Derek was in the middle of a trash run when a wall of purple fog hit him and broke the curse. He stuttered in the motion tossing trash into the landfill, and a nail from the busted two-by-four caught his palm.
"Goddamn it," he cursed, voice hoarse and painful from disuse. He yanked his glove off and licked the blood welling up into beads. There were three old scars crossing his skin that he'd never particularly noticed before.
Now he remembered them.
"I know you're in there, hunter! Come out, or I'll blow your house down!" Derek yelled, feeling his wolf rage in his chest. He wanted to bite and claw to feel justice be done to these murderers, but his revenge depended on more than these lackeys. He would eat Kate Argent's heart raw, and happily lick the blood from his lips.
"Since when do werewolves have that kind of lung capacity?" the hunter taunted from behind a barred window. He was one of many who’d helped to burn Derek’s home to the ground, and everything he’d known and loved besides.
Derek sneered and tugged his overcoat to the side. He reached into the hidden pocket and pulled out a collar wrought with magic and gold. It fit tightly over his throat, and once he took his hands away, the bands tightened against his skin, not to be removed until his need was complete. His sneer turned into a smile and he let the change come enough to fill his eyes with red rage.
"Since, this werewolf made a deal," he answered. He took a deep breath and roared.
Derek grabbed his jacket and pulled it on over his muscle shirt. He joined the crowd milling around in the street. Some of them he knew, old faces from the forest, many he’d fought beside in Snow’s army. Some of them were happy, twirling around with people they'd missed for the last twenty-eight years, but many more were angry and frightened, searching for their own loved ones.
"Stiles!" Derek coughed, his throat ached and felt like sandpaper rubbing against sandpaper. Just forming the words was difficult, like a skill so seldom used it has to be relearned. "Has anyone seen Stiles?"
No one paid any attention to him as the crowd grew and more voices joined the clamor. It felt like everyone in the entire town had decided to turn out. Everyone except the one person he wanted to find. He pushed his way among them, leaving some grasping after him as he kept moving. No one else mattered but Stiles.
If this world had taught him anything, it was that a careless werewolf was a dead werewolf, so he took few chances. Collateral damage was a given.
The crowd filling the tavern was a usual sort, just men unwinding from a hard day’s work. They smelled of coal dust, fresh cut lumber, and clean sweat. The bar keep was a large, jovial type, keen to let even Derek darken the corners of his common room. None of the others in the tavern were watching him, not with intent that would cause him to take notice.
Derek pushed away from the table and dropped a few coins beside his plate. They danced on the wood for a moment, reflecting light from the fire, and the figure crouching on a beam above the stairwell. He pulled on the end of the scarf, making sure it would cover the gold of his collar and slipped out the back way into an alley.
He weaved while he walked, keeping his arms deceptively loose, and listening for the creak of leather and wood. Beneath the cover of his long sleeves, he curled his hands into fists and let his claws grow. He would need to be careful not to use the collar, it had the power to let him roar twice more, and then it would be useless to him.
The night outside was still, none of the flags or streamers proclaiming the new queen’s rule fluttered in the tiniest of breezes, but Derek could feel slight currents of air move with the quick movements of the person following him. He ducked and grinned at the sound of a dagger embedding itself in the wall behind his head. Rolling right, two more daggers missed him, though he frowned when he felt the hole ripped in his sleeve.
“So, the puppy knows how to play the game,” a voice said, bouncing slightly between the closely walled in city street. “Putting you down might be more fun than I’d previously hoped.”
"You'll have to get close enough first, assassin," Derek growled, turning his head from side to side trying to find the voice. He just happened to look where the lanterns shone the brightest , when a figure stepped out and tipped his hat. “Since you interrupted my meal, you’ll have to do. What’s your name, dinner?”
"I am Puss," the cat said. "Puss in Boots, and I am the finest cat-sassin the world has known."
Derek turned and caught Ruby by the arms, using her momentum to swing them both out of the mob, and up on the deserted sidewalk. It was no wonder, they’d become such good friends during the curse. Later, he might remember dodging a bullet the one night after that Swan woman came to town, when they were both drunk and dissatisfied with life. Having sex with her would have been like sleeping with his sister
"Ruby, have you seen Stiles?" he asked, still searching the crowd over her head.
"Who?" Ruby shook him off and glanced behind her. Emotions were rising quickly, and he heard some of the more excitable members yelling for a witch hunt. "Derek, I could really use your help. We need to find Snow and Charming."
The curse hadn’t been kind to any of them, but Stiles had lived rough every day for nearly thirty years. He’d been dirty, barely dressed for the cold, and hungry, but somehow his spirit still let him grin and try to joke with those who helped him. Derek closed his eyes against the memories, but he’d never not see how everyday he’d pushed Stiles into a puddle, not caring that he’d needlessly gotten the stray boy even more wet, cold, and dirty.
Jerking his head down, Derek backed Ruby up against a light pole. "I don't have time for that. I need to find Stiles. He's the homeless kid who begged on the corner before Granny ran him off with a sandwich every day," he said, trying not to lose the battle with the desperation creeping up his gut.
"Don't try to intimidate me," Ruby snarled, her eyes flaring at him. "You're not the only wolf in town."
"I'm sorry," Derek winced, knowing that his ears would be flattened to his skull if they were in their natural shapes. "I’m sorry. Please, I need to find him."
She looked at him and there was pity in her eyes.
Derek winced where the leghold trap dug deeper into shin. "And what exactly do you suggest?" he asked. The trap was laced with wolfsbane, poisoning him where it bit into his leg and keeping him from prying it open.
Puss glanced up, then down and all around. "Well, I suppose I'll have to trust you to catch me when I fall, and then you'll have to trust me to get you out of that trap," he said, widening his eyes and looking at Derek hopefully.
"That's a terrible plan because I don't trust you and you don't trust me," he answered, ignoring the big, watery eyes Puss leveled his way. He'd been so sure this was it; he had Puss treed with the only options being a waterfall or Derek's teeth. He'd just been too busy gloating to notice the trap before he stepped in it.
"Yeah, but see, I can't really hold on much longer, and you'll be Argent-bait unless you decide to chew your own leg off," Puss said, his voice wavering as his claws slipped on the bark. "So, I'm going to count to five, then I'm going to let go, and you're going to catch me."
"I'll let you drown first, assassin."
Derek yanked fruitlessly on the trap and swallowed the howl burning up his throat. His body tried to shift, but the wolfsbane made every attempt an utter agony. “You’re going to drown,” he growled. “I don’t care what happens. They killed my entire family, and I will have my revenge!”
“Two. They told me that your pack started the war.”
“Why would we? They outnumber us three to one, and we’ve always kept to ourselves in the Wildwoods,” Derek snarled. He couldn’t use the collar to free himself but, he wouldn’t anyway. He needed both final blasts to take out both Gerard and Kate, they were seldom enough in the same place at the same time.
“Three. You know that makes a lot of sense,” Puss said, trying one more desperate attempt to get a better grip on the branch that left him swinging dangerously over the rushing water. “I am currently regretting all of my life choices. Trust me, Wolf. I’ll get you out of that trap.”
Trust was what landed him in this situation in the first place: alone and miserable.
“Four. Please, I can’t hold on much lo-oh!”
Derek’s reflexes lashed out at the last second and he caught Puss by the scruff of his neck. It yanked his leg harder, causing the trap to bite deeper. The pop of his jaw was audible as he ground his teeth in pain and tears pricked the corner of his eyes. He longed to let loose that desperate howl, but his family couldn’t come save him anymore.
A soft paw touched his cheek. “Put me down.”
“Go on, then,” Derek said, keeping his eyes closed as he set Puss down gently on his boots. “Go tell your masters to collect their prize. If I live that long, I’ll take some of them with me.”
“You silly wolf,” Puss purred and rubbed against Derek’s good leg.
Someone walked behind him, their shoes scuffling the loose gravel. After more than twenty-eight years holding his silence, Derek wasn’t going to break it again.
“You silly wolf.”
For so long, he’d thought about how he wanted it to end, how his parents and sisters had suffered, burned alive but clawing to life for far too long. Kate was pinned under a cross beam of her stronghold, broken and bleeding like a doll about to fall apart. Puss didn’t look at her, he watched Derek’s face, and Derek found he couldn’t draw it out. He quickly clawed her throat open and then walked away before she’d stopped twitching.
“C’mon, one more to go,” he said, holding out his arm so Puss could run up and perch across his shoulders like an oversized housecat.
“What happens afterward?” Puss asked, tilting his hat so the feather wouldn’t tickle Derek’s ear incessantly.
“The happy ending,” Derek answered, repeating the words his mother must have told him a thousand times.
“Where else would I be?” Stiles laughed, the sound reverberating through his chest and into Derek’s. “I’ve missed your voice so much.”
Derek buried his face in Stiles’ neck and held on. “I’ve missed your everything,” he said, then laughed too. “But you’re a little taller than I remember.”
“Don’t get me started on my beautiful tail,” Stiles moaned, skritching his fingers through Derek’s hair. “I miss my hat too.”
“I’ll get you a new one,” Derek said, as he pulled away just far enough so he could get a good look at Stiles. The boy was barely taller than him, but so skinny. He shrugged out of his jacket and wrapped it around Stiles’ shoulders.
He skidded to a stop, indecision making him waver between going forward and going back. Derek needed the collar to kill Gerald. The hunter lord never left his castle anymore, but with the magic, Derek could drop the whole thing on his head. Without the collar, what was he? A lone wolf in a lonely world.
“Run Derek! Go!” Puss’ voice rose with panic. The ogres were close enough that their rotting stench rose up to clog Derek’s nose. “What are you doing?”
Derek was running back, leaping quickly, and using the trees to springboard over obstacles. The ground was shaking now, and the trees waved back and forth. Not just a couple ogres then, but at least half a dozen. They met in the middle of the path, Puss leaping into Derek’s arms, his heart racing so fast, Derek almost lost the individual beats.
“You stupid cat,” Derek muttered, checking Puss quickly for evidence of injury before tucking him under an arm. The trees less than twenty feet away instantly flattened as the ogres broke out in front of them. Without another thought, Derek touched the collar and blasted the ogres, knocking them down and out long enough for them to get away.
“Why did you do that?” Puss demanded once they were far enough away that Derek let him struggle out of Derek’s arms. “I mean, I’m glad you did it. But why did you do that? How are we going to kill Gerard now?”
Derek shrugged and opened his mouth only to double over in pain. The collar burned ice-hot against his throat, constricting until he couldn’t swallow past it. He clawed at his neck, fingers shifting instantly and leaving long gouges that bleed freely and did nothing to remove the metal. He blinked up at Puss, but the cat has his back to him, sword drawn, and growling at someone just out of sight.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, dearie! All magic comes with a price.”
Between one blink and the nest, relief washed over him. Derek gasped, reaching up. The wounds were closing, but his fingers slid in the blood, moving over his skin now that the collar was gone. The weight he’d carried around for the last six months was gone. Even the need to go after Gerard was lessened to something that he could manage and deal with later.
“Derek are you okay? What just happened?” Puss was at his side, helping Derek sit up and breathe. He barely managed to keep his claws in as he kneaded along Derek’s ribs.
“Derek?” Puss was watching him strangely, until he reached up with one paw on Derek’s chin. “Derek, did you make a deal with Rumplestiltskin?”
Yes. Derek closed his eyes away from Puss’ pity. His mouth moved, his throat worked, air drew in and out of his lungs, but no sound came out. He’d never make another noise that way again, but at the time, he’d counted it a small price to pay for his vengeance.
“Why did you waste it?” Puss asked, his voice soft and high as he curled around in Derek’s lap. He tucked his face under his tail, but Derek could still hear the soft question. “Why would you save me?”
Derek could only pet down Puss’ back, stoking the itchy places and promising himself that he would do better in the future.
Derek went to work carefully shredding a napkin and avoiding Stiles’ eyes. “You asked a lot of questions. Want to narrow it down?” he asked, knowing exactly what question Stiles wanted answered. He might have the voice to do so now, but he still wasn’t sure if he had the heart.
“Don’t be a deflective wolf, Derek,” Stiles gestured with his fork, flinging some potato salad across the table that he tried to subtly wipe it away with his sleeve.
“I would think it was quite obvious Stiles,” Granny said, sliding an enormous slice of pie onto the table between them, as well as a discrete stack of napkins. “Everyone else knew.”
“What? How? Derek, why did everyone else know but me? Derek!”
Granny didn’t hide her smile as she continued making her rounds through the diner.
“Eat your pie, Stiles,” Derek said, hacking off a large chunk for himself in hopes that would spur Stiles into stuffing his face more rather than asking uncomfortable questions.
Stiles pushed the plates out of the way and grabbed Derek’s wrist. “Tell me. Why would you give up your happy ending for an assassin you’d just met?” Stiles asked. “I could never figure it out, but I just . . . I was just glad to stay by your side.”
“There wouldn’t have been a happy ending without you, Stiles,” Derek said, tucking his cheek down by his shoulder. “You are my happy ending.”
“I…even if I’m not a cat anymore?” Stiles asked, working until Derek opened his hand to thread their fingers together. “Personally, I thought part of our charm was that whole opposites attract thing.”
“Stiles,” Derek took a deep breath and finally looked at the boy, noticing the flush that colored his cheeks and flowed down his neck. “I will always love you. Even if you turn into a wise-cracking toaster and go on a trip to Mars.”
“Really? That’s where you’re going with our love story? Brave Little Toaster?”
Derek shrugged, grinning as he rubbed his thumb across Stiles’ skin. “It’s the only thing I’ve seen on TV for the last twenty-eight years,” he admitted. He thought about his empty little apartment, the bare mattress sitting on the floor, and the refrigerator that was barely cooler than room temperature. “Maybe we could rent something to watch together?”
“Yeah, I’d like that,” Stiles said with a smile, not realizing he had cream swiped across his nose.