"They could have died! And not just like 'drop dead' died-more like 'ripped to bits and eaten up' dead! How could you just let them leave?" Stiles is yelling, screaming even, and Scott is silent with Isaac at his side and Derek at the head.
"They chose to leave! I can't force them to stay if they want to just run away like scared children-" Derek argues in this condescending voice as though Erica and Boyd had been entirely at fault.
"But they are children, Derek! They're kids! They don't know what they're doing and what makes it worse is that you're their alpha and you have less of a clue than they do!" Stiles is seething, his mouth is dry from the screaming and his throat hurts that it puts on his voice. In all honesty he has no idea why Derek is letting him continue this argument. They've been going at it for a good half an hour, maybe more, he's not quite sure. What he is sure of is the slow-healing bodies of Erica and Boyd tucked safely in the vet's clinic where Deaton has been hovering over them with ointments and balms and whatever else he can concoct to help them heal. The alphas that had attacked them wanted to send a message to Derek; weak pack means a weak alpha and we're going to ruin your pack until you're ruined, too.
It had been hard to see Erica and Boyd torn to bits, flesh hanging from bone and bites that weren't healing and the grain that tipped the scales was when Derek had said the alphas attacked two omegas he had no responsibility for. Stiles had lost it, completely, because no matter how hard he screamed and argued and spat and flailed he just felt worse and worse. Derek was retorting with his reasons, his excuses, but Stiles could see right through him; Derek was feeling it. Right in his gut. Erica and Boyd had left him, turned away from him to seek something better, and even after they left him they had been in danger. It was written all over Derek's ashen face, heavy with sleep and tired with pain. Stiles hated him, hated his self-pity, his self-wallowing because he hid it from them, the pack he felt so inclined to protect yet keep secrets from.
"What if they had died? You think you could just brush it off as a couple less omegas to worry about?" Stiles stabs with these words knowing Derek will react because Stiles knows how to hurt him, knows how to push and pull until Derek won't be able to control himself.
Because Stiles has been there.
"You don't know shit." Derek hisses through clenched teeth, his voice dropping a few octaves as his eyes glow red and his claws begin to grow. "You know nothing. You're just a stupid human kid who knows how to use big words." It's like Derek can convince himself if he says it out loud. He can make his own truth if he just repeats it inside his head and tells himself that if Erica and Boyd had died it wouldn't have been his fault-again.
"What? Just because I'm younger doesn't mean-" Scott and Isaac both tense as if readying for the oncoming onslaught of a fresh argument and it makes Stiles' voice stutter and crack. He's too tired for this, too angry, but wired to the point where his hands are shaking and his voice is funneled out of his face like it's not him.
"That's exactly it, Stiles. You're young, naive, you don't know what life is, how hard it can be. Stop trying to act like an adult and stay out of the pack's affairs." Derek is saying this with such an air, like Stiles is ten again, when his… when things were…
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Stiles is so vehement when he says this that it even startles Deaton, who is doing his best to just stay out of it and set aside some ingredients to help along Erica and Boyd in healing faster. Scott is stunned, already silent but now gaping like he's just been slapped.
Stiles doesn't curse, even when he wants to. He's just that kind of dude. To hear him suddenly fling out the f-bomb is a little bit extraordinary for the pale teen and Scott thinks he's only ever heard him curse a few times, enough to count on just one hand-including this incident.
"Life is hard and I don't know about it? Just because my entire family hasn't burned alive in my own house means I don't know anything about life? Just because my psychotic uncle hasn't murdered any of my siblings and I'm not constantly chased by hunters who want revenge-how dare you?! It's not a competition of who's had more losses or who could lose more in the future-God you're such an asshole! You're an asshole!" he's screaming again, but he hiccups and Scott is there to lean into when he realizes he's crying. He's winded and flushed and he hates himself for crying because Derek is such an asshole and he's the one who has no clue! "If you could have spent just one day with her-you-how can you-" he chokes momentarily and then Scott is steering him out of the back room and towards the waiting area to catch his breath.
They don't stick around long enough for Stiles to calm down, but Scott drives his jeep home so he can let the cool, night air hit his face and dry him up. Scott is silent, only hugging Stiles sideways before running off into the night once he's home and Stiles has enough time to wash his face, change into night clothes and cover himself before his Dad comes home and does around the same routine plus eating and he's out like a light once he hears the television turn on in the living room.
Derek is so stunned he's seeing red. He's sure Isaac is torn; the kid wants to bolt from the rage Derek is emanating, but Erica and Boyd are here in the clinic and he wants to stay by their sides even though they may as well have ditched him along with Derek. In the end Derek leaves the clinic and drives to the burned house. He still calls it his house, but he knows it's county owned now and he doesn't have the energy to try and get it back. If anything he's a little glad to not be responsible for it since he knows he's responsible for the state of it. It hurts, it aches and he wants to track Stiles down and prove to him that, no, Stiles life has been pretty good so far. His family wasn't murdered by some psychotic bitch who came back and tortured him after his own flesh-and-blood uncle had killed his sister and-yeah, Stiles was wrong.
He's still thinking about how stupid Stiles is, how he doesn't have a clue, when he falls asleep. His dreams are riddled with fire, decay and then darkness until he's suffocating and waking up with a blanket of panic smothering him. Breath isn't coming and he's trying to rip his own throat open so he can finally gasp, but all he gets is a comforting hand that soothes over his back. It doesn't help, but he realizes it's distracting and he's breathing again in a rhythm to match the circling rub. It warms his shoulders and it feels okay to open his eyes, tight from squinting.
"S'okay, son. You're fine. You're fine…"
"I-" Derek starts, his back going taught as he looks up into the face of the sheriff who is looking back with a concerned grimace that he schools a few seconds too late into a look of warm understanding.
"It was a panic attack, son, like the last one." the sheriff explains and Derek is more worried about being Derek Hale in the Stilinski house than a panic attack. He knows it's not his house because he can smell the difference and once the sheriff leaves his bedside and walks out of the room he realizes he's in Stiles' room, except… where's Stiles?
Derek freezes because he's never heard that voice before. Maybe it's a dream, a very vivid dream about-about what? He's not even sure, but he's dragging himself out of bed and following the smell of french toast and bacon and when he turns the corner into the kitchen he stops breathing. The sheriff is sitting at the table already with a cup of coffee and his uniform covered by a small kitchen towel to keep him clean. He's reading through the paper in earnest and looks up when he sees Derek standing there like a fool and motions for him to sit down. But Derek can't move, can't think, because he knows who the woman is. She's got her back to him, but he can already imagine what she looks like. Her hair is the same color, straight and cut just below her shoulders with a slight, natural curl and bounce. She's wearing jean shorts and a forest green henley and when she twists to grab the plate of bacon and the platter of french toast he sees the peek of a tattoo along her hip. Moles dot her arms and as she turns to start setting the food on the table he gasps and she stops in her tracks.
Liquid amber peers back at him and he knows that she sees him. Her nose is slightly upturned, nostrils flared as she stares Derek down quizzically with all-knowing eyes. There are a couple of moles on her face, down her neck and on her chest, but otherwise her skin is fair and smooth. When she smirks it's the same quirk of the lips, the same gentle pull of her voice as she draws his attention back to the present, the same way Stiles does.
"How are you feeling?" she asks and then the world moves again. She's placing the platters on the table and the sheriff is digging in. "Sit, son, eat up. Today is a special day!" she sings and sits on the other side of the table to the sheriff's left and begins tucking into her own plate. Her fingers are long, slender and although he's seen those hands doing stupid stuff, like holding his body above water and spreading mountain ash along the road he sees just how gentle and graceful they are.
He sniffs. Spice and wood. Oranges and cinnamon and a hint of honey, maybe something like flowers-no, deeper than that… roots? Soil, Earth. She says it's a good day and Derek is sitting at the table being served french toast, bacon and milk.
"Ah crap, I've gotta go." the sheriff groans as he checks his watch and chugs his coffee. He stands, kisses his wife on the temple and rubs his palm over Derek's head before grabbing his jacket and heading for the door.
Derek's having a hard time coping, to put things lightly. He's not sure what to do with himself or if he even is himself right now. All he can do is robotically move his hand from plate to mouth and slowly finish his breakfast before pushing it away, empty, and nodding.
"Your milk." she says, pointing with an occupied wrist because her hand is gently holding a mug of coffee. "You didn't even look at it."
"I-" he starts, his hands finding the milk quickly and chugging it down in three gulps. Derek has never liked milk, he's more of a water or a protein shake type of guy, but not milk. It sort of grosses him out even as he sets the now empty glass back on the table. "Um-" he begins, but he can't find the right words. Can't find any words, actually, and he's just staring at her.
"Hm." she purses her lips together and Derek recognizes the thin line of contemplation before she's laughing and gathering the dirty dishes up. "Well get dressed so we can go already!" she beams and starts washing the collected mess.
Derek can feel his body moving, again robotically, and he ventures back to Stiles' bedroom where he dresses in a striped shirt and jeans. He's still afraid to check himself in the mirror. It feels real. His stomach is full, the food was amazing, every touch, caress, it's all too warm and close and he isn't sure if he's not freaking out because he knows this is a dream or because his body seems to just not want to freak out. He finds the entry hall from memory even though he's never ventured to this part of the house before. If he looks sideways into that family portrait will he see himself staring back or a buzzed-headed kid with a snarky grin and sad eyes? It's-he can't-where is his voice? Can't he scream? His fingers flex and he tugs on the hem of his shirt, a nervous reflex he's never had before.
"Honey," she's behind him, her lips set in a shallow frown. "are you okay? You've hardly said anything at all to me today. You didn't speak once during breakfast and you look-" she blinks and sighs, her weight changing from left to right as she reaches out a hand and smooths it over Derek's cheek. "It's over. Complete remission, remember? It's okay to breathe again." The warmth from her hand soothes Derek and he blinks, watery and open and he knows this can't be him, it can't be his body he's in, but he's as tall as the woman, almost dwarfing her and he knows Stiles' mom died when he was younger, smaller… much smaller than he had been.
"Sorry." he blurts and she just laughs, not at all the tinkling of bells or the soft chirping of birds like his own mother's laugh had been like. Stiles' mom's laugh is louder, rounder, like the rolling of waves or the sound of wooden wind chimes, like the laughter can't be contained and it bubbles out without restraint.
"It'll take time." she tells him and then starts rummaging around in her purse for something. "Here. You can have it back now. It worked, didn't it? I was really lucky you still had it for me to hold on to, but I think you should have it again." she winks and hands him a tiny medallion necklace. The chain is long and he loops it over his head and looks at the tiny piece of metal before realizing the idol has been worn away. "Rub for luck." she tells him as if reminding him and then she's tugging his hand and leading the way out of the house.
Derek spends the day with Stiles' mom. They go grocery shopping and buy a potted plant for the front porch, they water the yard and they get chased by a drunk beetle until Stiles' mom turns on it, catches it and lets Derek observe it as it crawls over her palm and gets one of its spiky legs caught under her wedding band. They have lunch on the back porch and they decide to go to the library to check out some books, but they end up spending their time stopping to look at puppies in the parking lot because it's farmer's market day and someone is selling them and Derek sort of really wants one and Stiles' mom is saying "Well we'll have to write Santa a letter. You've been so good this year that I bet he'd think about sending you two puppies!" with as much sincerity he's ever heard in his life. The library is quiet but they get shushed more than once because no matter how stoic Derek tries to be Stiles' mom is still finding ways to make him laugh or cry out by jumping out from behind shelves or pick up a book he hasn't seen in a decade-how could he forget about 'Where The Wild Things Are'? Stiles' mom raises her arms and says "Let the wild rumpus start!" in a growly voice like a pretend monster and Derek barks out a laugh because she even makes a funny face and it's the last straw for the librarian who is now walking over with purpose and quietly asks them to check out their book and leave.
Stiles' mom is sheepishly apologizing and winking at Derek while taking his hand and leading them to the checkout counter when he realizes he loves her. She's not his mother, but he loves her with his whole heart. The way she smiles and talks to him, the way her hands fit perfectly against his and are always warm and welcoming. Every secret look she shoots him because today is a special day-it's their special day.
They walk out of the library and the sun is setting, everything is beautiful because of the nice weather, the farmer's market at the end of the parking lot and the book he and Stiles' mom have checked out to read later, after a special dinner.
They're walking to the car, hand in hand, when Derek spots one of the puppies bolting towards them. He's a little excited-this could be fate! The puppy wants to go home with him and he lets go of Stiles' mom's hand in order to open his arms to catch the puppy. But there's a car and the puppy is hit even though the car swerves and is speeding out of control through the lot.
"Hands!" he hears and instantly flings his hands up above his head; another reaction he can't control even though he knows he should move, his werewolf instincts telling him to move and get out of the way, but he knows that as the day grew longer his werewolf senses grew dimmer. Warmth grabs his wrists and he's being flung away, into the air and his stomach flips because he's flying, seriously flying!
Then he's not flying anymore because he hits the hood of a parked car and lands heavily on it with a hollow thud and a dip in the curve. He hears the wet crunch behind him and screams, knows what's happening because he can see it in the reflection of the windshield. The out of control car has stopped, squealed to a stop but is pinning her to another car, her body is lifeless and Derek can't breathe, can't think, it's horrible and he feels sick and then he is sick and he can't hear anything, feel anything.
It'll end now. I know it. It should stop! he thinks frantically because now he's been in Stiles' shoes and this should mean he gets to blink and wake up in his own life, but it doesn't happen. Instead he's being pulled from the hood by someone who is saying "Call 911" and then adding "Tell Sheriff Stilinski his wife's been hurt" while trying to turn Derek away from the scene.
"No! No!" he's crying, his arms are twisting and when did he become so small? The person is holding him and there are sirens. The puppy is dead. Derek feels wretched. People are gathering but trying to stay a good pace away, but he can feel them staring, gasping, covering their mouths and talking to each other. Someone is saying "I'm a nurse! I can help!" and he has no idea who that is but she sounds familiar enough that he isn't trying to tell her to stop touching his mom.
His mom. His mom! The person holding him won't let him go, they're suffocating him against their side, trying to hide the scene, hide him away and protect him, but they're not. He needs to see her, he knows it won't be pretty. He knows it will be gruesome, it will be unreal and he knows exactly what he needs to do but no one will let him. If he doesn't see her now, if he can't see her before-he'll never be able to, he'll never have this chance again.
"Pl-please!" he's begging, but his sobs are drowned out by the siren of the ambulance and EMTs are rushing to the pinned body. The cruiser pulls up a row of cars away and Dad is running, pushing between people and unable to say "Let me through!" because he's sobbing, too.
"No…" Dad wilts, and he turns after a splitting sob tears from his throat, "Where's-where's my son?" he yells and turns and the person holding Derek steers him towards his dad and he's being hugged so tightly that even if he shattered his dad would still hold the pieces together. But he's breaking, his dad is breaking because his mom is broken and he can hear the EMTs calling things out and talking about calling for a fire truck because they need back up to pry the cars apart.
Mom is dead.
An EMT pulls his dad away and is telling him how sorry he is, but she is gone and there is nothing they can do, even if they had been able to get the cars apart. He explains that the impact probably severed her spine, crushed her and she died instantly with no pain. He's not too sure since he's only an EMT and he's calling the sheriff by name because they know each other and the nurse who wanted to help is crying against a car and shaking her head in despair.
It's all wrong, this is wrong and Derek can't feel himself anymore. It's dark and cold and he feels weak and stupid and so, so old because he is. But his reflection isn't. His reflection, he sees it in a car window, is a young boy, a child, maybe ten, no more than twelve. And it's hard. His mom was healed, she was better. She beat the cancer because she was strong and all those visits, all those long drives and late nights had been for nothing because in the end she was stronger than her disease but not strong enough to not worry about her own safety.
The night is black and the hospital is white. The doctors have to mend his lip and check for a concussion, but he ends up being healthy with only the cut and when he gets into bed-when did he get home-he's cold and tired and scared. His dad tucks him in with shaking hands and kisses him sloppily over his forehead and whispers something Derek can't make out because of how deeply his dad is crying, but he understands that this is turmoil, this is the end of them. They had tried so hard, fought and fought, and now it's over, just like that.
Sleep comes too quickly for Derek. He's dreaming once he rolls over into the pillow about running from wild dogs, crashing into a labyrinth of cars and of giants who try to suffocate him. He starts awake with a yelp and his body is drenched in sweat, but he smells the stench of rotten wood and wet, moldy fabric and knows he's home.
Or at least he thinks so. His hands are his, he's wearing the same clothes and he flexes this way and that. He feels like him. With a scramble he finds a shard of mirror and looks into it seeing his own ghost of a face. Light is filtering into the room, pre-dawn blue and cold, but nowhere near the empty pit that he was feeling.
He runs, doesn't even look at the black camaro sitting in the drive was he bursts through trees and rushes out into the world. The scenery passes by in a blur to Derek and he's sure if anyone sees him they only see the figure he is, not the shape of his face, the crease in his brow and the snarl that he can't wipe away because it's still fresh on his tongue. Bile rises up and he has to stop to wretch and breathe before he's off again, not taking the time to stop again until he reaches the house. His house-no-Stiles' house. The cruiser is gone, but the jeep is in the drive and he's jumping onto the front porch-there's the plant they'd bought at the store that day, still alive and thriving-and his fist is pounding on the door.
"Really?! Jesus! Where's the fire?!" Stiles complains as he throws the door open and glares right through Derek. "What?" he snaps and his voice is waspish, heavy with bitterness and Derek splits in two. "Woah-hey… dude it's-are you okay?" Stiles has this look, the same look, Goddamnit. Liquid amber eyes, spice, oranges, soil… his voice is hollow but Derek can pick up the last traces of wind chimes, of tall grass over rolling hills and he's sobbing.
Stiles is stiff when Derek tugs him forward and holds him, his own sobs shaking the both of them on the porch until Stiles is hugging him back, his long fingers stroking down soothingly over Derek's back-which is sweaty, gross. "Derek?" he asks after a minute when Derek's sobs have subsided to soft hiccups. "What happened?" and now Stiles starts to feel panicked because if Derek is flipping out then something major had to have happened. He pulls back and Derek lets him, but before he can start drilling him for answers he sees something on Derek that he's never noticed before. The medallion. "Where did you get that?" he asks uncertainly because, holy hell, that was lost a long time ago. "That's-is it?" he reaches for it and yes, it is. The tiny metal piece is worn smooth from constant rubbing by him and his mom. He'd been given the medallion as a gift from his mother. It had belonged to the grandfather he was named after and his mother said it would bring him luck if he rubbed it. When she was sick with cancer he'd given it back to her-on loan she had said-so that she could rub it for luck and get better. And then she did. And then she… But it had gone missing. That day had been so awful he'd blocked most of it out and had assumed he'd lost it either at the library parking lot or the hospital.
"You still have the scar…" Derek mumbles and he swipes the pad of his thumb over the corner of Stiles' mouth. The scar is almost invisible, but when stretched into a grin or smirk he knows he can see it. He'd never known where it had come from before, but now Derek knows.
"I-you're freaking me out. How did you get this?"
They have a talk in Stiles' living room and for the next hour or two they're both crying and holding each other and nothing is okay, but they're not breaking because they've got each other to hold on to. Derek recounts the day for Stiles and Stiles nods and sobs or laughs because he totally forgot about the library fun and the beetle.
"What's 'hands'?" Derek asks after a heavy beat of silence when the recounting is finished.
"Hands… oh," Stiles shifts and then he closes his eyes, raising his hands into the air with a whisper of 'hands' as he does so. "She would say 'hands' and I would do this and she'd grab them and fling me around in a circle until she was dizzy, then we'd just sit down and… At night she would say hands and she'd help me dress and then fling me on the bed before story-time." he's crying again, had he ever stopped? Derek shifts closer and hands him the medallion. "Thanks." Stiles mumbles and then they sit in silence for a lifetime..
At the end of the day they hold each other and wave goodbye because the sheriff will be home soon and if they want to pass off not having cried all day they need to separate and Stiles needs to cook dinner while Derek needs to check on the betas-his betas.
"Well," Deaton blinks, astonished at Derek's story. Stiles is there, validating everything. This recount isn't tearful because they can hold it in, but Deaton wipes at his eye and then lets out a deep sigh. "I've always had a hunch that Stiles was special, maybe having supernatural gifts of his own-" Stiles jumps at this and Deaton holds up a firm hand, "I can't be sure. What it sounds like to me is will. You willed Derek into your past and he lived a day in your shoes. Sometimes ordinary people do extraordinary things and sometimes extraordinary people just think they're ordinary until something amazing happens-but the fact still remains that what you've experienced can be chalked up to fate." Both Derek and Stiles sort of scoff because, fate, really? "Many people believe you make your own fate. You choose the path you want and so you decide the course of life, but some people believe that nothing you do will change fate. You could relive a day thousands of times and have the same end with different means. But fate is really just a cycle that never ends. It's a path of time that can connect people, separate worlds like the supernatural and human plains and at the end of fate is-"
He's cut off by a groan from behind. Boyd stirs and tries to sit up, only to gasp and flinch all over the table. Deaton works on applying ointment to this gash and he presses crushed herbs into that bite until Boyd is resting again. Stiles and Derek keep watch over the two betas and Derek whispers that he'll take care of them from now on. That he's sorry, that things will be different.
And they are because he knows.
He likes Autumn. The forest is bright with color and the smells are stronger which makes running through the preserve so much more fun and fulfilling. The pack is gathering for a meal, one that will change things for them forever.
Cars line the driveway and Derek looks at each vehicle with a strange tick. They line up perfectly, hoods aligned and windshields glinting in the light from the porch.
"Hey, dinner's on the table." Stiles says from the door and Derek turns, his chin bumping into Stiles' cheek to brush a chaste kiss there. They walk in together, hand-in-hand, and the table is full of people.
Erica and Boyd are sitting on either side of their daughter who bounces in excitement because this house is huge and hide and seek was never so much fun! Isaac is helping Lydia pull a cloth napkin over the front of her daughter's dress and they kiss over her head, earning them a 'euch!' from the strawberry-blonde werewolf pup. Allison and Scott are trying desperately to sit the twins down and it's not working until Allison whispers "See? he's looking at you" and they both bunker down with shifting eyes at Derek, all crooked chinned and brown curls.
"It looks great, Stiles." Danny compliments from the end of the table with Jackson trying not to look too hungry, but he gives Stiles a smile and that's that. Stiles and Derek finally pull out their chairs, but then they stop and Derek is looking at everyone with such fondness that Stiles thinks he might burst with pride. The table goes quiet, even the pups, and all eyes are on Derek and Stiles.
"We've decided to adopt." Derek says and everyone is laughing and clapping and then there's hugging and someone is crying-is that Allison? No, it's Jackson. After the announcement and post-announcement questions they all tuck in for their meal.
The Hale house is Hale property again and the pack is thriving. It's taken them a while, a little over ten years, but things are good. Everyone is good. The pack is good because it's family and the family is good because they hold each other together.
Derek wears the medallion and Stiles rubs it for luck every night.