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In the Solstice of our Hearts

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"You're not seriously considering trying to bring that, are you?" Scott asked with a dubious expression.

Stiles resented that, he really did. He had a plan and it was a pretty good one, he didn't appreciate his best friend harshing his awesome plan buzz.

Scott must have read the intention behind whatever it was Stiles face was doing because he rolled his eyes and flung himself back on Stiles' bed in a dramatic gesture, which wasn't appreciated because he was disturbing the stuff Stiles had meticulously collected just for that event, the whole getting ready for the big day event.

"Dude, you're not even going to be able to take any of this with you," Scott said in that long-suffering way he said things that was kind of annoying. It wasn't the first time he'd said it, either, but Stiles persisted in ignoring him because he was Stiles and he was right.

And that was just the way life worked, ever since they were little kids and Stiles had decided on one hairbrained scheme or another. Scott had inevitably bowed to pressure and joined him, which was why he didn’t get how Scott was fighting him on it. For heaven’s sake it was the run, there hadn’t been any other event in their lives that had so much riding on them, well, besides their births when their classifications were revealed, but neither Stiles nor Scott could remember that far back, so preparing for the run? Kind of a big deal.

"I mean really," Scott continued, propping himself up on his elbows, "you know they're going to make us strip, so where do you think you're going to hide that thing of mace you’re holding?"

Stiles hasn't wanted to just jump into the grand reveal like that, but Scott had left him no choice. "Well," he said with as much dignity as he could muster given the circumstance, "if you must know-"

"You're not putting that up your butt," Scott told him flatly and Stiles couldn't stop the pissed off whine he made, but his friend continued. "Stiles, you can't put that up your butt, you know that. Your butt won't be ready for anything to go in it until-"

"Okay, okay!" he said, flailing his hands to stop his friend's lecture. "Message received, no butt stuff until I'm pounced on by some freaking animal in the forest and ravished to within an inch of my life. Got it. Thanks, Scotty, I mean heaven forbid I actually try to take control of my life and give myself a fighting chance or anything."

"Not all alphas are animals," Scott said quietly.

Maybe he was right, but Stiles wasn't holding his breath. He did, however, force himself to calm down, not to snap at his friend because out of everyone, Scott was absolutely someone who could legitimately say that alphas were actually assholes. Well, at least his dad had been when he'd left Scott's mom after a rocky six years of unhappy marriage. Though she was a beta so apparently he could do that in the eyes of the law? But whatever, it didn’t make him any less of a douchebag. Allison was pretty nice, though, and Stiles was well aware that was who Scott wanted to have claim him during the run.

"I know, dude,” Stiles said quietly. He didn't want to argue with his best friend on what was probably their last day of freedom. “I know all that, but it doesn’t change the fact that having a thing of mace on hand would really even the odds.”

Scott gave a bit of a half-shrug. “I get it, but do you really believe the other alphas maul the omegas they don’t claim?”

Stiles swallowed and couldn’t find it in himself to meet his friend’s eyes. Being the sheriff’s son had a lot of perks, but it also came with the burden of knowledge he couldn’t quite forget, and which could really really suck, sometimes.

“Hey, no worries, man," Stiles said with a forced smile, "I’m sure Allison will find you straight off. You gave her a scent object, didn’t you?”

Because really, that was the best bet any omega had at getting through the run virtually unscathed, to be claimed quickly by someone they’d pre-bonded with. The longer it took for an alpha or beta to make a claim, the more dangerous a game it became. It was a game, too, one that Stiles was fairly confident he'd lose, at least without the help of some alpha-stopping mace or maybe even a .45, but going into it completely naked and scrubbed down wasn't exactly conducive to being well armed. And it was wasn’t like anyone had wanted to pre-bond with him.

He was pretty much fucked, and not in a good way, more in a scarred for life kind of a way, like some of the bonded omegas he'd seen around town. Mrs. Morgan, their middle school music teacher had a jagged set of claw marks down her right cheek that made the outside of that eye lid and the edge of her mouth droop because despite her quickened healing, not even an omega could fully recover from an alpha's mark, not when they purposefully put it there and meant for it to scar. The reason she'd been attacked was probably the same as all the others, she hadn't been a compatible mate for that particular alpha during the run. That was all. Just a wrong place, wrong time kind of a deal. Not that any of Sitles’ peers seemed to get that, the dumbasses.

It was one of the things no one talked about, the scarred omegas, just like no one seemed to want to discuss the fact that Jackson was an alpha when both his parents were betas. Stiles didn't need to be a geneticist to know that wasn't how things worked. Even Jackson, the dumb douche, seemed to have figured out the way of things because he'd been particularly broody during the weeks preceding the run. But whatever, no one talked about Jackson, and no one brought up the disfiguring scars on a quarter of the omegas in town.

It was all stupid and shitty and Stiles would have actually considered running away if it hadn't meant putting his dad in a horribly awkward position, since he was an elected public official and Stiles had long ago learned that he could do pretty much anything as long as he didn't get caught and besmirch his father's good name.

"Allison said I should wear something red," Scott said in his dreamy I'm thinking about having sex with my hot girlfriend tone. They hadn't actually had sex, not yet, but it didn't stop Scott from talking about it.

All the time.

"Uh, hate to break it to you, dude, but pretty sure that's not gonna happen, you know, because of the whole being naked thing," he said, and yeah, Stiles loved Scott like a brother, but he had a bit of a one-track mind about things sometimes. Things named Allison, especially.

Scott rolled his eyes though, like Stiles was the one being dense and completely impractical. For once. "Duh, but I could like, I don't know, pick up a flower or something and carry it around. Oh! Then I could give it to her! That's romantic, right?"

"Dude, you know she's going to be kind of wolfed out, right? She's probably not even going to be able to see colors like a person before she bites you and holy shit, you're a genius!" he cried out, diving for his computer and almost nailing himself in the junk with his desk chair because yes, that was how he could defend himself.

"Uh, Stiles?" Scott asked cautiously, but stayed out of the flail zone because they'd known each other since they were pups and he'd gotten more than a few accidental black eyes because of an unfortunate combination of his inattentiveness and Stiles' enthusiasm.

He brought up the webpage he'd found a few weeks prior on one of his anxiety-driven research jags and there it was, a comprehensive list of every strain of wolfsbane found in northern California. Most were harmless, or produced few enough side effects to be considered so, but a couple of them not only grew in the wild, but appeared to be easy enough to weaponize. Stiles breathed out for what felt like the first time in months because there was a possibility, however slim, that he might survive the run with his skin intact.

Hopefully.

----------------------

“Laura, you know that I’ve done this before, right?” Derek asked, watching his sister pace around his room touching his stuff and generally being annoying.

She whirled around and glared, pointing an accusing finger at him and he raised his hands because even though he was an alpha just like her, he wasn't about to challenge her when she was in a mood.

"I don't want you fucking up this time," she said curtly and Derek had to fight very hard not to roll his eyes. He'd heard a variation of the same lecture for four years, though it was the first time Laura was delivering it.

So Derek just smoothed his features into something that he hoped made him look mildly interested and settled back against the pillows he'd propped up at the headboard when he’d woken up that morning. He thought it was still morning, at least, but he didn’t exactly have a clock hanging on the exposed brick walls of his loft.

"I don't want anyone else to gut you," she said and Derek felt his jaw drop. So maybe it really wasn't like the previous pep talks various family members had given him. Leave it to Laura to go in for the kill, though, she’d never liked to pussyfoot around issues when she could just jump to it. Derek should have suspected that as soon as she’d let herself in.

"I thought everyone agreed not to bring that up," he said, sitting forward and he knew it was at the memory of having had his intestines spilled out on the forest floor that made him do it. Sometimes when he was having a particularly shitty day he thought he could feel a dull pulsing from where he'd been sliced open from hip to hip. There were no scars though, and he was extremely thankful for that. The memory alone was bad enough.

Laura shrugged and hopped up onto his desk, the only other piece of furniture on that side of the large room. She'd claimed it was an open concept when he'd first found it, well, when their parents had found it for him. Sometimes he thought it was a pity move on their part for him having almost been murdered by his first lover, but he'd never asked and they'd never brought it up, either.

Until Laura.

She tossed her long dark hair over her shoulder and shook her head. "You're my brother and an idiot," she said breezily, but he could smell her anxiety, though they both pretended he couldn't. "I want, well, the family wants, for you to find someone, a mate, so you’ll actually participate in pack life."

Derek did roll his eyes that time. "You know I have my own betas, right? It's not like I'm a lone wolf, here.”

Laura glared at him and her anxiety morphed into irritation so sharp-smelling it made him want to sneeze. He didn't, though, not wanting to give her the satisfaction. "Derek," she said evenly and he was definitely in for it. "I'm sorry that Kate was a psycho bitch, but you know she's forbidden to run after what she did to you."

Of course he knew that. Derek had nearly pissed himself during his second run, terrified that she would find him again and finish the job even though he put on a miraculous thirty pounds of muscle during his year recovering from the injury. He'd been too frantic to even attempt to find a mate that run, and had just run around as a wolf the entire time, a month of nearly frantic flight. He'd lost the muscle he'd gained, hadn't eaten enough meat or been of a mind to gather non-poisonous berries too keep up his bulk. It wasn't until afterward that he'd heard the news of Kate's punishment; to be collared and contained for her crimes against him and others, including Uncle Peter. Apparently she hasn't been very good at keeping her claws to herself.

"I know," he gritted out between sharp teeth. Leave it to Laura to piss him off enough to make him partially shift without having noticed.

She quirked an eyebrow and it reminded him so strongly of their mother that he sighed and looked down at where he'd been worrying a hole on the comforter. "Der," she said more softly than he would have expected. Laura wasn't exactly a very touchy feely type of person. "You might have a couple of betas in your sad excuse for a pack, but you're also still a part of Mom and Dad's as well. So after you find yourself a cute, submissive little omega to claim, you're coming home for the solstice feast. No arguments."

Derek didn't pout, but it was a near thing. "Shouldn't you be harassing Cora about how to track enchanted omegas and where to best find water in the preserve? You know, since it's actually her first run and not mine."

Laura waved a dismissive hand and jumped off his desk. "She'll be fine, you're the one everyone's been worried about. Even Uncle Peter mentioned you."

He grimaced. Peter had nearly been cut in half trying to keep Kate from killing him, and since then their relationship had been weirdly strained. "I'm not running with Peter," he said. It was bad enough he felt so beholden to his uncle, he didn't want to risk fighting him for an omega should they both feel attracted to the same one. Biology being what it was, that wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. History was ripe with tales of brothers and sisters dueling each other for the right to claim a singular omega.

"No kidding, dummy," she said, stalking up to him and planting a wet kiss on his forehead, solidifying the scent of the Hale pack on his skin and giving his cheek a sharp smack that was probably supposed to have been some sign of affection. Maybe.

"That's very mature," he called out as she showed herself out.

Laura didn't have anything else to say to that, even though he would have been able to still hear her, and he finally let himself pout. He didn't necessarily like being alone, without a mate, but he wasn't sure of an omega was really the answer. Then again, if he found one there would be someone around his place to keep it clean. As it was Derek was pretty sure he didn't even have a broom.

Cute and submissive, she’d said.

Derek rolled off the rumpled bed and onto his bare feet still dirty from the full moon run the night before, padding over to the kitchen to see if he had any food left that wasn't spoiled. He could do cute and submissive.

Chapter Text

"You know, when I imagined getting naked with Lydia, this really wasn't what I had in mind," Stiles joked, wiggling his bare ass on the cold stone bench in a vain attempt to get comfortable. He didn't have enough junk in the trunk to make that happen, though, so he just kept shifting and twitching.

Scott on the other hand? The dude was like, super zen.

It was weird.

"You been meditating with Deaton or something?" Stiles accused, watching the other omegas in their class file through the broad carved doors of the courthouse. Each of them were wanded for contraband, which meant Stiles wouldn’t have been able to smuggle the mace in regardless of his butt’s thoughts on the matter.

Asshole.

Stiles chuckled at himself.

Hardly anyone was crying, though, which was kind of surprising. Well, except for Greenberg, but that wasn’t a surprise, the guy was like, super emotional all the time. He’d burst into tears during biology class because they’d talked about how male omegas were slightly more likely to miscarry, especially if the fetus was conceived during a run. Stiles had just been grossed out that he was probably going to have to have a kid in the first place.

A few of their classmates did try to take off, though, which was a bit of a surprise because it was so completely stupid. If they’d wanted to get out of the run they shouldn’t have waited until they were surrounded by public officials armed with pacification gear and filter masks. The omegas couldn’t even pheromone their way out of it anymore, not that Stiles had put much thought into that particular avenue of resistance. Okay, so he had, but Scott hadn’t been willing to help him out so that plan had crashed and burned, along with half a dozen others until he’d come up with the wolfsbane plot, as he'd taken to calling it in his head.

So Stiles just sat there patiently, looking at all of his naked peers and cursing his inherent biology because while he could tell that some of them were more aesthetically pleasing than others, none awakened any kind of arousal in him. Well, that was probably a good thing, really, since he was naked and wouldn’t have been able to hide said arousal. But no, his body was hardwired to respond only to an alpha or, if he couldn’t find one that was compatible, maybe even a beta.

“This is like our last day of freedom,” Stiles mourned, “and we can’t even do anything fun, we just have to sit here like dumb kids. Waiting.” Stiles hated waiting, he was really bad at it.

Scott, though? He just had a little smile on his face like nothing was wrong at all, like they weren’t about to have to run for their lives. Well, their skins. The unmated alphas might not treat the incompatible omegas with respect, what with the reactionary clawing and all that, but they wouldn’t actually kill them. It went against their nature just as much as it went against omega nature to find another omega sexually attractive.

Stupid biology.

“Allison’s going to look for me in the western plain,” Scott said, pretty much the first words that had come out of his mouth since they’d stripped off their clothes on the steps outside and filed into the large open area at the front of the courthouse. It was the only public building besides the school that was secure enough to hold the unmated omegas. And what Scott had said was to be expected, really. Alphas and omegas who thought they might be compatible often made plans like that, which had the added benefit of getting them out of the way while the other alphas hunted for their mates.

Still? Stiles was not impressed, but then again he knew a lot of that was just jealousy because he didn’t have a gorgeous, talented and sweet alpha running for him. No, he was generally not the most popular kid around, what with his penchant for speaking his mind and getting into trouble, both very un-omega-like traits, which was bullshit because he was an omega, therefore whatever he did was, by definition, omega-like.

Not that any of his teachers had ever listened when he’d told them that.

“There’s the red queen, now,” Stiles murmured, watching as Lydia swept into the room, the pale expanse of her soft curves on display. She should have been in a painting, or carved in marble, but anytime Stiles had tried to tell her that she had just flipped her strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder and walked away. So it pretty much shocked him to his toes when she made a confident beeline for him and Scott, sitting prettily beside Stiles, their skin so close he could feel the warmth coming off her thigh.

“You’re not going to compliment me?” she asked, giving Stiles a sweeping look, more like she was checking out the paint on her nails than an actual person. He was pretty used to it, but hadn’t ever been reduced to just his skin when it had happened before.

“Your radiance outshines the sun,” he said reflexively and she rolled her dark green eyes.

Stiles may or may not have written a poem about them, but whatever, it was probably buried under the pile of his molding lacrosse gear he was supposed to have cleaned and put into the attic for when his new mate allowed him to return home to visit his father and gather some of his old things for their future children. Maybe, if he was lucky, his alpha would even let him go visit his dad with some frequency, but there was no guarantee that would be the case.

Which was bullshit.

And yeah, Stiles really wasn’t looking forward to being pregnant. Or being mated. Or running for his life beginning at midday. Or even talking to Lydia, so he was probably freaking out at a cellular level and it just hadn’t caught up with him.

Lydia rolled her eyes again and leaned forward so she could see Scott, who was still smiling dopily. “Allison says to remember to wear something red,” she said with the air of someone doing a friend a favor, but not being entirely impressed by what that favor was.

Scott nodded quickly. “And we’re meeting-”

“In the western plain,” Stiles finished with him, glancing at Lydia and rolling his eyes, but she just gave him a look that said she didn’t find him at all amusing. It was not a new look.

Stiles cleared his throat. “So, uh, are you meeting anyone?” he asked and they both knew he was talking about Jackson, but she just shrugged elegantly.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

And yeah, it wasn’t exactly something that was necessarily approved of by the higher powers, the sort-of pre-bonding that went on between some alphas and omegas prior to the run, but then again it pretty much guaranteed that they’d be bonded, so no one had stepped in to put a stop to it because it was kind of essential that every omega be bonded so they could help propagate the species and whatnot.

“What kind of rune are you going to ask for?” Stiles asked her for a slight change of subject. He still wasn’t entirely sure what he’d pick, but he’d narrowed it down to a handful of choices.

“I’m going to have my scent enhanced,” Scott said, grinning at them. “That way Allison will be sure to find me.”

Stiles turned and looked at him with unmasked horror. “Dude, if you do that every alpha out there will be able to smell smell you. Like, in high definition. Do you really want that to happen?”

Stiles had considered going with the scent neutralizer, but wasn’t sure if he could afford the drain on his stamina that it cost. Neutralizers in general had detrimental effects on the host, typically impacting their coordination or deductive reasoning. Some omegas thought it was a fair cost for the benefit of being able to become completely scentless or even invisible, but Stiles wasn’t willing to take that kind of risk.

Enhancers, on the other and, just made the host jittery, but he didn’t need that, either, what with his normal hyperactive excess of energy he had going on. Plus, he wasn’t about to make a gamble like that, going for something like a scent enhancer. Only desperate and/or idiotic omegas chose to have that kind of a rune painted on them, typically on their neck where a lot of their scent was concentrated. Besides, Stiles had definitely heard more than one story about enhancers backfiring, and it really spoke to Scott’s obsession with Allison that he’d even consider trying it. He’d heard the same stories from Stiles’ mom when she’d been alive.

Lydia gave Scott a long look before glancing at Stiles. “I’m going with a tactical rune to help me evade any marauding bands of alphas out for blood,” she said, as easily as that.

Because of course she would pick one of the most complicated runes available to them. It was so outside of Stiles’ ability to host that he wasn’t even certain what the cost was, but he was pretty stoked to hear that he wasn’t the only omega around who was paranoid about being mauled by alphas.

“I’m going with stealth,” he said, knowing she wouldn’t ask him about his choice if he didn’t just put it out there. He hadn’t actually known that was what he was going to pick until he’d said it, but it felt right. Stiles was naturally clumsy and loud enough to make the run an exercise in being easily found and tortured if he didn’t nip that in the bud to the best of his ability, which was where the stealth rune came in.

Lydia gave him a strange look, like his choice was something she hadn’t expected. “You know that will make you-”

“Mute, I know,” Stiles said with a grimace. That was the drawback to it, but it wouldn’t inhibit his stamina or cognition, so whatever, it was worth the annoyance of not being able to talk for awhile because there was also less of a likelihood of him being found by the alpha packs that formed the longer the hunt went on; groups of alphas hunting together, fighting the betas released a week after the start of the event and each other when things dragged on further into the month. Rumor was, the larger the pack, the more dangerous they became when they couldn’t find compatible omegas, which was a pretty strong likelihood since the alphas and betas outnumbered the available omegas by half, at least. Stiles didn’t know that year’s numbers, but in the past he knew there was normally one omega for every two or three alphas and betas running.

Stiles was kind of torn between hoping he wouldn’t be running for long, aware of how feral things could get, and wanting to run forever, never having to submit to an alpha or beta.

Wishful. Fucking. Thinking.

He knew he was being a brat about the run. His parents had done it and ended up as a happy couple, though they had both been alphas so that was pretty uncommon, really. But they’d been happy and awesome together, until his mom had died and ever since then his dad had been in mourning. Seven long years.

Stiles kind of felt like a coward, but he didn’t want that, he didn’t want to know what it was like to have half of him removed, of feeling his mate die. He was much happier with never having known the experience of completion if it meant avoiding the threat of being severed like that. And that was definitely not something he’d ever told anyone, especially not his dad.

But Scott looked so damn happy, sitting there waiting for his rune, Lydia beside him, primly watching their classmates shuffle in from outside, some shyer about being naked than others. It was not at all surprising that Harley worked it like she was on a runway, she’d always been ultra confident about her body. Jared, on the other hand kind of looked like he was about to puke.

“You could have Deaton give you the affection rune,” Stiles heard himself say a bit grudgingly, looking back at his friend and Scott’s eyes went wide.

“Wait, that’s one of the red ones, isn’t it?” he asked with a shocked look that quickly morphed into a delighted grin. “Dude, you’re a genius, Stiles!”

He bit his lip until he was sure he wouldn’t say something he’d regret. It was likely the last time he’d see his friend until the solstice ceremony the next month, which marked the end of the run and the beginning of their new lives as alpha or beta mates.

Slaves, his mind insisted.

Depending on who claimed them, they’d either live fairly free lives, or be subjected to all manner of unyielding control. Stiles wasn’t holding his breath for the former, though he was sure if Allison claimed Scott he wouldn’t have much to worry about.

“It is one of the red ones,” Stiles agreed with forced nonchalance, “made with berry juice and crushed bugs. But it only works if the pre-bonding is strong enough,” he reminded his friend and felt Lydia’s sharp elbow jab him in the ribs.

“What Stiles means is that’s a perfect rune for you, Scott,” she said with an eerily sweet smile. Lydia never smiled like that, at least not anywhere around Stiles. It was creepy. “I’m sure Allison will find you right away, especially if you’re marked with that.”

And the way she said it. Huh. It kind of sounded like she and Allison had been plotting something like that all along, with the rune. It really was the only way to guarantee that Scott would have something red on him, and there weren’t many other runes that were done in that color, certainly none that would benefit him in the run. Stiles was aware of one that warded against fire and another for plague, but those weren’t things they really had to worry about.

“Clever,” Stiles muttered under his breath and Lydia’s pink lips quirked in an almost smile and yeah, he’d totally played into her and Allison’s plan, the minxes.

“Martin, Lydia,” one of the deputies called and she stood up gracefully, sliding her hands down her sides like she was smoothing invisible clothing, the only sign Stiles had seen from her that the impending run was rattling her nerves as much as it was his. But still, she moved across the intricate wooden floor with ease.

Stiles was pretty sure he was going to trip over his own feet, which was another reason for the stealth rune. He wasn't exactly brimming with grace at the best of times, let alone when he was trying to evade hoards of lust-driven alphas.

“Dude, it’s going to be fine,” Scott said, reaching over to grab Stiles’ bicep and squeezing gently. He could feel the whisper of comfort through the bond, a sign of just how strong of a connection they shared. Omegas rarely forged mood-sharing connections with each other, normally reserving those for their non-omega relatives and their mates. But then again Stiles and Scott hadn’t ever really been ones to just go with the flow.

Stiles tried to smile at his friend, but his misery must have been palpable because Scott threw his arm across Stiles’ shoulders and held onto him until his own name was called.

“See you on the other side, Stiles,” he said cheerfully, practically bouncing with glee.

“May you find your mate before the moon,” Stiles said automatically. Honestly. He wanted his friend to be happy, even if they had different ideas of what happiness entailed.

“And you,” Scott replied, then raced across the room, feet slapping loudly against the polished floor and Stiles couldn’t help but grin at the disgruntled looks the guards were giving Scott’s bare butt.

It was another hour at least before Stiles was called, during which he fretted, obsessed, and second-guessed his time choice.

True to form, he stumbled a bit as he walked across the intricate full moon pieced together from pale pieces of wood a generation or more before his parents had been born. Above him was the domed roof with a stained-glass sun in the center, the actual sun sending the violent fiery colors low on the western wall. When the light passed down to cover the moon it would be midday and the run would begin.

One of the deputies met him at the door, but Stiles didn’t recognize her despite having spent what was probably an unhealthy amount of time during his childhood lurking around the sheriff’s station snooping on the cases his dad worked. She held out a tablet and he placed his palm on the screen’s hand-shaped outline. It verified his identity with some software that Stiles knew had cost the department quite a hefty sum. It was for the omega’s protection, though, or at least that’s what it had been marketed as.

Its true purpose was to help the higher ups keep track of who was running; omegas, alphas, and then betas. That way when the month was over they would know who they were still looking for when they scoured the vast forest preserve for stragglers. Historically it had mostly been the alphas and betas who had either gone feral or had found a place to hide with their omegas, their instinctual possessiveness preventing them from remembering the societal norms that dictated all newly mated pairs must be presented to the community during the mass ceremony that called an end to the month-long summer solstice festival.

Stiles thought that was bullshit, that the solstice was celebrated for an entire month when in reality it was a day. The longest one of the year, which marked the end of the festival. Well, technically the full moon nearest the solstice marked the end of the festival, but it was still a stupid misnomer.

After the brightness of the waiting area, the stone hallway was dim enough to make him shift his eyes, though it wasn’t like there was anything there to trip him. Still, he liked to be sure. Another deputy was waiting halfway down the corridor and motioned for him to enter the room he was guarding, or lurking in front of, whatever.

He was obviously an alpha, strong-shouldered and with an arrogant twist to his lip. Stiles felt his own lip twitch in a desire to curl back; to show his teeth, to prove he wasn’t so easily cowed, but he was there, naked and waiting to be scrubbed down and marked by Deaton so he could run around in the forest until someone took pity and claimed him, so yeah, he was pretty much the definition of an omega. Small, weak, waiting to be controlled.

His life kind of sucked.

--------------------

Derek had been a bit overly optimistic about the contents of his fridge, but took the opportunity to toss everything that had been inside save for the condiments that were still good and would remain so until after the run. It amounted to a bottle of mustard and some duck sauce packets from the last time Laura had brought over Chinese food and had made him watch some stupid romantic comedy movie about an alpha and omega who unexpectedly fell in love.

Luckily she’d been okay with them ripping into it, even though she was actually bonded to an omega. Eugene was quiet, but cool enough not to be the typical kind of simpering omega, which worked for Laura and they seemed happy enough with their daughter Margaret and another on the way. Eugene had been spending the day at a pregnant-omega-centric yoga retreat, which was why Laura had stopped by to harass Derek in the first place. Their daughter had been at the Hale house, probably ordering everyone around and being a general terror like was known to be. Derek knew Laura had been worried about her mate even though the second pregnancy for omega males was apparently easier than the first, but she was too much herself to admit it. The food had been good, though.

So Derek sucked it up and cleaned out the fridge, which he thought was a pretty significant demonstration of maturity. Besides, there was no use coming home after a month of being away to find a biohazard if he could avoid it, and some of the stuff he’d scraped out of there had probably expired shortly after the last solstice run, so that was a bit alarming.

He really wasn’t much of a housekeeper, even though his dad had insisted that Derek and his siblings, despite all of them being alphas, at least learned the basics of how to keep a household; like the best way to clean the baseboards and the tile grout, but after getting a place of his own he’d conveniently forgotten those kinds of skills. Well, maybe not forgotten, but he hadn’t exactly been jumping for a chance to use any of those skills, not without someone actually making him.

It was probably a good thing that his parents didn’t visit him, were giving him his space, as his mother had informed him on one of their weekly phone calls.

Whatever, it just meant he didn’t have to bother with finding a mop. He was actually kind of surprised Laura hadn’t harped on him about it more, but then again she’d apparently come to visit him that morning in the role of supportive sister, which was actually pretty bizarre, but he was willing to overlook it if she didn’t harass him anymore. Not that she would really have the opportunity until after the run and shit.

Derek stalked back to his bed and dug his phone out from under his pillow and pushed his landlord’s number. She answered on the second ring, accented voice sounding delighted to hear him.

“Hi Mrs. Moscovitz,” he said slowly, to make it easier for her to understand him. She sometimes had trouble if people spoke too quickly, either due to the fact that English wasn’t her first language or because she was in her late 80s, Derek didn’t know, or care really, but she was a pretty great landlord so he made the effort to stay in her good graces whenever possible. If that meant talking a little slower, and louder, then so be it. “I just wanted to let you know I’ll be gone for run month again this year.”

“Oh, how nice!” she replied, voice high pitched for a beta, but then again she was also one of the most petite people Derek had ever met, so that could have accounted for her almost child-like voice. “We hope you bring home a nice omega,” she said cheerfully. In the background he could hear the sizzle of something cooking and his stomach rumbled. “When you come back you have to introduce us, come over for dinner, yes?”

“Of course, Mrs. Moscovitz, please give my best to your wife. I’ll drop off rent before I leave.”

They said their goodbyes and Derek tossed his phone back onto his pillow. It wasn’t like he’d need it, or be able to bring it. He wouldn’t be able to bring anything, really. After the quarantine he’d have to strip like everyone else, and the likelihood of getting his things back after the run was slim. He’d made the mistake of wearing one of his favorite shirts to his first run and hadn’t ever seen it again. He’d nearly gotten himself killed, too, but that was another matter.

He looked down to assess what he was wearing and nodded absently. Derek had on a worn a pair of boxers and a generic shirt he bought in packs of five that he’d slipped into before passing out in bed the night before. Well, that morning, really. He hadn’t gotten back from the full moon run with his family until nearly dawn. He’d slept like a rock afterward, though, and was kind of surprised Laura had bothered him before noon.

Derek froze where he stood, halfway to the bathroom where he was about to have washed off the dirt caked randomly across his body from when Cora and Laura had teamed up and tackled him into the mud a dozen or so times during their family run, just for the hell of it, apparently, but then he turned back to the bed and had to kneel across it to get to his phone again because he’d forgotten to check the time and he promptly swore because it was only an hour until noon and he was supposed to be making his way across town to the alpha intake checkpoint he’d been assigned to, the sheriff’s station. It was a good twenty minute walk and if he hurried he might even make it before the doors were locked.

“Guess I’m not eating after all,” he muttered, slipping on the first pair of pants he found, unfortunately one of his more comfortable pair, then wrestled on some old boots before grabbing the rent check he’d filled out the night before and jogging for the door.

Chapter Text

The room was dimly lit and smelled like patchouli, salt water, and ink; a strangely bitter mix that made Stiles’ eyes burn as he glanced around, but didn’t see much because his attention was immediately captured by something he’d read a lot about during his last semester of high school, but hadn’t ever seen in person.

The ritual bath.

They, Stiles and his fellow omegas, had spent most of the second half of their senior year learning about the various components of the solstice run when they weren’t being harassed into watching videos on infant care and how best to prepare a five course meal for their mate’s pack, which would become their pack because of some old social rules no one questioned and their own apparently-irrepressible biologically-driven desire to remain with their mate and their mate’s need to stay an active part of their family’s pack. But all of that other knowledge faded into the background when Stiles saw the metal bathtub set in the middle of the dim room.

His skin pebbled with anticipation.

Deaton stood off to one side, but Stiles didn’t even pay attention to what he was doing because for the first time the entirety of the solstice festival began to feel real. Stiles was about to begin the process that would ultimately result in him being mated for the rest of his life. That was a prospect so daunting as to be potentially overwhelming, so he focused on the task at hand instead of the panic-inducing nature of his inevitable future.

He knew that the ritual bath contained the same seawater Lydia and Scott and all of their other classmates had been dunked into. The water was supposed to have come straight from the ocean, untouched by alphas or betas during transport, and only moved under the full moon, the peak of which had been the previous night. There were herbs in it, at least, in a parody of hygiene, though he wasn’t really that concerned about catching anything from his classmates since it was ridiculously hard for omegas to become ill in the first place, unlike betas who were the most susceptible of the three types to require clinic visits and hospitalization. And it certainly wasn’t like he’d catch anything sexually transmitted since they were all virgins, they had to be to participate in the run. But still, the part of Stiles that thought the entire thing was bullshit was not looking forward to getting into the water.

“Omega Stilinski, please come in,” Deaton said unnecessarily. Stiles was already in the room and he didn’t exactly have a choice about it, but he walked closer anyway because even though he was dreading it, Stiles kind of wanted to get the whole water portion of things over with.

It was pretty confusing, really.

He’d read the chapter specifically about the cleansing in their health and wellness textbook at least eight times. Stiles was pretty sure he could recite it if questioned. He knew about the sand at the bottom of the tub, how the water was purposefully cold and that the sprigs of mistletoe floating inside would help protect the omega from any supernatural forces during the month of the run, even if they took a swim in a creek or whatever and washed off the scent of the herbs. Stiles didn’t necessarily buy all of what he’d read, but he dutifully approached the tub because he had to and he wanted that rune, which could only be placed on cleansed skin.

“When you’re ready, please step into the water,” Deaton said. He was an omega, too, and couldn’t actually use his pheromones to force Stiles to do it or anything else, but he didn’t have to have that kind of power to make Stiles agree to obey. But that was probably why they had a bonded alpha guarding the room, so he could command the omega to do what they were supposed to without anyone having to resort to physical threats. All the bonded alpha had to do was issue a command and the obstinate omega would feel inclined to follow it. Some were more susceptible to that kind of influence than others, Stiles included, but it normally only worked when the alpha issuing the order was already mated. Stiles could only imagine how shitty his life would have been had Jackson had that kind of power over him during the years they’d grown up together.

Stiles gripped one edge and winced at how cold the metal was against his palm. If that was so frigid, he could only image what the water itself was like. “This is going to suck, isn’t it?” he asked, but didn’t wait for a response, bringing his leg over and lowering his foot into the freezing water in one controlled movement.

He immediately sputtered, muscles tensing already, but forced his entire foot under, then his ankle and calf, flesh pebbling as his clenched teeth struggled to hold back the high-pitched noises threatening to emerge from his throat. Stiles' knee began to ache as soon as the water touched it, his thigh burning and just when he didn’t think he could make himself go another inch his foot touched the sandy bottom and he was somehow able to breathe again. He sucked in heady gulps of air, both hands cramping where they gripped the small lip of the tub. He had to lean forward to get the other foot over the edge, bending awkwardly because his body was already half numb and cold-slow.

“You’re doing surprisingly well,” Deaton commented from where he was puttering around with the various herbs and items on a burdened table nearby, striking a match to light something that smelled like turned earth. A kind of incense?

Whatever.

Stiles was pretty sure the place was lit by candles, giving the room a kind of warm light, but no real heat, which he would have appreciated since he was pretty sure he was going to go into hypothermic shock before the cleansing could really get underway. Despite that he didn’t pause, all of his concentration was focused on keeping his grip so he didn’t accidentally face-plant into the water and drown. Not that Deaton would let him die or anything, but still. His legs, both of them submerged to his upper thighs, were numb and he wasn’t at all certain he was going to have the strength to get himself back out of there when that part of the ritual was done.

Deaton walked into his line of sight, apparently checking his progress and he nodded. “Very good. Just lean back and let go, gravity will do the rest,” he said, like Stiles wasn’t about to dunk his dick in freezing cold water. He would count himself lucky if he was able to pee again, let alone get hard. That was if his penis didn’t just retreat up into his body permanently like something out of a Japanese horror movie. Deaton must have seen the incredulity on his face because he gave Stiles that enigmatic little smirk he was known for and gently pried his fingers from off the edge.

The bastard.

Gravity did, indeed, do the rest and Stiles had a moment of perfect shock when his body was fully submerged, feeling so terribly cold it seemed like he had fallen into something white-hot before he managed to scramble back to the surface, flailing water with cut-off shout.

The healer had moved aside, though, so he didn’t get at all wet from Stiles’ outburst, though he did look pretty amused by the whole thing. Well, as amused as he’d ever looked. “If you’re quite done, Omega Stilinski, shall we begin the ritual? We’re on a bit of a tight timeline, as you know.”

If Stiles had been able to do anything other than chatter his teeth, he would have probably had a snarky comment to make about that, but suddenly it was clear that getting the cleansing over with was the most important thing on his agenda for the day, or perhaps ever. After all, the quicker they finished the ritual, the sooner he’d be able to feel his legs and vital bits again. As it was, it was all he could do to force his hands under the water to grab loose fist-fulls of sand so he could scrub at his skin in the same kind of uncoordinated manner he associated with drunks and children. He wasn’t drunk, though, he was very painfully sober and also eighteen like the rest of the omegas in his class, though he did kind of feel a childlike sense of fear in the face of his inevitable mating that was bound to occur by the end of the month.

But it wasn’t the time to obsess about that because he had shit to do.

While he scrubbed Deaton began reading something in another language that sounded kind of like Latin. Or he might have been reciting whatever it was, Stiles wasn’t really sure since the healer was behind him and it seemed like a monumental effort to turn his head and check, so he didn’t.

Stiles finished scrubbing his legs, then moved to his arms, the sand billowing out of his grip under the water, but that was fine, apparently, at least according to the textbook. It was more of a symbolic thing, anyway, though the scrubbing would help neutralize his scent for a few days if he did it thoroughly enough.

The higher powers had always emphasized that the run, finding a mate, should take time. It shouldn’t be over with the first day, or even the first week, but people like Scott and Allison were obviously exempt from that little piece of guideline. No one really cared about the omegas and alphas who had secretly pre-bonded, as long as they didn’t flaunt it too much. Apparently it made some of the older alphas, the ones who were running for the second or eighth time, pretty angry when they found out that there were a lot of omegas nearly claimed already. There had even been fights about it in the past, the pre-bonded alphas against the rest. It was one of the reasons the younger alphas, those participating for the first time, were released first, to minimize casualties.

Stiles, on the other hand, didn’t have that kind of arrangement with any of the alphas in his class. He would probably be sought by whoever caught his scent and deigned to chase him, which could really be anyone who had failed to find a mate in the past.

It was inevitable, he knew; every omega was mated by the end of the month, but that didn’t mean Stiles had to make it easy for the alphas and betas out there, and the more he thought about it the more he wanted to make his future mate work for it, for the honor of mating with him since it might be the last free choice Stiles was ever able to make. Between the neutralized scent and the wolfsbane flowers he might even be able to hold off any pursuers for longer than that first week, if he put all of his research to good use and kept his wits about him instead of curling up into a ball and having a panic attack in the middle of the woods. No, he was better than that, he wasn’t going to just submit.

Stiles scrubbed harder despite how shaky his hands had gotten, and he knew it wasn’t just from the cold.

“I’m going to submerge you, now,” Deaton said from behind him and Stiles nodded. He was supposed to stay under for as long as he could while the healer chanted some more. Stiles hadn’t ever been told what the whole purpose of it was, the textbook hadn’t gotten into the magic portion of things, but he assumed it was a kind of a protection spell or something along those lines. It was probably the only reason no omega had been accidentally killed during the run, not for a decade at least.

Stiles sucked in a deep breath and let Deaton’s warm hands push him under.

At first he felt the muscles across his ribs tremble with the cold, like they were trying to make him take a breath despite the water surrounding him, but the longer he stayed under, the less of a struggle it became to stay there. He started counting, but by the time he made it to two hundred his mind had began to wander and Stiles felt his eyes drift shut, though he couldn’t remember having opened them in the first place.

Deaton’s hands let go of him.

Breaking the surface felt eerie, like he was leaving something of himself behind, but Deaton was there to help haul him out of the water and onto something soft and warm, a bed? Stiles’ eyes were still closed so he couldn’t be sure and the effort of opening them seemed not to be worth the hassle.

“I’m going to need for you to cage your wolf,” the healer said from off to one side and Stiles, still feeling a bit adrift, had to bite his tongue to keep from pointing out that it was no longer PC to refer to the more primal aspect of a person’s identity as their wolf.

He had done a lot of independent research about that and pretty much anything else that had struck his fancy and discovered that psychologists had found labeling their instincts like that led to something called splitting, where the person separated the two parts of themselves into human and wolf without them having the ability to bridge the gap. Apparently that type of mindset was to blame for a lot of hyper-aggressiveness, especially in alphas, who could literally turn into wolves. Omegas, though they had the same physical ability, didn’t typically have a problem with it for whatever reason, and betas weren’t able to fully give into their instincts because they almost always retained a portion of their humanity, even during their partial shift. It helped that they couldn’t do a full shift, but pointing that out was also not very PC.

Deaton should have told him to seek control over all aspects of his identity, but Stiles did it anyway because he was finally starting to warm up and arguing about it would have taken energy that he didn’t seem to have.

Stupid ritual.

There were hands on his chest then and Stiles was a bit weirded out that he hadn’t even realized he was laying on his back. But whatever, that worked because omegas were marked on their chests, anyway. It saved him the trouble of moving again and he really couldn’t remember having felt that relaxed before, not without having actually been asleep, or on the verge of it. A vague part of his mind whispered mistletoe, but he didn’t bother grasping the thought to explore it further.

“Have you chosen your rune, Omega Stilinski?” Deaton asked. The air smelled thicker than it had before, or maybe Stiles’ senses had just kicked up a notch. That was in the textbook, too. The bath supposedly worked like a kind of switch, awakening the more dormant aspects of an omega’s mind, the parts they intentionally tried to keep minimized in order to function rationally in the outside world. It helped them tap into their instincts and made it easier to shift if they wanted to, which they normally weren’t allowed to do without proper supervision. In the run it didn’t matter as much, shifting, but if they shifted into their wolf form and then back into their human form their runes would inactivate.

“Stealth,” he said, voice sounding too loud, but he was sure he’d whispered.

Deaton made an acknowledging noise and moved back toward the table, probably to gather the supplies he needed. If Stiles had maybe expected a bit of a lecture or warning from the healer about his choice he was disappointed. Stiles also wasn’t of a mind to ask any of the hundred or so questions he’d thought of during his pretty obsessive worrying sprees he’d gone on in the limited downtime he’d had getting ready for the run. The last semester of high school had basically been spent hammering home the knowledge he and the other omegas needed to know in order to be the best mates they could be, which was a combination of pretty offensive and fairly useful skills, and after graduation they’d all participated in survival training as preparation for the run. It was true that the alphas and betas wouldn’t kill any of the omegas, but there was no such agreement between them and the local wildlife.

“The rune will be placed over your heart,” Deaton said when he’d returned with whatever it was he’d grabbed. Stiles couldn’t remember what, exactly, went into the green ink, but it smelled like bruised leaves and something sharp, a dangerous-smelling thing that, had he caught a whiff of it outside that room, would have made him jump back and get away. A kind of venom, perhaps?

That wasn’t an encouraging thought, especially since the thing would be placed onto his skin.

“As I’m marking the rune, focus your attention on how you would like for it to work,” he continued with his soothing mellow voice that normally made Stiles want to roll his eyes because there wasn’t any way he could be that calm, not without some tranquilizers or something in his system. Under Deaton’s gentle care, though, Stiles felt himself relaxing and doing as he was told.

The rune of stealth was a combination of long, straight lines, painted onto his chest directly over his heart, like Deaton had said, and fanning out onto either side. Stiles thought about the silence it would bring to his movements, allowing him to run like a shadow across the dappled ground of the preserve, deep in the forest beneath the trees. His footsteps would be as quiet as his breathing and his heart. No alpha would be able to track him through their hearing, though they’d still be able to follow his scent trail if they wanted to. The tricky part was that if he was in trouble he wouldn’t be able to signal that audibly, not even if he threw a rock or something. Well, not unless he hit whoever it was he was trying to alert, but that was a fair price to pay to give him a leg-up on the competition.

It was as much as he could hope for, really.

“Focus,” Deaton instructed, and stepped back.

Stiles’ chest burned as the rune activated and he heard his heart grow quiet.

-----------------

Derek really should have thought things through a bit more, but he wasn’t exactly a planner, so of course he hadn’t. He was a lot more apt to fly by the seat of his pants, or let one of his siblings or packmates take care of things for him when they inevitably saw he was doing a shitty job of handling something, so it really didn’t surprise him that by the time he got to the sheriff’s station the place was full of alphas and he barely managed to get in the door before they were bolted shut behind him.

All of the alphas meeting at the sheriff’s station had participated in runs before, so there was a lot of posturing and gloating going on, as well as some reminiscing, but overall it stank with an undercurrent of anxiety that reminded Derek of burnt almonds and dry sand. But besides being nearly overwhelmed by that and the scent of largely unwashed alphas, he was hungry. Those two sensations, the abundance of discordant smells and the growling of his stomach, didn’t mix well and he immediately felt vaguely nauseated.

Which didn’t change at all when Peter cornered him where he stood next to the closed door of the sheriff’s personal office. How the man had the patience to put up with several dozen antsy unmated alphas was beyond Derek. He could hardly tolerate being around just his uncle for longer than their mandatory full-moon family dinners and post-meal runs, which they’d both been required to attend the previous night. Peter had teased him mercilessly during it, and had tried to taunt Cora as well, but she’d actually leapt across the table and tackled him to the floor when he’d brought up the subject of her first mating run, so he hadn’t done it again. Their father had given Cora an extra slice of pie for that particular outburst, though, and Derek was pretty sure their mom had winked at her for besting him so aggressively.

It really wasn’t fair.

Derek on the other hand had to suffer Peter’s teasing without resorting to physical violence because he was supposed to have a better handle on his inner wolf, which actually was the case. He was older than his sister by four years and had therefore experienced dozens more full moons than she had, as well as several solstice runs, already, but it had still sucked.

Peter sucked.

“What do you want, Peter?” he asked flatly as his uncle drew closer, his pale blue eyes sparkling with mischief as always. He was one of the older alphas running, having never properly mated, though there had been some rumors about that when Derek had been in middle school, but he’d never gotten to the bottom of them. Something about his mate, an omega, dying during his first run, but Derek hadn’t ever had the courage to ask Peter or his mother about it. It sounded pretty far-fetched, though. Omegas weren’t supposed to die during the solstice.

“Why nephew,” Peter said in a way that he probably thought was charming. It was actually kind of creepy, but if Derek pointed that out he’d just keep doing it just to annoy him. “Can’t an uncle simply stop by to chat? Come, you’d think we weren’t on companionable terms.”

“We’re not,” Derek gritted out. He kept his fangs and red eyes to himself, though. It was bad form to shift before the run because it showed the authorities they weren’t in control of themselves, which could lead to being banned from that year’s run. Derek hadn’t ever been banned, but he didn’t feel like testing the sheriff by going for his uncle’s obnoxious throat. “Or did you forget last night?”

After dinner they’d run as a family, another glorious Hale tradition. Peter had spent the entire time constantly jumped out of the shadows at him, snapping at his heels and startling any game he’d tried to approach.

Because Peter was a dick.

He waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, lighten up, Derek, you can hardly hope to catch an omega if you’re so slow to recognize your competition.”

“I’m not competing with you, Peter, I just want to run and if I find an omega mate then fine, and if I don’t-”

“You’ll be a sad, lone alpha for another long, lonely year,” Peter finished for him, frowning dramatically in a way that was probably supposed to be mocking, but just made him look stupid.

Derek narrowed his eyes. He could have pointed out that Peter fit that description as the lone alpha pretty aptly himself, but that wasn’t entirely true. He had it on good authority that his uncle rarely went a night alone. Apparently, if rumors could be believed, Peter had a slew of lovers, both alphas and betas, warming his bed. He had a bit of an unsavory reputation, actually, but hadn’t ever crossed the line by sleeping with an omega, so in the eyes of the law he was well within his rights to bed as many people as he pleased.

“If I don’t find an omega mate then I’ll just wait another year,” Derek said, forcing his voice to stay even. His gums itched with the urge to drop his fangs, but he kept the impulse in check.

Peter smirked.

Derek really wanted to slap the expression off of his face.

“Alright,” Sheriff Stilinski called out, having opened his door at some point, though Derek had missed it while trying to argue without actually arguing with Peter. The other alphas began to crowd around and he moved closer to the wall, just to the right of the sheriff. The room really wasn’t big enough for all of them, but they somehow made it work with a minimal amount of jostling and growling.

“Alright,” the sheriff repeated when they began to quiet, “so you all know the drill, but I have to tell you anyway. The omegas were released at noon, about ten minutes ago. The alphas running for their first time will be let loose at six tonight, and you’ll all be at the gates of the preserve at midnight. Until then you’re free to wander around this building, but you’re not to step outside until it’s time to load up the busses at around eleven. If anyone so much as opens an outside door they’ll be ineligible for this year’s run. Understand?”

“Sir,” “Sheriff,” “Yes,” came the various responses, as well as a handful of acknowledging grunts, one of them Derek’s. Peter had to be unique and murmured a smiled, “Of course, dear Sheriff.”

He was so creepy.

The alpha on Peter’s other side moved back half a step, apparently thinking so, too, but that just made Peter smirk some more.

“Good,” the sheriff said, ignoring Peter, which was really for the best. His thumbs were tucked into his belt next to his gun and he glanced around with a shrug. “Card tables are set up in the empty cells, there are some books and puzzles brought in from the library, and an unreal amount of food donated by the alpha league taking up a majority of the break room. If you want to try to sleep I’d suggest the interrogation rooms, but if you start to fight about anything don’t think I won’t tranq you because I will do it, and I’ll enjoy it. No guarantees you’ll be awake in time to load up, either.”

Another chorus of affirmations and then the sheriff clapped his hands together. Most of the alphas milled around, but Derek slipped through the crowd, making his way back to the where he knew the break room was. It had a fridge and microwave, but that was about it. It was more than enough though, especially since the donation was largely fat hunks of meat, what looked like parts from half a cow, laid out on plastic tarps on the table and floor. Not the most hygienic, but Derek was known to tear into all manner of woodland creatures during his monthly runs, so it really didn’t bother him that much. He would have preferred it to have still been warm, but the meat was fresh enough to eat without cooking.

He popped the claws on one hand and cut a chunk from what had once been the creature’s haunch, blood dripping sluggishly onto the tarp as he juggled a corner of it to his mouth, trying not to make an even bigger mess.

“Grabbing a snack before the run, nephew?” Peter asked from behind him and Derek didn’t stop himself from growling. He was hungry and so tired of his uncle’s hovering. The guy would not let up. Ever.

He turned, mouth full of raw meat and did what he thought Laura would do in his position, he grinned toothily, enjoying the look of disgust on Peter’s face.

“That’s terribly mature of you,” Peter commented, but before he could continue a bulky guy elbowed his way past him, stalking toward the meat.

Derek stepped aside, though his instinct was to guard the food against other predators. He tamped that down, though and sidled closer to his uncle, automatically allying with him because that was what pack did when faced with a threat. Not that the gigantic alpha was a threat to them, necessarily, but he could be. Derek swallowed and tore another bite from the steak, suddenly eager to be done eating so he could get out of that too-small room that stank of bloody meat.

“Are you going to run alone?” Peter asked and Derek could have punched him because it was clear the other alpha, who had extracted an entire leg from the pile of meat, was listening to them with a suspicious kind of intent, though he attempted to hide it by half-turning away from them and gnawing on an exposed joint.

Derek shrugged in what he hoped looked like a casual non-response. The other alpha was probably a few years older than him, though not as old as Peter, and while the Hales were from sturdy stock, they didn’t come close to competing with the behemoth of an alpha. Derek thought it was strange he didn’t recognize him, but he’d never been very active in the alpha community in the first place, so it was probably just his own isolationism at play. Peter seemed to know him though, which didn’t make Derek feel any better since he was slowly backing away toward the door. Derek actually admired that about his uncle, that he didn’t ever fight losing battles, and often opted out altogether if the odds weren’t in his favor. Some people called him a coward for it, but he'd survived being sliced nearly in half, so Derek was willing to cut him some slack.

It was his first run since healing, actually, which Derek hadn't realized before, too preoccupied with hammering the various rules of etiquette into his betas, who were also set to run for the first time. He hadn’t really been paying attention to anything else, including his uncle, apparently. He was kind of a shit nephew like that, sometimes.

"Hale," the beast rumbled and Derek had just finished stuffing the last of the meat into his mouth or he would have replied, but Peter took a half-step forward, instead, so he was shoulder to shoulder with Derek.

Solidarity.

"Ennis, what a distasteful surprise," Peter said mildly, a smirk on his lips, but Derek could smell his nervousness underneath the faint cologne he wore. It supposedly attracted both betas and omegas, not that Derek would know, he’d never bought stuff like that. Hell, he often used his shampoo as soap and forgot to shave more times than not, so he didn't exactly follow in his uncle's fashionable footsteps in that or any other regard. But Peter was his uncle and had kept him from dying before, almost at the expense of his own life, so he owed it to him to at least stick around to mop the pieces if the big guy decided to issue a challenge in the sheriff’s department kitchen.

The alpha picked at his sharp teeth with one claw and shrugged his massive shoulders. Derek was not shy about working out, but Ennis had to have been injecting something to become that massive. "Moved here with the others," he said. He spoke slowly, like he had to think about his words carefully before they came out. Derek wasn't about to assume he was also slow to strike, though. Some people thought the same of him and always regretted it afterward. "Didn't expect to find you running this year."

Derek had finished eating, and while he had room for more, was more than a little eager to get out of there and wash up before finding a quiet corner to rest in before the run. He'd passed out after their full moon run, but knew he wouldn't get much sleep in the days, weeks, to come, especially if he didn't immediately find his mate. The longer that took, the less control he'd have over his rationality. Things like staying hydrated, fed and well-rested seemed to fall to the wayside when every instinct was screaming for him to find his mate.

Peter smiled easily, unshifted teeth white in the artificial overhead light. "Well, you know me, hard to track and harder to kill."

It was true, Peter was almost impossible to follow when he got it in his mind to evade someone. Neither Derek nor any of his siblings had ever won hide-and-seek when Uncle Peter had played.

Ennis, though, he just took another giant bite of meat and shook his head, like he knew something they didn't.

"Ah, Ennis, I see you've found Hale, and a pup," a poshly accented voice said from behind them and Derek tried not to show his shock at having been snuck up on. It was unnatural how quietly the new alpha moved and even Peter seemed put-off by it, his face paler than normal.

Derek had no idea what was going on, but he had a bad feeling about it.

Chapter Text

Deucalion.

Even his name sounded sinister.

Derek shifted uncomfortably as he and his uncle moved in tandem, sliding so their backs were to the wall nearest the door, allowing them to keep both of the alphas in view as Ennis continued to tear into the raw meat and Deucalion slipped into the room with a mischievous air.

Derek didn’t like it. At all.

“Peter Hale,” Deucalion said. He sounded British, maybe. Definitely not American or Canadian or anything too familiar. Derek also wasn’t sure if Deucalion was his first or last name, the same with Ennis and all of the not-knowing was putting him even more on edge than before, though at least his stomach had settled after getting some food into it. It was a small comfort, like knowing his uncle was at his side.

“I can’t say I’m surprised to see you,” Peter said dryly, his smirk firmly in place. It was his default expression, especially when he was uncomfortable or playing games, which was pretty much always, but Derek though it was more the former than the latter in that particular situation.

Deucalion made a dismissive gesture and Derek had to force himself not to react to seeing the claws on his hands. Since he wasn’t using them to eat, it was considered poor form for him to display his secondary characteristics, but he didn’t seem to care at all. “Kali and Julia finally decided to mate, so I felt comfortable leaving the rest of the pack their capable hands,” he said. “Besides, I’ve heard so much about your particular festival, I couldn’t bring myself to pass it up.”

Which was beyond strange because packs weren’t typically run by the unmated to begin with, so Deucalion supposedly having his own didn’t make much sense, not unless he’d been formally mated in the past, in which case he wouldn’t have been eligible to participate in the run.

Peter narrowed his eyes. “So you decided to bring all of your unmated alphas with you? Move here for the six months it takes to be granted residency, and then participate in the run along with your packmates?”

Derek suddenly wondered just how many of them there were, and if the rest were as solidly built as Ennis, and to only a slightly lesser extent, Deucalion. Either would have been imposing in a fight, but facing off against two or more was a nasty prospect. Not that there were many alpha fights during the run, what with the laws being what they were, but Derek had enough first-hand experience to know that what happened in the preserve was often unreported, not unless the wolves in question were on the brink of death like he and Peter had been. Besides, they were outsiders and could plead ignorance if they did participate in some of the more unsavory aspects of the run.

Deucalion glanced over at where Ennis was finishing up his haunch, gnawing the last of the meat from the delicate-looking bones. “Nothing gets past you, does it, Hale?” he asked, smile wry, teeth too sharp.

“Afternoon, gentlemen,” a voice said from the door and Derek felt like he could breathe for the first time since he’d arrived at the station.

He’d always liked the sheriff. He’d heard about, but hadn’t ever formally met him until the near-fatal injury he’d received during his first run. At the time Derek’s head had still been swimming in a fog of whatever herbs Deaton had shoved down his throat to keep him from shifting and possibly killing himself on accident, the healer had muttered something about internal damage and the healing speeds of alpha-inflicted injuries as he’d hastily patched Derek up, Peter still somewhere in the background groaning in agony despite the two alpha orderlies helping take his pain as they’d physically kept his internal organs from spilling out of the gaping wound across his abdomen, the whole area stinking of blood and the first hints of death.

Sheriff Stilinski had interviewed Derek about what had happened while he’d still been laid out in the temporary triage tent, not even waiting for the second ambulance to arrive so it could take him to the hospital for observation and to make sure his own guts had been put back properly. None of that had changed Derek’s opinion of the alpha, if anything it had made his admiration grow because it showed how dedicated he was to his job of protecting and serving the populace of Beacon Hills.

Because it was clear Sheriff Stilinski wasn’t the type to coddle or tip-toe around things, he’d asked straight-forward questions, didn’t flinch when Derek had stumbled through his half-coherent version of events, of how Kate had seduced him, though they’d both known they weren’t each other’s mates, and had then gutted him while they were in the throes of passion. After which she’d leaned forward, half-shifted like she was going to tear his throat out with her teeth, but that was when Peter had intervened and had almost paid for it with his life.

Even that hadn’t seemed to phase the sheriff, though he’d made sympathetic noises and his scent had conveyed the same honest emotion. He’d glanced down, but hadn’t stared at, where she’d raked angry-red claw marks across Derek’s lower abdomen, which had, at the time, still been tenuously held together by Deaton’s hastily-sewn, but still neat black stitches. The sheriff merely wrote something down on his notebook, placed a calm hand on Derek’s shoulder, and told him to feel better.

There had been no anger, no false promises, and no scathing remarks about Derek’s inability to defend himself. Copulation between unmated alphas and betas wasn’t necessarily common during the run, but it wasn’t exactly taboo, either. The fact that Kate had used it in an attempt to kill him was, however, extremely against the rules of conduct. The sheriff had written down his testimony and then done his due diligence afterward, arresting Kate and making sure there was enough evidence to put her away despite her family’s extensive connections. Derek may have engaged in a bit of hero-worship after that.

So when Sheriff Stilinski walked into the break room slash kitchen after the second strange alpha, Deucalion, had entered, Derek was nothing but grateful. He maybe even breathed a sigh of relief.

“Derek, have you given my proposal anymore thought?” he asked easily, sidestepping where both Peter and Deucalion were smirking uneasily at each other near the door so he could get a cup from the overhead cabinet. He poured himself some coffee, which smelled bitter and not at all fresh, but still hot, so there was that. Derek joined him and got a mug down for himself.

“You know that offer’s dependent on me finding a mate,” he said, not for the first time, accepting the three packets of sugar the sheriff handed to him. It said something about their acquaintanceship that the other alpha knew how he took his coffee. They’d met up a few times at the local diner after Derek had recovered from his injuries, under the guise of the sheriff following up with any questions he had about the incident and trial, but Derek knew he was just trying to make sure he was okay.

Strangely enough, Derek hadn’t really minded it, the other alpha was actually pretty easy to talk to after a few stilted minutes of small talk they’d quickly abandoned in favor of discussing real things, like Derek’s future plans and what he wanted out of life. The sheriff didn’t judge Derek like some of his more vocal family members, but he also didn’t coddle him either. He’d merely asked him probing questions about his ideas, forcing him to think about his options from all angles, and the two of them had fallen into an easy kind of, not exactly friendship, but something like it. Mentorship, maybe.

Sheriff Stilinski shrugged casually at the reminder that Derek, like the rest of the unmated alphas, was unable to hold a public-sector job, not until he’d mated and was no longer a threat to any unmated, and therefore underage, omega. The sheriff took a swallow of his own coffee, black, grimacing at the taste, but he didn’t dump it in the sink like Derek suspected he would have if the other three hadn’t been in the room with them. The biggest alpha, Ennis, had gone back to eating, looking a bit self-conscious with the additional person in the small space, but it was Peter and Deucalion that seemed the most uncomfortable, standing stiffly and surreptitiously glancing at each other like they were daring the other to make the first move toward the door.

“Next round of poker’s starting in a few,” the sheriff said to the room at large. Peter and Deucalion took it as their cue to leave and Derek felt the tension slowly release from his shoulders at watching his uncle go. Ever since his first run he’d felt slightly uncomfortable around him, like he couldn’t ever get his balance when the other alpha was around. It was unsettling, especially since Peter seemed to recognize his discomfort and enjoyed exploiting it at every given opportunity.

“My son’s running today,” Sheriff Stilinski said, finally giving in and dumping his coffee into the sink. Derek joined him and took both mugs to wash, batting away the other alpha’s hands. He took the opportunity to clean the blood off his hands and face before starting on the cups. From a hierarchical standpoint Derek did rank below him, being unmated, but that wasn’t why he’d offered, well, insisted on cleaning up.

He’d thought a lot about it over the few years they’d been acquainted and had come to the conclusion that he saw the sheriff as the kind of person he would have liked as, maybe not a father because he already had one of those, but as an authority figure in his life. His own parents were fine, great, even, but there were so many people that needed to be taken care of in his family, in his pack, that sometimes he’d felt brushed aside. Often, actually, since he wasn’t exactly the loudest person around. But Sheriff Stilinski actually took the time to talk to him when they met at the diner. He didn’t get frustrated when it took Derek an extra few seconds or minutes to collect his thoughts, he didn’t belittle his aspirations or tell him his hobbies were stupid.

It was just. It was nice.

So, Derek maybe treated him like a father figure, but neither of them talked about it and he was beyond okay with that. Theoretically, Peter could have filled also that type of a role for Derek, but he’d always seen his uncle as more of an annoying brother than as an authority figure. The feeling had been mutual.

“Your son’s an omega, isn’t he?” Derek asked, rinsing the cups and putting them on the drying rack. The sheriff hadn’t ever really talked about his family very much, and Derek hadn’t pushed it. He knew about his wife’s death, everyone did, and no one ever brought it up, especially not around the sheriff.

The sheriff have a half-shrug, but Derek saw him glance at Ennis and at a subtle gesture Derek wordlessly followed him out of the room, down the corridors to his office. He wasn’t really sure why, but he kept following him, watching as he closed the door behind them, the noise from outside cutting off abruptly.

“Sheriff?” he asked, a bit baffled as to why they were there when he was fairly certain he was supposed to be out with the other unmated alphas, potentially negotiating territory around the preserve or forming alliances.

The other alpha moved across the room and sat at his desk, propping his feet up with a tired-sounding sigh. “It’s John, Derek, don’t make me tell you again,” he said gruffly, but there was a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Derek nodded mutely and took a seat across from him.  Despite the should-haves of the pre-run he was thankful for the opportunity to get away from the others, their overpowering noise and scents, and also from Peter and his odd confrontational relationship with the strangers.

“Let’s not talk about my son,” the sheriff held up a hand to forestall Derek, even though he hadn’t been about to interrupt. It looked like a practiced gesture, like something he did so much it was a habit. “I know I brought it up, but it’s hard to think about. Him running out there, alone. I know he has a good head on his shoulders, but,” he trailed off and grimaced.

It was hard for families to give up their omega children, Derek had learned from school and television and through general observation, though not from personal experience. All of the children born to Hales were alphas, and had been since the beginning of their recorded history. At least as far as Derek knew. That was why they were considered one of the more powerful families in town, though that type of thinking, that alphas were automatically superior, was skirting the line of dynamist, particularly in modern times. The three types were more equal than they’d ever been, but it didn’t change the fact that whoever mated with the sheriff’s, with John’s son, could legally keep him from seeing his father, leaving him alone.

“You said he’s smart,” Derek reminded him. John didn’t talk about his kid very often, but from what Derek gathered there was a lot of raw intelligence in the boy, whose name was nearly unpronounceable, though he went by an equally strange nickname.

John sighed again, looking wearier than Derek had ever seen him before. “That’s part of the problem.”

Derek didn’t follow.

“He’s too smart for his own good,” John elaborated. His hands were folded over his stomach as he stared up at the ceiling. “He’s probably going to drive his mate crazy during the run, and it’ll probably be an alpha, too.”

There were all kinds of studies about that, how the omega children of two alphas were statistically more likely to mate with an alpha than a beta. That also meant the kid’s mate probably wouldn’t take kindly to being made to chase him if he evaded too much. Alpha pride being what it was.

Derek didn’t know what to say to that, so he stayed silent.

John turned his head slowly and fixed him with a steady look. “So tell me about how your last semester went. You graduate with honors like you thought you would?”

It wasn’t his favorite topic of conversation, but Derek was able to talk about himself if pushed, so he settled back into the leather chair and took a deep breath, by then used to John’s gentle insistence that Derek answer his questions. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but he was secretly glad of the non-judgemental attention.

---------------------------------

While it was true that the stealth rune, still weirdly hot on his chest, granted him the ability to move silently, it did not help Stiles in the whole grace department. No, he was pretty much as uncoordinated as he’d ever been, but it was kind of cool that his epic spills didn't produce the same ruckus as normal. It helped that his bruises healed fairly quickly as well, or he probably would looked like a total mess. As is was, Stiles just looked like half a mess. Not that there was anyone around to see him being said mess, but still, he was grateful for at least the illusion of badassery his stealthiness afforded. The only thing that would have made it cooler was if he could have shared his epicness with his bestie, but he hadn’t gotten anymore than a brief glimpse of Scott since he’d been runed.

After they’d been cleansed and enchanted, Stiles and the rest of the omegas had been told to stand silently in line, not that he’d personally been able to stand any way but silently, then the omegas had been split up into random sets of four and driven to the various entry points around the southern side of the massive preserve.

Stiles had had the extreme displeasure of being loaded into an SUV with Matt, along with three of their classmates, Ellen, Matthew, and Jared, none of whom had ever particularly liked Stiles for one reason or another. Well, probably because of his tendency toward hyperactivity and goofing off when class got too boring, which was more often than not, but whatever, he thought they were lame for having paid such close attention to whatever crap the teachers had been cramming down their throats, things which Stiles had learned on his own years before. It wasn’t like being an omega was all that difficult, most of it was innate and the rest was pretty easily learned through a few hours of online research or reruns of home improvement shows.

The worst part of the ride, besides Jared’s whining that he was going to throw up despite being allowed to sit in the front seat even after Stiles had called shotgun, had been that Matt had talked nearly non-stop, which would have been fine, but he’d been talking about Allison, which wasn’t. Stiles was painfully familiar with that particular topic, since it was one of Scott’s favorites, and although he had nothing against the alpha since she’d always been pretty nice to him, it was extremely creepy and weird to hear about her from someone who was not his best friend ever. Matt had apparently fallen pretty hard for her, which was all kinds of awkward because Stiles was fairly positive Allison had her sights set on Scott. Not that he told Matt about that, but yeah, Stiles was pretty sure that wasn’t going to end well for the creeper.

Lost in thought as he was, Stiles hadn't really been paying attention to where he was, just that the sun wasn't overhead any longer, that his arm had stopped aching from where he'd gotten his fertility shot just before being loaded into the SUV, and that he'd probably been running for hours. The last point made him slow his frantic pace a bit and he glanced around for probably the first time since he'd been released. He was surrounded by trees, but they weren't as thick around the trunk as some of the older growth and when he looked around he saw that they were planted in eerily straight rows, so it was probably part of the preserve that had once been cleared for logging and then replanted. He brought up a mental map of the area, memorized from some of the actual maps his dad had “accidentally” left out one night, and frowned. Instead of going straight into the preserve he'd stayed almost along the border, which wasn't where he wanted to be if he didn't want to be found out nearly immediately by the first wave of alphas, so he checked the position of the sun and took off at a jog toward the interior.

His dad had tried to sit him down a handful of times during the previous week when Stiles had finally been able to just stick around the house instead of attending mandatory wilderness-preparation classes. They’d shared a few awkward words, but they’d just ended up sitting together in silence, Stiles absorbing the scent of his pack, however small, trying to sear the sensation of home and family into his heart, not knowing when, or if, he’d ever get the opportunity again. He’d spent what time he could with his dad and Scott. It hadn't been much, with either of them, really, what with the sheriff's own extensive pre-run duties and his best friend's obsession with Allison. So Stiles had mostly just researched and planned and poured over whatever maps he could sneak a look at when his dad had been away. Not that it had required much sneaking, but still.

Stiles knew the most important rules of wilderness survival; find water, find shelter, find food. That was it. Fire wasn't really an option for the unmated omegas because the flames and smoke acted kind of like homing beacons for nearby alphas, but there was plenty of non-poisonous fare that didn’t require cooking if one knew what to look for. Stiles was well-versed in all of that, so he knew it wouldn't be a problem. His biggest concern was keeping out of the way of the marauding bands of alphas, as Lydia had put it. He had considered trying to team up with one or more of his classmates like the alphas did, but having multiple omegas in close proximity tended to amplify their scent, especially if they were outside, which didn’t make sense, but that’s how it was.

So as much as Stiles loved Scott, he avoided the western plain for that reason and because there were some things he did not need to see, and witnessing Allison bend his best friend over and claim him was certainly one of those things. The woods provided more hiding places and potential food sources, anyway, so Stiles concentrated on gathering and navigating his way deeper into the preserve. If he happened to stumble upon a delicate purple or white flower along the way, well, that was even better.

Overall, Stiles had been pretty good at the whole surviving-in-the-woods training they’d gone through earlier that summer. Well, he’d been good at it in theory. In practice, though? He’d maybe been a bit crap at some of it. Okay, most of it. Stiles was pretty confident in his ability to apply the knowledge he’d learned through his extensive reading, though. He’d basically borrowed the library’s entire collection of survival books and had made Scott quiz him on things, so they’d both hopefully acquire the knowledge that his friend hadn’t seemed to think was important enough to seek on his own, assured that Allison would take care of him, which was bullshit. Stiles knew how alphas worked. At least how he thought they worked outside of his own awesome unique snowflake of a household. His parents hadn’t ever treated him like a slave or anything, not like how some omegas lived, but he’d taken over most of the cleaning and housework after his mom had died, more because his dad had worked so much then because it had been expected of him.

But still, he’d watched enough tv to know what alphas expected of their mates; to cook, to clean, to keep the household in order, and to put out. Which was why Stiles had insisted on teaching Scott, and by extension himself, all about woodland survival. Because he couldn’t expect whoever he was saddled with to know how to forage for berries or be able to identify the non-poisonous types of mushrooms that grew in those parts, and Scott couldn’t either.

Stiles leapt over a low log and nearly fell into a patch of pretty pale flower.

He grinned.

Chapter Text

Stiles was a planner. He always had been and it had usually. Well. It had sometimes served to benefit him. Like that time with the bandaids and the iodine. Scott had called him an idiot for stuffing his homemade first-aid kit into his already too-heavy pack right before their mandatory wilderness survival camp, but they'd come in handy when Scott had scratched his hip against an exposed nail on the side of one of the cabins and Stiles had used the supplies to patch him up. Even though as an omega he’d been half-healed by the time Stiles had wrestled the bandaid out of the slippery paper packaging and slapped it over the yellowed smear on his friend’s skin, but whatever, it had still been useful.

Take that, Scott.

But then again one of their counselors, Mr. Finstock, who also happened to be Coach Finstock, had taken one look at Stiles' slightly wonky and actually kind of unnecessary first aid attempt and had launched into a disturbingly detailed and personal account of the unseasonably cold conditions of his first run and something about frostbite Stiles had thankfully blocked from his memory.

So, yeah, Stiles was pretty good at the whole research thing, but he was only sometimes good at the whole planning thing.

The wolfsbane plot Stiles had come up with?

Turned out, wasn’t such an awesome idea, after all.

It took him all of ten minutes of running with the potent-smelling flowers clutched in one hand for said hand to go numb, and then he’d started stumbling into things. Like, more than usual. It was weird.

A few minutes after that he found himself face up on the forest floor groaning silently, because he couldn’t make any damn noise, at the totally weird sensation of having the what felt like live wires dancing up and down his left arm.

An embarrassingly long amount of time passed before he realized he should probably remove said poisonous plants from his freaking arm. Which was an awesome thought, but he was already well on his way to being incapacitated by then and couldn’t seem to unbend his fingers.

I’m going to end up on one of those plaques like the omegas who died during runs from the olden days, he thought fuzzily, eyes chasing motes of dust that fell through the low shafts of golden sunlight filtering through the trees. Here lies Stiles Stilinski, idiot child of two sheriffs, dumb lover of flowers.

At least, that’s what he’d expected for his memorial to read, but then there was a really loud crashing noise that Stiles couldn’t place because he was actually kind of tripping balls, the dust motes overhead having transformed into identical dudes that he vaguely recognized as maybe having gone to high school with him, but they clearly weren’t omegas, not with shoulders like that, and there was also the thin line of silver chain around their throats that kind of gave away their alpha-hood, too. Though it wasn’t like it really mattered, since they were also probably fictional because they’d just been dust motes a few seconds before.

“Kid doesn’t look right,” Thing One said, voice distorted and less growly than Stiles had expected. They both kind of looked like puppies, actually. Talking dust-mote puppies.

Dus-mo-pups.

“Doesn’t smell right,” Thing Two replied.

Which. Rude. Stiles smelled excellent.

Thing One crouched down beside him and took a sniff of the arm he couldn’t feel anymore, which was kind of probably a bad sign he knew even without having his wits entirely about him. Stiles thought he might have dropped them somewhere around the paper forest, scattered amongst the translucent leaves there, or maybe in Deaton’s shiny bathtub. He got distracted thinking about a miniature version of himself sitting underwater in the tub, building sand castles with some crabs, his wits floating around them in little golden bubbles that popped and showered dust-mote sprinkles around them like confetti.

He might have giggled. Soundlessly, of course, because he was under water and everyone knew that’s how water worked. It wasn’t like he was a submarine pinging his location. Or a dolphin. No, he was a crab.

The two figments of his imagination judged him with their faces. Puppy faces weren't very good at looking judgemental. They just came across as mildly put-out.

Stiles giggled again.

"He's got something in his hand," Thing Two said. Stiles would have opened his mouth to retort, but was afraid of letting all of his oxygen out. “Hey, kid, can you hear me? We need you to open your hand.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. Crabs didn’t just open their claws on a whim.

Thing One had disappeared at some point and came back with a stick. “Here, use this,” he told his clone, then looked down at Stiles. “No wonder we can’t hear him,” he said, pointing to Stiles’ carapace. “Stealth. But I don’t see his chest rising. Do you think it’s the poison?”

There was something prodding at his claw, which was weird to feel because it was supposed to be all hard and impenetrable and not squishy and vaguely pained. Stiles felt his head flop to one side so he could get a better look, which was also strange because crabs didn’t have neck, either.

Or hands.

Fuck.

His chest didn’t feel right, all achy and empty and Stiles opened his mouth to complain when he tasted the sweetness of fresh air on his tongue and gasped in a silent breath.

“Guess that answers that,” one of the things said while the other used a stick to pry his hand open, the bruised flowers scattering onto the ground between his twitching fingers.

“Hey kid,” the twin hovering over him said, leaning forward but not touching.

Touching was for mates.

“Hey,” he repeated, drawing Stiles’ eyes back to him. “Don’t touch those flowers, they’re poisonous. When you can you should wash the oil off your skin and drink a lot of water. Oh, and stay away from the northern border. You good?”

Stiles glanced back at the other alpha and saw that he was using a leaf to gently pick up all the fallen flowers, moving them away from Stiles’ skin. His head twitched in a nod, not entirely confident that he could immediately jump up and take off running again, but pretty sure that was a thing that could potentially happen in the future.

“Right,” the alpha said. “Come on, Ethan, he’s fine.”

“Take care of yourself,” the other alpha, Ethan apparently, told Stiles and he felt the fingers of his non-funky hand twitch in a wave as the pair took off into the woods.

So the wolfsbane plot was a bust.

Probably.

Stiles stayed there, sprawled out on the forest floor, bugs crawling up and down his body like he was some kind of living mountain, until it began to get dark. It took that long for the poison to work it’s way out, black liquid leaking out his eyes, ears and nose, sliding down his cheeks to drip soundlessly against the deadfall beneath him. Altogether, not an incredibly pleasant experience.

When he was finally able to, he sat up slowly, using his unpoisoned hand to wipe at the slightly tacky goo, which didn’t really help because it wasn’t like he had anywhere to then wipe his hand, except for his own skin or the detris on the ground around him. Which brought him back to his survival training and the three things he’d neglected to attend to before his whole flower distraction.

Water first.

It took some effort, but Stiles finally managed to haul himself to his feet, his bare legs feeling oddly unsteady as he stumbled his way through the underbrush. He couldn’t actually believe that he’d screwed up so epically the first day of the run, but then again he’d always been a bit of an excessive achiever. Not an overachiever, an excessive one. If there was a limit he was supposed to strive for, some goal people wanted him to attain, he often blew right by it and beyond, turning his victory into some weird kind of accomplishment that often made others uncomfortable because that wasn’t exactly what they’d wanted, but upon seeing what he’d done they felt bad about correcting him and reeling him back toward reality.

Like in third grade when he was supposed to learn a specific list of two and three syllable words and had instead memorized how to write the Miranda Rights. Needless to say he hadn’t passed that particular spelling test, but whatever, that was who Stiles was at a pretty fundamental level. An exceeder of things.

So he lurched his way through the woods, quickly calibrating his location after his LSD-ish hallucinatory experience. He was happy to note the little random romp he’d taken hadn’t sent him in too far off his planned route. It was even possible that he’d have time to make it to his chosen creek and then there before the older alphas were released at midnight, which was his best bet at remaining unscathed for as long as possible. If they caught him in the open he was completely screwed. Stiles wiped the black gunk onto his chest like war paint and set off to clean himself and then for the perfect spot to hole up.

------------------

Unlike most alphas he'd heard discuss it, Derek actually enjoyed the pre-run quarantine and ritual. There was something to be said for being laid bare, both literally and figuratively, all of the trappings of society stripped away leaving behind only the wolf and his too-delicate human flesh. He'd tried to talk to Peter about it, once, sometime after Derek's disastrous first run, but his uncle, at the time still recovering from the mauling, had simply stared at him until he'd slinked away. Derek hadn't brought it up again, but it didn't change the way he felt about it.

When the courthouse bell tolled from across town, signaling the setting of the sun, the alphas began queuing up along the back hallway of the station, some of them already stripping as they shoved their way into an apparently more desirable place in line. Derek calmly took a spot at the back, letting some of the more aggressive alphas elbow their way ahead of him. He'd long learned that he had nothing to prove, at least not to them. It was pointless to posture when in the company of those whom he had no desire to mate with or otherwise impress. He'd made the mistake of coupling with an alpha once, and he wasn't going to do it again.

That didn't mean he let his guard down while amongst them, though. Derek was pretty much perpetually, maybe not concerned about, but certainly aware of his personal safety. It wasn't as if there was a real possibility of him being attacked unprovoked, or anything, but he always knew where the nearest exit was, rarely had his back to it if it could be helped, and tended not to go to crowded events when he had a choice in the matter. Derek was just. He was just cautious, was all.

Laura called him paranoid and liked to stand in the doorway of whatever room he was in, just to see if she could piss him off, but she'd never inspired the same fight or flight instinct that alphas outside of his pack did, so he'd been able to just roll his eyes at her and didn't even bother to hide his smirk when their mother bopped her upside the head for her assholishness. Talia had called Derek's attentiveness hypervigilance, but he'd never looked it up to see if that was really the case or if she was just teasing him, too.

Regardless, being at the back of the line was fine with him. It gave Derek a chance to more easily catalogue his competition. For most it was their second or third run, but a few like Derek were going for their fourth or higher. Not many were older than him, Peter and his apparent friends aside. That was strange, too, his uncle's relationship with Deucalion and Ennis. After that first awkward meeting in the kitchen they'd seemed to have stuck together, interactions no longer appearing strained, though there was still some posturing going on, which wasn't at all unusual for Peter at any given moment, so Derek chalked it up to simply being a marker of his personality and nothing out of the norm.

They were closer to the front of the line so Derek was able to see them strip off their shirts and receive the fertility injections that a nurse delivered into the meat of their deltoids. When it was his turn he watched as she swabbed the area with an alcohol and have him his shot as well. Derek didn't flinch at the sting, but he did wrinkle his nose at the sharp smell of chemicals.

"Good luck," the beta told him and it took Derek a second to remember that she was one of the nurses who had attended to him and Peter during their recovery.

"Uh, thanks," he mumbled, feeling awkward and embarrassed even though he knew that was stupid. She'd just wished him luck because she was being polite, like anyone else. Well, he assumed others would have wished him luck if he had actually left his loft more than once a week to grab groceries at three in the morning, or when Laura dragged him out for some stilted family activity that he'd never admit to having had enjoyed. At least not to her.

He stripped off his pants and underwear when he got to the door, dumping them in the pile along with everyone else's. He kicked his boots into a different pile on the other side of the doorway and filed out into the warm evening air. The rest of the alphas were already lined up with their backs to the rough brick wall, some still insisting on posturing, but surprisingly Peter wasn't one of them. He just stood with his arms crossed loosely over his stomach, which had healed with only the barest hint of a scar, but he tended to cover it when he could. It wasn't as if Derek could blame him, though, he often kept his arms crossed when he felt uncomfortable or vulnerable, which was pretty much always when he left the loft.

Derek deliberately unfolded his arms and stood beside his fellow alphas.

"I'm not going to bore you with the history of the run since you've already heard that," the sheriff said, looking them each in the eye as he walked down the line. Derek didn't think it was his imagination that the other alpha lingered on him, but no one else seemed to notice, or if they did no one mentioned it. "I will, however, remind you that there are some rules to this," he was looking at Deucalion when he said that, though, which Derek found a bit odd. "The omegas are all eighteen or nineteen years of age. They are probably running alone and they are undoubtedly a precious commodity. The point of the solstice festival is to ensure our collective survival, especially since we're still recovering from the mass omega cullings and subsequent famines and plagues from the great war.

"The run is designed so all omegas are mated to receptive mates before their first heats so as to avoid any complications which would come from that, as well as to ensure that there will be a new generation born to committed, compatible couples. That said, I don't want to see any omegas torn up because you can't control yourselves, or because you get pissed off that they're not your mate. If I see any alpha scars on their hides when we're done with the run I'll make sure the responsible parties are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Do I make myself clear?"

There was a beat of stunned silence before the alphas agreed, some more hesitantly than others. the female beside Derek snarled her acquiescence and he had to suppress a wince when he heard the lie in her voice. At the very least it was refreshing to hear that something was being done to curb the unnecessary violence against the omegas, but Derek wasn't entirely certain if it would be enough. He'd stumbled across a few splatters of omega blood during his previous runs, but hadn't ever seen the fresh marks in person and wasn't eager to, either. Seeing the scars across the back of his father's left shoulder was enough for Derek to know he wouldn't ever participate in that aspect of the run.

Just because he had the capacity to become an animal didn't mean he was one.

After the sheriff’s speech they all closed their eyes and were hosed down, head to foot, front and back, by some firefighters who had no doubt volunteered for the job. Derek had a sneaking suspicion they enjoyed watching the generally commanding unmated alphas reduced to sodden slicks of shivering skin. When that was done and Derek had blinked the frigid water from his eyes, he realized he was the first to receive the ceremonial chain. One of the deputies approached him and Derek tilted his chin just enough to let the mated beta slip the silver around his neck, clamping it secure with a pair of plyers to ensure it wouldn’t accidentally fall off during the run. If he returned to one of the outlying posts with it still intact at the end of the month then the officials would know he’d failed to mate.

Again.

Well, the necklace would tell them that along with the utter lack of omega or beta scent on his skin. Just like the last three times he’d run. Or, actually the last two times since the first time he’d been carried out on a stretcher with his guts exposed to the breeze, chain intact. He was not eager to relive that experience anymore than he was looking forward to failing for the fourth time.

It wasn't until Derek was boarding the prisoner transport bus he'd been assigned to that he remembered the sheriff's own omega son was already out there in the woods somewhere, probably running to find the most desirable place to make camp. He hoped for everyone's sake that the boy wasn't accosted by some asshole before he found his mate. If that happened Derek had no doubt that the offending alpha's body would never be found. He might even offer to help the sheriff with the task.

As a friend.

Chapter Text

Stiles had been there for a little over two weeks and the den was starting to smell like him and only him; the hunks of moss and dried leaves he’d dragged inside to sleep on were thick with his scent to the point that it made his inner wolf, which wasn’t the correct terminology but whatever, pant with pleasure. Well, it was ripe with his scent, the remnants of his meager food supply, and just a hint of wolfsbane flowers he’d picked up along the way with some waxy leaves. That was after he’d managed to regain fine motor control. He’d ended up wrapping the delicate buds in more leaves and then shoving them in a tight corner in the back of his cave where he’d have access to them if things took a turn, which was practically guaranteed knowing Stiles’ luck. Regardless, the denseness of his own scent made him want to just roll around snuffling the things he’d touched until he couldn’t even smell the rocks, anymore.

Which was kind of weird, but he actually kind of liked it, though he knew that was just because of his type’s tendency to want to nest, to find a secure place where he could hunker down to bear his cubs, and that was a thought for another time because he was decidedly un-pregnant.

For the time being.

All in all, it was strange the kinds of things he’d learned to like despite his reluctance to become a pathetic omega stereotype. He actually didn’t mind cleaning, for example, or cooking for his dad after he got home from a long day of work. He even liked doing the grocery shopping when it was his turn, but Stiles was more inclined to think of those as kind gestures of a good, well, a good enough, son than the actions of a whipped omega.

Which. Ew. That train of thought was weird in a decidedly bad-wrong kind of a way. He and his dad were not that kind of an alpha and omega pair, not like, say, Morrell and Deaton, who Stiles had on good authority were actually siblings despite their different last names.

Mated.

Siblings.

Sure the history books were full of that kind of pairing, especially during times of war, but Stiles did not see his father in that way and the very notion made him feel sick to his stomach, but he was on relatively short rations so he didn’t give in to the urge to vomit. No, he had just enough food stockpiled for the morning’s meal, after which he would have to forage for more mushrooms or berries or whatever else he could find. Stiles had tried not to strip the surrounding area bare of provisions, but the stomach wanted what the stomach wanted and he’d kind of failed to control himself.

Which wasn’t really a new sensation, but it was still mildly disappointing that he had to strike out further and further from his haven each day in order to gather enough food to feed himself. He was able to quite easily sneak up on some animals, though, mostly the ones that relied more on their hearing than sight, but eating creatures raw while in his human form was actually pretty gross. He hadn’t repeated that particular experiment after the first extremely unfortunate squirrel he’d managed to bludgeon and sort of skin.

He might have no other choice, though, if he wanted to remain undiscovered and unstarved.

As if on cue, a rabbit scampered just outside the entrance of his cave and Stiles rolled his eyes.

Because whoever was in charge of cosmic timing was an asshole.

Not wanting to tempt fate too much, he ate a handful of nuts and berries, half of his breakfast, and exited his cave with a cautiousness born of being prey. Sure he was a werewolf like everyone else, well, like most others at least, but that didn’t mean he was at the top of the food chain, so to speak. Thanks to the fertility shot, his body was producing a double dose of pheromones that his stealth rune did nothing at all to hide, so he basically smelled like a freaking solstice feast to any and all unmated alphas and betas out there.

Which was why he immediately slipped into the creek to temporarily clean off the outward traces of his scent. It wouldn’t keep the smell of his pheromones at bay for long, what with his body having a week to overproduce the apparently intoxicating ripe omega scent, but hopefully he’d be able to keep anyone from discovering the little slice of awesome he had claimed as his own.

Stiles had kind of obsessively studied any and all topographical maps of the preserve before the run in an attempt to find the perfect spot in which to hunker down. He’d known what he’d needed; water, which he had in abundance with the creek shallow enough to swim across without too much trouble, shelter in the form of his dry and spacious cave, and food. Well, the food was just a bit trickier to pinpoint on a map, but he managed pretty nicely on his own, not even having to raid other omega’s caches.

Not yet.

And none had found his, either, not that he had much in the way of food storage. He’d been just a bit lazy about that part of it, but with more of the unmated out there, betas as well as alphas, Stiles knew he had to be even more cautious than he had been, which meant taking a dip in the creek every time he left his little cave shelter thing to try to keep anyone from following his scent back to his dwelling.

Stiles stepped out on the other bank and shook the water droplets off of this bare arms and legs, running a hand across his short hair and watching as the spray misted a nearby fern. It was just a short while after sunrise, the air around him golden with new dawn light. He took off at a slow jog, heading north into a part of the dense woods that he hadn’t yet scavenged. He’d found his den in nearly the heart of the old growth, so far into the preserve that it would probably take a day to hike back out to the nearest stations along the border, two days if he went to one of the main outposts in the south. Stiles smiled as he jogged, feeling a big smug about his awesome planning skills, eyes darting around in search of signs of food.

He'd figured that not many alphas would venture into the northern interior of the preserve, into the thick stands of old trees that required quite a bit of effort to navigate. The small caves in the area were common knowledge, but with those came the threat of sinkholes, though Stiles had yet to see firsthand evidence of any. The alphas would undoubtedly go for easier pastures, the even lines of the regrown trees near where Stiles had discovered the wolfsbane, or the western plain where Scott had hopefully found Allison. Pretty much anywhere was a more desirable locale in which to hunt than the dense forest where he was ensconced.

So when he stumbled across a perfect human footprint in the soft soil he immediately jolted to a halt.

Stiles had literally not seen, heard, or smelled a single other omega nearby, so he came to the other conclusion and his lip curled back in a silent snarl as he dropped into a more defensible crouch. He wasn’t going to just submit to the first alpha or beta that tried to claim him, he’d promised himself that when he’d first learned the reality of the run and the true dangers omegas faced outside of the potential for starvation and dehydration. He’d seen the memorial plaques and read the inscriptions and didn’t want to see his name added under Paige Waters: daughter, sister, cellist - cut down in the prime of her life.

It took him a few silent growled breaths to gather his wits enough to lower himself down further, every muscle straining with caution, so he could smell the foreign footprint. It was still fresh enough to catch the scent of-

Matt?

Stiles scowled and looked off in the direction it was headed, toward a thick copse of trees and he debated for a few seconds before shrugging and heading that way cautiously. He hadn’t gotten a good glimpse of Matt’s rune, but the asshole had talked enough on the ride to the preserve that Stiles knew it wasn’t for stealth, or scent, obviously. There were scores of others he could have chosen, but Stiles really didn’t care all that much if it meant he’d be able to sneak past the obnoxious omega to snatch some of his food supply. He wasn’t concerned about an irate mate interrupting him, either, not having smelled anyone else’s scent in the fresh bare footprint.

So when he came to the edge of the treeline beside a natural stone outcropping he was pretty stunned to see Matt kneeling in front of a woman he didn’t recognize, but who was undoubtedly an alpha, even in the absence of a silver chain around her throat. What was even stranger was the fact that she was wearing clothes. Stiles knew the rules, that all participants had to be nude during the run, but she didn’t seem to have gotten that memo because she was wearing what amounted to tactical gear in various shades of green and brown. Camouflage.

The only logical conclusion, that the woman wasn’t part of the run and was clearly out to cause trouble, came on the tails of the twin’s belatedly remembered warning, stay away from the northern border.

Stiles was often impulsive and did stupid things on a whim, but seeing the woman’s wicked smirk as she watched Matt like he was a frightened rabbit, he certainly sounded like one with his heartbeat hammering double, triple-time, Stiles knew he couldn’t hope to compete. He knew it and yet his feet stayed where they were and his own breathing began to match Matt’s quick inhalations as he yammered promises and pleas, apparently begging for his life.

Fuck.

Matt was definitely an asshole, but Stiles wasn’t okay with him being a dead asshole.

His pleas had reached a fever pitch with him warbling on about doing his part and marking the trail, or something like that, but the alpha just looked bored and cut him off with a sharp gesture.

“I’m here now and you’re clearly not my mate,” she said and if Stiles had been in his wolf form his ears would have perked up. “I certainly can’t have you going around telling everyone about you helping me, now can I?” There was a dangerous edge to her voice that reminded Stiles of glass shards and the warning scent of poison.

Matt stammered out that he’d helped her cross the border, which was a frightening prospect since the edge of the preserve was supposed to be heavily guarded, with any trespassers shot on sight. There had been attempts in the past, particularly after the wars, with unmated alphas and betas from other regions attempting to join in the famous Beacon Hills run, but to Stiles’ knowledge no one had gotten past the fortifications. At least not until Matt had let the strange female into their territory.

Stiles was not impressed with his classmate’s actions.

"Now you said there's no one else around here, is that true?" she asked, tossing her head so the gentle curls of her light brown hair bobbed in the early morning light.

Matt started to shake his head, but then Stiles saw his nostrils flare and his stomach instantly sank. He could smell it, too, the flowery stench of two omegas in the same space, his and Matt’s pheromones colliding into a heady perfume.

So he did the only thing he could think of given the amount of panic he was feeling at seeing the alpha’s wild brown eyes flit over to where he was crouched. Stiles picked up a rock, the sediment covering it gritty against his palm, and lobbed it at her head.

It connected without a sound and the alpha immediately crumpled to the ground, blood smeared across her forehead and Stiles’ mind tumbling through a slideshow of facts about concussions and the potentially deadly consequences of black-out head injuries, but that didn’t really bother him all that much because his fight or flight instincts were telling him that was absolutely the right choice to make when faced by an alpha illegally hunting for a mate during the run. Stiles and his classmates were at their most vulnerable even without strangers invading their territory.

He let out a measured breath and stood fully so his fellow omega could see who had come to his rescue. Stiles silently congratulated himself because sometimes he wasn’t completely terrible at thinking on his feet. Except that Matt didn’t seem to think so because when he saw Stiles he immediately started screaming.

Not really needing anymore of an invitation to get the hell out of there, Stiles turned on his heel and bolted back the way he’d come, careening through the grasping underbrush until he had the common sense to take one of the game trails, the hard-packed earth easing his frantic flight, Matt at his heels still yelling something unintelligible, but sounding very much like doom and gloom.

Stiles was beginning to regret not picking up a second rock.

---------------------------

The run was already better than his previous attempts. The weather was fantastic, hot during the day and cool enough at night that he didn’t even mind curling up with his betas, not that he’d ever admit it to them. Erica seemed to know, though, if her smirk was anything to go by. Though really, she seemed to almost constantly smirk, so Derek wasn’t sure how to interpret that particular expression most of the time. Regardless, he made a mental note to push her into the next body of water they found, just on principle. He was their alpha, after all.

Ahead of him Boyd slowed to a stop, head tilted back to better catch the scent he’d apparently noticed on the light breeze.

“Omega,” he said, voice deep and even. Unlike Erica, he didn’t give much away in his posture or expression. He was more of the silent type, though his sense of humor was hilarious when he decided to show it, mostly during their cuddle piles at the end of the long days they spent searching the preserve for their mates.

“Yours?” Isaac asked, glancing around them like he’d see the omega straight off. He was their newest packmate and hadn’t ever spent enough time outside to know even the basics of hunting or tracking. Derek had thought his mother had been about to rip out Mr. Lahey’s throat when they’d first figured out how isolated he’d kept his son, sometimes even locked away in an unplugged freezer in the basement of their mausoleum-like house.

Between that and the numerous hospital stays Isaac had to suffer through during his short life, Mr. Lahey had been arrested in short order. Derek had immediately offered Isaac a place in his small pack in order to keep him out of the system, not really expecting for him to accept when Talia had made the same offer, but he’d been blown away when Isaac had expressed an interest in having Derek as his alpha. He felt for Isaac and tried to treat him more like a younger brother than a beta. It had paid off, finally, since Isaac no longer flinched whenever he happened to raise his voice. That was certainly a start, but he still had a lot to learn. Like the basics of hunting.

Boyd shook his head. “Not mine, but he smells panicked.”

Derek’s hackles would have risen if he’d been in his wolf form, but he forced himself to walk slowly toward his largest beta so he could get a whiff, too. Boyd was right, of course, the omega was male and scared, the scent thin enough to either indicate it had been a while since he’d passed that way, or that he’d fled at speed. Derek chose to believe the latter was the case.

“Track him,” he heard himself say even though he wasn’t sure why they were bothering. There wasn’t any blood in the scent, only fear, which could have come from any number of sources, from spotting a mountain lion to feeling a spider unexpectedly land on his skin, but Derek knew he was lying to himself, which was pretty pathetic. What he really wanted was to make sure the omega wasn’t harmed, that an alpha wasn’t stalking him and hurting him for sport, though he smelled neither blood nor the pungent stink of another alpha in the area, just the sweetgrass scent of the omega, undercut with the rotting stench of his fear.

Erica eagerly took off, skipping across the uneven ground with a wide smile, Isaac chasing eagerly after her. Neither behaved as if the scent affected them, so Derek was disinclined to think that the omega was either of theirs. Something in his chest tightened at the thought and he let out a breath, aware that Boyd was watching him.

“Yours?” he asked, raising a black brow. It made his dark features even more enigmatic and Derek rolled his eyes.

“Shut up and join the others,” he said, ignoring Boyd’s answering eye roll as he took off at an easy lope leading further into the dense thickness of the forest. If the omega was his then fine, he’d claim the frightened youth and show him that he didn’t need to fear all alphas, or anyone after they’d mated. If the omega wasn’t his, well, then he’d simply make sure the guy hadn’t stumbled into a hornet’s nest or something banal like that.

Derek’s nose twitched as he followed his betas at a more dignified pace, drawn along the invisible path the omega had left like he was caught in some inescapable current.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to escape.

Chapter Text

Well, he’d certainly made better decisions in his life. Being chased up a tree by wildly barking betas was pretty damn humiliating, but instead of leaving him to it, they circled around and gawked.

“Look at him,” a laughing voice called from below. Stiles was pretty sure it was a beta named Erica speaking. He vaguely recognized her from some of the shared classes they’d had growing up, before the type segregation had really kicked in.

If memory served him correctly, she’d joined the Hale pack sometime around their sophomore year of high school, which was great for her since it had pretty clearly given her a much-needed confidence boost, but it boded ill for Stiles. Her presence meant whoever she was talking to was a part of the same pack, which had a pretty extensive set of strays they’d absorbed into their already bloated numbers, and maybe even to one of the Hales. If Stiles had been able to, he would have cursed his shitty luck. The Hales had one of the biggest, and therefore most powerful packs in Beacon Hills, and if one of them set their sights on him he was utterly doomed to be either claimed or mauled in short order.

The Hales were not to be trifled with, much like the Argents, only with more beta lackeys and fewer insane family members.

“Did he seriously tree himself?” another voice asked. It sounded familiar, but Stiles couldn’t place it. Youthful, male, curious. That was about it.

Erica laughed sharply. It was really obnoxious. “Looks like it. Hey, Derek, what do you say we help the omega get down from there?”

There was a growl in response, an alpha’s growl, and then the tree shuddered beneath him.

And that definitely confirmed that the alpha was a Hale. Not just any Hale, either. It was Derek. Fucking. Hale. His dad's little pet project since the guy had nearly gotten himself killed during his first run. The same Derek the sheriff never shut up about. Ever. Stiles was pretty sure his dad was already making plans to deputize him once he got over himself and claimed a mate.

So yeah, Stiles was pretty much fucked. For multiple reasons.

One of which was the horrible reality that there was an alpha who had him in his sights and of course Stiles had chosen to scale a tree too far from any others to enable him to jump to relative safety, so yeah, he had treed himself because he was a total dumbass and Alpha Derek Hale was going to claim him and shit, Stiles didn’t want to be claimed. But it wasn’t like he could just say that or anything else, really, because he was effectively muted by the stealth rune and in order to dissipate it he’d have to shift to his wolf form and then back to being human, which wasn’t exactly something he could do quickly since it took him hours to recharge after a shift. Also, he was in a tree and the last time he'd checked wolves couldn’t really climb trees all that well.

He was such an idiot.

The tree shook again and if he’d been able to he would have given a nervous whine because it wasn’t like he had claws to help him keep a grip. He just had his hands and feet and naked body, which he couldn’t exactly press up against the tree all that well because there were some pretty delicate parts he didn’t really feel like scratching raw against the bark, even if he would heal from it fairly quickly.

Glancing around he nearly gave a fist-pump of excitement because he had thankfully gotten himself stuck in a cone-bearing, conifer his mind supplied, tree, which meant he had some ammo. He kind of felt like a sniper, only with pine cones instead of bullets, and his targets knew exactly where he was and what he was doing. But whatever, the tree was so tapered at the top where he was perched that none of them could reach him even if they somehow managed to climb up after him.

Stiles smirked and rested the tender skin of the backs of his thighs against the sharp bark, ignoring how the sap instantly irritated the fresh scrapes with a sharp sting. He hooked his bare feet around two lower branches, bracing himself as he leaned back to snag half-formed pine cones, juggling them so as not to cut himself too much with their sharp edges. Already the size of his fist and sturdy-solid, he knew they'd serve him well as projectiles. Offering a silent thanks to his dad for insisting he always participate in at least one sport, Stiles took aim at the biggest figure below him and lobbed a cone at him, hitting him square in the back.

The flash of his yellow eyes told Stiles it was another beta, he vaguely noticed even as he chucked a second and managed to strike Erica on the butt. She gave a satisfying squawk of outrage and launched herself at the tree, trying to climb, but it was quickly apparent that the bark was too tacky and rough for her to get a good grip, even with her claws out and she jumped back down beside her packmate with a pissed off growl.

Betas tended not to run together unless they were pack, Stiles knew from the boring hours of dynamics lectures from school. There were two others besides her, the one he has struck was big and dark where she was petite and fair, and the other was a pale skinned male with curly hair some medium color and a long lanky body. The biggest beta’s eyes flashed another yellow warning at Stiles even as he threw the last pine cone, though he missed his target when all three betas dodged it.

None of them were Derek Hale.

It was worrying.

“Come on down, little omega, we won’t hurt you,” Erica called up sweetly to him, but she rubbed her hand across her backside where Stiles had managed to strike her, so he wasn’t holding his breath for royal treatment. He was also not leaving that tree.

Possibly ever.

Which really? Easier said than done.

Especially when the three of them, eyes solid yellow, approached the base of the tree with dark growls and started pushing.

----------------------------------------------------------------

If he’d been in his right mind, Derek might have had the forethought to warn his betas against actually toppling the tree with the omega still in it, but his instincts had taken over and the only thing he’d been thinking was some variation of minemineminemine as he’d watched the lone omega sway high above them, much higher than he or any of his betas could climb, even with the benefit of their claws. The fact that the omega didn’t even have the luxury of claws and had still gotten that far was pretty impressive, or would have been if Derek had been of a mind to notice.

But he hadn’t noticed and he hadn’t thought, so when the tree abruptly cracked near the base after the battering it had taken from his betas and the silent omega dropped the long distance to the ground, Derek pounced before he even smelled the blood. He just had time to make a startled noise of inquiry at seeing the naked omega there beneath him, honey-brown eyes staring up at Derek with a shocked kind of pain, before the boy slipped into his wolf form and then promptly into unconsciousness.

Shit.

“Boyd, light a blue flair, Erica, find us a more secure spot nearby, Isaac, mark out a perimeter so we’re not disturbed,” Derek snapped, backing away from the omega, hands hovering just over the wolf’s pale fur.

The blood was coming from his other side, but Derek didn’t know how bad the injury was or whether or not it was safe to move him. He’d sat through the basic first aid course multiple times, one for every run he’d participated in, and knew that while omegas could heal almost as quickly as alphas, things like spinal cord damage were permanent for them, which made moving the unconscious wolf a dangerous prospect. Derek really didn’t want to be the alpha responsible for paralyzing an omega during a run. His reputation was shitty enough, already.

But without moving him Derek was able to see the rune the omega had chosen, a complicated-looking green one that he vaguely recalled meant something like evasion, which probably explained why he hadn’t been able to hear the omega when they’d chased after him. Something about that had been maddening during the pursuit, knowing that the omega was almost close enough to touch, but being unable to hear his quick footfalls, the sound of his heart or the rapid panting of his warm breath. They’d still been able to smell him despite that, so it hadn’t really mattered in the end.

What did matter was that his- that the, omega was injured.

Derek told himself the only reason he and his pack hung around was to make sure the wolf was treated properly. It went against his and all alpha’s biology to see an omega harmed so grievously, and the fact that he’d been party to it made his gut churn uncomfortably. If Laura had been there she would have smacked him upside the head. Hard.

“Boyd, any sign of Deaton?” Derek snapped. He tried not to, but his skin was crawling with the urge to gather the omega into his arms and take off to some secluded spot nearby where he could tend to his wounds the wolfish way, by shifting and licking away the blood and pain, and that was a strange thought. Derek shook his head, glaring at his beta who just looked at him placidly like always.

“I found the nearest alert station and set off the flair like you said,” he replied and for once Derek was annoyed by his stoicism, but it was just his nerves making him feel ill at ease, so he nodded a curt thanks and looked around for Isaac because otherwise he’d just stare at the limp form of the hurt omega and that wasn’t good for his sanity.

“Do either of you know this kid?” Derek asked as Isaac trotted up to join them, panting a bit from running a circle around them to warn off other wolves in the area who smelled the omega’s blood already chokingly thick in the air.

Boyd shrugged, but Isaac nodded once, looking past Derek at the wolf and Derek had to force himself not to block his view. It wasn’t his omega, afterall. For all Derek knew it could be one of the beta’s, though the thought put a bad taste in his mouth and none of them had shown the signs; an obsessive need to stay close to his delicate form, a desire to touch what looked like impossibly soft fur, or the urge to get close enough to scent mark him.

Isaac lowered his gaze, picking his nails. He wasn’t much for eye contact. “His name’s Stilinski,” he said quietly, “Stiles, I think, but that’s not his real name.”

Derek barely forced back his urge to interrogate his beta for more information, well, besides the fact that the injured wolf was undoubtedly the sheriff’s kid, and that served to twist Derek’s gut even more because he’d gone into the run thinking about helping keep the omega safe, yet there he was, standing over him while he bled out on the forest floor. And Derek had been the one to put him there.

Laura would probably kill him when he got home.

Stiles, began to stir before Derek’s resolution not to touch him broke, the wolf’s pale muzzle twitching in what would have undoubtedly have been a groan or a whine if he hadn’t been under the rune’s sound-dampening power. Derek turned fully toward him and watched as the omega blinked slowly, looking confused and lost and Derek wished he could hear his heartbeat to assess how he was handling waking up, in pain and shifted in the middle of the forest. From the quick rise and fall of his chest it didn’t look like it was going all that well for him.

“Deaton’s on his way,” he heard himself say more gently than he’d known he was capable of speaking. It made him want to clear his throat roughly or growl or something, but he continued in the same careful tone, trying to convey his sincerity, but knowing he probably sounded like an asshole. “You’re bleeding, but I didn’t want to move you in case it aggravated the wound or did further damage. You fell pretty far, then shifted and passed out. You were unconscious for a few minutes.”

Had the omega been able to speak Derek was fairly certain his response would have been something along the lines of no shit. Even incapacitated it was clear Stiles had a bit of an attitude, what the sheriff had called tenacity.

Derek fought the urge to roll his eyes in return. “We’re staying close until he tends to you, so get over it,” he snapped a bit more harshly than he had intended. Something about the omega, maybe the way he’d short-circuited Derek’s brain during the chase, put him on edge. He didn’t like being at the mercy of his instincts. He was a rational person, not just a wolf, and being out of control like that pissed him off. The last time he’d let his instincts take over he’d nearly been killed, so he wasn’t all that keen to let it happen again, even if the omega smelled better than anything or anyone he’d ever come across before. Derek had made a mental promise to protect the sheriff’s kid and he planned to follow through with that.

The wolf trembled, maybe from pain, maybe from fear or even anger, but Derek looked away because his eyes had shifted to their alpha red without him even realizing it and that was just brilliant. He’d been in control of his shifts from the time he was twelve, quite an accomplishment for an alpha, but there he was ten years later and it all came to nothing just because some hapless omega fell out of a tree. Well, Derek and his pack may have done some chasing and antagonizing along the way, but still, he was more than a little disgusted with himself and his sudden lack of self-control.

The reminder of how terribly things could go for him when he gave into his impulses, memory riding the wafting scent of fresh blood, made him want to snarl and snap, but he reigned in in and pointedly cleared his throat. “You in pain, pup?” Derek asked, scowling down at the omega when he was sure his eyes were back to their normal color.

The omega, Stiles, bared his teeth and was probably growling up at him, but no sound came out, so it was a moot point. It was actually kind of eerie not being able to hear the wolf, like Derek was only getting half the information he needed. Eerie and annoying.

“Oh, Stiles is awake,” Erica said, hopping over the tree they’d felled and crowding up against Boyd’s bare back to get a better view. Derek sometimes wondered why the two of them didn’t just mate and get it over with, but one or the other of them was too stubborn, he guessed, or their apparent closeness was less of a sexual thing than he suspected. Regardless, he couldn’t imagine them doing the run just in the hopes of finding greener pastures, so their motives were pretty much unknown to him. Not that it really mattered in the end because they were his pack regardless of who they were mated to and they were there with him for the run.

Stiles glanced between the four of them, obviously as wary as he was in pain, the blood from the wound continuing to spread across the ground underneath him, which meant the wound hadn't healed despite him shifting to his wolf form. Derek didn't need to be a healer to know that was a bad sign.

"Good thing he chose stealth, then,” Erica said with a smirk and Derek turned to look at her until she continued. “I mean, he’s like, the loudest omega I’ve ever met. Stiles couldn’t keep from babbling if he tried.”

Boyd just folded his arms over his uncommonly muscular chest, well, uncommon for a beta, and watched the forest to the south, the direction Deaton would likely be approaching from. It was Isaac who took up the line of discussion.

“He is a talker, and hyperactive,” he added. Stiles was glaring at all of them, but made no move to get up, and it wasn’t like he could refute the characterization they were giving of him, what with him being selectively mute and all. Derek had to fight back the urge to pet the disgruntled look off of his pretty pale face.

The rational part of him warned that it was definitely time to move on while his instincts were warring for control. It made it hard for Derek to keep his expression calm and his heart rate even.

“Like, the most hyperactive,” Erica agreed. She was watching the woods like Boyd, but couldn’t keep from bouncing a bit, clearly ready to take off once more, blood probably still singing from the chase. It was evident that the omega wasn’t the only hyperactive one, though he was lying pretty remarkably still given what Derek knew of him from his father and the betas.

Stiles’ posture, body stretched out with his uninjured side exposed and limbs limp, could have been construed as submissive, but Derek was more inclined to see it as him preserving his energy and probably trying to minimize the damage to the flank that they couldn’t see. Doubt began to nag at him and he wondered if they should make the omega move to determine what was wrong, but Isaac continued talking, apparently growing bolder the longer the omega stayed prone and silent.

“He’s the sheriff’s kid. He’s not very popular and there aren’t many in his pack, so I wouldn’t worry about anyone coming to check on him once he’s back on his feet,” and just like that the omega seemed to snap, eyes flaring a brilliant blue as he lunged forward, sharp white teeth exposed, attempting to bite at the delicate tendons on their ankles, but there was definitely something wrong with his hind leg or his side because he didn’t make it more than a foot before he collapsed again, panting and obviously in even more pain than before, but still glaring fiercely. The burst of movement produced an even thicker smear of blood on the ground around the wolf, soaking into his pale fur.

Derek felt his throat tighten.

“It is probably not altogether wise to provoke an injured omega,” Deaton said with a calmness that belied him probably having raced from the far edge of the preserve where the triage tents and various other officials were located. He must have been air-lifted to have made it so far so quickly. It was either that or magic, though Derek had been too focused on the omega to notice the sound of the chopper blades or anything else, really, so he wasn’t sure. Deaton’s robes were covered in runes, which had likely aided his travel one way or the other and also ensured that none of Derek’s pack had heard or smelled him approach.

Derek wrinkled his nose, he wasn’t overly fond of magic.

“You are able to take pain, are you not, Beta Lahey?" Deaton asked mildly as he approached Stiles from a direction where he could clearly see the healer. It put him next to Derek and he backed away slowly toward his other two betas as Isaac approached with a whiff of chagrin. While he wasn’t that adept at some of the more nature-based arts, taking pain was something Isaac excelled at, though it always made him cry, so he avoided doing it when he could. Deaton didn't seem to be giving him an option, however, and Derek wasn't feeling very sympathetic to his plight. Isaac had been the one to provoke the omega into exacerbating his injury, after all.

But despite the pain he was in the omega didn’t seem to trust Isaac, even if they clearly knew each other from school. His silent growing was back and he was trying to wriggle away from the beta despite his inability to get far due to his condition.

Stop,” Derek said with a hint of command in his voice and both the omega and his beta froze.

And that was interesting to note.

“I don’t think the omega wants Isaac approaching him,” he continued when Deaton gave him an assessing look. He didn’t like it when the healer did that, it made him feel like a specimen in a jar, one with a broken wing or an undocumented illness. Something to be documented and prodded at until he yielded the desired results. “He can deal with the pain on his own if he isn’t going to accept my beta’s help,” he finished with a scowl, forcing the sentence out even as his insides wrenched more tightly.

Laura was definitely going to kill him, if their mother didn’t finish him off first.

Derek figured that the sooner the omega was healed the sooner he could get out of the area and clear his nose of the omega’s delicate scent mixed with the heady tang of blood. When Stiles was sorted out he could leave and continue on his probably foolish quest to find a mate. Preferably a quiet one with a sweet personality that would clean up the loft and leave him alone so his family would stop pestering him to find someone.

You don’t understand, you’ll be so happy, Derek, his older sister’s voice purred.

Someone who wouldn’t try to kill him or any of his other family members. Not that anyone in his pack had ever said that last part out loud, but it was always in the back of his mind.

Derek folded his arms over his chest and watched as Deaton shook his head faintly and drew closer to the omega, who had apparently given up his protests and was lying almost sedately on his injured side. “I’m going to have to see it,” the healer said and Stiles seemed to huff out a breath, but struggled to his feet as best he could, the effort of it clearly taxing and Deaton finally took pity, helping him settle down onto the puddle of bloody mud, wetting the fur that had still been clean.

The wound was messy and much worse than Derek had anticipated. Behind him Erica gave a low whine and reached out to touch his arm, seeking comfort and solidarity. He allowed it because he was feeling a bit unbalanced as well, though he was careful not to show it. During the fall Stiles must have hit a tree branch because it looked like there was a broken off piece of one sticking out from under his ribcage, some of it sunk deep into his abdomen. Had he been a beta Derek wasn’t certain he could have survived such a grievous wound, but even as an omega it could be dangerous. They were right to have called Deaton.

But that didn’t explain why Derek found himself stepping closer, out of his beta’s grasp and toward the panting omega whose blue eyes were shining with pain.

“I’ll hold him down while you work,” Derek said, his eyes flashing red as he looked at the omega who was watching him warily, but seemed too exhausted to muster more than a half-hearted glare. The blood had soaked his pale coat, mixing with the rune until it looked like green lines on his chest were bleeding in addition to his side. “Easy,” he said, kneeling down, putting one hand on the wolf’s neck to hold him steady while Deaton worked. It was common for those inexperienced in such things to be injured when trying to help a wounded wolf, his first aid training had reiterated a dozen times. Derek knew it wouldn’t do to have the healer mauled when he was trying to fix the omega, not if he could prevent that. That was the only reason he touched the omega, he told himself.

Even Cora would have punched him for that lie.

As soon as his hand touched the silky soft fur the omega’s chest vibrated in what he thought would have been a whine if Stiles could have made a noise and Derek concentrated on opening himself up to receive some of the wolf’s pain. The first tendrils were a pale gray as they crawled up his arm, tingling strangely like his hands had fallen asleep, but then they started to pulse with the wolf’s heartbeat, detectable only because they were touching, the lines growing fatter and blacker, the tingling turning into an electrical sizzle of pain that made Derek grit his teeth because the omega wasn’t just hurt, he was in agony.

Deaton worked and spoke as Derek kept taking the pain in silence, The healer explained to Stiles what he was doing in the same mellow tone he always used, even when extracting a part of a tree from a nearly-mortally wounded wolf in the forest during the middle of the mating run. Stiles didn’t respond, though, he just watched Derek out of the corner of his brown eye, chest heaving, heart racing.

Derek’s knees and shins were slick with the omega’s blood, the red and mud painting his skin with a warm wetness that quickly cooled as the bleeding stopped and he promised himself to stay just until the wolf was healed.

Then he’d leave.

Chapter Text

Stiles had no clue what was happening.

Okay, that was a lie, he knew exactly what was happening, he just didn’t understand why.

Why the alpha douche and his merry band of beta assholes had chased Stiles through the forest and up a tree, in the first place. Why they had stuck around harassing it until the weathered thing had snapped in half. Why they’d lingered around him until Deaton had come to patch him up.

Well, so he knew why they’d stuck around, it was basic biology. No alpha could leave an omega alone if they were grievously hurt and Stiles bleeding out on the forest floor with a giant hunk of tree in his gut definitely qualified. It still didn’t explain why the alpha had chosen to kneel down and take his pain, though. That wasn’t normally part of the deal as far as Stiles knew.

After all, Deaton was there, he was taking care of things, and probably would have drugged Stiles or something since the wound had hurt like fire. Until the pain sucking mojo had begun and wow, Stiles hadn’t really been on the receiving end of that too many times in his life.

It was kind of trippy.

As a kid and teenager, his dad had generally made him suck it up and deal when he’d gotten minor injuries, mostly because more often than not it had been Stiles who had brought the pain upon himself in the first place. In one of his brattier moments he’d even gone so far as to ask his mom why neither she nor his dad took his pain when he was hurt, since he was an omega and all and she’d leveled him with a flat look and informed him that just because he was an omega it didn’t mean he was any better than anyone else, though she had ruffled his hair affectionately when she’d said it.

Sheriff Claudia Stilinski had always told it like it was.

Of course he’d gone to school the next day and at recess had immediately told Scott about what his mom had said. His best friend had promptly burst into tears because, unknown to Stiles, his dad had said pretty much the same thing to him, but with more fists and a lot less love. That was the first time he and Scott had shared their mood with each other, Stiles taking some of his friend’s heartache and giving as much compassion as he could muster. Their teacher had found them sometime after the bell had rung, curled up together in one of the tubes of the play structure, dazed with shared emotion. They’d spent the rest of the school day in the nurse’s office, snuggled together on one of the beds there, comforting each other with just their emotions. It had been pretty awesome.

Thinking of mood-sharing, Stiles took a mental inventory and realized he wasn’t too terribly out of it. He considered trying to influence the alpha with either his emotions or his pheromones, though that was probably a no-go despite his proximity to Omega Deaton, who was using a scent masker, anyway. Derek was certainly close enough for the emotional transfer, though, his hand touching the fur on Stiles’ neck, the best place for Derek to hold him down without being in danger of being bitten, but pushing some of his emotions into the alpha meant he’d have to take some from him as well and Stiles wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know how the alpha felt about him or the situation at hand. He seemed concerned, possibly, or maybe annoyed. It was hard to tell because everyone’s moods smelled a bit differently, but the guy’s caterpillar-like eyebrows were threatening to converge in the middle of his forehead so Stiles took a whiff and catalogued his scents as best he could.

Deaton was still messing around with his wound, though he’d finally taken the freaking tree branch out of it. Stiles actually remembered the entirety of the fall, feeling the sharp wood pierce into him and then snap off and if he'd had the ability to speak in his wolf form Stiles would have been begging the magical healer dude to wipe that particular memory from his brain because he could still feel the ghost of the snap as it broke off inside of him, like cracking a bone only so much worse because he was pretty sure the branch had punctured some of his more vital bits, not that they weren’t already healing, but still.

All in all it was a super unpleasant experience.

Stiles glanced down at and immediately clenched his jaw because he caught a glimpse of a needle out of the corner of his eye and he hated getting stitches pretty much more than anything else at all ever. He might be ashamed of himself later, but he whined, thankful that no noise came out and was surprised when the alpha’s fingers flexed deeper into the thick fur on his neck, like he was thinking of petting Stiles to sooth him. Which, yeah, he totally loved being petted as much as the next wolf, but not by a mostly-stranger and certainly not by an unmated alpha during the solstice run. Then again Derek was taking a majority of Stiles’ pain, the thick lines of it blacking his thickly muscled arms, his face paling every lingering moment he continued as sweat began to bead across his forehead. And yeah, even though it was actually the alpha's fault Stiles was in that predicament in the first place, it was pretty nice of him to stick around and take responsibility for his actions. Even if they were douchy actions.

Which was a stupid thought, Stiles almost pitying Derek, but he chalked that up to the very real possibility that he was going into shock from blood loss, or that the sudden absence of pain was messing with his internal brain chemistry.

Either or.

“It’s freaky to see him this quiet,” Erica said from somewhere behind the looming alpha. She’d probably been intending to whisper, but either sucked at that or Stiles’ hearing was just that good as a wolf because he heard her clearly.

Derek rolled his eyes. He had pretty eyes when they weren’t blood red, at least from what Stiles could see. They were some light color that didn’t really translate into anything other than a nice shade of gray in his wolf form, but he sort of remembered them being an intense combination of green and something else from that one moment they’d been face to face in his human form before his body had forced the shift in an attempt to help him heal. Fat lot of good that had done him.

“Did you find a more secure location or not?” Derek asked and Erica confirmed that she had, sounding only mildly disappointed that her alpha had ignored her previous statement.

Stiles’ ears perked up despite himself. It was probably too much to hope that she’d found the den he’d been hunkered down in, which just happened to have some of the wolfsbane flowers he’d collected. It wasn’t much, but Stiles was pretty sure he could still use the flowers to his benefit.

Maybe.

The alpha must have noticed his interest, though, because he was watching Stiles again. “We’re staying with you until you’re well enough to take care of yourself, so don’t get too excited about it,” he said dryly and Stiles seriously would have bitten him if he’d had the ability. Also if Derek wasn’t still sucking away the pain, which was probably the only reason Stiles was still conscious after the amount of blood he’d lost.

Whatever, the alpha was still a douche.

Not like Jackson, though, no one acted more like an alpha asshole than that douchelord. Derek was mildly better. He’d at least done the pain drain thing and hadn’t added his own decorative claw marks to Stiles’ already janked up side, which he could have easily done, probably without consequence. No, but Derek was pretty much responsible for Stiles being impaled in the first place, though, so he kept his archetypal omega swooning to himself.

Yeah, because that was something Stiles would have done.

But regardless of Derek’s helpful actions, he wasn’t going to overlook the alpha’s very obvious faults and just concentrate on the semi-decent things he’d done to sort-of make up for them. That was not going to happen.

Stiles felt, rather than saw, Deaton clip the thread he’d been using to stitch the wound and he squeezed his eyes shut so he wouldn’t see the needle as the healer put it away or made it disappear with a puff of magic or whatever the hell he felt like doing.

With his eyes closed it was even more evident that Derek was really good at that whole pain eradication mojo thing because it kind of seemed like Stiles was floating a bit from the absolute absence of agony he felt.

Didn't feel.

Whatever.

Deaton's voice drifted into his cloudy consciousness, bumping gently into Stiles' mind as his thoughts tried to untether themselves like fluffs of cotton on the breeze. “It will take at least a day for him to be healed enough to stand," the healer said, as Stiles half-listened, "two before he can walk with assistance. I don’t believe you need to be told the consequences of leaving him alone in such a delicate state, do I Alpha Hale?”

Stiles felt his furred brow crinkle because the longer the alpha stayed with him in his little cave or wherever they went, the more it would smell like the two of them, and he’d read enough of the old literary stories to get where that was potentially heading. A probably shitty, dynamics-driven romance of Austenian proportions.

Gods, Stiles’ life was a mess.

He heaved out a sigh and let go of the last vestiges of alertness.

--------------------------------

Just until the omega was healed ended up being a much taller order than Derek had anticipated.

Especially since not only had Erica found a secure-enough location for him to bring the omega, whose limp body felt entirely too delicate cradled in his arms, but she’d apparently found the very same cave where Stiles had been staying. Probably since the run had begun, judging by how concentrated his scent was inside of it.

Heady, was perhaps an appropriate word to describe the permeation of it, but intoxicating certainly wasn’t.

Because Derek was not intoxicated by the powerful aroma of sweet grass and salt, of crisp fall breeze and the barest hint of wood smoke. No, Derek was a rational person, not just a wolf in a man’s skin. He refused to be overcome by the natural pheromones the omega had pouring out of his system like an overflowing cup.

Derek swallowed the sudden excess of saliva in his mouth and refused to look down at Stiles, whom he was certain would have been judging him if he'd been awake.

It took him an annoying amount of time to get his act together, belatedly realizing he’d just been standing there dumbly with the unconscious wolf still in his arms. “Take the others and mark a solid perimeter around this cave,” he told Erica, voice a bit rougher than usual, but he’d had a fairly trying day, so he was willing to cut himself just a bit of slack. “Make it thick, I don’t want anyone stumbling in here when the omega is still too weak to stand.”

From what Derek knew of him even through just the casual mentions made by the sheriff and Erica, Stiles definitely would have had some choice words to say about that, but of course he couldn’t speak in his current form and he was still very much asleep despite the bumpy walk they’d taken across the rocky ground and through a sandy-bottomed creek.

The betas actually did as he’d asked and left with minimal griping, something Derek was surprised by and thankful for because he didn’t want them to stick around and argue with him, but mostly he didn’t want them to see just how uncomfortable he was with the omega since Deaton had very clearly left him in charge of Stiles’ care and wellbeing.

Derek didn’t think he was at all qualified to undertake that kind of a task. He wasn’t a caretaker by nature, he was an observer and more often than not he just went along with whatever his sisters told him to do. Sure he was an alpha, too, but Laura and Cora had much more forceful personalities than he did, so he’d long since learned to just let them take control and he’d mostly been content to follow along with their plans.

Being in control of not only his own life, but also that of a relative stranger made Derek exceptionally nervous.

Laura would have told him to suck it up and then would have gone on to smack him in the back of the head, before pointing out that the situation wasn’t all that different from Derek’s alpha role in taking care of his three betas. He would have argued that none of his betas smelled so deliciously mouthwatering and he really needed to put Stiles down before he started licking the blood from his fur.

Derek was so screwed.

He knew that, yet he still set the wolf down gently on the softest-looking pile of moss and leaves he could find in a cool corner of the cave that somehow still got fresh air while remaining dry and secluded. If his fingers lingered, teasing out some of the mats in Stiles’ fur, well, no one was there to make fun of him for it.

Not knowing what to do once he secured the omega, Derek wandered out into the bright sunlight, blinking stupidly for a few moments before smelling the warm scent of Stiles’ blood staining his skin. He determinedly stepped into the creek to wash it off, listening as his betas ranged out in a pretty broad circle, a far enough circumference for them to be able to easily hunt within it for sustenance.

Derek’s stomach rumbled and he debated going out to take down something. A deer, maybe, to show the omega he was capable of providing for him-

He shook his head sharply, like he could dislodge that thought. He wasn’t there to court Stiles, he was just going to make sure the omega didn’t die from his injuries. Despite that reminder, Derek still had to force himself to keep from stepping onto the far shore of the creek to hunt, anyway, and instead turn back to the cave, suddenly realizing that he couldn’t hear Stiles like he could his betas. He was halfway to the mouth of the cave when he remembered the silencing power of the rune and rocked to a halt.

“Shit,” he muttered, running his hands through his hair, tugging just enough to force his chin up. He wasn’t good at tending to himself, let alone taking care of others. The fact that he couldn’t hear his charge just made it that much more awkward. He vowed to try to get Stiles to change back into his human form as soon as he was healed enough to do so, which would take at least a day, maybe more. It was obvious that he needed Stiles to shift, if only so he could hear the omega’s heartbeat and probably snarky banter. Anything was better than the eerie silence and the judgemental gazes and the feeling of soft fur tickling between his fingers.

He let out a sharp breath and stalked back into the den, making sure the omega was still out. Stiles was visibly breathing, the glint of his teeth just visible in his slightly open mouth, the pink of his tongue protruding just enough to see. Derek paused to stare and breathe, calming his too-quick heart and letting the tension drain from his neck and shoulders. After he’d gotten control over himself, however tentative that control was, he was finally able to look away and was startled by how clean and tidy the space was despite everything; the stress of the run, the location far in the depths of the preserve, the fact that Stiles had clearly been living there for days or weeks. Derek was about to explore further, to see the types of food the omega had squirreled away when he saw Stiles begin to stir and his own mouth went dry.

He cleared his throat and ducked his head, suddenly aware that he’d been staring at Stiles’ honey-colored eyes, which were trained on him with an intensity that seemed to indicate his annoyance. “Do you uh, are you hungry?” he asked, reminding himself to only ask Stiles yes or no questions because it wasn’t like he could talk in his wolf form, anyway, even without the rune. He kind of prefered it when people did the same with him, the yes or no thing, because those were the questions he was able to answer before they tended to trample the conversation.

Stiles’ brown eyes flicked over to one dry corner of the cave and Derek’s gaze immediately followed, spotting what he assumed was the omega’s store of food. It was alarmingly meager and the part of his psyche that demanded he provide for the hurt omega roared to life.

“I can have my betas hunt while we get you cleaned up,” he offered quickly, suddenly unsure whether or not he really wanted Stiles’ attention to be focused on him. If he’d been wearing clothes, Derek would have had his hands tucked into the front pockets of his jeans, shoulders hunched forward a bit under the scrutiny. Instead he crossed his arms over his bare chest and tried to look unperturbed.

It probably didn’t work all that well because Stiles snorted silently and rolled his eyes before nodding toward the entrance of the cave. Derek went to it and called to Isaac, who he heard immediately peel away from the other two, quickly running toward him. He glanced over his shoulder at Stiles.

“You’ll need a lot of red meat to make up what you bled out,” he said and tried not to bite his lips because that was a stupid thing to point out, reminding the omega that he was helpless and wounded because of the recklessness of Derek’s pack.

Stiles huffed out a silent breath and flinched, probably because the movement tugged at his stitches. Derek somehow managed to remain standing there and not leap across the distance to take the pain, but he only turned away when Isaac approached, leaves in his hair and water slicked up to his chest from where he’d splashed noisily through the creek.

“I want you three to bring back something big for us to eat. Bring the whole thing here and I’ll prepare it, then find a place to stay nearby. Within the perimeter if you can.” Derek knew himself well enough to get that he couldn’t handle letting his betas close to Stiles, not when the omega was hurt and defenseless. He was afraid his inner wolf would have him lashing out at them if they approached the omega, which would be inevitable given the size of the cave. It was fine for two, roomy, even, but for five it would be close quarters.

It was the combination of their pheromones that made him want to respond that way, to attack his own pack in defense of the unbred omega. Derek knew it and yet he also knew he couldn’t stop himself from reacting. He could feel his control slipping the longer he stayed near Stiles, yet it wasn’t as if he could just leave the omega behind, not when he was injured.

Sometimes it felt like Derek’s mind was a trap that he couldn’t ever escape. It kept recycling the same old insecurities and fears, reminding him that he wasn’t ever truly in control of anything, least of all his own life.

“Got it, Boss,” Isaac said with a cheerful wink, and took off before Derek could even begin to form a response.

Of course.

He huffed out a breath, trying to maintain his composure, and turned back to Stiles, feeling entirely out of his depth. That was the strange thing about dynamics, even though he was the alpha, supposedly in charge and in control, he found he was hopeless in the face of the omega.

Derek wondered which of them was injured more gravely.

Chapter Text

In the stories, of which there were many, the meeting of an alpha and omega during the mating run was often described in sometimes metaphorical, but almost always violent terms; the clashing of bodies, the piercing of flesh, a collision of fangs and fur, slick parts pillaging and plunging.

But Stiles found the reality of it to be awfully anticlimactic and, if he was being honest with himself, actually a bit of a letdown.

There he was, literally at the mercy of a stunning, unmated alpha who smelled like summer and sunshine, but the guy just stared at him like he wasn't sure what he was supposed to be doing. Which, granted, neither of them had mates so it wasn't as if they had any practical experience with any of it, but the movies and shows and stories should have been enough of a guide for Derek to get the ball rolling.

Right?

Apparently not.

Stiles used to secretly fantasize about being taken during the run, of being pressed down face-first in the dirt, his mate mounting him with all the savagery of some of the more intriguing porn he'd come across. Porn that starred actual mates, sometimes outdoors, but more often than not on soft beds where the long hours of their knotting could take place without interruption and their cries of passion wouldn't be investigated by curious onlookers. He wouldn't ever admit it out loud, but that, the intimacy of having someone control his body so completely, was a bit of a turn-on for Stiles.

Not that he would ever let Derek know that. No, he wasn't going to allow the decadent cloud of pheromones to overwhelm him, nor was he going to be swayed by the large deer the alpha suddenly dragged into the cave, like he wanted to show Stiles what his pack was capable of procuring. Which, granted, was a beautiful-looking animal. But no, instead, he was going to do what he did best, and that was to act like an asshole.

Stiles was not oblivious to the fact that he was kind of a shithead. He knew it and wore the distinction with pride, really. Bowing down to authority? That just wasn’t really his style.

Heh. Style.

Derek was obviously waiting for him to express some kind of opinion about the deer, so he gave a little half-shrug, then turned his head to start licking away the blood and dirt coating his fur.

Ugh, it was pretty disgusting. Everything was all matted together and he just knew his mouth was going to dry out before he even began to put a dent in the grossness. Stiles would need to be close to water, like right next to it, for him to be able to wet his tongue and clean himself properly. When he looked up, though, there was his apparently captive audience, who was actively staring at him again.

Derek Hale, creeper extraordinaire.

But then Stiles had a kind of sick thought, that Derek was just waiting for Stiles to get cleaned up before claiming him, since it wasn’t as if he could protest or fight him off or anything, not the way he was with the jagged wound still healing across his belly and an utter inability to even stand, let alone fight off an alpha. He couldn’t even vocally protest, not when he was still stuck in his wolf form. Despite the pain Stiles’ muscles tensed and his ears flicked back flat against his head, lips curling in what was supposed to be a snarl.

Alphas took what they wanted, everyone knew that, but if Derek wanted to take Stiles, which was a biological given, then he’d at least get bitten for his trouble.

Once again not seeming to understand what was going on, Derek just kind of stood there staring, then glanced at the huge dead deer taking up the entry of the cave and let out a little huff before dragging it outside, one-handed.

Because of course he wanted to show off the magnificent play of his bare back muscles, more defined than Stiles’ body would ever allow.

It didn’t change the fact that he was just leaving Stiles there, still filthy and hurt. Alone and pretty much defenseless.

Stiles began to entertain the very real possibility that Derek was kind of defective. His thought only gained theoretical ground when the alpha returned sans deer, dusting his hands together and looking uncomfortable.

“Do you uh, let’s get you cleaned up,” Derek said and for the first time Stiles actually paid attention to his voice. It was softer than he’d anticipated, judging by the alpha’s gruff exterior, softer and not all that deep. The proposal wasn’t a bad one, either, well, except for the probable mounting that would quickly follow, likely when Stiles was still soaked and shivering. He wasn’t stupid, he’d heard the stories, and Stiles being in his wolf form was in no way a barrier to an alpha claiming what he saw as his. Derek could just as easily shift, or just take him like he was, arms and hands and all.

Stiles set his head on his front paws and snarled soundlessly, letting his eyes flash blue.

“Um,” Derek replied, looking flustered. “If you don’t want me to carry you to the creek I could try to bring some water in here, but it will get your,” he waved his hand to indicate the moss and leaves underneath him, “bed dirty. I mean, it’s up to you, I just didn’t think you’d want to make a mess, this place is pretty clean.” He gestured vaguely around them and Stiles’ ears perked forward despite his misgiving. It hadn’t been easy, but he had done a pretty bang-up job of cleaning the cave out, if he did say so himself. There had been cobwebs and dust all over the place, along with little piles of animal scat. It had taken him the better part of two days to get it looking like it was, to tidy it up and he was not letting the alpha woo him.

There was no wooing.

But the longer he stayed there the more uncomfortable he became. Physically uncomfortable. The caked dirt was making his skin itch and the blood still stank of his old fear and hurt. Which, while there were definitely new layers of both feelings going on, they weren’t nearly as potent as his initial agonized terror still literally painted across his fur.

Stiles willed his eyes to change back to their normal boring color and he huffed out a breath, reluctantly staring up at Derek. Either he was worrying for nothing, or his worst fears would be realized, either way he just wanted to get it over with.

-----------

Despite Laura and Cora’s opinion on the matter, Derek was neither a mute nor was he an idiot.

He just.

He liked to think before he spoke. And because of that he often ended up not speaking at all because whoever he was having a conversation with just kept yammering on, blowing by whatever topic Derek had been about to contribute to, leaving him in the metaphorical dust as they inevitably jumped to something completely unrelated.

If that made some people see him as a silent, broody assholes, well, fine.

Derek didn’t actually care, as long as they kept their opinions to themselves and left him alone with his thoughts.

But what most people didn’t know was that he didn’t necessarily mind talking, it was just he never really got much of a chance, not with Laura on one side and Cora on the other, add Uncle Peter and Derek’s mother going back and forth and it was a miracle he’d ever learned to speak at all, it was so hard to get a word in edgewise when they got started. So being in the cave swimming with the omega’s exceptional scent, the wolf mute before him gave Derek a rare opportunity. He had a captive audience and not much else to do but be there and speak, and hopefully earn Stiles’ trust instead of the flat look he was currently earning.

“My name’s Derek, which you might already know, but I wanted to tell you in case-” in case what? In case the omega wanted to file assault charges against him at his father’s place of business? In case he wanted to know who to sue for wrongful imprisonment? Derek swallowed thickly. “-in case you were wondering,” he finished quietly.

Stiles’ head tilted slightly, like he was trying to work out Derek’s angle.

“Uh, I know your name is Stiles, or at least that’s what you go by. Your dad told me your legal name once, but I have no idea how to pronounce it.”

And thinking back, it was kind of odd to suddenly realize that the sheriff really had spoken about his son a lot, much more than Derek had initially remembered.

It looked like Stiles snorted in response, which gave Derek a bit more courage, strangely enough.

“So, uh, how about getting you cleaned up? You can’t be comfortable like that. And afterward the betas can bring us some meat from the kill.” Derek stopped when he realized he’d basically just asked the omega two questions instead of one, which wasn’t very helpful since he couldn’t exactly articulate his replies.

Surprisingly, Stiles nodded, less tensely than before. It was just a simple dip of his chin, but despite that Derek let out a breath he hadn’t been aware he’d been holding.

“Um, I’m going to pick you up, now. Feel free to bite or scratch me if I accidentally hurt you, okay? I’ll take away some of your pain, but not enough to disorient you.” Because it was the least he could do after being the one who had put Stiles in that position, hurt and relatively helpless. Well, as helpless as an omega ever was given their ability to manipulate both alphas and betas through their scent or touch.

But when Derek knelt to pick him up, Stiles just let his body go slack, not projecting any strong emotions or an extra boost of his pheromones, like he really was okay with Derek taking him outside. Which was a great thing because the omega did stink pretty terribly and it had been starting to get under Derek’s skin, the constant reminder of his stupidity and lack of control.

That was one of the reasons he’d been a bit dubious about going on his fourth run until Laura had persuaded him to do it. Derek didn’t entirely trust himself with another person, physically or emotionally. He liked being autonomous, though he knew he wasn’t really. His parents still had to do a lot of things for him, like keep him on their insurance and cell phone plan and a hundred other stupid, small things. He couldn’t have a real job or officially rent the loft he was in, not without a bonded pair signing off on it.

When he had a mate he’d truly be free to do what he wanted, but he’d also be restricted by whatever they wanted him to do. It was a kind of strange combination, but he’d seen it work well with his parents and some of extended family members. The desire for gaining some actual control over his life was one reason he’d set his sights on finding an omega, yet there he was with one, Stiles’ fur gritty beneath the pads of his fingers, his bones feeling too fragile in Derek’s gentle grip. At least he wasn’t in nearly as much pain as before. The lines of it were a dark gray on his forearms instead of the inky black they’d been initially.

As soon as they faded to a lighter shade, Derek gently laid the wolf down on a mossy patch along the shore and waded into the creek in front of him where the water came up to his thighs. There was no way to clean Stiles without it being awkward, so he just sucked it up and began by scooping a cupped handful of the cool water and letting Stiles smell it, as was courteous.

Derek’s parents had drilled that into his head, courtesy, even if he rarely had a chance to actually practice it. Offering a guest water when they arrived was one of the most important things, as well as some kind of food. He considered the deer an acceptable example of that, even if it was clear Stiles hadn’t been all that impressed by it.

Still, courtesy.

He almost opened his hands to let the water trickle out when he felt the velvet softness of Stiles’ tongue flick over the edge of his thumb to lap it up and his gut twisted because of course Stiles must have been thirsty after having been chased and then treed and then injured so grievously. Derek felt his ears burn with embarrassment at not having thought to make the offer sooner, but that was over with and they were there, perched on the edge of the creek where Stiles could drink his fill. Well, he could have if he’d been able to move, but Derek offering him handfuls seemed to work well enough, if he ignored the intimacy of the accidental touch of Stiles’ tongue and his own desire to see what the omega tasted like.

Which wasn’t a thought he should be having when he was standing nude in the water, his hips even with the bed of moss upon which the omega was resting.

“Shall I begin wetting your fur?” Derek suggested. He could have shifted to his wolf form, or even his beta form, to help with the cleaning. He’d done it with his siblings and cousins when they were younger, licking up the blood from their already-healed wounds or the syrup that had gotten matted into their fur during their pack’s weekly breakfast for dinner on Friday nights.

It hadn’t been something he’d done in the recent past, though, not since his first disastrous run and Derek missed the casual intimacy of it, the feeling of togetherness and the tactile sensation of belonging. He actually missed it, sometimes, especially when he was alone in his loft when he knew the rest of his family was laughing and probably covered in flour back at home, enjoying their traditions without him.

The calloused press of Stiles’ paw on his arm snapped him out of his thoughts and Derek busied himself by scooping up some water and letting it run over Stiles’ flank, just below the edge of the cut. He couldn’t bring himself to look the wolf in the eyes, but smelled his curiosity.

“There might be herbs nearby to help get out the blood,” Derek said, though a quick scan of both shores didn’t reveal anything recognizable. When he finally got up the courage to glance back at Stiles he was shaking his head. Derek moved his hands aside as the wolf leaned delicately back so he could clean the wet spot with quick flicks of his pink tongue, the dirt and blood instantly turning it a muddy kind of dark color that couldn’t have tasted good. Without thinking or asking Derek offered him more water, pouring it over his outstretched tongue and the patch he’d been working on, washing away the mess and leaving behind a slightly less filthy tuft of fur.

They continued like that, Derek carefully pouring water over him and Stiles licking at the mess, loosening the muddy mixture enough for it to be washed away, Derek occasionally using his fingers to delicately tease out the more matted areas. They worked until the sun began to set, Stiles’ fur slowly fading back to the beautiful pale color, the lightest gray Derek had seen on a wolf. Sure there were white wolves and gray wolves around, but none of them were that particular shade.

The light began to wane just as the last of the mud was washed away and Stiles let his head fall against his forepaws with an inaudible sigh. He looked and smelled exhausted, but oddly content, a feeling Derek couldn’t help but share. It wasn’t anything personal, Derek knew, just basic biology, the rush of contentment that came from grooming another wolf. It wasn’t necessarily a mate thing or a compatibility thing, though he’d never actually groomed someone outside of his family or pack, so the uniqueness of being so close to a stranger was electrifying, but it didn’t mean anything.

Which was what Derek kept having to remind himself of as he looked down at the sleepy wolf, body lax and fur clean. Cleaned by Derek.

“We should eat something before we sleep,” he said quietly and Stiles’ ears twitched, so Derek knew the wolf had heard him, but he made no other move to acknowledge what he’d said. Derek snorted and glanced in the direction his betas had gone, downstream so the deer’s blood wouldn’t contaminate their alpha’s drinking water. “Erica,” he said, voice only slightly louder than it had been, “bring us some meat, you know the cuts I prefer.” She gave a short bark in acknowledgement and Derek looked back at the wolf.

Stiles’ eyes were half-closed, his underbelly still damp where it rested on the moss, but his back was beginning to get adorably fluffy as it dried. Derek hadn’t spent much time with wolves outside of his family and the sight was mesmerizing. His and his sibling’s coats were much darker than Stiles’, varying shades of almost-black, though Cora had a white star on her side that she never stopped bragging about, but being able to see the difference in coloring as Stiles’ fur went from damp-darkened gray to a wispy paler hue was fascinating.

Derek figured he’d let Stiles rest while he waited for Erica to follow through with his orders. Cleaned, it was easier to see the stark black stitches holding together Stiles’ healing skin, already pink instead of the raw red it had been initially. He smelled a lot better, too, more like the scent in the cave than the stink of blood and pain. Derek just caught himself as he was about to lean further toward the omega, to bury his nose into the plush-looking fur of his neck to inhale the concentration of his essence there.

Stiles wasn’t his, he reminded himself as he sloshed through the water and onto the shore, stretching his arms overhead and arching his back in a hard yawn, hoping it would reset his wayward thoughts. Besides the run wasn’t exactly conducive to getting much sleep and taking Stiles’ pain so many times had drained him of his normal stores of energy. Derek figured they’d eat their fill and then head back to the cave to sleep it off.

Of course he was wrong.

They did eat, Erica hovering nearby as she watched Stiles tear into the heart of the deer, which was actually Derek’s favorite piece of muscle, but he’d placed it in front of the omega without thinking. Erica, the brat, had just smirked knowingly at him, like there was anything to smirk about other than the fact that he’d helped clean Stiles up, which was really just the decent thing to do given the circumstances.

It was after that things went downhill. Derek wordlessly helped Stiles get the blood off his muzzle and forepaws, trying to ignore how the wolf flinched at his casual touch, startling as Derek bent to pick him up.

“I’m taking you back inside,” he finally explained, feeling tired and fuzzy and ready to pass out on one of the piles of moss that smelled like Stiles.

The wolf wiggled when he bent down, like he was trying to get away from Derek.

“Stiles, I can smell how exhausted you are, just let me take you inside,” he said, which made the wolf bare his teeth, eyes flashing blue like when he’d snapped at Isaac, but he smelled terrified instead of pissed off.

Erica grabbed one of Derek’s arms and pulled him back a step. “Hey, Der,” she said slowly, like he was stupid, “maybe you should actually explain what you’re going to do instead of letting Stiles here leap to crazy conclusions, yeah?”

Derek wasn’t stupid, he just didn’t get why Stiles had decided it was time to freak out. They’d had a pretty calm and peaceful evening, with the grooming and the eating. He just didn’t understand what had changed.

“I just told him,” he protested, aware that it was unbecoming to sound so petulant, but Erica reminded him so much of his sisters sometimes that he found himself treating her like one, embarrassingly enough.

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, no you didn’t. Use your words, Alpha Hale.”

And the way she’d said it, emphasizing his title, made his stomach churn when he realized what she was implying.

Oh.

Apparently whatever expression he had on his face was an acceptable enough look because she nodded in encouragement, wished them quiet dreams, and disappeared into the night, skipping along back toward the other betas.

He tried again, that time keeping his distance and crouching down to the wolf’s level. “Stiles,” he said quietly, waiting for the omega to train his glowing blue eyes on him before continuing. “I’m not going to hurt you-”

Stiles’ expression told him how unbelievable he found that claim.

“-and I’m not going to,” he couldn’t even say it, “I wouldn’t ever do anything without your permission, which as far as I’m concerned, you can’t give in your current form. Besides that, you’re still injured. I’m here taking care of you because you’re hurt and it’s my fault.”

The confession seemed to mollify Stiles just enough for his lips to once again cover his teeth, though his eyes remained the same beautifully eerie color.

“I’m tired and I know you are, too, so why don’t I bring you back to the den and we can get some sleep-”

The teeth were back.

“-in separate parts of the cave,” Derek hastily finished. “I mean, you’re beautiful, but I’m not touching you in any way without your permission, even if it is just to sleep.”

Derek always slept better when he was pressed against another person, his sisters or cousins or betas. It was one of his favorite parts of being in a pack, though he hadn’t let himself enjoy it much, not since he’d nearly gotten his packmate killed. Derek considered the partial isolation he’d imposed upon himself his punishment, but he wasn’t going to force Stiles to be near him when the omega was clearly opposed to the idea.

Finally, Stiles’ eyes shifted back to their normal color, almost golden, even in the dark, and Derek couldn’t help but smile in relief.

“Okay, let’s get you comfortable,” he said, and picked up the wolf as gently as he could, letting his fingers curl just a bit into the feather-soft fur.

Chapter Text

Stiles startled awake, momentarily disoriented and feeling an almost overwhelming urge to pee. It took him a stupid amount of time to recall what had happened and why there was another heartbeat in the cave with him. When he finally did remember, he groaned, silently of course, and let his head flop back down onto his paws. He really didn’t want to face the reality of sharing space with an alpha, not after Derek’s bizarrely sweet confession the night before.

He wasn’t going to touch Stiles without his permission?

Part of him wanted to call bullshit, but despite his status as being a silver-chained, very unmated alpha, Derek hadn’t actually done anything other than take care of him, which could have been an attempt to lull Stiles into a false sense of security, but he really didn’t think Derek was that devious. He had weekly coffee dates or whatever with the sheriff of Beacon Hills, for fuck’s sake, the guy was not a criminal mastermind or any kind of nefarious pervert. Stiles’ dad had way better instincts than that.

In the distance Stiles could hear wolves howling and bared his teeth at having to listen to yet another mated pair having found each other during the run. Which, yeah, was the whole purpose of the solstice month, but it didn’t mean Stiles enjoyed being reminded of how he’d failed to find a mate of his own and what? He shook his head like that would help him clear his thoughts because that wasn’t really how he felt.

At least he didn’t think he wanted a mate. He certainly hadn’t ever wanted one before, not unless wet dreams and masturbatory fantasies counted. Which they shouldn’t, in Stiles’ opinion.

But whatever, he focused back on the lingering noise of the howls and tried not to feel jealous or any other insane emotion other than the slight relief at being relatively safe in the secure confines of the cave, away from the awakening bloodlust some of the alphas were probably beginning to show after having gone two weeks without finding their own pets to play with. Stiles tried to remember the last time he’d heard the call of two mated wolves and decided it had been at least a day or more since that sound had echoed through the woods. The first week had been a veritable cacophony of claims, but it had petered off since then.

Which only meant the unmated were growing more restless.

Stiles huffed out a disgruntled breath, his bladder still uncomfortably full as he shifted just enough to try to relieve the pressure. His wound didn’t hurt nearly as much as it had initially. It almost had a fuzzy feel to it, like when Derek had taken his pain, just a dull kind of throbbing under the skin as his body healed inside and out.

It wasn’t like Stiles had demanded the alpha do that pain-sucking mojo in the first place, but apparently Alpha Derek Hale wasn’t quite the douche Stiles had made him out to be. Hell, the guy had even taken the time to help clean him. Meticulously. Without any kind of bad-touching and with minimal scent-marking.

Which didn’t really matter since the alpha’s scent was already beginning to seep into the cave, helped by the light breeze that blew by where Derek was sprawled out on a patch of moss near the entrance and right to the very back where Stiles was curled up. If he sniffed his fur he was pretty sure he would already be able to smell traces of Derek there.

Why he didn’t just lick it away was no one’s concern but his own.

Besides, Stiles had other things to worry about, like how he was going to take a leak when he couldn’t stand.

Or could he?

Never one to just accept defeat or listen to reason, not unless he was feeling particularly lazy at that given time, Stiles cautiously tucked his hind legs under him and forced them to straighten out, muscles straining as his abdominal wound made itself known with a sharp throb. He’d never realized before how much those particular muscles helped aid locomotion until they’d been severed and wow, that was an unpleasant sensation.

But just like that, before Stiles’ belly even cleared the ground, Derek was awake and alert, red eyes flaring in the darkness as he looked first outside and then at Stiles, clearly trying to discover the reason why he was attempting to make his guts pop out of his body.

Stiles collapsed, suddenly exhausted again, whimpering inaudibly as the impact jostled the tender skin of his cut, and then Derek was there at his side.

“Stiles?” he asked, hands hovering for a second before he got up the courage to touch, immediately draining the renewed pain Stiles had caused himself because he was an idiot. He relaxed into it because he was stupid and despite his panic from the night before he apparently accepted Derek’s presence enough for him not to be at all worried about the alpha’s touch and how he was gently sliding his hand across the stitches like he was making sure none of them had popped, but it also kind of felt like a really careful belly-rub, which Stiles could also get behind because he was a conflicted, broken omega who didn’t know what he wanted.

“Do you need something?” Derek said, voice sleep-soft, like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to put enough effort into it to speak normally when it was still so dark outside.

Figuring it had worked before and really not wanting to soil the floor of the den, Stiles nodded toward the entrance of the cave and hoped Derek got what he was trying to say.

“Outside? You want to go out there, but-” he cut himself off as realization seemed to dawn on him and Stiles could feel a slight increase in the alpha’s temperate as he blushed. “Right,” he continued curtly, though it was a false kind of bravado born of embarrassment. Stiles was well aware of that, being somewhat of an expert on that particular form of expression.

Firm, yet seemingly perpetually careful, arms wrapped around him once again and Stiles wondered if that was what it would feel like to be the omega mate to a king or sheik or something, always being carried around like something precious, never having to soil his paws as he was waited on. He could get used to that, actually, and strangely enough, Derek didn’t seem to mind.

Stiles told his stupid brain to shut it, but his imagination had already activated, conjuring up fantasies of plush palace life, Derek wearing golden tunics that showcased the insane muscles of his arms and back, breeches ridiculously tight across his amazing ass, a crown on his head, which he wouldn’t always take off before stalking predatorily across their bed until he could pounce on Stiles-

Holy gods, he needed to stop.

Just.

Stop thinking and imagining and being in Derek’s alpha-warm arms. Which finally happened a few yards from the cave, in a little sheltered outcropping by some mint plants and flowers that did wonders to mask the scent as Stiles relieved himself kind of awkwardly because it wasn’t as if he could hike a leg or really stand all that steadily. He somehow managed it, though, and glanced back when he was finished so Derek would pick him up again.

The alpha readily complied, looking adorably sleep rumpled, hair in disarray as he yawned, ducking his head against Stiles’ back to muffle the noise. The hot blast of his breath made Stiles want to wag his tail, which was almost as stupid as what he did when Derek set him back in his leaf and moss nest. As the alpha extracted his arms from underneath Stiles, he opened his mouth and carefully set his teeth around one of Derek’s wrist, holding on with enough force to make his touch known without bruising the skin. It was almost too much of a temptation not to lick the alpha, but Stiles somehow refrained at he stared up with a hopefully encouraging expression.

Derek looked down at him, clearly baffled by what was happening, but he didn’t snatch his arm away, so that was encouragement enough.

Stiles very slowly pulled the alpha’s arm toward him, twisting his head so he could drape it across his back as much as he was able to without getting a crick in his neck. Finally, Derek seemed to understand because his eyes flashed red for just a second before he swallowed audibly and twitched his fingers in a kind of half-assed stroke.

Apparently taking that as a sign-

It was.

-Derek tried again, petting Stiles more deliberately and he sighed in relief, feeling his entire body relax at each additional stroke. Not much beat the blissful sensation of being petted while in wolf form, especially when it was an alpha doing the petting.

When Stiles was a cub his mother would let him shift, then gathered him in her arms while she was going over old cases in her cramped little office under their stairwell and she’d pet Stiles for hours. They’d treated it like his naptime for a few years, but as he got older she’d grown busier, particularly when she’d been elected sheriff. After her death the cuddles had of course stopped and Stiles’ dad had taken over at the station. Not that he’d necessarily needed for someone to pet him by that point, since he wasn’t a cup anymore, but he’d definitely missed it.

Which didn’t explain why he was letting, was encouraging, Alpha Derek Hale to do the honors, but it was hard to object to something that felt so body-encompassingly magnificent.

Stiles sighed again and moved, feeling Derek’s hand freeze where his fingers had been carding through the fur on Stiles’ side. He ignored that, though, kicking his legs carefully so he was resting on his back, belly and paws up. It took a couple of nudges with his muzzle, but Derek eventually continued his caresses, hands bolder as they ruffled and smoothed the fur across his chest and around the jagged healing scar, carefully massaging the firm muscles along Stiles’ legs and between the pads of his feet where the tension tended to build up. Impossibly, it felt like his body relaxed even further, like he was nothing more than a puddle of ooze nestled amongst the moss and leaves, cradled against the alpha’s hot side.

-------------------------

There were no words to describe the scent.

Derek had tried categorizing Stiles’, comparing his aroma to weather phenomena like thunderstorms and rain, to fall foliage and the winter heat of a roaring hearth, but nothing compared to the actual concentrated smell resting thick in the fur of the omega’s throat where Derek's nose was unabashedly pressed. He’d given up on feeling guilty or fearful or anything other than the absolute peace of having Stiles wrapped up securely in his arms, their complementary scents mingling on the omega’s fur and his own bare skin like the headiest perfume. The only thing he could think of that would make it better was if they were both in the same form.

Well, that and the omega being completely whole, and accepting of Derek’s obvious proposal, but Stiles was still a wolf, which made the issue of consent an actual issue. Derek had taken all of the required dynamics classes at school, but more than that he’d listened to his father and the other omegas who had married into his family. Derek had learned that in their wolf form, omegas even more than alphas lost the ability to reason critically. They operated on instinct instead of rationality, sometimes offering things they weren’t actually ready to part with, so while Derek was cautiously elated about the obvious change in Stiles’ reaction to him, he wasn’t going to take advantage of the situation just because he could.

No, Derek would cuddle and pet, he’d scent-mark and maybe even lick the meal-blood from Stiles’ furry cheeks, but he wouldn’t go so far as to claim the omega, not until Stiles was able to actually think about the offer and maybe even talk to Derek about it. He knew his family’s reputation, probably better than anyone, and while there were some wolves who would leap at the chance to marry into the Hale pack, there were plenty of others who weren’t nearly as impressed by their large numbers and at-times forceful presence in town.

The Argents were a prime example of those with an overall negative opinion of his family.

But Derek wasn’t thinking about the Argents, not when he was curled up around the omega, feeling the velvet-soft strands of Stiles’ fur tickle his nose as he breathed in deep, perfumed lungfuls of amazingly scented air. It was still an hour or more until dawn, but he knew he wouldn’t fall back asleep, not when he was so perfectly content where he was.

But things didn’t often turn out to Derek’s benefit, particularly not when his happiness was on the line because just as he was rubbing his cheek gently against Stiles’, he heard the rapid footfalls of a pair of people approaching, on two legs, not four. He debated getting up to investigate, his desire to remain pressed against Stiles’ side warring with his reluctance to allow anyone near enough the cave to smell the omega’s pheromone-heavy scent. Eventually his alpha instincts won, the more aggressive instincts, at least, and he carefully extracted himself from his hold on the wolf and stalked outside into the dark.

He quickly recognized the sounds as belonging to Boyd and Isaac, which overshadowed his growing anger with confusion. Derek had told them to stay away until Stiles had healed, so as not to frighten the omega unnecessarily, but there they were, bursting into view on the other side of the creek, stumbling to a halt before they accidentally fell into the frigid water.

“What?” he asked sharply, eyes red. They both looked and smelled upset, but there wasn’t any sign or scent of blood on their skin from either healed or still-healing wounds. Then he noticed something missing. “Where’s Erica?” he demanded, listening more closely to their surroundings, but her heartbeat wasn’t near enough to hear.

Isaac looked like he was about to be sick while Boyd seemed holding it together only slightly better.

“She never came back from bringing you the meat,” Boyd finally replied, his and his packmate’s concern thick in the air.

“We thought you decided to let her stay here or something, but then we felt your contentment and-” Isaac trailed off into silence, shifting his weight from foot to foot until Boyd brushed an arm against his side, which worked to calm him down. A little bit.

Derek resisted the urge to go back into the cave to check on Stiles, who he knew was fine despite Derek’s inability to hear him, but the unexplained absence of one of his betas set his suddenly sharp teeth on edge before he realized what could have happened and he had to resist the urge to flinch when he looked at Boyd.

“You know there is a possibility she could have smelled her mate,” Derek said softly and it was Isaac’s turn to nudge his packmate in commiseration, but Boyd just shook his head.

“No, I don’t think so, Derek, it doesn’t feel right. Don’t you feel it?” Boyd said with a quiet kind of intensity. And that was something he admired about his oldest beta, the first of the three to join his sad excuse for a sub-pack, he was rational even under threat.

Derek motioned for them to approach and they did, making little noise as they waded through the cold water and onto the sandy shore, but neither approached further and Derek belatedly realized he’d instinctively placed himself in front of the entrance to the cave to keep them away from Stiles.

He forced himself to stand with a more neutral posture and expression instead of the fierce glower he’d been wearing. “Tell me what you think,” he said, eyes still red in the darkness as he looked from one beta to the other. The connection he had with them was still a bit tenuous, even though he was their alpha, but the more he pressed on the bond the clearer it became that something was off with Erica. Her normally bright-feeling link felt a bit faded around the edges, not from distance, but from something else.

Isaac gave a low whine. “We think something happened to her, but when we tried to follow her trail it disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” he asked flatly. He knew his betas didn’t have the heightened senses of an alpha or omega, but following the scent trail of someone in their pack should have been simple, especially since the night had been dry. They were good enough trackers to have not simply lost Erica’s scent.

Boyd cleared his throat and looked pointedly behind Derek, who despite not having the ability to hear him suddenly knew Stiles was there even before he turned around to face the slightly shaking wolf. The intoxicating scent was enough to awaken the protective instincts he’d tried to bury, making him take a few swift steps toward the omega, frowning to hide his worry.

“Deaton said you shouldn’t be walking yet,” he said gruffly and pressed his lips tightly together to keep from smiling at Stiles’ exasperated eye roll. Derek held off for another few seconds before he found himself closing the rest of the short distance between them, his betas knowing through instinct or his body language or the combination of his and Stiles’ scent to keep back or risk triggering their alpha’s protectiveness.

“If you’re going to be an idiot you might as well get comfortable,” Derek sighed, easily picking up the wolf, whose legs had begun to tremble in earnest, and deposited him gently on top of a partially-disintegrated fallen log. The wood was flaky and soft enough not to aggravate Stiles’ injury, he made sure, but still Derek remained at his side, one hand resting heavily between the wolf’s shoulder blades in an unnecessary protective measure. He knew Stiles wasn’t going to roll out of the cradle of wood, but he wasn’t comfortable sitting there without touching the omega to make sure he remained as safe as possible.

Boyd cleared his throat. “Erica?” he prompted.

Derek refused to show his embarrassment, though he was pretty sure Stiles was laughing at him, the scent of his humor almost as thick as his pheromones. “Tell me everything you smelled where her trail went cold,” he said, digging his fingers a little more firmly into the thick fur on Stiles’ neck, making the wolf vibrate with a pleased whine. Even though the betas couldn’t hear it, Derek found himself almost smirking in victory at showing he could bring the omega pleasure.

“Erica’s scent was there, and then it was just gone, but I did smell something strange. Like old blood, maybe?” Isaac kept his eyes averted as he spoke and Derek realized his own eyes were still alpha red. He shifted them back and watched some, but not all, of the wariness drain from his beta’s shoulders.

“Old blood and cloth and something that made me want to sneeze,” Boyd added. “There was a partial boot print in the dirt, but we couldn’t track it in the dark.”

That was exceptionally odd. No one in the preserve should have been wearing boots, not unless someone had been hurt and Deaton or emergency personnel had been summoned to assist if that were the case, but Derek hadn’t heard the hiss of a flare since the one he and his betas had released to summon the healer. Besides which, neither of his betas had seen anything of the kind or they would have mentioned it. Under his hand he felt Stiles suddenly tense, pain radiating along his belly, which Derek immediately began to drain, but the omega didn’t seem to care or be aware of it or something because his eyes were bright blue and he looked about ready to crawl out of his skin-

“Stiles, you can’t shift, yet,” Derek said, though he didn’t put any kind of command into his voice, which he immediately regretted because the wolf was beginning to twitch with the start of his shift and at that point it was too late to halt it.

Derek kept his hands on Stiles, his veins darkening as he took the jolts of pain that had nothing to do with the normal discomfort of the shift and everything to do with the sharp tang of blood that indicated the reopening of the wound across the bare skin of his belly.

“Damnit, Stiles,” he said between gritted teeth, thick lines of black working their way up his arms. It wasn’t quite the agony he’d had been in during the initial wounding, but Derek could feel himself blanche as the pain momentarily sank deep into his bones until his alpha physiology took care of it.

Stiles, to his credit, didn’t even cry out, though he did give a short, pained gasp before once again going limp in Derek’s arms, brilliant eyes slipping shut as he passed out.

At least his heartbeat was finally audible, though almost rabbit-quick, Derek thought as he picked up the impossible omega and took him back into the cave, ignoring his beta’s questioning looks. He could only handle one crisis at a time, and despite his worry for Erica, Stiles’ needs were more immediate.

But at least they were finally in the same form, his traitorous mind whispered.

Derek swallowed thickly, trying not to taste the blood in the air. The delicate silver chain around his throat suddenly felt a lot like a noose.

Chapter Text

So, shifting before Deaton had told him he was supposed to?

Not Stiles’ best life decision, ranking slightly under treeing himself when he’d run from first Matt, and then Derek’s mini-horde.

He couldn’t even remember why he’d done it, shifted that was, not while he was so caught up in the current phenomenal feeling of discomfort at having his internal organs attempt to burst outside of his body for almost the second time. That was a kind of weirdness he never ever wanted to experience for the rest of his life.

Ever.

Stiles was pretty sure the only reason he’d been able to swim back into consciousness-

And seriously? He was starting to feel like one of the lame, fainty omegas from some of the shittier fairy tales and rom coms.

-was because of Derek’s firm grip, one muscular arm wrapped tight across the wound on his stomach, like the embrace was actively keeping Stiles from falling apart as the other firm hand stroked up and down the skin of his side like the touch alone could help center him enough not to explode or die or something.

It wasn’t a bad theory, really.

But it still felt awful.

“Fuck that’s uncomfortable,” he muttered, voice strangely pitched from disuse. He hadn’t shifted into his wolf form all that often, not since his mom had died, and he’d rarely spent more than a few hours like it when he did. Yet it hadn’t even been a full day and he found it weirdly difficult to acclimate back into being in his human skin.

Well, most of his skin.

“Seriously, that was really stupid of me, I don’t even know why I did that,” he continued when the hulking heater behind him failed to take up the conversation, though the soothing hand stalled near his hip and yeah, he wasn’t thinking about how intimately they were touching.

Had Derek been struck dumb by Stiles’ astonishingly waifish body?

Unlikely.

Was he so shocked by Stiles' stupidity that he'd literally lost the ability to speak?

A much more probable assumption.

"Awkward," Stiles muttered, trying to resist the urge to pet the soft black hair on Derek's arm, his tanned skin smeared with Stiles' blood. "Oh holy shit," he whispered, feeling the alpha tense. "Oh gods am I bleeding again? I'm such an idiot and now I'm going to die-"

"You're not going to die, Stiles," Derek replied gruffly, but his arm tightened around the wound and that, that actually made it feel a little better, plus Stiles could see the dark gray lines of pain leaching out of him and up Derek’s arms in tiny little shockwaves of relief.

“I don’t think you’re obligated to pain drain me when I get hurt because of my own stupidity,” Stiles pointed out. It had been one of the unofficial family rules when he was a kid. Hence his relative inexperience with the whole thing since most of Stiles’ injuries had been accidentally self-inflicted.

Derek actually growled at that, and moved just enough that Stiles knew he wanted to hold him even closer, but that wasn’t possible without breaking some laws of physics or something. Also, Stiles needed to not think about the tense lines of Derek’s muscles pressed along his back and thighs and holy shit he needed to focus on something else.

“So, any idea why I felt the incredibly stupid urge to shift all of the sudden?” he asked and could actually smell Derek’s confusion, which was a strange development, though probably not all that surprising. Stiles had only ever been able to categorize the scents of his parents’ and Scott’s feelings, mostly because they were his pack, but also because of his perpetual close proximity to them. Him being able to parse out Derek’s emotions after only having known him for a day? Kind of strange, actually.

The alpha was quiet for a long moment, during which Stiles tried to remember what all had happened when he had been in his wolf form. It had always been a bit difficult for him to recall specifics other than some of the more visceral things, scents and tastes, mostly. Entire afternoons of his childhood seemed like fugue states, looking back, though he had enough pictures of him and Scott romping around as pups together, fur muddy and fangs bared in delighted grins, to disprove that apparently inaccurate recollection.

By the time it seemed like Derek had settled on what he was going to say Stiles had come up with a hazy kind of memory of the alpha being strangely doting and not at all rapey when Stiles had spent time as a helpless, wounded animal. Not that he was anymore able to defend himself in his current state, either, but once again Derek hadn’t made any move to take advantage.

He wasn’t sure who was the idiot, anymore.

“One of my betas is missing,” Derek finally said, voice quiet and body tense enough for Stiles to want to sooth him. Which he didn’t do because he wasn’t a total omega cliche, but he did try to convey his own sense of calm rationality without pushing it or doing any kind of emotional manipulation or pheromone push. He figured that if the alpha had respected him and his body he’d do the same.

He made a noise of commiseration, but didn’t comment, knowing there was more to the story and him talking wouldn’t speed up the reveal. Derek had a delicate way of speaking, kind of like how Scott had talked during the rocky months leading up to his parent’s long-overdue divorce. It sounded like he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to speak or if the information he gave would even be listened to at all. In Scott’s case it wasn’t, it wasn’t like his dad had been abusive. Well, not physically besides the once, and yeah, Stiles’ sheriff mother had been all over that, but Scott had just about given up having an opinion on things at all by then. Until Stiles had forced him to talk about anything and everything, slowly coaxing him out of his shell because that was what best friends were for.

Because contrary to popular opinion, Stiles did know when to shut up.

Sometimes.

Derek, though? He’d apparently spent years getting used to being quiet because it took him a long while to talk again, but by then his free hand had resumed it’s almost unconscious path up and down Stiles’ side like Derek didn’t mind at all that he was petting bare skin instead of fur. Which, hey, maybe he didn’t. Stiles certainly didn’t protest the soothing treatment.

And that probably meant he was absolutely making a stupid decision, but whatever, he knew that about himself. Stiles was a habitual stupid-decision-maker. Afterall, he’d thought it was smart to tree himself after being chased by three overly enthusiastic betas who’d just been out looking for fun along with their unmated alpha who didn’t seem to understand the concept of fun at all.

Finally, just as Stiles’ self-control was starting to crumble, Derek huffed out an annoyed-sounded, but not actually annoyed, breath that warmed the skin across Stiles’ clavicle and yeah, their faces were really really close to each other. “Erica brought us meat last night,” he said and Stiles nodded, he remembered the taste of the venison, the deliciously tough muscle of the heart he’d devoured with relish. Everyone knew the heart was the best part of the animal and yeah, Derek had totally handed it to him without any kind of discussion or shameless begging on his part.

Huh.

“She left shortly after that, but apparently she never showed up at the camp where she was supposed to meet my other betas, Boyd and Isaac.”

Stiles frowned. “Couldn’t she have found her mate?” It was a totally logical assumption and he was kind of wondering why Derek hadn’t come to that conclusion as well, unless his brawn and beauty were really all there was to him. That would have been a shame because Stiles had a thing for pretty people with actual working brains.

But Derek was shaking his head like he’d already had that discussion.

And seriously? Did Stiles really remember so little?

Then again he’d never remembered much of what had been said when he was a wolf. It was actually the best time for his parents to have discussions about him, they’d quickly learned after having caught him eavesdropping a dozen times. His insatiable curiosity being what it was, both in the past and present. But when he’d been curled up in his mom’s lap as a fluffy little wolf cub, they’d found they could pretty much talk about anything at all and he only ever recalled what he’d felt, when he’d remembered anything at all. Apparently that’s when they’d discussed his birthday parties and winter solstice gifts and even some of the more gruesome cases they’d been working on at the station, Deputy John assisting Sheriff Claudia with the facts. All while Stiles had been in the room. All without him having been able to recall a word.

“She and Boyd are prebonded,” Derek admitted, “Erica wouldn’t have left him like that,” but Stiles could hear the undercurrent of uncertainty in his voice, the kind of uncertainty he was entirely unused to hearing from an alpha.

It was weird. Weirder than them continuing to cuddle with Derek still taking his pain. Weirder than Stiles letting him do so without argument or commentary?

Perhaps.

“So you’re thinking something nefarious happened?” Stiles asked, and that kind of pinged an almost memory in his mind, but he couldn’t immediately recall what it was. Yet another effect of shifting. Sometimes his mind was a bit discombobulated for a while afterward, also he’d suffered some pretty significant blood loss the last time he’d been in his human form, so he was willing to cut himself some slack.

“Nefarious?” Derek asked, sounding, of all things, cautiously amused.

Like. Who sounded cautious when they were amused? That was. That was kind of sad, actually.

Stiles grinned, relaxing against Derek like he could take the cautiousness out of him through sheer force of will. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to, but he figured the alpha wasn’t all that bad. “Yeah, dude, nefarious. Shady? I don’t know, not-right sounds kind of lame.”

“It does,” Derek agreed and Stiles could get behind that level of sass, he was definitely a fan, and that also proved that the alpha did have some form of intelligence lurking beneath his perfect-alpha physique. Which was promising, even if he didn’t want to admit, even to himself, why that was.

Stiles snorted in response, nudging Derek with his elbow to get him to keep going.

“They saw a bootprint,” the alpha finally admitted, like he was kind of embarrassed by the totally incongruous image of a bootprint appearing in the middle of the preserve during the run. It was actually insane, really, except for the strange feeling Stiles had that he knew why it would be there, but once again he couldn’t for the life of him remember.

It was frustrating.

“And?” he prompted because while that was admittedly super out of place, it couldn’t have been everything, not to garner such a strong reaction from an otherwise not-crazy-seeming pack, even if Derek seemed just a wee bit insecure as an alpha. Though he had let his betas tree and then inadvertently seriously injure an omega, so that didn’t really work in the alpha’s favor.

Derek let out a sigh that Stiles felt through his entire body, making his abdomen twitch, but there wasn’t a renewal of pain, just the same slightly fuzzy feeling of having it drained out of him, like his nervous system was being wrapped in a fluffy blanket or something. A warm cloud?

Whatever.

“There was the bootprint and a scent-”

“More than one,” a voice called out, startling Stiles and he definitely felt it that time, a sharp stabbing sensation across his middle that made him want to double over, but Derek was still holding onto him, not letting him injure himself further, but that did nothing to calm Stiles’ suddenly fluttering heartbeat.

“Stiles, calm down,” Derek gritted out, his previously not-entirely-grumpy tone gone in favor of a kind of broodiness that Stiles would have rolled his eyes at if he hadn’t been torn between huddling into himself and blindly lashing out at whoever was just on the edge of intruding into their den.

Why he considered the space theirs and not just his was beside the point.

And yeah, just telling him to calm down? Not an effective way to make that happen. If anything, his pulse got quicker because Derek didn’t seem all that concerned about the person who was about to sully the perfect combination of their scents, which meant it was Stiles’ job to defend their sanctua-

Stiles, calm down.”

The command jolted through him like a shot, loosening his tensed muscles until he collapsed bonelessly back against the alpha, who stupidly seemed a bit surprised by Stiles’ reaction.

“Cheater,” me mumbled, projecting how disgruntled he felt, but otherwise utterly unable to show that physically. His body wouldn’t let him get control over himself quite that quickly. He’d found that for him, commands typically lasted about ten to fifteen minutes and he wanted so badly to go back to distrusting Derek. He remembered that feeling from when he was a wolf, the anger he’d felt and the nearly overwhelming fear, which had shifted to confusion and, inexplicably, a kind of begrudging fondness.

A fondness that remained despite Derek pulling the douchiest of alpha moves.

But at least he seemed a bit conflicted, if his rapidly shifting emotions were anything to go by. “I’m,” Derek started, adjusting his grip on Stiles to accommodate his sudden inability to keep himself upright, “I’m sorry, I just, it’s just Isaac,” he said, like that was explanation enough.

“Dude, I was a wolf, I don’t remember shit like that when I shift back,” Stiles said. He knew it was different for alphas and omegas, but he hadn’t known it was that different.

Derek grumbled something he didn’t quite catch, which meant he hadn’t wanted to be heard clearly, or maybe he was just used to being around other alphas who wouldn’t have had a problem picking up whatever name or insult he’d probably called Stiles and yeah, the twinge he felt in his gut had nothing to do with the wound there. No, that was all his stupid oversensitivity to insults, which he should have gotten over long ago, having had a ton of experience receiving them, but apparently his skin wasn’t as thick as he’d thought because Derek muttering like that?

It hurt his fucking feelings.

Gods, Stiles was such an omega. He felt pretty pathetic and helpless and useless. Because of course he couldn’t get something simple right. Of course he had to shift before the healer had told him to. He had to endanger his own life and inconvenience the alpha who had been doing his best to care for Stiles out of pity or some misplaced sense of duty. And really, Derek was probably trying to get in good with the sheriff by tending to his stupid, hyperactive son, which, hey, that was actually a fairly decent plan. Sheriff Stilinski would do almost anything for Stiles. Still, the realization felt a bit like having a glass of ice water poured over him.

Adding insult to the injured. Or whatever.

But Derek didn’t seem to be one of those passive alphas who just let things like emotional turmoil go, so Stiles found himself being nuzzled, actually nuzzled like they were already lovers, the softness of Derek’s two week old beard tickling his neck as the alpha rumbled in apology, his scent thick with guilt and misery. Stiles was fairly certain that no alpha, except maybe his parents, had ever apologized to him in any way ever.

It was.

It was beyond strange was what it was.

He wasn’t quite sure what was happening, anymore, but he let himself be scent marked and his own self-pitying to dissipate.

-------------------------------

The last time he'd asked for help from someone his uncle has nearly gotten killed for it.

Derek was not in the habit of repeating his mistakes, but he was also responsible for a pack this time around, instead of just crying out for help as his intestines slid out of his body, Kate Argent’s nails red with his blood as she watched him, licking her fingers one at a time. His betas expected him to tell them where to go and what to do, and to protect them from danger if it came to that. But while he wouldn’t exactly admit it out loud, Derek wasn’t all that great at ordering other people around, and he’d certainly failed to protect both Stiles and Erica, not that Stiles was in his pack, or that Erica was even hurt, but still, he wouldn’t know what had happened to her, not without investigating the circumstance of her disappearance further.

He was faced by an odd dilemma, though, compounded by the omega in his arms whose emotions oscillated between contentment and hurt, anger and happiness. He needed to find his beta, but he couldn’t in good conscience leave Stiles alone and defenseless, and judging by his reaction to Isaac even approaching the cave it wasn’t as if he could just leave him in the care of either of his betas. Not that he wanted to do that.

Not at all.

He didn’t think he’d ever been so confused before.

But he knew what he was going to do about it and reluctantly called out to his betas, just loud enough to be heard, the omega tensing in his arms when they stepped closer to the entrance.

“There’s good,” Derek allowed, not liking how quickly Stiles’ heart thundered when he felt threatened. The omega should have known that Derek’s betas were no threat to him, but feeling helpless could do strange things to even the most rational creatures, so Derek just tried to sooth him with a calming hand, which had seemed to work earlier. “I want you both to retrace your steps, see if you can follow the boot prints you found earlier and report back at noon,” he said, then added as an afterthought, “and don’t forget to eat and take care of yourselves while you’re looking.”

They grunted in acknowledgement and took off, quickly enough that Derek knew it was what they’d been wanting all along.

So maybe sometimes he wasn’t a completely shitty alpha.

Stiles began to relax again after that, but Derek wasn’t sure if it was because Boyd and Isaac were gone, or that he’d stayed behind to tend to him. Stiles didn’t speak up to explain, and Derek didn’t ask, so they just went back to. Cuddling? Was that what they were doing? It certainly wasn’t just casual touching, not with how their bodies seemed to recognize each other’s compatibility, though they both thankfully ignored their shared reactions.

“My parents got to know each other through letters,” Derek said, surprising himself almost as much as it seemed he surprised Stiles, who twitched against him, but quickly settled, like he wasn’t certain he was allowed to react. Derek stroked a thumb across his collarbone, hoping to convey that he was, indeed, allowed.

He didn’t know when that became such an important thing to him, making sure Stiles was content, but there they were, Derek’s ass going numb on the stone floor of the cave, the omega sitting comfortably in his lap, both of them half-aroused just by their close proximity, but neither daring to do anything more. Afraid of rejection or acceptance, Derek wasn’t quite certain.

“They were matched by one of the agencies that came about after the war. Dad had all these offers from around the country, back then alphas still outnumbered omegas ten to one. Some were so desperate that they scent marked their letters until they were nearly soaked with scent, but he threw those out without even reading them. It was my mother’s letter that caught his eye, probably because it wasn’t in a fancy envelope or sealed with any kind of crest, even though she could have used the Hale mark.”

The sinuous triskele like the one tattooed between Derek’s shoulder blades. He’d gotten the mark to honor his family, but also to punish himself. Not that he’d ever told anyone that particular reasoning, knowing only too well that his sisters would deck him for it and call him all kinds of not-very-creative names.

“It’s kind of ironic that the plain envelope was what caught his eye, sitting there in a pile of velvet-ribboned and embossed letters. He opened it and could smell just the barest hint of her scent, probably from where she’d licked the envelope closed, but he says he knew then that she was his mate. His parents were dead, an alpha and omega pair killed in the war, so the agency filed all the paperwork on his behalf and took a quarter of the fee mother paid for him.”

Derek wasn’t sure why he felt the need to tell Stiles about that, about how his mother had found his father, or the other way around, really, but it seemed oddly appropriate given the circumstances.

“It was my father’s first run and my mother’s fifth,” Stiles said after a long silence only broken by the steady beating of their hearts and the quiet whisper of their breath, so in sync it sounded like they were one person. Derek didn’t dwell on that, though, instead he listened to Stiles, felt how his body twitched with restrained motion, how he smelled sad when he mentioned his mother, but still nostalgic, like memories of her were bittersweet. “She’d been taking correspondence courses since she’d graduated and was close to having earned her criminal justice degree. They found each other almost immediately and yeah,” he trailed off, and Derek let him.

Under his arm he could feel how delicate Stiles’ skin was, still, despite him having shifted twice and been sewn up once. The stitches were still there, stretched and mostly useless, but Derek left them be and when he smelled or felt one of the scabs crack he pressed his palm against it until it closed again. It was an odd kind of game, but it felt like he was winning.

Slowly.

Derek let the silence grow until he felt inclined to speak again, breaking through the quiet like blood from the jagged line of Stiles’ wound.  “I remember when your mother was made sheriff,” he said because it was true and he knew Stiles hadn’t had much time with her before she’d been killed, that he’d lived more years without her than with, but he figured reminiscing could be healthy.

Or not, judging by the abruptly bitter shift in Stiles’ scent.

He’d never been very good with words, and forced his jaw to close up tight, trying to apologize once again with his touch.

Which was when he heard Boyd’s pained howl rip through the air and stole the breath from their lungs.

Chapter Text

Stiles came to several conclusions simultaneously. The first was that Derek Hale seemed the type to do anything for his betas, for his pack, if flying through through the forest without pausing to consider the wisdom of his actions was anything to go by. The second being that the alpha was insanely fit, cradling Stiles in his arms easily despite moving at a dead sprint over the uneven ground. The third was that Stiles must really liked the socially incompetent alpha because instead of protesting or shouting for help Stiles just wrapped his arms tight around Derek’s neck and held on as they tore through the woods toward where his beta’s call had come, not even concerned about his own personal safety because for some reason he was perfectly convinced that Derek wouldn’t let him get hurt.

At least not on purpose. Stiles recognized the whole tree debacle as having been an unfortunate accident, though he was willing to hold that one over Derek’s head for just a bit longer, at least until it no longer felt like his insides were completely prepared to become his outsides.

But the closer they got to the source of the eerie sound, the more familiar the landscape became and yeah, Stiles’ memory was coming back to him at probably not the most opportune time. Especially when he suddenly remembered that his little run-in with Matt had also included the strange woman he’d preemptively thrown a rock at and shit. That was all kinds of not-good. That was light the red flare kinds of not-good, actually.

An invader in the preserve?

Pretty much worst case scenario shit, right there.

"There was a woman," Stiles said, teeth clacking together as they landed on the other side of a fallen log.

Of course the warning is seconds too late because that was how Stiles’ life went.

The woman, the same one he’d thrown a rock at after she’d threatened Matt, was standing directly in front of them with a delighted smirk on her face, having clearly heard Stiles’ words and inexplicably found them amusing. She wore the same combat-esque camouflage gear, looking for all the world like a military-grade invader, which was stupid and silly and wrong. Beacon Hills wasn’t a particularly important town, even if they held the largely unique solstice run, unlike other places that relied more heavily on auctions or even contests to get their omegas married off before their first heats. But even if she’d wanted to get in on the run, all she would have had to do was move to Beacon Hills in the six months preceding it, which would have automatically granted her the right to participate since it was abundantly clear she wasn’t mated despite her age, likely late twenties or early thirties.

Stiles broke off from that line of thought, though, when he saw the rest of the scene and his breath caught. Eric was tied to a nearby tree behind the stranger, her mouth gagged and angry tears running down her cheeks. Her bare skin was rubbed raw where it touched the rope, and Stiles realized it was infused with wolfsbane, that it had to be or else Erica wouldn’t have had a problem bursting out of the restraints. It also explained why she wasn’t shifted despite being clearly pissed off at the woman.

At their feet, between where Derek still held him and where the stranger stood, Boyd was sprawled out unconscious, but breathing. It looked like he had a mark on his forehead, but his face was turned away and Stiles couldn’t be sure if it was still bleeding or not. Erica’s gaze was fixed on him, though, and Stiles remembered Derek mentioning their prebond. Seeing him in that state should have sent Erica into a rage, if not for the wolfsbane.

There were two other people there as well, off to the woman’s other side and that, more than anything, made Stiles’ skin crawl with alarm. It was Matt, looking half-mad and entirely freaked out, one hand holding Isaac by the hair, the beta kneeling at his feet, a knife poised unsteadily at his throat. As far as Stiles knew, it took a lot to provoke an omega into that kind of situation. They were naturally caregivers, not killers or even maimers. The woman was either Matt’s mate or he was susceptible to any alpha’s orders, which could come in handy if Derek picked up on that, too.

But Stiles hadn’t anticipated the alpha’s reaction to the scene.

“Kate,” Derek gasped, voice thick with recognition, like he’d been stabbed by it. Stiles felt himself pale because he’d been wrong, that was the most alarming part of the whole situation, the sense of profound terror roiling off of the alpha and Stiles couldn’t help it, he tightened his grip on Derek’s neck and bled away some of his gut-wrenching emotions and tried to replace them with the confidence he felt because he knew they’d get out of the situation alive.

They had to, all of them together.

He couldn’t allow himself to believe anything other than that, despite Derek’s clearly defeatist attitude. Stiles wasn’t sure why, but he knew the alpha wouldn’t be able to live with himself if one of his betas died when he could prevent it. So Stiles was prepared to believe with all his heart that it wouldn’t happen, that they’d prevail.

“Great, so you know each other,” Stiles said as calmly as he could. “That’s Matt, he’s the reason I was already running when your betas found me,” he continued, tilting his chin toward where the omega was barely keeping a hold on the knife, his hand was shaking so badly. Easy enough for Isaac to knock away in a sudden flurry of movement. It was too bad Stiles wasn’t able to convey that thought telepathically, but he hoped the beta wasn’t just a pretty face and that he would take the opportunity to disarm his assailant if he had the chance.

“I’m Stiles, by the way, the sheriff’s kid,” he continued brazenly as he addressed the woman, Kate, knowing he needed to stall if he wanted Derek to get his shit together enough to be useful.

Whatever his damage was, it didn’t matter as long as his packmates were in trouble and it was up to him to take care of the shit that was happening. Stiles, though? He was more of a talker than a doer, and so he talked, trying to give the alpha time to get his head out of his ass.

“These betas belong to Derek,” he said with what he hoped looked like an easy smirk, “and I hate to break it to you, but you shouldn’t be here. You know, since you’re fully clothed and don’t have a chain or anything. This whole deal is pretty exclusive. Invite only.” And yeah, he kind of regretted mentioning the alpha chain almost immediately because Kate’s amused brown eyes jumped to where Stiles was holding onto Derek’s neck, where the alpha’s chain was pressing against his skin and still very much intact. That hadn’t been his goal at all, drawing attention to Derek in any way because it felt like the alpha was set to jump out of his own skin given half a chance. Like he wanted nothing more than to shift into his wolf form and flee until his paws bled from it.

“Failed to mate again?” she asked with a smirk, ignoring Stiles in favor of addressing Derek, who stiffened impossibly more, his hands almost bruisingly firm on the skin of Stiles’ thigh and hip. Not that he minded, since Derek seemed to finally be snapping out of the weirdly passive angst-pit he’d fallen into upon first seeing the woman. “Or,” she said, sneering as she eyed Stiles as if he was something easily discarded, like trash or a corpse. She certainly seemed the kind to not flinch at murder. “Is it that you’ve found a mate, but haven’t been able to get it up for him, yet? I don’t blame you, not after what happened the last time you tried to fuck someone. You haven’t taken a lover since me, have you?” she asked knowingly and Stiles felt his body seize with horror before he could stop himself from reacting.

He’d known that Derek had been attacked during his first run. Everyone knew that, especially since it had nearly resulted in the deaths of two Hales. Some people had been more douchily open in their unsympathetic opinions on the matter, but even without his dad’s sudden interest in Derek Hale’s welfare, Stiles hadn’t ever been of the they probably deserved it camp. Meeting the woman who had apparently inflicted the wounds on Derek only served to solidify his view. And the fact that they’d had sex before, or maybe even during her assault-

Stiles swallowed back bile.

It was sickening. Not because of the sex thing, not as long as there was mutual consent and all that, but because the woman, Kate, had apparently planned to kill Derek and tried to what, seduce him to do it? That was what made Stiles want to lean over and hurl, but he somehow managed to tamp down the feeling.

Derek, though, he was throwing off a jumble of tangled emotions Stiles couldn’t even begin to interpret besides a bone-chilling amount of humiliation. The kind Stiles had only experienced during some particularly terrible dreams that involved cold classrooms, no clothes, and any number of tasks he’d had to perform in front of anyone and everyone he’d ever jerked off to, not limited to porn stars and actors and maybe even a few unattached alphas he’d seen around town. Whatever, the point was that Stiles could commiserate, at least on some level, with how Derek was feeling, though he hadn’t ever been subjected to the level of amused scorn Kate was sending his way.

Stiles tried to cling to Derek when the alpha gently set him down, propping him against a tree to make sure he wouldn’t accidentally fall over and re-injure himself. The alpha easily slipped out of his grip, one of his broad hands lingered for the barest moment on Stiles’ neck. Like a goodbye.

Which was bullshit.

Particularly when Derek stepped forward, hands passively extended at his sides, claw-free, looking for all the world like he was giving up.

“Let them go and take me instead,” he said quietly, as if he deserved the punishment she was clearly prepared to dole out. Stiles hadn’t heard that particular tone of voice from him before and if he’d been less of a wuss he would have leapt to his feet to defend the alpha and his bullshit inferiority complex, but the wound across his middle was still an angry pink, the scabs dark red and leaking in places, so he stayed quiet and observed.

Isaac and Erica watched their alpha’s actions with open horror, probably because the law dicted that if Derek submitted completely to Kate, they would become her property instead of his.

No one wanted that. At least Stiles and the betas didn’t.

But Kate, apparently not one for being boring, but was still actually pretty predictable, just shook her head and gestured loosely to where Stiles was sitting behind Derek. “Naw, I think I’ll take the little omega, instead. And your betas, of course.”

Derek, finally, showed some life and growled in response, but then Isaac let out a little cut-off gasp and Stiles could smell the blood welling up at the point of Matt’s blade even before he saw it slowly trickle down the beta’s neck. At least it looked like Matt was on the verge of pissing himself, so there was that incredibly small conciliation.

“Ah, ah, I wouldn’t if I were you,” Kate said, sounding for all the world like a movie villain. Like one of the assholes in fairy tales who thought they could steal someone else’s mate. As if such a thing ever worked out in the bad wolf’s favor. “I’ll take your pet and your dogs, make them kill you and then I’ll kill your family.”

And, okay, that wasn’t at all like any story Stiles had heard, not even the really dark, violent case files his dad had tried to keep Stiles away from, but had very obviously failed at, especially since he’d been able to pick the filing cabinet lock since he was ten. No, Kate’s brand of crazy was darker than he’d anticipated and he kind of hated that the rock he’d lobbed at her head hadn’t killed her.

“But if you want to spare your betas the trauma of having to kill you themselves, you could always run yourself through with my claws,” she proposed, flicking her hands and extended them like she expected Derek to just go for it, to commit suicide via psychopath.

Impossibly, stupidly, it looked like he was actually thinking of taking that option, going so far as to step forward.

And that was quite enough of that.

Stiles took a deep breath and released a surprisingly feral-sounding growl that rattled his bones even as he felt his blood seem to ignite with the shift. It was an oddly foreign sensation, an aching one, but it felt right. It felt like that was exactly what was supposed to happen when Derek deliberately put himself in danger. When he tried to get himself killed on Stiles’ behalf.

He didn’t know what was going on, exactly, but he was absolutely certain that he wasn’t going to let Kate do any more damage to his alpha.

---------------------------

Derek knew exactly what was happening, with a sharper clarity than he’d felt perhaps ever, but even though he knew, he still had trouble believing it.

In the high school history classes all alphas were required to take, they’d learned a lot about the reasons for things, why Beacon Hills had mating runs, why there was an omega shortage in the first place, and why the war had almost been lost. The three things were closely related, and seeing it firsthand, Derek could certainly tell why.

Because Stiles was on the verge of berserking.

Of course Derek hadn’t ever seen it before, well, except for the one video Laura and Cora had made him watch on the subject, a pirated grainy black and white clip from back during the war. It showed an omega captured by the enemy trying to get to her alpha, who was half-dead and not even restrained, he was so obviously weakened by poison or starvation or whatever else had been done to him. No, but the omega was, with dozens of rough-looking chains that dug into her pale fur until she bled, but she just kept straining, bigger than any wolf he’d ever seen, slavering and probably howling for all she was worth, but the video was too old to have any audio. The clip ended just as she’d burst out of her restraints, but Derek knew both she and her mate had probably been slaughtered before they could actually escape. His sisters hadn’t seemed that smug afterward, especially not when their dad had found out and grounded the three of them for showing grievous disrespect for the dead and the memory of his own parents who had been killed in a similar manner. An alpha and omega pair captured by the enemy, only to be then slaughtered like dogs.

Derek hadn’t quite understood it, then, but seeing Stiles shift, which shouldn’t have been possible so soon after he’d turned back to his human form, he began to get just how profound a weapon an omega could be. Stiles’ wolf form didn’t stay as it had been, though, a slim white-furred barely-adult. No, immediately began to grow into something bigger, deadlier.

Monstrous.

It was then Derek really understood.

The enemy had pushed for omega assassination during the war because when they felt their mates were threatened they lost their minds and became nearly unstoppable killing machines, only halting their blood-lust when they were absolutely certain their alpha was safe from harm. Lone omegas attempting to defend their mates had decimated entire platoons of soldiers unprepared for their nightmarish fury and insatiable appetites for vengeance.

Derek was very clearly in danger, and Kate suddenly looked far less confident in her plan to kill him and keep the omega and his betas for herself.

Stiles’ sudden bellow was louder than any howl Derek had ever heard, but instead of flinching back he felt his lips curl in glee. He opened his mouth, teeth sharp, and roared with Stiles as Kate turned away and fled.

They took off an instant later to hunt her down together. As mates should.

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, though Derek knew he probably shouldn’t consider it such, the chase was over with almost before it had begun. They’d tracked the surprisingly quick Kate Argent maybe half a mile from where they’d first encountered her when she was suddenly surrounded by alphas, some with mates and some without, but all of them nude and clearly run participants instead of having illegally snuck into the preserve like she’d done. Derek and Stiles slowed down as they approached, a warning growl rumbling in Stiles’ throat, which was at a height with Derek’s shoulder, the fur still silky soft when he brushed his skin against it in solidarity.

He didn’t particularly like the look of things, either, seeing the others surround their prey, blocking them from pursuit. Kate was their kill by rights.

What rights, Derek wasn’t quite clear about, but it felt like that was only proper. She’d threatened his pack, his mate, and she wasn’t going to get away with it. Even if he had to go through the horde to get to her.

Stiles let out a wet-sounding warning growl beside him and Derek echoed it, partially shifting so his eyes would blaze an unholy red. But despite the clear challenge the crowd refused to part, caging in a frantic-looking Kate, hair a wild tangle around her head, her face morphed with the partial shift, fangs bared and eyes bright with fear. He could smell it from where he and Stiles were attempting to press closer, but none of the others would move aside and Derek didn’t feel comfortable pressing the issue too much, or else risk hurting one or more of them, especially with Stiles mostly operating on instinct instead of logic. The other alphas and their mates didn’t deserve to die, after all, only Kate had earned that punishment as far as Derek knew.

He recognized most of them, including the two alphas his uncle had been speaking with at the station, Peter himself off to one side. There was also a pair of alphas who looked young and identical and a few more he couldn’t immediately recall, but Stiles must have because he let out an inquisitive noise, much deeper than it should have been, though he was bigger than ever when he was in his berserker form.

The fact that he was still so imposing was odd. Derek was no longer in immediate danger, so  Stiles shouldn’t have felt the need to stay like that, but he hadn’t shrunk back to either of his normal forms and Derek didn’t push it. He was actually a bit wary about the scene in front of them, Kate boxed in, but not being attacked or harmed or restrained, like everyone was waiting for something to happen, though he wasn’t sure what. Derek knew he and Stiles were waiting to feel her blood coating their tongues, to hear her bones crunch between their teeth, but it had quickly become clear no one would let that happen, though Derek couldn’t fathom why not.

He found the situation beyond frustrating, as did Stiles if his impatient rumbling was anything to go by.

It was Peter that moved forward, just a step closer to Derek, but it was enough to immediately cause Stiles’ pale hackles to rise as he gave a rabid-sounding warning bark, pale gray ears pinned back, huge white teeth exposed. Wisely, Peter raised his hands and stopped short. Beside him stood a red-haired young woman, an omega from the way her eyes flashed a warning blue at Stiles’ threat. When none of them made any further movements, Derek’s uncle finally sighed like he was feeling utterly put-upon. It was a very Peter expression.

“Well, as you can see, we’ve finally managed to recapture the infamous Kate Argent,” he said, like it was something Derek had been aware was a problem that had needed to be fixed. But if that were the case-

“You knew she was out,” Derek accused, so shocked that his fangs receded and his face changed back into his normal human skin, unfurred and smoothly muscled.

Beside him Stiles made a plaintive noise and nudged him hard enough that Derek had to grab a handful of his thick fur to keep upright. The omega really was monstrously huge in that form, with a wide mouth full of razor-edged teeth and a wicked look in his icy blue eyes. The muscles bulging beneath his downy-soft coat looked and felt bolder-hard and his overall form was an odd mix of wolf and man. Regardless, his mate was a hulking, gorgeous creature. At least that was how he looked to Derek.

Peter eyed Stiles warily for a second more before smiling, it was the expression he wore when he was trying to show that the wasn’t affected by whatever was going wrong around him. Derek had seen the look on his face many times shortly after his injury. The injury Kate Argent had given him.

“Why isn’t she dead?” Derek demanded and Stiles nodded fiercely in agreement. Derek idly scratched him behind one large, soft ear and the wolf, or however he was supposed to classify Stiles’ in his current form, gave a pleased rumble. Stiles really was a lot similar to how he’d behaved as a normal-sized wolf, but just a bit more reactionary, like his instincts were accounting for eighty percent of his actions instead of fifty or sixty.

“Kate Argent escaped from confinement almost a year ago,” Peter said, sounding more like he was bored with the discussion already than the fact that he was confessing something that would have put Derek so on edge his sisters probably would have had to force him to leave his apartment to even participate in the run at all. And really, his fear of Kate was so profound he wasn’t even sure if they would have succeeded.

“Yet you didn’t feel the need to tell me, didn’t warn me that running into her out there or in here was a possibility,” Derek said, trying not to sound quite as betrayed as he felt. Stiles knew, though, could probably smell it on him and feel it through Derek’s touch, his fingers still entwined in the fur on the wolf’s neck. It probably looked like a possessive gesture, but he was really just feeling horribly vulnerable and insecure. Not that he was going to let his fellow alphas know that. He could really only take so much humiliation at any given time and it looked like he was rapidly approaching his quota.

The redhead beside Peter tilted her head to the side, her green eyes surveying Derek and Stiles in a calculating manner. He was entirely certain nothing slipped her notice. “Would you have found your mate if you’d been so preoccupied with worrying about her? Would you have even run?” she asked, genuinely sounding a bit bored, not like Peter’s feigned indifference. Derek immediately recognized that they were a perfectly matched pair.

Scarily perfect, really.

Stiles snorted. In amusement? Derek wasn’t sure but he gave the omega,his mate, a look that said he shouldn’t find the situation funny. Kate had tried to kill Derek the last time he’d seen her. She’d just tried to kill him again. He was allowed to not want to be near her while she was still a living breathing person. He had a right to want to end her so no one else would ever have to suffer at her hand.

“Some friends of mine have been hunting her since then, keeping an eye on things,” Peter continued, a hand loosely toying with one of the waves of his mate’s long red hair. His chain was wrapped around one of her ankles, an interesting place for her to have put it. “They knew what she’d attempted before and about the feud between our families-”

Derek had always considered that word to be a bit of an extreme term for the general antipathy the Argents and Hales had for each other. Well, until Kate had gotten involved and escalated things to a new level.

“-and decided to move here, at least until this year’s run was finished in anticipation of her next move. It just so happens they’ve found mates, for the most part,” he said, gesturing with his free hand to the other alphas and their companions who were still surrounding Kate. She looked like a cornered animal, the whites of her eyes showing as she turned in a tight circle, not letting any of the pairs surrounding her out of her sight for long. It was dizzying to watch her.

He forced himself to look away, to study the alphas and noticed that most had, indeed, found themselves compatible mates. Peter’s apparent friend Deucalion was standing beside the Whittemore boy, who was also an alpha, though that didn’t really matter. He looked oddly sullen, though, for whatever reason. The big alpha, Ennis, was alone, but was standing close enough to the identical alpha twins that Derek suspected they were part of the same group who had come for Kate. The twins had a pretty dark haired male between them, probably a beta since he was too muscular to be an omega, but he also didn’t have the intense look of an alpha. It was rare for there to be three mated together, but not unheard of, or even for siblings to be involved in the mix. He didn’t see Cora, though he nodded a greeting to the other alphas he recognized from school or town.

“So what happens, now?” Derek asked and felt Stiles tense beside him, still not trusting the situation enough to shift back. Derek didn’t blame him, it was strange.

Peter gave an easy shrug. “Now we wait for the cavalry to arrive. I assume your mate’s roar was enough to get them motivated, seeing that there hasn’t been a case of berserking in the entire history of the Beacon Hill’s solstice run. It would probably be wise for you to remove yourselves from the scene, though, we wouldn’t want the sheriff to have to tranquilize his own son should he feel you were under threat, now would we?” Peter’s smirk made Derek think of old times, back when he’d been a kid and his uncle had been more like an annoying older brother than any kind of authority figure. Back before Peter had run for the first time and come back a shadow of himself. Before Derek had gone and nearly gotten them both killed.

The memory of who they’d been was what make him take his uncle’s advice and he led Stiles away from the alphas and the growling Kate Argent.

-----------------------------

The whole shifting amnesia thing?

Really not cool.

At least that was Stiles’ opinion. He woke up groggy and cotton-mouthed, feeling tired and achey and drained, but also ravenous and unsettled that was lame. He didn’t like having so many conflicting sensations going on at the same time, especially not when one of them was a horniness the intensity of which he’d never before experienced. It was alarming, but what was worse was the utter lack of Derek in the cave.

Stiles was lying on the same patch of moss and dried leaves as before, though it looked like someone had refreshed the pieces that had begun to dry out. Derek had done done it, obviously, because his was the only other scent in the space. Stiles would have relaxed at that realization, but the alpha wasn’t around for him to thank or see or smell or anything.

His mate was gone.

Stiles wasn’t proud of the whine that warbled from his very human throat, but he was feeling so horribly exposed and lost and there he was.

Derek appeared at the entrance, chest heaving, one arm slicked with blood and Stiles gaped at him. “You’re hurt?” he asked, incredulous. He couldn’t have been out of it for long, the sky was still bright, and yet Derek somehow still managed to get wounded. The guy needed a keeper and Stiles was more than willing to perform that role if it meant keeping the alpha in one piece.

But he was shaking his head and Stiles was too tired to sort out what his eyebrows were doing, some complicated dance that was obviously trying to convey the intricacies of what had happened to produce the smear of blood that apparently wasn’t his but still marred his bare, beautiful skin.

“Derek,” he finally whined, letting his head fall back onto the moss, muscles too delicate-feeling to support the weight any longer, “use your words.”

Thankfully Derek snorted in response and shook his head in a way that Stiles hoped spoke of fondness instead of disgust. “I thought you might be hungry so I went hunting, but not too far from here,” he added hastily, probably at seeing Stiles’ forehead crinkle with worry. He was bad at keeping his expression neutral at the best of times, but particularly so when he was bone-tired and feeling entirely out of sorts.

“Why do I feel so funky?” he asked quietly. Volume wasn’t really necessary, not when he was in an enclosed space with an alpha. His alpha. Stiles could whisper and Derek wouldn’t have had a problem hearing every word.

But whatever Derek saw or smelled or whatever must have alarmed him because he was instantly at Stiles’ side, running warm hands across Stiles’ sensitive skin, awakening little aching electric sparks that made him bite back a moan. He didn’t know what his body was doing, but overall it seemed kind of dramatic and unnecessary. He’d found his mate, he couldn’t really get sick, and his injury didn’t seem to be that much of a problem, the cut reduced to nothing more than a dull pale line across his skin. Though when Stiles gathered the strength to tilt his head to see that he immediately recognized at least a symptom of what was happening.

“I’m going into heat?” he asked unnecessarily. His cock was an angry red, hard and aching against his lower abdomen, his hole tender and probably already dripping with his natural slick, though he wasn’t brave enough to clench his thighs together to check for sure. “Derek,” he said, plaintively that time.

Derek seemed torn, though, clearly unsure what to do with a hungry, yet sexually ravenous mate, who couldn’t remember most a lot of what had happened between leaving the cave and apparently returning to it, having mostly healed and was suddenly plus a mate. Derek still wore his chain, but that was probably because Stiles hadn’t been of a mind to remove it earlier, whatever had occurred during his latest memory lapse.

Derek finally moved to kneel fully to his side and put his broad hands down on Stiles’ chest, holding him there as he stroked up and down his torso, acclimating him to the touch of his mate, marking him with Derek’s scent. Stiles breathed out and closed his eyes, letting his muscles relax. It wasn’t difficult since he was finally getting what he needed. He was going to be claimed.

He sincerely hoped.

“Don’t stop,” he murmured when Derek’s hands disappeared. He opened his eyes slowly and watched as the alpha’s eyes flashed red for a second before his brows furrowed.

“Stiles, I’m not going to leave you, I promise. I just want to make sure you’re okay. You,” he trailed off, like he wasn’t sure what to say.

“I what?” he asked, knowing it probably had something to do with his hazy memories. Oh. “Wait, shit, did I do something? Something bad? Is my dad going to have to arrest me?” he could both hear and feel his pulse rising. If he’d screwed up and broken the law somehow his dad would be so disappointed in him. Stiles hated it when his dad was disappointed. Plus, yeah, serving time in jail was probably awful.

But Derek shook his head and went back to running soothing hands over Stiles’ skin like they belonged there, which they absolutely did. He wished he had the energy to return the favor, but he was feeling weighed down by dread and confusion and the beginnings of guilt, plus his body’s apparent bonelessness he couldn’t even begin to fight.

“Shh, Stiles, calm down, you’re fine,” Derek said, “we’re safe, now,” which implied that at one point they hadn’t been safe?

Stiles pointed that out and the alpha frowned, clearly trying to think of a way out of telling him what had happened. And that was entirely unacceptable. The McCall marriage had fallen apart because of a lot of things, but the lies had been what had struck more than a few cracks in their already unstable foundation.

“Please don’t lie to me,” Stiles begged, knowing he sounded more hurt than the situation probably warranted, but he just felt so unbalanced he couldn’t seem to get his footing or work on modulating his tone into anything other than a plea.

Derek’s expression softened and his hands slid up to cradle Stiles’ face. “Of course,” he agreed, “I’m sorry I even considered it. I just. I just don’t want you to worry,” he admitted. It was an admission, too, an entirely truthful one despite Stiles’ inability to hear his heartbeat. “Why don’t I help you with this, first,” he gestured to Stiles’ straining erection, “and when you’re feeling more clear-headed we can talk. Okay?”

It wasn’t exactly the order of events he would have preferred, but Stiles was willing to compromise, especially if it meant finding out how Derek was going to get him off. That was certainly promising.

So was his mouth, apparently.

Stiles gasped, his spine bowing as Derek held down his hips with both strong hands, his fingertips pressing into Stiles’ skin with an anchoring kind of hold that no doubt left perfect little temporary bruises. Derek’s tongue lapped easily at his taut skin, tracing the veins on the underside of his cock and circling the sensitive head until Stiles was certain he would lose his mind before he came.

“Please,” he gasped, astonished that his voicebox even worked after all of his breathless panting and the moans he could hear echoing back at him.

Derek hummed in response and suddenly a wicked heat enveloped his entire length, down to the root and Stiles keened in response, hands clenched in the moss, dirt under his nails and shoulders digging bruises into the soft bedding.

He couldn’t articulate anything after that, not even his mate’s name, though he wanted to shout it as he shuddered, spilling down Derek’s throat. When he finally regained the ability to speak Stiles felt like he’d been dismantled, his component parts scattered across the dim earthen floor, Derek’s hands his only possible hope of ever being put back together.

It was a strangely beautiful feeling.

“Derek,” he finally managed to whisper, a blessing and prayer and command and everything, all in one.

“Stiles,” Derek responded, smiling fondly at him, lips bruised red and perfect.

“May I have your chain?” he asked. It was one of the only pieces of formality he was expected to perform during the run, the one thing omegas were tasked with remembering. Anything else was voluntary due to how fiercely their heat could ravage their wits. Some succomed immediately upon finding their mates, like Stiles, apparently, while others went weeks before it happened, allowing them to wait until they were in the privacy of their or their mate’s own home where they would spend frantic hours or days rutting together when they weren’t firmly knotted.

Derek bowed his head, letting Stiles’ uncoordinated fingers fumble against the chain, testing patiently for the weakest link. It took him a few minutes, during which his touch slowly became more sure and he smiled fondly up at his mate, pleased to see Derek’s hazel eyes fixed firmly on Stiles’ face, like he was trying to memorize that moment. When he finally found it, Stiles gently pulled the chain until the link broke, careful not to catch Derek’s skin as he carefully unwound it and wrapped the silver length around his wrist, letting his mate fasten it there with a few quick twists of the metal.

“Mate,” Derek whispered with quiet reverence, kissing Stiles’ palms so gently it brought tears to his eyes.

When he’d thought about finding a mate, knowing it was bound to be an alpha because that was how his life worked, Stiles had contemplated the worst case scenario much more often than he’d ever tried to come up with even moderate examples of how things could turn out. Apparently, he’d been wrong. Derek wasn’t a violent asshole, he didn’t push or shout or scream until he got his way, though of course Stiles’ parents hadn’t ever done any of that, either. But Stiles had grown up aware that his parents were somewhat of the exception, in many cases, and that he couldn’t expect to live a happy life as long as he was mated to an alpha.

Stiles didn’t expect it, no, but in a rare burst of optimism he did hope for the best.

“Mate,” he replied, and pulled Derek in for a tender kiss.

Chapter Text

“Now,” Stiles said, pulling his teeth away from where he'd been playfully worrying the skin on Derek’s shoulder. The alpha hadn’t seemed to mind, but Stiles was finally feeling a bit of clarity and knew it wouldn’t last forever. “So, what actually happened? I mean, I remember being here talking to you, so that must have been after my wolf-out.”

“Which time?” Derek asked and Stiles went still.

What?

“What does that mean, which time? Are you saying I shifted again? After I’d just turned back? How the hell did I manage that? I’ve never been able to do that before. Is it because you’re my mate? Wait, but why would I have done that at all? Did something trigger me? I mean, I used to have panic attacks when I was younger and sometimes shifting was the only way-”

“Stiles,” Derek cut in with a concerned look and Stiles’ teeth clicked shut. He really didn’t like it when Derek felt concerned, it made Stiles’ stomach twi-

“Stiles,” he said more gently, one of his hands massaging Stiles' scalp and yeah, that felt pretty amazing, “I’ll tell you what happened, but you’re going to have to calm down. When you freak out like that it freaks me out, and then we’re both useless, okay?”

He nodded, not trusting himself to open his mouth, not when there were still a dozen questions poised on the tip of his tongue, ready to escape at the first opportunity. Instead, he pressed his forehead against Derek's neck, perfectly positioned because of the way they were both sprawled. Stiles on his back and Derek on his side, head lying on one arm, that hand still kneading Stiles’ head while the other traced random patterns across his stomach. Stiles felt himself settle under the ministrations. It was almost as soothing as being petted when he was in his wolf form.

“Okay, so you remember being treed, I guess before that you came across,” Derek swallowed, but Stiles could feel the complicated mixture of anger and fear Derek was trying to hide, and that was an unsettling combination. Derek cleared his throat and continued quickly, like he was trying to force the words out so he didn’t have to say or think about them any longer. “You must have come across Kate Argent, which was probably why my betas found you already running before we treed you. Sorry about that, by the way, it was stupid of-”

“You’re forgiven,” Stiles said easily. “Seriously, don’t worry about it. And yeah, there was a woman. She was fully clothed, which is weird, right? Wait, you said she was an Argent? How-”

“In time, Stiles,” he said his hand stroking gently across the pale scar on his belly and Stiles rubbed his cheek against Derek’s shoulder, enjoying how their scents mixed. When he’d remained quiet for long enough, Derek finally continued, studying where his fingers idly traced the mark that stretched from just under his ribcage on one side, almost down to his hip on the other. “You were wounded and had shifted into your wolf form. After Deaton sewed up the injury I brought you here and tended to you-”

Stiles remembered all of that, or at least as much as he ever remembered post-shift.

“-until Boyd and Isaac came to inform me that my other beta, Erica, had gone missing.”

Stiles had shifted back around then, he knew, but couldn’t remember why. Oh, wait, probably the Argent thing.

“You shifted, even though you shouldn’t have, not until you’d healed more, and I sent the two of them out to try to track where she’d gone. When we heard them howl I carried you toward the sound. Kate Argent had managed to incapacitate the three of them in an attempt to get to me. Our families haven’t ever been on the best of terms, but she actually tried to kill me during my first run-”

But had seduced him, first, Stiles remembered hearing at some indeterminate point in time, his memories still blurred together, but they were slowly becoming clearer as Derek spoke. And really, Stiles had a hard time believing that Kate Argent been so unconscionably evil, but he knew his mate wasn’t lying.

“-and my uncle Peter.”

Derek went quiet, like he was lost in the memory and Stiles didn’t need to be empathic to see how much it hurt him to remember. So he lifted his tired arms, running his hands up and down Derek’s impressively muscled torso, trying to draw him back to the present with his presence alone, too nervous to perform a mood sharing without Derek’s consent.

Finally, Derek settled enough to continue, giving Stiles an embarrassed smile. “She threatened you and the betas, but then she threatened me, too, and,” Derek wasn’t looking at him, anymore, he was looking just about anywhere else, though and Stiles felt a familiar sensation of dread.

“What did I do, Derek?” he asked, pleaded, his hands frozen where they’d been sliding over his chest. Stiles knew it was something stupid or terrible, it had to have been or else Derek would have just come out and said it. Right?

“Derek?” he prompted when the alpha continued to hesitate.

“You saw that I was in danger,” he said, looking down at Stiles’ chest, which was at least better than him staring at the wall, if only marginally, “and you went berserk.”

Which.

Didn’t really tell him anything.

“Okay?” he said, making it a question because as far as he could tell that wasn’t okay, but he didn’t know why.

Derek finally looked at him, his hazel eyes darting back and forth, like he wasn’t sure if Stiles was joking or not.

He wasn’t.

“I have no clue what you’re talking about,” he admitted when Derek didn’t speak. “Well, except that going berserk normally means freaking out and being generally uncontrollable, but the way you said it, it sounds like something else. Something more. So I assume I’m missing the point.”

Derek looked kind of floored, really, but Stiles waited him out, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

“Uh, like in the war,” Derek said slowly.

Which, okay, Stiles was sort of following him on that one. Maybe. He knew about the alpha and omega mates that fought together, but he’d always just assumed that it was the alphas who had done the fighting and the omegas who had kept them sane on the battlefield. Stiles’ silence seemed to spur Derek on, though, which was fortunate because he was pretty sure he still didn’t completely understand what the alpha was telling him and he wanted to understand.

Derek let out a breath, warm against Stiles’ face and he couldn’t keep back a smile, though he was pretty sure that wasn’t the way he was supposed to react because yeah, no toothbrushes in the wilds of the preserve. Not that it seemed to matter, though, which Stiles thought was maybe a perk of being an alpha, though since Derek hadn’t commented on his own oral hygiene Stiles just let it go, enjoying the way their sides were pressed together, the careful touch of Derek’s fingers in his hair and across his abdomen, the way his heat seemed to have cooled to a simmer, a constant presence in the back of his mind, but not as pressing as it had been.

“You don’t know about omegas berserking, do you?” Derek finally asked and Stiles shook his head, going back to exploring the curve of Derek’s shoulder with his mouth, finding where he could fit his teeth around the bulges of muscle and bone, but not leaving behind anything more than his scent and faint impressions that faded almost instantly.

It felt good to mark his mate, even just temporarily.

-----------------

Derek honestly couldn’t believe that the content, passive omega in his arms was the same hulking creature he’d had to lure back to their temporary den the day before. But Stiles was there with him, smelling of happiness and heat, of Derek and the general haze of affection. That was certainly different from before, when the rage had billowed off of him in almost tangible waves after they’d gone back for Derek’s betas, but his mate was still confused about what had happened so he did his best to explain even though he was pretty sure we was doing a bad job of it.

“Alphas and omega mated pairs were used as the ultimate weapons in the war,” he began.

“You mean like your father’s parents?” Stiles asked, lips tickling the skin above Derek’s nipple where he’d been licking and nipping.

Scent marking his mate.

Derek nodded and continued before he could get even more side-tracked by the slow drag of Stiles’ tongue. “Yes, they were one of the pairs that were used to defeat the enemy, though they didn’t make it out alive.”

“So, what,” Stiles said, finally seeming to be fully awake for the first time since he’d berserked, “the omega gets scared and the alpha freaks out and defends them? But that doesn’t make sense because you said I’d gone crazy.”

The suspicion was heavy in his voice and Derek leaned in to nuzzle his forehead, kissing the warm skin lightly. “You did berserk, it’s something only omegas can do, and happens when they feel their mate or cubs are in danger. It’s rare, and for some reason it only happens when they’re mated to an alpha and are put in a high-pressure situation where their mate or children’s personal safety is threatened to the point where the omega feels shifting into that form is the only way they can protect what is theirs.”

“But,” Stiles’ voice trailed off as he began, eyes unfocused like he was trying to work through an equation or a particularly challenging word problem.

Derek continued when it became evident he wasn’t going to keep speaking. “I saw a video of it when I was younger,” he admitted guiltily. “It was footage from the enemy’s camp that showed a half-dead alpha and his heavily chained omega mate. The omega was gigantic, almost like a humanoid wolf, but still on four legs and as big as a person.”

“Is that what I looked like?” Stiles asked, incredulous and, nervous?

He didn’t know what to do with that second emotion, so Derek wrapped his arms a bit tighter around Stiles and hummed for a second before answering with complete sincerity. “In that form you are beautiful,” he said because it was the most important part of his description. Stiles blushed. “Your head reaches my shoulder like that and you refused to leave my side the entire time you were shifted, which was comforting, really. Your coat was the same light gray as when you’re in your wolf form and you also keep your brilliant blue shifted eyes, though they stayed that way instead of changing back. I can’t get over how powerful you were. I could have easily ridden on your back, you were so huge. And angry,” he added as an afterthought because it seemed important not to leave that out.

The furious majesty of his protective mate.

Stiles looked a bit embarrassed, but still gave a soft grin when he said, “Puts a whole new spin on the whole you wouldn't like me when I’m angry thing, right?”

Derek nodded with mock seriousness. “With great power comes great responsibility,” he agreed, playing along.

The scent of Stiles’ elation was intoxicating. Stiles was intoxicating enough without it, but the addition actually made Derek’s mouth water. He gave in and ducked his head, nudging Stiles’ chin up with his nose so he could lick a line up his mate’s neck, tasting the heady concentration of his scent that had gathered there.

“Oh,” Stiles gasped, but Derek didn’t stop because he had learned Stiles was entirely comfortable holding a conversation with minimal input from him, which was an unexpected relief because even if he didn’t say anything, Derek knew he was being listened to. Which was strange, really, that Stiles seemed able to read him and his reactions as clearly as if he’d spoken them aloud. “So, uh, this is a thing, then? You still like me even though I turn into a gigantic furry rage-monster?”

Derek reluctantly pulled his mouth away and gave Stiles a tight smile. “I could ask you the same question,” he said.

Stiles’ brow furrowed. “Say what? I thought the berserker thing was strictly for omegas.”

“It is, but that doesn’t mean you’re the only one who can lose control,” Derek said quietly. Alpha rage, while rare, wasn’t exactly a hidden phenomenon, not like berserking was, apparently. He still couldn’t believe Stiles hadn’t known that, but then again he didn’t have any omega siblings or cousins, so he didn’t know what they were taught in their private classes.

He’d have to ask Stiles about that later, when they weren’t naked and wrapped around each other, waiting for the next wave of Stiles’ heat to overtake them.

But if he’d been expecting his mate to be uncomfortable about his type, of the slim threat of him losing his mind and going off the rails, Stiles gave no sign of it. He just rolled his eyes and pushed at Derek until he could clamber on top of him, the soft press of the under side of his thighs resting on the muscled jutt of Derek’s hips.

“What happened after I hulked out?” Stiles asked, his fingers ghosting down Derek’s chest, tracing the soft lines of his relaxed muscles. He flexed his pecs just to watch Stiles grin and yeah, he was pretty much gone on the omega.

Derek put his hands on Stiles’ knees, squeezing him there gently, massaging his way up and down his thighs, enjoying the jump in Stiles’ heart rate at the touch. “After that we chased Kate, but when we caught up to her there was already a group of alphas surrounding her.”

“Fuckers,” Stiles muttered, and it was likely that he remembered the anger he’d felt at the time.

“Definitely,” Derek agreed. “Peter was there, though, he finally found a mate. Some red-headed omega female-”

“Lydia Martin,” Stiles said with a considering frown. “Huh, that’s weird. Wait, did you see Jackson? Who’s his mate?”

“Jackson Whittemore, right? He’s mated to Deucalion, one of Peter’s alpha friends who was apparently huntin Kate since her escape last year.”

Stiles made a noise in his throat and it took Derek a second to realize he was trying to hold in his laughter. Eventually it spilled over and he shook with it, his body twitching over Derek’s and that was an increasingly distracting position. Stiles straddling him, their half-hard dicks just touching.

“Do you want me to finish the story?” he asked with a smile, happy that his mate was entertained, but ready to be done with the discussion so he could focus on other things, like mapping out the freckles dotting Stiles’ skin with his tongue. That seemed like a much better use of his mouth than speaking.

As his giggles slowly abated Stiles nodded, one hand clasped over his mouth while the other was braced flat on Derek’s abs.

“They wouldn’t let us kill Kate, so we left before the authorities could arrive. We went back to where she’d captured my betas and,” and he didn’t know how to talk about that part, really, but he forged ahead as best he could. “And when we got there the omega who had taken Isaac at knifepoint was bound by the wolfsbane-infused rope Kate had used to tie Erica to a tree.”

“Woah, what? You totally skipped this part when you mentioned your betas before,” Stiles said, his scent flattening with worry.

Derek stroked his hands up Stiles’ thighs and back down, trying to comfort him with his touch. “They’re fine, like I said, they’d tied up Matt, but my sister was there-”

“Cora.”

“Yes, Cora had followed the scent Isaac had left and it looks like they’re mates. Boyd and Erica are as well, of course. They weren’t fooling anyone with their show. I think they joined the run just to keep track of me, which is-”

“Adorable,” Stiles decided with a grin.

Derek rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say.” He would have chosen a word closer to annoying or unnecessary, but he’d give his mate that much. It was sweet of his betas to want to look out for him, even if it was supposed to be his job to do that for them.

Stiles rocked back slightly, which was an even more amazing position than before. Derek had to concentrate on not bucking his hips, needing to focus on speaking instead of the urges he felt.

“So I take it I didn’t rip out Matt’s throat with my teeth,” Stiles guessed, sounding a bit disappointed, really. Derek didn’t know whether to be amused or disturbed by that, so he settled on just ignoring it unless that aspect of his mate’s personality began to interfere with his own plan to become a deputy. Then again, Stiles’ father was the sheriff, so if Stiles was truly a sociopath Derek figured that was something that Sheriff Stilinski already knew and that he had taken the steps necessary to prevent his son from doing too much damage to anyone and it was then Derek realized just how profound the mating bond was. He didn’t care what his mate did, as long as they were both safe together.

It put the berserking in a whole new light.

The scent of Stiles’ renewed heat made both of them visibly react and he smirked down at Derek with a wicked look in his eyes.

“I’m not scared of you if you’re not scared of me,” Stiles said cheekily, grinding down, and Derek wondered for a brief second if his mate could read his mind, but the thought was lost in the sensation of them touching so intimately, of the warmth of Stiles’ skin and the feeling of rightness at having him there in a place that smelled like them and no one else.

“I only fear your absence,” Derek said, blushing at how corny that sounded, but Stiles was already leaning forward, stealing the embarrassed grimace from his lips with a delicate kiss.

“That makes two of us,” he whispered against Derek’s flushed skin.

Chapter Text

The kissing wasn’t enough for him, Derek knew, but it was hard to think of anything other than the press of their lips and the wet swipe of their tongues as they tasted the rightness of each other. It clearly wasn’t enough for Stiles, either, whose heat was raising his temperature as it lowered his ability to make rational decisions. So it was up to Derek to guide them and take care of his new mate who was depending on him to take the lead. At least that time. He was harboring no illusions about Stiles’ ability to take control when he was of a mind to, and what a beautiful mind his mate possessed. Derek was looking forward to exploring him more than just physically, but the heat and all that entailed certainly came first. Which, really, was no hardship.

“Stiles, would you like to do it like this, with you straddling me, or would you rather us change positions?” Derek asked, having to physically hold the omega back or else risk his words being swallowed by Stiles’ questing lips. His eyes were glazed with lust, the brown of his irises almost entirely swallowed by the black pit of his pupils. As Derek watched his kiss-bruised lips healed, reduced back to their unswollen norm, and he had to keep himself from biting them to fullness once more.

It occurred to him that he wasn’t entirely in his right mind, either, but at the very least he didn’t have his own body’s pheromones ravaging his common sense. No, Stiles’ were doing that well enough for the both of them without Derek’s biology dictating their actions as well. At least not yet, though he knew his knot would join them almost as soon as they coupled.

Derek had waited a long time to find his mate.

Instead of answering verbally, Stiles tilted his head back, exposing his neck and Derek’s body seemed to react instantaneously. Suddenly he was looking down at this mate, Stiles’ cheeks flushed with arousal and excitement as Derek pressed against him, their hard cocks already leaking precome as they rutted mindlessly for a few blissful moments.

Until Derek realized they were both about to come and that wasn’t acceptable. He placed one hand low on Stiles stomach, gently holding him steady and evoking a heartbreaking whine from his mate.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you,” Derek murmured, lowering himself down so his weight pressed Stiles to stillness, instead. “Let me do this right, Stiles. I promise you won’t regret it, okay?”

Stiles gave another plaintive whine and Derek kissed away the noise, one hand scratching at his scalp while the other slipped from his abdomen, briefly squeezing his hard cock, then down between his thighs to where he was already slick from his heat. “I’m just going to make sure you’re ready,” he explained, but Stiles seemed already half-gone. “Try to relax for me, Stiles,” he murmured against the skin of his mate’s neck. Derek couldn’t stop himself from biting there, raising red welts that healed almost instantly, but with each careful nip Stiles’ breathing shuddered just enough to make him unable to resist biting again.

His fingers found Stiles’ hole loose enough to slip two inside without resistance, then the third after just a few careful moments of preparation. He’d read about it, had watched porn a few times and knew that if he curled his fingers just so-

Stiles gasped, his eyes flashing blue as he clawed at Derek’s back with surprisingly sharp human nails. Derek moaned against his mate’s throat, his body singing with how receptive he was, perfectly wet and ready to be bred. “You’re so perfect,” he whispered against the heated skin, “so perfect and open for me.”

Derek wanted to keep going, to tell Stiles all of the things he was going to do to him, how he was going to wreck him and repair him, how his knot was going to tie them together in ways neither of them could even begin to imagine. There would have been something about cubs in there, too, but he wasn’t ready to say all of that, so instead he let his tongue and hands, his teeth and the delicate drag of his claws speak for him. Stiles must have heard all of it, though, because he keened.

“Pl-please,” he finally managed to stutter, voice shattered with want, body trembling from it. “Please, Derek, I need-”

“I know,” Derek said, and he did. He knew exactly what his mate needed. “I’m going to knot you and then you’ll be mine.”

“Mine,” Stiles echoed, or agreed, Derek wasn’t sure. Not that it mattered, they were each other’s, and that was what was important.

Derek knelt between Stiles’ spread legs and carefully held him under one knee, opening him up perfectly.

“You’re so perfect,” he whispered, unable to help himself. Derek wasn’t one to talk for the sake of talking, but sometimes it was easy with Stiles. It was also possible that Derek was just full of shit, but he didn’t care, not in that moment, at least.

When Derek’s aching cock finally dragged down Stiles’ sac, his precome glistening in the soft light, across the patch of flushed skin downward Stiles rolled his hips insistently, trying to get Derek inside of him.

He couldn’t stop the chuckle that escaped him, and immediately felt guilty when Stiles gave a plaintive whine.

“I’m sorry,” he said, petting Stiles hip with the hand not holding him open. “I want you to try to relax, okay? You’re doing so good, Stiles.”

“S’good,” Stiles replied, which didn’t really make much sense, but Derek grinned down at him, watching as his eyes lazily tracked up and down Derek's  torso. He could grow quite fond of that fucked-out kind of expression on Stiles’ face, and they hadn’t even properly fucked yet.

“Remember to breathe,” he said, and pressed into Stiles’ clenching heat.

----------------------

Stiles keened. There was no other way to describe the high, desparate noise that tore from his throat and echoed off the confining cave walls around them. It was too much and not enough and hot and wet and hard and Derek. He wanted to thrash and moan and move, but his mate’s firm hand was pressing against his pelvis, keeping him down as he sank impossibly further inside of Stiles.

And yeah, of course Derek had an alpha cock to go along with the rest of his general alpha-ness. Not that Stiles was complaining because he absolutely was not. No, but he was making all kinds of shameless noises while wishing they were somewhere outside so that when he howled his completion the rest of the world would know that they’d claimed each other as mates and that Derek was firmly off the market and belonged solely to him. Which was a new feeling, the possessive kind of exhibitionist streak Stiles didn’t know he had until Derek’s magical alpha-cock had been introduced to his life and his hole and things were suddenly going too slowly, which was a feat because his mate was inside of him, but there was still a fire in Stiles’ veins that only a proper fucking could extinguish.

Or something.

Whatever, Stiles wanted Derek to fucking move.

“More,” he managed to plead, or maybe demand because despite the brokenness of his voice there was a heaviness there as well.

"Breathe, Stiles," Derek reminded him again and he just managed to suck in a breath when his mate pulled out just a fraction and then plunged back inside of him.

Electrical currents, lightning, sparks, fire, heat. Everything hot and bright and powerful seemed to explode inside of him and Stiles' breath escaped with a throaty moan that Derek almost instantly echoed.

He pulled out again and slid back in, their coupling wet-sounding and their moans quickly growing desperate as Derek pulled out less and less, his hips instead making small, jerky movements and before Stiles could complain about the lack of friction he felt a pressure begin to press against him from the inside, just shy of his prostrate.

"My knot," Derek said, completely unnecessary, but his expression was so open and enthralled Stiles couldn't bring himself to comment beyond giving him what he hoped was a brilliant smile.

Derek's lips found his and they moaned together as the knot expanded, seeming to fill him completely and just when it began to skirt the edge if too much he felt the first pulse of Derek's orgasm and wrapped his arms tight around his mate, anchoring him as Derek tumbled over the edge into bliss.

--------------------------

Derek could feel it, could sense Stiles like a part of his body he hadn't been aware was even there had suddenly awakened. He could feel his mate's contentment, not just smell it, but feel it because of their new bond. He knew there was a gap in the moss under Stiles' left shoulder and that his skin there was cold from pressing against the rock underneath, he knew what the pressure of his own knot felt like tugging at the tight ring of muscle at Stiles’ hole, he felt the echoing pulse of desire in his veins and his mate’s. He felt his own climax, but not Stiles’-

That was something he needed to rectify.

Even though he was still riding the heady feeling of his own extended orgasm, Derek tried to focus on Stiles. He propped himself up with one elbow beside his mate’s head, smiling as Stiles instantly turned his face so he could lick and bite at the swell of his bicep, spreading his scent there more thickly. They both smelled like each other, not the way Derek’s parents did, but then again they’d only shared the same space for a short period of time and not decades. One day he hoped that their individual scents would become lost in the mixture of each other and their pack.

The heady feeling of expectation guided him as he licked his palm and wrapped his hand tight around Stiles’ aching cock, letting the feedback of sensations guide him to loosen his hold just a bit, to twist his wrist when he dragged his hand up around the head, then back down to the base, his knuckles brushing against Stiles’ balls.

Stiles bit him hard enough to draw blood, but the jolt of pain was tinged with pleasure. They were still tied together, shots of elation zinging down Derek’s spine with every new pulse of his come. He knew that Stiles felt that, too, and wanted him to reach the heights of pleasure as well.

He didn’t last long, not under Derek’s experienced hand. His experience started and ended with his own dick, but he’d practiced enough to be something of an expert at bringing things to a quick conclusion. As Stiles’ spilled between them with a choked-off cry Derek inhaled deeply, taking in the devastatingly potent scent of his mate that painted his fingers and Stiles’ sweaty chest. He couldn’t help himself, he licked his hand clean, smiling when Stiles let out a groan at the sight. Derek made sure to lap up every drop, savoring the familiar tangy flavor.

“That’s pretty hot,” Stiles grunted out, amazingly still able to articulate despite the way his body was tingling with relief. And really, all of the warnings Derek had gotten about how chatty the omega was hadn’t ever really proven to be true. Sure Stiles spoke, but it wasn’t as if he talked just for the sake of it. Everything he said helped Derek learn more about him, his interests, and even his insecurities, though he was fairly certain that wasn’t the true goal of Stiles’ ramblings.

“You’re pretty hot,” Derek replied sincerely, only to see Stiles blush and roll his eyes, which wouldn’t do at all. He rolled his hips in retaliation and felt the zing of pleasure shot up both their spines as another slow pulse of his come filled his mate. Stiles moaned.

That was better.

--------------------------

The haze he’d been experiencing dispersed like dew in the sun, leaving him achingly warm and utterly sated. Stiles stretched out his used muscles, reveling in how amazing he felt with Derek’s arms wrapped around his middle. It was a little odd that he wasn’t the least bit sore after having been knotted, but that seemed to be a benefit of the transference he was getting from Derek; the low-grade feedback that kept him informed of his mate’s physical wellbeing as well as his mood and probably even his location if he focused on it hard enough. That type of bond was only possible between alphas and omegas, he’d learned in school, and yeah, it was pretty freaking amazing.

“You’re happy,” Derek murmured against the back of Stiles’ neck.  He’d been pretending to sleep, but Stiles knew better, of course, thanks to the bond and the fact that Derek’s emotions were all over the place.

“You’re,” Stiles began, then took a second to sort out a few feelings from the jumble. “You’re happy, too, and sated, hungry, a bit scared for whatever reason-”

“Kate,” Derek said, which was a surprise, then just stopped, which wasn’t.

If Stiles had been feeling insecure he would have taken offense to hearing Derek say that name when they were doing their postcoital cuddle thing, but he knew it was in response to Stiles’ correct assumption that Derek was still afraid, and not because he’d forgotten Stiles’ name or anything like that.

“You think it isn’t over with her?” Stiles guessed. “You think she’s going to pop up again like a monster in a scary movie?”

“Happened once already,” Derek pointed out, pressing his face closer to Stiles like he was attempting to merge with his spinal cord. Either that or he was hiding.

And either way, it was unacceptable.

Stiles twisted in his arms and instantly wrapped Derek in a tight hug, tangling his legs with his mate’s until they were pressed as closely as they could be without actually mating again. Not that having sex was a bad idea, but Derek seemed to need the intimacy of comforting touch for the moment.

“And when that happened I hulked out,” Stiles reminded him, continuing before Derek could argue, “and if we see her again and she’s not in chains I’ll just berserk and actually rip her throat out with my teeth. No more letting other people interfere and meddle and whatever.”

Derek smiled against Stiles’ throat and his shoulders twitched in a poorly repressed chuckle.

“Yeah, I know, I’m awesome, no need to shout it from the rooftops or anything,” Stiles said with a wry grin.

The answer to that was a sharp nip instantly soothed by the flat of Derek’s tongue. He traced his way up and down Stiles’ neck, lingering on his adam’s apple and the cords of his tendons and Stiles found himself melting into the sensation.

“Dude, you’re totally scent marking the shit out of me right now,” he felt inclined to point out, not that he minded because he absolutely did not.

Derek hummed in response and sucked a mark at the base of his throat. Stiles didn’t want it to fade so he concentrated on keeping it there, the dull pulse of pain shiver-inducing, as was Derek’s rumble of appreciation.

“Oh, do you like that?” Stiles asked with feigned surprise.

“Like my mark on you,” Derek replied honestly and worked on a matching bite on the other side of his neck.

Stiles moaned, not even embarrassed because it was his mate and he didn’t have to feel self-conscious around him. He just hoped Derek got that, too, at some point. “Yeah, big guy, I like your mark on me, too,” he admitted, just to feel Derek’s lips curl up in a smile against his skin. He knew it might take a while for Derek to really open up to him, but they did have the rest of their lives.

Chapter Text

They hadn’t even been mated for a day and they were already fighting. Well, fighting was maybe a strong word for it, but Derek wouldn’t consider the feeling between them to be particularly companionable. No, it more a kind of tension he didn’t quite know what to do with.

“Excuse me?” Stiles asked with a dangerous kind of calm.

Derek was familiar with that tone. It was the tone that said the next thing out of his mouth had better be an apology or his life would get infinitely more uncomfortable. Cora, under Laura’s tutelage, of course, had mastered it almost as soon as she’d been able to talk and Derek hadn’t had a completely relaxing day around either of them ever since. But this time he knew he was absolutely right, and refused to back down.

“I don’t want you to leave the safety of our den, not when we’re still unsure of how Kate even got into the preserve in the first place,” Derek repeated, feet shoulder-width apart, standing his ground both physically and verbally. He didn’t quite know what Stiles’ consequences for him would be for this, but he’d gladly suffer them if it meant keeping his mate safe.

If it had been Cora he would have looked for spiders in his bed or suspicious scratches on his car, while Laura had always favored sneak attacks and surprise wrestling matches that had often resulted in broken bones and blood. Stiles, though? He seemed to have more of a devious mind than either of his sisters. It was alarming, but not enough to make him back down.

Stiles growled in frustration. That particular emotion was coming from him in thick waves through the bond, along with some anger and a fair amount of hurt, though he didn’t seem to want Derek to know about that, so he hid it behind his other, more volatile feelings. “I told you, she got Matt to help her, but you said your betas and sister had him under control, so I don’t see why we’re still arguing about this. We’re in the preserve, Kate’s been captured, we’re safe now.”

Derek shook his head. He didn’t want to fight, he didn’t want his mate to be upset, but more than anything, he didn’t want Stiles to get hurt, so he was willing to sacrifice his own contentment for that. “You know we might not have the full story, Stiles. Can you please,” he paused and tried to settle his own tangled emotions, focusing on the fear Kate’s presence had reawakened, not that it had ever truly diminished even though it had been several years since she’d attacked him and Peter. Derek tried to project that fear, so Stiles would hopefully at least understand why he was being so insistent. “Will you please do this for me? Will you stay here and let me get some food for us?”

His urge to provide and care for his mate was nearly overwhelming, especially since he knew Stiles was ravenous after having not eaten for more than a day and that his heat was only temporarily banked and would return in full force. Derek had no interest in having Stiles outside when he was in that state, his instinct to be bred overpowering everything else. Omegas had gotten themselves hurt like that, Derek knew from school. They’d spent an entire unit on the dangers of not satisfying an omega mate’s heat when it struck, and he didn’t want to be responsible for that kind of neglect.

“I can be very stubborn,” Stiles warned. He was watching Derek from the far side of their den, his arms crossed over his chest and if he thought that pose was working in his favor he was wrong because it just drew Derek’s attention to the fading scar on his stomach, and that was reminder enough of the consequences of failing to protect his mate.

Derek shook his head, not wanting to deny Stiles anything, but unable to bring himself to back down. As a last resort he would issue a command, but he didn’t want to set that kind of a president if he didn’t have to. Stiles seemed the type of person to resent being ordered around, even without being actually compelled to follow those orders.

“I do have two sisters,” Derek reminded him, “I can be pretty stubborn, too.” Plus, he was standing in front of the entrance and naturally had more strength and stamina than Stiles. If nothing else he could wait the omega out, stay there until Stiles fell asleep before slipping outside and seeing if the small deer he’d brought down earlier was still where he’d dropped it. He suspected it wouldn’t be, not with the woods full of mating pairs and roaming alphas and betas, another reason to keep his mate in a secure place. No one would approach their den, not with how much it smelled of them, but a desperate, unmated wolf might just be insane enough to go after Stiles if he was outside of it.

As if reading his mind, though he couldn’t, at least Derek hoped he couldn’t, Stiles narrowed his eyes and tilted his head back, not in submission, but in a challenge.

Derek was stupid if he had ever thought being mated to Stiles would be easy.

But he was starting to questions his sanity because he couldn’t imagine it being any other way.

“Why don’t we compromise,” Derek said with a sigh.

------------

It wasn’t what he would have preferred, but it was better than being either physically restrained or commanded to stay behind. Stiles still sighed as he carefully fed thin pieces of dry wood to the little fire he’d managed to bring to life, crouching beside it in the sand and trying to keep from getting smoke in his eyes. That was an exercise in frustration. It was like the wind knew where he was and constantly wanted to blow in his direction, but at least his lame little dance had forced him to him clear a circle around the makeshift fire pit he’d dug, ensuring that the blaze wouldn’t catch anything else and accidentally burn down the preserve.

The first half of the solstice month had been mostly dry, with a few showers early on, but none for the past week. Stiles was grateful he’d found a place so near a source of water he was fairly certain wouldn’t run dry, at least not while they were still in the preserve. He sat back on his heels and continued to feed the fire, graduating to sticks as thick around as his finger, lamenting the fact that there weren’t any sizable logs to throw on it when the flames could take that much fuel. When Stiles had gone around collecting the kindling and branches he’d been careful to stay within the arbitrary border Derek had marked around their den. And by marked, Stiles was pretty sure that meant his mate had actually pissed against some trees in an effort to ward off the rabble.

In the distance Stiles could feel where Derek was concentrating on whatever it was he was doing. Stalking some helpless creature? Taking a dump? Whatever it was he seemed to be completely focused on the task at hand. His ability to concentrate that much was actually kind of impressive, though Stiles wouldn’t ever admit that.

His own anger had all but vanished, which was probably for the best since he knew that wasn’t a key to a healthy marriage.

Woah.

Stiles let out a startled laugh. He was married. Stiles was married to Derek Hale.

“Holy shit,” he murmured, watching as the flames crackled and consumed the wood. It was actually pretty nice to finally have a fire, even if they didn’t exactly need it to keep them from freezing or anything. Stiles was looking forward to eating some cooked meat, though it was weird that he was depending on someone else to procure it for him. He’d been pretty independent growing up, having had to fend for himself for a majority of his life while his parents, then parent worked full time and then some. Stiles had taken over the grocery shopping and cooking as soon as he’d been able to, not because he was an omega, but because he was the person more likely to be home. It felt odd to depend on someone else for a change.

Derek’s pensiveness was slowly thawing into something akin to contentment as he moved about to Stiles’ right. West, he thought. It was the opposite direction from where he’d encountered Kate and Matt, which Stiles thought was probably intentional. There was no need for Derek to go that way and possibly catch a whiff of their old scents.

By the time his mate had finished hunting or gathering or whatever-

Success, his emotions sang.

-the fire was burning hot and Stiles was growing restless, not being used to that kind of containment. Well, containment was a strong word for it, he wasn’t chained or caged or even forced to be inside, but the fact remained that Stiles had agreed not to go outside the close little border Derek had set and the thought alone made him want to take off at a sprint.

Probably sensing what Stiles made no effort to hide, Derek picked up the pace and seconds later he appeared, looking only slightly flushed from the exertion. Stiles felt a familiar kind of hunger that didn’t have anything to do with food start tingling across his arms and shoulders, down his stomach, but his renewed heat hadn’t quite struck yet. Though thinking of hunger made him also think of food and he glanced down at what his mate had brought back.

Stiles grinned at the pheasant hanging from one of Derek’s hands, then felt his face pale as he saw at the stalks of wild grain spotted with tiny specks of black in the other. It took him a long moment he got over how utterly stunned he was. He leapt to his feet and batted the grain into the fire with a shocked yelp.

Derek made a wounded noise, but Stiles had a hold of his hand, the pheasant dropping to the ground, and was dragging him close until their faces were close enough for him to smell the alpha’s mouth.

“Did you eat any of that?” he demanded, ignoring how his actions were very clearly hurting his mate’s feelings. He’d apologize for it later, but it wasn’t the time for delicacy.

“Wha-”

“Answer the question, Derek!” he snapped, then gritted his teeth until he got himself back under control. “Please answer the question,” Stiles repeated more mildly, unable to keep his eyes from flashing blue.

Derek was uncomfortable, but eventually he shrugged and glanced away, embarrassed.

Shit.

“Okay, it’s going to be okay. Don’t hate me, but this is for your own good,” Stiles said with a sigh and led them beside the creek a bit downstream. “We’re going to be fine, but first this is going to suck for both of us,” he warned, but didn’t explain because he really didn’t need Derek fighting him about it.

Somewhat surprisingly, the alpha did as he was told, silently helping Stiles pick a pretty good spot not too far off. He was suspiciously cooperative, actually, which just reinforced Stiles’ concern about him having eaten the contaminated grain.

Like an idiot.

“Sorry in advance,” Stiles said and tightened his grip on Derek’s wrist. He closed his eyes, concentrating on the memory of having had food poisoning from some poorly cooked pork Scott had made for them in seventh grade. It was his friend's one and only true culinary foray. From then on Stiles had taken over cooking for them when they were together. But because of Scott’s noncompliance with basic food safety rules, Stiles had thrown up for two solid days, almost having had to go to the doctor because of it, but Melissa took pity and had somehow gotten him medicine through probably not quite official channels. Stiles felt his stomach roil and he grimaced as Derek groaned beside him. With one last horrible wave of memory they were both emptying the meager contents of their stomachs into the foliage.

Derek groaned and Stiles let his eyes slit open, instantly regretting it because he really didn’t need to see that kind of stuff splattered on the ground in front of him. When Stiles looked over at Derek his stomach gave another nauseous twist. His skin was pale, already glistening with a fine sheen of sweat.

“Shit, come on, Derek,” he said, but the alpha didn’t seem to hear him, hazel eyes loosely tracking things that weren’t there. “Derek,” he said louder, but when that didn’t get him anywhere Stiles huffed out a breath and sent a jolt of neediness into the alpha where Stiles still had a grip on his forearm.

“Stiles?” Derek asked, voice so uncharacteristically tentative it made Stiles’ skin crawl with alarm. He tried to bury it, though, beneath the tenderness and affection he felt for his mate.

“Come on, Derek, let’s get a drink of water and then get back to the cave. It think it’s my turn to take care of you, yeah?”

Unsurprisingly, Derek didn’t disagree, and let himself be taken first to the creek, where Stiles washed both their mouths out before having Derek take several long gulps of water, then to their den where he collected all the moss and laid it in a pile for Derek to stretch out on. He was pretty far gone at that point, suffering the effects of ergot poisoning, no doubt. Stiles had read up on it, as well as dozens of other potential dangers, before he’d gone on the run and he wasn’t at all comfortable with the fact that his mate was bound to be bedridden for days because of it. Because not only would Derek be utterly defenseless, but he could also have hallucinations.

Stiles was not prepared to handle any of that, though in all honesty he was only guessing at the symptoms, since they apparently presented differently depending on the wolf’s type. He thought alphas were affected more mentally than physically, and since Derek hadn’t started convulsing yet he assumed that was a pretty accurate assumption.

“Hey, Der, you okay?” he asked quietly, biting his lip when Derek flinched at the noise.

He hadn’t ever felt quite that helpless before, not even when his mom had died. It wasn’t as if she’d been sick or anything. Actually, Stiles hadn’t ever taken care of a sick person before and he felt woefully inadequate. So he did what he knew how to do, and pressed his hands against Derek’s feverish skin and opening himself up to feel the full brunt of his mate’s discomfort.

If he couldn’t cure him or take his pain away, the least he could do was share in his misery and try to give his mate a little peace.

Chapter Text

Stiles felt like shit.

Well, to be fair, Derek felt even worse because as soon as he’d been of a mind to realize what Stiles was doing for him, just taking some of his emotional turmoil and replacing it with any other emotions he could scrape together, he’d made Stiles stop. It didn’t keep him from trying to sneak-drain some of the discomfort, though, pretty much every time they accidentally touched when Stiles was feeding Derek unpoisoned food he’d raided from squirrel stashes, or the squirrels themselves, cooked and still hot from the fire. The quail Derek had caught had been tasty, too.

It was clearly hard for Derek to keep food down, though, even after having horked up the contaminated stuff that had caused him to get sick in the first place. Stiles did what he could, taking Derek’s nausea and trading him a settled stomach, which just meant that Stiles ended up making a hasty exit more often than not to go throw up hopefully out of earshot of his mate. It actually seemed to work, surprisingly enough, or at least Derek didn’t really comment on it and his emotions remained the same eerie calm despite the physical discomfort as his mind sent him on random vision quests, or whatever it was he was clearly hallucinating about. Derek didn’t make much noise during his ordeal, though he come across as a naturally quiet guy.

The biggest problem, however, was Stiles’ interrupted heat. It seemed like his body had gotten the message that all was not right in paradise because he hadn’t really been overwhelmed by the urge to get it on since the one time they’d knotted, but he could tell the dam would break eventually, and the thought of trying to mate with Derek when he was hallucinating and miserable wasn’t the least bit appealing, though he knew his heat-ravaged self wouldn't be quite as discerning.

Stiles had to fix Derek and he had to do it quickly.

“Right,” he said, and glanced around the familiar, confining walls of the den. It had begun to sprinkle sometime between when he’d killed and cooked his sixth squirrel and when he’d finished hand-feeding it to Derek. The grease was still sticky on his fingers, but Stiles couldn’t bring himself to go tramping outside again to wash it off, even though he was getting tired of smelling sickness and being stuck in their den. And really, if he felt like that he knew Derek would have been crawling the walls if he’d even realized he was inside.

So Stiles looked around as something to do, trying to convince himself that, no, the walls weren't actually closing in around them. He focused on his more positive memories of the place, like the alcove where he'd stashed the collections of nuts and berries he’d gathered. The spot where he'd stuffed the wolfsba-

Actually.

Stiles scrambled onto his knees and crawled to the natural crevice in the cave wall, a loose rock overtop to keep the scent in and curious wolves out. He carefully extracted it and the flowers, making sure to keep the waxy leaves he’d used to pack them between his skin and the petals. He’d heard of alphas being treated for illnesses that way, sometimes. Like when one of the deputies had been shot with a wolfsbane bullet and his mom had cracked open another one to help draw the poison out. She’d burned what was inside and the ash had helped cure him.

He had a fire and he had wolfsbane. Stiles also had a sick mate and a pretty inflexible timeline.

“Fuck it,” he said with more decisiveness than he actually felt. But really, hearing the tone of his own voice helped encourage him to give it a shot. “This better cure you,” he warned Derek, then went outside into the lightly misting rain to burn some poison.

------------

Derek hadn’t ever gotten sick before. Not sick, sick, anyway. There had been that time with Laura and some wolfsbane-infused alcohol she’d gotten from some shady source, but they never really talked about that, not unless their mom was trying to embarrass them in front of company, and even then Derek usually fled the scene before she could get to the part about the projectile vomiting. It had been Laura who had done that, but Derek had tried to clean it up, none-too-sober, himself, and yeah, that hadn’t really worked out well for either of them. Or the walls of the shed.

In the end they’d just burned the old thing down, knowing they’d never be able to get the toxic smell out of the wood. Derek hadn’t been able to tolerate the smell of vomit since, and the fact that Stiles had forced him to do it did not escape his admittedly muddled mind. He just couldn’t come up with why his mate would have done that to him, or why his feet felt disconnected from his body, or why his head was suddenly floating away like a leaf in the breeze.

He was flying over the preserve, higher and higher, surveying the land and watching as the omegas were claimed and the unmated alphas and betas tore through the preserve, desperately searching.

He would have been worried for his own mate, alone and unprotected, but he could feel Stiles’ presence nearby. His mate was relatively pissed off, worried about something and moving a lot. Never going too far away, though. He always stayed within the perimeter Derek had set, smaller than the one his betas had marked when he’d first taken his mate’s wounded wolf form to the cave. It was a good thing he'd done that, marked his territory, that way no one would be stupid enough to try to claim what was his.

Stiles wasn’t currently touching him, not like he had been and Derek would have given a mournful howl if he’d had vocal cords, but he was just a face in the wind, a leaf on the breeze, watching the smoke of a small fire as raindrops passed through him and down onto the naked figure below.

------------

Burning wolfsbane?

Not the best idea.

Stiles tried to cover his face, but the damn smoke still got in his eyes and lungs and it made him cough and hack until he nearly had to dunk his head in the creek to get rid of the awful smell and taste and sensation. When he got back to the fire the leaves had burned completely to ash, indistinguishable from the spent wood and he fought back angry tears because there was no way he could go venturing out looking for more, not on his own and not with Derek actually helpless. He swore under his breath and scooped up what he could, the heat blistering the skin of his palm, but it was his only hope so he ignored the pain.

---------------

The feeling of Stiles’ pain and grief made him sink back down from where he’d been rising through the clouds. He sank and sank until he was hovering inside the cave, just over his prone body, which looked terrible and felt worse. Derek couldn’t begin to understand what was happening, but his mate clearly needed him and he couldn’t help Stiles if he was off amongst the birds.

His mate didn’t look much better than him and Derek realized that Stiles must have been sharing his sickness, stealth-draining him of his suffering and replacing it with his health or happiness or whatever it was omegas did. His dad had done that for him a few times when he was younger and had been particularly anxious about something and then again shortly after his first run when the nightmares had kept him from sleeping for days on end. Derek had always felt guilty about it, no matter what his dad had said, and the feeling didn’t go away when he realized Stiles had taken over the task.

But Stiles still wasn’t touching him, he was kneeling close and glaring at something in his hand. Dirt? No, ash. Ash that was still hot because he could feel Stiles’ pain and smell the break in his flesh where it was burning him.

Derek opened his mouth, suddenly back in his body, but before he could make a noise, Stiles had his ashy hand claimed over Derek’s lips, the grit raining down on his tongue and he thrashed for a moment before the substance took effect and his world went bright, then dark.

------------------

“I can’t believe I just did that,” Stiles whispered to Derek’s lax body. His chest was still rising and falling, at least, but the lower half of his face was powdered with ash and if anything, he’d grown paler than before. “Shit.”

Stiles scrambled outside and into the creek, scrubbing the ash off of his slightly numb hand, clenching it into a fist, then opening it until he got the feeling back in his fingers. He knew he wouldn’t be able to drag Derek out there to wash him off, too, so the dunked his own body into the water and raced back inside, using his hands as makeshift squeegees, trying to get Derek's face as wet as possible in order to clean off the wolfsbane ash.

The more he thought about it, the more Stiles was convinced that he had made a very terrible mistake. Derek had opened his eyes, the first bit of responsiveness he’d shown since passing out from the poisoning, and what had Stiles done?

He'd poisoned him.

Stiles had poisoned his mate.

He was the absolute worst, but suddenly it wasn't just his hand, anymore, his entire body felt like it was beginning to catch alight.

“Fuck,” he whispered, and collapsed beside Derek, hot and miserable as he pressed his face against his mate’s smooth skin, trying to leach the warmth away.

He must have lost time or passed out or something because the next thing he knew there was a hand on his shoulder, not shaking him, just resting there like it belonged.

Stiles opened his eyes and nearly cried because it absolutely did.

“You’re burning,” Derek said, face turned toward him. His eyes were clear and his voice strong, like he hadn’t just nearly lost his mind and maybe even his life to ergot poisoning and a possibly ill-advised dose of wolfsbane ash.

Stiles stared, mouth hanging open and then he flung himself at his mate, wrapping his arms tight around him as he buried his hot face against Derek’s neck. He wasn’t sure how he’d managed that amount of coordination, but it felt like bliss being pressed fully against his mate’s cool skin.

“You were sick,” he said, refusing to let himself cry because everything was okay, it wasn’t a situation that required tears, but he felt a few stubborn drops squeeze out, anyway.

Derek sat up and hauled him completely into his lap so their feet were behind each other, their cocks pressed close and growing harder every instant. Stiles clearly wasn’t the only one who had caught wind of the next wave of his heat.

“You took care of me,” Derek said, still holding him close, like he never wanted to let go. Stiles was more than willing to agree to those terms, especially if it meant never again having to see his mate so helpless. “How did you help me?” he finally asked, curious but not accusing.

Which probably meant he didn’t remember much of what had happened. Either that or he just really wanted Stiles to explain himself before he judged his fitness to continue as his mate or something.

--------------

Stiles was being evasive, which was actually silly and kind of sad because he was really bad at it, but whatever had happened, Derek didn’t particularly care. He was just glad he no longer felt like he was actually dying, or losing his grip on reality. His main concern was actually getting his mate to look him in the eye and to figure out how best to handle his heat. Derek wasn’t certain he could stand, not so soon after healing from what he assumed was a fairly bad poisoning, but his arms seemed to be working just fine, along with other parts of his anatomy.

“Stiles,” he murmured against the soft hair just under his ear. His mate shivered and the sensation made Derek’s blood sing. “Stiles,” he repeated, putting his hands gently on his shoulders and pushing back just enough so they could see each other. He was still pale from having taken part of Derek’s sickness, but they both seemed to be gaining strength as they sat there pressed against each other so intimately. Derek would have gladly jumped to them touching even more so, but he recognized that his mate was still conflicted about something.

“Thank you,” he settled on. Derek suspected that Stiles would tell him what had happened, eventually, but it was his turn to take care of his mate, so he smirked and glanced down at where they were moving slowly against each other. “Would you like to ride me, little omega?” he asked and almost grinned when Stiles’ eyes flashed blue.

“Li-little,” Stiles sputtered, but he was finally smiling, so Derek kissed him. The kiss turned desperate almost immediately, the taste of ash on their tongues quickly fading as they moaned and rutted, Stiles’ skin overheated and sweaty against Derek’s hands and chest, on top of his thighs and pressed against his groin.

“Ride you?” Stiles finally asked as Derek sucked marks against his collarbone. Stiles skin was made to me marked. The bites showed up so well, crimson against his pale skin, or on the already flushed patches that spread across his cheeks and chest. Derek could spend a day raising the blood to the surface of his mate’s skin and still not grow tired of seeing him moan and writhe at the sensation.

It took him a long moment to realize what Stiles had said and he couldn’t stop his satisfied growl or the way his eyes bled red. Derek nodded in response, clawed hands gentle as they slid over Stiles’ damp skin and under his firm ass. He lifted his mate and brought him closer, made Stiles’ cock press against the hard planes of his abs before lowering him just enough for his own cock to push at his entrance.

“Stiles?” he asked, not sure what the question was, but his mate seemed to get it because one of his hands unclasped from where his fingers had been digging into Derek’s shoulder, and suddenly he had to try hard not to buck up because Stiles’ long, hot fingers were wrapped around him, guiding him into his hole.

He tried to make it slow, but his hips finally arched and then Stiles was sinking down quicker than he’d anticipated and all Derek could do was grunt at the sensation of being engulfed by his mate’s tight wet heat.

“Stiles,” he groaned, pressing his face against his mate’s chest, feeling and hearing his quick pulse surrounding him. It was perfect; the taste of Stiles’ sweat on his tongue, the smell of his arousal, the sensation of him clenching down, and the actual feelings that poured out of him, lust and elation and relief so strong Derek had to kiss him again, had to get his mouth on his mate’s to steal his breathy moans.

They gasped together when he finally rolled his hips, moving Stiles by his hips so he could slide deliberately out and up. Derek continued his slow thrusts and his mate wrapped both arms around his shoulder, burying his face against Derek’s neck as he tried to stifle the delicate little noises that were fucked out of him.

“I want to hear you,” Derek whispered against his damp hair, then mouthed his way down Stiles’ neck, grinning against the skin as his mate let out a filthy string of words that made him drag Stiles’ hips down harder than before.

“Fuck,” Stiles shouted, then his mouth clamped onto a muscle on Derek’s shoulder. He was shaking with the heat, his pheromones pouring off of him and intoxicating them both, so close to the edge of orgasm it would only take the smallest push to send him over.

Derek let out a quiet hiss at the pain, but it added to pleasure, somehow, having that sharp counterbalance of Stiles’ teeth in the mix and then he could feel his knot, hard and insistent where it pressed against Stiles’ hole with every drag of their bodies against each other. “Relax for me,” he whispered, mouth against Stiles’ neck, mirroring his mate’s actions.

Stiles relaxed and Derek closed his eyes with a soft smile, sinking his teeth into the muscle at the junction of Stiles’ neck as his knot slipped past the tightness and into his mate and they both found bliss.

Chapter Text

“What do you think about Edward?” Derek asked out of the blue.

Stiles craned his neck from where his cheek had been pressed against Derek’s abdomen, listening to all his hidden parts, and frowned at his mate. “Edward?”

“For a name,” Derek said, like that cleared it up.

He frowned in answer, still not getting it until suddenly he did. All at once the whole solstice run and the mating and the inevitable consequences rushed through Stiles’ mind and he sat up with, not a gasp - he did not gasp - but there was maybe a quick inhale or exhale or something.

Whatever, it was a totally rational reaction to being made suddenly aware that he was very likely already pregnant with Derek’s child, a cub that would be born the next spring along with his omega classmate’s own first children in the next wave of kids meant to help with the repopulation effort.

Stiles had also learned that apparently kids that were products of the run were said to be a bit specialer than others, like the circumstances of their conception played a role in their future fortune or something stupid like that. Having been a planned birth that hadn’t taken place ten months after the run, Stiles wouldn’t know, but that whole business of fortune or good luck was just an old omega’s tale, anyway, and as far as he knew there was no real evidence to support it.

But whatever, the undeniable fact remained that Stiles’ heart was suddenly pounding faster than when they’d christened every single nook and cranny of the cave that they could fit into and that his breathing was picking up as well and-

“Are you okay?” Derek asked. He was concerned, Stiles could feel, which meant that Derek could also sense his own tangled mess of emotions; the fear, the confusion, and whatever the hell else was going on in his head. Stiles didn’t even know, beyond the kind of paralytic terror he was experiencing. Because no, Stiles was not okay. He was going to be a nineteen year old father in ten months. He was going to have a husband and a kid and live in a strange house amongst a pack of strange people and have no control over his own life. Stiles wasn’t even sure if Derek would let him have a job, let alone-

“Stiles,” Derek interrupted, his hands pressing firmly against his cheeks, keeping Stiles still as his mate’s eyes flicked across his face like the answers to all of his questions were there. But since they weren’t, actually, he finally let out a tense breath, which Stiles found himself echoing. “Stiles,” Derek said more calmly, “will you tell me why you’re freaking out? I’m sorry if I said something that upset you. I know you mentioned that you used to have panic attacks-”

“It’s fine,” Stiles lied, then rolled his eyes at Derek’s stern look. “Okay, it’s not fine. I’m, it’s, I just don’t like it when I don’t have a choice,” he said, pretty much as honest an answer as he could come up with. It was true, after all. Stiles didn’t like it when his agency was taken from him, but that was life as an omega, from what he’d seen.

Derek tilted his head. “A choice about what? Is this about the name Edward because if it is-”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Stiles interjected. “Well, okay so it’s kind of about that. And for the record, no, not a big fan of Edward. Sorry if that’s like a family name or something but, anyway, okay,” he paused and took a breath, Derek’s hands dropping to his shoulder and then sliding down his arms, squeezing his biceps in reassurance before finding his hands and linking their fingers. Derek was a tactile person, Stiles had learned over the course of the days they’d spent together. Even when they weren’t having sex it was like he couldn’t stop himself from touching Stiles. Not that he was against that. No, he pretty much loved the feeling of Derek’s hands on his skin, but it was just a bit distracting, sometimes.

Stiles really needed to focus.

“Okay,” he repeated, closing his eyes and trying to organize his thoughts before looking at Derek. “So what's going to happen?"

"Happen?" Derek asked, thumbs running little circles against Stiles' hands, soothing and repetitive.

Stiles found himself calming down enough to really think and he took a deep breath. "Yeah, we haven't really talked about what's going to happen when this is over with. So," he trailed off, looking at Derek expectantly.

And the answer he got was not really what he expected. Derek's head fell back and he groaned, his feelings strangely petulant.

So that wasn't the most comforting sign.

But then Derek sighed, his thumbs rubbing gentle circles against Stiles’ skin, which wasn’t the worst thing to have happen.

------------

When the bells of Beacon Hills finally rang to signal the end of the run, they were already halfway through the preserve, their den abandoned and all physical trace of their presence scrubbed clean. Well, clean enough. There was only so much Derek could do about their mingled scents. He just hoped the sheriff didn't stumble across their little piece of seclusion when out looking for stragglers. Derek wasn't sure he would be able to face him if he smelled what the two of them had gotten up to. Though it wasn't as if he didn't already know, since they'd clearly mated, but Derek still wasn't eager for him to get that much if a whiff of their activities.

"What's up, Grumpy Guss?" Stiles asked, listing into him as they walked. The path they were on was even, so Derek knew he'd done it on purpose, but he couldn't get mad when they both felt a jolt of pleasure at the contact, even after having spent days touching almost constantly.

At least the worst of Stiles' heat was finished, though Derek couldn't imagine not wanting him, regardless of his mate’s overactive pheromones. Though he was way too embarrassed to say that to Stiles, except when they weren't in the throes of passion. They were both extremely honest during their more erotic moments, but neither ever brought up those confessions when they were more level-headed.

"Just thinking," Derek replied, wrapping an arm around Stiles' shoulders when he bumped against Derek a second time. They fell into step easily and Stiles wrapped his arm around Derek's waist. It felt natural, moving together like that, natural and right. Not for the first time, Derek recognized that he was utterly captivated by his mate and it didn't even bother him to be so close to another person for the first time since the quick and almost deadly tryst with Kate.

Granted, Stiles wasn't exactly what he'd thought he'd wanted in a mate, but he was undeniably what Derek needed. Stiles was obstinate and loud, pushy and boisterous, but he was also compassionate and intelligent and fierce. Derek realized he'd been an idiot for thinking submission would have suited a partner of his. No, he needed someone who would fight back and push him when he needed it, a mate who wouldn't take his silence as censure.

"You're perfect," he blurted out, then narrowly kept from biting his lip because he hadn't meant to just out and say it. He blamed the lingering pheromones for muddling his brain.

Stiles smiled, though, and Derek continued quickly before he could interject. "You're perfect for me," he amended, then barely suppressed a wince because that want he'd wanted to say, either.

But his mate was laughing, utterly filled with delight. "Oh, Der, you're such an awkward puppy, sometimes," he said without any malice, "and I love you, too, just in case you were wondering, which you shouldn’t because it’s pretty obvious."

Derek's ears were pink, he could tell because of how hot they felt, and he stopped there in the middle of the woods and pulled Stiles in for a long, sweet kiss. Because while he may not be able to say the words quite yet, but it didn’t change how he felt about his mate.

When they finally made it to the border it was dark and Sheriff Stilinski was the first person who greeted them.

Because Derek’s really was an awkward puppy who was at the mercy of a comically-inclined cosmos that enjoyed nothing more than putting him in the most uncomfortable situations imaginable. Or at least that was his theory.

“Dad!” Stiles yelled, drawing even more attention to them as he broke away from Derek and went barreling toward his father, who just sighed and held his hand out, palm smacking against his son’s head and halting him just short of what would have likely been a full-body tackle.

“Wha-” Stiles began, but the sheriff was shaking his head with a look of fond exasperation. Derek was pretty sure that was a typical look he wore around his son, though it wasn’t one he was familiar with, himself.

“Stiles, there isn’t enough gold on earth that would make me want to hug you right now. I love you, kid,” he said when Stiles’ bottom lip gave a definite, and patently fake, quiver. Derek had severely underestimated his mate’s potential when it came to being a bit of a shit, but he was definitely enjoying the front row seats to the Stilinski family reunion. “Don’t give me that look you little faker,” he continued with a wry smile, one Derek had seen on both of them several times despite their relatively short acquaintanceship, “I was immune to that before you could even figure out how to try annoying me into giving you things. No, while I am glad to see you in one piece,” the sheriff gave Derek a look that said he knew all about his son’s injury and was not impressed with the role he’d played in it, “I’m not getting any closer until you take a long, hot shower and scrub off some of those pheromones. The way you smell right now we could probably bottle it and use it to help repopulate the rest of the country.”

“Are you saying I smell good?” Stiles asked with a wrinkled-nose laugh, backing up until he bumped into Derek and stayed there, his back pressed comfortably against Derek’s front.

The sheriff rolled his eyes heavenward before looking at his son with a smirk. “I’m saying you are so pungent it would make people want to stay inside their houses to get away from it, which would inevitably result in them getting bored and-”

“And, yeah, so you obviously know my mate,” Stiles said a bit too loudly, but he was also starting to blush, which Derek had never known could be such an attractive look on anyone before he’d seen his mate do it during their third or fifth knotting. Derek was sure Stiles had blushed before that, but it wasn't until that time that he'd paid particular attention to it, biting gently at the heated skin across his mate's flushed chest-

Derek swallowed thickly, trying to focus back on the conversation at hand, but the sheriff had apparently noticed his inattention because he was giving Derek an amused look.

“Welcome to the family, Derek,” Sheriff Stilinski said before he could open his mouth and embarrass himself further. “Or, I suppose Stiles is to be welcomed into your family, due to the dynamics and all.” And he didn’t sound entirely pleased about that, but another couple was coming up the path and suddenly he and Stiles were being guided by a deputy, a beta, down toward the public pool which had been temporarily taken over so the returning mates could use the facilities to take showers and slip into robes before the feast.

Stiles pulled him along, elation leaking through their bond. It wasn’t until they got inside that he turned to Derek sharply, pressing him bodily against the cold painted concrete wall. “It’s a good thing that wasn’t actually my dad’s first impression of you,” Stiles said, before kissing him firmly, his hands holding onto Derek’s head as he guided the intensity of their kiss. Stiles hadn’t been nearly as good at that when they’d first started out, but Derek had discovered he was an exceptionally fast learner.

When they finally broke apart to gasp in heady breaths of air, and Stiles was smiling gently at him, feeling an intense wash of satisfaction. “Dad likes you,” he declared and Derek found himself frowning.

“He wasn’t lying about having been able to smell us, you know,” Derek felt inclined to point out, even though thinking about it was more than a bit mortifying. That was his potential future employer, after all, and there were some things that fathers didn’t need to know about their sons, or sons-in-law.

But Stiles just shrugged easily. “He didn’t even point out that he was wearing a firearm, so I think you’re good. So, what do you say, should we scrub off some of this funk so we can get our feast on?”

“You don’t smell bad,” Derek protested, anticipating the brilliant smile and eye-roll that Stiles immediately gave him.

“Charmer,” Stiles accused with another grin. “Come on, I’m hungry and I want to eat something besides roasted squirrel or blackberries. Not that our fare was subpar, but yeah, variety is the spice of life and all that.”

Derek found himself immediately leading his mate to an empty stall and turning on the water, holding Stiles back until the temperature was right. They slipped under the spray together and either because they could hear another couple doing it a few feet away or because of the lingering effects of Stiles’ heat, Derek found himself unable to keep from touching his mate, who shuddered at the touch, their ever-present desire for each other burning brighter the longer they touched.

His hands slid up Stiles’ wet torso, fingers slipping over his pert nipples, and before Stiles could protest Derek lowered his mouth to one of them, looking up through wet lashes to see his mate’s open-mouthed expression. It was one of his favorites. Well, almost every single expression Stiles made was one of Derek’s favorites, but that one meant Stiles’ mind was finally being silenced by his arousal. It meant he was quickly becoming reduced to a moaning, quivering mess that Derek loved nothing more than to lick and touch and hold until Stiles found his completion.

But they had places to be, things to eat, oaths to make, and Stiles’ father not to piss off, so Derek sank to his knees and used his mouth. Stiles liked that as much as he did, they’d discovered somewhere around the third or fourth day of their seclusion. Derek had learned how to work the tip of his tongue across the slit of Stiles’ cock and that Stiles was particularly fond of how Derek hollowed his cheeks and suddenly Stiles was coming down his throat with a bitten-off curse, his fingers digging into Derek’s shoulders as his body trembled through his orgasm.

He recovered quickly, his softening dick slipping out of Derek’s mouth, but before he could stand or move or anything, Stiles was sliding down to his knees as well, ignoring the water as it continued to rain down on them. Stiles gave him a quick kiss, licking his lips after he’d obviously tasted himself on Derek’s tongue, then turned around and with a swiftness Derek barely comprehended, sank down onto him, the clutch of his hole making Derek hiss through his teeth.

That wasn’t a position they’d tried, Stiles’ back to Derek’s front, but the angle was exquisite. When Stiles leaned forward Derek moved with him until he was draped over his mate’s back, one hand wrapped tight across his stomach while his other fist was planted on the rough floor. His hips snapped quickly as they moved together, Stiles so tight Derek knew it wouldn’t last long. He had to hold himself back from knotting, though, which was unfortunate, but they’d already taken longer than they should have. It didn’t keep him from marking Stiles’ neck, though, new expanses of skin that had, until then, gone unclaimed. He particularly enjoyed hearing the mewls Stiles made when Derek’s teeth clamped onto the back of his neck and held him there while he shuddered through his quick climax.

“Fuck,” Stiles muttered, face cradled against his crossed arms on the floor.

Derek winced at the image because he hadn’t wanted to be the type of alpha who claimed their mate wherever he wanted. He had more control over himself than that, or he liked to think he did, but then again he was mated to Stiles, who had proven himself not to have the best impulse control, either.

At least they were equally matched in that respect.

“Come on,” Derek murmured gently, licking the bite he’d given and watching as it healed before his eyes.

“Already did,” Stiles said sleepily, “twice.”

Derek grinned against his mate’s skin and stood them up, feeling himself slip out of Stiles as he dragged them both under the spray so he could clean them properly.

“Twice, huh?” he asked as he lathered Stiles’ short hair. It had grown out a little bit and Derek enjoyed feeling the strands between his fingers. He’d found that he liked most of the things about Stiles, though he wasn’t sappy enough to say it, not unless lust short-circuited his brain, which had happened a few times during Stiles’ heat, though neither had mentioned the lapses in his self-control.

Stiles frowned, but his eyes were scrunched shut and he was feeling too blissful to actually be upset by the teasing. “Yeah, tends to happen when my ridiculously hot mate is in the process of scrambling my brains with his mouth and or his dick,” he said with a wry tone.

“I didn’t need to hear that,” the sheriff called out and they both froze, water sloshing over Stiles’ face and he sputtered for a second before Derek pushed him out of the way of the spray. Before they could recover he continued. “Make sure you scrub yourselves thoroughly before you head out to the feast. And hurry up, will ya?”

With that he walked away, but Stiles was already snatching up the soap and doing as he’d been told, scouring his skin with it until Derek’s hand wrapped around his, slowing him down and easing his roughness. Embarrassment was practically leaking out of Stiles and Derek could barely hold back a smile, but he suspected it would have angered his mate so he just crowded in close, the suds slicking both their skin as he wrapped his arms around Stiles and pressed his nose against the base of his throat, breathing in the tantalizing combination of their scents, the thickest it would be for a long while, at least until after they moved out of the Hale house and into a place of their own, where they would have just the two of them and their children to fill their home with their combined scent and hopefully a healthy dose of laughter.

“I’ll miss the smell of us,” Derek confessed because for some reason that came easily to him when he was with Stiles.

His mate made an inquisitive noise. “You think I’m going to let all kinds of other people in on this or something?” he asked. Stiles was naive about the strangest things, sometimes.

“I don’t doubt your faithfulness, Stiles,” Derek said sincerely, "and I never will." Because it was true. He couldn't imagine his mate betraying him. That wasn't who Stiles was. "But when when we get to my parents' home things will be different." He suspected that was an understatement, but it was the way things worked, so Derek didn't question it.

Stiles just grunted in reply and turned so Derek could scrub his back.

Chapter Text

The feast was insane. Not only were the newly bonded in attendance, but everyone in the community who had mated was invited to attend, too. Stiles hadn’t seen that many people in the same place at the same time probably ever. Well, school assemblies aside, but those were typically segregated to prevent undue aggression between the alphas and betas, or hanky panky between the omegas and anyone else. Not that the omegas would have instigated anything to begin with, they were pretty much sexually dormant until their first heat, some solo experimentation aside, but it hadn't stopped the alphas and betas from attempting to get their freak on, regardless.

But yeah, Stiles hadn’t ever seen so many people gathered in one space. It was a bit much to handle after being a party of two for nearly two weeks. The cocktail of smells alone was nearly overpowering, with the food aromas added to the enormous mass of alphas and omegas and betas, but Stiles managed to not throw up or run away or anything equally dramatic. Barely. At least Derek seemed to be in the same boat, his emotions a jumble Stiles didn’t know if he had the capacity to untangle, not when there was so much else to pay attention to. Not that he wanted to be distracted or anything, but it was hard to concentrate when faced with so much stimula. It helped when Stiles reached over and took his mate’s hands, tangling their fingers together. He could feel them both relax slightly at the touch.

Looking around he recognized a lot of the people milling about, making small talk and networking or whatever it was adults did when they didn’t have to round up their kids or worry overmuch about the unmated. Some were clothed casually, but more than a few wore robes like the ones he and Derek had on. Those in robes always wore the same fabric and color as their mates, commemorating the run when they’d met and mated. Stiles’ mother had been buried with both hers and Stiles’ father’s robes, ugly yellow satin things that hadn’t looked flattering on either of them, but he knew they liked to take them out every solstice festival if they weren’t working security for the run. When Stiles saw mates wearing those particular robes he averted his eyes, not wanting the bitter reminder of what he and his father had lost.

Derek squeezed his hand gently and Stiles managed a twitch of a smile, letting his eyes linger on what his mate was decked out in. It was a longer robe than most in a soft kind of cotton a bland pale green that looked a lot like lake algae, though he was sure it had some pretentious name like canvas reef or chlorophyll essence. Whatever, Stiles didn't really care, there were too many people too close to him, he was starving, and Derek was still acting weird.

Well, Derek seemed kind of like a weird guy in general, but he was behaving particularly strangely as they made their way through the throng toward the banquet tables set up on the lacrosse pitch. The solstice organizers had taken over the high school fields for the event and it was almost unrecognizable, with huge banners strewn across the bleachers and across the side of the building congratulating the newly mated pairs and announcing the names of couples who had been together for ten or twenty or fifty years or however long, their names written in giant golden letters along with their children’s classifications in silver. Stiles’ parents weren’t on there, since his mom was dead, but he saw more than one Hale, all with alpha children.

He didn’t point any of that out to Derek, though. He wasn’t actually sure why, but his mate had been stonily silent since they’d left the showers. Even during the walk he hadn’t said anything, which was mostly fine with Stiles since he had a hell of a lot going on in his head without having to make conversation, but he still kind of missed their easy banter. It wasn’t that he thought Derek was mad at him or anything. That didn’t seem to be the case, but he was acting oddly pensive.

“Derek, you finally did it!” a cheerful voice called and Stiles could feel his mate’s burst of panic before it cooled off into an odd mixture of annoyance and affection. Another former lover of his, maybe? “You finally caught someone who actually wants you.”

“Laura,” Derek grumbled under his breath, but loud enough for Stiles to hear.

So, no, it was worse than a former lover, it was Derek’s older sister. Stiles knew a lot about her from friendly neighborly gossip as well as his basic knowledge of most people in town thanks to his dad’s occupation and the fact that she was a Hale. Laura had a bit of a polarized reputation because of her outspoken nature and her pretty much textbook alpha-ness, but then again that was just popular opinion, it wasn’t as if Stiles had ever talked to her before, or even heard Derek talk about her.

And it struck him as a little odd how he and Derek hadn’t really mentioned their families or packs during their long days together, though maybe it wasn’t strange since they’d been a bit preoccupied during Stiles’ heat and bringing up family whilst in the throes of heat-driven passion was definitely a bit of a mood killer. They’d talked about some things, like how Derek didn’t mind if Stiles found a job doing whatever it was he wanted to do, undetermined as of yet, and that online courses would be fine with Derek, too. Stiles had actually been a bit flabberghasted about both of those options apparently being open to him, but then again Derek hadn’t really acted like a typical alpha. Like at all.

But then his older sister showed up and his face changed into an oddly grumpy mask. Stiles thought of that expression as belonging to Old Derek, the Derek he'd first met in the forest when he'd been injured. Stiles much preferred the updated version with his quick smiles and easy affection.

“This must be your new pet,” Laura commented as she gave Stiles a once-over along with a sharp-toothed grin. "Tell me, is he as, what was it? Oh, is he as submissive as you'd hoped? He's clearly a cutie,” she said, like he wasn’t even there.

Stiles narrowed his eyes at her before he could stop himself. Part of him wanting to like the clearly boisterous Hale, but he was having a really hard time getting past her dynamist language and excessive display of cleavage. Because of course she was wearing her robe, red silk, but it was tied loosely and gaped open across her chest, which actually made Stiles strangely uncomfortable. And that was a bit weird since he’d just spent a month wandering around naked, so he should probably be used to nudity by then, but his mind hadn’t ever really made sense to anyone, including himself. Laura’s mate wasn't in evidence, but there were a few other red-robed people around, so Stiles figured he probably wasn’t far off. He  knew the guy was pregnant with their second child, but other than that he didn’t know much about Eugene, other than the fact he was an omega. Also, Laura came across as kind of a bitch.

“Laura, this is my mate, Omega Stiles Stilinski, the sheriff’s son,” Derek said, probably unnecessarily. The newspapers in town printed little bios on all the available omegas each year, and since there weren’t many of them it became pretty common knowledge who was running. Plus, it was an open secret that under-the-table betting started the moment the papers hit the stands. Stiles had it on good authority his odds of being mated to an alpha were seven to one. Scott’s were fifteen to one. Whoever had bet Jackson was going to end up with another alpha was probably flush with cash and loving life.

Laura gave him an appraising look, like he was a prize steer, or, hey, a breeding mare. And really, that analogy was disturbingly accurate given that he was probably already pregnant. Stiles was certainly tired and hungry enough for it, but that could have been because of the long walk he and Derek had taken and the large number of people surrounding them. He liked people, but not so many at once, and definitely not relative strangers.

“Did this one try to kill you, too?” she asked her brother with a sardonic smile and Stiles didn’t need to be able to feel Derek’s emotions to know the question was highly inappropriate and that it made the alpha exceedingly uncomfortable plus more than a little ashamed. “I know you didn’t have much luck the last time,” Laura continued, either oblivious to her brother’s feeling or not particularly caring that she kept pushing his soft spots like it was all some big game to see what words would make him twitch, “but at least your mate doesn’t seem all that intimidating, and you look to be in one piece, so congrats on not being gutted this time, little bro.”

And that really pissed Stiles off. He was so beyond being done with people pushing Derek around. Especially after having seen him react to Kate, knowing how terrified Derek had been and how resigned he was to being killed by her. Listening to Laura joke so openly about her brother’s near-death experience and the lingering trauma did not go over well with Stiles.

At all.

“No, I didn’t try to kill him,” Stiles answered breezily for his mate, irritation overriding the social niceties his teachers had tried and largely failed to hammer into him, "but when Kate Argent showed up in the preserve and threatened him again I did berserk and nearly ripped her throat out." Laura's eyebrows went up at that, but Stiles continued with false ease, "Yeah, we were both pretty shocked when she appeared in combat gear and then kidnapped Derek’s betas with the help of an omega, a stupid classmate of mine who wanted to get with Kate’s niece and thought she’d help him or something. Oh, and she brought along some wolfsbane-infused rope. Which was all pretty surprising, you know, since no one told either of us to expect a run crasher in the first place, let alone the notorious Kate Argent,” which Stiles still thought was total bullshit, that they’d been kept in the dark with someone dangerous on the loose, “but lucky for her there was an entire group of alphas who seemed to know about the possibility of her attack and weren’t the least bit phased when we chased her into their trap. They’re the only reason she’s still alive, by the way, or I would have gladly killed her. Pretty fortunate for her how that turned out, huh?”

And yeah, Stiles probably should have told his dad all of that when they’d seen him, but for some reason he was just standing there in public, spewing it all out to Laura Hale like it was no big fucking deal and not a totally bizzaro, fucked up situation. At least Derek’s emotions had thankfully shifted from mortification to a weird sort of prideful unease. He also no longer seemed to feel like he was about to try to make a break for it, so there was that, too. Regardless of all that, Stiles was so done with the whole situation he couldn’t help but continue, especially since Laura hadn’t yet butted in to stop him, her expression something like amusement, hopefully, but Stiles had seen some people look amused when they were secretly plotting some pretty vicious stuff, so he wouldn’t count that in his favor.

But whatever, he was really hungry and really over the whole Kate thing.

“Anyway,” he finished with a fake smile, not needing to glance around to see that they’d acquired a fairly substantial and not at all subtle audience, which was just fucking fabulous and ensured his dad would hear about his little outburst before the night was over, but whatever, he’d stopped caring the moment Laura had started tormenting his mate. “It was pretty shitty of you guys not to tell Derek about the Kate situation before the run, but I made sure she didn’t fuck with him this time. You’re welcome, by the way, for ensuring your brother wasn’t actually killed by a psychopath, though if I ever see her again not even Derek will be able to stop me from ending her or anyone else that tries to interfere with me or my mate. Now, I believe there’s some food around here, somewhere. Come on, Der,” he said and slipped past Laura, Derek in tow.

If he wasn't mistaken, Stiles was pretty sure Laura burst out laughing almost as soon as they'd left, but he was too stressed out and pissed off to pay that close of attention.

There was a very real possibility that he would have a panic attack when he finally sat down to think about everything he’d said, but that was later, after he’d eaten and slept and actually had time to process things.

Later.

--------------------

It wasn’t until they reached the tables that Derek regained his equilibrium and he immediately pulled Stiles off to one side, out of the harsh glare of the artificial lights that illuminated the fields in bright white circles, but left plenty of shadows as well.

“What was that?” he asked, not sounding nearly as demanding as he would have wanted. He was honestly confused about the interaction between his mate and sister. Derek had never seen anyone stand up to her teasing like that, and for Stiles to have met her baiting with such angry obstinance-

“Excuse me?” Stiles said, his conflicting emotions hardening into something akin to ice. Fragile, dangerous, easily shattered. “Was I not supposed to stick up for my mate? Was I supposed to just let her get away with tormenting you in front of all those other people? I mean, it wasn’t like you were do-”

Derek shook his head quickly. “No, I-shit, I mean thanks.” Probably. He still wasn’t quite sure. “Thank you for sticking up for me, but Laura was just joking like she always does. Besides, she isn’t really someone to mess with.”

“And I am?” Stiles asked, tone becoming even more frigid. “Is that what you think of me?”

Derek didn’t know what to do, he always said the wrong thing under pressure, but not saying anything wasn’t a good way to handle the situation, either, he could tell. So he took a deep breath and looked at his mate. It kind of felt like he was facing a firing squad, but he could sense his familiar childish petulance come into play.

“That’s not what I meant,” he protested, all too aware that he sounded like a whiny kid, but that was just what happened when his family became involved in his life. He lost his ability to act like an adult and reacted, which had ended up with him being the brunt of more than one family joke.

Stiles narrowed his eyes like he was assessing Derek in the dark, which wasn’t actually easy for him unless he shifted his eyes, but he didn’t and they remained the same honeyed brown. Derek wasn’t sure if that was more or less comforting, knowing that Stiles didn’t actually need to see him to get a read on his feelings or intentions or whatever it was he was doing. Finally, Stiles just shook his head and nodded back toward the food. It certainly smelled appetizing, but Derek wasn’t sure if he would be able to eat given the amount of conflicting emotions he was feeling. Anticipation and happiness and worry and-

“We’re eating,” Stiles said, tone as firm as his hand clasping Derek’s. He wasn’t sure when that had happened, the hand-holding, but he gave his mate a tentative squeeze and followed along until Stiles came to an abrupt halt and he had to sidestep to keep from bumping into him.

“Wha-” he started, but then he saw what had arrested his mate’s attention.

“Matt,” Stiles said with an utterly flat tone, but his disbelief was nearly palpable, as was a definite spark of fear.

"And Ennis," Derek added, pressing against Stiles' back in an attempt to comfort him. Stiles seemed to respond well to gaining information so Derek continued explaining when he would have otherwise stopped. "He's part of Deucalion's pack, which means he’ll be taking Matt with him when they leave to go back to wherever it is they’re from. I heard Deucalion talking to Peter about it." Deucalion already having a pack was strange since he hadn’t mated until arriving in Beacon Hills, but Derek had heard that different towns handled the subject of mating and dynamics differently.

Stiles made a noncommittal noise and let Derek pull him toward a different table. It wasn’t until they got plates that Derek realized Eugene was only a few feet away, apparently still unaware of them as he helped himself to some summer squash. Derek had come to realize that his brother-in-law had the weirdest cravings when he was pregnant, with squash not even rating in the top ten, though sometimes he wondered if Eugene just sent Laura out on grocery runs in the middle of the night for the fun of it, or possibly because she had a tendency to be pretty annoying. Derek had actually asked him once, but the omega had just given him a placid look and a gentle shrug. He still didn’t know how to interpret that.

“Derek,” Eugene said when they got close enough. He sounded surprised and look tired. His red robe was strained over his large belly in a not entirely flattering manner. It wasn’t often that he and Laura brought out their solstice outfits, but it looked particularly strange to see him wearing it while so heavily pregnant. Derek suddenly wondered what Stiles would look like with his green robe almost unable to cover him, then swallowed thickly because the image was so heart-breakingly possible he didn’t want to think about it, just in case there were complications or any of a hundred possible disastrous outcomes that could happen before his vision became a reality. Derek tried not to get his hopes up when he could avoid it. Just in case.

“Hello Eugene,” he said quietly. Eugene was pretty quiet, but that just made Derek like him more for it. He seemed to blend in with the Hales seamlessly, like he was made to slip into the background of the family. Derek hoped Stiles would be the same, but he’d already gotten off to a rocky start with Laura, and Cora was an even bigger brat, sometimes.

“Hi, I’m Stiles, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Stiles said, extending his hand across the table. Eugene took it with a slight frown that meant he was completely baffled by that particular turn of events. It was kind of odd for an omega to introduce himself when his mate was right there, but that didn't seem to phase Stiles at all. “As you can probably tell I’m Derek’s mate. How long have you and Laura been together?”

Eugene recovered quickly, another thing Derek liked about him. He never seemed to get overwhelmed when things changed, which was more than he could say for himself. Derek let the two of them talk for a few minutes as he started piling his and his mate’s plates with food, not seeing the point of interrupting.

“Looks like you’ve got someplace to be,” Eugene said with significant look at Stiles’ plate and a gentle smile that nonetheless meant he would probably be telling Laura all about Derek practically waiting on his mate like he was the submissive one, which was stupid because neither of them were all that submissive.

At all.

Stiles glanced down at his plate and Derek could feel his confusion quickly shift to happiness. “Thanks, Der,” he said nudging him with an elbow. “Well, it was cool to meet you, Eugene, guess we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other pretty soon, huh?”

“Nice to meet you, too, Stiles, Derek,” Eugene said, then walked with his rolling, careful gait back over to where they’d seen Laura. Derek had long wondered how all of the mated couples in his life seemed to be constantly aware of where their partners were, but since bonding he finally understood. Not only was he able to point in whatever direction Stiles was in, but he could tell how his mate was feeling and even his physical state, at times, like if he was cold or hot, tired or energetic. It was extremely useful information.

Like at that moment Stiles was starving, exhausted, overwhelmed, and feeling oddly insecure.

“Why don’t we find a quiet place to sit and eat, away from my family,” Derek suggested softly, already leading the way back towards the shadows near where they’d spoken. Stiles followed silently and didn’t argue when Derek made him sit further from the crowd, tucked against his side, his plate lit just enough for him to see it. Stiles relaxed marginally and looked up from where he’d been studying his food.

“Looks like Scott and Allison made it, afterall,” Stiles said, nodding toward a dark-haired couple in the same green robes they wore. He ate what Derek had picked out for him, a lot of protein and carbs, along with some of the vegetables Derek had piled on his own plate. Derek let him, making note of what Stiles seemed to favor so he would know what to get on his second trip to the tables. “Hey,” Stiles said after a few minutes of silence, “I’m sorry if I was out of line with your sister, and if you think of some kind of punishment-”

“Punishment?” Derek asked, nearly dropping the buttery corn on the cob he was holding.

Stiles glanced at him from the corner of his eye, like he wasn’t sure if Derek was messing with him or not. “Yeah, like we went over in school? You know, if an omega acts out their mate has a right to dole out whatever punishment they deem fit. I mean, I know I’m not submiss-”

“I don’t want you to be submissive,” Derek cut in. He honestly didn’t know what they were teaching the omegas in school. It sounded like a load of shit to him. Punishment? It wasn’t the middle ages, alphas didn’t just beat their mates for having opinions or speaking their minds. At least he didn’t know any alphas that did that kind of stuff.

“Yeah, I don’t believe you,” Stiles said with a forced kind of smirk that didn’t match the tense kind of confusion he was feeling, “I mean, I heard what Laura said-”

“Laura mentioned me finding a cute, submissive omega last month to get me to run. She painted a pretty nice picture of what my life could be, but I like you a lot more than the fantasy that got me out of my apartment and into the preserve.”

It was true, too, Derek did like Stiles. He liked how complicated he was, how honest and at times bullheaded. He liked the way Stiles tasted and how he talked about things with so much passion in his voice that Derek couldn’t help but be captivated by whatever it was he was saying, even if he only understood half of the pop culture references he made when telling stories. Derek really liked Stiles, he just wasn’t sure how to show it.

But Stiles sighed despite Derek’s perpetual communication failure, the tension slowly fading from his emotions and his posture. “I’m probably going to regret having said all that to your sister, though, aren’t I?”

Derek nodded and handed Stiles what was left of his bread as a kind of peace offering. “Undoubtedly, she can be a bit of a brat.”

“Great,” Stiles said, but he wasn’t quite as insecure or hungry, so it was a start.

Derek vowed to work on complementing Stiles out loud and not just in his head. He was pretty sure that would be a long-term work in progress.

Chapter Text

Surprisingly, at least it was surprising to Stiles, though Derek seemed utterly unphased, the rest of the Hales welcomed him with open arms. And open mouths because yeah, they talked. A lot. Like even more than Stiles when he was on a rambling spree. It was a bit much for him to process while he sat there in the shadows, full and sleepy, propped up against Derek on the soft grass of the field. They’d eaten way too much food, and by the time they’d finished all of Derek’s immediate family had seemed to have congregated around them, chattering and content.

Tradition dictated that all new couples were supposed to remain at the feast until all the stragglers still in the preserve were rounded up so all the newly mated could say the oaths together, but he was having a really hard time remaining awake for the whole thing, despite the Hale’s incessant yammering.

“But then,” Laura said, loud and amused, “Stiles told me about the Kate thing and his berserking and I almost shit myself it was so hilarious.” She broke off into laughter and Stiles finally managed to open his eyes, but he didn’t lift his head from where his cheek was pressed against Derek’s shoulder, his mate’s strong arm slung around him.

“That’s hardly appropriate, Laura,” Talia Hale said mildly, but without any real censure. She was dark haired and light eyed like Derek and his siblings, and had quite a commanding presence, even for an alpha. Beside her, Derek’s father Wyrick was casually watching his children and their mates with a kind of passive ease. He was paler than the rest of the family, with wispy blonde hair and gray eyes, but Stiles could definitely see where Derek had gotten his jawline from, and his musculature. Papa Hale was pretty ripped for an omega.

Laura just waved aside her mother’s criticism and turned to face him and Derek. “So, what’s he look like shifted, baby bro? Oh, let me guess, is he a fawn color?”

“Red?” Cora piped up. She was sitting across her mate, Isaac’s, lap, lazily running her fingers through his curly hair. Stiles knew both of them from school, sort of, but he didn’t really know them, at least not enough to engage in such easy banter.

It was probably a pack thing. The Hales were likely used to integrating new members into their ranks without much drama, but Stiles had only ever been part of his parent’s pack, plus the McCalls, so that kind of easy familiarity was foreign to him. Plus, it wasn’t exactly politically correct to talk about another person’s wolf form, not outside of family, but yeah, he kept forgetting that technically, he was family.

Derek’s sighed and adjusted them so Stiles was stretched out in the v of his legs, Derek’s hands wrapped tight around his middle as Stiles leaned back against him and yeah, that was a good sleeping position. Or it would have been if they weren’t in the midst of playing dynamics twenty questions.

“His coat’s a very light gray,” Derek finally said when his sisters’ pestering became too obnoxious to ignore.

And that, the fact that Derek knew his actual coloring, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but yeah, it kind of was. Even Scott just called his fur white, but no, it was a gray so pale it just looked white if you weren’t paying close attention.

Derek must have sensed how impressed he felt because his emotions did a fun little jiggle, like he was secretly dancing on the inside or something. It was beyond adorable and he made a mental note to compliment his mate more often to see if he could reproduce that emotional sensation. Feeling better about the whole situation, Stiles settled back more firmly against his mate and let his eyes half-close, still awake, but not feeling like contributing to the conversation.

“Yeah, his berserker form is light gray, too,” Isaac told Cora, but everyone, including Stiles, heard him clearly. Stiles would have been angry about that being brought up again, but if the situation had been switched, Stiles probably wouldn’t have been able to keep himself from saying anything about it, either. Also, he hadn’t known that about himself, since he couldn’t exactly distinguish between colors when he was shifted, without even adding to that his mind’s instinct-driven focus and lack of ability to really concentrate on the small stuff, like the color of his fur or whether or not he was doing something profoundly stupid.

But that just led to another round of questions and speculation and talk of articles they’d read, plus stories about the war and the omegas who had berserked then and downed scores of enemy soldiers. Stiles wanted to engage in all of that, to learn more about an aspect of history he hadn’t ever heard, but he wasn’t comfortable enough to speak amongst so many strange alphas, even though their mates had no problem butting in. Derek didn’t seem to have much to say either, though, so they just sat quietly together, their emotions waxing and waning with intensity as they listened in or let their minds drift. Stiles was looking forward to doing that when they were alone, a proper mood share, but it wasn’t the time.

“Stiles, wake up, it’s time,” a quiet voice whispered against his ear, the warmth blooming across his skin. He turned toward the familiar scent and pressed his face against the soft fabric that smelled like-

“Stiles,” Derek said, a bit louder than before, but he knew it was because he was trying to make sure they didn’t succum to temptation and embarrass themselves in public.

His eyes snapped open and he immediately looked up at his mate, who was trying to hold back his amusement, though his face just looked a bit annoyed. Stiles was baffled by Derek’s ability to do that, to feel something, but have his body act completely different. It was like a really weird superpower. “‘M awake,” he mumbled against Derek’s robe, nuzzling his cheek just a bit, partially because the clothing still didn’t smell enough like him, but also to make sure he hadn’t drooled in his sleep. Several hours of it, apparently. The sun was just starting to rise.

Around them the other Hales were stirring, or in some cases they were still talking. Cora and Isaac were chatting, limbs tangled together, while Talia had her head in Wyrick’s lap as he carefully carded his long fingers through her hair, untangling knots, both of them talking in low tones Stiles couldn’t pick up. Peter and Lydia had showed up at one point, both asleep with Peter curled around the much smaller omega, while Boyd and Erica were off to one side, closer to Derek than they were to the others, but still far enough away not to appear overly involved with the pack.

Another dynamics thing? Or was it because they were betas? Or it could have been a pack thing Stiles didn’t really understand. He’d never felt quite so ignorant before. It was like stepping into a whole new world he’d only been vaguely aware of having existed in the first place.

“The ceremony is going to start soon,” Derek whispered, but that Stiles knew all about. He stood up slowly and half-helped Derek along, too. Not that he needed it, but still, Stiles liked to at least pretend to be useful when he could.

The fields were covered with sleeping people, mates and packs sprawled out together. It was one of the town’s only celebrations that didn’t include the unmated, so most parents took the opportunity to come and spend the night together under the stars, sans the hanky panky, though. Not many were comfortable enough to engage in such exhibitionist behavior around all of their peers, but Stiles had half-heard some stories the night before, told mostly by Laura, about some of the things that happened when mates failed to control their urges.

Stiles and Derek? They were in total control. But that didn’t stop him from drawing his mate closer for a sweet kiss. When they finally drew back, more of the pairs were stirring, the soft light reflecting off of the golden letters of the banners, Hale written over and over again, though only Derek’s immediate family had congregated around them. There were a few Argents, too, along with Greenberg, Boyd, and dozens of other names. Stiles almost started when he saw that he and Derek had been added sometime during the night, almost hidden amongst the rest of the Hales, but there they were, DEREK and WŁODZISŁAW HALE. He pointed it out to his mate and immediately felt Derek’s amusement.

“Stiles isn’t your real name,” he pointed out with grin.

He turned in Derek’s arms, pressing their fronts togethers. “Stiles is absolutely my name, it just isn’t the one on my birth certificate or legal documents. That horrible thing,” he said, gesturing vaguely behind him, “was my grandfather’s and for some reason my mom thought it would be a great idea to burden me with it, too.”

Derek’s eyebrows said he found the horrible moniker hilarious, but he focused his attention back to the banner and his grin turned contemplative. “How do you even-”

“Nope,” Stiles cut in with a smile, “not gonna happen, dude. I am not telling you how to pronounce that atrocity. In fact, no one besides my mom has ever been able to say it properly, and she’s dead, so I guess we’ll just have to stick with Stiles, yeah?”

He could feel Derek start at being reminded of the late Sheriff Claudia, but he didn’t mention it as they slowly made their way around the sprawled out mates toward where the ceremony was to take place.

“You’ll tell me one day,” Derek said, tone decisive and yeah, maybe Stiles would, but it wasn’t something he really thought was all that important, not like the ritual they had yet to perform and then him moving into the Hale house along with Isaac and Lydia, the newest members of the throng.

“Probably,” Stiles agreed as they looked up at the temporary stage set at one end of the football field, the goal post rising up behind it like upraised hands. When they found a place near the front he loosened the belt of his robe and let the fabric slide off his body to the ground and heard the whisper of motion as Derek defrocked, too.

“Attention newly mated citizens of Beacon Hills,” Coach Finstock yelled despite having a microphone right there in his hand. His voice echoed around them in an almost deafening roar. Stiles covered his ears as feedback screeched until someone scrambled onto the stage to fix the problem. By the time the noise died down pretty much everyone seemed to be awake, the newly mated moving to the front and dropping their robes onto the grass, baring themselves to the sun.

“Crap this thing is temperamental,” Coach said, eyeing the microphone with distrust even as he kept using it because Stiles had always thought he was kind of crazy. He wasn’t even Stiles’ coach, either, but everyone called him that, anyway. He’d heard a girl call him Mr. Finstock one time and he’d gotten so flustered she’d cried. He hadn’t been mean, necessarily, but yeah, it hadn’t been pretty.

Beside him Derek kept glancing around at all the pairs and trio around them, like he was making sure no one was going to attack them from behind, which was ridiculously sweet and entirely unnecessary, but Stiles found himself appreciating the slightly silly gesture, anyway. Eventually, Stiles took Derek’s hand in his and sent a little burst of ease his way, taking some of his mate’s anxiety. It evened them both out, really, since Stiles had been kind of half-asleep watching Coach pace back and forth across the stage, spouting off random statistics about their mating run as opposed to others, and the percentage of omegas newly mated to alphas, sixty eight, to those mated to betas, thirty two. Stiles was glad the math checked out or he was pretty sure it would have bothered him to the point of obsession.

But it was fine and Coach Finstock just kept talking and Stiles kind of zoned out, enjoying the feeling of Derek’s pulse where their hands were clasped together at their sides, the summer sun warm on their skin.

---------------

The ritual was more stressful than Derek had anticipated. Not that he’d really thought about it all that much beforehand. He’d sort of payed attention to that unit in school, but four years had passed since then and his memory was a bit rusty. Stiles seemed to be following along, though, which wasn’t at all surprising. His mate was oddly interested in things, sometimes. Derek kind of wished those things included his family, but then again he knew they were a lot to handle, especially for someone who had grown up relatively isolated. Stiles’ pack was tiny compared to the Hales. Well, most packs were, but Stiles’ especially so.

But despite failing to give a shit in school, Derek had learned about the ritual from Laura, whose near constant talking when they were growing up had always gotten on his nerves, but after living alone he’d come to appreciate her insight about things and the way she could fill a silence with a one-sided conversation Derek didn’t even need to participate in. Stiles was like that, too, when he wasn’t being such a quiet, careful thing.

Finstock was wrapping up what sounded suspiciously like a speech from a movie about aliens when Deaton and Morrell took the stage, each with long golden ropes draped over their arms. Those were for the binding, and suddenly the ceremony took on an aspect finality he hadn’t yet come to terms with.

Derek was about to bind himself legally as well as spiritually to his mate. They had already committed physically, with the knotting, but going through with the binding would create an almost unbreakable bond between them, solidifying their status as mates and ensuring any future offspring, like the one hopefully already growing within his mate, would be protected under the laws of the land; not to be used as a weapon in war, not to lack any basic needs, and to grow up in an inclusive community that recognized but did not discriminate against dynamic differences. Derek’s parents had gone through with the ritual, and he believed that Stiles’ had as well, though he hadn’t seen any Stilinskis on the banners, but that could have been because of the late sheriff’s death.

Even though he was trepidatious about the binding, Derek was still not afraid enough to back out. He had feelings for his mate, deep feelings he could barely begin to comprehend, but they were there and so was he. He was where he belonged, at Stiles’ side, accepting one of the ropes for them as Stiles took the other end and wound it around the wrists of their joined hand, sliding it against their skin before they worked together to tie it off, Stiles’ amusement at their fumbling a bright shiver of happiness in the corner of his mind marked out for his mate.

When everyone was bound to their mate or mates, Finstock called them to order once again, though not many of them were really talking. Well, their audience was, including Laura, Derek could make out over the whispered shushing along the fringes.

“Alright, time to say the words. Don’t be shy, now, just say it and then we can all get out of here,” he bellowed. The man clearly thought they were part of his lacrosse team, which Derek hadn’t ever been, but he’d heard the stories from others in his class about their coach’s quirky and sometimes volatile behavior on the field.

Derek tried to ignore him as he looked at Stiles, his mate gorgeously haloed by the rising sun, bare skin golden in the new dawn light. He had a moment of panic as he tried to remember the words, but when Stiles opened his mouth Derek copied him and suddenly the oath poured out like honey.

“Through trials and tribulations I will remain by your side,” they said, eyes fixed on each other, “I will lead and I will follow down whatever path we choose. Our bodies bound as our souls entwine, together in spirit despite our flesh. I will honor and cherish you until the end my mate.”

It was simple, as oaths went, just four sentences, but Derek could feel the weight of it in his bones, a tingle around his bound wrist that slowly spread until he felt charged with it. Stiles felt the same, he could tell, and Derek wanted nothing more than to kiss away the happy tears glittering at the edges of his mate’s eyes.

“Now kiss!” Finstock demanded.

Derek smiled at his grinning mate and readily complied.

Chapter Text

Stiles was having a hard time adjusting to life in the Hale pack.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not really. He liked Wyrick and Talia, even though she was kind of scary and reminded Stiles a bit too much of his mom, Laura had grown on him despite her insistence on making fun of Derek at every opportunity, the rest of them were fine, too, it was just.

He was having a hard time, was all.

"You getting up before noon, today?" Derek teased, his hand hot between Stiles' shoulder blades, but he didn’t press for more. They hadn't had sex since they'd gotten there, which was maybe part of the problem. There being the palatial Hale family home where Derek’s smirking mother had given them her son’s old childhood bedroom, which had at some point during Derek’s absence been converted into a guest room, so it no longer smelled like him. And no, neither he nor Derek were comfortable with his siblings and other family members hearing what they got up to between the sheets, even though they’d never had sex in a place that actually had sheets, but quite frankly, Stiles was just too anxious.

Not about Derek, of course. His mate was a great person and an excellent lover, but the house itself was so loud. Stiles had only lived with his parents, and then just his dad, with Scott showing up randomly, but still, Stiles wasn't used to the noise and chaos and the amount of people who seemed to constantly barrel down the hallways and stairs, yelling and howling and laughing and screaming. The laughter was nice, but the rest of it just put Stiles on edge.

Which was why he just shook his head in response to Derek's question and buried his face in a pillow. It smelled like the Hale pack, just like everything else in the house, and Stiles felt a rush of homesickness. Derek's hand stilled where it had been creeping lower down his bare back.

There was a moment of tense silence, but Stiles waited for Derek to sort through his own thoughts and feelings, including his shock and hurt, before the alpha finally spoke. "It's Hale tradition for a newly bonded alpha and omega to live with the alpha's family, at least until their first cub is born," he said, not for the first time. He was probably quoting something his mom had told him frequently since they’d arrived. Stiles' avoidance of the rambunctious family hadn't exactly been subtle.

"What about my family's traditions?" he asked, not to start a fight, but just to see what Derek had to say. Honestly, the Stilinskis didn't have much in the way of family traditions. Stiles' parents' had both been alphas, so they’d decided to just find a place together when they’d first bonded, avoiding the whole dynamics issue of who owned whom and what tradition went where. Plus, their schedules had always been pretty random, which hadn't changed when his mom had died and his dad took over as sheriff. If anything Stiles had seen even less of him after that, but still, it was important to know what kind of an alpha Derek was going to be, a stringent follower of outdated traditions or someone who actually listened to what his mate needed to be happy. Stiles could make a pretty educated guess as to where Derek fell along that scale, but he needed to be sure.

Derek’s expression was even more pensive than the one he'd worn in the cave during their argument about whether or not it was safe for Stiles to go gathering on his own. And while that hadn't ended the best, what with Derek accidentally poisoning himself and all, at the very least Derek wasn't leaking fear like he had been back then, terrified of Stiles getting hurt. That hadn't been a pleasant emotion to feel secondhand from his mate.

"You're not happy here," Derek said, finally getting it. But the way he said it, Stiles could hear and feel the subtext pretty clearly.

You're not happy with me.

He decided to answer that second observation first.

"I do like you, Derek" Stiles said, twisting his neck so he could look back over his bare shoulder to where Derek was sitting on the edge of the bed. The bed, not theirs. Nothing in the room smelled like them, even though they'd been there for over a week. Everything smelled like Hale.

"You just don't like my pack," Derek concluded, his face an expressionless calm, though his emotions were all over the place.

Stiles groaned and pressed his face back against the pillow, wishing he could say what he wanted without offending his mate or his mate’s pa-

Wait.

"What about your betas? Aren't they your pack, too?"

Derek grunted and Stiles could tell he was frowning even without looking at him. "Well, yes."

One step closer.

"But they don't come here, and they didn’t live with you before, either," Stiles pointed out.

"No."

One word answers were generally either very good or very bad signs coming from Derek.

"Because you’re in your family’s pack, but the betas aren’t, not really, anyway. They’re in your pack, right?”

Derek grunted in acknowledgement, but Stiles didn't let that discourage him.

"Derek," he said rolling onto his back and studying the tense lines of his mate’s shoulders and neck. He'd clearly been feeling Stiles' discomfort, but probably hadn't known what to do about it. He took a deep breath and continued. "I'm in your pack, too, not your family’s."

-------------

Stiles had a surprising amount of things for being only eighteen. It was entertainment stuff, mainly; books and DVDs, various electronics and boxes of games to play on them. Derek hadn’t even had a tv, well, until Stiles took notice and had visibly paled. That had led to an emergency trip to a nearby superstore and a few hours later they were unpacking the flatscreen and hooking it up to half a dozen different gaming systems. At least Derek assumed that’s what they were, he honestly couldn’t have named most of them.

At the very least Stiles would be entertained while in the loft. Their loft. Plus, he didn’t seem nearly as miserable as he had been at the Hale house. That had pained Derek, seeing his mate quiet and reserved, completely at odds with the chatty omega he’d spent more than a week getting to know, sprawled together in a cave in the preserve, like they’d been on their own private honeymoon.

After watching Stiles bend over for probably the twentieth time as he hooked up this or that wire, Derek couldn’t take it anymore and he stalked forward on silent feet, waiting for just the right moment before he pounced, wrapping his arms around his mate and hauling him off his feet and over Derek’s shoulder, eliciting an undignified squawk from Stiles as he carried him out of the living room and up the spiral staircase to their bedroom. It had previously been a kind of office slash workout room, but Stiles had loved the giant windows along the wall and the skylights overhead so much that Derek had set the bed up in there.

He tossed Stiles onto the unmade bed and watched him try to catch his breath, but he couldn’t seem to stop laughing as he bounced into the middle of the dark satin sheets, another purchase Stiles had insisted upon. He looked beautiful like that, elated and grinning and smelling like them and contentment.

“You mean we’re not going to christen the living room?” Stiles asked with a saucy look he thought was attractive and damn it if Derek didn’t agree.

“Again?” he said, kneeling on the edge of the bed before lowering himself so he could slink across it on his hands and knees, stalking Stiles whose heartbeat quickened with anticipation at the sight. Derek loved it when his mate reacted to him like that, it made him feel stupidly powerful and wanted.

Stiles flopped back, exposing his neck and that was something Derek adored about him, how he knew when to fight back and when to submit. Not that Stiles was submissive because that certainly wasn’t at all part of his personality. No, even when he was quiet and miserable he hadn’t been submissive about it, he’d made his suffering known quite loudly, even if he didn’t say a word. Especially then, actually.

But Stiles wasn’t miserable anymore, and neither was Derek because they had a space of their own, where their scent was already starting to mingle despite the relatively short amount of time they’d spent there. They also had their families’ blessings, despite going against tradition. Most importantly, though, they had each other and the life within Stiles’, their first cub.

Derek lowered his head to his mate’s stomach and nuzzled him there through one of Derek’s worn t-shirt. It was too early for Stiles to show. He was probably only about a month along, maybe less, but Derek could tell even without seeing the evidence that his mate was with child. His child. Theirs. A Stilinski as much as a Hale and he rumbled out a noise as close to a purr as he was capable of producing because for once, his life was perfect.

“Der, come on,” Stiles said, a telltale longing in his voice that Derek could see evidence of in the bulge of pajama pants, “don’t be like that, I need you.”

“Need me?” Derek asked, resting beside Stiles so he could drag his fingertips up and down his mate’s torso. He never got tired of touching him and didn’t think he ever would.

Stiles whined and rolled so they were facing each other. “I want you inside of me, Derek,” he said with actual seriousness, which meant he was so horny he wasn’t even capable of embarrassment, anymore. Either that or he was slowly gaining more confidence than he’d demonstrated since they’d left the cave, and the pool house. He’d been pretty forthright when he’d basically mounted himself on Derek, though he hadn’t been quite so forward since.

But Derek wasn’t without his own agenda, so he just rolled onto his back and folded his arms behind his head with an easy smile. “Show me,” he said as casually as he could, which probably wasn’t very, not with his own erection was straining against his boxers almost to the point of slipping out the flap.

Somewhat surprisingly, Stiles immediately nodded and shucked his shirt, leaving his chest bare and inviting, but Derek kept his hands firmly where they were, and it was almost like being tied up. In a sexy way. The thought sent another shot of arousal through him and Stiles’ eyes flashed blue in response.

“I’m waiting,” Derek said, smirking when Stiles narrowed his eyes and shimmied out of his pants and underwear in one go. His arousal was even more evident, the scent thick in the air, already. The entire loft smelled faintly of it, anyway, which was more than okay with Derek since it wasn’t as if they ever had company over. They saw his family at the Hale house and Stiles’ dad at his home, Scott and Allison or the betas when they went out to eat, and yeah, Derek loved that he could always smell his mate when he was in their loft. It reminded him of the cave and comfort.

Not one to be easily pushed around, not even in bed, Stiles slunk up to Derek like he’d done to Stiles and slowly ran his fingers under the waistband of his boxers, fingers warm against Derek’s skin, but he didn’t make any move to pull them down or to attend to Derek’s raging erection.

“Tease,” he accused, eyes flashing red, but he was smiling because he couldn’t help it. Stiles could be so infuriatingly erotic.

In response, Stiles gave a graceful little shrug, finally tugging off Derek’s only article of clothing before tossing it carelessly off to one side. “How do you want me?” he asked. It was something they’d been trying, letting one person control the situation while the other went along with it. They’d discovered a lot of mutual kinks that way, as well as a few things neither were particularly interested in trying again, but if Stiles was giving Derek a choice-

“Ride me,” he said, the words coming easily because out of all of the positions they’d tried, and they’d tried plenty thanks to Stiles’ imagination and Derek’s strength, having his mate ride him was by far one of Derek’s favorites.

Stiles gave him a coy little smile, but Derek knew that he was secretly bursting with happiness about the whole thing. That was another thing he’d come to realize about his mate, just how excitedly enthusiastic he could get about things. As soon as they’d walked into the loft, which had been Derek’s surprise for his mate, Stiles had been almost overflowing with joy. That hadn’t faded at all in the days they’d lived there, not even when Derek forgot to load the dishwasher or when he left cupboards open or a hundred other stupid little things he’d gotten lazy about since living alone. No, none of it seemed to phase Stiles in the least.

“If I suck you off first are you going to pull my hair?” Stiles asked and yeah, Derek had to force his hips not to buck because that was another one of his mate’s hidden talents. He had an absolutely filthy mouth when they were alone.

“Depends,” Derek gritted out, “do you want me to fuck your mouth?”

It was Stiles’ turn to react, his eyes shifting blue again, but they stayed that way and it was yet another of Derek’s newly discovered kinks coming into play, along with the darting of Stiles’ pink tongue as he licked a punishing strip up the underside of Derek’s cock.

“Fuck, Stiles,” he said, voice strained as he tried to stay still under his mate’s ministrations. It was difficult, but Derek somehow managed it, chest heaving as he gasped for breath, his mind swimming with lust, both of theirs, and there was no way he was going to last long. He gripped his own hair in order to keep his hands from seizing Stiles’ and taking over.

“It’s okay, love, you can come,” Stiles said, voice throaty and alluring and fuck, his mouth was back on Derek, wrapping him with velvety soft, wet heat and then he was coming down his mate’s throat with a grunt, his abs contracting, back bending until he was almost sitting up from the trembling, heady rush.

And then, like his strings had been cut, Derek collapsed back onto the bed, arms flopping against the sheet on either side of him as he struggled to catch his breath, staring up through the cloudy glass of the skylight where the sky was blue and real.

“Perfect,” Derek said, aware that he’d called Stiles that before, but it never hurt to remind him of it.

Stiles hummed in response, fingers tracing along the muscles of Derek’s torso, head resting over his heart as his breathing slowly got back under control. “I suppose I’m alright,” Stiles said amiably, voice not showing any kind of strain despite the fact that he hadn’t yet gotten off.

And that wouldn’t do.

“I know I said it was your choice,” Derek said, trying to make his voice work properly, but his words came out a bit softer than normal, “but I have an idea if you’re interested.”

“A new idea?” Stiles asked, intrigued.

Derek nodded, but didn’t say anything else, not until Stiles rolled over so Derek could see him roll his eyes before Stiles poked him in the side.

“Okay, okay, pushy,” Derek said with a laugh. He still wasn’t sure if it was a good thing that Stiles had found out how ticklish he was. “If you want,” he tried to say casually, but was pretty sure he failed at that, “I’d like to try riding you.”

Stiles stared at him.

After a minute of some of the most complex and fastest changing emotions Derek had ever felt from his mate, Stiles finally just nodded.

“You’re okay with it?” Derek asked, knowing his mate was a fan of verbal communication, but he’d seemed to have lost the ability to produce words, faced with the proposal. It was oddly enchanting and a bit worrying.

Finally, Stiles nodded again, and after swallowing thickly a few things, said, “Yes, yeah, I’d uh, I’d yeah. If you-”

“I do,” Derek interrupted, enjoying the fact that he’d apparently broken Stiles and his ability to speak in full sentences, but wanting to put him out of his misery, too. “You want to prep me?” he asked because sometimes Stiles worked better with his hands when he was flustered by conversation.

And if Derek had thought his mate’s mouth was amazing, he hadn’t even begun to imagine the pleasure that was Stiles’ long, dexterous fingers, erotically slicked with Stiles’ own natural lubricant, as he slowly took Derek apart from the inside.

His own hands gripped Stiles’ shoulders almost punishingly tight, but it was like he wasn’t capable of doing anything else, not when Stiles twisted in another finger, three of them tight together as he deliberately made Derek lose his mind and rationality and filter because the things he was saying were filthy and honest and yeah, he didn’t even care because Stiles’ slick and his fingers were inside of Derek and-

“Your fucking fingers, Stiles,” he gasped, body glowing with sweat as he tried not to writhe too much. “So fucking perfect.”

“You’ve mentioned,” Stiles retorted, but then he moved them just so, igniting the nerve endings right there and Derek shouted because he couldn’t not.

“Inside,” he heard himself say, beg, he was pretty shameless when it came to Stiles, “You, in me, now,” and that was exactly what he needed, right that second because he was going mad, he was on the verge of shattering and Stiles was the only one who could help hi-

“Sh, Der, I’m right here,” Stiles said, his face suddenly within kissing distance and so that’s what Derek did, he grabbed onto the back of Stiles’ neck and pulled him close kissing him for all he was worth, to the exclusion of all else, but then he felt the tip of Stiles’ cock against his hole and he gasped. Stiles slipped his tongue into Derek’s mouth as he entered him and then everything was searing hot and slick and perfect because it felt like Derek was finally complete.

They didn’t last long, either of them, but for those few minutes there was nothing else, just the slide of their skin and the sound of their voices echoing each other’s pleasure until they were both spilling their seed, Stiles inside of him and Derek between their chests.

It was perfect.

----------------

Stiles looked up from where he’d been browning meat for tacos. Derek was sitting on the counter a few feet away, looking through their mail and Stiles couldn’t help but grin because his mate’s feet were bare and his hair was disheveled and it suddenly occurred to him that that was his life. He lived with his mate in their loft-

Huh.

“Wait, were you planning to still pay rent on this place even though we were supposed to live with your parents for a year?” Stiles asked. He hadn’t really thought about it before then, but it suddenly seemed like something they should probably discuss. Along with their finances and what to name the baby, besides Edward because that wasn’t happen-

Derek shrugged lazily, still sleepy from their impromptu afternoon sexytimes and subsequent nap and then shower with a side of more sexytimes. They had a lot of sex, it was pretty awesome.

“Yeah,” Derek said around a yawn, “the landladies are really nice, they would have let me keep it for however long, even if I didn’t live here.”

Stiles shook his head in wonder as he turned back to the pan, “Rich people problems.”

Derek just shrugged again and let it drop. The meat was almost ready for seasoning when Derek’s phone rang from somewhere in the living room. He hopped off the counter and padded over the hardwood floor. Stiles knew exactly where he was because a few of the boards squeaked while others groaned and it made it pretty much impossible to sneak up on someone. Except that Derek seemed to have mastered the art. Given time, Stiles figured he’d be able to as well, and planned to use that ability to his advantage similarly to how Derek had employed his knowledge earlier that day.

Dimly, he could hear the sound of his mate’s voice as he answered, but Stiles couldn’t tell what he was saying, though is emotions were coming through loud and clear. He mixed in the spices as Derek went from feeling apprehensive to shocked to elated and yeah, if Stiles hadn’t been cooking he would have raced over to see if he could figure out what was happening, but he couldn’t just run off without risking burning their dinner, so he settled on shifting his weight restlessly from one foot to the other, willing it to blend together quickly so he could take it off the stove.

Derek stumbled in a few seconds before Stiles thought he was just going to have to live with the consequences of an unattended pan and they both froze. Derek was staring at his phone and as Stiles watched the screen went blank from the ended call. Derek’s emotions had smoothed into a high plateau of wonder that Stiles hadn’t ever felt from him before.

It was pretty heady, even second-hand.

“Derek?” he asked, then jumped when a spit of the meat mixture popped and nearly got his arm. He turned off the heat and put the pan on a cool burner then walked closer to where his mate was just standing there, staring blankly at the cupboards.

“Der?” Stiles repeated, moving up to him and taking the phone out of Derek’s hand, who let him do it, which was even stranger than his apparent catatonic state. Sometimes Derek stood still like that when he was working through something, but Stiles hadn’t ever seen him part with his phone so easily before. Stiles wasn’t sure what was happening, but figured it was a family thing, though Derek wasn’t afraid or upset, he was-

“Good news?” he tried because he wasn’t sure what else to do. Well, he could think of a few ways to distract his mate, but sucking him of in the kitchen probably wasn’t entirely appropriate, not with their dinner to finish preparing.

Finally, Derek nodded, his eyes clearing as he focused on Stiles. “I just got a call from your dad,” he said quietly, “he told me that Kate is being placed in a maximum security prison with no possibility of parole.”

And it was Stiles’ turn to feel stunned, the sensation of relief and elation rushing through him with such force he reached out to grip Derek’s biceps. “But that’s awesome news, right?” he asked, really hoping he was interpreting Derek’s emotions correctly. After having heard the full Kate story he was actually kind of pissed at his berserker self for letting the alphas prevent him from killing her, but then again he figured it was probably less paperwork if she were alive and apparently left to rot away in a cell for the rest of her life. Mateless and isolated, the ultimate punishment.

“That’s not, that’s not all,” Derek continued and Stiles felt his eyebrows rise because his mate was suddenly nervous. “Um, he also told me that I got the job, I’m going to be one of his deputies, and he said he’d love to have you start working on organizing the archives at the station, so we’ll be able to work together sometimes. I mean, if you want-”

Never one to be able to keep his more explosive emotions to himself, Stiles burst out with a delighted laugh and launched himself against Derek, wrapping his arms tight around his mate’s shoulders as his legs wound around his waist. Derek smiled against his neck and when they kissed it was with the absolute knowledge that they fit together.

Perfectly.