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The Hollow Moon

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Singing outside waiting for the world to call
Living my life trying do what's right
In the hope of a better day
And all I want is that you extend your hand to me
Oooh, show me where it hurts,
We'll make it OK
Tell me that you'll stay
Even when I'm far away
My voice will carry through
Until the end it's me and you
We can make it if we try
-Silhouette by Active Child ft. Ellie Goulding

*

Stiles wakes up, screaming. He shoots up and starts counting his fingers repeatedly.

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

The blankets move beside him, and a mound of red hair rises. Lydia yawns as she covers his hands with her smaller ones. “You’re awake, Stiles. It’s okay.”

“I’ve had this dream before. Where I woke up and you were in bed beside me, but I wasn’t awake.”

“I know.” She takes his hands and lays them flat on the blanket. “See? No extra fingers.”

Stiles stares at his hands, heart pounding in his ears as he tries to convince his brain that this is reality and not a dream. He’s starting to get them mixed up again.

“What was it this time?” Lydia asks quietly as she rests her chin on his shoulder.

Stiles turns his hands over and stares at the palms. They’re clean, familiar. Shaking. Not covered in blood, steady as they held the sword. “Stabbing Scott.”

He hears Lydia tsk softly as she lies back down, tugging on his arm for him to join her. He’s not tired; his body feels alert and excited at the rush of adrenaline, at the elation of the Nogitsune as it watched Scott bleeding and in pain.

Stiles still sometimes has a hard time separating the feelings. He hates the nights when he feels the residual emotions, feels the displaced happiness from watching people scream and die. He can hear Scott’s voice in his ears, hear the small sounds of pain. When he closes his eyes, he sees that bandaged face and it’s staring

staring

and grinning.

Stiles sits up and settles back against the pillows. Lydia turns over onto her back, frowning up at him. “Are you not going to try?”

“Distraction,” Stiles says, grabbing his laptop and loading up Netflix.

She sighs, which turns into another yawn, as she sits up to join him. She rubs her eye as she says, “No action flicks.”

“You’re cutting out the best genre,” Stiles whines. He smiles softly at her, at her tangled hair and makeup-less face. Two years ago, he would have gotten awkward boners and probably shot his load just at the thought of Lydia Martin in his bed, but now he has her natural with no makeup or hair products, and it’s platonic and comforting. He sometimes misses being in love with her, but then he wouldn’t have this.

“Work’s gonna suck tomorrow,” he grumbles, and she turns towards him and snuggles against his side. He puts an arm around her and finds himself yawning.

It takes him three hours to calm enough to fall asleep.

*

Summer jobs suck. He yawns as he stocks the shelves, and considers curling up right there in the middle of the aisle to take a nap. He thinks he could use the offensive Home Depot orange vest as a pillow. The last thing he wants to do is stock door knobs, but hey, it’s not the worst job he could have. Most of the time, the other workers leave him alone and he can sneak in some solitaire on his phone if he’s stealthy enough.

Stiles is sweeping the floor when a girl approaches him. “Stiles, right?” she asks, smiling at him. He looks around, like there’s someone else named Stiles she might be talking to.

“Yes. Can I help you find something?”

“You’re Scott’s friend.” Oh. Oh.

“Yep.” He nods. It’s one of Scott’s many dates, and Stiles definitely doesn’t remember her name. He can’t keep up with all the girls Scott dates these days. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.”

“Oh!” She laughs, embarrassed. “Nicole.”

“Right, Nicole.” He nods his head and has no clue when Scott dated her.

“Have you seen Scott around?” she asks. “I haven’t heard from him, and well, the date went pretty well, so…” She trails off, and Stiles feels bad for her. This isn’t the first time he’s had a conversation like this with someone. That’s what Scott gets for being so amazing. The girls just wanna keep dating him when he’s playing the field. Hard.

“He’s just really busy,” Stiles lies. “He’s got an internship and has been going back and forth between here and UC Davis.” She seems to buy it, and Stiles is glad. It’s never any less awkward when girls ask about Scott, here or at college.

“Well, tell him I said hi? And to call me up next time he has some free time?” She gives Stiles another smile and walks away. If she wasn’t so obviously besotted with Scott, Stiles might ask her out himself.

He goes back to his sweeping, humming a tune to himself when his eye catches a guy walking past. Stiles walks to the end of the aisle, unable to shake the sense that the guy looks familiar. When he turns the corner, it feels like he’s been hit with a brick.

He can’t miss the familiar gait, the broad shoulders, the dark hair. As the guy turns down an aisle, Stiles spies the signature stubble. “Derek,” he whispers. The broom clatters to the floor as Stiles runs towards the aisle Derek turned down. But when he gets there, the aisle is empty.

Stiles walks along every aisle, looking for any glimpse of dark hair or grey Henley. He combs the store three times before giving up.

“I’m telling you,” Stiles tells Scott later that night when they’re having their weekly pizza date. “It looked just like Derek.” Scott stares at Stiles thoughtfully as he chews. “Don’t give me that look, Scott. Whatever is under that look, get rid of it.”

“You’re seeing Derek in Home Depot,” Scott says. “You haven’t mentioned the guy in years. What am I supposed to think?”

“Nothing,” Stiles says, tossing his crust to his plate. “Forget I said anything.”

“Stiles – “

“Hey, so one of your many girlfriends found me at work today and asked about you.”

“They’re not my girlfriends,” Scott says with a laugh.

“Tell them that,” Stiles says. “If you’d just stop being so damn charming with them, they wouldn’t want to keep dating you.”

“I’m just being young, dating around, you know.” Scott shrugs. Stiles frowns, but doesn’t press.

It’s been like this since right after they graduated. Scott and Kira broke up, amicably and everything because, well, it was Scott and Kira. Stiles kept waiting for it to happen all senior year. They were cute, but there was always something holding Scott back, something that kept him from committing to Kira as much as she wanted. Stiles knew what it was – hell everyone knew what it was, it’s just that no one wanted to say anything.

Stiles isn’t sure Scott will ever be over Allison.

Scott had dated around through that summer, then dated and hooked up a lot throughout the school year. Stiles was impressed. Scott was getting laid a whole helluva lot more than Stiles was. Stiles hadn’t seen much action since he broke up with Malia a few months before graduation. He’d hooked up at a few parties, but that’s about it. His lack of sex life was something he’d lamented to Scott. A lot. And Scott was just a smug bastard who was taking out another girl.

It had to be his Alpha sexiness. Only thing that made sense. And Stiles just couldn’t compete with an Alpha werewolf. Or any werewolf. And most humans. It just sucked that Scott was trying to replace Allison with as many girls as possible.

“I told her you were busy with internships and stuff,” Stiles tells Scott.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t you tell them you’re just dating around?”

“Most of them get it,” Scott shrugs.

“You just gotta be irresistible, don’t you?” Scott gives him a grin, and Stiles rolls his eyes. “See, you do that. Never do that.”

“Smile?”

“Yes.”

As they walk from the pizza place towards their houses, Scott leans close and inhales. “Lydia sleep over last night?”

“Yeah.”

“Nightmares?”

Stiles nods. Scott frowns, and Stiles knows he’s got that look on his face like he should be able to fix Stiles, so Stiles says, “She’s with Jackson tonight. Fucking douche.”

“He’s not so bad,” Scott says.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Lydia can do better.”

“You know that doesn’t matter,” Scott says. “It’s Jackson.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Upstairs in Stiles’ bedroom, he watches movies on Netflix until he can’t keep his eyes open. When he lies down, he thinks of broad shoulders and stubble, and groans into his pillow. It’s been well over a year since he’s actively thought about Derek Hale, and now his cock seems very interested in his reappearance in Stiles’ thoughts. Stupid cock.

Stiles gives in, tugs his pajama pants down, and starts stroking himself. He never thought he’d be jerking off to thoughts of Derek again, but he guesses some fantasies never die. He thinks of strong hands on his hips, the sting of that beard scraping across his neck. It doesn’t take very long until he’s coming over his hand. He grabs tissues from his bedside table and then tosses them to the floor before rolling over and falling straight to sleep.

Tonight, he dreams of the inside of the loft, desperate kisses as his body is wrapped up with Derek’s in the sheets, and Derek trailing kisses down his spine.

*

Derek finishes the work at the house and calls it a day. They’ve got the external structure up, so they’re making good progress. The contractor left an hour ago, but Derek had spent another hour double checking everything and making notes and adjustments to his plans.

He goes back to the small cabin deep in the woods. The cabin had been his grandfather’s and gone unused until Derek had returned to Beacon Hills a few months ago and set up residence in the cabin while he built a new home. Although the Hale house had been taken by the county a few years ago, Derek still owned a large amount of land in northern Beacon County that had belonged to his family.

It’s better this way. He hadn’t been at the time, but he’s glad the county tore down the house. Derek wouldn’t have been able to let it go otherwise. He didn’t need to keep spending time breathing in the ashes and the smell of the charred flesh of his family. Tearing it down had freed him of that. Let him move on.

Now, he’s building a new house on Hale land. He’d left Beacon Hills immediately after the Mexico debacle. He’d almost died (or maybe he did die – he’s still not exactly sure what happened that night, except that he somehow survived like he always does) and evolved. He left to figure out what all that meant, what it meant to evolve, to figure out more about his wolf form.

He spent some time with Satomi’s Pack, tracking down leads, then spent some time in South America with Cora. When he finally found what he’d been looking for, she left with him. “I’m ready to be Pack again,” she had told him.

They traveled to Nevada, to an address Satomi had given him. They had never met the woman, and he had doubted she had even heard of them. It had been a long shot at best. Not long after they stepped into her territory, they had been met by a woman who Derek assumed was Marjorie, flanked by two other wolves. Marjorie had silver hair pulled back from her face, and dark intense eyes. She eyed them carefully, and both he and Cora let their eyes glow. She responded by staring back at them with red.

“I wondered when you would show up, Derek,” she had said, blinking her eyes back normal. She was their distant aunt, their mother’s father’s brother’s daughter. A Hale.

“I didn’t know you knew who we were,” Derek had responded in surprise.

“Word travels when hunters eliminate entire Packs,” Marjorie had said, stepping towards them. “Especially when they’re family.” Her eyes had glowed again when she touched their shoulders.

They stayed with Marjorie for over a year. He learned more about their full wolf trait, and the Pack had started teaching Cora. Marjorie offered them a place in her Pack more than once, but something held Derek back every time.

“You’re tied to another Pack,” she had said one night. They’d been sitting on the front porch, the Pack grilling and listening to music in the large backyard. Cora was playing badminton with some of the younger Pack members, one of whom Derek had suspected she was sexually involved with.

Derek hadn’t responded to Marjorie’s words. It said something that he hadn’t known which Pack she was referring to – his old Pack, now dead and gone, or the one in Beacon Hills. Scott’s Pack.

It didn’t really matter. There were strings tying Derek to something. He just had to figure out what.

After leaving Nevada, they traveled to England, found Jackson, and stayed with him for awhile. They’d broken the news to him that he was also Peter’s son – “That explains so much,” Jackson had said, three days later, when he finally was able to control his wolf and his anger enough to face Derek and Cora again. Jackson told them about shared memories of the Hale house – Pack memories – and Derek understood what drove him to bite Jackson so many years ago.

Derek was picking up his scattered pieces, bringing them back together, trying to make a whole again. He was different now than he was back then, and he had to try.

Derek couldn’t find Isaac. He’d tried to contact Chris Argent, had tried to find Isaac in France, but Chris and Isaac didn’t want to be found. Derek let it be. He understood the need to disappear and start again.

After a few months in England, Derek had realized they were a Pack. A Pack without an Alpha, but starting to be a Pack anyway. Jackson wasn’t happy about it, but he hadn’t joined a Pack in England, had only sought protection under the area Alpha. His instincts made him gravitate towards Derek and Cora. They were family, familiar, and most of all, reminded him of home.

Then, Derek led his Pack to Beacon Hills. It was the natural end to his journey. Beacon Hills was Hale territory, and Hales should be living there, no matter who the Alpha was. He announced their presence to Scott, but made him promise not to tell anyone they were there. Scott gave him an unreadable look, but agreed.

Derek and Cora stayed hidden in the woods, but like always, Jackson did what he wanted and went to find Lydia Martin the first night they were there. Derek couldn’t blame him. He could smell the longing and pain coming off Jackson in waves.

When Derek returns to the cabin from the house site, Cora’s sitting at the table, reading a book and eating a bowl of fruit. Jackson’s on the couch, watching television. They don’t even look up when he enters.

Derek putters around the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and preparing food for dinner. He’s just put the chicken in the oven when a knocks sounds on the door, then Scott steps into the living room. Derek nods at him as he wipes his hands on a dishtowel, then leans back against the counter and crosses his arms over his chest.

“How’s the house coming?” Scott asks as he walks towards the kitchen, smiling at Cora when she looks up from her book.

“It’s good,” Derek says. “Should be ready to move in to in a few months, if everything goes as planned.”

Scott nods, and Derek knows that’s not why he’s here. Scott would only come if there was a reason, not for a social call. Derek patiently waits for Scott to get to the point. “Stiles saw you yesterday,” he finally says, and Derek tenses, but relaxes quickly enough that he hopes no one will notice.

“I know,” Derek responds. Cora’s staring between them curiously, but Derek’s keeping his eyes on Scott.

“He thinks he’s seeing things,” Scott says. He looks at Derek disapprovingly, but Derek just stares back, keeping his face carefully blank. “I don’t have to tell you what that does to his head.”

“No.”

“Just go say hi to him or something,” Scott says. “Or go shop somewhere other than Home Depot.” Scott stares at Derek for a few beats, and then finally Derek nods. “Okay. Well, see you around.”

Cora waits until Scott is out of hearing range before she tosses her book down and leaps out of the chair. “Why didn’t you tell me you saw Stiles?”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“Why didn’t you speak to him?” Her expression is somewhere between calculating and all-knowing, and it’s frustrating. Derek turns away and checks the peas. “Tell me Derek.”

“It’s nothing,” Derek says. “I just don’t want a lot of distractions.”

“Oh my god,” Cora groans as she slumps against the counter. “I’d love a good distraction. I’m so freaking bored hanging out in the woods all day with nothing for distraction except your shining personality and Captain Douche Hair over there.”

Jackson flicks her off from the couch.

“Are you avoiding him?”

“I’m avoiding everyone,” Derek replies.

“I’m going to go talk to him,” Cora says.

“No, you’re not.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“Yes, I can.”

“Derek – “

“No,” Derek growls, flashing his eyes. She doesn’t back down, her eyes glowing gold and fangs extending.

“You two are not seriously having a pissing contest over Stilinski,” Jackson says with disbelief.

“Shut up,” they both snap.

“Fucking ridiculous,” Jackson mutters as he turns around and settles back onto the couch.

Cora allows her face to morph back to normal, and then she raises an eyebrow as she smirks. “Are you avoiding him?”

“Why would I be avoiding him?” Derek asks, turning back to the stove.

“Because you’re emotionally stupid?” Cora says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Do what you want, Cora,” he says. She claps gleefully. Derek may slam the cabinet so hard that it splinters.

*

That night, Derek dreams of kissing constellations of moles he remembers vividly like he’s had them memorized for years.

*

There’s a logical reason why Derek is at Home Depot five minutes before it opens. There’s also a logical reason as to why he knows Stiles’ Jeep is parked in the back.

Derek needs to start installing the cabinets in the kitchen. Immediately. So, as soon as the doors unlock, he heads straight for that section. He’s standing in front of the display, trying to decide which cabinet style he’d like for the kitchen, when a sales associate approaches him.

“Can I help you with anything?”

Derek turns to the guy – around 30, attractive, and looking at Derek with interest – and glares. “No.”

“Have you ever installed cabinets before? I can – “

“What part of no do you not understand?” Derek snaps. He ignores the muttering as the guy stalks away. He is not in Home Depot this early to deal with incompetent assholes who want to get into his pants.

Derek leaves the kitchen cabinets, and walks through the aisles, searching for Stiles. He catches his scent near lawn furniture and hones in on the rhythm of his heart. It’s too fast with the signature Derek hasn’t forgotten even after all this time. He smells like coffee-scented caffeine mixed with fatigue and boredom.

Now that Derek is standing just one aisle over, he freezes. What is he even doing? He’s at Home Depot minutes after opening just to see Stiles Stilinski. And why? Because Cora threatened to do it first? Why does it matter if Stiles knows he’s in town or not? Stiles doesn’t care about him, and he doesn’t care about Stiles.

Derek ignores the way Stiles’ scent changes and the sound of his name as he rushes toward the exit.

*

Stiles isn’t an idiot. Plus, there’s his dad’s old saying. One’s an incident, two’s a coincidence, but three.

Fuck three, man.

Three is Cora Hale, striding up to him near the end of his shift. “I knew it!” Stiles exclaims as Cora nears. “I fucking knew it.” He had suspected it that first time he thought he’d seen Derek in the store, and after this morning, he had known it.

The Hales were back in town.

“Hey,” Cora greets with a nod.

“I thought I was seeing things,” Stiles says. “And if you’re here, then Scott knows, and the fucker didn’t tell me!” he mutters to himself, wheels turning. He wonders who else knows the Hales are back, or if he’s the only idiot with a dropped jaw feeling left out.

“Ta-da!” Cora wiggles her fingers dramatically.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles asks.

“Coming to say hi,” Cora replies. “Did Derek not come by earlier?”

“He was here,” Stiles says. “But he didn’t lower himself to speak to the lowly peasants.”

The look on Cora’s face is unreadable. “Huh.” Then she smiles, and Stiles is pretty sure he’s terrified. “Well, I’m back. And we’re gonna hang out.”

“We are?”

“Yep, because if I have to spend one more fucking night with only Jackson and Derek as company, I may go feral.”

Stiles snorts. Poor Cora. “You’re the reason Jackson came back?” Cora nods. “I hate you both so much for bringing him back.” Stiles wonders what in the hell Derek had been thinking to when he decided that going to get Jackson had been a good idea. Stiles was okay with Jackson staying in London. Forever.

Cora laughs. “He’s not too bad. Sometimes. But I’ll deny ever saying that.”

“Your secret’s safe with me.”

“So, when do you get off work?” Cora asks.

Stiles glances at the clock on his phone. “Twenty minutes?”

“I’ll wait,” she says.

“O…kay.”

When Stiles walks to his Jeep later, Cora is leaning against the side of it, looking as much like a creeper as Derek used to. Which is creepy in itself. Stiles bunches up his hideous orange vest and tosses it into the backseat when he gets behind the wheel. Cora climbs into the passenger side without a word.

“So,” Stiles says, drawing out the O.

“Why do you feel so awkward?” Cora asks. “We almost dated before I left.”

Stiles sputters and flails his hands around. “What?”

Cora rolls her eyes. “Don’t tell me you are this fucking clueless.”

“I can honestly say I have no clue what you are talking about.”

“I was into you, and you were into me,” Cora says with a shrug. “If I hadn’t gone to South America, we would have totally dated.”

“Did Jackson put you up to this?” Stiles asks, narrowing his eyes at her.

Cora rolls her eyes again, this time taking her head with them. “Just drive, Stiles. And stop being stupid.”

“You Hales have odd ways of wooing people,” Stiles mutters.

“How would you know how us Hales woo people?” Cora asks, eyebrow quirked.

Stiles’ face heats up. “Well, I don’t, but there’s Peter with his bad touch and possessing, and Derek with his shoving me against walls and general sour disposition, there’s you and your…Cora-ness.”

“For someone who hates us so much, you sure used to find yourself in the midst of Hale stuff.”

Stiles flexes his fingers on the steering wheel. “I never said I hated you.” After a moment, he adds, “Except Peter. I totally hate that dude.”

“Duly noted.”

“Where to, O Wolfy One?” Stiles asks as they idle at a red light.

“You’re taking me to dinner.”

So, Stiles takes Cora to dinner. They go to a chain restaurant, with overpriced mediocre food, but the burger’s not bad and the company is better. Cora tells Stiles about South America, and they discuss indigenous snakes before getting into a heated debate about food. Halfway through the meal, Stiles finds himself laughing and realizes he’s having fun. It’s been a long time since he’s felt so light.

“Where’s your car?” Stiles asks as they drive through town afterwards.

“Don’t have one,” Cora says simply, and Stiles turns to stare at her.

“Did you run to town?”

She shrugs. “You act like it’s difficult.”

“Fucking werewolves,” Stiles mutters, and Cora punches him in the arm.

Stiles drives through the Preserve until Cora tells him to stop. It figures it’s the middle of nowhere, with no discernible path into the woods. Stiles puts the Jeep into park and taps a rhythm on the steering wheel. “So,” he says. “Are you living in a cave? Derek find another burnt out house or abandoned train station?”

“You’re a real ass, do you know that?” Cora frowns, then says, “Derek’s building a house. We’re living in a small cabin on the property.”

Stiles flails, arms waving around the confines of the vehicle. “Wait, back up. What? Derek’s building a house? Like, with his own hands?”

“Yes?” Cora says. “He’s really good with that stuff. He used to help our dad build stuff. I think he wanted to do something with carpentry or architecture.” The before the fire goes unsaid, but Stiles hears it like she shouted it. Of course he’d thought about Derek and the fire, about his family dying, but it hits Stiles in that moment what else Derek lost that night, what else Kate took away from him. Derek should have gone to college, been an architect or worked construction or even made fucking furniture if he wanted to. But instead, he ran for his life, then watched everyone around him die. Derek’s future burned that night, too. Suddenly, Derek Hale starts to look different to Stiles (maybe because he understands that, but doesn’t want to admit it). Stiles feels something inside that pokes at him uncomfortably, and he tries to grasp onto the feeling.

But Cora snaps her fingers in front of Stiles’ face, and it vanishes. “Zone much?” she asks. “I said, what did you think he was doing in Home Depot?”

“I don’t know, being a big creeper wolf like usual?” Stiles shrugs off his thoughts, shoves them out of his mind and forgets about them.

“Thanks for dinner,” Cora says. “We’ll do it again soon, okay? Early next week?”

“Okay,” Stiles finds himself agreeing. She smiles, and Stiles is hit by how beautiful she is. His heart picks up, and he curses because he knows that she’ll detect it. Cora leans over and lightly kisses his cheek before getting out of the car. She stands in the headlights, shifts into her Beta form with a grin, then takes off into the woods.

Stiles finds himself smiling as he drives home. The expression feels odd on his face, because for once, it’s genuine.

*

Stiles’ happiness doesn’t last long. It never does, not anymore. That night, he dreams of burning houses, screams of anguish echoing inside his head. All the while, he just stands there, surrounded by the smell of burning flesh.

He wakes up alone, his own screams loud in the silent house. The clock reads 2:14. His dad is at work, and he’s glad, though he doesn’t want to be alone. But he’d rather struggle with being alone than see the worried look on his dad’s face.

He tries to fall asleep, but he can’t get those horrible images out of his brain. He doesn’t know why suddenly the idea of the Hale fire is stuck inside his brain. He hadn’t reacted this strongly after he’d spent the night poring over the police file, back when he’d first met Derek.

He just can’t stop thinking about Derek. How he’d wanted him dead so many times back then, how he’d quickly come to understand Derek, unlike Scott. Sure, Derek had been an ass, but when Stiles finally stopped and looked at Derek, it was easy to see he was scared and hurting underneath all that leather and glowering expression.

As he lies there, trying to fall back asleep, Stiles wonders what Derek was like before the fire. If he’d been funny, or quiet, or like a normal kid. He wonders who Derek’s best friend had been, if he’d played lacrosse, what subjects he hated. He knows Derek is smart, so he was probably good at school. Was he also popular? Had he always been that attractive, or was he awkward?

Stiles rubs his eyes. Why is thinking about Derek? Why isn’t he thinking about Cora, the Hale he went on a date with? Cora is nice, and funny and intelligent and hot. But she is essentially a stranger. All he knows is that she was angry and tended towards violence like her brother, and that she spent a lot of time in South America. He doesn’t even know if she speaks Spanish or Portuguese or another language. He knows that Derek is fluent in Spanish, and can read Latin (although not as good as Lydia). He’ll have to ask Cora on their next date what languages she speaks.

Stiles finally turns on his television and falls asleep to an infomercial for a golden oldies CD collection.

When he falls asleep this time, he dreams of warm kisses down his neck, the harsh scrape of stubble against his skin, and fingertips pressing into his hips so hard he knows he’ll have bruises the next day.

*

Derek watches Cora and Jackson spar from the front step of the small cabin. Jackson’s gotten better – even maybe good, though Derek would never tell him that – and Cora’s gotten fast and strategic. It’s probably the only thing he’s ever done successfully since Laura died. The two Betas are strong fighters, able to defend their Pack well. Derek had never gotten this close to teaching anyone anything when he was an Alpha. The only thing he taught his Pack had been how to run.

That was all Derek had understood at the time.

It’s not like he understands much now. But he’s stopped running, and the house is supposed to be his way of settling. Derek wants to find something again. If he’s not going to die, he figures he might as well start living – even if it’s pretending.

Jackson goes down with a hard crack, and Derek involuntarily winces in pain. Cora leans back, crosses her arms, and grins triumphantly over him. After a moment of not moving, which Derek knows has Jackson’s broken bones knitting back together, he leaps to his feet and lunges for Cora claws first. He digs his claws into her chest and takes her down onto her back. When they land, he grins down at her. “You got cocky.”

Cora kicks Jackson in the nuts, and he howls in pain. Derek laughs as Cora sits up, rubbing at the healing pierced skin on her chest, her hands streaked with blood. “Worked, didn’t it?” She leaps up and extends a hand to him. “Who’s the one standing now?”

Jackson looks like he’s contemplating attacking her again, but he takes her hand instead, and Cora helps him to his feet. They shove each other playfully as they walk over to Derek, and Derek’s reminded of days out here with his family, the last time he had a Pack, and it almost feels like that. Just smaller and different; it helps to be surrounded by Hale blood again, helps fill some of the emptiness inside, heal some of the wounds.

“Cora’s a fucking cheater,” Jackson says as he drops onto the stoop a few steps down. He presses his back against Derek’s leg and doesn’t move, and Derek lays his hand on Jackson’s shoulder and squeezes.

“No rules.” She shrugs, clearly unconcerned. She reminds him of Laura sometimes, though Cora’s told him she barely remembers Laura. She’d confessed this late at night, sitting around a dying campfire in the middle of a forest when they’d been with Marjorie’s Pack. It was just the two of them left around the fire, and something about the darkness and the late hour and the soft glow of the embers had made her open up. They only talk in the middle of the night, in the dark. Neither of them are oversharers, but that simple statement had opened up something between them.

“I don’t really remember Laura.” It had been a whisper, so quiet Derek almost missed it even with his hearing. His heart broke as soon as Cora said it; he wasn’t sure what was worse, not remembering her or losing her after losing everyone else. Two extremes, Derek had thought. Laura had left her siblings in two extremes.

Those nights are when Derek finally got to know his sister. She told him a few weeks after that first admission that she only had a few memories of their parents, barely remembered who he had been. Derek had decided that night to give her a new family, though he and Jackson were little consolation after what she had lost. “Hard to miss what you don’t remember,” she’d told him, and he knew that had been the moment she had started viewing him as her brother instead of a stranger.

Jackson needed them probably more than they needed him, and Derek and Cora had both desperately wanted another Pack member. They still want more Pack members, he feels it in his bones, but three feels more balanced than two, and being around blood helps Derek remember. It still doesn’t fill the void of lost Pack members – shadows in his soul in vague outlines, lost Hales, Erica, Boyd, Isaac.

Derek basks in the feel of his small Pack around him. Cora is stretched out on the steps, elbows resting back on the top step, her leg draped over Jackson's. They don't say much, just sit there as Cora and Jackson catch their breath and their bruises heal.

"Up," Derek says, slapping them both lightly. "I want you to practice shifting." Jackson groans and is the last off the steps.

Derek pulls his shirt off, then pushes his jeans and underwear down. He cracks his neck before he feels the wolf rise to the surface, morphing his bones and skin. He lands on four paws, the world around him exploding in sound, smell, and color. He looks at Cora and Jackson, who are watching him. He trots up to Jackson's leg and nudges his snout against his thigh.

"Fine," Jackson growls. He leaves his clothes on, they both do, because they haven't been able to achieve the full shift just yet. Jackson's face scrunches in concentration, and he shifts into his Beta form. Derek sits back on his haunches and watches. Jackson keeps trying, but nothing happens. Derek glances over at Cora, and she's faring a little better. Her face is shifted more fully, making her look more like a hybrid than a werewolf. Her snout has extended, and fur covers most of her face and arms. She's still upright, her limbs more human than lupine.

"I fucking hate this," Jackson growls, and he turns slightly and punches a tree, taking out a chunk of bark. Derek huffs through his nose and shifts back to human.

"Anger isn't gonna get you there," Derek says. Jackson turns around and growls at him. Derek rolls his eyes. "Keep being a dick, and you'll never figure it out."

"This is stupid," Jackson says, face returned to normal. "I'm bitten. And Peter never turned into a wolf. I won't ever get this."

"This again?" Cora sighs, back to her Beta form. "Malia was a coyote for like eight years."

"Her mother was also a coyote," Jackson counters. "And she was born that way."

"Doesn't matter," Derek says. "Marjorie said the Hale blood should be enough. You're blocking yourself mentally." He glances at both of them. "Again."

Cora shifts to her half form, and Derek smiles proudly at her. Jackson only manages to get angry. "Screw this," he says, stalking towards the cars in the driveway.

"Where are you going?" Cora calls after him as he yanks open the door to the Porsche.

"None of your business!" He revs the engine and drives away so fast the tires kick up dirt and debris as the car zips down the path.

Cora turns to Derek and says, "Lydia." Derek nods and grabs his jeans from the ground and slips them on.

"You're doing good," he tells her as they walk into the cabin. "You'll be able to fully shift soon." Derek can feel that she's pleased at the praise, and he reaches out to hook an arm around her neck.

Inside, she grabs her phone and checks it while Derek gets a bottle of water from the refrigerator. She types out a message, and Derek tries not to act any differently. "Texting Stiles?"

"Yeah," Cora replies distractedly.

Derek takes a long gulp of water. He can see Cora smiling as she replies to something, and Derek doesn't care what they're talking about. He doesn't even know how Stiles can get anything across in a text message without flailing about and using his ridiculous facial expressions. He probably uses tons of obnoxious emoticons or emojis.

"You can go talk to him, you know," Cora says without looking up from her phone. "He obviously knows you're back. He also knows it was you that he saw at Home Depot."

"Why would I need to see Stiles?"

Cora locks her phone and looks at him. "Why would you need to avoid him?"

"I'm not avoiding him."

"So you keep saying." Derek glares before turning his back to her. "He talks about you, you know. I sometimes think he spends more time asking about you than he does me."

"Do you want me or Jackson to threaten him?" Derek asks as he glances over his shoulder.

Cora rolls her eyes. "Oh my god, you missed the point, dumbass. He likes you, more than I think even he realizes. And I can take care of myself."

"But he's dating you."

"Not like that, Derek. God, not everyone wants in your pants," Cora says. Then she adds, "Well, they probably do, but I don't think it's like that for Stiles. I think he missed you."

"What do you want me to do about it?"

Cora leaves the room. "Nothing. Forget I said anything."

Derek sits on the couch and glares at a book for the next half hour. Cora's in her room, headphones on, while Derek tries to read. But he keeps thinking about what Cora said. And Stiles. And as a result, the dream he had about Stiles. He doesn't even know where that dream came from. It had felt so real, from the feel of Stiles' skin beneath his touch to the placement of the moles on his body. Sure, maybe Derek had developed an attraction to Stiles before he left Beacon Hills; the kid had been smart, resourceful, and stupidly brave. But he'd been a kid. Nothing more. And now, well, seeing him again obviously dredged up those old feelings. But it was nothing. Besides, it didn't matter. Stiles was dating his sister.

That night, he dreams about Stiles again. He dreams they're lying in bed, with Stiles propped on his elbow, leaning over him, and laughing. When Derek wakes, all he remembers is Stiles' smile, like the sun is shining directly from his eyes, and Derek can't quite ignore way his heart flips in his chest.

*

The next day, Derek goes to Home Depot to buy some nails, and when he doesn't see Stiles' Jeep in the parking lot, he turns around, the Camaro’s wheels squealing as he leaves the parking lot.

*

Stiles can’t get out of bed. Taking a shower this morning took too much effort. He stood under the spray, trying to will himself to move, to wash his hair or pick up the bar of soap. After he finally got clean, he stood in the middle of his room, staring at his jeans and the orange vest he’d thrown on the floor. He thought about putting it on, getting in the Jeep, and heading towards work. He thought about interacting with customers and working his shift.

But he couldn't. He just...couldn't make himself do it. He felt like his body and his mind were trapped, and that putting on clothes and leaving the house were the most constricting things he could possibly do. Even the thought made his chest tighten.

So, instead, he calls in and then curls up in bed. His mind reels and doesn't let him sleep. He feels guilty for not going to work, for being weak, for being a failure. His chest feels tight and it's hard to breathe, like there's someone sitting on his stomach and he can't quite take in enough air.

He texts Lydia, and she tells him she'll be over later, apologizes for not being able to come right then. Stiles tells her he understands. What he should tell her is that he doesn't expect his friends to drop their lives just because he's fucked up in the head and can't get it together.

He dreamed of the door last night. He saw it clearly in his mind, standing there ajar, beckoning to him. Part of him had wanted to open it, see what was on the other side, let it in, but the other part of him had fought it all night. He'd woken up crying, soaking wet, and exhausted.

When his dad comes home for lunch, he finds Stiles in bed, curled on his side with his back to the door. Stiles figures it's pointless to pretend he's okay; he doesn’t have the energy to pretend right now.

He hears his dad enter the room, the heavy sound of the items on his belt shifting as he moves. Then, his dad sits on the edge of the bed and places a hand on Stiles' arm. "Why didn't you call me?"

"Nothing you could do," Stiles replies.

"That's not true." They both know it's a lie, but neither say anything.

"I called into work," Stiles says, voice toneless and tired. He's staring at the far wall, but he's not really seeing. "I don't think they're very happy. I'm pretty sure they're gonna fire me if this happens again."

"They can't fire you for being sick."

"I'm not sick."

"Yes, you are," the sheriff says. He squeezes Stiles' arm gently. "Just a different kind of sick."

Stiles wipes a hand over his face. "This is so stupid. I'm so stupid."

"Hey," the sheriff says, pushing on Stiles' arm and forcing him onto his back so he can look at him. "I don't want to hear you talking about yourself like that. It's bullshit, and you know it."

Stiles stares up at his dad, at the worry lines etched into his face that he put there. Stiles has had a few episodes this summer, where he was unable to go to work, but nothing as bad as this one. He can see the weariness on his dad's face, and he hates it. Hates himself for doing this to his dad.

"You know you don't need this job," he continues. "You don't need the money."

"I do."

"We're fine," the sheriff says.

Stiles frowns. "I don't expect you to - "

"I'm your father," the sheriff interrupts adamantly. "The last thing you need to worry about is some dumb summer job at Home Depot."

Stiles gives him a small smile. "What am I gonna do all day then?"

The sheriff shrugs. "Whatever you want. Whatever you need."

"Thanks, Dad," Stiles says quietly.

He nods and runs a hand over Stiles' hair, much like he used to when Stiles was a kid. It makes something inside him loosen, helps him breathe a little bit better. "We'll get through this," the sheriff says. "You've made a lot of progress."

Stiles snorts, but doesn't argue.

Stiles lies in bed until around 3 p.m. His brain is twisting in on itself, about to overload with so many thoughts that he's surprised he's not smoking from his ears. He forces himself out of bed, forces himself to eat a bowl of cereal, forces his limbs to move. He pulls on the first pair of pants he finds lying in the floor, throws on a hoodie over the shirt he's been wearing, and leaves the house. He gets into his Jeep and drives. He doesn't even know where he's going.

He ends up at the Preserve. He parks the Jeep and gets out, walks past the chain and finds a beaten trail. He walks. He doesn't put in headphones; instead he focuses on the sounds of the woods around him. He hears birds, an owl hooting somewhere in the distance, and a woodpecker. There are squirrels jumping from tree to tree and a few frogs. A light wind rustles the leaves gently.

He's never been much of a hiker, and most of his experience in the Preserve has been running for his life. But it feels peaceful out here, so he just walks. He follows the trail, taking forks randomly and turning when it branches off. He focuses on the ground beneath his feet, on the trees around him. Surprisingly, it helps clear his head.

Stiles is deep in the Preserve, unsure where he is or how to get back (which was probably an egregious oversight on his part), when he hears a twig snap. He spins around completely, trying to see into the trees. Everything seems fine, but there's a prickling at the back of his neck, like he's being watched.

Stiles learned a long time ago to always be prepared. He never leaves the house without some form of protection, so he takes the can of wolfsbane-laced mace out of his pocket and holds it in his hand as he stares around.

"Thought you'd be better prepared than that," a voice calls from the woods. Stiles tightens his hand around the can just as he sees movement from the corner of his eyes. He spins on his heel, and all the fight leaves him when he sees who it is.

Derek.

He's leaning against the trunk of a tree, arms crossed over his chest, smirking.

"I'm thinking of using this on you," Stiles says, annoyed.

"Mace, really?"

"Laced with wolfsbane," Stiles tells him. Then, he bends down and pulls a knife from where it was strapped around his ankle. Derek lifts his eyebrows, impressed. "This isn't my first rodeo."

"Planning on fighting off something in the woods?"

"I don't have to tell you that bad shit happens in these woods."

A dark look crosses Derek's face, but it's gone just as quick. “Then what are you doing here?”

“Walking,” he replies. “Thinking. Are you going to tell me this is private property?” Derek doesn’t look impressed. “Actually,” Stiles goes on, “I’m surprised you’re even speaking to me. Didn’t feel like ignoring me like you did in Home Depot?”

“I wasn’t ignoring you.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Stiles replaces the knife and pockets the mace, and keeps walking along the path. It doesn’t surprise him when Derek quickly catches up and falls into step beside him.

They walk in silence for awhile. Stiles follows Derek when he takes a few turns, because Stiles has nowhere to go and it’s hard not to follow when you’re walking with someone. He starts to hear noises that sound like construction as they approach something, and then they enter into a clearing where, Stiles guessed it, a large house is being erected. Stiles stares at it with interest. Construction workers are scattered around the site, doing various things to the house.

Derek doesn’t glance back, but leads the way around the house. Stiles trails behind him, taking everything in. The house looks close to being finished. It needs to be painted, and he sees people laying flooring through the open doors.

Derek stops once they’ve made a complete circle, and he stands staring at the house. Stiles turns and studies Derek. He looks exactly the same, except he’s less tense, his face less angry. There’s something softer in him, and Stiles wants to ask him what happened in the last few years, what changed him. Maybe he could give Stiles something that could help him crawl out of his own hole. If Derek Hale can do it, anyone can.

“Why here?” Stiles asks.

Derek turns to him. “I own the land. It’s Hale land.”

Stiles shakes his head. “That’s not what I mean. Why here, as in Beacon Hills? Why come back to this hell hole? You got out; why did you come back?”

Derek turns back to the house and is quiet for awhile. Stiles doesn’t think he’s going to answer when he says, “I needed to come back home.”

Stiles isn’t sure that’s a good enough answer, but he lets it go. If Derek wants to come back to the place where everyone he ever loved died, who was he to criticize?

Derek surprises him by asking, “Why haven’t you left?”

Stiles isn’t prepared for the question. “Excuse me?”

“You didn’t go off to college. You stayed here.”

“It’s complicated,” Stiles evades. Derek stares at him for a beat too long, then turns back to the house. He talks to some of the construction guys, and Stiles pokes around the house nosily. It’s going to be a beautiful home. Lots of open space, tons of windows. Derek seems to have gone with a lodge-style home instead of something more modern or fancy. It feels like something you’d find nestled somewhere in the mountains, and Stiles decides that fits Derek perfectly.

When he’s heading towards the line of trees, back to the trail, Derek calls out, “I’ll give you a ride to your Jeep if you want.” Stiles almost declines, but since he doesn’t exactly know where he is, he decides to accept.

They’re quiet in the car. The radio is turned down so low Stiles can barely hear it, but if he focuses, he can hear alternative music. It surprises him. The fact that Derek Hale listens to music in his car surprises him. He guesses he never really looked at Derek as a person, just this insanely hot angry dude who had bad luck. Stiles never thought about Derek doing normal things, like programming his radio station or singing in the car.

Halfway to his car, Stiles can’t take the silence anymore, and his head is starting to do weird things, so he says, “I did go to college, by the way. I went to UC Davis.”

“Cora said – “

“I go to Beacon Hills Community College now,” Stiles admits. He feels Derek’s eyes on him, and when he glances at him, Derek’s not judging him like a lot of people do. He just looks thoughtful. Stiles feels his hands shaking, and the sense of overwhelming failure and despair is threatening to swallow him, so he talks. “I thought it would help, after you know, and Scott was there, and Lydia was at Stanford which wasn’t too far. I thought leaving Beacon Hills would…” he trails off, not sure how to finish.

Derek finishes for him. “Fix it.”

“Yeah,” he responds in a whisper. He’s staring out the window, at the passing trees. “Is that how you felt?”

“Yes.”

“Did it? Fix it?”

“The second time,” Derek answers. Stiles glances over at him. It’s so weird to be sitting in a car with Derek Hale and talking. He hasn’t threatened Stiles with bodily harm, and he hasn’t glared or grunted once. Stiles is having trouble wrapping his head around it. “It wasn’t being away from Beacon Hills, though,” Derek says. “It was the people.”

“Oh.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Stiles waves his hand in assent. “Why did you come back?” Stiles scratches his chin absently. He feels his nerves spike, and he hears Derek inhale beside him. “You don’t have to answer.”

“No, it’s okay.” Stiles figures there’s no point in hiding. Derek’s probably the last person who’d judge him. “I had panic attacks, just about every night. It was being away from my dad. I didn’t feel safe there, and I didn’t feel like he was safe.”

“But you felt safe here?”

“I’m not saying it made sense,” Stiles says. “I know it’s fucked up.”

“Sometimes we need what’s familiar,” Derek says.

“Is that why you came back?”

Derek shakes his head. “I stayed with some family, but every time I thought about joining, I couldn’t. The Alpha told me something was tying me to another Pack.”

“So you came back here?” Stiles asks dubiously.

Derek shrugs, and says, “I’m not saying it made sense.” Stiles laughs at hearing his words repeated back to him, and he sees the corner of Derek’s mouth quirk in a smile.

When Derek pulls up beside the Jeep, Stiles hesitates with his hand on the handle. “Thanks for the ride,” he says. “I’d say thanks for the talk, but that was just weird.”

Derek laughs, and it’s a quiet sound, and Stiles has flashes of his dreams, where Derek’s hands are on him and he’s grinning against his skin. He gets out of the car and hurries to the Jeep. Inside, he breathes in and out, in and out, his hands wrapped tightly around the steering wheel. When he glances out the passenger side window, he sees Derek watching him, and Stiles doesn’t like the look on his face – something like concern. He cranks the Jeep and drives towards the main road, Derek following.

*

Derek’s lost in his thoughts when he enters the cabin. He drops his keys in the bowl beside the door and bends down to unlace his boots. He doesn’t notice Cora until she’s right beside him, sniffing him. “You saw Stiles.”

“Found him wandering in the forest,” Derek says, shrugging like it was nothing. It was nothing.

“That’s weird,” Cora says. “Guess that’s why I didn’t hear from him today.”

Derek stands up and doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t tell her that Stiles smelled like anxiety and nerves, that he smelled miserable. He doesn’t tell her that they talked, that he knows why Stiles is at community college now even though she’s mentioned to Derek that she didn’t know why he dropped out and moved back home. He doesn’t tell her that he smelled better by the time he dropped Stiles at his Jeep, but just barely. Instead, he tells her, “I showed him the house.”

“You did?” Cora asks, surprised. Even Jackson glances over at him from where he’s reading a book in an armchair.

“Yeah.” Derek sits on the couch, and Cora drops down beside him. “He was in the woods not too far off. I smelled him.”

“You smelled him all the way from the house?” Cora asks. Derek notices both her and Jackson are staring at him, and realizes maybe he should have just kept his mouth shut.

“Yeah, that’s normal,” Jackson mutters, returning to his book. “Recognizing someone’s scent from far away over the smell of the construction of a house. Not weird at all.” Derek glares at Jackson, but it’s lost on him when he doesn’t look at Derek.

Cora’s watching him, and the expression on her face isn’t happy. “Is there something you need to tell me?”

“Like what?” Derek snaps.

“If I would have known you liked Stiles, I would have – “

“I do not like Stiles,” Derek growls.

“Very convincing, Derek,” Jackson drawls.

“Shut up, Jackson.” Derek turns his attention back to Cora. “I don’t care about him, and I don’t care that you are dating him. There’s nothing there.” Cora doesn’t look like she believes him, so Derek changes the subject. “No Lydia tonight?”

“She’s with Deputy Doofus,” Jackson says. Derek can smell the frustration and anger wafting from him. Derek doesn’t know what to say, because he knows the Jackson-Lydia-Parrish love triangle is something he doesn’t want to get involved with. He likes Parrish well enough, and he doesn’t blame Lydia for moving on, but Jackson’s Pack. So, Derek just stays out of it. Like he needs to stay out of Cora’s relationship.

While Derek’s making dinner, his cell phone rings. It’s Marjorie. “Something came through right on the edge of the territory,” Marjorie explains. “Smells like wolves. We found evidence of a fight, and there was a dead Omega and some other wolves’ blood. They smelled like Alphas.”

“What do you think it means?” Derek asks.

“I don’t know,” Marjorie replies. “I sent Cathy and Lia after them, but they didn’t come up with anything around our territory. The trail’s moving south. I just wanted to warn you, just in case they come your way.”

“Thanks,” Derek says. “I’ll let the Alpha know. And I’ll keep my eyes open.”

“Tell Cora I said hello,” she says. “We miss you both. Visit sometime, and bring Jackson.”

“We will,” Derek promises. When he gets off the phone, he calls Scott, and then Satomi, to tell them about it.

He spends the rest of the night watching movies with Jackson and Cora. Jackson sulks the whole time, and Cora keeps checking her phone and frowning. He’s glad when they both go to bed. He doesn’t feel like dealing with their drama.

He lies in bed and watches a few episodes of a television show. He’s surprised when his phone flashes around ten p.m. Something pleasant, yet uncomfortable, settles in his stomach when he sees the name.

Stiles.

Scott texted me abt the rogue ww. Remind me again why we came back?

Derek smiles as he replies, Hell if I know.

That night, he dreams of Stiles again.

Stiles sat on Derek's couch in the loft, laptop balanced on his legs. Derek sat beside him and started kissing his neck, and Stiles leaned his head back to give him better access. Derek licked and bit a bruise into Stiles’ skin, and then kissed his way up to Stiles’ mouth. When Derek pulled away, Stiles laughed and said, “Derek, I have to finish the paper.”

“You have until Monday,” Derek said, moving the laptop off of Stiles and setting it on the coffee table. Stiles made a noise of protest, but he let Derek push him onto his back. Derek crawled on top of Stiles, fitting their bodies together perfectly.

“You’re a bad influence,” Stiles said, trying to keep the annoyed expression on his face, but it was slowly cracking as Derek slid his hands under Stiles’ shirt. “Such a bad influence.”

“Shut up and kiss me,” Derek muttered right above Stiles’ lips.

“Ass,” Stiles laughed, then kissed Derek.

Derek wakes up, confused and tingling all over, his cock achingly hard. He rubs his eyes and groans.

Fuck, he thinks. This is not good. Not good at all.