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the fortress round my heart

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When everything is over, Jennifer gone, Deucalion defanged and useless, Derek goes back to the Nemeton.

It’s dark out, middle of the night, and he stands there, staring at the stark, angry stump.

“Big mess caused by that pile of splinters,” Stiles says, coming up behind him and nudging the stump with the toe of his sneakers.

Derek should feel more alarmed that Stiles is a familiar enough part of his life that Derek didn’t even see him coming.

“When trees attack,” Derek murmurs, and lets his mouth turn up at the edges when Stiles laughs. “What are you doing out of bed?” he says to Stiles, making it a bit of a taunt.

Stiles scoffs, batting Derek off with ease. “Like I could sleep after a night like tonight,” he says. “I may never sleep again.”

Derek couldn’t agree harder. Even the thought of sleep, of that bed, sets him on the edge of nausea. Still. “It’s over now,” he says. “You and Scott, it’s all prom dates and first line from here on.”

Stiles laughs again but this time it’s harder, bitter. “Yeah, no one’s gonna threaten my life for being a virgin, but now I gotta find someone willing to do a virgin with a fucked up darkness around his heart.” He speaks to the Nemeton then, says, “Thanks for that by the way.”

“Put it on your OKCupid profile,” he says, like an asshole. “16-year-old weakling, nice eyes, cold dead heart.”

“I can’t believe you just made an OKCupid joke,” Stiles says, and then, “You think I have nice eyes?”

Derek flushes a little, grateful for the darkness of the woods. “I’m sure some girl might think so.”

“Or boy,” Stiles says, flippantly. “I’m thinking about opening my horizons even wider.” He says it like it’s nothing, like it’s nothing that particularly weighs on him.

“Welcome to the club,” he tells Stiles and moves off quickly into the trees, before Stiles can say anything else.


Derek was fifteen when he came out to Laura. They were in the car, driving home abruptly, and he said “Do you think Mom would make me an omega if I were gay?” It was something he’d thought about for weeks, months, ashamed and alone with the thought. He didn’t look over at Laura when he said it, just stared out the window of her Jetta, and grit his teeth against saying anything else.

Laura had jerked the steering wheel hard, sending the hula girl bobblehead on her dashboard wagging her hips dangerously. She pulls into the nearest parking lot, cutting across two lanes to do so. “Who told you that,” she said furiously when they were parked sideways across two spots. “Who said, who--was it Peter? Did Uncle Peter say that to you? Did he--”

“No,” he cut her off. ”No one said anything, no one. I just,” and he pressed his fists into his eyes, willing himself not to--but he’s always been a crier. Even when he got older, when he was old enough to know boys weren’t supposed to cry, that it made you a baby. He felt his face screwing up behind his clenched fists, and he pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth and grit his teeth against it.

“Mom wouldn’t,” Laura said, and she unbuckled her seatbelt, reaching across the console to reach for him, to tug him close. “You’re hers, Derek, you’re, fuck, you can be anything--” and he turned, buried his face in her shoulder, and cried for real.

His mom wasn’t the only one he worried about, wasn’t everything, so he said, choked up, “do you think--Dad never--” and Laura’s embrace tightened, almost painful.

“Dad is dead,” she said harshly, and Derek tensed under her arm. “Dad left and now he’s dead, so don’t--who cares?” Derek was young when it happened, was too young to really listen, and Cora was just an infant, almost newborn. But Laura was older, and she had known their father, had felt it in her bones when he walked out on them.

His mother ruffled his head sometimes, used to say, “You are your father’s son,” fondly, like it was something for Derek to be proud of. Laura always slammed out of the room when she did. Laura had always been fierce.

Derek pulled away then, nodded once. Laura was right; she usually was.

“Do you want me to be with you when you tell mom?” she asked him, starting the car.

“No,” he said, quick. “Not yet. Let me--not yet.” It’d be too real if he told her, he thought. Laura was a good start. Laura always kept his secrets, had his back.

He put the conversation behind him when he met Paige, thought he was mistaken about what he said to Laura, too young to know it doesn’t always have to be one or the other. Paige was it for him, he thought, because he was fifteen and stupid, and he loved a girl who read music and taught him how to play.

He doesn’t think of love at all after--after Paige, until he’s eighteen, until he meets Kate, and falls again. “I love you,” he whispered into her skin, touched her ankle, trailed his fingers up her thighs.

She burned his family alive.

He and Laura escape to New York, and Laura’s fierce, brutal about making the New York packs leave them be. She’d been an alpha for two weeks, but she flashed her eyes and let her nails grow at her sides, and she was a twenty-two year old girl but she found them a space, carved them some room in the city.

Derek made his way through Manhattan. He was a regular in the bars, gay and straight, and he let people take him home, fucked and got fucked in equal measures. Laura knew how to pick her battles, and she concentrated on making him graduate, making him get his high school diploma, something he had been barely months away from getting anyway. It wasn’t a hug in a convenience store parking lot, but it was something.


Beacon Hills sucks.

For all that it’s open sky, and wild preserve, he feels trapped and caged in by everyone who looks at him. He buries Boyd next to Erica’s grave, next to where he’d laid Laura to rest.

Of course he did it alone, mangled their traditions and rites. At least this time, two kids didn’t dig her up and make it worse, get him hauled in on suspicion of her murder.

A beer can and a half-smoked cigarette butt decorated the spot when he went back, that night, after seeing Stiles in the woods.

Big deal. There was a bumper sticker he saw on the way home from school in New York. SSDD, same shit, different day.

He knows he’s not processing it right. He knows there should be grief in every part of his bones, he knows there’s something wrong with him for how hollow he feels when he comes upon the graves, when he thinks about their loss. Of course there’s something wrong, deep inside him.

Beacon Hills sucks because it reinforces that for him every day, grinds it into his skin. Same shit, different day. Of course he loses every single one of the betas he picked for himself. Isaac accused him once of being lonely and he is. Wolves aren’t meant to live like this, aren’t meant to live alone, like little islands barely in view of each other. He was raised to clamber to the top of piles of his siblings and cousins in play. He was raised to have his hair ruffled by his grandmother, noogied incessantly by his uncles, to be pulled into constant hugs by his mother, to have her rub her chin against his temple, telling him that he was hers.

He’s not meant to live alone, and yet.

Same shit, different day, he thinks, and when Stiles asks him later about Paige, about Kate, about Jennifer, he shrugs and plays it like everything rolls off his back. Stiles looks at him when they talk, watches him with an intensity Derek can’t stand. It makes him irritable, makes him snap at Stiles.

There’s only six short years between Derek and Stiles, but Derek doesn’t know another way other than restraint, other than holding himself back, hiding things away. He’s grown up that way, as long as he could remember. He hid his wolf from his friends, his sexuality from his family, and now, now he’s hiding his attraction to Stiles. Stiles is everything that Derek cannot be trusted with, and he won’t lose control

It’s alien to Derek, the way Isaac, Danny, Scott, Stiles all wear their hearts open on their sleeves, the way they go along, as if they have a right to everything. Like they’re impervious to life.

Maybe they are. Maybe some cosmic deity looks down on them and says “eenie meenie minie mo,” on who can come out of the wars unscathed.

No cosmic deity has his back. Same shit, different day.


Cora wants to go on a road trip. “Fuck this place,” she says vehemently. “Fuck this toxic hellhole cesspit.”

Derek has nothing left, can’t disagree with her, so they go. They leave the day after Jennifer dies, the day after he loses his alphahood. He doesn’t regret giving it up. He can’t, not with the way Cora treats him now, like she’s willing to see him as her brother, as family.

“We have to tell Scott we’re going,” he tells Cora, when they’re down in the car.

“Reporting to your alpha?” she snits, and he doesn’t deign to answer that, just shifts the car into drive and heads out to the suburbs. Scott’s house is full, and he can hear them laughing and joking as he raps his knuckles on the door. When Scott answers, he can see Isaac and Stiles fighting over a controller on the couch behind him.

“Can I come in for a minute?” Derek says, formal.

Scott’s eyes flicker behind him to where Cora is sitting, sullen in the passenger seat. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, of course.”

Derek nods to Stiles, Isaac, before turning his attention fully to Scott. “Cora and I, we’re gonna leave town for a while.”

Scott’s eyes widen, and he tenses. “You don’t have to go,” he says immediately. “Just because—I mean, you don’t have to do anything, I’m not that kind of—“

Alpha, Derek thinks, and feels the hollow place where the power and strength had coiled through him. “It’s not because of that,” Derek says. “It’s just—we both need time.”

Scott looks at him assessing, and then nods. “Come back eventually,” he says. “We’ll work it out, together.” He claps his hand on Derek’s shoulder, and digs his fingers in hard. “I could use you around.”

Last year, Derek would have done anything to elicit that kind of affection from Scott, couldn’t figure out how to, just kept alienating him. Now he has it, and it makes him feel good, but also claustrophobic, makes him want to leave. “Promise,” he says, and squeezes Scott’s forearm. He turns and leaves, because he has no idea what to say to Isaac, knows damn well that Isaac is much better off than Derek had left him. He doesn’t expect anything from Isaac, and he especially doesn’t expect a goodbye from Stiles.

But it’s Stiles who follows him out to the car, peers through the driver’s side window to make faces at Cora. “Why are you really leaving?”

The question is directed at both of him, but it’s Cora who opens her mouth. “Hale family business,” she says. “Top secret.”

“Sure you don’t want to stick around a little longer?” Stiles says, resting his forearms on the window. “Could be fun.”

“You just want to put your mouth on me again,” Cora teases, smirking at him.

Derek wants to follow up on that, but he’s still stuck a few sentences ago. Family, she said, easy as anything.

“You got me,” Stiles says, clutching his chest like he’s been shot. “Found out.”

“Get out of here, Stilinski,” Cora says, waving her hand. “Don’t miss us too much.”

“I’ll think about you every day,” he promises, and he smirks at Derek too, includes him. Derek rolls his eyes, and gets in the car, slamming the door.

They go east, aimless. Cora doesn’t know how to drive, never learned, so Derek teaches her on the back roads of Nevada. She sucks at corners, takes them wide and the tires screech as she brakes in a panic. He laughs and laughs, and wishes he still had the Camaro, wishes he could watch her try to drive stick as well.

They trade off then, once she’s got the hang of it. In Salt Lake City, he makes her practice parallel parking outside a smoke shop, tucked into a corner of a dingy strip mall, the kind of store that sells tie-dye rolling papers and glass tobacco pipes striped in the Jamaican flag’s colors. The man who runs it has a big sign in the front room that says “NO ILLEGAL DRUGS OR DRUG PARAPHERNALIA SOLD HERE.”

“What are we doing here?” she says incredulously, staring at the shrunken heads hanging from the ceiling.

“There’s a special on those heads, two for fifty dollars,” someone calls, coming out of the back. Then he sees Derek and grins even harder. “Hale,” he says, holding his hand out for a fistbump.

He introduces a bewildered Cora. “Buzz,” he says, “This is my baby sister.”

Buzz knows him, knows his story. He rented them the first apartment he and Laura ever lived in, a dingy little place right above his own. Laura was bristling and lashing out at everyone, but aggression was pointless against Buzz and his unrelenting cool. He never held anything against Derek, when he found Derek fucked up, sitting on the porch, slurring half-words about his dead family.

“I,” he says to Cora, slowly and meaningfully, “am very delighted to meet you.”

“We need a fake ID for her,” Derek says, throwing a thumb in her direction. “Eighteen.”

“Twenty-one,” Cora demands.

“Eighteen,” Derek overrides immediately.

“I can’t even get drunk,” she says, rolling her eyes. “What are you afraid of?”

Derek doesn’t know. She’s right, there’s not much trouble she could get into, not anything worse than she’s already gone through, but he twitches at the idea of aging her further, even if it’s fake. Cora should be sixteen, fresh-faced, worried about prom and the SATs. Instead she probably is as mature and experienced as any twenty-one-year old. He gives in.

While she’s sitting for her photo, he looks around the store, examining the figurines and dirty bumper stickers. There’s a rack of postcards, and he flips through them idly. There’s one he likes, with a dumb joke and a chipmunk on the front, and he picks it out of the rack.

“Stiles would like that,” Cora says, over his shoulder. “His birthday’s on Tuesday.”

“So you send it to him,” he retorts, and she makes a face, flips him off. Buzz calls her back to sign her name to the fake, and he flips it back and forth between his fingers. “Buzz,” he calls after a minute. “If I give you an extra dollar, will you mail something for me?”

Stiles texts him a few days later. Har har har he says, and Derek smirks at the screen. It’s his first contact with Beacon Hills since they left. He texts back, couldn’t resist.

There’s an instant response, calling Derek an asshole, and Derek responds in kind, and by the time Cora’s finished getting her belly-button pierced with a carefully chosen non-silver ring at a shop in Chicago, Derek’s caught up on everything going on in Beacon Hills.

“How’s Stiles?” Cora says, as she slides in the car.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Derek says. Cora rolls her eyes, and shuts the passenger side door.

Derek starts the car, pulls out onto the road. There’s silence for a minute, and then Derek says, “Stiles says Isaac and Allison are dating.”

Cora snickers. “Scott’s sure got a fun pack on his hands.”

Better than I had, Derek thinks, and texts Stiles back, asks if they’re going for a McCall Pack orgy.

holding out for you to come back first Stiles replies, and Derek drops his phone under the gas pedal, has to get to the breakdown lane in order to get it back. Cora laughs at him, teases and mocks him until he has to give her dead leg.

After that, it’s nothing but flyover states. Derek doesn’t know where they’re going, doesn’t have any idea what they’re looking for. He lets Cora drive as much as she wants, and neither of them look at maps. They’re on the highways, mostly, listening to shitty radio stations and living on truck stop food and Twizzlers.


In Philly, he and Cora go out, with Cora waving her fake ID at bouncers that would have let her in anyway. She likes to dance, and she looks good out there, happier and looser than he’s ever seen her.

“You gonna get out here?” Cora yells, when she eventually makes her way back to the bar,

“Maybe,” he says, with no intention whatsoever.

She rolls her eyes. “You need to get laid,” she says. “And not by a fucking lunatic.”

“Don’t have much luck on my own,” he says back, trying for a light tone.

“I’ll pick someone out,” she says, and scans the room. “I’ll find you a nice girl.”

“Or guy,” he says, almost too quiet even for werewolf ears.

Cora whips her head around. “I didn’t know that,” she says.

“Only Laura did.” He makes a face at her. “Guess I can’t hold anything back from my sisters.”

He knows Cora was always jealous of the bond he and Laura had, always felt left out when they went everywhere together, had in-jokes, their own games. He’s not trying to replace Laura with Cora, it’s not like that, but this whole trip has felt like they’re making something new between them, repairing the potential that was almost lost.

The look on her face says she feels it too, and she tugs him out on the floor, shoves him into the first hot guy she sees, and for her, he dances, lets the guy kiss him silly, gives Cora the key to the Toyota to get back to the motel alone. If the guy happens to be pale, with moles all over his body, talky with his arms moving, it’s chance. It’s for Cora, he thinks, and kisses down the kid’s neck.

He doesn’t tell Stiles any of that. There isn’t much he doesn’t tell Stiles, but it feels strange to mention. Instead he sends Stiles dumb postcards when he can, cameraphone pictures of street names that will make him laugh, and once, a picture of Cora with a hairbrush caught in her hair.

Stiles sends him teasing come-ons, pictures of him and Scott mooning into the camera, stories, little glimpses into Beacon Hill life post disaster. Derek hears all about the twins trying to integrate themselves into the pack, how Stiles doesn’t trust them for a second, how he can’t get Lydia to give up banging one of them. He hears about Isaac and Ms. McCall’s epic blowout over whether Isaac had a curfew.

There’s other things that Stiles isn’t saying, things Derek puts together when Stiles texts him at hours he shouldn’t be awake. The way sometimes there’d be weird typos, like his hands were shaking. The way Stiles never talks about himself.

He gets a phone call one night, late, and Stiles is just breathing heavy.

“What’s up?” he says, stepping outside and closing the motel door.

“Nothing,” Stiles says, which is a blatant lie, so Derek waits him out, picks at his nails. There’s a gusty sigh. “My dad met a vampire.”

“There’s vampires in Beacon Hills?” Derek tenses up, pushes away from the wall he was leaning against.

“Not anymore,” Stiles says. “Turns out you don’t need a wooden stake to kill a vampire, anything will work.” He huffs. “Dad dusted him with his handgun.”

“So if everything worked out,” Derek says, trailing off, confused. He has no words of sympathy to offer Stiles on this. For him, this is best case scenario. No one died, nothing happened at anyone else’s hands, no one’s sobbing, grief-stricken parents had to be faced.

Stiles exhales. “Yeah, everything worked out. This time.” Derek can picture him, those broad shoulders, the long fingers scrubbing at his face. “Just seems like it’s never going to get any better. It’s the same shit.”

Different day, Derek thinks, and he bristles at that coming from Stiles. Bright, passionate, insane Stiles who isn’t supposed to be on his level, isn’t supposed to carry the same stuff he carries. Stiles is better than he is. Stiles has plans and ideas and endless enthusiasm that’s supposed to carry him and his friends upward and past all the bullshit.

“Get it together,” Derek says, irritated. “Your dad is an adult, you clued him into what to look for. Your alpha is strong, your pack is smart. Suck it up.”

“I miss you when you’re not around,” Stiles says waspishly, but the resigned tone is gone, so Derek counts it as a win.

“Yeah, right,” he says, sinking right back into their back-and-forth. “You just miss having a punching bag.”

“Maybe,” Stiles shoots back. “It’s just that you were so good at it.”

It’s quiet for a moment, and Derek thinks he can hear crickets on Stiles’s end, thinks maybe Stiles is outside too, pacing his front steps. “What happened to your dad?” he says, eventually.

Derek blinks at the neon light up motel sign. This is how Stiles had asked him about Paige too, so maybe he should be used to this. “My mom becoming the alpha was harder to handle than he thought.”

“He left?” Stiles says, clearly surprised.

“Split when I was five,” Derek says. It feels good to tell someone this, to share his family history.

“Wow,” Stiles says. “I thought you guys were all ‘rah rah Pack first, the lone wolf dies’ all the time.”

“Yes,” Derek says dryly. “There would be a reason for that.” He can tell when Stiles gets it, when he hears the sharp inhale of air.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, and sounds like he means it.

“Don’t worry about it,” Derek says. “It’s typical Hale Pack behavior anyway.” He laughs, bitter, too loud. “Running away and then dying. It should be our family creed.”

“Get it together,” Stiles says, cutting through his thoughts. “You’re not--don’t do that. Suck it up and come back. We need you.”

“Who is we?” Derek asks, because he’s an asshole.

Stiles’s voice goes low as he says, “Come home and find out.”

Instead he takes Cora to New York City. She wants to drive, but there’s no way he’s letting a sixteen-year-old with a fake license take on the crabbiest taxi drivers on the face of the planet. He can drive like them, drives mean as he navigates them through Rockefeller Plaza, the Empire State Building, past the old CGBG building.

He still can’t get Cora to open up about where she was all those missing years, what happened to her after the fire, but by the way she looks up at the skyscrapers, he knows she’s never been anywhere like this. He was fucked up beyond all recognition in New York, but it’s also his city, the city where he grew up.

They get a fancy hotel room because they can, and Derek throws her in the hotel pool fully clothed. She takes him down with her, hits him with her sopping wet sweater, and he dunks her again, wrestling and play fighting until they get kicked out by the lifeguard.

They almost forget it’s the full moon and end up spending it in Central Park. It’s late, and he shows her how to duck the cops, scale the gates. He has a favorite set of rocks, as much as anyone can, and they sit there, staring up at the moon.

“Did you and Laura come here?” Cora asks, tentative. Derek realizes that Cora never knew Laura, wouldn’t ever know Laura, not like he did.

It’s not easy, but he tries to share. He tells Cora about their first full moon here, when they were fucked up and scared. Neither of them were anchored, still on probation with the surrounding packs. “Laura ate a pigeon,” he says, laughing. “There were feathers everywhere the next morning.”

There’s other stories too. He tells her about the time Laura tripped over her own feet when she saw Conan O’Brien in a deli. He tells her about the time they got bedbugs, about the time Derek forgot to pay the electric bill during the biggest heatwave of the summer. He shares his stories with her and it feels like Laura’s sitting beside them, laughing along.

It’s the first time since the fire that Derek feels like he’s not alone. He texts Stiles on the subway back to their hotel, when the sun starts to rise, tells him, never eat a pigeon raw.

Stiles texts him back almost immediately. You should write a book with those kinds of helpful hints.

He calls Stiles. “Why are you awake?”

“When aren’t I awake?” Stiles says, laughing.

“You should be sleeping,” Derek says disapprovingly.

“More helpful hints,” Stiles says, “Make sure you write them down.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, and he doesn’t know why he cares.

“When I sleep,” Stiles says quietly. “I see the darkness.” His voice is raw, honest and Derek can’t bring himself to be anything different.

“I haven’t slept yet either,” he says. Cora and he had splurged on separate rooms, so he’s alone when he flops backwards on the bed. “Full moon.”

“I’m aware,” Stiles says dryly, and Derek rolls his eyes. Then, hesitant. “You gonna tell me a bedtime story?”

“I could,” Derek says. There’s one his mother used to tell him, about how the moon learned to rise, and he tells it to Stiles now, half because he wants to make sure he remembers it.

He doesn’t know if he finishes it, because he falls asleep at some point, and when he wakes again, Stiles is snoring into his ear.

The next day, Cora wants to see the old apartment. He doesn’t know who Buzz sold it to, doesn’t recognize the young couple who lock the front door and disappear down the street. He recognizes the fire escape he used to sneak out sometimes, when Laura was still trying to corral him. He recognizes the front steps where he and Buzz used to sit and talk. Even the guys smoking outside the mini-mart next door seem familiar.

“Want to break in?” Cora asks, and he knows he should say no, knows he’s supposed to be the responsible one, but he boosts her up to the fire escape and takes her hand to pull himself up.

The people who live there now have actually decorated. He and Laura never did, had left the walls bare and the rooms spartan. It’s strange to see a sunny color painted on the walls, polished cabinets, a kitchen table with a vase in the center.

“This was my room,” he tells Cora. It’s a nursery now, with blue trains and red airplanes on the wall. He shows her Laura’s room, shows her the plastered over hole in the bathroom where Laura had punched it when Carrie Underwood won American Idol.

He shows her the back porch, that looked out into a small yard shared by three other buildings. It’s wooden and rickety, and in the railing, there’s still initials carved. LCH WAS HERE. DGH WAS HERE. He points it out to her, and without missing a beat, she grabs his keys and carves CFH WAS HERE. He yanks her in close, and breathes deeply into the scent of her hair, presses his tongue against the roof of his mouth and tries not to cry.

They climb back down the fire escape after that, and Derek pauses for a moment, staring up at the old building. He takes a picture and sends it to Stiles. Used to live here he sends, and doesn’t know why.

There’s not an instant reply, so he gets back in his car, turns around towards the hotel. He’s in the elevator headed up when his phone vibrates with a picture of the loft from the outside. Still empty, the text reads.

“Ready to go back?” he asks Cora when he shows her the text. Cora makes a face, but nods. It’d be nice to sleep in a bed with no one else’s scent but his own, he thinks, and starts to look forward to it.

He goes to the McCall house when they cross the lines of Beacon Hills proper. Scott’s waiting for him on the front porch of his house. “Have a good trip?” he says, holding his hand out to shake.

“Yeah,” Derek says, and doesn’t know exactly how to proceed. Does he ask permission? Does he bare his neck?

“Go see Stiles,” Scott says, dismissing all of it. “He doesn’t know you’re here yet. Pack meets on Wednesdays,” and he directs it at both of them, emphasizes it with a point of his finger.

“Is there detention if we don’t?” Cora snipes. Derek and Scott share a look. Youths.

He doesn’t go see Stiles. Now that he’s here, it’s gone strange. All the texting, calling they’ve been doing seemed safe, benign when they were separated by thousands of miles. But now that Stiles is just a five minute drive, well, what is he expected to do?

Derek doesn’t think he’s imagined the flirting edge of it, the dance they’re both good at. But Derek’s still too conscious of himself, of this town. Who he is within the bounds of it. He’s still a hot mess, as Laura used to say.

He won’t be the one who puts that defeated tone back in Stiles’s voice.

Like most of his plans, he doesn’t think this one through to its obvious conclusions. He and Cora walk into the pack meeting on Wednesday and amid the backslapping and friendly hellos, Stiles is silent and still. Derek leans against the doorframe and watches Scott, and how he handles Chris Argent, how he doles out patrol assignments, resolves arguments as they arise. He doesn’t look at Stiles.

Cora is a damn traitor, because the second it’s over, she’s at Allison and Isaac’s sides, cajoles them into going out for dinner at the diner. Derek slinks out by himself, because he can taste the coming storm in the air.

He’s barely been home for ten minutes when Stiles appears, crashing the loft door open. Stiles is pissed. Derek sees the way he carries it in his shoulders, can see it in the way they’re tight with tension, the way Stiles is balling his fists at his sides.

“What do you want from me?” Derek says, tired.

“So what, you’re just back now?” Stiles says, livid. His anger is bringing a hot flush to his cheeks. Derek looks away, fidgets.

“If you’ve got a problem with it,” Derek says, deliberately misunderstanding, because he wants Stiles to storm off, to leave him alone.

Stiles steps closer, shaking. “You know damn well what my problem is,” he says, and his eyes are centered on Derek, looking into him in a way that makes him squirm.

He steps back, backs up into the counter, grunts as his back hits the edge of the granite. “I’m not doing this,” he says, harshly. “I don’t owe you anything.”

“I just turned eighteen, you should have at least made it in time for my birthday,” and something about the way he says it, like a resentful kid would, diffuses the situation for him. Suddenly Stiles doesn’t frighten him as much, doesn’t paralyze him with his hot soft eyes.

He shrugs. “Didn’t think it would be such a big deal.”

“You’re such a fucking coward,” Stiles says. “You don’t talk to someone every day, every night for a year and a half and not think it’s something.” He takes a step closer, even though there’s nowhere for Derek to go. “We were going somewhere.”

“I didn’t,” Derek says. “I wasn’t--you’ll understand when you’re older, when you’re not a--.” He hesitates, can’t say it.

“Fuck you,” Stiles says viciously, and leaves.


It’s a long, hot, awful summer. Derek goes to the pack meetings, and he and Stiles don’t talk. The Nemeton draws things, curious, unfriendly things, but there's no more vampires, no revenge lizards, no murderous ex-girlfriends.

He goes on dates, visits clubs, gets laid. It’s awful, and Cora looks at him with concern. She’s not Laura, isn’t turning her eye as long as he does what he’s supposed to. Cora gets in his face and it’s getting harder and harder to deflect her.

Stiles hasn’t lost his virginity yet, hasn’t dated anyone that Derek knows about, and Derek wishes he would. He wishes Stiles would go ahead already, learn what sex is, how it’s not what everyone wants it to be, how it’s a negotiation, a gamble you play with your body and sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Derek won’t be the one who teaches Stiles what its like to barter something you couldn’t afford to give up.

Instead Stiles is everywhere, around him, near him, in front of him. Cora says something once, about Derek sneaking in after a walk of shame and Stiles turns cool, furious eyes on him. “Did you,” he says. “Got lucky?”

“I told you to try OKCupid,” Derek mumbles, but Stiles isn’t buying any of it.

"So it isn't that you've given sex up," he says, folding his arms over his chest. "Cora says you're having a ton of it. Am I just special then? Maybe I need to be a twink in a bar, drunk and easy pickings."

"Shut up," Derek says, almost pleading.

"Danny told me all about the stall all the way to the right," Stiles continues, like the pack isn’t right outside, like he doesn’t care. "Maybe if I knelt for you there, maybe if I put my mouth right up to the hole-"

"Stop," Derek roars, and for a minute it feels like his eyes must be flashing red. "You don't--you don't know anything, Stiles, you don't," and he stops and breathes. "You want to do...that," he says, calmer, "It's no business of mine. But not with me.”

Stiles’s mouth twists, bitter. “I wish you didn’t think everything that happened to you will happen to me,” he says, and leaves.


In the fall, half of the pack goes to college. They number way more than Derek’s pack ever did. Scott McCall has the ability to pick up strays like no one Derek has ever met, and sending them all out to dorm life is an undertaking. They set up a map, call the alphas of each territory, get permissions and accommodations for the full moon. Between Stiles and Lydia, the pack functions like a machine, and it’s strangely quiet once they’re gone.

All that’s left is Cora, Scott, a woman named Deb who works as a teller at the bank, and one of the twins. He thinks about pushing Cora to get her GED, to go to school herself, but he remembers what it was like to be pushed by Laura, and decides to wait for her to come to him. She seems okay, anyway. She’s dating someone, he thinks, maybe the barista at the coffee shop, based on how much time she spends there. Maybe she’ll introduce him, he thinks, and entertains himself with the thought of playing the intimidating older brother.

He runs a lot. He fucks around. He helps Ms. McCall sometimes, when they’re shorthanded at the hospital. He’s an orderly, or that’s what they tell people. He slips on a white uniform and lifts when she tells him to lift, changes sheets, moves people in wheelchairs, gurneys.
Same shit different day. Except with less death. He says something like that to Scott once, one night when they’re patrolling together.

Scott laughs. “You sound like Stiles,” he says. Derek doesn’t have anything to say to that, so he doesn’t. Scott eyes him, evaluating. “I always thought something would happen between the two of you.”

“Nah,” Derek says. “He’s gonna go break some college hearts.”

“You know Stiles better than that,” Scott says. He hums though, and when Derek makes an inquisitive noise, he says, “He is going out. He answered the phone from a bar last night.”

“I think I see something,” Derek says, and drops into a full run, pounds down the forest trail until his lungs hurt.”

Stiles sends Derek one postcard. It’s of a Lon Chaney poster, and he hasn’t written anything on the back. Derek sticks it on his dresser.


Stiles comes back in the spring. Unlike Derek, he’s at the loft within ten minutes of pulling into Beacon Hills. Derek knew he was coming, but didn’t expect that, expected to have to keep circling him, pretending he wasn’t watching.

“I met someone,” Stiles says, quiet. He’s giving Derek plenty of distance, and Derek feels like a wild animal Stiles is trying not to startle.

“Okay,” Derek says, blank.

“He’s nice,” Stiles says. “He kissed me the whole time we fucked.”

“Good,” Derek says, and hates this guy with a vengeance. “Good--that’s good.”

Stiles saves him from saying anything else, cuts him off with, “He’s boring.”

“I--what?” Derek says, not expecting it.

Stiles leans one shoulder against the door wall, crosses his feet. He’s loose, casual, as if this is a conversation they have every day. “He’s boring,” he repeats. “Everyone’s boring, they’re all,” he stops, shakes his head. “They’re not you,” he says, wry.

“Me?” and Derek’s frozen, eyes darting to Stiles and away again.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “No one makes me mad, makes me scream, makes me feel anything.. I played your game, I did what you said. I’m done with that now.” He runs his hand through his hair, long and messy now. “I want you, Derek.”

“Who says I want you?” Derek says.

“No one,” Stiles says, easily. “No one, not you.” He’s still leaning, not approaching, not backing Derek up, not like last time. Slowly, he uncrosses his legs, levers himself straight, and turns for the door. The elevator doors open, and Stiles disappears behind them, Derek hears them as they clank together.

He’s going to let Stiles go, let the whole, stupid, risky situation fall away from him, but before he’s consciously decided, he’s out on the fire escape, vaulting down onto the pavement below and catching at Stiles as he pushes the door open.

“No,” he says, voice cracked, “Don’t,” and surges forward, cupping Stiles’s face in his hands. He kisses Stiles desperate, panicked, like a fumbling apology.

Stiles fists his hands in Derek’s shirt, hauls him close, gets his legs up around Derek’s waist and Derek carries them upstairs, not breaking contact, keeping Stiles close.

“We should have done this months ago,” Stiles says, mad like he was when he was seventeen and standing in Derek’s loft. “I was ready, I was--”

“I wasn’t,” Derek says, laying Stiles out on the bed. He’s efficient as he strips, good at this part. “You’re not just--I wasn’t going to just fuck you.”

“I know,” Stiles says, and shimmies out of his own pants, gets naked in the middle of Derek’s bed, bare skin against Derek’s sheets. His whole bed is going to reek of Stiles, the whole loft. He crawls up over Stiles, lowers himself down carefully, gingerly, hissing as his cock brushes against Stiles’s knee. Stiles surges up and kisses him, spreads his fingers over Derek’s neck. “We’re gonna fuck now, though.”

“Yeah,” Derek says, heady with it. This is the opposite of restrained, the opposite of control, and he doesn’t have any secrets anymore, not from Stiles. He kisses Stiles hard, once more, and then bites down his chest, stopping at the center of his breast bone, sucks a hickey right over his heart.

“Softy,” Stiles accuses, and Derek fits his mouth over Stiles’s nipple, rests his teeth lightly against the nub. Stiles laughs, squirms, fists his hair between his fingers. “Nevermind,” he wheezes, happy. “You’re not, you’re hard as nails.”

“Damn straight,” Derek says, and thrusts down against Stiles’s thigh, making him gasp.

“Hate you,” Stiles says, and Derek smirks at the lie. He continues his path down, biting and sucking marks as he goes. He licks at Stiles’s treasure trail, the soft skin of his belly, and Stiles arches, pushes his hips off the bed. Derek holds him down, noses his groin, and licks the tip of Stiles’s cock.

Stiles swears, bites his lip, swallows back sounds that Derek suddenly desperately wants to hear. “Don’t,” he says roughly, and digs his fingers into Stiles’s thighs, turning the skin white, and then flushed red. “I need to know--I need to hear you enjoying--” and his voice cracks, because he can’t hide anything from Stiles, never could.

Stiles nods, curling his hands in the sheets. “I am,” he says, panting. “Touch me, touch me, touchmetouchme--ah,” as Derek swallows him down.

Stiles is thick and heavy on his tongue, salty with sweat, and sweet with the fresh-cut grass scent that always seems to accompany Stiles everywhere. Derek’s careful of his teeth, careful not to let his fangs drop with the pure pleasure of it all, of Stiles shoving up against Derek’s hands, of his legs tightening against Derek’s shoulder. Derek hums, just a little, to give the vibration against the sensitive head of Stiles’s cock, and Stiles groans, loud and unrestrained.

“I’m not going to last,” Stiles says, warning him, sounding wrecked and hoarse, like he’s already been screaming all night.

Derek doesn’t care. Stiles is flushed bright with happiness, and he’s staring at Derek, like this is what he wanted. Like, this is okay, and Derek wants to make that last for him. Derek wants to make sure Stiles is never ruined, never hurt, not here. So he works his wrist, hollows his cheeks and goes down, down until his nose is pressing deep against the curls at the base of Stiles’s cock. Stiles howls, and bucks up, and Derek takes it, takes it all, takes everything Stiles gives him, until he’s coming, hot and bitter on Derek’s tongue.

There’s a minute delay, where Derek is sitting back, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, watching the fucked-out spacey look on Stiles’s face, smug and pleased with himself. He drops his hand to his own neglected cock, fully prepared to bring himself off, maybe on Stiles, if Stiles would let him. Stiles would look good like that, all that skin, messy and sticky with Derek’s come, maybe a few marks. But he only gets a few strokes in before Stiles is back, long fingers wrapping around Derek’s wrist. Derek looks at him, and Stiles has a look in his eyes, bright and focused on him with that intensity that’s hard for Derek to handle.

“Let me?” Stiles asks and Derek nods twice, quickly, expecting Stiles to drop his hold to join Derek’s hand on his cock. But Stiles doesn’t, squirms and shoves at Derek’s shoulders until Derek rolls off him, hits his back on the bed.

“You’re beautiful,” Stiles says, conversationally. Derek rolls his eyes, having heard that kind of bullshit since he hit adulthood. Stiles ignores him, as usual, and presses a kiss to the inside of Derek’s wrist, where he’s still holding Derek. “Beautiful,” he says again, and throws his leg over Derek’s hip so he’s straddling Derek’s torso.

“Thought I was letting you make me come,” Derek grunts, shoving his hips up so his hard dick drags wetly against Stiles’s ass.

“We’ll get there.” Stiles seems in no hurry, and trails his fingers from Derek’s wrist up to his bicep, squeezing and kneading at the muscle there. “So fucking hot,” he breathes, and bends his head to kiss Derek, other hand coming up to cup Derek’s jaw. It feels backwards, to be going back to kissing. For all the experience Derek’s had, he’s never kissed this long with anyone, and certainly not after they’ve already gotten their dicks out. Stiles breaks away, tilts sideways to mouth at the curve of Derek’s jaw, to bite marks on Derek’s neck.

Derek’s first instinct is to shove him away, to hunch his shoulder protectively, to flash his red red eyes at Stiles. But he’s not an alpha anymore, and he doesn’t think for a second that Stiles knows what he’s doing, that he’s asking Derek to submit. So he lets him, tilts his head back and sighs happily as Stiles trails his mouth down even farther to trace the curve of Derek’s pecs with his tongue.

“What are you doing,” Derek grits out, gooseflesh rising everywhere.

“You know how many times you’ve taunted me with these?” Stiles says, cupping him lightly. His fingers brush lightly over Derek’s nipple, and Derek arches with it, gasping. “Sensitive,” Stiles comments. Derek grimaces, unsure how to take it, and Stiles soothes him, running a finger over his furrowed brow. “Shut up,” he says, inexplicably. “I like it. I want to know every spot you have.”

Derek doesn’t know what to do with that. He knows Stiles doesn’t do one night stands, doesn’t love easy, doesn’t fuck around with anyone carelessly, doesn’t break hearts, but it’s hard for him to hear the promises in Stiles’s voice, the casual guarantee that they’re going to do this again, and again, until Stiles can play him like a instrument.

He’s torn out of his head again as Stiles moves lower, moves towards Derek’s abs. Derek tenses, because he can’t help it. He can’t help but hate it when anyone touches him there. It’s why he prefers to fuck and get fucked doggy style, so no one thinks it’s okay, so that no one licks him there.

Stiles is too damn intuitive, and Derek knows Stiles feels it, because his fingers just scrape through Derek’s treasure trail. He had no idea that could be sensitive, that he could feel like he’d come just from the way Stiles is holding him down, mapping him out. He feels like he’s been cracked open, laid bare for Stiles.

This isn’t the way he thought this would go. He sent Stiles away because he thought Stiles couldn’t handle it. Derek didn’t want to be the one trusted with Stiles like this, and it's all turned around. Here he is, at Stiles’s mercy.

“Stiles,” he croaks, at his wits end, begging, desperate. Stiles hears him, and grins. It’s an honest, gleeful, pleased smile, the smile of someone who’s gotten everything he wanted and when Stiles finally, finally gets his hand around Derek’s dick, Derek goes wild for it.

“You’re gonna fuck me later,” Stiles says, like he’s discussing the weather. “I want that, I want this right here, for me. You’re gonna let me have it, right Derek?” Derek would give Stiles anything he wants right now, would sign over his loft, his car, anything for Stiles to keep twisting his fingers around him like that, bringing Derek right to the edge. “I think I’ll ride you,” Stiles continues. “Maybe get you sitting up against that headboard, get you still so I can get you exactly where I want you.” Derek writhes under him, out of his head, out of his fucking mind. “I want to sink down on you,” Stiles says, filthy and low. “I want to fuck myself on your cock, until I’ve got you so deep I can feel it in my throat.

Derek comes. It doesn’t feel enough to say that, just those two words. Derek flies away, takes a vacation from reality, lets his muscles all tighten like they’ve been yanked tight by a puppeteer’s strings, lets electricity lick through his veins, lets his mouth open wide and he doesn’t even know what noise he makes, what he’s saying, but it doesn’t matter.

Derek comes, and Stiles kisses him through it, holding his shoulder, running his fingers over the spot he bit on Derek’s neck. Derek shakes, and rolls them over, pin Stiles underneath him, and presses every part of his body against him that he can.

“So that’s what good sex is like,” Stiles says from where he’s got his face wedged against Derek’s jaw.

“Yeah,” Derek says hoarsely. “Apparently so.”


At three in the morning, Cora comes home, takes two steps into the loft and screeches like a banshee.

“This is not happening,” she says, and throws every object close to hand at the huddled lump of their bodies. “We’re moving, and you’re getting a fucking bedroom with a door.”

Stiles has to agree to make her breakfast, a big one, before she stops firing missiles at them. Derek boosts himself up to sit on the counter and watches as they elbow each other and argue over the stove about where to move, who’d be living there, when to flip the pancakes.

Derek grins at the domestic chaos taking place in his kitchen. Different shit, he thinks. New day.