Derek's breath freezes in the air, billowing white and drifting off into the cool morning breeze. It's spring, but only by the merest hairsbreadth of days, the grass still frost-tinged and crunching under his feet as Derek shifts his weight. He'd like his scarf, maybe a jacket if he's being honest, but instead he shoves his hands into the thin pockets of his track pants for some fleeting warmth. He'd already hindered himself with a t-shirt, and even that had been pushing it.
He takes a deep breath and rocks back on his heels, willing himself not to shiver. It's easier as he looks over at the Mahealani boy, shirtless and lounging against one of the corral posts like he's sunning himself on a beach chair. He has the honey-brown skin of his pack, but Derek's pretty sure he tans himself during the winter. No one should be allowed to look that sun-kissed at six AM on a March morning. The whole clan was always too pretty for their own good, and Danny's chest gleams smooth and hairless in the dim light of dawn. Hard to believe he could even shift, although Derek had seen it happen. His wolf was all glistening, sleek fur and sculpted curves.
Danny gives him a polite smile, like he can afford to be nice to someone so obviously out of his league. He doesn't even have any goosebumps on his skin, making Derek that much happier for his own hairy chest and his wimpy t-shirt. Just because alphas ran hotter than omegas didn't mean Derek enjoyed the cold, and he's always had his suspicions about that being an old wives' tale to start with. He'd seen Isaac dunk himself in the frigid lake behind their house enough times to know that not all omegas needed to be inside next to a fire, pelt-swaddled and minding the kettle.
Pulling his hands out of his pockets, Derek rubs them together briskly and twists at his waist. He'd stretched, just like all the other alphas, although Derek had done the bare minimum. He'd run how he'd run, and that's that as far as he's concerned. He knows it won't help soothe his nerves, not when every other alpha in the pen seems to take it as an opportunity to size him up.
Like the Martin girl. Lydia's been reminding everyone around her that she can touch her toes every two minutes, bending and stretching when she isn't looking disdainfully at the other alphas around her. She adjusts the zipper of her top, some kind of high-tech sports-bra-vest-hybrid that looks like it involves German engineering and probably cost more than all of Derek's clothes combined. Not that Derek didn't have nice things, but who needs more than three pairs of pants? He just didn't see the point.
She gives Derek a slight tilt of her head as she fusses with her collar, smoothing it down just to flip it up again. Only the fact that Derek's known her for years gives him any indication that she's fiddling with her clothes out of nerves rather than vanity. Lydia and Laura had been classmates, and had always maintained the competitive brand of friendship common amongst alpha females. While two red-headed alpha girls would seem like one too many for any room, Derek knew they deeply respected each other and got along better than they let on. They might both be alphas, and gingers at that, but only in the strictest sense of the words, different for all their surface similarity. While Lydia's bright copper tresses and commanding tongue let everyone in a ten-mile radius know she was an alpha, Laura's muted auburn and soft, confident manner lent her a totally different kind of assertion.
Derek knows that Lydia hides behind all that alpha swagger the same way he hides behind a scowl and a bad reputation. And isn't that Laura's greatest ability, how she can see right through people without judging them. While many people still thought alpha twins were a bad omen, Derek's sister is his best friend after all these years.
She's off on the sidelines this morning, wearing a leather jacket that looks toasty and lovely and Derek would pull a fingernail out to have his own on right now. He catches a quick smile and a wave from her, just catching the wink she gives him as she leans her head on Isaac's shoulder. His blood-brother looks like he wants to be there about as much as Derek does, arms folded firmly across his chest and his scarf wrapped high enough to cover his mouth. It's probably hiding one of Isaac's patented pouty-faces.
Derek wonders what this spectacle must look like to someone who's already endured it. Laura would give him a hearty smack to the head for using words like that, endured, suffered, gotten it over with. But Laura had caught Isaac on her first Chase, and she always talked about it like some kind of fairy-tale.
“You'll just know, Der. It's like … that first breath, after they blindfold you, you know? When you smell it, it's like you've never used your nose before in your life.” That was usually the point at which she'd pull Isaac over and make moon-eyes at him and kiss him and Derek would be male-sibling-obligated to make barfing noises.
It's not like he isn't happy for Laura and Isaac. The way they were with each other, it was … well, if Derek were inclined to be a sappy romantic he'd say that it's beautiful, the way one of them always seems to catch the other, the endless ways they find to care for one another. Three years and Isaac still gaped like a fish out of water on the rare occasions Laura wore a dress, and sometimes just when she walked in the door carrying a bundle of firewood.
They are the lucky ones. They hadn't suffered, yes, suffered through three Chases in a row like Derek had.
Derek looks over at Lydia, who's making taut-lipped small talk with the Argent girl. The first time, Laura had been standing next to him, both of them shivering in the morning cold because for all Laura's jokes about coming out first and being the real alpha, she liked her creature-comforts just as much as her brother. Derek feels momentarily selfish and wishes that Laura were standing there again, that he could have someone to talk to and share his humiliation with.
Their town isn't so large that Derek doesn't know all the other alphas penned in with him. Danny, Lydia, Allison – he knows them all by name but not well enough to call them friends, aside from Lydia,
and he knows that all of them are up for their first run. Derek also knows that people are starting to talk, that a second Chase is one thing, but a third, and a fourth? Practically unheard of.
Derek rolls his shoulders and re-adjusts his hands, seeking out some warmth that he knows he won't find. He sneaks a glance at the dividing wall next to them, ten feet tall, two feet wide, and so laced with magic it practically glows. There are stories, old ones that his grandmother liked to tell, about alphas who were so strongly drawn to their future mates that they could scent them out over all the sigils and hellebore, flinging themselves against the wall and gouging deep scratches in it.
Derek laughs to himself, wondering how many of the claw-marks marring the oak were put there out of sheer boredom. He's tempted to add one or two himself, but finds the idea of drawing any more attention to himself unappealing. It's bad enough, the way he catches the old Argent crone tilting her head and pursing a sympathetic little frown at him, like he's a sick animal at the zoo.
This is the last year Derek will do this. He can't stand the thought of half a decade of failure, freezing his nuts off just to head back home to Laura's stoic sympathy and Isaac's quiet comfort.
It's not like he isn't used to being an outcast. He's a Hale, after all, it sort of comes with the territory. They'd always been on the outskirts of the clans, furthest from the village, closest to the woods and the wolf. After the whole abjuration scandal with Uncle Peter, it had been hard to get anyone to do business with them for a good year.
Derek can handle the stares, the abruptly-silenced conversations when he walked into the room. Derek has his family, his work, the few but very close friends who matter to him. Failing at the human ambitions of popularity and prestige had never bothered him. Failing at the Chase is worse, somehow, like he'd failed as a wolf, like every niggling suspicion he'd ever felt about himself is correct. That there is something so fundamentally wrong with him that even this most primal ritual of his ancestors must be denied to him as well.
Wrapping his arms around his chest over his t-shirt, Derek has never felt so naked as he does now. His toes itch as they curl against the hoary grass, fighting the urge to shift. He'd feel so much better if he could change - warmer, safer, more like himself. Instead he's forced to stand here, freezing in his human skin as they all wait for one of the Magi to come.
He can feel the shift in the crowd before he sees them approach. The spectators have a better view of the procession, and Derek watches their eyes light up as they all turn southeast. His skin prickles with second-hand excitement, unavoidable with so many people close by. It does nothing to settle the dread sinking into his stomach.
Two of the elders lead the ascension up the hill, wiry old Gerard Argent, swathed in the silver-tinged pelts of his clan, and the oldest McCall crone, so wizened Derek can barely make her face out from inside the chocolate-curled skins draped over her like a cape. They both have descendants running today.
Allison stands up straighter and tightens her mouth as her grandfather approaches. Derek doesn't know her well, but anyone could see the discomfort there. He's not sure where the bad blood arose, but the Argents always seem to have some interfamily tension going on. Some clans are just like that. Derek darts a quick glance at Laura and thanks the Mother that he can always count on his sister.
While she's slim and doe-eyed, Derek can see a strength in Allison that he likes. She's not one of the staunch, vibrant alpha girls that he's used to, but she reminds him of the old adage about the willow tree bending in the wind while the oak snaps in half. This is her first run, and Derek wonders if she'll be running towards a mate or running away from her family. Her eyes follow the procession as it crests the hill, and they're so sad that Derek turns away. It's not his place to judge someone else for what she's seen.
Derek knows that the McCall boy is running with the omegas today. Scott and Isaac are friendly, and more than once Derek has found himself laughing at Scott's general doofus behavior in spite of himself. This is Scott's second Chase, and while Scott had taken it in stride with the same easy shrug he seemed to give to everything, Derek almost felt worse for the omegas who didn't get caught than the alphas who never caught a scent. At least Derek hadn't needed to run across a five-mile field in the bitter cold to realize that he'd be spending another year without a mate.
The elders slowly walk towards the podia, old McCall taking her time in that “you can just wait” way of old women everywhere. Gerard looks like it's taking every ounce of effort he has not to roll his eyes and hurry her along. No wonder Allison seems uncomfortable around him. The guys looks like a dick.
Chasemaster Finstock and the Stilinski Lawkeeper follow the elders, both of them wearing the heavy pendants of their stations. Finstock has the same twitchy look he always does, narrowing his eyes at the alphas as he passes the pen. Finstock seems to take it as a personal failure if any of the runners emerge unmated. Derek gets an extra-long glare before Finstock turns to take his seat next to the elders, matched by another dark look from the Lawkeeper. The business with Peter is still a fresh wound after five years, and Derek always keeps his distance from the Lawkeeper if he can help it. At least Stilinski has the decency to avert his eyes once he takes a seat. Finstock just crosses his arms and continues to glare at Derek like he's a personal offense to Chasemasters everywhere.
It's ridiculous, of course. It's not like Finstock could make them fight biology and, as Deaton put it, “the bone-deep magic of a soulbond.” It's not Deaton's fault that he says shit like that, and Derek can't even blame the Magi college for Deaton's hopeless romanticism. He's known Deaton since they were pups, and he's always been a weirdo. When they were five, Deaton had picked up a leaf and brought it to Derek's mother, explaining that if you looked at it closely, you could see the souls of all the wolves who had died so the tree could grow.
Having a Magi as a best friend has its benefits, of course, but Derek puts up with a lot of waxing poetic about starstuff and souls in exchange. He smiles as he sees Deaton bring up the rear of the procession, Morrella at his side looking as beautiful as ever. She's wearing the full-headed pelt of her clan, and it still makes Derek shiver to see it. That lustrous black, tinged in the meager sunlight to a violet glint that seemed impossible in something organic, had been so different from any wolf he'd ever seen in Beacon Hills. But Morrella came from the East, and everyone in her clan had the Gift. She'd probably had magic knit into the fabric of her bones before her parents had even met.
When Deaton had returned from the Magi college with his new mate, Derek had worried that he'd lost his best friend to this strange woman. But Morrella had settled into life in Beacon Hills with surprising ease, comfortable among the more modern Westerners despite her strange accent and anachronistic habits. It didn't hurt that she's the kind of beautiful people write epic poetry about. While Derek had favored men ever since the fire, he could still appreciate a pretty face.
A ray of sunlight breaks through the clouds overhead, flashing off the female Magi's necklace of gilded teeth. So Morrella will be doing the incantation today. This comforts Derek slightly, knowing that Deaton will be the one to blindfold him this year. It's slightly less terrifying if it's his friend doing it.
Derek looks at the other alphas standing around him, watching their faces as they follow the Magi. They all look so excited, so eager to hear the incantation and have the strip of black cloth tied over their eyes. Finstock has started his speech, his nasal voice ringing out over the hilltop. Derek barely listens, just swallows the lump forming in his throat and takes advantage of everyone's distraction to rub his hands against his goose-pebbled arms.
“Without prejudice, without partiality, without preconceived attachment. This is how you come to us today...” Derek glares at Finstock in his heavy coat and stamps his feet against the ground. Derek didn't need to hear this shit a fourth time, he could probably sub in for the Chasemaster at this point. Blah blah blah, we rob you of sight so you can follow your destiny, blah blah blah, as your ancestors before you have tread this very field, yadda yadda, my head looks like the bastard child of an old loaf of bread and a turnip. Derek had added that last part, but at least it makes him smile a little as Finstock yammers on.
Derek observes the other clan leaders gathered around the podia. Old Argent looks like he sucked on a lemon, the McCall crone isn't even trying to pretend she's staying awake, and Deaton and Morrella are radiating their usual light of inner peace and too much weird-smelling tea. Derek genuinely doesn't know if Deaton's stoned half the time or if he really is that tranquil with his place in the universe.
The Lawmaker catches Derek looking at him and tightens his jaw, pointedly looking over at Finstock like he hasn't heard the damn speech a million times before. He seems tense, fidgeting in his seat and drumming his fingers against his knees. Derek thinks back to the previous Chases and wonders if Stilinski has ever seemed so concerned. Not that he expects tea and cookies from the guy, but the look he just caught is a little beyond the usual “Hale equals trouble” double-check Derek is used to.
It isn't his fault, of course. Sure, everyone remembers Peter getting busted for cooking Vane in the old barn, remembers the abjuration spectacle and the Feds and the cameras. But no one talks about how Derek lost his parents, how the only reason he'd pulled Peter out of the barn after the explosion was that he was in the way as Derek raced to get to his mother and father. No one seems to remember little Katie Argent, with her dimples and her sweet brand of trouble, how she'd used Derek like a cheap rung on a ladder to get to Peter. Derek had known there was money missing, product unaccounted for. He hadn't named names, because even if he was an orphan he wasn't a snitch.
But it still hurt, the looks, the whispers. Derek had been betrayed, lost his own family, and all he got for it was the Lawmaker's vigilant distrust and disapproving, sidelong glances from his place at the podia. Derek turns his back and blocks it out, facing the wide open field instead.
“And remember, no shifting until you've found your match!” Finstock's gone off-script again, fist punctuating the air. “I'm looking at you, Mahealealeal – prettyboy!” Derek rolls his eyes and takes a deep breath, letting the cold air sting his lungs. Derek's as ready as he'll ever be and Finstock really needs to stop talking.
“Now line up!” Finstock ends with a rap of his hand against the podia, not that it's necessary. All the alphas are facing forward, spaced evenly at the edge of the pen. Allison, Lydia, Derek, Danny – lined up in a row and ready to go, such a nice picture for the newspaper. At least Derek seems like the only one who's faking his enthusiasm.
They never know who the omegas are, not explicitly. But it isn't hard to do the math. Everyone knows who's eligible and who's not, who's newly come of age and who's still unmated. Derek goes over the list again. Scott had run with him last year, and it had been a relief to know that he wouldn't be spending the rest of his life tethered to that giant ball of lost puppy. Scott was alright as a friend, but finding out that they were incompatible for sure had softened the blow of Derek's third fruitless Chase.
The Whittemore kid had been gauche enough to throw himself a party when he turned 18. Derek hadn't gone, but Scott had told him about the chocolate fountain and the hookers from up North. Jackson is a fucking asshat, and Derek would rather stand there half-naked and blindfolded for everyone to see than chase him. Shit, he'd do it full Monty. His clan managed to sneer even when they were shifted, an impressive feat around a snout, and Derek had sworn he would never work on a Whittemore car again after Jackson's father had served him with a liability suit for a bunch of shit with his Porsche that had nothing to do with Derek's tune-up. The Whittemores are a bunch of snakes, and of all the Mother's creatures Derek likes the ones that crawl on their bellies the least.
There's another one that Derek knows of, and he tries not to let himself hope too much. Erica Reyes was always quiet and shy, lost behind a tangle of hair and vague rumors about her mental stability. Derek hadn't really noticed her in the lower classes, not until Morrella had arrived, taken one look at her, and marched into the elder's council demanding a week alone with the girl. Erica had one of the old illnesses, something even the previous Magi hadn't recognized, but Morrella had dealt with a boy in her hometown who had the same affliction. Erica had emerged like the proverbial butterfly from the chrysalis, coming back from her mysterious retreat with Morrella blooming with the beauty of a dozen lost summers, a thousand days spent indoors suddenly sprung free and restored to her rightful self. She'd turned heads and reveled in it, not so much sleeping with the boys at school as devouring them one by one. Derek wonders if any man will ever really be able to hold her.
She could be a match for him, or at least that's what Derek tells himself as he listens to Morrella's soft chanting. The idea feels right in principle, but wrong in his gut. She has a feral sort of beauty that Derek can appreciate, but he doesn't want to just appreciate someone. He wants to know what it's like to want someone, to get that red gleam in his eye that Laura gets when she looks at Isaac after he's stepped out of the lake or bent over to pick something up.
He's so lost in his thoughts that he startles when Deaton comes up behind him. He has that same placid, narrow-eyed smile that he'd had the first time. Derek's pessimism doesn't seem to be affecting him, and he recites the words in a slow, mellow baritone as he ties the black strip of linen around Derek's eyes.
“May the mother guide your steps, and lead you to your heart's content.” Deaton puts his hand on Derek's shoulder and squeezes, the comforting gesture doing nothing to keep Derek from rolling his eyes behind the cloth. He hunches his shoulder and shoves his hands deeper into his pockets as Deaton goes to Danny. This is always the worst part.
It's bad enough that the spells in the wall dampen his sense of smell. “See a tail, it's a Hale” isn't just an old saying, it's mostly true. Derek and Laura spent more time shifted than most of the Beacon Hills settlement, just like the rest of their clan. Derek is used to relying on his nose to lead him, and having that sense muffled makes him feel distressingly powerless. He can barely smell the alphas standing right next to him, calling up Lydia's sun-baked raspberry vine scent more by memory than anything.
Derek has to struggle not to panic when his sight is taken away. It's only for a brief time, of course, but it leaves him feeling so powerless and disoriented that he wants to puke. He stands stock-still, clenching and relaxing his hands as he tries to focus on the cold air on his skin, the sound of Morrella's voice, the crisp grass between his toes. It will be over soon, it won't last forever, don't panic.
Morrella's voice rises as she recites the last line of the incantation, Deaton's voice softly mingling with hers. Derek steels himself for it, knowing that the last words will break the spell and bring his sense of smell flooding back to him. It had made him dizzy the first time, and he'd learned to brace himself after that.
“May the Mother hold your heart and guide your steps.”
It hits him like a wall, too many scents all at once until he can't tell what he's smelling, hearing, tasting, feeling. All of it just washes over him, the strong, crisp green of Allison as she paces on the far end of the enclosure, Lydia sweet-ripe and sure of herself, Danny vanilla-husk warm and cinnamon sweet. The million other spectators, Laura and Isaac's woodsmoke and amber mingled together, Morrella and Deaton's resinous calm. He takes it all in with a single breath, frigid cold expanding his lungs. He blows it out between his lips, frigid white curling in the air and hanging there.
“Go and give Chase!”
Derek grits his teeth together, nostrils flaring as he struggles to hold his breath out. This is a precious moment, his one last chance to pretend that this might work out, that he might take his next breath and smell it, this person who was forged by the Mother to be a perfect mirror of his own soul. He keeps his lungs empty for as long as he can, squeezing his eyes shut behind his mask until his body starts to scream at him.
Derek breathes in, and the world turns upside down.
The freezing air turns to fire in his lungs, racing under his skin to burn him from the inside. He feels a cold sweat prickle on his skin, turning to ice but doing nothing to soothe the heat flaring inside him. He can smell everything around him perfectly, every living creature, every blade of grass, every drop of moisture in the air; all of it designed to form a backdrop for the rich, honey-warm vein snaking through the air and curling in his gut. Mate.
It's not even a word, nothing so sophisticated and complex as letters strung together to articulate an idea. It's a taste, pooling on his tongue until he can feel himself salivate with it. All other scents seem like ephemeral wisps of air next to the tangible arc leading to his future.
Derek doesn't even know he's started to run until he smacks into the thick log-posts of the alpha pen. It knocks the air out of him but does nothing to stop him from scrabbling at it, drawing his claws out and hunching his shoulders, ready to shift so he can better climb over the boundary and chase that scent. He's hissing as his teeth descend when he goes dizzy, grasping the post more for support than release. A wave of that scent washes over him, making his skin flush so hot that Derek can feel the steam rising off him. If he could just get to that, drown himself in it until it filled every empty, cold space inside him, soothed him like a balm, Derek will never want anything else in his life.
His eyes open to the darkness of his blindfold, mouth hanging slack as he draws in a desperate, heaving breath. The scent of his mate rushes past, closer and closer until Derek can taste every bead of sweat, every strand of hair and inch of skin until his hands clench, desperate to touch. He strains against the post, nostrils flaring as he breathes in that clean, soap-scrubbed skin scent, his mind flooding with images of creamy flesh and pinked cheeks. It's this image that draws him back, claws retracting and teeth blunting back to human as he remembers. No shifting. Not yet.
The scent is retreating now, getting further and further away as Derek feels his chest tighten in panic. Saying he wants it implies a level of free will and intellectual desire that Derek doesn't possess any more. He needs this, as much as his lungs need air and his skin needs the sunlight and his mouth needs water. The post strains against his weight, groaning as he pushes. He feels a dull thud reverberate through the wood, his mind clearing just enough to realize that he's not the only one pushing on it.
The sound is unfamiliar at first, a rich contralto echoing through the air for three seconds before Derek realizes that Allison is growling. Danny follows her, his call richer, deeper, and soon Derek and Lydia throw their heads back and add to the chorus. Their collective roar fills the valley, and Derek has never felt so eager for a challenge.
“Release them.” Morrella's voice echoes through the valley, hanging for a heavy moment as Deaton pulls the gatepost back. Derek feels the wood slide free in front of his chest and lets out another hungry growl, raising his head to scent the air and charge forth.
Derek's always liked running, although it's something he rarely does in human form. Two legs are cumbersome and slow, clumsy over the rocks and trees behind his home. He usually feels like his arms are slacking off while his legs do all the work, and having his head so far from the ground makes it difficult to follow a trail.
But this is like no run Derek has ever experienced. His body feels magnificent, legs pumping under him as he dashes up the small hill leading to the valley below. He can feel the ground flying by underneath him, absorbing each shockwave as his foot lands just to push off again. His arms swing by his sides, cutting through the air as he sails over the ground. He feels perfect, alive, and charged with purpose.
As Derek crests the hill he draws in a deep breath, catching the mate-scent stronger now. Tradition dictates that the alphas be held back until the omegas cross the hill, ensuring a good run and a fair catch. Derek no longer notices the fabric over his eyes. The scent of his mate trails in front of him like a lit path, clear as day and his to follow.
Picking up speed as he descends the hill, Derek leans his body forward and lets his feet guide him. They know where to go without thought, following the tethered line between Derek and this stranger that he knows he'll go mad without. Derek can swear he hears his mate's heartbeat, a steady metronome over the pounding of his feet.
A soft thud to his left catches his attention for a fraction of a second, two bodies colliding with a shared grunt of surprise. He can hear hands scrabbling, mouths opening to try to taste and speak at the same time. “Lydia?” “Erica?” Derek chuckles and keeps running, smiling as he hears Erica sigh out, “The fuck?” before all he can hear is the wet click of two mouths coming together and Lydia's deep purr. Hadn't seen that one coming.
Derek figures it's only reasonable that Erica would let herself be caught easily. If Derek were the omega he'd be lying belly-up and waiting at the first whiff of that scent. No sense in prolonging the Chase when the catch would be so sweet. As Derek feels the ground level out under him, he wonders if Lydia's already got her ovi knotted up inside Erica and feels his own knot stir in sympathy.
He runs faster.
The fire in his lungs has settled into a steady burn, matched by the ache in his thighs and calves. His hair is damp with sweat, curling against his brow and running down into the blindfold. Each breath brings him closer to his mate, and each time he breathes he can smell it changing, better and better each time. Compatibility triggers heat, and heat apparently smells like a slice of warm heaven on earth.
Derek almost stumbles as he passes by another couple, easy to identify this time. Scott's usual cannabis and sugar-cookie scent is layered over by the verdant rut of the Argent girl, their breathing synchronized into the deep grunts of a knotted pair. Derek spares a quick smile and keeps going.
Derek's tongue feels thick in his mouth, his legs growing heavier with each step. He isn't tired, but his body is starting to react to the heat-scent wafting in front of him like a red flag. His muscles need blood but his dick is getting greedy, fattening up with each yard he closes between him and his mate. It doesn't slow his pace, just makes him work harder as he runs.
With his body kicking into rut and his dick starting to jog along with each stride, Derek can smell the next pair off to his left long before he passes them. He only picks up his pace as he recognizes Danny and the Whittemore boy, tangled up in some kind of arrogant power struggle. Jackson's growl sounds petulant and needy, and Derek feels a fresh surge of adrenaline as he thinks that whatever he's running towards, it's not fucking Jackson.
There are always others, omegas from the outer townships, quiet kids that Derek never noticed. He speeds his steps and bares his teeth, breathing deeply and letting the scent wash over his tongue. Something feels different, something Derek can't quite place his finger on. His feet land twice before his brain starts to scream stopstopstop. His legs try to catch up with it but it's too late.
Derek runs smack into a tree.
It's hard enough to knock him flat on his ass, stars bursting before his eyes as he pulls his blindfold off. How could he have reached the tree line? It's just an unspoken rule that the Chase covers the valley. Derek rubs his eyes and darts them around, adjusting to the light and squinting. He can just make out the shape of Danny and Jackson, two writhing little dots on the grass behind him. Derek can't believe he's covered this much ground.
He staggers back to his feet, tossing the blindfold to the side. He cocks his head and sniffs the air, narrowing his eyes as he catches the mate-scent again. His eyes widen as realization dawns on him.
Whoever he's chasing, the little bitch just shifted.
Derek looks behind him, mouth opening and closing in indecision. Derek's never been huge on following the rules, and he feels his skin prickle at the thought that his mate would so easily flaunt tradition. He takes a few tentative steps into the trees, looking behind him one last time before he sets his jaw and heads into the woods.
The scent is different now, muskier and saltier, animal underlying the tempting sweetness. Derek jogs along as fast as he can, stumbling as he passes a pair of crumpled running shorts. He bends down and picks them up, holding the green fabric in his hands and pressing it to his face.
If Derek wasn't hard before he sure as fuck is now.
He staggers forward, blinking to focus his eyes against the heady scent of slick and sweat. He's a male, his mate, Derek can tell now. The thought only makes his dick ache worse as he turns a bend in the rough path, doing a double take as something white catches his eye.
It's a t-shirt, a plain white crew neck snagged over a branch on an elm tree. Derek picks it up and stretches it out, holding it up in front of him as his lips draw back in a smile. Big block letters are printed on the back with a black Sharpie.
Who the fuck is this? Derek takes a deep whiff of the shirt before tossing it aside, his smile broad and predatory. Whoever Derek is chasing, he's met his match.
Derek isn't sure when he took his own shirt off, but he's grateful for its absence as he shucks his running pants, kicking them aside and crouching down. He growls one last time, loud enough for anyone close to hear, and closes his eyes.
Shifting has always been effortless for Derek, as satisfying as cracking his neck or popping his knuckles. His body feels better like this, stronger, warmer, senses heightened until everything around him sings. He lays his nose to the trail, catching the mate-scent easily and savoring it on his palate. Goddess it's better like this, honey-caramel-musk-perfect and Derek's drooling before he realizes it.
This is running. The ground disappears beneath him with every sure-footed lope of his legs, each stride sending scent-tinged air whirring past him. Derek can sense so much more now, nostrils flared wide to catalogue the million different sensations carried in the wind. He's male, undeniably so now that Derek is using his real sense of smell. Male, fast, nimble, quick – Derek can taste the rush of movement, delicious adrenaline fueling his mate as he maneuvers over rocks and roots, dashing through the woods with ease.
Derek's fur bristles with the thrill of the chase, standing up straight over the arch of his shoulders. His paws barely touch the ground as he flies, lunging over a fallen tree and scrambling to make a sharp turn. He barrels forward and opens his mouth in a howl as he dashes out into a clearing.
Derek can see him.
He catches sight of a tawny-blonde mantle, hints of gold glinting in the breaking sunlight. He can smell the colors, rich sandy brown and warm spots of chestnut. He'll have freckles on his human skin.
Derek runs faster.
His muscles are screaming in the best way, the song of a machine finally used to its full purpose. He was made for this. His pupils dilate as he sprints up a small slope at the far end of the meadow, the other wolf so close Derek can trace the pull and give of every sinew of muscle while he runs. He never looks back, not once, and Derek feels himself stir as he thinks that this isn't ending without a fight.
It's gonna be a good fight.
The ground closes between them, frost-tinged meadow grass breaking under paw, their breath rising like smoke into the air. Derek takes a few galloping strides before coiling back on his hind legs and springing.
He lands on the blonde wolf's back, the charcoal tinge of his own fur standing out in stark relief. Paws, grass, teeth, fur, everything flies everywhere as they tussle with each other, snapping and batting until Derek finally closes his teeth over his mate's neck. As his teeth graze flesh, Derek starts with surprise as a flood of images appears before him.
“What do your pjs look like?” The boy sitting next to him hugs his toy closer, nuzzling his nose in between the ears of his stuffed rabbit. Derek tilts his head curiously, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
The boy rolls his eyes, bringing his face up from behind the rabbit's head and smiling. “You know, pajamas. Like what you sleep in. Mine're Megawolf and they have Megawolf fighting Spidersaurus all over them and I got them for Solstice. What're yours?”
Derek knows who Megawolf is, it's one of his favorite cartoons and he always has to fight Laura when she changes the channel to watch My Little Pony. Ponies are stupid.
“I sleep in my fur.” Derek is still suspicious about this whole pjs thing. Is the boy trying to make fun of him? Derek knows what making fun is, he's seen how the other kids do it to Deaton and he doesn't like it.
“You do?” The boy's eyes widen, his rabbit falling into his lap as he leans forward. “My mom says we aren't allowed to do that.” He whispers the last part like the teacher might hear them. “She says we should only shift if we need to.”
“My mom says it's good for us. My sister has bad dreams and she changes back to a girl sometimes but my Mom just tells her to shift and then she doesn't have bad dreams.” Derek fiddles with the truck in his hand, spinning the wheels. Maybe he shouldn't have said that about Laura.
“Wow.” The boy twists one of his rabbit's ears around his finger. “Your mom sounds cool.”
Derek shrugs and rolls his truck along the floor. “She's ok. She sings pretty.”
“My dad is going to be the next Lawmaker.” The boy leans closer, looking from side to side. “He doesn't like to talk about it but my mom told me.”
“That's cool.” Derek makes beeping noises as he backs his truck up. He knows being Lawmaker is important and he's not sure if what his Dad does is important.
“I'm Stiles. Well, that's what everyone calls me, but my real name is - COOKIES!” The boy's eyes light up as their teacher comes out carrying the snack tray. He jumps up and runs off, rabbit tucked under his arm. Derek giggles and puts his truck aside for snack time.
It's Derek's first day back at school since the fire. He hadn't wanted to come but Laura had insisted, dragging him out of bed and not taking his excuses.
It's worse than he expected. Everyone stares at him and whispers, heads tilted together to track him as he walks by. He can hear snippets of their conversations, rumors flying about his Uncle and the drugs and whether his parents were involved. His skin crawls as he enters the cafeteria, Laura by his side as they pass through the double doors.
A few people are polite enough to keep from staring, but most of them don't bother. Laura holds her head high and strides in, pulling Derek in her wake like her confidence can shelter him. She's always been better at this kind of stuff.
They settle at a table near the windows after they get their trays of food. Derek bites into his apple and glares, crunching the flesh between his teeth while Laura nibbles at her sandwich. The hush in the air is palpable, hanging like a weight between the Hales and the suspicious student body. Derek's hands itch with the urge to shift, run, bite something and shake it until it dies. He can't bear this.
“Hey, Matt.” Stiles leans back in his chair, balancing on the back legs and tossing a persimmon up in the air. “What do you call a guy who's so ugly you can't tell if he's shifted?” Stiles looks up and juggles his fruit, lips pursed in false concentration.
“What, Stilinski?” Matt's always been a bully, and his lips have the thin, bitter set of someone who thrives on the suffering of others.
“Your dad.” Stiles is out of his chair and running from the cafeteria before his persimmon hits the table, Matt chasing after him. The whole room bursts into laughter. Some of the other students run after them while others gather by the windows to watch as much of the fight as they can get before the Headmaster breaks it up.
Derek smiles for the first time in days and finishes his apple.
Derek blinks his eyes and shakes his head, dizzy with emotion and the sudden shift. There is a very human and spectacularly naked Stiles pinned under him, grinning wide and adorably smug. Derek's eyesight is worse when he's human, but he's close enough to see every little spot on Stiles' face, the thin white scar running just below one eyebrow, the way his nose scrunches up as he breathes through his mouth.
“Stiles?” Even the word feels strange on Derek's tongue, unused for so long. It had been a scandal when Stiles' mother had left the settlement, taking her cub with her to her clan in the South. The Lawmaker had gotten his perpetually sad expression after that. Even if Derek didn't particularly like him, he'd still felt bad for him.
Derek and Stiles hadn't been friends precisely. It had been a relationship of mutual respect, a careful distance maintained because they both sensed something different about their places in the world. But Derek had always like the guy, and still found himself wondering what had happened to him from time to time.
“What happened to you?” Derek runs his lips over the side of Stiles' neck, tracing over the spot where his teeth had grazed. He breathes in deeply, searching out answers for everything contained in that small question. Where did you go and why are you back and how could I never have noticed how perfect you are?
“Talk later.” Stiles growls it, his arms straining where Derek's hands have them pinned to the ground. Derek grins and opens his mouth, letting his teeth catch against the tender skin under Stiles' jaw. Stiles isn't just gorgeous and strong and swift, he's fucking brilliant. There are so many things Derek should be doing with his mouth that aren't talking.
“You smell so fucking good.” Well, maybe a little bit of talking is alright. Derek drags his lips along the curve of Stiles' jaw, breathing hot into his ear and burying his nose in the short bristles of Stiles' hair. He inhales deeply, feeling his cock strain where it's pressed to Stiles' stomach.
Stiles is still struggling under him, bucking his hips up and thrashing his head as Derek nuzzles back down his neck. It feels so fucking good, bearing his weight down on something strong and straining, held taut by Derek's strength but only because he wants it. Stiles could free himself if he really wanted to, and judging by the way he moans when Derek shifts his hips and catches the slick head of his cock against Stiles', he doesn't want to get up any more than Derek wants to let go.
Derek grinds his hips forwards, circling them to feel the crown of his cock slip against Stiles' own hard-on. His nostrils flare as he smells the salty mix of their precome slicking up their bellies, mingling with the wet, warm scent that rolls up from Stiles every time he groans and grits his teeth.
Wet. Derek knows what it is, that cloying-hot scent that makes his dick throb fever-taut and leaking wet at the tip. He knows about the slick that omegas make for mating, the glands that only a mate can stimulate to produce. Derek feels a growl of satisfaction rumble through his chest as he smells another pulse of it. Stiles is wet for him, open and wanting just for Derek. Nothing under the Mother's sun has ever felt so right.
“You're perfect,” Derek whispers, leaning in so close he can feel the warm sigh Stiles lets out tickle across his lips.
“You barely know me.” Stiles looks at him through his eyelashes, lips parted as he writhes underneath Derek and smirks.
“Don't need to.” Derek cocks an eyebrow and gives Stiles a smirk of his own. “I can taste it.”
Stiles' lips are opening to form a response when Derek leans in, pressing his lips to Stiles' and watching the long sweep of his eyelashes as Stiles closes his eyes. Derek closes his own and sweeps his tongue into Stiles' mouth, catching his tastebuds on the smooth edges of Stiles' teeth as their tongues swirl together.
Stiles' mouth is warm and sweet, and even his fucking spit tastes good, citrus-zest and rosemary flooding Derek's senses as he bears down to kiss Stiles deeper, harder. It's a claim as much as a kiss, a statement of intent and promise written in flesh and blood. Derek doesn't have much but he takes good care of what little is his.
Stiles' lips are shiny-wet and strawberry-pink when Derek pulls off, his eyes drawn to the glistening shine of them. It's beautiful and obscene at the same time, wet ripeness echoing the slick promise waiting between Stiles' legs. Stiles' chest heaves up and down, each breath coming out jagged. They're both losing control, wet slick and precome and sweat beading up warm and heady anywhere they touch. Stiles' arms are still pinned beneath Derek, the alpha's hands circling around Stiles' muscled forearms.
Derek leans in for another kiss, just as rough and wet as the first, before he releases Stiles' arms. They fly down to Stiles' side, his eyes glinting with some addictively green mix of mischief and lust. Goddess, the fight in him is so irresistible, each strain of his hips making Derek's cock throb hot and heavy against the groove of Stiles' hip. He can feel the tight strain at the base, the tell-tale swell of his knot. It takes a Herculean effort to keep himself from spreading Stiles' legs open right then, but Derek has always believed in the virtue of patience.
Hooking his arm under Stiles' armpit, Derek hikes his hips up to make room as he tries to flip Stiles onto his belly. He can't keep his mouth off him, lips latching onto the side of his neck as Stiles struggles under him, throwing an elbow back and bringing his knee up to jam into Derek's side.
“Oh fuck that,” Stiles huffs out, jerking his elbow up as Derek rears his head back just in time. “I'm on top.” Derek's stomach clenches, holy Mother that's fucking hot, and yes, yes, yes he will be, but not yet. He tightens his grip on Stiles' shoulder, putting more force behind it as he growls. Stiles' eyes go wide, and he looks just the perfect shade of crazy as he smacks his head forward, butting his forehead into Derek's lip hard enough to leave a hot trickle of blood behind.
The stars are still dancing in front of Derek's eyes as Stiles laughs, a little wild and fucking delicious. Derek licks the blood from his lip and bares his teeth, closing his hand around Stiles' throat and flaring his nostrils as he smells how wet it makes Stiles.
“I'm not going to knot you yet.” Stiles stills under him, his eyes darting all over Derek's face. He's still stiff as Derek slowly turns him but he doesn't resist. “I want to taste you first.”
Stiles' back is wet with dew, blades of grass sticking to his pale skin. Steam rises up as hot flesh meets cool air, dissipating as Derek molds his chest to Stiles' back and sucks a wet bruise onto the back of his neck. Stiles' skin tastes feral, damp from the earth and his own salt-sweet sweat. Derek drags his mouth down the curve of Stiles' spine, tracing his lips over the damp catch-drag of freckled skin and darting his tongue out to catch the beads of sweat he finds along the way.
The muscles of Stiles' back rise off his spine like a valleyed range, the dip between them the perfect size for Derek's kisses and greedy sweeps of tongue. He follows it down to the full swell of Stiles' ass, firm muscles mounding up under his hands as he sweeps them down Stiles' side and rests them there, kneading and pulling as he mouths at the little dimpled V just above. Stiles groans and cants his hips back, murmuring out something that sounds like “fucking fucker fucking fuck” as Derek pulls him open.
Derek knows the basic principle of what he's seeing, that Stiles' body is changing just like Derek's is. Derek has never seen an omega in heat before, at least not up close, but he knows the basics of what happens – the swelling, the slick, the change in scent. But all the knowledge in the world is meaningless next to the sight before him.
Stiles' hole is pink and swollen, the rim puffed and shining with slick. Glistening streaks of it coat his thighs, making Derek's head swim with the smell of it. His mouth waters and he can feel a sheen of sweat break out across his face. He parts his lips and runs it up the soft skin of Stiles' inner thigh, catching slick on his lips and letting his eyes roll back in his head at the taste.
Stiles bucks in frustration, spreading his legs wider as Derek traces his tongue over another tacky trail down his other thigh. Stiles doesn't seem to mind being face-down with the promise of Derek's mouth on him, but he has the same obstinate set to his hips as he rolls his shoulders forward and offers himself up, not begging but demanding Derek's attention. It dawns on Derek that he will be spending the rest of his life being incapable of saying no to Stiles, and he's totally OK with it.
Derek presses his hands down against Stiles' ass, his fingers leaving dents as he pulls and stares. A thin trail of slick runs out from Stiles' hole and snakes down his balls like an invitation. Derek catches it on his tongue and traces it back up, tonguing over the ridged seam of Stiles' sac and the smooth line of his taint.
The skin of Stiles' hole is smoothed out from the usual puckered folds, swollen pink and soft as Derek traces a tentative lick over it. He's not sure who groans louder as he flattens his tongue and drags it along the plush furl of muscle, up one side and then the other. Fuck, it's so wet, his own spit mingling with Stiles' slick to run down his chin because Derek can't be bothered to close his mouth and swallow. He just wants to bury himself in the warmth and wetness of it, pointing his tongue to breach inside and lick Stiles open until they're both shaking.
Derek cranes his neck and presses this thumbs down on either side of Stiles' hole, trying to get as deep inside him as he can. Stiles arches his back and rocks his hips to rut himself against Derek's face, grunting out the filthiest noises Derek has ever heard. Humming with need, Derek curls his tongue and licks faster, deeper, like he can get to the source of it and solve all the problems in his life if he just keeps going towards that liquid-perfect heart.
“Derek, Derek, fuck,” Stiles chokes out, throwing his head back and clawing one hand against the ground. “I can't, fuck, can't wait.” Each word comes out like a gasped breath, torn ragged and shaky with need. Derek can feel the same desperate throb at the base of his cock, so fucking ready for it, sharper with every second he holds back and licks greedily into Stiles' open, shaking body.
Stiles moves first, wrenching himself around until they're face to face in a tangle of wet mouths and grass-damp limbs. His mouth latches onto Derek's, licking the taste of himself off Derek's lips as he swings his leg over to straddle Derek and push him to the ground.
The earth feels cool and moist against the flushed heat of Derek's back, seeping into him in a soothing contrast to the fever-hot skin Stiles presses over him. Derek marvels again at how strong Stiles is, wiry muscle cording out as he holds Derek down and kisses him. His thighs squeeze tight around Derek's ribs, forcing his breath out and making his hips jolt up into the empty air.
Stiles chuckles, his laugh echoing against Derek's chest as his lips curve up in a smile. “Fucking tease,” Derek grumbles, straining his arms against Stiles' hold and heaving his chest up. Stiles shakes his head, clucking his tongue as he digs his fingernails into Derek's forearms. He circles his hips back and forth, dragging himself down Derek's body so torturously slow Derek has to grit his teeth in frustration. He can feel Stiles leaving a hot trail of slick across his stomach, and fuck, that should be gross or something but it's just gorgeous, warm and wet against his skin as Stiles snakes down his body.
The tension in Derek's dick mounts with each teasing grind of Stiles against him, throbbing in time with his heartbeat and leaving Derek breathless and half-way out of his mind by the time Stiles' ass bumps against the pearly-wet head of Derek's cock. Derek's hips jerk up again, hard enough to click Stiles' teeth together as he grins down at Derek, that half-mad, wild-eyed smile that Derek wants to study for the rest of his life, fuck, that he'll get to coax out of him until they're both too old to wrestle in the dirt and fight it out of each other.
It's not love, not yet, but Derek can feel the spark warming up inside him, the implicit feeling that all of this is going to work somehow. The doubt and worry that likes to dig its claws into Derek's stomach dissipates under the force of Stiles on top of him, fever-bright shine in his eyes and the flushed glow of his skin lighting Derek up on the inside until all the dark things retreat and only the moment remains.
“You're mine.” Stiles leaves ten perfect bruises on Derek's arms as he leans back, arching his spine and reaching behind him to wrap a sure hand around Derek's cock. He pitches his hips back, rocking up to angle himself just right, his legs shaking as he holds himself there. Derek can feel every hateful molecule of space between the head of his cock and the warm, sweet welcome of Stiles' entrance pulling at him like a magnet.
“Yes, yours, yes, yes,” Derek mumbles, breaking off into a long moan as Stiles beams, throwing his face up towards the sun as he sinks down in a fell swoop that leaves Derek's heart stuck somewhere in his teeth and his eyes firmly in the back of his head.
Derek is no virgin, and judging by the way Stiles grinds his hips down and starts lazily stroking his dick, neither is he. It would be good under any circumstance, the way Stiles leans back to balance himself, digging his nails into the meat of Derek's thigh while he rocks himself up and down. The smooth arch of Stiles' chest as he bows his back, the way his stomach stretches flat and his hip bones jut out just enough to make Derek's mouth water, the soft, thoughtless little grunts Stiles makes every time he twists his wrist over the head of his dick – it would all be hot as fuck and fucking perfect if Stiles were just some random guy from the shop, but it's not even close, not even on the same plane of experience.
Derek has a jarring moment as he thinks of Laura, because of course she was right. It's like he's never even used his body before, like every other roll in the hay and pleasant scent and warm touch he's ever experienced are just sad projections on the proverbial cave wall, shadows that can only hint at the bone-deep, blood-song satisfaction of being joined together. Derek doesn't feel like he's inside Stiles so much as he is Stiles, two inextricable parts of each other that they never knew to miss but always felt the hint of. Stiles is brave and he's kind and he's a fucking smartass and there is nothing they can't do together.
Derek's hands trace over the lean cut of Stiles' waist as he leans up, fingertips dragging over the smooth pattern of rib bones and muscle. Stiles bends down to meet him, arms and legs circling around Derek as he latches his mouth onto Derek's neck, teeth grazing roughly over the bob of his alpha's apple. They're so close, so deep that Derek can feel every clenching pull of Stiles' muscles around him. Each grinding push bears down on the hardening swell of Derek's knot, and fuck he's close, so fucking close as he feels it start to catch against Stiles' rim once, twice until it's too big, too late to turn back, tied off and ruined for anything else because this? Buried deep inside of Stiles, mouths pressed together swollen and copper-rich as Stiles screams, wails, shudders around him until Derek doesn't know who's coming and where they're supposed to be going anyway? There is nothing better than this.
It takes all of Derek's remaining effort to shift them around, pushing Stiles to turn as they both cringe at the burning pull between them. It's worth it, though, as Derek lays on his side, Stiles' back molded to his chest as Derek memorizes every strand of hair on the back of Stiles' head. They float in and out of consciousness, no need to talk until they're ready and no sense of time except the steady sunlight creeping over the meadow. Half-awake, giddy and sleepy and mumbling out a garbled stream of curse words with every fresh pulse of Derek's cock inside him, Stiles half turns to kiss him before sighing and resting his head against the curve of Derek's bicep.
“So.” Stiles wriggles back against him as Derek wraps an arm around his waist. “Think my dad'll be thrilled when we get back to town?” Stiles snorts and lays his hand over Derek's, his palm warm against Derek's knuckles. “I think he was worried you'd catch me. I mean, he was happy when I came back, but when I told him I wanted to run...” Stiles shrugs his shoulder.
Derek laughs and kisses the soft dent above Stiles' spine. “I think we can worry about that later.” He sighs as he feels the pressure on his knot ease, slipping loose with a wet stream of come that Derek catches in his fingers. Stiles moans and doesn't fight this time as Derek rolls him onto his stomach, just hitches his hips up and turns to look at Derek over his shoulder.
Derek smiles, licking his lips and twisting his fingers to trace over the swollen, leaking mess of Stiles' hole. It's filthy and beautiful, just like Stiles' dark-eyed, sweat-flushed face as he looks back at Derek.
“Holy Mother, Stiles, I just can't believe … I mean, fuck, I just-”
Stiles rolls his eyes and cuts Derek off. “Save the 'I Love You' shit until you've heard me snore, kay?” He smirks with that perfect, smart-ass mouth and laughs.
“I was just gonna say that I don't think I can wait until later to fuck you again.” Derek cocks an eyebrow up and grins, not missing the way Stiles' hole fucking winks at him.
“Gotta catch me first.” As fast as Derek can blink, a tawny ball of fur dashes out from under him and goes barreling across the meadow.
Derek laughs and throws his head back, shifting and chasing after Stiles as he heads into the woods. This is one chase Derek knows he can win.