October 9, 2011
"Attention, shoppers. Please bring your purchases to the front, the Save Mart will be closing in 30 minutes."
Derek glanced up at the announcement and then quickly checked his surroundings for anyone nearby. When no one so much as glanced in his direction, he tentatively brought the package of steaks up closer to his face and inhaled. It smelled, as it should, of flesh and blood, but something the tiniest bit off, too. Not putrid, not that far, but stale and unsavory. He switched the package for another and repeated the test. Satisfied, he dropped the flat-irons in his basket and headed for the fresh fruits and vegetables. Finding acceptable offerings there would be . . . He glanced at his watch. Twenty-five minutes til closing. Well, he'd see how far down the list he could get.
Between the baking aisle and the cereal, something touched his senses, setting off alarms, and he stopped dead, suddenly alert.
A woman pushed her cart around the end of the cereal aisle, its one bad wheel dragging across the linoleum floor. Behind him, back down among the meat coolers, a young man muttered to himself about the bacon he was supposed to be finding; a couple collected sugar and flour, tearing their shopping list to mark each item as they found it. Derek scowled, unsure what had raised his hackles so suddenly. Everything seemed normal, these people harmless.
His senses worked strangely that way, mixing inputs, creating impressions—sense-emotions—that were more than their component parts. Maybe the woman hadn't liked the look of him, and he'd caught her vibe. Derek waited a breath and then moved on, but the sense of unease burrowed in. It felt . . . like being watched.
He tried to concentrate on the bell peppers—notoriously bad at Save Mart—but the tightness between his shoulder blades only got worse. As he moved between displays, he glanced up and around, trying to make the motion look casual. He was alone. His eyes told him he was alone. The crawling sensation along the back of his neck told him he was not, and he fought the urge to shift out his claws.
If his eyes were liars, perhaps something else . . .
Derek shifted his focus as he left the produce section deliberately unhurried, despite his quickened, shallow breathing. He listened. Thankfully, the store was nearly empty. As it was, the layers of the soundscape unfolded themselves with weight. The background hum the AC unit took on tones, like a pipe organ groaning in disunity. The fans cut through the air with distinct chops and a whirr of motors. Shoppers spoke to one another. A man laughed, and someone tossed a can into a cart, metal impacting on metal.
The busted wheel on the cart, dragging rubber along plastic, grinding itself away with a high pitched squeak. A low jangle of bells. And then the suddenly piercing beep of the register taking in a scan. Derek flinched around the eyes at that, but kept walking toward it. Of course the only open lane would be the farthest away.
He glanced down each aisle as he went, but no one so much as looked at him.
He registered movement out of the corner of his eye and quickly spun to check the space behind himself. Nothing. His heart pounded, and he curled his empty hand into a fist to calm the itch. As he turned to keep walking, lavender drifted through the air. Light, ephemeral. He turned back around and stared down the length of the store, then picked out heartbeats. There was no one within twenty feet. No one to carry the scent of lavender.
Derek swallowed, his frown deepening, and he rushed to stand in line, to escape the sense of wrongness making his heart do flips. As the checker bagged his things, it came to him again, lavender petals dying in the sun, only now choked with sweet rot and—he sniffed out of instinct—lamb fat.
His eyes went wide, and he snatched the receipt from the startled checker’s hand, nearly forgetting a bag in his rush.
It couldn’t be.
Derek threw fearful, worried glances over his shoulder as he jogged from the store. Once outside, he loosed his senses wide and hunched from the darkness, or from the things that hide in darkness. Nothing, as far as he could tell, was following him, but he hadn’t been able to hear anything inside, either. Still his instincts howled, paced, bared their teeth. He held himself back from bolting, but if he was right . . . Fear splintered through his limbs, and he turned around, scanning the parking lot but still heading for the Camaro. Empty. The shopper in line after him trundled out with cart, but that was all.
Bells jangled behind him, and he spun again, this time letting his claws come. More nothing. Sounds from nowhere. Scents that should not be. His heart raced. Panting, he checked the distance to his car, and, feeling like a fool, he let himself run.
He tossed the bags in the passenger seat, slammed the door, and set the locks. Then turned to check the back seat, touching it to make sure they were as empty as they appeared.
Derek sighed out through his nose, mouth still pressed into a scowl, and sank into the seat as he righted himself. He felt his pulse pounding in his hands, and he gazed up, trying to concentrate on his breathing. Each second that no one emerged to smash his window or windshield, the fear settled.
As he pulled out of the lot, he cursed, first at his fear, then at himself for giving in. It wasn’t possible. For god's sake, they weren’t even real.
He took the turn down Devon, then the first left after Greenvale Park toward his new apartment, glad of the respite it gave him from the loft's painful memories. He sat for a moment in the parking lot just . . . waiting. He shook himself, grabbed his things, and went inside, hurrying a little, unable to entirely quell the cold fingers on his neck.
Once in the apartment, he dropped the bags and locked the door. After a second, he added the dead bolt. After another second of impatient frowning, he slid the little chain lock in place, too. Derek glanced over to the wall of sliding glass windows that had sold him on the place and quickly threw the curtains shut. It helped. Some. He backed into the center of the room, assessing, overactive fear pressing in. Everything remained still. The apartment smelled new, of fresh paint and cleaner. Nothing more.
After a further minute of vigilance, Derek sagged and let himself take care of the groceries.
If it had just been the lavender, that would have been one thing. Some passer-by's perfume or the scent of a candle carried by AC had blown into his path. But the bells. The bells. Twice, the discordant shake of jingle bells. Lavender and bells . . .
He shuddered and shoved the bed up against the wall of the living room. It felt safer having a wall at his back. With no one around to demand explanations, he could let himself have that.
October 10, 2011
He woke up with the dawn as exhausted and empty as when he’d laid down, forcing himself through the motions of his morning run. After a while the fog of tiredness burned away. His muscles felt warm and alive with use, and it was meditation. He focused on his breathing, his mind settled. It wasn't until Derek was returning through Greenvale that the rhythm of his running faltered.
The small hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He cast about sharply, suddenly more aware of his surroundings than he'd been in miles. The only person looking at him was a woman running the other way on the path. She smiled slightly, glancing him up and down, but never slowed. Even after she was gone, the feeling of being watched remained. His body screamed "exposed, hunted, hide!"
He didn't think—couldn't think—as his primal self took hold, and he ran, all purpose and terror. Ran at the edge of inhuman; outpaced his heartbeat. Ran to the apartment building and up the stairs unable to wait for the elevator, and locked the door as soon as he was inside.
He leaned his weight against it, panting more from fear than exertion. After a second, he beat his fist against the door in frustration and wondered if, maybe, he was going a little crazy—if coming back had been a mistake. Maybe Beacon Hills held too many terrible memories and sorrow. Maybe he’d made up the lavender and the bells.
They couldn’t be real. Couldn’t be here.
Except that it could. Stiles, Scott, and Allison had turned on the nemeton—had called out to the supernatural, and it was only in its nature for the darkness to answer.
If this wasn’t just him going crazy . . .
Derek scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed.
“Barry Fairbrother’s dead,” panted Ruth Price.
She had almost run up the chilly garden path—
Derek glanced up suddenly from his book and stared at the curtains, still drawn across the windows.
Distantly, faintly, the jangle of bells. He turned his head toward the front of the apartment building and tracked the sound as it moved closer, his heart pounding a little faster with the each approaching rustle.
When it passed into the building, he tossed the book aside and sprang up, adopting a wide, steady in the middle of the apartment. For a moment, the sound stopped. And then it returned, closer, with the regular rhythm of a footfall. He tensed and shifted out his claws in anticipation. It was definitely coming down the hallway. If he was lucky, maybe they wouldn’t know where—
Derek frowned. Behind the bells he could hear another, more familiar sound—a heartbeat. He inhaled, scenting the air.
Stiles. In the same hallway.
It might have followed him. What was he even doing—
As both bells and heartbeat came to a stop just on the other side of the door, Derek darted forward, throwing the locks with a quick flick and ripping the door open. He grabbed Stiles by the closest thing he could get his hands on, flung him inside, and slammed the door and locks closed. He pressed himself against it.
"Are you okay?" he hissed over his shoulder.
Stiles gaped at him as he picked up the cardboard box he'd been carrying. “You mean aside from the new bruise I'm gonna have?” He glanced at his arm in indignation.
“Shh.” Derek held up a hand to quiet him and closed his eyes to concentrate on listening to the hallway outside.
Stiles stared at him, exasperated, and set the box down on the kitchen counter. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Something inside the box jangled.
Derek jerked his head around to look at it, scowling. “What’s in that?”
Stiles looked between Derek and the box, confused.
“Well . . . in case you haven’t noticed, it’s Halloween,” Stiles started slowly. He reached into the box cautiously, keeping his eyes on Derek, and lifted out an orange and black wreath of bells. “And I figured you probably wouldn’t decorate, because, well . . .” He motioned with his free hand around the very white, very empty apartment.
Derek exhaled sharply through his nose and stopped pinning the door shut with his weight, tension and fear leeching out of him. A wreath of bells.
Stiles set the wreath aside and reached for a few more things. “I also brought you some of these”—he held up bat, Frankenstein, pumpkin, and Dracula posters—“which I found in the attic and are totally classic. Also, cups, plates, silverware—"
“I have cups,” Derek broke in, "and plates," but Stiles placed each item on the counter with a flourish anyway, ignoring him.
“And,” he lifted a small potted cactus from the bottom of the box and placed it down with ceremony.
Derek lifted an eyebrow at him.
“From Isaac,” he supplied. “I think it might be some kind of message. Not sure. Didn't wanna ask.”
Derek looked over the collection, bemused. “You came here to . . . decorate. For Halloween.”
Stiles flailed his arms. “Hello? Yes. Did I not just say that? I mean, this has to be the greatest time of year for you, right? You can do whatever you want. Wolf out in public. No one will care! Greatest costume ever. How can this not be your favorite holiday?”
"It used to be." Memories he'd rather not relive clouded at the back of his mind, but he pushed them aside and focused on the present, on Stiles standing between his kitchen and living room giving him a suspicious look. Derek huffed and gave him a small grin. "What?"
"Nothing." He turned and surveyed the apartment. "Also, I wanted to see your new place." Stiles gave it a slower-than-necessary once over, nodding to himself before turning back to Derek. He hooked a thumb over one shoulder. "There's a bed in your living room."
Stiles lifted his eyebrows in question, and Derek sighed. "If I put it in the bedroom, the living room would be empty," he offered a half-truth, hoping Stiles would let it go. It crawled on his skin like spiders when he couldn't see an exit, and after two sleepless nights, he hadn't had a choice.
"Or you could buy a chair."
"Is this really why you came here?"
Stiles's chin lifted defiantly. "Yes. Only, since you threw me around like a god damned doll, now I'm thinking maybe something's up." He motioned toward the door and then crossed his arms. "So . . . you wanna tell me what that was all about?"
Derek pinched the bridge of his nose as he collected his thoughts, trying to think of a way to make it sound less stupid. He pressed his hands to the counter by the sink.
Stiles moved to the other side of the counter and took a seat on one of the barstools.
Derek could feel his gaze, interested, and the emotions coming off him were less charged with anger than he'd expected, and more with worry.
"I think—" Derek began. "I think there's something new in town. Something . . . I didn't even know was real."
Derek glanced up at him.
"I was followed. Twice. I couldn't see it, but . . ." He looked Stiles in the eyes. "I could feel it. Like, when you know you're not alone in a room."
Stiles leaned closer. "You said you couldn't see it, but what about other stuff? Could you hear it? Smell it?"
Derek nodded. "That's—exactly. In the grocery store last night and in the park this morning. I smelled lavender. And I heard"—his eyes cut over to the wreath—"bells."
Stiles mouthed the words lavender and bells and frowned at him, shaking his head. "So . . . what does that mean?"
Derek huffed a derisive laugh as he stood up straighter. "It means . . ." He felt his face color a little in embarrassment. "It means hekaloi."
Stiles squinted, his mouth falling open as he repeated. "Heka-wha?"
Derek shook his head and turned away, pacing toward the door as his face burned hotter. This was stupid. So stupid. "It's a . . . nursery rhyme. It's not real—just a boogeyman." He turned back toward Stiles. "Something my mom used to scare us into going to bed or cleaning our rooms. Do what I say or the hekaloi will take you away."
"But you didn't think it was real."
Derek tossed his arms up. "Why would a fairy tale be real?"
Stiles gestured at him with both hands. "Werewolves are real!"
He gave him an exasperated look. "And the Tooth Fairy isn't! So, no, I didn't think it was real . . . until last night."
Stiles's gaze fell on the Halloween wreath he'd brought. His eyes grew wide as he made the connection. "You thought there was one in the hallway with me," he said softly.
Derek lifted one shoulder in a shrug and looked down. Stiles's heartbeat fluttered, and when Derek glanced up at him, the only word for the fleeting look on his face was fond. In an instant it was gone. Stiles started tapping his long fingers against the back of his hand thoughtfully.
"Did the rhymes say what they wanted? I mean, why they would take you away?"
Yes. Derek's stomach dropped out, and he felt the same shiver of fear that had him pushing his bed against the wall for the simulation of safety.
The barstool scraped as it pushed back.
"Derek?" Stiles asked, his voice gentle as he came closer.
Somehow, Derek had backed up against the opposite counter, though he didn't remember moving. He lifted his gaze from the floor and met Stiles's concerned eyes.
"Me," he said, the word sounding distant and foreign to his ears.
Stiles stopped less than an arm's length away and frowned. "I don't understand."
Acid boiled in Derek's gut as he tried to form his thoughts into words. It was harder than it should have been.
"Us. Stiles, they're zbieracz."
Stiles mouthed the word uncomprehendingly, and his eyes crinkled with a frown.
"Collectors," Derek offered. "Some zbieracz collect magic or blood or souls." Derek curled his fingers around the edge of the counter behind him and squeezed. "But hekaloi collect us. Our . . . bodies."
"For what?" Stiles crossed his arms and hunched uncomfortably.
Derek averted his gaze and took a moment to form a reply. "You know Chinese Traditional Medicine?"
Stiles's heartbeat kicked up, and his expression flattened. "Yeah," he said warily.
Derek cut a glance at him. "And you know how some of their ingredients are . . . exotic—"
"Oh my God."
"Oh my God. Are you—?"
Derek fell quiet, sick emptiness yawning inside.
"Are you telling me," Stiles went on, "that these things wanna use you for . . . parts?" He sounded incredulous and horrified.
Derek nodded, watching him.
Stiles sucked his breath in and spun in place, combing his fingers through his hair in agitation. "Oh my God. We have to tell Scott."
He stopped all motion and stared at Derek for a second. Then he dug out his phone.
"Stiles, I'm not even sure if—" Derek started to protest, but Stiles gave him a sharp look.
"Were you followed?"
"Yes," without hesitation.
"Then I'm sure." He set his phone on the bar top and hit call.
"Hey, Stiles!" Scott's voice came through the phone a second later.
"Hey, Scott. You're on speaker."
Stiles looked up expectantly at Derek as he came over to the bar.
"Hi, Scott," Derek supplied sheepishly, still not sure quite where they stood with one another.
The "Derek" he got in reply sounded friendly enough.
"Look, Scotty," Stiles said, "I think we got a problem."
Scott shushed someone in the background and tried to sound serious. "What kind of problem?"
Stiles and Derek exchanged a look.
"The werewolf kind? Someone followed Derek last night."
"And today," Derek added.
"Someone like who?" Scott asked.
Derek heaved a sigh, still not comfortable with the idea that his childhood boogeymen were actually real. "They're called hekaloi. And they're . . . bad, Scott. Worse than hunters."
They could practically hear Scott frowning into the phone. "Worse than hunters how? What do they want?"
"Body parts," Stiles replied.
"Bo-dy. Parts," Stiles said again, enunciating. "Like, eye of newt, liver of werewolf. Body parts. Yours, Derek's—" He cut himself off and looked sharply at Derek. "Lydia?" It came out as a squeak.
Derek just frowned, and it told Stiles everything he needed to know.
Stiles scowled. "Even Lydia. Apparently." His eyes met Derek's, and Derek leaned closer to the phone.
"Scott, you need to be careful. Look out for the scent of lavender or the sound of bells . . . like, like jingle bells. I didn't see anyone. But remember what I told you about trusting your senses? I could feel them watching me. I could feel them following."
"Okay," Scott said. "What else?"
Stiles frowned down at the phone. "What else? What do you mean what else? Crazy murderers are out to get you! What more do you need?"
Scott sighed, and they could hear Allison in the background asking him what was wrong. Scott's voice went muffled and then came back. "I mean, what do we do? How do we stop them?"
Stiles looked at Derek for help, and Derek shrugged back at him defensively. "How should I know! Until yesterday, they weren't even real."
"What?" Scott's voice, but Stiles spoke over him. "Well, what about the nursery rhyme, does it say anything else useful?"
Derek thought, his eyes scanning the ceiling as he ran through a song he hadn't heard in nearly twenty years. He gave Stiles a pained look.
Guilt swirled in his chest. "I think . . . they can look like anyone."
Stiles's eyes widened. "You mean, they might happen to look like anyone or you mean they can at any time look like anyone?"
Derek's expression soured as he rubbed a hand over his face. "I mean, they're glamored. So they can, whenever they want, at any time, look like anyone."
Stiles deflated. "Of course they can." And threw his hands up in exasperation.
Scott muttered something, but it was muffled and probably meant only for Allison. Then he said, "Okay, well, if they're hunting us, then we should stick together. Safety in numbers. No one goes anywhere by themselves."
"Wait, what?" Stiles cut in.
"I'll let everyone else know," Scott finished, like he hadn't heard.
The phone went dead, and Stiles looked at Derek slack-jawed for a second. Derek rolled his eyes and sighed at him.
"Well," Stiles said, straightening and grabbing his phone from the counter, "looks like you're coming over for dinner."
Derek gave him a questioning look as Stiles started for the door. Stiles glanced back when Derek didn't move.
"I am?" Derek's eyebrows shot even further up.
Stiles wiggled his phone at him. "You heard Scott. I gotta get dinner for my dad, and I'm not leaving you here alone. So . . ."
Something warm tugged in Derek's chest. He plastered it over with an indignant scowl, then glanced around his empty apartment and back at Stiles. He frowned half-heartedly and grabbed his jacket. "I'm driving myself."
Stiles rolled his eyes. "Whatever, dude."
They stood shoulder to shoulder, staring at the elevator. "Where are we going?" Derek asked as they waited.
Derek glared. "I'm not eating that."
Stiles shot him a confused frown. "Okay? Burger 2?"
Gag. "No, Stiles." And Stiles had the nerve to look incensed.
"Well . . . then what do you want?"
"Food. Real food."
"Wendy's is real food."
Derek's voice rose. "Fast food is not real food. It's chemicals and additives, which is exactly what it tastes like."
"Wait." Stiles held up his hand, ignoring the elevator that slid open in front of them. "You're telling me you can taste preservatives."
"Yes!" Because, obviously.
Stiles looked thunderstruck and stumbled over his words. "Well. But. Well then where do you want to go?"
Derek arched an eyebrow at him. "The grocery store?"
"Ha ha." Only he hadn't meant it as a joke, and Stiles quickly dropped his sarcastic look. "Oh, you—Okay, but my dad doesn't cook. And the only thing I know how to make is pancakes."
Derek turned his attention toward the elevator and stabbed the down arrow. He crossed his arms over his chest as they waited—again—and sighed. "I'll do it," he said quietly.
Stiles's face split into a gleeful grin. "You." And the elevator door dinged open.
"Yes, me." Derek shot him a withering look and then pointed. "Go."
Beside him, Stiles bounced on the balls of his feet. "I gotta see this."
Scott hung up the phone and turned to Allison, looking grim.
“What is it?” she asked, ducking toward the cocoa she clutched in both hands. Her tone seemingly summoned Isaac from the depths of the baked goods stall, and he hovered at her side a second later holding a pumpkin. The glee in his eyes ebbed as he read Scott's expression.
“Stiles and Derek,” Scott replied. “They said Derek’s being followed.”
“By who?” The three of them drew closer together, moving to the side of a caramel apple cart—a staple of any fall festival worth attending. Allison hugged herself into her coat for protection from the October chill.
Scott waited as a group of people passed close by, lowering his voice to a whisper as they moved on. “I think it’s more ‘by what.’” This earned him a pair of questioning looks. “He called them hekaloi. Said they're worse than hunters.”
Isaac scowled and edged closer to Allison, as though he could apologize for Derek by proximity.
“He said,” Scott went on, “that they hunt down things like us for . . . parts.”
“Parts?” Allison's fine brows drew together. “Parts for what?”
Scott shrugged dramatically. “I don’t know. They didn't say. But, I kinda like my liver where it is.” He pressed a hand to his stomach.
“So . . . they’re a different kind of werewolf hunter?” Isaac asked. He hugged the pumpkin to his chest and stared at Scott.
“I don’t think it’s just werewolves. Stiles said—"
“Lydia,” Allison cut him off, her expression going tight.
Scott started flicking through the contacts on his phone, nodding. “I’m gonna call Aiden and Ethan. Until we know more, no one should be by themselves.” He glanced up at Isaac. “Derek said look out for the smell of lavender and the sound of jingle bells. That’s how we’ll recognize them.”
Between the two of them, Isaac was the stronger tracker. His sense of smell was even better than Derek’s. He might be useless in a fight, but he was the best bloodhound they had.
Isaac nodded but scratched at his temple, looking stressed. "Oh . . . yeah, okay."
Allison nudged him with her elbow and gave him a questioning look. He ducked his head sheepishly in reply, curls tumbling toward his eyes.
“I-I . . . don’t actually know what lavender smells like,” he muttered.
She laughed suddenly, but not cruelly, a fond smile turning up the corners of her eyes. “There’s a candle store in the mall,” she offered.
Scott and Isaac gasped simultaneously, and Scott's thumb hovered over his phone.
“Oh God, no,” from Isaac.
“Please . . .” Scott’s eyes went puppishly wide.
She stared at them both. “What—”
“We . . . maybe we could wait in the car?” Isaac offered, glancing at Scott for confirmation.
Allison looked at them both like they'd lost their minds, then sighed. “Fine. Stay in the car.” A whispered “Useless,” breathed into her hot chocolate as she sipped again.
Scott dialed Aiden, but it went to voicemail. That was odd. The twins might be alphas in their own right, but this was his pack, and they’d so far seemed pretty willing to accept that. Promised to abide by his rules. And normally answered when called. Scott frowned down at his phone, a cold wariness creeping across his shoulders.
Sheriff Stilinski got up as the front door started to open. "About time. Where the hell have you—"
He stopped at the sight at Derek Hale coming into his house, arms laden with brown grocery bags. Stiles shuffled in after him and tossed his father a sheepish smile. "Hey, dad!"
"Stiles," John said in the bewildered but accepting tone he'd adopted over the years. He followed them into the kitchen and watched as they set everything down. He glanced at Derek from head to toe and then looked at Stiles. "Son, should I be concerned that Derek's in my kitchen?"
Stiles turned to him, appalled. "Dad, he's right here."
Derek's jaw muscle flexed, but he busied himself with unpacking a grocery bag.
"I can see that. But—no offense—good news doesn't really follow him around."
Stiles's jaw dropped, and for a second he just stared at his father, mortified. Derek froze, waiting.
"Yeah . . ." Stiles's expression closed like a prison door. "Well it doesn't follow me around, either." He picked a bag up off the floor and aggressively set onions on the counter.
John sighed and scratched at his hair. "I'm sorry, I—"
"We have to stay in pairs, okay?" Stiles said, tone flat.
The Sheriff leaned his hip against the counter and gave them both as assessing look. "So, this is a werewolf thing."
Stiles blew out an annoyed breath. "Yes, okay, it's a werewolf thing."
"Not every supernatural thing is a werewolf thing," Derek muttered.
Stiles shot him a glare. "Not helping!"
John visibly reined himself in, turning to look around at the collection of fresh food that had blossomed in his kitchen. "So . . . no burgers, then?"
The tension eased out of Stiles's stance and shoulders. "Sorry. Derek doesn't eat junk food, so . . ." He waved at the counters.
The sheriff nodded, as though that were reasonable enough. "I see. So . . . you're going to cook?"
"What!" Stiles squawked and then started to laugh. "No. Nooooo. No. No. He's going to cook." He hooked a thumb toward Derek, eyes alight with glee.
Derek offered them both a steady look and silence.
John's expression pinched. "Do I . . . need to help?"
"No," Derek and Stiles answered together, and the sheriff sighed in relief.
"Great. I'll just . . ." He pointed to the fridge and then the living room. Wordlessly, Derek opened the fridge, grabbed a beer bottle, and handed it over. The Sheriff took it and disappeared to watch TV.
After he was gone, Derek started arranging tools and ingredients. According to Stiles, they didn't have anything, so they'd bought everything, right down to the flour and salt. He opened nearly every cabinet looking for pots and bowls and found the cutting boards under some long-disused muffin tins.
"Can I help?" Stiles asked somewhat hesitantly.
Derek glanced over his shoulder and tossed him an onion.
"Oh, seriously? I get all weepy."
Derek shrugged, an elaborate dance of muscles for so small a movement. "You asked."
Stiles sighed until his lungs were empty. "I hate you."
Stiles delivered three plates of what Derek deemed simply "pesto chicken" to the dining room table, followed by small bowls of braised kale. John looked genuinely impressed, saluting Derek with his empty beer bottle on his way toward the kitchen.
"Derek? Something to drink?"
Derek blinked at him a second. "Sure." A bottle appeared next to him a moment later.
Stiles frowned. "I thought you guys couldn't get drunk."
Derek arched an eyebrow as he popped the bottle cap off with an artful claw flick. "We can, it just takes a lot more."
"Then why bother? Beer is gross, dude."
Derek gazed at him and pointedly took a drink just to watch Stiles make a face.
When John sat down, a strange silence fell over the table. Derek glanced at the two of them as they studied their plates. Were they a family that said grace? Maybe he should—
Stiles grabbed his fork and dug in, cutting off a piece of chicken and piling on small pieces of artichoke and portobello, light green from the cream sauce. Derek found his eyes were glued to Stiles's mouth, the press of his lips, the bit of sauce that escaped. He waited, feeling a tight anxiety until at last Stiles let out a soft moan.
"Mmm." He chewed a little more. "Oh my God." Swallowed. "Dude, this is amazing. Who would've thought that you—"
The warm bit of pride that had started to glow fizzled, and Derek scowled down at his plate.
His expression must have said it all, because Stiles cut himself off sharply and started again.
"Wait, no hey, totally a compliment. Like, this is me, blown away."
Derek glanced up at him cautiously. The Sheriff took his first bite then, and his eyes slowly widened. "Wow," he said, an awed sound, and Stiles pointed at him. "See?"
Derek's shoulders relaxed, and he allowed himself to smile a little. "Thanks."
"How'd you learn to cook like this?"
He lifted one shoulder. "Laura burned water, so I didn't have much choice." He picked up his beer bottle, gazing at the label, and then took a long drink, letting his eyes drift shut.
Stiles gave him a sad sort of smile, and for a few moments the only sounds were John’s small hums of pleasure and the scrape of silverware as Stiles settled back in to his food.
Derek set the bottle down and watched them for a bit, settling into the idea that they were, indeed, happy, before finally eating something himself. The next time he glanced at Stiles, there was a mischievous, knowing grin on his face. Derek quirked an eyebrow at him.
"This is your best dish, isn't it?"
His face felt suddenly hot, and he studied his plate.
"Oh my God, it totally is! You were trying to impress us!"
"Stiles," the Sheriff broke in. "Pretend like you have manners. Please. For me."
"But—" Stiles motioned toward Derek. "I—" Chastised, his voice dropped. "I thought it was sweet. I didn't—"
Derek glanced at him because his heart rate was steady when he said it.
John set his knife and fork on his empty plate with slow seriousness. "Best meal I've had since—" His voice faded, and Derek raised his eyes to look at him. "Since," he said with finality.
A feeling more precious than pride suffused Derek's body. "Thanks," he said softly.
"No, son, thank you," the Sheriff said as he got up. He touched Derek's shoulder as he passed. "Stiles, dishes."
Stiles burst suddenly into motion, clearing the table. John returned with two tumblers and a bottle of whiskey. He poured two doubles, slid Derek one of the glasses, and waited until Stiles reappeared.
"So . . . you boys want to tell me what you haven't been telling me?" He gave them both an arch look and took a sip of whiskey to give them a chance to answer.
Derek caught a sudden pang of fear from Stiles and couldn't help but give him a curious, worried look. They'd already said there was "werewolf business," so why the fear now?
"You mean the, uh . . . the pairs thing," Stiles said as he slid back into his seat.
The Sheriff's eyes narrowed. "Should I mean something else?" And it was a wonder Stiles ever got away with as many lies as he did, really.
"No! Nope. No . . . so . . ." Stiles looked at Derek expectantly, and Derek barely concealed his annoyance, instead taking a sip of whiskey and letting it slide down his throat before answering.
This time he told them everything. How it started in the grocery store, what he'd felt, what he’d thought. Running in the parking lot, no matter how embarrassing that was to admit.
Sheriff Stilinski took it all in without interrupting and nodded, looking skeptical, swirling the glass in his hand.
"So you think these things are real. These . . . hekaloi."
Derek shrugged. "I do now."
"And you have some sort of plan, I take it?"
"Not so much a plan," Stiles interjected, rolling his hands in the air, "as a plan to get a plan. But until then . . ." He gave Derek a look.
"Derek's staying over," John supplied.
"Seems that way," Derek muttered.
"On the couch." The Sheriff gave them both a pointed look, and Stiles's jaw dropped. Derek schooled his expression to cover his surprise and watched as Stiles's neck started to flush.
"Dad, oh my God, you are so embarrassing." Stiles got up, ignoring any further reactions from his father, and headed for the kitchen. "I'm making coffee. Derek, do you drink coffee?"
“Sure,” he replied, getting up to follow. "You can have coffee this late and still sleep?"
"I can! Bonus feature of ADHD, coffee helps me study."
Stiles flipped on an electric kettle, pulled a French press from the cabinet near the stove, a tablespoon measure from the drawer on the other side of the room, and the coffee grinds from a shelf of the pantry.
Derek just watched him, all long limbs and focused energy. Stiles caught him looking. "French press is faster," he narrated as he worked, measuring out 12 precise tablespoons of grinds. "And, just better, you know?" He pulled the lid off a jar on the counter and then turned around, shoving a handful of sugar packets in Derek's direction. Derek received them in cupped palms and then shuffled to rearrange everything when Stiles held a carton of light cream toward him. He hovered, waiting to see if there was anything else, until Stiles turned and gave him a pointed look. "You can go sit. This'll be done in like a second."
He wanted to snark back at him but couldn't think of anything to say and so ended up back at the dining room table, dumping a pile of sugar packets somewhere near the middle.
"Dad? You want some?" Stiles called.
Sheriff Stilinski huffed a laugh. "Oh, no. I want to sleep some time tonight, thank you."
Stiles reappeared with a mug in each hand and several packages of Twinkies dangling from his mouth. He set a mug down and tossed one of the packages to his father, offering another across the table. "Dessert?"
For a second, Derek considered a lecture on just how many ways Twinkies violated the "real food" rule, but he settled for making a face that had Stiles jerking his hand back and apologizing.
"So," John said, "what’s this you were saying about studying, earlier?"
Stiles dropped into his chair and set about making his coffee drinkable. "Yeah. Studying. That thing I do."
"That thing you are supposed to do."
Stiles looked profoundly, offended. "I get good grades. I get better grades than Scott!"
The Sheriff continued, unruffled. "Just tell me you're going to pass high school. I know it's been a rough year, but if you could at least promise me that?"
Stiles sagged and stared into his coffee. "Your confidence in me is astounding."
"Yes, Dad, okay. I will pass high school."
The Sheriff nodded, looking both relieved and resigned.
Stiles rolled his eyes, tested his coffee, took his mug in hand, and got up.
"I’ve got things to finish," he said to Derek, motioning toward his room. It seemed like an invitation, the way Stiles looked at him and waited for a reaction, so Derek picked up his coffee mug and followed. Halfway up the stairs, he heard the sheriff's voice, pitched low and quiet.
"Keep him safe."
Derek paused and looked back over his shoulder, though he couldn't see the table anymore. The words made his throat close, and his reply came out a whisper only he could hear.