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"I appreciate everything you've done for me," Isaac is saying. "It's not that I'm not, you know, grateful."

Derek's voice is intentionally flat when he says, "But you want to take your chances with Scott."

Isaac looks up from where he's been staring at the floor. "I do." He says it with confidence, and Derek knows he's lost the battle.

Hell, he's practically lost the war. Peter is gone, Erica and Boyd left him, Jackson has moved away with his family. Scott still won't join him.

Now his only remaining beta is leaving him for another pack.

Isaac leaves quietly and Derek looks around the burned out shell of his home and thinks, This is it. He's without a pack, and that's not good.

"So, like, Isaac is in my pack now," Scott says proudly on Stiles's screen. Not our pack, Stiles notices.

Stiles raises his eyebrows. "What about Derek?"

"Uh, he left Derek. Told him he's not part of his pack anymore," Scott says.

There's a bad feeling in Stiles's stomach but he puts it down to all the burritos he ate today.

They end the session and Stiles does what he's been doing since school let out: he researches. He's found an online community of what he likes to call the 'supernatural-adjacent'. People who aren't werewolves, shapeshifters, witches, or anything else, but who are in the know with those sorts of things. They all swap stories, get advice, vent, whatever. It's good. Stiles feels like he's belongs. There are some hunters involved, but they seem to have been vetted by others in the community and are known to follow a strict code.

Stiles snorts. The Argents were supposed to have followed a code, and that didn't turn out so well. Still, Stiles doesn't think Chris Argent is as bad as his father and sister. Allison and her father are out of town and have been gone since summer break began. Scott has whined about it incessantly, but now he's got Isaac to occupy his time.

Stiles looks over blog posts and the latest in supernatural news.

The biggest news came from Illinois, where hunters had planned to go after a nomadic pack. One of the hunters had a civilian spouse with a conscience, and she snuck around to warn the pack ahead of time. The pack picked up and moved on, having promised their 'informant' not to retaliate with violence. They didn't promise not to warn others of the bloodthirsty hunting group, though, so now their names and photos were all over this corner of the internet. Stiles was sure it wouldn't be long before someone else went after the hunters, either to get rid of them or to give them a stern (bloody) warning.

After he's read over the latest news, he starts looking into werewolf packs. More specifically, what happens to an Alpha without a pack.

"Scott," Derek growls. He's feeling weak and out of control. He knows what that means. Without Scott, he's sunk.

"What do you want?" Scott asks belligerently. "What are you doing in my room?"

"Join my pack," Derek says. He knows he won't beg, but he'll come close. "Please."

"How many times do I have to tell you this? No," Scott says.

Derek swallows his pride and tells him the truth. "I'll become an Omega. I already feel it starting. I'm weaker, less in control-"

"You just want more power, and I don't feel like giving you that," Scott says. Derek wants to knock the snotty look off his face. It's not any different from how he usually feels around Scott, but this time the urge is stronger.

Derek fists his hands and ignores the claws biting into his palms. "I don't think you understand-"

"Dude!" Scott says, cutting him off. "It's not my problem. Now get out before I throw you out."

Stiles is only half listening to the conversation while Scott waxes poetic about Allison and how close he feels to Isaac now. But when Stiles hears Derek's name, he automatically perks up. He's been worried about Derek for a few days now, ever since he started researching Alphas and their packs. He hasn't meant to worry; Derek's nothing to him, really. So he's saved Stiles's ass a few times — it's been mutual. They don't even trust each other, according to Derek.

"I can't believe he came to me and asked me to be in his pack again," Scott is saying. "It's weird. Isn't it?"

"Not really, man," Stiles says. "He's an Alpha without a pack."

"He said he was gonna be an Omega," Scott says, and Stiles winces.

"That would suck," Stiles says weakly, thinking about the damage Omegas could do, until a hunter comes along to put them down. He's learned a lot about Omegas in the past few days. They aren't just lone wolves, they're dangerous. Unstable. Killers.

"Yeah, for him," Scott says with a snort. "Look, I gotta go, I told Isaac he could come over tonight."

"But Derek's going to need-" Stiles says, but Scott cuts him off.

"I don't even care what Derek needs or doesn't need," Scott says. "It's none of my business and not my problem. Talk to you later." And he hangs up.

A feeling of dread settles over Stiles and he shudders.

Derek paces the rotting floorboards, familiar voices floating through his head, saying they're unhappy, they don't feel safe, they're leaving, not pack. Not pack.

He's lost everyone. He tried to rebuild the pack, tried to keep it together. It didn't matter. It all just crumbled. It's gone now, everything.

You were a bad Alpha.

He jerks his head up, thinking he hears a noise. A voice. Fuck, he's starting to hallucinate.

His fangs come out unbidden. His control is shot completely; he's been losing it for days now.

This is your fault.

He was never meant to be the Alpha. He was never trained for it. He didn't make his betas feel like the pack was family. He wasn't kind enough, wasn't at all like his mother had been. She'd been a good Alpha. So had Laura, though she had little experience.

You're just an Omega now.

No, no. He won't let that happen. He thinks of going feral and hurting innocents, of going against everything he's ever been taught. He will kill himself before that happens.

He doesn't trust himself to go out to get wolfsbane, though. He can't leave the house. The violence is right under his skin, in his blood, rushing through him and waiting to spill out.

He has just enough control to get in the chains.

Stiles waits, thinking surely things aren't as bad as he thinks. After a full day, he rolls his eyes and says, "It's probably worse than I think."

His calls go to Derek's voicemail. He leaves a rambling, worried message. He doesn't get an answer, even though he waits and leaves about three more messages. Not to mention the texts.

He waits two more days. Reads about Alphas and Betas and Omegas, of pack dynamics and losing things even more important than an anchor. He worries.

Finally he decides to just go find Derek.

The train station is abandoned. Stiles calls out for Derek but there's no answer. He searches every corner of the place and only finds a couple of shirts and some fuzzy pizza. Gross.

The only other place to try is the old Hale house. It's dark by now so he grabs the flashlight out of his glove compartment and uses that to light his way into the house.

The house is creepy. Stiles thinks of ghosts, the kind in your head that never really leave, and wonders how Derek can stand the place.

"Derek!" Stiles calls out, and then he hears a harsh rattle coming from below his feet. "Shit."

He heads down the creaking basement stairs. He shines the light on the floor first, watching where he's going.

He sees Derek's eyes glow in the dark before he shines his light in that direction. Derek jolts against the chains holding him in place. With the light on him, he looks like shit, worse than when he had wolfsbane poisoning.

The scariest thing about it is that Derek's eyes are changing from red to sickly yellow. Stiles's heart jumps into his throat. He's almost too late.

He catches the scent before he hears him upstairs. Derek rattles his chains, straining to get out. To get to the human. To rip, to rend.

Light shines in his eyes and Derek snarls. He wants to shred the boy's skin, to taste his blood, to break his bones.

The boy says something and Derek howls, straining against the chains, wanting to get close enough to kill.

The boy takes a quick step back, but he keeps talking. Derek only understands some of the words. He stiffens at the word pack. The boy nods and says it again. There are other words, like Alpha and bite. The boy looks nervous, fear rolling off him, but he stands his ground. He keeps talking.

He talks and talks and talks, until more of the words make sense. Until Derek recognizes him as an ally, not a threat or prey.

"So you know, you don't have to be an Omega. You can make a new pack," Stiles is saying. His voice is hoarse now, like his throat is sore from all the talking.

Eventually, Derek gains enough control to speak. "Stiles."

Stiles smiles, a little wobbly. "Yeah, it's me. You know me, that's great."

"Get out of here," Derek grits out. He's too weak to break the chains, but he doesn't want anyone to see him like this.

"I don't think I will," Stiles says. He looks determined. "I'm not letting you, what, starve yourself to death down here?"

Derek hangs his head, utterly defeated. He says the only thing he can think of. "Then kill me."

"...I'm going to pretend you didn't say that," Stiles says, and when Derek looks at him he sees his eyes are hard and steely.

Derek growls. "I'm too dangerous to live. Call... call Argent if you can't do it yourself."

Stiles steps close enough to shove Derek's shoulder. "You're not going to die," he says, and his snarl sounds so wolflike that it makes Derek want to laugh inappropriately.

"You don't understand," Derek says, his voice low. "I'm an Omega now."

"Almost. Not yet," Stiles says. Like a matter of moments makes all the difference.

Derek snorts. "Soon enough." Because he was a sorry excuse for an Alpha. It's his fault. He deserves this.

Maybe he says that out loud. Stiles frowns and concern rolls off him. "How bad is it?"

Derek doesn't pretend not to know what Stiles is talking about. "I completely lost it before you came in and talked me down," he admits. "I wanted to kill you. I would have if not for the chains."

"Yeah, about those. Where's the key?" Stiles says.

Derek shakes his head hard. "It's not safe."

"I know. Not right now," Stiles says, and he talks as if speaking to a wounded animal instead of a dangerous, deadly one.

"What do you mean?" Derek asks.

"I'm gonna do something stupid," Stiles mutters.

Stiles's breath is coming quick and shallow now.

Derek glares. "What."

"You need a pack. Maybe not a whole pack, maybe just like, one beta?" Stiles says. "Everything I read said that'll fix it. It'll give you stability."

Derek looks at him oddly. Stiles can't decipher it.

Stiles swallows. "I know I'm not your first choice, or second or third, but you need me."

"You want me to bite you. You want me to be your Alpha," Derek says. His voice has an odd tremor to it.

"Yes. Well, 'want' is a funny word. I do want you to, because it'll save your life..." Stiles says. He gives Derek what he hopes is a decent smile.

"You don't want to be a werewolf," Derek says. "I can't change your whole life because you want to save me when you don't even want it."

"No, dude, that's not it. I do want it. I just wish the circumstances were different, that's all," Stiles says truthfully.

Derek stares at him, probably listening to his heartbeat. "You're not lying."

"Don't sound so incredulous," Stiles says.

"I'm not good at being an Alpha. That's why I'm here. I can't-"

"Oh, shut up," Stiles says. "I'll teach you to be a good Alpha if I have to. You've got to have an example, right? Other than crazy uncle Peter."

"My pack- When I was growing up, we had my mother," Derek says. His voice sounds strangled.

Stiles nods. "I'm sure she was good at it. Try being like her, then."

"She was." He sounds so sad, so defeated. "I don't know-"

"Derek, just let me save you. Trust me. Please? I know it's hard," Stiles says. "I know you said you don't trust me, that we don't trust each other. But I think we could, if we both tried."

Derek is breathing hard again. He closes his eyes. "It has to be soon."

"Okay. Okay," Stiles says, more to himself than to Derek. He steps close, closer, until they're almost pressed against each other. Stiles looks into Derek's eyes for a long moment, then he tilts his head, baring his neck.

Derek doesn't bite right away. Stiles is tense, ready for the pain, but he nearly jumps out of his skin when Derek's tongue lathes over his skin.

"Um?" Stiles says.

"Stiles," Derek breathes, like a prayer.

Then there is white-hot pain and blood trickling onto his shirt, and Stiles is crying out. The last thing he knows is everything going blurry before he passes out.

Derek's mind is clearer. The bloodlust is gone and he's no longer hearing voices. He's stronger, now, strong enough to break the chains that hold him. Stiles is still passed out at his feet.

He picks him up and brings him upstairs to lie down on Derek's bed. It's just a mattress on the floor, but there are semi-clean sheets and he doesn't think Stiles will really care when he wakes anyway. He has other things to think about.

As does Derek. Derek feels both incredibly guilty for turning Stiles, and pathetically grateful to the kid for offering himself up for the sake of Derek's life and sanity.

He's aware that the only thing keeping him sane now is his link to Stiles. He remembers when Laura and he were the only ones in their pack, how strong their bond was. Not just because they were siblings, but because they were all the other had.

Stiles's eyes snap open and he focuses on Derek almost instantly. "Did it work?" He looks around the room. "I'm not dead, and you're not looking like a crazed killer, so I'm guessing it did."

Derek sits on the side of the bed and squeezes Stiles's shoulder. "Yeah. It worked. Thank you."

"I don't really feel any different," Stiles admits. But he leans into the touch, his cheek resting on Derek's hand, eyes fluttering closed.

Derek remembers doing the same with his mom. With Laura.

"Okay, so. That's different," Stiles says, flushing and pulling away.

"It's normal. I'm your Alpha," Derek says, and saying it gives him a thrill. Stiles will make a good wolf and he's Derek's.

"You're happy," Stiles says. "I can feel it."

Stiles has given Derek so much, given up so much for him. And he's the only thing Derek has, now. The only pack. The only anything. Derek nods. "I'll be a better Alpha."

"I know you will," Stiles says.

"Can I..." Derek says, motioning to the bed. Stiles's eyes go wide and then he nods hesitantly.

Derek lies down next to Stiles so that they're not quite touching. He can hear Stiles's heart pounding.

"It's normal to want to touch. To scent each other," Derek says haltingly. This is something he never told his other betas, too embarrassed by outward expressions that weren't violent.

"I know," Stiles says, then slowly rolls until he's pressed against Derek's side. "I think I know more about werewolves than Scott." He moves in increments, as if he's afraid Derek will push him away. Derek hums softly like he remembers his mother doing when one of her wolves was hurt or seeking attention. Some of the tension goes out of Stiles's body and he noses into Derek's neck.

"It's good. Get to know my scent." Derek keeps his voice quietly firm, like his mom and Laura always did. It's different, but it doesn't make him feel any less in control. He doesn't feel exposed the way he thought it might make him feel. Not with Stiles. Not after everything.

Stiles inhales deeply and gives a soft, content whine. Then embarrassment colors his scent and he whispers, "Dude."

Derek smiles.

"Dude, did you hear that? I sounded like … I don't know, like a puppy or something," Stiles says.

"It's completely normal," Derek says calmly.

"For a werewolf. Which I am now," Stiles says, and laughs against Derek's skin. He still smells of embarrassment, but also excitement.

"Let me," Derek says, and he rolls Stiles onto his back and breathes against his chest first, then his neck. He pulls in his new beta's scent, memorizing it.

Stiles smells amazing. He's never smelled bad, always a little tangy and musky like most teenagers, layered with soap, deodorant, and medications. But now that Derek's breathing him in he smells like the air before a storm, electric anticipation. It's intoxicating.

Derek growls softly, feeling proud and possessive and like life has finally slotted together after a long time of being nothing but broken pieces. He doesn't know why he didn't feel this before, when he turned his other betas.

"What's that about? The growling?" Stiles asks, and he smells like something new, now: the beginnings of arousal.

"I-" Derek starts to say, and finds he doesn't have the words. Or maybe he does, but he doesn't want to share them.

"Talk to me," Stiles says firmly. "I know I don't have to tell you what happens when there's no communication."

Derek inwardly winces. "I'm not good with words," he says, feeling mildly helpless. But Stiles is in his arms and Derek's not an Omega. He's strong.

"Can you try?" Stiles asks.

"I'm happy," Derek says slowly, afraid that if he says it out loud it might disappear. "You're... good. You're going to make a good wolf."

Stiles feels an all over shiver come over him when he hears actual praise come out of Derek's mouth. He's not sure if it's him or his new wolfy side responding. "Oh. Thanks," he says. He's sure there's more to it, but getting this much out of Derek is cause for celebration and he's not pushing it.

Derek drags a hand over Stiles's arm, leaving a trail of Alpha-scent on his skin. It's fantastic. Stiles wants to roll in it. Wants everyone to know just who he belongs to.

His human brain catches up with what he's thinking and he flushes with mortification. It's bad enough to think Derek's hot when he's growling, but to want-

"What is it?" Derek murmurs.

"Nothing! Just weird wolfy thoughts I'm not used to thinking!" Stiles says, covering his embarrassment with an awkward laugh.

"Your instincts will rarely steer you wrong," Derek says, rubbing his shoulder.

Wolves don't purr, Stiles reminds himself. "Yeah. Okay, I'll keep that in mind," he says, nodding. Then, "You're being... really good. So far."

"It's only been a few hours, and for most of that you were unconscious," Derek points out with a dry voice.

"You're off to a good start, then," Stiles says, and sits up quickly before he does something embarrassing like more snuggling. And whining.

Derek raises an eyebrow. "Going somewhere?"

"I've got to get home. Is my neck healed now?" Stiles asks, pulling his shirt down to try to see. He can't see his own neck, but he notices the blood on his shirt. "Dammit. Do you have a shirt I can wear?"

"You look like you have a monster hickey," Derek says with a smirk, rolling off the mattress and pulling a brown henley out of a box.

Stiles looks around the room. There's the mattress, a lantern, a couple of paperbacks, and three cardboard boxes. "You can't stay here anymore."

Derek watches Stiles strip out of his shirt. It should make Stiles feel embarrassed, but he knows he's got lean muscle that doesn't look too bad. Plus, something about cuddling with a guy for awhile makes you less self-conscious.

"Why not?" Derek asks.

"Seriously, you have to ask that?" Stiles says, and then pulls on Derek's shirt. "You keep forgetting I have tons of werewolf knowledge. It's been my main research topic for the past few months." He gives Derek a narrow look. Derek holds up his hands and Stiles goes on. "You need a comfortable den. Somewhere you and your pack feel safe and, I don't know, cared for. So get a better place, okay?"

"Do you have specifications? Walk-in closets, bay windows, maybe?" Derek asks dryly.

"Oh, ha ha," Stiles says, but he can't help smiling. "Just someplace homey. Where we can just be."

Derek looks around the room like he's seeing it for the first time. "Okay."

Stiles lets out a breath and beams at him.

Derek smiles back.

Derek finds the house the next day. All he has to do is ask at the local diner (he puts on a big smile for the waitress) and he has an address and a name.

"I can't really sell it, nobody wants a fixer-upper these days," Adam Pumphrey says. He's in his seventies, and Derek barely remembers him from his hardware store when he was a kid. His one memory of Mr. Pumphrey is that he always gave him a stick of Doublemint gum when he went in with his dad.

"I'm just looking to rent for now," Derek tells him. "But I can work on the house if you want."

Mr. Pumphrey narrows his already squinty eyes. "You got any carpentry experience?"

"Yes sir, I was a subcontractor in New York," Derek says. "Did that during the day and went to school at night."

The old man huffs and nods. "I guess you want me to shave some off the rent for your work. Okay, you've got yourself a deal."

Derek looks up at the old Victorian house while he shakes Mr. Pumphrey's hand. He likes it. He hopes Stiles does, too.

After his landlord leaves, Derek takes a pic with his phone and sends it to Stiles along with his new address.

Stiles can't help but grin at his phone. looks good cant wait to see in person, he sends.

A few moments later, Derek texts, when are you coming over?

They've only been away from each other for sixteen hours. Not that Stiles has been counting. Okay, maybe he's been watching the clock and wondering how long he can go without wanting to be near Derek again.

Scott never had this problem. He had a pull to his Alpha, but Stiles knows for a fact he didn't feel like he'd stop breathing if he didn't get to his Alpha soon.

Stiles sends back, after dinner. dad going to work @ 6. And then, miss me? before he can think better of it.

There's no answer for a while and Stiles starts tapping his fingers on his desk, staring at his phone. He regrets sending that. He doesn't want to seem too needy, even if he is.

Then his phone beeps again and Stiles picks it up to see.

yes is all it says. It's more than enough.

He wonders if he should tell Derek about the itch under his skin, the wolf inside whining to be with his Alpha.

the feeling is mutual, he sends instead, and hopes Derek understands.

"Thank you," Derek says before digging into the veggie lasagna Stiles brought him from home. "This is good."

"Thanks," Stiles says.

"You made it?" Derek asks between bites. It really is delicious.

"My dad can't cook, so it's been up to me since my mom died," Stiles says. He blinks at himself then like he hadn't meant to say that.

Derek looks at him, how he's holding himself, his arms wrapped around his body, standing stiff like he's hurting. "C'mere," Derek says, scooting over and making room on the couch he dragged in from the thrift store around the corner.

Stiles sits down close and then leans in against Derek's arm like he can't help himself. Some of the tension in his body leaks out and he lets out a long breath.

"How long have you been needing to do that?" Derek asks quietly. He wants to demand answers, shake Stiles until everything is spilling out. That's not me anymore. It can't be me.

"Since I woke up this morning," Stiles admits.

Derek puts the mostly-finished plate down on the floor and wraps an arm around Stiles. Stiles whines and noses Derek's neck.

"So fucked up," Stiles mutters.

"You're new," Derek says, but he knows that doesn't explain it.

Stiles snorts. He's too smart for his own good. "That's not it."

"The behavior itself isn't odd," Derek says.

"I know," Stiles says, sighing against Derek's skin. "It's the compulsion to do it that's weird, right?"

Derek frowns, thinking it over. "When all I had was Laura, I did have a stronger pull toward her. I can't be sure, but it's possible if I was newly bitten, I'd feel a lot like you do now." He shakes his head. "That's not all, either. You can feel how much I need you, and- Well, how I feel." He can feel his face heat. He really doesn't know if he can put it into words, not the gratitude and awe and possessive devotion he feels for Stiles now.

Stiles nods a little and breathes in like he can't get enough of Derek's scent. "Like a feedback loop. You need me, I need you, we both have strong feelings that are making us more, um. Like this. God." He makes a low, needy sound, and clutches at Derek's shirt.

It makes Derek feel good, to have a beta who needs him. It scares him, too. "We have to start training you soon."

"Oh, great," Stiles mumbles. "Bring on the pain."

"I'll try not to hurt you too badly," Derek says.

"No, I heard about your training sessions. You-"

Derek cuts in. "It's not going to be like that."

Stiles pulls back to look at him. "You mean that?"

"I'm not going to be the same as I was before. I promise," Derek says, looking into Stiles's bright eyes. Stiles has given him a second chance and this time, this time he's doing everything right.

Stiles wanders through the new den — he's a werewolf now and it's totally a den, he's not in the least bit embarrassed to call it what it is — and mentally decorates. He takes out his phone and makes some notes. The house is a wreck, wallpaper coming unglued, moldy stains on the ceilings, but Derek says he's going to fix it up. Stiles is typing out a few ideas when he hears Derek come up behind him.

"Wow, you can't even creep up on me anymore with my new wolf ears," Stiles says, smiling as he turns around.

Derek smirks. "I wanted you to hear me."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Sure you did. No, I think my hearing is just that excellent."

"Wait until we're training to test that out," Derek says confidently. "You'll see."

Stiles can tell there's something on Derek's mind. He doesn't know how he knows, just that Derek is holding something back that he really wants to say. So Stiles grabs Derek's hand, leads him over to a huge four-poster bed that apparently came with the house, and sits him down. "Talk."

"About?" Derek says, but Stiles knows he knows what he means. Stiles gives him a look and Derek sighs and says, "I don't understand why you even came looking for me, let alone why you saved me."

"I went looking because I was worried," Stiles says, because that's the easy answer. He sits beside Derek and leans into his warmth. He thinks fuck it and puts his head on Derek's shoulder. Derek doesn't shrug him off so he figures it's okay. Actually, Derek hasn't complained one bit about Stiles's neediness or clingy behavior since it started. It makes him realize, again, that Derek needs it as much as he does.

"What made you think I was worth it?" Derek asks. His voice sounds rough and ragged at the edges.

It hurts Stiles's heart.

"You've always tried to do the right thing. To protect people," Stiles says slowly. "Even when your ideas were stupid, they were for the right reasons."

Derek's quiet for a long time. Then he wraps an arm around Stiles and says, "I'm glad it's you. Not just that I was saved, but that it was you."

"Aww, you're giving me the warm fuzzies," Stiles says, mostly to cover up how warm and fuzzy he really does feel.

He's sure Derek knows, though.