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Let It Burn Fast

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It’s a Tuesday, dark already at six. Stiles joins him on the couch. “So, I have this idea.”

“Well, I’m out,” Derek says, and gets up.

Stiles sighs loudly and hauls him back down. “This idea,” he repeats, “but, dude, don’t freak out.”

Derek looks at him, then at the door. “You sure I can’t go?” When Stiles collapses back in a huff, Derek snorts. “I’m kidding, come on, what’s your idea?”

It’s the third year of Stiles’ apprenticeship, but the turn of the year, when the walls between worlds are especially thin, is no time for wayward magic. Stiles’ mentor would have sent them all home for break, the less skilled because they’re dangerous, and the old hats like Stiles because, hey, witches have Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Diwali, too (plus Advent, and especially Solstice). Stiles has only been back in town for a week, all of which he’s spent circling Derek’s apartment like a twitchy shark. Not that he doesn’t come inside—of course he comes inside; Stiles Stilinski not coming inside, especially if there’s food on offer, would be a sure sign that the aliens have reached Stage Three of their invasion.

There’s just this sense, even when he’s sprawled splay-kneed on Derek’s couch with a half empty beer bottle as he is now, of something hanging in the air unuttered. He’s finally stopped getting taller—Derek was starting to think there was something hinkier than magical instruction going on at that seminary—but he’s filling out his shoulders now in a way that changes everything about him. The twitchiness, for instance. Excess energy is Stiles’ particular talent, but this winter, Derek’s caught him looking his way with a quiet sort of thoughtfulness, and on Stiles, quiet catches the eye.

Whatever this is, Derek’s been waiting for it with a not insignificant amount of curiosity.

Stiles clears his throat. “Okay, so Maryam has the biggest collection of texts this side of the Ozarks, right?”

“I’ll bet she let you read all of them and I’ll further bet that you actually managed it.”

“Right on both counts. God, you know, if high school had been this fun, I would have gotten a hell of a lot more done. Regardless of the whole… shit show. Thing.” He waves his hands, then runs them through his hair one after the other, and Derek’s smile grows: Stiles’ go-to whenever his brain got away from him senior year. Derek always thought of it as the physical manifestation of smoothing his thoughts. There’s no heaviness to it anymore, though, no hint of the darkness, the possession, that triggered the behavior in the first place.

It’s good to see. Some things change all over the place, while others never change at all.

“Anyway. I did the last half of this year on magical transference. And there are techniques for linking different types of power together, like, different people’s powers, and different beings’. Did you know that? I did not know that. I also did not know that you can balance them to work against each other, or you can knit them so they fit together like a puzzle, or even augment each other.” Stiles hauls in a quick breath. “And there’s one way to do all of that, that really packs a punch. Or seems to. From what I’ve read and what Maryam’s told me, anyway.”

For all the normal scattering of Stiles’ words, something about this speech feels scripted. Derek squints at him, testing the air with a discreet sniff. “You’re nervous.”

“Of course I’m nervous!” Stiles bursts out, somehow also managing to gape at him in that way he has, so affronted that Derek’s half-convinced he really did do something wrong. Derek adopts the methods of a tried and true professional and raises his eyebrows slowly at Stiles. But as good as Sheriff Stilinski is at using this tactic to defuse Stiles in general, Derek knows for a fact that Hale eyebrows are better at getting the job done.

Stiles makes a strange sound back in his throat. “Oh my god. You try popping this kind of question and see how you—Alright, look. Sex. Enhances magic.”

So Stiles has definitely learned a few tricks in college and at magic seminary, because now Derek’s the one poleaxed.

Stiles smirks, smug, even though his cheeks have gone red. “And there we go. Back to normal.”

“What.” Derek clears his throat. “What is the question? Again?”

Stiles sobers, businesslike with jarring speed. “There are spells I’d like to try, but they need a lot of power. Sometimes—there’s historical precedence—a pair of, of magic users will sort of pool their power. To get the job done. There are some incantations that were created precisely to be too strong for one person because of the type of magic the spells really should have in order to work right, and it’s kind of magic’s way of gaining compliance? Like, certain people shouldn’t be able to do certain things even though they try and try, it’s all about balance and the shift and pull of the heavens—” His hands flick around and he actually rolls his eyes, but the gravity never leaves those eyes; they are wide, beseeching Derek to understand. “—and whether or not you’ve earned the sort of power you’re looking to use. You have to prove that you aren’t just working for yourself, I guess. Which, I’m not. We, we aren’t. It would be for the pack.”

Derek frowns down at his hands, and honestly, at the surreal nature of his life. “Isn’t that kind of intimate?”

“Yeah, don’t think of it like that.” Stiles faces him on the couch, drawing his legs up into a butterfly. His long toes wiggle against the hem of his jeans. “Look, I don’t… actually know how you feel about casual sex these days? And I would completely understand if it’s not your thing, and I wouldn’t press it. There would be no pressure. At all. But this, what I’m talking about, is more about connection. Emotion isn’t the play here. Magic draws all kinds of energies and gains different benefits from each of them. It’s like…” He snaps his fingers. “Oh, remember when Scott and I shared blood for that severing spell? Sharing of power, lending of power, it’s basically the same concept, just… with sex.”

He looks so calm now, watching Derek with his head craned forward. His eyes track Derek’s face in little flicks. He reminds Derek of a hawk.

“Literal connection, huh?”

“Connection’s the foundation stone for most magic.” Stiles grins easily. He spreads his hands. “Sex is just a different way to transfer those energies.”

True, Derek muses, thinking of Kate and then Jennifer with a distant sense of hollowness. Magic could slant dark, too, depending on the caster. Literal spellwork or not, there had been a certain enchantment to what Kate and Jennifer had done, with him and to him.

“The point would be to combine our energies to, you know, feed the spells I’m planning. Shields and boundary reinforcement, stuff to sustain pack territory. Bolster connection. That kind of thing. And I’m serious, emotion wouldn’t be involved. In fact, it’s better that it’s not. It can twist things up, make it all more complicated. This is actually a really good cherry on top, though, because you’re pack, and I’m pack, hell, you once led this pack and I’m its Emissary, which is just all kinds of good for—”

“You’re staying, then?”

Stiles’ mouth shuts with a click of his teeth. He scratches his neck. “Well, I still have a year. To finish out with Maryam, but.” He smiles, almost shy. “Yeah, if that’s what people want.”

They want it. Derek almost says it out loud. But he knows that the only person he’d be speaking for at the moment is himself, no matter how much the others agree.

“So.” Stiles rubs his thighs, snaps his fingers again restlessly and looks around. “Thoughts? Comments? Revisions you’d like to submit for consideration?”

Derek weighs it. “Stiles, are you asking me to have sex with you for the good of the pack?”

“I—yeah.” Stiles blinks a couple times, then smiles again. “Yeah, I guess I am. That is the thing that I am doing.”

Derek can’t help it: he laughs. Rocks back and laughs. And the hilarity must really show on his face because a second later, Stiles is laughing, too, eyes squinted almost shut, his throat a long, bare line in the light of the overhead.

“I know, I know,” Stiles hiccups finally, wiping at his eyes as they come down. “It’s ludicrous.”

“It’s definitely different.”

“Yeah, well, I think this pack needs different.” Stiles glances around, still smiling, but Derek can hear all the things he’s not saying. Nemeton. Currents. Suspended vortices and possessions and compulsions and that constant, constant buzz.

Derek taps his thumb against his thigh. “Just sex?”

“Strictly business.”

“Exclusivity?”

Stiles wags his head back and forth. “Well, we might need it, if we’re building a specific cache of energy. Maybe a week’s worth to amass the most significant amount. Some of the spells require more than others.”

“Fair enough.”

“I’ll show them all to you, before.”

Derek shrugs. “I trust you.”

Stiles straightens a little and smiles.

But there’s still one question: “Why me?”

Stiles waves a hand crazily at him, looking lost, then exhales. “I trust you, too. It’s different from the others. Not,” he hurries, “that I don’t trust them, of course I do, how could I not? But with you… it’s just different. I can tell you, I can ask you things that I—okay, for example, can you imagine me going to Scott with this? The face he’d make, oh my god, he’d have kittens. Right in my lap.”

Derek frowns at him. “You just told me not to freak out.”

Stiles makes a spffing sound between his lips and follows it with a dismissive gesture. “Yeah, but I never thought you actually would.”

Surreal. Any day now, he thinks, he’ll wake up and realize his entire life’s been a preposterous dream. “For how long?”

Stiles shrugs. “However long you want to, man. There are a lot of spells. We don’t have to do all of them.”

“But if you could?”

Stiles clears his throat. “I’d want to try. But seriously, no pressure. Trust me, I could fill up the rest of winter with this.”

So Derek thinks, and Stiles sits there watching him.

“Not liking it, huh?” Stiles finally offers, soft.

It’s not that. “It’s just…” Stiles’ question about casual sex rings in his ears. “Look, you’re important. To me.” He keeps his eyes on his hands, until suddenly that just feels wrong, so he looks at Stiles instead. “My closest friend.” His throat clicks on the words. “I don’t want this to—” Ruin. Destroy. “—change that.”

Stiles covers his hand and looks Derek in the eye. “I won’t let it. I swear.”

And damn it, Derek believes him.

He could do this. It’s been a long time since his ill-advised…awareness of Stiles Stilinski. Stiles had been a kid then, and the very thought had twisted Derek’s gut in ugly ways that came with flash-bang memories of his family’s last few weeks alive. What he’d felt for Stiles then had sucked tight to the razor line they walked between life and death, etching deeper each time they took the metaphorical (or literal) bullet for each other, but the nausea of what Kate had done to Derek, and the guilt—the very idea that he might in turn do the same to someone so young—carved much deeper than affection could manage, and for that at least, Derek was grateful.

When things had settled down, when the younger set had gone off to college, jobs, life experiences elsewhere, Derek had finally had time to breathe, and he’d seen his relationship with Stiles for what it really was: devotion, dependability, and a faith you’d never find in any house of worship. A bond of battle. Given time, and more blood upon which to feed, it may well have grown. Evolved.

As it was, Stiles—back in Beacon Hills during breaks only, his semesters in college and then with Maryam an exercise in new hair dos, strange outfits, and an easier stride—had melted smoothly into a less dangerous role. It was strange, off-putting, a new distance and an old intimacy walking hand in hand. Derek both didn’t know Stiles nearly as well anymore and understood him far better than he ever had.

He gives his insides a thorough shake, rattling the chaff free, and is gratified to find nothing but a warm satisfaction at being with Stiles again. At being a part of this. Stiles wears his magic like a second skin these days, bared to all the world by a raw mantle of power. Derek is no Druid, but he understands magic, the nakedness of it and the triviality of physical modesty. Sex, entirely of the body, isn’t any more than that.

“Okay,” he says.

Stiles sits up, blinking rapidly. “Okay?”

Derek shrugs, and if his heart thumps a little harder than normal, there’s no one here to hear it but him. “Casual sex to save the world. How hard can it be?”

Stiles nearly blows right past it, then jerks to a stop and socks Derek in the arm. By that time, Derek is snickering again.

“Funny. You’re funny.” Stiles proceeds to whip his phone out of his back pocket, and a few seconds later, Derek is being treated to a gross misappropriation of the OneNote app. Stiles’ notes have notes, bullet points invading the page and sidebars filled with queasy phrases like ‘blackened bile’ and ‘third toe (??) of mummified skink’. But the majority of Stiles’ spells rely on the intangible rather than the down-and-dirty potions element, and, as always with Stiles, some hug the fringes of sound life choices. It’s normal, their normal; if Derek ignores what it’s really about, it could be any crisis from the fast and furious years of Stiles’ teenhood.

As usual, a good chunk of their time is sacrificed to the grand tradition of arguing.

“Not that one.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s the second most powerful twining invocation, of course we’re doing it!”

“Stiles, it calls for heart’s blood.”

“So?”

“So, all blood is technically heart’s blood! If they’re specifying that part, it must have to—”

“Come directly from the heart, yeah, what’s your point?”

“No.”

“Dude, it’s not a problem, it’d be my heart, not yours.”

Derek growls low in his chest.

“Oh my god, you are such a stick in the—Fine.” Stiles swipes the incantation off his screen. “But look at this one here, it’s freakin’ elegant, I don’t even know how they ground all three of the conduit points yet but it would totally be worth it just to get the additional warding near the southern end of town, and you can use the residuals for a buffer against dream manipulation.”

All in all, Derek has an informative evening.

**

The practical application is slightly more nerve-wracking.

A couple mornings later, Derek goes to the two-room Stiles is renting on the back of a property in his old neighborhood. He’s starting to understand why Stiles rented this winter instead of staying with his dad like he usually does. Part of the rent is made up of him taking care of the main house while its owners tour New Zealand, and part of it comes from the we-babysat-you-when-you-were-in-diapers lifetime affection fund. Stiles has a boundary enhancement in mind, the simplest of the lot, and chooses this location so if I mess things up, your place doesn’t suffer.

Stiles doesn’t waste time with small talk, just leads the way to his bedroom telling Derek to make himself at home if he needs a drink or something. The heating’s on, pushing out the worst of winter’s bite, and the room looks pretty normal for a space that’s about to house a major magical event, but then, most of the incense, candles, and atmosphere-building have little to do with practicable magic. The blinds are slanted to let in a little light, the bed is made, and the sheets smell fresh. There is a faint line of white outlining the bed on the floor. It smells of salt and sage.

Stiles strips off his shirt and then pauses, the article of clothing balled tightly in one hand. “While we’re… If I say some weird shit, don’t, uh, don’t worry about it. It’s just the—”

“I know,” Derek says, working the buttons of his shirt free.

“Oh.” Stiles’ eyes drop to Derek’s hands and flick up again. He wets his lips. “That’s, that’s good.”

He gives Derek a strained smile, shucks his pants, and gets on the bed.

Derek isn’t sure what to expect. Casual can mean so many things. He joins Stiles on the mattress, across from him on his knees, and is a little surprised when Stiles climbs amiably into his lap. Derek’s hands come to his hips automatically—lean, pale, dotted with moles—then jump up to his ribs to steady him.

“I’m thinking I want the most energy possible the first time,” Stiles says, settling onto Derek’s thighs and rocking forward to press them together. Hair dusts his chest, arrowing more thickly down his sternum. “So, you, in me? It’s pretty traditional, good for beginners.”

Derek nods, at a loss for words. Stiles nods back, gives an odd huff of a smile, and leans away from Derek to grab supplies. Out of the drawer of the bedside table, like anyone anywhere.

“I thought about just having them out, but I don’t know what exactly is going to happen and.” Stiles lets his hands finish that sentence for him.

“That what the circle’s for?” Stiles’ body is deceptively muscular, not in the ways Derek’s used to be, but… yeah. “To contain things?”

“Is it bothering you?” Stiles searches his face. “The smell?”

Derek shakes his head. “Smells nice.”

Stiles visibly relaxes.

It should be weirder, having him naked in Derek’s lap. And it is fucking weird. At the same time. Stiles is warm all over, his skin pocked with faint scars that Derek can date, smooth otherwise. He smells like home, all the sharper without his clothing on. The scent of the seminary has almost gone, thinned to nothing by his days back in Beacon Hills.

“No condoms,” Derek says, half a question, and Stiles shakes his head.

“No risk of disease, thanks to you. And the transfer will work better this way. Unless you want one?”

Not really. One of the perks of being a werewolf with another guy.

“I have them. It’d still work, I think.”

Derek squeezes Stiles’ side. “No.”

Getting him ready turns out to be fairly utilitarian. Stiles directs him without fuss, tensing when Derek first gets his fingers inside him, then shifting as he loosens up. His chest flushes up from his belly in a mesmerizing swell, climbing around his torso until Derek feels the heat of it pounding through his palm where it now rests against Stiles’ spine. An edge he can’t define creeps closer, then fades away, always hovering where he can’t see it, but it isn’t part of the arousal. Something else, something cerebral that maybe he doesn’t want to look at just yet.

Should he kiss Stiles? He dismisses the idea out of hand. Not a good plan. It might turn them both on, but kissing is for… Well, Derek knows what it’s not for, at least for him.

Stiles makes no move to kiss him anyway. He goes silent as his body adjusts, convulsive hitches of his hips. Derek’s glad he’s not the one exposed like this; it’s safe to say it’s been a while for him. This. Sex. Their shared gaze is unnerving. It’s all he can do to tamp down the jitters that want to shake free.

After a minute, Stiles clears his throat. “Okay, here we go.” He’s pink in the cheeks again, and suddenly Derek has a finger in his face. “Don’t judge me here. Safe space. This is a safe space.”

It’s the perfect ice-breaker: Derek’s laugh sputters free, and Stiles grins, finally looking like his old self.

When he enters Stiles body, it’s faster than Derek had planned: a push into fierce heat, slick from too much lube. Stiles gives a low, surprised moan that drags on until Derek is seated deep. His hands clutch and re-clutch around Derek’s shoulders, as though he can’t decide how best to hold on.

“Get a little bit of energy going first,” he mutters, plenty loud for Derek to hear. He flexes his hips, but his teeth are clamped together.

Derek ignores the order. “Are you ready for that?”

At first, Stiles looks mutinous. Then he rolls his eyes and tips his head back, breathing through his nose. Derek waits, gritting his teeth against the insatiable heat, the pressure of Stiles’ body around his dick. Sweat trickles down his neck, and the room feels unbearably hot.

“Okay,” comes the whisper at last. Derek hears the truth in it this time, and thrusts up, gripping Stiles close.

Gooseflesh covers Stiles’ chest in a violent rush. He gives this full-bodied shiver that Derek can’t help but answer. Stiles drops his forehead with a thunk onto Derek’s shoulder and rolls it there as they move together, as Derek abandons caution, picks up speed. Derek feels the puff of every gasp against his skin, but when Stiles gives his hips a practiced little rock, bearing down on the upswing, a groan punches out of Derek. He can’t catch his breath. Stiles is rock hard between their bellies, slipping against their skin, but he hasn’t touched himself yet, keeps his hands firmly at Derek’s shoulders, fingertips pressing in rhythm with their thrusts. A shift forward, and Stiles groans, “Oh, right there, right…”

The sensation is brutal. Derek’s nerves fire, crushing waves that curl him down, clench his insides in fists. He can’t keep this up, not at this angle with no purchase and Stiles’ five-foot-ten frame still too light in his arms. He turns his face, accidentally mouths Stiles neck before pulling away. “Can, can I—”

Stiles makes a curious noise, but Derek is already tipping him backward, wrapping one long leg around his waist, the other over his arm. He drives into Stiles heavily, rutting him into the mattress, and Stiles lets out a broken moan, much louder than before.

The thought skitters in: what if the novelty of—what if Stiles is too distracted to cast the enchantment? It’s safe to say that Derek is distracted. With Stiles’ heat literally encompassing him, he has heavy doubts that he would have the presence of mind to remember magic.

“This okay?” Derek starts, but Stiles is already nodding, arching to meet each thrust, his hands sliding helplessly down Derek’s arms. One drifts to his stomach and almost drunkenly finds his dick, purpling and neglected. He strokes himself with frenetic pulls.

Derek watches, riveted by the play of Stiles’ muscles, the hitch and tug of his fingers, the sweep of his thumb over the head on the upstroke. Derek leans in, flattens his stomach to Stiles’ balls, and Stiles’ next breath swells his chest. He clamps his knee painfully over Derek’s arm.

It’s good.

Of course it’s good. Getting it up for Stiles was never going to be a problem. Derek’s young, he’s male, Stiles is very male, and he’s trusted. He’s pack, he’s a friend. With Derek’s history, that combination might as well be gold. When Stiles begins to speak, he does indeed say ‘weird shit’, but Derek can feel the power shifting between them almost from the first instant, a soundless unraveling behind his navel. As usual, he can’t understand a word of what Stiles is saying, can’t even call them words, loses himself in the cadence, the way the phrases fall readily into the rhythm of their bodies.

And now Stiles smells like...

Derek inhales. His eyes slide shut. God, what is that? He’s smelled Stiles before when he practices magic, and every time, much like the words themselves, he can’t parse what exactly it is that he’s smelling. Just that it’s syrupy and intense, pleasant.

Here, though, like this... Derek’s arousal ratchets past a hundred in the space of a single heartbeat. He weaves his arm out from under Stiles’ knee and hitches their bodies tighter together. He’s never smelled Stiles’ magic while having sex with him. He’s never had sex with Stiles. His heart thunders in his chest; he thrusts hard, sudden and unable to stop, and Stiles gasps, his hands gripping at Derek’s arms. He’s abandoned his own dick, just rubbing against Derek’s belly now. Stiles’ words stutter, then pick up again, and he drops his head back, his eyelids sinking halfway; still, Derek sees the silvery flashes in their depths, sparking as the energy billows to the surface.

Stiles looks at him; his thighs tense at Derek’s sides, and abruptly he’s shuddering, the muscles in his stomach seizing up as he comes between them. The stream of words breaks again. Stiles picks them up as though he’s dragging them off the floor, sounding wrecked. His hand slides up Derek’s nape, thumb pushing into his hair, and Derek comes with a grunt, one last prolonged thrust into Stiles, head ducked, panting harshly into Stiles’ sternum.

In the silence immediately afterward, he hears Stiles swallow.

He has two seconds to plummet, to think, This is the biggest mistake I have ever—

“Oh my god, do you feel that?” Stiles rasps.

Derek can’t get enough air to answer. But the answer is yes. Yes to what, he’s not sure. He pulls out of Stiles as carefully as he can, blinking sweat from his eyes.

Stiles’ breathing has barely slowed before he’s out of bed, hopping into his jeans. He yanks a winter coat on over his naked shoulders, already heading for the hallway.

Something in Derek is worryingly adrift, swinging around in wild arcs. He doesn’t bother with clothing; he shifts fully instead, relaxing as he settles into the wolf, and follows Stiles’ quick strides out the back door, down the porch stairs to the far edge of the property.

The air is cold and still, and the grass crackles underfoot as they cross what winter has left of the lawn. The trees, the beginnings of the very same forest that bleeds into the preserve, provide a blueish shadow, and Stiles stops in it, turning to face the house. His chest still heaves; perspiration gleams at his collarbone and in the dark hair trailing down his belly. He smells like Derek’s sweat and his own, like spunk and humid air. He smells good.

He shares a look with Derek, then balls up his left fist and raises it over the earth. His eyes flash once, opaque silver, at the same moment that he opens his hand, harsh, like he’s throwing something down at the dirt.

The impact blows a puff of pine needles out in a perfect ring, rumbling the earth beneath. Heat flashes through Derek’s paws, quick and then gone, and the lawn itself ripples, concentric circles in a pond. Derek actually sees the wave like a breeze rushing up to the house, sliding under and around the foundation, hears it shivering up the trunks of the bordering trees, and feels a lovely click in his gut as the spell locks down.

“Oh, yeah!” Stiles shouts, jumping in triumph and punching both fists into the sky. Derek feels the glee storming over him; he lets out a bright bark, mingling with Stiles’ laughter, and together they stand as the spell settles around them, Stiles’ bare chest rising and falling under his coat, his fingers curling in the fur over Derek’s shoulders.

**

So it works out.

Of course it works out. Derek feels foolish for thinking it wouldn’t. Stiles doesn’t get distracted from the goal. He never has, when it’s important.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

The next time, Stiles asks for a week. He’s crafting a shield hybridized with some kind of alert system. “For my dad, to keep him safe.”

Derek grimaces, thinking of sweat and moans, naked bodies and messy orgasms in the service of a parent. “That’s a little—”

“Yeah, don’t think about it,” Stiles says hurriedly, struggling out of his jeans. They’re at Derek’s place this time, because it’s garbage day on Stiles’ street and that shit gets noisy. “Really, don’t. I shouldn’t even have said it. You know what, no father involved, just a shielding spell-cum-signaling—ah, shit, wait, that didn’t come out, come, oh my god.”

“Be quiet,” Derek says, holding in his laughter. “You’re making it worse.”

“Damn right I am,” Stiles groans, sliding a palm down his face with a phwaw noise. “Okay.”

This time they start with Derek on his back, and it’s faster, Stiles’ words more certain, his strokes on his own dick pointed, aiming for a quick release. He rides Derek smoothly, dragging his fingers through the hair on Derek’s chest, breathing the spell at the loft’s cavernous ceiling.

It’s warmer in here, now, Stiles had said, pulling off his beanie as he entered and tapping Derek on the arm with his fist. You look like you live here, man.

Up on the second floor like this, the sun washes them in watery light. Derek comes first, squeezing handfuls of Stiles’ ass and hissing his shock at how fast it all rushes up, and then he pants, winded, as Stiles bears down, milks him through it, sends aftershocks ricocheting through him until Stiles is coming in a beautiful, spine-stiffening arch, his mouth open.

He drops down to Derek’s side, the back of his hand slapping flat to the bed as he hauls in air. “Damn. I mean… Damn, Derek.”

Derek has half a mind to say You’re welcome.

“You alright to do this again tomorrow?” Stiles asks after a minute. “Same time is best, or generally. Pattern’s a thing, ebb and flow.”

“Yeah.” Derek stretches, reveling in the feeling of tendons easing. “You want here? Or your place again? Is location an issue, too?”

“I don’t know. I should find out. Here, until I know differently.”

“Got it.” He should get up from the bed. But Stiles doesn’t get up either, so he stays.

**

By the third day, they’re back at Stiles’ place—location doesn’t matter, according to Maryam, not for Stiles’ abilities, though she does advise caution given the time of year and the untried nature of this spellwork.

Derek, bent over Stiles’ back, comes so hard his vision goes briefly white.

He comes to with Stiles still under him but facing him now, sitting halfway up and clasping as much of him as he can reach. “Derek? Shit, Derek.”

“M’good,” Derek slurs, blinking up at the overhead light.

“Shit,” Stiles hisses again, and presses his mouth to Derek’s forehead. He’s still breathing hard, his naked thighs bracketing Derek’s torso. “You sure?”

He’s very good. He thinks maybe some of whatever it is transferred back this time, rolling up like a drug rush and starring out into his legs and arms. “See?” He wiggles his toes and all ten fingers for Stiles’ benefit. “No hay problema.”

Stiles snorts and turns his cheek to rest on Derek’s forehead, stroking full-palmed down Derek’s throat. For a moment, they just sit there breathing together. Outside, a car alarm starts up, then beeps off.

“It’s just going to get crazier from here on,” Stiles says once Derek is sitting up beside him. He looks troubled. His fingers tick over the sheet next to his hip: tap-tap-tap.

“It’s okay,” Derek says. “Part of the spell, right?”

“I think so? I mean, yes, it’s part of it, I just.” Stiles exhales hard. “Didn’t expect that.”

Derek hesitates, then lays a hand on Stiles’ bare thigh. “I’m fine. Alright?”

“We’re stopping,” Stiles says, “if anything gets weirder than this.”

“Agreed.” There’s nothing else to say, really.

**

The seventh night, Stiles builds a simple silencing net around his childhood bedroom and sneaks Derek in through the window. Derek’s done arguing; they had it out yesterday in the ever-rickety jeep, over hamburgers and a mess of curly fries that Stiles stole two-thirds of, and Derek is quite content not to relive that particular mortification.

It’s not like I’m in any hurry to ‘defile my childhood bedroom’ either, not with my dad right down the hall, Stiles had hissed, mocking Derek with his air-quotes and clutching his soda so hard with the other hand that Derek thought the lid would pop off.

So don’t do it there. Shit. Derek’s hair had been a mess by the end of that meal, the amount of time his hands spent in it. On his top ten list of things he never, ever wants to have happen is Sheriff Stilinski finding him in flagrante with Stiles, in a bedroom with an eight-year-old’s glow-in-the-dark stars still stuck to the fucking ceiling.

We can’t go anywhere else! By the time we get back to the house, the magic could dissipate and then the whole week will be a waste.

So here they are. By now, Stiles is literally crackling with magic; every touch is a static shock, zinging through Derek straight to his dick. He’s been aroused pretty much all week to greater and greater degrees, and Stiles hasn’t been much better. Another thing they didn’t predict.

God, the smell of him. Derek’s reacting just walking into the same room.

“Jeez, come here,” Stiles whispers, even though the silencing net is ironclad; Derek can’t hear a thing beyond it. It makes him nervous, this level of silence. There should be wind, the calls of the birds outside. All there is, is the swamping scent of Stiles, pressing on all sides and racing through his blood. They do it fast, laid out across Stiles’ bed as the old frame creaks and groans, Stiles gasping an inch from Derek’s mouth, rolling up into him like he can’t stop, and the energy folds around them in a smothering blanket, tangles in Derek’s insides, makes him come with a shout, then push Stiles down and fuck him until he comes again, until Stiles is breathing ‘yes’ over and over between the words of the spell, clenching his legs at Derek’s sides, and then he’s shaking, slamming his head back into the pillow, his eyes squeezed so tightly shut that tears leak from the corners. He comes for ages, soundlessly until the very end when a broken sob tears free.

Derek presses his mouth to Stiles’ throat and holds it there while he comes down, his pulse rabbiting under Derek’s lips. “Oh god,” Stiles breathes, sounding utterly broken. Another tear trails down his face. “Oh god.”

Derek doesn’t ask. This spell is for Stiles’ father, and like all his magic, it takes will. Commitment. Emotion.

It takes so long for Stiles to open his eyes, though, that Derek starts murmuring his name. “Stiles. Stiles, come on. It has to be now or…”

“Yeah,” Stiles croaks, and levers himself up on his elbows. He wipes his eyes, banishes the silencing net with a wave of his hand and stumbles into his clothing. Derek follows, pulling his pants and shirt on, and when Stiles opens the door, he follows him down the hallway to the stairs, too.

John Stilinski is passed out on the couch, one hand dropped to the floor with a book across his chest and his glasses trapped precariously under the pillow by one temple. Stiles steals up to the side of the couch, mouth slack and gait unsteady. Derek longs to touch him, to give him an anchor. Stiles’ shoulders shake, twitches that remind Derek of the worst of his ADHD in high school. And Derek thinks, That’s what I’ll remember about this one.

What he ends up remembering is the way Stiles’ left hand shakes as he extends it toward his father’s shoulder, the way he reaches back with his other hand until he finds Derek’s. The way his fingers tremble around Derek’s as the shielding spell takes shape, grinding somewhere low down. Derek feels a tug deep in his gut, gentle, like a fish’s fins fluttering.

**

Stiles calls a break.

Derek isn’t expecting to feel relieved, but he does. He can still taste the tension in Stiles’ childhood home, the memory of his and Stiles’ shared heat cloying at the back of his throat, stealing over him at night when he’s half asleep.

It becomes awkward very quickly; Derek can’t even think of Stiles without having to get up and pace. He’s had sex. With Stiles. Multiple times, and it wasn’t weird until they stopped. He’d been too distracted by it to really think about it.

He can’t imagine meeting him now, running into him in the store or sitting across the room during pack meetings. He has no idea what he’d say, and he can well imagine the ruddiness in Stiles’ cheeks, the uncomfortable dart of his eyes tracing a halo around Derek’s head but never coming anywhere near Derek’s own eyes, the way his tongue would sneak out to wet his lips in uneasy flicks.

Damn it straight to hell. There’s a reason Derek doesn’t do casual.

Nearly a week later, Derek reluctantly slides his front door open to find Stiles on the landing, hands shoved into the pockets of his coat and the collar standing high.

“Hey,” Stiles says. He comes inside, clapping Derek on the arm and pressing an opened packet of Reese’s into Derek’s hand. “I figured out that sense augmenting spell.”

Derek frowns at his back as he shuts the door. “You think we really need that?”

Stiles turns, arms out, mouth full of chocolate and peanut butter. “No idea. We could try it, right?”

And… it’s as simple as that.

**

They have sex a few more times. Stiles establishes a schedule of sorts: save for the last instance when the cache of magic was needed, it’s every other day at the most, one-offs for minor spells. A barricade here, a listening charm there. Once, a temporary tether down to the main artery of the Nemeton. It’s dormant again, its pulse sleepy and faint. Stiles touches the ground right above it and Derek thinks he can feel it, too, the faintest of echoes.

**

It’s finally late enough to be this dark. Nine thirty, maybe. Derek sprawls on his couch, flipping his phone end over end with one finger. It thumps again to the cushion, face down. Thump. Face up. Blank screen.

Thump. Face down.

It’s stupid. He never used to hang his hat on a text.

Thump, face up. The clock flickers on again, reacting to the motion, then goes dark.

So stupid.

“You could text,” he berates the empty loft. Of course he could. He texts all the time. It just feels so facile now, a front for what’s obviously the real goal. His grandfather clock ticks loudly in the corner. He doesn’t even know why he has a grandfather clock.

Thump. Face dow—

The air in the room swoops; his stomach turns sharply. A cacophony of senses batter him blind, blood, thick and choking air, and clawing up from the rest—

JOHN.

Derek’s out the door and down the stairs before he knows it, sprinting through the frozen woods on bare feet, and then on hands and feet. Flashing yellow tints his vision, not the icy gold of beta eyes but the hot almost-orange of flame. An age-old terror snaps round his heart, not the full thrust of it, more a gauzy whisper, but it brings with it the roar of the inferno, the crack and groan of breaking beams, and the slick ash coating the inside of his nose.

He runs and runs, until his heart throbs behind his eyes, streaking through the finger of the forest that juts between neighborhoods, just waiting for that first whiff of smoke, and spills out into a new cul-de-sac in Parkwood Grove just in time to watch Stiles’ father empty an entire clip into a wolf.

The wolf is none of his—it smells of exhaust, cheap food, and truck stops—and Derek barrels straight into it just as it leaps for John Stilinski’s throat.

They hit the pavement hard and roll in a wheel of snarls and teeth. An arm swings into his face and Derek bites down, rattled by the howl of rage as the Omega jerks free. Something clouts him on the side of the head; he rolls off the body beneath him, lunging sideways out of instinct as soon as he gets to his feet and barely missing the claws to his side. He catches the Omega’s wrist, breaks it with a crack—another howl—and flips its owner onto his back. The Omega lashes out, all four limbs, and Derek leaps away, watches warily as the wolf gets back up.

“Don’t do this,” Derek grits out. He circles at a crouch, balanced on the balls of his feet. He’s got his back to John now, mostly between John and his attacker. “We can talk this out, I’ll bring you to my Alpha.”

The Omega laughs at him. “Your Alpha.”

“If you do this, you won’t come back from it.”

A sneer, through a mouthful of fangs. “I’ll kill you all.”

He’s huge, at least a hundred pounds on Derek, but he smells sick, a sticky, too-sweet odor that clings to the vicinity of his chest. Infection, though he’s wearing too many layers; Derek can’t see any wounds.

He keeps his distance, but he already knows it’s a lost cause: this wolf won’t even think about joining their pack. And Derek doesn’t want him in it anyway. The thought of him anywhere near Scott or Kira, Isaac, Stiles, makes his tongue taste like blood. But he doesn’t have to kill the guy.

“Leave,” he growls. “Just walk away.” He can hear John moving behind him. The Omega’s eyes keep going over Derek’s shoulder, but for every step he takes, Derek places himself squarely between them; the Omega’s low-level rumble turns into an outright snarl.

“I’ll gut you.” The Omega swipes at him. Derek dances back, hears John move back as well. He spares John a second’s attention, gauging distance, and that’s all it takes: the Omega rushes him, roaring, gets a punishing grip on Derek’s hand, snags claws in his side. Derek roars back, wrenches free, and slashes him across the face, leaving bloody gashes behind. The Omega pummels into him, knocking him backward and coming down on top.

Derek kicks him away, both legs sending the Omega up and back in a flailing frenzy. The Omega skids along the ground, claws furrowing the asphalt, dragging him to a stop. He raises his head, fury searing in his eyes, and Derek scrambles to his feet. Readies himself.

The Omega leaps, and John shoots him twice in the throat.

The Omega buckles to the pavement, scrabbling at the holes leaching blood down his neck. Already, black spiders from the wounds; John got to his wolfsbane. Another shot, this time to the chest, and the Omega jerks, a horrified half-human whine slicing the air.

Derek strides to his side and kneels, grabbing the wolf’s wrists and forcing them to the ground. He hears John approach cautiously behind him, and the clink of shell casings. “Lighter?” John offers, but Derek shakes his head in warning.

“Yield,” he whispers to his quarry.

The Omega roars in his face, deafening, foam collected at the corners of his mouth. “I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you! Hunter lovers.”

“There are no hunters left here.” The wolf’s muscles are beginning to bunch, to strain in Derek’s grasp. It’s a battle just to keep him still.

“I’ll shred your Alpha, your pack, your mates and your families! I’ll bathe in their entrails, I’ll kill them all—” There’s nothing human left in those eyes. The Omega arches, bucking his hold and wrenching free. Derek rears back and chops through the rest of the Omega’s throat with a single swipe.

Three heartbeats, then…

“Thanks,” John says, loud in the silence.

“Yeah.” Derek gets to his feet slowly. Everything aches; he can smell the Omega now, beyond wolf and danger to the odor of unwashed clothing and that ever-present smell of rot. He wipes a forearm over his brow and comes away bloody. “You alright?”

“Are you?”

It tries to needle in, that he just killed someone. Fades. Derek shrugs, and flexes his injured hand until the bones align. “I will be.”

John, to his credit, doesn’t touch him. “Surprised me. Squatting in the new development. He went straight for my other gun. Must have smelled the wolfsbane.”

Derek smells it, too, but it’s faint. Nothing a settled wolf in the middle of his pack lands would think twice about. The Omega must have been alone for ages for his senses to have impacted like that.

Killed someone.

Yes, he did: a threat to his family. “He was nearly feral.”

“What did he want?” John’s blinking at him. Despite the cold air, sweat stands out on his brow. He keeps flicking his eyes down to Derek’s side and back again.

“What they always want.” Derek turns his face skyward and inhales icy air, cleansing his sinuses of the smell. “Blood.”

The roar of an engine, building for the last minute, bursts around the corner down the road, and headlights careen their way. The jeep skids so sharply to the edge of the cul-de-sac that the tires leave dark streaks on the pavement.

“Dad!” Stiles tears out of the driver’s side, fast enough to send the door rebounding shut. The air sizzles around him in a fine haze; for an instant, light dances in his eyes. He skirts the Omega’s corpse with barely a glance and throws himself at his father.

“Are you okay? Oh my god, Dad, are you—”

“I’m good.” John pats Stiles on the back, turns it into a full spinal rub with both hands, the kind of touch meant to shake someone loose of shock. “I’m good, kid. Not hurt.”

“Shit,” Stiles bites out feelingly into his father’s shirt. His arms tremble with how tightly he’s holding on. John gives a weary sort of laugh, looking around at the empty houses, then the Omega’s body, as though he can’t actually parse any of it, and Stiles just groans into his shoulder and squeezes him tighter. “Why the hell did you go in there alone?”

“Because I’m the sheriff?” John answers with a sigh.

“You are not the sheriff, you’re part time!”

“I’m still licensed to patrol.”

“As a consultant. At best. You know what’s not the same thing as re-elected, Dad? Retired!”

“Oh, great, thank you. I knew all that schooling was for something.”

The dispute continues, muffled in shirts and hair, and Derek stops straining to hear.

He doesn’t expect Stiles wrapped around him a moment later: both arms cinching Derek’s torso, hands fisted in the back of his shirt tightly enough to test the seams. Stiles’ face is a warm, welcome pulse at his throat.

“Thank you,” Stiles says, hoarse. ”Thank you for coming after him.”

Derek shivers. His arms creep up on their own, until he’s cradling Stiles against him, dazed and slow. “Of course I… Stiles. Of course.”

Over Stiles’ shoulder John watches with a shrewd squint.

Stiles backs away with a thrust. “You’re hurt, where, where did he get you?” But he’s found it, almost before Derek remembers: he seizes at Derek’s side, then jerks his shirt up to reveal the parallel gouges running over his ribs. The waistband of his jeans is nicked and fraying, and blood soaks into them, staining the fabric.

“They’ll close,” Derek says, because they will, though they’re deep. Perhaps this Omega had been an Alpha once and some part of both their bodies remembers.

Stiles’ mouth turns down at the corners. He splays his palm over Derek’s side, making him hiss at the contact, but already Stiles’ magic feathers his skin, helps knit it together.

Derek breathes out when it’s done, almost topples into Stiles but saves himself just in time. It’s hard being on his land again like this; the shape of his family’s home is a ghost behind his eyes, right there at the end of the cul-de-sac where two cookie cutter houses and their snout-nosed garages now stand. It’s been years, but… There used to be trees there. Stiles’ fingers brush his forehead and Derek bats him away, feeling for the cut there. “I got it.”

But Stiles doesn’t move. He stands with one hand still wound in Derek’s shirt sleeve, watching.

That wound closes as well. Derek wipes the blood away, and Stiles’ phone jangles.

He yanks it out. “Scott.”

Scott’s voice is tinny but the alarm in it is clear. John has moved off, picking up a casing from a wolfsbane bullet and sliding it into his pocket. Derek helps him find the other two while Stiles explains the howling and talks Scott into going back home. When he hangs up at last, John takes out his radio.

“Gotta call it in,” he says with a grimace. “Discharged my service weapon. You two should definitely go.”

Stiles frowns, then passes a hand over the camera anchored to his father’s badge. John catches his wrist. “Stiles.”

“Too late.” Stiles grins at him, and John sighs again, but it’s indulgent.

“Get out of here.”

**

“What did you do to it?” Derek asks. The jeep is parked in the trees, and the moon shines white onto the forest floor. The preserve’s nocturnal residents are a comforting rustle. “The camera.”

Stiles shrugs. “Damaged the footage. They’ll see what they expect to see.”

“That could hurt as much as it could help.”

“Nah, they all love Dad at the station. None of them will assume he did anything wrong. Maybe if someone else comes looking for the guy.”

That’s unlikely. The Omega had no traces of anyone else on him, human or wolf.

“That was your shield,” Derek says eventually, and exhales, looking up at the stars. “Wasn’t it?”

Stiles nods, abruptly subdued. Derek doesn’t like him subdued. Feels wrong, like the earth has tilted off its axis. “I didn’t think it would be like that.”

There’s something in his tone that makes Derek peer hard at him in the dim light. All thoughts of reprimand dissolve at the pinch in Stiles’ brow. “What did you see?”

Stiles looks at him carefully. “Nothing. I smelled—” He takes a shuddering breath. “Antiseptic. Heard shoes squeaking. The sounds the nurses used to—” His mouth purses shut. “And then everything was beeping, before it all… stopped. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever known.”

Hospital sounds. Derek forces his jaw to relax.

Stiles glances at him again. “What did you…”

“Fire.”

Stiles makes a gutted noise. He covers his face with his hands and wipes them downward. “Oh god. Derek. I am so sorry.”

“It’s alright.” And it is. He looks at Stiles, and not one inch of him is angry. “I think I knew, somewhere. I knew what it really was.”

And it worked. John is alive.

But Stiles keeps shaking his head. His face has gone nearly white, more years slouching into his features with each passing second. “No, that was, I—Bad idea, I should never have—”

“Stiles.” He takes him by the arms, makes him look. “It worked. It works.”

“But it, I can’t use this! I can’t cast this for anyone else, it echoes your worst moment, god knows what it would show Lydia, or Isaac—”

“So we warn them. And we let them decide.”

Stiles stares at him for a long while. Eventually, he nods.

They walk a little farther, and the rhythm of Stiles’ heart slows toward normal. Derek watches covertly. “Did you know I would feel it, too?”

Stiles scratches his head. “Not as such? I mean, the spell was meant for me. But it makes sense.” He turns, walking backward in front of Derek, his hands broadcasting a growing excitement. “Half of the power, the, the fuel, it came from you. The shield would respond to you equally, it would search you out. And me. Maybe whoever’s closest.”

Derek draws a breath and lets it out. “Okay.” Okay. He can be a protector for John. He’d have done it anyway, because John is Stiles’, and Stiles is…

John is pack.

“I had no idea there was an Omega in town.” Stiles frowns at the sky. “Did you?”

“No.” He’s smelled nothing all winter, since summer, even. The days of the Nemeton dragging every otherworldly thing into town are long over. Without it—with the Argents gone, with a strong and stable Alpha in control—nobody gives a rat’s ass about Beacon Hills, and that’s just how Derek likes it.

It’s possible, though, that he’s grown complacent. Not a state he ever thought he’d be in again.

In direct contrast to Derek’s quieting thoughts, Stiles’ pulse ratchets up a notch, then another. “Dad’s only had that shield up for two weeks.”

“I remember.” God, does he ever.

“Two weeks.” Stiles sounds like he’s hyperventilating; Derek turns to him, wary.

“Stiles.”

“Shit. Shit. If I hadn’t done it—”

“Don’t.”

Stiles’ mouth opens again, then closes. He nods. His head remains down, and he kicks at the dirt as they walk along.

“You did do it,” Derek continues quietly.

“Okay.” Stiles gives his shoulders a rough shake, blinking into the icy air.

“Whether you knew what was coming or not. You did it.”

“Okay.”

“You saved your father’s life tonight.”

Stiles turns to him then. Takes his hand briefly, and squeezes. “We did.”

**

It’s warm next time. Comforting. Stiles is all heat and motion against him, a rapidly beating heart and a curling scent that clings to Derek’s every inch. Derek pulls Stiles upright into his lap, working into him deeper, until Stiles’ breath catches in his chest. Derek forgets himself for the tremor of a heartbeat: he presses his mouth to Stiles’ lips. The magic pulses; Stiles’ moan shivers against his tongue.

Afterward, Stiles falls asleep swathed in blankets, well adept at holding the magical charge now, and Derek stares up into the darkness of his loft, a lump in his throat.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

It’s official: Derek has now had more sex in the last month than he has in his entire life before this. Not that he’s been counting, but he kind of has.

(He’s not actually sure if he’s outpaced his younger self because he really wasn’t counting back then. But it feels like he has; the animal instinct that has wound itself around him his whole life tells him so.)

He counts with Stiles. He tries to forget, and counts anyway.

He hopes—prays—for it to become simple routine. And in a way, it does, in that now Derek wakes in the middle of the night stretching his hand across the empty side of his bed; now there’s a niggle at his nape each morning, building until he remembers that on this day, he hasn’t seen Stiles and has no plans to. Now Derek thinks of Stiles and feels heat steal through him, down his limbs into his hands and feet.

When it coils further, into other places, alarm bells begin to go off.

He’d thought the Pavlovian reaction just a side effect of the contiguous magical caching they’re doing. It’s not. At all. He doesn’t even have to see Stiles or smell him; just to hear him approaching, to recognize his step on the stair or the rumble of the jeep, to damn well think about him, shoots Derek to half-mast.

Actually entering Stiles’ immediate vicinity? Let’s just say it’s a good thing there’s only one item on their To Do lists these days.

He cannot allow himself to get used to this. This is only until Stiles returns to Maryam in February, this time with the information they have gathered about this kind of magical casting and what it can do for an Emissary and their pack. And yes, Stiles has said he will return for them after his training is done, for Scott and Kira, Derek and the rest, but this...

This has nothing to do with that return. And Derek needs to stop walking down this road of thought before he gets to the end and can’t turn around again.

He feels off, painfully so. But he spent most of a decade feeling that way, being used to that; it doesn’t worry him especially until he wonders if maybe it should, if the solace soothing his blood is not natural and shouldn’t be there.

He spends an evening at Scott and Kira’s at the beginning of December, their sixth annual Give-Thanks-We’re-Not-Dead celebration, which is more for show now than anything else. He brings enough homemade garlic bread to feed a small city, and the pack descends on the house like the ravenous beasts they are, especially Lydia, who is back from the East Coast and possibly the scariest of everyone when Derek’s garlic bread is at stake.

Stiles arrives just after him, shaking new snow from his hair and clutching a steaming casserole dish of stroganoff. He claps Derek on the arm as he passes, sending heat skittering under Derek’s skin. “Hey, man.”

Derek’s answering pat trails down Stiles’ spine as he slides past, and Stiles’ feet slow… but that’s because Isaac is planted right in his way, refusing entrance into the kitchen until Stiles surrenders the stroganoff. No wonder: Stiles used full fat cream this time, Derek can smell it.

The inevitable argument ensues. Derek wanders away from it, a smile on his face, and helps Corey and Liam set the table.

He’s just placing the last of the water glasses when Kira takes Derek aside. Her eyes are bright under the strung lights on the mantel, and she looks him up and down. “Hi, you came! How are you?”

“Good.” He gives her a hug. “Thanks. You?”

“You look good,” she says instead of answering, her fingers tripping down to press his forearm. Feeling for whatever she’s sensing; with her sensitivity to physical auras and Derek having grown up a werewolf, they’ve grown more tactile than the others in the years since she returned, reaching out to each other as naturally as breathing. There was a time when the rest of the pack, Scott especially, read into it to a degree that warranted a sound teasing. Now, Derek lets her touch, curious.

“You feel...” Kira smiles up at him, puzzled. “What did you do?”

“Nothing.” Derek shakes his head, at a loss. He hasn’t done anything, and if he smells like Stiles at all, that isn’t what she’s talking about. No, this is all about radiance and energy and the like. She rubs his arm a little harder, leans in absently to put her face next to his shoulder.

“I don’t know what it is.” The tone of her voice says there’s no danger in it. “You’re just different. Lighter.”

“I don’t feel lighter.” It’s not exactly true, but he’s in no position to explain that, not with Stiles twenty feet away trading insults with Scott about their respective culinary abilities. Not to mention that four fifths of this house would be able to hear a pin drop in the locked tool shed out back.

No, what he’s feeling is what he’s been feeling for the past couple weeks whenever Stiles comes around, and it’s definitely not ‘lighter’.

“It’s like a shell,” Kira goes on as though she hasn’t heard him, tracing her fingers over his chest and down his arm. “Around you. See-through. Wow.”

“What are you seeing, exactly?” he says, taking her wrists until she meets his eyes.

“I don’t know.” She’s smiling, so wide and happy. “I’ve never seen it before in my life. But it’s good. Whatever you did, it’s good.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” he starts, only to trail off as something crashes in the kitchen and Hayden starts howling about wasted pumpkin pie and did you have to take the whipped cream with it? Kira rushes off, leaving Derek there with the last tumbler still in his hand.

From the living room, Stiles is watching him. When Derek catches his eye, Stiles smiles and turns back to his conversation with Scott. His eyes flick to Derek again, once. Heat knots in Derek’s belly, soft and slick, as it has taken to doing. His heart speeds, a pit-pat-pit-pat that rises and falls back like an ocean wave.

**

He ends up next to Stiles, crammed at the end of Scott and Kira’s Ikea table with their full plates balanced on the edge.

“What’s taters?” Stiles wheedles, reaching across Derek’s plate. Derek slaps him away, grabs the potatoes and hands them to Stiles.

“Ask.”

“Sourwolf, may I please have the potatoes,” Stiles recites with an eye roll, and then makes Derek hold the bowl while he heaps a metric ton onto his plate.

Someone taps his arm. “Me too? Uh, please.”

Derek sighs and switches sides so Hayden can get her fill.

“Po-tay-toes!” Scott calls cheerfully from the other end of the table. Stiles crows and they air-high five. Liam reaches for the unattended bowl, but Stiles snatches it back.

“Is it your turn? No, it is not.” He cradles the bowl away from Liam, shielding it with his shoulder so that Derek can dish out a serving. When Derek is done—honestly, he is, despite some increasingly spastic urgings to stall by taking more—Stiles reluctantly passes the bowl on.

Liam serves himself with a vengeance, glowering at Stiles all the while.

“Someday very soon,” Lydia announces from down the table, pointing a crust of garlic bread at Derek’s face, “I will empirically prove that you bake crack into this.”

Derek shrugs noncommittally. “If you’re bored.”

Lydia’s eyes narrow to slits.

“Aw,” Scott mopes when the potatoes finally reach him. He picks up the spoon and lets it fall back into the empty bowl with a clank. “This is so unfair.”

“It’s fine,” Kira laughs. “There’s more in the kitchen.”

Amidst the constant shuffling, Stiles is a familiar weight against Derek’s side and the heat low down in his stomach has mushroomed through his torso into a diffuse and lazy warmth. Every dish that Stiles samples, Derek does too. They pass platters back and forth, steadying each other’s grip with easy touches as the others jostle for food. When Liam is laughing at Isaac, loudly and hard enough to choke, Derek leans in close. “Hey. Does Kira know?”

Stiles stops midchew, cheek bulging with half-masticated brussels sprout. “Know what?”

“What we’re…” He gestures between them under the cover of the table.

Stiles’ eyes go wide. He swallows—fairly painfully by the wince—then shakes his head. “No? I mean, wait, what did she—”

“She sees something.” His cheeks heat. “On me.”

Stiles’ eyes dart down his front then up again, lingering over his face. “Where?”

Derek gestures again helplessly. “Everywhere?”

“What?” Stiles leans closer, something guarded slipping into his expression. He almost touches Derek, but draws his hand back, keeps it out of sight. Still, Derek’s heartrate jumps. It’s a fair wonder no one has butted in already, at this table. Then again, his pack is extremely noisy.

Derek opens his mouth, and then the front door bangs open, and there’s Malia with drenched jeans and her contribution to the evening: two Costco totes, one overflowing with Mountain Dew and the other with Red Bull. By the time she’s done raging about the asshole who sprayed slush all over her with his dumb dick truck, they’ve squeezed her in between Stiles and Liam, and Derek gives up on that conversation.

**

“Heeeeeeey.” Scott comes up behind an hour later and slings his arms over Derek and Stiles’ shoulders where they’re stacking dishes at the sink. He kisses Stiles’ cheek loudly and sloppily to Stiles’ overt gagging, then pushes his nose into Derek’s jaw. He’s just the other side of tipsy from Lydia’s bane-mulled wine. “Happy Give Thanks We’re Not Dead! Oh, wow.” His face screws up and he dives back into the side of Derek’s throat. “Wow, wait, you smell like…”

Derek backs away, too fast to be casual, but Stiles has already blown any cover they might still have had: his eyes are wide, his face stiff as stone, and his heart is going like a jackhammer. He darts a look at Derek over Scott’s head. Scott’s iron grip on his shoulder is not to be shaken, however: he hauls Stiles back and shoves his Alpha nose right under Stiles’ chin. Derek flushes hot. Not ten hours ago, he was skating that very stretch of skin with tongue and teeth.

“Dude.” Stiles succeeds in wrestling Scott off. From the lax curl of Scott’s fingers, though, it has little to do with any strength on Stiles’ part.

“Dude,” Scott says back, an incredulous huff. He elbows Stiles in the side, a delighted smile curving his lips; he glances at Derek, then Stiles, then back to Derek, and opens his mouth.

Somehow, Stiles goes even stiffer.

Scott’s eyes fall back to Stiles and the smile wipes away into sober stillness. Something passes through his eyes too quickly to decipher. He blinks once, twice, then looks at Derek again for such a long time that Derek clears his throat. The sensation that he’s somehow failed his Alpha yanks at his guts.

Stiles rubs the back of his neck, then wipes at the spot Scott had smelled. “Personal bubble, Scotty,” he mutters. His heart is deafening in Derek’s ears. He knows Scott can hear it, too. Stiles’ eyes trip the room behind Derek and return to Scott. “Remember?”

Scott’s eyes narrow. Somehow—for crying out loud, only Scott McCall—he manages to look judgmental and despondent in equal amounts. “You smell like magic,” he finally says. “Both of you.”

But he’s looking at Stiles. Stiles, who lifts his chin with a defiant jerk. They tussle silently—it’s the only description Derek has ever been able to give to the phenomenon—with their eyes for so long that Derek becomes aware of their out-of-sync breathing.

Finally Scott steps back. He exhales, an Authentic McCall Sigh. “I’m making hot chocolate,” he says woodenly. “Kira’s orders. You want?”

Stiles’ mouth thins. “Of course I do, have you met me?”

It’s too flippant for the atmosphere in here. Too overtly Stiles. The hairs on the backs of Derek’s arms rise. But Scott just nods and steps around them toward the cupboard beside the stove. The look he turns on Derek as he passes is, of all things, worried.

**

“Well.” Derek shucks a sock, inordinately angry when the material catches on a ragged toenail. “Now he knows.”

On his side of the room, Stiles shrugs. He’s standing in the dark looking out the window, but Derek isn’t altogether sure he’s seeing anything down on the street. It’s late, the block around Derek’s loft gone quiet. The shrug is the biggest gesture Stiles has ventured since Scott and Kira’s. On Stiles, who is always moving in some form, the stillness unnerves.

“He’s not going to say anything.” Stiles stands close enough to the window that the heat of his words fogs the glass.

To whom? Kira? The rest of the pack? Derek drops the sock and straightens, cataloguing the line of Stiles’ spine. His arms are crossed over his middle, each hand cupping the opposite elbow.

Do you want him to say anything?

Derek doesn’t ask. He thought he’d gotten pretty good at reading Stiles’ moods. Now he knows, intimately, what Stiles’ body does when he comes—how his stomach muscles clench up all at once and the breath heaves in his throat, how his hands trail over Derek’s face, how even the simplest word snaps in half at the moment of climax, no matter how ready for it Stiles might be—and he’s losing the rest. He doesn’t know the things he thought he knew.

But tonight it seems he can’t leave well enough alone. “What does he think?” he asks, collecting his socks from the floor in one hand.

He wasn’t expecting Stiles tonight. Though Scott had said nothing out loud, the demand was clear in the looks he aimed Stiles’ way for the remainder of evening. When Derek left, pulling his coat on in Lydia’s wake and holding the door for Kira, who had flailed past him in a hat and half a jacket fretting about gassing the car up before morning, Stiles stayed.

Derek came home. Made it as far as kicking off his boots, as far as the couch, where he sat frowning at nothing, letting the silence press in around him. But just before midnight, right as he pushed himself to his feet again, the jeep’s rumble rounded the end of the block and shut off with a sputtering clunk just beneath his windows. When Stiles knocked on the door, Derek could still hear the engine ticking.

No hesitance in Stiles’ entry; he’d walked briskly inside rubbing at his face. Sorry. I know it’s late.

It’s fine, Derek had said from the entryway. And now here they are, splitting the loft like a pair of wary Omegas. Despite the lack of movement, Stiles exudes a peculiar restlessness; Derek imagines it sinking from him to pool like cold air on the floor.

Some part of Derek had fully expected this to stop, upon discovery. Scott is no random inconvenience, he’s their Alpha, and Stiles’ oldest and closest friend. What he thinks holds weight.

Derek has no idea what Scott thinks. Just that he knows about them, and that it troubles him.

Because of Derek? No, he has long made his peace with Scott, and Scott with him; he refuses to entertain the idea that their sins will reassert themselves when faced with an unorthodox relationship. But there’s a piece of him that wonders, will always wonder: given the choice, would Scott ever choose Derek for Stiles?

After tonight, he thinks he knows the answer to that.

Stiles lifts one shoulder only this time. It gives him the appearance of hunching in on himself, like shame. “He’s Scott. So.”

Derek chooses to read his Alpha’s reaction as concern. For the pack. For Stiles, definitely, by the looks Scott had shot Derek’s way. God, what was he thinking, coming to that party, staying so close to Stiles? He couldn’t smell it; he’d thought they were in the clear. It’s a heavy realization now that he’s just grown used to it. Used to Stiles’ and his scents mixing. To their skin retaining something of the other.

What follows is an irate and ill-planned “Did you shower?” from Derek on the couch and an offended “Yes, I showered, asshole,” from Stiles by he window, but when it comes right down to it, of course Scott would smell it. When Derek was an Alpha, the things he’d been able to pick up from a single whiff of a speck of—

Stiles turns, raising his arms and locking his hands behind his head. His shirt rides up, and Derek fixates on the strip of skin darkened by coarse hair. “Anyway,” Stiles sighs. “He’s not going to make a big deal.”

Derek can’t agree. He also can’t think. Showered or not, the smell of Stiles slinks into his nose again, fuzzing the edges; even the worry is tamped down to a vague, discomfiting mass. What he mostly feels is embarrassed. That Scott knows. That’s there’s no way for him to unknow it.

He hadn’t realized, until it was gone, how much he’d liked having this just for them.

“Just him knowing is a little…” Derek raises his hands and lets them fall. In the corner of his eye, Stiles twitches.

A pause—

“I get that,” Stiles says stiffly. “Hey, I wasn’t planning to tell any of them, but it’s not like it’s… Shit, it’s just sex. I know for a fact that they’ve all got at least a grasp on that concept.” His eyeroll is nearly audible. “But look, we’re adults, it’s not the end of the world. I mean, in an ideal situation, Scott wouldn’t know about it either, but—”

“Yeah.” Derek grits his teeth. His reasons for secrecy clearly aren’t the same as Stiles’. But secrecy is secrecy regardless of motivation, and in all honesty, Derek’s not about to stop this if Stiles still wants it. He rubs his palms roughly over his thighs and stands. Stiles watches him from where he leans against the window frame. Derek turns to face him properly, for the first time since Stiles got here. “So, what’s next?”

Stiles’ face is half in shadow. He doesn’t answer for long enough that Derek’s cheeks start to heat. Then Stiles pushes off the window and crosses the room. “I want to try building something without a specific end result in mind. Just, I don’t know, collecting magic? If there’s a way to, you know, stockpile it so a person could call on it when they need it, that’d be a real coup.”

Derek can think of five instances off the top of his head where such a thing would have come in handy. He pulls his shirt off and flings it in the direction of the couch, then heads for the spiral staircase, unbuckling his belt. “Anything special we have to do?”

Stiles makes an odd sound behind him, but when Derek looks, he’s just following him to the stairs, leaving shoes and socks in a trail across the floor. “Just me. I mean, I have to change my focus. I think.”

Derek turns around halfway up the staircase and Stiles stops short a step under him, flailing. “You think.”

Stiles drops his mouth wide open in that offended way of his, gripping the banister. “It’s not an exact science, Derek. Come on, you know magic’s all about intent and purpose, you don’t just mix rat entrails with camel spit and wave a wand over a—oh. Oh, okay, you’re trolling me now, I get it. Go on, laugh, get it out there.”

Derek heads up the stairs again, snickering as Stiles stomps pointedly behind.

By the time they reach the top, though, the ease has fled again. Derek drops his belt in a coil on the end of the bed, then wishes he’d put it somewhere else. The sheets are the same as the last time Stiles was here; they did away with the protective circle ages ago, and the whole upper room smells like them. Savory, sweet, a little stale. Derek clears his throat and kicks his jeans off. Gets on the bed. The rustle and clink behind him tell him well enough what Stiles is up to, and then the mattress dips, and there’s no avoiding it anymore.

Stiles shuffles onto his knees in front of him, facing away, and looks back over his shoulder. “This okay?”

Derek nods, silent.

He knows Stiles’ body so well by now that readying him is almost rote. Readying himself, on the other hand, is anything but. Stiles’ body is hotter than ever inside. Derek squeezes his eyes shut, glad Stiles is facing away from him, bent over with his hands fisted, gasping into the sheets. It’s sheer willpower, forcing himself not to come when he first pushes in. Stiles’ hand scrabbles back, seizes at his hip, and Derek can’t for the life of him tell if the motion is meant to stop him or urge him on. He shudders, barely backed away from the precipice, feeling every dig of Stiles’ fingers.

Finally Stiles inches up with both arms like he’s coming out of a painful crouch, until he’s upright. He’s already whispering: the magic rushes up Derek’s spine. Stiles sighs back into Derek’s embrace; one arm comes up and back until Stiles’ hand settles over Derek’s nape. He turns his face, and his nose, his mouth, bump hotly over Derek’s cheek.

Derek’s first thrust is sharp and leaves Stiles keening.

He loses himself, trailing his hands up and down Stiles’ sides, categorizing sounds as Stiles makes them: this, for the snap of hips; that, for the relentless grind against Stiles’ prostate; those for the endless track of his hands across Stiles’ chest. The smell of his arousal coats Derek’s tongue like he’s licking it from his own lips. Stiles is a glistening mess by the time he comes, his dick caged in Derek’s pumping fist; he arches into it, then back down into Derek. Stiles’ moans have turned helpless, almost distressed at the failure to get it all at once. The words of the spell hitch and break again and again. In a daze, Derek clamps his mouth over the raised tendon in Stiles’ shoulder, closes his teeth just a little, and Stiles goes into a full-fledged undulation, the spell stuttering to a halt. He knocks his forehead hard into Derek’s temple and shakes apart, utterly soundless.

“Oh, god,” Stiles slurs just after, his mouth plastered to Derek’s jaw, “oh, god. Oh, fuck.”

And then he clenches, bears down mercilessly inside, and yanks Derek over the edge.

**

“Did it work?”

“Huh?” Stiles raises an eyebrow, chewing bagel and cinnamon shmear. He smells like a cookie jar.

“What did you use it for?”

“It what?”

Derek gestures, wondering (too late) if maybe a shop full of workaholics awaiting their New York style fix is the best place for this. “You know.”

Stiles looks at him for a second, then faces front. “Oh.” He takes another bite and scrubs his nose with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, pulled over his hand. It makes him look like he’s seventeen again. The grimace, though, is swift, and adds years to his face. “No, it. I did something wrong this time. It wasn’t… Didn’t take.”

Derek nods slowly, and Stiles doesn’t elaborate. His cheeks grow pink, then red, and then Derek’s order is called and he jostles up to the counter to get it.

**

It takes him too long to realize that Kira’s fixation was on the shoulder that Stiles had touched earlier that night.

He’s on his back in Stiles’ bed, Stiles’ hands smoothing up and down his front as he sucks Derek off, when it first enters Derek’s mind, and then he can’t get it out.

Stiles leans up, wiping his lip with his thumb. “You alright?”

“Yes.” Derek bucks up involuntarily at the hoarseness of Stiles’ voice. Stiles grins, wicked and slow, hunkers back down, and for a while, Derek’s thoughts gray out completely.

Except that the seed grows there, into a bud he can’t quite see in the dark, until he’s sitting on his couch two days later not really thinking of anything, and there it is, fully bloomed.

Scott had known about them. Derek had known Scott knew. And like every emotionally stunted person in their pack of emotionally stunted people, Scott had spoken around it, or so Derek had assumed. But what he’d said was, You smell like magic. And Kira… Without any prompting at all, Kira had felt…

Spells take time to build; magic, time to collect. Some enchantments, Stiles always waxes on with a lot more excitement than he’s ever shown for anything else, could be laid down layer by layer, as thin as the air, until suddenly you were watching the very last pane settle into place.

All Stiles needs, has ever needed, is a touch. A touch and a goal.

No. He wouldn’t.

But Derek remembers the frisson that slithered between them, Stiles’ touch to his shoulder in Kira’s front hallway, the way the heat in Stiles’ palm seemed to ball itself up and leap, sizzle halfway up Derek’s arm. The way Stiles turned, mask-faced, to meet his eye just before Isaac interrupted.

Stiles touches him, every day. Again and again: claps on the back, flicks to his biceps, taps on his shoulder. Sweat-slick over the planes of his chest and down the hollow of his spine. Thumbs hooked into the dimples at his hips. Once, when Derek was drifting, sated and stupid with sex: a sweep of fingers across his brow.

Inside him.

Derek’s heart speeds, fast enough that he goes lightheaded. “No,” he says out loud into the loft. But it’s too late. The look on Stiles’ face that night in Scott’s kitchen, that odd pinch to his mouth, takes on a sickening new light.

They did the very same to Stiles’ father, didn’t they? Enchanted him while he slept, applied magic to his body, and the intention was good, was right, but now it feels so incredibly wrong.

It would be a shielding spell, if Stiles did it. Something easy, something he already knows. Maybe even… a shell.

Understanding is a fire blistering away inside. How many times has Stiles touched him? Before it became sexual, the number was already countless—the brush of his shoulder against Derek’s, a knock of his hand to Derek’s chest, a touch of thumbs as they passed books—and now? Now the difference is that Derek remembers them all, burned like brands across skin that never holds a wound, but he touches the curve of his clavicle and he can feel Stiles’ fingers there; he presses the underside of his jaw and the shape of Stiles’ mouth echoes, humid and damp, the barest sting of teeth.

The noise from outside whites out, cars and voices and the sound of shoes on pavement disappearing under a buzz. He stands up. Can’t think. He rubs down his arms and can remember Stiles’ hands all over them, the thumb pressed into his bicep, the fingers curled around the hump of his shoulder, digging in every time Derek thrust into him. He can even hear the kick-gasp of Stiles’ breath, right next to his ear. Murmuring and murmuring his magic words.

Didn’t take.

“Fuck.” He yanks his hands through his hair. Paces the length of his couch and back again. Stiles wouldn’t, reason screams, and even if he did, it would be well-intentioned. But all the pieces are clicking into place, a landslide of evidence; he can’t stop them, can’t see around the wall they’re building.

He goes to Deaton’s in a haze. He’s not sure why. He still doesn’t trust Deaton, not down in his guts the way he… the way he trusts… His eyes burn, as fiercely as though they’ve filled with cinders. He’s off kilter, too tangled up in Stiles. He blinks, tries like hell to shake it loose.

Thankfully, the clinic is empty, far past closing time, and though Scott’s scent is palpable, he’s no longer there. Derek pushes into the back office just as Deaton rises from a chair near the filing cabinet.

“Derek.” Deaton sounds surprised. No mountain ash line; even Deaton has dropped his guard these days. His brow creases. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“How would a person know if he’s been enchanted?”

Deaton’s eyes skate over him and resettle, demur. Thoughts out of sight. “It depends on the enchantment. But in most cases, a person would feel—”

“What if you were meant not to feel it?” he interrupts. “Not to know?”

Deaton looks at him for a long time. “Derek—”

He pushes away from the desk, sick in his soul. “It’s hypothetical. Never mind.”

But Deaton comes after him, through the doorway back into the darkened lobby. “Do you believe someone has used magic against you?”

“No.” If he says it, if he actually utters the words, he’ll give it life, and then his heart will shred.

He hears the whisper behind him, feels the new, foreign tingle over his flesh, takes a beat too long to understand.

“No!” It’s an outright snarl as he whips around, nearly catching Deaton’s lifted palms with a handful of claws. Deaton’s reflexes are long attuned to wolves; he jerks back just in time. But his eyes tell a different story from that of a lucky escape.

There’s something so like fear in Deaton’s face that Derek’s anger snuffs out.

“It’s just a seeking spell,” Deaton says quietly. “Some magic, it keeps its… victim from communicating what’s happening, it stops the words. I only meant to see if you really had been—”

“Don’t,” Derek growls as the unfamiliar magic finally dies. He doesn’t want to know, because then he’ll know what Stiles did. “Don’t ever.”

Deaton’s magic feels nothing like Stiles’. Nothing like whatever it is that Stiles has done to him. His skin crawls, spider legs everywhere. He has to get out.

And then he is out. The snow blankets the ground, crunching under his boots as he runs, and the ice in the air stings his cheeks.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Stiles sleeps, bent over in his desk chair with his head cradled in his arms. Not even the click-slide of the window causes a stir; his shoulders, clad in worn flannel, rise and fall slowly. Half open books surround him, pitched at odd angles across the desktop. The scene is so familiar; the misery doubled by how many times he’s seen this exact tableau before, in different rooms. Derek crosses this room, into the light from the desk’s single lamp, and like a sick omen, there it sits, half the page trapped under Stiles’ elbow, the paper well-thumbed at the edges and Stiles’ slanted scrawl across the top:

Protection

Below it, and underlined: For Derek

Derek has never seen this incantation before, not in Stiles’ phone or on his lists. It’s something Stiles managed to keep from him from the very beginning.

Derek jars the side of the desk, hard.

Stiles jumps awake, rocking the chair and blinking in the light. “Wha—Derek?”

“How.” The rest crumbles as the grief rushes in, far too soon. Anger is what he needs. Fury. But all there is, is the razor slice of betrayal.

Stiles looks around. “What?” He rubs a hand over his eyes. “Hey. Are you okay?”

Derek rips the page out from under Stiles’ arm and shakes it in his face. “Don’t ever do your spells on me without asking,” he snarls.

Stiles’ eyes flick to the paper and go wide. He stumbles up, toppling the chair entirely and reaching for Derek. “Wait.”

“How could you—” He gets more out this time but, again, can’t finish. God, not Stiles, not this. Everything hurts, his head, his hands where his claws have jammed into his palms, but more than anything, his heart. He feels like there’s an arrowhead lodged inside his chest, wiggling its way through tender tissue.

“Derek,” Stiles says, half a question, half placating, his hands held out in front of him. It infuriates Derek, a burst of bile on the back of his tongue. That Stiles can, would, use this tone: to calm Derek down, to excuse what he’s done. And still the grief fights for purchase. Not Stiles, it begs. Not Stiles.

He turns back to the open window but gets no further. Don’t leave, something else whispers, and it sounds eerily like his mother, calming him. Listen. Derek, listen.

“I didn’t, I swear.”

“Stiles—” It drags between his teeth, fangs and all. God, he sounds pathetic and grasping.

“I didn’t.” Stiles’ words ring, forcing Derek to a halt. “I didn’t use it, I, God, Derek, I would never, never do that to you. Not ever.”

The truly sad part is that he already believes him. He’s fallen into it headlong. The age-old paranoia shouts at him not to trust, sounding this time suspiciously like his uncle. But he has always trusted Stiles to some degree, never had a reason not to, he wants to trust Stiles, and he’s exhausted and he hurts, and Stiles…

A hand slides feather light around his wrist.

“Derek.” Stiles sounds broken. “I would never. Not with… Not that way.” His voice cracks.

“I felt.” Derek sucks air into starving lungs. “I felt.”

“This?” Fingers again, threading through Derek’s one by one. Stiles squeezes. The spark zings into Derek’s palm and jets up his arm. Vanishes. “I don’t know what it is. Residual energy. Staticky build-up.”

He looks at Stiles, really looks at him: the ticking pulse in his neck, the shiver hiding around his mouth. Stiles’ eyes. They’re rich and arresting, fixed on Derek. Carnelian in the lamplight.

“God, I’m sorry,” Derek breathes, and slumps down as his legs finally give. The bed is there; Stiles backs Derek onto it before dropping to his knees on the carpet in front of him. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Stiles’ fingers card through his hair, hesitant. “I know how it looks.”

“I know you wouldn’t,” Derek growls, furious with himself. He hasn’t slept, not well or deeply, not since they began this, and being with Stiles again, surrounded by his scent and his warmth…Fuck, what was he thinking? Of course Stiles wouldn’t, Stiles, who knows exactly what it means to have his self-control ripped away. “I know this. I shouldn’t have said—”

Stiles catches his hand, tight. “It’s okay.” He looks Derek in the eye. “What we did, what we’ve been doing, I—” His face flinches as though he’s been jabbed by something sharp, and he goes even paler. “Oh my god. Oh my… My father. Right? I should have asked him first.” He hauls in a deep, swift breath, a harbinger of panic. “God, I, I didn’t think. I just needed him to be safe. I wasn’t thinking, I was just—” His shoulders jump. “Scared. But Derek, if I made you think that I would ever—”

“Stiles.” It comes out small. He feels unmoored, swimming in a sucking sea. He seeded that panic in Stiles’ lungs. He put that guilt in Stiles’ eyes, that raw misery. Stiles’ hands skitter over his arms, alighting and pulling back, as though he keeps forgetting he shouldn’t touch, and Derek aches with making Stiles think— “I’m not afraid of you.”

“I would be.” Stiles’ voice is so flat. He looks ill, hollowed out. His mouth opens, closes, then opens again. “Sometimes I don’t know what this is doing to me.”

“Kira felt it on me.” He’s all in pieces, he can’t even begin to understand how to gather them up. “Felt something.”

“I don’t know what it is,” Stiles says again, even softer. His breathing is more or less under control now. “It was just a flow. At first. Now it’s, it’s bigger. More. But I think… it’s natural.”

Derek lifts his head.

“I asked Maryam. The exchange is tricky right now, with the year turning. She says it may be leaking.”

“Leaking out?”

“More like leaking between us. It has to go from you to me, or me to you. There’s nowhere else. Some people, she says it builds up and when… when we touch…” He settles his palm on Derek’s wrist as he speaks, and another zinggg! jumps across.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles exhales after a moment, into the silence. He nudges the paper, now on the floor, with his toe. It’s wrinkled, facedown. “I wanted to show it to you. To ask you if… But the leaking? I would have said something, I swear to you.”

“If you’d known.”

Stiles’ face crumples. He looks down at his hands, now in his lap.

“It’s okay.” Derek sounds busted to hell, even to himself.

With a sigh, Stiles gets to his feet and sits on the bed, leaving a foot of space between them. “This was a bad idea.”

Derek looks at him mutely, watches Stiles’ hands twist.

“I should have known. Should have found out more before I—”

“Stiles.” He waits until Stiles looks at him. “Some things, you can’t know in advance.” And some assumptions, he thinks, you can’t just follow blindly. Shit. His life is good now; is he so hellbent on seeking out misery that he has to make up demons? “I know you wouldn’t have done that to me. I knew. I just… didn’t listen to myself.”

Silence falls between them. Derek can hear nothing but the lub-dub of Stiles’ heart.

“I would, though, is the thing,” Stiles grates suddenly, fiercer than before. His knuckles are white with clenching. He meets Derek’s gaze, stubborn, shadowed. “To save your life, I would do it without asking.”

He’s shaking: anger, fear, or something else, Derek’s not sure. But he’s Stiles: Stiles always refuses to look away.

“And I’m not sorry for that.” Stiles’ voice cracks again dangerously.

Derek moans, leans forward and presses his face to the side of Stiles’, and Stiles goes limp like a severed cord. He touches Derek’s back.

“No.” Stiles swallows, loud in Derek’s ear. “You don’t have to, not tonight—”

“I need—” He knows what he needs, and it was never meant to be a part of this. He pushes into it anyway, into Stiles’ smell, into the delicate curve where jaw meets throat. Stiles seems to elongate under his touch, spine straightening, chest pressing to Derek’s. Derek drags his hands up Stiles’ back underneath his shirt, following the well-known shiver of muscle. He turns his face a little more, and the corner of Stiles’ mouth is right there.

Stiles trembles even here, a trapped flutter against Derek’s lips.

“Okay,” Stiles whispers. Nods, again and again, a puppet on a string. Their mouths bump and brush, over and over. “Okay, okay.”

Another kiss, to the corner of his lip, and Stiles shudders to life, hands sweeping Derek’s shirt up from under his belt, gathering it in bunches and pulling it over his head. Derek struggles out of it, misjudges, meets Stiles in a full-blown kiss, and the spark bursts between their mouths, sharp and clean. Something sucks up from Derek’s belly, surges into Stiles, and they both gasp. Stiles looks at him for an infinite second.

Then they’re on each other, scrabbling for a tighter hold.

Stiles tastes of toothpaste overlying old coffee. His tongue ravages Derek’s mouth, teeth and lips and the burst of breath. He kisses the hell out of Derek, bites his lips and worries at his tongue, and when he thrusts up with his hips, he’s hard and shaking all over.

“Oh my god.” More a tumble of sound than speech. “Oh my god, Derek, oh my god—”

He doesn’t know what’s happening to Stiles, but it’s heady; the room is soft and thick with it, a slow-moving storm that tangles around them both and makes him feel like he’s swimming through syrup. Stiles winds a hand through his hair and fists it, sending a delicious jolt down Derek’s spine. Somehow they shed the rest of their clothing; Stiles’ chest is already damp with sweat, and Derek’s thighs hurt from the strain of trying to get closer, to keep them together even as they move.

Fuck, he wants… He wants…

“Yes,” Stiles hisses against his teeth. Derek’s willpower splinters.

He bulls Stiles back onto the bed, and Stiles hauls him down, bucks up into his pelvis in a hard, hot slide, latches a leg around him and begins a devastating roll with his hips, crushing them together. When Derek comes, it’s with his hand around them both, trapped between the hot mess that is their bodies, his ears filled with the fevered, perfect sounds Stiles is making, his tongue lost in Stiles’ mouth.

The shakes go on and on, aftershock upon aftershock. By the end, Stiles’ head is thrown back, his eyes squeezed shut, mouth open. His throat cords as he rides it out, and Derek is mesmerized, sucked under, drowned entirely.

After, Stiles utters a wounded groan and reaches, winds them together until Derek can’t tell the difference between Stiles’ scent and his own.

**

Just before dawn, Derek wakes, disoriented, to an empty bed. He can’t for the life of him remember whether Stiles incanted the magic last night or not.

The house is quiet, but it’s not the silence of emptiness. Elsewhere in the house, Stiles’ voice murmurs. Derek traverses the hallway in his jeans, pulling his shirt on as he goes. The light from outside is cool and gray, late morning, and the air smells like snow.

He finds Stiles in the kitchen, hunched over the breakfast table with his head propped on one hand and his phone to his ear. A bowl half-filled with milk and a few soggy cornflakes sits beside his elbow, and his bare foot kicks out listlessly and slides back, dragging the hem of his sweats across the floor in a steady whish-whish.

“No, I am,” he says into the phone. “I’m being careful, I promise… I know. I know that.” Stiles’ eyes slip shut and stay that way, and Derek could listen in if he tried, but the thought leaves a sour taste in his mouth.

“I realize that, but—” Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose. “Look, you have to trust me. I have this under control… Yeah. Thanks. I know you do.”

He hangs up a couple seconds later, his gaze lingering on the screen before setting the phone down.

Derek clears his throat. “Who was that?”

Stiles turns quickly. His eyes skate Derek’s form head to toe. “Maryam. Did you hear all that?”

“No.”

After a second, Stiles nods. “Just some last minute tips.”

Derek hesitates, then nods as well. He crosses the kitchen and takes a bowl down from the cupboard. “Got any more of those cornflakes?”

Stiles snorts and pushes the box toward him.

**

Turns out, Stiles did incant the magic that night, and a good thing, too.

There’s a sapling in a dark spot of soil, maybe fifty yards from the Nemeton’s mostly-dormant stump. It stretches upward, small and thin, dwarfed by the surrounding trees.

Stiles walks around it, keeping at least fifteen feet away, bent over to peer through the shade at the willowy sprig. It’s a little taller than him. “That’s not an ash.”

It looks like an ash. A few bright green leaves dot the branches, large and hopeful to catch the little light that makes it to the ground. But it’s not right.

“No,” Derek agrees. He can smell it from where he stands, slightly beyond Stiles’ circumference. It’s… clotted, this smell. Old. He doesn’t know any other words to describe it. There’s something stagnant in its insides, down in the pith where the bark hides everything. There’s also the small matter of it growing, thriving, in the dead of winter. It smells nothing like ash, healthy or sick, and there’s something—like the air around it is pressing insistently against Derek’s skin—

“What do you think?” Stiles asks, now on the far side of the sapling.

“Threat,” Derek says immediately. Behind him, even with all its ghosts, the Nemeton holds the warmth of the living, a warmth that this… thing… before him does not.

Stiles nods as though that’s all he’s been waiting for. “It’s like…” He splays a hand out between him and it, fingers stretching wide. “It feels like a hole.”

But it’s right there, shifting innocently in the breeze. Derek looks down, wondering how wide its roots go, whether they have already spread under his feet.

“It wasn’t here two days ago.” Stiles frowns at the clearly-older-than-two-days tree. He jabs a finger at its base, craning to look at Derek. “This, I would have felt.”

As, indeed, he felt this morning, his rap on the loft’s metal door pulling Derek from sleep. The first thing Derek saw when he opened up was Stiles’ thumb rubbing absently against his breastbone through his shirt. The frail sunlight from inside the loft had turned his knuckles soft and undefined.

(What is it?

Stiles frowned, started to speak, then stopped. Something.)

The longer they stand here, the more wrong the forest feels. Derek’s itching to go, to pull Stiles away from it. To not let it touch him. Absurd, because of course Stiles isn’t going to touch it. Their life has been a little unforgiving about lessons and Stiles has most often learned the hard way. But he’s still too close. Derek keeps himself still. “Can you uproot it? Without it hurting you.”

“Sure.” Stiles’ frown grows deeper, contemplation rather than fear. He chances a smaller ring, closing on the sapling. Derek’s skin burns. “Whatever it is, it’s young. It’s not” —his hands jerk out, abortive gestures—“grounded yet. And it’s not emitting anything. It’s just…”

“Sucking it in,” Derek mutters, and Stiles looks at him sharply.

“Yes.” He crouches down and fingers the soil, rubbing it between his thumb and pointer. His other hand remains in the dirt, touching with just his fingertips. He peers back over his shoulder toward the massive stump. “I think it’s after the Nemeton.”

“With what goal?”

“I have no idea,” Stiles answers faintly. He’s gone focused, and Derek can feel the collection of energy, Stiles pulling power of his own inward.

The sapling trembles. “Stiles.”

His eyes skip to Derek, then back to the interloper. “Who planted you?” he asks, so quietly only Derek’s werewolf hearing allows him to make it out. Stiles flattens his palm to the earth and the pull, sweet and familiar, intensifies. The sapling shivers again like it’s coming to life; a branch halfway up grows two inches right in front of their eyes and turns the color of Stiles’ skin.

Stiles retracts his hand from the earth quickly. “Okay, yeah, that’s gotta go.”

“Agreed.” Derek reaches out, draws him to his feet and back. “You want to call Deaton?”

Stiles shakes his head. “It’s not aware of me, not really. It’s attracted to my magic but it’s like, well, like a plant turning toward sunlight.”

“Like a plant, really?”

Stiles offers him a withering glare. “It’s not powerful itself. Yet.”

“But it’s not supposed to be here.” He’s sure, bones-deep. The forest itself shies away from this thing.

He finds Stiles watching him steadily. “No. It’s not.”

Derek holds his gaze for a moment, then shakes himself out, shoulders down to toes. “So what do you want to do?”

“A banishing.” Stiles steps away, and Derek fans out a little, instinctive; the two of them always knew how to move together in the face of a threat. Stiles rolls his shoulders and works his jaw as though he’s an athlete readying for a race. “It shouldn’t have the capacity to lash out but if it does, it’ll be at me. Don’t touch it. Don’t even get close. But I might need you to get me out of here, fast.”

“Do we need to…” He gestures, trying somehow to indicate magic caching without being vulgar.

Stiles pauses. He glances at Derek, then back at the sapling. “No, we’re good. I got it.”

Definitely incanted the magic that night, then. Derek takes another circle to ease the awkwardness, then flexes his hands and gives Stiles a nod.

Stiles kneels to touch the earth one last time, then stands. Derek feels it when he centers, an invisible rod dropping straight from his core into the bedrock below. The magic gathers, a pool collecting around his ankles, then rising, sucking inward. Stiles slowly extends a hand.

The magic goes off like a bomb, blasting outward in a blue wash, uprooting the sapling and sending Stiles completely off his feet.

“Stiles!” Derek lunges after him into the dirt, his claws bursting out in a fierce red rush.

“I’m okay,” Stiles coughs. He’s already sitting up, a hand clapped to the back of his head. He blinks up at Derek, then at the pulverized brush raying out in front of him. Derek takes Stiles’ hand away and replaces it with his own; the familiar heat swells, beckoning. He leeches the pain from Stiles’ head and neck, watches as Stiles’ eyes slide shut. As he grimaces.

“Stiles?” Derek takes hold of his arm, ready to pull him into his arms, run him out, but Stiles grips his wrist, staying him.

“Wasn’t the tree. Tree thing.”

Derek inhales. Indeed, there is nothing of that rotted core anymore, wiped clear out of the forest. Just the indescribable scent of Stiles’ magic. The sapling lies on its side, but it no longer looks like a tree; the ‘bark’ has gone brittle and gray, and the whole thing looks like it will shatter if touched.

Stiles’ scent now worries him: agitated and confused. He smells like too much of himself. Derek looks him over more carefully but can’t find any obvious hurts. “What happened?”

“I don’t…” Stiles trails off, looking down at his hand. It looks normal, too, no burns or bruises. “I mean, it worked.”

“But?”

Stiles frowns. “Too much power.”

“Too much?” Stiles’ control over that has always been as close to absolute as absolute gets. The spell itself has sometimes eluded him, the understanding of the specific elements twisting out of his grasp. But right from the beginning, since that first blush with the mountain ash, he has never overshot what was needed. It’s a rare gift according to Maryam, Stiles says. Derek sees it as a testimony to the strength of his will.

“I know.” Stiles looks up at Derek, bewildered. Derek runs his hands down Stiles’ arms, chest, and back, but there’s no blood, no bitter odor of injury. Stiles doesn’t protest the fondling. He eyes the sapling first as Derek takes inventory, then the Nemeton. But the wrongness is just gone. The forest mutters, same as it always has.

Derek concentrates on dragging the last of the pain out, then helps Stiles to his feet. He’s visibly wobbly, and he leans on Derek’s arm for a good deal longer than Derek is comfortable with.

“You’re not alright.” They’re going to Deaton, and then they’re going to stop this—

“I’m fine.” Stiles gets his feet under him and pushes him gently but firmly away. His hand lingers on Derek’s arm. “Really.”

He can’t hear a lie, just Stiles’ heart pounding steadily, if a little fast. Still, he leans in. Takes one last whiff of the warmth emanating from Stiles’ throat. Stiles holds very still while Derek takes his fill. All he can smell is Stiles, and a hint of their combined magic. It’s becoming second nature, searching out that scent.

“Was it that thing?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Nah, that was all me. Er, us. You know, the…”

“Yeah.” But it’s never done that before, not even after the seven-day marathon. “What about the banishment itself? Maybe that—”

“No, it just… did something I wasn’t expecting.” Stiles casts around again, looking vaguely stumped. “I know I got that right,” he murmurs, and flexes his fingers.

The forest might as well be any old forest now. Any old forest housing a Nemeton, that is. Whatever else was here is definitely dead, the roots of it withered to ash before they could gain a foothold. Derek sees it all again: Stiles casting the magic, Stiles flying off his feet, Stiles hitting the ground on his back. “I don’t like it.”

Stiles snorts. “That makes two of us.”

Derek slashes a hand toward the dirt he’s just pulled Stiles out of. “Stiles. Did we do that? To you?”

A troubled crease makes a home between Stiles’ brows. “I don’t know. I need to research. Maybe call Maryam.”

He aches to touch Stiles, to drag the leftovers of what they’ve done out of his body as he dragged the pain. Stiles’ shoulder rises and falls an inch from Derek’s fingers. He smells no different than usual. Derek has no reason to think there’s anything there, except this almost dreamlike sense of energy teeming just beneath Stiles’ skin.

He lays his hand on Stiles’ forearm and squeezes.

A staticky rush slithers up his arm and dissipates, and Stiles slumps, letting out a huff. “Okay. Okay, that’s… Yeah.”

Derek keeps his hand there, but nothing else comes, even when Stiles squeezes his fingers in return.

**

“Morphling!” Stiles crows, and tosses what he’s reading into Derek’s lap.

Derek saves his IPA from book-induced death and holds the tome up, squinting at the page. The writing is godawful; he prays they have this transcribed into the bestiary somewhere in soothing Times New Roman. “What the hell?”

“It’s basically, like.” Stiles scoots forward on the couch, fumbling his other arm free of the blanket around his shoulders. Derek thinks it’s comfortable in the loft; he’s in a shirt and track pants, but Stiles is making use of two blankets, one of which is electric, so what does Derek know? “So, there probably isn’t a word in our language that actually describes it but, a spore? Ish? It adapts to where it lands and it takes a shape to fit in. So it can feed. Usually related to what it’s leeching off of, hence the tree. But it’ll only get bigger and stronger the longer it feeds, start taking on the physical form or characteristics, and this one was feeding off of—”

“The Nemeton,” Derek finishes.

“Yes, high five, dude.” Derek indulges him for efficiency’s sake. “God, who knows what it would have turned into if we’d let it grow?”

Derek snorts. “This place does not need two Nemetons.”

“Probably would have killed the original, actually,” Stiles muses. “Straight up parasite. John Carpenter-esque parasite.”

“That sounds fun.”

“Doesn’t it?” Stiles sighs and sinks back into the couch. Then he sits up again. “Hey, by the way. Thank you.”

“For?”

“Coming with me. Being there. I don’t know.” He shrugs, fitful, and looks away. “Watching my back.”

“Stiles.” Derek shuts the book and waits for Stiles to look at him. “Always.”

He becomes aware, again, of Stiles’ heart, beating fast.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Damn it. He’s antsy today. Stiles’ scent settles over him as though it’s trickling down into his veins. Derek’s skin might just crawl off of him if he doesn’t move.

He gets to his feet and takes a circuit of the bedroom.

Stiles glances up from the computer. “What’s up with you?”

Derek shrugs. He picks a piece of lint off Stiles’ jacket where it hangs crookedly over the door. “Dark too early.”

It’s not. It does unsettle him at first, back in June when the nights first start to lengthen, but the wolf in him likes winter, loves the shadow and the crisp stillness, the oldness of the earth with new life waiting just out of reach.

Stiles straightens, lifting his chin from his fist. “Is that, is that a wolf thing?” That blasted, ever-present curiosity. “Dark too early, nights too long, messes up the animal clock? Because I would have thought that was actually kind of, that it made more sense for the wolf. The, you know. Dark is just dark and winter is winter and it all gels.”

Derek waves it away, irritable. He’s done backing himself into corners tonight. A second later, he senses Stiles’ shrug.

“I guess it would be an individual thing, though? I mean, werewolves aren’t all the same, obviously, you have personality and emotion, history like everyone else and I’ve seen plenty of animals that, oh, hey. Bingo.”

Derek comes closer, leans over the back of Stiles’ chair and tracks as Stiles scrolls through the arcane lexicon he’s unearthed from somewhere; Derek’s fairly certain it’s off the dark web, actually, but that at least isn’t something that’s ever come back to bite them in the ass, so it’s not a battle he’s going to fight. He knows frustratingly little about the electronic side of society anyway, compared to Stiles. “Where?”

“There.” Stiles points out the word sitting a third of the way down the screen, and the different extinct pronunciation tips scrolling out to its right. From the corner of his eye, Derek catches Stiles mouthing the word, his lips moving without sound. Finding the shape of it. His heat soaks into Derek, rising from the arc of his throat. The waiting magic layers a delicate musk into his scent.

“Which one?”

“I think the Greek version. If not, the Coptic. I can try both.”

“Stiles—”

“Dude, it’s not that kind of spell,” he says, turning abruptly to Derek and then pulling back when it brings their faces nearly together. His eyes jump down and up again. “It’s okay. If I get a word wrong, it won’t blow anything up. It just won’t work.”

Derek reads the fluting of the pulse at Stiles’ throat. His smell deepens, a fresh flush of scent.

Derek backs away. Takes a deep, surreptitious breath. He looks at the bed. “So. Did you want to…?”

Stiles’ eyes are oddly sharp. “No. Uh… No, I don’t think so tonight.”

Then why am I here? He barely restrains himself. Curls his fingers and wills his claws back down. Something else. Anything else. As though summoned, the question pops in: “If that thing out there was a spore—”

“Ish.”

“Ish. Wouldn’t it just…?” He mimes an explosion with his hands, fingers wiggling to scatter the contents to the wind. Stiles’ lip shivers; he shakes his head but by the time he’s looking at the computer again, there’s definitely a smile.

“I said there wasn’t a word in English that really captures it.”

“Yeah, but ‘spore’—”

“Shh, okay. Okay.” Stiles slashes a hand repeatedly in Derek’s direction. “Cut. Finito.”

“Because I don’t want to be out in the woods all spring, uprooting every damned antichrist sporeling—”

“Would you stop. I realize I made a poor life choice. For fuck’s sake, I thought I was the anal retentive one.” But Stiles is laughing now, cramming it down into little shakes of his shoulders. Derek smiles.

He only feels a little bit lighter, but it’s something.

**

Two days without a word.

The kissing was a mistake. The worst part? It was always a mistake, and Derek understood that right from the moment this began. Shit, what was he thinking?

“You weren’t thinking.” He doesn’t growl at himself often anymore. It’s like meeting an old acquaintance he never particularly liked.

He overstepped. It’s fine. He can correct this.

He rubs his mouth. Again. It’s starting to hurt, and that’s with his healing abilities. The pain has sunken into this soupy denseness that vanishes until he touches his lips again, and then he jerks back, because it feels so… uncomfortable? Tender? He settles on strange. It’s not exactly pain. But every time reminds him of the off-center press of Stiles’ mouth, saliva-slick, broken by a stream of frantic gasps because at that exact moment, Derek was—

Maybe he’s not the only one Stiles is doing this with.

Statistically he doesn’t know when Stiles would have time, but… well, there’s Malia and they already have a history. Unless there are still feelings there, Derek thinks sourly, then rolls his eyes at himself and goes out for a run.

Thing is, Stiles never smells like anyone else.

When Derek gets home, Stiles has texted him. Derek showers, dresses, and goes to Stiles’ house with new resolve that immediately shatters when Stiles takes him by the back of his head and kisses him, long and heady. He’s struggling out of his shirt, talking around the kiss, and it’s mostly mumbled and all pressed together, but Derek understands it—It’s Coptic, the Greek just doesn’t feel right, can you—just—ye-ah, that’s, okay, I just need to, to make sure I enunciate when we, can you, god, oh god, can you remind me—until it dissolves into the language of magic. Stiles drops Derek’s shirt atop the pile of his own clothing and Derek’s jacket, and climbs right up him, his skin coming alive as they touch. The magic is merely banked these days, more and more of it staying in Stiles’ cells waiting for their next round; the words slip from Stiles like air, tightening only when Derek gets in him, only for that scant second where Stiles stretches his back and shudders, adjusts, his heel digging uncomfortably into the meat of Derek’s thigh through his jeans. Fuck, his jeans aren’t even all the way off yet. Stiles’ toes curl so hard Derek winces, expecting him to cramp, but Stiles just slides his hands up from Derek’s stomach over his shoulders, into his hair where they anchor. And then Stiles catches his eye, nods. Falls back into the spell.

Derek kisses him again. God, that mouth. He can’t help it. Over and over. He tastes the moan as it rattles from Stiles’ throat, and every thrust brings a delicious clutch of fingers at his back, his sides, his ass.

The spell becomes white noise in his ears. Soothing. He forgets about it until they’re done.

**

It’s a laughably stupid way to get hurt: Stiles is literally trying to heat water.

Heat anything, really. Warming magic is good for survival situations and doesn’t require words at all. Just thought. But the spell shears in like metal on metal, sound for the first time. Derek claps his hands over his ears, badly startled, and at the same moment, the air around Stiles’ hand boils white. Stiles cries out and leaps away, cradling his burned hand, and it is burned, there’s a blistery, slick odor invading Derek’s nose. It’s Stiles, but it’s also—fuck, he never, ever wanted to smell that combination.

“Shit! Shit.” Stiles is already mumbling more magic at breakneck speed by the time Derek reaches him. His eyes are so tightly shut that the color has leached from his temples, but they pop open just as Derek grabs him. “No, wait—”

Too late: Derek gets his wrist, feels the rooted tug even as Stiles flinches away. But nothing else happens, just the sluggish flow of Stiles’ pain into Derek’s palms; eventually Stiles starts breathing again in uneasy hitches. His face has gone gray. Derek can tell from the tremble in his jaw that he’s fighting against throwing up.

The smell recedes. Derek pulls as much pain as he can, regulating his own breathing, letting the discomfort dissipate through his limbs. Burns are the worst; that pain flays the nerve endings, rearing again and again as new. After a couple quiet spasms, Stiles carries on with his mumbling. It’s all a melodious drone to Derek’s ears. The scent of mint tickles his nose. Healing magic.

Stiles’ hand returns to its regular color, but he tucks it to his chest in a loose fist as soon as Derek lets him go; the way it twitches still holds rivers of agony, of memory.

Stiles’ face is still bloodless. He stares blankly over Derek’s shoulder. His jaw firms into a cold edge.

“What happened,” Derek whispers.

“It’s not right,” Stiles mutters, almost to himself. “It’s not right anymore.”

A weight sinks in Derek’s guts, the terrible sort of calm he first felt when he stood outside the smoldering wreckage of his family’s home and realized exactly who had lit it on fire. “Are you still hurting?” he grits out, but Stiles just shakes his head, a swift snap, and Derek…

Derek thinks he already knows.

**

He’s wrong about this, of course he is. What does he know about magic?

It’s just… an emotion. He has them all the time. Stiles has them all the time, and he casts magic like he’s breathing, he can’t possibly control what his subconscious is doing with such precision, it’s not humanly or inhumanly possible. Especially so for Stiles. Derek is in no way a spark, and magic, magic is this vast, crazy thing that has zero emotion and is a thousand times bigger than a single person, or that person’s desires. It doesn’t care about Derek’s pathetic languishings. It outweighs them a hundred-fold.

How can one little change cause such damage to a spell? He convinces himself at least three times.

But he can’t ignore that half this magic is coming from him. Mixing with Stiles’ magic, yes, but this, sleeping together, wouldn’t be necessary if Stiles could do all of it on his own. He needs Derek for a reason, another body, another will to contribute power. Intention.

And if Derek’s intentions regarding Stiles have changed—

He had it under control. He was fine. How did he so thoroughly lose his grip on this?

**

Can you come by tonight?

He should say no.

It’s snowing again. The world feels muted and still. When he gets to Stiles’, he finds him sprawled in the armchair in his bedroom, staring out the window into the backyard with a frown on his face.

“Stiles?”

Stiles’ shoulders tighten, but he doesn’t move otherwise. “Just thinking.” His thumb is at his lip, the nail caught between his teeth. There are lines at the corners of his eyes that Derek hasn’t seen before, shadows around his mouth. He’s so beautiful it makes Derek’s chest hurt.

“Stiles, I…” Can’t be here. Not anymore.

Stiles’ frown deepens, a gradual thing. He still hasn’t looked away from the window.

“What did you need?” Derek’s voice cracks. Damn it, these aren’t the right words.

They jar Stiles, though; he comes back slowly, sitting up and blinking at Derek. “I... Sorry, uh.” He gets up with enough speed to scrape the chair legs over the floor. Derek winces.

Stiles picks up a mug from the desk, looks into it, and sets it down again. “Got anything going on tonight?”

Just you. Derek shakes his head. Stiles comes closer, just a step before stopping, but it feels like he’s right up against Derek already. His heartbeat is strident, and speeding.

Derek could cross the space in a stride.

The way his hands move; Derek gives up on trying not to and just follows the jitter-twist of Stiles’ wrist, the rhythm as he bumps his thumb repeatedly against his thigh. His fingers flick out flat and then close back up into a fist. “I just…”

A spell. A new incantation. Something he wants to try. Stiles doesn’t finish.

Derek’s had something stuck in his throat for days and it’s only growing larger. “Would it work if…” He gestures, and Stiles’ eyes follow. “The other way.”

Stiles and stillness have always been nemeses at best. It’s what Derek remembers, what he knows about who Stiles is. To face him like this yet again, so motionless and so close…

Stiles comes even closer, reaches up to brush the snow from Derek’s hair, off his shoulders. His hands slide under Derek’s coat and push it off, over Derek’s arms until fingers close around the wool and tug. Derek lets it drop behind him. Leans in.

Stiles leans back, turns his face just a touch to the side. Derek’s stomach drops like an anvil.

“Yeah.” Stiles’ voice is loud in the room, but just fragile enough to stop Derek’s instinctive retreat. He follows the flicker of Stiles’ tongue as he wets his lips. “Yeah, if you want to.”

Does he? His heart pounds, choking up into his throat. This will not help, this will be the opposite of helping. Right? Maybe. Maybe it will redirect the flow. Change it. Even fix things.

He knows he’s grasping. Faced with the end of all this, it’s difficult to care.

“Is it.” His mouth waters, only half in anticipation. “Will the magic go wild again?”

Stiles waves it away. “No, it’s fine, I’ve taken precautions.”

Derek’s resolve disintegrates; hope swarms in, that he can still have this.

God, he’s useless, his willpower is—

Stiles touches him: fingers at his hairline, slipping down to his cheek. Derek turns into it. Any fight left is gone, gone, gone.

**

This, he wants to remember, in all its minute detail. But there’s too much. He can’t hold onto it all.

Stiles’ mouth finds its way down his side, over the crest of his hip and across his belly, into the trail of hair that twists downward. He sucks on Derek’s skin, focuses on a single spot and laves with his tongue, tracks methodically around to the other hip. Body worship, Derek thinks in a rush, and god, that’s probably how it has to go to make this work when they, when they’re only doing this to... To bring up the magic.

It’s been long enough since Derek’s done this at all that his breath speeds, goes almost frantic, when Stiles eases a finger into him. The ache, both a reality and a memory, swells to life, and Derek twists, trying to ease and exacerbate it all at once. Stiles pulls his mouth a scant inch from Derek’s skin, whispering, soothing huffs of air. The fingers of his free hand splay across Derek’s hip; heat thrums in.

“Derek?” Hearing Stiles say his name like this, now, clatters in the hollow spaces between his lungs and his heart. Derek fumbles for Stiles’ hand to keep him from asking the rest. Nods, without much finesse, and listens to Stiles’ tension leave him.

It’s never been flawless, sex like this. But Derek likes that part of it, the exploration of his body by another person. Stiles, though… Derek can’t get enough air, feels every inch of Stiles’ fingers, the way his thumb sweeps up the thin flesh under Derek’s balls and presses, can’t tell if it’s on purpose or just part of the effort to get his fingers deeper inside Derek’s body. Stiles strikes his prostate and Derek hitches up on the bed, fisting his hands in Stiles’ sheets. Stiles’ smell surrounds him, not just from Stiles himself, but from the pillows strewn near his head, the bedding growing increasingly less orderly beneath him. But there is Stiles himself: curled down over him with drops of sweat slicking the side of his throat and sliding along his clavicle. His mouth is so close, slightly open. Derek’s lips are chapped, too dry; he can taste the nearness to exactly what he wants and isn’t going to get.

Kissing Stiles at all was such a mistake. He wishes he didn’t know what that was like; suddenly he can’t meet Stiles’ eyes, doesn’t even want to see his face. Something will break and Derek’s pretty sure it’s going to be him.

He shoves Stiles back with his foot, and Stiles goes, hands jerking away. Derek rolls onto his knees, immediately glad of the rucked sheets, the piles of cool bedding that allow him not to look. He feels open and empty. Hates it. “Stiles,” he growls, and then Stiles’ hands are back, one closed around his hip and the fingers of the other inside him again so fast he grunts in shock. Stiles leans against him, folds his body down atop Derek’s, moves his whole arm to work Derek open, three fingers and a thumb. It’s torturous. It’s amazing.

“You ready?” It barely sounds like Stiles, too guttural to be the man Derek knows. He nods into the sheets, clenching his eyes shut, then drags himself onto his elbows to brace.

Stiles pushes in.

God—oh god. Derek drops his forehead back to the bed and grits his teeth against the thick, overwhelming intrusion. It’s been a long, long time since he’s allowed anyone this close in this way. The pressure works through his insides, sparking relentless waves that are just this side of uncomfortable. He feels his fangs lengthen and can’t do a thing about it; he digs fully sprung claws into the mattress on either side of him, tries to hide it, until Stiles’ hand seizes around his wrist and drags his fist free of the bedding.

A beat; human fingers slide over the backs of his, stretching between the claws of his right hand, then threading. Folding down into an unyielding grip.

“Derek,” Stiles says again, sounding absolutely annihilated. His other hand snakes down Derek’s spine, and then another touch, soft and warm right at Derek’s nape. Lips, pressing. Holding. Something young and devastated inside Derek jumps; it knows what Stiles just did.

He smells Stiles’ sudden anxiety.

“S’okay.” Derek swallows around his tongue, twists against Stiles’ weight until—He exhales in a great rush, drooping face-first into the bedding, but Stiles takes hold of his hip and, and, wait—

“Wait,” Derek gasps aloud, but it’s too late: Stiles is gone, out of him and away. Derek shoots a hand back, but Stiles clamps onto his waist, urges him over onto his back. Crawls between his knees.

“Like this.” Stiles darts down, almost into a kiss, but lifts again at the last second; it’s so like a wolf sniffing that Derek’s heart jerks. “Is this, is this okay—”

Derek nods frantically, and Stiles hitches his arms beneath Derek’s knees. He pushes back in, a low, smooth thrust that knocks Derek’s head back into the blankets.

Shouldn’t be facing him. Shouldn’t. It’s too late, though, a hundred embers lighting up Derek’s insides at each roll of Stiles’ hips, the sure push of Stiles’ pelvis against his ass, the ache melting into a fierce, mortal sort of pleasure. Derek lifts into it, again, again, scrabbling at Stiles’ chest with forcibly blunted nails, praying to keep his self-control, still feeling the edge of fang with his tongue, welcoming the burn in the backs of his thighs: it brings him closer to Stiles, tucks them into each other, sends the scent of them into his nose.

He didn’t know one person could make so many sounds. Stiles lets them all go without trying to hide, seemingly oblivious to the way his voice cracks on each thrust, shatters completely every time Derek squeezes the muscles inside, grows high and thready as he climbs ever closer to the edge.

It seems so terribly unfair that he did this to Stiles the first time. Was this what Stiles felt, while Derek looked into his eyes and threaded their fingers and fucked him?

No. No, it wasn’t. The knowledge crushes Derek, down in the dark where all his walls have come apart: Derek is the one who kissed Stiles, but Stiles has always known what this was meant to be.

Right before the end, Stiles drops atop him fully, thrusting brokenly and unrestrained. The whole of him, caught up against Derek’s chest and in the cradle of his hips, the sweaty insides of his thighs and the skim of his palms. Stiles glances over Derek’s face, whip-fast, and something in his expression tightens along the line of his jaw, at the corners of his eyes. The swallow clicks in his throat, close as it is to Derek’s ear; Stiles ducks forward and pushes his face into Derek’s neck, mouth open against his skin, his nose mashed into the sweet spot that weakens even the most brutish of wolves, where scent collects like sunlight. Derek sucks in a breath, but Stiles’ grip on him goes iron-hard, cutting the question away. He cants his hips, pushes right up into Derek, the angle sharp and new. The sensation eats through him like fire as Stiles’ rhythm goes ragged—perfect—Derek’s mouth falls open, his gasps more keens than anything. Stiles’ face presses into Derek’s neck as he comes; his whine rattles through Derek’s own throat.

Derek’s eyes burn. He cradles Stiles’ head, shudders around him. Runs his fingers through soft, sweaty hair. Don’t think. Don’t think. If he doesn’t focus on it, it can’t hurt.

Stiles’ hand is around his dick before he realizes, and Derek bucks into it, unable to stop, completely lost between worlds. He realizes that despite coming, Stiles is still in him, hitched close. It drives him into freefall.

When his head clears some unnamed stretch of time later, he thinks.

The magic usually sounds soft and unformed, familiar cadences that slink through Derek’s ears. The words themselves always escape him, a meandering muddle he can never hope to understand. He knows this spell, though, the dip and roll of the rhythm like a well-loved song by now, and what Stiles was saying this time was slightly different. New.

“What was that?” he asks after, their bodies cooling against the sheets. Loose down from the mattress tickles his nose. His throat feels like he’s gargled with sand. Stiles’ profile is unreadable as he gazes half-lidded at the ceiling. “What you said this time.”

Stiles rouses with a sigh. “A stabilizer.” He turns his head on the pillow, meets Derek’s eye. “Just something, you know. Extra. In case the magic acts up again.”

Derek thinks of blasted trees, flattened bushes and seared grass, and nods.

**

What is he doing? What the hell is wrong with him?

Stiles doesn’t kiss him anymore. It’s a good, a necessary, boundary. Derek is grateful to him for erecting it.

He needs to stop. Damn it, fuck, he knows. What he’s doing isn’t right. It’s changing things and he doesn’t need Stiles’ wayward explosions or the lost look on his face whenever a spell starts to go haywire to tell him that. But every time Derek thinks it—this has to stop—his heart squeezes up like a fist.

If he stops it, it ends. It’s done forever. God knows he couldn’t go back and face it again.

He’s not ready to let go of Stiles.

Derek misses his mouth to an alarming degree, the way it gave under his own, the press of lips and the firm stroke of tongue. Now that it’s gone, all he can think of is the reedy groan—too soft for human ears but plenty loud for a wolf’s—that rumbled out of Stiles’ throat on the tail-end of each kiss, just before he sought his next breath.

Stiles holds him too tightly, fingers digging bruises into the flesh of Derek’s shoulder blades, his thighs squeezing at Derek’s ribs. They’re so close they’re slick with each other’s sweat; he’s so deep in Stiles he imagines he can feel Stiles’ veins contracting as his blood pumps. He has no idea what Stiles’ face is doing; Stiles’ nose shoves into his jaw, and the rush of words tumbles over Derek’s throat.

Stiles’ voice takes on a brittle, distressed quality, the stabilizer gusting out of him on loop like a plea. Like he’s begging. Derek wants so badly to kiss him, feels it grappling around his spine, wrenching him down. Anything to stop that sound, to close the wound in Stiles’ voice. He derails at the last possible instant, pushes his face into Stiles’ throat, openmouthed. Squeezes his watering eyes shut and hopes to god that Stiles won’t be able to distinguish tears from sweat. He licks Stiles’ throat, feels him judder and clench around him. Digs his teeth into the soft flesh. Stiles gives a choked moan, the stabilizing spell stuttering to a halt, then stumbling back to life again. His body has begun that helpless undulation, the one that tells Derek he’s close, so close, losing it, limbs a-shudder and breath frayed. Derek sucks hard on the juncture of throat and shoulder, grips Stiles’ knee high under his own arm, cants his hips down and in, in, not withdrawing, just there, right there, again, again.

Stiles breaks. With a shout. With a convulsion. He comes, the cry clogging in his throat. His pulse thrums wild under Derek’s tongue, and Derek pulls back to watch: Stiles’ neck corded, his head thrown back, his mouth open, panting like he’s climbed a mountain.

“D…” It slides out, sounding almost like part of the spell. Stiles drags in a breath and heaves it out again, full-body tremor. “…Derek…”

Derek kisses his throat, in the soft space right under his chin where he smells the truest, and comes.

**

There was a part inside him that assumed he wouldn’t spend Christmas alone. That all this wouldn’t make a difference, that Stiles would call him.

He doesn’t.

The weekend before the holiday drags by. The pack members who celebrate Christmas are elsewhere. Derek imagines Stiles’ father’s home, warmly lit and full of good smells. But there are no texts and no calls. He finally accepts his fate, goes to the store late on Christmas Eve-eve, and stares at displays of meager hams left over by the hordes. Racks of flavored Martinelli’s for New Year’s. Instant gravy packets.

He leaves with a box of mashed potato flakes and a couple cartons of eggnog.

Scott texts Derek on Christmas Eve morning to come eat tamales at his mother’s home that night. Derek goes no further in his thought process regarding that text or the gaping absence of other texts: he heads back to the store for avocados and mashes them up at home with lime juice and mango salsa. Armed with that and extra sour cream (he’s seen how Scott can put the stuff away, alright?) he ends up on Melissa McCall’s doorstep at seven pm, shoulders hunched against a blistering wind.

Inside, it’s warm and comfortable. Small group: just Scott and Kira sharing one side of Melissa’s small dining table, Melissa popping up and down out of her seat to grab things until Scott bodily bars her from the kitchen and makes her eat her dinner. Derek can’t tell if the tamales are homemade or store bought, but they’re good either way, and in the end, he’s glad he brought the extra sour cream.

Whenever the conversation lulls, his hand finds its way off the table to finger the edge of his phone.

After dinner, Kira commandeers the oven for an impressive-looking pie and Melissa tells them not to touch her dishwasher, so help her, God, so Derek and Scott find themselves wandering down the block in the dark, hands shoved in pockets as they pass twinkling houses.

“Thanks for coming,” Scott says.

“Thanks for the invite.” It’s not rare, per se. Scott is Alpha; the pack pretty much rotates in and out of his home, and his mother’s. It’s been a while since Derek had Scott to himself, though.

“Well, you know.” Scott tilts in and nudges his shoulder into Derek’s. Once upon a time, Scott touching him like this could only have been a fever dream. “Tamales should be shared.”

Derek snorts. “Usually the manual labor part.”

“Psh, I don’t know how to make tamales. We used to. My abuela. She’d put all my cousins to work. Mom and I tried a tamalada once but I don’t know. We’re too lazy? Mom’s usually working Christmas Eve, and there’s all this corn husk stuff, and soaking, making the masa, Abuelita’s marinades… Takes days.”

“I’ve heard.”

“But it’s fun. One day we’ll plan ahead. Do it right.”

“Do it pack.” There’s plenty of them to help.

“Pack would like that,” Scott muses. His breath clouds the air and disappears. Derek blinks up at the night sky. The ice in the atmosphere makes the stars glint and shiver overhead.

“So,” Scott says.

“So.”

“You hear from Stiles?”

Derek swallows, too fast to stop himself. He knows Scott hears it. “No.”

“Hey, it’s fine,” Scott says in a hurry. “I mean, we don’t have to talk about it, that’s not why I’m—I don’t want details. God, I do not want details.”

Derek rubs his forehead, listening to the swift thrum of Scott’s heart.

“What you’re doing though,” Scott says. Derek can feel his Alpha’s gaze; not particularly invasive, just looking. But given the topic, the way it just peels at Derek’s innards, everything feels invasive. Scott clears his throat. “I know it, this… wasn’t what you signed up for.”

Oh, fuck his life. Even Scott can see how lopsided things are. All of a sudden, Derek knows Stiles has talked to Scott about those details. At length. The sober expression on Scott’s face says it all: that he’s preparing to absorb the impact of the bomb he’s about to drop. What Derek doesn’t know is if he can face going back into the warm, aromatic house, straight into Kira’s expectant stare afterward.

“Look, don’t—” Scott stops, grimacing straight ahead. There was also a time, ages back, when his shoulders would have jumped up, his chin thrust forward, and all would have been sullen frustration. Tonight, Scott just furrows his brow, sighs softly, and turns to look his beta in the eye. “Don’t come down too hard on him for this. If you can. Stiles... He doesn’t always think.”

Derek snorts. “He’s thinking all the damn time.”

“Yeah,” Scott exhales. “Not this time.”

“I get it.” He does. The way Stiles’ mind works, striding right past all others, has weighed heavily toward the side of admiration for a long time.

“Do you?”

Derek nods, and after a second, Scott nods too. His shoulders do hunch then, and his hands dig into his pockets. “Fuck, it’s cold this winter.”

Derek looks at him askance. “You’re a wolf.”

“And I’m cold,” Scott whines piteously, knocking a sputter of a laugh from Derek’s throat. Scott hops up and down as they walk, shaking his shoulders with his hands still buried in his pockets. His mouth curves toward a grin. “Stupid winter.”

“So says the Alpha,” Derek intones.

Scott bumps him again with his shoulder. “Shut up.”

It ends up a nice, a calm, Christmas Eve.

“You got plans for tomorrow?” Scott asks him later, over cocoa and a heaping slice of Kira’s pie.

“Sure.” He doesn’t, but hope springs eternal.

Scott nods, satisfied.

The following day, Derek stays in the loft, standing barefoot in the wintery light through the windows, coffee mug in hand, and strains for the noises that have abandoned a city on holiday. The cars are distant, voices gone mute, and the snow still dusts the sidewalks and the tops of the surrounding buildings.

Cora calls to wish him a Merry Christmas, hangs up on him, then calls him back five seconds later. “Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks.”

“Want me to sing?”

“Please don’t.”

“Excellent.” She launches into the birthday song, somehow monotone and melodic at the same time. She does this every year. Usually it makes Derek laugh.

When she finishes this time, he takes a breath and rasps, “Cora,” into his phone.

She hangs up on him again, leaving him reeling for the second until Skype chimes. He swipes it on and she appears, up close to the camera. “What happened? Derek?”

He wipes his eyes, stymied by the heat filling his throat, the way he can’t get sound out around it.

“Derek.”

“I think I made a mistake,” he manages. His phone shakes in his hand; Cora’s image jumps. Her hair is short now, and straighter, framing her chin. “I really messed up.”

“What happened?” she asks again, more quietly.

He tells her. About Stiles, about the magic. It pours out into the solitude of his loft, sounding more and more reckless all together like this. The quiet around him only grows denser; by the end, all he’s aware of is the lingering scent of Stiles in his home, and the incredible, pressing absence of the man himself.

When he’s done, Cora’s quiet for a moment. “Okay. Okay, that was…”

“Stupid.”

She sighs and doesn’t argue. “Do I need to come back there and punch someone? I will.”

The laugh strangles its way out of his throat. He wipes his nose on his sleeve. “Just me this time.”

Cora rolls her eyes. “Yeah, well, I can’t really punch you on your birthday.” Her finger touches the screen, like she’s trying to reach through, then pulls away again. She wouldn’t be able to get here in one day anyway. Wherever she is, it’s bright, warm, the light behind her orangey and thick. She gives him an awkward half-smile. “I don’t want you spending tonight alone. Go to Kira’s. Or Isaac?”

“Sure,” he agrees and smiles back, glad she can’t hear his heart. It’s been a few years, but he has survived many a Christmas, and a birthday, alone.

Eventually they hang up. Eventually the sun starts to set, and his own words describing the situation to his sister begin to ring in his head on loop. What he’s done with his winter shifts from mere recklessness to utter idiocy.

He doesn’t know how he could ever have thought this would turn out any differently. It’s Stiles Stilinski, after all. Derek’s been low-key in love with him for nearly a decade.

“Fuck.” He rubs his face hard enough to hurt. He was so sure he could do this. Make it mean nothing. Were his motives ever pure? Unlikely. He’s so deeply sunk he can’t see the bottom anymore. He damn near broke himself with just the idea that Stiles would use what they were doing against him.

And what about what else he’s broken? Tears spring to his eyes; he fists a hand and pounds it into the wall by the door, denting the frame. Now, if Stiles comes back as Emissary, this will always be there, stretched between them like a whipcord. He knows enough about pack bonds to be sick over what this will do to them all. Tension frays like an unraveling tether, bits snapping off here and there, springing free and hitting anyone close enough, the way Stiles’ magic is fraying, lashing out in unexpected directions. Derek will ignore it; Stiles will ignore it, and it’ll be awkward as fuck, and they’ll both know that Derek fell too far. That Derek fell in love.

Maybe Stiles won’t come back at all, and that’s worse. That endangers the pack.

Derek’s so very good at that.

**

He doesn’t answer Stiles’ text when it comes three days later. He doesn’t know what to say.

It hardly matters. It’s all coming down around his ears, like everything good always has. The longer he waits, the worse it gets, layering upon itself like the worst sort of spell. Eventually the weight of it will crush him, and probably Stiles, too.

How is what Derek’s doing any different from what he accused Stiles of doing to him? Stiles is taking it on faith that they’re—that this is just—and instead, Derek is—

He scrubs at his face. Fights the constant prickle behind his eyes, but he can’t keep it back. Within seconds, he’s tasting salt, and the guilt, the impending loss, clouts him to the core. He has to tell Stiles, he can’t just keep—

He has to tell him.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

“I know what it is,” Stiles says as soon as he opens the front door for Derek. “And we have to stop.”

Any greeting knocks back down Derek’s throat; he catches himself on the door frame. Stiles smells… off, the air around him is just empty, where are the layers and layers of magic? And… there’s nothing of Derek there anymore. It’s just Stiles, tired and quiet in his front hall.

He inhales again, noisily enough that Stiles fidgets, but Derek can’t care. It’s like a hole punching through his chest. The missing elements of, well, of Stiles’ scent, at least what Derek has been calling Stiles’ scent, gape like rents in the air, and Stiles, who smelled so good to him once, like life and promise, now smells flat and two-dimensional.

Still familiar. Still Stiles. But.

“It’s gone.” He doesn’t mean for it to be an accusation but whatever twined them together is missing. There’s not a trace of it left, no matter how much he—

Stiles’ frown falls into an outright grimace. He gestures Derek in, backing into the house as though he’s being repelled. “I stripped it out.” He sounds worn down. He twitches like he used to when he was younger. “The past few days, I cleansed it. The magic, I mean. It was wrong, it wasn’t going to work.” His shoulders bump up and drop. “Can’t fix it.”

Derek follows him into the living room, feeling like something precious to him has died. Something they made, wiped off the face of the Earth, and he had no idea it was happening. He should have felt it go. Right?

Stiles pauses to turn on a lamp; closer to him, Derek sniffs again. But the scent, them together... It’s truly gone.

Stiles is dressed in a loose shirt and sweats, and his hair is a mess. The little house becomes a thousand-pound weight right on Derek’s chest. He stalls halfway to the couch with his hands fisted around the bottom hem of his jacket. For a minute, his heart beats so hard his vision dims.

Alright. Alright, he can do this, he’s done worse. He was going to end it anyway. “I’m sorry that I—”

Stiles cuts him off. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

The shock finally begins to burn away, and Derek takes a closer look. Stiles isn’t just tired, he’s exhausted. The smell of that is plain, but it’s the look of him that quiets the protest on Derek’s tongue. His eyes are irritated and red, and his eyelids droop at half-mast. There’s a resigned set to his mouth that Derek hates solely for the howl it rouses in his belly. Wrong. Wrong. He takes a careful breath and this time discerns bleakness. A thread of resentment.

The understanding cements irrevocably: this is over, and Stiles knows about him, about what he let happen. Stiles’ eyes keep flicking his way, but he can’t seem to actually look at Derek.

Derek turns away. Why did he carry on, even seeing the consequences? Never mind being so pathetically in love with Stiles, he could have hurt Stiles physically, sent that uncontrolled magic lashing through Stiles’ body as he tried to use it, maybe even killed him if they—

“God, could you just…” Stiles rubs his face and gestures at the couch. “Sit down.”

The idea of sitting next to him sends a twist through Derek’s guts, but he does it, hunching in as Stiles takes the far end of the couch, well out of reach.

It’s a sad little couch, droopy in the middle. Derek pressed Stiles into it once, no words, no lights on. Just their combined scent bleeding into the cushions.

Tonight, Stiles’ fingers cage his knees. As Derek watches, his nail beds whiten with pressure. His breathing is erratic, reminiscent of panic. It drags at Derek, to touch him. To soothe. The effort it takes to fight the instinct is alarming.

“I, um.” Stiles clears his throat. “I figured it out.”

Derek nods. He doesn’t want a play-by-play, doesn’t want to know what steps Stiles took to scrub their magic free of cloth and body alike. How it only took three days to sanitize a month and a half’s efforts. “You alright?” he manages, too afraid to let Stiles keep on that thread.

Stiles nods. “Yeah, I’m… Yeah.”

The lie snaps at his heartbeat.

“Magic is, is all about intent. When you amass it and when you use it.” Stiles picks up speed as he speaks, and his fingers pick at his sweatpants, tenting and flattening the fabric. “You know that, I mean, of course you know that. It’s actually a really incredibly fragile balance. If the intent changes, even just a little bit, it can change the whole—”

“I get it,” Derek bites out.

“I’m so sorry,” Stiles mutters after a pause. “I swore we wouldn’t change this.”

Derek chances a look and wishes to god he hadn’t. Of course Stiles knows, the way he stares. Resigned, old, fathomless. He looks right through Derek.

“So did I,” Derek tries, but it’s not what he needs to say at all. Something in him is still reeling from the way Stiles doesn’t smell at all like him anymore.

“I should never have suggested it when I knew what would—well, I didn’t know, but I had…” Stiles’ mouth turns down again at the corners; he side-eyes Derek. He looks as defeated as Derek feels. “Suspicions.”

Well, fuck, just how obvious has Derek been? He shuts his eyes, but he can’t block Stiles out. He can still hear him breathing.

“Maybe.” He can’t say this. It cuts into him just thinking it. He looks at the ceiling. “Maybe if it’s with someone else—”

“No.” Stiles’ mouth goes pale around the edges. His eyes flicker back and forth, but he’s not really looking at anything. “It wouldn’t, yeah, that won’t work, not now. Probably sink the entire city in a hole, the way I’m going.”

“Stiles, it’s not your fault.”

Stiles laughs, humorless. “Yeah, ok. Sure. Thanks, but I’m pretty sure it is.”

They sit for a minute in uncomfortable silence. Derek feels Stiles’ eyes on him, straight on. Not even trying not to look this time.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you. On your birthday.”

Two days ago, that missing call represented the worst that he’d felt in a long time, the worst he thought he could feel. But he can barely remember it. It might as well be ash now.

He just shakes his head.

Stiles makes a distressed sound and gets to his feet. His hand is in his hair again, pulling and twisting, all the energy bleeding out through his fingertips. Derek watches, arrested by it as always: Stiles’ magic both is and is not this tremor. Power, bottled up, endlessly compacting down inside him into paper-thin strips, until it has to come out. Only this isn’t the symptom at all, but rather the outlet. Another limb to Stiles’ formidable gift. Fuck, no wonder it went wrong; the magic knows Stiles’ body inside and out. It had no idea what to do with what Derek was feeding it.

“I think we should stay away from each other,” Stiles says. “For a little while. Until I figure myself out.”

Derek rubs his eyes. Nearly keeps going until he massages everything out of himself. It does nothing for the hot, white ache of Stiles’ suggestion.

But what’s done is done. “Look, I’ll… leave you alone. I’ll stay away.” He can do that. Shit, it’s not even about doing anything, it’s about not doing something. “I knew what was happening to—Well. I should have stopped this a while ago.”

“Shit.” Stiles’ frown turns disgusted. He aims it at the carpeted floor, but his cheeks go pink. “You… Of course you knew.”

And did nothing about it. He shrugs lamely. “Hard not to.”

“Yeah, well.” Stiles’ hands twist together. “Kept bugging you about it, didn’t I?”

“What?”

“To come over. To do this, in spite of everything.” Stiles waves a hand, then shakes his head. “Just, never mind. Doesn’t matter.”

It matters to me. And this hurts, god, why did he ever think they were getting out of this unscathed? He struggles with what to say and, in the end, isn’t sure which side wins. “Will you still come back?”

“Come back? From what?”

“To us. After Maryam. To the pack, to Beacon Hills.”

Stiles’ pause is oppressive. “Yes. Yes, I’m coming back, what did you—I’m your Emissary, I can’t just—” But then his face goes abruptly white. He looks at Derek for a careful moment. There’s something horrible about the clench of his jaw. “Unless. Unless you want me to stay aw—”

“No,” Derek snarls, and gets up too, unable to sit there anymore. “No, I don’t want that.”

Silence, again. He hates silence. He hates the way Stiles’ heart is beating, too fast and too hard, an inch away from panic, and he hates that it somehow sounds just like it did with Derek’s chest pressed right up against it, with Derek’s mouth tracking over Stiles’ skin bare inches from that living, beating muscle.

With the couch between them, Stiles takes a deep, sharp breath. At least the color has come back into his cheeks. “It’ll fade. Okay? It’ll just, it’ll go. It can’t sustain itself. It’s unbalanced, uh, it’s potential energy. It’s unstable but I made sure that—no, okay, I didn’t do anything to you to cleanse this, I just mean it won’t touch you, okay, you’re not even tethering it anymore. It’ll stay with me and it’ll go away.”

“How?” By hurting you?

Stiles’ cheeks go even redder. “It’ll reabsorb. I’m the one who made it, I’m the one who messed it up. It’ll go back.”

That doesn’t sound quite right, but before he can consider further, Derek smells salt. It pushes everything else aside. He moves around the couch, instinctive, but Stiles evades him, twisting out of reach.

“Just—” Stiles clears his throat. “Please don’t.”

Humiliation has a flavor; what the hell was he thinking, reaching for Stiles like that? “I’m sorry.”

“Stop.” Stiles wipes his eye with the heel of one hand. “My fuck-up. I didn’t mean to mess things up. For what it’s worth, I didn’t intend for it to happen, I didn’t go into this knowing—” He swears under his breath, then laughs. “Just need you to know that.”

“Stiles.” Derek’s heart begins an ominous thump in his ears. “You didn’t mess things up. I did.”

“Pretty sure I’m the bad guy this time, buddy. Again. I mean, I’ll give you that, it’s usually not me, but when I do go, wow, I really slam dunk it.”

“Don’t.” Derek knows where this is going, where it always goes when Stiles wants to flay himself.

Stiles grimaces, but lets sleeping foxes lie. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Stiles.”

“What,” Stiles mutters, and just like that, Derek’s had enough. He grabs Stiles and drags him forward, wraps his arms around him. Forces him to be silent. Stiles’ arms jump up to clutch Derek’s back.

“This is not that,” Derek utters, furious, into his hair, mourning the strange patter of Stiles’ heart. It’s not how he remembers, not from the past month, not from the Stiles before any of this started. Fuck the Nogitsune, fuck him sideways for doing this to Stiles. “This is nothing like that.”

“It’s exactly like that.”

Derek shakes his head, incredulous, trying to parse what the racing pulse beneath his fingers is telling him, and when did he get to know this heartbeat so well, because somehow, somehow he can tell that even Stiles doesn’t believe what he’s saying. “You know it’s not, damn it, Stiles.”

Stiles buries his face into Derek’s shoulder. Each breath is a burst of warmth. Then he struggles free.

“Well, it’s still manipulating you.” He gestures between them. “When you don’t feel like I do, when the two of us are doing this for different reasons.”

“What are you—?”

“It’s not meaningless, Derek,” Stiles snaps. He steps further back, mashing both fists over his eyes. They’re watery when he drops his hands away. “God, it’s not… I changed the game, alright? It’s not casual anymore. And I can’t really be around you right now, so you should, you need to go. So that I can—You should go.”

“Stiles.”

“Damn it, Derek, do you need it spelled out? I brought feelings into it, okay, I didn’t fight it when I should have, and now it’s completely unbalanced and—”

“Stiles.” If only Stiles could hear how Derek’s heart is hammering. He grabs Stiles’ arm again, glad of his reflexes when Stiles almost gets away. Hoping to god he’s right about this, please, please, just this one thing. “You didn’t do anything that I didn’t already do.”

Stiles freezes in his grip, and Derek’s throat goes so dry he can hardly speak.

But it’s important that he does. “I thought I was the one who changed the game.”

“Derek—”

“No, listen to me, I came here to tell you that I—that we had to stop. Because.” He trails off. Stiles smells hot, physical heat, the anxiety fading under a potent burst of adrenaline.

“Derek.” There are countless ways for Stiles to say his name. All these years and Derek never knew.

“It’s still balanced,” he whispers. Pleads. Stiles remains frozen, and uncertainty eats into Derek’s innards. “On my end. You and I…” He gives up and begs: “Please, tell me it’s balanced, I can’t do this anymore if I’m the only one of us who fell in—”

Stiles kisses him, a painful mash of mouths. He grabs hold of Derek’s face, bites at his lips, thrusts his chin up, muddled and humid.

“You’re not, god, Derek, I—for ages—”

Derek hauls him right off the ground, forcing them together, and Stiles groans low into Derek’s mouth. His hands weave into Derek’s hair, clenching so tightly his scalp protests. Derek stumbles him back into the wall and kisses him hard, openmouthed.

Stiles’ moan breaks from him like a gunshot. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I never should have asked you to do this.”

“I’m glad you did.” He hikes Stiles’ legs around his hips, settles him firmly against the wall, and all the while, Stiles pants and squirms, eyes fixed on Derek’s face like he’s never seen it before. His cheeks are a mess of pink, his shoulders jumping with each plundered breath. The air crackles in a sudden burst, races along Derek’s arms. Stiles’ fingers seize into fists. His body goes rigid, head to toe. Derek feels him hauling the magic back.

It yanks at something brittle and sad inside him. “Don’t. Let it go, please just let it…”

Stiles sags in his arms, and the air goes absolutely haywire. Zings and snaps, heat billowing a razor’s edge from Derek’s flesh. It smells like them, a whole storm of him and Stiles, dangerously knotted; he braces for pain, but it never comes. Stiles’ heart thunders in his ears, or maybe it’s his own heart, but the smell of them swamps his nose, blots everything else out.

When it clears, Stiles lets out choked whimper.

“You didn’t cleanse it,” Derek murmurs wonderingly against his mouth, runs his hands up and down Stiles’ sides. Stiles’ chest heaves like he’s just run a race.

“I thought I had.” Stiles swallows thickly. He sounds ruined. “I really thought…”

Derek shakes his head, relieved beyond belief, and nuzzles into another kiss.

By now, he’s used to the sound of Stiles’ voice when they’re intimate, a soothing white noise. But without the spell, Stiles is crushingly quiet. Exhalations shake out of him, overridden only by the trip-thump of his heart; he moves unceasingly between the wall and Derek’s body. Derek has seen Stiles at the worst mercy of his ADHD, forced off his meds by the craziness of their lives before the Nemeton settled, but now it’s like he’s lost control of his body, like all that magic is still spinning in him, and it isn’t his usual skitter. Every arch, every clench around Derek’s waist, is a desperate, thirsting thing. And maybe Derek’s a little lost as well; whenever he pulls back to let them get some air, he can’t take his eyes from the flutter at the base of Stiles’ throat, wants nothing more than to clear the sweat gathering there with his tongue. Stiles’ hands slide along Derek’s neck and down to his sides, fingers splaying as if to grab hold, thumbs pressing. Despite the way he clamps his legs around Derek, his expression is a tangle of frustration, blinking fast to hide the moisture in his eyes. He’s—

“Stiles, you’re shaking.”

Stiles drags in another rough breath. “I know, it’s okay. It’s just—” He kisses Derek and lingers. “A thing.”

“Stiles.”

“It’s really okay.” But the words themselves are so watery Derek can’t let it go. He leans back, dazed, and Stiles’ fingers dig into Derek’s waist. “Shit, wait.”

Derek raises up, looks hard. “Are you about to come?”

Stiles shakes his head, but this is the way he shakes when he’s right on the rim. Derek has seen it too many times; he couldn’t let himself forget a single one, not when it was something he’d never get to keep.

But in all their encounters, Stiles has never clawed his way toward firmer ground like this; his whole body trembles against Derek’s. His hands refuse to anchor, roving over Derek’s back, up his spine. Derek presses Stiles against the wall and looks down, expecting—but Stiles is only half hard. And yet his breath shudders in and out, and it isn’t until he’s near-sobbing that a light flicks on, and Derek gets what he’s looking at.

No one has ever reacted this way to him before. “Stiles,” he breathes, winded.

“I said it’s okay, it’s a thing, I just…” He pulls Derek back in. His cheeks are bright red again, and he looks away, and no, but before Derek can protest, Stiles attention is back, roving over Derek’s face like his fingers rove Derek’s ribs. “It’s, I’m just, it’s you. And.”

Derek kisses him. A shudder wracks Stiles’ body head to foot. He arches away from the wall. Derek struggles to catch him, tipping back a step. He bumps the couch and the plan, such as it is, shifts. Derek turns, lets them fall.

They hit the cushions hard, Stiles underneath. Derek rears up immediately, finds Stiles’ hands and pushes them into the couch beside his head. Stretches down and presses his face into the join of Stiles’ leg and hip. Inhales through Stiles’ thin sweats. A sound punches from Stiles like Derek just socked him in the chest. One heel scrabbles for leverage on the armrest.

A torrent of musk floods Derek’s nose, making his eyes swim. “God,” Derek growls into the tense muscle of Stiles’ thigh. Inhales again, abruptly infuriated by the clothing in his way, then lips his way north toward bare flesh until Stiles jackknifes upward, yanking his wrists free of Derek’s grip. He shoves his hands back into Derek’s hair. The way he shakes, it’s like the air’s gone frigid, but the heat pouring off him—into Derek’s face and chin, onto his tongue—intoxicates.

And then Stiles does speak. Derek thinks it’s the spell after all, and his heart does something funny and dreadful in his chest. Then he registers the words.

“Oh god,” Stiles hisses between his teeth, “Derek, oh god, oh god, oh god—” His breath is nothing but sharp wheezes, hitching him right off the couch.

Derek moves on instinct, to calm this panic, and cups Stiles’ face with both hands. “Stiles?”

Stiles looks so out of it he might be drunk. But he fights, twisting to link their fingers. Derek has to struggle to hold him still, make him meet his eyes. “Hey.”

Stiles lets go all at once and covers his face. He’s muttering, but this time even Derek’s wolf ears can’t make it out. If Stiles’ heart beats any faster, it may jump out of his chest.

“Please don’t stop.” It all slurs together, overriding Derek’s questions. “I just, I don’t want you to stop, can we just please—”

“Hey,” Derek says again, stunned.

Stiles’ hands drop away, revealing a look so intense that Derek hurts. “Derek.” He can’t seem to get air enough even for Derek’s name.

“I’m here.” Derek slides Stiles’ arms up and around his shoulders, and kisses his face. “Not going anywhere.”

Stiles’ breath skates over Derek’s lips. He nods, nods again, again until Derek brings their mouths back together.

God, he’d just stay if he could.

After a minute, he smooths his thumbs over Stiles’ cheeks. His arousal simmers down, coal-red and steady. “You alright?”

Stiles lets out a half laugh, half cry, and wipes his cheek with his wrist. “Yeah, no, not at all. But yeah.”

Derek hunkers into him, pushing his nose into Stiles’ jaw. “Did I hurt you,” even though he knows he didn’t; there’s no smell of pain anywhere.

“No.” Stiles drags the word out, makes it into that broken sound again. He smells divine. Stiles, everywhere, all over Derek’s skin like he’ll never come out. “I’m sorry. M’sorry, m’sorry.”

Derek sizes up the house in his mind, the nearest path to the bedroom. If he even has the wherewithal to walk it anymore. “Do you want to do this here?”

Stiles’ answer is to yank at Derek’s shirt, at the beltloop of his jeans; even his toes squeeze at the cuffs of Derek’s pants, worrying them downward.

Okay.

He strips off his shirt with speed: Stiles’ hands are left clutching empty air, his mouth forming a small ‘o’—but only for a second. He goes for Derek’s jeans, knuckles bumping Derek’s stomach as he prizes the buttons open, the zipper down. Damn it, but Derek has to stop touching him to actually get out of his clothing.

When he tumbles back onto Stiles, it’s to a bare chest. Stiles moans and abandons his own shirt, still hiked up under his arms, to get his hands back on Derek. “No,” Derek growls into his neck, wrestling Stiles’ shirt higher. When that doesn’t work, he slices through the collar with a claw, tears the fabric away. Stiles’ eyes go dark and dilated.

“Sweats, too,” Stiles murmurs, then, “no wait. Wait, don’t, not...”

But sweats are much easier to shed. A quick shimmy and he has Stiles out of them, leaving miles and miles of naked skin. Derek ducks down and pushes his nose back into the crook of Stiles’ hip, licks and laves as Stiles’ legs cross over his back. Stiles’ moans are continuous now, so it’s a surprise when he smacks Derek on the shoulder.

“Get—Derek, come on—”

Derek kicks his jeans off at last and sighs at the freedom. The couch really isn’t big enough for this, not to spread out, to venerate Stiles the way he needs to; the back cushions hamper his elbow and the armrests are way too close together to stretch out fully, especially for someone of Stiles’ height. But Derek’s nose and mouth and head are full of Stiles now; there might as well be nothing else in this house.

“Oh, thank god,” Stiles rushes, dragging Derek back atop him. He scrabbles over the edge of the couch, irritating Derek—irritating himself, judging by the grunt he makes—but then he’s fully back in Derek’s arms, shoving something at his chest.

“Here, here, take it, fuck’s sake, can you—”

It’s lube. Derek could kiss him. Derek does kiss him.

Then he pushes Stiles’ flat and sinks down, gets an arm under Stiles’ knee. Stiles’ leg hitches right up off the couch and Derek hugs his thigh, hand splaying over as much soft, hot skin as he can reach. Here, Stiles’ scent is impossible to escape, musky and dense and exactly what he’s after: the wolf in him croons, urging closer, closer, now. He mouths Stiles’ belly, sucking as Stiles bucks, then turns his head. Presses his lips to the inside of Stiles’ thigh.

“Wanna lick you open,” he hisses into Stiles’ thigh, the words spilling from him like blood. “Taste everything, until you can’t take it anymore.” But not now. Not this time. Stiles whimpers, long and low. His head is thrown back, throat working as he swallows. One hand plows through Derek’s hair, fists and flattens, indecisive.

Or maybe just overwhelmed: Stiles’ heel bumps down Derek’s spine. Derek gives up and buries his face in what feels like the honest-to-god core of Stiles: salt and sweat and the deafening thrum where the major vein runs at the crease of his hip. Stiles’ exclamation chops in half—he arches, right into Derek’s face.

Finally, finally, Derek mouths the side of Stiles’ dick: a kiss of sorts, openmouthed; Stiles’ leg clamps over his shoulder hard enough to hurt.

“Stop, st…” Stiles pants out the words, but his hands move with purpose now: he urges Derek up, and Derek goes, tasting the space above Stiles’ navel as he passes it. Stiles laughs at that, sudden and shocked.

Derek’s expecting more words—always. Stiles doesn’t bother. He drags Derek straight into a filthy kiss, all tongue and teeth.

“Fuck, stop, stop or I’m gonna come.”

“That might be the idea,” Derek mutters, and Stiles laughs again. Derek rises up and finds Stiles’ eyes wet.

“It’s okay.” He doesn’t know what to do about this. Stiles shakes his head, then grimaces and wipes a wrist over his eyes.

“I know, I know it is, but you have no idea what you, what this is doing—” He covers his eyes with a shaking hand. “Shit, Derek, this is humiliating.”

Derek takes his hand from his face and kisses his palm. Bites down until Stiles goes still under him.

“I get it,” he confides. He’s the one quaking now, but inside, that he gets to have this, that this time he doesn’t have to hide.

Stiles hauls in a breath. “You seriously don’t know what you do to me.” His eyes jump over Derek’s face. Derek threads their fingers, presses their joined hands back to the couch either side of Stiles’ head.

“Show me.”

For a while, that’s all it is: eyes locked, Stiles’ mouth slack and open, gasps slipping out with each roll of Derek’s hips. He almost sounds surprised. Stiles’ eyelids sink heavy and open wide again. He lifts his head with a whine and lips at Derek’s mouth.

Not quite a kiss. Never quite a kiss. Like he’s stopping himself. He nearly comes, the fragile moan gusting across Derek’s lips. Stiles’ muscles seize, and Derek’s body sings at the familiarity, at getting Stiles here yet again. He wraps his hand around Stiles’ cock and squeezes.

“Already?” Murmured into Stiles’ damp neck.

“Fuck, no,” Stiles wheezes. He shudders, and for an instant, Derek thinks it’s done regardless; for all his effort, they’ve lost it. But with some ridiculous amount of willpower, Stiles hauls himself back from the edge.

“In me,” Stiles grates after a long, unnerving moment. His voice is thick and clotted. “I want you in me, where’s the—”

Stiles may have lost track of the lube, but Derek never did. He shreds the tube, covers his fingers in slick and works an arm between them, and then—

Stiles’ voice breaks, his body clenching around Derek’s fingers. His throat ripples violently, and Derek leans up to watch his face. It’s gorgeous, the indents dug deep into his lip from his teeth. His throat is slick now with sweat. Derek mouths it away.

“Okay?” he nuzzles at Stiles’ neck. He’s absolutely certain he’s addicted.

Stiles’ response is another, very different, whimper. He smiles at Derek, wide and mischievous. “More.”

He takes three fingers, then four, and by then his hips are undulating, swift and steady, but Derek is not about to let him come alone. Not like this, not when he could be—If he could just get away from Stiles’ mouth, damn it. The flavor is wholly encompassing and is quickly whiting out the rest. All the times they did this, avoiding each other’s mouths… All Derek wants to do is kiss him, as deeply and lengthily as he has the air for, and maybe beyond that.

But.

He drags Stiles’ knee over one arm, braces against the back of the couch. When he tries to ask, however, the only thing he can come up with is Stiles’ name. His lips feel raw. He bumps his nose up Stiles’ cheek to his brow, feels an embarrassing sound rising in his throat. “Stiles.”

“Yeah, yes, please, it’s okay, I want.” He stutters silent as Derek shuffles him bodily up the couch, but his fingers wind a steady trek through Derek’s hair. He catches Derek’s eye. The sharp light there makes Derek go still.

“I’m going to fuck you so hard, Derek,” Stiles breathes. His teeth nip at Derek’s jaw, just this side of painful. “Do it right, someday very soon, I’ll—”

“Yes,” Derek growls. “You will.”

Stiles sucks in a breath when Derek pushes in. His back arches, and he tightens around Derek so fiercely that Derek shouts. He grabs Stiles’ hips, forces him still, but can’t stop the general roll of Stiles’ body as he adjusts, panting like he’s run a mile. Sweat beads afresh at Stiles’ collarbone; without thought, Derek licks it away again, snapped back into his head by the sting on his lips. His mouth hurts so good from kissing Stiles. He leans over and does it again, relishing the moan deep in Stiles’ throat as his knees are pushed toward his chest. Stiles continues to move, absent little shifts and rolls; his eyes clench tight, his teeth sink back into his lower lip.

Derek eases off, soothes a hand down Stiles’ side. “Sorry. I’m…”

Stiles shakes his head. “Doesn’t hurt, god, it…”

Okay. Okay, maybe Derek gets that. “Just tell me when,” he muffles into Stiles’ collarbone, filling his lungs with the sweet scent.

Stiles doesn’t tell him. No, Stiles rocks upward sharply with his hips, eyes slitted open, and Derek can’t help but fall.

The breath punches out of Stiles in gratifying huffs as Derek pounds him into the couch; his hands scrabble for Derek’s, sweat and clumsiness making it impossible. Finally Derek pushes Stiles’ arms up over his head, links their fingers and braces him against the armrest. Stiles bears down without warning and Derek’s vision goes white. He snakes a hand under Stiles’ lower back, heaves up, pulls him upright into this lap. Stiles drops his head back, baring acres of throat, and Derek latches on, sucking, nipping, digging his nose into the hollow beneath Stiles’ chin. He just wants to mark him up, smatter himself over Stiles’ skin. Stiles folds down over him, all trembling limbs; he hugs Derek’s head and moans, repetitive and reedy into Derek’s ear as they move.

God, he needs to kiss him again. He can’t stop. Derek finds Stiles’ mouth. Comes with Stiles’ tongue tracing his teeth.

Stiles whines at the loss as Derek slows, so Derek folds them back down while he’s still half hard, shoves in deep on shaking knees and holds there, rocks his hips and wraps his hand around Stiles’ dick and strokes him slick, fast, relentless until Stiles’ breath rattles, until Stiles breaks the skin over Derek’s shoulders with his nails, until Stiles comes with a strangled shout.

Coming down from that is a tangled, dizzy mess. Derek slumps atop Stiles, mouth open over his jaw, feels every inch as Stiles slides both hands torturously down his body and up. His thighs, still bracketing Derek’s hips, squeeze once before Stiles’ legs fall open. Derek’s hands hurt and he can’t figure out why, until one of Stiles’ fists flops down next to his head and Derek sees the imprints of his own fingers between Stiles’.

He pulls out, wincing at the sensation. As soon as he’s away from Stiles, he knows he can’t stand it, but Stiles mutters something wounded and yanks him back down until there’s nothing but heat and damp skin and the smell of them together.

Stiles’ nose mashes against Derek’s temple.

“You’re gonna do that to me,” he slurs into Derek’s ear, “again. You’re gonna…”

Derek goes back to kissing him, making up for lost time.

So much lost time.

**

He wakes to the sound of the heat kicking on. Stiles’ bedroom is full of icy gray light, and outside, the heavy silence of snow has settled.

He remembers, vaguely, pulling up off the couch, so tangled in Stiles that walking felt impossible. Fumbling down the hall. Ending up here, in darkness and heat. Stiles over him on the bed, mouthing his lips, easing inside him until Derek felt so excruciatingly full. He remembers his own hands tracking, shaking as he tried to touch everything, and a sudden, potent fear that this would end—whether this one time or this entire thing with Stiles, he wasn’t sure, it all ran together—that someone or something would come along somewhere down the line and tear it apart because that’s what happens in Derek’s life, or maybe Derek himself would ruin it, because that was also true. And then Stiles gasping into the side of his face, as though he could smell Derek’s sadness: “There’s only you. Only you. God…”

It wasn’t the answer to his question. But it worked, incisive and perfect.

He inhales and looks down. Stiles lies plastered to his front, an arm tucked up around Derek’s ribs like it was made to fit there.

He smells like them. Derek, all over him. As it should be, whispers his brain, but this time the guilty will to fight it is dead in the dirt. It is as it should be. This is what he wants, more than anything else.

His Emissary. There is something so… whole about that. Like they’ve come full circle. Derek’s not the Alpha anymore and Stiles has built his power ever since, over years and years of painstaking study. But something has clicked home inside Derek, as though they were always meant to find their way here. As though the pack, stronger and healthier as time passed, has finally reached its full potential.

And yet that seems so small next to the reality of Stiles, here, in his arms.

Stiles wakes between one blink and the next, as though summoned by the track of Derek’s thoughts. His hand squeezes weakly at Derek’s side and he pulls in a deep breath.

“Oh.” It’s almost too soft to hear. Stiles turns his face into Derek’s chest, sinews his way up until his head is cradled beneath Derek’s chin. His shoulders give a lengthy shudder. “Oh, yes,” he sighs, and the end cracks off into this forlorn whimper. An unsettling scent threads Derek’s nostrils: grief. Stiles clutches him so tightly he swears his ribs creak.

The scent dissipates. For a second, Derek thinks Stiles has gone back to sleep. Then lips press to his throat. “Mm, hi.”

Derek pulls him close. Wordlessly kisses his head. Stiles sinks into it with a sigh, breathing gently against Derek’s throat. After a moment, Derek realizes that Stiles’ nose has pressed close, that Stiles is inhaling in slow, pointed breaths.

“You smell like me,” Stiles says. It’s what Derek has been thinking about him, but before he can agree, Stiles goes on. “Like magic.”

“Good.” He never wanted to stop smelling like Stiles’ magic in the first place. He digs his nose into the tender space where Stiles’ jaw meets his ear. Stiles is just saturated with Derek, the spice from the magic mere icing at the edges, and intertwined are the scents of sweat and sleep and soap. He can’t put any of that into words. “I like smelling like you.”

Stiles hums sleepily, but he’s waking up, his skin warming and his heart settling into a faster rate. “Did you eat at all last night?”

Derek thinks about it. “Not really.” The truth is, he hasn’t eaten properly in at least a day now, his stomach churning with the impending loss… which is now no longer an issue. It’s hard to wrap his mind around, even with Stiles pressed against him shoulders to toes, their chests expanding together with each breath, Stiles’ feet curled between Derek’s calves, his dick half hard against Derek’s belly. Derek runs his hands up Stiles’ flanks as Stiles stretches, and relishes the full body shiver.

“I have food.” Quiet, right into Derek’s chin. Stiles’ lips brush and touch his skin, still not quite a kiss. Derek’s insides contract in a quick, warm wave, just at their closeness, and then another much more familiar ache turns in his guts at the mention of sustenance.

“Please.”

Stiles extricates himself, in no hurry, all long limbs and flushed skin in the sunlight. He scratches his side absently as he heads for the door, and Derek traces the gorgeous line of his spine, the fragile-looking ripple of muscle over bone in his shoulders until Stiles turns around.

His lip is caught between his teeth; his eyes skirt, tracing Derek’s form, and his cheeks pink up, right at the centers. “I’ll, uh.” He thumbs over one shoulder, naked as the day he was born. “Just be a second.”

He’s almost to the door when it bubbles out of Derek, surprised and not a little sad.

“We can’t anymore.”

Stiles half turns, eyebrows high, and Derek gestures at the room, the bed, the everything that has gotten them to this place. It stings like a dart to his neck, how much he’ll miss it. “Doing this for magic.”

The moue of Stiles’ mouth clears. “No, it’ll be fine. I was just using the wrong anchoring spell. It’s different for two people who—” He falters; his hand flickers awkwardly. “—each other.”

“Love,” Derek says and Stiles blushes bright red. He shuffles his feet, but he’s smiling, wider and shakier as the seconds tick by. Before he knows it, Derek is up and across the room, lifting Stiles and carrying him back to bed.

Stiles lands with a thump and a laugh, and Derek drops atop him. Stiles’ presence envelops him, in the arms slung around his shoulders, the press of his body against Derek’s, the full heat of his mouth as they kiss. Derek tucks him close, determined to keep him there for as long as Stiles will let him.

“All I wanted to do was kiss you,” Stiles sighs against his lips. “Fuck, it was so damned hard...”

Derek hitches Stiles even closer and rolls them over. He basks in the surprised catch of Stiles’ breath. Stiles snarls both hands in Derek’s hair, letting Derek take his full weight without question. He tilts Derek’s head and just ravages his mouth, heedless of morning breath, so sharp and deep that Derek blinks away stars.

Derek drops his knees to the sides, sweeping Stiles in between with one leg hooked around his thigh. Stiles shudders, thunks his head down on Derek’s chest.

“What’re you doing to me,” he mumbles.

Derek hums, then noses tirelessly until Stiles’ lips meet his again. He rises into the kiss, stretching his spine and feeling Stiles’ fingers dig into his ribs.

“God, you’re perfect, you’re.” Stiles loses it in a disjointed groan. “Why would you want—”

“I don’t want you,” he corrects, right over Stiles, “listen to me, for fuck’s sake.”

Stiles quiets him. “I get it, I get it.” He’s so light and yet so solid in Derek’s arms. Derek could as easily crush him as cradle him.

“Show me,” he whispers against Stiles’ mouth.

It takes a second to break through, but Stiles pauses. Leans back. “Show you what?”

“Show me what we can do now.”

The sun is bright, but Stiles’ grin is what lights up the room.

**

 

Epilogue

 

“So—” A blue flash and a boom, and Stiles ducks under one arm as bits of rock and sticks shower over their questionable shelter. “On three?”

Derek knocks a larger branch away as it sails at Stiles’ head. It’s cold out here, even for a wolf. He suspects it’s the witch’s doing, or her coven’s. He grits his teeth, listens to her draw more power up from the earth. She’s a tall girl, bundled into a trench coat, with braids sticking out from under a woolen cap. Last he saw her, she was still on the other side of the clearing. “On three.”

“You could make this a lot easier, you know,” the witch calls as her magic splinters a tree. It’s not her power, the forest doesn’t even like her, but with that amulet, she’s making it work.

Stiles yanks his checkered flannel tighter around his frame. It’s double lined, much thicker than his usual flannel. His breath steams in the chilled air. “You go, then I go. Straight at her or it won’t work. And whatever you do—”

“Don’t touch the amulet, I know.”

Stiles makes a face, then coughs on a puff of kicked up dirt. “Well, someone’s grouchy.”

“I don’t know, Stiles, on days when a whole coven comes after my alpha, I tend to get a little—”

“Okay. Shush.” Stiles splays his bare fingers on the earth and the forest answers readily, raising another shield over their heads. They both know what’s at stake: quite literally, Scott’s heart, burned in a mahogany box lined with mistletoe because that’s trending. Necromancers are gross.

Another tree explodes and Stiles makes a disgusted noise, yanking Derek closer to the toppled trunk they’re hunkered behind. “She’s not even that good at this.”

“I heard that!” the witch calls.

Stiles sticks his head up over the barrier. “You were meant to!”

“I am the Channel!” the witch rages. “I am the axis of the heavens!”

“You’re a second-rate herbalist who happens to be wearing a lump of bone marrow and necromancer spit.”

Derek tugs Stiles back down, out of the way of the boulder she sends barreling into them. It crashes against Stiles’ shield and rains around them in shards.

“Who’s second rate now, earth muffin?”

“You’re an earth muffin,” Stiles mutters, sullen. He blows on his hands and rubs them together. Derek risks a glance over the log: she’s winding up again.

Stiles’ phone rings.

“Stiles?”

“Yeah, Scotty.”

“We could—” Boooooom craaaaack. “—really use a neutralized Channel right about now.”

“Yeah, uh.” Stiles widens his eyes at Derek as another tree sails over their heads. “I can’t exactly blast her, buddy. That amulet will turn it back on me threefold, remember?”

“Yeah,” Scott says, sounding winded but encouraging, “yeah, okay, hang in there, I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

“Two shakes,” Stiles promises, but the call fizzles out.

“Have to get that thing off her,” Derek growls. Easier said than done. Only a magic user can actually touch the amulet. Except not when it’s already on another magic user. Who is acting as Channel. Whose power it enhances, along with the power of anyone the witch has tied herself to. Which is her batshit crazy coven.

A True Alpha could get close enough, no problem. But if Scott were here, then the coven leader would be here too, and the Channel would be nowhere near here because the generator and the outlet aren’t about to put themselves in the same damn place. The coven leader is after Scott anyway, and someone had to keep the rest of the hopped up witches from killing everyone while Stiles took care of the Channel.

“Look,” Derek grunts, “the longer she wears it, the more power she can feed to the others and the less time it takes her to reload.” In a few minutes, they won’t even have time to stand up before she’s smashing them down again. “I’m going.”

“Derek—”

“You cast it, right?”

“Of course I did, I’m pretty sure you were there.”

“Then I’ll be fine.”

“But what if—”

Derek takes his hand. Squeezes.

Stiles eyes their linked fingers, then scruffs his other hand through his hair. “Okay. Okay, you have to hit her head on, though, remember, no end runs, no fancy footwork. I didn’t design this thing to be flexible.”

Derek readies himself in a crouch, waiting for the next barrage. “Thought the magic reflected the caster’s mood at the time.”

“Oh, har har, you’re cute. Just because I was practically bent in half at the time doesn’t mean the spell will also bend in—”

Booooom: another tree meets its ignoble end. From the smell of that amulet, she’s directly in front of him. Derek leaps up and over the fallen trunk, through a sizeable cloud of sawdust. He has about five seconds to get to her before she—

The whine fills his ears, the familiar burst of pine and earth as the witch calls down another spell. Derek skids to a stop, heart in his throat. Too soon, it’s way too soon, how can she be ready again? But there’s no time to turn around: ten yards away, the witch unleashes a veritable tornado of white light, straight at him.

“Derek!” Stiles yells, and Derek has time to set his feet, brace—

—only for the magic to smack into nothing and slide around him. Derek watches white-speared blue shine out like a sun’s rays, much the same as contact with mountain ash. The witch gapes at him, her hands still outstretched.

“Yes!” comes from behind; Stiles leaps straight off the ground, fists hammering into the air. He jumps again, again, his flannel jacket billowing around him, pumping his fist at his side this time and howling in glee. “Yeah, woohoo, oh my god, yes.”

The witch snarls, but Derek is through the light now, slapping her back with a full spread of claws. She barely ducks it, staggers away from Derek—right into a wall of heat from a suddenly and terrifyingly sober Stiles, his fingers aimed at the earth like spikes and eyes lit a frosty silver. The forest groans like the cracking of ice.

Derek comes forward, closes a hand around the prone witch’s throat and, careful not to touch the amulet itself, snicks the cord around her neck in two. Something intangible snaps and the air immediately warms around him, but even dangling on the leather thong, the fire of the charm licks at his hand. The thing reeks of rotten meat. He passes it off to Stiles quickly.

Stiles takes it and, with a single word, crushes the amulet in his fist. The air pops like static and the remnants of the amulet sift through Stiles’ fingers in glittery motes. Still in Derek’s grip, the witch lets out a disconsolate groan.

“You pulverized it!”

“You noticed,” Stiles simpers, dusting his palm off on his jeans. The motes float in the air, held aloft by the twitching fingers of Stiles’ free hand; he wipes them from existence before they get anywhere near the forest floor. With another offhand gesture, he binds the witch, plastering her back-first to the nearest tree and knocking her cap off. Derek takes a quick circuit around them, sniffing for any stray bits, but the forest smells fresh and clean again, and the frigid edge no longer lingers underneath. Stiles lifts an eyebrow at him, and finally Derek nods.

He throws back his head and howls to the sky, long and full. A moment later, Scott’s grating roar answers back, along with the yips and howls of the rest of the pack.

Derek has time only to turn around before Stiles leaps into his arms, laughing, his legs around Derek’s thighs and his arms encircling Derek’s neck. He kisses Derek full on the mouth, lengthy and joyous. Derek lets his happy hum melt through his body, warm molasses.

“How did you do that?” the witch gripes, breaking the moment. Stiles drops out of Derek’s grip, turning to frown at her.

“I studied. Something you should be doing instead of kissing psycho necromancer ass.” Then Stiles quirks an eyebrow. “But also, loads of sex.”

“Sex,” she parrots, her mouth falling open.

“Like, tons, and all kinds of ways, you literally have no idea—”

Derek growls, tugging him away from her scandalized stare. He bundles Stiles back under one arm, flannel and all, and kisses his temple, sighing as the normal sounds of the forest chitter gradually back to life. “Less talking.”

“Whatever,” Stiles murmurs, nose already mushed into his throat.

“Oh,” the witch grumps. Derek ignores her. It’s not hard.

“It worked,” Stiles says, and smacks another kiss. Derek hoists him up in his arms again, delves into his mouth until Stiles is smiling too wide to kiss.

“Never doubted.”

“Hm,” Stiles mumbles, unconvinced. But his body is solid in Derek’s grip, his mouth inviting, and the magic—their magic—flows through them both like a heartbeat.

~fin~