up. “I didn’t even think of that. Shit, Derek, I’m sorry. Do you want me to come over? We can forget this plan, maybe it was a stupid idea anyway —”
“No.” Derek lay back, trying to let the last of the anxiety go. “It’s okay. It — it could be good.”
“Damn.” Stiles sounded miserable now. “I was trying to — and this was the opposite of sexy, making you worry like that. I just — when I realized you could hear everything in our apartment, and that Scott was going to be gone, I just thought that — I mean, you must have heard me before, so I thought it could be a little more mutual this time.”
“Oh.” Derek pulled the shirt up to his face again, nuzzling into it. “The shirt smells nice.”
“Yeah?” Derek heard Stiles lie back again with another creak of the bed and the rattle of the headboard against the far wall. “What does it smell like?”
“Good. Like us. And —”
“And?” Stiles prompted when Derek didn’t say anything more.
“Rich. Musky. Like want.”
“Yeah.” Stiles’ voice was slowing down, and Derek tried to imagine how he looked. Maybe that pink flush was rising up his chest to his cheeks, his eyes starting to grow heavy-lidded with arousal. “That does sound nice,” Stiles said dreamily. He pulled in a deep breath. “I was right, wasn’t I? About you being able to hear me in here? You know. When I get myself off.”
Derek stretched out on the bed a little, putting the phone on speaker and closing his eyes. “Yeah.”
“Did you like it? How I sounded, I mean.”
“Yeah.” Derek nuzzled into the shirt again, the scent of it making him feel loose and relaxed now, half-drunk on the mingled smells. “I tried not to listen, but I couldn’t help it. Stiles — the noises you make. It drives me crazy.”
“Yeah?” Stiles’ voice was a slow drawl, the hitch in his breath a clear sign that he was stroking himself now. “Did you ever — y’know, touch yourself while you were listening?”
“No.” Derek sighed. “It seemed wrong. Creepy.”
“But you wanted to,” Stiles said, confidently. “It made you hot — made you hard — listening to me, right?”
The low noise Derek made could be nothing but affirmation.
“And how about now? I know you can hear what I’m doing, Derek. I want you to listen.”
Derek’s hand toyed uncertainly with the button of his waistband. He didn’t really do this. Usually he just masturbated in the shower, quick and efficient, trying not to think about anything in particular for fear that his thoughts would involuntarily stray towards Kate, leaving him feeling sick and frustrated. What Stiles was proposing seemed daring, somehow. Indulgent. But with Stiles talking to him, he was sure that he wouldn’t be thinking of anyone else.
“Talk to me,” Derek said, still indecisive.
“Yeah.” He could hear it clearly, the drag of Stiles’ fingertips over his soft skin. “Did you know that most of the time, when I was doing this, I was thinking about you?”
That sent a jolt of possessive pleasure down Derek’s spine. “Really?”
“Uh huh.” He could hear the rasp of Stiles’ tongue over his lips, and he imagined it — Stiles’ lips wet and shiny now as he laid in his bed, fisting his cock slowly as he spoke to Derek. “Wondered what kinds of things you liked. If you were noisy, or quiet. Imagined what it would be like to — unh — to touch you. Imagined you touching me —”
“Yeah?” Derek had been slowly palming his cock through his jeans almost unconsciously, and now he pulled his shirt off and then unzipped them, pushing his boxers and jeans all the way off.
“Heeeey,” Stiles purred. “That’s what I like to hear. You naked now?”
“Uh huh.” Derek wrapped his hand around his cock, imagining Stiles’ long fingers.
“Christ, I bet you have a pretty cock. Are you cut?”
Derek teased himself a little with his foreskin, enjoying the already-slick slide of it. He circled his thumb where he was most sensitive, imagining Stiles’ pale, clever hands on him. “Uh uh. Wolves don’t usually do that, I don’t think.”
“Mmmm.” Stiles’ low hum sounded greedy. Wanting. “I didn’t know that.”
“Have you — “ It was something Derek had been wanting to ask, the thought lurking in his mind with how familiar Stiles seemed to be with wolves, how unfazed he was by Derek’s shift. “Have you ever been with a wolf?”
“Nah.” Derek heard the click of the lube cap, Stiles’ movements sounding slicker. “Woulda been weird. The Ito pack — they were all like cousins to me.”
“Good.” Derek couldn’t keep the satisfaction out of his voice.
“You like that, huh?” Stiles’ voice was throatier now, deeper. “You wanna be my first, Derek? I’m no blushing maiden, but I got some firsts left for you.”
Derek’s low growl was answer enough. He was stroking himself firmly now, imagining all the ways he could have Stiles that nobody else had ever had. And all the ways that Stiles could have him.
“Tell me. What else do you want?” Stiles asked.
Derek clenched his teeth to keep his fangs in, tilting his head toward the t-shirt that still lay on his pillow, breathing it in. “Want you in my bed. Want to make you smell like me. Like you’re mine.”
“Fuuck,” Stiles sighed. “We can do that. That is something we can definitely do.”
Derek closed his eyes at the thought of it — Stiles splayed out on his sheets, inundated with his scent. “How did you imagine it? Me touching you, I mean,” he murmured.
“Every. Way. Possible.” Stiles pulled in another shuddering breath. “Your hand on my cock, just like — like this. Jerking me slow and easy. Maybe kissing me while you did it, or — or licking at my nipples. They’re really sensitive, I bet you could make me come like that in no time. I imagined your beard, scraping my skin. It feels even better than I imagined, so soft — I wanna feel it everywhere now.”
Derek licked his palm and tightened his grip, envisioning it. Remembering the few glimpses he had caught of Stiles’ chest, pale but strong, dotted with moles. He imagined rubbing his cheek into that soft skin, marking it —
A low growl escaped him, making Stiles punch out a groan in response. “Fuck, but that’s sexy, when you get all growly,” Stiles breathed. “Christ — I wonder — unh — I wonder what that would feel like, if you had me in your mouth when you did that. I think about that too. You sucking me, or — or me sucking you.”
Derek could feel his whole body getting flushed and hot, sweat starting to gather at the small of his back. “I thought — I thought you didn’t like that.“
“I — “ Derek could hear Stiles’ movements falter. “That guy was a jerk. He kept pushing my head down, making it hard for me to breathe. Felt too much like a panic attack. You — it’d be different with you. I trust you. And I wanna try it with you.”
I trust you. The words seemed to arc a circuit between Derek’s chest and his cock, affection and lust, inextricable when thinking of Stiles.
“I bet you’d feel so good in my mouth.” Stiles seemed to be almost talking to himself now, lost in his erotic ramblings. “Wanna hear what I can do to you, make you growl, make you beg. Taste you on my tongue —”
Fuck, just the thought of it was making Derek crazy, his hips rolling up hard now, imagining the wet heat around his cock was Stiles’ mouth. “Your mouth,” he found himself grating out. “It’s so fucking beautiful.”
“Yeah?” Derek could tell Stiles was getting close, his breath coming in rough pants. “You wanna see it wrapped around your cock?”
“Fucking hell, Stiles!” Derek was so close at just the thought of it, Stiles’ mole-dotted cheeks hollowing as he sucked, those dark eyelashes pale against his skin, that lush mouth stuffed with Derek’s cock —
“That’s it, Der. Just like that. Wanna hear it, wanna hear you come, come for me, you sound so good when you come —”
Derek couldn’t hold back any longer. He felt his spine arcing up off the bed as he pumped frantically into his own hand, imagining Stiles’ scent, Stiles’ skin, Stiles’ mouth and fingers and clever pink tongue and —
It felt almost excruciatingly good for a long, attenuated moment — Derek’s teeth gritted, his vision hazing red, his belly clenched with pleasure. Then something snapped and Derek was coming hard, a low roar rasping his throat as the orgasm scorched through him with blinding intensity. He was only dimly aware of the thick spatter of come against his own chest, of the sound of Stiles coming on the other end of the line with a shuddering gasp. He humped up into his own fist as wave after wave of pleasure washed over him, before falling limp and sated back on the bed.
“Holy fuck,” Stiles was panting, his voice sounding heavy and slurred. “If it’s that good when we’re not even in the same room…”
Derek grunted his agreement. He pulled Stiles’ t-shirt to him once again, nuzzling into it, imagining Stiles’ warmth next to him instead of a room away.
“So...good idea?” Stiles asked breathily.
“Yeah.” He could hear Stiles on the other end of the line, getting up, wetting a washcloth. Derek knew he should do the same, but he felt too comfortable, warm and loose.
“Christ, I made a mess of myself,” Stiles muttered, before settling back into bed with a sigh. They both just breathed in silence for awhile, neither one of them seemingly willing to break the connection.
“So, I think I figured out some stuff that you like,” Stiles began, sounding amused. “But — “ His voice turned serious now. “How about the stuff that you don’t like? Or — was it something I did, that set you off in the club?”
Derek considered the question, the pleasant hum of his post-orgasm buzz keeping him from getting too upset thinking about it. “The club was mostly her perfume, and — she used to call me ‘darling.’ And ‘sweetheart.’ I can’t — I can’t stand hearing those words. Otherwise, I think it was — she used to scratch me, on my — under my navel — when I wasn’t doing exactly what she wanted. I think combined with those other things, when you touched me there — “
“Got it,” Stiles said seriously. “Hands off the abs. Do you think — should I be careful not to scratch you in general?”
Derek thought back to Stiles’ gentle fingers scritching at his scalp, the way he had grasped Derek’s shoulders as he rutted against him on the couch —
“I think that’ll be okay,” he said.
Derek felt himself starting to get sleepy also, drained by the worrying of the day and the intense orgasm. “You’re — you’re being really understanding about all this.” It made him feel bad, that Stiles had to accommodate him so much. It had been ten years, he should be over what Kate had done to him by now.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Stiles asked, confusion clear in his voice. “Derek, everyone has things they like and things they don’t like. That’s part of getting to know each other. And — I want to make you happy.”
Derek was tongue-tied. The idea that Stiles would want nothing more than to make him happy, it was — more than he could have ever hoped for. And he had — Derek’s life had changed for the better in countless ways since Stiles came into it just a few short months ago.
“Well, I better let you get to bed,” Stiles said, suddenly sounding shy. “I’ll see you in the morning, ‘kay?”
“Okay,” Derek said, feeling like he had missed an opportunity. After Stiles had hung up Derek listened through the wall again, hearing him settle in to bed. Derek got up and cleaned himself off and then settled into bed himself, but something felt wrong, unfinished.
He grabbed his phone, typing out the text and staring at it for a long moment before hitting ‘send’.
You do make me happy.
He heard the quiet buzz through the wall of the text notification, and then Jarvis’s precise voice reading the text aloud.
Stiles laughed softly. “Same, Sourwolf,” he said in a quiet murmur.
Derek snuggled into his pillow, pulling Stiles’ t-shirt close to his chest, and fell asleep smiling.
Chapter 13: Instincts
This is far and away the filthiest thing I have ever written. Enjoy!
“S’weird,” Stiles mumbled around a mouthful of pancakes the next morning at Vicky’s. “Being here when Erica and Boyd are off shift. Think Erica will kick our asses for cheating on her with another waitress?"
“That one’s sugar free,” Derek commented automatically as Stiles reached for more syrup. “Regular’s to your right. And maybe Erica would kick your ass, but then again a lamp kicked your ass, so…”
“Ha ha,” Stiles interrupted, sticking his tongue out in Derek’s general direction. “And don’t even try to front with me, I know you’re just as terrified of Erica as I am. I’ve heard those heels she wears, and as Lydia has taught me, any woman who can master high heels is a force to be reckoned with.”
Derek chose to take another bite of his omelet instead of continuing the argument, because to be honest — he was a little scared of Erica, and she could definitely kick his ass.
“We’ll be back here Wednesday night with Scott,” Derek pointed out. “Maybe as penance you can bring her the Ms. Marvel comics she keeps asking about borrowing.”
“No way, man. I’m not giving up my Kamala Khan, even for Erica.”
Derek shrugged. “Then you’ll just have to suffer her wrath.” He smiled. “I’ll hide behind you, use you as my shield.”
Stiles kicked at his feet, and Derek’s smile widened. It felt good to be like this with Stiles, just talking nonsense as usual. He had never really been in a relationship before. On some level he had worried that it would change things — that he might lose this simple friendship with Stiles. He hadn’t realized — hadn’t even hoped — that he could have all of this, and more.
And the more was…
Derek’s mind started to wander, thinking back to all the things they had said last night. Stiles’ voice, low and rough in his ear. How Stiles had taken Derek’s fantasies and turned them into promises.
Stiles’ foot jostled his under the table again, startling him out of his daze.
“You’re quiet,” Stiles commented. “Whatcha thinking about?”
Derek could feel his cheeks heating up. “Last night,” he admitted. “Us.”
“Oh, yeah?” Stiles’ voice was calm but Derek could see the quickened flutter of his pulse at his throat, could smell the sweet spike in his arousal. Stiles tangled his feet with Derek’s under the table, the front of his foot running up the back of Derek’s calf in a quick caress. “You wanna do some of that stuff when we’re done eating?”
Derek cleared his throat. “Yeah.”
Derek fumbled with his keys, trying to get his apartment door open, distracted by Stiles molded tight against his back, his warm hands sneaking in under the hem of Derek’s t-shirt to rub teasing circles at his waist. Derek finally got the door open, dragging Stiles with him as he stumbled through the doorway. The door had barely slammed shut before Derek was pressing Stiles up against it, capturing Stiles’ smiling lips in a kiss as his cane clattered to the floor.
Stiles’ lips tasted of sweet syrup and coffee as Derek licked his way in, swallowing Stiles’ soft little startled exclamation. Stiles’ surprise only lasted for a moment, and then he was kissing Derek back, focused and intent.
Stiles’ hands pulled up on the hem of Derek’s shirt, getting them both hopelessly tangled in it until they reluctantly broke apart, Derek pulling the shirt over his head as Stiles skimmed his own off just as quickly. Within moments they were pressed against each other again, Stiles’ hands tracing over Derek’s back, making him shiver.
Derek’s hands found their way to Stiles’ hips, hitching him up higher against the door as his mouth latched onto the tender hollow of Stiles’ throat. Stiles groaned, tilting his head to give Derek better access.
“Christ,” Stiles breathed, as Derek rolled his hips up between his thighs, making the door creak. “You gotta fuck me like this some time.” Derek growled where he was sucking a new mark against Stiles’ collarbone, imagining it — Stiles’ pale body pinned between Derek and the rough wood of the door as Derek slowly rocked into him…
“But for now, bed,” Stiles finished, his voice breaking just a little as Derek ground their bodies together again, his hands under Stiles’ ass now, hitching him up even higher as Stiles wrapped his legs around Derek’s waist seemingly instinctually. “C’mon, Balto. Mush,” Stiles said, tapping his heels against the backs of Derek’s thighs as if to spur him on.
Derek lifted his head. “Really? A dog joke? Now?”
“Well, if you’re gonna carry me around, I might as well —”
Derek pivoted quickly, laughing as Stiles squawked in alarm, grabbing frantically at his shoulders to keep from falling.
Derek kissed him softly in apology, losing himself in Stiles’ mouth again for a long moment before he remembered to start walking, carrying Stiles toward the bed. When he got there he crawled straight up onto it on his knees, laying Stiles down, his hands already working at Stiles’ belt.
“Hey, hold up there a second,” Stiles said, his hands covering Derek’s. Derek froze, abruptly uncertain. Stiles must have felt the sudden tension in Derek’s muscles. “Hey, no, it’s fine,” he said soothingly, one hand sliding up to cup Derek’s jaw. “I just gotta get my shoes off or this is gonna get real awkward, and — “ He sat up as Derek drew back, giving him some space. “We should probably talk about what you wanna do.”
The words caught Derek off guard, making something twist deep in his belly. He was trying not to think of Kate, but it suddenly struck him anew how different this all was. How Kate had always just told him what to do, taunting him about being a baby if he seemed uncomfortable with any of it and then doing it anyway. It had never fully struck him how coercive it had been until suddenly here was Stiles, offering him a choice.
Stiles seemed unaware of the impact of his words, toeing off his shoes and pulling off his socks before just as casually starting in on Derek’s shoes. He unlaced them by touch and pulled off Derek’s socks, balling them up into each shoe and placing the shoes carefully under the bed next to his. The action was so intimate — tender, even — that Derek had to swallow down the lump that was suddenly in his throat.
Derek realized that Stiles’ head was turned toward him expectantly, that he should have responded ages ago, but he was stuck for words again — rocked to his foundations by Stiles’ seemingly effortless solicitude. There were so many things he wanted to do with Stiles, wanted Stiles to do with him, and he was suddenly paralyzed by all the possibilities. “Uhhh…” he managed stupidly.
Stiles didn’t seem to mind, smiling as he prowled his way back up to straddle Derek again. “You don’t have to decide everything right now,” he said, his hands working his own belt open. “But if I’m gonna have to go back to my place for supplies I should probably do that now.”
Derek’s mind stalled out for a moment, distracted by the tantalizing line of dark brown hair leading down from Stiles’ navel. He blinked, forcing himself to concentrate.
“I — uh — I bought lube,” he admitted. “I didn’t know about condoms — I mean, I looked, but there were so many kinds and I didn’t know what you liked or if we would even do anything that needed them — I mean, I can’t catch anything or give you anything, but I guess if you’re bothered by things being messy…” He trailed off, feeling foolish, his eyes darting up to Stiles’ face.
And — oh — Stiles’ mouth was curved in a soft smile, his eyes crinkled at the corners as if he thought Derek was being adorable, and Derek suddenly relaxed again. This was Stiles, and everything was going to be fine.
Stiles settled his weight right on Derek’s lap, sending a jolt of pleasure zinging down his spine. “You’re lucky I know enough about ‘wolves to know that whole ‘no condoms needed’ thing isn’t just a line,” Stiles purred, whipping his belt the rest of the way off.
Derek half expected him to cast it aside, but instead Stiles coiled the belt meticulously, reaching down to place it carefully where he could find it again, the action rocking his weight against the thick line of Derek’s cock in his pants, making Derek grunt.
“— and to know that you’re probably dying to jizz all over me,” Stiles added with a wicked grin, rocking against Derek again. Derek couldn’t help the groan that punched out of him, Stiles’ words combining with the sweet friction against his cock to send him skating dangerously close to the edge already.
Stiles leaned forward, bracing his arms on either side of Derek’s head, rolling his hips in a slow and steady rhythm as he breathed more words into Derek’s ear. “I’m right aren’t I? You wanna tag me everywhere, get your scent all over me, inside and out —”
Derek was moving before he knew his own intent, a low growl rumbling through his chest as he flipped them, his large hands stilling Stiles’ hips as his mouth scraped along Stiles’ neck. “Yes,” he muttered fervently into the damp, fragrant hollow of Stiles’ throat. “I want that — so much, Stiles —”
And then Stiles was done teasing, frantically fumbling down the zip of his khakis, barely getting it undone before Derek was yanking both pants and boxers off of him in a single rough tug.
“Christ,” Stiles breathed, arching up against nothing, his cock flat against his belly, so flushed and pretty. “Do it then — fuck, Derek — whatever you want.”
And Derek wanted everything, wanted too much all at once, and so he took a deep breath, forcing himself to slow down as he wriggled out of his own jeans and boxer briefs.
His first touch was to the constellation of moles on Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles startled just the slightest at the first press of Derek’s fingertips, and it suddenly struck Derek what it must be like for him — waiting in darkness, unable to know what Derek intended. And yet Stiles hadn’t hesitated at all, had laid himself out for Derek, naked and vulnerable. Something about that level of trust made the wolf in Derek want to howl in triumph.
Instead, he forced the words out, hoping to reassure Stiles. “I’m just gonna — just let me put my mouth on you,” he managed.
“Fuck...yeah,” Stiles breathed, biting his lower lip and Derek had to start there, skimming his tongue over that plumpness before sucking it free. His heavy weight pressed Stiles down, crushing them together skin to skin for the first time. It felt glorious — the stretch of Stiles’ body below him — the broad shoulders and flat belly and coltish legs he had admired for so long, now his to touch.
After a few clinging kisses Derek moved down to Stiles’ neck again, laving over the marks he had already made, deliberately scraping his beard against Stiles’ tender skin once he realized how it made him shiver. As he went he drew in Stiles’ scent wherever it was most prominent — where the blood beat shallow and swift at his jugular, where a fine sheen of sweat was already gathering in the dip of his collarbone.
At first he was cautious, listening carefully to see if Stiles might be growing impatient, or even discomfited by Derek’s more animalistic instincts. Instead, every one of Derek’s actions seemed to wind Stiles tighter, his face suffused with pleasure, half-words and soft exclamations escaping his lips as his fingers clenched handfuls of the sheets.
Just the sight of him made Derek more disinhibited, freeing him to inundate his every sense with Stiles — the texture of his strong bones and firm muscles, the salty-sweet taste of his skin, his warm, soft scent, the rapid thumping of his heart in his broad chest. Derek nuzzled into the deep, rich scent of Stiles’ armpits, and then scraped his teeth along the curve of his ribs. He took long moments to detour to Stiles’ nipples, remembering how sensitive Stiles said they were. He alternated teasing little laps of his tongue with sharp bites until they were reddened and puffy, growling in satisfaction when Stiles arched sharply up into his mouth.
Stiles was making the most delicious little sounds, needy little huffs and whines that spurred Derek on. The air around them grew thick with the scent of the precome that beaded at the tip of Stiles’ cock with every tug of Derek’s mouth. Derek ignored his own aching cock, luxuriating in every new inch of skin he discovered, every new taste and texture he encountered, every pink mark he left on Stiles’ creamy skin.
By the time Derek had worked his way down, shouldering between Stiles’ spread thighs, Stiles was trembling with tension underneath him, his heartbeat skittering wildly. When Derek snuffled at the crease of his groin, drawing in the musky scent, Stiles practically sobbed, hips twitching upwards helplessly against Derek’s steady grip.
“Please — oh fuck, Derek, please —” Stiles was babbling.
Derek felt no hesitation. He had never done this before, but it was Stiles, and Derek wanted to smell and touch and taste every part of him. One hand cradled Stiles’ balls, testing the weight of them, while he mouthed up the length of his shaft. His tongue flicked curiously over the head of Stiles’ cock, tasting him, making Stiles cry out, his hips jerking up against Derek’s hold.
Derek continued to explore — licking around the head of Stiles’ cock, lipping at his balls, darting his tongue into the slit to lap where Stiles was leaking steadily now, the sharp flavor of him bursting over Derek’s tongue. He experimented with taking Stiles as far down his throat as he could, varying the speed, the amount of suction, cataloging what made Stiles squirm. He knew it was too changeable, too inconsistent to get Stiles off, and maybe it was greedy of him, but he didn’t want it to be over yet.
He took a moment to pull back, his hand working Stiles’ spit-slick cock so that he could look over Stiles’ body. He looked absolutely incredible, laid out so vulnerable and responsive, his skin bearing Derek’s marks. As Derek watched, stroking him lazily, the warm flush washed further down his chest, his eyelashes fluttering, his pink mouth falling open as he sucked in panting breaths. “You’re beautiful,” Derek breathed reverently, his words making Stiles jolt up into his grip.
“Derek.” Stiles’ hands were scrabbling at the sheet, his feet planted flat as he tried to hump up harder into Derek’s grip.
Derek suddenly let go, ruthlessly ignoring Stiles’ cry of disappointment. “Turn over,” he said, his voice low and rough.
Derek could see Stiles’ momentary hesitation, his hand moving as if to finish himself off before he caught himself. With a disconsolate noise he heaved himself over, his hands over his head, his hips twitching against the mattress in helpless shivery little ruts.
“Good.” Derek instinctively laid his palm on the nape of Stiles’ neck, firm pressure holding him still as he scraped his beard between Stiles’ shoulder blades, pinkening that tender skin. “You’re being so good for me,” he rumbled. Stiles made another sharp, sobbing sound, his hands grasping fistfuls of the sheets.
Derek wasted no more time, palming the curve of Stiles’ ass as he slid further down the bed.
“Are — are you gonna — fuck!” Stiles was trembling frantically now as Derek spread him apart with his thumbs, lapping firmly. And Christ — the obscene noises Stiles was making as Derek worked him with his tongue, savoring the taste and smell of him as Stiles writhed beneath him. It made Derek want more and more, licking and kissing and sucking at the tight furl of Stiles’ body until his jaw ached.
With a desperate cry, Stiles managed to get his hips up, one hand reaching down for himself. “No,” Derek growled, catching the hand and returning it above Stiles’ head, holding it there as he used his blunt teeth to nip the swell of Stiles’ ass in rebuke.
“Derek —” And Christ, Stiles sounded wrecked, his voice a hoarse rasp. “I need — nngh — I can’t —”
Derek pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the imprint of his teeth. “Hush. I’ll take care of you.”
He reached under Stiles’ slim hips, grasping his damp cock in a firm hand — tight pressure for Stiles to thrust into as Derek delved back with abandon, fucking into Stiles hard with his tongue.
Stiles’ hips stuttered for a moment, as if uncertain where to go, before his strong muscles flexed from back to thighs, body clenching around Derek’s tongue as he rutted into his hand, hard and desperate, before shuddering through a noisy, gasping orgasm, Derek still working him through it with rough tugs of his come-slick fingers.
He didn’t stop until Stiles keened with oversensitivity and then he pulled his hand away, letting Stiles collapse down to the mattress, soft and pliant underneath him as he surged up to straddle Stiles’ thighs. It took barely a few strokes of his hand — still warm and sticky with Stiles’ come — on his own cock before he was shaking through his own orgasm, a roar strangled in his throat.
Streaks of come striped the thick muscles of Stiles’ thighs, the pert swell of his ass, the long sweep of his mole-dotted back. The sight satisfied something wild and primal in Derek, making him rumble with satisfaction even as he fell to Stiles’ side. He huffed deeply, drawing in the intermingled scents of their sweat and skin and come with every panting breath.
“Jesus fuck,” Stiles was sighing into the pillow, sounding like he was having trouble forming words. “Tha’s one hun’red percent th’hottest thing tha’s ever happened t’me.”
Derek couldn’t help himself, reaching out and trailing his fingers through the streaks on Stiles’ back, rubbing his scent into Stiles’ skin. “Can I? —” he started.
“Oh god, do what’ver y’want, y’ridiculous pervert,” Stiles slurred, his voice sounding both exhausted and amused.
Derek trailed his hand lower, tracing the supple curve of Stiles’ lower back, come coating his fingertips before he dipped one finger between the cheeks of Stiles’ ass, nudging it just barely into the tight little clench of his body.
“Fuck’n hell.” The blurry words could have seemed like an admonishment, but Stiles was already spreading his legs, languidly flexing back into Derek’s shallow touch. “Knew it,” Stiles mumbled, shivering a little as Derek drew his fingertip in a lazy circle.
Derek hid his smile against Stiles’ shoulder blade, licking absently at the skin there, tasting bitter traces of come overlaying the salty-sweet flavor of Stiles’ skin. He left his fingertip inside Stiles for as long as he felt he could, teasing at his rim and enjoying the sweet little flutters of his body, the contented little hums Stiles made in response, before he reluctantly pulled free.
He settled down at Stiles’ side, pulling him closer with a possessive arm around his waist. He nosed into the skin at Stiles’ hairline, breathing him in.
“Y’realize I’m not gonna let you boss me around all th’time,” Stiles said sleepily. With what seemed to be great effort he turned over, nuzzling up with his cheek on Derek’s shoulder. “There’s definitely stuff that I wanna do to you too.”
“I know,” Derek said. “I want that too. I just — was this okay?”
Stiles snorted inelegantly into Derek’s shoulder. “Okay? I’ve never come so hard in my life. I’d go find a fucking medal to give to you if I thought my legs were gonna work any time in the next hour.”
Derek couldn’t help smiling at the praise. He pulled Stiles even closer, managing to shove the rumpled duvet out from under their legs and pull it over them instead. They lay in silence for awhile, Stiles tracing an absent-minded pattern into Derek’s chest hair while Derek closed his eyes, wallowing in the simple joy of having Stiles in his bed at last.
Chapter 14: Shadows
Derek lay with Stiles pulled close against his chest, his nose buried in the nape of Stiles’ neck. The bed was warm and soft and smelled of Derek and Stiles and sex, stripes of late afternoon sunlight filtering hazily through the windows to puddle on the rumpled duvet.
“Hey,” Stiles asked, his voice sleepy. “What color are your eyes? I keep asking Scott and he always says he can’t tell.”
“Hazel, I guess?” Derek said. “Mostly green and brown, but sometimes they look a little blue.”
Stiles snorted. “Figures, you have some unfairly gorgeous eyes to go with the rest of you. Forget that mine don’t even work, I always used to hate that they were just boring brown.”
“That’s not true.” Derek pulled himself up on one elbow, indignant. “Your eyes are beautiful. They’re like — like polished mahogany, and when the light catches them, they look like honey.”
“Wow.” Stiles sounded stunned. He cleared his throat. “That’s — that’s quite poetic, Sourwolf.” Derek humphed, settling back into bed, glad that Stiles couldn’t see his blush. “I guess — ” Stiles began. “I mean, I know I’ve changed, but in my head, I’m still the dorky 12-year-old with a buzzcut that I saw the last time I looked in a mirror.”
Derek nuzzled into the slight fuzz at the nape of Stiles’ neck, breathing him in. “I had big ears,” he confessed. “And bunny teeth. It took forever to grow into them. I still haven’t all the way.”
Stiles chuckled. “That’s awesome.”
Derek’s mood sobered, unable to think about his 15-year-old self without thinking about her. “I was so stupid,” he said bitterly, the familiar self-hatred clamoring so loudly inside his head that he couldn’t help but voice it. “Thinking an — an attractive twenty-something-year-old woman was interested in me. I was such an easy target.”
“Don’t say that.” Stiles’ voice was suddenly sharp. He sat up, seeming fully awake now. “You were a kid, acting like a kid would. What, were you supposed to — to suspect something? That a grown-ass woman was seducing you just so she could — so she could murder everyone you loved? That’s — it’s so far outside the realm of anything you could possibly have thought. She was batshit crazy, Derek. There’s no defending yourself against someone like that.”
Derek blinked, surprised by Stiles’ vehement response.
Stiles sighed, running a hand through his already messy hair, making it stand almost upright. “I — just tell me that you haven’t been thinking that, all these years, Derek. I mean, Laura must have —”
“I never told her.” The words burst out of Derek without forethought. He swallowed thickly, covering his face with his arm, afraid to see what Stiles might be thinking. Coward.
For a long moment he could only hear the rapid thump of Stiles’ heart, his shallow breaths. He waited, listening, his chest tight with anxiety, wondering if Stiles would leave now that he knew.
Slowly, he felt Stiles settle down again at his side, his breathing evening out, his heartbeat slowing. Derek pulled him closer, gratefully, and although Stiles pressed himself against Derek’s body he stayed uncharacteristically silent and still. The minutes crept by, until finally Stiles spoke, his voice soft and meditative.
“You know, my mom and I had this thing. When she picked me up from school, I mean. I used to tell her all these stupid jokes I made up during the day. I mean, really stupid, they weren’t even really funny, but I’d spend all day trying to come up with them, and if I could make her laugh, it — it felt like I had won the lottery.”
Derek turned to look at Stiles in surprise, both relieved and confused by the change of topic. Stiles didn’t seem to be expecting a response, though, barely pausing before he continued.
“A lot of people, when they’re in a car accident, they get a brain injury, or at least a concussion, and they don’t even remember the accident. It’s not even that they repress it or whatever — it’s just, the process of putting memories into storage gets interrupted. ‘Neurochemical cascade,’ they call it. Like that guy who was driving Princess Diana, or whatever. They’ll never know exactly what happened. The experience is just — gone forever.”
Derek ran his hand down Stiles’ back, trying clumsily to soothe him. “Is that what happened to you?”
“No.” Stiles pulled in an unsteady breath. “But I told my dad it did. When he finally got up the courage to ask me, I lied — told him that I couldn’t even remember mom picking me up that day.”
Derek felt the little shudders passing through Stiles’ body, the effort he was making to keep it together. “Why?”
“Because — mom had this big old Jeep, you know? A baby blue CJ5. She bought it in grad school and it was almost as old as she was, but it was a tough old thing. Indestructible. Dad used to make fun of it all the time, but she wouldn’t part with it for the world. Called it her baby.”
Derek tried to follow the leaps in Stiles’ thought process. “Stiles —”
“On that day, the day of the accident,” Stiles interrupted, as if pressured to get his words out even though it sounded as if each one was costing him dearly. “I had just told her a joke, and she was laughing, and — and afterwards, I kept thinking about it. Because I remembered every second of it, and I just kept thinking, that if I — if I hadn’t distracted her — I was such a little spaz, I was always distracting people — maybe she would have seen that guy coming. Even just a split second or two, enough to hit the brakes. Maybe he would have hit the hood of that tough old Jeep and just spun us or something, instead of slamming right into the driver’s side and rolling us. If I had just kept my stupid mouth shut and let her concentrate on driving, maybe my mom would have made it.”
Derek could feel the small hitches in Stiles’ breath against his chest, could smell the salt of his tears, even though his voice was still measured and calm.
“Stiles, you can’t really believe — “
“I don’t.” Stiles snapped, and then pulled in a deep breath, as if regretting his outburst. “I mean,” he continued, his voice softer now, “Maybe I did then, but not so much anymore. But at the time I was terrified my dad would find out what I had done. That he would blame me as much as I blamed myself. That he was secretly wishing that — I mean, my mom was great. If it had been me that died, she would have been amazing, and strong, and helped my dad through it. Instead, she was the one to die, and my dad was left with this hyperactive, smartass little bastard who was disabled now to boot, and — and I was beyond useless at taking care of us.”
Derek wanted to argue, to tell Stiles that his dad loved him and would never have wished for that, but he stopped himself. How many times had he told himself the same thing? — that he should have died, instead of his family. That it wasn’t fair that the innocent ones had perished while he was left alive, eaten up by his betrayal. Maybe logic didn’t enter into it much.
“Did you ever tell him?” he asked instead.
“Yeah.” Stiles pulled in another deep, jagged breath and let it out on a sigh. “One night — he was drinking a lot back then, and I heard him crying in his room. And I just — I felt so guilty I couldn’t stand it for a minute longer. So I went in there, and just blabbed everything.”
Stiles stopped there, seemingly remembering. Derek pulled back enough to look at him. His eyelashes were spiky over amber eyes bright with tears, his mouth soft with remembrance.
“What happened when you told him?”
“Oh.” Stiles seemed to be startled back out his memories. His smile was quavering but genuine. “He hugged the bejeesus out of me, so tight I thought my insides were gonna come squishing out of my ears. And he told me —” Stiles’ voice broke, and he had to clear his throat before starting again, his voice still thick with unshed tears. “He told me how glad he was to know — you know, that she wasn’t scared, or anything, in her last few moments. That she had died laughing.”
“Stiles.” It hurt Derek, to see Stiles like this, made him want to draw away the pain like he could for a bruise or a broken bone, but it didn’t work like that. Instead he just pulled Stiles closer, rubbing his back, nuzzling into his hair, trying to communicate with his body what he was so incompetent saying with words.
“Your dad loves you,” Derek finally said. “If you could see his face, how proud he is of you —”
"I know.” Stiles sighed again, a deep shuddering breath that seemed to drain most of the residual tension from him. His hand found Derek’s arm, squeezing fiercely. “Just like I know that Laura loved you, and was proud of you.”
Derek could feel his own muscles tensing, the reflexive denial caught behind his teeth. “It’s not the same,” he growled. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Or yours.” Stiles’ voice was implacable, his heartbeat steady. “The only guilty people here are that murderous psychopath Kate, and that asshole who got behind the wheel drunk on a Tuesday afternoon. Not you, and not me.” Derek could feel Stiles pressing his forehead hard against Derek’s chest, as if he were trying to push the conviction of his thoughts straight into Derek’s body. “It’s life, and it sucks, but we don’t get to pick and choose. Who lives and who dies — it’s not up to us. We just have to do what we can with the life we have. Make it what the people who loved us would have wanted for us. And maybe you weren’t ready to be forgiven yet, and that’s why you never told Laura, because there’s not a single doubt in my mind that she would have told you exactly what I’m telling you now.”
“It’s not —” Derek had thought of it a million times, telling Laura. Had played out her reaction in his head almost endlessly — the shock, the horror. The disgust. He had imagined Laura driving him away, out of their little pack of two, turning him out to fend for himself in this city he despised.
Maybe you weren’t ready to be forgiven yet.
Derek turned Stiles’ words over in his mind. For the first time, he stopped imagining the worst possible scenario, the scenes from his deepest, guiltiest fears, and instead tried to think about Laura as she really was. Laura, still mostly a child herself, picking them both up and pushing them forward, tirelessly. Running from hunters, and then navigating them both through this harsh, chaotic city despite still struggling with her sudden alpha powers. Laura, who wouldn’t allow Derek to sink into his own grief and guilt. Who bullied him into finishing his GED and enrolling in college, who made a home for them both. Who wanted him to be happy.
He’s right, you know. Laura’s voice spoke, so clear in his head that it made Derek want to howl with the simple misery of missing her. He hadn’t realized he was crying until he felt Stiles’ fingers warm on his face, carefully wiping the tears away with the pad his thumb.
“It’s not that easy,” Derek said in misery and frustration, although whether he was talking to Stiles or Laura or both, he didn’t even know.
Stiles just nodded, his breath warm against Derek’s skin as his hand stayed, cupping Derek’s jaw. “Not easy. Never easy,” Stiles confirmed, his voice so gentle it made something inside Derek feel like it was breaking. “But it’s time.”
Chapter 15: Pack
“What’s up with Erica?” Stiles suddenly asked.
“What do you mean?” Derek said, leaning a little to see. The place was empty except for their table. Boyd was at the grill and Erica was standing at the counter restocking the napkin holder, her long blond hair falling over her face.
“She didn’t tell us the specials. Or flirt with Derek,” Stiles added with a teasing kick to Derek’s leg.
“She’s probably just figured out that we always order the same thing,” Scott said, but he turned around to look also.
“I’m serious, dudes.” Stiles had his head tilted in Erica’s direction, his amber eyes distant. “She just keeps opening and closing that — that thing. For, like, five minutes now.”
Derek instinctively drew in a deep breath through his nose, sorting past Stiles’ and Scott’s familiar scents and the smell of grease and frying meat from the grill. Now that he was focused on it, there was a strange, tinny odor overlaying Erica’s natural scent.
“Something is wrong,” Scott said, jumping to his feet just as Derek reached the same realization. With his faster reflexes, Derek reached Erica first, just as she arched backwards, her muscles stiff and tense.
Scott shoved a table and some chairs aside with a loud screech. “Lay her down here,” he said urgently, as Derek struggled to hold Erica’s suddenly convulsing body. “Stiles, can Jarvis run a stopwatch?”
“Jarvis, stopwatch, start now,” Stiles said, ignoring Jarvis’ response of “Starting stopwatch now.” He was out of his seat too, hovering halfway between their booth and where Erica was lying. “What’s going on — what’s happening?”
“She’s having a seizure,” Scott and Boyd said almost simultaneously. Derek hadn’t even seen Boyd vault the counter but he was suddenly standing next to them as well, his face drawn with concern.
“She’s got epilepsy?” Scott asked Boyd as he turned Erica on her side. He seemed to be checking her wrists and ankles for something, but whatever it was he didn’t seem to find it.
“Yeah, but — not like this, usually, I don’t think,” Boyd said tersely. “I dunno for sure, she hates to talk about it, but I think — I think it’s getting worse lately. Th’night of Stiles’ birthday she wouldn’t go into the club — just saw the flashing lights and bailed.” Panic was starting to creep into his usually calm voice. “What do we do?”
“It’ll probably stop on its own, but do you know if she’s got anything she keeps on her — some kind of rescue medication?” If Derek wasn’t so worried he’d be fascinated at the total shift in Scott’s demeanor, consummately calm and professional.
“She’s got something in her purse. She got real embarrassed when I saw it,” Boyd said, already moving toward the back.
Scott nodded decisively. “Derek, bring Stiles over.” Derek scrambled to his feet, drawing Stiles over to Erica and guiding him to his knees in front of her. “Stiles, give Jarvis to Derek. Derek, stay at the door and let me know when we hit five minutes.”
Stiles handed over the phone unquestioningly. “Okay,” Derek said uncertainly. “We’re at three minutes twenty seconds now.” He flipped the sign on the door to “Closed” and moved to put his back up against it, reluctant to leave Erica but trusting that Scott had his reasons. It was unlikely that anyone else was planning to come into the diner at this time of night, but Derek was more than prepared to stop anyone who tried.
Scott was guiding Stiles’ hands to Erica’s shoulder and hip, helping him brace her in place from the front as Scott braced her back. She was still convulsing, her breath stopping at times as the muscles in her torso seemed to constrict, only to take in a raspy, shuddering breath when they released. It sounded agonizing.
It seemed to go on forever. Every time Erica’s muscles released and she drew in another raspy breath Derek hoped that it meant the end to the convulsions, but then they’d start again. Boyd returned, skidding to a stop and spilling the contents of Erica’s purse out onto the floor next to Scott.
Scott picked up a package that appeared to have a syringe inside. He flipped it over, peering at the back. “It’s still good,” he said. Derek was able to make out the words “Rectal Gel” and suddenly understood why Scott had asked for Stiles.
“Five minutes,” Derek said tersely as Jarvis’ stopwatch ticked over.
“Boyd, Derek — give us some privacy,” Scott said, already starting to pull Erica’s skirt up. Derek turned around, flinching in sympathy at the choked noise Boyd made as he seemed to understand also, pushing to his feet to join Derek at the door.
Derek still held Jarvis in his sweaty left hand but he put his right hand on Boyd’s shoulder, feeling the big man shaking with emotion under his palm as they both stared out at the darkened street. He couldn’t help listening past Boyd’s panting breaths. Scott was muttering an explanation to Stiles as he uncapped the syringe, and then there was the slow squelch of the gel and the sound of the syringe falling to the floor.
“Derek, let me know when we hit ten minutes. At that point, it’s better to be safe…”
“Can I — can I come be with her now?” Boyd was asking.
“Give me a minute.” From the rustling noises, Scott seemed to be fixing Erica’s clothing. “Okay,” he said. Derek and Boyd both turned around. Scott had his hands crudely on Erica’s ass and Derek felt himself blush as he realized that Scott was holding her cheeks closed, keeping the medication inside her. “Boyd, you can come over, but don’t move her. And don’t be surprised if — if she’d rather you weren’t here when she wakes up.”
“Okay,” Boyd said woodenly. His eyes were wide, locked on Erica’s face, as he dropped to his knees by her head. He reached out a shaking hand, gently placing it on the now-tangled blonde hair.
Derek stood with his back solid against the door, wanting to go over as well but not wanting to abandon the post Scott had given him. Stiles was sniffling, tear tracks on his face, but his hands were firm and steady on Erica’s hip and shoulder, riding out the motions of her convulsing body.
“I think —” Scott began. Erica pulled in one more rattling breath and her body seemed to relax more fully than it had previously. The odor of urine, pungent to Derek’s werewolf nose, clouded the scent of the group and Derek turned his back to the room again, glaring out at the street in unfocused anger at Erica’s situation. “That’s it. Thank fuck,” Scott said, his professional demeanor slipping a little now that the crisis was over.
Boyd silently got up. He pulled some keys from his pocket and locked the door to the street, leaving the keys in the door. Then he moved to the kitchen. Derek heard the click of the grill turning off, and Boyd returned with some dish towels. He wiped down the floor around Erica’s lower body as best as he could before tossing them into the trash. He returned to kneel at Erica’s head, petting the hair tenderly back from her temple.
It was a few minutes more before Erica started to blink open dazed eyes, and another few minutes before awareness crept in behind them. Derek moved, announcing his presence to Stiles with a hand on his shoulder before gently pulling Stiles’ hands away from Erica, helping him stand.
Stiles stumbled on shaky legs as Derek drew him a few feet away, scooping up Stiles’ cane on the way and pressing Jarvis back into his hand. “She’s waking up,” Derek murmured and Stiles nodded his understanding, taking in a shaky breath.
“Derek,” he said, his voice tremulous, and Derek gave in to the temptation and pulled Stiles into his arms. Stiles made a soft noise, burying his head in the lee of Derek’s neck and shoulder. Derek rubbed Stiles’ stiff shoulders and arms, feeling some of the tension in his body ease under his palm. Derek couldn’t help himself — he pressed his nose into Stiles’ temple, inhaling deeply, letting his jangling nerves be soothed by Stiles’ warm, soft scent.
“That was...terrifying,” Stiles muttered into the skin of Derek’s neck.
“Yeah,” Derek agreed, his own voice sounding rusty.
Erica was pushing herself shakily upright now, Scott still helping brace her as Boyd knelt in front of her, holding her hands. “Boyd?” she asked, her voice unsteady and slurred. “What? —” She looked down at herself, at the wet skirt of her uniform, and then around her, eyes grazing over Scott and the disordered tables and chairs. “Oh no,” she said, her face crumpling in a way that made something give in Derek’s chest. “Oh no.”
She was sobbing now, big gulpy sobs, and something in Boyd seemed to break. “Shhh, baby, shhhh…” he was murmuring brokenly, pulling Erica into his lap, careless of her wet uniform. “It’s okay, baby. Shhh.”
“Boyd.” Erica was clinging to him now, her arms wrapped around his neck, her blonde head pressed against his chest. Boyd rocked her gently, still petting her head and murmuring reassurances.
“Huh.” Derek could feel Stiles smile against his skin. “I didn’t realize those two were an item.”
“If they weren’t before, I think they are now,” Scott said wryly from right next to them, making both Stiles and Derek jump apart guiltily. They had been so wrapped up in each other they hadn’t even noticed Scott coming over to them.
“Hey, Scotty!” Stiles said, overly cheerfully.
Scott looked speculatively between Derek and Stiles, but seemed to tamp down on any comments he might have.
“I’m gonna stick around a while longer,” he said. “Get a little more history, make sure she doesn’t wanna go in and get checked out, that kind of thing. You guys should probably head out, though, if that’s okay.”
“Sure, man. Absolutely. We’ll just...skedaddle.” Stiles reached hurriedly to pull the door open, tugging mightily on the handle until Derek put a quelling hand on his shoulder, turning the key to open the lock.
He guided Stiles outside, hearing Scott click the lock closed again behind them.
“Skedaddle?” Derek repeated as they started down the street towards their building.
“I don’t know! I panicked!” Stiles snapped, making Derek snicker.
Stiles started giggling in return. They were probably both borderline hysterical with relief, but it felt good to laugh, and to just...be with Stiles right now. If anyone had asked Derek before tonight how he felt about Erica, he would have described her as a casual acquaintance. Only now, after seeing her like that — helpless — did Derek realize how close they had all become to both Erica and Boyd. Watching Erica have that seizure, worrying for her safety, it hadn’t felt like she was a casual acquaintance. It had felt like she was...like she was family.
Derek stopped suddenly, causing Stiles to stumble at his side.
“Yeah.” Derek started walking again, his thoughts racing. He swallowed, wondering if he should think it through before mentioning it to Stiles. But he realized that Stiles was the one person he would want to talk it over with — the person whose opinion mattered to him the most.
“Erica’s seizures…” Derek started.
“Yeah. Jeez. That’s gotta suck. I mean, I kind of knew intellectually what was involved, but I never realized until now just how much — I mean, if Scott hadn’t been there, and known exactly what to do —”
“ — she could have died,” Derek finished Stiles’ thought. “And if they’re getting worse…”
“Hey.” Stiles’ voice was gentle. “Don’t worry, big guy. Maybe they can adjust her medications or something, get better control.”
“And if they can’t?”
Stiles’ forehead crinkled in confusion. “If they can’t, they can’t. I mean, what else can you do?”
Derek pulled in a deep breath. “I could. I mean, I could maybe do something.”
“You? What, you got a secret cure for seizures in your pocket, or —” Derek saw the moment Stiles understood what he was getting at. “Oh. The — you could give her the Bite. That would cure her?” Stiles’ voice was excited, and Derek hurried to try to rein in his enthusiasm.
“It would be dangerous. If the Bite doesn’t take, I mean. But she’s young, and healthy otherwise. There’s no reason it shouldn’t. And — I think it would cure the seizures. I can’t be certain, but I think it would.”
“I can find out for sure, I think.” Derek could tell that Stiles was trying to repress his excitement, but he wasn’t doing a very good job of it. “There’s people I could ask, the Ito pack from home. They have werewolf lore going back a couple of centuries, someone must have tried it before.” Stiles’ voice grew serious again. “But Derek — they could — I could also send Erica to them for the Bite. You wouldn’t — I mean, I know you kind of took in Isaac, but making a pack member is different from adopting one. If you’re not ready — you don’t have to.”
“I know.” Derek would think it over, in every detail, before approaching Erica, but deep down he knew the decision had already been made. It felt right — first Isaac, and now Erica and Boyd. Two betas, and another human. A real pack, and Stiles...Stiles there also, but not as his beta, not just as a human in the pack, but at his side. His mate.
Chapter 16: Affiliations
As Derek had suspected, Erica and Boyd were a package deal. They sat next to each other on Stiles’ sofa, hands clasped tightly. Erica looked strangely vulnerable without the armor of her red lipstick and high heels. Her face looked pale and young underneath frizzy hair, her body enveloped in overlarge sweats despite the still-warm weather.
When she spoke, though, her voice was just as sharp and sassy as ever. “I hope you didn’t ask us over just to announce that you and Stiles are boning,” she aimed at Derek, with a suspicious glance at Isaac. “Because we all figured that one out long ago.”
“What? No!” Stiles sputtered, a bag of chips forgotten in his hands. “I mean, what makes you say — I mean, we’re not —” Derek had to put his hand on Stiles’ shoulder to stop the flood of words.
“It’s okay,” he murmured in Stiles’ ear. “I’m fine with it if you are.”
“Oh.” Stiles’ mouth curved in a warm smile. He nuzzled his forehead into Derek’s cheek for a brief second before before he turned his attention to Erica. “That announcement will be a catered event,” he sniffed haughtily, making even Boyd snort with laughter.
“So what’s the occasion, then?” Erica continued tenaciously. “Not that I don’t like you guys, but I was kind of enjoying some quality couch potato time.”
Derek squeezed Stiles’ shoulder, and Stiles nodded. Stiles had insisted that they needed some kind of game plan, half-convinced that if left to his own devices Derek would just bar the door and wolf-out in lieu of an actual explanation, sending Erica screaming out the window.
Stiles made his way to the couch, sitting down next to Erica. “I totally understand — I mean, just being there, that seizure seemed really rough. That’s kind of what we wanted to talk to you about. But first — you’re probably really sore, still, right? Derek wants to show you something. Don’t freak out.”
Derek made his way to the coffee table, sitting on it facing Erica and Boyd. They both looked confused, but not frightened. With a cautious glance to Boyd, who seemed much more on edge, Derek held his hand out to Erica. She hesitated for a moment, and then put her hand lightly in his. Derek closed his eyes, concentrating on pulling the pain very slowly at first. Stiles was right, there was a lot of it — a deep sore tightness of muscles cramped beyond endurance, the hollow ache of bones bruised from pressure.
“Holy fuck,” Erica said, her brown eyes wide as she watched the black veins snaking up Derek’s forearm. Boyd moved as if to tear Derek’s hand away, but stopped at the slightest shake of Erica’s head. “It doesn’t hurt,” she said to Boyd, before turning her attention back to Derek. “It feels — amazing. What are you doing?”
“He’s taking your pain,” Stiles said, as Derek finally released Erica’s hand. He hadn’t taken it all, not wanting to make her woozy, but hopefully he had eased it quite a bit. “Just a handy side benefit, you might say.”
“Is he —” Erica looked from Stiles to Derek in fascination. “Like, some kind of X-Man or something? A healer?”
Stiles snorted. “A little less Elixir, a little more Wolverine.” And it was almost like he could feel Derek rolling his eyes. “Okay, okay. No more Wolverine jokes.”
Erica simply looked intrigued, but Derek could smell the bitter suspicion rising off of Boyd as he drew Erica closer to himself, the muscles in his thighs tensing as if he were about to jump to his feet.
“It’s gonna sound crazy, I know,” Stiles was saying, his voice soothing. “Derek’s not a mutant, but he’s not fully human either. He’s a werewolf.”
“Bullshit,” Boyd barked, his jaw clenched. “Whatever the fuck kinda prank this is —”
“It’s not.” Stiles’ voice was steady, reassuring. “You know we wouldn’t do something like that, Boyd. We’re trusting you guys with this because it’s important. Isaac?”
Isaac had been keeping his distance, lounging against the kitchen breakfast bar. At Stiles’ words, though, he shifted easily, even his wolf face looking relatively unthreatening under the mop of golden curls.
“Jesus!” Boyd said, but he was simply stunned now, not angry. “Are you all? —”
“Just these two,” Stiles hurried to correct. “Scott doesn’t even know yet, and I’m just plain old human. Although I’ve known for awhile about werewolves being a thing, I knew a lot of them growing up.”
Erica was rising unsteadily to her feet, pulling her arm free from Boyd’s protective grasp. Isaac held his ground as she moved toward him, a shaking hand reaching out to touch his furrowed brow, the sudden scruff of his sideburns.
“Why?” She turned back to the room at large, the question sharp as a dagger. “Why tell us?”
“Because we’re offering you a choice,” Stiles said. “And, if it works, we think it would cure your seizures.”
“Cure?” Erica’s lips were trembling, her eyes so wide the pupils were ringed with white. “I’ve tried everything. There is no cure.”
“No human cure,” Stiles said gently. “I’ve talked to the — to the other werewolves I know, back home. I trust them, and they keep good records. They say it’s been done before, at least three times that they know of. And it worked.”
“If — “ As her eyes turned to Derek again he could hear the thread of hope in her voice, warring with her cynicism. “If it’s that easy, why not Stiles? Why not give him his sight back?”
Derek’s head jerked up in surprise, his eyes flying to Stiles. Surely Stiles hadn’t thought all this time…
“It’s doesn’t work like that, Catwoman,” Stiles was already saying, a bittersweet smile on his face. “Being a wolf accelerates healing, but it can’t create it where it doesn’t exist. Brain doesn’t heal, so there’s nothing they could do for me. But for you — the electrical activity is the problem, and we think the healing would stop it before it propagates. I mean, if the seizure had a focus, like an area of brain tissue that was messed up, it wouldn’t fix that, but it’d stop it from creating the seizure.” He shrugged. “At least that’s the hope.”
“Accelerated healing,” Erica repeated. “Like Wolverine.”
“Yeah,” Derek contributed, feeling as though it was high time he said something.
Stiles whacked Derek lightly with his cane. “Oh, so she’s allowed to say it?”
Erica marched back to the couch, plunking herself back down in front of Derek, leaning in so close that their knees touched. “Show me,” she challenged.
Derek slid out just one claw on the index finger of his right hand. Even though he moved slowly, Boyd still jumped as he slashed the claw across the palm of his left hand, but Erica only leaned in closer. Blood welled up from the cut, and then slowed to a trickle as it sealed shut. Derek slid the claw back, licking the thumb of his right hand and then wiping it across the bloodstain, revealing the smooth, unmarked skin beneath.
Erica’s hand was gripping Boyd’s again, white-knuckled, her eyes wild with speculation. Boyd seemed to have retreated into himself, his impassive expression giving no sign of the thoughts that were doubtless whirring through his mind.
“There’s a lot to consider,” Stiles said. “The biggest risk is that the Bite won’t take, that your body will reject it. If that happens it could kill you. But, unless someone’s too old or too sick, that almost never happens unless the person doesn’t want it.”
Derek felt the jolt of surprise through his whole body, his eyes flying up to read Stiles’ expression. Was that true? Could Paige have been saved, just by talking to her, by giving her the choice? And if so, had Peter known?
Derek forced himself to push those thoughts to the side. Stiles was still explaining some of the other dangers. About the rush of power a newly-bitten wolf felt — the mood swings and uncharacteristic behavior while they got used to the new instincts and sensations. The potential for difficulty controlling the shift, maybe even needing to be restrained on a full moon. Even the presence and danger of hunters, and the potential for rejection from friends and loved ones if they found out.
Stiles seemed to know every detail, either from experience or from the ferocious amount of research he had done in the last few days, and Derek could see that even Isaac was listening attentively. When they had gone over the game plan yesterday Derek had been surprised to find that a lot of the information was only vaguely familiar, and some of it was completely new to him. The Hale family of born wolves had been so large and insular that they had neither needed nor cared to recruit outsiders, and none of the human kids from Derek’s generation were old enough to have taken the Bite yet.
“So you guys are a — a pack,” Erica was asking when Derek pulled himself out of his musings. “Isaac and you and Stiles?”
Derek found himself blushing a little. He and Stiles hadn’t spoken about it yet, and although Stiles always qualified it by calling himself an “honorary” member of the Ito pack he still had strong connections to —
“Yes,” Stiles said without hesitation, and Derek felt a surge of warmth spreading through him at Stiles' easy assurance. “Humans don’t feel the connection to the pack — to Derek as their alpha — the same way the beta wolves do, but they can be an important part of the pack. Of the family.” Stiles tilted his head unerringly in Boyd’s direction. “You could be that too, Boyd. If you wanted to.”
Boyd’s impassivity cracked for a moment, the look passing over his face hard to characterize. Derek thought that it might be longing. It only lasted a moment, however, and then his typical stoic demeanor returned.
“It’s — it’s not only your connection to Erica.” Despite how difficult Derek found it to talk about these things, it was clear that Boyd needed to know. “You — you’re smart, and capable. I saw how you took care of things when Erica had her seizure. You care about her, but you also still kept your head and did what needed to be done.” Derek looked down, feeling the tips of his ears turn red as he spoke the formal words. “I’d be honored to have you in my pack.”
“As a human,” Boyd confirmed. When Derek nodded, Boyd’s chin came up defiantly. “And what if I wanted to be a — a wolf. Like Erica will be. Like you are.”
Derek was flummoxed. Taking the Bite made sense for Erica, but for someone healthy like Boyd, was it worth the risk? Derek found himself instinctively looking to Stiles.
Stiles’ expression was thoughtful. “They would anchor each other,” he mused aloud, as if he knew Derek would be seeking his advice.
Boyd leaned forward, as if he could sense Derek’s indecision. “If Erica’s doing this, I’m doing it with her.”
Erica seemed less certain. “If you get hurt —” she started, her hand still tight in Boyd’s large grip.
“It doesn’t matter,” Boyd interrupted. He turned to her, the determination in his face softening to pure affection. “I’m in this with you.”
Erica’s answering smile was quavering but radiant.
“Well,” Stiles interrupted, clearing his throat to clear the sudden huskiness from his voice. “No one’s making any decisions tonight. It’s actually amazing timing, though, if we do it pretty soon. The next full moon is both the perigee — the closest to the earth it gets — and a lunar eclipse. You’ll be able to feel the strongest pull, but only for a short period of time before and after the eclipse. Take a day or two, and think of all the questions you can, anything you’d like to know. Think it all through before you make up your minds, okay?”
“Yeah,” Boyd said and Erica nodded, but Derek could still see the determination in their eyes. He and Stiles would start tonight, researching the rituals for the Bite, making sure it went as smoothly as possible.
After everyone left, Stiles washed up the last of the glasses as Derek dried them, both lost in thoughtful silence. When the last dish was finished up, Stiles made his way to the couch, pulling Derek along with him. He manhandled Derek into sitting down and then curled himself into Derek’s side. He rested his head on Derek’s chest, listening to his heartbeat, as Derek played idly with Stiles’ hair.
“They’re gonna do it, aren’t they?” Stiles said eventually.
“How do you feel about that?”
Derek sighed, trying to sort through the myriad feelings and match them to words. “Worried. Hopeful. Scared of letting everybody down.”
Stiles gave Derek an extra squeeze. “You’ll be a great alpha.”
“Will I?” It was like all of Derek’s insecurities were welling up, clogging up the back of his throat. “I mean, my mom was a natural. And Laura had been training for years. It was never supposed to be me. What if that was for a reason? What if — if they knew that I wasn’t going to be any good at it?”
Stiles was silent for long enough that Derek’s stomach started to sink even further. Maybe he was wondering if there was still time to back out of this, to let Erica and Boyd know that it was all a mistake…
“Did you ever wonder why dad and I didn’t join the Ito pack?” Stiles asked instead. “Officially, I mean. It’s not like they didn’t ask us.”
Derek could feel his brow furrowing. Now that Stiles brought it up, it did seem strange. Not many humans were so closely involved with a pack and remained unaffiliated. It was a precarious position to be in — valuable to the pack, but without the protection that came with official pack status.
“You know Lydia is a banshee, right?” Stiles continued. “At first — it started when she was just five or six. She would scream. They thought it was night terrors, or something, and it wasn’t until later that we figured out she was sensing deaths. When we did, though, we went to the Ito pack and they took her under its wing. Found her other banshees she could talk to, ways to develop her skills. For strangers, it’s still only death she can sense, but for herself, and those close to her, she gets more.”
Derek still couldn’t follow Stiles’ train of thought, but he was intrigued nonetheless. “More? Like what?”
Stiles had one of Derek’s hands in his now, rubbing slow circles in his palm. “She can get a sense of their whole life span, I think. Like, not enough to really tell the future, but enough to get gut instincts once in awhile. To guide their path. And when the Ito pack made a formal offer to us, Lyds was adamant that we had to turn them down.”
Derek’s confusion deepened. “I don’t — why?”
Stiles turned his head, biting into Derek’s shoulder teasingly. “Because of you, dumbass.”
Stiles’ smile was soft and knowing. “Well, we didn’t know it was you at the time, but Lyds could tell that we weren’t meant to end up part of the Ito pack. She said that there was another pack out there for us, one we would be central to. That we wouldn’t find it for awhile, but we had to stay unaffiliated so that when it came along — when it was right — we would join it. And we would be happier there than we could ever be anywhere else, even if the Ito pack was more familiar and comfortable.”
Derek felt Stiles’ words kindling something in him — warmth and hope, that maybe he wasn’t just fumbling along. Maybe this was something he was meant to do. But…
“How do you know it’s me? I mean, what if there’s some other pack out there — with some better alpha — that you were meant to be part of?”
Stiles pulled back, disbelief clear on his mobile face. “Are you serious?” He sighed, his scent deepening with both affection and a tinge of sadness. “Because I love you, you idiot. Who out there is going to be a better alpha for me than the man I love?”
“What?” Derek’s thoughts felt dull, sluggish. He knew how he felt about Stiles, but that was...Stiles. How could Stiles possibly feel —
“Listen.” Stiles was starting to pull away a little bit. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. I know we agreed to take it slow and I — I guess I’m just not good at that. I don’t want you to feel — I mean, you can forget I said it if —”
“No!” Derek tugged Stiles closer, pulling him fully into his lap and wrapping his arms around him to keep him there. He buried his face in the side of Stiles’ neck, breathing him in. “I mean — I — that’s the way I feel too.” The shock was starting to give way to radiant happiness, but Derek still couldn’t find the words. “Me too,” he repeated inarticulately.
“Oh. That’s — that’s good, then.” Stiles’ voice sounded calm, but Derek could feel the rush of joy from him as well, rolling waves of a scent warmer and sweeter than Derek had ever experienced. Not just lust, not just happiness, but a feeling of rightness, of belonging. Of mate.
Derek got home after midnight, weary but content. He stopped in front of his own door, the sound of the heartbeat inside bringing an instinctive smile to his face.
He let himself in quietly, dropping the bag of gear by the front door with a muted clank. A little hunting through the kitchen scared up a bottle of water and a protein bar, and he brought them with him into the next room.
Stalker, Laura’s voice echoed teasingly in his ear, but Derek brushed the thought aside. That was one of the most amazing things. He was allowed to look, now. Stiles was in his bed, and for as long as Derek lived he thought that he would never quite get over seeing him there.
He stood beside the bed, alternating between pulls on the water bottle and bites of the protein bar, content to just watch Stiles sleep. He was starfished over the whole mattress as usual, flopped over on his stomach. His head was half-buried in pillows so that mostly the wide span of his mole-dotted shoulders and the deep sweep of his back was visible, down to where a pair of soft-looking pajama bottoms clung to the swell of his ass. The top sheet and blanket were tangled up in his legs, and Derek knew it would be a matter of time before Stiles flailed free of them before becoming right back tangled up again only a short time later.
Stiles snuffled gently in his sleep and Derek stifled a laugh, pulling one of the pillows aside a bit until he could see Stiles’ face. Stiles’ mouth was slightly open, his eyelashes a dark crescent against his cheek. He looked younger in sleep, as if the fierce focus he needed to navigate his daily life without sight was suddenly eased. Yet even in sleep Stiles was never completely still — his eyelashes fluttering, his brow twitching as Derek watched. It was almost achingly endearing.
Then Stiles stirred — licking his lips and snuggling deeper into the bed in a slow, sinuous movement that sent a jolt of heat straight to Derek’s groin. Quick as that, the tender affection Derek was feeling toward Stiles transmuted instantly to lust, sending Derek’s blood pounding in his veins, his mouth salivating with the need to taste Stiles’ skin. Derek stripped quickly and efficiently, sliding into bed beside Stiles.
He huffed in a deep breath, letting the rich scent of Stiles coat his throat. This close, with the warmth emanating off Stiles’ body, Derek could smell the slightest edge of arousal, hot and honey-sweet. Not like Stiles had gotten off, but like he had thought about it a little bit. Like he had maybe given himself a few strokes, waiting for Derek in his darkened apartment, in the soft bed that smelled almost entirely of the two of them now.
Slowly, deliberately, Derek traced his fingertips down from the curve of Stiles’ shoulder to the deep hollow of his lower back, listening as Stiles’ heartbeat quickened, his breath hitching for a moment as he swam back up to consciousness.
“D’rek?” Stiles mumbled.
“Yeah. It’s me,” Derek affirmed, resting down on his back, making room for Stiles to roll in closer, his head tucking in automatically against Derek’s neck, his arm wrapping around his chest.
“How’re th’ pups?” Stiles murmured into Derek’s collarbone. Derek rolled his eyes. It had only been a few days since Erica and Boyd had been successfully turned, and Derek had already given up on trying to get Stiles to call them anything else.
“Good.” Derek smiled, unable to fully contain the swell of pride. “Really good,” he amended. “Their control — it’s amazing for how recently they were bitten. And Isaac is really great with them — he seems to be able to sense exactly how they’re feeling, when they’re close to losing control. We didn’t even need the restraints at all today.” Derek shook his head, bemused. “The pack bond is so strong already, it’s — it’s amazing.”
“Toldya,” Stiles yawned, pushing himself up on one elbow and scrubbing a hand over his face as he woke up a bit more. “Y’re a great alpha.”
Derek shook his head. “I don’t think I can take the credit.” He could feel his own brow furrow as he tried to put it into words. “I mean, my mom was the greatest alpha, but even with her — I don’t think there were family members who were as fully bonded to the pack as Isaac and Erica and Boyd seem to be. It’s — I don’t know how to explain it.”
Stiles was tracing absent-minded patterns in Derek’s chest hair. “Well, your family was close, but they were pack because they wanted to be.” He shrugged, the dim lamplight burnishing the curve of his shoulders with a golden glow. “It’s more than that for Isaac and Erica and Boyd. They needed a pack. So did you. That’s gotta help make the bond stronger.”
Derek thought about that. It made him feel warm inside, the idea that he had done something good for his pack. Something they needed.
He was so lost in his thoughts that it took a moment for him to realize that the hand on his chest had traced its way lower, now brushing slow circles on the outside of his thigh.
“Now, I know you didn’t get naked and wake me up just to talk about the pups,” Stiles murmured, and Derek grunted his agreement, dismissing the rest of the pack from his mind.
He leaned in, capturing Stiles’ mouth in a slow, languid kiss that sent heat drizzling down his spine.
Stiles finally broke off the kiss with a gasp. “So,” he said breathlessly. “I was thinking —”
“Mmm,” Derek interrupted, catching Stiles’ plump lower lip between his own before biting it gently. “I can smell it on you,” he teased, his hand creeping down to lazily palm Stiles’ half-hard cock through the thin fabric of his pajama bottoms.
“Asshole,” Stiles groaned, but his lips chased Derek’s as he pulled back, coaxing another slow, deep kiss out of him.
“You were thinking?” Derek prompted eventually, breaking the kiss to suck little nipping bites down Stiles’ neck.
“Fuck.” Stiles squirmed underneath him at the same time as he tipped his head, exposing his neck even more fully to Derek’s efforts. “Yeah, I was — oh fuck, I was thinking…”
Derek had moved on to Stiles’ nipple now, licking and sucking at it as he brushed his knuckles lightly over Stiles’ cock, feeling it fattening up nicely under the soft cotton.
“Hmmm?” He prompted again after a few moments, lifting his head and stilling his hand.
“Aaurgh,” Stiles groaned in frustration. “Come up here so I can think for a minute,” he complained, pulling at Derek’s shoulders until Derek was at his level, and then pushing until he was on his back, Stiles nestling securely between his thighs.
“I was thinking,” Stiles continued pointedly as Derek traced a hand through his hair. “That I wanted to try blowing you.”
The hand in Stiles’ hair stilled in surprise even as Derek’s hips bucked up involuntarily at the idea, punching a soft noise out of both of them.
“So I take it you like the idea?” Stiles grinned, rolling his hips again against the rigid line of Derek’s cock.
“You’re — you’re sure?” Derek found himself suddenly breathless, his heart pounding in his chest. God, but he’d dreamed of having Stiles’ mouth on him...
Stiles smiled wickedly, tilting his head so that Derek’s fingers at his temple trailed down his cheek. He licked teasingly at Derek’s fingertips before sucking two fingers deep into the heat of his mouth.
“Oh god — oh fuck,” Derek breathed, staring avidly at Stiles’ lush mouth wrapped around the length of his fingers. He had to close his eyes, bucking up again helplessly at the hot press of Stiles’ tongue against the pads of his fingertips as Stiles pulled off again with a obscene, sucking pop.
“I’m sure,” Stiles smirked, already scooting down Derek’s body, trailing kisses down his chest until Stiles’ broad shoulders were spreading Derek’s thighs further apart. “Just —” Stiles’ hands pressed briefly down on Derek’s hips. “Try to stay still.”
“Yeah.” Derek traced a hand over Stiles’ cheekbone where Stiles was nuzzling at his hip. “I promise.”
Derek was already so primed just at the thought of it, his cock flushed and leaking against his belly. Despite his best intentions, the first touch of Stiles’ mouth caused him to jolt up involuntarily. “Sorry...sorry,” he groaned.
“S’okay,” Stiles muttered, but Derek wound his hands into the sheets regardless, willing himself to do a better job staying still as Stiles worked his way slowly up from the base to the tip, just exploring.
Derek felt the muscles in his body tensing, the breath rasping in his chest as every nerve ending seemed focused in on Stiles’ mouth, on the pink tongue darting out kitten-quick, licking up the length of Derek’s cock.
“God, Stiles,” Derek breathed, before Stiles swirled his tongue over the head of Derek’s cock, stealing any further words from him.
“Good?” Stiles asked, the quirk of his mouth suggesting that he already knew the answer.
“Yeah — so good,” Derek mumbled, distracted by the sight of Stiles’ long fingers working his spit-slick length as he waited for Derek’s response. “Just...please.”
“Knew I could make you beg,” Stiles teased, and then his mouth was opening again, lips wrapping around Derek’s cock with a muffled hum of satisfaction, and Derek was lost to sensation. He hardly knew what to focus on — the hot press of Stiles’ mouth, the flutter of his eyelashes as he took Derek deeper, the soft, eager sounds he was making…
He tried to force himself to play close attention, to scent if Stiles was feeling any panic or anxiety, but all he could smell was wave after wave of warm honey-thick arousal and happiness. The scent of Stiles seemed to surround him, another kind of embrace, heightening the pleasure gathering at the base of his spine.
Stiles’ eyes were closed in concentration, his brow furrowed just a bit as he experimented with taking Derek even deeper, letting the head of Derek’s cock skim the back of his throat. Derek felt the jolt of it all the way to his toes, grinding his teeth and fisting his hands in the sheets to hold back his shift.
It was as if Stiles could read his mind. He reached out, untangling Derek’s hand from the sheets. “C’mon, babe. I know you want to,” he rasped. “Let it go.”
Derek smothered the whine in his throat as Stiles’ mouth closed around him again. He threw his head back, letting the shift come over him, his fangs and claws dropping as the luscious scents intensified a thousand-fold. A wave of scent rolled over him — his own skin and sweat and arousal, mixed with Stiles’ so thoroughly that he couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended.
With every bob of his head Stiles was rocking gently into the mattress now, and in his shifted state Derek could smell the precome wetting the fabric of his pajama bottoms, the sweat gathering in the hollow of his spine, the reflexive tears springing to the corner of his eyes when he greedily took Derek deeper than he could handle.
Stiles’ eyelashes were dark against the hectic flush of his cheeks. His lips were shiny, already swollen red from taking Derek’s cock. The muscles of his back and shoulders glowed golden in the lamplight, rippling as he rutted into the soft mattress. He was so goddamn beautiful it made Derek feel like his heart was going to burst out of his chest.
“Stiles.” The words came out lispy around his lengthened teeth. “I’ve got to...I’m gonna.” He could feel his whole body trembling with the strain of staying still, the coil of pleasure tightening in his belly with every swirl of Stiles’ tongue.
“Yeah,” Stiles breathed, his voice sounding truly wrecked. “C’mon.” Another wicked twist of his tongue, a slight inadvertent scrape of teeth, and Derek was coming hard into the warmth of his mouth, messy spurts that seemed to shake his whole body, ripping growls of pleasure from his throat as Stiles swallowed around him.
“Fuck. Stiles,” Derek managed weakly as Stiles milked the last shudders from him gently. “I —”
But Stiles was already clambering up Derek’s body, carelessly wiping a forearm across his mouth. He hurriedly skimmed off his pajama bottoms, straddling Derek’s waist as he stretched for the bedside drawer. “Get your claws in,” he said urgently. “I need your fingers in me, like yesterday.”
“God,” Derek panted, his head spinning. “Yeah.” Stiles was so frantic that Derek was still retracting his claws as Stiles grabbed his hand, squirting lube messily over his fingers.
“C’mon, Der,” he pleaded. “Go.”
Derek pushed one finger in to the hilt, drinking in Stiles’ pleased shudder, the surprised huff of his breath.
“God, that’s good,” Stiles said, his hips already working, fucking himself down on Derek’s finger. “More.”
Derek pressed another finger into the tight clench of Stiles’ body, watching the flush spread even further down his chest as Stiles made soft, happy little noises with every roll of his hips. “You love this so much,” he found himself saying in wonder.
“‘Course,” Stiles breathed, slowing his motions just a bit as he adjusted to the greater thickness. “Don’t you?”
“I —” I don’t, he meant to say, but what came out of his mouth was the more truthful, “I don’t know.”
Stiles stilled in surprise and Derek took up the slack, pushing his fingers in and out, strong and steady, setting a methodical pace.
“Jesus,” Stiles said, and then shook his head as if brushing aside the distraction. “Do you want to find out?” he asked, the neutral tone of his voice belied by the new flush of arousal in his scent.
Stiles made another desperate little noise as Derek pushed in a third finger, considering. He hadn’t felt he was missing anything before, but the way Stiles flexed as he rode Derek’s fingers, grinding hard down into his palm — the eager grunt he made as Derek found the spot inside him that made him shiver…
“Yeah.” Derek managed. “Maybe.”
Stiles made a small, hurt sound, his hips moving faster, his body clinging greedily to Derek’s fingers. “Fuck, Derek, I would make it so good for you, I promise.” The words spilled from his slack lips, low and rushed. “I would, unh, I would take my time with you, make sure you loved it, and you would, fuck, I know you would, Christ, I wanna take you apart —”
He was so close, and Derek curled his fingertips, trying to get the angle just right, watching avidly as Stiles chased his own pleasure with total abandon. He reached for Stiles’ cock with his other hand but Stiles seemed to sense the movement, fumbling for Derek’s wrist before pinning it to the bed. “Wait,” he huffed. “I — fuck, Derek, I can — I’m gonna come like this, just like this, with you filling me up just right —”
He leaned forward, riding Derek’s fingers fast and frantic, head tilted back, exposing the long sweep of his throat. Derek couldn’t resist, the counterweight of Stiles heavy on his hips allowing him to sit up enough to get his mouth on that tender spot. He licked over the taut stretch of skin, tasting sex and salt and Stiles, before biting firmly.
Stiles cried out, a muffled word that might have been Derek’s name, and then he was coming in long shudders, riding Derek’s fingers roughly through his orgasm until the last of the tension left his body and he slumped forward, careless of the mess between them. Derek gently pulled his fingers away, licking soothingly over the mark of his blunt-toothed bite on Stiles’ neck before they both settled back.
They lay there for awhile, silent and content. Derek ignored the stickiness on his belly and focused on the warmth of Stiles, heaped bonelessly over his chest, his heart beating quick and strong against Derek’s skin. If Derek concentrated, he could feel the rest of the pack as well, sleepiness and satisfaction, and the pull of the coming full moon.
Derek found his thoughts drifting drowsily, and finally, reluctantly, he rolled to the side, tipping Stiles off his chest. “Noooooo,” Stiles complained.
“We’re gonna be stuck together, lazy.” Derek took a moment to admire the way Stiles looked in his bed, all loose-limbed and rumpled. He ruffled Stiles’ hair up even further, making him huff in irritation, before going to the bathroom. He cleaned himself off and then brought a damp washcloth back to Stiles, gently wiping down his belly and thighs.
“Cold,” Stiles complained again as Derek left to throw the washcloth in the hamper. As soon as Derek lay down again Stiles was scooting back against him, pulling Derek’s arm across his waist.
Derek nuzzled into the nape of Stiles’ neck with a satisfied sigh.
“‘M always the little spoon,” Stiles murmured, sounding already mostly asleep.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t like it that way,” Derek answered, smiling against Stiles’ skin.
“Yeah,” Stiles sighed, and Derek felt the moment that he dropped fully into sleep, his breathing turning deep and even, muscles relaxed aside from the occasional twitch.
Derek held Stiles close, breathing in his warmth and scent, luxuriating in the strength of the bond between them and the lesser pull of his beta wolves, all safe and happy under the waxing moon.
So, my wonderful beta says that people leave fewer comments on smutty chapters because they're too shy. Prove her wrong, people. Prove her wrong. ;-)
Chapter 18: Secrets
Billows of smoke surround him, singeing his sinuses and searing his throat. He can hear the screams of his family, can smell the charring of his own skin and hair as he scrabbles at the wall. His claws tear, the fine bones of his fingers breaking and rehealing and breaking again as he claws at the cinderblock in a mindless frenzy.
With a final, desperate heave he manages to dislodge a block, pushing it forward with the full weight of his body, shoulders dislocating under the strain. He feels the rough surface tearing at his shoulders, his hips, scraping over his shins. His head spins as he suddenly finds himself in the fresh, cold air.
“Peter!” Talia’s frantic roar fills his head as she shoves Cora up towards him through the hole he had made. “Peter!”
He reaches back, feeling Cora’s small hand find his. He tries to pull and —
The world explodes in fire and death.
Derek awoke with a violent roar, fangs and claws already out, heart pounding in his chest. For a moment he still felt his lungs choked with smoke, his eyes gritted with ash. Then suddenly the illusion dissipated, and all he could smell was Stiles, and fear, and blood.
“Stiles?” he rasped frantically, tripping over the bedsheets in his rush to get up.
Derek swung his head, his night vision finding Stiles instantly. He was pressed up against the far wall, shaking, his warm scent soured with fear and blood.
Derek’s words failed him, only a high panicked whine escaping him as he forced the shift back, running to Stiles. He dropped to his knees in front of him, hands bracketing Stiles’ ribs to hold him still so he could look.
“It’s okay.” Stiles’ trembling hand covered Derek’s, the long pale fingers tipped with blood from where he must have felt his own wounds. “It’s — it’s not bad.”
“I hurt you.” Derek started to drain the pain automatically as he frantically looked Stiles over. The scratches were not as bad as they could have been but they were bad enough, a bloody scrape from Stiles’ shoulder, across his chest almost to his belly. A little deeper and he could have pierced Stiles’ heart, torn his lungs, ripped his guts open. “I could have — I could have —”
“Breathe, babe.” Stiles’ other hand was shocky-cold on Derek’s face. “It’s okay. Listen, Scott is still gone. Use my keys, there’s a first aid kit under the sink in the bathroom, okay?”
“Yeah. Okay.” As Stiles had probably intended, it helped to have a task to do. Derek could still feel the panic clamoring at the back of his mind, but first he had to help Stiles. “Just —” He scooped Stiles up against his chest, carrying him towards the bed.
“What the — are you fucking kidding me?” Stiles was smacking at the arm Derek had looped under his knees. “It’s a fucking scratch, Derek, this does not warrant a goddamn damsel-in-distress carry,” he complained, his voice sounding steadier now.
“Okay,” Derek said placatingly, but still carried Stiles to the bed regardless, laying him down gently. “I’ll be right back.”
He grabbed Stiles’ keys from the table by the door, letting himself into their apartment, retrieving the first aid kit, and making it back to his place in record time. He was paralyzed by fear for a moment when he returned and found the bed empty, but quickly picked up Stiles’ scent and heartbeat in the bathroom.
Stiles was in pajama bottoms now — showing more presence of mind than Derek, who belatedly realized that he had just traversed the hall of their apartment building naked. Stiles was sitting on the closed toilet, a damp towel pressed to his chest.
Derek deposited the first aid kit on the edge of the tub, dropping to his knees again in front of Stiles, his hands hovering uncertainly. “What — what do I do?”
“Wash your hands first,” Stiles instructed gently.
Derek rushed to comply, washing his hands thoroughly with soap and water despite his hurry. “What if — what if you need —” Derek scoured his memory for what happened to humans when they got hurt. “Stitches, or — or antibiotics or something?”
“Here, take a look,” Stiles said, peeling the wet towel away from his skin with a wince. “It only needs stitches if the skin is torn all the way through, or gaping. Can you see any fat, or muscle?”
Now that some of the blood was cleared away and Derek was a little calmer, he could see that the scratches weren’t as deep as he had feared. There were some deeper punctures at the shoulder, but Stiles must have pulled back almost instantly.
“No,” Derek said in relief.
“See,” Stiles said soothingly, grabbing his hand again and squeezing. “Told you it wasn’t so bad. There’s a tube of antibacterial ointment in the first aid kit.”
There were two tubes in the kit, and Derek pulled them both out. The Braille labels had been stuck over them, obscuring the printed text. Derek put them both in Stiles’ hand. “Which one?” he asked.
He felt tears suddenly spring to his eyes and he bowed his head, resting his forehead on Stiles’ knee. “I’m sorry,” he said, voice thick with frustration. “I’m useless.” Stiles was the one who was hurt, who couldn’t even see. Derek was supposed to be an alpha, and he couldn’t do anything right.
“Hey.” Stiles’ fingers were tracing gently through his hair. “Come up here.” His hand trailed down to Derek’s jaw, lifting his head gently. “It’s fine,” Stiles said firmly, leaning down despite how it must hurt his wounds. Derek pressed upwards, easing Stiles back with a hand at his shoulder, but Stiles was relentless, his lips finding Derek’s, the kiss soft and sweet and unhurried until Derek sighed into it, helpless to do anything but respond in kind.
“That’s better,” Stiles said, his smile warm. He let go of Derek’s jaw, skimming the fingers of his right hand over the tubes still clasped in his left hand. “This one,” he said, handing it to Derek.
With Stiles’ instruction, Derek applied the antibacterial ointment and then dressed the scratches. By the time he had finished and cleaned up the bathroom he still felt jittery and raw.
“I’m wiped,” Stiles said, yawning widely. “Come back to bed.”
“What?” Derek felt his heart skip in his chest. “You can’t — “ He set his jaw, folding his arms over his chest. “You can’t.”
“Can’t what?” Stiles was still making his way toward the bed and Derek caught his arm stubbornly.
“You can’t sleep here any more. Are you crazy? Do you not realize what almost happened?”
“It’s not a big deal,” Stiles said, shrugging. “I shouldn’t have tried to wake you up. Next time I’ll just —”
“Next time?!” Derek could hear his own voice was overloud, but the thought was terrifying to him. Was Stiles really so careless of his own safety? “There’s not gonna be any next time.”
“Listen.” Stiles’ voice had a sharp edge to it now too. “You’re not thinking rationally right now.”
“I’m the one not thinking rationally? You’re the one who almost got clawed open and wants to crawl right back into bed with —”
“With what?” Stiles challenged.
“With a monster,” Derek snarled. “Someone who could cut you open before you could even scream.”
“That’s not who you are.” Stiles’ heartbeat was rapid but steady, his voice confident. Naive.
“You have no idea,” Derek gritted out. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”
“Well maybe I would if you would just fucking talk about it once in a while,” Stiles exploded, his arms flailing.
“I —” Derek suddenly felt cornered, the hair on the back of his neck prickling. He stepped back a few paces, finding it hard to draw in a full breath.
“Who’s Peter?” Stiles interrupted, his voice cutting.
Derek’s heart pounded uncomfortably in his chest, his mouth suddenly dry. “What?”
“That’s the name you were calling, in your nightmare. So who is it? You’ve never mentioned him before.”
“That’s because I don’t want to talk about it,” Derek managed unsteadily.
“That’s a big fucking surprise,” Stiles said acidly. “Since when have you ever wanted to talk about anything? But maybe you need to fucking talk about it, did you ever think of that? Maybe you wouldn’t be clawing things in your fucking sleep if you could just —”
“I can’t talk about it.”
“Why?!” Stiles voice was exasperated now. “Why — what could you possibly — why the fuck are you keeping all these secrets?”
Derek stood in silence, his hands clenched, his teeth gritted. He didn’t know what to say.
His silence seemed to infuriate Stiles again. “What happened to Laura, Derek?” he asked, his voice sharp as a lash. “How did you become alpha? Who the hell is Peter?!”
“Why are you pushing?” Derek snarled back. “You said I could tell you when I was ready!”
“Yeah? And when will that be?” The question seemed to ring in the air between them. Derek had no answer to that, and Stiles knew it.
Derek found himself searching for anything that would help him escape this conversation. “Why does it matter so much to you?”
“Why!? —” Stiles flailed again in frustration. “Maybe because you wake up fucking screaming in the night about it? Maybe because losing Laura was probably the worst thing to happen to you since your whole family was murdered and you can’t even tell me about it? Maybe because you don’t trust me enough to —”
Derek felt sick, his stomach roiling. “I trust you with my life,” he interrupted. “How can you not know that?”
“It’s not the same.” Some of the fight seemed to have gone out of Stiles too, his voice growing thick with tears as his whole body seemed to deflate.
“Do you know —“ he asked, before taking a deep breath and letting it out with a harsh sigh. “I heard you telling a story to Isaac once, and you slipped, and said your eyes were blue before you became alpha. He didn’t know what that meant, but I do.” Stiles blinked rapidly, the smell of salt sharp in the air. “Whatever it is about how Laura died, and whoever this Peter guy is, you think that if I know, it’s going to change the way I feel about you. You don’t trust me to love you anyway. But I love you no matter what happened. Anything that you did — I know who you are now. And — and I don’t understand how you can’t know that.”
Derek felt bile rising in his throat. “I didn’t kill Laura,” he said numbly. “How could you think —”
“I don’t —” Stiles started, but Derek couldn’t hear any more. He felt like he was fracturing apart, somewhere deep inside.
“I think you should leave,” he said woodenly.
Stiles’ head jerked up, his mouth falling open. “You’re — you’re kicking me out?”
“It’s —” Derek set his jaw stubbornly. “It’s better if you go.”
Stiles’ shoulders slumped, his adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed thickly. “Yeah,” he said, wiping a palm across his eyes. He made his way to the bedside table, grabbing Jarvis and his charger. “Maybe you’re right,” he said softly, his voice raspy with unshed tears.
Derek sat down on the bed, his head in his hands, as Stiles made his way to the front door. He heard some jangling, and then a soft click, but he didn’t look up. He heard Stiles grab his cane from its spot by the door, the sweep-tap of it as he crossed the threshold, the click of the latch as the door closed behind him.
Derek got up to lock the door behind Stiles, but stopped in his tracks, his eyes fixed on the table by the door. The key to his apartment — the one that he had given Stiles only this week — had been removed from Stiles’ key ring and left behind, the Braille label on it staring up at Derek in silent accusation.
Chapter 19: Smoke
Derek tossed and turned all night, trying to ignore the buzzing of his phone. Finally at dawn he gave up, sitting up and reading the series of texts from Stiles through bleary eyes.
We have to talk.
I’m sorry I pressured you.
You can’t just freeze me out like this.
I won’t let you.
Just talk to me already, you ridiculous dumbass.
Derek had stared at the texts, his thoughts a hopeless tangle, for almost an hour.
After the full moon, Derek had finally texted back, and Stiles had been silent since then.
Derek forced himself through the next few days in a numb haze. He tried to block what had happened with Stiles out of his mind, spending every minute possible away from his apartment. He trained Erica and Boyd and Isaac relentlessly in preparation for the full moon, being harder on them than he knew he should. The more he pushed the worse their control got, and their frustration and failure only fed his own agitation and self-doubt.
Finally, with the full moon and eclipse only hours away, Derek became increasingly fraught. He pushed Erica and Boyd even harder, trying to mask his insecurity with arrogance. It was only when tears were standing out in Erica’s eyes, Boyd’s hands shaking, that Derek realized he had crossed the line from mentor to tormentor. He pulled away in horror, pacing across the rundown warehouse they were using for training, pulling in deep, shaky breaths to try to tamp down on the panic rising in his chest.
Predictably, Isaac was the one to approach him, the wariness in his eyes making something in Derek’s chest shrink in shame.
“They’re picking up on your mood,” Isaac finally said, his voice soft and tentative. “We can all feel it through the bond — how upset you are. It’s — even I’m having trouble blocking it out.”
“I’m sorry.” Derek hung his head, feeling impossibly weary. “I’m so sorry, for everything.”
“Hey.” Isaac edged closer, and something about the cautious movement brought to mind all of Stiles’ speculations about him. It was the motion of someone who craved affection but remained ready to duck away from a fist at a moment’s notice, and Derek hated that he had caused it.
“Here,” he said, reaching out slowly, scent-marking the back of Isaac’s neck. Without warning, Isaac lunged closer, enclosing Derek in a warm hug. Derek stiffened in surprise, but then slowly relaxed into it. Before he knew it Erica was pressed up against his side, and Boyd’s tall presence pushed in closer too, his long arms wrapping around all three of them.
Derek sighed, taking in the scent of his pack, letting their presence smooth his jangled nerves. He could feel the connection of the pack strengthen, humming through them all, a deep resonance that he felt down to the marrow of his bones. He had been going about this all wrong, pushing them away instead of letting them help. And he had been doing the same to Stiles.
“Just talk to him,” Isaac said, and Derek startled at his apparent mind-reading. Isaac didn’t even slacken the hug in the slightest. “Stiles has been walking around for the past few days looking like someone killed his puppy,” he explained. “Ever since the bond went crazy a few nights ago with every awful thing that you were feeling. Whatever happened, you guys will fix it. That man is stupidly in love with you.”
“I screwed up,” Derek admitted. “Badly.”
“So?” Erica’s voice was sharp even as her arms tightened around Derek’s side. “Fix it.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Derek said, his throat tight at the very thought of it. His wall of denial was starting to crack and for the first time it really hit him, what his life would be like if Stiles weren’t in it anymore. “What if I can’t?”
He was pretty sure it was Boyd who cuffed him gently on the back of the head.
“Did you miss the part where he’s stupidly in love with you?” Isaac said wryly. “Jesus, as if watching you two knuckleheads dance around each other in the first place wasn’t painful enough…”
“I’m your alpha,” Derek interrupted, meaning to sound authoritative. The words came out embarrassingly plaintive instead.
“Well, alpha,” Boyd’s deep voice contributed. “Moon rose about five minutes ago. So what now?”
Derek pulled back in surprise. Erica and Boyd’s eyes were a luminous gold, but they seemed to be having no problem holding back the shift. The connection between the four of them was strong. The moon’s pull, despite the perigee, was just a mild, yearning tug against a pack so firmly anchored to each other.
“I’ve got a deck of cards,” Erica grinned, shifting her manicured nails to claws, admiring them in the moonlight, and then shifting them back again easily. “Any of you boys know how to play Snap?”
Derek returned to his apartment just as dawn was breaking. He felt exhausted down to his very bones but also hopeful, buoyed by the strength of his pack and their belief that he would be able to make things right with Stiles.
He crawled into his bed, too tired to even strip down, before staring at his phone.
I’m sorry I shut you out, he typed out.
It’s not what I want to do but I get scared.
I want to tell you what happened.
He started to put the phone down and then stopped.
Erica and Boyd did great, he typed, realizing that he should have sent the message long ago. Stiles must have been worried how the full moon had gone. It must have been hard for him to be cut off from information, maybe even staying up all night. Christ, but Derek was constantly messing up with him, in more ways than he could even count.
Derek put the phone down on his nightstand and rooted around for the plug to charge it, wondering if Stiles would text him back — now or ever. He had pretty much convinced himself it would be never, enough that the buzzing of the phone startled him into dropping it. He cursed and retrieved it from the floor.
We’ll talk later.
A wave of relief rushed over Derek and he sighed, feeling the last of the tension draining from his muscles. There were three dots where Stiles was composing something else, and Derek waited, watching the screen. The dots seemed to linger endlessly, making Derek expect a flood of text.
I love you.
Derek felt tears spring to his eyes, imagining Stiles hesitating over sending the final text, not sure if he should. Unsure how it would be received.
Me too, Derek texted back with shaky fingers. It was still all he had been able to say to Stiles, the actual words ‘I love you’ too tainted by memories of saying them to Kate. Yet another way in which Stiles was braver than he.
Derek felt overwhelmed, the exhaustion of four sleepless nights creeping up on him, making his eyes blur. He decided he would get up in just a minute, and get undressed. He just needed one more minute here, to close his eyes, searching for the faded trace of Stiles’ scent on the sheets. Just one more minute, he told himself as he plummeted into sleep.
Billows of smoke surround him, singeing his sinuses and searing his throat. He can hear the screams of his family, can smell the charring of his own skin and hair as he scrabbles at the wall. A voice breaks through, familiar even broken by coughs and hitching breaths.
It’s Stiles’ voice, and something in Derek breaks. Stiles isn’t supposed to be here, it doesn’t happen this way. He’s already losing everybody else he loves, he can’t lose Stiles too. The screams of his family rise, forming one long, screeching sound without end.
It’s just a dream, he mutters to himself, as Stiles’ voice calls his name again. It’s just a —
Something hit him in the face, cold and wet, and Derek roared to full consciousness, his heart pounding. Instead of the illusion dissipating as it usually did, however, the air remained choked with smoke, a grey haze obscuring Derek’s vision, his ears deafened by the shrill ringing sound.
“A dream —” Derek started to say aloud but the words came out choked with the thick smoke that rolled in as soon as he opened his mouth.
“Are you awake?” Stiles’ voice was close in his ear, sounding oddly muffled and almost impossible to distinguish over the harsh ringing sound. Stiles’ fingers had a death-grip on Derek’s wrist. “Thank fuck. Put the towel over your face and stay low.”
The cold wet thing smeared across his face again and Derek automatically grabbed it, his sleep-sluggish brain finally understanding Stiles’ words. He held the wet towel over his nose and mouth with one hand, following as Stiles tugged him to his knees on the floor by the other.
Derek felt completely disoriented — blinded by the thick haze in the air, able to smell nothing but the acrid smoke, able to hear nothing but the screech of the fire alarm. He froze for a moment, uncertain which way they were even facing. It felt like his nightmare come to life, and he could feel the panic rising up, paralyzing him.
“Here.” Stiles pulled on Derek’s hand until it was on his belt. “Stay with me.”
Then they were crawling, Stiles’ form an unclear, hunched shape at Derek’s side. Stiles seemed to find the way without hesitation, pausing only at the door to the hallway, placing his palm flat against the wood. “It’s worse out there,” Stiles muttered, his voice hoarse and muffled by his own wet towel. “We’ll go quick. Stay low.”
Stiles reached up, his hand protected by the tail of his flannel shirt, and slowly pulled the door open. A wave of heat crackled over them. Derek started to balk for a moment but then Stiles was moving and Derek was helpless to do anything but follow, scuttling on his hands and knees down the hallway, his shoulder pressed to Stiles’ hip.
Stiles pushed open the door to the stairs and they spilled through. The air was clearer in here and they paused for a moment, coughing and sputtering. Stiles’ face was flushed red, his eyes squinched shut and watering, and Derek thought that he had never seen anyone more beautiful in his life.
“Any — any other heartbeats on this floor?” Stiles asked in between rattling coughs. Derek tried to concentrate, tuning out the clang of the fire alarm, sending his recovering sense of hearing out past Stiles’ familiar heartbeat to scan the rest of the floor.
“No. Just — sirens on the street now, and footsteps coming up.” Stiles nodded and then Derek was pulling him to his feet, guiding him as they stumbled down the stairs. The heavy thump of firefighters in full equipment passed them on the first landing, the last one stopping briefly to check that they were all right before she continued on after her colleagues.
They made their way down the next few flights, the air growing clearer as they went. Derek pulled Stiles’ arm over his shoulder, half-carrying him the last few stairs and across the lobby as he wheezed and coughed. They burst out the lobby doors and into the street.
Derek looked up through watery eyes. Scott was charging toward them on the smoky street through a bedraggled crowd of their neighbors, dressed in his EMS uniform.
“Here.” Scott tried to pull Stiles’ other arm over his shoulder and Stiles pulled away, hissing in pain. His arm slid off Derek’s shoulders, hand coming up to cradle his right shoulder.
“Fuck.” Derek’s heart lurched, and he swept Stiles up against his body before he could protest, looping an arm under his knees and carrying him swiftly toward the waiting ambulance.
“Fucking bridal carry again,” Stiles complained into Derek’s chest, but the words lacked heat. His face was pale and clammy, his breathing still labored.
Scott had a stretcher ready and Derek set Stiles down on it. Scott put an oxygen mask over Stiles’ nose and mouth, already checking his vitals and asking him questions about medications and allergies. He offered a second mask to Derek, who shook his head. “I...it wasn’t too bad where I was,” he said, ignoring Scott’s skeptical look. He let Scott snap a pulse oximeter onto his finger, but then practically pushed him back in Stiles’ direction.
“‘M fine,” Stiles was protesting, his words muffled by the mask.
“What happened to your shoulder?” Scott asked, already cutting away Stiles’ overshirt and t-shirt with big shears.
“Jesus!” Stiles flinched as the shears touched his body. “Warn me when you’re doing that stuff, okay?” He brushed off Scott’s apology as Scott pulled the cloth away from his shoulder and arm, revealing red, swollen skin.
“Is this a burn?” Scott asked.
“It’s fine.” Stiles tried to brush Scott’s hands away, looking unaccountably shy. “I just — bashed it a little.”
“Your key.” It hadn’t occurred to Derek until now, but he clearly remembered Stiles leaving the key to his apartment behind the night they fought. “You didn’t — how did you get into my place to wake me up?”
Stiles hissed in pain as Scott manipulated his shoulder gently. “I may — I may have broken your door. A little,” he mumbled.
“You broke my door down with your shoulder?” Derek repeated in disbelief.
“Dude. That’s badass!” Scott grinned, his professional demeanor slipping for a moment. “It’s probably just sprained, but we’ll take you in for an x-ray to be sure,” he added. He pulled the shreds of the shirt free, pausing to examine the healing scratches on Stiles’ chest. “What happened here?” he asked, touching the red, raised tracks gently.
“Oh — this dog in the park,” Stiles mumbled. “Jumped up on me. It seriously needed a pedicure, man. I mean, do you think they have pedicures for dogs? With, like, little dog-sized massage chairs and everything…”
Scott turned narrowed eyes to Derek, who couldn’t help blushing and looking away. To his relief, before Scott could ask any more questions, Isaac appeared at Scott’s shoulder. “Backup MICU is here, we’re cleared to roll,” he said. “Hey Derek, Stiles,” he added, nodding to each. “Sorry your place is on fire.”
“Let’s load ‘em up,” Scott said, his hand on the back of the stretcher. “Derek, you riding with us? We’re not supposed to, but I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“Yeah.” Derek paused. “Stiles, is that okay with you?”
“You leave me now and I’ll kick your ass,” Stiles mumbled tiredly.
“Okay then.” Isaac shot Derek a thumbs up before grabbing the other end of the stretcher, steadying it as they collapsed the wheeled legs and loaded it in.
Derek followed them into the ambulance, sitting where Scott indicated while Isaac took the wheel.
Scott placed ice packs along Stiles’ shoulder and arm. “Vitals are strong,” he told them both. “Your CO2 reading was fine, but we’ll get you checked out at Presby just in case. They’ll want to make sure you don’t have any airway burns, and by then we’ll know if anything on fire in there was toxic.”
“I left my cane,” Stiles mumbled disconsolately.
“We can get you a temp,” Scott said soothingly. “I know it’s not the same, but it’ll probably be awhile before they clear the building for us to go back in.” Scott turned his attention to his radio, apparently calling ahead to the ED.
Derek wasn’t sure if he was allowed but he couldn’t hold back any longer — he reached out, brushing Stiles’ sweat-damp hair back from his brow. “You saved me,” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion.
“You woulda woken up —” Stiles started to say.
“You saved me,” Derek interrupted, trying to convey everything he couldn’t put into words. “You have to be okay,” he added desperately.
“Hey.” Stiles grabbed for Derek’s hand, giving it a tight squeeze. “I’m okay.” He smiled, smoke-reddened eyes crinkled above the oxygen mask. “We’re okay. Right?”
“Right.” Derek squeezed Stiles’ hand back, careful not to squeeze too hard, feeling the words calm something deep inside him. “We’re okay.”
Chapter 20: Steam
Derek stared down at the scuffed linoleum of the hospital waiting room. Scott had insisted that Derek get checked out as well, so he and Stiles had been separated to different exam rooms. Even though Scott was going off shift and had agreed to stay with Stiles, Derek’s belly still roiled with anxiety. Why was Stiles’ exam taking so much longer? What if there was some complication?
The rapid click of heels barely alerted him in time to catch Erica as she threw herself at him. Boyd was soon at his other side, with a more restrained but equally sincere pat on the back.
“Isaac told us everything,” Erica began, pushing Derek back into his seat at the same time she snuggled up against his side. “How is Stiles?”
“I dunno.” Derek’s voice came out higher than he expected, tight with fear. “It’s taking longer than I thought. Scott said he was okay in the ambulance, but —” The words clogged up in his throat and he had to stop and start again. “He came after me. That’s why he got hurt, coming to get me.”
“Aw, honey,” Erica said quietly. “I’m sure he’s —”
The familiar swoosh-tap of Stiles’ cane, immediately followed by the warm thump of his heartbeat, had Derek jumping to his feet.
Time seemed to skip for a moment because Derek didn’t even remember running to him, didn’t even think about how he should give Stiles some warning. The next thing he knew Stiles was in his arms, rocked back for a moment by the force of the embrace before Derek pulled him even closer, steadying him against his own body. He buried his nose into the crook of Stiles’ neck, desperately seeking out the scent of Stiles’ skin under the layer of smoke and ash. He closed his eyes, letting himself be soothed by the warmth of Stiles’ body, the steady rhythm of his pulse.
“Whoa. Easy big guy.” Stiles’ voice was still raspy from the smoke as he patted Derek’s head awkwardly with his left hand. “Watch the arm.”
Derek pulled back in alarm, belatedly noticing the sling on Stiles’ right arm, dark against the pale blue scrubs shirt he had been given.
"Are you —” he began, hand automatically going to the exposed skin of Stiles’ neck to leech the pain.
“Not here,” Stiles whispered, catching Derek’s hand and bringing it down, lacing their fingers together and squeezing the hand tightly. “It’s fine, it’s barely a sprain,” he added, loud enough for the others to hear even without werewolf hearing. “I mostly have this thing to keep the icepack on, I'll be able to ditch it in a day or two. I’m all checked out and ready to get outta here.” He leaned in, nuzzling into Derek’s neck, scratching his cheek across Derek’s stubble before kissing him softly on the lips. “I missed you too.”
Derek felt his heart tilt, giddy with the sudden relief and nearness of Stiles. He knew they still had issues to work out, things Derek had to make right, but the idea of it all suddenly seemed so easy in comparison to ever being apart from Stiles again.
“All right, lovebirds. Save the make-up sex for Isaac’s bed, he’ll hate that,” Erica said gleefully.
“What?” Derek finally wrenched his attention away from Stiles, flushing a little as he realized his pack was clustered around them, Scott watching attentively as well.
Erica jingled keys in front of Derek’s face as Boyd shoved some shoes into his hands. “You’re going back to Isaac’s place. He said you guys can crash there for as long as you need, and borrow his sweats or whatever, until you can get back into your place,” Erica clarified. “Boyd and I have to finish out our shift, but then we’ll meet you there. Put the shoes on, dummy.”
Derek looked down at the sneakers in confusion before realizing that they were in his size and that he was, in fact, still barefoot. He slid the shoes on as Boyd produced a hoodie also. “Brought this for Stiles,” he said laconically, proffering it to Derek as if seeking his approval.
Derek nodded, taking the hoodie from Boyd. It smelled like Boyd and Erica, but they were pack, and it would do until Derek could get his scent back onto Stiles himself. He unzipped the hoodie and laid it carefully over Stiles’ shoulders, helping him guide his good arm through until Stiles batted him away in irritation.
“I’m not a toddler, Derek,” he grumbled, pulling the hood up over his head. The sweatshirt was giant on him, the cuff hanging far past his fingertips and the hem falling at mid-thigh. His face was still smeared with ash in places, more on the right side than the left, obviously the result of having washed his face one-handed. Between the overlarge, swaddling hoodie, the soot-smeared face, and his petulant expression he looked just like a dirty, bedraggled child and Derek had to bite his cheek to smother his smile.
“C’mon, big man,” he teased, pressing Stiles’ cane into his left hand and placing a guiding hand on his shoulder. “Let’s get a cab.”
Stiles leaned against Derek in the cab, uncharacteristically quiet, smelling of both exhaustion and contentment under the acrid smell of smoke.
“You really okay?” Derek couldn’t help asking, his thumb on Stiles’ pulse point gently leeching any residual aches.
“Yeah.” Stiles sighed, cuddling in closer under Derek’s arm. “‘A little loopy from the oxygen and the pain drain, but otherwise okay. Just — tired. Dying for a shower. Still a little freaked out. But okay.”
“Yeah.” Derek closed his eyes, focusing on the warmth of Stiles against his side. “Me too.”
“Oh.” Stiles sat up a little straighter, shaking his head as if to wake himself up. “I almost forgot to tell you. Scott and Isaac have a friend in the fire company who’s keeping them updated. The fire was in 402 — you know, Mrs. Christakos? She left something in the oven and forgot about it, went down to gossip with Mrs. Zarakolu. It caught a dishtowel on fire and spread to the rest of the kitchen and a little bit of the hallway, but it was mostly smoke. It’s going to take at least until tomorrow to clear the place, but they don’t think there’s any structural damage, and nobody was hurt.”
“You were,” Derek grumbled, still feeling guilty that Stiles had hurt himself coming after Derek. If they hadn’t had that stupid fight, if Stiles had still had Derek’s key…
“Hey.” Stiles bumped his good shoulder hard into Derek’s side. “Stop that. We’re both fine. But I wanted you to know — it wasn’t hunters, or anything. Just an everyday accident.”
Derek realized he hadn’t even thought of that. His typical paranoia about hunters had been completely subsumed by his fear for Stiles’ safety, keeping him so focused on Stiles that he hadn’t even wondered how the fire had begun.
“Anyway, Scott thinks his friend can let him in to get a few things tonight. I've got enough meds on my keychain to last a few days, but I told him to get my cane and phone charger, and to look out for your wallet and phone. I can text him back, though, if there’s anything else you need.”
“No, that’s good.” Everything I need is here, Derek thought, but was too shy to say. “Tell Scott thanks.”
“No worries.” Stiles seemed to remember something, snickering as he buried his face into Derek’s shoulder. “Oh yeah, and about the scratches — Scott didn’t seem to believe my dog story. I think he thinks we’re into some kind of kinky knifeplay or something.”
Derek didn’t even know what that meant, but it didn’t sound good. “We can tell him. When things settle down, I mean. About — about the pack.”
Stiles jerked his head up so fast he almost whacked Derek in the nose. “Really? I mean, I know it would make things easier for Isaac and me, but —” He licked his lips nervously. “I know how important it is to you, to keep it a secret.”
“That’s —” Derek pulled in a deep, shaky breath. He rubbed his cheek against the top of Stiles’ head, hoping Stiles would understand what he was trying to say. “That’s a problem I want to work on. You shouldn’t — you shouldn’t have to keep secrets from people you care about.”
Stiles seemed to understand, his smile incandescent. “That’s — yeah. Good idea.” The smile turned into a smirk, his eyes lighting with mischief. “I mean, that kind of sounds familiar,” he added. “Like maybe some super-smart person might have said something like that, not too long ago —”
“Yeah, okay.” Derek pulled Stiles’ head back against his shoulder. He rested his cheek against Stiles’ hair, closing his eyes, losing himself in the steady rhythm of Stiles’ heartbeat. Okay.
In Isaac’s cramped bathroom, Derek helped Stiles remove the shoulder sling and then stood nearby awkwardly.
“I can — I can probably handle the rest on my own.” Stiles said, chewing on his lower lip nervously.
Derek’s wolf whined inside at the thought of leaving Stiles now. “Do you — is that what you want?” he asked, trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible.
Stiles seemed to relax a little, fingers reaching out to tangle up with Derek’s. “What do you want?”
“I want —” The need was so strong that it superseded Derek’s typical inability to get the words out. “I want to take care of you,” he said in a rush of words. “If that’s okay,” he backpedaled. “Could I just —” He closed his eyes, feeling foolish. “Could I do that?”
“Yeah.” He opened his eyes to Stiles’ brilliant smile, his red-rimmed eyes crinkled with happiness. “I like the sound of that. Maybe even — maybe we can even take care of each other.”
Derek couldn’t help smiling in return, his heart tugging sharply in his chest. “That sounds good.”
And it was good, Derek giving in to his wolf’s need to care for and coddle and groom his injured mate. He turned the water on, adjusting the temperature carefully. Then he gently pulled Stiles free of his clothes, carefully setting aside his keys and phone but letting the smoke-acrid garments fall to the ground.
He swiftly undressed himself and then guided Stiles under the stream of water, some of the residual tightness in his chest loosening as the warm water rinsed away the caustic scent and grimy soot from them both, Stiles’ own soft, clean scent clouding the humid air instead. Stiles was uncharacteristically pliant and loose-limbed, letting Derek turn him to and fro, using a washcloth and Isaac’s unscented soap to make sure every inch of creamy skin was washed clean.
Derek quickly rinsed himself and then he pulled Stiles back against his chest, protecting him from the spray of the shower with his own body as he rubbed shampoo into his hair, fingers massaging Stiles’ scalp as their bodies slipped and slid against each other.
Stiles hummed in pleasure, leaning back into Derek’s embrace as Derek ran firm fingers through his hair, and then down to his neck, working loose the tight muscles. As Stiles relaxed further, he began shifting deliciously, shamelessly rubbing the swell of his ass across Derek’s hardening cock until Derek wrapped an arm around his chest, holding him still. He tilted Stiles’ head back onto his shoulder, turning them so that the spray of the water rinsed the shampoo away, taking deep breaths to try to regain his control.
“Just lean back and relax,” Derek rumbled, loosening the arm around Stiles’ chest so he could thumb at his nipples before tracing a soapy hand down Stiles’ tender belly. “Let me take care of you.”
“Fuck,” Stiles breathed, as Derek grasped his cock, giving it a few slow strokes, the skin of it sleek and satiny against his palm. “Okay — fuck.” Derek could feel the moment he leaned back, letting Derek take more of his weight.
And Stiles was beautiful like this, his soft pink mouth open, his eyelashes dark against his flushed cheeks as his face smoothed out in bliss. The warmth of the shower had tinted his skin a ruddy pink all the way down to his belly. Derek took his time, teasing Stiles, winding him up slowly as he interspersed long, slow strokes of his hand on Stiles’ cock with dips down to massage his balls, even circling his rim with a teasing finger, pulling away as Stiles pressed back, seeking more.
“Derek,” Stiles whined, growing impatient, grinding back against the rigid line of Derek’s cock at his back.
“Shhh.” Derek gave Stiles another few slow, measured strokes, enjoying the way his cock looked, flushed and swollen as it slid through the tunnel of Derek’s fingers. “I’ll give you what you need.” He grazed blunt teeth over the line of Stiles’ neck, his wolf yipping with satisfaction in the possession of his mate, warm and yielding in his arms, scent mixing with his own in the steamy air. Stiles whined again, a small, involuntary sound as he tilted his head more, exposing his neck fully to Derek.
Derek growled at the sign of submission, itching to bite a mark in that creamy skin. Instead he craned closer, capturing Stiles’ lax mouth in a kiss, soft and sweet and hot as his hand quickened on Stiles’ cock. The teasing was over, Derek now setting a ruthless pace designed to tip Stiles over the edge, his thumb circling the sensitive crown of Stiles’ cock with every upstroke.
“Derek.” Stiles slurred the name against Derek’s mouth, lips clumsy with lust. He was panting in short, sharp breaths now, his body trembling where Derek braced it still. “Derek, oh god, you gotta, I need —”
“Yeah.” Derek was feeling almost light-headed himself, grinding his own cock hard now against the curve of Stiles’ ass, slick and warm, as he worked Stiles’ cock with swift, tight tugs of his fingers. “Wanna make you come. Wanna see it.” The words spilled from Derek’s lips, hushed and fevered. “C’mon, Stiles. Come for me.”
Stiles seemed as surprised by Derek’s words as Derek was himself. He cried out, a startled exhalation, his whole body arching as a jolt seemed to pass through him, and then he was coming in long full-bodied shudders, spilling hot over Derek’s hand.
“That’s it.” Derek hardly knew what nonsense he was muttering into Stiles’ damp skin as he stroked him gently, watching the waves of pleasure roll through his body. “So beautiful. So good for me, Stiles,” he murmured as Stiles collapsed more heavily against him in boneless languor.
The smell of Stiles’ release washed over him, fragrant in the steamy air. It made the hot coil of need in Derek’s belly wind tighter, his wolf prowling ever closer to the surface of his skin. This was his mate in his arms — his to cherish, his to please. His.
He gritted his teeth, anchoring Stiles’ come-drunk body against himself with both arms so he could grind against it tighter, harder, grunting sharply with every thrust.
“Here.” Stiles lurched forward, bracing himself against the shower tiles on his good shoulder, reaching back with clumsy fingers to guide Derek’s cock into the close, wet space between his thighs. “C’mon, babe. Go as hard as you want.”
A snarl ripped free from Derek at the idea — at the very posture of Stiles, bent and offering himself. There was such strength in that vulnerability — in the way Stiles laid himself open to what Derek so desperately needed, cheek pressed against the cold tiles, eyelashes spiky against the hectic flush of his skin, his panting breaths stirring the steamy air.
Derek cupped Stiles’ softening cock and balls in his hand, holding him as gently as he could as he slid his aching cock into the tight hot space. The muscles of Stiles’ wide shoulders flexed, pushing back against the weight of Derek’s body as Derek crowded in closer, pinning Stiles between his warm body and the cold tile wall. Derek couldn’t help setting his teeth to that skin, mouthing at the curve of Stiles’ shoulder and the tendon of his exposed neck as he snapped his hips, hard and fast, the full weight of his body behind every thrust.
And God, it felt so good, slick and fever-hot and tight as Stiles squeezed his thighs closer, the pressure making Derek’s eyelids flutter. It felt like coming home, the scent and feel of Stiles all around him after so many days of loneliness. Stiles seemed to feel it too, his cock giving a valiant twitch against Derek’s palm, his body undulating back to meet every sweet slide.
Derek could feel his blood pounding, his breath heaving in his overworked lungs as pleasure gathered white-hot in his belly. The last vestiges of control left him as he pumped hard against Stiles’ body, straining to get even closer, given fully over to instinct. Selfish in the frantic need to mate, to claim and possess and come. He wanted to put the mark of his body on Stiles’ skin, paint him with his come, press sensation into his very bones so that Stiles would feel the echo of it for days. And then, christ, Stiles started to babble, halting words interspersed with gasps as Derek jostled the air out of his body with the slap of skin against skin.
“Want you to fuck me like this next time,” Stiles was muttering as if to himself, words stuttering as if forced out by the jagged, helpless movements of Derek’s hips. “Want you inside me, want to feel you, as deep as you can get, never gonna let you go —”
And the very idea of it, of sinking deep, burying himself to the hilt in Stiles, smothering in his heat and softness and courage —
The orgasm wrenched through him, his spine bowing in a tight arch, strong spasms making his hips jerk erratically as if seeking to wring out every last vestige of sensation. It seemed to go on endlessly, leaving him light-headed and dazed. He slumped heavily against Stiles’ warm back, nuzzling mindlessly into his damp skin as the now-tepid water rained down on them.
“Oh god,” Stiles breathed out, his voice strained and faint. The sound of it jolted Derek into action, catching Stiles as his locked knees started to give, steadying him as they both stepped out of the shower on shaky legs. Stiles let Derek bundle him into a towel before he even turned the water off, leaning back against the sink where Derek guided him, looking sleepy and sated and utterly delicious.
Derek opened the bathroom door, letting the cool air of the apartment beyond roll over them, crisp and refreshing on their overheated skin. Derek felt light and empty, almost giddy with contentment, as Stiles let himself be dried off and ushered into soft sweatpants and a t-shirt borrowed from Isaac’s drawer. Derek carefully settled Stiles’ arm back into the shoulder sling before he pulled on some sweats himself, leaving his chest bare.
He guided Stiles to the couch, parting from him for only the few moments it took to gather bottles of water and a variety of food, shamelessly raiding Isaac’s refrigerator and cabinets. Providing. Then he nestled in close, wordlessly pressing the cold bottle of water into Stiles’ hands, pulling him back against his chest, rubbing his scent all over him.
“You’re practically purring,” Stiles sighed, sprawled loose-limbed and quiescent across Derek’s chest.
Derek hummed. “Happy,” he agreed. His voice came out rough and gravelly, as if the wolf had yet to fully retreat beneath his skin.
“Good.” Stiles gulped deep from the water bottle, his throat working. Then he snuggled in closer against the curve of Derek’s body, scrubbing his cheek against Derek’s shoulder in an unconscious echo of Derek’s own scenting behaviors. “You deserve the happy.”
Derek swallowed down the reflexive denial, thinking more carefully about what he wanted to say. “I want to deserve it,” he finally admitted. “I want to deserve you.”
“You —” Stiles bit down on his lip, as if considering his words carefully as well. “That’s not a thing. We both messed up. We’re both gonna work on making it better. But it’s not about you having to change to — to earn me, or whatever.” Stiles’ mouth tipped up in a fond smile. “You’ve got me. No getting rid of me at this point, to be honest. That’s all I wanted you to understand, and I — I shoulda been more patient about it. And if you’re not ready —”
“No.” The breath that Derek pulled in was shaky, but determined. “I need to tell you. And I want to do it now, before —” He shook his head, uncertain of how to describe it. The story he had to tell felt like a live thing, flapping and clawing in his throat, finally ready to struggle its way free. “I just need to do it now.”
“Okay.” Stiles held Derek’s hand tight, squeezing strength back into his numb fingers. “Okay.”
Chapter 21: Memories
Stiles was a quiet, steadying force at Derek’s side while he tried to get his thoughts in order, looking for a place to start. A fingerhold in the tangled web of betrayal and disaster that his life had been. But really, there was only one person at the center of it all.
“I had an uncle,” Derek said, his voice still low and rough. “My mom’s youngest brother.”
“Peter,” Stiles supplied softly, and Derek made a soft noise of affirmation.
“He was closer to my age than my mom’s. But he was older, and sarcastic, and cool, and — I looked up to him, even though I knew he was a little bit of a troublemaker. He liked to create conflict, it — it amused him — but he wasn’t bad. He wasn’t evil.” It was important to Derek that Stiles knew this.
“I had a girlfriend, when I was in ninth grade. Just for a little while. Her name was Paige. She was funny, and sarcastic, and —” Derek was suddenly swamped by memories, things he rarely let himself think about — the thud of his basketball in the school hallway and the clear, sonorous notes of a cello. “I didn’t really know her, I guess, looking back. But at the time, I thought it was forever, and Peter told me —” Derek cleared his throat but the lump remained. “Peter told me we could never be together if she stayed human. That — that she would be scared of who I really was. So he arranged — there was this other alpha, who was out to impress my mom. Peter got him to bite Paige.”
Derek could feel the shock jolt through Stiles. “Without — without her consent?” Stiles asked, the horror of it clear in his voice.
“I didn’t know.” Derek closed his eyes, overwhelmed with the shame of it, the events he had set into motion through his passivity and ignorance. “I didn’t know until you told Boyd and Erica, how important that was. I don’t know if Peter knew. I’d like to think that he didn’t, that there wasn’t something so wrong with him, even back then.”
Stiles nodded, as if to himself, assimilating the information. “And the Bite didn’t take.”
“I’d never — I’d never seen someone get turned,” Derek ground out. “I thought maybe it was supposed to be that way, but then —” He closed his eyes, but the image was burned into his mind, inescapable. “There was black fluid, welling up from everywhere — her eyes and her nose, and she was choking on it, and — and the pain.” He tried to take another deep breath but he couldn’t get air in. “So much pain, I couldn’t drain it fast enough.”
“It’s okay,” Stiles was murmuring. Derek felt Stiles’ warm fingers brush his cheeks, wiping away tears he hadn’t even realized were there.
“I snapped her neck,” Derek bit out. “She asked me to make it stop, and I couldn’t —” He managed to pull in a deep, shuddery breath. “I killed her.”
“Derek, you didn’t know —” Stiles started.
“I didn’t ask!” Derek roared. Stiles flinched and Derek closed his eyes in self-hatred. “I’m sorry,” he said, controlling his voice carefully. “But it’s true. Yes, I was a stupid kid, and yes, I didn’t want her to die, but — but I knew it was wrong. I knew if she wanted the Bite I should do it properly — introduce her to mom, and — and ask her if she wanted to be pack. But I was a coward. I just wanted it all to have happened already, and so I let Peter take the decision out of my hands, and I sat by and listened to her cry and whimper as that alpha forced the Bite on her, and by the time I got up the courage to do anything, it was too late.”
They sat in silence for awhile — Derek trying to control his heaving breath and racing pulse, Stiles pressed tight against his side, anchoring him to the present.
“My eyes were blue after that. The mark of a werewolf who has killed an innocent. My mom — she tried to tell me it was okay, that I was still —” he choked up again at the memory of his mother’s fingers, soft on his cheek. “That I was still beautiful, but most of the rest of the pack were...wary. They knew something had happened, although they weren’t sure what. And so I spent most of my time alone, and when Kate came along —”
Stiles made an involuntary, hurt noise and Derek sighed, pulling him closer. He wanted to get the rest of this out, but he gave himself a moment to just breathe in Stiles’ scent, letting the warmth and comfort of it soothe the raw edges of Derek’s nerves.
“Is she dead?” Stiles asked, eventually. “Kate?”
“Good.” Stiles’ voice was low and ferocious, startling Derek. He almost forgot, sometimes. Day to day, it was easy to only remember cheerful, wise-cracking Stiles. Stiles was warmth, and comfort, and sunny smiles. It was only at times like these that Derek was reminded that he was so much more. That he was also the boy who had lost his mother and his sight on the same day, and battled on. The boy who was best friends with a banshee, and who had defeated a kanima. The boy who ran with wolves. And now a man, who had practically walked through fire to save Derek’s undeserving life.
“You know about the fire,” Derek said, wanting to push through and get it all out, now that he had started. “Most of my family ended up in the basement, trying to find a way to escape the flames and the mountain ash. My parents and siblings and cousins, and — Peter was visiting too. He wasn’t around as much after Paige died — I still don’t know what happened between him and mom — but he’d show up from time to time, cause a little trouble, and then leave again. Only Laura and I were out of the house at the time, and we just ran. We thought they were all dead.”
Derek could feel Stiles’ sudden focus in the tension of his muscles. “Thought?”
Derek nodded automatically, before remembering that Stiles couldn’t see it. “Yeah. Until two years ago, when — when I felt Laura die.”
He could feel it again, just remembering, the phantom echo of that pain. “People say it’s like losing a limb, when a pack member dies, and we — we had lost so many. And then it was just us. Laura was my sister, and my only pack, and my alpha. And when she died, it felt like I was dying too. I wanted to die too.”
Stiles pushed his weight into Derek’s side in silent commiseration.
“And then — then I felt something different,” Derek continued. He felt his eyes flare red at the memory, and squeezed them shut. “The alpha power. Her strength, coming into me. And I still don’t know why it happened — it shouldn’t have happened.”
Stiles’ brow wrinkled in confusion. “Why not? You were her next of kin, her last remaining pack. Why wouldn’t it go to you?”
“Maybe, if she were killed in an accident, or by hunters, or something. But if an alpha is killed by another werewolf — it’s like a challenge to their authority. The alpha power should have passed to her killer.” He gritted out the next words before they could choke him. “It should have passed to Peter.”
“Peter? He — he survived the fire?” Stiles’ voice was breathless with shock. “He killed his own niece? His family?”
Derek pulled in another shuddery breath. “I don’t think I would have believed it myself, but he — have you ever seen a werewolf take, or give, a memory?”
“I’m not sure what — oh.” Derek could see the rapid thoughts clicking behind Stiles’ amber eyes. “When I was a kid, Satomi — the alpha of the Ito pack — she did something. One of her betas was hurt, bad, and couldn’t talk, and we had to figure out what had done it. She put her claws —” Stiles gestured to the back of his neck. “Is that? — afterwards, she just kinda knew, and told us it was a — a Vodník, you know, a — kind of an underwater ghoul.”
“Yeah. It’s hard to explain. I guess you could say it’s a memory, but it doesn’t feel like that. It feels — it feels like you’re living it.”
The bleakness in his voice seemed to communicate something to Stiles. “Peter did that to you,” Stiles said, his voice edged in fury.
“Yeah. At first — he showed up at our apartment, right after Laura died, and at first it seemed like — like a miracle. Like I was getting some piece of my family back, like I wouldn’t be alone after all.” Derek hung his head. “I was glad to see him,” he said bitterly. “I tried to hug him, and he just put his claws in my neck, and made me live it. Made me watch my family burn.”
Stiles was gripping Derek’s hand so tight it should be painful, but Derek welcomed the pressure, grounding him in the present against the vivid horrors of the past.
“We hadn’t realized,” Derek pressed on, doggedly. “He managed to get out of the basement, but it exploded. He was so burned, it was like — he was more dead than alive, but the healing was just enough to keep him like that. Enough for him to crawl away into the woods, where he wouldn’t be found. And then, I think he went insane there. Something twisted inside him. He showed me what it was like, in his mind. Eating insects and whatever else he could dig up, living feral. He would have died — he should have died — but he didn’t. He wouldn’t let himself. Because he wanted revenge so badly.”
“Against Kate?” Stiles asked.
“At first. It took him years to heal enough, to get his strength back, but then he killed her first. He showed me that. But then — he wanted to punish Laura and me. For leaving him, even though we didn’t know. And me for — for being with Kate. So he came after us too.”
“And he killed Laura.” Stiles seemed to be putting the pieces together in his mind, hardly aware that he was speaking aloud.
“Yeah. He showed me that too.” The words felt like they were clawing their way out of his throat now, sharp and painful. “Showed me how he cornered her, on her way home from work, and — she tried to fight back, but she wasn’t ready. When it came time to hurt him, she — she still thought of him as family. She hesitated. And he didn’t.”
“Fucking christ,” Stiles breathed. “But you said — he didn’t get the alpha power?”
“Yeah. I don’t know why the alpha power didn’t pass to him. It should have. Everyone knows that if you kill an alpha you inherit their powers. But maybe he was too — too twisted to allow it.”
“Or maybe —” Stiles was chewing on his bottom lip, deep in thought. “Maybe it was a gift. If Laura was dying, if she knew Peter was coming for you next, maybe she was able to — to will the alpha power to you instead. To give you the strength you would need. To fight Peter, and win. Because that’s what happened, didn’t it?”
“I killed him,” Derek confirmed. His head was spinning at the implications of Stiles’ words. He had always considered the alpha power a curse — final proof that he had failed his whole family, leaving no one else to receive it. The idea that Laura might have wished it, that with her dying breath she might have chosen him — “Do you think that’s possible?” he wondered aloud. “That Laura might have — might have been able to choose —”
“I don’t know, man.” Stiles’ eyes were damp, his smile bittersweet. “Laura sounds like a helluva badass, if you ask me. If anyone would have been able to do it, I think she would have.”
“Yeah.” Derek felt the tears spring to his eyes again, didn’t even try to fight them this time. “She would.” He felt shaken to his foundations by the idea. All this time, the alpha powers had seemed to him to have been a curse, the mark of his failure. To think of it otherwise, as Laura’s final gift to him — not only the strength to defeat Peter, but the gift of everything he had now. The ability to start his own pack, to have loved ones once again. It was all Laura had ever wanted for him, and if it had been in her power to give, she would have.
They sat there for awhile in silence, cuddled close, taking comfort in each other. Derek felt wrung-out and exhausted, but lighter as well, as if he really had been burdened by the secret in a way he hadn’t appreciated until the weight of it was lifted.
“Why couldn’t you tell me?” Stiles asked, as if reading his thoughts. “You have to know that — that I still feel the same way about you.”
Derek closed his eyes, trying to sort through his tangled motivations and match them to words. Stiles made it all sound so simple, when it seemed to Derek to be complicated beyond imagining.
“Part of it was shame,” he admitted finally. “For what I let happen to Paige. You asked me — when we first met, you asked me if I had anger issues, if I’d ever hurt anyone, and —”
“You dodged the question,” Stiles finished for him. “You said that you wouldn’t hurt anyone. I noticed.”
Derek huffed out a resigned laugh. Of course Stiles had noticed, and filed that information away. And yet he had still let Derek into his apartment, turning his back on him, reserving judgement. As seemed to frequently be the case, Derek didn’t know whether to admire Stiles’ courage or despair at his poor sense of self-preservation.
“I didn’t — I didn’t want you to be scared of me again. And then part of it was just not wanting to remember. And I guess there’s still a little bit of me that felt like — like I shouldn’t tell anyone about Peter. Like it would be a final betrayal.”
Derek gritted his teeth, unable to reconcile even in his own mind his conflicted feelings about Peter. “He was — what he was in the end, that wasn’t him,” he tried to explain to Stiles. “It wasn’t the uncle I knew. And the fire did that to him — I did that to him. I wanted to keep his secret, but — it was wrong of me. You need to know. Especially since — the way he transferred his memories to me — when I have the nightmares, it’s not really even me having a nightmare. It’s me, being him. And I would never hurt you, but he — he might.”
Stiles’ brow had been furrowed up in thought, but suddenly cleared. “That’s what you meant, that night,” he said slowly. “When you said I was in bed with a monster. You didn’t mean yourself, you — you meant Peter.”
“What Peter was at the end,” Derek amended. “Insane, and twisted, and —” Derek could feel his heart racing at the very thought. “I can’t — I hate the idea that he could still hurt you somehow, through me. That even a small part of him lives somewhere, in my consciousness, trying to get out.”
“It’s okay.” Stiles was rubbing at the tense muscles of Derek’s forearms, trying to relax his grip. “We’ll — we’ll figure out a way around it. If memories like that can be put in, they can be taken out, right? So we’ll find a way.”
Derek blinked in startlement. That was something he had never even thought of. Living the fire, carrying inside him Kate’s murder and Laura’s death and Peter’s insane, twisted consciousness — it seemed like a just punishment for what he had done. The idea that it could be undone — that he might still have the memory of what happened but not the experience of having lived it, or the fear of hurting those he loved because of it — it sounded too good to be true.
“We’ll find a way,” Stiles repeated, his voice warm and confident, and Derek closed his eyes for a moment and let himself believe.
Chapter 22: Surprise
Isaac got back first, knocking gently before letting himself in the unlocked door, smiling as he took in the sight of Stiles, dozing in Derek’s arms.
“Guess you worked it out then,” he grinned, before digging into the refrigerator and returning with a soda, settling on the other end of the sofa.
Erica and Boyd came next, arms loaded with takeout containers from the diner, the scent of curly fries and quiet conversation sending Stiles blinking back to awareness. Erica squeezed between Isaac and Derek on the couch, carefully stacking at least ten boxes of cheeseburgers and curly fries on the coffee table, while Boyd passed out milkshakes, putting quite a few more in the freezer, and then settled himself on the floor at their feet.
Kira let herself in with her own key, making both Erica and Boyd raise their eyebrows. Ridiculous, since her scent was all over the place — Derek made a mental note to work on their training in that regard. She brought a pile of Korean dumplings and a box set of Tarantino movies, cheerily asserting that the best way to get over a bad experience was by watching a whole lot of aesthetically-pleasing violence.
Allison and Scott showed up last, halfway into Inglourious Basterds, with the items they had been able to retrieve from the apartment and the welcome news that they would probably be allowed back in on Tuesday after the structural engineer had cleared the building. Allison also had an armful of dry cleaning on hangers.
“I figured you probably went to the place on the corner,” she told Derek, “So we gave them your phone number and picked up your dry cleaning. We thought if you wanted to go back to work before you could get into your place it would hold you over.”
“My girlfriend is the smartest woman in the world,” Scott said dreamily, and Erica and Isaac pelted him with curly fries for being such a sap.
They had also stuffed a couple of duffel bags with dirty laundry from both apartments, and they started up Isaac’s washer, pouring vinegar in to remove the smoky smell. The swishing of the washing machine was a soothing undertone to the movie and the easy conversation of the pack. Derek sprawled out on the sofa, Stiles pressed tight against his side, letting the comfort of it all wash over him. He couldn’t muster up the slightest concern for his apartment — after days of sadness and frustration and anxiety, he was more than content to be here, surrounded by the scents and sounds of his pack and mate.
He must have dozed off at some point. When he woke up blearily they were well into Reservoir Dogs, and the coffee table was now littered with tubs of ice cream. Stiles had his head in Derek’s lap and his legs draped across Boyd and Erica, who were now snuggled on the other end of the sofa. Allison and Kira were having some sort of in-depth conversation about archery, Scott watching them both with as close to heart-eyes as Derek had ever seen in real life. Isaac returned from the kitchen with two bottles of water, handing one to Scott and then settling down at his side with an arm slung familiarly around his neck.
“You awake?” Stiles said softly.
“Yeah.” Derek shifted a little so he could slide his fingers just under the hem of Stiles’ t-shirt, needing the feel of bare skin against his fingertips.
“Good.” Stiles yawned enormously and stretched, the action making his shirt ride up a little higher. Derek’s cock gave an interested twitch under Stiles’ cheek and Stiles smiled wickedly before extracting his legs from Erica and Boyd and sitting up, leaning heavily against Derek’s side.
“I need to pee, and I don’t think my cane can get me through this zoo without whacking anyone,” Stiles continued. “C’mon, Sleepywolf. Be my guide dog?”
“You’re such an asshole,” Derek said mildly, unable to keep the smile out of his voice. He pulled Stiles to his feet and walked him to the bathroom through the jumble of legs and dvd cases and assorted detritrus.
They made it through all of Kill Bill Volume 1 before everyone else started to get sleepy. Isaac, Kira, Allison, and Scott all piled into Isaac’s bed with a readiness that Derek tried very hard not to think too much about. Erica and Boyd shoved the coffee table aside and made a nest of blankets on the floor, snuggling in. Stiles started to move down to the floor also, yawning widely, his movements sleep-slow and languid.
“Stay here,” Derek rumbled, stretching out on the couch and pulling Stiles onto his chest.
“The way I flail around? I’ll be on the floor anyway in about five minutes,” Stiles contended. “Besides —” His voice dropped to a low murmur. “I thought you were worried about sleeping near me, in case —”
Derek pulled Stiles close, tugging the blanket draped over the back of the couch until it spread out over them both. “I’ve slept enough. I want you close right now.”
Derek could feel Stiles start to formulate a protest before he changed his mind, relaxing against Derek’s chest, snuggling his face into the crook of his neck. “Okay, but if you get an elbow to the face in the middle of the night, remember I warned you,” he muttered sleepily.
“Don’t worry about it.” Derek tightened his arms around Stiles, letting out his breath in a satisfied sigh. “I got you.”
On Tuesday evening Derek trudged home from the subway stop, dreading the task in front of him. They had been cleared to go back into their apartments yesterday. Stiles had stopped into his place before work today, but Derek had been avoiding the building for as long as possible.
To be honest, he would like nothing better than to crash on Isaac’s couch indefinitely, but at some point he had to face his smoke-damaged apartment. The thought of it made bile rise up in his throat, the scent of smoke and ash bringing up too many bad memories, even after all this time, but it had to be done.
“Stiles?” Stiles was leaning against the wall next to the stairwell door, messing with his phone.
“Derek!” Stiles smiled, tapping a few more buttons before he pulled the earbud from his ear and shoved Jarvis into his pocket. “I was waiting for you.” He pulled Derek into a kiss, soft and sweet.
“I thought you had to work late today?” Derek took in Stiles’ t-shirt and ratty jeans. “Did you even go in?”
“Hmmmm.” Stiles hummed noncommittally as his fingers worked at Derek’s tie, pulling it loose. “I’ve got a surprise for you. Is it okay if I —?”
He lifted the tie up, resting it a little in front of Derek’s eyes.
Derek’s nose wrinkled a little at the thought of facing the stench upstairs without vision to guide him, but he couldn’t resist the hopeful expression on Stiles’ face. “Okay,” he agreed, still confused. He was rewarded by a brilliant smile from Stiles, the last thing he saw before the blue silk settled over his eyes.
Stiles tied a loose knot at the back of Derek’s head before taking his hand, securing it in the crook of his elbow. “This is a turnaround, huh?” he remarked lightly as he guided Derek forward, snickering as Derek stumbled a little.
It was strange, letting himself be led by Stiles again, although under much less chaotic circumstances. As he stumbled along in the darkness, Derek found himself becoming acutely attuned to the sound of Stiles’ cane, slowly learning to interpret the tap and echoes the way Stiles must do automatically. It was unnerving, climbing the stairs without being able to see where he was going, but Stiles’ warmth and steady breathing was a comfort at his side, his distinctive heartbeat a melodic counterpoint to the sweep and tap of his cane as they cleared the third floor landing and continued upward.
Derek was so focused on the scent and sound and heat Stiles next to him that it took him a moment to realize what he wasn’t sensing — the expected stench of acrid smoke. Stiles pushed open the hallway door with a flourish, leading Derek inside.
As they approached his apartment door, Derek could hear the heartbeats and quiet whispers of those inside.
“Surprise!” they yelled in a ragged chorus as Stiles opened the door and pulled loose the knot in the tie.
Derek looked around, taking it all in. The whole pack was there, Kira and Scott and Allison too, dressed in paint-splattered clothes. The furniture was all moved slightly away from the walls, which smelled only faintly of low-VOC paint. Otherwise, the apartment smelled lightly of vinegar and baking soda, and not a hint of smoke.
“Was this okay?” Stiles was hovering anxiously at his side. “I know you’re kind of picky about who is in your apartment, but there’s no way I could have done it all on my own, and I figured —”
“It’s fine.” Derek squeezed Stiles’ hand, a warm bubble of affection rising up in his chest as he looked around at the smiling faces of his pack. “It’s — it’s amazing.”
“Oh! Good!” Stiles started tugging him around the apartment, highlighting the changes as the others broke into conversation, cleaning up the last of the paint supplies and starting to move the furniture back in place. “Boyd’s dad is a contractor, he pulled some strings and got his guys in to gut Mrs. Christakos’ kitchen and change all the drywall in the hallway and in here. They’re doing Scott’s — I mean, mine and Scott’s place — tomorrow. I did the floors, and Boyd moved and cleaned all the furniture. Everyone else painted and helped with the laundry and everything. We even helped Mrs. Christakos move her stuff down to her new apartment on the second floor. She’s right next to Mrs. Zarakolu now, they’re going to be incorrigible together.” Stiles was practically bouncing up and down in excitement. “You really like it?”
“It’s...it’s unbelievable.” Derek’s gaze touched on each member of his pack, making sure they knew how much he appreciated it. “I would have never expected — I can’t believe anyone did anything like this for me.”
“I know,” Stiles said simply. “That’s why we wanted to do it. And we’ll keep doing nice things for you, even when you stop being surprised by them.”
“I — I can’t —” Derek pulled Stiles into his arms, squeezing him with all the emotion he couldn’t convey with words.
“C’mon, big guy.” Stiles rubbed his cheek against Derek’s stubble and then bit teasingly at Derek’s earlobe, making him loosen his grasp. “Pizza’s on its way.”
Later that night Derek collected the pizza boxes as Stiles loaded the last of the glasses into the dishwasher. Derek felt tired but content, still trying to wrap his mind around everything his pack had done for him. Stiles was the instigator, no doubt, but still — for everyone else to skip out on work and school, pulling in favors and working all day just so that Derek was spared coming home to a smoky apartment — it was incredible.
“I’ll take these down to the recycling,” Derek said as Stiles started the dishwasher up.
“Do it in the morning.” Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek’s waist from behind, pressing the length of his body against Derek’s back.
“We’ll get mice.”
Stiles snorted against the back of Derek’s neck. “As if any mouse in New York City is stupid enough to invade the home of an apex predator like Derek Hale.” He reached around Derek’s body to pull the pizza boxes from his arms, balancing them on the kitchen counter.
“Come to bed,” Stiles whispered, his lips brushing warm and soft against Derek’s skin. “We need to make it smell like us again,” he added, carefully setting his teeth against the nape of Derek’s neck and biting down firmly.
Derek shivered, his hands coming up to brace himself against the kitchen counter as his knees seemed to turn weak, no doubt from all the blood rushing straight to his cock.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice low and rough as Stiles licked playfully at the marks of his teeth, palming Derek’s cock through his jeans. “Okay.”
He let Stiles herd him in the direction of the bed, shedding clothes as they went. Stiles was right, the sheets smelled fresh and clean but they didn’t smell of them, and that was something that needed to be remedied as soon as possible.
And so, Derek let Stiles press him back into the soft mattress, let Stiles kiss him long and sweet and slow until Derek was pushing up helplessly against his body.
“What —” Derek’s breath stuttered as Stiles gave him a long, indulgent stroke. “What do you want?”
“Nuh uh.” Stiles smiled wickedly, giving Derek another slow, long squeeze. “Tonight’s about you. So what do you want to do?”
“I —” Derek had been thinking about this ever since Stiles had first mentioned it, and something about tonight made it feel right. “I want —” As much as he wanted it, he still had trouble finding the words. He grasped Stiles’ fingers in his own, drawing them down a little further until they rested lightly where Derek wanted them most.
The wicked smirk dropped from Stiles’ face as he levered himself up on one elbow. “Really?” he said, surprise evident in his voice. “I —” He hesitated, looking uncertain, and Derek faltered as well, feeling his cheeks heat with the sudden force of his blush. He had thought that Stiles had been excited by the idea when he had first mentioned it, but maybe he was mistaken.
“If you don’t want to —” Derek started, and Stiles cut him off with a swift, hard kiss.
“Of course I want to,” he breathed against Derek’s lips. “God, Derek, you — I want that so much, it’s just…” A pink flush sat high on Stiles’ cheekbones now too. “I’ve never done that to anyone but myself, and — and I can’t see you. It’ll be hard for me to tell if — if it’s uncomfortable for you. You’ll have to tell me with words.”
He ducked in to kiss Derek again, as if irresistibly drawn, his tongue delving deep, almost desperately, before he pulled himself away with a breathless gasp. Desire seemed to have quickly subsumed his surprise, his voice a low purr when he spoke again. “Can you do that for me, babe?” he murmured, giving Derek’s cock another slow, luscious stroke at the same time.
“Yeah,” Derek breathed, bucking up into Stiles’ hand. Christ, if Stiles kept that up Derek was going to come before he ever got his fingers inside. And just the thought of those fingers…
Derek could fully admit to himself that he was just a little bit obsessed with Stiles’ long, dexterous fingers. Long before he had ever thought it a possibility that those fingers would touch his skin, he had been fascinated by them. The way they skimmed across a line of Braille text, the way they tapped away at Jarvis. The way they brushed so casually along the walls and furniture as Stiles navigated a new environment. And yet Stiles’ fingers were never so beautiful as they were now, wrapped firm and lovely around Derek’s flushed cock, stroking him tenderly, one thumb sliding up to circle the head. Derek imagined those fingers inside his own body and the thought was heady, intoxicating.
“Please,” he begged.
“Yeah.” Stiles’ voice was still a little breathless as he released Derek and started rummaging through the bedside table drawer for lube. “Oh god — yeah. Just — talk to me if you can. Let me know how it feels.” Stiles was spreading the lube on his fingers and the sight of them, glistening and slick and ready, sent another rush of heat through Derek’s body.
“I will. Just — start already.”
“Christ, impatient much? Cold lube is no joke, my friend —” And then suddenly any levity fled, as Stiles’ expression grew focused and intent, one blunt, slick finger pressing gently at the entrance to Derek’s body. “Fuck — I can’t believe — Derek —” Stiles was muttering, pressing teasing little circles until Derek thought he might go mad with anticipation.
“Go ahead. It feels — it feels good,” Derek managed, his hips hitching into every teasing touch, trying to draw Stiles’ finger deeper.
“Fuck, you’re so —” Whatever Stiles had planned to say was lost as his finger finally breached Derek’s body, sinking deep. It felt strange for a moment — not uncomfortable, just a new sensation.
“Okay?” Stiles’ voice was strung tight with tension. His left hand came to rest on the side of Derek’s face, and Derek realized that Stiles was trying to feel his expression with his fingertips. Just the thought of it — of the tenderness and concern Stiles had for him — was enough to make Derek relax. He let go, sighing into the sensation as Stiles’ finger slid a fraction deeper.
“Yeah.” He turned his face, nuzzling into Stiles’ palm, breathing in his scent. “It’s — it’s good.” He licked a stripe up Stiles’ damp palm, savoring the salty-sweet taste of his skin.
“Fuck, you’re so warm,” Stiles was muttering. He was stroking his finger in and out now, slowly, languidly. Derek felt himself softening, opening to that touch. He canted his hips into the sensation. It felt like the smooth glide of Stiles’ finger was kindling that warmth inside him, fullness and friction where he’d never felt it before, but suddenly craved it. Craved even more.
Derek realized his eyes had fluttered shut and he forced them open again. Stiles had his bottom lip caught between his teeth. His amber eyes were wide, the pupils dark and enormous. Just the sight of him made Derek’s pulse pound in his temples, his skin feeling hot and tight.
“Can you —” Derek started, the words cut off by a breathy gasp as Stiles swiveled his finger, seeming to light Derek up from the inside. “More,” Derek finally managed.
Stiles’ brow had been furrowed in concentration but it eased at Derek’s request, a slow sweet smile lighting his face. “Yeah,” he said. “Christ —”
Derek felt the blunt pressure of a second finger and he arched into the touch. The glide of Stiles’ fingers was achingly slow and gentle. Something about the care Stiles was taking made Derek feel vulnerable, but in the best way. He spread his legs wider, opening himself up more to Stiles’ touch.
Stiles groaned, pressing his forehead into Derek’s shoulder. Derek could feel Stiles’ cock grinding against his hip with every movement but he could hardly focus on the sensation, too enraptured by the new feeling of warmth and fullness and friction. The idea of Stiles’ fingers, inside him. The sight of Stiles’ strong forearm, tendons flexing as he worked between Derek’s thighs. The scent of him and Stiles and sex everywhere. The lingering salty-sweet taste of Stiles’ skin on his tongue.
Stiles curled his fingers a little and something seemed to jolt through Derek’s body, a spark of sensation that pushed a ragged moan from his lips.
“There we go,” Stiles murmured, a warm curl of satisfaction in his voice. He began to move with more confidence, thrusting deep, alternately skimming over that amazing spot and then pressing against it. Each deliberate drag of his fingers coaxed out another jolt of sensation, sending sparks skittering up Derek’s spine.
“Stiles.” Derek knew he was supposed to talk, he had promised to tell Stiles, but the only thing he could seem to manage was Stiles’ name.
“Easy,” Stiles was muttering. He slid down a little more, bracing Derek’s hip with his left hand as the fingers of his right hand continued their slow, relentless rhythm. The new angle allowed his fingers to go even deeper, flush to the palm. “Easy, now. You’re okay. I’ve got you.”
Derek felt something between a gasp and a sob leave his lips. It was just on the right side of overwhelming — the scent and sound and touch of Stiles all around him, inside and out. Derek was fully hard now, his flushed cock tapping against his belly with every pump of Stiles’ fingers. Derek felt the slightest pressure of another finger, just skimming where the skin felt tight and hot and sensitive, and he pushed down into it. “Please,” he ground out.
“Yeah.” Stiles’ voice was low and throaty, soothing Derek’s exposed nerves like a warm hand petting down his spine. “Fuck, yeah.”
Derek felt the third finger press in, slick and long and so full. Distantly he could hear the sounds he was making — gasps and grunts and needy little whimpers — but he was too flooded with sensation to care.
“You’re doing so well,” Stiles whispered, his voice thick with admiration. He was so close Derek could feel the huff of his breath against his hip, every word punctuated by a heated, forceful slide of Stiles’ fingers into the clench of his body. “Fuck, Derek, you’re taking it so well, so beautiful —”
Something about the praise, the open devotion in Stiles’ voice, sent another rush of warmth over Derek’s whole body. He heard himself whine again, rolling his hips harder to meet Stiles’ thrusts, the voluptuous fullness caressing and stroking and —
It all happened at once — the blunt pressure of Stiles’ thumb rubbing a circle on the taut skin right above where his fingers still delved deep, the nuzzle of Stiles’ open mouth up the length of Derek’s cock, and then hot, wet suction right at the head, Stiles’ tongue lapping and flicking delicately at the leaking tip.
Derek felt it shock right through him and then he was coming hard, his body flexing and clenching around Stiles’ still-thrusting fingers, his cock emptying in jerky pulses into the warmth of Stiles’ mouth as waves of pleasure roiled through him. Stiles worked him through it, milking the last shudders from him with skillful, deliberate ease until Derek slumped boneless to the bed, dizzy and replete.
“I’ve —” Stiles slid his fingers slowly out of Derek’s body, the tender, careful movement at odds with the raspy desperation in his voice. “Christ, Derek, I’ve got to —”
“Yeah.” Derek could hear the satisfied slur in his own voice. “Anything.”
Then Stiles was clambering on top of Derek, clumsy in his eagerness, loose limbs and flying elbows until he managed to plaster himself to Derek’s front. Before Derek could even wonder if Stiles was going to fuck him — could even wonder at how much the idea appealed to him — Stiles had nestled his cock into the crease of Derek’s groin, rutting fast and desperate as words spilled from his bitten-red lips.
“You were so — fuck, Derek, I can’t believe — so fucking hot, like you were made for me —”
“I was,” Derek found himself saying. Stiles had an almost desperate grasp, one hand wrapped under Derek’s right shoulder, the other clenched hard on his hip as he pushed and squirmed and writhed, grinding his hard cock against Derek’s damp skin. Derek held Stiles equally tight, arms flexing to steady his frantic rhythm. Their chests were pressed so tight Derek could feel Stiles’ heart beating, rabbit-fast against his skin. “I’m yours.”
Stiles made a high, choked noise and then he was coming, his face suffused with pleasure, his lean body racked with shudders as he spilled hot and wet between their bellies. Derek held him tight, breathing in the scent of him. Stiles smelled like sex and sweat and joy and satisfaction, and Derek inhaled deeply, feeling like he was about to burst out of his skin with happiness.
Derek let his senses fill until it felt like he would spill over with it — Stiles’ warmth and scent in his bed, and then outward to the rest of his apartment, filled with the comforting scent of his pack. It felt good, and right. He realized, to his surprise, that it felt — it felt like home.
Chapter 23: Debt
As it turned out, Scott handled the existence of werewolves with the same kind of sunny, easy acceptance he demonstrated in response to just about anything else.
“I work night shift,” he said with a shrug. “I’ve seen enough weird shit to know that something’s going on. Werewolves actually makes a lot of sense.”
With Scott finally in the loop and all of them settled back into their refurbished apartments, there was nothing left to hold Stiles back from entering full-on research mode. By the end of the first week he had apparently scoured every dark and hidden corner of the internet for information about werewolf memory transfer. In the next week he spread his net further, with elaborate interlibrary loan requests and favors called in from the Ito pack, passed along the network of emissaries and pack representatives.
Stiles bounced back and forth between the two apartments, smelling of caffeine and stress and concentration, kissing Derek almost absently before settling down with whatever task he had assigned himself for that evening.
Whatever pages could be scanned and run through optical character recognition Stiles sifted through himself. A slew of handwritten journal entries, inscribed in various spidery antique scripts, were assigned to Derek to read and summarize. A smaller amount of pages, apparently written in archaic Latin, were emailed to Lydia. “She got bored with classical Latin,” Stiles explained with a proud grin.
Derek put meals at Stiles’ side, guiding his hand to the edge of the plate, and Stiles chewed distractedly, hardly seeming to even notice what he was eating. On more than one occasion Derek fell into an exhausted slumber on the couch, photocopied pages scattered across his chest, lulled to sleep by Stiles’ soft murmurings and the rapid clicking of his Braille display.
Next came the Skype sessions. Most of them Stiles handled on his own — late night sessions with Lydia arguing over the nuances of some translation or another, or complex verbal gamesmanship with distant emissaries, trying to tease out a bit of truth from the often-cryptic guardians of their pack’s collective knowledge.
One particular session was handled more formally, however, Stiles arranging Derek at his side before accepting the call, only the slightly more-rapid-than-usual patter of his heartbeat betraying his nervousness.
“Stiles.” Satomi Ito’s voice was warm, but her expression was guarded, unreadable. She shifted her intent gaze to Derek. “Alpha Hale.”
Derek felt a shiver run down his spine. The last time he had heard those words they had been addressed to his mother, more than a decade ago. He met Alpha Ito’s appraising gaze with a careful nod, before dropping his eyes and exposing just enough of his neck to acknowledge her higher status.
“This is a serious matter you are considering. It is difficult enough to give memories, but to take them — the risks are considerable. And a risk to you is a risk to your pack, Alpha Hale.”
Derek heard Stiles make a soft noise of indignation at his side, but Derek simply nodded. Nothing she was telling him was any worse than what he had told himself, many times. “It is not something we are taking lightly.”
Alpha Ito seemed to search his face for a long moment, and then she nodded as well. “Our pack will provide whatever assistance we can. Stiles may never have officially joined the Ito pack, but he has our trust and protection. And we owe him debts we can never fully repay.”
Derek looked to Stiles in surprise. That was quite an acknowledgement for one alpha to make to another. To hear Stiles describe it, he had generally been the pack mascot — assisting with research, but relegated to the outskirts of any true conflict. Derek was starting to wonder just how much Stiles had underplayed his role in some of the pack exploits he had described.
“I’ve sent you a follow-up list of inquiries,” Stiles interrupted hurriedly. The tips of his ears had gone pink.
“I will attend to it immediately.” Alpha Ito’s gaze skimmed back to Derek, her mouth pursing as she considered him intently. “You have the look of your mother about you, Alpha Hale.”
Derek felt his mouth go dry. “You knew her?”
“Not well. But only three territories divide our family lands. We met several times, and allied when necessary. We respected one another. She was a good woman.”
Derek tried to swallow down the lump in his throat. “She was,” he agreed quietly. He felt Stiles’ palm warm on the nape of his neck and instinctively leaned into it, taking comfort from the grounding touch. He hadn’t realized he had closed his eyes until he opened them again. Alpha Ito’s expression had softened, a slight smile tipping up the corner of her lips.
“I often doubted Stiles’ decision not to formally join my pack, but I see how misguided I was. It is apparent to me now that you are both where you are meant to be. Take good care of each other.”
“We do.” Stiles squeezed the back of Derek’s neck in reassurance.
“I can see that.” She nodded again as if coming to a conclusion. “Talia would be proud of you, Alpha Hale.”
Derek felt his face flush. He swallowed thickly. “Thank you.”
“I wish you well,” Alpha Ito said, her gaze encompassing both of them. Derek could feel Stiles ease at his side, and only then realized how important Alpha Ito’s blessing had been to him.
Alpha Ito seemed to relax back into her chair, the intimidating demeanor falling from her like a cloak now that the pack business had been formally concluded. “Now, Stiles. The Sheriff graced our pack dinner with his presence last Sunday, and he asked me to report to you that he did an excellent job eating his vegetables…”
Finally, on a chilly late October evening, Stiles sat Derek down to present the results of his research.
“We’ve got all the information we need on how to do this thing,” Stiles began. “The biggest question now is who. I thought about even asking Satomi to come up for this, but —”
Derek could feel every muscle in his body tense at the very idea of letting another alpha put their claws in his neck.
“Uh huh. Exactly,” Stiles said, rubbing Derek’s shoulder, fingers kneading gently. “It needs to be someone you trust, which means it needs to be pack.”
Derek forced himself to relax a little, leaning into Stiles’ soothing touch.
“Erica is tough,” Stiles continued. “Maybe even a little callous at times, but for this — that might be an advantage. I don’t think she’d flinch at anything Peter could throw at her. But she’s a little impulsive. Quick-tempered.”
“Yeah.” Stiles was exactly right. Erica was passionate, but too easily baited.
“Boyd is thoughtful. Deliberate. He’s a problem-solver.” Stiles’ fingers were tapping restlessly against his thigh. “He’d be calm in your head, I think. But there’s a possibility he may be too cautious. I feel like — he’s a chisel, not an axe. If we wanted to do this slowly, over multiple iterations, he might be your man, but instead I’m thinking —”
“Isaac?” Derek couldn’t hide his surprise. “Stiles, if you’re right about Isaac, he’s already seen enough violence. What if — if my memories trigger something, or re-traumatize him?”
“That’s why we’ll talk to him about it, and make sure. But, Derek — think about it. He’s born, not bitten, and he’s been anchored for longer than any of the others. Plus — whatever happened in his past, look at what he’s done with that. Maybe not despite, it, but because of it. He’s a helper, it’s in his nature. And he’s empathic as hell. We’re talking about someone who needs to get inside your head, get to the right memories, and leave the others alone. I think Isaac could hone in on that kind of pain faster than any of the others. And, I think — even more than the others — he’d want to do it.” Stiles’ expression was serious, his amber eyes wide and sincere. “He’d want to be the one to help heal you.”
Derek wouldn’t have thought of it himself, but outlined like that it made sense. He thought about that first full moon in the warehouse — how Isaac had been the one to bring the pack together, wary of Derek’s agitated mood but still brave enough to confront him, doing what needed to be done. The choice felt right.
“Isaac, then,” Derek agreed.
Isaac agreed as enthusiastically as Stiles had suspected he would, but it took another week of late-night study sessions before Stiles decided Isaac was ready to try it. They gathered the pack together on a Saturday afternoon.
Derek sat on the couch in his apartment, with Isaac on one side and Boyd on the other. Stiles sat across from him, on the coffee table, some cryptic flowsheet of eventualities printed in Braille clasped tightly in his hands. Erica sat next to him, ready to jump in as needed, and Scott was standing by with a medical kit just in case.
Stiles took Derek’s hand in his. “You’re sure you’re ready? We can —”
“I just want to do it,” Derek interrupted. No matter the outcome, he just wanted this over with.
“Okay.” Derek pulled in a deep breath. “Isaac, go ahead. Feel around, take your time. Make sure you’re past the transverse process, and then go in. Index finger right at C4.”
Derek tipped his head forward, baring his nape. He felt Isaac’s warm fingers pressing tentatively and then more firmly, feeling out the bones and tendons in his neck. He had a sudden memory of Stiles’ voice, telling the story of his car accident. A little more and it would have severed my spinal cord, or compressed my brain stem, Stiles had said. That high up, there’s no surviving that.
Derek heard the rasp as Isaac snicked out his claws. He gripped his fingers into tight fists and pulled in a deep, shaky breath. “Do it,” he bit out.
The feeling of claws piercing his neck was excruciating. Derek squeezed his eyes shut tight, struggling to hold back the shift, the urge to pull free and fight. He could feel his fangs lengthening in his mouth, claws biting into his palms. Isaac’s movements were deliberate and steady, the claws piercing deeper, deeper…
Derek felt the moment something seemed to snap into place, the zing of a connection between himself and Isaac.
“Okay. I’m in,” Isaac said, his voice sounding distant and muffled.
Stiles’ voice was a little breathless, tight with tension. “Okay. Derek, I need you to remember. Remember how Laura died.”
“I — I don’t know if —” Derek could hear his own voice, broken and gravelly, consonants slurred around his fangs.
“You can do it, Der. The last time, I promise. Now, remember. Laura was walking home from work, and —”
He has been watching them for awhile. His only remaining family. His betrayers.
The boy, at least, looks suitably wretched. Peter watches Derek as he leaves for work, smirking as he passes obliviously by Peter’s hiding place. His shoulders are hunched, his face set in an unseeing glare, and Peter breathes deep, savoring the scent of his misery.
Laura, though...Laura hardly seems to be affected at all. She leaves for her own job with a smile on her face, humming along to the song playing in her earbuds. She seems happy, confident. As if she’s grown up to become every inch the alpha that Peter was supposed to be.
The bitterness roils and twists in his gut. First Talia instead of him. And even then, with almost every member of his family gone, the alpha power goes to her instead. Just a nothing of a girl. And she hasn’t even done anything with it — hasn’t built a pack, hasn’t acquired more power. From what he can tell she hasn’t even punished the boy, coddling and consoling him instead.
And Peter knew — he knew as he crawled his way through the woods, skin burned and in tatters, that the boy had betrayed them all. They had all known the boy had been seeing someone. He was so transparent, with his shy blushes and his frequent showers, as if he could scrub the smell of the woman and sex off his skin. They had all been waiting for the day when Derek would confide in Talia who it was.
But that day never came, and instead Peter had smelled the woman all around the burning house, her scent mixed with mountain ash and soot and venomous hatred. The boy was an idiot not to have suspected, to have sensed it on her. A lovesick, hopeless fool, and he should suffer for his weakness. He and Laura both, abandoning Peter to his wretched, feral existence without a single backward glance…
He lets the ever-present rage build inside him as he shadows Laura to her office, as he waits outside, unseen. He ruminates on every grudge, every injustice, in his mind as he watches her come out at lunchtime for a coffee and sandwich, laughing with her co-worker, dark hair tossed carelessly behind her shoulders. He lets every dark and evil thought bubble and boil inside him as Laura begins her walk home. They owe him a debt, these two, and he will take it from them in blood and suffering.
[“It’s okay, babe,” he hears Stiles say distantly. “C’mon, Der. Breathe.”]
He slinks past her, so close she could reach out and touch him on the crowded street. He sees her lift her head as the trace of his scent reaches her but then he’s past, walking swiftly, and she shrugs it off. Of course she would dismiss it so easily, he thinks vindictively. It’s not like they have spared their dear Uncle Peter a thought in years.
He finds the perfect spot — a dark gap between buildings, not even worthy of the designation of alley. He waits until she is just passing, and then —
“Laura.” He whispers it, just loud enough for werewolf ears to pick up. He watches from the shadows as her head lifts, her eyes seeking.
He slides further down the passageway, knowing her eyes won’t adjust to the darkness while she stands in the light. “Laura,” he says again, and now she’s walking, cautiously stepping out of the stream of pedestrian traffic and entering the mouth of the alley.
“Is that — is somebody there?” She’s a few paces down the alley now and he moves back further. He sees her eyes flare red as she searches the darkness, and he feels an answering red flare of rage in his belly for the power that should have been his.
[“Erica — hold his legs,” he hears Boyd say from very far away. “Keep him still.”]
She is close enough now and he steps out of the shadows. He knows she already suspects, is trying to make sense of the familiar scent, the familiar voice. He watches with exultation as her eyes search his face, his body, widening with recognition.
“Peter?” she breathes.
He lets the shift ripple over him, painful as the tight new skin over his burns stretches and pulls. He brandishes his claws and fangs, watches with glee as Laura’s expression shifts from confusion into fear. She should fear him. They should all fear him. And when he has the alpha power, they will.
He lunges for Laura, claws sinking deep.
[Far away, in some distant corner of his mind, Derek hears himself howl, and howl, and howl.]
Chapter 24: Celebrations
Derek blinked slowly awake, his head muzzy. There was warmth against his cheek, gentle fingers tracing a soothing pattern through his hair. As he pulled himself slowly, effortfully toward awareness he felt warmth at his back, too. The scents and sounds of his pack surrounded him — the reassuring thumping of their heartbeats and the soft susurrations of their breathing.
He moved his head just a fraction and the fingers in his hair hesitated for a moment before continuing on their path, Stiles’ familiar heartbeat quickening for a beat before resuming its familiar pace.
“Hey there, Sourwolf. You back with us?” Stiles asked softly. Derek nodded, scraping his stubble across the thigh of Stiles’ jeans before reluctantly lifting his head from Stiles’ lap, pushing himself up on one elbow. The light from the window was soft and grey, the early dusk of winter settling over the apartment.
Stiles was sitting up, his back against the headboard. On Stiles’ other side Boyd slept soundly, mouth slightly open and snoring. Erica was draped over him, her hair a blonde puddle on his chest. Derek turned his head and saw Isaac curled against his back, his face smooth and angelic in sleep.
Derek pushed up to fully sitting and felt himself sway for a moment, his head spinning.
“Easy, now.” Stiles’ hand was firm on his shoulder, steadying him. “It took a lot out of you and Isaac both, but especially you. By the time we got to the last one you were well on your way to passing out. It’s not unexpected, but you should take a little time to recover. It’s only been a few hours, there’s no rush.”
Derek grunted in acknowledgement, letting himself slump back against Stiles’ side, pressing his nose into the curve of Stiles’ neck, breathing in his warmth and scent. His healing was obviously slowed — his throat still felt raw and scratchy from howling, his whole body sore and exhausted. He let himself relax into the comfort of Stiles and his pack for long minutes, his thoughts drifting.
It was calming — peaceful — until Boyd rolled over, inadvertently dumping Erica over the edge of the bed. She came up from the floorboards in a tangle of blonde hair and vehement curses, making Boyd jolt awake with a snort. Stiles dissolved into a fit of poorly-muffled laughter, his chest shaking under Derek’s cheek.
Isaac mumbled a few incoherent words and then lapsed back into sleep but Erica and Boyd were awake now, and Scott had popped up from the couch and come to join them. All three of them gathered around, their attention focused on Derek.
“What?” Derek growled, trying to nuzzle back into Stiles’ neck, irritably closing his eyes against the curious stares.
“What do you mean, ‘what?’,” Erica sniped. “Did it work? Isaac said he thought it worked, but —”
Oh. Derek sat up fully. He felt a little steadier now, although still a little light-headed. Well, now that he truly thought about it, not just light-headed, but...lighter in general.
“Don’t push him, guys —” Stiles’ voice was warm and protective.
“It’s okay,” Derek said reflexively, still trying to get a handle on what he was feeling. “I’m just not sure —”
“Think about one of the memories,” Erica said, blunt as always. “See how it feels.”
“Jesus, Erica!” Derek felt Stiles’ hand slip into his, fingers squeezing tightly. “It’s okay if you want to wait a little,” Stiles said, but Derek could hear the tense anticipation in his voice.
Derek pulled in a deep breath and closed his eyes, pulling for the least traumatic of the memories, the one Stiles had guided him to think of last. Peter digging his claws into Kate’s throat, drinking in her whimpers as the life died out of her eyes.
It was strangely...flat. Lifeless. Like a story Derek had heard, or read somewhere. He knew that it had happened — knew exactly how it had happened — but he didn’t feel it anymore. Didn’t feel Peter’s twisted rage, the pleasure he took in Kate’s last, choked gurgle. Didn’t feel the sensation of his claws punching through the thick cartilage of Kate’s larynx, the warm spill of her blood through his fingers.
“Yeah.” Derek let himself think of the fire, of Laura’s murder. It was still unpleasant, but the memories were just that — memories, not flashbacks. Instead of feeling Peter’s fear and bitterness and lust for power, Derek simply felt...sadness. Grief for the loss of his sister and family, even the loss of his uncle. “It — it worked.”
Erica let out a loud whoop, making Isaac jerk upright with a disgruntled groan. Derek felt Stiles let out a long, shaky breath of relief and he pulled him close as Boyd excitedly thumped both of them on the shoulder.
From there it turned into a party. Stiles ordered enough Chinese food to feed an army before darting off to update Lydia and Satomi on their success. Kira and Allison arrived before the food even got there, arms loaded with bottles of wine, while Stiles broke out the Wolf’s Brew.
Once Derek got some food in him his healing kicked up another notch, mellowing his exhaustion into a pleasant lassitude. His belly was full, and his pack surrounded him, seeming almost giddy with relief. Almost two full bottles of Brew were gone by the time they finished tearing through the Chinese food.
“Slow down guys,” Stiles warned, shaking the second bottle of Brew to judge how much was left. “I can’t restock until I see my dad at Christmas.” His tone was indulgent, though, and he hardly had room to criticize, as the humans had been making equally good progress through the bottles of wine.
No one seemed to mind that Derek didn’t contribute much to the conversation, content to sit back with Stiles at his side, ducking his occasionally over-animated gestures as the pack’s stories got increasingly outrageous, their laughter more boisterous as the night went on.
“All right, you losers, fill your glasses one more time. Boyd and I have an announcement to make.”
“Oh my god, you’re engaged!” Kira shrieked, and immediately clapped a hand over her mouth.
Erica rolled her eyes. “No.”
Boyd smiled widely. “She hasn’t asked me — yet.”
Erica shoved him, but couldn’t fully suppress her answering smile. “Anyway, not breaking out the tulle and roses yet, but we are moving in together.” She stifled the cheers and glass-clinking with a raised hand. “But that’s not all. We’re moving in...down the hall. Into 402.”
“With our alpha’s permission,” Boyd added, his gaze on Derek.
“What!?” Stiles was practically vibrating with excitement. “Into Mrs. Christakos’ old place?”
“Yeah. The kitchen’s all redone —” Boyd started.
“ — and now that my seizures are under control my mom and stepdad aren’t flipping out about me moving out of their place,” Erica interrupted. “Plus, I think they actually like Boyd more than they like me,” she added with a smirk.
Boyd grinned. “I’m very loveable.” His expression sobered. “Is it okay with you, alpha?” he asked seriously.
Derek felt his cheeks pinkening at the formal title his betas so rarely used. Everyone was watching him with held breath, and he found himself stuck for words as always, overwhelmed.
Six months ago he had felt like there wasn’t a person in the world who would even want his company, and now he had not just a mate but a whole pack, people who actually chose to be nearer to him. Who not only respected him, but liked him. Maybe even loved him, as much as he was growing to love them.
He managed to duck his head in a nod. “That would be —” he started, his voice coming out rough with emotion. He swallowed. “That would be great.”
Everyone cheered again, glasses clinking, as Stiles pulled Derek close, planting a wet smooch on his ear before course-correcting and managing to land another on his cheek.
“Hey,” Stiles purred later, after everyone had finally left. “How ‘bout we do something special tonight? You know, t’ celebrate.”
Derek could tell Stiles was just a little tipsy from the wine still. His voice was a bit slow, his body loose and pliable where he had settled in a heap on top of Derek as soon as they were undressed. He nuzzled into Derek’s neck, rubbing on top of him just right, scattering Derek’s concentration.
“I thought —” Derek tipped his head back with a groan as Stiles used his teeth, scraping down the tendon of his neck. “I thought everything we do is special.”
“Aw. You’re such a sap,” Stiles smirked. “But we haven’t done everything yet,” he added with a waggle of his brows. The smirk faded from his face slowly the longer it took Derek to respond. “Unless — if you don’t want to —”
Derek felt his heart thumping loudly in his chest. “Are we talking about me fucking you?” he interrupted, his voice low and rough as he finally pushed the words past the lust constricting his throat. “Because I really, really want to.”
Stiles relaxed, the smile returning to his face. “Look at you using your words,” he teased. “I’m so proud.”
Derek mock-growled, nuzzling into Stiles’ neck in return.
“I just —” He pulled in a deep breath. It was getting easier over time, expressing his thoughts out loud to Stiles, but it still took effort. Derek knew how important it was, though, especially for things like this, and he had never meant for Stiles to feel insecure about what he wanted.
“I know you haven’t done that yet, and neither have I, not like that. And I don’t want to hurt you. I know you talk about it, but sometimes dirty talk is just...you know. Fantasy.” He spread his hands across Stiles’ ribcage, feeling the fragility of Stiles’ human bones, the thump of his heartbeat under his fingertips. Tenderness and lust welled up inside him, inextricable as always when it came to Stiles.
Stiles ducked his head, rewarding Derek’s efforts at communication with a long, lingering kiss. “Well, it happens to be one of my fantasies, and also something I really, really want to do.” He smiled again, warm and wide. “Like, now would be good.”
“Yeah.” Derek felt something wild surge up within him, his hands starting to shake at the thought of it — claiming Stiles completely, marking him inside and out. “Fuck. Yes.”
He forced the wildness down, trying to take his time, opening Stiles up slowly with his blunt fingers despite Stiles’ impatient mutterings. Moonlight streamed through the large windows, casting Stiles’ skin in a silver glow. As Derek teased and caressed Stiles’ body grew sheened with sweat, his muscles rippling as he pushed himself down onto Derek’s fingers, urging him on with increasingly breathless moans and huffs.
“C’mon, Derek,” Stiles finally complained. “Get — fuck — get the hell in me before I c— come on your f— fingers instead of your cock.”
Derek bowed his head, fighting for control, squeezing the base of his cock for a moment to take the edge off before slicking himself up. He fumbled a little, ungraceful, but then Stiles was right there, his long fingers stroking Derek for a mind-melting moment before guiding him forward, bearing down as Derek pushed in until the thick head of his cock popped just inside.
And fuck, it was warm and tight and amazing, and Derek froze, breathing roughly for a moment to keep himself from surging forward, driving in hard to the hilt. Stiles wasn’t helping, stirring his hips restlessly, teasing his rim with the head of Derek’s cock. “Fuck that feels good,” Stiles rambled. “God, that’s big. Feels so full —”
Derek whined at the words, his hips jagging forward uncontrollably for a moment before he was able to catch himself. He slowed down, gritting his teeth, pulling back until he was almost out before pushing in again, slow and steady, a little deeper each time, methodically fucking Stiles open as gently as he was able.
He reached out with his senses, trying to focus past his own pleasure, and to his relief there was no sign of tension in Stiles’ muscles, no hint of pain in his scent — just the soft noises of excitement he was making with every grind of Derek’s hips, until finally Derek was as deep as he could go.
He stopped there for a moment, dropping his head into the crook of Stiles’ neck — just breathing in the hot, salty-sweet scent of his sweat-damp skin, the musk of their arousal. He felt the slight trembling of Stiles’ body beneath him, the warm clench of him all around his cock, so fucking perfect that Derek could hardly believe it. Could hardly believe that Stiles was his mate — was making a space inside of himself just for Derek, trusting Derek with his vulnerable body and his precious heart.
He tried to put some of that into words, but all that came out of his throat was a low, hoarse whine. Stiles seemed to understand nonetheless, his fingertips brushing down Derek’s back from the nape of his neck to the hollow of his spine, making him shiver and then whine again as the movement pressed him incrementally deeper into Stiles’ body.
“I know, babe.” Stiles’ words were breathless, as dazed with wonder as Derek felt. “Now, move.” Stiles’ warm palms slid down to Derek’s ass, grabbing an unabashed handful to urge him on. Derek followed the guidance of Stiles’ hands, rolling his hips forward before pulling back slowly, surging in deep again and again.
“Ho — holy fuck,” Stiles breathed. “That’s so fucking good.” Derek warmed at the praise, pleasure fizzing through his blood as he found his rhythm. The fear of hurting Stiles was almost entirely dispelled by how clearly Stiles was eager for this — how he was arching into every thrust, urging Derek to go even harder, taking his cock so sweetly.
Stiles’ hands left Derek’s body to reach back, bracing against the headboard so Derek could drive in deeper, harder. Derek felt his mind start to haze over, lost in the scent and feel and sound of Stiles all around him, his welcoming soft body and his animal heat. He felt his mouth water, fangs itching with the need to pin Stiles still and hold him there, to set teeth at his neck and bite down, to mark Stiles’ body with his mouth until no one could doubt who Stiles belonged to. To keep Stiles in his bed forever, tangling their limbs and scents inextricably, mating him again and again until they both fell into exhaustion.
But most of all, he wanted this to be good for Stiles, and so he fought back against the pull of his instincts, holding back the shift that was trying to ripple over his body. He thought about everything that he knew Stiles liked, remembering how it felt to have his fingers deep inside Stiles, the way Stiles reacted when he grazed across that needy little spot with his fingertips.
Derek planted one palm flat on the bed, wrapping the other arm around Stiles and hauling him upwards. Stiles instinctively wrapped shaky arms around Derek’s shoulders, bracing his feet and canting his hips up, trusting Derek’s hold to keep him from falling back. “Fuck,” he muttered. “You’re so damn hot when you’re manhandling me.”
Stiles was flushed pink from his face to his chest, his hair sticking up in all directions, his eyes heavy-lidded, his mouth soft and open. He had never looked more beautiful, and Derek was stunned into stillness for a moment. Before he could even catch his breath Stiles was taking up the slack, flexing his thighs to work Derek’s cock deep within his body, grinding down with little punched-out noises that made Derek want to howl.
Derek buried his growl in Stiles’ neck, hunching forward, trying to get the angle just right, knowing when he found it by the way Stiles jolted, his arms flailing for a startled moment so that he lost his grip on Derek’s sweaty shoulders and Derek had to catch all his weight. Derek grinned ferociously against Stiles’ humid skin, relentless now, manipulating Stiles’ hips in his large hands, trying to drag his cock over that same spot again and again. He gloried in how Stiles’ helpless little noises hitched higher, his mouth falling open as he trembled, so close to the edge that Derek could smell it all over him.
Without breaking rhythm Derek corralled one of Stiles’ hands, drawing it down to where Stiles’ cock leaked, hard and flushed between their bellies. Together they stripped him, fingers tangled, sliding down the slick length of the shaft. Once, twice — and then Stiles shuddered, spurting hot and warm over their hands, pupils blown wide in his amber eyes as he groaned out his release.
Derek tipped him backwards, instinct driving him to blanket Stiles’ lean body with the weight of his own heavy form, the scent of Stiles’ come and the clench of his body driving him even wilder. Distantly he could hear his own panting breaths, the edge of a growl on every one. He dropped heavy hands on Stiles’ shoulders to keep him from sliding up the bed with every desperate snap of Derek’s hips.
“C’mon, Derek,” Stiles slurred. His hand came down over the nape of Derek’s neck, long fingers squeezing tight, and it was enough to push Derek over. Pleasure seared through his body, his hips jolting erratically for a moment as he pressed deep. He hung on that edge for a long moment and then the rush of his orgasm crashed over him. He spilled deep in Stiles’ body, muffling his roar against Stiles’ neck, Stiles’ arms cradling him as Derek shook and strained against the force of his release with shuddery little jerks and whines.
By the time it was over he felt almost drugged, satisfied and sleepy. There was a low, pleased rumble coming from deep in his chest that he had to concentrate on to stifle. He panted into Stiles’ sweat-damp skin, breathing in his scent in sated bliss, until Stiles’ hands pushed at him.
“Heavy,” Stiles wheezed and Derek grunted in apology, pulling gently free of Stiles’ body with one palm flat on his come-sticky belly to draw out any pain. To his relief it was just a mild sting and a few aches, and he leeched them into his own body, dispersing them as Stiles sighed out a deep, happy breath.
“That. Was. Awesome.” Stiles raised shaky arms in victory. “Yay, us!”
Derek couldn’t help huffing in laughter. Stiles practically radiated happiness and Derek leaned in to taste the joy from his lips. “Yay, us,” he agreed with a smirk, pulling Stiles into his arms and nestling down deeper into the bed.
“Thank god we figured out the nightmare thing,” Stiles added, his voice already starting to slur sleepily. “Because there’s no way I’m moving from this bed for...at least a year.”
Derek rumbled his agreement, nuzzling into the humid skin of Stiles’ neck. Later he would clean them up and change the sheets and do all those normal, human things. Later. For now he let his wolf luxuriate in the scent of their sweat and their spunk, curling his body protectively around the soft heat of his mate in his arms and his bed, this time for good.
Chapter 25: Marks
The next Saturday night found the whole pack at Derek’s again, this time scarfing down pizzas after helping Erica and Boyd move all day.
After a long and contentious debate about which movie to watch Derek had finally exerted his authority as both alpha and owner of the television, and put on one of the few DVDs he actually owned — E.T. There had been lots of groans at first but now everyone was watching raptly.
“You’re such a sap,” Stiles murmured, nestling closer into Derek’s side.
“Shut up, E.T. is a classic,” Derek grumbled.
Stiles smiled, leaning his head against Derek’s shoulder. “This is nice,” he said a few minutes later. “We should make this a regular thing. Pack get-togethers, I mean. We don’t have to wait until somebody survives mortal peril, y’know?”
Derek grunted. “Think people would want to?”
“‘Course they would,” Stiles said, just a moment before a chorus of agreement from the rest of the pack.
Stiles kicked at Boyd and Erica, who were sitting at his feet. “Bad wolves! No eavesdropping.” Erica smacked his foot back. “Then shut up, this is a good part.”
“It’s all good parts,” Derek muttered, offended, and Isaac threw popcorn at him.
After E.T. finished they took a break for ice cream, Derek somehow finding himself in charge of scooping while everyone else placed their orders. It was probably a good thing they’d have three freezers to work with from now on, given how no one could agree on the best flavor.
Derek was only half-listening in to various conversations, handing each carton of ice cream back to Stiles when he was finished with it to go back in the freezer.
“Is kitsune healing different?” Boyd was asking Kira. “I was thinking of getting one of Erica’s pieces on my bicep, but Derek told me that when he got his tattoo they had to burn it on, and aside from hurting like a motherfucker I don’t think that’d work for the kind of detail she has in her drawings.”
“I think the healing’s the same, or better, but my tattoo artist is a shifter too, she mixes a special blend of wolfsbane into the ink to keep your body from healing around the needle too quick. Once the ink’s in, your body doesn’t see it as a threat, so —” Kira shrugged, making the watercolor tattoos across her collarbone ripple. “I’ll give you her contact info. Pricey, but worth it.”
Derek finished scooping the vanilla and turned around to hand the carton to Stiles, but he wasn’t there. Derek found him standing in front of the open freezer door, still. His heartbeat was elevated, hurt radiating through his scent.
“Stiles?” Derek rushed closer, hand automatically going to Stiles’ wrist to drain any pain. “You okay?”
Stiles yanked his arm away in irritation. “I’m fine. Stop — stop doing that without asking me.”
Derek flinched back from Stiles’ tone, as well as from the anger now intermingled with the hurt clouding his scent. Stiles never spoke to Derek harshly, and something about hearing that tone of voice from him made Derek want to curl into himself.
“I’m — I’m sorry. Just — are you hurt?”
Stiles shut the freezer door with a solid thud, pulling in a breath and then letting it out in a sigh. “I — I’m fine. I just — I hit my head on the door, and I’m being snappy with you about it.” He must have known that Derek would hear his heartbeat tripping on the lie, but he told it anyway. “Just — we’ll talk later, okay? Please, Der?” His mouth was twisted with distress now, his eyes growing shiny.
“Yeah.” Derek’s chest felt tight with anxiety, not knowing what was wrong with Stiles or how to fix it, but the pleading tone of Stiles’ voice left him no alternative. “Okay.”
He backed away, feeling awkwardly voyeuristic as Stiles opened the freezer door again, using it as a shield between himself and the rest of the room as he rubbed his palm across his eyes to wipe away the wetness, apparently unaware that Derek was still watching him. Then Stiles shut the door again with a decided thunk, turning his face back to the room with a forced smile. “Now, who has my bowl of mint chocolate chip?”
Unsure what else to do, Derek sat back on the couch as the next movie started up. Erica had decided on a Spielberg theme and picked Raiders of the Lost Ark, also one of Derek’s favorite movies, but he couldn’t concentrate at all. All of his attention was on Stiles, who was lingering in the kitchen. His heartbeat was still elevated, the scent of sadness still surrounding him.
Derek knew the others were aware of it too, either sensing Derek’s distress through the pack bond or picking up on Stiles’ misery themselves. Derek caught a few sidelong glances but otherwise the pack seemed determined to ignore the awkwardness. Derek appreciated it as much as it made him feel like a failure — his whole pack aware now that he was unable to comfort and care for his mate.
He sat stiffly on the sofa, eyes fixed unseeing on the screen, until finally Stiles stopped puttering in the kitchen and came to join them. He settled down at Derek’s side, a little bit apart at first, but then slowly relaxed, leaning into him. Derek felt his heart flutter in relief and he wrapped his arm around Stiles, pulling him closer, burying his nose in Stiles’ temple to breathe in his scent. Stiles allowed it, smelling closer to his usual warm, soft scent but still tinged with a bitter edge of sadness.
The residual tension no doubt resulted in the pack dispersing pretty quickly after the second movie ended. Erica claimed that it was time for her and Boyd to “christen” their new apartment, and the resulting chorus of groans and thrown popcorn lightened the mood a little.
Derek ferried empty glasses to the sink, pretending he didn’t hear as Isaac pulled Stiles aside.
“Scott said you’d be cool with it if Kira and I crashed in your bed tonight, but — it’s no problem, we can catch a cab home if — if you were gonna sleep over there tonight —” Isaac was mumbling, his eyes darting to Derek.
Derek’s grip on the glass he was holding tightened so much that a hairline crack zigzagged down the side, and he gritted his teeth in frustration as he threw it in the trash.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll sleep over here. Maybe we can grab breakfast together in the morning. Erica and Boyd are off shift too,” Stiles was saying, and Derek felt a frisson of relief that, whatever he had done, it wasn’t enough to make Stiles leave for the night. Unless he was just being polite, to give Isaac and Kira his bed, and it would have been his choice to leave after all…
Derek busied himself collecting the rest of the dishes from around the apartment as Stiles saw the last of the pack out, locking the door behind him. Derek raised his head but Stiles barely acknowledged him, going straight to the sink and starting to rinse the glasses, loading them one by one in the dishwasher.
Derek approached cautiously. He made enough deliberate noise with the clatter of stacked plates he was holding that Stiles must have known he was at his side, but Stiles still kept his head down, doggedly rinsing the next glass.
“Stiles?” Derek finally asked, his voice low and tentative.
Stiles pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It’s fine,” he said, his voice carefully, artificially, casual — as if Derek couldn’t hear the rapid thumping of his heart, the shortness of his breath as he struggled with some emotion. “Just…you have a tattoo?”
Of all the things Derek feared Stiles would say, that question was not one of them. “Yeah?” He could hear the confusion in his own voice, his hand reaching back automatically to touch the triskele between his shoulder blades. “I mean — I must have mentioned it before, right?”
Stiles’ mouth was pressed into an unhappy line, his scent tinged with salt. “No.”
“Stiles.” Derek’s gut felt hollow as he scrambled for something to say. “I’m sorry, I —”
“It’s not your fault,” Stiles bit out. He shook his head and rinsed another glass, seeming frustrated when he ran his left hand across the crowded dishwasher rack, unable to find a place to put it. He yanked the top rack of the dishwasher open a little more with such force that the glasses rattled.
“But you’re mad.” Derek reached a hand toward Stiles but then pulled it back, unsure how to make this better.
A muscle ticced in Stiles’ jaw as he ground his teeth. “Not at you,” he finally said, but his voice was flat. He found a space for the glass in his hand and turned back to rinse another.
“I should have —”
“I said I wasn’t mad at you!” Stiles thundered, turning toward Derek. The glass in his hand cracked against the side of the sink and shattered.
"Fuck,” Stiles muttered, his left hand turning off the water while his right hand felt around in the sink for the jagged pieces.
“Let me do it,” Derek said, reaching out for Stiles’ wrist. “You’ll hurt yourself.”
“I can do it!” Stiles snapped, yanking his wrist away. “I’m not a — fuck — just let me — goddammit!”
He turned the water on again, running his finger under it before putting it in his mouth, sucking at the cut.
Derek watched in silence — wanting to help, but wary of making another misstep.
Stiles turned the water off again, leaning his forearms on the edge on the sink, his head sagging between his shoulders. He smelled of bitterness and an old, worn sadness, and the scent of it made Derek’s throat feel tight with anxiety.
When he spoke again the anger had drained from his voice. He just sounded...sad. Resigned. “It’s just —” he said. He pulled in a harsh breath through his nose, letting it out in a sigh, as the bitter salt-scent deepened. “It’s like — your eyebrows.”
Derek thought he was used to Stiles’ conversational leaps by now, but this one had him stumped. “My eyebrows?” he repeated stupidly.
“Not just your eyebrows, of course not. But — your eyebrows, there’s this part of your eyebrows, right near your nose, where the little tufts go the wrong way, and it’s adorable, and I can feel it, but...but I’ll never see it.”
Stiles pulled in another breath and this one came out shakier. “Anyone who passes you on the street can see it, whenever they want, but —” Stiles’ voice broke, and he swallowed thickly and started again. “But I never will, and it’s — it’s just not fair. They get to know you in a way I never will, no matter how hard I try, and it just...it just sucks. It’s — I’m not mad at you, you didn’t do anything wrong, but it — it just sucks, and that’s all there is to it.”
As usual, words failed Derek. He reached out tentatively, laying a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles straightened up and turned toward him and Derek gathered him in, careful not to squeeze too tight as Stiles buried his damp eyes in the curve of Derek’s neck.
“I —” Derek started. He wasn’t sure if this would make it better or worse, but he had to try. “I got it after Laura died. It’s a triskele, three spirals that join in the center.” He tugged at the hem of Stiles’ t-shirt. “Let me —”
Stiles leaned back enough for Derek to pull the t-shirt over his head, and then Derek pulled off his own for good measure. It felt good to press back against the warmth of Stiles, skin to skin, as he enfolded him back into his arms. “Like this,” he said, his index finger carefully tracing out the design between Stiles’ shoulder blades. “It was the symbol of our family. It has a lot of meanings — past, present, future. Mother, father, child. Alpha, beta, omega. I — all of them seemed to fit. To remember Laura, and my family.”
Derek could feel Stiles’ fingertips tracing over the corresponding spot on his back. “And you — you had to burn it in?” Stiles pulled in another deep breath, warm air gusting against Derek’s skin as he exhaled. “Jesus.”
“It —” Derek shrugged. “It seemed right. So many things hurt so bad, but never leave a mark. I wanted there to be a mark of what had happened.” They stood there for a while longer in silence, Stiles’ hand rubbing a firm path up and down Derek’s spine, as if to soothe away the long-ago hurt.
“Yeah.” Stiles finally pulled back a little, his hands coming to rest gently at Derek’s waist. “I — I can understand what you mean, I think.”
Derek’s hands came up to cup Stiles’ cheeks, his thumbs gently wiping away the trace of tears. Stiles’ own loss was marked here, in his unseeing eyes, but it made him all the more beautiful to Derek, all the more precious.
Stiles sighed, nuzzling his cheek into Derek’s palm.
“Let’s leave the dishes for tomorrow,” Derek murmured. “Come to bed.”
They curled up together, Stiles pulled tight into the curve of Derek’s body. Derek wrapped his arms around Stiles’ chest, burying his face in the nape of his neck. Stiles’ soft breathing rustled the pillow, his heart beating steadily against Derek’s forearm. Long after Stiles’ muscles had relaxed in sleep Derek stayed awake, thinking about what Stiles had said, and wondering.
Chapter 26: Banshee
“So, before you say no, let me state all my reasons. First of all, it won’t be that many outsiders. Erica’s stepdad and mom are going to visit some great-aunt, so it’s really just Boyd’s dad and Allison’s dad, and then Kira’s parents. And Lydia and Jackson are coming up to visit, and I really want the whole pack to meet them, and I can’t think of a better time. I haven’t made any promises yet, but everyone’s on board if you’re okay with it. And I know it’ll be a little bit of a tight squeeze but we can do most of the cooking at Scott’s place or at Erica and Boyd’s place, it’s just that your place is the only one with a living space big enough for us to put all the tables together —”
Derek finally had to cut Stiles off with a thumb over his lips. “Stiles, what in the hell are you even talking about?”
The nervousness in Stiles’ scent kicked up another notch. “Thanksgiving,” he said, nipping at the thumb on his lips. “Or, rather...us hosting Thanksgiving for the pack at your place?”
His eyes were wide and pleading, as if Derek could deny him anything, even if he wanted to.
“You think — would everyone want to do that?”
Stiles started to bounce up and down in his excitement, apparently hearing Derek’s acquiescence in his voice. “They already do! They just put me in charge of asking you, because of, y’know —” Derek had to duck back as Stiles sent a hand flailing in his direction. “The Murder Brows.”
Derek made a disgruntled noise. “You said you’d stop calling them that. And also — who the hell is Jackson?”
Stiles gave Derek a shove. “You know...Lydia’s fiance. The douchebag lacrosse captain who put hot sauce on my ice cream and then we made him bald? And, um...although I may have failed to mention it before, also kinda the kanima I’ve told you about?”
Stiles smiled appeasingly, drumming his fingers on his knees as Derek processed this in silence. “You asked a douchebag evil lizard monster to Thanksgiving dinner?” Derek finally managed to get out, his voice a little growlier than he intended.
“Well, not anymore,” Stiles emphasized. “Or at least, not so much the evil lizard monster anymore. You know, after the power of True Love turned him full-werewolf? I know I’ve told you that much before. Still kind of a douchebag, though, but more of a loveable douchebag. He grows on you. Like a fungus, or that stuff that grows between shower tiles, is that fungus also, or more like mold? —”
Derek put his thumb back on Stiles’ lips for a moment, enjoying the momentary silence while he absorbed this new information.
“When are they coming?” He finally asked.
“Is that a yes?” Stiles was practically vibrating with excitement now. “That sounds like a yes.”
“It’s a yes,” Derek confirmed. “It sounds — it sounds good.” He realized now how little he had told Stiles about holidays with his own pack — pulling in friends and family from far and wide, the house packed to the rafters, kids piled into every room in sleeping bags, but no one minding in the slightest. “I’d like that.”
“Awesome!” Stiles had Jarvis out, a group text to the pack cued up faster than Derek could blink. “Boyd already bought the turkeys, and Isaac apparently stress-bakes so Kira says he’s like a pie expert by now. I’m gonna make my babcia’s krupnik, and —”
Derek tuned out a little as Stiles chattered on. He didn’t know what a babcia or a krupnik was, but he knew that Stiles was happy, and that was what mattered. And he had an idea for how to make it even better.
“When are Lydia and Jackson getting in again?” he asked.
“Wednesday afternoon. They start driving on Tuesday, but they have to swing by Connecticut to pay a duty visit to Jackson’s parents. And let me tell you, if you want to talk douchebags, those guys are…”
Derek tuned Stiles out again as he started a text of his own.
“Do you really have to text with Lydia right now? Isn’t she like five minutes away?”
Stiles smiled, unrepentant. “She’s in the lobby. She sent Jackson off to find a parking space and when he gets back they’re heading up. She’s complaining about the stairs.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t run down there to greet her,” Derek grumbled under his breath.
“What was that?” Stiles lifted his head and Derek found himself blushing. He hadn’t expected Stiles to be able to hear that. “Aw, Sourwolf, are you jealous of Lyds?”
Stiles was teasing, but it hit a little closer to home than Derek would have wanted. It’s not that Derek was really threatened by Lydia, he knew Stiles didn’t have romantic feelings for her anymore, it was just that — she was such a big part of Stiles’ life. And from what Derek had heard, she didn’t approve of much of anything. Derek had a sinking feeling he was going to fall in the category of things Lydia disapproved of as well.
A few minutes later he heard the click of stiletto heels in the stairwell, and it sounded like a deathknell.
Lydia was every bit as intimidating as Derek had imagined. She was slight in stature but impeccable in appearance, fashionably dressed with not a single hair out of place. She took a moment to hug Stiles warmly but then quickly advanced on Derek, her deadly-looking stiletto heels clicking on the hardwood.
Derek met her fierce expression as calmly as he could, a hollow ache in his stomach. He knew how important Lydia was to Stiles, and he had hoped they could get along, but that possibility seemed to be rapidly diminishing under Lydia’s steely, assessing gaze.
“I’d like to speak to Derek alone,” Lydia said, ignoring Stiles’ sputter of protest.
“It’s okay, Stiles,” Derek said. Better to get this out in the open, without any passive-aggressive attempts to seem polite for Stiles’ sake. Derek couldn’t even blame her. God knows any sane friend of Stiles should want to warn Derek away from him.
“Lyds —” Stiles was protesting. Jackson slung an arm around his shoulders, pulling him toward the door. Derek growled at the action, and then bit back the sound as he saw Lydia take careful note of his response. She had to know what it meant to have another werewolf put hands on his mate, even if Derek could smell the affection Jackson held for Stiles and knew he would do him no harm.
“C’mon, loser, show me your place,” Jackson said. He seemed like a stereotypical former jock, and Derek could hardly reconcile his appearance with the story of the tortured kanima that Stiles had shared. “These two have business to discuss.”
Stiles resisted Jackson’s pull, his face turned toward Derek. “Derek?” he asked. “I’ll — I can stay —”
“It’s fine,” Derek said, meeting Lydia’s unwavering gaze, tamping down hard on the alpha instincts urging him to flash his eyes and bare his fangs at this blatant challenge to his authority.
“Okay.” Stiles turned his face unerringly to where Lydia stood. “I trust you Lyds,” he said, but there was still caution in his voice. “But if you’re not next door in ten minutes I’m coming after you.”
“That’s fine,” Lydia said sweetly. Stiles allowed Jackson to pull him into the hallway, and Lydia stared Derek down unblinkingly until the apartment door closed solidly behind them.
“Stiles told you what I can do,” she said without preamble. Derek nodded.
“Give me your hand.” Derek ignored the dare in her voice, placing his hand in her small, outstretched palm without hesitation.
A shiver ran down his spine as her manicured fingers wrapped surprisingly tightly around his own large hand, her hazel-green eyes growing cloudy and distant. He resolutely met her eerie unseeing gaze, focusing on keeping his hand steady in hers as the moments seemed to stretch on endlessly.
When she finally spoke, her voice seemed to echo with the ghosts of his past. “Death surrounds you,” she said.
Derek swallowed thickly, the ever-present shame rising up inside him, paired with the bitter sting of disappointment. “I know,” he managed.
Lydia blinked once, and then again, her eyes suddenly clearing. He didn’t know what she read in his expression, but her own seemed to soften, her voice sounding normal when she spoke again.
“But only in your past,” she said, to Derek’s surprise. Her hand on his loosened its grip and then squeezed once, reassuringly. “Not your future.”
“What? —” Derek blinked down at her in surprise.
Her fierce expression had faded, an indulgent smile quirking her lips. “I had to be sure,” she said, with a shrug, dropping Derek’s hand and clicking back over to the couch to retrieve her purse. “Stiles sees the best in everyone. I see the worst. We make a good pair.”
She settled herself on the couch, crossing her legs and opening her massive purse, pulling a cardboard tube from its depths.
“Well, sit down already,” she said impatiently, gesturing to the spot next to her on the couch. “I have something to show you, and I estimate that we have about seven minutes left before Stiles comes barreling back here to your rescue.”
Derek kicked his brain into gear, moving to sit where Lydia had indicated. “You’re not — warning me away from Stiles?” he couldn’t help asking, still trying to adjust to the sudden shift in her demeanor.
“Of course not,” she said briskly, pulling the cap off the cardboard tube. “Stiles loves you. I love Stiles. As long as you were who he said you were, I’m happy. And you are.”
“What —” Derek still felt like the was stumbling to keep up with Lydia’s conversation. “Who did he say I was?”
“His alpha.” Lydia tapped the bottom of the cardboard tube until a roll of paper emerged, pulling it free and spreading it on the coffee table. “Mine and Jackson’s too, eventually. The one we’ve been waiting for. We’re destined to be pack. Didn’t he tell you that?”
Derek nodded, his head still swimming. At the time, he had been so overwhelmed by all the other revelations — that Derek was destined to be anyone’s alpha, that Stiles loved him. He had hardly noticed Stiles lumping Lydia in with his future pack. Derek tried to imagine Lydia in his pack — feeling that comfortable feeling of family towards her — and his imagination couldn’t stretch that far.
“Things’ll go easier if you just listen to everything Stiles and I say,” Lydia said airily, a glint of amusement now in her eyes. “It’s all right. You’ll learn.”
“I — what is —” Derek focused his attention on the papers, as if that would help him escape Lydia’s scrutiny.
“These are the boundaries of the Hale lands in Oregon.”
The words were like a gut punch to Derek, the nascent goodwill he was developing toward Lydia dissipating rapidly.
“I — I don’t.” Derek felt his emotions shutter down. “I can’t go back there,” he said bleakly. If that’s what Lydia wanted from him…
“Of course not,” Lydia said crisply. “There’s nothing for you there. Nothing for any of us. But —” She traced her fingers further south. “Here, south of Sutherlin, this is the territory of the Jeffries pack, an ancient pack descended from the last holdouts of the Catawba Indian tribe who used to hold that territory. Here at the border, that’s the McIntosh pack. And once you get further into NorCal, that’s the Marquez-Vicario pack, all the way down to Redding.”
“Why —” Derek was completely lost. “Why are you telling me all this?”
Lydia tapped a manicured fingernail on another section of the map impatiently. “Because here, south of the Marquez-Vicario pack territory...from Red Bluff, all the way to south of Sonoma — that’s where the Ito pack’s lands are.”
Derek’s gaze jerked up from the map, meeting Lydia’s forest-green eyes. “Satomi Ito — Beacon Hills?”
Lydia nodded, flipping the paper to the back of the stack.
“Here’s a closer look at the area. Satomi’s territory is outlined in red, but you can see how large it is. She has no trouble holding the pack lands on her own, but she would welcome a friendly pack within her borders. You wouldn’t have to submit to her, or join her pack. Just an oath of allegiance, mutually beneficial. An alliance. In exchange for this.”
She flipped to the next paper. “This is the Preserve, a stretch of protected woodlands, more than forty thousand acres in all.” She pulled a snapshot from the stack of papers, a black-and-white photograph of a sprawling, gracious house. “This property lies near the southern border of it. It’s been vacant for years. The last of the family moved away to the East Coast, and the Ito has its own cluster of pack houses closer to the center of town. No one has wanted to fix up the place — they would have to abide by historic preservation guidelines. I know you haven’t touched the money left to you and Laura by your family, you would have more than enough funds to restore the place and settle there.”
“What?” Derek looked at the photo of the house disbelievingly. It looked serene and yet inviting, even in the old photograph. “Me? Live...there? In Beacon Hills?” He knew he should be offended at the thought of Lydia poking into his finances, but he couldn’t even muster up the mental energy to care.
“You and Stiles, of course. And as much of the pack as you wanted to bring with you. It’s secluded, but a short distance from the town of Beacon Hills. Stiles would be close to his dad. I think Scott and Allison will come too, Scott’s a mama’s boy at heart, and Allison graduates in the spring. Erica and Boyd are definite. When I finish my doctorate I’ll get a faculty position at Stanford — they’d be lucky to have me — and I can consult at JPL just to keep myself entertained. Jackson’s already studying for the California bar. Isaac is a little less certain — he and Kira may stay here, but San Francisco has a thriving comic book scene, I think I can convince Kenny to open a few locations on the west coast — ”
“Just — just be quiet for a minute,” Derek snapped, overwhelmed.
Lydia nodded, rolling up the papers and fitting them all neatly back into the cardboard tube. “It’s a lot to take in,” she said, and Derek was hard-pressed not to roll his eyes at that understatement. “I’ll leave all this with you for your consideration. Nothing is set in stone, I wouldn’t pretend to have authority to act on behalf of your pack yet, but my basic inquiries have indicated that all the packs are amenable to a shifting of borders, and that the Ito pack would welcome you all within its territory.” Lydia rose gracefully to her feet. “They’ve always had a soft spot for Stiles.”
She offered the cardboard tube to Derek and he took it in numb fingers.
“I’m going over to meet the others,” Lydia said brightly. “Catch your breath, and we’ll see you there.” She slung the giant purse over her shoulder and headed for the door.
“Wait.” Derek felt like he had been flattened by a steamroller, and he suspected that wasn’t too far off the mark for what the interaction with Lydia had entailed. “Just like that? You’re planning out the lives of — of ten people, just — like shuffling pieces on a chessboard?”
Lydia smiled indulgently. “Life is a little like chess, isn’t it? People have their own personalities, and motivations, but in the end it’s more or less mathematics.” She shrugged her elegant shoulders. “The threads of our lives all lead in that direction anyway. We were always going to be together, always going to be pack. I’m just helping things along. You’ll get with the program soon enough.”
“And why — why not have Stiles here for this? And what about him — his job here?”
Lydia sighed, as if it were tedious to have to explain herself. “Stiles is a talented writer. It’s only a matter of time until his novel gets picked up by a publisher. He knows you hate the city, he won’t be a problem at all. As much as he wants to be independent, he’d be thrilled to be close to his dad again. But I wasn’t sure how stubborn you would be, I didn’t want to get his hopes up. Think it over, and when you’re ready to act, you let me know. I’ll make it happen.”
She reached for the door handle again. “Does that —” Derek pulled the word from the depths of his memory. “Does that make you my pack’s Emissary?”
Lydia actually rolled her eyes at that. “I’m not nearly diplomatic enough for that. Stiles is your Emissary, stupid. He’s the one who binds this pack together. And he’ll be a good one. He’ll charm anyone he can, and out-think the rest. He’s the diplomat, and the strategist. I’m just the negotiator. If anyone underestimates Stiles, or mistakes his good nature for weakness, feel free to call me in to play hardball. But I doubt it’ll be necessary. He already has quite a reputation where we’re from, and I’ve taken care to foster that. People already think twice about crossing the Ito clan, and when you add to that all the whispers and myths about a blind boy who runs with wolves?”
Lydia’s posture softened, and she took a few steps toward Derek. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but it can happen. Your own territory and pack, under the protection of the Ito clan.”
“I don’t — I can protect my own pack,” Derek growled.
“Of course you can,” Lydia brushed aside Derek’s defensiveness. “And this is one way you can do it.” Her voice was soft now. Kind. “You’ll be safe, Derek. We’ll all make sure of it.”
Derek swallowed thickly, his throat tight with conflicting emotions. Lydia’s intrusive approach still rankled, but it was starting to take root — the idea of being someplace where he could relax his constant vigilance. A place where he would no longer have to fear hunters. Safe. He never would have thought it possible in the past, but more and more he was beginning to think it could be true.
Lydia strode for the door again, pausing with her fingers on the handle. “I’ve seen enough death for a lifetime too, Derek,” she said quietly, without turning around. “I look forward to a future without it. It’s there waiting for us, whenever you’re ready.”
Derek stood in the center of his apartment, the cardboard tube grasped tightly in his fingers, listening to her walk down the hall and towards the laughter and voices next door.
Chapter 27: Gatherings
Derek didn’t know what he expected when he told Stiles his idea, but this quiet, contemplative silence certainly wasn’t it.
“We can — of course if you don’t want to —” He started to backpedal. “I mean, maybe it might be worse, if it works, to only get a little and then go back —”
“No.” Stiles’ voice was soft. “It’s not that. I want to.” His hands clenched into fists, and then relaxed again. “I mean — from the time I first started researching for Isaac to do it on you, I’ve wondered.”
“Really?” It probably shouldn’t have surprised Derek; Stiles was always thinking at least a few steps ahead of him, but… “Why didn’t you ask me, then? Why wait for me to suggest it?”
Stiles shrugged, but Derek could see tension still in his muscles. “You more than anyone knows what it would mean. If it works — and from the research I’ve done, it should — I’m not just going to get what you see. I’m going to get everything — everything you’re thinking, and feeling. That — laying your whole self open to someone else — that’s not something I could ask for. It’s...it’s just a lot to ask.”
Derek reached out, looping an arm over Stiles’ shoulder, pulling him up close against his body. Stiles sighed and some of the tension in his body relaxed as he leaned into Derek, resting his head on Derek’s shoulder. Derek struggled for the words, wanting to get this just right. “There’s — there’s nothing you can ask of me that I wouldn’t give. You should know that, Stiles. It’s — when I say I’m yours, I mean it. All of me.”
Stiles smiled against Derek’s shoulder, nuzzling in close, his arms reaching out to squeeze Derek tight. “Same,” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. He pulled in a deep breath, letting it out in a shuddering sigh. “I guess — I might have been a little scared, also.”
Derek nodded, his palm coming up to caress the nape of Stiles’ neck, the vulnerable spot where he would have to put his claws in. “That’s understandable. I mean, it’s not like you heal like we do. If I get the wrong spot, or —”
Stiles nudged into Derek’s side a little with his shoulder. “Not that. I — I trust you. You’ll do it right.” His breath was coming a little rapid now, shallow, and Derek ran a hand down his arm, hoping to soothe him. “I just mean — I guess there’s always a little bit of me that thinks that this is too good to be true, you know? I mean, I’m kind of a spaz, and a blabbermouth, and then there’s the whole blind thing. I guess deep down there’s a part of me that thinks — that thinks that someone like you shouldn’t really be with someone like me. And I don’t think I could handle it, y’know? If I got in your head and I — I saw, like, annoyance or pity or something —”
“That’s — that’s not going to happen.” Of all the reservations Derek expected Stiles to have, this one was just...completely inconceivable. “Stiles, you’re amazing. I — the only thing you’ll see in my head is how stupidly in love with you I am.”
“Yeah.” Stiles breathed in and out. “Yeah,” he said again, sounding more certain this time. “I guess I know, it’s just...a little hard to believe it sometimes.”
And Derek understood. As much as he knew Stiles loved him, he still had trouble believing it himself, sometimes — that this beautiful, courageous, brilliant man would have chosen someone like Derek. Just as he knew that saying any of that would make Stiles sad and frustrated on his behalf, and so he kept it to himself. “Believe it,” he said instead, putting as much conviction as he could behind the words.
Stiles nodded, the last of the tension leaving his body as he snuggled in close. “So, we’re really doing this thing?”
Derek kissed him, soft and tender. “Not tomorrow, with Thanksgiving and all, but this weekend. Sunday. Scott’s got the day off, so he can be standing by in case there’s a problem. That’ll be best.” He pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We’re doing it.”
Thanksgiving was nothing short of chaos. The pack basically took over their whole hallway — the doors of all three apartments propped open, with people ducking in and out of each.
In their new apartment, Erica and Boyd were baking one turkey and deep-frying another, and Derek just hoped they didn’t burn down that kitchen for the second time this year. Stiles had bounced out of bed early in the morning for once, making Derek groan and cover his head with his pillow to try to drown out the aggravating whine of the food processor. Now all the chopped vegetables and other assorted ingredients were in a giant soup pot Stiles had bought specifically for the occasion, bubbling happily on the stove.
Isaac and Scott were bumping into each other repeatedly in Scott’s apartment, as Scott made his abuela’s tamales again and Isaac prepared a variety of pies. Derek had been put in charge of mashed potatoes, but his insistence on making them fresh meant he could put it off for another few hours. Lydia had showed up early in the morning with a case of wine that Jackson hauled up the stairs, grumbling all the way. She was now directing everyone around imperiously, supervising the rearrangement of the furniture in Derek’s apartment to allow for one giant table to be created.
Derek had been sneakily checking his texts, warm anticipation growing in his belly. Finally he shoved the phone in his pocket, pulling Stiles away from where he was needlessly stirring the soup again.
“Hey. Come down with me to the lobby,” he said, guiding Stiles carefully around the rearranged furniture. “There’s a package we need to bring up.”
“What?” Stiles walked with Derek anyway, grabbing his cane from its hook by the front door. “Nothing’s gonna get delivered on Thanksgiving. Plus, if it’s a package that’s too big for the super-strong werewolf to carry by himself, shouldn’t we get Isaac?”
“Just. C’mon.” Derek knew he sounded grumpy. He should have thought of a better lie, dammit.
Stiles followed him down at least two flights of stairs in silence before trying again. “Are — are you upset about something? If all the people in your place are freaking you out we can —”
“It’s fine,” Derek mumbled. “Just — here.” They were finally to the lobby, and Derek held the door open for Stiles to go through first.
Stiles’ reaction was everything Derek could have hoped. His whole face lit up, and he almost dropped his cane in shock before he fumbled, catching it again. “Dad?”
With a few quick steps the sheriff had Stiles in a giant hug. Derek smiled down at his feet as waves of joy radiated off the two of them.
“I can’t believe you’re here!” Stiles finally wheezed out as the sheriff let up on the hug a little. “I thought I wasn’t gonna get to see you until Christmas!”
The sheriff met Derek’s eyes, giving him a nod. “Derek here sent me a ticket.”
“Derek?” Stiles whipped his head around, reaching out for Derek. “You did that?”
“Yeah.” Derek’s breath huffed out as Stiles pulled him into a hug as well, his scent rich with happiness. “You — I wanted you to be with family on Thanksgiving.”
Stiles squeezed even harder. “You’re my family now too,” he said, his voice low and hoarse. “But — thanks. This is — it’s so great.”
“I actually bought two tickets,” Derek mumbled, sending an awkward wave in the direction of the woman who had been waiting patiently during the Stilinski reunion. As Stiles released him in surprise, Derek held a hand out. “It’s nice to meet you in person, Mrs. McCall.”
“Melissa,” she corrected with a smile, shaking his hand firmly.
“Scott’s mom?” Derek would have thought that it was impossible for Stiles’ smile to get wider, but he managed it somehow. “Holy crap, does Scott know? He’s gonna freak!”
Melissa was already laughing. “He doesn’t. Let’s go surprise him,” she said conspiratorially, taking Stiles’ arm gently.
“Oh, man, I can’t wait!” Stiles was saying, already headed up the stairs. “Dad, are you coming? Lyds and Jackson are already here, and you never got to meet Boyd and Isaac and Erica last time, and even Kira and Allison are gonna be here, and…”
The sheriff sent a wry smile Derek’s way before gathering up two of the abandoned bags, following his chattering son up the stairs. Derek grabbed the rest of the bags, trailing behind in their wake.
Melissa had barely finished her own tearful reunion with Scott before she pushed him out of his own kitchen, sending him to the store before it closed for masa harina and cornmeal, asserting that no Thanksgiving would be complete without her special tomalito.
She immediately put the sheriff to work blending corn, and he obeyed with alacrity. Between their ease in the kitchen together and the adoring looks they sneaked when each thought the other wasn’t looking, Derek was guessing that if they weren’t together yet they would be by Christmas. He filed that bit of information away to share with Stiles later, and turned himself over to do Lydia’s bidding as she tsked over the state of his silverware.
By mid-afternoon everyone had arrived, circulating between all three apartments. The sheriff, Boyd, Jackson, and Isaac had settled themselves on Boyd and Erica’s couch to watch the game, while another contingent was watching the parade in Scott’s apartment. To Derek’s amusement, Isaac and the sheriff had taken to each other immediately, and Derek suspected that he may soon be demoted from father-figure to older-brother-figure in Isaac’s psyche.
To everyone’s horror, Lydia and Erica were getting along like a house on fire as well, and Derek foresaw a world of complications in his future from the combined deviousness of those two minds working together. Kira arrived, introducing her parents around with a shy smile. Their arms were loaded with trays full of mandu and yakitori, and they popped them into the oven as soon as the pies were done before joining the parade-watchers.
Allison and her father arrived as well, and Derek shook hands with Chris Argent before retreating to his own apartment to make the mashed potatoes, a little unsettled by the man’s ice-blue gaze and almost military bearing. He ended up in a surprisingly easy conversation with Kira’s dad, the owner of the comic book store. The two of them discussed comics as they companionably mashed the boiled potatoes side-by-side, with Stiles popping in and out of the conversation, inserting his opinions at random moments in between setting the table.
Dinner was equally disorganized, but somehow all the better for it. The mishmosh of traditional American, Mexican, Polish, Korean, and Japanese food somehow seemed to turn out just right, although Melissa protested vigorously when she saw Isaac putting cranberry sauce on her tomalito before eating it. Boyd’s father was just as laconic as Boyd was, but to everyone’s surprise his mother was a complete chatterbox. With Erica and Lydia egging her on, she kept them all entertained with stories of Boyd’s childhood, ignoring Boyd’s dejected facepalms as she touched on the most embarrassing moments.
Stiles kept tripping over the rearranged furniture, although it didn’t seem to dim his enthusiasm in the slightest. Derek finally settled him into the seat next to him, one hand sneaking under the table to grasp his wrist so he could draw the ache of the growing bruises from him. Stiles sighed, leaning his weight into Derek’s shoulder for a moment, practically radiating happiness.
It was so different from how Thanksgiving had been when Derek’s family was alive, and yet so similar. Derek took a breath before beginning to eat, letting it all wash over him — the hubbub of familiar voices, the scent of pack and food and contentment all around him. A year ago, Derek had been all alone in the world, and now all of these people had decided to spend their holiday with him. Derek felt almost overwhelmed with emotion, his throat growing tight for a moment.
“You okay there, Sourwolf?” Stiles murmured in his ear. Derek felt Stiles’ hand creep into his, fingers squeezing tightly.
“Yeah,” Derek managed. It was still a mystery to him how Stiles always seemed to know what he was feeling.
“This is pretty great, huh?” Stiles was biting his lower lip as if that could keep in his smile, his eyes shining with joy. His cheeks were flushed pink, a smear of cranberry sauce at the corner of his lips, and Derek brushed it away with his thumb.
Derek looked at his mate, and then around the table at his pack, his new family. “Yeah,” he said, his voice a little hoarse. “It’s pretty great.”
Derek sat next to Stiles on the couch, rubbing his damp palms nervously on his sweatpants. Stiles seemed equally tense, his knee jiggling restlessly, teeth chewing at his lower lip.
“We can — we can do this later,” Derek started. “Or not at all, if you’ve changed your mind —”
“I haven’t,” Stiles interrupted, wincing at how loudly his voice came out. “Unless you have?”
“No.” Derek gave in to his urge and pulled Stiles into his arms, holding him tight, breathing in his warmth and scent. He tried to push all the doubt and hesitation from his mind; all the fears that he might do this wrong, that he might hurt Stiles, that it might not work after all…
“Let’s just do it quick,” Stiles said, interrupting Derek’s circling thoughts. “I’m ready.”
“Yeah.” Derek pulled in a deep breath and let it out. He made sure his cell phone was nearby, even though Scott was standing by next door with his med kit in case something went wrong.
“Hey.” Stiles’ palm was warm on Derek’s cheek. He tipped Derek’s head toward him and their lips met — a slow, clinging, languorous kiss that seemed to leech the tension right out of Derek’s body.
“Better?” Stiles asked, his eyes smiling.
“Yeah.” Derek pulled in another deep breath. “I’m ready.”
Stiles tilted his head forward, exposing the tender nape of his neck. Derek opened up the antiseptic wipe Scott had given him, swabbing down Stiles’ neck thoroughly as Stiles squirmed and complained about the coldness. He carefully extended the claws of his right hand and then wiped them down as well.
“You remember —” Stiles’ voice came out a little high and squeaky and he cleared his throat, starting again. “You remember where? Index finger right at C4?”
“Yeah.” Derek had studied the anatomy until his head spun, but he wouldn’t be doing this if he weren’t sure. “I’m ready. Just —” He looped his left arm across Stiles’ chest, bracing him in case he flinched. “Just stay still.”
He felt Stiles take in a deep breath and then Derek pushed, gritting his teeth against the feeling of the skin parting around his claws, the warm wet resistance as he pushed deeper. Then it was like he had felt with Isaac but somehow reversed — the eerie zing of a connection as he hit the right spot.
Derek closed his eyes, concentrating hard to block out the present and pull the memory to mind.
“Oh my god,” he heard Stiles breathe, distantly. “That’s you? You’re —”
[Earlier that day]
Derek had bought the mirror at the 67th Street Flea Market yesterday. It was a giant, gilt-edged monstrosity, and even with werewolf strength carting the thing home on the subway had been a nightmare. But Derek had managed it, propping it up against the wall of his apartment and carefully cleaning it, top to bottom, until every speck and smudge had vanished.
Now he stands in front of it, shifting uncertainly from one bare foot to the other. Just the thought of what he is going to do makes him blush, but he takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, determined.
He steps closer, meeting his own eyes in the mirror. He finds himself running a self-conscious hand through his hair and drops it, forcing himself to stay still, letting his gaze wander slowly over his own face. He tries to imagine Stiles seeing it for the first time, and wonders what he’ll think.
He tries to take careful note of all the details Stiles would want to see — ruffling his eyebrow with an index finger and then smoothing it again, brushing his hair behind his ears to show Stiles how they stick out so embarrassingly.
He steps closer and examines the color of his eyes in the mirror, the starburst of grey and brown and green that everyone seems to find so extraordinary but to Derek are just...his eyes. He lets the alpha red bleed into them — it obscures his vision for a moment, hazing it, but then the compensation kicks in and he can see the true color. He realizes he hasn’t really seen himself like this before, had always just assumed his eyes shone the bright, laser red that his mother’s had, but his color is actually different — the deep garnet-red of a burning ember.
When he thinks it has been long enough, he pulls in a deep breath and then lets the shift wash over him fully. He turns his head to show Stiles his sideburns and pointed ears, bares his teeth to show off the fangs. With anyone else he would have been self-conscious, but he knows that Stiles likes his wolf as much as he likes his human side.
After a few long moments he shifts back and then takes a step or two backwards, pulling his henley over his head in one swift, decisive movement. He can see the tips of his ears turning pink, a flush spreading across his cheekbones in his reflection, but he perseveres, unbuttoning his jeans and pushing them down his thighs, stepping out of them and kicking them to the side.
Finally he stands in front of his reflection in just his black boxer-briefs. He takes another deep breath and then shucks those too. He squashes down the instinctive urge to cover himself and forces his arms to relax at his sides, taking in his own reflection fully.
Before Stiles, Derek had thought of his appearance as being an unfortunate side-effect of his physical training. It was strength he wanted — survival — not the salacious attention his body drew from strangers. That unwanted attention was a burden, making Derek feel uncomfortable in his own skin, avoiding his reflection whenever possible. He realizes now that he hasn’t really looked at his own body in years, particularly not since he has become an alpha.
Now he lets himself look, imagining how it will be for Stiles, seeing him for the first time. He examines the new breadth of his shoulders, the rounded bulge of his biceps, the corded muscles of his forearms. He runs his fingertips down the ridges of his abdominal muscles, thinking about how Stiles is always so careful not to touch there, placing only reverent kisses. Stiles always treats Derek’s body like a gift, like something to be treasured, and for the first time Derek lets himself look at his own reflection and feels a kind of satisfaction, a pleased acceptance at the joy he can bring to Stiles with this body that he wears so uncomfortably otherwise.
His blush intensifies as he turns around. He has to crane his neck uncomfortably, but he is able to see the broad muscles of his back with the triskele curving dark between his shoulder blades, the sharp slope down into the divots at the base of his spine. He looks at the ass that Stiles calls ‘bitable’ (“That’s not even a word, Stiles,”) and the thickly muscled thighs and calves down to his bare feet.
After he feels that he has looked long enough he turns around again. It feels easier now, with Stiles in his thoughts. Derek knows that if this works Stiles will know not only what he is seeing right now, but what he is thinking — what he is feeling. And so he runs his hand over his lightly-furred chest, his flat dark nipples, down the trail of coarser hair below his navel, thinking about Stiles’ hands on his skin. He blushes again but gives his cock a few firm strokes, letting it stand proud and erect between his thick thighs, and thinks of how it feels to have Stiles’ mouth on him. He lets his hands wander up to his collarbone, reverently touching the spot that Stiles likes to suck on — likes to whimper into — as he comes.
And then he thinks of everything else — how brave Stiles is, how caring and determined. How Derek didn’t even realize how lonely and sad he was until Stiles came into his life, with brightness and laughter. How it feels to hold Stiles at night, feeling his warm body, the puff of his breath, the steady beating of his heart. How he has a family now, a pack, and how Stiles is responsible for it all.
He meets his own eyes in the mirror. In comparison to his usual shuttered, angry glare, the look on his face is one he’s never seen before. Softness and adoration, everything that he feels for Stiles showing clear as day on his face. Derek lets himself see it, imagines Stiles seeing it, and he smiles, bright and wide and happy.
He reaches out, touching his own reflection with his fingertips, hoping with every fiber of his being that this works, that Stiles is able to see and hear and feel exactly how much Derek means this.
“I love you, Stiles,” he says, his voice sounding gruffer than he intended but the words coming more easily than he ever imagined, no longer tainted by his past. “I love you so much.”
Stiles made a soft sound, his fingers laced tight in Derek’s left hand. “Me too,” he breathed, his voice high and shaky. “Derek — I love you so much. I wish I could show you how much.”
Derek felt himself smiling. You show me every day, he thought, and just as easy as that the memories flooded in. The way Stiles smiled at him, soft and tender. The way Stiles looked when he researched — his face focused and intent, his scent sharp with caffeine and concentration — chewing on his bottom lip as he pored over lines of Braille. Stiles’ amber eyes bright with laughter, his long elegant fingers, the lush curve of his bottom lip.
And Derek couldn’t help it as his thoughts slid sideways — Stiles underneath him, back arched, the tender expanse of his neck marked with beard burn and love-bites. Stiles above him, riding him slowly, a pink flush creeping down his chest as his mouth dropped open in ecstasy. Stiles curled on Derek’s chest at night, eyelashes dark against his mole-spotted cheeks, his tip-tilted nose nestled into the curve of Derek’s shoulder.
“Whoa.” Stiles’ voice was rough, and he swallowed thickly before speaking again. “You — you think I’m beautiful.”
“You are,” Derek said, his voice low and fervent.
They were both shaking now, a deep trembling of both emotion and exhaustion, and Derek knew he didn’t have much more time. He focused his thoughts again, this time on the memory of Thanksgiving dinner.
Stiles made a soft, gutted noise at his side. “Dad?” he breathed as Derek showed him the Sheriff’s face, creased with happiness as he watched Stiles telling some story. “He’s — he’s old,” Stiles complained, but his voice was fond and proud.
Derek tried to touch on everyone — Lydia, radiant in the candlelight she had insisted upon. Scott and his mom, hugging, their faces shining with joy. Boyd and Erica, snuggled on the couch. Isaac and Kira and Allison, deep in conversation. Without really meaning to, he remembered in a quick flash how the sheriff and Melissa had looked at each other, shy and blushing, and Stiles twitched against his chest. “Whoa,” he said, his voice trembling with excitement. “My dad totally has the hots for Scott’s mom!”
Derek was nearly panting with effort now, but with one last push he showed Stiles what Lydia had brought him. It was harder to keep the memory coherent but he managed bits and pieces — the territory map, the black and white photograph of the gracious but neglected house in the Beacon Hills Preserve.
He wasn’t sure if it would work, but with the last of his strength he showed Stiles the house as it had appeared in his own thoughts increasingly often over the past few days. Not just a house but a home, restored and full of life, a place for pack and family — their pack and their pack’s children. A place for Derek to feel comfortable in his own skin, and for Stiles to write in peace, surrounded by nature. And maybe someday even children of their own, a hazy, nebulous thought that slipped in without deliberation — the vision of Stiles with his arms around a child, their heads bent together in laughter.
Derek felt his claws sliding free as his arm went limp with exhaustion, the connection breaking. He slumped back against the couch, too drained to move, distantly feeling Stiles falling in a warm heap against his side. He should get up — let Scott know it went okay, take care of the puncture wounds on Stiles’ neck — but for now he let himself rest, breathing in the comfort of Stiles’ presence beside him.
“Yeah.” Stiles pulled in a deep, shuddering breath. “All of that, Derek. I want all of that with you.”
Derek felt something unknot in his chest, warmth and happiness filling in all his empty spaces until he thought he might burst. He pulled Stiles close to his chest, breathing in the soft warm scent of home, and smiled.
Well, that's it! Thanks for everyone who supported me while this was a WIP, especially my amazing long-time beta, lachlanrose, and eeyore9990 who jumped in at the last minute to beta the last two chapters. For any brain nerds out there, I was completely willing to fudge the neuroscience if necessary, but luckily I didn't have to. Here's a reference if you're interested:
Cortical blindness and visual imagery
Anjan Chatterjee, MD and M. Helen Southwood, PhD
Neurology December 1995 vol. 45 no. 12 2189-2195
Controversy exists concerning the neural basis underlying visual imagery. Some propose that visual images evoked from memory are mediated by primary visual cortices. Others argue that these primary visual areas perform computations on elementary visual features when constructing visual representations from retinal input but that they are not activated during recall of these representations. The visual imagery abilities of patients with cortical blindness may resolve this controversy. The proposition that primary visual cortex is necessary for visual imagery predicts that a cortically blind subject's inability to perceive visual stimuli would be accompanied by an inability to image visually. Our investigations of three patients with cortical blindness provide strong evidence that primary visual cortices are not essential for the mediation of visual images recalled from memory.