the_water_clock: abstract painting (Untitled 1958 Coffee and Cinnamon)
[personal profile] the_water_clock
Author: Clio
Title: Where We Ought To Be
Pairing: Derek Hale/Stiles Stilinski; also Scott McCall/Allison Argent
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Stiles Stilinski has just been created a magician, like his mother before him and her father before her, but now he's a little bit at loose ends. So at the suggestion of his mentor Deaton, he takes a position with a very young alpha werewolf, Derek Hale, to protect his pack while he heads into the city in search of a mate. That the stern Derek would be displeased by Stiles's unorthodox methods (wolves training with hunters? unheard of!) is to be expected. That Derek would start looking a little closer to home for his mate is more of a surprise.
Warning: (skip) None.
Length: 20,400 words
Notes: Written for the [profile] teenwolf_bb. Thanks very much to [personal profile] goss for choosing this story and doing such brilliant art which can be seen in this art post.
This is obviously a they're-still-werewolves AU, this time with more magic, less hiding from society, and all of the "I belong to the land" feels that this rural-bred girl could pour into it. Title is from the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts."
THANK YOU to [personal profile] verity for cheerleading and shepherding this story from concept through its execution; I doubt it would exist without her help and support. Thanks also to [personal profile] affectingly for her valuable input and reassurance, to [personal profile] weepingnaiad for brainstorming a title with me, and also to everyone at Wincon who expressed enthusiasm for the story.

The creation ceremony—Stiles kept calling it graduation and Lydia kept correcting him, becoming more irritable each time—took place near the top of his mountain, in a small forest clearing. Okay, so it wasn't exactly his mountain, but that was always how Stiles thought of it. When he'd first gone down to the valley for school he'd cried until he met Scott, a werewolf boy who made Stiles feel less weird about how he could make things happen with his mind sometimes. Scott said they could be pack and they were from then on, looking out for each other and, later, their single parents. So it wasn't a surprise when Stiles came out into that clearing after three years of study and isolation to see Scott and his mom standing next to Stiles's own father.

The ceremony was really for show; whatever powers Lydia and Stiles had, they'd had all along. But their mentor Deaton had put limits on them, for their own safety and the safety of others, from the time he'd first discovered them until the night before. Now they had to choose: the sequestered life of study, contemplation, and occasional consultation, or going out in the world helping people. Stiles knew which direction he chose; he couldn't wait to get out there. Neither could Lydia, though unsurprisingly she was having it both ways, going to San Francisco for further study in theory. Stiles had had quite enough of theory, and was ready for practical applications, but Deaton had hinted that he had a more immediate task for him.

They had dinner afterward, a simple picnic on a spot overlooking the foothills and the valley below, and Stiles could tell that Scott was bursting with something.

"Okay, dude, out with it," Stiles said.

"Did he ask you?" Scott said. "Will you come?"

"I didn't have the chance," Deaton said.

"Come where?" Stiles asked.

"Go ahead," Deaton said, waving a hand at Scott.

"So, Derek Hale is back," Scott said. "And he's been forming a pack."

"But this is neutral territory," Stiles said. "Has been since their cabin burned down and Derek went back east. Protected by the hunters—that's why you and the other omegas could stay here and not be in anyone's pack."

"Only until a Hale returned," Deaton said. "The protection was always temporary."

"Thank goodness he did come back," said the sheriff, "or there would have been a turf war in the valley. It's been all the Argents could do to keep the other packs back this long, and even then there were wolves encroaching, turning humans."

"Well—" Stiles began.

"I know," the sheriff interrupted. "Their mess, their responsibility, but it would be good for the valley to have a stable Hale pack again."

"Which we so aren't," Scott said.

"You're part of his pack now?" Stiles asked.

"And Jackson?" added Lydia.

"Yeah, and the ones who've been turned in the last few years," Scott replied. "But Derek's ... not a very good alpha."

"He's young, inexperienced," Deaton said. "He came to me for help."

"At least," Stiles said. Then he rewound the conversation in his head. "What, me?"

"Somewhat," Deaton replied. "I told him he needed to find a mate, to stabilize the pack and give him support other than his betas. But he needs to leave the valley to do that, so—"

"So I'm the werewolf nanny," Stiles said.

"You helped Scott so much when you kids were younger," Melissa said.

"And we'd be living in the same house!" Scott said. "It'll be epic—the place is huge!"

Stiles smiled. "Well, when you put it like that, how can I refuse?" Maybe a houseful of werewolves would be the perfect re-entry to society. After all, how bad of an alpha could Derek Hale be?

Derek was perfectly aware that he was in over his head. But he was the last Hale left and the idea of the valley—his valley—becoming the territory of some other pack, or worse, an area so contested that it became a ghost town, was anathema. He felt the generations of family responsibility for the land quite seriously, even if he didn't own the entire valley anymore. When Derek's great-grandfather was alpha, he had sold the then-tenant farmers their land, so all Derek actually owned now was the village itself. But he was taking care of all of it, wanting to be a concerned and involved landlord.

Derek hadn't ever expected to be alpha, unlike his sister hadn't been expected to be alpha, but he was doing his level best under the circumstances. Unfortunately that best was a failure, so far. The ragtag bunch of former omegas, Jackson and Scott born of rogue wolf parentage and the others turned at various points under circumstances of which Derek did not approve, would probably have been difficult for anyone to form into a pack. Not having been raised as part of a pack, they were all much more independent-minded than Derek had ever been before the fire. But that was an excuse; he had to play the cards he'd been dealt. And whether Derek was directly the landlord or not, his pack was responsible for keeping the valley safe, which meant having a cohesive pack.

So finding a mate surely wouldn't be terrible. He had money and looks, and he could make conversation when necessary. He wasn't pleased about going to the city to search, but Deaton had sent along some help to make sure the betas didn't get attacked, or burn anything down, in his absence. Even a newly created magician could ward off most danger, and his mere presence would be enough to discourage anyone who might want to make an easy run at the Hale estate.

Though when Derek saw Deaton's help, he began to wonder about all of Deaton's other advice.

"Hey," Scott said, "so this is my buddy, Stiles."

The kid—for he was a kid, and clearly Derek hadn't thought through the "newly created magician" part to the "would be nineteen" part—was broad-shouldered but wiry and pale with enormous brown eyes that made him look like prey. His body was restless, twitchy, which made Derek nervous.

"You must be Derek," the kid said, and at least his voice wasn't unpleasant.

Derek stood to shake his hand. "I'll introduce you to the others," he said, walking out of the library and expecting Scott and Stiles to follow. He pulled the new whistle off its peg in the hall and handed it to Stiles, pulling his own from his pocket. "It's a big house on a lot of land," Derek said, "so you'll rely on this to gather the pack." He glanced behind him and caught Stiles giving Scott a confused look.

"Aren't you supposed to like, howl or something?" Stiles asked.

"Some of them aren't good at answering," Derek said, giving Scott a look because for a born wolf the kid was remarkably bad at responding to howls. "Besides, you can't howl."

He blew the short gathering signal and waited as the pack trooped in. Jackson was carrying a large box, which he set down behind him. They were sullen and on the border of being uncooperative as usual, but at least they lined up in order without much prompting.

Except Scott, of course, who continued to stand next to Stiles until Derek glared at him.

"Oh! Sorry," Scott said, shuffling into place.

Derek turned to Stiles. "Each of them have their own signal. Learn them so you can call them individually. They'll help you." As he whistled, each of them stepped forward and told Stiles their name—Scott, Boyd, Danny, Erica, Jackson, and Isaac.

Stiles still looked confused. "Don't you have phones?" he asked "Maybe you can put an intercom in the house and grounds, join the twenty-first century?"

"Unnecessary," Derek said. "Once they understand howling I won't need it."

"O … kay," Stiles replied.

"Dinner is at seven sharp," Derek said. "Scott can show you to your room so you can settle in. You have a pack bed, which is best, but if that makes you uncomfortable let me know and we can change it."

"Pack bed?" Stiles asked.

Derek cocked his head—surely this kid had some idea of pack dynamics? "A bed big enough for the pack," Derek said. "Encourages bonding."

"Of course," Stiles replied. "Do you have a pack bed too?"

"I'm the alpha," Derek replied. What was with this kid?

"Hey Stilinski," Jackson said, "we got you a welcome gift." He kicked the box toward Stiles, then Danny picked it up and handed it to him.

"Oh," Stiles said, eying the box suspiciously. "Um, thanks?"

"Scott?" Derek asked.

"Yeah, come on, I'll take you upstairs," Scott said, and they walked away.

Derek turned to watch them go upstairs and sighed, hands on his hips. He could feel his pack staring at him, but what did they expect him to do?

"Really, Derek?" Boyd asked.

"It'll be fine," Derek said, not really believing it himself, and he could feel another little bit of control over his pack slipping through his fingers.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Stiles turned to Scott. "Okay what was that?" Stiles had known that Derek must be young, had vague memories of him from before the fire, as their mothers had been friends. But the gap between sixteen and ten seems enormous when you're ten. Now that he was nineteen, twenty-five did not seem old enough to be running a major pack, which is probably why Derek had such odd ideas.

He was also unsettlingly attractive, even when scowling, but Stiles was trying not to think about that right now.

"Derek's a little rigid," Scott said, shrugging. "Everyone pays attention to only about half of what he says."

"Is it all the same half, at least?" Stiles asked.

"Not really," Scott replied, opening the first door in the long hallway.

"Oh my god," Stiles said, looking in. "He wasn't kidding about the bed."

The thing was huge, taking up nearly all of the room, and big enough for at least five adults. All of them in it would be something of a pile, but Stiles supposed that was the point. Other than the bed, the room was fairly nondescript, with three large windows looking out over a gazebo and the river beyond.

"What's in the box?" Scott asked.

"If you don't know," Stiles said, setting it down on the bed gingerly, "then I don't trust it." He removed the wrapping paper and opened the box, revealing a red hooded sweatshirt sitting atop a basket.

"A hoodie, that's cool," Scott said.

"Yeah," Stiles replied, "if you're in a fairy tale." He set the hoodie aside because the basket seemed to be quivering, and baskets didn't quiver on their own. Carefully, standing back slightly, he flipped open one side of the basket.

Immediately several frogs jumped out, and were followed by many more—the basket had been full of them, silenced by the darkness, and they were now hopping all over Stiles's bed.

"Oh my god," Stiles said, startled.

"So that's what they were doing by the river," Scott said.


"The others," Scott said, shrugging. "That's where they were headed when I left to get you."

Stiles scowled. He was not interested in getting into some kind of prank war with a bunch of beta werewolves. He was a magician now; he had more resources at his disposal. "All right, come on," he said to the frogs. "Back in the basket and I'll take you home."

The frogs stopped and stared at him.

"I promise," he said. "Don't I look trustworthy?"

They blinked expectantly.

"All right, and I'll avenge you to the wolves that captured you. Satisfied?"

The frogs looked at each other, then began to hop back into the basket.

"How did you do that?" Scott asked, and Stiles realized it was the first time Scott was seeing what he could do now that he was properly trained. Not that Stiles talking to animals was anything new, but their listening to what he said? That rarely happened when they were kids.

"Amphibians are proud," he said, shrugging. "The whole water and land thing gives them inflated egos." The basket shook, so Stiles leaned over to it. "Understandably so, by the way," he said to the frogs.

"And they want revenge?"

"Yeah," Stiles said, rooting in his satchel for a small vial. "Show me to the kitchen?"

Stiles went down to dinner precisely at seven, dressed in his new red hoodie, having already freed the frogs back into the river. He'd told them his plan and they seemed to approve, so at least he'd have no problems with the frogs for the rest of his stay.

The pack, on the other hand, might want to watch their step.

"Hey, you're wearing it," Jackson said, grinning. "It's your look, definitely."

Stiles sat down at the one open chair at the foot of the table, opposite Derek. It was a little mom-and-dad for his tastes, but if that was how Derek wanted it then fine. Certainly made it easier to ogle Derek without anyone noticing, including Derek himself.

"Yeah, thanks so much for the wonderful welcoming present," Stiles said.

"Sure thing," Erica said, and he could tell they were all trying not to laugh.

On the table were bowls full of the chili he'd seen on the stove in the kitchen, with all the usual toppings laid out on the table. "This looks great."

"The pack rotates household chores," Derek said. "But don't worry; that won't be your problem."

"No, no," Stiles said, dumping cheese into his bowl. "I want to pitch in and do my part."

Danny was the first to take a bite. "What the hell?" he said, reaching for his water glass. "Didn't you taste this, Jackson?"

"Of course I did," Jackson replied.

"Fuck," Boyd said, standing up from the table.

"Tastes good to me," Stiles said innocently.

"Me too," Scott said, shrugging. "Maybe it's just your bowl?"

Jackson was wiping watering eyes with his napkin. "I didn't do this, I swear," he said.

"Do what?" Derek said, watching with mild alarm as all his of his pack but Scott began coughing and desperately drinking water. "It tastes the same as your chili always does." He reached his spoon over to Erica's bowl, and took a bite of hers. "I don't see what the problem is."

"Did you know," Stiles said casually, "that there are tinctures you can use for revealing if someone is pure at heart? Well, maybe that's overstating. Let's say, who's being deceitful or wishes you failure, and who wishes you well. If you like I can make you up some to take into the city; might help you choose the right mate."

In the middle of the chaos caused by all the other betas trying to get the taste of fiery chilies out of their mouth, Scott was snickering, and Stiles was glad that he could count on one ally at least. Derek raised an eyebrow, and Stiles could see him working out what Stiles had done.

"That's all right," Derek replied, and he was looking at Stiles with respect for the first time that day. "I'll just bring them home before I make any decisions."

Stiles nodded. "Probably best. By the way, this chili is really fantastic, Jackson," he said, and took another bite.

It wasn't until after dinner that Stiles could relax and reflect on what he'd gotten himself into. Derek Hale was handsome, had charisma he didn't seem to know how to use, and obviously cared a great deal about his pack, though he wasn't good at showing it. Stiles suspected that was precisely what they wanted from Derek, that the prank had been more about getting his attention than any real animosity toward Stiles. He just had to get them heading in the same direction, and all would be well.

Meanwhile, Stiles was setting up a protective charm. After making his point at dinner, he hadn't had much trouble getting a small article of clothing from each of the pack, and he wanted to use the energy of the oncoming storm to boost the power of the charm. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end, so he moved quickly and managed to time it with the next stroke of lightning, which hadn't landed too far away.

Stiles left the window open after he was finished. A little water wasn't going to hurt anything and he liked to feel the wild energy of the wind and rain. Good thing, because soon after a very wet Scott leapt into the room.

"Hey, wow, glad you left this open, dude!" Scott said, shaking himself off.

"What the hell, man?" Stiles asked. "What were you even doing out there? And why didn't you use the door?"

"You remember Allison?" he asked. "And can I get a towel?"

"Drip on the floor, not the rug," Stiles said, and trotted into the hall to get a couple of extra towels.

By the time he'd returned Scott had stripped down to his boxers. "Derek doesn't want us to be associating with the Argents. He doesn't really trust them."

"Even though they've been holding his territory for the past seven years?" Stiles rummaged in his drawer for a shirt and sweats and tossed them to Scott.

"Because of the fire," Scott said. "So I sneak out."

Stiles took up the discarded towels and wet clothes and dropped them into the hamper. "Really?" he said. "I mean, Allison's great and all, but do you want to do this Romeo and Juliet thing? Does her father know?"

"He's not excited about it either," Scott said, shrugging. "But she's so …" and then he trailed off, smiling.

"Look, I'm not going to say anything to Derek obviously," Stiles said, "but you know you can only keep this up so long."

"Yeah," Scott said, in a tone that implied he didn't care.

The next bolt of lightning was much closer—Stiles sensed it just before it struck, the crack of it startling Scott. Stiles remembered then that Scott had never been much for storms—he always said that something about the electricity in the air made his body feel weird. When they were kids they'd just jump around, because the energy tended to feed Stiles's already hyper behavior, and that had helped Scott.

He was about to suggest that when in the next instant Stiles's bedroom door flew open and Isaac and Erica leapt into the middle of the pack bed.

Stiles blinked. "Okay?" he said, watching Isaac shoving his head under one of the pillows on the bed. Scott had never been afraid, as Stiles recalled, but then, Scott had had Stiles and Stiles's mom, who was also a magician. And he'd been born a werewolf. Erica and Isaac hadn't had those advantages.

"Why is the window open?" Isaac asked.

Stiles didn't have time to answer before Danny pushed a wide-eyed Jackson into the room and onto the bed. "Maybe you can calm him down," Danny said. "I can't."

And of course Danny couldn't, Stiles thought, if he was that nervous himself.

Stiles stood by the door and counted the seconds, one … two … three … four … before Boyd strolled into the room, nonchalant.

"Figured if we were having a pack meeting I should come," he said, shrugging.

"Definitely," Stiles replied, nodding.

Lightning struck again, driving Danny and Boyd onto the bed as well.

"Seriously, dude, shut the window," Jackson said.

"It's better to bring the outside inside," Stiles said. "Stop fighting it."

"Easy for you to say, magician," Erica said.

Stiles looked around the room and saw a small stereo in the corner. He quickly plugged his player into it and turned it to the cheeriest, bounciest pop song he owned. "Okay, off the bed," he said. "Instant dance party time."

"Are you kidding me?" Boyd asked.

"Give in to it and it will flow right through you," Stiles said, moving around the room. "The storm is giving you energy so use it."

Scott immediately joined him, unsurprisingly, and Isaac followed quickly after. By the end of the first song all the betas were dancing, if reluctantly; by the third song they were singing along.

Stiles hadn't believed Deaton when he said that being a magician would give Stiles skills to help the pack come together. But watching the young werewolves laughing and jumping on and off the bed, all worries of the storm forgotten, Stiles wondered if maybe Deaton had been on to something.

Derek lay in bed, not sleeping. He wished he could blame the storm; when he was young he'd always crawl into bed with his sister at the first clap of thunder. But he was an adult now, an alpha, and he was more nervous about his trip to San Francisco the next day than anything else. He needed this to work. But thinking of himself, younger, he decided to get up and check on the betas, make sure they were weathering the storm.

He went from room to room but they were all empty, and there was music coming from Stiles's room and the light was still on. He would have been reluctant to go in, but clearly the rest of the pack was inside.

He stood in the doorway to see all of them jumping on the pack bed, while some pop song where a girl asked someone to call her blasted from the stereo in the corner. The storm still raged outside but the betas were smiling, laughing even.

Stiles had been in the house for less than a day, and had already answered their prank with one of his own, and was now soothing them through a thunderstorm. Derek felt a growl in the back of his throat.

Boyd was the first to spot him and immediately stopped dancing.

Stiles turned to the door, face flushed, a big grin on his face. "Hello!" he said. "Want to join in?"

"No," Derek said, and crossed his arms.

Erica, at least, had the sense to turn the music off. Derek looked over the betas, who were in their pajamas, and noticed that Scott's hair was suspiciously wet.

"Scott," he said, "I don't remember seeing you anywhere after dinner."

"I, um—"

"He was with me, in my room, catching up," Stiles said smoothly, and Derek wasn't sure if it was good to know how easily and glibly the kid could lie. "Helped me with the protection ritual."

So Deaton had told him what was expected. "At least you remember I'm leaving tomorrow," he said, his eyes flashing.

Stiles glanced at the pack. "Can we take this out into the hall?" he asked.

He had a point—it probably was in Derek's best interest for the pack to be respectful of Stiles, and that meant keeping their arguments away from them. He nodded, sharply.

"Just sit tight," Stiles said to them, and closed the door behind him.

"And what was that?" Derek asked, though he knew full well.

"They were afraid of the storm," Stiles said gently. "I was teaching them how to use it."

"I thought I made it clear how important it is for the pack to have discipline."

"You did," Stiles said, in a tone that implied he was ignoring that. "Speaking of which, Scott said that you were training them, but you haven't said anything to me about what to do. While you're gone, I mean."

Derek raised an eyebrow. "Because it's none of your concern," he said.

"But we could use the time more productively if—"

"I'll train them," Derek interrupted. "All I need you to do is maintain some kind of order while I'm gone, which I'm not entirely sure you're capable of."

Stiles stuck his chin out, stubbornly. "They used to be omegas," he said, as if that meant anything.

"Yes," Derek replied, "and now I am their alpha. Now, if you could get them back to bed?"

Stiles sighed and opened his bedroom door, to reveal that the others had fallen asleep on the pack bed. "I think they already are," Stiles said, without even looking.

"How did you—"

"No more lightning," Stiles said, shrugging.

Derek watched, a little jealous to be honest, as Stiles climbed onto the bed and pushed Scott over enough to have room for himself.

"Could you get the light?" Stiles asked.

He did, and left the door ajar before walking down the silent hall to his lonely bedroom at the end. A mate, yes. A mate was just the thing.

By breakfast Derek had already left, and it was odd that after only one meal Stiles could feel Derek's absence at the head of the table. Might as well take advantage of it to see how the pack really felt.

"Derek said he doesn't want me training you while he's gone," Stiles said, "and I can't blame him since hey, I'm no expert. But we've still got rival packs all around us and I'm thinking this time shouldn't be wasted. So anyone want to tell me what he's had you doing?"

"We trade off going with him to the village to check in with the tenants," Erica said. "So they'll know us and feel safe with us, and we'll feel more responsibility to the valley. We take care of the land here, too, and the gardens."

"He helps us not turn when we don't want to," Isaac added. "Though to be honest Danny's more help with that since he wasn't born a werewolf either."

"He teaches us like, the moon rituals and stuff," Jackson said, sounding irritable, and Stiles remembered his own mother's attempts to get him to join in when she taught them to Scott, and how resistant both Jackson and his non-wolf parents had been. He couldn't imagine those lessons going particularly well, but there wasn't to be a full moon while Derek was gone so Stiles didn't have to cross that bridge quite yet.

Danny said, "And we learn how to fight. Mostly against each other."

Stiles cocked his head; that didn't seem all that pack-like. "Well, anyone have any thoughts on what we could do while he's gone?"

They all looked at each other, wide-eyed. "He doesn't really like our giving him ideas," Boyd said.

Stiles cocked his head. "Which you know because he rejected yours?"

Boyd nodded. "And Scott's. And Danny's."

"Well, I say we try them out now," Stiles said. "Better than doing nothing. Maybe if we surprise him with a new skill he won't worry about how it happened."

"So we can climb some trees?" Boyd asked.

"Why not?" Stiles replied.

"All right," Boyd said, nodding. "All right."

Stiles wasn't kidding about not being an expert; he could only just follow what Boyd was showing to the rest of the pack. Scott was a better teacher, had more patience with anyone who wasn't getting it right away, but once unleashed Boyd had thoughts aplenty. He wasn't sure if it was Derek's doing—according to Scott, it happened more in spite of him—but the six betas worked remarkably well together. They clustered in sets of two or three, and there was a smoothness to the way they moved. Stiles wondered if he could find a way to get Derek's energy to line up with his pack. They were both nearly there; they just didn't realize it.

There was time for play, too; more than once they took the tram up to the mountain for picnics. Scott asked if Allison could come along on the first one, and after that she was just ... there, nearly every day. The others didn't seem to mind her; Erica was happy to have another woman around though she showed this by teasing Allison mercilessly. Eventually Boyd told Allison to earn her keep, which was how they incorporated arrow evasion into their practices.

Stiles mostly left them to their training, checking in occasionally and keeping an ear out. Many days he found himself in Derek's library. It was large, lived-in and comfortable, full of soft leather chairs and books that had actually been read, with a big window that looked out onto the woods surrounding the house where the pack was sparring. Or he might take an stroll around the Hale land, often in the company of Erica and Isaac, keeping his eyes out for any plants that might be of use to him. He hadn't spent so much concentrated time in the valley in years, and he was starting to see the appeal. So much so that he called up Lydia and asked her to check in on Derek—he had a suspicion that San Francisco wasn't exactly bringing out the best in the country wolf. It was odd how he felt like he understood Derek more in his absence, from the clues in his house, than in his presence, when he was defensively closed off to outsiders.

Everything was going incredibly well—so well that Stiles didn't quite notice when time was up, or maybe Derek was back early. In any case they were all unprepared when Derek drove up to the house in his Camaro, with Lydia in the front seat, and pulled up to a screeching halt in front of where Stiles and Allison were standing at the top of the driveway.

Derek jumped out of the car and whipped off his sunglasses. "Stiles," he said through clenched teeth, "would you like to tell me what she's doing here?"

"Hey Derek. I see you found Lydia." Stiles swallowed, not sure why seeing her in the front seat of Derek's car made him feel so uncomfortable.

"I'm waiting," Derek replied, crossing his arms.

Before Stiles could answer, the betas started dropping onto the ground out of the surrounding trees. "Welcome home?" he said.

Derek went to the city with good intentions, really he did. He'd bought nice clothes and gotten his hair cut and grinned winningly through every party his connections and his name could get him into. He networked and flirted and shook hands and bought drinks for funny girls and pretty boys and anyone who seemed smart and willing to talk to him—wolves, mostly, though there were a few wolf-related humans here and there.

But now he was sitting in his hotel bar, nursing a whiskey and realizing that despite the years they lived in Brooklyn before Laura passed, he was a country wolf. His claws were rooted deep in the land; his heart firmly belonged in his valley. These San Francisco wolves were urban types, and however well-off he was, he still only had himself and his valley to offer—neither of which made up for the apparently unappealing prospect of the simple life in Beacon Hills.

"I never understood," said a red-haired girl as she sat down next to him, "why you wolves drink when you don't feel the effects of alcohol. But you can buy me a gin and tonic with a twist."

Derek blinked. "I like the taste," he said, and ordered her cocktail. She seemed like the kind of woman who rarely if ever was told no, and Derek didn't have the energy to start.

Besides, she reminded him of Laura.

"I'm Derek Hale," he said.

"I know," she replied, discarding the tiny straw and sipping daintily from her glass. "I'm Lydia Martin. Stiles sent me to check in on you."

Derek nodded. "So you're a—"

"Magician, yes," she replied. "We trained together."

"Why would he ask you to look in on me?"

Lydia sighed. "I know he comes across as an idiot but he can be quite perceptive when he wants to be."

"I'm aware of that," Derek replied, thinking of how Stiles handled the betas so quickly, both their prank and their reaction to the storm.

"So he wasn't sure your ... skill set would be equal to the San Francisco dating scene."

"And how would he know so much about the San Francisco dating scene? Since he's never been in it?"

She leaned in conspiratorially. "We know whatever we choose to know," she said. "Anyway it's not an insult. I can't think of many who'd do well. Other than myself, of course."

"Of course."

"So we need to find you a new strategy," she said, like she was talking about a project and not his life.

"How do you know I'm not a success?" he asked.

"Because you're drinking whiskey in the bar of your hotel," she replied. "Now, the purpose of finding a mate now is to stabilize the pack, right? Neutralize the threat of other packs coming into your territory?"

"It should," he said.

"Then why not simply choose a mate from one of the neighboring packs?" she asked. "You get a country wolf for a mate—"

He blinked, because how had she known that was an issue? Had Stiles known?

"—they go from being just another beta to the mate of a wealthy alpha, and the other pack gains a valuable allegiance. Everyone wins."

"I suppose that's true."

"Good, so here's what we're going to do. I have plans tonight, but tomorrow morning I'll meet you here and we'll drive back to Beacon Hills together—I assume you drove?—and then I will generously plan your party."

"Party?" Derek asked.

"Of course they'll all come," she continued. "They'll be overcome with curiosity. Won't be able to help themselves. We'll invite a few wolves from the city, too, to make them worry. Besides, you never know—some city wolf might fall for you based on that big house of yours."

Derek rolled his eyes. "I'm no Mr. Darcy," he said.

"Ooh, he reads, too," she said, raising her eyebrows. "Stiles did say you have a very large library."

"They're my books," he said testily. "Why else would I own them if I didn't read them?"

She cocked her head. "You really don't care about appearances, do you? I'd better come by early, make sure you have a good suit so we can get you one while we're still in the city if we need to."

Derek wanted to protest that he had more than one perfectly good suit, but he had a sense that his opinion didn't matter much, so he just nodded.

"And just think, you won't even have to shave!" She took the last sip from her cocktail. "Gotta run. Thanks for the cocktail. Leave it all to me and you'll be just fine." She put a hand on his shoulder.

"Thanks, but why do you care? I know you're friends with Stiles—"

"Jackson and I have a history," she said with a sad smile. "I care about him, which means wanting his pack to thrive, which means caring about you. Got it?"

"Got it," he replied, nodding.

She hopped off the stool. "Good. See you tomorrow."

The next day she pronounced herself satisfied with both his grey suit and his brown tweed jacket. They drove into the country mostly in silence, for which he was grateful. Courting city wolves had him talked out.

So when he arrived at the top of the drive to see Allison Argent of all people, plus his betas dropping out of trees like rotten fruit, he was momentarily incapable of speech, and instead demanded an explanation.

"We wanted to surprise you," Stiles said, "but you came home a little early. Though, I think we can do this anyway. Assume the positions, everyone."

"Surprise me with a hunter in my driveway?" he asked, while the rest of the pack—and the girl hunter—hid in the trees surrounding the driveway.

Stiles scowled. "Oh, you mean one of the Argents, who've been holding your territory for you until you were ready to defend it yourself?" he asked. "You mean those hunters?"

"That was to settle a debt," Derek said. "It won't last. It isn't natural."

"I bet you don't know how seriously they take that debt. I bet you'd be surprised to hear that when we went up to the mountain—"

"You took the pack up there?" he asked, because he hadn't been since the fire, hadn't wanted to go.

"—Allison asked me to bring her to where your cabin had stood and laid flowers. They're sorry about what Kate did, Derek. It isn't just an obligation they're trying to get out from under as soon as possible."

Derek wasn't sure what to say to that, but it didn't matter because Stiles, apparently, was on a roll.

"I'm not sure you really understand anything that goes on among your pack," he said. "Like what a strategic mind Boyd has, and he just wants you to listen to some of his ideas. Or how Erica has a completely perfect mental map of the house, the land, probably half the valley and knows exactly where your weaknesses are. Or that Jackson just needs a little praise and personal attention and he'll be loyal to you for life. Or why Danny's the peacemaker in the fights they have amongst themselves. Or that Isaac just wants to feel safe and loved. Or—and you probably do know this, and it scares the shit out of you—Scott is eventually going to be the alpha of his own pack, and maybe you should prepare him for that instead of seeing it as some kind of threat."

"Are you done?" Derek asked.

"Yeah," Stiles said. "For now, yeah."

"Good, because you're done. I asked you to keep them safe and maintain order, and I get home to betas falling out of trees, a hunter in my driveway, and your magician friend taking over my love life."

"Okay so maybe I overstepped a little—"

"Overstepped? I want you out of my house. Now."

For just a second Stiles looked hurt, but he quickly set his jaw. "Fine," he said. "That's just fine." He turned to walk down the driveway, waving one hand over his head as he went.

Derek wondered what that was, but then suddenly two bodies landed on him from above—Danny and Jackson, he quickly realized—and he rolled to get out of their grasp because seriously, now was not the time. But they kept coming in waves—Erica and Boyd next, then Scott and Isaac, working together, blocking every exit. They weren't connecting all of their blows but they weren't backing down either, keeping him effectively trapped between them until Boyd knocked him off his feet and Allison shot a blunt-tipped arrow at his chest.

Boyd was grinning, ear to ear. "What do you think?" he asked. "It worked, man. We could have taken two alphas."

Derek was flat on his back, staring up at the sky, intensely aware of the seven sets of eyes on him—eight including Lydia, who was still in the car. "I'm impressed," he said.

"Yeah?" Boyd asked.

"Definitely," he said, looking at Boyd. "There's room for improvement, but that was a good start, actually."

He took Boyd's offered hand and allowed himself to be pulled up onto his feet, though he still felt off-balance. He hadn't thought the betas were ready to pull off that kind of coordinated attack, to work together. Clearly they'd made themselves into some kind of pack, even if they mostly came together in opposition to him. He reached into the pocket of his jeans for his keys.

"Why don't you bring the car to the garage, see Lydia into the house for me?" he asked. "I need a minute."

"Sure thing," Boyd said, grabbing the keys and trotting over to the car. Allison and Erica got in and the others piled on top for the ride down the long driveway.

Stiles hadn't made it very far; either the attack had been shorter than it felt or he'd stopped to watch Derek get his ass kicked. It was nothing to run and catch up with him. Derek shoved his hands in his pockets and slowed down to walk alongside Stiles. He was grateful that he didn't have to actually look at him.

"So," Derek said.

"So," Stiles said, not looking at him, either. But he was holding his head high, unlike Derek, who wouldn't have minded sinking down into the ground at that moment.

"So I was pretty much entirely wrong."

"Yep," Stiles said, nodding. "You absolutely were."

It was like Stiles to make this apology as difficult as possible. Though, come to think of it, Derek wasn't sure how he knew that, given that he'd only been around Stiles for one day. Yet he could tell that Stiles was enjoying this; he was hiding a smile and almost strutting down the driveway. Derek could be humble when he had to be—he certainly had been when he asked Deaton for help in the first place.

"And I would really like you to stay," Derek said. He cleared his throat. "Please."

Stiles stopped walking. "Seriously?" he asked. "You aren't going to like, take this back again tomorrow?"

"Seriously," Derek said, turning to look at him. "We need you, obviously."

Stiles raised an eyebrow.

Derek rolled his eyes, because seriously. "Okay, okay, I need you," he said, feeling annoyed, but then he took a breath and decided maybe he wouldn't lose anything by being honest. "I need you."

Stiles looked at him, silent, then said, "You never had to do this alone, you know."

Derek shrugged, because it sure as hell hadn't felt that way at the time. "But you'll stay?"

"Yeah," Stiles said. "Yeah, I'll stay."

"Good," Derek said, relieved, "because now Lydia's throwing a party and she scares me."

"That's a reasonable and healthy reaction," Stiles said, laughing.

They started walking toward the house again, and then a thought from earlier came back into his head. "Hey, did you signal them to attack me?"

Stiles grinned, somehow looking delighted and evil at the same time. "I never said I was nice."

After that, it just got … easier. The air had been cleared and Derek began to respond to the gentle nudges that Stiles gave him regarding the pack. Sometimes they even sat in the library together, companionably silent, while the rest of the pack went through their practice outside. More often, though, Derek put them through their places, often not wearing a shirt due to the warm weather.

Which was just distracting, to be honest.

When not distracted, Stiles poked around websites to see what kind of jobs were out there for a young magician. After all, this gig had a big fat expiration date—Derek taking a mate and/or getting his shit together, both of which were bound to happen before the end of the summer. Derek was paying him an obscene amount of money on top of room and board, enough that he wouldn't have to worry for a while and could see what job suited him. But everything challenging seemed so far away, and the idea of leaving his mountain permanently filled him with desperate sadness. Maybe he'd just travel for a while, see what turned up, and then come home.

Lydia, of course, had no such worries. She was already thinking about a book on magical geometry or physics or something to do with vectors, anyway. Stiles's route to magic had always been more instinctive than intellectual. Not that he couldn't inhale information with the best of them, but the energy lines that Lydia graphed for others, Stiles could just see whenever he needed them.

And Deaton still sent Stiles out on all the small bits of magical maintenance that he remembered his mother bringing him along to when he was a kid: checking the river and the beings in it, ensuring the farmers in the valley and on the slope had rain and the bees were active and plentiful, looking in on the forest to see that everything was as it should be. Deaton had come to the mountain when Stiles's mother was fading, and they needed someone to take over the work. Stiles had always wished he'd been older, been trained, been ready to do it himself as they'd always thought he would. But this was the next best thing, he supposed. Maybe he'd take over for someone else, someplace else.

Besides, since he'd moved into the Hale house, he hadn't felt as removed from the valley as he had when he was a kid. It happened so gradually that he wasn't sure when coming back down from the mountain was less a shock and more a transition.

He'd just returned from one of his morning mountain sojourns when Isaac, wide-eyed and worried, found him. "Dude, Derek is like, completely freaking out."

"Over what?" Stiles asked, because information was power.

"Some Lydia thing," Isaac said. "They're in the kitchen."

That meant the upcoming party and seriously, Stiles wasn't actually being paid to keep Lydia from driving Derek to an early grave with party details, but that was what he'd spent most of his time doing in the last week. When he got to the kitchen Derek was sitting at the counter, staring at a large number of tiny plates arranged in front of him. He looked up at Stiles like a drowning man.

It was actually kind of adorable.

"Thank god you're here," Lydia said, pulling Stiles into the room. "The caterer gave me these samples of the passed hors d'oeuvres and Derek refuses to make a decision."

"I can't tell the difference," Derek said, his voice in that upper register it went to when he was feeling frantic, "and I don't really care. There's ten different venison ones and they all taste the same."

"Eleven," Lydia said.

Stiles looked from Derek to Lydia, and sighed. "Okay, so here's what we're going to do," he said. "Lydia, make sure there's plenty of game. Otherwise, leave Derek out of it. I promise that no one at this party will have a more sophisticated palate than you. Derek, is there anything else about this party that you want to be consulted on?"

"Just the guest list and the music," he replied.

"Which are already done," Lydia said.

"So there you go. Lydia, you have a budget, do whatever you like."

Lydia cocked her head. "Yes, I think that would be best," she said, and left the room.

"Great. I'm starving," Stiles said, grabbing one of the bites. "Ooh, duck."

Derek was just staring at him, baffled, which happened a lot whenever Stiles helped him directly rather than just making suggestions. He felt a little sad thinking that Derek was so unused to anyone helping him that when Stiles did he stared at him like he couldn't be real, when all he'd actually done was handle Lydia. Which, sure, he was an expert but it wasn't actually magic.

"What?" Stiles asked.

Derek blinked. "I wish you'd bring lunch when you go up there," he said, as usual not saying "the mountain."

"I forget," Stiles said, shrugging and shoveling another bite into his mouth. He glanced at Derek, who was now scowling. "Aww, you care," he said around a mouthful of trout.

"Of course I care," Derek said. "I care about everyone in this house. It's my job."

Stiles smiled, feeling warm all over, and willing to push Derek just a little, since that was his job. "You should come up there with me one of these days," he said. "When you're ready."

Derek looked out the window. "I'll let you know," he said.

"Good," Stiles said. "So you think we can eat all of these before the rest of the pack finds out they're here?"

"It's worth a try," Derek replied, and as he reached for one of the little packets he was almost smiling.

Stiles counted that as a victory.

The closer the party got, the more Derek was convinced it was actually a terrible idea. He didn't worry much about his pack—they'd gotten to a good place, thanks to Stiles. He didn't even worry about the alphas of the other packs; they were assholes mostly, and there would be a certain amount of irritating posturing, but nothing he couldn't handle. But actually parading himself as a potential mate in front of all of these other packs gave him a headache every time he thought about it. Flirting one-on-one was one thing but this—he couldn't even say what it would be like.

Ninety minutes or so into the party, he had his answer. The gatherings in San Francisco had been relatively tame compared to this; in the city there were always other options, and Derek was never so much more appealing than anyone else. But this party was just about him, and he was starting to suffocate. And it wasn't just from the very well-tailored suit that Lydia had insisted he order, which fit him like a glove. Or from the rest of the trappings of the party—Stiles had mentioned that Lydia was very well-suited to being the mistress of a house like Derek's. But that would be so only if Derek wanted a life full of glittering parties, which he decidedly did not.

What Lydia had said about the betas from the other packs was true—they were so interested in being the chatelaine of his home that they were throwing themselves at him at every turn, and if they weren't their mommas or alphas were. It was like a bad regency romance novel.

Not that he'd ever read any of those.

The alphas themselves at least treated him with a modicum of respect, though Derek had a sense that was mostly for his mother, for the legacy of the name, and not for him as a wolf. That worried him, because if Lydia's scheme didn't work, they'd absolutely have a fight on their hands. But he smiled, charmed, tried to say the right things to the right people, and hoped he wouldn't run out of words before the evening was over. He even had a cocktail-long conversation and a dance with a sweet-tempered, intelligent blonde from the neighboring Albertson pack. It wasn't like talking to Stiles, but it wasn't torture, either.

Then the band started up one of those old folk songs that had an accompanying dance that varied from mountain to mountain and that everyone learned at school when they were seven. He remembered dancing to it with Laura at family parties and suddenly his throat felt tight. He needed some air, needed to not be surrounded by not-pack when they could smell his moment of weakness.

Out on the terrace, the pack was gathered with Stiles, who was leading them through the dance. He was surprisingly good at it, given his usual lack of physical grace; his steps were quick and precise and he moved fluidly from one combination to the next. Derek meant to only stand and watch, keep himself aloof, but his feet had other ideas. So he made his way to them, telling himself that it was the dance of their mountain, after all, so of course he'd want to dance it with his own pack.

Derek cut in with Stiles and cut Boyd out, though he couldn't quite maintain eye contact with Boyd when he did so. Stiles's eyes flashed his surprise, and he smiled at Derek as they walked around each other in a slow circle, then held both hands in front and walked quickly through the faster part of the song, steps timed to the beat of the drum while their bodies swayed to the melody played by the trumpets. A man sang about being young and wanting to see the world, but yearning to be back on his mountain the moment he'd left, and Derek couldn't help but think of those not-quite-two weeks in San Francisco, and how he'd missed his valley.

It was strangely easy to dance with Stiles, to trot through the intricate patterns their feet made on the floor, to spin Stiles in his arms and be spun in turn, to weave around Lydia and Erica, Danny and Jackson, Scott and Isaac. It was as though they'd been doing this dance together for years, and Derek remembered how his parents looked, dancing at various gatherings, how happy it made him to see them together.

What wasn't easy were the closely held parts, when they stared into each other's eyes as they twirled. Stiles's eyes grew wider with each pass and his cheeks were flushed in the most endearing way possible. Then he scowled, his eyes downcast, seeming confused.

"Stiles," he whispered, because he couldn't bear not to have those brown eyes looking into his.

Stiles turned to him slowly, eyelashes fluttering though he didn't drop a single step, and Derek's breath caught in his throat. Suddenly he realized that the mate he'd been looking for was right here, this ridiculous magician from the mountain who kept talking back to him. Stiles made the pack stronger, more stable. He made Derek a better alpha just by standing next to him. Stiles was blushing even redder now, as though he knew, too.

How much more Derek would have missed his valley if he'd known then what he had waiting for him, in Stiles. But he knew now.

The song ended and they clapped, staring at each other all the while. Then Erica teased Stiles about being out of shape if one dance made him so red in the face, and Stiles made a joke about being a weak human, and in the laughter Derek was called away by one of his guests, but that was all right.

Stiles would still be there in the morning, was the wonderful thing. Stiles was already in the house, already pack when Derek thought about it. He was just sleeping in the wrong bedroom. Derek would suffer through the rest of the party now, and in the morning he'd make things clear to Stiles, and that would be that.

By the time Derek walked away, the attention was off Stiles and he could lift his hands up, feel how hot his cheeks were. His heart was racing and he felt a little queasy to be honest, as though the earth's axis had shifted. He was in love for the first time, with an ornery alpha wolf who foolishly and inexplicably loved him back, who wore his heart on his sleeve if you knew where to look for it, and there was absolutely no way this could end well.

He avoided looking at anyone else in the pack, especially Scott, because he had let them down so spectacularly. He caught Lydia's eyes, and of course she'd seen it all, knew what it meant, had probably even prompted Erica to make that joke knowing her. Stiles walked into the house, through the crowd and up the stairs, trusting that Lydia would follow. Once in his room he let himself collapse onto the bed, not panicking but close to it, and tried to get his breathing under control.

"Stiles?" Lydia asked, closing the door behind her.

"I can't," he said, looking up at her. "Oh god, oh my god I have fucked this up."

She didn't say anything, just sat near him on the bed, because she knew it was true, too.

"I can't," he repeated. "Did you see those alphas? Did you see how little respect they already have for him? What will they do if he takes some puny human as his mate? They'll attack. They'll take advantage. It'll be chaos. It'll ruin Derek's valley." The valley that, he realized, he now loved almost as much as his mountain, and to protect them he might have to leave them both. He lifted his head to look at her. "You were right. He has to take one of them as his mate. It's the only chance we have."

"So what will you do?" she asked.

He blinked, because he knew, but it was a horrible thing that made his stomach churn even more. "I have to go," he said. "Go back to the mountain. Live with Deaton for a while. Take a job someplace else. Maybe even take him up on that life of isolation business."

"Don't be drastic," she said, trying to lighten things, but Stiles didn't feel light.

"One last protection," he said, "and then I'll pack my things." The decision was made now; he just had to do. But it was like wading through deep water to make himself do it.

He left the note for Derek in the library, and walked away into the night.

After Stiles left, Derek went through the motions, kept up appearances. He accepted the invitations that flowed in from the other packs after his party, went to dinner with a few betas he'd found interesting. Lydia helped him choose, still committed to her idea, and it had been a good one. But none of the beta wolves rolled their eyes at him; none of them told him how and where his ideas weren't going to work and then made them better; none of them had bodies in almost constant motion or glances that could unnerve him. And so none of them were invited back to his home to meet the pack. If that displeased Lydia, so be it.

Isaac was the first one Derek sent up to Deaton's, and the first to be turned away. Derek realized that if Stiles was refusing even to see the betas, he'd begun to close himself off to the pack, and Derek was damned if he was going to let that happen.

So he sent Boyd next.

Then Erica.

Then Danny.

Then even Jackson.

Then finally Allison, because maybe a hunter would succeed where the betas had failed.

Scott was his last chance, his last resort, and when Scott left to go up to the mountain, Derek took stock. He hadn't let himself believe that Stiles wouldn't come back, for the pack if not for him. He hadn't let himself believe that Stiles didn't feel the same—couldn't believe that. And Stiles was up to the task of being his mate; he was made of stronger stuff than any of them, of that Derek was sure.

But the house was impossibly silent, crushing him, and he could feel the despair that the pack and Stiles had dispelled start to creep back into the empty spaces. He ran his fingers over the note Stiles had left, a note he hadn't even read, and held on to the sliver of hope, to the look in Stiles's eyes when they were dancing, the last time he'd seen them.

"Dude, I just—why did you leave us?" Scott asked. "It isn't the same. It was awesome when you were there and now everyone is just sad."

Scott snorted. "Even Jackson?"

"He picks fights with everyone now," Scott said. "He came up here to see you, didn't he?"

Stiles sighed. He couldn't turn Scott away unseen, not like the others, but he really didn't want to be having this conversation. "It was a temporary assignment; I would have left eventually," Stiles said. "I'm sure whatever beta from the other packs that he chooses will find it easier if I'm not there."

"Derek hasn't chosen anyone," Scott said. "He goes out but he won't invite them to meet us. He says he's waiting to make up his mind."

"For what?"

"Dunno. You know Derek—he doesn't really talk about himself."

"What does Lydia say to that?"

"She's not happy about it." Scott shook his head. "He really needs to choose someone, doesn't he?"

"Yeah," Stiles replied. "He really does."

"So come back and make him do it. He listens to you."

"I don't think I'd be very good at it. Would you take romantic advice from me?"

Scott made a face, but didn't answer. "Why did you leave without saying goodbye?"

"I left a note," Stiles said.

"He hasn't even opened it," Scott replied. "And that was just for him. You didn't say goodbye to me."

"I'm sorry," Stiles said, and meant it; he hadn't been fair to the others, or to Scott most of all. "I wasn't thinking. I—I can't tell you why I left. I was just." He paused, thinking how he could say it without saying it. It was always harder, lying to Scott, but he couldn't bear to see the disappointment in his eyes when he heard how selfish Stiles had been even though he knew the consequences as well as any of them. "I'd gotten to the end of what I could do to help you."

"I don't care about that," Scott said. "None of us do. Come back."

"I can't," Stiles said firmly. "I need to work out my own shit. Can't hang around being a junior magician forever. I need to get an actual job at some point."

"You'd leave the mountain?" Scott asked.

"You're going to leave eventually, following Allison or whatever."

"I'm different," Scott said. "How could you leave?"

"I don't know," Stiles said honestly, "but the mountain doesn't need me; it has Deaton. You don't either—you're just used to me."

Scott swallowed, hard. "If that's how you want it."

"That's how it is," Stiles said. "But not forever. You'll probably need someone to help you set up your new pack, when you have one. Maybe I'll just go around fixing broken packs until you call me up. I'll be like, Mary Poppins for werewolves."

Scott chuckled a little. "Okay, maybe."

"Look, I promise I won't leave the mountain without telling you," Stiles said.

"You've better not, asshole," Scott said, and pulled him into a hug.

"Don't do anything stupid," Stiles said.

"Those were all your bad ideas, dude," Scott replied, and with a last squeeze to Stiles's shoulder, he left.

Stiles could hear Deaton step into the room behind him. "Are you going to tell me the real reason you left Hale?" he asked.

"I'd finished the job," Stiles said, looking out the window as Scott walked down the road. "I was just getting in the way of his job."

"Derek's?" Deaton asked. "You mean, choosing his mate?"

"I was a distraction," Stiles said. "At the party, anyway. He should have been charming all these other packs but instead he was dancing with me."

"Because he wants you?"

Stiles sighed and closed his eyes; he hated how well Deaton could read him. "Maybe," Stiles said.

"And you love him?"

Stiles nodded, because he still couldn't say it out loud, couldn't even say his name. "C'mon, Deaton! I'm seeing this as a sign of maturity. I'm too selfish for noble self-sacrifice. That's more Scott's thing." He tried to smile.

"Or you could be running from something that frightens you," Deaton said, "which you are good at."

"Maybe," Stiles admitted. "But he needs to follow Lydia's plan. An alliance might be the only chance he has to hold the valley."

Deaton hummed. "You know, the city packs are more fluid. They have all kinds of resources. But little country packs like the Hales have always maintained a strong connection between the alpha and the local magician."

"Like my mom and Mrs. Hale," Stiles said. "They were good friends."

"Often friends, yes," Deaton said. "But sometimes the connection is of a different nature."

"What do you mean?" Stiles asked, willing to play dumb rather than jump to conclusions.

"I mean that traditionally a magician can be a very powerful mate for an alpha," he said. "But it's better if it's a love match, which is why I didn't suggest it to Derek when I first spoke to him."

Stiles remembered the flash of jealousy he'd felt seeing Derek drive up with Lydia in the front seat of his Camaro. "Lydia would make a better mistress of that house than I would," he said. "And she's always had more ability than I have. If all the other packs are descending on them, that's what he would need. Not a mountain magician like me."

Deaton shook his head and sighed. "You might want to trust Derek to make his own decisions," Deaton said. "Not all of them are unwise. And they've been more and more solid since you've been there to help him."

Stiles raised an eyebrow. "You really think that I could help him hold this valley?" he asked.

"I think you're a very young magician who doesn't know half of what he's capable of," Deaton replied. "And you need to go back there and clean up the mess you made by leaving so abruptly. Only then will you know what life you're supposed to lead."

Stiles raised an eyebrow. "Are you going to sing an inspirational song to me now? You'll Never Walk Alone? Dream the Impossible Dream?"

"Are you feeling quixotic?" Deaton asked.

He took a deep breath. Derek was sort of a windmill, looked at from the right angle. "Maybe I am," Stiles replied.

He took the Jeep—he had no patience for the mountain tram—and picked up Scott along the way.

"Seriously?" Scott said. "You're coming back?"

"Deaton said I need to clean up my mess," Stiles said, "and it's clear that your alpha can't even choose a mate unless I'm there to hold his hand through it."

"Awesome," Scott said.

When they turned into the long drive that led up to the house, Stiles felt an overwhelming sense of relief, like when he was small and came home to the mountain from school. When had the Hale house begun to feel like home? He couldn't even remember.

God, he was so fucked.

Derek was sitting in the library with Lydia when he heard the Jeep. He lifted his head and sniffed as unobtrusively as possible; if Lydia hadn't been there he probably would have stuck his head out the window. But it was Stiles all right. He didn't know what Scott had said but Derek owed him for bringing Stiles back.

Moments later the rest of the pack appeared in the doorway, excited, and Derek took pride in their ability to distinguish the sound and scent of Stiles and his Jeep at such a distance.

"He's back!" Erica announced.

"Then you should welcome him home," Derek replied.

They tromped off toward the front door, but Boyd lingered. "Come on, man," he said. "You know you want to."

Derek glanced at Lydia, who was very much not looking at him. He closed his book. "I'll be right there."

And so he was standing in the doorway as Stiles drove up, the pack excited in their way—which meant Scott, Erica, and Isaac being openly happy and huggy, Boyd and Danny giving him a pat on the back and a handshake, and Jackson looking moderately less sullen.

Stiles looked at Derek, and whatever Derek had seen in his eyes that night two weeks ago was still there, thank goodness. All confusion fell away.

"We need to talk," Derek said.

Stiles raised his eyebrows. "No welcome home? Rude."

He the ignored flutter he felt when Stiles said, "home," and replied, "Running away into the night? Rude."

"Fine," Stiles said, looking resigned. "Let's get it over with." He left the betas and followed Derek into the house.

Lydia was still in the library. "Can we have a moment?" Derek asked.

She turned to Stiles and something passed between them, strong enough that Derek could feel it.

"Lydia," he said, using his alpha voice even though he knew it wouldn't compel her.

She rolled her eyes, but she walked out without saying a word, and he shut the door behind her.

"So," Stiles said, walking further into the room so the library table was between them. "I hear you're having trouble choosing a mate."

"Who told you that?"

"Scott. That's why I came back—to get your finger out of your ass."

Derek almost smiled with relief that Stiles was sassing him once again. "I've actually already chosen a mate."

"Oh," Stiles said, looking a little deflated, and Derek had never been more sure. "Which pack? Don't tell me—it's that blonde Albertson chick, isn't it?" He waggled his eyebrows.

Derek scowled. "I don't like blondes," he said. "It's not a beta anyway. It's a magician. Deaton said that could work, too."

Stiles nodded, but oddly he still looked sad, even though Derek had just declared himself. "So, just to be sure, because there are two magicians in this house, and one of them has already proven that she'd be really great at being the mistress of a house like this, and the other one forgets to eat when he goes up on the mountain. Seems like a pretty easy choice to me."

Derek started. "Lydia?" he asked, because what? "You're an idiot!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Stiles asked, annoyed now.

"Do you know why I didn't come up to Deaton's to see you? Why I sent everyone else?"

Stiles shrugged. "I figured, you don't really like coming up to the mountain. But I didn't know you sent them."

"Otherwise they would have waited for me to go," Derek said, stepping around the table because he couldn't bear to have a barrier between them. "But I didn't trust myself not to throw you over my shoulder and bring you back here where you belong."

Stiles blinked, his eyes wide. "Me? You mean that?"

"Who else could I possibly mean?"

"You want me for your mate?"

"Yes," Derek said. "And you want me." He paused, suddenly unsure. "Don't you?"

Stiles still looked shocked, but he was walking into Derek's space. "Oh my god," he said, and then his two large hands were on either side of Derek's head and Derek's arms wrapped around his waist and they were kissing.

Derek could feel everything shifting into place. He hadn't realized how anxious he'd been since he came back to the valley, too busy focusing on the task ahead. But now, for the first time since the fire, he could see the road ahead of him clearly. He pulled Stiles closer and let his own shoulders relax, let all of himself settle into this new reality where he could get kisses from Stiles. Where Stiles was his mate.

"Should I ask your father for his permission?" Derek said between kisses.

Stiles laughed, breathless. "He'd like that," he said. "Should I ask anyone?"

"The pack, maybe?" Derek said.

"Yeah," Stiles said. "The pack."

So they told the pack first, who mostly shrugged once they realized that as a practical matter not much would change. Stiles wouldn't have any more authority over them than he did now, which almost none and certainly less than Boyd or Scott; at this point he mostly helped as an intermediary with Derek. Mostly they were just glad he was staying. Isaac asked if they could still have pack bed sometimes, Derek said of course, and that was the end of that.

Stiles called his dad after Derek left to see him, since the man deserved some warning, not to mention hearing from his son directly that yes, he wanted this; no, it wasn't some kind of Stockholm thing; yes, he knew what he was getting into; no, his father hadn't failed him in some crucial way that led to his mating with a werewolf; yes, they should all have dinner tomorrow; no, please don't threaten him with your gun, Dad, seriously.

Scott and Allison at least seemed pleased by the news.

"Do you love him?" Allison asked.

"Yes," Stiles replied, and realized only she and Deaton had actually asked him that.

"And I guess he loves you."

"In his Derek-y way," Scott said.

"Come on," Stiles said. "Did you ever think I'd do this like a normal person?"

"I guess not," Scott admitted.

"Also look who's talking," he said, pointing at them, and Allison laughed.

Which just left Lydia. Stiles found her in the library, fuming.

"I hope you know what you're doing," she said.

"Probably not," Stiles replied, "but since when has that stopped me?"

"Don't be flippant."

"I'm not, actually," he said. "This is his choice, which makes it the best choice. He's been lonely and unhappy for a long time, Lydia. Deaton said—"

"Deaton!" Lydia stood. "Deaton's always been full of romantic nonsense and country mysticism. Magic is science, Stiles. It's rational."

"Then why are you here?" Stiles asked. "Derek said you wanted to help him because of Jackson."


"So you love Jackson. Maybe you're not in love with him anymore but you still love him."

She was quiet for a moment, then said, "If you're attacked—"

"We'll fight back," Stiles said. "The pack is tighter now and you know Derek is stronger with me here than he was while I was gone. I can feel it in him. And it's not like I can't help. He makes me stronger, too."

She pursed her lips. "Well, clearly I can't change your mind."

"No," Stiles said firmly. He couldn't explain it but something had happened between his conversation with Deaton—which had only been that morning, but seemed like a lifetime ago—and this one now. Then, he'd known what he wished for, but had been unsure that he could be what Derek needed. But something about making his own decision to come back for Derek and Derek's certainty about him had fixed his resolve. He would be what Derek needed, because he had to be.

"All right," Lydia said, waving her hand. "Do what you like."

"Great, because … we need a favor?"

"What now?" she asked, sighing.

"We need someone here with Boyd while we're away? Someone who can keep up the protections? It'll just be for two weeks—you'll be back in the city before your classes start." He tried to look as needy as possible. "Please?"

"Fine, but I'm doing this for Erica, not Jackson and not either of you!"

"Crystal clear," Stiles said, and waited until he was out of the room to celebrate with a quick fist pump.

Derek returned after dinner and slouched down on the couch next to Stiles, draping a hand across on his knee, which was new. Stiles suddenly realized they hadn't done more than kiss since that afternoon. Derek watched Boyd and Jackson's Assassin's Creed game for a few minutes, then said, "Your father is a determined man."

Stiles smiled. "Where do you think I get it from?" he asked.

"Ugh, get a room," Jackson said. "You have one."

Which was how Stiles ended up in Derek's bedroom for the first time. He did have a pack bed, but also another more average-sized one next to it.

"Mating bed," Derek said, and okay, that was direct. "I wanted to—" he continued, then stopped.

"What?" Stiles asked, sitting down on the mating bed that he was totally okay with. "If you can't say it, you can't do it."

Derek scowled. "You'll call me old fashioned," he said. "Or patriarchal or—and it's not like that. It's already not like that, right?"

"I think we've established that I do what I like," Stiles agreed.

Derek nodded, then took a deep breath. "I really want the first time I fuck you to be in this house," he said.

"Oh," Stiles said, because that was actually unexpected.

"But we've only kissed and you haven't done that and neither have I, so it doesn't have to be tonight. We can work up to it."

"The ceremony is Sunday," Stiles said. "So I say, we rip off the band-aid all at once."

Derek wrinkled his nose. "That's your metaphor?"

"And I'm sticking to it," Stiles said. "So long as the first time I fuck you is up on the mountain."

"Okay," Derek said, smiling a little as he realized that yes, Stiles understood.

"Good," Stiles said. "I hope you have lube and—condoms? I'm clean, obviously."

"I haven't—I'm clean," Derek said, "but do you want to use them anyway?"

"No," Stiles said. "I want to hit every stop on this ride, starting with your getting naked for me."

Derek rolled his eyes, but he was also unbuttoning his jeans so that was fine. "Take your clothes off, Stiles," he said, his voice somehow dropping an octave in the last few seconds, and Stiles shivered at the idea that Derek wanted to look at his body. But he shucked his clothes as quickly as possible, since he was pretty sure he lacked the ability to do it in a sexy manner, in order to maximize the time spent watching Derek take off his. That decision was rewarding as Derek's body was amazing, and also Derek was getting hard for him which he couldn't wrap his mind around.

"How do you—" Stiles said, waving his hand at Derek. "I mean, I know with the wolf thing but still."

"I work out," Derek said, completely straight-faced.

"You made a joke!" Stiles said, delighted. "Come here; you get a reward for that."

Stiles spread open his legs—because they both knew what was happening here, no reason to be coy—and Derek nestled between them, their dicks brushing together and making Stiles's toes curl in the best way. Stiles had noticed before the way that heat would come off Derek's body in waves but up close, touching like this, he was like a nice-smelling furnace. Good thing the sheets were cool and soft against his back.

"What's my reward?" Derek asked, eyes twinkling, and god that voice.

"Me," Stiles said, pulling him down for a kiss. Their chests pressed together and goddamn Derek had a lot of body hair. Stiles was very okay with that, was settling into his responses to Derek's manliness. Reptilian brains were fine as long as you didn't try to think with them.

Stiles flipped them over, kissing all the while, because all the little huffs and moans Derek was making as their bodies touched had got him thinking. He sat up, hips flush against Derek's, and ran his hands down Derek's chest. Then he flicked a nipple gently with his fingertip.

Derek gasped, so Stiles rubbed them both, feeling them harden under his fingers. He pinched them, pulled on them a little, and Derek pushed up into his touch, hands on Stiles's hips to keep him from going anywhere.

"Like that?" Stiles asked, smiling, because this was absolutely a thing to be revisited later, and to be remembered whenever Derek was wandering around without a shirt on.

"Yeah," Derek whispered. "I … I like that." He was so open now, and Stiles could picture him all laid out and ready to be fucked, when it was his turn. He was looking up at Stiles in that amazed way he did sometimes, which Stiles had always taken to be more about Derek's loneliness than anything else. But there was more here, so Stiles moved his hands to Derek's sides, stroking them slowly.

"What is it?" he asked, smiling. "It's okay."

Derek blinked, his brows furrowing like he was trying to find the words. "Sometimes," he said, then paused before speaking slowly, deliberately: "I don't know if it's the magic or just you but sometimes it's like you're not real."

"You're just as magical as me, you know," Stiles said. "But I'm like, super real." He leaned down to kiss Derek and assure him of that fact.

Derek's warm hands drifted up Stiles's back as they kissed and he flipped them over again. He pulled away just long enough to grab the lube out of the nightstand.

Stiles raised his eyebrows at the half-full state of the tube and nudged Derek with his bent knee. "Were you jacking off in bed, thinking of me?" he asked, smirking.

Derek's hand slipped a little, gratifying that he wasn't quite so cool, and a largish blob of lube landed on the hollow of Stiles's hip. He looked up at Stiles, all eyebrows, and said, "About your mouth."

Well, that was direct and kind of dirty. Stiles's breath hitched, and when Derek tossed the tube back onto the nightstand Stiles grabbed his hand. He was nervous about this part, even as he wanted it, welcomed it by spreading his legs wider and tipping his hips up. But it was going to hurt a little, and he needed something else to focus on or he'd babble nervously which was the opposite of sexy. Lying back and thinking of England wasn't going to cut it, but Derek's blunt fingers might. He held Derek's hand with both of his and sucked the tip of one of those fingers into his mouth, since Derek had been thinking about it so much.

"Stiles," Derek said. "I can't—"

"Yes you can," Stiles said, because he could feel a slick finger on Derek's other hand pressing against his entrance. "Do it," he said, moving his mouth to Dereks' thumb and sucking on it. Derek's skin was hot against his tongue, a little salty, and Derek moved his thumb just a little, almost involuntarily as Stiles worked his tongue around it.

Derek's eyes fluttered but he did as he was told, pushing his fingers into Stiles's ass firmly but slowly, and Stiles sucked harder to ride out that hint of pain without flinching. It was totally fine to use Derek's hand as a pacifier if Derek found it sexy, right?

Derek got more lube from his little pile and went back in with two fingers. Stiles could sense his erection flagging, but that was fine; it would come back, or Derek would take care of him later, or something.

But Derek had other ideas. He nosed at Stiles's balls, then licked them. Stiles wanted to think of it as weirdly doglike except it was hot, and to be fair Stiles did have Derek's other hand occupied. Stiles's dick was getting back into the game, though, and Derek kept licking up to it, nose pushing into the curls around its base. His tongue traced a long slow stripe along the vein on the underside before sucking the head into his mouth.

"Oh my god," Stiles said, watching Derek sucking him down, then pulling back to do it again. And all the while Derek was wiggling two fingers into Stiles's ass, widening him, preparing him for what was coming next. A blow job was definitely a good distraction from that little edge of pain, but Stiles found he wanted to keep Derek's thumb against his tongue anyway. Derek was mimicking what Stiles was doing, which got Stiles thinking about future sixty-nine possibilities; there was almost too much going on for Stiles to be able to focus—

Until their eyes met, Derek's just a ring of green around blown-out pupils, and Stiles was very much in a present where Derek was finger-fucking him while sucking his dick. It was a damn good present, and Stiles resolved to stay awhile. Derek's fingers curled, looking for Stiles's prostate, and when he found it, well, Stiles couldn't be expected to last longer against that onslaught. He came hard, pulling Derek's hand out of his mouth lest he bite him. As he shouted Derek's name, his mate-to-be sucked down every bit of his come, greedily, and licked him clean before letting his dick fall out of his mouth and pulling his fingers from Stiles's ass.

"Good?" Derek asked, as if there was more than one answer to that question.

"Come here," Stiles said, and Derek hesitated. "Oh, like I haven't tasted it. Come here."

Derek obeyed this time and they kissed, wet and hot, and yeah Stiles could tasted his own come but also Derek, so he sucked on Derek's tongue, making him moan and relax into it. When Derek pulled back Stiles reached down for the last little blob of lube on his hip and got Derek's hard cock good and slick. It was a new thing, touching another man's dick, and he resolved to revisit that act in the future, too. But he felt Derek's eyes hot on him, watching.

"Now fuck me," Stiles said, and lay back against the soft, squashy pillows.

Derek kissed him once more, then positioned himself and started to push in, slowly. It was definitely strange, feeling his skin being pushed apart by Derek's cock, but he wanted more of it.

"It's okay," Stiles said, still riding his orgasm high and wanting to take advantage. "Come on."

Derek pushed all the way in, still very controlled, and they rocked against each other. Then he started to thrust, pulling out a little more each time, experimenting. Stiles let him work out his rhythm—after all, he hadn't done this before, either—and after a bit he was fucking Stiles with long, hard strokes, and Stiles felt—

"So full," he said. "So big in me, oh my god, Derek."

"Really?" Derek asked, sounding adorably surprised. "So tight, Stiles, so fucking sweet."

"You can fuck me harder," Stiles said. "Come on, do it."

Derek looked determined then, and went faster. Stiles wished they had one of those cheesy ceiling mirrors because he wanted to see Derek's ass clenching as he thrust into Stiles. But he could settle for wrapping his arms around Derek's shoulders, feeling the muscles ripple under his fingertips, and how sweaty they were both getting. Derek pulled Stiles's legs around his waist, tipping Stiles back a little. Now he was fucking even deeper, Stiles's heels digging in to spur him on. Every once in a while Derek's cock would brush against Stiles's prostate, sending sparks up his spine, but he didn't want to come again. He wanted Derek to fuck him open, split him in two, pound him into the fucking mattress.

"Keep talking," Derek said, and Stiles realized he must have said that aloud and Derek liked it, so he just let his mouth go.

"Fuck me, oh my god, Derek, so full of your big cock, I love it, love squeezing around you. Yeah, like that, do it harder, so good. Do I make it good for you?"

"So good, Stiles, fuck," Derek said, thrusting faster, and Stiles was just along for the ride at this point, no more words from either of them. Stiles could sense Derek's rhythm failing and then he was pushing into Stiles, curving Stiles's back with the force of it, head thrown back and eyes closed, mouth open though no sound came out.

Derek collapsed on top of him. "Stiles," he said, softly.

"I love you, too," Stiles said, kissing the top of his head. "Oh my god, we need to have so much sex."

Derek laughed, lifting his head up to look at Stiles, and it was a pretty thing to see. "Let's do that," he said.

As he pushed up to kiss Stiles, his cock slipped out of Stiles's ass. It was only then that Stiles could feel Derek's come oozing out of him and it wasn't unpleasant, just very real, as if to say: Yes, Derek had his cock in you, and you made him come. It would make the wet spot wetter, but Stiles could live with that.

Derek got up and stumbled to his tiny master bath, and Stiles felt a little smug knowing that Derek was as affected by all of it as he himself was. Derek came back with a damp cloth he used to clean up his cock, Stiles's ass, that errant smear of lube still on his hip. Then he got back into bed and pulled Stiles close. Stiles hadn't known cuddling was even on the menu but he'd take it; he was craving touch even more now than he had before they'd fucked.

Derek tucked his head under Stiles's chin. "This is going to be good, isn't it?" he asked, sounding so reluctantly hopeful that Stiles's heart ached.

Stiles thought about Lydia's objections, about having to face the other packs sooner rather than later, but he felt so strong now, so sure of things with Derek and his pack. Then he remembered what Deaton had said about finding the life he was meant to lead, and knew this was that life.

"Yeah," he said. "It is."

The ceremony took place on the mountain, in a clearing just on the edge of a bluff that overlooked the Hale house. Derek remembered picnics there when he was a kid, his mother pointing out their house below. He remembered Stiles's mother, too, with a baby that must have been Stiles himself.

Derek hadn't been to the mountain at all since the fire, but being here with Stiles, it was okay. It didn't hurt quite as much to think about his family now as it did when he first came back. His throat didn't burn; his eyes didn't water; his chest didn't tighten. He just wished they could see him carrying on their legacy, wished they could see him with Stiles and the pack. He thought they'd be proud. He hoped so, anyway.

Deaton conducted the ceremony at sunrise, since mountain faced east into the valley, and as Derek and Stiles stated their vows they watched the sun appear over the mountain opposite, saw the valley slowly emerge from darkness. The metaphor was not lost on Derek, and the early morning hour was worth it to see Stiles's face lit up with the soft pink light of dawn.

After, they had breakfast courtesy of the sheriff and Melissa, the pack plus Allison and Lydia gathered around a big table set up in the clearing. They were all merry, and many toasts were made with the mysterious drinks that Stiles would only say contained "the juice of a few flowers."

The drive to San Francisco was so materially different than the last one, that desperate trip to find a mate all while trying not to think about the magician he'd just met, that it was strange to think that it was the same road. Stiles was playing Wilco on the car stereo, and Derek was admittedly teasing him, putting his hand on Stiles's thigh but letting his pinkie drift close to Stiles's crotch.

"Hey now," Stiles had said, pushing Derek's hand further down his leg. "None of that. Not while you're driving."

Derek pouted, which just made Stiles laugh, and it was just all so easy. Nothing had been easy in so long Derek had forgotten what that felt like.

They were staying at a sleek luxury hotel in a pretty neighborhood, steps away from every good thing. That night they went to dinner at a small place that came highly recommended. Once the staff found out that Stiles and Derek were newlyweds they sent out a series of surprises from the chef, each more amazing than the last, and Stiles was in ecstasy.

"Anniversary place, absolutely," he said, grinning, and Derek had a vision of them sitting at this very table in fifty years' time, grey and stooped, Stiles even more wiry while Derek's muscles had softened, bickering about which dessert to share.

"Absolutely," Derek agreed.

They went to museums, a Giants game, a play. Fall clothes were already in the stores so Derek bought Stiles some sweaters, fine gauge and clinging.

Stiles looked in the mirror, saw Derek appreciating the line of his shoulders. "I feel objectified," he said.

Derek raised an eyebrow. "Pot, kettle," he said.

"I didn't say it was a bad thing," Stiles replied.

And then on the fifth morning, over coffee and toast in their room, Stiles said, "Is there anything else you want to do?"

Derek glanced up. "You want to go back?"

Stiles visibly relaxed. "Would you mind?" he asked. "I think I've had enough city for now."

"Back to the house?" Derek asked.

"Actually," Stiles said, "I was thinking the mountain?"

There was a lot to that question, and they both knew it. But Derek remembered Stiles's horrible band-aid metaphor and found himself nodding.

So they went back to the valley and dropped the Camaro off with the sheriff, swapping it for the Jeep, and headed up to the Stilinski house. The next morning, Stiles took Derek on a long ramble, showing him how he checked in on his mountain, following the bends in the stream that widened in the valley into the river that passed Derek's house. Some of the animals shied away from Derek, understandably, but he could see how they would flock to Stiles. Derek wondered how he could have fallen in love with Stiles without seeing him in his element, hearing the things he knew.

Later, after dinner, Derek said, "You have a place here."

"So do you, alpha wolf," Stiles said. "They're just waiting for you to take it."

Derek didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded. Or maybe he did know: Almost. He was almost there.

It was easy, that night, when Stiles gave him that delighted and evil grin, to lay back on the bed, displaying himself for Stiles. He'd already gotten the long fantasized about blow job, made Stiles's lips shiny with his come in that plush hotel bed. So Stiles used something else to distract him from the discomfort of preparation, taunting Derek to come just from Stiles's playing with his nipples, but not letting him feel bashful when he did.

"Do you know how beautiful you are?" Stiles asked once he'd sunk into Derek.

"No," Derek replied, brushing his fingertips across cheekbones patchy with stubble. "But neither do you."

Stiles looked stunned, then smiled. "I'm learning," he said. "I'm learning."

Stiles liked it a little rough when he was being fucked, but in the driver's seat he took his time, and Derek was glad he'd already come and could be patient while Stiles went deep and steady. Derek's heart was so full he couldn't speak, and Stiles was quiet, too. Just the sound of their bodies—and the feel of them, Stiles sliding against Derek as he thrust, his pale skin glowing in the light of the gibbous moon. When he came it was completion, easy, and Derek pulled him in close, enjoying how their scents mingled, listening to their hearts beating, and the sound of the frogs peeping in the stream.

They'd been on the mountain for a few days when Stiles woke up one morning, all at once, nearly bolting upright in bed.

"You feel it?" Derek asked. He was already sitting up, maybe had been watching Stiles sleep.

Stiles blinked and realized what he was sensing, a hint of danger around the edges of his vision. "They're coming for us," he said.

"Getting ready to," Derek said.

They arrived back at the house almost a week earlier than expected, and Stiles knew they'd be interrupting … something, but not all of the betas and Lydia, naked, in a pile in the pack bed of Stiles's former room, with Allison and Scott watchful and cuddling in the large armchair beside it.

"I figured she'd bond with the pack if left to her own devices," Derek said.

"It is a Lydia sort of bonding," Stiles said. "Is this what usually happens in a pack bed?"

"Depends on the pack," Derek said.

"You're home early," Lydia said, poking her head up.

"We need to prepare," Derek said. "Finish up. Pack meeting at lunch."

Derek had been subdued in San Francisco, out of his element, and on the mountain he'd been almost puppy-like—on Stiles's mountain, he realized. Stiles was glad he'd been able to give Derek a break from being the alpha, and yet, Derek was always more himself in the valley.

As they walked down the hall to their room Derek said, "Any thoughts?"

Stiles shrugged. "Attacks by masses of small creatures. The frogs owe me a favor. So do the bats, actually. And it's their valley, too."

Derek cocked his head. "But you have another idea."

"I'd rather not use the animals, so yeah," Stiles said. "But to be honest I'm not sure I can pull it off, so I don't want to promise anything. You can count on … something. And when it happens, believe me, you'll understand it."

"I'm sure you can pull off whatever you put your mind to," Derek said, not looking at Stiles but out the window at the woods beyond the house.

Stiles set his bag down and walked over to Derek, slipping an arm around him. "I'm sure you can, too," he said.

Derek looked over at him, still a little surprised, apparently, that someone believed in him. Then he relaxed and put his arm around Stiles's shoulder, and they looked out over their valley together.

They had lunch at the big table in the dining room as usual, the wolves and humans all pack by now though they each had different roles to play. Derek let them goof around and tease each other, get rid of their nerves, before he cleared his throat.

"You've probably felt a little tension today," Derek said, "which you've apparently been working off on the pack bed—"

"Is that a problem?" Boyd asked.

"No," Derek replied. "You're all adults. As long as everyone consents and speaks up when they're not happy it's no different than anything else."

"Good," Lydia said, in a tone that implied she wouldn't have participated under any other circumstances.

"So that tension," Derek continued, "is because you can feel the other pack that's getting ready to attack us. I hadn't had a chance to explain that to you—hard to explain if you've never felt it. But now you feel it, and now you know."

"Sensing other people is what magicians do," Jackson said, scowling.

"Shapeshifting is magic, too," Stiles said. "I know you don't like that side of it much, but it does allow you to tap into what Lydia and I do, just from a different direction."

Jackson shrugged. "I thought that was just a you and McCall thing," he said.

"It's like the ritual after the full moon," Erica said. "Cleansing magic." Realizing the others were looking at her, she grew self-conscious. "What?" she replied. "Lydia gave me a book about it."

Derek raised his eyebrows at Stiles, who smiled back. "Sorry," he said aloud. "I would have taught you more but it's hard for me to know what magic humans know and what they don't. But you all felt it?"

They nodded, and then Isaac asked, "What do we do?"

"Patrol the grounds, to start with," Derek replied. "You'll go out in pairs; I'll stay at the house so we don't provoke anyone. We'll do some drills but I'd rather you were fully rested. Lydia, Stiles may need your help for what he's planning."

"Of course," Lydia said.

"Allison and I can patrol together," Scott said.

"No," Derek replied, and sighed. "Allison, you know you're part of this pack, but if we bring a hunter to a fight with another pack—"

"I understand," Allison said, nodding, because of course she did. It would mean war with every other pack around them, and Derek couldn't afford that.

"But I need you to do something for me," he continued. "If the fight gets close to the house—if there's any kind of threat—you do whatever you have to do to get Stiles and Lydia out of here. Erica, what's the best tunnel to stash a car at the other end of?"

Erica thought for a moment. "The tunnel in the library leads to the back of the public library in the village," she said.

"Good. Allison, put your car there with whatever supplies you'll need, and when the time comes, drive them to one of your safe houses and don't open the door for anyone other than your father." Derek glanced at Stiles, sitting at the foot of the table. He looked stricken, as though he hadn't even allowed the possibility that they would lose. And knowing how much belief was part of his magic, Derek wasn't surprised. But he had to plan for every contingency; that was his responsibility as the alpha. And the idea of the other pack getting their claws on Stiles turned Derek's stomach. He'd fight better knowing that no matter what, Stiles would be safe. And he was sure the other wolves felt the same about the three humans in their midst.

Allison nodded, jaw set. "You can count on me," she said.

"I know," Derek replied. "Okay, let's talk defense plans. Suggestions?"

The betas started chipping in, Boyd keeping them all organized, and Derek sat back in his chair to listen. Stiles was talking to Lydia, their head bowed over some paper Lydia was drawing arrows on, and he looked a little better. Derek would comfort him later, and it would be fine. And maybe at the same time, he'd grab a little of Stiles's certitude for himself.

When he thought back on that week later, most of what Stiles could remember was sex. So much sex. There were other things, too, like patrols and spotting strangers in the village and Derek having a secret meeting with Chris Argent to fill him in and the plans being laid out on Erica's map in the library and Lydia helping Stiles make sure he had everything he needed for what he had planned. But what he remembered was the sex.

The pack moved into Derek's room, piling on the pack bed but sometimes the mating bed, mostly just sleeping and needing to be close. But they were so tense that the sex had a tendency to erupt and spread across the room, flaring up before dying back down again. Derek and Stiles weren't directly participating in the polyamorous arrangement the rest of the pack had, mostly because Derek didn't think it was a good idea for him to get involved, being the alpha, but also because the two of them were still a little possessive, and now wasn't the time to push that. Still, Stiles hadn't thought that having sex in front of other people could feel so normal.

He was laying back against some pillows, having just had his brains sucked out of his dick by his darling mate, and was vaguely watching Lydia and Erica making out. Derek was still curled up next to him, head on his hip, and Stiles's hand was buried in his hair, caressing him, something Derek flat-out loved. Danny and Jackson were out patrolling the grounds, looking for anomalies, any clue of what the rival pack was up to. Boyd and Erica were going out next, so it wasn't surprising that Erica was looking for a little action to take the edge off.

Then Derek sat up, sliding up Stiles's body, and said, "Your dad just turned into the driveway."

"What?" Stiles said, sitting up in a panic because could there be a worse time for him to just stop by? And yet, it was his fault; with everything going on he hadn't exactly talked to his father since they got back from the mountain. "Shit, shit, shit."

"Just put some clothes on and meet him at the door," Derek said. "We can talk to him for a little while and then he'll go, no harm done."

Stiles had found his jeans on the floor and was pulling them on. "Derek, we smell like sex, even to a human."

"We've been married for seventeen days," Derek said. "He's probably expecting that."

"Okay, good point," Stiles said, and took a deep breath. "I can do this. I've talked my way out of worse things."

Scott moaned and Stiles glanced over at him, more out of habit than anything else, assuming he'd see Scott and Allison up to something or other. But instead, Scott was reluctantly getting off the bed and reaching for his own jeans.

"You want to see my dad that much?" Stiles asked.

"No," Scott said, grimacing. "My mom is with him."

Stiles opened the front door just as his father was about to knock. "How do you do that?" he asked.

"Derek heard your car about ten minutes ago," he said, hanging off the door and trying to look as casual as possible. "And you know, scents."

The sheriff hummed.

"So! What brings you by?"

"Do I need an excuse to see my kid now that he's married?"

"No, of course not," Stiles said, waving them both in.

Derek came into the hall then, shook Sheriff Stilinski's hand and called him "sir". Stiles hadn't really thought about how his dear old dad was someone's father-in-law now, and watching the two of them interact kind of made his head hurt.

"I'm sorry we haven't made plans," Derek was saying. "It's been hectic around here since we got back."

"Hectic?" the sheriff asked.

Stiles laughed. "Oh, you know dad. Newlyweds!" He flung an arm around Derek's shoulder. "We just keep losing track of time, don't we?"

Derek glanced at him, brow furrowed, but at least picked up on the change of subject. "And getting the pack settled with the changes."

Scott and Allison were coming down the stairs, and on seeing them Stiles's father said, "Allison, is there a reason your car has been sitting out behind the library for four days?"

No one said anything—didn't even make eye contact with each other.

"Reading is fundamental!" Stiles said—not his best effort but come on, someone could help him out here.

"Actually, Sheriff, if you could make sure nothing happens to that car?" Derek asked. "I'd appreciate it."

"All right, is someone going to tell us what's going on here?" Melissa asked, staring straight at her son. "Because I haven't heard from my kid in a week, and he didn't just get married."

Scott looked panicked. Stiles turned to Derek, hoping to convince him not to tell them, because there was no way they wouldn't insist on being involved and Stiles was hoping to keep both parents well out of the battle and whatever consequences might ensue. But the decision was taken out of all of their hands by a shout from the other end of the house.

They turned and saw Danny running in from the back of the house, a severely wounded Jackson in his arms.

Derek took one look at them and began shouting orders. "Danny, bring him up to Stiles's old room, and then get everyone else and bring them here to me. Melissa?"

"My kit is in the car," she said, following Danny up the stairs.

He nodded to Scott to go. Then he turned to Allison. "Can you take them all out of here, if necessary?"

"I can use them," Stiles said. "Don't worry about us."

Derek cocked his head.

"Okay, just, do what you need to do."

Scott came in then with Melissa's kit, which Stiles handed to his father. "Go; I'll be there in a minute."

The sheriff frowned. "But—"

"Dad, I promise, I'll tell you everything. Just go, now. Please."

The rest of the werewolves were coming down the stairs, Lydia paused at the top.

"Allison, I'm leaving them in your hands," Derek said.

"I've got it," she said, and while everyone else pretended not to look she gave Scott a last kiss before running up the stairs.

Stiles tried to slip up there himself, but Derek had him by the wrist.

"We're doing this?" Stiles asked him. "Really?"

"Really," Derek said. "Stiles, if—"

"No," Stiles said, and kissed him. "I'll see you later. Believe that."

Derek blinked, then nodded. "I'll see you later." He turned and followed his betas down the hall. "Okay, Danny, tell me everything you know."

Stiles gritted his teeth as he ran up the stairs. There were ways to keep thinking about Derek that were helpful, and ways that were not.

Stiles could see Jackson's wound more clearly, now that it had been cleaned. He had an impressive gash on his hip, and his side was ripped open from the waist to under his arm. The muscle was healing itself already, but Stiles was pretty sure that flash of white was a rib showing through.

Jackson looked up at Stiles. "They were going after Danny," he said.

"I know," Stiles said, because, of course. To Melissa he asked: "Can we move him? We need to get on the roof."

"Let me bandage him up," she said, and Allison moved to help her.

"Stiles?" his father asked.

"The other packs think Derek is weak," Stiles said. "Because he went away, because he's young, because his pack isn't family." He paused. "Because he took a human as a mate. So now we have to show them that they're wrong."

He gestured out the window. "Shouldn't I be—"

"You'll be more help to me," Stiles said, and wondered why he hadn't planned to have his father with him all along. "Trust me."

Lydia had already grabbed the bags with their supplies, while Stiles and his father carried Jackson up the back stairs.

The roof of Derek's house had an upper flat level with a stone fire pit in the middle, standard at werewolf estates for use in the after-full-moon and other rituals as well as just a convenient look-out. From here Stiles could see all of the Hale land, including the trees where Jackson and Danny had been attacked, which the pack were now heading toward. Stiles and Lydia quickly lined the fire pit with earth from the mountain, then planted scraps of fabric from clothing that belonged to the pack into the soil as if they were seeds, pouring water over them from the river that ran past the house.

Stiles positioned himself so he was looking directly at the pack, the mountain to his right. "Okay," he said. "Lydia, opposite me. Jackson on her left, and Dad, you can help him stay upright. Melissa on my left, and Allison between Melissa and Lydia."

"What are we doing?" Jackson asked.

"Yes, Stiles," Lydia said, "how are you using these extra people?"

"Allison was always part of this ritual, because she's pack," he said. "You are now, too, but Jackson was your initial connection to the pack so his presence will make the bond stronger. Melissa, that's obvious, and why she's standing next to Allison. So while all of this is going on, if everyone can just think about the pack, we'll be fine."

"And me?" his father asked.

Stiles turned to him. "I need you to think about Mom," he said. "I'm going to need her help."

Stiles could see that flash of sadness in his father's eyes that always came when they talked about his mother, but he nodded. "I can do that," he said. "I know she'll want to help you, if she can."

"Yeah," Stiles said. He stood over the pit and uncorked a small vial, a breath of Derek's taken while he was sleeping. Stiles moved his hand, so, and his spark ignited, creating a flame that danced on the cushion of air, just above the water and earth.

Stiles stepped back into the circle, and pulled in as much energy from the others and from everything around him as he could. Then he opened his eyes, and focused on a small white cloud that hung over his mountain.

Derek could just see, at the edge of the lawn, where Danny and Jackson's skirmish with the other pack had occurred. Danny said they'd felled three betas, but the other pack had since pulled them out of harm's way. Derek's own pack was climbing up into the trees, and Derek was beginning to wonder just how Stiles thought packs of marauding frogs were going to help them, exactly, when he noticed that the sun had gone behind a cloud. He turned and looked back at the house.

The humans and Jackson were up on the roof, as planned. Lydia's hair was blowing in a wind that Derek was just beginning to feel, and a cloud that had been tiny and white only a few minutes ago was now dark, threatening, and growing ever larger. The wind kicked up, blowing more clouds together from other parts of the sky—the mountain in particular—and it wasn't long before Derek felt the first fat raindrops falling. This was no simple summer storm; there was electricity in the air.

Derek grinned as he hauled himself up into a nearby tree; the wind was getting stronger by the second. Of course this was Stiles's mysterious plan, the one he knew Derek could easily take advantage of. His pack knew how to channel the storm, thanks to Stiles, and Derek had a suspicion that whatever lightning came from the cloud would be striking very close by.

The rest of the pack was shouting, bouncing from tree to tree. "This storm is some good luck," Isaac said.

"This isn't luck," Scott replied, hanging onto a limb with one hand and tilting his face into the rain. "This is Stiles."

"It's our storm?" Erica asked.

"This is our storm," Derek confirmed. "So save your energy, and use it against them when they come for us."

"You mean, like now?" Boyd asked, pointing into the middle distance, where ten or so wolves were walking toward them, worriedly glancing up at the threatening sky.

"Wait for it," Derek said, holding up his hand. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end and hear the cracks of thunder as lightning bolts flashed from one end of the sky to the other.

Finally the lightning struck the ground, just twenty feet behind them, along the riverbank. The other pack cringed backward.

"Now!" Derek said, and his pack charged forward, moving quickly from tree to tree, then pounced on their enemies from above.

Stiles had never been particularly good at magic that required sustained effort. He could easily do the spells and charms that needed a concentrated burst of energy, and he was very good at the frequent but intermittent maintenance that his mountain required. But holding one thought for longer than five minutes or so was nearly impossible.

So as the battle continued Stiles knew that his mother must be here, helping him keep this storm active. Oh it might be Lydia's intellectual magic, and it might be Allison and Melissa's fierce love for Scott, and it might be Jackson's need for belonging that the pack provided, and it might even be his father's love for him and his own for Derek and his pack. But he was pretty sure what was putting them over the edge was the energy of his mother, and he was thankful.

Derek and the rest of the pack finally emerged from the forest after what his father later said was nearly an hour. They were moving slowly, and Isaac and Danny were on either side of Boyd, helping him to walk. But they were all present and accounted for, and the other pack was gone.

"It's okay, Stiles," Lydia said. "You can let go now."

He did, letting the fire go out, and collapsed into his father's arms.

Stiles woke up in the mating bed early the next morning, Derek wrapped around him. "Welcome back," he said.

"Hey," Stiles said, shifting to face him. "Hope I didn't scare you."

"No," Derek replied. "Lydia said you were just sleeping."

"Is everyone okay?" he asked.

"You can see for yourself," Derek said, gesturing over his shoulder at the pack bed, and of course everyone was piled onto it. Jackson was in the middle, the others carefully arranged around him.

"Dad?" he asked.

"Down the hall. I think he and Melissa are making us breakfast."

"Good," Stiles said, and nestled into Derek's arms, not particularly interested in moving any time soon. "So hey, it worked."

"Yeah," Derek said. "All of it."

Over the next week, many messages were delivered to Derek Hale. Most were from the other packs, trying to sniff out information or discuss possible alliances, and Derek set them aside for the time being. Plenty of time over the fall and winter to think about inter-pack politics, and he had a feeling that Boyd would be the most helpful for working out what would be best for the future of their pack.

Chris Argent wanted to meet, to formally relinquish his family's responsibilities, if Derek considered the debt paid.

"I appreciate what you did," Derek told him. "But the Argents didn't owe me anything. Kate did, but she's gone now." It wasn't until he'd said it that he realized he meant it, that while he still had plenty of anger about Kate he had none for her family, thanks to Allison's example and to finally feeling like he could stand on his own two feet again.

Chris nodded and shook Derek's hand. "Then we'll be leaving your valley," he said.

Allison looked mildly alarmed. "I'd like to stay," she said. "For now, anyway."

"If we need you?" Chris asked.

"Of course I'll come," she replied.

If Derek had thought about it, he would have predicted it would go the other way—that Allison would leave, and Scott along with her. And he knew they'd go out on their own eventually; Stiles was right about that. "You can stay as long as you like," Derek said. "Always."

Lydia headed back into the city for her studies, and there was talk of some of the others following her in the spring, when the political situation in the valley had solidified and Derek could spare them.

"It might be worthwhile to buy a nice townhouse like some of the other packs," Lydia said.

"Which you would select, of course," Derek said.

"That goes without saying," she replied.

And then there was Deaton, who despite his advice to Derek and his role as mentor to Stiles had remained carefully neutral during the lead up to the battle itself. But now he was summoning Derek and Stiles up to his cabin for some sort of important conversation.

Derek had never actually been to the cabin, which had been built not long before the fire, when Stiles's mother was fading and Deaton came to the mountain. It was further up the slope than the clearing where he and Stiles had been married, but it had the same view of the valley and the river and the Hale house.

Inside all the furniture was covered and Deaton had a satchel sitting on the counter.

"You're packing?" Stiles asked.

"Packed," he said, smiling. "I've finished here."

"Here in this cabin?" Derek asked.

"Here on this mountain," he replied. "My stay was always temporary."

Stiles was working his hands, nervously, and his shoulders were rounded, like his body was tucked in on itself. Like he'd stood when Derek had first met him, but Derek realized he hadn't looked like that in a long while. "How do you know it's time to go?" he asked.

"Your mother told me. She's the one who asked me to come in the first place, just before she passed."

Stiles nodded. "So she did help me, last week."

"No, no," Deaton replied, shaking his head. "That was all you, Stiles. She could only watch. But anyone who could bring on a storm like that to help save his home is strong enough to look out for his mountain."

He stood up a little straighter at that. "My mountain," he said.

"Always was," Deaton said. "You two take care of each other."

"We will," Derek promised, shaking his hand. "Thank you for all your help."

Stiles shook his hand, too, but for once he had no words at all. Then Deaton picked up his satchel and walked out the door.

Derek turned to Stiles. "Should we have offered him a ride?" he asked.

"No, he has other ways of traveling," Stiles replied. He was looking around the room, peeking at the covered furniture, the various glass bottles in the cabinets, the books on the shelves. "Come on, let's go out on the front porch."

They did, and Derek expected to see Deaton walking down the road to the tram, but he was nowhere to be seen. "You don't vanish into thin air like that, do you?" he asked.

"I don't have anyplace to go where I'd have to," Stiles said, sitting down on the porch swing.

Derek settled down next to him and enjoyed the view of the valley, spread out before them. "You know," he said, "we could add some rooms to this place. Make it big enough for the pack."

Stiles turned to him, his eyes lit up. "You mean that?" he asked.

Derek shrugged. "You live in my home," he said. "Why shouldn't I live in yours?"

"Ours, I think," Stiles said, leaning against Derek's shoulder.

Derek wrapped his arm around Stiles's shoulders, pulling him closer. "Yeah," he said. "Ours."

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