Derek can’t remember a time when he feared lightning.
As a child, he’d been drawn to it; running outside to play in the rain and dance to the beat of the thunder. In his tumultuous adolescence, he’d found comfort in the constant beating of the rain, the flashes of lightning and the boom of thunder so loud his ears would ring. He’d never thought to fear it.
With Stiles gone, the skies over Beacon Hills feel treacherous, open, empty. The lightning seems to flash with renewed vigor, seems to feel like it’s striking the ground just inches shy of Derek’s heart. He winces at the brightness, flinches from the sound, and hides from the rain.
Beacon Hills feels...wrong.
“We have to look for him,” he presses; tired words in an exhausted conversation.
The true alpha turns to him with open heartbreak in his eyes. That’s new. Scott has perpetually guarded his own emotions to spare others from experiencing them with him. Something about losing Allison and Isaac and Stiles in quick succession has laid him bare for all to see. “Noah says he’s not coming back. If he doesn’t want to be found, we won’t find him.”
“How do you know that if you won’t even try?” Derek clenches his fist to keep from hitting whatever the closest surface was. His anger usually kept him in control, but now it feels like he is spiraling further and further from sanity with every futile attempt to convince Scott to look for his best friend.
“Because we know Stiles,” Lydia answers from her place - permanent these days - at Scott’s side. “We’ve known him longer and know him better —“
“Are you sure?” Derek interrupts, incredulous. “Are you sure that we know the same person? Would the Stiles you know really want to disappear and never be found? Would he run away and not wish he was being followed? Is this the same Stiles that helped you through full moons before you had control?” Scott shies away from Derek’s anger. Derek turns it on Lydia who meets his fury with an emotionless mask that Derek can smell is a lie. “Or who believed in you, believed that you could do amazing things even before you were a banshee? Painfully loyal, recklessly brave Stiles? Are we talking about the same person?”
“If you want to find him, then go.” Scott says, his tone dripping with defeated finality. “Stiles chose to leave. My responsibility right now is to keep Beacon Hills safe. I can’t do that and go on a wild goose chase looking for someone who doesn’t want to be found.”
“And what do I do when I find him? What do I tell him? That Scott and Lydia were too busy to look for him?”
The true alpha’s eyes fall closed and his jaw tics in his effort to reclaim a neutral facade, to tuck away the emotions that were too close to the surface for him to be comfortable. “If you find him, tell him that if he wants to come home, he has a home here.”
He doesn’t really answer the question. Derek doesn’t bother to call him on it.
When Stiles first left, Derek hadn’t thought much of it. Beacon Hills was a seemingly endless stream of funeral services that he attended the bare minimum of. Allison’s had been widely attended; the Argent Matriarch downed by the fatal blade of an Oni. Aiden’s hadn’t even really been a funeral, just a burning of his body in the preserve attended only by Ethan, Lydia, Scott and himself, fighting his urge to run at the sight of fire.
Isaac hadn’t died, he’d just left without a word, there one day and gone the next. All that remained were a few scent-soaked items of discarded clothing and a pit full of guilt in Derek’s stomach.
The preserve that had once been a second home to him now stinks of death and ghosts and burning flesh. Instead of a comfort, it’s a reminder of all that they’d lost – no, of everything Beacon Hills had taken from them. Instead of freedom and space to run, it feels heavy, oppressive, something sitting on Derek’s chest until the air evacuates his lungs and he can’t even scream.
It’s been years since he dreamed of Kate Argent’s hands on his arms, her lips on his. It’s been years since those monsters dredged themselves from the recesses of his memories, but now, in a town that crackles with unfamiliar lightning, that stinks of death and decay and regret, it’s all Derek ever dreams about anymore.
He dreams about Kate and he misses the person who, for a brief, blessed time replaced her face. The person who chased away the darkness and the ash and the regret. The person who made him laugh, even if it was more in annoyance than anything. Beacon Hills has become a sad repeat of terrible dreams, oppressive space, and a throbbing ache of something missing inside of him.
At first, nobody quite understood why Stiles would go, but nobody questioned it either. Everyone assumed he’d been in touch with someone - his Dad, maybe - and that he’d come home eventually. And then Noah mentions offhandedly that he hadn’t heard from Stiles since he left.
It’s the nonchalance of how Noah says it that sets Derek on edge. Objectively, he understands. It’s probably easier for Stiles to be gone than to explain how really, the person responsible for slaughtering a hospital full of people and blowing up the sheriff’s station wasn’t your son. Derek might actually even believe that Noah feels that way – that it’s better that Stiles is gone – if he didn’t smell so much like loneliness and alcohol all the time.
When word comes that Stiles, wherever he is, isn’t coming back, the pack just seems to accept it. Lydia and Scott and Kira, who had fought so hard to save Stiles from the nogitsune, seem resigned to the idea of never getting Stiles back. There are other matters at hand - assassins and a deadpool, tangible threats that are not their out-of-sight, out-of-mind companion.
Derek can’t fathom it. He can’t wrap his mind around just...allowing Stiles to be gone. There is an insistent tug in his chest, urging him east, and the only logical explanation that Derek can think of is that it’s Stiles pulling him east, urging Derek to find him even when the rest have given up.
One morning, as thunder cracks across the open sky causing Derek to curl in on himself, he feels a phantom sensation urging him not to flinch away. He can’t explain it - didn’t even want to try - but somehow he can feel Stiles in the flashes of lightning. He can almost smell him, and longs to find him, touch him, make clear all the things he’s hidden from Stiles – and himself – for the year they’ve known each other.
That day, Derek packs his things and heads east, just not quite in the direction he is pulled.
He finds Peter in Dunseith, North Dakota, just south of the Canadian border. He’d taken a page out of Peter’s book and used his own cellphone to track him to what was essentially the middle of nowhere. If the skies were too open for Derek’s taste in Beacon Hills, it’s no better in the Dakotas. The weather is mild, and the dense foliage is just beginning its shift from healthy green to deep, burnt oranges and vibrant reds.
Derek happens upon Peter inches from death at the hands of a feral alpha werewolf. Peter, for all his years of fighting and strategy, has miscalculated the strength that madness gave a wolf. When all that matters is the rush of blood in their mouth, the snap of bone between their hands, pain feels far away for them. They become bloodthirsty killing machines not unlike an all-too-familiar version of the very uncle that Derek now saves, entering the abandoned house and throwing himself into the fray.
There is a stark lack of options in the moments that lead up to Derek’s irrevocable choice. Peter is nearly unconscious on the floor in the dust, his face streaked with dirt and blood, his clothing torn by the alpha’s razored claws. He does not have another round with this wolf in him, of that Derek is sure.
Derek, on the other hand, feels more alive than he has in weeks now that he’s broken the bonds of Beacon Hills that held him back, sapping his strength. The drive to North Dakota had been long enough that he’d noticed it even as he drove; weary limbs came alive again as he drew further and further from the Nemeton’s influence.
Derek is no longer an alpha. He’d given up that spark to save his sister, to atone for the pain he caused. He created a Kanima and a new wave of devastation in Beacon Hills. As a result, Jackson had run from the damage in his wake, a lone wolf, an ocean away. Derek had signed death warrants for Erica and Boyd with his bite, subjecting them to the terror of the Alpha pack in the process. He’d broken his sister's heart as Kali dropped Boyd onto his claws, tore it from her chest and then watched her bleed out slowly until she too left Beacon Hills to staunch the wound.
And then there was Isaac, loyal until he no longer believed Derek was worth being loyal to. Derek doesn’t blame him.
Derek has never wanted to be an alpha again. He never wanted the power or the responsibility or the chance that he could ruin lives again. He is content in his beta skin, blue-eyed, his guilt on display for the world to see.
But at that moment, there is no other choice. There is no running, not with Peter as injured as he is. There is no other alpha around to strike the killing blow and absorb the power that would come with it. Derek remembers what it’s like, the rush of power, the sudden desire to find betas, to form a pack. He remembers it all with stark clarity, mistakes that he would never allow himself to forget.
The alpha charges him. Derek resists the urge to close his eyes. He lets the wolf take him over, lets the bloodthirsty creature that lived inside of all of them take the reins and in moments the alpha is dead on the ground, brown human eyes fixed on the ceiling.
This spark feels different than the one he held before. It feels foreign, fights with the wolf inside of him that he’d just regained until it finally submits. Power surges through him, healing everything but the ache in the center of his chest that pulls him towards the south and east, away from wide, empty, open skies and towards thunder and home.
Peter’s breathing is shaky and uneven, his heartbeat thready. Derek ignores the alpha’s body in favor of dropping to his knees beside Peter, hands gripping and drawing away as much of the pain as he can. Peter’s crystalline blue eyes slip closed and softly he breathes, “Thank you.”
They stay in North Dakota for a while. Peter’s wounds heal in about a week, but Derek still isn’t quite sure where it is he intended to go. His plan is vague: head east and find Stiles. He can’t quite bring himself to explain it to anyone - least of all his uncle.
Scott sends a text that there was an accident, that Noah would have been permanently injured and unable to work, so he’d bitten him. Derek didn’t know what to do with the information other than sit with it. The man who seemed to hate the supernatural enough to let his son walk away is now a werewolf. Could Noah feel the gaping hole in the pack now? Could he see that he’d allowed their heart to run away?
Derek doubts it.
Dunseith is quiet and lonely in a way Beacon Hills never was. He still hates the skies and the lightning that strikes anywhere it pleases. That phantom feeling urging him towards the lightning hasn’t returned, and he doesn’t know how to search for it.
Somewhere along the way, Peter becomes Derek’s pack. It feels right to have his uncle with him, to be a family again, but they both know what –who– is missing and neither want to say it. She’d left for a reason. She’d left them to go back to people who knew her better, had kept her safe, healed her when she’d been nothing but a child alone in the woods.
It’s Peter who folds, on Christmas day, staring at the television. “We need to go find Cora. She might be able to help us find him.”
Derek can hardly say his name these days. Can hardly bring himself to acknowledge the integral piece of him that’s still missing, still far away. It’s worse now that he’s an alpha again. His wolf howls for his mate when the moon is at its peak. It howls long and low and lonely, but there is no reply.
There is just a pull, to the south and east.
The last thing Derek expects when he and Peter finally find themselves in Argentina weeks later is to be approached in the street by the territory alpha, eyes crimson and fangs out. Derek instinctually steps in front of Peter, mirroring the stance of the alpha he’s facing down. Both of them are growling, hands loose at their sides.
The voice shocks Derek out of his shift, his eyes go hazel and he searches for it. He knows that voice. A moment later he finds himself with an armful of his sister, Cora hugging him tightly. She glances over his shoulder at Peter, and her demeanor shifts, her scent sours. Derek understands. Peter has done a lot of wrong. Cora has every right to still hold him accountable.
“Who is this?” The territory alpha asks. “Did you invite an unknown alpha into our territory without warning me?”
Cora turns to face him, keeping one hand on the center of Derek’s chest. “He’s my brother. I didn’t know he was coming,” she says, heartbeat steady. “And I didn’t know he was an alpha.”
The alpha visibly softens at the familial term, straightening his shoulders and giving Cora a nod. “Keep them out of trouble.”
The alpha and his entourage depart, leaving Cora, Peter and Derek standing in the middle of a dusty street. The sun burns hot overhead, in the throes of summer now that they've switched hemispheres.
“What are you doing here?” Cora asks, glancing warily from Derek to Peter and back.
“I need your help,” Derek admits softly. “Finding my mate.”
Behind him, Peter gasps.
Derek had meant to tell Peter that Stiles was his mate, and that the reason for his endless drive to find him was internal, not external. He’d meant to tell him so much sooner, but it spills out of him to his sister and uncle now. He tries to explain the lightning of his childhood and the lightning now. The phantom sensations and the tug, which is now to the north.
Peter had a mate once, Derek vaguely recalled. She died in the fire, burned to death with the rest of the Hales. He’s silent the whole time Derek speaks, watching him with guarded eyes. Cora just stares at him with sympathy, sadness, and confusion in hers.
“They just...let him go?” she finally asks when Derek has told her the whole story. “That doesn’t sound like Scott.”
“Scott didn’t see him before he left.” Derek explains, “He only told Noah he was leaving.”
Something like realization dawns in Cora’s eyes and she nods. “By the time Noah mentioned it, he was too far away to track the easy way.”
Derek nods. He’s surprised to feel Peter clasp a hand on the back of his neck and turn to him with the softest look Derek’s seen on his Uncle’s face since before the fire. Cora leans forward, brushing her cheek against Derek’s in an obvious scenting motion. She turns to Peter a moment later and repeats it with him; it’s understanding and forgiveness tied into a single action. Derek can feel her pack bond shift to him, and it brings the first smile to his face in a while.
The pack alpha stops by the next day to tell them none-too-gently that they need to leave within a week. He calls Derek a lot of names in Spanish, but they all roughly translate to the same thing; pack-stealer.
Derek can’t really bring himself to feel bad about it. What’s left of his family is back together, and if he can just find Stiles, everything will be exactly as it should be.
They land stateside in Atlanta in late February. It’s far enough east to feel safe from the Nemeton, and Derek knows they have to be close because his pull is west now. South-west and more powerful than ever before. He could probably find Stiles if he just left, just drove towards the pull, but something stops him.
Cora and Peter ground him. Cora gets a part time job because she claims she would lose her mind if she had to stay in the house with Derek and Peter smelling like sadness and longing all the time.
Scott sends a text in April. Staring at the date, Derek realizes it had been a full year since Stiles had run from Beacon Hills. The text says that they’ve had contact from Stiles, that Melissa received a package and a note and some kind of protective amulet. The texts are just information. They’re not the call to action that Derek has been waiting for.
Cora comes home from work one day with blood-splattered clothes and tears in her eyes. There was an accident outside of work. A car hit a bicyclist and the bicyclist had been in bad shape. She’d been in so much pain that it didn’t matter how much of it Cora took, there was an ocean of it left behind. Death was near for her, so Cora had hastened it along.
Derek grips her chin. “Show me,” he says softly. Cora’s eyes burn blue as tears slip from them. Derek releases her chin, kisses her forehead, and tugs her close. Cora folds into his arms, her chest racking with sobs.
August in Georgia is hot and sticky and Derek is thankful to whoever it was that invented air conditioning. Time moves by slowly, and every day it feels like a chore to even get out of bed. A part of Derek wonders if this is all worth it. Stiles has been gone for over a year now. The only person who’s even heard from him is Melissa; the most innocent of them all.
Without warning one day, Derek goes to bed and doesn’t leave it for four days. On the fifth day, Peter and Cora coax him out of bed and force him to shower and eat, only for him to return to bed; silent, broken.
There’s a text on Derek’s phone from Scott that says that Noah’s seen Stiles. Cora relays the information to Derek but nothing changes. She and Peter take turns bringing him bowls of broth that he can sip at, feed him vitamins and electrolytes, whatever they can get him to keep down.
After a month, Cora folds. This has to be related to Stiles, of that much, she is sure. She takes Derek’s phone and sends an email. She begs in the subject line; Stiles -- please read, don't delete, PLEASE.
In the email, she asks Stiles to just tell them, one way or the other, if there’s any reason for Derek to hold on. He’s miserable and Cora is hurting for him. She remembers what it was like to have all her pack bonds tugged away, to be alone and afraid. She remembers what it was like to find Derek again, to realize that maybe everything wasn’t lost. She remembers what it was like to feel hope again.
That’s what she asks Stiles for. To give Derek hope. Give him something to keep fighting for.
Derek wakes up one day and feels…better. There is no explaining it, really. He just feels like he can breathe again, like life is worth living again. He gets up and cooks a full breakfast and brings it to Cora and Peter in their bedrooms. It makes no sense, which means it has to have something to do with Stiles. Nothing makes sense when it comes to how he feels about Stiles anyway.
When he’s functional again, he realizes that there is one lead on Stiles. One person that Derek knows of in the entire world that had seen him since he disappeared. Without telling Cora or Peter where he’s going, he boards a flight to Sacramento, rents a car, and finds himself at the Beacon County Sheriff’s Office before he has even really made the conscious decision to go there.
He can feel the Nemeton pulling at him, coaxing him into the forest. It’s taken more than a year but he finally gets it, why Stiles left this place. If Derek can feel the Nemeton, can feel the vicious, malevolent nature of it, what did someone like Stiles, who had sacrificed himself to it, feel? He didn’t know how Scott handled it. Allison was dead.
He enters the building and comes face to face with Deputy Jordan Parrish. Last Derek knew, he was not in-the-know, so he’s surprised when Jordan’s eyes go orange and a low, menacing growl escapes his throat. Derek just doesn’t give a fuck anymore, so he flashes red eyes back and lets loose his own growl. He isn’t here to make friends. He’s here to get information.
“Both of you quit it.” Noah’s sharp voice cuts through and quiets both of their growling. Jordan steps aside, leaving Derek facing down the man who holds the key to finding his missing piece. Noah’s eyes flash briefly, blue, and then he waves Derek into his office.
Once the door is closed, Noah casually says, “Red’s new.” He drops into his chair and crosses his arms over his chest. “Does Scott know?”
“So’s the blue. And he’s not my alpha anymore, so it doesn’t really matter.” Derek swallows hard. “Where is he? Where is Stiles?” he asks, putting every ounce of dominance that comes with the red eyes into his voice.
Noah’s eyes go blue and narrow, and his jaw clenches. Noah’s a formidable werewolf; old enough to know how to fight and survive as a human, now with added strength and durability. He’s dangerous and Derek does not want to fight him. He’s been near-catatonic for two months, he knows even with alpha-strength Noah could take him. Noah finally says, “He doesn’t want to be found. He made that much very clear.”
Noah shakes his head, “It doesn’t matter.” His eyes fall closed and his head tips back against the seat of his chair, “What I found wasn’t my son anyway. Not anymore.”
Derek slams the door on his way out. He heads directly back to Sacramento and on to Atlanta. There’s nothing left for him here.
Just before thanksgiving, Derek gets an email in response to one he didn’t remember writing. He asks Cora if she’d used his phone while he was sick and she simply says, “yes.”
Derek holds out the phone to her with shaking hands and lets her read the response. She looks from the phone to him with a wide smile and surges up to hug him. Derek, still in shock, wraps his arms around Cora and holds on tight, burying his face in her neck and breathing full, deep breaths for the first time in almost two years.
The email he got from Stiles says very little, but it’s enough:
Not yet. I'm not saying not ever, just -- not yet.
When Peter returns home from his meeting, he finds his niblings seated at the kitchen table compiling a list of what they’d need to cook a full thanksgiving dinner.
The food turns out barely edible, cooked by two incompetent chefs and one reasonably skilled one. They eat it anyway, grins bright and hope for the future – hope for Derek – renewed.
It’s almost a year before there is anything more from Stiles. Atlanta begins to feel familiar by that point, with it’s sometimes-treacherous roads, endless miles of parks and walking trails, and the buzz of a city full of life and people. Derek keeps his distance, tucked in their rental house in a tiny neighborhood to the northeast of the city.
Cora keeps working her job at the coffee shop on the Decatur square. She loves it. Her blue eyes suit her, Derek decides, one night with Peter. She’d earned them in a moment of panic doing something she thought was right. It wasn’t far off of how Derek had earned his, or Peter his; doing what they thought was right. There is something about Hales with blue eyes that feels right. They were all that was left of their pack. They’re the survivors. Surviving wasn’t an easy job, after all.
His life becomes waiting to hear from Stiles. He sends emails every now and then. It doesn’t matter if he sends them any more often; Stiles is going to reply when he is ready. Something about Scott’s words from long ago rings true - If he doesn’t want to be found, you won’t find him. Derek has done his best to let Stiles know he’s looking. He’s given everything he had to the search and that email in his inbox, not yet, it’s enough for him to hold on, to wait for Stiles to want to be found.
They survive a rainy spring and a hot, humid Atlanta summer. Cora meets a girl at the coffee shop, brings her around to meet Derek and Peter once or twice. Her smile is worth the awkwardness of pretending to be a normal human family. Derek lies about being an author. He has pages and pages of writing on magical lore and history, but nothing even close to a book. Peter tells a half-truth about being a consultant.
She doesn’t last long, but she makes Cora happy, if only briefly. Derek considers dating, considers finding someone to hold him down, to push the loneliness and the sadness from his mind but he doesn’t. He can’t. His heart knows what it wants, and he can’t help but agree. He’s searching for the only lightning that doesn’t scare him.
It’s late October when his phone chimes. The ringtone is set exclusively to alert him to Stiles’s emails, and it takes Derek a few moments to bring himself to open it.
Peter, alerted by the noise and the uptick in Derek’s heart rate, appears in the doorway, leaning against the wooden frame. Cora appears a moment later, tucking herself into Peter’s side as they both watch Derek and wait.
Derek unlocks his phone and opens his email, staring at it for a long time. Tears spring, unexpectedly, into his eyes and he laughs. “Well?” Cora pushes, eyes expectant but hopeful.
“The first Friday of December, there's a parade in Houma,” Derek reads, “Starts at 7; they light the tree, there's floats and caroling and hot chocolate. The pack goes every year. They say it's pretty nice. If you're around -- you and Cora and Peter, any or all -- you could come. I'm gonna go this year. Don't know how long I'll last, but -- if you wanna.” His voice breaks on the last line.
Peter and Cora are grinning down at him when he looks up, vision blurred through tears of relief. “Well…” Cora says, wiping a tear out of the corner of her own eye, “Do you wanna?”
Peter scoffs at her. “Of course he wants to.”
“I dunno, he could have changed his mind in the last few months,” Cora teases him, and it drags a smile onto Derek’s lips. “That might have involved him leaving the house though.”
They burst into the most authentic laughter they’ve experienced in ages.
The only emotion in the world that compares to the euphoria of seeing Stiles after all this time is the crushing sadness that overtakes Derek as he watches him walk away.
After his snarl rumbles out, Derek is silent as he watches Stiles – no, Mieszko – walk away. He can feel Cora at his side, quaking with the force of unshed tears. Peter grips Derek’s shoulder firmly in one hand, a comfort, a weight that Derek’s relied on for the last two years, and will have to rely on once again.
The person who steps forward is not the alpha. It isn’t the emissary either. It’s a wolf with bright gold eyes and heartbreak in her face. The pack gives her space in a way Derek doesn’t quite understand. She’s small, sepia-skinned and Derek can smell Stiles on her. She has a shadow, a broad man with the cool blue eyes Derek had once had and a cattail stalk in his mouth. The Christmas lights dance off of the small dark wolf’s skin as she studies Derek for a long, heavy moment.
Derek reaches up unconsciously to touch his own throat, the mark had already healed but the scent of Stiles still lingering on his skin. He longs to be like the wolf before him; saturated in his scent and his magic and his love.
“I don’t know you from Adam, alpha, but I do know our Mieszko loves you. I know you musta waited for him to be ready. You done came all this way, done tracked him all the way into our little corner of the bayou, just to be scared away by his spiders? Are you an alpha werewolf or a puppy dog?” The entire pack seems to chuckle at her words and Derek feels them, like knives in his gut. She’s right. She knows it, he knows it. Cora and Peter smell like heartbreak and regret rather than anger, so even they know it. “Y’have a choice to make, Hales,” She spits their name like it tastes bad – to her, it probably does. “Y’gotta accept him for ‘xactly who and what he is, or you better turn tail and run from this place. He’s ours now. We can share ‘im if he wants shared, but he’s too good to keep bein’ hurt by people who claim to love him.” Her eyes shine with tears by the time she’s done. Derek’s do too.
“What is he?” Cora asks, stepping forward. An array of growls rings out as she moves towards the woman who had spoken, stopping Cora in her tracks.
This time it’s the emissary who speaks, ancient and reeking of power and knowledge; familiar in a way that Derek can’t quite explain. She feels like Stiles, like cool earth and deep, endless water, but with less of the lightning that underlaid his scent, and less dangerous by far. “You ain’t earned that answer yet. He’s ours and we’re his. This is his home. He’s still healing and he’s too precious for us to risk anyone taking him from us, you get that, right?”
Derek watches as Cora’s head bobs in a nod. He reaches out to brace her shoulders, feels her lean her weight back against his arms, body shaking with tears she won’t shed until they were tucked away in private. Peter stays at his back, quiet and reassuring. Peter has been that way since Derek became the alpha, settled in his skin, unphased by anything short of facing death once more.
Everyone seems to watch with bated breath as the alpha, who had fallen silent but hadn’t backed out of his shift, squeezes the emissary’s shoulder, and kisses the small dark wolf on the cheek, murmuring ‘mama’ so quietly Derek isn’t sure he actually heard it. He turns to Derek and he can feel the power that runs off of him. Power that is older and deeper than even his mother’s had been. Power augmented by a bond to Stiles, access to that bottomless well of lightning and magic. He has everything Derek wishes he was good enough to deserve.
“We’ll find ya a place to stay here ‘til Mieszko makes up his mind ‘bout you,” The alpha’s tone is cool, but there’s an undercurrent of threat, “But don’t get too comfortable, ya hear? If he wants you gone, you leave. You leave this place and you never come back.”
There is no room in the alpha’s words for debate. Derek simply nods.
It turns out that the small, sepia-skinned wolf that had torn Derek’s heart out with her words is called Marie. She had been Stiles’s first friend in the Bayou, she’d been his anchor to the pack and to the world when he was lost in a sea of grief and self loathing. She loves Mieszko with every breath left in her body, and more than every inch of the bayou that’s been her home all her life. She was the alpha once, passed it on to her son, eager to retire and relax, only for Mieszko to show up, lost and in need, tugging at her heartstrings just so.
“I ain’t ever gonna let him get hurt again.” She says. She’s their first visitor, along with her quiet mate, a couple of weeks after they’d settled in. “But if you’re still here, and if you’re willing to learn, well, someone oughta show you the place Mieszko calls home. It won’t tell you all you need to know, but it’s a start.”
That day the five of them go out by boat. The air is thick with a kind of wet cold, and Derek shivers but doesn’t dare complain. Marie shows them the tree-covered coves and broad, open expanses of nothing but swamp water and bugs. Snakes, spiders, and alligators all survey the boat with intrigue and intelligence that Derek has never bothered to assign to animals before.
“Everything changed when Mieszko got here.” Marie says later that night as her mate grills up fresh caught fish for their supper. “He came in here like a hurricane, nothin’ but grief and anger and seemin’ like he wanted nothin’ more than to just curl up and die.”
Derek clutches the hot mug of something Marie had called chicory and looks away. “I wanted to come for him,” He whispers, a half excuse for letting Stiles feel that alone.
“It’s probably good you didn’t,” Marie says. “It was hard for us to see, and we didn’t hardly know him then. I don’t know how anyone who loved him coulda looked at him and believed he could pull through.”
“But he did,” Her mate offers from the grill, still chewing on a cattail stalk. “Called ‘im Michel back then.”
“Michel then, Mieszko now, not kin, but kind,” Marie smiles as she speaks. “He spent a long time alone at first and didn’t talk much. Still doesn’t talk much unless somethin’s worth sayin’. Emissary says he gave himself to the land. Says he let all the magic in him out one day, and after that the land claimed him for its own. And ‘cause the land claimed him, we claimed him. It’s all connected.”
Derek thinks he understands that. The land back home, before the surrogate sacrifices woke the Nemeton, it had felt like he belonged to it. The land was his and he was the lands. Then it had all changed with the Nemeton and the Nogitsune, and it felt like Derek’s tether had been ripped out of the earth.
“The snakes and the spiders.” Derek breathes. His eyes fall closed. “They’re the land. They’re the land's claim on him.”
“Now you’re getting it, boy,” Marie’s mate says softly.
“What does that make him?” Cora asks. She was never one for dancing around the point. Derek loves that about his sister.
To Derek’s surprise, it isn’t Marie or her mate that answers, but Peter. His uncle stares out into the water past the mated pair’s dock, hands clasped together between his spread knees. “I thought they were a myth,” he starts, his face pinched tight, “Genii Loci. The guardian spirits. He’s a god.” His voice drips with awe.
“Dunno ‘bout him being a god or any of them fancy words for it. Best talk to the Emissary ‘bout that. All that matters is that he belongs here now; to us, to the alpha, to the land. And we belong to him.” Marie falls silent for a moment and then looks directly at Derek. “Do you belong to him?”
The answer rushes out of Derek before he even has to think. “Yes,” he breathes, “I think I have for a very long time.”
They spend Christmas and New Years in Houma, waiting for the word to come back that Mieszko wanted them gone. Derek doesn’t bother unpack, he just lives out of his suitcase and car. He and Cora and Peter spend time with Marie and her mate, and learn about life on the bayou. The wolves all eye them warily when they walk in town until one day Marie slips her arm into the crook of Derek’s elbow and it was like a switch got flipped. The glares and growls stop. Polite tips of the head and handshakes replace them.
They’re patient in the Bayou when it comes to Mieszko. The emissary stops by once a week to check in on them, and every time Derek asks about him she just shakes her head.
“When you’ve got as much pain inside you as he does even little things take time,” she says, sagely. “You’ve waited this long for him. You actually came when he thought everyone outside of this parish had given up on him. If you love him like we do, you’ll wait.”
So Derek waits.
The last week of January, the Emissary shows up bearing gifts for Peter and Cora. They’re sweaters; slate blue for Cora and black that shifts red in the sunlight for Peter. They reek of magic and Stiles and Derek tries to pretend like it doesn’t gut him that there’s nothing for him.
If you love him like we do, you’ll wait.
He’s waited this long. He can wait a while longer. He would wait an eternity for a chance to feel as complete as he had with Mieszko – in all his inhuman, gold-eyed, poison-skinned, lightning-personified glory – in his arms.
And then, the scarf comes.
The inside of the cabin is homey. It drips with the lightning-made-flesh scent of Mieszko, the scent Derek has been searching for all these years. (All his life, the back of his mind screams.) The younger man stops in the middle of a cluttered floor and turns to Derek.
“I’m not what I was,” he says softly, “and I’m never going to be.”
Mieszko has spiders in his hair and webs inked into his skin. He has snakes wrapped around his neck and his wrists and rune-scars up his arms. It looks like gold dust had been injected into the honey-brown of his eyes.
Their hands were still clasped together, Mieszko holding tightly, the snake on his wrist unconcerned. They were more than just animals, Derek reminded himself, they were the land. They belong to Mieszko and he belongs to them.
“I don’t care,” Derek whispers after a moment, brushing his thumb against the back of Mieszko’s hand. “I still want you. More, maybe.”
Mieszko’s face lights up in a small smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He takes a step toward Derek and slides his other hand along Derek’s jaw. Derek leans into the contact, nuzzling against it. The snake on that wrist flicks their tongue out to taste Derek’s skin, but he doesn’t move. He can’t move. He believes that Mieszko won’t let him be hurt. He loves this man as much as the land does.
“I missed you,” Mieszko breathes. He is Stiles and he isn’t. He is everything Stiles had once been and so much more, and none of it changes the way Derek has longed for this moment. “I was afraid to admit that to myself until now.”
Derek hesitates only for a moment before his other hand, the one not linked with Mieszko’s, lands against his back, sliding upwards until it rests against the nape of his neck. “Can I --” kiss you, make love to you, belong to you? There isn’t quite the correct end to the question.
Mieszko answers it though, bringing his lips against Derek’s and running the hand on his jaw into the wolf’s hair, gripping tightly. Something flares to life between them, like being struck by lightning and drowning and being reborn all in the same moment. They stay there for a long time, Derek reveling in finally having what he’d been searching for for so long.
Derek pulls away. He has to find a way to tell Mieszko before it’s too late, before he becomes addicted to the taste of his lips and the way his body feels beneath his hands. “You’re my mate.” He says, their foreheads pressed together, his hand anchored on the back of Mieszko’s head. “You’re my lightning and I love you.”
It shouldn’t have made any sense, but Mieszko smiles, and this time, it does reach his eyes. Mieszko surprises Derek by spinning them, backing the wolf towards the small bed in the corner. At some point his avatars - the snakes and spiders - had departed their perches, and as Derek allows himself to be pushed back against the sheets and pillows he only sees Mieszko before him.
“I love you too.” Mieszko whispers, kneeling between Derek’s legs and pressing their lips back together. Derek could have died there, a happy man, trapped between a bed and a force of nature. He probably should have been afraid but he couldn’t be. It isn’t just any god that presses the length of their body against his – and then fucks him, claims him, leaves marks in his skin that even alpha healing will take time to heal – it’s the only god that matters.
They’re across the world from where they’d started. They’re safe here, hidden in the backroads and swamp waters of the Louisiana bayou, a world away from Beacon Hills. Derek doesn’t care. A storm starts outside, lightning cracking and rain beating down against the vegetation above their heads. Derek doesn’t flinch from the crack of thunder. How can he flinch from anything when the most dangerous thing in the bayou has chosen him as his own? For the first time in years, Derek feels complete with Mieszko in his arms.