Perhaps the worst thing about werewolves was their love of nature.
Stiles? Did not love nature. He didn’t like the bugs, the lack of plumbing, and he especially didn’t like the lack of wifi.
However, because the pack was mostly werewolves, they’d decided that they needed to go camping – as a pack. Stiles didn’t get it because they could run around as they pleased in the preserve while he stayed near toilets and wifi.
Also showers. Showers were good.
As soon as the idea of camping had been floated and everyone (except him) had eagerly jumped on the idea, he hadn’t said anything. The pack, if they didn’t need something, tended to forget about him. It was odd given how much he talked… but still. He decided, for once, to use this to his advantage.
So as everyone started making plans, he just slipped away and figured no one would remember he was even there. And that no one would bother inviting him. He’d been excluded from more than one pack social activity for this exact reason.
When he asked, the usual explanation was that everyone always thought someone else would invite him. That person mostly being Scott. Which always made Stiles laugh because Scott wasn’t pack. He certainly didn’t consider Stiles to be a part of Derek’s pack since he wasn’t. Scott showed up to pack stuff because Stiles insisted and he wanted – in Scott’s words – to keep an eye on Derek. Make sure he wasn’t up to anything.
It was ridiculous but usually got him to go.
Stiles had to admit that his motivations were slightly selfish because Scott was sort of his ticket into pack stuff since he was Scott’s plus-one.
The secret Stiles kept close to his heart was that he wanted to be pack. Wanted to belong.
So he made himself useful and tagged along with Scott, hoping he’d be invited.
It was only somewhat successful. No one protested anymore when he showed up but no one was super welcoming either. He didn’t expect much from Jackson. The Terrible Three were somewhat better. Isaac focused on Scott. Things with Erica and Boyd were… complicated. There was a sort of bond after the Basement but… Stiles felt awkward and guilty for not being able to rescue them.
Stiles still couldn’t read Derek. He didn’t growl or push Stiles into walls. Hadn’t tried to push Stiles away or keep him out. Sure, he didn’t roll out a welcome mat and eagerly embrace Stiles with open arms. It was a weird sort of silent acceptance that Stiles hadn’t expected and didn’t know what to do with.
At first, he’d been convinced that Derek just pretended like he wasn’t there. Except that Derek frequently listened to Stiles’ suggestions and would occasionally nod while Stiles was rambling. There’d even been the odd pat on the back or shoulder squeeze.
It was weird and Stiles didn’t understand it.
The point being: if he didn’t shoehorn himself into the camping plans, he’d be excluded by default. Which was totally fine with him.
He did not want to deal with bugs and all the rest.
Stiles was lazing about on his bed trying to decide what he wanted to do on his weekend alone when Derek slipped through his window.
“Why aren’t you packed?” he asked, brows furrowed.
“Pack for what?” Stiles asked, confused.
“Because I’m not going? No one invited me,” all true things even if not quite honest.
“You were there when they started making the plans,” Derek said, unimpressed.
“Ugh, fuck. You got me. I hate camping. I was hoping everyone forgot that I was there. I’m usually excluded from pack social activities, so I figured I’d make it work for me,” Stiles explained.
“What social activities?” Derek said with brows in their full ‘I’m confused’ configuration.
“So many. I don’t know. There’s been trips to the bowling alley, movies, shopping, all sorts of things. I usually end up hearing about it the day after during lunch at school,” Stiles sort of shrugged. It ended up more like a wiggle because he was still lying down.
“They don’t invite me either. And they’re not official pack activities. This is. Be ready for tomorrow. At six,” Derek said.
“Um… what? Wait, if this is an official pack activity and you’re telling me to go, does this mean I’m pack?” Stiles couldn’t help the foolish hope in his heart.
Derek rolled his eyes like Stiles was being stupid, “Yes.”
“Since when? I thought Scott wasn’t pack,” now Stiles was extra confused.
“He isn’t. You are,” Derek slowly said like this should be obvious.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Stiles had sat up and flailed his arms in agitation.
“I include you in all pack meetings and activities. Do you see Lydia or Allison being included? Or Scott?” Derek demanded.
Stiles thought about it, “they’re usually included in the social stuff… that you said wasn’t official. They sometimes come… but not always, I guess. Not even Scott because sometimes he’s off doing stuff with Allison. What makes something official pack stuff?”
“Me. If I’m there or if I’ve been invited – even if I don’t go. The pack can’t exist without their alpha. Just like I can’t exist without the pack. But I’m the leader. It’s good for the betas to bond on their own. If I get involved, it’s like inviting your parents to your party,” Derek explained with far more words than Stiles expected.
“And camping this weekend is an official pack thing? And I have to go because I’m pack?” Derek nods and Stiles groans, “Fine. I’ll be ready. You should be glad I like yo– I mean, the pack more than I hate camping.”
Derek just grunts as he leaves.
Stiles doesn’t see the faint glimmer of red in his eyes.
Despite complaining, Stiles is actually excited about camping. Not for the camping itself (blech) but what it represents.
Derek had personally invited him because he was pack.
It didn’t get any more official than that. If the alpha says you’re in, you’re in.
He was all set to drive since it was usually expected – he was one of the few with a car but, no, Derek had grabbed his bags and put it in the trunk of the Camaro.
Stiles noted that Jackson was the only other person driving and he was driving an SUV he must’ve rented. Erica, Boyd, and Isaac were all riding with him. Leaving Stiles with Derek.
(It was weird. He’d have put actual money on the fact that Derek would not want to spend hours alone in a car with Stiles. Because Derek had to know that Stiles would talk. The entire time.)
Really paying attention for once, he noted that Scott, Allison, and Lydia were not coming on this camping trip. It only made him happier. It wasn’t that he thought Derek was lying. Dude did not lie. More that… seeing the proof made it real.
The drive wasn’t awful. Stiles rambled and talked and talked and talked. Not once, though, did Derek tell him to shut up. His contributions to the ‘conversation’ were usually in the form of grunts and one-word answers.
All in all, much better than Stiles expected. He hadn’t expected Derek to suddenly be a chatty Kathy. He had expected Derek to threaten him when he didn’t stop talking. Had expected awkward silences and feeling bad about his inability to shut up or stop fidgeting.
(Then again, they’d only driven for a few hours…)
Turned out they weren’t going to an official camping area. None of the wolves wanted to be surrounded by humans, not when the point of the trip was to enjoy nature and be themselves.
It also meant an absurd two-hour hike to their camping area. When Stiles asked Derek about it, he said that they were still on the preserve. Which he owned. Stiles knew the preserve was big but hadn’t really thought about it.
Stiles was happy that everyone else was a super strong werewolf because it meant that they carried all the heavy stuff. Like the tents and a ridiculously large cooler. They were camping for one night but Stiles knew how much they ate.
It was around lunchtime when they reached the clearing. Looking around, it was pretty clear that it had been used for camping before. Probably by Derek’s family. There was a pit so they could safely make a fire (for the s’mores!).
Stiles was starving so he looked into the cooler and saw that there was bread and deli meat. Some cheese and other sandwich fixings. Being the kind and generous soul he was, he proceeded to make sandwiches for everyone.
He figured it was fair since they’d done the heavy lifting and were putting up the camp. Stiles wondered why there were two tents. A large one and a smaller one that looked like it could maybe fit two people. Or, perhaps, one alpha. He hadn’t been invited to any puppy piles so he didn’t know if that was a thing or not. If it was, why would Derek be on his own?
It made Stiles realize that he needed to learn more about actual pack dynamics.
He shrugged it off in favour of making a lot of sandwiches. He was a growing boy and wanted at least two for himself. He doubled that for the wolves. It meant he went through two loaves of bread and all the sandwich fixings. He frowned at the cooler. There definitely wasn’t enough food.
Stiles might’ve thought it was a mistake using all the sandwich stuff but… the pack devoured them all. It was a surprise when everyone thanked him. Including Jackson!
“Um… so, looking at our food supplies, this doesn’t look like enough for dinner, breakfast, and lunch,” Stiles said.
“We’re going hunting this afternoon,” Derek said.
And Stiles suddenly remembered how Derek told Scott that hunting as a pack was an important bonding experience. He suddenly felt queasy because he did not do well with blood.
“Um…” Stiles didn’t know what to say. He wanted to be included in pack bonding but…
“Not you. We’ll be hunting as wolves and probably be moving too fast. I brought a book that I think you’ll enjoy,” Derek said.
“Oh. But what about the bonding? It doesn’t seem fair that I sit around while you guys hunt,” Stiles protested. Not as strongly as he’d protest if this was about something other than hunting.
“We’ll hunt if you cook. Deal?” Derek said.
Stiles nodded. He could do that. He was proficient at grilling. He checked the food supplies and realized that there was a bag of potatoes he could roast too, “Really? No veggies? We’re literally just going to eat meat and potatoes?”
All the wolves grinned with way too many teeth.
“We’re predators, Stiles,” Derek said. He was also grinning sharply.
There was… something in the glint of his eyes. In the way he said Stiles’ name. A shiver went down his spine and his heart beat faster.
Derek’s smile only sharpened.
It wasn’t fear. Stiles wasn’t scared of Derek. Hadn’t been for a while. He also knew that Derek would never hurt a packmate, especially not the sole human.
“Um,” he cleared his throat, “Good. Okay. We have a deal. Where’s this book I’m reading?”
Derek handed him an old-looking book. All the wolves, including Erica, stripped off their shirts – thankfully, she was wearing a sports bra. They shifted and went loping off into the forest wearing no shoes.
Stiles looked down at the book in his hand. It was a book about pack dynamics.
Especially since Stiles had just been thinking he needed to learn more.
It was a pretty peaceful afternoon.
He had a lawn chair and it was pretty cool in the shade. The book was fascinating. Stiles barely noticed the time passing by as he learned about packs. Realizing that he’d made a lot of assumptions based on wild wolves. Not just wild wolves but also by common misconceptions of wild wolves. Worse were the assumptions he’d made because he’d expected werewolves to be more… human than they actually were.
Stiles had viewed werewolves as basically being human with something more. But they weren’t. Scott’s behaviour after he turned made so much more sense now. Scott had become something fundamentally different. He continued to struggle with the change. Struggle with his childhood and socialization as a human and his transformation to something other.
Derek also made a lot more sense. Dude was born a werewolf. He’d never been human. He didn’t think like a human. He, at best, pretended to be human. Stiles always thought he was terrible at it, until he remembered Derek flirting with the deputy.
Maybe the clearest example of Derek’s non-humaneness was his absolutely brutal honesty. Werewolves could tell when you lied. He’d been born into a family of werewolves. Why bother lying when everyone could tell? Sure, he could lie. Stiles knew that. But hadn’t bothered with Stiles and Scott. Why would he?
Derek hadn’t bothered pretending with him because Stiles knew what he was.
Stiles imagined that it would be exhausting to always have to pretend to be something you weren’t.
He skimmed over the stuff about the alpha’s mate because it wasn’t relevant to his life. Derek didn’t have a mate. He’d revisit those chapters later.
Closer to evening the pack returned. Derek was carrying a deer on his back. Chest smeared with blood. It was gross.
(Also just a little hot but Stiles would never admit that.)
Derek’s nostrils flared and Stiles worried that maybe he’d smelled the lust… but no. Derek walked up and sort of… dumped the deer at his feet. Stiles blinked. Because what?
The pack was behind him, sort of hanging back.
“Um… thanks? Good job?” Stiles said/asked, “This should feed us for about a day, considering how you guys eat.”
Derek had a smug smile on his face. It was a distressingly good look on him. Stiles hated it immediately.
“But, look. I’m happy to cook it. I’ll do my part. However,” Stiles flailed to emphasize his point, “if you think I’m going to skin and butcher this? You’re wrong. Also, you’ll probably go hungry after I puke on your future dinner. So if the magnificent hunter would like me to cook this most magnificent of beasts, he’d better take it away and bring it back in edible portions. Also… a dip in a river or something would do all of you some good. You’re all filthy.”
Derek just nodded and hefted the deer up again.
Stiles noticed that the pack was also looking smug. Smiling and nudging each other.
It was weird because Stiles could see that hunting as a pack really had strengthened their bond. Even Jackson had stopped being surly, looking relaxed in a way that Stiles had never seen.
They all went off to butcher the deer and hopefully clean up.
Stiles started a fire and got ready to cook.
He realized that the reason why the cooler had been emptier than he’d expected was to make room for the meat. Well, he guessed it was good that Derek was learning how to plan better.
Unless it was one of the betas.
The night was a lot of fun. He grilled some meat and potatoes and discovered that he rather liked venison.
Everyone was loose-limbed and relaxed. Joking around and having fun.
Even Derek was relaxed. Stiles hadn’t even known that was possible. He’d also stuck surprisingly close to Stiles the entire night. Like, really close. Close enough that Stiles could feel the heat radiating off his still shirtless body. At times feeling the tickle of his chest hair.
Stiles was doing his best to ignore it. The coil of arousal in his gut said he wasn’t doing a very good job.
After the meal, the pack went for another short run. This time Stiles went with them. Sometimes he was alone. Then he’d hear one of the wolves howl and the rest respond. One would come find him.
He realized after a few repetitions that he could identify his packmates by their howl. He didn’t know how or why…
(Okay, he could guess after reading the book. The pack was bonding. Strengthening their pack bonds. It created some kind of metaphysical connection.)
At one point, while he was resting a little against a tree, feeling happy and like he truly belonged, he decided to just… let go. Stop doubting himself.
So when he heard Derek howl, he howled back. It was weak and quiet and he half expected the pack to mock him.
Derek was suddenly there before Stiles’ howl died down. He was there and rubbing his beard on Stiles’ neck. Scent marking him. Since Stiles was just going with it now, he rubbed a hand up and down Derek’s back, scent marking him in return. Soon the other betas came and there were a lot of bodies and parts rubbing against him.
He only realized he was crying when Derek wiped a tear away.
It all felt so magical. He’d never been included like this before. All his life it had just been Scott and his dad.
Once it was too dark for Stiles to see, they returned to camp. After the second time he tripped, Derek had told him to climb on his back. Their alpha gave him a piggyback ride to camp.
The whole night was surreal.
They sat around the fire and talked for a while. No one told Stiles to shut up. Not even Jackson. More than anything, this is what made Stiles feel like he was truly part of the pack. This acceptance made it easier, somehow, to not talk as much. He could be quiet and not feel like they’d forget about him.
(Like his dad had in the months after his mom died…)
Derek sat close to him again. Leaning back on his arms. One behind Stiles so it was almost like he had an arm around him. Stiles wanted to lean into his warmth so badly. He heroically managed to restrain himself.
Eventually, it came time for sleep.
Everyone started piling into the big tent but when Stiles moved to follow Derek gently pulled him to the smaller tent.
“Wh–” Stiles started.
“The betas need their own space,” Derek said.
It was… confusing. Stiles thought he was a beta. Only yesterday, he would’ve interpreted Derek’s statement to mean that he wasn’t part of the pack. After today, he didn’t doubt it. Couldn’t. He didn’t understand why he merited special treatment.
He went with it.
He changed into his sleeping clothes and stopped when he noticed there was one sleeping bag. Big enough for two people but still only one.
Derek crawled in and held a corner open. Stiles wanted this so badly that he climbed in afterwards. Let himself be pulled into Derek’s arms.
“I don’t understand,” Stiles whispered.
“How much of the book did you read?” Derek asked.
“I skimmed through it all but focused on the hierarchy and betas stuff,” Stiles replied.
“Didn’t read about alpha mates?” Derek questioned, his voice was the gentlest Stiles had ever heard it.
“You don’t have a mate, so it didn’t seem important? I’ll read it tomorrow or something,” Stiles answered.
“Except I do have a mate,” Derek insisted.
“Wh–” was about all Stiles got out before Derek gave a little bite to his shoulder.
Stiles had skimmed through the chapter about alphas and their mates. He inwardly groaned for being an idiot. He was good at putting patterns together.
He remembered what Derek said about betas bonding and how inviting the alpha was like inviting your parents. The two people who didn’t get invites? Stiles and Derek. Derek had brought him an entire deer! Literally put it at his feet. And Stiles had cooked it.
Because, no, Stiles wasn’t a beta. And if he wasn’t a beta, “Me? I’m your mate?”
Derek just growled and gave him a sharper bite.
“Ow! Okay. I’m your mate,” Stiles said in awe, “It’s a little hard to believe. You’re kind of awesome and I’m… not so much.”
Stiles found himself on his back and pinned faster than he could think. Derek’s hotly glowing eyes burning red.
“Do not. I wouldn’t want anyone else. Can’t imagine anyone better,” Derek growled.
Derek didn’t lie. He never had. Stiles had no choice but to believe him. Getting over his insecurities would take some time but… he wouldn’t doubt Derek.
“Okay. Okay, sourwolf. I won’t. Be patient with me,” Stiles said and, gathering his courage, placed a small kiss on Derek’s frowning mouth.
Derek’s eyes stopped glowing and his mouth quirked up. He leaned down and gave Stiles a slower and more thorough kiss.
As far as first kisses go, it was amazing.
The next day, the betas could sense that something had changed. Before they’d been a little distant but now they were all over Stiles. Affectionate in a way he loved.
He couldn’t stop smiling.
(Stiles still hated camping, especially after he found a spider in his hair. Fortunately, he had a brave and noble alpha for a mate who was happy to slay any and all spiders on his behalf.)