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Unquiet Wanderer

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It’s there to the west, but every time Stiles tries to concentrate in that direction as he breathes and reaches out to the energies around him, it slips from his mind’s eye like a shadow in the sun. The first time, he dismisses it as a trick of his mind. The second time he thinks that perhaps he doesn’t have the skills to reach his mind that far. The third time, the awareness stops and turns to him, heavy and oily thick. Stiles comes out of that meditative trance wet with sweat and choked by fear. The acrid taste of malevolence and minerals stays on his tongue for hours.

Stiles Searches

Stiles spends the day writing down lists of what it could be, where it could be, and flipping through the small library he keeps in his room. No matter how many times he looks at the map, the shadow in his mind hovers over the spot on the map he wishes he could burn from the earth. When he wanders out into the kitchen, his dad is there at the fire, stirring a pot of something that smells savory and thick.

“Good morning.” Stiles flops into a chair at the table.

His dad raises his eyebrows. “It’s afternoon.”

“Must have lost track of time.” Stiles rubs his face. “I need to go talk to Deaton, but if it’s late it will have to wait.”

His dad squeezes his shoulder before sitting down across from him. “You push yourself too hard. Your mother,” a pained look ripples across his face, “she always knew when to take breaks.”

“I just want to learn. I need… there are things I don’t understand and I need to figure them out. Sometimes, I feel like if I can’t get good at harnessing my own power, I’ll let her down.” Stiles’s chest is seized with a vice and the next breath hurts.

His mother had died, disappeared really, helping the Hales, and Stiles hadn’t been old enough to learn how to use his spark before she died. He’d been left to fumble for control on his own until Deaton, the local druid, offered to help Stiles as best he could. Deaton wasn’t a perfect solution because druids and sparks were two different things that skated and manipulated the power generated by all living things. Stiles is getting better, but times like this, when he is lost and doesn’t know what to do next, makes him ache for the mother he lost. Makes him hate the family she’d gone to help because she had never come back.

His dad reaches across the table. “Hey, kiddo. She would be so proud of you. She knew the minute she was pregnant with you that you were going to outshine her power. She was so happy and she loved you. She’d be so proud of how much you’ve learned and how big your heart is for the world.” He squeezes Stiles’s hand. “She would not, however, like it for you to doubt yourself and worry like this. Do your best. That’s all she would have wanted and that’s all I want.”

Stiles takes a deep breath and his chest expands. He gives his dad a smile. “Thanks.”

Stiles goes to Deaton’s early the next day. The walk through the forest calms the feeling of unease and the restlessness that has lodged under his breastbone. Stiles lets his senses fill with the smell of warm leaves in the morning sun and dew damp dirt under the soft leather of his boots. There is still a niggling feeling to the west, but it’s small and quiet today. Stiles hasn’t told his dad about the shadow on the horizon or where it is. He wants to, gods he does, but every time he’s tried, his mouth refuses to work.

Deaton is sitting on the bench outside his small cottage, drinking tea and chewing a biscuit. “Good morning, Stiles. How are you on this sunny day?”

Stiles has learned that even though Deaton rarely gives straight answers, that it’s better to be straightforward with him. “There’s a growing shadow of malevolence. I see it when I stretch my mind. It’s gaining power.” 

Deaton sips his tea and sets the cup on the saucer without a clink. “Can you tell where this shadow is located?”

Stiles puffs out a breath and plops down on the bench. “It’s near the Hale holding.” 

“Are you sure?”

Stiles nods. “I meditated on a map and tried a few different locator tricks. They all point to the Hales.” His gut churns with resentment and fear.

“There are many things this could be. Whatever it is, it would either have to be very strong for you to feel it this far away or, the more troubling option, is that it is seeking you out specifically.”

Stiles is gripped with anxiety. The last option had occurred to him but he had dismissed it.

“What are you going to do about it? I am still in contact with the librarian there. I could write her and she could give Alpha Talia Hale the warning.”

“I think,” Stiles has to swallow down the bile the next words bring, “I think I need to go there. This sounds crazy, but I think I need to get a closer look. I think it means harm and I think it is looking for me. I don’t want to lead it here.”

Deaton stands. “While you will not require a letter of introduction to Alpha Hale, you will need one for the librarian. Lydia Martin is very protective of the secrets the Hale library holds, but you may need access to that information. I’ll bring you some tea while I write the letter.”

Stiles makes his way back home with the sealed letter in his sweating hand and wonders how in the hell he’s going to tell his father he’s going back to the place and the family that took Claudia Stilinski from them. He has to stop halfway through to steady his shaking hands and heaving chest. He leans against a tree and gathers himself. This is the right thing.

When Stiles bursts through the door of their house, his dad looks up, takes one look at him, and stands up from his chair.

His hands are like vices on Stiles’s arms. “Stiles, what happened?”

“I have to go to Hale Holding.”

His father’s forehead wrinkles and he sits down heavily in the chair he just vacated. “Why?”

“There’s something there, something evil. I can feel it and I can’t explain it, but I have to go find it.” Stiles’s hands shake as he lays the letter from Deaton on the table.

His dad scrubs his hands over his face. “That’s exactly what your mom said.”

Stiles swallows. “I know. Dad, we never found out what happened. If the Hales did something to her, this could be my chance to find out.”

His dad’s face hardens. “Son, the Hales had nothing to do with your mom disappearing. They lost one of their own too.”

“But they never told us what happened and she was there because of them.” Stiles slashed his hand through the air. “They know something they’re not telling us.”

“That may be true, but don’t forget, they lost a lot too.” His dad’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “When are you leaving?”

Stiles sat on the chair across from his dad. “Tomorrow, but I won’t go if you don’t want me to.”

“What does your gut tell you?”

“That I have to go see what is plaguing the Hale land.”

 

***

Once Stiles is on the road, the sense of adventure, even though it’s perched on top of trepidation and anger over the unknown past, overrules everything and Stiles can’t help but enjoy it. During the day, he walks and basks in the sun and the road. At night, he finds small clearings and bundles up in his bedroll. He can feel the awareness of whatever it is growing with each step and he follows it like the needle of a compass. It takes him a week of hard walking, but on the eighth day, Stiles steps over some kind of invisible boundary and he feels the change.

The Hales are an old family of werewolves whose magic and generations of care have made their mark upon the land. They have claimed the land and the land has claimed them. Stiles wonders if the wolves are as aware of their territory border as he is when he steps through it.

He does not have to wonder for long.

Ten minutes after he crosses the border, Stiles knows he is being followed. He means no harm to the family and he does not think his tail will do anything except follow. Tail, Stiles chuckles at the dog joke. It takes Stiles another three hours before the wagon path he’s on widens into a drive that turns into a circle in front of a manor house. The house itself is more castle than manor, with thick wooden beams, stones, and a round turret on one side. 

He pulls Deaton’s letter from his pack and walks up to the front door, made of wrought iron and wood. The knocker is a snarling wolf and Stiles spares a moment to roll his eyes. The sound of the knocker is loud and he’s barely released it when the door is opened by a woman Stiles’s age with brown hair and quiet brown eyes. She isn’t dressed like a servant but the next part would not matter if she was.

Stiles bows. “My name is Mieczyslaw Stilinski and I’m here to see Alpha Talia Hale. I have a letter of introduction to the librarian of the Hale library, Lydia Martin, from Alan Deaton.”

The woman snorts. “You can’t be serious with that name. I’ll never remember it to repeat it.”

Stiles laughs and the woman smiles at him, then she tilts her head as if listening. She rolls her eyes. “I’m sorry for being rude,” she grounds out. “Please repeat it and I will do my best.”

Stiles laughs again. “I like you. Please, Stiles is fine.”

The woman grins and her entire face is transformed with it. “I’m Cora Hale. I’ll take you to Mom, I mean, the Alpha.” She sighs.

Stiles takes a chance and puts a casual hand on her shoulder. “I think we’re going to be friends. My real name is atrocious but I promised my father I’d used it at least once while I was here. That promise has been fulfilled, now I can stick to just Stiles.”

Cora smiles again. She looks over his shoulder. “He’s fine, Boyd. Thank you.” Stiles turns around and sees a dark haired man melt back into the trees. Cora turns and motions with her hand. “This way, Stiles.”

Stiles shifts his satchel and follows Cora into an arched entryway that opens into several rooms. A teen with black hair and hazel eyes, peers around the corner. “William, go tell Melissa we have a guest who will require a room.”

The teen hesitates. Cora says, “Take his bag and go.” William shuffles his feet. “Now, please.”

William stomps up to Stiles. “May I take your bag?”

Stiles relinquishes his satchel and watches the teen trudge up the stairs as if the world is incredibly unfair to him in particular. Cora sighs and opens a set of wooden doors at the end of the hall. She leaves the doors open as they walk through. The first thing Stiles notices is the light. One entire side of the room is windows that overlook the edge of a garden and dense trees of a very old forest. There are comfortable couches, lounge chairs, and low tables on one side of the room. 

A woman with loose brown hair and dark brown eyes that miss nothing stands, laying the papers she was reading to the side. Stiles can feel the weight of her power when it reaches him. It’s not threatening so he doesn’t shield his own power completely, allowing her to sense him and his intentions in any way she can. He promised his dad he would give the Hales a chance. If he wants to find out what happened to his mom and what is happening now, making enemies right at the beginning will not serve his purposes.

Stiles steps forward. “Alpha Talia Hale, I presume.” Stiles bows, remembering his manners.

Alpha Hale closes the distance between them and runs a hand down his arm, scenting him as a guest in her house. “Stiles, be welcome in our home. Your mother was an exceptional woman and a good friend. It’s a pleasure to finally see you in person. I think, given all things, you may drop the formalities and call me Talia.”

“Thank you.” The open greeting is unexpected. He thought there would be some suspicion or pointed questions or a quick trip back out the door on his arse. Being welcomed and marked as under protection of the Alpha as if he hadn’t spent most of his life trying to blame her for his mother’s absence is jarring.

Talia waves her hand at another woman on the couch next to her. “This is my oldest, Laura, and I see you’ve already met Cora.” Stiles inclines his head to the smiling woman who is a younger, but no less beautiful version of her mother. “Cora, please go and find Derek and have Melissa bring in some tea. Stiles, please sit.”

Stiles sits and the three of them stare at each other for a span of time before Laura huffs out a breath.

Laura leans forward. “Stiles, my father and your mother died fighting some kind of creature that was plaguing our territory. We found out later it was a kanima. We never wrote to you because we were too busy fighting the threat from our neighbors to the east, hunting down the kanima, and holding the pack together.”

Stiles opens his mouth and closes it without speaking. Talia throws her daughter a withering gaze and flashes her red alpha eyes at her daughter. Laura meets her mother’s gaze head on and Stiles decides he likes this Hale daughter as well. He carried assumptions here with him and most of them were crumbling under the reality of the Hales.

Talia’s eyes flick back to brown as she addresses Stiles. “Though my daughter has spoken out of turn and too early, she is correct. We owed your family more and for that I am sorry.”

All those years of the unknown and bitterness melt from him into the floor and a pinch he didn’t know was there eases from between his shoulders. “I appreciate the clearing of the air. Your words mean more to me than you know.”

“Now, Stiles, though I recall your mother calling you Mischief,” Talia’s mouth quirks up but her eyes are sad, “what brings you to our territory?” Talia tucks one ankle behind the other and regards him with a straight gaze.

Before he can answer, a woman with dark curly hair and a warm smile comes in carrying a tray with tea and biscuits. She sets the tray down in front of Talia and curtseys. “Would you like me to serve the tea?”

“No, thank you, Melissa. We’ll be fine. If you see my other offspring, please send them in.”

Melissa nods and leaves the room. Talia’s gaze holds weight and power when they fix back onto Stiles. “Now, Stiles.” He starts to speak, but she holds up a hand. “We’re about to be interrupted again by two of my other children.”

Cora comes back into the sitting room and she is followed by the most attractive man Stiles has ever seen. He has a neatly trimmed beard and hazel eyes that are a wonderful mix of blue and green over a mouth pressed into a line. Stiles tears his eyes from the man and realizes that Talia is speaking.

“... son Derek. Derek, this is Stiles Stilinski. He was just about to tell us why he is here. Both of you can join us for tea.”

Cora is looking at Stiles with a smirk. Derek’s face has moved from neutral annoyance to outright frown. Stiles accepts the tea he’s given and manages to only spill a little of it on his hand. Stiles bites back a curse. Derek’s frown deepens, Cora and Laura are grinning in that way one does when trying not to laugh, and Talia is looking at him with intent again. It’s been a long time since Stiles had dealings with werewolves - he tends to avoid them when possible - and he’d forgotten what an apha’s gaze felt like.

“Stiles, please tell us why you have journeyed here to see us.” Talia’s voice is kind, but Stiles doesn’t miss the underlying authority in the request.

Stiles sips his tea for something to do and burns his tongue. He puts his tea down with a clatter on the table and wants the floor to consume him. “I inherited my mother’s power, well mine is a little different, but I’ve been sensing something dark and dangerous for some time. It appears to be growing. I did a locator spell, did it more than once actually, and it led me here.”

Talia and Laura share a look and Stiles sits up. “Has there been anything unusual happening here? People disappearing, plants dying, people having strange dreams or thoughts? Anything like that?”

Talia nods. “Normally, this is not information I would share with an outsider, but your mother, being who she was, makes this conversation different. For a few weeks now, I’ve felt something, off, in our territory. I don’t know what it is. No one seems to feel it yet but me.”

Derek clears his throat. “I’ve been having dreams.”

Stiles puts his hands on his knees and leans forward. “What kind of dreams?”

He isn’t sure how Derek manages to look both more annoyed and more attractive. “Bad ones. And I have trouble going back to sleep after.”

“Wow, thanks for the details. Really helpful.” Stiles can’t help but poke Derek, who looks like he was born with a permanent frown.

“It’s probably not related.” Derek crosses his arms.

“I’m the magical expert here, not you. I was drawn here for a reason.” Stiles huffs then directs his attention back to Talia, who is looking between Derek and Stiles with a raised eyebrow. Stiles hopes that means Derek will get a lecture from his mother when this is over. “Talia, I would like permission to stay in your territory and see if I can find what is happening here.”

“Of course Stiles. All our resources are yours. You will stay here at the house and if you need anything, all you have to do is ask. You have a letter of recommendation to the librarian, I see.” Talia smiles at Stiles and he relaxes.

“Yes, I would like to talk to Ms. Martin as soon as possible.” 

Talia waves her hand. “Derek, take Stiles to the library.”

Derek puts his cup and saucer down without another word, stands, and starts to walk out the door. Stiles scrambles to his feet and hears Cora and Laura laughing before their mother shushes them as he jogs to catch up with Derek. 

Stiles runs right into Derek’s stupidly broad and muscled back. 

Derek whirls on him and grabs him around the forearms to steady him. Stiles jerks with the awareness that blooms from the contact. 

“You’re a disaster. I don’t know how you think you’re going to help. You can’t even drink tea and walk.”

“Are you always this rude to guests?” Stiles snaps back.

Derek’s cheeks color and his hands tighten before they let go of Stiles. Derek turns and starts walking down the hall in long strides. Stiles mutters about werewolves with worse manners than actual wolves, knowing Derek can hear him, and follows the other man. They go down a long hallway, then Derek stops so abruptly that Stiles runs into him, again. This time, in addition to the muscles and the general heat that Derek Hale puts off, Stiles notices that Derek smells like citrus and leaves in the rain. It’s unfair that he notices and Stiles silently curses his life.

Stiles is forced to take a step back when Derek whirls back to face him. “This is the library.”

Derek inclines his head and stomps off down the hall, hands in fists by his side.

“What the hell was that?” Stiles knows Derek can hear him and he doesn’t care. Derek Hale may be a beautiful, prime specimen of manhood, but he is also a prime specimen of asshole and Stiles knows to avoid assholes. It’s a big house. Hopefully, he won’t see Derek often.

Stiles turns to the arched door and knocks twice before entering. The room is two stories high with a balcony running the entire length of the second floor. There are bookshelves covering the walls and half shelves on the first floor. There are two wooden reading desks in one corner and some overstuffed reclining couches set around a fireplace on the far end. Stiles never thought he would ever see this many books in one place and he cranes his neck trying to get a better look at the second floor. 

“It’s impressive, isn’t it,” a smooth voice says next to him.

Stiles flails his arms then clutches his chest. “Warn me next time.” 

He starts to say something else, then notices the voice belongs to a woman with strawberry blond hair in a neat twist. Her dress is a light blue and fits against her pale skin like a glove before fanning out into a full skirt. 

“Is everyone here unfairly attractive?” he asks.

The woman raises an eyebrow at him. “Who are you and why are you here?”

Stiles bows and holds out the letter. “My name is Stiles Stilinski. This is a letter of introduction from Druid Alan Deaton. I believe the letter explains why I am here and he has asked if you would grant me access to your library.”

A dark haired man with sharp features and a broad smile looks around a shelf. “Who is it Lydia?”

“Unfairly handsome,” Stiles rolls his eyes and mutters.

The man hears him, because of course he does, and his smile widens.

The woman, Lydia, breaks the seal and skims the letter quickly. Her hazel eyes look up from the words. “I’m Lydia Martin. This unfairly handsome idiot behind me is Danny Mehelani. Tell us everything you know and we’ll see what we can do to help.”

 

***

Derek can’t get away from Stiles fast enough. He goes directly to his room, closes the door and leans his forehead on the wood. He has been having dreams, but he left out some important details in the sitting room. All the dreams have two things in common. Derek can feel an evil chasing him and Stiles is there. In the dream, Derek can’t tell if those two things are separate or the same and seeing Stiles sitting there with his family unbalanced him, as if he was stuck in a nightmare.

But then he’d gotten close enough to sense Stiles, to smell him, and all Derek could pay attention to after that was the smell of cedar, earth, and magic. Stiles’s heart, fast and human, is the loudest thing in the house, even now, Derek can hear it. He needs to clear his head. He doesn’t know if Stiles is a threat or if he is here to help, as he said he is. Derek does know one thing, Stiles sets everything in him on edge.

Derek has time so he goes outside in the back garden and sits on a bench in the back corner where he is the least likely to be found. He lifts his face to the sun and breathes deep, trying to rid his nose of the smell of the man with light brown eyes.

The sun begins to dip and Derek resigns himself to going in for dinner. His stomach growls and he stands with a sigh. He should change for dinner since they have a guest, but Derek isn’t sure Stiles counts as the kind of guest that would cause his mother to gather them for a formal dinner. Meals in the Hale house tend to be informal affairs. 

Even though he is only a handful of minutes late to the dining room, everyone is there and seated. The Hales never stand on ceremony and everyone, family and staff alike, eat at a table that spans the length of the large room. Dishes are piled in the center with food and passed around. There’s only one seat left open, between Stiles and Laura. He doesn’t know how his sisters did it or how they know that he would rather sit anywhere else. But they did and he does. He sits down next to Stiles and tries to think of ways he can start over after his behavior earlier.

The first course is served and Derek leans over to Stiles. “I would like to apologize for my behavior earlier.”

Stiles shifts in his seat to angle towards Derek and bites his bottom lip. Derek absolutely notices the movement. “Not that I expected to be welcomed with open arms, but that was a lot more asshole than I usually like.”

Cora snorts her soup, causing her to start coughing and Isaac helpfully smacks her on the back. Everyone at the table can hear this conversation, including his mother, and he wants them to know he’s trying. 

“I apologize.”

“Fine, I accept your apology but your actions will mean more than words, so I’ll offer you a tidbit of advice. Not being a jerk will go a long way in starting over.”

Derek sees his mom hide a smile behind her napkin. She is enjoying this too much. “Accepted.”

The smile Stiles gives him is wide and makes his eyes sparkle in the candlelight. “Now, your first act of not being a sourwolf will be to tell me who everyone at this table is and then you can answer whatever questions I have after that.”

It has been a long time since anyone demanded things of Derek who was not his mother and he raises his eyebrows at Stiles. He does not get the reaction he expects.

Stiles’s smile fades and he leans into Derek and drops his voice, even though Derek knows Stiles is aware that nothing about conversations in this house are private. “Those murder brows might work on that innocent looking blonde man over there,” Stiles points to Isaac, “but I am completely immune.”

Laura laughs out loud at that one, earning her a glare from their mother for eavesdropping, and Derek just stares because Stiles has moved closer and his senses are overwhelmed by the presence of the man beside him. His brain refuses to conjure an appropriate response. The last time he was this intrigued by someone they attempted to kill his entire family. 

Kate.

Derek leans back and returns to his soup. He doesn’t trust his reaction to Stiles and so he can’t trust Stiles.

Stiles lets Derek stew over his soup, then leans back over. “This is the most people I’ve eaten dinner with in my entire life. I only know six people here and now one of them isn’t speaking to me.”

Derek stops himself from rolling his eyes, barely. “As you requested.” Derek starts at the top of the table. “You have met my mother. To her right is my uncle, Peter. Then the youngest of my siblings, William and Riley. They’re twins. You already know Lydia and Danny. Then we have Boyd and Erica, a bonded pair, and Isaac, the blonde haired man that I assure is not as innocent as you would imagine him to be.” Derek pauses and waves his spoon at his sister at the other head of the table. “You’ve met Laura,” He leans the other way. “And Cora. Mason, Scott, and Liam are the next ones. My cousin, Malia, and Melissa.”

“Well, at least you told me everyone’s names, though I still know nothing about them. Fortunately for you, I have no trouble talking.” Stiles wiggles his fingers at Derek. They are long, always moving when the other man talks, and Derek is annoyed that he has noticed.

Derek finishes his soup and starts serving himself some of the meat pastry and roasted carrots from the dishes in the middle of the table. Stiles proceeds to address each person at the table by name, asks them what they do and whatever other questions pop into his head. Derek tries to ignore it and eat, but he admits he’s impressed with Stiles’s ability to recall information and the way he seems genuinely interested in each person at the table.

Stiles chews on a carrot then asks Erica, “What do you do in this fine estate?”

Erica’s smile is predatory and, instead of being cowed by it, Stiles leans toward her. “I take out the trash.”

Stiles laughs, loud and from his gut. He has no self-preservation skills. Stiles is in a room full of werewolves and he laughs instead of being scared of Erica, who clearly meant her comment as a threat against Stiles considering any bad behavior. Even Derek would freely admit he would not want to go against Erica in a fight. She is very good at her job. Derek should not find his lack of self preservation, that some would call courage, intriguing, but he does. 

Stiles stops laughing and grins at Erica. “Head of security and I understand the warning completely. Don’t worry though, I’m only here to help and do some research.”

Erica’s smile kicks up a notch. “I like you.”

Stiles winks at her. “Thanks. I think we’re going to be friends.”

Stiles is open and easy with everyone at the table, everyone but him. Derek got off on the wrong foot and now he feels unbalanced, both by his initial mistake and by the desire to fix the rend he made.

Dinner proceeds as much as normal after that. People ask Stiles questions and he talks and talks and talks until Derek swears he’ll hear that voice in his head for the rest of his life. Derek listens and does not talk, but he is aware, acutely, of every shift and move that Stiles makes. It unnerves him, makes him want to bolt from the room and also never leave Stiles’s side.

As soon as he can and still remain polite, Derek excuses himself and escapes outside. He lets his wolf go and stands at the edge of the garden, watching the light in Stiles’s room, before turning and running into the woods. He runs until all he can think about is the ground under his paws and the smell of the preserve in his senses.

 

***

Stiles notices when Derek leaves, almost as soon as the rest of the pack drifts into a sitting room for after dinner tea and drinks. His feet move to follow the other man, but he feels a hand on his arm and turns to find Scott, Liam, and Isaac looking at him. 

Scott gives him an open grin. “We were hoping we could convince you to play cards with us.”

“Is this so you can learn my tells and fleece me, because I have to tell you, I have almost nothing of value and I am an excellent card player.” Stiles gives them a wicked grin.

Mason joins them and refreshes all their glasses. “Did you ask him yet?”

Liam elbows him. “Yes, but he hasn’t answered us.”

“They’re all terrible at cards because their tells are very easy to read,” Mason offers helpfully.

Stiles chuckles. “In that case, lead the way, gentleman.”

Stiles comes out of the game richer than he was before, but promises to use his winnings to play again. When they all tumble from the sitting room, Stiles looks both ways in the hallway, trying to remember which is the best direction to go to get back to his room.

Scott stops by his side. “Need some help?”

“I think my room is this way, but I’m not positive.”

“You’re in the same wing as Derek and I. I’ll walk you there.” Scott motions for Stiles to follow him.

“Where do those three sleep?” Stiles points over his shoulder at the retreating forms of Liam, Mason, and Isaac.

“They have a cottage off the main stables. Mason and Isaac work in the stables with me and Isaac is the head gamekeeper. Boyd works with Erica. They all prefer to sleep outside of the main house.” At Stiles’s questioning look, Scott elaborates. “Most of us didn't grow up in houses this big. The Hales took us in for various reasons, gave us the choice to become part of the pack, and gave us jobs so we all could contribute to the estate and the pack.”

Stiles’s throat is tight. “That sounds nice. It’s just me and my dad and we live in a small village, Beacon Hills.”

“Before my mom, Melissa, who you met earlier, and I came here, it was just us. My dad left us when I was young.” 

“My mom, she died, disappeared really, helping the Hales.” It’s an old sorrow but one that the truth is starting to heal.

Scott nods. “I know. Laura told me. I’m sorry. Being here must be hard.” Scott stops in front of a door. “This is your room.”

Stiles regards the open face in front of him and goes with complete honesty. “I spent my entire life blaming the Hale family for my mother’s death, but I think that was a waste of my efforts. They seem genuinely to mourn her so I’m trying to spend some of my time here letting go of that bitterness and getting to know people that my mother called friends.”

Scott grins. “Great. I’m glad because I really hope we can be friends too.” Scott points to a door across the hall. “That’s my room and Derek is two doors down from you. We have werewolf hearing so if you need anything, just yell. Someone will hear you.”

“Thanks. Goodnight, Scott.”

“Goodnight, Stiles.” Scott walks across the carpeted hallway and goes into his room. 

Stiles shakes his head. Scott is incredibly trusting but he’s so endearing it more than makes up for his naivete.

Stiles changes out of his dinner clothes. While the Hale house is informal, he had still worn his nicest pair of trousers and double breasted shirt for dinner. He knows he will have to wear them again, so he hangs them carefully in the large wardrobe against the wall. He changes into some pajamas and opens the french doors on one wall that leads to a small balcony. 

Stiles is greeted by a sky filled with stars and a moon that will be full by the end of the week. He sits with his back to the wall of the house and faces the gardens and breathes, slow and steady. He can feel the pull of the land and how it is braided and intertwined with the Hale pack. The land was claimed by the pack generations ago and while the family cared for and defended the land, the land chose them back. It doesn’t always happen this way with land. Land can reject the people that claim it, though rejection for land looks like crops that are never quite bountiful and trees that never reach their full height. 

This land is bursting with life. Vibrant. Content.

Except for one area. 

Back home, it was a shadow in his mind, but here it’s large and looms over everything though it only takes up a small portion of the energy of the land. Every time Stiles tries to get a fix on whatever it is, the thing shifts and moves, as impossible to pin down as wind. Stiles quits when his head is pounding and he stumbles into his bed. He spends the night with the thing always on the edge of his consciousness and in the morning he is tired from tossing and turning on the edge of fear and frustration. 

When the morning finally comes, Stiles’s eyelids feel gritty and no amount of cold water and wishing wakes him up enough. He makes his way down the stairs to the dining room, hoping that’s where breakfast will be because if he does not get coffee or tea or something he’s going to fall over and sleep on the floor. He makes three wrong turns and tries two incorrect rooms before he finds the correct one. His feet sink into the lush carpet. He’s slept worse places so at least he has that to comfort him. 

Cora waves at him when he walks into the room. Stiles nods and heads to the side board where there is a carafe of coffee. He pours himself a cup and melts into the chair next to Cora, cradling the cup like it’s nectar of the gods. Derek is across the table from them. He meets Stiles’s eyes, then looks back down at his plate. His ears turn the slightest bit pink and Stiles is so fascinated by them he almost forgets about the coffee in his hands.

“Stiles, I was going to ask how you liked your accommodations but it looks like you didn’t sleep at all last night.” Talia’s voice is full of motherly concern and Stiles melts further.

“I couldn’t sleep. Whatever it is that is in your territory was active and it set my own power off. I couldn’t get a good read on it and I couldn’t ignore it and sleep.” Stiles sips his coffee. It’s dark and warm and Stiles hums in appreciation. “With your permission, Talia, I’d like to do some exploring today. Maybe go into the Preserve and see if I can find a point of entry or an origin.”

Talia nods. “Of course. You may go anywhere in Hale holding that you would like. I assume you’ll be able to feel the boundary if you stray too far?”

Stile sits up and puts his cup down. He had not expected Talia to know about the boundary. “I will.”

Another nod. “Good. Your mother was powerful too. Your magic feels different to my wolf, but you are as powerful, maybe even more, than she was, and your magic feels protective in the way that hers did. I meant it when I said you’re welcome here. You may come and go as you please and you may have access to whatever and wherever you feel the need to go.”

A burst of excitement cuts through his tiredness. “No one has ever been able to sense those things from me before.”

Talia gets up to refill her tea. “I assume you’ve also not spent very much time with wolves.”

“No, I haven’t.” Stiles drops his eyes to the cup in his hands. “I’ve always avoided weres in the past. What I know has come mostly from books.”

“Your magic speaks to the land and the land speaks to me as the Alpha. You’re welcome here, Stiles and the land welcomes you.” She pours her tea from a tea pot and goes back to her seat. “One thing though. Do not approach or cross the boundary to the northeast. That side of land borders with the Argents. They are hunters and we do not interact with them unless we absolutely have to.”

Stiles opens his mouth to ask why but then he sees the look on Derek’s face or rather, the lack of expression on his face. Derek’s face is so neutral and still that he could be a painting or a drawing. Stiles grips the arms of his chair to keep from getting up, circling the table, and touching the other man. Stiles hasn’t known him long, but he knows that Derek’s eyebrows are never still. He stores away the knowledge that whatever it is between the Hales and the Argents, it’s not good and it has something to do with the way Derek is holding himself. It’s the same way people brace for a blow they expect to shatter them. A fierce possessiveness rears inside Stiles that he washes away with coffee. 

Derek finishes his breakfast and excuses himself without another word. Stiles watches his retreat and inwardly sighs. The conversation last night had seemed to go well, but then Derek had disappeared. Stiles still isn’t quite sure if the man has some seriously repressed emotions or if he is truly an asshole. The Hales are open and transparent, but Derek is the exception. He is a puzzle Stiles wants to solve and also perhaps rub up against. He flicks that desire aside. 

Stiles eats some toast, grabs an apple and some extra muffins, and excuses himself. He has some exploring to do. 

There is still dew in the shaded areas when Stiles walks underneath the trees. He adjusts the straps of his bag, then bows his head and closes his eyes.

The feel of the forest is tentative at first, then in a rush it is all simply there and it feels right . Stiles does not hesitate. He opens himself up to the woods around him and the power of the place is bright and old and radiating like slow ripples from one place. Stiles opens his eyes and walks. About thirty minutes into the walk, he knows that he’s being followed and the gentle tendril of his power he sends out tells him it’s Derek. Stiles ignores him and keeps walking. 

The closer he gets to the source, the more his magic rises and buzzes in response to the power source in front of him. He knows with a deep down certainty two things. First, this is not the darkness he feels in the area and second, this power is far older than anything he’s ever felt. He walks and loses all sense of time until he is suddenly in a clearing.

Light is shining from a gap in the forest canopy, a gap that exists because at one time there had been an impossibly large tree here. The kind of tree that is so rare, Stiles never thought he'd see one in his lifetime.

A nemeton.

Stiles slows his footstep and walks up to the trunk of what was once one of the most magical living things on the earth and kneels by the ragged and rotting trunk. In the center of the decaying wood is a sapling, only a foot tall, but a vibrant green and exploding with promise and power. Stiles lays a gentle finger at the base of the new stem and is filled with everything .

The woods around the Hale house are ancient and they care about the family of wolves that settled here. They do their best to protect them but something is wrong. Something that doesn’t belong lingers and they can’t get rid of it. They think that this new Spark is here to protect their forest and their wolves and they are pleased. They give their promise to lend their power when it is needed. It has been too long since they have felt a Spark here or had a druid and they want to teach him the secrets of the forest. This sapling is new and vulnerable and needs a guardian and the trees want Stiles to be the guardian. They can see his heart and the sapling needs a loyal heart to grow straight and proud - a heart that is like the woman who visited them before. 

When Stiles pulls his hand away, he is shaking and his cheeks are wet from the tears streaming down his face. Everything in him is jittery and electric. His mother was here. She knew these trees and this forest and it trusted her. Now, it wants to trust him with the protection of a new nemeton. He doesn’t have to tell the trees of his uncertainty that it was something he could even do, that there were people he needed to talk to first, and that he could not leave his father alone in another place. The trees, the nemeton, already knows this from him.

Stiles swipes at the tears on his face and rises to his feet. “Thank you,” he whispers.

He walks back in the direction of the house, his senses open to the woods around him in a new way. The land here is not only powerful but healthy, a sign that the Hales are a healthy pack as well. Land responds to those that pour into it and the Hales, Stiles already knows, are good. He feels a pull in one direction and knows the trees are leading him. He follows.

It doesn’t take long for Stiles to realize that he is still being followed as well. He reaches out to be certain and he knows the feel of that aura. Derek.

The closer to the house he gets the closer he gets to what the trees want him to see. He still can’t see the house through the trees when he steps into a dead patch in the forest. The grass is brown and yellowed, dying as if it was hidden from the sun for too long. There is a trail, as thin as a game trail, leading to the dying space. The ground in the middle of the dead area is devoid of footprints of any kind even though the ground is soft and Stiles can see his own prints where he approached the area. The trail is a thread of death within the vibrant green of the forest. Something about the trail and the dead space makes Stiles want to recoil and avert his eyes. The thing that made this is the thing that drew him here.

Stiles steps to the side of the trail and lays a hand on a large tree, an aspen on the edge of a stand of them, near the newer dead space. The tree communicates as best it can. The trail grows every night as the thing tries to move through the forest. It’s progress is slow because the power of the forest is high and it must fight against it, but it has one destination: The Hale house and it means harm to the wolves there. Even with the efforts of the forest, the thing gets closer every night.

Stiles thanks the tree and has to swallow the animalistic fear that sinks it’s claws in him. There is only one way to find out what is hunting the Hales. He’s going to have to come into the woods tonight and he’s going to have to do it without any of the pesky weres in the house knowing.

At the treeline, Stiles stops and turns, putting his back to the house. “Derek, I know you’re there.”

Stiles has to choke back the laughter that threatens to break through when he sees the extreme grumpy eyebrows sitting above the very annoyed eyes that emerge from the woods. Stiles can’t decide if he finds Derek unfairly attractive because he’s so contrary or in spite of it. Because of it. Definitely. Stiles can think the man is attractive and still think he is a jerk. There are glimpses of something different from the were, a small light of normal human behavior, but then Derek opens his mouth and there is the asshole again.

Stiles sighs.

“Why are you following me?”

Derek presses his lips together and says nothing. Stiles has the sudden urge to punch him in the face.

“Your Alpha said I could go anywhere I wanted. Why are you following me?”

Derek meets Stiles’s eyes and says, “She trusts you, they all do, and I want to, but I also know you’re here for a reason and I don’t trust strangers.” 

That was surprisingly honest. “What do your instincts tell you about me?

The look that crosses Derek’s face is pinched and if Stiles had to categorize it, it would be something like painful shame. “My instincts are not always accurate.”

There’s a history there that brings Stiles up short. He reevaluates Derek’s standoffish and jerk behavior against mistrust and a need to protect. A new understanding of the man before him blooms. He doesn’t know why Derek doesn’t trust his instincts, but Stiles knows what it means to want to protect the ones you love.

Stiles decides Derek needs more benefit of the doubt and a gentler hand than Stiles originally thought. “Would you like to walk with me back to the house?”

Derek rocks back on his heels then takes a step in Stiles’s direction. Stiles turns back to the house and starts walking. Derek falls into step with him, a silent presence and Stiles can feel. The awareness is unsettling, but not unpleasant.

“I found a nemeton in the woods. There was an older one before but it’s growing again,” Stiles says as a way to open the conversation.

Derek makes a pained noise. “I saw and I’m glad it’s growing again.” Derek’s feet slow and Stiles matches his pace. “I told you my instincts are not always accurate. The third person I courted turned out to be a darach who was using me to get close to the nemeton to steal its power to destroy a neighboring pack that had hurt her. She poisoned the power of the nemeton and it rotted from the inside out. We weren’t sure it would ever come back from that.”

Stiles finds himself wanting to reach out and comfort Derek. He fists his hand instead and realizes he may have misjudged Derek completely. “A nemeton’s power is a balance that takes on the light and dark of those that nurture it.”

Derek nods, his mouth a slash of remembered pain. “I know.” At the door of the house, Derek turns to Stiles. “I’m glad you’re here.” He ducks and disappears into the house.

Stiles stays outside for a few more minutes and wonders what happened to the first two people Derek courted. The question dogs his heels for the rest of the day. Stiles wanders to the library to talk to the librarians.

Lydia looks up from her book when the door opens. “I was sure we would see you sometime today.”

Stiles joins her at the reading desk large enough for four where the redhead is sitting and reading a book in a language that Stiles doesn’t recognize. 

“I would like to see anything you have on nemetons.” Stiles expects questions or probing.

Lydia smiles like a cat who found cream exactly where she always expected it to be and points to a stack of books on the desk next to hers. “They are there. I had Danny pull them this morning.”

Stiles tilts his head and opens his mouth a few times. “How?”

Lydia smirks. “You’re not the only one with magic, Stiles. I know what you are,” she leans closer to him and she smells like flowers and sunshine, “and I know what you’ll be capable of. I’m glad it didn’t take you long to find the nemeton. It’s young and new and needs a protector.”

Stiles leans back in his chair and doesn’t make a move towards the books yet. “What makes you think I’m the one for the job?”

Her smile widens. “It called to you didn’t it and it let you in. I can still see its power on you.”

“What are you?” Stiles knows it’s rude to ask.

“Banshee. I have an affinity with death but it also allows me to sometimes get a sense of magic and I’ve lived in the Hale holding all my life. I know this land, and the land wants you.”

Stiles stands. “My presence here is not permanent.”

“We’ll see.” Lydia goes back to reading and Stiles feels slightly off kilter.

He looks through the books Danny pulled and finds some useful pieces of information about nemetons that he did not know before. They are rare, but they are always found in the center of the territory of a long standing supernatural power, most often weres, but sometimes fae, witches, or druids. A nemeton can be used as a beacon for other beings with sensitivity to power for good or bad. Lastly, a nemeton can act as a guardian tree when it chooses to do so but it must have a caretaker for it to fill that purpose. 

Stiles loses himself in the turning of pages until there is a short knock on the door and Cora pokes her head into the library. “Stiles, mother would like you to join her for tea, and Lydia, I came to see if you’d come have tea with me in the kitchen.”

Lydia stands and stacks up her notes and the books she was reading. “Of course. I need the break.”

The two women turn to look at Stiles and he stands and stretches, feeling the hours spent hunched over the books as his joints and muscles protest. “In the sitting room?” he asks.

“We’re going right by there, you can walk with us.” Cora grabs them both by the hand and leads them down the hall.

Stiles’s brain is still twisting and examining the information he has been reading all day when Cora stops and nudges him toward the door. “See you after tea.” She and Lydia disappear around a bend in the hall and Stiles opens the silent door to the sitting room.

Talia is sitting alone, less formal than the last few times Stiles has seen her. She has on a simple blue day dress with red poppies embroidered along the sleeves and hem. She waves to him to take a seat on the couch opposite her as she pours them both tea.

“Stiles, Derek told me that you found the nemeton.”

He nods. “It’s not something I thought I’d find when I set off to explore the woods this morning.”

Talia’s lips quirk up into a not quite smile. “I didn’t want to warn you. I wanted you to find it on your own if it was meant to be found by you. It’s been a long time since someone with your unique powers has seen the nemeton.”

“Who was the last person to see it that wasn’t Pack?”

“A woman named Jennifer who greatly wounded the nemeton. Your mother, though, was the last person the nemeton called to itself.”

Stiles chokes on his tea. 

Talia sets her tea down and regards Stiles silently for long enough that Stiles starts to squirm. “I’m glad that you found it because I have some things I need to share with you, but I needed the nemeton to pass judgement on you first.”

“Pass judgement on me?”

“Did you not feel it? I can smell it’s magic on you, it has a scent, and if it had decided you were not worthy of its attention, you would not be oozing its magic right now.”

“What does me finding it mean?” Stiles has so many questions. This is the first one that comes forward.

Talia smiles that smallest of smiles. “That is for time and you to find out. For now, I’m happy to host you as long as you require a place to be. It’s acceptance of you does mean something else.” Talia leans forward. “It means I can trust you with as much of the truth as I know.”

“You needed the nemeton to tell you I’m trustworthy?” Stiles thinks back on how Derek said he could not always trust his own instincts. What happened to this family?

“Yes. There have been many who have sought to do my Pack harm,” Talia’s eyes flash red and everything in Stiles seizes up at the display of power, “but they underestimated us and the things that protect us. One of the things that once protected my Pack was your mother.” 

“My mom?”

Talia’s face softens. “Yes. She was a beautiful and powerful Spark and she came here at my request, to help me as her friend and to protect the nemeton and the Hale holding. She gave everything for us and I will always be in debt to your family. The land to the northeast of our holding is owned by the Argents. They are an old hunting family. We lived in peace with them for generations until Gerard came into power and he raised his daughters in a way that took the harshest view of the hunter’s code. His youngest daughter, Kate, became as bloodthirsty as her father.” Talia picked her tea back up and sipped it. 

“Kate used Derek to get to us. She tricked him and she would have succeeded in the plan if your mother had not already been here to look over the nemeton. She used to come once a year on the summer solstice to visit my family and to make sure the nemeton was still healthy and strong. While she was here, she sensed an ill intention that reverberated through the wards she had placed around our territory.”

Talia’s hands are tight on her tea cup. “It was dark when we fought the Argents. My husband, William, was killed in the fighting. We found your mother’s blood, so much blood, but we never found her body. We looked everywhere for her and we went the next day to demand retribution and a return of her remains, but Gerard and Kate were gone. Chris and Victoria had no knowledge of what had transpired the night before or what Kate and Gerard had been up to. I knew they were not lying and we’ve had an uneasy truce ever since.”

There is a thrill of hope humming through Stiles. Talia gets up from her seat and comes to sit next to Stiles. “I know what you’re thinking.”

Stiles shakes his head. “How could you possibly…”

Talia wraps her hand around Stiles’s neck, scenting him. “Hope has a smell, like many other strong emotions. If your mother was still alive, she would have come home to you and the nemeton would know. Her power was woven into it in the same way it is weaving through you. It’s already claimed you as its own. No matter if you return the claim, the nemeton will always consider you its own. It was the same way with your mother.”

Stiles can feel his lip tremble and he blinks away the burning in his eyes.

Talia takes Stiles into her arms and holds him. All he can think is how much he misses his mother and what it means to him to have another woman comfort him who knew her.

When he feels collected, he leans out of the embrace. “Thank you. This means more to me than you know.”

At dinner later that night, Stiles finds himself seated between Erica and Cora, who take turns amusing him with stories. They sit close and run a hand down his arm or bump their shoulders into his. He did some reading in the library about more than nemetons and he knows they are marking him the same way that Talia had earlier, with scent and acceptance. The problem is, Stiles isn’t sure this is where he belongs. He has a father that needs him many days’ travel from this place.

Still, Stiles laughs and tells his own stories, holding court at his end of the table. The only one not enjoying themselves is Derek, who is silent and whose eyebrows are so far down on his forehead Stiles wonders if they will eventually travel the entire length of Derek’s nose and fall off his face.

Derek disappears after dinner again and Stiles tries not to be disappointed.

When the house is quiet, Stiles can feel the shadow in the woods growing and he sneaks out one of the back entrances of the house and runs through the garden. 

At the treeline, he stops and closes his eyes and opens himself wide. He can pinpoint it now, the nemeton, but there is something else, something smaller and closer to where he is standing coming from the direction of the dead area he’d found earlier. Stiles opens his eyes and walks towards it.

He doesn’t get far before he reaches out to the shadow of power again. This time it feels different. It doesn’t slip away like an oily puddle like it normally does. It freezes in place. Stiles can sense that it’s stopped moving, even if it’s still too far and too dark for him to see it. Stiles takes a deep breath, puts up his own mental shield and reaches his awareness out. 

There are layers of darkness and understanding in the thing. It is a single entity of some kind. It has one intention, harm to the Hales. Stiles pushes into it further and finds a hidden kernel of something and he feels like the kernel is the key so he redoubles his efforts. The weight of it is slick. It sticks like oil when Stiles tries to pull back and that’s when everything goes wrong. 

The presence surges forward and batters its consciousness against Stiles, who flies back on his arse with the impact. Stiles tries to strengthen his shields, but the physical presence of it is suddenly over him, blocking out all the light of the stars, keeping the moonlight from reaching him. Stiles pushes away from it and it shifts, but even though it should feel fluid or gaseous it feels more viscous and it bounces back then slams into Stiles. 

It wraps a hand, though hand is too corporal a description, around Stiles’s upper arm and starts to try to drag him farther into the forest. Stiles gathers his own power and pushes out with everything in him. The thing reels back as if burned and screeches before disappearing into the trees. Stiles stays still until he knows it is long gone. The light comes back to the night and Stiles has trouble getting enough air.

When his heart has slowed and his breathing is even, Stiles stumbles back to the Hale House, warding everything as he goes. He sneaks in the back and collapses in his bed, too exhausted and bruised to do anything but sleep.

 

***

Derek heard Stiles go back into his room late and he stops to listen for the steady heartbeat inside the room before he goes down to breakfast. Derek is mostly quiet during breakfast, a normal occurrence. He lets the conversation ebb and flow around him, keeping tabs on the heartbeat that he can just faintly hear on the other side of the house. Stiles never comes to the dinning room for the morning meal.

Stiles doesn’t make it to lunch either, though Derek knows he has moved from his room to the library. He knows he is being rude, listening like this, but he does it anyway. He makes a tray of tea things, adding the biscuits he saw Stiles take two of yesterday and some meat and cheese pastries. Derek pauses and considers sending it with Melissa, but he wants to go himself. He carries the tray to the library.

Derek knocks before he goes in. It may be his house, but he knows it is Lydia who rules the library. 

Lydia and Danny are sitting at desks talking when he enters. Stiles is sitting on the floor by a window, books like a fan around him. He has a pencil in his mouth and, while Derek watches, he puts down one book and picks up another. Derek must have stood there too long because Lydia is standing in front of him without him noticing.

She takes the tray from him. “You brought us tea?” Her eyes flick over to Stiles, showing she knows exactly who this effort is for.

“Yes.” Derek follows her as Lydia carries the tray to a low table in the middle of some reading chairs. She pours a cup of tea and piles a plate full of food. “Here, take this to him. I’m certain he hasn’t eaten all day.”

Derek takes the cup and food, grateful that Lydia doesn’t require an explanation or that she is not apparently going to make a big deal of it. “Thanks.”

He stops on the outside of the ring of books and watches Stiles as he writes, long fingers moving the pencil across the parchment in front of him. Derek clears his throat and Stiles looks up, which is so much worse. In the sunlight, Stiles’s eyes look like the amber necklace his mother brings out for special occasions. Stiles blinks and his lashes are dark against his cheek. Derek forgets completely why he is here because a part of him thinks he is here for this exact moment.

Then, he remembers and holds out the things in his hands. “I brought you some tea.”

Stiles looks out the window. “What time is it?”

“Half past two.” Derek gives Stiles the tea and sits outside the mess of books.

Stiles puts the saucer down and picks up one of the biscuits first, biting half of it and chewing with his eyes closed. Derek watches, fascinated. 

“I must have lost track of time.” Stiles shoves the second half of the biscuit in his mouth and chews. “Thank you for the food.”

Derek is ridiculously pleased at providing this for Stiles and he resists the urge to preen, barely. It has been a long time since he felt even an inkling of this feeling, and everything in Derek trembles with the knowledge that he never makes the right choices.

“What are you reading?” Derek figures it’s the least dangerous question.

Stiles sips the tea. “I’m trying to make a list of things that could have caused the trail of death in the woods.”

Derek leans over to get a better look at the parchment on the ground next to Stiles. “That list is long.”

“I know.” Stiles sighs, then stacks some meat and cheese together before eating it.

“Are you making any progress?”

Stiles shrugs. “I don’t know, to be honest. I’ve looked at everything from dark fae to an energy chupacabra and none of them are right. After this, I’m going to employ Lydia’s help.”

Stiles polishes off the tea and snacks. Derek stands and takes the empty cup and saucer. “Would you like more?”

“No, I’m good now, thanks.” Stiles smiles up at him and it’s so open and honest that Derek forgets his own rules and reaches out on instinct alone.

Derek puts a hand on Stiles’s forearm and starts to squeeze but Stiles jerks back as if Derek hurt him or as if Derek touching him is abhorrent. Everything in Derek freezes and the cup rattles in the saucer he is holding. He turns on his heel and flees the room. It’s only when he is in the opposite wing of the house that Derek realizes he is still carrying the cup and saucer in his hand.

He puts it on the first flat surface he sees and escapes into the back garden. He wants to transform and run, but his wolf wants to run back to Stiles, to see what Derek did to hurt him. Derek stays in his human form and keeps walking until he is enveloped in the trees. 

Derek knows Stiles does not mind being touched. He watched Erica, Cora, and Scott touch him frequently the night before and this morning, as if those small touches were nothing and not the slow and steady acceptance into the Pack that it signaled. Derek leans against a tree and lets out a shaking breath, trying to come to terms with the fact that Stiles just doesn’t want to be touched by him. That there is something particular about Derek that repulses him. Derek’s gut churns.

He has never made good choices when attraction and instincts get involved. His childhood sweetheart died after trying to get the bite for him. Kate Argent, his first adult relationship, had been a cover to get close to his family to kill them. Luckily, he found her out but not before his father and Stiles’s mother had been killed by his lack of judgement. His last attempt at following his heart had ended in the death of the nemeton when Jennifer tried to use it to enact revenge. Everything he touches turns to misery, grief, and death.

Derek stays at the base of that tree until the sun goes down and he knows he needs to go in for dinner. He is dreading looking at Stiles at the table knowing now that Stiles can’t even stand to be touched by him. Derek has had too much practice at burying his own emotions and functioning without them. He knows what to do even though it makes him nauseous. He packs his feelings tightly away and goes back to the house.

All his effort is worth nothing though because Stiles and Lydia are not at the table when he finally does go into the dining room. He pointedly ignores the empty chairs and tells himself he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care so much that he sends Melissa to the library with a tray of dinner for Lydia and Stiles.

 

***

The next three days are a blur of theories and reading with Lydia and Danny during the day and metaphorical and physical wrestling with whatever it is at night. Food appears in the library on trays and Stiles eats it though he has no idea who delivers it. Stiles is mentally exhausted and physically battered, but the answer is close. He is covered in bruises that he hides with his clothes and he keeps searching, keeps fighting at night. 

Staring at the book in front of him, he reads the sentence twice before the words sink in and everything snaps into place. “It’s a shade,” he says, meeting Lydia’s eyes over the books between them.

Lydia starts nodding and Danny says, “What’s a shade?”

Lydia digs through the pile and pulls out a red leather bound book whose spine is cracking with age and whose pages have yellowed. She flips it open and with her finger on the page, she reads, “A shade is a being that is neither physical nor spiritual, but both. It is created by trapping the essence of a magic user and bending the essence to a master’s will, a process that takes years and usually ends in failure. Once created, the shade is compelled to do the creator’s bidding.”

Stiles moves closer to Lydia. “How do we get rid of it?”

Lydia makes a frustrated noise. “That’s all it says.”

Stiles runs a hand through his hair and thinks. “Maybe it’s connected to the creator? If we kill the creator or master or whatever, maybe the shade dies.”

“Or it becomes a loose rage monster and kills us all,” Danny deadpans.

“Thanks for that bit of optimism.” Stiles starts pacing. “We know what it is, but not what it’s even capable of. We need to pull some more books and do more looking.”

Lydia stands and puts a hand on her hip. “We need to tell Talia.”

“No.” Stiles slices a hand through the air. “No, the wards I put up are holding. I don’t want the entire house in full panic mode until we have more information to give them. It can’t do anyone any damage right now as long as the wards hold and we can’t send them out to fight something they have no idea how to fight.”

Lydia presses her lips together, but she nods and Stiles relaxes. He knows the shade can’t come near the house and he doesn’t want any of the Hales running in and getting hurt before he knows they actually have a chance to kill the thing.

“The real question is who is controlling it?” Danny leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling.

“That is the question of the day,” Stiles says as he starts picking up the books they won’t be needing.

There’s a knock on the door then Cora opens the door with her foot. She is carrying a tray laden with food and tea. Her smile is bright. “I thought you three should take a break.”

Isaac comes in behind her with another tray of food. Malia saunters in with her hands empty.

“Cora is bored and wants to make you stop and play a game with us.” Malia helps Stiles pick up the last of the books.

“Can we take a break?” Stiles asks.

Lydia smiles. “I can’t say no to food and a bit of a distraction.”

They push two of the reading desks together and crowd around, elbows bumping, as they eat and drink tea. Stiles is filled with a longing for this. He’s never had a large group of friends. It’s only ever been his dad, Deaton, and himself. He must give off some kind of emotional smell - he wasn’t bothering to hide it - because Cora leans into him and lays her head on his shoulder. Stiles has noticed that the Hales are always touching each other and that they’ve started to include him in that. He likes it.

They finish all the food they want and Isaac pulls a deck of cards from a pocket and waves them in the air. “Let’s play Spoons.”

Lydia leads the group to an open spot on the floor. “No claws. No blood.”

“No blood? What kind of game is this?” Stiles asks.

“You have to find four matching cards then take a spoon without anyone seeing,” Cora explains. “If you see someone else take a spoon, you can take one. There’s one less spoon than people, so whoever doesn’t get one is the loser. First one to five losses is the biggest loser.”

Stiles cracks his knuckles. “Sounds easy enough.”

Danny chuckles. “That’s because it is, until I kick your arse.”

The cards are dealt out and play starts. The first time it happens, Stiles barely manages to get a spoon before Malia is dancing around the room crowing with her victory. The spoons are replaced, the cards redealt, and they play again. Stiles gets the first spoon the second time and Isaac and Cora wrestle for the last spoon. Everyone is breathless with laughter when there is a knock on the door.

Derek looks into the library and it’s brief, but Stiles sees the longing race across Derek’s face before he schools his features. Stiles knows it when he sees it because it’s the same feeling he had when Cora, Isaac, and Malia came into the library with lunch an hour before.

“Sorry for interrupting,” Derek starts backing up like he’s going to escape.

“Derek, wait.” Stiles scoots over on the floor. “There’s room by me. Come play with us.” Stiles can see Derek hesitating and he wonders when the last time Derek was invited to join in something like this. “Please,” he adds.

Derek’s mouth twitches up at the corners and he comes all the way into the library. Stiles watches him as he moves gracefully and sits down beside Stiles in one fluid motion. Feeling brave, Stiles leans into Derek and gives him a gentle elbow and a wide smile. Derek’s ears pink up and Stiles’s grin widens. Derek is prickly, but Stiles is starting to understand that his standoffishness is a cover for how protective he is of his family and of himself.

Stiles loses the first round, is the third to grab a spoon the second round, and grabs first in the next round. He finds a rhythm in the game and spends as much time watching the other players and learning their cues as he does looking at his own cards. Stiles can see Malia start to reach for a spoon and he braces himself. Derek must sense the change in his posture, because Derek becomes more alert as well. Derek reaches for the same spoon as Stiles and Stiles has to elbow him out of the way. What follows can only be described as chaos.

Stiles and Derek were so focused on each other that they missed everyone else getting spoons which means they are grappling and wrestling with each other for the last one. Stiles needs to finish the wrestling match quickly because he can feel a stab of pain every time Derek accidentally lands a blow on one of his bruises. His body is currently a kaleidoscope of new and healing bruises from his nightly standoffs with the shade.  

Stiles, in a move that is very dirty and desperate, sticks a wet finger in Derek’s ear. The other man recoils, rubbing his ear and growling. 

“Did you just give me a wet willy?” The rim of Derek’s eyes flood with incandescent blue.

Something low and warm drops in Stiles’s belly. He waves the spoon in Derek’s face. “Sure did.”

“You’re insane.”

Stiles chuckles. “Wouldn’t be the first time I heard that accusation.”

That night at dinner, Derek is seated next to Stiles again and the conversation is easier than it has been. It is helped along by Scott, who is seated on Stiles's other side. Scott has an open face that would make it hard to maintain any level of irritation with the owner. 

“Is this the first time you’ve been away from home?” Scott asks.

Stiles swallows the food in his mouth. “Yes, I’ve never been away from home at all.”

“Do you miss your dad?” Cora asks from her place across the table.

“Every day, but what I’m doing here is important.” Stiles hopes his dad understands his continued absence.

“At one time, Beacon Hills sat on the edge of the Hale Holding, but we ceded that land generations ago to an enclave of druids who lived there. Since the enclave died off, except for Deaton, it’s become a neutral territory of sorts,” Talia said.

Stiles stops eating. “I didn’t know that.”

Lydia leans around Erica. “I have a book on the history of the Hale Pack, if you would like to look at it.”

“I would. Thank you.” Stiles and Lydia share a look.

Later, Stiles slips out of the house, as he has every night, and walks to the edge of the dead area in the woods and waits. The moon is approaching full and he doesn’t wait long before he feels the shade getting closer. Now that he knows what it is, he knows he needs to pay attention to different details, something that might give them a clue how to stop it. Stiles centers himself and gathers his own power, spooling it inside himself before pushing it out to the wards.

The shade is close. Stiles can’t see it but he can feel it approach, feel the way it presses into his shields and tests the wards. He prods into the shade, looking for that kernel of something different than the rest of the thing. It’s there, a dull light that flickers as Stiles touches it. There is pressure and a rushing noise and Stiles is knocked off his feet as the shade slams into him.

As quickly as it charges, the shade retreats far enough away that Stiles knows it is still there, but that it is done for the night. Whatever that kernel of essence is could be the key if it holds the will of the creator. Stiles lays on the ground, cataloging his new injuries and making a list of possibilities. The shade attacks three more times during the night and each time, Stiles is braced and ready. He doesn’t learn anything else new except that new bruises on top of old ones hurt.

 

***

When Derek wakes up in the morning, he doesn’t hear the rapid beat of Stiles’s heart in the house. Derek lays in bed and thinks over all the reasons that he needs to keep some distance between himself and Stiles, but they all boil down to one thing. Every relationship Derek has ever had has ended badly, and not just for him or the other person, for everyone in the vicinity. Even though Derek feels every touch from Stiles like a lifeline to something he wants desperately or that simply being in the same room with Stiles calms his wolf in a way he has never experienced, Derek will not act on his growing feelings.

Stiles is too precious of a thing to be ruined by whatever stain Derek would bring to him.

Derek goes down to breakfast and Stiles is not there. He eats, talking only when spoken to, then leaves the room. He can feel his mother’s eyes on him as he slips out. She worries about him. She has told him many times that he carries too much, but she is saying those things because she has to. She’s his mother. Derek knows the truth and the truth is that he makes mistakes with his heart and other people. 

He is in the kitchen when he hears it. It’s faint, but the rabid beat of Stiles’s heart is out in the back garden. Stiles missed breakfast and there is nothing untoward about taking Stiles some food. Derek puts an assortment of rolls, jam, fruit, and tea on a tray. He follows his ears and finds Stiles near the edge of the back garden, sitting at a table for two. Stiles turns his neck and looks up at Derek’s approach.

Derek holds up the tray. “You missed breakfast. I thought you might be hungry.”

Derek sets down the tray and this close, he can see how pale Stiles looks. There are deep thumbprints under his eyes and some of the spark is gone from their coppery depths.

Stiles pours himself some tea. “You are a gift. Thank you.”

Derek sits in the chair opposite of Stiles and leans forward. “You look tired. More than tired. Exhausted.”

Stiles chews the muffin in his mouth and says, “I haven't been sleeping well.””

Worry churns through him. “Is it the room you’re in? Do you need to move rooms? Would you prefer different bed coverings?” Derek wants to fix the problem that is making Stiles so wan. This is not the vibrant man that arrived here a handful of days ago.

Stiles chuckles, some of the color returning to his cheeks. “I’m not frail. I’ll be fine. Remember, I said last night I’ve never been far from home. It’s taking me some time to adjust and I’ve been spending some late nights in the library.”

Derek knows the last part is not entirely true because when he walked through the house last night, the library was empty and he hears the lie in the words. Derek takes a chance and lays a hand on Stiles’s forearm, gripping him to hold him in place the way he would do with any of his family. Stiles jerks under his firm touch and there is a subtle hint of pain in Stiles’s scent. An emotion Derek can’t name slices through him because his touch seems to physically hurt Stiles. 

Derek eases his grip and keeps his hand in place, nothing but it’s own weight and Stiles’s lack of movement keeping it there. “If there is anything you need, all you have to do is ask.”

Stiles nods. “Thank you.”

Stiles eats, looking out into the woods. “Did you know that early packs sought out land that already had natural power and chose to settle in places where it was strongest. They knew it would make their territory stronger if they maintained it as their own.”

Derek nods and Stiles continues.

“The power a pack possesses is complicated, but the more generations stay on a land, the more the pack and the land intertwine. The Hale Holding is made stronger not only because there is a nemeton here, but because generations of grumpy Hale werewolves have claimed and nurtured this land as their own, making the power of the land and pack stronger than they could ever be apart.” Stiles chews the last bite of scone thoughtfully.

Derek is fascinated by the way Stiles looks as he talks, hands articulating his words, like everything he is saying is both essential and whimsical simultaneously. He wants… Derek doesn’t know what he wants in this moment, but he knows one thing. He wants to spend more time with Stiles, wants to stay close.

“I could show you more of the holding if you’re willing to spend the day with me.” Derek holds his breath as he waits for Stiles to answer.

Stiles’s smile is wide and open. “I would love that.”

Derek wants to roll in the feeling that wells up in his chest. He doesn’t trust this feeling. “Is there anything in particular you would like to see?”

“Where’s your favorite place to go in the holding? If you don’t mind sharing it.” There’s a light back in Stiles’s eyes and Derek thinks he could refuse nothing Stiles asked of him.

Derek gives Stiles a small smile. “I know just the place, but we’ll need horses.”

When they walk into the barn, Scott is facing down Liam and Mason. “I expect better from both of you.” Scott’s voice is more disappointed than disciplinarian.

Scott sees them as they walk into the barn and shifts his weight. Scott and Liam, if he was paying attention, likely heard them coming long before he could see them thanks to his werewolf senses. Mason turns to look at them and is surprised. 

“Need any help in here?” Derek asks. Scott did a good job with Liam, who was the newest wolf in the Pack, and Mason, a human Liam had brought with him. They are decent men, but still young and occasionally wayward. 

Scott smiles his easy smile that makes him so likeable. “We’re fine here. Liam and Mason just needed to be reminded about grooming and working with the horses at the proper time in the morning. What can we do for you?”

“Stiles and I would like two horses for the morning. Who needs to be ridden?” Derek has horses he prefers, but sometimes those are not the ones that need exercise or work. 

Scott looks at the men in front of him. “Liam, what do you think?”

Liam turns to face them, his face serious as he considers. “I think Sunrise, the bay in the back stall, and Veritas, the roan here. They both have been fidgety.” Liam’s eyes flick between Scott and Derek for confirmation.

Scott grins widely and he claps Liam on the shoulder. “Those are the two I would have picked as well. You two get them ready.”

Mason and Liam spring into action. Scott watches them intently, sees they are about their business and turns back to Derek and Stiles. “Where are you going today?”

Derek shifts his weight, unsure of his plan now that he has to tell someone else about it. “Stiles wants to see a different part of the holding so I thought I would take him to Violet’s Veil.”

Scott smiles and beams at Stiles. “It’s beautiful. You’ll love it. You will need food though. I’ll run to the kitchen and get something from mom.”

“I’ll help you out.” Stiles follows Scott back to the house.

Derek’s eyes follow them, his focus on Stiles and the way his long muscles move as he walks. Stiles isn’t graceful, but when he is in motion there’s a deep purpose to his movements that Derek finds mesmerizing. He is beginning to worry that he is too fascinated by Stiles, that he thinks of him too often, that he is in danger of tripping headlong into something he cannot extricate himself from, and Derek is beginning to question why he is holding back.

Mason laughs at something Liam says and Derek is yanked back to the present. He remembers that the last three times he allowed someone in, people got hurt. His family almost died. Derek swallows down the bile in his throat. He wants to trust Stiles, but he doesn’t trust himself.

Besides, Stiles shies away from being touched by Derek and Derek would never force himself on anyone.

Derek hears Stiles and Scott approach the barn. When he can see them, the two men are walking shoulder to shoulder, heads bent together, and Derek’s heart hurts at the sight. He squashes the feeling of jealousy - he knows it’s unreasonable to want all of Stiles’s confidences when he’s unable to return them - and wipes his face of emotion. 

Scott separates from Stiles and starts to pack a set of saddlebags. Stiles comes to a stop next to Derek and Derek can smell the contentment and excitement rolling off Stiles. There’s no smell of anything that indicates Stiles is interested in Scott and the lack makes Derek relax, even though he has no right to notice or care.

Derek sighs. Perhaps a day alone with Stiles was not one of his most brilliant ideas.

The horses are ready and they set off. The silence from his companion lasts until they get into the trees.

“It seems like the Hales have a habit of taking in people that need a place to belong.”

Derek can’t tell if it’s a compliment or the start of a further conversation. “We do have some Pack members that are not born wolves or related to us.”

Stiles is behind Derek because of the narrow path and he can’t see Stiles, but he can hear him. “It’s good, what your family has done. It’s also a good way to build a Pack of people loyal because they know that what they’ve been given is a gift.”

Stiles’s voice sounds wistful and Derek twists in the saddle. Stiles is serious, but his mouth moves up when he meets Derek’s gaze. Derek returns the smile and turns back around. 

“We didn’t do it to create a loyal Pack.”   

“I know, but you could’ve chosen anyone and you chose the people who needed it most. Some packs only choose fighters, which is great in a fight, but you need brains too because it’s the brains that get you out of the fight before it starts.”

Derek nods and directs his horse to take the left fork in the path. “I don’t think Scott is the brains in this scenario.”

Stiles laughs and the need Derek has to turn around and watch him makes his hands tremble as he tightens his hold on the reins. Derek is in so much trouble and he stares straight ahead with his crumbling will power.

“You have Scott because he has a good heart and is incredibly loyal.”

“How do you know that? You haven’t even been here a week.” If Stiles can so easily see into others, Derek is terrified what Stiles will see when he looks at Derek.

The amusement is clear in Stiles’s voice. “Some people are easy to read.”

Derek nods. “Scott is definitely one of those people.”

“You, on the other hand, are not.”

Derek doesn’t doubt it. He has many things to hide and has perfected hiding his emotions over the years. “I’m not as interesting and have less to share.”

Stiles snorts. “See, that right there is what most people would call a lie. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that is a defense mechanism because you don’t want people to look too close and realize you are actually so full of emotions that you feel you can’t control them. You, Derek Hale, like to control things around you, but you have never been able to, so you control yourself. It’s easier and people tend to disappoint you anyway.”

Derek’s chest is tight and it’s hard to concentrate on anything else but the sharp pain radiating from his center. Stiles so cleanly and nonchalantly flayed every fear of his open to the sunlight as if the act was easy, as if his words didn’t leave gaping holes in Derek’s psyche.

Stiles sighs. “I’m sorry. That was too honest. I should have kept my mouth shut.”

“No.” Derek clears his throat. “No you’re right, too right. I’ve been hurt before and made mistakes. Those mistakes hurt other people.”

Stiles is quiet for a few minutes, then, “I’m sorry people hurt you. Trusting others isn’t wrong, we just sometimes trust the wrong ones.”

It is Derek’s turn to snort. “That’s an understatement.”

“I’m not here to hurt you or your family, quite the opposite, actually. I’m here to help.”

Something loosens in Derek. “I know.”

Stiles hums behind him and Derek twists in the saddle to smile at him. Stiles returns the expression with a smile so wide and transparent, Derek is glad Stiles can’t hear his heartbeat.

Stiles is quiet for five minutes - Derek suspects that is the longest stretch of time Stiles has ever been quiet when he wasn’t asleep - before he starts asking questions about the holding and the land. Derek answers the questions and the time goes by quickly.

The faint roar of the falls are audible even to human ears when they stop. Derek swings off his horse. “We’ll walk from here. We can hobble the horses near the pool below the falls so they can drink and eat.”

Stiles stops talking and follows Derek. When they finally come out of the canopy of trees, Stiles sucks in a breath.

The Violet’s Veil isn’t very large, but it is wide and the water that flows over it produces a lace effect over the rocks that sparkles in the sun. The falls are loud but not overwhelming. There are groves of aspens on either side of the river that flows over the falls and the leaves rustling in the wind add to the music of the place.

“Wow. This was not what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?”

Stiles shrugs, his eyes never leaving the falls. “Something smaller, more mundane. This is gorgeous.” Golden brown eyes swivel to Derek’s. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

Derek’s face heats and he nods. “Let's get the horses settled, then we can unpack some food and put our feet in the water.

They take off their boots and socks and roll up their pants. Stiles’s toes are long, like his fingers, and he digs them into the grass with obvious glee.

“Did you come here often as a kid?”

Derek eases himself onto the bank of the river. “It was one of my father’s favorite places. Whenever he had to have a talk with one of us about something, he would pack food like we did today and bring us here.”

“Good talks or bad talks?”

Derek chuckles. “Both, actually.”

“My dad, it’s just my dad and me, we have discussions over meals. We are both busy during the day, so the evening meal is our time to catch up, talk about our day, and ask each other for advice.”

Derek’s heart aches for the father he still misses. “Does your father take your advice often?”

“As long as it’s not about his diet, yes.” Stiles runs his hands down his torso and Derek’s eyes track the movement, wanting those hands to be his own. “I know this might be hard to believe but I’m not just a sexy body. I have a brilliant mind to match. I give excellent advice.”

“Humble too. It’s amazing.”

Stiles grins at him and Derek can feel himself smiling back as if he sits alone with men that he finds attractive everyday. Derek reminds himself that Stiles is only at the holding temporarily and that he will be leaving as soon as he finds whatever it is he is looking for. A sharp pain pierces his lungs. He must make a face.

Stiles blinks a few times, watching him instead of the falls. “Sometimes you look at me like you’re in some kind of pain and I can’t tell if it's because you are actually in pain or if that is your natural resting state.”

Derek laughs though it’s hollow around the edges. “Cora and Laura think I have resting grumpy face so it might be the way I am.” 

Stiles flops down in the grass, landing so that he splashes Derek when his feet go in. Stiles settles so that his thigh is just brushing Derek’s. Derek doesn’t think it’s on purpose and gathers the feeling of having Stiles close into his memory to take out later when he is alone.

Stiles opens up the saddle bag and crows with delight. “A miniature pie.” He looks again. “Two miniature pies.” He hands one to Derek. “For the record, I would have shared if we only had one.”

“I wouldn’t.” Derek takes a large bite of pie, the cinnamon and apples bursting over his tongue. 

“Liar.”

Stiles is right. Derek would have given Stiles the entire hand pie if he’s asked. There is nothing Derek wants more than to give Stiles everything his heart desires.

“You said your dad brought you here. What was the last big conversation you had with your dad?”

The question is deeply personal and Derek never would have answered it if asked by anyone else, but this is Stiles. Derek has no desire to refuse. He remembers that day with a clarity that hurt for a long time after his father died. Now, the pain is old and worn and Derek is able to recall it with fondness.

“It was a day much like today. He brought me out here to talk about the Pack. He was mom’s second in addition to being her mate. It doesn’t always work that way, so my dad wanted to train me to act as Laura’s second if she never found a partner or if they were not strong enough to be second.”

“It sounds like your dad was a planner.” Stiles digs in the saddle bag, finds a bottle of cider and flips the lid of the bottle. He takes a long swig and passes the bottle to Derek.

Derek places his lips carefully where Stiles’s lips had just been and imagines it has more meaning than it actually does. “He was the planner. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is brilliant, but my father was more analytical, more ruthless. Mom became more ruthless after dad died because she had to. Now, when we need a good plan, Lydia and Mom usually come up with something.”

Stiles chuckles. “Lydia is something.”

The inflection Stiles gives something makes Derek think that maybe Stiles is appreciating more than Lydia’s brain. The jealousy is thick and immediate. Derek swallows it with cider when Stiles passes him the bottle next. 

“What about your mother? Was there a conversation that sticks out to you?” Derek asks, moving the conversation away from strawberry blonde librarians and his own painful past.

“She was just starting to teach me about my spark and what I could do with it. She explained how all power comes from life. She said I would have a specialty, something that called to me. She told me to listen to my spark and let it guide me.” Stiles is quiet for the span of a heartbeat and Derek thinks he’s done, but he adds, “She told me that’d find love in a place I least expected it. She said she had already dreamed of it and that she loved me.”

Stiles starts laughing even though the story is not in the least bit funny. 

Stiles looks at Derek. “She also made me promise to take care of my dad while she was away and she made me swear not to harass the chickens anymore.”

“You were harassing the chickens?”

Stiles holds up his hands. “Look, in my defense, I was nine and chickens are freaking hilarious when you scare them.” 

“I think you were a terror as a child.”

Stiles acts offended. “I’ll have you know I was a delight .”

“So somewhere along the line you must have lost the ability to be delightful.”

“Rude.”

“It goes with my face.”

Stiles doubles over laughing.

“I can’t decide if I should be happy you thought that was funny or offended that you think rude describes my face.”

“Be both.”

They kick their feet in the water for a bit longer. Stiles lays back and closes his eyes in the sun. Derek looks his fill since Stiles can’t see him and the sight makes him feel raw. He doesn’t trust this pull he has towards Stiles. Doesn’t trust the way he always knows where Stiles is. Doesn’t know what to do with the way his skin feels inflamed every time Stiles touches him. Doesn’t trust the quickness with which Stiles has wedged himself into Derek’s thoughts because these feelings are both the same and more intense than he’s ever felt before. Derek’s heart has caused so much damage in the past he can’t reconcile that this time will not turn out the same.

Derek reaches out and wraps his fingers around Stiles’s wrist, resting the pads of his fingers against Stiles’s pulse point. Everything in him stills, the touch grounding his wild thoughts in a way it has no business doing.

Stiles cracks open an eye. “Everything all right there, big guy?”  

Derek nods. Stiles smiles and closes his eyes again. “This place is perfect.”

You’re perfect . “I’m glad I can share it with you.”

Stiles opens his eyes again. “For someone with such a rude face, you say nice things.” His eyes get mischievous. “Well, not always since you were a complete arse when I first got here.”

Derek sighs. “I was.”

“It’s forgotten. Well, not completely forgotten because I plan on bringing it up when we’re old and grey.”

Derek wants nothing more than to grow old and keep sharing moments like this where Stiles never lets him get away with things and teases him about their shared past. Derek lays back next to Stiles, their sides touching and his hand still around Stiles’s wrist. It’s the best day Derek can remember in years.

That night, Stiles is never far from Derek. He sits by him at dinner and is next to him when the family gathers in the sitting room for drinks and card games. Derek doesn’t slink away or hide on the edges like he has been. Stiles’s long fingers brush over Derek at every opportunity and Derek wonders if Stiles realizes what those wayward touches mean to a wolf, to Derek. Werewolves are tactile and touching reassures pack members that you are wanted and belong. It can also be something deeper between pairs and Derek notices Stiles doesn’t touch anyone else as much as he touches Derek. He wants to preen at the observation, but is afraid it would dislodge Stiles’s hand, which is currently resting on his shoulder. 

Stiles, Derek, and Scott walk to their rooms after Erica trounces them all soundly at cards. Scott waves and goes to his room. Derek hesitates next to Stiles at the door to the other man’s room. If Derek had a clean slate of a past he could lean over and press himself against Stiles, revel in the feel of their bodies flush together, and capture Stiles’s mouth with his own. Instead, he keeps a safe distance between them.

“Today was nice. It’s the best day I can remember in a very long time.” The words are not enough, but they will have to be. “Thank you, Stiles.”

Stiles blinks slowly at him and a blush rises up on his neck. The air between them turns sweet with potential and Derek breathes deep wishing he was a different person who could make easy gestures of affection. 

Stiles smiles at Derek and opens his door without turning around. “Goodnight.”

Derek stands in the hall with his fists at his sides long after Stiles closes the door behind him, listening to the other man ramble around his room. He curses his cowardice and trudges to his own, silent room .  

The next morning, Derek goes for a walk before breakfast and finds Stiles face down in the grass.

 

***

Stiles feels like his body is one big bruise. He doesn’t want to open his eyes but he knows he’s no longer outside so he needs to know if he’s among friends or foes. Stiles braces himself and opens his eyes.

The bed beneath him is larger than the one in his room and the room is in blues and greys instead of greens. The sun is streaming through the window with an obnoxious fervor that means the morning is well advanced. There’s movement to his right and Stiles realizes two things at once. He is naked except for his small clothes and Derek is rising up out of chair with thunder on his face.

“Good morning,” Stiles’s voice is raspy and he tries to push back into the bed cushions to escape the wrath coming towards him.

Derek growls and says, “The only thing good about it is that you’re not dead.”

“What happened?”

Derek places his hands next to Stiles’s shoulders so Derek can lean over him. Stiles has, he admits, imagined Derek this close in a bed but never this angry. “What happened is that I found you half dead in the garden this morning and when I got you in here, I discovered you were covered in bruises. So, I think you have the answer to the what happened question more than I do.”

It’s time to come clean and Stiles sees Derek’s anger for what it is, worry. For Stiles . Stiles reaches out a hand, wincing at its soreness and the mottled bruises he can see, and uses his fingers to trace along Derek’s hairline. Derek’s face instantly softens and he tilts his head into the touch. 

“I’m going to be fine, but we have a problem.” Stiles slides his hand firmly down Derek’s cheek and around to the back of his neck. “I’m tired and would like to only discuss this once. Do you think Talia, Laura, and Lydia could come in here?”

Derek nods. Stiles’s stomach growls.

Derek stands up straight. “I’ll bring you some breakfast as well.”

Melissa comes up with food before everyone else is assembled. “Oh honey, look at you.” She puts the tray down and moves some of the blankets aside to see the bruising on Stiles’s chest. “I have some tea that might help with the healing.”

“Thanks. I heal slightly faster than a regular human but nowhere near werewolf speed.” Stiles takes a bite of a scone and groans. “These are so good. I’m going to miss this when I leave.”

“You’re leaving?”

Stiles’s heart crumples in his chest. “I mean I have to eventually. Don’t I? I have to go back to my dad. This isn’t my home.”

Melissa levels a look at him that manages to convey affection and the belief that he’s an idiot. “Stiles.”

“Melissa.”

That look doesn’t waver and Stiles looks away first. “Even if I wanted to stay, that offer isn’t on the table.”

Melissa stands. “Would you like a shirt before everyone gets here?”

“Please.”

Melissa goes to the wardrobe against the far wall and comes back with a soft shirt with a tie collar that he can easily put on and fasten. 

“Whose room is this?” Stiles asks as he ties a lopsided bow with the collar strings.

Melissa tilts her head and that look is back. “Derek’s.”

Stiles doesn’t have enough time to process the fact that Derek rescued him and then took him to his own room because the door opens and Talia, Laura, and Lydia breeze through. Derek is on their heels and he closes the door behind them. Lydia is carrying a book, some parchment, and a pencil. She sits at a desk in the corner of the room. Talia and Laura move chairs close to the bed. Derek shifts his weight from foot to foot and Stiles takes pity on him and pats the bed beside him. Derek ducks his head and sits, leaving barely two inches of space between them. Stiles shifts and closes the space, giving Derek a hopeful look.

Talia clears her throat and a smile that she is trying to hide twitches at the corners of her mouth. “Stiles, I understand you had some excitement last night and Derek said you had some things to tell us.”

“Yes. Where to start? I told you, when I came, I felt called here, that something was wrong. I was right. There is a shade stalking your territory. More specifically, I believe it’s stalking your family.”

“What’s a shade?” Laura asks.

Lydia flips open the book in her lap. “A shade is a created being that is neither physical nor simply spectral. It has the ability to harvest life around it to get stronger if needed and it can be deadly. They can use your own life force against you and take your sanity.” She passes the book to Laura. Stiles has seen the book and the picture before.

“From what Lydia and I’ve found, making a shade is nasty business. It involves trapping a magic creature’s soul as it dies. We couldn’t determine if the maker has to be the one to kill it or you could just be at the right place at the right time for a little dark magic mojo.” Stiles can feel his own magic curl up at the thought.

Talia looks at the picture. “Why would a shade be here?”

This is the part that they haven’t quite worked out. “Shades are made and controlled by a maker. Someone created this shade with one purpose, to harm your family. It has a single mindedness and it’s strong. I have to rebuild the wards each day and each night it gets a little closer.”

“That’s why you have all the bruises.” Derek’s voice is quiet.

Stiles pats Derek’s knee and Derek covers Stiles’s hand with his own. “Yes.” Derek’s touch grounds Stiles and he wants to lean into it, but there is a conversation happening around them.

Talia’s eyes move from where Stiles has twined his fingers with Derek’s to Stiles’s face. “How do we get rid of it?”

Stiles shares a look with Lydia and says, “We think if we kill whoever is controlling it, the shade will disappear, but we aren’t certain.”

“It’s possible the shade is tied to something else, but we won’t know until we figure out who is controlling the shade.” Lydia looks around the room. “I think we all know who is capable of creating an abomination of this magnitude and who hates us enough to do it.”

Stiles straightens his back. “We do?”

Derek’s hand tightens on Stiles’s. “The Argents.”

“This sounds like information it would have been nice to have a little sooner.” Stiles glares at Lydia. “I know you don’t get along with them, but do you really think they would do something like this?”

All the Hales are silent and Talia finally fills the void. “The patriarch of the family, Gerard, and his daughter, Kate, have long wanted us gone.”

Derek shrinks into himself, curling his shoulders forward and he goes very still. If Stiles didn’t know better, he would think Derek was trying to hide in a room full of wolves.

“Not liking you and making a shade to kill you are two very different things,” Stiles is trying to reconcile neighborly animosity with the reality of what they’re facing.

Laura pushes off the wall. “It’s not a simple feud. They think we’re monsters. We thought after last time they had given up and realized they’d gone too far.” Laura’s eyes are all anger, bleeding into gold. “Kate seduced Derek and was using him to try to burn our house down. With all of us in it.”

Stiles turns to Derek. “Oh my gods. When you said your past relationships had gone badly, I thought you meant like a bad breakup or cheating or just regular shitty behavior, not, you know, burning people alive.”

Derek, if possible, makes himself smaller.

Stiles doesn’t know the details, doesn’t need them, to know that Derek’s heart is so big he hides it now because of this. Stiles squeezes their hands where they’re still joined and uses his free hand to turn Derek’s head towards him. He’s conscious of their audience, but he can’t stand to see Derek like this. 

“Derek, what Kate did was not your fault. Caring about people is not wrong, even if they are the wrong ones. What she did is on her, not you. You are a good man with a good heart. You cannot take responsibility for people that see that and take advantage of it because they are the ones who’ve acted badly. Not you.”

Derek closes his eyes and leans into Stiles’s touch. Stiles’s entire being cracks open and he wishes with a fierceness that he could do two things: kiss Derek until the hurt look is off his face and rip open Kate Argent’s neck.

Talia clears her throat. “Stiles is right, Derek.” Her eyes are assessing as she watches the two of them and Stiles feels exposed by the knowledge in her gaze. 

Stiles doesn’t move his hand and he cants his body more into Derek. “What should we do? Send a passive aggressive, officially sealed letter to Gerard and tell him to back off?”

“Tonight is the full moon. The Pack will be running and the forest will be alive with our power. We should be fine for one more night.” Talia stands. “That will give us time to formulate a new plan that does not involve you facing this alone. Stiles, can you increase the wards for one more night? You can pull power from the Pack if needed, it might make the wards stronger.” 

Stiles nods. “I can do that.”

Talia turns to leave. “Stiles needs his rest.”

Everyone moves to obey but Derek. Stiles nudges him with his shoulder. “Will you stay with me for a while?”

Derek looks at his mom. She nods curtly, her eyes soft. “It’s your room Derek, you may stay, but make sure Stiles rests.”

The door closes and Stiles is alone with Derek. “You brought me to your room?”

Derek averts his eyes. “I wasn’t sure where to take you and this felt right. Safe.”

Exhaustion is tugging at him now that he’s eaten and come clean with everything that’s been happening. “I think I’d like to sleep for a bit. Will you stay while I sleep?”

“Yes.”

Stiles starts getting settled in the bed and Derek stands up and walks towards a chair. Stiles sits back up. “Where are you going?”

“To sit while you sleep.”

Stiles frowns. “I was hoping you would come lay on the bed with me.” Stiles swallows, thinking maybe he’s gone too far, but Derek’s ears pink up and he nods. The way Derek blushes is adorable and Stiles wants to run his fingers along the blush that goes from the tips of Derek’s ears down his neck. Stiles twists his hands into the bed sheets.

“Only if you want me to.”

“I do.” Stiles pats the bed and Derek lays on top of the covers next to Stiles. As soon as Derek is settled, Stiles curls up next to him and closes his eyes.

When Stiles wakes up it’s late afternoon and Derek is carding his fingers through Stiles’s hair. Stiles sighs. He would like to stay in this bed all day, Derek’s heat next to him and the world outside, away. His feelings for Derek are immense and overpowering, but Stiles isn’t sure what to do about them yet. His place here is still temporary, will always be temporary, and his feelings don’t feel temporary. They feel like bedrock, like an anchor. 

His heartbeat must change because Derek’s fingers still. “How are you feeling? You smell sad.”

“I’m fine.” 

It’s a lie, they both know it, but Derek lets it go. “I would like to ask you something.”

Stiles props himself up on his elbow. “Anything.” Anything not feeling related.

“Tonight is the full moon and the Pack will run.”

Stiles wonders where this is going. “So your mother said.”

Derek clears his throat and looks nervous. “We have a big dinner outside and then the Pack runs the holding. Would you like to come? On the run? With me?”

Derek is looking anywhere but at Stiles and Stiles puts a finger on Derek’s chin to draw his eyes back up. This beautiful, closed off man who has been hurt by others wants to share something special and private with Stiles. What Derek doesn’t know is Stiles would agree to anything Derek asked of him.

“Of course I would love to go. Just remember, I have human legs and won’t be able to keep up when you inevitably leave me in the dust.”

The smile that breaks over Derek’s face is so wide two deep dimples appear on his cheeks and Stiles thinks he might actually be having heart palpitations. “You just can’t smile at me like that.”

Derek’s smile fades at the corners and the dimples disappear. 

“No, don’t stop.” Stiles pokes Derek in the cheek. ”I only said that because I think if you keep doing that I’ll agree to literally anything you ask of me.”

“Anything?” The smile is back.

“Anything.” Stiles is breathless and he wants to close the space between them, suddenly very aware they are on a bed, only inches apart.

“I’ll keep that in mind, “ Derek says as he rolls off the bed. Stiles whines and he’s only a little embarrassed about it. Derek laughs. “Are you feeling up to getting changed for an early dinner?”

Stiles nods.

“Good. I’ll go tell mom you’re joining us. Will you be all right getting to your own room? Do you need anything?”

“I think I’ll be fine.”

Derek grins at Stiles again and Stiles’s heart does another flip. Derek leaves and Stiles rubs his sternum. He is not just in over his head, he’s fifty feet below ground floating on underground rapids heading towards a waterfall and he is secretly loving it.

In his room, Stiles stands and looks at the clothes in his wardrobe for a long time. He doesn’t have many options and he is not sure what one wears to a dinner and run through the woods with werewolves when one of the wolves may like him. Stiles stifles the urge to chuckle. He ends up in his best pants that are also warm and a double breasted green shirt with wooden buttons that his father carved for him last year. He takes his cloak out of the wardrobe to take downstairs for later, slides his feet into his boots and goes downstairs. 

The dining room and sitting room are both empty. Derek mentioned something about the dinner being outside so Stiles changes direction, goes through the kitchen, and out into the garden. The laughter and talking tell him he chose correctly. The main area of the garden is set up with tables. One of them is covered in food. The other tables are occupied with people, the Pack in groups of two or three eating and talking. 

Derek looks up and sees Stiles the moment he walks through the door and Stiles feels his gaze like a physical touch. Stiles moves through the garden straight to Derek, aware that everything in the area has stopped at his arrival. He sits down and picks up a finger sandwich from Derek’s plate. Derek smiles, the one with dimples, and pushes the plate towards Stiles. The conversations starts back up around them.

Stiles elbows Scott, who is sitting next to him, and the other man nudges him with his shoulder. Scott grins at him and Stiles settles in to eat. He presses himself into Derek and Stiles revels in the feel of being able to be this close. When the plate is empty, Derek stands up, refills the plate, and puts it on the table in front of Stiles again. Stiles smiles and pulls Derek back down next to him. They grin at each other for a moment before rejoining the conversation. Contentment and anticipation bubble through Stiles.

The meal winds down and the dishes and debris from dinner are cleaned up. Everyone grabs things and takes them inside. There’s an electric current in the air that Stiles can feel. On a whim, he takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and opens them again, this time looking with his other sight. What he sees is beyond words. The entire forest is alive with lights, each small spark signaling life. The nemeton is the brightest, a green beacon in the forest. The Pack though, even the human members, are linked through different color threads, Pack bonds, that glimmer like moonlight. Stiles glances down and has to look twice before he understands what he is seeing. A gossamer thread is going from his own spark to Derek and a thinner branch reaches out to Talia, Laura, Lydia, Danny, and Scott. There is the possibility of more if he were to stay. Stiles thinks even when he leaves, these attachments will remain.

It’s not that different than the connection he has with his father, Stiles tells himself, even though he knows it’s not technically true. His father is tied to him by blood. These new bonds, fragile and new, are fed from the magic of the Hale Pack and what it means to be accepted here into the Holding. Stiles feeding into the wards of the forest probably moved their creation along. He is unsettled by the connection in the same moment that he admits it feels nice to belong, to be tethered with others.

The weres are all stripping themselves of their clothes. Stiles averts his eyes though he does chance small glances at Derek as the other man unbuttons his shirt and slips it off his arms. Derek’s hands go to the waist of his trousers and Stiles closes his eyes and tries to keep a lock on his physical reaction to Derek showing so much skin. Stiles keeps his eyes screwed shut, the image of Derek playing on a loop, when something bumps his hand. 

Stiles opens his eyes and there is a huge black wolf with electric blue eyes blinking at him. The wolf’s head is as tall as his waist so when he drops to his knees, the wolf towers over him. Stiles knows, he knows this wolf.

Stiles plunges his fingers into the thick fur and it’s so soft Stiles moans. “Derek. Gods, you’re gorgeous like this.”

The wolf leans down and presses his nose to Stiles forehead, then swipes his wet tongue across Stiles’s cheek.

Stiles gives in and buries his face in the neck ruff of the wolf. “You are amazing. Don’t be offended, but I think I’m in love with your wolf. I want to snuggle with it forever.”

The wolf makes a rumbling noise and Stiles laughs. “Are you purring?” Stiles’s laughter turns into cackling and the wolf harrumphs and steps away.

“Oh come on, big guy. You know I like the eyebrow version too.” Stiles makes grabby hands. “Come back here and let me pet you.”

The wolf slinks back and rubs its full body length against Stiles, which causes him to lose his balance. Stiles tumbles into the leaves and laughs. The wolf barks and hops around Stiles in an obvious invitation to play. Stiles gets up, brushes off the leaves, and dashes off into the woods, Derek on his heels, nipping at him playfully.

Running with the Pack is exhilarating and Stiles opens all his senses up, throwing his magic out and letting the Holding in, wolves, woods, and all the things in between. The trees blur past him as he follows the howls and yips of the Pack, though he doesn’t need the auditory guide because in his mind he can see the entire territory, can feel it all. He knows Lydia, Melissa, and Danny are walking slowly through the woods. He can feel each wolf and the coyote as they fan out ahead of him. Derek is to his right, a bright spot of blue in his mind. 

Above all of it is the pulsing power of the nemeton and Stiles can hear it in his mind. It’s pleased that the woods are singing and that the Spark has come to run with its wolves. Emotions that are not his own twist through Stiles as he runs and runs and runs. While his feet propel him forward, he uses the power of the Pack and the woods coursing through him to shore up the wards.

By the time Stiles and Derek burst out of the woods, the moon is high, Stiles’s feet are stumbling, and his bruises are a constant ache. He skids to a halt when he sees what the three left behind have been doing while the rest of them ran. 

Fairy lights are hung in the lower branches of the trees in the garden and down some of the pathways. One of the tables is filled with cold meats, rolls, slices of tomatoes, hard cheeses, pickles, and fruit. 

Stiles doesn’t feel right sitting at a table so he collapses at the base of one of the trees and leans against the trunk to catch his breath.

Melissa brings him a cup of cold water that he gulps down greedily. “Thank you.” He hands her the empty glass.

“They’re something, aren’t they?”

Derek is approaching, still in wolf form, and Stiles doesn’t want to look away. “He really is.”

Melissa chuckles and walks away. Derek trots closer and walks over Stiles’s lap so he can rub his body over Stiles’s chest, making Stiles chuckle. Derek turns around and repeats the gesture.

“Trying to make me smell like you?” Stiles jokes.

The wolf sits on its haunches and nods, then scootches closer.

Stiles runs his hands over Derek’s face and into his fur. “I don’t mind. I like it, actually. Thank you for tonight. I don’t know if you noticed, but I do tend to talk quite a lot and even so I’m not sure I can find the words to describe running with you. It felt right.” 

Stiles’s throat closes up because he’s going to have to give this up when he solves the problem of the shade. As much as he wants to pretend that this is permanent and he could be here for the next full moon and the next, he won’t be. He has his own home and small family.

Stiles wants to curl around the blooming hurt in his chest.

Derek whines and moves so he’s practically sitting in Stiles’s lap. 

Stiles smiles and buries his face in the fur on Derek’s neck. “I’m fine. I just wish,” his voice hitches at the growing pain, “I wish I didn’t have to leave.”

The wolf whines again, darts off Stiles’s lap, and bounds off. Stiles feels empty without Derek there and he opens himself to the feeling, knowing he will have to get used to being alone again. The reality slices through his breastbone, making every breath hurt. Stiles blinks his burning eyes and tries to reconcile himself to what his future will be.

The other pack members are trickling in, shifting back, and putting clothes on before going over to the table. Stiles watches them with a longing that feels like a knife. He stores up the images. Lydia laughing with Malia over a cup of wine. Isaac and Cora with their heads together. Laura and Talia sitting with Erica and Boyd. Danny, Liam, and Mason on one end of the table laughing and stealing food from each other’s plates. Melissa and Scott putting food on plates to share with everyone. Stiles leans his head back against the rough bark of the tree to lock all of it into his mind, to save when he is home later with just his dad, so he can remember he had this once.

There is movement next to him and Stiles knows it’s Derek. He opens his eyes and Derek is sinking to the ground to sit beside him in one graceful movement. Derek is clothed, though his shirt ties are undone and his shirt is untucked. Derek hands Stiles the plate in his hands.

Stiles puts some meat, cheese, and a tomato slice into a roll and eats it. Derek is quiet, watching him. When Stiles is done eating the roll, he makes another and hands it to Derek. Derek’s mouth quirks up as he takes the roll. Stiles puts his hand on Derek’s thigh, needing to touch the other man, to ground himself in this moment. Stiles closes his eyes against the swell of grief he feels at knowing this is the only time he’ll have this. 

Derek whines and puts the food aside. “Stiles, you’re sad. Why? Didn’t you like running with me?”

Derek’s eyes are large in the light of the moon and the fairy lights overhead, and the ache in Stiles cracks wider at the thought that his own emotions are hurting the last person who deserves more hurt. 

“Tonight has been perfect.” Stiles squeezes Derek’s thigh.

“Then what’s wrong?” 

The garden is full of people that Stiles has come to care about in the days he has been here. People that he feels connected to in a way he didn’t think possible. The small lanterns give a glow to everything and Stiles turns to look at the man next to him. Derek’s eyes look more grey than blue and green in this light. Derek will know if he lies and Stiles decides it’s not worth it.

Stiles sweeps his free hand out. “It’s this. All of it. After mom died, it has been just me and my dad. He’s the only family I have, but I’ve always wanted something more, something larger, louder. I came here and this is what I’ve always wanted, a family this big, made up of people who choose to stay and love and be loved. It’s not just your family. The land calls to me too.”

Stiles shifts his eyes down. He doesn’t want to see the understanding and rejection in Derek’s eyes. “I know I will have to leave, that this isn’t for me, and it breaks my heart. The longer I’m here the harder it is to think about leaving. To think about leaving you.”

Derek doesn’t move, barely breathes, and Stiles knows he’s laid himself too bare, revealed too much. There hasn’t been enough time for the kinds of feelings Stiles has, especially when he spent the majority of his time here shying away from Derek. 

Stiles hunches his shoulders forward. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Stiles, shut up.” Derek cups the side of Stiles’s face and draws Stiles’s eyes up. “Sometimes silence is just silence. It doesn’t always have to be filled.” Derek smiles, the open wide one with dimples that Stiles wants to fall into. “You don’t have to leave here. We could talk to my mother. You and your father could live here, become Pack if that is what you choose.”

“We could?”

Derek chuckles and the sound reverberates through Stiles. He shifts to hide his reaction. Derek continues, “You could. How do you think we ended up with so many pack members? You already know they’re not blood related. Packs are more than blood bonds, Stiles.”

Hope, brighter than the lights above their heads or the full moon, shines in Stiles. “I think, I would like that but I would have to talk to my dad. He would have to agree.” Stiles nods. “We can talk to your mom in the morning.”

“There’s no need. She can hear the conversation we’re having now.” 

Sure enough, Talia looks in their direction and raises her cup in their direction. She smiles and takes a sip. Her lips move like she is talking to Melissa, who is sitting next to her, but she is looking directly at Stiles. Melissa’s head swivels in their direction too, a knowing smile on her face. Talia’s focus goes back to Melissa. 

“What did she say?” Stiles asks, breathless.

“She said you’re welcome to stay here as long as you’d like. If you would like to bring your father here, he is also welcome. She would be honored to have a Spark in her Pack.” A blush goes from Derek’s neck to his ears and cheeks.

Energy flashes through Stiles. He knows he can convince his dad to at least come visit. Once he’s here, Stiles knows he can convince him to stay. “What else did she say?”

“Nothing,” Derek mutters.

“Liar, but I’ll let it pass.” 

Derek gathers both of Stiles hands in his. “There is one more thing I would like you to consider.”

Stiles licks his lips and he stills with the weight of Derek’s hands around his own and the charged air between them.

Derek takes a deep breath. “I would also like you to consider staying. For me. It’s been a long time since I felt like I could trust how I felt about someone but I would like to have time to explore the way I feel about you. I’m not asking for anything from you, only the opportunity to see where things could go.”

Stiles leans into Derek, stopping when there is only breath between them. “Just so you know. I’m not really one for going slow when I already know what I want.”

Stiles slides a hand along Derek’s jaw and around to the back of his neck to eradicate what space is between them. The first touch of their lips is soft, a question, and Derek pushes in answer. Stiles smiles into the kiss and runs his tongue along the seam of Derek’s mouth. Derek opens up and Stiles takes what’s kept him awake at nights. 

Derek’s hand moves up Stiles’s thigh until his hand is wrapped around the point where his leg and hip join, thumb pushing into the joint. Stiles squirms under the pressure and releases a sigh, which Derek drinks down greedily. Stiles has a free hand now and he slides it under Derek’s shirt and along the bare skin he finds there. Stiles swings his leg over Derek's lap and pulls the other man towards him.

Stiles and Derek under the tree

There is a cough from somewhere else in the garden and Derek breaks the kiss but leans his forehead against Stiles as if afraid to stop being connected to him by as many touch points as possible. Stiles has his eyes closed and he can feel Derek’s harsh breathing on his face. He should feel embarrassed by the position they are in, but he's not.

Stiles cups Derek’s face without breaking away from him. “To be clear, what I want is you.”

Derek shakes with quiet laughter, then he pulls back to gaze into Stiles’s face. “I’m still not sure why you do, especially with how I treated you at the beginning.”

Stiles smiles and shrugs. “I love a challenge and, what can I say, I guess grumpy eyebrows is what does it for me.”

Stiles turns his head. The rest of the pack is studiously not looking in at them, but also looking in their direction. Whatever he says to Derek will be overheard by the wolves and communicated to the others so Stiles figures, there’s no use hiding what’s coming next.

“Derek.”

“Yes, Stiles.”

“I would like to go back to your room with you unless that’s too fast for you.” Stiles hopes he hasn’t miscalculated.

Derek’s dimples make an appearance and he places a light kiss on Stiles’s mouth. Stiles tries to pull him into another kiss, but Derek easily pulls back. “I’d love to.”

Stiles stands up and offers a hand down to Derek. Derek’s hand slips into his and Stiles pulls him up, kissing him when he stands. Stiles waves to the people in the garden.

“Goodnight.”

They escape with laughter and cat calls at their backs.

 

***

Derek’s heart is racing almost as fast and Stiles’s is as they race through the halls of Hale House to Derek’s bedroom. Of all the ways Derek imagined tonight’s full moon run going, ending it with Stiles in his bed had not even been a possibility he’d dare to entertain. Derek’s hand trembles as he reaches out for the latch of his door. 

Stiles covers Derek’s hand with his own, his smile gone. “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I mean, we don’t have to actually do anything. I don’t care what we do as long as we do it together.” 

Derek pulls Stiles to him, pushes him against the door, then covers Stiles’s body with his own. Derek’s knees threaten to buckle when his own straining cock rubs against Stiles’s arousal. Stiles throws his head back and Derek places a kiss, gentle at first, on the pulse point on Stiles’s neck. The kiss moves from gentle to the overwhelming need to bite down on the sensitive part of Stiles’s neck. Derek’s gums itch with the need and he presses his hips into Stiles and pops his mouth off of Stiles’s skin.

“If you don’t get me in your room right now, I am going to do something very inappropriate in this hallway.” Stiles reaches around and grabs two handfuls of Derek’s ass to emphasize his point.

Derek chuckles. “Warning heeded. That was my way of telling you I do want to do this, in case that was unclear.”

“Clear as a bell.” 

Derek reaches behind Stiles and pulls the latch on the door, his hand no longer shaking, though everything else in him seems to be. Derek takes care to lock the door and turns around. Stiles is standing in the middle of his room. His room. Like he belongs there. Stiles moves to sit on the edge of Derek’s bed like it’s the most natural thing in the world and it feels like it should be. 

The pull toward Stiles is stronger than gravity. The pull covers every inch of his skin with so much force that sitting in the middle of a river after a storm couldn’t come close to competing. As Derek stalks over to Stiles, Stiles pulls off his boots and socks, a smirk on his face that sends a flash of want through Derek. By the time Derek reaches the bed, Stiles is bootless, sockless, and shirtless. There are mottled bruises all over Stiles, on his torso and up and down his arms. They remind Derek how close he came to losing Stiles before he’d even had a chance to try for this. How very human Stiles is.

As soon as Derek is within range, Stiles stands and tries to push Derek onto the bed. Derek plays along and allows himself to be guided to the bed. He sits down and Stiles steps into the V of his legs. Stiles cards his fingers through Derek’s hair, a slow smile on his face, before he leans down and places a firm, close mouthed kiss on Derek’s lips. Derek tries to push up into him to deepen the kiss, but Stiles pulls back and chuckles.

“You have too many clothes on.” 

Stiles kneels at Derek’s feet and Derek sucks in a breath, the root of every fantasy he’s ever had springing to life. Stiles blinks those honey brown eyes up at him and gives him a smile that tells Derek he knows exactly what he’s thinking about. Stiles wraps his long fingers around Derek’s thighs and slides his hands up until his thumbs are resting in the same place Derek had been grabbing him under the tree in the garden. Derek’s pants are uncomfortably tight.

“I want to take off your pants and your shirt, all your clothes really.” Stiles gives Derek a wicked grin and runs his palm over Derek’s trapped cock.

Derek’s hips move up into Stiles’s touch of their own accord and he has to find his voice. “Yes. Please.” 

Derek pulls his shirt over his head and stands to remove his pants. Stiles only inches back, holding himself very close to Derek. As soon as Derek’s clothes are off, Stiles puts a hand on Derek’s hip to push him back towards the bed. Heat roars through him from that touchpoint and Derek’s knees give out, landing him firmly on the bed. Instead of sitting still, Derek slides all the way back into the bed, every nerve ending in his body screaming and reaching for Stiles even as he moves away.

Stiles rises up, shucks his own pants, and he pauses there, looking at Derek. It gives Derek a chance to admire him, all lean ropey muscle dotted with moles, but there is a deep bruise on one of Stiles’s thighs and across his chest. Derek doesn’t know how Stiles managed to run as much as he did tonight and not injure himself further.

“This is going to sound like I’m making an excuse to slow down, but are you sure you’re going to be all right with all your injuries and after the run?” Derek wants to take care of Stiles but he also needs to feel him and have as much of him as Stiles will give. 

A cheshire cat grin breaks over Stiles’s face and he crawls into the bed, stalking up Derek’s body. He leans down and slides up Derek’s body, the friction sending currents of electric want and need sparking over him. Stiles puts one hand against the bed by Derek’s shoulder and wraps one long fingered hand around both of their cocks before covering Derek’s mouth with his own.

It’s almost too much at once and Derek can’t think past the pressure and heat of Stiles around his cock, the weight of Stiles covering him, the way Stiles tastes, and the smell of them both in his bed. Derek pushes up into Stiles at the same time Stiles pushes down and Stiles makes an abortive noise. The air around them fills with the smell of pain and Derek stills.

“Stiles, we don’t have to do this tonight.”

Stiles sucks in a breath and then, to Derek’s surprise, the bed shakes as Stiles flops off him and starts laughing. Derek rolls over on his side to face Stiles as the other man laughs, entire body shaking. It’s beautiful. 

“You’re beautiful.” Derek is not embarrassed when the words escape his lips because they’re true.

Stiles wipes his eyes and rolls towards Derek. “It figures that I’m finally in bed with someone I find ridiculously attractive, I’m too injured to do anything serious.”

Derek trails his fingers over Stiles’s hip, enjoying the way it makes Stiles’s skin pebble up. “Why don’t you let me lead, be on top. I can keep my weight off you and I'll be careful of your bruises.”

Stiles closes the distance between them and kisses Derek on the corner of his mouth. “I can’t say no to that.”

Stiles rolls onto his back and Derek follows the movement, careful to keep himself off Stiles and taking a quick inventory of where Stiles is hurt. Derek runs his free hand over Stiles’s skin with gentle pressure, avoiding Stiles’s injured areas. He kisses Stiles deeply and moves his hand until he can wrap it around Stiles’s cock. Stiles pushes up into his touch and makes a greedy noise. Derek runs his thumb over the head of Stiles’s cock, smearing precome over the head. Stiles’s heart stutters and Derek has to reign in his control at the sound.

There is one thing they need. Derek moves off Stiles and over to the small set of drawers next to his bed. 

Stiles makes a noise of protest. “Where are you going?”

“Patience,” Derek says as he opens the top drawer and pulls out the glass vial of oil he keeps there. He’s never used it on anyone but himself and he’s nervous, but this feels right in a way nothing ever has before.

Stiles grins when he sees what’s in Derek’s hand. “Clever wolf.”

Derek pours some of it in his hand, then wraps his hand around Stiles, making sure to spread the oil from root to tip. Stiles pushes up into his hand and Derek enjoys the feel of Stiles sliding through his hand, the head peeking out between his fist before he slides his hand back down. Derek releases Stiles, who makes a needy sound until he sees Derek rise up on his knees above him. 

Derek adds a little more oil to his palm and spreads it over his own cock as quickly as he can because he wants more than his own hand. Stiles makes grabby hands at him again, the same gesture he made to Derek as a wolf, and Derek chuckles as he puts the oil down. Derek positions himself over Stiles, careful of his weight, and gathers them both in his hand.

The feel of Stiles’s slick cock against his own punches through Derek and he rests his forehead against Stiles’s to catch his breath. Stiles doesn’t let him though because even though Stiles is on bottom, he still seems to think he is in charge of everything. Stiles pulls Derek into a kiss with a hand on the back of Derek’s neck. The other hand goes straight to Derek’s ass where he puts pressure as Stiles pushes his hips up, sliding against Derek.

They find a rhythm that has them both panting. Stiles throws his head back, exposing his throat to Derek and Derek hesitates right above the spot he desperately wants to put his mouth on. He moves his hips, sliding their hard lengths together and tries to concentrate on the push and pull of that and not the way his mouth waters and his fangs are threatening to drop at the sight of that spot Stiles is exposing.

“Kiss me there. I know you want to.” Stiles’s voice is ragged.

“I can’t. It means something if I do that. You don’t know what it means.” Another push and pull and Derek drops his mouth to the spot on Stiles, laying only his lips against it.

Stiles shudders against him. “I know. I asked Lydia. Just don’t bite me yet, but you can do whatever else you want.”

Yet. Derek is thrilled by the yet because it means one day there may be a time when Stiles does want that from him, something permanent. He can feel his wolf’s impatience to take what it wants now, but Derek knows waiting is better. 

With permission given, Derek places an open mouthed kiss over the spot on Stiles where his neck meets his shoulder. Stiles makes a ragged sound, like he’s being broken open, and Derek feels something else, a pull on his center. Derek runs his blunt teeth over the spot again and the feeling in his center grows. Derek concentrates on it and realizes that he knows what the pull is. It’s Stiles and his magic, pushing into Derek and wrapping around them both. It feels like the pull of the moon and the ties of Pack, but more

Stiles wraps his hand around Derek’s where their bodies are joined and Derek can barely think past the feel of Stiles’s hand with his creating heat and pressure as they move together. Derek bites down on Stiles’s neck, a ghost of what he aches to do, and his orgasm roars through him. Stiles’s hand tightens and tumbles after Derek a moment later. They move through the aftershocks until Derek is holding himself above Stiles, face buried in Stiles’s neck and breathing in the wonderful smell of them together while they catch their breath.

Stiles’s hand is moving up and down Derek’s back. “That was… thank you.”

Derek lifts his head. “Thank you.” Derek kisses Stiles slow and deep and it feels like a promise of more to come, more nights like this, more time together, just more. “We should clean up.”

Stiles sighs. “I’m too tired. I’m going to die debauched and filthy and I don’t care one bit.”

Derek chuckles and pushes himself off the bed. He takes a washing cloth from the basin in the corner, cleans himself, then goes back to the bed to take care of Stiles.

Stiles sighs. “I could get used to this.”

Derek smiles indulgently and he hopes Stiles does get used to being in his bed because Derek never wants Stiles to leave it.

Stiles wraps himself around Derek when he gets back into the bed. Derek’s heart aches with how tender it is. He prays to whatever god is listening that this can be his to keep. 

They wake up to screaming, bone-shaking, soul curling screaming. Lydia.

Stiles jerks awake and flops like a fish in the blankets he’s managed to tangle himself up in. Derek grabs his wrist to keep him from falling out of bed. 

Stiles’s eyes are wide. “Is that?”

“Lydia. Yes.”

Derek grabs his trousers and yanks them on, pulling his shirt over his head as he opens the door. Stiles is on his heels as they both run barefoot through the house.

“I know you can run faster than me. Go.” Stiles waves him off and, even though Derek doesn’t want to leave him, he obeys.

A banshee scream isn’t just a harbinger or a force of sound, it can also leave an impression of magic. Derek follows the memory of what he heard and the feel of Lydia’s unique magic. The rest of the Pack is also moving through the house to the same spot so they all burst out of the back door and into the garden almost at the same time. 

Lydia is on her hands and knees in the grass, taking deep breaths and covered in sweat.

His mother reaches her first and kneels by the banshee. “Lydia, what happened?”

“The shade made it past the wards. It was… I could feel it’s intention.” Lydia looks up, her hazel eyes large in the semi-darkness of the predawn light. “It was here to kill everyone. All of us.”

Mother’s eyes fill with red and Derek can feel the rage radiating from her. “This ends today.”

Stiles skids into Derek as he joins the group. “The wards didn’t hold?” His voice wobbles a bit.

Derek reaches an arm around Stiles’s waist and pulls him close. “It’s not your fault.”

“It is though. If I’d been out here like I should have been, it never would have gotten this close.” Stiles smells of frustration and regret and Derek leans over to place a kiss on Stiles’s neck.

His mother assists Lydia to her feet. “Stiles, you can’t fight this alone every night. It’s time we went on the offensive and took the fight to the Argents.”

“How can you be sure it’s them?” Laura asks. It’s the question Derek has as well.

Mother’s eyes go red again. “There isn’t anyone else in the region stupid enough to try to attack my Pack. It’s time we had a reckoning with them.” She runs a gentle hand over Lydia’s forehead. “Malia and Cora, take Lydia inside and take care of her. It’s early but since everyone is awake, we’ll eat breakfast, then discuss our strategy. Danny, Stiles, and Lydia, when she’s ready, will tell us all they know and how to fight this.”

Stiles presses his lips together. “We’ve been working on a theory.”

“I look forward to hearing it. After breakfast.”

Everyone moves, eager to obey the Alpha. Derek keeps his hand around Stiles and squeezes him. 

“I can hear you thinking and I know you’re still feeling responsible.” Derek turns so Stiles can look at him.

Stiles closes his eyes. “I let myself be distracted by you. In my defense, you’re very distracting,” Stiles’s mouth twitches up, “but I should have been out here.”

Derek shakes his head. “Mother was right. You could not have kept fighting it alone. It’s time we all join the fight.”

“Someone could have been hurt,” Stiles protests.

Derek takes Stiles’s face in both hands. “But they weren’t.” He leans his forehead against Stiles’s. “Everyone is fine and now we face whatever waits for us together, as a Pack.”

Stiles takes a deep breath. “All right.”

 

***

“No.”

Stiles jerks his head towards Derek. “What do you mean no? This is the best use of our resources, the best plan.”

“You aren’t going to be bait. It’s too dangerous,” Derek growls.

Anger flares in Stiles like fire cutting through a dry forest and he is aware they have the entire Pack as audience. Stiles is man enough to admit that he might be well on his way to being irrevocably in love with Derek Hale but if the man won’t admit that Stiles has power of his own and can fight, this brand new relationship will die before it starts. 

Stiles takes a step closer to Derek and pokes a finger into the other man’s chest. “You don’t get to have a say in this. It’s my decision and it’s the best chance we have. I confront the shade farther into the woods than normal and the rest of the pack fans out searching for its master. I don’t have your senses. This is the best job for me.”

“No,” Derek says.

Stiles can see the fear mixed with the anger in Derek’s eyes, but he presses. This is a battle Stiles has to win if Derek is going to see him as an equal in this partnership. “You don’t actually get a say in this.”

Derek fists his hands, gives the room a withering gaze and says to his mother, “I can’t believe you’re all right with letting him put himself in danger.”

Talia straightens her back and glares at her son. “It’s Stiles’s decision and it’s the best plan.”

Derek storms out of the room and Stiles’s anger ratchets up a notch. He looks at Talia for permission. 

“Go after him.”

Stiles tears out of the library and catches up with Derek down the hallway. “Derek, wait.”

As soon as Stiles is within range, Derek grabs him and pushes him up against the wall. Stiles’s anger is still bubbling through him but not enough that he doesn't take a moment to appreciate the hard planes of Derek’s body as he presses him into the wall. Stiles opens his mouth to protest being manhandled but Derek’s mouth covers his.

This kiss isn’t like the ones they shared last night. It’s rough, possessive, and filled with anger. Stiles gives back everything Derek’s giving and grabs a handful of Derek’s hair and pulls until the other man breaks the kiss.

“Talking is also a way to have an argument, though I’m not going to exactly take umbrage with your opening.” Stiles gives Derek’s hair one last harsh tug before he lets go.

“You can’t be bait.” Derek’s voice is low and mostly growl.

Stiles pushes away from the wall. “I can and I will.”

“I don’t like it.”

Stiles nods. “I get that, I do, but you have to understand something.” Stiles places his hand on his chest. “I’m not a damsel in distress and I’m not going to stand back while you fight the battles. That’s not who I am. I have my own power. Yes, it’s wrapped in a very breakable package, but I know how to use the power I have and if I can use it to help people I care about, I will.”

Stiles sighs and wraps a hand around Derek’s neck, stepping back into his space. “Look, if you can’t accept this, I don’t know if I can do this, whatever this is between us, and I have a feeling that whatever it is is going to be something epic. But we won’t ever find out if you think I’m staying here while you go out there to fight without me.”

Derek drops his head on Stiles’s shoulder and breathes, eventually putting his nose to the space behind Stiles’s ear. Stiles wraps his arms around the other man and they stand like that for a long time.

“I don’t like it,” Derek grumbles into Stiles’s skin in a voice that is lost. “I don’t want to lose you before I’ve barely gotten a chance to be with you. I don’t want to lose you ever.”

Stiles tightens his arms around Derek. “We’re going to face this together. We’ll take care of each other. I’ll cover your back and you’ll cover mine and we have an entire pack with us.” Stiles moves his hands down Derek’s back. “It’s a good plan.”

“I know.”

“It will work.”

“I know.”

“I’m really hard to get rid of.”

Derek’s body shakes with silent laughter and he pulls back to look Stiles in the face. Derek traces Stiles’s face with his fingers and nudges him back to the wall again. Derek cups Stiles’s face and kisses him. This time the kiss is gentle, an apology and a promise.

When Derek breaks the kiss he says, “I still don’t like it, but you’re right.”

“You didn’t say sorry, but I’m going to count that kiss as a sorry. Next time, use your words.” Stiles busses Derek on the mouth and grins.

Derek rolls his eyes. “I’m already regretting this relationship.”

“No, you’re not.”

Derek smiles, it’s shy and Stiles wants to remember this version of Derek’s face forever. “I’m not.”

 

***

The plan goes ahead and Derek has to keep himself from staying within two feet of Stiles at all times. He hates this, hates Stiles being in danger, hates that Stiles is doing this willingly, but he also feels a thrill that Stiles cares enough about the Pack to do it. Stiles is just ahead of him and Derek can’t help but admire the sheer amount of courage and raw will in the other man. Derek’s heart swells and he has to push down his feelings. They will only distract him from the business at hand.

They’re not far into the forest when they all split, fanning out from Stiles. Stiles turns to look at Derek and wink at him. Derek nods and melts into the forest. Stiles continues along the path the shade has made through the trees, lantern held high. Derek and the Pack comb through the woods in a wide fan. Lydia and Stiles think that whoever is controlling the shade will need to be relatively close, which means Stiles can draw out the shade and the pack can find the human pulling the strings.

Derek gives Stiles a wide berth, but the compromise was that he could stay closer than the others in case Stiles does need help. It’s not close enough for Derek, because close enough would be right next to Stiles’s shoulder. He knows compromise is important and he trusts Stiles, but worry still churcns through him as he moves through the dark trees.

The first hour is quiet, then Derek hears the shift in the forest, like the night stills and holds its breath for whatever is coming. It’s a feeling that creeps up his spine and grabs tight to the base of his skull. Derek stops walking and listens, reaching out to Stiles along the tentative bond forming there. It’s not enough for Derek to get a good reading on Stiles, that would take an actual mating bite, but it is enough for Derek to know that Stiles is still moving. Still all right. Stiles’s heartbeat is steady and the loudest thing Derek hears in the quiet forest.

Until it’s not. There’s another heartbeat close, one that doesn’t belong to Pack. The rest of the Pack is too far away for it to be them. Lydia thought the master of the shade would be farther away, near the border of the Hale and Argent Holdings. Derek is the only one who stayed close to Stiles because they didn’t expect anything but the shade to be this close to the house.

Derek sprints toward the second heartbeat, dropping claws and fangs as he runs.

He intends to take the master by surprise and crash into them, but that never happens.

Derek breaks through the trees and into a small clearing, coming face to face with Gerard Argent. The old man looks worse than last time Derek saw him. His skin has the grey pallor of someone who has been sick for too long and has been staring at the edge of a grave. Controlling the shade must be taking its toll.

“You’re supposed to be dead.”

“And you soon will be.” The old man mumbles something under his breath and lifts a weapon that Derek is, unfortunately, familiar with, a gun that uses air to disperse wolfsbane into the air.

Derek takes a step back, keeping Gerard in his sights. “I’m not alone.”

“Oh, I’m counting on that.” Gerard laughs and the sound is like gravel. “You’re in for some surprises tonight, you and that little Spark who’s defiled himself with monsters. Just like his mother before him.”

A cold weight settles in Derek’s gut. “You don’t know anything about him.”

That laugh again. “I know more than you think, but my shade and Kate will be taking care of him shortly.”

Bile burns the back of his throat and Derek swallows. “Kate?” He hates the way his voice sounds, still tortured after all these years of living with her memory.

“Didn’t I mention that she’s recently come home after living abroad for years. She had to spend some time away after failing to kill you and your family. We’ll fix that little oversight tonight. It was nice of all of you to come out into the woods, right into the trap I’ve set for you.”

The fear is swift as it courses through him and claws at his insides, but Derek is no longer a kid caught up in the tangle of an older woman’s web. He understands now what it means to be manipulated and what it means to have a real relationship with someone who is your equal. Someone who needs him to live right now and protect his back.

Derek allows the anger free reign and knows his eyes bleed blue. He roars in Gerard’s face, sure that the sounds will bring the others eventually, even if they are too far to help him immediately

“Now, there’s no need for that.” Gerard lifts the gun in his hand.

Derek takes a deep breath, ducks his head, and charges the other man as the gun rings out in his ears. The gun is close enough that Derek’s ears buzz.

The cloud of wolfsbane he barrels through feels like thousands of tiny darts as they touch his face, but Derek keeps going until his claws dig into Gerard.

Gerard smiles, even as blood comes from his mouth. “It doesn’t matter if you kill me. The monster I’ve created will keep going until it’s killed you all. Besides, I have someone else with me tonight that has missed you.”

Dread is heavy as it settles on him, but Derek pushes it aside to focus on the rage. He almost doesn’t feel the sharp pinch of the knife as it enters his side. It burns more than it should and Derek yanks on the hand holding the knife. Gerard is smiling at him and he starts to chuckle, but Derek lifts one of his claws and rips through the other man's throat.

The noise coming from Gerard’s mouth turns into a gurgle as Gerard falls off Derek’s hand still buried in his gut to the forest floor. Derek makes the mistake of breathing and he gets a lungful of air that still holds particles of wolfsbane. His eyes water and he coughs, moving as quickly as he can out of the clearing. The pain in his side is radiating outward, telling him that the dagger Gerard used was poisoned. He has to move. Stiles needs him.

Derek pauses when he is far enough away from the dissipating wolfsbane cloud and listens. Stiles is still in the same area as he was before, but there is another heartbeat with him. Stiles’s heartbeat is faster than normal and Derek knows even before he starts moving what he will find. He breaks into a full run, ignoring the burning coursing through his body. 

 

***

Stiles is doing fine, holding his own against the shade as much as he normally does when a woman walks out of the trees, smiling in a situation that doesn’t involve any humor. Her hair is light brown in the darkness and falls freely over her shoulders. She is dressed like a man, in trousers and a shirt that ties at the throat. There’s a crossbow strapped to her back and she has two long daggers in her hands that she twirls as she approaches him.

“My, my, he found a pretty one. It’s too bad he’s not going to get any time to enjoy you,” the woman says.

“What is it with evil villains and the need to chit chat?” Stiles keeps an eye on the shade, which retreated to the side once the woman showed up.

The woman tilts her head, looking at Stiles like he’s something she can’t quite figure out. “I don’t think you understand who is in charge here. I’m the one with the monster that will flay you alive. I want to wait though. I want to see if Derek shows up. I want him to see this. I hope that father didn’t kill him. I’ve been thinking about this for years.”

Stiles has to push down the urge to vomit. He replaces the sensation with pure, incandescent rage. “Kate.”

“Nice to meet you, Stiles.” She tilts her head again, listening this time. “I think we’re about to have company.”

Kate switches out her weapons so she has a leveled crossbow at the place where Derek bursts through the trees. He sees Kate and veers directions so that he’s standing between her and Stiles.

“Hi, sweety. Nice to see you again.”

“The feeling isn’t mutual.” Derek’s claws are already covered in glistening blood and Stiles hopes that means Gerard is no longer a threat.

“Aw come on, Derek. Don’t be like that. Just because I tried to kill your family and did succeed in killing your father doesn’t mean we couldn’t have a little fun together. We had some good times before.” Kate takes a step closer to Derek. “We can have some fun now too. I’m going to kill Stiles nice and slow so you can watch.”

Stiles steps around Derek. “What broke you? You’re insane.”

Kate laughs, full and deep, and it’s the creepiest thing Stiles has heard in a long time. “Oh, he really is something. It’s too bad we can’t keep both of you around.” 

Kate says some words under her breath that Stiles can’t hear, but Derek tenses up next to him. The shade moves and shimmers in the moonlight and Stiles moves his focus to the creature. He can feel it more intensely than he could before. There is something about it that is familiar in a way it should not be.

“Derek, is Gerard dead?” Stiles asks under his breath.

Derek nods.

Stiles reaches out to the shade, opening up his own senses to it and feels it’s confusion. There is a jumble of emotions, things that Stiles can’t make sense of because there are too many to sift through. Kate is speaking again, but Stiles keeps all his senses trained on the shade, confident that Derek will handle any physical attack Kate will launch their way.

Kate points a finger at Stiles, a delighted smile curving up her lips. “Kill him first, then the other one.”

The shade starts moving and Derek roars, loud and long. Instead of intimidating Kate, she laughs. The shade glides towards them, looming in the air so that it is towering over them. Stiles braces himself, pulling in his power and condensing it into something he can fling out. The shade doesn’t attack right away. It stops in front of Stiles and Derek. Stiles’s senses are still wide open to the shade when he feels the cold tendril of the shades’s consciousness touch his.

Stiles and the Shade

What he sees when the shade touches him drops Stiles to his knees, hands digging into the dirt and leaves of the forest floor to keep the world from spinning.

Images of his father laughing. A baby. A small boy with moles on his neck and shining brown eyes running and laughing. The house he grew up in. Gerard and Kate on the night they killed her and trapped her soul and magic in this monster’s shell.

The shade turns from Stiles and moves so fast Stiles almost can’t track it. It barrels into Kate, knocking her from her feet. The crossbow is ripped from her hands and thrown against a tree where it breaks into pieces. The smile slips from her face and her eyes grow wide.

Kate points at Stiles. “Attack them, not me.”

It’s Stiles’s turn to smile now. “It doesn’t belong to you.” Stiles thinks. “It never did. It was your father’s, wasn’t it?”

“If he’s dead, it’s mine now.” Kate’s voice is thready, betraying her.

Stiles shakes his head. “It doesn’t work that way. Shades only can belong to the person that makes them. This one’s been set free and unfortunately for you, it still retains enough of its former self to know who I am. She won’t be killing me anytime soon. You though...”

Kate’s eyes are huge and they slip from Stiles to the thing hovering over her as the shade wraps long grey fingers that look more corporeal around Kate’s throat. It squeezes and lifts Kate off her feet. It holds her until she passes out, then plunges a hand through her chest. The shade’s fingers go right through Kate’s chest without making a hole. It makes a squeezing motion before dropping Kate’s lifeless body to the ground.

The shade turns to Stiles and Derek steps in front of him. 

Stiles puts a firm hand on Derek’s arm. “She’s not going to hurt either of us, but she doesn’t have much more time.” Stiles can see that the edges of the shade are already fading.

Stiles steps out from behind Derek, all his bravado he was holding onto for Kate, crumbling at the edges. The shade drops so that’s touching the ground and glides over the Stiles. A cold grey hand reaches out and cups his face. The touch is clammy and Stiles stares into the shade, looking for anything that resembles the mother he knew, but her facade is all gone, replaced by the monster. Her essence is still there, the kernel of her power and the seed of her memories.

Stiles closes his eyes and leans into the touch. His chest feels broken open. He has spent the majority of his lifetime missing his mom and wanting to know what happened to her. The reality of knowing is worse, knowing that she was trapped and made to do the bidding of the man that killed her. Stiles tries to reach out to the shade that was his mother with his hand, but he can’t quite grasp anything.

He tries with his mind instead, the effort shattering his heart further. He can feel the pain his mother experienced, what was left of her trapped inside the shade, but under that layer, there is love and warmth and memories of a family. Stiles gathers them to himself and tries to give images of his own to his mom - images of his dad, of them together, of the things he can do. Stiles doesn’t know how long they stay that way, linked, emotions open and flowing back and forth.

There is a hand on the small of his back, then an arm around his waist. Derek.

Stiles doesn’t move, wanting to hold on to what is left of his mom for as long as possible, but he knows it’s time. “You can go. I’ll be all right and you’ll be free.”

Stiles opens his eyes. The shade becomes a mist that sinks into the ground. The soil at his feet shifts and moves. Stiles and Derek take a step back as a sapling springs from the ground and keep growing. A red oak, with broad leaves and roughened bark grows until it towers over their heads. There are tears on Stiles’s face when he lays his palms on the trunk of the new tree.

“Your mother?” Derek asks.

“Yes. Gerard killed your father and my mother, but trapped my mom and turned her into the shade.”

There is a crashing in the trees and the Pack barrels into the area.

Malia crosses her arms, scowling. “We missed all the fun.”

Stiles swipes at the tears on his cheek and slings Derek’s arm over his shoulder. “Sorry to disappoint. We need to get Derek back to the house.”

The skin on Derek’s face is a blistered red and he is bleeding a mix of black and red blood from a knife wound in his side. Scott comes alongside Derek and takes his other arm. Together Stiles and Scott get Derek back to the house and up to his room. Talia takes over from there and Stiles helps when he can, washing Derek’s wounds and holding his hand. To be honest, the hand holding is more for Stiles than Derek.

Talia bandages Derek’s knife wound and runs her fingers through his hair. “My poor boy.”

“He’ll be fine?” Stiles asks.

“He’ll be fine after he sleeps.” Talia smiles. “He’s made of strong stuff, like his father.” She stands up from the bad and looks at them both, then focuses on Stiles. “Stiles, I would like to formally invite you, and your father, to move here, to Hale Holding. You’re welcome to make this your home and become part of my Pack.” She looks down and smiles at Derek. “I have a feeling my son would never forgive me if I didn’t offer.”

Derek’s mouth is in a straight line and those not quite blue or green eyes are watching Stiles, guarded. Stiles takes pity on him and gives him a gentle kiss on his temple. Stiles smiles at Derek and the other man relaxes. 

“I would like that very much. I won’t come without my dad, but I think I can convince him.” 

Talia nods. “Derek can travel with you. You can leave in a couple days once he’s recovered.” She gives them both a fond look before leaving the room.

Stiles pulls off his boots and crawls into bed with Derek. There’s a settled, hollow feeling under his breastbone. He’s both emotionally exhausted and so full of feelings that he can’t sort them all properly, so he doesn’t try. He falls asleep wrapped around Derek, knowing that he is home.

 

***

Derek is pacing in the garden, waiting for Stiles and his dad to come back from visiting the red oak. He’s been rehearsing this next conversation ever since they left to come back to the holding, but the words still sound wrong and jumbled. That’s likely the reason that, when Stiles and Noah emerge from the woods, what Derek says as they reach him is nothing like what he practiced.

“Noah, I’d like permission to formally court your son.” Derek internally groans. He meant to open with all the reasons why Stiles was integral to his happiness, what an amazing man Stiles is, and how Stiles makes him hope for things he never thought possible. He leaves out all of that.

Stiles doubles over laughing. “That is the most sourwolf face I’ve ever seen. You’re either disgusted that you asked or you completely botched your intended delivery.” Stiles straightens up and wraps his arms around Derek’s neck. “I’m guessing it’s the second one.”

Derek closes his eyes and looks around Stiles at Noah, who is trying not to laugh at them both. “I had intended to tell you how much I love your son before I asked.”

Noah chuckles and puts a hand on Derek’s shoulder. “Son, you don’t have to tell me for me to know you two are head over heels for each other. You can have him, with my blessings and a bag full of prayers. You’re going to need them.”

“Hey,” Stiles protests. “I’ll have you both know, I’m a delight.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “You are.”

Stiles gives him a loud kiss and they follow Noah back to the house. Derek keeps his arms tucked around Stiles’s waist and knows that all is finally right in his world.