You'll probably want to go to my profile and read A Simple Life before reading this.
Besides mealtimes and full moons and Christmas (he's only experienced one, but he knows he likes it,) Stiles' favorite time is the mornings. Mornings when there's nothing to do but sleep and cuddle, in particular.
Stiles cuddles with Derek, who is his favorite person, no besides about it.
"Stop squirming," Derek mutters, eyes still closed, face still pushed into the pillow with all of the small dots on the fabric that Stiles picked out.
"I'm not squirming, I'm stretching." Stiles' human body gets so much stiffer than his fox body. He thinks it might have something to do with size, but one way or the other, it feels really good to push his toes down to the bottom of the bed and twist his back one way and another like he's a giant rubber band.
Derek's arm, pinned underneath Stiles' lower back, suddenly levers upwards, hooking Stiles in and pulling himover to lie on top of his chest. Derek's other arm comes up to join its fellow in pinning Stiles down, and then Stiles can't move, but man, is he ever comfortable.
Well, okay, maybe his head is at sort of a weird angle, but he doesn't really mind because it's also on top of Derek's muscles. Stiles has been mostly sort of human for a while now, and he knows for a fact that Derek's muscles are some of the best out there. The same goes for his face. And everything else.
Stiles kisses the spot over Derek's heart. He knows from his research that emotions are actually from a combination of different structures in the brain, plus a few hormones here and there that combine into a feelings cocktail, and the heart has very little to do with feeling love at all; but the heart is symbolically linked to love, and easier to kiss than Derek's hypothalamus, so the heart it is.
"I'm trying to sleep," Derek grumbles, but his hand shifts up to cup the back of Stiles' head anyway.
"So was I," Stiles widens his eyes innocently, "but then you were all distractingly attractive."
Derek sighs heavily, but he strokes searching fingers down Stiles' spine anyway. Stiles will never understand this human habit of acting one way when you feel another.
"Do you want to have sex?" Stiles asks.
Derek rolls his eyes, but he pulls Stiles' face up for a long, searching kiss anyway.
Sex with Derek is the best. Stiles may be biased, because Derek is the only person he's ever had sex with (his time being fully fox is too blurry for him to tell) but he's pretty sure that nobody in the whole world could make him feel the way he does with Derek. When they're in bed, (or the living room couch, or back porch, or forest floor,) it's like the whole world narrows down to nothing but the comforting weight of their bodies pressed against each other, and Derek's hands sliding over Stiles' skin, and the heavy, thumping rhythm they make together.
It's funny. Stiles has been learning about this new world for months now, and he knows that Derek fulfills a type. Stubble, tragic past, a house deep in the woods, and a leather jacket from time to time are all factors that coalesce into a sort of bad boy image. (It doesn't make sense to Stiles that much, because why would where Derek lives or what he looks like or what he wears have anything to do with his personality, but that's one of those human things Stiles might never get.) The point is, humans that look at Derek would never believe that he has a secret smile he only ever shows when he and Stiles have the covers pulled up over their heads, or that he asks for reassurance that Stiles is okay at least three times before they do anything, even if Stiles is the one topping (that also doesn't make sense, because sometimes Stiles is "topping" but he isn't actually on top of Derek?) or that he milks the afterglow as though it's just as good as the sex itself, twisting his limbs through Stiles' until they're one great big pretzel of bodies.
But Stiles isn't going to tell anybody. The time he has with Derek is for nobody else.
Derek, between Stiles' legs, moves his hand just so-
Stiles shudders and gasps. Derek's fingers still.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine, great," Stiles bats at the top of Derek's head, "keep going, please, pleasepleaseplease."
"Ah! Oh, uh-huh, yes, woah-"
All of those temple-bound monks would have reached nirvana far earlier if they had this, the perfect meeting of bodies, fitting together like merging galaxies, like divine movement.
Derek blinks. "Nothing, I just... felt like calling your name."
"Oohh. Okay, carry on then. I'm good with- oh, with that, yes, very good with that. Here, let me just-"
"What? What? Holy what?"
"Doesn't matter, just keep going."
Derek gasps sharply. "Yes."
Derek moves and clenches, grips first here, then there, and Stiles is caught up in tectonic movements, powerless to escape, and unwilling to anyway.
"Derek! Ah- ah- I love y- oh my god."
"Mmm," Derek rumbles contentedly, "love you too."
Stiles smiles down at Derek, splayed across the bedspread, covered in sweat and... other things. Stiles is getting very good at sex, and Derek, judging from the way he can't form words yet, thinks so too. Lightly kissing the edge of Derek's open, panting mouth, Stiles thinks he could stay here and never need anything else. Derek is basically his world, it would be nice to just be locked away with him and never have to deal with anything else.
There's a knock on the front door.
Derek groans. "Isaac."
Werewolf hearing being what it is, Isaac replies from the front stoop, "what?"
"We'll be there in five minutes. Hold on."
"Oh, gross," Isaac moans from the front door.
The nose of a werewolf is both a gift and a curse, Stiles muses as they hurriedly shuffle into the shower.
After a swift and vigorous session with the loofah (this fluffy clustering of porous almost-fabric used to clean one's body,) and a hurried redressing that involves a lot of sneaky wearing of each other's clothing (for some reason Stiles isn't supposed to mention this. It makes Derek uncomfortable,) Derek opens the door, and Stiles plasters an innocent smile on his face.
"It's the middle of the day," Isaac grumbles, like that's supposed to mean anything.
Isaac is there to figure out paperwork for emancipation, so he doesn't need to stay with a foster family. He and Derek huddle over the makeshift coffee table and talk paperwork. Derek doesn't mention it much, but he has some experience with the foster system, even if it's only in how to avoid it.
Stiles likes to think about that part of Derek's life about as much as Derek likes to talk about it. His memories of the place they used to live in are shaky, half in fog, but he knows that the old house was meant to hold far more people than their new, thimble-sized cottage does. He also knows that the old house couldn't have always been the creaking old contortion of wooden beams and dust it was, that once it must have smelled like cooking food and laughter and maybe a few slammed doors. He knows the flames that separated those two places left marks on Derek that werewolf healing couldn't fade away.
Interrupting talk of dealing with social workers for a moment, Stiles swoops in behind Derek to hug him around the shoulders. Hard.
"Hello. Sorry. The urge struck me." Stiles presses a kiss to the side of Derek's neck, (just because he knows it riles Derek up,) then skips off to the other side of the room, where he busies himself with a library book from the stack near the door. He's read it before, that's why they're returning it, but Stiles can't help but think the author is trying to hide something behind their words, and he wants to find out what it is.
His reading is interrupted by Derek kissing his forehead, one hand on Stiles' shoulder, the other on the doorknob.
"Isaac and I have to run down to the Sheriff's office. Paperwork. Be back soon."
Then he's gone, and Stiles is draped over a secondhand armchair sideways, trying and failing to return to his book. He keeps getting distracted by looking out the window, towards the empty road outside, and if he manages to read a sentence or two, he keeps glancing up to share a thought with Derek, who isn't there.
Before Stiles was quite human, Derek had tried to lock Stiles up in his car, while he stayed outside. Stiles knows now that it had been because Derek was worried he would freeze under the vastly open night sky, but then and now, he just feels abandoned.
Foxes are solitary creatures. Stiles doesn't know what happened to that.
Their house is tiny, but it seems to echo, cavernous and empty, like a stretch of woods after a plague of loggers. Stiles wanders from room to room to room (there are only three) then outside, then back inside, then he opens the book again, but the words are stale, so then he fishes a bag of chips out of one of the cabinets, then he eats it, and then he does nothing in particular.
What do humans do all day?
Finally, the front door reopens, and Stiles pounces. They have sex right in the half open doorway, Derek breathlessly thanking his god that they have no neighbors, and that he dropped Isaac off at the McCall's before showing up.
Summer is drawing closer, and Stiles is excited. He's going to make Derek take him to the beach, (even though Derek complains about the long drive out to the coast,) and he's going to try getting a tan, and he's going to watch the forest change through new eyes. No longer will he just blindly notice the plentiful food, he'll be able to look up and down and around, soak in the fruitful weight of the trees, the hopeful stumbles of cubs and kits, the endless greening of the air, and understand it like he didn't before.
Wait. Stiles stops in his tracks.
Derek snuffles at Stiles' ear. What?
Nudging back at Derek's massive, black furred head with his own small, red one, Stiles explains, this is my second summer. Or, almost summer.
Soooo, this past spring was my first spring, and the same goes for winter and fall, which means that I was born in the summer, which means that I get cake, since I'm a year old.
Whuffing in amusement, Derek bats at Stiles' flank. Stiles stumbles slightly, and startles a ladybug out from underneath a leaf. He watches her flit upwards in amazement. What tiny wings under such a vibrant shell.
So you want cake?
And also, you know, I wanna celebrate living for a year or whatever. It's a pretty fatal world we live in.
Derek pauses, before adding seriously, yes it is, and licking the side of Stiles' face.
Stiles doesn't want Derek thinking about death, he doesn't want Derek ever thinking about death, so he ducks down into a play stance, then leaps up to gnaw at Derek's ear, saying, does this mean I'm mature now?
Their play chase lasts only as long as it takes for Derek to outrun Stiles (which is to say, not very long,) but it gets Stiles' blood pumping, and when they both switch back into human form, and Derek's chest is pressed up against Stiles' as they lie on the forest floor, Stiles can tell that Derek's heart is beating just as fast.
He lies back, watches the clouds, and waits for their heartbeats to sync up. Derek nuzzles at Stiles' neck, scenting it.
"What do I smell like today?" It's an ongoing question. Stiles apparently smells different every day.
"Even I can tell that. Come on, what do I pay you for?"
Stiles can almost feel Derek rolling his eyes.
"Pine. Detergent–– the laundromat stuff. Fake cheese. Cumin? What were you doing with cumin?"
Derek shakes his head against Stiles' neck. "Cumin. Isaac, a bit. And me." Derek lips at the tendon that leads up Stiles' neck. (He should look up if there's a word for that.)
Turnabout is fair play, so Stiles pulls Derek's hand to his mouth and starts biting at his fingers. It's partially because it always feels nice to gnaw on something, (it keeps his teeth in shape,) and partially (mostly) because he knows Derek takes it sexually.
Derek bites a mark into Stiles' neck. Stiles sucks Derek's entire index finger into his mouth. Derek's hips buck. Stiles' buck right back.
(Mating season for foxes ended in March. Mating season for humans never ends.)
Time continues to pass, and Stiles notices it. Humans mark their time in such steady increments: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries.
There are words for even more time than that, but millennia and eons have nothing to do with him and Derek.
With the movement of time, Stiles' hair grows, and when his hair reaches his chin, Derek volunteers to cut it back down. Stiles isn't sure what the point is, it's just going to keep growing, but it seems important to Derek, so Stiles lets Derek sit him on a stool in the bathroom, cradle his head between two warm palms, and pull a razor across his skull, sweeping a hand over it after each swipe of the razor. When Stiles' first haircut is over, he is a warm blob of boneless muscle, still buzzing from the razor and Derek's touch.
Stiles lets himself fall backwards on the stool, and unsurprisingly, Derek catches him, acting as a chair back. Derek's blueish greenish eyes blink down at him.
"I can see your eyes," Derek comments, brushing a finger over Stiles' bared forehead.
Nuzzling his head backwards against Derek's stomach, (with his new buzzcut, the movement almost tickles,) Stiles grins. "Right back atcha."
Derek cards his fingers through the stubble on Stiles' hair, brushing out a few stray hairs. They tickle Stiles' neck. "Before I forget: I'm going back down to the station today."
"I'm coming with you."
"Alright," Derek answers mildly. "It's just to fix something with Isaac's paperwork. Isaac gets nervous in the station, so I'm dealing with it."
Stiles hadn't known that about Isaac. He knows very little about him, actually. Isaac just illicits a general sense of approval, like how he feels about chocolate and people who don't lie.
Once Stiles and Derek reach the station, Stiles is baffled as to why Isaac doesn't like it. Or, well, it's probably something to do with the prosecution of his dad, but Stiles personally finds the station comforting. The officers meander back and forth to each other, chatting like friends and the whole place smells like coffee. The emblem of the sheriff's department hangs on the back wall. It reads "Serve and Protect," and Stiles thinks that isn't a bad motto at all.
Realizing his side is suddenly cold, Stiles turns to see Derek following a bearded deputy into one of the offices. Derek gives him a small wave, then the office door closes behind him. Stiles should have been keeping better track of Derek. There aren't even windows looking into the office.
Nearby, one of the deputies sets down a stack of papers loudly and Stiles jumps at the abrupt noise. She glances up at him and he smiles wanly, tensing in preparation for a slew of questions about who he is and why he's there and why he doesn't have a birth certificate and how about you follow me to this jail cell here, sir?
The deputy scrubs a hand over her nose and opens a file. Maybe she hasn't noticed him yet.
As unobtrusively as possible, Stiles walks over to the waiting area (a glorified word for two chairs and a potted plant in a corner.) The open plan of the station feels much bigger than it did when he walked in, and it seems like he's taking longer to reach his seat than it should.
Stiles sits and tries to look at something that isn't one of the strangers milling around in the bullpen of desks, then he taps his feet against the floor, then he drums the tips of his fingers on his knee, then he tries to find a comfortable position in the linoleum chair.
He has his knees almost to his ears when he sees a pair of shoes stop in front of him. He looks up to see a face attached to the body attached to the shoes. It's a tannish, reddish, faintly amused face, with wrinkles that probably come from making that faintly amused expression a lot.
"You all right there kid?" the face asks.
Stiles tries to look innocent. "Yes. These chairs are uncomfortable."
The face nods knowingly. "Murder on the back. I've been trying to get them replaced for years, but there never seems to be room in the budget for new chairs. Are you waiting for someone?"
"Wh- um, yeah. Derek." Stiles replies.
The face tilts to the side in confusion. "We don't have an officer Derek."
Of course the officer would be confused. Stiles doesn't know how to talk to people who aren't Derek. What is he even doing here?
"I mean, um, Derek Hale. He's talking to, uh," Stiles gestures at his chin, "beard guy."
The face chuckles. "Beard guy. I'm sure Dave will appreciate that. He's proud of the damn thing for some reason."
Stiles' eyes flick to the office door. Still closed. What in the hell are they doing in there?
The officer looks at Stiles again. His eyebrows come together. That probably isn't good.
"You want some coffee, kid?"
Oh. Stiles blinks up at the officer. He doesn't look like someone about to arrest him for being an impostor. Mostly he looks slightly worried.
"Come on. The coffee's bad, but it ain't poisonous," the guy says, making his way to a table in the back that bears a coffee machine like an offering to the gods.
Stiles finds himself following, not entirely sure why. The officer moves like someone used to people trailing behind him. He doesn't look back at Stiles as he walks towards the coffee machine, already confident that Stiles will follow. Which Stiles does. Because coffee. Derek never lets him have coffee.
The officer pours a cup of what might be motor oil that's been mistaken for coffee, and hands it to Stiles in a styrofoam cup. Wrapping both hands around it, Stiles cradles it against his chest. It quiets the butterflies in his stomach somewhat, even if Derek is still hidden away in the office, unreachable.
Taking a sip of his own coffee, the officer winces. "Urgh. I regret it every time."
"Then why do you drink it?"
"Don't get smart with me," the officer admonishes gently. "You look like a college kid, you know how important coffee is to a man. Don't you all inject it straight into your veins or something?"
"Of course not. That's like, supremely gross. And dangerous."
The officer shrugs. "I've seen kids do weirder stuff."
Stiles feels the oddest need to protest that he isn't a kid, but then the officer might ask how old he is, and Stiles can't really answer that. Plus he's pretty sure cops can smell lies.
That would actually be pretty cool. Technically, Derek can hear them, but being able to smell them would probably be way more reliable than listening for a shaky heartbeat. Stiles would watch a TV show about a cop that smells lies in a second.
Nodding at the office door, the officer says, "Hale is a good guy."
"I know," Stiles says, because he does.
"Not many folks would just help a kid like Isaac out like that. I'm glad to see he's making friends after, well, you know." The officer clears his throat awkwardly. "Anyway, how do you know Derek?"
Stiles realizes the officer is trying to make small talk. It's kind of funny how bad at it he is. "I'm, uh, we're, boyfriends? I guess?" Derek would wince at the word, Stiles knows. He thinks it sounds juvenile, which, well, yeah. But what else can Stiles say? Mate? Humans don't really throw that word around, Stiles knows this after the incident in the grocery store.
"Oh," the officer's eyebrows raise. "Huh. Well, I mean, that's good. For you. And him. Did not see that coming." The last sentence is a little under his breath. Humans are so bad at figuring Derek out.
"Lydia Martin says he's out of my league," Stiles blurts out, he doesn't know why. She'd said it more than a month ago, but her words must have just stuck with him, and decided that now would be a good time to dislodge from his brain and fall out of his mouth.
The officer snorts. "Don't believe in leagues, kid. My wife was way out of my league, but we still had a nice ten years of happy marriage. The key," he lowers his voice conspiratorially, "is to be so awesome that they never notice how much more attractive they are than you."
"Laugh all you want, kid. But trust me, that little bit of wisdom got me far." The officer finishes his coffee and tosses it in the tiny wastebasket at his feet. "Well, my break is over and- look at that timing, seems like Doug is done talking to your boyfriend."
Stiles hadn't even noticed the office door open, but sure enough, there's Derek, a big yellow envelope in his hands, standing in the bullpen and casting his gaze around for Stiles. Stiles gives a little wave, and Derek starts walking over, maneuvering around the cramped maze of desks, chairs and filing cabinets.
The officer holds out a hand. Stiles has to look at it for a second before he realizes he's supposed to shake it.
"I'm Sheriff Stilinski, by the way," he says, "and you ever need anything, you call me up, son."
Stiles nods. "Alright, uh, dad." That seems like the appropriate way to answer.
The sheriff blinks, looking a little nonplussed, but then Derek has a hand on Stiles' shoulder, and he's giving the sheriff a wave and a smile as they walk out.
"Wait," Stiles says as they slide into the car, "was that John Stilinski?"
Stiles looks back at the station, as though he could make out the figure of the friendly sheriff through the wall. "The one whose name I used to make my name?"
"The same. He's not a bad guy," Derek replies. Coming from him, that's high praise.
"No," Stiles agrees, "he's not."
Isaac is officially emancipated at almost the exact time he finishes sophomore year. He gets a tiny apartment on the edge of town that he shares with two roommates; art students at the community college. Derek is weird about it, and when Stiles asks, he says that traditionally, a pack lives all together, but he and Isaac aren't really close enough for Derek to ask that Isaac move in.
Stiles doesn't claim to know Isaac any better than Derek, and he's alright with the tiny, makeshift pack the three of them make, but he can't help but wonder when they'll move on from making do with what the universe throws at them, to thriving simply because they can. If for no other reason than because Derek deserves to have something nice. Stiles doesn't quite know what a "normal" life would be like, but Derek had one once, he should have one again. If only Stiles knew how to get one. Google doesn't have an answer for him on this.
For now, they go home and eat possibly undercooked spaghetti off of paper plates, then sit on the grass outside to watch the sun go down -with summer slowness- behind the trees. When the crickets are singing with the enthusiasm of an off key opera singer, Stiles rolls over until he's on top of Derek, and they enjoy the freedom of warm weather to undress as much as they please outside.
Around midnight, Stiles shifts into his fox form and sprawls across Derek's lap. He's warmer this way, and it also feels nice to be back in his natural state. The world gets a lot simpler when he's a fox. He can enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
Rub my tummy.
"You're so spoiled."
Which is why I'm expecting you to rub my tummy. Now, please.
Derek sighs and obliges. It's impossible to explain what makes tummy rubs so nice, but Stiles can easily say that he loves Derek, like, thirty-seven times more when tummy rub time comes around.
"A girl at the grocery store asked me where I got my pet fox the other day," Derek comments.
I resent that.
"I know you aren't a pet." Derek shrugs. "I told her that wild animals aren't toys, and that she should look around Deaton's clinic for a nice dog or something."
In my experience, the best pets are wolves.
Derek flicks Stiles' ear lightly. "I resent that."
It's true though! They feed you, give you a roof, offer up sex whenever you want it...
Laughing lightly, Derek leans back on one hand to look up at the stars that sprinkle the sky like salt. "I love you."
Stiles used to have to coax the words out of Derek with as much care and delicacy as one treats a newborn kit, and even now, Derek is not free with words of endearment, but now and then, they drop from his lips like ripe fruit falling from a branch, and Stiles thinks that at least they're doing something right.
Criminal Minds is a fascinating show. Also, it is eleven o'clock at night, Stiles has been watching it nonstop for five hours, and he's home alone. It doesn't even matter where Derek is, just that he isn't here, and Stiles is almost certain that there is a murderer outside of the house. It's a suspicion that's been growing as the night goes on. At first he thought it was just the shifting of the trees outside, or one of the deer that occasionally wanders through their yard, looking for a garden to rampage, but he's seeing shadows now, coming in through the windows and sneaking across the floor. There's definitely a person out there, and Stiles isn't going to delude himself into thinking he or she doesn't want to cram him into a murder basement for torture and then death.
Stiles pauses the video again and sidles up to the window, peeking through their poor excuse for curtains. The guy's good at hiding, but Stiles knows he's lurking out there somewhere, a knife and duct tape at the ready. It's funny, (in the sense that it isn't funny at all,) that Stiles doesn't consider himself afraid of the dark. It's just the absence of the sun, what harm is there in that? But he sees now, it's what lurks in the dark that has humans afraid and running for the light switch. It's the lack of sight, the sense that you could turn around and find something there that wasn't before. It's the sense of teetering on uncertainty, never quite sure that what you're seeing is real.
Night was so much easier when he was mostly nocturnal.
There's a cracking noise outside and Stiles leaps away from the window. He feels like the guy in the first three minutes of the episode of Criminal Minds he was watching. Everybody knows what happens to the guy in the first three minutes of a police procedural show.
Well Stiles isn't going to make the mistakes that guy made. He hightails it for the telephone, an old plastic thing with a tangled, corkscrewing cord connecting the handset to the base. He pauses, a finger hovering over the numbers. Who does he call? Derek doesn't have a cellphone (we only ever talk to each other, Stiles, and we're always together. What's the point?) and 911 doesn't quite seem right, (Stiles is pretty sure you're supposed to already be bleeding by the time you call 911,) so what does he do?
Who else is there?
Stiles doubles back to his computer. There is exactly one person, and it's actually sort of perfect, because if anybody knows how to deal with a murderer in a backyard, it's a sheriff. It doesn't take long to look up Sheriff Stilinski's number, (google is a useful tool,) then punch the numbers into the telephone.
After entering the number, Stiles looks at the telephone. Nothing happens. He punches the numbers in again.
He googles how to dial a telephone.
Once he reads the eHow article, he shakes his head at himself, lifts the receiver, then dials in the numbers again, gratified to hear a tinny dial tone reaching his ears this time.
Boooooooop... boooooooop... booooooop...
"This's John. Wazzit?"
"Yes. S'the middle of the night, n'I'm not on shift. Better be important."
Stiles falters for a second. But police officers are meant to protect and serve, right?
"This is Stiles. There's a murderer outside of my house."
A loud sigh on the other side of the line. "First, if there's a murderer call 911, second, what the hell is a Stiles?"
"Um, well, I'm a person, mostly, um, I mean, I'm a person, and you said 'if you ever need me, you call me up, son,' so I figured if there's a murderer outside of my house then I should probably call you up son. Thing is, I'm not like, super one hundred percent sure there's a murderer, more like seventy percent, so I figure I've got to play it safe because I don't want to be murdered in my bed, but I don't want to call out, I don't know, a SWAT team for nothing."
"Oh," the sheriff's voice says. "I remember you. Okay," there's a rustling noise on the other end of the line, like he's moving, "where are you and why do you think there's a murderer?"
"I'm at my house. And I can hear things moving outside."
"Uh-huh. Sure. What kind of things and where is your house?"
"Rustling things, and, um, I don't know, the woods?"
There's a pause. "You don't know your own address?"
"Well, I mean, it's Derek's address," Stiles flounders around the living room, like maybe he'll find the address sloshed across a wall in red paint somewhere.
"Oh, the Hale house. I'll be there in ten minutes. Hang tight, kid." The line goes dead.
Stiles stares at the phone for a few minutes before figuring out he's supposed to set it down in its cradle. He's voluntarily invited a human into their home. He should be more worried about this, but even though the sheriff is practically a stranger, and Stiles doesn't have Derek's comforting presence by his side, there's something about the sheriff; he exudes a reassuring presence. Somebody could bottle it and make a fortune.
Three knocks sound from the front door, each one efficient and clear in its meaning. Stiles recognizes it from the dozen repeats of "police! open up!" he's heard in the past few hours.
After a quick peek through the spy hole, Stiles lets the sheriff in. He's wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and a coffee mug.
"Alright kid," he pauses to take a swig of coffee, "tell me what's going on."
Stiles blinks. "There were a bunch of rustles and shadows from around the house, but I guess I haven't really heard anything in the last ten minutes."
The sheriff raises an eyebrow. "Sure. Alright, I'll sweep the perimeter, but I don't think there will be anything."
"Because the murderer would have seen you drive up?"
"Wait!" Stiles calls just before the sheriff goes back into the dark, "why don't you have your gun?"
The sheriff waves vaguely at Stiles as he steps out onto the lawn. "I'm not worried."
Stiles watches out the windows as the sheriff's flashlight beam sweeps over the backyard: the overgrown grass, the trees, the few random leftovers of construction scattered around, the rectangle of concrete that serves as their driveway. He finishes his circuit sooner than Stiles thought he would, and Stiles opens the door for him just as the sheriff turns off his flashlight.
"Thanks." Does this mean the sheriff is going now? Stiles doesn't want that.
The sheriff's eyes flicker over Stiles' face. "Beacon Hills is a pretty safe area, you really don't have to worry about murderers wandering around in the woods."
Stiles shrugs. "I'm new."
Tilting his head to the side, the sheriff notes, "yes, I guess you are. We don't get a lot of people coming into Beacon Hills."
"It's nice here."
"It kind of smells like beets."
The sheriff squints at Stiles for a second for a second before a bark of laughter escapes his mouth. "I've never heard that before."
Glancing back at his car, the sheriff says, "well, unless you also want me to check your closet for monsters, I guess I should get going."
"Wait!" Stiles bursts out.
"You said wait."
"I did, didn't I. Funny thing. Um, just, maybe you should check on my closet. Or you know, if you want some more coffee, I think we have coffee. No coffee machine though, we do this weird thing with filters because Derek can't man up and buy a coffee machine. Don't let that put you off, though, because our coffee is top notch. Top. Notch."
The sheriff looks at Stiles skeptically, then steps inside. "You're an odd duck, Stiles."
"So they tell me. They usually don't say "duck," though."
The sheriff does check in the closet, glancing around the single square foot of space with coats piled in a lump on the floor before closing the door on it. Stiles fiddles fruitlessly in the kitchen until the sheriff waves a hand, saying "don't bother," and moving to settle on the couch.
Stiles joins him, and they sit in silence for a moment, before the sheriff asks, "are you afraid of the dark, Stiles?"
"No," Stiles answers honestly.
"Because in my experience, it's only people who have been spooked by something that start hearing things outside."
Stiles glances at his laptop, the screen of which shows a frozen frame of Criminal Minds, mid-shootout. The sheriff follows his gaze, and sighs heavily. "These stupid shows. You should know better than watching these in the middle of the night."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know." The sheriff makes some sort of illustrative hand gesture that makes no sense. "Or maybe you don't. Watching cop shows makes everybody jumpy. Didn't your parents ever warn you about that?"
"Um, they, uh, died. When I was young," Stiles replies awkwardly. It's technically true. Should he be looking more fraught with distress? He barely remembers the fox that birthed him, but a human would probably show some sorrow when talking about their dead parents, right? He tries to look sorrowful.
Apparently his sad face comes off a bit too strong, because the next thing he knows, he's getting the life hugged out of him by two big reassuring sheriff arms.
"Hey now, hey." A hand aggressively rubs circles over Stiles' back. "It's alright. I- when my- when my wife passed away, I was a mess for a long time. It's alright to feel a little lost."
Stiles doesn't know what to say to that, so he keeps his nose awkwardly squished against the sheriff's collarbone.
"I get it, I get it. It's like you're in this unfamiliar new world, and sometimes you barely even know how to handle it, but you have to trust me, you'll find a way. There will always be people to help you."
Stiles does know what to say to that. "I believe you."
Stiles doesn't know how it happened. He really doesn't. One minute he's inviting the sheriff over to check for murderers, the next, he and Derek are invited over for barbecue at the sheriff's house. After that, it's out for fishing. After that, it's bowling because the sheriff's team is short a member. (The sheriff is terrible at bowling. Stiles thinks he might just do it because he's lonely in that big house of his.)
Derek is wary of the sheriff. It has something to do with having been hauled in for questioning once or twice, and also something to do with the way the sheriff pulled Derek aside at their first barbecue, pointed a single, resolute index finger in his face, and declared that if he was trying to take advantage of the confused, sheltered new kid in town, he would have another thing coming. Derek assured the sheriff that he had no intention of doing such a thing, but the sheriff remained suspicious of him for a few weeks after that. Apparently Stiles and Derek look different enough in age that the Sheriff suspected something fishy.
Stiles thinks he loves the sheriff. Except in a very, very different way than he loves Derek. The barest idea of doing... that with the sheriff turns Stiles' stomach, but he doesn't mind the friendly arm that will get slung around his shoulder, or the ruffling of his nonexistent hair. When the sheriff stops by before he has to go on his shift, not for any particular reason, just to make sure they're doing alright, and Stiles feels warm, like he's swaddled up in blankets; he thinks that's a certain kind of love. Derek might love the sheriff too, but he's much worse at admitting such things. At the very least, Stiles can tell that Derek is a little jealous. He also wants fondly exasperated "kiddos" and "sons," but he and the sheriff aren't quite there yet. Not everybody can have Stiles' unrivaled magnetism.
He and the sheriff talk about different things than he and Derek do:
"Peoplewatching," the sheriff confirms.
Stiles takes another bite of curly fries (which goes onto his list of favorite things, definitely,) and turns in his squeaky diner seat to face the street. "Okay. It's on."
The sheriff points surreptitiously at a couple walking along the other side of the street. "He's cheating."
"How can you possibly know that, you're just being dramatic."
"Fine, maybe a little," the sheriff allows, "but he is definitely less into her than she is into him. It's all in the body language." The sheriff takes a sip of coke. "You have to watch the body language, Stiles, it tells you everything. A person's chest always points towards what they consider the most important thing around them."
"Huh." Stiles watches the couple pass the hardware store, and realizes yes, the guy isn't angled towards the girl at all, while she has her chest pointed at him like a honing beacon. "That's too bad. For them, I mean."
The sheriff shrugs. "They're young. Plenty of time to get their hearts broken and explore the world of dating."
Stiles winces slightly. That sounds stressful. Is there somebody he can thank for Derek?
After he swallows a bite of his hamburger, the sheriff continues, "and that kid. The one hanging around with the pack of skaters who think they're too cool for school-"
"School's out, it's summer."
"It's a figure of speech, kid," the sheriff explains smoothly. "But, uh, that kid doesn't really want to be a part of that group. Keeps checking his phone, leaning against that light post while everybody else is comparing their skateboards." The sheriff sighs and shakes his head. "Back in the nineties, everybody was saying skateboards were just a fad. Now they're the bane of police officers everywhere."
"Hmm," Stiles answers absentmindedly, watching the kid in the distance shifting away from the crowd he's surrounded by, trying to create his own little island away from the madness.
"Son, don't ever take up skateboarding."
"Kay dad," Stiles replies.
The sheriff makes an odd sort of noise, and Stiles glances up. "What is it? Are you choking?"
He shakes his head, "no, no. It's nothing, kid."
"Okay." Stiles eyes the meal on the sheriff's plate. There isn't a green thing on it. "That's probably not healthy."
"Come on, first my doctor, now you?"
"Your doctor says you shouldn't be eating this?" Stiles exclaims, reaching for the plate. "Then why are you eating it?"
"It tastes good, and I'm a man of simple pleasures." The sheriff blithely slides his plate back towards himself.
"Who won't live much longer, at this rate," Stiles mutters darkly, watching the sheriff imbibe more fat and carbs.
"'at's morbid," the sheriff points out around his food.
"Good," Stiles shoots back defiantly.
The full moon comes especially bright and low and fat this month, but the Hale pack still does what it always does. Stiles and Derek spend the day enjoying Derek's moon-fueled libido, then Isaac pops up around nightfall, either dropped off by his roommate, or showing up on foot because the roommate is either unwilling to drive or his truck has broken down again. They stand around until the moon pokes its head over the horizon, washing cool white light over the gray grass, then Derek shifts to his massive wolf form, easy as water flowing downwards, Stiles follows suit, then Isaac shifts as well.
Stiles and Derek spend a fair amount of time prancing aimlessly around the woods in their spare time, so they run ahead (Stiles often giving up on keeping pace with Derek and settling for perching on his back as he bounds through the trees,) while Isaac sniffs around unfamiliar sections of forest. His wolf form, small and thin, is ghostlike as it flits around underneath the moon, paws almost hovering above the ground in their hesitancy. He looks like an inverted version of Derek, petite and pale while Derek resembles a furry black horse.
Perched between Derek's heaving shoulder blades, Stiles twists his head to look at Isaac, sniffing delicately at a patch of moss hugging a tree some ten yards away. He wonders what the sheriff would pick up from observing Isaac. As far as Stiles knows, the sheriff's experience with Isaac extends only to the prosecuting of Mr. Lahey, who had been put behind bars in record time a few months ago. If the sheriff were with them now, watching Isaac hang back, cautiously explore his surroundings, flinch at the hoot of an owl dozens of feet above him, he would think- he would think-
He would think Derek and Stiles aren't doing their jobs. This polite, perfunctory relationship they have with Isaac is not what pack is. When was the last time Stiles spoke anything more than small talk with Isaac?
Stiles watches Isaac carefully for the rest of the night, slotting a plan into place all the while.
Stiles invites Isaac to his birthday party. He has to put together a birthday party to invite Isaac to first, but that's not exactly a chore, and he gets the feeling Isaac will balk if Stiles just pulls him into a crushing hug and demands that they be family, so a birthday party it is. The sheriff declines his invitation, explaining that a bunch of kids won't want to hang out with an old cop like me, but Stiles gets Lydia and Scott to come. Derek's a given, of course. Isaac gives a tentative yes, pending his ability to get a ride.
Stiles makes Derek go pick Isaac up in the camaro, and puts up neon green streamers in the living room while he's gone without any major incidents. He's actually quite proud of himself. He picked out the whole color scheme on his own. Sure, the colors don't match, but he picked all of them, which is a step in the right direction.
Spinning the stack of sparkling party hats in his hands, Stiles smiles. This will be a good day.
It's actually kind of an awkward day. The only other person who will deign to wear a party hat is Derek, and that's just because he loves Stiles, so he has to. Lydia refuses any kind of birthday themed pastry, citing a diet ("it's a lemon sugar cleanse, Stiles,") and Isaac spends most of the party glued to Scott's side. Stiles makes it work though: an hour in, he pulls out a DVD he had rented on his very own (okay, the sheriff helped) from the video rental place that still limps along downtown. It's some silly thing from the 80s with terrible effects, but it's about a werewolf who plays basketball, so Stiles thinks they'll enjoy it anyway. Stiles' prediction proves true when nobody can resist watching it, even as they all cringe at the poor man's chewbacca costume that the lead actor has to wear.
"This is ridiculous," Derek murmurs into Stiles' ear.
Dragging Derek's arm around his shoulders, Stiles retorts, "yeah, yeah, but do I know how to throw a party or do I know how to throw a party?"
Derek rolls his eyes.
"Well, do I?"
"You know how to throw a party."
"Hell yeah I do!"
Stiles directs his gaze back to his laptop screen, but he can't help but watch Isaac out of the corner of his eye. He's sitting next to Scott, of course, they've been best friends since forever, (although Stiles can't help but side-eye Scott for being so oblivious about the whole Mr. Lahey being a child abusing douchenozzle thing.) But Stiles thinks it's probably not normal to keep scooting slightly closer to your best friend throughout a movie, so carefully that they don't notice, until you're pressed all up against their side and leaning your head on their shoulder, even though you're too tall for it to be comfortable at all.
Trying his very best to withhold an evil grin, Stiles leans back against Derek's shoulder. He has something to talk to Isaac about.
"Soooo," Stiles drawls after Scott and Lydia are gone, "Scott, huh?"
Isaac pauses in his quest to remove all of the dirty paper plates and utensils from the coffee table. He leapt to cleaning duty without anybody asking, a reflex, and it makes Stiles sort of sad.
"What about Scott?"
Stiles waggles his eyebrows. "You know," he says suggestively, channelling his best impression of a gossipy middle school girl. It's a damn good impression, he thinks, even if he's never met one in real life.
Isaac almost drops his handful of frosting covered napkins. "Is it that obvious? Shit. Shit, I, uh," he moves his laden arms fruitlessly for a moment, before looking helplessly at Stiles. "Do you think he knows?"
Oh yeah, look at them go, having a real conversation. "Probably not," Stiles replies slowly. "He's nice and all, but kind of as dumb as a brick that got dropped on the head as a child."
Sighing, Isaac dumps his handful of party supplies into the overloaded trash bin. "Okay."
Stiles waits for Isaac to say something else, but he seems about done.
"So, uh, you gonna ask him out?" Stiles asks.
Isaac looks at Stiles with big blue eyes that question Stiles' sanity. "No."
"Who knows? He could say yes."
"He's dating Allison Argent," Isaac points out, a trace of bitterness in his tone as he rips one of the streamers off of the wall, scotch tape easily pulling free.
"I'm pretty sure high school relationships don't last forever," Stiles offers, taking the streamer from Isaac's hands. He fears for its safety.
Isaac rolls his eyes. "Try telling Scott that. He and Allison are forever."
Stiles flounders for a second. He's supposed to be having a fun, pack-brotherly chat with Isaac. It's getting kind of not fun. "But hey, haven't you two known each other for longer?"
"Yes!" Isaac snaps. "Yes we have, and I've been in love with him for almost that entire time, but I'm never going to tell him because he is straight and in love with a girl he's known for less than a year and not once, in the entire time I've known him, has he looked at me like that at all."
"Like what?" Stiles asks before he can stop himself.
Isaac grits his jaw. "Like I'm perfect." He shakes his head. "I'm just the sidekick. I'm fine with that anyway. Which is why," he looks Stiles straight in the eye, "you aren't going to say anything to anyone."
Isaac leaves fairly quickly after that. Stiles assesses the situation: pro- he got Isaac to actually look him in the eyes. That hasn't ever happened before. Con- Isaac is sort of ticked off at him and seems pretty determined to keep himself to himself.
Stiles is going to need a better strategy.
Derek comes up behind Stiles and slips his arms around his waist. "I'm pretending I didn't hear any of that?"
"Exactly." Stiles leans back against Derek's chest. "Ugh, I just want us to be one big happy pack."
"We will be," Derek says into Stiles' hair, mouth moving against the strands he cut himself. "I wouldn't be surprised if you could make it happen through sheer force of will."
Stiles chuckles lightly, pressing his forehead up against the cool glass of the window. Derek exhales and buries his nose into Stiles' neck.
"Hey, what do I smell like?"
"Sugar," Derek notes quietly, softly rubbing his nose up and down the side of Stiles' neck, "sweat-"
"Always with the sweat."
"Everyone smells like sweat." Derek's thumb idly rubs along the bottom of Stiles' ribcage before adding, "turnips. Yes, turnips," he says before Stiles can question it, "and, and time."
Werewolves can't smell time, Stiles knows that. They may have good noses, but even werewolves can't smell abstract concepts. Yet Stiles doesn't need the voice of the sheriff in his head saying "downcast eyes, clenched shoulders, hands gripping too tight" to tell him that Derek doesn't want to talk about it. So Stiles lets Derek hang onto him, and doesn't ask what has him so scared. It's Derek. Stiles will learn what it is eventually.
Besides, what's so different now than from a year ago? Near as Stiles can tell, everything has gotten better.
Okay, maybe he runs a little slower in his fox form than he used to, but whatever.
"I'm going to regret this, I know it," the sheriff says as they walk into his garage, "but no however-old-you-are is not going to know how to drive a car on my watch. Kids these days always take forever to get their licenses, and you are not going to be one of those kids, mister."
Flicking on the garage lights, the sheriff descends the short set of stairs leading into the garage and positions himself at one end of a bulky, canvas covered shape parked on the cement floor. "Go around the back, would you?"
Stiles does, and together they tug the canvas off of what turns out to be a giant box of a car, pale blue with a fifth tire fastened to the back end.
The sheriff scrubs a hand over his hair, determinedly looking at a little scratch on the hood. "It was my wife's. Not the best starter car, but I'm sure as hell not illegally teaching a kid without a learner's permit how to drive in my cruiser."
"It's beautiful," Stiles says, because it is. Here's a car with some personality.
"She's beautiful," the sheriff corrects. "A piece like this is always gonna be a she. Now come on, let's go find an empty parking lot."
Driving is harder than Stiles thought it would be, though the sheriff assures him that most of the problem is that he's driving a manual transmission, whatever that means. It's also sort of terrifying to be solely in charge of a rolling bulk of who knows how many tons of metal. But with the sheriff directing his hand on the driveshaft, and his stern, matter-of-fact instructions, Stiles manages to weave the jeep in and out of parking spaces without any major injuries.
"Not bad," the sheriff notes approvingly when Stiles centers the jeep perfectly in between the two painted white lines for the first time. "You aren't a total disaster."
"Story of my life," Stiles snorts as he painstakingly switches into reverse to duck back out of the spot.
The sheriff makes a skeptical noise. "You do fine, kid. Even if you're a little different, you do fine."
Stiles shrugs. "I guess. I'm doing better than I was three months ago, at least."
The sheriff allows a minute of silence before asking, "what do you mean by that?"
"I dunno," Stiles turns the steering wheel a little further than he has to and frantically overcorrects. "I used to be really bad about being left alone."
Making an understanding noise, the sheriff pats Stiles' arm. He still doesn't know much about Stiles' past. As far as Stiles can tell, he assumes that Stiles had a sheltered childhood, then his parents died, then he went on to have a lukewarm relationship with the foster care system until he turned 18, met Derek, and settled down with him to live off of the Hale life insurance money. Stiles doesn't come off as a dynamic, can-do kind of guy in that story, but he also doesn't come off as a magical shape-shifting forest animal, so he figures it's alright. The sheriff treats him with respect anyway, despite automatically thinking "abuse" when Stiles accidentally shows off how awkwardly he fits into the human world.
"That's common with people who were in your situation, Stiles. I'm glad it passed."
Stiles tries not to make a lying, lying, I'm lying face and says, "I'm glad too. It was hard, freaking out any time Derek left the vicinity."
Humming in agreement, the sheriff says, "switch gears," and then, "yeah, nobody should ever tie themselves up with only one person. You have to have people, plural."
"Like I've got you and Derek." And Isaac, he adds mentally, if all goes well.
"Right." The sheriff smiles. "Exactly right."
Derek goes out grocery shopping (with heart-healthy additions to the shopping list for when the sheriff comes over,) and Stiles stays home. He even does it voluntarily. Why yes he is proud of himself.
Stiles walks into the backyard and stretches his arms way above his head, then brings them down to touch his toes, reveling in the pleasant stretch. He's going for a run. It's a thing humans do, morning runs, and he's going to give it a shot. He's also going to do it in a nonhuman form, but hey, baby steps. Stripping down to bare skin, Stiles prepares to switch bodies. Not much prep is needed; he just has to believe really hard that he's a fox, and then he is one.
Okay, fox. Fox. Foxy foxy fox fox.
Stiles blinks down at his bare toes. Come on. He closes his eyes, breathes in through his nose, out through the mouth. Red fur, the ground closer to his line of sight, chasing rodents through the underbrush-
Should it really be so difficult to revert to his natural state?
Stiles reaches a paw up to scratch behind his ear, then takes off into the forest. He takes up the fox equivalent of a moderate jog as he navigates the familiar patches of trees behind the house, then further out, past the old creek and one of the hollow trees where he and Derek used to stay, back in the construction days.
It's peaceful, early enough that the shadows are long and there's still dew on the plant life. The morning birds are hooting and chirruping at each other, the deer are lightly crunching over fallen twigs, the fox is digging with determined fervor at the base of-
Wait. Stiles turns his head, sniffing with his long snout and looking for- there! A flash of red fur, jumping up and down as its paws scrabble at the dirt below.
Stiles prances over, his tail wagging behind him. Foxes are rare around here, it's nice to see one of his red-furred buddies around.
The other fox notices him quickly, and growls lightly, crouching over the tunnel it's dug to some terrified mole's cave.
I'm not going to take your food, Stiles says, but the fox doesn't hear him, or can't understand. He takes a small step forward, and the fox growls again, baring tiny, sharp teeth.
Stiles knows when he isn't wanted. He backs off, wondering when he became so strange to other foxes they wouldn't let him near.
A half-hour of fox-jogging later, he's feeling normal again, just in time for a wolf to careen out of the bushes, leap over him, and dash off into the distance, sending the bracken under its feet flying. Once he picks himself off the ground, Stiles balances up on his back legs to see the wolf better.
It's Isaac. Makes sense, they're near to his apartment, and there are exactly two wolves hanging around the preserve. Stiles follows the wolf, lagging far behind, but managing to keep him in his sights. He really is getting slower.
When Isaac gives up on running to dig his claws into a tree trunk and tear into it like it had killed his firstborn, Stiles manages to catch up.
Isaac, he calls, hoping that he can communicate with more werewolves than Derek.
Isaac looks up in confusion. Apparently he can. W-what?
It's Stiles. Are you okay?
No you're not. Humans, man. Never saying what they're really feeling.You have clothing scraps on you. You shifted unexpectedly, which means either you were attacked, or you've got some kind of emotional turmoil going-
Okay, okay. If wolves could roll their eyes, Isaac would be doing so right now. Anybody ever tell you you're really nosy?
I prefer "curious." Also, I conveniently don't really care about being polite.
See, I would be offended by that, if I cared about politeness. Anyways, Stiles settles onto the ground, propping his head up on his paws and looking at Isaac with big eyes. Story time. What's eating you?
What do you think? Isaac retorts snippily.
Huffing a great breath of air out of his nostrils, Isaac rips another chunk of bark off of a poor redwood. Scott.
Nothing I didn't already know.
Enough to make you upset. Come on, vent to me. Papa Stiles will listen.
Don't call yourself that, it's weird.
Come onnnn, Stiles whines, what is pack for if not listening to your grievances and things?
Scott and Allison are back together, Isaac explains quickly, like saying the words faster give them less effect.
They were apart?
Briefly. I think they get off on being the Ross and Rachel of BHHS.
I don't know what that means.
Doesn't matter. Another chunk of bark gone. It just means that I got my hopes up like an idiot, because for a week, Scott thought he and Allison were never getting back together. Then they did, which, of course they would, Stiles is starting to worry about the health of the tree, which is basically getting skinned,I just got a week of Scott and Isaac time like we used to have before she came along, then had it ripped away from me, like the universe was saying "oh yeah, that's enough of that, we just wanted to remind you what it could be like if he loved you the way he loves Allison."
Easy, buddy, easy. It's going to be alright.
Fuck you. You found your true fucking love before you were even sentient, and he loved you back. Me, I found mine in kindergarten, and he never even noticed, even though he's been my entire social life for as long as I can remember. Isaac rubs a paw past his eye. Maybe Derek has a hot younger sister or something. I could make that work.
Stiles dares to come a little closer. Isaac looks about done with the vicious use of claws, and Stiles thinks he might actually have some helpful advice this time. Isaac, I think you and I need to have a talk about having people, not person.
Isaac scoffs at first, but Stiles makes him come to Saturday night dinner with the sheriff anyway. Isaac is going to socialize with people he isn't infatuated with, or Stiles' name isn't Stiles. Well, technically Stiles' name isn't actually Stiles, but Stiles still invites Isaac to pack dinners, and makes the sheriff bring Isaac as his plus one to bowling, and sends Isaac off on a run with Derek once a week, whether they need it or not.
He can tell it makes Derek happy, this new effort to bring Isaac into the fold. He's delightfully awkward with Isaac, unsure of what mixture of gruffness and affection to show. Derek is hesitant to display open affection with anyone other than Stiles, (which Stiles is starting to think is more of a Derek thing than a human thing,) so his interactions with Isaac are good-intentioned, but clumsy. But Stiles knows that something is going right when Derek starts to perk up when Isaac approaches the front door, and really knows it when Derek takes Isaac out to get a car of his own.
It's a secondhand toyota, Isaac wouldn't let Derek get him something too fancy, but it's clean, and functional, and it means Isaac can get around town quickly for the first time. Between the toyota, the camaro, and the jeep that Stiles occasionally has custody over, the driveway to their house can be downright crowded.
"You guys really need to get real dishes," Isaac points out as they empty the settings of the dinner table into the trash, "it's getting too bachelor pad for me, and I live with art students."
"I'm going to agree with Isaac on that one," the sheriff says, holding a stained paper cup gingerly between two fingers.
"But real dishes mean real dishwashing," Stiles objects.
The sheriff raises a don't-you-question-me-on-this-son eyebrow. "You have a sink."
"We also have a trashcan," Derek hefts the can in question. "It works."
"That's bad for the environment." Isaac points a long, accusing finger at it.
Stiles can see Derek's resolve falter. "That's, um, true, but-"
"And dishware is more sanitary, since you can wash it. You can't wash paper plates," Isaac continues, seeing a crack in Derek's defenses and aiming for it. "Come on, if you can spend three hours washing the camaro-"
"Fine, fine. Smartass."
They get real dishes. Derek gets them in Isaac's favorite color, (blue,) and in the space of a day, their kitchen approximation suddenly looks like a real kitchen. This is why Stiles laughs at anybody who doesn't think Derek is a giant teddy bear.
"That's my thing," Stiles protests playfully, poking Derek's shoulder.
"Well now it's my thing."
"I see," Stiles says knowingly, "you're trying to impersonate me. Lemme see." He reaches a hand for the laptop.
"No." Derek holds the laptop out of Stiles' reach.
"You are so annoying, oh my god."
"A guy can't look something up in secret?"
"Is it porn? It's porn, isn't it?"
Derek rolls his eyes, gesturing at how Stiles, in his quest for the laptop, has ended up straddled over Derek's lap. "I have you for that. Anyway, it's a surprise."
"Ugh, fine." Stiles wriggles a little in Derek's lap. He wears pants most of the time now, but he can still tell when Derek is interested. "Can the research wait for a little bit, though?"
"What do you have in mind?" Derek asks, feigning innocence.
By the time Stiles is done with him, there's no way Derek is innocent.
The surprise turns out to be a visit to the coast, so Stiles can see the ocean for the first time. It's the largest thing he's ever seen, and watching the immeasurable amounts of water roll over each other fills him with both terror and euphoria.
A few weeks later, they pack up the jeep (more space,) and Derek takes him all the way down to LA. It's the most people Stiles has ever seen gathered into one place, and standing in the bustle, the hollering of street vendors and the drawling chatter of women with small dogs, Stiles feels like dancing, then going somewhere quiet with clean air.
His wish is granted when, a few weeks after they return from LA, Derek drags him out to sequoia national park to see the world's largest trees. This trip is Stiles' favorite, because when night falls, he and Derek sneak out of their cabin, change into their other bodies, (it still takes Stiles a minute, he doesn't know what's going on with that,) and chase each other around the massive bases of the towering trees, losing each other, then finding each other again, listening to the groaning of the swaying sequoia branches all the while.
It's when Derek suggests they take a road trip to the grand canyon (they can't fly, Stiles can't get a passport,) that Stiles starts to wonder what's going on. It hasn't just been the trips to new places, it's also been, "let's go for lebanese food, you'll want to try it," and "let's go swimming. I'll teach you," and "have you ever tried painting? I think you would like it. Acrylics, maybe," and, "just come on, Stiles, if you don't like it, at least you'll have experienced it. I just want you to try new things. No regrets, you know?"
Stiles asks Derek what's going on while they're mini-golfing (kind of fun.) He asks again after a disastrous attempt at making souvlaki (not to Stiles' taste.) Again at the amusement park (nauseating.) While getting henna tattoos. Assembling IKEA furniture. Playing World of Warcraft. Making out at Beacon Hills' prime "parking" spot. Kiwis. Roller blading. Murals. Museums. Kayaking.
He never gets a satisfactory answer. But there are worse fates than having your Derek insistent on a slew of inventive dates. Stiles just can't help but wonder if there's something he isn't understanding, either a human mannerism going over his head, or some quirk entirely Derek's own.
His second birthday shows up entirely unexpectedly. Derek says this is an aging thing: "time goes faster the longer you experience it," he said, an odd tilt to his voice. It makes sense. The last year passed in a blur of fist bumps with Isaac (fine, they're lame, but they're our thing,) chats with the sheriff, (I'm telling you, communication is the key to any relationship, Stiles. You have to sit him down and ask him what's wrong, no buts about it,) the occasional blur of Scott (hey dude!) and Lydia (hello Stiles,) and everything else with Derek.
No matter Derek's occasional weirdness, Stiles is finding that this humanity thing is starting to work out for him. Isaac is starting to make noises about art students not being great roommates, "I mean, there's paint everywhere, if only I knew some people who wouldn't mind a third person hanging around the house..." and Stiles can walk around downtown and not feel like there are eyes on him everywhere, screaming impostor impostor impostor. Not to mention, this time in preparation for the party, Stiles picks out a color scheme that makes sense, double checks Lydia's current diet to make sure they have some sort of desert for her that's as carb/sugar/fat free as she wants, and gets the sheriff to come, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Stiles experiences a brief moment of panic when Scott turns up with a pretty, dark-haired girl who turns out to be the infamous Allison, but Isaac seems alright about it, and Allison is unerringly nice to everyone. Stiles has to grudgingly admit that she and Scott go together well.
"Harris is a dick," Scott confides over his glass, "that's just a fact."
"Scott!" Allison exclaims in exasperation.
Isaac shrugs. "He's not lying."
"He's a dick and he doesn't know a thing about chemistry," Lydia adds. "That's why I took it over the summer at BHCC."
Stiles hums in sympathy. "Glad I never had to deal with him."
Scott snorts. "Well you never had to deal with any asshole teachers-"
Stiles kicks him under the table and casts a pointed gaze at the sheriff, who's mostly concerned with sitting in the most comfortable chair and eating cake.
Derek, noting Stiles' distress, quickly picks up the thread of the conversation again. "The chem teacher before Harris was a pothead."
The conversation turns towards the various proclivities of teachers, real or imagined, and Stiles breathes a sigh of relief. He doesn't think the sheriff would cast him aside if he knew the truth, but he doesn't want the sheriff looking at him differently, or feeling like he has to cover up for Stiles not technically existing in the eyes of the federal government. It hurts to lie though. Stiles compensates by trying not to think about it.
They don't have AC, so when it gets too stuffy in the little living room, the party moves out into the backyard so they can lounge in the cooler evening air. It's been an unusually cool summer, and Lydia blames global warming. Stiles doesn't quite understand it, but it has to do with increased precipitation or something. Impending climate crisis or not, between the cool breeze at his front, and Derek's warmth pressed against his back, Stiles is in a pretty comfortable place, temperature-wise.
Derek has been pretty clingy and quiet throughout the party. He isn't the best in large groups, but normally he doesn't stick to Stiles' side like a disoriented kid hanging onto his favorite stuffed animal.
The sheriff appears from the kitchen then, bearing a cake with candles flaming on top, and rumbling out the slow beginnings of the happy birthday song. Everybody else joins in, and Stiles sings along too, because why the hell not.
The cake-bearing procession stops in front of Stiles, and he smiles at his friends. "Thanks, you guys! I mean, I picked out the cake myself, but that was some top-notch singing you did there, really prime."
They're still looking expectantly at him.
"Should I be giving a speech or something?"
"Blow out the candles, Stiles," the sheriff prompts gently.
"Oh!" Stiles leans forward and gusts his breath over each of the twenty-two candles. Last year, he hadn't even known birthday cakes required candles; now he's upgraded to not knowing they need to be blown out. Not bad.
The cake gets set down and chopped up with one of the knives the sheriff bequeathed to them for christmas, and all the while the party guests make cracks about Stiles' age. This is part of the ritual, he supposes.
"Somebody's getting ancient," Scott nudges Stiles' shoulder, "might want to start looking into Bodox."
"Botox, sweetie," Allison corrects, kissing Scott's cheek.
Isaac smirks. "If I still worked at the graveyard, I could have gotten you a plot on a discount, you need to be getting one soon, right?"
Stiles tugs on one of Isaac's curls while the sheriff shakes his head. "Twenty-two. They grow up so fast."
Stiles smiles nervously. He'd basically picked his age out of a hat. "That's me. Blink and maybe I'll be as old as you!"
Derek mutely cuts another piece of cake and hands it off to Lydia, who forgets her diet for a moment in favor of an icing flower.
"Hey," Allison says, with the suddenness of somebody just realizing something, "I don't think I caught your name. I'm so bad with them." She sticks a hand out at Derek, who shakes it.
The knife, which had been separating the "Hap" from the "py Birthday," freezes as Derek's entire body tenses up. Allison's jaw tightens, and Stiles thinks Derek just might be squeezing the hell out of her hand.
"Argent?" Derek asks, sounding like each syllable is being cut out of him.
Derek releases her hand. "But you're familiar with our situation?"
She smiles blithely, but her eyes are hard and understanding. "More or less. I'm just here for the party."
Nodding slowly, Derek returns to cutting the cake. "Good. Have this piece."
"I'm missing something here," the sheriff mutters. Stiles pretends not to have heard him.
The cake is eaten and the drinks drunk and conversation made and a lackluster game of truth or dare attempted, when Stiles looks up and realizes Derek had left. At first, he thinks Derek's just stepped out to the other room, the party getting to be a bit too much for him, but then it's late at night, and everybody's gone but Isaac and the sheriff, and by then it's very clear that Derek is gone. Gone gone.
"He's probably just gone for a walk," Stiles reassures the sheriff as he ushers him out the door. "Nothing to be worried about. We're still on for Tuesday, right?"
"Of course." The sheriff pulls Stiles in for a quick hug, (Stilinski hugs are the best,) but his brows are still furrowed when he turns to walk out to his car.
"What," Isaac asks in a soft tone, "do you think he's out on a run for some reason?"
Stiles shrugs. "His car's still here," keep your heartbeat slow, don't freak Isaac out, "I'm sure he'll be back soon. Go get some sleep, don't you have work tomorrow?"
Isaac makes a face. "Yeah I do. See you later, man." He claps Stiles on the back and leaves as well.
Stiles waits until Isaac and the sheriff's headlights disappear around the corner before making a beeline for the backyard, stripping his clothes off as he goes. If Derek went out for a run without even telling Stiles, something must have really upset him, and an upset Derek is one that needs a shoulder to cry on. Specifically, Stiles' shoulder.
It takes a frustratingly long time for him to manage the shift, but manage it he does, and soon he's speeding out into the woods, with his fox eyes, suited to darkness, scanning the surroundings with hawklike vigilance for any glimpse of moving black fur. Derek could be lost, or too emotional to change back, or caught under a fallen rock. He could have a paw caught in a bear trap, or have eaten some poisonous berries, or have been caught by a duct tape and knife wielding murderer.
Stiles knows its irrational, Derek's known these woods almost his entire life, but Derek's life has been marked so many tragedies and incidents of dramatic irony that misfortune seems inevitable.
God, his whole family is dead.
Stiles' stomach turns at the idea of just losing Derek, what if the sheriff and Isaac and Lydia and Scott were gone too? He'd be all alone.
An owl hoots loudly above him and Stiles' speed increases another notch as he careens through the trees, looking for anything that signals Derek's passage. He doesn't know where Derek is. He doesn't know where Derek is, and he doesn't know where he is, either. It's late, so late, and the familiar old moon is just a sliver in the sky, a wicked curving smile that casts no light, so all Stiles has to go by are old, old scent trails for his insensitive nose, or the black kaleidoscope of shadows criss-crossing over each other, making it hard to tell what is solid and what isn't, what's an illusion and what is actually an upheld claw, reaching towards him-
The ground disappears, and Stiles is drenched and freezing, barely able to breathe, being buffeted to and fro by the robust little current rushing through the creek bed. He coughs, wishing for his human body and the ability to just stand, but he can't pull himself together enough to change forms, he's helpless and lost, his vision regularly getting blurred out by a new wave of water.
Blindly, Stiles reaches out a paw, feeling for anything solid. He needs to find Derek, Derek will not be in a creek. There's a touch of something against his paw, but it moves away quickly, just a twig getting pushed downstream. He needs to find Derek. The soft give of mud under his feet, just enough to give him bearing. He needs to find Derek.
Stiles heaves and coughs on the bank for a moment, then two, before rousing himself again. He's here for a reason, isn't he? Would the sheriff just wheeze and stand around if he was searching for a missing person? No. Would Isaac just loiter around and hope that somebody else figures his problems out for him? No.
Stiles starts running again. If Derek is really in a funk, he has the ability to go far, and the further away he gets from their home, the more variables there are over where he went. How in the hell will Stiles find him? He can track, but only tiny rodents to their holes ten feet away, he doesn't have werewolf super smell, or-
He has a pack member who does.
Figuring now is as good a time as any to experiment, Stiles raises his not-quite-a-voice as loud as he can, and hollers Isaaaac! Isaac!
Nothing. Again. Isaac! Come here! SOS and stuff!
How far can his internal voice carry? A mile? It probably won't be enough, but Stiles has to try.
What? Isaac's pale form looms out of the shadows.
Ah! Oh my god!
Give me a heart attack, why don't you? What are you doing here?
Looking for Derek. You didn't honestly think I was going home, did you?
Stiles wishes he could laugh disbelievingly in this form, he really does. I could have used you a lot earlier, Lahey.
Well I could have used you just letting me follow you in the first place, instead of kicking me out.
Damn right it's a fair point. Now let's go find our Alpha.
The search is much easier with Isaac's nose leading the way. Stiles suspects that if Isaac hadn't had to drive his car home first, Isaac would have beaten him to Derek long since. But for now, they follow the path Isaac's nose takes them through, down into a fern-lined canyon filled with spiderwebs, then back out, through a grove of old-growth redwoods and around an impressive sinkhole Stiles never knew existed in the preserve.
They find Derek at the base of a dead tree, struck silver by lightning. He doesn't look good.
He's in his wolf form, dirt mucking up each of his paws, his fur wild, and he's curled in on himself, emitting low, pained whines with each breath.
Derek! Stiles rushes down the slope to the tree, his four paws almost tangling with each other in their rush to reach him. Are you hurt?
Derek, far gone, just whines lowly and pulls Stiles in with a paw. His body warmth feels good- Stiles is still dripping wet from his dip in the creek.
I don't smell blood, Isaac noses carefully around Derek's form. He might just be upset.
About what? Derek! Stiles is useless like this, too tiny to do anything. He shifts human. If Isaac is weirded out by the nudity, he doesn't show it. Cradling Derek's head in his two hands, Stiles cranes his head around to look him in an eye.
"Derek, you're freaking me out, and that isn't very nice. You wouldn't like me when I'm freaked out. Just, come on. It's just me." He shoots a meaningful glance at Isaac, who pointedly retreats a distance away.
Derek snorts and buries his nose into Stiles' stomach.
"Don't be like that, man. Come on. I love you and I'm worried." Let's see Derek try to ignore that.
"You always say that."
I'll calm down. Don't worry about me.
"Have you met me? I'm going to worry about you one way or the other, and if you don't tell me what crawled up your butt, then I'm going to assume it's worse than it is."
"You owe money to the mafia?"
It's fine. Nothing like that.
"You secretly have a second family with four kids?"
"This whole time, you've been planning on selling me into the Indonesian slave trade?"
You caught me, Derek replies dryly.
"Yeah?" Stiles' mouth quirks up. "You sending me away forever?"
There's a moment of pensive quiet, then Derek shifts back into human form so he can wrap his arms around Stiles' neck and press his face into Stiles' hair. Used to being manhandled like a favorite stuffed animal, Stiles lets himself be moved into position.
"You're perfect, you know that?" Derek whispers into Stiles' hair. He still has trouble looking Stiles in the eye when he says these things.
Stiles smiles into Derek's neck. "Say stuff like that, you're bound to be proven wrong somehow."
Chuckling bitterly into Stiles' hair, Derek says bluntly, "fox lifespans run around two to four years."
"That's why I'm upset."
"You think I'm dying?" Stiles doesn't want to process this information. "Everyone's dying."
Derek's arms tighten, a blanket of muscle around Stiles' neck. "I don't know. I don't know how much the magic did to you, maybe you'll live to be one hundred, but with my luck-" he shakes his head, his stubble catching against Stiles' hair, "you know what happened to my family. Everything good goes away eventually. Sooner rather than later, in my case."
"Derek," Stiles breathes, before leaning up to catch Derek's mouth in a kiss. Long ago, years ago now, Derek had taught him how to kiss properly, how to take a brush of mouths to an expression of emotion, to a way of projecting feeling. Derek is a better kisser than Stiles, but Stiles determinedly pours all of the reassurance he has into the kiss, trying to say it's okay, I'm here, without saying the words, because Derek has always appreciated action over words anyway.
Derek exhales shakily, and then it's as though the dam is broken, because he's saying, "and you were so undernourished when you were a kit, and you're undersized even now, so your fox form is... isn't the hardiest, and it seems like one wrong move, and," he makes a short hand gesture in lieu of words. Stiles gets his meaning.
Death. It isn't something Stiles cares to dwell on. It makes him feel sick and getting worked up about it doesn't seem to have a point. Stiles reaches out to clasp Derek's still outstretched hand in his.
"Hey," he bumps his forehead against Derek's, "I'm here now, and I'm alive." Stiles pulls Derek's hand over to his heart, so he can feel the evidence of Stiles' life beating under his hand. "Maybe that won't always be the, you know, the case, but either way, there's not much we can do about death. Might as well enjoy ourselves in the mean time, you know?"
The corner of Derek's mouth twitches, and he tilts his head up to briefly push their lips together.
A loud growl reverberates through the forest, and they both look up, startled.
"Isaac? was that you?" Derek calls out.
Isaac trots up from the opposite direction of the noise. No...
Stiles gets to his feet, and climbs up the slope just enough to glimpse a pair of headlights bouncing their way towards them.
"Some kind of vehicle," he relays back to Isaac and Derek, "something offroad, I guess."
Derek looks between his and Stiles' naked bodies and shifts back into his wolf form. Stiles jogs back to them as quietly as he can, and oh, now is not the time to have trouble shifting (shifting dysfunction?) not when there's some unknown party speeding towards them in the middle of the night, out where no one can hear them scream-
"Ah-hah!" a familiar voice calls in triumph. "I knew there was something going on!"
Stiles looks up the slope, grimacing, to where the sheriff is seated in the driver's seat of an ATV with "Official California Parks Vehicle" emblazoned on the side.
"Stiles? Are you naked?" The sheriff's satisfaction looks to be quickly dissolving into horror.
Stiles' hands fly to his crotch. "Technically, yes. Is that a stolen ATV?"
"Requisitioned. Technically," the sheriff hedges. "Stiles, what's going on? Are you alright? I thought you looked shifty tonight but- holy shit!"
He's noticed the wolves lurking just behind Stiles.
"Stiles, hold still," the sheriff's hand slowly reaches towards his hip, where Stiles knows a police-issue handgun hangs.
"No, dad, don't freak out-"
"There are two wolves behind you, I want you to very slowly move towards me-"
"It's actually fine-"
"They aren't dangerous!"
"Do you know how many animal attacks we had last year, Stiles? Come towards me!"
Isaac shifts back into his human form, holding his palms up.
"Ah! Holy shit!" the sheriff yelps, his gun jerking in his hand.
"Sorry, sheriff," Isaac says ruefully. "But it's about time you knew what was going on."
Stiles could kill him.
Isaac jerks his head at Derek. "Could you?"
Rumbling in dissatisfaction, Derek becomes human again, crossing his arms over his chest.
The sheriff points his gaze carefully over all of their heads. "I'm going to need some explanations, or maybe some time to detox from whatever hallucinogens were in that birthday cake."
"Ah, well, there is an explanation," Stiles explains carefully, "see, funny story-"
It takes about an hour to assure the sheriff of his sanity, and another forty five minutes for the ATV to take them back to the house, but by the time Isaac is asleep on the couch in a pair of Derek's old sweats, and the sheriff's on his third cup of coffee, it looks like they might all be alright. If it weren't past midnight, a new day started, Stiles would say it was all a pretty good birthday present.
Stiles should have remembered that his life is no longer as simple as it was when he was a fox. Easy resolutions are not so forthcoming, and happy endings don't come when you want them to.
It's a full moon the next time he shifts. There was a time when he could flit between forms like breathing, but now if he wants to switch, he really needs to mean it. But it's fine, whatever. Just his body betraying him.
The moon is bright and clear, no clouds to disturb its reign over the night sky, and the Hale pack is getting ready for a run. Isaac and Derek are talking about their mutual appreciation for Top Gear, while Stiles and the sheriff finish off the bowl of strawberries while they sit on the back porch.
Derek looks up at the sky. "About time?" he half-asks Stiles.
Stiles nods, standing. "You may want to avert your eyes," he tells the sheriff as he strips his shirt off. "Very dangerous nudity about to happen."
Two minutes or so later, Stiles has wrangled his fox form into being. He stretches his legs, flicks his tail, shakes his head, and woah, dizzy.
"Is that normal?" he hears the sheriff ask. Isaac and Derek are both missing human mouths, but they come up to nudge his sides and whine at him. What are they even doing, Stiles just feels overhot and like the earth is slipping sideways, what does he need two wolves breathing on him for?
Someone says "he's falling!" and what do you know, Stiles is on the ground and everything is going black.
Someone says "he's waking up!" and Stiles blearily looks up to see fluorescent lights and Dr Deaton's placid face gazing at him.
"Stiles," he says calmly, "can you understand me?"
Yes, Stiles says, and he hears Derek relay it to Deaton.
"You're very sick," Deaton says, measuring out his words carefully to ensure that Stiles understands what he's hearing. "You have a high fever and you've been coughing up blood. I think you caught some sort of infection the last time you were in your fox form, then the illness incubated in your fox form while you were human, and now that you've returned to your fox body, it has hit hard." He clears his throat, and that might just be the most emotion Stiles has ever seen Dr Deaton show. "This means it's too late for antivirals or antibiotics to do any good."
The words don't quite register until Stiles looks over to Derek, Isaac, and the sheriff standing against the wall of the examination wall. The sheriff's lips are pursed, his arms crossed. He looks like he's trying not to show any emotion at all. Isaac looks angry as he messes with the strings of his sweatshirt.
Derek is crying openly, and it's the most terrifying thing Stiles has ever seen.
Hey, hey don't do that, don't, Stiles pleads, it's going to be okay.
Derek shakes his head, a heavy knowledge in his eyes. "You must have caught it while you were out looking for me. Your fur was drenched when you showed up, I should have realized-"
Stop it, don't you dare. Stiles orders. This... this is bad enough as it is without you beating yourself up like a masochistic idiot.
A noise, half a sob and half a laugh, bursts out of Derek's throat, and even he looks startled by it. "I was worried about old age, and then you just get sick."
The sheriff grips Derek's shoulder, steadying him, then directs his gaze at Deaton. "You never gave a prognosis."
"I give him about a day," Deaton pronounces solemnly, "it isn't exact, but barring a miracle-" he shrugs. It's explanation enough.
Stiles feels numb as he's gathered up in Derek's arms and ferried out of the clinic. He's never felt so small. How had this happened so suddenly? All of his words of reassurance to Derek not a few weeks before already seem so naive and pointless.
Stiles tries returning to his human form, of course, but he can't seem to find the energy, or the will, or the magic to do it. It seems about right that he'll be born and die a fox. Circle of life and all of that.
He never watched Lion King. Looks like he never will.
The sheriff and Isaac stay, of course. The four of them crowd onto the tiny living room couch together, Stiles on Derek's lap, from which he has no plans to move from again.
Nobody knows what to say. Small talk is too trivial, and nobody is wild about the idea of moaning and wailing over his deathbed just yet. Isaac puts on some music to fill the silence, and then they mostly sit.
Derek's hand rests over Stiles' ribs, feeling him breathe, then feeling the vibrations of his ribs when coughs wrack his body. Stiles' head hurts so much, and the light in the room starts to stab at his eyes, until he closes them and presses his face into Derek's stomach.
An old memory, a fox memory, floats to the top of his brain. Sleeping on Derek's stomach, feeling warm and safe and no longer alone for once. Thinking good, and that this is where he will stay.
Then he remembers nights counting the stars when they no longer had a roof over their head, nights spent enjoying their new bed once they had a real roof. The first time he kissed Derek, and the little thrill that came with it, the first time he understood what it meant to kiss Derek.
The first conversations he'd had with the sheriff, the sense of everything will be alright that came with them.
Realizing Isaac needed help, and thinking I will be the one to help.
Stiles doesn't want to go. God, he doesn't want to go.
Pulling himself up from his place in Derek's lap, Stiles props himself upright, paws braced on Derek's shoulders, and licks the side of his face. His head whirls with the movement, but it's worth it to see a fond smile cross Derek's face.
Can we go outside? Stiles asks. He's had enough of stuffy rooms that stink of sorrow.
"Yeah." Derek stands, holding Stiles against his shoulder. "Stiles wants to go outside," he tells the sheriff, who nods and follows Isaac and Derek out the back door.
They settle down underneath one of the big pines in the backyard, Derek's back to the trunk, Stiles' back to Derek's stomach. The sheriff sits to Derek's left, and puts a hand over one of Stiles' paws, while Isaac situates himself to the right, with a thumb stroking slowly over Stiles' tail. It's like they're posing for a family portrait or something, and that makes Stiles unbearably sad.
The sheriff, of all people, breaks the silence with a series of dry disbelieving chuckles.
"Sorry," he says to Derek and Isaac's dubious faces, "I was just... taking it all in."
Derek and Isaac nod. Stiles bats his paw over the sheriff's hand. The sheriff raises an eyebrow at it. "That's what I mean. Son, a month ago, I would have guessed maybe drugs, not secretly a fox. Now I'm entangled in some sort of paranormal drama."
But everything turned out better than expected, eh dad? At least I'm not selling meth?
Derek relays the message, word for word, and the corner of the sheriff's mouth twitches up. "I suppose now's as good a time as any to tell you you don't actually have to call me dad whenever I say son."
Clearing his throat, Derek tells the sheriff, "he knows."
The sheriff sniffs suddenly, eyes blinking rapidly. "Good lord, this is going to be a tough day."
As always, the sheriff is right. Stiles starts coughing up blood not long after their talk. It burns his throat, and makes his mouth taste bad. Derek sends Isaac for a bowl of water, which he dutifully fetches.
Setting the bowl down in front of Stiles, Isaac asks softly, "who am I supposed to bug about proper cooking now?"
Derek, Stiles replies, trying to muster up the strength to lift his head enough to reach the water bowl.
"That's not as much fun, he'll just growl at me."
Growling makes him happy. You wouldn't take that away from him, would you?
Noticing Stiles' distress, Isaac gently reaches under Stiles' shoulders, pulling him close enough to lower his head into the water bowl, lapping up the clear liquid. It feels glacial on his tongue. The fever talking, probably.
By mid-afternoon, Stiles can barely move, and he's starting to feel very very tired. He can practically hear the last few grains of sand moving through his metaphorical hourglass.
Derek, he calls. Derek's around here somewhere, isn't he?
Oh, Derek's all around. That's what. What is. Happening.
You... I am tired.
Something wet falls onto Stiles' face. Stiles wonders if it steams from the heat of his skin.
"Hang on for just a little longer, Stiles. Please."
I can't say no to you.
"You're confusing me with you," Derek remarks wryly, rubbing a thumb over the bridge of Stiles' snout.
I love you.
"I love you too," Derek replies immediately. It might be the first time he's said it in front of other people, but Stiles is confusing firsts and lasts, and everything with everything else. He's just too hot.
Tilt my head up.
Careful fingers tuck under Stiles' chin and life upwards so Stiles can see Derek's face.
Smile for me.
Derek does. It isn't the best of his smiles, but Stiles can't fault him for trying.
You have to keep doing that okay? Stiles insists, because this, this is important. Because, because you have people. You have to smile for Isaac and the sheriff.
"Okay," Derek says softly. His hands are so soft on Stiles' fur, they hold him like a cradle. Derek is lying.
Derek isn't going to smile, Stiles realizes, he isn't even going to try.
That will not stand.
Isaac has his arms crossed over his chest, already retreating into himself. The sheriff's eyes are on the ground, his brow furrowed. He's trying so hard to be stoic.
This will not stand.
Stiles wants them to be alright. He wants them to be happy. He wants to watch them be happy, be there to struggle through the confusions of humanity with them. They taught him how to be human, it's only fair.
Stiles would give anything to be human right now. He may have been born a fox, and he may always be a bit fox, but he does not want to die one.
(For the sake of bowling with the sheriff, and talking to Isaac when he's feeling quiet, for mornings waking up next to Derek, for doing what he's afraid of, for learning, for loving.)
He does not want to die a fox.
He will not.
"What- what's happening?"
"I don- holy-"
"Give him space, give him space!"
Everything is pink, which Stiles was not expecting. Pink dust, flying everywhere, shimmering when it catches in the sunlight, and stinking like magic. It's coming from his pores, out of his mouth, his ears, his eyes. Everything is magic, and Stiles is drowning in it, he is being broken down into his composite parts and put together anew.
It clears his mouth first, and he gasps, breathes in the air, clear and sweet, smelling like the forest and his pack. Then his ears are free, and he can hear the overlapping murmurs of the pack, caught up in fear and excitement. Then his eyes are free, and he can see his hands, pale and five-fingered, splayed across the grass below.
He remembers, long ago, (just after he was first doused in glimmering pink dust in Deaton's office,) how easy it had been to turn his little black tipped paws into human hands, like they had been secreted away underneath his skin the whole time, just waiting to be freed.
He can't go back, he's sure of it. A choice was made, a pact between Stiles and the magic in exchange for a small miracle. One that didn't come cheap.
Stiles has been cut off at the roots, the earliest, most original part of him taken away.
Yet, looking around at Derek, Isaac, and the sheriff, each staring at him in shock, Stiles cannot regret his choice. He would make it again, and again, and again for them.
Derek has the strangest expression on his face, like he isn't sure what he's seeing is real. Stiles knows just what to do about that.
"Hey Derek, what do I smell like?"
Derek blinks in shock, then inhales. Then his face cracks open into a wide grin. A real one. One that Stiles wouldn't see erased for anything.
"Stiles. You smell like Stiles."