If Derek had to pick someone to not be kidnapped with, Stiles Stilinski would definitely be at the top of the list. Stiles annoys the living hell out of Derek, and he doesn’t even need to be in close proximity to do it. He’s got the knack of getting under Derek’s skin from clear across town, actually. He doesn’t even need to do anything. He’s so annoying that Derek only needs to think of him in passing and it’s instant irritation. Stiles Stilinski is poison oak in human form.
Or jock itch.
The point is, Derek would rather not be locked in a tiny cell with the world’s most annoying teenager. And Derek knows Scott McCall.
Except Stiles is being annoying now in a new, exciting way.
He’s not talking now.
In fact, he hasn’t said a word the entire time they’ve been here.
The only reason Derek even knows he’s alive is that he can hear Stiles’s rasping breath and his weak, thready heartbeat.
“Stiles?” he asks for what feels like the hundredth time, his fingers feeling carefully along the bloody gash on the back of Stiles’s skull.
Stiles is pale and cold, and he doesn’t answer.
Derek doesn’t know how they got Stiles. Stiles was already passed out in the cell when they shoved Derek inside. He doesn’t know why they took Stiles either. He’s human, and he’s not in Derek’s pack. Maybe they’re after Scott too, and Stiles is the bait.
He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall.
These kids—his pack, and Scott, and Stiles—all look at him like he’s some sort of dark comic book antihero. Like he knows everything about this new world he’s pulled them into—this shifting, nebulous world of wolves and hunters where the roles of predator and prey are constantly changing—but Derek doesn’t. He might be a born wolf, but he was also a normal kid once. Just a normal kid, with a normal life, and a secret he had to keep from the humans around him.
Derek had never even met a hunter until Kate Argent murdered his family.
The nightmare he’s been living ever since isn’t the world he was born into.
He was just a normal kid once.
His mom was the alpha. She kept her kids away from the business of hunters and warring packs. He’d thought Deucalion was a family friend. Maybe he was, back then. He isn’t now.
Derek doesn’t know what the Alpha Pack wants with him. He doesn’t know what they want with Stiles. Maybe it’s better that Stiles is still out. At least this way he’s not demanding answers that Derek can’t give him.
Derek can almost picture Stiles’s look of frustrated anger.
Stiles thinks Derek withholds information just to be a dick.
Derek’s pack thinks he withholds information because it’s some sort of alpha power play.
Derek just doesn’t know the answers either.
The answers, when Ennis gives them to him like he’s offering some sort of gift, make Derek’s gut churn, and burning bile rises in the back of his throat.
The dim light darkens into blackness and the temperature drops. It’s been hours. Derek thinks they’re in a basement. The few sounds he can hear are muffled, muted by the earth. This must be what a grave sounds like, except for Derek’s heartbeat, and for Stiles’s. In the distance he can hear the low murmur of voices occasionally, but it’s too far away, too indistinct to pick out any individual words. He hears footsteps too, sometimes and, once, the distant sound of a car’s engine starting up and then the crunch of tires on gravel.
They’re in an old factory, he thinks. He can smell cement dust, and, laid over that in layers thick enough to make his nose twitch, regular dust. The air smells stale. Wherever they are, it’s been abandoned for a while. That could mean half the factories in Beacon Hills.
Derek’s breath hangs like mist in front of his face when he exhales. He can’t really feel the bite of the cold, but he knows that if Stiles were awake he’d be shivering. Derek is afraid to move him, afraid of exacerbating any injuries he has. He sweeps a hand gently down the back of his neck, over the curve of his shoulder, down his arm. He curls Stiles’s cold fingers into the palm of his hand and hopes the scant warmth makes a difference.
Stiles wakes up by slow degrees.
At first a shudder runs through him, and his heartbeat quickens. Then he mumbles something, and his fingers twitch in Derek’s gentle hold. His Converse scrape against the cement floor as he shifts his legs, and he makes a sound that’s half confused, half in pain.
“Careful,” Derek tells him, his voice low. “You probably have a concussion.”
Stiles jerks his hand away from Derek’s, his heart thumping loudly in his chest.
“Wha…” The question cuts out on a strangled moan.
Stiles smells of blood and pain and fear, and, suddenly, the sharp salt tang of tears. He rolls away from Derek, tugging his hood up, as though that will save his humiliation. Derek fights to hold back a soft growl. Stiles is hurting. Tears are a natural response to pain, and he can’t help them.
He reaches out and rests his hand on Stiles’s shoulder, and slowly draws his pain away. Stiles is at least smart enough not to throw him off. He’s shivering by the time Derek has taken the worst of his pain, the cold leaching into all the spaces the pain has left.
Stiles mumbles something.
His shivering stops when he passes out again.
“Who got us?” Stiles mumbles when he comes around later.
“Alpha Pack,” Derek tells him.
“Mmm.” Stiles doesn’t seem to realise Derek has shifted him so he’s straddling Derek’s thighs, his head resting against Derek’s shoulder. He’s stopped shaking since Derek’s been holding him off the cold cement floor, but his scent is still sour with injury. Not pain, since Derek has been drawing that away in sweeping touches to Stiles’s back, but the absence of pain doesn’t mean the absence of injury. The gash on the back of his head is still sticky with blood, and his small movements are clumsy and uncoordinated. “Wha’ me for?”
“I don’t know,” Derek says, and he’s so, so glad that Stiles can’t hear the lie in his heartbeat.
“This is a gift, Derek,” Ennis said an hour ago now, maybe two, while Stiles was still unconscious on the floor. “You see that, don’t you?”
Derek wants to ask why it’s so important that he sees it. What the hell does Ennis care what Derek thinks, as long as he does what he wants? And then he imagines he hears the faint strains from a cello floating to him on the cold air, through the hard-packed earth and all the years that have passed, and he knows exactly why: Paige.
If Derek closes his eyes, he can still see Paige. She was so pretty, in that soft, unformed way of a girl stepping away from childhood for the first time. That she never got to grow up is Derek’s fault. He’s never blamed anyone else for that.
But it turns out that Ennis has blamed himself.
“Deuc wants you in the pack, Derek,” Ennis told him. “Wants you to kill your betas to do it.” He nods at Stiles on the floor. “This is a gift.”
“Don’ lie,” Stiles says when he jerks back into wakefulness. “Don’ lie to me.”
“He wants me to bite you,” Derek says. “Turn you. Then kill you.”
It’s a twisted sort of gift. It will allow Boyd and Erica and Isaac the chance to escape, to break the pack bonds and go omega, while still allowing Derek the opportunity to join the Alpha Pack by killing a beta.
“I’m like a Pringle,” Stiles mumbles into Derek’s shoulder. “Can’t stop jus’ one, sourwoof.”
“Sourwolf,” Derek corrects.
“Sourwoof,” Stiles mumbles, his fingers curling into Derek’s shirt.
Underneath the sour tang of blood, Stiles’s scent smells mostly of sugar. Derek’s sure that’s because he’s usually got candy shoved in the pockets of his jeans and hoodie, ready to produce it at a moment’s notice. How he’s not infested with ants, Derek doesn’t know.
“I’m the alpha now,” Derek had growled after Peter had died. Then, the sudden rush of power settling, he’d turned to… to check on Stiles? The scrawny, terrified human kid who’d thrown the Molotov cocktail at his uncle. Strange that’s where his first instincts as an alpha pulled him, although maybe it’s because he hadn’t had a pack then. Just a weird sense of alpha protectiveness looking to manifest itself, and fixating on the most obvious target: the twitchy kid. He’d turned to see that Stiles was okay, and found him gaping at the scene while shoving a cherry Twizzler in his mouth.
“Dude,” he’d said. “That was gross.”
Derek had lifted his lip in a silent growl, and Stiles had flailed back.
Later, much later, Stiles had brushed against him before leaving.
“I’m sorry about your uncle,” he’d whispered, his breath sugar-sweet. “Not that he’s dead, but, um, but that it was necessary.”
And then he was gone.
Derek cards his fingers gently through his hair now. He’s not sure if Stiles is asleep, or if he’s passed out again. At the base of his skull, Stiles’s hair is tacky and matted with blood. Derek is careful not to touch the injury. He wishes there was enough light in the room to see it clearly. He’s not blind in the dark, like a human, but even his wolf’s eyesight isn’t perfect. He could use a flashlight right about now but, lacking that, he has to use his nose to satisfy himself that at least the bleeding has slowed to a glacial ooze, and his ears to be certain that Stiles’s heart is beating.
Derek has a pack now, but that urge to protect Stiles has never gone away.
Get between Stiles and any threat. Defend him.
If Derek’s honest with himself, it was probably there before he was an alpha. If he looks closely, Derek knows the urge to protect Stiles has been there since the beginning. Since Stiles, for some crazy reason, decided first that Derek was someone worth protecting too.
Derek is terrified of what that might mean.
It’s why he doesn’t look closely.
Derek closes his eyes and inhales.
Blood and sugar and Stiles.
Stiles is a revelation. Even with a concussion, even when he’s slipping in and out of consciousness, he’s sharp enough to know what’s going on. Sharp enough to hear what Derek told him, and to grasp it in his clumsy fingers. Sharp enough, even when he’s dizzy and confused, to see the implications.
“They gon’ leave you?” he mumbles. “You bite me, they leave you?”
“I don’t know.” Derek feels his voice crack when he answers.
“D’rek?” Stiles tugs at his shirt. “Even if y’don’ bite me, they gonna leave anyway?”
That’s what he’s afraid of. More afraid of that than dying, probably. It’s what he deserves, isn’t it? To be rejected. To be abandoned. Because there’s nothing Derek touches that he doesn’t destroy.
He slides a gentle hand down Stiles’s spine, throat aching.
“F’your betas leave you, I’m gon’ get you a puppy,” Stiles tells him, lifting his head to stare up at Derek in the darkness.
Derek’s heart clenches. Stiles’s right pupil is blown. Just the right. It’s swallowed his iris. Jesus. That can’t be good.
Stiles’s mouth quirks in a quick grin. “Y’need a puppy. Pack o’ puppies.”
Derek rubs his back. “That’s offensive. I’m a werewolf, not a dog. That’s like me saying if you wanted a bigger family, I’d just get you a monkey. I don’t think you’d like that very much, would you?”
“Derek!” Stiles eyes go owlishly wide. “D’you know me even? I wanna monkey.” He drops his head back down on Derek’s shoulder. “Get me m-monkey?”
Derek rubs his hand up and down Stiles’s back, listening to his sluggish heartbeat. Does he know Stiles even? No. Not really. The realisation hurts more than it should.
Bite him, the voice in Derek’s head says. Bite him, and at least you’ll buy him some time.
“Dad?” Stiles asks suddenly, dragging a wheezing breath into his lungs. “Dad?”
Derek holds him still as he tries to struggle. “Stiles. It’s okay. Its okay, Stiles.”
“Don’ drink,” Stiles slurs. “Don’ drink this time, ’kay, Dad?”
“Okay,” Derek says. “Okay, Stiles.”
Bite him, the wolf howls. Bite him.
Rescue comes an hour or two before dawn, in the very unexpected form of Chris Argent. Derek growls when Argent steps inside the cell, and turns his back to him to protect Stiles instinctively. Argent’s face doesn’t give a damn thing away, like always.
“Did you bite him?” he asks.
Derek growls again, and shakes his head.
“Is he alive?”
Derek wouldn’t be guarding him like a dog with a bone if he wasn’t. And great. He’s spent so much time with Stiles that he’s making his own dog comparisons now. “He is. Is Ennis?”
“Yes.” Argent at least looks regretful. “He and whichever twin it was helping him cleared out when I got past the perimeter. I’m guessing this little side project wasn’t sanctioned by Deucalion.”
“I doubt it very much.”
“Let’s get him out of here,” Argent says.
His pack is made up of children. They knew he was missing, and didn’t know what to do. Erica and Boyd have run. So has Isaac, but only as far as Scott McCall’s house. It’s a fucking disaster. Derek can feel the pack bonds fraying like rotted rope, and he’s failed. Failed as an alpha, just like he failed as a beta, failed as a son and a brother. He can barely keep his expression shuttered as he strides into the hospital carrying Stiles in his arms.
Argent takes the lead. Says something about finding Stiles wandering in the Preserve, a few miles away from his Jeep, which was run off the road. Argent has to dig his fingers into Derek’s shoulder to make him relinquish his grip on Stiles when it’s time to put him on a gurney.
He doesn’t go back to the depot. He doesn’t think he could stand it there now, with the scent of his betas in the air. He goes to the charred ruins of the house instead, where everything smells like smoke even years after the fire.
It’s what he deserves, right?
He doesn’t even care if Deucalion finds him.
He’s already lost.
The familiar rattle of Stiles’s Jeep as it bounces and squeaks its way along the road through the Preserve wakes Derek from sleep. He climbs off the mattress, and tugs his jeans and a shirt on in time to make it downstairs for Stiles’s arrival. What’s it been? Three days? Four? Derek has lost count.
Stiles pulls the Jeep up, and slides out. He’s carrying a paper bag that smells like takeout from the diner. Curly fries. At eight in the morning. Derek leans on the porch rail and crosses his arms over his chest.
Stiles also smells of antiseptic and anxiety. He steps toward the house, fingers tightening around the bag, knuckles white. “Brought you breakfast.”
“Why?” Derek asks.
“Because I figured the local squirrel population could use a break,” Stiles says, and bares his teeth in what he probably thinks is a good imitation of fangs. “Grrr!”
He’s a fucking idiot. If the house still had a door, Derek would walk through it just to slam it in his face. “What do you want, Stiles?”
“I want to say thanks,” Stiles says, stepping up onto the porch and thrusting the bag at Derek. “With curly fries. I don’t really remember a lot about what happened, but I know you were there, and you didn’t bite me, and I’m not dead, so thanks.”
Derek takes the bag wordlessly.
“Thank you, Stiles,” Stiles prompts.
Derek stares at him.
Stiles shifts his weight from foot to foot, a flush creeping up his throat and staining his cheeks pink. His scent sweetens. “Okay, whatever. See you around, sourwolf.”
Sourwoof, Derek thinks, and watches him go.
The pack bonds strain, fibres snapping, but they hold. They strain and they fray, but they hold. Less bonds perhaps than chains now. Derek feels them strain when Isaac tries to break them. He feels them dragging him down when Erica dies. Feels them choking him when he’s forced to drive his claws into Boyd’s chest.
“Derek?” There’s a warm hand on his shoulder, shaking fingers digging in. “God. Derek.”
There is no greater crime than this.
No greater crime than to kill an innocent beta.
Derek’s hands are stained with Boyd’s blood.
He’s glad his mother is dead. Glad Laura is. Glad they can’t see what he’s become.
Stiles stands behind him, hand on his shoulder while he breaks.
Derek wakes up in a bed that isn’t his. It smells of clean sheets and Stiles. The early morning light is making soft patterns on the blue walls.
“Dad’s at work,” Stiles says softly from the floor beside the bed. “You can stay for a while. Sleep some more.”
Derek closes his eyes again. He waits until he hears Stiles’s breathing even out and then rolls over and looks down at where he’s lying on the floor. He doesn’t even have a mattress, just a pillow and a sheet. He’s wearing that awful Stud Muffin t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. His hair is sticking up at odd angles. His dark lashes are resting against his cheeks. One hand is clasped around the neck of his t-shirt. The skin on his knuckles is busted.
Thank you, Derek wants to say.
Nobody else ever…
Derek came back to Beacon Hills wearing a scowl and a leather jacket to hide his fear. And there was Stiles, always getting up in his face, buzzing around him like a mosquito he just couldn’t swat. And Derek intimidated the hell out of him—scent doesn’t lie—but somehow it still wasn’t enough. Somehow Stiles is the only one who’s ever seen past the fangs and the claws and the growl, when even Derek told himself there was nothing left there to see.
Stiles’s too-bright eyes saw anyway.
Derek is an alpha without a pack. He makes no claim on Isaac anymore. He owes Isaac that much. His instincts howl at him. His wolf snaps at him. He needs betas. He needs pack.
Except he won’t allow himself that.
Derek has killed two packs.
He doesn’t deserve a third chance.
He’ll go, he thinks as winter softens into spring. He’ll go, and nobody will miss him.
He’ll stay, he thinks as the days lengthen and the Preserve fills with life again. He’ll stay, and something will come along sooner or later and kill him. Life’s never let him down in that respect, right? And at least he’ll die where the rest of his family did. There’s a sort of symmetry in that. Derek doesn’t deserve it, but he’ll take it.
Stiles’s Jeep splutters and chokes its way through the Preserve, and Derek finds himself walking outside to meet him.
Stiles beams at him in the sunlight, his eyes shining almost gold. “Derek! Hey!”
He sounds delighted to have caught Derek here, as though there was anywhere else Derek would be. He leans back in the window of the Jeep, and when he straightens up again he’s holding a squirming puppy in his grasp.
“You have a dog,” Derek says.
“Nuh-uh,” Stiles says, his grin widening. “You have a dog.”
Derek might have supernatural reflexes, but they fail him as Stiles approaches and deposits the wriggling dog in his arms.
“She’s part husky, part whippet,” Stiles tells him. “As near as I can figure that means you’ll get something that looks like a wolf, and lurks silently. Perfect, right? She’s clearly your soulmate.”
“Derek, you have to take her,” Stiles says. “Otherwise she’ll have to go to the shelter, and the Beacon Hills shelter is not—” He reaches out and covers the puppy’s ears. “It’s not a no kill shelter, Derek!”
“I don’t want a dog, Stiles.”
“Everyone wants a dog,” Stiles tells him. “Don’t even front.”
Derek flashes his eyes. “Stiles.”
“Look, give it a week, okay?” Stiles says. “Just a week, and if you still really don’t want her, I’ll take her.” His heartbeat picks up, and his scent sours with sudden anxiety. “She’ll be good for you, Derek. You won’t be stuck out here alone.”
“I like being alone.”
Stiles’s expression softens. “Der.”
A gentle rebuke.
When was the last time someone called him—
Derek tugs softly on the pup’s ears to distract himself before he can finish that thought. The sudden ache in his throat is painful enough.
“Thank you,” he says, voice rasping.
Stiles’s smile is beautiful.
Derek doesn’t believe in happy endings.
Even if they somehow survive the Alpha Pack, there will always be something else. That’s the only thing Derek can count on these days, isn’t it? That there’s always something else.
Except now there’s Stiles too.
He visits every day now, ostensibly to make sure that Derek is taking care of the pup. But also, Derek knows, to make sure that Derek is taking care of himself too. Derek isn’t sure how he somehow wormed his way onto the very short list of people who matter to Stiles Stilinski, but he can’t bring himself to regret it, even if he knows he’ll bring Stiles nothing but heartache one way or another.
Derek’s still selfish at his core. Selfish, and too weak to push Stiles away.
So now he’s here every day, playing with the pup in the sunlight, his head thrown back as he laughs, his throat bared. The sunlight catches in his eyes and turns them some impossible shade of amber, and he smells of sugar and delight, and Derek thinks yes.
He’s selfish enough to take this.
He strides toward Stiles, and silences him with a kiss.
Stiles curls one hand behind Derek’s neck, holding him close. He drags his other hand through Derek’s hair, rough and desperate. His mouth is hot and tastes of peanut butter cups. He pushes against Derek like he’s trying to dissolve the boundaries between their bodies. Like he’s trying to sink into Derek.
“Took you…” He gasps for breath, pulling back so that he can look Derek in the eye. “Took you long enough.”
“This is a bad idea.” But Derek can’t make himself let go. Can’t unhook his fingers from the belt loops of Stiles’s jeans. Can’t push him away.
“No,” Stiles says, eyes widening. “This is a good idea. This is a great idea. This is right up there with the day you though to yourself Huh, should I get a leather jacket maybe? Best fucking idea ever, Der. The best.”
The puppy bounces around their feet.
“Don’t do that thing,” Stiles says, and he’s a mind reader. Always has been. “Pushing me away won’t protect me. Because I’m already in this, okay? I’m already a part of this, and there’s no closing the door on it now. Whether I get to be with you or not, I’m still in this fight. Whatever happens here won’t ever change that.”
Derek doesn’t know what he did to deserve loyalty like this. It’s unasked for, and unprecedented. Stiles, who owes him nothing, who isn’t a part of any pack bond, offers it anyway, and Derek believes him.
Derek doesn’t believe in much. He doesn’t believe in happy endings anymore, but maybe he doesn’t have to. He’s got Stiles at his side, and, however it ends, that’s a better beginning than any ending Derek could imagine anyway.
“You’re stuck with me now, sourwolf,” Stiles tells him with a grin.
Derek doesn’t have any smartass comeback. “Good.”
Stiles’s expression softens, and he leans in for another kiss. This one is quick, almost chaste. His breath is warm on Derek’s lips. “You owe me a monkey.”
Derek can’t stop a quick huff of laughter. “You said you didn’t remember anything about that.”
“I said I didn’t remember a lot of it,” Stiles tells him. “But I remember you owe me a monkey.”
“I don’t think I ever made that deal.”
“Don’t even try and weasel your way out now.” Stiles slides his arms around Derek’s waist and leans into him. “I’m going to remind you every day until you get me one.”
“Or rip your throat out?” Derek suggests.
Stiles snorts. “Oh please. If you rip my throat out, how am I going to be able to suck your dick?”
Derek’s jaw drops, his mind goes completely blank except for that one very vivid mental image, and Stiles roars with laughter until he can’t breathe.
Stiles Stilinski is the most annoying person Derek knows. He’s clumsy, and loud, and has no brain-to-mouth filter. But when they’re alone, when they’re quiet, when their fingers are tangled together and the world feels peaceful for just a few hours, they share their secrets along with their kisses.
Derek doesn’t believe in happy endings, but he doesn’t have to.
Stiles talks about rebuilding the Hale house. He talks about college, and living together, and maybe kids. He talks about a future, years from now, when every day isn’t a fight, isn’t a war. He talks about when, not if, as though it’s the most certain thing in the world, and Derek thinks, again, yes.
Because maybe he can’t quite believe in happy endings yet, at least not for himself. But he’ll fight with every ounce of strength in him to make sure that Stiles gets his happy ending and for some reason Derek is a part of Stiles’s happy ending. Derek doesn’t deserve it, but he’ll take it. And maybe one day he’ll believe it too.
He leans over Stiles while Stiles is sleeping, and presses a kiss to his forehead. Stiles mumbles something unintelligible, screws up his face, and hugs his plush monkey tighter.
Derek smiles and kisses him again.
“Sourwolf,” Stiles murmurs, blinking awake with a smile.
“Sourwoof,” Derek corrects.
Stiles’s smile grows. “Sourwoof.”