Derek lost the witch's scent at the edge of the woods. He spent twenty minutes trying to pick it up again before giving up and heading home. Peter appeared from deeper in the house when he heard the vicious slam of the door. He raised his eyebrows inquisitively.
"Something wrong?" he asked, as if the answer wasn't evident.
"There's a witch in Beacon Hills," Derek told him aggressively.
"Oh," Peter replied nonchalantly. He turned to go back to whatever he had been doing.
"You offered Stiles the bite," Derek growled. He hadn't meant to say it, he'd meant to keep the conversation focused on the witch, but seeing Peter had brought that new piece of information to the forefront of his mind.
"You know Derek, it sends a mixed message when you tell us to ignore Stiles and then wander off in the woods with him to discuss lycanthropy. Does this mean we're all friends again?" Derek's eyes flashed red in warning. Peter gave him an exasperated look. "I did a lot of things before you killed me but I thought we agreed it was better for everyone if we didn't dwell on that."
"Stiles, Peter! You were going to bite Stiles!" Derek snapped.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time. He is, after all, the clever one. Not to mention having him in my pack would have helped smooth things over with Scott. It was all a question of strategy, nothing personal."
"He could have died," Derek said angrily.
"I'm aware of that, Derek, but at the time I didn't really care. Unlike you I didn't have a vested interest in keeping him alive. What does it even matter? He turned me down and set me on fire. It's all blood under the floorboards," Peter said dismissively. Derek narrowed his eyes but didn't say anything more and eventually his uncle wandered off.
Derek felt too exhausted to try and deal with anything else that day, honestly he'd been too exhausted to deal with Peter. He'd somehow been captured that morning by a witch and then spent all afternoon drowning in self loathing. Hating himself wasn't anything new, but it had been brought into sharper focus by the witch's questions and the way Stiles cried out when he lied.
The whole point of keeping Stiles separate from the pack was to prevent him from ending up in these situations. Stiles was clever and loyal to a fault, if he had to sacrifice himself to save someone he cared about, he would do it without a second thought. The incubus was not the first time he'd intentionally put himself in danger. Derek had been so sure he would be safe without the pack that he was horrified to see him in that cave.
Derek hadn't meant to hurt Stiles. But Derek had hurt Stiles; had nearly killed him. Lying was one of Derek's first defenses, it came naturally. He also couldn't look weak in front of his enemy. So he had lied and continued to guard his secrets and Stiles had paid the price. And then Stiles had sacrificed himself again.
Derek was acutely aware of what Stiles' confessions had cost him. He'd noticed every time Stiles hedged around an answer or flat out refused to give one. He'd also linked up the pieces of his final confession with the questions they answered. Stiles wasn't quite as proud as Derek, but if the situation had been anything but life or death Derek knew he would have bit his tongue just as sharply.
Derek collapsed onto the mattress he used for a bed. He wanted to sleep, hoping his head would be clearer in the morning. Instead he tossed and turned all night, unable to get Stiles' words out of his head. By the morning he felt more mixed up and uncertain than ever. He called the pack together.
"There's a witch in Beacon Hills," he announced flatly when everyone was gathered at the house. Peter rolled his eyes.
"I don't understand why you're making a big deal of this. Witches aren't usually trouble, they actually tend to focus on helping others," Peter said.
"Yes, and this one was being very helpful when it tried to kill Stiles," Derek replied sarcastically.
"What?" Isaac asked, surprised.
"Why would it go after Stiles?" Scott objected.
"I don't know. Stiles said they were friends, maybe he offended her."
"Leave it to Stilinski to piss off a witch," Jackson said mockingly.
"You talked to Stiles?" Scott asked, wounded. At the same time Isaac responded,
"Stiles doesn't have any friends."
"It's complicated," Derek told Scott tightly. "He called her 'Wen'."
"She's a witch?" Scott asked.
"You know her?" Peter asked, only mildly interested.
"She goes to school with us; Cerridwen Foel," Isaac answered. Something in Peter's expression shifted and Derek couldn't quite read it.
"You know Derek I really don't think you need to worry about this. I'm sure she's long gone by now," he said casually. Derek glared at him menacingly.
"I'm not going to take that chance. You and Isaac will take turns patrolling. I'll keep an eye on Stiles in case she goes after him again. If any of you see her at school, you let me know. Witches are tricky, if we find her we take her as a pack," Derek ordered. They all broke apart to complete their tasks.
Derek had been lurking in the shadows a good distance from the Stilinski residence for several hours when his phone buzzed with a text message.
'Ur not as subtle as u think. Leaving sum puppy chow outside window 4 u' it was from Stiles. Derek rolled his eyes but had to admit he was hungry and if Stiles already knew he was there what was the harm? 'Puppy chow' turned out to be two turkey sandwiches. Derek settled down to eat them in the shadows of the roof. He was just starting on the second when Stiles' head popped out the window to look for him.
"As much as I enjoy making you stand out in the cold, you're really wasting your time. Wen's already been and gone," Stiles said wearily.
"What?" Derek snapped in alarm.
"She popped in shortly after I got home to apologize. It sounded pretty much like a goodbye so I don't think you'll find her anywhere near me again." Stiles watched him for several minutes, a discerning look on his face. It made Derek uncomfortable but he didn't let it show. Eventually Stiles sighed. "Anyway, I thought I should let you know. I'll leave you to it, enjoy the sandwiches." He disappeared back into his bedroom, closing the window behind him.
Derek considered for a moment. If the witch had already returned to Stiles without hurting him she probably wasn't going to. Most likely Stiles and Peter were right and she wasn't a threat anymore. Still, witches were tricky, Derek told himself. He stayed outside the window. He waited for Stiles to go to bed. It took longer than Derek expected. When Stiles finally did settle in under his comforter he mumbled quietly, "Good night Derek." Derek left when he'd fallen asleep.
Derek didn't go back to keep an eye on Stiles. Instead he took turns patrolling. He kept the pack on lookout for the witch for two weeks. There was no sign of her. There were signs of Stiles, however.
It surprised Derek when Scott let it slip that Stiles had left notes in his locker, actual notes for classes Scott was struggling with. They apparently were printed out and gave no indication of the source but Scott knew they were from Stiles because no one else could have tailored them so perfectly to his thought process.
Next it was Jackson. He still had issues with control because of his aggressive personality. Something happened at lacrosse practice a little too close to the full moon and he'd only avoided discovery and awkward questions because Stiles had subtly launched a massive distraction.
Around October Peter had come home from a coffee date with Mrs. McCall and informed Derek that Stiles was meddling. After his not calling Melissa for several months she hadn't been willing to speak to Peter. It had made Scott happy but Peter had moped quite a bit and lamented loudly about how difficult being dead was to explain. They'd all been surprised when Melissa called to invite him out. Apparently Stiles had dropped subtle hints while warming the bench at lacrosse games and managed to explain away Peter's neglect enough to soften her opinion of him.
In November the biggest turkey anyone in the pack had ever seen was delivered to the renovated Hale house. In December a large stack of presents appeared piled neatly under a tree. When the pack opened them they were all practical, well thought out gifts. On New Year's Day Derek got a letter in the mail. The return address said 'Stilinski'.
Erica called me the other day. I guess she wasn't sure if you'd want to hear from her so she called me instead. I thought you'd like to know though. She and Boyd apparently found a pack in Montana. Montana! Crazy huh? She says they're doing well. She also said if I thought you wouldn't flip out I should tell you they're both sorry. They didn't mean for things to turn out like they did. They hope there's no bad blood between you. I know there's still a Stiles embargo on your pack but if you promise to be nice you can text me to get her number. (Mine's 555-0127 in case you deleted it from your phone.)
Yours, Love, Sincerely, From,
Derek huffed at the signature. He could picture Stiles writing each closing remark with increasing frustration. The last one was so thoroughly crossed out that Derek had to struggle for several minutes to make it out.
'Still not pack,'
Derek felt a pain in his chest. He realized suddenly how stupid he had been. Because Stiles was pack. Stiles would always be pack. Stiles who helped train Scott. Stiles who rode in to save the day against Peter. Stiles who protected Isaac. Stiles who kept Derek from drowning. Stiles who brought Lydia to save Jackson. Stiles who lured out the incubus. Stiles who put the pack before himself even when the pack abandoned him. Stiles who was clever and loyal and fearless and strong. Stiles.
Derek sighed and tossed the letter onto the table. He drove to Stiles' house. The Sheriff was home and Derek hesitated. He took a rallying breath and got out of the car. He knocked firmly on the front door. The Sheriff opened it, a steady, unsurprised look on his face.
"Hale," he said flatly.
"Sheriff," Derek replied.
"Something I can do for you?"
"I'd like a word with your son," Derek said calmly. The Sheriff gave him an appraising look and Derek thought he might deny him.
"I don't know how Stiles and his friends got tangled up with you, but he's been pretty miserable since he wound up untangled, so if you're not here to set things right you'd better go," Sheriff Stilinski warned. Derek stared him down without comment. After a moment the Sheriff stepped back and gestured for Derek to enter. "He's in his room. Upstairs on the left." Derek nodded and went upstairs.
Stiles didn't notice when Derek stepped quietly into the bedroom. He was thoroughly engrossed in the work he was doing on his computer. Derek examined the screen. Stiles was carefully compiling the results of his research into his own bestiary, complete with pictures.
"Djinn don't actually look like that," Derek said calmly. Stiles jumped a bit, flailed, and slammed the laptop shut. He looked at Derek guiltily.
"It's a placeholder; I want to get the formatting right. I was going to send you a copy when I finished," Stiles explained.
"Still trying to be part of the pack," Derek mused. Stiles looked down somberly.
"No. I get that I'll never be… But you can't stop me from trying to help," he said quietly. Then he looked up at Derek sharply, the biting, angry look he so rarely showed anyone firmly in place. "Since you're not my alpha." They considered each other for a few minutes before Stiles sighed and the sharp look melted away. "Is there something you wanted?" he asked uncertainly.
"Yes," Derek replied without elaboration. Stiles waited a moment before giving him an exasperated 'well?' look. Derek sighed. He knew what he'd come to do but that didn't make it any easier.
"You're pack," he said instead.
"What?" Stiles asked in disbelief.
"You're part of the pack," Derek replied.
"But you said…"
"If I'm… then what's with the six month freeze out? I mean nobody will talk to me. Literally no one," Stiles asked in frustration.
"I thought I was protecting you," Derek snapped out.
"Protecting…?" Stiles took a moment to let that sink in and then he was on his feet, rounding on Derek like a wild animal. "Oh no, you don't get to cordon me off like some fragile display! I don't need you or anyone else to protect me, Derek; I'm not some damsel in distress!"
"I know that Stiles!" Derek yelled back. There was a tense moment between them. "You're always putting yourself in danger. I don't want you to get killed."
"Then don't let me! God, Derek, it isn't like I put myself in danger without a plan. I always know you or Scott or someone will be there when I need you. That's… that's the whole point of having a pack, isn't it?" Derek stared at him again, realizing for the first time just how much Stiles understood. They were standing very close, hardly an inch between them. Stiles seemed to realize all at once and stumbled backward with his usual flurry of motion.
"Uh…" Stiles sputtered. "About the things I said… with the spell… I promise it won't be a thing. I mean I won't …"
"I'm afraid of being alone," Derek said, cutting him off. This was why he'd come, to tell Stiles everything, to break his chains.
"What?" was Stiles' reply.
"My worst fear. That's why I didn't let Scott kill Peter; I didn't want to be alone. I thought if Scott was still a wolf he would have to be part of my pack. I needed that security." Stiles was looking at Derek in utter shock, mouth agape. He sat down in his desk chair absently. Derek took a deep breath, bracing himself. "When I was in high school I thought I was in love with someone." He closed his eyes against the memory. "With Kate," he said reluctantly.
"Kate," Stiles repeated. His eyes went wide with shock and realization. "Psycho Kate? Kate Argent?" Derek looked at him uncomfortably. "Oh. Oh wow. Are you… Huh." Stiles leaned forward, elbows on his knees, hands folded in front of his lips.
"She was using me. She manipulated me into telling her things about my family. I played right into her hands. It was my fault, Stiles!" Stiles was on his feet in an instant, arms wrapping around Derek, embracing him tightly. Derek collapsed into the hug, shaking slightly with silent tears. They stood like that until Derek was able to regain some semblance of composure.
Derek still had one more link, one final confession, but he didn't know how to say it, how to make the words leave his lips. Instead he turned his head into Stiles' neck and began kissing the warm skin. Stiles froze at the unexpected sensation.
"Derek?" he asked uncertainly.
"Stiles," Derek sighed against his neck, hardly relenting. Stiles pushed him away firmly.
"Derek I don't…" he was saying. He stopped short when he saw the expression on Derek's face, unguarded and filled with emotion. Stiles swallowed hard and nodded. "Okay," he said quietly. He let Derek lean forward again and they kissed. It was slow and warm and filled with need. Afterward Derek stepped back, the blank, guarded look back on his face.
"I need to get back," he said a little softer than usual. Stiles nodded at him.
"Right. But I should come by sometime? Maybe tomorrow?" Derek nodded, not entirely certain of what he might say if he tried to answer. He turned to leave. "Derek wait," Stiles said, his hand reaching out to grab Derek's shoulder. He let go as Derek turned back to face him. Stiles fidgeted slightly. "I just remembered." He leapt back to his desk, pulling something out of the top drawer. "I should have given these back to you a while ago, sorry." He held his hand out, palm up, dislplaying the objects. He was holding their mothers' rings.
Derek considered the rings. The settings were angled toward each other conspiratorially, their stones glinting brightly in the sunlight. He imagined his mother sitting with Mrs. Stilinski, both of them laughing as their sons danced around their feelings for each other. Derek reached out and took Mrs. Stilinski's rings. Stiles looked up at Derek in confusion when he saw what he'd done.
"Keep them safe," Derek told him in answer. Stiles' fingers immediately closed around the rings.
"I'll guard them with my life," Stiles replied with a smile and a hint of sarcasm.