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Tell Who You Are in the Night

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They travel for four days northwest, pushing themselves and the horses. At night, they fall into their bedrolls and each other. It’s an exhausting combination, traveling and staying up half the night, but it’s some of the best days Derek can remember. The terrain changes as they travel, from rolling fields and forests to rounded mountains and crags. The ground is covered with a low brush that Derek knows blooms purple in the late summer, which is still two months away.

On the fifth day, they are set to reach the rendezvous place that Boyd had sent Derek in a letter before leaving the McCall farm. His betas have been off scouting a larger problem and Derek wants to come together as a pack to decide if it’s something they can handle. They don’t take every job that comes their way. They don’t need the money, but they do want to help people when they’re able. 

Stiles is riding on his left, singing idly to himself and making up lyrics about traveling. Derek steals a glance at him and can’t help the small smile he feels on his face. Stiles might talk nonsense half the time, but the other half is brilliant and there are not many people Derek would trust at his back in a fight. His betas and Stiles. 

Stiles stops singing and turns in the saddle and catches Derek watching him. Stiles winks. “Nervous about introducing me to the family?”

“No.” He is. While his betas will accept Stiles if he asks them to, he wants them to like Stiles, to accept him as one of their own, as his own. Derek’s wolf was the first to be insistent that Stiles was theirs and Derek agrees. 

“It’s okay to be nervous. I’m an awful lot to take in at once.” Stiles’s smirk is so full of sass Derek wants to smack him or kiss him or both.

He chuckles instead since, sadly, Stiles is out of reach. “That is an understatement, but they’ll like you fine.” Maybe too much. Derek already knows Erica is going to adore Stiles.

“Tell me again why we’re meeting them outside of the town instead of inside the town where we could have a warm bed and maybe a room alone.” Stiles sighs in the most exaggerated way. “A warm bed, Derek. Alone. I have some plans for you. I’ve been thinking about a nice soft bed for days.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “First of all, we aren’t going to let the town know we’re all there. Second, I told you the first night the pack is going to want to sleep together. We’ve been apart for too long and we’ll need the touch.”

“Sounds cozy.”

Stiles is joking, but Derek is worried about this, about how tactile the pack is and how much in each other’s business they are and how much a human like Stiles will understand and accept it. Stiles is tactile and likes touch, but he’s still human and a Pack can be overwhelming for someone who wasn’t born into one.

By the afternoon, they are both a jumble of nerves and anticipation. They find the rendezvous place easily, a copse of towering trees next to a stream. The betas have been camped here for  more than a week and it shows in the tidy camp they have made.

The moment Derek swings off his horse, Erica squeals and launches herself at Derek. Derek runs his hand over the back of her neck and rubs his cheek against hers. Erica’s hair is in a thick braid down her spine and Derek pulls on it to get her to release him.

“It’s good to see you too,” he says.

Isaac is next. Derek runs a hand through the other man’s dark blonde curls and gives him a kiss on his forehead, right above the wide blue eyes that are blinking rapidly to hide tears. 

“I wasn’t gone that long.” Derek pulls Isaac into a hug, knows he craves touch more than any of his other betas.

“Felt like a long time,” Isaac mutters into Derek’s shoulder.

Boyd is hovering and Derek waves him over and wraps the man in a fierce hug. Boyd has been Derek’s second for a long time. He’s steadfast and thinks before he acts. Erica and Isaac tend to be more impulsive.

“Everyone is doing fine, Alpha,” Boyd says.

“Of course they are. I left you in charge.” Derek loosens his hug and runs a palm over Boyd’s neck as he does so.

Derek looks behind him. Stiles is clutching the reins of their horses and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Derek gives him what he hopes is a reassuring smile.

“Boyd, Erica, Isaac, this is Stiles. We’ve been traveling together for some time now and I asked him to come with me to meet you.”

There is brief disappointment on Stiles’s face, Derek sees it, but Stiles transforms it into a wide smile. “I’ve heard a lot of stories about all of you but you can’t possibly be that amazing so I can only conclude that Derek has exaggerated.”

The betas already know how close Stiles and Derek are, would have been able to smell them all over each other, so there is no need to say it out loud. Stiles, being human, obviously doesn’t realize that Derek doesn’t need to tell his betas that Stiles is not simply his travel companion. Derek holds out his hand to Stiles and Stiles takes it and laces their hands together, his smile shifting to something less forced.

Stiles sniffs the air. “Something smells amazing. Derek’s been in such a hurry to get back to your three that I haven’t had a proper meal in days. I’m going to waste away.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “You were never in danger of starving to death.”

“Says you.”

Derek ignores the last muttered comment. “Isaac, you and Stiles take care of the horses.”

Isaac nods and Derek keeps an ear open to the two of them as they walk off, Stiles chatting and Isaac tilting his head and listening to the prattling. Derek relaxes when he hears Isaac chuckle and focuses his attention on Boyd.

“Anything I need to know?”

“In general or about the ghouls?” Boyd lifts the lid off the pot over the fire and stirs it. 

“In general. The discussion about the ghouls should wait until Stiles is back. His mouth moves more than it should but he has a way of putting things together. I want him to be here.” 

Boyd nods. “Everything else is fine. We got a note from the estate and all is well there.”

Erica flips some flatbread on a flat griddle on the edge of the fire. “He’s cute.”

Derek stares at Erica.

Erica ignores the silent plea to shut her mouth as well as Stiles does, apparently, because she continues, “He’s not what I would have picked for you, but he’s nice looking and he can’t be an idiot or you wouldn’t tolerate him.” 

Derek opens his mouth to say something, but Stiles appears out of nowhere at his side. Derek didn’t hear him at all.

“I’ll have you know, I’m a genius, except, I have bad judgement where one werewolf is concerned because I’ve followed him here to sleep on the ground when I could have had my way with him in a wonderfully soft bed in town.” Stiles sweeps his arm to indicate the camp.

Erica and Isaac both laugh and that is the first inkling Derek has that his betas are going to have no trouble accepting Stiles.

Over a dinner of flatbread and stew, Boyd fills Derek in on the issue at hand.

“The ghouls occupy a cemetery on the outskirts of town. It looks like a dark witch did a ritual there and unconsecrated part of the ground, causing four of the graves to turn. The ghouls didn’t cause any trouble for about a week, then small animals and livestock started disappearing from the town. That’s when they sent for us. We’ve been keeping an eye on things. They seem most active during the new moon.”

“The new moon is in two days,” Stiles said absently.

Boyd nods. “We don’t have a firm plan yet. We were waiting for you.”

“Ghouls can turn new corpses if the cemetery is still being used and their bites carry a poison that slows their prey so they can eat them.” Stiles continues to mumble facts, then he lifts his head and asks, “Do you know where they sleep during the day?”

“There’s a crumbling mausoleum on the edge of the cemetery with a series of tunnels underneath it,” Erica offers.

“Can they come out more than one at a time?” Stiles asks, leaning forward. 

Boyd answers this question. “They come out in twos and they are fast.”

Stiles is quiet for a moment. “If I can keep them focused on me when they emerge, then the rest of you can pick them off.”

“No.” There is no chance that Derek is going to let Stiles be the bait for a pack of ghouls that can run faster than a human.

“It’s the best way, Derek. You four are better fighters than I am hand to hand. I’m good at causing a scene and running away. I can run fast.”

“They’re fast, Stiles. Faster than you.” Derek leans into Stiles’s space.

Stiles doesn’t give an inch. “You can’t order me around. This is the best way and you know it. You’ll get them before they even get close to me.”

“I won’t let you put yourself at risk like that.” Derek is starting to feel real panic because he knows Stiles is right and the last thing he wants to do is put Stiles in danger. It goes against every instinct screaming in his head.

Stiles pokes Derek hard in the sternum. “I’m not a beta you can order around, Derek. I’ve been watching your back for weeks. Don’t you trust me?”

Derek deflates. “I do, but I don’t like this.”

Stiles gives him a feral grin then. “You don’t have to like it, you just have to kill the ghouls before they eat me.”

Derek turns and sees all three of his betas watching them with rapt eyes. 

Erica’s eyes are shining. “Oh, boss, I like him.” To Stiles she says, “Can we keep you?”

Stiles laughs, a relaxed sound that tells Derek there’s no hard feelings about the argument. “I’ll stay as long as Derek allows, but I’m glad to know I’m wanted.” He winks suggestively at Erica and she bursts into giggles. “I know some packs are polyamorous does that mean you want to keep me?” Stiles waggles his eyebrows and the two of them burst into laughter.

Derek has to swallow down his jealousy because he knows Stiles is joking. His wolf does not find the humor funny. Derek tries to respond with humor. “I take everything back. Leave now, before you corrupt all of them.” Derek goes back to finishing his stew.

“Too late,” Isaac says. “I like him too.”

Derek growls. “Boyd?”

Boyd shrugs. “Sorry, Alpha, my lady wants him to stay.”

“You’re a corrupting force,” Derek scowls at Stiles.

Stiles’s eyes are warm in the firelight. “You weren’t complaining last night when I reached around to…”

Derek puts his hand over Stiles’s mouth. ”That’s not a topic for discussion.”

“You seemed perfectly happy to discuss it with some key phrases last night.” Stiles enunciates enough for everyone to understand.

Boyd, Erica, and Isaac dissolve into laughter and Derek removes his hand from Stiles’s mouth. Stiles closes the distance and busses him on the mouth before turning to finish his food.

That night, they spread all their blankets together in the largest tent and lay together. Stiles is pressed up to his side and each of the betas has a hand on him. It’s warm and everything in Derek settles with his Pack and his mate close.

With a start, Derek goes back over the last line of thought, rolling it around and feeling it from all angles. His Pack and his mate. Derek doesn’t know when Stiles had filled that particular gap in his life, but apparently his subconscious has chosen now, when he is surrounded by the sleeping heartbeats of all the people he cherishes to make that particular fact known. Derek focuses on slowing his heart before it alerts one of the betas that something is wrong.

Not wrong. Complicated.

Things are good with Stiles. Great even, but as attached as Derek has become, he doesn’t know if Stiles sees their relationship that way. Derek could simply ask Stiles, but then there’s the possibility the answer will not be the one Derek wants. The best course of action would be to show Stiles what life can be like with Derek’s Pack, how well Stiles will fit with them, and how Derek can care for him.

Derek falls asleep with his senses full of Stiles and his heart tender with awareness.

In the morning, they plan out the details of the ghoul hunt, but after going over the details multiple times, Derek can tell everyone is restless.

“Do we need anything in town?” he asks Isaac, who is in charge of their supplies.

Isaac shakes his head. “Not really.”

“I want to go to town.” Erica sits up and looks intently at Derek.

“If we don’t need supplies, why would we go to town?” Derek asks.

Stiles shakes his head and gets to his feet. He brushes off his hands on the thigh of his trousers and offers it to Erica. “Madame, is there an establishment in town in which I might buy your beautiful personage a drink, preferably of the alcoholic variety?”

Erica giggles. “There is. Are you buying?”

“I would be a scoundrel to ask for your company and then not buy you a drink.” Stiles bows over his outstretched hand.

Erica takes the hand. “Of course there is and I’m not one to say no to someone else buying me a drink.”

Stiles pulls Erica up and dances her around the fire. Derek flops back on the ground and groans. 

Boyd watches them with the slightest of smiles. “Is he always like this?”

“I wish I could say he was performing for the audience that is Erica, but sadly, yes, he is.” Derek heaves himself to his feet. “We’re going to town.”

“Great.” Isaac is beaming at the prospect.

Stiles tucks Erica’s arm in his. “Lead the way, my lady.”

Derek follows along behind with Boyd and Isaac. Stiles is telling Erica a bawdy joke and Erica fills in the punchline before Stiles gets to it. They both laugh as if they are the most hilarious two people in the world.

Boyd says to no one in particular. “I think we’re in real trouble, Alpha.”

“I think trouble might be an understatement.” Derek prepares himself for a long night.

The tavern isn’t terribly crowded when they show up and there’s an empty table in the back corner with a clear view of the door. Derek finds himself wedged between Stiles and Isaac. Erica stays glued to Stiles’s side, though her hand is always on Boyd. The hand that Stiles isn’t using to gesture with is sitting high up on Derek’s thigh under the table. The heat of it has Derek shifting in his seat.

They order drinks and Stiles looks around the room. Derek knows the moment before Stiles opens his mouth that whatever idea he has percolating is mischief.

“I think what this room needs is some entertainment.” Stiles looks at Derek.

Derek holds out his palms. “I’m not helping with this.”

Stiles eyes each of the betas. “Which one of you can sing?”

The table is quiet until Erica says, “Isaac can.”

Stiles leans around Derek and pins Isaac with a raised eyebrow. “Isaac, is this true? Did you let me sing all alone by the fire last night when you could have been joining me?”

Isaac blushes and Derek poises himself to rescue the beta when he smells the embarrassment shift to have undertones of pleasure. Isaac likes being singled out by Stiles and being appreciated. Derek presses himself into the back of the bench to give Stiles more access to Isaac.

“Isaac, will you come sing with me now?” Stiles flutters his eyelashes in the most ridiculous way. If they weren’t so long and Derek wasn’t so head over heels he wouldn’t find it nearly as endearing as he does.

“I don’t know that many songs,” Isaac mumbles.

Stiles thinks for a moment, then asks, “Do you know Do Virgins Taste Better? ” 

Isaac laughs and nods.

“Great, I’ll be the dragon when we get to those parts.” Stiles shoves at Derek. “Excuse me, I have to go entertain the room.”

Stiles and Isaac grab their pints and Isaac follows Stiles as he sidles up to the tavern owner. Derek isn’t sure how he does it, but he finds a mandolin somewhere and in less than five minutes, Stiles is hopping onto the fireplace and starts strumming the instrument. The room quiets immediately.

“I think you’re in need of some amusement this fine night,” he says to the room. There is general clapping and agreement. “Wonderful. My name is Stiles and this handsome man to my left is Isaac and we’ll be your entertainment for the evening. We accept tips, but please keep drinking,” Stiles pauses and sweeps the room with his eyes, “we sound better if you’re drunk.”

The crowd laughs and Stiles bows, pulling Isaac with him. Stiles strums a few cords, winks at Derek, then starts singing. Stiles’s smooth tenor and Isaac’s more raspy tenor combine to make a beautiful sound that’s at odds with the silly song Stiles has chosen to open the evening. It’s a story about a town that feeds virgins to the local dragon to keep it from eating all of them. When they get to the chorus, most of the room joins in.

Do virgins taste better than those who are not?

Are they salty, or sweeter, more juicy or what?

Do you savor them slowly? Gulp them down on the spot?

Do virgins taste better than those who are not?

 

Derek can’t help the laughter that bubbles out of him as Stiles coaxes Isaac into performing for the crowd. When they get to the punchline, “We'll simply make sure there's no virgins at all!” Stiles and Isaac leer at the audience and the entire room erupts in applause and laughter. Stiles keeps strumming though and starts singing a verse that Derek has never heard. The dragon, in this version, is asked and answers, why he eats only virgins.

Now, the number of babies a woman can bare,

Has limits, and that's why my pruning's done there.

And an orphan's a sad sight, and so when I munch,

I'm careful to eat only virgins for lunch.

 

The room goes wild and Stiles and Isaac bow. Isaac is practically beaming and Derek feels full and happy, seeing his shyest of his betas open up. A handsome young man at a front table tosses a coin to Isaac and Isaac catches it with a flourish and a bow which earns the pair more coins. Stiles leads them into another song, a back and forth made hilarious by the innocent way Isaac sings and the exaggerated show Stiles is putting on. Derek leans back in his seat and his heart is aching it’s so overwhelmed by Stiles.

After a few more songs, Stiles and Isaac return to the table arm in arm, high off their success and laughing. 

Isaac pulls that first tossed coin from the pocket of his trousers and presses it into Stiles’s palm. “Thank you. I never would have done that without you. You should have the first coin we earned together. I hope we can do it again some time.”

Stiles’s eyes brighten and he fists the coin before placing it in the pouch at his waist. “And what shall we do with the rest of our earnings?”

Isaac grins. “Buy the next round of drinks.”

When they get back to camp and pile into the tent together, Isaac wedges his way next to Stiles and falls asleep with his hand wrapped around Stiles’s arm. 

Derek runs his hand through Stiles’s hair and kisses him. “Thank you.”

Stiles tucks his face into Derek and breathes deep. “Sleeping outside is fun and all, but am I ever going to get you alone again?”

They’re whispering even though the others can hear them fine if they are awake no matter what volume they use. The dark is giving them the illusion of privacy. “When we’re done with the ghouls we’ll go home to Hale House. Will you come home with us? With me?”

Stiles runs a hand down Derek’s face. He can see those large copper eyes looking him over in the dark and a prick of anxiety that Stiles will say no pierces Derek. Stiles could have seen his Pack and the way they are together and have decided that this was not what he wants, despite having enjoyed himself the past couple of days. The longer Stiles stays silent the less Derek can breathe.

Stiles starts to shake.

“Wait, are you laughing?” Derek goes from worried to annoyed.

“Did you really think I’d say no?”

Derek’s chest feels tight with too many things and he doesn’t know how to articulate any of them, so he presses his lips together.

“Oh my gods, you did.” Stiles puts both of his hands on Derek, one cupping his face and one flat against Derek’s chest. “Of course I’m going home with you. I think at this point in the journey you might be stuck with me forever. Plus, and I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but I find it very hard to tell you no about anything.”

Derek melts into Stiles. “You had no trouble arguing about the plan with the ghouls.”

“That was different.” Stiles’s voice loses some of its lightness.

“How?”

“You were wrong and I, clearly, was correct.” Stiles kisses him, a gentle press of lips that’s just enough for Derek to feel the smile on Stiles’s face.”

“I take back my invitation. I momentarily forgot what a pain in my ass you are.”

“I thought you enjoyed me in your ass.”

“Go to sleep before you give me ideas.”

“Like sneaking off in the woods to see how much of a pain I can be ideas?” Stiles sounds hopeful and his hand starts to move south to Derek’s waist.

“Goodnight, Stiles.”

Stiles sighs dramatically and starts to say goodnight but he’s cut off by Erica. “Will you two shut up and go to sleep?”  

 

---

An hour before sundown, they’re in place around the cemetery. Derek still doesn’t like Stiles being bait and his stomach churns with the thought of his mate being in that much danger. He can see the other man, sitting in front of the crumbling mausoleum, whistling to himself and reading a small book he pulled out of the pouch he wears on his waist. Derek can feel the pull of Pack and mate that connects him to Stiles. He doesn’t try to deny it, wouldn’t want to, but he’s still not ready to talk to Stiles about it. Saying it out loud would give Stiles the opportunity to say no and Derek needs more time to prove that Stiles should say yes.

Stiles tucks the book away and looks up to where Derek is hiding. Stiles tilts his head and shifts his eyes to the right. Derek pauses and he can hear it, the ghouls moving below ground. He’s surprised Stiles can hear them, but he’s much closer to the mausoleum than Derek. Stiles stands and takes the bo off his back, twirling it around, loosening his hands, arms, and shoulders. Derek’s gut clenches.

The sun dips below the trees and the cemetery is covered in deepening ink blue shadows. Stiles is shifting from foot to foot, still twirling the bo and whistling. Derek hears the ghouls a moment before he sees the first head come out of the collapsed arch of the mausoleum. The smell of rotting flesh permeates the area.

The face is humanoid, its skin grey and stretched across sunken cheeks. They may have looked like humans once, but now they move on all fours with bowed spines and rotting fangs. Stiles takes two steps back and whacks the bo on the ground a couple times when the fifth ghoul comes out of the ground.

“You guys are uglier than I thought you’d be, to be honest.” Stiles continues making small steps back. “I feel like I should be honest.” He has the attention of all five creatures now. “I’m only the bait. I’m sure I’m absolutely delicious so, if you could just follow me a bit and let my friends surround you, that would be great.”

The ghouls move faster towards Stiles and Stiles picks up his pace, leading the ghouls away from their tunnels underground. Erica steps behind the ghouls once they are clear of the mausoleum to cut off their escape. Isaac, Boyd, and Derek complete the circle. Stiles keeps the ghouls focused on him while the wolves move with them and close the circle. Stiles keeps talking and Derek keeps his focus divided between the ghouls and Stiles, ready for when the ghouls get tired of following and decide to pounce.

The first ghoul, the largest and oldest of the bunch, is the closest to Stiles and he starts a guttural broken growl that the others pick up. The first ghoul drops to the ground, then launches himself at Stiles. Derek feels a moment of fear that Stiles won’t be able to get his bo up, but Stiles is fast and he catches the ghoul across the head. Derek and the wolves leap into action.

Derek goes for the ghoul shaking his head from Stiles’s blow. He leaps onto the creature’s back, pressing it into the ground. Derek grabs the head and wrenches it to the side, ripping it from neck, and tosses it to the side. Derek twists around to check on everyone else and locate Stiles.

Isaac is backed against a stone wall by two of the ghouls. Stiles is behind the ghouls and runs at them, plunging his bo into the back of one of their heads. Derek sprints across the grass, trying to reach them in time, but he need not have bothered. Stiles yanks the bo from the first ghoul, takes the feet out from under it, puts his boot on the ghoul’s chest, and plunges the bo through the ghoul’s neck, pinning it to the ground. Isaac rips the head off the first ghoul. 

Derek skids to a halt beside Stiles, whose eyes are sparking with fury as he yanks the bo from the ghoul. Derek leans over and rips the head from the ghoul’s body.

Stiles pushes him on the shoulder. “What the hell, Derek?”

“You’re welcome for the assist.” Derek wipes the black ghouls blood from his hands onto the grass.

Stiles takes a step into Derek’s space the moment Derek stands back up. “I was fine. I had that ghoul handled. You left Isaac alone to deal with two ghouls on his own.”

“I was trying to protect you.” Derek leans into Stiles, anger rising.

Stiles taps the side of his bo against Derek’s forehead. “I don’t need protection. I’ve lasted this long without you and you left your beta vulnerable.” Stiles’s voice is hard.

A rush of emotions fills Derek. Stiles is gloriously angry and, even though his anger is directed at Derek, Stiles is furious because Isaac was vulnerable. Stiles was protecting the beta in the same way Derek should have and the realization almost drops Derek to his knees. Stiles cares enough about the Pack to put his life in front of them.

Derek grabs Stiles by the shoulders. “I’m sorry.”

Stiles deflates. “I know, but apologize to Isaac too.”

Derek steps around Stiles and runs his hand over Isaac’s neck. “You all right?”

Isaac nods. 

“Good.” Derek locates Boyd and Erica who are busy dragging the bodies into a pile. “You two all right?”

“As rain,” Boyd says.

Stiles is still staring Derek down, though with less heat. Derek takes Stiles’s hand in his own. “I let my feelings get in the way of the plan. I’m sorry. Next time, I’ll let the monster eat you.”

Stiles closes the space between them, grabs a handful of Derek’s hair, and crashes their lips together. When Stiles releases him, Stiles winks at him. “See that you do.”

 

---

The journey from their camp near Birchford back to the Hale estate takes almost a week. Stiles’s nerves jangle the entire way, both from how much he wants to drag Derek into the woods for some alone time and because Derek is taking him to his house. The house he built for his Pack, a Pack that Stiles desperately wants to be a part of. The longer Stiles spends with Derek and the betas, the more certain Stiles becomes that the place he most wants to be is with Derek.

Stiles can feel the barrier of the Hale territory when they cross into it. The wolves all relax almost completely and even Boyd smiles when they turn onto a wide, worn drive. Erica whoops and kicks her horse into a gallop. Isaac laughs and follows her. Stiles resists the urge to follow them. The first time he sees the Hale House, he wants Derek to be by his side.

The path is shaded by majestic trees and the history of the land whispers to Stiles. The path through the trees goes up a hill and the sun is pouring onto the lane from the open sky. Anticipation is a buzz under his skin as Stiles moves his horse closer to Derek’s. They get to the top of the hill and the sight steals his breath.

The lane meanders through open hils, between which a large three gabled house, deeper than it is long, made of local stone and wood, sits nestled like it sprung from the earth itself then grew into something larger than life. The house is surrounded by a stone wall on all sides, with a second lower wall closer to the house. An arched, elaborate iron fence is open in the second wall.

Stiles closes his mouth and turns to look at Derek, who is watching him intently. Stiles knows what it means that Derek, a werewolf, has brought him home, to his den. It means he cares for and trusts Stiles and now is waiting for him to say something about the house that belongs to his Pack.

“Some people might call this a castle.” 

Derek snorts. “It’s a house.”

Stiles points in the direction of the mansion. “It has not one but two defensive walls.”

“I’d hardly call the garden wall defensive.” Derek’s mouth is turned up but his eyebrows are still pointed down.

Stiles makes a noncommittal noise and nudges his horse on.

Derek catches up to him. “Do you like it though?”

Stiles puts the poor man out of his misery. “It’s beautiful. Thank you for bringing me to your home.”

The smile Derek gives Stiles is blinding, and Stiles has to remind his lungs to work. If Derek smiled like that all the time, Stiles is convinced he’d go mad or blind or both. Stiles soaks it in, then urges his horse forward, eager to see the inside of the house.

By the time Derek and Stiles go through the gate in the lower wall, there are a handful of servants in the front of the house being hugged by Boyd, Isaac, and Erica. Derek swings off his horse and hugs the boy he hands the reins to. Stiles gets off his own horse and watches Derek as he greets each servant. Up close, Stiles can see that they all resemble each other. It makes sense that a Pack would have a dedicated family working for them. It’s easier to keep a secret that way.

Derek turns to Stiles. “This is Stiles Stilinski. He’ll be staying with us. He should be treated like Pack and can be trusted.”

Stiles doesn’t react to Derek’s declaration, which is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. Treated like Pack and being Pack were different things. They come forward one at a time. An older couple, Joyce and Neville, and their four children of varying ages, two older boys, Jacob and Alex, a girl named Patrice, and the youngest, a boy named Felix. 

Stiles bows to them. “Nice to meet all of you.”  

Derek takes his hand. “Come, I want to show you around.” 

Derek tugs on Stiles’s hand and Stiles follows him, of course he does. The entryway is filled with tapestries and is lit from light spilling in from the windowed rooms that open on either side. Stiles expects an actual tour, but Derek drags him straight up the large, winding staircase at the back of the entry. They go past the second landing and up to the third. The carpet under their feet is thick and they make no sound as Derek leads them down the hallways on the third floor.

Stiles feels like he’s being pulled by gravity, that the forward motion to Derek is inevitable. When they go through the door at the end of the hall, Derek slams the door behind Stiles, then he’s crowding Stiles against the door. Derek drops Stiles’s hand and lays his hands on either side of Stiles’s head before Derek closes the space between them for a searing kiss. 

The kiss is possessive and Stiles reaches around to grab a fistful of Derek’s hair to angle his head to get deeper into the other man’s mouth. Stiles uses his other hand to wrap around Derek’s waist and press their bodies together. Stiles can feel Derek’s hard length and Stiles’s hips jerk, body aching.

Derek kisses and nips his way down Stiles’s neck. “I’ve wanted so badly to see you here, in my room. For weeks, I’ve imagined it.”

“I’m not usually the voice of reason here, but isn’t there a houseful of people who will know exactly what we’re doing up here?”

Derek bites down on the space between Stiles’s neck and shoulder and his legs threaten to give out as the slight pain and pressure go straight to his cock. “The room’s soundproofed.”

Stiles grabs a handful of Derek’s ass. “I’m fairly certain they won’t have to hear us to know why you dragged me up here.”

“I don’t care.”

Stiles is done being reasonable. He’s been waiting for this too. “Good enough for me.”

 

---

Derek knows he should have the patience to wait until nightfall, at least until after dinner when they could leave politely, but he’d seen Stiles’s face as Stiles saw the Hale House for the first time. He had smelled the pleasure Stiles felt at being here in this place that belonged to Derek’s Pack and that had tipped him over. He wanted Stiles. He wanted Stiles open and begging, spread across Derek’s bed like he belongs there, because Derek wants Stiles there always. Derek’s wolf needs Stiles and Derek isn’t about to say no. Not this time.

Derek drops to his knees in front of Stiles. He unbuckles Stiles’s belt, dropping it and the pouch it holds to the floor, unbuttons the front of Stiles’s pants, and pulls them down just far enough to free Stiles’s cock. Derek wraps his fingers around Stiles and licks the precome from the end. Stiles’s shivers and his head thunks back against the door while he threads his fingers through Derek’s hair. 

Derek takes his time, licking, then sliding his mouth over Stiles. Stiles’s hands are scratching at Derek’s scalp, pain and pleasure sending electric currents from the crown of his head and melting through the rest of his body. Derek’s hands are wrapped around Stiles’s thighs and he can feel the muscles clenching beneath his palms. He brings Stiles to the edge then releases him and stands. 

“Will you come to bed with me?”

Stiles’s eyes are glassy and his cheeks are flushed. “Are you going to finish what you started?”

Derek waggles his eyebrows at Stiles. “Take off your clothes and find out.”

It’s a race to see who can get out of their clothes first and they fall laughing onto the bed. Derek covers Stiles’s smiling mouth with his own and swallows down the mirth bubbling out of the other man. Stiles is warm and his hands are everywhere. When he wraps his long fingers around Derek’s cock, Derek’s hips jerk into them. Derek flips Stiles over on his back and covers Stiles with his body. Stiles’s hips jerk up and Derek smacks Stiles’s hip.

“So impatient.” Derek bites Stiles’s shoulder.

Stiles shudders. “Stop teasing me.”

Derek reaches into the drawer next to the bed and pulls out a vial of oil. He covers his fingers and eases the first one into Stiles. “Gods, I’ve missed the feel of you.”

Stiles pushes back into Derek’s finger. “Another. I need you.”

Derek is just as impatient and it isn’t long before Derek has three fingers in Stiles and Stiles is begging incoherently. Derek pulls out his fingers and Stiles whines.

“Shhh, I’ve got you.” Derek quickly rubs some oil on himself then bumps his leaking head on Stiles rim.

“You’re killing me.” Stiles turns, grabs Derek’s arms. 

Stiles is stronger than Derek thinks possible as he flips Derek and maneuvers them until Derek is flat on his back and Stiles is kneeling over him with his back to Derek. Stiles grabs Derek’s slippery cock and with no other warning, impales himself on Derek’s length. Stiles hisses and all the air leaves Derek’s body.

Stiles moves, lifting up then driving down on Derek. His right hand is clenched in a fist, digging into his thigh. His left hand is on Derek to steady his movement. “Gods, I could do this all day. I love… the way you fill me up.”

Derek grabs Stiles’s hip with his left hand and lays his palm flat between Stiles’s shoulder blades. Stiles sets a relentless pace that’s going to take both of them to the edge quickly and Derek doesn’t care. He knows they can do this again tonight, tomorrow, and every day after that if they want to because he is never letting this beautiful man go.

Stiles cries out and Derek feels him clench down on him and Derek thrusts up, chasing his own orgasm that punches through him. Stiles rocks them slowly through the aftershocks, then eases himself off Derek. He turns to look at Derek and Derek’s breath catches. 

Stiles’s eyes are wide and soft. He reaches a hand out and cups the side of Derek’s face. Stiles’s hand feels warm and Derek pushes into the touch.

“Thank you for bringing me to your home.”

Derek turns his head and places a kiss in the middle of Stiles’s palm. “I want this to be your home too.”

Stiles swallows and his eyes fill. The tears spill over, then Stiles blinks and he smiles. “I’d like that.”

Derek yanks Stiles down by his arm and kisses him thoroughly. They miss dinner and slink down to the kitchen after midnight, laughing and stealing kisses in the dark. Derek never wants this to end.

 

---

It has been three weeks since Stiles came to Hale House and everything is perfect. Stiles fits right into the rhythm of the Pack and he feels at home in a way he never has anywhere else. Every day he becomes more and more attached to the place and the people and every day he is more and more aware that he can’t keep his secret a secret forever. It’s not only because he wants badly to claim Derek, to mark him as his own, or that Stiles knows without a doubt that regardless of what happens, Derek is his mate and he’ll love him until he’s nothing but dust and bones. Stiles knows he can’t keep his secret forever because keeping it is starting to bleed him dry.

It’s a full moon and Stiles is staring at the painting that sits over the fireplace in the large sitting room where they often spend the evening reading and drinking after dinner. The picture is of a shikari in full armor fighting a black dragon, breathing fire with wings spread. 

Derek comes up behind him, wrapping his arms around Stiles’s waist and resting his chin on Stiles’s shoulder. “The Pack is ready to run. Are you going to come outside?”

Stiles nods. “Isaac told me that’s your father in the picture. Did you ever hunt with him?”

“There were very few dragons left, even when I was young. I never hunted with my father, but he taught me everything he knew.” Derek’s voice is full of pride.

Stiles closes his eyes and pulls up extra magic to cover the emotions boiling in him. “Did you ever kill a dragon?”

“I killed the dragon that set fire to my house and burned my family.”

Stiles startles. “I thought you said it was the Argents.”

Derek huffs out a breath and Stiles can feel the warm air on his neck. “It was but they used a dragon to start the fire. I found out later that the Argents had stolen the dragon’s hoard and forced it to do it. It killed my family for money.” Derek’s voice is rough with grief and derision. Stiles can’t speak and Derek continues. “After I killed the dragon, I found the hoard the dragon was hiding. It was just a bunch of worthless junk.”

Stiles feels the weight of his own hoard, a necklace with two rings and a pouch full of trinkets and bits of nothing, and he knows what that dragon was fighting for. Memories. A connection to things lost and people loved. “A dragon’s hoard is very rarely gold or money. A hoard is a collection of wealth and a dragon values family and connections above all else. Their hoard usually consists of things that remind them of people they care about.”

Derek shifts to the side so he can look at Stiles. “How would you know that? I have rows of books in the library about dragons and none of them say that.”

Stiles shrugs. “My parents were experts on dragons. They told me.” Stiles lifts Derek’s hand to his lips. “I’ll be outside shortly.”

Stiles stays there, staring at the picture that encapsulates all the reasons why he will never be able to stay here forever, until he can hear the Pack outside, the family he wants but that he will have to let go. The realization rubs him raw.

Stiles goes out the back door of the house and through the garden. The gardens closest to the house are full of useful things like herbs, vegetables, and fruit. There’s an orchard to the east of the house. Derek showed it to him yesterday and they had ended up naked beneath an apple tree. Stiles passes the kitchen gardens and starts through the ones that are wild, full of bushes, flowers, and roses in a hodgepodge that should be chaotic, but is beautiful and wild.

There’s a table on the edge of the garden, next to a gate that’s nestled into the stone wall. Derek, Isaac, Boyd, and Erica are sitting at the table in the darkness, the area lit by a lantern. Spread over the table are cheeses, bread, slices of meat, and pints of strong brown ale. Derek’s eyes meet his and Stiles lets himself be pulled forward.

Derek kisses him on the cheek as he sits next to him. Stiles leans into Derek and rests his head on Derek’s shoulder. The wolves are going running and Stiles is going to sit outside and enjoy the night.

“I wish you could go with us,” Isaac says.

The pain between his shoulder blades is sharp and Stiles jerks with it, then rolls his shoulders to try to play off the movement. “Well, I’m not a wolf, so I’ll stay here and try not to drink all the ale before you get back.”

Stiles watches as they stand and strip out of their clothing, folding it into neat piles and laying them on the benches where they’d been sitting. Dragons can spell certain things to stretch and change with them, but it takes a lot of energy. The only thing Stiles ever bothers with is the necklace with his parent’s rings. Wolves don’t have magic the same way dragons do and they ruin clothes if they keep them on during the shift. 

Boyd shifts into a deep red wolf with cream accents over his shoulders. Erica’s wolf is almost completely white with grey socks and face. Isaac is more traditionally colored, grey and white. Derek shifts, an impossibly large black wolf with shining red eyes. The black wolf rubs against Stiles’s legs. Stiles runs a trembling hand through the soft fur at Derek’s neck.

Stiles kneels down. “I’ll be waiting for you.” I love you. The words are roaring through his head. 

Derek swipes his wolf tongue along Stiles’s cheek then darts through the gate. The betas follow Derek and the wolves melt into the trees. They howl into the night, calling to each other, barking, and telling the world, this land is ours and we are here, under the moon and stars. 

Stiles’s entire body is shaking. His dragon is so close to the surface and all it can think is that his mate is out in the woods and he should be with him, flying over the trees and roaring in sync with wolf howls, telling all within hearing that this land is his too and this Pack belongs to him, to fight for with tooth and claw and fire. To roar and proclaim that his heart belongs to an Alpha wolf.

Stiles drops to his knees and digs his hands into the dirt. His fingers are elongating and his nails are claws, tearing up the earth. Fire and red scales lick up Stiles’s arms and he trembles, trying to breathe and fight back the shift. He can’t change. He can’t keep this secret forever, but he’s not ready to lose this Pack that is his, to leave his mate. He needs more time. The pain of the delayed shift under the light of the full moon is like fire raging through every nerve ending. His eyes water and it’s several minutes before he regains his control over the dragon, beating it back with sheer will and desperation.

By the time the wolves return, Stiles is sitting quietly, exhausted and sipping ale. They are exuberant and Stiles smiles at them, kisses Derek, and is thankful for what he has.

 

---

Derek has the wolves patrol the woods surrounding the house, they call their territory the Preserve, once a day. They switch off the job and Stiles is added to the rotation. Stiles likes the walks through the Preserve. The woods are old and their history is palpable in the green shadows the trees cast onto the forest floor. Stiles is walking through the forest with Isaac, jogging along the northern border when they find the camp.

The coals are still warm, though barely, and everything else has been cleaned up and moved. Whoever was here, left that morning. They follow the tracks leading south, towards the house, and then lose the trail after it crosses a stream. They search for another hour along both banks, trying to find the place where whoever had made the camp left the water, but they never find it. There’s a churning in Stiles’s gut. There’s something about this that pinches the back of his awareness and it’s more than just having strangers in his territory.

Stiles smiles to himself at being so possessive of the Preserve. “We need to go back and tell Derek what we found.”

Isaac nods and they head home.

Derek, Boyd, and Erica are out training in the back of the garden. Derek stops when Stiles and Isaac come through the gate. “What happened?”

“We found a camp. Looks like at least fifteen people camped along the northern border then came south. We lost their trail in a creek. It might be nothing.”

“You don’t think it’s nothing.”

Stiles shakes his head. “Something doesn’t feel right.”

Derek nods. “Let’s go inside, get some food and make some plans.”

Erica grabs one of the red flags they use for training and wraps it around Stiles’s neck. They usually tie them on their clothing and try to steal them off each other. Erica ties a jaunty knot in the flag and laughs.

“I wonder if Derek will enjoy chasing you to get this off you.” She busses him on the cheek.

Stiles laughs. “He doesn’t need encouragement to chase me.”

“Oh, I know.” Erica snickers and Stiles links arms with her as they go inside. 

Even though the situation is serious, there isn’t anyone else he’d rather be with. This Pack is his family. Stiles can feel them in his bones. It makes it even harder to know that he’s keeping something from them and that if they knew, they’d no longer want him. Stiles quickly swallows the grief that threatens. If he never tells them, he can have this forever.

The night passes without incident. They patrol close to the house together, slowly going out in ever widening circles, but there’s no evidence of anyone in their territory. After three days of nothing, they start to relax.

Stiles is reading the small book from his pouch in the study one afternoon when Isaac flops down on the couch across from him. Boyd is reading in a low voice to Erica on the window bench across the room and Derek is working on the estate ledgers in the corner.

“What are you reading?” Isaac asks.

Stiles hesitates, but there’s no reason not to answer. “It’s a book that Melissa McCall, the woman who raised me, wrote for me. My parents knew a lot about dragons and Melissa wrote everything she could remember in this book along with things like that my mom’s favorite cookies were snickerdoodles.”

“You always keep it in that pouch.” Isaac points to the soft leather pouch at Stiles waist. 

Stiles nods, tense. The pouch contains his hoard and it’s been a long time since anyone asked about it. “It’s where I keep things that are important to me.”

“Will you show me what’s in it?” Isaac’s eyes are guileless and honest.

It’s the closest Stiles will probably ever come to revealing himself. He bites his top lip and nods. Stiles reaches into the pouch and pulls out the things one by one. “This is a wooden wolf that Scott made for me when he was learning to carve. It’s feet aren’t even so it won’t stand up but I love it. This is an arrowhead that Allison gave me. She is the best archer I’ve ever met.” Stiles pulls out the red flag Erica gave him a few days ago. 

“Erica gave that to you,” Isaac says.

Stiles nods and pulls out the coin Isaac gave him after they sang together. “This coin reminds me of you.”

Isaac sighs and wraps his hand around Stiles’s wrist. Stiles smiles at the beta and keeps pulling out things. A piece of black stone from Theo, a braided strip of leather from Liam, and then he reveals the last item, a button. It’s silver with a wolf in motion.

Derek is no longer scratching across the ledgers. He’s watching and listening to Stiles and Isaac. He stands when he sees the last item. “I’ve been missing that.”

Stiles wraps it in his fist, scared Derek is going to take it. It’s his now, the most precious thing he owns. “It fell off your cloak the second night after we met.”

Derek walks over to where Stiles is sitting and Stiles has to work to cloak the stench of fear he’s emitting at the thought of Derek taking the button from him or figuring out that this odd collection of items is a dragon’s hoard.

Derek places his hand on the nape of Stiles’s neck. “You look worried, like I’m about to steal it from you. It’s just a button. You can keep it. It obviously has meaning to you and I can live without it.”

Stiles relaxes. It’s so much more than a button. It’s a physical reminder that Derek is his and that Stiles’s soul belongs to a wolf. Stiles puts the items back into his pouch. When he finds his voice, he says, “I’m not always with the people I care about. These things help me remember them.”

That night, one by one, the betas sneak into Derek and Stiles’s bed and they sleep with their hands and bodies pressed close. The next day, everything falls apart.

---

They’re all out beyond the far wall, playing a game that Stiles taught to the wolves, freeze tag. They are laughing and yelling and Stiles thinks that’s the reason they don’t hear the hunters until they’re coming out of the trees. There’s a pop in the air as a cloaking spell falls and Stiles hears the bowstrings being pulled back. Arrows slice through the air and towards each of the wolves and Stiles yells but it’s too late.

None of the wolves are mortally wounded but Stiles can see black smoke coming from the wounds and he can smell it. Wolfsbane. The betas move to Derek’s side, but Stiles is cut off from the pack. There are ten hunters in between Stiles and Derek. Derek is half shifted, claws out, and red eyes on Stiles.

Stiles starts to run toward the Pack, ready to plow through the humans, but two sets of hands grab him. Stiles struggles.

“Stop struggling. We’re here to help you. You shouldn’t have to live with these animals.” A hard voice says over his shoulder.

Stiles struggles and a third hunter pushes him to his knees. Stiles has to swallow the bile in his throat. The circle of hunters is closing in on the weakened wolves. Derek and the betas might win, but they are grossly outnumbered and the cost of winning will be high. 

Derek advances on the closest hunter and opens the man's throat with his claws. Another arrow thunks into his gut and the archer laughs. Stiles turns to look at the woman and her face is gleeful. His stomach flips. They aren’t going to simply kill the wolves, they’re going to torture them first, make their deaths as long and painful as possible.

Stiles stops struggling and meets Derek’s gaze around the hunters. Derek must know he means to do something. “Stiles, whatever you’re thinking, don’t do it. They’ll let you go.”

“That would be a mistake because I will hunt them down and burn them to ash. There will be nothing left to bury and the wind will carry them to their graves.” Stiles’s voice is fire and he can feel his eyes changing. He looks at Isaac, Boyd, and Erica. He wants to remember them before they won’t look at him at all. Stiles’s eyes rest on Derek. “I’m sorry I never told you I love you before this.” 

“Stiles, what…” Derek never finishes whatever he’s going to say because Stiles lets everything go and the shift roars through him, filling the air with one very pissed off dragon.

Stiles snaps the heads off the three hunters holding him. Every hunter is now focused on the large red dragon and away from the wolves. Stiles doesn’t dare check on Derek. Stiles roars and incinerates five hunters with dragon fire, careful to keep the wolves out of the path of the flame. Stiles rips, shreds, and bites his way through the rest of the hunters that dared to hurt his Pack and his mate. There is blood dripping from his fangs when the last falls beneath him and he lifts his head and roars into the sky.

Stiles turns to Derek. The dragon is pleased at how well he’s defended his Pack and he wants to see his mate and what he thinks of this form. The dragon spreads his wings and leans his head down so that it can look at Derek.

Derek and the betas are pressed with their backs against the stone wall. Derek’s face is pale and his hazel eyes are wide with fear. Stiles sniffs the air and can smell the acrid terror coming from them, but there’s another smell, heavy and pungent. Disgust. The dragon recoils, not understanding and Stiles takes a breath and shifts back to his human form.

Derek doesn’t move. Stiles takes a step forward. “I can explain.”

Stiles lifts a hand to touch Derek’s arm and the other man shrinks away from Stiles, the scent of anger and disgust growing. “Don’t. Touch. Me.”

It feels like someone took an axe and split open his chest. “Please, Derek. I couldn’t tell you. Please. It’s still me.”

“I can’t believe - I took you to my bed. I brought you to my home. My wolf wanted you for its mate.”

“I can still be that,” Stiles’s voice is a whisper.

Derek shakes his head. “No, no you can’t be. Leave.”

“Derek,” Stiles tries to touch him again, desperation and despair ripping what is left of him to shreds.

“Leave, or I’ll hunt you down myself.”

Stiles can feel tears on his cheeks, but he’s not sure when he started crying. He takes a step backwards, his eyes never leaving Derek. This is the last time he’ll see Derek and the other man’s face is twisted with hate. It’s too much and Stiles lets the dragon back out. The shift hurts this time. Everything hurts. 

Stiles wraps a claw around the small pouch that fell to the side with his ruined clothes after the first time he shifted. He turns around one more time, looks at the three betas and Derek, then launches himself into the air. He roars his despair into the clouds and flies away.

 

---

They don’t ask him why he shows up in the middle of the day, still in dragon form, and so exhausted he crashes into the eastern field. Stiles shifts back into his human form long enough to hug everyone and eat the food Melissa forces into him. He sleeps for three days.

When Stiles wakes up in the bed he grew up in, he can feel his connection to Derek like a knife. Stiles gets up, takes his pouch with him and walks out of the house. Scott sees him and runs toward him.

“Stiles, you’re up.”

“I’m going to the cave.” Stiles’s voice is rough with disuse.

“Let me grab a bag and I’ll come.” Scott starts to walk to the house.

Stiles shakes his head. “No, I’m going alone.”

“You shouldn’t be alone. We don’t even know how this will affect you.” Scott’s hand is on his arm.

“It doesn’t matter. Nothing does now.” Stiles shakes off Scott’s hand.

Scott grabs his arm again and squeezes it painfully. “This isn’t like you.” Scott’s brown eyes harden. “Fine, I’ll let you go mope, but I’m not letting you stay up there forever.”

“Do what you have to then.” Stiles walks away.

The cave is hidden in a hill. They’d discovered it when they were kids and because it was big enough to accommodate Stiles’s dragon, they’d spent many afternoons in it. He would shift and Scott would clamber all over him.

Stiles steps into the cool darkness, takes off his clothes with fingers that feel numb, and keeps playing his last conversation with Derek on a loop. His mate was disgusted by his dragon. Grief is a weight that presses down into Stiles as he shifts and curls up, nose tucked under his tail. He can sleep here and forget the mess he’s made of his life.

 

---    

Derek helps the betas move the bodies of the hunters into a pile. He doesn’t miss Boyd’s inability to meet his gaze, the smell of grief that wafts from Isaac, or the hot glares of anger Erica spears him with as they work. Derek ignores it. He ignores everything except each small task. Lift a body. Carry it to the pile. Throw it on. Repeat. In this repetition, there’s no room for horror or grief. It takes hours to burn the bodies. Before the fire burns out, Derek throws the clothes Stiles left on the ground into the fire.

When Derek stumbles to the house, covered in soot and worn thin, he stops in the doorway of his room, the room he shared with Stiles. It still smells like them, tangled together and laughing in the sheets. Derek turns away and goes into an empty guestroom instead, collapsing on the bed without bothering to clean up first.

Derek sleeps until mid morning the next day, gets cleaned up, and goes into his room for a new set of clothes. Everything he pulls out of his drawer still smells like Stiles. Derek’s hands shake so bad he has to stop looking and fists his hands against his forehead. 

He is hollow, scooped out and without meaning. 

There is nothing left but the way Stiles looked when Derek sent him away.

Stiles lied to him for months, had acted like he cared for Derek and wanted to stay here, when all along he was lying about who and what he was. Derek slams his hands into the dresser and the wood cracks. Derek does it again untilt the top of the dresser splits. It feels good so Derek keeps doing it, until his hands leave bloody prints on the wood as he rips it apart.

Derek walks out of the room and locks the door behind him, opens a window in the hallway, and tosses the key out into the garden. He goes into Boyd and Erica’s room and takes a pair of trousers and a shirt from Boyd’s drawers. They are a little wide in the shoulders but they will have to do.

He finds the betas in the study, curled in front of the fireplace. Derek takes one step into the room, then is overcome by the smell of grief that hangs in the air. Isaac looks up at him expectantly, but Derek can’t walk any farther into the room. He shrinks out of the room and ends up in Isaac’s bed, curled up and miserable. At some point in the night, Boyd, Erica, and Isaac come up to the room and join him. Derek wakes up often in the night and panics when he can’t find Stiles, then he remembers and he can taste the anger and betrayal on his tongue.

The days progress, though Derek is hard pressed to recall anything he did when the day is over. He moves into Isaac’s room and, most nights, the entire pack sleeps with him there. Sometimes, when he walks into a room, a whispered conversation will cease. Once, he caught Erica and Boyd having an argument outside. He went out to see what it was about, but Erica took one look at him and walked into the woods leaving the scent of anger and grief in her wake.

Derek does not get used to the mourning that permeates the house and he feels more and more that one day he will wake up and be worn down to nothing, so thin that he will disappear. His wolf is almost unreachable, buried deep, and unable to understand why their mate has left them alone and fading.

The summer comes to a close and the leaves turn. One morning, Derek wakes up and there’s hoarfrost on the window. 

Erica corners him in the library. “It’s been long enough. It’s time to go bring Stiles home.”

Derek jerks at that name he does not even allow himself to think, let alone say out loud. Mentioned or not, his heart still beats to the memory of his mate and what he’s lost.

He’s sitting in the bench window and Erica sits across from him. “You’ve pouted long enough. Go bring him home.”

“He lied to me.”

“He saved your life, you asshole. He saves all our lives.” Erica crosses her arms over her chest and raises an eyebrow at him. “You’re a coward.”

“He’s a dragon . Shikari kill dragons. We don’t welcome them into our beds. He’s a monster.”

“Who cares what he is. You love him and he loves you.”

Derek turns away from her. “I can’t.”

Erica stands up and, instead of being angry, her shoulders drop and she frowns. “The only monster here is you.”

Derek flashes his red eyes at her. “Get out.”

He doesn’t leave the library for two days.

Erica comes in again. This time she shakes out her claws and swipes them across Derek, leaving deep wounds in his chest.

Derek springs from the window bench, half shifted and growls. “What the hell?”

Erica swipes her claws at Derek again, but he ducks out of the way and grabs her wrist. He yanks on her arm, trying to unbalance her. She swipes his legs out from under him. Derek rolls to the side before Erica can claw him again. Her eyes are shining gold.

“You’ve moped about long enough. Bring Stiles home. Go grovel, apologize, or whatever you have to do, but bring your mate home.”

Erica pounces onto him and tries to get her claws around his throat, but Derek flips them and pins her to the ground. “No.”

Erica stops moving. “Please.” Her eyes stop glowing and then fill with tears. “Please.”

Derek lets her go and falls back on his ass. “I can’t.”

“Why?”

Derek draws in a shaking breath. “He’ll never forgive me now. I can’t. He’s probably fine, better without me.”

Erica sits up. “You know that’s not true.”

“Why does it matter to you?” Derek’s chest is healed where Erica clawed him, but his heart aches.

“He was our Pack member too. You weren’t the only one that loved him and you aren’t the only one that misses him.” Erica’s chin trembles.

Derek crawls over to her and gathers her in his arms. “I’m scared to go.” He whispers into her hair.

“I know, but you can’t keep living like this. We need our Alpha and we need Stiles back.” 

Erica buries her face in his chest and Derek runs a hand down her spine. It’s been a long time since he consciously touched and comforted his betas. He’s been a terrible Alpha and an even worse mate. 

“All right.” Derek closes his eyes. 

Erica doesn’t say anything. They stay curled around each other in the study for another hour before Boyd and Isaac find them.

Derek leaves the next day. He wants to go alone, not wanting the betas to see what is left of him if he can’t get Stiles to forgive him. The betas won’t hear of being left. To Derek’s surprise, it’s Isaac that pushes the hardest and Derek can’t find it in the ruin of his heart to refuse.

They head south and Derek wishes he had hope, but he knows he hurt Stiles too much to be forgiven. He’s only going and trying because Erica will not give him a moment’s peace unless he does. The closer they get to the McCall’s farm, the more Derek feels like everything is closing in on him.

Scott sees them before they reach the house and walks out to greet them. “You’re not welcome here.”

Derek expected this reception. “I’m here to see Stiles.”

“He doesn’t want to see you.” Scott glares at Derek.

Allison comes up behind Scott and lays a hand on his arm. “Stiles should be the one to send him away. He deserves to know Derek was here, at least.” She looks up at Derek. “I’ll take you to him, but don’t expect much. He hasn’t spoken to us or moved in months.”

Months? “Where is he?” Derek can feel the anxiety clawing at his throat. What have I done?

Scott points to the betas. “You three have to stay here. I’ll take you to the house and feed you.”

Allison leads Derek north into the woods. Derek allows himself to open his awareness to Stiles, something he hasn’t allowed himself to do since Stiles flew off. The sound of the forlorn cry that ripped through the sky that day still rings in Derek's ears. He can’t feel anything past his own pain and isolation. 

Allison stops next to a brook in a clearing. “There’s a cave a quarter of a mile up this hill. He’s in there.” Allison lays a hand on Derek’s arm. “You hurt him more than I’ve ever seen anyone hurt.” She pauses and presses her lips together before continuing. “You may not know this, but dragons mate for life. Regardless of what happens today, you’re it for him and I don’t know if he’ll survive you leaving again. He’s barely alive now. We weren’t exaggerating. He hasn’t moved in months.”

Derek’s heart twists in his chest and he walks up the hill wishing he could do anything except move forward, wishing he could erase the past and start over.

The mouth of the cave is easy to find and Derek would not have been able to miss it. He can smell Stiles before he sees the cave itself. That scent that has almost faded from his house is strong, citrus, woodsmoke, and an underlying scent that Derek had only caught rarely. He knows now that it was the dragon he smelled. Derek steps through the mouth of the cave and into darkness.

He blinks several times to let his eyes adjust. It looks like a shallow cave until he peers into the blackness and realizes the wall he thinks is the back wall of the cave is Stiles curled up. His breathing is slow, only two or three inhales per minute. The dragon doesn’t move as Derek approaches it. When he is standing next to the curved spine of the dragon, Derek places his palm on it and rests it there for a few heartbeats. He’s not sure what he expected when he found Stiles, but the reality of it is something else entirely.

Derek had a list of things to say to Stiles, had composed them on the journey south, but none of them are in his brain or on the tip of his tongue. All he can think as he feels the smooth scales beneath his fingertips is that up close, Stiles is beautiful. The red scales on his back almost glow with an internal fire and the black and grey areas radiate heat.

There is movement under his hand and Stiles’s head, which is the size of Derek’s body, lifts up and Stiles’s neck cranes as he bends to look at the intruder. The dragon blinks at him, then Derek can hear Stiles in his head, speaking.

“I know you aren’t real. I wish you’d leave me alone and let me die in peace.” Stiles’s voice, even in Derek’s head, is resigned and almost without inflection like it’s not worth putting effort into speaking.

“I’m real,” Derek says.

The body of the dragon heaves under Derek’s hand and slams itself against the back wall of the cave, shrinking away from Derek. The dragon hisses at Derek.

Derek holds his hands out, palm up. “I came to talk.”

The dragon’s eyes are large and glow like copper in the dark. It’s sides are moving rapidly as it breathes, and smoke starts coming out of its nostrils.

“How can I hear you?” Derek asks.

The dragon presses further into the cave wall, then slumps forward. “ You’re my life mate. I was always able to do this, but I can only do it in this form .”

Derek takes a tentative step forward. “I came to apologize for the way I reacted. I didn’t even give you a chance to explain. I reacted out of shock. I was angry that you’d lied to me and I don’t like being lied to. The last time someone I loved lied to me, they burned my family’s house down with my family inside.”

The dragon’s breathing slows and Stiles drops his head to look at Derek. Derek licks his lips and continues.

“I always knew there was something else about you, something different. I should have realized what that smell was that I could never get enough of a scent to identify it or that the pouch you kept with you was a dragon’s hoard and not just mementos from people you cared about.”

Derek takes another step forward and lays a hand on the side of the dragon’s face. The dragon trembles beneath his touch and leans into Derek’s palm. Stiles’s throat starts to vibrate and Derek chuckles. 

“Are you purring?” Derek shakes his head. “I didn’t know dragons could purr.” He rubs his thumb over the black scales around Stiles’s mouth. “You’re gorgeous and fearsome in this form. I treated you badly. Please forgive me. I will come back every day for as long as it takes and I will apologize every day.”

The dragon stops purring and blinks at Derek, then Derek hears the dragon in his head again. “ Why would you do that?

“You’re my mate. I love you. I want to be wherever you are, even if you choose to stay in a cave. I don’t want to leave without you.”

You hurt me. You regretted loving me. ” The words get smaller at the end.

“I was hurt. I lashed out. I could never regret loving you. I regret not coming here to find you sooner.”

Stiles shakes and the dragon shrinks in size, then reforms as a man. The last thing to disappear are the colors of red and black scales from Stiles’s skin.

Stiles reaches out and cups Derek’s face. “Do you mean it?”

Derek nods. “I am yours and you are mine. I should never have doubted that and I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you, protecting you, and loving you. If you let me.”

Stiles throws himself into Derek’s arms and Derek tucks his face into Stiles’s neck. Derek is surrounded and overwhelmed by the feeling of Stiles holding him and his scent filling him. Stiles’s right hand is on his back and feels warm and getting warmer. 

Stiles pulls back and looks at Derek. “I want to mark you, claim you. I’ve wanted to since the first night, but I never could. I would like to now, if you’re serious about this.”

Derek can’t agree fast enough. “Yes, anything. What do you have to do?”

Stiles raises his right hand in front of Derek’s face. There’s an outline of a dragon in flight on Stiles’s palm and it’s glowing. “I press this into your skin and it will mark you so that all others will know you belong to me.”

Derek’s wolf preens at this, at being chosen. “Where would you like to put it?”

“I can put it somewhere it will never be seen or a place that has meaning. I would like to place it on your chest, above your heart.” Stiles swallows and shifts his weight from one foot to the other.

Derek yanks his shirt over his head. “Yes, that’s perfect.”

Stiles doesn’t hesitate. He slams his hand down on Derek’s chest. Derek anticipates that it will hurt and braces himself. It doesn’t hurt at all, but it fills every nerve ending in Derek’s body pulsing with pleasure. Both of them drop to their knees and Stiles rests his forehead against Derek’s. 

There’s a roaring in Derek’s ears and he can’t tell if it’s his own heart and blood or Stiles’s. “I want to mark you too. Can I?”

Stiles trembles against him. “Please.”

Derek’s gums hurt as his fangs drop and he sinks them into the place on Stiles’s neck where it meets his shoulder. He breaks skin and tastes Stiles’s blood, copper fire on his tongue. Derek releases Stiles and licks the wound clean even as he shakes with sensation. The only thing keeping them upright is where their bodies are touching - forehead to forehead, knees to knees, and hand to chest.

Stiles pulls back his hand eventually and they look at each other. The place on Derek’s chest where Stiles touched is black in the shape of a dragon with wings raised. There’s a reddish sheen to the mark and Derek wonders if it will look even more red in the sunlight. Stiles is beaming at him. There’s an outline of a bite, the color of blood on Stiles’s pale skin.

Derek reaches for Stiles and Stiles comes to him. Derek threads his fingers through Stiles’s hair. “Your hair is long.”

“I’ve been in here for a long time. I think.” Stiles tilts his head to the side. “What month is it?”

“It’s the month past harvest.”

Stiles jerks and his copper eyes get watery. “So long?”

Derek pulls Stiles closer and says, “I’m so very sorry, my love,” against Stiles’s lips.

Stiles pushes into him and Derek opens his mouth to Stiles when Stiles runs his tongue along the seam of Derek’s mouth. The kiss is gentle, as if they are relearning each other.

Stiles pulls back from the kiss and runs a thumb over Derek’s bottom lip. “Shh, no more apologies. Let’s start over. I’m Stiles. I’m a dragon and the last of my family. I love you and I’d like to come and live with you as long as I am breathing.”

“I’m an idiot Alpha wolf who was foolish enough to let his mate go and I’ve wasted months when we could have been happy together.”

Stiles chuckles and gives him a watery smile. “Let’s go home.”