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Battle not with monsters

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“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Nietzsche

During the middle of his senior year Stiles got kidnapped. This time by a group of trigger-happy hunters who wanted to know if Stiles had any information – “given his associates” – about the invading Alpha pack. Tied to a chair, Stiles hadn’t seen why he should tell them that he didn’t know shit. Couldn’t know shit when Derek had told him to stay the hell away and Scott was trying to be ‘normal’ (Stiles wanted to know when he had ever been normal).

Stiles just didn’t trust hunters. Not after the last time and the weeks it had taken his ribs to heal. Certainly not after what they’d done to Boyd and Erica. Instead of doing his body a favor and getting killed faster or freed sooner by informing them ever-so-politely that he didn’t have any information, he told them how to judge a body's health based off the components of its shit and asked if the proper name for a group of hunters wasn’t a ‘murder’, “sort of like crows.” That question had perhaps been the inspiration behind hunters creative use of their knives that had resulted in the nerve damage in his right arm. It had definitely been the impetus for the stunning array of color that had immediately begun to blossom around his right eye.

Chris had arrived shortly after, Allison in toe, and put a stop to it. He'd even used his angry face at the other hunters. Told them that the kid didn't have shit to say and blathered on about protocol, about Beacon Hills being his territory. With all the flying words, it had taken some time before anyone had finally doing something about Stiles' arm and tried to bring color back into his increasingly pallid cheeks. Stiles felt justified in comparing himself with a drooping damsel. Even with the drooping, Chris had waited to let Stiles go after the other guys (two men, three women) were across state lines. Far enough that any statement to the police wouldn’t cause problems.

The doctors told Stiles that with to the delay he was lucky to still have the use of his arm. Lucky that there was only a permanent tremor.

Stiles went home to an angry tirade and grounding from his father. Because “who knew what trouble you were getting into that earned you nerve damage." There had been angry sighing and then "You won't talk to me and clearly you can't be trusted out of the house. Perhaps Melinda was right. You shouldn't see Scott either.” Derek's angry threats later that night were just icing on the metaphoric cake.

Stiles had already felt hysterical when he'd talked with the doctors. By the time Derek arrived and certainly by the time he left, all Stiles could do was laugh. It might have been edged with hysteria. The cascades of giggles might have been part of why Derek looked so concerned as check over Stiles' wounds, turned his face and examined the scaring on his arms. Derek bitched and criticized. Blamed him for getting involved and Stiles just laughed. Because Stiles now understood what Nietzsche had been talking about. Hunters were clearly monsters for all they claimed to battle them and Stiles had looked into the abyss and the abyss had fucking seen him.

In Stiles' estimation that gave him two choices: either become a monster or be swallowed by the abyss.

Stiles decided to tip the scales. He began to plan, used his father's interminable grounding as a reason to stay indoors, to work through the all the old stories and odd books he could get his hands on. He spread maps out across his floor and plotted his points. Memorized the exact lay of his path and only then began to go out again. Started to make his move and plant his marks. To take a step forward each night from the start of the witching hour to the end. He hoped he was right about this whole thing.

Stiles started on side of town away from the preserve but circled back into the woods as far back as he could in a year and a day. It was still a long path to walk with blood dripping from his arms and a constant stream of the necessary words pouring from his mouth, combining the fire of his blood and the air of his words to the earth and water of the ground. He hoped they were the right rituals,

It might have been more difficult if Derek hadn't been so studiously ignoring him, if Scott hadn’t been continuing his quest for normality.

Stiles used their averted attention to his advantage. But he did waste a cold moment, backpack slung across his shoulder filled with medical tape and weighed down with an iron knife, to wonder what they would have said. What anyone would have said. He thought Scott wouldn't have understood why Stiles should put himself at risk. He had several scenarios regarding Derek's possible reactions. He almost thought Lydia might actually help him. It would certainly be in Jackson's interest. He couldn't bear to think of what his dad might have said. It didn't matter though, not any of his chilled musings when his shows were filled with water, because no one knew, not a one.

Stiles turned eighteen and withdrew the money his maternal grandfather had left him for college. With the bulk of it, he bought the house that stood at the center of his spiral. The house he had marked out for himself at the beginning of all of this. A small, hacienda style building wrapped around an interior courtyard that was – importantly – under foreclosure by the bank. The realtor assured Stiles it was a steal, his expression slightly terrified. The man had avoided looking directly at him as he signed the papers with a trembling arm.

He didn’t tell anyone about that either. Another secret buried under secrets.

Stiles didn’t talk to anyone about what he was up to until the night he lost his eye. That long evening in which the woods sunk its fingers into him and kept him there well past his normal schedule, pulling him into morning while a hag sat with him. She never stood, never moved, but somehow stayed by him and listened all the while he laid his claims and wove his spells. The hag who had finally asked as the sun rose, her own voice rising in a cadence that scraped his bones, for an eye. Her hand was already out, waiting, and there was nothing for Stiles to do but comply. She'd given him one in return, a round white eye with a flat, grey iris and no pupil. She'd patted his head after examining his original eye and mentioned that it had been a long time since any human had cared enough to do this. She told him just before she vanished (gone one breath to the next) that she and her sisters would rip him apart if he stopped now.

It was the first if many unexpected exchanges that would take place as he wound his way inward, always spiraling inward. Each reminded him that he couldn’t have stopped if he wanted to.

It was a week after the hag's visit before his father finally saw him and noticed his eye. He looked at him in horror and didn’t ask a single question. Stiles didn’t tell, even as whispers began to follow him around town.

Stiles didn’t explain to Scott at school or Derek in the woods either. He didn’t want to justify what he was doing. He didn't want to explain why he looked pale and made sure to have liver and onions for breakfast with a shot of wheatgrass. Why dinner now featured red meet and raw vegetables.

He thought Lydia might have become suspicious when he fainted in English class. But she only hissed at him, told him that he was killing himself when he opened his eyes in the nurse’s office to her furious expression. He'd shrugged, tired, and told her that she wouldn't have to worry about Jackson anymore. She didn’t mention it again. But that might have been because it was only days before graduation and he barely saw her again.

Stiles forestalled Scott’s questions about his eyes by asking him excitedly to check out his new look. Scott had been intrigued, curious if it was a contact lens. Isaac, ever at his side, had looked suspicious. The next night Derek had started following him into the woods and Stiles took to wearing red just to piss him off. He wondered if that was why Derek stayed back and didn’t say a word for months.

No matter if Derek kept quiet, Stiles’ path exploded with new sounds and colors as he started the second ring of his spiral. It got louder and brighter as his world shrunk down, as the interior of the spiral became his universe. The wind in the trees became the voices of spirits that chattered him up while he worked. Beams of light displayed the spirits’ colors as they flicked through shape after shape. As he spiraled inward, they became solid and bolder, giving suggestions and asking for tokens. They shot the breeze through with comments on the forest soil and the likelihood of rain.

Which, Stiles mused, meant either that he was crazy or this was working. It reminded him of the Hitchhiker’s Guide and Wonko the Sane. The backwards in was out of it.

When Stiles cut through Hale property Derek finally approached and actually spoke. He was sitting in Stiles' jeep when he opened the door. Looked at Stiles like perhaps he was loosing his grip on something. But he didn’t comment on that, told Stiles instead that whatever he was doing meant that the Alphas were gone. That they had suddenly up and left as if they couldn’t be here another moment. Their scent had only spoken of dread. Stiles wasn’t surprised. He had moved through their camp and found the white tulips and aqua-blue hyacinth the Alphas had left behind.

“I don’t know what you’re doing” Derek said quietly, his voice booming in Stiles’ ears. Stiles didn’t answer, didn’t say a word, just rocked slightly in his seat, unable to stay still as exhaustion flooded his blood. He always felt so tired after a night out.

Derek started again. “I could feel you coming toward the house, you know. You’re doing something that is changing the air, charging the forest with some form of power.” Stiles rested his forehead against the steering wheel and let his arms hang limply at his sides, hands on the seat.

“Will you let us stay?” Derek asked seriously, a finger touching Stiles’ cheek just below his new eye.

Stiles looked at him, turning his head on the wheel. Surprise colored his voice and he wondered if the various spirits could see his words, “You belong here, just like the others. All of the others. Those trees that were so loud yesterday and the water that keeps looking like little birds. You aren’t the only one who calls this bit Hale property, you know. They think this is yours too.”

As he finished, Derek was climbing out of the car. Stiles felt a flicker of wonder if that was the end of their interactions. But it was so hard to care. Perhaps Derek would stop following him now. But then his door was opening and Derek was moving him to the back seat, taking his keys, driving him home. Stiles didn’t remember being carried up stairs, but he woke up the next morning tucked into bed.

The next night Derek was in his car again, sitting in the driver’s seat this time. Looking pointedly at Stiles' trembling frame until he climbed into the passenger’s side. “I want to know what you need” Derek had half-asked Stiles as he turned on the car. Stiles demanded three hairs from each of the current members of Derek’s pack and still didn’t tell Derek what he was doing. Derek kept showing up to drive him home regardless.

A full year, a full revolution, and he reached the center of his spiral. A year and a day after he began, Stiles Stilinski walked through the gate of the house that was now his world. The point just on the edge of town, just next to the preserve and the Hale property. All of it his as long as he never entered any of them again.

Stiles shut the gate behind him. In became out and the world narrowed. His vision reversed and his hearing inverted.

Chapter Text

As distant as Stiles had become, John couldn’t bear the idea of loosing him completely. He shuddered at the idea of never hearing from his again. He thought – hoped – that as long as Stiles was there they would somehow, eventually, be able to talk again. But, always weak with words, he didn’t know what to say when Stiles kept getting hurt. When seeing the bruises across his son’s pale skin made him want to throw up and tear apart the responsible party. The day he saw Stiles’ new eye his throat closed over as he fought down bile. John didn’t even know what the hell could cause that weird grayness. Melissa hadn’t known either. Had scared John further when she mentioned that she rarely saw Stiles these days.

And Stiles didn’t say a word about any of it. Just acted as if nothing had changed. The less John said, the more his son seemed to relax around him. The more Stiles commented at least on small things, be it the price of steak at the market. He was eating a lot of steak these days. It was another thing John wasn’t asking about.

All in all, John had thought that maybe, perhaps, things were getting just a little better. So, coming home to an empty house just days before Christmas was an unexpected blow.

Just walking in, the house had felt strangely gutted, even though nothing was actually missing from the living room. Upstairs, Stiles’ room wasn’t emptied. But his books were gone. Those strange looking books that had so fascinated Stiles ever since he was sixteen. Six months ago, John had found one by chance at an estate sale and bought it for his son. Stiles eyes had shown when he’d seen it, his hands had stroked it reverently. He’d hugged John that day, something he hadn’t done in ages, and John had walked on air for weeks.

Now though, now the books’ absence stole John’s breath. Because people leaving for good – running, hiding, he didn’t know yet – took their most valued possessions. But there was a post-it note on the table with an address in Stiles’ handwriting. A place at the outskirts of town, toward the reserve.

It was only six in the morning and John had just gotten off his shift, but he was in his car and across town without much thought. He sat in the car when he arrived, staring at the dark house. The garden out front was barely a strip and dried out. The house itself was a little worn down, but its bones looked good. He certainly had never been called out to it specifically, although the neighborhood wasn’t great.

John sat there for ten minutes, staring, feeling strangely helpless when a light flicked on in the front window and Stiles was opening the front door, motioning to John with a shit-eating grin on his face. A load lifted from John’s shoulders.

Stiles apologized for the lack of amenities as he ushered John inside and motioning him to some bizarre stick chairs. John thought they looked a little as if they were supposed to look earthy, or artistic, but he really wasn’t sure. And Stiles was telling him that he hadn’t had time to settle in yet, asking “Do you like it?” as he waved about the room. At the bare walls. At the tile floor.

John took it in slowly as an excuse to avoid an immediate answer. “It’s bare at the moment, but will be a good home” he finally settled on, wondering what the rest of the house was like. But Stiles wasn’t offering to show him and John was so afraid of asking. Had gotten out of the habit of it.

His approval earned him a smile nonetheless and then Stiles was off, telling John that he should come over for Christmas. It would still be a bit bare, but they would be able to break the place in. Nothing like a festivity and food to make a house a home.

John nodded, agreed to come. And then asked, because he had to ask, “you aren’t coming back” (‘home’ stuck like a pebble in his throat) “…to the house … then? This, this is your home now.” Stiles nodded, his smile wavering slightly.

“Yeah, yeah dad. This is it.”

It would take John another month to realize that Stiles never stepped outside of the house.

Chapter Text

Stiles became known as a recluse, agoraphobic, a shut in. The sounds that emanated from his home encouraged his neighbors to give the house an increasingly wide breth.

It didn’t take long for the first groups of teenagers – kids who had seen Stiles at school – to try and throw eggs at the house. They never could quite say why they didn't, but told vivid stories of mysterious lights dancing in the windows and of a tree that hissed at anyone who approached the house.

Some people began to whisper that Stiles was a witch, a magician, or even an evil sorcerer. The occasional desperate person decided to find out and approached to ask him for a spell to lift a curse, cure an ailment, to forget. They had heard that he could work miracles? Usually, Stiles gave them tea, shook his head with a smile, told him that only those in fairy stories could cause miracles. Usually, he ushered them out with soft smiles on their faces and sent them off to their beds to sleep deeply. After, they would usually mention once or twice that he certainly wasn’t an evil sorcerer, just a young man who had gone through a lot of terrible things. Agoraphobic, perhaps, but really quite nice. People should just leave him alone.

On the exceptional occasions Stiles nodded, took offered tokens. Those people rarely said anything about their visit. Those people rarely remembered walking up to his door at all.

But his neighbors rarely saw his usual visitors, those people who frequented his steps: Spirits, werewolves, and witches. The occasional skin walker or selkie. They all trickled toward the house, sometimes understanding their goal, sometimes thinking that they were checking out competition, but drawn all the same. Pulled by the magic they wielded to ask for permission, to beg for residence. Nothing magic – practitioner or being – could enter with out his knowing and nothing stay without his say so. Stiles didn't explain, didn't ask if they knew why they were there, but almost always told them they could stay.

He served his tea and listened when an oak spirit told him about how the deer overpopulation meant saplings didn’t have a chance to grow. Couldn’t the wolves do anything? He listed to the whispers from a Nix about pollution coming down river. Could Stiles stop the factory?

Because Stiles had put down his spiral and become the city’s ghost. His walls were the world and he breathed the city’s safety (totally Batman, even if he couldn’t haunt roof tops). When waxing long, Stiles liked to claim he was the gate to Beacon Hills, the dragon around the apple tree, the knight on the bridge. He would sigh dramatically and declare that he was in and couldn't out again.

-----

The day Stiles shut himself in, Derek knocked on his door. Waited patiently for Stiles to motion him in, and then wandered through the entire structure without a by-your-leave. He opened every closet, looked in every cupboard, and walked through the barren garden.

Derek had stared at Stiles face, touched the banded scars around his arms, bandaged all ten fingers, stopping the blood that dipped from them. “All ten?” he had asked.

“There are a lot of windows and doors.” Stiles had answered. “I had to close the gate so all of them had to be marked.”

Derek had stayed when Stiles went off to bed, sat down in the dried husk of a garden, unsure of how to leave. Uncertain if Stiles was safe. Uncomfortable with the scars spiraling up his arms. He had hoped with that belief built into all werewolves that somehow the moon would give him answers.

The moon didn’t speak that night, but the wave of anxiety from Stiles’ room had him opening the door before he’d put any thought into it.

At first glance, there wasn’t anything much there: Mattress pushed into the corner, sheets clumped haphazardly. Blankets thrown to the side. And Stiles

Stiles was sitting on the bed, knees pulled to his chest, rocking back and forth. He looked up at Derek, one eye gleaming, arms clutched around his knees. Derek had pulled Stiles too him, had wrapped arms around Stiles and let him burry his face into his chest.

And Stiles, his fingers digging into Derek’s shoulders, had told Derek's chest “I can’t sleep. I can start the first part of the NREM cycle. Drowsy can be great, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always sort of enjoyed that bizarre feeling of falling and the hypnagogic hallucinations. Because, you know, lucid dreaming is awesome. But Derek, I can’t go farther.”

Stiles told him about how if he started to enter the second stage, his conscious started to move along the arms of the spiral, checking the length of it, watching his territory. Those images that had became a permanent film reel in the back of his mind with the completion of the first ring became the main show.

He could never turn this off, shut it down, couldn't close his eyes so that the world went away.

There wasn’t a way out.

So Derek held him, rocked him back and forth until he calmed. Until he could stand and go to the kitchen. Make terrible hot cocoa from a box of powdered chocolate and hot water boiled in Stiles’ single pan. Derek never stopped touching him, a hand to his shoulder, on his back, as Stiles bitched about the weak taste of the drink, the need for better chocolate, the need for more kitchen supplies. Thank goodness there was door-to-door delivery, because Stiles didn’t think he was up for going to the store.

Derek told him not to worry about it, just to tell him what he needed. Stiles had nodded, but didn’t answer.

-----

Scott visited the second day, bringing Szechuan take out “because, man, I don’t expect you’ve had time to stock the kitchen and I don’t want to starve.”

Isaac looked terrified as he followed Scott in. But Scott didn’t seem phased. He was confused as to why Stiles had moved, but thought it was a great place. Guessed it would be easier to get out now without the Sheriff always there to know his every move.

Scott asked as he settled himself on the floor and started opening the containers “So, Stiles, mind if I stay?” and Stiles laughed. He told Scott the story of the devil's three golden hairs and when the old mother witch plucked the hairs one by one, Stiles’ took one of Scott’s, eyebrows raised to ask for permission each time. Scott had smiled and told him to go ahead, whatever floated his boat.

-----

Derek never asked what Stiles had done, but for the first days he did ask why. He wanted to know why would Stiles do such a thing.
The first time he asked, Stiles told him he did it for himself. Derek had shaken his head at him.
The second time he told Derek that it was to keep the crime rate down for his father. Derek’s eye brows just shot up.
The third time he told Derek that he couldn’t stand it when the people he loved were hurt. Couldn’t wait idly when his people were in danger. He wouldn’t be shut out.

Derek stopped asking on the fourth day when he arrived to find Stiles mouth opened in a silent scream and wild gaze trained on the open front door. Derek, in movements that were already becoming habitual, wrapped him up and had Stiles breathe with him. They stayed that way, Stiles back slotted against Derek’s chest until he found his lungs again.

Derek starting touching Stiles constantly, running fingers across his face and arms as he looked him over and asked frowning what Stiles needed. Stiles claimed not to know so Derek started bringing bits of the outside whenever he came in. Seasonal flowers, plants, sometimes random objects. He started describing what the people in the city looked like. Told him about changes in fashion. He tried to show Stiles with words how the bookstore smelled, the stench of the coffee spilled in the café.

After a week of visits, Derek sat beside Stiles, staring out the window. When he spoke, his voice sounded like it was coming from miles away “You know, you can never be pack now.”

Stiles quirked his mouth to the side, didn't look at Derek. “No, no I can’t. But I wasn’t pack anyhow and that wasn’t likely to change.” Stiles could see Derek’s eyes blaze red.

-----

Deaton came to the door and felt only mild surprise when Derek opened it and gave him permission to enter. He felt slightly more unnerved when Derek stepped out of the room, leaving toward the attached garage. He heard something that sounded suspiciously like a power saw.

Deaton took in the wild overgrowth of the garden and the way each of the rooms of the house managed to face the garden. Most with french doors leading out into it.

"You took it all the way" he commented and Stiles shrugged, looking from his card game with a blue bird.

Deaton frowned at him, taking in his eye and fuzzy head "You always were a fool."

"It takes a fool to take a chance, just think of Hans and his luck."

"You realize that you built your own grave?"

"So did the Pharaohs. The difference here is that I could live another hundred years."

"If you had asked, I would have told you not to do it. It might drive you mad. This isn’t worth giving up so much."

"Lucky I didn't ask." The edge of his answer cut the good doctor's cheek.

Deaton touched the wound and looked at the red on his fingers. He stood watching the boy who would never run again.

Stiles didn't respond to his silence, went back to his game. He chatted softly with the bird and told it the story in the cards.

Finally, Deaton broke the silence "Are you going to give me permission?"

Stiles shook his head, "If you ask."

"I've given my life for this town"

Stiles looked around him, glanced up at the roof over his head. "Indeed. But I don’t need explanations, I need the request and the token."

"You are going to ask so much, after all I've done?"

"There was a lot of things you didn’t share and a lot I didn’t ask. Now, we both play by new rules."

 

-----

Derek’s nightly visits increasingly found Stiles pacing from one end of the ‘u’ shaped house to the other, talking rapidly, hands slicing sharply through the air. His face would go slack with relief when Derek walked in and led him to the kitchen.

On the nights when Stiles was stable, he would crowd Derek into the kitchen, taking Derek’s offerings and exclaim over his gifts. When Derek brought a set of pots and pans on the second night, muttering about sub-standard hot chocolate. Stiles ran his fingers over them and told Derek in a voice tight with excitement what he would do if he had knives, if he had the right spices and herbs. But when Derek stood to leave, walked toward the door and asked Stiles what he needed for tomorrow, Stiles only frowned and shrugged.

After a week, Stiles greeted Derek with a smile, sorted through the knives and wooden spoons Derek had brought. He had grinned at Derek, looking almost happy, eye twinkling when he asked “Are you planning on spending a lot of time here then? Trying to earn your keep?”

Derek decided it was request enough and brought his tools over, started spending part of the days there as well.

It let him keep watch over Stiles. Make sure he was ok. Because when Stiles didn’t have a guest, he would sit and watch Derek work. He would talk randomly about the kinds of wood Derek was shaping, comment on the run of the grain. Listening to the endless chatter, Derek could hear when Stiles would slip, loose connection to the world around him as he become the city, the preserve.

When Stiles would start telling him about the pain of drought as if he had personally experienced what it was like to have his growth rings constrict, Derek would clean his bench and lead Stiles back into the house. He would make hot chocolate with cocoa shavings and peppermint leaves or a cardamom pod. If Stiles was really bad, he’d add chili.

-----

Isaac stood at Stiles front door for ten minutes before he finally knocked. He felt terrified, unsure. He didn’t know who Stiles was any more, didn’t think he had ever known him that well to begin with. Was confused because when Isaac came with Scott, Stiles just seemed normal for all that he never left the house. For all that Isaac could smell the power radiating off him, could sometimes see the tendrils of magic that curled around him. But the force of Stiles never seemed to threaten Isaac, never pulled at him the way it sometimes did Scott.

So, Isaac was here to try and understand, to make sure that there wasn’t a threat. So, when the door opened, he thrust forward a rosemary plant, unsure of what to say. Stiles beamed at it, drew Isaac in and sat him down at Derek’s kitchen table. Isaac watched in mild shock as Stiles arranged the little plant on the windowsill. Felt stunned as Stiles started putting food in front of him with an apology that Stiles didn’t have any "normal snack food". Stiles, Isaac had to understand, seemed to have developed an intolerance for chemical additives and most preservatives.

Isaac ate numbly, feeling confused as Stiles just kept talking and putting more food in front of him. He almost missed it when Stiles finally asked how he was, if there was anything specific he had stopped by for.

Isaac had to clear his throat twice before he could ask Stiles why he had never demand a token from him. Stiles looked back at him, paring knife poised over a pear, tilting his head to the side and eyeing Isaac. Isaac watched back as Stiles set down his knife slowly and said "You and Derek still having a hard time talking, huh?" He sat next to Isaac, giving him time to pull away before Stiles wrapped him up and pulled him into a hug.

He didn’t ask for a token, he told Isaac, because Derek had taken care of it. Isaac was Derek’s pack and Derek was trying, not always succeeding, but trying to take care of his pack.

Isaac cleared his throat again, ducked his head guiltily, and asked if Stiles thought of himself as pack.

Stiles sighed, a long thin sound that Isaac thought sounded wistful. No, no, Stiles told him, “I’m not pack. But, that doesn’t preclude me from I caring. I sort of have to care,” he muttered the last words under his breath.

Then Stiles was letting go, asking Isaac to tell him about his classes at the community college. Listening to answers and asking about projects, offering to read drafts. Instructing Isaac to be careful when he had to leave town, because there was only so far Stiles could protect him.

“It feels safe here”, Isaac told Stiles as he said goodbye and Stiles actually laughed, threw his head back and crowed. Told Isaac that he would damn well hope it would feel safe in his home.

 

-----

Derek was glad that he was there when Stiles pulled open the bag of chips Derek had brought over with the other groceries. They had been a side thought at the time. Something Stiles would enjoy. Unimportant.

They became important, a focus for Derek’s anger, when he stood rubbing Stiles’ back as he threw up into the kitchen sink. It was his shoulder that Stiles cried into after Derek had made him a cup of spearmint tea. Because it was with those chips that they realized Stiles could no longer eat anything that wasn’t completely natural.

Derek started shopping at health food stores and reading all of the ingredients on packaged food. The guy at the bakery was grilled about what ingredients he used, forced to swear that everything was all-natural.

When the butcher couldn’t promise that none of the farms that provided his meat used growth hormones or antibiotics, Derek decided to start hunting for Stiles himself. He figured he might as well, given how Stiles claimed the Oak kept complaining about the deer population.

When he showed up with a brace of rabbits, Stiles made him a stew and asked if Derek was moving in soon. Because Stiles was of the opinion that Derek and Isaac’s apartment must be crap. It had to be awful seeing as how Derek spent all of his time here and Isaac could be found at Scott’s when he wasn’t at school. They should move in.

 

-----

When Erica and Boyd showed up on Stiles’ doorstep, Erica couldn’t have said precisely why they were there. But Stiles looked like he had expected them, was inviting them in and ushering them into a bedroom with fresh sheets, showing them the bath. Before Erica could ask what had happened to his face, before Boyd to breathe, Stiles was telling them to freshen up and rest. There would be time for words when they had had a chance to catch their breath. Stiles often thought that breathing was undervalued.

Hours later, Erica could hear the tremble in her voice as she told Stiles about their flight, how they had run and kept running. How nowhere had seemed safe. She listened to Boyd tell Stiles without inflection that recently there had been an upsurge in whispered rumors about how Beacon Hill had somehow become a haven. How if you could convince the gatekeeper to let you in, you’d be safe.

Erica shuddered as she told Stiles how dreams of basements and electrocution had become dreams about coming back. How they thought it was wishful thinking. They had decided to actually do it when a ghost living in an abandoned building they happened to squat in overnight had asked why they had left. Erica didn't understand what had changed? What had Stiles done?

And for once, Stiles answered. He told Erica and Boys as he herded them into a side room with a sofa and a huge television on the wall that he had called them back. He had needed to know that they were ok, but he couldn’t see them outside his spiral.

Stiles had wanted to make them see that they had a place. They could leave again and he wouldn’t stop them, but he needed them to know that they were wanted. That Stiles wanted them here. (Derek, Stiles added, did too, but they could talk about that later.)

For a week, Stiles made sure Erica and Boyd ate and he listened. Erica felt a sensation of contentment uncurling while she watched Stiles cook meals that made their hair grow wild and their eyes glow in the dark. She felt safe when she heard the slight purr from Boyd as Isaac dropped in next to them on the third night, curled on the sofa with them for an endless stream of movies.

Stiles held them both until they felt less haunted. Until Erica didn’t feel like she had to look over her shoulder with every move. Until Boyd could take a deep breath without having Erica directly in his line of vision. Only then did Stiles ask if they wanted him to lock away their memories. They would lose their closeness, but he could do it if they couldn't bear to remember. Erica hesitated for a moment, looking at Boyd, worried that he would want to, but Boyd shook his head.

They kept their memories and continued sleeping in the back room.

 

-----

 

Stiles informed Derek that he was calling Boyd and Erica back the night Derek assembled Isaac’s bed. Stiles had handed him screws and tools from his position kneeling loosely beside him and told Derek that the two had run far enough. Said that it was time for them to come home.

Hours later, sitting at the kitchen table, Stiles pushed back his empty plate and looked Derek in the eye. For the first time since he had shut the door behind him, Stiles said “I need you to let them in. And to build them a bed for the back room.” Derek rolled his eyes at the second part of Stiles’ request and didn’t say no.

He didn’t say no then, and stayed away for the week Stiles requested when Erica and Boyd finally arrived on the doorstep. The first time he did show up, Derek brought in a dresser to install in Erica and Boyd’s room. Mumbled that he thought they would need it.

Derek wasn’t terribly surprised when Stiles threw himself into Derek’s arms and told him he was wonderful, but he didn’t quite know what to do when Boyd grinned at him. Derek felt nervous and opted for an awkward smile in return.

He didn’t know where they stood, particularly when Stiles leaned his back against Derek’s side that night while the others slept and told him about the week. Pulled his arm around him and said that Derek had become a good Alpha. Derek wondered if Erica and Boyd would agree.

Derek found his answer the next day when Erica laughed and threw the potato she was peeling for Stiles at Derek and Boyd hugged him. Derek had never been good at reading people, but couldn’t argue when the pack bond snapped back into place.

The couch became rather full during movie nights. Derek thought about building another.

 

-----

Chris Argent wasn’t sure why he thought of Stiles every time his terrible luck reared its ugly head again. Be-spelled weapons misplaced. Locks to stores of herbs breaking. Friends suddenly had trouble getting into town. Every time it happened, Argent found himself inexplicably wanting to curse that talkative little shit. The human who couldn’t see danger in the wolves. The kid who seemed to believe that loyalty could be felt by beasts.

He asked Allison about the last time she had seen Stiles and she mentioned graduation. Reminded him about the tremor in his arm, his sightless eye, and the slight limp in his gait.

When town gossip ran wild about the town’s new witch, Argent felt as if his suspicions had been confirms and took Allison with him to “express their concern” as Chris said when Stiles opened his door.

The look of bored unconcern that Stiles gave them as he ushered them in made Argent’s heart beat faster in his chest. He felt more on edge in the quiet of Stiles’ living room than he had on his last hunt. Argent had to repress his desire to keep shifting as something flickered in the corner of his eye. Flashes of red and green. Allison kept turning her head beside him, frowning.

There was an awkward silence as the two sat on themselves on the wooden chairs Stiles vaguely gestured at, leaning himself against the wall. Allison tried to compliment them and Stiles grinned, telling her that Derek had built them. He had quite the talent, did she know? Was terribly artistic. Stiles looked over their shoulders at the oak tree outside the window and grinned, saying with apparent seriousness “Some swear Derek captures the essence of the trees in his pieces.” If Argent thought if he had been a wolf, he would have raised his hackles at Stiles’ tone.

He snarled instead, “We didn’t come here to talk about trees”, abandoning any pretense at concern and moving to threatening. He straightened his back and leaned forward. Chris demanded Stiles explain what he had done. Why the lock to their supply of wolf’s bane wouldn’t work. Why new hunters coming into town cars broke down and the bottoms of their bags fell out when they tried to enter the territory.

Stiles smirked and started to tell the story of a hungry hedgehog and a fox with a bag of grain. But the hedgehog was just greeting the fox when Argent interrupted, telling Stiles that he knew Stiles was somehow responsible.

“Man, you give me a lot of credit. And I was explaining it to you” Stiles said, letting his hands run wild. Stiles proceeded to lay out, in a tone as if he were explaining to children, that as long as Chris’s friend “were going to act the roles of monsters they weren’t going to be let in. I refuse to allow monsters into his city. Your people are welcome to enter if they come with normal bullets and gun permits. Standard arrows and bows were of course no problem” Stiles added nodding to Allison. She glared, her eyes getting that look Chris had seen so often when Gerard was still around.

Argent told that it would take more than an overgrown boy to change things, but Stiles just smiled politely and suggested that Chris could move. He might find with that attitude that Beacon Hill’s wasn't going to be friendly. The drop in temperature made Chris shiver, another flash of colors out of the corner of his eye made him turn.

There wasn’t anything there then and wouldn't be in any of the days that followed. But, as unnerving as they were, the feeling that something was moving just out of sight was nothing in comparison with the dreams. He dreamt over again about the people he had hunted, each kill drawn out in slow motion and matched by the sensation of it happening to him as well. He felt every bullet bury itself in his flesh and arrows tear into meat. He watched Allison’s face grow haunted, reflecting his own. She shuddered at the sight of a taser, blanched when she saw her bow.

Chris changed their diet. He made sure that they only ate packaged food. Checked the packages for holes. The dreams kept coming. A night out of the city to meet with other hunters meant his first peaceful night in a week. A return to Beacon Hill brought the dreams back.

He went back to Stiles ten pounds lighter with circles around his eyes. He demanded to know what Stiles had done to him?

That boy with the broken body and that strange gaze grimaced at him like he knew every one of Argent’s dreams and Chris wondered if that eye was actually sightless. Stiles told Chris that his memory would improve, lurk right beneath the surface as long as he refused to make peace with the pack. Stiles suggested again that Christ move, thought it might be easiest for the Argent family if they were to return to their nomadic ways given they didn’t seem to like the idea of peace.

Alison came the next day alone, telling Stiles with her wide eyes that they were upholding the code, that they only hunted those that hunted them. Stiles had looked back at her, into the girl's two brown eyes and asked her how she felt to see two werewolves who were desperate to belong? If she enjoyed the arrow she had put into Scott? Perhaps, Stiles asked her, her own willingness to break the code made her believe the same of others?

Allison claimed that it was her right to stay. Stiles agreed it was, but there were rules.

 

-----

Stiles lay sprawled across the sofa in the east room, reading. Derek was propped against it, Stiles hand lazily twisting in his hair. He was shaping some piece of wood with his claws when Stiles tightened his grip, pulling Derek’s hair softly to get his attention, telling him, “There are different bonds between people, you know. Other relationships than pack.” Derek turned his head to look at him. “You should know that you’re mine. Even if I can’t run under the moon.”

Derek nodded and swallowed, put the piece he was carving on the floor, knelt next the couch. “Does that mean” he asked “that I can kiss you?”

Stiles smiled, put his hands on either side of Derek’s face. “I might even need you to.”