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The Crust of the Earth

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The woods surrounding Beacon Hills was Derek’s favorite place in the world. As a young child, he would spend hours and hours running the hills and valleys, rolling in the leaves and climbing the trees. He became uniquely familiar with every smell the foliage had to offer. He could even tell the moment the lands changed - when he was no longer in Beacon Hills, when he ventured away from the property of the Hales, when others invaded and trampled it down.

What he was seeing now was like an invasive species. Except instead of insects or vicious animals, this invasion was in the very air. Running through the woods left him winded, as if the very quality of what he was breathing was ruined for him. Things looked the same as always, and yet it was as if everything was the slightest bit off to his enhanced eyes. A haze that left everything off kilter the smallest amount.

But he was running through these woods for a reason, and the answer he was looking for stood right in front of him. He slides to a stop as the town border approaches, bare feet skidding in the leaves, and he spends long minutes staring out at the pasture beyond the city limits. It was a bright and beautiful day there, where as Beacon Hills had only seen clouds and rain for days. It was as if a filter had been placed over their world, one they could not escape. His chest urges him forward to walk out and into the sunlight, but he never does, turning and running as fast as he can in the opposite direction.

His phone call with Scott is brief. Deaton is barely any help to them at this point, ready for retirement as soon as his new prodigy replacement comes to fruition. His detachment to this plane got worse every single day. Scott listens to him, but when he asks what it all means Derek is at a loss for answers and their conversation ends there. Ups and downs had befallen them over time but ultimately Derek was happy with his position as Scott’s right hand man, the first lieutenant to his little kingdom. But he didn’t feel like he had much in him to help right now.

The old Hale House stood in the distance, but his feet trudged along now, their stamina lost with any last shred of hope in his mood. Looking at the wooden walls and plated roof always gave him a sense of peace, but now it just reminded him of what he’s lost. Just like the woods he grew up in, this home would never be seen the same way through his hazel eyes - he had been forced to break it down to the barest of bones and rebuild, deviating from the original floor plan to create something new and entirely his own. Parts of it still reminded him of good, like the replica of a kitchen his father enjoyed cooking in and the study his mother worked away her days inside, but nothing could bring back the feeling he had seeing those walls after a harrowing day of pretending to be human in school.

Today, his new home held something unfamiliar. No… not unfamiliar. Something he had not scented in years but he knew in his gut was not foreign. The rain had stopped for now, most likely a short respite, but the leftover humidity carried the smell for what felt like miles. His heart hammered in his chest as the smell enticed his senses, but he did not run for his front porch, taking his time. As he rounds the corner from the backyard he sees the beat up blue jeep, and his eyes cut to his patio furniture to find a friendly face waiting to see him.

Perhaps too friendly. Stiles’ head shoots up as Derek’s feet snap a twig, and the grin that crosses his mouth is like a thousand watt bulb. Derek is surprised to find that it soothes something in him, some restlessness, and he approaches the stairs cautiously, watching Stiles the entire way. “When did you get back in town?” He finally asks, strange peace mixing with confusion.

Stiles has his phone in his hand and he checks the time. “About… five minutes ago. So, all in all, you have pretty perfect timing.” He tucks the device away and stands, walking towards Derek. His long fingers run over the banister, tapping with unused energy, something Stiles seems perpetually filled with. Unused energy, genuine emotion, and chaos. “Things are about to get weird, Derek.”

Derek’s eyebrows push together, confused as to what Stiles means. But as they meet in the middle, almost chest to chest, Derek can feel things inside him start to slot into place. Pieces of himself that had been skewed for a long time, but had been especially jagged for the last few days. “What do you mean?”

Stiles’ eyes travel all over his face, taking in every inch of him as if he wanted to memorize him, like he was a painting Stiles would be tested on. What did Derek’s mother intend when her paintbrush created the curve of his jaw? “I had to come back to town for a few reasons, and you’re one of them. What we’re feeling is super real, I promise, it’s just… it’s coming on all at once.” Stiles lifts his hands, and they hover over Derek’s chest for a moment, before spreading to lower onto his biceps. Derek’s body jumps at the sensation. “I’ve had a couple of days to deal with it, so we can go slow. I’ve adjusted as much as I can. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Stiles’ touch felt like fire and electricity all rolled into one, and Derek’s mind was a haze from the smoke the touch burned through him. It was a lot of emotions and sensations to take in. Alarm bells do go off in his head, but he hears them about five times a day, at least. It used to be twenty. He takes a moment to talk himself through it - this smelled like Stiles, and even if they were perpetual strangers at the moment, he can trust Stiles. His wolf, in his soul, knew that. “You’re you? This is… what, normal?”

Stiles nods his head and Derek tries to ease himself into believing him. It comes smoothly, far more than Derek would have expected, but then again he had known Stiles for ten years now. Stiles has a good heart, and every part of this is Stiles - the voice, the body, and the touch, which may be more intense but is still coming from the same large and soft palms. Derek’s chest breaks out in goose flesh, and he wishes he had gone running with more than just jeans, feeling bared and open.

“Why is it happening so fast?” Derek finally says breathlessly, because he knows what this is. He wants Stiles. He wants him so badly he can barely function. The man in front of him seems so suddenly like the other half of Derek’s own picture. All of their past memories and emotions were still present - the fights, the support, the frustration, the teamwork. But a thin thread of fate seemed to be drawn through it all, leading right to this point. It was not perfect, but it was their story, one that would define him going forward.

Stiles slides his hands up Derek’s arms and over his shoulders, moving to cup Derek’s face on either side. The action punched the air right out of Stiles’ lungs, his eyes glassy with emotion. “Because it should have been building up a long time ago. Darkness got in the way. Sooo, we get to fast forward now. But I’ve been told it’ll be worth it, in the end.”

“I’m not exactly the trusting type…” Derek mutters, and Stiles’ eyes break their dance of intensity to give him a look he can so easily translate. Stiles is fully aware of his statement. “...but I think I believe you.”

Stiles’ lips break into a smile of relief, sighing softly. “Good. I promise to protect you, Derek Hale. I promise everything is going to be okay. I wouldn’t let anything hurt you.”

“Wouldn’t that be my job?”

The smallest shrug graces Stiles’ shoulder. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Derek is kissing him before he can stop himself, and the rest is a flurry of clothing and tripping feet. They are in the house, but they barely get the door closed, Derek stumbling back onto the stairs and pulling Stiles up to straddle his lap. Their cocks brush with only Stiles’ boxers in the way, and it draws a jagged breath from both of them. Derek seeks his lips again but Stiles holds up a hand.

“Wait… wait, wait, wait… let me just think, okay?” Stiles’ voice is shaky, and he closes his eyes, forehead pressed against Derek’s for enough time to center himself. When his dark brown irises fixate on Derek again he seems moderately more put together, if only a little. “You and I are drawn together right now.”

“Yes.” Derek agrees, when it seems like Stiles is waiting for his response.

“It’s sudden, and… overwhelming. And you don’t know why it’s happening.” Derek nods this time. “But this doesn’t have to go far. This can end right here. It can go slow, you can ask questions. I mean, I don’t know the answers, but I promise I won’t be mad.”

Questions? Right now, Derek’s wondering why he’s sitting bare ass naked on his staircase without anything fun happening. But Stiles seems scared, concerned for him, and Derek thinks through his words carefully. “I know you well enough to know that you have no intention of hurting me, Stiles. Is this going to end in pain for me?”

“No, no! It’ll end in beauty and growth and a bright future. Kittens and rainbows and all that. I mean, I’ve obviously never done this before, that’s the whole point, but that’s what they say is true. It’s just the way of the world. Like… this was always supposed to happen.”

The words are painfully genuine, and Derek raises an eyebrow. “Then what are we waiting for?” His logic must have resonated with Stiles, because he is stripping the last of his clothes and they are slotted back together. They don’t fuck fully - Derek wouldn’t have been against it with how bad the thought made his cock sing, but Stiles seems far more focused on exploring Derek’s every edge, and finally taking their cocks in hand together. Everything is so heightened that they come apart easily, long litanies of moans and broken words, Derek’s fingers gripping into the fleshy globes of Stiles’ ass as they spill between their chests.

The stairs are uniquely uncomfortable as they both come down from their high, an edge digging perfectly into Derek’s spine as Stiles’ knees creak with his position. But Derek finds himself nervous to move, not wanting to break whatever trance they had been in.

“Are you freaking out?” Stiles asks, his voice soft against Derek’s chest.

“A little.” He admits honestly, but he reaches up and runs fingers up and down Stiles’ back gently, soothing. “I was in complete control that whole time, right?” Stiles nods, but doesn’t speak. It was good to know. Violated, however, was not an emotion Derek felt in any way shape or form. He felt liberated. He felt alive. Even as the last haze wore off, nothing about what happened was something he regretted, and he knew he could have stopped them any time and it would have gone no further. “Then there’s nothing to take back.”

Stiles does finally lift his head, placing hands on the stair on either side of Derek’s shoulder. The relief in his eyes is poignant. “Derek, I know what life has been like for you. I wouldn’t exactly call it nice. I was so damn worried that you would think this is just another step in that direction. But when I found out it was you… well, let’s be honest, I was goddamn confused. It did start clicking together so well, though. And I’m happy now, that it’s you.”

“What’s me?” Derek asks, his voice barely more than a hush.

“It’s you… and me. Us.”

Clearly, it was, even if it didn’t make complete sense to him. “To do what?”

“Change things. Grow together. Protect each other. Not be alone? I don’t know.” Stiles sets his forehead against Derek’s, closing his eyes. “All I can promise is that when I learn more you’ll know more. Okay?”

A deep seated exhaustion was slowly falling over him, and as Stiles opened his eyes again, he recognized it in him too. But nothing in his chest demanded resolution, and his bed was calling. This would be the first time he would be sharing his new bedroom with another, but he doesn’t question it for a moment as he helps Stiles to stand and they retire until the sun comes up.

But at some point after his eyes close, he dreams of a forest. He knows it’s a dream immediately, just like he knows the forest is the one he grew up in. But he can only recognize it by sight, because the scents aren’t available to him. It seems like it was deep in the night, silent and empty, and he walks along as if the pathway is already picked out for him.

His hands burn the farther he gets, as if something in his skin wishes to escape. But he doesn’t look, eyes trained ahead, and as he comes around a curl in the trees he comes face to face with the Nemeton. It looked restored, still a stump but as if it was freshly cut. His steps take him closer, and as he approaches the middle shimmers away, like a mirage. By the time he’s standing over it the edges of the tree are rotted and brittle, and the middle is carved out completely, holding a still pool of water.

Derek leans over the liquid, peering down inside to assess the depth, but he’s instantly blinded by blue light. It glows brightly, shining like a beacon all the way up to the sky as if to draw someone in. The signal pulses and grows until, in a matter of a second, it ramps down to a softer shimmer. Derek realizes it’s moving and he leans forward again, finding shapes and figures. At first they don’t make sense, as if it can’t be translated, but then his brain starts to make logic out of them.

A lighter blue outline, almost a white, shifts and merges, creating pictures. It’s the outline of the faces of animals, one after the other. He can recognize all of them, some as large as elephants and others as small as moths. But in the end it comes down to two faces, repeating back and forth together until it was hard to differentiate between them - a wolf and a fox, constantly becoming each other. It starts moving faster and faster until the images implode on themselves, leaving only a stark and clear triskelion before everything fades back to normal water.

In the reflection of the pond he sees Stiles’ face staring back at him.

“Oh, shit, my dad didn’t tell me that the new museum was open!” Stiles exclaims, practically bouncing in his seat as they pass the fresh building. Even at the beginning of the day the parking lot is full, dragging in tourists from all the neighboring towns. No one ever seemed to question why the sun never shined, which Derek attributed to human ignorance.

“You aren’t taking your medicine anymore, are you?” Derek asks, a bemused smile on his face as he pulls to a stop at a red light.

Stiles winces in good humor, giving an innocent smile. “That obvious?” Derek raises an eyebrow. “Right, sorry, continue.”

“So, the dream I had was the one that brought you here?”

“Yes. I didn’t know you’d have my dream, but it makes it so much easier to explain. It’s like a trigger for me. And it’s what brought me to you.”

Derek frowns, pulling forward with the flow of traffic. “What, just because of my tattoo?”

“Not just because of it, I woke up with all of these emotions and intense pulls and thoughts that I had to sort out, it drove me crazy for hours.”

“Are you sure you’re not just crazy?” Stiles reaches out and shoves his shoulder and Derek shoves him back. “No hands on the driver.”

“Listen, it doesn’t make sense now, but I promise you it will. To both of us. There’s just so much happening right now. But you were the first step, so I can get that off my list.” Stiles makes a checkmark in the air to signify it’s completion and Derek watches him as he moves, his long limbs having their own beat against the thrum of the world. He pulls a right and is on the street Scott and Kira’s new home is on, pulling into the driveway. Stiles lets out a soft whistle to show he’s impressed, and it echoes in Derek’s ears in a way he knows Scott will hear.

Sure enough, the door opens, and Scott stares at the passenger seat of Derek’s vehicle in surprise, before rushing forward. Stiles moves just as fast, and then they are embracing, as if unaware of the rain. Stiles’ feet leave the ground as he’s lifted up in Scott’s embrace. His shoes come crashing down as Derek steps out too, walking around to join them. “Let’s get inside, yeah?” Derek says, interrupting their happily panicked voices, wondering what in the hell happens to their logic when they are around each other.

Scott and Kira’s home is modest and full of nostalgia. Childhood family pictures littered the walls and the rooms were filled with mismatched cushioned surfaces. Derek had always loved this home, and walking in now didn’t change that. It was one thing he hoped his home would eventually become, but that still seemed to be a far off ideal, somewhat unattainable.

Kira and Stiles reunite with more hugs and soon the three of them are curled into the couch and chairs scattered around the living room, Derek leaning against the doorframe behind the homeowners.

“When did you get back in town?!” Scott asks in excitement, and Kira holds his hand. Derek imagines it’s her way of grounding him. “I didn’t even know you were coming to visit! I thought you were looking into grad school!”

“Last night. And no, no, I decided to take a sabbatical. I had some other stuff I had to get sorted first.” Stiles’ eyes, so dark and deep, cut up to Derek and his lips quirk up ever so slightly. “What the hell is happening with the weather, man? It’s summer!”

Scott sighs, leaning back against the cushions. It’s a weary noise that Derek feels to his bones, at a loss. It’s a frayed end of a rope they had been hanging onto for days, with no relief. “I don’t know. There’s some sort of aura over everything. Our current theory is some sort of curse.”

“A curse?” Stiles asks, voice dripping with skepticism.

Kira cringes at how it sounds. “It’s still a work in progress.”

“It’s the best we can do. We don’t have a lot of help. Lydia is on the East Coast with Malia, and Isaac and Chris left town again a few months ago and haven’t delivered a way of contact. Derek has never seen anything like this before, and Cora is looking into her resources below the border, but Deaton is checked out. There have been two deaths so far, Stiles. We’re running out of time before someone else gets hurt.”

“Two? How did they die?”

“Heads cut off.” He lays the news out blankly like only Derek knows how, not bothering to shield Stiles from the dirty details. Stiles grimaces in disgust, but nods at him to carry on. “Your father doesn’t have any leads on what is used to cut them off. It’s a clean cut, but there are signs of struggle and strangulation. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yeah… I called him on my way down. He told me he wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold off the FBI. I guess I see why.”

Scott leans forward again, freeing himself from what Derek is sure must be an entrapping comfort in the pillows behind him. “Wait, your dad already talked to you about this?” Stiles nods, eyes looking at the carpet. He seems so deeply in thought that it made a zap of electricity rocket up Derek’s spine, as if he could feel the synapses firing as he made connections. “Stiles… why are you here?”

Stiles looks up to meet Scott’s eyes, and Derek watches their dynamic carefully, knowing that Scott was talking more like an alpha in that moment than he usually ever does. It’s not that Scott would be suspicious of Stiles, surely. But confused? He can climb right into Derek’s boat. Stiles only needs a few moments to collect himself before he’s reaching out and taking Scott’s hands together in his own, a serious look over his young face. “Everything is going to be okay, Scott. I know who will figure this out. And then it’ll be over and we’ll all live awesome and sweet lives, got it?”

Derek waits patiently for Scott’s reaction, but finally his shoulders shake, and Derek can imagine the wry grin on his lips. “Huh?”

“Don’t you trust me man?” That clearly wasn’t the reaction Stiles was hoping for, and Derek can hear the pout in his tone.

“Of course I do, but still… why can’t you just tell me more?”

“Because…” Stiles looks between them, all of the confidence he was trying to build up fading just a little. “It’s just really hard to explain. I don’t really even know all of the answers when it comes to being here. And some stuff it’s not my place to say.”

“You’ve never not been able to talk to me about stuff.”

“Yeah. I know. But I also know I’ve got this, as long as you trust me. And we’ll all figure out the answers together. Just like old times.”

Derek can’t help but believe that it’s true, even though all logic suggests otherwise.

“I may have less figured out than I thought.”

Stiles’ lips are pursed together, eyes trained ahead of them and arms crossed over his chest. “You think?” Derek asks sarcastically, holding an umbrella over their heads. The rain had picked up, an endless cycle of nasty weather, but Stiles insisted on venturing out into the woods. Derek didn’t mind too much. The woods were his home. But he wished he didn’t have to be fully clothed, or fully human, to be there getting damp. “You did just get in last night.”

“What is up with that damn fence we had to climb over? And all those stake signs about Crecer?”

“A development company. They have a provisional stake on the land. There is some debate as to whether or not it’s considered protected, but your dad is doing everything he can to make it ironclad safe.”

It wasn’t ideal, but nothing ever is. Beacon Hills was growing. A new construction manufacturer needing land, a new museum bringing in traffic and smog, everyone eyeing these beautiful trees as real estate rather than the very life they all live. A company already approached him last year about buying the Hale land to build condominiums. But this was the life of the people on the side of the supernatural - watching humans destroy what they need for things they think they want. They aren’t lucky enough to have a thumb on the pulse line of the earth every full moon. They can’t feel the dirt’s pain.

“I just don’t get it. It feels so dead. Like there’s nothing here.”

“There isn’t. I haven’t felt a thing from this since before you went to college.”

“It’s the Nemeton!” Stiles says, throwing his arms out in frustration, gesturing to the dead stump in front of them. Derek’s eyes wander over the cracked and brittle edges, getting flashbacks to his dream, one he borrowed from Stiles himself. “It’s the cross of leys, it’s the sacred grove, it’s the temple of the druids itself. If something starts mysteriously going wrong in this town, then - logic prevails - it should be caused by this, right?”

“If logic prevails.” Derek answers with a mutter, and clearly it’s not an appreciated comment, if the look he receives is anything to go by. “What? Magic and werewolves and demons and logic is what you’re worried about?”

Stiles turns back away, but then his hand is held out at his side, reaching for Derek. Stiles’ fingers are long and calloused, and if Derek closes his eyes he can almost watch all the years Stiles spent working on his car or writing research novellas in bleeding pen. This new connection they had was strange. He watches Stiles and Scott act like idiots and it’s as if he’s Alpha again, looking down at them as strangers that need to be protected. But in a blink of an eye he suddenly knows more about Stiles’ inner workings than he has since Stiles left town.

He wonders if Stiles feels the same about him. Are Derek’s jagged inner workings bared to Stiles in fitful glances? Derek has always had trouble believing that anyone could know him that long, or that intimately, and not go running for the hills. But perhaps the two of them did things right. Hate each other to begin with, grow to trust, and finally become complacent characters in each other’s lives. Maybe that’s why they were chosen like they were.

Needless to say, Derek takes his hand.

Separating from Stiles is a strange feeling. He hadn’t seen the guy in a few years, and even then it was mostly in passing. But when Stiles requests to be dropped off at Deaton’s clinic alone, Derek eyes him carefully. It was such strangely new waters Derek was treading, that he wasn’t always sure what he should be feeling. Or, perhaps more accurately, he knew exactly what he was feeling, but he’d never been the sort of man to let himself feel his own emotions without judgement.

But Stiles must have understood more than Derek was prepared to give him credit for at the moment. They park outside the clinic and Stiles’ lips find Derek’s neck, kissing below his ear and down to his jugular. Derek knew instinctively this was not a threat, the mouth on his skin far too loving to be making a violent statement. Far more likely, it was as if Stiles couldn’t help himself, needing more before they had to be away from each other. The kiss doesn’t quite accomplish what Stiles wants, that restless part of Derek still uncomfortable, but Derek tries to make himself breathe and trust the process. Which is a laughable concept coming from him, and Stiles must agree, his smile bemused.

But then he’s gone and Derek is left to his own devices, passing the Sheriff’s car on his way out of the parking lot. He distracts himself by driving the town and walking the woods and waiting for something to happen, waiting for the next shoe to drop. He coasts down the road and watches the faces he passes, wondering who of them could be the next to die. The children are the hardest to watch, his brain supplying horrible images. His mind was a vicious, masochistic thing, and had been ever since he lost his family. It may be something he never actually grows out of fully.

When Stiles asks him to meet at Scott’s house, Derek beats the Sheriff there. He waits and when the Sheriff’s car pulls up he steps out at the same time Stiles does, walking forward to carry the mountain of books and files Stiles chose to lug there with him. “Sorry, there was a cat that definitely got into something it shouldn’t have. I can’t research with that kind of smell around me.”

John Stilinski’s eyes burn a hole in the back of Derek’s neck, but when Derek turns around they soften a bit. Maybe it’s a sharp contrast for him - the man who’s darkening his son’s doorstep versus the man who he’s known, and worked beside, for so many years now. He’s not sure how he feels about John being the first to know about them. John claps a hand on Derek’s shoulder gently. “I have to head back in. They can’t catch me slacking. Let me know if you figure out anything, and don’t let your guards down.”

Inside the house Scott is dead eyed at his computer, Kira still at work. He jumps for the opportunity to take a break from school work, though he eyes the books as he helps set them down as if they were just another version of the same studying.

“Sorry, these are from Deaton and my dad, about this whole situation. Mind if I do some reading here?”

“Yeah, no problem. I’m surprised Deaton let you take them.”

Derek picks up one of the tomes, turning it around in his hands. It’s leather cover felt old and brittle, and when he smelled he could pick up decades of history, merged together so deeply he wouldn’t even be able to separate it out. “He won’t have much use for them after he leaves.”

“Leaves? What?” Scott looks back at his computer in a panic. “But I literally just started my D.V.M. Degree! I can’t run the clinic until I finish!”

“No, not being a vet!” The words send a visible wash of relief over Scott, which makes Stiles roll his eyes. “Being an emissary.”

“Oh.” Scott falls down to sit on his couch, and even Derek could tell he doesn’t know what to think. “Should I feel more than I do about that? Do I need one?”

“Yes, you definitely need one. But not feeling the loss of Deaton makes sense. He was magically tied to the Hales and retired after losing them. The only reason he came back was to help you, but I don’t know if I would ever call him your emissary.”

Derek remembers Deaton and his mother’s relationship well. One of his earliest memories was going to the funeral of Deaton’s wife, his mother instructing him that the doctor was a very important part of their family and they all needed to support him. “What does it mean for him to no longer be one?”

Stiles turns to Derek, and there’s a sadness in his eyes. “Nothing, really. Deaton will always be a Druid, that’s not something you can just shower off and move on. But he’s lost so much, and he can’t be tied down in someplace he is no longer connected to anymore. I’m guessing as soon as Scott can take over the clinic he’ll move far, far away and never think of Beacon Hills again, to be honest. That’s what I would do if it was me.”

“Harsh, dude.” Scott says, eyebrows raised. Stiles throws up his hands in a shrug, standing by his statement. But the idea of Deaton leaving forever strikes a new memory. A few years ago, Deaton had admitted to Talia asking him to watch over Derek. Deaton had sworn. Was Stiles such a strong force of nature that Deaton is willing to leave Derek’s safety in Stiles’ hands? Derek can protect himself, he always has in one way or another. But watching Stiles act like the young adult he is makes Derek just as confused as the night before. Young, lanky, quick witted, or old soul with hidden depths? Can someone be both? “How do you know all this stuff, Stiles? Did Deaton tell you that?”

There was a hurt in Scott’s voice, clearly still shaken on the idea of Stiles holding back. And he was - not a secret mentorship with Alan Deaton, but so much more. Derek can only guess that what they did the night before was least of all of it. Stiles himself looks troubled, biting his lips as he thinks through his words. Derek leans forward in his seat, waiting to see what he says, hoping for some clarity that Stiles had clearly been terrified to reveal.

But it all comes to a halt in a moment’s notice. Derek heard the car engine idle in the drive, the car door opening and slamming behind it. Kira was home from a late night at the museum, which was not something to be concerned about. But the strangled noise that follows, and the sharp, sour taste of electricity in the air was. Scott and Derek are on their feet and out the door in a moment’s notice, Stiles on their heels, trusting them. Kira is on the ground, clutching her throat and gasping for breath.

Scott falls to his knees in front of her. She leans her head back, showing red already showing and swelling beneath the skin’s surface. Her fingers, where she had clearly blocked whatever had come for her neck, had a deep and dark red welt along the knuckles. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I think I hit it.” Her voice is hoarse, leaning into his touch as he holds her. “They always underestimate me.”

Her final tease is incredibly appropriate for her, but Derek doesn’t get the chance to feel relief that she’s alright, hair standing on the back of his neck. “Whatever it is… it’s still here.” He can feel fangs growing in his mouth, wanting to be ready for the danger that’s still in the air. Stiles’ head shoots up, his eyes glancing around them.

“We have to get her inside.” Scott panics, lifting her to her feet, but Stiles holds out a hand, turning his back on the pair and backing up so that they are against the car.

“I can’t see it. If you guys see anything… warn a fella, huh?” He laughs nervously, but before Derek can insist they go into the house something is being pulled from Stiles’ pocket. It’s a pouch full of tiny vials of varying colors. He takes one in his palm and lifts his hand above his head. Words are muttered, ones that even Derek’s hearing can’t fully pick up. A different language? There is only the briefest of hesitations and then the vial comes down to the ground, smashed into pieces.

“What is that?” Scott asks, sounding as confused as Derek feels.

“I’m hoping it’s something that will confuse it. Just a little. And maybe even help us.” They wait and listen to the world around them, but Derek can still hear the soft rustles and flurry of movements. Whatever this is moves faster than he can keep up with, but then time seems to inch, slowing to a crawl. Was it because of the vial?

The tree across the street flickers as something moves in front of it and Derek knows his eyes are glowing blue. “I can see it.”

“Good. Share.” Stiles holds out his hand, and just like that afternoon Derek takes it, no hesitation.

“Stiles! Get out of the way!” Scott says, and Derek knows it’s because he’s scared. He wants Stiles to be safe. Stiles has always been the small and vulnerable one, the one that stuck with the monsters but always had a chance to be overwhelmed. How many times had Derek and Scott swooped in and saved his life when he got in over his head? Derek himself was warring with the same instinct to protect Stiles.

But the moment Derek and Stiles hold hands, Derek knows Stiles can handle it. There is a look in Stiles’ eyes that doesn’t seem so convinced. Derek can feel it in his core, though, and he squeezes Stiles’ fingers and tries to manifest his own confidence in the man next to him into an actual energy. He does it on instinct. And within a moment Stiles’ eyes glow blue. Another small vial comes from his pocket.

“Stiles, move!”

Scott’s voice cries out right as the creature comes at them, and he grips the back of Stiles’ hoodie. But Stiles compensates for the pull, his hand swinging out just in time. A beast, dark and large, charges them and Stiles’ hand slams into it. The vial shatters on the creature's head and not a sound is heard, despite the fact that a jagged mouth opens as if in a scream. They meet there, as if warring - Stiles’ hand’s radiating heat and the darkness of the injured creature, stuck in limbo waiting for one to win. Derek watches in shock as it shifts in front of them, into horrific caricatures of animal after terrifying animal. A word, garbled and broken, falls from the creature’s lips, something Derek can’t understand. Stiles’ hand glows a brilliant blue, just like the Nemeton in their dream, just like Derek’s eyes. And then, it’s over.

Stiles collapses onto the ground before Derek can even process they might have won.

Derek had carried Stiles into the house as fast as he could, Scott and Kira right on his heels. Kira locks the door behind him, for all the good it might do, but Scott is next to him and directs him to the guest bedroom down the hall. But once Stiles is on the mattress, there is nothing left to do but watch and wait.

“Deaton didn’t answer his phone,” Scott says when he returns to the room. Derek sits on the edge of the bed, a hand on Stiles’s bare arm. But there’s no pain to steal away. Stiles has a heartbeat that’s steady, breathing that’s deep, and is barely even twitching. It’s like a deep sleep, like what Stiles looked like that morning when Derek woke up with him in his bed.

“I think he’s okay. He’s just sleeping it off.”

“Sleeping what off?” The question was bound to come, and it’s not easy to tear his eyes away from Stiles. His face is gentle in it’s lax state, dark brown wisps of hair along the white pillowcase, lips parted and head to the side. He’s a sight to behold in Derek’s eyes. But Stiles needs his time, which means Derek has to handle things while he’s away. It felt a lot like Derek’s job to do it.

Derek stands and walks to the door, closing it behind him so that Stiles can rest. “Sleeping off what he did out there.”

“Yeah, but what is that? Whatever that was out there felt like fire on my skin. It was strong. I’m obviously missing something here, and it’s weirding me out a bit that it feels like you know more about my best friend than I do at this point.”

Scott does look genuinely confused and concerned, and Derek long ago admitted this is what made Scott a good alpha. He was never afraid to get real with his pack, to take a step down and admit he didn’t know. It helped them all grow together, and when Scott got to the point where he was ready to expand it would only strengthen them all.

“I don’t know much more than you. He came back to town and came to me, said there was a reason he had to come back. I was part of that reason, but clearly there is a much bigger part to it as well. I think it has to do with Deaton leaving.”

“What, like… Stiles would take his place? Why would he do that? Who told him to do it?”

Those were questions Derek wishes he knew the answer to as well. “We just have to wait for him to explain.”

The frustration in Scott is clear. Derek can look at his face and see the battle between wanting to be in control and wanting to trust his friend. But ultimately, trust is always going to be Scott’s default. It’s Derek’s job to be the one that doesn’t believe in others. Scott rubs his hands over his face, before turning away. “I’m going to go check on Kira. Let me know if he wakes up.”

All three of them fall asleep before that point. Kira has work in the morning, and Scott has school. A supernatural creature attack in their front yard isn’t a viable excuse to skip either. Derek ends up dozing on the couch, sitting up to keep himself from falling too deeply into rest. Still, when he realizes Stiles is awake he has no idea how long it’s been. Walking into the guest room, Stiles had somehow managed to sneak into the living room and grab the files and books he had brought with him, and he was neck deep in research. He looks up with a pencil in his mouth, grinning wide at the sight of Derek. “Hey, sleepyhead. Did I wake you?”

“Sort of…” Derek answers truthfully, walking up to the bed, eyes wandering over all the pages in front of them. He hadn’t heard Stiles once, but something in him had stirred him to come. That strange connection between them gets more depth and Derek isn’t sure if he hates it or not. He opens his mouth to speak again but Stiles’ hand twists into his shirt and pulls him down. Their lips meet, and Derek falls into it easily, like it’s something they had done a thousand times before. It felt normal, easy, instinctual. It felt healing.

When they part, Stiles’s face seems to say the same thing Derek is thinking, and Stiles lets out a long breath. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that. I needed it.”

“Yeah? It helps?”

Stiles nods, and then he’s reaching out to move the papers around, patting the empty area of bed he made for Derek to sit. “I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell we’re dealing with here.”

“I was wondering if you killed it last night. What was in that vial?”

“A purification concoction. It wouldn’t kill anything that wasn’t super low tier. And honestly, that thing didn’t even sound like it was in pain. I think it disappeared just to avoid dealing with it anymore.” Stiles’ eyes flit over the books and papers, frowning. “It’s some kind of shifter, I know that. The way it transformed was obvious. That’s probably how it’s hidden out here without getting caught, pretending to be different animals. Hard to be suspicious of your safety just because an annoying fly is buzzing around your head. But honestly, in the supernatural world, ‘shifter’ doesn’t narrow things down very much.”

Derek looks down at the nearest book. It reminds him of the library of books Peter had when Derek was growing up, every compendium imaginable. They had all been lost in the fire, obviously, but Derek would bet it was one of the best kept collections in America before that. The knowledge he himself had of the supernatural was barely a scrape of the surface.

There’s a piece of paper in front of him, and on it are a list of the names of the two victims who have been killed so far. And below that is a list of words, closely similar but not the same. Stiles was re-writing versions of the word the creature said before it disappeared, trying to figure out what it was. But it had been said so gruffly, Derek had to agree with Stiles’ writing that he had little clue whether it started with a V or a F or a B, or even what letter it could have ended with.

“We tried to call Deaton to get advice, to see if you needed help. But he never answered and never called back.” Derek looks up from the bed to find an incredibly sad look on Stiles’ face, and he frowns. “Alan’s been barely himself for years and years, but it seems so much worse now. Why is this happening?”

Stiles purses his lips, seeming to give a lot of thought to his words before he says them. “Do you remember his wife? Did you ever meet her?”

“A few times. I was pretty young when she died, though.”

“Honestly, the only reason he stayed in the game after he lost her was for your family and his connection to your mom. An emissary has a connection to only three things - his territory leader, his other, and his magic. But it’s three points to the same triangle. Once you lose one, it all starts falling apart. He lost his… well, his version of what you are to me. And then he lost his alpha, and he retired from it all. The only reason he came back was to help Scott, but most people never even last this long. I’ve heard of mages who lost their others and abandoned their packs all together for a life of travel, and escapism. I think Deaton finally hit his limit. He should have been replaced years ago, but…”

“His… other?” It was a term Derek hadn’t heard before, and he tries to process the implications.

“Other self, other half, other piece to his puzzle.”

“So, if I’m yours, does that make you the same as him? Are you an emissary? Are you his new replacement?”

Stiles pulls a knee up to his chest, wrapping an arm around it. It seems like it’s a question he didn’t want to answer, but Derek was grateful Stiles ultimately didn’t leave him in the dark. “Are two people ever really the same? Are all werewolves the same, or all humans? People with… magical abilities… they all vary and grow at their own paces. It’s supposed to start in your teens and flourish. And then eventually you get your calling for where the mother of magic, the magical flow around all of Earth, decides where she needs you. But it didn’t happen that way for me. Darkness got in the way.”

That wasn’t the first time Stiles had said something like that, but this time it clicked in Derek’s head. “The Nogitsune.”

Stiles nods, eyes trailing off to stare off into the distance. “What an asshole.” He finally agrees, and Derek remembers. He recalls the feeling of the Oni possessing him, using him as a shade of himself to wreak havoc. Even back then he couldn’t imagine how Stiles survived the full manipulation by the fox demon, or how he ever recovered. “But yeah. Sort of jumbled things up in my head for awhile. But when I left town for college, things got clearer, and eventually I started doing something called projecting - I drew in the local emissary. I learned I had abilities, kinda, but it’s hard. Harder for me.”

“How? And how can I help?”

Stiles turns with a soft smile. “By being patient, mostly. Like I said, this usually grows over years and years of guidance. Mine popped up less than six months ago and my calling card came in that dream you saw. I’m sort of flying by the seat of my pants. And the woman who helped me… she said I’ve got a lot to sort through.” Stiles looks over the stacks of papers and pages, physically and mentally overwhelmed with things to be sorted. When he speaks again it’s quiet. “He said I’m really powerful. And I need to be careful.”

Derek believes it. Even if Stiles didn’t fully know what he was doing, the way he had moved with his abilities the night before was flawless. Stiles had tapped into Derek’s own abilities without even a second thought, something Derek didn’t even know was possible. He’s fairly certain even Scott had felt it in the air, even if it was hard to define what he felt.

Stiles claps his hands together once, heaving a sigh. “I think this has to do with the Nemeton. I really do.”

“But there’s nothing to even be felt out there. It’s like it’s dead.”

“Yeah, but the two people that died? Tim Oswell and Brianna Hilton. One is a construction manager, which meant nothing to me. He was born and raised here. And the other, she’s some sort of consultant who was just here on business, was born in some other state. Felt random, until I realized she was here consulting for Crecer, that company that is here trying to develop the land. The construction company that she already pegged to do the work once it goes through? Oswell’s company. It all has to do with that damn stump out there. Somehow the Nemeton is doing this.”

“Or someone is doing it for it.” Stiles looks up at him and Derek shrugs. “Maybe it’s a protection thing. The Nemeton is important to the magical world. Even I wish there was more I could do to stop all of this, but I’m just stuck hoping your father can fix it.”

“But killing? Even if there was some sort of supernatural protection for the Nemeton, killing is almost never an easy byproduct. And it sought us out and tried to kill us. Why would it want to kill the other magical creatures in the town?”

Derek thinks back to the night before, remembering the sound of Kira’s car door and the harsh stench in the air of her electricity. It had all happened so fast, but Derek had never felt like he was the target. “It didn’t try to kill us. It tried to kill Kira. It tried to do to her what it did to Oswell and Hilton - take off her head. Clearly, it wasn’t prepared for her to have any sort of ability, so maybe it didn’t even know she wasn’t human.”

The words sink into Stiles and his lips part, his body starting to thrum as the light bulb goes off in his brain. “Holy shit, you’re right. What if it was just coming after Kira? But what the hell does Kira have to do with the Nemeton?”

“I think that’s going to be a question for her.”

“What? Nothing! Am I supposed to have something to do with it?” Kira is running circles around them, the adventure of the night before pushing her to accidentally sleep in. Derek and Stiles try to help, Stiles shaking off any concern for himself pretty quickly, but it’s not until Scott wakes up that they can figure out the intricacies of the overloaded McCall kitchen.

“No, not supposed to, but it would be awfully convenient if you did.” Stiles supplies, jumping up to sit on the counter. His hip knocks over one of his books, but Derek is there to catch it easily, like they were already a well oiled machine. Which makes zero sense, considering they have been back in each other’s lives for only a couple of days, but he supposed that may be something he’s supposed to chalk up to magic. Suspended disbelief has never been something Derek has been a fan of relying on, but he supposes they have bigger fish to fry at the moment.

Scott finishes off Kira’s eggs, sliding them onto a piece of toasted bread. “Listen, Kira has been working nonstop for two weeks. You saw how late she got back last night. She hasn’t been dancing around the woods.”

“Maybe you’re sleepwalking?” Stiles asks hopefully.

“I sleep in bed with Scott. He’s an alpha werewolf. I think he would know.” Kira is right, and the frustration is evident on Stiles’ face.

Derek decides to go a different pathway. “Why have you been so busy?”

“Ugh. Don’t even get me started.” Kira pauses to eat while Scott starts the blender for his protein shake, Derek’s nose wrinkling at the smell of the powder. He doesn’t understand how Scott can handle those, or why he even needs them. New age wolves, apparently. “We started the German artifact exhibit a couple of months ago. But we’ve had more and more issues with it. And it was only supposed to be temporary, a fun thing to draw people in to drum up future business, but we got way too many items. They are still being shipped in and half of them are in the back without even being displayed. We were literally supposed to end this exhibit two weeks ago. My boss wants me to collect everything and send it back, but you can’t organize all of these things overnight, Mr. Kenneth!”

Her voice is filled with stress at the end, cracking with it, and Stiles has his hands up like he’s halfway ready to console her, but he stops. “There he goes.” Scott mutters, leaning his hands against the counter to watch Stiles’ mind working. He had a small smile on his face though. “Glad to see you haven’t changed that much.”

Something that Kira said must have triggered something in Stiles, though Derek couldn’t fathom what. He finally turns. “Derek, are you using smartphones yet? For some reason when I imagine you, it’s always a Nokia in your hand.”

“Ha, ha,” Derek pretends to laugh, pulling his touch screen from his pocket. “What do you want?”

“What’s the German word for… uh… protection?”

Derek opens up Google and types it into a translator. “Schutz.”

Stiles wrinkles his nose. “Nope. What about… angry?”

“Wütend.” Derek knows for a fact he did not pronounce that right, but he’s starting to figure out where Stiles is heading with this. “You think that thing came at you and yelled the word, ‘angry’?”

“Listen, I don’t know German, okay!”

Derek looks down at the phone for a long time, and finally types a few words himself. But at the third attempt, he sees something that just might work. Still has no clue how to pronounce it, so he clicks the little speaker symbol next to it. Vergeltung. Stiles jumps off the counter in excitement, pointing. “That’s it! That’s it! That’s totally what that thing said, right?” He looks around at everyone in agreement. “What does that mean?”

“Retribution.” Derek deadpans, lifting his phone to show them the screen.

“Well… that’s not good.” Kira supplies after a long minute of silence.

“No. No it’s not.” Derek locks his phone and slides it into his pocket. “Now what?”

The Beacon Hills veterinary office is a staple of the town, like most animal services places are. It has stood sturdy on the same back gravel road for thirty years. Derek remembers playing in the lobby as a toddler, and as he walks into the room again he can see the small wooden bin in the corner that houses probably the same building blocks and books it did all those years ago. When he closes his eyes he could almost imagine thirty years from now, with Scott in charge and everything else still exactly the same.

“Derek. I’ve been expecting you.”

Derek opens his eyes and looks towards Deaton, and the man’s words don’t surprise him. Stiles had tagged along to the museum with Kira that morning, and Derek didn’t hear a word until this afternoon when he’d gotten a text.

‘Hey hot stuff! Swing by the vet’s office and grab a gift bag from Deaton - meet me at the nemeton! We got this - fangs out though!’

“No real surprise that he could get ahold of you when we couldn’t.”

Deaton nods, no spirit to defend himself, and opens the ledge of the counter for Derek to pass. The collection of animals is low tonight, but that was something which Deaton was always excellent about. Despite the fact that he was not a wolf or shifter, he had a way of rehabilitating and healing animals that Derek rarely saw in humans. On the table, instead of any instruments of medical help, was a single black velvet bag, the smell of which Derek would gladly avoid for the rest of his life.

“That should be all Stiles needs. Good luck out there.”

It seemed to be a dismissal, and Derek doesn’t take it to heart. The words sounded rough but the tone didn’t match. Deaton sounded the same as he did a lot lately, monotone and tired. Now that he’s spoken to Stiles, Derek can recognize there is something about Deaton that has wilted inside. Maybe it’s not just magic - maybe it’s what happens when you grow older. There’s parts of you that can never grow back, no matter how hard you try. And Deaton had clearly spent years trying. “I spoke to him last night. He told me about why he’s here.”

“Then you know I won’t be too much longer.” Derek nods and Deaton dips his head, spreading his hands onto the table. “And you know what you are to him.”

“In a way, yes. In many other ways I can’t really wrap my head around it.”

Deaton actually does grow a small smile then, curling his hands into fists and giving the surface a small knock. “Stiles has a lot of growth ahead of him. For him to become as big as his magic needs him to be, he’ll need you. I know it may be hard, because of your lack of sunny disposition,” Deaton pairs the words with a breathless chuckle, which fuels a faint curve in Derek’s own lips, “but you’ll need to think of yourself as the sunshine to his roots. You’ll have all the time in the world to adjust, as long as you’re next to him while you do it. You’re the stability and fertilizer to every development he gains. I wish I could say it was possible for magical people to grow on their own, but the world never wanted to make it that easy on us.”

As Derek watches Deaton speak, he’s reminded of a day long ago. Deaton, standing outside of their house, conspiring with Derek’s mother’s and acting like just days before Deaton’s whole world didn’t just end in the form of his wife in a casket. Resilience was the name of the game, and Derek hoped he wouldn’t ever be the reason for Stiles to grow that emotionally strong. “I don’t know if this is what I’m supposed to say… but thank you, for everything you ever did for the Hales. My mother only ever had good things to say about you. Thank you for being here.”

“It wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.” The sincerity in his eyes is more emotion than Deaton generally ever lets through. Derek does truly believe it. “It’s my job to help your family, even if your family is down to just three. But I’m not needed anymore, and it’s overdue for me to be on my own. And don’t worry, I’m leaving you and this beautiful land in very capable hands. Scott and Stiles… those two wouldn’t have made me blink an eye at fourteen, but as adults they are going to change the world.”

Derek agrees, before picking up the bag and leaving the office. Despite the fact that Deaton would continue to work at this office for a few more years, it did feel like a goodbye. Maybe it was the part of his mother inside him mourning the connection to a dear old friend. He decides to allow himself to mourn for her.

The sun had set only minutes ago when Scott and Derek heard the tell tale crunch of wheels over the gravel. “It’s the Jeep.” Scott says, moments before Derek could hear it too. A soft whine, and gentle thump, all belonging to Stiles’ vehicle. Unique calling cards of a weathered ride, worn over time. They stood at the edge of the forest, the short fence belonging to the Crecer Company between them and the start of the dirt floor.

The Jeep pulls up and skids to a stop, and Stiles is out the moment he has it put into park, flying towards them with a bag on his shoulder and something in his hand wrapped in cloth. Kira is on his tail. “We have to get to the Nemeton. Quick.” He vaults the top of the fence, barely clearing it, and Derek follows. The bag is given to Derek and Derek heaves it easily for him alongside the gift from Deaton.

“Why the rush?”

“It’s not a real creature. It’s the spirit of one.” Stiles is already out of breath, panting between sentences. “It can’t handle the sun but it can travel freely at night. It’s always tied to an object. I can’t kill it, but I can kick it out from it’s tether.”

“Won’t it just attach to something else?”

“No, it’s picky! It could take years and years for it to attach again, and in that time it can travel halfway across the world!”

Derek doesn’t really care about any of that as much as he does the fact that it only hunts at night. “Why are we doing this now instead of in the middle of the day?”

“Ceremony has to be done under the moon.”

“And there’s no way to protect ourselves from it?”

Kira’s voice rings from the back end, barely winded as she sprints along with them. “I think, ideally, Stiles would have had a bit more time to plan things. But we did just have to steal an ancient German artifact from my place of work, so he’s doing the best he can!”

They enter the edge of the Nemeton clearing and Stiles runs right up to it. Derek remembers Stiles’ dream, and he’s certain Stiles is remembering it too. “And it has to be here?”

Stiles nods jerkily, heaving in a breath. “If there is any juice left in this thing I could use all the help I can get.” Derek brings him the bags and Stiles empties out the insides quickly.

“Well, we should probably hurry… I think we have company.”

Scott’s eyes are glowing red when Derek looks up. He’s right. It’s not as strong or obvious as it was the night before, but there’s definitely a presence out there. He turns to Stiles quickly, a hand going to his lower back as he crowds in close. “What can I do?”

“Just keep it away. And don’t judge me too much for winging it. Where the hell is the chalk?” Derek picks it up from amidst the pile and hands it over. “Oh, thanks.”

Derek’s hand had caused something to release a reverberating ding, in the higher scale. “What the hell is that?”

“That is a future apology to Saint Jude’s on fourth street.” The reality of Stiles stealing a bell from a church sinks in and he turns on him, but Stiles is quick to defend. “What part of winging it don’t you understand?”

“Guys, can we get this show on the road.” Kira says as a warning. The collapsed katana Derek didn’t know she had was snapped into place, electricity growing in the air.

“Yep, sorry! Thank God it’s not raining right now.” The chalk touches the wooden stump, making a large circle as Stiles’ feet carry him around the circumference. “It’s an Aufhocker. I’m eighty percent sure of it.”

Nervousness bleeds into Scott’s voice. “Only eighty?”

“Okay, ninety. Ninety percent sure. It’s a German folklore, a shapeshifting spirit that teaches people lessons. It’s known for jumping on people’s backs and choking them until they die.”

“It does a little more than choke.” Derek interjects, as Kira comments that the whole thing sounds familiar, a hand on her throat. “What kind of lesson is it teaching?”

Stiles makes quick work of the whole set up, small vials emptied in strategic places and runes drawn along the outer edges. For a man who says he’s not sure what he’s doing, he completes it like the knowledge is on the back of his hand. “This. I was right… it all comes down to the Nemeton. We - all of us, the pack, Deaton - let the Nemeton burn out. This artifact was brought into town and something about the blockage fueled it. It wanted revenge on the people who might try to hurt the Nemeton further, and then it tried to take out Kira because Kira was in charge of sending the Aufhocker’s tether away. So, we’ll kick it out of the tether, and then we’ll figure out how to fix what we messed up.”

“I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed I can’t kill it.” Scott stares Derek down, rarely ever alright with Derek’s more violent tendencies, but Derek stands by his words. They don’t get a chance to argue, though, because Derek sees something coming. “Look out!” He yells as he rushes forward.

Scott beats him to it. He turns on his heel, slamming one of his feet down with enough force to shake the ground. His transformation comes quick, jagged teeth and burning red eyes, as he releases a roar strong enough to stop the beast - the shadowed figure of a black bear, snarling and angry - in its tracks. A second later, Kira’s sword comes down in front of him, and a bright flash of light shines, sending it screeching away from them and back to the shadows.

Kira looks around at everyone, finding their faces of surprise, and shrugs. “You said they don’t like light!”

“Right on.” Stiles agrees, and doubles down at his work. Finally, he crawls on top of the Nemeton, clothed statue in hand. He unwraps it and Derek finally gets a look at it. A small, cloaked figure stands on a terrified man’s back, a rope around his neck. The only thing that the viewer could tell about the creature was an evil smile, filled with the jagged teeth of a carnivore.

The figure is set directly in the middle of the diagram Stiles created. He falls on his knees, lifting the church bell over his head. He starts to talk, his voice nervous and hesitant, and Derek hears him trip over his words. But the longer he goes the louder and more confident he gets. The light of the moon, hidden by clouds, doesn’t seem to match the amount of light that starts to fill the clearing. It only seems more intense to Derek’s eyes with the clawing of shadows from the edges. The trees that guard them sway and flow with a speed that is not influenced by wind. The shadows seem to want to grow, to reach them easier, and the three of them crowd the stump closer until it’s edges touch the back of their calves.

Stiles’ voice is commanding now, speaking a language Derek wouldn’t bet he could guess, and soon he circles in the same few words as a mantra, the bell still high above his head. Derek turns to look at him, wanting to know what will happen, and in an instant he feels it - a weight on his back, a vicious force against his throat. Out of the corner of his eyes, he can see Scott and Kira in the same predicament. How? How can it do this to all of them? But it’s merely moments of fighting, Stiles slamming the bell over his head, and Derek can feel blood pouring down his neck.

And then it’s over. The bell swings low one last time, Stiles’ voice yelling out his mantra, and the pressure on Derek’s neck is gone. Blue light fills the edges of the Nemeton, before narrowing in on Stiles’ body. It jolts him up straight, like the magic itself went directly up his spine, before the light disappears and he collapses back.

In the blink of an eye, they are back in a regular old forest clearing. There is no wind in the sky, there is not even a sound to be heard - nothing except for the three of them gasping. Derek is crouched in a ball on the ground, but grits his teeth, closing his eyes as his ruined throat heals itself, and as soon as he can move he’s pushing to stand. Kira and Scott seem fine, but Stiles is on his back on the trunk.

“Stiles!” Derek scrambles on top, rushing to the man’s side eagerly. Only to find Stiles panting for breath, and staring up at the sky, wide eyed. “Are you alright?”

Stiles looks up at him, then bends his head back to look at the upside down view of Scott and Kira. When he meets Derek’s eyes again he’s grinning. “Hey! I didn’t pass out this time!”

The moment the spirit is dispersed, the clouds start to fade away, and the next morning Beacon Hills gets their first sunny day in over a week. Stiles managed to return the statue without Kira losing her job, and left the church bell in the cathedral’s mailbox for safekeeping, before promptly passing out in the back of his dad’s police vehicle. But his father’s job isn’t over - a guarantee that there won’t be a third death helps ward off immediate FBI intervention, but it doesn’t explain the first two.

They are dropped off at the Sheriff’s home. Derek wakes Stiles up and makes him trudge upstairs, but when he goes to leave him in his childhood bedroom Stiles’ hand grips his wrist and forces him in bed too. Derek doesn’t argue, laying on his back. Stiles throws an arm over his chest and is snoring against his shoulder quickly. It would be endearing if it wasn’t so drooly.

Though, clearly it isn’t terrible, since Derek falls asleep looking at him. And when he wakes up Stiles is just starting to stir, bleary eyed and warm. Derek has no idea what time it is, but he would wager midday. He hasn’t slept the day away since he was a teenager. “You’re a bad influence on me.”

“Turnabout is fair play,” Stiles mutters indignantly, any sincere bother in his tone dampened by his gruff exhaustion. “Says the werewolf who almost killed me at fifteen.”

“Almost. Never did. You’re welcome.”

Stiles chuffs out a laugh, before stretching his arms way above his head. He pulls his phone out to check it, but it’s understandably dead. Derek guesses he doesn’t have a charger stashed at his dad’s, because he tosses it to the bottom of the bed and turns back to his bedmate. “How are you feeling?” Derek raises an eyebrow, confused on what Stiles means. He reaches up to his throat to feel the place where his wound had been, but there hadn’t even been a mark after the first half hour. Stiles reaches up and stops his hand, before lessening his grip and caressing his fingers. “Not just that. About everything. About Deaton, and me, and you, and Scott, and…”

“You’re just naming off people now.”

“You know what I mean.”

Derek had to nod in agreement that he did. Stiles had been in town for two days, and had turned everything upside down for everyone, Derek especially. He still didn’t fully understand what was happening between them, or what this meant for him for the rest of their lives. Surely he would play a part larger than he knew. But when he looked at Stiles he didn’t feel scared or like things were out of control. “Well… I could use a few more answers about what comes next. But other than that I feel fine.”

“What comes next is figuring out the Nemeton, and me getting my ass on top of this whole magic thing. I have to talk to Scott about what this all means for us, see how he feels about me potentially being a magical part of his pack. Also need to help my dad explain these two deaths. And, you know...” Stiles skirts the last subject, but finally he settles and goes for it. “Definitely repeating what we did the other night. And then some.”

Derek can’t help it. Despite whatever they had down the road, Derek’s chest ends up shaking with laughter, eyes closed as he basks in it. “Stiles… out of everything you just said, that is going to be the easiest on your list.”

the end