When Derek was younger, he used to be an optimist.
Now he is the furthest thing from it he could possibly be. Now, after he was forced to give his mother’s gift – the bite – to the man who orchestrated the murder of his family, after the murder of his family at the hands of a woman he loved, he is not.
A testament to how pessimistic he’s become would be how he walks out of the gas station he stopped at to fill his tank and sees that his Camaro has been smashed to pieces – every window broken, the tires slashed, dents from back to front – and all Derek can think about is it was bound to happen .
He knew the hunters wouldn’t give him a break even after the kanima and their leader going absolutely berserk incident. Rationally , he knew this, but that little kid part of him stubbornly had whispered maybe it’ll get better, maybe I can catch a break .
He doesn’t know if this is karma for what he did to his family or if he was just born with disaster written in his bone marrow.
It’s a beautiful afternoon, if he’s being honest.
Summer is sweeping leisurely towards them, there’s spring flowers blooming wherever there’s enough earth for them to; it’s warm, a gentle breeze that whispers across the town, preventing it from being truly hot. It’s the kind of afternoon Derek used to take advantage of, running through the woods with his family, doing increasingly elaborate jumps into the small lake not too far from their house, reading on their porch as the little ones jumped over him or wiggled under his arm to obnoxiously ask what he was reading until he threw his book aside and chased them around.
It’s a beautiful afternoon, and Derek is standing at a dusty gas station, staring helplessly at the destroyed remains of the last thing his sister left him.
There’s a million things he could do, from running home to bursting through the Argent house on a suicide mission to take as many of them down as he possibly can.
Instead what he does is release the emergency brake and push his car away from the station pump until it’s out of the way. Then he sits down on the side of the road, knees drawn up, head in his hands, as he tries to keep the tattered remains of his life together, as he tries to keep from giving in to that last tug that will rip him apart completely and irrevocably.
He focuses on taking deep, even breaths, on keeping himself calm, apathetic, balanced on the perfect edge of emotionless. He doesn’t want to be angry and do something rash, but he also doesn’t want to start crying in a gas station because someone wrecked his car just for how he was born.
“Are you alright?”
The voice makes Derek startle. He’d been so focused inwardly that he hadn’t been paying attention to his surroundings.
Derek lifts his head and looks at the Sheriff.
“Is this your car?” the man asks.
Derek swallows, but his voice still breaks on the “Yes” he gives the Sheriff.
“Aw hell,” the Sheriff mutters, and Derek can practically see the detached professionalism sliding off the man’s shoulders. “Do you need a hand up, son?”
Derek stares at him incomprehensively for what is probably too long.
The Sheriff reaches down and offers him his hand. Derek stares at it before gingerly wrapping his fingers around the Sheriff’s wrist and letting himself be pulled up.
Derek feels the swoop of gravity as he stands and then a solid hand on his bare shoulder, grounding him and keeping him from toppling over.
“Have you called for a tow truck?”
He shakes his head and the Sheriff nods, nudges Derek towards the police cruiser without touching him, and Derek just goes . Follows in front of the Sheriff, sits down on the passenger seat when the door is open to him, clutches at the jacket that is dropped over his shoulders in a mock parody of a shock blanket.
Derek didn’t think he needed a shock blanket, there’s not enough shock to warrant a blanket, but he’s still clutching the Sheriff’s jacket, feeling a little better with the weight of it on his shoulders and bare arms, boxing him in, comforting him.
“How about I call for a tow truck and we’ll wait here for it to come, and then I can drive you home. Sound good?”
Derek nods, clears his throat and is immensely proud of himself when his voice doesn’t break on the “Yes.”
Choosing to be a cop, you have to cope with images of tragedies that imprint themselves in your retinas and simply refuse to budge.
A four year old sobbing and clutching at their broken arm because their asshole father had twisted it too harshly this time; a woman slowly dying inside a car with the fireman too far away and the only thing you can do is clutch her hand and witness the life leaving her; a woman you have to carry out of her own house because her abuser burned the soles of her feet; a man you have to hold back as he sees his entire world staring with dead eyes at the sky, their blood flowing down the sidewalk and into the gutters; your own son clutching his dead mother’s hand and refusing to let the doctor’s take her away; a teenaged boy clutching the sleeves of your jacket, staring unblinkingly as the firemen tame the flames and venture into the house for survivors only to come back empty handed every single time.
As someone who has had to watch all of those scenarios, trying to perfectly balance empathy and professionalism, John Stilinski can say with full certainty that he doesn’t particularly care to see any of those scenarios repeated.
He thinks that’s why it hits him particularly hard when he sees Derek like this.
Helpless, lost , grieving, having to witness something so dear to him be ripped away once more.
The Sheriff has called for a tow truck and it has come and gone with the reassurance that they’ll keep Derek’s car until Derek decides what he wants to do with it, which right now leaves John trying to figure out what to do with Derek.
Part of him wants to just drive him home with a pat on the shoulder and let the man find his own way into the world; part of him wants to sit him down in an interrogation room and grill him about what the hell is happening with his son and how is he involved.
The part that wins out in the end, is that part that is a father; the part that watched this boy grow up around town, the part who always bought Derek’s scout popcorn when the season came around, the part that always tried to lend a hand when he saw Derek mowing lawns during summer, the part that remembered the very first time he had met Talia and her family with little Derek hiding behind his mother’s legs suspiciously and whispering loud questions about John’s worth as a friend.
Derek Hale grew up to be a nice boy, and despite the tragedies that have befallen him, despite how haunted and broken he looks, the Sheriff decides to believe that he’s still a nice boy at heart.
He owes it to Talia, to the Hales and the services they’ve provided Beacon Hills. John is too smart not to notice the crime and weird occurrences spiking after the Hale fire.
John gets into the driver’s seat and starts up the car, feeling relieved when Derek automatically pulls his feet inside, closes the door and buckles up.
“My shift is just over,” he starts. “I’m taking you home now, and we can have a talk about whether you want to press charges or not.”
“That’s not necessary, I can-“
“Kid, don’t take this personally, but I seriously doubt you even can grab a cat by its tail at this point. It’d weigh on my conscience if I just let you off on the streets without making sure you won’t accidentally run into traffic. Let me take you home, sit you on my couch and give you something warm to drink.”
Derek doesn’t answer. He looks at the Sheriff, perplexed, for a long time, as if someone caring for him is a novelty.
“Okay,” he says tonelessly and pulls the jacket tighter to his body.
John knows a man starving for affection when he sees one, and it breaks his damn heart that he sees one huddled up in his passenger seat.
Stiles can’t stand still.
It’s a simple enough concept but a lot of people don’t seem to understand it.
It’s not that he won’t stand still, it’s not that he doesn’t want to stand still; it’s that he is literally incapable of standing still.
It’s something in his bones, hot-wired to his brain, it’s something that makes him itch, makes his brain start running thirty different ways, stretching him thin and tiring him out.
Stiles cannot stand still, so he doesn’t.
School is due to be over in a week or so, and Stiles has decided to ditch the rest of the semester. Call it a mental health week, where he tries to recover from the madness of the last couple of months and come to terms with his own mortality.
It also helps that he’s trying to avoid Scott, at least for a little bit, while Stiles works on forgiving him for the amount of shit he’s been pulling lately.
That said, mental recovery for Stiles apparently isn’t found in taking out his violent urges on fictional characters in video games or crying into a tub of ice cream, though there’s a little bit of that too.
Mental recovery for Stiles is the feel of corkboard underneath his fingers as he pins pictures down, and the softness of colored wool unravelling at his will.
Mental recovery for Stiles is Erica’s smiling face contrasted by Boyd’s serious one at her side, and everything he knows about Alphas in neon red gel pen.
Derek is bound to come hurtling through his open window for help and Stiles wants to be prepared, wants to be able to help, to be able to feel useful , and, in some small capacity, to be able to try to make up for what Scott did.
Stiles caps his pen just as he hears his father’s cruiser rolling into the driveway, the sounds of the wheels crunching down the gravel between the road and the cement of their driveway, jerking him into motion.
He needs to hide the board before his father walks in and thinks Stiles is losing it.
It wouldn’t be the first time. It wouldn’t be the first time that the Sheriff looked at him like Stiles had went for a hug and gutted him instead, the fear of what his mother had being hereditary like a vulture circling their heads.
The thing about Stiles is: he’s not bound to repeat the same mistake twice, and because of that he has it timed down to the millisecond, how long it takes for his father to get out of his car, stash his gun and come up to check on Stiles.
He knows exactly how much time he has to close down his moaning laptop and open his school books; how much time he has to shove all his pills back into the bottle; how much time he has to shove his mother’s journal behind taller books; how much time he has to shove Derek out of his window.
He has it down to a science.
It’s no wonder when the Sheriff doesn’t come, Stiles starts worrying.
He’d like to say his first worry is what if something happened to him , but it’s not.
His first worry goes more along the lines of what did I do wrong, how did I disappoint him this time, has he given up on me, was the last time the last time.
It’s something incredibly selfish, he’s aware, but it’s also something he has no control over, and before these thoughts can clog up in his throat and suffocate him, Stiles is out of his room and skidding down the stairs, his heart in his throat like it always is, before it sinks to his feet at the sight that greets him.
Derek Hale’s on his couch.
Derek Hale is sitting on his couch, his father’s large jacket draped over his shoulders and clutching a steaming mug so hard, Stiles is surprise that it’s not cracking.
Then he thinks that Derek isn’t cracking the mug with his white knuckled grip the same way he’s trying to keep his cracked life intact.
The apathetic look on Derek’s face is what gets him moving, it’s what makes his hands reach out and stop just before they make contact, it’s what makes the “What did you do?” spill out of his throat, angry and unbidden, before he can stop it.
He’s seen Derek with many expressions in their time together. He’s seen Derek face death head-on.
He’s never seen Derek look so resigned with his fate.
This looks a lot like Derek is laying down to take it, instead of getting back up on his feet like he is supposed to. This looks a lot like Derek giving up , and the idea is so revolting Stiles finds a deep seated hatred for it immediately and violently.
What did you do?
John remembers hearing those words, in that exact tone, coming from his son’s mouth, and the dissonance between the situation then and the situation now leaves him confused.
The only other time he’s heard his son speak like that, angry and betrayed, was just after his mother’s death, when John had put one of his favorite stuffed animals in the wash and the thing had burst at the seams, spilled white stuffing dripping out of the washing machine.
“His car was vandalized,” he offers and watches attentively as his son’s face goes impossibly sad for a moment, watches as Stiles straightens up and turns to him, watches as his son shields this broken man with his body unthinkingly, like it’s second nature to him.
“Do you know who did it?”
“No,” he says and sits down in his armchair, looking over the two of them. “I thought you didn’t know Derek that well.”
Stiles turns awkwardly, eyes shifting, preparing to lie, and the simmering worry the Sheriff has been nursing for the past couple of months climbs its way back up to his throat.
His son sits down next to Derek, leaves purposeful space between them.
“It’s not what you think.”
And how many times has John heard those exact words, how many times has his son stood in the middle of a wreck and looked up at him with wide, wet brown eyes and said it’s not what you think .
“What is it, then?”
Stiles looks down, taps his fingers in a steady rhythm against his leg and John resigns himself to another lie.
“Werewolves,” Derek says, cutting through his thoughts.
As soon as the word registers, John is inclined to dismiss it, but Stiles jerks in surprise, flails his way into a panicked look and something about it gives John pause, makes him chew the word around thoughtfully before he spits it out incredulously. “Werewolves?”
Derek sets the mug down carefully, takes the jacket off his shoulders and looks John in the eye, chin up, back straight, ready to get knocked down again.
“ Derek ,” Stiles whispers urgently, and Derek raises one finger up, silencing him. Easy as that.
“Werewolves,” Derek says, simple as breathing, and then shifts .
John can’t say he’s proud of his reaction as much as he can’t say he regrets it. Time spent in the battlefield and on the streets make him reach for his gun as soon as a monster snarls at him from Derek’s seat.
And as he reaches for his gun, his son reaches for him, throwing himself between them, arms spread wide like a martyr as he faces down the barrel of a gun with unflinching courage. John barely has the time to put his gun down, when he blinks as Stiles is replaced by Derek’s broad back, curving around where his son is now sprawled on the couch.
It takes another blink for John to realize that Derek willingly turned his back on a loaded gun for his only child.
“Stay down,” Derek growls, fingers pressing down on Stiles’ chest as his son struggles to get up.
“Stop being stupid. My dad won’t shoot me, Derek.”
John slowly takes his finger off the trigger and presses the safety back on.
The thumping sound of the gun being pointedly set on the coffee table echoes through the tension filled air, and makes both boys – because when all is said and done that’s all they are in the end, boys , kids , and John Stilinski isn’t in the business of shooting children in the back, and he’s certainly not in the business of shooting someone willing to protect his son with their own lives – come to attention, carefully, warily, looking over at him.
John sits down in his armchair like a peace offering.
“So,” he starts slowly, reaching for the liquor cabinet strategically set up beside the armchair in one of his drunken stupors when the grief was too much, and takes a tumbler, filling it generously with scotch. The sound of the bottle setting down between them seems to be the cue the boys need to sit back down on the couch. “Werewolves?”
Listening to his son talk about everything he’s had to go through feels a lot like holding a cracked cup too tightly and watching it break and spill everywhere.
It’s too much, too big, too fast, and John knows it’ll take him time to get used to it, to adjust his world view to include werewolves and kanimas and hunters and his son throwing himself into danger like he’s seen junkies scramble for needles.
It’s so much that he can’t do anything but nitpick, focus on the small details that let him deal with the situation, focus on what he can fix right now before he even has to think about fixing everything else.
“You mean to tell me that Derek is currently in charge of three teenagers, and he is squatting in an abandoned train depot?”
“Um.” It throws Stiles off that he asks, he can see that clear as day in how his son’s eyes skitter to Derek and then back to him, unsure. “Yes?”
He can’t stop his son from having been beaten by an insane geriatric and he can’t stop his son from all the dangers that he’s omitting in his monologue, but he can fix this .
“Son, I know the Hales have always had money. You don’t mean to tell me than in a handful of years, you’ve spent it all, do you?”
“No, sir,” Derek answers, awkward in his shame, but trying not to seem it.
“You mean to tell me that your money isn’t enough to rent a place then?”
“Then why in the holy hell would you be squatting?”
“I-“ Derek starts, defiant in that half a second, eager to defend himself and his choices, before his voice tappers off into nothing and his face flushes, head hanging like a scolded child.
“He doesn’t think he deserves a nice house,” Stiles says quickly, clandestinely, like a kid tattling to the teacher on the playground.
Derek growls and the Sheriff jerks; Stiles doesn’t. Stiles stares an alpha werewolf down and challenges him to call him a liar, and in that second John Stilinski is reminded of his wife and how she defied the world with every step she took, always full of righteousness and eager to be told she was right. It makes him short of breath, seeing how his child is growing up to be as bright as his mother.
“What would your mother think, if she saw you like this?” John asks and is almost sorry he did when Derek flinches, fingers twitching and clenching as if in search of the jacket that’s no longer sheltering him.
“ Dad !” Stiles spits out, and the way it sounds like a growl gives him pause.
It’s hard not to feel like a failure as a parent when your kid changes so much and you don’t notice until it’s too late.
John holds his hands up, as much of a surrender as he’s willing to give.
“I won’t let my son hang around people who think squatting in abandoned public places is a viable way of living-“
“ Dad, you can’t tell me-“
“-and I owe your mother, the Hales – this whole town owes them – so you’ll stay here until you’re back on your feet, and you will explain to me nice and well how this entire werewolf and hunters and kamikas-“
“- whatever the hell , works, and how I make sure my son is safe, understood?”
“I can’t-“ Derek chokes out, wide lost little boy eyes and mouth open in suspicious disbelief.
“ Understood?” John repeats, putting as much forceful authority as he can manage.
He nods. One problem solved, a whole shitpile of them to go through.
“Go show Derek the guest room and drive him to get his things if he needs to. My offer extends to the Lahey boy, if he doesn’t have anywhere decent to live. I need a drink,” he says and scrubs a hand down his face, calloused skin hitting aging wrinkles and reminding him that he’s too old for this, he’s too old to have to accept something so utterly world changing, but the Stilinskis are nothing if not adaptable.
He pulls his hand from his face and is met with their house phone being offered to him.
“Melissa is on the phone,” Stiles says, voice tight. “I figured she’d be better than a drink.”
John gives the bottle a lingering look and takes the phone, walking out the back door to the sounds of the liquor cabinet opening and closing resolutely behind him and a soft, exasperated, “And to think our children would get over their monsters-that-go-up-in-the-night phase.”
John huffs, amused and lost and unsure. He sits down on the rocking chair.
“Remember when Stiles wanted to be a vampire for Halloween and Scott squirted an entire bottles of ketchup on him?”
Melissa laughs and it feels like a touching stone, a fresh breath of normality.
John pushes his foot against the ground and lets the slow rocking of the chair gentle his frazzled mind as Melissa recounts a memory where fantasy wasn’t a reality.
Derek’s life fits inside a duffel bag.
“Where’s the rest?”
“That’s everything,” Derek says.
Stiles presses his lips together and doesn’t say anything else.
It’s a tragedy in two words, but then again, Derek’s life appears to be a series of unfortunate events that have clearly outstayed their welcome.
“What about Isaac’s things?”
“He’s staying at Scott’s. They’ll pick them up later.”
And that’s that.
The Stilinkis’ guest bedroom smells faintly of women’s perfume and makes Derek feel like he’s in a long forgotten memorial museum.
If the fine layer of dust permeating the room wasn’t a clear sign that no one really comes here, the way the Stilinskis hover uncertainly in the doorway and the women’s clothes hung in the closet surely are.
There’s a small mountain of boxes pushed up against the wall and making their way to the door, making it hard to move around comfortably. He doesn’t have to open them to see what’s inside; he knows that he would find Claudia Stilinski’s whole life packed away and religiously preserved and he wonders what that is like. He wonders what it feels like to have so many things that remind you of the ones that aren’t with you anymore that you can’t bring yourself to throw them away, that you can have it all in a separate room to visit whenever you want.
He looks down at everything he has, packed tightly in a duffel bag, nothing of the ones who loved him and died to show for them, and then at Claudia Stilinski’s meticulously conserved history.
“Maybe Derek could sleep in my room,” Stiles offers, the tips of his shoes kissing the line that separates the hallway from the room, not daring violate its sanctity.
Derek feels bad just standing inside, if he’s being honest. He feels like he’s committing sacrilege on holy ground.
“Just until we clean up,” the Sheriff agrees and Derek hurries out of the room, relieved that he doesn’t have to smell sweet perfume, dust, and grief anymore.
The Sheriff shuts the door and the squeaking hinges sound a lot like a moan of relief to Derek.
(They never trespass into the guest room again.)
Derek doesn’t understand Stiles.
He doesn’t understand Stiles to a point where it makes him nervous, because Stiles cares; or he seems to. Stiles has a vested interest in Derek, he comes back for him, he’s there for him when no one else is, trying to help, trying to understand, trusting, when all Derek does is push him back to a safe distance.
Stiles looks at him like he’s an alpha, when Derek feels like a little kid playing dress up and making a mess of everything .
Stiles is confusing .
Stiles is searching for his pack…
“What’s this?” he asks, holding up a corkboard that reads like a map, blue and red connecting lines, showing him where he needs to go.
“I want to help,” Stiles says like that’s an answer, like that explains anything .
“What do you mean why?! They’re my friends! Can’t I want to help my friends?”
“They’re not your friends.”
Derek expects a flinch, but it doesn’t come.
Erica and Boyd were not Stiles’ friends. They didn’t have enough time to be, and he knows that Stiles doesn’t just make friends like that, he knows that it takes a lot for Stiles to consider someone a friend.
“Okay, so we’re not exactly friends, but we could totally be. And I care about those two idiots, plus you don’t exactly deserve to lose your pack five minutes after you’ve got it, so .”
Derek stares at him. He stares like he’ll be able to slowly peel away Stiles’ layers of flannel armor and wit, and discover what’s at his core. He stares until Stiles fidgets in his chair uncomfortably and starts throwing sarcastic little quips at him like David threw rocks at Goliath, hoping one hits and blinds Derek.
“You care what happens to them,” Derek starts slowly, revelation descending upon him like thunder from the skies, shocking, incomprehensible, one in a million chances that this is the answer.
“Well yeah, duh .”
“And about me,” Derek continues, a little more shakily, more disbelievingly at the words leaving his mouth.
“I kind of owe you my life a couple times over, dude.”
Derek shakes his head once, denying the words.
“You care because you’re pack.”
“I-“ Stiles looks panicked for a moment, eyes darting around the room for the fastest escape route. There are plenty; Stiles still doesn’t move.
“You’re pack,” Derek repeats, seeing how true the words taste in his mouth, getting used to the idea, letting the certainty of it settle over his bones.
“Scott-“ Stiles starts, but the words get lost on their way out of his mouth and if there was an end to that sentence, Derek will never know it.
Derek walks towards Stiles uncertainly, his feet sticking to the ground, socks dragging along wood paneling until he’s standing right before this boy.
“It’s your decision,” Derek says simply.
“I don’t want the bite!”
“I- I don’t want to betray Scott.”
“You’re not. I’m not the enemy, Stiles.”
“I know that,” Stiles huffs, exasperated, unsure. He runs his hands through his buzzcut, covers his face and Derek doesn’t move, allows him that reprieve that he obviously needs. “You’re just- pack.” Stiles settles on saying, taking a lungful of air, shoulders sagging, relieved that he could admit to that.
“Pack,” Derek says, and tries his best not to choke on the word.
His hands are shaking, fine tremors that rack his body.
There’s so much being offered to him; there’s so much he can fuck up.
Derek raises a hand very slowly, gives Stiles more than enough time and space to back off, and because this is Stiles, he already has his face tipped to the side, neck exposed to Derek’s reaching, trembling hand.
Stiles’ skin is colder than his as Derek spans his palm over that vulnerable stretch of skin; he can feel Stile’s heartbeat pressing against him there and it hits him like a building collapsing how fragile Stiles is and how much more vulnerable of a position he’s putting himself in.
There’s a life underneath the palm of his hand, a life offering itself, to be shared and protected, and Derek, standing in a teenager’s bedroom full of teenager smells, under the graying light of the moon, accepts this offer, and lets it wash over him like absolution.
Derek has a bed.
It’s made of solid iron, heavy, rusting around the screws, pulled out of someone’s dust-filled garage, but it’s a bed .
Derek boggles at it.
“Good work, team!” Stiles says, looking at the bed and then smiling up to his father and to Derek, basking in the victory of assembling a simple piece of furniture.
It’s just a frame, the bare bones of comfort.
They still need a mattress and bedsheets, but it’s something, it’s the start of something.
Derek has a room.
There’s a bed with new bedsheets covered in an old worn afghan and a throw pillow embroided with beautiful designs around the edge and carpe that fucking diem written in flowing script in the middle, gifted to him by a smirking Stiles.
There’s a wobbly night stand made less wobbly by folded journal papers under one leg, with a lamp on top of it so Derek can read at night.
There’s a dresser pushed up against a wall, painted a horrid chipped green with a cheerfully bright flower pattern on drawers that stick.
It’s one of the saddest excuses of a room Derek has seen and he adores it.
It’s been too long since he last slept on a bed and put his clothes into drawers.
It’s been too long since he last had a place that he could call home.
It makes him feel real, having his creaking, stubborn, falling apart furniture. It makes him feel like he has a second chance at doing this right, at starting over, at being a person and not half a shell of a man that only keeps breathing in fear of disappointing the little he has left.
There’s something painfully humanizing about having Derek Hale barefoot, in his kitchen, stirring a pot, wearing one of his father’s too big BHPD shirts.
He looks soft, and Stiles is so momentarily thrown off, so afraid of breaking the illusion of a relaxed Derek, that he doesn’t move for a second.
His backpack slips through his fingers and lands with a soft thud, just enough for Derek’s shoulders to grow tense, for him to turn around with the wooden spoon wrapped in a white knuckled grip.
“What,” Derek growls out, and Stiles gives himself a minute to feel for the fact that Derek doesn’t think he can let his guard down around him, even after he claimed him as pack.
“Nothing. What’re you doing?”
“Your fridge was empty save for frozen dinners.”
“It’s the end of the month.”
Derek frowns like he doesn’t register the words as an explanation, and Stiles supposes that the end of the month to someone who’s always had money doesn’t mean much.
“Don’t worry about it. Can you cook and talk? I’ve found some stuff.”
Stiles hauls his backpack to the kitchen’s table and zips it open, loose sheets of paper tumbling out.
Derek turns back to the stove. “I’m listening.”
There’s a hopeful simplicity to cartoons that Stiles enjoys, and it seems to attract Derek too.
Now that summer has officially arrived and school has ended, Stiles wakes up early, spreads his research on the coffee table and goes to town on it with re-runs of old cartoons on TV.
Derek stops just behind the couch as if entranced whenever he comes back from his run, staring at the colorful images flashing across the screen and, more often than not, spinning tales about being good and hope.
“Kim Possible was my first crush, you know,” Stiles says wistfully, hopefully distracting Derek into loosening his iron tight grip on his flagellation. “She could kick your ass.”
“ I’m going to kick your ass,” Derek grumbles, but he sits and watches and Stiles smiles smugly down at a conglomerate of sheets of paper.
Derek’s a pessimist; he hates himself for having to admit he never considered the possibility of finding his pack and rescuing them successfully.
The fact that he’s a pessimist doesn’t exclude how hard he tries to get them back. He won’t say it’s a herculean effort because it’s not, much like taking care of your family in times of need and accommodating them isn’t a herculean effort. It’s simply something he has to do, something he’s eager to do.
“This is where we think they are,” Stiles’ finger lands on the map with pointed precision.
Scott and Isaac shuffle closer and peer down at it, and Derek considers the way they move in sync, already accustomed to each other after three weeks of co-habitation, and he can’t help the pang of jealousy that hits him, he can’t help the harsh slap of fear that strikes him, considering that Isaac could leave him for Scott.
“The vault,” Stiles intones dramatically, and Derek knows he’s getting a kick out of this, knows he likes to be put in this position, to be valued in a team, to be listened to .
For how loud Stiles is, not many people hear him.
Derek feels himself sway a little more towards him, peering over his shoulder at the scribbled plans on a post-it note; it’s like a magnetic pull towards the only member of his pack he knows won’t leave him easily. He tries not to consider how much of a testament to his failing leadership skills the fact that the only member of the pack he can consider loyal is a human.
Laura would have been good at this, he knows. Laura would have handled their uncle and the kanima and the Argents with an otherworldly grace and deadliness Derek had only seen before in their mother. Laura would rule her pack with a velvet smooth iron fist. Laura would know what to do; Derek is still as much the lost boy as he was when someone pretty with a wicked smile promised to make him forget his first tragedy for a little while.
But Laura is nothing more than salted bones in the earth’s bowels and she’s not here anymore to balance out Derek’s pessimism with her optimistic realism.
So Derek tries his best, even if his best falls short time and time again.
“No,” John says, flatly and authoritative.
John takes in the scene his son and his… pack make in his kitchen, pouring over maps and blueprints, strategizing the best way to get around five alpha werewolves and just-
“No. You will not do what I think you’re about to do.”
“Dad, we can’t just-“
“You can and you will . I’m going to make some calls and for once in your lives, you’re going to let the adults deal with this.”
“ Dad -“
“Or I swear by all that is holy I will send you to live with your grandma in Florida, and I will call Melissa and send Scott to spend the summer with his father.”
“You wouldn’t .”
Something that Stiles seems unable to understand is the lengths John would go to for him. He would die for his child, he would murder, cold blooded and unapologetic for his child, he would live for his child. He has been living for his child, even after losing the greatest love of his life, even after falling so deeply into the drink he ought to have drowned, but here he is, not just surviving, but living , like he never thought he could do when Claudia died.
“You really wanna test that?”
The boys stay silent and John is thankful for the little reprieve. He has a feeling that it’s going to be a long night.
“Take your friends to the living room and do not leave there . Derek, you can walk me through the plan after I make some phone calls. We’re going to need backup.”
Stiles feels useless. He feels crippled, restricted, frustrated .
There are people walking in and out of his house for the next two days. People that he doesn’t know and people that he does; people who stop by Derek and give him a word and bow their heads to him, aware of his power and status.
Stiles has no idea where his father found this many people who know about all the dark twisted things that go bump in the night.
“Someone owed Talia Hale a favour,” his father says when he asks. “A lot of someones, and they just needed that little extra push to be reminded of it.”
On the third day, everyone gathers around their kitchen and talks through their parts, firm hands pushing Stiles out of the room every time he manages to sneak in, until there’s nothing for him to do but sit simmering in his own frustration and arranging a way to follow them.
He can’t be left behind, he can’t bear the idea of not being there when it happens. Even the most well-thought out plans have flaws, even the most precise plans are open to failing, and Stiles doesn’t know what he’ll do with himself if someone gets hurt and he’s not there to try to stop it. He doesn’t know what he’ll do with himself if he has to live a life of what ifs .
What if I had been there? What if I had managed to block that fatal blow? What if I had taken the bite? What if I hadn’t walked Scott into the jaws of a deranged animal?
So he plans and schemes and then stops. Drops it, drops everything, gives up and all it took was a word for him to back down.
“Please,” says Derek, and that’s it. Game over. Stiles lays down his pencil like soldiers lay their arms in surrender, crumples his paper like hoisting down a flag of a conquered country, throws it in the trash. That’s it.
“Fine , whatever. Get clawed in the throat and die, see if I care.”
Derek sighs like Atlas after the world became that little bit heavier. “I’m not going to die.”
“You don’t know that,” Stiles spits mutinously, frustrated, childishly .
Derek grabs him by the neck and it’s always such a shock to the system when Derek’s willing to touch that he shuts up and pays attention.
“I’m not going to die. I can’t. Not when Erica and Boyd and Isaac and Scott still need training, not when I’m just starting to-“
Live. Only when he’s just starting to live again.
“Been talking to my dad, have you?”
You have him. I’m glad you have someone who’s willing to be what you don’t have anymore. I’m glad he can care about you too. I’m glad you’re finally seeing you’re worth a living, that you’re owed a living.
This is all Stiles wants to tell him, and the bulk of it, the enormity of all those tiny statements, get stuck in his throat, stick to it like honey and Stiles chokes on the emotion of it.
“I’m glad ,” he says again. It feels inadequate, it falls short, but it’s all he can force himself to say, and Derek, for whatever it’s worth, seems to understand.
“Good. That’s- thank you.” He squeezes Stiles’ neck, stares him down with a million thoughts in his mind, a million thoughts hidden under the way he shapes his eyebrows, the way he presses his lips together, the way he frowns.
And then he leaves.
Stiles doesn’t think he has known agony until he experiences the wait for his father and Derek to come back.
“They’ve got this, bro. There were, like, twenty people with them,” Scott tries to reassure, but his voice is too uncertain for it and Stiles doesn’t know how to deal with him.
He doesn’t think he’s fully forgiven Scott, but he’s gotten close enough and for right now that’s all he’ll be able to do.
He’ll pave that bridge with fresh cement when he gets to it.
Right now, all he has space for is to worry and fear and stress.
He has no idea what is happening, has no idea how they’re fairing, has no idea if they’re even alive or not, and it’s been close to five hours since they’ve been gone.
The only reason he’s not out there looking for them, having assumed the worst possible outcome, is that he was warned that it might take this long. And his father made him swear on his mother’s grave that he wouldn’t leave the house until twelve hours had passed, and if it came to that, he was supposed to go talk to Mrs. O’Donall, the eighty year old florist because she’d know .
So Stiles paces, and Stiles sits, and Stiles bites the skin around his fingertips until it’s raw, until the twinge of hurt whenever his fingers touch against anything grounds him, and Stiles makes plans upon plans on how to get them back, and Stiles prepares for the worst possible outcome, and Stiles despairs.
There’s no other word for it but desperation, the helpless feeling in his chest that claws at his throat, itching to get out, a hollow carving itself in him, shaping itself like his father and like Derek, shaped like graves before he even knows if there are bodies to fill it.
Stiles works himself into a panic attack, and then back down from one.
Then they come back.
John Stilinski is nothing if not proactive.
When he learned about things that go bump in the night and of his son’s close involvement with them, he did research, informed himself, tried to not only know but understand. He expected it to be harder to find people with information, but Beacon Hills is an old town, founded by old families that were there right after the Hales set the first stones and made Beacon Hills what it is today.
The Hales, despite being incredibly powerful, had a certain lack of stealth that opened many of their old friends to what they were and endeared them to it.
There’s no shortage of people to step up and volunteer their help when the Sheriff asks, some of them even coming from out of town to play one last homage to Talia Hale, do this one last thing for her.
John can see how it hits Derek when he sees so many gathered for his cause, to help him , he can see how awed he is, how disbelieving and suspicious that people would help without asking anything in return.
He can also see the pressure settle across Derek’s shoulder blades, how he tries to stand taller among the assessing stares, so many comparing him to his mother, so many expecting so much of him already.
“We’ve got a solid plan,” John says and pats Derek on the shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.
“Things don’t normally just work for me, Sheriff.”
“Have a little faith, son. If not in yourself, then in how much these people loved your mother.”
They make it.
Derek can hardly believe it, even when it’s all said and done and he has pack pressing around all his sides, grounding him, keeping him locked in his skin.
It gets caught in his throat, the crashing wave of pure relief that comes with having his betas back, with having his sister back.
They’re not okay. Not by a long shot. Not yet.
But they will be.
Stiles’ hands tremble when he touches Erica’s hair, dirty and greasy as it is, matted with blood in some places, the perfect picture of a survivor.
The sob that rips itself out of his throat is entirely predictable and it wracks his entire body.
“’m sorry,” he begs.
Erica’s fingers tremble finely when she touches them to his cheek, and Stiles thinks it’s proper, it’s balanced, both of them sick with relief that the other is okay.
“Your face is better,” she says quietly, eyes misting over with tears she won’t shed, won’t allow herself to, not right now, not when there’s still so many people around.
“Yours isn’t,” he says, the joking tone getting clogged up in his throat and falling flat between them.
Erica laughs anyway. Stiles cries a little harder.
Derek breathes out slow and measured, and for the first time in a long while, it doesn’t feel like he’s drowning.
Cora pushes his cheek away. “Stop breathing on me, it’s disgusting.”
Derek bites on her fingers with a soft growl; it’s a gross parody of how it used to be, how they used to be, but he can’t stop his heart from tripping over itself or Cora’s for mirroring it, both of them eager and thirsty for the familiarity of it.
Cora growls back softly and presses a little harder against Derek’s chest, freeing space for the rest of his pack, all of them crammed into two mattresses pushed together on the floor.
It’s quiet, or as quiet as the world gets for him now that he has his pack around him to muffle the noise, the static of the world. The weakened bonds to these people surrounding him pulse and shake, struggling to go beyond thread twine and become something solid and dependable.
It’s almost enough to let him fall asleep.
There’s still that unbalanced feeling of something being missing, something having been misplaced that’s bothering him, prying his eyelids open when they flutter down.
It hits Derek exactly what that thing is when it walks in the room.
He lifts his head towards the doorway, trying to see over Isaac’s curls.
“Sorry,” Stiles whispers, looking ill-footed. “Couldn’t sleep. Is everyone alright?”
“We’re alright.” And then, “Come here.”
It takes two breaths too long for Stiles to move; he stands beside the mess of mattresses on the floor, hovering.
“Men are useless,” Erica says, and wraps her broken nails around Stiles’ shirt, pulling him down to her.
“You’re pack, get used to it, Stiles,” Isaac offers, voice dragging with sleep.
“What the hell is a Stiles?” Cora asks, lifting her head up and trying to peer over the bodies.
Derek gently shoves her head back down onto his chest.
“ Sleep ,” he rumbles, and before long they all do, even Derek who hasn’t had a good night’s rest since he first stepped into Beacon Hills, slowly but surely, sinks down into unconsciousness in the gentlest manner he’s experience in a long time.
“This isn’t going to work,” the Sheriff sighs, standing on the threshold of his kitchen and watching five teenagers and one grown man trying to work around each other to get their breakfast.
It almost pains him to say the words. It’s been a long while since the house has felt so lived in , so warm with humanness, brightness and hopefulness seeping into the walls. If it was strictly up to him, he would have a house this full all the time, especially if it meant someone to be there for Stiles when he can’t be.
“I’ll put back anything we eat, sir.”
“Derek, I could care less about the state of my pantry. What I do care about is that I don’t have enough chairs to sit everyone comfortably.”
Derek looks heartbreakingly surprised, not understanding how John easily accepted an entire pack of supernatural creatures under his roof. To be completely frank, John is a little surprised he’s reacting so well, but then again, his son is talking to him again, telling him what he’s doing, what he’s excited for, what are his fears, sharing his life with him again, and he’ll do anything to keep that happening.
“Move outta the way,” he motions with an exasperated hand gesture. “Find some chairs, I’ll make breakfast for everyone before you destroy my kitchen.”
Derek enjoys spending time at the Stilinskis’; it’s the first place he could call home in a long time, but it’s not the last place he wants to call home.
He’s not eager to move and having to deal with the hostile, unfamiliar scents until his pack’s sink into the floor boards and the walls, but it’s necessary. He’s already been more of a burden on the Stilinskis than he wants to, anyway.
So he starts looking for houses, places away from the center of town, easily defendable, open floor plans to ease the itch on the back of his neck when he can’t see around every corner, a place he can rig against intruders, a place like this old industrial building in the warehouse district.
It’s spacious enough for a pack, it’s easily defendable, it’s away from the town, with barely any people to become collateral damage in whatever trouble Derek finds himself elbows deep in.
“Yeah, I’m with Dad on this one. That place looks shady .”
Derek balks, a little offended that they are shutting down his choice so quickly.
“It’s ideal for-“
“Getting murdered in cold blood and having your body fester for days before anyone finds you?” Stiles completes, face contorting in distaste.
Derek opens his mouth.
“I didn’t come back to live in a dump,” Cora throws at him.
His mouth shuts with a click, and just like that, it’s decided.
Derek’s beyond grateful to have his sister back – and a little disbelieving, having to touch her every few minutes to assure himself he’s not dreaming, that she’s really here and she’s okay – and he’ll do anything to keep her, he’ll do anything to keep this second chance at having a pack.
He’s messed up a lot in the short time he’s been alpha, and he has a lot to redeem himself for.
“Do you know any good real estate agents?”
The Sheriff pats him on the shoulder, squeezes it, silently proud; Derek tries not to choke on the paternal approval, something he hasn’t had for so long . He doesn’t know how successful he is, but given the subsequent comforting shoulder squeeze he gets, he’s guessing not very.
He gets a house not too far from the Stilinskis. It has three rooms, and a spacious kitchen, it has a big front and back lawn, and a nice porch. The walls smell like the family that lived there before them, the floor has years of history sunk into it, and after barely a week there, Derek knows it’s not going to be permanent, that it’s not right for them, but it’s good enough as an in-between.
Barely a week after they settle with their meager belongings, Derek goes to the Staples the next town over and buys what he needs.
He didn’t finish his degree but- he starts sketching up plans, going off their old house and reinventing it to fit him and his pack, to fit his future, and the thought is so sudden and violent, he breaks his pencil in half.
His future .
It’s been a long time since he sketched up a future for himself; it’s been a long time since he’s thought he’d live long enough to have one.
When his sister died, the only thing keeping him alive was the need to finish whoever had done it. Back then grief and anger were the only things that kept him going, and after sinking his claws into his last surviving family member’s throat he felt… empty . Empty and power high.
He had bitten Jackson through the red haze that had fallen over him in an extremely stupid move, and then he had to deal with the mess both him and his uncle had created.
He wasn’t expecting to live this long.
He wasn’t expecting to have his sister back.
He wasn’t expecting a pack that decided to stay even when they had been put through a blender.
He wasn’t expecting the Stilinskis – Stiles with his unwavering loyalty and his eagerness to be useful, and the Sheriff with his strong handed kindness.
He wasn’t expecting to reach a point where he wanted to live and not just survive long enough to clean up his own mess and pass along these amazing people he turned onto better, more capable hands.
But here he is, regardless of expectations. Here he is, with so many people depending on him, so many people invested in having him in their future and Derek-
Derek can’t disappoint them, not a second time.
Not when Erica sits down on the couch and leans against him, talking about what she’d like to do with her future, joking about being a sex educator before quietly admitting that she loves photography and wants to travel the world and do all the things she never thought she would get to do with her epilepsy.
Not when Boyd talks quietly about his grandfather’s bakery, pulling perfectly done pastries out of the oven that fill their house with their rich sent, telling him about how his parents let the business go after his grandfather died and how he’d like to go to culinary school and then come back to pick it up.
Not when Isaac compulsively opens a door or a window when the room is feeling too claustrophobic to him and tells him that he’d like to do something to help kids like him, maybe.
Not when Cora sometimes hugs him for ten whole minutes and quietly cries into his shoulder, still so young, having lost so much, and having a second chance at it, much like Derek.
Not when Stiles talks about being a deputy and how everything will be so much easier when there’s two of them in the know, how much more peaceful Beacon Hills will become.
He’s got all these lives relying on him, all these futures connected to his and he can’t disappoint them. He wouldn’t bear it.
So he picks up his broken pencil, a little shorter than it used to be, but still usable, still capable of creating, and sets to finish the floor plan for his future.
By the time the new school year rolls around, Derek is in talks to have the Hale pack house built somewhere on his land, with plenty of forest to run on full moons, somewhere where the pack’s scent will be the only one around, their history and their living is going to sink into the floorboards, the walls, the furniture and it’ll be theirs .
Their fresh start.
The house isn’t anywhere near the old one and Stiles is glad for it.
Derek even demolished the old one, cleaned out the rubble and let the ash sink into the ground, let his family rest in peace and blend in with the earth, feed into the Hale land magic, keep the natural cycle going.
It’s an entirely new place, an entirely new book instead of a new leaf from the same old tattered, singed one, and Stiles is glad.
“Looking good,” Stiles says.
“There’s no walls,” Derek points out.
“The foundation is there, though,” he remarks, watching the workers go back and forth for a minute. “It’s a good foundation.”
“Yeah,” Derek says, quietly. “It is.”
The house, when it’s done, is everything Derek could hope for.
It sprawls across a clearing, with a dirt path that was beaten by the construction machines leading to it. It’s a solid imposing structure, with two stories and more rooms than he needs right now.
He likes having the extra rooms, just in case . He feels like every single one of them holds inside the possibility of someone new, of expanding his pack, of the Hale pack being a known name once again, thriving.
He has a big kitchen for Boyd, and a sprawling living room for all of them, a wide porch out back with a rocking chair he managed to recover from the old house. He has a little greenhouse out back, in honor of his father, and a home library, in honor of his mother.
The pack is almost done with their senior year, every day growing stronger and closer, each of them settling into the person they’re going to become, all of them strong and happy.
His pack is happy and Derek- Derek is content.
“I don’t like this,” Derek says, disgruntled. Stiles’ hands squeeze his shoulders and there’s the rush of breath against his neck when Stiles laughs. He wishes he could see him; Stiles is beautiful when he laughs.
(It took him a while to admit how much he cares for Stiles, but once he did, he found there was no real turning back or moving on from it. He’s made his peace with it.)
The pack has graduated now, and soon they’ll be leaving for college, which is going to be an entirely new and scary experience. Especially for Derek, who has gotten so used to having them around, so used to being able to reach out and touch and reassure.
“It’s a surprise, Derek. Suck it up.”
Derek huffs and blinks, feeling the soft material of the blindfold against his eyelashes, feet dragging against the ground as Erica pulls him and Stiles pushes him. He lets them guide him, blindly trusting in his pack like he’s slowly learned to do.
“Okay, ready?” Stiles asks.
The blindfold drops from his eyes and Derek takes a minute to blink against the sudden clarity, vision slowly coming into focus and-
“Surprise!” his pack announces, looking eagerly between him and the Camaro sitting on his driveway.
“Your sister’s car,” Stiles confirms, a smile stretching his lips and eagerness quirking the corners of his eyes.
“Blue. Yeah, there was a little mishap at the auto shop.” Stiles shrugs. “It’s a little different from what you had, but still, it’s a beautiful car.”
Different, but still beautiful .
“Beautiful,” Derek echoes, and physically feels everyone perk up, the sweet comforting scent of their happiness making the air a little thicker, cloaking him like a heavy blanket; it’s still hard for him to come to terms with the fact that this group of people are so invested in his happiness that they would go out of their way to give it to him, and glow when he adores the result of their love for him.
It makes his chest feel heavy and light; it makes him cough as discreetly as he dares and try not to cry because he has so much here, he has so much and the thought of losing it all again sometimes cripples him and makes him short of breath and words.
And sometimes, sometimes he basks in the knowledge that he has a strong pack, that he has treaties with the neighboring alphas, he has a nemeton that, after being purified, fills his land with humming bright magic that Derek can feel reverberating from the soles of his feet to his bones.
Sometimes he knows he has a strong pack and a house warded against anything and everything they know of. He knows they can get through it.
“Thank you,” he says, voice dripping with emotion and he doesn’t try to hide it, let’s it be plain for everyone to see how happy he is.
A greenhouse for his father, a library for his mother, and the Camaro for his sister.
“ Thank you ,” he says again, and welcomes it when they all move towards him, wanting to touch and reassure and comfort.
His pack .
“She doesn’t have anyone else,” John says, a tone aimed to squeeze at Derek’s heart.
It’s just a few weeks into the pack having started college and Derek feels stretched thin. His house is too big and too empty, the daily calls he gets work just to a point, and after a handful of weeks, he’s ready to drive to each college and make sure they’re okay.
“I thought maybe…” the Sheriff continues.
Derek stares down at the dog. She’s big and clearly favors her right side as she sits there, attentive to everything that goes on around her, head snapping at the slightest sound. Derek can tell she’s going to be a nervous dog, and old as she looks, he knows she’s probably going to break his heart but-
“What’s her name?”
John smiles like he’s won something and passes over the leach to him. “Tyga. It was supposed to be Triger, much more fitting of a police dog but- some kids couldn’t pronounce their r’s so Tyga it is.”
“Okay,” he says, and steps aside to let both of them in.
John claps him on the shoulder. “Good man, Derek.”
Tyga is a quiet dog, nervous, jumps at loud sounds and slinks off to hide under Derek’s bed, but she’s smart and she takes to Derek rapidly, sitting loyally at his feet and following him around the house, waiting patiently for head pats and treats.
Derek takes her on a run every morning and lets her sleep on his bed; his pack whines that he’s replacing them but all it takes is Tyga to look at them through the webcam with big soulful eyes and they are as smitten as Derek.
He finds he adores taking care of her, training her and see her develop and grow the little bit she has left to grow.
And then he starts wondering, what’s the difference between this and taking care of something a little more human- shaped, something with tiny feet and high pitched giggles that squirms in his lap, something that he can watch grow and develop into a person.
He wonders how different it would be, and for the first time, he realizes that possibility is open to him, he realizes that maybe, one day, he’ll find out.
It’s a beautiful afternoon.
Summer is sweeping leisurely towards them, there’s spring flowers blooming across his backyard, colorful and unapologetic of their existence.
It’s warm, with a gentle breeze sweeping through town that prevents it from being too hot.
It’s the kind of afternoon Derek likes to take advantage of, running through the woods with his pack, watching as they do increasingly elaborate jumps into the small lake not too far from their house and then showing all of them up by doing one more impressive; reading on their porch chair as Tyga snoozes at his feet, grumbling here and there as she dreams.
“Whatchu reading?” Stiles asks, climbing up the porch steps, sweaty and short of breath, finally enjoying his summer after his grueling finals.
“Ah-ah, Mr. Funny Guy.” Stiles grins and moves towards Derek with purpose.
Derek smiles back, soft and unguarded, opens up his arms and lets Stiles fall into him and it’s easy and natural as breathing.
It always is with Stiles, ever since the beginning, even when they’re arguing.
Stiles hums and rubs his cheek over Derek’s shoulder and neck. “Don’t pretend like you mind.”
“Never said I did,” he reassures and turns to dote a kiss upon Stiles’ forehead, sweet and easy and heartachingly slow.
Stiles presses his lips against Derek’s neck, the closest he can reach without having to move too much.
“Yeah,” Stiles sighs out, and Derek knows he must be, knows Stiles and how incredibly stubborn he is, how he probably tried to keep up with a pack of werewolves on their playful frolicking through the woods.
He’s not really surprised how Stiles’ weight sinks into him, slowly but surely, pressing Derek down into the rocking chair and settling something in him, making him feel real and human and there .
It’s hard for him sometimes to feel in the moment; sometimes, Derek can’t help but get lost in all the horrible possibilities, in all the things that could tear apart this little piece of bliss he’s created for himself, and he gets obsessive about doing everything to prevent all those possible what ifs.
Stiles always manages to ground him, pull him back to here and now, and remind him not to get too lost in the what ifs, to focus on what he has now and just enjoy .
Stiles reminds him to live instead of just survive.
“Want me to read to you?”
Derek places a kiss on Stiles’ cheek and turns to his book, picking up where he left off as Stiles’ body becomes heavier and heavier and his heartbeat slows down.
It’s a beautiful afternoon, and Derek still isn’t an optimist, but the future is looking pretty good from where he’s standing.